Sunday, August 22, 2010

BESTIES, BFF'S, COMBOS

Classic food pairings are like best friends. Meat and potatoes, spaghetti and meatballs, red beans and rice, chocolate and raspberries, tomatoes and basil …I could go on forever. These classic combos enhance and play off each other on your palate often teasing you into wanting more. Ah, tongue titillating bliss.

As a chef, I often wonder how these food unions are born. Who thought of the bistro menu BFF’s of steak and frites or the Italian combo of sausage and peppers? Was there some culinary deity who deemed that for all of gastronomic eternity we shall eat and love peaches and cream?

Sometimes I like to push the envelope and come up with my own blends. But I am always careful. It’s like wearing jewelry. There is a fine line and one piece of bling too many between chic and trashy.

I have seen a lot of menu train-wrecks from chefs and many of them from TV food personalities trying to be oh so au courant. Before you dip your toe into the menu writing waters you need to look at the highlight of the menu and then pick items that are seasonal, regional and complimentary, not items that are fighting for attention and blowing each other away in your mouth. Maybe there was a culinary deity and the classic pairings are truly heavenly.

Recently, there was a bit of a scuffle regarding our President and a corned beef sandwich with dare I say it-Mayo!
Let’s skip over the part that he actually went to a corporate deli that had practically eaten alive the as David Sax put it in SAVE THE DELI “revered Jewish deli institution” of Rascal House, I could rant about that forever-seriously Mr. President?, but that a classic Jewish amalgamation of Corned Beef and mustard on Rye was violated in a most sacrilegious way. Don’t you know Mr. President that when someone orders a corned beef sandwich with mayonnaise-somewhere a Jew dies?

It turns out the shanda sandwich was actually for a congressman and not for the President. Seems that Mayo-gate is not so bad after all. Or is it? Jew or not-President or not, I am a chef and am really, really upset.

I personally have “freaked out” at customers when asked for a side of white rice to go with a steak. Come on-a steak crackling and sizzling right off the grill is screaming for a potato of some kind. And some crispy, salty onions too!
There was the time a local and regular customer asked for ketchup to go with his Boeuf Bourguignon. After I beheaded the poor innocent waiter for asking for the offending item-I tongue lashed the customer and then cried in the cooler. The Humanity!

Why, if I were behind the counter at the corporate deli-President or not, I would have advised him of the sandwich snafu. You cannot just go around doing things like that. It is as weird as clashing colors or atonal music. It’s not natural. It’s not right.

The point here is that some things are meant to go together. It’s natural. We should celebrate and enjoy classic combinations. And if you cannot-at least get the mayo on the side.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

YOU SAY GRANITA-I SAY GRANITE





Duo of Watermelon Granites

Prowl the farmers market and you will find different colors and varieties of watermelon. There is nothing more refreshing than a slice of cold watermelon-except for these simple and quick watermelon ices.I love the color and fragrance of these granites (French) or granitas (Italian). A granite is really a flavored ice that has been stirred frequently during the freezing process to yield a coarse crystal. The general rule is 4 parts liquid to 1 part sugar. Feel free to add just a splash of vodka or other favorite liquor and fresh herbs for an Iron Chefesque touch. If the mixture sits for several days in the freezer and becomes too hard, simply thaw it completely and refreeze it.

Red Seedless Watermelon Granite

4 cups of red seedless watermelon-cut into large chunks
1 cup sugar
½ teaspoon lemon juice
¼ cup chopped fresh mint, basil, thyme or other favorite herb (optional)

1. Process the melon, sugar and lemon juice in a blender or food processor until completely smooth and combined
2. Place the mixture in a shallow pan in the freezer
3. Every hour or so, scrape the granite with a fork to form loose coarse crystals.
4. Serve in chilled dessert or martini glasses with golden seedless watermelon granite (optional)
5. Garnish with chopped mint, cut up fruit such as kiwi, berries, melon or cucumbers (optional)

Golden or Yellow Seedless Watermelon


4 cups of golden or yellow seedless watermelon-cut into large chunks
1 cup sugar
½ teaspoon lemon juice
¼ cup chopped fresh mint, basil, thyme or other favorite herb(optional)


1. Process the melon, sugar and lemon juice in a blender or food processor until completely smooth and combined
2. Place the mixture in a shallow pan in the freezer
3. Every hour or so, scrape the granite with a fork to form loose coarse crystals.
4. Serve in chilled dessert or martini glasses with red seedless watermelon granite (optional)
5. Garnish with chopped mint, cut up fruit or heirloom tomato salad (optional)

Friday, August 6, 2010

CORN IS AS HIGH AS AN ELEPHANT’S EYE





Corn 101

I eat corn only during the month of August. It is not that I do not like corn-it is that I only like it when it is fresh off the stalk and locally grown. There is nothing like corn that is sweet, firm and tasting of sunshine. Frozen corn tastes like….well, nothing and corn shipped out of season from wherever you live just doesn’t cut it either. I also only eat corn from a farmer I trust. I do not want the mass produced over sprayed and GMO stuff. I want real corn-the way nature intended it.

The best place to purchase corn is from a farmer’s market where it is picked that day. Peel back some of husk to expose the kernels. The kernels should be pale yellow and/or white and very plump. The husk should be fresh looking with the corn silk being very soft and pliable. Using your thumb nail, poke an end kernel. It should squirt forth milky white sap. Under ripe corn will contain a watery liquid; overripe corn will have a tough skinned kernel with doughy interiors.

The period of peak freshness for sweet corn is measured in minutes not hours or days. The best corn is simply the freshest corn. Storing sweet corn for long periods of time will destroy it. The sugar quickly turns to starch, losing flavor, quality and most of all sweetness. If you must store sweet corn, use perforated plastic bags and get it into the refrigerator as soon as possible. Warm temperatures hasten the conversion process. Try to use the corn within 1 to 2 days and do not husk until just prior to cooking. So basically you are running to the famer’s market, rushing home and cooking corn all within minutes of the corn having been picked.
That means planning ahead. When the CORN IS AS HIGH AS AN ELEPHANT’S EYE (Oklahoma-Rodgers and Hammerstein) it is time to pull out your favorite corn recipes. Here are a few to get you started.

Grilled Corn with Lime and Chipotle Aioli

Simple and delicious. Don’t worry about looking messy while eating corn on the cob. Once the corn is cooked, cut the cob into 2-3 inch rounds (use a heavy duty knife) and serve on a platter, lightly drizzled with aioli and extra lime wedges.

6 very fresh ears of corn
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Juice of 2 limes plus 1 whole lime cut into wedges
1 chipotle chile from canned chipotle in adobo, chopped finely (commonly found in most grocery stores)
½ cup homemade aioli or store bought
Kosher salt and pepper


1. Heat a grill or grill pan to medium. Peel back the corn husk but leave it attached. Strip off the corn silk and discard. Brush the corn with olive oil and place on the grill. Grill the corn until the kernels are lightly browned and are easily pierced with a sharp knife.
2. Whisk the aioli, chipotle and lime juice together in a small bowl.
3. Cut the ears of corn into 2 inch rounds. Drizzle with the aioli and serve with additional lime wedges.







Corn Chowder

1 red onion, diced
2 garlic cloves finely minced
1 roasted red pepper
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
Olive oil
6 ears fresh sweet corn
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
Salt and pepper
Suggested garnishes: cheddar cheese (if serving dairy), smoked salmon, chopped scallions, fresh cilantro

1. Place the onion, garlic and roasted pepper in a food processor and process until coarsely ground.
2. Heat a large sauté pan lightly coated with olive oil over medium heat. Add the sofrito (ground vegetables) and the smoked paprika. Cook the mixture until it most of the water had cooked out of it and the flavors are very concentrated.
3. Place a small bowl turned upside down in a larger bowl. Place an ear of corn on top of the upside down bowl and using a knife, scrape down the kernels into the larger bowl. Be sure to scrape the ear of corn firmly to get all of the corn “milk” out.
4. Add the corn to the sofrito. Add the stock and reduce the heat to medium low. Cook until the corn is cooked through. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve the corn chowder hot or cold. The soup can be stored, covered in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.