I'm not going to waste space here regurgitating all the superlatives of the 2011 Season of the Philadelphia Phillies. I'm just going to bask in the glory of their stellar finish last night for a club record of 102 wins, and wait contentedly for Saturday's Game 1 of the NLDS vs. the Cards.
Thursday, September 29, 2011
Monday, September 26, 2011
I am unabashedly fond of the Ugly Betty ingredients of the food world. Not literally ugly, but like Betty, unpopular and misunderstood. Maybe even a little kooky. As we enter this season of earthy foods, I'm feeling like it's time to put some of these underappreciated gems in the spotlight.
Brussels sprouts can be found on a lot more menus these days, especially among the small plate crowd. But, I often hear people say they "hate" them. So, I'll ask them if they'll try mine. After scrunching their nose, they taste, and then the light goes on. "They're not all CRUNCHY like my mom used to make!" Very often a lot of the unsung veggies whose virtues I am about to sing are improperly prepared.
Cooking good Brussels sprouts is a two-step process; first, they need to be boiled vigorously in lots of extra salty water. I prefer to cut them in half before I blanch them. It helps them cook faster, more evenly and readies them for the next stage, searing the sprouts. Pat these little guys dry after you've pulled them out of the ice bath, and put them in a nice, hot skillet or pan, cut side down, with some whole butter. First, they're gonna steam and hiss at you. Then, they'll start to crackle letting you know the butter is browning them nicely. Take a little peek; when they're golden brown, turn 'em over for a minute or two to warm the back side; salt and/or pepper if necessary.
That's the simple version. The better, more delicious version includes adding smoky bacon at the beginning of the browning stage. Mmmmmm- baaa-con. The lardons of bacon, or fat little strips, should brown up at the same time as the sprouts. So that's good; but wanna make it even better? This week we'll be serving an appetizer of Brussels sprouts and bacon, but we're adding to the mix some house-made crispy duck confit and tossing the whole shootin' match with lentils. Yeah. It's like that.
Celery doesn't really generate the "ick" factor among people, but it does suffer from the misunderstood veggies complex. Yes, that's a bonafide culinary term, BTW. Yet, its versatility of flavor seems limitless. If you're cooking anything with a liquid base, like a soup, stew or braise, celery is in there along with carrots and onions- called mire poix- because it creates a crucial backbone to the dish. When you break out of the box and start putting it in your tomato sauce, for example, which when used with say, a Bolognese preparation, the flavor elevates like you can't believe. Its aroma is exotic, almost curry-like. I also like to incorporate raw celery into dishes. Salad is the most obvious; it excels in texture and the "fresh" factor. Added to any mixture of cabbage to create a slaw, it is essential. And, the tiny leaves that accompany the hearts of celery are both pungent and vibrant in any form of dish, cooked or uncooked.
If you're not into "earthy", it's unlikely you'll become a beet fan, no matter how many tips I give you for preparing them. But, when I was first learning about the components of foods, i.e. proteins, starches, sugars, acids, etc., a lot of bells went off for me. There are natural sugars in almost all foods, especially vegetables, but how you coax them out is the key. For beets, I prefer to roast them. Roasting is the process of using a slow, steady dry heat to cook a food. So, if you follow this logic of roasting a vegetable naturally rich in sugars, you're going to eventually remove some of it's moisture, thereby intensifying the sugars. Roasting beets in their jackets on a bed of salt is my favorite method for enjoying these, the most nerdy of all vegetables.
The salt becomes a softer heat source than a metal roasting pan, and as such, doesn't burn the side of the beet that comes in contact with the hot pan. It also precipitates the reduction of moisture and helps the beets cook faster. But, enough of the scientific; what roasted beets contribute to a dish in terms of flavor is nothing short of brilliant. I've had beets and corn that are similarly sweet and flavorful. When you have a flavor component so vibrant, you can begin to pair it with equally vibrant components. It's this reason that beets pair so well with brutish cheeses like bleu and chevre. Sweet-creamy-earthy-pungent is just one of those unlikely, yet heavenly combos that work. After that, it's just variations on a theme. Replace sweet for sweet. Dabble a little in what is fresh; for example, herbs like basil or tarragon. Or, walk the line on your choice of cheeses in this scenario and you'll be delighted in what you discover.
The same concept of accentuating a food's sugars to produce more flavor can apply to my next wallflower, the parsnip. This little albino carrot packs what has to be the most unique flavor profile of all root vegetables. As with all roots, roasting can provide some of the most satisfying results. Ever had a killer pork roast without potatoes, carrots and onions? The slow, dry heat is the key. Adding parsnips to the mix is the icing on your savory cake. Anywhere you would use a carrot, go for a parsnip. In soups, the simple addition of diced parsnips leaves people asking, "what was that flavor??" Boiled, pureed and whipped into mashed potatoes is one of the most revelatory "first" food experiences you can have. Mounds of pureed potatoes and parsnips with lumps of creamy, rich butter and a dusting of white pepper leaves me swooning for Thanksgiving in March. As a simple puree soup with a hint of truffle- STOP IT.
So, what about my last ingenue de les legumes? Les navet, or turnip. As a rule, the smaller a vegetable, the more concentrated the flavor. It's for this reason that a variety of turnip known as the Tokyo turnip is a favorite among chefs. Go ahead- Google Tokyo turnip Images and see how many shots you get from tasting menus and wine dinners in elite and aspiring restaurants. Why more popular? Simple- the smaller variety is first, more appealing to the eye than the baseball sized purple variety. Second, the sugars are more concentrated, so when cooking, the flavor is more intense. I used to braise these little buggers in chicken stock, butter and whole vanilla bean. Talk about flavor! They make great accompaniments to lamb and other gamy flavors where a natural sweetness creates balance. A properly cooked mushroom does the same thing. Shaved, raw turnip on an appetizer or salad is a more mild substitution for a radish; earthy without the spice. So, love thy turnip, yo.
Thus ends my defense of the downtrodden of all the food chain. (Well, not ALL the food chain- we aren't talking muskrat, here). If you've eaten my cooking, you've likely had most of these Ugly Bettys, and you've likely enjoyed them, too. So, next time you're thinking about eating or cooking them, don't turnip your nose at them. (No he dittn't). Embrace your inner Betty and walk on the Ugly Side.
Wednesday, September 21, 2011
So, if you're like me, I'm starting to feel a little overwhelmed with the whole Fresh and Local thing (see my Out & About piece next month...) But, I just read this on another blog about a 14 year old raising a 6-month young lamb with the New Castle County 4H Sheep Club (wow- who knew?) who then turned it over to a chef, who purchases them (alive presumably- would be kinda cruel to make the teens "off" the sheep they raise, no?) And the pay-off is that you can eat this very same, increasingly famous lamb during Delaware Dines Out Week (reservations required, void where prohibited).
We'll just call this "Strange Local News", and leave it at that.
We'll just call this "Strange Local News", and leave it at that.
Thursday, September 15, 2011
Foodies and Farmers unite! Tonight is The March of Dimes' 4th Annual Farmer and The Chef event at the Chase Center in Wilmington. One of the greatest food and wine events in Delaware, and it features all Delaware products, farmers, growers, chefs, brewers and talent. If you call yourself a locavore, missing this would be like a sports fan missing the superbowl! See you there~
Sunday, September 11, 2011
|Musee Rodin, Paris 9/11/01- Photo R. Lhulier|
I'm not going to write anything. I am gonna write. I'm not going to write something. No- I am. I should. No: I'm not. As the days counted down closer and closer to this Tenth Anniversary of September 11, I felt the grim milestone inch nearer and the pull of its weight like 110 floors of concrete and steel. It would be arrogant to say I was profoundly struck by what I had witnessed and felt on the day of September 11, 2001. Because, all Americans were. But, just like the days following the attacks, we had to seek the therapy that came with telling where we were when it happened. Ten years later, we feel the same stirrings- viceral and wholly unnerving- to relive those feelings, whether we want to or not. So, I've decided to write.
~My mother and brother share a birthday. On the morning of September 6, 2001, I called to wish them well on their day and finished packing my bags. I left Philadelphia early that evening on a flight to meet up with my two traveling companions and good friends, Dan and Kasia, for a 10 day vacation to the city I had always dreamed of seeing in person. I had spent the month leading up to that day watching live webcam shots of the Eiffel Tower throughout various stages of the day- sunrise, sunset, rain storms, fog, lights on, lights off- I was enraptured.
|Courtesy of SketchPlease.com|
It made sense, then, that it wasn't until I had been in Paris five whole days before actually making my official visit to the Eiffel Tower. I had lots of time and she wasn't going anywhere.
|In the shadow of le Tour Eiffel~ Photo R. Lhulier|
But, as dreams fade, memories last.
|Marble Study~ Photo R. Lhulier|
What was a crisp, blue September morning for this side of the Atlantic, was a greying Tuesday afternoon for us. We three decided to visit the Rodin Museum near Les Invalides, the glistening gold-domed Hotel of museums and monuments that was a former military hospital. And, which happens to be a short, but spirited walk away from le Tour Eiffel. Dan and Kasia had already made their pilgrimage a day earlier and decided to spend the afternoon strengthening the French economy by visiting the world famous shops of the area around l'Arc de Triomphe. And why not? It was Dan's birthday today.
As we approached the high-walled Musee Rodin and gardens, the day took on an austere quality. In retrospect, it was the perfect weather to do the museum. Afterall, it's hard to concentrate on paintings, marble and bronze when golden sunlight is streaming through the windows. I was equipped with a couple of cameras, one digital and another loaded with black and white film. I had shot some infrared film earlier I was excited about experimenting with, but I settled on the plain black and white for Rodin.
I started on the ground floor looking through the sketches and small bronzes, instantly recognizing so much of what I had studied in school. Rodin's human figures were the most real for me. No vaunted, ideal, bigger than life beings- just gorgeously sculpted muscles and bones beneath a thin skin of marble and bronze. I don't recall any floors in between the ground and top, just that when I reached the top, I was struck with an urge to stay for as long as possbile, alternating between the life-sized studies and peering at the lush gardens, which I could now see spralling out in all directions, the city not far behind.
I began to shoot.
|Marble Study 2~ Photo R. Lhulier|
Walking around sclupture gives you a sense of the real. But, framing a figure with a lens helps put those figures in perspective and can make them a bit dreamier. Or nightmareish. I moved between Rodin's impossibly silken-skinned figures rendered in grey marble with arched backs, tilted necks and delicate limbs- and the lurching, twisted, tortured faces of his studies for The Gates of Hell. Clenched fists, taught triceps and gaping mouths of sorrow, despair and pain.
|Gates Detail~ Photo Ken M Photography|
I kept shooting.
|Bronze Study~ Photo R. Lhulier|
The walls started to feel closer now. And the crowd was thinning as we approached the early afternoon. I went out into the gardens. Almost empty, I took a deep breath and let my camera rest at my side. If you're an audiophile like myself, you always carried a messenger bag when traveling to keep a discman and selection of changes on hand. I had done some recent music shopping, too. Aqua Bassino is an electronic band who produce atmospheric instrumental and vocal music. Their just released album "Beats and Bobs" was in my player at the time, and I decided to walk, my soundtrack at my side. Its tracks are all over the map, musically, but Moonlight (listen below) was playing while I strolled the gardens.
How is it, you say, that you can recall what was playing at that time?
Well- listen to it. It's profoundly reflective and haunting. A soundtrack for sadness.
It is said we can detect when "big" things are about to happen. Even feel that something is happening while it unfolds without knowing that it is. I remember what it was I was listening to, therefore, because as I sat in disbelief a full 24 hours later, it struck me that the song that played in those lonely gardens would stay with me until my final hours knowing what was unfolding (or about to) at the exact same time some 4,000 miles away. It even feels like soundtrack music. A story unfolding, a slow montage of wiping and fading images, telling a tragic tale of epic proportions.
I was done with Rodin. It was time to get on with my day. And, as I looked over my shoulder, there she was. It was time, at last.
Different music, different attitude, different walk. I was on my way to see the Tower up close.
As you approach, she becomes more exhilarating, her web of iron beams woven into a constantly changing lattice of steely, sensual beauty. I spun around as I reached the underside of the Tower, snapping pictures furiously, giddy with pleasure. The mall before her stretched northward toward the Trocadero, a popular gathering spot for viewing and taking full scale photos of the Tower.
|Courtesy of FulcrumGallery.com|
|The Carousel at the base of the Eiffel Tower~ Photo R. Lhulier|
I was feeling really energized and happy. We would be meeting back at the apartment in a little while for some Champagne, perhaps a little nap, and then off to celebrate Dan's birthday in style. I walked all the way from the 7th, back to our flat in the 4th and eyed up a little boutique that cut hair just around the block. On a completely spontaneous whim, I ducked in and asked for a haircut.
I was ready for a change.
Normally, English is spoken all over Paris, but my little shoppe was inhabited by all Parisians. And in Paris, if you don't strike up a conversation with someone, they'll just assume you aren't interested in any light banter (quite the opposite of US cities).
There were only two chairs in the salon, so there was a bit of a wait for a walk-in. Carefree and my mind on our evening, I thumbed through a magazine from my bag and didn't pay attention to anyone else. Finally, it was my turn. I began with a quick wash, and when I sat in the proprietor's chair, le jig was up: I was an American. I had to explain what I wanted done, so in my worst broken French, I used a combination of Charades-like hand motions and "snipping" sound effects, punctuated with "un peu" and "un petit peu" to explain. As he began to cut, I started to tense a little. Just then, a very voluptuous and stylishly dressed Madame came in, flitting around nervously and speaking very quickly in French. Again- sometimes I'd tune it out when I didn't need to listen- and so I wasn't. But the word "American" kept slipping into the conversation catching my attention, and my curiosity was peaked. My cutter kept darting his eyes back to me in the mirror, and mine to him and back to her.
"You have heard what has happened, monsieur? In New York?"
"Umm- no?" I squeaked.
Madame was next. "It eez terrible- two airplanes- they have crashed into zee towers, and they come all the way down- all the way down." Whether or not she uttered the word Pentagon was completely superfluous, because I was now fixated on whether she was a crackpot, or telling the terrible, horrible truth.
"Yes- this is true", said my guy.
At this point, my entire body locked up and my eyes shot to my ashen face in the mirror, wondering how much longer this haircut could possibly take. As the snipping continued, I began to feel the blood drain out of my limbs, straight through my feet. My palms were sweaty, and I couldn't fathom what it was that had really happened and why, to say nothing of the real magnitude.
What seemed like the longest 25 minutes of my entire life, was finally over. I paid what I now believe to be $75 for my haircut and burst out the door. I feverishly ran through the curving streets that only days earlier might have taken me an hour to navigate. I began looking around at the people on the street, sitting in cafes, walking, talking on their phones and to each other. They all knew what had happened- except for me.
I ran faster.
Down the Rue du Bourg Tibourg , passed the Lizard Lounge and up to the heavy door, I pushed hard and stumbled to the lift. As I got to the door, I burst in looking for a familiar face and found Dan sitting on the couch, putting on his shoes.
"Did you see? Did you hear?? Dan- Dan- put on the TV!"
The first images were of a city street strewn with fluttering papers and thick clouds of dark dust. There were pictures within pictures on the screen, and I could see emergency vehicles, scrambling people and jittery camera shots. A beautiful wide image of New York City sky was muddied by billowing black smoke, and then- right there, where the two most iconic of all American buildings once stood, there was nothing but blue sky and smoke.
The replay showed in succession the toppling of the south tower and then the north. I held one hand to my mouth and the other instinctively reached for Dan's knee as I uttered, "No. Noo. Oh, my God, Dan, no."
|The Next Day: A State of War~ Photo R. Lhulier|
In France, we had the unique opportunity of seeing footage of the first plane hitting the first tower. If you recall from the miles of coverage, the only footage shot of the first plane was from a team of French film makers doing a movie on fire fighters in New York. That footage belonged to them- and was subsequently transmitted back to the stations in France. In it the beautiful clear sky and towers are framed in the rear, the cameraman completely unaware of what was about to happen. When the plane hit, it made a loud "POP", and the camera shook a little. Smoke began to immediately pour out the sides.
The footage then cut to the moments after the towers fell. By then the brothers had turned their cameras to the streets beneath the shroud of ashes and smoke, a place that would forever be known as Ground Zero. That's when it got surreal. No movie or news footage ever looked as ominous or desolate as the images being broadcast. Men in business suits, still holding their briefcases, doused in soot, stumbled the streets along side dazed rescue workers. Bloodied women fought to keep ashes and tears from their eyes. Glass everywhere. And the paper continued to fall.
It wasn't until we saw the next round of footage that we "heard" about the Pentagon and saw it burning.
We had to get out and get information. Even with Dan's working knowledge of the language, we needed to get the story. We went where we had gone just about every day since arriving, to the local internet cafe. The tiny storefront was lined with Americans who had pulled up real-time footage and headlines as they developed. Some were crying, some were dumbfounded. All were petrified. The picture was beginning to sharpen: 4 planes, terrorists, scrambled jets, a missing president, New York, DC, Pennsylvania, and always, the replay of that second jet hitting the tower.
The only way to reach anyone in the States was through the internet. And at that time, most people were using the wholesome community of AOL for chatting and email. Phones were so jammed with calls, they didn't work until the next day. When we signed on, no one- and I mean no one- was answering their chat. We finally reached a friend who promised to pass on to our families that we were "ok".
As we resumed a slow, dogged pace back to the apartment, we spoke little as the facts were settling in.
The world had changed. In an instant. There was no going back, and it would never be the same again.
We ducked into the Lizard Lounge across from our flat, owned and operated by American expats. Our Champagne was replaced by big glasses of vodka over ice. We talked of what was next. What could we do with the little resources we had, this far away from home. On Thursday of that week, we were supposed to leave Paris and head to the Loire valley for a wine tour for the rest of our stay. That plan was quickly scrapped. Would travel be disrupted? Would flights be cancelled? How long would we be "stuck" here (if there is such a thing as being stuck in Paris)? Were we at war, and if so, with whom? I don't remember exactly what else we talked about except one thing: sitting in front of the television or computer wasn't going to change anything. We were going to go out and celebrate Dan's birthday.
The Metro and stops along the way to the hotel where we would eat was empty, and suddenly, it was easy to get a cab on the street. The entire time prior to today, we three had done our absolute best to fit in among the French- using our French whenever we could, double-kissing, trying distinctly regional foods and drink, and buying clothing and eyeglass frames with a particularly Gallic feel to them. Tonight, however, we decided to be the people we were: unique, diverse and resilient Americans. And, hungry ones.
The appetite returned, the vodka kicked in, and we began to do what any red-blooded American would have done in our situation: we made fun of and mocked our snooty French waiter. After all, he was being a complete turd to us, so we let him have it- and we laughed and laughed over our opulent dinner. We even managed to drag the young busboy/fromager over to our side, as he became clearly aware of what we were doing. He managed to get in a jab or two at his maitre de salle in English. We had made a friend out of a stranger, and without his pity.
As we caught a cab back, we sat silently, drinking in the beautiful colors and amber lights of the city. I kept a close eye on my now-illuminated, golden companion in the distance, her vigilant search light skimming the low-hanging clouds. This was to be no dream I would awaken from. And- yes, there was no going back. We all lost something that day, some significantly more than others. But, I was one of the lucky ones. For even though we had just met, I would go to sleep knowing she was there, watching over me.
And, it made it somehow a little easier to dream that night.
Tuesday, September 6, 2011
"Within moments of being born, most babies find themselves receiving the first four gifts of life: eye contact, a smile, a hug and some food. We receive many other gifts in a lifetime, but few can ever surpass those first four. That first time may be the purest 'hospitality transaction' we'll ever have, and it's not much of a surprise that we'll crave those gifts for the rest of our lives."
Danny Meyer from "Setting the Table"
Danny Meyer from "Setting the Table"
Saturday, September 3, 2011
|The first local figs were pulled the very same morning; pictured here, still warm from the hot sun.|
University and Whist Club
August 19, 2011
Vietnamese Spring Roll
The fresh spring roll is soft rice paper with raw vegetables and is eaten cold. Inside our version are acidulated vegetables, or finely julienne of carrots, bell pepper, cabbage, daikon and scallion in rice wine vinegar with ginger and mirin. Lastly, we add freshly chopped cilantro and shiso just before rolling. The dipping sauce consists of pomegranate vinegar, chili, honey and sesame.
Lobster and Truffle Brandade
More a reconstructed brandade, our mashed Yukon potato is whipped with a milk-butter mixture infused with the poaching liquid of lobster and tarragon. The lobster medallions are sliced and laid atop the pureed spread on brioche toast with chervil and sea salt.
Argyle Brut, Oregon, 2007
Yet another American sparkling wine made in the Champagne style, Argyle Brut is from Oregon, where both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are gorgeous for this style of wine. It showed incredible body and fruit, and naturally was a perfect start of a summer meal.
Chilled SIW Farms Corn Soup
with fried clams and nori
I regret not taking pictures of the bi-colored corn from SIW Farms before we cooked it. The thin veil of sticky sugar on the kernels was visible from having been picked the same day. It was simmered with a stock made from the cobs and contained only mire poix before it was finished with a touch of cream. Top neck clams were shucked and lightly breaded and quickly fried as a foil to the creamy sweet texture of the chilled corn soup. Julienne nori helped bridge the land and sea combo.
Terrine of Trout, Fava Beans and Lentils
Ginger roe, caper and radish
Cakebread, Sauvignon Blanc, Napa, 2009
A cold terrine of smoked trout and earthy lentils made sense in the progression of flavors. It was enhanced with sweet, starchy fava beans and silky avocado wrapped in a thin sheet of imported ham. A ginger flavored tobiko, capers, radish and lemon infused creme fraiche brought out the delicate flavor of the trout. The pea tendril garnish was a nice bite of garden fresh flavor.
Squab Breast “Char Siu”
Scallop dumpling and Shiitake in Consommé
Domaine de Robert, Fleurie, Cuvée Tradition, 2009
|Scallop, ginger and scallion mousse provided the filling for the dumpling.|
|Pictured here is the fabled "raft" that develops from when a consomme comes to a simmer. The beginning stock was made from the remainder of the squab after we pared off the breasts.|
The finished dish resulted in my favorite course thus far in our Chef's Table series. On its own, the squab consomme and dumplings were a course worthy of their own consideration, but the tender breast of pigeon basted with the home-made Chinese barbecue sauce (char siu) elevated the dish to the sublime. The beautifully crafted Fleurie from Domaine de Robert was a surprise hit with pairing. I don't brag about dishes but, this course I am in love with.
Roasted Lamb Shoulder
grilled baby romaine, olives, feta and mint
Chateau Paul Mas, “Clos des Mures”, Coteaux du Languedoc, 2009
I knew what I wanted this main course to be- basically, a greek salad with lamb. But, to serve a salad for main course can seem a let down out of seven courses, even if it is the height of summer. A boned out lamb shoulder was rubbed generously with several spices and marinated for a day. The lamb was then charred on the grill to give it a nice crust while keeping the center a pale pinkish color. Since romaine is one of the firmest of salad greens, we tossed them in oil and also quick-charred them, laying them out to wait for the rest of the ingredients. The still-warm lamb married with crumbled feta, several varieties of olives, chopped mint and a dressing made of sherry vinegar. The Paul Mas Coteaux du Languedoc was beautiful with the course- something right off a Provencale table. Spice from the syrah caught the pepper in the marinade, while the gamey cheese was mellowed by the chewy tannins.
|Two of the reds poured that evening. The unique "Mas Amiel" was a surprise hit with the chocolate and banana risotto fritters.|
|Components of the salad. Perfectly ripe white nectarines and quartered and sliced cioggia beets.|
|Various varieties of toy box tomatoes|
|Building this colorful canvas, we utilized the free time of our cooks who had nothing to cook at the time, to carefully build one of the prettiest dishes we've done yet. |
Baby Beets and Nectarines
tangerine lace, Manchego and sunflower seed
|The finished dish was a hit with the guests. Remove one component, however, and the dish would have felt incomplete.|
Fried Chocolate Banana Risotto Fritter
Butter Rum Sauce
Maury, Mas Amiel, “Cuvée Spéciale”, 10 yr.
Our first chocolate dessert to date, the fried chocolate and banana risotto fritter was arborio rice cooked in what was virtually a sugar free hot cocoa of milk and extra brut cocoa. The dark, dirt colored rice was turned out onto a sheet pan to cool. Pureed ripe banana was spread over the rice, and the fritters were shaped with a scoop and flash-frozen. When it came time to serve, we dropped them in hot oil for 2 minutes, dusted with a cocoa-cinnamon-sugar mixture and drizzled with warm caramel sauce infused with rum. It was a dizzying experience for the chocoholic!
Fresh from the oven, the seminal, warm Madeleine was just enough of a nibble or two (along with those fresh figs) to say "goodnight".