Monday, February 16, 2009

Cater me this....

Knowing that I'm going to a catered function almost always makes me contemplate eating beforehand. Not that caterers are bad cooks; it just seems like people always request to have food that doesn't lend itself well to mass production and holding. Think of your standard surf and turf. A steak that is grilled to a decent temperature is then held for at least 30 minutes in a steamer. No matter what...the meat will over-rest and the temperature will most likely rise. Ditto with the surf portion. A perfectly cooked lobster tail put into the same steamer for 30 minutes doesn't stand a chance. In fact, any chef knows that steam actually causes the lobster meat to constrict and toughen to a leather-like consistency. Doesn't that sound appealing? Didn't think so.

Think of the challenge caterers encounter at every event: use high end products, simple cooking techniques, and at least a 30 minute hold in a warmer to produce something worthy of the $100+ price tag that the host is paying -- oh and one last it 100 - 200 dishes at a time. Sounds like a challenge from the Top Chef line-up doesn't it!

Every now and then though, a dish is created in these instances that is just brilliant. Take for example the one featured in this post's headline picture produced by Max Ultimate Food of Boston, MA. The dish is simple: Pan Roasted Chilean Sea Bass with Glazed Baby Root Vegetables and Meyer Lemon Sauce. All of the elements here work because the person who created the menu thought through the production and execution of the dish. I'm sure it went something like this: a fatty fish will be able to hold up in a warming box better than a lean and flakey one...Sea Bass is that lucious fish...root veggies won't fall apart after being heated, then cooled, then heated again.....and a meyer lemon butter sauce will be able to be made and held at about 140 without losing it's character and freshness. Brilliant.

Now if only crudite could be outlawed!

Nauset Steamers

The cold of winter here in New England has me craving a warm summer day when a dozen fresh shucked oysters and a couple of pounds of steamers or mussels are just a short drive away. Until then, I've got some time to perfect my recipes and techniques for making the perfect batch of steamers...and to do so, I'll refer to some tips given to me recently while at Mac's Shack and the Beachcomber in Wellfleet, MA.

There are a couple of big points to consider when making steamers: 1)No sand! -- simple as it sounds it's really difficult to clean these suckers, so the guys at Mac's actually built their own holding tanks for mussels, lobsters, and steamers that filters in Wellfleet Bay water 24 hours a day. This provides the steamers a chance to spew all the sand they ate while in the wild, without losing any of that natural flavor. To simulate this at home, soak the steamers in cold salt water for 24 hours in the refigerator. 2)No broken shells! --this one can be taken care of during the selection and storage process. Keep steamers in a collander in the refrigerator in a single to double layer covered with a damp cloth. Steamers are called soft-shell clams for a reason so be gentle! 3)Perfectly cooked without being overdone! -- This is tougher than it sounds. When cooking littlenecks or mussels, the opening of the shell is the best indication of being done, however with steamers, that is not the case. The name "steamer" comes from the traditional cooking method where 1-2 inches of water or broth was brought to a boil in the bottom of a pot, then the steamers would be added and allowed to steam for several minutes. This creates a good finished product, however after much snooping at some of the best seafood shacks on Cape Cod, I noticed that they actually boil the steamers and mussels in giant pots containing slightly salted water! I recommend the following when cooking 2#'s of steamers:

8 qts water

3 cloves garlic, smashed

1/2 lemon

6 peppercorns

2 bay leaves

1 tablespoon sea salt

Bring all of the ingredients to a boil and then drop in the steamers for 4 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon. Strain the broth through cheesecloth or a fine mesh strainer and reserve for dipping or drinking. Serve steamers with broth and drawn butter.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Half Chicken Braised with Tomatoes, Lemon, and Fennel

For this simple, mediterenean inspired dish, a simple tomato sauce, scented with fennel is the vehicle for a great balance of acidity and sweetness. To make this dish: onions, fennel, garlic, bay leaves, and olive oil are gently heated to create an infusion of flavors. Once the vegetables are softened (about 5 - 10 minutes) but not browned, crushed peeled tomatoes and tomato juice are added to create the broth that the chicken will gently braise in. Be sure to add the chicken to the pan skin-side-up to insure a crispy flavorful final product. Right before serving, dust with salt and zest a lemon over the chicken. Enjoy!


1/2 Chicken, seasoned lightly with salt

1/2 onion, sliced

1 bulb fennel, tops removed, bulb sliced

2 whole cloves garlic, crushed

3 bay leaves

1 lemon, zested

1 cup canned, crushed tomatoes

2 cups tomato juice

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Cheap Eats

I recently discovered that I make a great Cachupa. Whats this you ask? It's practically the national dish of Cape Verde (the islands off the coast of Africa/Portugal) consisting of several types of beans, dry hominy, greens, butternut squash and tomatoes. Sound familiar? If you're used to making Italian might immediately think of a minestrone or the start of a ribollita. In fact, this would be almost true, except that in a cachupa, hominy corn is cooked to add a rich velvety texture to a broth that is further thickened and sweetened by butternut squash. Truly amazing! One more note about this dish is that it can be made one of three ways: vegetarian, w/pork, or w/fish. The ingredients stay the same regardless, and one thing is traditional -- start with dry ingredients (beans/hominy) and don't mix types of meat.

Pork Cachupa di Cabo Verde:
serves 6

1 bunch collard greens or swiss chard, ribs removed and chopped
1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and diced into 2 inch chunks

1 cup dry white beans

1 cup dry garbanzo beans

1/2 cup dry lima beans

1/2 cup dry kidney beans

2 cups dry white hominy corn

2 cups canned, whole peeled tomatoes

1/2 head of green cabbage, core removed and cut into large chunks

6 bay leaves

6 cloves of garlic

4 cups chicken stock

1/4# diced salt pork (optional)

1 # diced fresh chorizo sausage (optional)

4 - 8 oz pork shoulder steaks

salt to taste

black pepper to taste


1. Soak the beans in cool water and refridgerate overnight. Then, drain the water, rinse, and place them in a pot and cover with 6 inches of cool water. Add the salt pork, 1 clove garlic, 1 bay leaf, and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Keep a careful watch on the level of water and refill to maintain at least 2 inches of water over the beans. Cook until the beans are soft, but not fully tender - about 30 minutes.

2. In a large pot, brown the pork shoulder in a little oil. Remove them and add the chicken stock, hominy corn, bay leaves, beans with their liquid, garlic, butternut squash, chorizo and bring to a simmer. Add the pork and cook for 1 hour. Watch the level of broth, the mix should maintain a thick soup consistency.

3. Add the tomato, cabbage, and remaining ingredients and simmer for another 30 - 45 minutes until the pork is tender enough to be pulled apart with a fork.

4. Adjust the salt and pepper and spoon into large bowls to serve. The final product should be thickened enough by the hominy and squash to be as thick as a stew. Traditionally it is enjoyed on its own, but occasionally I cut thick pieces of french bread to accompany.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Marky - Mark

In yet another..."you should check this out" entry, I'm fully endorsing Mark Bittman's blog...check it @ . I was lead there after reading excerpts from one of his newest books on diet, eating, and sustainable food production.

Some topics covered are things like outlining the benefits of eating a partially vegan diet (he uses something he calls the before 6pm rule)....and using the production method of food, rather than an organic label, to decide whether or not it is produced in a sustainable, healthy manor.

He also attempts to bring the restaurant mindset of "food cost" to the home kitchen by explaining recipes that cost virtually nothing to prepare. One example he uses is making beans and rice from scratch -- a meal that is nutritious, vegan, sustainable, easy to prepare, and costs less than $1 per person to serve.

He outlines another great reason to try to change 3 meals a week from meat-centric to vegan. Animal (as do people) produce greenhouse gasses. At last check, we raise 40 Billion - yes Billion -- animals for consumption in the US alone. If each of us dropped three meat items a week from our diet, we would be able to reduce the amount of animals raised and consumed to a level that would environmentally speaking, be equivalent to taking all of the SUVS driven in America off the road. Additionally, to raise this many animals to produce things like steaks and cheeses, etc, we use extremly efficient (yet not very nice for the animals) farming methods that are currently operating at 70% the capicity of the world's farmlands. With the world population rising, and our consumption levels increasing daily, we soon will hit a maximum level of production.

One last thing, Bittman has been eating a more plant based diet for the past 3 years, and with no increase in exercise, has lost 40 pounds. Think about it.

Sunday, February 1, 2009


Any who is even a little interested in food/wine/restaurants...owes it to themselves to follow the above link and watch an episode of Daniel's After Hours show.