Friday, December 31, 2010

Culinary Resolutions


It's time for New Year's resolutions!  Ugh.  They're just no fun.  For the 15th year in a row I will resolve to floss more often.  And for the 16th year in a row, that probably won't happen.  We all resolve to exercise more, lose weight, be more organized, etc.  BLAH, BLAH, BLAH.

Let's have a little fun.  Let's make some culinary resolutions.  As Ina Garten says "How bad could that be?"  Here are mine:

1.  Meatless Mondays-Restaurants all over New York are doing it and I will too.  It may not always be on Mondays but I will serve at least one vegetarian dinner to my family per week.  It's good for the planet, good for our health and good for our palates and to broaden our culinary horizons.

2.  Pare Down-I resolve to make better use of my pantry ingredients.  Instead of running to the store for ingredients as new recipes pop into my head, instead I'll use up what's in my pantry.  Those dried beans, sheets of Nori, exotic jams, every variety of rice, vinegars and mustards...I'm coming for you!  In the meantime, in case of the next apocalypse you're all welcome to my house.  I can feed the world from my pantry.

Perhaps I need to pare down my utensil collection?

3.  Get Cozy with My Camera-I have a poorly lit kitchen which means it's difficult to get great shots of food as I cook.  If I'm cooking at night, I'm really doomed.  I resolve to get to know my camera better so I can improve my photography skills and my blogging.  Hey, we both win!

4.  Get Organized-I have so many recipes in various sources and files.  I keep them on my computer and in notebooks.  I live in fear of losing them.  I've just bought the MacGourmet software and can't wait to put everything in one spot and back it up on a hard drive.  This software will let me keep my business organized as well as at home.  It also has a weekly menu planner function and the ability to generate a shopping list from recipes.  I'm totally geeked about this! 

5.  Start a Cookbook Club-I have many wonderful cookbooks that I'm dying to make my way through.  But where is the time?  I resolve to invite a group who is also interested in cooking new things to a Cookbook Club.  I will choose a cookbook, invite everyone over for tea or wine and let them each flag a recipe or two that looks interesting to them.  I'll run upstairs and copy their chosen page and hand it off.  The next time we meet, we'll all bring our cooked dishes to sample and discuss. 

Yeah, I've got a few cookbooks.
What are your culinary resolutions?  New techniques or recipes you want to try?  Order more exotically when you eat out?  New cuisines to explore?  I'd love to hear what you'll be trying.  In the meantime, I'm toasting you with a New Year's Eve punch that is light, festive and won't leave you starting the new year in a world of hurt.

"For last year's words belong to last year's language
And next year's words await another voice.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
-T.S. Eliot

Prosecco Pomegranate Punch
From Food and Wine
Serves 12
1 quart pomegranate juice
2 cups fresh orange juice, strained
2 cups chilled limeade
One 750-milliliter bottle Prosecco
Lime and orange slices, for garnish
1 cup pomegranate seeds (optional)

In a punch bowl, combine the pomegranate juice, orange juice and limeade. Pour in the Prosecco; float lime and orange slices on top. Ladle into 12 ice-filled glasses, sprinkle with pomegranate seeds and serve.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Last Minute Shopping?

I've been naughty.  I am a bad, bad blogger.  Actually, I've been cheating on you.  I've neglected you due to catering jobs, personal chef clients and dessert orders.  But you know what, Mama's gotta bring home the bacon.  And isn't it nice to know you're reading the musings of a working chef? more apologizing.  I will strive to post more regularly in the new year but when duty calls, I answer the call!

If you have been too busy bringing home your bacon to finish your holiday shopping, I have a few last minute awesome gifts for people who love food and cooking.  At least, these are what I'd love to get as a gift...

Wine Sampler in tasting sizes-
For under $30 you can get or give a set of 6 different wines in tasting sizes (about 1.6 ounces) to try and compare.  How great to sample a $30 bottle of wine before you commit to dropping your cash on something you don't like?

Adopt an Italian Olive Tree-
For $109 you can adopt an olive tree in Italy and you'll receive all the extra virgin olive oil produced from your tree.  If you're wracking your brain shopping for the person who has everything, I'm betting they don't have this!  The bragging rights alone are worth $109.

Drool and bake-Baked Explorations is the second cookbook from the renowned Baked bakery in Brooklyn.  I just received this as a gift and cannot wait to dive in.  Every recipe looks homey and luscious and great for all levels of bakers.  You could even strike a deal that the receiver gives you a portion of all goodies baked from this book. $20 on Amazon.

Cheese-A gift certificate to Murray's Cheese Shop in NYC.  There is something for everyone here (other than the lactose intolerant). Choose from gift boxes, gift cards, cheese of the month clubs or build your own gift. They have one of the best selections in the world.

Lemon Juicer- Meet the only lemon/lime juicer you'll ever need.  It's $12, heavy duty and your kids will ask to squeeze the lemons for you.  Win!

Bench Scraper-They're not just for pastry.  Yes, I use mine to flip sticky doughs, cut biscuits, etc. but I also use it to pick up whatever I've just diced or chopped and transfer it to a bowl or pan. From $3-$10.

VitaMix Blender-Hello, gorgeous!  If you've got big bucks to spend meet the biggest, baddest blender around.  It can take the place of your juicer, food processor and coffee grinder.  It can crush ice instantly and make the smoothest purees and soups you've ever seen.  Cost is around $500 and for that price you should never need another blender again.  Just a side note, if anyone wants to buy me one I will let you. A girl can dream.

One final late-shopping-procrastinators trick.  If you are ordering something that won't arrive in time for Christmas, print out a nicely typed up "gift certificate" that shows them what will be coming to them via mail.  You know, like you meant to do it that way.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Brussel Sprouts & Mushrooms-So Wrong, It's Right

What happens when you take two things a lot of people downright despise and put them together?  A little piece of heaven, I tell ya.  I am one of those people you've read about who actually like Brussel sprouts.  A lot.  I even ate them as a kid.  A lot.  Thanks, Mom!

Now so much.  I have an occasional culinary hot flash where I'll purposely eat something with mushrooms and like it but the rest of the time I avoid them.  Why then, was I inexplicably drawn to this recipe?  I just knew it would be delicious.  And it is.

Seriously, with cream, white wine, shallots, earthy mushrooms and roasted Brussel sprouts it is luxurious and rich and perfect for your Thanksgiving table.

Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Wild Mushrooms and Cream
Serves 8
From Fine Cooking

1 1/2 lbs. Brussel sprouts (pick the smallest ones you can find), cut in half
5T olive oil
3T unsalted butter
3/4 lb. mix of wild mushrooms
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 cup heavy cream
salt & pepper

1. Preheat oven to 400 F. 
2. Toss Brussel sprouts with 3T of olive oil and transfer to baking sheet.  Spread out and season with salt. 
3. Roast for 15-25 minutes until tender and browned.
4. Heat a large skillet over medium high heat and add 2T of butter and 1T of olive oil. Add mushrooms and cook until tender and any liquid has evaporated.  About 5 minutes.  Season with salt and transfer to bowl.
5. Add the remaining 1T butter and 1T olive oil to hot skillet and add the shallot with a pinch of salt.  Cook until golden, about 3 minutes.
6.  Add wine and cook until reduced by half.
7. Add mushrooms and Brussel sprouts back to the pan.  Pour in cream.
8. Stir and cook until cream thickens and coats the vegetables, 3-4 minutes. 
9. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed.

BTW, if you have any leftovers: These are dreamy with a poached egg over them.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Comfort Food

Here's why I love to cook.  (Not that you asked but...)  It's a gift to feed and nurture someone else.  It says "I've thought about you the entire time I was making this."  "I chose the best ingredients, I tasted and seasoned all the while thinking of you." And that's why when someone has  a crisis, a loss or a health problem we bring them food.  We can't take away their pain, but we can comfort and feed their soul.

When I had my babies, bringing me a meal was the loveliest heaven-sent thing anyone could do for me. It was a huge help. And I didn't even mind that everyone brought pasta.  Every. Single. Person.  But really, thank you! 

Here's a perfect recipe that's not pasta, feeds a big group and has something for everyone.  I recently made it for a friend in crisis and there was something to like for each of her four kids.  It's got white and dark meat chicken, sausages, potatoes.  Try it the next time you're helping a friend in need and make a second batch for yourself.  The lemony mustard sauce you'll want to drink by the spoonful and it's a one pan meal which makes it one of the simplest recipes to toss together. 


One Pan Chicken and Sausage Bake
Slightly adapted from Nigella Lawson
Serves 6-8

2-3 large onions, peeled and cut into eighths
1 whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces
8 Italian sauages
1 pound baby white or fingerling potatoes, scrubbed clean
1/2 c olive oil
3 t dry mustard
1T Worcestershire sauce
2-3 lemons
3T fresh sage, chopped finely, divided
salt & pepper

1. In a large plastic freezer bag, combine chicken, onions, olive oil, dry mustard, 1 tablespoon of the sage, Worcestershire sauce and a sprinkling of salt and pepper.
2. Cut lemons in half and squeeze juice into bag. Then cut lemons into eighths and add to the bag.  Massage all ingredients together.  Seal bag, squeezing air out first and store in refrigerator overnight.
3. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
4. Allow chicken and marinade to come to room temperature.
5. Arrange the chicken pieces in a roasting pan skin side up with the marinade (foil disposable roasters work great when giving this meal away) including the onions and lemons and tuck the sausages and potatoes around them. Sprinkle the fresh sage leaves over the chicken and sausages.
6. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Turn the sausages over half way through to color them evenly.

7. Serve the chicken, sausages, potatoes and onions with the sauce spooned over top.


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Just Because You Can Doesn't Mean You Should

Beautiful, unsuspecting tomatoes

I would like to consider myself a culinary Jedi.  Brave, creative, trusting the force.  I tend to order the most unusual offerings on a menu.  I buy ingredients I've never seen before just to try them out.  But sometimes, the force is not with you.  Sometimes, you just need to say no.

I have discovered these things about myself:
1. I like lavender in potpourri, not food.
2. I love bacon. I love chocolate.  I do not love them together.  I've tried.  A lot.
3. Just because you can, doesn't mean you should.

The most recent example of #3 was a recipe for a Tomato Tarte Tatin in the August 2010 issue of Bon Appetit magazine.  How intriguing, I thought!  A dessert with tomatoes!  I lovingly picked the plum tomatoes from my garden, blanched and peeled them then simmered them in sugar & butter.  Once the juices turned to a caramel I added the vanilla and a puff pastry topping and transferred it to the oven.  The preface to the recipe said "Be prepared to be blown away."  Blown away, I was not.  Peeved was I (said in my best Yoda voice).

There was so much sugar in the recipe that it was cloyingly sweet.  The vanilla was overpowering.  My biggest complaint however, was that you could taste none of the tomatoey-ness of the tomatoes.  It could have been plums for all I could taste.  The recipe killed the tomato flavor. And that is what killed me. 

When you have an ingredient at the peak of its season, sometimes you can pay it the most respect by leaving it alone.  Foams are cool. I am intrigued by new ideas and molecular gastronomy.  BUT, good food does not have to be labor intensive or contain 25 ingredients.  A sweet tomato with a little olive oil and sea salt is a beautiful thing to behold. 

So the next time you're tempted to reinvent the wheel, (I'm talking to you, Bon Appetit!) step away from the tomatoes and remember that just because you CAN doesn't mean you SHOULD. 

The crime scene

Sunday, August 22, 2010


It took all of my restraint to not title this post "Who you callin' a tartine?!"

What is a tartine you may ask?  It's a fancy French way of saying open-faced sandwich.  Doesn't that sound so much nicer in French?  "What's for dinner, honey?"  "Tartines, ooh la la!"  vs. "What's for dinner, honey?"  "Part of a sandwich."

The benefits of making tartines are many: You don't have to turn on the oven; they are light; you can use whatever ingredients you have on hand and each person can customize their own.  Add a handful of lightly dressed greens and you have a perfect summer meal.

My one requirement-you must have a good bread for this.  I like a crusty whole grain loaf and I like to slice it myself.  You will be sorely disappointed if you attempt to "tartine" (ooh, look-I created my own verb) with a plastic wrapped sandwich bread.  The bread won't have enough crunch and it won't hold up your toppings.  And you will be totally not French and cool.

So how to tartine?  It's a no-recipe recipe but here's what I did.  Slice that bread and toast it.  Spread a slice with soft goat cheese and top with slow-roasted tomatoes and prosciutto.  For the next tartine, top the toasted bread with Dijon mustard, ricotta cheese and diced, oven-roasted zucchini and onions.  Finish with some grated lemon zest. (This one was inspired by Sprouted Kitchen).

Fresh farmer's market ricotta

And my kids favorite tartine?  Top the toasted bread with a little mayo and Dijon mixed together, mash some avocado on top of that, sprinkle the avocado with a little lemon juice and add a crunch of sea salt flakes.  They call it "avocado toast".  I really need to teach them some French.

Slow-Roasted Tomatoes

Plum (Roma) tomatoes
Olive oil
Salt & pepper
Pinch of sugar (if needed)

1. Preheat oven to 250 F.
2. Core and cut tomatoes in half. Drizzle generously with olive oil, then salt and pepper.  If your tomatoes are not at the peak of the season you can add pinches of sugar as well.
3. Place tomatoes face down on foil lined baking sheet.  Roast for 90 min.
4. Flip tomatoes over and add more olive oil if needed and a touch more salt. You can also add thyme, minced garlic or any other seasonings you like.
5. Continue to roast for 2-3 hours or until tomatoes have collapsed.
6. Transfer to a container.  Be sure to get all the oil and juices left in the pan as well.  If needed, cover with more olive oil.
7. Refrigerate and use with one week.

Oven Roasted Zucchini & Onions

5 zucchini, diced
1 large onion, sliced
1-2 T olive oil
Salt and Pepper

1. Preheat oven to 400 F.
2. Cut zucchini into 1/2 inch dice.  Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper.
3. Cut onion in 1/2 thick slices, toss with olive oil, salt and pepper.  Set aside.
3. Roast zucchini on sheet pan for 35 minutes, tossing occasionally.
4. Add onions and roast for another 20 minutes or until zucchini is no longer giving off liquid and is caramelized and browning. (Note: If you add the onions earlier, they will burn.  At this point you could also add garlic as long as you leave it in large pieces, i.e. a clove cut in half.)

Friday, August 20, 2010

Cake Gallery

More recent cakes below...

Lego Cake 
Chocolate cake w/cookies and cream filling               

Cupcakes for boy and girl twins having a king and queen themed party.

Red Velvet w/cream cheese frosting & yellow cupcakes w/ milk chocolate buttercream

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Momofuku Strawberry Milk

Here is another way to use the elderflower syrup I talked about here and here.  This is Christina Tosi's recipe for Strawberry Milk.  She is the pastry chef at Momofuku Milk Bar.  I have gushed about her numerous times, having said I'll be first in line to buy her cookbook if she ever writes one.  Well...she has inked a deal to write a cookbook.  The word round the internet is that it should be released in the fall of 2011.  Giddyup!

Now, this Strawberry Milk.  It's like a melted strawberry milkshake with amped up strawberry flavor and the sweet, citrusy, floral hint that the elderflower syrup adds.  If you can't find the elderflower syrup, you can make your own by combining elderflower liqueur with a simple syrup.  Simple syrup is equal amounts of water and sugar, warmed until the sugar is fully dissolved. 

I think this would be great as part of a dessert course.  It is sweet so it could stand alone as a dessert but how great would it be to pair it with a grilled banana bread sandwich with chocolate ganache in the middle?!

Besides the elderflower syrup, the only other things you must have are a food scale and patience.  The recipe uses weights and ratios which is why you need a food scale.  You need patience because straining the strawberry puree through a fine mesh strainer is laborious.  (Promise me every time you say "lah-BOR-ious" you'll say it with a Transylvanian accent a la Dracula.)  In fact, I should have made my intern handle the puree.  If I had one that is...

Enough chit chat, let's make some strawberry milk!

Momofuku Strawberry Milk
Courtesty of Christina Tosi, Momofuku Milk Bar and Bakery & The Dairy Show

1 quart whole milk
180g elderflower syrup (or make a simple syrup and flavor it with elderflower liquor)
665g strawberry puree (put strawberries in a blender add 10% sugar by weight, blend, and then strain)
65g plain yogurt
pinch of salt

1. Wash and hull strawberries and weigh.
2. Take the weight of your strawberries and calculate 10% of that weight to determine how much sugar you'll need to add.  (I had 22 ounces of berries, therefore my sugar in weight should be 2.2 ounces.)
2. Put strawberries in blender and add your sugar.  Puree.
3. Using a fine mesh strainer and the patience God gave you, pour the puree into the strainer.  Use a rubber scraper to keep pressing the puree back and forth down through the strainer.  Continue until you can't take it anymore or until only seeds remain.  (I ended up with 2 1/2 cups of seedless puree.)
4. Combine the seedless puree, yogurt, elderflower syrup, pinch of salt and milk in a large pitcher.  Whisk to combine.

This is before I started to resent the lovely puree.
This is where I said, "I'm over it."
This is where I said, "Yum." And then apologized to the puree.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Elderflower Fruit Salad

I'm a girl who likes a good bargain.  If I'm going to buy a new exotic-ish ingredient I want a few ways to use it.  Remember when I posted about this cocktail?  And I told you to go buy this...

Rather than have this lovely citrusy, floral syrup languish in your refrigerator after you've made your cocktails, here are a few other uses for this Ikea Elderflower syrup.

Drizzle a teaspoon or two over the freshest, most beautiful berries you can find right now.  Throw in some mint and gently toss with your fingers.  The Elderflower syrup adds a mysterious floral sweetness to the mix that takes the fruit to a new level.

If you're not in a cocktail mood, mix some of the syrup with seltzer or club soda for a bubbly fruity soda.

I have one more use for this syrup coming your way this week that I'm excited to try.  Stay tuned...

Friday, August 6, 2010

Vietnamese Iced Cinnamon Coffee

What is it with me and cold beverages?  You'd think I've been on  a liquid diet lately.  When it's been the hottest summer on record your mind tends to gravitate toward cold beverages.  Thus, I bring you this one.  This is not your every morning coffee drink.  It's almost like a dessert so go easy there, tiger.

But when you're turning on the a/c by 8a.m. you're allowed to treat yourself to this icy cold, sweet, morning pick-me-up.  The coffee is cold-brewed (that will impress your coffee snob friends).  And when people marvel at how fresh and unwilted you remain in this heat, you can casually remark, "Oh me? I cold brew my coffee and drink it Vietnamese style."

Vietnamese Iced Cinnamon Coffee
Barely Adapted from Food & Wine

Coffee Concentrate
1/2 pound coarse grind dark roast coffee 
1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon 
4 1/2 cups of cold water

Combine cold water, ground coffee and cinnamon in a pitcher. Stir and let sit, covered, on countertop for 24 hours.  Then strain liquid through a fine mesh strainer (or through cheesecloth or a coffee filter).  Discard grounds and refrigerate concentrate.

Iced Coffee
6 ounces of coffee concentrate
up to 3T sweetened condensed milk
up to 4 ounces of milk

In a tall glass filled with ice, combine the coffee concentrate and sweetened condensed milk.  Top with milk and combine.  Make sure to start with 1T of sweetened condensed milk and taste as you go.  Add more depending on how sweet you like it. 

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Pimm's Cup...My Way

Hello, anyone there?  Anyone?  Didn't mean to leave you hanging.  It's just that it's summer.  Time to vacation, swim, grill a beef tenderloin, read, be lazy.  I have done all of the above.  I hope you understand and I hope you've done the same. 

Rest assured, you've been on my mind.  I have selflessly volunteered my summer to finding the perfect Pimm's Cup recipe.  Pimm's No. 1 Liqueur is a gin based, mystery-spiced liqueur.  It's popular in England where they mix it with their version of "lemonade" ( a carbonated lemon beverage).  Then they throw in some cucumber, lemon slices and plenty of ice.  It is so light and refreshing, the perfect summer drink. 

Since we don't have the same "lemonade" that the Brits do, I have been experimenting with different mixers.  I have tried ginger beer (too much spice), gingerale (again, too many spices), 7-UP (ok, but didn't enhance anything.)  I have made it with cucumber and mint, with cucumber and lemon.  I've even thrown in strawberries. C'mon England, you know we Americans do things our own way.  (See July 4, 1776 for examples.)

After selflessly sacrificing myself to this cause...Eureka!!!  I discovered San Pellegrino's Limonata (lemon soda).  I'm guessing this may be close to English "lemonade".  This made the perfect Pimm's Cup for me. 

Here is my ultimate Pimm's Cup recipe.  Cheers!

Pimm's Cup
Serves 1
1 1/2 ounces of Pimm's No. 1
6 ounces of San Pelligrino Limonata soda**
2 strawberries, sliced
a generous sprig of mint
lots of ice

Fill a tall glass with ice.  Add Pimm's, limonata, mint and strawberries.  Stir and enjoy!

**Note: San Pellegrino also makes an orange flavor.  I buy both flavors for my kids so that they can feel like they're drinking soda but these contain no caffeine and no high fructose corn syrup. I love these!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

How to Seed a Pomegranate

I like things neat and tidy.  I also like pomegranates.  Therein lies the rub.  Dissecting a pomegranate is not so tidy if you either a) cut it in half and bang on it with a wooden spoon until all the seeds come out or b) soak the seeds in water and wait for that membrane stuff to float up and separate.  Both of those methods are too messy or time consuming for me.  I thought I'd share how I seed a pomegranate...

1. Cut the top off the pomegranate until you can see the individual seed sections or pockets inside.
You can see this one has 6 sections of seeds.

2. Like an orange, you can see the membrane that separates the sections.  Cut down the sides of the pomegranate right in between these sections letting your knife go about an inch in.  I let the slits all meet at the top center of the pomegranate.

3. Pull apart the pomegranate into your cut sections.

4. Peel the membrane off.  It usually comes off in one piece.  Nudge the seeds out of the skin into a bowl.  You can turn the peel inside out to make it easier.

Tah Dah!  Minimal cleanup, no pomegranate juice on you or your walls.  Give it a try.  Once you have those beautiful seeds, put them in a salad (great with raw fennel or spinach or in this salad), float them in a glass of champagne, add them to oatmeal or granola or just eat them as a snack.