The Savory Chef and Her Sweet Tooth

September 7th, 2009

I am a savory chef. Of course, I can bake. That’s part of my training. Sure, I have had to make plenty of cakes, cookies, tarts, pies and, yes, cupcakes in my day (I even was asked to make a cupcake tier for a friend’s wedding). But I am no pastry chef. I generally do not work with fondant (save my son’s second birthday party…oh, how he wanted a choo-choo train cake). Pastillage and I are not well acquainted.

Wedding Cupcake Tier - Carrot Cake with Orchids

Wedding Cupcake Tier - Carrot Cake with Orchids

Jonathan's Choo-Choo Train Cake a la Anabel Karmel

Jonathan's Choo-Choo Train Cake a la Anabel Karmel

When it comes to tasting sweets, well, that is another story altogether. So, when I heard that not one but two of my cupcake ideas were selected as semifinalists in Tribeca Treats’s Annual Cupcake Competition, I was thrilled! (Especially since the competition, which benefits A.C.E. Programs for the Homeless, received over 100 entries. Only 12 were chosen to move on to the taste-test round.)

My two ideas: Monkey Madness (banana cupcake with peanut butter frosting topped with chocolate chips) and Creamsicle (orange chiffon cupcake with vanilla buttercream topped with candied orange peel). The fun part: The Creamsicle will be taste-tested on Tuesday, September 8th and the Monkey Madness on Wednesday, September 9th at Tribeca Treats!

Here’s how the tasting works: customers will be invited to taste-test each semifinalist cupcake, in exchange for a $5 donation to Tribeca Partnership and A.C.E Programs for the Homeless. Customers will rate each cupcake on a scale of 1-10; the scores will be averaged. The top four will go head-to-head in a final taste test on Friday, September 11th. The winners will then be announced on Monday, September 14th.

So, head down to Tribeca Treats and vote!

Inside the Mind of a Chef

August 17th, 2009

Getting inside the mind if a chef isn’t as elusive as it might appear. Thanks to master chef Daniel Boulud, now you can walk right in seven days a week at his new restaurant, DBGB Kitchen & Bar, on the Bowery. Just steps away from what once was CBGB’s, this new venture was designed to be a place that a cook would want to frequent with a menu to match. The menu is eclectic and substantial, ranging from the scrumptious and very modernly presented escargots to matzo ball soup. There is a beer sommelier, a house-made sausage menu, and a hamburger whose garnishes include Daisy May’s pulled pork. Need I say more? Well, maybe I should just mention that they have ice cream sundaes with homemade marshmallows, cookie bites, and mini meringues so fantastical in appearance they put Willy Wonka to shame.

I have had the pleasure of eating there twice so far, most recently Saturday night with my good friend, Tim. Chef Daniel was there, and he came by to say hello (he so generously endorsed Notes on Cooking). We were praising the food and service, of course, but I was most excited to share my husband’s observations with him about the space (Sean and I had eaten there together the week before). As good as the food is at DBGB, the design and decor are even more clever.

Interior of DBGB Kitchen & Bar

Interior of DBGB Kitchen & Bar

When you approach the restaurant, you are confronted with a wall of glass windows, covered in quotes from culinary gods like Brillat-Savarin and Julia Child. As you enter the restaurant, the surrounding walls of mirrored glass in the bar area display more quotes and the extensive menu. Once you enter the main dining room, you are in a giant and handsome charcoal grey dining room that is remarkably light and open. The bright white and stainless steel kitchen is visible through glass and forms an “L” along two walls. Wherever else there is wall space in the room pantry items like kosher salt, matzo meal, and wine are displayed on wooden shelves. The finishing touch that makes the whole concept come together is a full border of copper pots and pans from all the great American and French chefs, a veritable culinary heritage museum. Everyone of Chef Daniel’s friends from Alain Ducasse to Tyler Florence has donated a favorite copper piece to be displayed. It is both thrilling and humbling to walk around the the perimeter of the dining room to admire this cookware and ultimately their owners.

There are other amusing details like bathroom wallpaper – pages of a French cookware catalogue from another century that feature such frivolous items as a jambonniere (a ham-shaped pot to cook…what else?…ham). This type of detail might be lost on those who are ignorant of or uninterested in food history; to them it’s likely just an attractive aesthetic choice. But to those in the know, to a cook like me who lives and breathes this stuff, it was so stimulating. My husband and I absorbed all these details when we first waked into DBGB. As is typical, Sean put it best: “This restaurant is like the inside of a chef’s mind.”

So, I quoted this to Chef Daniel, telling him all the reasons that led us to feel that way. No one had put it that way to him before, he noted, and he loved that way of seeing the space. “I’m going to use that!” he said. Well, just when I thought it was not possible for him to flatter me more…then again, all the credit for articulating that observation goes to Sean!

I can’t wait to get back to DBGB Kitchen & Bar. It is a delectable and authentic journey into the mind of a GREAT chef.

My Top Tomato Tips on YouTube

August 3rd, 2009

Click to Watch Chef Lauren Talk about Tomatoes

Nothing tastes quite like summer as do heirloom tomatoes. My last blog post was about tomatoes, but I had to post the following video to make sure everyone knows the best way to procure and store them. Check it out on YouTube by clicking the photo to the left.

Top Five Tomato Tips:

1. Shop seasonally.
2. Shop locally.
3. Wash whole in cold running water.
4. Store in a cool, dry place.
5. Only refrigerate once sliced.

Fun on the Farm

July 19th, 2009

There is a very special place, just 40 miles northwest of New York, called Rainbeau Ridge. A small, family-owned farm, Rainbeau Ridge is the realization of a dream and an admirable example of sustainability and community. They grow fruits and vegetables, sell fresh eggs in spectacular shades of blue and brown, and raise livestock to make arguably some of the best goat cheese there is (Dan Barber of Blue Hill at Stone Barns certainly agrees). I have been very fortunate to spend countless, joyful hours there over the years and July 16th was no exception.

Lisa Schwartz, owner and farmer extraodinaire, invited me to spend an afternoon at the farm to sign books and meet her Community Agriculture Partnership (CAP) customers. From noon to 4 o’clock I met with people who love the ingredients they use just as much as they love to cook. It was inspiring to see how many people deeply care about the quality of their food, from farm to table. One woman, Shirley, is in a book club where Alice Waters’s “The Art of Simple Food” is on the list. Oh, what a fun idea for a book club! Maybe “Notes on Cooking” will be next? How wonderful that would be…especially if I am invited to join!

To entice people to chat with me and browse through the book, I bribed them with a little treat: a tomato tart made with Lisa’s Mont Vivant goat cheese. Everyone was raving about it, no doubt due to that delectable chevre! Flaky puff pastry, scrumptious tomato jam, heirloom tomatoes paired with basil from the garden, and a little extra virgin olive oil and coarse salt were a savory backdrop for Lisa’s cheese (she impressively makes it all herself). Try the following recipe for just a little taste of Rainbeau Ridge. Better yet, go visit the farm or a local store or restaurant where Rainbeau Ridge cheese is sold.

Heirloom Tomato & Goat Cheese Tart

for the tomato jam:
2 pints grape or cherry tomatoes
6 whole shallots, peeled
4 cloves garlic, peeled
4 sprigs thyme
olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

for the tart:
1 sheet puff pastry
1 cup tomato jam
6 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
1 pint small heirloom tomatoes, halved or quartered
frehsly ground black pepper
extra virgin olive oil
coarse sea salt
fresh basil leaves

Preheat the oven to 400F.

To make the tomato jam, combine the tomatoes, shallots, garlic, and thyme in a rimmed sheet pan. Drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Roast for 20-30 minutes, or until the shallots have caramelized and softened. Remove the pan from the oven and transfer the tomato mixture to a food processor. Puree for several seconds until more or less smooth. Allow to cool before assembling the tart.

To make the tart, line a sheet pan with a nonstick liner. Place the puff pastry on the sheet pan, then spread the tomato jam evenly over the surface, leaving a 1/2-inch border. Sprinkle with the crumbled goat cheese, then place the tomato pieces evenly on top. Top with freshly ground black pepper and bake in the 400F oven for 30 minutes, or until the edges of the pastry are golden brown and have puffed. Remove from the oven, drizzle lightly with extra virgin olive oil, season with finishing salt, and sprinkle with whole fresh basil leaves. Serve warm or room temperature.

The tomato jam may be made up to one week in advance and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Share Your Recipes

July 7th, 2009

Many people are shocked that I happily give away recipes. “If I could cook like you, I would never give away my secrets,” I often hear. Well, I must say that I thoroughly disagree with this attitude. Sharing recipes is like storytelling, traveling, and reading a book all in one shot. It is a way to give and receive something special and new.

It has been said that sharing a recipe makes it immortal. So many of us make Grandma’s apple pie, or our mother’s roast chicken. This is what makes a recipe live on, long after the life of the person who first shared it with us. The following quote expresses this sentiment best:

The recipe that is not shared with others will soon be forgotten,
but when it is shared, it will be enjoyed by future generations.

–Unknown

In that spirit, I’d like to share my recipe for sour cream cake, a simple and satisfying base to any variety of luscious summer fruits:

Sour Cream Cake

3 eggs
2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup sour cream
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 ½ cups all purpose flour
½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease 1 large loaf pan or 4 mini loaf pans. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs and sugar until thickened and a pale yellow color. Beat in the oil, sour cream and vanilla until smooth. Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a small bowl. Add to the egg mixture until blended.

Fill greased loaf pans 2/3 full. Bake for 30 minutes, or until golden on top and a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool for 5 minutes before removing from pan to cool completely on wire racks.

Serve with fresh berries or stone fruits.

Add berries to the batter for a fruit pound cake. Drizzle the loaves with a powdered sugar glaze made with powdered sugar and just enough lemon juice to make the right consistency.

Wine Cellar Sorbets

June 15th, 2009

winecellarsorbets
Now you can drink your wine and eat it, too! Wine Cellar Sorbets makes a delicious frozen dessert so good, and so authentic in flavor, you could identify all the wines in a blind taste test. The champagne is bubbly on the tongue while the ruby port is fruity and rich. The sake sorbet is crisp, and the riesling is semi-sweet.

I had the pleasure of sampling several varieties (or should I say varietals?) last weekend at The Conran Shop, where my “Notes on Cooking” co-author, Russell, and I were signing books. We immediately made friends with the friendly and fun Wine Cellar Sorbets team. Meeting them was truly a treat!

What could be a better end to a summer sushi meal than a scoop of sake sorbet? Serve the mimosa flavor at your next brunch. Once you try this clever concoction you’ll be hooked.

Visit Wine Cellar Sorbets for a store locator and on-line shipping.

Feeding the Family Is an Affair to Remember

May 24th, 2009

Pizza is a big deal at my house. Every Friday my son, Jonathan, and I make a homemade pizza for lunch with all his favorite fixings that we affectionately call Pizza Giovanni (recipe below). Sometimes we invite good friends or family to join us, but many days it’s just the two of us and one of the special ladies in his life who babysits. This week we are making this family treat on Sunday instead so that Daddy can join in the fun.

Jonathan loves vegetables, so we pile them high in a bounty of color. We both like a lot of contrasting textures and flavors. We pair crisp, raw white onions with supple, sweet roasted red peppers. Baby mozzarella the size of pearls yield all the benefits of fresh buffalo with the kid-friendly edge of not needing a knife. Italian chicken sausage is just like its pork counterpart, but far more healthful. We favor raw mushrooms to cook with the pizza, thus avoiding the need to sauté them in advance. Homemade sauce is wonderful, but in a pinch I use Muir Glen’s organic fire roasted tomato sauce.

The crust, of course, is key (so, too, is going light on the sauce). And we have a special field trip for that piece of the pie. My son loves that he has a role to play in the preparation by walking around the corner to the pizza parlor each week. It’s something he looks forward to almost as much as the 50 cents change he gets to throw in his piggy bank from paying for the $4.50 dough with a $5 bill. Our local New York pizzeria, Arturo’s, makes excellent dough and happily sells it to us each week.

Feeding my family is something really special. The memories we are making—and the skills my son is learning —are priceless. I love sharing what I do with my son, and I am always pleased to see his enthusiasm for the food he loves begin with its preparation.

There are two books I highly recommend for anyone who wants to cook not only for their children, but with their children. I recently had the privilege of styling TV segments for both authors on their respective appearances on CBS’s The Early Show:

familymealscoverMaria Helm Sinskey’s Williams-Sonoma Family Meals: Creating Traditions in the Kitchen is a stunning and authentic collection of family recipes. Sinskey’s enthusiasm and passion for family and food jumps right off the page. She covers everything from pancakes to crab cakes, all with accompanying mouthwatering photographs and helpful hints. Parents and kids of all ages will be inspired to cook together after a leisurely look through this beautiful book.         hungrymonkeycoverHungry Monkey: A Food-Loving Father’s Quest to Raise an Adventurous Eater by Matthew Amster-Burton is a witty and entertaining book about the ups and downs of feeding his adorable and deliciously precocious daughter, Iris. Peppered throughout the book are delectable recipes that are, to borrow a pop-culture phrase, kid-tested and [father] approved. His potsticker recipe rivals that of any dim sum joint in Chinatown.

Pizza Giovanni

1 large pizza dough
¾ cup tomato sauce
1 pound fresh mozzarella (in baby balls or sliced)
2 Italian chicken sausage links, fully cooked and sliced
2 roasted bell peppers, sliced
6 large button mushrooms, sliced
1 small white onion, sliced
freshly grated Parmesan
Basil leaves for garnish

Preheat the oven to 400˚F and place the oven rack in the middle.

Stretch the pizza dough to fit a half sheet pan (a jelly roll pan of 18 x 13). Place the dough in the pan, making sure that it is fully stretched to every corner. Pinch excess dough within the pan to create a border.

Spread the tomato sauce over the base of the dough, then evenly place the mozzarella on top. Next add the sausage slices, roasted peppers, onions, and mushrooms. Sprinkle with freshly grated Parmesan and bake for 20 minutes, or until the crust is brown and the cheese is bubbling.

Remove from the oven and onto a cutting board. Let the pizza rest for two minutes before slicing. Serve immediately.
Makes 4-6 servings.

Food is Art…and Sometimes Art is Food!

May 10th, 2009

It’s not like I already don’t spend a substantial portion of my day thinking of and talking about food. I wake up to my son, Jonathan, each morning commanding me to prepare one of his favorite breakfasts of fruit and Mickey Mouse pancakes, cheese and apricot blintzes, or strawberry yogurt and banana muffins. After I get that first meal on the table, I spend much of the morning coordinating with clients about food styling assignments, drafting lesson plans, writing menus, or working on the publicity for my two cooking books. By mid-day, it’s another wholesome meal on the table before I take my son for a walk in his stroller and head to the park where I often strike up a conversation with another mother in which food is inevitably discussed. Before I know it, meal Number 3 is both the topic of conversation and the work in progress. Once my son goes to bed, it’s back to the computer or telephone where food is yet again on the front burner.

So, when I decided to take a weekly painting class (with my childhood teacher and brilliant artist, Satish Joshi), I couldn’t wait for the mental mini-break from food. I thought I would paint a few flowers, a couple of landscapes, maybe even a successful abstract (still working on that one). Not so fast. Both my art teacher and my son had other plans. Satish said, “You should paint a cake!” Not having picked up a brush in 15 years, I figured it was as good a subject as anything to get the juices flowing (see, it always comes back to food!). I painted my first cake, and it was lovely. Even I was pleased. I brought it home proudly and showed my family. My son then requested cupcakes. So, I made cupcakes on canvas with acrylic paint and glitter sprinkles. Then Jonathan asked for a painting of chocolate chip cookies. Yes, I complied.

Even though the subjects have been food, I still have felt a wonderful release from my hectic culinary world when I paint. The action of painting and the colors I choose are as expressive as the subject chosen for me. Nevertheless, perhaps next week I will graduate to something savory, since food art is clearly in my future. First, though, I have to finish the canvas I prepped last week: a still life with a strawberry shortcake, apple pie, donuts, and a chocolate cake. Stay tuned for a picture!