December 29, 2009
More and more, our nation’s food culture and how it relates to our health is being called into question. And more and more the comparison between our diet and that of other countries is raising some serious questions. People love to discuss the diets of others and wonder what makes the outcome so different. Think about the common discussion of the French eating cheese, cooking with butter, and drinking red wine. But what is often overlooked (although I will argue is becoming more apparent) is the simple argument of quality. We’ve grown accustomed to eating whatever we want, whenever we want it even if it means sacrificing quality. Were blown away if a restaurant runs out of a menu item, or if our grocery store doesn’t have a certain herb or vegetable. But is this really a bad thing?
My girlfriend and her sister just got back from a trip to Costa Rica. They haven’t stopped raving about the food, specifically the freshness of the diet. Fruits, vegetables, rice, beans, and fish. Dishes are prepared with simplicity highlighting the quality of the ingredients. But it was common for fruits to be unavailable one day, or to have entrees missing from the menu on any given night. All for one simple reason…the ingredients in question, if available at all, weren’t fresh. Therefore they werent served. Here’s to logic!
I’ve found similar experiences shopping for local ingredients whether it be in the green market in Union Square or even at Whole Foods which now has a fairly extensive “locally raised or farmed” product list. And I’m not just eluding to the seasonality of produce. The local grass fed beef among the other local fish and meat options, is available in certain cuts one day, and gone the next. What is fresh is available. So sure, you can’t always find what you were looking for, but sometimes what you end up with exceeds all expectation.
I had never had beef shank before but having seen them available, I couldn’t resist. A cut of meat meant to be braised over low heat for hours comes with some added decadence. The bone portion not only imparts great flavor to the beef while cooking, but the marrow that remains is unbelievable. I braised these shanks in a onion and red wine broth finished with baby spinach and served with polenta. Classic flavors, classic preparation, quality product! And just like Costa Rica, there was no leftovers to be served the next day…
December 28, 2009
Fairly often as I’m working on new ideas, I find myself looking towards the bar for some inspiration. Just a second! It’s not what you think. Not that a great glass of wine or a craft beer can’t inspire food. It’s just that’s not the aspect of the bar I’m eluding to. What I’m talking about is the chicken wing, mozzarella stick, nachos, and potato skin portion of the menu that makes any sporting event, or any late night out that much more enjoyable. But it’s tough to eat this food on a regular basis. Most of it is heavy and greasy and is often more work than worth it to make these foods at home (If you’ve ever fried your own food you know what it’s like during clean up and disposal). But inspiration implies a twist…
One of my favorite bar food menu items is the loaded stuffed baked potato, a much heartier version of the potato skin. Typically smothered in sour cream, cheese, green onions, bacon and all sorts of other ingredients, the potato is more of a vessel than a crucial flavor component. Part of the problem, at least as I see it, is that a regular old potato lacks a strong flavor. But that certainly isn’t the case for the sweet potato.
And with all the talk about how great this orange root vegetable is for you, I figured what a perfect way to lighten up the dish. Pairing the baked sweet potato with curry, a perfect compliment, the toppings of peas, bell pepper, onions, and shrimp enhanced the overall flavor without masking it. So you may still crave the original while at the bar, but if your at home you may very well appreciate this alternative.
December 21, 2009
Despite an evergrowing change in perspective when it comes to eating healthy, we still have a long way to go as a nation. But I honestly think it is a lot easier than we make it seem. So much of the “difficulty” in eating healthy (mentally and financially) is a product of shoddy marketing.
So many of the products or recipes we find labeled “healthy” are marketed as substitutes or replacements. This creates some level of expectation and as consumers we are almost inevitably dissapointed. There is no replacement for a hamburger. There is no replacement for chocolate cake. But does that mean there’s no hope?
Whole wheat pasta is one of these above mentioned ingredients. Whole wheat has swept over our grocery stores with varying levels of success. In the case of the pasta, the quality has come a long way, but it is still no replacement. So why am I cooking with it? The truth is, whole wheat pasta has a great flavor that regular pasta does not; a nuttiness that compliments a whole assortment of ingredients. Like in this dish where it is tossed with roasted brussel sprouts, fennel, and carrots along with sweet italian sausage. Sure maybe the use of the whole wheat pasta made this more healthy, but that certainly wouldn’t be what I marketed it as…
December 14, 2009
For all you Top Chef followers out there, you’d have to admit this season was better than some of the past few. Less drama, more quality cooking and a whole lot of interesting challenges. And whether you like his style or not, season 6 winner Michael had some amazing ideas and near flawless execution. So often his dishes incorporated the element of surprise. While it looked like one thing, it tasted like another. Or by melding flavors that seemingly had no business working together, he was able to elicit smirks and amazement; even out of Colicchio. So with Michael’s unique ideas in mind, I had thoughts on reinventing some of my favorite flavors.
It’s been a while since I’ve mentioned New Orleans. Mainly in fear that some of you (especially one of you) were just plain sick of hearing about it. But the creole flavors melding French and Spanish influences, especially that in jambalaya are so delicious and comforting, especially as the weather cools down, I just can’t resist myself. But jambalaya can also be a bit heavy. So in my creole stuffed chicken rolls I managed to incorporate the essential flavors while reducing some of the richness. Sausage, peppers, onions, and creole seasoned stuffing kept the chicken moist while imparting some amazing flavor. And where’s the rice? Served with my “more green than dirty” rice this dish took me right back to one of my favorite cities. It may not look like jambalaya but it sure did taste like it!
December 10, 2009
We all know the type. Twirling and wafting. Sipping and Spitting. Oohing and Aahing. Yes, the wine “aficionados” of the world (and I think we can all admit to occasionally crossing that line) have for years been sampling and pontificating the nuances of any given bordeaux or chardonnay. “A hint of cherry” here or “subtle oak notes” there. But how many times have you guzzled sampled one of these same wines with out the same sensory observation? And how many times have you found yourself nodding simply to avoid the embarrassment; the embarrassment of your mediocre palate.
Fear not! Read this Wall Street Journal article and you may just have to laugh next time you hear the grumblings of a wine expert. Robert Hodgson, a retired Statistics professor and proprietor of his own vineyard, set out years ago to determine the validity of the popular 100 point rating system and has made some pretty fascinating conclusions along the way. One of the most interesting points made in this article is that related to the award system within the wine industry.
Hodgson was curious how one wine could be given an award at one competition while being ridiculed at another. Any realistic wine drinker wouldn’t be that shocked. Wine along with food is about experiences, memories, settings, and so much more. There is no exact rating system for a given taste; especially from person to person. Each individual will have their own opinion. But what that same realistic wine drinker may be shocked to hear, the variation comes from much more than the individual’s preference.
100 wines were served to 70 trained judges over two days in a blind tasting consistent with a competition setting. Except in this experiment, each wine was served three separate times to each judge, all from the same bottle. Rather than having consistent opinions (they didn’t know this was happening), the average judge rated the wine +/- 4 points. That means if the judge rated the wine a 90, the other two times could have been an 86 or a 94. And this wouldn’t even be so shocking if the prices we pay weren’t so heavily dictated by these results. As a consumer, we use the scale to tell us if something is worth the money. But it makes sense. We have all had those expensive duds.
Honestly, even before reading this article I’ve always felt strongly about wine. That is, I felt strongly that you should find what you like and drink it! It’s true, some wines compliment food better than others, and some vineyards and some varietals are historically amazing but go with what you like and 99 times out of 100 you won’t be disappointed. Lastly, I find trusting the opinion of someone you respect to be a surefire way to find good wine. Recently my most trusted friend…Trader Joe. If you haven’t checked out the wine store in Union Square you’re really missing out. Sure you can buy the three buck chuck and you’ll be content but pick any of their “Top 50” (almost all around $4.99) and you may be blown away…even if your mediocre palate can’t taste the licorice.
December 8, 2009
We all have them. You know, the culinary moments that we just never forget. Sometimes its an experience that ruins a dish or ingredient forever. Maybe you got food poisoning from shrimp and have vowed to never eat shellfish again. Or maybe you ate too many ribs one night and the mere sight of them induces nausea. Yes, its true we all have these moments that have and will continue to shape our eating don’ts.
But what about those moments that open your eyes and show you how truly amazing food can be. Whether its trying an oyster for the first time or having your first bacon topped cupcake (yes I have had this and it is top 5 things I have ever eaten), these are the moments worth writing about, and these are the moments that make any foodie weak in the knees.
I still remeber the first time I had this combination of flavors; roasted beets, orange segments, and seared scallops. I remember looking at the chef during our pre-dinner meeting at the restaurant I was working at and thinking he had lost it. The flavors seemed so wacky to me but as I went into the back to ask for a taste I was truly blown away. The oranges lended both acidity and sweetness complimenting the richness of the scallop and the earthiness of the beets, making it a customer favorite for that night and many to follow. I added just a bit of spinach and finished with a balsamic reduction and good olive proving once again that simply prepared, well combined ingredients just can’t be beat.