I like to say I was born with a stainless steel thumb - my culinary equivalent of the green thumb - and that's a lucky thing for me since my passion in life is food and cooking, and everything that comes a long with it.
What do I do with my life? I dream food, think food, look at food, read about food, work in the food business, travel via food, talk about food, use food as my artistic muse, teach others about food, and clearly, cook, play with and EAT food!
Food is my compass.
This one goes out to all my vegans and (potentially) raw foodists. And yes, I know, I made regular falafel a bit back, but I couldn't contain myself.
A couple weeks back, I was traipsing around Manhattan, moseying my way up to Organic Avenue on Lex & 73rd to check it out. I wasn't planning on purchasing anything because I have all the means necessary to make my own refreshing juices. Alas, I was sucked in as I am in a vast array of places. Date Cashew Hemp Mylk Smoothie for breakfast the next day since I never have any time to make anything anyway? Check. (It was delicious.) Raw sunflower seed falafel with tahini sauce? CHECK MATE! I don't know why I got the urge to buy these, and also save them for lunch at work, but I did. And let me tell you, I am glad that I did, because these little puppies were absolutely delicious! All the amazing flavors of street falafel, but a heck of a lot healthier for you. Frankly, they were so delicious that I was craving them and talking about them for days after the fact.
So, on that note, I had to make my own version - except I used raw pepitas - tasty, shelled pumpkin seeds. I've been adding them to a lot of salads and having them as little snacks as of late. Having a good quantity on hand, I figured I'd attempt to make falafel using these as opposed to sunflower seeds! The pepitas have a sort of smoky, earthy flavor to them to being with, so they definitely seemed like a good option. So, if you have some of these sitting around, or any kind of seed for that matter really, give this recipe a shot - just be sure to soak the seeds overnight, or at least for eight hours.
Pepita Fauxlafel (makes about 20 tiny falafel)
1 1/2 C raw pepitas, soaked overnight
2 T fresh parsley, roughly chopped
2 T mint, roughly chopped
2 T scallion or spring onion, roughly chopped
2 T tahini
1/4 C fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 large garlic clove, smashed
1 t ground cumin
1 t sea salt
1/2 t fresh ground black pepper
Paprika, for sprinkling
If you're baking these, preheat the oven to 350F, and line a baking pan with parchment paper.
Throw EVERYTHING but the paprika into a food processor, and whir away. Scrape down the sides a few times and continue pulsing to ensure that everything is evenly distributed. Take a taste and smile. Try not to eat the whole thing. At this point, you could probably use this as a spread for a multitude of things. Maybe even a crust on seafood? Who knows - maybe I'll try that in the future! Make little falafel balls with an ice cream scoop, or just by using your hands to roll them out, finishing each by sprinkling a bit of paprika on top.
If you're going to use this as a raw food recipe and have a dehydrator, go ahead and throw them in there using the machines instructions - this will help crisp them up a bit so they don't remain solely as a spreadable paste. Otherwise, pop them in the oven and cook for about 25 minutes, or until the outside is crispy.
Once they're ready, prepare a plate for yourself and chow down! I had mine with a delicious white bean hummus, arugula, and sweet pea shoots. You can absolutely serve it with a tahini sauce, and maybe even a light slaw! Anyway you have it, they are sure to be a hit.
So, I decided to enter a photography contest on Food & Wine recently. Users were asked to submit photos of Favorite Food Moments - no story necessary - and F&W Editors picked their top five favorites! I submitted a few, and out of the 2000+ total entries, one of mine was top five! Frankly, I liked some of my other submissions a bit better, but really, there are no complaints from me!
If you'd like to see my picture in this September's issue of Food & Wine Magazine, vote for my branzino picture! Voting ends June 15. Thanks to everyone!
Imagine a stingray, gracefully gliding through the ocean beneath you, wings flapping as effortlessly as a soaring eagle.Now imagine that same stringray, and contemplate it’s edibility.Upon first thought, your mind may lead you to believe that this creature would have a tough consistency – leather boot-like, and perfectly inedible.Alas, this is not the case.Although the wing is in fact muscular, it’s perfectly tender and delicious.
Enter stage right: skate.What did you think it was?Some of you may know it, but others may not: skate is a member of the ray family.Yes, those same rays that we are cautioned to not step on when wading in the ocean – those evil creatures with whip-like stinging tails that can kill. But, fortunately for us, skates are only a cousin to those fatal creatures. AND, there are two sides to that coin.The delicate flavor and luscious tenderness of the skate wing is the perfect juxtaposition to it's evil cousin's stinging whip.
My fishmonger had gotten in some beautiful skate wings this morning, and was even cooking up a few pieces to sample out.Again, some people are a intimidated by an ingredient they are unfamiliar with, especially one with the looks of a skate wing.He simply coated in light flour, salt and pepper, and pan-seared it in some olive oil.Really simple, really delicious.Of course, I had to try it, even though I knew how my taste buds would feel.It was more entertaining watching the unassuming passers-by sampling the fish, and seeing their faces light up when they tasted the little morsels.Even the girl checking me out exclaimed (without having realized I bought the fish), “Did you try that fish he had back there?! It was AWESOME! I don’t even LIKE fish. It’s ALWAYS TOO FISHY!”She proceeded to state that she only likes canned tuna, which in my head, really makes no sense when you don’t like fish because it’s too fishy – but to each her own.
Needless to say, I was trekking back home, beautiful, rose colored skate wing in tow, ready to whip up something delicious.
*sidebar* Jenny Haniver you ask? A lady of old seafarer lore - proof that sea monsters DO exist! But not so much. Back in the day (way back) sailors would find old specimens of rays and skates that had dried up, and subsequently looked like little monsters - sea devils if you will - leading to many a story and tale. Creepy.
Pan Seared Skate Wing with Preserved Meyer Lemon Brown Butter & Sauteed Ramp Greens
1 bunch ramps, greens removed and roughly chopped, bulbs split in half
1 clove garlic, minced
3 T olive oil
Fresh ground black pepper
Start the recipe by cooking the ramp bulbs. To achieve a golden, crispy exterior on the cut side while leaving the remainder of the bulb soft and almost melted takes a but of time. Heat up a cast iron skillet over medium heat. Allow the pan to get hot, the swirl in about 2 T of olive oil. Place the bulbs in, cut side down, turn the heat to low, and allow to cook for at least 25 minutes, or until the bulb is soft, and caramelized. You can keep the bulbs in this pan until you're ready to plate.
For the ramp greens, heat a tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat in a saute pant with a cover. Add the minced garlic, and allow to cook until softened. Turn the heat to low, stir in the ramp greens, sprinkle with a pinch of salt and a couple grinds of pepper and stir. Cover the pan and allow these to slowly cook until the greens are wilted. Remove from heat and keep warm until ready to plate.
For the skate, pat each wing dry and sprinkle both sides with a couple pinches of sea salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Once both sides are seasoned, lightly dust the entire wing with Wondra flour. Technically speaking, Wondra flour is a granulated, instant dissolving flour - originally used just for pastries, sauces, and to help people who inevitably get lumps in their gravy when using real flour. Fortunately for cooking, Wondra
When all the skate wings are cooked, squeeze the lemon pulp into the pan, toss the preserved lemon rind in, and allow them to lightly brown, stirring often and scraping up any bits from the bottom of the pan. After about two minutes, place 3 T butter into the same pan, and turn the heat down to low. Allow the butter to melt completely, stirring occasionally and start to keep a close eye on it. Once the foam from the melted butter subsided, you'll see the milk solids settle towards on the bottom. These will start to brown, slowly, coloring the butter, and giving off an amazing nutty aroma. When the solids are golden brown in color, stir in the capers, and remove the pan from heat so the butter doesn't burn.
To plate, divide the sauteed ramp greens evenly among 4 plates. Next, place 1/2 of a skate wing atop the mixture, and garnish with 2-3 ramp bulbs. Spoon the warm browned butter over each skate wing, ensuring that each plate gets a nice amount of preserved lemon and capers as well. Give a final sprinkling of minced parsley, and you're ready to eat!
Skate of epic proportions! This preparation of skate with brown butter really is classic - well, classic while I took the liberty of making a few changes with the preserved lemon. And there's a reason for that. The skate wing is so delicate in flavor that it hardly needs more than a little brown butter to transform it. The ramp greens and bulb are both delicate in flavor as well, and the slow cooking took any inkling of pungency out, leaving us with something that is actually slightly sweet.
The skate wing truly takes well to a quick saute - it leaves the flesh pillowy soft and flaky, so tender that you needn't do much more than lightly tug to create the perfect bite. It's texture is similar to that of crab meat, and it's flavor is sweet and almost buttery - hence the perfect combination with the acidic lemon, salty capers, and ramps.
Ah yes, the halibut. The wonderful king of the flatfish. While at the market, the glistening, pearlescent fillets really caught my eye. And yes, those adjectives are appropriate. There's a reason that the word for halibut in Middle English is "hallybutte" - flatfish to be eaten on the holy days. Because it is just that delicious and succulent - truly the essence of the ocean. While scanning the counter for entirely too long, my favorite fishmonger pointed me towards the halibut. A sign from the sea god! (Poseidon? Is that you?) And what better way to kick off June, when June is the kickoff for great halibut fishing?
My market travels also left me with some other items to play with. One: saba. I've been wanted to buy saba for quite some time, but always restrained myself in the past. I obviously didn't have that power today. Saba is actually a traditional Italian "simple syrup" made from concentrated grape must - usually trebbiano grapes. And this isn't the kind of simple syrup we're all used to - it's more like a thick, aged balsamic, but with a bit of an acidic kick from the grapes. It's very intense, very delicious, and not cloyingly sweet. Absolutely delicious. I see the use of this quite often in my future!
And finally, I also came across many a baby vegetable - baby purple artichokes, baby fennel, and baby red onions to be exact. Not that I have a thing for pint-sized produce (which I do, fine), but what better way to really showcase and maintain the integrity of said ingredient? Point in case. On to the recipe!
Fennel Pollen Crusted Halibut with Baby Vegetables (for 4)
2 lbs fresh Alaskan halibut fillet, portioned into fillets and skinned
2 t fennel powder
2 t salt
2 t fresh ground black pepper
8 baby red onions, most of green removed and halved
8 baby purple artichokes, prepared
1 bunch baby fennel, thinly sliced
Lots of olive oil
1 lemon, zested, then halved for juice
Begin by bringing a large pot of salted water to boil to blanch the artichokes. Make an ice bath for post-cooking. Prepare the baby artichokes by removing the outside leaves until you've reached the more tender ones, and cleanly chop off about 1/2 inch from the top of the artichoke. Peel the stem and cut each artichoke in half lengthwise. Place the artichokes in vinegar or lemon water to stop them from oxidizing.
Next, start cooking your onions. In a small pan, but large enough to fit all of the onions, slowly heat up about 1/2 inch of olive oil over low. (I was so excited to use my vintage Le Creuset!) When it starts to slowly bubble, gently place the onions, cut side down into the oil. Let these cook for at least 20 minutes, until they are tender and golden brown. Remove and drain on a paper towel, setting aside. Don't toss out the oil! When the water is at a rapid boil, toss the artichokes in and cook for about 4 minutes, or until the stem is tender. Shock these in the ice bath to retain color and stop cooking, and drain on a paper towel. Once these have drained sufficiently, cook them for about 8 minutes, cut side down in the olive oil, allowing them to attain a nice golden color as well. Set aside with the onions and keep warm.
Sprinkle each halibut fillet with a substantial amount of salt and pepper on both sides. On the flesh side, sprinkle each fillet with enough fennel pollen to cover. Set aside. Heat up a large saute pan (big enough that it won't crowd the fillets, otherwise you'll have to cook in batches) with about 3 T olive oil over medium-high heat. When the olive oil has begun to shimmer, but not smoking, gently lay in each halibut fillet, fennel pollen side down. Allow this to cook for about 5 minutes (depending on thickness), or until the fish has a thick, golden crust on it and can flip easily. Finish cooking on the opposite side for about 2 minutes, or until just medium rare, and remove from the heat.
To plate, place the artichoke and onion halves on a plate or in a wide bowl. Squeeze the juice of 1/2 lemon over the vegetables and sprinkle with a pinch of sea salt and about 3 grindings of black pepper. Gently set the halibut fillet atop the vegetables, finishing the entire dish with lemon zest, thinly sliced fennel and, if you have it, a drizzle of saba. You could use an aged balsamic as well!
I must say, prior to and while cooking, I tried a) one small piece of the halibut raw and b) one small piece of the halibut pan seared with only salt and pepper. The crudo was outrageous and ocean fresh - you can tell this is a cold water flatfish! But the initial bite of the pan seared halibut literally almost knocked me over - it was that delicious! Succulent, juicy, with a hint of sweetness. I knew there was some tasty goodness in my future with the entire dish!
And was I right! The fennel pollen crust and sliced baby fennel took this halibut to another level, but didn't over power the freshness of the halibut itself. The fillet had a perfect crust to give it a nice crunch as each bite flaked away. Both the onions and artichokes held up on their own, again with a slight sweetness, but they did lend a bit more of a deep, savory earthiness to the dish with the lemon juice just enhancing the flavors of each. The zest didn't hurt either!
And if you do have sabaje ne sais quoi but definitely adds something that your guests won't be able to put their finger on.
Do give this a try! Baby vegetables aren't truly necessary - their full-sized elders are definitely appropriate as well, just ensure that they are cut into smaller pieces and cooked longer to attain the deep, caramelized flavor.