Monday, August 30, 2010

A Pig Ear by any other name . . .

is just as delicious. (the pig ear mushroom is the brown one just to the left of the chantarelle)
A couple of Sundays ago at the New Amsterdam Market I was killing time before the market opened and came upon this couple. . .

Les Hook and Nova Kim

setting up a little stand "Wild Gourmet Foods" to sell amazing wild mushrooms. So I asked if they were the ones who had foraged the mushrooms.
"No," was the short response, "we're 'wild crafters', NOT foragers." and that was that, not another word.
Never one to offend, I sheepishly inquired as to any negative connotation there might be for the word forager. If there was one, I'd never heard it before. I could tell immediately that I had spurred a prepared, but vehement, response that had been reiterated to those before me unfortunate enough to choose the word forager. So I braced myself to learn something new.
It deals with the origin of the word forager. From the German word for fodder: feed for livestock (or a cannon if you're into that sort of thing). Apparently a forager would have been someone who collected food for livestock for what little money it paid.
Moreover, a foragers M.O. would be to ravage the land where they searched for food. Rendering the practice of foraging unsustainable, because if everyone did it the wilderness would be destroyed.
A "wild crafter" works with the land, taking what she can and leaving it a better than they found it. While I'm not entirely sure I subscribe to placing such strong meaning behind words, I really like what they're getting at.
Also they're working hard to set right something the "the man" clearly doesn't understand. The government wants for all mushroom . . . . errrr . . .. hunters to be certified by, you guessed it, the government. But this doesn't make much sense since they all work on such a small scale and could not afford federal and/or state certification. Their proposed solution is similar to that used with shell fish, which is a sheet of paper stating who found the mushroom, when and where. So if anyone ever was to get sick, it would be traceable. I think it sounds like a pretty brilliant solution.

For me the bottom line is to keep all that they are selling in the market because the quality of the product is exceptional and buying supports people trying to make the world a better place, and for the record, I'll be a little more conscious of using the word "forager" from now on.

Here are some of their amazing mushrooms:

a huge Chicken of the woods

an even bigger chicken of the woods (a salmon variety I'm told)

a Scented Choral smells amazing.

and some lobster mushrooms.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Cherry Tomato Trick

I almost forgot to whip out this trick this summer.
It's a great way to tear through a case of cherry tomatoes should the need arise. Or any similarly shaped produce for that matter, such as grapes, olives, jellybeans etc.

All you need is two tops from the typical take out containers.

Lay your cherry tomatoes (or like-shaped goodies) in one lid.

Place the other lid on top.

Holding the hole rig in place, and keeping your fingers out of the way, saw through the gap. [I prefer serrated knife for this.]

and there you have it.

It's Tomato Time!

Everyone, now is the time we long for all year. When summer produce is at its peak, and there's more on the table at the farm stand than we can bear to buy. Still, I hope you're all taking full advantage of it while it's here.

I'm hearing a lot about the high prices of heirloom varieties of tomatoes, but there's more than meets the eye to these price tags. You just have to put on your friendly face on and ask the farmer. Some times they show up with some second hand tomatoes that they're happy to unload for a fraction of the price.
Otherwise, try showing up at closing time to score some of the tomatoes that sat out all day. Believe me, they're still good, they just won't make another trip to the market. So farmer's are more than happy to bag and tag mature 'maters at a discount price.

I was able to get this ten pound box for just ten dollars!

Some have some funky looking blotches and spots,

But they're just as beautiful inside?

So I got a good deal on a bunch of tomatoes, now what?
The usual go-to. tomato sauce. It's a great all purpose sauce to have a around.

As usual I try to keep it super simple and approachable, but because of the volume it's a little bit of a process any way you swing it. (especially if you double or triple up on the recipe and can it). I don't remove the seeds and I only take off the skin whenever it slips off easily with out any blanching. Which is often enough with ripe tomatoes.
What's more, since everything gets processed on the back end, precise chopping and cutting isn't really mandatory. (though for the record, it does help in even cooking.) However, I do separate out the liquid partly through the cooking process to preserve the fresh flavor of the tomatoes.

5 lbs. Tomatoes, roughly chopped and skin removed where ever possible.
2 onions, roughly chopped
1 carrot, grated
6 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 cup red wine
1 tbsp chili flakes
1 bunch's worth of basil leaves, picked and cleaned well

1. Over medium heat, sweat the onions until slightly translucent. About 4-5 min.
2. Add in the carrot, garlic and chili flakes, cook for 3 more minutes.
3. Add the tomatoes and red wine, bring to a simmer (just slight bubbling) and cook for about 20 minutes.
4. Now is the tricky part, strain the sauce into a bowl and return the liquid to the bowl. Continue to simmer until it's reduced by half. This is most easily judged by looking side of the pan, usually a brown line will form were the liquid starts out.
5. While that's cookin', process the tomato solids with the basil leaves.
6. Once the liquid is reduced, return the pureed solids and your sauce is ready to consume.

If you make a lot of this sauce and want to can it (store it in sterilized shelf-stable jars) I recommend or for info on how to do s0.

mmmmm . . .

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

New Amtsterdam Market

This upcoming Sunday (Augut 22nd) we will be revisiting the New Amsterdam Market.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again. If you haven't been to visit this market yet then you're missing out. Especially if you consider yourself a connoisseur of cuisine.
They have a little bit of everything; from produce to porchetta. Come hungry and plan on cooking dinner.

This sunday there is a an Ice Cream festival, where you can taste ice creams from:The Bent Spoon, Roberta's, Early Bird Cookery, Marlow & Daughters, MilkMade Ice Cream, and Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream. (tickets are $20 and proceeds benefit the market, which is a non-profit organization)

Also there's gonna be a tomato tasting you can try tomato dishes from some chefs around the city, each made with tomatoes available at the market.

and last but not least, I'll be there dishing out no-stings attached cooking advice. I hope to see you there.

Every little bit helps . . . .

A reader and friend recently mentioned how she now springs for great cheeses and that better cheese makes a big difference.
In my life I've undergone a huge transformation in coming to value food, cooking, and all of their benefits. I'm still learning and changing daily.
One of the biggest leaps I think I took, and one of the hardest to instill in people, is to "realize" that no ingredient in a dish is too small to solicit care in buying. In other words, I started out only valuing the headliner of the night. Dropping cash on a great steak with a story (from a local farm, grass fed, etc.) and the supporting ingredients received no attention other than preparation.
The rest of the cast was somewhat carelessly plucked from regular supermarket shelves. So while the steak shined, the rest of the crew failed to support it. Mashed potatoes were run of the (food)mill piled next to roasted carrots that were blah at best.
Over time, Ive come to value every little thing that goes on a plate. That carrot especially, which can so easily be just a carrot, or can just as easily be so much more.
Yes, it will cost you a little more, but it will force you to simplify your process a little bit and do less to muddy the quality of what you've purchased. Always a great thing in the kitchen.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Another Cool Meal

I was able to participate in cool meal a couple of weeks ago. Brooke, the chef (and co-owner) over at Red Table Catering, invited me along for his trip through time. He had researched different feasts throughout history and we set out to recreate some these historic dishes for 20 guests.
It was a great time. I learned lot, saw some new things, and cooked my ass off.

Salad of Fresh Garbanzos, Lentils, Cucumbers, Wild Greens and Black Truffles

Crispy Duck over Forbidden Rice with Yam Sauce and Honey Cake (that's on the left)

Lamb & Rabbit Kasali with Gastric of Citrus & Pomegranite with Tamarind Foie Gras Jus (on the right)

Chocolate and Pumpkin Seed Mole (top right)

Papa a la Huancaina (top left)

Rocotto Pepper stuffed with Quinoa, Duck & Dried Fruit (bottom left)

Tamale Trio- Bean, Turkey and Lobster with Fresh Salsa (bottom right)

Apple Pie, Cinnamon Gelato and Saffron Custard


Here is the menu so you can see it in better detail along with where the dishes happened in history.

Friday, August 13, 2010

A couple of cool sites.

Throughout this whole endeavor I cross paths with many people involved every which way in the food world. I want to send some shout outs to couple of sites that I think are pretty cool. Definitely worth checking out.

1. In general the author, Stephen Cusato, helps keep you up on current info out there about food, food related stuff, and his opinions. But what I think is really cool is that he photo documents the recipes he makes. So you can see how the food should look every step of the way.

2. This is a site devoted to making use of leftover rice from takeout , something we all inevitable pitch, and mixing in an egg from time to time. It's a great idea with next to limitless possibilities. The site is super simple and I really dig the concept. I can't wait to make a few recipe submissions of my own. (If they'll allow it)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Thank You Everybody!

Last Friday we had a great turnout.
Thanks to those who showed up to ask questions and show some support. Thanks to the crew and Crystal too.
The shoot went well, now we just have to wait and see what the entertainment people think of the whole project.
Hopefully someone out there will take the bait.

Special thanks to Harold, (pictured above right) who brought a taste of his chickpea soup and to Megan, who brought along her delicious soy pickled jalapenos.

Also to the family that hosted us in their home for a day of shooting and cooking. (see their backs below)

The whole thing was a gas.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Gone Shroomin'

A couple of weeks ago I made a trip up north to hang out in the Adirondack Mountains for a little bit. It was beautiful but a little bit remote, so I didn't know how easy the shopping would be.
I'm not gonna lie, it was a little bit tricky. As much as I try to deny it, I'm a little spoiled by the farmers market here in New York, so it was dicey putting together some quality meals day after day. Until we took a hike that is.
We set out to conquer a small mountain, I was in a little over my head with what the guidebook labeled a "moderate" hike. Which turned out to include rock climbing, steep inclines, profuse sweating and, mush to my surprise, mushroom hunting.
It had rained a day or two before, so the forest floor was littered with a wide variety of amazing mushrooms. It hadn't even crossed my mind until we hit the trails that there might be some foraging to do. It is summer after all, the season for the tasty little fungi known as chantarelles.
So I kept my eyes on the sides of the trail. Huffing and puffing, me heart jumping a little bit everytime I saw a mushroom cap peeking through a pile of leaves, or standing out from a moss bed at the base of a tree, but no chatarelles.

Let me say here, I have never foraged for chantarelle mushrooms, but my time served in kitchens has seen me through cases of the mushroom. So I was 95% confident that I would eat what I deemed to be the right mushroom if I found it? The real questions was: would I risk the rest of my vacation on that 5% of doubt? Probably, but I wouldn't ask anyone to take the dive with me . . . which essentially translated to more mushrooms for me.

We climbed and scrambled up the mountain, rustling leaves and overturning stumps in search of a side dish.

Then, finally, there it was, hanging out all by itself, a lone chantarelle (as best as I could tell) to symbolize hope for a fruitful hike, and cast a little more doubt as to whether or not I had the right mushroom.

Then there was another, and another. I don't now why they appeared all of the sudden. Maybe from the altitude, maybe from the moisture levels. Who knows, I was on a role zigzagging off the trail, plucking mushrooms and frustrating my fellow hikers with the holdup.

The elusive Chantarelle Mushroom

When we finally got back to the car I had harvested quite of few of the mushrooms that I had deemed to be chantarelles and so safe for consumption. And at around 60 bucks a pound in the market, I considered myself a little richer for the efforts. Still the more I stared at my stash the more doubt loomed. Would I be my own guinea pig?
We got home and I stored them wrapped in paper towels pending further approval, but where would that come from. There was no internet there; no google to lay our thoughts, fears, and scattagories disputes to rest.

So I waited.

Then we took another hike. And again we were collecting little yellow nuggets. In midst of a small minefield of mushrooms, my excitement was overcome by the reality that I wasn't going to actually endeavor to eat these without some acknowledgment that I had the right thing.
I just couldn't. . . and you shouldn't either. As we've all heard: consuming the wrong mushroom cap can literally do you in.

Then, marching towards us down the trail, an older couple carrying plastic grocery sacks full of mushrooms, humored me for a moment.
YES! What I had been picking was, in fact, chantarelle mushrooms. Apparently characterized by their unique yellow "school bus" color and the larger ridges situated under the cap. Where other, less delicious, mushrooms house their superfine gills.

Ecstatic, I inquired as to any fabulous cooking ideas a true mushroom hunter might have . . . . "We saute them."
I stopped, disappointed for precisely .2 seconds. Sauteing them was exactly what I had planned to do, and what I would've done regardless of any revelations they'd laid upon me.

The menu was set, Chantarelles for dinner.

I just peeled them apart with my fingers and cooked them in the fashion of a super simple pasta sauce. They were exceptional.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Think twice before you pitch it.

In the kitchen, it's a constant battle to extract the most flavor from everything, and transfer it to the right place at the right time.
So my heart aches when I see a trash can full of what would otherwise translate into yummyness on another plate.
Munched-on corn cobs epitomize this.
If you have a get together that involves con on the cob, set out a bowl for the leftover cobs. Ipso facto you can throw them in a pot, cover them just barely with water (and some leftover wine if it's there) and simmer for an hour or so. Strain it, cool it and freeze it.
The resulting broth is a great card to play in your next recipe. Perfect for cold summer soups, rice/grain preparations and pastas.

*** For any germophobes out there, the simmering process will kill off and residual cooties left by unknowing diners.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Help me bring home the bacon!

As many of you know, this whole project generates no revenue at all, but I love it and I'd hate to see it go by the wayside because of that fact. So I'm testing different possibilities.

This Friday I'll be stationed at the Union Square Greenmarket from 9am-1ish, but it wont be the usual drill. There is a real possibility of turning this concept into a television show. Friday's appearance at the market will be my time to shine for the potential producers. There will be a small camera crew, so I need to make a real showing. I'm asking anyone and everyone out there to please swing by.
Bring a cooking question or whatever's been troubling you in the kitchen.

Did dinner go surprisingly well last night . . . or terrible wrong? Bring in a sample and we'll assess the situation.

I'll take whatever you can throw at me.

Be there or be square,
I appreciate everyone's help with this.


Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Ok, just one more kale recipe, I promise. (for a little while anyways)

A lot of shoppers hold out on potatoes until the colder months, but they're coming out of the ground right now. So it happens to be a great time to score some young(or new) potatoes at the markets right now.

A foolproof way to make them happens to be roasted with kale.
So at the risk of wearing out my readers with copious kale recipes, here goes:

Roasted New Potatoes & Kale
1 bunch Kale, cleaned, roughly chopped and dried well
2.5 lbs New potatoes, cleaned and cut into roughly 3/4 inch pieces
1 tsp Garlic powder
1 tsp Chili flakes (optional)
3 tbsps vegetable oil

1. Place a sheet pan in your oven and preheat it to 400 degrees.
2. In a bowl mis the kale, potatoes, garlic powder and chili flakes along with the vegetable oil. Toss to coat well.
3. Disperse the kale and potatoe mixture evenly over the sheet pan. It should sizzle a little from the extreme heat.
4. Roast for 18-22 minutes of until the potatoes are cooked through but retain a little bit of texture. Stirring once or twice in the middle.

Another blogger posted a great recipe for kale chips. It's definitely worth checking out.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

How to Read my Recipes

You might notice some of my past recipes won't meet all of these criteria, I'll go back and change them where I can. And from here on out I'll do my best to stick to this message. Read on . . .

A recipe can be a tricky beast; one day your best friend; the next, a plate of inedible smudge. What is a recipe? Why do we have them, and what’s the best approach?

In an ideal world a recipe is a template that can be recreated over and over with perfect consistency, but nature doesn’t give us perfectly consistent ingredients to work with. So, in reality it’s just a guideline, a rough draft of a dish that one must edit with every publication.

In writing recipes, I try hard to find the best middle ground. Giving the cook enough info for inspiration, but with room for preferential variation. So keep in mind that I think of my recipes as foundations on which to build. Read them knowing that I hope you take license, and let me know if it works (or if it doesn’t). My goal with Grill-A-Chef is to encourage people to cook, and that takes a little experimentation and awareness. As the cook it’s your job to adjust for nature’s inconsistency, and whenever possible, enjoy the variations it provides. All too often someone becomes hell-bent on recreating some dish or meal that made an impression, and we forget to appreciate what we’re eating while we’re eating it.

The Problem: Quantities

They’re where every recipe starts, but how do you decipher an amount? One recipe might say “4 medium potatoes”. In this instance, the quantity used can vary greatly with the size of the potato. Not to mention the problem that the word “medium” poses. How big is medium potato? And is that relative to all potatoes in the world, or just in the pile of potatoes at your market? Another recipe might say “3 cups of potatoes, cut into ½ inch cubes.” This is a much more specific quantity, but how many potatoes will this require when shopping? And what do you do with the remaining potatoes, some of which are partially cut up already?

My Solution:

It may seem counter intuitive but the way I write recipes varies completely. It’s purely circumstantial. If I say “4 medium potatoes” the required amount is somewhat elastic and the recipe more about technique than anything else. If I say, “3 cups of potatoes, cut into ½ inch cubes,” then you need that amount to get closer to the recipe’s objective. In both cases I include a weight approximation for clarification.

The Problem: The elusive ingredient.

Unfortunately, some ingredients are simply unavailable in certain areas or at certain times. But often a simple substitution can be made for a hard to find component.

Can't find purple shiso?

My solution:

Whenever possible I try to spot these specialty ingredients and throw out a few ideas for options what might be more readily available. ………..

A Sub-Problem: Semi-superfluous Ingredients

I have to mention one of my recipe pet peeves: the ingredient that you have to buy a whole container of for just one teaspoon, especially if it’s perishable.

A teaspoon of quark? Really?

My sub-solution:

I’m a professional, so my pantry has a plethora of rare items that I use regularly. Still, I try to recognize these when they come up in my recipes and isolate them as optional.

In other words, I try to avoid putting the cook in a position where she has buy something she’ll never use again.

The Problem: Vague or incomplete cooking step descriptions.

You have all of your ingredients ready to go, the pan is hot – the oil is smoking. The cook in question is staring at the recipe transfixed on a step. Like a deer in headlights wondering what exactly, does the word “sauté” means?

Execution of a recipe can vary exponentially. People have different stovetops, different pots and pans, even different lighting under which they see the food. They cook perceiving all of these variables from different frames of reference. Oversimplified recipe steps like “Sauté the onions.” can undo the author’s original intentions and leave the cook with a less than savory result.

My Solution:

Over time my goal has become has become to include three factors in each cooking step of a recipe.

  • approximate heat range (medium, medium high, high, etc)
  • approximate range of time at said heat range (3-4 min)
  • a description of what senses this step might stimulate (listen for sizzling, sniff for this aroma etc.)
  • most importantly a description for what this step should yield before moving to the next step. (translucent vegetables as opposed to slightly crispy vegetables that are blistered in a hot pan, etc)

The problem: Seasoning

In many recipes advice on seasoning isn’t mentioned. Some recipes call for specific amounts of salts, but I find it seldom works out. In my opinion it’s never enough, but in reality salt level is such a matter of circumstance, preference and/or medical necessity.

My Solution:

I put this ball in the cook’s court. I always assume the cook is tasting as she goes and seasoning as she sees fits. This is a principal rule in cooking. I’m always surprised when people follow recipe steps to a “T” and are disappointed at the results. Cooking is NOT a passive endeavor. If you’re going to get in the kitchen and get dirty, you have to take the reigns and adjust as you go.

And never forget, no matter where you find the recipe, or how great your ingredients, if you don’t season well, flavors won’t reach their full potential.

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