Cooking For Your Baby

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As a chef, culinary instructor and nutritionist my life was building up to the moment I would get to introduce real foods to my son.  But, as the time drew near, I realized there wasn’t much information out there to guide the way for me. Well actually, there is so much arm-chair advice to read through and conflicting opinions. My head was spinning from internet forums, old wives tales and approaches to feeding based on very thin evidence. I set to work scouring research literature, talking to other parents and testing recipes on my own budding gastronome. With everything I learned and some practical experience under my belt, I was able to put together an excellent class about cooking for babies. We covered introducing new foods, safety, allergies, nutrition and helping your little one develop an adventurous palette. We also cooked and tasted some extraordinary, healthy and delicious foods fit for everyone from baby on up to parents. The first run of this class was a success, and I can’t wait to hold more in the near future!

For details about my next round of classes, check here, and sign up for e-mail updates.

Cooking With Fair Trade Chocolate & Coffee

Behold: My internet video debut!

I teamed up with the Jewish Farm School to make some really fun videos about cooking with coffee and chocolate.  Each of the four recipes happens to be kosher for Passover, hence the timing of the video launch.  Spread the word and help my excellent videos go viral!

Ingredient Driven: Chickpeas

The humble chickpea.

Far and away my favorite legume.  They began for me as this vaguely healthy addition to salads at the family dinner table.  I liked them because they had been accompanied by a salty broth in the can from whence they came.  A salad without them was just lettuce, but with chickpeas it became dinner.  Years later I tried something called hummus, and upon learning it consisted largely of my funny-named salad fixin’ – I was sold.

Chickpeas are the earliest known cultivated legumes.  If you most readily associate them with middle eastern food, that is because we can date them as far back as 7500 years in that region as a staple food ingredient.  Also known as ceci or garbanzo beans, they come in different shades.  Most easily recognized is the larger, lighter Kabuli chickpea.  The Desi chickpea, seen more often on the Indian subcontinent, is smaller and darker, sometimes referred to as the “black chickpea.”

These days, chickpeas from the can are fine in a pinch, but I prefer stocking up on them dried.  As with other beans, soak overnight in plenty of water so they have room to expand.  Simmer the soaked chickpeas for 1-2 hours in at least double their volume of water, skimming the foam that initially rises to the top.  You can add aromatics to the cooking liquid such as onions, garlic, herbs and dried ham.  The liquid strained from the chickpeas once cooked is an unparalleled broth in and of itself.  I highly recommend pressure-cooking for an incredibly soft and creamy texture. Bring your cooker to full pressure for six minutes, and then remove from the stove.  Allow the pressure to reduce naturally – about 20 minutes.  Pressure -cooked and deep fried chickpeas tossed with salt, sugar and smoked paprika ended up being one of the most popular items I’ve ever put on a menu.  So simple…

I’ve gone off on a chickpea tangent recently.  You can get them dry-roasted at most any Middle Eastern market, for snacking on.  I opt for the lightly or un-salted variety, and crush them for use as a crusty exterior when pan-frying.  I like to leave them fairly coarse, for an extra crunchy texture.  Here’s a recipe for chickpea crusted chicken thighs.  No big mysteries here.  You use the standard breading procedure, subbing the chickpeas for breadcrumbs.  Enjoy!

Chickpea Crusted Chicken Thighs   

Chickpea Crusted Chicken Thighs with Romaine Salad

Ingredients:
4 boneless chicken thighs – pounded flat
1 cup AP flour
2 eggs
2 cups dry-roasted chickpeas – crushed or pulsed in a food processor
2 heads romaine lettuce
2 Tbls chopped fresh parsley
2 Tbls chopped fresh tarragon
8 boquerones (white anchovies) – rough chopped
2 Tbls red wine vinegar
1 tsp dijon mustard
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt and black pepper
Grapeseed oil for pan frying
1 lemon – cut into wedges

Season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper and set aside so they can come to room temperature.

To prepare the salad, wash the romaine lettuce and fresh herbs.  Cut the heads of lettuce in half lengthwise, so there is one large wedge for each chicken thigh.  Combine the vinegar, mustard and chopped anchovies in a small bowl, and slowly whisk in the olive oil.  Season the vinaigrette with salt and pepper if necessary.

Lay out three small trays.  Whisk the two eggs through a fine mesh strainer into one of the trays and add ¼ cup of water.  Put the flour in one tray and the bread crumbs in another.  To bread the chicken, dip each seasoned thigh first in the flour and make sure it is completely coated with a thin layer.  Next, transfer it to the egg wash, and completely coat it with egg.  Use tongs or a fork to avoid eggy fingers.  Finally, transfer the egg washed chicken to the bread crumbs, and press them on tight with your hands to form a full layer of crumbs.

Heat a large skillet with ¼ inch of grapeseed oil.  When the oil is shimmering, carefully add the breaded chicken thighs.  They should sizzle aggressively when placed in the oil.  Do not overcrowd the pan.  Fry in batches or use multiple skillets so that each piece of chicken has space and oil around it.  Adjust the heat if the oil gets too hot.  Cook the chicken thighs for 3-4 minutes on each side. When cooked all the way through, the chicken should be firm and springy to touch.  Remove them from the pan and place on a cooling rack set on a tray to catch dripping oil.

Dress the romaine with the fresh herbs and vinaigrette.  Serve each chicken thigh with a wedge of romaine lettuce and a wedge of lemon.

 

Red!

Yesterday was the third in a series of mono-chromatic pot luck get togethers I’ve had the pleasure of participating in.  Previously, we’ve explored foods that are green and yellow.  I found red to be the most challenging to date.  Many of the foods we associate with the color red are not actually red.  Red beets and cabbage are purple.  Ruby red grapefruits are pink.  Even blood oranges don’t exactly register as red.  Furthermore, some of the most vibrantly red foods become otherwise once cooked.  I was determined to capture some pure red, and make it sound off as loud as possible.  A crumbly base of freeze-dried raspberries and strawberries with toasted red quinoa, hazelnut, Piment Esplette, sichuan peppercorn and coriander provided the reddest of red backdrop for other red and red friendly bites:

      

The base; butter poached red potatoes with labne & piment esplette; green figs, pickled watermenlon rind wrapped in bresola, swiss chard stems & tumeric dipped fresh mozz; perfect to snack on while sipping a Negroni!

My Favorite Pickles

I’ve been buying lots of great produce from an upstart food cooperative in my neighborhood, The Bushwick Food Coop (I also post fun recipes on their website!). On a recent pickup, there was a huge box of surplus yellow cucumbers for the taking.  And, as if a message sent from above – a bundle of flowering dill up for grabs as well.  I gathered as much as would fit in my reusable shopping bags and ran home to stick it all in brine.  You see, sour dill pickles made by fermenting cucumbers in a salt water brine are my absolute favorite! Half sour…full on sour…bring it on by the bucket full!  Salt concentration in the brine creates and environment in which friendly yeasts on the surface of the cucumbers can thrive and other – less desirable – microbes are kept at bay.  Along with the fermentation caused by yeasts at work; the flowering dill, black peppercorns, coriander and mustard seeds give these jewish deli staples their characteristic flavor.  The amount of salt in your brine is important as well. Lower concentration will allow a quick fermentation and thus less – or shall we say half – sour flavor.  More salt will slow down the fermentation and result in a more pronounced sourness.  All this souring action takes place between 65 and 75 degrees F, and lasts about three days for the half sours and five for the full.  The cucumbers must be held completely under the brine, lest exposed sections fall victim to nasty molds.  Food grade plastic bags filled with the same brine your cucumbers are swimming in will help weigh them down.  Any yeasty scum that rises to the top should be periodically skimmed away.  Once the fermentation is complete, your pickles can live in the fridge or be canned properly – unless you eat them all first, that is.  This is an easy project.  Sure, there are some missteps that can be made along the way, but once you have it down it’s almost effortless.  Then you can move on to perfecting your own pastrami!

   

For more explicit instructions and salt – water ratios, you can find endless guidance on the web.  I like to tweak things from project to project, so don’t have a perfected recipe to share just yet.  My favorite pickling recipe book is The Joy of Pickling.  Don’t hesitate to grab a copy if you plan to do any pickling in your lifetime.  It’s worth every cent!

Heavy Rain, Strong Winds & Pork…

Last night while mother nature was gently reminding New York City who’s in charge, I was tinkering around in the kitchen of a beautiful Brooklyn Heights apartment overlooking the East River and the Brooklyn Bridge – cloaked in storminess.  While I sang the praises of a vegetable forward cooking in the previous post, I won’t be turning a cold shoulder to a good old fashioned meat extravaganza.  While they marveled at the wind and rain outside, eight diners devoured a mountain of pork I had the pleasure of preparing for them.  There’s no satisfaction quite like waking up to a pork shoulder that has been roasting overnight to see that it’s done….just perfectly done…

     

Grapefruit, cucumber & creme fraiche awaiting chilled yellow beet soup; butter lettuce, rhubarb, bacon & green goddess; frying up the seed coated ribs; belly & dandelion green buns; shoulder waiting to be torn apart; buckwheat chocolate cake!

When Vegetables Take Center Stage

Last night I prepared a multi-course vegetarian tasting menu to celebrate someone’s 60th birthday.  While I remain enthusiastic about cooking with meat, I feel strongly that any cook should know how to work with vegetables first and foremost.  When called upon to make a delicious meat-free meal, it should shine on it’s own.  Over reliance on pasta, bread and dairy means you’re not using your imagination and more importantly not bringing out the natural greatness of the vegetables themselves that mother nature made possible.  I’ve been going full-veg often lately – for clients, but also for myself and friends when cooking at home.  While meatiness will always be near and dear to my heart, I see a shift towards more plant forward cooking ahead of me.  It’s healthier, better for the planet, and more cost effective.  And as I’m discovering – just as exciting as putting bacon all up in everything!  Here are some highlights from last night’s menu:

       

Lightly pickled vegetables, white bean puree & toasted seeds; whole fava beans; poached rhubarb, roasted peppers, purslane & amaranth; beets, carrots & turnips in their own pesto with creme fraiche & lemon ash; spring onion, wheat berries, kale and chamomile; Chickpea, walnut & lambs quarter ragout; whipped chocolate, cherries & greek yogurt with meringue.

Over heard while plating up one of these dishes: “If I could eat like this everyday, I could be a vegetarian!”

Let’s not give up on meat so easily folks!  But I’ll take that complement and stick it like a feather in my cap…