Make Something New Every Day


This blog is inspired by all those who love to cook, whether experienced or not, and who continue to experiment with new ideas & ingredients, and best of all, share their passion with others.

The first entries are recipes prepared by the students of Lionel Wilson College Preparatory Academy in Oakland, CA. Fifteen students with varying cooking experience participated in my weekly workshop (via Tutorpedia), and successfully prepared various meals, snacks, and baked goods as part of an after-school program.

Along with the recipes from that class, I will continue to add new seasonal items, spanning every genre of the culinary world, as well as a helpful list of links to recipes, instructional videos, and places to shop and volunteer in your area.

Feel free to ask me questions and share your recipes and ideas as well. I look forward to cooking with you.


June 10, 2011

I Cannot Tell a Lie...Cherry-Apricot Cobbler is the Bomb!

At 18 I landed my first job as a pastry chef at Lark Creek Inn in Larkspur, CA. I wasn't old enough to drink with the staff (well, legally anyway), so I pretty much kept to myself and kept my nose & my hands clean. Everything I made was from scratch, and it being summer, I had oodles of fresh ingredients to work with every day. One dessert in particular, the cherry-apricot cobbler, kept my hands quite messy. I might sound like an old man complaining about walking uphill both ways to school, but try pitting a 10 gallon bucket of cherries without a pitter, and see how grumpy you get.
Don't fret. For this cobbler you only need about 2 pounds of cherries (along with 2 pounds of apricots), and whoa, Nelly, are they good this year! Now, Now, Now is the time to make this insanely delicious cobbler, so go to the market, get your fruit, and get down.

GET IT TOGETHER
2 pounds of cherries (Bings, baby)
2 pounds of apricots (they should be ripe, but firm)
3 tablespoons corn starch or tapioca flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup apricot jam (homemade, or Cascadian Farms)

1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/2" cubes
3/4 cup cold, well-shaken buttermilk 
2-3 tablespoons sugar for sprinkling over the dough
PREPARE THE FRUIT
Wash the fruit. Using a paring knife, slice the cherries in half lengthwise, and tear out the pits. Trust me, unless you have some amazing pitter, this is the fastest way to do this. Then cut the apricots into chunks about the same size as half a cherry. Preheat the oven to 400'. Stir in the corn starch, sugar, and jam, and pour the mixture into a 13x9x2 glass baking dish. As you can see, I made two smaller cobblers (one to keep, & one to share). So long as the volume is about the same, do what works for you.

Bake the fruit at 400' until it's bubbling (about 35 minutes). While the fruit is cooking, make the biscuit dough.

MAKE THE DOUGH
Mix the flour, 1 tablespoon of the sugar, baking powder, salt, & baking soda together in a medium bowl. Stir to combine.
Add the cold butter pieces, and "cut" into the flour mixture using a pastry cutter, a fork, or your fingers. The goal is to get the butter bits coated in flour & small enough to resemble rolled oats. It's best to leave a few bigger lumps than to get it all too fine. What you're doing is creating layers of cold butter wrapped in flour. When this dough bakes, you'll get golden, flaky layers of goodness. The more you work the dough, the tougher & heavier it will bake up. That's bad. With biscuits, less is more. Add the cold buttermilk, and using a spatula, fold together to create a uniform dough. DO NOT OVERMIX.
Carefully remove the pans and set them on a cooling rack. Reduce the oven to 375'. Use a teaspoon to drop small balls of dough over the hot fruit. Be careful not to touch the fruit or the glass dish - they will be extremely hot. The dough will expand as it bakes, so leave a little room between the dough balls for steam to come through, and for the dough to rise. Sprinkle the dough with a little sugar, and use oven mits to place the dishes back in the oven. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until the dough is golden, and a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into a dough ball.
 Glass holds heat like crazy, so let the cobbler cool for at least 15 minutes before serving. If you'd like, pour a little heavy cream over each serving, or top with vanilla ice cream. Totally gonzo.


June 9, 2011

Preserved Meyer Lemons a la 667

You've heard me gushing about them. You've had them forcibly added to your salads, stir-fries, even cobblers. "The flavor is so complex!" you cried. "They must be really hard to make. But I must know...I must have them for myself!" Now the wait is over. Join the millions who have changed their lives for the better with preserved Meyer lemons in their lives.
Preparation is so easy, a child who you don't fear using a knife could do it. Any variety of lemon will work, but I prefer Meyers because of their thin skin, juiciness, and how their distinct flavor is complimented by the coriander, bay leaf, and cinnamon. Nothing beats getting the lemons off your own (or a friend's) tree, and making them fresh. These were graciously donated by my good friends at the NOB.

MISE EN PLACE (that's French for "put in place", meaning get organized before you start)
Meyer lemons
kosher salt
cinnamon sticks
coriander seeds
bay leaves
glass jars with lids

PREPARATION
Wash the lemons, and trim off the ends. Cut a deep X into each lemon, keeping the bottom 1/4" or so connected.
Fresh bay leaves aren't as strongly flavored as dried ones. This is a general rule for most herbs.
Stuff each lemon with about a teaspoon of kosher salt. 
Shove the lemons into a jar. Don't worry about squishing them. In a minute you'll do it intentionally. You want the juice to come out. Add 1-2 fresh bay leaves (or one dry), a cinnamon stick, and about a teaspoon of coriander seeds. Using a stopper from a juicer (or something like it), press down on the lemons, releasing the juice. Note that in the very top photo (after the 1st squish), the juice is about halfway up the jar.

Cover the jar and leave it at room temperature for three days, giving the lemons a good squish once a day. On the 4th day put the jar in the fridge for one month. The lemons should be covered in their own juice. If not, add some additional lemon juice to top them off. Check on them every once in a while, and if needed, squish them down or add a little juice. If you see some white film form around the lemons, don't worry. It's just the salt reacting with the acid.

Once your 30 days is up, feel free to use the lemons in anything that sounds good: cous cous, salads, desserts - the sky's the limit! To use a preserved lemon, rinse it under cold water to clean off any extra salt. By now they'll split into halves or quarters pretty easily. Run your knife along the inside to remove the remnants of the pulp, and discard it. Slice or dice the skin according to your preference.

Preserves of any variety make a thoughtful gift, so make a few jars while you're at it, and share them!

June 1, 2011

¡Cracksadillas!


KICKIN' VEGGIE QUESADILLAS with CHIPOTLE SAUCE

By no means do I condone the use of crack, but if "crack/drug user" makes it onto Family Feud's top survey answers, I feel pretty good about calling my chipotle sauce crack-like.

Make this once, and eat it for 2-3 days, or serve it at a dinner party. All of these veggies are coming into season now, so you can enjoy this meal for months to come.

Makes 5 10" Quesadillas

THE VEGGIE MIX
corn cut from 2 ears
1 large zucchini, diced to about the size of a kernel of corn
1 large red or orange bell pepper, diced as above
1 medium white onion, diced as above
1 jalapeno, seeded & finely diced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon kosher salt
fresh pepper

THE EXTRAS
1 pound pepper jack cheese, grated
10 burrito-sized thick flour tortillas (but hey, use what you like!)

Over a medium-high flame, heat a large skillet, then add a few tablespoons of oil. Once the oil is hot, add the diced onion, and saute until clear. Add the corn, and turn the heat up a bit. You want to brown the corn, but not overcook it, so it stays crunchy. Season with 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, & keep stirring. Once the corn starts to caramelize a bit, transfer the corn & onion to a bowl, and lower the heat on the pan to medium. Add another tablespoon of oil if needed, and add the bell pepper and zucchini. If they're not sizzling, turn up the heat a little. You want them to just cook until tender, but not burn or steam. Keep stirring for a couple minutes, then add the corn & onion back into the pan. Add the jalapeno, cumin, the rest of the salt, and pepper to taste. Stir & heat through. Transfer the mixture to a bowl & wipe out the pan.

THE CRACK SAUCE
2/3 cup sour cream (lo siento, MGM)
1/3 cup mayonnaise
lime juice (start with 1/2 a lime, add more if needed)
canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce

Stir together the sour cream & mayo. Start adding teaspoons of the adobo sauce from the chipotles until you get the heat you want. Add some lime juice to balance the flavor, and wella! Crack sauce.

LET'S GET THIS PARTY STARTED
To assemble the quesadillas, heat the skillet to medium/medium-low, and warm the tortillas. If you brown them a little at first, you'll get rid of that flour taste, and have a crispier quesadilla.

Place a tortilla on the skillet & sprinkle it with some of the grated cheese. Spread on 1/5th of the veggie mixture, add more cheese, & top with another tortilla. Using a spatula, lift the quesadilla to see if it's nice & browned on the bottom, then flip it over & brown the other side. Slice into 1/4s & serve with the crack sauce.
Store leftovers separately in the fridge, & assemble more quesadillas as desired for 2-3 days (if they last that long).

This Little Piggie GOT IN MY BELLY!

PIGS IN HERBED BISCUIT SNUGGIES

Who can resist a freshly baked buttery biscuit? You know what would go great with that? Hot, juicy sausage. And a kicky sauce.

What we really have here is a truly wonderful, fairly versatile, nom nommily irresistible biscuit recipe that you'll see in various incarnations throughout this blog. In this case, it's seasoned with dried thyme, rolled thin, & cut into strips before shrouding its piggie victims & being baked to perfection.

THE PIGGIES
I suppose any precooked cocktail weenie will do for this recipe, but I just tried the nitrite-free ones from Trader Joe's, and they were great. They come about 36 to a pack, and one pack should be plenty for this biscuit dough recipe. I doubled it for a party last week, and they sold like hot cakes.

HERBED BISCUIT DOUGH
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/2" cubes
3/4 cup cold, well-shaken buttermilk
1 tablespoon milk or cream for brushing biscuits (optional, but nice)

Mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, & baking soda together in a medium bowl. Rub the thyme between your fingers & into the bowl to release its aroma. Stir to combine.

Add the cold butter pieces, and "cut" into the flour mixture using a pastry cutter, a fork, or your fingers. The goal is to get the butter bits coated in flour & small enough to resemble rolled oats. It's best to leave a few bigger lumps than to get it all too fine. What you're doing is creating layers of cold butter wrapped in flour. When this dough bakes, you'll get golden, flaky layers of goodness. The more you work the dough, the tougher & heavier it will bake up. That's bad. With biscuits, less is more.

Add the cold buttermilk, and using a spatula, fold together to create a uniform dough. DO NOT OVERMIX. It's ok if you have some patches of flour, and some wet spots. Just get it into a lump, and turn it out onto a well-floured work surface. If the dough is wet, dust it with more flour. Gather the sides into its center, like you're folding a packing box. Flip the ball over, make sure you have enough flour to keep it from sticking, and start to press it into a flat disc. Using a rolling pin, flatten out the dough to about 1/4" thick. Keep the dough moving & dusted with flour to prevent sticking.
Once you have a nice flat sheet of dough, use a pizza cutter or knife to cut strips about 1 1/2" wide x 2 1/2" long (or something just narrower than the cocktail weenies you're using, and just long enough to wrap around one once). Test one out before cutting the rest of the sheet. Then go for it. Wrap up as many weenies as you can get out of one sheet of dough, and place them about 1" apart on a baking sheet. At this point, if you'd like, you can brush the piggies with a little milk or cream before baking. This will give them a glossier crust, but is not necessary. Save the trimmed scraps to reroll for a 2nd batch.
Bake at 425' for about 10 minutes, or until the biscuit dough is deeply golden. Serve immediately with your preferred sauce. I just tried the following, and it was a big hit.
HOT PIGGIE SAUCE
1/4 cup sweet & hot mustard (a smooth variety like Russian or Chinese is best)
1/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup hot sauce (like Tapatillo)
chipotle hot sauce to taste

Shake the mustard & buttermilk in a jar, or whisk to combine. Stir in the Tapatillo. Adjust the seasoning with the chipotle hot sauce. The piggies are on the sweet side, so a sauce with a kick is preferable. The sauce should be runny enough to coat the piggies, but not run all the way home.

Enjoy!