Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A California Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, mainly because it is centered around cooking and eating with loved ones. It's a great reminder of how much I have to be grateful for and also give back. This year, I went home to San Francisco, California to spend Thanksgiving with my family.  Every year, my mom, sister and I spend the day cooking together in the kitchen. Each of us is in charge of a few dishes while my dad is in charge of beverages and is the self- proclaimed official taste tester. Since it was just the four of us this year, we kept things simple. But just because there were four of us doesn't mean we skimped on flavor!

Before we started cooking, we set the table. Since we weren't entertaining any guests, my mom wanted to keep the table simple to make cleaning up easier. She picked the flowers from our garden and bought festive place settings. It looked beautiful!

My mom is usually in charge of making the turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce. We got a beautiful fourteen pound bird from our favorite butcher and simply rubbed the inside and outside of the bird with olive oil and herbs de provence. For the stuffing, my mom has always bought a box of Williams Sonoma foccacia stuffing. My mom adds her own twists to the recipe like adding dried cranberries for color and sweetness, but it is super easy to make!  We stuffed the bird and threw it in the oven for the day. We used a baster to coat the turkey in its own juices every now and then to keep it moist which really makes a difference when you carve it.

The cranberry sauce is also a recipe my mother has used for years and it is DELICIOUS. She doubled the recipe and we barely had leftovers! Her recipe calls for diced apples and oranges, as well as lots of clove and cinnamon. It is the perfect balance of sweetness and tartness and is addicting. We ended up making more the next day to accompany our left overs!

I was in charge of two side dishes this year, both of which we had never made or had before. I love sweet potatos and wanted to somehow incorporate them into our meal. At first I wanted to do a sweet potato mash but then decided that a mash was too boring. I stumbled upon an asiago sweet potato dish that sounded and looked delicious. It was similar to a lasagna, with layers of thinly sliced sweet potato, onion and a handful of asiago. You repeated those three steps until you reached the top where it was finished with olive oil and thyme. It came out of the oven with the cheese still bubbling and smelled amazing! It was definitely a success.

The other new side dish I made was sweet and sour cipollini onions. My dad was reading the Wall Street Journal and came across this dish. We all agreed we had to make it and I am so glad we did. The onions were sweet but had a hint of tartness thanks to the vinegar in the recipe. This recipe is a keeper.

My sister was in charge of making a side dish and dessert. She wanted to make brussel sprouts with bacon. My mom rarely allows pork in the house but she made an exception this year and let us cook with bacon! None of us had ever worked with it before. It was incredible (and a little gross) to see how much fat it had. When we put it in the sautee pan, we didn't even need to add oil-there was enough fat in the meat for it to produce it's own oils! The brussel sprouts turned out great, except they were a little too sweet for my taste. The recipe called for brown sugar which I felt over-powered the dish.

My plate (round 1)!!

As if that wasn't enough food, Thanksgiving isn't complete without dessert. We waited an hour to digest before we dug into my sisters apple and pomegranate crisp. She usually makes a scrumptious pumpkin cheesecake, but we all agreed it was time to mix things up. The crisp turned out great and wasn't too heavy either. The apples were cooked through nicely and the pomegranate seeds added a nice crunch to the dish along with the oat topping. I was in a complete state of delirium (thanks tryptophan) and fullness that I forgot to take a picture of the crisp! 

What did you do for your Thanksgiving? Are there any traditions you and your family participate in? Did you try new recipes or stick with tradition? No matter how you celebrated, I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving spent with your loved ones! 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Trend Alert: Instagramming Food

Today's world is all about sharing. Thanks to social media, we can share where we are, what we're doing and who we're with in a matter of seconds. And this idea of sharing does not exclude what we eat. Thanks to apps like Instagram, a photo application that allows you to place different filters on photographs, the trend of sharing pictures of food has rapidly grown into a cult. Everyone is sharing what they ate and where they ate it. I must admit, I am guilty of giving in to this trend myself. There are even some Instagram accounts devoted to only posting pictures of food, such as "deliciousdelicious" and "thebestfood." So, why do we do it? Do we do it to get a lot of "likes" on our pictures? Do we do it to make people jealous?

Some restaurants love the geotag feature of Instagram where the user can "tag" where they ate that dish. It's free advertising for the restaurant. If someone posts a mouthwateringly delicious looking dish and geotags the restaurant, one of their followers could immediately go to that restaurant and order that dish. That restaurant just gained a new customer without having to pay any money in advertising. Some restaurants like Comodo in New York have really embraced this trend, while some restaurants have actually banned Instagramming.

While some see this as a positive trend for the food industry, others are vehemently opposed to it. Some claim it is a distraction in the restaurant, especially for other diners, and that it ruins special moments. It's pretty rude to whip out your cell phone and take a photo of what's on your plate rather than enjoying good conversation uninterrupted by technology.

I believe this trend reinforces the notion that people care more about food and what they are eating than they did twenty years ago. As a self- proclaimed foodie, I think it is awesome that people want to share what they are eating and where they are eating it. You don't have to be a foodie to appreciate a good meal but the fact that people care enough about the food they're eating to share it with the rest of the world says something. 

What do you think about this new trend? Do you take pictures of your food and share it via social media? What platform do you use? 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Semester Abroad: Barcelona, Spain

Next semester, I will be studying abroad in Barcelona, Spain for four months. Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia and is located on the northeastern coast facing the Mediterranean Sea. I've been to Spain once and immediately fell in love with the country.  What I loved most about my time there was the amazing food! Everything I ate was so fresh and delicious and I never had a bad meal. The Spanish food you find in the United States is nothing compared to what you find in Spain. I will also be taking a Spanish Food, Wine and Culture class while I'm abroad so I will really get to know authentic Spanish cuisine. Spain is known for their tapas and tapas bars can be found all over the region where you can stop in for a quick bite to eat. Tapas are small appetizers or snacks that are served cold or hot. Below are a few of my favorites that I can't wait to eat more of and even learn how to make for myself!

Paella is a rice based dish that is cooked with a medley of fish, meats and vegetables. Chorzio, spicy Spanish sausage, is often incorporated to give the dish a kick as well as saffron, a rare and often expensive Spanish spice. It is similar to risotto, but not as creamy and contains much more ingredients than a risotto typically has. Check out this paella recipe!

Tortilla Española is also a popular tapa and does not involve any tortillas despite the name. It is a thick omelette made with eggs and potatoes that is fried in oil. Again, there are many variations as some recipes add vegetables or meats. Think of it as our version of a frittata! Try this simple tortilla Española recipe!

Croquetas are another common tapa that is essentially a fried ball of deliciousness. The outside is crispy while the inside is filled with a gooey bechamel sauce. Many variations include the addition of meats, like ham or chicken.

Spanish dishes usually involve a lot of meat, especially ham. They are famous for their jamón (ham) Serrano which typically comes from the Landrace breed of white pigs. It usually takes about six- eighteen months for the hame to cure depending on the size of the pig. The ham is usually sliced extremely thin and served cold as an appetizer. The saltiness and texture of the meat is comparable to prosciutto.

While abroad, I will be living in an apartment with a fully furnished kitchen. Hopefully I will master the art of Spanish cooking using the freshest ingredients available from the incredible array of outdoor markets. 

Have you been to Spain before? What was your favorite Spanish tapa? Do you know of any good tapas bars in Barcelona? I'd love to hear from you!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Grocery Shopping 101

As a college student, I am always on a budget. I currently live off- campus in an apartment and cook a majority of my meals while only dining out for special occasions. As a result, I have become an expert at grocery shopping. Here are a few of my tips to make grocery shopping an efficient, pleasant and easy experience!

1. Plan Ahead 
To prevent over- buying and wasting food, it is key to look at your week and plan ahead. If you know you will be eating out for one or two nights, simply don't buy as much food. If you can, plan out specific meals or look up specific recipes you want to try. That way you know exactly what you need. 

2. Make a List After you look at your upcoming week, write down what you need. This will limit your time at the store and keep you focused. Sometimes I mentally go through each meal of the day and write down the foods I need. Check out these great iPhone Apps for grocery shopping!

3. Don't Be Afraid of Frozen Foods
Frozen foods are a great way to ensure you always have something to eat. Trader Joes has delicious (and healthy) frozen entrees ranging from sweet potato gnocchi to chicken tikka masala. Frozen berries are great for smoothies and frozen vegetables are perfect for a quick stir fry! I always keep veggie burgers in my freezer for the nights I don't have time to cook. Don't be afraid to try different brands- find what you like! 

4. Shop During Off- Hours
Grocery stores can get crowded, especially on weekends, which means long lines. Instead of wasting your time waiting around in long checkout lines, try to go when no one else is there. I've found that mornings-early afternoons during the week are the best times to go. 

5. Don't Shop on an Empty Stomach!
Although this seems silly, it is one of the best pieces of advice I can give. Going to the grocery store on an empty stomach can lead you to buy things you only want to satisfy your immediate cravings rather than things you actually need. Eat a quick snack before you go so you won't get distracted.

6. Go Green!
Although it is more difficult to find farmers markets in the winter, try to shop at farmers markets as much as possible! Not only will you save money and get high quality, fresh ingredients, but you will support local farmers and your community. Don't forget to use reusable shopping bags too!

7. Get a Rewards Card (if applicable)
Items in grocery stores can randomly go on sale when you use a rewards card or a savings card for that specific store. The money you save can really add up. See if you this option is available at your local market.

I hope you find these tips helpful! Try them out and let me know what you think! 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Top Chef Masters Season 4 Season Finale Recap

The fourth season of Top Chef Masters on Bravo has sadly come to an end. The season started with 12 talented chefs from around the country, including Patricia Yeo, Art Smith, Takashi Yagihashi and Lorena Garcia. This season was shot in Las Vegas with celebrity chef Curtis Stone as the host. The judges include James Oseland, editor-in-chief of Saveur magazine, Ruth Reichl, former editor of Gourmet magainze, travel journalist Krista Simmons and Francis Lam, features editor of Gilt Taste. 

The finale came down between Chefs Kerry Heffernan (left) from New York and Chris Cosentino (right) from San Francisco. Heffernan is classically trained and known for modern American cuisine while Cosentino is known for offal dishes (using organ meats of a variety of animals) at his restaurant Incanto. The chefs were competing for a $100,000 prize towards the charity of their choice. Heffernan was competing for City Harvest, a foundation that helps the hungry in New York City while Cosentino was cooking for the Michael J. Fox foundation, a charity close to his heart since his uncle died of Parkinson's disease last year.

Usually, each episode begins with a "Quick Fire Challenge" where the chefs have a limited amount of time to create a dish that meets the challenges requirements. Since it was the finale and there were only two chefs left, host Stone skipped right to the elimination challenge: create a four course meal based on four written letters; a love letter, an apology letter, a thank you note and a letter to themselves. To help their visions come alive, they were given a helping hand. Cosentino's chef de cuisine from Incanto rushed in as well as Heffernan's long-time, trusted friend.

The chefs were given a $600 budget and six hours to prep. They carefully planned out their meals in the car on the way to the grocery store, discussing concepts and their reasoning behind their decisions. They ran around the grocery store quickly grabbing whatever ingredients they needed before heading back to the Top Chef Masters kitchen at the Cosmopolitan to start cooking.

When the first day is over, the two chefs are treated to a home cooked meal by Stone in his pent house suite overlooking all of Las Vegas. It was nice to see the chefs in a relaxed environment having normal conversation, enjoying good food prepared by a great colleague.

The next day, the chefs were given three hours to finish their dishes before serving them head to head to the judges, a table filled with ten of the most well-respected food critics in the industry. Some of the guests include Alan Sytsma, Senior Editor at Grub Street, and Alan Richman, a food correspondant for GQ magazine. Critics think about and analyze food in a different way than the average diner. It is their job to eat food...doesn't sound too bad to me! But the level at which they pick a part every aspect of a dish is in another realm of expertise.

Heffernan's love letter was a letter to his wife and he recreated the dish he made for her on their very first date. It was a traditional Korean jigae, a prawn and scallop stew. His thank you letter was a letter to his family, thanking them for teaching him so much. He translated this letter into a beautiful branzino dish with a clam ragout and mustard greens. His third dish represented a letter he wrote to himself- a dry aged Cote de boeuf served with short ribs, swiss chard, and fennel gratin. I am not a huge meat eater but this dish made my mouth water! The last course was an apology letter that he wrote to his family. He presented a luscious flan of snap peas with morels, chervil and prosciutto. Mmmm!

Kerry Heffernan
Heffernan's thank you letter to his family- branzino with clam ragout and mustard greens.

Cosentino started his meal with a love letter to his wife which he interpreted to a beef heart tartare, foi gras and puffed beef tenderloin. His second course was a thank you note to his grandmother for inspiring him to cook. He made a trippa napolitana, a traditional Italian dish using tripe, the stomach lining of cattle...yes he prepared stomach lining and the judges LOVED it. The letter he wrote to himself translated into what he described as his "last supper," a sunny side up egg, poached oyster and blood sausage. It is pretty gutsy (no pun intended) to serve an egg, something so basic and simple, to a table of food critics. For his grand finale, he wrote an apology letter to his wife for working so much. He created a dish including all of her favorite things- a scallop, pancetta piania and sea urchin.

    Chris Cosentino

Cosentino's letter to himself- sunny side up egg, poached oyster and blood sausage.

Each dish was served head to head and the judges discussed the pros and cons of each (very eloquently I might add). Overall, I thought Cosentino's meal was a bit more daring. He took more risks with the dishes he served and in my opinion, that is what being a top chef is all about. Heffernan's food looked beautiful on the plate and used classic flavor combinations to tantilize the judges' palettes. I believe he stayed true to who he was as a classically trained modern American chef. But in the end it was Cosentino's daring dishes that won over the judges, who crowned him Top Chef Master.

Top Chef Master Chris Cosentino in his new chef coat!

For all you Top Chef fans out there have no fear...Bravo is bringing you a new show called Life After Top Chef. The show follows four Top Chef alumni, Fabio Viviani, Jenn Carroll, Spike Mendelsohn and Richard Blais, and where they are now. The show premieres on October 3rd, click here to watch a preview!

Also, Top Chef is returning for a tenth season on November 7th! The season was filmed in Seattle and Wolfgang Puck is the newest addition to judges table.

Do you think Chef Cosentino deserved to win? Will you tune in for Life After Top Chef and Top Chef Seattle? I want to hear what you have to say!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

My Favorite Recipes for Fall!

Fall is finally here (as of 5:04 AM last Friday)! This means the glorious return of Starbucks' Pumpkin Spice Latte, among other things. As the colors of the leaves change and the weather gets cooler, I find myself craving feel-good, comfort foods to get me through the longer nights. I found a majority of these recipes on Pinterest and this awesome site called Gojee! You have to sign up for it but I promise they don't send you a lot of annoying emails. Here is a compilation of my favorite recipes I can't wait to whip up this fall!!

Main Dishes
Bacon- Wrapped Turkey Roulade
Braised Brisket Stew
Braised Lamb Shanks in Cranberry
Butternut Squash Ravioli with Sage Brown Butter
Curried Carrot, Sweet Potato, and Ginger Soup
Pumpkin Chili
Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal
Roasted Carrot and Pistachio Soup

Side Dishes
Butternut Squash, Cranberry and Apple Bake
Carrots with Pomegranate Glaze
Oven Baked Carrot and Sweet Potato Fries
Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Cranberry Pistachio Pesto
Spiced Sweet Potato Chips

Apple, Cranberry and Almond Loaf
Cinnamon Bun Popcorn
Cranberry Pistachio Chocolate Bark
Pumpkin Oatmeal Cream Pies
Snickerdoodle Pumpkin Ice Cream Sandwiches

Cranberry Ginger Cocktail
Hot Spiced Drunken Apple Cider
Mexican Hot Cocoa Mix
Non- Alcoholic Eggnog
Pumpkin Spice Hot White Chocolate

Do any of these look good to you too? Let me know if you try out any of the recipes. Happy cooking!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

3 Restaurants in New York I'm Dying to Try

New York City. The Big Apple. Home to some of the best damn restaurants in the country thanks to some of the worlds most talented chefs. The following three restaurants have been on my radar for a long, long time. I have essentially been stalking these restaurants (and chefs),  reading every possible article, Yelp review and even checking the restaurant's website to view seasonal changes made to the menus.

Something all of these restaurants and chefs have in common is an underlying respect for food and the dining experience. All of them have received numerous accolades as a sign of their dedication to elevating our palates. Hopefully on my next trip to New York, I will be able to check some of these off of my list. But before I do, I better take out a bank loan so I don't go broke. Or hope someone else is paying.

1. Per Se
Per Se is one of seven restaurants in the country to receive three Michelin stars. It is described as the "urban interpretation" of The French Laundry, one of Keller's restaurants located in Yountville, California. The restaurant offers two nine-course tasting menus: a tasting of vegetables and a chefs tasting menu. The menus change daily, ensuring the diners they are eating the freshest, most seasonal items available such as sweet corn sorbet Riesling poached seckel pear. Located on the fourth floor of the Time Warner Center in Columbus Circle, the views of Manhattan must be as breath taking as the taste of the food.
Diners reviews!

2. Le Bernardin
Head Chef Eric Rippert has taken fish to a new level at Le Bernardin by adding a French twist. Every type of fish known to man kind can be on found on his menus, from cobia to geoduck, and it all sounds absolutely delicious. I happen to be a seafood junkie so I already know I would have anxiety in deciding what to order. Just like Per Se, it is one of seven restaurants with three Michelin stars.
Diners reviews!

3. Eleven Madison Park
Eleven Madison Park offers a menu unlike anything I have seen before. Their dishes are only indicated on the menu by the main ingredients of the dish. Diners can tell their waiter if they have any likes or dislikes before the chef prepares the dish. This unique menu design gives the diner an element of surprise and makes it a one of a kind experience. This also allows the chefs to show off their talent and creativity, which is why Eleven Madison Park also has three Michelin stars.
Diners reviews!