Monday, October 29, 2007

Come Sunday morning....

I woke up yesterday morning and immediately wrapped myself tighter around my comforter. Yes, finally the cold hit and my heat had not yet been turned on. Anyone who knows me will attest to my low threshold for the cold – so for me anything below 70-degrees starts a cooling trend. Why I don’t live in a more temperate climate is another conversation.

As I rallied myself to get up, and run to a hot shower I knew this was a day for cooking. Especially, since my heat was not yet rattling its way through the pipes I knew a long simmering “something” would warm more than a carving. Sipping my coffee wearing socks, for the first since last winter, I started to take stock of the kitchen larder. I was not quite ready to break into any of the items I’d put-up over the summer – not while the market still supplies plenty of foods. But I did have garlic and onions in ample reserve in the refrigerator and I just happen to have bought some yucca – why? They looked to good to pass up.

If you are not familiar with yucca you might know it as cassava or manioc a tuber coming out of the Amazonian Basin that is a staple throughout the tropical parts of the world. It is also the vegetable that we derive tapioca from – everyone has eaten a version at sometime. Be warned that one pound of yucca packs about 650 calories – an energy rich food store. Keep in mind it does take more calories to stay warm, so I had no problems with a potent pot cooking away. After the gym I stopped at the store to consider what meat will inform my yucca. It’s me, whom are we kidding? I bought a piece of boneless pork shoulder and a bunch of celery – that is all I would need.

A few hours later I had a braise of broken-down pork and chunks of yucca spiked with a squeeze of lime. I rested bowl on my chest warming both my outer and inner selves.

I woke this morning to the clang and hiss of winter’s soundtrack – my heat was on its way.

Pork and Yucca – yields 6 to 8 servings

1/4-cup olive oil
3 pounds boneless pork shoulder – trimmed of excess fat
3 onions – cut into large chunks
1-bunch celery – cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 head garlic – peeled and roughly chopped
1 chili pepper – such as habanero or jalapeno; minced
1-teaspoon whole cumin seed
1-teaspoon whole coriander seed
1-tablespoon smoked paprika
2 whole black cardamom pods
1/4-cup fresh thyme leaves
1 pound yucca – peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat a 10-quart Dutch oven or casserole dish over a high heat. Add the oil, and pork shoulder. Sear the shoulder on all sides to very brown and crisp. Remove from the pot, and hold in a clean bowl.

Add the onion, celery and chili to the pot. Lower then heat to medium and cook the onion mixture for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring every so often. Return the pork to the pot along with the thyme. Season with salt and pepper, and pour in a cup of water. Reduce the heat to low, and cover. Cook the pork for 2 hours. Checking to make sure it is not to dry – add some water if necessary.

After 2 hours add the yucca and cook for an hour longer. Correct seasoning.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


Born in the depths of the ancient Fertile Crescent is more than the legacy of civilization but also a fruit perhaps wrongfully interpreted for an apple. The pomegranate is a plump, round, red-skinned fruit that if bitten directly into would cause a rather distasteful experience. However, unwrapped and within is reveal a case filled with crimson jewels explosively juicy with a sweet/sour satisfaction. The seeds themselves can be taken straight from the fruit with the additional taste of bitter nuttiness. Or, scooped into a sieve and pressed to extract the rosy libation that engulfs the seed kernel.

The pomegranate sings a versatile note in so far as it is content to be employed for both savory and sweet applications not to mention the faddish splash with vodka.

Buy pomegranates that are firm to the touch and a deep red hue. If store at room temperature were there is little humidity the fruit will dry up leaving a lovely table-scape décor. Though now on the market is a proliferation of bottled juices that can be used though I highly recommend you make sure they are un-sweetened. And, for a curious and delicious culinary adventure find pomegranate molasses which is a syrupy reduction of the juice.

Apple Pear Salsa - yields approx. 4 cups

2 Granny Smith Apples - peeled and cored
2 Pears - peeled and cored
1 Pomegranate - juice only (about 1/2 cup)
1/4 cup fresh Lime juice
1 small Red Onion - diced fine
2” long piece of Ginger - peeled and diced fine
1 tablespoon fresh Thyme - chopped
1 tablespoon fresh Italian Parsley - chopped
2 tablespoon fresh Chives - chopped
White pepper and salt to taste

Cut the apples and pears in to a small dice and toss with the pomegranate, and lime juice. Toss together with all other ingredients, and let sit one hour before using.

Lamb Tenderloin with Dried Fruit Strudel - yields 12 servings
1 cup dried apricot
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup dried blueberries
1 cup dried cranberries
1cup red wine (preferably Pinot Noir or Zinfadel)
1-cup pomegranate juice
2 tablespoons dried Rose petals (prepared for making tea)
1/2-teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1-teaspoon salt
2 cups pistachio nuts - ground to a coarse meal
1-pound phyllo dough
1-pound butter – melted

Rough chop the apricots. Mix with blueberries raisins and cranberries in a large bowl.

In a 3-cup saucepan combine the red wine, pomegranate juice, rose petals, black pepper and salt. Bring to the mixture just to the boil then reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook for 5 minutes covered. Shut off the heat, and let the mixture steep for 10 more minutes.

Strain the mixture directly over the dried fruits. Cover the bowl and let sit, at room temperature for 12 t 24 hours.

Pre heat the oven to 375 degrees.

Strain the dried fruit reserving the soaking liquid in a small saucepan. Reserve the soaking liquid. Toss the dried fruit and the pistachio nuts together.

Lay a sheet of phyllo out on a clean work-surface and lightly brush the entire sheet with melted butter. Repeat this process three more times so that it is four layers of phyllo. Spread a third of the fruit mixture across the bottom third of the phyllo leaving a 2 inch boarder at the very bottom. Carefully roll phyllo, but tightly, around the dried fruit. Paint with rolled strudel with a bit of melted butter, and cut three vent holes into the strudel. Repeat with the remaining fruit mixture.

Place the strudels on a baking tray and cook in the oven for 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve slices drizzled with reserved soaking liquid.

Lamb Tenderloin Fillet
3 pounds lamb tenderloin fillets
1-teaspoon ground cumin
1/2-teaspoon ground coriander
1/4-teaspoon ground cardamom
1/8-teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4-teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2-tablespoons Dijon mustard

Trim the lamb of the fat and sinew.

In a small bowl mix the spice and mustard to together, and then rub the lamb with the spice mix. Refrigerate the lamb for 8 to 24 hours.

Remove the lamb from the refrigerator, and season with salt. Grill the lamb for about 10 minutes over a moderate direct heat. Remove from the grill, and rest the lamb for 10 minutes at room temperature. Slice the lamb on an angle and serve accompanied with the dried fruit strudel and a drizzle of mint oil.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

A sprout by any other name

Why oh, why do so many of us find the Brussels Sprout so repulsive? Their miniature, compact heads are just prefect for peeling – at least that is how I would eat them as a kid. Purchased still en-branch they make a superb element in a floral display. Though if you only have experienced this shrunken cabbage cousin boiled away I don’t wonder why you might despise them.

Fresh from the market and snapped from its stalk they cook within fives in water, or charred in the oven to rid it any “cabbage-y” remnant. It is time to caste off that old, outdated perception and try this autumn vegetable anew.

Buy tight heads that a pale to rich green coloration that are not bruised. If you must buy them snugly packed in basket with a cellophane roof remove the wrapping upon getting home to allow them to breath to avoid moisture from collecting, and starting them to decompose. They great part of the Brussels Sprout is that is will be with us through the first cold snap – like it or not.

Braised Brussels Sprouts and Pearl Onions - serves 6

1 pound Brussels Sprouts
1 pint pearl onions
1-cup chicken or vegetable stock
1/4 cup white wine
2 tablespoons butter
1/8-teaspoon nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste

Trim the Brussels sprouts by discarding the outer leaves and placing an “x” on the bottom of the Brussels sprouts. This “x” allows an even cooking of the them.

Cut the top and bottom of the pearl onion and place in boiling water for 3 minutes. Then drain and remove the outer skin of the onion.

In a high sided sauté pan place all ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, covered, for 15 minutes.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts - yields 4 to 6 servings

2 pounds Brussels sprouts
1/2 pound oyster mushroom
6 scallions
1/2-cup olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Pre heat the oven to 375 degrees.

Trim the Brussels sprouts by cutting off the bottom and cutting them in half. Discard any bruised and unattractive leaves. Wash the Brussels sprouts well and let them sit in the colander. You don not have to be concerned about the water clinging to them. It will actually help them cook.

Trim the base of the oyster mushrooms and cut into a rough chop. Trim the root base from the scallion and the tops of the green. Wash the scallions well to dislodge any dirt. Cut the scallion into 1 1/2” long pieces, and then cut the white pieces in half length wise. Toss everything together with the olive oil, salt and pepper. Place the Brussels sprout mixture onto a baking tray and cook in the oven for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the sprouts are slightly charred and tender. Serve warm.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

March of the Hard Skins


Solid yellow flesh; well flavored
Boiled, Baked, Casseroles, Excellent for pies

Intense orange color & highest Vitamin C and carotene.
Boiled, baked content of all squashes plus high in soups. purees.
Developed especially for baby food. Excellent for pies

Dark orange flesh
Ultimate pumpkin pie

Extra rich and sweet in flavor.
Baked, pureed, orange flesh is firm, smooth & fiber-less stuffed, casseroles. High in Carotene. .
Pale yellow flesh is very smooth.
Baked, stuffed, boiled with a delicate sweet flavor free of pumpkin taste. High in Calcium

Thick, bright orange flesh is smooth
Baked, stuffed and delicious. boiled.

Bright orange flesh, very delicious
Baked, stuffed, boiled

Cross between Delicata and Spaghetti Squash.
Excellent Flavor stuffed, Baked, boiled

Firm high quality sweet flesh
Excellent for pies, cookies cakes, breads and soups
Very sweet, tender, orange flesh
Excellent for baking and stuffing. Ideal as a single serving.

Very sweet, orange flesh
Excellent for baking and stuffing

Delicata type winter squash
Stuffing and Baking

miniture sized pumpkins either orange, white or mottled green
Prefect for stuffing and serving as an individual portion.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

A chill in the air

Walking through the park
.........another seaon falls

Tomorrow, I'll cook a stew

Red Kidney Beans with Fire Roasted Chili Peppers - yields 6 to 8 servings

1 jalapeno chili - roasted, peeled and seeded
2 Anaheim chilies - roasted, peeled and seeded
2 pablano chili - roasted, peeled and seeded
1 serrano chili – roasted, peeled and seeded
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 pound bacon – cut into thick strips
1 large onion - thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves – minced
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 cup red wine
32 ounces canned, chopped tomatoes
1 cup chopped pumpkin
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon thyme leaves - chopped
3” by 1” strip of orange zest
3 cups cooked red kidney beans
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Roughly chop all the chilies and hold to the side.

Heat a 6 quart casserole dish and add the oil, bacon and onion. As the bacon releases its fat let the onions sauté until golden brown. Then add in the garlic and cumin seeds and continue cooking the mixture for two minutes. Pour in the red wine and reduce the liquid by more than half. Mix in the tomatoes, pumpkin, oregano, thyme, orange zest, kidney beans and reserved chopped roasted chilies. Bring the mixture to a boil and then reduce the heat to low. Cook the stew, covered, for 1 hour. Correct seasoning and serve hot. If the mixture gets too dry add some water to prevent scorching.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Knobby Celery

Sitting in the market during these shortened days is a root vegetable so homely and seemingly inhospitable many give it a cursory, pitiful glance. Granted the celery root, or celeriac as the French refer to it, is not as coquettish as a brunch of grapes or alluring as Pink Lady apple or practical as a carrot, however, this vegetable is for me a foundation vegetable for the many soups, stews and salads I make all winter long. Ask this dear wall-flower to dance…..

A cousin the celery the celery root produces a very fibrous, bitter stalk and is therefore not eaten. Rather it is its swollen root stem that contains an earthy, celery flavor, which happily plays well with others. Visually the root base is not attraction by popular standards I give you that but once you peel away the knobby, browned skin a creamy, aromatic, white flesh awaits. Now a typical peel will break under the pressure of peeling so I highly recommend you use your chef’s knife to reveal the treasure that is hidden.

Buy celery root that is dense to the touch, and not wet. I try to find the most round examples nature has produced, as they are a tad easier to peel. Be warned that the meat of the vegetable once exposed to the air will start to oxidize so have a little bowl of water at the ready to drop the cut pieces in. In stews and soups the celery will survive nice long cooking periods leaving flavorful texture in your bowl. Try it as a appetizing additional to mashed potatoes.

Celery Root and Green Apple Salad - yields 6 to 8 servings
1 medium Red Onion
1/2 cup Apple Cider Vinegar
2 pound Celery Root
2 tart Apples such as Granny Smith, Mutsu
1/4 cup chopped Chives
2 heaping tablespoons Dijon Mustard
1/4 pound blue cheese - crumbled
1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt and freshly ground Black Pepper to taste

Slice the onion in half through its root base – by cutting the onion in this way you prevent it from falling apart on you as all the leaves of the onion attach at the root end. Trim off the stem and peel away its outer layer. Slice the onion into a very thin julienne, which will actually be a half moon shape. Toss the onions with vinegar in a work bowl and let sit for 20 minutes. In the meantime, peel the celery root by cutting off the root and stem portions to create a flat, stable surface. Using a pairing or chef knife peel the skin from the celery root. Given the thickness of the vegetable’s skin I find it much easier to use a knife than a vegetable peeler. Slice the celery root into 1/4 inch panels and then cut those panels into 1/8 inch wide julienne strips. Place in with the onions and toss. Core the apples and slice into 1/8 inch thick julienne strips and toss with the onion mixture along with the chives, mustard, blue cheese, oil, salt and pepper.

Serve this salad cold or, I like to warm it before serving.

Split Pea Soup – serves 10 to 12

1 cup split green peas
3 tablespoon olive oil
2 medium onion – diced
1 leek – whites only, diced
3 cloves garlic - minced
2 celery stalks – diced
1 large carrot – diced
1/2 pound turnip – peeled and diced
1/2 pound rutabaga – peeled and diced
1/2 pound celery root – peeled and diced
1/2 pound smoked ham hock
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves - chopped
3 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley leaves - chopped
3 quarts chicken stock
2 tablespoons chopped dill
Salt and pepper to taste

Soak the peas in 2 cups of cold water for 1 hour, and then drain.

Heat a 6 quart pot over a medium flame and add the oil, onion and leeks. Cook until the onions and leeks lose their raw look and are translucent.

Add in the garlic, celery, carrot, turnip, rutabaga, and celery root and cook for five minutes stirring occasionally. Add in the peas, ham hock, thyme, parsley and stock. Bring to the boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook the soup for a minimum of 1-1/2 hour. Add addiiotnal water for the soup sarts to get too thick. Correct seasoning with salt and pepper, and dill. Serve hot.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

A new day

While I was watching a cooking segment on the local news the on-air chef referred to a food he was using as “ethnic.” I must confess that this raises the hairs on the back of my neck. The term ethnic encompasses a whole set of characteristics of a society including their language, religion, and race. I am committed to redirecting our thought to realize it is culturally distinctive foods we are playing. Culture includes the expression of art, manners and scholarly pursuits. Food and cooking is a cultural influence allowing me to further expand on an artistic expression and forge new avenues of creation.

I find ethnic to be “an us and them” conversation while the experience of culture allows us all to view it, participate in it and enjoy it (or not). All foods deserve my attention and possible incorporation into my culinary repertoire. Nothing should be relegated to the International Aisle of the grocery store – what does that really mean? Only foods indigenous to the North American continent are found throughout the rest of the store? Or, do we elevate certain foodstuffs to acceptable to our culture? Yet, our culture is comprised of many different ethnic tones all worthy of our attention and understanding.

Moving forward don’t view new items as belonging to an aisle that makes us think it is unusable, specific or too far from your ethnic identity – for in realty it is now part of out cultural fabric.

Salmon Fillet encrusted with Pistachio – yields 6 servings
6-4oz salmon fillets
1 cup ground pistachio nuts
2 tablespoons chopped mint leaves
2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley leaves
1 teaspoon ground cumin seed
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 egg whites

Pre heat the oven to 400 degrees.

Mix together all the dry ingredients.

In a bowl lightly beat the egg white to just frothy.

Dip the salmon fillets into the egg whites to completely wet the fillets. Then remove the fillets to the spiced pistachio mix, and roll the salmon in it.

Place the salmon a parchment lined baking tray that has been lightly greased with olive oil. Bake the salmon for 12 to15 min. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

An apple a day

Yes, there actually was a 19th century figure planting apple orchards throughout the mid-west, which inspired the story of Johnny Appleseed. Though the history of this fruit-baring tree goes back to its origins in north-central Asia, and perhaps had its greatest role in the Garden of Eden.

For us today, the apple is one of the fruits that starting showing up in late summer, and carries us through the winter – be it fresh, dried or juiced. It has become the iconic fruit of the United States and no wonder for apples are grown all in fifty states -- though an apple pie on the 4th of July would never do for me. The first apples that come to market are always a sour variety like the Lodi then cooling nights of autumn brings on a legion of apples – in fact there are over 2500 different varieties grown in the US alone. My personal favorite s a Black Twig – it is on the smallish side, a mottled red with a rock-candy hardness and sweetness that I covet. It is however, elusive showing up in the market sometime in October and in very limited quantities. I am patience and diligent, and refuse not to have my annual fix.

I personally do not prescribe to certain apples are used for baking and others just eating – if you find a variety you like employ in every corner of the kitchen. Store the apples at room temperature for a week, and if holding on to them any longer store them in the refrigerator. Be aware that the apple gives off prodigious amounts of ethylene gas, which is naturally occurring and facilitates ripening. This is fantastic if you want that avocado to soften, but if you don’t want your bananas to brown so quickly store them in separate bowls.

Smoked Trout Salad - yields 4 servings

1/2 pound smoked trout
1 head frissee lettuce (Chicory)
1 Mastu apple (or other tart apple)
1 small celery root – peeled
1/8-cup apple cider vinegar
1 red pepper - roasted, skinned and julienne

For Dressing
1/8-pound blue cheese
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/4-cup sherry vinegar
1/8-cup chives - chopped
1/4 cup walnut oil
Salt and freshly ground Black Pepper to taste

Wash the head of lettuce, but keep the leaves intact. Flake the smoked trout. Slice the celery root a very fine julienne, and then toss in apple cider vinegar to prevent it from turning brown. Slice the apple into thin slices, and hold in some water also to prevent them from browning.

Make the dressing by placing all the dressing ingredients in the food processor and blending until smooth and incorporated. Correct seasoning.

Assemble the salad by placing some of the frissee greens on a plate sprinkle some trout along with some celery root and red pepper. Fan the apples on the side of the plate. Drizzle with dressing. Serve.

Apple Crisp Towers - serves 6

2 cups sugar
1-tablespoon ground cinnamon
1-teaspoon ground allspice
1/2-teaspoon ground nutmeg
5 medium size apples (such as Cortland, Jonagold, Empire)
1-pound phyllo dough
1/2-pound butter - melted

3-inch cookie cutters
pastry brush

1 pint vanilla ice cream

Pre heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Mix the sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice together.

Peel the apples and using an apple corer remove the seed center. Cut the apples into rings 1/2-inch thick - wanting to get five rings from each apple. Toss the rings with the spice mixture to coat well.

Lay the phyllo out on a clean work surface and cover with a damp kitchen towel (when phyllo dries out it gets very brittle and can not be successfully worked with).

Take a sheet of phyllo, and lay it out separately. Brush with some butter starting at the edges as they tend to dry out first. Then lay another sheet on top of the buttered one, and still a third. Brushing each addition with butter. Cut out disks that are just slightly larger then the apple rings, approximately 3 inches in diameter. Use a cookie cutter or a wide enough glass as your template.

On a baking sheet place one disk with an apple ring on top, then cover with a second phyllo disk. Sprinkle with some of the left over spiced sugar, and drizzle with a little butter. Lay out the phyllo and in this manner until you’ve used them all.

Cover the phyllo-apple disks with a piece of parchment paper and place another baking tray right on top of the parchment paper to lightly weight down the phyllo-apple disks. This will help prevent the phyllo from curling while being baked. Place in the oven and bake golden and crisp 5 to 10 minutes. Remove from the baking sheet while still warm as the caramelized sugar tends to stick as it cools on to a cooling rack. Cool completely.

Assemble by sandwiching two to three layers of the phyllo-apples together with ice cream between each layer.