Thanksgiving Reflections

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It’s the Sunday after Thanksgiving. My refrigerator is full of leftovers, the kids are all on their way back to their respective schools, and all the friends and relatives are on their way back to their respective lives. This is as it should be. As I wrote in a previous post, the kitchen is my sanctuary. Preparing the feast this year, for the first time I might add, this sentiment rang truer than ever. I was completely in my element. For years, I either worked or was at my in-law’s house. This was the first year I hosted. I admit the control freak in me took over and I didn’t allow anyone to bring anything, minus the cookie platter that Mom made and the delicious wine that my friend brought. Had we been more than 8 people I would have delegated, for sure.

I woke up early on Thursday and started to prepare.

I set the music to various artists, everything from Motown to Chet Baker. Moving at my own pace, no pressure to have everything done at a certain time, no boss rushing me to get the next dish finished. I was planning on serving at 6 and I figured if it was a few minutes before or after, it was no big deal.

By 2:00 everything was pretty much ready and the turkey was in the oven. I sat down for a few minutes and thought I must have been forgetting something. The table was set. The food ready, or almost. The only thing I realized I was missing, were the guests. Mom and Dad, my brother and his family arrived around 4. My friend with the wine arrived just in time for dinner. I set up the food buffet style on my kitchen table, and had a table for seating set up in the living room. It was a beautiful evening and I was pleased with how almost everything came out – I am my own worst critic! I don’t think anything was missing, except maybe more of everything. More family, more friends, more love.

May we always cherish and be grateful for the abundance we have in our lives.

Happy Holidays everyone!

The final menu: Herb Roasted Turkey with Pan Gravy, Corn Bread Stuffing, Stuffed Butternut Squash, Roasted Garlic Green Beans, Wild Rice Stuffing, Cranberry Chutney, Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Shallots and Pancetta (served on the side) and Pumpkin Bread. Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie, Pumpkin Indian Pudding and a Cookie Platter.

Thanksgiving Help

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As promised, more tips and suggestions for making Thanksgiving a breeze this year!

By now, I hope you’ve ordered your turkey (I have!) and planned a menu, everything from the appetizers to the desserts.

Tip #1:  Make the appetizers self-service, this way you aren’t stuck trying to keep everything hot while also trying to get a beautiful dinner ready.  A seasonal crudité platter with dip; chips and dip; a cheese platter are all great ideas for people to take on their own.  Just platter it up and set it out.

A beautiful cheese platter for a party!

Tip #2:  The more dishes on the table, the less of everything people will take.  While it’s lovely to have a table laden with 25 delicious family recipes, the more you make, the more stress there is.  Not everyone will eat every dish on the table, so it’s not necessary to have each dish serve the 20 people you are expecting.  This creates more anxiety, more trips to the store and lots of leftovers.  Yes, you need variety, but try to pare it down.

This year, instead of having 3 different sweet potato dishes, try having just one.  Forgo the sweet potato pie with marshmallows which is full of fat and sugar, and have a Sweet Potato Puree dish that you can easily make the day before that won’t have you crying regret for consuming.  Try this one which is full of flavor, a silky texture that leaves out the fat and calories (recipe here).

Tip #3:  Take your turkey out of the refrigerator at least an hour before you want to put it in the oven.  Bringing it to room temperature will result in more even cooking.  Cook it at 425 or even 450 for the whole time.  It will take half the amount of time and result in a turkey with crisp skin and juicy meat.  Make sure a thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the breast registers 165 degrees F.  Don’t forget to let the turkey rest for 30 minutes after it comes out of the oven, which is just enough time to make the gravy.

Tip #4:  Delegate!!  As far as I know the crew from Bon Appetit magazine aren’t filming and they won’t be there to help you prep.  With everyone’s busy schedules it makes life a whole lot easier if you delegate dishes to your guests.  They’ll be thankful they can help and it takes some pressure off of you.

This is the first year I’m hosting my own Thanksgiving.  So far it’s just family, perhaps an additional close friend or two will join us.  But I’m excited to experiment with both family favorites and some new and exciting ones.  My famous Pumpkin Bread is baked and in the freezer, including a Gluten Free version for a special friend.  The cranberry sauce is also finished and will keep in the refrigerator until the day.  This year I made it with red wine, chopped dates, orange zest and fresh cranberries.  Delish!

4 Pumpkin Breads with nuts, 4 without!

Last tip – keep it simple and enjoy the process!

And remember, JENuine Foods is here to help!  Order my Pumpkin Bread in either a regular or Gluten Free version or hire me to help with the planning and prepping!

Email:  jen@jenuinefoods.com

Complicated

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Relationships can be complicated.  Food shouldn’t be.  Food should nourish our bodies as well as our souls.  It does for me.

The food that I make at home, and the recipes that I teach my clients to make, is simple and flavorful.  Even if I’m trying to impress someone, my dishes are easy and uncomplicated.  When I read cookbooks, and I read them like other people read novels, I look for recipes that don’t have 20 ingredients.  Dishes don’t need all those elements to be complex and delicious.  You just need to know how to build the levels of flavors – and I can help you with that.

Season both sides of your chicken breast, for example, with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper.  Leave the skin on while it’s cooking, but take it off before eating.  Yes, the skin will add a little bit of fat, but it will add a lot more flavor.  That’s layer one.  When you brown the chicken in a pan, use a good olive oil, one that’s flavorful but not expensive.  Start with the skin side down and leave it alone to brown, then turn it over and brown the other side.  Take the breast out of the pan and if they are not cooked all the way through, pop it in the oven for about 10 minutes (depending upon the thickness).  Or, if you have a stainless steel pan with a stainless handle (and I sure hope you do!), put the pan with the chicken right into the oven to finish cooking.  Then, into the pan goes elements for either a sauce or toppings for your chicken, layer two.  Herbs and spices, garlic, an acid in either wine or vinegar form, more salt and pepper, and then butter for silky smoothness.  Or not.  Finally, when your chicken is cooked through and has rested to allow the juices to collect, your toppings of vegetables, and then the pan sauce has been spooned over everything, your dish has layers of flavor.  Each simple and lovely on its own, but when put together, creates harmony.

It’s not complicated, it just takes practice.

Perfection

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What a hopeless word, perfection.  It’s a word that induces pressure.  Pressure to be the perfect parent in order to raise perfect children, be the perfect spouse, friend.  Go to the perfect university and get perfect grades so you can graduate and get the perfect job.  Whose idea was this perfection, this utopian way of existing?

Perfectionism is part of my nature, I’m a Virgo and I love order and yes, perfection.  But I know, deep down, that it’s an ideal that doesn’t exist.  Life is hard enough without trying to live up to someone else’s ideals.  In fact, in his book, The Pursuit of Perfect, author and positive psychologist, Tal Ben-Shahar, offers us a different way of looking at things.  The differences between being a Perfectionist and being an “Optimalist”.  The Perfectionist is rigid, critical, and defensive.  The Optimalist is adaptable, forgiving, and open to suggestion.  The Perfectionist focuses on the “destination,” setting goals that are overly ambitious or unobtainable.  The Optimalist focuses on the journey and the destination.

As I prepare for the Jewish High Holidays, of course I want everything to be perfect.  I want to set the perfect table (even if the meal isn’t taking my place in my own house).  I want the food to be piping hot, delicious to taste and pleasing to the eyes.  I want everyone sitting around the table to be dressed in their holiday best, smiles on their beautiful faces and warmth in their hearts.  I want a Norman Rockwell painting of a happy family, close friends and picture worthy food.

Well, guess what?  THAT just ain’t happenin!  Working full time, shuffling kids around to their activities, and volunteer efforts makes this “perfect” setting completely unrealistic.  Instead, I’m going to go for the Optimalist setting:  my friend’s beautiful house will have a beautiful table set; a pot luck dinner to ease the burden of preparation from just one person; whatever kids are available in attendance and wearing whatever they can get into that’s clean.  We will come together to celebrate the holiday, in whatever way we can.  We will rejoice that we are together, healthy, happy and looking forward to a new year filled with joy, success, and happiness, however we define it.  An optimal setting, not a perfect one.

L’Shanah Tova to you and your family.

 

Below you will find some menu ideas that have worked for me over the years when I had guests for the holidays and I was busy catering.  A lot of these dishes can be made ahead of time or are easy, last minute, while the guests are gathering and starting on the salad or first course.

 

Baby Lamb Chops with Garlic and Rosemary

Braised Short Ribs

Roasted Spiced Salmon

Sea Bass in Saffron Tomato Sauce

Cornish Hens with Apples, Walnuts and Honey

Herb Roasted Chicken

Garlic Roasted Rosemary Potatoes

Couscous with Nuts and Fruit

Mashed Potatoes

Sweet Potato Wedges

Here’s a beautiful song to help celebrate that’s going viral:

https://m.youtube.com/watch?feature=youtu.be&v=sHlLYhYNbc0

Healing

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I have a friend who has not had an easy time of it this year, health wise.  She has had a long battle with a chronic illness.  One in which she has masterfully kept in control.  But this year, her body started fighting back.  She’s been in and out of the hospital, having multiple surgical procedures to try to give her some relief.  Organs starting shutting down, until the next procedure which the doctors hoped would help get her to a more stable place.  She has the mental fortitude of a steel door, but even she was getting worn down as her body took over.  Fear, exhaustion, frustration arose.

The good news is that she is with us, her body cooperating.  She puttered around the kitchen, setting her holiday table, grateful to have her family and a few close friends gathered around to celebrate the New Year.

We, of course, were grateful to have her with us.  Her sister and I divided up the cooking. I made the soup and main course, and she made the side dishes.  Each of us making or bringing a dessert.  It’s still difficult for my friend to eat real food, she works at it slowly, diligently, waiting for her body’s response.  The soup, a traditional Chicken Soup with Matzah Balls, seemed to go down well.

It’s a long running joke that Chicken Soup carries the nickname of Jewish penicillin.  But in this case, as I looked across the table at her, I willed the soup to have even deeper healing properties. I hoped my love, admiration, gratitude and respect for her were among the ingredients in the pot simmering on the stove.  My prayer: for her body’s health and her soul’s strength to be nourished through my soup.  As she took small, deliberate spoonful’s of the broth, I wished my soup to give her body the nurturing it needs to heal so that she can continue to do the things she loves.

That is why I cook.

Chicken Soup (for the soul AND body)

• 3-4 lbs. chicken bones or chicken thighs or both

• 2 medium onions, quartered

• 2-3 cloves garlic, lightly smashed

• 2-3 carrots, roughly chopped

• 2-3 celery stalks, roughly chopped

• 2 parsnips, roughly chopped

• 2 turnips, roughly chopped

• 2 bay leaves

• a few peppercorns

• kosher salt

• 2 tbsp. olive oil

• cold water

1. In a 12 quart stock pot, heat the olive oil and sauté the chicken bones or thighs that have been seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper, until lightly browned.  Remove them to a plate.

2. Add the vegetables to the pot and sauté until coated with the olive oil. Add the chicken back to the pot and cover with cold water.  Add the bay leaves, peppercorns and generous pinch of salt.

3. Bring to a boil, skim the “scum” that forms at the top of the water. Lower the heat to low and simmer for about 3 hours, or until the chicken meat has no flavor.

4. Put a second large pot in the sink. Put a fine mesh strainer lined with several layers of cheesecloth over the pot and pour the soup through.  At this point you have a beautiful broth to which you can add a fresh carrot and celery and the chicken meat, shredded.

5. Serve with Matzah Balls or noodles.

NOTES:

• I use the recipe for matzah balls that is on the back of the matzah meal box, adding seltzer in place of the water. This makes for lighter, fluffier matzah balls.  The trick is to make sure the batter sits in the fridge for at least 2 hours.

• Don’t peel the vegetables for the soup, just quarter them up and throw them in. The skins add flavor.

• If there’s enough time I will roast the chicken bones and vegetables in a big roasting pan at 400 degrees, before putting them in a pot with the cold water. This makes for a richer, more flavorful broth.

• Yes, you can put everything into a crock pot, set it on low for 6 or 8 hours and walk away. Ah, the beauty of a soup!

Luxury

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In my family growing up, milestones were met with celebratory meals.  My 18th birthday we ate at the Rainbow Room.  My mother’s 50th birthday dinner celebrated at Petrossian’s.  My father’s merger dinner at The Sea Grill.  My brother’s graduation dinner at Smith and Wollensky.  These meals provided a luxurious backdrop that helped to mark whatever was being celebrated.  And those meals are etched into my memory.

My parents just celebrated their 55th wedding anniversary.  As part of the festivities of a weekend long celebration, they took me and my brother and his wife to The Modern for dinner.  It’s their favorite restaurant, one they do not frequent because of the price tag.  But they do go because of the experience of having incredible food and hospitality served next to modern art.

We were greeted by a team of hosts who knew there was a celebration, but not quite sure what kind.  When I told them that it was a 55th wedding anniversary I watched him make a mental note.  We were seated at a horseshoe shaped table that had a view of the sculpture garden.  Our captain introduced herself and welcomed us warmly, wishing my parents a happy anniversary.  She asked if we wanted to see the wine list or speak with the sommelier. “Oh, yes,” my brother answered, if only to view the book itself which had hundreds of bottles of wine from every region of the globe.  Including a bottle for $7500 – talk about luxury!

The entire meal, beginning with the amuse bouche, was a feast for every sense.  Taking simple ingredients and elevating them to an ethereal level is what this restaurant is known for.  My sea bass, surrounded by sorrel and a fava bean and pea cassoulet, was simply prepared but with a complexity and depth of flavors, each one delicious on its own, but when put together formed a symphony.

I think it is important to indulge in these luxuries every so often.  This is how we learn from the masters and grow from the experiences.  My fish dish is not something I want to replicate because I certainly won’t do it justice, I want to close my eyes and conjure the flavors in my mind.  But don’t think I won’t be using sorrel (a delicate leafy plant, but not really an herb) in something sometime soon!

A dining experience such as this one, for me, is both a rare luxury and a treat. The pomp and formality of a restaurant like The Modern is something that is rarely seen these days, but they serve it up with a side of warmth and generosity. This was seen in the dessert they placed in front of my parents: a mini chocolate cupcake with a mini scoop of vanilla ice cream, with the words “Happy Anniversary” written in chocolate on the plate with a candle.  Elegant and adorable and so thoughtful.

The memories from The Modern, as well as my many other rich, dining experiences, serve to remind me just how much I love food.  How I appreciate the process that it took to create these dishes that I can still taste, even years later.  In my own kitchen, I don’t attempt to recreate these works of culinary luxury, I attempt to use the same techniques and ingredients that will hopefully create new and satisfying dishes, that are all my own.  I don’t need those luxurious meals all the time.

But I do love the luxury.

Sanctuary

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We all have our places of sanctuary.  Places that we hide in.  That comfort us.  That sustain us when we are feeling the pressures and weight of life upon us.  For some, it may be the mountains.  Hiking trails along the glorious mountains, hidden among the tall trees and thick brush.  For others, it may be sitting along the ocean, watching the waves roll in newness and hope, and rolling out pain and heartbreak.  And still for others it may be a Synagogue or Church, finding consolation among the familiar pews.

The kitchen is my sanctuary.  A place for me to create sustenance, to nourish myself and those I love.  I don’t have to be cooking a four course meal worthy of four stars from the New York Times.  I just have to be cooking something.  Today, I brought home my basket of produce from the CSA that I belong to, which I share with a friend.  As I was dividing up the Walla Walla onions, the huge lengths of scallions, the first sweet corn of the season, my mind was buzzing with possibilities for what to make with everything.  The red leaf lettuce I’ll save for my lunch salads, adding it to the carrots and cucumbers I have left from last week.   But, the Rainbow Swiss Chard – oh the possibilities!!  Should I simply sauté it with garlic and red pepper flakes and use it as a bed for the roasted salmon I made last night?  Or maybe I’ll mix it with some of the scallions and the yellow squash, all chopped up, in a frittata, and finished with some of the chopped parsley.  Or maybe the parsley along with the basil from my planter, I’ll make an herb and walnut pesto to drizzle on something. Walnuts, you ask?  Yeah, my pantry is not producing pine nuts at the moment, which are traditionally found in a pesto.  So, walnut herb pesto it is.  This will still be delicious with fresh mozzarella and tomatoes.  Mix the pesto with mayonnaise and you’ve got a sandwich spread.  Hmmmm, maybe that spread on some toast with the leftover roasted chicken I made the other night – it’s really too hot to cook tonight!

Did I ever tell you how much I love leftovers??

Herb Pesto
1 1/2 cup fresh Basil
1/2 cup fresh Italian Parsley
1/4 cup fresh Sage
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
1/2 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
2-3 garlic cloves
1/3 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste


Combine the herbs, cheese, pine nuts and garlic in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Blend until the herbs are coarsely mixed together.
With the food processor on, slowly add the oil to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a bowl and use as a garnish for grilled chicken or fish, or toss together with pasta.

Note: Combine with mayonnaise to use as a spread for sandwiches.

Makes about 1 cup

Seared

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Sear.  Sauté.  Pan Fry.  Broil.  What’s a cook to do when these terms are so confusing??

In their essence, they’re all a way of cooking a protein.  Searing a protein cooks the outside quickly, over a high heat.  You know when you visit your favorite steakhouse, and the outside of your Filet Mignon is dark brown, but the inside is pink, they have successfully seared the meat.  Proper seasoning helps the caramelization of the fat on the outside, while keeping the center cool.

What is the difference between searing and pan frying or even broiling, you ask?  First of all, searing requires a thin film of oil in the pan.  Pan frying or sautéing uses more oil and broiling requires use of the oven, which leaves you very little control of your cooking as well as cooking the whole piece of meat or chicken.  With searing, just the outside cooks, creating a crust and sealing in the juices.

Three tricks:

1. Take the meat (or chicken) out of the refrigerator a good half hour to an hour before you’re ready to cook.  Letting the meat come to room temperature before cooking will result in an evenly cooked, beautiful sear.


2. Get your pan really hot, almost smoking. Then add the oil.  I use Organic non-GMO Canola Oil because it has a high smoke point and no flavor.  The smoke point is the point at which the oil starts to break down.  I like to use a cast iron pan, or a heavy duty stainless steel sauté pan with a stainless steel handle.


3. Leave it in the pan and really let the crust form, then turn it over. At this point, the center will be rare, which is how I like it.  But, if you prefer your meat leaning more toward medium rare, place it on a sheet pan and put in the oven for a few minutes until it’s cooked through to your liking.

Serve up the steak with the pan juices or a demi-glace (that’s a whole other post!) and a beautiful green vegetable, maybe some Farro with mushrooms, and I’d say that’s dinner.  Let’s eat!

Thank you for enjoying my blog, the tips and tricks I post on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter (@jenuinefoods).  Introducing, my Cooking with Confidence programs!  I can teach you the skills you’ve been needing in order to save time in the kitchen.  And not just that – we can Cook HEALTHY with Confidence!  I have a 5 session program that will take you through a pantry makeover, supermarket sweep, cooking skills and lots of recipes.  This is perfect for those of you who want to make some changes, don’t really know where to start, and are overwhelmed by all the kitchen “tools” that we seem to collect.  Let’s get started today and by the time school starts, you’ll be able to be less stressed when you’re in the car from 3:00 to dinnertime!  Check out all the details under the “cooking programs” tab above.

I look forward to working with you!  If you know someone who could benefit from a little kitchen confidence, be sure to forward this blog to them!

The Great Debate: Ice Cream vs. Frozen Yogurt

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The Great Debate:  Ice Cream or Frozen Yogurt?

I love ice cream.  I always have.  This is not difficult to imagine, I’m sure. There are lots of foods, especially desserts, that I love.  During the summer, I crave a sweet, frozen, cooling treat. But alas, it is swimsuit season. You try to keep the calories at bay. Your exercise routine is second nature now, and you’ve actually been leading a really healthy lifestyle. Having some ice cream won’t hurt!  Will it?  Trying to find a healthy alternative, you stumble upon frozen yogurt. But is it really that MUCH more healthy than its counterpart?

So let’s talk:  Which is the better choice?

The answer is not so simple.  Cup for cup, there is not much difference in calorie or fat content, as shown in the table below:

ICE CREAMFROZEN YOGURT
CALORIES275221
TOTAL FAT74
SATURATED FAT52.5

The option that a lot of people go for is to choose the low fat or fat free version of ice cream or frozen yogurt.  This, however, further complicates matters.

The low fat or fat free version of both ice cream and frozen yogurt contain more sugar and more added chemicals, even though they both may provide the benefits of protein.  And since the feeling that people have is that they’re saving fat and calories, they’ll often opt for a larger portion.  Enter one of those fun self-serve frozen yogurt stores, and the container will hold between 16 and 24 ounces.  The average calorie count is about 100 calories per 1/2 cup, which is 4 ounces.  If you fill the container to the top, you could potentially be eating more than 500 calories, before adding any of the myriad toppings they have laid out before you, all chopped up and pretty, begging you to indulge. Yikes!

Speaking of benefits – are there any to frozen yogurt?  Sure!  Calcium, protein, iron, vitamin A, B complex vitamins, potassium.  And of course those probiotics, right?  Wrong!  The freezing process kills the probiotic benefits.  Sorry, kids!

Here’s what I say, don’t deprive!  Deprivation only leads to indulgence somewhere else.  You have one life to live, it’s 90 degrees out, go have your ice cream.

But before you do, consider this first:  How much are you going to have?  How often during those brutal days of summer are you going to have it?  What are you going to put on top?  What other dairy products are you having during the day and week?

My personal preference is to eat food.  REAL FOOD.  Food whose ingredients I recognize and can pronounce, if I haven’t made it myself.  If you read the labels, and I REALLY hope you do. If there is even one ingredient that sounds like it was made in a laboratory, it probably was.  Haagen Dazs brand of classic chocolate ice cream (a favorite!) has 5 ingredients:  cream, skim milk, sugar, cocoa, egg yolks.  That’s all.  That to me says REAL FOOD.

Here’s my suggestion so that your healthy lifestyle doesn’t get all bent out of shape and you start to feel guilty about indulging:  have real, homemade ice cream; have a 1/2 cup or 1 scoop, once in a while (like once a week); and put some beautiful strawberries or almonds on top, skipping the hot fudge or the chopped snickers bars.  And you know what else?  Enjoy it!  Eat it mindfully.  Slowly.  Share it with family and friends (ok, maybe not!!), at least share in the moments together while taking pleasure in the ice cream.  That’s a healthy life!

So, who wants to meet me at Inspiration Wharf in Port Washington for some homemade ice cream?? I’ll be having a scoop of the chocolate in honor of National Ice Cream Day!

Sweet Treats on the Wharf
405 Main Street
Port Washington, NY  11050
516-708-1706

Food With Friends

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Last night I met some friends for dinner at a our favorite local Thai restaurant. One couple brought their 5 week old son with them, quite a treat for all of us! This is a restaurant that is familiar to all of us. A place that has become an extension of not only our own homes, but the owner’s as well.

George, the chef, and his family own and operate this restaurant, a tiny, cozy, place with seating for maybe 50 people. The sisters take turns acting as hostess, server, bartender, busboy, delivery person, sous chef, cashier, bookkeeper and designer. Mom and Dad are usually at their own back table overseeing everything, but last night they weren’t present. But the love was.

George and Pam were gathered around us, catching up with news on the birth of the baby and how the new mom and dad were feeling. Pam reassuring that everything Amanda was feeling, from her insecurity to elation, was perfectly normal, and commenting on how great, albeit tired, Patrick looked holding this tiny bundle. His large, sturdy hands enveloping his son in strength and awe and sleep deprivation.

The conversation is always lively and last night was no different. But, quite frankly, I was hungry and needed to eat. We have all been to the restaurant so many times that we don’t need to look at the menu, which is filled with authentic Thai offerings. It’s just a matter of ordering what we feel like eating. Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce, Vegetable Dumplings, George’s famous Chicken Wings, and my personal favorite, his Summer Rolls with Peanut Sauce, which is different from the peanut sauce for the satay. It’s as addictive as crack, the summer rolls being the vehicle to consume the sauce. These appetizers were followed by Pad Thai, Vegetable Fried Rice, Veggie Duck, Green Curry with Eggplant and Chicken.

As we sat and talked the conversation moved over every subject, from comedienne Ali Wong’s latest, to the construction on Matthew and Tali’s bathroom, to baby Ari’s sleep habits to the latest with my own almost grown children. I call this group, “the kids”, because I am between 15 and 20 years older than everyone else. Regardless of what stage of life we’re in, what bonds us together, is food.

George’s Pad Thai is so good with it’s al dente rice noodles, creamy, complex peanut sauce with just the right amount of spice, crunchy bean sprouts and a sprinkling of chopped peanuts. We pressed him last night for the secret ingredient, but he wouldn’t budge. Patrick asked him if he used a certain sauce as the base for his Thai Chili Sauce, the dip that accompanies the chicken wings. This led into a discussion about Thai Chilis, the hottest of the chilis, with George telling us about a customer who grows Thai chilis and who offered them to George, who uses them, and about another customer who recently ordered a dish “Thai spicy,” meaning as hot as George can make it. Apparently, too hot for her because the dish came back barely eaten. He told us that he tastes every dish before it goes out to the customers, and that one was even too hot for him. I don’t like my food so spicy that I can’t taste the other components, but a little heat doesn’t bother me. Tali, on the other hand, can’t handle spice at all, which is interesting considering her Moroccan/Israeli heritage. When I gave her some of the Green Curry to taste, which I ordered mild, it was too spicy for her, her beautiful eyes widened and she reached for the rice to cool her tongue. Laughingly chiding George for calling the dish mild.

George’s recipes are all kept close to the breast, secret ingredients and techniques passed down from his grandmother directly to him. The peanut sauces, the chicken wing coating, the green curry. Thai recipes are traditionally complex, using many different ingredients so that each of the areas of the tongue are in balance: the sweet, the salt, the bitter and the sour. He won’t tell anyone what’s in anything, but if you have an allergy he’ll be happy to tell you whether the ingredient is in that dish, or not. He has a large gluten free menu and plenty of vegetarian options, and will happily substitute to please his customers, but he won’t give you the recipe.

We sat for a long time last night, dishes emptying, more food being brought out, glasses being refilled, lively conversations evolving and flowing. Baby Ari was being passed around from doting aunt to doting uncle, each of us drinking in the purity of his love and the softness of his skin. Some of us even wanting to take a bite of his thighs.

Whether I am sitting around a table with people I am connected to by blood, or people I am connected to through friendship, the one thing that seems to hold me to them, is food. My own home cooked, or ordered from a chef that might as well be my brother, it’s the food that brings us together. Take a bite and savor each moment, each mouthful. These are the morsels of life.
Port Thai Place
24 Main Street
Port Washington, NY 11050
516-883-3940
www.portthaiplace.com

Blanch

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“Blanching” means to turn pale when someone tells you something you don’t want  to hear. For example, “she blanched when her friend told her the truth of how she saw her life - unfulfilled and empty.” It’s a shock to the system and people flinch in response. And so it is with vegetables. As a cooking term, blanching means to shock the food into boiling water for just a minute or two, then plunge it into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. What this does is cooks your vegetables until they are al dente, or still crunchy, while still maintaining the essential nutrients. It also allows the food to become bright green and beautiful and brings out their pure deliciousness.

Raw vegetables are essential for getting fiber and nutrients into the body, but for some it can be taxing on the digestive system. Blanching is a nice compromise. Some of the vegetables that I like to blanch are: broccoli, cauliflower, edamame, sugar snap peas (although I also love these raw), corn, kale, collard greens, escarole and turnip greens. Some of my favorite vegetables to keep raw are carrots, beets, fennel and radishes, just to name a few. Below is a step by step plan to blanch your vegetables:

1. Bring a pot of water to a boil, making sure the pot is large enough to fit whatever vegetable you are cooking without over crowding.


2. Fill a large bowl with ice water, also large enough to hold the vegetables without crowding. Place a colander in the sink.


3. Place the vegetables into the pot of boiling water and cook for about 2-3 minutes. Broccoli and sugar snap peas will take longer than edamame. The trick is to watch the vegetable and pull it out as soon as it turns bright green. My favorite tool for this is called a spider (see below), it’s a stainless mesh basket with a wooden handle. You can use it in boiling water or hot oil - an essential tool.


4. Pull out the vegetables and immediately plunge them into the ice water bath. If you have to do this in batches, it’s fine, but don’t leave the veg in the ice water for more than a minute. Remove them to the colander in the sink to drain.

Use your perfectly cooked vegetables in salads, as a side dish with a sprinkle of sea salt, or pick on them right out of the colander - no dip needed!! If you want to serve your vegetables hot as a side dish, just bring the water to a boil, plunge them in for 1-2 minutes and serve immediately. Enjoy!

Bonus Tip: If you happen to be making a vegetable platter as an appetizer, work from the lightest colored vegetable to the darkest. For example, start with cauliflower, moving to carrots to asparagus to broccoli. This process ensures your cauliflower is white and not tinted green by the other vegetables. Happy Cooking!

In JENUINE health,

Jenny

Tricky

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That was a prompt from the dailypost.com blogging prompt. Combine that with writing about what I know and we have: tricky food.

I know about food. I eat, dream, plan, cook, shop and live food everyday. Sometimes it’s tricky to do that because if I really ate what I wanted to eat all the time, I would weigh 800 lbs. So while I spend my days planning what I’m going to eat very carefully, I also indulge my tastebuds very carefully. If something doesn’t look like it’s worth the calories, or if I feel like I can make it better by myself, I won’t eat it. For example, brownies. I love brownies. Who doesn’t. I love them fudgey and rich, with nuts or without, with chocolate chips or without, warm with ice cream, or straight from the fridge. But I am extremely picky about the brownies that I eat. If they look like they’ve been sitting in the case of a bakery for a few days - pass. If you look really close at them and they look dry and crumbly - pass. Mine are better. Mine are worth every calorie inside every dark chocolate, rich, buttery, alcohol spiked square. Yep - alcohol spiked. I won’t tell you which one.

When I bake them, I bake up a big batch for a special occasion, or for a customer, because yeah, they’re really that good. The tricky part is not eating the whole batch at once.

Cooking can also be tricky. Searing? Sautéing? Blanching? Deciphering these terms while you’re standing at the stove with a counter full of ingredients and a recipe without an explanation in front you, can be very tricky. You spent your hard earned dollars on beautiful, organic (I hope) ingredients. It would be a crying shame if the meal didn’t turn out well because you blanched instead of sautéed. That’s where I come in - I’ll teach you how to do it. I’ve been cooking professionally for almost 20 years (where did the time go???), but I’m not a culinary school graduate. I taught myself to cook from Julia Child (before Julie Powell did it, I might add!) and Jacques Pepin and from my mother who is quite an accomplished, adventurous cook. She was really the one who showed me how to fold egg whites into chocolate for Julia’s Chocolate Mousse. And I would love to show you how to do it, among other useful kitchen techniques.

The tricky part, is asking me.

My First Story

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My first few days in the kitchen of the first caterer I worked for we were doing prep work for a 30th anniversary party.  Seemed innocuous at first, except that the guest count was at 50 people.  I had never cooked for that large a crowd, thankfully the Executive Chef had!  Since I had no experience I called myself the “kitchen slave” and proceeded to ask for whatever jobs they needed done.

Peel 25 pounds of potatoes?  Sure, I’m on it!  I picked up my trusty peeler, wheeled over the garbage can, propped the bag of potatoes on my work space, got the largest bowl I could find and filled it with water, and set out on my task.  After about 3 or 4 potatoes, my boss stopped me and asked me this question:  “What happens when you drop the potato into the garbage can?  Will you fish it out and wash it off?”  I looked up at her, looked down into the garbage can and saw all the really icky stuff in their, then looked back at her with the question, “how would you like me to do it?”

“Peel them directly onto your board, then throw the peelings away.  You’ll be less likely to loose a potato that way.”

When you’re only peeling 4 or 5 potatoes at a time, fishing one out of the garbage at home is really not a big deal.  When you’re peeling 25 pounds, it’s a very big deal.

TIP:  Hold the potatoes, or carrots, or cucumbers or apples, or whatever needs to be peeled over your cutting board and then throw the peelings away.  Keeping your peeled potatoes in water, and your peeled apples in a combination of water and lemon will keep everything from turning brown.