Figs & Toast
No Tricks Here Just Treats
Find the best seven minute meringue frosting recipe at Bon Appetite.com and color it a light orange pastel for a delicate Halloween triple brownie treat. The Apple crisps are perfect as individuals. Add leftover apple butter to enhance its richness.
Inspired by my Ecology professor, I have been picking nasturtium seeds for weeks now! I am currently seed saving and germinating some other nasturtium seeds as well. Nasturtiums are amazing! Not only are they perennials meaning their rootstock grow back annually- making this better for the soil- but the entire plant is versatile. From the lily pad like leaves known as nose twists, to the yellow and orange flowers and its seeds, you can utilize this plant for so many things. My cousin Chelsea decorated the top of an ice cream cake with the edible flowers; who would think? The leaves have an antibacterial property, as well as vitamin C and iron which makes it common to add in a salad.
The Apple Trilogy
What could you possibly do with 12 pounds of apples. Apple picking, even for two doesn’t allow you to pick just a few apples and run along to the pumpkin patch. Apple picking means buying in bulk the best crop of the year.
Apple infused Rekya vodka is the perfect way to use up those apple skins from making apple butter. Just add star anise,a cinnamon stick, nutmeg, and vanilla. As for the apple butter, use similar spices, with the addition of Crown maple syrup, and apple cider. Leave it to cook for many hours. We used 12 apples, and it took 4 hours to get thick, gooey, and caramelized. Leave it coarse or purée until smooth.
The Apple creme brulee was an experiment. Chris and I tag teamed this one. We cored, made custard, and filled the apples baking them in a water bath at 250 degrees. After sitting over night, we torched them with sugar. A very comforting, luscious fall treat.
Boys and their food. I had hoped it came out the way Chris once made it for me, but food tastes different when different people make it, so it’s lovely to see all variations. So, he was happily eating it regardless. Spaghetti (grandma made that executive choice) ricotta, big smashed cloves of garlic, a cup or more of finely grated Parmesan, cracked black pepper, and baby basil leaves.
This is a throwback to an item on the spring menu where I work! Since we are now into the summer season, the restaurant where I work has decided to change the menu. I want to reflect on a past dish of that menu, which was always a popular hit on the hot apps station, and one of my favorites to plate. The Ravioli is filled with buratta cheese, which is a gooey creamier form of fresh mozzarella. The house made burrata raviolone oozes out the burrata once cut into and melds with all other flavors on the dish. Bright yellow egg yolk dots add color contrast next to green leeks, grilled ramps, and chives. The dots consist of a gel made from whisking egg yolk and olive oil together, thereafter being cooked in a hot water bath at 152 degrees for over an hour. Ramps are wild onions that grow in a short season during the year, and are featured with the Raviolone to make use of their wild character. We pickled the ramp bulb, and grilled the green leaf. The nude sauce around the plate is a frothy garlic bread emulsion, foamed inside a nitrogen charged bottle called an ISI. And for some crunch factor, roasted Marcona almonds are garnished on top .
La Langosta del Dia
Butter poached lobster, and seared scallops basted in brown butter; a beautiful seafood entrée, complemented by lobster agnolotti, brown butter crumbs, and glazed veggie. Newport Rhode Island, the perfect spot to have a lobster dinner, right beside the ocean. Me? am I getting to eat this, no. But, I am getting to help create it which makes me excited for the sophisticated diner who gets to devour it! The preparation to this elusive dish is extensive and extraordinary. I find that searing fish or meat, and finishing it with a basting of foamed butter, is one of the most satisfying ways to prepare food. Who wouldn’t get excited over something that has been doused in warm, foamy butter? For this entree the lobster itself is actually boiled and then poached in buerre monte which is quite a lengthy process, due to the fact that the lobsters must all be broken down, skewered, and gently poached to order. A brown butter crumb made from melted butter and milk solids lines the side of the plate. The lobster agnolotti, sit four per dish, and contain mascarpone cheese and lobster bits inside their petite pillow like shape. Although they take much effort to make, it is quite satisfying to see those cute packages gleam on the white plate, up in the service window. Glazed Fine dining carrots- yellow and orange- fill in the gaps between the Agnos and dragon bean and sugar snap pea medley. Fine dining carrots are adorable; their micro size reminds me of food Barbie would serve in her doll house. The garnish are micro pea shoots that fall along the top of the fish, and a sherry gastrique which presents as a glossy, sweet, and acidic streak next to the langosta!
Where the Wild things Grow
Looks like a whip, tastes like garlic, and grows where the wild things live. Garlic scapes are a member of the allium family along with shallots, chives, rakkyo, and onions. Its more common to see the scape during the summer season. Fine dining restaurants love to play around with this ingredient, making it a seasonal guest on their sophisticated summer menus. I myself have had some experience cooking and plating it, as seen in the photograph above. At my current place of work, we use the garlic scape in two ways on our duck entree.First, I blanch the scapes and blend with salt and chicken stock to make the vibrant green puree, which we dot around the plate. The other way we use the scape is by grilling it and placing it whole on the plate, which acts as the final garnish.
WINE AND DINE
I was really feeling a pasta night, although I feel that most nights. I decided to make linguine and bolengaise which is most likely my favorite pasta dish! It is a meat sauce taken up 10 notches, with the addition of mirepoix, extra garlic, and a “splash”red wine to make it that much more flavorful. I also had this idea, to create a zabaglione, which is egg yolk and water whisked over a double boiler, until the egg yolk becomes “cake batter consistency”. This is usually the process in creating a hollandaise sauce, but… this is not what I was making. Instead I took the zabaglione and folded it into ricotta cheese. There have been times in the past, when I have eaten Bolognese with ricotta, and I think it changes the whole profile of the dish. I don’t mix in the cheese, I usually just place a dollop on top. I thought the egg yolk would make the cheese that much more creamy as well as add a little color to the dish. I seasoned with a little nutmeg and salt, making it a creamy and dreamy experience!
I used a plating spoon, which is a smaller version of a serving spoon, to place down a little bit of the zabiglione and ricotta mixture at one end of the plate pulling it toward me, creating a “swoosh” effect. Thereafter I placed down the pasta. I follow Chef Steps on Instagram where I see posts of a particular way in plating long pastas like fettuccine or spaghetti. I wanted to try and mimic that chic style in my dish! In order to do this I had to use a carving fork to twirl the linguine in which I then placed it toward the end of the zabiglione “swoosh”! A background of red decor highlighted the tomato in the sauce. And the wine setup set a romantic theme.
A DINNER DATE, STARRING HYDRANGEAS
First off, I have to explain the story behind the hydrangeas. Aren’t they so beautiful and lush? Hydraingas are one of my absolute favorite types of flowers! My neighbor has a hydrangea bush that’s at least 7 feet tall, running down the side of their house. Every year when it blooms, I want to run to their front yard, pick a bunch, and run back before anyone can catch a glimpse of me. But, unfortunately I haven’t had the chance to act foolishly. Anyways, these dazzling puffy mounds in the pic above did not come from my neighbors house. They actually came from my grandmother. My stubborn Italian Gma, who insisted she bring the flowers over, because she had one too many in her yard. I couldn’t possibly turn down the offer of her to come by; so all these flowers have been casually lying around my house (everywhere ) and I thought they would be the perfect back drop to this dish.
Though I would love to talk more about flowers, I must elaborate on the dish I present before them. I did some different things in order to bring this dish together. The chicken thighs were placed in a quick brine of water, salt, sugar, garlic, and orange. I seasoned and roasted them off in a 400 degree oven until golden brown and crispy. The key here was to place the chicken on a metal rack over a sheet tray so that it’s not sitting in its own grease when cooking. Chicken thigh is great to work with because you are almost always guaranteed it will be moist at service time. It’s on a bone which keeps in moisture!!! It’s a wonderful thing! Compared to chicken breast which is great too, don’t get me wrong; because it defiantly has its benefits, but it dries out more easily and doesn’t always deliver the same tender, succulence that thigh meat provides.
As for the other components of my dish, I made polenta as the base, along with sautéed curly zucchini as the veg, and then created a finishing sauce, that I poured over the top. Any ways, Polenta is a fabulous carb. It’s the best when it’s loaded with cream, butter, and cheese; the recipe for a heart attack. But, that’s ok it’s all worth it in the end. I have to admit though, my polenta isn’t quite that, instead all I added to it was butter and a pickled red pepper and corn relish. It took on interesting flavor profile which was sweet and acidic from the relish ingredients. As for the zucchini, I used a nifty tool my mother bought. Its a gadget that twirls food, turning it into a long spiral shape. I sauteed the zucchini in butter and herb de Provence. And finally the sauce, which I made by reducing down white wine, and combining it with pear simple syrup. It was a unique component to my chicken dish, and took on a fruitful flavor.
I couldn’t help myself in doing a floral theme again, as I pretty much did last time. But, flowers are the natural beauty on Earth. There are numerous kinds to choose from and they can all be used in certain instances.
The actual dish I created, portrayed some lively colors from the polenta and zucchini, so I wanted to accent them in a vibrant orange bowl. I layered the ingredients to show contrast in color, and to keep everything looking neat and sharp. The garnish on top is babies breath. Yes, I know its kinda weird considering it’s not edible. I thought it added something subtle and delicate to offset the bright colors around.
CHILI, A CROWD PLEASER
I was rummaging through the food pictures on my phone, and came across this colorful dish. It was during the month of August that this bowl of comfort was produced, when my aunts came over for dinner. I was off from school for a short summer break, bored, feeling the need to get creative at the stove. I decided to invite my aunts and their families over for dinner as a thank you to them for all that they do. I had recently graduated from high school and they helped my mother throw my graduation party. I felt the best gift of thanks to them was in the form of food. SO… I set out to the grocery store to gather my ingredients.
The dinner that night was chili. I wanted to get creative, and decided to toss my recipe books aside, to come up with my own version of chili. This chili was made with stew beef, creating a “pulled beef” consistency. I made fresh tomato sauce and instead of basil I used cilantro which gave it a vibrant Latin flavor. I added it to the chili with red wine, roasted green peppers, cannelloni beans and caramelized red onions. And yes, I added chili powder because no chili is complete without those essential spices (chili, red pepper, cumin, garlic, and onion). The method to making chili is known as the stewing method; this means that anything being stewed must be completely covered with liquid… Just like a classic beef stew! Usually chili made with ground meat is made in minutes because it only takes a short while to cook ground meat. My chili cooked for hours until the meat was fork tender. YUMMO!
Plating, garnishing, and displaying dishes for photo shoots are my absolute favorite part of cooking. I love finding the right bowls and plates, food molds to create concrete shapes of food, color schemes, objects, backdrops, lighting, and counter spaces where I can snap shots of my final product. I served my chili with white rice and because rice is starchy it tends to be sticky allowing me to use a PVC pipe (culinary trick) to mold the rice in a green ceramic bowl. I then created a small hole in the middle where I gently poured in the chili. I garnished with a fresh piece of cilantro and placed the completed bowl next to a gridded picture window in my kitchen; which has a flower bed on the opposite side. Sometimes nature makes the best displays especially for a simple dish like this!