• by Jenn Farmer •
No matter how great or fastidious a chef is, they have had some recipes that were not hits. Usually the inspiration happens over a couple of pints or after having some ethereal food experience. No matter how they arrive there, they either come up with a menu item that is less than palatable or something that is phenomenal but not a good seller. I know this sort of humiliation well. Experimental cooking can be rewarding—or quite the opposite—but it is still a learning experience every time.
The most vivid “miss” for me was a marshmallow cream and peanut butter sandwich spin-off. For me, the most exciting part of being an executive chef is getting to develop any recipe I wanted. The day in question started much as any other, except I came in exploding with creativity. I am not a sweets person, so that should have stopped me, but, of course, it did not. I kept thinking if sweet marshmallow fluff and salty peanut butter taste so good together—then a little more salty and crunchy could only make it better. My stubbornness convinced me to carry through with the experiment.
The first attempt was well executed, and looked great. Homemade bread, toasted with a thin layer of all natural peanut butter and marshmallow cream or “Fluff” toasted under a broiler to give the marshmallow some color and depth of flavor is where I began. Then I added a panko crusted soft shell crab, fried until golden brown and perfectly crisp on all sides. Then I topped it with Bartlett Farm greens and tomato. It looked lovely; however the sweet flavor still took control. I refused to be beaten, so I decided that a little more salt and crunch may make it even better.
My logic was flawed from the beginning, but I persevered. “Bacon” I exclaimed, “everything tastes better with bacon, and everyone knows even Elvis ate bacon, banana, and peanut butter sandwiches….” I trailed off. Inexplicably my sous chef was on the same train of thought as I was and kept it going, giving suggestions about which bacon we use or maybe we should switch to almond butter, not peanut, etc. The fluffernuttersoftshellcrab BLT. I am still thankful that I stopped before trying to add a form of banana to the sandwich. Not only would that have made for a messier sandwich, but an even more ridiculously long name. I still think that if the banana had been properly caramelized, it may have added a certain Je ne sais quoi, and made a great sandwich—but some things are just better left alone.
There was an electricity in the air, we were about to try my “world famous” creation. We were going to turn the culinary world upside-down, the combination of flavor and texture would be like none other. This is the one fact I was absolutely correct about: it was like nothing else I had ever had before or since. So the Fluffernutterbaconsoftshell crab extravaganza began. Soon we assembled it, adding the applewood smoked crispy bacon as our final touch. It was a glorious looking sandwich, perfectly cooked, something that might be photographed for a magazine. We cut it up and excitedly distributed it among the wait staff, to see their reactions. Luckily no one was grossed out by it. Honestly it just wasn’t nearly as interesting as it sounded. It was not terrible, but none of the flavors leapt out, and though now it sounds less than palatable, it was just surprisingly dull. Nothing about it knocked us out, and since it was probably going to be a difficult sell even if we managed to get it right, we scrapped the recipe that morning. I learned that shellfish and marshmallow fluff may not be the finest idea; however it did keep the creative juices flowing. I also learned that keeping it simple is sometimes the way to go. The crispy soft shell crab on the homemade bread with the bacon was delicious, and with some lettuce and tomato, it was divine. The peanut butter and other additions were just too much, and flavors got muddied. It may have been a contender, if it had been a richly flavored peanut sauce with soy, and fresh mint, and cilantro…or better yet some spin off of mayonnaise with peanut butter in it. The upside is that it did spark some other creative ideas, which were a lot less controversial. For example Cuban Egg Rolls with all the fixings of a Cuban sandwich in an eggroll, and Spicy Lettuce wraps with homemade peanut sauce became two of our greatest sellers, both spawned during this experimental day. Here are a couple of recipes begat from fun inspirational days.
Tomato Caprese Soup
- 4 lbs. tomatoes cut into quarters
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 cup onion, small diced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- One quarter cup white wine
- One cup vegetable stock or tomato juice
- 2 Tablespoons Cream
- 1 package fresh mozzarella (8-10 ounces), sliced
- 1 small bunch basil, chiffonade
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the tomatoes cut side down on an oiled baking sheet. Roast for 20 minutes, or the skins shrivel. Cool slightly and remove skins (this should be easy). Discard skins. Meanwhile, allow the olive oil to heat in a large soup pot, and sauté the onions until caramelized and soft, maybe 12 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for a minute. Deglaze with wine, then add the stock, and bring the soup to a simmer. Add the tomatoes, and allow to cook until the tomatoes are soft, about 18-20 minutes. Use a blender to puree the tomatoes then add some cream and stir in. Serve in individual cups or bowls with a thin slice of fresh mozzarella on each, and a basil chiffonade. A drizzle of balsamic vinegar reduction is the perfect garnish.
Noodle Dogs with Kim Chi Sauce – Adapted from a cooking channel recipe
- one half cup kimchi
- one half cup mayonnaise
- one teaspoon Korean chili mix (gochujang)
- one teaspoon sriracha
Combine all ingredients in a food processor or blender, pulse until smooth. Taste, season if necessary, and set aside.
- One package ramen noodles
- 2-4 hotdogs (without natural casings works better)
Blanche the noodles for 30 seconds in boiling water, then drain and cool until they get sort of sticky. Skewer the hot dogs, then wrap with the noodles, as generously as possible. Deep fry for 2-4 minutes until they are golden brown, let sit for 1-2 minutes then serve with kimchi dipping sauce.