Thursday, April 22, 2010

Cheerio Cherries!

A couple of years ago, I babysat for the most adorable little boy a couple of years ago at a family friend's wedding. I'd arrive early in the morning before the family went off for the day's activities, leaving me and the munchkin just in time for his morning snack: crackers and cherry-raisins.

Cherry-raisins, you ask?

Yes, clearly kid-speak. At the time, I didn't quite understand what these morsels that he loved so much were. But, this little munchkin was quite generous and shared many cherry-raisins with me. One for him, and one for me. Watching me take my first taste was priceless -- his face just lit all up and he grinned from ear to ear, beaming with pleasure as he saw how much I too loved these bits -- and I learned what the secret snack was. Dried Montmorency Sour Cherries!

Ever since then, I've had a thing for dried cherries. And not just any dried cherry -- they have to be dried sour cherries, so there is a bit of tang for all that cherry-berry goodness. I'd put cherries on my salads, cherries in my oatmeal, cherries in my granola, cherries on my toast with chunky PB in the morning. I'd even put cherries in a nutty-fruity brown rice concoction I wrote about.

So, earlier this year, when I was sorting through files as I was moving houses, I came across a recipe for Lamb Chops with a Dried Cherry Sauce. Though it was just after lunch, I started having visions of lamb chops and cherries dancing in my head. They were persistent, too.

Finally, after a couple days of an intense meat craving, I decided to play around with this cherry sauce recipe and try it out on my own. No, didn't have a grill, or even my favorite All-Clad pot to properly sear the lamb in (um, for all you out there, don't recommend searing meat in a non-stick pan...unless that is the only pan in your house. In which case, I'd go shopping if I were you). I considered it an adventure, and though it might not have looked overly beautiful (what is it about a seared piece of meat that makes you salivate?), but it DID taste good. Really good. Even a couple of days later.

So, the next time you're at Whole Foods or Trader Joe's, grab a container of their dried sour cherries. Then pick up some lovely lamb rib chops, loin chops, or even tenderloins (which I used) and give this easy meal a try. The perfect complements? Sauteed swiss chard, or as I made, roasted asparagus. Plus polenta, minted wild rice salad, potato gratin, or simply a hunk of bread. And, of course, a lovely fruity red wine.

Lamb with Dried Sour Cherry Sauce (serves 4)

2 tsp olive oil
8 loin chops/rib chops/tenderloins
Salt and pepper
1/3 c finely chopped shallots
1/2 c chicken stock
1/2 c dried cherries
3 tbsp cherry jam
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

Heat the a stainless steel saute pan til very hot. Generously season the lamb with salt and pepper. Add the oil to the pan and heat over medium-high heat. Add the lamb and sear on all sides. Remove meat and set aside to keep warm (or, if it is a larger cut of meat and needs to be finished in the oven, you can transfer it to a 450 degree oven until cooked as you like).

Add the shallots to the hot pan, lightly season and saute til translucent. Deglaze with the chicken stock and carefully stir up any dried bits of lamb stuck to pan. Then add the dried cherries, cherry jam, balsamic vinegar. Bring to a boil and reduce til full flavored and syrupy.

Plate the lamb as you wish, making sure to add any lamb juices to the cherry sauce. Et voila!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Starting a sleepy Sunday off right

When was the last time you had pancakes? Are you like me, in that though you love the taste of pancakes, the sugar rush and blood sugar collapse that results leaves you with the urge to nap the day away, unwillingly? If so, read on!

All last week, the craving for a sweet, comforting, proper weekend breakfast kept continually creeping up on me. I tried to quell the growing urge in my stomach first with my go-to favorite, PB and J on toast. Nope. Oatmeal with almond butter, coconut, and berries? Nada, either.

So, luck be have it when Tasting Table sent around a recipe for "light and fluffy buttermilk pancakes" from the Bromberg Bros (of Blue Ribbon fame) new cookbook. All I recall was that the craving in my stomach surged, and I saw the words "light" and "fluffy" together with "pancakes." Yet, this time, my willpower prevailed and I set the recipe aside for some rainy day where I could make these and then promptly pass out, without feeling guilty.

Ha. Too bad someone spotted bacon at the grocery store last Saturday. Nothing comes between a hungry man and his bacon, so when he held up the package with a devilish grin, I paused a moment. Bacon? What to make for breakfast that is new and yummy with bacon? Pancakes...but...but... 

I put my plunging blood sugar level worries aside, and let my man, the bacon, and the pancakes win this time. Maybe this is a recipe I should try.

So, Sunday morning...well, okay, noon, I realized again I lacked a couple of ingredients that the recipe called for (buttermilk and vegetable oil). Not deterred yet, as I also prefer using whole wheat pastry flour and cornmeal when making pancakes or waffles (not only do I prefer the subtly nuttier flavors, the added texture is appealing to me, plus its added fiber to help prevent the quick drop in blood sugar). So, I modified the recipe (see below) as I worked. I also added some blueberries to the batter, for added flavor and moisture. Since I was a child, I don't think I've ever had a pancake without an abundance of some kind of fruit (strawberries, apples, bananas, blueberries, raspberries, mango) in it. I probably wouldn't even eat it! Unlike the waffle, the pancake is simply a vehicle for warm fruit!

Though this makes a fair amount of batter, I am ashamed to say that we polished off about 2/3 of it. But, then again, we were both utterly famished. Three big pancakes and a couple of slices of crispy bacon later, we were perfectly satiated. But would the blood sugar hold? It did indeed. We read all afternoon on the couch, and 6 hours later, only the slightest rumble of the stomach but no dropping blood sugar. The new brunch of champions. I might have to make this again next weekend, too!

Fluffy and Fruity Pancakes (makes 15 small, or 8 large)
Inspired by Bromberg Bros. Blue Ribbon Cookbook

2 5/8 c milk
3/8 c apple cider vinegar
2 c whole wheat pastry flour
2 tbsp sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2 eggs, room temperature
2 tbsp ghee, melted and more to grease pan
Fruit (any berry, banana, apple, mango, sliced)
REAL VT maple syrup, warmed up

Combine milk and vinegar together in a bowl and let sit until curdle-y. In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and whisk well. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs together, then add the ghee and buttermilk. Gradually add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and gently combine. Let sit 10 minutes, or until thickened. Gently stir in the fruit.

Heat a nonstick skillet (worked beautifully for me!) until hot (or a griddle). Lightly grease. Work in 1/4 c to 3/4 c increments and cook until the edges are lightly browned and air bubbles form on the surface (about 3 min). Flip and cook until the other side is golden (1-2 min more). Continue with the rest of the batter and serve hot with maple syrup!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Back to Baking

I can not remember the last time I baked something. At home.

As the baker in the family, that's kind of sad. It is just that it has been a crazy winter and spring, with family travelling all about, and a big move out of my sisters' and my childhood home into a short term place with ovens with distinct minds of their own.

So, when I looked into the fridge last week and saw five forlorn overly ripened bananas, can you guess what I immediately craved? Banana bread (and I wish I could share a pic of this loaf today...alas, camera  is out of commission)!

Call me crazy, but I like my banana bread not too sweet, very moist - with lots of bananas. Add walnuts on top, and use my secret ingredient - whole wheat pastry flour - and it is a guaranteed win. I do not have a particular favorite recipe, so I did some research on my own earlier in the week. I had to go into NYC for a trail on Thursday, and found it quite interesting (ironic or not) that a very good article on banana bread (and the various differing results when you alter the ingredients) came TO ME. Yes, I was given the magazine with this piece in it. How absolutely fitting!

I read up, and inventoried my cabinets. Bananas? Check. Canola oil? No, but I have ghee (clarified butter)! Flour? Nope, not going to use all purpose, but Whole Wheat Pastry flour (a better flavor, and the pastry flour texture is finer than regular whole wheat flour). Buttermilk? Nope again, but I have tons of milk, and apple cider vinegar. Did you know you can add a tablespoon of vinegar to a cup of milk and let it sit, and use this in lieu of a cup of buttermilk?! And yes -- it DOES work.

Fast forward to the next morning, when I served this plain for a quick but filling breakfast on the run for two before planting trees. We were both in heaven! I also tried this as a snack with a slice of goat cheese (oh yum!), and it can be an easy dessert, drizzled with a little bit of warmed caramel sauce and a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Banana Bread
Inspired by Saveur Magazine

1/3 c milk 
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 c whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 c granulated sugar
1/2 c ghee, slightly warmed
1 tsp vanilla
1 egg plus 1 egg yolk, at room temperature
1 c chopped walnuts
5 very ripe mashed bananas

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9" x 5" loaf pan. Set aside. Combine milk and vinegar and let sit (curdly texture will develop - this is okay). In a large bowl, whisk together  flour, baking soda, salt. In a medium bowl, combine the sugar and warmed ghee. Add the milk, vanilla, eggs and stir til very smooth. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and whisk until just combined and few lumps. Stir in the mushed banana and 2/3 of the walnuts. Pour into the prepared pan and artfully garnish with the remaining walnuts. Place in the oven and bake for about 50 minutes - the center will be set and crust deeply golden. I like this texture as it is still very moist. If you like a cakier and dry texture, keep baking until a tester inserted in the very middle comes out clean. Let cool before slicing and serving.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Entremetier Musings and Memories

I was going through emails today after about 6 weeks of hiding and lack of internet, and came across some pictures of tasty tidbits from my time in Entremetier in Level 6 at FCI.

For those of you who don't know, Entremetier was in charge of the specials of the day. In Level 5, Entremet, as we called it for short, prepared the Chef's Classic special (ranging from Jacques Pepin's Lamb Chop, to Chef Pascal's Choucroute Garni) and a vegetarian special of their own creation (some of my favorites being wild mushroom papardelle and a butternut squash ravioli with brown butter sauce). In Level 6, Entremet was to make the canape for all restaurant diners (ranging from 30 people on a snow day to nearly 100 for lunch during the holidays) and a special sandwich.

Here are three examples of creations made during my four days in Level 6 Entremet. You'll find the tomato soup and beet burgers recipes on the blog, too!

Beet Burgers - for 90 people

Fresh Salmon Tartare on Pommes Gaufrettes with Cilantro-Lime Crema

Tomato Soup with Grilled Gruyere Sandwiches and a Mache Salad

A Dish to Celebrate Spring

Spring has sprung in the Northeast!!!

This past Easter weekend brought cloud-less skies and warm temperatures to the area (and for people along the coast, like me, magical morning fog). It was the ideal weather for playing outside, cleaning up after the recent storms and floods, and for going to the farmers market.

Brainstorming with my family on what to make for our Easter feast, my mind immediately goes to four of my favorite foods: farm fresh eggs, ricotta, asparagus, and wild mushrooms. I ate my fair share of eggs and asparagus this weekend (scrambled eggs, homemade hollandaise, steamed asparagus, ricotta cheesecake, gougeres, quiche, fritattas, roast asparagus, omelettes...and yes, a GOLDEN egg), but really no mushrooms. And, I really did forget all about my severe morel craving.

So last night, when I was celebrating Easter with my family at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, I was digging into my greenhouse greens to discover hidden surprises: lovely, tenderly roasted morsels of mushrooms. And, that morel and mushroom craving came back. With a vengeance.

So, I'm still in search of more mushrooms. I haven't yet quite had my fill (Is there a place that makes your  favorite mushroom dish? Share with me! I will travel!). But, in the meantime, my mind keeps wandering back to this amazing risotto I made for dinner one night while some friends and I were skiing in Utah. I made this for the Oscars, and we sat in front of the TV with our votes for who would win, along with some seared brussels sprouts, chicken sausages, and salad. Of course, I had made a LOT of risotto, so we kept on eating it (for dinner the next night, then I had more for leftovers, and a bit more in case I needed a snack on the flight home. It travels well...just don't wrap the container in foil like I did. TSA thought it was a bit suspicious. Oops). It definitely is good for leftovers, even a couple days later. Next time? I want to try making arancini with it. Mmm...

Yummy Mushroom Risotto (for 10)

5 1/2 c chicken stock (you can use vegetable stock if you wish to make this truly vegetarian)
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter
1 large onion, finely diced
3/4 c dry white wine
2 c Arborio rice
5 cups wild mushrooms (As you might have guessed, I have a thing for mushrooms. The more wild, the better. I used one container each of shitakes, baby bella, and matsutake/Hen of the Woods mushrooms), diced
2 tbsp butter
1/2 c (or more if you wish – I use more like a cup) freshly grated Gruyere cheese
1/2 c freshly basil, chiffonade, plus more for garnish
Freshly grated Parmigiano, for garnish

First, bring chicken stock to a boil on stove. Once hot, you can turn if off and let sit. Heat a large saucepan or stockpot over medium-high heat. Add oil and butter. When butter is melted, add onions, season lightly, and cook until the onions are tender and translucent. Add the mushrooms and cook until halfway tender and any excess moisture has evaporated (they will cook more as you cook the risotto). Add the rice, and gently stir until the outer layer is lightly translucent. Deglaze with the wine and cook until it is mostly all absorbed

Now, here comes the labor of love part. Adding the broth cup-by-cup, and gently stirring the risotto while the liquid is absorbed. Make sure that you continually stir the risotto, and be sure of wipe clean the entire bottom of the pot frequently with your spoon so it doesn’t stick. You are to only add the next cup once the first cup of liquid is all but absorbed. This long and slow process is the key to making a wonderful, creamy risotto.

After about 20 minutes of cooking, begin to taste the rice. It is done when it is tender, yet there is still a bit of bite. You will also want the consistency to be slightly moist – not at all runny. Add the butter and stir to incorporate. Then add the Gruyere and basil. You should now check the seasoning to make sure it is to your liking.

Serve hot with more basil and Parmigiano for garnish!

Friday, April 2, 2010

A Hidden Kitchen at Macy's in New York City?!

Did you know that there is a culinary "school" in Macy's Herald Square in NYC?!

I didn't either -- until a couple of weeks ago!

Founded in 1980 by Arlene Feltman Sailhac, De Gustibus, the name of this hidden treasure, is now owned and run by Salvatore Rizzo, the former Director of House Operations and Events at the James Beard Foundation.

The school seeks to “continue the tradition of serving the culinary community by showcasing the talents of established chefs, rising stars, and sommeliers to food and wine lovers, with the utmost in hospitality.

I recently went to one of their classes, featuring Chefs Wolfgang Ban and Eduard Frauneder, of Seasonal in New York City, and was utterly delighted and impressed with the evening – and the delicious food was just one part!

Now, I won’t go spoiling the surprise for you – you will have to venture in on your own the next time you’re in the city (you can purchase classes individually, or in series packages). But, here’s a taste: the staff at De Gustibus is delightful, very charming, and incredibly welcoming. The evening is full of stimulating conversation, interesting and enlightening questions, of course the delicious food, served in multiple courses and paired with wonderful (and often new to the diner) wines.

If you’re looking for a fun evening where you will be well cared for, will eat delightful restaurant-quality food and divine wines, all while learning more than you ever could imagine about food and cooking, look no further.

Plus, if you’re looking to learn a bit more about where many of these chefs like to eat in NYC, or what they cook (or don’t cook) at home, check out De Gustibus’ blog, with many more up and coming postings written by yours truly.

Check out De Gustibus on the web!

A wonderful story of baking and friendship

My mom recently shared this story with me -- it's a short, yet delicious (in more ways than one!) story on the healing power of friendship. I love the way that the author, Dominique Browning, writes. She paints the perfect picture of the setting, without inundating you with too many details. She writes clearly, calmly, soothingly. Plus, tasty chocolate chip cookies wind their way into the tale.

This is one of my favorite excerpts:

"You will need. You will learn to say that you need. I had to practice saying it.
I need ice. I need a cool washcloth on my face.
There is no end to the need: I need to know that I am loved and cherished,
that there is gladness around the simple fact of my survival."

I couldn't resist not sharing it with you all. I can not wait for her new book, Slow Love, to be published this fall!