Archive for the ‘Taste’ Category

A Few of My Favorite Things from the IACP Conference

Wednesday, April 4th, 2012

Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending and participating in the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) 34th annual conference in Soho. DuPont asked me to be a panelist for their Teflon brand “Cook-Aware” roundtable discussion focused on how America thinks about cooking today. Moderated by Cooking Channel’s Kelsey Nixon, the panel included Dr. Rovenia Brock, Joscelyn Ramos Campbell, Janice Newell Bissex, and Dr. Kanthe Shelke. We had a lively and interesting talk about the trends occurring today and what we hope for the future.

Before we took to the stage, I made the rounds to sample the epicurean fare. Two standouts emerged, and I have been inspired by and dreaming of them ever since. Mitchmallows are the most whimsical and creative marshmallows I have seen. And they taste as good as they look. I was torn between the churros, pretzel & beer, horseradish & beet, and mint chocolate chip, so I tried them all. Founder and CEO Mitchell Greenberg somehow packs a huge punch of identifiable flavor into each distinct marshmallow. If taste alone is not enough to win you over, the ChickMallows and Peepers are easily the most happy-inducing confections out there (pictured). I am making star-shaped marshmallows right now for Passover, but I wish I had brought home some Mitchmallows instead.

Much like pizza, caramel sauce is never bad…which is to say that even when it’s not that good it’s still pretty OK. But when these things are good, they are out of this world. And that’s what Spoonable’s Chewy Sesame Caramel Sauce is: extraordinary. I sampled about one tablespoon via three small pretzels, and I was instantly hooked. The base caramel sauce is luscious and thick with just right balance of sweetness and creaminess. The added flavor and texture of toasted sesame seeds is mind-blowing. I am not sure exactly how they make the sauce, but my professional instincts tell me that they stir the warm, just-toasted sesame seeds right into the caramel so that the oils in the seeds and all their flavor permeate the sauce. I, for one, am going to give it shot myself with that method.

Truly scrumptious food is both satisfying and inspiring to the palate and the soul. Thank you, Mitchmallows and Spoonable!

Failure and the Chocolate Chip Cookie

Sunday, September 18th, 2011

Today I read an intriguing article from last week’s NY Times magazine called, “What if the Secret to Success Is Failure?” It features my alma mater, Riverdale Country School, and our headmaster Dominic Randolph in his quest to help develop students with character. Not just moral character, but grit and determination. I happen to agree with the philosophy that sheltered success is NOT the key to being truly successful. A little failure goes a long way. And it’s best to learn to be comfortable with being a little uncomfortable. I learned that lesson many times, most especially in the kitchen.

And I’m not the only one. Believe it or not, our beloved American chocolate chip cookie is the result of a happy accident at a small country inn in Whitman, Massachusetts. In 1930, Ruth and Kenneth Wakefield bought the Toll House Inn where Ruth prepared freshly baked treats for guests. One fateful day, Ruth ran out of baker’s chocolate for her chocolate cookies. She decided to replace the ingredient with broken pieces from a Nestle semi-sweet bar. She figured that the chocolate would melt and blend with the dough. Much to her surprise and to a nation’s gratitude, the chocolate pieces held their shape and were not absorbed by the dough. Thus, the Toll House cookie was born. The chocolate chip cookie grew popular over the years, so Nestle responded by producing chocolate bars the way Ruth had broken them – scored in small chunks. Eventually Nestle created semi-sweet chocolate morsels called chocolate chips.

Others have triumphed from failure in the kitchen, most notably, Stephanie Tatin in France in 1889. She left her apples cooking in butter and sugar for too long and risked drying or even burning them. She rescued the dish by covering the apples with pastry to protect them as they finished in the oven, then turning the dish upside down, with its apple base now on top. The result became a classic: tarte Tatin.

As I urge in “Notes on Cooking,”Preside happily over accidents. Get in the habit of celebrating errors and seeking lessons. The unrisen souffle, the broken sauce, the tough sirloin, the curdled creme anglaise–every mistake is a chance to turn misfortune to education and, in some cases, discovery.”

It’s more than ok to fail. In fact, it’s really the only way to succeed. The true benchmark for success and achievement should be self-reflected so that we really live the standards we set for ourselves.

Matzo Brei Isn’t Just for Breakfast

Saturday, April 3rd, 2010

Most people who grew up eating matzo brei know it exclusively as a breakfast treat, enjoyed only eight days a year during Passover. A French Toast of sorts, matzo brei is made of broken pieces of matzo soaked in water, then drained, and finally scrambled with egg, sprinkled with cinnamon sugar, and perhaps drizzled with maple syrup. It is truly delicious, I think. For the record, there are some who do not like it (my father, for example, is not a fan). But there are other ways to enjoy matzo brei than merely as your best effort to tell your taste buds that the deprivation of bread, pasta, and rice (for all you Ashkenazis like me) isn’t so tough.

In my family, we eat matzo brei as an hors d’oeuvre. Yes, four courses of food isn’t enough for us. We like to get started with some herring, and just to make sure we can survive the abbreviated seder and don’t faint, we first feast on pieces of matzo brei topped with chopped liver or chopped eggs and onions, the princely pates of Eastern European cooking.

My grandfather, Ted, perfected this dish. Since matzo brei is traditionally a scrambled mess (in my father’s defense, it certainly is not the prettiest dish you’ll ever see), he thought to break matzo pieces into same-sized squares to create the perfect base for the chopped liver and eggs and onions. He soaked the pieces in water (so they become tender and flexible like a noodle), then stacked them in threes before dipping them in egg and rolling them in matzo meal (a course flour of ground matzo). The matzo meal coating transforms standard matzo brei into something extraordinary. Then frying the whole thing in schmaltz (chicken fat) imparts that extra depth of flavor and exceptional golden brown color.

Breaking the matzo pieces in perfect squares can be challenging. Check out this amusing video from Japan of all places on how to do it easily.

Say It Ain’t Soda Bread

Monday, March 15th, 2010

It might be called Irish Soda Bread, but don’t let that caraway and raisin-studded white round loaf fool you. It’s Irish alright. It’s just not traditional soda bread. “Consider its origins,” says Rachel Gaffney of Rachel Gaffney’s Authentic Irish Goods. “We were a poor nation. This was an easy to make all-in-one mixture that was made with buttermilk, a byproduct when making butter. Wholemeal flour was more widely available. Raisins were never used. These were imported and if anything were a luxury for the Irish. When white flour was added, this was indeed for a special occasion.”

So, what is the real soda bread like? I recently took a stab at Rachel’s traditional recipe (below) and thought it screamed ‘hearty’ from the outside in. Its nutty and earthy flavor is a far cry from the sweet bread we consider Irish Soda Bread here in the US. This authentic version has an honest, unambiguous taste of a rugged and rich homeland. Just good, old fashioned BREAD! And with a healthy spreading of salted Irish butter (I can’t live without Kerry Gold, by the way)…lets just say it won’t last long. But that’s ok. It’s easier than pie to make.

Thank you, Rachel, for enlightening us. ‘Tis definitely one of those rare cases where the truth doesn’t hurt!

Brown Soda Bread
Rachel Gaffney’s Authentic Irish Soda Bread

3 1/3 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all purpose flour
2 tablespoons wheat germ
2 teaspoons rolled oats, plus 2 teaspoons rolled oats for sprinkling
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 egg
2 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 quart buttermilk

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl mix all dry ingredients. Make a well in the center and add liquid ingredients. Mix together well, trying not to handle too much. Form a ball gently with your floured hands. Do not work this bread like traditional yeast breads. Sprinkle with remaining oats. Place on a lightly greased baking sheet, make a cross in the bread with a sharp paring knife and bake for 45 minutes. Cool on wire rack.

An Oldie But Goodie With a Twist

Monday, October 5th, 2009

Lately I have been reading blog posts and tweets about Sheila Lukins, the American culinary pioneer and co-author of the Silver Palate cookbooks. She died in late August, and many friends and fans remember her and her scrumptious food fondly. Chicken Marbella was by far her most famous dish: an unexpected concoction of chicken with prunes, olives, and capers so popular that you couldn’t escape it in the 1980′s.

I set out to make Chicken Marbella because it had been quite some time since I had it. Once I began to gather my mise en place, I realized that I didn’t have prunes (only dried apricots), and had mixed olives (not all green). I was out of red wine vinegar, but had sherry vinegar. And I had half a bottle of red wine already open so why bother with a new bottle of white? I was determined to get those flavors brewing in my kitchen and ultimately in my mouth, so I persevered with the same principles and ratios albeit on a slightly different path.

Chicken “Lorena” emerged:

8 chicken thighs, or 1 chicken quartered
4 cloves very finely chopped garlic (like a paste)
2 tablespoons dried oregano
kosher salt and black pepper to taste
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
1/2 cup dried apricots
1/2 cup pitted mixed olives
1/4 cup capers with the juice
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup red wine
chopped parsley for garnish, optional

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl combine the garlic, oregano, kosher salt and pepper to taste, vinegar, olive oil, apricots, olives, capers, and juice. Add the chicken and toss well to coat. Cover and let marinate, refrigerated, overnight.

Arrange chicken in a single layer in a large, shallow baking pan and spoon the fruit/olives over it evenly. Sprinkle chicken pieces with brown sugar and pour the wine around them.

Bake uncovered for 50 minutes to 1 hour, basting every 10 minutes with pan juices.

Serve the dish warm or cold. It actually improves after a few days in the fridge.

The Savory Chef and Her Sweet Tooth

Monday, 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

Monday, 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

Monday, 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.

Wine Cellar Sorbets

Monday, June 15th, 2009

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.