Monday, November 30, 2015

Farfalle with Ham, Peas and Black Pepper Parmigiana Crème





     A Tasty Chilly Weather Pasta!
     Today's pasta entrée has a classic simple flavor combination that is appealing when the weather is cold.  Peas and ham are a natural match for a peppery Parmigiana Cheese Cream Sauce.  The shape of Farfalle Pasta is easy picks up a cream sauce.
     In Italy there are many tomato sauce pastas that combine pancetta, prosciutto ham and peas.  Cream sauces are not often used for traditional Italian pastas.  The exception is in Northern Italy where many restaurant chefs cater to the tastes of Northern European visitors.
     Cream sauce pastas are far more popular in America, France, Germany and England.  In the 1980's, it seemed like every American style casual restaurant offered a cream sauce pasta on the menu.  Some of the creamy pastas from those days were okay, but most were just far too heavy or too thick.  Fortunately times have changed and modern American chefs are now featuring lighter pasta sauces, like Italian style olio d'oliva, savory vinaigrette or a la minute heirloom tomato sauce.  Heavy cream sauces are quickly becoming a thing of the past.
     Will cream sauce pastas eventually disappear altogether?  Not when the weather is cold!  There are few things that are more satisfying than a rich cream sauce pasta on an icy cold day.  A classic Carbonara has to be the king of cold weather pasta and the cream sauce version of Alfredo is not far behind.
     Many chefs call a Parmigiana Cream Sauce an Alfredo Sauce, but any gourmand knows that there is no cream in an authentic Alfredo Sauce recipe.  Chefs that know the difference differentiate the two sauces.  I always call a Parmigiana Cream Sauce what it really is.
     Just like any pasta sauce, only enough sauce should be added to the pasta, to coat the pasta with flavor.  A pasta should not be swimming in sauce!  This is especially true for cream sauce pastas.

     Farfalle with Ham, Peas and Black Pepper Parmigiana Crème:
     This recipe yields 1 portion.
     The sauce should not be made ahead of time.  The sauce can be made in the same amount of time that is takes to boil the pasta till it is al dente!  
     Step 1:  Thaw 3 or 4 tablespoons of frozen peas and set them aside.
     Step 2:  Start cooking 1 portion of farfalle pasta in boiling water over high heat till the pasta is cooked al dente.  (This takes about 10 to 12 minutes, depending on the thickness of the pasta.)
     Step 3:  *The sauce can be made while the pasta cooks!
     Place a wide sauté pan over medium heat.
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of unsalted butter.
     Add 1/4 cup of diced roasted ham.
     Sauté the ham till a few golden highlights appear.
     Step 4:  Add 1 cup of cream.
     Bring the cream to a gentle boil.
     Step 5:  Reduce the temperature to medium low/low heat.
     Add 3 1/2 tablespoons of finely grated imported Italian Parmigiana Cheese while constantly stirring with a whisk.
     Stir till the cheese melts into the sauce.
     Step 6:  Reduce the temperature to low heat.
     Add 3 pinches of coarse ground black pepper.
     Simmer and reduce till the sauce is a thin consistency that can barely coat a spoon.
     Step 7:  Keep the sauce warm over very low heat, till the pasta finishes cooking.  (Add a splash of milk if the sauce becomes too thick.)
     Step 8:  When the farfalle is cooked al dente, drain the water off of the pasta.
     Add the farfalle pasta to the sauce.
     Add the reserved thawed peas.
     Toss the sauce and pasta together.
     Remove the pan from the heat.
     Step 9:  Mound the pasta on the center of a plate.
     Sprinkle 1 pinch of coarse ground black pepper over the pasta.

     This pasta has a satisfying comfortable flavor!  The sauce needs no garlic and salt is rarely needed when Italian Parmigiana is used to make a sauce. 

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Penn Dutch Egg Noodles with Chicken Milk Gravy and Broccoli Rabe






     Comfortable Penn Dutch Style Food!
     Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine is good simple food.  No wine or liquors are used and no spicy flavors are featured.  Very few herbs are used and local farm food is usually featured on its own.  
     Broccoli Rabe is not a traditional Penn Dutch country vegetable.  In recent years, broccoli rabe has been in demand and farmers do like to meet those demands buy growing this vegetable for income.  Pennsylvania Dutch farmers are adept at marketing high quality farm fresh vegetables that are in demand.  
     While I was visiting back east, the family occasionally took a Sunday drive and stopping at a roadside farm stand was par for the course.  On one such excursion, I saw broccoli rabe for sale at a local roadside farm stand out towards Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  I could not help but to overhear a few comments from some of the local shoppers about how the broccoli rabe looked like the scrawniest ugliest broccoli that they had ever seen.  Rightly so!  The first time that I saw broccoli rabe, I thought the same thing.    
     Pennsylvania Dutch restaurant food is made with simple cooking techniques.  Vegetables are usually boiled or simmered, but they are not cooked beyond the point of recognition.  The vegetables are always tender and full of color.  Penn Dutch style veggies are never cooked al dente.  
     The broccoli rabe for today's recipe is cooked with a simple technique that takes some of the bitterness out.  Those who dislike broccoli rabe because of the bitter flavor just might find it palatable.  The simmered broccoli rabe has a mild flavor that compares to boiled turnip greens. 
     The Chicken Milk Sauce is the same thing as a chicken gravy (chicken veloute) with milk and cream added.  I do say milk and cream for a reason.  Old fashioned milk jugs used to contain both milk and cream.  In the old days, cooks used the entire contents of a milk jug when making a recipe.    

     Anyway, today's Penn Dutch style recipe may seem fairly bland, but a simple flavored meal can be quite appealing after a stress filled day in the big city.  Throw some Penn Dutch egg noodles in the mix and this simple broccoli rabe recipe becomes a comfortable hearty and filling healthy meal.

     Chicken Milk Gravy:
     This recipe yields about 1 1/4 cups of thin milk gravy. 
     Step 1:  Heat a sauce pot over medium low heat.
     Add 1 cup of light chicken broth.
     Add 1/2 cup of milk.
     Add 2 tablespoons of cream.
     Stir the sauce occasionally as it comes to a very gently boil. 
     Step 2:  Combine 1 tablespoon of flour with 1/4 cup of water to make a slurry.
     Add the slurry to the sauce while stirring with a whisk.
     Stir till the sauce thickens to a very thin soupy consistency.
     Step 3:  Add 1 small pinch of ground sage.
     Add 1 tiny pinch of nutmeg.
     Add 1 pinch of sea salt and black pepper.
     Step 4:  Simmer and reduce the gravy, till it becomes a thin sauce consistency.  The volume should be about 1 1/4 cups of sauce after reducing.
     Keep the sauce warm over very low heat.

     Pennsylvania Dutch Style Broccoli Rabe:
     This recipe yields 1 portion.
     Step 1:  Heat a sauce pot over medium heat.
     Add 3 cups of water.
     Bring the water to a gentle boil.
     Step 2:  Add 1/4 cup of chopped onion.
     Add 1/4 cup of thick sliced carrot dimes.
     Add 1/4 cup of small bite size pieces of celery.
     Add 1 1/2 cups of large bite size pieces of broccoli rabe.
     Step 3:  Gently boil till the vegetables are tender, but not mushy and so they still have a nice color.
     Step 4:  Drain the water off of the vegetables.
     Add the vegetables to the chicken milk gravy.
     Keep the gravy and vegetables warm over very low heat.
   
     Penn Dutch Egg Noodles with Chicken Milk Gravy and Broccoli Rabe:
     This recipe yields 1 hearty portion.
     Do not ask me why, because I do not know. 
     Step 1:  Cook 1 large portion of Pennsylvania Dutch Egg Noodles in boiling water, till they are tender.
     Drain the water off the egg noodles.
     Step 2:  Place the noodles in a shallow stew bowl.
     Pour the chicken milk gravy, broccoli rabe and vegetables on the center of the noodles and let the thin chicken milk gravy settle underneath the bare egg noodles.  
     No garnish is necessary!

     The chicken milk gravy helps to tame the bitter flavor of broccoli rabe and it creates an interesting mellow flavor.  

Monday, November 23, 2015

Corn Pudding







     Early American Food!
     Today's recipe dates back to the early Colonial American days.  Corn Pudding is regular everyday comfort food that is served with big family meals in southern states.  Corn Pudding is also a traditional Thanksgiving holiday side dish.
     This recipe has been handed down in the southern side of my family since the late 1500's.  Thats right!  My family has been in America since 1586.  "Old world cooking meets the new world" was once the inevitable theme of Colonial American culinary history.
     The Corn Pudding recipe always has been simple.  Corn is combined with English style egg custard and no sugar is added.
     Sweet Corn is the best choice for today's recipe.  The sweeter the better!  After tasting the finished Corn Pudding, guests often swear that sugar must be on the list of ingredients.  The simple milk and egg custard definitely accents the sweetness of ripe fresh corn.
   
     Corn Pudding:
     This recipe yields 2 medium size portions.
     *It is important to keep this in mind when expanding this recipe for making multiple portions.  No matter what the size of casserole dish is, the corn pudding mixture should be less than 2 1/2" deep or the corn will sink to the bottom of the custard.  
     *If only a small amount of corn pudding is made, then use a shallow casserole dish or custard cups.
     *Baking the casserole in a bain marie (water bath) is not traditional.     
     Step 1:  Heat a sauce pot over medium low heat.
     Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of unsalted butter.
     Add 1 tablespoon of finely chopped onion.    
     Gently sauté till the onions turn clear in color.
     Step 2:  Reduce the temperature to low heat.
     Add 1 1/2 cups of fresh Sweet Corn kernels.
     Gently sauté the corn till it sweats and becomes tender.  (This helps to sweeten the corn.)
     Step 3:  Remove the pot from the heat.
     Mash about 1/4 of the corn kernels.
     Set the pot aside and let it cool.
     Step 4:  Place 2 large eggs in a mixing bowl.
     Add an equal amount of cream.  (About 5 ounces.)
     Add 1/4 cup of milk.
     Add 1 pinch of nutmeg.
     Add 1 pinch of sea salt and black pepper.
     Whisk the custard batter
     Step 5:  Pour the custard mixture over the sweet corn in the pot.
     Stir the mixture.
     Step 6:  Lightly brush a small casserole dish with unsalted butter.
     Pour the corn custard mixture into the casserole dish.
     Bake in a 350ºF oven, till the surface of the custard lightly caramelizes.  (About 30 to 45 minutes depending on the size of the casserole dish.)
     Step 7:  Place the casserole on a cooling rack till it reaches a safe serving temperature.
     Set the corn pudding casserole dish on a doily lined serving platter.
   
     Corn Pudding is southern comfort food at its best!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Alpine Soup







     A Hot, Hearty, Delicious Alpine Ski Lodge Style Soup!  
     Alpine soup is perfect for warming up after a enjoying long day of winter sports in cold crisp mountain air.  Revive and revitalize is what this classic soup is designed to do.
     The flavors of this soup are comfortable and inviting.  This soup literally increases a winter weary appetite and even after eating a large bowl, guests often ask for seconds.  Alpine Soup is one of those items that makes the body crave for more!
     I learned how to make this hearty soup about 20 years ago while reading an article about winter ski lodge cuisine.  I served this soup as a winter season soup du jour while working at a fine dine French café and later at a casual English pub.  It did not matter whether the clientele was wealthy retirees or working class stiffs, the customers really liked the Alpine Soup!
     By definition, Alpine Soup is really a potage, because no fancy cooking techniques are involved and all the ingredients are simmered in one pot.  The rich broth provides nutrients that quickly digest.  Alpine Soup is loaded with big pieces of potato that give a tired skier new found energy.  The leafy greens and vegetables provide essential vitamins and minerals.  Chunks of ham and chicken add plenty of protein to heal sore tired muscles.  As far as winter sports food is concerned, Alpine Soup is just what the doctor ordered!
  
     Alpine Soup: 
     This recipe yields about 3 1/2 cups.  This is enough for 2 average portions or 1 large hearty portion.  Someone that spends all day on the cold mountain slopes will certainly prefer the large hearty portion option!
     Step 1:  Heat a large sauce pot over medium low heat.
     Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of unsalted butter.
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of minced garlic.
     Add 1 tablespoon of minced shallot.
     Add 3 tablespoons of thin sliced leek.
     Add 1/4 cup of chopped onion.
     Gently sauté till the leeks wilt and the onions turn clear in color.
     Step 2:  Add just enough flour while stirring, to soak up the excess butter.  (About 3 to 4 teaspoons.)
     Stir for about 30 seconds, so the flour and butter combine to make a roux.
     Step 3:  Add 3 cups of rich chicken stock.
     Add 4 ounces of large bite size pieces of boneless chicken.
     Add 4 ounces of large bite size pieces of ham that are torn by hand.
     Add an 8 ounce peeled russet potato that is cut into 5 or 6 large pieces.
     Add 1 bay leaf.
     Add 1/4 teaspoon of marjoram.
     Add 1 pinch of thyme leaves.
     Add sea salt and black pepper to taste.
     Step 4:  Raise the temperature to medium high heat.
     Bring the soup to a boil, while gently stirring.
     Step 5:  Reduce the temperature to medium/medium low heat.
     Add 1 large Swiss Chard leaf that is cut into large pieces.
     Rapidly simmer and reduce till the potatoes are fully cooked and the total volume of the soup is about 3 1/2 cups.  The thickened broth should be a thin consistency that barely glazes a spoon.
     Step 6:  Keep the soup warm over very low heat.
     Ladle the soup into a large bowl and serve.
  
     This soup does not take much time to prepare.  Alpine soup is not meant to be simmered for an extra long period of time.  Alpine soup is quickly made to order for guests that are cold, tired and hungry!

Turkey a la King







     Turkey a la King!
     Chicken a la King was a popular restaurant menu item many years ago.  The only restaurants that seem to serve this antique recipe in today's modern age are greasy spoon diners, school cafeterias and cheap buffets.  Often the way this classic recipe is prepared at lower tier dining establishments does leave something to be desired.
     On the other hand, a well prepared Chicken a la King is something to marvel over, because the flavor is incredibly good.  A great Chicken a la King can still be found at yacht clubs, country clubs and old fashioned fine dining restaurants that have chefs that cherish antique recipes.
     The original Chicken a la King was created in the 1890's by a chef named William King at the famous Bellevue Hotel in Philadelphia.  Chicken a la King was a fine dining restaurant entrée that received top billing for many years.  
     Many food historians say that sherry was part of the original recipe.  Early in my career I worked with an elderly yacht club cook and he was close to retirement age.  The senior cook started his career in the 1930's and he knew a lot of early 1900's food facts that modern food historians commonly get wrong.  The old cook said that correct liquor for Chicken a la King is Dry Vermouth.
     The old senior cook also recalled when the Turkey a la King recipe variation first became popular at sometime during the 1930's.  He said that many hotel cooks used leftover turkey from Thanksgiving to make Turkey al la King.  Home cooks also did the same thing.  The Turkey a la King recipe was perfect for getting rid of copious amounts of leftover turkey from Thanksgiving dinner.
     Today's recipe is an example of the 1930's style Turkey a la King.  This item was offered on the lunch menu at the yacht club, where the senior yacht club cook and myself worked.  The senior cook always presented the Turkey a la King in a shallow bowl that was lined with toast points, just like the entrée in the photos above.
     Other than substituting turkey for chicken, the "a la King" recipes are nearly identical.  Sweet Peas are added to the turkey version, while the original Chicken a la King requires no peas at all.  
   
     Turkey a la King: 
     This recipe yields one hearty entrée.
     • This recipe is perfect for using up leftover roast turkey from Thanksgiving.  Roast turkey breast is the best choice, but some dark leg meat can be added.  
     • If this recipe is prepared at sometime other than the holiday season, then it will be necessary to roast a piece of turkey.  
     • During spring and summer, turkey is in low demand, so the price is cheap.  It is easier to find packaged turkey parts during the off season too, because few people want to roast a whole big bird when it is not Thanksgiving.  Purchasing a frozen single turkey breast is a good choice.  
     • Purchasing a large piece of roast turkey from a grocery store delicatessen is also an option.
     Step 1:  Either gather some leftover Thanksgiving roast turkey breast or slow roast a single turkey breast section in a 300ºF oven till it is fully cooked.  (About 8 ounces of roasted turkey breast meat is needed.)   
     Step 2:  Place a sauce pot over medium/medium low heat.
     Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of unsalted butter.
     Add an equal amount of flour while constantly stirring with a whisk to make a roux.  (The roux should be shiny and not caky looking.) 
     Stir till the roux is a light golden color.
     Step 3:  Immediately add 2 tablespoons of minced onion.
     Add 1/4 teaspoon of minced garlic.
     Stir for about 10 seconds.
     *The hot roux will cook the onions and garlic instantly!
     Step 4:  Add 2 cups of light turkey broth or chicken stock.
     Add 1/4 cup of dry vermouth.
     Add 1/2 cup of cream.
     Bring the sauce to a gentle boil.  Stir as the sauce as it heats and thickens.  The sauce should be a very thin soupy consistency when it becomes hot.
     Step 5:  Add 8 ounces of large bite size pieces of roast turkey breast.
     Add 1 tablespoon of chopped roasted peeled pimiento.
     Add 1/2 cup of large bite size pieces of mixed red bell pepper and green bell pepper.
     Add 4 small button cave mushroom that are cut in half.
     Add sea salt and white pepper to taste.
     Step 6:  Return the sauce to a gentle boil.
     Step 7:  Reduce the temperature to low heat.
     Gently simmer and reduce the sauce till the vegetables are tender and the sauce is a medium thin consistency that easily coats a spoon.  (Stir the ingredients occasionally.)
     Step 8:  About 5 minutes before serving, add 1/3 cup of frozen sweet peas.
     Keep the Turkey a la King warm over very low heat.
   
     Turkey a la King Presentation:
     This recipe describes 1 entrée presentation.
     Step 1:  Heat a griddle or sauté pan over medium heat.
     Cut as many triangle shaped toast points from a loaf of soft round French Bread (boule) as needed to line the border of the casserole serving dish.
     Brush the toast points with melted unsalted butter.
     Grill the toast points till they are crispy golden brown.
     Step 2:  Ladle the Turkey a la King into a shallow bowl or small casserole dish.
     Place the toast points around the turkey a la king in the casserole dish, so the finished plate resembles a royal crown.
  
     A hearty serving of Turkey a la King is perfect for a chilly day!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Rumaki






     Rumaki!
     Rumaki is an old recipe from the mid 1900's.  Polynesian Food reached a peak in popularity in America during the post WWII era and items like Rumaki became a household name.  Rumaki is considered by many to be one of the greatest cocktail party hors d'oeuvres of them all!  

    Victor Bergeron was better known as Trader Vic!  Victor Bergeron operated a Polynesian theme bar and restaurant called Trader Vic's in Oakland, California.  Many food historians credit Victor Bergeron as being the creator of both the Mai Tai Cocktail and Rumaki.

     I remember how adults in the 1960's were kind of infatuated with fantasies of life in the South Pacific Islands.  The musical screenplay "South Pacific" had a lot to do with why ordinary middle class Americans took interest Polynesian and Hawaiian cultures.  
     I was just a kid in Southern California back in those days, but I do remember the name "Trader Vic" being tossed around while adults played bartender during Saturday night cocktail parties.  Maybe it was because Rumaki or because tropical drinks were being served.  All that matters is that Trader Vic was famous long before he marketed his own food products, rum and his own restaurant chain.  Trader Vic was a cultural icon of sorts, who rode the big Polynesian wave to success.      

     How, where and when Rumaki was invented is still kind of a mystery, but most agree that Rumaki was created in the 1940's.  Whether Trader Vic really created Rumaki is questionable, because the recipe is so simple.  Considering that nearly every Asian culture has a culinary history that dates back several thousand years, more than likely somebody in Asia made Rumaki long before Trader Vic rowed his boat ashore.  
     Regardless, in the 1960's anything that was remotely connected to the Trader Vic name generated spellbound romanticism, because of his association with Polynesian culture.  Trader Vic certainly helped Rumaki to become a famous hors d'oeuvre.  All I can say is more power to good old Trader Vic for getting mainstream America to eat plenty of chicken livers while drinking exotic cocktails out of carved pineapple cups!  

     Rumaki is still served occasionally at country clubs and yacht clubs that feature menus of food from the good old days.  Rumaki is still occasionally offered as a hand passed hors d'oeuvre at high society cocktail parties.  Other than at a Trader Vic's franchise, finding Rumaki on an average bar menu in this modern age is nearly an impossible dream.  
     A person can go all year without thinking of Rumaki, then out of the blue, Rumaki comes to mind when planning a New Years Eve cocktail party.  Rumaki definitely is high on the list of traditional New Years hors d'oeuvres!  

     There are a few cooking methods to choose from when making Rumaki.  Some are better than others.  Deep frying Rumaki till the bacon is crisp is okay, but the bacon will turn out chewy.  Oven roasting the Rumaki till the bacon is crisp, creates a better flavor and texture. 
     How the brown sugar teriyaki sauce is applied does make a difference too.  Some cooks pour the teriyaki sauce over the Rumaki, then slow roast the Rumaki till the sauce saturates the bacon.  This method produces limp soggy Rumaki that have a dark brown color.
     Crisp Rumaki with plenty of teriyaki flavor is what most people prefer.  This can only be accomplished by placing the roasted crisp Rumaki on a wire screen roasting rack in a roasting pan, then lightly saucing the Rumaki, before reheating it for a very short time at a high temperature.  This method was used to make today's Rumaki recipe.  

     I am sure that many readers have lived through nightmarish experiences with bad Rumaki at New Years Eve parties in the past.  When the hors d'oeuvres tray is passed, the wary train of thought goes something like, "I have to eat this ill prepared Rumaki just to be socially polite and I know that I will probably get sick to my stomach before the ball drops at midnight.  Oh well! ... Gulp!" 
     The thought of eating bad Rumaki has plagued New Years Eve cocktail party goers ever since the 1940's.  All it takes is eating spoiled chicken livers once, to remember the ill effects for a lifetime.     
     Rumaki gained a such a reputation for being an "eat at your own risk" food item, that chefs and home cooks went as far as to leave chicken livers out of the recipe.  Rumaki that is made without chicken livers is not Rumaki!  
     To avoid the risk of pathogen contamination and spoilage of Rumaki at cocktail parties, it is best to follow these National Restaurant Association Servsafe food handling rules: 
     • The minimum temperature for cooking chicken is an internal temperature of 165ºF for 15 seconds.  
     • The minimum temperature for reheating food for hot service is an internal temperature of 165ºF for 15 seconds within 2 hours of preparation.
     • The minimum holding temperature for hot food (like in a chafing dish) is 135ºF.  
     • The maximum time limit for ready to eat food held at room temperature is less than 4 hours.  All ready to eat food that has been sitting at room temperature for 4 hours must be discarded.  
     • All time & temperature information pertaining to food items for catered events should be logged on a chart for ease of reference.

     A home cook or host that follows the certified safe food handler rules can minimize the risk of bad food experiences at their own cocktail party.  As a cocktail party guest, never feel obligated to eat suspect food, especially if the food was prepared in a risky manner.  Understanding safe food handler rules can definitely be an asset for self preservation.  

     Teriyaki Sauce for Rumaki:
     This recipe yields enough sauce for about 15 to 20 rumaki.
     A little bit of sauce goes a long way, when keeping the goal of serving rumaki that are not soggy!
     Step 1:  Heat a small sauce pot over medium/medium low heat.
     Add 1/3 cup of water.
     Add 1/4 cup of thin soy sauce.
     Add 4 tablespoons of brown sugar.
     Step 2:  Simmer and reduce the sauce, till it becomes a very thin syrup consistency.  (The sauce should very lightly glaze a spoon.)  
     Remove the sauce from the heat and set it aside.

     Rumaki:
     One bite size piece of chicken liver, one water chestnut wedge and one half of a bacon strip is needed for each rumaki.  Make as many as you wish to make!  The sauce is easy to make and the recipe can be expanded for any amount of Rumaki.
     Step 1:  Cut several strips of smoked bacon in half.  (1/2 strip of bacon per rumaki)
     Step 2:  Cut small bite size wedges of water chestnut.  (1 water chestnut wedge per rumaki.  Canned whole water chestnuts are best for this recipe.)
     Step 3:  Cut bite size pieces of chicken liver that are about the size of a grape.  (1 piece of chicken liver per rumaki)
     Step 4:   *The next few steps describe assembling 1 rumaki.  
     Lay half of a smoked bacon strip on a cutting board.
     Place a bite size chicken liver piece on the bacon.
     Place a small water chestnut wedge on the chicken liver.
     Wrap the bacon tightly around the chicken liver and water chestnut.
     Pierce toothpick skewer through all three ingredients, so the rumaki does not unravel.  
     Step 5:  Place each rumaki on a wire screen roasting rack on a roasting pan.
     Roast the rumaki in a 325ºF oven, till the bacon is crisp and the chicken liver is fully cooked.
     Step 6:  Remove the pan from the oven and set it on a stove top.
     Lightly brush the rumaki with the basting sauce two times.
     Step 7:  Reheat the rumaki in a 350ºF oven, till the center temperature of the rumaki is 165ºF for 15 seconds.
     Step 8:  Remove the pan from the oven.
     Lightly baste the rumaki with the sauce one more time before serving.
     Step 9:  Use tongs to place the rumaki on a serving platter or place the rumaki in a 135ºF chafing dish.  

     Viola!  Crisp Rumaki that is not soggy or saturated with sauce! 

Marinated Arugula and Tomato Salad






     Flavor!
     The peppery flavor of arugula is perfect for marinating with tomatoes.  I have served marinated tomatoes as either an accompaniment or as a complete lunch salad entrée many times in cafés.  Marinated tomato salads are cool and refreshing when the weather is hot.  Marinated salads are a nice choice for chilly days too, because the body seems to crave strong tasting healthy food when the weather is blustery.  

     Vine ripe locally grown tomatoes are the best choice for a marinated salad.  If heirloom tomatoes are available, all the better!
     Most commercial tomatoes in corporate grocery stores are grown from GMO seed.  These tomatoes are harvested green, then they are gassed with Ethylene in order to hasten the ripening process just before they are marketed.  The result is a tomato that tastes more like grassy cardboard than a good tomato.  Gas house GMO tomatoes are usually less meaty and the texture often is grainy.
     It is best to avoid GMO gas house tomatoes altogether.  Paying a little extra for organic tomatoes does send a clear message to profit driven grocers.

     When making marinated tomatoes, try not to over season the tomatoes or use too strong of a marinade.  The tomato should be the featured ingredient and flavor.  The marinade should only accent the ripe tomato flavor.  There is a cooking term for this in Italian.  The word "delicato" loosely translates to "season delicately or delicate flavor."
     When using balsamic vinegar to make a marinated salad, only add a minimal amount.  Balsamic Vinegar has a deep strong flavor and a little bit goes a long way.  Balsamic Vinegar can be heavy on the palate, so adding a touch of acidic red wine vinegar or lemon juice helps to lighten the effect.
     Marinated salads do not have to marinate all day long!  This is especially true when delicate aromatic lettuce greens are used.  Delicate greens will end up looking like cooked spinach if they are marinated for too much time and fresh tomato wedges will become soggy.  For marinated cucumber or tomato salads, marinating somewhere between 20 to 40 minutes is plenty of time.
 
     Marinated Arugula and Tomato:
     This recipe yields enough for 1 salad entrée.
     The arugula is added late in the recipe, so it does not wilt to the point of being limp.
     Step 1:  Place 1/2 tablespoon of virgin olive oil in a mixing bowl.
     Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of pomace olive oil.
     Add 1 tablespoon of imported Italian Modena Balsamic Vinegar.
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of red wine vinegar.
     Add 1/4 teaspoon of lemon juice.
     Add 1 minced garlic clove.
     Add 1 large shallot that is thin sliced.
     Add 1 pinch coarsely ground black pepper.
     Add sea salt to taste.
     Add 1 pinch of oregano.
     Stir the marinade.
     Step 2:  Add 1 large ripe plum tomato that is cut into thin wedges.
     Toss the marinade and tomato together.
     Place the bowl in a refrigerator for 20 minutes.
     Step 3:  Add 2 cups of baby arugula leaves.
     Marinate for 20 more minutes at room temperature.
 
     Marinated Arugula and Tomato Salad: 
     This recipe yields 1 large salad entrée or 2 petite portion salads for a multi course meal. 
     The marinated tomatoes and arugula can be presented any way that is preferred.  Simple café style presentations are best for marinated salads that have a strong flavor!
     Place a bed of a few trimmed Boston Lettuce leaves in shallow salad bowl.
     Mound the marinated arugula and tomato salad on the Boston Lettuce.
     Sprinkle 1 pinch of oregano over the salad.
     Sprinkle about 1 teaspoon fine grated Parmigiana Cheese on the salad.
     Garnish with a few thin slices of mushroom.
 
     This is a refreshing simple marinated salad!

Monday, November 9, 2015

Green Bean and Wild Mushroom Casserole







     Gourmet Comfort Food!
     A popular recipe for Green Bean Casserole is printed on the back of nearly every can of Cream of Mushroom Soup.  During the holiday season, many people follow that easy recipe when preparing side dishes for big family dinners.  Even when only using canned ingredients, Green Bean Casserole is a crowd pleaser, because the flavor is so rich and satisfying.
     As every modern home cook knows, fresh is best!  The days of easy bake canned food recipes have pretty much gone by the wayside in recent years.  Part of the reason why is because consumers are more health conscious and pre-prepared canned food items are usually loaded with artificial ingredients.  The other reason is quality.  Because of food topics being televised in recent years, the general public now knows more about fine food preparation than ever before.  The average home cook prefers cooking quality food with fresh ingredients rather than just settling for convenience.

     At an award winning fine dining restaurant in Florida, we prepared a special Thanksgiving menu that included many traditional American favorite food items.  Green Bean Casserole made from scratch was offered on the holiday menu.  Customers actually ordered second helpings for their table, because they liked the freshly made Green Bean Casserole so much!   We made batch after batch, till we ran out of fresh green beans late in the day.
     Waitresses came back to the kitchen and related compliments from customers.  The compliment that we heard the most went something like, "My customer said that before today he hated Green Bean Casserole, because at home it was always made with canned food and greasy canned crispy fried onions.  The whole table really liked our Green Bean Casserole, because it tasted so fresh!"
     After hearing the compliments that day, I thought of many home style canned food recipes that people dreaded eating, that could be better if they were made the old fashioned way with fresh ingredients.  After that day, I occasionally used fresh ingredients to make a few food items that were stereotypically only thought of canned food creations and the reaction from guests was very good.
     At about that same time in the late 1900's, an American style gourmet diner cuisine trend was just starting to take shape.  Chefs at gourmet diner restaurants were adding a few gourmet ingredients to old Blue Plate Special recipes.  One might say that the gourmet comfort food rejuvenate public interest in classic American diner restaurants.

     American diner food made with fresh gourmet ingredients hit a peak in popularity about the time that the events of 9/11/2001 occurred.  All of a sudden, fusion food that challenged a customer's senses was no longer popular.  During those chaotic hard times, the dining public sought comfort like never before.
     After 9/11, many chef's in fine dining restaurants also realized the profitability of comfort food.  The fine dining restaurant business was volatile at that time and chefs that catered to the needs of the dining public ended up coming out as a winner.
     For example, I was working for a fusion cuisine chef at a Michelin rated French restaurant in a 5 Diamond rated resort shortly after 9/11.  Nobody wanted to eat challenging fusion food at that time and the restaurant was losing money left and right.  After 2 weeks of financial losses, the fusion chef resigned.  A chef from the prestigious Greenbriar Resort took over the kitchen and wrote a solid menu of modern French fine dining comfort food.  With a lot of work from us cooks, the Michelin rated French restaurant ended up setting new sales records of over $98k per night, while many of our competitors went out of business because they failed to market the food that the dining public really wanted.  The dining public sought comfort and fine dining French comfort food was very profitable smash hit!  

     What does all this fine dining French comfort food mumbo jumbo have to do with today's recipe?  At the Michelin rated French restaurant we actually made gourmet comfort food with select fresh ingredients.  The same thing can be done in any home kitchen and the level of difficulty is really not that high.
     Today's casserole recipe features a nice mixture of gourmet mushrooms with fresh green beans that were "French cut" by hand.  The sauce is a simple crème velouté, or in plain English, a thin gravy simmered with the addition of cream.  Crispy Onions are also very easy to make from scratch.  Put it all together and you will have a gourmet Green Bean Casserole that will simply amaze guests!              
     
     Crispy Onions (Onion Straws): 
     This recipe yields enough crispy onions for 3 to 4 portions of green bean casserole.   
     Onion straws, haystack onions and crispy onions are all the same thing.  
     Crispy onions are very easy to make, but it is easy to overcook and burn the crispy onions.  Only small amounts of crispy onions should be fried at a time to prevent dangerous hot oil foaming.    
     Step 1:  Heat 6" of vegetable frying oil in a high sided pot to 360ºF.
     Step 2:  Cut 1 large vidalia onion into paper thin sliced rings.  (The onion rings must be less than 1/16" thick.)
     Step 3:  Place the thin onion slices in a mixing bowl and separate them into rings.
     Add 2 to 3 pinches of sea salt and black pepper.
     Add 1 pinch of cayenne pepper.
     Let the onions sweat from the salt for about 5 minutes.
     Step 4:  Add enough flour to coat the onion rings.  (About 1 1/4 cups.)
     Toss the thin onion rings and flour together, so the onions are evenly coated.
     Step 5:  Place the coated onions in a medium mesh strainer over a mixing bowl.
     Gently shake the strainer to remove the excess flour.
     Step 6:  Deep fry small batches of the coated onions at a time to prevent excessive oil foaming.
     Poke the crispy onions with a fryer net as they fry, to prevent the crispy onions from sticking together.
     Fry till the onions are a crispy golden color.  (This only takes a minute or two.)
     Step 7:  Use a fryer net to remove the crispy onions from the hot oil.  Place them on a wire screen roasting rack over a drip pan to drain off any excess oil.
     Keep the crispy onions warm on a stove top.
     *The frying oil can be saved if the heat is turned off immediately after the frying is done.  The oil must be filtered.  The only problem is that anything else that is fried in the used oil will taste like onions!

     White Roux:
     This yields more than enough roux for the green bean casserole recipe.  Any extra roux can be refrigerated and used to make another recipe.  
     Step 1:  Heat a second sauce pot over medium/medium low heat.
     Add 2 ounces of unsalted butter.
     Step 2:  Add an equal amount flour, while constantly stirring with a whisk, to make a roux.  (The roux should be shiny, not caky looking.)  
     Constantly stir till the roux is a pale whitish color.
     Step 3:  Take the pot of roux off of the heat.  Set the pot aside and occasionally stir as the roux cools.

     Wild Mushroom Crème Velouté: 
     This recipe yields enough for 2 green bean casserole portions.
     Step 1:  Soak 1/4 cup of mixed dried wild mushrooms in 2 cups of water overnight in a refrigerator.  (The mixture can be any combination of chanterelle, porcini, morel or cep mushrooms.)
     Remove the reconstituted mushrooms from the soaking water.
     Pour the mushroom soaking water through a fine mesh strainer into a container and set it aside.
     Coarsely chop the wild mushrooms and set them aside.
     Step 2:  Heat a sauce pot over medium low heat.
     Add 1 tablespoon of unsalted butter.
     Add 2 tablespoons of minced onion.
     Sauté till the onions turn clear in color.
     Step 3:  Add the chopped reconstituted wild mushrooms.
     Add 2 tablespoons of chopped fresh portobello mushroom.
     Gently sauté till a few golden highlights appear.
     Step 4:  Raise the temperature to medium heat.
     Add the reserved mushroom soaking liquid.  (about 1 3/4 cups)
     Add 1/4 cup of chicken broth.
     Bring the liquid to a gentle boil.
     Rapidly simmer and reduce till about 1 1/2 cups of liquid remain.
     Step 5:  Add just enough of the reserved white roux to thicken the sauce to a medium thin consistency, while stirring with a whisk.  The sauce should easily coat a spoon.
     Step 6:  Reduce the temperature to low heat.
     Add 1/2 cup of cream while stirring.
     Add sea salt and black pepper to taste.
     Add 2 pinches of thyme leaves.
     Step 7:  Gently simmer and reduce the sauce till it is medium thin sauce consistency.  (about 1 3/4 cups
     Keep the sauce warm over very low heat.

     Green Bean and Wild Mushroom Casserole:
     This recipe yields 2 portions.
     Step 1:  French cut about 3 cups of trimmed fresh green beans.  (Frenched Green Beans = Cutting the green beans lengthwise into thin strips.)
     Place the Frenched green beans in an 8" wide casserole dish that is about 1" deep.
     Step 2:  Pour a generous amount of the wild mushroom crème sauce over the green beans.  (The sauce should almost cover the green beans.)
     Step 3:  Place the casserole dish on a baking pan.
     Bake in a 350ºF oven till the green beans are hot and the sauce is bubbling.
     Step 4:  Remove the pan from the oven.
     Place a thin layer of the crispy fried onions on top of the casserole.
     Step 5:  Return the casserole to the oven.
     Only bake long enough to heat the crispy onion topping.  (This only takes about 1 or 2 minutes.  Be careful not to burn the crispy onions!)
     Step 6:  Remove the casserole from the oven and let it cool to a safe serving temperature.
     Place the green bean and wild mushroom casserole on a doily lined serving plate.
     No garnish is necessary!
 
     The deep aroma of green beans in a wild mushroom crème velouté sauce with crispy fried onions irresistibly captivating!  This is good what old fashioned traditional comfort food made from scratch is all about!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Pigeon Peas and Ham Soup





     Caribbean Cooking!  
     I cooked a lot of Caribbean food while working in Florida.  Many cooks and chefs that I worked with were from the islands down south.  I learned as much as I could from these folks while the opportunity presented itself.
     Mastering the vast array of Caribbean cuisine spices and chili peppers can difficult to do.  If you want to learn Caribbean cuisine then it is best to start with simple traditional island recipes first, because this style of food is like good old fashioned home cooking with a little bit of spicy heat.
     Arawak and Carib tribes cooked some great food long before the European occupied the islands.  Many food historians agree that the native island food casts the deepest roots of Caribbean cusine.  Jerk and Barbacoa are two good examples of Pre-Colombian cooking styles that are well known in this modern age.  Both Jerk and Barbacoa require local chile peppers that are very spicy hot!
     Pigeon Peas are native to tropical Eastern India and they were introduced to the Caribbean during the European age of Imperialism and slavery.  Pigeon Peas have a deep rich flavor like lentils.  Pigeon peas are a main staple in the Caribbean and they are almost always served with rice.
     Today's pigeon pea soup recipe involves no tricky techniques.  Like many traditional Caribbean soups, this bean soup is simply boiled.  The pigeon peas impart a rich flavor.  The simple combination of peppers and allspice creates a zesty, yet warm comfortable taste sensation.
  
     Pigeon Peas and Ham Soup: 
     This recipe yields about 2 3/4 cups of soup.  (2 medium size servings) 
     Canned pigeon peas are much easier to find at grocery stores than dried pigeon peas.  Canned pigeon peas are tender enough to mash, so this reduces the simmering time.    
     Go sparing with the Scotch Bonnet pepper, because it is only meant to impart flavor to this soup! 
     Step 1:  Place 1 1/2 cups of rinsed canned pigeon peas or (rinsed cooked dried pigeon peas) in a mixing bowl.
     Use a potato masher or a fork to mash half of the pigeon peas.
     Set the pigeon peas aside.
     Step 2:  Place 2 1/2 cups of light chicken broth in a sauce pot.
     Add 2 tablespoons of diced celery.
     Add 2 tablespoons of diced carrot.
     Add 2 tablespoons of diced onion.
     Add 1 chopped green onion.
     Add 1 chopped small plum tomato.
     Add 2 tablespoons of diced green bell pepper.
     Add 2 tablespoons of diced red bell pepper.
     Add 1/2 of a minced seeded Scotch Bonnet Chile Pepper.  (Or adjust the spicy heat to taste.  If no Scotch Bonnets are available, then substitute 1/2 of a Green Habanero Pepper.)
     Step 3:  Bring the chicken broth to a boil over medium high heat.
     Step 4:  Add the reserved partially mashed pigeon peas to the soup.
     Add 2 ounces of roasted ham that is torn into small bite size pieces by hand.
     Add 1 bay leaf.
     Add 1 pinch of allspice.
     Add sea salt and black pepper.
     Step 5:  Bring the soup back to a gentle boil.
     Step 6:  Reduce the temperature to low heat.
     Slowly simmer and reduce, till the pigeon peas are very tender and the mashed pigeon peas thicken the broth to a medium thin consistency.
     Step 7:  Remove the bay leaf.
     Ladle the soup into a large soup bowl.
     Garnish the soup with a slice of buttered grilled bread.
  
     This soup tastes nice and savory!  For those who prefer extra spicy heat, serve with a bottle of Matouk's or Ocho Rios Scotch Bonnet Hot Sauce on the side.  A little bit of Scotch Bonnet goes a long way!

Monday, November 2, 2015

Steak, Mushroom and Gruyère Puff Pastry with Cabernet Glacé








     Fancy Café Style Comfort Food!     
     Many years ago, I cooked in a little French bakery café that was located just outside of Philadelphia.  The owner of the restaurant was a classic Swiss chef.  The chef offered several kinds of savory puff pastry creations on the menu.  The savory puff pastries took about 10 minutes to bake if they were prepared ahead of time.  These items were perfect for shoppers and the business lunch clientele, because these customers expect to be served and out the door in less than 45 minutes.  
     One thing about restaurants in malls and shopping areas is that the flow of business can be feast or famine.  During the holiday season the restaurants were very busy, but during the dog days of summer, the restaurants only served one or two customers per day.  Even though the Swiss chef's cuisine was great, because of the mall customer flow the restaurant ended up closing due to profitability issues.  

     In recent years consumers have taken interest in manufactured frozen "turnover" style pastry sandwich products.  Most of the mass produced savory turnover products are low in quality and they leave much to be desired.  The list of artificial ingredients on the package is long and this adds to the reason why such products should be avoided.  
     Instead of letting the old French bakery café quick savory puff pastry lunch item become a relic of the past, I decided to whip up a recipe example.  A homemade pastry like this is very easy to make and it tastes much better than the manufactured frozen savory turnover products that are marketed on television.  

     Puff Pastry that is made from scratch is the best.  Puff Pastry is relatively easy to make, but the process is time consuming.  In keeping with today's quick and easy recipe convenience theme, pre-made frozen puff pastry is a good option.  The savory stuffing ingredients can be prepared in less than 10 minutes, which is about the same amount of time that it takes to thaw a sheet of frozen puff pastry.  
     Why make your own savory puff pastry entrée?  The reasons are easy to see!  Number one, the quality and flavor will be better than a manufactured turnover product.  Secondly, preparing a savory puff pastry opens the door of home kitchen chef creativity.  Whipping up an easy to make gourmet meal that offers comfortable savory flavors will impress guests.  This is always a good thing!  
     This puff pastry can be prepared ahead of time then refrigerated.  This makes for an easy home cooked meal after a busy day.  In a busy restaurant kitchen, it is always nice to have a few "easy bake" entrées on the menu. 

     The great thing about today's steak, mushroom and gruyère savory pastry recipe, is that the puff pastry crust seals all of the flavor inside.  The aroma is mouth watering when the pastry is cut open!  
     A simple gourmet style accompanying sauce is best for a simple savory pastry.  The sauce for today's recipe is a simple Cabernet Sauvignon Wine and beef stock reduction.
     Many chefs use the word "Reduction" when describing a sauce on a menu.  A Reduction Sauce might be tasty, but seeing the word "Reduction" on a menu does not exactly inspire romantic ambiance!  A better choice of menu description is the French word "Glacé" which loosely translates to "translucent like ice or glassy in appearance."     

     Steak, Mushroom and Gruyère Puff Pastry:
     This recipe yields 1 large savory puff pastry entrée. 
     Lean beef is best for this recipe.  Top Sirloin Steak or Ball Tip Steak are good choices.
     Packages of frozen sheets of puff pastry dough can be found in most grocery stores.  Some brands are better than others.
     Step 1:  Select 6 ounce lean beef steak.
     Season the beef with sea salt and black pepper.
     Step 2:  Heat a sauté pan over medium/medium high heat.
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of vegetable oil.
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of unsalted butter.
     Sauté the steak on both sides, till it is cooked one shade lighter than the desired finish temperature.  (medium rare to medium is best)
     Remove the from the pan and set it aside.
     Step 2:  Drain the grease out of the sauté pan.  (dégraisser)
     Place the sauté pan over medium low heat.
     Step 3:  Add 2 teaspoons of unsalted butter.
     Add 1 teaspoon of finely chopped shallot.
     Add 1 clove of minced garlic.
     Sauté till the shallots turn clear in color.
     Step 4:  Add 1/3 cup of thin sliced mushrooms.
     Add 1 pinch of Herbs de Provence.
     Add sea salt and black pepper to taste.
     Gently sauté till the mushrooms are fully cooked.
     Step 5:  Add 1/4 cup of water.
     Scrape and deglaze the brown suc that is stuck on the bottom of the pan.
     Step 6:  Simmer and reduce till nearly all of the liquid evaporates.
     Place the mushroom mixture in a mixing bowl.
     Step 7:  Slice the seared steak into very thin, bite size strips.
     Add the sliced steak to the mushrooms in the mixing bowl.
     Add 1/4 cup of grated Gruyère Cheese.  (Swiss Emmentaler Cheese can be substituted for Gruyère, if none is available.)
     Toss the steak mixture together and set it aside.
     Step 8:  Cut an 8" x 8" square of puff pastry dough.
     Place the pastry dough on a lightly flour dusted counter top.
     Mound the steak, gruyere and mushroom filling on the center of the pastry dough.  Leave a 1" wide border of bare puff pastry dough around the filling.
     Step 9:  Pull the opposing pastry square corners up and over the filling, so they meet at the center of the top of the pastry and a ball shape starts to take form.
     Pinch the pastry dough corners together, so they stay in place.
     Step 10:  Pull the loose open folds of the pastry dough up and pinch them together on top of the pastry, so the ball shape is complete.
     *Be sure to completely seal the filling inside the pastry or the melted cheese will leak out when it is baked!
     Trim any excess dough off from where the pastry dough was pinched together.
     Step 11:  Place the buttered piece of parchment paper on a baking pan.
     Set the stuffed pastry ball on the parchment paper, so the area where the pastry is pinched together is facing down.
     *You can decorate the ball shaped pastry with any extra pastry dough, if you want a fancier presentation or just leave it plain for a modest presentation.  Cut some excess pastry dough into something like flower petal shapes and use egg wash to attach the decorations.  
     Step 12:  Brush the stuffed pastry ball with egg wash.
     Step 13:  Bake the pastry in a 375ºF oven till it is a light golden brown color.  (About 15 to 20 minutes.)
     Let the Steak, Mushroom and Gruyere Puff Pastry rest for 2 minutes before serving.
     *The Cabernet Sauvignon Glacé can be made while the pastry bakes!
  
     Cabernet Sauvignon Glacé:
     This recipe yields about 2 1/2 tablespoons.
     Step 1:  Heat a small sauce pot over medium heat.
     Add 1 cup of cabernet sauvignon wine.
     Add 1/2 cup of rich beef stock.
     Step 2:  Bring the liquid to a gentle boil.
     Rapidly simmer and reduce the liquid till it becomes a thin syrup consistency that can lightly glaze a spoon.
     Remove the pot from the heat and keep it warm on a stove stop.

     Steak, Mushroom and Gruyère Puff Pastry with Cabernet Glacé:
     Spoon the cabernet sauvignon glacé on a plate in a decorative manner, as a bed for the pastry.
     Place the pastry on the cabernet glacé.
     Serve with a vegetable medley of your choice.
     Garnish the plate with an Italian Parsley sprig.
  
     This is a very nice comfort food entrée for a chilly day!