Thursday, July 29, 2010

Every couple of years the opportunity arises for me to to cook for a group of people who love to eat, without the usual restrictions of budget, time, and overall pressure to do well.
Just such an occasion arose a couple weeks ago when a friend of mine put in a timid request to prepare a birthday meal for her family.
I'm so glad it worked out that I could do it.
As much as I would've liked to describe it to you, I don't have a way with words the way she does.
See her kind words here.
It was a great honor and opportunity for or me.
And thanks so much to the birthday ladies.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Set Aside the Zen Jobs

The recipe in my last newsletter involved pitting cherries.
This solicited a lot of questions regarding a quicker way to pit a cherry. While there are some cherry pitters out there that function pretty well, but you won't find one in my apartment for two reasons:
First, I live in a little one-bedroom apartment in New York City. I don't have a lot of extra space for tools that serve one purpose.
Secondly, some jobs in the kitchen just don't fall under the quick meal, good food fast category. Certain chores I prefer to reserve for sitting down, maybe over a glass of wine, and enjoying with some conversation. An undertaking that takes you away from the heat of the kitchen with the type of relaxed repetition that is over before you know it and if you do it right, before you want it to be. This takes the "job" out of cooking, and lightens the load of the groundwork for what is usually well worth the effort.
Every fall I get together with a couple of friends to make Concord Grape Jam. To do so requires a considerable amount of time spent separating the flesh from the skins one grape at a time. An arduous task whose monotony is muffled by the company of my friends and a little alcohol.

So next time you foresee a dreadful monotonous assignment on your to do list, stop yourself from weaseling out of it by buying pre-prepared stuff, a special tool, or omitting the chore altogether. Instead, enlist a friend and pull up a chair. When the paycheck is booze, there is usually no shortage of helpers and you'll enjoy the process more yourself.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

More on Kale

I received a few questions about kale so I'm going to elaborate a little bit. People seem to be at a loss for new ideas of what to do with it, or any green for that matter. Everyone seems to be be trapped into sauteing it with onions and garlic. So here's what you have to keep in mind to break out of this rut: "greens are cabbage". They can be applied to just about any cabbage preparation that exists around the world. In other other words, consider every member of the group (cabbages) and the different methods used by different cultures to consume it.

  • U.S. - coleslaw, coleslaw, coleslaw (typically regular white cabbage, sometimes daringly accented with red cabbage for color)
  • Southeast U.S. - stewed with onion, vinegar, tomatoes, hot sauce, ham hocks, etc (collards)
  • Europe - Roasted, at times sweetened a little and with nuts (brussels sprouts)
  • Northern Europe - sauerkraut, stuffed, or steeped with Riesling and apples (white cabbage)
  • China/East Asia - Stirfried over very high heat. (choys)
  • Korea - Kimchi (Napa cabbage)

Et cetera et catera. I could go on and on, these examples only brush the surface. I haven't even gotten into other forms of cabbage such as varietals of broccoli and cauliflower (cabbage buds essentially) and kohlrabi and radishes (cabbage roots).

Their interchangeability is not foolproof, but they will more or less act the same in different applications. This is a great methodology to start coming up with ideas - mix and match the above examples, cabbage type to food preparation, and see where it takes you: Bok Choy-sauerkraut, roasted collard greens with maple and pecans, brussels sprout-coleslaw . . . kale-kimchi . . .

Kale Kimchi

- 1 Bunch of any variety of kale (ten good sized leaves) , stalks removed

- 1/4 Cup Korean chili paste (you should be able to find a variation on this at any Asian market)

- 3 inches Fresh Ginger, grated

- 2 cloves fresh garlic, grated

{you can add some cayenne if you like it hot}

  1. In a bowl, combine the chili paste, ginger and garlic
  2. Leaving the leaves in large pieces, give them a sprinkle of salt and a very thorough schmear of the kimchi paste on each side.
  3. Stuff them tightly into a jar, close it, and stick it in the back of your fridge for a few weeks.

This stuff will keep for months. I also added sliced
kohlrabi and radishes because I had them lying around.

Before I wrap up I wanna throw out one more concept; sometimes I spend so much time thinking about what I should do to an ingredient to make it taste better I forget to step back and think about what I shouldn't do.
I'm a fan of kale, and my favorite way to consume it is simply shredded finely with salt, olive oil, lemon, and a little grated cheese on top. It can require a lot of slicing/chopping but it's good practice.

The Easiest Kale Salad

- 5 Kale leaves

- Juice and zest of 1 lemon

- 2-3 tbsps Extra Virgin Olive Oil

- Hard Cheese such as Parmigianno Reggiano, Pecorino or Aged Gouda (as much as you like)

  1. Remove the stems of the kale. Leaving the leaf whole, roll it up as tightly as possible and holding it tight and use a knife to slice it as thinly as you can get it.
  2. Toss the shredded kale in the olive oil and lemon juice and zest. Season it fairly liberally with salt and a crack of black pepper. Let this mellow for a bit, the salt and lemon will break down the kale a bit, making it more pleasant to eat.
  3. Grate some cheese over the top and enjoy.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Making Due: A Simple Kale Pasta

Kale is another ingredient I hear a lot about from CSA members. This pasta dish is one that stemmed completely from what was one hand, but I'm sure I will revisit it in the coming months.

Spicy Kale and Potato Pasta

6-8 Large kale leaves, cleaned, stems removed, and roughly chopped
1/4 lb. bacon, diced
1 Medium potato, peeled and diced roughly into 1/4 inch thickness
1 Small onion, sliced
3 Cloves of garlic, sliced thinly
1 tsp red chili flakes (you can omit this if it doesn't agree with you)

1/2 lb. Pasta (ideally fresh egg pasta), cooked according to the directions

1. In a medium sized skillet over medium heat, render the bacon until nice and crispy and set aside.
2. In the residual bacon fat, fry the potato until slightly cooked, 5-7 minutes.
3. Add in the onion and chili flake and sweat for a another two minutes
4. Add the kale and garlic and cover, cook until it just wilts. 4-6 minutes.
5. Drop in the cooked pasta, toss well and serve garnished with the crispy bacon.

You could cover this in grated cheese if you were so moved, but I didn't have any the night this recipe came to fruition. It was just fine without it.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

I'm a member of a CSA and I have way more zucchini than I know what to do with. Any suggestions?

At this time of year one ingredient comes up time and again: summer squash such as zucchini, yellow squash, patty pans, etc. and the abundance associated with them.. If you’re a member of a CSA (community supported agriculture) or you tend a sizable garden you might have a similar issue on your hands.

“What else can I do with it?”
“Sometimes it’s mushy.”
“I’m out of ideas”
“I hate zucchini!”

Well, I can’t make you like zucchini, but I do want to start out by saying that the one trait that turns most people off about summer squash are their seeds. They contain a lot of water and not much flavor. This part of the fruit (it’s a fruit by botanical definition since it has seeds) is the first part to get slimy and soft, especially in yellow squash. For this reason I almost always remove them before cooking; the exception being very small squash.

At the risk of introducing a cooking rut I almost always process summer squash the same way:

1. Nip off the ends

2. half then quarter lengthwise.

3. Cutting on roughly a 45 degree angle, I cut along the seed line, removing them.

What you’re left with is a long seedless strip of squash good for most applications. You can grill it easily without loosing it through the cracks. It can be cut up further for any pan/wok technique or . . . you could turn it into zucchini relish.

Curried Zucchini Relish
2 lbs. zucchini, seeds removed and roughly chopped
2 shallots, roughly chopped, (or a small red onion)
1 cup cider vinegar
1 tbsp curry powder ← You could omit this if you want a regular relish
2 tsps sugar
1 tsp salt
Optional: fresh chili pepper

1. In a food processor, pulse the zucchini and shallots until it resembles a relish-like size. Put this mixture in your storage vessel. (Ideally a glass one)
2. In a pot heat the remaining ingredients just enough to dissolve the sugar and salt. Pour this hot brine over the zucchini. Allow it to cool, put a lid on it and stow it in the back of the fridge.

This is great anywhere you'd put regular pickle relish. Try it on your next hot dog! It’s also great in egg or chicken salad.

Other semi-unconventional summer squash ideas-
  • Stir-fry (link) or maybe a thai curry
  • Zucchini noodles- Julinned on a mandolin. Salt them and allow them to sit for a minute or two. Toss with cherry tomatoes and grated cheese.
  • Zucchini chips- sliced thinly, oiled, seasoned, and dried in a 250 degree oven for an hour or until crispy at the edges.

FYI- For you New Yorkers out there I used Race Farm's cider vinegar. They make it using leftover cider. It's a great product!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Microplane - a Fine Grater Indeed

Most of you probably know what this tool is, but I’m always surprised at the number of kitchens without one. It might seem like a superfluous gadget, but this little guy gets a lot of jobs done well: grating ginger, garlic, or any aromatic of the like and it shreds a hard cheese into perfect delicate snowflakes. It even works well for grating fresh spices such as nutmeg and cinnamon.

However, the purpose it serves best is zesting citrus . . . if you’re using citrus in your cooking and tossing out the zest then you’re really missing out on some serious flavor. A lot of the flavor and all of the acid is in the juice of the fruit, but the zest is where all of the citrus oil hides out. It’s important to include these oils because they manifest themselves differently in a dish. They accent different flavor components and simply but dramatically elevate the flavor of whatever you're adding it to.

What makes this fine grater (AKA a Microplane, also the name of the company that makes it) so good at capturing zest is its ability to just scrape the surface of the fruits. Reaping the colorful zest without bringing along the powerfully bitter pith; that white stuff between the meat of the fruit and the skin.

Living in a small apartment I have a serious aversion to anything taking up space without serving multiple uses. If zesting was the only purpose this tool served, I’d probably invest in one anyway because it does this job so well. Fortunately it serves a multitude of other functions in a small package at a decent price. If you don’t have one, I’d consider getting it.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Frozen patty cake patty cake . . .

I purchased a few packs of pre-made burgers from BJs. I grilled one pack the following day and froze the others. The burgers that were not frozen came out juicy. The ones that I froze, however, always seem to be too dry.
What am I doing wrong, or is there no hope for these burgers?

If the meat is lean (without much fat) it just doesn't freeze well. Fat freezes nicely, but the actual meat can get damaged by the freezing process. Which bring us to the next issue. Your freezer might not be cold enough. Especially if you're freezing them in stacks of multiple patties. You might try getting them pre-frozen, because they're probably flash frozen.
If you're going to do it your self, it would be ideal to lay them out on a cookie sheet or plate and then bagging them up once they're frozen. They'll freeze much quicker this way, preventing large ice crystals from forming; as they're the ones that damage the meat. This method goes for just about anything you're freezing.

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