Sunday, April 25, 2010

Horror Story of Breakfast Cookery

Greetings Friends!

Let's talk failures, whadya say?

Back in culinary school, I performed the worst in the baking class and the breakfast cookery class; baking because it requires the accurate measuring of each ingredient-for which I have no patience. The other reason? I was a pitiful baker, even before I had a passion for cooking. I had tried breads- hard as rocks; a thin crust pizza that had the crust of a deep dish pizza, watery fruit pies, etc., etc. Why, just last week at work I was asked to bake who knows how many dozens of coconut macaroons-you know those moist and plump cookies? Yeah, mine didn't have those characteristics. In fact they were flat as pancakes. Delicious none the less, but turned out to be more of a coconut crisp.

Okay so in the second class, the dreaded breakfast cookery I was a failure for a variety of reasons. Perhaps it was that we had to show up to class at 3 am. Maybe because I was a Nervous Nelly about egg cookery. Or perhaps it was because the Chef was a very militant Lesbian (Hear me: I have no issues with gay people, some of my favorite friends are gay, I am just PETRIFIED of militant Lesbians!), one who had a reputation- she was known to make students do push ups if they called her "Ma'am" and sent home students if they were ill -prepared for class. She expected us to arrive with all home work (of course), tools (no brainer), recipes written out (why wouldn't I bring my recipes?), a station layout/map (helpful), an equipment list (again, sure, helpful), and a description of the criteria of each food item to be made at our station (a little bit crazy), and everyone else's station(are you out of your mind?). If you got sent home not only were YOU screwed, so was your partner and everyone else in the class because they were expected to jump in and help the one person station. Hence, why she wanted us all to be aware of every one's station. This woman terrified me.

Everyday, we entered the kitchen running. We had some time to prep for our stations, then off to lecture for an hour. Back in the kitchen at full sprint prepping in order to be prepared at 6:30 to serve breakfast for 500 or so students and faculty.

Each day, I came to class with what dignity and confidence I could scrape together, hoping that this day would be the day I got it all right. I was sorely disappointed most days. I would trip, fall and lose any sense of my ability over and over again. Now to be fair to myself, we all struggled in this class, but some more so than others (me). Broken Hollandaise on Day One, burned hash Day Two, Day Three fruit smoothies where you couldn't discern what fruit was used, undercooked eggs, overcooked eggs, the list goes on and on.

The class was only seven days, so I knew my humiliation and torture would end eventually. And in the end, I developed a fear and aversion to breakfast cookery, but I also have a lot of great stories. The day I am now going to share with you, is the best of these stories. On this day, I was prepared to be successful because I was partnered up with my best bud Paul. The night before we poured over every detail of our station. We worked on our game plans and felt solid. We knew that we could communicate well and hell, we were on the meat and potatoes station. How the hell could we F that up?

Ha, ha, ha.

The day started like every other day, my confidence high, a little less than yesterday's, but still, this was going to be my day! I had my game plan in hand that I had gone over and over, set up my station, ran about the kitchen collecting my mise en place, did the prep I could before we had to go out for lecture. I began filling up the steam tables with water on the line where Paul and I would be keeping our bacon and hash browns hot while we served the students. Next, I ran to the oven to check on my potatoes and then we all went to lecture. Even though this was the day everything was going to turn out perfectly, more than half -way through lecture I decided to check on things in the kitchen to make sure nothing we were preparing for our station was amiss. I walked in the kitchen door to find the front part flooded...I had forgotten to turn off the water to the steam tables.

I felt as though I had been kicked in the stomach. I wanted to melt into the water and disappear down the drain. I wanted to sob and call out for my Mommy. I wanted to curl up in the fetal position and rock back and forth.

But, I knew none of those things were going to get rid of the 3 inches of water collecting on the ground. I quickly pulled myself together, ran and got the ever useful squeegee and began pushing the water towards the drains...luckily for me all industrial kitchens have drains in the floors. Unluckily for me, the drains were a bit sluggish, hence the growing sea at my feet. I worked so vigorously I soon broke out in a sweat. Just as I was finishing up, lecture was over and my fellow students poured back into the kitchen. Some asked why the floor was damp, I just ran back to my station gulped down the tears and continued my prep. I was beating myself for forgetting to turn off the water, but kissing myself for getting it all cleaned up before our Chef had seen yet another of my follies. Boy was I THRILLED to get that day over with.

Alas, things never really got better for me in that class. Each day was yet another nightmare. But at the end of Day Seven, I knew I had passed and clicked my heels as I left the Kitchen From Hell.

Oh, but the story doesn't end there. Years later when my bud Paul and I were reminiscing about our horrors of culinary school, the steam table incident of course came up. We laughed and laughed, because Now it is funny. I told Paul how relieved I had been that Chef had never found out about the Flood. Then all of a sudden Paul frowned and said, "You know what? I just remembered something! That day when you ran into the kitchen Chef looked at Andrew and asked, 'Did she JUST realize she left the water running?'"

The bitch knew the whole time. Do you believe that?

So, now you know. Needless to say, I wouldn't describe culinary school as a confidence building experience. My ego was scarred for a long time after that class. And though I enjoy beating myself up and breaking myself down, when it came time to choose a place to go for my internship, where do you think I choose? Yup, a breakfast place on Nantucket. Everyday I made Hollandaise from scratch, poached, fried, scrambled eggs, worked the griddle, and made waffles. But I became a Breakfast -making machine! I redeemed myself after my horrible experience in my Breakfast Cookery class. And to this day it is one of my favorite meals.

(So Chatty Cathy, when are you going to fork over the recipes??)

Let's talk Scrambled Eggs. I know, what could be simplier than that? What could I possibly share with you about scrambled eggs? Well, prepare to be AMAZED.

I am not talking the rubbery, dried out, brown eggs you get at a diner. I am speaking of lovely slow cooked, pale yellow, creamy, tender egg curds. Why not served over crusty french bread topped with salty prosciutto? Now we are talking. M.F.K Fisher said that the best scrambled eggs should be made in a double boiler, constantly stirred with a wooden spoon for 30 minutes. Escoffier added bits of cold butter to his uncooked scrambled eggs, because as they cook the eggs are basted with the slow melting butter. To make them even more decadent, why not a bit of heavy whipping cream?

How about fried or poached eggs over steamed asparagus topped with Hollandaise?

Eggs fried in bacon fat is a staple at my parents' house, served with cheesy grits, and tomatoes tossed with a bit of garlic, cilantro and drizzled with olive oil, mmmm.



Eggs should always be cooked over low to medium-low heat. Over high, the proteins immediately seize up and makes rubbery eggs. Low heat=tender eggs.

Also, keep in mind that the residual heat in the eggs means they will continue to cook after they are taken off the heat. Because of that, I always under cook my eggs. And, please, please please! Love your food-serve your eggs hot, don't let them sit! I hate cold eggs, it's such a pet peeve of mine. And even more importantly, when cooking anything: if you are going to go through the process of heating your food, why, oh why would you serve hot food on a cold plate? Hmm?

I know I have been away for too long, but I am going to write three times a week, at least. And as always, I take suggestions!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Blood Oranges, good idea in the head, not so good in the salad

Hello, hello. Today, I spent another productive day in the Soka kitchen. Saturday is a slow day, so I was free to focus on prepping salads for the week. Seeing I over prepare, I had done my research on all the veggies and fruits in season in Spring I made a list of ten or so salads...(Thank you CIA, "Preparation is Everything")

I made my classic Fennel, Orange and Feta salad but substituted Blood Oranges. Yeah, no. Since the juice is pink, it turned the fennel and the feta pink, not really the look I was going for. So, for the future, if you use Blood Oranges with lighter colored ingredients, be prepared for a little color change! But I must say it was delicious.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Men move along,nothing to see here: Part Dos

Total hormone over load today...Some tense minutes in the kitchen then cried when Chef said I was doing a great job...had to run out of the kitchen before anyone saw my girly self crying...no Scampi recipe tonight, check me tomorrow!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

It's Been Too Long!

I feel as though I have abandoned my child at the side of the road. For years I have wanted to be a food writer and just when I started to get an audience for my writing, I drop you all!
Well it is not as though I don't have a reason. (Double negative?)
And what could be the reason?
Work. Yes, work. This whole working thing is kicking my tush! You know, the whole, two days on two days off! It is the worst.

I know. I must be joking.
But I hate to say it: I'm not. I am done after two days. It is silly. It is ridiculous. But after eight hours on my feet, I start to glaze over. My knuckles ache from gripping on to my knife all day. My back and shoulders hurt from being hunched over my table constantly. I have athlete's foot because my feet spend hours in my soggy, sweaty Crocs. The kitchen smell has reentered my life (imagine the smell of vomit, yup, that's it). I come home reeking of it.

And this is not exciting work. What I do is not like what you see on TV. I am talking cutting melons, Romaine lettuce, slicing tomatoes....And not just a few. I cut three different kinds of melons, ten of each...the process alone dulls my newly sharpen knife. Not just two or three Romaine heads, but try twenty or thirty. My father still doesn't understand how exhaustive this work is. He sees my Mother and I, laughing and smiling when we cook together- a far cry from working in an all male, Spanish speaking kitchen, cooking for 400 people with time restraints, egos and yelling Chefs and Sous Chefs.

But luckily for me, I am beginning to train in the front of the house which means I spend most of my day interacting with the clients. Yes, the students of Soka Uni, yup making smoothies, and coffee drinks....have I ever mentioned I have two degrees? So it could be easily said that I may be just a tiny bit, underemployed. Oh, but my friends, I am not complaining, merely stating the obvious. In this day and age, I am THRILLED with my job. But I love it. The students are super friendly and easy to joke with. My superiors are fun and approachable. Plus, less time in the kitchen = less vomit smell. And, I don't even break out in a sweat!

This isn't really where I imagined myself at 30. But, I realized tonight, what I pictured doesn't matter any more. Because it doesn't exist. I am here and I have to make the most of it. It doesn't matter where I am now, but where I am going. And I can finally say, I am moving forward. This is not something I could have said six months ago. With that said, enough about me, let's talk food!

Okay, I hope that this was worth the weeks that have gone by. Probably not, but it was a surprising discovery for me.

As I have written before, I try and make things on the "healthier side". Which isn't really fun, but, go with me here. I love mayo. I love to dip my fries in mayo. I would dip most foods in mayo if given the choice, because it is delicious. With that said, do you think this gal would even eat Light mayo? NO! My thought is, if I am going to eat mayo, I am going all the way.
I want to eat every single calorie and gram of fat that is in that gob of decadence!
Well, I was quite surprised when one day at work I tried to recreate my mother's well loved potato salad with Kraft Light Mayo....I didn't notice a difference. Yes it was mixed with potatoes, Dijon mustard, radishes, red onions, cucumbers and hard boiled eggs but I didn't really notice a flavor or texture change.
So, once again, I come before you and I say I am converted! I was wrong, just about homemade mayo, just about shopping at farmer's markets and yet another, the old Light mayo. So give it a try, see how it goes and let me know what you think!
And I have been told by a dear friend, that I need to revisit Shrimp Scampi...seeing that he gave it to me as an "assignment" I will comply and come to you tomorrow with a new improved Scampi recipe with lots of butter and good stuff! I wish you all well!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Lima Beans

Hello my friends. Yes I took a few days off, but I am back.
So Suz and I were remembering what a brat I was as a child. She recalled, with a scowl on her face, the Halloween I refused to wear a costume to kindergarten. And what do you think I did when I arrived to find all the other students dressed up, ready for the Halloween parade? I started crying because I was the only one sans a costume. Then there was the time when it was pony riding day, and while all the other kids couldn't wait for their turn on the pony, I refused to get on it. We have pictures of me that day, dressed in an adorable cowgirl outfit, on top of the pony, with a pout on my face. I wasn't going to enjoy it just because my Mom wanted me too!
These bratty memories also take me back to the dinner table. My Mother wanted us to be good eaters (to my detriment many porky years later, I love almost everything!) and try at least one bite of everything on our plates. Even if I did decide that I liked broccoli, I wouldn't let Her know that. Like any child I didn't want to fill up with meat loaf and mashed potatoes, I wanted dessert!
And this brings me to one food that to this day I refuse to eat. Now, it is not so much trying to defy my Mother. But instead because I don't enjoy eating it, hence not worth the calories: Succotash. Yup, corn and lima beans. I love corn, but limas? They are mealy and make my mouth dry. Ick!
But then, we came across Lima bean puree....oh my, this is good stuff. You know why? Three words: garlic, butter and cream,three things that make almost anything better. I recently made this for a dinner party and the responses were the same as how I felt, I hate lima beans but love this puree! So even if you are a skeptic, give it a try and let me know if this recipe changes your mind about lima beans.
Simmer 1 pound bag of frozen lima beans with 1 cup chicken broth (or enough to cover), minced garlic, with a lid and cook until tender, about 15 minutes. In a food processor or using an immersion blender, puree limas with cooking liquid, garlic, butter and heavy cream until smooth. Puree less for a rougher, more rustic texture, or if you want it super smooth push puree through a sieve. Season with salt, pepper and adjust texture with more chicken broth or cream.
This recipe can be made a few days ahead (making it a great choice for a dinner party). When you reheat it, you may need to thin it with more heavy cream. Now, are lima beans your new favorite?


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A message for the Ladies

Guys, move along, nothing for you to see here.

I am PMSing. Oh Ladies, it's the usual symptoms, crying at anything, loss of concentration at the wheel, my hatred of anything male (if I could shoot venom with my eyes, I would), sleeplessness..the list goes on and on. The one thing that brought joy to my day today, of course, was food. Hmmm, there is nothing better to quench your salt craving than ham wrapped around a quartered Bubbies pickle. (please, if you haven't had these pickles, you MUST give them a try!) Yes the down side is the water retention, but that is inevitable, is it not?

A Lovely Lunch

Yesterday I prepared lunch for some friends, in exchange for some advice and help with this blogging thing. I am not going to try to make myself out to be savvier than I am. After about 5 minutes of tech talk, my eyes glazed over and I went to my happy place: A green hillside covered in red and purple flowers. Butterflies fluttering about in the cool breeze, blue sky with big puffy, fluffy clouds...I forced myself back to reality to focus. When I arrived, I realized as I viewed other food blogs on my friend's lap top, my blog layout sucks! How amateur is it that my pictures are taken with my camera phone? Who do I think I am? I am not nearly as cool as I thought.

I quickly switched gears and was pleased with what I had prepared because my friends' enjoyment of the meal, matches the amount of help I am going to need...A lot!

Prosciutto and Plugra butter sandwiches on French Baguette, Fresh (frozen) Pea soup and Avocado and Blood Orange salad.

The sandwich and salad are pretty straight forward. If you cannot find Plugra butter, use any European unsalted sweet butter as it has a higher fat content and is divine! I used red leaf lettuce from our local organic farm and dressed the greens with olive oil, blood orange juice and a bit of lemon juice, salt and pepper.

But the soup stole the show!
Saute 1 cup diced onions and 2 teaspoons minced garlic in 2 Tablespoon butter in a medium pot. Cook them until translucent. Then add 1 1/2 pounds frozen sweet peas and enough chicken broth just to cover them. Over high heat bring to a simmer then reduce heat to medium low. Cook just until the peas are tender, maybe 10 minutes or so. You don't want to over cook this soup because then it will turn that unappealing brown green color. Turn off the heat and let your soup cool a bit. During this time set up a blender. Carefully pour your soup with 1/4 cup heavy cream into the blender and puree until smooth. At this time, you can add some chopped mint, chervil or Italian parsley. Season with salt, pepper and if you wish, a bit of nutmeg, about 1/4 teaspoon. For me the trick with seasoning savory dishes with nutmeg is you want to add just enough so you taste something, but not so much that you can discern what it is! If you are serving right away, return to your pot and reheat, or if serving later cool and store in the fridge.

Some garnishes that would be nice are, crumbled bacon, caramelized shallots, a dollop of creme fraiche or a fried sage leaf.
This soup is delicious hot or cold. Enjoy!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Mushy Tomatoes

At culinary school, I was constantly comparing myself, my abilities and my knowledge about food and cooking with the other students. My fellow students varied from 18 year old, newly graduated high schoolers, to guys in their mid-twenties with years of cooking experience. Regardless of what we knew or had learned in the past, the Chef Instructor was always right. It was his kitchen so we did things his way. We quickly learned the militant answer to any question: “Yes, Chef!” Even if you were in the weeds (behind in your work), and the Chef asked if you would be ready for service, even if you didn't think you would be, you shouted, crystal clear, “Yes Chef!” and worked harder, faster and more efficient than you had before. Constantly pushing yourself and striving further than you thought possible, and sometimes failing, sometimes succeeding.

And what helps a person succeed? Knowledge. Knowing the most basic things can make a huge difference in the food you prepare and your experiences in the kitchen.
When I was at culinary school I had an Italian Chef Instructor from Long Island for my Cuisines of the Mediterranean class. He wasn’t nice to anyone. He was a hard man and so explosive, that one afternoon, he had us all stop what we were doing, at our busiest time (preparing dinner for a couple hundred students and instructors), gather around the refridgerator. He ripped a paper bag out of the fridge and tossed it on the table and screamed, “Who put these tomatoes in here? Tomatoes NEVER get refridgerated!” We all were 5-years old again, getting scolded by our Mothers. As I scanned the group, I saw desperate faces. We waited for the person who had put a bag in the fridge, to confess to this kitchen sin. We all knew every moment we stood there, was time wasted. Of course, the guilty person never spoke up. Our group leader did, taking a dive for us all so we could get back to work. We all knew he hadn’t done it for he was one of the most experienced of us all. But nonetheless, we respected him for doing it. Our Chef knew too, and because of that, he allowed the humiliation of the admission be his punishment.
Later, I turned to a friend, one I knew I could trust, who wouldn’t judge me and asked, “Why was Chef so pissed that the tomatoes were in the fridge?” No I was not guilty for the tomato crime, but I felt lame for not knowing what was so bad about a cold tomato! My dear friend shook his head and told me that refrigeration makes tomatoes mushy and mealy. Aha! Okay, I got that lesson learned. Ingrained in my head, I would never mistreat a tomato like that!

And to this day, it pains me so to see a tomato in the fridge. I cringe. Sometimes I have to physically control myself from yelling out, “Tomatoes NEVER get refridgerated!”
As with any industry, there are things that are common knowledge, like the tomato. I have some of this knowledge and would love to share it with you. So I arrive here to write about proper vegetable storage. I know, not the most exciting of topics, but I think many people nowadays are trying to save money and proper storage of goods will help them last longer. Here goes:
Onions, garlic, shallots and potatoes- store in a dry environment, out of plastic bags (being confined in plastic will cause moisture to form and later mold and mildew), once you have cut into them, place in plastic bags in the refrigerator. I suggest removing the papery skins of onions and shallots, to prevent mildew growth.
Lettuces- to make it easy on yourself, I recommend washing them right when you get home for the store, drying them and wrapping in paper towels then plastic bags into the fridge. This way they will be ready when you are. If you buy them from a farmer’s market, or if they are organic, fill your clean sink with water and swoosh the leaves about, and let them sit for a few minutes. This way if there are any bugs, they will be washed away.
Herbs- Cilantro, parsley, mint, chervil: Let soak in bowlful of cold water to release any dirt, and change the water a few times depending on how dirty they are. Next make a new cut at the bottom of the stems and store upright in water, like flowers and wrap plastic around the leaves (oh! same for asparagus.) Thyme, rosemary, oregano, any woody herb, rinse in water and store wrapped in paper towel. Basil is very delicate so pop in the fridge until you are ready to use and wash just before using.
Green onions: fun thing about these guys that I haven’t tried yet: at the end of a green onion, there are roots that can be planted into soil, meaning you can plant one and always have scallions on hand! Or if you aren’t interested in that, I suggest waiting to wash them just before you use them. They tend to deteriorate quickly when washed and if you cut the root end, the different layers of the scallion unevenly expand and lengthen…
Broccoli and cauliflower, wash and store in a paper towel lined bag and wait to cut because the cut ends will turn brown
I like to store mushrooms in paper towel lined plastic bags to prevent them from getting slimey.
Fruit: This is going to sound silly, but my teeth are sensitive to coldness, so I don’t really like my fruit cold. And why would refridgration affect stone fruits like tomatoes? So I keep them out on the counter. But sometimes, you just don’t get to eating them quick enough, so the fridge is inevitable, and that is fine!


So that's that. Good luck in the kitchen. I hope these tips help you, and remember: No tomatoes in the refridegerator!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Farmer's Markets

I hate trends.
I will go out of my way to avoid anything that somebody tells me I MUST try, or a movie I MUST see.
I will never watch Avatar.
If it is the cool thing to do, I am doing the opposite. Especially if it is PC.
Lately : “foodies” going on and on about shopping at farmer’s markets; article after article saying how the quality is better, “support your local, small businesses!” yada, yada, yada. I don’t care. I don’t want to become one of those hippie types who think they are saving the planet because they buy local and organic foods.

Now, in between my stubbornness I have moments of clarity, I realize this: That this is completely stupid of me. I could NEVER be a hippie.

Oh and also, it is silly to totally discount something, just because it is popular: Earth to Blair: Maybe it is popular for a reason! Did I ever think of that?

Well, I have let go of my apprehension to farmer’s markets and in fact, I have become a convert, thanks to my friend Aimee.
Against all that is me, I come to you today and am going to try to convince you to shop farmer’s markets.
One of the most amazing eating summers for me was when I worked at Babette’s Kitchen (http://www.babetteskitchen.com/) in Millbrook, NY. Every weekend the Millbrook’s Farmer’s Market took place. I have never tasted a tomato like the ones I ate that summer. As a lunch special we offered a BLT. Now normally the bacon is my favorite part. But that summer, the tomatoes were the best. The tomato flavor was super concentrated.
Normally zucchinis make me gag. The ones I ate that summer were so tender and sweet, I could eat them raw. This was the summer I fell in love with dill!
Why was the produce so remarkable, you ask? Because they were all picked that morning. They were so fresh, they still had bugs on them (organic!)-which made my skin crawl, but, hey, more protein, right? I ate local mesculane mix, nothing in comparison to the bland, bagged, near compost monstrosity sold at your neighborhood franchised grocery store. Wilted, yellowing chives, leathery looking romaine leaves, limes with skins like they had a bad case of acne. Why waste you money on poor produce? Because it’s convenient? Chives should emanate their lovely fragrance. Lettuce should be tender and flavorful. Juicy citrus should have small pores and shiny skins. Have I gotten in that head of yours?
Another perk of shopping at farmer’s markets, not only will you get the best of the harvest, pay less for it, have it last longer (because it wasn’t picked weeks beforehand) but the produce they are selling is in SEASON! As a country we can get all sorts of produce regardless of the season. That doesn’t make it right. I challenge you. Eat a tomato at the height of it’s season. Then eat one in the middle of winter. Notice the difference in color, flavor and juiciness. Is it red on the outside with a pale, anemic looking flesh?
I don’t need to hear your comparisons, I already know. Take advantage of the seasonal produce because they fit the season for a reason. Potatoes, turnips, cabbage in winter=braises! Long cooking processes that warm your home and hungry bellies. Tomatoes, basil, cucumbers=quick, light, cool sauces for hot, sweaty summers!


Well I have given it my all. I have a stated my arguments, it is now up to you. Yes, the convenience is a good argument to stay with your nation wide grocery store. But I ask you once: Just try it. If the produce isn’t as hugely better than what you expected, and if supporting a local, small business isn’t as satisfying, well then you are more stubborn than I. Good for you.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Cookies so scrumptious, they'll make you cry outloud

Previously I had written that I am a horrible baker. I don’t really need to go into details, but just imagine a flour-dusted Blair, sweat pouring down her brow, frazzled with burning smells coming from the oven. It isn’t pretty.

But once and a while, there is a recipe written for even the best of the bakingphobes. Not only is this recipe a snap to make, but has made grown women, I am talking upper class ladies, the best of the SoCal gals who are very conscious of images, let out moans of pleasure in the middle of a luncheon. I was there, I heard them. Even better, I have witnesses.
Alas, I cannot take credit for this delight, but instead will bow to the creator Barbara Fairchild who wrote “The Bon Appetit Cookbook”. I will sacrifice, in your honor Ms. Fairchild, many cattle to the Gods.

Giant chocolate-toffee cookies
Makes 18

1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 pound bittersweet (NOT unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 3/4 cups (packed) golden brown sugar
3 large eggs
1 Tablespoon
5 (1.4 ounce) chocolate covered English toffee candy bars (like Skor of Heath bar), coarsely chopped
1 cup walnuts, toasted, chopped (I don’t like nuts in my sweets, so I leave these out)

In a small bowl whisk the flour, baking powder and salt until blended.
Stir chocolate and butter on the top of a double boiler set over simmering water until melted and smooth. Remove the mixture from heat and cool until lukewarm. Using an electric mixer, beat sugar and eggs until thick, about 5 minutes. Beat in the chocolate mixture and the vanilla. Stir in the flour mixture, then the toffee and nuts. Chill the batter until firm, at least 45 minutes and up to one day.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two large, baking sheets with parchment paper. Drop the batter by 1/4 cupfuls onto the baking sheets, spacing them about 2 1/2 inches apart. Bake the cookies just until dry and cracked on top but still soft to the touch in the center, about 15 minutes. Cool on the baking sheets. (The cookies can be made 2 days ahead, just store in an airtight container at room temperature.)



Now, stop what you are doing and go make these cookies. In no time you will be in a chocolate toffee cookie swoon!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Party Time this Sunday!

Like many other singles out there, I dread Valentine's Day.
TV, radio, stores, it's all around me, throwing love, commitment and relationships in my face. Those bastards remind me, (like I need to be reminded) that yet again, I will spend this day, alone, bitter and feeling sorry for myself.
Well guess what? Not this year!
No, I haven't come to the decision to not attend my pity party...Oh no, I will go to my party, and I will feel pity, pity for myself and I will sulk and feel sorry for myself, all day.
But in between the memories of failed relationships, I will be spending the day at my bud Aimee's place. She is throwing a party to promote her very talented artist husband. (http://www.jaceklazuka.com/). He does amazing modern art paintings...check out his website. I don't know much about art, but his work is unique!

Anyway, seeing as how I am somewhat of a chef, I have been enlisted to cook.
It is a simple menu, but nonetheless, delicious:
Lemon, Garlic and Rosemary chicken skewers (equal parts vermouth and lemon juice, minced garlic, chopped rosemary with a bit of olive oil)
Bourbon Soy Steak skewers (equal parts bourbon, soy sauce, water, a bit of toasted sesame seed oil, minced garlic and ginger)
Roasted corn, portobello mushroom, spinach and Parmesan farfalle salad (tossed with a bit of sauteed minced garlic and olive oil)
Sliced fennel, orange and feta cheese salad (tossed with lemon and orange juice with olive oil, salt and pepper)
And for dessert, a chocolate lover's fantasy: Chocolate toffee cookies!
I wish you all a Happy VD, may all your romantic dreams come true!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Aspiring Chef

Okay, I make mistakes.
I am not PERFECT.
I am human.

My salmon sauce was well thought through. It made sense on paper. The strong flavors of the capers, basil and anchovy could hold it's ground against the intense taste of the salmon. But unfortunately, on the plate? Yeah, not so much. I thought my sauce overpowered the salmon. Now don't get me wrong, my sauce was delicious. But I decided that it would be better paired with a tamer fish. Perhaps one with a great texture like halibut, white fish or sea bass. The darker the meat, the stronger the flavor and higher the fat content. The pale fish are mild and really need a sauce to add flavor to what would be a bland dish.
Suzie argued that perhaps next time I should serve less sauce. This is an option, but I think from now on I will eat my salmon the old way: with Lawry's garlic salt, pepper, a lemon wedge and enjoy the salmon, all by itself.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Salmon (gulp)

After working in restaurants and dealing with a variety of fish, the list of fish I will consume has vastly decreased. The reason for this, I will not share with you, because I don’t want to ruin fish for you. Mostly it has to do with handling fish too much, getting grossed out by the rawness of it and the lingering stink on my hands and clothes. I used to love sushi! Not so much anymore. It’s raw. As in: it hasn’t been cooked. Who knows how old it is and if it has been properly handled? Because of this, I won’t order it-raw or cooked, at a restaurant. Now don’t get me wrong, all the places I worked at were very cautious and safely stored their fish, I just don’t trust anyone else to do the same.
Unfortunately for me, in my home one of “our” favorite menus is grilled salmon, garlicky spinach and baked sweet potato. I have been able to choke down my salmon, pushing away any past unpleasant fish images in my head, to the point where now I am enjoying it again. Normally I am happy to season it with Lawry’s garlic salt, pepper and a squeeze of fresh lemon, but I want something more tonight. So I brought out my Culinary Artistry inspired to come up with a sauce to shake things up. Now as you know, I tend to eat on the “healthier” side, but what the hell? Let’s have some fun and make something with mayo and sour cream. Maybe, just maybe, some bacon!

Okay,first off, what about a relish/salsa with diced tomatoes, onions, minced garlic, white wine vinegar, lemon or lime juice, olive oil and basil, chives, or tarragon?
Another option would be roasted corn, bacon, tomatoes, avocado, chopped cilantro with lime juice and olive oil.
Why not a compound butter? (Please see my post on Compound Butters)
Or a lovely quick sauce with equal parts mayo and Dijon. You could also add some course mustard to add some texture.
Like horseradish? Make a horseradish cream sauce with crème fraiche (or sour cream) with as much horseradish as you can take!
An herb mayo would be a delicious green sauce. Mix a combo of chopped chives, dill, parsley and chervil into mayonnaise with a bit of fresh lemon juice.
For me, a mayo sauce is too rich paired with the fattiness of the fish, so you will see I have added an acid (citrus juice or vinegar) to those sauces. Actually, I added it to all the sauces because I really like citrus juice. If you don’t, leave it out!
The one I am going to try tonight is very similar to a putanesca sauce:
In a pan sauté some onions and garlic in olive oil, until translucent. Next, add maybe a half teaspoon or so of anchovy paste, 1 tablespoon chopped black olives and cook that for a minute. Then add chopped (or pureed), canned tomatoes, a tablespoon of rinsed, drained and chopped capers and simmer until the sauce has thicken. Now here is where my Mother and I ALWAYS differ. I was taught by a very scary Italian Chef (he had a glass eye that lingered in the opposite direction than his real eye, which sounds funny but it was terrifying in combination with his temper) that you cook the tomatoes until they turn sweet. Suzie says sometimes the tomatoes are too tart and adds sugar. Both have years of experience, who am I to say who is right? If it is still tart, cook more or add sugar, I will leave that up to you. Right before serving I will add some basil chiffonade (fancy for sliced basil) And of course, season to taste.

We shall see how it goes. Let me know if you come up with any yummy sauces for your favorite fish dishes!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Hey all you brown rice eaters!

Brown rice, hmmm. Let's be honest, it can't really compete with white rice, can it? Unless of course, you slather it with butter, cheese, bacon and cream, but what would be the point of eating the healthier rice choice with all that added fat and calories?

If you are like me and determined to make the switch to healthier foods, there are a few things you can do to make your brown rice not only palatable, but delicious!

As the direction reads on the package, it tells you to cook your rice in water. Okay sure, that works, but because you are trying to add flavor and richness, instead cook your rice in broth. I use chicken broth, but you could also use beef or vegetable broth. To add even more flavor throw in a sprig of fresh thyme (or a pinch of dried thyme), a bay leaf and a whole garlic clove into your cooking liquid.

Now that you have rice cooking let's add even more flavor. Saute some sliced mushrooms in olive oil with shallots and garlic. When your rice is done fold this in along with some sliced green onions. Don't forget to salt and pepper.

Another option is my newest creation. Halve some cherry or grape tomatoes (7-8 tomatoes for a 1/2 cup uncooked rice) and place in a dry, smoking skillet over high heat, so they start to brown. Then, this is the dangerous part: pour in a 1/4 cup vermouth. Because your pan will be so hot and the vermouth has alcohol in it, it will flambé, or light on fire. (Because of this, please don't pour straight from the bottle!) Don't worry, once the alcohol has been burned off the flame will subside, which should only take a few seconds. Also you could keep a pot lid close by and pop that on your pan when the flame starts. (I added too much vermouth tonight and had a three foot flame going! Eek, I was just a tad nervous when this happended!) Add 1-2 teaspoons of minced garlic and cook until liquid has reduced by half. When your rice is done, fold in tomatoes, garlic, vermouth mixture along with some sliced green onions (I like green onions). Salt and pepper and drizzle in some olive oil.

You could also make some fried rice with canadian bacon. frozen corn and peas with onions, garlic and a bit of soy sauce. And it isn't fried rice without scrambled eggs, or egg whites!

Also another huge hint, this is a no brainer: make sure you cook your rice long enough. If there is a bite to you rice, put it back on the stove. It should have a lovely chewy texture. I am a huge fan of sticky rice so I cook mine until the rice grain has popped open. Also try different rice types. There is long grain, basmati and my personal favorite: short grain.

I hope these ideas work out for you. If you have any tricks for brown rice, please post!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Smoked Pulled Pork, an ode to an ex

I got this recipe from my ex.
We dated 2 years and in the end, all I got was a semi-broken heart, 20 extra pounds , a cat I didn't want and some recipes. As I sit here, I am happy to tell you that my heart is healed, I have lost the 20 pounds plus 10, I love my cat as though I had been the one to choose him, and I am becoming quite the smoker (as in BBQing)! I come to you today to say, “This cooking thing, is way easier than you think!” What IS difficult is being fearless and ready to fail. Unless, you don’t like to cook, then it will always be a thorn in your side. But, I am here to help you through any cooking dilemma!
Like anything else, everybody has his way of doing things. If you go online you will find a plethera of information on smoking. You will be told the equipment you must have, the method you must do, etc. etc. Well, come into my corner and I will tell you my method. (What real BBQers will probably call “half-assed”.) But, I don’t care. They are the true Masters while I am merely a novice. Novice yes, but I know my pulled pork will be devoured!
I have made pulled pork a dozen times on a gas grill and it never got as smokey tasting as I thought it should be. This time I brought out the old, rusted Weber and it put the gas grill to shame. The process of smoking this time was much easier.
I like to get started on my pork a few days in advance because I do things differently each time therefore am never sure when it will be done. First you need to go and buy a nice pork butt, or shoulder. Next, it’s time to season it. If you want to make it easy on yourself, you could buy a pre-made spice mix, no judgment here. I have made the following recipe (from Cook's Illustrated, but I have tweaked it a bit) a few times and it is by far my favorite. Depending on the size of your pork you may need to double or even triple this recipe:

4 Tablespoon paprika, 2 Tablespoons cumin, 2 Tablespoons chili powder, 2 Tablespoons black pepper, 1 teaspoon cayenne, 2 Tablespoons salt, 3 Tablespoons brown sugar, 1 Tablespoon oregano, 1/2 Tablespoon garlic powder, 1/2 Tablespoon onion powder

Place seasoned pork on a plate and store in the fridge over night, uncovered. Take pork out on hour before you start smoking. At this time soak your wood chunks. This is my first time using the chunks instead of chips. The chunks last much longer and don’t need constant replenishing. There are a variety of wood types and I like using apple wood. It is well paired with pork and chicken, and it smells delicious! After forty five minutes, it’s time to start heating your charcoal. I used briquettes, they worked pretty well so far. Using a chimney starter, fill it 3/4 of the way up with the charcoal and place a wad of newspaper in the bottom. Light the newspaper and set in grill. Let the coals heat for about 15 minutes. You should be able to feel the heat when you put your hand over the top of the chimney. Pour out the coals and separate into two piles on either side of the grill. Drain 2-3 wood chunks per pile and place on hot spots (you will need to add more coals and wood as you smoke). If necessary, fan the coals to get the chunks smoking. The wood should never be on fire. If this happens pour a bit of the soaking water on the flames until they go out, but the coals should still be aglow. Put your pork on the rack in the center of the BBQ and cover. The vents should be about half open on the top and bottom. And let it do it’s thing, smoke.
Now here is where an expert would come in handy. I kept my smoker going for 2 1/2 hours- any more and my pork would have been too smokey. I believe with anything, you must practice, practice and learn by doing. This time, I got lucky.
Next I put my pork on a bed of sliced onions, 4 garlic cloves, two cups of broth (water would do too), wrap well with foil and into a 300 degree oven. Again, depending on the size of your pork, the cooking time will vary. This time I cooked my pork for 4 1/2 hours, until super tender and beginning to fall apart. Once done, I separate the meat from the liquid (strain through a sieve) and cool meat until cool enough to shred. Add some of the cooking liquid so your pork is moist, but not too soupy. Other recipes will have you make an additional BBQ sauce or a vinegar sauce, but I think that the pork is so flavorful, it doesn't really need anything. Serve on a burger bun and top with some coleslaw and chow down!
If you are lucky, you will have leftovers. One of my favorite ways to eat pulled pork, is at breakfast with a fried egg on top! Also you could make some pulled pork tacos, or quesadillas would be terrific! In the end you will have that dark broth that is infused with the pork, spices and smokiness. I always save it with great intentions of coming up with some delicious recipe, but have never. But, I do have some ideas: think it would be really good in chili or maybe tortilla soup or pozole (Mexican pork and hominy soup)?

Smoking doesn't end with pork: smoked salmon, chicken, sausages, the list is endless! If you are a fan of pulled pork, need a hobby or want to expand your culinary abilities I would recommend getting in to smoking. Or, if you want another excuse, to drink beer!
Cheers!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Super Bowl Gluttony

Hi there. Well, tomorrow is the big game. Truthfully, I don’t care about it. I don’t even know who’s playing. But it is a chance to make sinful food and indulge. Plus, it is a great excuse to entertain, and my Dad is having his golf buddies over. As always, we have planned a feast! I have listed what we (Suz and I) are preparing to give you some ideas in case you are watching it with a crowd, or by yourself.

Fried grit sticks with pimento cheese (The Chef I learned this recipe from called this “crack cheese” because it’s so good it’s addictive, like crack!)
Suzie’s famous, cream cheese and scallion dip (the best with potato chips!)
Guacamole
It wouldn’t be Super Bowl without Buffalo Chicken Wings and bleu cheese dressing (I just follow the recipe at the back of Franks Hot Sauce bottle)
Irish Nachos (seasoned waffle fries with melted cheese, bacon, green onions and Chipotle sour cream)
Oh, and my Smoked Pulled Pork Sandwiches with Cole Slaw!
And of course, my most favorite, BEER!
I may have to give in and have one of each and wash it all down with a frosty beer! Enjoy the game, enjoy the food and be safe!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Taking special requests

I was asked by a friend to write about what I think is in a well stocked pantry. Immediately my ego shot through the roof. Someone is asking me! What I think! Yay! I have a purpose today! Then it hit me like a truck, I remembered reading an article where some food writer said, “no pantry is complete without dried mushrooms.” (Oh pretentious snob, who does he think he is? Telling me what should be in MY pantry) Hmm, dried mushrooms. Well, okay sure, that works for you. But what if you think reconstituted mushrooms not only reek, but are totally unappealing and you have no intention of ever using them? Then, those mushrooms are a waste of money and of space in your pantry! Okay, so where does that put me? How do I answer this request without sounding exactly that the other writer? My tastes are not yours, right?
Well, I put the question to you, dear reader: What do you cook? What do you like to eat? Also, for what reason do you want to have things on hand? So that once home from a long day at work, you have the ingredients to make a nourishing meal? Or are you the type that have friends pop over and you want to have some snacks to present? Well I forged on and made a list of things I think are convenient to have on hand but also to inspire you to expand your ingredients list to incorporate new flavors.
As you read, you may notice an absence of baking supplies. I am a nervous baker, I hate it. I cannot bake anything without making a huge mistake. If you are a baker, you are way a head of me and really, you don’t want me telling you what you keep in your baking pantry.

Oils: vegetable, olive oil, grapeseed (Love, love, love in salads and for high heat searing), toasted sesame seed and Pam or any other cooking spray
Vinegars: Now this is quite the list, but I love them all, because I like to pair my salad greens with my vinegar. I love champagne, rice wine, white wine with gentle, tender
lettuces like mesculan or butter lettuce. While I prefer red wine, sherry and cider vinegars with heartier lettuces like romaine, iceberg and arugula. Cider is also awesome with grape seed oil in cole slaw!
Stocks: I know I preach about making your own chicken stock, but when you are in a pickle, the canned stuff will work just fine. Go for one with reduced sodium.
Canned tomatoes: for pasta sauces, chilis and soups
Salt, pepper, garlic salt: I use all three to season EVERYTHING! Lawry’s garlic salt is a staple in my house (http://www.lawrys.com/Products/Spice-Blends/Garlic-Salt.aspx)
Spices: Red pepper flakes, cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, smoked paprika, cayenne, chili powder, Mexican oregano, dried thyme, curry, cinnamon
Soy sauce
Vanilla beans
: halve 4 and put in a bottle of white rum and a few months later: Homemade vanilla extract! Or, vanilla rum, excellent with coke!
Sugar
Flour
Panko
: if you have never used these Japanese bread crumbs, I strongly suggest you stop reading and head to your grocery to pick some up. I think it makes a far superior crispy crust for chicken breasts (flour, egg wash, Panko, into the hot fat! Yum!)
Canned beans: black, cannellini- I love black beans in chili, heated through with some onions, garlic and chipotle sauce for some Smokin’ Black Beans, or a colorful, flavorful black bean relish with cilantro and roasted red peppers. Heat cannellini beans with onions and olive oil. Puree and serve on crostinis topped with sautéed garlicky spinach
Polenta/ corn meal
Short grain brown rice
: I have abandoned white rice for the healthier brown, alas, I miss it so!
Quinoa: for when I tire of brown rice
Pastas: I eat the whole wheat kind with a little minced garlic sauteed in olive oil with red pepper flakes and Parmesan, a delightful side dish!
Hot sauces: I like Chipotle Tabasco and Tapatio
Agave nectar and honey
Lentils
Garlic, onions and shallots
Vermouth

Coconut milk: oatmeal, soups, rice pudding
Green chilis: Mexican rice dishes, quesadillas
Tomato paste: Mexican rice, pasta sauces, chilis
Anchovy paste: putanesca, and it is fabulous added to sauces, because as it is heated, the fishiness flavor fades and just leaves a fantastic umami flavor (http://www.umamiinfo.com/what_exactly_is_umami?/)
Anchovy stuffed olives from Spain: just because every once and a while I get a hankering for them!

This is my list. I will update it, as I am sure I have left things out. I know some are items you may never use. No doubt, other items I didn’t include you may use all the time. But I think for any cook at least have stock, oil, vinegar, salt and pepper always on hand. Oh and Culinary Artistry!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Corrections

Hello there. Tonight I made my potatoes au gratin according to my previous blog, and to my dismay, I posted a few mistakes ! (call myself a Chef!) Nothing major, but I have made adjustments. If you haven't made it yet, I recommend that you do!

Roast chicken, that's it!


Roast chicken is a no brainer. If you can salt, pepper it and plop it in the oven, you can serve a tasty dinner tonight. Because chicken is such a clean slate, you can really have fun playing around with the flavors. You can stuff the cavity with lemon wedges, halved onions and garlic cloves, place sage, thyme, rosemary leaves under the breast skins. Even better, why not defrost some of the fine compound butters you have the in the freezer and spread that under the skin? (please see my post Compound Butter) Or, because bacon makes everything better, cover the chicken skin with five or six bacon slices.
Now that you have your chicken seasoned, you could place your chicken in a roaster and start cooking, or you could make a bed of sliced onions, chunked up potatoes and a couple of garlic cloves. If you like flavors on the sweeter side, you could wedge up some granny smith apples and sliced fennel, and sprinkle the chicken skin with curry powder.
In a 375 degree oven, place your dressed up chicken and cook for about an hour for a
3 1/2-4 pound chicken. Your chicken will be cooked when the breast meat is 150 degrees and the thigh is up to 170 degrees. Another way to check if it’s done, is when the meat is pierced the juices should be clear. If pink, it’s back in the oven!
A very important step in cooking any chicken, roast or steak is the resting period. Once removed from the oven, the chicken should sit for 10 minutes. Don’t worry about it getting cold, the residual heat will keep it warm. During this time the juices have time to redistribute through the meat and when you cut it, the juices will stay in the chicken and not end up on your cutting board.
Now, take a moment to check out your roaster pan. See all of those lovely brown bits on the bottom? If you pour these down the drain, I am going to come to your house and hit you upside the head! These bits are gems. This is what the French call, “fond”, sounds like “fawn”. Your next move is to heat a tea kettle and pour about 1/2-1 cup of boiling water in the pan and with a wooden spoon work the bits off the bottom and sides. You could also use white wine (I use vermouth or Riesling would be delicious) or, have some fun and use a bit of red wine vinegar and water. Now what? You could thicken the juice with a bit of flour and use as a sauce for your chicken, or store in the fridge over night, remove the chicken fat from the top and freeze the juice for future soups, cooking rice or polenta!
Here is another variation: Instead of a roaster, you could cook it in a clay pot. Chicken cooked in this clay pot is so tender, moist and very nutritious which you know I love! I suggest you check clay pots out. I have a Romertopf (http://www.romertopfonline.com/) but since we as a people have been cooking in clay vessels since the beginning on cooking, they are available in a variety of sizes, shapes and styles. Please check back later tonight to see a pic of my dinner, Roast Chicken!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Calorie Extravagance

There are some foods out there that are so decadent, so flavorful, I want to swim in them. Just to taste them is not enough, I want to be surrounded by them. I know that sounds strange, but that is the only way I know how to describe this feeling. You know, something that is warm and gooey, creamy and smooth, so mouthwatering....What luscious dish am I writing of? Potatoes au gratin. Because for me, nothing is better than potatoes and melted cheese. Oh, and beer! I love beer. I would trade sweets for the rest of my life if only I could drink beer sans the beer belly.

Moving on: potatoes au gratin. Everyone has his own recipes and dos and don'ts. Aren't Chefs bossy? I will share this recipe and hope that you find it as sinful as I do. One recipe will serve 4-6 people, but I think after one whiff of this baking, you won't want to share! And while I would love to take credit for it, I cannot, for what follows is a variation of a recipe written by Patricia Wells in her book, Bistro Cooking.

Please do not substitute any other kind of Swiss cheese, it needs to be Gruyere. Also the recipe calls for creme fraiche, but you can use heavy whipping cream instead. Because this is a very rich dish I like to serve it with grilled or roasted asparagus, because it's strong flavor can stand up to the intense cheese. Or if you are a fan of broccoli rabe, saute it in olive oil with garlic red pepper flakes and sweet peas. (The peas help balance the bitterness of the broccoli rabe.) And a steak, perhaps a filet or New York strip, would be the greatest pairing- lamb may be too rich and the delicate flavor of chicken may get lost. But what the hell? I don't know your palate. Do what you want to do, eat what ever you wish, just make sure to enjoy every bite.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Take one garlic clove and smoosh it with your thumb along every surface of a gratin pan. As you rub, the clove will break up and I like to scatter them evenly around the pan. Grate 1/2 a pound (about 3 cups) Gruyere cheese and put aside. Spoon creme fraiche in a mixing bowl and stir in enough heavy cream to make the creme fraiche just pourable. Wash and peel 2 pounds of russet potatoes and plop in a bowl of cold water. Using a mandolin slicer (other recipes say you can cut them by hand, yeah, no. You most likely don't have a knife sharp enough and using a mandolin makes slicing the potatoes super fast and efficient. I recommend investing in one) slice each potato into 1/8 inch thick slices. Now you could put them back into your bowl of water, OR you could work quickly and utilize the natural potato starches to thicken your gratin, and place them overlapping in the gratin dish. Sprinkle with a 1/3 of the cheese, pour in 1/3 of the creme fraiche mix and freshly ground pepper. Layer this two more times and pop in the oven. Notice after only a few minutes the aroma filling the air? Cook, uncovered, until a toothpick or cake taster slides in smoothly, about 50-60 minutes. The cheese will be crusty brown on top, and the sides will have cheese grease bubbling up. I know, the first thing you want to do is taste it! But that would be bad because you would burn the roof of your mouth and most of your taste buds. Then you wouldn't be able to enjoy the wickedness of your potatoes au gratin. Let the dish sit for a few minutes for the flavors to intertwine, let the cheese cool and set. When you do finally put that first spoonful in your mouth it will be..... hmmm, I think I will let you finish that sentence.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

A taste of summer in January

Oh my fellow food lovers! I apologize for my absence for a few days. Oh that’s right, you didn’t notice. Okay, well not that you asked, but I have Plantar warts (never get them, always wear flip flops in strange showers) from one summer working the grill on Block Island and unfortunately for me, living in squalor with boys who had questionable hygiene. I got their warts (note: warts on my feet, from nasty shower conditions, not any other kind, you know. Just thought I would add that).
As they are not responding to conventional treatment, my doctor decided to be more aggressive last Monday and I have been in pain ever since. I have been staying off my feet, and am unable to do the two things I love: running and cooking. You can imagine, after a week of knitting and AM radio, I have had it! I am cranky. And as is my down fall, I look to food for some kind of pleasure (hence my weight gains over the years, but a story for another time). My favorite time of year to cook is summer. I love being outside grilling steaks or smoking a pork shoulder. I decided I needed a little summer to cheer me up. To me, nothing says summer like grilled veggies. The flavors are so intense, you don’t need to add much for them to be delicious. Eggplant, portobellos, zucchinis, sweet onions, red peppers, yum, and relatively healthy. They are easy because you can just drizzle them with olive oil, (or add a little thyme and minced garlic to the oil) and grill.
Well, as with every meal I prepare, I make enough for an army. So the next day, leftover grilled vegetables are delicious, but the day after that? Hmmm, not so much. I have had my fill and I hate to say it, but a lot goes to waste. UNTIL I remembered one of the basics lessons of the kitchen: the best way to utilize leftovers and scraps is SOUP! This soup is like a roasted gazpacho. It is hearty, satisfying, very flavorful, low calorie, vegetarian, vegan and Celiac disease (an allergy to gluten)-friendly…who wants some!? Now, depending on the veggies you use, the final product will vary, but I promise it will be a keeper!

Previously I gave a list of vegetables I use but here are a few other options: asparagus, cherry tomatoes or tomato slices, tomatillos or parboiled potatoes. Rough chop your grilled veggies, place in pot with tomato juice and/or chicken/vegetable broth, just to cover and heat over high until simmering. Reduce heat and slowly simmer for 20 minutes, stirring every once and a while so it doesn’t scorch on the bottom. Set up a blender and in batches, puree soup (carefully, it’s hot). Or if you have one, use an immersion blender and puree it all at once. If it’s too thick add more tomato juice or broth. And season as you go. In the end you will have a thick, robust, pureed soup. You can always add a bit of heat with some hot sauce or a bit of lemon juice or sherry vinegar to brighten the flavors. What about some lovely garnishes? I love diced avocado, caramelized shallots, croutons, sour cream or yogurt, basil infused olive oil, diced tomato, chopped cilantro or sliced scallions. And what would be better with this soup than a grilled cheese sandwich! Yes I totally think so! Hey, like it hot? Why not try it on a hot summery day as a cold soup? (Remember cold foods need more salt. So salt to taste!) Bon Appétit! Let me know how it goes. And I am taking requests. Please post any of your questions or comments!

P.S. If you aren't watching you weight, why not top your soup with parmesan, Gruyere, goat, really any cheese would be delightful!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Frittata Madness

Frittata is a delectable addition to any cook's repertoire. It is best described as a crustless quiche. Frittatas are easy and quick to make (under an hour), a terrific way to utilize leftovers, can be made sumptuously decadent, or on the healthier side (both will be the talk of the meal!) is best either hot or room temp and you can serve it for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Now, what other food can you say all those things about?
First, you are going to need a oven-proof, non-stick pan. If you are like me and want to live dangerously you can use a well seasoned cast iron skillet. (I am not what you would call a "risk taker" so the idea of my frittata sticking to my pan is totally living dangerously for me!) For a four serving frittata I use my 8-inch cast iron, with about 10 eggs and 1/2 -3/4 cup of heavy cream. Here is how to figure out how much egg mixture you will need: fill your pan about 3/4 of the way up with water. Next pour that water into a measuring cup and ta da! You will need that much! As far as the cream is concerned, it will depend on the size of your pan. Add enough so that the egg mix is a pale yellow, less if you are trying to keep it healthier, or more for utter richness! Now is the fun part: planning the yummy fillings. I usually like to have a protein (i.e. ham or bacon), veggies (potatoes, onions, spinach, etc.), cheese (feta, Jack, Gruyere) and some colorful garnish (green onions, sun dried tomatoes, cilantro). This is a great time to have that book I mentioned a few days ago (Culinary Artistry) to help you make perfect flavor combos. (For example if you have leftover sauteed zucchini, basil and goat cheese would make a phenomenal flavor match!) Heat your oven to 375 degrees. Heat your pan over medium, once hot, spray with Pam (I like to use spray oil because it makes it easier to oil the sides of the pan!) Pour in your egg mixture, put in all the fiillings, reserving the garnishes and cheese for the top (or not, do it how you think it will be best). Place frittata in the oven and cook for 20 minutes. After the 20 minutes, with pot holder in hand, shake the pan. The frittata is done when the eggs are set and there is just a slight wiggle in the center. At this time I like to remove my frittata because it will continue to cook (what we in the biz say, "cross over cook"). If you are squemish about jigglely eggs, feel free to cook it longer. But don't cook too long or your frittata will be dry and in some cases start to turn green (think of the yolk of an overcooked hard boiled egg, yuck) Once your frittata is cooked to your liking, remove from the oven and let it sit for 5-10 minutes. As your frittata cools the sides will pull away from the pan therefore making it easier to remove. When time to remove, shake your pan back and forth and it should slide out easily. If not, use a rubber spatula to help with any stubborn spots. Slice and enjoy. Serve with crusty bread and a salad!
Trying to watch your waistline? Substitute milk for the cream, Canadian bacon for real bacon, use low fat cheese and lots of veggies! Have fun with this recipe as there are no limits to what you can create.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Mahi Mahi tacos, redux

We enjoyed our fish tacos so much, we are having them again. Tonight my brother and his lady will be joining us for dinner. Once they have tasted our fantastic tacos they will surely be impressed!
In addition to having the corn salsa tonight (I think I will add some black beans this time!) I am going to make a chili verde sauce. What is chili verde, you ask? I believe, it is Spanish for green chile sauce. (Yup, I'm bilingual. Pretty awesome, eh?) This recipe consists of tomatillos (they look similar to green tomatoes, with papery husks), garlic, jalapeno and cilantro. Remove the papery husks from the tomatillos. You will notice the skin is a bit sticky, so I like to rinse them first in soapy water then in clean water. Next put halved tomatillos (about 1 pound) and 1 halved jalapeno, skin side up, on a cookie sheet and under the broiler set on high. Cook them until the skins blacken. This should take anywhere from 5-10 minutes, depending on the oven. Carefully put the hot tomatillos, pepper and any liquid that has accumulated in a blender, with about 1 handful of cilantro leaves, tender stems, 1 teaspoon minced garlic and puree. Don't forget to salt! Your chili verde sauce should be lovely green, with a tart peppery flavor.
I like to serve this sauce along side the corn salsa, or any chunky salsa because of the contrast in flavors and textures. It is excellent with fish because the tartness of the tomatillo is like a squeeze of lime or lemon! This tomatillo sauce is not just for tacos. Serve with chips, nachos, quesadillos, you get the point. Serve with chili rubbed flank steak or grilled chicken breasts. I also use this sauce as the base for my pork chili verde, which is another delectable dish. But I will save that for another day. I hope this finds you well and food inspired!I hope you have a fantastic Tuesday afternoon!

Monday Night, Fish Taco Night

Last night, instead of the usual ground beef tacos, we made Mahi Mahi tacos. I must say, they were damn good. My Dad grilled the fish to perfection (He has redeemed himself from past follies and can resume his role as Grill Man). The accouterments we served were fried corn tortillas (or you can heat them in a dry pan over medium heat) shredded red cabbage, avocado, sliced red onion, cilantro, Mexican crema (or use sour cream) and lime wedges. The Mahi Mahi was mild enough so that the tacos weren't overly fishy tasting, and had a nice tender texture. I made a corn salsa that paired nicely with the sweet, smokey fish.

Corn Salsa, makes about 1 1/2 cups
1 cup frozen corn
1/4 cup diced red onion
1/4 cup roasted red pepper (now you can buy these or make your own. Cut the pepper from around the stem and core (discard stem and core). Roast pepper pieces skin side down over a flame (or under the broiler) until black and put in a paper or plastic bag and let steam for 20 minutes. Remove peppers from the bag and peel off the charred skins. There you have it, roasted red pepper, from scratch!)
1 jalapeno, halved and roasted like red pepper
1 handful or cilantro ( the tender tops of the cilantro stems taste like the leaves, so I just tear off the leaves and any stems that come along), chopped
1/2 teaspoon garlic puree (for instructions, please check out Great Guacamole, not bad for a white girl)
Olive oil, fresh lime juice and salt to taste

Heat a skillet over high until smoking and throw in corn. You may be tempted to move the pan, but don't. You want the corn to get a bit black on the one side so leave it for two-three minutes. (Don't worry, because the corn is frozen the moisture will melt and prevent the corn from really burning). Once the corn is charred to your liking put it in a bowl. Add diced onion, minced jalapeno, diced red pepper, garlic puree and chopped cilantro. Squeeze juice from 1/2 lime (about 1 tablespoon) and drizzle the corn relish with enough olive oil (let's say, 2 tablespoons) so that each corn kernel is shiny. Sprinkle with salt and taste. What does it need? It should have a nice balance of sweetness and smokiness from the corn and peppers and heat from the jalapeno. The garlic, along with the lime and olive oil, shouldn't be overwhelming, just something that you taste on the periphery. As with guacamole, let the relish sit for an hour or so to let the flavors marry. Before you serve, taste to check the seasonings.

The fun thing about relishes and salsas is you can add and substitute a variety of ingredients. Why wouldn't black beans be a nice addition? If you don't like red peppers, add some diced tomatoes. Instead of red onions add some sliced scallions. Substitute the jalapeno for a few dashes of Chipotle Tabasco. Why not totally blow their minds? Leave out the corn and add diced mango. Now won't that go nicely with the sweetness of the Mahi Mahi? Have fun and remember, this cooking thing isn't rocket science!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Moving on

Yes, I am still recovering from my failed attempt at Shrimp Scampi. My HUGE mistake was trying to make it healthy with olive oil in place of the butter. It just wasn't going to satisfy my craving. Some foods you just cannot create a healthier version (like today I tried to make a turkey melt with dry toast, low fat Laughing Cow cheese and turkey! Yuck!) Some foods were made to be eaten with many calories!
So I am going to switch gears and write about something I also know a bit about: booze. More specifically, limoncello. In case you have never heard of limoncello it is a wonderful after dinner drink from Southern Italy. The first time I had it was in New York with my family. We were at an amazing Italian restaurant and our waiter, insisted that we try the in-house made limoncello. Now, we were all a bit buzzed on wine and thought he was bringing out dessert. To our surprise he brought out four frosty glasses filled with the pale yellow drink. The first sip was like nothing I had ever tasted. (Lemony sweetness, smooth and viscous, ice cold.) It was so good, we had another. When we returned home to SoCal my Dad sought out to recreate this delicious digestif. I watched as he spent hours carefully peeling the zest from a dozen organic lemons. Then, he mixed the zest with vodka, and let it sit for several weeks infusing it with it's color and flavor. After much anticipation, it was time to taste. My Dad was so excited, he was like a little kid on Christmas morning. We all eagerly stood around him as he he took the first sip then....he gagged! His labor of love was bitter. Although he had been careful to peel just the zest, a minuscule amount of white pith found it's way into the mix. It was ruined. Down the drain it went. After his failed attempt he tried several kinds from the store. As you can imagine, they were awful, the taste resembling very much what lemon cleanser smells like.

See, I have time on my hands, and lemons are plentiful at our local farmer's market (http://www.southcoastfarms.com/). With that damn cocky voice in my head nagging me, my friend and I along with Baby Julian decided we would give it a go. After a quick google search, I found a limoncello guru (http://limoncelloquest.com/limoncello-articles/how-to-make-limoncello). If you are interested in making your own limoncello, I suggest checking out this site. This guy has it down to a science. Aimee, Julian and I went to the market, picked out the best, smoothest looking lemons (total of 37), zested them with a Microplane and mixed them with Everclear. Vodka has a flavor that will affect the final product, while grain alcohol tastes like burning! (I don't know any other way to describe it! )

Now we let it rest for 45 days. Already the alcohol has turned bright yellow (my Dad saw it one day and asked why I was saving my urine...really?) and the zest's color has faded. The next step will be straining it and mixing in simple syrup then back to resting for another 45 days. But, by sometime mid March, I will be sipping on my ice cold, from scratch limoncello. And maybe if you are lucky, I will share!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Shrimp Scampi, yeah no

Yes, I know. I promised a recipe for Shrimp Scampi. Well, prepare to be disappointed. There will be no recipe posted this fine evening because my scampi sucked. In fact, it was so bad I threw it out. What did I previously write about making mistakes? Learn from them. So, I must now go and reflect on what I did wrong....mostly I can blame it on the small amount of cockiness in my head that says, "Hey, I went to cooking school. I don't need a recipe." Yup this cocky part of me, many times let's me down. So the lesson? Don't listen to the cocky voice in your head. Or perhaps, don't have that glass of wine before preparing the evening meal.

Culinary Artistry

Hello my friends.
I was recently asked by a family friend how I came up with menu ideas. I told her, "Duh, I am a culinary genius! Ideas just pop into my mind!" Honest answer? No. Nope, I am not a genius chef, at best, a mediocre one, but nonetheless, fun right? Perhaps it is best I give thanks to The Culinary Institute of America and the many chefs I have had the honor and pleasure with whom to work . Without them I would not be the chef blogging before you. In addition to my education and work experience, I also must give, all the rest of the credit to my one go-to book: Culinary Artistry. (Available at www.amazon.com) I was first introduced to this book after I graduated from the CIA and was a teaching assistant for Certified Master Chef, Thomas Griffiths. This was a book he used as a resource. Now, I am a bit ashamed to admit this, but I haven't read it all. The part of the book I use the most has information that will inspire both the most or least experienced chefs! On these pages are listed the complimentary flavors and ingredients of general foods. For example, ingredients that pair with chicken are: almonds, apples, Armagnac, asparagus, bacon and it continues to list 80 other food items. It also gives the ideal preparation and cooking methods and tells you when that food item is in season. Now come on, with all that info given to you, how could you not come up with a delicious, blow their socks off meal? Find a quiet corner, pick an ingredient and in no time....BISTRO MENU! All created by you with your creativity and taste. Now, as with anything, at first you may be underconfident, but remember to keep it simple and you will do fine. Yes, you will make mistakes. In fact, I hope you do because it is the perfect time to learn. After each meal I have cooked, especially if it is something new, I like to sit back and critique it. I take note of what I liked, disliked and what I would do differently next time. This step will help you improve as a chef and I encourage you to make it a habit.
So to sum it up, buy Culinary Artistry ( http://www.amazon.com) and explore it. There are tons of pages of sample menus from famous chefs' restaurants that will open you mind to new flavor combos and applications. Tune in later tonight for a recipe for Shrimp Scampi!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Homemade chicken stock

Anyone who knows me, will say I am a bit of a goodie goodie. I have always hated getting into trouble and have a nervousness about authority figures. If a cop is driving behind me, even if I am not speeding, have not done anything wrong, I still begin to sweat and feel guilty. Yup, that's messed up but that's me. So, you can imagine, I am not what you would call a "rebel". That is just not in my nature. I don't like to make waves and I like for everyone to get along. You must be thinking, what does this have to do with chicken stock? Nothing. Well it kind of does. Let me continue. I have discovered that when I do finally rebel, it is for really lame reasons. For example, I really poo poo what other chefs say are a "must do". You know, when they say, "Oh you MUST make your own mayonnaise! It is SOOO much better than store bought! It is SOOO worth the effort!" What do I say? No. I will buy Best Foods mayo and love eating every tablespoon. You can keep you damn fancy, hippie mayo! That is, until I worked at a place where, yup you guessed it, we made our own mayo. And to be true, it was AWWWESOME. Now I still bought Best Foods but every time I made it, I thought to myself, "Gosh, this really is way better and so worth the effort!" I cannot deny that. And that brings us to chicken stock. Homemade chicken stock is way better than the crap in the can. The canned chicken stock is pale and tastes more like celery and carrots than chicken. And what is equally annoying, is you really don't have any excuse not to make your own chicken stock, because it is SUPER EASY! (If you want to rebel against this, try me!) If you have a pot, water and a chicken carcass, you are well on your way to the golden deliciousness that is homemade chicken stock. That is really all I have to say about that. Really, put your chicken carcass or carcasses in a pot, cover with water, set over low heat and let it just chill out there all day. Within the first thirty minutes you will notice foam rising to the surface. These are impurities and you don't want to ingest those, do you? Skim the foam off and discard. This along with cooking your stock super slow over low heat will make it very clear. After six hours or so, remove the chicken bones and strain your stock. Now it may be a bit pale, so you can let it simmer for an hour or more til it gets stronger and deeper in color and flavor. You can make a stock pile (tee hee, no pun intended) of chicken bones in the freezer (like Julia Child says) and make one big pot of stock someday. Once it is to your liking, store over night in the fridge. The following day the chicken fat will have risen to the top and hardened. Remove fat and save in the freezer (for gravy or sauteing veggies?) or discard. If you don't plan on using your stock within a few days freeze until you do. Now how simple is that?

Soup Days

These cool blustery days are made for cooking. I feel fidgety and uneasy if I am not in the kitchen with something delicious bubbling away on the stove. I love making pureed vegetable soups, like mushroom and tomato, but today I am in the mood for something else. Today, I will make tortilla soup. This recipe is very simple and easy but with additional ingredients it becomes quite the hearty dish. This soup is good for a crowd because you can let everyone individualize their soup with garnishes. Also, if you are trying to watch your waist line, soups are a great option because you swallow air as you eat which fills your tummy faster! Here goes:

1/2 cup chopped onion
1 Tablespoon minced garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
sprinkle of salt, plus more to taste
4 cups chicken stock
28 oz can of crushed tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon Mexican oregano
1 1/2 cup frozen corn (you can use canned corn, but I find it tastes tinny. Yes, that is a bit snobby, I have been told that many times.)
tortilla chips (make it easy on yourself, store bought! See? I am not a complete snob)
1 cup shredded Jack and/or Cheddar cheese
1/2 cup chopped cilantro

Other garnishes:
diced red onion
sour cream
sliced avocado
lime wedges
shredded chicken (why not buy the pre-cooked chicks? I won't tell!)
minced jalapenos or serrano peppers
hot sauce

In a saucepan heat oil over medium heat. Add onion, stir frequently and cook until translucent. Next add minced garlic and a sprinkle of salt. After about a minute, add chicken stock and tomatoes. Crumble the Mexican oregano with your fingers and add that to your pot. Raise heat to high and once soup begins to simmer reduce to low heat. Let cook for 30-45 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning, more salt no doubt. Add corn (and shredded chicken if you want) and cook until corn and chicken are heated through. Heat bowls in a low oven (why put hot soup in cold bowls?). Put some chips in the bottom of each bowl and ladle in soup. Sprinkle with cheese, cilantro and serve. Offer additional garnishes at the table. This should serve about 6 people very well!
I hope this warms and nourishes you. Let me know what you think! Thanks!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Typos

Oh my Lordie. I have been notified, with much disdain, that I have posted blogs with typos and improper punctuation. I am mortified, as I read and reread, and read yet another time, to make sure that I have everything PERFECT, and yet no, I need to read and look over my work yet another time. So I apologize and promise never to waste your time again with typos and misspellings (misspelled?) Thanks for all the support I have gotten! Hope you all enjoy my blog. I will update it daily if not a few times a day and please feel free to send me any questions or ideas. Have a safe and fun FRIDAY!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Compound Butter, your new best friend

Good day Fellow Food Lovers. You might be thinking, what pray tell, is compound butter? If you guessed some kind of butter, you are correct! As defined by The Food Lover’s Handbook, a compound butter is “butter creamed with other ingredients such as herbs, wine, shallots and so on.”

Below I have given you some ideas about sweet and savory butters and ways you can use them. As always, these are my ideas. Use your culinary imagination and come up with new flavor combos and what you would use them for.

Sweet Flavor combos:


Honey ginger


Mini chocolate chips and orange zest


Maple syrup with toasted pecans


Cinnamon sugar


Dried cranberry with clove and sugar





Uses:
Spread on any breakfast breads (English muffins, toast, scones, biscuits, bagels, etc.), Pumpkin bread, pancakes, waffles, use to sauté sliced apples or bananas and serve hot over ice cream!

Savory Flavor combos:


Gorganzola (do you really need to add anything more than cheese and butter? Mmmmm)


Sun dried tomato with oregano (the best on top of grilled lamb chops)


Shallots and fines herbes (chives, parsley, chervil and tarragon)


Chile lime cilantro


Garlic with red pepper flakes and Romano cheese


Lemongrass and ginger


Pesto (basil, pinenuts, garlic and Parmesan)


Uses:
Where do I begin? Melt over popcorn, stir into pastas, soups, risottos, polenta/grits (fancy talk for corn meal mush), mashed, baked or roasted potatoes, tossed with hot green veggies, cooked with scrambled eggs, spread on any breakfast breads, slathered over a chicken (over and under the skin) just before you pop it in the oven. Melt over grilled steaks, lamb or pork chops. Why not sauté some shrimp or scallops in it? Or, melt some and serve with steamed lobster tails or any seafood of your choice, yummy!

Okay here are some hints to help you along the way:
Because I am a control freak, I use unsalted butter so that I can add the amount of salt to my liking.
Use SOFTENED, not melted butter (melted butter separates into milk solids and fat and while your end product will no doubt be delicious, it will be greasy and not nearly as pretty as it could be. Softened butter is a must!)
With anything you cook, sometimes the flavors need a little something to brighten them up. In this case, a squeeze of lemon, lime or a sprinkle of vinegar will do the job.
Once your butter is made, using plastic wrap, form the butter into a log and store in the freezer until it is time to use it. Your butter can be kept frozen for a few months. But you and your fans will love it so, it won’t last that long.

I have provided ideas and hopefully inspiration, but I have not given you recipes or ratios. Here is your challenge: Go forth and conquer compound butters! Be creative. Use my ideas or even better, come up with your own, but do go, experiment and have fun. Please post about your kitchen adventures and if you can bear to share, any ideas you have come up with.
Good Luck!