Thursday, July 29, 2010


A loooooooooooooooong time ago a reader asked me about knives, and so I thought I'd better get around to that subject already!

All of my knife "skills" have been self-taught from watching the pros on TV. I still cut moderately slowly so that I do not lose any digits along the way, and I think you should too if you have any doubts, and especially if you value your fingers.
Which you really should because they are the most useful tools you have in the kitchen.

(Note: I am quite positive that even if I spent all day every day for the next decade doing nothing but prep dicing and mincing in various kitchens, I still would not be able to churn out 5 cloves of garlic sliced paper-thin WITHOUT LOOKING in 30 seconds. Mario Batali and Jamie Oliver have magic skills. I have shaky hands.)

Are those stunning or what? It's like Knife Porn. GORGEOUS!!!
Ok, so we'll start off with a few Knife Brands.
Wusthof - everyone has seen these around, and they are a highly popular brand, very well made, and available everywhere. Classics stay classic for a reason.

Chicago Cutlery - This is probably the most economical knife set you can buy. I've never held one, but they look snazzy, and for a starting-out cook probably a good bet.

Global - Japanese, with a more angled edge than German or American knives, and probably the lightest weight knives I have held. I own these knives and I LUURRVE them. (That's super love for clarification.) Their 100% steel body also means no microbes or bacteria can soak into a wooden handle and fester there. (Ick.)

Shun - These knives are fantastic for intricate work as well as every day work, but they are Big Buck$, which is why I only own a bread knife from them. But it cuts through the crustiest of breads without crushing it or turning my cutting board into a sawdust field. Covet.

Füri - all I know about these is that they make an orange handle for Rachael Ray. But their self-sharpening holder is pretty darned clever.

The bottom line is, take good care of your knives, and they should take good care of you. But if you're registering for your wedding, I'd definitely ask for a higher-end Santoku or Chef's Knife while you've got other people willing to gift them!
Maybe you won't get them from your Ex, but it's worth trying.
Knife Care
  • Every day when you take out your knife to use it, you should give it a few slides on your sharpening steel. This will make the life of the edge of your knife much longer. Here is a handy article on how to properly use one.
  • NEVER leave a dirty knife in the sink (CERTAINLY NOT in a sink full of water!) or on the counter. When you are done using it, wash it with mild dish soap, dry it thoroughly, and put it away safely.
  • Never put away a wet knife. The moisture can get trapped in your knife block and do bad things.
  • Slide knives gently into their knife blocks. No need for unnecessary nicking.
  • Every few months I break out my electric knife sharpener to clean up the edges on the knives I use most, but I get A LOT of use out of my knives on a daily basis. You may not need to have your knives professionally re-sharpened for years.

Not that kind of Knife Practice!

Knife Practice
As I stated before, I will never be able to dice things at lightening speed, but my knife skills have improved with time and practice. Things to remember:
  • Keep your fingertips curled in and your knuckles against the flat of your blade and you should avoid most injuries.
  • DO NOT LOOK AWAY WHILE CHOPPING! If you must check on your pot of boiling water or whatever, cease to cut for those two seconds, then return. This goes for grating things on Microplanes as well. Resist the urge to multi-task. Your fingers and knuckles will thank me later.
  • When chopping or dicing, etc, I always try to keep the point of my blade on the cutting board (or very close to it) and then cut through the vegetable in one smooth motion. Don't saw back and forth. If you have to do that, you haven't followed the above advice on how to take care of your blades. (Or you are slicing a big loaf of bread, in which case it's acceptable.) The straight up-and-down method of chopping seems to be reserved for knife masters like Batali and Oliver. If you're that good also, kudos to you.
  • Cut things the same size whenever possible. The reason for this is not that all chefs and cooks are anal-retentive and need things geometrically pleasing. It is because when an item of food is diced into equal sizes, then those pieces will cook at the same rate. If you cut up a squash and some pieces are 3" square and some are only half an inch square, don't say "It'll all even out in the FoPro when I purée it" because you will most likely end up with a few undercooked bits instead.

Knife Types
There are so many! Cleavers, boning knives, filet knives, vegetable knives, tomato knives, chef's knives, utility knives, serrated knives, grapefruit knives...
So what do you really need in the kitchen? I think you can get along just fine with the following:
1 seven inch Santoku or Chef's Knife, for all your major dicing, slicing, and chopping needs
1 paring knife, for smaller work
1 serrated bread knife (offset or not)
1 cheese knife for soft cheeses like mozzarella (They really do make your life easier.)

Anything more is just gravy, or to be used by your sous chef.

Knife Storage
If you have especially beautiful knives, you can do that magnetic wall-mount system, but in general I prefer a knife block. It protects the blades, it protects clumsy and curious people and animals, and you know right away if something is missing.
Never, EVER, store your knives together in a drawer. The blades will nick each other causing damage, not to mention reaching into a drawer of loose knives is just foolish. 

I hope that answered a few questions! (I always try to answer any sent my way.) Good luck and happy dicing!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Rooftop Dining

While the weather during the day is still rather frightful (read above 90º and frequently humid) some nights have been blessedly cool (only 81º!) and that means picnicking on the roof!

And no, I'm not sneaking up there. We happen to be lucky enough to live in a building with a finished roof. This is a first for me in my NYC dwelling, and it makes me somewhat absurdly happy.

So does this!
The proper way to start a roof picnic is with margaritas and guacamole. (Since the hubs won't touch guac, it was all mine!) It contained the usual suspects: ripe avocados, lime juice, cumin, chili powder, diced shallot or red onion, minced jalapeño (seeded), diced tomato, salt, and chopped fresh cilantro.

The key to the margarita is of course good silver tequila, lots of fresh lime juice, and salt, with a bit of cointreau and agave nectar to taste.

For the food I tried to keep it fairly simple.
Step one: cook two chicken breasts. I just used some shallot (left over from making the guacamole) and salt for seasoning. (I did this ahead of time so I could make dinner in 5 minutes when we were ready to hit the roof.)
Now the fun part.

I set down two slices of prosciutto, and layered fresh mozzarella and 3-4 fresh basil leaves.
Place the cooked chicken breasts on top and wrap the prosciutto around.

Place them cheese-side UP in a medium-high nonstick skillet. Leave them there for about two minutes to allow the prosciutto to seal itself to the chicken (and crisp a bit.) Then flip.
When the cheese has just started to ooze and melt you know the second side is done as well.

For the veg I diced a bit of bacon, crisped it up and added frozen peas and a splash of water. Three minutes after adding the peas, it was done.
Now to the roof!

The hubs kindly cut into his so I could take a picture.
Wow does natural light make a difference!
And I shall leave you with a little more natural light.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Nothin' Says "I Love You" Like Stuffed French Toast

At least that's the case if your hubs is a die-hard breakfast man as mine is.
The setup. 
(Note: I should have used 3 eggs for the two large pieces of french toast I made.)

The store was out of challah when I got there, except for one loaf that had raisins in it, and since I know the hubs is not a fan, I went with brioche instead. Annoyingly, the brioche also had a HOLE in the middle  due to air bubbles, which I did not know until I started making breakfast the next morning. That made stuffing the french toast much more difficult. Oh well. I persevered.

The pocket.

In order to make stuffed french toast you could simply make regular french toast and put a tasty filling between two slices. Instead I chose the harder way.
I sliced the bread extra thick, and then cut a pocket about 3/4 of the way into the bread in which to spoon the filling of choice. This time around for the filling I simply combined roughly equal parts good strawberry preserves and room temperature cream cheese, because the fresh strawberries that would garnish looked and smelled divine. Simple but super tasty is the way to go.

While the brioche was sucking up scrambled eggs, a splash of cream, a TSP of cinnamon, and a waft of nutmeg (I don't know how else to describe it... about 6 passes over the fine microplane) I got started on the... appetizer? Amuse bouche? Whatever. The tasty first round, also known as BACON.

Ammendment: Nothing says "I love you" like stuffed french toast and BACON.

Note: the longer you let the bread sit in the egg mixture, the more flavorful and decadent your french toast will be. I'm not talking days, but twenty minutes can make a big difference.

The rest was pretty straight forward. I poured the fat from the bacon out of the pan, added about a TBSP of butter, and cooked the egg-laden toast until crispy on both sides. (In the same pan for "essence of bacon" in the toast :)
 Fresh strawberries, extra filling on the side, a dusting of powdered sugar, and the extra piece of bacon the hubs kindly saved for me while I was still cooking. (I totally ate one piece before serving him because I wasn't sure I'd get out of the kitchen in time to eat any myself!) and breakfast was done.
And really, really good.
Try it out some morning when your S.O. is especially deserving.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Electric Six Boat Cruise

No, I have no pictures of the band as we stayed up on the deck the entire time. That way we had the view, the breeze, and the speakers playing the music for us. We = Smart.

We were joined on our 3 Hour Tour by my big bro, friends Jim & Cathy, Candy & Joel (newly engaged!), and a few surprise appearances by newer acquaintances and even a fellow Wesleyan alum.
It was a good group.

Have you ever tried to take pictures, at night, with a mildly banged-up point and shoot that is almost 5 years old, on a boat that is bobbing up and down and moving forwards?
Yeah, the pictures don't quite come out in focus...

But at least you can (probably) tell that that's the Brooklyn Bridge.

That is the view of the southern tip of Manhattan at night.
(It was a bit dèjá vu after our trip to Governor's Island.)

So many bridges.

Some of the crew havin' a grand ol' time.

And a grand ol' time it was.
Friends, booze, live music, and a boat with balmy (once you were actually out on the water) weather.
Definitely an anniversary well spent.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Chicken with Leek & White Bean Purée

Tomorrow is the hubs and my 4th wedding anniversary, and so far the week leading up to it has been less than stellar. Most plans have fallen through or just been vastly disappointing. Meatopia, I'm lookin' at YOU!

This year, instead of our annual swanky dinner date at Maze at The London (Gordon Ramsay may be an ass, but he makes some seriously tasty food) we decided to go on a Rock 'n Roll Boat Cruise on the East River, featuring Electric Six. Here's hoping it's awesome. If they play that song more than once, it will be.

That said, this Rock 'n Roll Gourmet likes to have things both ways, so I have a surprise lunch date set at Maze for Friday afternoon. That way we get a Rock 'n Roll Boat Cruise as well as some semblance of our romantic tradition.
And I'm not ruining any surprises because the hubs never reads my blog.
(Frown-y face and tiny violins....)


This meal was really all about the Leek & White Bean Purée, which was based on a Jamie Oliver recipe I copied down after seeing it on "Jamie at Home" or some such program, but with a little tweaking. What I came up with was so tasty, I used it as the bed for some very basic chicken, but it would also work as a sauce in place of gravy, and it can count as your vegetable. It's very versatile!!

For the chicken breasts, I seasoned them with salt and minced fresh thyme, adding them to the browning diced shallot and olive oil. The usual 7 minutes on the first side until 1/2-2/3 opaque, and then flip, etc..
 Finish the chicken breasts with a spritz of fresh lemon juice.

For the Leek & White Bean Purée: (this was just enough to make a bed for 2 chicken breasts with a little left over. Adjust accordingly. I certainly will in the future.)
1 cup sliced leek (you can sub a large yellow onion)
3/4 - 1 can of cannellini beans
1 clove of garlic
1/4 cup white wine
1 TBSP half & half  (or cream) (that's a rough estimate)
1 TSP mascarpone (optional decadence)
lemon juice
chicken stock (Only if you want to thin it into more of a sauce or if you added "too much" mascarpone. Ha!)

To Make:
Sauté leeks on medium in 2 TBSP olive oil and 1 TBSP butter until soft and beginning to caramelize. Salt well.

When the leeks have mostly browned, grate the clove of garlic into the mix. Then add about 1/4 cup of white wine and cook for 2 minutes.

Next I put the can of rinsed white beans into the mini food processor with a splash of water and puréed them all until smooth. Then transfer them to the hot pan and cook an additional 3 minutes.
Loosen the mixture with about a tablespoon of half and half, and finish off the heat with 1 heaping teaspoon of mascarpone cheese. Stir to combine.
Check for seasoning (it will need a decent amount of salt), and finish with a drizzle of lemon juice. (Maybe a TSP or two. Taste as you add it.) You can add some of the lemon zest while you're at it.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


So this weekend on Governor's Island was what should have been a brilliant event entitled "Meatopia." Dozens of well respected and popular chefs and representatives had tents serving various forms of BBQ'd meat. Unfortunately, the people who planned this clusterf*$k had no idea how to organize it, how to limit human traffic, or how to plan for how many tickets they sold.
Ideas for the future:
Limit the number of attendees (a.k.a. have a sell-out point)
Inform the chefs of the highest projected number of attendees
Have different entry times. Try using different colored wristbands so people have to leave.
Just a few suggestions...
I planned this day as a gift to the hubs, as our 4-year wedding anniversary is later this week, and as I may have mentioned before, he is a big fan of most meats and just about anything barbecued.

We got to the event about 3 hours in (would have been earlier except there were delays on the ferry) and three hours before it ended. We each had a ticket for six tastings, which means we SHOULD have been able to sample about half of the dishes available.
We were not.

Examples of things we did not get to try:
Pecan Smoked Short Rib over Asian Slaw & Bourbon Infused Mashed Sweets
Pulled Pork Shoulder
Pulled Pork Sliders
La Caja China Roasted Pigs
Smoked Duck Tacos (Sue Torres of Sueños Restaurant)
Barbacoa De Boreggo (Mexican BBQ Lamb)
Baron of Beef (from The Little Owl)
Marinated Skirt Steak (Christopher Lee of Aureole)
Grilled Bacon Sandwich
Honey-glazed Baby Back Ribs w/ Thai Basil & Mint (The Hurricane Club)
Lamb Spare Ribs, Plum & Sesame Glazed

The reason we did not get to try any of these things is because THEY RAN OUT! Hours before the event ended most of the tents were empty, and in the last hour there were only 4 places still serving, and the lines were hundreds of people long. We only got to taste three things total, and the only really decent one was the bison steak from High Plains Bison.
Apparently the people running it had no clue how many tickets and tastings had been sold and so no information was passed to the chefs. NOT COOL, PEOPLE!
Standing in lines in alternating sweltering heat and showering rain, after paying between $60-90 for tickets, and only get three 2oz tastings (rather than 12) is absolutely unacceptable.

Luckily the hubs kept his calm, I only got moderately cranky, and when it really started to rain we found a little tarp set up on a field and hung out under it. So we only got severely damp instead of drenched.
If you enlarge the photo above, you can see the rain drops on the right that are falling even while the sun is shining. It would have been an interesting day, had we been fed.

The alternating rains made for some seriously dirty feet.
I showered the instant I got home.

While the rest of the grumbling crowd went to stand in line for the return ferries (at least they are free!) the hubs and I went to explore some of the old barracks on the island. It was very interesting and very pretty. 
I took this picture from a rocking chair on the deck inside a square that once had a moat around it!

View of the southern tip of Manhattan from Governor's Island.

You can see all three bridges going up the East River from the ferry port as well.

The Statue of Liberty with some interesting post-rainstorm clouds.

The Governor's Island Ferry Station. Really interesting architecture, if a questionable color scheme...

A moment of cuteness between two hungry & bedraggled folk on the ferry.
(a.k.a. me & the hubs)

The post rainstorm clouds were doing some stunning things.

I leave you with this stunning image, and know that upon returning home (and showering) I made some lovely panko & lemon thyme encrusted tilapia so we did not die of starvation.
(I had planned on fish for dinner because it would be light after our feast of various meats. HA!)
The day may not have gone even remotely how I'd hoped and planned, but it was an adventure if nothing else. And I'm thankful that the hubs is the type of person to put the positive spin on things ;)
But man do I hope they get their sh*t together before next year...

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Detox Soup

This is my spin on a recipe for asparagus soup that my friend gave me. As I have mentioned in the past, asparagus is incredibly good for your liver and can even help prevent a hangover, so I figured that eating asparagus soup after a weekend of overindulging in various meats and margaritas would be a clever and responsible thing to do.
(So long as your AC is working, and kept to ConEd's suggestion of 78 degrees so we avoid another blackout, you should be able to enjoy this soup even tho it remains 95-101º outside. There is one room in my apartment in which I can enjoy this soup in comfort, and luckily it is also the room w/ the TV and the computer.)
I added kale into the mix because kale is one of those incredible dark greens that's just bursting with vitamins and minerals, even more so than spinach or swiss chard. (Yes, I know kale is best in the winter, but I got the über health idea in my head and I stuck with it!) This soup will be lovely with just asparagus as well, and it will come out much smoother with just asparagus in the end. Your choice.
I started out with one large bundle of kale and one bundle of asparagus, but you could easily make this with one and a half bundles of asparagus instead.

Choice of Onion Family: 
You could use one large leek, two medium onions, or four decent sized shallots.
I used one medium yellow onion and two small shallots because that happened to be what I had on hand.
It will still work. No worries.

The smaller you dice your asparagus, the faster it will cook, but as a general rule you want to chop it into relatively equal sizes so that they all cook at the same rate.

Give your kale a solid rinse and drain, just like with all other vegetables before cooking. But this shows you just how much I started out with.

Start the soup by sautéing your onions in a few glugs of olive oil (maybe 3-4 TBSP). Cook these with a pinch of salt for about ten minutes, stirring every few minutes, until they just start to brown (you want the added bit of sweetness this will create in the soup's finished product.)
When they just start to brown, add 2 cloves of minced garlic to the pan.

Once the onions have begun to brown and the garlic has spent about a minute in the hot pan, I add the asparagus into the pan to sauté for another 5-10 minutes, until they begin to get a little color and soften.

Next add about 3-4 cups of chicken stock (or vegetable if you want it to stay vegetarian). The amount depends on just how much asparagus + other veg you use. If you want your soup to be thick, try using only 2 1/2 cups of liquid. Mine comes out quite thin.
Bring the soup up to a simmer and add about a quarter of a rind of parmigiano reggiano, finely chopped if you can manage it. It will melt into the soup. 
(When you buy your Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino Romano wedges, save the heel of the rind and store it in your freezer for future soups, stews, etc. They will add a lot of flavor and thickness.)

Once the soup has simmered for about 10 minutes, add in the curly kale (chopped for ease in later blending) and let it  begin to wilt, about two minutes.
Note: the kale will make this soup have a fairly chunky consistency no matter how much you blend it, so if you want a truly smooth soup, choose something like spinach as your extra green.

Take the soup off the heat, and be prepared to do the next step in batches so as not to overload anything.

Using a blender (unless you have a HUGE Food Processor, you're going to need the blender. Otherwise your FoPro will leak from all the liquid involved.) purée the soup in batches until you reach your desired consistency.
Season with salt and pepper to taste.
It's gonna need quite a bit of salt.

You can garnish with asparagus tips, more cheese, some chipotle salt, crispy prosciutto... whatever makes you happy. But (for me) the point of this soup is to throw a ton of nutrients back into your system, as well as a decent bit of fiber. 
And after this past holiday weekend, and the upcoming Meatopia event this Sunday, I made extra of this soup to help get me through without too much discomfort or damage done.
I hope you enjoy it too.

Monday, July 5, 2010

4th Wrap Up

I hope you all had a fabulous Fourth of July!

The hubs and I spent our Nation's Holiday Down the Shore ( I use the NJ colloquialism because I now try not to say "at the Jersey Shore" anymore because that summons horrible visions these days. Reality TV is The Devil.)
I spent most of my holiday in the kitchen because my mother is one of those mothers (even tho she is neither a Catholic nor an Italian) who buys enough food for at least a dozen people who are staying for a solid week, even when we are only 5 people staying for two days and three nights. (The furballs will not get their beach vacation w/ the grandparents until August this year, so we had to get back to the city a bit faster than we may have wished. And Keats was still a constant shadow on me because she does not like to be left alone. Even tho she is a HORRID traveler most of the time. I'm talking Hooch of Turner & Hooch style drooling and panic and guilt-laying. It is neither pretty nor sweet smelling. I must go back to drugging her for travel...)

Anyway, I helped with breakfasts, cooked my own, helped with lunches, helped with dinners, and attended The Parade (sorry no pics of the ancient Fire Engines or snazzy old cars, but I watched my father walk, heavily laden with medals with the other War Vets, and was surrounded by both new families and what were probably the children of some of the children I used to teach in sailing.) I also survived the 97º weather and guzzled more water than I usually drink in a week. Yikes.

I also made some tasty guacamole for snacking (while watching a Miss Marple) and some seriously tasty margaritas for sipping in the late-evening heat.
Dinner consisted of burgers (made my my mom) and dogs, all grilled by the hubs, who has never manned a grill to my knowledge, so that was literally a Trial By Fire (credit to my mom for that joke.)
Baked beans with extra brown sugar, ketchup, onions and bacon done in my mother's special style, and a Caprese salad. All the trimmings of raw red onions, cheese, ketchup, mustard, relish, pickles, etc. were available.
Like I said, there will be a cleansing and tasty soup recipe to follow soon...

After roasting marshmallows on the dwindling fire for dessert, we waited for nightfall for the fireworks, which from our vantage were many but not all visible. (Trees, houses, etc.)
Usually we can see the fireworks at both boardwalks north and south of us. This year we thought we were seeing fireworks farther away in the north, but even closer in the south (maybe Normandy?)
So, the few pics I go that night were far away and mediocre at best.
But they're better than nothing.

It remained a happy holiday, and we played a few rounds of euchre after my dad went to bed while munching the guacamole and drinking margaritas. (Even tho he technically won Apples to Apples the last time we played, he refused to play this time. Tho he kept shouting out clever answers on his own while theoretically reading his book.)
It was a nice weekend, but I think I will be eating nothing but fish and vegetables for the rest of the week to offset the burgers, dogs, beans, and cheese consumed. Oof.
However, future margaritas are always welcome :)