Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Chef Theo Peck's Cook-off Quest

Cooking competitions are all the rage among New York's young and hyper-social culinary enthusiasts, as reported in today's "Dining In" section of the New York Times.

EQ takes special interest as we covered the cook-off competition circuit in November 2008, interviewing the then newly crowned "King of Casseroles" Chef Theo Peck. The article, "In New York, the Taste of Victory," profiles Peck as the "man to beat," having since acquired three more championship titles and consistently ranking in the Top Two of all cook-offs he has entered.

Peck is characterized as something of a comeback kid as these sweet culinary victories follow a crushing defeat earlier in the Fall when his plans to open his first restaurant in Fort Greene Brooklyn were crushed as his funds fell victim to Bernie Madoff's ponzi scheme. The Times reports:

Mr. Peck, 37, has spent most of his life around the restaurant business. His family owned Ratner’s, the venerable Lower East Side kosher dairy restaurant, where he often worked as a cashier. After college, he and a friend opened the Lansky Lounge in Ratner’s back room, briefly the hottest bar in the newly gentrified neighborhood. He ended up at the New England Culinary Institute and cooked at Blue Hill at Stone Barns and at Hugo’s in Portland, Me.

He returned to New York last year, planning to open his own restaurant in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. He acquired partners and was ready to put up his own money — money he had saved and invested. Unfortunately, he said, it was invested with Bernard Madoff.

“I was devastated,” he said. “I didn’t know what to do.”

Killing time online, he discovered the local competition scene. His girlfriend nudged him to participate.

“She said, ‘Why don’t you just go and do this casserole contest and get your mind off it? You’ll get yourself back in the game a little.’ ”

So Mr. Peck showed up at the Fourth Annual Casserole Party — held last November in a Greenpoint bar — bearing a casserole he had prepared in his Stuyvesant Town apartment. It featured roasted orange cauliflower and thinly sliced purple potatoes, mixed with apples and bacon. He had bound the vegetables with garlic-infused cream and Gruyère, and covered the top with fried onions and crisp shredded phyllo sheets. It took first prize.

Ms. Erway proclaimed Mr. Peck “King of the Cauliflower Casserole.”

Having known Theo for many years, EQ is thrilled to see him in the spotlight. His passion and commitment to cuisine is in his blood. He is a gifted and visionary chef with a very bright future (not to mention highly personable, hilarious, exceptionally telegenic, and primed for a book deal).

Follow Chef Theo Peck on his food blog, Carnivore Hearts Herbivore. And if you're in NYC, don't miss Chef Peck's latest creations at the First Annual Brooklyn Beer Experiment -- a cook-off featuring dishes made with beer, as well as home brewing competition -- on June 7 at the Bell House.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Toronto's Top Locavore

We were doubly lucky in Toronto to attend the beautiful wedding celebration of our dear friends Jed and Jess, and then feast upon exceptional food at the reception from local purveyors prepared by top Canadian chef Jamie Kennedy.

During the cocktail hour, Jamie manned an open blini bar while chatting with wedding guests. He served up cured local salmon and whitefish on fresh-off-the-griddle blinis with a bed of pickled radishes and topped off with roe.

Jamie is known for being a fervent supporter of cooking with locally produced ingredients and the Slow Food movement in Canada. This is how he approached the wedding menu: everything including the wines (a Syrah and a Riesling) came from the Ontario region.

The dinner featured seasonal standouts including pickled heirloom beets with blue cheese and watercress, a Pistou soup studded with green garlic and fiddlehead ferns, a just-caught Georgian Bay Day Boat whitefish in a Spring herb migonette with leeks, green garlic, and new potatoes, and a roast galantine of capon with spring carrots, braised greens and chive mashed potatoes.

Similar to his wildly successful American celebrity chef counterparts there was evidence of the cottage industry of all things Jamie, from signature bottled water to crystal wine glasses etched with his logo.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

1 Birthday, 3 Cakes

This month, my adorable anti-blogging agent, aka "Baby Van," had his first birthday. Given our bicoastal collection of family and dear friends, he was thrown not one, not two, but three different parties to celebrate. Van had a kids patio party in Los Feliz, a family luncheon in Syracuse, NY, and a chic Upper East Side affair in NYC.

Each of the cakes were delicious and very different -- a marble cake molded in a classic Wilton Winnie-the-Pooh cake pan, a rich carrot cake with tangy cream cheese frosting, and a black and white triple layer cake with fresh strawberry filling and whipped cream frosting. See if you can match each cake to its respective party.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Obama's Feast

Care to eat like the most awesome leader to grace the free world who will change the face of our planet as we know it? Here's what Barack Obama is having for his first meal as 44th President of the United States.

(recipes to follow)

Seafood Stew

paired with Duckhorn Vineyards 2007 Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley

A Brace of American Birds (Pheasant and Duck)

served with Sour Cherry Chutney and Whipped Molasses Sweet Potatoes
paired with Goldeneye, 2005 Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley

Apple Cinnamon Sponge Cake
and Sweet Cream Glacé
paired with Korbel Natural Special Inaugural Cuveé, California Champagne


+ RECIPES, courtesy of the Joint Congressional Committe on Inaugural Ceremonies

First Course

Seafood Stew
Yield: 10 servings
6 (1 Lb) Maine lobsters
20 medium size Sea scallops
36 Large shrimp, peel, cleaned and tail removed, aprox. 2 lbs.
10 (1 oz) pieces of black cod
1/2 cup small dice carrots
1/2 cup small dice celery
1/2 cup small dice leek
1/2 cup small dice Idaho potato
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground white pepper or black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 quart heavy cream
1 cup dry vermouth (can be made without)
10 (5 inch) puff pastry rounds

10 (3 1/2 inch) terrines/ramekins or serving dish of your choice

1. Bring 1 gallon of water to a boil; poach lobsters, then shrimp, then black cod and last scallops. After seafood is cooked, remove from water; reserve water and bring to boil.
2. Cook all vegetables in liquid that was used for the seafood, remove vegetables when tender. Allow the liquid to continue to boil until only 1qt of liquid remains. This will be the base for the sauce.
3. Bring seafood liquid back to a boil and add the vermouth and heavy cream and reduce by half, season with salt, white pepper and nutmeg to taste. You have reached your desired thickness when the sauce will cover the back of a wooden spoon. Set aside to cool.
4. Cut Maine lobster, shrimp and scallops into bite size pieces.
5. Pre-heat oven at 400 degrees.
6. Fold seafood and vegetables into cool sauce, being careful not to mix too much as this will break up the seafood. Scoop mixture into terrines or oven proof baking dish of your choice.
7. Cover terrines with puff pastry rounds, brush them with egg wash and bake them until golden brown about 8-10 minutes, allow to cool for 5 minutes before serving. You can cook this 2-3 hours ahead of time and keep warm at 150 F degrees.
* All seafood can be substituted with other favorite options of your choice and availability.

Second Course

Duck Breast with Cherry Chutney
Yield: 10 servings
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion (1 small)
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tablespoon finely chopped shallot
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
Scant 1/4 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup coarsely chopped red bell pepper (1/2 medium)
1 plum tomato, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup dry red wine
1 to 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 can (3 cups) Bing cherries, quartered *Oregon brand
1/2 cup Golden Raisins
10 (6 oz.) boneless duck breasts with skin
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon or chives 

Method for chutney and glaze
Heat oil in a 2 to 3 quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat until hot but not smoking, then cook onion, garlic, and shallot, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 7 minutes. Add tomato paste, black pepper, cumin, hot pepper flakes, and 1/4 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring, 30 seconds. Reduce heat to medium and add bell pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in wine, vinegar (to taste), and sugar and simmer approx 5 minutes. Stir in mustard, 1 1/2 cups cherries, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and simmer 1 minute. Allow to cool slightly and reserve all but • cup of the mix to the side. Place1/4 cup mix in a blender and puree until very smooth, about 1 minute (use caution when blending hot liquids). Reserve for glazing duck. To finish the chutney, add the remaining 1 • cups of cherries, tarragon, chives and all the golden raisins. Can be prepared one day ahead.
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 450°F. Score duck skin in a crosshatch pattern with a small sharp knife and season duck all over with salt and pepper.
Heat water in an ovenproof 12-inch heavy skillet over low heat until hot, then add duck, skin side down. Cook duck, uncovered, over low heat, without turning, until most of fat is rendered(melted) and skin is golden brown, about 25 minutes.
Transfer duck to a plate and discard all but 1 tablespoon fat from skillet. Brush duck all over with cherry glaze and return to skillet, skin side up.
Roast duck in oven until thermometer registers 135°F, about 8 minutes for medium-rare. Remove from oven and allow to rest for 5 minutes.
Holding a sharp knife at a 45-degree angle, cut duck into slices. Serve with cherry chutney and molasses whipped sweet potato.

Herb Roasted Pheasant with Wild Rice Stuffing

Yield: 10 portions
10 Pheasant breast, boneless, remove tenders and reserve for stuffing, cut small pocket in side of breast for stuffing
1/2 cup Olive oil with chopped rosemary, thyme and sage
1 lb. Wild rice, long grain
2 quarts Chicken stock or canned chicken broth
2 Carrots, diced
1/2 Onion, diced
1/2 cup Dried apricot, small diced
1 Tablespoon Salt and pepper mix
2 Tablespoons Garlic, roasted

1. Boil the rice with the chicken stock, cook until soft and most of the liquid is gone.
2. Add the onion, carrot, garlic and apricot. Cook until the vegetables are soft and all liquid has been absorbed. Refrigerate rice mixture until cold.
3. In a food processor, puree pheasant tenders to a paste consistency to use as a binder for rice mix.
4. When rice is cool, add the pheasant puree to the rice until well mixed. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper and return to refrigerator until ready to stuff.
5. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
6. Make 10 small football shaped patties of the rice mix, stuff inside the pheasant, being careful not to overstuff the pheasant. Rub herb/oil mixture on top and bottom of the pheasant, season with salt and pepper. Place the pheasant on a heavy gauge roasting pan and then in a preheated oven for approximately 8-10 minutes. Remove from oven and cover with lid or foil and allow to rest for 10 minutes. Serve over sauté of spinach.
*Pheasant can be substituted with chicken.

Molasses Whipped Sweet Potatoes
Yield: 2 quarts
3 large sweet potatoes, about 3 pounds
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup orange juice
1/2 tablespoon of brown sugar
1 tablespoon of molasses
1 teaspoon of ground cumin
2 tablespoons maple syrup

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
2. Place sweet potatoes on a baking sheet and roast until easily pierced with a fork, about 1 hour.
3. Peel the skin off of the sweet potatoes while still hot.By hand or mixer, smash potatoes until all large chunks are gone. Combine the potatoes, butter, salt, orange juice, brown sugar, ground cumin, molasses and maple syrup in a large bowl. Continue to mix all together until all lumps are gone. Adjust any of the seasonings to your specific tastes. Can be made the day before.

Winter Vegetables

Yield: 10 servings
2 bunches Asparagus, green, bottom 1/3 of stem removed
2 lbs. Carrots, peeled, cut oblong or large dice
1 lb. Baby Brussel Sprouts, fresh,cleaned or frozen can be used
1 lb. Wax Beans, ends snipped
2 oz Butter
1 each Zest from orange
4 oz. Olive oil
Salt and Pepper to taste.
Asparagus: preheat grill or large heavy bottom sauté pan. Rub 2 oz of olive oil on asparagus and season with pinch of salt and pepper. Lay flat on grill or sauté pan until lightly browned. Using long fork or tongs, rotate the asparagus to brown other sides. Usually 2 or 3 minutes per side. The asparagus is done when you can use a fork to cut through. Do not overcook, this will cause asparagus to become stringy. Keep warm until ready to serve.
Carrots: bring 3 qt salted water to a boil, add carrots to water and cook until fork tender, meaning a fork will easily pass through the carrot. Drain the water from the pot and toss 1 oz butter and zest of orange and mix until carrots are coated. Season with pinch of salt and enjoy. Keep warm until ready to serve.
Brussel Sprouts: For Fresh: Bring 3 qt salted water to a boil, cut into the stem of the sprout with a pairing knife to create an X on the bottom, this will allow the stem to cook more evenly. Place sprout in boiling water and allow to cook until bottom of sprout is tender and easily cut with a knife. Preheat a heavy bottom sauté while the sprouts are cooking. Remove sprouts from water and allow all water to drain completely. Add 2 oz oil to sauté pan and add the sprouts, season with salt and pepper while tossing the sprouts around to evenly brown in the pan. If sprouts are too big, you can cut them in half, keep warm until ready to serve.
For Frozen: Bring 3 qt salted water to a boil and drop frozen brussel sprouts into water, these are precooked so you are only thawing them out. Remove from water and sauté as above.
Yellow Wax beans: bring 3 qt salted water to boil, add snipped wax beans to water and allow to cook until fork tender or to your liking of doneness. Remove from water and toss with 1 oz butter and season with salt and pepper.

Third Course

Cinnamon Apple Sponge Cake
Yield: 10 servings
Apple Filling
4 lbs Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup water
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup apple sauce
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
Grated zest from 1 lemon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Bread Crust

14 tablespoons unsalted butter, melt 10 of tablespoons
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
34 slices brioche bread (or white bread)

10 Ceramic baking ramekins or metal molds (3” diameter)

2 cups caramel sauce(store bought)
2 cups granny smith apples, peeled, cored, diced small
Pinch sugar
Pinch cinnamon
1 tablespoon butter

Ice Cream
1 quart vanilla ice cream

1. Melt butter 
1. Melt butter in 6-quart saucepan over medium-low heat. Add apples and caramelize, add water, cook, stirring occasionally for 15 to 20 minutes, or until apples are completely soft. Remove cover and add sugar, nutmeg and salt. Increase heat to medium-high and continue to cook, stirring apples frequently, until liquid has completely evaporated, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in lemon zest, apple sauce and vanilla. Set aside to cool while making crust. The filling can be made one day ahead.
Making crust and assembly
1. Position oven rack in lower third of oven and preheat to 425°F. Grease 8 ceramic dishes with 1 tablespoon butter. Sprinkle sugar in dish and tilt to coat bottom and sides. Tap out excess sugar and set aside.
2. Using a bread knife, remove crusts from bread. Center the bottom of mold over one of the bread squares. Cut around mold to form circle to use as the top. Make a total of 20 of these round pieces. Ten will be for the bottom and 10 will be used for the top. Dip each one in melted butter and place at the bottom of mold.
3. Cut each of the 15 remaining slices of bread into four rectangular pieces. Dip one side of each strip in the melted butter and arrange strips, upright, around the inside of molds, buttered-sides against mold and overlapping by about 1/2” to completely line mold. Use 6 rectangles to line the mold.
4. Spoon the apple filling into bread-lined molds, mounding it slightly in center.
5. Take the remaining ten rounds of bread and dip pieces of bread into the melted butter and place on top of filling, buttered-sides up. Press down lightly.
6. Bake for 30 minutes, then cover top loosely with aluminum foil. Bake for an additional 15-20 minutes, until top is deep golden brown and side slices are golden brown (slide a thin-bladed knife between bread and pan to check). Remove from oven, uncover, and let rest for 15 minutes on wire rack. Run thin-bladed knife around edges of molds to be able to flip the mold out onto serving plates.
7. For the apple cinnamon caramel sauce, sauté 1 cup of peeled and diced Granny Smith apples in butter, add a pinch of sugar and cinnamon. Allow to cook until apples are lightly browned and all sugars have dissolved. Remove from heat and add 2 cups caramel sauce to the apples and stir to coat apples.
To Assemble: Pour caramel apple sauce over warmed apple cakes and serve with your favorite vanilla ice cream.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Talk Soup

The 6th Annual Soupsköl in Aspen, CO, held much promise for steamy cauldrons bubbling over with new flavors as more than 25 local restaurants participated in the competition, but instead we were served up multiple renditions of fowl chowders, tortilla soups, and bisques from the sea. Not to mention the very long lines. I typically have a high threshold for these kinds of events, but even I bailed after 10 dixie-cup sips in more than an hour's time, and constant elbow-bumping with the alpine elite.

It wouldn't be Aspen if we didn't spot a few soup enthusiasts sporting what we will affectionately call the Western douchebag look. You know the type (or maybe you don't) -- the beefy and tan, monied mountaineer in a roughed-up cowboy hat with a floor length mink coat and ostrich skin cowboy boots. It's probably the closest we'll see to a public soup kitchen (the original concept for the event, btw) for recession-era financiers.

One soup standout worth mentioning was the Lobster Hot Chocolate from the restaurant Social. Their lobster bisque variation was the most adventurous flavor pairing, heavy on the cocoa and garnished with a cream froth and finely chopped chives.

The reigning champ, chef Clark Church of Garnish café, won again for the third year in a row with his rendition of New England-style clam chowder. Clark's chowder is more brothy in consistency, but dense with flavor and packs an extra spice kick, which he revealed is owed to "good ol' black pepper."