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Beer Cheer Here

26 Jan

Don’t hate me: I don’t like beer, but I recognize its place in the world. My mother would slug a Heineken on a hot summer’s day and I must admit my secret pleasure of downing a dark, syrupy, heady Lezak in Prague at U Fleků (the oldest brew pub in the world, circa 1499). But beer seems to be moving the same way wine did 20 years ago: Lots of new entrants, the emergence of “beer geekery”…and the growing popularity of monster, high-alcohol beers. And while big brand beer sales may be slipping, craft brewers’ sales have been rising about 12% annually according to some estimates. This is a trend hard to ignore.

Most beers are between 5% and 6% alcohol, but the new big bruisers run from 7%-14% and are very much in demand. Robust India Pale Ales are leading the charge along with high-alcohol stouts aged in oak barrels — often previously used for bourbon. India Pale Ales’ popularity indicates a shift in Americans taste preference — a shift toward bitter, which we also have seen in food and in the popularity of craft-made bitters in cocktails. Small producers, stronger products and a bit of snobbery — they all remind me of bread thirty years ago, when a great restaurant roll was hard to find until local bakers began showing people what a great product was like. And, like beer today, there suddenly erupted a bewildering variety of breads and consumers have discovered that “sour” was a good thing and now those idiosyncratic efforts are being rewarded. Indeed, sour beers (in the positive sense) are catching on, almost all of them local.

Draft beer is on the rise because much of craft brewers’ output is sold locally and sold on tap. About 1/3 of craft beer sales are on tap vs. 10% for big national brands. This means growing representation of local beers and it fits nicely into the locavore trend. Consumers are discovering that good local beers selling at $5-$7 a glass are great bargains compared to mediocre wines that, at $10-$15 a glass, restaurants are clearly overcharging for. (This fact alone could begin to sway me!) Just two days ago, Starbucks announced that it is expanding its beer and wine program to Southern California, Chicago and Atlanta after testing it in Seattle and Portland. It is not alone: Burger King, Sonic, even White Castle, are serving beer (and sometimes wine) in a limited number of stores — all hoping to boost their evening sales. Newfangled beer gardens featuring dozens of craft beers instead of mediocre swill are opening across the country and establishing themselves as new gathering places. Some, like the Batali/Bastianich 10,000 square foot rooftop Birreria in New York City are all-weather affairs and they’re transcending the old notions of pretzels as typical “beer food.” You’ll find curated selections of cheese and charcuterie along with a full menu of lusty main courses like quail with Sambuca-braised fennel, homemade sausages (the cotechino is to die for); and pork shoulder braised with beer and apricots.

And then there’s Jimmy’s No. 43 in Manhattan, run by the affable Jimmy Carbone. He is a bear of a beer lover and has sanctified the yeasty brew with a calendar of riveting events and even his own radio show devoted to beer experts and on-air tastings. (You can listen every Tuesday on Heritage Radio Network.) Coming up? There’s a Beer Cocktail Brunch-Off (big trend); a Farm + Beer Expo (held at the Brooklyn Brewery); and on Valentine’s Day, a tasting of beers that pair with chocolate. Jimmy cajoles his disciples to “Keep Your Resolution to Drink Great Beer This Year (of the Dragon.)

Beer and bread are lifestyle products that reflect a growing desire for the hand-made, the strong-flavored, the distinctive. I’m reminded of the time that Joe Baum, the legendary restaurateur, decades ago, planned a chain of beer bars called Brew Ha Ha. Clearly, its time has come.

Cleaning out the Fridge

24 Jun

For the last four days I have been involved in a “secret project”– one that has required lots and lots of cooking and food photography. Sixty-two photos to be exact! My days have begun at 5:45 a.m. and have lasted up to 16 hours, at which time, the dishes would be washed (we have no dishwasher!), the shopping lists made for the next day’s shoot, and a final sip taken from a big glass of red wine. My house and kitchen, turned into a “studio” with simple lighting, an array of white plates, a cornucopia of fresh ingredients, and a very credible photographer whose work has graced the pages of magazines, books and food products for decades.

Part performance art, part circus, it required the best of spirits and the steady hands of an assistant, and at certain times two! — both of whom work as personal chefs. The rhythm to get so much done in a day was at times cool jazz and at other times a symphonic movement which could have been titled Heroica! (Beethoven). If the Marx Brothers had a theme song, that, too, might describe the mood, as we spliced and diced and chopped, steamed, broiled and sauteed, churned ice cream, and sipped and slurped the strongest iced coffee you can imagine. As a frame of reference, in advertising, getting three shots done a day is good work; in publishing a book, seven or eight shots is considered fabulous. We were pushing 16, if you do the math. The reward? Beautiful images and a refrigerator so full that it was getting warm. My fridge ‘runneth over! Up again at 5:45 a.m. this morning to sort out the wheat from the chaff, and to re-jigger odds and ends into dinner. That is, dinner for a week! Ground meat was turned into a meat sauce (I had lots of fresh tomatoes, basil and red onion), my gratin dauphinoise was re-layered with thin slices of roast chicken and asparagus; a multitude of vegetables from the farmer’s market were steamed and tossed with fresh fettuccine as a kind of room-temperature salad for lunch today; leftover poached pears, raspberries, fresh orange segments, roasted grapes and slivers of caramelized pineapple turned into a healthy dessert for tonight’s meal.

But nothing topped breakfast this morning — a slice of my husband’s dense homemade rye bread spread with leftover scallion butter (used for a creamy corn soup) and sprinkled with salt. I encourage you to visit your fridge and to visit a website called “expendible edibles” for inspiration. You may want to fry the carrot tops lurking in the vegetable drawer and scatter them atop a nice carrot-ginger soup. It’s time again to make lemonade out of lemons or better yet, make refreshing agua fresca from leftover watermelon, honeydew or cantaloupe. Recipe below (for carrot tops, too!)

Fried Carrot Tops

1/4 cup lacy green carrot tops
3 tablespoons olive oil

Wash the carrot tops and dry thoroughly. Heat the oil in a small skillet until hot. Carefully add the carrot tops and fry for 30 seconds. or until crispy and still bright green. Transfer to paper towels. Sprinkle very lightly with salt. Stays crispy for several hours.

Agua Fresca (adapted from Eat Fresh Food: Awesome Recipes for Teen Chefs)
This doesn’t require much sugar; just let the fresh fruit flavors shine through.

1/2 large ripe cantaloupe or honeydew (or leftover pieces)
1/4 cup sugar slices of lemon or lime

Remove any seeds from melon. Cut into large pieces and put in a blender with the sugar, 1 cup of water and a pinch of salt. Process on high until very smooth. You will have 3 cups of liquid. Put it in a pitcher and add 3 cups of cold water. Cover and refrigerate until cold. Pour over ice and garnish with lemon or lime. Add more sugar (dissolved in hot water), if needed. Garnish with pieces of melon, if you wish. Serves 4

The Recipe that Made Me Famous

2 Jun

While walking through the splendorous Union Square Market yesterday, looking for new arrivals, I noticed small fragrant strawberries and the loveliest asparagus I’ve seen in a long time.  Those strawberries would wind up in a wonderful dessert I had last night at abc kitchen (located just a few blocks from Union Square) — a kind of strawberry compote decorated with tiny meringues and topped with a quenelle of sour cream-poppy seed ice cream.

But those asparagus, crisp and green and just the size I love — not too thin and not too thick — reminded me of  “the recipe that made me famous.”  Way back in 1995 when no one was roasting asparagus, except for my friend Arthur Schwartz, nobody, and I mean nobody, was frying capers, except me!  The resulting recipe for “Oven-Roasted Asparagus, Fried Capers” was to appear in Recipes 1-2-3: Fabulous Food Using Only Three Ingredients, published in 1996 by Viking.  The headnote went like this:  In less than ten minutes you can have the most addictive asparagus you’ve ever encountered. An intense dose of heat keeps these spears green and snappy.  Deep-fried capers add a startling accent.  A wonderful Mediterranean-inspired first course or side dish.” (recipe below)This recipe would come to be a favorite of Ruth Reichl, the restaurant critic of the New York Times.  Fifteen years later, in Radically Simple, I added a fourth ingredient — fresh bay leaves — which impart a mysterious perfume.   Just this morning I decided to punch in “roasted asparagus and fried capers” into the humming Google search bar.  There are millions (I exaggerate) of citings for this recipe — with no mention of me or where the recipe came from.  But now you know.

"Asparagus fettuccine"

Some years later, in my book Healthy 1-2-3, I also did something no one had done with asparagus.  For a lovely, and very healthy asparagus and orange salad, I boiled the peelings from the asparagus until they were al dente and topped the salad with my original “asparagus fettuccine” — for it is exactly what it looked like! Just recently I noticed this idea in a new cookbook.  But now that I’ve begun a practice of daily “meditation” and reflection, this stuff doesn’t bother me at all.  Enjoy!

The Original Recipe for Roasted Asparagus with Fried Capers (from Recipes 1-2-3)

2 pounds medium-size asparagus
4 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup large capers, drained

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.  Trim the stems of the asparagus, cutting off the ends to make even.  Drizzle 2 tablespoons of the olive oil on a rimmed baking sheet. Place the asparagus on the pan and coat with the oil.  Sprinkle lightly with salt.  Roast for 8 minutes and transfer to a warm platter.  Meanwhile, in a small skillet, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil.  Fry the capers for 1 to 2 minutes until crispy.  Pour over the asparagus and pass the pepper mill.  Serves 6

My Lunch Companions

20 May

Photo Credit: Wai Ng

Here we are at Junior’s having a great time.  The kids all made some healthy food choices and brought any extra food home. Instead of soda, they ordered juice or iced tea and everyone had a fresh green salad or fruit salad that came in a very large goblet.  Yum. With some good luck ahead, these beautiful children may all find wonderful homes.

Photo Credit: Wai Ng

The folks at Junior’s also felt inspired by the day and treated us to lunch.  Many thanks to Colette and Mr. Allen Fleming for making everybody feel very special.  In addition to my lunch bunch, the guests included Laurie Sherman Graff, the director of Heart Gallery, the angels at HeartShare, and many of the foster moms.

Photo Credit: Wai Ng

Every child received an autographed book of his or her choice.  Eat Fresh Food or Kids Cook 1-2-3.  One wonderful young man, aged 21, who sadly placed out of foster care (he never found a home) is now in college and just found his own home — a nice studio apartment.  His dream is to become a big event planner and I know he will reach his goal.  He’s elegant, classy, and was a big help with the kids that afternoon.  Can’t wait to help him find an internship this summer.  And I know just the person to ask!  (Preston Bailey, expect a phone call from me!)

Now, I’m cooking up a storm this morning for an all-day photo shoot for Lenox.  It’s wine-and-food pairing day.  The recipes will be available on their site next week. Have a great weekend!

Jammin’ with Teen Battle Chefs

11 Mar

There is an extraordinary troupe of young chefs in several states who “fight” under the rubric of Teen Battle Chefs. Created by teen-health advocate and educator, Lynn Fredericks, this concept deserves a tv show of its own.  I’ve watched these kids compete and they are tops! Professional, passionate, and competitive.  Here is an example of  what goes on in the kitchen trenches.  Written by Hannah Cohen, the HealthCorps Coordinator at North Bergen High School in New Jersey who teaches Teen Battle Chefs, as witnessed on the battlefield  one recent afternoon:  From Carrot Sweets to Sweet Success.

One afternoon at Teen Battle Chef, I decided to attempt Sweet Carrot Jam with my chefs. My co-workers and I had discussed cooking something totally unfamiliar to us with our students, to show them that we are not afraid to take chances. I stick to Rozanne Gold’s Eat Fresh Food: Awesome Recipes for Teen Chefs because I know her recipes are teen tested and approved, and reliable. She has a recipe for Sweet Carrot Jam, so I decided my chefs and I would cook the jam.

I’ve never made jam before, so we were all in for an adventure!

“The first time we made the sweet carrot jam was interesting. Instead of jam, we made candy.” -Milagros

I’m not going to say it failed, but we didn’t make jam…. The recipe said to cook for 1 hour, but the induction burners cook much differently than regular burners. The jam cooked too fast, and all the water evaporated. So, the sugar crystallized and hardened. We made carrot candy instead! My students became intrigued, so we put the mixture on wax paper to harden. I let the students take the candy home, and we each tried to find a way to eat it without cracking our teeth!

“It tasted better than expected! My mom melted the hardened candy and shaped it into baby carrots. She loved the candy so much, she wanted to keep it all to herself!”- Lyli

“Next week, we tried a second time. This recipe was a success. ” – Tevin

The second try, we successfully made Sweet Carrot Jam! Of course, not without a little snafu….

A chef accidentally added twice the amount of water than the recipe called for. Not to worry! I knew we could leave the lid off while simmering, allowing the water to evaporate. This process took a little while. My students had to leave, so they didn’t get to see the final product. (We will just have to make more!)

“I was not able to munch on it, but it was delicious enough just looking at it! ” – Zeinab

Eventually, a nice syrup formed. I spooned the jam into jam jars then tied a black and white checkered ribbon around them. The jam was given to the teachers who successfully completed a Personal Wellness Challenge.

“The chunky texture of the carrots makes this jam great with crackers & cheese! “- Ms. Reilly

One teacher’s husband devoured it.

“You don’t need to make it exactly by the recipe to enjoy.” – Lyli

Sweet Carrot Jam

Adapted from Eat Fresh Food: Awesome Recipes for Teen Chefs. Ms. Gold said she sometimes adds ground cardamom for added interest and flavor.  Just a pinch will do.

Ingredients:
1 pound carrots
2 cups sugar
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Peel the carrots, cut them into 1 ½ inch pieces, and put in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until they are coarsely ground (about 1/8-inch pieces). You will have about 3 cups. Put the carrots in a heavy 4-quart medium size pot. Add the sugar, lemon juice, 1 cup water, and a pinch of salt. Bring to a rapid boil and cook for 1 minute. Lower the heat to medium and cook for about 1 hour, stirring frequently. To see if it is ready to jell, place 1 tablespoon of the mixture on a small plate and put in the freezer for 1 minute. If it becomes firm and doesn’t flow, it is done even though it will still look quite liquid in the pot. Remove the pot from the heat and let cool. Spoon the mixture into a jar. Cover and refrigerate.

Chicken So Good, It Melts In Your Mouth

1 Mar

Last week I had lunch with an expert.  I don’t, and can’t say this about most people because most of them are just like me — barely approaching “expert” in the field(s) we’ve deemed our life’s work.  But this expert truly is.  She’s also great fun to be with and very smart.  Robin Adelson, whose blog I wholeheartedly recommend, is, as she states, “first and foremost a mom.”  But she is also the Executive Director of the Children’s Book Council, the national trade association of children’s book publishers, and Every Child a Reader, the industry’s literacy foundation.  Impressive, right?  She also has three beautiful daughters (one of whom went to middle school with my beautiful daughter) yet finds the time to read every book she recommends and write a philosophical blog to boot.  A lawyer-turned-children’s literacy advocate, Robin’s expertise also finds its way to the kitchen.  She is a voracious hostess who has strong opinions about food so, when she speaks, I listen.  Needless to say, I was delighted to learn that her new favorite “go-to dish” for family and friends is my “Almost Confit” Chicken, adapted from Radically Simple. My recipe serves four.  Robin makes it in huge disposable aluminum roasting pans to serve 40!  She recommends it highly because it tastes very rich and fattening, yet there is no additional fat added to the recipe. It is astonishingly simple to prepare and you might even call it child’s play.   Two of my books, Kids Cook 1-2-3 and Eat Fresh Food: Awesome Recipes for Teen Chefs (published by Bloomsbury) reflect my burgeoning interest in making every child a cook.  Maybe Robin and I can work on this together.  Reading and cooking have always been (still are!) two of my favorite things.  Both lifelong skills and lifetime companions.

Why not make this tonight with your child(ren)?  Confit is a preparation in which a protein is cooked in its own fat or in copious amounts of oil, after which it is usually crisped. Here is a much healthier approach but one that yields exceedingly succulent results–so good, it melts in your mouth.

“Almost Confit” Chicken with Melted Garlic

8 large bone-in chicken thighs, 8 ounces each
14 large garlic cloves, peeled
1-1/2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves, plus sprigs for garnish
6 fresh bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
freshly ground nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.  Put the chicken in a large bowl.  Press 2 garlic cloves through a press and rub into the chicken.  Add the thyme leaves, bay leaves, allspice, white pepper, and 1-1/2 teaspoons salt.  Grate some nutmeg over the chicken and toss.  Place the chicken in a roasting pan, skin side down.  (I use an enamel paella pan.)  Cover the pan tightly with foil and bake 45 minutes.  Turn the chicken skin side up and scatter the remaining garlic cloves around.  Re-cover and bake 1 hour longer.  Turn on the broiler. Uncover the chicken and broil several inches from the heat for 5 to 10 minutes, until the skin is crispy.  Discard the bay leaves and garnish with thyme sprigs.  Serves 4

Carrots-on-a-Stick

10 Feb

 

Carrots on a stick

In the never-ending national debate about childhood obesity and getting children to eat healthier, here’s a way.  Put fresh food on a stick and call it a snack…or dessert.  This compelling photo from The Economist (Feb. 5 issue) references a new book called The Taste of War: World War Two and the Battle for Food, written by Lizzie Collingham.  And while food shortage does not enter today’s dialogue (there are ample calories available), it is the availability of fresh, unprocessed, whole foods at affordable prices that is in short supply or, worse yet, unavailable in the neighborhoods that need it most.  But maybe that is only part of the fractured mirror that reflects the eating habits of most Americans. I suggest we change our idea of what delicious and desirable is.  Not long ago, I had the pleasure of cooking with a young man, about 8 years old.  He loved to cook and he loved to bake.  My book for children, Kids Cook 1-2-3, had just been published and young GB was eagerly awaiting our appointed time in his kitchen in his family’s country home.  We laughed and measured and whipped and beat whole eggs, and carefully melted chocolate and sweet butter for our flourless chocolate mousse cake.  It was magical to watch three simple ingredients (all organic, too!) transform themselves into a delectable form that oozed in the center yet could be cut with a knife.  After baking the cake and waiting for it to cool, the time had come.  With great anticipation, I cut the warm confection and offered a nice slice to GB. With the grace of a young prince, and all due respect to me, GB simply said…I’d rather have carrots. Now that’s a way to win a war.

With all the work that Ms. Obama is doing, and it’s great work, the real battle resides at home.  It’s marvelous for food manufacturers to reduce salt and sugar and taper portion sizes, but the criteria for “healthy eating” is a moving target.  At home, and in my book for teens called Eat Fresh Food: Awesome Recipes for Teen Chefs, our mantra is simply this:  FRESH. F=farmer-friendly, R=ripe-ready, E=easy, exciting, S=sustainable, H=honest-healthy.  If your cooking at home represents at least two of these factors, then you, too, may win the war.

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