A new look at cooking and home decorating...with an attempt to add more greens to the plate, more vegetarian options & hopefully lots of new ideas to explore

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Food events of the weekend

Kids in The Kitchen
The weekend started with a trip over to a local event called Kids in the Kitchen. This event run by the Jr. League, aims to increase awareness of health heating habits. I was assigned a group of twenty or so children. Stations were set up around their normal day care facility. It was my job to take a group of children around the building, stopping at a dentist, a sports instructor, a nutritionist, and a station set up by whole foods.

My own children, who were mixed in with the group, got a lot out of the event. At the dentist they were given new toothbrushes, which they used the minute we got home. At the sports station they learned many non- competitive exercises. The nutritionist taught them about eating all the colors of the rainbow (skittles do not count). And all of the children had a great time making veggie pinwheels at the whole foods station. My kids, who do not like eating raw vegetables, decided to save their pinwheels as a breakfast treat for mom and dad the following day, unfortunately for me.

Sur la Table
Saturday I woke. I pleaded and begged, and finally got out of eating the veggie pinwheel for breakfast. After a strong cup of coffee I headed over to Sur La Table. I was to spend the morning in a cooking class called Crepes and Soufflés. All of the students in the class (I am guessing there were about 12) were given a spot/station with a shun knife and a clipboard of recipes. We were to make Stuffed crepes with mushrooms ham and Béchamel sauce, Mint chocolate Soufflé Crepes, Three cheese potato soufflé, and Chocolate Amaretto Soufflé. My group was to be in charge of the mushroom stuffed crepes.

We chopped the ingredients (mis en place) then headed over to the professional range to cook the Béchamel. I’ve made béchamel before. I’ve made many a soufflé. This was different… it was a whole new experience for me. Perhaps a bit like cooking with a large (slightly dysfunctional) family. It was fun. There were a range of skill levels in the class and some of the students could speak English better than others. The instructors helped everyone. We all had our turn to cook chop and stir. When our instructor was helping someone else, a woman from our group suggested it would be fun to go and look through the rest of the kitchen. We did. We snooped. It was beautifully organized. I can’t wait to take another class there. If you take one, go hungry. I was stuffed when I left.

After sur la table I came home and made dinner. We had a seared sea bass over Spanish green beans with garlic confit and saffron aioli. Moules Mariniere (French mussels) was the appetizer. I will try to get recipes to you as soon as I can.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Cauliflower puree

I love cauliflower puree because of its versatility. The vegetables are cooked then pureed until creamy, and spices are added to taste. It is a wonderful base for fish dishes, duck, quail, or even a steak. The consistence can be somewhere between mashed potatoes and a heavy sauce depending on how much cream you have decide to add.

1 head of cauliflower (florets only, discard the core and leafy parts)
2 peeled Yukon gold potatoes cut into a small dice
½ cup heavy cream
1 Tablespoon butter
1 Teaspoon kosher salt
¼-1/2 Teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (or to taste)
Freshly ground pepper
Truffle oil (optional)

Place cauliflower and potatoes into a large pot of boiling water and cook 7-8 minutes or until tender. Drain.

Add the vegetables to a large food processor. You may need to pulse the processor a few times in order to fit everything in. Add heavy cream, butter, kosher salt, nutmeg, pepper. Pulse until creamy (this may take a few minutes). I like to serve this with extra pepper on top and drizzled with truffle oil.

Wine dinner

A few weekends ago I had the pleasure of attending a wine dinner. The setting was a beautiful spa on the Connecticut side of long Island Sound. The chef in charge of the dinner was Shea Gallante from CRU restaurant in NY. Shea Gallantes recipes (about 11 pages of them) had just been featured in Food and Wine magazine. Chef Gallante, who had worked for Lidia Bastianich and David Bouley had also just been featured on Calamecos food show. I couldn’t wait to try everything.

The dinner started with a selection of passed Hors D’Oeuvres. We all gathered in several small, but quaint rooms to sip (Bouvet, Rose Excellence, Cabernet Franc, Loire valley, France) and to sample Pumpernickel Crostini with smoked Trout, Buffalo Mozzarella with Asparagus and Duck Proscuitto, Vitello Tonnato, Cocoa Tuille with Squash Ricotta and Saffron Arancini. Though at first it seemed as though there might not be enough food for all of the 130 guests who were slightly crammed into the small rooms, it turned out the at there was plenty for everyone. I really enjoyed the smoky flavor of the trout Crostini with the sweet flavor of the beverage. Since I often make my own version of Arancini (rice balls) with my children it was nice to try the chefs more refined version. The cocoa Tuille tasted a bit odd, with a bitter flavor, which was too bad because I really wanted to like it.

All guests then moved to the catering room. I must at this point tell you that I was a bit surprised. We have eaten in the hotels main dinning room on prior trips and had assumed dinner was to be served there. We thought that we would be enjoying an intimate table for two, looking out at the ocean, while we savoring our wine and food parings. We were not. Much to our surprise, the hotel has a large room used for big parties and catering. We entered and noticed that all tables were set for about 8-10 people. At this point my heart sank a little because I had intended to concentrate on the food, rather than making small talk with eight strangers. Fortunately, our table was in a far corner of the dinning room and joining us, was only one other couple from the New York area.

Amuse Bouche
The Amuse Bouche was a Peekytoe crab salad with cumber Gellee and Wasabi Caviar. As it was served, a wine expert spoke and began to explain the wine parings. I honestly don’t recall any cumber Gellee but, did note how subtle in flavor the little green beads of Wasabi Caviar tasted.

First Course
Carpaccio Japanese Madai, Spicy Herbs, Yuzu and an oak aged soy Vinaigrette. My hope was that once the wine guy was finished talking the chef might make an appearance and give us a clue about the spicy herbs on top of the Madai. I guess he was too busy cooking and keeping away from annoying foodies.

Second Course
Olive oil poached Halibut Artichokes, Crosnes and Sunchokes Paddle fish Caviar and Horseradish emulsion. During this course I learned something new. The other couple at our table liked to collect wine and suggested we try to taste the wine before and after trying the food. The food will change the taste of the wine. I knew this to a degree, but had never before experienced this transformation course after course. Interesting.

Pasta Course
Tortelloni stuffed with Oxtail braised in Barolo with celery root Soubise and Parmigiano Emulsion.
Boy. I will tell you, this blew me away. It was absolutely fantastic. With one whiff I was back in my childhood eating my grandmothers homemade pasta- but dare I say- this was even better! This version came with lovely airy foam, and it had nutty deep flavors of good aged cheese. You know how people who love food always play the “what would you pick for your last meal on earth” game? I have found it. I want this for my last meal.
This course made the wine dinner. It was paired with a Pinot Noir.

Gently cooked veal loin with lavender, roasted spring garlic, white asparagus and Porcini. The Veal was perfectly cooked. Again, I would have liked to ask the chef, or anyone from the kitchen staff, how the veal had been cooked, but the wine guy was up talking again. Had they used a C-Vac?

Chocolate tasting of Chocolate Raisin Cake, Black forest Parfait, Baked Ganache.
There was the raisin cake, and a light as air whipped chocolate parfait, but what I could not quite figure was the rather odd egg roll filled with chocolate. It had been deep-fried and was served with a bitter green sauce. I still can’t get my head around that one aspect of dessert but the meal ended nicely with a Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc.
All in all a great experience.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Slow Cooker Rum and Coke Ham

Well, these is not put on your best clothes, and then join us for Easter Sunday Ham. This ham is fun and shamefully easy. Once cooked, I like to have lots of flower tortillas, guacamole, rice, black beans, sour cream or grated cheese at the ready.

1 Smithfield ham about 7 pounds, hardwood smoked, butt
1 medium onion, peeled and sliced thin
½ cup rum
2 bay leaves
5 cups Coke-Cola
Grated zest of 1 lemon

Place ham in the pot of the slow cooker. Trim excess ham off the top, just enough to allow the lid to fit on the snugly on the pot. Add onion, rum, bay leaves, Coke (enough to almost cover the ham but not spill over the pot) and lemon zest. Set on High and cook about 8 hours. To serve remove ham from cooking liquid. Discard liquid. Ham should be falling off the bone in clumps. Shred ham then serve.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Shirred Eggs

A shirred egg is quickly cooked under the broiler until just set. For me that is exactly four minutes. I like the yolk quite runny, luscious and golden. My preference is also for hearty herbs like cilantro to be baked in with the eggs. This is an incredibly simple dish to make and very easy. It is important however, that every ingredient be ready and set out before you begin.

The gratin dishes (a flat dish about 5” available in cookware shops) should be buttered. I also crack the eggs into small Pyrex bowls (2 per bowl) before I begin- make sure not to break the yolk.

1 gratin dish per person, buttered
2-3 eggs per person, cracked into dishes or teacups (2-3 per cup) and ready to be poured into hot gratin dishes
1 ½ teaspoons minced herbs (try basil, cilantro, parsley, or even add in a little freshly minced chili) per person
1 Tablespoon cheese- grated or crumbled Parmesan or goat cheese – per person
½ Teaspoon freshly minced garlic – per person
Course salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Make sure your dishes are buttered. Move your oven rack to about 5-6” below the broiler unit. Place the gratin dishes on a baking sheet then put them under the broiler to melt the butter (1-2 minutes).

Once the butter has melted, remove the baking sheet from the oven and pour the eggs into the gratin dishes. Top the eggs with herbs, cheese, garlic, salt and pepper.

Place back in oven to broil for 4-6 minutes. Serve with toast.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Oven Roasted White Asparagus with Truffle oil

White Asparagus, Which is more common in Europe, is simply asparagus that has been denied light while it grows. Some people claim that the flavor is milder than the green variety.

1 Bunch (1 pound) white asparagus, peeled and trimmed
2 Tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
Drizzle of truffle oil after cooking

Preheat oven to 400
Place the asparagus in a single layer on a baking sheet. Drizzle the olive oil over the asparagus then sprinkle on the salt and pepper.
Roast 20 minutes and serve. Drizzle with truffle oil if you like.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Slow Cooker St. Patrick’s Day corned beef

I can’t think of any reason not to use a slow cooker for this dish. You don’t even have to sear the meat first- Just place everything in the pot when you wake up in the morning, then let it simmer all day long. After the meat is cooked I remove the potatoes and let them cool. Once cooled, peel off the skin then put them through a potato ricer and, while mashing, add in about 1 cup warm heavy cream, salt and pepper. Often I serve this with sautéed Napa Cabbage.

6 Pounds Corned beef Brisket (Cut into two large chunks if necessary to fit into pot)
1 bottle (11.2oz) Guinness Beer
2 Bay leaves
1 Teaspoon Coriander seeds
1 Teaspoon Mixed peppercorns
Water to cover (about1 ½ Quarts)
3 scrubbed but unpeeled Idaho potatoes, poked with a fork
1- 1½ cups warm heavy cream

Place the corned beef, beer, and bay leaves into the slow cooker. Into a tea strainer or cheesecloth place coriander seeds and peppercorns. Add the tea strainer to the pot. Cover with water and place on high heat. Simmer for about 7 hours. Add in the potatoes and simmer for 1 hour more. Remove meat and slice to serve. (See Napa Cabbage rec)

Sautéed Napa Cabbage and garlic

Don’t limit this wonderful vegetable to St. Patrick’s Day. This tasty version of cabbage is great with fish and pork anytime of the year.

3 Tablespoons olive oil (or more if pan seems dry)
1 Head Napa cabbage thinly sliced, discard core
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
Salt and pepper to taste

Into a large (I am using 14” non stick) sauté pan add oil. Turn heat to medium high and add in the cabbage. Sautee for about 4 minutes then add in garlic. Cook fro about 1 minute more then serve.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A Master recipe for Irish soda bread

Honestly, I often get requests this time of year for my Irish soda bread recipe. Truthfully I have many recipes, from my Irish Grandmother, given to be by my mother for that very bread. Every year I change them a little sometimes, adding golden raisins mixed with regular, or soaking the raisins in rum before mixing them in the batter, maybe toasting some walnuts and adding them to the mix. Some years I use heavy cream mixed with lemon juice in place of the standard buttermilk. Here is a master recipe. Add 2 tablespoons more sugar to the dough if you wish, or nuts, lemon or orange juice or zest.

I must mention to you at this point, that on my trips to Ireland this bread was never served. Upon inquiry I was told that the heavy “Brown Bread”, which I have no desire to eat again, is their every day bread and Irish Soda is for special occasions. Traditionally this bread is always round with a cross-slashed through the top center. Serve with tea and butter. I like mine less sweet and with a lot of lemon flavor and zest, but feel free to add in 2 more tablespoon of sugar if you like.

This is the easiest of all of my Irish soda Bread recipes…
4 cups flour
2 Tablespoons Sugar
1 Tablespoon regular Salt
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon reserved for top of bread
2-2 ¼ cups buttermilk- or just enough to form slightly sticky dough
1 ½ cups raisins (now is your chance to add in other items like nuts)
Juice from 1 lemon (sometime I also use orange as well as the lemon and or orange zest)
Plus an additional 1 tablespoon sugar for the top of the bread

Preheat oven to 375

In a large mixing bowl combine Flour, Sugar, Salt, Baking Powder, Baking Soda. Stir to combine. Slowly, mix in egg and just enough buttermilk to form slightly sticky dough. Add in the raisins and lemon juice and kneed together with you hand just enough to combine the ingredients.

Place the lump of dough onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, silpat sheet, or buttered. Form a mound about 7” wide with the dough. Brush the top with the reserved egg then; with your knife slash an x in the top of the bread. Sprinkle the top of the bread with the 1 tablespoon of sugar and bake for 45 minutes.
Serve warm with butter and a cup of tea.

Brown Veal Stock (to use for demi glaze) 3 cups

Prepare yourself, once you have collected all of the veal bones (I know store them in the freezer as I get them) you will roast the bones then set them to simmer for 8-10 hours. This amount fits nicely into a standard 8-quart stockpot. If you have 2 stockpots double your recipe. Once the veal stock is complete, you can skim off the fat and simmer the 3 cups of veal stock down to make the famous demi glaze sauce.

To roast-
5 pounds veal bones
1 Tablespoon Tomato paste
2 –3 Tablespoons Flour

4 yellow onions, peeled and cut into large dice (about 1 ½”)
4 carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks (about 1 1/2”)
4 Celery stalks, leaves removed, rinsed and cut into large dice (about 1 ½”)
¼ cup vegetable oil

To add to the stockpot-
All the roasted bones and their drippings
All the roasted veg and drippings
4 Quarts cold water
2 bay leaves
1 head of garlic with the top lopped off and some of the outer paper removed
1 teaspoon of whole peppercorns (I am using a blend but all black would be fine)

Preheat the oven to 350

Add the veal bones, tomato paste and sprinkle with flour- set in oven to roast
For 45 minutes stirring often. You do not want this to turn black or you will have a bitter

On a separate sheet toss the onions, carrots and celery with the vegetable oil. Place in oven to roast about 45 minutes also. Toss frequently so nothing burns.

To simmer-
Into an 8-quart stockpot place all the roasted veal bones and drippings. Add in All the vegetables and drippings. And cover with 4 quarts cold water. Add in the bay leaves, garlic and peppercorns. Heat mixture to just below a boil, then, reduce to simmer for 8-10 hours. Skim any foam off from the top of the mixture. Do not boil, just simmer. After 8 hours you will strain through a very fine strainer. You will have a luscious dark brown veal stock. Skim any fat from the top of the mixture and cool overnight so the following day, if you wish, you can make demi-glaze.

Veal Stock Part 3- The making of Demi Glaze

I took my chilled three cups of veal stock and placed it in a saucepan. I walked away while the stock simmered down to half (1 ½ cups). When I returned I had demi glaze (or Demi Glace in French). I could have added in beef stock and wine but chose not to because I liked the idea of a purely veal demi. It looks great and I will chill it then cut it in to cubes.

Would I make it again? Yes. I learned something from this. Somewhere along the line it dawned on me. This is what French cooking is all about. At $1 a pound (some nice butchers will give you the bones for free) cheap veal bones plus water, carrots and onion make something divine. It is about taking something as humble as useless bones and creating a gastronomic feast. They do it with potatoes, turning them then sautéing them in duck fat, they create fantastic soufflés and omelets out of simple eggs, and they can take a simple batter and make mouth-watering crepes.

These days we tend to think that our meals are only as good as the quality of the ingredients that we bring home from the grocery store. If we spend more on more expensive gourmet items then we will have a better meal. That is perhaps true, sometimes, but not always. The French prove that with proper technique even the humblest of items can be made magnificent. I remember watching a program where a French chef discussed his memories at the market with his mother. They would go at the end of the day in search of produce that no one else wanted and get it for half price. I bet they made fantastic meals with it.

So should you make Demi glaze? Well, that depends on you. I have bought very good demi glace. I live near 2 shops that carry demi glaze and it is also available on line. But, it’s not cheap. A 1-pound (16oz) tub will cost you about $35 plus shipping. The stuff in the tub is meant to be mixed with 4 parts water. To make it yourself will cost about $5 in veal bones plus the vegetables and water. You will also need to keep you burner on for 10 hours for stock plus another 2 for the final demi. Its not all about finance though. You might just want to make it a few times for fun. Some winter months I might enjoy making demi, whereas during some hot summer months I might rather sit by a pool.

Veal Stock Part 2- The big boil

Well, this morning I cut up my veg, tossed them in oil and set them in the oven to roast. Then, out came the veal bones. I placed them into a roasting pan with a dash of tomato paste and a dusting of flour. They were set in the oven to roast along side the veg. After everything roasted for its allotted time, it was transferred to an 8 quart stockpot and set to simmer for the what I now call the “big boil”- though technically boiling will cloud the stock, so ideally it is more of a gentle simmer. Eight to ten hours.

I am halfway into this project. Glad, that I have not been turned into homeland security just on general principal, for the huge weirdness factor. Requesting 5-10 pounds of veal bones is sure to raise some eyebrows, even at the butcher shop. I think the veal stock has been simmering for about 7 hours now and I don’t think I can hang in there for the full 10. Call me a whimp, but a small friend of mine, home with the stomach bug, just threw up on me for the second time today.

On a brighter note, while my stock was simmering, I received a recipe request for Irish soda bread. Irish soda bread is one of the easiest breads to make and because I was weaned on it I am forever tinkering with the recipe. I whipped up a batch and will post the recipe soon.

A miracle occurred. In the rush to get dinner ready I forgot about the stock. It was left to simmer for somewhere between the eight and ten hour mark. At some given point I glanced down into my pot of brown simmering water and saw something miraculous. The texture had changed. The color had darkened. Any meat had fallen from the bones. It looked syrupy. I strained it and plan to make demi glaze tomorrow.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Veal Stock Part 1

For some strange reason I decided that it would be a great exercise to make my own veal stock. I will confess, prior attempts have been made on my part to make veal stock, then to make the delicious demi glaze, of which I am so fond. Demi glace is a thick gooey substance, creamlike in consistency, made from the reduction of veal stock. There is a tendency to rely heavily on demi glace to rescue otherwise “weak” pan sauces. I, being American, often choose to purchase demi-glace in a large and very expensive plastic tub.
Memories of boiling away pounds of veal bones with an old Jacques Pepin’s (The Art of Cooking) cookbook at my side (for about 10 hours, yes I said 10!) is enough to get me to spend vast amounts of money on a little tub of something most accurately described as brown goo.

Anyway, on Day 1 of this process- I once again went in search of veal bones. Most recipes will have you start with 10 pound of veal bones. At my fists stop I was able to procure only 1 pound of veal bones. Then, proceeding to a second butcher I was able to acquire a second pound. Three more butchers later, I finally had five pounds. Five pounds is enough veal bones to make veal stock at home, so I then went in search of vegetables. Carrots, onion and celery are not tough to find but in total I think I had spent about three hours looking for ingredients. Tomorrow I will cook the veal stock.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Vegetable Stock

I must confess that I don’t use vegetable stock, as often as perhaps I should. I am more apt to reach for chicken or beef stock. This is a very simple stock to make and if you have been somewhat fearful of stock making, this one is perfectly easy and, best of all, it will not require you to go in search of 10 pound of animal or fish bones!

¼ cup oil- your choice
2 leeks (white only) sliced thin
4 medium yellow onions, peeled and cut to a medium dice
6 carrots, peeled and cut to a medium dice
1 head of Garlic, top cut off
2 Tablespoons Tomato paste
2 Bay leaves
2 Quarts water

Add the oil to a stockpot. Turn heat to medium high. Add in leeks, onions, carrots and garlic. Reduce heat to medium – medium low. Cook about 10-15 minutes, stirring often. Add in the tomato paste and stir to combine. Add in the bay leaves and water and turn heat to high. Reduce to simmer for 45 minutes. Strain.

Five-hour leg of lamb

This old French recipe was once seven-hour leg of lamb. The sliced onions, whole carrots, garlic clove and a bit of wine were placed into a Dutch oven. Sometimes the pot was sealed with a little flour and water mixed to form a paste then the pot was brought to the town baker and left to simmer all day. We have more reliable ovens now so the time can be adjusted to about 5 hours. Cook at about 325 degrees.

5 pound leg of lamb (the weight is approximate, what is more important is that the lamb fit into your pot, if you are doing a 4-5 pound lamb that should fit into a large Dutch oven. If you are making a whole leg have your butcher cut the leg into two pieces and proceed)

Garlic, you might choose to insert the slivers of 3 or 4 cloves of peeled garlic all over the lamb (I like this method) or just toss a whole head of garlic with the top lopped off, into the pot.

1 Tablespoon olive
¾ teaspoon kosher Salt
½ Teaspoon ground pepper
A few carrots (lets say 3) peeled and placed at the bottom of your pot
A few onions, (again we will say 3), Spanish onions, peeled, sliced thin and tossed into the pot.
2 sprigs thyme
1 cup red wine
½ cup water or stock

Preheat to 325

So, we take the lamb and rub olive oil all over it, season with salt and pepper. Insert garlic slivers or place garlic in to 7 quart Dutch oven. Add onion and carrots to the pot. Place lamb on top of onion and carrots then add thyme, red wine and ½ cup water or stock to pot.

To seal
Into a mall bowl add
¾ cup flour
Drizzle in just enough water to form a dough/sticky paste. Roll the dough out into a thin rope, long enough to go around the top rim of the pot. Alternately, you can just stick the dough all around the top rim – this method is less pretty but it really dose not matter- this dough is just to seal the pot.

Place the lid on top and put dish in the oven to cook for about 5-6 hours.

Lobster tails, 5-hour leg of lamb, and more

Lobster tails are a very easy way to prepare lobster for a group. I like to par boil mine and then grill them. This past Saturday we had the tails served with a grilled corn and salad. These little lobster treats are perfect for a dinner party, but so was my next dinner.

I came across an old recipe for 7-hour leg of lamb. Doubtful, I researched a little and found out more. Back in the days when people did not have a home oven, women in France would place some carrots, onions, and maybe a little garlic and wine in a Dutch oven, along with a lamb leg. They would bring their pot to the town baker and then the baker would put their pots into a lesser-used portion of his oven. The pots would simmer all day eventually to be picked up around dinnertime, often by school age children on their way home for dinner.

Well, we no longer have to use a town baker and our more reliable ovens have managed to cut the time down from 7 hours to 5. Seven (or five) hour leg of lab is still a delicious treat. Serve with creamy mashed potatoes.