Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Everyone's a Chef

originally posted Monday, January 7, 2008

It wasn't long after I moved to San Francisco, where one chef put it, "chefs are treated like royalty," that I began to realize that my culinary experience in no way made me special. In a world rapidly becoming populated by self-proclaimed "foodies," (as well as those whose interest in food has yet to lead to such sort of self-characterization), much like an invasion by body snatchers, you can't throw a pork chop without hitting someone who knows 6 ways to cook it and a couple dozen options for sauces, sides and seasonings. The City is a foodie capital, and that's saying a lot, since, as far as I can tell, foodyism is an international phenomenon.

What is a chef anyway? Prescriptivists demand that only the cook who is in charge of all of the aspects of a restaurant's performance is a chef, or the "chief." The French word means just that, after all, and the French translation of the song "The Leader of the Pack" goes, "le chef de la bande."

Of course, contradictorily, those same prescriptivists might also argue that anyone who has graduated from culinary school has earned the title. And what about personal chefs?

I take the word pretty loosely. Like the word punk, as in punk rock. I grew up with some pretty hard line punks who insisted that bands like Green Day were definitely NOT punk, thereby graduating the word from a noun to a qualifying adjective (i.e. "he's more punk than me"). To me, chef is like that. If you demonstrate cooking prowess, I may not say that was very chef of you, but I will refer to your chef-like qualities by nicknaming you "chef." Ironically, because of my personal rebellion against the brigade system in professional kitchens, I prefer to refer to actual professional chefs by their first names.

As consulting chefs for ChefsLine, the Culinary Hotline, my colleagues and I take a certain amount of cheesy pride in our slogan-promise, "We bring out the chef in you."

And look at that TV show "Take Home Chef." If that guy owns a restaurant or keeps an executive chef position somewhere, I don't know about it. On that note, however, I guess it's fair to say that most of the celebrity chefs on TV can indeed be linked to at least one successful restaurant. Or magazine? Or whatever food and cooking organism qualifies to have an executive chef slot to fill (Cat Cora is executive chef for Bon Appetit Magazine, for instance).

On a side note, the same chef I mentioned above, who said San Francisco treats chefs like royalty, told me that Bon Appetit magazine and the Bay Area-based Bon Appetit catering company used to be managed under the same roof, but shortly after their mutual inception their link was reduced to the name only. [shrug]

I define chef as fancy cook, plain and simple, even if said chef only graduated from, to quote another chef I know, "the culinary school of hard knocks," and has never even actually been in charge of an outfit. As for me, I have been in charge of a few restaurants and bakeshops, but I never went to culinary school. I learned everything I know about cooking on the clock, and at home, and have opted instead for a classical education in letters and literature.

Good thing I still got my day job. { ; ~ o >

Italian Flag Pesto Dip

originally posted Friday, March 21, 2008

Dip. It's what's for dinner. Er, whatever, but I can fill up on it, if it's good. I eat all day anyway, if I have my way, so a dip with dimensions and some good crunchy-type things to dip into it will always appeal to me as a snack food.
First of all, it's hella easier to make a dip than to top crostini, bruschetta, or other
fuori d'opera, individually (I want to take a language class at City College, but then again I wanna get my masters and maybe I could take language classes then, but like, when the hell does anybody have time to go to school and work in the 7X7?).
Plus, if you make a dip along the basic principle of, say, a seven-layer dip, keeping some of the ingredients separate and distinct from one another, you get a delightful plurality in your bite, bite after bite after bite after bite...
And when I'm working (such a
cursed blessing, work: gotta work, glad to have it, hate it, don't wanna do it, miss it when it goes away), I can eat while I work with relative convenience.
Regarding this recipe, I love the sweet cranberries alongside the savory whatever else, but they're optional, and I like a little heat, but the peppers are also optional. And you can also take out the salt and the garlic, and the herbs, and cheese, and go to McDonald's, they got double cheeseburgers for a buck. Get me one.
Oh the inanity! I do tend to go on.

Italian Flag Pesto Dip
1 oz fresh basil

1/4 bunch fresh cilantro
1/4 oz fresh mint leaves
1/4 bunch fresh parsley
1 tsp crushed red pepper
2 tsp sea salt
2 cups ricotta
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup pesto alla genovese
1/2 cup sun-dried tomato pesto

Candied dried cranberries and pine nuts.
Combine the first 8 ingredients in a food processor or in a bowl with your hands. Drop a dollop of each of the pestos and the ricotta mixture and with simple movements swirl them with a rubber spat[ula]. Don't over mix it! You want it to look like Aquafresh toothpaste, 3 distinct wavy colors. Top it with the candied craisins and pinions. Eat it with crostini "chips" made from a baguette, ciabatta, focaccia, whathaveya.
Beware, you need some fiber in your diet, so don't eat dip dinners more than four or five times a week.

Apartments and Anchovies

originally posted Sunday, April 13, 2008

It's time to move. There are 2 1/2 weeks left before we and all our shit gotta be outta here, with pug in tow, and we haven't found a place to move into yet, much less saved up a secure number of dineros for anything even modestly considered to be decent. Ah hell, nothing like the impending deadline to light a fire under your ass, no?

What we DON'T want:
  • to live in the Outer Sunset, Outer Mission or the Tenderloin, or any of the other subdistricts within the relative vicinities, unsafe and/or too far out.
  • to live in a shared rental, because my girlfriend has certain needs that go beyond my own.
Add to those criteria our need to find something affordable and which will accept Romeo, our beloved troll-of-a-pug-dog, and you may see what I see, an increasingly stressful scenario, problems identified, needs isolated, but solutions... to be discovered. It is one of those times when I have to tell myself, don't worry, there is a door opening somewhere, we just can't see it yet. There is also a skeptical voice in my head, however, that keeps reminding me that I do not have much faith, other than that in the sincerity of my own motivations. Just thinking and saying that there is a solution, a door, a plan, whatev, does not mean that there is actually one of the above available to us in anything resembling a timely resolution.

When we first moved to the City a few years ago, I was immediately made aware of the potential consequences of failure: the homeless peeps all around us. We were trying to live among a new peer group, single professionals sharing a warehouse-turned-apartment complex in SoMa (none of whom we still know today), who were all surfing on the relatively easy money of the newly-deceased dot-com era and other highly technology-business-ended endeavors, while we were trying to actualize our earned-degree-implied careers for essentially the first time, on money we had only just recently accumulated by selling our shit and, sadly, our Jeep CJ5 - all hard steel, all primer-gray, soft-top-roof, removable doors, one-size-too-big brand new tires; the Jeep that could tell Jeep Wrangler owners who may have incidentally pulled up beside us at the red light, "You are just never going to get it." Wrangler owners are not in the know, but it's not there fault. The Jeep Company it to blame. They ceased production of the CJ series after the CJ7, I believe.

It was noted by many, including my KC, that I seemed to be driven to find success and make money more than was precedented, but I can't help but feel like, especially these days, that that drive is merely the reality of life burning a hole in my eye and then lighting up my ass, so to speak. My urgency is more appropriately described as a fear than a drive. There is a fine line between great success and the most dramatic of failures, especially in places like SF, Manhattan, etc.

This blog is food oriented, so, in order to comply with the original theme, let me reference food here. Anchovie, mushroom and garlic pizza with red wine. You could make it yourself, like I sometimes do, or order it, like I also do, living like next door to Giorgio's. The pungent flavors and alcohol will be enough to pull your concentration into the moment, and separate you for that moment from the many things you need to be doing in order to leapfrog your life to the next positive stage, and to remove, for a moment, the fear of failure, and jumping straight into a pile of shit.

Practical Optimism, a Lemonade Stand, and an Omlette

originally posted Tuesday, October 14, 2008
I just read an article which speaks to my parsimonious side. I relate it to food, as I do so great many things within my scope. I re-invoke the omelette.

Two buttered saute pans: one for the unsalted egg and milk mixture, and the other for the onions and (then) spinach.

When the eggs are perfectly medium rare the grated, crumbled or chopped cheese goes over the center, the hot veggies and/or meat over that, and a flip-flop-slide onto the plate.

Accompany with a piece of good toasted bread and butter. When cheap is delicious and nutritious, the consumer is thrice rewarded.

I am often referring to the old, overiterated adage about when life hands you lemons. And if there are enough lemons coming your way, you may want to think about setting up a lemonade stand.
Take it from me. I'm not complaining, or insinuating that I got more lemons than the next guy (I am sure it just seems like it).

But I'm like, hell, we got a whole bunch of 'em... just working with what I got.

The worst case scenario ought to involve a fermenting heap of the rotted lemons rinds, pulp and juice I couldn't sell. Let the lemon compost heap act as a double metaphor for both the grotesqueness of the realities we face in life as well as the growth potential derived from the fertilizing properties of that heap.

Which reminds me of something else I read, about life spawning from death, as Aristotle wrote about flies and crocodiles. I would like to think, regardless of what it means, that it will all lead to something.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Chocolates for V-Day

originally posted Thursday, January 3, 2008

Is it just me, or is Valentine’s Day a totally different experience for boys than it is for girls? Does V-day put women and girls into a state of natural and easy reverie, while men and boys find themselves embarked on an onerous quest to prove their love worthy?

Last year, after seeking as much candid council as I could from my significant other, I decided that I would impress upon her the level and intensity of my devotion by cooking her a five-course meal, each course containing some form of chocolate.

My rationale was, admittedly, a little bit type-A: at the time, she worked in a chocolate confectionery; therefore, not only could she provide the chocolates I would require for my love feast at a discounted price (and thusly fulfilling her end of the Valentine’s Day-gift-exchange), but I could attempt to feed her the chocolate in such forms as she would never have access to at work. It was the perfect plan, making the absolute most of the chocolate theme already inherent in the Valentine's Day experience. And hell, we would probably even save money on going out.

By my third trip to the store I realized that wasn’t going to be the case. The booze alone accounted for nearly half of my expenditure, and some extra groceries were simply going to be required in order to make this dinner different and special. I still had the idea in my head that she would walk in the door to our humble apartment after a long day at work (selling last minute chocolates to procrastinating Romeos) to a beautifully set candlelight dinner, and I would make for her her first cocktail, with the second soon to follow. Then I would delight her with one after another course of sweet and savory chocolate-inspired dishes, titillating her to a giggling culinary culmination by the time we got to dessert. I even imagined silver covered platters for each dish, and we don’t even own anything like that.

Needless to say, I bit off a little more than I could chew. By the time she got home I had just managed to hurriedly set a table for two, I hadn’t yet lit candle one, and I hadn’t even started on the first two courses. In fact, I even had yet another trip to the store on the itinerary, but I soon decided to make due without it. In the end, my five-course extravaganza turned into a four-course marathon, and ultimately dessert was omitted entirely due to over-filled bellies from over-sized portions.

Sometimes, however, we find success in failure. The sheer enormity of my undertaking was enough to satisfy my beloved that I was really into her, and watching me work frantically let her see that dedication for herself. If the romantic dinner for two could be a metaphor for my love, then it was clear that my love for her was a little more than I could handle.

So what was the menu? Aside from chocolate there were two things I knew my girlfriend appreciated: alcohol and hot spicy foods.

My original idea was to purchase a couple of bottles of vino for the occasion, but after I ran across a recipe for chocolate martinis, wine was out the window. Instead, I bought a half gallon bottle of good quality vodka.

The very first thing I “cooked” were chocolate ice cubes – chocolate, milk, water, espresso and blood orange zest. I put the ingredients into an ice cube tray, speared sour cherries onto toothpicks, and stuck one toothpick into each cube. When it came time to serve the drinks, the ice cubes were perfectly frozen, and melted slowly in the drinks for a nice effect, but if I had it to do over again, I would use less zest or none at all. In order to prevent another trip to the store, I went with coffee liqueur instead of crème de cacao, as the recipe had called for. So when I finally added a splash of cherry juice, the drinks became more accurately described as mocha cherry martinis. Whatever works.

The first course, an appetizer featuring one Bartlett pear, one Asian pear, bananas and raspberries seared in sugar syrup and dressed with melted buttermilk chocolate sauce, was pushed back to be joined with the ice cream and chocolate mousse dessert for sheer lack of time. Skipping that, it was on to course two: salad. I melted some chocolate and squeezed the juice out of my blood oranges, added salt, pepper and extra virgin olive oil, and presto: chocolate blood orange vinaigrette. A couple pinches of chopped basil, red lettuce, tomato, zucchini (I usually prefer them over cucumbers), broccoli, red onion, raspberries and a little feta cheese crumble made up the rest. I usually butter and bake a couple slices of bread for last-minute croûtons, and this time was no exception. As it was, the first course went over quite well.

Done with that and on to the next dish, I couldn’t help but be somewhat exhilarated with anticipation. It was only supposed to be a precursor to the main course, but would end up being the favorite for us both: chocolate chili. At first the idea frightened me, but, intrigued, I read up on the recipe and couldn’t resist.

My girl loves spicy foods. When I was at the market and asking questions in Spanish about the different fresh peppers and dried chipotle chiles to a grocery stocker who spoke zero English, he asked me if my girlfriend was latina. Upon learning that no, she was indeed una guera, his eyebrows lifted in astonishment that was very entertaining. Was it even possible? he seemed to be thinking. Yes, it is. My girlfriend prefers her spicy food to be registered with the federal government as a chemical weapon. My suffering in order to eat with her would have to be another test of my adoration.

Good chili, with or without chocolate, requires time for the flavors to synergize, but luckily, by the time I served it up, it was tastier than I could have predicted. The basic chili: browned meat (I used top sirloin), garlic, onions, small red beans, chiles and peppers (I used fresh jalapeños and serranos, and dried chipotle chiles of hot and hotter varieties, reconstituted in water), parsley, tomato paste, red wine vinegar, cumin, oregano, tarragon, salt, pepper and water, all combine with semisweet cooking chocolate to create a palette of flavors guaranteed to, as my girlfriend put it, “win any chili cook-off.”

Not to be out-spiced or out-chocolated by course two, course three really had to come with it, and it did: top sirloin topped with spicy chocolate mole sauce. Although somewhat similar to the chocolate chili, with the whole chocolate-meets-spicy-steak kind of thing going for it, this dish would differ in that the steak would be seared to medium rare and the sauce poured over it would be much stronger in flavor, including heat intensity. It really worked out well. The juicy meat was kept pristine from the chocolate and peppers of the previous course, so that it could then be reintroduced to those components one bite at a time, depending on how much sauce you wanted.

I just combined all of the ingredients for the mole sauce: extra virgin olive oil, garlic, onion, red bell pepper, chiles and peppers as per the last dish (although I used more of this and less of that chile in order to give the mole its own distinctive flavor), tomatoes, chicken or beef stock (I happened to have some homemade chicken stock in the freezer), cumin, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, sugar, honey mandarin orange zest, chocolate, salt and pepper, into a food processor (it all just barely fit), then transferred it to a medium-sized pot and let it cook slowly. I waited until it was time to serve this course to cook the meat, then poured the slow-cooked sauce over it and added a dollop of sour cream.

In all humility I must confess, by the time we ate this course, which went over quite well also, we had drank a few mocha cherry martinis, and optioned out of having dessert at all. The workload had been a bit much, so I wasn't too disappointed, and she was never much for sweets anyway. I would have done well to plan ahead a little more, and to have divided my workload into smaller, more manageable portions. As it was, our appetites were more than satiated, and dessert was redefined as brunch the morning after, but was delightful nonetheless.

All in all I’d have to say, sometimes you really can never have too much chocolate, and nothing says I Love You like a messy kitchen with chocolate all over everything.

Open Source Government and Flights of Apéritifs and Hors d'œuvre

originally posted Thursday, October 23, 2008

I suggest an open source government. A true democracy that will automatically adhere to the design developed by anyone willing to actually participate. Real time amendments. Laws popularly accepted. Illegitimate choices immediately corrected by multitudinous declaration and reason.
Transparency, accountability, cooperation, collaboration.
Conflicts between points of view create violent reactions and harmful chasms between people when all that are required, or desired, are really just healthy analyzes of cause, effect and the perspectives of the sum of individuals, in order for society's government and the social contract that government is set up to uphold to continue to function productively.
It's a truly pluralist tack, for a decidedly pluralist populace. And it is potentially very stressful, because of the contradictions, hypocrisies, and inconsistencies that, like foam, rise to the top of every creed and system of beliefs.
So, like a family holiday gathering, where people who didn't necessarily choose to be in one anothers' lives are obliged to spend time together and make the very best of it, let us do it potluck-style. Bring a wine and/or a snack, and let us set them all up together, symbolic of our diversity, but also of how the distinctions, when viewed (and consumed) en todo, create a party. The real kind, not the political kind. Dig in. It's your party.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Angst of the Omelet: the Unofficial Diary of Jean Paul Sartre Writing a Cookbook

October 3.
Spoke with Camus today about my cookbook. Though he has never actually eaten, he gave me much encouragement. I rushed home immediately to begin work. How excited I am! I begin with the omelet.

October 5.

Still working on the omelet. There have been stumbling blocks. I create them, one after another, like soldiers marching into the sea, but each is empty, hollow. I want to create an omelet that expresses the meaninglessness of existence, and instead they taste like cheese. I look at them on the plate, but they do not look back. Tried eating them with the lights off. It did not help. Malraux suggested paprika.

October 6.
I have realized that the traditional omelet form (eggs and cheese) is bourgeois. Today I tried making one out of a cigarette, some coffee, and four tiny stones. I fed it to Malraux, who puked. I am encouraged, but my journey is long.

October 8.
Frustrated, I taped two fried eggs over my eyes and walked the streets of Paris. I ran into Camus at the Select. He called me a "pathetic dork" and told me to "go home and wash my face." Angered, I poured a bowl of bouillabaisse into his lap. He became enraged, and, seizing a straw wrapped in paper, tore off one end of the wrapper and blew through the straw, propelling the wrapper into my eye! "Ow! You dick!" I cried. I leaped up, cursing and holding my eye, and fled.

-Original author unknown (but definitely probably not Jean Paul Sartre).

Monday, April 13, 2009

No Blonde in this Rich Ode to Johnette Napolitano.

Concrete Blonde is one of the all-time best altrock bands, and how they ever stayed under the radar for so long baffles me. It may be a little outdated for me to praise them, but it's my prerogative I suppose. Their songs are rich and indulgent. I can't get enough.

Johnette plays the Napolitano!

You can go straight to my recipe below for Chocolate Espresso Napolitano Cake, or take a few minutes to watch an old SNL performance first.

I sure hope she likes chocolate and espresso. I never thought to ask. Cooks and bakers are strongly encouraged to listen to Concrete Blonde while following the recipe and eating the cake. Pair with Beaujolais, Champagne (or other sparkling wine), dry Sauternes, dry Gewurztraminer,
dry Rosé, dry Reisling, or Sauvignon Blanc (not a robust red, but not an overly sweet wine; I personally might go for a crisp white for contrast).

Chocolate Espresso "Napolitano" Cake:
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/3 cup cocoa powder (unsweetened)
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda
  • 1teaspoon salt
  • 1 pound (4 cups/8sticks) butter, unsalted, softened
  • 2 cups brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 7 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 4 oz dark chocolate, melted and cooled
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 3 cups buttermilk
  • 6-8 shots of espresso, or more depending on cake consistency, see below

Milk Chocolate Frosting:
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 2/3 cups confectioners sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 1/2 pounds (6 sticks/3 cups) butter, unsalted, cut into thumb-sized pieces, softened
  • 1 pound milk chocolate, gently melted
  • 4 oz dark chocolate, gently melted
Preheat oven to 350F. Grease and flour 4 9x2-inch cake pans, 3 10x2-inch cake pans, or 2 12x2-inch cake pans. Optionally, line with parchment rounds to minimize risk of sticking.

Sift together flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt in medium bowl. Whip butter and sugar in large bowl. Most people use an electric mixer for this, but I use a whisk and whip thoroughly, 3-5 minutes, until fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, thoroughly mixing each one into the batter before adding the next egg. Add chocolate and vanilla and mix until just combined. Add the flour mixture and the buttermilk alternately: flour, buttermilk, flour, buttermilk, flour.

Pour batter into cake pans, about 3/4 full, and bake 25-35 minutes, depending how thick, until a toothpick comes out clean.

Remove cakes from oven and cool 15 minutes. Slide a narrow knife around edges of each one, then flip them out onto racks to finish cooling.

Heat milk in medium saucepan over medium heat. Beat together yolks, flour, 2/3 cup of the confectioners sugar and pinch of salt in medium bowl. Add milk in a stream while whisking. Transfer mixture to saucepan and bring to boil over medium heat while whisking. Reduce heat and simmer while whisking for approximately 2 minutes while the custard thickens, then use a rubber spatula to pour it into large bowl. Cover the surface of custard with plastic to prevent it from developing a skin, and allow to cool completely. You can stir it occasionally and put it into the fridge to cool it faster.

Add vanilla and remaining confectioners sugar to custard mixture and whisk together until well-combined. Continue mixing while adding the butter in small portions, maybe 1/8 to 1/4 cup at a time. Add melted chocolate and continue mixing until well-combined.

Cut the rounded tops off the cakes with a long knife. Pour the espresso evenly across the cakes, until there is a little espresso in ever bite. Be careful not to over-soak any of the cake or it will turn to mush. Frost the cake. Serve with vanilla bean ice cream.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Savor or Sweet for Brunch? Both.

As seen at ChefsLine
12 Feb 2009

We’re lucky to have all weekend to plan a special surprise homemade meal for our lovers. As with every brunch decision - to be sweet or savory is the question. One solution is to go for both! And this weekend bonus chops go for serving the meal in bed. What follows are two of my favorite brunch dishes - each easy enough to prepare and enjoy in one sitting. You can even (secretly) plan ahead and make the Blueberry Compote and Maple Whipped Cream the night before.

· Crusty French Toast with Blueberry Compote and Maple Whipped Cream
· Savory “Polenta” Oatmeal with Peppered Bacon and an Egg

Crusty French Toast
This recipe is similar to standard French toast, but instead of dipping the bread into the egg mixture, you lightly spoon it onto each side, so that some of the edges are crunchy and the center doesn’t absorb too much liquid.
2 eggs
1 tbsp milk
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
4 slices artisan bread, brioche, or croissants - about 1 to 1 1/2 inches thick
2 tbsp. unsalted butter - cut in half
Heat oven to 200 degrees. In a pie plate, whip together eggs, milk, cinnamon, and salt. Place two slices of bread egg mixture and soak for 30 seconds. Spoon the egg mixture onto one side, spreading it around with the back of the spoon. Set aside.
Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add butter and swirl to coat and avoid burning. Place bread, soaked side down in skillet and cook about 2 - 3 minutes. Spoon the egg mixture onto the other side of the bread before turning (after bread turns golden) Place cooked toast on a plate and keep warm in the oven while you cook the remaining toast.

Blueberry Compote
This a quick and easy feature for brunch featuring a blueberry compote you can make the night before served over French toast. Note, a slightly sweet and open crumb bread such as brioche or Challah work best. Serves 2.
2 1/2 cups frozen blueberries, unthawed
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
1/2 tsp ground coriander seed
Combine 1 1/2 cups blueberries, sugar, water, and coriander in heavy small saucepan. Simmer over medium heat until berries burst, stirring often, about 15 minutes. Add remaining 1 cup berries. Cook until compote coats spoon, stirring often, about 3 minutes. (Can be made 3 days ahead. Cover and chill.) Serve warm.

Maple Whipped Cream
1 cup whipping cream
4 tsp maple syrup (use the real thing)
Chill a bowl and beaters in the refrigerator for at least an hour (this encourages the whipping process). Add cream to bowl and whip to soft peaks. While still beating, gradually add maple syrup and beat to stiff peaks. Store in bowl with plastic wrap on top to store overnight and whip briefly before serving.

Savory Polenta-Style Oatmeal
4-5 cups vegetable broth
1 1/2 cups steel-cut oats
salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup grated Parmigiana Reggiano
1 Tablespoon chopped sweet basil or other fresh herb.
Boil 4 cups of the broth in a medium saucepan. Add the oatmeal. Reduce heat and simmer gently for a bout 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the oats are tender, soft and creamy. Add more broth if necessary. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in cheese and basil, and ladle into bowls. Serve with peppered bacon and a fried egg (sunny side up) on top.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Ever-popular Pesto-Stuffed Chicken Breasts

If you have ever found yourself eating hors d'oeuvres at a high-end function, you may have noticed some version of these little guys being passed around. There’s a perfectly good reason for their popularity: they are absolutely delectable.

Whether you follow this recipe to the letter or borrow tidbits here and there, you will make a lot of friends with this low-carb, low-fat, easy-to-make classic. They are always a crowd favorite, whether as appetizers or as an entree, and appeal to just about every palate.

You can buy traditional pesto sauce in a jar, or make it from scratch:

Pesto alla Genovese

3 medium cloves garlic
3 cups fresh basil leaves
¾ cup fresh parsley leaves
3 tablespoons pine nuts
¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 ¼ cup Parmigiana Reggiano
Preheat the oven to 350F, and roast the pine nuts for 5 minutes, until golden brown (alternate method – toast the pine nuts in a sauté pan, but be very careful not to burn them).
Puree the garlic in a food processor, then add the pine nuts and herbs and spin them until just chopped. With the blades running, slowly add the olive oil in a thin stream.
Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator until ready to use. May be made up to a week ahead of time. When ready to use, add the cheese and process until well mixed.

Pesto-Stuffed Chicken Breasts


2 sticks (1 cup) butter (roughly)

1/3 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted (see above)

2 bunches of spinach, cleaned and stems removed

4-5 shallots, finely chopped

¾ cup ricotta cheese

2 egg yolks

¼ teaspoon ground pepper

5-6 thin slices of prosciutto, cut in half

5-6 whole boneless chicken breasts, cut in half and flattened out¼ cup lemon juice


Preheat the oven to 375F. Line the bottom of a baking pan with butter and set aside.

Steam the spinach for 1-3 minutes. You can easily do this by tossing the freshly rinsed spinach into a large pan, covering and heating over medium heat. Then remove the pan from the heat and add ice water to shock the spinach and stop it from continuing to cook. Wring the spinach dry with a clean towel and chop medium-fine.

Put a little butter and the shallots into a sauté pan and cook over medium heat until translucent.

Combine the spinach, shallots, pine nuts, ricotta cheese, pesto sauce egg yolks, pepper and ¼ cup of butter in a large bowl, and taste for seasoning. Place a piece of prosciutto on each breast, then spread the pesto mixture evenly over each breast. Fold each breast over in half and place in the baking dish.

Mix together the lemon juice with an equal portion of melted butter, and baste over each breast. Put the baking pan in the oven and bake for 30 minutes, basting occasionally with the juices that drip into the pan.

When it’s done, allow to set for 5-10 minutes. Then cut each breast on a bias into ½-inch pieces and serve, either as an entrée or on a platter as an hors d'oeuvre. You can stick a toothpick into each piece to hold it together.

The Perfect 3-Act Omelet

as seen at ChefsLine, the Culinary Hotline

With the end of winter come the first of the new year’s sun-fortified flavors, and what better way to showcase them than with that deconstructed designer dish, the omelet? They’re easy, quick, and low-carb/low-fat. No need for a recipe here (although I included one below anyway), just a few tips to help get the best effect out of your eggs and spring ingredients with notes.

Act 1: Mis en place. Meaning, prep everything you will need for the omelet. Once the eggs go into the pan things move pretty fast so advance prep is key. Your tasks include: beat together eggs and milk or cream. Notes: Beat thoroughly for fluffier omelets. And, don’t add salt yet – it makes the eggs chewy. Chop vegetables into a small dice. Grate the cheese. Slice fish if you are using any. Assemble tools: two sauté pans (or one and a steamer), a sharp knife, a cutting board, and a heat-resistant rubber spatula.

Act 2: Steam or sauté your veggies. While steaming, also include your choice of fresh herbs, salt and fresh ground pepper. If you are incorporating fresh fish, let the other ingredients cook half way before introducing it to heat, since it will cook very fast. If you are using mushrooms (which I happen to love), go ahead and sauté them thoroughly to really bring out their distinct flavors. If you are using spinach, wait until the last second to add it in with your other vegetables. Leave avocados raw.

Act 3: Build an omelet. First, drop some extra virgin olive oil into a small sauté pan over medium heat, making sure it gets spread evenly across the whole pan. Ladle in some of the egg batter, depending on how large you want the omelet to be (less is more). Carefully tilt the pan into circles over the flame so that the eggs spread and cook evenly and slowly. Using a rubber spatula, you can poke the egg so that runny parts cook faster or to pull the egg from the sides of the pan. Gently lift slower cooking bits of egg to ensure it all cooks evenly. Your omelet is ready for the additional ingredients when the egg still appears liquid on the top of the omelet.

Sprinkle grated cheese over one half of the eggs, following with the still-warm spring vegetables, just enough to cover one half side of the omelet. Note: if you are using fish you may not want to use cheese. Using your spatula, carefully fold the empty half of the omelet over the over vegetable side. Heat through and plate it up! Garnish your dish with fresh herbs, tomatoes, pepper flakes, grated or crumbled cheese, cucumbers, melon, scallions or chives, sour cream, and/or hot sauce.

Other choice spring omelet ingredients include: most fresh herbs, mushrooms, artichokes, arugula, asparagus, avocados, bell peppers, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, chives, corn, eggplant, green onions, leeks, peas, zucchini, summer squash, spinach, mussels, oysters, cod, flounder, halibut, salmon, sole, and trout.

Chef Adam’s Salmon Omelet Recipe:

3 eggs
1 teaspoon chopped fresh tarragon
1/8 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons butter
8 ounces fresh salmon
1/4 cup chopped morel mushrooms
salt and pepper to taste

Thoroughly whisk the eggs, sour cream, tarragon and a little pepper (no salt yet).
Sprinkle the salmon fillets with salt and pepper. Heat a saute pan over high heat and add a little olive oil. When the oil starts to smoke a little, add the salmon and let sear for about two minutes on each side. Remove from heat and set aside.

Lower the heat to medium and add a little more oil and the morels, and cook for about 5 minutes, until the mushroom aroma becomes pronounced (other mushrooms ought to be more well-done to bring out their flavor, but morels are delicate and can burn fairly easily). The mushrooms and salmon can be done ahead, so that the omelet is much easier, quicker and more convenient to make for brunch.

Preheat a new saute pan over medium heat (a clean pan will prevent the eggs from sticking), add the butter, and spread it around with a spatula (I like to use a heat-resistant rubber spatula) for an even coating. Pour the egg mixture into the pan and, holding the pan over the flame, tilt the pan in circles to cook the eggs evenly. You can move the uncooked portions of egg around with the spatula to help them cook evenly. Add the salmon and mushrooms, positioning them over one half of the eggs. Carefully fold the other side over and turn the omelet out onto a plate. Garnish with sour cream and chives.

Eat It!