by Lee Brian Schrager with Adeena Sussman. This just arrived and I'm so excited. Can't wait to dive in and see what cool techniques await and plan my fantasy road trip. Is there anything better than fried chicken (today)?
by Lee Brian Schrager with Adeena Sussman. This just arrived and I'm so excited. Can't wait to dive in and see what cool techniques await and plan my fantasy road trip. Is there anything better than fried chicken (today)?
This week in the New York TImes Jeff Gordiner wrote interesting piece on Laurie Colwin. She is, unsurprisingly, one of my favorite authors though I may be in the minority in that I enjoy her fiction as much as her food writing. Truth be told, there's a lot of food in her fiction and having spent my high school years in the eighties in New York City I found her writing to be very true to life as I knew it. It was fresh and unique with a distinct voice as all the best writing often is. Now I have bookcases full of food writing and still Home Cooking and More Home Cooking are among those that I reach for the most.
In my younger days I was a huge fan of James Beard and MFK Fisher. I bought The Art of Eating when I was working at Metropolitan Museum of Art one Christmas season. I managed to find quite a few great cookbooks in the stores there but MFK was by far my best purchase. I read it over and over again and it seemed to embody the kind of writing I most enjoyed. Autobiographical, food-centric, and slightly eccentric. Each book in the series was clearly written in her voice and yet there were distinct variations in style and tone, time and space. She also wrote a tiny bit of fiction and I greatly enjoyed her novel Not Now but Now, and it sits alongside her other books on my shelf. James Beard's Delights and Prejudices is still a favorite and though it may have been years since I last cracked the cover I can close my eyes and conjure up stories of summertime in Olympia, French markets, sand tarts, curries, and Dungeness crab.
John Thorne was my go to for developing opinions and learning to cook on my own. His stories embody a journey of culinary evolution. Not in a fancy or snooty way, just the stories of an opinionated cook who often finds cooking and eating to be a solitary pleasure. He has both a website and a newsletter and his books are an extension of these. Some of his most popular pieces are on breakfasts and midnight snacks. These are highly personal meals that we may never want to recreate ourselves but then we all have our secret passions and strange meals that we enjoy most when we are alone. John Thorne invites us into his world without imposing his ideas upon us. Recipes are given but there's no pressure to run to the kitchen or follow them exactly. Instead they are a natural unfolding of whatever story they originate from.
Growing up with a Jewish uncle I was especially fond of books describing Jewish food. There's a whole culture to the cuisine, similar to what we see in Southern food writing, another favorite of mine. From My Mother's Kitchen by Mimi Sheraton was a keeper comfort read. Her voice is clear and informative as she matter-of-factly explains her mother's preferences in the kitchen and her own variations. It is as much a story about their relationship as it as about the food. Perhaps that's what makes the very best comfort reads, they give you something to relate to and something you can build upon for yourself. Of course these few books are just the tip of the iceberg. I could go on for days but instead I'll leave you here, so I can go curl up with a good book.
This winter we've become addicted to a lavender scented neck and shoulder wrap. We love it so we're sharing it with you. Amaya has dubbed it the "warm and cozy." The one we use is from Herbal Concepts (photo via Amazon). It has a small flap that is designed to wrap around the neck attached to a small cape that drapes over the shoulders. We warm it up in the microwave and, depending on who is using it, drape it over the shoulders, wrap it around the lower back or belly or blanket it over feet and legs. It's a wonderful all purpose soother for kids and adults. It's perfect for long hours hunched over a computer or simply watching movies on the couch. Amaya takes hers to bed with her and it replicates the hot water bottles of old, warming chilly sheets with the added benefit of a soothing fragrance. It's an affordable luxury that makes our day a little bit better.
We've been asked to take some photos and shoot some short video segments for an expanded ebook version on Ideas in Food, Great Recipes and Why They Work. There's no budget, the payoff comes in selling additional books so we're doing everything ourselves (nothing new). This is less of an issue with the photography because that's a big portion of what we do for a living but the video is more of a stretch. Which is a long way of saying if anyone out there has some great tips on shooting engaging video in general, or with an iphone, we'd love to hear them.
As we work through this process we are revisiting many of the recipes in the book. One of our favorites is the no-knead brioche. In an effort to keep the portions in line with our 3-person family, we divided our dough into four roughly equal portions and refrigerated them to be baked off at different times. The day after we made cinnamon rolls we remembered that there was some duck rillettes in the fridge. We loved the idea of buttery brioche and rich duck and so it was a small leap to filling our dough with the rillettes and topping the rolls with sweet/bitter orange marmalade. They were so good.
And then, because Alex believes you can never have too much of a good thing, we butter-steamed a few eggs and topped them with pepper jack cheese. Then we split open a couple of duck confit rolls, griddled them and made egg sandwiches. (Brief moment of silence.) Let's just say that we'll be making these again, very soon.
When we were asked to do a sponsored post for BlogHer and Häagen-Dazs ® Made Like No Other the answer was a no-brainer, create a unique recipe using our favorite store bought ice cream? Absolutely. What could be more fun? We always enjoy a chance to indulge our inner child and then feed the results to Amaya. We favor their Five series, ice creams made with five ingredients. Amaya’s a big fan of the Strawberry ice cream so that was our starting point.
We began with the idea of granola, probably because we both like a crunchy contrast with out ice cream. But neither of us is a huge granola fan. The idea of breakfast stuck and our minds turned to bowls of sweet cereal with milk. This evolved into maple-glazed cornflakes blended with freeze dried strawberries. This mixture had everything we were looking for. It was light and crispy with tang from the strawberries and nice blend of sweetly savory flavors. We know it was good because as it lay on the dining room table cooling we heard a crunch, crunch, crunch, and looked over to see Amaya happily eating it straight from the pan.
We began to build our upside down sundae. We happened to have some fresh dulce du leche, otherwise known as milk jam, in the fridge and for the adult version of our cereal we blended a little Knob Creek bourbon into the caramel and put it in the bottom of the bowl. We added our cornflake crispies and then some fresh strawberries and tiny opal basil leaves. Now all we needed was the ice cream.
We shaved our Häagen-Dazs Strawberry ice cream over the top. Admittedly we used a little liquid nitrogen to help things stay frozen for the photo. But the ice cream was firm enough to shave straight from the freezer, all you need is a mandolin and a chilled bowl to shave it into. The shaved ice cream gave easily under our spoons, blending with the cereal below it and melting into the dulce du leche for one of the best ice cream treats we’ve ever had.
Strawberries and Cream with Häagen-Dazs ® Made Like No Other
Drunken Milk Jam
¼ cup/ 75 grams dulce de leche or cajeta
1 tablespoon/ 13 grams bourbon
Put the dulce de leche and bourbon into a bowl. Whisk the ingredients together to fully blend. Reserve.
Sandy Strawberry Cornflakes
¼ cup/ 75 grams grade B maple syrup
¼ cup/ 50 grams granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon/ 1.5 grams fine sea salt
3.5 ounces/ 100 grams cornflakes
1.2 ounces/ 34 grams freeze dried strawberries
Combine the maple syrup, sugar and salt into a large non-stick pan over medium heat. Bring the mixture to a boil and cook until large bubbles form. Add the cornflakes to the hot syrup and stir to coat evenly. Turn the heat down to medium and continue to cook the sugar-coated cornflakes until the sugar syrup dries and they become sandy and slightly caramelized, 10-15 minutes. When the cornflakes are cooked, coated and dry add the freeze-dried strawberries. Stir to combine and then transfer the hot cereal mixture to a parchment lined sheet pan to cool. When the cereal is completely cool put it into a zip top bag and reserve.
Shaved Strawberry Ice Cream
1 pint Häagen-Dazs strawberry ice cream
1 liter liquid nitrogen (optional)
Take the lid off the ice cream and use a serrated knife to cut the pint of ice cream in half. Remove the pint container packaging and wrap each half of ice cream in plastic wrap and put into a very cold freezer. Put 2 metal bowls in the freezer and let chill at least one hour. Remove half of the ice cream and one metal bowl from the freezer. Working quickly unwrap the ice cream and shave it on a Japanese mandoline into the bowl. If the ice cream begins to melt put it and the bowl back into the freezer to firm up. Repeat with the other half of ice cream. Alternatively, fill a Styrofoam cooler with one liter of liquid nitrogen and shave the ice cream into the liquid nitrogen. Use a wire skimmer to transfer the ice cream to the frozen metal bowl in the freezer. Repeat with the other half of ice cream.
36 baby opal basil leaves
6 fresh strawberries cleaned and cut into eighths
Drunken Milk Jam
Sandy Strawberry Cornflakes
Shaved Häagen-Dazs Strawberry ice cream
Put a large spoonful of the drunken milk jam in the bottom of the bowl. Spoon the sandy cereal around the milk jam. Top the cereal with sliced strawberries and opal basil leaves. Spoon the shaved ice cream on top. Serve immediately.
One thing we had yet to do was brown butter mayonnaise. It was hiding in plain sight. We have explored many uses for brown butter and its amped up cousin made with the addition of toasted milk solids. We used the toasted milk solids by themselves to add richness and depth to dishes. We've now made brown butter stock, ice cream, puree, cavatelli and olive oil. Yes, brown butter olive oil. This was the catalyst. When we were teaching at Madrona Manor we toasted milk solids in olive oil instead of butter. The result was a toasted, nutty, buttery olive oil with a side of milk solids. The two parts were delicious, although we weren't able to utilize them on that trip. In Canada, specifically in Ottawa, brown butter is commonplace, especially as a component of bread service in restaurants. Knowing this made me wary of utilizing brown butter in a familiar form for the dinner, but I was unable to resist weaving it somewhere into the menu. Then I remembered the brown butter olive oil. Instead of using 100% olive oil we combined two parts olive oil to two parts butter to 1 part milk solids. The result of this experiment produced incredible milk solids and an incredible flavored fat that was fluid at both room and refrigerated temperatures. Think of that commercial for spreadable butter with canola oil in it, only a thousand times better. The next step was making mayonnaise. We took four 13-minute eggs and pureed them in the blender. We added lemon juice, salt, Tabasco and the toasted milk solids. When the mixture was smooth we emulsified in the brown butter-olive oil. When it was done we had the most decadent mayonnaise I have ever tasted. After that the question was: what can we spread this on?
I had the pleasure of working with Shola's pasta machine yesterday. We made a few simple shapes: large spaghetti and small rigatoni. I was hooked. Unfortunately in our current environment I cannot justify the purchase of this incredible machine. For now I have machine envy. Luckily, Shola said I can come and make pasta anytime as long as I make enough for the restaurant as well.* I might just do this as this machine is a joy to work with.
*Shola did not actually say that I had to make pasta for the restaurant but he did extend the invitation to see what is possible with this machine.
We wrote about Chris Cosentino's home of Tasty Salty Pig Parts when it first opened. We were thrilled at its arrival on the salumi scene and were equally disappointed it was 3000 miles away with a retail shop in the amazing food driven and cook-centric Ferry Building. A quick trip to the San Francisco/Oakland area gave me a great excuse to eat at Incanto and then bring Aki and Amaya a most wonderful souvenir, a bag full of cured meats. Forget the soft stuffed animals, go for the soft stuffed nduja. And nothing says love like lardo. Sure, I picked up a few of the pieces for me as well but this is a gift of love.
That's my story and I'm Sticking to it.
The soft shell crab is marinated in a puree of smoked coconut milk and lovage. It is dredged in flour and fried in a blend of smoked tallow and rice bran oil. The honeydew melon is vacuum sealed and topped with a mosaic of fava beans and smoked coconut milk puree. A few dollops of smoked coconut milk puree and needles of saltwort complete the dish. In composing the dish we found the small legs did not make it into the finished presentation. It led to a conversation about a pre-course, post course or even a side dish to compliment the body of the crab. The little legs were crispy and smokey an ideal ingredient for a Japanese hand roll. Since the season is just beginning we have some time to work through our thoughts.
With spring in full gear, really disguised as summer, we decided to bring savory ice cream back to the forefront of our thoughts. In order to deal with the heat we whipped up a batch of popcorn gelato which we paired with Steve's sake cured roe, cucumber, jalapeno and watercress. The cold creamy gelato hits the spot and the crunchy cucumber and popping roe are wonderful textural contrasts. If we are going to have the heat we might as well eat the ice cream, or gelato in this case.
We've talked about ice cream cakes here before. As a fan of the classic Carvel cake, yes I know all the reasons why I shouldn't love them but I still do, I have to admit that the first time someone offered me an ice cream cake with cake in it I was confused. What was cake doing in my ice cream? So I really felt for Will Goldfarb when I watched the Ice Cream Challenge on tv the other night. I would have been standing in the same shoes, that is if I was anywhere near as talented a pastry chef, wondering who actually puts cake in an ice cream cake? Seriously, frozen cake is not fun to eat, cookie crumbs are so much better with ice cream.
As we settle into our new home we're slowly exploring the area. We used to live near a wonderful old fashioned ice cream parlor, just the place for the occasional sundae fix. Some things are just better when somebody else makes them. I asked around and when the Zebra Striped Whale was recommended I put it on my short list. It's near the Newtown Farmer's Market, one of our new favorite places to shop so I knew it was only a matter of time until I could lure Alex through its doors. We finally made it this weekend and savored a quick sundae before shopping. What can I say, they have cookie crumbs as a topping. Chocolate cookie crumbs. The Banana Smash is a wonderful blend of sliced bananas, ice cream, hot fudge, caramel and one topping. In my case it was with sweet cream ice cream and cookie crumbs. Who needs Carvel when you've got the Zebra Striped Whale?
There's something so soothing about buttered noodles. The slick texture giving way to tender pasta yielding against my tongue. The buttery sweetness balanced by slightly gritty, salty cheese. A sprinkling of fresh ground pepper to spice things up. Buttered noodles are often served as a side dish although for a solitary meal they can be pure indulgence. On my rare evenings alone I love a simple dish of pasta. If I'm feeling ambitious I'll dice an onion and melt it with some anchovies, add a few handfuls of al dente capellini and some grated piave vecchio. It's a meal fit for a queen and one that I'm prone to share with a glass of good red wine and my own company. Pictured here is something a bit more social. Potato chip noodles with sweet butter, grated parmigiano, tomato concasse, and king crab meat. This was accompanied by fresh ideas and good company. Whether fancy or plain, buttered noodles facilitate meditation because they make people feel safe and well taken care of. They're quick, easy, and still incredibly indulgent.
It's finally here. Well almost anyway. I've been waiting since December and it just about killed me. I'm a total bookworm, much to Alex's dismay I can burn through 3-5 books a week depending on what else is going on. It's my personal escape from reality and I get a little cranky when I can't find the time to read. When we had Amaya I discovered that juggling a baby and a paperback works fairly well. Juggling a baby and a book any larger than your standard, mass market paperback, not so much. Come February 24, I will be able to read anything, at least anything available in the Kindle store, while holding the baby. They even have Harold McGee, how convenient is that? It's a whole new world and I can't wait.
As St. Patty's Day approaches our thoughts turn to thick slices of juicy corned beef, meltingly soft cabbage and fluffy boiled potatoes. There's nothing like good corned beef. When you cook it at home inevitably there are leftovers. I love a good corned beef hash or a thick sandwich as much as the next person. Occasionally though, I need a change of pace. Enter the corned beef burger.
To make this beauty we diced and shredded some leftover corned beef (what can I say, we couldn't wait until Monday). We folded the cooked meat into some lean ground beef with a bit of cold, grated butter, a pinch of salt and a touch of cayenne pepper. We seared the burgers in a hot, dry pan allowing them to cook in their own rendered fats. The outsides crisped beautifully and the smell was intoxicating. While the burgers were resting we fried English muffins in the drippings and used them to cradle our patties. The corned beef burger, it doesn't get much better than this.
During last Saturday's Activa class we created these crispy chicken skin wrapped shrimp balls. They were small enough to consist of one or two bites, depending upon the size of your mouth, with intense flavors and contrasting textures. In retrospect they are the perfect crispy, chewy bar snack.
The chicken skin has been blanched, chilled, and then wrapped around a seasoned filling of shrimp and parsley. The Activa helps it all come together. A brief poaching allows the Activa and shrimp to set, enabling us to deep fry these tasty little balls. (I know the first picture is misleading, but they're not that kind of balls.)
Meanwhile, the saga of our basement continues. For those of you just joining us, there was major flooding on our block during the freak storm last August, causing substantial damage in the finished basement of our home in Queens. The basement has been under construction, so to speak since last October. What began as a two week project stretched out over almost six months. Last weekend we parted ways with the "gentleman" in charge of the project. On the bright side, the majority of the work had been finished, although we will have to bring in someone else to complete the work, we should finally be able to use the basement again relatively soon. This is a very good thing since it has been a wasteland since August.
Anyway, because of this recent parting of the ways Alex and I have been painting. The rooms were basically primed, top to bottom, and there was one coat of paint on most of the walls. We needed to finish the entire job, including three doors. The baseboard and trim have not been installed yet so there will be more painting in our future once we get through this part. Painting is a lot of fun in the beginning. As the day goes on you realize that you are discovering lots of dormant muscles and that trying to run a roller across the ceiling in a straight line when you're under five feet tall can be challenging. At the end of the day we were paint spattered and feeling pretty good about our progress. We had gotten a lot of painting and cleaning done without killing each other. Now we were looking for a cold beer and quick sustenance.
Let me tell you, there's nothing like an ice cold Molson XXX and some chicken skin wrapped shrimp to take the edge off. Now we're off to the showers.
Everyone loves a good crab cake. And even if everyone doesn't love a good crab cake, I do. Which is really all that matters when I set out to cook something for myself. There are certain moments when I just have to focus in on what I want and make it happen. I'm sure everyone has had one of those moments when you absolutely have to have that certain something. You can't satisfy a true craving with a pale imitation of what you want. Today I'm craving crab cakes and so I'm mentally planning ahead for tomorrow. It's a plan worth sharing.
Now I'm the first to admit that these crab cakes are going to require a bit of work. The crab meat must be sourced from a reputable fishmonger and if I have to grit my teeth at the prices, I'll just remind myself that these cakes will be better and exponentially less expensive than what I can get in a restaurant. For four large crab cakes or eight smaller ones I'll pick up a half a pound of jumbo lump crab for its meaty texture and a half a pound of Peekytoe for its flavor. I also plan to pick up some organic arugula, good bacon, a baguette, a couple of russet potatoes, sour cream, and tomatoes--fresh if they're nice otherwise I'll get the plump, chewy, sun dried variety.
A couple of hours before dinner time I'll turn on the oven to 375-degrees, scrub the potatoes, pierce them and put them in to bake. While they're in the oven, I'll pick through the crab to eliminate any remaining shells. Then I'll slice four pieces of bacon into 1/4-inch matchsticks and put them in a small pan over a low flame with a splash of cold water to render, stirring it occasionally until they are are crisp. While that's in the pan I'll dice an onion from the pantry, clean the arugula, slice and salt the tomatoes if they're fresh and julienne them if they're dried, and use about a third of the baguette to make some fresh bread crumbs in the food processor with a dash of cayenne and a clove of garlic. I'll remove the crisp bacon the pan to drain and pour away all but a tablespoon of the fat. I'll use this for the salad dressing. Once the potatoes are fully cooked and tender, I'll dice up a couple ounces of cold butter and pull out some hot sauce (I like Matouks and Crystal) and the sour cream. Working rapidly, I'll take one potato out of the oven, using a dish towel to hold it, split it down the middle, squeeze it, and scrape the hot potato out of its jacket into a medium sized bowl. Then I'll discard the skin and repeat with the other potato. Add the butter and a generous dusting of salt and mash this with a fork. Then add a couple splashes of hot sauce (a large splash of Crystal and a small splash of Matouks) and a large tablespoon or two of sour cream. The potato mixture should be slightly chunky, creamy and well seasoned. To this mixture I will add the picked crab meat, and a lightly beaten egg. Fold the mixture together with a rubber spatula, gently and thoroughly. I'll form this mixture into cakes, four large or eight smaller ones. Dip the cakes in a basic egg wash and roll them in the seasoned bread crumbs. Place them in the refrigerator for at least half an hour to set up. This is the perfect time for a drink to relax before the meal.
When I'm ready to get dinner on the table, I'll melt a couple of tablespoons of butter and line a sheet tray with foil. I'll brush the crab cakes with butter on both sides and set them under a low broiler. They will take 5-7 minutes on each side to become golden brown and cooked through. While they cook, I'll add the diced onion to the saute pan with the remaining tablespoon of bacon fat and fry until golden brown. Then I'll add the rendered bacon and let it re-crisp a bit. While the bacon and onions are cooking, I'll dress the arugula and tomatoes with salt and a splash of balsamic vinegar. When the bacon is hot I'll add it to the salad, tossing well to blend everything together. I'll serve crab cakes with the salad, the rest of the baguette, and some good butter. The potatoes will make the filling creamy and moist while still allowing the crab to shine, the salad will provide acid and crunch, and the bread is there to sop up all of the juices. It's a simple yet indulgent supper and there are no major pans to clean up. Add a bottle of good wine and even better company and I've got something truly special to look forward to.
It's two days after Christmas and I am full. I've probably eaten more cookies over the last five days than I did all year long. There's an incredible variety that is required for the holiday because everyone has their favorites. I like snickerdoodles. Although I also tried my hand at rugelah this year, stuffing the yeasted dough with rather boozy cherries and raisins. There were home made fig newtons for Alex, pitzels (a gift from the Goodwin family) for Aunt Marie, chocolate chips, peanut butter, and entire trays of home made cookies that arrived on our doorstep en masse. It was a beautiful thing. For Mom I tried to make butterballs. They are her favorite, made by the aunts when I was a child, now made by me. This year I couldn't find the exact recipe and cobbled together one of my own, adapted from many with my fingers crossed and my walnuts dusted in powdered sugar. In the end they weren't butter balls, Alex dubbed them butter flats. These were rich, delicate, crumbly cookies, with a slightly bitter edge, covered with powdered sugar and melting on the tongue. Everyone was happy to eat them and tomorrow I head back into the kitchen to figure out how I made them for future reference. So you'll have to wait another day or two for the recipe, although the memories, well, they last a lifetime.
It's Sunday night. Today we had our first snow of the season. When I woke up this morning and looked out my window, the sky was full of fat white flakes. It was that kind of snow that either melts and disappears or freezes into a slick, icy surface. Either way it was beautiful and welcome. A herald of the winter that is just beginning to unfurl here in the Northeast. For dinner tonight we ordered in pizza. It had a thin, chewy crust and was heavy with cheese, sausage, mushrooms and onions. All of the major food groups were basically represented and the meal was washed down with a rich Anderson's Conn Valley Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet from 2001. There was football in the background, cats lounging on radiators and a happy dog in the background. What more could a person ask for on this first and snowy Sunday in December?
I t's a classic combination because it works. Hot, bitter coffee and tender cake dusted with crunchy grains of sugar. Sugar and caffeine for the slow (or not so slow) rise to the peaks and the inevitable tumble back down to the valley. It's worth it though. Doughnuts (eggnog & apple cider) courtesy of Stew Leonards, because sometimes it's better when you haven't made it yourself.
For those out there who no longer read magazines or perform a perfunctory skim of written material, take a closer look at the October issue of Gourmet magazine. There is an in depth article on David Chang and his restaurants, cooking and desire to serve delicious food. Within the article is the recipe for the Momofuku steamed buns, the actual buns, and the roast pork which goes within. I, like many others, am addicted to the steamed buns, particularly the buns themselves. The fact that the recipe for the buns was published opened up a new means for getting my steamed bun fix, I can make them at home.
And, if you have an extensive cookbook library at home a fine alternative recipe with the same baking soda trick as in David's recipe can be found in The Key to Chinese Cooking, by Irene Kuo. Mind you we would not have been able to find a similar recipe had David's not been published in the magazine.
As for what we will be putting in my steamed buns, we may try BBQ eel or perhaps smoked lobster salad. Or even chewy hot fudge and macerated strawberries, raspberries and lemon cream or cajun steamed shrimp with crisp green onions and remoulade. The possibilities are endless...
I have always had a soft spot for Carvel Ice Cream Cakes. They are the symbol of childhood birthday parties, melting untidily onto gaily colored paper plates, the chocolate crumbles beckoning as plastic forks bounced helplessly against their frozen surfaces. The sensation of that sweet creamy confection, always with that faint hint of freezer, melting against my tongue was one of boundless pleasure. The strangely flat tasting whipped cream icing dissolving into the sweet icy vanilla which in turn gave way to the crunchy crumbs of moist/crunchy cookie crumbs and then finishing with the dense, cool frozen chocolate cream that comprised the bottom layer. Summer or winter, ice cream cakes were de rigueur in my neighborhood. Pizza to start and goody bags to take home completed the celebratory rituals. To this day the familiar taste of those cakes transports me back to those moments of freedom and happiness, alone in the middle of a party with my ice cream cake.
Occasionally someone who loves me will buy a Carvel Cake as a special surprise. It doesn't happen often, once or twice a year is just about right for my tastes. The sprinkles have changed over the years and the cookie crumbs are not as crisp as I remember, other than those few minor details, the frozen confection remains the same. We always get the traditional birthday cakes, fancy whales or fudgy icing just don't cut it for me. My aunt picked up this last cake and went for the smallest one available-since it was basically just for three of us and failed to notice that it was all vanilla and fat free. The loss of the chocolate was a blow but I soldiered through and tasted the cake anyway. Oddly you wouldn't have guessed that it was fat free if you hadn't read the label. Carvel has never professed to be a super premium brand, instead banking on clear simple flavors and the taste of childhood to draw people in. The cake did it's usual magic and I savored every melting drop. It was the perfect ending to humid, starry evening.
There is something beautiful about an oyster. It has been gently washed and examined. A sharp knife has danced across its lips, separating the halves neatly and easily. The top has been carelessly discarded by the shucker. A smooth sliding motion separates the muscle from its white heart and it is carefully placed in its bed of seaweed and ice with its companions. When the platter arrives before me, I pick up the first specimen and gently lift it , cradling the rough exterior , weathered by sea and sand, against my fingertips. It smells of salt water and seaweed, and I linger over the scent for both pleasure and self defense. It's soft interior is exposed, delicate and quivering in the humid air. It is elegant, glossy, a mosaic of soft grays and browns, swimming in it's clear, briny juice. I bring the cup to my lips and drink, savoring the cold liquid and tenderly sucking the flesh from the bone. It is silken against my palate, salt washing over my tongue, as it slides through my mouth, collapsing slowly beneath my teeth, as I chew and swallow. My eyes are wide open and my senses hum with sudden vitality, as the oyster slowly disappears, leaving nothing but the ocean breeze echoing through my senses. They are both stimulant and sedative. I am relaxed and yet hyper-sensitive, as though looking through a fun house mirror. Details are magnified. It is a private moment in a public domain as I savor the fleeting sensations. I rest for a moment. Then, ever so slowly, I reach for another.
We love these guys, truly we do. The first time I ever heard the name Frog Hollow Farm was way back, maybe even in high school when a family friend gave us a Christmas gift which consisted of a three pack of their peach conserves. It was delicious, spread on chewy toast with a hint of butter. It was like eating a bit of summer in the dead of winter and they made the early morning coffee ritual something special. Somehow you never know which of those unexpected presents will make a lasting impact, that's the beauty of gift giving. Sometimes a present can be much more than you think it is.
Fast forward ten years or so. We ordered the fruit from Frog Hollow occasionally in Colorado. It was expensive and shipping was tough. Given the slow start at the hotel, it was hard to justify the price of the fruit. On the other hand, this summer we've been working on a private ranch where the owners love fruit. So Frog Hollow stone fruit has been with us all season. We began with the cherries and continued through the season with apricots, pluots, peaches and nectarines. The fruit arrives in these pretty boxes, each piece wrapped in tissue paper and in it's own little bed. They arrive slightly under-ripe, but a day or two on the counter is all it takes to sweeten and soften these blushing beauties. These are the kind of nectarines that spurt juice when you sink your teeth into them. We always serve them with napkins because you will make a mess, and the fruit will drip down your chin if you're not careful. That's the beauty of ripe stone fruits after all.
I won't kid you, these peaches are pricey. With shipping, it comes out to about $2 per piece. I will say that there were times this summer when the fruit was the most talked about item on the menu. People from all over the country raved about it. We were even teased that the fruit eclipsed the composed dishes. We just smiled and offered them another piece. After all, the true art of being a good chef is procuring great ingredients. As summer cycles towards fall and we get ready to pack our bags and head back East, we urge you to treat yourself and someone you love. Order some peaches or Asian pears from Frog Hollow. The taste of summer is fleeting and utterly delicious.
Sure, summer comes along and salads come to mind. Yet, I am talking more about protein based concoctions which are a kitchens staple amidst hot weather and ever changing schedules. We, namely Aki, have made more egg salad, ham salad, tuna salad, and chicken salad than we care to divulge. And still I am. These salads in their many variations have proven to be both tantalizing and inspiring. Ham salad, an inspiration from the days of deviled ham has made the largest comeback since (fill in the blank). It started off all nice and innocent with pickles and mayo, a dash of mustard and it was done. Recently, Aki made a ham salad which was truly mind blowing. Perhaps I was starving when I tried it first, though I still eat it even if I am full. The secret is the addition of Piquillo peppers. In fact, the ham salad was so good we transformed it from a kitchen staple to a star in its own right in the shape of ham salad ravioli. Our first run at making the dish with the ravioli was quite tasty, though as we look closer at the salad and how we can tweak it to a dish I foresee truly great results. For now I am settling with truly tasty.
As far as the other salads we have made tuna with tapenade, egg salad with truffle oil and Japanese mayo, and smoked chicken salads. While these others have not veered far from their original purpose (providing delicious sustenance) they have all proved exiting and noteworthy.
I'm going to take a moment here to rave about the Cuisinart CPC-600 . We've been working with it for about a month. Anyone who reads this site knows that we love pressure cookers. The Cuisinart is like the Mac-Daddy of all pressure cookers. It's easy to use, easy to clean and it's Quiet. Amazing because the standard pressure cooker makes a lot of noise. That screeching, whining sound is the reason why many people don't use their little machines. We too have tormented by the noise, and still pressed on because the results were worth it. The CPC's sleek design looks good on our counter top. The non-stick interior is very pretty and has cup measures marked along the interior. It has settings for searing and browning, the requisite high and low pressure options, and it will keep things warm when they've finished cooking. These things are all just gravy. The real power of this baby is it's lack of noise. It makes the high price tag ($149) seem reasonable to us. We just love it.
White Truffle Consomme
360g white soy sauce
220g white truffle oil
We make the broth by browning the butter in a pot and deglazing with the vermouth. We then add the soy sauce and bring the broth back to a simmer. We then add the truffle oil and water and bring the whole base to a simmer. We simmer the broth for twenty minutes, then skim the base. We then strain the broth and clarify it.
The result is a rich decadent broth which resounds with the flavor of white truffle. We used the consomme to steam a scallop. The lid is removed at the table releasing the aroma and revealing the just warmed sea scallop.
I have written about blis caviar before, though being a new year with a new season of roe I figured I would just place a casual nod in the direction of Steve who makes, no,rather crafts these incredible roes and syrups and salts and vinegars and, I am trying to convince him to do a few other things. He has taken the leap of faith with us and woven some of our ideas into his handy work. But, what I am truly getting at is just how amazing his products are. Steve makes a wild brook trout roe which while I truly enjoy it, its scarce supply and demand from other chefs allows us to wait for the coming of wild char roe. And it is here. The wild char roe is golden yellow, slightly larger than the brook trout roe with a creamy nuttiness. We are using both the lightly smoked version and the natural. Both are great, it just depends on how you are using them. Anyway, I just wanted to let folks know that the wild char roe is being made, it is amazing and it blows the doors off other caviar's and roes. We have a few pictures of some dishes we did featuring this caviar last year in the Wild Char Roe photo album. Oh yeah, where to get this stuff? Check out Mikuni Wild Harvest.
We've got a serious California wine buff staying with us at the moment. It's been a pleasure to be around him. Not only were we finally able to open a bottle of ZD Abacus in the Dining Room, but we're learning tons from being exposed to him. The ZD Abacus is a solera style Cabernet Sauvignon made in Napa Valley. The first bottling was a blend of the 1992-1998 vintages and released in 1999. Theory is that each bottling has a bit of every vintage since they began aging the blend in a barrel. I've been fascinated by the wine since I first discovered it on our honeymoon in Napa but we've never had a chance to try it. The wine we poured last night was the fifth bottling and contained whispers from eleven different vintages. Alex decanted it for our guests and said it smelled amazing. Somehow it's almost as satisfying to sell it to someone who can appreciate it as it would be to drink it ourselves.
We were actually given the end (really almost half a bottle) of the 1994 Penfolds Grange to try last night. It's what they drank for the cocktail hour before the Abacus. It was a beautiful wine, balanced and polished. There were hints of roses, coffee, cedar, maple and toffee. It was smooth and slightly syrupy with a great structure that will last for several more years, softening and smoothing out in the bottle. It was a great pleasure to relax at the evening's end, sipping a glass of special wine and letting the stresses of the day fade into memory.
**Dinner's starting so we'll continue this thread tomorrow...
I drink coffee. Actually, I prefer a cappuccino-latte hybrid. In the words of Starbucks, a wet cappuccino. Anyway, it dawned on me this morning, no pun intended, how often I overlook the enjoyment of these daily stimuli. When the foam is just right and the espresso and milk blend in the abyss below I know at least for the moment the day is going alright. It takes a crisp morning away from the everyday to highlight the fact that even though something is consumed, used, done or thought of everyday that it still can be monumentally inspiring. I guess what I am saying is take a moment, even a half moment and indulge in yourself. Now look at the picture.
Yesterday I was reading about deviled eggs on Tigers and Strawberries. This morning as I was racing around the kitchen I put on a pot of eggs to boil. I didn't have any particular plans for them, I just had eggs on the brain.
Deviled eggs are not something that I grew up eating. I actually refused to eat yolks at all until well into my teens and only then if they were soft and runny as a dipping sauce for toast. My Aunt was a lover of yolks, so hard boiled eggs were divided bewteen us. I never understood her enjoyment of the hard cooked yolks with their chalky texture which melted into a thick palate coating puree. I just couldn't see the allure.
Alex, on the other hand grew up on Grandma Kitty's deviled eggs. When we had our catering company in New York, deviled quail eggs with various acoutrements were often consumed by guests with great enthusiasm. I was always amazed at how people responded to them. Deviled eggs were something that spoke to our clients, evoking memories of their childhoods which multiplied their enjoyment to the nth-degree. I discovered the simple pleasures of savoring the rich silky texture and slow blooming flavors of a deviled egg. As for plain hard boiled eggs, these days I hand all the yolks over to Alex. Some things don't change.
Anyway, as I was peeling the eggs I remebered how much Alex enjoys the deviled morsels. Perhaps my subconscious was headed in that diection the entire time. I split the eggs, consuming any broken or unsightly whites in the process. Then I mashed the yolks with creme fraiche, hot sauce, hot smoked paprika, a splash of sherry vinegar, salt and pepper. I piped these back into the whites and presented them to Alex when he returned from walking the dogs.
Never one to be outdone, he whipped open his reach-in and pulled out some leftover preserved truffles. He scattered the truffles over the deviled eggs and we've both been snacking ever since. It's one of thoses moments when we really appreciate the pantry of a professional chef.
So, not that long ago I wrote a post that told the shameful story of my Aunt who wouldn't share her toffee or her Crunch'nMunch. She swears that the bit about the toffee isn't true (it so is) although she does admit to hoarding the FiddleFaddle and Crunch'nMunch. Anyway, today is my birthday and I received a special package from Federal Express. Crunch'nMunch from Aunt Marie. And I said she didn't share. Thanks Auntie!
We do have guests at the moment but they fortuitously decided to go out for dinner tonight. I had a tough day but Alex is making me a special birthday feast of hors d'oeuvres for dinner. There is shrimp cocktail with Kitty's special sauce, bacon and jalapeño wrapped chicken thighs with celery sticks and blue cheese (they didn't have organic chicken wings), stuffed mushrooms, pico de gallo and fried Camembert. There was actually more to the menu but since there are only two of us eating, and large quantities of each item, I edited a bit. Happily waiting on ice is one of my favorite champagnes, Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle “La Cuvée". It's a champagne blended from three different vintage years and this one has been in our cellar for quite some time. I love a bit of age on my bubbles. It makes them taste so much better. Fine champagne, my favorite dining companion, a special menu, my favorite movie (Armaggedon) with no griping, and Crunch'nMunch for dessert. Happy Birthday to me!
This Christmas Day we had what is becoming a Colorado tradition, bagels and lox shipped in from NYC. Bagels and smoked salmon are a Sunday morning tradition where I come from. Aunt Marie would pick up the fixings on her way home from church on Sunday morning and the rest of us would get everything ready. There would be sliced tomatoes and onions, regular cream cheese, scallion cream cheese and occasionally vegetable cream cheese from the deli. If there were extra guests at the table, and sometimes even when there weren’t, we added golden chubs, white fish salad, tuna salad, baked salmon or herring but the highlight was always thinly sliced smoked salmon and fresh assorted bagels and bialys. There would be juices and fresh coffee and we would linger over breakfast, talking and eating and enjoying each other’s company. After the meal we would share the New York Times, dissecting the classifieds and the articles, with a fire in the fireplace and a football game playing in the background.
Alex’s Christmas Day tradition was eggs benedict with his family. He and his sister Meredith grew up with celebrating holidays with “Meltaways”, a special coffee cake from a bakery in Westchester. Whenever he reminisces about holiday (Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving) breakfasts with his family these light buttery cakes with a streusel topping are at the forefront of his stories. Growing up, on Christmas morning he would wake up at home in Bronxville with his family. They would open presents and have breakfast together before driving up to Longmeadow, MA to meet the rest of the clan for Christmas Dinner. Christmas Eve was always spent with family friends so this early morning breakfast was a special moment for the four of them to celebrate together. Breakfast was a communal affair, everyone had their tasks from setting the table to broiling the tomatoes, and then they all sat down to warm coffee cake and eggs benedict.
Here in Colorado we are developing our own traditions. Frankly, bennie seemed like too much work for just the two of us. Although we enjoy the indulgence, the amount of dishes it created was daunting. Last year Aunt Marie sent us bagels, lox and cream cheese from New York City and a tradition was born. This year we got the fixings from Russ and Daughters, assorted bagels, Scottish smoked salmon, gravlox, and pastrami cured salmon accompanied by fresh cream cheese and capers. It was fabulous, chewy, flavorful bagels and some of the best smoked salmon we’ve had in a long time. The fish was lightly smoked, perfectly seasoned and silky smooth. Next time though, we won’t muck around with the combo pack, we’ll just get lots of plain smoked salmon. Fish this good doesn’t need the extra seasonings. A well toasted bagel with a schmear, sliced onion, tomato, a few scattered capers and as much salmon as you like (Alex likes a lot), is a little bit of heaven on Christmas morning. The company at the table increases the pleasure exponentially and if you shop generously there will be enough to do it all again the next day. Sorry there are no pictures, we were too busy eating and talking to reach for the camera, maybe next year. Cheers!
I've learned some things about serving and entertaining over the years. I've learned that whatever my favorite dish at the table is will be everyone else's favorite too. As someone who loves to eat leftovers late night and for breakfast, this poses some issues for me. My first strategy was to make more of whatever dish I wanted leftovers of. Interestingly, when I made more, people ate more and I still ended up without enough leftovers to satisfy my cravings. This year I set my leftovers aside before serving dinner. Selfish? Perhaps, but the last thing I want to do after serving Thanksgiving to our guests at the Guest House is go home and cook again. Alex is content to devour a plate at the end of service in the kitchen, chatting with Michael. Me, I prefer to go home where I can relax with a glass of wine and my supper. Fortunately I don't need the whole kit and caboodle. A plateful stuffing and a glass of wine is plenty to be thankful about in my book.
This particular wine is entirely too young, but still seductive. It is from one of our favorite vineyards and one of our (many) favorite grapes. We couldn't resist opening a bottle tonight although the remainder will be tucked away for a year or five or ten, before seeing the light of day. Don't misunderstand me, it's a lovely sip and goes beautifully with my stuffing. It's just that the taste tonight is just a tantalizing hint of what it will be in it's maturity. For the promise of that experience, we can be patient before opening the next bottle..
Deep purple color with red-violet undertones. Fading only slightly at the rim to highlight the violet purple tones. Super high extraction.
Intense nose conjuring wine soaked/stewed prunes and boysenberries. It's jammy and alcoholic.
It’s first impression is sharp and slightly hot on the palate. Spicy notes of cinnamon and black pepper come through next, then dark berry fruits, cedar and spruce The wine itself is medium bodied and lively on the palate with medium high tannins and assertive acidity. It evokes the creamy richness and depth of dates and their smooth, chocolaty undertones, the floral heat of guinea pepper and the astringent sweetness of black olives. It possesses a lingering finish of menthol and blackberries. It continues to evolve in the glass but will definitely bloom after several years in the bottle.
The caviar cometh. I just got off the phone with Steve Stallard of blis caviar, he has begun the production of his hand processed caviars. The first of the season are made with King Salmon roe and have been cured with fleur de sel, sake, and smoked fleur de sel, for three unique interpretations of cured roe. An important fact about Steve’s roe is that it is seasonal. That means we have had five months to imagine and formulate ideas to highlight these stellar eggs. The roe should arrive tomorrow and be incorporated into our dishes as soon as possible.
Today allowed for us to work further with hot avocado. We have made pancakes and sheets, gnocchi and more. This afternoon we just had some fun. We made a structured and free form composition of avocado with nooks and crannies to capture sauces and hold garnishes. The avocado is sliceable and still becomes creamy in the mouth, transferring flavors of lime and jalapeno, accents to the dense flake of pike.
I began today unrested, unsettled and uninterested. Not a great begining to a day in theory devoted to expanding horizons. Well, I cannot sit still and began looking for inspiration. Many times my ideas are sparked while I am absorbed in a process and a fragmental distraction occurs stimulating an idea. Today I went to get our wireless modem for our computers fixed. I called the store and they said bring it in and the tech support will examine the problem on Monday. After an hour drive I arrived at the store. It was closed. Isolation is not good for tech support. I was also hungry, really hungry and Aki and I had been talking steaks recently; our closest steakhouse is really a burger house decorated with golden arches and Irish prefixes to all their dishes. Anyway, my need for a great steak led me to a store that is hit or miss in the steak department--today was a hit. They cut me two two inch Porterhouse steaks, I grabbed a loaf of some local bread and headed home. I let my mind wander during the hour drive home.
I think there are more than five tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami. These are the recognized tastes. We weave them together in our cooking; they influence and structure our cuisine. Yet, there are two other tastes instrumental to our cooking. The one which first popped into my mind during my drive was earthiness. I was wondering why I have such an affinity to jalapenos, tequila, Bordeaux wines, curry leaves and tobacco like ingredients. They all have an inherrent earthy quality not found everywhere. I smiled in the car as this thought bounced around my head--I thought of another taste--now I need to do some actual research. I arrived home, bounded up the stairs, formally presented the porterhouse steaks and then blurted out "I think there is a sixth taste." Aki smiled and said "sure, heat and spice." That was not the response I was looking for and yet she had a valid point.
We integrate both heat and earthiness into dishes in conjunction with the five other acknowledged tastes. It just took an isolated drive and the distraction of a couple of porterhouses to let the idea float to the top.
Now we begin the testing and analysis of these thoughts. I forsee a rare porterhouse topped with jalapeno slivers and a curry leaf margarita to begin the research.
It's 90+ degrees outside and we're at home making macaroni and cheese. We have some guests coming to dinner tonight, one of whom is six and ostensibly the reason for the macaroni and cheese. Truthfully though he would prefer the stuff from the the blue box, there's no guarantee that he'll even eat the homemade stuff. But, it's been a long couple of weeks and this is the first evening we've had off in a while leading into the first day off in over two weeks and we're beat, mentally and physically. So, although there will be slow cooked ribs glazed under the broiler, chips and salsa, a very fresh bean and vegetable salad, leftover banana cream pie and Guinness chocolate cake...we're focused on the mac and cheese. We don't have everything we'd use in an ideal situation but we do have aged Vermont cheddar, hot sauce, organic milk and elbows. Although I'll definitely devour a rib or two, macaroni and cheese and a cold beer are definitely dancing on my horizon.
Without a place to begin I just start writing. Strawberry pie, often seen, duplicated and messed with but rarely any good. Why? I am not really sure so I just need to express my pleasure in a recipe handed down from Grandma Kitty to many others searching for that great strawberry pie. I grew up on this pie. It originally meant Spring, Easter to be exact, when hand picked strawberries or pristine store bought berries were picked over to be assembled into a simple masterpiece. Larger and misshapen berries were cut up and cooked down to make the glaze and fill the nooks and crannies amongst the immaculate show berries arranged in a crisp and flaky pie crust. That is it, no pastry cream or other fillers, strawberry on strawberry in a buttery rich crust. I like to adorn my pie with fresh whipped cream with a dash of vanilla. Yes, I say pie for Grandma Kitty passed the recipe onto Aki who now makes the pie for me for special occasions, and yes I like to eat a pie, the whole pie with a couple glasses of Champagne. Sure, not a meal for everyone but give it a shot. (That is if I can convince Aki to share her adapted recipe.) It seems as I have gotten older I like less sugar and more intense flavors of strawberry. Aki's adaptation of Grandma Kitty's pie is now adapted to my tastes and still remains perfect in my memories.
Popcorn, while simple and straight forward, is the vehicle for many personal indulgences. From the beginning, I have always loved butter, rich decadent butter and popcorn is an ideal medium. From the simple we have witnessed the sublime: black truffle popcorn has garnered some press, and we have enjoyed eating it in the kitchen. Yet for us popcorn has become a great outlet for us to share our flavors from the kitchen. We were giving away our hot sauce, smoke and fire(smoked habanero chili and pickled ramps) at an event but we needed a way to share the flavor without scalding tongues. Popcorn came to mind and I like caramel corn so we decided to make the spiced-caramel popcorn; and in the place of sugar we used maple syrup for a richer flavor. Since then we have also made smoke and smolder(smoke jalapeno and pickled ramps) and made the popcorn with honey.
The popcorn--a childhood memory-- provided a great resource for sharing our hot sauce and similarly the stimulation to use popcorn to share our flavors and tastes.
To my mind, Cold Stone Creamery is a wonderful place. Here in Pagosa good ice cream is hard to find. On the rare occasion when my sweet tooth awakens, nothing else will do. Supermarket ice creams, no matter how premium, never really cut it for me. So when Cold Stone Creamery came to Durango, I was ecstatic. Those first few months I had ice cream every time we were in the neighborhood, which unfortunately wasn’t all that often. After a period of trial and error I’ve found my favorite combination. Although I will branch out occasionally, this is what I’ll come back to time and again: sweet cream ice cream with Snickers bars, roasted almonds and bananas. Let’s start with the ice cream. Growing up vanilla was a favorite, the perfect foil to the hot caramel or fudge sauces at the local sweet shop. But with age I discovered a taste for the pure flavor of sweet cream. No distractions. Frozen Snickers are a beautiful thing. They evoke memories of hot summer days at Jones Beach where young men in shorts with coolers on their shoulders would walk the sands calling out “Froooozen Snickers bars, get your frooooozen Snickers bars here.” It was a siren call that we rarely resisted. Although the caramel was tooth shatteringly hard at first, once it hit your palate in melted into a chewy, salty, creamy delight. The beauty of the Cold Stone addition is that they take room temperature Snickers chunks and fold them into the ice cream so that as you slowly savor the mixture the candy goes from chewy to crunchy to melting in your mouth. It is an ever-evolving experience. The roasted almonds add a much-needed toasty crunch that stands alone. The bananas too change textures through the process from creamy and ripe to frozen and slightly grainy. Somehow the frozen fruit has a different flavor than the fresh, sharper and rounder. Its gentle sweetness provides a nice foil to the intense experience of the Snickers bar. To be honest I rarely finish, but the intense enjoyment that I get from the experience is such an indulgence. Like many things, ice cream is best made to order.