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For all you who have been asking me for this recipe, here you are! Enjoy. Unlike many other “food bloggers” who threaten hell and damnation if you use their recipe, well they must not be professional chefs. I say this because my friends, it has all been done before! I am sure Antonin Careme or Fernand Point or Escoffier or Jim Beard all had a variation upon this and any other theme. One may think it is their own ‘original’ creation, but alas, it is simply not so. Not in origin anyway, tweaking something still does not mean you and you alone invented it. So without further ado, here you are.

Cognac Pumpkin Cheesecake ~

2 lbs cream cheese ~ philly please

1/2 cup brown sugar, packed

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 tbsp molasses

1 tsp GOOD vanilla + 1/4 cup cognac or brandy

2 eggs + 2 egg yolks

1/2 cup sour cream

1 cup canned Libbys pumpkin ( not the pie filling!)

1/4 tsp cinnamon, pinch of cloves & sprinkle of nutmeg + pinch kosher salt

Take a 10′ spring form pan ( I make mine in a 10′ deep cake pan, but trying to explain the unmolding w/out showing a video of how to do it, might be confusing). But fear not, I will get there eventually!

Spray the pan w/ vegelene or pam. Wrap pan very tightly in aluminum foil all around the bottom & sides.

Pulse a 1/2 box of Famous dark wafer cookies in cuisinart, into a bowl, 1/4 cup sugar, 1/4 cup melted butter. Press into to the bottom of the pan. Whew the hard parts over!

*You could also make a crust using Amaretti cookies.

Beat cream cheese until smooth, and LUMP free, scraping bowl frequently, mix in sugars, molasses, vanilla, cognac, eggs, yolks, sour cream, pumpkin & spices.

Pour into the prepared pan. Set into a deep hotel pan & fill w/ warm water.

Bake at 325 degrees for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Turn off the oven and let sit for another 20-30 minutes. Cake should be set & fairly firm! I stick the blade of a very thin paring knife thru the center, it should come out clean. Your going to cover the top, so don’t worry if you have a few cracks. I usually don’t. Let cool in the water bath. Chill overnight.

Remove foil wrapper, run a hot wet knife around the cake & unmold. I turn mine out onto a saran wrapped 10′ cardboard cake round , remove the metal pan bottom, place another cake board on the ‘crust’ and flip it over.

You can press crushed chocolate wafers into the sides or ditto w/ amaretti cookies.

You can cover the top w/fresh whipped cinnamon cream, or white chocolate buttercream or a smooth layer of chocolate ganache or a simple glaze of apricot jam & sprinkle w/ more crumbs.

There you have it! Just make sure to cut it w/ a hot wet knife for clean smooth slices. And if someone wants the recipe, well send them here! Thanks.

PS ~ to go one step further, you can serve this w/ caramel sauce or white chocolate espresso anglaise. Or my favourite! Ben & Jerry’s Ginger Snap Ice Cream, yum.

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I will try to keep this quick and to the point. A few ‘rules’ ~ vegans do not consume dairy in any form, nor meat, nor fish. This also goes for anything containing gelatin, as it is made from animal product. Some don’t do gluten, either due to celiac disease, or just wanting to avoid processed flours and refined sugars. Watch what you cook with, no butter please, though canola oil or extra virgin are fine. It really depends upon your guest and how strict they are. Just like Jewish people who keep kosher, some vegans ( my daughter is one of them) are very particular about how certain foods are stored in the refrigerator and what cooking equipment is used for whom.  I.E ~ I would never make my daughters golden sesame tofu in the same saute pan that I cook my fathers chicken in, and so forth.

Nibbles ~ to whet the appetite:

1) Bowl of  marcona almonds and a platter of finger fruits ~ quartered figs, cognac soaked dried apricots, seedless grapes, peeled clementines, nice wedges of granny smith apples dipped in a little lemon juice to prevent browning.

2) Crudite ~ take a beautiful woven basket line w/kale leaves and fill w/ quartered artichoke hearts, roasted 1/2 or whole baby bella mushrooms & cauliflower florets and mini yukon gold potatoes, tiny new carrots, stem on, radishes, steamed asparagus tips, good pitted green & kalamata olives. Bowl of red pepper hummus and maybe a basket of crunchy wheat pita triangles.

The Begining~ offer one item from each selection. Start with a soup followed by a salad. *

Soups:

Smooth tomato w/ dollop of eggplant caponata.

Curried carrot, apple & chickpea.

Chunky white bean & new red potato & escarole.

Salads:

Baby spinach, roasted beets, sliced carmelized shallots, sun dried cranberries & drizzled w/ a poppy-citrus sauce. Sprinkling of pistachio’s optional.

Romaine hearts tossed w/ a julienne of apple & carrot, miso-ginger-yuzu dressing.

Fresh Bibb lettuce, grape tomatoes, english cucumber, red onion &  lemon- dijon vinaigrette.

Sides:

Roasted root vegetables ~ parsnips, sweet potatoes, turnips, cipollini onions, red & yellow pepper, zucchini & yellow squash w/ red wine balsamic glaze.

Wild rice w/ pears, golden raisins, pecans or toasted pine nuts & scallions, cooked in a rich vegetable stock.

Main Course:**

Winter vegetable lasagna ~ bottom layer : creamless vegetable sauce, layer of phyllo dough, top w/sliced cooked butternut squash & sautéed mushrooms, sprinkled w/3 soy cheese blend, layer of sauce, top w/ layer of phyllo dough, dollops of tofu whipped w/ fresh basil & sautéed chopped spinach w/ a touch of nutmeg, sprinkle  of 3 soy cheese blend, layer of sauce, top w/ last layer of phyllo and spread w/ creamless vegetable sauce. Bake 375 degrees for 40-50 minutes. Sprinkle w/ 3 soy cheese blend just at the end.

Bread basket ~ French baguettes & small whole grain rolls.

Spreads~ Eggplant caponata & rosemary olive oil.

Dessert ~ Apple-cranberry  walnut crunchy oat topped cobbler  w/ soy whipped cream. ***

Layered silken chocolate & vanilla cheesecake, topped w/ raspberries.

Pumpkin “tofuti” whipped fluff!

Big platter of chocolate dipped stem on strawberries.

* See next post for recipes & how to make rich vegetable stock ( or the cheaters version!).

** Recipe for “creamless”  vegetable – cream sauce to follow also.

*** Omit nuts if anyone has allergies.

I will also list stores and sources to buy soy milk, silken tofu (or how to make your own), 3 soy cheese blend or it’s equivalent, soy whipped cream & soy ice cream & soy yogurt. And include detailed recipes & instructions.

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This got started because of my ‘lovey”. Lauren, my daughter and a vegetarian since birth. She has never eaten meat, whole eggs, fish, poultry, not ever! As a baby she would clamp her lips shut if I so much as tried to feed her something containing meat or fish. Pasta yes, fruit yes, veggies yes. Me being a chef, I made her baby food  from scratch so that I knew she was getting what she needed, nutritionally. Lauren also had ( still does) a lactose and refined sugar intolerance, so this very quickly became the only “food” she knew. We spent many visits with pediatric allergists, and “trying” to incorporate new foods. Some did well, some did not.

Can you imagine being 5 and going to a birthday party with your own dairy free-sugar free treats, and pasta salad and veggies to munch on, while the other kids got jacked on soda, and greasy pizza. Thankfully it just didn’t appeal to her any more by then. I always explained to her friends parents about her food allergies, but sometimes one of the moms would try to make her try a grilled cheese or chicken nuggets. She politely refused. Good for her.

Once during a visit to Montreal, we had reservations at a well-known restaurant, LeExpress, got seated, ordered ~for her plain pasta~ no butter, no cheese, no problem, side of raw carrots, for me a grilled Filet Mignon w/ sautéed wild mushrooms and a gorgonzola butter sauce. No sooner did the waiter set our plates down, La started to gag. The smell of my entrée was making her sick. Doggie bags were not going to be needed, so I paid the bill and we promptly left. Back at the hotel I ordered room service~ french fries, steamed broccoli, a bowl of strawberries and grapes, watched a movie and had a great time.

It has gotten much easier finding foods that appeal. Hummus, whole wheat pita, lentils, white beans, escarole, broccoli, new red potatoes, butternut squash, and fruits of all kinds. Mangos being a particular favourite. Asian these days is huge part of her diet, brown rice, seaweed, tofu, avocados, tofu noodles, miso soup, scallion pancakes, veggie maki rolls, carrot & cabbage & mushroom dumplings in a spinach dough (sans egg). And so much more! Desserts too!

We were recently at a friend’s house for a party and La had her ‘lunch’ bag with her. Out came brown rice w/grilled pineapple & pistachios w/ flax seed & ginger dressing (to eat warm), then sautéed sesame tofu w/ scallion brushes and peanut sauce, and a carrot-apple-raisin- chickpea salad in thai sweet chili glaze. Bag of homemade wonton crispys ( brown rice flour, water, salt). Soy strawberry yogurt w/mangos & raspberries.

More than a few foodies and chef friends of mine not only wanted  a ‘taste’ but were asking me for the recipes! So the point of this is, you can eat very well even if meat, dairy, fish, white flour & refined sugars are not part of your diet. Allergies are no laughing matter to the person who has them, believe me. Better to feel good about what you eat, and enjoy it as well.

So ~ Happy Turkey Day to all the vegans/vegetarians out there. This next ones for you. Just remember to thank Lauren too.

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Here are a few recipes and ideas for you to whip up in your kitchen the next time you have a pumpkin or two at hand. This delicious fruit (it has seeds, so technically it’s a fruit) can be adapted to any manner of sweet or savory preparations. Feel free to create your own instant classic! To help guide you on your way, here is a sampling of food matches that pair beautifully with this glorious gourd. Let your palate be your guide.

Apples, Bacon, Banylus, Bourbon, Carrots, Chocolate, Chives, Coconut, Duck, Gruyere, Lobster, Leeks, Marjoram, Onions, Sage, Shallots, Sherry, Shiitakes, Shrimp, White Beans ~ and of course the usual suspects:  Butter, Cinnamon, Cloves, Cream, Ginger, Honey, Nuts, Maple Syrup (just to name a few!).

Savory:  Lobster & Pumpkin Bisque  ~ delicious, satisfying and very rich!

Ingredients:

3 or 4 ~ 1 1/4 lb lobsters

2 cups mirepoix of carrot, celery, onion + 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

4 cups homemade chicken stock (cheat if you must, but use a low~sodium version)

2 Tbsp tomato paste

2  (or 3 ) cups good white wine (not sweet) if you won’t drink it, don’t use it!

2 good sized sugar pumpkins

1 cup heavy cream ( or more if needed)

Juice of 1 fresh lime, dollop of honey, sea salt, white pepper & sherry to taste

2 knobs of sweet butter, snipped chives, swirl of creme fraiche  & sprinkle of toasted slivered almonds.

Method:  Briefly steam lobsters, cool, crack, extract meat, chop coarsely, set aside & reserve claws separately. Discard the heads. In large rondo saute the shells and legs w/ mirepoix & evo. Add the liquids & tomato paste, bring to a boil then simmer 30 minutes. Strain, pressing on the solids to extract as much flavour as possible. Set aside.

Cut the pumpkins in 1/2 &  de seed. Roast until soft yet “firm to the touch”. Let cool, peel, cube 1/4 pumpkin in to a very tiny dice~ reserve. Place stock back in rondo add remaining pumpkin. Simmer until tender. Puree w/ an immersion blender ( do this right in the pot). Strain thru a chinois return to clean soup pot. Warm on low heat.

In small amount of butter, saute the diced pumpkin, add the chopped lobster until just warm. Season to taste w/sea salt & white pepper. Add to lobster~pump broth, add the lime juice, honey, sherry, heavy cream. Taste! Adjust seasonings. Gently warm claws in small amount of butter. Ladle bisque into warmed bowls. Add a swirl of creme fraiche (I use a squirt bottle), lay claw on top, sprinkle w/ snipped chives & a few toasted slivered almonds. Serve w/ really good  crusty bread. Nirvana has been achieved in a bowl.

If you really want to “guild” the lily a few sprinkles of shaved parmesan & drizzle of white truffle oil will take you over the top.  Slurp!

Another idea is to make a cassoulet w/white beans, sausage & duck confit. Add cubed roasted pumpkin at the end & garnish w/ toasted pepitas. The pumpkin will add sweetness and a rich depth to the tradtiional flavours.

Sweet:  Individual Baked Alaskas ~ A classic.

Bake a dark chocolate cake. Cool. Slice very thin & cut out  3 inch rounds, drizzle w/ grand marnier. Freeze on a baking sheet lined w/ parchment, leave at least 3 inches between rounds. Take cake scraps, pulse coarse in cuisinart, and spread out on a baking sheet. Bake until dry & crunchy. Set aside. Take a large ice cream scoop of fairly pliable pumpkin ice cream. Place on top of frozen cake round.  Freeze solid.  Remove & roll in “crunchies” to completely cover, pressing them  in to the ice cream if necessary. Freeze solid!  Whip 4 egg whites w/ pinch of sea salt & cream of tartar. While beating slowly add  4- 5 tbsps of super fine sugar. Beat until stiff, glossy peaks form. Spoon into a pastry bag (smooth round or star tip, your choice) and either pipe all around, starting at the base in a circular pattern to the top (like a beehive) ~ or ~ pipe “porcupine” spikes all over. In any case, make sure ice cream is completely covered! And remember to work fast. Have oven set at 450 degrees, bake 4-5 minutes until meringue is golden brown. Serve immediately  w/ butterscotch sauce and a few raspberries & mint sprig. If you are worried about the ice cream leaking, assemble the Alaskas in individual ramekins & pipe meringue on top. Dig In!

Or ~ make a pumpkin noodle kugel w/ cognac plumped golden raisins and julienned apples. Use a round cake pan, lined w/ parchment, unmold upside down, glaze w/ apricot jam, cut into wedges & serve w/ espresso anglaise sauce. And really good coffee.

Have Fun!

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For those unfamiliar with fresh water fish you are missing out on one of life’s most delicious treats. I am talking about fresh water Pike. Wow, an unsung and underappreciated species of fish, but oh so tasty!

Now when my dad was young he lived in Minnesota, the Land of 10,000 Lakes. So fishing was a natural part of life for young boy. Remember this was in the 40’s, long before TV, ipods, cd’s, dvd’s, tivo, laptops and the invention of the internet.  Back then there were some incredible radio programs (now a lost art )as one had to use one’s mind and imagination. Or in my father’s case Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine and others of that ilk. Just a note ~ he still has his entire collection up to the 50’s to this day, well preserved and in great condition. I wish I could say the same about pops! Just kidding, he might be a 1932 model, but he’s still whip smart and hanging in there despite a myriad of health issues.

Back to my original train of conciousness, dad loved to fish. His all time favourite catch was walleye pike, though lake trout or bass would do in a pinch.  Pike is succulent with a sweet yet firm flesh, clean smelling, like being in a long boat  floating on the water far up north surrounded by pine trees where the air is pure and the sun glints golden on the lake at the end of the day. Once you have your catch cleaning them is easy just be sure to remove the tiny pin bones that run down the center and you are good to go. Skin on or off strictly up to you.

Keep in mind they cook very quickly ~ no more than 3 or 4 mins per side if sauteing or about 8 under the broiler. Yon can embellish with lemon butter, almondine sauce, cajun spices whatever you like. Tartar sauce optional.

Now those days are long over for pops, but he still pines for fresh water pike. Lucky for me, my local fish guy has been able to procure some from Lake Champlain, VT. Not quite dads walleye from day’s of yore but very satisfying nonetheless.

Friday night I made some for him, lightly dusted with cornmeal and  quickly pan sauted, with a side of wilted spinach tossed w/cranberries & pecans and yukon gold mash. Though he would have preferred hush puppies, homemade onion rings and creamy coleslaw w/ spicy remoulade and a lemon wedge. Maybe next time.

So ask your local fish man or woman to get in some pike, just make sure you buy an extra pound or two. You’ll be glad you did, as the 1st batch will undoubtedly disappear leaving you wanting more. Enjoy!

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Okay, been thinking about Que, no not as in a pool queue, or lining up for a concert in London. Me thinks about Barbeque. Ya know, lick your fingers clean type thing.

NOT your  buddy, hubby, local carnivore lover firing up his grill. That is not  BBQ it’s grilling. Sorry to all you dudes but tossing a piece of meat over a blazing fire, and either cooking it to death hockey puck status or bloody raw does not make you a chef.

Do open really good cold beer & have some tasty snacks (buy them if you must) and lightly grill a burger for 2 mins per side. That is a different story. Trust me your friends will love you. Back to my original train of thought. BBQ!

Great BBQ unless you have your own smoker, buy it! Though you can  cheat and achieve a decent facsimile at home its  just not the same as some dump along the side of the road in KY or Kansas with a pit out back. That stuff will just blow your mind.

But be aware most BBQ places suck. Canned beans, hockey pucks for corn muffins, and enough liquid smoke to kill someone. Ick, I can smell that crap a mile away.  And coleslaw from a 10 lb tub.

Now I have 2 count’ em 2 places I will buy and eat  Que  from. That said here they are.

1) Virgil’s in Manhattan  152 west 44th st ny, ny http://www.virgilsbbq.com

2) Ash Creek Saloon in CT. http://www.ashcreeksaloon.com

Now both have great food! Virgil’s hush puppy’s w/ maple butter are to die for, so is anything on their menu. Is it authentic, no. Does it taste good, yes!

The Creek, their 3 rib combo platter is simply amazing. So are the onion rings, crisp  & not greasy! baked  beans and pulled pork. Brisket non to shabby either.

To Avoid!!

Tennessee Mountain in NYC tastes like out of a box.

Bobby Q’s  in Westport, CT absolutely crapola.

The Cookhouse in CT ~ a chain & very expensive garbage.

So do your self a favour make your own! Smoke a pork shoulder on the grill ( be prepared to invest some time here) or cheat ~ cook low & slow in oven 4 hours, then finish off for that char on the grill. You can  slice  the pork for a  sandwich or shred and toss w/ your sauce for pulled pork. Now we’re talkin! Rub some ribs, dry smoke or blanch then  oven cook low and finish over the coals. Simply a matter of personal preference. Me, I choose to blanch my ribs briefly then cool  dry rub and marinate in the reefer overnite. Next day into a 250 oven for about 2-3 hours adding beer as needed. Then just before time to “get messy” finish for that glaze & crunch on the grill.

Tender ~ falling off the bones meat ~ spicy Dijon potato salad ~ a great roll to mop it all with!~ And if u  don;t know how to make  bbq sauce I  recommend “Bone Suckin” sauce, or anything by Arthur Bryant’s. I make my own of course and also make a kick ass hosin bbq sauce to go on flank or brisket. For the asian flare.

Whip up a batch of coleslaw mine has jicima and julienne granny smith apples and poppy seed vinaigrette. Some homemade creamed corn /cheddar/chive/ corn bread.  Toss together drunken beans ( use canned B&M if u must) just doll them up! You my friend are now good to go.

Save some room for grilled peaches and vanilla ice cream. Maybe even a cookie.

Just a note~ whether you love St. Louis style ribs, baby backs, pork short ribs, meaty thick beef ones, lamb, it’s just a matter of personal choice. Just treat them with respect and you will be richly rewarded.  Enjoy my carnivore friends.

Let me know about your favourite joint, and what makes it special. Please do not use a gas grill for this. Go buy a little weber & use charcoal & toss in some wood chips and herbs. I have something called a smoke~ n~pit. Its ancient, but damn it sure makes some tasty treats.

For those who are curious, google ‘how to make your own outdoor smoker’. It’s easy.

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This will be more of a recipe type post, instead of my  usuall wanderings, stories and food burbling’s that generally emanate from the recesses of my culinary mind. Just remember, I  am a classically trained french chef and pastry chef (yes I do both exceedingly well)

Think of it as a “guideline” as in the movie Pirates of the Caribbean where Jeffery Rush tells Keira Knightly there is no pirates code, they are more like actual guidelines.  That’s how I sail my culinary ship too. Sometimes by the seat of my pants like these brownies I winged up on the fly for a birthday brunch yesterday.  Brownies being loved by all. I made a batch of just plain brownies too, for the purists.

It was heaven from the moment my guest came into the house, sniff, sniff, wow, Vic whats that? Munched on a tiny brioche cinnamon pecan roll, then scarfed a piece of bacon. Said what is that and where did you buy it?  That my  friend, is my brown sugar candied bacon. I made 3 pounds, had 3 pieces leftover. Nice. But I  will save bacon for a blog of it’s own. Along with the individual goat cheese & scallion souffles I made.

So enjoy. Beware a small square will suffice, or you risk sugar shock. If you dare. You are on your own here.

So spray a square glass 9×13 baking dish w/ nonstick spray & line the bottom w/ small piece of parchment paper ( helps to remove them later after they have cooled).

I make what I call fudge finger brownies, but feel free to “cheat” and use the box mix of your choice. (duncan hines in a pinch will suffice). Make a  graham cracker crust, put on the bottom, no need to par bake. Just get it cold, makes spreading the brownie mix easier. Top w/ 1/2 the brownie mix  on top of crust & dot w/ 40z of  tiny cubes of very cold cream cheese, top with  dollops of peanut butter.  I, horrors use Jiff.  My preferred brand.  Sprinkle  with mini marshmallows.

Top with remaining brownie mix. Sprinkle 1/2 cup good chunked chocolate, dark, sweet, milk, what ever you like best. Then layer of chunky chopped macadamia nuts. Take a baking skewer and poke some holes through the batter. Pour 1/2 can or use the whole thing if u like of sweetened condensed milk over the top. Bake at 350% for 30 mins. It will be jiggly. Resist the urge to keep baking. Let cool. Chill. Cut into  squares or diamonds warm 10~ 15 sec in micro serve w/mini scoop vanilla ice cream and I like to sprinkle w/ toasted coconut. I frost with white chocolate buttercream, just to be sure.   Sugar overdrive will ensue shortly, so have a  large glass of cold milk at the ready.

For the vegans~ you can buy dairy free & gluten free brownie mix at the health food store, instead of cream cheese, use tofutti, and organic ground peanut butter. One with just fresh ground peanuts, or make your own. Here is a little known fact, marshmallows contain gelatin, off limits to most vegans, but marshmallow FLUFF!! Yes, FLUFF, is only  corn syrup, dried egg white and vanilla. That’s it. Or you can just leave it out. You can make a sort of version of sweetened condensed milk w/ vanilla soy milk & brown sugar & cornstarch, but just add it at the last 10 mins of baking. Glass of soy milk, scoop of soy ice cream, and you too can eat like everyone else.

But if you start cleaning your house with a massive burst of energy, at 1am you can’t say I didn’t warn you!

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