Monday, April 27, 2009

Throwback: First Ever Pomander Saveur Post

It has been almost a year since I hatched the crazy idea to write about food in a fun way intended for the enjoyment of my friends and family. Blogging has in recent years exploded on the scene and now virtually everyone can voice his or her opinion via blog. I had been reading a number of food blogs, mainly by famous chefs and amateur home cooks, and decided to give it a shot. Pomander Saveur is the second incarnation of my efforts to share my home cooked meals and experiences in the kitchen. The first was email-based with the working title “Gustemest Food Blog”. I would cook a meal and then email everyone on my contact list the photos with a few lines of text describing each dish. I have since moved to a more formalized format though the content and arrangement of the site maintain the flow of my initial endeavors in Internet food writing. People to this day ask me about the very first email, Gustemest Vol. 1, featuring a tarragon chicken sandwich and a carrot slaw. The sandwich was made with leftover roasted chicken that I had made for friends the night before. I pulled the chicken apart and tossed it with mayo, Dijon, chopped tarragon, golden raisins, and salt & pepper before throwing it between two pieces of wheat bread with melted Comté. This was one of the best sandwiches I have ever made, and I have enjoyed it many times since. I recommend the combination of raisins, fresh herbs, and cold chicken; you will be pleasantly surprised how easily they come together.

In addition to the robust chicken sandwich I had a side salad of carrot slaw. I love to grate carrots and toss them with any number of vinaigrettes or sauces to make a fresh spring/summer salad to accompany barbecue or sandwiches, picnics or potlucks. For this particular carrot slaw I grated a few carrots on the medium-hole side of a cheese grater then tossed the vibrant ribbons with lemon juice, olive oil, parsley, sesame seeds, and salt & pepper. Carrots can be eaten raw as often as cooked, leaving the crisp texture and nutrient content of the carrot unmanipulated. The warm sandwich and cold citrusy salad contrasted beautifully and I was thrilled to have my first entry ready for the presses. This is a nostalgic reminiscence in honor of that notable lunch repast that started it all. The Gustemest, or precursor to Pomander Saveur, will be celebrating its one year anniversary soon and I am thrilled remember my very first foyer into food writing. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Dinner With Lucullus

M.F.K. Fisher, the simultaneously subtle and brilliant food writer, devoted a chapter in her opus Serve It Forth to the importance of dining alone. She loved to cook and entertain guests which is beautifully rendered in her writing but she never forgot to make time for herself. Even when dining alone Fisher would treat her meal with the same delicate touch and refined style that she lavished on her guests. I totally agree with her notion that eating alone does not have to be a chore, bore, or quick fix of crappy food. She attributes this philosophy of eating well, even when alone, to a Roman noble named Lucullus. Lucullus was a grand gourmet notorious for the wealth he squandered on his food budget and opulent feasts. One day he verbally abused his team of chefs when they served him leftovers, stale bread, and overly watered wine on an off day from his busy social schedule. When his staff stood apologetically before him they pleaded that since he was eating alone they assumed a lavish feast was not a necessity. He rebuked them by saying that when Lucullus dines with Lucullus the food should be at its very best, going above and beyond what they served his guests. Lucullus ate the finest foods and drank his most potent vintages when dining alone, because he was worth it. I agree wholeheartedly that it is warranted to treat yourself now and again to a special meal made especially for you.

Tonight I decided to dine alone and model Lucullus’s gastronomic philosophy. I had a lot of tasty things leftover from my last trip to the farmer’s market so I threw some stuff together that worked out really well. I had a second pork tenderloin that had been marinating in the fridge for two days, leftover from the dinner party I threw for Nick’s birthday. After sitting in the flavorful marinade (refer to last post) for several hours it had taken on a tremendous amount of flavor. I roasted it in the oven and finished it under the broiler to give it a nice crust. I plated the pork next to a mixed green salad with crumbled blue cheese and cubed bosc pear. The spring mix of mesclun and fresh herbs paired well with the zing of the blue and the sweetness of the pear. My vegetable side dish was stir-fried baby bok choy purchased at the Korean stand at the Union Square farmer’s market. I threw them in the wok with vegetable oil, garlic, and minced ginger and briefly sautéed them. Right at the end of the cooking time I added sesame oil, rice vinegar, soy sauce, and chili paste to give it some Asian flare. You could say my dinner had an east meets west vibe to it with the bok choy standing as the antithesis of the more Mediterranean pork and salad combo. Dining alone does not have to be banal; one can eat like a Roman noble even when breaking bread solo. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Birthday Dinner Part Deux

There are way too many people that have birthdays in April; it is just too hard to keep track of them all. A number of friends and family members of mine have been celebrating recently including my mother, cousin, and best friend Nick. After making a delicious meal for my mother’s birthday last week I decided to do the same for Nick. This was going to be a tricky task given that Nick is such a skilled cook and gourmand but I was up for the challenge. I drafted a menu, did the shopping on Friday morning, and hit the kitchen that afternoon. There were going to be six of us total including a number of good friends that live in the city as well as Nick’s girlfriend and best friend visiting from Los Angeles. I pulled all the stops and cooked a beast of a four course meal, plated a l’assiette individually for each diner. The first course was a shaved Brussels sprout and radicchio salad with Dijon vinaigrette and crumbled spring Parmesan. The Parmesan was purchased at Dipalo’s, a little Italy purveyor of all things Italian, and was the highlight of the salad. Their Parmesans are seasonal and the flavors totally change depending on the time of year. The crunchy raw Brussels sprouts contrasted excellently with the nuttiness of the cheese and peppery bite of the radicchio making for a lovely first course.

When I cook a multi course meal plated individually I like to follow the Mediterranean progression of dishes. Italian and French cuisine de haute consists of a marked hierarchal succession of vegetables, pastas, seafood, meats, fruits, and finally sweets. I adhered to this formulaic arrangement of courses by electing to serve pasta as the second course. During my visit to Dipalo I also bought an oozing hunk of Gorgonzola dolce, an aromatic and creamy blue cheese. I melted the cheese with heavy cream, black pepper, and nutmeg into a thick creamy sauce to accompany potato gnocchi. I drizzled a large spoonful of the sauce over five or six gnocchi since they were so rich and topped them with sautéed pears and a sprig of tarragon for presentation. The pasta was certainly rich though the small portion made it bearable with a great interplay of textures and tastes. The salty Gorgonzola sauce contrasted nicely with the sweetness of the pears making for a balanced dish with tons of flavor.

The third course was an inventive one to say the least; grilled adobo shrimp with carrot puree. I have never tried to make this dish and the idea was hatched as Nick and I perused the produce stands at the Union Square farmer’s market. There were a number of fresh spring vegetables just beginning to be harvested like carrots, fava beans, green garlic, mesclun, and ramps. I love shrimp and I know Nick does too so I went up to Joon my fishmonger and bought some beautiful gold and gray wild shrimp. I seasoned the shrimp after snipping their legs and deveining them with ground adobo and kosher salt before grilling. They came out spicy and charred, marrying perfectly with the silky smooth puree of gorgeous pale orange carrots, olive oil, and a splash of cream. The ingredients of this delectable seafood course were minimal but the flavors were deep and complex.

The fourth and final course of Nick’s epic birthday meal was pork tenderloin with ramps and a fava bean and edamame ragout. I marinated the pork in a blend of vegetable oil, soy sauce, Sichuan pepper, Dijon mustard, and tarragon for about four hours, to enhance its inherent pork flavor and promote caramelization. I seared it for a few minutes per side and finished it in a 400-degree oven until it was cooked through but moist. I served thick slices of the pork alongside a ragout of edameme, fava beans, red onion, and mint. Ramps are a very special spring thing that I absolutely love to cook with. Ramps are wild leeks that taste like a cross between green garlic and scallions. I pickled a handful of ramps with cider vinegar, juniper berries, bay leaves, kosher salt, and tellicherry peppercorns. The small bulbs quickly took on the aromatic brine and turned a lovely whitish pink color. The second batch of ramps were sautéed briefly in olive oil until they were just tender. The two ramps were fabulous, serving as a kind of sauce or condiment to the roasted pork tenderloin. I wanted to really wow Nick and our friends with this meal and from the praise my satiated dinners lavished on me when it was over, I think that I succeed. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Dorothy's Birthday Bash

There is no greater honor than hosting a birthday party for a parent. Last weekend was my mother’s birthday and I tried to make it as special as possible. I invited a few of her close friends over for an evening of dinner and drinks with yours truly serving as chef. My father was also present which gave the whole evening a nostalgic familial air as we pleasantly sat together and ate a wonderful meal. I started us out with a platter of bruschetta which I love serving to larger groups because you can just plop it down and let people serve themselves. These bruschetta were made of Pugliese loaf and wheat miche topped with three bean puree and grilled radicchio. I like to start my dinners off with a bang and this tasty app was a big hit; they were eaten up so quickly that I almost did not get to enjoy one myself. Just puree any assortment of canned beans, drained and well rinsed, with a few cloves of garlic and a liberal drizzle of quality olive oil. Season with salt and freshly cracked black pepper and it is ready to eat. I smeared a generous helping of the puree onto some toasted breads and then grilled individual radicchio leaves on a grill pan until they wilted. It is that easy and that delicious.

The second course I served to my mother and her friends in honor of her birthday was my take on pasta primavera, the classic Italian spring dish. Pasta primavera basically refers to any type of noodle dressed with spring vegetables, olive oil, and garlic. This pasta dish consisted of the finest looking vegetables that my local gourmet grocer had on offer last Monday, mainly tight asparagus spears, chard, and an assortment of fresh herbs. I boiled some cavelli, a festive curly noodle, and tossed it with sautéed vegetables in a bacon-cream sauce. I topped the smoky and rich concoction with minced tarragon, parsley, thyme, and dill to give it a radiant burst of freshness. Overall the dish was very well received and our dinner guests were thrilled by the luscious pasta primavera set before them. My mother was happy too, especially the bacon and asparagus aspect which are two of her favorite ingredients.

My favorite desserts are all fruit based and I rarely eat chocolate or baked goods after meals, content to sip on a bitter espresso or digestif. My mother bought a couple baskets of beautiful California strawberries and a slightly unripe mango which we threw together with orange juice and a little sugar. Fresh fruit, seasonal of course, is a great way to end a meal and provide a sweet sensation without excessive preparation or calories. This ambrosial fruit salad was both refreshing and tasty, the perfect way to end a decadent meal lovingly prepared by a son for his mother. Here’s to many more. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Friday Farmer's Market Dinner

My father and I have had some mighty fine meals this week. We have been mostly eating out, taking advantage of the vast restaurant culture that the city has to offer. So far the highlights of my father’s visit have been Momoya and Dovetail, two relatively new restaurants on the Upper West Side of Manhattan with ballooning reputations. I lovingly refer to Momoya as the poor man’s Nobu with excellent Japanese cuisine. The food is excellent and the prices are reasonable with tons of daily sashimi specials and inventive rolls. My favorites are the rock shrimp tempura and the Momoya spicy tuna composed of seared yellow tail and spicy tuna topped with a raspberry reduction and slivered almonds. Dovetail has only been open a year and has quickly blossomed into one of the best seafood restaurants in town. The seven course tasting menu was just insane with dish after dish of intricate preparation and imagination. The salt-baked sea scallop with urchin and kumquat, horseradish panna cotta with house-cured salmon, and halibut confit with morels and nutmeg were all out of this world. Alas one cannot eat out every night of the week, so a couple of days ago my father decided it would be nice to stay in and cook. We had a tasty lunch at the oyster bar at grand central and then hit the union square farmer’s market to plan a menu. I had my eye on some fresh beets and a massive well-marbled pork shoulder from the Queens county farm museum. I ended up doing the bulk of the cooking and threw together a couple of pretty good dishes. The first consisted of balsamic-pickled beets, honeyed goat cheese, and an herb salad. The herb salad contained tarragon, cilantro, parsley, dill, and mint, an absolutely stunning blast of flavor that contrasted nicely with the acidic earthiness of the beets and creamy sweetness of the chevre.

The second course of my Friday night farmer’s market meal was beer braised pork shoulder with Anaheim and adobo chilies. I was looking for a farm raised protein to serve as the main course and the first thing I saw at the busy market was the anatomical chart of a pig. I approached the Queens county farm museum stand and was told that they had recently slaughtered a pig and had an array of fresh cuts available. The young lady in charge recommended the pork shoulder and suggested that I braise it low and slow. I took her counsel to heart and started thinking about what and how to braise the pork with. My father suggested a classic braising liquid of wine, stock, onions, garlic, and herbs. I decided to go with beer in order to deepen the pork flavor with a bitter component and also create a lightly caramelized sauce. After searing the pork shoulder over low heat in a Dutch oven I threw in some sliced onions and whole garlic cloves. I then returned the meat to the pan with a pint of stout and two cups of stock, bringing everything to a simmer. I had some dried Anaheim and adobo chilies that my friend Hope in California sent me so I threw then in with a bay leaf and bouquet garnis of thyme and parsley. The whole thing cooked at 200 degrees for about 3 hours though it could have gone about 5 in order to really fall off the bone. Overall the flavor was there but the meat had to be sliced and then served in the sauce; not the tender almost stew-like texture that I had expected after an extended cooking time. The chilies reconstituted nicely in the richly flavored spicy sauce but the tenderness of the meat was an issue. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Paternal Visit From Paris

My father is visiting this week from Paris and I am thrilled to be able to continue with my recent familial vibe. I spent last weekend upstate at my mother’s farm for the Easter holiday and it is nice to be able to spend another week with my kin. My father periodically comes to the States, either to Los Angeles for business or to New York to wine and dine around town. It is always good eating when he comes to town at some of the best places and I relish the opportunity to try them. As I have mentioned in numerous previous posts, my father is a huge gastronomic influence in my life. He represents the French side of my dual nationality and has been teaching me about French cooking and eating for years. He is an amazing cook and I love to join him in the kitchen with a nice bottle of red churning out delicious meal after delicious meal. For his first night in New York I decided to serve cold barbecued lamb that I brought back from upstate with a few chutneys and mustards. I also prepared a couple of vegetable side dishes to make for a more substantial meal.

The first of the side dishes I whipped up for the dinner in honor of my father’s arrival was stewed lentils. I love lentils of all shapes, sizes, and points of origin and my preferred cooking method is to stew them with onions and fresh herbs. Sometimes I finish the lentils with a mustard-based vinaigrette served warm as a lunch salad or even vegetable main but in this case I served them plain. Lentils are super easy to make and are full of the proteins, fats, and vitamins that legumes have in spades. I sautéed cubed white onion and garlic in olive oil before adding the lentils and some warm beef stock. After about a half hour they were ready to be drained and dressed with olive oil, salt, and pepper. The cold lamb and hot lentils needed a crunchy vegetable to soften their flavors and round out the meal so I thought radish salad.

I prepared a roasted lamb dish a few weeks back paired with black radish slaw and thought that I would give this flavor combination another shot. I sliced a bunch of red radishes with my mandolin to a transparent thinness and tossed them with minced chives, olive oil, and cider vinegar to add acidity and bring out their mustardy flavor. The salad was a hit and went excellently with the cold lamb which to my delight was entirely eaten up. I think my father enjoyed staying in for the first night of his visit exhausted as he was from the long flight from France and welcomed the opportunity to taste some of my recent experiments in the kitchen. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Easter Supper At Red Hen Farm

It has truly been a lovely and above all relaxing couple of days at my mother’s farm spent dyeing Ukrainian eggs and reading. My mother has certainly enjoyed the company and Valerie and I have had a blast playing with the horses, doing odd chores around the property, and of course cooking and eating. Easter dinner is probably my most beloved holiday meal because it heavily features spring ingredients and there is not a de facto formula for what is to be served. Easter supper is not a set in stone thing like Thanksgiving turkey and Christmas goose; one can cook a lamb or ham and serve any number of side dishes and desserts. I love Easter for its flexibility and gustatory possibilities welcoming innovation in the kitchen. This year was an Easter meal that I have never experienced before using classic elements prepared in new and interesting ways to create a really unique holiday meal. The menu consisted of a barbecued leg of lamb, spinach pancakes, frisée and mache salad, fennel gratin, and an array of desserts.

The principal dish of the meal was leg of lamb; an Easter and spring staple that is easily one of my favorite proteins to cook for its gamey flavor and incredible tenderness. My uncle Hitch brought the lamb down from a small farm in Ithaca, butchered off the bone to leave a thick hunk of meat with a deep violet color. I have had lamb at Hitch’s place a few times and the meat is always perfectly cooked through with a rose pink center and beautifully charred crust. For our Easter lamb he simply marinated the meat in olive oil and rosemary for about an hour while we heated the coals under the grill on the porch. I have never barbecued lamb, except patties for lamb burgers, and Hitch had not either so we were both winging it. My mother had collected a bunch of apple wood that had been trimmed from her trees and dried in the garage so we added it to the hot coals. We salted the meat just before cooking and slapped it on the grill for about 35 minutes, turning it a few times. The outside was charred with great woodsy aroma and the meat was rare with just a hint of rosemary flavor running throughout. It was absolutely stunning and I am embarrassed by how much I put down, especially alongside the two wonderful side dishes.

Spinach pancakes are something that I would never have thought to make or even order at a restaurant. As we began to organize the meal, my mother pulled out an old newspaper clipping about the Korean spinach pancakes that we were to have for supper. Vegetable pancakes, or hash browns when made with winter root vegetables or starches, are good eats indeed. I love summer corn fritters piping hot in the sunshine with a little melted butter and honey so who was to say that spinach pancakes would not instill the same culinary pleasure. Dorothy simply sautéed the spinach in olive oil and garlic and then drained off all the excess water. She then prepared a simple batter with buttermilk, flour, egg, baking powder, and spinach to cook on a hot griddle pan. Despite my initial shock and pessimism I thought they were really quite tasty. The spinach pancakes brought an interesting texture to the party that served as an ideal counterpoint to the lamb.

Hitch was the fennel man at Easter, making an Italian raw fennel salad for lunch and then a tasty baked fennel dish to accompany the grilled lamb leg for dinner. He boiled thick slices of fennel until fork tender and then baked them in a buttered earthenware dish topped with cream, a little flour for thickener, and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. The dish was absolutely scrumptious; both nutty and creamy with hints of licorice fennel flavor. All in all it was a very successful Easter supper on Red Hen Farm with plenty of tender grilled lamb, toothsome side dishes, and perfectly drinkable wines to go around. Everyone in attendance had a lovely time and I know it certainly felt great to be surrounded by such wonderful friends and family. I look forward to next year and the continued warm weather as spring finally rears its aromatic floral head. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Ukrainian Eggs

For as long as I can remember Ukrainian eggs, or pysanky, have heralded the Easter holiday. My mother and her brother Hitch have been making these decorative dyed eggs since their childhood in Minnesota. The story goes that one day my grandmother brought home a Ukrainian egg starter kit and it rapidly became a family tradition that my mother has passed to her children. My brother is a terrific egg maker and I have been trying to best him in the symbolic art of pysanka to no avail. This was the first time Valerie has made Ukrainian Easter eggs and I think she really enjoyed it. In fact after her first egg, which she unfortunately dropped, she was looking like a pro. Pysanky are whole raw eggs that have been decorated with a wax-resist batik method where one draws those portions of the design that you want to remain in that color. The necessary equipment is the kistka, a small hollow funnel attached to a stick used to paint with, a piece of beeswax, a candle, and of course the colored dyes. Beeswax is scooped into the kistka and heated in a candle flame to be applied to the white egg; any bit of shell covered with wax would be sealed and remain white. Then the eggs are dyed any color, moving progressively from light to dark as more wax is applied. After the egg is completed and dipped it into its final color, the wax is removed by holding the egg next to a candle to gently melt and wipe it away.

Although I was taught exclusively about the history and traditional patterns of Ukrainian Easter eggs, many other eastern European ethnic groups including the Belorussians, Bulgarians, Serbs, Czechs, Lithuanians, Poles and Romanians decorate eggs in a similar manner. We have a couple of books on pysanky and my friend Nick, who is a really talented egg maker, used to read passages aloud as we sat around the table decorating by candlelight. Each province, village, and almost every family in the Ukraine has its unique cultural symbols and meanings that they applied to the dyeing of eggs. These customs were preserved faithfully and passed down from mother to daughter through generations, as was the case with my family. My mother has eggs dating back to her childhood, shellacked and preserved through time as the inner yolk desiccates, leaving the decorative shell intact. These are a really cool way to spend time with family making gorgeous festive eggs that are more akin to folk art than the hard boiled and cheaply dyed eggs characteristic of Easter. Check it out online and get yourself a pysanky starter kit next April, I guarantee that you will have a blast. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Frittata And Fennel Salad

My Uncle Hitch and very good friend Nick arrived from Ithaca yesterday to celebrate Easter with us on the farm. I have not seen the two of them since my last trip up there and it was great to see them, especially for a food driven holiday bonanza. My mother and Valerie went to church in the morning so I was left to prepare lunch and welcome our guests. I rarely cook on my own in my mom’s spacious kitchen, serving as more of a sous chef or bystander. I thought I would make something simple and relatively light for an early lunch and after perusing the refrigerator I found a ton of fresh eggs collected that morning from the chicken coop and some bacon. There were also a bunch of good-looking vegetables including bell pepper, scallions, and potatoes. I decided to make a frittata or Spanish tortilla; a thick fluffy omelet sliced in wedges almost like a quiche commonly served in tapas joints. Tortillas can be made with any combination of vegetables, meats, or cheeses and I went with what I had on hand. I simply sautéed the veggies in a large cast-iron, tossed in crumbled bacon and about eight eggs, and finished it under the broiler with some parmesan. The frittata ended up being quite tasty and paired excellently with the crisp chardonnay we were drinking.

The second dish of our lunch was a fennel salad inspired by Hitch’s recent trip to Rome. He was describing some of the fantastic meals he had out there, showcasing the use of incredibly fresh ingredients prepared simply, the essence of Italian cuisine. Hitch prepared the salad by tossing thinly sliced fennel with lemon juice, olive oil, and kosher salt, letting the ingredients speak for themselves without excessive ornamentation. The light licorice flavor of the raw fennel married well with the citrus and good Italian olive oil making a refreshing salad. I love raw vegetable salads, which are both good to eat and good for you and this was a real delight, a dish I will be making again as spring gets into full bloom. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

BLT Sandwich

Being upstate with my mother always sends my mind (and stomach) wandering down memory lane, remembering the tastes, textures, and times of my childhood in Los Angeles. My parents are both wonderful chefs in their own right but my father was the one that predominantly held court over the kitchen. Whenever she cooked Dorothy would delight my brother, sister, and me with classic American fare derived from the notebooks and index cards left by our grandmother. She also whips up an incredible Indian spread that takes three full days to prepare, a real treat when it happens. Of the many dishes that evoke home and my mom’s cooking, BLT and grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato soup are high on the list. I remember tons of lazy weekend lunches composed of a half sandwich and a small bowl of hot soup enjoyed on a rainy Sunday for example. Even though BLTs are incredibly simple to prepare, my mother’s were always the best, loaded with crisp bacon, fresh romaine, sliced tomato, and mayo. What could be better? I woke up yesterday craving bacon and decided to have an early lunch of BLTs and limeade. I recently discovered limeade and man is it good but that’s another story. I used fresh rye and caraway bread that my mom made to give my BLT a gourmet element and tons of bacon cooked well-done. Before I knew it I was enjoying a fantastic sandwich while remembering the meals of my youth. It is important to have foods that remind you of home, family, and friends and this simple sandwich is one of those nostalgic dishes. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Sliders & Cupcakes Upstate

Easter is a holiday best spent in the company of family and friends; an excuse to get together and just laze about whether decorating eggs, eating and drinking, or going to church. Valerie and I decided to drive up to my mother’s charming place in the Catskills dubbed Red Hen Farm for a long Easter weekend. It is wonderful to spend time up here, getting out of the urban bustle of the city in favor of the tranquility of the picturesque countryside. This is truly the perfect place to celebrate Easter, profit from the beauty of early spring, and of course enjoy delicious meals. Last night was our first of the long weekend and I was a little shocked though excited about the menu she had planned; sliders with onion rings and red velvet cupcakes. My mother made little patties out of ground chuck for a dinner party recently and had a few leftover in the fridge that she thawed and pan seared. She then laid out an array of sliced vegetables, condiments, and cheeses so that each person could prepare his or her own slider. The first slider I had, photographed on the left, was topped with Jasper Hill blue cheese, romaine lettuce, ketchup, and stone-ground mustard. The zestiness of the blue cheese reminiscent of French Roquefort paired well with the beef and mustard, a really tasty burger if I may say. My second slider had curried mayonnaise, (a dip my mother has been making for decades which is one of the best things ever), sliced tomato, farmhouse cheddar, and red onion.

Onion rings are another bar or diner classic that I love though I have never attempted to make them at home so I was excited about watching my mother fry them up. These onion rings and fried cauliflower were light and crisp with an airy batter which browned up nicely in vegetable oil. The batter was almost like a tempura batter with few ingredients and a lot of air to evenly coat the sliced onion and cauliflower florets. The problem I have with crappy onion rings is that the onion inside overly dense batter gets soggy, losing the characteristic bite and texture of fresh onion. These onion rings were delicately crisp on the outside and just cooked through inside, addictively good dipped in a little ketchup or curried mayonnaise. Now I know that delicious onion rings can be pulled off at home with a little know how and the bravado to do so.

The dessert, as if we needed one after all that fried food, was red velvet cupcakes. My mother whipped these tasty dark red confections from scratch, following Paula Dean’s recipe from the Lady and Sons cookbook. Her frosting was a classic cream cheese and melted marshmallow blend spread thickly over the crown of each cupcake then topped with toasted coconut and a white jellybean. The little Easter cupcakes resembled a bed of straw with a freshly laid chicken egg, both festive and delicious which my mother accomplishes in spades. More to come from Red Hen Farm over the next few days and as always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Stormy Monday Breakfast

Poached eggs are a delectable treat indeed though they seem somehow beyond the reach of an amateur cook or home kitchen. This was in fact my view of the light, beautifully cooked, delicate clouds that are poached eggs. I recently made a French bistro classic with frisee, crispy lardons, and a poached egg which prompted me to discover how to poach at home. Like any self-respecting twenty something raised in the technological era, I began to madly Google away. I quickly compiled twelve separate links to detailed how-to-poach sites and experimented with a few different methods. I had it nailed after three eggs after trying to achieve the right runniness for my frisee salad last week. I woke up this past Monday to a stormy early spring haze of rain and dense humidity spliced with the occasional thunderclap. I knew it was going to be a breakfast of whatever I had in the fridge and thankfully there was ample bread and my mother’s farm fresh eggs. I am not saying that I am already a pro, but let’s just say that I had two large eggs poached to airy bliss in a matter of minutes. Here is what I suggest if you want to perfectly poach an egg at home: Set a deep skillet or wide mouthed pan filled with 3 inches of water to a boil, covered. When the water boils, remove lid and add white vinegar and salt. Crack the eggs into individual teacups then submerge the lip of each individual cup into the water, letting each delicately flow out. Cover immediately, turn off the heat, and let stand for 3 minutes.

To complete my stormy Monday breakfast, I placed two perfectly poached eggs over two large pieces of French country bread and cracked my most recent Internet find for a taste. I was surfing online culinary magazines and daily email sites two weeks ago and stumbled across a gastronomic oddity that people were raving about; bacon jam. Jam. Made from bacon. I was impressed and definitely had to try it. I ordered myself a little tin of bacon jam, which they claim is delicious on pancakes, and could not wait to try it. My Monday breakfast was the ripe moment to taste the delicious yet bizarre pork condiment full of bacony flavor, nice smoke, and a mellow spiced sweetness. It was especially good spread liberally on the toast supporting one of the eggs; a nest built for a queen in my opinion. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

A Moroccan Style Meal

Last night I invited a few college friends that live in the city over for dinner and drinks. The past two weeks have been very nostalgic due to a sudden wave of college buddies passing through New York. Last night was very much in this vein, an especially wistful evening because my friends Shawna and Jessica had not seen each other since graduation. I was so pleased to provide the forum for their reunion and thrilled for the opportunity to finally cook for Shawna. I thought it would be interesting to present and serve dinner Moroccan style with dishes shared mutually mirroring the food I encountered during my travels around North Africa. When I was fourteen I went on a ten-day tour of Morocco with my two best friends and our mothers. It is hard to imagine three women touring an Arabic country with three young boys without a male escort but we did just that and had a great time doing it. We ate wonderful dishes like tagine and couscous, pastilla, and whole-roasted goat perfumed with all sorts of spices and native ingredients. The first of the trio of appetizers I prepared inspired by my time there was herbed ricotta with olive oil, oregano, parsley, and chives. Creamy fresh ricotta has a mild flavor that pairs excellently with flavorings, condiments, and seasonings like fresh herbs. The second appetizer was Italian hummus or white bean puree. Cannelloni beans are absolutely amazing blended with olive oil and garlic into a smooth puree with a luscious texture. The third was a blend of French and Tunisian olives symbolic of the culinary links between North Africa and France, one of the many lasting effects of colonialism. I served the three small dishes with tons of crispy crostini; a baguette thinly sliced and baked in the oven.

The main course was also inspired by the pungent and exotic flavors characteristic of Moroccan cuisine. I roasted a boneless leg of lamb stuffed with garlic and seasoned liberally with salt, pepper, and a touch of turmeric. To add another dimension of Moroccan flavor I made a yogurt dressing with ground cumin and chopped mint drizzled over the sliced meat; a refreshing sauce that dimmed down the gamey flavor of the lamb. The first side dish was a black radish slaw tossed with Dijon and cider vinaigrette boasting a powerful kick reminiscent of horseradish and hot mustard. The second side dish was French lentils simmered with shallots and beef stock intended to deepen their woody flavor. Overall the meal was quite a success though the white bean puree was the clear favorite. The plan was to reconnect with old friends and the Moroccan style presentation reinforced that commensal vibe. When you have people that you have not seen in a while a central plate is exactly what you want; good food shared communally with good friends. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Bistro Classics

I have no idea why but I have recently been reminiscing a ton about France. This may be because I have not visited Paris in a few months or the fact that the price of Roquefort will be skyrocketing soon. There are a lot of things to miss about France, though I think the food and the magic that is Gallic commensality top my list. I sheepishly admit the all-to-frequent cravings for a gritty bistro steak au poivre, as cliché as it sounds, with an over dressed salad and stale baguette. Ah yes, the timeless bistro grub found across the octagon from the smallest village to the capital herself. A tall glass of vin du jour usually makes the meal go down a little easier and you simply cannot recreate the café life of Paris though many restaurants strive to. Steak au poivre can be ordered, eaten, and enjoyed in any self-respecting French restaurant and other classics can be pulled off with relative ease in the hands of a capable cook. At times when I feel nostalgic it is fun to cook up some truly froggy dishes that transport me to the smoke filled (this is a dated vision of the city of lights) café or bistro. While riding the train back up to my apartment earlier this evening I was struck by a sudden vision of a crisp frisee salad packed with lardons, topped with a poached egg. I set about realizing my epiphanous dinner at once, using bacon instead of the French lardons which are a bit harder to get a hold of. Lardons are small pieces of pork fat that taste like glorified bacon. They add a distinctly rich, salty flavor to food and are also used to lard meat in a roast to help keep it moist throughout cooking. I would say that I hit the mark with my frisee salad, effectively voyaging across the Atlantic for a fleeting culinary moment through this bistro favorite. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Frisee, Lardons, And Poached Egg Salad
Serves 4

1 Large head of Frisee (about 4 C.), separated, washed, and drained
1/2 C. Lardons or 6 strips of thick cut Bacon
1 Tbs. White Vinegar
4 Eggs
1 Tbs. Whole grain Mustard
1 Tsp. Sherry or Cider Vinegar
2 Tbs. Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper

1. Place frisee in a large bowl. Set a deep skillet or wide mouthed pan filled with 3 inches of water to a boil, covered, over high heat.
2. Heat a medium skillet over medium heat and render lardons or bacon until crispy. Remove from heat, drain well, and set aside.
3. Whisk together cider and mustard until emulsified then drizzle in olive oil while stirring vigorously. Season vinaigrette with salt and pepper and set aside.
4. When the water boils, remove lid and add white vinegar and salt. Crack eggs into four individual bowls, teacups, or ramekins. Submerge the lip of each individual egg dish into boiling water, letting each egg delicately set in the water. Cover immediately, turn off the heat, and let stand for 2.5 to 3 minutes.
5. While the eggs are poaching, quickly toss frisee and bacon with vinaigrette and arrange on individual plates. Top each salad with a poached egg and serve immediately.