Strange Cravings

June 29, 2011

"Spicy" Chicken with Guacamole

I’ve developed quite the reputation for ordering “strange” things off of menus. Ask Em and her family about the “turkey dinner” at Gallaghers. Or what about the rib dinner at GlyHop? And while “spicy chicken” doesn’t sound so strange, everything changes when you can consider where it’s made.

Tartine, one of our favorite places in the West Village, serves really great and classic french cuisine. Add the fact that it’s BYO, and you can see why this place is packed on a nightly basis. The mussels and frites are amazing, the steak aux poivre is delicious, and the soups and salads never disappoint. But I always order the spicy chicken. Served with guacamole and french fries; so what the hell is this bizarre menu item?

The funny thing is, it’s not even spicy. And to add another twist, its made with sliced chicken breast which has the potential for multiple disasters; 1, the absence of chicken flavor and 2, the moisture content of a shoe. Somehow, Tartine bypasses these two disasters and produces a really delicious dish. One that I was craving hard-core last night….

So I attempted to whip up my own version of this dish! I find the key to sliced chicken cooking is to begin the process with the whole breast. By searing a seasoned breast before slicing it up and returning it to the pan, you somehow manage to retain the “chickenness”. Creating a pan sauce with garlic, shallots, and fresh tomatoes with a small spoonful of honey created that wonderfully simple yet comforting sauce that compared pretty closely to that of Tartine’s. With some fresh guacamole and some cucumber salad (would have been better with the frites) it was another craving squashed successfully!

What are your favorite menu items to replicate at home?


Homemade Cheese Recipe: Impressively Simple

June 28, 2011

Homemade Cheese Bruschetta

As I mentioned yesterday, this homemade cheese recipe is pretty damn easy. If you can boil water, you can probably make cheese. Except, don’t use water…all you need is whole milk.

Interestingly enough, there are some details in the process that warrant considerations before you get to the easy stuff. Out of all the recipes out there, there are two crucial components: the type of milk and the type of acid. As for the milk, the experts will warn you to stay away from organic. No, there isn’t some new study that shows that organic food kills you faster than non-organic or something additionally confusing like that. In this case, it’s all about the processing.

Organic milk (or at least a large percentage of it) undergoes “Ultra-Pasteurization”. As compared to the regular pasteurization, this process provides a higher dosage of heat to the milk which can destroy some of the key proteins needed for the cheese making process. And the experts are right! I tried this one out for my self just to confirm, and it’s true, the yield from the organic milk was significantly lower.

So now that you’ve gotten your milk chosen, the next question is about the acid. After you’ve slowly heated your milk up to a simmer, it’s the acid that will start to separate the whey from the curds. While white vinegar has long been a standard, lemon juice is touted for the additional fresh flavor it brings to the final product. I once again tried both and decided to split the difference. The cheese made solely with white vinegar was a bit bland and the cheese made solely with lemon juice was a bit overpowering. So go 50/50 and you’ve got yourself some deliciousness!

As you can probably tell, you’re working on a homemade ricotta. But the cool thing is, depending upon how long you let the cheese drain, you can end up with wildly different results. I haven’t experimented a ton here yet but even after just 15 minutes the texture is completely different. Either way, served with some fresh olive oil and a little lemon zest, this cheese is perfect on its own! Plus, think of all the things you’ll do with this homemade cheese!

Homemade Ricotta Recipe:

 1 Gallon Whole Milk (non-organic)

4 tbsp salt

6 tbsp acid (white vinegar, lemon juice, or a 50/50 mix)

In a non-reactive pot, slowly bring the milk and the salt to a simmer over med heat. This will avoid the milk burning and producing some off flavors. Once the milk has reached a simmer, add the acid and stir for a bit to combine. After 2 minutes, remove the pot from the heat. You should notice the cheese beginning to separate. After another 2 minutes, gently remove the cheese with a slotted spoon to a strainer lined with paper towels. You can use cheese cloth if you have it but paper towels work just as well. Let the cheese drain for 2-10 minutes for desired texture. You can serve immediately or place in the fridge for later use.

SilverCaterersRecipeCards – HomemadeRicottaCheese

Silver Caterers: Back in the Game

June 27, 2011

Bruschetta Board - Homemade Ricotta and Tomato

What a fun weekend! As you’ve probably noticed, I haven’t been catering events nearly as much as I had been. But with two big parties to feed this weekend, it was awesome to get back into the groove. And to spice it up a bit for the first event, a wonderful bridal shower, I came up with an interesting menu concept…

Rather than suggesting dishes or requesting favorite foods from the bride to be, I simply asked for 8 words; 4 foods and 4 others. Those 8 words would dictate the menu and with Goat Cheese, Beef, Risotto, Baguette, Bright, Unexpected, Crunchy, and Refreshing as my triggers I had quite the time coming up with all this delicious food:

Bridal Shower Menu:

Bruschetta Board (Homemade Goat’s Milk Ricotta + Tomato Basil) – Goat Cheese, Baguette, Crunchy

Miniature Spinach Quiches – Crunchy

White Bean “Risotto” – Unexpected, Risotto

Grilled Vegetable Panzanella – Bright, Refreshing

Grilled Flank Steak with Strawberry Tomato Compote – Beef, Unexpected

Cucumber Cilantro Cocktails and Grapefruit Margaritas – Refreshing, Bright

Everything turned out really well but the highlight was the homemade cheese. I’ve recently been working on nailing this recipe (which I’ll share with you tomorrow) and while I hate to admit this, it’s unbelievable simple. So when you start making your own cheese, plead ignorance and enjoy all of the praise thrown your way. Because with a little olive oil and some lemon zest, this fresh cheese is simply awesome.

The other highlight was the “risotto”. I wasn’t too keen on cooking up a big batch of steamy, creamy risotto on a hot summer day. But early last week this idea hit me and I’m sure glad it did. White beans took the place of the arborio rice and a creamy feta dressing provided that perfect risotto consistency. With some chopped vegetables, this chilled “risotto” was really fantastic.

So cheers to the bride to be (and her fiance) one more time! Glad I could be part of such a special event!

Herbacious Recipe Poll

June 24, 2011

Herbs from the Garden

My garden is really starting to take off, and despite the crazy amounts of rain we’ve been pounded with, it looks like I’ll have these amazing fresh herbs throughout the summer. So it got me thinking…

Most of our herb usage is about adding background flavor. With the exception of a pesto which is all herb, all the time, we rarely highlight the herbs on their own. So which one from my garden should I come up with an herbcentric dish for? Should it be the woody and pungent rosemary, the sweet and peppery Thai basil, or the bright and fresh lemon thyme? You choose and of course, a delicious recipe will follow!

Have a good weekend and keep your fingers crossed for some sun.

Gotta Love Chickpeas…

June 23, 2011

Chickpea and Zucchini Cakes

This may not be the prettiest plate composition I’ve ever put together, but the flavors and textures of these chickpea and zucchini cakes topped with a cauliflower and beet salad more than make up for it.

Whenever I buy dried chickpeas, I always seem to go overboard. Forgetting that the beans seemingly double in size after being soaked, I end up with more than I bargained for. But I know if I cook them up, all together, I’ll find a way to use them. This was just the case yesterday as I was thinking of ways to work with the chickpeas without repeating some of the meal types I’ve posted recently. That meant a stew or a simple salad wouldn’t do the job.

What about chickpea cakes? Hmmm…with a little research online I found quite a few recipes suggesting the use of chickpea flour to create almost pancake like goodies. But I wanted something with more substance and hell, I had all those damn chickpeas ready to go. I wasn’t sure how this would turn out but the process proved to be not only simple, but really spot on.

In a food processor, I pureed what I believe was an equivalent to a can of chickpeas (sorry for the lack of direct measuring). I added a tbsp of olive oil to get the thing going but that was it. You end up with an almost smooth chickpea mash that is a few steps a way from being a delicious hummus. But that’s where zucchini comes into play. Shredded zucchini is packed with moisture which is why it makes a perfect addition to breads, and also a major challenge for making zucchini cakes. Flour is often used to help bind zucchini in these types of applications but I was set on making these cakes without any wheat. So how would the somewhat dry “chickpea batter” do as a stand in for the flour…really damn well in fact!

I also added some quickly sautéed corn to the one shredded zucchini because I’ve grown to love that fantastic flavor combination. After a good seasoning with salt, pepper, and a tbsp or so of curry powder, I formed some patties and got to pan searing. I find a med/high heat to start is ideal but at some point it will be good to lower the heat a bit. Nothing here needs to be cooked. Remember, all this recipe includes is chickpeas, zucchini, and corn, but the ideal cake will have a crispy outside and a warm and creamy center.

Sure the roasted cauliflower and beet salad was a good topping with a few more crunchy chickpeas, but you could put just about anything on top of these chickpea cakes and you’ll be happy. We were thinking skirt steak and blue cheese wouldn’t be too shabby for next time…

Is that a Rice Cake?

June 21, 2011

Black Bean ans Swiss Chard Stew with Seasoned Rice Cake

I had made a promise to myself at the beginning of the year that I’d start baking my own bread more often. Because besides the occasional zucchini bread in the summer or a baguette or two, here and there, I’ve never really dabbled in the wonderful world of fresh-baked bread. Well, its June and I still haven’t even preheated the oven. But this isn’t the whole story. Part of the reason I was prompted to begin baking my own was the fact that I had cut back on the amount of bread I was eating in general. It didn’t pay to buy and waste. So I figured, if I wanted bread badly enough, I’d make it on my own. Enter rice cakes…

You are going to hate me for this one and maybe even question everything you’ve ever read on this blog. Yes, those cardboardy in texture, bland in flavor rice cakes are what I’m suggesting you use as a stand in for that warm, fluffy buttery bread. But no, this isn’t about “heathly for you” or “gluten-free” or whatever. We’re all grown ups here and there’s plenty of that stuff to read on the bajillion other food blogs out there. This is about convenience, removing waste, and even deliciousness.

Take for example this black bean and swiss chard stew I whipped up last night. Using dried black beans that were soaked over night gave this stew a great texture that the canned variety can not bring to the table. But in a pinch, of course the canned will work. With tomatoes, swiss chard and tons of spices (garlic, jalapeno, curry, chili, oregano, cardamom, and cumin) and a dollop of lime packed guacamole, this was a great dinner. But it was missing something. It needed a crunch. The crunch that a great piece of baguette would offer. With no baguette in sight, I reached for the rice cakes fully aware of the two potential outcomes. Em would either tout me a culinary genius and devour every bite or she would pack her things and find a real cook!

Just kidding about the packing her stuff up (I think)…

I brushed the rice cakes with extra virgin olive oil, sprinkled them with salt, curry powder and sesame seeds and a little bit of hope. And yes, these were delicious! And yes, we both ate every bite; crunchy enough to hold up to the stew and with just enough flavor to liven the normally boring snack up a bit. The olive oil was the key. I can’t wait to try this with other spices and herbs!

Your New Favorite Summer Condiment

June 20, 2011

Seared Scallops with Strawberry Tomato Chutney

I had my trepidations about skipping out on a farm share this year in favor of more consistent green market shopping. I figured, despite my best intentions, I wouldn’t make it to the market enough, and I’d be discouraged by how much I was spending. But after Saturday’s trip, all of my concerns are gone! I managed to get a weeks worth of amazing produce, full of variety for just above what I was paying for the farm share; and that included these delicious strawberries!

I had promised a strawberry/asparagus recipe but unfortunately I was unable to find the latter. But after you try this strawberry tomato chutney, you will definitely forgive me. The idea came as I was picking up a handful of these delicious LI scallops from one of the two fish vendors at the farmers market. I love pairing seared scallops, rich and sweet, with something acidic and something crunchy. When I came across amazingly pungent mustard greens and was bombarded by the loads of market strawberries, this dish took form. Everything was in perfect balance and while the scallops and greens were delicious, the chutney was the real star.

The more I think about this, the more I’m sure this would be great on just about anything. I can’t wait to whip this up again for the next cook out because I think it would be absurd on a hot dog! It’s a perfect summer condiment!

SilverCaterersRecipeCards – StrawberryTomatoChutney

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