Sophisticated Savories

Sophisticated Savories

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Seared scallop with mushroom horseradish truffle duxelle, Dijon rosemary sabayon and arugula oil

Seared scallop with mushroom horseradish truffle duxelle, Dijon rosemary sabayon and arugula oil

Many individuals have a basic culinary knowledge, but the food pairing can be difficult... what flavors work well together?  What textures compliment a dish, as opposed to overpowering?  When do you stop adding ingredients to a plate?

Trust me when I say that you must at some point try the following:

Seared scallop with mushroom horseradish truffle duxelle, Dijon rosemary sabayon and arugula oil

Scallops - easy.  Season with salt, black pepper and a few drop of lemon juice, then sear in almond oil.  Done.

Mushroom-truffle duxelle.  There were beautiful organic white button mushrooms on sale and I could not pass up their price.  While button mushrooms do not exactly scream "I have the best flavor in the world!" when cooked by their lonesome, I decided to add some finesse and dress them up to impress.  Think Pretty Lady... from drab to sophisticated by simply rubbing away the dirt, then adding key ingredients.  I sauteed in almond oil, then added a touch of Pino Noir and chicken stock to deglaze the pan.  A dusting of herbs de Provence, squeeze of lemon juice, dollop of horseradish and pinch of cayenne pepper added the necessary flavors to enhance the once pitiful mushrooms.  The ultimate enhancement?  A few drops of truffle oil.  Done.

Dijon-rosemary sabayon.  Since scallops are a delicate mollusk to enjoy, they should be paired with a light sauce... an essence, if you will.  The sauce is not meant to be the featured item on the plate, but only present to add a discrete (yet necessary) element.  After cooking my sabayon, ( ), I simply seasoned with cayenne pepper, freshly chopped rosemary, a few teaspoons of Dijon mustard and black pepper.  The Dijon and rosemary worked perfectly with the truffled horseradish mushroom duxelle.  Done.

I have also been experimenting with making my own herb-infused oils.  Ergo, arugula oil not only provides a subtle nutty flavor, but a vibrant forest-green hue to capture your focus and draw you to the plate.  Rather than overpowering the plate with a fire-engine red cherry tomato, I opted for the yellow counterpart.  Why?  The yellow adds a pop of delicate color that is not as harsh as red.  If I used red, then the eye would be drawn immediately to the red tomato, as opposed to the seared scallop.  And it may have resembled Christmas a little too much with the green arugula oil.  Done.

Finishing touches?  A few light micro-greens to top the scallop.

While upon first glance, the plate may seem simple.  Yet, once tasted, your palate is able to discern and enjoy the multitude of flavors dancing and flowing together.  Not overly-complicated, yet composed in nature.  It just... works.

"Child, you have to learn to see things in the right proportions.  Learn to see great things great and small things small." - Corrie ten Boom


Saturday, January 25, 2014

Savory Sabayon

Simplicity in sauces


Aka. "zabaglione," or, an Italian dessert made from egg yolks, sugar and sweet wine.  However, this dessert can also be transformed into a savory sauce: drizzled over grilled asparagus, form a frothy pool to rest a perfectly-seared filet of Dover Sole, or cascade down a delicate poached eggs Benedict brunch.

Many are intimidated when cooking sabayon due to the risk of making scrambled eggs, as opposed to light, frothy sauce.  First of all, practice makes perfect.  Do not expect that you will make a 'cordon bleu' sauce on your first attempt.  If you mess up, guess what - throw the first attempt away and simply try it again.  

1/4 cup heavy cream
4 large egg yolks
3 Tbsp lemon juice
Coarse sea salt, to taste
Sprinkle of cayenne pepper, smokey paprika
1 tsp turmeric
Finely grated lemon zest (garnish)

First, whisk cream until soft-peaks form.

In a medium heatproof bowl, place the yolks, lemon juice, pinch of salt, pinch of cayenne pepper, smokey paprika, turmeric and whisk immediately.  Set the bowl over a pan of simmering water, or double-boiler.  Be sure that the water does not begin to boil, nor touches the bottom of the heatproof bowl.  If the heatproof bowl becomes too warm too quickly, then the eggs will coagulate and form scrambled eggs, as opposed to their intended sauce-like state.  Whisk constantly, occasionally removing from the heat, in order to prevent the mixture from becoming too hot and overcooking.  Once the mixture has thickened significantly - the whisk should 'leave a trail' of ribbon-like patterns when pulled through the mixture (about 4-5 minutes), then remove the bowl from the heat.  Gently fold the whipped cream into the mixture, until it is completely incorporated.  

A sabayon is best when served immediately.  Be sure that all of the elements and components of your meal are ready before making - as the sabayon will be the final aspect of your dish.  

"What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?" - Vincent van Gogh


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Smokey curry carrot/ginger puree with seared salmon and pickled red bell pepper/tomato garnish

My mother made my own baby food when I was a child: natural ingredients free from preservatives, MSG and all other additives.  While the reaction to many is a jaw-drop or furrowed brow, stop and think about it for one minute.  Have you ever made your own soup?  Have you every blended vegetables to form a puree?  Have you ever made your own smoothie?

For many, the answer is yes.  The majority of baby foods is simply pureed vegetables.  So the next time that you sit down at a fine-dining restaurant and see a beautiful bright carrot puree artistically swiped across your edible plate of art, you may think to yourself... "I'm spending how much for this glorified baby food?"

I am only kidding, of course.  Well, to an extent.

The point is, pureed vegetables are a beautiful enhancement to a plethora of meals.  Rich in color and flavor, purees can also range in a variety of textures: chunky puree, smooth sauce, even a hearty soup.

Example: carrot/ginger puree

Essential nutrients in vegetables cannot withstand high temperatures for a long duration of time.  Ergo, the less time cooked, the better the vitamin and mineral retention.  

4 large carrots - peel, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 small knob ginger - peel
juice of 1/2 lemon
Salt and pepper, to taste

Now essentially - this could be a basic carrot/ginger puree by simply steaming the carrots and ginger for about 5 minutes, then blending into a smooth puree (will need to add water in order to "thin" the consistency of the puree).  However, this is where your creative chef skills come into play.

You're designing a dinner menu and you are focusing on the presentation of the plates.  Remember, simplicity is key: trying to accomplish too much will only result in pandemonium.  For one course, you choose to serve salmon with the carrot/ginger puree.  Two key components will be on the plate: the salmon and the carrot/ginger puree... and some type of a garnish.  Simple, yes.  Yet, how do you impart more flavors into the seemingly-lackluster dish?  Via the realm of herbs, spices, oil and vinegar.

When a bride-to-be is trying on wedding gowns, she usually has the internal instinct of knowing which is "the dress."  Sometimes the supportive family members and friends who she brings with her do not see the "vision" until she is "jacked up," a term meaning, "add the veil, tiara, necklace and earrings."  Essentially, to enhance the dress and see the "big picture." 

K.  Well, same can be applied to a simple puree:

Smokey-curry carrot/ginger puree
The same process as above.  However, this time, while the carrots and ginger are blending, add 1 Tbsp curry power, 1 tsp turmeric, 2 tsp smokey paprika, pinch of cayenne pepper and 1 tsp liquid smoke.

Rosemary-Dijon carrot/ginger puree
The same process as above.  However, this time, while the carrots and ginger are blending, add 1 Tbsp freshly chopped ginger, 1 Tbsp Dijon mustard and 2 tsp herbs de Provence.

There truly are a myriad of possibilities... just taking the basic carrot/ginger puree and completely changing the flavor by adding basic ingredients.

I made the smokey-curry version in order to compliment the salmon.  For a garnish, a red bell pepper/tomato picked salad and sprig of dill.  Not too complicated, but surprising to the palate.  One would not expect the smokey-flavor to be present in the puree... a way to discreetly add another element to the presentation, while still maintaining the simplicity.

Visualize it, then create it.

"There are always flowers for those who want to see them." - Henri Matisse


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Crispy duck breast skin with mango-turmeric puree, bourbon-poached figs and roasted rosemary Brussels sprouts

You're sitting in a candle-lit wine cellar, enjoying a multi-course meal with friends.  Peering down, a slew of dazzling silver utensils are displayed, in order of height, resembling cadets ready to march into battle.  As the servers flawlessly pour the varieties of wine, the nectar cascades into the glasses; a natural aeration from bottle to crystal goblet.  As courses are presented, one in particular proves to be an unforgettable play on textures, flavors and brilliant combination: duck breast with crispy skin, mango-turmeric puree, bourbon-poached figs and roasted rosemary Brussels sprouts.

Why does this work.

Duck is often sauced with fruit, as the fruit contains an essential acid that compliments and 'counterbalances' the rich duck meat.  For example, the French classic, canard a l'orange (duck with orange sauce), employs the bitter element of oranges to sooth the gamy meat.  Rather than creating the expected, challenge yourself to take advantage of other fruits.  In this case, mango.  

While mango is a very sweet fruit, I used turmeric, smoked paprika and a pinch of cayenne pepper in order to add a more 'earthy' and 'smoky' flavor to the sweet puree:

Mango puree:
2 cups of mango chunks
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp smokey paprika
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Salt, to taste
1/4 cup of water

Simply blend all ingredients together and serve at room temperature.

For the duck breast:

Using a sharp knife, lightly score the skin on the duck breast in a criss-cross pattern (a 'hashtag' if you will):

#duckbreast #crispyskin #quack

Suppress the urge the desire to snap a selfie at this point and put the phone down.  Please.

#chef #foodie #cooking #nomnomnom

You know what I'm talking about.  And yes, we all do it.

Sprinkle both sides of the duck with salt and pepper.  Be sure to push the seasonings into the scores on the duck breast skin too.  Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat until high, then reduce the heat to medium.  Do not add butter or oil to the pan.  Rather, place the duck breast, skin-side down, in the skillet.  Do not touch the meat at this point, but allow the skin-crisping process to occur organically.

As the skin begins to cook, it will render.  The fat is literally melting away.  You will notice the pan begin to fill with the rendered duck fat; do not pour off the fat, as the fat from the pan helps to render the fat in the skin.

The amount of time for the skin to crisp depends on the thickness of the duck skin being rendered, size of the duck breast being cooked and temperature of the heat on the stove.  I generally check the skin after about 5-7 minutes.  Again, be sure to cook on a medium heat, as a high-heat will burn the duck skin, as opposed to achieving a crispy-crust.  Once the skin looks crispy, flip the breast.  At this point, I will baste the meat with the rendered juices in the pan.  Simply tilt the saute pan to collect the rendered fat in a spoon and pour over the duck skin.  This basting action will allow the rendered fat to continue to crisp the skin, while keeping the meat tender.  "Drying-out" will not be an option.  After about a minute of continual basting, pour off all but 2 tsp of fat from the pan (reserve this duck fat (aka. 'liquid gold' for another use).  

At this point, I will often lightly 'paint' the crispy duck-skin with Dijon mustard and sprinkle with freshly chopped rosemary.  The rich tang of Dijon seeps into the duck skin and the rosemary adds a fresh aromatic flavor.  Return the duck breast to the skillet, skin side up, then place in a 400 degree oven.  Cook for another 3-5 minutes, until just under medium-rare.  Why the oven?  The oven will help the skin to crisp even further, while keeping the integrity of the juicy interior.  Transfer the duck to a clean plate and loosely cover with foil as you allow it to rest.  

FYI: This is the most important element of the cooking process- allowing the meat to rest.  You may have flawlessly employed the perfect technique to achieving a crispy duck-breast skin; however, if you immediately cut into the protein, then all of your hard-work will be for naught. 

Why?  By allowing your meat to rest, the proteins are re-absorbing the juices internally.  If you immediately cut into the meat, then the coveted juices escape onto the plate, as opposed to in your mouth.  Allow the meat to rest at the very least 5 minutes.  Ideally, aim for 10-12 minutes of resting.

When plating, dollop a large spoon of the mango puree on a white plate.  Carefully push the back of your spoon across the plate, "smearing" the puree into an artistic brushstroke.  This 'ray of sunlight' is the base for your dish.  Carefully place a few roasted Brussels sprouts on the yellow-line.  Remember, aim for odd numbers: ergo, slice three brilliant pieces of your perfectly-cooked duck breast.  In order to "show off" your skills, prop the sliced duck breast up on a few of the Brussels sprouts (to keep from simply lying 'flat' on the plate).  By stacking food in the presentation, you can create a more 3-D visual for the consumer.  Add a few bourbon-poached figs to surround the duck breast, then finish with a touch of chive oil (you could even do truffle oil here) and micro-greens. 

Fun fact:  When consumed sans the skin, duck breasts are as lean as white meat chicken or turkey.  Ergo, aim to consume less of the crispy skin (I know... the most flavorful element of the plate!)  Whether you end up eating the skin or not, I recommend cooking with the skill still intact, as it will guarantee a better flavor and prevent the meat from drying out.  If you want to avoid the extra fat, simply cut away before serving (the fat is in the skin, not the meat).  

And guess what... should you 'fail' during the cooking process, fret not.  The brilliant aspect about cooking in your home?  You may always try again.  Sometimes flavor profiles simply do not pair well together.  Sometimes you will over-cook a piece of meat.  Sometimes soup may over-boil.  The point is, ask yourself what happened... what went wrong?  Learn from your mistake, then simply try again.  But you'll never know unless you try!

"Failures are finger posts on the road to achievement." - C.S. Lewis


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Reflections of a chef: creamed corn puree, butter poached lobster, purple Peruvian potato, creme fraiche and caviar

Reflections of a chef

Whether we want to admit it or not... do we ever truly "grow up?"  Or should we?

While age often prescribes more responsibilities, I firmly believe that remaining "young at heart" is an essential ingredient in life.  Why?

Imagination and creativity seem to exude from children... playing "make believe," transforming cardboard boxes into castles, climbing trees, making forts with bed sheets... here's a foreign concept... reading!  

Be that as it may... while you may not have time to be creative in terms of the manner that you dress or fueling your imagination by "playing outside," use the kitchen as a means for your creative outlet.  I mean, you have to prepare food anyway... why not take a few extra minutes to make it whimsical?

While I am an advocate of white plates (they allow the food to "pop"), I also welcome other mediums... mirrors, wooden cutting boards, slate, clean rocks, etc.  

I once cooked a nine-course meal in which I plated the amuse bouche on a mirror.  Why?  Why not?  The guests enjoyed the nontraditional, yet refined plate of: creamed corn puree, roasted purple Peruvian potato, butter-poached lobster tail, creme fraiche, reduce balsamic vinaigrette and caviar.

Why did this combination work together?  

Lobster has a very sweet flavor when slowly poached in butter.  In order to compliment the nectarous shellfish, I paired it with a creamed corn puree.  Since corn can be a very sweet vegetable, I created a more savory flavor with smoked paprika and thinned with heavy cream.  I tossed with a roasted purple Peruvian potato (seasoned with herbs de Provence- the lavender in the herbs de Provence helped to "brighten" the amuse bouche).  

A drizzle of reduced balsamic vinaigrette provided a sweet tang, as well as artistic flare on the mirror.  Because the lobster tail was warm, the small dollop of creme fraiche melted into the lobster meat and cascaded onto the potato.  To top it off, a touch of caviar.

While this is a very rich dish, notice the portion size... an amuse bouche is literally one or two bites.  Balance, variety and moderation will allow you to enjoy fine-dining, but also to keep your waist-line in check.  

"Creativity is intelligence having fun." - Albert Einstein


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Warm veggie soups - remix

Five o'clock.

Winter coat on.  Cubicle light off.  Wave au revoir to your co-workers and immediately begin to think, "what will I enjoy for dinner?"  Opening the door to exit, you are immediately whipped in the face with the frozen-tundra air of winter... 

Warm soup has suddenly exponentially compounded in interest... 

I was perusing the organic soup aisle at the grocery store and to my dismay, even some organic soups have "hidden ingredients" on the nutrition label.  For example: corn starches, unnecessary oils, etc.  And who knows how long the "fresh" vegetables have been sitting in the cans...

Ergo, I began blending my own soups and have discovered a "magical land" in new flavors/textures.  Not only am I able to create new flavor combinations, but I also save money, time and eliminate all preservatives/unnecessary additives.

Blending your own soups help hide veggies for those "choosy" consumers in your family.  It also allows you to use produce before it begins to spoil.  Whenever I shop at the grocery store, I keep an eye out for "manager's special" tags, as well as items on special sales.  While discounted significantly, the produce is typically on its "last legs" - and thus must be used immediately.  Opening my refrigerator, I noticed an organic "party tray" that I purchased via manager's special.  Rather than morphing into "bunny mode" and noisily gnawing on raw carrots, I decided to transform the carrot/broccoli/tomato and asparagus into a healthy soup.  

In order to create a nutritious meal, I already had cooked quinoa and raw orange lentils on hand.  While cooking the lentils (I seasoned with smokey paprika, lemon juice and cayenne pepper), I simply threw the party tray of veggies into my Vitamix (except for the asparagus).  Once the orange lentils were tender (they cook fast), I added them to the Vitamix.  In order to incorporate more protein into my soup, I simply added 1 cup of quinoa, 1 tsp flax seed and 1 tsp hemp seeds... then hit blend and watched the magical transformation of blended wonderment.

After properly seasoning the soup, it tasted like heaven... but let's face it... it looked like baby food.  While bright in color, not exactly aesthetically stunning.  Ergo, I added a few asparagus tips, pickled red onion and edible flowers.


Smokey in flavor, warming to the soul and bright with colors... soups are a brilliant manner of challenging yourself in the kitchen when playing with flavor combinations.  

"The thing about creativity is, people are going to laugh at it.  Get over it." - Twyla Tharp


Monday, January 13, 2014

Chilean sea bass with cucumber noodles and horseradish sauce

"My idea of good company, Mr. Elliot, is the company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversations; that is what I call good company." - Jane Austen, Persuasion

Good company inspires, uplifts, encourages and challenges us to make improvements in our lives.  After a meaningful conversation, one will often walk away with a renewed mind and more confident demeanor.  Point being, in any type of healthy relationship (romantic or friendship), the pairing of the two souls inspire one another to become even better than their current situations.

And this has to do with cooking... how?

Use ingredients and produce to compliment and enhance each other.  For example: seafood.  All too often, a seared fillet of fish will often find itself sitting atop a large portion of pasta/beside a heaping side of mashed potatoes.  Nothing is wrong with this combination.  And in some situations, it can be an enjoyable dish.  However... sometimes it seems like the chef just "gave up" in the last quarter of the game.  The hard work of tender, love and care in searing/basting the fish was already accomplished... why not take equal care when preparing a side to actually showcase the fish?

The only 'problem' with pasta and potatoes when consuming  a fillet of fish?  Everything is the same texture.  It is difficult to differentiate between the fish and pasta/potato.  Again, nothing is wrong with this pairing... but I prefer more variation.

Enter in, vegetables.  Not only more healthy in terms of nutrition, but vegetables cane also be transformed into 'noodles.'  Let's take a cucumber, shall we? (may also use shaved root vegetables - rutabaga, turnip, radish, squash, spaghetti squash, zucchini, etc.)  

Cucumber noodles
1 large English cucumber
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 Tbsp minced rosemary (fresh) - could also to cilantro
1 tsp Dijon mustard
Pinch of cayenne pepper, salt (to taste)
1/4 cup of Extra-virgin olive oil

First peel the cucumber and discard the green outer layer.  Using a "Y" peeler, carefully shave long, slim noodles.  Because the "noodles" are thin enough, they provide a subtle crunch... pleasing to the palate.  In a medium bowl, marinate the shaved cucumber with a few splashes of lemon juice, pinch of cayenne pepper, salt, freshly chopped rosemary, Dijon mustard and extra-virgin olive oil.  Refrigerate for 15 minutes, then pair with a seared filler of fish... think sea bass, salmon, haddock, tilapia, etc.

Rather than serving with a cream sauce (high in calories and fat), use 0% Greek yogurt as a base for a light sauce.  For example:

1 cup 0% Greek yogurt
1 Tbsp white wine
2 tsp horseradish
Pinch cayenne pepper
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Salt - to taste

Simply combine all ingredients and warm on the stove top.  If you prefer a more viscus consistency, add chicken or vegetable stock to "thin."

Granted, yes - a cream sauce would compliment the dish exponentially more.  However, when considering your daily diet and health, opt for the Greek yogurt.  Point being, both enhance the fish.

When plating, ladle the sauce on the bottom of the plate, then add the marinated cucumber noodles to the center of the bulls-eye.  Carefully placed the sauteed fish atop the noddles  .If you kept the skin-on while cooking, be sure that the crispy skin is facing up to 'show off' the golden crust (yes, this is your way of bragging in a silent manner... a perfectly-crisp skin is impressive when cooked correctly).  Top with a few fresh herbs, salmon roe/caviar and edible flowers.  Why not?

"If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader." - John Quincy Adams


Sunday, January 12, 2014

Slow cooker - Roast

"Patience is a virtue."

In terms of a slow cooker, you can best believe that the magic created whilst adhering to the virtue of patience.  The sheer brilliance of a slow cooker lies in the realm that essentially it does everything for you... a key instrument when preparing juicy, fall-of-the-bone meats.

A roast, for example.  One would imagine that when everything cooks together in a large cauldron for hours upon hours, that everything in said pot would turn about fifty shades of... brown.  Well, true.  However, the flavors created are literally indescribable...camouflaged by their un-impressive appearance.  So how does showcase said deserving flavors, as opposed to slopping the muddled protein and veggies atop each other?

First of all, let's run through a delicious, yet easy, slow-cooked roast recipe.

Select a variety of vegetables... onion, zucchini and potato.  Chop the vegetables in large chunks (about 2 inch pieces).  Why large?  Since they will be cooking for about 6-7 hours, they will have amply time to cook, caramelize and permeate the cooking broth.  The large cuts will also allow the vegetables to retain their shapes for the long cooking duration.  Spray the bottom of the slow-cooker with a nonstick spray, then place the vegetables on the bottom of the pot.  Add a few springs of thyme and rosemary, as well as 2 cloves of garlic (smash first).

Season all sides of the roast with smoked sea salt, smokey paprika, black pepper and a light dust of cayenne pepper.  If you do not have smoked sea salt, simply substitute coarse sea salt (you can often find smoked sea salt in bulk at organic markets or online).  Heat almond or walnut oil on a large saute pan, then sear all sides of the roast (about 2 minutes on each side, depending on the size of protein).  The goal is simply to achieve a crust on all sides.  Once seared on all sides, brush with a light coating of Dijon mustard.  Chop rosemary fine and press onto the Dijon in order to form a light Dijon/rosemary crust.  Place the seared roast atop the bed of vegetables.  

In order to add a few more flavor dimensions, I will generally add about 1/4 cup or chicken stock and 1/4 cup of white wine, as well as 1-2 tsp of liquid smoke.  The liquid smoke gives the entire dish a mild, smokey flavor (can be found usually in the condiment section of any grocery store).  Lid on, then let the magic occur... generally low heat, cooked for about 6-7 hours.

In terms of plating... add finesse.  Yes, use the juices from the slow cooker (you may have to reduce on the stove top) in order to serve.  Place the vegetables on the bottom of the plate, then carefully top with the slices of roast.  But... it's still brown...

Enter in "Little Miss Sunshine."  Aka, sunny-side up egg.  The vibrant egg will not only add a necessary bright color contrast, but the yolk will melt into the meat when consumed in the same bite (a perfect compliment to the smokey-essence that was absorbed into the roast).  Delicately transfer the sunny-side up egg from the saute pan to rest atop the mouth-watering roast.  To finish, add a few fresh herbs (chervil, parsley, micro greens).

"Every artist dips his brush in his owl soul, and paints his own nature into his pictures." - Henry Ward Beecher


Saturday, January 11, 2014

Seared scallops with pea puree, white wine-poached peas, cilantro oil and microgreens/flowers

Seven years ago, my culinary arsenal consisted of my college meal plan card, a can opener and frozen prepared meals.  One step above ramen noodles... or maybe not... everything was already made!

Two weeks after I graduated from college, I stepped off the plane into the dazzling City of Lights, Paris, France.  Armed with enthusiasm, a hunger to learn and ridiculously-large smile, I began my studies as Le Cordon Bleu.  Though providing more of the comic relief, rather than culinary experience, to my fellow students, I learned.  I improved.  I actually learned the basic fundamentals of cooking.

But as a chef, there is so much more to just recipes, techniques and cooking methods.  Food is fuel.  Food is art.  Textures, flavors, seasonings, colors, portion sizes, menu variation... I know it may seem overwhelming, but don't jump ship just yet.  As you experiment in the kitchen, you will gain confidence in your own creations.

"Experience: the most brutal of teachers.  But you learn, my God do you learn." - C.S. Lewis

Cooking example:

Scallops are one of my favorite shellfish to cook and consume.  I always pair scallops with vegetables, as opposed to potatoes or pasta.  Why?  When cooked properly, scallops for a crisp, golden crust that provides a slight buttery crust on the palate.  The inside flesh is tender, yet slightly creamy.  Much the same consistency to potatoes or pasta... in fact, too similar.  When pairing with vegetables (cauliflower puree, peas/edamame, etc.), the vegetables provide a necessary "crunch" to 'bring to the table.'

Pun intended.

Remember to keep it simple.  Draw on the wise words of da Vince: "simplicity is the ultimate sophistication."  

Seared scallops, pea puree, peas poached in white wine and finished with cilantro oil, microgreens and edible flowers.

When plating, remember that odd numbers will provide more symmetry on the plate.  Consider your plate as the face of a clock.  First dollop a small drop of pea puree at 12, 4 and 8 o'clock.  This will act as your glue, in order to "secure" your scallops to the plate.  It will also incorporate the sweet pea puree directly into the scallop when the knife makes its first incision- breaking the crisp crust seal, through the perfectly cooked shellfish and landing in the pea puree.

Rather than littering the plate with wondering peas, remember to showcase the scallops.  I mean, let's face it - they are already sitting on a platform of pea puree... let's give them their 15-minutes of fame and surround them by their pea "fans."


For a touch of color and more flavor, drizzle the rim with cilantro oil.  Lastly, use the microgreens and flowers to add finesse.  This is not the shire, so do not showcase your green-thumbs on the plate and build a garden.  Rather, a few will do.  Gently place the microgreens on the scallops.  Lastly, I used purple flowers.  Why?  Purple signifying royalty.  Ok, that was not the reason... though it is appropriate for the scallops!  Rather, look at the plate... you're already working with green and yellow/gold... purple is a nice additive in order to provide a subtle burst of color.  Not too much, but just enough.

"The artist is nothing without the gift, but the gift is nothing without work" - Emily Zola


Friday, January 10, 2014

Deconstructing desserts

Deconstructing desserts

One brilliant aspect about "deconstructing" plates is the freedom in making mistakes. When learning the art of plating, it takes time in order to create your own style... what sets you apart from another individual... what is aesthetically pleasing not only to you, but others as well?

Let's run through an example.

In front of you lies a series of already prepared elements of a dessert that, when paired together, transform into a mouth-watering blend of flavors and textures:

Bourbon-poached fresh figs
Ground toasted pistachios
Lavender ice-cream
Pistachio genoise cake
Creme Anglaise
Strudel crumble
Edible Flowers

A traditional manner of plating this dish...

Creme anglaise on the bottom of the plate. Then pistachio genoise, topped with poached figs, crumble, pistachios, flowers on top and ice-cream on the side.

Nothing is wrong with this traditional approach. It is more of an "expected" presentation.

But what happens if there are only a few corner pieces of cake, the figs may not look as "perfect" as one had hoped, the crumble is a little "clumsy?"

Rather than discard the "scraps," challenge them to create the same dessert... just arrange in a more artistic manner. "C'est toujours une solution." (There is always a solution).

This time... creme anglaise still on the bottom of the plate... then the 'scraps' of genoise cake with the poached figs interspersed between the cake. Dust with a sprinkle of the ground pistachios and add the strudel crumble around the side of the cake. To finish, add a perfect quenelle of the lavender ice-cream, then edible flowers.

Do not color inside of the lines. Well, let me back-up... when preparing the food (ex- baking a cake) - it is essential to follow the recipe. Pastry is a science. If you do not have the correct ratios, then the final result will probably not meet your expected intentions. With cuisine, there is more leeway... it is the more 'forgiving' of the culinary arts... but we shall touch on that subject at a latter time. Be that as it may, when baking, be sure to follow the recipe. However, when plating, be creative. Your white plate is your blank canvas. Use sauces as "paint." Use pastry brushes in order to "paint" designs with your sauces. Use fruits in order to incorporate more color into your final presentation. Toast nuts and grind into a fine powder in order to add a crunchy texture, as well as "soft" element to dance across the plate. I am no stranger to edible flowers and micro-greens... I believe that they can add another beautiful element to the plate when properly used (showcased, as opposed to overkill).

"Art is a collaboration between God and the artist, and the less the artist does the better." - Andre Gide


Thursday, January 9, 2014

Watermelon Radish

Don't judge a book by its cover...

Watermelon Radish. Such a pleasant surprise.

Resembling some type of rutabaga or turnip, a watermelon radish can easily be disregarded as a simple root vegetable when perusing through fresh produce at the grocery/farmers market. However, when cutting into the radish, a brilliant pink center illuminates and the radish immediately transforms into an eye-catching pleasure.

While a watermelon radish is more mild, yet more sweet, than a regular radish, it may also be braised/seared like other root vegetables (though I admit... it pains me to cook these vegetables, as their brilliant pink color fades upon and direct cooking heat). Ergo, I will often shave the root vegetables thin (with a mandolin) and season lightly. Because they are an heirloom variety of the daikon radish, they can withstand being paired with salads or fish (they are sweet enough).

I recently happened upon a pomegranate vinegar... pairs brilliant with pork and sauerkraut for the New Year (will talk about that recipe in another post). I simply added 1/4 cup of the pomegranate vinegar to a warm saute (nonstick) pan, then allowed it to slowly reduce to a thick syrup-consistency (very bright on the palate in terms of fruity-taste).

As a composed dish, I seared a scallop in order to achieve a golden crust (yet still tender in the middle) - seasoned only with salt, sprinkle of cayenne pepper and few drops of lemon juice. I then added a few lightly marinated watermelon radish slices (simply marinated in 1 Tbsp orange juice, 1 tsp apple cider vinegar and salt/pepper). A small Parmesan crisp, crumbled roasted almonds, pomegranate reduction and watercress to garnish were the final touches. If you are keen to bacon, then chop cooked bacon fine and mix in with the chopped almonds... will give a nice sweet/savory element to the scallop.

Simple. Elegant.

"Imagination rules the world." - Napoleon Bonaparte


Ahi Tuna salad with Herbs de Provence

Ahi Tuna salad with Herbs de Provence

One of my favorite dried herbs to use is herbs de Provence. Generally a mix of: rosemary, thyme, oregano, marjoram and lavender, the concoction was deemed "herbs de Provence" in the 1970s.

When working with ahi tuna, it is generally paired with more Asian-inspired dishes... sesame seeds, sesame seed oils, wasabi, sushi, sashimi, etc. However, ahi tuna can also be enjoyed with a more French/Mediterranean influence.

Ahi Tuna salad.

No, I am not talking about the canned tuna, smothered in mayonnaise and often left at a balmy room-temperature on the buffet table line. Well, if we garnish it with kale and throw in a few grapes then at least we tried.

No. Not better.

Rather, lightly seared ahi tuna with fresh vegetables. Let's try this one on for size, shall we?

Season a fillet of ahi tuna with salt, pinch of cayenne pepper and a nice "crust" of herbs de Provence (covering all sides of the fish). Heat extra-virgin olive oil on a medium-high non-stick pan. Many individuals consume ahi raw; however, from time to time I will give my tuna quick "kiss" on the stove top in order to create a slight sear and impart more flavors into the meat. Once the oil is warm, quickly sear all sides of the fillet (only about 10 seconds on each side). Again, the goal is not to cook through the entire fish; but rather, help infuse the olive oil and herbs de Provence into the tuna crust. After all sides are kissed, remove the fillet from the pan and allow to cool. Dice into small cubes with a serrated knife and mix in a few diced cucumbers.

Keep the garnish simple. I shaved a cucumber thin, then wrapped it around a small mound of lightly seared ahi tuna. A few edible flowers and microgreens/mache leaves complimented the pink tuna. A few drizzles of reduced balsamic vinaigrette and drops of Dijon mustard were the final key components. Before serving, squeeze a hint of fresh lemon upon the tuna.

Clean. Simple. Healthy.

"Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify. Simplify." - Henry David Thoreau


Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Daily Routine - Juicing

I was recently asked about my daily routine - as far as the meals that I prepare for myself, juicing routine, etc. One of my New Years resolutions has been to juice on a daily routine. One of the many benefits associated with juicing? A clear, vibrant complexion. Ergo, no need for the gobs and gobs of heavy makeup. Thus bringing me to a second resolution: forget the "heavy" makeup on a dailybasis and stick with a more natural style.

That being said, I have been waking up and consuming a large bottle of water (with a few drops of lemon). I know that everyone is familiar with the old adage of "hydration is essential," but I have been noticing a change in pigment, as well as more vibrant eyes. Sure, you may hear someone say, "drink more water," but it is encouraging when you actually do make a change and see a positive result.

I thus begins the juicing process - trying to use as many leafy greens as possible, but also throwing other fruits and vegetables in when necessary.

One of my favorite green juices includes: spinach, kale, cucumber, cilantro, green apples, ginger, celery and lemon. In order to give the juice more of a "kick," I also add 1 tsp of cayenne pepper (that will wake you up!) and top with sparkling Perrier water (it just seems to make it more of a treat with the bubbles).

As far as food, I eat "clean" for the large majority of my diet. I have been trying to steer clear of gluten, as I genuinely feel better while consuming a gluten-free diet. I must admit, I used to drink way too much coffee (3-4 cups per day - yikes!) However, I have eliminated the caffeine to one cup in the morning (that has not been an 'easy' change!)

This morning, for example...

1 large bottle of cold water with a few squeezes of lemon juice
Green Juice (ingredients listed above)
2 egg whites - pinch of cayenne pepper of smokey paprika
1 piece of gluten-free whole wheat toast
1 large slice of heirloom tomato
Spinach and micro-greens
Drizzle of truffle oil (I'm a huge fan of the "earthy" element)

Lunch will be a brilliant curry-vegetable soup that I made a few days ago. I love to garnish soups with 0% Greek yogurt (as opposed to sour cream). Not only does the yogurt provide active cultures necessary to aid with digestion, but it is also fat free and adds a "tang" to the soup. Dinner will be veggie-burgers. My mother made brilliant veggie burgers while I was visiting my parents in Arizona for the holidays (and thus inspired me to create my own version!) I found some canned beans, frozen peas and fresh zucchini - rather than have to battle the frigid "frozen tundra" temperatures of Ohio, I will remain indoors and cook. Kick start that creativity!

"Healthy citizens are the greatest asset any country can have." - Winston Churchill


Beef Carpaccio with truffle oil, pine nuts, creamy havarti, orange zest and shallots

Portion control.

While I admit that I consume as many fresh vegetables and fruits into my daily diet as possible, from time to time my body craves a hearty protein. While a "hunk of steak" can be difficult to digest (especially when used to consuming more "fiber rich" produce), one of my favorite treats is a thinly-pounded and perfectly seasoned beef carpaccio. Carpaccio is the international name of a typical Italian dish that is made with raw meat and served mainly as an appetizer. Because the dish is raw, it is essential that a fresh, quality cut of meat to used (no, none of the "manager's special" discount meats at your local grocery store). In terms of cost, fret not; only a small amount of meat is needed for preparation. That being said, opt for a fresh piece of beef sirloin - as it is more flavorful that a fillet, as well as able to "hold its own" when seasoned properly.

Beef Carpaccio with truffle oil, pine nuts, creamy havarti, orange zest and shallots

1 medium shallot
2 Tbsp red wine/pomegranate vinegar
2 Tbsp toasted pine nuts
Zest of 1 orange
2 oz Creamy Havarti, for garnish
Truffle oil, to drizzle
Salt and pepper, to taste
3 oz leaf beef (beef sirloin/tenderloin)
Pomegranate seeds (optional)
Pinch of cayenne pepper and smokey paprika

First, peel and dice the shallot into a fine mince. Place in a small bowl with the pomegranate vinegar (if you cannot find pomegranate vinegar, then you may opt for red wine vinegar instead). Add a pinch of salt, cayenne pepper and smokey paprika, then allow to marinate for at least 10 minutes.

Cut the beef into 1 ounce-slices. Trim away any large layers of fat or gristle (it is white). Place each slice in between 2 layers of heavy-plastic wrap or parchment paper. Carefully pound the beef flat with a meat mallet (can also use a rolling pin) until the thickness is only about 1/16inch. Again, the goal is to pound into very thin slices. Place the flattened slices in the refrigerator in order to chill (no not remove the plastic). You may prepare the meat up to a few hours before serving in this state.

In order to serve, gently peel the top layer of plastic away from each slice. Invert the slices onto a chilled plate and slowly peel away the remaining plastic. Top each slice with a light drizzle of truffle oil, orange zest, marinated shallot, pomegranate seeds, creamy Havarti cheese and micro-greens. Serve immediately.

When serving carpaccio, I have had requests before in first "kissing" the beef on a saute pan with a light sear before serving. Granted, this method no longer constitutes as a "true carpaccio," since, there is a short element of cooking; however, the same technique can be used. Simply season the beef on all sides with a generous amount of salt and pepper, then saute (I use walnut or almond oil) briefly on each side (only 20 seconds). The goal is to create a textural contrast when enjoying the beef... a rich edge encrusting a vibrant raw interior. Allow the beef to cool before slicing and pounding in the same manner described above.

"To go beyond is as wrong as to fall short" - Confucius


Sunday, January 5, 2014



Excuse me?

When I mention the term, "molecular gastronomy," what comes to mind? I envision a team of white coats, surrounded by beakers, tweezers, bubbling cauldrons, calculations, schematics... a fusion of food and science, if you will.

For the ordinary home-cook? I think not.

However, experimenting in the kitchen can be a creative and entertaining past-time (especially when "snow days" arrive). When I was working at Hotel Le Meurice in Paris, France, we would serve different savory gelees. After burrowing through the freezer yesterday, I found a sac of frozen peas that were in dire need of a make-over. A certain, 'je ne sais quoi.'

During the winter months, I am a huge advocate of making healthy soups (something about fresh, home-made soup that just soothes the soul). Since I already had a curry-vegetable soup made, I decided to play with the peas by adding a little "umph" to their kick:

Enter in: Agar-agar

Agar-agar is a natural gelling substance stemming from the cell walls of red algae. It is one of the "mother" additives of molecular gastronomy - often used to make unusual shapes and textures by modifying food from its original state.

It sounds intimidating... but in reality, only a little practice turns it into an enjoyable (and delicious) activity.

Pea Gelee:
2/3 cup water
1 Tbsp butter
3 drops lemon juice
1 shallot - fine dice
1 Tbsp tarragon - chopped
2 tsp herbs de Provence
Pinch of salt and cayenne pepper
4 tsp cream
1/2 tsp Agar-agar powder (I found the Agar-agar powder at Whole Foods)
Pinch of smokey paprika

Bring the water to a rolling boil, then add a pinch of salt and cook the peas until tender (about 5 minutes). Drain the peas, but reserve the cooking liquid.

Melt the butter in a sauce pan, then add the chopped shallots. Sweat for about 5 minutes on a medium-heat (to prevent the shallots from burning). Once translucent and non longer crunchy, add the peas, tarragon, herbs de Provence lemon juice and cream. Simmer for about 4 minutes.

Using the reserved pea cooking liquid, pour 2/3 cup into a separate sauce pan (if you are unable to create 2/3 cup from the cooking liquid, use water to achieve the full 2/3 cup measurement). Return the cooking liquid to the heat, then whisk in the agar-agar and simmer for 2 minutes.

Pour the two mixtures into a blender (I used my Vitamix), then blend until smooth. Pass through a sieve and season with a touch of salt, cayenne pepper and smokey paprika. Pour into a shallow plastic container and allow to cool in the refrigerator (at least 1 hour) before cutting into cubes. Brilliant to serve with the soup as a textural contrast. I also left a few of the peas whole in order to create another dimension of texture.

And lastly, a small edible flower, touch of gold leaf and copious amounts of love.

"Passion rebuilds the world for the youth. It makes all things alive and significant." - Ralph Waldo Emerson


Orange-curry lentil and vegetable soup

The sheer brilliance of soup is creating mouth-watering flavors that are healthy and satisfying. As a young child, my mother would always have a plethora of healthy soups in the refrigerator... curries, vegetables, stews, etc. In fact, we even had a "family song" that was sung to the tune of "Fiddler on the Roof..."

"Tradition... tradition! Veggie soup. Baumert, tradition!"

I know. Shaking my head... #pleasantville

I do attribute one reason why there was so much laughter in my family due to the healthy food that we consumed. I am thankful beyond measure that my mom had a vested interest in cooking, as well as fueling her cherubs and husband with brilliant nourriture.

Soups are an easy manner to introduce your "necessary daily portion" of vegetables into your diet. For example, I made an orange-curry lentil soup this morning. In order to incorporate more vegetables into the soup, I simply blended the mix of broccoli/carrot/cauliflower into my Vitamix, then added to the lentils:

Healthy orange-curry lentil and vegetable soup:

Since orange lentils are much smaller than their brown or green counterparts, they also cook much faster. First, be sure to "sort" the lentils - discarding potential small rocks/wrinkly, old lentil beans. Once sorted, rinse the lentils in a fine-mesh strainer. Only rinse about 1/4 cup of lentils at a time (in order to nudge the lentils around and prevent them from falling over the edge of the strainer). Once cleaned, fill a sauce-pot with enough liquid to equal one and 1/2 times the perfect of lentils. For example: 1/2 cup of lentils would need 3/4 cup of liquid.

Many choose to cook lentils in water - I prefer chicken or veggie stock (it allows them to absorb more flavors in the initial cooking process).

Turn the burner on medium-high and keep an eye on the lentils. Once boiling, turn to a low-simmer and allow to cook for about 20 minutes (covered slightly). After about 20 minutes, test by mashing a few between a spoon and a pot... they should smash easily. Drain in a fine-mesh strainer.

To make an easy soup:
I added 2 cups of cooked orange lentils to my Vitamix, as well as 2 cups of cooked vegetables (medley blend of broccoli, carrots and cauliflower), then blended until no clumps were present. Because the soup was essentially a puree, I added chicken stock until I thinned the consistency to my-liking (I added 2 cups... you may keep it as "thick" as you prefer). Once all ingredients were blended together, I carefully placed the soup back into the sauce-pot and heated on a medium-high heat. In order to flavor the soup, I added 1 Tbsp of curry powder, 2 tsp smokey paprika, 1 tsp liquid smoke, 1 pinch of cayenne pepper and a few squeezes of lemon juice (I did not have to add additional salt, as the chicken stock was salty enough). As a garnish, delicate cilantro flowers transformed the soup from resembling baby-food, to an intricate, restaurant-quality dish.

It's all in the details, friends.

In order to incorporate more protein into my lunch, I simply steamed a few shrimp and added a micro-green/radish garnish... small drizzle of EVOO/Dijon/Lemon juice made a light, healthy dressing.

"Our bodies are our gardens - our wills are our gardeners." - William Shakespeare


Saturday, January 4, 2014

Plating fun

Plating fun:
Pork tenderloin with portabella mushrooms and sautéed spinach/mustard greens. Crab salad (light citrus marinade) with radishes, cilantro and mâché leaves. Sliced candy beets, beet coulis, roasted beets, havarti and pistachios. And of course... Love.

"I have always tried to hide my own efforts and wished my works to have the lightness and joyousness of a springtime which never lets anyone suspect the labours it cost." - Henri Matisse




"pounded" or "hit into pieces"

Takati is a Japanese cuisine preparation of fish or meat. The protein is briefly seared on a hot sauté pan, then marinate in vinegar and citrus (often a squeeze of lemon juice will be more than sufficient). Pounded ginger is ground into a paste (hence the name) in order to season the protein, then it is sliced into thin, delicate pieces. 

When finding "sushi/sashimi-grade" quality fish:

"The only concern any inspectors have is referred to as the parasite destruction guarantee, which is accomplished by 'freezing and storing seafood at -4°F (-20°C) or below for 7 days (total time), or freezing at -31°F (-35°C) or below until solid and storing at -31°F (-35°C) or below for 15 hours, or freezing at -31°F (-35°C) or below until solid and storing at -4°F (-20°C) or below for 24 hours' which is sufficient to kill parasites." { }

Purchasing sushi/sashimi quality-grade fish at your local Japanese market is one of your best options when finding a quality product. If no local markets are available, ordering online is another option.

While working in a brilliant restaurant in Arizona, we served a sashimi appetizer as a special. In order to make your culinary experience easier, keep your sushi/sashimi fish frozen. To slice thin, use a deli-meat slicer. Now, most home-cooks do not have an enormous deli meat slicer; ergo, allow the fish to thaw slightly. After a few minutes, use a serrated (bread) knife in order to slice slim, delicate pieces. Place the remaining fish back into the freezer immediately (in order to keep frozen). Because the pieces that were sliced are thin, they will thaw completely within minutes. One of my favorite fish is albacore tuna: brilliant, white flesh and meaty, tender texture.

Albacore tuna sashimi with blood-orange ponzu marinade:

1 large blood orange - yielding 1/4 cup of juice
1 tsp fresh orange zest
1 tbsp ponzu sauce
1 tsp ginger - peel, then grate fine
Sushi/sashimi-grade albacore tuna - sliced thin
1 Scallion - sliced thin - sliced thin on a bias
1 Tbsp fresh cilantro - slice thin
1/2 beet - julienne-cut (small "matchstick" size), as well as brunoise-cut (tiny "cubes")

Wash the skin of the blood orange, then dry with a paper towel. Using a microplane or box-grater, carefully grate in order to produce 1 tsp of zest. In a large bowl, combine the blood orange juice, zest, ponzu sauce, grated ginger, scallion, cilantro and cut beets.

Slice the albacore tuna into delicate, thin pieces, then add to the blood-orange ponzu marinade. Place in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes (the citrus in the marinade essentially "cooks" the tuna - similar to a ceviche.

When plating, slightly overlap the tuna slices on a white plate. Carefully spoon the sauce atop the tuna, then top with the herbs and beets. For a holiday treat, add a touch of edible golf-leaf. This final touch will inspire a few "oohs and ahhs" when served.

"It's the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen." - John Wooden