Monday, July 10, 2006

Weekend Experiments

Saturday--Pasta with Sausage, Fennel & Onions from Lidia's Family Table. I have borrowed the book from the Library and will now add it to my Cookbook Wish List! Lidia is very "instructional" as she is on her TV show. Her recipes are pretty straight forward and her directions are explicit. Great book for novices as well as seasoned cooks looking for some specific Italian dishes both innovative and traditional.

Sunday was big experiment day! First, baked a Pineapple Upside Down Cake in my cast iron skillet using the recipe on Cook's Illustrated. Used fresh pineapple and it turned out very nice, good caramelized topping with cherries and pineapple pieces arranged in a mosaic style vs. the canned ring/cherry center version!

Sunday dinner was the Spring Roll project! Chose a Vietnamese recipe found in PERFECT ASIAN COOKING by Anne Willan A Barnes and Noble publication.

I have a new appreciation for spring rolls. What a labor intensive dish! But when all was said and done....Quite tasty! Of course I went over the top and created three dipping sauces and served two bottled chili sauces, one sweet and one hot, with them as well! One of the made sauces was the typical dipper of Fish Sauce, Lime Juice, Sugar, Rice Vinegar, Chilis and Garlic. Then there was the Tamarind paste & Cilantro version also with Fish Sauce, Soy Sauce, Lime Juice and Sugar. And then I also made a Mint/Cilantro chutney, which was the least favorite.

Back to the beloved spring rolls: boneless chunks of pork (poached), boiled shrimp, marinated carrot julienne, cabbage leaves, rice stick noodles, Japanese cucumber, bean sprouts, leaves of mint and cilantro.

Just prepping the ingredients is time consuming. Adding to that fact it's also a very tedious process to layer and wrap. Of course realizing that I had 6 1/2 inch Rice Paper versus the 8 1/2" called for in the recipe after the fact was a problem. With the variety and quantity of ingredients those extra two inches would have made a very big difference! Also larger = easier handling.

For alongside our Spring Rolls, we tossed together a vegetable stir-fry using Japanese Eggplant, Red Pepper, Garlic, Ginger, Bean Sprouts and Chinese Cabbage and served it over the extra Rice Stick Noodles.

So the experiment was a success, learned a lot and will plan to make spring rolls again, however limiting the number of ingredients until we have used up the 6 1/2 inch rice paper! Also if making for a crowd, will definitely make sure the rest of the menu is do-ahead items! Although, I must say, these held nicely in the fridge with a damp kitchen towel over them while we cleaned up and made the stir-fry.

Have to plan tonight's follow up meal, we have two rolls leftover, used in the photos--but have some extra cooked shrimp, maybe a cool salad platter to pick from! MMMMMMM-just remembered I got some red fingerlings, maybe a warm potato salad with some French flavors or mint and shallot vinaigrette!

Weekend Movie Notes: Rented Capote and Firewall this weekend, Capote was VERY good, Philip Seymour Hoffman became Truman Capote, amazing portrayal. Firewall was a good suspense flick, just not history making!


Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Partly Cloudy, about to rain!

For the quiet Fourth of July I had planned on grilled chicken breasts with lime and tequila salsa with a side of Tortilla chips and avocado salad on torn greens. And homemade Strawberry Ice Cream! However the weather turned ugly, which shouldn't have made any difference since the grill is located on the stove in the apartment kitchen! But somehow on the way home from a quick Target run the mood changed and I grabbed some mushrooms and white wine and decided a sauteé of sorts would be good. Once home I decided to use up some bits of egg noodles and spinach pasta. So what would go good with them? Well, Sauteed chunks of boneless chicken breasts, shallots, and mushrooms in saffron cream sauce!

It was a fairly straight forward process--sauteed the brined chicken breast cubes in half olive oil and half butter, pulled cubes to rest, added chopped shallots and sliced mushrooms meanwhile soaking threads of saffron in 1 cup of chicken broth. Added chicken cubes back to pan and deglazed with 1/3 cup of white wine and reduced to thicken. Then added saffron infused broth and reduced in half, adding one cup of cream and brought to boil. Continued cooking for 3 minutes and served over cooked pasta combo! Sprinkled with chopped parsley, grated Parmesan and freshly ground white pepper! Very good meal with our favorite skinny, crunchy bread sticks.

Dessert was while watching the Boston Pops and fireworks! Strawberry Ice Cream the Philadelphia style, simple pure cream and berries!

Hope everyone else had a great Fourth! Ours was quiet and tasty!

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Shredded Chicken Barbecue!

Here's an awesome method for making your own easy Chicken Barbecue Sandwich!

5 Boneless, Skinless Chicken Thighs--trimmed of excess fat pockets
1/2 bottle of your favorite Barbecue Sauce
1/2 bottle of your favorite Beer
1 Medium onion cut in half and sliced
1 Green Pepper cut into 1/2 chop
1 Garlic clove chopped (optional)
1/2 tsp dried hot pepper flakes (unless you are using a hot suace)

Add all ingredients to crock pot cook on low for 6-8 hours. If sauce is still soupy transfer to pot on stove and bring to gently boil and simmer till thickened. Shred the chicken pieces with two forks.

Serve on nice and thick pita's with a dollop of coleslaw on top! Yummmmmmeeee!

Tomorrow roasted asparagus with Pancetta!
Later in the week roasted tomatoes w/onions and pancetta over Penne!
Stay tuned for results!

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Boneless Leg of Lamb revisited!

Dinner was sauteed mushrooms, red onion pieces, garlic, oregano, leftover cubes of lamb with lemon juice, reduced chicken stock and a splash of Balsamic vinegar served on a pita with Tzitzaki with cucumber, red onion and dill. We had Couscous salad with olives, green pepper, celery, roasted red pepper, and chopped Campari tomatoes, dressed with a lemon parsley vinaigrette and sprinkled with sun-dried tomato flakes!

Simple, quick and fresh tasting! Excellent was the compliment!


Everyone knows that living today’s “world wide web” lifestyle has resulted in the loss of many daily routines. Most have taken a back seat to the electronic composition that clutters our lives. As a Personal Chef, I tend to get a birds eye view of the processes that overtake a household with career-minded parents and over-scheduled children.

First we know that electronic gadgets abound!

Stodgy briefcases, fashionable tote bags and overstuffed back packs all contain a variety of electronic devices ranging from the quintessential lifeline, (the how did we ever do without it) cell phone, to handheld computerized organizers, key chain memo recorders, portable video game consoles, at least one music reproducing apparatus, carry-along DVD players and a cache of spare batteries to ensure continuous optimum performance. In bygone days the contents would have been three books: an address book, matching calendar book, and a paperback book! Yes, we used to read books printed on paper!

Is it any wonder then, that the dining room table has assumed a new life itself?

All too frequently it is covered with a table cloth (preserving the surface, of course) and more of life’s present-day necessities. OK, even I admit that one end of my dining room table has the laptop on it! So in some households it may be the desktop computer that sits on the table, or at best, on a computer desk where the buffet used to be! Typically a build-it-yourself piece of furniture freed the table to hold the overflow of computer accessories and supplies. You might find piles of CD’s, a variety of printer paper, including several sizes of photo paper, possibly the new printer that is dedicated to family photo printing and a seldom used scanner under the never ending pile of magazines and catalogs of all things electronic!

Correct me if I’m wrong, but somewhere back in the 80’s didn’t I hear a projection that every household would become more organized with the installation of a Home Personal Computer? Did we just not take into consideration the clutter that would accumulate along with this phenomenon?

So, stay with me now, what happened to the dining room?

It conveniently became unavailable for sit down dinners at about the same time that we lost the time to sit down to those dinners. With soccer practice, after school tutoring, piano lessons, school club meetings, social events, etc. many kids are in and out of the house as if they were only visitors and not dwellers. If the parents aren’t working late or entertaining business clients, they’re taking an exercise class, volunteering for a charity or attending any number of community meetings or events.

There doesn’t even seem to be time for asking this question anymore. So that the infrequent opportunity to have a sit down family meal is wrought with all kinds of expectations just adding to the stressful aspects of planning, shopping, preparing and serving! Deciding to take the whole family out is another disastrous fiasco as now you are dealing with everyone’s opinion of where they should be eating on that particular night, because as we all know, what’s not in today will be totally hip-happening tomorrow!

The point I’ve realized is that the service we Personal Chef’s are providing for our clients is the ability to ensure that there are tasty healthy alternatives available in the freezer for them to dine on. Frequently, my family clients want every entrée packed in individual servings so that they can determine how many will be home for a meal, and defrost only the necessary quantity. Whether it’s consumed individually, in partial groups or by the whole family this convenience is a simple accommodation.

It’s all starting to make sense.

My only consternation came about when I arrived at my bi-weekly clients’ home, the one with the spacious eat-in kitchen, to discover that the paraphernalia over-taking the dining room had now begun to encroach onto the kitchen table. I had assumed this was the place that they currently, occasionally, dined together as a family! And we thought rabbits reproduced rapidly!

Time to put the laptop away (just to the end of the dining room table) and eat dinner! Of course, in my case, according to my accountant, the end of the dining room table constitutes an office making it a tax deduction.

Chef Jim

Summer's Upon Us

Well it seems that we've finally reached the point in this season of no return. The temperatures will stay above the 70 mark through the night and the A/C is keeping the bedroom cool enough to use a blanket!

So too, the menus at home lighten up somewhat. But this week I did roast a boneless leg of lamb that's been around in the freezer. Made a quick reduction of stock and white wine with fresh thyme to drizzle over the slices and we had green and yellow zucchini toasted orzo with parmesan for our side dish! The veggies came from Young's farm in Brookville, Long Island, that we used to visit regularly when in Glen Cove. Also got some greenhouse tomatoes there that were surprisingly good. Not like true August beefsteaks but nicer than anything shipped in! Tomorrow's dinner will be more of the Lamb mixed with sauteed Mushrooms and Red Onion on Pita Bread and fresh Tzatziki, using Greek Yogurt and English Cukes, and maybe some Sundried Tomato and Lemon Zest Couscous! Tonight we had roasted corn, from Florida, with our burgers and salad. Last night was just a huge plate of salad, roasted golden beets, potatoes, green beans, roasted red pepper, hard boiled egg, crispy bacon, slices of left over London Broil, Campari Tomatoes and dressed with Honey Mustard dressing.

Have been scouring through the summer issues of the food mags and have a list longer than summer itself of recipes I want to try! I'm really into adapting lots of the Grilling recipes for my indoor cast iron grill pan this year! We've enjoyed a few nice things on it already, steaks and lamb chops and of course chicken breasts.

Have been thinking it's time for a party, something with a theme, and lots of cool summertime foods. Maybe Greek? Definitly Middle Eastern! Do a variety of salads with Mid-Eastern twist--serve some sliced cold chicken that was roasted with garlic, lemon and oregano--Israeli Couscous and roasted vegetable salad--Cucumber salad--Shrimp marinated in Horseradish Mustard--Octopus salad--strips of rare Tenderloin of Beef with lemon caper dressing, platter of cheeses and garlicky hummus with toasted pitas! Minty Iced Tea, Proseco, and Sangria for refreshment. Desserts, whatever will I make? Baklava? Lemon Ice? Both? More? Stay tuned I'm sure there'll be dessert drama!

I'm off to add to the list of recipes I want to try, Cooking Light just arrived!

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Grandson's Celebrate their Birthdays

Well the 7 year old and the 1 year old came from Rhode Island to celebrate their birthdays. They and their parents passed through NY on their way to Disney World. We celebrated with a Sports Theme party including a Snack Bar Menu!

We had bags of popcorn, peanuts and assorted chips for starters. Then we moved onto the MVP's with Mini Cheeseburgers, Chicken Nuggets, Mini Hot Dogs (actually pigs in blankets) French Fries and cups of Coleslaw. Beverages included Lemonade, Iced Tea, a variety of sodas and for the adults Beer Here!

In keeping with the theme of everything you could get at the stadium's concession stand desserts were Popsicles, Heath Bar Klondike Bars, Mini Ice Cream Sandwiches and Watermelon Cups.

Everyone had a great time and Kris was surprised with a great present from his parents, a PSP to play with on the plane. Connor got some great toys and books and both boys recieved new duds to wear in Florida.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Look Everyone! I'm blogging!

This is the first post of my first blog! I'm very excited to have a chance to share my thoughts on food and other viable subjects. I'll frequently just post menus, details about ingredients or give a tried and true recipe. Other times I might go on about whatever is going on in my world, the world of food, especially the New York food scene, or even the whole real world. I can only hope that you enjoy reading it as much as I will enjoy writing it.

So here goes a quick one on last night's dinner. After shopping until dinner time we grabbed two Boneless New York Strip Steaks at the butcher's and some Endive to go with the Boston Lettuce we knew we had in the fridge. At home, I applied a quick rub onto the steaks while I crisped up the lettuce and chopped the endive and a ripe red pair. Put the steaks on the cast iron grill and marinated the pear in Pear infused White Balsamic Vinegar. When I flipped the steaks I assembled the salad with the lettuce, endive, pear, crumbled gorgonzola cheese and walnuts. Drizzled olive oil over the salad and let the steaks rest. Opened a bottle of Bogle Petite Sirah from Clarksburg, California and sat down to a quick and delicious meal. The wine is a repeat with the original bottle brought by a dinner guest last year. It's a great oaky flavored red with high berry notes, a perfect companion to red meat and strong cheeses.

Dessert was unnecessary since we ate so late and the steaks were very satisfying. Sipped the last of the wine while we watched The Game a movie with Michael Douglas and Sean Penn.