Friday, June 25, 2010

The Boom of Heirloom

So summer is here . . or at least it would appear to be as the crunch of my dry lawn underfoot indicates quite a shortage of water. It is my very hope that you have already planted a very particular vine in your garden . . this flora of the nightshade family happens to be near and dear to our American hearts as well as the dining table . . I’m talking about the tomato of course! More specifically . . the heirloom tomato. This term heirloom seems to elude many a people henceforth we’re going to break it down for you in its most sincere agricultural terms. (no recipe today – just delivering pure honesty)

An heirloom is generally considered to be a variety that has been passed down, through several generations of a family because of it's valued characteristics. Since 'heirloom' varieties have become popular in the past few years there have been liberties taken with the use of this term for commercial purposes thus diluting the integrity of this word.

In the past 40 years, we've lost many of our heirloom varieties, along with the many smaller family farms that supported heirlooms. The multitude of heirlooms that had adapted to survive well for hundreds of years were lost or replaced by fewer hybrid tomatoes, bred for their commercially attractive characteristics. In the process we have also lost much of the ownership of foods typically grown by gardeners and small farms, and we are loosing the genetic diversity at an alarming rate.
Every heirloom variety is genetically unique and inherent in this uniqueness is an evolved resistance to pests and diseases and an adaptation to specific growing conditions and climates. With the reduction in genetic diversity, food production is drastically at risk from plant epidemics and infestation by pests – this is the reality folks!
The late Jack Harlan, world-renowned plant collector who wrote the classic Crops and Man while Professor of Plant Genetics at University of Illinois, wrote, "These resources stand between us and catastrophic starvation on a scale we cannot imagine. In a very real sense, the future of the human race rides on these materials. The line between abundance and disaster is becoming thinner and thinner, and the public is unaware and unconcerned. Must we wait for disaster to be real before we are heard? Will people listen only after it is too late."
It is up to us as gardeners and responsible stewards of the earth to assure that we sustain the diversity afforded us through heirloom varieties as such I strongly urge you to join your local chapter of Slowfood, a non-profit, eco-gastronomic member-supported organization that was founded to counteract the fast food movement. Till next Friday . . . get down and dirty (it’s not too late – go out and get you a tomato plant!), enjoy some homestyle marinara (you and raid your neighbors garden till your little one gets to fruiting) turn up the Josh Groban and sip your sexy Brunello di Montalcino in contemplation of how you can make our little world a better place (even if starting with one tomato seedling?)

Friday, June 18, 2010

An apple a day . . .

The Word of Chi

The weather is heating up here in Southern California and the earthquakes are a shaking . . but don’t let that stop you from cranking out a chilled soup. Apples are just about coming into season or at least they are fruiting on my homely looking fiji apple tree growing in my backyard. I have fond childhood memories of harvesting the crabapples from this scrappy looking tree at the base of “the big hill” and making batches of homemade apple sauce with Ms. Ebby. That was always a treat and although that apple sauce didn’t necessarily look the prettiest it sure tasted better than anything manufactured by Motts!

What happened to those days? I’m talking about foraging in the wild and family oriented cooking. Certainly this is a little more difficult to accomplish in the land of California as the “wild” has been tamed and paved . . . but perhaps we should collectively approach this as no more than a “culinary challenge” Going back to apples – they are coming in and they have so much versatility and connection to the nostalgic hearth of family cooking be it old fashioned apple pie, apple cobbler, apple chutney . . . and it happens to pair up quite nicely with any glass of sauvignon blanc or pinot grigio Now you do have to educate yourself a bit on the best suited apple for any given purpose (kind of like deciding what swimsuit to wear depending on what flesh is best to hide or showcase!). I’m not even going to be begin to tackle the pleathora of apple varieties on the market but I can tell you that Chef Scotty only works with McIntosh when comes to pie time & Fiji or Braeburn for artisan cheeseboards.

Celery root is in fact a variety of celery selected for it’s bulb which is crisp, yielding a earthy root flavor and less starchy than is Caribbean sister, jicama. Combine celeriac (the other name for celery root) with green apple and you have a refreshing soup for the summer heat. (certainly feel free to serve warm, leave out the half-n-half for a lactose free soup or blend it all up for a delicious raw soup). Make the most of your Sundays as June rolls out and the Summer sun shines bright!

With Culinary Blessings,

Chef Scotty

Celery Root-Green Apple Sip

3 medium leeks (3/4 lb), white and pale green parts only
3 bacon slices (2 oz) - topping
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 lb celery root, peeled with a knife and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3 cups water
1 3/4 cups white wine (pinot grigio, sauvignon blanc etc.)
1 Granny Smith apple
3/4 celery rib, very thinly sliced on a long diagonal (1/2 cup)
1/3 cup inner celery leaves
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup half-and-half

Halve leeks lengthwise, then coarsely chop. Wash leeks in a bowl of cold water, agitating them, then lift out onto paper towels and pat dry.

Cook bacon in a 4-quart heavy pot over moderate heat, turning occasionally, until crisp, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer to paper towels.

Pour off all but 2 teaspoons fat from pot, then add oil and cook leeks over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 6 minutes. Add celery root and cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Add water and wine and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until celery root is very tender, 35 to 40 minutes.

While soup simmers, thinly slice apple lengthwise into 1/8-inch-thick slices with slicer, working around core, then cut slices into 1/8-inch matchsticks with a knife. Gently toss with celery and celery leaves.

Purée soup in batches in a blender until smooth (use caution when blending hot liquids), transferring to a bowl. Return soup to cleaned pot. (If soup is too thick, thin with 1/2 to 3/4 cup water.) Stir in salt, pepper, and half-and-half and cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until warm (or keep keep cold for a refreshing summer soup). Season with salt, then divide among 4 bowls and top with apple-celery mixture and coarsely crumbled bacon.

Cooks' note:
Soup, without half-and-half, can be made 1 day ahead and cooled completely, uncovered, then chilled, covered. Reheat over moderately low heat, then add half-and-half and cook until heated through. Garnish and Go

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Life of a Pea

The Life of a Pea

Kermit can’t hold a flame to this little beloved veggie and while fresh sugarsnaps & crisp snow peas are running amuck amongst many a garden trellis . . it is the actual pea shoot that I hope to make your acquaintance. Pea shoots are the choice leaves and tendrils of pea plants and are typically harvested from snow pea vines, although they can be from any type of garden pea. Pea shoots carry that individualistic pea flavor all packed into a crisp little sprout looking stalk & petite leaf which works absolutely incredible in spring rolls, salads or topping off stir-frys. Now, I know you’re wondering just where do I find these little guys? Well you should (as always) look for pea shoots at your local farmers’ market in spring, early summer and fall or turn towards your local Asian market or upscale grocery stores such as Whole Foods.

When it comes time to the actually preparation and cooking you should rinse the pea shoots in cool water, drain and let dry (if you brush your teeth daily you need always wash your sprouts!). Remove any stems that look coarse and begin your culinary adventure. WARNING: Pea shoots are best eaten raw or very lightly cooked. If you do choose to cook your shoots, remember that the water clinging to the damp shoots is enough to steam them so just cover and heat until wilted. Now for the nutritional gossip:

Pea shoots are considered a “green” meaning they are typically nutrient-dense, packed full of carotenes and phytochemicals. This means that for very few calories you get large amounts of vitamins and minerals. For just 10 calories and no fat, take a look at the nutrients in 2 cups of raw pea shoots.

Needed for Adults—Per Day
Potassium 3% Folate 10.5%
Vitamin C 35.5% Thiamin 5.75%
Vitamin A 15% Riboflavin 7%
Vitamin E 8.75% Vitamin B-6 4.75%
Vitamin k 132% Fiber 3.5%

Now let’s stop talking and take these edible four leaf clovers to the table and create something wonderful and fresh! As your friendly chef, I have given you one of my culinary interpretations to launch your adventure with my raw pea shoot pesto recipe . . it is super easy to prepare and extremely versatile in its usage so break out a nice glass of pinot grigio, throw on that weathered apron and get to cookin!

Nouveau Pea Shoot Raw Pesto
2 lbs pea shoots or other greens, rinsed
1 C packed basil leaf
2 tablespoons ginger, sliced thinly, then minced
2 tablespoons garlic, minced
1/2 C grapeseed oil
3-4 tablespoons rice vinegar
½ C pinenuts (optional)
½ teaspoon of chile flake *give it a little kick
Salt to taste

In a blender, Add pea shoots, basil, ginger and garlic . . . turn on your blender & start shoving those greens into the blades (*do not use your hand!). Slowly start pouring your oil and things should start liquefying. Add remaining oil and all of the vinegar. If you use pinenuts it will thicken things up quite a bit and as always finish with some chile and salt. I like to serve this with fish but it’s great on pasta, thin it out for a salad dressing . . . get creative and have fun with it!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Red is for Rioja

Have you been picking up on those neighborhood aromas of smoke and sizzling sugars caramelizing to some variety of carne? That’s right, the season of barbecue is upon us and what better time to talk about this elusive Spanish red wine blend.

Rioja is a wine, with Denominación de Origen Calificada (D.O.C. Qualified designation of origin) named after La Rioja, in Spain and made from grapes grown not only in the Autonomous Community of La Rioja, but also in parts of Navarre and the Basque province of Álava. Surprisingly enough, Spain was rocking out gorgeous grapes as early as 873 . . well before Italy & France jumped on the band wagon! (you can thank Spain for our endeared California Zinfandel old vines)

Among the Tintos, the best-known and most widely-used variety is Tempranillo. Other grapes used include Garnacha Tinta, Graciano, and Mazuelo. A typical blend will consist of approximately 60% Tempranillo and up to 20% Garnacha, with much smaller proportions of Mazuelo and Graciano. Each grape adds a unique component to the wine with Tempranillo contributing the main flavors and aging potential to the wine; Garnacha adding body and alcohol; Mazuelo adding seasoning flavors and Graciano adding additional aromas.

Ok, so now that your mouth is salivating for a glass of that deep-n-dark rouge nectar of the Gods . . we best throw down some potential barbecue grub. After all, we’re chatting about the joys of life – great food, amazing wine and enchanting tunes! If we’re going with casual I recommend that you cook your own burgers at home and add little gourmet, organic and seasonal twists such as black olive-n-Valdeon blue cheese (an amazing Spanish blue wrapped in Sycamore leaves), mix in fresh or purchased pesto with the ground beef or just doze the bowl with several shakes of bloody mary mix . . whatever culinary course you take – be sure to add 2 tablespoons of water to each pound of meat for the juicy burger on the block!

Now, I am a chef after all . . so if you’re looking for upscale barbecue, well then here’s my recipe for something better than average that is going to pair up nicely with that Finca 2004 Allende Red Rioja. So break out that dusty bag of charcoal, invite some good friends over to the pad, uncork a few bottles and turn up the heat with a little Bozz Scaggs . . tis the season to barbecue baby!

Singapore Lamb Riblets
5 pounds meaty lamb riblets (feel free to substitute pork or beef riblets)
2 quarts water
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup molasses
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons dry sherry
2 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
1 teaspoon sambal oelek (fresh chili paste)
5 cloves crushed garlic
1/2 teaspoon five spice powder

1.Place lamb ribs in large saucepan. Cover with water and the 1/3 cup soy sauce. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes. Drain and let cool.

2.Get your grill going with REAL charcoal (no gas!) – note: you’re not ready to cook anything until the flames die down . . look for grey, glowing coals

3.In medium bowl, mix remaining ingredients. Coat each rib with sauce; and place on grill for 10 minutes then flip and cover for another 5 minutes or longer this all depends on how hot your grille is. Bon Appetite!