Monday, November 30, 2009

Shepherd's Pie

The Shepherd’s Pie was insane!

Mom and I put it in the oven for about forty minutes before lunch time. My main concern had been that there would not be enough mashed potatoes. There were tons, but the ratio of meat to mash would be off.

When the guys got back from golf, the smell had permeated the house. I was so glad we had waited to eat this thing. Clearly, only good had happened to the flavors over night.

We scooped it right out of the pot and everyone went back for seconds! The lamb was earthy and had extra punch from the tomato paste and seasonings. Peas and corn kernels added beautiful color and a bit of clean vegginess that balanced the fat and juices from the pie.

I hope to make this dish over and over again this winter. Only six people were at lunch that day and we almost finished it.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Munchkin Family Pre-Thanksgiving

I am spending this year’s turkey-day with Jack’s family in South Carolina and since it is a favorite holiday for the Munchkin family, I made my own feast this past weekend.

Upstate, we began our ingredient hunt. Off to Quattro’s for my meats. Free range, happy turkey (smallest they had was 17 pounds!) and ground lamb. I also picked up my whole brisket, but more on that later. Adams had all of the produce and dairy that we needed and Mom went to the local grocery for a few last minute items.

The refrigerator was plastered with recipes and my famous spreadsheet. Alicia, I will see about putting the sheet at the bottom of the post. Each one in the order in which I would make it. More or less. At least, the order in which I planned to make it. Once you get going, things always shuffle right? Right!

The turkey went in first. At 17 lbs, it was going to take all day. I rubbed butter under the skin and on top of it, salt, pepper, oregano, thyme, paprika and a bit of cumin in the cavity. Once in the oven, it was basted every 20 minutes with stock and butter. About an hour in, we had to cover it with foil because it was crisping ahead of schedule.

I cleaned the counters down and prepped for baking. The yeast foamed happily in a warm bowl with milk. I stirred in eggs and flour and made my dough for the Onion Tart. The ball was about the size of an orange when I was done. By the time it came out of the warm cloth-covered bowl, it was significantly bigger. I just love it when that happens. When you start to kneed it, you can smell the yeast and the whole things is warm. I should try to bake more.

While it was rising, I boiled about a zillion potatoes. I always make enough for everyone (about 1 potato per person), times .75ish. I know that I’m going to be eating the mashed potatoes all day long. Every time I walk by the pot with a spoon. And I ALWAYS have a spoon! This time, there was going to be Shepherd’s pie as well.

Completely ignoring the recipe I had clipped (except for a few ingredients on the list), channeled my inner Alton Brown and made my own. I sweat the onions, some leeks and celery till they were looking soft and translucent. Then, I threw in carrots and garlic. The lamb next because I really like to layer flavors with ground meat preparations. Once the lamb was mostly cooked, tomato paste added color and a nice depth. White wine made everyone come check out the stove. And there, I let it cook.

When the potatoes were soft, Mom did her magic on them. She makes THE best potatoes. Herbs went into the lamb and since I’d been so smart in cooking it a cast iron pot, we were able to leave it as it was. Not an ounce of meat, juice or flavor would be lost transferring this stuff to another dish for baking. Forget it. So we smoothed the meat with a spatula, and then glopped mashed potatoes on top. Then smooth again, making sure that it went right up against the edges of the pan “making a seal.” I brushed it with an egg-wash so that the whole thing wouldn’t look dull when it was finished.

After half an hour, the seal had broken and there was a small river of red meat juice tempting me for what was below. I begged mom to scrap this screwy thanksgiving so that we could just eat the pie. But she reminded me that after hours and hours of cooking, the rest shouldn’t go to waste. And that this pie would actually taste better tomorrow.

While the onion tart filling was in progress, Mom jumped in and made Pumpkin pies. Sorry guys, I did not make the crusts. But we had two in the freezer and she had gotten another one. She and I agree that there is no shame in canned packed pumpkin. We never go for the “Pumpkin Pie Mix” since it is no big deal to add the spices that you want. And besides, pumpkin pies taste better on the spicy side. Gimmie some Allspice, some ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon.

For the Onion Tart filling, it felt like a zillion onions had to be cut. I was sobbing through each one from the fumes. Once they had cooked down a bit, a package of bacon, cut into chunks went in. That all cooked until it was starting to caramelize. I was hesitant to add the egg yolks and sour cream until right before baking so I let the mixture cook down and then cool a bit.

The crust rolled out fine. A bit thick but that’s my own fault for not having appropriate amounts of patience. I lined my silicone cake pan with the dough, leaving enough to then fold it back over the top. (It was ugly in the picture and turned out to be that way in real life as well). Into the filling went sour cream and egg yolks. Then everything went into the pie. I folded the edges over so that some onion peeped out of the middle and then it baked for about forty minutes.

Don’t worry. I kept basting through all of this. I did not leave that turkey for a moment!

Something always falls by the wayside. There is always one dish that I do not make. And it is usually vegetables. If I ever invite you to a party, and you offer to bring something, I will suggest vegetables. I love ‘em. But I have zero fun cooking them. So here, at this juncture in the day, I surveyed the pots and pans, t

he counter space, the oven, the line of things to go in the oven and I made a choice. Mushroom and Leek Stuffing…or Potato and Autumn Vegetable Hash.

What do you think people?

Hahaha I know. That “vegetable” barely sounds like a vegetable. I was so proud. But I went for the mushroom stuffing knowing full well that myself, Dad, and Jack would be the only ones who liked it. I abandoned the hash. Chef Dad would figure out what to do with all of those winter veggies.

There was about half an ounce of dried porcinis soaking in lukewarm water. One baguette (an

d some other bread I found around the house) chopped into pieces. Tons of butter melted, shiitake and button mushrooms cleaned, chopped and sopping up fat. Next I added the leeks and garlic and allowed that to all cook together for a few minutes. Then a healthy two cups of white wine. That all cooked together till the intense alcohol smell mellowed. Then, it all mixed together in the buttered dish. Chopped bread, drunken butter mushrooms, thyme and the soaked porcinis. I dabbed butter on top, poured a bit of the reserved porcini water to make sure it was moist and let it bake.

The final item was the cranberry sauce, which I always love to make. One bag of cranberries, abo

ut 1/3rd cup of sugar and maybe a cinnamon stick if I’m in the mood. It cooks till most of the berries have burst. I add the tiniest bit of Sherry Vinegar (if there isn’t any…oh well) and tada. Yum.

Everything came to temperature just as the turkey was done resting.

I am a loon about turkeys. You really only get a few weeks out of each year where they are readily available for cooking. And I seem to totally screw up the thanksgiving turkey every time I do it (way undercooked). So this turkey, was basted and basted. Cooked first breast down then breast up. Covered, perfectly timed. And when I tried to transfer it to the cutting board for resting (away from the juices), it fell apart. Totally. I was stunned and a bit horrified. Was this a good thing? Or a bad thing? If it was a chicken, it was a good thing. The meat looked moist. But how could carryover cooking work if this thing was in pieces!? I tied it all back together as tightly as I could and prayed that juices would still redistribute as they were supposed to. Patience. Patience. My dad kept saying that resting was stupid, so it took all I had to keep us both away.

Once safely on the table, it all went well. Mom had whipped up some Stove Top since no one believes that it’s Thanksgiving without it. We had Onion Tart, Turkey, two stuffings, Mashed Potatoes, Cranberry Sauce and a new Cabernet that Dad has just bought a bunch of from a vineyard in Na

pa. It was great!

I didn’t even eat that much ‘cause, true to form, I’d had way too many mashed potatoes.

The onion tart was good. It needed a bit more salt, more bacon, and a far thinner crust (which was awesomely crispy). The mushroom stuffing was great! I would make it again but with smaller chunks of bread. The wine made the mushrooms less earthy for those who didn’t prefer mushrooms. Stove Top was totally consumed. Everyone always loves it. The Mashed Potatoes were just as they should be and I will miss them on Thanksgiving Day with my mom far away.

For dessert, my brother asked where the whipped cream was. Dad suggested that he make some, which basically turned him green. He just couldn’t get his head around turning cream into wh

ipped cream. So I got a bowl (as cold as I could find), dumped my Ronnybrook cream into it and got to work with one of the saddest whisks I’ve ever seen.

The unhomogenized cream set up so much faster than regular cream would. He and I took turns whipping this way and that for a few minutes and before the pies had even been put on the table, we had whipped cream.

It was a great dinner.

Oh. Are you wondering about the turkey? It was good. Dad said that it was the best ever. He says that a lot, but I found it encouraging. My thought is this: perhaps I don’t really like turkey. Could that be? Someone at work said that many people don’t like turkey. They just like the idea of liking turkey.


Friday, November 20, 2009

The Next Food Network Star Application

Before the wedding, I took a day off work to wait in line for the Next Food Network Star auditions with a friend/fellow blogger. I had seen that they were doing open castings and had immediately sent the information to her. Once I looked at the application, I considered signing up. The questions were so fun! It was the first application I’d ever seen where I wanted to fill it out just because. Kitchen tips, self-identification with ingredients, ideal meals…wouldn’t it be great if we were always asked these things?

For an interesting (or maybe not too interesting) post, here are my own answers to the Next Food Network Star application. I did not hand it in, I did not audition.

  • · List previous food related (and not food related) work experience

It always feels good to remember the internships and service jobs that I’ve done in retrospect.

Working at Murray’s was clearly not my favorite thing. The owner made me want to cry every time he blew through pointing at things and yelling “remerchandise!” What? To where? Which thing? Oh no! And the customers who made me feel stupid, or who I knew were stupid. I don’t miss inventory at the end of the month. But missed is the famous cheese man screaming over the weekend rush “number next!” and while I’ve spent the past three years trying to get rid of the pounds, eating my weight in cheese every day made it all seem great. or a cold ginger beer on my way out the door. I worked with some really wonderful people there as well. And I always loved those red jackets.

I was a bee keeper’s assistant for a while. I love to think about scraping the extra wax from the hive to keep it from sealing shut. And checking the scale underneath to see how much the bees had made. Standing in the suit in the blazing sun without an ounce of fear, and trying to start the old fashioned smoker with a wick and some newspaper. I remember the great meals that I had with my diabetic bee keeper. Lunch after some hard work. Being young and strong, I helped carry an airplane wing once, I drove him to a diner once, I assisted in putting things in storage.

I planned wine events for a year. I love thinking about the wine makers that I met. The wine store owners who I still visit after organizing tastings. My boss was a touch eccentric, but cared more about weather or not I’d eaten than my own mother. There was something that felt very glamorous about getting on a plane to the next city for an event, and something warm about meeting the chefs I’d been speaking to for months finally in person. They were always so full of charm and invitations to check out their restaurants while we were in town. But my boss hated my bright clothing, and I had no co-workers. Well, one for a while. And an intern who would stand on the Shake Shack line because she was too young to be around the wines and too smart to do all of the data entry.

Coaching swimming was the best of my working-past. Middle school kids remain the perfect age group for me in terms of their strength, their curiosity and my ability to communicate with them. But the meets were long, the athletic director horrid.

I loved the first question. Writing down the things that I’ve done gives me a very special pride in my journey so far in this industry.

Then, they asked about my family and living situation. Well that’s heaven.

I live with my husband and two dwarf rabbits in midtown. Just typing it makes me smile

  • Schooling…well, we know I loved my culinary school.

  • Current school…master’s in food studies at NYU

  • Websites… of course

  • List your food industry experience…

Two soup kitchens (many of who’s patrons I still remember), culinary school, externship at the Tasting Room (I still speak to both of the chefs I worked with), Cheesemonger, beekeeper’s assistant, wine magazine intern, wine tasting event producer, and what I do now.

  • Is there a specific genre of food you like to cook? Be very specific!

Upscale American Comfort Food. Jack can vouch folks. My mac and cheese, my dry rub ribs, my smoked pork, my mashed potatoes, are all pretty fantastic. And I even boil up a mean spaghetti.

  • Styles of cooking that turn me off….

Don’t know.

  • How do you get your recipes? How do you put your own personal spin on recipes?

I start at every time. Then, then or one of my cookbooks. If I’m really interested in making the dish, I will collect four or five recipes and make them all. Even buy a store-version. I assemble a happy group, and compare. From there, I take what works and make my own.

  • If I were an ingredient, I would be___________________

  • What is your all time favorite ingredient and why?

Pumpkin. It is a flavor I have always loved and spend most of the year looking forward to.

  • What ingredients and/or foods do you absolutely hate and why?

Sea Urchin and many types of beans/whole chickpeas because of their texture. Croquettes because when I lived in Spain, they were the only think that my Senora made that was not horrible. She made them every day and while they got me through, I can’t touch them now.

  • Clearly describe 3 of your “signature dishes” that best represent you and are most popular with your friends and family.

1) Mac & Cheese. As a kid, a slightly chubbier kid, I was never given Mac & Cheese. When I worked at Murray’s, much like Baristas at Starbucks who dream up crazy drinks, we would talk about which cheeses would make the most insane grilled cheese or what blue cheese would make a burger sing when ground up with the meat. From there, my usual method prevailed. Four kinds of mac & cheese. Create the best version of all, and experiment with cheeses.

2) Ribs. They were always my favorite food growing up. Summers in Arizona, where my parents tried their luck at Cattle ranching. Once a year, the cowboys would dig a hole somewhere with a backhoe, climb down with a ladder and build a huge fire pit. Meat would be cooked a sheet of metal lowered by chains. My mom makes a barbeque sauce that her father taught her…the first woman in the family ever to know the recipe. After culinary school, with some new techniques in mind and no giant pit on the upper east side, I tried a Gourmet Recipe for pork chops and bbq sauce. And another for ribs with asian sauce. The ribs were good. the chop sauce was good. I mixed the ribs, a rub and began to improve on the sauce. Jack has yet to try my ribs because they never clear the kitchen

3) Lasagna. It was the first dish I ever learned to cook. When I was sixteen living in England, my boyfriend borrowed the recipe from the restaurant where he washed dishes. He added some of his Nan’s wisdom and blew me away. We made it together once or twice. It is more of an “English” lasagna then an Italian one. It reminds me of the wonderful year I had in England and the beginning of a new relationship with food; one in which I fed people instead of eating all the time. I still make the lasagna the same way he taught me. Except that I roll my own pasta, make my own tomato sauce, incorporated fresh cheeses. As my own experience changes, so does my first signature dish.

  • · What are you top five original cooking/food/ingredient tips?

1) Leave the pit in the avocado. It keeps it from ever turning brown. Until it actually rots at least.

2) Con a food industry professional to sell you a roll of real plastic wrap. The professional stuff stretches better, is easier to handle and only clings to things you want it to.

3) When using an outdoor smoker, soak your wood chips for a few hours beforehand. It will slow their burn and help moisten the smoke. You can actually impart flavor with the soaking liquid if you use Madeira or juices. Anything flavored.


5) I didn’t finish this application so 4 and 5 are still out there.

  • · What is your unique culinary point of view?

I did not answer this one. But I would say that I take a little from Dan Barber and Alice Waters in saying that farm fresh, local, wholesome, unadulterated ingredients make all the difference in one’s cooking. As someone who did not eat hooved animals because of the kharmic toll murder took on our presence (or some nice way of saying that…), I easily believe that when you eat from the earth, your body is happier. The less complicated, the fewer alterations that have been made to the chemical make-up of your food, the more your body can do with it. Buuuuuuuuut, I take a bit from Mr. Bourdain as well. If it’s a great tomato, the best tomato, then I want to eat it. I don’t care where Chef Robuchon gets his food because everything I tried at his restaurant, tasted like the perfect expression of that food. One might hope that perfect expressions of food are achieved by sourcing locally and without modifications, but if it’s not, I’ll still eat it.

  • Why do you want your own food networks show? Have something to share? Want to be famous? How would it be different.

I’m saving that one. I don’t think I want any of that.

  • Describe your personality as accurately and truthfully as you can. How do your friends describe you?

I am honest. Sometimes to a fault. I never lie about anything. Sometimes, I omit truths to protect people’s feelings. But ask me anything outright, and I will tell you. Or tell you that I cannot tell you. I am also loyal to the people that I love

  • What do you like most about yourself? What do you like least?

I like the honesty part. It means people can trust what I’m saying.

I do not have the confidence that I should. That is what I like the least.

  • How do you react to criticism?

I have a thin skin; growing ever thicker at my current job. I take my work very seriously and therefore any critsisms about the job I do. If it’s about my personality or my clothing, I am not bothered. But about my work, I will try to smile and take the criticism, then go home, freak out about it and agonize over ways to improve upon my mistakes.

  • What is your favorite topic of conversation at a dinner party? Least favorite?

Favorite topic at dinner [parties] is baseball (spefically the Mets)

Least favorite for dinner is the recession

  • Describe any special interests, hobbies, group affliations or talents.

Horseback riding, drawing on Microsoft Paint, coaching, Prince George CSA

  • What about your background would make you a unique finalist on the Next Food Network Star?

I have lived in many situations that shape how I deal with people and how I eat. Host families in two cities in France, and one in Spain shaped how I act at a new table. Living in Northern England showed me how great food can be found in any situation. Holidays at my Grandmother's in Long Island required weeks of etiquette training every year. Meals at summer camp, boarding school and college required a totally different kind of balance and a fair amount of etiquette un-training. I have slept, worked, studied and eaten at so many different kinds of "tables," I could go almost anywhere and sit next to almost anyone.

  • What are your greatest accomplishments?

No idea. Convincing Jack to get rabbits. I did not write that. Don’t worry.

  • What kind of roll do you generally play in groups?

The hostess. Even if it's not my party. I look for a way to keep everyone socially comfortable in a room or group. Even if it's a ton of effort and awkwardness for myself.

  • Please describe the most stressful time in your life and how you reacted to it

There have two most stressful times in my life.

1) The holiday season at Murray's. I have never seen so many people who desperately needed cheese. The counter was filthy, no one took time to clean the knives and shelve stocking was abandoned.

2) Right before my wedding. I was working full time, getting my Masters Degree in Food Studies, Planning a wedding in which 300 people were invited and the capacity was 240 and I was the Head Coach of a Swim Team at a community center where no one told me when vacations were and what time my own competitions could be.

In both cases, I took stress one challenge at a time. I create a detailed check list and schedule (reshuffling with priority in mind) and develop tunnel vision for each task. At Murray's, I would help ten customers, then clean all of the knives, then help ten more customers and clean the counter..etc. I do not usually explode or freak out. instead my stress manifests itself later on in stomach aches or back pain after the stressful times have passed.

  • What is your primary motivation for being on the show? What is your secondary motivation?

Although being on tv is a terrifying concept, I do have a welcoming personality and love to communicate with people. I love to teach things (frequently before I fully understand them).

  • Have you ever been or are you now on tv or radio?


  • Have you appeared in any newspapers, magazines, publicly disseminated photographs etc…

there is a picture of me in last years' Cheese issue of Wine Spectator. You can only tell it's me because of the Mets hat though.

Why do you want your own food network show? Have something to share? Want to be famous? How would it be different.

I did not try out for this show and I've never actually watched it. But it was so much fun "applying," I thought I'd put it up.