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!

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!

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…

¡Arepas!

Arepas have become very popular in New York lately, along with the myriad variations of flat cakes made from masa – each representing a different Latin American cultural background.  Instead of waiting in line, my team chose to make some of our own for lunch:

   

Griddling Arepas, Scrambling Eggs with Huitlacoche, The Spread, Stuffed & Stacked!

Green Dinner

I had the chance to participate last night in the first of what will be a series of mono-chromatic supper club type get-togethers.  First up was GREEN, the color of spring.  The wonderful produce all around us left no shortage of possibilities.  I jumped on the opportunity to extract some chlorophyll from spinach leaves – a super geeky way to take green foods to a whole new level!  Not so difficult, but a little time consuming:

   

A few more GREEN dinner moments:

   

(hover over the pics for some words)