Thursday, August 1, 2013

Soup for the soul

Jumping on the soup bandwagon here for stay at home lunches - it's been such a fuss free solution. I always have a stock of fresh veggies either from my delivery or the garden, and a side of cheese and rice crackers are part of my pantry staple these days.
I have been taking it a step further and making chicken stock on a regular basis so I have that stash of nutritional goodness in my fridge ready to go. That's another post on its own but I'll give you a hint - it involves the entire chicken. If in a pinch, trader joe's chicken stock concentrate sachets work pretty well too.
The summer harvest is just getting started with the ripest heirloom tomatoes; just the right blend of tartness and umami for this creamy tomato soup.
Takes just 5 mins prep time with 20 in the oven. That's something you can't really beat when you have a 8-6 back to back meeting day

Creamy tomato soup
Serves 2 appetizers or 1 lunch

4 ea large heirloom tomatoes
5 cloves of garlic
2 tsp olive oil
2 tbsp heavy cream
1 cup chicken broth, hot
Salt to taste

Preheat oven to 425F
Core the tomatoes and place whole side up on a lined baking tray
Drizzle tomatoes with 1 tsp olive oil
On a small piece of foil, place the garlic cloves and remaining 1 tsp olive oil
Fold the foil around the garlic to make a little closed sachet
Place garlic sachet in tomato tray
Roast tomatoes and garlic for 25 mins
Add to tomatoes, garlic and any pan juices to a blender
Combine all other ingredients and blend until smooth
Season to taste and serve immediately

- It makes no sense because iPad spellcheck is dense

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Better Bolognase

I've definitely published a few meat ragu recipes over my career as a chef, but this one so far takes the cake.
It's ingredients minimal (I always have almost everything in stock), ultra tasty, and freezes well in batches. The latter is top of my list these days with a kid in each arm and using a third limb for everything else.
Recently, I had the pleasure of hosting a bible study dinner, and received compliments aplenty both for the Better Bolognase and the desserts. But more people asked me for the bolognase recipe, so I'm actually having to think about writing it down!

Our household is also going through a minimal gluten shift, and this meat sauce I think is even better with the brown rice fusion from TJ's that we have in stock.
I think the real secret to this is using half sausage (fresh, not cured and no nitrites) for the meat but I have used plain ground pork or turkey in substitute. To flavor up your sauce in event you don't have sausage, use a dash of: fennel, thyme, paprika, and chili flakes if you want it a little spicy. If you don't have said spices above but do have plain ground meat, no need to run out and get these spices because it really still tastes pretty darn good.
The Better Bolognase
Serves 6 hungry
1 ea onion, diced
2 ea carrots, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 lb ground beef
1 lb sausage (about 5 sausages), casings removed
1 large 32 oz can tomatoes
1 tbs tomato paste
2 tbs olive oil
Salt, pepper and white sugar to taste
Heat oil in a heavy bottomed skillet
Sear ground beef and sausages until brown crust forms on the outside
You may have to do this in 2-3 batches depending on the size of your pan
Transfer the meat to a large enough pot for all the ingredients
Reserve the rendered fat from the skillet, with just enough left to coat the pan
On medium heat, sauté the onions and garlic until translucent and lightly browned
This should also be enough to deglaze the pan and remove any brown bits
Transfer the mixture to the pot with the meat
Heat one tablespoon of reserved fat on the skillet on medium and add the tomato paste, lightly cook then add the carrots and celery
Sauté the vegetables until just lightly browned
You may have to do this in batches as well
Combine all the vegetables and meat in the pot and add the canned tomatoes
If there is not enough liquid to cover all the ingredients, add a little water
Bring the pot to a boil and then turn it down to a simmer leaving it uncovered for about 2 hours or until the sauce has a chunky consistency
Using a hand blender, blitz the sauce until all the ingredients are just combined. It should still be relatively chunky and have texture
Season with salt, pepper and a little white sugar to taste
Leave to cool and store for 24 hours before eating or freeze.
- It makes no sense because iPad spellcheck is dense

Thursday, April 4, 2013

10 Minute Meals

Now that I'm working from home, I'd love to experiment with actually eating lunch and eating it right - which in my book means DELICIOUS tasting (first), shortest prep time possible, virtually no clean up, and then finally, semi-good for me.  Yes, I'd like to have my cake and eat it too please.

My latest white bean one pot soup is spot on and is now my go to when I'm hungry and need something hot.

This soup is a keyed down version of a cranberry bean soup that we used to make at Masa's.  Of course, there, I shelled the beans by hand, and cooked them for 3 hours with a mirepoix.  Then, we had to make a bacon foam with gelatin and heavy cream, so that whole soup literally took 5 hours to make.

It's bliss when you can transform something so complicated into something so easy. Of course, true connoisseurs would never call it the same thing, but hey - I don't think they studied the economics of opportunity cost.  There's a scrooge in all of us.
The only thing I have to remember is to keep a can of cannellini beans ($0.89) from TJ's, and some heavy cream in my pantry.  The whole soup takes 10 minutes to make and clean up is just one pot and a blender.  

Whad'ya know. I might just start doing a 10 minute meal series.  Maybe I'll get famous!

Here's the recipe:

1 can of cannellini beans
1 cup water or chicken stock
1/4 cup heavy cream

salt & pepper to season

Rinse cannellini beans
Throw beans and water or stock in a sauce pan
Bring to a boil and add the cream
Return to a simmer
Whiz everything in a blender and season to taste

Serve yum.


Monday, March 25, 2013

And on his farm he had some pigs...

The English have a bad rap for their cuisine. I don't blame the rest of the world - after all having spent some time in boarding school there more than ten years ago, I was convinced no other place in the world had worse food.

The 'classics' of English cuisine are usually Pub Food gone wrong. Soggy fries with over battered fish, bland mushy peas, overly salty steak and kidney pie with a starchy sauce, you get the drift.

For a long time, the only redeeming quality of the cuisine was their afternoon British cream teas, with lovely soft scone and rich clotted cream. And perhaps, English breakfast, which was a treat we'd have once a week for lunch, black pudding and all. I still 'oft long for clotted cream and scones here in the states. Fortunately or not, the closest they come is when I make them at home...

Anyway, in the more recent years, the cuisine has undergone a resurgence, with Fergus Henderson at the helm. The chef of St John's (re) paved the way into the classic British gastropub, with nose to tail eating at his London eatery.

Such has been the turnaround in the food, that I now find myself yearning for the streets of London, pub crawling the same way you'd go tapas hopping in Spain.

I was fortunate enough to be able to pay tribute to the Queen's land in September, and satiate some of my craving for this revamped fare, Six months pregnant and with a 18 month in tow.

We spent about 10 days in the new forest, which is the oldest nature conservancy in England, commissioned by King William I some 1000 years ago. There isn't a lot to do for a city girl like me, but we managed to score some really good eats. The local pubs had some of the best fish and chips, and the cream teas were fantastic wherever we went! I even managed to organize a family reunion at The Cider Pantry, which was fabulous even for a simple Sunday roast lunch.

All that for another day, but best was definitely a restaurant called 'The Pig', heavily influenced by nose to tail eating. Set on some lovely grounds, the restaurant is part of a high end B&B with an old world victorian feel to it.

We chanced upon it on recommendations and loved it so much we had to go back the next day for more.

Homage to the name, the menu has a series on small plates to start, all from various parts of the fine animal - Crunchy crackling, fried bits of lard, and pork liver pâté. Normally I am not a fan of pork liver, but this pâté was truly one of a kind. I'd have had another serving if I wasn't avoiding liver for the vitamin A toxicity, another pregnant woman gripe.

The restaurant also cures it's own charcuterie, which we tried, again fabulous, but my favorite appetizer of the day was the black pudding with soft egg. House made of course, and where would you get something like that in the states? It was delicious, tasty and soft, not crumbly and dry which a lot of poorly done puddings tend to be. If I lived in England, I wouldn't be anemic, for sure.

Their non-pork appetizers were also great, like their garlic escargots, and mussels and clams steamed with seaweed and vermouth, served up in a creamy broth with crunchy bread. I tried a little on our first visit and decided it was worth a whole order on the second. Both were inspirations for dishes in my menus here.

I had their award winning venison for my dinner, and it was very good, done to perfection (medium rare, again another pregnant lady faux pas), but their best dish was the pork bath, which is the jowl of the pig.

The cheek is first steamed until tender, then either roasted or deep fried so that the skin turns to crackling. It's a combination of crunchy with melt in your mouth fat and meat, served with house made apple sauce. The whole dish is probably worth a few days of calories, but it is so worth it.

Finally, to end, I tried a sampling of their mini dessert, which came with roasted marshmallow, lemon curd mini cones, and butterscotch toffee, the perfect little sweet bite to end the meal!

The Pig is one of the best nose to tail restaurants I've visited, and although I was really craving a meal at St John's, The Pig was more than able to let me go home happy!

Do visit if you get a chance to visit the New Forest.

- It makes no sense because iPad spellcheck is dense

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Le Creuset Companion

My first Le Creuset purchase involved a long period of deliberation in the bloomingdales home department, during one of their home sales. Never having been able to afford them before, the array of colorful, enameled, cast iron casseroles always seemed like a distant dream. For a kid in culinary school, going to bloomies closely resembled looking through the window of a candy store when you were 5 years old - an uncontrollable, mouthwatering desire, but so out of reach; no matter how much begging one went through.

Never knowing before that a sale at Bloomingdales could slash prices of designer goods to an affordable cost, I was faced with the possibility that owning my own Le Creuset oven could actually be reality. The pot in question was a small 2 qt, cherry red french oven at just under $100, about 40% off the original price. At the time, I was just starting to invest in small appliances, and had previously splurged on a red cuisineart blender/food processor combo to match my red kitchenaid mixer, and so, I thought to myself - this Le Creuset french oven in red would be the perfect addition to my new luxury collection of cooking tools.

I made the purchase on my American Express Clear card, declining an additional 15% discount to sign up for the Bloomingdale's card (this I eventually signed up during a large shopping expedition after I had exited the poor student arena).

I was so happy. My prized little red pot was used for everything from cooking ramen to making soups, sauces, small braises etc. I even kept the box that the pot came in, not being able to bear throwing it away. As my cooking became more sophisticated, my little pot also matured with me; handling expensive ingredients like foie gras, truffles, bone marrow, and the best wines. We had such a fine time together, experimenting with new ingredients, keeping familiar food warm, and it became a very special part of my culinary adventures (life in some translations).

As my culinary repertoire increased, so did the size of my parties, and eventually, I was no longer able to use my favorite red pot for most of my cooking. Having also grown into a larger income, I was able to supplement my cookware collection with larger Le Creuset pots; the next one being a 9 qt Cobalt French Oven, seconds, from TJ Maxx. There they were, side by side, quite a sight; a little red pot, and it's big blue brother.

(A note about this blue pot, I almost burned a house down with this one, while attempting to do a mass reduction of lobster stock, and conveniently leaving the house. The pot did actually burn to irreparable damage, however, a friend rescued it from the garbage and is still currently attempting to refurbish it. It's been about 3 years since that sad fate)

I eventually reached a stage in life where I had the luxury of being able to choose the Le Creuset colors that I wanted to expand my collection with, rather than be restricted to only those that had the largest discounts. When making the decision to pick a color, I had very much wanted to stick with the original red - how lovely it would be to have a collection of Le Creuset ovens in bright red!

However, in honor of my first red pot, I chose to single it out by keeping the rest of the pots cobalt blue. Never any seconds either; but always on sale in some way or another; mostly from the bloomingdales home sale section.

(If you were curious about the red appliances that I originally wanted my pot to match with; they failed miserably and I eventually splurged on commercial quality blenders and food processors in a stylish black. The red KitchenAid still works marvelously though)

My current collection (all cobalt) includes: two 2.75 Qt round french ovens, one 5 Qt oval french oven, one 7.25 Qt round french oven, one 9.5 Qt oval french oven, one 8 Qt stock pot, one 12 Qt stock pot, and of course, the original red 2 Qt round french oven. I also received a red whistling kettle as a gift, making it 9 pieces in total.

My pot and I have moved several times together - into small kitchens, even smaller ones, a huge one, and a medium kitchen. Through it all, it's always been able to find it's place in the forefront of all the other cookware, a little flash of red in the sea of blue.

These days, I use my little red pot for what has been the most glorious and honorable cuisine in my entire life - baby food; where it cooks up everything from petit peas, to brown rice and barley. While I relish being at the pinnacle of my culinary career, whenever my gaze falls upon the little red one, it reminds me of my humble beginnings, both as a chef, and as a person.

They say that sharing a meal is the best way to get to know another. Every once in a while, this is what my red pot and I do - over some korean ramen topped with an egg, indulging in those memories of the more unassuming times.

- It makes no sense because iPad spellcheck is dense

Location:Middlefield Rd,Palo Alto,United States

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Steak & Tomatoes

I've sunk back into a lull of not blogging; but I did want to share a very easy pasta recipe that I made when the family was in town.

Overwhelmed with the harvest of tomatoes, and also a request for pasta on a steak night, I threw together something entirely from the garden.

It's a light, tangy, tomato sauce, and perfect for a late summer evening. The best part of it? It only takes 5 ingredients & 15 minutes!

Summer Fresh Tomato Pasta

Serves 4

2 cups Tomatoes, diced/halved if cherry
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1 ea lemon, zested & juiced
1/2 cup Basil, chiffonade
2 tbs Olive Oil

Salt & Pepper to taste

4 servings noodle pasta, cooked according to directions

Heat olive oil in a heavy pan, add garlic, and cook till tender, but not browned
Add the tomatoes, lemon juice & lemon zest
Cook on high until tomatoes are soft, and liquid is mostly cooked down, depending on how thick you like the sauce
Season to taste
Stir in the basil chiffonade
Toss with pasta & serve

Monday, August 15, 2011

Happy Birthday Chef Laura!

Oh yes, and Chef Laura had birthday over the weekend with Princess Cake (genoise, custard, jam, meringue and marzipan)!

- It makes no sense because iPad spellcheck is dense