Saturday, May 31, 2008

Blue Hill at Stone Barns

I'd like to share a video and some pictures I took at Stone Barns Center for Agriculture, a Rockefeller-funded organic farm near Tarrytown, NY. And for a hint of some changes to come: I also spent two days trailing (kitchen-style interviewing) in the kitchen of Blue Hill, the restaurant run by Dan Barber, the ultimate East coast farm-to-table chef.

I hate food

For three days straight it's made me ill to think about any kind of food except a dry piece of toast (hold the butter) with some penne pasta, dry, no sauce, maybe with just a dab of tomato sauce on the side. I visited the farmer's market today to see if I could rev up my appetite by the sight of some fresh Spring produce, but all I felt towards the beautiful bunches of local asparagus was neutral, removed and passionless. An odd sensation.

The stomach virus is a powerful thing to turn a food-lover like me into a hater. And aside from the inherent sadness that comes from the lack of appetite, a deep-rooted fear has been creeping up on me - the fear that this will somehow become a permanent state, that I've lost the love and feeling for food altogether. I've spent many hours lying in bed trying to think up worse things that could happen to a striving cook... of course the first thing that came to mind was Grant Achatz, the innovative molecular gastronomist of Chicago's famed Alinea, and the ironic tragedy of his tongue cancer. First his appetite was gone, then his sense of taste altogether.

Even for non-cooks, the loss of appetite represents something of a loss of zest for life. Eating is one the most immediate and primal pleasures in life. And the pleasure of being in the kitchen for me, unmatched as of yet. I ask myself if I would return to the kitchen even if I landed on a permanent state of nausea. Yes, I think I would. I couldn't enjoy the pleasure of the food itself, but there's another major factor in cooking - the desire to share and please others. But would the food be just as good? Probably not. I could cook with my intellect, using good ingredients and good technique, but ultimately food can be only as good as the love and passion that goes into it. So please, oh God, make me healthy again so I can get back to the kitchen with full love and passion...

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Horseradish crème fraîche with salt-crusted beets

This is an amazing combination of flavors. So simple and elegant. The salt crust looked fun to make so I tried it, but I won't be attempting it again as it's too time-consuming for what you get as a result - pure saltiness with none of the orange and thyme flavors coming through. The horseradish crème fraîche is a keeper though, and I'm rather addicted to its flavor. Last night, I made a new batch of simple roasted beets in a 400 degree oven for 45 minutes, peeled them, and gobbled them up with the leftover crème fraîche on top of warm red quinoa. So delicious!

Note on crème fraîche: If you can't find crème fraîche, it's easy to make at home by adding 2 tablespooons of buttermilk to a cup of heavy cream. Let it sit at room temperature until thickened, up to 24 hours. You can expand or extend the life of the crème fraîche by reserving 2 tablespoons of it, and adding it to another cup of heavy cream and letting it sit again in room temperature up to 24 hours. I'm growing crème fraîche in my apartment this way now, and it not only does it allows me to choose my organic dairy ingredients, but it somehow makes me feel like I'm utilizing what's given to us freely by nature - oxygen and bacteria - to add something great to my pantry. If I can't grow a garden, I might as well grow crème fraîche, right?

Note on the horseradish: At RestoX, I've been taught to cover it in rice vinegar as soon as it's grated to keep it from changing color, which happens quickly. You just need a touch of the vinegar, enough to turn the horseradish a bit doughy, like the wasabi you get at sushi restaurants.

Recipe: Horseradish crème fraîche with salt-crusted beets
Adapted from Epicurious, courtesy of Dan Barber


Horseradish Crème Fraîche:
1 cup crème fraîche (8 ounces)
1 tablespoon grated horseradish (more to taste, if desired)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
2 teaspoons Sherry wine vinegar

2 cups coarse kosher salt
5 tablespoons prepared horseradish
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
1 tablespoon finely grated orange peel
3 large unpeeled beets (each about 8 ounces), trimmed, scrubbed


For horseradish crème fraîche: Whisk crème fraîche, horseradish, chopped chives, and Sherry wine vinegar in small bowl to blend. Season to taste with salt and pepper. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.

For beets:
Preheat oven to 375°F. Mix coarse salt, horseradish, thyme, and orange peel in medium bowl. Place three 3-tablespoon mounds of salt mixture on small rimmed baking sheet, spacing apart. Top each salt mound with 1 beet, then cover all beets with remaining salt mixture, pressing very firmly with hands and forming crust around each beet, covering completely.

Roast beets 1 3/4 hours. Remove from oven; crack salt crusts open and remove beets. Peel beets; cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Arrange beet slices on platter. Serve with horseradish crème fraîche.

Lavender-infused virgin mojitos

This is a recipe I tried out for the upcoming Lavender Festival. It's so refreshing, and the lavender adds a subtle bit of loveliness and interest to an otherwise common summer drink.

Recipe: Lavender-infused virgin mojitos
Adapted from Food and Wine
15 mint leaves
1 teaspoon raw sugar
1 ounce fresh lime juice
1/2 ounce Lavender Simple Syrup (recipe follows)
4 ounces chilled ginger ale

1. In a cocktail shaker or a tall glass, muddle the mint, sugar, lime juice and Simple Syrup. Add ice and shake well. Top with the ginger ale and/or seltzer, depending on your preference for taste and sweetness.


1 cup sugar
1 cup water
2 teaspoons organic lavender buds

In a small saucepan, bring sugar, water and lavender to a boil. Simmer until the sugar is dissolved, 3 minutes. Remove from the heat, let cool completely, and strain out lavender buds.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Feeding the masses

Apologies for my long hiatus from the blog world. It's been a crazy few months here, as early spring probably is for most people. Birthdays, visitors from abroad, feeding an a**load of mouths (more on that later), exploring new avenues, etc, etc. I've also been feeling a massive computer burn-out. Having sat in front of a computer for 8 hours straight at the office, it's hard to turn one on again when I get home.

Well, I got an email from Carmen today asking, "Are you still at RestoX?" Yes, I'm still there, and it's been better than ever. I've been taking notes in "analog mode," as G. calls it, on my nifty little Moleskine reporter notebook, and I'm planning some future posts.

In the meantime, I wanted to share a few recipes with you. We feed about 70 church members every few months, with various groups taking turns each week. Our group was up a few weeks ago, and I was the organizer this time. It felt a bit like a Top Chef challenge, with a budget of $200, using only organic ingredients, and catering to older Korean palates. Ugh. Not fun. Older Koreans tend not to be very adventurous, and if you serve anything besides a garlic and hot pepper-laden dish, they'll complain. We also have to provide big vats of kimchi on the side, even if it's with spaghetti.

I decided on a risky chicken tikka masala - risky because a lot of people have told me Koreans don't like Indian spices. I personally love Indian food because I partly grew up on it at M's house. So strangely enough, it's my comfort food. Chicken tikka isn't real Indian but rather Anglo-Indian, created in England, and I've yet to meet anyone who doesn't like it. I did some poking around on the web for a good recipe, and came upon one from Cook's Illustrated. It's so simple, filling, delicious and cheap to make. Best of all for us, zero complaints.

Some notes and tweaks to the recipe: The chicken marinated this way makes it flavorful and tender. If you want it extra-tender, you can give it a long, sensual massage like one of our cooks did. It was a big gross to watch, but the chicken was damn good. I also decided to half the amount of chicken called for here because Koreans are more interested in the sauce than the meat, and I found it to be more than enough chicken. To add some bulk, I roasted some cauliflower with garlic and tossed that in along with some frozen peas for color.

We also served a salad with a nice three-citrus vinaigrette that was so good that several people asked for the recipe. A chef friend gave it to me, and I adjusted the ingredients a bit to fit the Indian theme better. For example, the original recipe calls for some garlic and soy sauce. I omitted these and added in some chopped cilantro and honey since Koreans tend to like anything sweet. I'm telling you - it's SO good.

Oh, and if any of you need these recipes calculated for 100 people, just let me know. ;-)

Chicken Tikka Masala
Adapted from Cook's Illustrated
This dish is best when prepared with whole-milk yogurt, but low-fat yogurt can be substituted. For a spicier dish, do not remove the ribs and seeds from the chile. If you prefer, substitute 2 teaspoons ground coriander, 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom, 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, and 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper for the garam masala. The sauce can be made ahead, refrigerated for up to 4 days in an airtight container, and gently reheated before adding the hot chicken.
Serves 6 to 8

Chicken Marinade
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon table salt
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts , trimmed of fat and cut into 3/4" cubes
1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt (see note above)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 medium garlic cloves , minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 2 teaspoons)
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger

Masala Sauce
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion , diced fine (about 1 1/4 cups)
2 medium garlic cloves , minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 2 teaspoons)
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1 fresh serrano chile , ribs and seeds removed, flesh minced (see note above)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon garam masala (see note above)
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon table salt
2/3 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves

1. FOR THE CHICKEN: Combine cumin, coriander, cayenne, and salt in small bowl. Sprinkle both sides of chicken with spice mixture, pressing gently so mixture adheres. Place chicken on plate, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 to 60 minutes. In large bowl, whisk together yogurt, oil, garlic, and ginger; set aside.

2. FOR THE SAUCE: Heat oil in large Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and cook, stirring frequently, until light golden, 8 to 10 minutes. Add garlic, ginger, chile, tomato paste, and garam masala; cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add crushed tomatoes, sugar, and salt; bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in cream and return to simmer. Remove pan from heat and cover to keep warm.

3. While sauce simmers, adjust oven rack to upper-middle position (about 6 inches from heating element) and heat broiler. Cover chicken well with yogurt mixture and arrange on wire rack set in foil-lined rimmed baking sheet or broiler pan. Broil chicken until tender and exterior is lightly charred in spots, 10 to 18 minutes.

4. Let chicken rest 5 minutes, then stir into warm sauce (do not cook chicken in sauce). Adjust seasoning with salt, add in cilantro if desired, and serve with basmati rice.

Three-citrus vinaigrette
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
Zest and juice of 1 orange
Zest and juice of 1 lime
1 tablespoon of fresh ginger, rough-cut into small pieces
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon oyster sauce
1 cup grapeseed oil (or other neutral-flavored oil)
1/4 teaspoon salt (or more to taste)
Fresh-ground pepper
Chopped fresh cilantro (optional)

Emulsify all ingredients in a blender and season with more salt and pepper as needed. Makes about 2 cups.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Yo tambien!

Anyone want to eat through Spain with me? I mean, I'd much rather do it with Batali and Bittman, but if we could get ourselves there and in front of some good food, I won't make a squeak. Here's a little trailer for a new show coming in the fall - a road trip through Spain with two of my favorite cooks/chefs, Bario Batali and Mark Bittman, eating and discovering their way through Spain, my next food destination: