Chicken Matzoh Meatball Soup

Chicken Matzoh Meatball Soup

My chicken matzoh meatball soup

I am the worst kind of lover.  When I have it, I take it for granted.  I love ’em, leave ’em and never look back.  However, when love is gone, I long for it — desperately, insatiably, craving just one more touch upon my tongue.  And this, my friends, sums up my true stomach-aching story:  I’ve had a long, tumultuous, heart-stopping love affair with soup.

Living on the East coast, I could walk to any deli, noodle shop or food truck and grab a bowl of steamy pleasure whenever I wanted.  I wouldn’t think twice about sipping, slurping or savoring hot broth, but I would always complain or grumble when drops of soup trickled off my face and onto my scarf or blouse.  Because soup was available everywhere, I took for granted how warm and comforting a savory cup of tomato and basil could be, how intriguing and fulfilling layers of beef pho with fresh veggies could fill my belly or how decadent and spoiled a seafood velouté would make me feel.  Oh  Soup, I never fully appreciated you and I’m sorry.  I miss you more than you know.

All smiles with a steaming bowl of pho

OK, I know I’m being dramatic, but allow me to explain.  I now live in Florida and there is no soup to be had – nothing, nada, nowhere.  There are no deli’s or diners with daily soup specials.  There are no ramen shops or noodle counters to speak of.  Curry houses and soup bars are non-exisistent.  And food trucks?  Forget it.

Yes, I know there are some restaurants here and there that offer soup.  But soup in Florida always seems to miss the mark.  Aside from the grab and go convenience that we love on the East Coast, there is a comfort factor that is absent.  Soup has to wake your tastebuds, coat your throat and fill your body with soothing energy.  I’ve found that in order to assuage my troubled soul and to quench my longings, I must turn to my own kitchen and rely on my own culinary abilities.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about Emilio’s Caldo Gallego, a hearty and savory soup from the hills of Spain.  Today, I give you my rendition of chicken and matzoh ball soup, where both ingredients are combined into one.  I use ground chicken and matzoh meal to make moist little meatballs, all cooked in a vegetable and chicken broth.  It takes about 30 minutes to come together, and every delicious slurp reminds me of why it’s so important to appreciate good soup.  Soup is simple, easy, delicate and nutritious.  It’s comforting, soothing and warm, and something I promise to never take for granted again.

Chicken Matzoh Meatball Soup
Serves 4

I combine ground chicken with matzoh for moist, delicious, meatballs

Ingredients
1 lbs. ground chicken (I use white meat)
2 packets matzoh ball mix (I use Manischewitz)
2 eggs, gently scrambled
1/2 large onion, grated or finely minced
2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
1/2 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
4 celery stalks, chopped
2 cups fresh spinach leaves
8 cups chicken broth
4 cups water
Additional oil for quick saute
Salt to taste (I recommend kosher)

  1. Heat a heavy stockpot over medium high heat with a tablespoon of vegetable or olive oil.  Add the grated onion and stir frequently, do not allow onions to brown.  When onions are translucent, after 1-2 minutes, remove from heat and place in a bowl.  Allow onions to cool.
  2. Add the ground chicken, eggs, matzoh meal, 2 tablespoons of oil and chopped parsley to the onions.  Add a generous teaspoon of kosher salt.  Use your hands to combine well.  Refrigerate for 20 minutes.
  3. With the same stockpot used for the onions, return to medium high heat.  Add a little more oil, then quickly saute the chopped celery and carrots.  After 1-2 minutes, when the vegetables begin to soften, add the chicken broth and water.  Lower the heat and allow to simmer 10-15 minutes.  Taste and adjust seasonings.
  4. Raise the heat on the soup to high and bring to a rolling boil.  Using a small portion scoop, a spoon or your hands, form the meat mixture into small 1-inch balls. Drop the balls into the soup until the entire mixture is used.  Reduce the heat to low, cover with a tight-fitting lid, and allow to simmer for 15 minutes.  The meatballs will expand and float to the top, so use a spoon to bob and turn the balls every 5 minutes or so.
  5. After 15 minutes, add the spinach and stir into the soup.  Adjust seasonings if needed.  Cover and allow to simmer for 5 minutes longer.
  6. Take the soup off the heat, remove the lid, and allow to rest 5-10 minutes.  Serve immediately following.
Easy, Delicious, Low-Fat Veggie Dip

Easy, Delicious, Low-Fat Veggie Dip

Football season kicks off tonight (Go Skins!) and I’m excited to share my favorite dip recipe.  I’ve been making this dip for years — for housewarmings, office parties and even late night munchies.  It’s so easy and so simple, it’s quite the kitchen staple for me.  I always seem to have a container of it handy, ready to accompany my favorite cold vegetables, salty crispy chips or a platter of cheese and crackers.  The ingredients are simple: sour cream, yogurt and two types of dried soup mix.  It comes together in less than a minute, making it the easiest compliment to any tailgate, barbecue or couch potato party.

My veggie dip in bread bowl

I’ll share two secrets about this dip.  The first, is that prior to opening the soup packets, you should use a rolling pin, meat mallet, hammer or other heavy item to pulverize the soup.  You want to crush the soup mix into a fine powder, so it mixes well with the rest of the ingredients.  The other secret?  If you pair this dip with some chips, it becomes absolutely irresistible.  As any of my friends or former roommates will tell you, I have a weakness for ruffle cut potato chips.  Especially when there’s dip around.  And even more so when there’s cold beer.

Since I love sports, and I’ve been known to throw a good tailgate, I have quite a supply of recipes for wings, grilled veggies and steaks.  If there’s something you’d like to read about, just let me know in the comments below.  Happy football season, my friends!  The flavors of Fall are finally here.

Easy Veggie Dip
Yields: 2 cups

16 ounces low-fat sour cream
5 ounces low-fat plain Greek yogurt
1 envelope vegetable soup mix (I like Knorr)
1 envelope onion soup mix

Veggies like broccoli heads, baby carrots, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes and radish
Potato chips (I like Kettle Krinkle Cuts)

  1. Using a rolling pin, flatten the soup mixes so that the contents are finely crushed.
  2. Mix together the yogurt and sour cream.
  3. Add one third of the vegetable soup mix and one third of the onion soup mix to the yogurt mixture.  Stir until well combined.
  4. Adjust seasonings/soup mixes by adding more as desired.  If you are sensitive to salt or onion flavor, I suggest going slowly at first, adding just a little bit at a time until your desired taste is reached.
  5. Serve in bread bowl or on vegetable platter.
So Long Summer Vegetable Tart

So Long Summer Vegetable Tart

Summer Vegetable Tart

I just completed a segment for Daytime TV — hopefully, you had the chance to see it!  The show was focused on Labor Day weekend, so I chose to do an end-of-Summer recipe, featuring yellow squash and zucchini.

This recipe appears in my cookbook under Asparagus and Almond Tart.  The nice thing about this savory tart is that you can swap out ingredients to fit the season, as I did for the show.  I cut long zucchini and yellow squash into thin circles, then used both fresh and dry herbs to season.

The other ingredient you can swap out with this tart is the cheese.  I love the combination of Gruyere and Parmesan, however, you can use other cheeses, such as fontina, Comte and even white cheddar.

Because the crust is made from store-bought puff pastry, this recipe comes together in no time.  So take a break from too much work this weekend and celebrate the finale of a delicious Summer.

Summer Vegetable Tart
Adapted from the recipe: “Asparagus and Almond Tart” published in the cookbook Food with My Friends

Ingredients
Serves 4-6

1    sheet of puff pastry dough, thawed
1    cup Gruyere cheese, grated
1    cup Parmesan cheese, grated
2    zucchini and/or yellow squash, cut into ½ inch circles
2    tablespoons fresh or dried thyme
1    egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon of water

Olive oil for drizzling
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Thaw the Puff Pastry
Thaw the puff pastry. Line a 13-by-9-inch rectangular baking sheet. Once the dough is pliable, roll the dough to fit baking pan. Transfer to baking sheet.

2. Score the Dough
Using a knife, score a 1-inch border around the dough, making sure not to cut through. Use the tines of a fork to prick inside the border, at small intervals, about ½ inch apart. Docking the dough will allow steam to escape while baking, ensuring a flaky crust.  Freeze the dough for 15 minutes.

Pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees F.

3. Bake the Dough
Brush the border of the dough with the beaten egg and water. Bake the dough for 10 minutes. Remove from oven. Using the back of a flat spatula, flatten the pastry crust inside the border, leaving the crust high and intact.

4. Fill the Tart
Fill the inside of the crust with both cheeses. Lay the squash circles into rows, alternating types if using both zucchini and yellow squash.

5. Bake the Tart
Return tart to oven and bake until the squash is tender, about 12–15 minutes. At 2 minutes prior to finish, sprinkle the tart with the thyme leaves and bake. Remove from oven and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Drizzle generously with olive oil.

Allow tart to cool then slice and serve.

Salmon Filet with Lentils and Vegetables

Salmon Filet with Lentils and Vegetables

A salmon filet with green lentils

I love fish.  Whether it’s cod, tuna, tilapia or halibut — you name the fish and I love it.  The fish I eat the most is salmon, simply because I can’t get enough of smoked salmon.  Whether it’s on a salad, in a sandwich or with a simple drop of lemon juice, there’s something so refreshing, light and delicious about a paper thin slice of the rich pink fish.  Especially when it’s seasoned with a hint of dill or just a light sprinkling of sea salt.  It’s so delightful!

I love to make smoked salmon deviled eggs

When I eat a salmon filet, however, I want more than just the fish.  I want flavorful, tangy, savory bites, enough to last me through the entire slab of fish.  Eating a salmon steak can be extremely monotonous, especially if the fish is overcooked or poorly prepared.  My favorite way to prepare salmon is with a grainy mustard and seasoned breadcrumbs, served over sauteed spinach or a bed of hearty lentils.

There’s no fancy trick to cooking fish — it’s probably one of the easiest and quickest proteins to make.  In fact, fish is very similar to eggs, as they can be fried, baked, poached, boiled and steamed, and they are often paired with a wide variety of sides.  For salmon, I prefer to do a pan fry, as it’s simple and easy, with minimal risk of overcooking the fish.  I take my salmon medium rare, with two shades of pink to please my eye.

Salmon filet with green lentils

Salmon Filets with Lentils and Vegetables
Serves 2

Ingredients

1 cup lentils (I prefer green)
3 slices of thick, slab bacon, finely diced
4 sprigs of fresh thyme, stems removed
1 small onion, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 medium carrots, peeled and finely diced
2 celery stalks, finely diced
Salt to taste

For the Salmon:

2 salmon filets, skin on, bones removed
4 tablespoons stone ground mustard
1/4 cup seasoned breadcrumbs
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and White Pepper to taste

  1. Place the lentils in a pot and cover with cold water.  Bring to a boil then lower the heat and allow to simmer, covered, for 20-25 minutes.  Drain the lentils.
  2. Heat a deep skillet or heavy pot over medium high heat.  Add the bacon and render the fat.  When bacon has crisped, add the onions, carrots and celery.  Stir over medium heat for 3-5 minutes.
  3. Add the drained lentils to the bacon mixture.  Stir in the garlic and thyme and saute for 1 minute.  Add one cup of water (or chicken stock or wine) and bring to a boil.  Lower the heat, cover and simmer for 10 minutes or until lentils are soft.  Adjust seasonings to taste.
  4. Meanwhile, heat a separate fry pan over medium heat.
  5. While the pan is heating, pat dry the salmon filets with a paper towel.  Sprinkle with salt and white pepper.  Spread the mustard over the flesh of the fish (not the skin side) into an even layer.  Then press the mustard side into the breadcrumbs to create a thin crust.
  6. Add oil to the hot pan.
  7. Place salmon into hot pan, mustard side down, skin side up.  Leave un-disturbed in pan for 3-4 minutes, then flip onto skin side.  If you want your fish medium rare, it will only need a few more minutes on the skin side.  To cook your fish longer, place the pan into a hot oven (450 degrees) and bake.
  8. Serve fish over lentils.
Caldo Gallego: Soup from Spain and Emilio’s Special Recipe

Caldo Gallego: Soup from Spain and Emilio’s Special Recipe

Emilio’s delicious Caldo Gallego

Whenever I feel the need to laugh or share a smile, I pick up my mobile and text my friends.  Our exchanges are filled with wacky updates, snarky attitudes and silly responses.  One day, I’m going to publish these texts into a photo album and call it Words with Friends.  But that’s an idea for another day.

Today, my thoughts and palate are focused on my friend Emilio, who shares his recipe for Caldo Gallego, the historic hearty soup from the hills of Spain.  Emilio and I were texting about food and memories, and he shared that during his childhood, he refused to eat caldo gallego.  His great aunt (who immigrated from Spain to D.C.) would spend hours in the kitchen tending to the soup, and when it was ready, she would call him in from playing in the street.  Like most kids, Emilio would squeamishly refuse to eat anything made with spinach and frowned at the sight of tender meat falling off a ham bone.  I smiled when I learned this, because at one point in my childhood, I refused to eat sushi.  The reply Emilio sent me had me howling with laughter.

Emilio and I share a hug in the kitchen

Thankfully, tastebuds mature and change with our bodies, and Emilio and I are no exception to this.  By recalling the memory, Emilio found himself longing for the soup – made with creamy potatoes, salty pork and earthy spinach – and decided to re-create it in his kitchen.  It seems the best memories make the best recipes; I’m so thankful Emilio is willing to share his recipe here.

This soup comes together easily in one pot.  If you have a pressure cooker, you can make it (from the dry beans to boiling the ham hock) in less than an hour.  However, if you want to cook it traditionally on the stovetop, Emilio’s tips and instructions guide you through the process.  When I made the soup, I savored all the wonderful aromas that filled the house. I also decided to use fingerling potatoes, left whole, instead of dicing them up.  Emilio called that an “interesting twist” but it’s up to you to decide how hearty you want your soup to be.

I lift a bowl to celebrate Spain’s glorious Euro Cup win, but mostly, to celebrate my friend, the laughter and all the fun — I’m so grateful for our phone calls and text messages when we’re apart.

The finished Caldo Gallego

Caldo Gallego
by Emilio Rouco
Makes 4-6 servings

Ingredients

For the Rostrido (a traditional Spanish sauce which adds flavor to soup):

3-4 Tablespoons olive oil – enough to fry garlic
4 cloves garlic, sliced
2 tsp paprika (sweet, Spanish paprika is best)
¼ cup white wine (optional)

  1. In a frying pan with olive oil, gently fry sliced garlic until lightly golden brown (be vigilant, as garlic burns very easily).
  2. Take the pan off the heat and allow to cool for a minute or two – then mix in the sweet paprika – the cooling off period is important, if you don’t do it the paprika will burn.

Emilio’s Note: Stick to Spanish paprika for this, it’s way better than the Hungarian variety. Stir until well blended. At this point you can remove the sauce from the heat or you can add the optional white wine. If you add the wine, leave the sauce on heat and simmer  gently until wine is completely evaporated.

For the Soup:

1 lb medium dry white beans (you may substitute 2 cans of beans for a quicker recipe)
2 1/2 quarts water
1/2 lb salt pork, cubed*
2 smoked ham hocks
6 small white potatoes, peeled and diced
1 bunch fresh spinach
4 Spanish chorizo sausage
Salt, if needed

* Cubing the salt pork is optional.

Emilio’s Note: Salt pork can be a wee bit too ‘real’ for some. It’s fatty. I recommend NOT cubing it. Rather, remove skin and discard. Throw salt pork in whole then remove and discard when soup is done. You can also substitute ½ lbs of bacon, whole, not sliced, for the salt pork.

To Make the Soup:

  1. Rinse beans, cover with 6 cups of water and soak overnight. (If using canned beans, simply rinse and drain and place beans in a large pot with 6 cups water).
  2. When beans are ready to cook, add additional 1 quart water with the salt pork and ham bone.
  3. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer about 2.5 hours or until beans are tender (if using canned beans, simmer for about an hour).
  4. Add potatoes and Rostrido sauce. Simmer an additional 20 minutes.
  5. Slice chorizo into 1-inch pieces. Add chorizo and spinach to beans and cook ten minutes more. Taste and add salt (if needed). If the soup is too salty, add additional water.Remove salt pork and discard (if using bacon, remove it). Remove ham hocks. Cut meat from ham bones, discard bones and return meat to stew. Serve in soup bowls with buttered, crusty bread.

Emilio’s Note: The taste and consistency improves if the soup is allowed to rest, partially covered, for a few hours before serving.

Breakfast Torta: Chorizo, Egg, Black Bean and Cheese Sandwich

Breakfast Torta: Chorizo, Egg, Black Bean and Cheese Sandwich

Tortas in a cast iron grill pan

Red, Green or Christmas?  That’s a question you get asked a lot in New Mexico.  The answer has nothing to do with the holiday spirit or festive lights.  It’s about salsa, the Spanish word for sauce, which accompanies just about everything you can possibly order at a restaurant.  Personally, I find Christmas, using both red and green salsa, to be the best option — especially in the morning.  New Mexico has the BEST breakfast burritos!

Prickly pear cactus margaritas in Chimayo, NM

I happen to love spicy foods, especially during Summer.  When the weather heats up, I long for hot weather cuisines such as Jamaican, Ethiopian, Indian and Mexican.  The capsaicin found in chilies and peppers have long been known to boost circulation and cool the body, but beyond these health benefits, I find that spicy foods make me eat less and drink more.  And there’s nothing wrong with that!

Recently, my friends Charles and Tim told me they were hungry for breakfast.  It was the middle of a hot and sticky night and they needed an energy boost.  While sipping on a cold beer, my thoughts drifted to my travels in New Mexico, which made me smile and offer to cook.  In less than 15 minutes I whipped up a handful of breakfast burritos, and I’ll never forget how much fun Charles, Tim, Ivana, Joel and I had while eating them.

In Old Town Albuquerque

Since I can’t leave well enough alone, I decided to improve my breakfast burrito recipe.  It started off with the basics: eggs, shredded potatoes, hot sauce, bacon, salsa and tortillas — and has grown into a Breakfast Torta recipe.  Torta, is the Spanish word for bread, and in Mexican cuisine, tortas are hefty sandwiches.  My breakfast torta is inspired by New Mexico foods, with ingredients like crumbled chorizo, black beans, diced onions, a fried egg, and of course, plenty of salsa.

This breakfast torta is intended to wake up all of your senses in the morning by being spicy, savory, hearty, fragrant and flavorful.  I use a panini press to bring it all together, but you can use a heavy pan or even a foil lined brick to toast the sandwich.  You can also make and refrigerate the chorizo filling before hand, in order to save time in the morning.  However, if you find yourself playing short order cook in the middle of the night, taking orders for after-hours eats, this torta will surely keep the party going.

Breakfast Torta
Serves 4 hungry people

Food photography by Stephanie Cameron.

Ingredients
2    Bolillo Rolls (or 4 small ciabatta or kaiser rolls)
1    pound fresh chorizo, casing removed
1    small yellow onion, diced
2  cloves of garlic, chopped
1   14.5-ounce can black beans, drained
8   ounces queso fresco or cotija queso (or equal parts grated fresh mozzarella and crumbled goat cheese)
4  eggs
1   cup red salsa
1   cup green salsa (Hatch chile preferred, but tomatillo is a good substitute)

  1. In a cast-iron or heavy skillet, crumble the chorizo into small bits over medium-high heat. When the sausage is mostly cooked, after 3–4 minutes, add the diced onions and garlic, and cook until onions are clear and transparent, about 3 minutes more. Add the drained black beans, and stir well to combine.  Adjust flavors if needed (using seasonings such as salt, pepper, cumin and oregano) and remove from heat.
  2. Split the bread rolls in half. Use your fingers to remove the inside breading. Save this bread for breadcrumbs or for garnish for soup at a later time. Slice, grate or crumble the cheese as needed.
  3. Heat a panini press or flat griddle pan.
  4. In a separate pan, fry the eggs (I prefer over-easy, to a medium softness, but scrambled works too).
  5. Fill the bread cavities with the chorizo mixture then top with eggs and cheese. Add the remaining sliced bread to create a sandwich. Place sandwich in panini press or on heated griddle. If using a griddle, be sure to weigh the sandwich down with the bottom of a heavy pan, plate or brick. You will need to flip the sandwich to toast both sides.
  6. Once sandwich is toasted, allow to rest for 1 minute then slice diagonally.  Serve with two salsas for dipping.

My talented friend, photographer and New Mexico native, the incredible Stephanie Cameron

  
Cooking, Camp and Growing on the Golf Course

Cooking, Camp and Growing on the Golf Course

Sesame Noodle Salad as pictured in my cookbook

If there’s somewhere I don’t want to be, it’s caught in a rut.  A rut, by definition, is a “sunken, deep track.”  In a figurative sense, it’s simply being stuck — trapped, without inspiration, creativity and probably worst of all, without hope.  If I start to feel like I’m going into “stuck mode” I do everything I can to break out: I travel, I listen to music, read books and meet new people — and when all else fails, I step out of my comfort zone.

Recently, I decided to learn a new skill — nothing related to the kitchen or any of my current work.  My new skill would be golfing, and I was determined to learn how to play.

Now, I’ve never golfed in my life. I knew nothing about the sport (and I still don’t).  However, it was time to learn something new, so I picked the one sport I’ve never held any interest and went all in.  I signed up for a Golf Boot Camp and that was it.

On my first day of camp, I was lost.  Literally.  I couldn’t find the golf course, I didn’t know where I was headed and I found myself driving around aimlessly while my GPS was “re-calculating.”  (Geez, that has to be the most frustrating sound to hear when you’re lost).  When I finally found the camp, I had no idea how to swing or grip the club correctly.  I was lost, frustrated and angry.  I would swing for the ball and miss — like an un-coordinated idiot.  I kept wondering: “Why am I doing this?  What was I thinking?”

At the Golf Boot Camp with Cathy Schmidt

Instead of giving up, I put my head down, corrected my grip and started to swing for the ball.  I decided that no matter what, I was going to power through and complete the lesson.  I’m not sure what it was:  a spark of fight, a bitter streak of stubbornness, or a hard-headed sense of determination (I’ll never be able to shake these from my personality) but I knew I had to continue.  I was going to hit the ball – damnit!

My instructor, Cathy, was more than accommodating.  She kept a watchful eye on everything I did, making corrective steps and giving sound advice. By some miracle, I hit the ball.  Then I hit another and another.  Before I knew it, I was spending my afternoons on the golfing range, practicing, meeting new people and improving my swing.  It felt amazing!

My swing is starting to improve

As I look back, I am in awe with the amount of support and growth I have gained.  When I shared my golfing goals with my friends Jen and Dean, they instantly gave their approval.  Jen graciously allowed me to borrow her clubs and Dean shared great golfing advice.  It felt fantastic to have such encouragement.

Unexpectedly, I’ve also grown on my professional side.  Jen and Dean have a daughter named Lauren, and Cathy has a daughter named Lucky.  Both Lauren and Lucky are pre-teens, currently interested in learning their way around the kitchen. It is an absolute joy to know that both girls have my cookbook and are spending the summer cooking their way through the recipes.

Hearing these two young ladies are excited to learn from my work has inspired me to reach out to both of them.  Together, we share a love for knowledge and cooking.  In fact, while talking with the girls, I realized how much fun it is to teach young people, and how wonderful it is to discover new things at any age.

Pretty Lauren enjoys Chicken Sausage with Peppers and Penne – that she made!

Also, after spending days in the hot sun, I’ve created several new recipes that are “picnic-friendly” and can go in any cooler, basket, poolside table or even in the back of a golf cart.  I’ll post these recipes in the coming weeks, as soon as they are tested and perfected.

In the meantime, I am posting my Cold Sesame Noodle recipe, with a big shout-out to Lauren, Lucky, Cathy, Jen and Dean — and of course, to all of my friends who have pushed me and encouraged me to try something new.  I may not be a good golfer (yet) but I am truly grateful for such amazing friendships.  The next picnic we have together will be on the links — and I can’t wait!

Cold Sesame Noodles
Serves 6

* Author’s Note: When I published this recipe in my cookbook, I encouraged the use of Chinese egg noodles, to make it more authentic.  Now that I’m bringing this on the golf course, I’ve switched to buckwheat soba noodles which are full of fiber, and I’ve added shrimp for extra protein.

Ingredients

Sesame Noodle Salad as pictured in my cookbook

2 pounds buckwheat soba noodles
1 cup shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 cup fresh snowpeas
1 cup freshly grated carrots
1/2 cup green onions, sliced thin

1/2 cup dark sesame oil
1/2 cup soy sauce (you may use low sodium)
3 tablespoons black Chinese vinegar
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon sambal (chili paste)
Sesames seeds for garnish
Salt and Pepper to taste

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil.  Add the soba noodles and cook according to package directions.  In the last two minutes of cooking, add the shrimp and the snowpeas.
  2. Immediately rinse the noodles, shrimp and snowpeas under cold running water.  Drain well, cool and set aside.
  3. Make the dressing by mixing the sesame oil, soy sauce, vinegar, sambal and sugar.  Adjust seasonings to taste and add salt and pepper if needed.
  4. Combine the noodles, shrimp, snowpeas, carrots and green onions with the dressing in a large bowl.  Use tongs or extra long chopsticks to coat well.  Chill in refrigerator for two hours, turning every 30 minutes.
  5. Garnish with sesame seeds and pack in picnic basket or serve immediately.
Storytelling with Michael Laiskonis

Storytelling with Michael Laiskonis

Chef Laiskonis’s dessert, inspired by the D.R.

“The best chefs are great storytellers,” says Michael Laiskonis, “and pastry chefs are no exception.”

It’s Tuesday morning at Johnson & Wales University and Chef Laiskonis is assembling a dessert he created while visiting a plantation in the Dominican Republic.  While he is carefully and meticulously describing the technical aspects of the dish, I am awestruck by his ability to artfully recreate and share his experiences.  “The crumbled sable represents the dirt roads,” he says and then spoons a streak of roasted chocolate on the dish “to represent the cocoa found everywhere.”

As Chef Laiskonis continues, I find my own mind wondering and wandering — how would I create and interpret some of my favorite stories?  If I wanted to talk about the time my girlfriends and I discovered “Just Dance” for the Wii — it would be colorful, fun and sweet (maybe spheres of fresh fruit sorbets) served in birdbath champagne glasses with shaved bits of chocolate.  Perhaps I’d like to share about the first trip I took to Paris on my own, an homage to turning 21, that included my first ride on the bateaux mouche with a baguette and bottle of Muscadet in hand.  To tell that story, I’d probably create some sort of fruit and cheese board, along with small cordial shots of sweet wine and alcohol laced purees, and a pile of fleur de sol, to represent the salty smell of the Seine.

Chef Michael’s mango spheres in white chocolate

As we begin a long Memorial Day weekend, there will be many opportunities to pause and reflect on stories and experiences that shape who we are as a nation and a provide us a deep sense of history and service.  While many of us will be firing up the grill and spending the day in the sunlight, take a moment to challenge yourself to tell a story through a dish.  It could be in context, relating to a service member you know, or it could be abstract, with your interpretation of history or a geographic location.

Whatever it is, push yourself to visually represent, structurally balance it physically, and then, of course, allow the flavors to dance and delight upon tasting.  To make a dish that is visually pleasing but even better tasting, is your goal, and like a true chef, you must be ready to tell its story.  That’s the mark of  true storyteller in the kitchen.

Waste Not, Get Pickles

Waste Not, Get Pickles

Cuban sandwich with pickles

I think every sandwich should have a pickle.  It could be the classic kosher spear or small slivers of tart circles, but pickles must be there.  When I say pickles, mind you, it doesn’t have to be cucumbers.  It could be as creative as pickled green beans, okra, beets, capers or even peppers.  Whatever the case is, a sandwich always needs a little bit of acid, a splash of sour brightness to cut and balance it properly.  A hamburger will always need a slice of pickle, a crab cake a drop of lemon juice and even a ham and cheese sandwich requires a dollop of tangy mustard.  Without the zest, there is no zing.

Imagine my surprise when I was recently told that my grilled chicken sandwich did not include pickles.  In fact, at this particular restaurant, they no longer carried pickles and only served toppings like lettuce, onion and tomato when requested.  According to the server, there was so much waste occurring (customers discarding toppings) that management decided to do away with the toppings in order to reduce costs.

Now let’s be honest: food costs and waste can destroy any food business.  But how did this problem come about in the first place?  If a menu clearly stated that a sandwich came with onions, lettuce and pickles — a customer should be able to request these items be left off if not desired.  But a savvy restauranteur would also train their staff, instructing the servers to ask questions while taking orders. And the same restauranteur would train the kitchen staff to be on the lookout for tickets with special orders and requests, helping to minimize waste and reduce food costs.

I shared this conundrum with my friends and Michael intuitively pointed out the existence of the “I paid for it” syndrome.  In his opinion, there are customers who choose to waste, simply because they paid for it.  That is, they paid for the sandwich, so they want the option to discard with whatever as they please.  What a bunch of bull.  If you subscribe to this type of entitlement mentality, please, get yourself some help.

The main factor to consider in this scenario is the product as presented.  Does it make sense to offer ingredients like lettuce, pickles, tomatoes and onions?  If you don’t know, poll your clientele.  Ask your staff.  But whatever you do, don’t make blanket decisions that impact operations and results in less service, not more.  Customers go out because we want to be served.  We want to be asked how our dishes should be prepared — and the answer always is: to our liking.  And above all, we want our pickles, damn it.

Warm Vinaigrettes: Making a Splash

Warm Vinaigrettes: Making a Splash

Raspberry Vinaigrette from Food with My Friends, the cookbook

There’s something so refreshing about a vinaigrette — especially when the weather starts to warm up.  As the days get longer and the temperatures start to rise, our eating habits change too.  Gone are the thick sauces and heavy stocks, as we opt instead for small squirts of citrus, freshly chopped herbs and smokey dry rubs.

I happen to have a fondness for warm vinaigrettes.  There’s nothing wrong with a room temperature vinaigrette on a salad, but when I’m at the grill or doing a quick pan saute, I like to finish with a warm vinaigrette.  In my opinion, a little bit of heat intensifies the flavor of the vinaigrette, which means you can use less and taste more.

A basic vinaigrette is an emulsion of acid and fat.  Most of us know and love olive oil and balsamic vinegar, but if you’re feeling more experimental, use ingredients like freshly squeezed fruits, spicy mustards, creamy butter, chopped herbs, sweet preserves or tangy shallots.  For a warm vinaigrette, I like to start with a hot pan (preferably the one that you cooked your proteins in) and your chosen fat (for me, that’s typically olive oil).  I like to create an infused oil, adding chopped herbs or fruit zest to warm oil so it really takes on the flavor of the featured ingredient.  I take the infused oil off the heat and let it cool.  Then I whisk the warm oil with freshly squeezed fruit juice or vinegar, salt and pepper to taste and immediately brush it onto grilled vegetables or chicken.  Just a little goes a long way — and it really makes a splash on your tastebuds!

Lemon Tarragon Vinaigrette

3 tablespoons fresh tarragon, chopped
1 cup olive oil
2 lemons, zested and juice reserved
Salt and White Pepper to taste

  1. In a warm pan, heat the olive oil.  Add the tarragon and lemon zest and remove from heat.  Allow the ingredients to infuse the oil as well as cool down, about 10 minutes.
  2.  With a reamer or similar juicing tool, add the juice from the lemons.  Use a whisk or jar to shake and create a creamy emulsion.  Salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Use on grilled poultry or vegetables.