Tuesday, October 30, 2007

San Francisco Here We Come... Have Some Pumpkin Brulee While You're Waiting

My wife and I are headed back to the City after a hectic, but very enjoyable visit to New York for my sister's wedding (see previous posts). We had a great time at the wedding, and I even managed to finish the About.com try-out. Now, I just have to wait to hear if I am chosen for the job. Regardless of that decision, I'll be back to a normal filming schedule in a day or two. Thanks for your patience, and while we are in the air, here is a nice seasonal re-run that I think you'll enjoy. Even if you already saw this clip, and made this delicious Pumpkin Brulee, go ahead make it again. Remember how good it was? Original post text to follow:

This is a great seasonal twist on the restaurant classic, and also a really great reason to use a blow torch! I recently had a request for a pumpkin flan. While I love to satisfy my viewers every culinary whim, sometimes I just can’t do it. The problem with a pumpkin flan is that the starchy, slightly grainy texture of the pumpkin puree would ruin the smooth, silky mouth-feel which is what makes a flan, a flan. You would basically be left with a crust-less pumpkin pie.

So, I decided to show this delicious Pumpkin Brulee whichs makes for a great winter dessert. The texture is actually closer to a pudding than a classic crème Brulee, and of course, the star of the dish is the crisp, “Brulee,” sugar top. This is great for your busy holiday schedule, since you can make them the day before and then finish torching the sugar before you serve. Crème Brulee blow torches are very easy to find in any kitchen store or online. You also should have a set of oven-proof ramekins. I use mine for many recipes, both hot and cold.

1 cup pumpkin puree
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup brown sugar
3 egg yolks
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp cinnamon
white sugar
pinch salt

Friday, October 26, 2007

Where’s the Beef? It just fell out of the back of a truck, and is now running all over the road!

Today is my sister’s wedding, and I wanted to thank everyone for all the nice wishes and thoughts, and also for all the comments regarding my About.com try-out. I passed the second stage and the final decision comes on Monday. As I said before, I’m sure there are lots of great candidates, with more time, and no weddings to go to applying, so I’m not getting my hopes up too high, but I still appreciate all the encouragement I’ve gotten on this blog.

By the way, regarding the title of the post; my sister Val and fiancé Rick first met when she was a new police officer and received a call that a large truck carrying cattle had the back gate come open and dozens of very large and annoyed cows were running all over the road and terrorizing the surrounding areas. Rick, who is also in law enforcement, happened to be in the same area, and got a call from the dispatcher to help the local cops (Val) round up the cattle. So, that’s how they first met, and the rest is history!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Life is Just a Bowl of Top Ramen Noodles

I get lots of email. Lots of great inspiring email, with great questions, and great compliments for me and my videos, and the occasional bizarre request that makes me chuckle. And, while it’s tempting to post some of these, I never have because of the obviously self-indulgent, self-serving nature of such an act. I can’t imagine coming to your favorite food blog and reading a post like “Hey everybody, check out this email and how great they think I am!” Well, I’m making a one-time exception, and posting an email I received today.

As you know from the last few posts, I’m in the middle of a very intense and time-consuming try-out for a position with About.com. If I get it, it would allow me the freedom to continue producing a steady supply of free video recipes for your viewing pleasure. I’ve been up working late into the night, and generally feeling overwhelmed, as I try to get as much done as I can before leaving for my sister's wedding Wednesday. So, the following email came at just the perfect time. Thanks Ginny, you made my day, and I feel like I have gotten my second wind, and will actually somehow pull off finishing this project during my trip. By the way, the email was inspiring enough, but the “P.S” about Rachel Ray made me laugh out loud, and is what really pushed me out of the darkness and into the light. From one former starving, Top Ramen-eating student to another, thanks again!! Here is the email verbatim, followed by an old post I did about Ms. Ray,in case you've never heard of her.

Hi Chef John,

I discovered you on you tube and you are quite a comfort. Just want to say thanks for the great/ entertaining/ informative/delicious videos on your website. I love cooking but find myself short on cash occasionally. Some nights when all I’ve got around are some ramen noodles or a frozen T.V. dinner, (and I just can't bear to eat one more) I turn on the computer and watch a few of your videos. Somehow, it is possible for me to live vicariously through the screen. Basically I feel more satisfied just by watching your food rather than eating mine. Trust me, if I had the extra cash I would be sure to send some your way so I could get some Culinary Karma. Keep up the good work,

P.S. Who is Rachel Ray?

Mmm..mmmm…mmmm, Rachael Ray

I like Rachael Ray. There, I said it. It’s not her cooking, or her bubbly on-air personality, or her ubiquitous EVOO, or her 30-minutes meals (wow, she made a tuna melt in 30 minutes!). It’s simply the fact that every other “real” Chef in the country hates her. They talk about her like she is somehow ruining the entire culinary landscape like some kind of inedible weed. She doesn’t claim to be a Chef; she’s just a cute, perky home-cook that has fun in the kitchen, cooking simple, easy to make food. So, to these high and mighty, foam-making, agar agar-loving, sous vide-obsessed, micro-green sprinkling “real” Chefs, I say lighten up! Come on, she just made little meatloaves in cup cake tins! Yummmoo!

Now, I have to admit, I don’t watch her 30-minute meals show, or her talk show (is it still on?), but I do watch her “$40 a day” show. Why? For one reason, and one reason only… the sound/noise she makes after taking that first bite of every meal on the show. It goes a little something like this, “mmm…mmmm.” Whether you’re a fan of the show or not, I hope you enjoy this clip I found on Youtube. Mmmmmm, enjoy!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Back By Popular Demand…The Secret Underwater Pomegranate Trick

I already ran this video demo a long time ago, but when my mother sent me a photo of some “Sweetheart” pomegranates (below right), I thought it would be perfect timing to rerun this clip since this is pomegranate season. By the way, I had never seen a non-red pomegranate before, but she reports the insides are as red and delicious as the traditional varieties. This is a short, but hopefully useful demo for how to remove all those pomegranate kernels without making a big mess. These are great on any fall/winter salads or soups, and of course desserts.
Photo credit, top left, © divenmisscopa

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Important Blog Update: It's all "About" Me, and My Sister's Wedding

For the next two weeks there will be a significant decrease in the frequency of posting videos and other content. I will be leaving for New York next Wednesday for my sister Valerie's wedding, and will be gone a week. In other news, I have applied for a Guide position on About.com to manage one of their new food categories. In order to qualify I must go through a 2 week training period. Once that is over, my work is judged against the other applicants and a guide is chosen. The course is quite involved, and between currently working on that, and leaving for New York, it will be very hard to post much at all.

So, don't be alarmed if you see days go by without any updates. This blog is in no danger. It's healthy, the traffic is continuing to grow, and as soon as I get back, and finish my assignment for About.com, I will resume my regular schedule of prolific production.

I know, I've gladly spoiled you over the last 9 months with almost daily updates, and hundreds of free video recipes. So, I really blame myself for all the emails and comments I'm about to get about me being a lazy, selfish bastard who would rather attend his sister's wedding than stay in San Francisco and film recipes. I completely understand, and it was very tough to choose between my only sibling, and total strangers that I only know through anonymous online comments. I hope you understand my decision, and thank you in advance for your patience. ; -)

The "Chef Hat" Pumpkin - Best Gourd Ever!

My mother-in-law Peggy picked this rare "Chef Hat" pumpkin last weekend and I could not have been happier. I've been complaining for years that botanists and scientists were spending way to much time trying to develop crops that would help feed impoverished countries, and not nearly enough time and efforts developing custom shaped gourds like this. Finally, my voice is being heard, and it's about time! I mean a pumpkin variety shaped like a Chef hat; now that's something I think we all can enjoy. My next request? A pumpkin that comes filled with ready to use pie filling, instead of all those slimy seeds. Okay, UC Davis Agricultural Genetic Engineers, please get to work!

Speaking of large gourds the 34th Annual Safeway World Championship Pumpkin Weigh-Off was just held in Half Moon Bay, California. And the winner was… Thad Starr! His record 1,524-pound pumpkin (pictured here) crushed the old record by 300 pounds. I heard on the news that he was a “stay-at-home” father from Pleasant Hill, OR. That makes sense. I don’t think many 9 to 5’ers are winning these types of competitions.

Remember when pumpkins were round and orange? How am I supposed to steal that thing and smash it on the neighbor that used to give us apples for Halloween's porch?

Monday, October 15, 2007

Merluzzo Pasta Puttanesca - Pimp My Cod!

Merluzzo is Codfish in Italian, and I just thought it would look cooler in the title. In case you've never heard of a "Puttanesca" sauce before, it's Italian for "in the style of the whore." I know, it sounds appetizing doesn’t it? But, it really is a fantastic and fast pasta sauce that can be prepared and tossed on plain pasta, or used as a base for a more complex recipe as I have done here. I've taken the basic Puttanesca sauce and added fresh codfish and Arugula to create a very nice, and quite healthy seafood pasta. By the way, it tastes much better than it looks! The black olive tapenade I added makes for a sort of grey and muddy looking sauce, but when you dress it up with a little parmesan on top and more red pepper flakes, it suddenly becomes much more attractive (insert your own prostitute joke here).

Now, as far as the story behind the Puttanesca sauce's origins, there are many stories, some more "colorful" than others. It is pretty much agreed upon that Naples was the birthplace, but that's about all that people don't argue about. What follows are the most common explanations of this delicious sauce; the ladies of the night made this pasta sauce because the irresistible aroma would help draw in customers. It was created as a quick and cheap meal the ladies could eat in between customers. It is hot, spicy, and fast, as are the woman for whom it's named.

Regardless of the true origin, it's a great sauce, and one that should be part of your regular pasta rotation, no matter what your own personal level of virtue happens to be. I've made this version much lower calorie by reducing the usual amount of olive oil and replaced it with stock and wine. Enjoy!

1 pound fresh cod
2 cups chicken or fish stock (or water)
1 pound pasta
1 cup white wine
2 tbl anchovy paste
2 tbl red pepper flakes
6 cloves garlic
2 tbl olive tapenade or chopped olives
1/4 cup capers
1 bunch Arugula (about 2-3 cups)
2 tbl olive oil
1/2 cup parmesan

Friday, October 12, 2007

Lemon Soufflé Pancakes - Beat it, just beat it!

I was recently commissioned to do a video recipe demo for About.com on the topic of "folding." Of course, this culinary technique is most commonly preformed when introducing egg whites into some type of batter. I was going to show "folding" using some sort of soufflé recipe, but since I already had a cheese soufflé recipe clip on the blog, I decided to use it on something much more common, the humble pancake. 
Every homemade pancake recipe, and almost every store-bought mix, calls for eggs. In almost every case the eggs are simply mixed into the batter and the recipe relies on the baking powder to make the pancakes rise. This is usually fine, but if you use the little extra step of separating the eggs and beating the egg whites, you will create "soufflé" pancakes that will rise to a whole other level...literally. By "folding" in the stiff egg whites, you are introducing millions of tiny air bubbles that expand when the pancake is flipped. As you will see in the video, the site of the pancake rising in the pan is pure magic. Well, actually it's pure physics, but people like magic better than physics.
So, I'm not sure if this is a "folding" video with a bonus pancake recipe, or a pancake demo with a bonus cooking technique included. But, who cares, you're making soufflé pancakes! By the way, this trick will work for any pancake mix that calls for eggs. Enjoy!
Ingredients: 3/4 teaspoon lemon zest 1 tablespoon baking powder 1 teaspoon salt 1 tablespoon sugar 1 tablespoon lemon juice 1/4 teaspoon baking soda 1/3 cup vegetable oil 2 cups milk 2 eggs, seperated

Monday, October 8, 2007

Frittata "Flattata" with Bacon, Potatoes, and Greens

In case you don't know, a frittata is rustic Italian omelet-like concoction. The main difference between an omelet and a frittata, is an omelet is cooked on the stove and served folded, but a frittata is only partially cooked on the stove top and finished under a broiler (or sometimes oven), and served sliced into wedges. What is a "flattata?" It's a made-up, Italian-sounding word. The new pan I used was a bit larger than the one I usually use (12-inch vs.10-inch), so when I sliced it, it looked much flatter that I expected… it looked like a, well, flattata. One of the fun things about cooking, and creating recipes, is you get to name them anything you want; no matter how ridiculous. So, this was deemed the "Frittata Flattata."

Just like omelets, you can use almost anything in these, but this classic combination of bacon, Swiss chard, and potatoes I used is highly recommended. Bye the way, I don't want you to think of this as a breakfast item. It's a wonderful meal anytime of the day or night. You'll hear me mention my Grandfather at the end of the video. He used to make frittatas quite often, but instead of finishing it under the broiler, he would cook it halfway, then put a plate on top of the pan, flip it over and slide it back in the pan to cook the other side. Sometimes it would stick, and only part would "flip," and other times the hot oil would drip on him as he performed this somewhat high-risk maneuver. It was during these moments that I learned all the really good Italian curse words I still use to this day. Enjoy!

8 eggs
6 strips bacon
1 clove garlic
1 potato
1 bunch Swiss chard
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
salt and black pepper to taste

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Time for Sushi? No, Sushi for Time!

Some headlines just write themselves. So, there I was, wracking my brain trying to figure out the perfect gift for my Sushi-loving friend (you know… the one that’s always forgetting things in the oven), and then I saw it; a Sushi (Nigiri to be completely accurate) kitchen timer! How serendipitous!

Okay, I’m sure this sounds like a fish tale, and it is. Well, at least the part about looking for a gift for a Sushi-loving friend. I ran across this very ironic gadget (raw fish on a timer for cooking things?) in the same shop I found the Mario Batali toy, WinkSF. I figured I would post this is case you actually do have to find a gift for a Sushi-loving friend (you know…the one that’s always forgetting things in the oven).

Friday, October 5, 2007

Is This Really a Buffalo Bean?

I came across this incredibly bizarre object being used in a window display at a florist shop near my home. I snapped a couple shots, and asked the florist what in the world it was. It was obviously organic in nature, but I had never seen anything like it. He said it was a “Buffalo Bean,” but that’s all he knew about it. He even snapped one open for me and it had a firm white center. I did a quick search online, and while “Buffalo Bean” did turn up quite a few links, I couldn’t find anything looking even close to this. Does anyone out there know what the hell this is? Is it as evil as it looks? Can I cook with it? Help!

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Black Currant and Balsamic Gastrique – Simple Complexity

This video recipe produced for About.com is my take on a classic French sauce, the Gastrique. In its most basic form it’s simply a caramelized sugar and vinegar reduction. The modern Gastrique is usually a vinegar reduction combined with some type of fruit, either fresh, or in jams and preserves. The reason for the “Simple Complexity” in the title is the fact that this sauce is ridiculously easy to make, yet the number of potential combinations is virtually infinite.

The complex layers of flavors that can be achieved by mixing and matching different fruits and vinegars is what makes this such a fun sauce to make and serve. You could use the exact same technique you’ll see in the video and make a new version every time you serve this for the rest of your life. By the way, if you have any smoked duck breast laying around, the combination of Black Currant preserves and aged Balsamic vinegar I used was perfect. Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Mario Batali Flips Me Off - See why I'm so wound up!

You know you are a true celebrity chef when you have your own wind-up action figure! While browsing in a local gourmet store, WinkSF in San Francisco's Noe Valley, I came upon this amusing, yet somewhat disturbing metal toy (was this some sort of culinary Chucky?).

First of all, if you are going to put a picture of the real chef on the package, then at least make the toy look the sort of the same. Somehow the metal, wind-up Mario lost about 80 pounds. Teresa, the owner of the store offered to wind him up and I filmed a little clip of Mario showing you how to flip a pancake (or whatever Italian for pancake is, I’m sure they have their own word for it).

I should add, before all you Mario fans attack me, I'm a big fan of his. He is a complete stud on Iron Chef, where he’s almost unbeatable.

I can see a whole line of these wind-up celebrity chef toys; An Anthony Bourdain version that smokes a cigarette and eats a kidney, a Bobby Flay version that, once wound, rubs Chipotle pepper on something, etc. If you have an idea for a wind-up version of your favorite chef, please post a comment.

One day, if this blog really takes off, maybe I'll even have my own wind-up action toy! And, you better believe, it's going to have a nice head of hair.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Exotically Delicious 5-Spice Carrots - And, Gratuitous Gong Sound Effects!

I've had a lot of requests lately for easy, but different, vegetable side dishes. So, today's video recipe is an extremely easy, yet unusual, carrot side dish using one of my favorite "secret" ingredients; Chinese 5-spice. This spice mix was invented literally thousands of years ago, and is suppose to season food in perfect balance with the five elementary flavors of Chinese cuisine (and all cuisines for that matter); sweet, sour, bitter, salty and savory.

The most common blend is equal parts ground cinnamon, star anise, fennel, cloves, and pepper. Some versions also use ground ginger and other spices. In fact, as you'll see (and hear…warning: gratuitous sound effects ahead) in the video clip when I looked at my 5-spice bottle's ingredient list I got 7 spices! It had the usual five, but I also got ginger and licorice. I actually could have called it 8-spice, but I only counted the two peppers as one ingredient in the clip. Seven is my lucky number, so that's what I went with.

To me, roasted carrots are so far superior in flavor and texture to the usual boiled or steamed versions. The dry roasting intensifies the sugars and when combined with the Chinese 5, 7, or 8 spice mix, the results are quite delicious. This is the perfect holiday veggie side dish. If you watched the Cider-braised brisket video recipe, you saw these luscious carrots surrounding the bowl. Enjoy!

6-8 large carrots
2 tbl vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon Chinese 5-spice
salt to taste