Food Buzz

Because maybe you do care what I had for lunch...

Monday, June 12, 2006

Chili powder potatoes and tarragon chicken

When Uncle Al gave me the chili powder from San Antonio he said, "we use it for enchiladas and chili beans. Actually, I think that's all we ever use it for." I realized that those are the only two uses I made of chili powder as well, and resolved to find other uses for it. No sense in letting it sit around until autumn.

Today's attempt was in a warm potato salad (sorry, forgot to take photos). I boiled some chopped yukon golds and tossed them with olive oil, fresh herbs (marjoram, thyme, and rosemary), salt, pepper, and chili powder. The nice thing about chili powder is that it's more about flavor than heat; in fact, there's usually very little heat to a chili powder. It added a rich flavor to the salad, though I do wish I'd also added some sour cream and chopped scallions. We had this along with some garlic spinach and my long-beloved tarragon chicken from Saveur. They don't have on their website, so I'll paraphrase quickly (since it's especially late):

Brown chicken (I did four legs, including thighs) seasoned with salt and pepper in a little olive oil and butter, turn, and lower heat. Add two sprigs of tarragon and cover. Meanwhile mince two sprigs of tarragon and poach two more sprigs. Cook the chicken until done.

Remove the chicken and keep warm. Drain fat from pan. Add about 1/4 cup white wine and scrape up the crisped bits, then add 1/2 cup chicken broth. Reduce about five minutes. Then strain into a cup, wipe out pan, and add back to pan, this time adding a tablespoon or more of butter and the chopped tarragon. Pour sauce over chicken and serve with poached tarragon sprigs as garnish.

This past weekend we celebrated an anniversary. Last June 3rd I quit my educational publishing job to stay home full-time with Jasper. I've been a million times more relaxed and happy every since. I have my moments of frustration and exasperation, of course, but overall I am thrilled to spend my days with Jasper and my evenings back in the kitchen. In fact, Lane and I are both absurdly fortunate that we can spend our days doing exactly what we most want to do. Lane and I celebrated by going out to dinner Saturday night (without the little guy) at Stone Park Cafe -- a swell place if you're ever in the neighborhood.

And speaking of Saveur and anniversaries, it was about this time last year that I had my infamous interview there for a kitchen internship. My one claim to fame is that I once published a very short piece for their Fare section (on the fudge counter at BYU). Years ago I called the then food editor, Melissa Hamilton (sister to one of Prune's proprietors, by the way), and had a delightful informational interview. She was very encouraging, and I sent in a piece. I also looked into an internship, but decided it wasn't the right time.

Fast forward to Spring 2005, soon after Lane and I decided the time was right for me to leave my job in educational publishing: I sent Saveur a resume and an inquiry for a kitchen internship. I don't know what I was thinking. Lane wanted to get into the studio full time, and while we were doing well we weren't doing so well that we could pay for childcare three days a week while I worked for free. Besides, I wanted to be home with Jasper! But I was curious.

To my surprise, I was granted an interview the week after I returned from Angelica's wedding in Baja. I arrived in what I thought was appropriate attire: a white, ruched t-shirt with a long, cotton skirt. This was my idea of casual-enough-to-cook-in yet dressy-enough-for-an-interview. The kitchen director took one look and me and said, "Um, did they tell you you'd be cooking? Are you going to be OK in that?" We were off to a great start.

I was thrilled to be in THE kitchen, the kitchen where all the Saveur magic happened. You have to understand, I worship this magazine. I was so thrilled, in fact, that I had to tell myself to just breathe deeply and go slowly, no need to rush! I was also nervous because I'd just spent a year out of the kitchen. When Jasper was a newborn and then when I returned to Victorious Edumacation Lane had taken over as the family cook. I was a bit rusty.

My "audition" was to make chocolate peanut butter balls from a past issue. In addition to executing the recipe I would have to weigh every item and take exact notes on weight and time for each step. When I hear the words "detail oriented" I usually look for the exit. But I thought a flight at that point would be unseemly.

The director mentioned that there are no specialized tools in the Saveur kitchen because they want all their recipes to be accessible to home cooks. When the recipe asked for "sifted" powdered sugar I asked, "do you have a real sifter?" By this I meant one of those cylinders with a crank -- my mom had one but I'd always just used a mesh strainer. No, of course Saveur doesn't have a "real" sifter, and now I look like a dilettante priss asking for a "real" sifter in my long, flowy skirt and mules.

You can guess how the rest of my audition went. The recipe called for margarine but I reached for the butter -- denial? Disbelief that Saveur would ever have a recipe calling for magarine? I scooped out some of the Smucker's Natural peanut butter we use on our sandwiches at home, but the more appropriate kind to use was the ordinary Skippy's. The director kept interrupting me and I got more flustered. An hour passed before I had at last measured out all the ingredients. The director finally stopped me and said she just didn't this was going to work out.

She seemed almost embarrassed for me, though I was frankly relieved (see above on "detail oriented"). She explained that the magazine usually hires their interns from culinary schools, but that there had been one or two spectacular home cooks so she'd wanted to give me a chance. Interestingly, the director had just returned from maternity leave and was incredulous when I told her I'd only needed to pump twice a day. Oh, I felt for her, though it would be different if you returned to a fun job you actually cared about. But I've since noticed that her name disappeared from the masthead around November.

As a delicious coda, I interviewed with the research assistant immediately after my kitchen interview. I told the assistant frankly that I'd bombed the interview, but she met with me a few minutes anyway. The entire time I could distinctly feel a large piece of dried mucus perched at the front edge of my right nostril. Evidently I had not been sufficiently humiliated in the kitchen. I never heard from the Saveur folks again.

I walked away from the disaster with greater respect for the magazine. In the spirit of not wanting to belong to a club that would have you, any publication that will not accept me as its kitchen intern must really know what it's doing. I still want my cooking magazines and books to be wiser, more confident, more knowledgeable than I am. I'm still learning.


Lindsey said...

Sound like they were a little more snobby than even Cooks' Illustrated and Christopher Kimball.

Adriana Velez said...

Nah. Having been on the other side of the hiring process I understand how you just need someone who knows how to do that job the way you want it done with as little training as possible.

Hey, when are you having that baby?!?

Lindsey said...

They are inducing me against my will and better judgement tomorrow morning at 7am. Oh, well. At least it will all be over soon.

shaunamama said...

The potato salas sounds terrific! I'm going to make the tarragon chicken sometime next week with any luck...
Happy "leaving your job" anniversary. That's awesome. Mine was in April six glorious years ago.
I love the way you write. I felt like I was in that kitchen with you. I wish I had a buck for every embarrasing moment I've had. The unfortunate thing is, they truly don't know how exceptional your cooking is.

shaunamama said...

Um, I meant salad, not salas. And I guess I should wait until I'm completely finished before entering in the "code". I wanted to say that I tried the roast chicken recipe this week and it went over like crazy with the family!