I never liked chicken livers…that is, until shortly after college, when I was a server in a little French bistro. They served a dish of livers and onions that I could never stomach, but I couldn’t get enough of the chicken liver pate. (more…)Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 6 so far )
Well, the year of the Dragon did not waste any time fulfilling its promises of change. A lot of old things in my life finally broke, ended, or just plain died this year. It started promptly on January 1st with my ex (a dragon himself) moving out, marking the death of a relationship that had been broken for a long time. The next thing I lost was any sense of routine. Regular blog posting was definitely not a priority, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t keeping a visual journal of the year on my phone. Conveniently, my first generation iPhone died a couple weeks later, so I promptly upgraded to the 4S. What was a clean slate is now filled with photos from this year. And what a year it has been.
I spent the better part of January mourning my old life. Fifteen years is a long time to spend with someone to just forget one another. We were trying to figure out if we could still have a place, or play a different role in each others’ lives, but any contact at all just created confusion and unease. So I tried to distract myself by keeping occupied with things that I was sure made sense. I took long walks with my dog. I continued my obsession with testing recipes for home made pantry items such as bacon and granola. I also made an effort to reconnect with old friends, and amazingly enough, several of them invited me to get out of town and stay with them for a while.
The upheaval of my home already had me reflecting on how much of my personal life I had sacrificed to my work, and how much more I was actually willing to sacrifice in the future. At the time I was working my ass off as a sous chef in Brooklyn. I had been working 12-hour days, 60-72 hour weeks, and hadn’t taken a vacation in years. This was one of the things in my new routine that didn’t seem to make sense anymore. I came to realize that your work should serve your life, not the other way around. A leave of absence was just what I needed, to travel and get some perspective. I planned trips to visit friends in New Zealand and Portland, Oregon for February. I wasn’t even sure if I was going to return to my current job after my leave, but my chef and executive chef agreed to hold the position for me if I decided to return.
While I was preparing for my trips, I still struggled with the ghosts of my past and finding a new routine here at home. I was waking up every night at 4AM with anxiety, unable to fall back to sleep. I was unable to focus at work, and found myself going through the day like a zombie, just going through the motions. I couldn’t let myself feel anything or I would fall apart and not be able to accomplish any work at all. So I started seeing a therapist new Union Square to help me cope. Every Monday morning I would stroll through the Union Square Greenmarket, then I would go to Hill Country Chicken for breakfast and coffee before my appointment. What I didn’t realize until later, was that this became the anchor for my new routine. I started looking forward to seeing what was new at the market that week, then spending fifteen or twenty minutes sipping coffee, nibbling on my Eggs Armadillo, and writing down my thoughts and the things I wanted to talk to my therapist about that day.
So for about an hour each week, under the watchful eye of a clinical psychologist, I just let everything spill. Sure, I was surrounded by supportive friends and family, but being connected to me and my life, they could not be expected to be completely objective. It was necessary to have that unbiased person to listen to what I was going through, let me go through it and not judge or try to fix things for me. What I needed was the space to fully experience all the thoughts, issues, and emotions, rational and irrational and just get through them all. Just having that one hour to clear some of the cobwebs from my head helped to keep me focused and present the rest of the week.
One big issue was letting go of what I thought my future would look like now that my relationship had ended. I realized how imbalanced my life had become. I had felt so trapped by my work, my relationship, that when I started reconnecting with friends and loved ones, and other parts of my life again it felt great, but uncertain at the same time. I didn’t know this side of me and was afraid of charging into my new life only screw it up by repeating the same mistakes all over again. This was exactly why I chose to get away for a while. I needed an adventure, I needed to learn to trust myself again, hoping I would see things a little differently, a little more clearly when I returned. I flew out on January 31st and landed outside of Auckland, NZ on February 2nd. I didn’t know it then, but this trip would turn out to be just the first leg of a journey through even more unexpected and uncharted territory I would encounter in 2012.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
So the cat’s out of the bag. There’s a new fella in my life. You know, the one with the serious ice cream habit? Among the uncanny number of things we have in common is a shared opinion that appetizers and dessert are probably the best parts of any meal. I don’t think that in our months of dating we ever actually sat at a table at a restaurant. Instead we always seem to end up sitting at the bar and sharing a few appetizers, one entree if it really jumps out at us, and a few different desserts. So the first time I cooked for us instead of going out, it seemed natural to make a few different small plates to share.
One of the challenges was that he has bunch of food intolerances. Gluten, bad. Cow’s milk, bad. Corn, bad. Shellfish also bad news. Now that’s not to say that he doesn’t love all those foods. After all, I have yet to see him consume a pint of ice cream not made from cow’s milk. But in the beginning, I didn’t really know how much or little he could tolerate, so thought it better to try and steer clear of the forbidden foods altogether. So I came up a four course sharing menu that looked something like this:
Roasted Asparagus with wilted Bitter Greens & Sherry Vinaigrette
Tuna Tartare with Jalapeño, Shallot, Avocado, Wasabi Yuzu Vinaigrette with Sesame Rice Crackers
Pan Seared Quail with Farro, Hen of the Woods Mushrooms & Chocolate Balsamic
Blueberry Crumble with Vanilla Ice Cream
Yes, the dessert would have gluten and cow’s milk, but I had seen him cheat with dessert before to I wasn’t worried. So, armed with my menu and shopping list, I hit the stores out in my neighborhood in Queens. I was really craving quail, and always saw them in packs of four at my local Asian market. Of course on this day they only had them in giant frozen bulk packages. That’s when plan B went into the works. Instead I bought a frozen duckling. I would use the breasts and save the legs for making confit. They also didn’t have sushi grade tuna that day, but they did have salmon. I knew some people are put off by salmon, so I texted him. ”Do you eat salmon?” He did. So with those two changes in place, I headed home to start preparing my mise en place. Not knowing what if any cooking equipment he had, I figured I would chop and prep everything at my place, then just assemble everything once I got to his apartment (hmm, not very different than we do at the restaurant). I arrived with plastic containers of blanched asparagus, cooked farro, meticulously diced shallots and jalapeño, thinly sliced cucumber, sea salt, freshly butchered duck breasts, cubed salmon, streusel topping, and a shopping bag full of limes, mushrooms, blueberries, greens, and vinegars. He was still at work so I let myself in and got to work.
The only time consuming thing I had left to do was prepare the filling for the blueberry crumble. I noticed he had frozen peaches in the freezer, and I love them with blueberries so I added them to the filling. I also like a hint of cinnamon with my blueberries, and star anise with my peaches so I added a cinnamon stick and a pod of star anise to the filling while it was cooking. I was happily chugging along with the Civil Wars playing in the background when my sister called. When I shared the menu with her, she asked “Are you sure you want to set the bar that high?” Seriously? This fella knew I cooked for a living, so you know I had to bring it. When all was said and done, we enjoyed the following four plates to share:
Grilled Asparagus with wilted Bitter Greens & Sherry Vinaigrette
Salmon Tartare with Jalapeño, Shallot, Avocado, Cucumber & Lime Vinaigrette, with Rice Crackers
Pan Seared Duck Breast with Warm Farro Salad, Hen of the Woods Mushrooms & Chocolate Balsamic
Spiced Blueberry Peach Crumble with Vanilla Ice Cream
When I told my fella we would be having salmon and duck, he stopped in to see his friend at Pasanella and Sons to select an appropriate pairing. They were the perfect complement to the meal. When we got to dessert, he took a bite, then with a look of bewilderment demanded of me, “What did you put in here?”
“Um, blueberries, peaches, and sugar?” I slurred, a little tipsy and slightly puzzled by the question.
He was not convinced.
I thought a minute, then remembered, “Well, I cooked the filling with cinnamon and star anise.”
“Yes!” he said excitedly. ”Star anise! There was just a hint of something, but I wasn’t sure what it was.”
I was just playing around with the crumble and wasn’t entirely sure how it would turn out, but was pleasantly surprised by both the dessert, and his reaction. It was love at first bite. For obvious reasons, I never got photos of that first meal, but here are some of other meals we’ve made together since:
Foreground: Pan Roasted Quail, Quinoa Risotto, Braised Swiss Chard with Homemade Bacon. Rear: Grilled Swiss Chard Stems, Micro Greens with Sherry Vinaigrette & Crushed Red Pepper.
Pan Roasted Pekin Duck Breast with Wild Rice Risotto, Wild Mushrooms, and Market Vegetables.
We haven’t tackled another four course tasting menu at home, unless you count the time we made his Wild Boar Carnitas. It certainly took as much work as a four course meal. This time I had been working all day and arrived at his place to find him elbow deep in masa harina, braised pork, and about a bottle deep into the rosé. I got right in there and helped to cook tortillas as he pressed them, whip up some guacamole, blend the tomatillo salsa, and form graham cracker crusts for key lime pie – from graham crackers he made himself! It was an awesome feast, and the leftovers made terrific chilaquiles the next night. I think we just might be the perfect partners in crime. Cramped New York City kitchen be damned!
Revised August 29th, 2012Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 3 so far )
“OK. I went a little crazy at the market today. Four pints ice cream, sweet potatoes, garlic scapes, radishes, mushrooms, strawberries and rhubarb…”
I think I may have swooned out loud at receiving this text message, and that does not happen every day. C’mon! Garlic scapes, farm fresh radishes, and local, handmade ice cream? My mind immediately went to the 2 pound cowboy ribeye steak we had thawing in his fridge. What? You say? We? We who? Whose fridge? Well kids, sometimes inspiration finds you when you least expect it. In my case he’s about 6′-1″ tall with goregeous blue eyes and a serious ice cream habit. He also has a love of farmers’ markets, playing in the kitchen, and all things absurd. Funny. Me too. On this particular Sunday morning, while I was running brunch at the restaurant, he took a stroll through the New Amsterdam Market and picked up a few things for us to play with for Sunday dinner.
Earlier that week, I received the heads up that beef prices were going up (again) so I quickly ordered us a beautiful sustainably raised ribeye from Painted Hills Ranch* in Wheeler County, Oregon. I brought it over only to find that my new friend did not have a cutting board big enough for me to butcher a 20 pound ribeye into steaks. Turns out his local is a New Zealand style pub, where he is friendly with the owner, who was more than happy to lend us a cutting board. After all was said and done, we were left holding a 2-rib standing roast and 5 cowboy steaks, each weighing in at about 2 pounds. I returned the cutting board, accompanied by one of the steaks, and added one happy Kiwi to my circle of friends. We vacuum sealed and popped the rest of the steaks in the freezer until we had an evening to enjoy one.
All week we looked forward to sharing one of those cowboys for Sunday dinner. I cooked it in a cast iron grill pan with nothing more than a sprinkle of salt and pepper, and even by itself the flavor of the steak was amazing. I couldn’t believe how good the little bits of fat on the edges of the steak tasted. Although the steak alone was delicious, the garlic scapes my new friend picked up at the farmers’ market inspired me to try a play on Argentine style chimichurri sauce. Substituting garlic scapes for regular garlic, gave the sauce a fresher, brighter flavor, which was the perfect complement to this fatty, lovingly raised piece of meat. Lovely peppery radishes did not get ignored either. They were the perfect addition to a steakhouse style chopped salad with toasted walnuts and home made blue cheese dressing!
Garlic Scape Chimichurri
It is important that the sauce stand for at least an hour in order for the flavors to develop before you serve it. When I first made the sauce it tasted really muted and watery. I set it aside while I prepared the rest of the meal and by the time I served it, the flavor of the sauce was completely different. Now we could taste all the herbs, the flavor of the garlic scapes, and the fruit of the olive oil. I added a little lemon and lime juice to brighten it up, but these should be added to taste, and you might find you may not even need it. The sauce will keep refrigerated for up to 3 days.
INGREDIENTS: Yields about 1-1/2 to 2 cups
2 tsp. dried oregano, steeped in 1/4 c. hot water
2 tsp. kosher salt
1 garlic scape, minced
1 c. packed parsley leaves
1 c. packed cilantro leaves
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper (more or less, to taste)
1/4 c. red wine vinegar
zest of 1 lemon
zest of 1 lime
1/2 c. good extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp. of lemon juice
juice of 1 lime
1. In a food processor, combine garlic scape, parsley, and cilantro. Pulse until the herbs are evenly and finely chopped. You may also chop it all by hand if you don’t have a food processor.
2. Add oregano and water, salt, crushed red pepper, vinegar, and lemon and lime zest to the herb mixture. With the food processor running, pour the olive oil in through the feed tube. Alternatively you can whisk the oil into the mixture in a large mixing bowl. It is key that you use good olive oil here because the flavor will be apparent. Incorporate the oil quickly without whisking or processing too much or the oil will take on a bitter flavor.
3. Let the mixture stand for at least one hour. Before serving, add lemon and lime juice if needed, to taste.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 1 so far )
This time of year, the markets are full of fall root vegetables: beets, turnips, rutabaga, and my favorite, sweet potatoes. I love them roasted, mashed, french fried, or made into a pie. Here I use them to make gnocchi. Now these little babies take some work, but the results are really worth it. They keep well frozen, so you can make a big batch and store them away for a nice alternative to pasta when you want a quick meal. Sweet potatoes and yams have more moisture than regular potatoes, so instead of adding more flour I include a few russet potatoes. This keeps the texture of the gnocchi light and fluffy.
Fall is also a great time for wild mushrooms. Last year at the restaurant, I served these gnocchi with sauteed chanterelle mushrooms and roast chicken. The natural juices from the chicken dripping onto the gnocchi was all the sauce they needed. If you can’t get chanterelles, try a mix of other wild mushrooms such as hen of the woods, king oyster, or black trumpets. Criminis, portobellos, or shitakes, available in almost any supermarket, are also good.
Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Mushrooms
INGREDIENTS (serves 4-6 as an entree, serves more as a side dish):
for the gnocchi:
3 lbs. sweet potato or yams (about 3 to 4 pieces)
1-1/2 lbs. russet potato (about 2 pieces)
2-1/2 to 3 c. all purpose flour
6 egg yolks
4 Tbsp. kosher salt (use less if using table salt)
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
extra flour for dusting
for the mushrooms and garnishes:
1 lb. mixed wild mushrooms
4 Tbsp. vegetable oil
4 Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp. fresh picked thyme or 1 tsp. dry
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh sage
salt and pepper to taste
Special equipment: ricer or food mill
1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Arrange the sweet potatoes and russet potatoes on a baking sheet and roast on the middle rack until tender, about 1 to 1-1/2 hours. You may need to turn them halfway through so they don’t scorch on the bottom. In the meantime, measure out the flour, separate your eggs, and mix just the salt and spices together. Set aside until the potatoes are ready.
2. While the potatoes are baking, you can also prepare your mushrooms. Truly wild mushrooms tend to be dirty and will need to be thoroughly washed. Black trumpets in particular, because of their trumpet shape, will have debris trapped inside that can only be removed by peeling them open before washing. Wash them as you would salad greens, by filling a large bowl or sink with cold water. Toss the mushrooms in the water, then leave them for a few minutes to allow any dirt to sink to the bottom. You may have to repeat this process once ore twice more. Arrange the mushrooms in a single layer on a tray lined with a clean dry kitchen towel and allow them to dry a bit before cooking.
3. To cook the mushrooms, coat a large skillet with vegetable oil and heat over high heat. Add only enough mushrooms so that they will make one layer in the skillet. Once the mushrooms have browned and cooked off most of their liquid, season with salt and pepper, and finish with a sprinkle of thyme and a pat of butter. Working in batches as needed, repeat until all the mushrooms are cooked. Set aside.
4. Once the potatoes are cooked, let them cool at room temperature. When they are cool enough to handle, but still warm, remove the skins and pass the flesh through a ricer or food mill into a large bowl. Make a well in the mixture and pour 1 cup of the flour over. Pour the egg yolks into the well and cover with one more cup of flour. Sprinkle the salt and spice mixture evenly over.
5. Using a wooden spoon or your hands, mix the dough by gathering the dry ingredients into the well, working from the center outwards until the mixture is uniform and smooth. Turn the mixture onto a clean, lightly floured surface and knead briefly, adding more flour as needed until you have a soft but workable dough. Do not overwork the dough or the gnocchi will be too chewy.
6. Cut a piece of dough about the size of a golf ball, and making sure your work surface and hands are dusted with flour, roll it into a rod about 3/4″ in diameter. Cut into desired lengths and place on a floured baking sheet or tray. Repeat until all the dough is rolled and cut. At this stage, you can put the tray in the freezer and freeze the gnocchi raw, or cook them first.
7. To cook gnocchi, bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a rapid boil. Working in batches if needed, drop the gnocchi into the water and give it a good stir so they don’t stick to the bottom of the pot. Once the gnocchi float to the surface, cook for a minute more then remove from the pot and either cool in a colander under cold running water, or on a large oiled baking sheet.
8. To serve, melt a couple tablespoons of butter in a large skillet and heat until it turns golden brown and take on a nutty aroma. Add first the gnocchi, then chopped sage to the pan, and crisp over medium heat until they are golden brown. Mix in the cooked mushroom mixture, heat through and serve.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 2 so far )
Okay, so the whole Post a Week thing hasn’t exactly worked out. I won’t bother making lame excuses, but anyway here I am, back to the blog world.
We had a moderately successful garden this year, which for a some time, produced more tomatoes, cucumbers, and herbs than two people could possibly eat. It was a daily battle with the mosquitoes though, to whom I am definitely prey. Once mosquito season got really bad, it became just too unbearable to stand out there with my camera. Daily I would pick, weed, water, then run back inside. It is simply a cruel joke of creation that I should be so attractive to mosquitoes while simultaneously being so allergic to their bites, but in the end, it was worth the torment.
This year we grew three heirloom tomato varieties: Black Krim, Yellow Pear, and Roman Plum Tomatoes. The Black Krims were by far the sweetest and most flavorful. The thing about having great summer produce is that it takes so little to make a delicious meal out of them. Our favorite way to enjoy our bounty of tomatoes was simply to arrange them on a platter with proscuitto and fresh mozzerella. I would drizzle them with good olive oil, a sprinkle of sea salt, a generous turn of the pepper grinder, and top them with garden fresh basil. Then all it would take was a crusty loaf of peasant bread to round out this easy yet substantial late night meal for two.
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Buddy doesn’t like cream of broccoli soup. You would think after being together for almost 15 years, I would know that! Since I had never made cream of broccoli soup before, it just never came up. Well, for weeks and weeks during the winter we were getting parsnips in our produce bag from Basis Foods. Now, I like parsnips, but a girl can only eat so many, so they started piling up in our fridge. Finally we have started getting local spring produce, and one week we got a couple stalks of broccoli. So, in my blissful ignorance, I decided to pair some end of the season parsnips with some first of the season broccoli to make a soup. That is when to my surprise, Buddy revealed to me his distaste for cream of broccoli soup, and to his surprise, that he really liked the parsnip and broccoli soup – enough to have a second helping.
I think your typical cream of broccoli soup is made with broccoli, perhaps some aromatics like onion and garlic and a stock thickened with cream. At it’s worst, cream of broccoli soup is runny, the pureed broccoli is really grainy, and the cream separates from the soup. This soup is different. It’s more like a potato leek soup in which the potato is replaced with parsnip, and the leek with broccoli. The pureed parsnip adds sweetness and body to the soup. It acts as a thickener, making the soup really velvety, so you don’t need so much cream. This soup is also very quick and easy to make.
Creamy Broccoli & Parsnip Soup
INGREDIENTS, makes about 6 cups:
2 Tbsp. butter
1 medium onion, diced
1 clove of garlic, minced
1/2 c. dry white wine (such as Sauvignon Blanc)
2 large parsnips (or 4-5 small ones) peeled and sliced about 1/4″ thick
3 c. chicken stock
a few sprigs of fresh thyme, tied with a piece of twine
2 medium stalks of broccoli (or 1 if it’s very large), chopped
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 c. cream
1. In a 3 quart saucepan, melt the butter. Add the onion and cook over medium-low heat until translucent and soft. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds until fragrant. Add the wine and simmer until it has reduced by about half.
2. Add the parsnip, chicken stock, thyme and a pinch of salt. Bring the mixture to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer until the parsnip is almost cooked through.
3. Add the broccoli and return the soup to a boil. Simmer until the broccoli is soft but still green.
4. Remove the bundle of thyme. Using a blender or stick blender, puree the soup until smooth. Add cream to taste and reheat. Do not let the soup boil or the cream will curdle. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and cayenne, and serve with a dollop of sour cream or creme fraiche.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 1 so far )
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