Monday, November 26, 2007

French Dinner, Part Deux

I just wanted to add some photos of the event to Larisa's nice entry. Viva la Cooking Club!

Friday, November 09, 2007

Le Dîner Français

Bonjour Amis! The Chefs in the City girls met this month for a fantastic French dinner. Our dinner was super rich, super buttery, super cheesy and super sweet! Ooh la la!!

I was really looking forward to this month’s dinner. I love France and consider myself lucky to have had two wonderfully-long stays in France. As a result, I have very fond memories of being 15 in Nantes and being 20 in Paris. As a teenager in High School, I spent a summer with a French family in the Bretagne region of France, and as a college student, I studied in Paris my junior year.

Unlike many foreign travel experiences, my time in France was not defined by food. In fact, I only have 2 or 3 memories that relate to food from my time abroad. Although I put French food on a very high culinary pedestal, I really do not have Proustian-like experiences with French cuisine. The smell of Comté cheese does not bring me back to a distant memory in the French countryside, nor does a Croque Monsieur make me think of a Parisian sidewalk café. In terms of culinary memories, overcooked spaghetti served with a generous helping of ketchup brings me back to my culinary adventures in France!

Quite oddly, and rather ironically, I ate quite untraditionally while staying in France. On both occasions, my host-mother did not like to cook, and if I wanted a traditional meal, I was forced to go to a restaurant. Eating a dinner of spaghetti with ketchup was not out of the ordinary and on several occasions, my host-families asked me to cook as they were concerned that they were not providing me with a traditional French-eating experience. But what did I know about French cuisine at 15? Nothing; so I ended up cooking the American fare I that did know.

This month’s cooking club gave me an opportunity to finally have a proper home-cooked French meal. The meal, complete with various French cheeses of course, consisted of a portobello mushroom variation to filet Charlemagne, a buttery shallot and local brussel sprout dish, a potato gratin and a cherry clafouti finale. It truly was another delicious and successful Chefs in the City dinner!

While we sat around Kendra’s table talking about our local New York City lives and experiences, my mind was across the ocean in France dreaming of distant memories of experiences I only hope to relive again; but next time, through food!

Until next time...

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Skirting Around a Steak Phobia

Cooking does not scare me. There is nothing about a sharp butcher’s knife, a temperamental oven, or a poor measuring calculation that sets me back in the kitchen. Generally speaking, I love the challenges of cooking. I say “generally speaking” because there is one thing about cooking that makes me a bit sheepish, and that is cooking red meat – and by red meat I mean steak.

I guess cooking chicken or pork should illicit similar anxieties, but I seem to have mastered how to properly check the internal temperature of a chicken breast or a pork loin. With meat, on the other hand, I have never gained the culinary confidence I need to slap a sirloin on the grill and cook it to perfection – probably because I lack the requisite cooking experience.

In addition to my lack of red meat cooking experience, I also suffer from a classic psychological respondent condition to cooking red meat. Up until I was 23, I was a red meat cooking virgin. One weekend, and it was a weekend that will go down in culinary history for me, my roommate from college came to visit me in Albany. Having a proper kitchen and dining space at the time, I was looking forward to a gastro-filled weekend with my friend as we were both big foodies. In what I considered to be a moment of genius, I bought a steak at the grocery store thinking it would be nice to have a steak dinner. After all, we certainly didn’t have any steak dinners in college!

As I didn’t have a grill at the time, I decided to broil the steak. Thinking I knew what a broiler was, and how to use it, but in all actuality not having a clue, I put the steak in the broiler and let it cook for 45 minutes. When I took the steak out of the broiler it looked like a man’s leather shoe that fell victim to a major house fire. But, and with a lot of pride, I brushed the sight of the steak off to just a little charring on the outside. I quickly realized when I cut into the steak that my carving knife really needed to be replaced with a chain saw.

Despite this complete culinary break-down, I served the steak still feeling somewhat proud of my efforts, although completely embarrassed for my guest. But, being the true friend that she was, my college roommate said without any hesitation, “this is the best beef jerky I have ever had,” and with that, my disastrous steak dinner turned into a success complete with many culinary lessons learned.

Since then, I have gradually started overcoming my fear of cooking red meat, and this weekend, I think I completely overcame my fear. I grilled some skirt steaks over the weekend that were so flavorful, so juicy and so tender. So what is the key to my success? Take the meat off the grill despite your gut feeling to cook it longer! Because the skirt steaks were so thin, I seared them for just a few minutes a side, removed them when they were still quite rare, and wrapped the steaks in foil for 5 minutes to let the temperature of the meat rise naturally – a lesson I only learned the hard way!

Until next time…

Monday, October 15, 2007

Changes in the Weather Bring Changes in the Kitchen

I love how it feels like Fall. Although Indian summers are not unusual in New York, it has felt like the summer heat has been lingering a bit too long this year. This past weekend, however, it really felt like the seasons had changed and Fall had arrived. The weather was cool and crisp, and if I could speculate, I would imagine the leaves on the trees changing colors and falling to the ground. But, really, how could I know that from my small New York City apartment?

The change in seasons really brings out my best culinary inspirations. In May, for example, I start anticipating the fresh produce, the great farm stands, vine-ripened tomatoes and all the wonders that make summer cooking great. Similarly, in the Fall, I get excited about cooking in cooler temperatures, letting the oven stay on a bit longer and eating heartier meals. The Fall in New York also brings some new vegetables to the farm stands and green markets like beets, brussel sprouts and squash.

This past weekend, on an autumn high, I made a great “Fall” meal complete with a very Fallish vegetable dish. I actually followed a recipe from this month’s Bon Appetite magazine – a brussel sprout and shallot hash. The recipe was so simple to make and took very little time. You begin by sautéing thinly sliced shallots in a bit of butter with some salt and pepper until they are almost caramelized. Once the shallots are near caramelization, add a bit of apple cider vinegar and about a teaspoon of sugar and reduce. After the vinegar has been reduced, remove the shallot mixture and sauté your thinly sliced brussel sprouts (trimmed, cut in half and then thinly sliced) in some extra virgin olive oil until tender. Once the brussel sprouts are just about done, add the shallot mixture and cook it together.

The dish was very hearty, healthy and satisfying. We ate this dish with the apartment window open and feeling the cool Fall night air in the background really made the meal. I look forward to more seasonal cooking this Fall - despite the nasty rumors I hear that the temperature is supposed to reach 72 degrees in New York City this week...

Until next time…

Yes, I am a Pastaholic

I am such a pastaholic. I am constantly craving pasta and lots of it. I am, however, unlike other types of addicts who may take their vices in other forms; for example, an alcoholic would probably settle for gin if a preferred vodka wasn’t available. But unlike your garden variety addict, I am not an equal opportunity pasta lover. In fact, I am quite bias when it comes to pasta. Don’t get me wrong, I will settle for penne or rigatoni, but I like pasta in the spaghetti family; i.e. spaghetti, linguine, capellini or fettuccini. As long as you can twirl it and slurp it, I will eat it and love it.

I also, unfortunately, don’t experiment all that much with my pasta. My favorites are a good Bolognese sauce and I just adore linguine and white clam sauce – both of which are on a heavy culinary rotation in my kitchen. Last week, for example, I made linguine and clam sauce – one of the easiest and fastest pasta sauces to make. My recipe deviates slightly depending upon whether my refrigerator is well stocked for clam sauce night.

If I am in the mood for a little extra bite in my sauce, I will add finely chopped celery, but it is not really for flavor, it is more for texture and color. The base of my sauce, however, does not change. It consists of diced shallots and minced garlic sautéed in extra-virgin olive oil, a dab of butter and a generous amount of red pepper flakes. I find that heating my oil with red pepper flakes infuses the entire sauce evenly, which is quite nice if you like a little heat with your littlenecks.

Speaking of those succulent bivalves, as a general principal you should, of course, use fresh littlenecks, but for a mid-week quickie meal, I rely on canned minced clams. The seasoning of the sauce is very important, especially if you are using canned clams. I liberally season my sauce with salt and pepper, fresh basil and fresh parsley. The fresh herbs really add a crisp and clean flavor to the sauce, giving it a bit of a bite if you choose not to incorporate celery. I also add some white wine to the sauce a few minutes before I am ready to serve.

The entire meal can be prepared in the amount of time it takes the pasta water to boil and the pasta to cook. It is such a quick and easy dinner, but more importantly, it is one of the fastest ways I know to satisfy my pasta cravings.

Until next time…

Sunday, September 30, 2007

From Soup to Nuts, Locally Done

Last week the Chefs in the City girls shared another sustainable meal. This month’s theme, just as it has been since May, was local food – an understandably conceptually-difficult theme for a NYC based supper club. Many New Yorkers think that eating locally is only a luxury, or perhaps just a way of life, for residents of suburbia or rural communities. The attitude of such urbanites is being, if you can’t see the farm, the local produce can’t possibly exist. When I first moved to NYC, like many New Yorkers, I believed that the freshest tomato I would ever eat in Manhattan would be one that had just arrived off the cargo plane from Florida, despite having grown up just 50 miles from Manhattan in New York’s agricultural Mecca – the North Fork of Long Island.

This supper club, along with a little culinary curiosity, proved that farm-fresh local tomatoes, and any other produce this area of the Northeast can grow, is available throughout New York City, anytime during the year. In the past few years, greenmarkets have sprouted up in communities throughout New York City, the most famous being the Union Square Farmers’ Market. The City itself, including our current Mayor, has pledged a commitment to local, sustainable eating through the Council on the Environment of New York City (CENYC) – a privately funded agency within the Office of the Mayor, which promotes community-based greenmarkets.

Despite this, and the many misconceptions New Yorkers have about eating locally in New York City, local eating is not a recent trend or some hot topic that is taking this City by storm like Pinkberryesque frozen yogurt shops. In fact, long before urban crawl became urban sprint, the vast majority of Americans lived on farms. In New York City’s early history, City residents ate food that was brought in by horse and cart from nearby farms. Did you know that Brooklyn was the top producing agricultural county in the US in the 1880s? Although the City’s landscape is certainly different than what it may have looked like in the 1880s, it is still very easy to eat fresh, eat healthy and support our local farmers at the same time. For more information, CENYC has an interactive map on its website that details every greenmarket within the 5 boroughs (

But in keeping up with our recent trend, Chefs in the City enjoyed a delicious “local” Italian meal. From a roasted heirloom tomato and thyme pizzette, to fresh pasta with a local tomato sauce, to home-made local mint chocolate chip ice cream, we once again found that New York can be more than our collective connections to our culinary tales, secrets and ambitions – we can actually eat what it produces...

So in the past few years, living in New York City has taught me many things. For example, if I had one, I could drop off my pocketbook pooch at puppy day care at any time of day, I could take a spinning class at 2:30am, or, better yet, I could travel to my local greenmarket and create a completely local meal from soup to nuts (literally) from ingredients that were made and harvested within just a few miles from my City apartment.

Until next time…

Monday, August 20, 2007

Finding Faith in Local Food

I haven’t spent much time in New York City this summer. In fact, since the beginning of May, I have only spent 2 weekends in Manhattan - this past weekend being my second. I really enjoy spending my summer weekends in Cutchogue, my home town, where I can be by the water, by bountiful farm stands selling the freshest local produce, and - by far the biggest perk - in cooler temperatures. It is HOT in New York City in the summer.

So for a change of pace, and for a very good reason, I stayed in New York City this weekend. My good friend from college was in town, and we had a lot of catching up to do....which of course took place over food! Because we both love to cook, and love the process of cooking, we decided in advance to make a meal together on Saturday night.

We began our dinner preparations at the Union Square greenmarket - a famous outdoor market where local farmers from Long Island, New Jersey and the Hudson Valley sell their produce and specialities all year round on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The Union Square greenmarket is an urban paradise. In an area that is probably a quarter in size to a city-block, dozens and dozens of farmers set up tables showing off their varieties of heirloom tomatoes, fresh herbs and other mouth-watering legume- wonders.

Walking around the greenmarket is euphoric and sensual. You don’t have to be a foodie to appreciate that the smells and colors of the fresh produce and local baked goods is a nice change to the more traditional smells of New York City - i.e. exhaust and garbage. With a menu in mind (chicken shish-kabobs [picture included], grilled corn on the cob and a fresh heirloom tomato and basil salad), my friend and I wondered from table to table shopping for the dinner’s ingredients.

With the smell of fresh tarragon and rosemary in the air, walking around the Union Square greenmarket sort of felt like a religious experience. Feeling like the produce and smells were larger than me, the greenmarket became my sanctuary - my place for reflection and meditation. After all, for a locavore like me, of course I would want to pray to a large bouquet of fresh basil!

After an hour or so in Union Square, my friend and I carried our bags of vegetables back to my apartment to begin preparing our dinner. With the herbs washed and left to dry on my counter, my apartment began to take on the smells of the greenmarket. Almost instantaneously, my small New York City apartment took on the big smells of a country farmstand. Believing that local produce tastes much better than any vegetable bought in a super market, it was nice to have an urban experience that not only tasted fresh, but felt divine.

Until next time...

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Bringing it Back to Basics

After a long hiatus from blogging, Chefs in the City are back and better than ever! We apologize to all our loyal food fans who may have assumed we have thrown in our cooking mitts on both cooking and blogging, but (and to avoid making excuses), for me, it is nice to finally be free of the figurative food coma that has come between the oven and my computer.

To bring everyone up to speed, for the past three months the supper club has dedicated our monthly menus to local, sustainable eating. If Al Gore can bring awareness to the climate crisis by creating an Oscar-winning documentary, and Mayor Bloomberg can implement a congestion pricing scheme to mitigate pollution, then Chefs in the City can do our part by eating locally! This month, in an effort to continue our local eating theme, the supper club decided to leave Gristedes and our small New York City kitchens behind and travel to New York’s agricultural Mecca - the North Fork of Long Island.

The North Fork of Long Island, an area of Long Island that is closer to New England than Manhattan, is still a place that brings you back to basics. Perhaps it is that quintessential Yankee accent that is only spoken from a resident whose ancestors founded the area in the 1640s, or perhaps it is the pristine beaches, or better yet, maybe it is the bountiful farmstands selling fresh peaches, sweet corn, fragrant basil and plump heirloom tomatoes that reminds you life isn’t just a crowded subway car or a $6 cup of coffee.

This past weekend, the supper club took over my parents’ kitchen and created a completely local food - completely North Fork - menu. After a quick brainstorming session over a summer pasta salad we hit the farmstands to buy the ingredients for our meal. Starting at Briermere and ending at Braun Seafood, we bought everything from tomatoes and fresh berries to striped bass and oceanic scallops.

The true test of this supper club weekend was preparing a meal for 11 from start to finish in just a few hours. Whether our prep-time resembled Dinner: Impossible or Iron Chef America, all four of us worked together like a perfectly baked souffle. Using our palates as our guides, we created three appetizers, five side dishes, the main entree and two desserts.

Whether our role in the kitchen was to wash the fresh herbs or to beat egg whites until perfect peeks were formed, a meal of gastro-proportions was formed. Starting with lightly breaded seared local sea scallops, grilled eggplant rolls with goat cheese and basil, and fried green tomatoes with a balsamic reduction our supper club was off to a palatable start. Our dinner, which arguably could have been considered a Last Supper, consisted of a medley of fresh salads and grilled local striped bass with a pesto crust.

The dish de resistance was Andrea’s savory bi-colored watermelon salad. Using two varieties of watermelon (red and yellow), Andrea created a salad that did not resemble any watermelon eating experience that I have ever had. By blending the watermelon with coarse sea salt, pepper, fresh mint and olive oil, a light and refreshing salad was created that tasted like a North Fork summer. Pairing her salad with a grilled pesto encrusted striped bass could not have been more perfect. The meal was topped off with a sweet meringue with local blueberries and grilled stone fruit served with vanilla ice-cream.

The entire meal truly resembled all that is pristine about the North Fork of Long Island. As we sat around my parents dining room table sharing stories and experiences, I couldn’t help but think that the local food told its own story. The local food is my reminder of what brings me back to basics, and it was a treat to share that experience with my fellow Chefs in the City.

Until next time...