Thursday, January 29, 2009

Winter Citrus

Meyer lemons, which originated in China, are a cross between a regular lemon and a tangerine. Plant researcher Frank Meyer brought these highly fragrant lemons to the U.S. in 1908 from the area near Peking. Meyers are rounder than lemons and have thin, soft, smooth rinds, which are rich yellow-orange when fully ripe. The pulp is deep yellow and low in acid.
Oddly enough, we associate citrus fruits with summertime cuisine. Margaritas, fresh grilled items, salad dressings...etc; but the peak season for these acid fruits are the winter months of December, January, February. Luckily, there are multiple ways to enjoy the flavor of peak season year round. Since Meyer lemons have such delicate sweetness, these lemons make excellent jams, merangues, pastry creams, cakes, and dressings. One of my favorite preservation techniques for them is to cure the lemons by paking them in salt for use later on in the year. Once the lemons have been salt cured, or "confit", the lemons can be washed and quickly boiled to remove the salt that preserved them. Chopping and using confit lemons allows you to impart their delicate citrus flavor to any preparation that would normally call for lemon.
To prepare the confit, you first need a clean, sterilized glass jar with a tight fitting lid. Next, you'll need enough meyer lemons to fill the jar. Lastly, kosher or course sea salt.
Method of Prep:
Thoroughly wash the lemons with warm water. Next, you'll make two criss-crossing cuts into the lemons in the same manner you would use to cut lemon wedges -- the only difference is that you will stop before cutting entirely through the lemons. This will result in four wedges connected by a portion of the peel. Next, you will pack salt into the lemons. For an advanced preparation, try grinding some spices into the salt. Ones to experiment with would be bay leaves, black peppercorns, juniper berries, etc. Once there is enough salt packed into the cuts to prevent the lemon pieces from touching, pack the lemons into the glass jar and add some additional salt to cover. Repeat until the jar is filled with lemons and salt. Close the jar and refrigerate for a minimum of 2 weeks, and maximum 1 year.
Salsa Crudo with Confit Meyer Lemon
1/2 confit meyer lemon, washed and cooked in boiling water for 2 minutes
1 tsp red wine vinegar
1 shallot
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 bunch fresh cilantro
black pepper to taste
1. Chop the meyer lemon into very small pieces
2. Chop the cilantro and shallot
3. In a glass or non-reactive bowl, wisk together the vinegar, oil, and black pepper
4. Mix in the cilantro, meyer lemon, and shallot into the oil and vinegar blend
5. Taste and adjust the seasoning to your liking with salt, pepper, or sugar
To use, serve along side, or drizzled over grilled fish, steak, or poultry. A vegetarian option is to toss freshly grilled asparagus, zucchini, or cauliflower with the salsa. For a salad preparation, try tossing freshly cut cucumbers with the mix, let stand for 5 minutes, and serve.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

simple pleasures

spent the last 2 weeks planning my wedding dinner menu...and the truth of it is...among all of the choices that one can make when planning such a detailed event...the only thing that's really a necessity for

caviar. Lots of it....

and of course...champagne.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

candy candy candy candy...

I'm now allowed to say that Necco has offically introduced this years new sweetheart candy sayings acknowledge the importance and evocative nature of food in our culture, all the sayings being produced this year will be "food phrases". Check back soon for a glimpse of the unveiling ceremony this morning featuring several Boston chefs and MC'd by TV personality Ming Tsai...


So...get ready for this year's sweetheart candies from Mass-based candy giant Necco...there's a
surprise for all you food lovers as ready for it---drum role please....oops..sorry...can't yet divulge this one...apparently there's a threat amongst the candy conglomerates that deems info about new releases of hardened, colorful candy top-secret. Don't fret though...there will be plenty of news coverage of the unveiling tomorrow...1/14...and you just might catch a glimpse of yours truly in the crowd...check back for more info...

Monday, January 12, 2009

what am I supposed to do with this? we're all fans of new ways to wow with lobster. this particular dish is just one of those attempts from michael mina at seablue. here he tries....and create a "pot-pie" that warrants having a $62 price tag. now, i'll be the first to admit that cooking's end result sometimes doesn't seem to measure up to all the work that goes into a dish. From what I was told, the sauce alone took 2 days to prepare. Add to that the sweat and toil that some underpaid culinary intern put into making a fresh puff pastry....steaming and shelling the lobster...and assembling ingredients into the copper casket it arrives to your table in and you've got almost half a week's work to make this one pot pie. But, that's not if the lobster wasn't already dead at this point...they manage to continue to cook it until it tastes like a shoe. Ok that's giving it more credit than it deserves---when I buy a pair of $62 dollar shoes...i expect the leather to be softer than this was. so...once again...a haute gaff....making a dish that looks perfect...takes years worth of knowlege of technique to create....but prepared with too little salt...too much heat....and not enough attention to what is really being put on the

Sunday, January 11, 2009

gimme some of that down home cookin...

Often times in a class full of Boston middle-school aged children, I am asked the question…what is your specialty…and although it may sound pompous or certainly arrogant, I almost always reply…I feel comfortable cooking pretty much anything…really my specialty is using a mood and a set of really great ingredients to create a dish that captures the moment or sets the tone for a meal. This is not the answer they are looking for. “Italian food” or “tacos” is what I’m sure they’d rather hear me say. But the more I think about my answer, the more I am sure that the importance of using good techniques is secondary to embracing the emotion surrounding food. It’s like the old saying…”no matter how large the feast, if it’s prepared without love, it won’t nourish the soul.”(not that I’ve actually heard that before…but I’m sure it exists) So, remembering one the most emotionally evocative dishes of my childhood, I want to share a recipe that I learned from my mother. First, let me say that my mother is an amazing cook. She embraced all of the traditional Persian dishes that she had grown up with, as well as some classic American food that she had learned from friends after moving to the States. As far as I can remember, she embraced the opportunity to make lavish feasts whenever the occasion was fitting. These were usually based on Persian cuisine: huge mountains of basmati rice with saffron and red currants; roasts of beef or chicken; stews with spinach, kidney beans, cilantro, and fenugreek—the table was always set with enough food to feed at least twice the amount of guests present! This was done purposefully and showed the true heart of the culture and cuisine. Even if you had none, you gave more than you could to a hungry guest. While this tradition was certain of get-togethers and special occasions, the rigors of being a mother of two and full time nurse prevented my mother from slaving in the kitchen every night. More often we’d have quickly cooked dinners like baked bbq chicken breast casserole or spaghetti topped with a meat infused jar of prepared tomato sauce. Regardless of the preparation time put into a meal, I applaud my mother’s ability to get everyone in the household, herself included, to slow down for a bit and gather around the dinner table almost every night of the week. Occasionally departing from the act of cooking a quick meal, my mother would sometimes put aside an hour or so to cook one of my favorite childhood meals -- beef and potato cutlets. It was the kind of dish that wasn’t lavish or gourmet, but took such patience and purpose that if you even got close to the kitchen you could feel the love bubbling though the air. Some of my fondest memories of childhood come from the happiness I would feel while watching my mother expertly shape and then drop these patties into the frying pan to sizzle. Remembering my jubilation when I got to try a piece fresh out of the pan makes me think it’s no surprise that I picked a career where I could make these tasty things any time I want!
Developing the crisp and golden brown crust while making sure the patties are cooked through is something that requires patience, and careful tending of the heat. Resisting the temptation to eat them as quickly as they come out of the pan requires a healthy dash of willpower. The recipe is as follows:

1# ground beef or substitute turkey for a more health conscious version
2 medium-large chef’s potatoes, cooked and peeled, and grated
1 small white onion, grated or minced finely
½ bunch parsley, leaves only - washed and chopped
½ cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs
1 extra large egg
¼ cup milk
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons black pepper
Canola oil for frying

1. Mix the egg, milk, salt, pepper, and parsley together in a bowl.
2. Mix the meat, potato, onion, and bread crumbs together in a separate bowl.
3. Fold the egg mixture into the meat mixture and mix just until evenly combined.
4. Heat ¼ inch of oil in a large frying pan over medium-low heat. With your hands, form 4” oblong patties with the mixture and gently place patties, one at a time into the pan. The oil should gently sizzle when the patties are added. Adjust the heat accordingly to achieve this. Without over-crowding the pan, continue to add patties and cook until golden brown and crisp, then flip and repeat this on the other side. Once both sides are browned, remove the patties to a plate lined with paper towels to catch the excess oil. Lightly salt the patties and let cool slightly before serving.

and on...

As I write entries in this blog, you’ll witness my understanding and interpretation of classic techniques and dishes. I am going to share recipes that are special to me. I am going to share unique views on eating and nutrition. I am going to talk about the way that children should not only share in…but fully participate in food preparation. In my opinion, cooking has always been at the center of strong communities; think of your own community and family – isn’t a warm meal one of the few things that can get our modern families to slow down and come together? Our need for food is constant, but food itself is subject to change. Our attention to food will either increase or diminish. The contents of our meals will get heartier or more nutritionally devoid. Sometimes when things change slowly, sometimes we forget that they are changing at all. When was the last time you really thought about how your diet has changed throughout your life? Where do thoughts about the quality of your food rank in your daily thought process?

We would all agree about the importance of preserving a family and bringing together our communities…but do we realize that our modern foodscape is limiting the ability to do that through cooking and enjoying food together? Our modern meals still fill us up, but are they nourishing? Do we remember that those who make the food that we eat have an active role in influencing and sustaining the people who eat it…they can create and change moods…they can comfort us in rough times…they are truly connected to us. Think about the simple example of how comforting it is to smell a pumpkin pie baking in the oven. Traditionally, cooking and enjoying food has been a means of relaxation, a form of celebration, a coping mechanism for mourning families. When we think of food in this way, we realize that learning a recipe is one thing, but having respect for the culture and history behind the cuisine responsible for that recipe is another equally important thing. When we acknowledge that food has a soul, we are able to bring dishes alive and create feelings within those who consume it. A part of that is realizing where ingredients come from and why they are used in particularity. Consuming locally also helps to create a modern food heritage that supports our thought that food is more than just instant gratification. Just because products are globally accessible, doesn’t mean we should throw out our concept of embracing indigenous foods or meals. A burger frozen in Idaho, a piece of lettuce from Peru, ketchup from Pennsylvania, and a week old bun from New York shouldn’t represent lunch for a middle school student in Boston, MA almost every day of the week…but more often than not, it does. In our ever-evolving societies…urban…suburban…and rural alike, we must not forget how empowered we are to influence our bodies, our moods, our families, and our communities through all of the food choices that we make. Those choices can affect a lot more than our growling bellies.

soups cookin....

Whenever I write a recipe, I start by imagining a place, a face, a smell, a taste, or a feeling that is the true heart of the dish that I am trying to create. I use all of my past experiences -- not just those from within the kitchen. In fact, some of the most powerful and compelling recipes in my repertoire are the ones that most uniquely represent my life experiences—my heritage. Interestingly enough, food heritage does not always equate to a chef’s actual heritage or ethnicity. We all have our own identities in the kitchen and certainly feel most comfortable using ingredients and techniques that we are familiar to, but what happens when we are forced to leave our safe space and cook…or even just eat…outside of that box? This is when we let our true food heritage come through. We can appreciate and try our best to mimic the techniques outlined in recipes that are foreign to us, but it is important that we impart something of our own. Whether it’s a like or dislike for a distinctive flavor that leads to a change in quantity, an addition of peppers to “spice it up”, a heavy hand with salt or simply a use of olive oil when others might use butter…each of us must put our own spin on things. Respecting and revealing our own food identity, not following a recipe to the “T”, is the essence of cooking. It is imperative that a cook not be afraid to take a risk, try something different, and then step back and ask, “Did it work?” Repetition of this process leads a cook to truly understand cooking.