Monday, February 25, 2013

Springtime for Seaweed Salad Summer Rolls

after an amazing massage this morning i walked the 3 blocks back to my apartment on hudson street, climbed the stairs, opened the door and knew exactly what i wanted for lunch.  spring was soon coming and the hyacinth in my house knocked my head back as soon as i entered. i was going to push along the process of the seasons by encouraging a little springtime feel in the kitchen.  you can do that you know.  completely change your head space, your mood, your "vibe" if you will, all by making the right dish to ease you along in the desired direction. my direction was firmly moving forward to spring and all things sunshine, flowers and salad.  i had prepared a really tasty carrot seaweed salad the other day and the flavors were perfectly mingled now.  on my last trip to the union square green market i saw vinny denise who sell sprouts. i had broccoli sprouts, mung bean sprouts, lentil sprouts and sprouted sunflower seeds.  by mixing these all together with just the right amount of fresh lime juice and basil puree from my freezer i would create a duff family favorite of seaweed salad summer rolls with dipping sauce.

by the way, this will be a shorter post i'm afraid as i still need to get to that lunch i am super excited for!  lets call it a recipe posting rather than a big long emily needs to vent post but nonetheless filled with enthusiastic musings about real food in all its splendor from this punk rock culinary cheerleader.  that's funny, i am the furthest thing from the typical cheerleader persona i could think of but, hey, i guess i am a cheerleader of gastronomy through and through.  back to those summer rolls!  summer rolls are delicious bit of thai goodness that can be reinterpreted in any way you like.  the basics are a rice wrapper that is filled with, typically, veggies, peanuts, herbs and more rice noodles dipped in a toasted sesame & soy vinaigrette.  here is where i tell you to bring your imagination to the plate and make that summer roll work for you.  always make the recipe work for you. play with it. bend it. shape it. own it. a recipe is a framework, a jumping off point, a place to start and then let your desires completely take over.  i never follow recipes to the letter. i always, always, always bend the rules.  but not so much when baking.  baking is science. logic and rules. cooking is more carnal and visceral.  a place to feel your way until you find your way.  oh shut up, emily!

like i said earlier, i had all that lovely seaweed salad macerating nicely in my fridge. i combined that with about 2TBS of each type of sprout, squeezed half a lime into it and then a tsp. of my basil puree which i froze this summer in batches.  it consists of basil, olive oil, garlic, sea salt & pine nuts. notice i don't put cheese in. i do that when i am creating the actual pesto per dish.  okay, i combined all those ingredients into a beautiful salad that could stand nicely on its own thank you very much.  at that point i could have wrapped it all nicely in some butter lettuce.  i could have picked up my fork and dug right in.  i could have also included some hot pepper here if i wanted to spice it not feeling so spicy. tomorrow? you never know.  back to the summer rolls:  then i dipped the rice wrapper, which is dry and hard like a frisbee, into some luke warm filtered tap water and used my hands to gently help it soften.  i laid it carefully down on the counter, added a bit of the mixture and folded it up like an envelope to seal it. rice paper wrappers are a fragile ingredient - like working with filo or wrapping dumplings -- so take your time, practice and you will get it. i promise.

i wrapped 6 rolls. i plan to eat two for lunch and will store the rest in the fridge with a damp cloth over them to keep them from drying out.  i will pick the kids up from school with these and they will be over the moon!  on to my dipping sauce.  ready for easy?  really...don't laugh. 1 tsp. of raw organic tahini, 1 tsp. basil puree, the juice of 1/2 lime and 1 TBS natural jus (that's filtered tap water).  stir all that together and viola! dipping sauce.  feel free to add a pinch of sea salt if you like.  mine didn't need it at all.  okay, i am drooling now and must get to my plate.  i hope that you try this recipe or make up your own.  it's really nice to know exactly what you want to eat when you bring your Family2Table and be able to execute it.  it helps even more when you have quality ingredients already prepared in your fridge that you can combine to create something amazing just when you need it.  enjoy.  i know i will!

Seaweed Salad with Carrots
4 large carrots cleaned and shredded
1 daikon radish cleaned and shredded
1 cup wakame dried seaweed soaked and revived (soak and drain a few times for best flavor)
2 scallions chopped
1/2 bunch cilantro washed and chopped
3 - 4 TBS. fish sauce (vegetarians use nama shoyu unpasteurized soy sauce)
1 TBS ume plum vinegar
2 TBS toasted sesame oil
the juice of 1 fresh organic lime
1 TBS sesame seeds if you like
a pinch of sea salt
a pinch of red pepper flake if you like life spicy

combine all ingredients and let sit in the fridge overnight to macerate and bloom.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Chicken or the Egg

i woke this morning determined to write about, and teach you all, how to cook the perfect roast chicken. crispy skin, tender, juicy meat dripping down the side of your hand, fragrant, succulent and satisfying in every way.  then i saw the 3 dozen fresh pastured eggs sitting on my counter (good eggs need not be refrigerated - especially in winter and when you fly through them like we do) and i started to think about the whole chicken egg debate and that turned my attention to eggs and how much i adore them.  i got to thinking about my favorite lunch when i was a kid, egg salad sandwich, and suddenly i was completely absorbed in the beauty and simplicity of egg salad. eggs, red onion, celery diced fine - what we trained kitchen folk call a brunoise, a classic, fresh herb like dill or tarragon and the ultimate topper....fresh, house made mayonnaise. imagine that. a dressing made of raw eggs on a salad made from perfectly boiled pastured eggs. eggs to the tenth power! heaven, no? at this point i was hooked. the perfect roast chicken would have to wait.

eggs are nutritional power houses. what i would consider a perfect super food.  but you can't just buy any old eggs you see. you must seek out good, farm fresh eggs from chickens that have been raised on pasture - eating lots of bugs and grass to pack those babies full of omega-3s - and preferably not fed soy. but that's a whole 'nother talk show.  my family is lucky in that i have sourced beautiful eggs and feel confident eating them both cooked and raw (we use them raw in smoothies, ice cream, in steak tartare and when making mayo).  i suggest that you seek out  farmers at your local greenmarkets and ask them about their chickens and what they feed them.  you want brightly colored, orange yolks that stand up tall.  most supermarket eggs are pale and lifeless. do yourselves a favor and run away from those.  if you don't have a greenmarket near you, look for eggs that say pastured eggs on the carton.  eggs give us complete proteins, amino acids, choline, B12, B6, A, D, E and so much more. all of those vitamins are in the yolk, that's the best part and can be consumed with gusto every day!  please don't worry about your cholesterol when eating good eggs, if those chickens have been fed the right diet, you are good to go. cholesterol is an essential hormone, dare i call it the mother of all hormones - mother. egg. ovary - makes sense and by the way, what is a hormone? a communicator. if we bring that cholesterol too low, communication in the body is cut off and that's when you see problems.  eggs can help. 

back to egg salad.  boiling the eggs correctly so that they are neither under nor over cooked is essential.  this is what i have found over my twenty plus years of professional culinary experience.  put the eggs in a pot of cold water and turn on high heat.  when the water comes to a boil, cover the pot and turn off the heat.  let the eggs sit, covered for 20 minutes and then pluck them from the water and run them under cold water for a few minutes.  is there anything more annoying than an egg that doesn't want to give up its shell? ugh. i hate peeling eggs sometimes.  today wasn't so bad but sometimes even i lose a bit of egg in the peeling. but that's our secret.  a good balance of texture is essential with egg salad.  we are dealing with a pretty mushy product when you crumble them so i feel that the addition of celery and onion is key. sometimes i use scallion but mostly i prefer red onion.  herbs are always your choice but i endorse fresh dill and tarragon whole heartedly. these are crowd pleasers for sure.  sometimes i add curry powder to my egg salad, my daughter loves it too. my son? not so much.  he likes his egg salad on an apple slice and i can live with that.

now check this out. i am going to turn the egg amp up to 11 on this one and i fully credit my daughter, sylvia, whose love of fish eggs took me to this over the top egg dish, which i thoroughly enjoyed for lunch today. i usually do this with salmon roe because that is her favorite and what we usually have in the house - by the way, fish eggs, especially salmon roe, is a perfect food for babies. not only are the roe nutrient dense but they also teach fine motor skills in that babies must pick them up with their fingers and put them in their mouths.  caviar and blueberries, great self-feeding foods for your baby to develop a healthy brain.  back to my lunch.  i finished making my beloved egg salad of my youth and noticed that i had half a cucumber in the fridge left over from the salmon salad i made the other day.  i sliced the cuke in 1/2 inch rounds and spooned some egg salad atop. then i did something so goofy.  i spooned wild whitefish caviar - eggs - on top of that!  unbelievably delicious. a great appetizer, hors d'oeuvre or light lunch in my case.  would have been perfect with some proseco but kombucha did nicely.

egg salad, omelettes, quiche, hard boiled, soft boiled, raw, sunny side up, over easy, scrambled, custard, ice cream, poached, deep fried, deviled, pickled, souffle, mayonnaise, meringue and the list goes on and on.  egg fun fact: when you receive a classical french culinary education and earn your toque - that high white hat nobody really likes to wear - you will notice that on the hat there are 100 pleats all around.  those 100 pleats represent the 100 ways you should be able to prepare eggs according to classical french cuisine.  when you wear that hat, be prepared to get down with the egg.  so whether you prefer chicken, duck, quail, ostrich, emu, goose, fish or other - please tell me if you prefer another as i am curious to know how many different types of eggs there are, actually -- eggs are little marvels of flavor, nutrition and versatility in the kitchen.  they can impart silkiness, airiness, and what i consider to be the equivalent of magic fairy dust when used well.  i applaud all of you who go to great lengths to find great eggs and urge those of you who buy supermarket eggs to try farm fresh eggs and see the difference.  you will not be disappointed.  eggs are a gift from that chicken that i will be teaching you to perfectly cook very soon - not really, egg layers are stewing hens but we can talk about that another time.   when you call your Family2Table for this simple and beautiful egg salad, please remember that it's the simple and beautiful foods like eggs that we will remember for all our lives.

Simple Egg Salad

8 pastured eggs
2 ribs celery diced
1/2 red onion diced fine
2 TBS fresh dill or tarragon chopped
home made mayo to your liking
sea salt & pepper to taste

1. cook eggs as described above.
2. cool down and peel.
3. crumble into a bowl with your fingers
4. add chopped celery, onion and herbs
5. add mayo and mix (feel free to add a dash of dijon mustard if you like - or curry powder)
6. sea salt & pepper to taste

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Braised and Confused

one of the things i love best about teaching cooking is that i am able to effectively illustrate just how simple and enjoyable cooking can be.  in other words, demystify it. in my humble opinion, there is nothing more rewarding than being able to create a dish that you and your family & friends will treasure and share over and over again.  many of my students, and quite a few of my readers, tell me that they are afraid to try recipes with certain techniques that intimidate them.  the technique that seems to puzzle and perplex the most is braising.  go figure!  perhaps it is because it can involve a few steps that sends some running in the other direction, but i am here to tell you that braising is actually one of the easiest, most fool-proof, uncomplicated, tastiest and economically satisfying cooking techniques of all.  as a matter of fact, i will bet that by the time you finish reading this post, you will have summoned the courage to go out and buy a quality brisket for a beautiful family2table meal.

technically, braising is nothing more than taking a few choice ingredients, putting them in a sturdy vessel with liquid, covering tightly and placing on low heat while everything inside simmers & smiles until rendered fork tender.  sometimes, this means hours. the flavors mingle slowly and are reduced and intensely flavored, creating a rich, exciting meal that warms and stirs the soul - especially during cold weather months.  braising is probably the oldest cooking technique dating back to a time when food was put in a pot and buried under the embers of an open fire.  if you have ever watched little house on the prairie, you will remember a cast iron pot that hung in the hearth.  this pot was perpetually full in the winter and the fire was always going.  meat, pork fat, drippings, onions, potatoes and whatever they were able to save in the root cellar was constantly and continuously put into this pot so that there was always something hot & hearty to eat.  braising actually requires less effort from the cook and frees us up!

some of the traditionally popular dishes that require braising are osso bucco, short ribs, lamb shanks, stews, pot roast, chicken cacciatore and many more.  as you can see, these are all very popular dishes that often wind up on fine restaurant menus.  want to know why smart chefs employ braising as often as they can in their establishments?  well, first of all they are cheaper cuts than muscle meats.  shanks, ribs, chuck roast, pork belly, breast of veal, legs & thighs, cheeks, brisket, etc. all cost less than fillet mignon, rack of lamb, veal chops, etc.  and in my opinion are way more succulent and enjoyable.  but wait, braising is not only for meat. remember? technically, you can braise anything as long as it's put into a sturdy cooking vessel with a bit of liquid, cover on and low heat till it's tender.  you can braise carrots or cabbage in chicken broth with butter and herbs....and oh my how lovely it is! endive, cauliflower, eggplant and the list goes on.  the second reason braising is popular in restaurants is that it's a one pot dish that you set up and let cook slowly.  you can't really overcook a braised dish and therefore it is considered a forgiving technique that allows for a greater margin of error in an environment where time is of the essence and every penny counts.  in all my years of kitchen experience i have never, ever had osso bucco or lamb shanks returned for being over or under cooked.  the dish is ready before service begins and is gently warmed with a reduced sauce for plating along with something traditional like polenta to soak up that beautiful, silky reduction.  also, you can use and sell a braised dish the next day. as a matter of fact....i think braised meats are always better the next day. case in point: the pot roast sandwich. say no more.

braising can happen on the stove or in the oven. another plus when you might be short on stove top space.  it also does not need to be watched. and we all know what happens to a watched a matter of fact, if you have a crock pot, braising can happen without the use of your stove/oven at all!  imagine that.  put dinner up in the morning and viola! ready by meal time.  braising can take place in a cast iron pot, a dutch oven, a simple saute pan with lid or even in a roasting pan with aluminum foil covering it tightly but not touching the food.  now here is the part of braising that i find shakes folks up a bit.  sometimes, you sear before you braise. aaaaaaahhhh!  really?! i have to do something first?!  well, actually no, you don't have to, but sometimes it's nice to.  go ahead and put some extra effort in and add color to the ingredient, or extra flavor with fat (butter, lard, coconut oil) or lock in the juices and crisp up the skin when braising meats and fish.  there is nothing worse than flabby, flavorless fish skin, blech.  creating textural complexity and "mouth feel" in your dish will take it to that next level, creating a mark of distinction between a good dish and your favorite dish.  i must say that i do not sear most grass-fed meats as it is my experience that high heat cooking - which is what searing is - tends to toughen most cuts of grass-fed beef. therefore, when i do my brisket i merely place it, seasoned into the liquid and cover it. couldn't be easier.  when do i sear? i always sear chicken skin, lamb shanks, hearty fish and some cruciferous and root veggies. 

when the dish is done and the main ingredient is tender, i like to further reduce the sauce - especially from meat dishes.  depending on the cut (duck and lamb can be fatty), i will skim off some fat and pour the braising liquid through a strainer and into a pot to simmer gently on the stove until the sauce coats the back of a spoon. yum!  an important note, which i will briefly touch on here is the nutrient density of braised meat dishes. not only are they economically sound and easy to make but they also impart essential vitamins and minerals to your body since you are slow cooking a cut that almost always contains a bone, connective tissue or marrow.  these will impart gelatin into your dish which is essential for gut health, bone integrity, brain development and many other vital body functions. perhaps this is why braising is a technique that was so often used by people following a nutrient dense traditional diet. but wait....i haven't said anything about the braising liquid yet.  what on earth are we supposed to braise in? that's easy too. you have many choices: wine, stock or broth - meat, veg, fish, miso - or perhaps le jus natural...otherwise known as water. yes, hello....water is a braising liquid too.  go for it!  personal note: homemade stock and broth from good bones is always best. boxed and canned broths tend to contain MSG and other chemical additives that have no place in our healthy bodies. 

the last bit of info. regarding braising is aromatics.  my lamb short ribs would be nothing without cardamom, cilantro and vanilla bean.  my lamb shanks an absolute flop without cinnamon stick, orange peel and fennel.  my pot roast would suffer without garlic powder, paprika and mushrooms.  infusing your braising liquid with character via the sweetness of vegetables (mire poix - onion, carrot, celery) is an integral part of lending personality to your braise. i love to play with herbs and spices. sometimes i spend hours toasting and grinding spices just to see how they bloom.  i find myself creating "teas" during the day in order to find interesting flavor combinations - i.e dried basil, clove & star anise - achieving balance with flavor is a step closer to creating something delicious.  experiment and try new things. the way into a dish is thru playful experimentation in your kitchen. i joke about my little galley in my tiny west village apartment, calling it my test kitchen as if i have an enormous laboratory in which to play.  but honestly, we all have test kitchens and every meal is a test in one way or another. either we are tested to get it on the table at the perfect time when everyone is hungry and everything is hot or we are tested to see if it will be received well for its flavor and nutritional profile.  whatever the test, braising is a technique that will stand up and succeed beautifully, leaving you, the cook, with a sense of accomplishment and pride and your Family2Table with the sense that they have been truly loved and looked after in every way. enjoy!

Traditional Pot Roast or Brisket with Enoki Mushrooms
3lb grass-fed brisket
1.5 TBS. organic garlic powder
1.5 TBS organic paprika
2 medium onions, quartered
2 packages of enoki mushrooms
2 QT beef broth or 1 QT water
sea salt & freshly ground pepper 

1. season meat with garlic powder, paprika, sea salt & pepper
2. fill pot or saute pan with beef stock or water and add onions
3. turn flame on to medium heat, add meat and bring to a simmer
4. cover meat and gently simmer for 2 hours
5. remove meat and slice (against the grain)
6. put meat slices back in and add enoki mushrooms
7. cover and simmer 2 hours more or until done. salt to taste.
8. optional ** remove meat and shrooms, strain sauce and reduce

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Back to my Roots

i have a pretty hard crush on farmers.  old, young, short, tall, hairy, bald, gracious and ornery. i love them all.  i love them so much, in fact, that i find myself stalking greenmarkets year-round just to get a little taste of what these geniuses have been up to.  in the winter months the pickings can be slim and some of my my most coveted growers take time off from the market, their absence making my heart beat a little faster when i think about how they will return with the first asparagus in the spring.  but for now, in the darkest, coldest months of winter here in nyc i rely and appreciate on those farmers who babysit their greenhouses and who also bring us those delicious, heavy to carry, winter root vegetables from their cellars that sustain us through the lean times.

i do my level best to "put up" (fermenting, freezing and dehydrating) as many  popular summer vegetables as i can during harvest time.  It's such a luxury to be able to reach into the freezer in January and pull out Basil puree for fresh pesto, or frozen zucchini and sweet summer corn for succotash. My husband and I make gallons of sauerkraut to ensure that we will have enough of those enzyme and probiotic rich foods to get us through flu season without illness.  of course i could go to the supermarket or the health food store and buy whatever organic vegetables i want, year round.  these days we have that convenience but we pay dearly for it on many levels.  california has apparently been going thru a chilly winter and i noticed that at our local health food store, the price of broccoli was $7 per bunch and cauliflower, $8.  I have been told that these prices will be coming down soon but it really made me think about the extravagance of abundance and how we have been spoiled for choice since most people unfortunately do not rely on their local farmer.  it also got me to thinking about one of the principles of the macrobiotic diet that always made great sense to me: eat within the parameters of your climate and your body will always know how to "act."  it will also know how to heal, protect, and defend the healthy homeostatic environment that we hope to create through proper nutrition and good, clean, joyful living.  in other words, eat what the earth gives you at the proper time...which leads me right back to my roots.

rough, ugly, gnarled and blemished (like my farmers), roots are some of the sweetest, creamiest, delicious vegetables you will ever know (again, like my good farmers).  you can poach them, puree them, mash, braise, roast and even eat some raw making them versatile, friendly and forgiving.  so why do so many people turn their noses up at them?  intimidation? perhaps. my best guess is that folks just don't know how to approach them (beyond thanksgiving dinner) or they just don't go looking for them at the winter greenmarkets.  they are all shopping at whole paycheck (whole foods) or waiting for asparagus in the spring!

in my little 3rd floor walk up on the prairie (in manhattan's west village) we are grateful to root vegetables in that they are a staple till we see the bounty of spring.  of course we indulge in those occasional extravagances from california and florida via the health food store every once in a while when we are feeling flushed or when a birthday rolls around and a request is made, but honestly we are quite satisfied with our beets, gold ball turnips, purple top turnips, black radish, watermelon radish, rutabaga (also known as swede), daikon radish, japanese sweet potatoes, parsnip, carrots, garlic, onions, moo radish, bordeaux radish, celery root, parsley root, horseradish, jerusalem artichoke and more!  we put them in soups, stews, roasts, purees and gratins.  they are hearty and stand up to big flavors while adding sweetness, texture and zing!

a favorite here is a Raw Winter Root Salad made by grating peeled beets, watermelon radish and daikon radish. i dress it with extra virgin olive oil, meyer lemon juice (a true winter extravagance), course sea salt, fresh ground pepper and chopped dill.  i usually use 4 medium sized beets (peeled), 1 large watermelon radish (skin on) and 1 small daikon (peeled).  we let this macerate and blend all its flavors together.  it's lovely on its own or served as a relish with a traditional beef stew, cardamom spiced lamb short ribs or a seared piece of fish.  this relish or condiment is also great on sandwiches and served with eggs....but isn't just about everything good when served with farm fresh eggs? 

A mixture of roasted root vegetables with herbs de provence is also a winner in our home. we make a big batch and reheat as needed. the vegetables are also quite good cold in green salads or in a pita as a sandwich with humus.  they are our favorite accompaniment to a roasted chicken and go well with eggs in the morning just like you would eat hash browns. you can also cut them in 1/2 inch rounds and saute them in coconut oil and then dust with turmeric. we like to do this with sweet potatoes in place of fries or chips with burgers.  roasting beets in my house is a breeze since i just place them whole and scrubbed on the rack in the oven. i take them out when i can insert a knife easily through and let them cool. i peel them and the kids eat them like apples or i cut them into salads or slice them onto sandwiches.  cheddar cheese on sourdough with homemade mayo and sliced beet root will always make my family happy!

if you like mashed potatoes (my husband LOVES them) you will like them even more if you include some parsnip, turnip, rutabaga or celery root.  I suggest slowly poaching them in heavy cream with sea salt and then mashing them into the drained potatoes with the sweet infused cream and roots.  amazing!  My absolute favorite way to eat root vegetables is in a gratin with LOTS of cream, thyme and a hint of nutmeg.  below you will find that recipe and i beg you to please try it. i think you will be very happy if you do!

as march approaches i am eager to adopt daylight savings and bring my family out of the winter darkness and toward the promise of spring and renewal.  i crave the warmth of the sun on my face and shoulders and look forward to putting the winter coats in storage.  i also look forward to seeing all of my farmers back at our local markets.  i know that they will bring not only fresh food from the rich soil they tend but also great stories and tall tales about how they make it taste so darn good!  i also look forward to their smiles and their generosity and our give and take relationship that grows my heart & my beautiful family so well.  i look forward to all of these things and more but for now i will get back to my roots and hope that when you call your Family2Table you will serve them something delicious and nutritious from your cellar or the the cellar of your local farmer.


in a saucepan, saute 1 shallot finely chopped till translucent.
add 1 quart of heavy cream and bring to a simmer
add a generous bunch of fresh thyme and let simmer till reduced  and thick.
strain through a sieve to take out shallots and thyme
season with sea salt & pepper to taste and set aside.

preheat oven to 350 degrees

using a mandolin with much care, slice root vegetables into thin rounds
put down a layer of cream in a ceramic baking dish and alternate sliced root veggies with reduced cream in layers.  with each layer add a sprinkle of salt and a fresh grating of nutmeg.
build up till all is gone, press down to have a layer of cream on top.
cover with foil or parchment and bake for an hour.
uncover and continue baking till done - when you can insert a cake tester and it glides through.
cut into portions and serve with some freshly chopped parsley and lots of cream.

this dish can be made ahead of time and reheated.  it also stores well in the fridge for up to 5 days.  enjoy!

please contact me if you have any questions.