Saturday, November 15, 2008

Wintry Deliciousness

Butternut squash is a versatile vegetable and a fall superstar to boot. It is currently showcased on the menus of hundreds if not thousands of restaurants in one or more of its various incarnations. Whether gnocchi or soup, stewed or steamed, baked or fried, butternut squash is a tasty treat that I welcome every fall. November and December are slim pickings at the farmer’s market though there is a veritable surfeit of root vegetables, apples, and gourds of all shapes and sizes. I love butternut squash and have strived to perfect a home cooked version of the nutty, creamy, bright orange soup that heralds Thanksgiving time. I invited a few friends over for dinner, one of which tends to lean towards vegetarianism, for a wintry feast of soup and wild mushroom risotto. Butternut squash has such a wonderful sweet flavor of its own, which I tried to highlight with the addition of chicken stock for richness and a few spices to kick it up. I served the soup in a little mug with a side of sliced degorged cucumbers tossed with olive oil and Sichuan pepper for color and freshness.

The second course was a wild mushroom risotto topped with grated
Parmesan. Risottos are very makes the best and most authentic Italian risottos that serve as a base for a whole slew of possible dishes. Add your favorite meats, vegetables, or both and experiment with possible combinations. In this case I used dried morel and fresh crimini mushrooms and more of the chicken stock I had used for the soup. It was a delicious winter feast that was thoroughly enjoyed by all before we sat down to watch the second season of “Twin Peaks”. Even the vegetarian was happy. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Wednesday Farm Supper

My father, the Frenchman with exceptional culinary prowess, recently came to pay me a visit on his way to Los Angeles. It is always nice to have his company and we usually end up sharing the majority of our time surrounded by delicious food and wine. As I have mentioned in previous posts, my father has been a major influence and inspiration on both my cooking and my sense of taste. Ever since I was old enough to safely handle a knife and work with hot pans, I have been helping him in the kitchen. I have mostly served as his sous-chef by prepping ingredients and letting him take the reigns when it comes to crafting and presenting dishes. We got a chance to cook together recently one rainy fall night for a couple of friends, Valerie and Mike. My father is a big fan of farm fresh seasonal produce, for good reason and has thankfully passed down his love of farmer’s markets. I like to think that I have also inherited his improvisational style in the kitchen that I credit to jazz notably Thelonious Monk, Coltrane, and Davis. We have spent many summers with friends at our country house in central France cooking with the bounty of the garden while listening to his massive collection of jazz albums.

His preference for seasonal organics and improvisational style were both showcased at our recent dinner. My father had bought a sack of Chinese eggplant from the Union Square farmer’s market that morning and I bought two beautifully marbled grass-fed rib eye steaks from Oppenheimer meats. My father made an Asian eggplant dish by roasting the halved eggplants with a Mirin, soy, and sesame oil glaze. He finished them with chopped cilantro and scallions. They were crispy, tender, and infused with Asian flavors, a big hit with everyone.

I simply grilled the steaks on a hot cast-iron skillet for about 5 minutes a side, searing a flavorful crust on the meat, which remained nice and pink on the inside. We had several delicious bottles of Montepulciano d'Abruzzo and a side salad of arugula, olive oil, and pecorino. We ended the meal with a French cheese course featuring Mary Cantin cheeses from her boutique in Paris though I will save that story for another post. It was great to see my father and critique the many meals we had around the city most notably Soto and Market Table. We also had the chance to cook together, catch-up, and reminisce while talking about food and wine, two things we certainly have in common. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Brunch Munch Munch

Brunch is one of those magical meals that always piques my palate and sends me running to grab an eggy delight. Brunch heralds the arrival of the weekend and is characterized by a dynamic interplay between sweet and savory, tradition and innovation, and of course breakfast and lunch. I rarely cook brunch though I have begun experimenting with using eggs in interesting ways paired with other flavors and ingredients that would not normally find themselves together. Poached eggs with braised kale and pecorino and baked eggs arrabiata are worthy alternatives to weathering the lines at brunch hot spots around town and have been big hits with my friends and family. This baked egg dish is very easy to make at home and can be made in big batches to accommodate a large crowd. The yolk stays runny, which adds richness and mellows out the acidity of the tomato, and the whites get slightly browned to a crisp. For those that like hot sauce with their eggs, the red pepper in the sauce adds a welcome kick. I usually serve them with some thick sliced country bread and some of the myriad jams and preserves I keep in the fridge or pantry. A simple side salad and some thick slices of smoked bacon or crispy pancetta are a welcome accompaniment to round out a complete meal. I have slowly been learning that brunch can be a breeze; you just get creative and experiment because you never know what you will come up with. I cheated with Scarpetta marinara sauce with some added red pepper flakes and a shot of habanero salsa though this recipe is even more delicious with fresh homemade tomato sauce. As always I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious foods and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Baked Eggs Arrabiata

8 Fresh Eggs
1 Jar of Marinara or Arrabiata sauce
1/4 cup Parmesan
Black Pepper

Preheat the oven to 4oo. Line a heavy baking dish or casserole pan with Tomato sauce and make 8 holes large enough to break an egg into. Break each egg into its respective hole, being careful not to let too much white spill out onto the tomato sauce. Season with cracked pepper and cook for about 10-15 minutes. Check every now and then to make sure that the eggs cook through though remain tender. Top with a generous shake of parmesan and put under the broiler for about a minute to achieve a crispy crust. Serves 4 or 8 depending on the array of sides and the appetite of the group. Enjoy!