A Netflix Original – Chef’s Table

We were simply awestruck by the very first episode of the new Netflix docu-series “Chef’s Table”. Ever since we teased the show in our Top 10 food films on Netflix, it has become the darling of my food media world. It’s not an exaggeration to say that at least 10% of my Facebook friends are sharing their love and talking about this brilliant new show. It captures exactly what I’ve always wanted in an exposé on the leaders in the world of food, focusing on six chefs and their unique stories of struggle, ascension, and cumulative breakthrough success.

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The structure is honest, thought-provoking, in-depth, and filled with heaps and heaps of seductive, slow motion sizzle reel filmed in crystal clear HD. The first episode takes us to a place we should all be so lucky to visit, the wide swath of northern Italy which makes up a Devastator type food Transformer known as Emilia-Romagna. Based on my heritage, tendencies, appreciation for Parmigiano Reggiano, aged balsamico, hand made pasta, and meat products from cloven animals; this is where I, and many others probably wish they could live out their remaining years.

From the beginning of his story it’s clear that Chef Massimo Bottura loves Modena for all that it stands for. The introduction grabs you with a touching story that helped jump-start the growth of his community following a natural disaster. I don’t want to give anything away. That’s why I’m ending the show talk here.

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We don’t really have a desire to critique or review this series. But, that doesn’t mean there isn’t some great stuff to talk about. As a team, we rank this show right alongside the other great documentary style productions such as El Bulli: Cooking in Progress, all of Bourdain’s TV work, and of course Jiro Dreams of Sushi.

Until recently, I hadn’t been thinking about recipe writing for Eat a Duck. I spent more than two years happily coming up with complete menus for the taste section of the Lakelander magazine. Some of which covered more than a dozen individual recipes per article. To think each one through, most often with zero room for error,  was a logistical nightmare consuming incredible amounts of time and effort. It was both exhilarating and exhausting. I’ve since stepped away from being full-time editor to give more attention to other important things in my life, which hopefully means putting more of my energy into creating on this front.

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The goal here is to pay homage to the six fantastic stories from this first series of Chef’s Table. While walking through town, I thought to myself “how can we tie this show into what we do.” What we came up with, was to formulate a recipe inspired by the theme of each show, a reflection of what lingered in our minds from each episode. It could be inspired by a personal story the chef tells, the region in which they’re from, or just our attempt at blatantly ripping off their most famous dish. We hope you enjoy our six dishes, which will include recipes for whatever it is we come up with. Going in order, the first will indeed chronicle Chef Massimo and his restaurant Osteria Francescana.

Szechuan Roasted Eggplant

Recently at the market, I spotted a large basket of eggplants in various shapes and colors. Their fate was not clear to me at the time, but something in the back of my mind was encouraging a Northern Chinese approach.

I’ve seen this dish many times in magazines and on cooking shows, yet never thought to do it myself. Hindsight being what it is, I realize now that it’s because of the remarkable ease of preparation, not to mention its natural photogenic quality. With so many angles, shadows and sauce filled crevices, I ended up with a gorgeous plate of food. It was mainly complimented by the wonderful quality of light on my mom’s porch as dusk hits.

Szechuan Roasted Eggplant

While this may seem like a lowly side dish, it’s far from a throwaway recipe, if for no other reason than its versatility. Use this sauce on beef, poultry or a firm white fish. Pretty much any vegetable with sturdy flesh could be substituted as well. Think about all the times you’ve thought to yourself, ” we have no food”, but you did. Don’t say that, because you did. You failed to notice the brown paper bag filled with zucchini and squash in the back of the crisper.

Beef & Broccoli

I made this along with a hunk of organic, grass-fed top sirloin cut into narrow strips and seared in a cast iron pan with a lot of brown butter. With that I scorched a half head of broccoli cut into florets and then sliced in half to create a flat surface needed for proper coloration. Make sure not to waste the stalks. If you cut them thin they will be tender and will look like miniature green versions of that 70’s style clock cut from a Cypress tree stump, your weird uncle has mounted in his house boats sleeping quarters. Be careful never to overcook broccoli. Use a very hot pan and flash sauté those guys with a big nob of butter at the beginning and end! The marriage of these two items resulted in a southerners rendition of Beef & Broccoli.

Szechuan Roasted Eggplant

  • About 1 1/2 lbs eggplant (Japanese preferably)
  • 1/2 cup prepared Hoisin sauce
  • 1 Tbsp. Tamari (or soy sauce)
  • 1 Tbsp. rice wine vinegar
  • 1 Tsp. brown sugar
  • 1 Tsp. sesame oil
  • A couple shakes of Five Spice Powder
  • Canola Oil
  • Salt

Pre-Heat Oven to 400.

With a paring knife, slice the eggplant lengthwise into 1/3-1/2″ thick planks and score them on the flesh side to make a diamond pattern. Coat with a thin layer of canola oil, then lightly sprinkle with salt. Lay slices skin side down on a baking sheet. Combine Hoisin, Tamari, vinegar, sugar, sesame oil and five spice in a small bowl, then brush it evenly over the eggplant.

Roast for 15- 20 minutes, or until they have caramelized, building a dark Mahogany color around the edges.

Eat a Duck Weekly Recap #6

It’s shaping up to be quite the epic contest of Noodle Wars 2015 between James and myself. While I have gotten more strict with my eating habits, there’s no chance I will ever deny myself the joy of eating great Vietnamese food. I may have temporarily dislocated pork shoulder from my daily intake, but that isn’t stopping me from enjoying the extensive menu over at Pho Cali in Sarasota. I opted for a bowl of lemongrass beef bun, with spicy chile and onions. It almost made me forget my fatty pork patties. Jimmy more than made up for my pork omissions. We both have a deep yearning to find that next great menu item that’s possibly hiding on the back page. In this case, it was Ha Noi noodles with pickled green papaya, grilled pork and pork meatballs. What a refreshing feeling it is for each of us to have a place in our respective towns with such high flavor and quality. It’s been a long time coming.

Speaking of a long time coming, a wood fired pizza insurgence is under way. Have you joined the republic? We are feverishly composing our thoughts on Polpo Pizza Co. to express our love for what they are producing. I know there are a lot of pizza people out there. You owe it to yourself to plan a nice beach day in the Sarasota area, with special attention paid to procuring a pizza pie produced particularly by Polpo at the precise period and place Polpo pre-determines to park.

Moving on, we found that going back to our well of old favorites resulted in great rewards. I haven’t been back to Beewon Korean restaurant in almost five years until last week. I found an old picture of my son noshing at the table back then. Poor guy didn’t even have a hair on his head. But he sure was happy taking on their bulgogi beef. While the sure things (Mahans & Oxford Exchange) triumphed, the new stumbled. Deciding after many contemplative passing glances at their storefront on Colonial Dr. in Orlando, I gave Mamak Asian Street Food a shot. While their rendition of Char Kway Teow (a wide rice noodle dish similar to chow fun) impressed, the beef curry meatballs left me wincing with confusion. The curry sauce itself tasted fine, yet the meatballs seemed like they were purchased at IKEA. Truthfully, I guess I should say that I quite enjoy their meatballs. But I expect them to stay at IKEA, in a pool of brown gravy, garnished with Lingonberry compote and not curiously found in an Asian hawker style restaurant. I cant say for a fact they bought them elsewhere or made them by hand, shaped to extremely perfect proportions. They were just very, very familiar to me.  I say maybe give Mamak a shot, but not before going to every single other jaw dropping place in a two block radius. With big guns like Ming’s Bistro, Anh Hong, Little Saigon, and Chuan Lu Garden, Mamak has a lot of competition. It’s by far the prettiest space on the block. So if they can get the entire menu hitting on all fronts, look out!

Finally, we finish at home. We try to eat what’s in season and tastes best, wherever we live. In Florida, we’re seeing a burst of peaches on the scene. They’re mainly smaller and thinner skinned than their relatives that hail from Georgia in my opinion, which results in a more concentrated flavor. We found some gems at Sweetwater Farms yet again. Large heads of broccoli, Japanese eggplant, and a slab of grass-fed sirloin from Providence Cattle proved to make a wonderful version of a New York style Chinese take out favorite; Beef and Broccoli. Another Stone Crab season has come to an end. I got my last chance to enjoy my favorite claw based foods. For one day last week, Whole Foods had them on special at their beer bar for 2$ a claw, so I took advantage of the situation. When you see that kind of deal, never pass it up! We’ll see you next week!

EAD Weekly #6

Maple Custard Pie

“Ok, well…
This is the city of Lakeland,
And it always sleeps,
It may look like it doesn’t
But it does.
It doesn’t live and breathe nocturnally.
So when you’ve got no place to go find a pastry at night,
And you’re alone all huddled up by the oven,
Cause you’re cold,
Well, this recipe goes out to the bakers that’s forgotten.
Hey pie, take us home.”

This is the story of a pie for one. Triple the ingredients in a normal pie plate if you have friends. If there were stores open I would’ve added some pecans, if I had organic corn syrup I would’ve made a pecan pie. Sadly I found myself without both items, so I made a maple pie with some optional pretzel stick border. Do whatever you feel, the beauty of being alone is that no one will judge you when you fail, but you won’t fail, I’m here for you.

Crust
1/2 cup all purpose flour
2 tbsp cold butter (cut into small cubes)
2 tbsp coconut oil (the kind that you can scoop out that’s not see through)
1/4 tsp sugar
Pinch of salt

Preheat your oven to 350º
In a small bowl, incorporate salt and sugar with flour
Fold in coconut and butter until a rough crumbly dough forms
Throw it on a square of Saran then wrap up in a ball and chill in fridge for a while. Once it’s chilled roll out the dough until it’s about 1/8″ thick, lay another sheet of Saran wrap on top. Place in a small baking dish or mini pie plate roughly 3″-4″ square. I used my La Creuset 4×4 dish. Poke the dough all over with a fork.
Bake for 18-20 minutes. Remove and let cool for about 15 minutes.

In the meantime make the filling, or watch one episode of Comedy Bang Bang and then make the filling.

Maple Syrup Custard
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup heavy cream
4 Tbsp. maple syrup
2 Tbsp. melted butter
1 Tbsp. coconut oil
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
1 egg

Whip egg and sugar until creamed
Add the remaining ingredients
Add nuts into pie crust if desired
Pour custard into pie crust. If you want to do the pretzels, which really worked well, just line them around the edges. Place in the oven and bake for 45 minutes. It will puff up high but once you remove the pie, the filling will fall like the walls of Jericho. Let it set and cool for 30 minutes.

Pie for one

This is a great pie to eat alone while bingeing on Netflix. You might cry tears of a pie.

Thank you Rancid for inspiring my pie-oem.

This is how we roll: Nouveau Stuffed Cabbage

Ever heard a serious intellectual utter the saying “This is how I roll?”

The term can not be found dating back nearly a millennium, originally written as a grand piece of poetry categorizing the “great men of yore” and their subsequent indulgences. The Kaiserchronik is a 12th-century chronicle of emperors. Though much of the material is legendary and fantastical, suggesting that large sections were compiled from earlier works, most of it is made up of short biographies, full of striking truths and even more striking similarities. For example the succession of the Romans from Julius Caesar (possibly the inventor of the 44 B.C Salad) all the way through Conrad III, the first king of Germany of the Hohenstaufen Dynasty all had an affinity for meat and grain, encased in leafy green biennials. On his deathbed, King Conrad might have used his last breath of sweet, sweet air to make a declaration of complete cabbage dependence as the last crop had finally been bitten by frost. He would have said something slong the lines of ” Countryman…if it is so that my meals have ceased from being presented in a totally tubular manner, then let me die. This world has nothing left for me. This is how I roll”.

I would have to say about 50% of my meals are not planned. They are wonderful accidents made up from scraps and remnants of other groceries, searching for purpose.

For example, on one late afternoon, we started getting hungry and did the old rapidly open and close the fridge trick. Hoping that every time we took a peek, something worth eating would magically appear, such as a pair two-inch thick ribeye’s and a 1905 Salad. Then maybe we might mosey up next to the oven to find a batch of buttery Potatoes Anna, blissfully bubbling while browning under a white-hot broiler. It wasn’t going to be that easy. What we did find was a perfectly suitable dinner for any man-child or world ruler. I give you a gift, in the form of an updated version of every child’s nightmare, the cabbage roll. No longer will you be subjected to grainy ground beef, mixed with maggot-like, gloopy rice, let alone the actual cabbage part of a cabbage roll. Usually when I have eaten this dish, the cabbage turns out to feel more like fresh skin peeled off a leprosy victim. Hungry yet?

Cabbage Rolls

To make this more appealing, we made a sort of mousse with chicken thighs, brown rice, and a ton of spices. And we didn’t pre-cook the cabbage leaves like some Bulgarians I know. If you roll your filling with raw cabbage, you might actually end up with a palatable texture. Lastly, we made a light tomato sauce to cover the rolls, using organic tomato bisque, lemon, and some heavy cream and butter from grass-fed cows. It makes a difference! This is really easy as you only have two stages of throwing stuff together and then some rolling. That’s it.

Try it tonight. While you’re at it, why don’t you challenge me to update one of your least favorite dishes from the olde country.

Preheat Oven to 375º F

Chicken Mousse (to be made ahead of time):

1-1/2 cups cooked brown rice

6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs

5 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped

3 green onions, quartered

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. sweet paprika

1/2 tsp. ground black pepper

1/2 tsp. ground sage

1/2 tsp. ground coriander

1/2 tsp. dried parsley

Place all ingredients in a food processor and blend on high for about one minute or until everything has been pulverized! Cover with plastic and set aside.

Cabbage Roll Process

Peel off 10-12 whole cabbage leaves from a good-sized head. Cut out the thick part of the rib and discard. Set aside leaves.

Tomato Sauce:

1 17.5 oz container of tomato bisque or a can of high quality tomato soup

1 stick of salted grass-fed butter

The juice of one lemon, plus zest

2 small tomatoes, finely diced

1 small onion, finely diced

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

In a large saucepan on medium heat, put everything in and cook until well incorporated. Set aside.

To roll the Cabbage, take a nice scoop full of the Chicken mousse (about 1/2 cup worth) and put on one side of the cabbage leaf. Roll once, then tuck the sides in and finish rolling up. Place seam side down on a 9×13 baking dish, no need for toothpicks youngster. Repeat process. Pour the tomato sauce over rolls and cover with foil. Bake covered for 30 Minutes, then uncover for a last 15.

They will be as hot as magma so give it a couple of minutes to pull itself together before noshing. If you have leftovers, it’s pretty amazing to eat one heated up on a buttery toasted sub roll with a little homemade garlic aioli. Just sayin’.

Oh and for an added bonus if meat wrapped in moist cabbage isn’t your thing, Cabbageman himself Mr. Crumpton whipped together some chicken and rice patties which were then pan-fried until golden! You can thank him later.

Chicken & Rice Patties

Lock, Pops and Two Frozen Barrels

Summertime in Florida is nearly a year-long event. It’s May, but the temperatures are creeping up higher and faster than Macklemore’s rap “career”. We’ve been flirting with nearly 100° afternoons lately, so there’s only one solution to combat the threat of flesh-melting heat. Popsicles!

Lock, Pops & Two Frozen Barrels

I had an assignment recently for the Lakelander magazine that, among other things, involved creating a couple of options for flavored patriot missiles. There was a Mexican theme, so I came up with a horchata based pop with some golden raisins, as well as a play on a Paloma, which is a grapefruit-centric cocktail though I nixed the alcohol since there were children partaking. To combat the often harsh, sour notes of grapefruit, I macerated some strawberries in sugar to make a sweet red mash of red bliss. They were a hit. The only thing left was a pool of pink on a serving platter, that lay dormant waiting for a certain adult-sized kid to pick it up and give it a shameful licking. That didn’t happen, but I saw a guy contemplating the consequences of such an action.

There’s no real recipe here, just an easy set of guidelines. Such as, the thinner the liquid, the quicker those suckers are going to melt. So, try not to use straight juice unless you mix it with some solid fruits or a purée of your liking. A general rule, use 2 cups of liquid for 1 cup of purée or thickener (i.e. condensed milk in the horchata pop). Below is my latest concoction, a peach-lemonade pop with fresh minced apricots.

Makes 8-10 Popsicles

2 cups lemonade
1 cup peach purée
3 peeled, then minced apricots

That’s it.

Popsicles in the raw

Popsicle Potential Popsicles in the makingLemonade, Peach & Apricot Pop

Mix the liquids. Spoon equal parts of the fruit into the bottom of the Popsicle molds, then pour the liquid over the fruit. Everything will swirl around and mix in a NATO way. Yeah in a North Atlantic Trade Organization kind of way. Thanks Siri! Enjoy if you dare to defy the United Nations!

Pad Thai

People are always asking me to list my go-to recipes, the dishes I might whip up to appease a hungry multitude without the luxury of a days notice. I usually tell them, “you name it and I’ll give it a shot”. My methods for menu creation are largely driven by the scraps I discover in the bowels of my cupboard or fridge. My grocery-buying habits play a large role as well, since my cravings for various cultural sundries span the globe more thoroughly than even Tiki Gelana could imagine.

So if I were to compose some dishes based on what I had in stock, it might go something like this…

A salad.
Arugula, tomato, red onion, avocado, cucumber and radish with an Italian inspired herbed mustard vinaigrette. Buttered crouton and toasted almonds as an accompaniment. My wife and myself have spent many nights creating dressings to compliment the produce we’ve got on hand. It’s true what they say about salad dressing creation being the key to a happy family life.

A main course you can either:

a. Eat out of a bowl or

b. Eat out of a really big bowl enough to feed four or more

Pad Thai fits that description nicely. Ask me for the ingredients for an authentic version and I could make a semi-educated guess. I think I make really good Pad Thai. Let me rephrase that. Whatever it is that I call Pad Thai is really really good. There’s a sauce that you use in the Pad Thai. I know not of its name. I call it Pad Thai sauce.

Pad Thai

A dessert.
I’ll make a dessert as long as the dishes aren’t already overflowing out of the sink. If they are and I’m too tired, ice cream is always a 5 minute drive down the street. But the two desserts I can easily compose with ingredients which I always have on hand and I bet you do too, is creme brûlée and chocolate ganache cake. Seriously, for the cake you need like 3 ingredients. Chocolate, butter, sugar, flour, eggs, salt and a muffin pan. That’s 3 ingredients right? Oh, and an oven. (Editors note. Pretty much the same things you would need to make a chocolate soufflé, just using a different method. Sometimes you accidentally mix up the two and you make a delicious monstrous concoction.)

As for my version of Pad Thai, here’s the instruction manual to guide you through the vermicelli jungle. Don’t be intimidated, they’re just noodles, it’s not like you’re facing the Khmer Rouge or anything.

Pad Thai

Ingredients: Serves 4-6

Pad Thai Sauce (it’s a little spicy)

  • 4 cloves garlic chopped
  • 1 tbsp minced ginger
  • 2 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup fish sauce
  • 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp pickled chilies
  • 1 tbsp chili paste

Pad Thai Sauce Components

Heat small sauce to medium
Add oil. Add garlic and ginger and stir occasionally for two minutes. Add remaining ingredients and cook for five minutes. Lower heat and simmer for 30 minutes or until sauce has reduced by half. Set aside. You don’t have to use all of these components if you wish not to search them out. If you don’t want it too hot, omit the pickled chilies…wuss.

For the Pad Thai itself.

Protein marinade:

  • 2 tbsp light brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 3 gloves of garlic roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp minced ginger
  • Juice of 1 lime.

Combine all together until sugar dissolves, then add 2 lbs of peeled and de-veined large/jumbo shrimp. Toss shrimp in marinade, then cover with plastic wrap. Let sit for at least 30 minutes or up to 2 hours in the refrigerator.

Chopping vegetables and assorted herbs:

  • 1/2 head of cabbage finely chopped lengthwise
  • 1 red onion halved and chopped lengthwise
  • 2 carrots julienned
  • 1 red pepper julienned

Garnishes:

  • 1 large cucumber julienned
  • 1 small daikon radish julienned
  • 1 container of bean sprouts
  • Bunch of Thai basil
  • Bunch of mint
  • Bunch of culantro or cilantro
  • 2 limes cut into wedges
  • 1/2 cup roasted unsalted peanuts.
  • Fried shallot

Place each individually in its own serving bowl and set aside until serving time.

Assorted Veg.

Take one package of small rice vermicelli noodles and place them in a large bowl of warm water for 10-12 minutes until softened. It might not seem like this amount will serve a good number of people but once the noodles are submerged in the warm water, they will multiply more so than Michael Keaton characters from the mid 90’s.

Heat large sauté pan or wok on med-high heat. Add sesame oil. Place cabbage, onion, carrot and pepper and cook until they begin to soften but are still crunchy. About 3-4 minutes.
Remove from heat. Turn heat to high. Remove shrimp from refrigerator and place in pan about 10 at a time. Don’t put too many in at once since they will give off a little liquid. If you overcrowd the pan they won’t get a good color. Cook for about 1-1 1/2 minutes per side. Once they are all cooked, set aside in a bowl. Lower heat to medium.

Strain noodles from water and place in pan along with the cooked vegetables and half of the Pad Thai sauce. Toss for about two minutes. Place into large serving vessel and add cooked shrimp. Add more sauce if desired. Serve alongside garnishes of raw vegetables, herbs, fried shallots and peanuts.

That’s about four steps to make this great meal. I love this recipe most because of the bold flavors of course, but also because of how wonderful it looks once you have put it all together. It’s a very visually appealing dish because of all the vibrant and contrasting colors. For a split second you might not want to ruin this masterpiece due to it’s shear beauty. Then reality kicks in and you will destroy everything in your path to get just one taste.

I’m not saying you need everything listed here to make this great. Believe me, I’ve made an amazing version of this with just a handful of items. This is however the culmination of what I consider to be the best of what a great Pad Thai may or may not entirely be. Hope you guys have fun creating this as well your own go-to dishes.

Sticky Toffee Pudding

For all the recipes we Americans steal from the Europeans, the one that hasn’t stuck is a good Sticky Toffee Pudding. Why, I mean, what’s not to like? Date cake, good, toffee, good, Devonshire Cream, good, meat, good! When called upon to provide a fabulous dessert for a small catering job, a few things came to mind. The dessert needed to hold up after being out all afternoon in the elements without a way to reheat it. It also needed to be easy to serve and translate to a proper fall/winter dish. After giving it some thought, I was struck with the idea of doing a sticky toffee pudding.

I was watching one of those, “best things I ever ate” type shows a long while back and recalled a chef doing a sticky toffee pudding. They used three different methods for soaking sponge cake in that salty, buttery, sweet toffee sauce. It seemed like a grand idea, one that fit my needs perfectly.

The day before the gig, it was requested that I make the cake in a cast iron skillet to add some whimsy to the presentation. Although the recipes that I had researched to make one of my own only used baking dishes, I obliged because I thought that if I buttered the pan real good and then coated the pan with sugar, it would make a nice crisp edge for the moist dessert. It worked very well indeed I must say. It was pretty nerve-wracking to prepare this thing. It was like walking a tightrope without a net, or even an umbrella for that matter. To cook something you’ve never made before, and to have to do it perfectly the first and only time without reference is ridiculous. Through it all though, it turned out as the Brits say “Advantage-Agassi”.

Fans of clotted cream or Devonshire cream will appreciate this easy interpretation I made to the dollop on the side. Usually making the stuff is an all day process. But I’ve extracted the spirit of what a good cream is, while only taking 10 minutes of your time.

To complete this dessert properly might take a little time. However, the results are grand and it’s really not hard.  Just crank up some good Brit rock and go to town. Enjoy your bloody pudding mate.

Sticky Toffee Pudding

 Cake:

1 c pitted dates
1/3 c golden raisins
12 oz brewed hot tea
1 1/3 c butter
1 1/2 cups self rising flour. (To make self rising out of AP, sift in 2 tsp of baking powder and 1/2 tsp salt)
4 eggs
1 1/2 c sugar
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp vanilla
 
Sauce:
 
12 oz heavy cream
2/3 c dark brown sugar
1/4 c butter
2 tbsp Karo syrup
pinch of salt
 
Cream:
 
1 cup cold heavy whipping cream
4 oz room temp cream cheese
1/8 cup sugar
dash of salt
 
 
Brew Tea
Pour over dates and raisins while tea is hot and let steep for at least 2 hours
Heat Oven to 325
Make toffee sauce by combining all ingredients in the sauce list into a medium saucepan on low temp until everything has melted. Then turn up heat to medium until the liquid begins to begins to bubble. Then let cool.
Grease and coat 10 inch cast iron skillet with sugar
Cream butter and sugar for about 3 minutes
Add eggs 1 at a time mixing well after each egg
Slowly add flour a little at a time, then set batter aside
Puree dates, raisins and tea in blender
Add baking soda and vanilla to dates and let sit 5 minutes, then fold gently into batter. Set aside.
Add half of batter to skillet, then add a quarter of toffee sauce on top. Add the remainder of batter, then place in oven for about 45 minutes or until the top has browned and a toothpick comes out clean from the middle.
Make “Devonshire”  by creaming room temp  cream cheese with sugar and salt. Whip heavy cream to stiff peaks and then fold cream cheese mixture very gently so as to not deflate cream.
After cake has cooled a bit, (15 minutes) poke holes all over with a knife and add a quarter more toffee sauce to let it all soak in.
When you’re ready to serve, pour more toffee sauce atop individual servings of the cake. and dollop cream on the side. Eat.

Brown Butter Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

If there’s one piece of wisdom I can impart to you for a full and happy life, it is this: Do not skimp on the butter. That is my gift to you. You’re welcome.

Say you’re making a batch of Brown Butter Oatmeal Raisin Cookies for the second time in a week because your family devoured them like Shai Hulud seeking to eat an Ornithopter. You attempt to recreate the magic that was your first experiment, only to find yourself without butter, catastrophe! The options are, drive 0.3 miles to the nearest grocery, call it a day and chalk this one up to laziness, or push through with the remaining ingredients, thus creating a “healthier” option. For me it’s a no-brainer but I’ll say it anyway, don’t skimp on that fat! Put on your flip-flops and get in the car. Use whatever animal fat you can find, whether it be butter, lard, tallow, ghee or an amalgamation of them all…do not do without.

If life is a song, butter is the melody. It adds flavor, richness, color and texture to our pathetic existence. Butter is the new bacon. We have to give it the proper respect for being everything to everyone.

Therefore these cookies are the perfect vehicle for such an illustrious ingredient. Without the correct amount of butter you won’t get the perfect cookie, believe me. Batches one and two were worlds apart. There was only one slight difference between the two, and not coincidentally, it was butter or lack thereof. Go figure. When you make the brown butter for this recipe, don’t be ashamed to make just a bit more than the recipe allows. Once you complete the browning process, take a spoon and dip it in. Get a nice taste of the transformation that butter has made. It’s about as drastic as when Soundwave transforms from a Decepticon into a boom box!

This should make about a dozen cookies depending on your personal size preference. I didn’t want to make a ton at a time because I believe they should be eaten within a day or two. Oh and I like extra raisins! And guess what? There’s a cheat. See if you can figure it out. You’ll need:

Brown Butter Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

1/2 Cup Butter or more

1/3 Cup Dark Brown Muscavado Sugar

1/3 Cup Cane Sugar

1 egg

1 tsp Vanilla extract

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp sea salt

1 Packet instant organic oatmeal. (I used one with flax seeds, but be creative and use what you like or happen to have on hand. It will more than likely change the flavor if you go with something like maple or apple cinnamon)

A lot of Golden Raisins. I’ve never measured them, you’ll know when you have enough.

To make the cookie, turn your oven to 350°. In a saucepan, heat the butter over a medium flame. After a few minutes the butter will start to bubble and probably pop at you. It’s ok. No big deal. Then it’ll begin to change to a caramel hue. Get on top of it and stir until you see it actually turn brown. There will be little bits on the bottom of the pan. That’s ok. Let the pan cool until it’s safe to put in the fridge for a complete cooling. Then put in fridge. Duh. Let it set about 15 minutes. I usually will take this time to get the rest of my mise prepared.

Sift the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt in a separate bowl.

When the butter has cooled, add the sugars, egg and vanilla and combine with a hand mixer for about 2 minutes until it looks kind of like frosting.

Then take the flour mixture and fold into the butter mixture. After everything is evenly incorporated mix in the packet of oats (the cheat) and then the raisins.

Roll into little 2 inch balls and then flatten them on an ungreased cookie sheet. You want those bottoms crispy. Smash them real good. You’re looking for a thinner cookie, not puffy. Don’t overcrowd them. Just make 6 at a time.

Bake for 10-12 minutes or until the look is golden brown enough for you.

In conclusion, let me reiterate that I believe butter to be the most important ingredient for a happy life. Too little, and your life will be flavorless, lacking texture and slightly cake-like. Too much…? Well I don’t think that’s possible.

Summer Apps: Fries, Sauce and Pickled Okra

It has been far too long since I’ve had a couple of days off to concentrate on simply relaxing and cooking. My hobby is more often than not, the pursuit of better eating. We all enjoy activities that we’re good at don’t we? Cooking, or the preparation of food is no exception, at least for me.

I’ve played with the idea of starting up my own food cart at the local Farmers market starting in September. An idea that feels more and more real as the days go by. Although it’s not a sure thing until I actually take possession of the necessary equipment.

It has been decided after many months of being mentored by my good friends at The Poor Porker, that an ideal option would be to specialize in the most amazing french fries you can find, something most of us absolutely adore. I’m betting on this reasoning at least.

After months of researching and testing different fry techniques, I’m confident that I’ve got the process to where I can put out a high quality product that will be easy enough to execute at a high level of output. Well, higher than what we home cooks would be used to. Unless of course you normally cook 50 lbs of Potatoes at a time.

With the “perfect” fry, which is what I strive for, comes the other important goal. Giving my local friends and acquaintances of the Farmers Market a change of pace in the flavor department. I want to help show off some of the incredible tastes the cuisines of the world have to offer. I know it will start off by being simple, maybe just using different spice blends and sauces. But I think everyone deserves to take a trip to Paris or maybe the coast of Morocco, even if you can’t afford the airfare. Honestly, I’ve never had a chance to go to Europe. That doesn’t mean I have to limit myself to my region of the worlds typical flavors. Why would I want to punish my tongue for my own financial inadequacy?

This leads me to this past weekend where once again, I found myself practicing fries, my sauces and hospitality in general. I’m not going to keep my technique a secret because the process is widely known. I use a double fry method, where you cook the potatoes at a low temp to cook them through. Then you follow with a higher heat, and a shorter cook time after freezing them overnight. This makes them creamy on the inside, crispy and golden brown on the outside. I know you can make these at home. Although, you don’t need to now that you have me!

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Saturday I tested out my cookery accompanied by my homemade Ketchup that I will actually not give many details about, except that it has my wife’s approval which is the most important thing in the world to me. Everything else I think will be fair game.

Such as the Meyer Lemon Aioli I plan on serving every once in a while.

You can do it by hand, which I think everyone should do at least once in their lives, to really appreciate the old world elbow grease that goes into it. Or you can be a weak little baby and use a food pro. All you need to do is this:

Throw 2 garlic cloves (or if you’re Jimmy, 5 or 6), the juice and zest of a Meyer Lemon, 1/2 tsp of salt, 1 room temp egg yolk, and 1 teaspoon of cold water in a small food pro. You should have set aside about 3/4 of a cup of Olive oil into some sort of easily pourable container. First pulse the food pro with little drips of the oil at a time. Literally, drip by drip. As the mixture begins to emulsify, slowly add a little more oil. Just a little at a time. Listen. This isn’t swing dancing. It’s not slow, slow, quick, quick. It’s slow, slow, slow, slow. From experience I know that doing it too fast isn’t a wise course of action. On the same note, going super slow has never produced a failed attempt. Hey pal, I’m talking about aioli!

If you do choose to make fries and this aioli, maybe you can make a little spread of vegetable based apps to counteract the luxurious richness of the frites and sauce.

My recommendation would be this play on an old southern classic, okra  pin wheels. This only has 3 components and they all come pre-made so all you have to do is be like the Avengers and ASSEMBLE!

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Here’s what you need:

1/4 of cured meat such as Speck, Serrano, or Prosciutto. Or just smoked ham if you can’t find anything else. I would highly recommend finding you closest purveyor of La Quercia  meats, and stocking up on their quality goods.

1 Jar of Pickled Okra. Don’t freak out about this. It’s not slimy when you pickle it. Trust me it’s awesome.

1 tub of either European style sour cream or just regular cream cheese.

Take your meat and lay it on a cutting board. Take a schmear of the cream and spread it to make a thin layer on the meat. Take a stalk of okra and cut off the top and place at one end of the meat cream marriage. Roll up like a cigar. activities into 1 inch pieces and place on serving dish. Willingly accept the hugs and kisses of your loved ones as they shower you with praise for concocting such a triumph in simple elegance.