Tuesday, March 30, 2010
There is something about traveling the open road that can open your mind to all the possibilities outside the cast iron skillet. My road trips or culinary escapades have gone from cross country vagabond; desperado-camper; hot springs hopper; dessert moon dancer; macrobiotic burning man; cars without lights at night in Cairo; Winnebago- commercial chef in the Utah cliffs to the more current- motoring around two fabulous little whipper snappers to and from school, ballet; grandparents’; Magnolia Springs, and “ How much further?” and “Please, don’t open the door while we are driving”, “Almost there”, and “I’m going to turn this car around.”
As a traveling chef I find much inspiration in the people I meet along the way. I’m still cooking fancy California cuisine with a twisted Texas/Louisiana flare that always lights up a plate and a palate. However, what most excites me, is what other folks are cooking; eating; hunting, etc.
My last gig took us to the end of the road somewhere in Texas close to the Louisiana border by way of the Sabine River.
I was lucky enough to have two of my closest associates from the,“Road", join me and help me cook up some fine fare for about 15 people. We stayed busy morning to midnight cooking and serving. We settled into our bunk house porch after midnight and unwound under the wide Texas night sky by rehashing tales from the long day. Food and the creation of food brought us together and provided a sense of common ground and safety in knowing that we had worked hard for food.
Many songs were sung and tales were told but the best one was, “Jack Rabbit Stew".
J.R. met his demise on a dark Taos road by an old faithful VW Van. The driver- with his Indian spirit, took the road bumped J.R. on home to a pot and made a hearty stew that tasted better on day three.
In honor of the road; I salute the weary travelers stricken with high voltage wander lust and lonesome cowgirl blues. Happy trails and happy meals!
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Jack’s Pak-It is my saving grace on a daily basis. As a private chef I find it very important to be able to forge and sustain a valuable relationship with a butcher and grocer. For five year’s I have been working with the Blanda’s at Jack’s.
Jack’sPak-It it is like a neighborhood pub where everybody knows your name. Instead of the bartender knowing your signature drink the Butcher knows your exact cut of meat.
I love to watch John french an entire rack of lamb into perfect little lollipops or Louis take an entire rack of ribeyes and cut into perfect two inch thick goodness.
On a sunny gorgeous day I like to ride my bike to Jack’s. (It’s about a mile from my house) I like to fantasize about being in the old world where everything is slower and more simple. I peruse the market for inspiration-usually my sense of smell gets the best of me and I make way for the meat counter. I may get a whole fresh young chicken-of course hormone & antibiotic free, a freshly baked Le Brea Bakery baguette, a simple bottle of Red-usually a Malbec, something sweet that Cathy just pulled out of the oven and the local newspaper. I love to see how I can make all of this fit in my over the shoulder pack!
I may pay a bit more at Jack’s than I would at the chain grocery stores but the price is well worth supporting our local small business owners. Our family is the most important part of our daily routines and with out these small family owned shops, what will our children gain from corporate run; chemically-laden; neon lit isles of high fructose corn syrup and shelved customer service.
Hopefully, when my children are adults and come home after college or the circus they will still be able to go to our beloved local Butcher- Jack’s Pak-It and there they will have a sense of familiarity that reminds them of days when life was much simpler and sometimes all you need is a cup of joe, a quick chat over bone-in ribeye and a sincere smile and hand shake.
Jack's Pak-It 409.892.6345 4505 CalderBeaumont, TX 77706
"The Blandas are Sicilians with roots in the cities of Corleone and Bisacquino near the capital city of Sicily, Palermo. In the early 1900's, the Blanda's ancestors began migrating from Sicily, Italy to the United States. Much of the family ended up in Southeast Texas and in particular Orange, TX. Most of the Blanda family remains in the Southeast Texas area.
The Blanda family’s tradition of the grocery business started in 1917 when Grandma Blanda opened the first grocery store in her home in Orange, TX. The Blandas are well known for their Italian culture. It shows in many of the foods they offer as well as how customers are embraced and welcomed as extended family. The Blandas also appreciate the way the customers in Beaumont and surrounding areas have taken them in as extended family as well.
In the family tradition, each day when the doors open for business, an owner is on site to welcome the customer. On any morning the "coffee crew" gathers to share stories and good humor before heading off to work."
“A Beaumont Tradition in Service” is the store’s motto and the Jack's Pak-It staff enjoys meeting their customers and providing personal service. Owner John Blanda says, "We want every customer to feel welcome and leave our store completely satisfied."
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Pears and Iberico Ham w/ Chimichirrri Sauce
Fresh Figs w/ Mozzarella, Oregano & Olive Oil
Herbed Caponata & Fire Grilled Crostinis
Argentina Style Fire- Roasted Pork Loin w/ Rescoldo Bell Peppers & Onions w/ Honey Gremolata
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Salmon Rilletes on Potato Crisps
Monday, February 15, 2010
My adoration for vintage china and linens has greatly contributed to my over stocked and unorganized cabinets. Tucked away on tiny shelves are pictures of me in my twenties adorned in chef ware-posing with Hollywood icons. Cookbooks line the shelves with random recipes scribbled on paper and shoved amuck. I am lucky when my children are in my kitchen mixing up a surprise dish that may or may not taste good but it forever leaves a lasting impression of little creative minds at work. My kitchen is a living symbiosis- a real one of a kind place to transform your thoughts and worries into a pot of healing soup, magical thought provoking meats that have been brined in not only salty water but loving tender thoughts of goodness and healthy well-being. My kitchen is a soul-kitchen full of generations of wisdom and love. The love that I put into my food is reminiscent of the karma that I hope to receive from the universe for being a generous, loving and thoughtful cook. The Karma Kitchen’s number one rule is: “Start with love and end with love”.
What’s your favorite cooking vessel or utensil?
Do you have anything from your grandparent’s kitchen? If so what?
What’s your favorite cookbook?
What’s your favorite meal to prepare in your kitchen?
Friday, February 12, 2010
Let Chef Monica take care of everything.
Dinner is available: Feb.13, Saturday and Sunday Feb.14,-Valentine’s Day
Please Call Chef Monica 892-3442
Romantic Dinner for Two
HORS D’ OEUVRES
Hand Selected Market Cheeses, Artisan Bread, European Almonds,
Scratch Strawberry & Fig Jam
Panko Crusted Gulf Crab cakes w/ Curry Remoulade
Delicate Mache Greens, Honey Chevre, Port Poached Cherries,
Candied Pecans & Granny Smith Apple
Tossed with a Champagne Vinaigrette
Fire Roasted Filet of Beef with a Garlicky Gremolata, Tender Sweet Asparagus
w/ Red Bell Pepper Coulis & Rosemary
& Extra Virgin Olive Oil Smashed Potatoes
Dark Chocolate Cheesecake
with Fresh Raspberries
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
This afternoon I found myself braiding beef rather than braiding my daughter's hair.
It was a most unfamiliar sense and one that I procured rather quickly.
The fire was popping, vegetables were roasting, sauce was simmering and my family could hardly wait for the feast before them.
Braiding Beef Take One:
First: Partly butterfly a whole beef tender and then cut it into three pieces.
Second: Massage each piece of beef tender with extra virgin olive oil and season each piece with kosher salt &black pepper.
Tip: It is very useful to leave the beef tender pieces out at room temperature for at least 20 minutes before braiding. This ensures more elasticity.
Third: Quickly mix up a quick garlicky-lemon-honey gremolata chalked full of parsley and oregano. (or whatever fresh herbs you may have)
Fourth: Place all pieces bunched together and tie smaller end with twine. Begin to braid and finish end with twine.
Fifth: Generously rub the gremolata mixture all over, around, inside and outside of the braided tenderloin.
Last but not least: Fire up your grill to at least 500 degrees and take care to not unloosen braid; place on grill and sear both sides. The outcome should be a sexy caramelized braided piece of heaven- speckled with herbs and roasted garlic.
Finish: Roast off the steak in a 375 degree oven to desired temperature.......
Rare to Medium Rare 130-145 degrees with a meat thermometer.
Monday, February 8, 2010
Winter is the time of promise because there is so little to do- or because you can now and then permit yourself the luxury of thinking so.
The best part of putting food in a pot and over a fire is the intimate ritual of tasting, watching, smelling and stirring. Before you know it you’re mixing up a little bit of your soul in each dish that you create whether by recipe or from scratch. This is not an enigma this is the invent of your own distinctive “taste”. When it comes to cooking you have carte blanche in your kitchen and full creative power to create your own food legacy.
I recognize someone’s “taste” like I recognize the smell of their home. It’s a sensual thing, this cooking thing. To acquire the sensibility to experience others tastes one must also experience the culinary smells that creep around every corner; the smell of bacon frying in the morning, the familiar smell of roasted garlic mixed with sweet tomato sauce slowly simmering on the back of the stove or maybe the smell of coffee mixed with a wood burning stove. All of these smells invoke such a powerful part of my memory; that part of the memory that heedlessly embraces February, the end of winter and the anticipation for new life in the spring.
What does February evoke for you?
What will you create today?
What’s the first thing you smell in your kitchen this morning?
What is your first taste of the day?
What are the first sounds you hear today?
Thursday, February 4, 2010
As the educated public has shied away from foods containing HFCS, the industry has brought a new sweetener on the scene, one used especially in foods aimed at the health-conscious consumer: agave “nectar.” Agave nectar is advertised as a “diabetic friendly,” raw, and “100% natural sweetener.” Yet it is none of these.
Agave nectar is found on the shelves of health food stores primarily under the labels, “Agave Nectar 100% Natural Sweetener,” and “Organic Raw Blue Agave Nectar.” In addition, it can be found in foods labeled as organic or raw, including ketchup, ice cream, chocolate, and health food bars.
The starchy agave root bulb.
The implication of its name, along with the pictures and descriptions on the product labels, creates the impression that agave is an unrefined sweetener that has been used for thousands of years by native people in central Mexico. “For thousands of years natives to central Mexico used different species of agave plants for medicine, as well as for building shelter.” Thus reads the copy on an agave package. And it is true that natives would also allow the sweet sap or liquid of one species of agave to ferment naturally, which created a mildly alcoholic beverage with a very pungent flavor known as pulque. They also made a traditional sweetener from the agave sap or juice called miel de agave by simply boiling it for several hours. But, as one agave seller explains, the agave nectar purchased in stores is neither of these traditional foods: “Agave nectar is a newly created sweetener, having been developed during the 1990’s.”33
The Big Dirty Secret About Agave
In spite of manufacturers’ claims, agave “nectar” is not made from the sap of the yucca or agave plant but from the starch of the giant pineapple-like, root bulb. The principal constituent of the agave root is starch, similar to the starch in corn or rice, and a complex carbohydrate called inulin, which is made up of chains of fructose molecules.Technically a highly indigestible fiber, inulin, which does not taste sweet, comprises about half of the carbohydrate content of agave.34
The process by which agave glucose and inulin are converted into “nectar” is similar to the process by which corn starch is converted into HFCS.35 The agave starch is subject to an enzymatic and chemical process that converts the starch into a fructose-rich syrup—anywhere from 70 percent fructose and higher according to the agave nectar chemical profiles posted on agave nectar websites. 36 (One agave manufacturer claims that his product is made with “natural” enzymes.) That’s right, the refined fructose in agave nectar is much more concentrated than the fructose in HFCS. For comparison, the high fructose corn syrup used in sodas is 55 percent refined fructose. (A natural agave product does exist in Mexico, a molasses type of syrup from concentrated plant nectar, but availability is limited and it is expensive to produce.)
According to Bianchi, agave “nectar” and HFCS “are indeed made the same way, using a highly chemical process with genetically modified enzymes. They are also using caustic acids, clarifiers, filtration chemicals and so forth in the conversion of agave starches.” The result is a high level of highly refined fructose in the remaining syrup, along with some remaining inulin.
In a confidential FDA letter, Dr. Martin Stutsman of the Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Labeling Enforcement, explains the FDA’s food labeling laws related to agave nectar: “Corn syrup treated with enzymes to enhance the fructose levels is to be labeled ‘High Fructose Corn Syrup.’” According to Mr. Stutsman, agave requires the label “hydrolyzed inulin syrup.”37 Even though, like corn, agave is a starch and fiber food processed with enzymes, it does not require the label “High Fructose Agave Syrup.” Agave “nectar” is a misnomer; at the very least, it should be labeled “agave syrup.”
Agave syrup comes in two colors: clear or light, and amber. What is this difference? Mr. Bianchi explains: “Due to poor quality control in the agave processing plants in Mexico, sometimes the fructose gets burned after being heated above 140 degrees Fahrenheit, thus creating a darker, or amber color.” However, the labels create the impression of an artisan product—like light or amber beer. As consumers are learning about problems with agave syrup, the label “chicory syrup” is beginning to appear as a non-conforming word for the product. Consumer beware!
The Saponin Problem
Yucca species are known to contain large quantities of saponins. The industry describes saponins in agave syrup as beneficial: “Agave’s rich density of saponins increases hydration as the soapy, surfactant nature of saponins change the wetting angle of water it contacts. This eases and accelerates cellular water uptake, especially when used with a high-quality salt.”38
However, the truth is that the saponins found in many varieties of agave plants are toxic steroid derivatives, capable of disrupting red blood cells and producing diarrhea and vomiting,39 to be avoided during pregnancy or breastfeeding because they might cause or contribute to miscarriage by stimulating blood flow to the uterus.40 At the very least, agave products should carry a warning label indicating that the product may cause a miscarriage.
Just Say No to Agave
Since the FDA makes no effort to enforce food-labeling laws, consumers cannot be certain that what they are eating is what the label says it is. New sweeteners like agave syrup were introduced into the market to make a profit, not to make consumers healthy. Clever marketing has led mane consumers to believe that the high level of fructose in agave syrup makes it a safe and a natural sweetener. Agave syrup labels do not conform to FDA labeling requirements, thus deepening the false illusion of an unprocessed product. As we have demonstrated here, if a sweetener contains manufactured fructose, it is neither safe, nor natural, especially at levels up to 70 percent.
Agave syrup is a manmade sweetener which has been through a complicated chemical refining process of enzymatic digestion that converts the starch and fiber into the unbound, manmade chemical fructose. While high fructose agave syrup won’t spike your blood glucose levels, the fructose in it may cause mineral depletion, liver inflammation, hardening of the arteries, insulin resistance leading to diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and obesity.
If you want something sweet, eat a piece of fruit, not a candy bar labeled as a “health food.” If you want to create something sweet, use sweeteners that are known to be safer. For uncooked dishes, unheated raw honey or dates work well. For cooked dishes or sweet drinks, a good organic maple syrup, or even freshly juiced apple juice or orange juice can provide delicious and relatively safe sweetness; dehydrated cane sugar juice or maple sugar may be used in moderation in cookies and desserts that contain nutritious ingredients and good fats such as butter, egg yolks and nuts.
However, to be healthy, we cannot eat sugar all day, no matter how natural the form. One should limit total sweetener consumption to less than five percent of daily calories. For a diet of 2500 calories per day, that’s less than three tablespoons of honey, maple syrup or dehydrated cane sugar juice, or several pieces of fruit. And many people do best by avoiding sweeteners completely.
The lack of standards in the health food world comes as depressing news; but let this news encourage you to consume more pure and unrefined foods and sweetener sources. Good health depends on wise food choices, and wise food choices depend on constant vigilance.
Monday, February 1, 2010
Keens Steakhouse-- 72 West 36 Street—10 ounces of perfectly fire roasted mouthwatering filet of beef. To accompany my fleshy mound of goodness I feasted on frits and a sauce boat full of velvety smooth béarnaise sauce. I ended the meal with a classic crème brulee and a glass of port.
I came to know of Keens via my husband, John. The late Judge Cobb, John and Tom Cobb were guided to Keens by Mr. Tanner Hunt in 1997. I imagine the Cobb men sipping scotch and smoking cigarettes at the bar; casually taking in the day and enjoying one another’s company.
Keens Steakhouse owns the largest collection of churchwarden pipes in the world. The tradition of checking one’s pipe at the inn had its origins in 17th century Merry Old England where travelers kept their clay at their favorite inn – the thin stemmed pipe being too fragile to be carried in purse or saddlebag. Pipe smoking was known since Elizabethan times to be beneficial for dissipating “evil homourse of the brain.” Keens’ pipe tradition began in the early 20th century.
The membership roster of the Pipe Club contained over ninety thousand names, including those of Teddy Roosevelt, Babe Ruth, Will Rogers, Billy Rose, Grace Moore, Albert Einstein, George M. Cohan, J.P. Morgan, Stanford White, John Barrymore, David Belasco, Adlai Stevenson, General Douglas MacArthur and “Buffalo Bill” Cody.
Prior to 1885, Keens was a part of the Lambs Club, a famous theatre and literary group founded in London. Its manager was Albert Keen. In 1885 Keens Chophouse opened independently under the ownership of Albert Keen, by then a noted figure in the Herald Square Theatre District. Keens soon became the lively and accepted rendezvous of the famous. Actors in full stage make-up hurried through the rear door to “fortify” themselves between acts at the neighboring Garrick Theatre. By the time Keens celebrated its 20th anniversary; you could glance into the Pipe Room and see the jovial congregations of producers, playwrights, publishers and newspaper men who frequented Keens.In 1905 Lillie Langtry, actress and paramour of King Edward of England, took Keens to court for having denied her access to its gentlemen-only premises. She won her case, swept into Keens in her feathered boa and proceeded to order one of our famous mutton chops.
Today, Keens is the only survivor of the Herald Square Theatre District. In an age which tears down so much of the past it is comforting to find one landmark which survives . . .