Archive for the ‘Thoughts’ Category

h1

A Birthday Treat for Lily: Chocolate Cupcakes with Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting

March 20, 2009

IMG_9494.JPG
IMG_9531.JPG

We’ve been busy of late. Three weeks ago, my wife and I welcomed another addition to our family — our daughter, Lily. She was born a healthy 8 lbs and 1 oz, and since then has packed on the ounces to weigh nearly 10 lbs. Both mother and daughter have recovered nicely and look fabulous. I’m still shocked by how wonderfully they both are doing, and it isn’t just a lack of sleep leading me to say this.

To celebrate, as we did with the birth of her older brother Jack, I made Lily a cupcake. While Jack’s cupcake is all Meyer lemons, I embraced chocolate for our daughter. But I couldn’t deviate too much. Lily and Jack are siblings… so their cupcakes should have something in common — cream cheese frosting.
IMG_9349.JPG
IMG_9405.JPG

OK, I’m rationalizing. The truth is that I love cream cheese frosting, and I pretty much think it kicks most frostings’ butt. In addition, it’s infinitely easier to make than buttercream frosting. Cream together a stick of butter, an 8 oz. box of cream cheese, and a 1lb. box of powdered sugar, and you are 90% done. Cream cheese frosting might not have the fluffiness factor and the mouth smoothness of buttercream, but it has got a richness and flavor that just makes me happy.

To raise it up a level, I also added a personal favorite — coconut. I know we’ve all seen mounds of fresh coconut cupcakes, and I admit I was worried that people would think I was oh-so derivative and helping the cupcake craze jump the shark even faster. But, at the end of the day, I like it. So fashion be damned. This is for my little girl!

IMG_9419.JPG
IMG_9451.JPG

Chocolate Cupcakes
Yield: 1 dozen
Ingredients:
1 cup (200g) all-purpose flour
¾ cup (180g) sugar
¼ cup (30g) cocoa powder
1 stick unsalted butter(115g)
2 oz. (60g) semi-sweet chocolate (melted)
½ cup (175mL) buttermilk
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt

Directions:
1. Preheat the oven to 350F.

2. Allow the buttermilk, butter and eggs to warm up to room temperature.

3. Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and baking powder.

4. Add sugar, salt and butter to the bowl of a stand mixer. Cream for 5 to 6 minutes on high, stopping to scrape down the sides and bottom at least twice. When done, the butter should be smooth, light in color and fluffy.

5. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl then add the whole egg while the mixer is on medium speed. Once the egg is fully integrated add the yolk and then scrape again.

6. Add the melted semi-sweet chocolate and mix on medium until integrated.

7. With the mixer on low add the dry sifted ingredients and buttermilk in alternating installments as follows: dry, buttermilk, dry, buttermilk, dry. Scrape down the sides at least once.

8. Scoop out into muffin tins lined with paper cups, and place in oven for 20-25 minutes until a toothpick almost comes out clean. Let cool completely then frost.

IMG_9437.JPG
IMG_9506.JPG
IMG_9512.JPG
IMG_9519.JPG

Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting
Yields: Approx. 1 quart
Ingredients:
1 lb. powdered sugar (room temperature)
1 stick butter (room temperature)
8 oz. cream cheese (1 block)
2 tsp. coconut extract
½ tsp. vanilla extract
½ tsp. salt
2 cup fancy shredded coconut (topping)

Directions:
1. Using a hand or stand mixer, add the cream cheese and butter to a bowl. Whip at high speed until fluffy and well integrated, approximately 4 minutes.

2. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the powdered sugar and salt. To start, mix on low until most of the powdered sugar is integrated and then mix on high for about 1 minute.

3. Add the coconut and vanilla extracts then whip one last time. Taste to make sure flavor is correct. Add up to one more teaspoon of coconut to get clear coconut flavor correct.

4. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. Keeps well covered for over a week. If the frosting is stiff, simply let warm up to room temperature or for quicker recovery simply beat for about 30 seconds on high with your mixer.

5. Frost cupcakes and then top with a generous amount of coconut. Coconut adds both flavor and hides any flaws in frosting.

6. Tip: When frosting using just a spatula or palate knife, add all the frosting you are going to need in one dollop. Then place the spatula at an angle and turn the cupcake without lifting your knife. Scrape the excess off your spatula. The key is to add more frosting than you think at the start and not to lift your knife. If you do, you’ll start pulling up cake and it won’t be smooth.

IMG_9321.JPG

Advertisements
h1

Share your traditions… Win a book!

December 10, 2008

cfc_cover1
Frequent readers and subscribers to our feed will notice we’ve taken a couple of sabbaticals since we began this blog. Occassionally people have mailed asking, “So, what are you up to?” Well, this post is an effort at both making excuses and shameless self-promotion.

IMG_8130.JPG

Well, during one of these breaks, the wife – the funny and talented one – wrote a book: Cole Family Christmas. The tale is based on a true story told by my 88-year-old grandmother, Hazel Cole Kendle, who was the youngest of the nine Cole children.

Cole Family Christmas tells the story of a very special Christmas my family experienced in 1920 when my great-grandfather was working as a coal miner in Kentucky. That year, he had received a promotion and had a little more money, and so the nine Cole children were able to write to Santa to ask for special gifts from the “Wish Book” (AKA the Sears catalogue). But when a freak snowstorm prevented the gifts from being delivered, my great-grandparents had to scramble to save Christmas. As the Cole children remembered it, though, the results of their efforts were even more inspiring – and more meaningful – than the store-bought gifts they had wished for.

IMG_8084.JPG
IMG_8124.JPG

This story was passed down in the family for years, until at last my mother thought it should be memorialized in writing. Originally planned as a small pamphlet to be handed out at our annual family reunion, the project blossomed into a book geared toward families and younger readers. Cole Family Christmas is now a hardcover book, complete with beautiful illustrations, and has received broad distribution. We’ve been lucky not only to be picked up by online sources like Amazon, but also by brick and mortar places like Barnes and Noble.

It has been a thrill for us to see Cole Family Christmas sitting in the children section’s at bookstores. As I hope you can tell, I’m extremely proud of my wife. As a result, I’m going to try to capitalize on my wife’s talent even more than usual.

IMG_8098.JPG
IMG_8136.JPG

We are going to have a contest.

As you might be able to tell, traditions around the holidays are a big deal for my family. The one I remember most as a child is the annual cookie decorating contest. Like many families, we’d make dozens of cookies, and then a major competition would begin. Typically, the winner would be picked by the first non-participant to walk in the door — a rule that resulted in a hilarious, and controversial, choice when a teenage girlfriend of my older brother made the choice one year.

What are your traditions? We’d love for you to share them, too! To sweeten the pot, we’ll award the top three favorites with a signed copy of the book. Below are the rules:

Rules:

1. Post on your blog about your family’s food traditions for the holidays. It doesn’t need to be about Christmas.

2. Only one submission per blog.

3. Send an email to myhusbandcooks@gmail.com that includes your name, your blog’s name, a link to the relevant photo, and to the post in which it appears.

4. The best three (3) posts will get an autographed copy of the book.

5. The deadline is December 20, 2008 at 11:59 PM EST.

6. Round up will be posted on December 23, 2008. 

My family will choose the winners as soon as all the posts are up, and we’ll be sending out the books ASAP in hopes of getting you the book before Christmas day — unless you live outside North America, then we’ll do our best to get it there before New Years. I hope you enjoy our little competition and have a Merry Christmas!

h1

Fresh chorizo and stuffed dates, or as we think about it: rethinking folklore about watching sausage being made.

November 14, 2008

IMG_7329.JPG
IMG_7289.JPG
IMG_7315.JPG

I’ve seen how sausage is made… And it’s not that bad.

OK, I didn’t go to the “sausage factory,” where, I’ve no doubt, the process is much, much more stomach churning. But watching my husband make chorizo sausage from scratch was in no way traumatic. And the smell of him cooking up little “tester patties” was actually kind of appetizing.

There, I said it. Sausage making can be appetizing.

Indeed, I’ll go further. You should try to make sausage, too. Why? Well, I’ll give you three good reasons: Delicious southwestern-style fritatas, hearty corn bread and chorizo stuffing, and to-die-for chorizo stuffed dates. All of these tasty, tasty items are drastically improved when you bring your own homemade chorizo sausage to the party.

Consider: Rather than ripping open the shrink-wrapped styrofoam package of pallid, speckled links, you could make — in your own kitchen — fragrant, delicious, crispy, and spicy pork sausage. The smell of fresh cinnamon and the bite of potent spices could cause your nose to twitch. The sound of pork fat hitting pan could cause your stomach to growl. And the smell of the chorizo sausage browning in the pan could cause your mouth to water.

The best part? Not only is making chorizo sausage not gruesome, it’s also not hard. Grind and combine, baby. Plus, none of these recipes call for linked sausage, meaning you can forgo wrestling with slimy intestinal lining or other equally slippery casing alternatives.

Sound good? Don’t forgot to cook me up a tester patty. I’m willing to be your guinea pig!

IMG_7320.JPG

And now, the husband’s take…

The first time I had fresh sausage was as a kid. My father’s family were farm folk in eastern North Carolina and grew the regions staples—pigs and tobacco. This meant, at least once a year, my father got fresh sausage from the farm. And, no offense to Jimmy Dean and Bob Evans,but to be honest, there really was nothing better. There was something about the quality or perhaps the novelty that made such a positive impression.

So fast forward a few decades, the first thing you learn when you get serious about cooking is controlling quality. The reason the great restaurants produce the greatest food is that every ingredient is high quality. And every step thereafter, from making stock to plating, is about enhancing the underlying quality. If you take this to the level of Thomas Keller at the French Laundry or Patrick O’Connell at The Inn at Little Washington, then it becomes obsessions that leads to legendary greatest. Or if you are me, it’s why you make chicken stock a couple times a month, go to various farmers markets around town or make my own sausage then write a post about it.

The chorizo is great. You could eat sausage alone, but it isn’t a hot dog or bratwurst. To me, it’s a component and taking control to build a better result. As my wife pointed out, there are at least two other posts on the blog where chorizo is used. Today, I add another recipe here, a cocktail party classic—chorizo stuffed dates. So while, “making sausage” has it’s negative connotations, if you have the inkling, do it yourself. It’s actually fun.

Before I quit writing, some technical information about the recipe. First, this is fresh chorizo. Aficionados of chorizo can do dissertations on the subject. In some regions, it’s a dried sausage like salami or pepperoni. In others, it’s a loose sausage. It can or can’t be smoked. In general, I’m not remotely claiming this as a definitive or authentic recipe. This is simply my recipe which tends to be a bit on the spicy side.

Second, I got into sausage making right about the time I started culinary school. It began with Brian Polclyn and Michael Ruhlman’s great book, Charcuterie. While this recipe is significantly different then the one that can be found in their book, it would be a lie if I didn’t acknowledge their influence. If you enjoy this sort of thing, I would highly recommend their book. My copy is getting beat up from going on and off the shelf so much.

Third, this makes quite a bit of chorizo. It keeps easily for up to 1 week in the refrigerator. It also freezes well. I don’t put mine in cases to make links, but Ruhlman and Polcyn recommend hog casings if you want to follow their lead.

Finally, you need to work clean and cold when you grind meat. This means I clean my grinding equipment before and after every use. It also means that everything gets placed in either the freezer or refrigerator between steps including the meat, the grinder, and the bowl that catches the meat. If you don’t keep things cold, you risk the fat rendering out and loosing flavor.

IMG_7322.JPG
IMG_7336.JPG

Fresh Chorizo
Ingredients:
3 lbs pork shoulder (diced to fit grinder)
4 cloves garlic (minced)
2 Tbsp. salt
1 Tbsp. tequila

Spice Mix:
2 Tbsp. chili powder
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. paprika (hot)
1/2 tsp. chipotle powder
1/2 tsp. cayenne
1/2 tsp. fresh black pepper
1/2 tsp. red pepper flake

Directions:

1. Toss together diced pork, spice mix, salt and minced garlic making sure that everything is evenly coated. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 min.

2. Clean grinding equipment and bowl. Place equipment in the freezer (or keep cold) until ready to grind.

3. Grind the meat being sure to scrape the bottom of the bowl to catch any straggling spice mix or garlic. When using the Kitchen-Aid grinder attachment, I use the small die (the screen in front of the grinding blade) on low speed for best results. If the meat is no longer cold, cover and refrigerate before proceeding.

4. Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, add the ground meat and tequila to the bowl. Mix on medium speed until the meat is a pâté consistency. This should take about 1 minute.

5. In a small sauté pan over medium heat, place a small, quarter-sized patty of the sausage. Brown on both sides. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed.

6. Once done, move to a clean container, cover tightly and refrigerate. Should keep for up to 1 week in the refrigerator, or can be divided up and part placed in the freezer for later use.

IMG_7541.JPG
IMG_7529.JPG

IMG_7510.JPG
IMG_7511.JPG
IMG_7527.JPG
IMG_7541.JPG

Chorizo Stuffed Dates w/Goat Cheese
Ingredients:
24 pitted dates
1/4 lbs fresh chorizo
6-8 slices bacon
4 oz. goat cheese (optional)

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350F.

2. Slice each date along one side using a paring knife.

3. Taking a pinch of chorizo, press into the pocket formed by opening the date.

4. Stretch each slice of bacon out on a cutting board. This is the key as it avoids the need for toothpicks. The bacon should be about 1/3 larger then when pulled from the rest of the slices.

5. Roll the date until date is covered and the bacon comes around about 1 1/2 times. Cut from the slice. You should get 3 to 4 dates per slice of bacon.

6. Place on baking sheet with a rack. Bake for 30 min or until the bacon is golden and fat rendered. Rotate halfway through cooking. It’s important your baking sheet has a lip on all sides as there will be a good pool of fat on the bottom of the sheet.

7. Plate, sprinkle over with goat cheese. Serve warm.

h1

Beer is good. Fathers are good. A post about excellent collaborations.

June 12, 2008

IMG_5846.JPG
IMG_5591

Fathers don’t always want ties for Father’s Day. They don’t always want breakfast in bed. Dads don’t always want power tools for their birthday (unless of course they are cooking geeks and want a cold smoker — ahem, Jack, you get the message there, buddy. Notice the link.).

It is true, however, that dads like a good beer. OK, even that isn’t always true. But it is true of this father on his second Father’s Day. That is why I’ve decided to make a pair of recommendations to all you folks looking for something for dear old Dad.

So, a couple of years ago, Garret Oliver — brewmaster of Brooklyn Brewery, beer luminary, and Slow Food guru — had a moment of mutual admiration with Hans-Peter Drexler, brewmaster of G. Schneider & Son of Germany. The American loved the wheatbeers of the German. The German loved the hoppy beers of the American. And in a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup moment of brilliance, they decided to combine efforts.  Their joint venture became these two bottles of beer.

 

IMG_5883.JPG

While using essentially the same recipe, they manufactured two distinct beers. Brooklyner-Schneider is brewed here in the States using American hops and Schnieder’s yeast; the Schnieder-Brooklyner is brewed in Germany using local hops and Brooklyn’s yeast. The result is some of the most delicous beer I’ve had. Both are snappy, with a myriad of flavors like banana, but with high acidity. These are perfect beers for lighter summer fare or even richer barbeque food. They are also spectacular for sitting and drinking on the back porch after the kids have left the house or gone to bed.

Either beer would make an excellent gift for a Dad. I tend to favor the Brooklyner, the wife seems to favor the Schneider. So, have fun and pour both to decide for yourself. This is the second year of this collaboration, and the beers are available only in limited quantities — so they may be difficult to find. Try your local beermonger.

Finally, in the last food post, I mentioned a pairing for the salad with some great craft beers. I also felt a little self conscious because I gave such light beers my first nod. So I feel the need to prove my manliness and my growing understanding of beer. Yes, real men only drink dark, monster hopped IPAs and Budweiser. Well, OK, I don’t drink like that. But I’m a man, dammit! I’ve a son to prove it to!

IMG_5884.JPG

As a result of this need to prove my manlihood, I’ll occasionally make suggestions for pairings of beer and food. I’ll also drop a post now and then about something exceptional I’m drinking. We aren’t going to become a beer blog; there are better and smarter guys doing that sort of writing. Instead, we like to think of ourselves as being about the food and the joyous event of sharing time with people. I hope you enjoy this new twist. Also, if you’ve got insights and suggestions on things that you are drinking, we’d love to incorporate them.

So, if you don’t have a chance to sit down and pour your Dad a beer, and/or sit down and share a meal with him, I hope you call him on Sunday.

h1

Top Chef Week 14: The End!

June 12, 2008

topchef.usethis

And it’s over. There were tears of joy, tears of sorrow, tears of bitterness. And finally, a winner.

But first, the cooking and the parade of celebrity chefs come to get their grub on. Perhaps unfairly, three of them actually had to work for their suppers. Yes, as our finalists stood before the requisite folding tables heaped with food, they were confronted with three big name chefs who would become their sous: Le Bernadin’s (dreamy) Eric Ripert, Blue Hill’s Dan Barber and the Spotted Pig’s April Bloomfield.

The final three could choose their sous chefs and the corresponding ingredients that came with them — but it seemed a little more like a popularity contest: the arguably biggest name chef (Ripert) went first to Stephanie, followed by Dan Barber to Richard and April Bloomfield to Lisa. Now, armed with ingredients and high-wattage talent, the three finalists had to craft a four-course “meal of a lifetime” to see who would be the next Top Chef.

Perhaps most surprising? Lisa and April actually hit it off. Indeed, working harmoniously (for once), Lisa crafted a menu that drew on her Asian training. The first course (from what we remember) was spicy shrimp, the second was a coconut soup and dumpling, the third course was beef wagyu and her requisite dessert was some sort of black rice concoction that intrigued the judges.

Stephanie (awesomely) took Eric Ripert to task on his fish filleting skills, while also coming up with a menu that featured her interest in simple, but varied, flavors. Her first course was a soup with a “perfectly cooked” snapper, her second course was a quail breast over lobster ravioli and her third course was an unorthodox combination of lamb with mushrooms, blackberries, tampanade and braised pistachios. Her final course was a ho-hum ricotta pound cake with bananas.

Richard, looking pretty panicked the whole time, didn’t get much screen time with his sous chef and seemed to keep his menu in flux until late in the game. In the end, he produced a menu that was, apparently, “overthought” and under-executed. (But he did wow Ripert with his liquid nitrogen antics.) His first course was a simple scallop with fruit, his second course was a play on “which came first” featuring a chicken egg, fois gras and guinea hen, his third course was a not-too-crispy pork belly with pickled radishes and his dessert course was a cheeky bacon ice cream with banana scallop.

Cut to shots of food-world glitterati stuffing their faces.

(Aside to the reader: Are you finding this recap lacking snap? Us too. We’re struggling to find anything sort of funny about this episode. Couldn’t somebody have choked on a clam shell or something? We’re dying here.)

Perhaps the only drama of the night came when the judges continually praised Lisa’s meal. Shock. Horror. Could the much reviled Lisa actually win this thing? Indeed, throughout the judging, Stephanie and Richard looked like they might vomit from nerves… while Lisa, who usually looks like she wants to take an axe to the judges, actually looked kind of friendly. Then favorite Richard sputters out an “I choked” when asked how he thinks he did. What is happening, Top Chef?

At last, the judges relieved the tension wrought during the last ten minutes of the show… Yes, a woman is Top Chef — but it is not, in fact, Lisa. Stephanie, you go girl. The all new Top Chef, now featuring girl power. Congrats!

And now Q&A with Husband and Wife:

Q: What celebrity chef would you choose to be your sous-chef?
Husband: Gordon Ramsey might throw a knife at me. Thomas Keller would require me to sit in the corner and practice until I got it perfect. And Emeril Legasse most likely would douse everything I made in his essence or parsley. So, I want someone like Charlie Trotter. He’s frighteningly intense, and he used to be a former gymnast so he can work the tight corners in the kitchen. But he looks like a little guy, so I might be able to take him down when he wasn’t looking if he got too out of hand. Otherwise, I might need Eric Ripert or Daniel Boulud. At least, they look like they might have a good time working.

W: I suppose it would have to be Eric Ripert (only because my husband doesn’t yet qualify as a celebrity, of course). Not only is he, ahem, pretty good looking — which you should be if you possibly can — but he can cook. Which is important … since I pretty much can’t. Plus, he has “le sexy” French accent, which might take some of the sting out of it when he tells me “You le suck at le cooking.”

Q: Was requiring dessert fair?

H: No. I know they’ve done more to emphasize the dessert skills this season. But none of these folks are pastry people. The desserts they made were not impressive desserts. If you go to fine dining and see refined desserts, they are little pieces of edible art these days. All three of them made variations on warm, comforting dishes. While there might be some Top Chef types who could hold their own with dessert, it shouldn’t be a required skill. On its best days, it would be like lining up three sports cars next to a nice looking sedan.

W: Yes. If I were a judge, I’d want to eat dessert — and those contestants have to do what I say! Plus, if you’ve watched the show and have any sort of game plan, you’d know that making dessert is likely to be required. Hello? Practice, practice, practice. I’ll even eat your failures.

Q: The Zagat guide is known for its three criteria and 30-point scale. So in honor of Tim Zagat’s presence at the final dinner, what would you give this season of Top Chef?
H: 19 for story. There were times I was a bit bored this year. While I appreciate them appearing to be more serious about the food, it would have been nice to have at least one attempted assault with shaving sheers to make the blog entries funnier. 20 for contestant demeanor. We’ve come to accept that odd people want to work in kitchens and odder people want to be on Top Chef. Unfortunately, Lisa of the bad attitude was the worst we got. And compared to Flavor of Love, these people seem almost normal. Finally, 29 for product placement. They were so close to a perfect score. If they had just mentioned Toyota one more time… perhaps one stuck in a Glad garbage bag stuck in the bottom of the harbor in San Juan.

W: What this show needs a Christian from Project Runway. That kid had talent and personality. Plus, he had hair that would shame these Top Chef contestants’ meek little faux hawks. So I have to give Top Chef a 15 for personality and hair. Pretty mediocre, Top Chef. If I was rating food — a la Zagat — I’d have to give Top Chef a 20: It all looks really yummy, but so far I have yet to taste anything but the glass on my TV set. And finally, I have to give Top Chef a 30 out of 30 for girl power. It’s about time a chick won. Go Stephanie!!

What is your score for this year’s Top Chef? And did you also think Stephanie might throw up during judges table?

h1

Thoughts on Baby Food or Pea & Mint Crostini?

June 6, 2008

IMG_5793.JPG
IMG_5706.JPG

I think we can all agree that food resembling baby food is generally unappetizing. Take, for example, jarred mashed peas. Greenish gray, strained yet lumpy, smelling vegetal and yet not fresh… baby food peas are, well… gross.

That is why this recipe is such a conundrum.

Yes: The fresh, vibrant, and delicious mixture atop that golden, crunchy crostini is, in fact, mashed peas. But this is no baby food (although our baby did devour it).

It is a delightful romp through an English garden in spring. It is a refreshing taste of green with a hint of mint that draws your mouth into a smile. It is all other kinds of food haiku that I can’t quite put into words.

Those meddlesome peas turn out to be absolutely delicious when shelled and mashed fresh out of their pods. Then my husband enhances them even further by adding a kick of a mint and a hint of lemon. Next, he adds an amazing crunch by spreading them over a piece of golden french bread, drizzled with a little extra virgin olive oil. And finally, he make the whole thing dazzling by adding the peppery bite — and visual flair — of a watercress salad.

It’s true: I’ll never look at baby food the same way again.

IMG_5690.JPG
IMG_5695.JPG

And now, the husband’s take…

I had the pleasure to be in Chicago a few weeks ago. The negative was that I was alone — no Jack and no wife. The positive was that I was in Chicago — and I was hungry. So, I had to eat. As a result, I had the good fortune to escape one afternoon to Avec in the West Loop.

I had some inspiring food while I was there. Avec’s food focuses on the Mediterranean regions of France, Spain and Italy. Most of the menu is designed to be shared communally, with small and big plates — all of it served in a hip little wood box of a room. Visually, it reminded me a lot of New York’s Momofoku, complete with its three-man kitchen serving at the bar.

Now, we don’t do restaurant reviews here… so the question is: Why am I going on about this place? Well, I like to give credit. This dish was inspired by my meal at Avec.

I wanted something simple and light to go with a heavy and spicy dish I’d ordered. The waiter insisted that I try Avec’s pea crostini. Now, I’m a new father. I’ve served my son a good amount of pea purée in recent months and I’ve had some exposure to mashed peas from a container. And let’s just say… I wish I was a better father and had spent more time preparing homemade vegetables for my son. So, I was hesitant to go along with the waiter’s suggestion.

But I’m glad I did.

The recipe here is a quick one. Once the water is boiling, this dish can be on the table in 15 minutes. You can even boil the peas in advance and refrigerate them for a couple days. Just don’t blend them before you’re ready; even with the lemon juice’s acidity, pureed peas will turn an unappetizing brown by the next morning.

The only slightly unusual ingredient here is ricotta salata. This cheese is made from the same curd of ricotta, but it is pressed and dried. It has a relatively neutral flavor, is shockingly white and has a texture similar to feta, but without the gamey quality of sheep or goat’s cheese. I can find ricotta salata at high-end grocers like Whole Foods or at independent cheese mongers. In the end, the cheese adds very little in flavor because the mint, lemon and peas dominate. But its shocking white was a great aesthetic choice, so I used it. I think it makes very little difference; so, substitute away!

Click here for recipe.

IMG_5715.JPG

Pea & Mint Crostini

IMG_5699.JPG
IMG_5700.JPG
IMG_5716.JPG
IMG_5729.JPG
IMG_5748.JPG
IMG_5763.JPG
IMG_5784.JPG

Ingredients:
1 cup shelled peas
2 radishes
1 bunch watercress
1 lemon (zest & juice)
5 medium leaves of mint
Ricotta salata
Baguette
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt
Pepper

Directions:
1. Salt water until it tastes of sea water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Add the peas and cook for 6 minutes. The peas should be soft in the mouth — overcooking is not a negative. Strain the peas and shock in an ice bath to stop cooking.

2. Slice the bread into thin discs, brush lightly with olive oil, lightly salt, and toast.

3. Combine the lemon juice, zest, peas and mint and then blitz with stick blender. The texture should be paste-like, similar to baby food. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

4. Spread the puree on toast, then garnish with leaves of watercress, slices of radish and grated ricotta salata.

h1

Top Chef Episode 13: Puerto Rico

June 5, 2008

topchef.usethis

And then there were three. And what a three! But wait, we’re getting ahead of ourselves…

After a few months break, our four intrepid contestants reunited in sunny Puerto Rico for the penultimate episode of Top Chef. Little had changed, except Lisa had also joined the ranks of “Top Chef contestants sporting spiky hair” (whose membership continues, disturbingly, to swell). Even our infant son has gotten in on the act: You can see him sporting “the Blais” (au naturel) below.

IMG_5603


But we digress. The Quick Fire called on the contestants to take on a Puerto Rican favorite, frituras (aka fritters) and use the ubiquitous plantain in their dishes as well. Richard stumbled on slimy raw bananas in his salsa, as did Antonia in her plantain jam. Stephanie, looking relaxed and confident, and Lisa, looking smug and prickly, rose to the top with their superior tostones (fried green plantains). Ultimately, Stephanie took top prize and won the honor of assigning sous chefs for the elimination challenge.

What is astonishing, however, is that anyone could cook with guest judge Wilo Benet staring them down. Yes, Wilo is a frightening Tom Colicchio doppelganger without a soul (patch). Some may criticize: “What? Do all bald, pale, portly, middle-aged, white male chefs look alike to you?” And we answer: “Um, yes. They look like freakin’ twins.” Top Chef producers wisely kept Gail and Padma sandwiched in between the two Mario brothers, but to little avail. We viewers were continually confused and disoriented by the surplus of bald, white, male judges on the panel.

Anyway… Despite declaring that she would team sous chefs and chefs to ensure a harmonious kitchen, Stephanie paired Lisa with her nemesis Andrew, while pairing herself with Dale; Richard with Spike; and Antonia with Nikki. The challenge? To butcher an entire pig and create at least three dishes using local ingredients. And while a few sparks did fly between Lisa and Andrew, the drama really came when Dale left Stephanie’s pork belly out in the kitchen all night. Where it’s hot. And where pigeons (apparently) live. Stephanie wisely chose not to serve the tainted pork belly, and she and Dale cooked up an ultimately popular alternative third dish of fruit salad with chicharrones (crispy pork skin).

After guests of the Puerto Rican first lady had dined on their dishes and the judges and savored their flavors, the winners were declared. Richard and Stephanie (natch) were tops, with Richard taking the prize for his restrained and simple pig fare. And what was his prize? (Insert Price is Right voiceover) A NEW CAR! His confused and surprised reaction said it all. Hello, Richard, don’t you watch TPIR? You’re supposed to lose your mind when they throw you the keys.

By process of deduction, Antonia and Lisa were deemed the losers of the challenge. Antonia’s rustic dishes were underwhelming and ran together on her single-service plate; also, her pigeon pea beans were woefully undercooked. Lisa’s Latin offerings were patchy, her plantain puree was cloyingly sweet, and she committed other unnamed offenses. Who would be kicked off? Well, according to Bravo’s phone text challenge, 91% of viewers thought Lisa should be.

Hmmm, say the Top Chef producers.

In that case, fan favorite Antonia gets the boot.

Yes, the tearful farewell was very heartfelt — and the corresponding spike in dislike of Lisa predictable. But those producers are wily… before the door could even hit Antonia in the backside, Lisa had stirred the drama pot by acidly asking Richard and Stephanie where her congratulations were. The muttered, “Congrats,” can only whet our appetites for the Top Chef finale. What will they cook up next?

And now, Q&A with the Husband and Wife…

Q: In dramatic fashion more in line with an episode of CSI: Miami, the judges revealed the dead body of… a pig? And not even a big pig. And then the trained chefs cringed, but the question really is, are you afraid of the dead pig?

Husband: No. I like the pig. In many places, including a couple I worked at while in NYC, you stroll into the meat walk-in and there it is: Old Porky hanging upside down, waiting for minions such as myself to take sharp blades to its flesh. There are so many useful parts out of one pig that there is little limit to its potential — if you have the space and time. Also, it’s delicious. I can point to many postings on this blog to verify this belief.

W: I’m not afraid of a big dead pig; I readily consume portions of dead pig on a regular basis. Now, could I butcher said whole animal? Not on your life. Not even with a road map and a sharp knife.

Q: After her most excellent pity party, the big question: Is Lisa insecure or simply cocky?
H: Well, I’ll be nice. Richard had the best line of the night with his statement, “Congrats for winning the f—ing bronze medal.” In a four man race, when you finish third, you aren’t exactly tearing up the track. So, my feeling is she is insecure. She knew she wasn’t well liked, she knew she screwed up. Her survival was only a surprise because the judges spent a huge amount of time on how bad her dishes were. Therefore, she was lashing out, trying to fine some refuge. Though, the teaser for next week has her claiming to kick Stephanie and Richard’s butts. So I’m probably wrong.

W: It’s possible she’s insecure; aren’t we all? Maybe this was a crazy strategy to get them to like her. Something like, “You guys are so mean for not saying congratulations… now feel guilty and like me better.” Despite my attempts, I have yet to crawl inside my TV — much less the minds of the people on it.

Q: So, if you are Richard, in this time of high gas prices, would you take the car, trade it for a Prius, or hope for a cash deal?
H: Cash. He lives in Atlanta. Traffic is nearly as bad as here in DC. And he uses all those culinary chemicals so I’m not sure the Prius will help his standing with the environmentalists.

W: Keep it. It’s a Toyota… it will run forever.

Q: Who’s going to win?
H: Richard. I’ve a feeling he’s got more toys than neon green tape. And toys are fun.

W: Stephanie. You go girl.

Who is your winner? What do you think of Lisa? And what was with that dramatic pause at the party — Padma was dancing, then slow motion followed by a voice over of contestants sounding like they were going to a funeral?