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Monday, November 30, 2009

Lessons in Lavender, Part One

After a recent, heady discussion of all the wonderfully fragrant possibilities when using lavender in cooking, Mags wrote back several days after her visit, offering further suggestions to incorporate the delicate, versatile bud (whether fresh, dried, or diluting its oil) into other things, things such as wild cocktails, cookies, and chicken! I'd only ever traipsed across lavender when par-boiled with salted red bliss potatoes which I then drained and let sit for a few hours before being roasted in the oven with fresh rosemary, a firm drizzle of olive oil and a frank use of coarse salt and ground black pepper for about an hour.

Unfathomable as it may be at first, it does seem that in lavender, a world awaits.

Here is just a taste of what to do to get started of course, but Mags has promised to send more recipes that also infuse the elegant lavender lady. It appears that a little imagination is all that is required, whatever your recipe, whatever the season!

From Mags herself:
"Peter! I haven't forgotten about what you mentioned about lavender recipes. Below is the syrup that we've come to love in everything from fizzy lemonade, or straight club soda to champagne or caprihinas. I've got a good lavender-limoncello shortbread type cookie that's perfectly reliable but I'm futsing with a salted chocolate lavender cookie. I'm close but not perfect yet. I've got to recreate a chicken dish that I made early in the summer--I'm horrible about writing recipes down but once I do you'll have it."
Thanks, Mags!

To be continued for sure, but in the meantime...

Cherry Lavender Simple Syrup
2 c water
2 c sugar (more if extra-syrupy-ness is desired)
scant cup cherries, halved and pitted
3-4 sprigs fresh lavender or 1 tsp dried lavender flowers
Heat together over medium heat until sugar has melted and the syrup has taken on a deep cherry color. Strain, discarding both lavender and cherries. Add a tablespoon to favorite cocktails, or add balsamic vinegar and olive oil for a quick dressing or meat glaze. A tiny spash will transform meringue or whipped cream. Syrup will keep in a glass container under refrigeration for ages.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Sweet Potato Tipsy

When I was going to school in London (22 years ago!) my friends and I hopped a ferry and went to Paris for Thanksgiving. Given my New England upbringing, I somehow had no problem foregoing turkey and stuffing for a rare filet mignon with grilled potatoes and a few glasses of cheap red table wine. This year I'll be in London again where I plan to spend Thanksgiving at my favorite restaurant in the world (at least what I know of it), Rules, that specializes in game cookery.

I've only made Thanksgiving dinner once, and actually my friend brought over the turkey. I had planned to make a bunch of side dishes, so many in fact that I forgot about some of them, the peas and pearl onions left uncomposed in the fridge--and I discovered the stuffing still in the microwave about a week later.

Here's one of the dishes that I did manage to make. I learned about Clementine Paddleford, the pioneer of American food writing, in the pages of Saveur magazine that year and chose to make her Sweet Potato Tipsy. Although she is largely forgotten today, I like to keep her memory alive by pulling out this wonderful dish every now and then.

Happy Thanksgiving everybody!

Sweet Potato Tipsy
Serves 6-8
8 medium sweet potatoes
2 pinches of salt
7 tbsp. butter
1⁄2 cup half and half
1⁄4 cup dry sherry
3 tbsp. brown sugar
1. Preheat oven to 350°. Put 8 medium sweet potatoes into a large pot, cover with cold water, and add 2 generous pinches of salt. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat to medium, and cook until soft when pierce, 30-40 minutes. Drain and set aside to cool.
2. Peel potatoes and transfer to a large bowl. Coarsely mash potatoes with the tines of a fork, then add 5 tbsp. softened butter, 1⁄2 cup half-and-half, 1⁄4 cup dry sherry, and 3 tbsp. brown sugar. Beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
3. Transfer sweet potato mixture to a buttered medium baking dish, dot with 2 tbsp. butter, and bake until top is golden brown, about 30 minutes.

First published in Saveur in Issue #62; photo by James Baigrie

Friday, November 20, 2009

Smashing Pumpkin

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my trip to Salem, MA and included a recipe for Chicken Pot Pie in a Pumpkin that I feel appropriately ushers in the fall. I just came across an old grocery list and it suddenly reminded me of the dinner Baby and I made for a few friends last year, where every course included an element of the great pumpkin, in tribute to the season. Here are some guidelines to perhaps create a smashing pumpkin dinner of your own.


We started with a simple Salad Dressed with Blood Orange Vinaigrette. Michael Lomonaco taught me the components to compose a vinaigrette through his fantastic '21' Cookbook and his recipe for Shallot and Champagne Vinaigrette, which remains my favorite dressing. For this particular dinner, I played around a little with essential balance of sweet, sour and savory ingredients, incorporating blood orange juice and red onions and subbing balsamic vinegar for the champagne vinegar to grace the romaine lettuce and further topped the greens with pepitas, otherwise known as the pumpkin seeds that I had scoured out of the pumpkins used for our Pot Pie.

Shallot and Champagne Vinaigrette
Yield: 1 cup
1/4 cup champagne vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
4 large, peeled shallots
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade, process the vinegar, mustard, sugar, shallots, salt, and pepper until the shallots are finely chopped. With the processor running, add the oil very slowly in a small stream until all the oil has been incorporated and the dressing has achieved a silky, smooth texture. The dressing may be stored, covered, up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator but should be brought to room temperature before using.

For a pasta course, we served Papardelle with Pumpkin Sauce and here is a recipe very similar to what we did (I'd skip the red pepper though).

Chicken Pot Pie in a Pumpkin

Ebelskivers are little pancakes that may be stuffed to your hearts delight with any number of things. The ebelskiver pan was a birthday gift last year and any time we've brought it out, our guests have responded resoundingly in kind. For this dinner we served our ebelskivers stuffed with whipped pumpkin and cream cheese and a drizzle of Vermont maple syrup. Here's the basic recipe adapted from Williams-Sonoma:

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 Tbs. granulated sugar
4 eggs, separated
2 cups milk
4 Tbs. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
Whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and granulated sugar. In another bowl, lightly whisk the egg yolks, then whisk in the milk and the 4 Tbs. melted butter. Whisk the egg yolk mixture into the flour mixture until well combined; the batter will be lumpy. Using an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on high speed until stiff but not dry peaks form, 2 to 3 minutes. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the whites into the batter in two additions.
Put 1/8 tsp. melted butter in each well of a filled-pancake pan. Set over medium heat and heat until the butter begins to bubble. Pour 1 Tbs. batter into each well. Spoon 1/2 tsp. of the cinnamon filling into the center of each pancake and top with 1 Tbs. batter. Cook until the bottoms are golden brown and crispy, about 3 minutes. Using 2 skewers, flip the pancakes over and cook until golden and crispy, about 3 minutes more. Transfer the pancakes to a plate. Repeat with the remaining batter and filling.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Next Magazine Review - Agua Dulce

Executive Chef Ulrich Sterling has some wonderfully wild things going on at Agua Dulce (sweet water) with a vivid host of Pan-Latin and Asian influences that I daresay will make the rest of the foodist strip of Hell’s Kitchen step up to Sterling’s inspired plate. The place is stunning too; the design harkening back to the yesteryear chic of Havana and Rio.

I had no problem launching into some “sweet water” myself, namely the delicious Agave Flower ($13) cocktail, a potent mix of Patron Silver tequila, floral St. Germain and fresh squeezed lemon, topped with a floating mix of berries.

Our first hint that we were onto something very special came with the incredible little platter of Chili and Sweet Soy-Glazed Soybeans ($7), seared to a rich char, with ginger, soy caramel and shallots. We devoured our aperitivos (appetizer), which began with thrilling Island Creek Oysters ($18/half dozen) in a tingly mignonette of jalapeno, celery, ginger and a trio of crushed peppercorns. The essence of fruit further enhanced the fresh oyster flavor. We loved the sprightly Salmon Citrus Ceviche ($13) with thinly sliced red onion and the Yellow Fin Tuna Tiriadito ($15) with a truffled lychee sauce and crushed pink peppercorns.

A la parilla (from the grill), we really enjoyed the Aji Panca Glazed Duck ($24) from Long Island served medium rare, with crispy duck confit, a ginger scallion slaw, and boniato, also known as white sweet potatoes. I almost had to pick my friend up off the floor once she tasted the Beef Short Rib ($23), coated for two days with a spice rub, and braised for 12 hours with lapsang souchong tea. Fantastic! Yuca Frita ($5) were perfectly fried, and a perfect, flavorful side with a hint of vanilla.

We went simply cross-eyed over the shot of Patron CafĂ© XO ($11), yes—tequila and coffee together at last! Dulce de Leche Flan ($9) was a shattering, shockingly good conclusion; such creamy gorgeousness found in the incredible sweet caramel flan with salted caramel ice cream.

Chef Sterling and Agua Dulce both delight in any number of languages, countries or cuisines!

Monday, November 9, 2009

The First Supper

The first meal I ever made with my friends was very simple, not long after I had graduated high school.

Though our entree may never have been instructed or served at the famed Le Cordon Bleu cooking schools, we did happen to serve Chicken Cordon Bleu which ending up serving as a memory I still cherish to this day.

It was only the four of us that clandestine summer afternoon at my parents' house, while they were out of town for the weekend. I suppose we went shopping and bought the ingredients, found a proper stash of wine, some beer or maybe even liters of Sun Country wine coolers as we were wont to do, back then.

When we got home, I remember putting a stack of some of my Billie Holiday records on the turntable in the dining room and it became the indelible score for that afternoon: her dreamy and sad music still reminds me of it now, floating around as it did then, united as we were, in the kitchen.

While EES supervised I'm sure, JC prepared the Cordon Bleu, pounding and breading the chicken cutlets which were to envelop the ham (such as Black Forest) and Swiss cheese to make it all juicy and gooey when baked in a moderately temperatured oven.

Perhaps more humbly on our part, TD and I stirred the contents of a few tins of Pepperidge Farm Selects creamy vichyssoise together with some cold milk in a bowl and let it chill for the better part of an hour in the fridge, adding what I thought was an inspired touch of my own: a little dried thyme. Loved it.

I don't know if we had salad first, nor do I remember if we had dessert afterward. We could have had a flaming Bananas Foster for all I know. The fact that we created a wonderful afternoon making a meal together is what I'll always remember.

What is still true, I like my vichyssoise topped with thyme or with finely minced chives--but I do make my own now, not out of a can, as good as that was. JC still delights in making a fine Cordon Bleu too. But I think we have all relegated Sun Country wine coolers as a thing of the past.

JC's Cordon Bleu
"Medium sliced ham, as fancy as you want. I sauté the slices for a minute or so in butter w/ black pepper and some basil.
Pound out chicken breasts until they are flat and maybe 3/4 inches thick. Soak the breasts for a half hour in a white wine that is not shy.
Dip them in a single egg-milk mixture. Coat w/ breadcrumbs to which you add spices you like and a little grated Romano.
Preheat to 375ish. For a few minutes put your ceramic baking dish in the oven with a little bit of olive oil spread about.
W/ the flattened breasts on a cutting board, top w/ your ham, plenty of Swiss, (again as strong as you want), so that when you roll the breast and fold the edges the breasts are stuffed but the ham and Swiss are enclosed. Use toothpicks to clamp them shut. I usually sprinkle more bread crumbs over the top and pour some of the remaining white wine over them all.
Take the hot dish out of the oven, and carefully place the breasts within. The little bit of olive oil should be hot enough so that the breasts sizzle when they are placed on the surface.
Do not overcook! Maybe 35 minutes at 375. W/ ten minutes left use a spoon to baste."

Soundtrack: The laughter and clinking glasses of friendship

Everything But The...JA Henckels Kitchen Duo 2 Piece Shears Set!

While I have dallied with various other cutlery, I keep going back to JA Henckels. I have a full, durable set of their knives that I have collected over the years and although I do find other knives to be quite serviceable, when it comes to kitchen shears, it's the JA Henckels brand that I can't do without when comparing; the shears are versatile enough to cut through chicken bones, simply snip herbs or even neatly cut strips of bacon into pieces for recipes. They also just feel good on the hand and are very easy to clean.

Click here and get the paring knife as a bargain bonus. The keen blade is a perfect tool to peel lemon twists and cut lime wedges for your guests to enjoy in a dry martini or strawberry daiquiri when visiting, while they're happily perched on the counter stools around your bar!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Shouldn't You Just...?

Gently simmer spices stovetop as we approach the cooler months? Such as dried orange peel, five spice powder, or ginger and cloves which delight the senses with their warming aromas? Go here to learn about Katom commercial ranges. To help you along with picking out one for yourself, the site offers offers a wide range of information on ranges--from technical know-how, maintenance and repair!

Modern advice on etiquette for the not-so-new millennium

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Next Magazine Review - Sweetiepie

Sweetiepie is above all else, a lot of fun. I enjoyed it most when I went the first time, perhaps because I was with my niece and nephew and saw it through the eyes of a child. It’s perfectly pink and modeled after an old-fashioned malt shoppe and on a more recent visit, it was a great place to catch up with a dear friend, sitting as we did in a huge golden birdcage in the front window. Details such as antique silverware and plates amp up the utter charm.

Naturally we had to try The Sweetiepie Cocktail ($11), a yummy, fizzy concoction of Champagne, St. Germain and pomegranate. A Pomegranate Margarita ($11) might have used a tad more tequila and a little less pomegranate puree.

The crisp Florian Mollet Sancerre ($10/glass, $38/bottle) that accompanied our meal could have been chillier, but was still quite drinkable. Our Iceberg Wedge ($11) was a wonderful, heaping mound with a smattering of apple smoked bacon shards, dressed in a rich and earthy Roquefort cheese, which we in error thought may have been laced with truffles. We found truffles instead in the Wild Asparagus Risotto ($18), which was very good, accented by a wafer-thin parmesan tuile. Spaghetti and Meatballs ($18) featured thick noodles and had homemade sauce just like Grandma used to make.

We ordered the marvelously gooey Macaroni and Cheese ($15) with toasted breadcrumbs to go along with our 3 Mini Burgers ($14), which were only okay this trip: the bun was stiff and I bristle at and discard pale tomatoes; the meat was fairly decent but we liked the special sauce. Our waiter suggested we try the Roast Chicken ($24). Although the skin was overly salty, the really good half Cornish hen was tender, served on a scrumptious bed of caramelized leeks with butter, thyme and garlic.

The Dessert Sampler Platter ($12) was heaven. A light little tower of wedding cake with lemon sauce threatened to float away; the dollop of blueberry fool was like whipped butter; the Tahitian vanilla mini ice cream cone with chocolate sprinkles was completely adorable.

Cheers, Sweetiepie!