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Joining is good. (SUMMER CSA)

July 14, 2014

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I guess I say this every year. Joining a CSA is major! There are many resources that can help you to find a Community Supported Argiculture group in your area: http://www.localharvest.org/csa/ , for example.

Support your community, the planet, your health and best of all challenge yourself to incorporate all of that good eating into your lifestyle. Everyone wins!

Past posts on CSA love:

http://upchefcreek.wordpress.com/2013/08/16/at-last-tomatoes/

http://upchefcreek.wordpress.com/2012/08/02/summer-cravings-vegetable-noodle-soup/

http://upchefcreek.wordpress.com/2012/06/11/from-the-box-fish-kebabs-with-collard-greens/ 

Enjoy!

 

 

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Branching out. (FOOD STYLING)

July 10, 2014

It was like Thanksgiving in July (exactly like Thanksgiving in July, actually) on a shoot for Campbell’s classic green bean casserole that rolled out last year. I did not make/style the green beans (it had an entourage of its own) but I did cook the surrounding feast:

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See the whole commercial here:

http://www.ispot.tv/ad/75y5/campbells-cream-of-mushroom-soup-wisest-kid-holidays

I’m into it. Keep me in mind for all of your styling needs: omcooking@gmail.com

 

 

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More to love. (GRILLED RADISHES)

June 18, 2014

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Radishes are awesome for so many reasons. They add beautiful color and texture to all kinds of dishes and they are full of vitamin C and potassium. Radishes stimulate hunger as well as aid in the digestive process so, depending on the culture, they are served before and after big meals.

Among different varieties of radish, flavors can range from mildly peppery to downright hot and spicy. Cooking the radish however, changes that significantly. When heated, especially grilled, they take on a sweet, juicy consistency that is very different from the crisp raw version.

Synopsis: when looking for interesting veggies to throw on the grill (even on the stovetop grill pan) think radish! Simply slice and sear.

 

 

 

 

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Catchup! (AN OVERDUE POST ON ROMESCO)

May 29, 2014

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Romesco is a smokey condiment of the Spanish influence that can be made lots of ways and most often incorporates some kind of red pepper. It beautifully accompanies food from grilled meats to poached eggs to any raw or roasted vegetables you choose. It is an especially perfect topping for straight vegetables because it adds a touch of decadence to otherwise square stuff; roasted cauliflower, salt boiled potatoes, grilled spring onions, for example.

I do not consider my cooking very decadent. I was raised eating all kinds of tofu and later went to a vegan culinary school (even though I am an equal opportunity eater). Especially on this website, I have geared my recipes towards scoring healthy points, being quick/easy and most importantly towards being ‘damn delicious ways to eat stuff that is good for you’. That’s the mission.

When this blog was formed in the year two thousand and something, I was in the thick of cooking for clients who wanted to eat just right. For many years I didn’t often use bacon and heaps of butter or drench things in cream or deep fry. Don’t get me wrong, these are obviously awesome ways to cook and once in a while extremely useful but I tried not to lean on them, finding other ways to develop flavor and richness.

Now I am back on the restaurant scene. I do not work in a health-food place and I am given the opportunity to roll out lots of small plates with big flavor, no holds barred. I can stretch my style of cooking a little further into the naughty department. Frying* has been my favorite lately. Getting a crisp crust on lamb patties, putting an extra crunch on nuts or, as you will see here, cooking some garlic slices in oil until they are like little golden nuggets. And though this particular recipe for Romesco is, in fact, vegan, lately I am having lots of fun smearing my somewhat austere culinary upbringing with a little bit of pork fat.

ROMESCO THIS WAY

7 cloves of garlic, sliced (plus one whole clove)

4 chunks of bread, about 1 cup

2 whole tomatoes, canned or fresh, chopped

1 tablespoon smoked paprika (pimenton)

2 red bell peppers, roasted

40 blanched almonds*

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons of the best sherry vinegar you have

5 jarred piquillo peppers

1-2 teaspoons kosher salt

black pepper to taste

pinch cayenne

oil for frying (canola is fine)

In a small skillet, pour enough frying oil so that it is about an inch deep. Warm it up and toss in one slice of the garlic. When it begins to bubble around the edges, remove from the oil and add the rest of the garlic slices (reserving one clove), stirring frequently until golden.

Remove garlic with a slotted spoon and place on a paper towel. Add bread chunks to the oil and fry on both sides until crisp, remove from skillet onto paper towel.

Discard all but a few tablespoons of oil from the skillet, heat it up again and sauté the chopped tomatoes for a few minutes. Add the smoked paprika and a teaspoon of salt to the skillet and stir to combine with the tomatoes. Cook until fragrant, about 3 minutes.

Now that all of the components are prepped, time for the easy part.

Place the fried garlic, the raw garlic clove, the bread, the tomato mixture, roasted peppers, almonds, olive oil, sherry vinegar, piquillos, remaining teaspoon of salt, some black pepper and a pinch of cayenne into the bowl of a food processor and puree until smooth.

Check for seasoning and adjust. Also adjust the consistency with more oil or vinegar to thin and more bread or almonds to thicken.

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Roasted asparagus waiting patiently for romesco and a soft boiled egg…

 

 

 

 

* When I was a culinary student I once got roped into a call for one of the competitive cooking shows…I don’t remember which. When asked about one of my special skills in the kitchen I reluctantly replied, “I can fry”.

** Any almonds would work, roasted, salted, etc. To blanch raw almonds, plunge them in boiling water for 1 minute and drain. When cool enough to touch, slip the skins off… but do it before the skins dry or else it becomes difficult.

 

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Disguise. (SWEET/SAVORY TURMERIC POPCORN)

March 3, 2014

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For some reason I had always meant to make popcorn on the stovetop but never really got around to it. And because of this I refused to wrap my head around the unbelievable simplicity of making it.

Then someone offered me money to make lots and lots of popcorn and, here I am, ready to tell you all about how awesome the results of this quick and easy snack can be. The other upside (what’s the upside?), you can make it as decadent as you want with peanut butter, sugar, chocolate, caramel, etc. or you can cram a whole bunch of healthy stuff on it like coconut oil, flax, nutritional yeast, matcha or turmeric, which is my fave because the color is righteous.

Turmeric is being hailed as such an impressive superfood, I keep a bottle of it handy, working it in where I can. Popcorn is a healthy snack itself, when prepared in the latter of above-mentioned styles. I think it is great anytime but especially before dinner when you have hungry family meowing around the kitchen but the meal is not quite ready… that bright yellow can really distract!

I use a pretty foolproof popcorn-making technique and I am sorry I can not give proper cred where it is due. I saw it once and never turned back. The topping is my invention…but also foggy. Here’s the gist:

SWEET/SAVORY TURMERIC POPCORN

1/3 cup popcorn kernels

2 tablespoons cooking oil

2-3 tablespoons butter or oil

1/3 cup maple syrup

pinch cumin

1 tablespoon turmeric

dash of cayenne

salt to taste

  • Heat a large pot over a medium flame with 2 tablespoons of cooking oil and 3 kernels of popcorn inside. Place well-fitting lid on the pot and listen for the 3 pops.
  • When you hear them, add the rest of the kernels to the pot, put the lid back on and remove from the heat. Count to 30.
  • Replace to pot on the flame and, keeping the lid on tight, shake the pot a bit. Listen for lots of popping noise. Continue with some light shakes until the popping sound slows down considerably or has practically stopped.
  • Dump the popcorn into a large bowl. Set aside.
  • Heat the remaining ingredients; butter or oil, maple, cumin, turmeric, cayenne, salt in a small pot and stir, combining thoroughly. Adjust to taste! Make it sweet, salty or spicy as you like.
  • Pour the maple mixture over the popcorn and toss well to coat.
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Lunching. (IN PRAISE OF BENTO)

October 21, 2013

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Healthy lunches can be elaborate or simple and sometimes both! Using ingredients that might be readily available in the pantry (or leftovers from another meal) make the daily process of producing balanced meals-to-go a little bit easier.
 
Lately I have been seeing some great bento-style lunchboxes for sale. The cool thing about bento boxes is that each ingredient has its own separate compartment so you can really be creative and vary the things that go in. From a bean dip surrounded by fresh veggies, fruit and crackers to cold buckwheat noodles and shredded chicken with colorful roasted veggies (from last night’s dinner), lunch-makers can be endlessly creative and diverse with their lunch packing, staving off boredom all year long. Lunch-eaters can assemble and eat the meal in a variety of ways and really make it ‘their own’. It’s the same concept that launched Lunchables into the success stratosphere, but this version is 100% wholesome and homemade.
 
Use one compartment for a green salad, the lidded part for dressing/dipping sauce and cut a sandwich to perfectly fit into remaining sections. Don’t forget to add a sweet treat and, just a reminder, that nature provides us with many a nutritious dessert. Remove the pit from a date and stuff it with your favorite nut or seed butter and a drizzle of honey for an instant energy boosting (candy-like!) snack. 
 
Find some cool bentos here:
 
black and blum at west elm (pictured below)
 
 
 
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Don’t quote me. (THE CHELSEA MARKET COOKBOOK)

October 14, 2013

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A while back MG and I contributed some recipes to a project. Now the official Chelsea Market Cookbook is here! Let the world be exposed to Metalbelly‘s Texas Chili and my  golden garlic butter that mysteriously tastes just like movie popcorn as well as great stuff from people way more famous than us… lots of them! Check it out at Amazon.

One of my recipes in the book, originally titled ‘Market Fish Stew’, was retitled Provençal Fish Stew and likened to a bouillabaisse. While the use of leeks, fennel and pastis are typical of Provence, I have to admit my dish is way too simple (and adaptable) to hold court in the tradition of the bouillabaisse. If the recipe I developed for the Chelsea Market Cookbook is a speedboat, the first bouillabaisse I ate at a tiny port restaurant in Marseille many years ago was a French naval ship. I didn’t really know what I was in for while I hunted for the historic soup, but my goal was to find the perfect place to eat it. It should be noted that this was before personal opinions could be publicly accessed with ease. I couldn’t look at scores of reviews, there was no googling to be done. These were my early days of culinary exploration and because there were less resources, I was honing the skill of spotting a real deal restaurant on foot with each new travel. In seas of tourist traps, among hordes of menus and foreign words, finding the local gem just by scanning the immediate details became my superpower.

The day I went shopping for bouillabaisse, I was on a solo mission with no one to translate or steer. As I wound through the streets of the port I scanned for a place with just the right light, a healthy level of sound, happy relaxed guests and staff, good smells, smallish size and maybe a bit off the path. Scan the menu, is it traditional and also unique? Is there variety, is there a clear specialty? This is the first glance.

I found my spot and ordered a bouillabaisse. Soon after the waiter presented me with a plate of raw Mediterranean fish and various sea animals. However confused, I signed off with a nod. He disappeared leaving me to devour a whole basket of bread and rouille, a garlic and saffron ailoi named because it is the color of rust and a mandatory part of a bouillabaisse meant to be sunk in the bottom of the soup –not necessarily eaten as an appetizer. He came back with a huge bowl brimming with the seafood in an incredible broth, thick with fishy shrapnel and a little gritty with seasonings. As I worked my way through that bowl of perfectly cooked fish, my guy refilled broth from a tureen and bread/rouille as needed. It was impossible to stop eating, even though it was probably enough for four people.

Sorry to report that I don’t know the restaurant name or the street it was on. I didn’t write notes on food then or take pictures of my meals with the enormous Nikkormat I was probably carrying. Since this momentous meal, I have researched and discussed many more details of regional French cooking, learning that there is much debate about what an authentic bouillabaisse really is; seasonings, type of fish, order of plating, etc. In my food-obsessed travels I realize that eating any dish in the place of its origin is such a unique sensory experience that it is hard to describe the final criteria when looking for the best local spot. One might say that you have to give yourself over to the place you are visiting and its customs in order to be admitted passage to an authentic experience. If you search for a restaurant with ketchup bottles on the table wherever you go, it is sure you will be denied this. (I actually met a set of travelers that told me they do this.)

I walked Marseille top to bottom, letting it take me where it would. On a desolate road that ran alongside the sea, there were signs indicating boats in transit to/from Corsica, Italy and Algeria. I remember reading the exotic port names and feeling small and far away, isolated from the rest of the world (remember, no cellphones). I accepted that no one on the continent knew where I was at that moment and I could be anywhere according to the rest of the world. I continued into the ‘the pannier’ or old town which was a tight maze of narrow corridors. It must have been during a particularly quiet siesta because what was described to me as the must-see, crazy, condensed part of town was silent. The strange, lonely feeling deepened but didn’t last long. The noise level rose as the streets pointed back toward port and I turned a corner just in time to see an outdoor beer garden full of people (travelers) my age. I hung with them for a bit before the desire to continue my loner journey resumed.

I bought some cheap cigarettes in an alleyway. I happened upon a gallery opening in a cavernous garage-like space with minimalist paintings and loads of wine. Way earlier that day I trekked around the moon rocks of the Calanques peering down at the very place the delicious bouillabaisse fish come from. Traveling with my stunning vintage Laguiole (like a good Frenchman), I sliced saucisson and broke bread under the immense statues of the Palais Longchamp before wandering the fine arts museum inside. At night I sketched the illuminated windows of St. Vincent de Paul and pretended I spoke only Bulgarian to maintain my solitude when approached by curious passers by. I fell in love with Marseille and its briny breeze, was intrigued by the local accent choppy with its Italian inflection, the cultural mash-up, the crossroads and that overall, ‘hey! we’ve got a port so we can go anywhere but we stay right here’ kind of feeling. And after taking all that in, I’m pretty sure I had a spot on bouillabaisse that day.

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