Archive for October, 2008

CHEF’S TIP: Baking powder- who knew?

Rick Tramonto

Rick Tramonto is a multi-award winning chef based in Chicago- but that doesn’t stop him from being one of the kindest most gentle-natured chefs I’ve had the privilege to meet. Who says all head chef’s have to be mean? With all those awards in the bank I was pretty sure he’d come up with a winning tip for my readers and he did not disappoint.

So, you’re entertaining guests for brunch and you really want to pull something out of the oven with the wow factor and it’s not going to be that loaf of bread that hasn’t risen an inch all morning. Add a pinch of baking powder to your beaten eggs when making a  frittata and you will be rewarded with an impressive puffy rise- not quite as dramatic as a soufflé but it does make eggs in a pan look a wee bit grand.

Osteria di Tramonto
The Westin Chicago North Shore hotel
601 N. Milwaukee Avenue
Wheeling, IL, 60090

A RECIPE: Peanut butter sandwich cookies

The best part about my job is getting exposed to half a dozen new recipes a day. It’s rather like flicking through a new issue of Gourmet and thinking oooh that looks good only I see it in the flesh and then I get the instant satisfaction of actually getting to taste it. Not so good for the ever-nearing (230 days- gasp!) wedding waistline but my mouth is rarely disappointed with me. It’s often the devil and angel on the shoulder story although for me the devil’s fixed firmly to my face (or maybe it’s my greedy mits) and the angel flits around in my head and is hardly worth its halo. That saying: well I don’t get to eat this everyday sort of doesn’t work when one day its short ribs and the next is peanut butter pie. I eat a lot of salad when I’m not at work.

Don, though still remarkably svelte has gone up two trouser sizes since we met 4 years ago- poor guy, he never stood a chance. Dating me is like becoming a guinea pig- try this, taste this, what do you think of this? But then Don never had the less is more mentality in him either. He has two little devils and they sit in prime-viewing position, a little higher on his face. Right now he’s stretched out across the sofa cradling his full belly after the brunch we hosted earlier today. Freshly baked bread, courgette & feta fritatta, baked marmalade French toast, homemade granola, fresh fruit, bacon and pumpkin muffins- all on his plate, piled up like a Christmas dinner. You would think I starved him most of the time. I on the other hand after a ten mile run (the angel was momentarily in control) pre-brunch am trying to ignore the ever persistent tummy rumblings.

Now, back to that peanut butter pie I mentioned oh, 200 words ago. I raved last week about the guys over at Baked in my neighborhood Brooklyn and this week I’ve found myself unable to move on. Their peanut butter pie filling gave me the idea to use it as a filling between peanut butter cookies- something that I’ve been working on for months.  What’s the second best part about my job? Stealing other peoples’ ideas Blog inspiration. The cookie recipe I stole from the talented Heidi over at 101 cookbooks who I have not had the pleasure of meeting but that doesn’t eliminate her from my recipe pilching- I’m ruthless. In both the filling and the cookies I’ve cut down on the sugar content because I like the salty taste of peanut butter and I think the sugar inhibits it. Pair the crisp salty peanut buttery cookies with a creamy sweet and slightly tangy filling and let’s just say it’s a happy-lie-on-the-sofa-and-clutch-your-belly-situation.

Continue reading ‘A RECIPE: Peanut butter sandwich cookies’

CHEF’S TIP: Curly leaf parsley has its day

I don’t like the texture of curly leaf parsley and I really don’t like the way it looks garnishing salad bars and take-aways across the globe but gone are my days of banishing it from my kitchen with this latest tip from Nobu chef, co-author of Nobu Miami the party cookbook and fastest-man-with-a-knife-i’ve-ever-seen, chef Thomas Buckley.

Curly leaf parsley just happens to have the very same ascorbic acid that lemons do. Say what? Ascorbic acid is that clever little acid which stops your prepared artichokes/apples going brown when you cut them open. Back with me? Simply add curly leaf parsley (or lemon juice) to water and drop in your prepared veg/fruit before you need to cook them- because no one can prepare artichokes faster than they go brown. Even speed-demon Thomas Buckley. Clever, eh?

Nobu Miami

1901 Collins Ave
Miami Beach, FL 33139
(305) 695-3232

A RECIPE: Pumpkin mini cakes

Another Magnolia bakery has opened up just down the street from my work. From first thing in the morning to last thing at night there is a line that winds out the door and onto Sixth Avenue in midtown. I stroll past the beautiful windows daily- the shelves neatly displaying jars of cup cake adornments and ingredients in a Martha Stewart-esque way. An industrial-sized Kitchen Aid sits in one corner with glossy butter cream icing beating away as a baker slowly adds sugar and the long glass covered display cases are lined with cupcakes designed to entice. And all I keep thinking as I stroll past this enticing little shop is: why are you people so crazy about these cupcakes? They are dry and taste of nothing but sugar. The overly ambitious swirls of icing, weigh down heavily on the pitifully dry cake bases and taste of not of butter but lard. These cupcakes do nothing for me and I find it so hard to believe that anybody throws the wrapper away feeling satisfied. Munching on sugar cubes would give me the same satisfaction, or lack there of. They are the Sarah Palin’s of the culinary world- attractive, maybe even enticing if you don’t think about it, but completely devoid of substance.

But then I’m not the biggest cake eater- which I probably should have let you in on first. If I’m going to sit down to eat cake then it has to be moist, rich in flavour, and utterly moorish– which Magnolias emphatically are not. As one who would not on most accounts break out into a freakish dance of joy over a cake and one loaded with pumpkin and spices to boot, I implore you to try these. Not only do they rise into beautiful ragged-peaked domes with ease and taste even better the next day but despite their small size they manage to remain dense and squidgy and just a teeny bit sticky. If comfort was a cake these would be they.

Continue reading ‘A RECIPE: Pumpkin mini cakes’

CHEF’S TIP: Handling an avocado

I’ve never been vague about who my favourites are and here you are with one of them! Rarely do I get all gooey and gushy around a guest but Domestic Goddess Nigella Lawson has me over whipping cream and curdling eggs every time. She’s elegant, articulate, witty and happens to also be a big fan of making being in the kitchen something enjoyable rather than a chore. It is a great honour to have her provide this weeks chef’s culinary goddess tip.

Avocados can be pesky little buggers when it comes to getting them neatly chopped or sliced without them slipping out of your hands. Nigella has just the trick for perfectly scooped balls of avocado and it won’t require any unnecessary kitchen gadget purchases. Use a rounded teaspoon measure to scoop out balls without having to peel away the skin- which also happens to mean that you won’t be left with green fingernails either. Domestic Goddess indeed.

A RECIPE: Apple & blue cheese clafouti

Sometimes I get a bit carried away in the moment and this always leads to me making bold statements, of which I have little intention to stick to. I can’t help it, I have drama in my blood. As a man who likes to discuss things in a civilised fashion- minus the fists and legs beating the floor, Don on occasion finds my flair for dramatics quite uncouth. Like the time when he was trying to propose on the Brooklyn promenade looking out over the Manhattan Skyline as the first snow flurries of winter came down.  Ignorant of his romantic plans, I was kicking up a fuss about the cold and found the only way to keep warm was by singing a rude song and dancing like a gypsy in an Eskimo suit. Now, there’s a man with patience.

Last week I claimed that I would no longer be cooking with apples be it not without the tart English Bramley and then I found myself over the course of the week fed up with sweet Honey crisps scattered over my porridge and dunked in peanut butter. Which led me to think that if no good desserts could be made of them, then how about something savoury? Too sweet for sweets but sweet enough for savoury- it’s a concept that even I whom madeth it am struggling to find sense in.

Sometimes I scare even myself.

I set about scouring my ever growing collection of food sources- hardbacks, paperbacks, bestsellers, magazines, tear-outs, work files. Somehow I still always find myself tapping into Google but the results were all certified teeth-rotters, nothing wholesome in the bunch. But the idea of a clafouti sans sucre sort of appealed. I love the way they look when they’re baking- like Yorkshire puddings rising up at the corners, out of the hot fat all golden and bubbly. I would never buy an oven without a viewing window – I find watching things rise in the oven more relaxing than yoga and more captivating than most cable TV . The combination wasn’t without potential pitfalls- could a clafouti work without sugar? Would apples and eggs go together? Well, what’s the worst that could happen? “Um, we might not get lunch?” Don, always to hand with the insightful comments- but it was too late I was already getting carried away unloading the contents of my fridge.

The result- a pastry-less quiche, tangy with blue cheese, rich with buttermilk, a hint of sweetness with the apples and crunch from the walnuts seasoned delicately with sage all bursting out of the egg casing. So, I apologise for being so stand-offish about American apples last week- it didn’t take to much pounding the floor with my fists to come around. Perhaps I’ll even give those Granny Smith’s another try. And no, I’m not getting carried away this time.

Continue reading ‘A RECIPE: Apple & blue cheese clafouti’

A RECIPE: Thai vegetable stir-fry

With Don being back at school and President at that, I’m finding myself spending more and more evenings home alone and unwilling to cook for one. I’ll admit, the glass of wine and bowl of ice cream with berries has become the easy dinner indulgence after having spent the entire day in the kitchen. Minimal effort, minimal clean-up- and more importantly easy to eat slumped on the sofa. Recently though, as the weather has cooled and the days have gotten shorter I’ve been craving big bowls of steaming vegetables. Meat, does not seem to exist when Don isn’t around- he would be horrified. So, four days of the week I’m vegetarian and three nights a week I’m not- date nights are stricktly meat nights.

This Thai stir-fry has become one of my stand-by meals. Yes, the list of ingredients may at first seem daunting but you can you can ignore my suggestions and use up any vegetables already in you fridge. I buy big bags of green chilies and kaffir lime leaves at Kalustyans and freeze them so that they are always around. I also pre-chop garlic in bulk using a mini food processor and store it in an airtight container in the fridge- believe it or not there are some days when I really don’t appreciate my hands stinking of garlic. The key to keep this prepped and in the bowl in under fifteen minutes is to prepare everything in advance. Comfort food minus the fat.

Continue reading ‘A RECIPE: Thai vegetable stir-fry’

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