My friends Aric and Nina had moved here a couple of years ago from New York but unfortunately Aric works crazy insane hours and we never really have a chance to hang out with him. His job requires him to be working both east coast AND west coast hours. I believe it has something to do with finances (hedgefunds maybe?). He’s explained it to us about twenty-six times, and I still don’t quite understand it. Basically it’s one of those “grown-up” jobs that I always imagine adults did when I was child – vague and kinda important and long hours, but probably makes lots of money, as the people who had these grown-up jobs when I was a kid always drove shiny new cars and lived in big houses.
My job as a designer at a small boutique design shop, is usually to make things look pretty. It is so NOT a grown-up job.
On top of that, they recently had an incredibly insanely adorable baby which I am sure is preoccupying their time even more. Nina, if you remember, was my friend for my former post about the bake sale, who proclaimed “OK. Today REALLY IS the best day of my life!” when I presented her those cookie bars at the hospital bar the day that her baby was born. Yep. That Nina.
Regardless, Aric is one of the sweetest guys out there. For Nina’s birthday he organized a “semi-surprise” party for her. I’ve actually never had a surprise party thrown for me, but I’m not a huge surprise party type of guy so no loss. Despite my busy “social calendar” (I use that term loosely because I actually think I have about six friends, but AJ seems to disagree with me about that, as we are always running off to parties or other events during the weekend) I’m actually a pretty private guy and need a lot of downtime. The idea of going home and expecting it to be a mellow evening by myself, or with AJ and then to be thrust into a setting where I have to socialize with people when I wasn’t expecting it…doesn’t sounds too appealing.
However a “semi-surprise” party sounds ideal! Aric had told Nina that something was up and that they were going to be doing something special that day, but didn’t give details. The guests all showed up a half hour early, hung out and drunk wine, and then “surprise!” Nina and Aric arrived!
Turned out it was one of the funnest parties I’ve been to in awhile! The event was located in a private kitchen in the warehouse district of San Francisco called SOMA (South of Market) that is quickly becoming gentrified. However this particular part of SOMA was DEFINITELY not gentrified at all. When we pulled into the sketchy alleyway we were directed to park in, the owner of the space directed us to park in front of his car. As we pulled up and AJ started to back, I totally looked behind and said quickly. “STOP! Don’t back up! There’s a guy passed out under his car right there!” So AJ made an executive decision to park on the other side of the alleyway. Good thing, as parking on the man probably would have been a buzzkill for the party.
The space was part of the San Francisco Wine Center, a private wine storage cellar, where wine collectors could store their wine in a secure climate controlled environment. Think mini refrigerated self-storage units for the rich (something tells me people aren’t storing their cases of 2 Buck Chuck there). The kitchen was available for the collectors to go and drink a glass of wine with friends, before heading out for dinner or a club/bar/party.
Aric had organized a cooking class with Mariposa Kitchen Cooking Classes for Nina’s birthday celebration. The menu was a list of some of Nina’s favorite foods, and all of them super easy to make. There was a list of six different appetizers and hors d’oeuvres that we were making during the party. Most food took about an hour or two to make, and so we split into groups of two or three per station and started up.
The food was mostly Asian inspired (with a few Spanish tapas style items thrown in). And, of course, there were fantastic wine pairings to go along with all the food. AJ and I decided (well actually I decided, and AJ just followed me along) to make the duck confit spring rolls with sour cherry compote. It seemed the most challenging dish, though in reality it really wasn’t that much at all. The most complicated thing about it, the duck confit, was already made, shredded and measured for us. The instructor said she made the duck confit at home herself, buying a whole duck, cutting it up and freezing the breast for another use while sticking the legs in the vat of duck fat she keeps in her refrigerator for that sort of thing. I wish I had a vat of duck fat in my fridge. But I think AJ would squawk if I started storing duck fat in our fridge. We have enough stuff in our fridge as it is that goes unused/rarely used.
I had a blast making the spring rolls (AJ made the sour cherry compote and ran around and took
pictures) though I realized I was a bit controlling when it came to making the rolls. At one point the cooking instructor came by and offered to help by showing me how to roll a spring roll and I snapped “No worries! I got it.” She got the hint and scurried off to help with the black cod station. Later she came by and complimented me on how clean my station was. I tried to say “I always keep my mise en place clean and tidy” but then AJ just chuckled and said “You should the disaster area that is our kitchen when Irvin bakes…”
The cooking instructor, and founder of Mariposa Kitchen, Caroline Fey had been trained in both traditional French cooking and pastry work in New York at the French Culinary Institute. She originally had a degree in journalism and had planned to become a food writer, but when she went back to do the cooking program, realized that she loved being in the kitchen. So now she does private parties and cooking lessons. Super fun, super friendly and super helpful, she was a great facilitator, running around helping out at all the stations and constantly cleaning up after everyone with her assistant.
In the end, the food was super fantastic! We all chowed down on yellowtail hamachi sashimi with crispy shallots and yuzu vinaigrette, meatballs in spiced tomato sauce, crispy rock shrimp tempura in creamy schiracha sauce and tobiko, miso-glazed black cod with shitake mushrooms and mizuna & daikon radish sprout salad, Serrano ham and cheese croquettes, and my 5 spice duck confit spring rolls with the soy-sour cherry dipping sauce along with many other dishes. And as a bonus, she gave us a stack of recipes to take home…so we could make the dishes at home as well. I can’t wait to break out the dutch oven and deep fry some spring rolls at home! I just need to gather 12 of my friends together for it, as AJ and I are definitely NOT going to eat 24 spring rolls all by ourselves.
Whilst making these, I did not listen to any music, other than the happy sounds of the kitchen chaos of my friends trying to make food. Which is totally the best soundtrack ever to making food of any type.
Five-Spice Duck Confit Spring Rolls with Soy-Sour Cherry Compote
By Irvin Lin
Crispy spring rolls dipped in sour cherry jam are the perfect combination of sweet, savory, crispy and chewy tender. The Asian inspired dish isn’t nearly as hard as it might seem, though you do have to brave the deep frying aspect. But it’s worth it in the end. You might have a hard time finding spring roll wrappers or five spice at a regular grocery store (though more and more grocery stores are starting to stock specialty items like these), but they are easily available online or at a specialty/asian grocery store.
adapted from Mariposa Kitchen
for dipping sauce
8 oz sour cherry jam
1 cup dried sour cherries
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup hoisin sauce
1/2 cup pomegranate juice
1/4 cup shallots chopped
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger
3 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon sesame oil
4 cups shredded duck confit (you can make this at home if you happened to have a vat of duck fat lying around, or just buy it pre-made at specialty food shop)
2 tablespoons Chinese Five Spice Powder (see headnotes above)
1 tablespoons soy sauce
1 package of 24 spring roll wrappers (see headnotes above)
1 lb enoki mushrooms (stems cut from their base so they are loose)
12 scallions (green onions) cut into 2” length, julienned
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
6 cups peanut oil
1. Make the sauce by combining all the ingredients together in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat until the dry cherries plump up. Put the sauce in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Pour back into saucepan and keep warm until spring rolls are ready to serve.
2. Make the spring rolls by first mixing the duck confit, Chinese five-spice powder and soy sauce together. Dampen a paper towel, peel off one spring roll wrapper and spread it out on a clean cooking surface (I used a large cutting board) with one corner of the wrap facing you (in a diamond shape). Lay the paper towel over the rest of the spring roll wrapper to keep it from drying out.
3. On the spring roll, put about 10 enoki mushrooms, about 6 julienned onions (a mix of the green parts and the white parts) and about 1/4 cup of the duck confit. I say about in all of these as you can eyeball it all, keeping in mind the recipe makes about 24 rolls.
4. Dip a pastry brush into the egg wash and brush it along all the edges of the wrapper. Now take the corner of the wrap closest to you and bring up over the filling tightly. Once you’ve pulled that corner up, pull the side corners in, and then roll tightly the rest of the spring roll. Put aside on a baking sheet and repeat filling and rolling with the rest of the wrappers.
5. Line a baking sheet with paper towels or a wire rack (or both) and heat the peanut oil in a heavy dutch oven, stock pot or deep fryer to 350 degrees. Gently place 3 or 4 spring rolls into the oil (be careful!) and move them around in the oil for about 5 minutes or until they are golden brown. Use a Chinese strainer or tongs and remove the rolls and place them on the lined baking sheet to drain. Repeat with the rest of the rolls. Serve the rolls with the sauce immediately or keep them warm in an oven turned to 200˚.
Makes 24 rolls.