Wednesday, June 22, 2011

THESE ARE A FEW OF MY FAVORITE THINGS


Stuffed Zucchini Blossoms

Once a year, there is a rare opportunity to take advantage of a culinary delight. Zucchini blossoms are gorgeous yellow/orange flowers that resemble a lily. Most gardeners just ignore the blossom while waiting for the zucchini to grow and then harvest it. I, however, look forward to the blossoms and each year scheme to find them. I haunt the farmer’s markets and neighbors gardens waiting to scoop up the brightly colored treasures. Several years ago, I grew zucchini just to get at the blossoms.
The blossoms taste like “Garden Perfume”. The flowers have a fruity fragrance that is delicate and addicting!
The female flower is a golden blossom on the end of each emergent zucchini. The male flower grows directly on the stem of the zucchini plant in the leaf axils (where leaf petiole meets stem), on a long stalk, and is slightly smaller than the female. Both flowers are edible, and are often used to dress a meal or garnish the cooked fruit.
Firm and fresh blossoms that are only slightly open are cooked to be eaten, with pistils removed from female flowers, and stamens removed from male flowers. The stem on the flowers can be retained as a way of giving the cook something to hold onto during cooking, rather than injuring the delicate petals, or they can be removed prior to cooking, or prior to serving. There are a variety of recipes in which the flowers may be deep fried as fritters or tempura (after dipping in a light tempura batter), stuffed, sautéed, baked, or used in soups.
Once you try Zucchini Blossom, you will find yourself plotting ways to get more of these rare delicacies.
Zucchini Blossoms only appear when the plants are immature, usually in the early summer. I like my blossoms tempura battered and fried but also serve them stuffed with cheeses, fried and served with a fresh basil/tomato sauce.

Fried Zucchini Blossom Batter

1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup rice flour
¾ cup club soda
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
12 zucchini blossoms, washed and dried
1. Place a large bowl with ice a small amount of water in it. Place a smaller bowl in the ice water and whisk together the tempura batter.
2. Heat a medium sauté pan with 1 inch of extra virgin olive oil in it over medium high heat.
3. Dip the blossoms into the batter and allow the excess batter to drip off. When the oil is at 350 degrees, gently place the dipped blossom into the batter and fry it until it is crispy and golden brown (about 1-2 minutes). Turn the blossom and fry the other side. Transfer the blossom to a paper towel lined baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and serve.

Stuffed Zucchini Blossoms
1 recipe tempura batter (see above)
¼ cup grated mozzarella cheese
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
¼ cup cream cheese, softened at room temperature
12 zucchini blossoms

1. Whisk the batter together over ice water and keep cold.
2. Mix the cheeses together.
3. Gently open a zucchini blossom and remove the stamen or pistil. Take a pinch of cheese and stuff it into the cavity of the blossom. Pull the flower petals back together and set aside.
4. Continue stuffing all of the blossoms with the cheese mixture.
5. Heat a medium sauté pan with 1 inch of extra virgin olive oil in it over medium high heat.
6. Dip the blossoms into the batter and allow the excess batter to drip off. When the oil is at 350 degrees, gently place the dipped blossom into the batter and fry it until it is crispy and golden brown (about 1-2 minutes). Turn the blossom and fry the other side. Transfer the blossom to a paper towel lined baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and serve with favorite tomato sauce or use as garnish for gazpacho.

GRILLING TIME

A Better Grilled Chicken

I love grilled chicken. It seems sort of simple and mundane, but when you prepare the humble bird my favorite way, it is explosive with juiciness, flavor and pizzazz.
Whole Roasted Chicken goes with everything. It is the Little Black Dress of the food world! Juicy, moist and with big flavor. It just doesn’t get any better than that. But, roasting a whole chicken in the summer is kind of a letdown for me. The oven heats up the house, the chicken is delicious but lacking in the summer Je ne sais quoi. The outdoors beckons in the summer. I want to be outside communing with my garden, my view of the sunset and a glass of wine with my grill.
Most people destroy their chicken on the grill. They over cook it, the flames are too high or they try to grill boneless, skinless chicken and wonder why their entire dinner stuck to the grill.
My favorite technique for grilling chicken is called Spatchcocking. The back bone and sternum are cut out of the chicken and then the chicken is flattened by just pressing on it. The result is a moist bird that is easy to marinate, easy to grill because it cooks evenly and makes a great presentation.
The flattened bird still has that moist juiciness that usually comes only with a whole roasted chicken and makes having roasted chicken a weeknight possibility. The whole bird cooks in about 30 minutes. Normally a whole roasted chicken takes over an hour to cook.
While spatchcocking sounds funny and complicated, it is actually very easy, but still funny sounding! All you need are good sturdy kitchen shears.
Place the chicken breast side down on a sturdy cutting board. I like to put a couple of paper towels under the chicken so it does not slide while I am cutting it.
Cut along the either side of the backbone from the neck to the tail. Remove the back bone and spread open the chicken. Cut a small slit in the cartilage along the breast bone. With both hands, crack open the chicken by opening it like a book.
This will reveal the keel bone, (cartilage that runs in the middle of the breast). Pull up on the keel bone to remove it. The chicken is now ready to grill. This whole procedure is very simple, only involves cutting one bone and should only take a couple of minutes.

Grilled Whole Chicken
For the marinade
3 garlic cloves, crushed
2 shallots, grated on microplane
1 rosemary sprig
Several thyme sprigs
Juice and zest of 2 lemons
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons pimenton* (smoked paprika)
Kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper
1 whole chicken, about 3 ½ pounds, spatchcocked
1. Place all of the ingredients for the marinade in container that can accommodate the chicken. Place the chicken in the marinade and rub the marinade all over the chicken. Marinate for at least 2 hours.
2. Preheat grill or grill pan to medium. Remove the chicken from the marinade and discard the marinade.
3. Place the chicken, skin-side down on the grill. Cook on the skin side until the skin is golden brown, about 12 minutes. Turn the chicken over and continue grilling until a thermometer inserted in the thigh registers 165, about 15 minutes.
4. Transfer the chicken to a platter and lightly cover with foil to rest for 10 minutes.
5. Cut the chicken into quarters or halves. Serve hot or cold.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

FIGS





One of my favorite fruits is just coming into season in the United States and Israel. Figs are one of the earliest cultivated plants with fossils found dating back to Neolithic times. Cultivation of figs predates barley, wheat and legumes. High in calcium, flavenoids and fiber, figs are not only super good for you but are also versatile and can be eaten fresh or dried.

Figs are grown throughout the Mediterranean, Mexico, South America and South Africa with Turkey leading the world’s fig production.

Mentioned in the story of Adam and Eve and used by Theodore Herzl in his depiction of the Jewish homeland, figs have a long and important cultural status. They remain a culinary puzzle to many people. Most fig lovers eat figs fresh out of hand but do not know how to cook with them. Figs are not only delicious in dessert recipes but also in savory applications.


I am a latent fig lover though. I never appreciated them as a child and did not know how to work with or even eat them until about 20 years ago. Now, I cannot get enough of them. I even have a small hardy fig tree in my garden that is bravely producing the most gorgeous purple and green little figs during one of the weirdest weather summers in Chicago. I use dried figs, often, in my tagines, long braised dishes and in my holiday challot. Dried figs are a staple in my kitchen. But fresh figs are truly special and fun to work with.

They add a delicate sweetness and a complex textural element with their smooth skin, chewy flesh and crunchy seeds recipes. With their sexy round shape, fresh figs range in color from deep rich purple to bright green and will be available in markets from Mid-June through October.
With fresh figs just appearing in the markets, here are some new recipes to add to your summer menus.

Roasted Figs with Parmesan Cheese

Sometimes simple is best!

12 figs, cut in half lengthwise
1/2 cup shave parmesan
freshly cracked black pepper

Preheat broiler to high

1. Place the figs on a foil lined sheet pan. Sprinkle parmesan shavings over the figs.

2. Sprinkle black pepper over the figs and broil for 5 minutes until cheese is bubbly and lightly toasty. Serve with wine.



Grilled Chicken and Fig Kabobs with Fig-Balsamic

These gorgeous kabobs make a beautiful summer supper. Easy to assemble and cook, this recipe allows the cook to enjoy dinner as well.

Serves 4-6

½ cup white wine
2 garlic cloves, minced
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
Pinch of crushed red chilies
1 large shallot, minced
Zest and juice of medium orange
¼ cup chopped basil
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, each cut into 6 strips
12 ripe figs, cut in half, lengthwise + 6 ripe figs, chopped
½ cup balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons brown sugar
Salt and pepper

Equipment: Wooden or metal skewers

1. Whisk the white wine, garlic cloves, olive oil, shallot, orange juice and zest and basil in a medium bowl. Add the cut up chicken strips and halved figs and marinate for 2 hours.

2. Simmer the chopped figs, balsamic and brown sugar until the mixture is very thick and syrupy, (about 15 minutes). Remove from the heat and let steep for 1 hour, then pour through a strainer. Discard the chopped figs.

3. Remove the chicken and halved figs from the marinade and discard the marinade. Thread the chicken and figs onto skewers. Salt and pepper each skewer.

4. Grill the skewers over medium heat or roast in a 350 degree oven and baste with the fig-balsamic until the chicken is cooked through (about 10-15 minutes).

5. Serve with rice, pasta or potatoes.


Broccoli Rabe and Fig Pasta

This is a Roman dish with bitter broccoli rabe lightly sweetened with figs and an added kick of chili flakes is addicting. We eat this often as it is very quick and easy to put together and is very satisfying.

1 medium bunch broccoli rabe, cut into 2 inch sections
Extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon crushed red chilies
3 anchovy filets
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup chopped figs
1 pound cooked pasta, I use whole wheat orecchiette or “ears”, their shape holds the sauce well, RESERVE ½ CUP OF PASTA COOKING WATER
Salt and Pepper
Garnish-parmesan cheese (if desired), chopped parsley

1. Bring a large of water to a boil and blanch the broccoli rabe for 2 minutes. This removes the bitterness. Immediately plunge (shock) the broccoli rabe into ice water to stop the cooking.

2. Place a large sauté pan over medium high heat. Generously coat the bottom of the pan with olive oil. Add the garlic, crushed chilies and anchovy filets. Cook until the anchovies almost dissolve (about 1-2 minutes).

3. Add the tomato paste, figs, blanched broccoli rabe, and pasta water and cook until the mixture becomes thick and most of the water cooks out (about 5 minutes). Add the cooked pasta and toss together. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve with salad, bread and garnish with cheese for a daily meal.

Fig and Raspberry Rustic Tart

The pistachio cream filling is delicious and decadent. This rustic tart is easy to put together and I have broken it into steps. All of the steps can be done ahead of time and in all cases days ahead of time. The tart dough is supple and easy to roll out and will not crumble. No fear with this dough! This festive summer dessert is a crowd pleaser.


For the tart dough

3 tablespoons sour cream
1/3 cup (approximately) ice water
¼ cup corn meal
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon sugar
Pinch of salt
7 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into 6-8 pieces

For the frangipane

¾ cup of sugar
1 cup shelled, unsalted pistachios
8 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
1 large egg
1 egg yolk
2 teaspoons all purpose flour

12 figs, cut into rounds
1 cup fresh or frozen raspberries, (thawed if using frozen)


1. Stir the sour cream and the ice water together and set aside.

2. Put the flour, cornmeal, sugar and salt in the work bowl of a food processor. Pulse the mixture briefly to mix. Drop the butter pieces into the bowl and pulse 8-10 times until the mixture is speckled with pieces of butter that resemble peas. With the machine running, add the sour cream mixture and process until the dough forms soft moist curds.

3. Remove the dough from the processor, divide it in half and wrap each half in plastic wrap. Chill the dough at least 2 hours before using. The dough can be stored covered in the refrigerator for 2 days or frozen for 1 month.

4. Place ¼ cup of sugar and the pistachios in a food processor. Process until the mixture is finely ground.

5. Place the butter and remaining sugar in a mixer bowl with a paddle attachment. Beat the mixture at high speed until it is creamy and light (about 2 minutes). Add the ground pistachios and mix. With the motor running, add the whole egg and the yolk. Occasionally scrape down the bowl to make sure everything is combined. Add the flour and mix until combined.

6. The frangipane can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 1 week or can be frozen for several months.

7. Preheat the oven to 400.

8. Lightly flour a work surface. Roll the dough to an 11 inch circle that is 1/8 of an inch thick.

9. Remove ½ a cup of the frangipane and allow it to come to room temperature. Dot the tart dough with the frangipane. Leave a 2-3 inch border.

10. Scatter the figs and raspberries on top of the frangipane. Fold the border of the dough over the pears. Allow the dough to pleat naturally.

11. Lightly brush the top of the tart with water and sprinkle with sugar. Bake the tart for 35-40 minutes until golden brown. Allow the tart to cool for a few minutes before serving.


Fig Confit

This marmalade recipe is perfect for garnishes, for adding to your favorite duck or chicken dishes or jazzing up a piece of pound cake. I look forward to making this every year

4 cups sugar
2 cups water
2 lemons, skin cut off and cut into thin strips, fruit cut into chunks
2 ½ -3 pounds figs, stemmed
½ cup chopped walnuts

1. Place a medium saucepan over medium heat. Place the sugar, water, lemon skin and fruit in the pan. Bring the mixture to simmer. Place the figs in the pan and lower the heat to a very low simmer.

2. Poach the figs for 1 ½-2 hours until the poaching liquid has reduced and the figs are thick and similar to marmalade. Add the walnuts and turn off the heat. Allow the mixture to sit for 1 hour.

3. Remove the figs and store covered in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks or freeze for 3 months. Reserve the poaching liquid for vinaigrettes, wine reductions or topping frozen desserts.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

CHEF LAURA IS THE KOSHER WEDDING WHISPERER



The Ins and Outs of Planning the Perfect Event

It is full blown wedding season and nervous brides and grooms all over the world are tying the knot. Many more are planning nuptials and are making themselves, their families and friends absolutely crazy.
The details for planning the perfect event are mind boggling and the options these days are abundant. Planning your fantasy event needs some TLC and since you only get to do this dream day once, you really want to do it right.
I have the pleasure and sometimes pain of sitting down with families and listening to their ideas and visions. Sometimes parents and engaged couples agree and more often than not, they are in polar opposition of each other.
I have had parents request a traditional Ashkenazi Jewish menu and have the kids begging for modern, more global food selections. I had a European Ashkenazi bride marrying an American Southern Sephardi groom. the parents not speaking to each other during the menu planning because one family wanted schnitzels and traditional Ashkenazi fare while the other family wanted bold flavored Sephardi cuisine. We compromised and had stations brimming with both styles of food instead of a seated dinner.
I have many brides not interested in the traditional wedding cake only to have their mothers secretly emailing me for cake flavors and design options. Last summer, I had a father waving frantically at me from across the room wondering why there wasn’t any lettuce on his salad course which was not a salad at all, but a gazpacho trio!
Basic Boot Camp for Planning the Perfect Wedding
1. Have a conversation, or two, with all the parents before meeting with the planner, caterer, florist, photographer or any of the vendors. Even if the engaged couple are paying for the event, it is nice for everyone to be “heard” and for some compromises in the vision.
2. Attention all brides and grooms! You two need to be in agreement before you start the planning process. I had a tasting with a couple who fought the entire time about the menu. It was like 2 different wedding concepts were being tossed around. I ended up giving them a time out before we finished the tasting. I was afraid we were never going to get to the wedding.
3. Often, in order for everyone to be happy, you need to alter the style of the event. Instead of a sit down dinner, you do stations. You can switch from a traditional wedding cake to a dessert buffet. You can add a small symbolic cake instead of a full blown cake. There are so many ways to do a wedding; there is room for everyone to feel comfortable and happy.
4. That being said, it is the couple’s wedding and they get the final decision. Sometimes, not everyone can be happy!
5. Have fun with it. Personalize the event with your own touches. You do not have to do the same wedding as all your friends. Create your own theme and do something that is as unique as your relationship.
6. Chef’s note: I like it when the couple asks me to write a menu for them based on their vision. Trust me, chefs like to create menus and will add some TLC to their own creations.
7. Enjoy the process. There are many details and minutia, but the end result will be spectacular.


A Perfect Marriage of Flavors

Chick Pea Tagine with Crispy Chicken Schnitzel

Crispy chicken schnitzel marries seamlessly with fragrant chick pea tagine. A casual summertime supper that weds 2 delicious cuisines. Serve the duo with a crispy salad and bread.
Serves 4
For the tagine
1 small red onion, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium carrots, diced
1 medium fennel bulb, julienne
2 cups cooked chick peas
¼ cup chopped pitted dates
¼ cup chopped dried apricots
¼ cup sliced dried figs
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
Pinch of crushed red chilies
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cups chicken stock or water
Kosher salt and pepper
Garnishes: cilantro leaves, mint leaves, preserved lemons, crushed cumin seeds
Preheat oven to 325
1. Sauté the onion, carrots and fennel, in batches in a large sauté pan, lightly coated with olive oil, over medium high heat until the vegetables are browned (about 5-7 minutes). Transfer the vegetables to a Dutch oven.
2. Add the remaining ingredients to the Dutch oven and stir to combine. Cover and cook for 1 hour until the liquid is mostly absorbed the vegetables are soft.

For the schnitzel

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, pounded to ¼ inch thickness
About ½ cup
1 cup flour, placed in a shallow pan
2 cups panko bread crumbs, placed in a shallow pan
2 egg whites, whisked with 2 tablespoons water, placed in a shallow pan
Zest of 2 lemons
¼ cup chopped parsley
Kosher and freshly cracked pepper

1. Heat a large sauté pan with ½ inch of oil over medium high heat. Season chicken breasts with salt and pepper.
2. Dredge the chicken breasts in the flour, then the whisked egg whites and finally into the panko bread crumbs.
3. Gently put the chicken breasts in the oil and cook on one side until they are golden brown and crispy (about 3-5 minutes per side). Turn the breasts and cook the other side until brown.
4. Transfer the browned chicken breasts to a parchment lined pan. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and lemon zest
5. About 7 minutes before serving, cook the chicken breasts in the preheated oven until cooked through.
6. Serve the schnitzels on a platter with the Chick Pea tagine and garnish with lemon slices.