Friday, February 29, 2008

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

Roasting vegetables in the winter is a way to deepen the flavor and add a heartiness to every meal. My favorite winter soup is roasted butternut squash. As we are winding down this cold season, the squash are on their way out, however, the flavor of this squash was delightful and sweeter than I expected. It's so simple, all you need on hand is home-made vegetable broth. If you want to really add richness, take the time to make the vegetable stock first, using a few cubes of the butternut squash. Cooking is all about layering flavor each step and this is a way to accomplish that complexity of flavors. You will notice a much richer, full bodied soup. The end result is velvety, hearty with virtually no fat. Top it with roasted pepita seeds for a nice, crunchy texture.

For directions on making stock, see my post on homemade stocks - in this case, just add about a cup of 1 inch-cubed, and peeled butternut squash to the pot.

Heat oven to 400.
1 large, or 2 medium size butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes
drizzle of olive oil
salt and pepper
4 cups home-made vegetable stock
Roasted pepita seeds

In a large mixing bowl, drizzle olive oil over squash and toss to coat.
Lay squash out on a baking sheet and season with salt and pepper.
Roast in oven for about 30 minutes.
Make sure to rotate sqash every 10 minutes to get an even carmelization.
Transfer roasted squash to blender (you may have to do this in batches) and add enough stock to half-way cover squash. Blend - add liquid if needed. You want a velvety texture, keep adding stock until desired consistancy.
Top with roasted pepita seeds.

Yvette Roman© Photography 2008

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Santa Monica Farmer's Market

The Wednesday Farmer's Market in Santa Monica is an event unlike any other market in Los Angeles. Hundreds of vendors and farmers set up early and draw a crowd of local chefs, tourists and people like me, who are just looking for inspiration for that nights' meal. The market epitomizes California cuisine and the emerging nation-wide green food movement by offering local, largely organic, seasonal fruits, vegetables, flowers, and meats. It's a welcomed escape from the grocery store and the truth is, everything tastes one thousand times better. Every time I go it seems, I find something that I have never seen before and I am always pleasantly surprised with the outcome. New to me this week were watermelon radish and heirloom cauliflower, which looks more like abstract sculpture than vegetable!

Watermelon Radish and Feta Salad:

To accomplish the thin cuts of radish, I use a mandoline. I know not every household has one as they can be expensive and tricky to operate. Investing in one isn't a bad idea, once you figure them out, you will love their versatility. You can buy a japanese mandoline, for about $20, they are simple to use and easy to find. The only downside is that you can't adjust the cut heights, so here, the cuts would be thinner. You can also cut the old fashion way, but that will be very time consuming and the cuts will not be as uniformed.

2 watermelon radish, about the size of a tennis ball, sliced on mandoline about 1/8" thick
1/4 red onion or shallot - sliced on mandoline, paper thin
drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
drizzle of local honey
1/4 cup good quality feta
a few sprigs fresh mint, torn for garnish
lime wedge
salt and pepper
serves 4

On a decorative plate, arrange sliced radish in a circular pattern, over-lapping each other in a spiral fashion.
In the center place onion and top that with crumbled feta
Drizzle with olive oil and honey and season with salt and pepper.
Garnish with mint and a squeeze of lime. Serve at room temp.

Chicken Breasts with Baby Shitakes

3-4 Chicken breasts, skin on and bone in - rinsed, dried & seas
oned with salt and pepper.
1 cup flour in shallow dish.
1 TBLS butter
1 TBLS extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
5 cloves whole, peeled garlic
1 cup baby shitake mushrooms (any mushroom would work, a wild blend would be great)
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup chicken broth - low simmer on stove-top.

Heat oil and butter in a large skillet on medium high heat.
Dredge chicken breasts in flour and shake off excess, place skin side down and sear for 5 minutes, or until golden brown. Turn over and sear another 5 minutes. Add wine, cook down 3 minutes, add garlic and cook another few minutes. Lower heat to medium and add mushrooms. Shake pan and allow mushroom to settle on bottom of pan. (Don't salt the mushrooms, it will draw moisture out and they will get soggy. Wait until chicken is cooked all the way through and season then with salt and pepper.) After about 5 minutes, add hot chicken broth and bring to a steady, low simmer, cover pan and cook until chicken juices run clear, about 15 minutes. In the last few minutes, uncover pan and reduce pan juices a bit. Now you can season with s & p.

Roated Cauliflower with Mustard-Caper Butter

This is THE best way to prepare cauliflower, it works equally well with any kind of cauliflower or brussel sprouts. If using brussel sprouts, cut in half and trip off the base.

2 garlic cloves
2 tbls butter, softened to room temp
2 tsp dijon mustard
1/4 cup capers, drained and rinsed
grated zest of 1 lemon
3 tbls chopped marjoram
black pepper
2 heads Romanesco cauliflower - white cauliflower will be fine, also.

1. Preheat oven to 375.
2. Make mustard-caper butter, pound the garlic with a half tsp salt in mortar until smooth.
Stir garlic into butter, with mustard, capers, lemon zest and marjoram. Season to taste with pepper.This can be done one day in advance, just bring to room temp before serving.
3. Cut cauliflower into bite-size pieces - arange on a baking sheet and toss in olive oil and salt and pepper. Roast for 30 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally to rotate florets.
4. Place roasted cauliflower in a bowl and add butter compound. Cover with tin foil and shake to mix butter around. Serve hot.

Adapted from "Local Flavors" by Deborah Madison.

Yvette Roman Photography© 2008

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Kitchen Sink......

Each week, I save all ends and what-not from unused vegetables to give to the family. They take it to their vineyard and add it to the compost pile, or feed it to their chickens. As I was filling up the compost container today, I noticed a interesting combination of toss-outs -- carrot, onion, celery...... A classic culinary combination lies before me and it hits me, why am I not using these throw outs and making vegetable broth? I buy that awful boxed stock all the time!! Channeling the days where I would NEVER buy boxed stock, I quickly rumage through everything and throw it into a pot filled with water. I added fennel stalk, garlic and parsley stems. Finding a few fresh garlic cloves, a pinch of whole black peppercorns and salt, I turn it up and get a rolling boil. I'm feeling like a genius, my grandmother would be so proud of me!

NOTE: Making any stock is simple. Always start with carrot, onion and celery (known as mirepoix in the culinary world), and water. Add any common vegetable, staying away from any cruciferous vegetable, (cabbage family including broccoli, brussel sprouts, dark leafy greens, cauliflower, etc), as they can leave a bitter after taste. If you are planning on making a particular soup, like butternut squash, for example, make your stock and add some of the butternut squash you plan to use in the soup. This creates a deeper layer of flavoring and though subtle, can really make a difference in the end product.
Always cover the stock as it simmers. The longer you cook, the better the flavor, but 30 minutes will do - up to 2 hours. Be sure to add salt and whole peppercorns.
Store in a container with a tight fitting lid for up to 10 days and cool entirely before storing.
Shrimp stock : mirepoix + water + shells from peeled shrimp
Chicken stock : mirepoix + water + whole chicken, fat trimmed and cavity emptied. Skim fat from time to time.

Ricotta, Spinach and Parmesan Tarts

If you are looking for some culinary inspiration, check out anything by Donna Hay. Her recipes are simple, yet elegant and the photographs are amazing. She has a magazine that comes out a few times a year as well. I just love her food - here is a quick tartlett you can serve along a salad or soup, or snack on any time. Be sure to squeeze all liquid out of spinach, otherwise these will be too moist and the result will suffer.

1 lb fresh ricotta
1/3 cup sour cream
pinch salt
1 egg, lightly beaten
cracked black pepper
pinch fresh nutmeg
1 lb fresh baby spinach
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 chopped toasted pine nuts
1 TBLS fresh herbs - I like parsley, chives and dill

Preheat oven to 350.
Process ricotta in food processor until smooth.
Place ricotta, salt, sour cream, egg, pepper and nutmeg in bowl and mix well.
Place spinach in dry saute pan and a TBLS of water and cook down, about 3 minutes. Chop and drain all liquid out of cooked spinach.
Add spinach, parmesan, pine nuts and herbs to ricotta mixture.
Spoon mixture into greased muffin pan and bake for about 30 minutes, or until golden.
Makes 8 - 12.
Adapted from Donna Hay Entertaining, 2003.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Chicken with 40 cloves of garlic

Seriously, 40 cloves! (Make it easier on yourself and buy peeled cloves.) I served this with a mixed herb and green salad.

1 3-4 lb chicken, cut into 8 pieces. At room temp, seasoned with salt and pepper.
2 TBLS extra virgin olive oil
1 TBLS butter
About 40 garlic cloves
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 chicken broth

In a deep skillet or dutch oven heat oil and butter. When fats are hot, but not smoking, add chicken skin side down and cook until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Turn over and repeat. Work in batches if necessary.
Reduce heat to medium and bury cloves under chicken to settle on bottom of skillet. Saute, shaking pan frequently, about 10 minutes. Allow garlic to brown, but not burn. Add wine and broth, scraping bottom of pan.
Cover and continue to cook until juices run clear. About 15-20 minutes. Serve chicken with garlic and pan juices.
Serves 4
Adapted from Alex Witchel, New York Times

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Braised short ribs with bok choy

These short ribs were from a local cow to the Santa Ynez Valley. The family bought a 1/2 of a cow and it has gone a long way. I marinated these for 3 days!

2 TBLS toasted sesame seeds, grind in spice grinder to a paste
1 cup soy sauce/shoyu
1/2 cup sesame oil
2 TBLS honey
2 TBLS sherry
2 TBLS minced garlic
2 TBLS minced fresh ginger
1 TBLS red pepper flakes
1 bunch scallions, chopped - use green and white parts

Marinade for 1 hour or up to 3 days

1 TBLS canola oil
1 TBLS butter
1 onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup red wine
1/2 chx or beef broth
salt and pepper

Heat oven to 325*.
In a large saute pan, heat 1 TBLS canola oil and sear each rib for about 5 min each side. (Be sure to have seasoned each side with salt a pepper.) It should get a nice carmilized color on it. Set aside.
In another saute pan, heat butter and saute onion and garlic on med-low until soft. Be careful to not burn garlic. Add wine and let reduce to half, add broth and allow to reduce by half. Place ribs in roasting pan and cover with above ingredients. Cover tightly with foil and allow to cook for 2-3 hours. The meat should be falling off the bone.
Seves 4 - 6.

3 heads bok choy - cleaned and cut in half, length-wise
1 TBLS canola oil
salt and pepper

In a large saute pan, heat oil. Add bok choy and season with salt and pepper. Saute on med-high heat until it becomes limp, about 7 minutes. You may want to add 1 TBLS water to help it cook down. It may help to do this in batches.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Chicken with olives, fennel, tomatoes and pearl onions. Along with sauteed brussel sprouts and pureed celeriac root.

This meal is quite elegant! I served this for the family when they had 2 VIP guests over. Everything is simple, the chicken is moist and the colors are great! I served this with a salad of arugula, endive and radicchio with shaved (high quality) parmesan and a light vinaigrette. This recipe serves 2-4 easily.

2 chicken breasts, skin and bone on
1 cup all purpose flour
1 TBLS butter
1 TBLS extra virgin o.o.
1 cup dry white wine
1 fennel bulb, julienne 1/2 inch
1/4 cup whole cherry tomatoes
1/2 cup whole, fresh pearl onions
2 cloves garlic, whole
1 1/2 cups chicken broth - hot

Rinse chicken and pat dry. Season with salt and pepper. Dredge chicken in flour and dust off excess. Heat butter and oil in a large saute pan until butter begins to brown. Place chicken skin side down and sear for 5 minutes, or until golden brown. Turn over and sear another 3 minutes. Add wine, cook down for 2 minutes. Add fennel, tomaotes, onions and garlic. Cook on med. heat until wine almost evaporated. Add hot chicken broth and bring to a slow simmer. Partially cover and cook for about 20 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through. If broth begins to evaporate, add more.

2 heads celeriac (celery root), peeled, large dice
1 yellow potato, peeled, large dice
1 TBLS butter
salt and pepper

In pot, place celeriac, potato and cover with salted water. Bring to boil until cooked through. About 10 mins. Drain. In food processor, blend with butter, season with salt and pepper.
Keep warm in 200* oven until service.

1 lb brussel sprouts, julienned
1TBLS butter or olive oil. (Butter has better flavor here)

In a large saute pan, heat butter or oil on med heat. Add brussel sprouts and salt and pepper. Sauted for about 5-7 minutes, or until al dente.
Keep warm in 200* oven until service.

Corn and Lobster Chowder

This is WAY too easy for how incredibly good it is. Lobster is expensive, you may want to substitute shrimp or a hearty white fish (cod, halibut, scallop) in its place. Be sure to serve with crusty, toasty bread. Serves about 4.

1 TBLS butter
1 chopped onion
1 1/2 cup fresh corn
1 potato, peeled and diced
2 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup fresh salsa
1 lb cooked lobster meat
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 diced jalapeno
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
lime wedges for garnish

In a large pot, saute onions with butter on med-low heat until soft. 3-5 mins.
Add corn, potato and broth, bring to a simmer. Add lobster, cream and jalapeno and salsa.
Return to simmer for 5-7 minutes and add basil. (If you are using a substitute fish, add RAW fish along with corn, potato and broth - bring to simmer and cook 5-10 minutes). Serve with toasted crusty french bread and lime wedges.
Adapted from Gourmet Magazine
This blog is a tool for people to get ideas for cooking healthful meals at home. As a private chef in Los Angeles, I cook dinner for a family 4 nights a week. After preparing 400 + meals, it occured to me, I should be keeping a record of all my work. Then I realized it would be fun to post it and help those who need some ideas for dinner. My cooking philoshphy is simple: I buy local, seasonal and organic foods. Each meal is balanced and the whole-foods ideology which is a priority for me. I will share what I have made each night and pass it along to you. I encourage everyone to eat in more often.

What's for dinner?

As a private chef in Los Angeles, I cook dinner for a wonderful family 4 nights a week. Each meal is based on using whole foods and health - supportive ingredients. After making 3 years worth of meals for them, I realized I should be keeping record of all my work. Then I thought that I could post each meal and help others decide what to make for dinner!