Apple Cider Sauce

I have been getting a lot of requests recently for sauces.  They aren’t so much as requests, but more like pleas for help.  Help me!  Flavor balance, thickening, getting it right… how do I do it?  My answer, in my humble opinion, is that it’s complicated.  Unfortunately there is no formula for sauces.  Each sauce is specific, unique, and requires its own discipline.

Sauces are difficult, complicated, and require a tremendous amount of skill and experience.  Please remember, sauces are technique driven!  They take practice and patience.  In the beginning, it’s easier to make reductions than making truly composed sauces.  For example, reduce 1/2 gallon of orange juice to a syrup, add honey, rosemary, swirl in a couple of pieces of butter you have a very simple orange/rosemary sauce, perfect for fish or light chicken sautes.

So, to simplify things, the best route for making a sauce is to have a plan.  A battle plan.  Determine what your end result should be, and make a plan to get there.  And keep it simple.  A simple reduction.  Simple ingredients.  A few basic flavors that classically work.  Being that it’s fall now, I am going to go through a simple apple cider sauce, that seems to work with a lot of dishes.  It’s only a couple of reductions, easy ingredients, and hard to get wrong.  This sauce really works best with roast chicken or roast pork, but will also fit with beef or other red meats.

Apple Cider and Cinnamon Sauce

Prep time:  2 minutes
Cook time:  about 45 minutes
Yield:  1/2 cup finished sauce

Ingredients:

1/2 gallon local unfiltered apple cider
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 cinnamon sticks
2 tbsp heavy cream
1 tbsp whole unsalted butter, cold
1 cup homemade chicken stock

Method:

In a medium sized non-reactive sauce pot, begin reducing the cider with the cinnamon sticks.  Reduce until almost thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.  Remove the cinnamon sticks and add the vinegar.  Return to a boil and add the chicken stock.  Again, reduce until slightly thick. Add the heavy cream and reduce until just thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.  Remove from the heat and swirl in the butter.  This finishes the sauce and gives it a little more richness.

The sauce is now ready.  Best served with roast pork or chicken.

Enjoy.

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Slow Roasted King Salmon with Golden Borscht Sauce and Dill

It’s been a while now since I last posted a blog.  Summer has come to a subtle end in southern California,

and I’ve had the privilege to spend some time back in New England, where life seems to make sense in some way.  I feel torn, and the home I know resides in the old streets and beautiful waterfront landscapes that shape the city that I swore I’d never return to.  I’ve been gone for a while now, and returning was like breathing again.  Life is back in me, and I feel surprisingly inspired and confused at the same time.  Of course, Los Angeles is my home now, and I won’t be leaving any time soon, but spending time back east was good.  Very good.  And it made me think about the seasons, more so than before.  As a chef, seasons are important.  To people, the change of the seasons are so important.  In southern California, summer is still in full swing, but in Boston, it’s a different story.  Fall is in the air, and my mind (as a chef of course) is turning to fall dishes.  It’s time to hunker down, build a fire, open a wonderful red wine, watch the Pats and love food.  To be inspired affects everything we do, and right now, I feel like giving you a wonderful recipe.  It’s an inspired fall dish.  Not classic, not traditional, but completely in the spirit of fall.

To be honest, I don’t particularly care for many of the heavy eastern European dishes.  I find them to be just that: heavy.  Heavy and bland.  In particular, I’d like to single out borscht.  I have never liked borscht.  Red beets cooked in a beef stock garnished with- that’s right- more beets.  Add cabbage, potatoes and sour cream, and you have a traditional eastern European meal.  But so many people love it.  I have to wonder, what can I do to make it mine?  How can I transform it into something I like?  And if I make it into something I like, how do I make it into something I love?  So, since this post is about inspiration, let’s call this an inspired borscht.  A dish for those of us who don’t particularly care for the heavy crimson dish that borscht traditionally is.

This borscht is made from golden beets, fennel, sour dough bread and aromatics.  It’s light, sweet, complex in flavor and absurdly delicious.  The flavors come from proper cooking techniques, proper development of flavor, great ingredients, and a great concept.  I love to serve this with slow roasted king salmon and garnish with dill and salmon roe.  The flavors by themselves are dynamite, and together it’s nothing short of spectacular.  This borscht is exceptional.  And easy, which is important.  You will find it’s enjoyable to make.  It’s not as heavy as traditional borscht, and you will probably want to have some bread or starch on the side, unless you’re going light.  It’s a gem of a dish, and I hope you like it as much as I do.

Slow Roasted King Salmon with Golden Borscht Sauce and Dill

Prep time:  10 minutes
Cook time:  appox 1 hr
Inactive cook time:  1 hr
Yield:  4 portions


Ingredients:

For the Borsch:

5 medium to small golden beets, trimmed of any leaves and washed
1 tbsp unsalted butter
kosher salt
fine ground black pepper
3 sprigs fresh thyme
2 tbsp granulated sugar
1 medium sweet onion, peeled and rough chopped
1/2 rib celery, rough chop
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/3 cup day old torn sour dough or crusty french bread, torn or cut into pieces
1 tsp apple vinegar
1 small carrot, peeled, rough chop
splash of white wine
1 bulb fennel, core removed, thin julienne
3 cups vegetable stock

For the Salmon:

4 6-7oz pieces wild king salmon, skin on
2 tbsp unsalted butter, room temp
3 springs fresh thyme, leaves only, fine chop
kosher salt
vegetable oil
black pepper

Garnish:

Several sprigs of fresh dill
4 tbsp fresh salmon roe

Method: (make the borscht and thyme butter first)

For the Salmon:

Work the thyme and butter together to make a compound butter.  Let sit 1 hour in a cool spot in the kitchen.  Heat an oven to 400.  Liberally season the salmon with salt, pepper and a small amount of vegetable oil.  In either a cast iron pan, or heavy bottom oven safe pan, begin heating the oil over medium high heat.  When hot, slide the salmon into the pan, skin side down.  Cook until skin begins to crisp, place the thyme butter on top of the salmon and transfer the pan to the oven.  Cook for about 10 minutes, or until the salmon is still slightly pink but warm on the inside.  Remove the salmon from the pan and let rest for about 3 minutes.

For the Borscht:

Begin by cooking the beets.  Place the beets in a small sauce pot and cover with water by about 1 inch.  Add the butter, thyme, a heavy pinch of salt and the sugar.  Simmer until fork tender.  Remove the beets, let cool, peel and cut into quarters.  Meanwhile, reduce the cooking liquid by 2/3, add the vegetable stock to the pot and reduce by another 1/3.  Strain the liquid and reserve, keeping hot.

In a large sauce pot, begin sweating the onion, carrot, celery and fennel in the vegetable oil.  Season lightly with salt and pepper.  Continue cooking until the onions and fennel are translucent and begin to smell sweet.  Add the splash of wine and let cook until almost dry.   Add the beets and the reserved stock and bring to a low boil.  Cook for 10 minutes, and then add the bread and vinegar.  Cook for another 10 minutes.  Turn the heat off.  Let sit for 20 minutes.

In batches, puree the soup in a bar blender, making sure it’s as smooth as possible.  Do not strain.  Return the soup to a clean pot, bring back to a very low simmer, and adjust the seasoning with salt, pepper, and sugar if necessary.  The flavor should be sweet, vibrant and very complex.  Reserve.

To finish:

Ladle the borscht evenly into the bottom of 4 hot shallow pasta bowls.  Place 1 piece of salmon into the center of each bowl, slightly submerged in the borscht, skin side up.  On top of each piece of salmon, directly in the middle, spoon 1 tbsp of the salmon roe.  Garnish the caviar with dill.  Serve right away.

Best served with sour cream on the side.

Enjoy.

Pumpkin and Spice Ice Cream

Of course, it’s still roasting in Los Angeles right now.  It’s our hottest time of year; no rain since May, no end

in sight.  And yet, the signs of fall, though subtle, are there.  Kids back in school, days getting shorter, the air acquiring a ‘dry’ and hot smell.  Like the season is struggling, and dying soon.  I can’t help but think of New England in the fall.  This time of year the nights become cooler, the smell of dry crab grass fills the air, and apple picking has started.  Everyone gets excited about the changing of the seasons.  It’s a wonderful time of year.  

Naturally, we turn our palettes away from the sweet but finicky summer treats, such as peaches, and toward the heartier and earthier fall ingredients.  Like apples.  Like pumpkins.  Pumpkins are one of my favorites.  Roasted and mixed with spices, pumpkins embody everything wonderful about fall in New England.  Cinnamon, sugar, allspice, nutmeg, vanilla, cloves… you can almost smell it.  Like a Yankee Candle filling and warming the house with bliss.

I also think desserts made with pumpkin and spices are destined for success.  One of my more successful posts was pumpkin bread pudding http://chefnotebook.blogspot.com/2012/10/pumpkin-bread-pudding-with-white.html which I still love.  The smell of the cooking pudding is almost better than the taste.

So, now, taking a slight turn, let’s talk about putting those magic pumpkin and spice flavors into an ice cream.  Served over apple pie, pumpkin ice cream could be one of the best things in the world.  It takes a little patience, and requires an ice cream machine, but it’s worth it.

This is really a basic French-style ice cream recipe (cooked ice cream) with pumpkin, spices and brown sugar instead of white granulated sugar.  You will need to ‘temper’ the eggs, which is an easy process of adding hot cream to eggs while whipping, bringing them to an even temperature without cooking the eggs.  The process is quite easy, and the results speak for themselves.  Side note:  this is not my recipe, but adapted from someone else.  But I’ve made it, and can’t think of any way to make it better.

Pumpkin and Spice Ice Cream

Prep time:  20 minutes
Cooking time:  about 45 minutes
Non-active cooking time:  3 hrs
Yield: 1 qt

Ingredients:

1 cup fresh pumpkin puree or canned  unsweetened pumpkin puree1 tsp. vanilla extract2 cups heavy cream3/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar5 egg yolks1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon1/2 tsp. ground ginger
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
1 Tbs. bourbon
1/4 tsp. salt

Method:

In a bowl, whisk together the pumpkin puree and vanilla. Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours or up to 8 hours.

In a heavy 2-quart saucepan over medium heat, combine 1 1/2 cups of the cream and 1/2 cup of the brown sugar. Cook until bubbles form around the edges of the pan, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a bowl, combine the egg yolks, cinnamon, ginger, salt, nutmeg, the remaining 1/2 cup cream and the remaining 1/4 cup brown sugar. Whisk until smooth and the sugar begins to dissolve.

Remove the cream mixture from the heat. Gradually whisk about 1/2 cup of the hot cream mixture into the egg mixture until smooth. Pour the egg mixture back into the pan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon and keeping the custard at a low simmer, until it is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon and leaves a clear trail when a finger is drawn through it, 4 to 6 minutes. Do not allow the custard to boil. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl.

Place the bowl in a larger bowl partially filled with ice water, stirring occasionally until cool. Whisk the pumpkin mixture into the custard. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing it directly on the surface of the custard to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until chilled, at least 3 hours or up to 24 hours.

Transfer the custard to an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Add the bourbon during the last minute of churning. Transfer the ice cream to a freezer-safe container. Cover and freeze until firm, at least 3 hours or up to 3 days, before serving. Makes about 1 quart.
In a heavy 2-quart saucepan over medium heat, combine 1 1/2 cups of the cream and 1/2 cup of the brown sugar. Cook until bubbles form around the edges of the pan, about 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a bowl, combine the egg yolks, cinnamon, ginger, salt, nutmeg, the remaining 1/2 cup cream and the remaining 1/4 cup brown sugar. Whisk until smooth and the sugar begins to dissolve.

Remove the cream mixture from the heat. Gradually whisk about 1/2 cup of the hot cream mixture into the egg mixture until smooth. Pour the egg mixture back into the pan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon and keeping the custard at a low simmer, until it is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon and leaves a clear trail when a finger is drawn through it, 4 to 6 minutes. Do not allow the custard to boil. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl.

Place the bowl in a larger bowl partially filled with ice water, stirring occasionally until cool. Whisk the pumpkin mixture into the custard. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing it directly on the surface of the custard to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until chilled, at least 3 hours or up to 24 hours.

Transfer the custard to an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Add the bourbon during the last minute of churning. Transfer the ice cream to a freezer-safe container. Cover and freeze until firm, at least 3 hours or up to 3 days, before serving. Makes about 1 quart.
Meanwhile, in a bowl, combine the egg yolks, cinnamon, ginger, salt, nutmeg, the remaining 1/2 cup cream and the remaining 1/4 cup brown sugar. Whisk until smooth and the sugar begins to dissolve.
Remove the cream mixture from the heat. Gradually whisk about 1/2 cup of the hot cream mixture into the egg mixture until smooth. Pour the egg mixture back into the pan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon and keeping the custard at a low simmer, until it is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon and leaves a clear trail when a finger is drawn through it, 4 to 6 minutes. Do not allow the custard to boil. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl.

Place the bowl in a larger bowl partially filled with ice water, stirring occasionally until cool. Whisk the pumpkin mixture into the custard. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing it directly on the surface of the custard to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until chilled, at least 3 hours or up to 24 hours.

Transfer the custard to an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Add the bourbon during the last minute of churning. Transfer the ice cream to a freezer-safe container. Cover and freeze until firm, at least 3 hours or up to 3 days, before serving. Makes about 1 quart.
Remove the cream mixture from the heat. Gradually whisk about 1/2 cup of the hot cream mixture into the egg mixture until smooth. Pour the egg mixture back into the pan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon and keeping the custard at a low simmer, until it is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon and leaves a clear trail when a finger is drawn through it, 4 to 6 minutes. Do not allow the custard to boil. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl.
Place the bowl in a larger bowl partially filled with ice water, stirring occasionally until cool. Whisk the pumpkin mixture into the custard. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing it directly on the surface of the custard to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until chilled, at least 3 hours or up to 24 hours.

Transfer the custard to an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Add the bourbon during the last minute of churning. Transfer the ice cream to a freezer-safe container. Cover and freeze until firm, at least 3 hours or up to 3 days, before serving. Makes about 1 quart.
Place the bowl in a larger bowl partially filled with ice water, stirring occasionally until cool. Whisk the pumpkin mixture into the custard. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing it directly on the surface of the custard to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until chilled, at least 3 hours or up to 24 hours.
Transfer the custard to an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Add the bourbon during the last minute of churning. Transfer the ice cream to a freezer-safe container. Cover and freeze until firm, at least 3 hours or up to 3 days, before serving. Makes about 1 quart.
Transfer the custard to an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Add the bourbon during the last minute of churning. Transfer the ice cream to a freezer-safe container. Cover and freeze until firm, at least 3 hours or up to 3 days, before serving. Makes about 1 quart.

Best Served with warm apple pie.

Enjoy.

Lemon Grilled Asparagus with Tarragon Hollandaise and Coddled Eggs

We cook for the love of cooking.  It’s a hobby, a passion, a calling… whatever you want to call it, it’s a person thing and it’s an art.  It’s an escape.  We like to feed other people (and ourselves), like to make other people happy, but most of all, we love to cook for ourselves.  The craft of cooking is different, and to be discussed another time.  The art of cooking is the bedrock of what we do.  Art is expression.  Art is passion.  Art is our release, our grip away from reality, our creative outlet.  Imagine what you can do with a few simple ingredients.  Imagine the result, the beauty in your food.  Be creative.  Express yourself.  Your food is art, and it’s part of you, and no one can make it exactly the same as you.  You will not make the food in this blog as I do, as I cannot make your food just how you do.  You embody yourself in your art, and no one can replicate it.

All of that being said, I think we can agree on a few things.  One, culinary arts is in fact an art.  Two, sometimes you don’t have time to make masterpieces of food.  Like on a Monday night when you’re tired and take our sounds great.  BUT, sometimes you do.  Sometimes it’s the right thing to do.  Sometimes you need to escape into the ingredients, seeing the project to its delicious fruition.  Sometimes a complicated project is just what you need to put your mind at ease and find the zen you’ve been looking for.

I’d like to think the following recipe is one of those recipes.  The ingredients are simple.  The techniques are not difficult.  But there are a lot of steps, each one requiring a high attention to detail and high level of culinary awareness.  It’s not a beginner’s recipe, and the end result will be proof enough.

It’s also nothing new.  This isn’t re-inventing the wheel.  This recipe is a time honored classic pairing that you would find on good menus in the spring, or high end restaurants during Sunday brunches.  Asparagus, lemon, eggs, hollandaise… classic, and classic for a reason.  It’s delicious, and IF you can make this, IF you have the patience, IF you feel the passion and want to be part of it, you and your guests will be rewarded.  It’s a great dish, a spring dish good any time of year, and I hope that one of these days you will be inspired to try it.

Lemon Grilled Asparagus with Tarragon Hollandaise and Coddled Eggs

Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time:  45 minutes
Yield:  3 large portions

Ingredients:

1 bunch jumbo asparagus, peeled and trimmed
3 jumbo organic eggs
2 egg yolks
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 cups sweet white wine
2 sprigs tarragon
1 shallot, rough chop
1cup clarified butter, melted
zest of 2 lemons
extra virgin olive oil
dash of cayenne pepper
2 tbsp white vinegar
1 sprig of tarragon, leaves only, fine chop
kosher salt
black pepper

Method:

Fill a medium sized heavy bottomed stock pot 3/4 with water.  Salt heavily.  Have an ice bath ready.  Bring to a rapid boil, submerge the asparagus and cook until barely al dente.  This will take 45 sec to 1 minutes.  Remove the asparagus from the boiling water and plunge directly into the ice water.  Let cool completely.  Remove the asparagus from the water, pat dry and reserve.

In a small non-reactive heavy bottom sauce pan, begin reducing the wine with the lemon juice, shallot and tarragon.  Reduce by 3/4.  Remove from the heat and strain.  Place a metal mixing down over a shallow pot of simmering water.  In the mixing bowl, add the egg yolks and wine reduction.  Using a balloon wire whisk, begin whipping.  It will initially appear frothy and disorganized.  Be persistent.  As it begins to thicken and heat up, whisk for 30 seconds over the simmering water, 30 seconds away from the simmering water.  This will prevent you from cooking the eggs.  You will know it’s ready when it gets to the ‘ribbon’ stage, or when you run the whisk through the ‘sabayon’, it leaves thickened ribbons behind.  Turn off the water.  Gently and slowly pour the butter into the sabayon, while continuously whisking.   it should be thick and slightly airy.  Season with salt, pepper and the cayenne.  Add the chopped tarragon.  Reserve in a moderately warm place, covered.

Fill a small heavy bottomed sauce pan half way with water.  Add 2 tbsp white vinegar and a liberal amount of salt.  Bring to a simmer.  Stir the water to create a small vortex.  Crack the eggs and drop them into the moving water, one at a time.  Let the water come back to a simmer and cook for approx 30 seconds, and then turn the water off completely.  Let sit for a couple minutes.  You want the whites to be barely set, and the yolks to be runny.  You can hold the eggs in the warm water until ready to serve.

Heat a grill to high heat.  Coat the asparagus with a small amount of oil (too much will cause a flare-up which lends a jet-fuel flavor and ugly black finish to the asparagus), the lemon zest, salt and pepper.  Grill until slightly charred.

Divide the asparagus among three warm plates.  Remove the eggs from the warm water with a slotted spoon, blot dry with a paper towel, and place one egg on top of each bundle of asparagus.  Spoon the sauce over the top and elegantly around the plate.

Serve right away.

Please note, a lot of chefs like to add Parma ham, Speck ham or prosciutto to the asparagus.  While delicious (and it is!) I don’t because the dominant and salty flavor of the ham will drastically change the dish, and I want the delicate flavors underneath to come through.  But, by all means, if you like the way it sounds, go for it, it will still make for a great dish!

Enjoy.

Grilled Lobster Tails with Yuzu Butter

Compound butters are one of the most under-rated powerhouses in the culinary world.  They seem to have

faded a long time ago, as titans of the past; old world cuisine that has outdated itself.  In my humble opinion, it’s time to re-embrace what they can do for us.

Just to clarify, a compound butter is butter mixed with something.  Anything.  Mix butter with parsley and you’ve created parsley butter.  Mix butter with roasted garlic and you have garlic butter.  Garlic/sage butters are typical for prepping turkeys for Thanksgiving.  Tomato butter, shrimp butter, citrus butter… you can make anything you want, but the trick is to make something with a specific purpose in mind.  Citrus butter might be wonderful for finishing a seafood saute.  Tomato butter might be great for finishing a pesto pasta dish.  Shellfish butter for finishing your favorite scampi.  They add richness and an abundance of flavor to so many dishes.  Shellfish risotto finished with uni butter… heaven.

Lobster and butter are one of those rare perfect matches that exist in this culinary world of ours.  Lobster dipped in butter is standard fare at any lobster shack, and any additional flavor you add is welcome.  For this  particular dish, I’d like to highlight one of my favorite Asian citruses: Yuzu.  Yuzu is native to southeast Asia, and is mostly associated with Japanese cuisine.  It resembles a small grapefruit and the flavor is somewhat of a cross between a lime, bitter orange and grapefruit.  It’s unique enough to be remarkable.  Butter mixed with yuzu will be sweet, bursting with citrus flavor, and will have a slight Asian accept.

Yuzu butter on grilled lobster is excellent and worth trying.  And it’s easy.  Try it with roasted Okinawa sweet potatoes, carrot and nappa cabbage slaw, grilled or pickled hom shimiji mushrooms, or any other great Asian side appropriate for grilling.

Grilled Lobster with Yuzu Butter

Prep time:  15 minutes
Cook time:  25 minutes
Yield:  4 portions

Ingredients:

1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temp
zest of 1 yuzu, or zest of 2 limes and 1 orange, fine chop
2 tbsp yuzu juice
1 cup sake
2 cloves roasted garlic
3 tbsp light brown miso
1/2 tsp kosher salt
4 lobsters

Method:

Bring 1 gallon water to a boil in a large pot.  Add the miso and sake and return to a boil.  Put the lobsters in and return the water to a boil.  As soon as it boils, turn the heat off and cover tightly.  Let steep for 5 minutes.  Remove the lobsters and plunge them into an ice bath.  Let cool completely.  Once cool, remove the tails from the bodies and crack down the middle (cutting down the underside with a high strength kitchen scissors is the best approach).  Save the rest of the lobsters for other uses (lobster salad, bisque, etc).  Once the tails are split, gently work out the meat, devein, and rinse off any roe from the meat.  Gently work the meat back into the shell.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, begin whipping the butter with the garlic at medium speed.  Let the butter almost double in volume.  Add the salt, zest and yuzu juice.  Let incorporate completely.  Transfer to a bowl and reserve.

Heat a wood grill to medium heat.  Let the coals go white and push them all to one side of the grill, leaving an indirect zone.  Make sure the grates are clean and well oiled.  Place the lobster tails open side down on the grill and cook until lightly charred.  Flip and spoon a liberal amount of yuzu button on top.  Let the lobster tails cook through.  Remove and serve with additional yuzu butter (melted) for dipping.

Enjoy.

Tuna Melt with Avocado

Grilled cheese sandwiches are excellent.  Tuna salad sandwiches are an American standard.  Combine the

two, add some avocado, and you have a star.  This is hands down one of my favorite hot sandwiches.  I first had it at a small seafood restaurant in Santa Monica, and its impact was enormous.  It’s incredible.

To make this right, you need to perfect three things:

  • tuna salad
  • prepping the sandwiches
  • cooking the sandwiches  
These are all easy, but it’s import to note that ALL components of the dish are important, and should be isolated.  My tuna salad is nothing special, except that I like to add a little cilantro and lime juice.  It brightens the entire dish and adds a complimentary flavor to the avocado.  I like to cook the sandwiches wrapped in foil and in the oven to ensure that they cook slowly, evenly, and the bread does not burn.  Think Cuban style pressed sandwich.  The avocado rounds off the sandwich, adding an almost creamy aspect.  
It’s a great and easy sandwich to make.  It’s delicious, and I hope you like it as much as I do.  

Ingredients:

2 cans solid white albacore tuna in water
1/8 cup heavy mayonnaise
1 rib celery, peeled and small dice
1/4 red onion, small dice
juice of 1/2 lime
3 tbsp cilantro, fine chop
kosher salt
cracked black pepper
2 sliced sharp yellow cheddar cheese
1 firm but ripe avocado, peeled and sliced into 1/4 in slices
4 pieces best quality sour dough bread
1 tbsp unsalted butter

Method:

Mix the tuna with the onion, celery, and cilantro.  Add the lime juice and mayonnaise.  Mix thoroughly with a folk.  Season with salt and pepper.  Reserve.

Heat an oven to 400.  Begin heating a large heavy bottom oven safe saute pan over medium heat.  Lay the bread out on a cutting board and place an even layer of the tuna salad on the bottom of 2 pieces.  Place the cheese over the tuna.  Top with an even layer of sliced avocado.  Top the avocado with bread and lightely butter both sides of the sandwich.  Tightly wrap the sandwiches in aluminium foil.  Place the sandwiches in the hot saute pan.  When you hear the butter cooking, flip the sandwiches, and place the saute pan in the oven.  Cook for about 15 minutes and flip the sandwiches again.  Cook for another 10 minutes, remove from the oven, remove the foil, slice the sandwiches in half and serve.

Enjoy.

Organic Kale and Quinoa Salad with Chicken, Avocado, Carrots and Dried Cranberries

This salad screams Whole Foods, and for good reason.  Organic, gluten free (not that that’s a selling point

for me), low carb, high protein, high fiber, and full of those ‘super foods’ we love so much.  I love them.  Super foods are not only healthy, but they leave you satisfied and somehow refreshed after your meal.  You feel good.  You feel energized.  Quinoa and kale might as well be the poster children for super foods.

The trick to super foods, or health foods, is preparing them to be delicious.  Kale on its own isn’t very good.  Quinoa on its own is bland.  Put two bland things together, and you have a recipe for a boring and bland dinner.  So we add things.  Classic pairings that have stood the test of time.  Perhaps a Middle East Tabouleh combination of cucumbers, tomatoes, mint, parsley, and almonds with the quinoa and kale.  Perhaps an Indian combination of mango, coconut, curry, chili peppers, and fried chick peas.  I like to simply things and use dried cranberries, avocados, almonds and feta cheese.  It’s a great combination of flavors, and along with a little lemon juice, olive oil and seasonings, creates a great salad.  The combination works well with the quinoa and kale.  They absorb the flavors, while lending their own unique texture and flavor to the dish.  It works, and it’s one of the reasons that places like Whole Foods feature dishes like this.

The production itself is easy.  The most complicated part is cooking the chicken and quinoa.  Otherwise, it’s a simple salad.  Extraordinary and unique, completely satisfying, and delicious.

Organic Kale and Quinoa Salad with Chicken, Avocado, Carrots and Dried Cranberries

Prep time:  5 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Yield:  3-4 portions

Ingredients:

3 cups organic black kale, leaves only, washed and cut into 1 inch pieces
1/2 cup dry cranberries
1/4 cup toasted almond slivers
1 cup organic red quinoa
juice of 2 lemons
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 moderately ripe avocado, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
2 chicken breasts, herb marinated and fully cooked and cooled, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1/4 cup feta cheese crumbles
1/2 tbsp kosher salt
1/2 cup shredded carrots
cracked back pepper
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar

Method:

Cook the quinoa following the manufacturer’s instructions (or cook exactly as you would rice).  Let the quinoa cool completely.

Mix everything except the chicken in a large mixing bowl.  Taste it and make sure you like the flavor.  If it needs to be brighter, add a little more vinegar or lemon juice.  Add a pinch of salt if necessary.  When you are happy with the flavor, add the chicken.

Serve right away.

Enjoy.

Beautiful Food: Garnishes and Parsley Oil

I want to take this time now to discuss garnishes for food.  It’s interesting what we find appealing, but clearly our eyes not only play an important role, they play the first role.  Just like most of our perception of taste is based on smell, we find food appealing first and foremost with our eyes.  Then with our noses.  And lastly with our taste buds.  It’s like an interview or first date:  first impressions are key.

You’re reading this blog, which means you have, at some level, an interest in cooking.  Maybe you’re just looking at recipes, maybe you need something in particular, maybe you’re an aspiring professional, or maybe you just love to cook.  The point is, we all want to make to make our food better.  We want flavors to be better, techniques to be tighter, and the food to look better.  It’s the never ending quest.

In culinary school, we’re taught a few ‘basic’ principals about plate presentations.  First, keep your food away from the rim of the plate.  Second, try to assemble your plate in some sort of logical fashion.  And third, always remember to garnish your plate with some sort of edible garnish.  Traditional edible garnishes are as follows:

  • herbs (chopped mixed herbs or chopped single herbs, like parsley or chives)
  • fried garnish, like a thin slice of fried parsnip
  • small dice garnish, like peppers or tomatoes
  • second sauce garnish, like a spot or two of green oil or coulis
  • micro greens, like micro red amaranth or micro basil
These are all wonderful and heavily used garnishes, and I have used all of them, many times in combination, on several occasions.  Though I’m not a big fan of fried garnishes, they do have their place out there.  A garnish should make sense and should compliment your food (as opposed to putting something green on the plate for the sake of having something green).  A garnish should NEVER be inedible.  Never put a sprig of thyme or rosemary on a plate just because you think it looks good.  The first thing the diner will do is pick it up, remove it, and have to deal with it kicking around on the plate for the duration of the course. 
But, in the end, any garnish is better than none.  We eat with our eyes.  Food needs to look appealing.  A little sprinkle of something green on the plate adds a whole new dimension to your food.  Even if it’s freeze dried parsley sprinkled over spaghetti served with bottled sauce.  It still adds the element of class and care.  It still shows some attention to detail.  Without touching the flavors or techniques, it makes your food better.  
Of course, the rules change with dinner parties and buffets.  Garnishes can become almost like props.  What would a seafood/shellfish buffet be like without towers of lemons, faux lobster nets, hollowed out oyster shells and maybe an ice carving?  What would a dinner party be without flowers and lovely centerpieces.  What would a dessert be without the obligatory sprig of mint?  We eat with our eyes first.  Visual appeal is so important.  The next time you cook for others, keep the final product always in mind.  Consider your garnish just as important as your main ingredients.  
Parsley Oil
Prep time:  10 minutes
Cook time:  20 minutes
Yield:  approx 1 cup
Ingredients:  3 large bunches flat leaf parsley, well washed and completely dried, leaves only
1 1/2 cups grapeseed oil
Method:
Place half the parsley and 1 cup oil in a blender.  Run the blender until the parsley is pureed.  Keep adding parsley to the blender until it’s all in there.  If it gets too thick, add a little more oil.  The consistency should be that of a puree, almost like loose mashed potatoes.  
Transfer the mix to a heavy bottom sauce pot and cook over low heat for 30 minutes.  You will notice the color will chance from moderate green or extremely dark green.
Line a china cap with either a few layers of cheesecloth or a large coffee filter.  Pour the warm mix into the strainer and let strain over night.  Do not force the oil through.  
Discard the remains and transfer the oil to a squeeze bottle.  Use this oil as a garnish in conjunction with your edible garnishes.  
Enjoy.

Flatbread Pizza with Caramelized Onions, Gorgonzola, Pears and Prosciutto

This post is about a couple of things.  First and foremost, the recipe and associated techniques.  Second, my

2 cents regarding flatbread pizzas.  I will begin with the flatbread pizzas because it’s a great way to introduce the technique.  So let me get it out there:  I LOVE flatbread pizza.  I am a flatbread pizza junkie.  I think they’re completely artisianal/handcrafted food, delicious, elegant, and really give a chef room to explore his creativity.  Just think of all the fun little things you can add to a flatbread pizza, that wouldn’t necessarily work on a traditional pizza.  It becomes gastro-pub style food, tailored for the best wine bars, and can showcase excellent market ingredients, techniques and skill.  They can also be simple.  As I have said so many times before, simple done right is usually best.

The art of making a flat bread pizza (or ‘craft’ as it may be) is really back – to – the – basics pizza making.  You need an exceptionally hot and dry oven (like a wood oven, or a conventional oven with a pizza stone), a great pizza dough or flatbread, high quality ingredients and the know-how to put them all together.  No tricks this time.

The ingredients vary dramatically, but for this particular recipe, I am calling for caramelized onions as a base.  This is really the technique I want to discuss.  Caramelized onions vs sauteed onions are tricky to make and require a bit of patience.  But the results are worth it.  Caramelized onions are exactly what the name implies: Onions cooked until their natural sugars are developed and accentuated through the cooking process.  It’s also important to note that they need to be cooked thoroughly.  Thus is the difference between caramelized onions and sauteed onions.  Sauteed onions usually have a little color on them, but only on the surface.  The sugars within are left somewhat untouched.  That gives us a stronger onion flavor, which is great, but in this case, we want completely cooked, soft and sweet.

The technique is simple:  Keep cooking the onions.  Keep turning the heat down to prevent burning.  When they’re dark and look ready, deglaze your pan with a little white wine or water to loosen them up and extract even more flavor and sugar.   Keep cooking them, starting with high heat and ending with extremely low heat.  They should smell sweet and should yield about 1/2 the volume you started with.  Keep cooking them, that’s all you need to remember.  Low heat and time: the onions will get where they need to be, just be patient.

Other than that, the recipe is fairly simple and straight forward.  Wonderful Mediterranean flavors heaped on a flatbread and roasted to perfection.  To stay in line with the gastro pub ‘theme’, I would recommend serving this as an appetizer along with craft beer or white wine, and some sort of pepper-green salad, like wild arugula, upland cress, mitzuna or tat-soi.

Flatbread Pizza with Caramelized Onions, Gorgonzola, Pears and Prosciutto

Prep time:  5 minutes
Cook time:  45 minutes
Yield:  3 flatbread pizzas

Ingredients:

2 medium sized yellow onions, thin sliced
1 d’anjou pear, thin sliced
1/2 cup good quality gorgonzola cheese, crumbled by hand
4 pieces good quality prosciutto, think sliced, torn into strips
lavash bread, excellent quality, or pizza dough rolled as thin as possible (http://chefnotebook.blogspot.com/2012/12/pizza-crust.html)
fresh grated parmesan or pecorino cheese
extra virgin olive oil
fresh cracked black pepper
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 tsp kosher salt

Method:

In a heavy bottom saute pan, begin heating the vegetable oil.  Add the onions and let them fry.  As they begin to darken, turn the heat down.  Gently stir to keep them rotating.  When they are deep golden brown, turn the heat to low, deglaze with about 1/8 cup of water and continue cooking.  Keep cooking and stirring until the water is gone.  The onions should be deeply colored, completely cooked through and should smell sweet.  Remove the onions from the pan and reserve.

Heat your oven to 450 degrees F.  Drizzle a little olive oil on the flatbread and layer on the onions, followed by the pears, followed by the cheese, and the prosciutto on top.  Bake until cooked through and the cheese is slightly browned on top.  Remove from oven, drizzle a little more olive oil on top, sprinkle black pepper on top and finished with the parmesan cheese.  Slice and serve right away.

This dish goes best accompanied with a wild arugula salad with such items as fresh figs, dried cranberries, cashews and shaved fennel.

Best served as an appetizer with either a crisp white wine, such as pinot grigio, or an oaky buttery chardonnay.

Enjoy.

Watermelon Tequila Cocktail with Fresh Berries and Mint

This is just a simple, creative, and wonderful summer cocktail that can literally be made from beginning to

end within 10 minutes, assuming you have everything you need.  I have said it before, and I will say it again, summer fruits do not need much, if anything, to be extraordinary.  The combination of ripe watermelon and mint is one of those classic pairings that will never fail.  To push these flavors into a cocktail, a little work on the balance is needed, but not much.  Cocktails always come down to three things:

  • Base flavor
  • Sweet vs sour
  • dominant alcohol

In this case, watermelon/mint is our base flavor.  Sweet is sugar (natural and added), sour is lime juice, and our alcohol will be tequila, though vodka can be a great substitute.  The idea is balance everything without overpowering the cocktail.  I think you will see that with this recipe, because it’s a large quantity, involving a lot of watermelon juice, it’s fairly easy to get right (ie tough to destroy).  If you notice that yours is slightly bitter (maybe your watermelon wasn’t sweet enough), add more sugar!  Too sweet?  Add a touch more lime juice.  You like the cocktail, but wish the mint was little more prominent?  Add more mint.  You see where this is going.  Similar to all great techniques, balance is key, and it comes with experience.  The best thing to do is taste it, and let your brain tell you what it needs.  Ask yourself, what would make this perfect?  What would really put this over the top?  Does it have enough sweet?  Does it have enough sour?  Does it have enough alcohol?  Thus becomes the difference between a good online recipe, and your own masterpiece.

Watermelon Tequila Cocktail

Prep time:  5 minutes
Cook time:  10 minutes
Yield:  6-8 portions

Ingredients:

1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 lb ripe seedless watermelon, cut into cubes
1/2 bunch mint, leaves only
few sprigs fresh basil, leaves only
1/2 cup fresh blueberries
1/2 cup fresh blackberries
1 1/2 cup silver tequila
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

Method:

In a small sauce pot, heat the water and sugar together until completely dissolved.  Cool right away, add the vanilla and reserve.  In a bar blender, puree the watermelon with the basil and a few mint leaves, and then strain through a fine sieve to remove any grit.

In a large glass pitcher, add watermelon juice, lime juice, syrup, tequila and mint.  Stir well.  Add the berries and enough ice to completely fill the pitcher.  Serve right away.

Enjoy.