Monday, April 26, 2010

CINCO DE MAYO-May 5


I love Mexican food with the regional flavors, styles of cooking and varied ingredients. When I started keeping kosher, I didn't want to give up one of my favorite cuisines-so I learned to cook it at home. Once you understand the fundamentals of real Mexican food with its vast array of ingredients and layering of flavors-it becomes easy to experiment and explore the many regions.
This is not the Mexican food of many American Mexican style restaurants with cheese covering the plate and sauces out of a jar. This is the real deal. It is complex and delicious. It is also intricate and requires some organization. The payoff is in the flavor and "wow" factor. I make extra sauce and freeze it. That way I can pull out sauce and have a meal in minutes.



MOLE POBLANO
If you have never tried a mole, now is the time. The complex, layered flavors and fragrant spices, earthy chiles, and velvety chocolate can bring any main course to life. Making a mole will also test any cooks mettle; it requires organization, timing, and several cooking methods. But trust me; this heavenly sauce is worth the trouble. I often crave slow-cooked sauces with layer upon layer of flavor. This sauce is an example of the type of flavors I long for. So I get myself organized and dig in. Once all of the ingredients are prepped, the slow cooker will do the rest.
I make this sauce so often I can do it in my sleep. I always find my ingredients at Latin markets. Recently I noticed that my local organic grocery store started carrying large quantities of chiles and other Latin ingredients. The chiles are usually packaged in large bags. “Fresh” dried chiles should be soft and very pliable, like a raisin with a deep color. They should smell very earthy. The chiles in this recipe are not spicy hot, but have a complex, rich, sweet-zippy flavor.
A deep-fry or candy thermometer will help you for this recipe. The mole can be stored, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 5 days, or frozen for up to 3 months.


8 dried ancho chiles
15 dried mulato chiles
Neutral-flavored oil such as canola
1/2 cup raw unblanched almonds
1/2 cup dark raisins
1/2 cup pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
2 corn tortillas
2 slices of stale white bread (leftover challah works nicely)
1 medium Spanish onion, chopped
6 garlic cloves, chopped
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1 avocado leaf (can be found in Latin markets)
One 3-inch stick cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/4 teaspoon anise seeds
2 cups drained canned whole peeled plum tomatoes
8 cups Chicken Stock or Turkey Stock, or Vegetable Stock
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate such as Callebaut, grated or finely chopped
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup sugar
1. Line a sheet pan with several layers of paper towels or with clean brown paper bags. Stem and seed the chiles. Reserve the seeds; you will need 1/4 cup.
2. Heat at least 2 inches of oil in a large heavy saucepan or Dutch oven to 350 degrees. Fry the chiles in small batches until they have darkened, about 10 seconds. Remove the chiles with a wire skimmer and drain them on the sheet pan. Set aside the pan with the oil. After the chiles have cooled, place them in a large bowl, cover with water, and soak until they have softened, about 1 hour.
3. While the chiles are soaking, bring the oil back up to 350 degrees. Fry the almonds until they are browned, about 1 minute. Remove with the wire skimmer and place on the sheet pan to drain. Fry the raisins until they are puffed, about 30 seconds. Remove with the wire skimmer and place on the sheet pan to drain. Fry the pepitas until they begin to pop, about 20 seconds. Remove with the wire skimmer and place on the sheet pan to drain. Fry the tortillas and bread until they are both browned and crispy, about 1 minute. Remove with the wire skimmer and place on the sheet pan to drain. Add the onion and garlic and fry until browned, about 3 minutes. Pour the onion mixture and oil through a fine-mesh strainer into a heatproof container. Set aside the onions. Let the oil cool completely and discard it. Wipe out the pan and set it aside for later.
4. In a small dry sauté pan over medium-high heat, toast the reserved chile seeds until they are very fragrant and have darkened, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the seeds to a plate to cool. Toast the sesame seeds until browned, about 1 minute. Transfer to the plate to cool. Toast the avocado leaf, cinnamon stick, peppercorns, and coriander and anise seeds until fragrant and lightly colored, about 3 minutes. Transfer to the plate to cool. Process all the toasted ingredients in a spice grinder or coffee grinder until finely ground.
5. Remove the chiles from the water and reserve the water. Combine the chiles, almonds, raisins, pepitas, tortillas, bread, onion-garlic mixture, ground spice, and tomatoes in a large bowl. Puree the ingredients in small batches in a blender or food processor. (You may need to break up the tortillas and bread into smaller pieces first.) Use the reserved chile soaking liquid as necessary to help puree the mix.
6. Pass the puree through a fine-mesh strainer or food mill. (This ensures a velvety mole.)
7. Place the saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Lightly coat the bottom with oil. Lightly brown the paste. Transfer the paste to the insert of a 6 1/2-quart slow cooker. Stir in the stock, chocolate, salt, pepper, and sugar.
8. Cover and cook on High for 4 hours. Adjust the seasoning with salt, pepper, and sugar.


For the Turkey
Olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
One 4- to 5-pound skin-on boneless turkey breast, cut in half along the breastbone
3 to 4 cups Mole Poblano (see above)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Preheat a 6 1/2-quart slow cooker to Low.
2. Place a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Lightly coat the bottom of the pan with oil. Salt and pepper the turkey breast. Brown the breast halves one at a time on the skin side until the skin is deeply browned and crispy, about 10 minutes. Transfer the breast halves to the slow cooker insert.
3. Add the mole poblano. Cover and cook on Low for 4 to 5 hours, depending upon how much the turkey breast weighed. The larger the breast, the longer it will take; 5 hours is for a large breast.
3. Remove the turkey breast halves from the slow cooker. Slice crosswise with a very sharp knife. Place the slices on a platter and ladle the sauce over the turkey. Garnish with sesame seeds, chopped parsley, and cilantro. Serve the turkey with your choice of accompaniments.

Monday, April 19, 2010

WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE....


Salmon

I am passionate about salmon. I could eat salmon almost everyday. Sometimes I actually do eat it everyday. I love the bright color and have been known to gather the staff around to admire an especially beautiful filet. I am not sure they share my enthusiasm, and I am positive they don’t think that it looks like jewelry. The most exciting time of year for me is when the wild Alaskan salmon season officially opens in April. The fish come in smelling faintly of the sea. Their soft flesh ranges in color from an off white for the Ivory Kings to a brick red for the Copper River, Sock-eyes and other varieties. Most of the salmon that we eat comes from Alaska. Among the best are the Chinook or wild kings (my personal favorite), the Copper River, Coho and Sock-eyes. Recently, there has been some controversy over the farmed salmon. I find that the farmed fish do not have the same texture and flavor nuances as the wild fishes. When the wild salmon season is over, I do not even bother with the farmed stuff.

Salmon is such a versatile fish that lends itself to many preparations. My favorite method of cooking salmon is to start with 1 inch or thicker fresh skinned filet. I salt and pepper the non-skin side of the fish . Sometimes, I will ad some finely chopped herbs or dried mushroom “dust” to the non-skin side. . I heat up my pan to a nice medium-high heat. I lightly coat the bottom of the pan and place the non-skin side down in the pan. Now, comes the hard part. You cannot touch the fish until a crispy crust has formed. If you try to move the fish, the fish may stick to the pan and will mar the presentation and crust. The way to tell if it is ready is to “peek” at the edges and to see if they are lightly browned and crispy looking (about 3-4 minutes). You can do all of this without touching the fish. Gently turn the fish over and turn off the heat. The fish will finish cooking all by itself. In another 5 minutes the fish will be perfectly cooked. If you don’t want to eat it immediately, I recommend removing the salmon from the pan and placing it in an oven proof dish. The salmon can held in this manner for several hours until you want to finish cooking it in an 400 degree oven.

Salmon is perfect as an appetizer, a soup, hors d’oeuvres, as a main course and even as a quick bite. To get the true enjoyment of the fish, make friends with a reliable fishmonger. This person will sell you the highest quality fresh salmon on the market. Ask to smell “your” fish. Make sure the salmon has a clean and fresh smell. It should not have a dry appearance and may look slightly moist or oily. To store the salmon at home, handle the fish as little as possible. Wrap it up tightly in plastic wrap or a zip-loc bag. Place the wrapped fish on a bed of ice and place it in the coldest part of your refrigerator. Use the fish within a day or two of purchase.

I look forward to spring for many reasons. The salmon season is for sure one of my favorites.



Wild Alaskan Salmon

I wait every year for the salmon season to open. You need only a quick glance to see how beautiful and different this fish is from its farmed counterpart. It is a deep, rich brick-orange color. The fat is evenly running through the flesh and the smell is like sea air. This is the way salmon is supposed to be.

4 servings

4 6-ounce Wild salmon filets, skin off
1 tablespoon chopped flat leaf parsley
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
2 teaspoons chopped fresh chives
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

1. Pat dry the salmon filets. Combine the fresh herbs in a bowl. Press the herbs on to the “presentation “side of the salmon (non-skin side). Salt and pepper the fish on both sides.
2. Place a large sauté pan over medium high heat. Lightly coat the bottom of the pan with olive oil. Place the salmon filets, presentation side down, in the pan. Here is the hard part-Don’t touch the fish for at least 3-5 minutes until the fish has browned and is not sticking to the pan. If it sticks, it has not browned enough. The browned fish will be crispy and firm and will loosen itself from the pan.
3. Turn the fish over and turn off the heat. Cover the pan and the fish will continue to cook for 3 more minutes. Your fish will be perfect medium rare. If you want it well done (I don’t recommend it) keep the heat on a bit longer and cook the fish until it is firm when lightly squeezed on the sides of the filet.

English Pea Risotto

This bright green risotto is the perfect compliment to the first of the season salmon. The peas are sweet and delicious.

2 cups shelled English peas or frozen Petit peas
½ cup heavy cream
Olive oil
2 cups vegetable stock or water

1 Shallot, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 cup Arborio rice
½ cup white wine
½ cup heavy cream for the risotto
¼ cup chopped flat leaf parsley
1 teaspoon chopped thyme
1 teaspoon chopped mint



1. Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil. Cook the English peas until they are cooked through (about 8 minutes). Place the cooked peas in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process and keep the peas green.
2. Drain the peas and place in a medium mixing bowl. Puree the peas in a blender of with an immersion blender with the heavy cream Salt and pepper to taste.
3. Place a medium sauce pan over medium high heat and bring the vegetable stock to a simmer.
4. Place a medium sauté pan over medium heat. Lightly coat the bottom of the pan with olive oil. Add the shallot and garlic and sweat for several minutes until they are very soft but not browned. Add the Arborio rice and stir until each grain of rice is coated with the olive oil. Add the white wine.
5. Increase the heat and allow the wine to simmer for several minutes. Add the hot stock or water into the rice by ladlefuls. Stir with each addition of stock before adding another. Continue until the liquid is completely added to the rice and the rice is soft and creamy but remains al dente.
6. Stir in the remaining heavy cream. Remove from the heat and stir in the pea puree. Adjust seasoning and sprinkle with herbs.

Brown Butter

I love serving browned butter with salmon. The sweet, nutty flavor of the butter compliments the fresh salmon perfectly. Simple and amazing

4 ounces unsalted butter

1. Place the butter in a small saucepan over medium high heat. Cook the butter until it has turned a medium golden brown and is very fragrant (about 10 minutes). Drizzle the brown butter over the fish and risotto.

Monday, April 12, 2010

UNBURDENED

I think we are supposed to end Passover feeling unburdened and brand new. I feel neither. Do not get me wrong-I had a great Pesach. The weather was amazing for Chicago in March/early April and we were able to get outside and take walks. We ate great food and enjoyed some fun family time. But I have this nagging feeling that I did not do the holiday the way I should have.

Sure, I cleaned my home and scrubbed my kitchen-even to the extent of getting on a ladder and wiping lighting fixtures. I cooked chametz free springy menus that were tasty and festive. And yet-I have some remorse.

Over the years I have collected pots, pans, dishes and serving pieces just for Pesach. But, I guess I did not amass enough. I still found myself reaching for the convenient stack of foil pans and lids, disposable trays and dare I say it….plastic plates. UGH! I feel horrible and typing this makes it even worse. Since when did Pesach become a disposable holiday?

You see, I am a person that feels that once you know something to be true; you must change your behavior. If you know that using disposables that include plastic, foil and foam are bad for the environment then it is your obligation to stop using them. I believe that and still I found myself knee deep in side dishes that required platters and cookware that I did not own. Instead of changing my menus-I went for it anyway.
Passover is supposed to be a holiday of not just cleansing your home but also your soul. We want to leave our former self and be unburdened and unencumbered of things that are both tangible and intangible.
So, here I am resolving how I am going to do it better next year-starting now.

I am a chef that is known for not using faux ingredients with a take no prisoners approach on seasonal produce and farmed fish. I eagerly shop the Green Market and have my favorite farmers that do not spray their produce. I turn my nose up at kosher foods that mimic non-kosher items at the expense of integrity of ingredients. So, what am I going to do to appease my own guilt for my reckless use of disposables?
With EARTH DAY about one week away (April 22) I made some resolutions for myself.
• I will no longer purchase flowers for myself or anyone else that have been sprayed (OY!-I did send a flower arrangement during the chag). Flowers grown without pesticides and herbicides are better for the environment and for the recipient of the flowers-who wants all those chemicals in your home?
• No more disposables that harm the environment. Any disposables I need can be found in an expensive but earth saving bamboo product-better yet, I will use what I already own. Even eco-shopping is shopping and still has an impact on the planet
• Less meat consumption. I eat a lot of meat. What can I say-I am a chef and I know how to make it taste good-really good! But, methane is produced by all those scrumptious farm animals and is a big No-No for the environment.
• I am going to cut out my favorite bottled Italian sparkling water and let my tap flow. This will be tough-I love those bubbles. So refreshing! But tap water with sliced cucumbers and fresh mint is lovely too.
• I am going to do some foraging this spring. It is ramp season in Illinois. Ramps are wild leeks and are pungently delicious sautéed in butter and tossed with pasta.
• I am ending this unburdening session with a Pasta Primavera recipe. This recipe is written to include only vegetables that are new to the season,I have not included any out of season vegetables like late summer zucchini and red peppers-just new spring produce; which is what the dish is supposed to be.

These are some of the new steps I am going to take to rid myself of my frivolous use of resources. Maybe there is something in this list you can do or perhaps you have your list and would like to share? Let me know-I am all ears.

Truly Pasta Primavera

1 pound whole wheat penne
1 pound fresh fava beans, shelled and skin removed* and blanched and shocked (see below)
¼ pound fresh morel mushrooms, cut in half
2 baby leeks or ramps (if available), sliced thinly
1 clove garlic, minced
½ pound fresh English peas, shelled and blanched and shocked (see below)
1 cup ricotta cheese
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Salt and Pepper
Parmesan cheese for garnish


1. Bring a large saucepan or stockpot of salted water to the boil. Cook the pasta until it is al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving about 1 cup of the pasta water, and transfer the pasta to a large mixing bowl.
2. Heat a small sauté pan, lightly coated with olive oil, over medium heat and sauté the morel mushrooms until they are browned and lightly crisped at the edges. Add the leeks or ramps and continue sautéing until the leeks or ramps are lightly browned (about 3 minutes). Add the garlic and sauté for another 2 minutes until the garlic has softened.
3. Toss the ingredients with the cooked pasta adding the pasta water if needed to thin out the cheese and form a sauce.
4. Season to taste with salt and freshly cracked pepper.

*Fava beans are relatively new to the US produce market. They are plump and slightly nutty flavored green shelling beans. Typically found in Italian cuisine-they are a real springtime treat. They are a bit of culinary task though.
• Open the pod that the favas grow in and pull out the beans. Bring a medium pot of water to the boil. Blanch the fava beans in the boiling water for about 3 minutes. While the beans are blanching-place a colander in a bowl filled with ice water. When the beans are blanched. Strain the beans from the boiling water and plunge them into the ice water. This is called “shocking”. The ice water will stop the cooking process and set chlorophyll which makes the beans bright green.
• Now, you can gently peel off the skin that is on the beans and reveal their tender deliciousness. The beans are now ready to eat.

Friday, April 9, 2010

JUST RIGHT FOR SPRING


Roasted Asparagus Lasagna with Goat Cheese

The light flavors of asparagus and goat cheese practically scream SPRING and since we are now done with Passover, I don’t know about you but I am craving pasta.
This is a great do ahead dish. The whole thing can be assembled a day or two before serving and then popped into the oven for a lovely spring dinner or light lunch. I like lasagna, but I occasionally need a change from the usual tomato concoction. This version is bursting with caramelized asparagus, lemon and goat cheese. Serve it with a salad and some crusty bread and you a have a great spring meal.

1 pound lasagna pasta (I like the whole wheat pasta available at most markets)
2 pounds fresh asparagus-stem end trimmed and stalks cut into1 ½ inch pieces
Extra Virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups 2% milk
4 ounces goat cheese
Zest of 2 lemons


Pre –heat broiler to high.
1. Place a large stockpot over high heat and cook lasagna pasta until it is al dente. Drain and toss with olive oil to prevent pasta from sticking.

2. Toss the asparagus pieces with salt and pepper and Extra Virgin olive oil. Place on a broiler proof pan and cook until caramelized and lightly browned (about 5-7 minutes). Be sure to turn the asparagus frequently so that it is evenly golden brown. Remove from the broiler and set aside.
3. Place a medium sauté pan over medium heat. Melt the butter and whisk the flour in to milk. Stir the mixture to cook out the raw flour taste (about 1 minute.) Add the milk at once and whisk constantly. The mixture will thicken when the milk reaches a boil. When the mixture reaches a boil, remove from the heat and stir in the goat cheese and lemon zest. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.

4. Preheat oven to 350. Layer the pasta in a casserole. Scatter 1/3 of the asparagus at the bottom of the pasta. Pour 1/3 of the cheese sauce over the asparagus. Repeat the layering process until you have 3 layers. Finish with the cheese sauce. Sprinkle the parmesan cheese over the top. The lasagna can be kept covered in the refrigerator for 2 days before baking.
5. To bake, lightly cover the lasagna with aluminum foil and bake for 45 minutes. Remove the foil and bake an additional 15 minutes until golden brown. Allow to set up before slicing.