Monday, November 29, 2010

Turkey Day Recap

As we're all kind of returning to the real world and at the same time bundling up and bracing ourselves for another holiday (I wish they had given us a little more time between thanksgiving and xmas) I always take a second to remember what a great day my turkey day was.  It was a loose take on an Austrian feast. 

Note: the whole meal was followed by a delicious carrot cake and pies made with home grown fruit. I was too busy eating to capture any of it on film.  Maybe next year.

Here's what our meal was composed of:
A Turkey "Roll-up"- I de-boned a turkey, brined and stuffed it with itself, sausage and gave it a bacon center.

Gma's famous cranberry salad.
A pile of roasted venison, provided by my uncle.  It was served with a sherry raisin sauce. 

Boiled baby potatoes slossed in sour cream, grainy mustard and herbs. 

Brussels sprouts with sour apples and bacon.
Classic Stuffing lots of veggies and herbs.

The Family Matriarch tending to the spread.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Choppin' Herbs - fine or not?

I'm never quite sure what to do when a recipe calls for chopped mint,
chopped cilantro, or other fresh leafy herbs. How do I decide between 
chiffonade vs. a coarse chop vs. a fine chop? On television I've heard
Michael Simon tell a sous chef "only one pass", which presumably means
he wants the herbs coarsely chopped. What should I be thinking about
 when I'm about to cut up leafy herbs for a recipe?
No matter the application  this going to boil down to a matter of preference.   In terms of functionality on the "Chopping Spectrum" you're basically operating between lightly (or not) chopped herbs and finely chopped herbs.  

Lightly chopped herbs, when mixed into something - let's say whole tarragon and mint leaves into a beet salad- provide powerful but periodic bursts of herby aroma.  So you'll get a little variety from bite to bite, and variety is the "herb of life".

Finely chopped herbs, on the flip flop, if used in a preparation like a risotto, will disperse flavor more evenly.   Giving a more subtle affect that pervades a dish. 

For me, I tend to chop on the lighter side for drier applications (beet salad, chickpea salad, roasted potatoes, etc). Where I'll chop a little finer for preparations with a higher moisture content. (risotto, soup, fricasee, etc)

Everything else is in between.  And of course I often make exceptions to my own suggestions. 

P.S.- The "only one pass" they were talking about I would think refers to rocking your knife across a pile of herbs only one time on a cutting board.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Sunday Interactive Demo

This Sunday I'm going to be hosting a small class focused on one of my favorite winter appetizers - Winter Panzanella with Butternut Squash and Kale.  The cost is $15, which includes the 45 minute hands-on lesson and a plate of the dish itself to fill your tummy.   There might even be a cup of cider to wash it down. 

It's happening at the New Amsterdam Cooking School (224 Front St.) Demos take place at 12 noon and 2pm. Pay at the door but you must reserve a spot by emailing and indicating whether you prefer the 12pm or 2pm session.  Sign up now because classes are small and they're filling up. 

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Some Thanksgiving Ideas

Hey everybody,  in the midst of the crazy haze or holidays I'm throwing together this list of some family friendly recipes.   
Some conventional and some not-so-conventional, but all of them are delicious. 

They're just to get your wheels turning. 
Enjoy, and good luck with your thanksgiving dinner. 

Thursday, November 11, 2010

What is Grill-a-Chef?

This is sometimes the toughest question for me to answer.  The overall goal never changes, but the finer points are very elastic, so it's a challenge to stay focused and be articulate about what is happening and why.
Here is my latest attempt to wrap up a tight explanation.  I hope you enjoy it.

This is a flash presentation, you have to click the arrow and give it a second to load. Then move your cursor over the word "more" and select "fullscreen"    It is best to click through at your own pace.  (In other words don't use the "Autoplay" option. )

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

What should I do with this?

One of the perks of this thing I'm doing is I get to meet lots of interesting people; food growers and producers among them.  Every so often somebody puts something in my hand that I've never seen before.  This happened a few weeks ago when Sharon Tomaselli from Cooperstown Cheese Company handed me this goat's milk ricotta with the question: "What should I do with it?"
I smiled because my first reaction is something like- "I don't know! You made the stuff!" but I thought of my fridge, overflowing with homemade sauces, pickles and condiments.  I have no idea what to do with any of them.  I'm no stranger to cooking first and asking questions later.  Why not throw this ricotta in there and see if anything happens.
Like many a ricotta it's mild flavored and rich, but like any goat cheese, this ricotta comes with a gamey punch like I've never had before.  Very tasty stuff, but the questions still stands: "What should I do with it?"
The answer has to be something simple, otherwise the ricotta will just be a vehicle for a stronger flavor,  too often a decent ricotta's fate.
So what I ended up doing is not going to blow your minds. . . unless you try it.
I just made a simple cheesy garlic bread. . . salty and rich.  Also, it's a fine alternative to wearing a garlic rope around your neck in order to ward off vampires.  

Garlicy Ricotta Cheese Bread

1 pint of ricotta cheese (Mrs. Tomaselli's if you can get your hands on some)
4 cloves of fresh garlic, grated or chopped
3-4 tbsps of extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup grated hard aged cheese such as Parmigiano-Reggiano
salt and pepper to taste
1 baguette, fresh and crusty

1. In a bowl combing the ricotta, garlic, olive oil, Parmigiano along with the salt an pepper and mix very well.
2. Simply half the baguette lengthwise and then across.  Spread the ricotta mixture evenly over bread.
3. Bake on the top shelf of your oven at 400 degrees for 8-10 minutes or until the bread is toasted and the cheese is lightly browned.

Be sure to share this with whomever you plan on being around for the rest of the day.  The say mutual garlic breath will cancel itself out. . . and you're gonna need that.

Friday, November 5, 2010

I ALWAYS make soup when I get butternut squash, what else can i do with it that highlights the flavor?

It's so easy to get stuck on an ingredient's connotations and forget about how versatile such a simple thing can be.  We get so used to one preparation of an ingredient, say squash soup, that it's all we can think of when we see it in the market.  We cease to see a squash for all it could be, and rather than attempting a different application, we snub our squash cravings because, simply, "We're not in the mood for soup"

Here's an idea for using squash that stems from one my favorite family meals while working in restaurants in Italy.  It starts with squash that is roasted and then crushed or pureed.

Squash Pasta Sauce with Sage and Amaretti

1lb. Pasta (fresh is best with this sauce if u can swing it)
2 cups of crushed squash (any variety or mix of varieties)
1/4 cup Sage, roughly chopped 
1/4 cup roasted walnuts
1/4 cup Parmigiano Reggiano
1/4 cup roughly crushed Amaretti cookies

1. In a pan, warm the crushed squash over medium heat with enough liquid (veggie/chicken stock or water)  to make the consistency of a very thick soup. 
2. Drop in the walnuts and sage.
3. Toss in your pasta (cooked according to the directions or your taste)  along with the Parmigiano Reggiano and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
4. Place on a serving platter (or individual plates) and top with the crushed ammaretti and a little more cheese.

Print this recipe!

Monday, November 1, 2010

What's the deal with Balsamic Vinegar? Why is some so cheap, and some so expensive?!?

I have brushed on this topic numerous times with passers by in the markets.  
For the record: I grew up thinking "Parmesan Cheese" came in a green plastic tube that, mysteriously, never went in the fridge.  While I was working in Italy I came to know Parmigiano Reggiano,  an outstanding cheese that has to meet many criteria to be called by it's name,  and presumably is the pure bred ancestor of the green tubes of my upbringing.  
Every food product has its place,  you'll still see me vigorously shaking that green tube over meat spaghetti some times.  But I think it is important to keep the maintain the integrity and origin when creating derivatives.  Capitalism lets us call anything whatever we want until the consumer pushes to address quality and origin 

In this vein, Balsamic Vinegar may be one of the most misunderstood ingredients on the shelves.   Meathead Goldwyn over at  did a really good job summing it up.   He also describes the process behind making true (or Tradizionale) Balsamic, which is very interesting in and of itself. 

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