Musings from a Seattle personal chef
Archive for the 'Food Musings' Category
What is it about so-called “detox diets” that holds such allure for me? My rational mind says it’s all a bunch of hooey — after all, isn’t that what our spleens and livers are designed to do? — but for some reason the thought that eating certain foods can magically clean your system of every toxic substance sounds very appealing.
Some of the claims are outright absurd: drink a concoction of maple syrup, cayenne and lemon juice for 10 days straight? Puh-leaze! And don’t even get me started on the multitude of “supplements” being peddled, promising everything from detoxification to weight loss to increased sexual drive. I’m probably more turned off by the fact these are sold through multi-level marketing schemes (Amway, anyone?) than by the absurdity of their supposed health claims.
However, there’s something to be said for eating “clean.” As a marathoner I’ve become much more aware of how certain foods affect my performance. When I first started running, my long runs were an excuse to splurge on burgers, beer, fries and potato chips. No more; while I still allow myself certain indulgences, I aim for moderation.
That is, until September comes along.
I’ve written about this before — my holiday orgy that starts with the caramel apples and ends with popping champagne corks on New Year’s Eve. It happens without fail, despite my best intentions. I’m not sure which is worse: the inevitable weight gain, or the lethargy brought on by rich foods and far too much alcohol.
This year I swore I wouldn’t succumb. Sure, when I spied the Honey Crisps in the grocery store I soon was swaddling them in a gooey layer of caramel, but I thought I dodged the Halloween candy bullet. I resisted the urge to buy a bagful of candy corn, only to find a dish taunting me at one of my clients’. Since my darling and I spent All Hallow’s Eve at the Herbfarm, there was no need to buy candy to hand out to the neighborhood urchins; alas, the same client had purchased far too much and pleaded with me to take some off of their hands.
So as my 45th birthday approached, I knew I had to take some defensive action. While at my sister’s place on Vashon the weekend before I perused one of her cookbooks on whole foods cooking. It included a 10-day “detox” regimen, but this one seemed more reasonable given its reliance on “real” food, albeit in smoothie form. I knew there was no way I could follow it for 10 days (I’m in perpetual training, after all), but perhaps a couple of days’ of smoothies for breakfast and lunch, coupled with a lowfat dinner of lean protein, would be just the thing to cleanse my system of the holiday sugar.
I made my first smoothie from what I had on hand: frozen berries, vanilla soy milk and bananas. But for lunch I wanted to add some greens, so I picked up a bunch of organic kale at the market. Knowing I’d be “dining” on these for a couple of days, I decided to make a starter batch that I’d simply add to. While I’d recommend buying the freshest of ingredients, I figured this would be a great way to empty the contents of my crisper. A wilted bunch of cilantro? Why not? A couple of flaccid stalks of celery? What else am I going to do with them? A few carrot sticks? They’d provide a nice balance of sweetness. The dregs of the organic carrot juice? Ditto! They all went into the blender, along with a cup of kale, some ginger, orange juice and a handful of almonds.
I knew I’d be adding more fruit to this concoction, but I was curious to see how it tasted as is. It was quite vegetal, but not bad (the carrots and orange juice provided much-needed sweetness). The almonds were rather chunky still, but I didn’t mind the texture too much (I’ve now decided eating the almonds separately is the way to go). I Dinner that evening was herbed chicken en papillote with lemon. I continued to add to the concoction each day until it resembled swamp muck. But what tasty muck it was! My energy returned and I was thrilled to see I lost a couple of pounds to boot.
Of course, once my birthday rolled around and I started hitting the lemon drops, I was back to square 1.
There I was this morning, coffee mug in hand, laptop perched on one knee, preparing my client paperwork when the Ovens to Betsy line rings. It’s my client’s husband, calling to say my client is sick and isn’t up to having me cook. While I’m sorry to hear she’s ailing, I’m thrilled to have the day off (Labor Day is a rare holiday for this self-employed gal).
But what to do with my newfound freedom? Do I lace up my running shoes for my scheduled 13-mile run? Do I continue yesterday’s cleaning streak and tackle the kitchen? Do I get a jump on my quarterly taxes and enter my bookkeeping for the past two months?
Nah. Where’s the fun in that?
While the weather was more reminiscent of late fall, my darling and I decided to break out the bikes for a long ride. Given our crazy-ass marathon schedule our feet and legs have been crying uncle. We figured a bit of cross-training would not only give our tired bodies a reprieve, it would be a fun diversion from our rigid plan.
Of course, what’s a bike ride without food? We toyed with packing a picnic lunch and heading to Chateau Ste. Michelle, but at 40+ miles roundtrip, the ride seemed daunting. Turning around at Tracy Owens Park trimmed it to a more reasonable 30 miles, but it also eliminated a scenic picnic spot.
My thoughts then turned to the ribeye steak in our fridge. Sprinkled with alder-smoked salt, grilled, sliced and placed on top of thick toasted whole grain bread with melted blue cheese and fresh arugula, it would be a perfect lunch after a long ride. What a decadent way to celebrate the last (unofficial) day of summer!
Helloooo? Anyone home? Boy, things sure are dusty in here.
So, um, yeah. It’s been a while. I’d be surprised if anyone stops by any more (heck, even my sister bailed months ago). I have at least one good excuse — I’ve run another marathon since last we spoke (shaved 52 minutes off my best time, thankyouverymuch) — but I can’t chalk it all up to that.
I wouldn’t say it’s a matter of writer’s block; I’ve composed a slew of posts in my mind. Nor have I succumbed to culinary mediocrity (okay, perhaps on occasion). Despite limited time and energy, we’ve eaten well. I’ve perfected a recipe for zesty, moist turkey burgers; concocted a nourishing post-run recovery drink incorporating frozen fruit and vanilla soy milk; tested the quality of “cheater” aioli over the real deal (both were delectable); whipped up not one, but two rhubarb pies (one baked, one fresh); hatched my own version of “A Man, A Can, a Plan” (“A woMan, A Few Cans, Not Much of a Plan,” if you will) and in what could be hailed as the ultimate blasphemy for this New England-bred gal, prepared a MANHATTAN clam chowder that’s irresistible (sorry Mom; I’ll turn in my Yankee card forthwith).
No, the real culprit is epistolary lethargy. I just haven’t had it in me.
I’ve had no problem posting on Eat Drink Run Woman (I’ve penned more than 30 posts since March 26), yet when it comes to food blogging, my readers deserve more. There’s an inherent intimidation in food writing; if you can’t measure up to the quality that currently exists, why bother?
Yet for me it goes deeper. What do I have to say that hasn’t been said before? How can I best illustrate my post to make it interesting? Take all those factors in mind and you’re looking at 3-4 hours a day at a minimum before anything is published. With my running musings, I can crank out a pithy entry in less than an hour.
This past Christmas one of my clients — a woman VERY particular about how her food should be prepared and presented — decided she wanted popovers with strawberry butter for Christmas Eve brunch (she’s the same client who sent me home with half the foie gras and black truffles from said brunch). She had seen a chef on Martha Stewart prepare gigantic cheese popovers and wanted me to replicate them (she taped the segment so I could see what they looked like. Indeed, they looked delicious).
I’ve never made popovers before (although I did try my hand at individual Yorkshire puddings one year), but they didn’t seem too terribly difficult: mix milk, flour, eggs, salt and melted butter, pour into prepared popover tins, top with shredded gruyere and bake until puffed and golden brown. Normally I’d practice beforehand, but I didn’t have a popover pan, nor did I have much extra time given my marathon training. I’d just have to hope for the best.
When I downloaded the recipe off of Martha’s site I decided to check out the reviews. Practically all of them were negative; most people said the popovers turned out doughy and didn’t rise that much. This wouldn’t do! I then compared that recipe to others, including one in Baking Illustrated (I always trust the folks at Cook’s Illustrated). Martha’s recipe was for 12 popovers and called for 4 cups each of flour and milk and 8 eggs. The BI recipe called for just 1 cup each of flour and milk and 2 eggs for 6 popovers. Given the disastrous results so many people had with Martha’s recipe, I decided I’d take a chance and prepare the BI one, doubling the recipe.
As I was in the thick of things during the brunch I started to get nervous. I know how important my client’s Christmas Eve brunch with her family is, so I didn’t want to disappoint. I had considered fessing up to using a different recipe, but decided against it. I just prayed everything worked out.
Martha’s chef had you pour the batter to the top of the popover cup, so I did the same (even though BI said to divide the batter evenly). I knew I was in trouble as I filled up the 8th cup: I had barely enough batter left for one more. D’oh! Fortunately I’d only be serving 5 adults and 2 kids, so I thought I could get away with it (there was so much food, I didn’t think people would want seconds on the popovers). I sprinkled the gruyere over the batter and placed the tins back in the oven.
When the timer rang I looked in to see some rather lopsided popovers. They rose, but I think the gruyere kept them from rising straight up. I took them out of the pans and placed them on a rack, where they deflated slightly. I began to panic; have I just ruined my client’s brunch? Fortunately everyone seemed thrilled and no one said a word about the less-than-perfect popovers. I dodged a bullet.
Or so I thought.
A while back a fellow chef posted a question to our personal chef message board: “What do you do with leftover wine?” Hmmm… “leftover wine”… It’s a concept that escaped me at the time.
At Christmas we received a bottle of White Zinfindel. This normally is not a wine we enjoy — we’re more partial to dry reds — but we decided to give it a go. As expected, it was far too sweet, but worse, it lacked any character. However, I just couldn’t bring myself to pour it down the sink. There MUST be some way to salvage it.
With New Year’s now upon us — which brought a renewed commitment to eating healthier — I picked up some salmon and kale. I love both sweet and savory preparations for salmon, so I thought the White Zinfindel might make for an interesting sauce. I first seared the salmon on one side and finished it off in the oven. I then sautéed some shallots in the same skillet and deglazed with about a cup and a half of the wine. I let that reduce to about half a cup, then swirled in some Moutarde de Violette (a violet mustard I picked up in Paris) and a bit of butter. I was quite pleased with myself!
Christmas has come and gone, and although I didn’t do everything I had hoped, I feel blessed to have such wonderful friends, family and clients with which to celebrate the season.
I managed to get a three-day weekend just before Christmas, so we took the opportunity to relax (well, after our 11-mile run on Friday and 22-mile run on Saturday, that is) and catch up with some out-of-town friends at a local pub. We shared spiked eggnog and wine with our neighbor and gorged ourselves silly with my darling’s relatives Christmas Eve (I’m looking forward to the marathon to help work off all those calories).
On Christmas Eve morning I prepared a decadent brunch for a client: caviar on potato pancakes with crème fraîche, seared foie gras on brioche toast points (with homemade brioche), baked eggs with truffles, popovers with strawberry butter, fresh fruit salad and pigs in a blanket (the latter was requested by the grandkids, but the adults enjoyed them too). As I was cleaning up my client told me to take the remaining foie gras — almost 3/4 pound! She also gave me almost an ounce of the truffles. How incredibly generous.
One of my favorite snack indulgences is truffled popcorn — air-popped corn tossed with a mixture of truffle oil and butter and sprinkled with truffle salt. My darling has never cared for it — he can’t stand the smell of truffle oil — but when he tried the version with real truffle butter he was hooked (the truffle scent in most truffle oil is chemically produced, so that’s what had been turning him off). For the butter I minced up some of the truffle and let it steep in melted butter. I then tossed that with the popcorn. The rest of the truffle was mixed in with a wild mushroom risotto.
For the foie gras, I was inspired by a dish my darling had at Chez Dumonet in Paris: seared foie gras with grapes. I sautéed some minced shallot in some duck fat, along with a couple of handfuls of halved black seedless grapes. I let them sauté until rather soft and beginning to brown, then deglazed with about a cup and a half of tawny port and a couple of tablespoons of fresh lemon juice. I reduced that down until syrupy and set aside.
Meanwhile, I sliced the foie gras into 3/4″ slices and seasoned with salt and pepper. I preheated a skillet until very hot and added the slices. They cook VERY fast; you have to be careful or you’ll end up with a skillet-ful of very expensive fat. After about 45 seconds I flipped them and seared on the other side. I then placed the slices on the brioche toast points and poured the sauce on top. The sauce provided a wonderfully tangy balance to the richness of the foie gras and brioche.
What a way to celebrate Christmas!
Boy, does this bring back memories! This cookbook, published in 1932, was the very first cookbook I cooked from. Although it has all sorts of recipes (including one for Carrot Loaf), I stuck to the desserts. Here’s one that was obviously popular:
And although it’s not a recipe in the book, my sister found this stuck inside (it’s a recipe from my grandfather):
In case you can’t read it, here’s his recipe:
Chocolate Molasses Candy (written on April 27, 1931)
Use all molasses in jar. Add one full scoop of sugar, then about 3/4 of another. Mix 2 1/3 teaspoons of cream with sugar. Boil until it smells like something were wrong. Add all of the butter left over from dinner. Also shake the baking powder can at mixture. Beat 30 seconds and put in buttered pan.
(I think this is the mark of a true chef — who needs to be precise?!!!)
I would have been eight years old when I wrote this (fortunately I’ve become a better speller!)
Nothing beats a rich homemade stock. Come fall, I love knowing there are containers of beef and chicken stock stacked in my freezer ready to be made into a hearty soup.
With chicken stock, I typically use the Cook’s Illustrated technique for the pressure cooker, which produces roughly 10 cups of stock. I often end up with bits and pieces of meat and bones from my cook dates; I simply throw them into a freezer bag and when I have enough (6 pounds) I make the stock. It’s a relatively simple process.
But for some reason, when it comes to beef stock, I believe more is better. Although I use the CIA’s recipe for beef stock — which calls for 6 pounds of beef bones — I wait until I have enough to haul out the 24-quart stock pot. (Note to self: just because you HAVE a 24-quart stock-pot, it doesn’t mean you have to fill it).
Last year, when I placed my order for steaks from Alderspring Ranch, I added about 10 pounds of beef bones. They languished in my freezer for a year; I just didn’t make the time to do anything with them. Last month I placed another order for steak (I figured I should end MFaM in style), and added another 10 pounds of bones. Two weekends ago, I finally made the time for stock.
As with most Sunday mornings, I wasted several hours reading food & running blogs. I also monitored the New York Marathon — not only to see who won (Paula Radcliffe won the top female spot — 10 months after giving birth!), but also to see how my running blogger friends fared. By 11 a.m. I was ready to head to the store for my mire poix, but just then the phone rang. It was my sister, and since we had been trading voice mail messages for days, I answered. We chatted for more than 25 minutes, but as soon as I hung up I summoned my darling to get a move on; I was ready to go!
We started walking to our neighborhood store, but within minutes we were stopped by our neighbor and good friend. We spent at least 15 minutes catching up, but I finally cut things off, explaining I had a stock to prepare. Long story short: by the time time I got around to roasting those beef bones, it was almost 1 p.m.
As I hauled the bags of beef bones out of our freezer I also found the rib bones left over from last year’s Christmas roast, bringing the total amount to 22 pounds. Looks like I’ll be making a TRIPLE batch! It took two roasting pans to roast everything, and I also had to haul out another stock pot. But by 2:30 everything was simmering away nicely.
The CIA text calls for at least a five hour simmer, but given the quantity I knew it would take longer. Sure enough, it wasn’t until 9 p.m. before I was ready to call it quits. Problem was, I wasn’t finished yet. The stock still had to be strained and cooled.
Have you ever tried to strain a 24-quart stock pot stock in a home kitchen? I’m telling you, it ain’t pretty (or easy, or quick). I filled one side of the sink with cold water and threw in all the ice I had (we’ve yet to hook up our automatic ice maker; I had to make do with four ice cube trays). The ice was no match for the heat emanating from the pot, so I had to keep stirring the stock to cool it down.
I first removed all the large bones, placing them into a colander to rinse off (originally this would be for the “remoulage,” but since the stock was so thick I just threw it back into the pot). I then had to strain all the mire poix and other detritus. The first strainer was too fine, so my darling grabbed a coarser strainer from his beer-making kit. In all, it took a good hour and a half before the stock was ready for the fridge.
So, was it worth it? I can’t say for certain. Although it looked deep and rich and yummy, I have yet to try the stock. It certainly wasn’t cheaper or less time consuming. But at least I’ve learned a lesson: when it comes to beef stock, less is more!
Well folks — it’s official: we CAN’T go a month without eating meat. In fact, we can’t even continue with the “experiment” for a full month.
As I hinted in my last post, the going was getting tough. Whenever I deprive myself of something, that’s ALL I can think about. In addition, by foregoing meat I was making up for it in terrible ways: giving myself carte blanche when eating chips and salsa, fried food and cheese. Oh, and did I mention wine? Here I thought I might actually lose weight, but I’ve managed to gain a couple of pounds (although that may have to do with not being able to run for the past couple of weeks due to a hip issue).
We haven’t gone whole hog (just part of it!). I’ve been allowing myself fish on several occasions (I was getting tired of having an apple with peanut butter for lunch each day; the sushi at Whole Foods called out to me). Our Chinese take-out on Thursday included our favorite, salt & pepper prawns, and on Friday my darling and I had lunch with a friend at a Korean restaurant. I ordered the pork and mushroom soup, he ordered the bibimbap. Although neither contained a plethora of meat, it was still a transgression.
But what totally put me over the edge was the posole.