Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Essential and Not So Essential Tools

Last night, while prepping out a cheese souffle for dinner with my fiancé, I realized how much pleasure I get out of whisking egg whites by hand. It, like whipping cream, is a task that has been made much more simple by the invention of electric hand mixers and stand mixers. I myself used to make mayonnaise and whip cream and egg whites in my stand mixer. It's so simple - place the ingredients in the mixer bowl, flip a switch and let the machine do the work for you.

Since completing studies at The French Culinary Institute, I no longer use my stand mixer for any of these tasks. It's either a result of being forced to do it by hand while I was in school, or the discovery that it is just not that difficult. I am not claiming that it is the easiest thing you will do in the kitchen this week - it certainly takes some elbow grease and a bit of patience - but the satisfaction I get from the finished product is increased ten fold when I use that elbow grease and make it happen myself.

To make the task a bit easier, make sure you have a balloon whisk - an essential tool for whipping ingredients by hand. The large spherical center of the balloon whisk helps to incorporate air into mixtures more quickly than a standard whisk. You also need to put the cream or egg whites in a large bowl so that you are working with a large surface area. If you use a small bowl with a large amount of liquid, you are going to be whipping forever. Good for your arm muscles, not so good for enjoying the process.

Any large bowl will do, but if you're interested in something truly beautiful and a bit of a splurge, check out this beating bowl from Mauviel:

It is definitely a non-essential tool, but isn't it beautiful? If you feel like splurging, you can buy this bowl here from Williams-Sonoma. I recently added it to my wedding registry in hopes that someone will splurge on me!

Balloon whisks are available from many retail outlets, but again, Williams-Sonoma carries a great selection. This whisk is an affordable, well-made option.

The Apples and Butter team is working on some short 'how to' videos, so hopefully soon we'll have one on whipping up egg whites. Perhaps you'll see this copper bowl make a cameo...

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A New Kind of Polenta


This is yet another one of those culinary ideas that I kick myself for not figuring out on my own. It makes perfect sense. Polenta is made from milled corn, dried and packaged and sent to you to be reconstituted and simmered away on the stove. Why not capture the intense summer flavor of corn by grinding corn, straight off the cob, in a Cuisinart, at home to enjoy the sweet fresh flavor of corn in a whole new way. Somewhere between creamed corn and polenta, this turns out much sweeter than the polenta you're used to.

Serve it as a side dish to a hearty savory stew and the sweetness will perfectly balance the salty savory nature of your main course.

Sweet Corn Polenta
Adapted from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi

6 ears of corn
2 1/4 cups water
3 T butter
Black pepper

Cut the corn from the cob and place in a saucepan with the water. Bring to a simmer and cook for 12 minutes. Drain the corn, reserving the cooking liquid. Transfer the corn to a Cuisinart and process for several minutes to break down the corn as mush as possible. Return the milled corn to the saucepan and add the cooking liquid. Cook over low heat for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring frequently, until thickened. Fold in the butter and season the polenta with salt and pepper to taste.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Gazpacho Garnish - Kicking It Up a Notch!

 photo GarnishSoup3.jpg Earlier this week I promised you a way to kick up the garnish on this gazpacho. This presentation technique takes a delicious, casual summer soup and turns into something elegant and worthy of company.

It's really quite simple and the only tool you need is a ring mold. If you don't have any and you're interested in working on presentation, I strongly recommend getting a set like this. You will find a hundred and one uses for it.

Here are some suggested ingredients for the vegetable salad that make up the bulk of the garnish, but you should use whichever vegetables you have on hand or whatever looks good at the market that week.

1 small cucumber, cut into a small dice
1 yellow summer squash, cut into a small dice
1 red bell pepper, cut into a small dice
1/4 bunch of cilantro, chopped finely
Salt and pepper
1 avocado

Make the vegetable salad by combining the cucumber, squash, bell pepper and chopped cilantro. Season with salt and pepper.

Cut the avocado in half and peel. Place the avocado cut side down on a cutting board and slice very thinly.


Spray the ring mold lightly with cooking spray so the avocado won't stick to the mold once you're ready to remove it. Place the thin slices of avocado in overlapping layers around the ring mold as pictured above.


Gently spoon the vegetable salad into the avocado ring. If desired sprinkle a bit more cilantro and salt over the top of the salad.


Remove the ring and make sure the salad is holding its shape.


Pour in your finished gazpacho and enjoy!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Summer's Liquid Gold - Gazpacho


Gazpacho is and always has been one my favorite dishes of summer. When I was growing up, my mom and I would buy cans upon cans of Pepperidge Farm's gazpacho, chop up a bevy of fresh vegetables and keep a big jug of the fresh summer soup in the fridge. Every time I opened the door to our refrigerator, I was tempted with its promise of cool refreshing flavor and crunchy vegetables.

Today I make my own gazpacho base and am always interested in new ideas for getting the gazpacho started. While flipping through Heart of the Artichoke by David Tanis, I came upon a genius idea I wish I had come up with first. Tanis grates fresh tomatoes on a box grater and strains the seeds out of the tomato puree for pure, unadulterated fresh tomato gazpacho starter. What you do after that is really up to you. I used a microplane to grate garlic and onion into the base and then seasoned with salt and pepper. Chop up whatever fresh vegetables you have on hand and call it a day.

I garnished this bowl with chopped jalapeno and olive oil. Check back on Thursday for directions on how to take the garnish up a notch with a vegetable salad encased in a ring of avocado.


Method adapted from David Tanis
Serves 6

4 lbs fresh tomatoes
2 garlic cloves
1/2 of a small onion
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil
1/2 of a jalapeno for garnish

Rinse tomatoes and cut in half horizontally. Grate the tomatoes on the large holes of a box grater until you are left with just the skin of the tomato. Toss the skin. Strain the tomato pulp through a coarse-mesh strainer to catch the seeds and any large pieces of pulp. Peel the garlic cloves and grate on a microplane directly into the tomato starter. Do the same with the onion. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Divide among six bowls and garnish with chopped jalapeno and a drizzle of olive oil.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Pizza Toscana


Throwing out food is a pet peeve of mine. It's a waste of money, a waste of resources, and frankly it makes me feel guilty. I am thrilled when I find a recipe that takes food destined for the garbage bin and turns it into something fantastic. Pizza Toscana does just that with the sides of bread that get sent home with takeout food. Leftover, even slightly stale bread gets transformed into ooey gooey cheesy deliciousness. It's not quite pizza, not quite casserole, but perfectly in the middle and perfectly delicious.

This is all about using up what you have on hand so this is a guide, not a recipe.

Pizza Toscana
Adapted from Cristina's Tuscan Table

A few glugs of good olive oil
Leftover bread
A few tablespoons of milk
1 cup of tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes
1 ball fresh mozzarella
2 sausage links, casing removed and cooked
2 T fresh oregano leaves
1 garlic clove, minced
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 450

Take a casserole dish just large enough to fit your leftover bread. Oil the bottom and place the leftover bread in the casserole in a single layer. Drizzle the milk over the bread. Add the tomato sauce, sausage, oregano and garlic. Tear up the mozzarella and spread over the other ingredients. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and finish with another drizzle of olive oil. Place in the oven for 30 minutes until the cheese is melted and gooey.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Canapé and Corn Cakes


The final two levels of classes at The French Culinary Institute take place in the kitchen of L'Ecole, FCI's restaurant. For someone like me who may never go on to work in a restaurant kitchen, it provides invaluable experience working the line and cooking food for paying customers. There is nothing quite like the feeling of finishing service on a Friday night, a busy one in particular, and knowing that all of your dishes went out on time and cooked perfectly (well almost perfectly?). It makes you feel like you can accomplish just about anything, at least, that's the way it made me feel.

In both level 5 and level 6, you move through the different stations of the restaurant, cooking the meat dishes for four nights, fish for four nights, pastry for four, and so on. When you get to level 6, you get to spend four nights at the canapé station where the amuse bouche that precedes each meal is prepared. In most restaurants the amuse bouche serves as a way to use up excess ingredients while giving customers a little more than they are paying for. At FCI, it is up to the team working the canapé station to come up with and prepare the amuse each night. It is one of the few opportunities we get to be creative and to not follow any FCI issued recipes. It's a fun station.

My team prepared the pictured canapé on a night when we were trying to use up some excess skirt steak. We braised the meat (not a usual treatment of skirt steak) and reduced the braising liquid to make a sauce to mix with the shredded meat. The base is a delicious corn cake recipe that my classmate Walter brought in for us to play with. I am providing the recipe for the corn cake below. The cakes would make a great side dish, or, if you have some leftover meat to use up, shred the meat, make mini corn cakes and impress your guests with your own amuse bouche before dinner. We topped the whole thing with a mango salsa - chopped mango, red onion and thai chili pepper. If the salsa gets too spicy, as it did in our case, you can temper it with some honey to tame the heat.

Corn cakes
Adapted from Delicious Magazine

60g plain flour
1 egg
1 t baking powder
Handful fresh coriander
300g sweetcorn kernels
1 red chili, deseeded and finely chopped
Vegetable oil for cooking

Place the flour in a food processor with the egg, baking powder, coriander and half the corn. Pulse until coarsely chopped. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and stir the chili and the remaining corn. Heat enough oil to just cover a large, non-stick frying pan and drop in teaspoonfuls of the corn mixture. Fry for 1 minute each side, until golden, then drain on paper towels while you cook the rest. Arrange the corn cakes on a platter and top with leftover meat or a simple salsa.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

French Onion Soup


It is another drizzly day in New York. I now know what they mean by, ‘April showers before May Flowers’. Growing up in Los Angeles, I never fully understood the meaning of this phrase. Sure, it rained in April, but not that much and certainly no more than in February or March. Note to self, any phrase about weather is probably not referring to Southern California, where I am now convinced we have some of the best weather in the country.

Anyway, it is raining and I have just spent an hour trying to scrub grease stains and oil spills out of my chef’s coats and aprons. Since I don’t have class tonight, I put a pot of soup on the stove and am going to spend the rest of the afternoon inside, eating soup and reading Kim Severson’s Spoon Fed. I highly recommend her memoir. Especially if you, like me, have a hard time buying any novel or memoir that is not food-related. It is a great read and one I totally relate to as a California transplant in New York.

The soup I’m making to keep me and my book company is a super simple French onion soup. Super simple is really a tad redundant because if you have homemade stock on hand, French onion soup should always be simple. The key is cooking your onions low and slow for a long time to get them nice and caramelized. After that, just add stock, let everything simmer away for a bit and season. If you have some crusty bread on hand, all the better. Slice it up, place a slice on each bowl of soup and cover with gruyere cheese. A quick run under the broiler and you have a beautiful bowl of restaurant quality French onion soup. If I have them all on hand I like to use brown or yellow onions, red onions and shallots, but if you only have one kind, that’s okay too. I can’t stress enough what a difference homemade stock makes in a soup like this. If you want to try your hand at it, here are the steps for veal stock. If not, use a good-quality beef stock from your grocery store.

French Onion Soup
Serves 4

2 pounds mixed onions
2 T canola oil
2 quarts (8 cups) beef or veal stock
1 thyme sprig
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper to taste
4-8 slices crusty baguette
1/2 cup grated gruyere

Peel the onions. Cut them in half and then into thin slices so you have a large pile of half-moon slices. Heat the oil in a medium saucepan. Sauté the onions until beginning to soften, season with a little salt and pepper, and cover the pot. The steam captured by covering the pot will help to soften the onions without using too much oil. Uncover the pot and stir occasionally. When the onions are beginning to brown, remove the lid and continue to cook until caramelized. This can take up to 30 minutes.

Add the stock to the pan and bring to a simmer. Add the thyme and bay leaf and simmer gently for 20 minutes. Remove the thyme and bay leaf and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Preheat your broiler. Divide the soup among four serving bowls. Top with one to two slices of bread, depending on what will fit in your bowls, and sprinkle a few tablespoons of gruyere over the bread. Run under the broiler until the cheese is melted and bubbly. Take care when serving the soup as the bowls will be extremely hot from the broiler. Enjoy with a good book on a rainy day.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Harbinger of Spring


Growing up, eating artichokes meant simmering them until tender and serving them with a dip of mayonnaise mixed with a bit of soy sauce. Had we been hip to it at the time, we might have called it a soy aioli, but to us it was just the perfect creamy salty accompaniment to those boiled leaves and still, to this day, I can’t eat artichoke leaves without it. Luckily, my artichoke repertoire has expanded ever so slightly beyond boiled leaves.

At FCI we prepare artichokes by ‘turning’ them, or removing all the outer leaves and using a paring knife to remove the green skin until you’re left with the tender heart of the artichoke. Once you have the heart, you can braise, roast, grill or do just about anything you want with it. Currently, in the restaurant at FCI, we serve slivers of braised artichoke heart with a roasted rack of lamb. They are delicious.

One of the perks of working on set at a cooking show is the opportunity to bring home the occasional excess produce. Once the segment is complete, the produce that was used to dress the set is usually still perfectly good, but won’t be visually appealing if saved for another shoot on another day. After the crew has been fed and talent takes what they want, the rest is up for grabs. I am very lucky to be working on these shows as the spring season rolls in and great produce such as asparagus, dandelion greens, spring onions, and of course artichokes, are the topic du jour. I made off with a few artichokes last week and while I was craving my mother’s simmered artichoke with ‘soy aioli’ I decided to broaden my artichoke horizon a bit more and see what I could come up with.

Enter Plenty, the new cookbook from Yotam Ottolenghi. I won’t say much about the book today, because I am smitten with the recipes and have a feeling that you may be hearing a lot about it over the coming weeks. Just know this: If you’re looking for some inspiration in the vegetable department, you are sure to find it in this book. I found mine when a relish of fava beans jumped off the page at me via some gorgeous photography. Favas are my ultimate harbinger of spring and they seemed the perfect accompaniment to the artichokes I had waiting. And a little hint about that other accompaniment I love so much? Hold on to the leaves you remove from the artichoke. Simmered over low heat they go very nicely with a little soy aioli.

I am providing the recipe here as Ottolenghi wrote it, but I was out of panko so I used a mix of walnut flour and whole wheat flour to bread the artichoke hearts. Use whatever, even plain old flour works well too.

Globe Artichokes with Crushed Fava Beans
Adapted from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi

1 3/4 cups shelled fava beans
1 small garlic clove, crushed
4 T extra-virgin olive oil plus more for frying
Freshly ground black pepper
1½ t Maldon sea salt
2-3 globe artichokes
3 lemons
1 egg, beaten
3 T panko
3 T fresh mint, chopped
2 T fresh dill, chopped

Bring a pan of water to a boil, add the beans and blanch for three minutes. Drain, refresh and leave in a colander to dry. Remove the outer skins by pressing each bean gently between your thumb and forefinger. Put the shelled beans in the bowl of a food processor. Add the garlic, four tablespoons of oil, some black pepper and half a teaspoon of salt, then pulse until just roughly chopped – don’t overdo it.

Cut off most of the stalk from the artichokes and pull off the tough outer leaves. Once you reach the softer, pale leaves, trim off the top, so you're left with the heart and some very soft leaves around it. Scrape off any remaining tough leaves and the 'hairs' in the center. Rub with a cut lemon to keep the artichokes from turning brown.

Bring a pan of water to a boil, drop in the artichokes and simmer until a knife cuts easily through the flesh, seven to 10 minutes. Drain and dry on paper towels. Put the artichokes in a bowl with the beaten egg, mix, then lift them into a bowl filled with the panko and 1/2 a teaspoon of salt, and coat them well.

Add enough oil to a pan to come 1 1/4 inches up the side. Heat until almost smoking. Fry the artichokes until golden, for about four minutes, turning them as you go. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels and sprinkle with salt.

Put the fava bean mixture in a bowl and stir in the chopped herbs and the juice of a lemon. Spoon some of this over each serving plate, top with an artichoke heart and spoon more of the beans on top. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil and serve with a lemon wedge, if desired.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Favas for Spring!


Yes, those are shelled fava beans in my cuisinart which means either...

A. It is finally spring.
B. I have already been in the kitchen for an hour to get a mere two cups of favas out of their shells.
C. I just got Yotam Ottolenghi's new cookbook, Plenty, and have been inspired.
D. A new recipe will be up on Apples and Butter shortly!

How about all four? Check back tomorrow afternoon for Ottolenghi's delicious Globe Artichokes with Crushed Fava Beans!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

When Culinary School Hands You Duck Skin...Render It


A year ago, if you asked me if I would ever post a picture of raw duck skin, the answer would have been a definitive no. Clearly, my definition of what constitutes a sexy food photo has changed.

Today, lipids are sexy. Fat is a necessary component of cooking, but we sometimes have a weird relationship with it. On one hand, we tend to shy away from away from it, opting for the fat-free version of anything at the grocery store, but on the other hand, we also drive our cars up to the fast food joint and ask to be supersized. As with most things, fat is good for us if we use it in moderation. It is a vehicle for flavor and there are many fat-soluble nutrients which means, if you’re pouring fat-free dressing over that salad of yours, you could be missing out on a lot of the nutritional benefits.

Now, before I get too preachy, because this blog is about good cooking, not food policy, let’s move on to the duck. If you have yet to cook with duck fat, you are in for a treat. The fat adds a wonderful, rich flavor to things like sautéed potatoes. If you ever cook your eggs in a bit of the bacon grease left in the pan, cooking with duck fat is the same concept. The animal fat comes with its own flavor that, when paired with the right food, just can’t be matched by cooking in olive oil or butter.

One downside to cooking with duck fat is that it is pretty pricey. So, one night at school, when we finished breaking down a case of whole ducks for the restaurant at FCI and were left with extra duck skin, I jumped at the chance to take it home. Three quart containers of duck fat (think about 16 cups) came home with me for rendering. It may sound like an involved project, but rendering your own duck fat could not be more simple. Here are the basics:

Place your duck skin in a pot. Add no more than one inch of water to the pan. If you only have a small amount of skin, add less. Place the pan over medium heat and let it come to a simmer. Over the course of an hour or so, the skin will render the fat and the small amount of water in the pan will evaporate. When the skin starts to turn golden, you know it has rendered its fat. You can drain off the fat and discard the skin or, if you want a double reward, let the skin continue to render until it turns a dark brown. The skin will be crisp and you are left with both rendered duck fat and delicious duck cracklings. Be sure to keep an eye on it at the end. If the skin goes from brown to burnt, you will impart a burnt flavor to the fat and all will be for not. Just keep in mind that with a bit of salt, duck cracklings can be highly addictive and then that whole moderation thing I mentioned earlier goes completely out the window. The choice is yours.

Three quarts of duck skin left me with about two quarts of duck fat, which is more than I will be able to use anytime soon so I am planning on giving some away as gifts. Trust me. Your food-obsessed friends will be forever grateful. The last time I checked, duck fat was going for about $20 a half quart.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Back to the Grind


I woke this morning slightly confused to find myself in New York City. See, I was supposed to be back here a week ago, but, like so many others, my travel plans fell victim to the blizzard in New York. My original flight was canceled and the earliest that Virgin America could rebook me was not early enough to make it back for my class at The French Culinary Institute last Wednesday. Rather than continue to fight lines and standby lists at the airport, I extended my stay in California and what was meant to be a five-day trip, turned into 12.

I would have been disappointed to miss any class at FCI, but last week was my buffet night. In level 4, students spend two weeks preparing food for a buffet that the entire school attends. I had been working on a foie gras terrine, head cheese, kimchi and bulgogi, a carrot sesame terrine, a dark chocolate crepe cake, duck confit, and cassoulet. I was enormously disappointed that I did not get to taste the final products or help my team present all of the food. Disappointed isn’t the right word, I was inconsolable.

But, as one learns to do, I made the best of it. I visited with old friends and enjoyed walking around town in sandals and a dress, soaking up the sun. So much so, that by the end of my trip, wool coats and waterproof boots seemed like a distant memory. Until of course, I awoke this morning to find myself in my Chelsea apartment, with the floors slanted ever so slightly westward.

I walked the 1.5 miles to work this morning to shock my body back into acceptance of the cold weather. After work, I am heading home to clean out the fridge (food tends to spoil when you are gone a week more than planned) and to make a bevy of soups, including this one, so I have a stockpile of lunches and dinners for the week.

This soup is comforting and hearty. Ground walnuts are used to add flavor and a bit of thickness. The original recipe calls for fresh tomatoes, but this time of year I always use canned in soups and stews. Tomatoes were not meant to grow in January and when they do, they have little flavor. If you are not comfortable with vermicelli or can’t find it, feel free to use a more traditional pasta.

Ground Walnut and Tomato Soup
Adapted from Real Food Magazine

4 T butter
2 medium onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 t salt, plus more to taste
1/2 t ground black pepper
1/2 t whole coriander seed
1 cup walnuts, finely ground
2 cups water
2 oz vermicelli, broken into pieces
28 oz can whole plum tomatoes
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/4 cup chopped cilantro

Heat 3 tablespoons of butter in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the chopped onions and sweat until softened. Place the garlic, salt, pepper and coriander in a food processor and process until ground and combined. Add the spice blend to the onions along with the ground walnuts and water, Bring to a simmer and add the vermicelli. Simmer covered for 20 minutes. In a separate pot, cook the tomatoes over low heat until softened. Add the tomatoes to the soup and simmer for five minutes. Add the parsley, cilantro and remaining tablespoon of butter to the pot and adjust the seasoning, if necessary, before serving.