Saturday, September 29, 2007

Just another day

Canvas bag in hand

strolling stands being seduced...........................

tonight, a potluck

Coconut Chicken Stew – yields 6 servings

2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 medium red onion
3 cloves garlic
1 red pepper
1 small red Thai chili
1/4-pound shiitake mushrooms – caps only, thinly sliced
2 Japanese eggplant – sliced into 1/2-inch rounds
3 small carrots – cut into 1/2-inch rounds
1-pint cherry tomatoes
1-can (13.5 ounces) coconut milk
1-pound boneless/skinless chicken breast – cut into 1-inch pieces
1 ear of corn – kernels only
1 English cucumber – cut into 1/2-inch rounds
1/4-cup Thai Basil leaves - torn
1/4-cup cilantro leaves
Salt tot taste

Heat a wok and add the sesame oil, onion, garlic, pepper and chili and cook until the onions brown. Then add in the eggplant, carrots, cherry tomatoes and coconut milk. Bring to a boil, and then reduce the flame to low. Cook covered for 15 minutes. Stir in the chicken, corn and cucumber and cook for 10 minutes. Add the bail and cilantro and salt. Serve over rice.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

By the light of the silvery moon.....

So, as the sun quietly settled in for the night yesterday a large, bright moon illuminated our darken path. Though it was no ordinary moon; it was the first full moon after the autumnal equinox otherwise referred to as the Harvest Moon. In songs and poems this lunar occurrence has been rhapsodized and romanticized for eons.

For me, I am in the fields staring off into the distance after a laborious day of hauling weighty tough-skinned squashes from their summer rows – perhaps a future jack-o-lantern or holiday pie. Or, maybe I spent the day cutting the stalks of a minute cabbage bejeweled with mouth-size heads that tend to give some a visceral reaction but one that we all know. Now, don’t fear the laborers of the earth are not out reaping every last vegetable in the fields. Fortunately, we still have a few months ahead of us of hearty, warming foods requiring a good washing and an eager mouth to fulfill its potential.

Acorn Squash
Brussels Sprouts
Broccoli Rabe
Celery Root
Shelling Beans
Soy Beans
Squash (hard skinned)
Sweet Potatoes
Swiss Chard

Asian Pears


Monday, September 24, 2007

Go for it

Standing at the stove is a five-year old boy on an unmarked Saturday morning. Johnny Quest is heard calling for his dog Bandit from the small television that sits on the kitchen counter that on any other day of the week would be tuned in to his mother’s favorite soap operas. It is the weekend, and Mom and Dad are sleeping in and hungry interrupts the mesmerizing cartoon block. Pulling down the oven door this future chef climbs up to reach the stove top in order to make scrambled eggs with copious amounts of American singles melted through out. This is my beginning with cooking.

Today, as a chef and instructor who teaches classes, for both adults and teenagers, I see subsequent generations taking spoon in hand, and enthusiastically stepping up the counter.

What has changed since those early days of mine is the quantity and availability of ingredients to play with. No longer is a leek considered esoteric or curly parsley the only herb to consider when perfuming a fancy. The accessibility to the world through cooking has never been greater, and we should unleash culinary warrior within and dare yourselves to try the plethora of possibilities that now is within arms reach.

Star Fruit and Jicama Salad - serves 6

2 star fruit
1 pound jicama - peeled
2 bunch arugula- washed and chopped
3-tablespoons cider vinegar
1-tablespoon Thai fish sauce
1/2-teaspoon cumin seed - ground
1/2-cup canola oil
salt and pepper to taste

Slice the star fruit into 1/4 inch thick rounds, and the jicama into 1/4 inch thick julienne. Then toss with the vinegar, fish sauce and cumin. Just prior to serving add the arugula, oil and salt pepper to the star fruit and jicama. Toss well and serve immediately.

Dhal with Coconut and Spinach - serves 6 to 8

8 ounces red lentils
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 large onion - diced
2 garlic cloves - minced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger - grated
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground clove
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 pound spinach - washed and roughly chopped
1-can coconut milk
1-cup hot water
1 teaspoon salt

Pick through the lentils to remove any stones or other debris. Soak the lentil in a pot of cold water for 10 minutes discarding anything that floats to the top. Drain. In a sauce pan heat the oil then add the onions, ginger, and garlic cooking until golden. Add the lentils and ground spices and cook for a minute, stirring constantly. Add the coconut milk and water, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cover cooking for 15 to 20 minutes. Add the spinach and salt continue cooking covered until the dhal looks like porridge. If there is too much liquid cook uncovered to help evaporate excess liquid.

Friday, September 21, 2007

An Equinox

On September 23, 2007 at 5.51 am the earth will shift on its axis officially marking the start of autumn, and for me the long trek into spring. Yes, I admit it I am not that sophisticated I really only need two seasons. Perhaps that is why I am gorging on tomatoes, corn, plums and watermelon while they offer a moment’s pleasure. It would also explain the 30 pounds of frozen heirloom tomatoes and gallon-size freezer bag filled with corn kernels not to mention the various jars of pickles in my refrigerator. I know there are days ahead when arctic air will sweep aggressively through the seams of my windowpanes and I will reach for a memory.

All that is tomorrow for now I feast on the juiciest, sweetest, most succulent August-hanger-ons I can find. That is right for today I refuse that apple or pumpkin because next week they will be my only options.

Beans, Corn and Potato Chowder – yields 6 to 8 servings

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion - diced
1 red pepper - diced
3 garlic cloves – diced
1 jalapeno chili – seeds removed to lower heat
1/4-pound fingerling potato
1/2 cup shelled fresh shelling beans (such as black eyed, cranberry or lima)
1-pint cherry tomatoes
1-tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
2 ears of corn – kernels removed from the cob
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat a 2-1/2 quart saucepan over a medium heat, and the onion, red pepper, garlic and jalapeno. Cook the onion mixture for ten minutes stirring occasionally in order to prevent the onions from sticking. Once the onions brown add the potatoes, beans, tomatoes and thyme. Lower the heat to low, and cover. Cook the vegetables for 15 to 20 minutes until the beans and potatoes are soft. Add in the corn kernels, salt and pepper – cook for an additional 10 minutes.

Serve with a lime wedge or a dollop of sour cream.

Caribbean Tomato Cruda - yields approx. 2 cups

2 pounds tomatoes - seeded
1 small red onion
6 scallions
3-garlic cloves - crushed to a paste
1/4 cup parsley leaves – chopped
2 teaspoons oregano leaves
2 lemons - juiced
1/4-cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and black pepper

Dice the tomato into a 1/4 inch dice. Dice the red onion and scallions as fine as possible.
Toss with all remaining ingredients. Refrigerate 1 hour before using.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Head of..............

From flip-flops and shorts to long-sleeves and dungarees in just a few short weeks-- how quickly it all changes. I recognize the signs and know wool is not far behind. Though there are others who are reacting to the gentleness of the light and briskness that descends at dark. My beloved tomatoes are clinging to dear life though their fate is sealed for another year as is corn, peaches and plums to name but of few of summer’s largess.

All is not as bleak as I might make out for there is still yet another round to go before sleep. Late summer’s abdication and the subsequent rein of autumn offers us a continued feast. Right now it is the hefty, gently cradled buds of the cauliflower that catches my eye. It is my unprepared-ness for the burnt umbers of hard skinned squash and the return of the leafy green that has me zeroing in on the purity of this-never-to-bloom flower. This relative of cabbage comes into its own once the searing intensity of the summer sun starts its southern trek.

I look for large, weighty specimens with an ivory snow complexion. If there are any bruises cut them off. Store the cauliflower in the refrigerator for up to a week in a paper bag or wrap in a clean, cloth towel.

It is the florets and attached stems that are eaten either raw or cooked.

Whole Roasted Cauliflower – yields 4 to 6 servings

1 whole cauliflower
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Remove the green leaves from the cauliflower head, and then carefully place a few “X” on the bottom. Carefully core out the center stem from the bottom with a pairing knife being sure to keep the cauliflower intact.

Place the cauliflower on a baking tray, and drizzle the oil over it. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Pour 1 cup of water into the baking tray itself. This will help stem the cauliflower as it roasts. Place in the oven and cook for 35 to 45 minutes.

Cauliflower and Potatoes with Onions Seeds - serves 6 to 8

1 large head Cauliflower
1 pound Russet Potato
2 onions - sliced thin
6 tablespoon canola Oil
1/4 teaspoon fenugreek seed - ground
1 teaspoon cumin - ground
1 to 2 dried chili
2 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon mustard seed - ground
1 teaspoon dried ginger - ground
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoon black onion seeds
1/4 cup cilantro - leaves only

Discard the leaves and coarse stem of the cauliflower. Cut the cauliflower into 2" florets. Place in cold water for 30 minutes. Drain and pat dry. Peel and cut the potatoes in 1" cubes. Hold in cold water until ready to use.

Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees. Over the a high flame heat a 12 inch cast iron sauté pan or another pan that can be placed in the oven. Place the spices except the black onions seeds into the pan, and toast until it just starts to smoke. Immediately add the onions and oil, and toss the combine. Add the cauliflower and potatoes along with a 1/2 cup of water and salt. Toss to mix thoroughly. Cover with a lid or aluminum foil and cook in the oven for 30 to 40 minutes. Just prior to serving mix in the black onion seeds and cilantro leaves.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Peel me a Grape....

I am not sure if I can think of any fruit or vegetable that has such universal appeal and usage than the grape. From before biblical times these round, sweetly explosive orbs have garnered a place in myth and folklore. From the east coast of the North American continent to the Himalayas this climbing vine is at found a home, and seduced the residents. As a plant is offers much of itself for the table besides the obvious, its fruit, the leaves can be blanched then eaten and its branches manipulated into baskets.

Here on the east coast the musky, saccharine Concord grape tolerates the frosty slumber of winter, and is the quintessential component in jellies and juices. A more obscure variety is found on the southeast coast of the United States, the scuppernong, is intensely sweet with a thick skin that is best peeled away. This particular version is not much seen outside this region but does make a fabulous jelly – even if its color is more on the brown side than the royal purple of the Concord.

In recent years coming to market are varieties that would have historically gone to wine production such as chardonnay, merlot and cabernet sauvignon which are worth the try if you come across them – though they are never seedless. Pop grapes into a freezer bag and store for a hard, candy later in the year. Beware that once the grape has been harvested it will not continue to ripen so whatever its sweetness is so it shall remain. So, bring on the heat of late summer and let these jewels swell.

Sautéed Halibut with Champagne Grapes - yields 6 servings
2 pounds halibut fillets
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 shallots - finely diced
1 red Asian chili - seeds discard and finely diced
1 garlic clove - diced
1/4 cup ver jus or champagne vinegar
1/2 cup white wine
1 tablespoon thyme leaves - roughly chopped
2 tablespoons chopped chives
1/2 cup Champagne grapes - all stems removed
2 tablespoons unsalted butter - at room temperature

Pre heat the oven to 250 degrees.
Cut the halibut into 6 pieces. Dredge the fish in the flour that has been seasoned with salt and pepper.

Heat a 12” sauté pan over a high heat and add the oil. Cook the fish until golden and cook thorough turning it over once about 6 minutes. Remove from the pan and place onto a plate. Hold in the oven to keep warm.

Draw off the excess oil in the sauté pan, and return to the heat. Add the shallots and chili cooking until the shallots just start to brown. Add the garlic and ver jus and reduce to a glaze. Pour in the white wine and thyme leaves and reduce the liquid by half. Remove the pan from the heat and add in the chives and grapes, and swirl in the butter. Correct seasoning with salt and pepper. Immediately pour the sauce over the fish and serve.

Green Grape Herbed Vinegar-yields about 2 quarts

1/4 pound fresh thyme
1/4 pound fresh lemon verbena
1/4 pound fresh basil
1/4 pound fresh fennel leaf
1 1/2 pounds green grapes
2 bottles (750 ml. each) white wine

In a clean 2-quart glass jar press the herbs and grapes, and then pour over the wine. Place a cloth or coffee filter over the lid, and place the bottle in a cool, dark place for 3 months.

Strain the vinegar through a fine sieve, and then bottle with a tight fitting lid.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Last breath

Summer starts its cooling fade
My garden, refuses to be thwarted
In packets I collect seeds

Garden Pickle
1 head Cauliflower - cut into florets
1 head Broccoli - cut into florets
2 Carrots - cut into 1/2" rounds
4 cloves of Garlic - skin peeled and kept whole
2 Small Zucchini - cut into 1/2" rounds
5 stalks Celery - cut into 2” long pieces
2 Onion - cut into quarters
1 Chili - such as a jalapeño or habenero
10 Black Peppercorns
2 Tablespoons Salt
5 Sprigs Thyme
5 Sprigs Winter Savory (or Rosemary)
3 cups White Wine Vinegar
3 cups Cold Water

Bring a 4 quart pot of water to the boil, and blanch the cauliflower, broccoli, carrot and garlic for 3 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water. Let it sit for 15 minutes to drain off any excess water.

Place all in ingredients in a 1 gallon jar, and pour over the vinegar and water. Pour over extra vinegar if you don't fully cover the vegetables. Secure with a non-metallic lid, and refrigerate for 4 to 5 days before you start eating. If you don’t have a non-metallic lid place some plastic wrap over the top the jar before you place the lid on.
This keep for a few months in the refrigerator – if it doesn’t get eaten up immediately.

Vanilla White Peach Butter – yields approximately 9 pints
1 pint raspberry
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
13 pounds over ripe white peaches – washed; seeds discarded and roughly chopped
1 teaspoon salt
2 vanilla beans – split in half lengthwise

Puree the raspberries and push through a fine mesh sieve to catch the seeds. Discard the seeds, and combine the raspberry puree with the lemon and orange juices. In a blender add some of the raspberry juice along with some peaches. Process the peaches, skins and all, until smooth. Continue in this fashion until all the peaches are completely processed. Place peach puree and any remaining juice and salt into an 8 quart heavy bottom pot, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a low heat and simmer for 3 to 4 hours. Stir the mixture frequently to prevent any scorching. After about 2 hours add in the vanilla beans and continue cooking.

Sterilize jars and lids and fill with the peach butter leaving about a 1/4 to 1/2 inch unfilled. Process completely submerged in boiling for 15 minutes. Remove from the water and allow the jars to cool completely making sure the lids have sealed correctly. Store the preserves in a cool dark place.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Get a market...any market.

No matter how high-tech we become almost every city still maintains its local green market. This hub of activity serves as a crossroads for all the strata's of the community; a weekly outing for the family; place to parade and strut; gather libelous tales of gossip as well as helpful recipe hints. Sydney's Paddy's Market was all this and more for me.

For the two years I lived in this city, where the frangipani is always in bloom and the jacaranda cast a springtime purple haze over neighborhood streets not week would go by that I did not wait with great anticipation for my market day. For this particular market gave more than just exotic products and old favorites to play with it offered a glimpse of the entire world under one roof. Here the Asian Pacific Rim meets and converses with its distant European cousins.

In one corner the extended members of an Italian family sells intensely sweet sun dried tomatoes, hours old ricotta cheese and a myriad of cured olives all the while bellowing that out day's specials. Across the way a single woman sat vigil over a selection of homemade tofu -- some the best I have ever eaten. Freshly made phyllo, sweet redolent melons, huge blue pumpkins (a favorite of the Australians) all waited for my keen eye and sensitive nose. A particularly interesting vendor for me was a gentleman selling only Chinese greens: bok choy, eng choy, choy sum, gai choy -- I learned the word choy denotes a green leaf vegetable. Over the course of my visits I tried very choy he had to offer, stirring frying the eng choy; steaming the bok choy and shredding the choy sum into a lemon grass scented soup. He had an avuncular smile and eyes that alight with every question I proposed, which there were many.

It was spring, no it was autumn, I never got use to the reversed seasons, and although the weather said winter was coming, my internal calendar screamed summer. So, I went to the market yearning for something new and ripe. I roamed the aisles in the hopes of being seduced by something that would plicate my out of season timing. There at a quiet end of the hustle and bustle, squeezed between crates of oranges and shining green peppers stood a man with fresh knobs of turmeric, bundles of cilantro, rows of chilies and fussy okra adorning his table. While his labor bore beautiful produce it was an odd, inhospitable looking thing that intrigued me. It was the size of a soft ball; had a mottled reptilian skin and was very dense to the touch. I had found it -- something new, something that piqued my creative need. Excitedly I inquired about this vegetable, which I was told was called breadfruit. I felt slightly deflated for I was really seeking a savory favor and thought I'd have to be contented with a fruit salad that day. Then he started to describe how it had a starchy interior that got baked, steamed or stewed. Questioning him further I asked him for his favorite recipe, that brought our conversation to a halt. He was not the cook in his home, and he turned to his wife and repeated my query. She and I had a long and informative exchange concerning the breadfruit as well as the usage of chilies, the toasting of curries and how to make coconut relish. I was agog with ideas for the breadfruit and bought one. Once home I made a sublime Breadfruit Curry Stew with toasted cashews and coconut that became the most requested stew of that summer...I mean winter.

Monday, September 3, 2007


For the last few weeks, here on the northeast coast, we have been offered one of the largesse of the sun’s warmth and ripening effects. Melons are one those fruit we find in the stores all year around but it is now when they truly reveal their aromatic, juicy potential. They need to be harvested when ripe, not under-developed to survive a long journey. If allow to sit snuggly on the ground soaking up the summer rays they come to us poised with the ability to satisfy both our noise and mouth. Be it a cantaloupe, honeydew or Crenshaw they should be perfumed with a tender stem spot. Knock on them all you want it is the noise that knows. Once harvested this particular fruit will not continue to ripe, and therefore that softening you observe on the kitchen counter is de-composition – though if you buy them ripe you can store them in the refrigerator to extend its shelf life.

It is my habit to eat this incredibly perfumed fruit raw. Though you may want to cut it into cubes and freeze them, and then float them in Sangria. With a suspicion of mint you can make a delicious and refreshing sorbet – that is if you have an ice cream maker. Of course, sliced and arranged with thinly slice proscuitto or Serrano ham makes an ideal first course.