Category Archives: Cooking

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Shell Peas Shelled

I love eating fresh English shell peas.

And when I see them at the farmers market,

I always buy a big bagful.

Then I get them home.

And I look at them.

And I remember how long it will take to shell them all.

And I wonder what I was thinking when I bought so many.

But I sit down at the table,

Or I stand at the kitchen counter,

And I start removing the tiny peas from their protective shells.

And it never really takes as long as I fear.

And when I’ve blanched them in salt water,

And tossed them in a little butter,

And popped them in my mouth,

I remember exactly what I was thinking when I bought so many.

Shell Peas Shelled

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Veal Tongue

One of the unfortunate consequences of growing up in a wealthy country is that most Americans children don’t learn to value the offal and other under-appreciated — though wonderful — parts of an animal.  Even as an adult, I find that most of my friends wince when I mention dishes such as braised sweetbreads and tripe tacos.  I, on the other hand, was lucky enough to have grown up with a father who loved calf’s liver, a mother who ate chicken hearts, a grandmother who cooked veal kidneys, and a neighborhood Chinese restaurateur who routinely used chicken feet in his meal preparation.

So, when our favorite New York dairy farmers, Tim and Mary Tonjes of Tonjes Farm Dairy, mentioned last week that they had veal tongue for sale, I bought one and brought it home.  Having not cooked one for about 15 years, I found an easy recipe on the internet, and threw it in a pot of celery, onions, carrots, thyme, bay leaves, salt, pepper, and gently boiling water for about an hour and a half.  Then I turned the burner off and let the meat sit in the cooking juices for another hour.  When I finally removed it from the liquid, I peeled the off the outer layer, discarded it, and sliced the tender meat.  The aroma and flavor are delicate and meaty, and the texture is somewhere between corned beef, though not stringy, and stew meat, though far more tender.

I served the meat on a crunchy baguette with horseradish and lettuce.  It was simple.  And simply delicious.

Veal Tongue

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Only Opportunities

Recently, I was Marion Nestle’s guest at a luncheon hosted by the Food Studies students at NYU.  As Marion proudly showed me through the kitchen, she introduced me to a young woman dressed in a chef’s jacket and wearing a dismayed look on her face. 

“Oooooo!  Can we try some of those?” Marion asked the student when she spotted the sheet pan of coconut concoctions nearby. 

“Oh, those.  They didn’t turn out right.  They spread out too much, and I don’t know what I’m going to do with them now.”

We tasted them anyway, and they were fabulous.  The batter seemed to have separated as they baked, with the butter and sugar falling to the bottom and caramelizing into a sweet, brown, nutty, crispiness that turned ordinary macaroons into something extra special.

“Really?  You like them?” asked the student, seeming surprised as we helped ourselves to seconds.  “I’m glad.  I guess I’ll serve them, but I still don’t know what am I going to do with these completely flat ones on the other tray.”

“If they were mine,” I replied, “I’d chopped them up and used them as a crust for a cheesecake.  I think it would make a fantastic combination.”

“That’s a great idea!” she said, a genuine smile finally on her face.

More importantly, it was a good reminder for all of us that, in cooking, mistakes are really only opportunities to create something new.

Coconut Macaroon

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Roast Lamb

For the past couple of years, we have shared half a lamb with a friend through a local CSA.  We never know exactly what cuts we’re going to get and, frankly, we don’t really care.  It’s all delicious.  And part of the fun for me is thinking up new ways to prepare it.

One of the cuts in this year’s share was a small roast on the bone — not more than 3 pounds in all.  I made a gremolata and spread it across the top of the meat, put the roast in the pan in which I intended to cook it, then let it sit in the fridge for a couple hours so that the meat would absorb the lemon, garlic, and parsley goodness in which it was dressed.  I preheated the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit and, after letting the roast come to room temperature for about a half hour, I threw the whole pan right into the hot oven with a bit of mire poix and red wine.  After about 15 minutes, I turned the oven down to 350 degrees, and continued cooking the roast until it registered just under 140 degrees on my instant-read thermometer — the high end of medium rare, especially after accounting for carry-over cooking

You can see the results for yourself here . . . but you won’t be able to taste them unless you try it yourself at home.  

Roast Lamb

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Kale Stem Pesto

. . . And now, back to kale.  Not surprisingly, I had a bag full of kale stems left over after I stripped the leaves for kale salad and kale chips.  I could have composted the stems at my farmers market, which I often do, but I had so many stems this time that I decided to search the internet for a recipe for kale stem pesto. 

It’s a good thing I did. 

As instructed, I chopped and blanched the kale stems, along with a few cloves of garlic, before adding it all to my food processor with olive oil, lemon zest, parsley, red pepper flakes, sea salt, freshly cracked black pepper, and a big handful of organic walnuts — a gift from a dear friend with a walnut ranch in California.  I tossed the pesto together with fresh, homemade spaghetti and some spicy chicken sausage made on a local farm, then I topped it all off with grated Romano cheese from Tonjes Farm Dairy.  It was sublime. 

I doubt that I’ll ever throw my kale stems into the compost pile again.  

Kale Pesto

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Kale Salad

A couple of years ago, raw kale — once much-maligned — became all the rage in almost every restaurant of note.  It was hard to find a menu that didn’t feature kale salad in one form or another.  In my opinion, its fame was long overdue, and my own version of kale salad has become a winter staple at Chez Ks.  A simple dressing of olive oil, shallots, anchovies, capers, preserved lemon, black pepper, and chopped dates, makes the chiffonade of kale appear almost translucent.  But it’s the irresistible taste that keeps me coming back for more as I patiently await the arrival of spring’s baby lettuces.

Kale Salad

 

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Roasted Shallots

Roasted shallots are one of those things that easily impress dinner guests.  “Did you individually peel every single one of these?,” they always ask, astounded by the amount of work and time they believe that would take.  But peeling shallots is amazingly simple if you first blanch them in a pot of boiling water for a minute or two before dousing them in cold water.  The skins will then slip right off in your fingers, especially if you first trim off the ends with a sharp knife. 

The roasting part of the cooking process is even easier.  Just place the peeled shallots in some melted butter in a cast iron skillet, add salt and pepper, and swirl around over high heat for a minute before placing the entire pan in an oven.  It doesn’t really matter what temperature the oven is, as that will only determine how long it takes for the shallots to turn golden brown.  I like to turn them over part way through the cooking process, and sometimes I’ll add whole garlic cloves and a sprig of thyme to the pan.  But whether you add anything else or not, you’ll love how deliciously sweet they taste, and your dinner guests will think you’re a magician in the kitchen.

Roasted Shallots 2

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Gingerbread House

Gingerbread houses seem to be experiencing a bit of resurgence in popularity.  People make special trips and battle crowds for a chance to see elaborate gingerbread villages made by local chefs.  I made many gingerbread houses over my own career as a chef, but my favorite was this one that I made at home with Kay a few years ago over Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  She had mentioned once that she’d never made one, so I surprised her with a big box of assorted candy, along with gingerbread walls and a roof that I had made one day while she was at work.  The project took many, many hours and, when we finished, Kay broke into tears.  “Are you crying because you think it’s beautiful?” I asked her.  “No,” she replied, “I’m crying because you gave me the best gift of all: the gift of time.”

Gingerbread House

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Brussels Sprouts on the Stalk

Having spent my life to that point buying Brussels sprouts in conventional grocery stores, I was well into my thirties before I discovered that Brussels sprouts grow on large trunk-like stalks, which can be as long as a man’s arm.  To see the stalks lined up at a farm stand is exciting, and removing the sprouts from the stalk is as easy as slicing — or even snapping — them right off.  So, the next time you see a giant stalk covered in Brussels sprouts, take one home and have some fun.  Who said it isn’t polite to play with your food?

Brussels Sprouts on the Stalk

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Pizza Dough

Now that the weather is cooling and I no longer mind turning the oven up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s time to think about making pizza dough again.  Or rather, it’s time for me to think about Kay making the pizza dough.  That’s her job.  She generally follows the recipe in The Silver Spoon cookbook, which calls for fresh cake yeast rather than the more standard instant dried.  She typically makes several at once and puts them in the freezer for me to grab when needed.  On many a Sunday evening, once the sun starts setting earlier than we’d like, we turn our attention away from the cold, darkening skies and into the kitchen where the yeasty smell of the rising dough fills us with anticipation for the fresh pizza that will warm our stomachs within a few hours.

Pizza Dough

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Homemade Pickles

An August farmers market is a seemingly endless variety of color, aroma, and textures.  Among the familiar and expected, there are always two or three little surprises that virtually beg to be tried and embraced.  One day, red shishito peppers, purple okra, and little Japanese turnips all found their way into my kitchen.  I placed them in old ball jars and added a variety of fresh herbs, dried spiced, onion, garlic, salt, sugar, and vinegar.  Then I put them all in the refrigerator and waited.  Not long.  After all, I hadn’t boiled the jars and sealed them with paraffin.  I had no intention of saving these homemade pickles for the long, cold winter.  I was planning to eat these pickles as soon as possible.  And I did.  And — with every bite — I thanked those red shishitos, purple okra, and little Japanese turnips for begging me to take them home with me.

Homemade Pickles

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Mezze Platter

When July arrives on the east coast, it brings with it such a variety of farmers market produce that I have trouble choosing . . . so I don’t.  I try to buy a little of everything and figure out what to do with it when I get home.  For this mezze platter, I quickly steamed the edamame while just as quickly sautéing the fantasy eggplant and blistering the shishito peppers, then I added them all to a platter of cherry tomatoes and homemade tahini dressing.  In less than 15 minutes, we had a tasty summer feast that proved that often the best thing to do to beautiful, fresh produce is almost nothing at all.

Mezze Platter

Refrigerator Tacos

I rarely go to the farmers market with a menu or recipe in mind.  Instead, I buy everything in sight that looks delicious . . . until I can’t carry any more.  When I get home, the combinations start to reveal themselves to me, and the cooking begins.  By the end of the week, however, I end up with an assortment of random ingredients, some never touched and others left over from previous meals.  Then the real challenge begins.  These tacos, made with leftover bison flank steak, a little feta, red onion, radish, cabbage, and cilantro, all atop a few Hot Bread Kitchen tortillas I pulled from the freezer, cleaned out my refrigerator, and they could not have been more delicious if I had purchased the ingredients with them in mind.  So, if you find yourself looking in your refrigerator and thinking that you have nothing to cook, don’t be so hard on yourself; dinner is probably right in front of your eyes.

Refrigerator Tacos

Strawberry Almond Cake

It is often said that cooking is art, but baking is science.  The reasoning behind the statement is that there’s a wide margin of error in cooking, thus leaving plenty of room for creativity without ruining a dish.  Baking, however, requires precise measuring, weighing, and timing in order to yield a result worth bragging about.  That’s not to say, however, that there isn’t a bit of room for improvisation in the world of baking.  This strawberry almond cake is a good example of just that.  The recipe required milk, for which I substituted tangier buttermilk, and walnuts, for which I substituted almonds.  Then, because I had some beautiful fresh strawberries from the farmers market, I sliced those in half and placed them with the almonds in the bottom of the pan before adding the batter.  The result was so delicious that I may go bake another as soon as I’m done writing this post.

Strawberry Almond Cake

Egg Salad Sandwich

When I was child, my elementary school only offered school lunch on Wednesdays.  As a result, I brought my lunch to school from home throughout first through eighth grades.  My favorite lunch was a meatloaf sandwich, featuring the leftovers from the previous night’s dinner.  But my second favorite was unquestionably an egg salad sandwich made with chopped red onion, diced sweet pickles, a little mayo, and a little Dijon mustard.  When I make egg salad these days, I also add a little red wine vinegar and cracked black pepper.  Perhaps it’s the addition of vinegar and pepper, or perhaps it’s because I now use farm-fresh eggs, but, regardless, egg salad has moved into first place on my list of favorite lunches.

Egg Salad Sandwich