Friday, February 26, 2010

Grate Expectations

Some days a simple tool is all it takes to get me going.
I've had this grater for some time now and I love it. I also have a micro-plane and a larger box grater, but they've fallen to the background.
You're probably aware that I don't indulge in many extraneous tools. I'd originally worried that this gadget wouldn't see very much action, as it's not big enough to be a large grate, and not small enough to be small. But it has turned out to be the best of both worlds. It's all about the grate shape; this is called a "ribbon-grater".

These little "V's" shred neat strips that are ideal for items like Parmesan cheese and garlic for sauteing. The result is the perfect size, not so small as to dissolve, and not so large as to be clunky. So it's a pretty versatile utensil.

The things that it's NOT good for:
- zesting citrus
- grating potatoes for hash browns
- grating mountains of cheese for mac & cheese.

This grate is perfect for pasta. It retains the integrity of the flavor
and texture of the cheese without overpowering.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The future of food . . . .

I went to hear a discussion last night on the where food will be in 30 years.
It was pretty interesting and certainly thought provoking. To summarize, there are basically two tectonic plates juxtaposed: the food machine (industry, fast food, factory farms) and what I would call food de-evolutionists (People presenting very sound arguments for returning to heirloom seeds, breed & techniques;maybe not the best word, but I consider myself one) rubbing against each other.
This "Grill-a-Chef" project doesn't have any kind of outright political agenda. I just want for people to cook more; plain and simple. However, the reasons behind why I think cooking is so important quickly become weighed down with morals. Cooking is important for a slew of reasons, socio-economical, emotional and physical health, environmental etc. etc.
The best part is it tastes good.
I won't stand on my soapbox all day, but please know that I love cooking. I wish we would all take it on a little more. Grill-a-chef is here to facilitate that process on all levels.
There are other people out there doing the same thing. Jamie Oliver gave a good speech on It's mostly about changing people's cooking/eating habits starting in schools. It's inspiring.
I'm keeping my eye out for other people doing the same thing and ways to apply existing resources to this goal.
If you have any ideas I'd love to hear them.
Otherwise please keep cooking. It is so much more than delicious.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

A newsletter note

My most recent newsletter was about boiling eggs.
A reader rightfully pointed out that putting cold eggs in boiling is leading cause of cracked shells since the middle ages. The temperature difference creates pressure that the shell can't handle . . . and boom!
There are two solutions to this.
1. Using a pin, poke a tiny whole at the base of he shell, essentially creating a "pressure release valve".
2. The reader gave me a trick I had never heard of, but make compete sense. You simply warm you eggs under hot running water so that the temperature difference isn't so great when they hit the water.

Thanks reader.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Super Bowl of Gumbo . . . . . Get it?

The city of New Orleans is the unofficial reason I am a professional cook. It was the first time in my life I had eaten food that required experienced preparation, and I was hooked; immediately determined to be able to recreate it for myself. . . . whenever I wanted. Thus my vocation presented itself to me, over little white rice. Gumbo was the first dish I took on, and believe me it didn't go well. It has since been how I've gauged my progress in my field, progressively getting better little by little.
It is distinctly different from my general manner of cooking at this point in my life. With lots of steps and ingredients to deal with. But I can't turn my back on my old friend, if for no other reason than I love to eat it so much. Let it be known, I really enjoy the process of cooking, but it is only the means to my true love . . . eating, and gumbo is one of my favorite things to eat. For the first time in quite a while, I revisited the ritual that is gumbo for super bowl Sunday.

I want to start out by saying that with any soup-ish dish, or ones composed primarily of liquid, it is absolutely imperative that said liquid is yummy. So the key to a great gumbo, is a great stock.
Shrimp Stock

Heads* and shells from 2 lbs of medium shrimp. Allowed to dry a little and come to room temp.
2 Cups of white wine
1 head of garlic
2 bay leaves
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp black peppercorns

1. Heat your stock pot over a high flame until it is screaming hot.
2. Add enough oil to generously coat the bottom of the pot, it should smoke immediately.
3. Toss in your shells and stir vigorously at first, then occasionally, until the shells a decent amount of browning. They will also turn a bright pink color
4. Deglaze this mess with the white wine.
5. Add the garlic, bay leaves, tomato paste and peppercorns.
6. Cover it with COLD water by about three inches and lower the heat to medium low.
7. Simmer this stock until the shrimp shells poke out of the surface of the water. Despite lacking salt, this should taste amazing. If it doesn't, simmer it until it does.
8. Strain it through a colander. Using a container or a small pot firmly press the shells in the colander, you'll squeeze out a considerable amount of juice. Re-strain the stock through a fine sieve.

This recipe should yield 6-8 cups of stock.

*Note: The shrimp heads are crucial to building great flavor. Just the shells from 2 lbs. of shrimp will not cut it. However, shells from other crustaceans will work. (lobster, crab & crawfish or any combination thereof)

Now for the gumbo part.

1/2 cup Vegetable oil
1/2 cup All purpose flour
1 Large onion, medium dice (bet. 1/4 to 1/2 inch)
1 Green pepper, medium dice
3 Stalk of celery, medium dice
5 Cloves of garlic, chopped
3 Sprigs of thyme
3 Bay leaves
1/4 tsp Cayenne pepper
1 tsp Tobasco
2 tsp Worchestershire sauce

Shrimp (from the stock recipe above)
6-8 oz. crab meat
6-8 oz. white meaty fish, (snapper, flounder, grouper, redfish, etc)
6-12 oysters

Optional: 8oz. andouille sausage, cut into half inch coins and nicely browned.

1. Heat a 4 qt. (or larger) stock pot over medium hight until it is screaming hot.
2. Add the oil and wait for it to smoke, once it does add the flour and whisk immediately, being sure to get into the corners of the pot. Be careful not to go so fast as to spatter this roux on yourself, because it will leave a mark. It begins a blond color and graduates to peanut butter, continue to stir until the roux arrives at a milk chocolate color.

3. Add the onion, green pepper and celery to the roux, continue to stir until the veggies have softened a little.
4. Stir in the garlic, thyme, bay leaves, Tobasco, worchestershire and cayenne.
5. Add the shrimp stock (7 cups) and bring to a simmer.
---> If you're using the andouille, add it to the mix now.
6. Simmer for an hour skimming the foamy scum off when it arises.
7. Fold in all of the seafood and turn off the flame, the residual heat will cook the seafood. Allow the gumbo to just "marry" for 10 minutes before you eat it.

Serve it over white rice.

Friday, February 12, 2010

How much does your kitchen design affect how and what you cook?

I was just getting ready to make a lemon-bacon dressing for the upcoming newsletter, and I hesitated to use my blender (something that's really imperative to this dressing).
The reason I hesitated was because I have to pull my blender off a shelf to use it. I know I'm just being completely lazy, but there's certainly something to be said for ease of use, and somehow getting out the blender blender seemed like a chore.
If the blender were simply sitting on my counter would I have hesitated?

How does your kitchen is layout affect the choices you make while cooking?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

I wanted to make a ceviche, any suggestions?

I'm often asked what is my favorite thing to cook, which always strikes me as a little ridiculous. It's such a broad question, like asking Beethoven what is his favorite song (that's as modest a simile I can muster). There just isn't really an answer to the question.
However if one were to ask me what is my favorite thing to eat? It's still a very tough question, but one thing keeps popping into my head: Ceviche.
A south american dish of fish and/or seafood "cooked" in citrus juice. Cooked appears in parentheses because it is not actually heated, however the acid cause the same denaturing of proteins that heat would . . . but in a very different way.
When made well, it epitomizes freshness; the essence of the sea complemented with a squeeze of lime and the aroma of good cilantro. It is bright tasting and clean, and it goes with just about any meal. I've always been a fan of Peruvian style ceviche, maybe because of the ecoutrement, as it's usually dished up with avocado, sweet potatoes and, if you can find it, choclo, a larger, starchier varietal of corn.
Classic Peruvian Ceviche Mixto

8 oz. Super fresh white fleshed fish: Flounder, fluke, sole, snapper, bass, etc., cut into medium dice
8 oz. Shrimp, peeled and deveined
4-6oz. Calamari

Juice and Zest of: 3 limes, 1 lemon, 1 orange
1 red onion, sliced thinly
1 garlic clove, grated
1 tbsp Aji amarillo paste
1/2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp Cayenne pepper

1/4 Cup cilantro, chopped

1 Roasted sweet potato (a la the sweet potato entry)
1 Sliced avocado

1. To prep the shrimp and calamari steep them briefly (about 2-3 min. each) in steaming hot water. Transfer immediately to an ice bath.
2. To make the dressing, simply combine the juice, zest, onions, garlic, aji, sugar and cayenne.
3. Toss the fish and seafood with the dressing 30 minutes before consumption.

To serve, garnish with avocado and sliced sweet potato (and choclo if you can find it).

This might even go well next to a heaping plate of Papa a la Huancaina

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


I always have an eye on my own kitchen practices to discern what it is that I think will qualify for the most basic and important tools, habits, ingredients, etc . . . Both to improve on my own inefficiencies and to share what I’ve developed for myself over the years. This is tricky because the true habits and staples of my kitchen are hidden from me. They involve mechanical behavior that happens all the time, and sometimes I don’t even realize I’m doing it . . . . like breathing.

Something jumped out to me this morning over breakfast, my rice cooker. I get a lot of questions from people who can’t seem to get their rice right. While there are plenty of techniques I can lay down to help, I suggest nipping the problem in the bud and treating yourself to a rice cooker. You press the button and when it pops up it’s done.

Mine sees so much action I’m surprised it still works. I use it almost daily, and often twice a day . . . . but I don’t eat much rice. A rice cooker can be used for anything that calls for the “rice method”: a grain/water ratio, where you bring it to a boil and then lower the heat. So pretty much any grain; polenta, quinoa, bulgur wheat, even oatmeal will work.

The way it works is that there is a thermostat that senses when the temperature rises above 212 degrees F. (100 C) Which it can only do once the water present has dissipated (absorbed into the grain and/or evaporated). So as long as you get the grain to water ratio right, it’s pretty much fool proof.

One more thing, if you're cooking for one it's the ideal vessel. You can cut up a little chicken and put it in the rice cooker with say . . . curry powder, coconut milk and some shredded kale and you have a one pot meal for one. Mine has a stream basket so you can cook up some extra veggies too.

Monday, February 8, 2010

I never know what to do with the "giblets" that come inside a chicken, is there a simple way to make them delicious?

There is.
Unfortunately the vast majority of these little goody bags inside the chicken go directly in the garbage. Many home cooks wince at the thought of having to process these bits and pieces, or maybe at the thought of having to eat them. But the truth is they're tasty, and easy to deal with.

You can make a quick "pate". It's not something people do very often, but a it can be a simple process. For those who have trouble with the idea of eating innards, the method kind of disguises what your consuming.
This is great just spread on good bread as an appetizer.

Quick Giblet Pate

1 Pkg. "Giblets"- heart, gizzard, liver (cut the gizzard and heart in pieces)
Chicken Skin (equivalent of 3"x3" piece), seasoned well with salt
1 Shallot, minced
4 tbsps Port (you could also use- cognac, brandy, sherry or madiera)+ a 1 splash
4 oz. Butter, cut into half inch cubes, room temp.

1. Over medium low heat, render the chicken skin until it is nicely browned and has released some fat into the skillet. Remove the skin pieces and reserve.

2. With the same heat, slowly cook the giblets giblets until sightly browned. Remove from the pan and place the giblets, along with the skin in the freezer.

3. Again over the same heat, sweat out the shallot until translucent. Add the port and allow to simmer and reduce by about half. Transfer to a bowl and and put that bowl in the freezer as well.

4. Once everything has cooled (about 10-15 min.) place the giblets and skin in a food processor and using pulses chop them very well. Because of the size of the processor relative to the stuff you put in it, you'll have to scrape down the sides often.
5. Once chopped, add in the butter and extra splash of port. Using pulses again, incorporate until smooth.

Optional: I like to leave it a little rustic, but if you wanted it completely smooth you could pass the mix through a tami or strainer at this point.

Put the pate in a serving bowl, cover it well and stick it in the fridge. It will hold well for up to five days. To consume, set it out and allow it to soften a little bit.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

I need something different to do with potatoes, any ideas?

These winter months don't leave us much to work with in terms of produce. We work our way through a repertoire of root vegetables pretty quickly, but I have a few tricks up my sleeve to keep things interesting until spring.

This recipe hails from Peru, the birthplace of potatoes and, in my opinion, the home of the most underrated cuisine in the world. It's called papa a la huancaina, and it is simply boiled potatoes served cold with a special sauce of cheese, bread (or crackers), milk and aji amarillo. Aji amarillo is a pepper, usually sold in a puree, but you can find them whole in a jar or every once in a blue moon fresh. It has a very distinct flavor indicative on Peruvian cuisine.

If you live in new york you can score some aji amarillo at kaustyan's or in just about any bodega in sunnyside. If you can't find it, try a mix of a red or orange bell pepper and 1/4 of a habanero.

Papa a la Huancaina

2 Potatoes, russet or yukon gold
1 Medium onion, chopped
3 Cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
1 tbsp Aji amarillo paste
1 cup Stale bread, torn into 1 inch peices (or 1/2 cup crushed saltines)
1 cup Evaporated milk
1 cup Cheese, mild soft cheese works best, (farmers cheese, pot cheese, even cream cheese, feta would also work or any combination of cheeses. I actually used part cream cheese part aged gouda {seen in the pic above})
Juice of half a lemon

1. To cook the potatoes, Peel them, halve them lengthwise and cut them into wedges. Drop them into boiling salted water for four and a half minutes, or until for tender. Drain and toss in olive oil with a pinch of salt and allow to cool.
2. Place the bread, milk, and cheese in the blender and let it chill out for a second
3. Over medium heat, sweat out the onions until they're translucent around 5 minutes. Add the garlic and aji amarillo and cook for another 3 minutes
4. Add the onion mixture to the rest of the ingredients already in the blender and puree well. Season with salt to taste.

The sauce should be rich and thick with a slight tang and decent kick from the aji. You be the judge, if it's too thick add milk, if its too thin add bread. If you want it spicier add more pepper paste

To serve simply spoon the sauce over the potatoes and garnish with olives and hard boiled eggs.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Out with the old . . .

I'm not one to throw away something that still functions. . . . hence my unparalleled success in relationships. But sometimes that thing, though it still works fine, has some underlying risks.
The old thing: my spatula (the one on the left)
The underlying risk: bacteria.

Even though I pull off the top every time I clean it, moisture and gunk still manage to cling to the cavity. And Stored next to my warm stove top, for easy access, it makes for the perfect tiny bacteria farm.

The brown and black stuff is bacteria burying itself in the wood.

I couldn't bear to knowingly dip this stick in food any longer so I'm throwing it out. Fortunately there is a solution, newer designs are one solid piece of plastic, with no nooks and crannies for grime to hang out. (see above pic)

and for the record, I'm only throwing out the bamboo handle. The rubber spatula end actually makes for a fine hand scraper.
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