It wasn’t my idea! It was Potato Chip’s!

August 27, 2009

Potato Chip Crusted Sole

How many kids enjoy fish sticks growing up. I mean really enjoy them. But how many of those same kids would chow down if you put a fillet of flounder cooked with lemon and butter in front of them. Most white fish has a mild enough flavor for the pallets of kids and adults alike but the texture and the perception of fish overwhelms many. But by taking finger food sized pieces, packing them in a salty crunchy layer, and pairing them with a dipping sauce, all is forgotten.

Well I’m not one to be overwhelmed by the appearance of fish (or much of anything for that matter) but once in a while I miss that crunch. For years I’ve seen recipes and write ups touting the use of potato chips as a breading.  Maybe it’s because once I pop, I truly can’t stop or maybe it’s because of the seemingly indulgent nature of the idea, I had not made the leap. That is until last night.

I had purchased a few fillets of Lemon Sole (check back for this story behind my fish swap later) and knew I wanted to pair them with a peach slaw but only if I had that crunch. And there was that bag of potato chips that came with my lunch; just staring at me. Like that friend growing up who always got you into a little bit of trouble yet always managed to get you out of it, these chips were calling to me. Sure it might seem like a dangerous idea, but what’s the worst that could happen?. Not to mention you know its gonna be a blast! Plus everyone is doing it!

This potato chip crusted lemon sole with peach slaw was exactly that. A blast! Great summer flavors with a great crunch; both from the slaw and the fish. And my main concern was that the saltiness of the chips would overwhelm the fish. Rather, they brought out the delicate flavors of the sole perfectly. This may not resemble the fish sticks we all have loved at some point but actually doesn’t it sort of resemble the shape of a fish? Either way, what a wonderfully refreshing dinner!


Is everything better with bacon?

August 26, 2009


I’m sure you have heard the expression, “Everything is better wrapped in bacon”. And it’s true. There isn’t much that doesn’t taste great with salty, crispy pork. In fact one of the greatest things I’ve ever eaten was a pancetta topped vanilla cake made by Will Goldfard. But bacon won’t save everything, especially when the interior ingredients or the overall execution is lacking…

Chicken breasts are accessible, commonly enjoyed, but overall a bit boring. Especially the boneless, skinless variety that come packaged so often in threes. Chickens only have two breasts right?  But being packed with lean protein and great flavor (if you think chicken is boring try some of the organic, free-roaming birds), chicken breasts can be worked into wonderful dishes that break away from the boredom.

By wrapping flattened out chicken cutlets around blanched asparagus and a blend of parmesan and goat cheese I knew that I would have perfectly balanced and delicious flavors. But in the past, I’ve struggled keeping these type of rolls from drying out. One of the big problems with working with chicken breasts is the fear of under-cooking perpetuated by the frustration of overcooking. Sounds like a job for bacon. Wrapping these chicken rolls in bacon and pan roasting them created a perfectly cooked chicken packed with moisture and flavor. The fresh bite of the asparagus counteracted the richness of the bacon. The blend of cheese melted perfectly inside. And with just a little frisee salad and a quick sauce made with blanched cherry tomatoes and white wine, this dish was worthy of my restaurant ready list. Now I just need the restaurant…..and maybe a few more recipes.

No need for an intervention

August 20, 2009


Sometimes, while I’m trying to contruct a composed dish as I food shop, I get SADD. Yes it’s true. When I walk through barrels of fresh produce, wild fish, grains, spices, cheeses and all the rest I often suffer from Shopping Attention Deficit Disorder. My brain completely loses focus. Look at that bright green broccoli! Oh wait, those shitakes look amazing! They have coho salmon again! And baby bok choy! When SADD kicks in, the first step to recovery is admitting I have a problem. The second step is to go with it and make an unbelievable dinner regardless.

These four ingredients are what I ended up with after my most recent relapse of SADD. Now it’s not as if these ingredients don’t work together. In fact, the first thing that came to mind were the asian flavors so often accustomed with the combination. But that’s boring. Luckily I had some dill waiting for me at home and a jar of one of my favorite go to ingredients.

Baking this salmon with a dijon mustard and dill topping meshed perfectly with the ale and mustard sauce (ended up being the base for the salmon) filled with shitakes and bok choy. And with all the great colors and flavors present, what could go better than a side of garlic roasted broccoli. Great flavors, great colors, and some faith in my cooking ability once again lead me to a healthy and delicious meal despite my re-occurring problem…

Hi, my name is Ricky Silver and I suffer from SADD…

The List: Vatan

August 19, 2009

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For the two years I have lived in New York I have always been intrigued by Vatan. A vegetarian indian restaurant sitting on third ave directly next to the hell that is Tonic, Vatan always seemed to be a bit mysterious. Maybe it was the fact that renovations kept it closed for a good portion of these years or maybe more so because of the deliciously eclectic menu they serve in what I had only heard was a whimsical ambiance. With all the restaurant information online, it’s rare I walk into a place unaware of their menu and the $31 prix fixe menu (all you can eat) consisting of a multitude of Indian dishes served all to everyone is completely consistent with how I enjoy Indian cuisine. But I was very concerned going in because of all the recent poor reviews I read on a number of the restaurant review websites. I was prepared to be let down and to only wish I had traveled down to Raj Mahal instead. But I was overwhelmingly surprised with our meal.

The ambiance is really different. Unlike the vast majority of restaurants that pack you in like a can of sardines to maximize their customer base, Vatan has a bi-level seating arrangment with a ton of open space leaving you to enjoy your meal with your other guests. The lighting is darker than you’d expect but it is lit up by a giant purple lit Ganesha (I believe I’m correct on this one). All in all, as you dine with your shoes flipped to the side, you don’t feel like you are in the city, and that is always appreciated.

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The food is served almost immediately starting with the appetizers. As I mentioned the menu consists of a multitude of vegetarian indian dishes and each guest is served a small portion of everything on a cafeteria like platter. I’ll admit the immediateness of the service reminds you that the food has probably been made in large portions and is sitting in the back waiting, but that was quickly erased when I started eating. The highlights of the platter for me were the fried hot peppers with garam masala and a really interesting fried pastry filled with a yogurt and potato sauce called Sev Puri. Each of the components had the strong flavors so loved in Indian Cuisine and the portions were much larger than necessary.

This I think was the most interesting part of my experience. So many of the reviews I had read commented on how the portions were too small. The thing is, the plates are provided giving you a small sample of each. The point isn’t to walk in and order an appetizer and an entree. It is to enjoy the variety and those reviewers complaining about this clearly suffered from a mistake in expectation.

As we received our entree portion (offered in mild, medium, and spicy) I was already a bit on the full side. But the dishes served during this course were just as enjoyable as the appetizers. The lentil soup and the cauliflower and green pea dish really stood out in my mind as the best. The entrees were pretty typical of what you would expect from Indian Cuisine but nevertheless, the execution and the variety was once again fantastic. I’m not really sure how people are capable of ordering more (it is all you can eat) because I was beyond full before the dessert showed up.

Luckily the dessert platter was much smaller consisting of a small cup of amazing chai tea, along with some mango ice cream and what we were told was “made from lentils”. Everything was fantastic and the lentil dessert was really interesting. Almost like a sweet lentil fritter. I’m not sure how I finished it all, but I did.

Honestly, I really enjoyed this place. With all the negative reviews of late and the higher than usual price for Indian food, I was expecting disappointment. But therein lies the problem with reviews. Sure, if you want good Indian food for cheap, Vatan is not for you, but if you are looking for an interesting environment to enjoy a whole bunch of variety than is $31 all that bad. We go out to eat for the experience not just the food and I was thrilled with our experience. That being said, Vatan is probably an occasion restaurant. I think I’ll stick to Raj Majal for my regular Indian fixes.

Vatan: 7.5/10

Can’t stand the heat, get into the kitchen

August 18, 2009

Vegetable Terrine and Swordfish Skewers

Yep, they’ve arrived. You know, the days where emergency cooling stations are required, you can’t seem to drink enough water, and you sweat before, during and after your shower. And forget about cooking. Turning on your oven in these conditions is self inflicted torture. Yep, we are now officially in August.

But I’m not about to give in. Rather than running for the nearest air conditioned restaurant I decided I’d shoot for something refreshing. By minimizing the heat from the stove, and by maximizing the cooling flavors I thought I could beat the heat. It’s very tough to cook a delicious meal without cooking. Meaning, sometimes you just have to use the stove. But rather than using the oven, I stuck to the stove top minimizing how long the flame was burning.

I was inspired by a conversation I had with Nancy (one of the $15/15 challengers) regarding a vegetable terrine she had just made that sounded absolutely delicious. In ramekins I stacked a layer of each: roasted red pepper, grilled zucchini, goat cheese, basil, tomato, grilled eggplant and a portabello cap. Using my grill pan, I was able to cook the thin layers of eggplant, zucchini, and mushroom without filling the apartment with unnecessary heat. Pressing the layers in the refrigerator for a few hours helped meld the flavors and the layers leaving a beautiful and flavor packed component of my meal. The flavors were amazing and extremely refreshing and look how great it looks! But I knew this wasn’t going to be enough for a full meal (although on it’s own, this terrine would be an amazing appetizer).

One of the ways to get around the inevitable cooking heat leak is by grilling outside. Score one for mother nature, zero for the New York City small apartment inhabitant. But you can’t have it all. So, by once again relying on my grill pan I paired these terrines with basil oil and lemon marinated swordfish skewers. Fish, even meatier fish like swordfish, is much lighter and therefore often more refreshing than chicken, pork, or beef which makes it perfect for summer meals. Knowing I couldn’t get the great grill flavor from my pan, I finished these skewers with a gremolata of lemon zest, garlic, and basil. Cooked perfectly with a bit of red onion and zucchini, these skewers were the perfect compliment to the colorful terrines.

All in all, I barely used the stove and barely worked up a sweat in making this fantastic dinner that I will be sure to make again! Do you have any tips to make it through this heat?

Have to start somewhere

August 13, 2009


One of the flavor profiles I have rarely attempted to work with, Indian food is heavy on the spice and pure in technique. The majority of the dishes are crafted to blend the bold flavors of the common spices (curiander, tumeric, ginger, chile pepper, cumin, cinnamon, etc.) often rounded out by the addition of yogurt. As I’ve recently admitted, Indian food had never been one of my favorite cuisines. But the more I’ve gone recently, the more I’ve enjoyed and the more I’ve grown to respect the wonderful flavors combined with refined simplicity.

Rather than reaching for a recipe, I decided to give these flavors a go on my own using experience and memory as a guide. I decided to make two components that I thought would work well together (I find I enjoy sharing a few options rather than focusing on own dish when out at an Indian restaurant). The first component I made was a marinated baked chicken breast. The chicken was marinated in a yogurt and spice blend of tumeric, paprika, coriander, cumin, ginger, celery seed, cloves, and cayenne. They make some great curry powders pre-mixed if you don’t have these spices in your cupboard but it is nice to mess around with the ratios you prefer. I also added some red onion and garlic to the marinate with a dash of vinegar. I was really happy with the outcome. The breast were cooked perfectly and were extremely moist and flavorful. It reminded me a bit of Tandoori Chicken.

The second component of the dish was a shrimp curry. I used crimini mushrooms, red onion, carrots, and red peppers to make the foundation of the sauce with the same spice blend I used in the chicken. The sauce was pulled together by chicken stock and yogurt and finished with some shell on shrimp. Despite the flavors being spot on, the look and the texture wasn’t exactly what I was going for. However, the overall meal was fantastic. I’m really excited to give this curry another go (maybe I’ll poke around at a few recipes before hand). And maybe I’ll have to go do a bit more reseach at Raj Mahal.

Good Crop, Bad Crop

August 11, 2009

Farmer's Market Stew

Have you ever walked through the grocery store or the farmer’s market and seen those people that interrogate their produce? Well admittedly I am one of those people. And for good reason. But there are some practices that I just don’t go for. Like the undressing of each and ever corn…it’s not necessary and it’s a bit selfish. Next time just run your fingers over the husk to feel for missing spots and uniform kernels. Since starting this practice, I haven’t purchased bad corn. Or what about the thumbing of the avocados. This one is harder to avoid because the firmness is a great indication of ripeness but ideally we can make our choice without handling the entire bundle. On the other hand, there is no doubt the best and most rewarding interrogation tactic is the smell test. The smell of fresh, ripe produce is undeniable and unmistakable. And when you follow your nose, inspiration is always just around the corner.

Last night, my trip through the green market left me with a bundle of inspiration. Deliciously vibrant swiss chard, plump bi-color corn, ripe yellow cherry tomatoes, sweet yellow peaches, and a fantastically purple eggplant. Vegetable stew was all I could think of. But I had to be hallucinating, right? Vegetable stew on arguably the most humid day of the summer? I wasn’t so sure how it would work but I was determined to see. I knew that with a bit of thought, these cast of characters could work perfectly together.

The first step to building flavor was to make a rich sauce out of the vibrant yellow tomatoes. Pureeing them with sauteed red onion and garlic, along with some red wine, ensured the boldness of these tomatoes would be the cornerstone of the dish. Layering this background with roasted eggplant, roasted corn, and wilted chard added depth and textural contrast. Finishing the stew with a bit of sour cream cooled off the heat and helped meld the flavors together. Lastly, a few slices of grilled organic chicken breast with a homemade peach glaze added a bit of sweetness to the dish rounding out what was a truly delicious and balanced meal. And despite the sweltering heat and humidity, this stew really hit the spot.

And honestly, the dish was pretty simple. A few more steps by making the tomato sauce and glaze on my own but well worth it. Just goes to prove when you take quality product at the peak of its freshness and let them do the talking, you almost always end up with a delicious meal.  Hard to disagree with enthusiasm like this… “One of the best meals you’ve ever made”.

I’m not the only one in my family taking advantage of this unbelievable season. Check out my sister in-law’s fruit pizza she made the other night. Too bad we didn’t share!


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