Saturday, October 25, 2008

Saturday Supper at the Farm

I recently spent a lovely weekend with Valerie and my sister up at my mother’s farm in upstate New York. The weekend was full of household chores and work on the property though in compensation for the manual labor we ate extremely well. My mother did most of the cooking, which is always a treat, and invited a few friends over for Saturday supper. As I have mentioned in past posts my mother is an unbelievable cook who truly loves to entertain and share her love of food with others. I am blessed to have inherited a rich culinary legacy from both of my parents. My father has passed down his love of food and eating out at the best and most refined restaurants of Europe and the United States. I attribute my critical judgment of food and wine as well as my love of French Haute cuisine to him, a true gourmand and wonderful chef. My mother hails from a much different culinary tradition having grown up in the Midwest. She is a master of classic American cooking with an impressive arsenal of my grandmother’s recipes at her disposal. My mother is also a big fan of Julia Childs, which has imbued her food with a rich sense of elegance and subtlety.

We ate very well throughout the weekend, snacking on the delicious homemade breads, pies, and
cookies that my mother whips up from scratch. The highlights were a butternut squash soup, the porc au prunes, apple pie, and egg salad sandwiches that were to die for. She also made a couple of loaves of bread, I could not believe it when they came out of the oven looking and smelling fantastic! Porc au prunes is a dish that my father made quite often while I was growing up and my mother makes a version that rivals his. It consists of pork tenderloin browned and then braised in the oven with stock, potatoes, prunes, and cippolini onions. It is basically a one-pot meal cooked for an extended period of time in the oven. The end result is tender slabs of pork with prune flavor running throughout and a jus that serves exceptionally well as a sauce. The one dish I contributed to the Saturday supper was a beet tartare using beautiful beets from a local farm stand on the side of Route 28. I have had a couple of vegetable tartares at various restaurants in the City and have been meaning to try my own version using roasted beets. The red of the beets resembles beef and the finished plate looks remarkably like steak tartare. The meal was a big hit and we all ate far too much before sitting down to an episode of Twin Peaks. That David Lynch is a crazy cat. Enjoy and as always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious foods and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Red Beet Tartare with Chevre

4 large red beets

1 package of
micro greens
1 small log of chevre

a handful of chives

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar

salt and pepper to taste

Clean and wrap beets individually in aluminum foil with salt, pepper, and a splash of olive oil. Roast at 350 for about an hour and a half or until fork tender. Peel and mince or pass through a ricer into a large bowl.
Prepare a basic vinaigrette with the Dijon, olive oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper. Pour half over the beets to marinate and reserve the rest. Place a layer of the beet mixture on the bottom of a ramekin and top with a layer of room temperature chevre, careful not to disrupt the beets. Top with a second layer of beets to completely cover the chevre. Press in with the flat of a spoon to remove all air between the layers and tap out onto a small plate. Toss the micro greens in a bit of the vinaigrette and surround the tartare with small leaves. Top each tartare with chopped chives and drizzle with remaining vinaigrette. Serves 4.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Dinner Party

Nothing is better than a group of good friends gathered around a feast. I recently had a few of my very best friends in the world visit me from Los Angeles, Ithaca, and Boston respectively. It was a long weekend to celebrate Columbus Day and a chance to catch up with one another. My apartment was so packed it felt like I was back in the hostel in Amsterdam, having to squeeze my way to the fridge in the morning to grab a glass of juice on my way to work. We had decided to cook dinner one night and spend the rest of the time enjoying New York food culture, trying some of my favorite places in like Momofuku, Momoya, and Dim Sum Go Go. The three are trendy and truly delicious Asian restaurants running the gamut from Korean Kimchi and Triggerfish sashimi to shrimp and chive dumplings. I thought my friends would enjoy the hip vibe and interesting usages of local seasonal produce prepared in traditional Asian fashion. All three were a big hit among my weekend guests, particularly Momofuku though I have yet to meet someone that has not genuinely loved the food David Chang has to offer.

My friends and I ate out quite a bit though we
ended up cooking a bit more than expected. Our lazy Saturday and Sunday mornings were spent preparing breakfast or brunch at home depending on what time we woke up and when the hangover relented. The first night, after everyone had landed and cabbed it over to the Walk, we cracked a few bottles of wine and began cooking. Thankfully I had sent out an email to my guests earlier that day urging them to buy groceries and Risher had the intuition to go to the Union Square farmer’s market. He came home with a big tote bag, which he mysteriously had packed in his suitcase, full of fresh produce including a massive head of purple cauliflower. Roth purchased some Gourmet Garage spicy Italian chicken sausages, a baguette, and some earthy smelling goat and sheep’s milk cheeses. I had a bag of lettuce and some burst tomatoes in the fridge, which added a touch of greenery to the spread. The highlight was the purple cauliflower gratin that I improvised though the butternut squash Risher roasted with a bit of maple syrup, brown sugar, and butter was out of this world. Roth’s tomato and romaine salad with Dijon vinaigrette and toasted pine nuts was not half bad either. I would highly recommend this creamy cauliflower dish that can easily be substituted with myriad vegetables with low water content. The purple cauliflower is just for show, the flavor is virtually the same as the yellow or white variety but the color is striking plated. Enjoy and as always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious foods and cooked meals with yourself and others!

Purple Cauliflower Gratin
1 large head of Cauliflower, in medium sized florets
4 tablespoons unsalted butter

4 tablespoons flour

1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream

1 cup grated cheese

salt and pepper to taste

Blanch the cauliflower florets in salted boiling water for 2-3 minutes then shock with cold water to retain the bright color. Drain and set aside. Melt butter in a heavy saucepan over medium-low heat then remove from heat and stir in flour with a whisk. Return to heat and cook for about two minutes, whisking steadily. Remove from heat and whisk in milk, return to heat and bring to a light boil. Add cream, a pinch of nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste. Whisk continuously and cook until sauce comes together and achieves desired thickness. Layer a buttered baking dish with the Cauliflower and pour Béchamel sauce over to coat. Shower generously with grated cheese and cover with aluminum foil. Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes and then brown for 2-3 minutes under the broiler. Serves 4-6.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Corn Shucking & Script Reading

I find that the changing of the seasons is rife with mixed feelings as the transition from the blistering summer humidity to the breezy chill of fall unfolds in October. The changing colors of the trees and the approach of sweater-weather heralds the end of summer delicacies and the arrival of the cold weather crops. Over the past week the farmer’s markets have begun offering beets, leafy greens, and the ubiquitous fall pumpkins gradually replacing the sweet corn, blueberries, and heirloom tomatoes of summer. A slew of pumpkin products including my favorite thanksgiving beverage, pumpkin beer, are appearing in spades. The east coast is in my opinion the place to experience the gentle shift from summer to fall and as the wardrobes change, so do the available foods. Even the most modest restaurants tend to have four or five menus, sometimes more sometimes less, which they rotate according to the seasons. Butternut squash soup rears its velvety orange head and the presentation of dishes begin to incorporate gourds and nuts of all shapes and sizes around October.

One of my very best friends who I grew up with in Los Angeles, a young stud of a film producer from Hollywood recently came to pay me a visit. He was traveling around Europe for the summer and decided to make a pit stop on his return from Germany to visit the city and enjoy the beautiful though chilly weather New York has to offer. I wanted to cook something simple, selfishly due to the fact that I only had a couple of hours to shop, cook, and serve before his plane landed and his taxi arrived. I wanted to make a pasta dish, simply because I have been craving Italian recently and I rarely cook pasta so I welcomed the opportunity to change it up a little. My third criterion for the casual Monday dinner was something summer-like, bright, colorful, and involving sweet corn which will virtually disappear in a week or two. I guess a fourth criterion would be a bottle of Tempranillo, the full-bodied Spanish red akin to Rioja which pairs well with just about anything. I threw something together rather ad hock with things I had in the refrigerator and pantry. The end product I lamely called “summer fusili”, though despite the lack of creative titling it was delicious. I made a little ragout in a cast iron pan by rendering pancetta cubes then sautéing shallot, garlic, rosemary, and tons of bicolor sweet corn. I finished the sauce with a little cream and pecorino cheese for an unctuous finish. I served a big arugula salad on the side with toasted pine nuts and basil vinaigrette using the aforementioned basil oil (9/27/08 post). We also re-heated a few slices of the impeccably thin and crispy pizza from Orso down in Theater Row, in this case sausage and onion. It was great to catch-up with my very good friend and favorite film producer over a couple glasses of wine. I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious foods and cooked meals with yourself and others!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Spano Korizo or "Spanish Risotto"

Despite my ties to France and deeply engrained love of French cuisine, I am a closeted fanatic of Italian food and all things pasta. I am often blown away by the amazing gift of simplicity that Italian cooks possess in the kitchen, highlighting the taste of each ingredient with clarity. The best Italian food to me is rustic, informal, and above all fresh and delicious. I love the spacing of traditional Italian meals consisting of an appetizer course or antipasto, prima course of pasta or noodle dishes, and a finale of meat or fish. I always end up leaving an Italian meal completely stuffed and a little buzzed depending on how many glasses of Chianti and Grappa Amarone I imbibe. Risotto is an Italian classic that is fairly simple though elegant, great as a main course or rich side dish. Risotto is also a very flexible dish, you can add virtually whatever you fancy to the base of rice, onion, garlic, wine, and stock. My father used to make Risotto about three times a week in different ways depending on the ingredients we had at the house. Arborio rice was a staple in our pantry and I vividly remember the massive straw sack imported from Italy sitting in the cupboard next to the Barilla penne and the purple Basmati rice box.

I recently invited a few friends over for a viewing party to watch the first of the presidential debates between Obama and McCain and decided to cook a Greek rice dish that my mother is famous for back in California. I naively used to refer to it as “Spanish Risotto” even though it is traditional Greek because the cooking techniques and end product are so similar to paella and Italian risottos although this dish calls for Long grain rice, not Arborio. The dish is called Spano Korizo, consisting mainly of chopped tomatoes, rice, and tons of fresh spinach, basically a risotto finished with fresh parsley and feta cheese. My friends loved the smoky taste of the toasted rice and the slightly bitter spinach. I served the Spano Korizo with a grilled Italian pork sausage, a watercress and pecorino salad dressed with lemon vinaigrette, and a couple of French cheeses. It was a delicious meal that my friends and I enjoyed tremendously, although we had to eat quickly as to not miss the introductions of the candidates. As always my friends, love food and the company of others!