"The Author-Preneur with Something To Say That You'll Love To Read."

Carrots, Man, Carrots

Carrots are extremely versatile.  Their taste can be highlighted and accented to become sweet or join the immense ranks of the other root vegetables.  Most people don't play around with the taste of foods enough to find the full spectrum of what they can "build" from the same food items.

For example: have you ever steamed carrots and then drizzled them with extra virgin olive oil, fresh chopped dill, and cloves of roasted garlic.  How about sauteing them in extra virgin olive oil and grating extra sharp cheese on them.  Or sauteing them in sesame oil and topping them with sesame seeds and sea salt.

Each application brings out another more subtle flavor.  And then, there is their use in mirepoixs and stocks...or just plain eating them raw.  The key to "food building and flavor" is to test and experiment.

One recipe that will blow your socks off is Molly Katzen's RUSSIAN CARROT PIE.  If you don't know Molly's foods, drop everything and dig into the immense warehouse of recipes spawned from her hand and the legendary Moosewood Restaurant.  A feast and treat for the tongue and the mind.


Illustration by David Lance Goines 

Give this recipe a try and EXPERIMENT with foods.

Ciao!

+Tom

Holiday Leftovers

I think we all have some basic ideas of how to handle the onslaught of leftovers in the fridge.  It's a good idea to share ideas so we don't get swallowed up by our own idiosyncratic designs.

I love to make leftovers turkey soup out of turkey and stuffing that is pureed with curry powder and peanut butter.  You can thin it out with a cream sauce or chicken/turkey stock.  It sounds really over the top at first, but it is deeply influenced by Ethiopian and African cuisine.  It is so tasty, I fear you will become addicted to its flavor.

It is also really good to make quesadillas or pasties from leftovers.  Take the lamb, the chicken, the beef, or turkey and dice it up, add it to a mirepoix and throw it in a nice pastry dough to make a pastie.  Or add cheese to it instead and make a nice calzones.

I use these leftovers as my experiments.  I make different kinds of doughs and different stuffings each time.  When I find one that works, I commit that one to memory.  Most folks end up throwing this stuff out anyhow.


Ciao!

+TJM

Simple Core Values

Some of the most basic connections we have to food are therapeutic.  We plant seeds and tend them.  We raise herds and tend them.  We take the food apart and then put it back together using flavorful ingredients, temperature, craftsmanship,  and love.  Simple values.

Then there is the consumption of the food.  We set a table, organize a plate and then layer the servings with courses, conversation, and love.  Again, simple values.

This is an ideal.  But without an ideal to hold on to, there is no direction toward which we look, no standard by which we hold ourselves to.  Core values.  Simple core values.

I think that one core value that is taking president in many kitchens is one of a flat and lateral buying process.  It is one that calls kitchens and chefs to buy local and buy fresh and even organic.

There are manifold complications in this simple core value.  But, that does not mean it should not remain fixed as the standard and direction toward which eyes and efforts face.

The cost of local, fresh, and even organic food is hefty.  Many times we cannot spread that cost out evenly over the dining process and maintain and adequate ROI.  You don't have to explain that to me - the food service manager of a church camp.  But, we know the sumptuousness, taste, and nourishment quotient of foods that come from a flat and lateral buying process are far superior to national, bulk, and processed foods.

Looking for small ways to begin the process may be the beginning of an answer.  Planting herb gardens that we routinely draw from to flavor our foods is a grand beginning.  Connecting with local co-ops may be a fine second step.  Too often people write off the whole idea because they are not able to convert their buying apparatus to a completely local venue.

It takes more time and planning to begin to mix local options into your purveyor routine, but in the end, the satisfaction that food  builders and chefs find comes not only from their own resolve but from the applauds of their guests.  It is not easy, but it does add to the pleasure we receive from our craft and trade.



Ciao!

+TJM

Latkes

If you have not read CONSOLATIONS OF THE LATKE then you best start there. 

The piece is an excerpt from the book The Great Latke and Hamantash Debate.  What an awesome romp through philosophy, philology, and gnosh.  It has all of the pertinent intelligence on food that you should wade through before stepping out and attempting to cook.

This is a point that I think is under emphasized in many food circles.  But, it is really important to have a good understanding of the food you are about to cook before you cook it.

Even if the ken of knowledge that you open is only an understanding of your own history or family history with a particular food.  It gives you a whole ambiance and locus from within which your dish will be cooked, served, and consumed.  It is the very earth you stand on while cooking your sumptuous fare.

Lots of folks say this takes too much time.  It does take a lot of time, but entering into the essence of dish is critical if you are to connect with it and eventually drawl from it the taste required by your current palate and meal objectives.  So, give the reading on latkes a try.



Let's get back to the actual latkes, not the ethereal/heavenly ones but the ones we will build, cook, and eat. 

Start with some good shredding.  Pick the potato of choice and flavor.  Add to your mix some homemade bread crumbs from your favorite bread - dried and crumbled.  It is good to try different breads over the years - and even in one sitting - to get a full portfolio of flavor.

Herbs are critical.  I like a touch of fresh garlic, and a pinch of fresh tarragon, sea salt, and course ground pepper.  Chop or shred some onion into the bowl.   Then add one egg, mix, and let it sit to share flavors.

Make little piles of latke in your cast iron frying pan.  It should be good and hot after sitting on a medium flame for a few minutes.  Olive oil is the best for flavoring - at least with my latkes.  Use your hands like tongs and grab the latke pile right out of the bowl.  Grab enough to make a 3-4 inch latke in the pan.  Once the latke is in the pan, just gently push it down with the tips of the fingers.  The rest is up to you: fry it till it is the color you love, but make sure the potato is cooked through.

I am not going to give you numbers of potatoes, or tablespoons of spices, or sizes of shreddings.  All this stuff is up to you.  Although, I wouldn't add more than one egg.  You want to develop your own style with dishes - latkes included.  Play around with all of the variables. This is how you are building your own cooking style and cafe menu.

Garnish at will and devour slowly with a wine of choice (unless of course at breakfast...then an oatmeal lager is suggested.

I used to make and serve latkes at home for years.  I always loved them.  I used to serve them to the kids in the social rehab group I ran back in the 80's.  There were other Jewish foods I loved and served. 

I have read Jewish theology  and Talmud from the 70's and always found a kindred spirit in the Jewish heart.  I love to pray with Tallis.  I used to study at the Hillel Foundation at Penn State.  People always used to ask me why.  I never had an answer...I just liked it.  It felt right.

Three years ago, while doing some research on ancestry.com I discovered that my great, great grandfather was buried in the Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia.  No one in the family ever had a clue.  Now I know why I have loved these things; why it felt right.  

These things have been inextricably woven into my soul by my ancestors.   Yetta Speier, Jacob Baum and Lena Myer have planted in my being a love for Talmud, a taste for Latkes, and a call to put on Tallis.

Pour the wine, shred the potatoes, and find the right garnish.  Oi.

L'Chaim!

+TJM

Holiday Meals

One of the great features (and there are many) of getting together for holiday meals is the chance to try something new.  For the most part, your guests will probably be expecting to have the meal set in stone - if it is an annual event that you host.  But, this does not mean that you can't have one food item - or two - that live in rotation at the Chef's discretion.  When you go to a restaurant you hope for the same thing - most of the meals better be the same, but there will hopefully be something new to drawl us out of our routine.

I suppose that is the nature of our grazing habits.  We love routine, but we also love to brag about our recent "prize" or "food acquisition".  Plain and Fancy.

So, give it a try.  Look for one or two things this year that are a bit off the beaten trail for your menu.  Maybe you could try a new soup or bread (usually a safe item to consider as a "movable feast"). Breads and soups are thought of as extremely versatile in their rendering.  You have less of a chance of starting a coup if you offer a different bread or soup than you do if you were to add aardvark to the stuffing.  People don't generally tolerate a major shift in a staple unless it is offered in addition to the usual one (i.e., aardvark stuffing is fine if the usual chestnut stuffing is still somewhere around).

You can also try moving a new vegetable into the routine along with the usual suspects.  One new vegetable in addition to the regulars won't upset folks.  Plus, if they hate it, they can still wash their mouths out with the expected creamed onions or some such thing.

It is in that light that I have gone out searching for something new.  I will scour all my usual sources for some new ideas for the holiday palate.  I'll post them in the blog for all to see.

Today I have found a fine trial dish.  Actually, it found me.  But a minute ago, while looking through the e-cookbooks and sites, a tweet landed on my screen that fit the bill for something old dressed up in a new flavor.  It is from Rodale, a trusted companion over the years, and a source that has always lived up to its beta aim: "where health meets green."  Pomegranate-glazed carrots.  Mmmmmmm.


Don't forget there are all sorts of fun facts about food to learn while getting ready...things to share around the table or over a chardonnay.  Pomegranates for instance are a big rave in the health community.  Check out Pomegranates.
 
Turn on the holiday music, find the right beverage, and crack out the cookbooks.  It is time to get CREATIVE! And (I have to laugh out loud at this one) -  don't forget the BUTTER.  ( Thanks for reminding me of Julia's love of butter, Julie).

Ciao!

+Tom

Mirepoix - A Sensational Beginning

The beginning of most things is a strong desire to taste.  I cannot think of anything else that so often elicits a strong desire to taste from the staff in my kitchen (unless it is sauteing fresh garlic in butter or olive oil) than MIREPOIX.    Most people shudder at the utterly "Frenchness" of the sound and shy off wondering "What is THAT?"

Good people, "Don't Be Scared".  Mirepoix is a simple blend of carrots, celery, and onions.  There are a variety of uses for this base ingredient in many recipes that provide comfort and salivation.  Most often it is used sauteed in butter, but may also be used roasted, or raw.  Wikipedia does a sensational job with MIREPOIXDon't miss this link.  Take a break and go there now.

I think one of the best ways to learn how to use and ingredient is to taste it.  So get out the carrots, celery, and onions.  Dice them up (be sure to watch Chef Jacob Burton's great video - only 1.5 minutes - DICING ONIONS).  Start sauteing them in some butter.

Watch how they cook.  Stop a bit into the saute and taste them.  Then, smell them, note the colors as they change and taste them all through the process and the changes.

As you are doing this, with this set of ingredients and any, ask yourself: "What does this remind me of?"  "What would this taste good with?"  and "What would this taste good in?".  This is how you build the base of your technique and style.  You run your ideas past your inner palate and then you experiment, experiment, experiment.

Give it a whirl.



 Ciao!

+Tom




Moments in Greece with Yogurt and Honey

Years after our visit to Greece, I still have glimpses, impressions, and tastes that travel to me over time and space.  I clearly remember the rich, heavy yogurt, strained on the island and the chamomile honey taken from her hives.  The silky smooth texture of the one and the thick and sticky texture of the other blended with the sweetness and the tartness to produce an "aaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh" pause as I ate.

That "interruption of taste" into our lives is so easily missed if we just buzz through our meals.  Failure to set up the proper environment to RECEIVE the food is often the cause.

I am no fool, we don't eat enough meals at our own home with the proper environment to RECEIVE the food.  Two nights a week there is "Scouts", and another two nights there is "Soccer".  They divert us from being able to sit down all together.   I work most weekends, so those meals are taken in the dining hall at the Camp + Retreat Center.  Then there are the days when the boys come home ravenous from their day at school and need to eat something balanced RIGHT NOW.  All of that to say that we are all pulled constantly away from the opportunity to sit down in a proper environment to RECEIVE food.  It is something that we all must work at to build into our lives.  We can only be enriched in the process.

Part of the nourishment that we gain from eating is the social nourishment of community.  Another part is the restorative nourishment of slowing down and relaxing.  So, we need to push ourselves to remember that we must make time in our lives to have meals that are social and restorative as well as filling.  As we do this, we will notice fuller flavor structures in the food, in our friendships, and in our lives.

I remember the full taste of the earth in the tomato sauce that the lamb was cooked in.  I could feel the subtle play of the garlic and basil in the olive oil as it swam through the sauce as well.  Each piece of bread had not only an earthy taste, but it was a living aroma that I traveled in all day long.  I walked the streets tasting the bread with my nose all day long.  When I finally sat down to a meal with the bread itself, my whole day came back to me in an air of completeness and contentment.

Islands have a way of doing that to you.  They are often small enough that you get to see the fish being brought in in the morning while you eat your breakfast.  It doesn't take long for you to realize that fish will be what is offered on the menu tonight.  If they didn't get "snappers" don't look for them tonight.

It is also very common to walk along a road and smell the heat baked aroma of chamomile in the sun.  Then, later in the day when you taste the honey, you'll notice that same smell because you taste the work of the bees in having carried chamomile pollen back into the hives.  A closed system like an island can help to make these things plain.

That predictability and comfort in food and nourishment can be built into our food experiences at home or abroad.  We can enhance its texture by crafting foods that take all day to cook.  The aroma builds up a tension and desire in our tastes that is sated when we finally get the to meal table.

Using things that we see all around us also connects us to our meal table.  If  we grow things ourselves or raise them at home we can play into this tension and desire around food and nourishment.  This is why it is critical to take some time to plan meal table experiences into our lives that are bigger and more entailed than the drive-thru allows.  Our interior health and culture actually thrive on it.

Just some thoughts on the meal table and the nourishment it provides.

On a less ethereal note, check out this video from a friend's site.  Chef Jacob Burton has posted a sensational clip on dicing onions.    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P6piiuxJx4o&feature=youtube_gdata 

He is so good at nailing down the essential skills of the craft.  If you love food, you really need to check out his podcasts.  The Free Culinary School (dot com) is a hotbed of culinary delight.  Make sure you stop by there often:  http://freeculinaryschool.com/

Ciao!

+Tom

A Tribute to the CHEFS

This blog is a blend of some very unique personal flavors that have influenced me over time.  My first introduction to professional cooking came to me while at Gordon College, Wenham, Massachusetts and was fostered in the summers by my dear friend Vincent Waugh.  Vince gave me a job in his restaurants, helping me to learn every aspect of the industry...including having a PASSION for food and the kitchen.  Vince is gone now, but there is not a week that goes by that I don't remember some fun line he said, or some craft of the trade he imparted.  Feeding that PASSION over time landed with two extremely capable and nourishing CHEFS.  First is Chef Peter Reinhart - http://peterreinhart.typepad.com/ - of what used to be known as Brother Juniper's Cafe.  Peter's love of breads and soups is one that I instantly connected with.  His work still moves through time and space challenging our original ideas about simple and basic meals and ingredients.  The second CHEF is Chef Jacob Burton - http://fredricksbistro.com/ - from Fredrick's Fusion Bistro.  Jacob's attention to educating other chefs and cooks alike was able to reignite my PASSION for food as I moved back into the arts and sciences of food.  His webcasts - http://freeculinaryschool.com/ - are jammed with all sorts of vocabulary and techniques that remind chefs not only of the lay of the land but also trip us out into the joy of why we love to do this thing called FOOD.  Thanks to all three: Vince, Peter, and Jacob.   It is in their names that I begin this blog.

Ciao!

+Tom