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Talking points: Grill a Chef

November 26, 2008

grillachef

My friend/colleague, Chef Josh, and I have begun an experimental project. We don’t have an official title for it yet, but so far it is something like ‘Greenmarket Chefs sit out in the cold to give Free Cooking Advice so come on and Ask The Chefs an interesting question so they don’t feel too awkward sitting on their hands doing nothing’… See, we are both pretty chatty chefs. In order to make use of this gift, we set up a table at the Union Square Greenmarket, put out a few different pieces of produce, made a few signs (Thanks, Tara!) and offered people free cooking advice as they sauntered by. It was a lot of fun and the longer we sat, the more people came to take advantage of our services.

We thought it was a great way to help shoppers incorporate market offerings into their meals. Some had already made a purchase and came by to ask about it, or after the wise counsel of ‘the chefs’ they went on to buy (right there from a real farmer) an item discussed. Some participants learned about something they had never seen before and others walked off with a new way to use an old fave. There were also plenty of folks with just general cooking and eating questions. Though icy cold, I think it was very successful. On our table we displayed the following bits:

Jerusalem artichokes (sunchokes), leeks, crosnes, brussels sprouts, broccoli, various chili peppers, some herbs, parsley root and a celery root. We were encouraged to pick a few things from different stalls at the market, so everything was as new as the day and available for purchase just a few steps up the side of the park. How lucky! It made for an appetizing display and gave Chef Josh and me some talking points to break the ice. Heh.

Here are five of the questions people asked and the answers we gave (to the best of my memory’s ability).

Q: What is that?…looks like little worms.
A: Those are crosnes pronounced ‘croh-nz’ rhyming with ‘clones’ as in ‘attack of the….’.
Crosnes are cute little tuber (root) vegetables that can be eaten raw or cooked into a stirfry or soup. Crosnes fall into the category of crunchy-watery vegetable like a potato or water chestnut and have a little snap in their taste, as they are a part of the mint family. Too small to peel, they need only to be washed thoroughly. Their season is a short one so eat em up.

Q: How can I season a winter squash soup that I have already made?
A: There are certainly many ways, but one problem is that many herbs and spices are best when they are a part of the cooking process. Aside from adding salt and pepper during the reheat, an herbed sour cream or creme fraiche could be made separately and used as a garnish on top of the soup. It would melt in and deliver lots of flavor. Or a pesto made of herbs. Spicy roasted pumpkin seeds could be nice too. Oh no, I just thought of another one now…a spiced butter. For 5 minutes, fry spices like curry powder, cumin, coriander, chili powder, cinnamon into a few pats of butter melted in a skillet and stir into warmed soup…Try any or all!

Q: What is the best way to cook brussels sprouts?
A: Chef Josh and I have different answers here but instead of a drawn out culinary argument (agri-ment?), we offer up both of our methods and let the advisee decide. We agree on halving them but first trimming the stem and removing any unpleasant outer leaves. At this point, Chef Josh likes to toss them with some olive oil, salt and pepper and place them in a nice hot oven (around 400F) on a baking sheet…on the floor of the oven! That’s right. With a more direct and intense heat, they will get nicely brown and caramelized and yummy. If you have a wacky oven like so many New Yorkers, however, you must watch them closely so they do not burn. They will probably be ready in about 15 minutes, stir occasionally.

On the other hand, with trimmed and halved sprouts continue to cut them into thin shreds…it makes them look like a slaw. This un-traditional shape is a great way to turn non-brussels sprout lovers into sprout enthusiasts! The slaw is then sauted in a skillet on the stove top with some butter and/or oil, salt and pepper for about 7 minutes. Think of seasoning them with some herbs, lemon, or a little salad dressing.

Q: Any suggestions on how to get my kids to eat swiss chard?
A: Yup! You can incorporate it into hummus, a snack lots of kids seem to be eating these days. Not only is it a healthful choice but it is a great disguise for other healthy stuff. Give the de-stemmed, roughly chopped swiss chard a quick saute in a skillet with some oil (or blanch it in salted water) to get it a bit tender. When cooked, puree it in a blender or food processor with the family’s favorite hummus recipe. Black bean hummus might work best because the darker color won’t tip them off to the added ingredient. It is said that sometimes a food can be introduced five to ten times before a person will accept it, so don’t lose hope too soon.

Q: Is a butternut squash high in calories?…because I ate a whole one.
A: No worries. The caloric content in a squash, anyways pretty low, is no match for its rich health benefits. A beta-carotene superstar (vitamin A), and plenty of antioxidants (vitamin C), fiber and potassium. Good as that is, instead of eating the whole squash, half it and stuff it with a cooked grain (rice, cous-cous, bulgur, quinoa) and some sort of protein (a bean, meat or cheese for example). The meal will be better balanced, less pure orange, and probably more satisfying. Be sure to try some of the other awesome varieties of winter squash available at the market like acorn, spaghetti, sunshine, hubbard, delicata, dumpling, kabocha, etc.

An interesting day indeed! We’ve even been picked up to spread our advice elsewhere. Stay in touch for where/when/who/how and definitely feel free to mail your own questions to ori@upchefcreek.com or to our temporary on the fly e-ddress greenmarketchefs@gmail.com

Bueno! and Thx Greenmarket!!!

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