Tag Archives: cooking

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Everything Old is New Again

There seems to be a renewed interest in “ancient” grains.  Spelt, emmer (a/k/a farro), and barley are all experiencing a resurgence of popularity.  And for good reason.  Ancient grains are high in fiber and protein and, perhaps more important, they have a delicious and intense flavor that just can’t be replicated by your mother’s box of rice.

One of my favorite ancient grains is freekah, a green wheat that originated in the Middle East, and which is sun-dried and roasted during the production process.  It has a nutty flavor and a slightly chewy texture, and it’s delicious whether served hot or turned into a cold salad.  Moreover, it’s as easy to cook as that box of rice I mentioned earlier.  So give it a try and take delight in both the taste and the fact that everything old is new again.

Everything Old is New Again

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Hold the Sauce

During the cold winter months, we make homemade pizza almost every Sunday evening.  This time of year, however, the heat of summer generally keeps us from cranking up the oven to the necessary 550 degrees Fahrenheit.  Of course, there’s an exception to every rule, and the surplus of ripe, miniature tomatoes at the farmers market these days triggers the exception to our No-Homemade-Pizza-in-Summer rule.  Fresh mozzarella, sharp garlic, sweet onion, and minty basil are almost mystical compliments to the sweet and savory little tomatoes.  But, please, hold the sauce.  With tomatoes like these, sauce would only interfere with the magic.

Hold the Sauce

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Summer Isn’t Over Yet!

The passing of Labor Day marks the unofficial end of summer.  And though that means that most of us will have to wait until 2015 for our next day at the beach, picnic in the park, or weekend away at the lake, the news is not all bad.  The farmers markets are still filled with summer fruits and vegetables, and it only takes a knife and a blender to turn tomatillos into salsa and cantaloupe into juice.  With flavors and colors like those, summer isn’t over yet!

Summer Isn't Over Yet

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Eating Garbage

A couple of years ago I learned that 40 percent of the food in the United States goes uneaten — more than 20 pounds per person every month.  According to the NRDC, reducing that waste by just 15 percent could feed more than 25 million Americans every year, no small feat when one in six Americans is unsure of where their next meal is coming from.

With that in mind, I have challenged myself to eat what I may previously have tossed in the trash or composting buckets.  Beet greens now get sautéed, mushroom stems get turned into soup stock, and squash seeds get dried and toasted. 

A few weeks ago, as I was enjoying the first watermelon of the season, I recalled eating watermelon rind pickles as a child.  They came from the grocery store in tall, skinny glass bottles and, because they were expensive, they were a once or twice a year treat.  I loved them.

This resurrected memory prompted me to ask myself why I was throwing out the rind.  Why wasn’t I turning it into the beloved pickles of my childhood?  After trying a recipe sent to me by a friend, I know I’ll never make that mistake again.   Eating “garbage” can be indescribably delicious!

Eating Garbage

 

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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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Less Can be More

Once upon a time, I would spend days preparing a dinner for friends.  A typical meal at my home included six courses served on my great-great grandmother’s bone china, and could take three hours to eat.  I spent more time working in the kitchen during dinner than I spent with my guests at the table.

When I moved from a single-family home in Chicago to a small New York City apartment, I left my heirloom china behind in my brother’s custodial care for my niece. As a result, my friends  now enjoy eating simpler dinners in my home, and I enjoy having more time to spend with them during the meals. 

The focus of a meal is no longer on the culinary skills I worked so hard to acquire and perfect.  Instead, our attention is on the incomparable produce and heirloom grains grown by local farmers, and the fresh fish or succulent piece of meat sold to me that morning by a local fisherman or rancher.  After all, a good cook without talented and dedicated farmers is like a writer without an alphabet.

It took me years of study and decades of practice, but I now understand that — more often than not — less can be more.

Swordfish & Sorrel Sauce

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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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Rhubarb Season

We can have a legitimate discussion about whether rhubarb should be classified as a fruit or a vegetable, and whether is it best used in sweet or savory dishes.  But please don’t try to convince me that the arrival of rhubarb season isn’t a reason to celebrate.  If you do, I won’t invite you to the party.

Rhubarb Season

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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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Rainbow Chard

While standing at one of my favorite greenmarket stands, I overheard a couple speaking to each other while gazing at the rainbow chard.

“Look at this.  It’s absolutely beautiful,” one said.

“Yes it is,” said the other, “but I never know how to cook it.”

I apologized for eavesdropping on their conversation, and quickly explained that cooking rainbow chard is as easy as chopping it up and sautéing it with some oil, garlic, salt, pepper, and — if they liked — a squirt of fresh lemon juice.  Then, I promised them that it would be delicious.  They thanked me and bought a big bunch, as did I.

On my walk home, I wondered how many twenty-first century Americans believe they no longer know how to cook.  It’s a shame that our society has become so intimidated by the concept of turning on a stove, throwing some fresh food in a pan, and seeing what happens.  

So, if you think you may be letting fear keep you from expanding your culinary repertoire, buy something you’ve never bought before, bring it home, research a simple recipe or two on the internet, and give it a shot.  Chances are, it will be easier than you think, taste better than you expect, and give you a well-deserved reason to pat yourself on the back.

Rainbow Chard

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A Genius in the Kitchen

When guests eat at Chez Ks, they invariably praise the pasta, polenta, and desserts.  As the chef, I would love to be able to accept their compliments.  However, I’ve been cooking long enough to know that the real genius in the kitchen is farmer Thor Oechsner, of Farmer Ground Flour in Trumansburg, New York.  He and his partners grow the most delicious organic, heirloom grains from which they mill the flours that I use to create everything from simple dinner entrées to complex desserts. 

As a farmer, Thor plays the roles of scientist, mechanic, engineer, construction contractor, and teacher, when he isn’t doing the actual plowing, planting, and harvesting.  The fruits of his labor become all-purpose flour, high extraction bread flour, whole wheat flour, rye flour, corn meal, polenta, white pastry flour, whole wheat pastry flour, whole spelt flour and — my personal favorite — whole buckwheat flour, have all played a starring role in my cooking and my diet for the past several years. 

So, the next time you see a bag of Farmer Ground Flour at your farmers market, grocery store, or specialty store, take a bag home and have a genius help you make dinner.

Farmer Ground Flour

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Will Play for Food

Cooking isn’t a game, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun.  Of course, if you’re too concerned about getting perfect results every time, you won’t always enjoy yourself.  But if you keep working at it, and learn from your mistakes, I’ll be surprised if you don’t have a great time and find yourself feeling like a winner.

Will Play for Food

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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 Chips

If kale salad isn’t your thing, perhaps you’re a fan of kale chips.  These addicting, crispy little snacks are a great way to get even the most finicky eater — child or adult — to eat green vegetables.  You can, of course, spend a small fortune purchasing them in plastic containers at your local health food store.  Or you can save yourself a lot of money and make them at home in almost no time at all.

Simply remove the leaves from the stems, wash and dry them thoroughly, toss them in a little olive oil (rubbing each leaf to make sure it’s very lightly coated), and sprinkle with sea salt (kosher salt will work, too)  and, if you like, pepper.  Then spread them out in a single layer on a sheet pan or two (or three), and place them in a 350 degree oven for about 12 to 18 minutes, turning the trays around after about 6 or 7 minutes.  You’ll know they’re done when they’re translucent but haven’t yet begun to turn black. 

Try it, and I suspect you’ll discover that the hardest part about making kale chips is not eating them before they have a chance to cool.  

Kale Chips