Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A story

Once a girl walked by a coffee shop. Although Intimidated by the hipsters within, she pulled opened the doors and ordered a Brown Sugar & Sea Salt latte. Girl watched the hipsters prepare her drink as if it were a scientific experiment, but when she took a sip it tasted more like a piece of art. She sighed....

And the next day she craved that final heartwarming sip which she had cherished the day before.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Chela's taqueria

Hola Ann Arbor!
I recently tried Chela's taqueria on South Maple at Liberty. 
(read this Ann Arbor.com article for more information)
It was a wonderfully authentic satisfying meal.  Our favorite was the potato and chile taco. 
 So full of flavor!  But watch out -- the chorizo was so spicy I could barely eat it-- 
and I'm not a whimp.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

the James Beard Project :: Oysters

When Chef Alex and I were initially reading the Essential JAMES BEARD Cookbook, it was hard for us to choose only one recipe to bring to you, so we agreed to do episodes of recipes.  Last time, Alex prepared Coq au Vin, which by its design was very complex.

This time around we knew that we wanted to work with oysters, but where to start and where to end?  It is easy when dealing with some ingredients to let your mind wander, and suddenly one dish, as simple as a plate of freshly shucked oysters, turns into five or even six dishes.   

For many people, oysters are viewed as untouchable in the home kitchen, but James Beard and Chef Alex Young would disagree.  Often you can find oysters on restaurant menus, but after this instruction you should be encouraged to experiment at home.  Branch out: get a sack of oysters from your seafood market and start playing.

Oysters in their raw state are a succulent luxurious treat.   Raw oysters glistening with the briny sea make quite a sensual impression. M.K.Fisher referred to them as "a lusty bit of nourishment", and I'd have to agree with this perfect description.  You can enjoy them raw and experience the sea that they lived in.  Because the oyster is an animal that lives to pump and filter sea water through its body, you can really get a taste of the water that the animal lived in, which can be good or bad. If you want to eat raw oysters, you should buy them in the shell and shuck them yourself.  It is not advised to eat raw pre-shucked oysters sold in bulk.

We wanted to take these beauties and transform them to a different, higher state.  Fried oysters caught Chef Alex's eye.  But simply serving a plate full of fried oysters was not enough.  He wanted to show us several different applications.  

The Essential James Beard cookbook calls for breading oysters in crumbled oyster crackers, following an egg wash. We also fried a batch in cornmeal.  

For the best possible flavor we fried in Arbequina olive oil from California Olive Ranch.  As Chef Alex explains in the video at the end of the post, he chose California Olive Ranch this year to source the needs for Zingerman's Roadhouse, totaling 1980 gallons.  It is a full flavored oil, delicately balanced, and strong enough to hold up to the rigors of being fried in, but also lovely in its raw state.

Chef Alex cleaned out the shells for a natural presentation of fried oysters swimming in tartar sauce. 

As a side note, Chef Alex’s tartar sauce is a unique blend based on what you would expect to be in a standard tartar, but amped up. He hand chops cornichons instead of using a prepared relish and also adds diced fresh tomato.

To make Roadhouse Tartar Sauce, combine the following ingredients:
2 cups mayonnaise
⅛ cup dijon mustard
⅛ cup cornichons
¼ red onion, small diced
⅛ lemon juice
2 tbsp cider vinegar
½ cup plum tomatoes, small diced
⅛ cup sugar
¼ cup parsely, chopped
1 tsp salt
1tsp ground black pepper

A standard po' boy sandwich represents the spirit of New Orleans. It can contain any number of fillings, but most traditionally is known to be filled with fried seafood.  Chef Alex created this po' boy by slicing a Zingerman's bakehouse baguette, spread with his tartar sauce, fried oysters, topped with shredded romaine and sliced tomato.  You can also add cheddar and bacon for more dimensions.

James Beard calls this an “Oyster Loaf". 

If you're a huge po' boy fan, consider attending the New Orleans Po-Boy Preservation Festival.  You just missed it last weekend, but it's an annual festival, so you can put it on your calendar for next year. 

New Orleans legend says that men who had spent the evening in the French Quarter and were late to come home would bring this sandwich to their impatient wives in order to make peace. Another variation of the po’ boy, the peacemaker is made with a softer loaf, hollowed out from the inside, while the exterior remains intact.  Plump fried oysters are stuffed into the cavity, which makes the sandwich more portable.

This dish is English in origin and traditionally is an oyster wrapped in bacon and grilled.  Chef Alex’s version turns it into a tasty two bite appetizer.  It begins with crostini made from Zingerman’s bakehouse baguette, a piece of fried Nueske's bacon, topped with an oyster fried in cornmeal.

To turn the Peacemaker into an appetizer similar to Chef Alex's Angels on Horseback, vertically slice the peacemaker sandwich into one inch pieces and top with jullienned bacon.  

Chef Alex describes this dish as the ultimate indulgence.  It is the epitome of Californian cuisine and the historic gold rush era. 

The legend of Hangtown Fry
A successful miner struck gold during the goldrush in Placerville CA, known casually as Hangtown because of the way that criminals were dealt with.  The miner entered a downtown restaurant and requested a meal that combined the most expensive ingredients in the house: eggs, bacon, and oysters. The cook combined the ingredients for this one guest, not knowing that he created what some call the state dish of California.

A favorite at Zingermans’ Roadhouse, Alex knows how to whip it up.   After watching him do this, I saw that it would be no problem to successfully prepare this at home.

Chef Alex not only used the three most indulgent ingredients called for by the miner, but he also began the process with the golden elixir, extra virgin olive oil from California Olive Ranch.

Chef Alex dipped the oysters in an egg wash, then crumbled oyster crackers, then fried them in a saute pan.  When the oysters were almost completely cooked, he added chopped pre-cooked bacon to the pan and 4 beaten eggs, then stirred gently while the eggs cooked.  

Serve this with toast in a pie pan, remiscient of the pan that the gold miner might have used to collect his fortune.

Once again we were lucky to team up with Peter Leix Productions for photos and video.


Tuesday, November 06, 2012

the James Beard project :: Coq au Vin

James Beard:

an American hero

James Beard was a culinary icon, an authority on American cuisine who was ahead of his time.  Chefs and home-cooks alike consider him the founder of American cuisine as we know it: a melting pot of global techniques and flavors that characterize the very core of the American people.  He first instructed Americans on French styled cuisine, along with his colleague, Julia Child.  At a time when America was misguided by the new magic of processed foods, Mr. Beard sought to reconnect people with traditionally prepared continental dishes.  It could be argued that he began America’s culinary re-birth a few decades before it became popular in today’s chef-celebrity climate.  There is not a cook, or frankly an eater, who has not been touched in some way by the father of American cuisine.

Above all, James Beard valued culinary education for regular Americans. To that end, he wrote many cookbooks (click here for a complete list).  He also took part in America’s first cooking show on NBC.  Later in his life, James Beard began his own cooking school where he taught for 30 years until his death in 1985.

One year following his death, the James Beard Foundation was established for the purpose of preserving the spirit of his life, a life full of travels and culinary passion.  It is located in New York City’s Greenwich Village in the brownstone that James Beard called home. Today the JBF runs this house as the only American food history center, honoring his life and the development of American cuisine at large.  The foundation celebrates notable established and emerging American chefs, awarding them for exceptional regional restaurants, life achievements or leadership.  Also recognized are cookbooks, blogs, & films.

Alexander Young:

Chef Alex has a full calendar. Most days are double booked.  It's impressive that he gets it all done - managing Zingermans’ Roadhouse, running Cornman farms, cooking for private parties, planning special event dinners, plus donating his time to teach and cook for events in the Dexter and Ann Arbor schools systems. Like James Beard, Alex’s passions extend beyond the kitchen itself to include culinary education and community outreach.

In 2011 the James Beard Foundation awarded Chef Alex the “best chef in the Midwest” for Zingerman’s Roadhouse in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  Passion about traditionally-prepared full-flavored foods is not only the Zingerman's way.  It is how Alex thinks, cooks and lives.   In July of 2012 he was nominated to the James Beard core of chef activists, as a recognition of the work educating children in the local school systems. In September he was inducted to be a chef diplomat of the American chef corps at the White House.

Today, I am honored to bring a part of this busy chef to you.  Together we'll begin a blog series entitled The James Beard Project.   I will bring you Alex’s versions of recipes from the new essential James Beard cookbook that was released on October 30th 2012.  We hope to bring you multiple episodes with recipes and superior photos/video provided by Peter Leix Productions.  What a fun way to spend my morning -- with these two gentlemen celebrating the vision and passion of James Beard by setting time aside to discuss and prepare his recipes.


(check out the video at the end of this post to watch Alex prepare the dish)

6 tablespoons unsalted butter
one 3 ½ lb chicken, quartered
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup cognac
one 750 ml hearty red wine
bouquet garni (1 sprig fresh flat leaf parsley, 6 whole peppercorns, 1 bay leaf, tied in rinsed cheesecloth
12 small white onions peeled
three ½ inch thick slices salt pork
12 mushroom caps

for the beurre manie:

3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour

Chef Alex chose this recipe from the new cookbook because it epitomizes traditional cooking of James Beard- an autumnal harvest meal fit for a fancy guest or suitable for a home cook in the middle of the week.  This spirit is embodied in many of James Beard’s recipes.  

Coq au vin is a dish like many I’ve seen Chef Alex cook in his own home kitchen.  Flavors are layered in thoughtful steps to create a total depth from which it is almost impossible to pull out individual tastes.  

Traditionally coq au vin was a way for peasants to use an old rooster, hence coq (cock) au vin (wine).  Braising is the best method to tenderize the tough older bird.  Alex loves these recipes where there is a story to be told about the traditional methods.  It makes the dish more alive when you can connect it to its past.

When we entered the back kitchen at the Roadhouse, Alex had the ingredients set out in mise en place.

The chickens were whole, so his first step was to break them down into eighths.  I’ve watched him do this before, but I was again amazed at the ease and speed, the way the knife danced around and seemed to be drawn magnetically to the joint.   He was careful to preserve the oyster, a small single bite on the back - arguably the best bite of a chicken.

If, as a home cook, you can save time by buying your chicken already in pieces, feel free to do that.  Breaking it down yourself gives you more opportunity to save the back or the wing tips for making stock at a later date.

We were lucky to cook with California Olive Ranch Olive Oil, a favorite here at Zingerman’s Roadhouse. It has a strong flavor without being too assertive, green and fruity but not bitter or biting.  

Although the recipe doesn’t call for it, Alex started with a fair bit of this buttery olive oil to a “smokin’ hot pan” and added butter to it when the oil was almost about to smoke.  

To these fats, Alex added the well-seasoned chicken pieces, carefully browning them on both sides. He was careful not to crowd the pan. In your home kitchen, brown it in two batches if necessary.  

While the meat was caramelizing, Chef Alex prepped the other veg. The garlic, carrots, and celery came directly from the ground: 9 miles away at Chef Alex’s Cornman farms in Dexter, Michigan


When the 2nd side of the chicken was half browned, Alex added the lardons, cubed Cornman farms pork belly.   Again, as in all one-pot dishes, the timing was critical for proper layering of flavors, browning the chicken then adding the pork at just the right moment.  Alex used discipline, intuition and his five senses to create depth of flavor with these layers. Unfortunately this cannot always be captured in a written recipe.

Although the chicken was very nearly cooked, we still had the opportunity to add flavors.  Alex added the chopped onions first, giving them sufficient time to caramelize and sweeten.  Next he added a touch of salt to the onion to help develop the saute.  When the onions were ¾ cooked, he added the garlic.  In this preparation we didn’t want the garlic to stew because it would create a different taste. We wanted it to saute.  Therefore, it was essential that the garlic hit the hot oil, not the moisture that had been extruded from the onion.  

When the garlic was partially cooked (but not browned) he added the Tantre Farm shiitake mushrooms, stalks of celery plus their dark green leaves roughly chopped, and 4 large carrots roughly chopped in thirds.  This lowered the temperature of the pan, so that the garlic did not burn.  At this point Alex salted the veg while it all sauteed.   

After a few minutes of saute, he added a heavy pour of the cognac and let that reduce by 50 percent.  Next, he added one bottle of red wine and the bouquet garni and stirred to get the fond from the pan.  I’m sure you’ve heard this many times, but I can’t let it go unsaid: Cook with a wine that you drink.  This sauce is based on the reduction of wine.  If you don’t enjoy a glass of it, you’re going to like the intensified reduction even less.

We covered the pot and put it in a 350 degree oven for 30-40 minutes, until the chicken was totally cooked through.  However at this point, there was still a fair bit of liquid in the pan.  Historically the sauce was thickened with the blood of the rooster right at the end of preparation, just before serving.  But James Beard calls for a beurre manie - a classical thickening technique.  

For a Beurre Manie, it’s important to start with room temperature butter.  It will make your job much easier.  Combine equal parts butter and flour and stir until they are totally homogenized.  Chef pointed out that the sauce in the pan has to be boiling when you add the Beurre Manie, and then you must make sure that you simmer the liquid long enough that the raw flour taste is cooked off.  Using this thickener at the end of the cooking allows for an additional depth of flavor.  If you were to flour the chicken at the start, before browning, the wine would not permeate the meat during the braise in the same way. Instead, the flour would bind to the meat’s surface and interfere with the flavors penetrating the meat.  

Once the beurre manie has successfully thickened the sauce, Alex added quite a bit of freshly ground Telicherry pepper.  In Alex’s words, a dish this rich wants wants a “heavy bite” of pepper at the end.

Serve this dish with your favorite starch- rice, mashed potato or even just a loaf of crunchy bread.


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Keepin' it real

Sometimes even the best of us need a backup plan. In this case it wasn't that glorious of a front runner. Blintzes that I had frozen several months ago... Apparently they didn't make it. We all took a bite and knew something was wrong. I can still taste it in the back of my mouth. Yuck!

As I worked on my second try, my thirteen year old came up behind me giggling with this film prop. She thought she was pretty funny...

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

corn smut?

I've never known it as corn smut until I did a little research today.  
In Mexico it's known as huitlacoche
Check out this wiki article to read more about it. 
I've only cooked with it a couple of times and didn't actually but any today. 
But these beauties caught my attention at the farmers market. 
It's so gloriously unusual; I couldn't look away.
Isn't it interesting which varieties of rot we deem acceptable to eat, and which turn us off? 
From what I understand, most farmers will destroy crops that are infected with this fungus. Other more enterprising farmers, can often sell it for a higher price than corn itself.