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Spring Review

13 Mar

springreviewIt’s time for a Spring Review since beginning my blog in 2010. I’ve written more than 300 entries and wanted to share the best with you. Because of instantaneous access to one another via the Internet, the “world’s table” is now on public view. It is my goal, then, as a journalist, chef, author, restaurant consultant and food trends junkie, to help set the table with decades of perspective. When Vladimir Nabokov got around to writing his memoir, he called it “Speak, Memory.”  When writing my blog, I issue a similar command to myself:  “Taste, Memory!” I seek ways to connect the reader emotionally to his or her own gastronomic wavelength.

Just as Anna Quindlen writes about her keen observations about life – tying together politics, family, and one’s inner experience, often with whimsy — I have written my voice into daily, and weekly, connections to food, dining, cooking, history, biography and memoir. Each entry is a deliberate serving of the past, present and future – whether connecting the uprising in Egypt to my respect for Naguib Mafouz and my fondness for Egyptian cooking (with a contemporary photo of a young man preparing an ancient dish of ful mudammas); or experiencing the soul of Philadelphia-chef Marc Vetri through his singular approach to food and cooking and told his story by deeming him a “culinary bodhisattva.” A posting about “white carrots” informs the misinformed (which at times can be most of us), with an observation backed up with a bit of history, some speculation, and a few recipes to make the point. Included is a mesmerizing photo of carrots.

I believe that a younger generation of “food passionistas” – a term I coined for the group of dedicated, enthusiastic, and obsessively curious types about the world of food, chefs, and cooking – are in need of less hype, and more information, in an accessible  way. Inspired by the daily experiences of life in my kitchen, life in other people’s kitchens, learning at the hands of some of the industry’s most influential tastemakers, the purpose of my blog is not to attract advertisers or lure masses of readers; rather, it is an intimate, highly personal, often funny view of the world of food. Every blog posting puts my readers in-the-know about something timely. As a bonus, there’s always a “goody bag” in which one finds original recipes, ways to use new ingredients, food and wine pairing ideas, tips for entertaining, news about the coolest chefs and hottest restaurants. Or something more personal – a taste experience (ever try bitter chocolate, Parmigiano-Reggiano and sweet red grapes?); a mind stimulant (what about making marmalade from carrots?), or a new technique (like my deconstructed “wined-and-brined turkey,” or making cream cheese via “drip irrigation”).

Cooking is not merely about measurement and temperature, and the culinary world is not merely about gastronomy or nutrition. Food has deep historic and emotional resonances, and profound historical connections — think about “feast” or “famine” or “bread riots.”

Food is familial and simultaneously social: We break bread together and then divide the world into pig-eaters or pig-shunners.

When one writes well about food, all these factors come into play, consciously or not. One should know that The Gleaners in Millet’s famous painting reach backward historically to biblical injunctions not to harvest to the corners of the field, but to leave food for the poor. One should know that without the discovery of the Americas, there would be no tomatoes in Naples, no paprika in Budapest, no chocolate in Zurich. One should know something about why certain foods connect to certain religious festivals – why, for example, we serve lamb at Easter and also at Passover, and why both “feasts” relate to activities around the table.

What my mother cooked for the her family is different from what my readers’ mothers did then or do today, but they all set standards for how we view not just what’s on our plate, but how we will relate to a larger world – one in which even the present seems to vaporize in an instant.

Please take a moment to enjoy the posts below, and I encourage you to search the archives for others that may be of interest to you.

Cooking in Silence

Chocolate Dirt: Is it Art or is it Dinner?

Insanely Delicious Fresh Figs

Day 7: A Radically Simple Countdown to Christmas

22 Dec

radicchioIn less than 18 minutes you can have a gorgeous fish dish that is worthy of the season. You might even consider it for your “seven fishes” dinner. The idea of roasting cod at such a high temperature was inspired by Shirley Corriher, scientist, chef, and author of the encyclopedic books, BakeWise and CookWise. I’ve added her felicitous pairing of buttery macadamia nuts and added my own wilted radicchio caressed with lemon. The combo is also great on sauteed chicken breasts. You might want to serve it with wild rice which I always enjoy during the holidays or fill your kitchen with Mediterranean flavors and make Bay-Smoked Potatoes (recipes below.) ‘Tis the season.

500-Degree Cod with Macadamia Butter & Radicchio

4 thick cod fillets, 7 ounces each
1 cup unsalted macadamia nuts, about 3 ounces
1 medium-large head radicchio, about 8 ounces
7 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 lemon
1/3 cup coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Season the fish with salt and pepper; place on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast for 6 to 7 minutes, until just firm. Meanwhile, chop the nuts and julienne the radicchio. Melt the butter in a large skillet. Add the nuts and cook over high heat, stirring constantly until browned, 2 minutes. Add the radicchio and cook until soft, 2 minutes. Add salt and pepper. Transfer the fish to 4 warm plates. Spoon the nut mixture on top. Top with grated lemon zest, a little lemon juice, and parsley. Serve immediately. Serves 4

Bay-Smoked Potatoes
1-1/2 pounds very small white new potatoes
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
12 dried California bay leaves

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Wash and scrub the potatoes; dry well. Do not peel. Toss with the oil and 2 teaspoons kosher salt. Distribute the bay leaves in a heavy ovenproof covered saute pan. Arrange the potatoes on top of the bay leaves in a single layer. Cover tightly with foil or a cover. Bake for 55 minutes to 1 hours, until the potatoes are soft and wrinkled. Transfer the potatoes and bay leaves to a platter. Drizzle with additional olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Serves 4 or more

Day 6: A Radically Simple Countdown to Christmas

21 Dec

12-21-2013 03;58;28PMWhen we think about main courses, it is generally dinner that comes to mind. But a main course for Christmas morning is fun to consider. A great idea is to make a breakfast strata: Layers of bread, prosciutto, feta, provolone and spinach, that can be assembled the night before and baked while you open presents. The striations of ingredients soak up the egg-and-milk base. Baked for 1 hour, the result is custardy, rich, and quiche-like. Best eaten in your pajamas while sipping winter mimosas — made with tangerine juice and prosecco topped with pomegranate seeds.

Cheese Strata with Prosciutto, Basil & Spinach

3-1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
16 slices firm white bread, crusts removed
8 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto
8 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
4 ounces provolone cheese, shredded
1/4 cup finely minced scallions, white and green parts
4 ounces fresh baby spinach
1/2 cup finely julienned fresh basil
5 extra-large eggs
2 cups half-and-half
1/2 teaspoon Sriracha or hot sauce

Butter a 12-x-7 inch glass or ceramic dish with 1/2 tablespoon of the butter. Cover the bottom with 6 slices of bread, plus 1 slice cut in half to fill the spaces. Evenly cover the bread with half the prosciutto. Sprinkle with half of the feta, provolone, scallions, spinach, and basil. Repeat to make a second layer. Cut the remaining 2 bread slices into 1/4-inch cubes; scatter over the top. Beat together the eggs, half-and-half, and hot sauce. Pour over the strata; press down firmly with a spatula. Melt the remaining 3 tablespoons butter and drizzle over the top.  Cover; refrigerate 5 hours or overnight. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Uncover and bake 1 hour, until golden. Serves 8

Day 5: Radically Simple Countdown to Christmas

20 Dec

12-20-2013 02;50;42PMThis is one of the simplest, most festive dishes I know. It can be prepped and cooked in less than one hour yet looks like you’ve been fussing all day. This turkey roast is nothing more than a boned breast half, flattened slightly, so that it can be filled, rolled and tied. Prosciutto, fresh sage, and prunes perfume the dish and feel like Christmas to me. Be sure to serve it with a bowl of my (now famous) sweet potato puree whirled with fresh ginger and orange. A grand cru Beaujolais would be just the thing to drink.

Rolled-and-Tied Turkey Roast with Prosciutto, Prunes & Sage
2-1/2 pound turkey roast (boned half-breast, skin on)
4 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto
10 large pitted prunes
1/4 cup pine nuts
12 large fresh sage leaves
12 medium-large shallots, peeled
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Using a mallet, flatten the turkey (skin side down) to 1-inch thickness. Cover evenly with overlapping slices of prosciutto. Arrange the prunes in a tight row down the center. Top with pine nuts and make a row of 6 sage leaves on top. Roll up tightly. Season with salt and pepper. Tie with string at 1-inch intervals and tuck 6 sage leaves under the string. Place the turkey and shallots in a small roasting pan. Drizzle with the oil. Roast 45 minutes until cooked through but still moist. Transfer the turkey and shallots to a board and tent with foil. Pour the broth and wine into the pan. Place on the stovetop and boil, scraping up browned bits, until syrupy, 3 minutes. Strain into a saucepan. Whisk in the butter and cook 1 minute.  Remove string from the turkey, thickly slice. Serve with the shallots and pan sauce. Serves 6

Sweet Potato Puree with Fresh Ginger & Orange
This is fat-free but tastes very rich all the same. For a bit more intrigue, spice it up with a pinch of ground cumin, ground coriander, ground cardamom — or all three.

4 large sweet potatoes, about 3 pounds
2 juice oranges
3-inch piece fresh ginger

Scrub the potatoes but do not peel. Place in a large pot with water to cover. Bring to a rapid boil, then reduce heat to medium. Cook 50 minutes or until very soft. Meanwhile, grate the zest of the oranges to get 1 teaspoon. Squeeze the orange to get 2/3 cup juice. Drain the potatoes and peel when cool enough to handle. Cut into large chunks and place in bowl of food processor.  Mince the ginger to get 1/4 cup. Add to the processor with the orange zest and juice. Process until very smooth. Transfer to a saucepan and reheat, stirring. Season with salt and pepper.  Serves 6

A Radically Simple Countdown to Christmas: Day 4

19 Dec

prime-rib-roast-beefHere’s a wonderful, upscale recipe that is lovely for Christmas Day or New Year’s Eve. The editors at Gourmet magazine once said this simple roast was one of the best they had ever tasted. It is “cured” in the same way that fresh salmon is for gravlax, literally buried in a mixture of coarse salt, sugar, fresh dill and cracked black pepper.  It is radically simple to prepare and radically delicious served with a silky potato puree and roasted winter vegetables. Open a bottle of full-bodied red burgundy or syrah.  The next day: Serve the world’s best roast beef sandwiches topped with a horseradish sauce made from crème fraîche, white horseradish, and a splash of sherry.

1/4 cup kosher salt

3 tablespoons sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons coarsely cracked black pepper
3-1/2-pound boneless rib roast, rolled and tied
1 cup finely chopped fresh dill

Stir together the salt, sugar, and pepper in a small bowl; rub all over the beef. Put the dill over the salt mixture. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Make a small hole in the bottom of the plastic so that any accumulated liquid can drain. Place in a small roasting pan and weigh down with a baking sheet topped with a few large heavy cans.  Refrigerate 24 hours, pouring off liquid from time to time. Unwrap the beef; let sit at room temperature 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Scrape the coating off the beef and pat dry with paper towels. Place in a roasting pan. Roast in the middle of the oven 1-1/4 hours, until an instant-read thermometer registers 130 degrees for medium-rare. Transfer to a cutting board and tent with foil; let rest 15 minutes. Carve as desired. Serves 8

Day 2: Lamb Shanks Provençal with Cabernet & Rosemary

17 Dec

lambLamb shanks are a fabulous way to feed your guests during the holidays. You can prepare the recipe one to two days in advance allowing the flavors, and textures, to deepen. Just yesterday, a colleague told me she made this recipe, tossed the lusty leftover sauce with basmati rice, and ate it in bed while reading the rest of the cookbook. She then decided to make her entire New Year’s Day menu from Radically Simple. (Last year she used the wonderful Jerusalem cookbook.)  I like to serve this with creamy polenta (and open a bottle of Barolo) or with a rich potato gratin layered with Gruyere (and raid our cellar for an old Côtes du Rhône.)  For the Christmas table I poach tiny kumquats in simple syrup until they collapse: They make a festive accompaniment and taste amazing with the lamb.

Lamb Shanks Provençal with Cabernet & Rosemary

This is nice and easy for a complicated-sounding dish. I simplify the process by quickly searing the seasoned shanks under the broiler. The lusty flavors come from dried porcini mushrooms and herbes de Provence. At the last minute, I dust the hot dish with freshly grated orange zest — the aroma is wonderful.

6 tablespoons olive oil
6 large lamb shanks, 12 to 14 ounces each
2-1/2 cups chopped leeks, white and green parts
6 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
2-1/2 cup Cabernet sauvignon
1 cup canned crushed tomatoes with puree
1/2 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
1-1/2 tablespoons herbes de Provence
1 pound slender carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4 inch batons
1 tablespoon arrowroot

Preheat the broiler. Rub the lamb with 3 tablespoons oil and season with salt and pepper. Place on a broiler pan; brown several minutes on each side. Wash leeks and pat dry. Heat the remaining 3 tablespoon oil in an 8-quart Dutch oven. Add the leeks and garlic; cook over high heat until softened, 5 minutes. Add the shanks, wine, tomatoes, mushrooms, and herbes de Provence. Stir to coat. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer 1 hour. Add the carrots, cover, and cook 30 minutes.  Uncover and simmer 15 minutes, until the lamb is tender. Spoon off the fat. Dissolve the arrowroot in 1 tablespoon water and stir into the sauce. Season to taste and simmer several minutes until the sauce thickens. Serves 6

Ten Radically Simple Days of Christmas

16 Dec

photo 2(2)Recipe countdown:  For the next 10 days I will share a main course recipe from Radically Simple: Brilliant Flavors with Breathtaking Ease. After all, it is the time of year where we all crave abundance without the burden. A nice holiday gift? A copy of the book from Amazon. For me, I’d love a fruitcake.

Salmon & Mint in Crispy Grape Leaves
This is an unusual fish dish for this time of the year but it’s one of my favorites. Serve it on a mound of couscous mixed with orzo — a new combo for me.  I invented it this morning!  Add a side dish of tiny roasted Brussels sprouts with a drizzle of walnut oil, sea salt and lemon zest.  What to drink?  Open a great bottle of pinot noir from Oregon or France, depending on your mood. This recipe is easily doubled, or tripled, and so is quite desirable for a holiday menu.

1/2 cup crème fraîche (I love the one from Vermont Creamery)
1 small garlic clove
4 thick salmon fillets, 7 ounces each, skin removed
2 medium bunches fresh mint
8 large grape leaves in brine, rinsed and dried
3 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Mix the crème fraîche with the garlic, pushed through a press. Add salt to taste. Season the fish with salt and pepper. Top each fillet with 6 mint leaves. Wrap each piece of fish tightly in 2 overlapping grape leaves, tucking in the ends as you go. Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet. Add the packets and cook over high heat until crispy, 2 minutes on each side. Transfer the fish to a rimmed baking sheet and scatter with mint sprigs. Bake 8 minutes, until the fish is just firm. Serve with the crème fraîche and crispy mint. Drizzle with additional oil, if desired. Serves 4

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