Thursday, September 30, 2010

Alinea Party Favors a/k/a The Menu

Our Menu at Alinea
Alinea, Chef Grant Achatz's famed restaurant in Chicago, is as much an art installation as it is a restaurant. It's like the best museum in the world because after you observe the art, you get to eat it. Where else can you do that?

Kuzak and I managed to squeeze in our second trip to Alinea last week, while we were in Chicago for a friend's wedding. A meal here is a three to four hour commitment. The service is like a well-orchestrated ballet. The serving dishes are little works of art designed by the chef, many of which require instruction manuals.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Meatless Monday: Spiced Okra

Spiced Okra
Divas, I've just returned from a fabulous trip to Chicago. The food highlights were Alinea (well, duh!), and Urban Belly, an Asian Fusion noodle shop that I'd read a lot about and had been dying to visit. Even better, the Chicago Foodie was my escort there. I promise to share my Alinea menu with you and blog Urban Belly later this week.

In the meantime, here's another great meatless recipe. The bottom line is that Americans are not eating enough vegetables. Just check out this great New York Times Article, "Told to Eat its Vegetables, Americans Order Fries."

A new study concludes that only 26 percent of the nation's adults eat vegetables three times a day. One of the main reasons that people interviewed for the article cite for not loading up on veggies is simply that they don't know how to cook them. And let's be honest, veggies cooked poorly can taste, well, awful. I also notice that many people don't branch out beyond the usual steamed broccoli and iceberg lettuce. However, just hit up your local farmers market, and you'll be blown away by the incredible variety of fresh produce available.

So that brings me to today's main ingredient: okra. Used mainly in Southern and Creole cooking, okra is loaded with health benefits. It's a good source of many nutrients, including vitamin B6, vitamin C, calcium, and folic acid. However, okra is also one of those vegetables that can come out tasting delicious or terrible, due to its slimy texture, which I always detested as a child and have mostly avoided as an adult.

But while shopping at the West Hollywood Farmers Market last Monday, I came across a farmer with a mountain of freshly picked okra. I remembered an article I'd read in last month's Food & Wine magazine with a recipe that involved seasoning okra with curry spices. I scooped up a bundle and brought it home.

Instead of stewing the okra or putting in gumbo, as is traditional, I decided to roast it with olive oil and salt and pepper, theorizing that it would combat the sliminess. Then, once it had nicely browned, I pulled it out of the oven and tossed it with a little curry powder and lemon juice while it was still sizzling. Then, I served it as a side dish to a chicken and bell pepper etouffee over brown rice.

This spiced okra turned out to be a vegetable revelation. It had none of the sliminess I'd detested from my childhood. Rather, it was flavorful and succulent, a wonderful side dish to any meal. So give it a shot and up your vegetable consumption. I promise you'll love this recipe.

Spiced Okra
Serves 4 people
Cooking time: 35 minutes
Print Recipe

4 cups okra, halved diagonally
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Meanwhile, place the okra in a roasting pan or pyrex dish and toss with the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for about 30 minutes, or until tender and beginning to caramelize.

Remove from the oven. Quickly, toss with the curry powder and lemon juice while it's still sizzling hot. Allow to rest for 5 minutes. Enjoy!

Source for Ingredients
okra from the West Hollywood Farmers Market

curry powder and organic extra virgin olive oil from Trader Joe's

Thursday, September 23, 2010

I Have One Word For You Today: ALINEA!

That's right, I'm headed to Alinea in Chicago for dinner tonight. This is the foodie version of Christmas, and Chef Achatz is Santa Claus. I can't wait to see what culinary gifts he delivers to our table tonight...

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Anatomy of a Dessert: Behind the Scenes at Picco Restaurant

Picco's Peach Pies
Divas, I recently had the privilege of dining at my Top Chef Brother's restaurant, Picco, in Larkspur, CA. Here's a behind the scenes photo gallery of pictures that I took while shadowing him during prep in the kitchen. They were making everything from pizza dough, to gnocchi, to churros, to pesto, to the best peach pie I've ever tasted. Bon appetit!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Meatless Monday: Toasted Farro with Zucchini and Tahini

Happy Monday, Divas!

I'm off to Chicago on Wednesday, but I thought I'd make sure to leave you with a fabulous meatless recipe I whipped up last week for dinner. Don't you get tired of eating the same old grains? Well, I've made a concerted effort to incorporate more farro (pearl barley) into my life. It has a rich, nut-like flavor and a chewy, pasta-like, satisfying texture. It's also chocked full of a special type of fiber that acts as food for the "friendly" bacteria in the large intestine and lowers cholesterol.

To make my farro more interesting, I toasted it before I cooked it, giving it an even richer, nuttier flavor. Then, I stirred in roasted zucchini, heirloom cherry tomatoes, shallots, and chopped mint. I finished it off with a delicious lemon-tahini sauce, giving the dish a slightly Mediterranean flare.

This was a satisfying, filling, healthy dish that worked as a main course for dinner. It's also a great side dish for any meal. So give it a try!

Toasted Farro with Zucchini and Tahini
Serves 4-6 people
Cooking time: 30 minutes
Print Recipe

1 cup farro (pearl barley)
1 1/2 cups filtered water
2 cups zucchini, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1 shallot, peeled and chopped
2 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped
salt and pepper

tahini sauce:
2 tablespoons sesame tahini
1 tablespoon lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Place the zucchini in a roasting pan. Drizzle with the olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper, tossing to combine. Roast uncovered in the oven for about 30 minutes, or until softened and slightly caramelized. Remove and set aside.

Meanwhile, place the farro in a dry saute pan and toast it over medium high heat until aromatic. Set aside to cool. Boil the filtered water in a pot with a tight-fitting lid. Stir in the farro, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes. If the liquid is gone and the farro still uncooked, add a little more water and cook a little longer. Barley should have a chewy texture with a slight crunch. Set aside.

To make the tahini sauce, whisk together the tahini, lemon juice, and cumin in a bowl. Add water as needed to thin to a nice consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

To assemble the dish, place the farro, roasted zucchini, tomatoes, and shallots in a large mixing bowl. Top with the tahini sauce and toss to combine. Check seasoning (salt and pepper). Finish with the chopped mint. Enjoy!

Source for Ingredients
organic pearl barley (farro) and organic sesame tahini from Whole Foods

organic zucchini, heirloom cherry tomatoes, and organic shallots from the West Hollywood Farmers Market

Wine Pairing
With this meal, we drank a fabulous bottle of Copain Pinot Noir (Hacienda Secoea, Anderson Valley, 2006).  The 2006's appear to be drinking great right now, and this bottle was one of the better pinots I've tasted recently.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Simple Suppers: Smoky Shrimp and Grits with Roasted Cherry Tomatoes and Goat Cheese

Inspiration can come from a variety of sources. It can strike when I'm browsing the Farmers Market, or flipping through a cooking magazine, or falling asleep at night, dreaming of the things I want to eat the next day. It's an elusive and wonderful thing, inspiration, and when it strikes, you have to seize on it.

The September 2010 issue of "Food & Wine" magazine takes on Southern cooking in a modern and delightful way. I've been whipping up several recipes inspired by their articles, including this one for Smoky Shrimp with Grits.

Last weekend, bored with the same old lunch, I made this shrimp dish, a warm hearty meal, perfect for the start of football season (Kuzak is a massive UMich fan). I always keep raw, frozen shrimp in my freezer. Lately, I've been enjoying pink Gulf Coast shrimp (while I can). The shrimp is sauteed with garlic and smoked paprika, which turns into a lovely red-tinged sauce when reduced with wine, and served over grits with roasted heirloom cherry tomatoes and goat cheese. I served it with a plate of lovely mixed greens.

This dish would be great for lunch or dinner (it cooks up in a jiffy), and pairs best with a rich California Chardonnay. Enjoy!

Smoky Shrimp and Grits with Roasted Cherry Tomatoes and Goat Cheese
Adapted from "Food & Wine" Sept. 2010
Serves 4 people
Cooking time: 30 minutes
Print Recipe

1 lb medium shrimp, shelled and deveined
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika (pimenton)
2 large garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt & pepper

3/4 cup quick-cooking grits
salt & pepper
2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
1 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup fresh goat cheese (chevre)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Place the cherry tomatoes in a roasting pan. Drizzle with the olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven until soft and bubbling (about 20 minutes). Remove and set aside.

Meanwhile, to make the grits, in a medium saucepan, bring 3 cups of water to a boil. Gradually add the grits and add a generous pinch of salt. Cover and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the grits are thick and porridge-like (about 7 minutes). Stir in the roasted cherry tomatoes and goat cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover the grits and keep them warm.

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil with the garlic over high heat until fragrant (about 30 seconds). Add the shrimp and paprika, season with salt and pepper and cook until the shrimp are opaque (about 2 minutes). Add the white wine and cook until the shrimp are white throughout and the garlic-paprika sauce is slightly reduced.

Spoon the grits into bowls and top with the shrimp and sauce. Enjoy!

Source for Ingredients
frozen wild caught Gulf shrimp, smoked paprika, and organic grits from Whole Foods

organic garlic and Soledad Farms goat cheese from Hollywood Farmers Market

organic heirloom cherry tomatoes from Trader Joe's

Monday, September 13, 2010

Meatless Monday: Sous Vide Sweet Corn

Sous Vide Sweet Corn
Divas, in my continuing quest to master my Sous Vide Supreme, I've been trying it out on all manner of vegetables.

My Top Chef Brother told me that he sous vide cooks nearly every vegetable on his restaurant's menu, including those baby artichokes that I'm currently obsessing over. So at his urging, I decided to give sweet corn a whirl in the water bath. I bought some lovely sweet corn at the Hollywood Farmers Market. Then, I sliced it off the cob and seasoned it with salt and pepper. I placed it in the vacuum bag with butter and a little raw cane sugar (honey works great, too) and sealed it up.

Sous Vide Supre
I put it in the water bath at 185 degrees and let it cook for 40 minutes. After it was done, I removed it from the bag and served it straight up (I'm trying to develop my sous vide palate). Wow, the sous vide cooking really brought out the best in this ingredient. It was sweet, slightly crunchy, and super... corny, for lack of a better word. It's as if the sous vide machine distilled the corn into its finest incarnation.

Next up? Eggs, duck breast, and pork chops. Stay tuned...

Sous Vide Sweet Corn
Serves 4-6 people
Cooking time: 50 minutes (10 minute active)
Print Recipe

4 ears of corn, kernels removed
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon raw honey or raw cane sugar
salt and pepper

Preheat the Sous Vide Supreme to 185 degrees.

Meanwhile, season the corn kernels with salt and pepper. Place them in a vacuum bag with the honey and butter. Vacuum seal it up.

Vacuum Sealed Sweet Corn
Once the Sous Vide Supreme has reached 185 degrees, place the bag of corn into the machine and allow to cook for 40 minutes. Once it's finished cooking, remove it from the machine and allow to cool. Open the bag and check seasoning (salt and pepper). To serve, spoon the corn into a serving bowl.

Note: If refrigerating or freezing the corn, after it's finished cooking in the sous vide machine, it must go straight into an ice water bath (fifty percent ice) to chill. Then, the bag of corn can be kept in the fridge or in the freezer for up to six months.

Source for Ingredients
organic sweet corn from the Hollywood Farmers Market

organic raw cane sugar from Trader Joe's

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Simple Suppers: Chopped Salmon Salad

Divas, I've just returned from San Francisco, where I had fabulous meals at my Top Chef Bro's Pizzeria Picco and the brand spanking new Zero Zero. It was a veritable pizza, pasta, and ice cream orgy.

So now I'm in my post-trip detox mode, making clean, simple food. I thought that I'd share a recipe inspired by my friend, Mike. It's a chopped salmon salad that's a cinch to throw together. The key ingredient is canned, unsalted, boneless, skinless wild caught salmon. Now, most of us are more familiar with canned tuna, but it can be high in mercury, making canned salmon a much better option. Not only does it have all the health benefits of fresh wild caught salmon, but it costs a fraction of the price and keeps for eons in your cupboard (I always have it on hand).

The salad is kind of like a chopped Nicoise Salad, made with blanched potatoes, green beans, fennel, bell peppers, and hard-boiled eggs, all tossed in a simple vinaigrette. This is a complete, protein-packed, satisfying meal that can be whipped up in under half an hour. It's great for either lunch or dinner.

Chopped Salmon Salad
Serves 4-6 people
Prep time: 10 minutes
Print Recipe

2 cans of skinless, boneless wild caught salmon
2 hard-boiled eggs, shells removed and chopped
2 cups fingerling potatoes, blanched and chopped
2 cups green beans, blanched and chopped
1/2 cup fennel bulb, blanched and chopped
1 cup bell pepper, seeded and chopped

1 tablespoon apple cider or white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon mustard
1 tablespoon fennel tops, chopped
salt and pepper

To make the vinaigrette, whisk together the ingredients. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Drain the salmon of water and place in a large mixing bowl. Add the eggs and vegetables and toss with the vinaigrette. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Enjoy!

Source for Ingredients
canned wild caught salmon, organic apple cider vinegar, and whole grain mustard from Trader Joe's

organic fennel, organic red bell pepper, fingerling potatoes, organic Blue Lake green beans, and organic eggs from Hollywood Farmers Market

Friday, September 3, 2010

Sous Vide Rack of Lamb with Mint-Shallot Vinaigrette

Happy Labor Day weekend!

As a nice surprise, I thought I'd post another Sous Vide recipe. This time, I took on grass-fed rack of lamb from Healthy Family Farms, my local CSA. Their lamb is amazingly tender, not gamy at all, and I thought cooking it Sous Vide might help preserve its delicate flavor. I'd also been craving rack of lamb.

First, I hit up the Hollywood Farmers Market on Sunday to collect my preordered rack of lamb, and then I picked up the other ingredients I'd be needing for my mint-shallot vinaigrette (namely, mint and shallots). I brought them home and set up shop. The rack of lamb would need to cook in a 130 degree water bath for 1 1/2 - 2 hours for medium rare. 

First, I rubbed the lamb with ground garlic, a dried herb mixture (thyme, oregano, rosemary), and salt and pepper. Then, I wrapped the bones in parchment paper so they wouldn't puncture the plastic bag. Then, I vacuum sealed the lamb with a tablespoon of frozen olive oil (I don't have a chamber sealer, so this prevents the oil from being sucked into the vacuum sealer). Into the water bath it went.

When the lamb came out, I quickly seared it in hot oil on all side and allowed it to rest for five minutes. Then, I sliced it up and served it with my vinaigrette. For the record, this was the most tender lamb I'd ever tasted. The delicate flavor was perfectly preserved, and the sear added nice texture. To complete the meal, I made roasted fingerling potatoes and an heirloom tomato and butter lettuce salad.

Note: if you don't have a Sous Vide Supreme (yet), then here's a link to the recipe with traditional cooking methods. It's delicious both ways!

Sous Vide Rack of Lamb with Mint-Shallot Vinaigrette
Serves 2 people
Prep time: 20 minutes; Cooking time: 1 1/2 hours
Print Recipe

1 rack of lamb (preferrably, grass fed)
1 teaspoon ground garlic
1 tablespoon dried herbs (thyme, oregano, rosemary)
2 tablespoons olive oil (frozen/solidified for vacuum sealing)
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil

mint-shallot vinaigrette
5 sprigs of mint, stems removed and discarded
1 small shallot, peeled
1 garlic clove, peeled
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Preheat the Sous Vide Supreme to 130 degrees for medium rare.

To prep the lamb, cut the rack in half and trim any extra fat (it doesn't sous vide well). Rub each half with the garlic and herbs, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Wrap the bones with parchment paper so they won't puncture the bag. Then, place each piece of lamb into its own vacuum sealer bag along with a tablespoon of frozen/solidified olive oil. Vacuum seal it up.

Place the bags into the Sous Vide Supreme, making sure that they don't touch, and allow to cook for 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Meanwhile, to make the vinaigrette, put all the ingredients in a small food processor or blender and puree until forms a bright green sauce.  Adjust seasoning (salt) if needed.  Set aside.

Once the lamb is finished cooking in the sous vide machine, remove it and open up the bags. In a saute pan, heat the grapeseed oil over high heat until almost smoking. Quickly, sear the lamb on all sides. Remove from heat and allow to rest for five minutes before slicing.

To place, place the slices of lamb on a plate. Top with the mint-shallot vinaigrette and fresh cracked pepper. Enjoy!

Source for Ingredients
grass-fed rack of lamb (Healthy Family Farms), organic mint, organic shallots, and organic garlic from Hollywood Farmers Market

organic ground garlic and organic dried herbs from Whole Foods

Wine Pairing
With this meaty dish, we decided to open a bottle of cabernet sauvignon from one of my favorite California producers, Rivers-Marie. While they're more known for their pinot noir, we love their cabernet. This bottle was a 2006. It was lovely - fruity and earthy - and paired wonderfully with this dish.

Washington Post Article on Meatless Monday (Includes Great Meatless BBQ Recipes for Labor Day)!

Divas, check out this great Washington Post article on Meatless Monday, which includes great meatless BBQ recipes for Labor Day.

Click here to view the Washington Post article!