Follow me on Pintrest

Follow Me on Pinterest

Monday, November 14, 2016

Pasta Therapy - Eating my feelings and Cacio e Pepe

In the aftermath of last week’s election result and the reactions to it, I have been struggling with how to approach my blog. I wasn’t sure if it was OK to write about food (as I write this I am still not sure). Could I even have the clarity of thought to write anything coherent (much less appetizing)? I was, and still am, overwhelmed.

As a son to a mother, brother to a sister, a survivor or sexual assault and a gay man, the result was a disappointing and troubling blow. To many others though, the outcome and the reactions from both sides of the ideological spectrum, were more even more traumatic than I can ever conceive.  Centuries and layers upon layers of oppression were thrust into the headlines and laid bare for raw, often careless, public discourse and dissection. Deep wounds to identity were ripped open anew, groups that had been making incremental progress were knocked back into the battle trenches, and for many, their future in this country is now in peril. I am heartbroken.

I will continue to process, to mourn, grieve, seethe, plan and to listen. This is only the beginning and my response, the action I take, will be a careful and deliberate process.

We all need to think, but we also need to eat, and I need to cook, which is why I decided to write.

Food is nourishment at its most base and a carnal pleasure at its heights. Cooking is meditative and transcendent. It is an escape from the weight of reality, an opportunity for creative expression and emotional release. It is a way to explore and connect with cultures that are not one’s own and share and celebrate in our own. Food offers a way to commune with family, friends, neighbors, and relate to others in an authentic and essential way.

Preparing and sharing a meal is how I give and receive that is what I will write about...

Mark and I spent the weekend following the election in New York City, an attempt at some semblance of return to normalcy. It was kind of a blur. We hung out with friends, shopped, spent time with his family and watched a beautiful dance production in which his sister performed (Rules of the Game). The entire time there was a palpable weight to the mood in the city. People were glued to their Iphones rapt with the flood of articles and images on social media. They either sought out human contact, smiles and eye contact lingering just a little longer than usual or they anxiously avoided interaction all together, downcast eyes and walking with a quicker than normal clip (even for New Yorkers). We passed by and stood with the protests several times. I was struck by the sheer numbers, and immediately my thoughts and emotions were kicked back into overdrive. After the exhausting weekend and 3-hour drive back to our beloved Baltimore, I was drained and out of F’s to give when it came to dinner. Add to it the Sunday scaries and dread of work looming on Monday, I would have eaten anything salty, fatty and starchy and felt good about it. I was on the verge of ordering takeout when I realized I could achieve my salty, fatty, starchy comfort food goals by my very own hand. I would be my own therapist through the preparation and then eat my feelings with Mark by my side.

When I was studying abroad in Rome I became addicted to a very simple, yet decadent and satisfying dish called Cacio e Pepe. Cacio e Pepe is quintessentially Roman and has been around for centuries. I would argue it was the original Mac & Cheese in its ubiquitous comfort food status. Anthony Bourdain so reveres this dish that he’s touted it as the “greatest thing in the history of the world.” I tend to agree with him on most things; this is no exception.

“Cacio” is a general term for cheese throughout Italian culinary tradition, but is also the name of a semi-soft sheep’s milk cheese from the Roman countryside, and “Pepe” means, you guessed, it Pepper. “Cheese and Pepper” is the perfect combination of pasta, sharp and salty Italian cheeses, and butter, intensified by a healthy dose of fresh ground pepper. It’s not ooey-gooey like an alfredo, but more like a carbonara, a thick and even coating of cheese sauce envelopes the pasta and delivers all the flavor. Traditionally, Cacio e Pepe is prepared with a long, thin spaghetti, but one can use anything like egg tagiolini, bucatini, or vermicelli. Over the weekend, I dragged Mark to Eataly, one of my favorite places to get culinary inspiration. Due to the ridiculous weekend crowds that plague that place, I only had a few minutes before he was overwhelmed and insisting we leave, but it was just enough time to snag some Cacio di Roma from the cheese case, and pick up a pound of extra-wide fettucine made with farro, the newest addition to the ancient grain trend (see what I did there?). Little did I know at the time but I had the makings of a delicious dinner in hand. The fettucine would be ideal for Cacio e Pepe, the ample surface area for sauce coverage and flavor delivery. The chestnut color of the pasta would not only look beautiful on the plate but it is also indicative of the caramelly and nutty tones that the farro brings to the flavor of the pasta. The sweet notes would play perfectly with the savory Cacio and requisite Pecorino Romano to come.

The preparation of Cacio e Pepe is very straightforward, again, perfect for my post-election-Sunday mood. I brought some salted water to a boil. While the water warmed, I ground 2 tablespoons of black peppercorns in my KRUPS spice grinder. I spread the ground pepper in the bottom of a large sauce pan and turned on the heat as I dropped the pasta in the water. Heating the dry peppers is called toasting and allows the oils to release and the fragrance and flavor to intensify. Another approach would be to “bloom” the ground spices by doing the same process but “wet”, with the addition of oil or butter. Blooming is a great way to bring out additional flavor while mitigating some of the risk of scorching your spices, which is easy to do when toasting. Either way, blooming or toasting, it is worth the extra effort for the flavor the process imparts, just don’t forget about your spices on the heat.

I cooked the pasta for about 5 minutes then drained, reserving some of the cooking liquid. I added butter to my toasting pepper and turned up the heat, allowing the butter to melt into a paste. Then I added the reserved cooking liquid and brought it to a simmer. I stirred in the grated Cacio de Roma I bought in NY and some of my favorite Pecorino Romano from Whole Foods (it’s sinfully salty and addictive), then immediately added my cooked pasta. I turned the heat down and continuously tossed the pasta until it was evenly coated, the starches in the water helping bind the cheese to the bands of fettuccine. I plated on my bright white dinner plates for the maximum color contrast and it was prettier than I imagined, the deep brown, almost chocolately tones of the pasta looked luxurious and downright radiant following their butter and cheese bath.

Mark and I savored our dinner together. While we ate I explained the history behind the dish, how it is a symbol of american traditions born of immigrant pasts, affirming we are stronger (and more delicious) together. I regaled him with memories of my precious time in Rome and made plans for our trip next fall when I hope to share my most cherished places and things. We reflected on the pleasures of the weekend and the challenges and tragedies of the week, and ate until we could no longer move. I am no closer to any resolution on the gut wrenching events unfolding, nor do I expect to be, but I am grateful for Cacio e Pepe, for an evening shared with the man I love, friends and family with whom to celebrate and commiserate, and the wonders of pasta therapy.

Cacio e Pepe as Therapy  

  •          1lb Fresh farro fettuccine (or equivalent portion egg tagliolini, spaghetti, bucatini or similar)
  •          2/3 Cup grated pecorino romano
  •          1/3 Cup Cacio de Roma or parmigiano reggiano
  •          1 + 2 tablespoons salted butter
  •          2 tablespoons fresh ground black peppercorns


Bring salted water to a boil in a large pasta pot. Grind peppercorns and spread in the bottom of a large non-stick sauce pan. When water is at a rolling boil, drop in pasta. While pasta cooks, approx. 5 minutes, toast the peppercorns dry over medium flame, being careful not to scorch or smoke. When pasta is cooked drain in colander but reserve ½ cup of the cooking liquid and set aside. Add 2 tablespoons of butter to the peppercorns and turn up the heat. Cook until the butter melts and the fragrance of the pepper corns fills the air (I love this part if you can’t tell). Add the reserved cooking liquid and bring to a simmer. Stir in the grated cheese and add cooking pasta immediately. Toss continuously with tongs until the pasta is evening coated, serve immediately. Finish with a pinch more pecorino romano.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Mail Order vs Market - A review of Relay Foods

As is clear from this blog, I relish the opportunity to visit our local farmers markets for as many of my cooking needs as possible. Unless we're out of town for the weekend, I usually carve out some time either Saturday in Fells Point or Sunday under 83 checking out the goods from around the region. It's both ritual and utility. I shop for what I need and take a certain pleasure in the process of strolling the stands, comparing the goods and day dreaming about meal plans for the week ahead. I'd like to say this market loyalty comes out of some deep-seeded belief in the local food movement and to reduce the carbon footprint related to my produce and protein consumption, but that would be a self-congratulatory stretch. I do support the ideals of #eatlocal, you know, reducing shipping costs and environmental impact, spreading nutritional literacy, supporting farmers, artisans, and agrarian communities, and generally believe in the small-scale agriculture movement, but it's the not the reason I pull myself out of bed and grab my totes in the morning, just being honest here.

I get up and go because love the social aspect; running into friends and neighbors, some in various states of recovery from Friday or Saturday nights, milling about my neighborhood in search of edible treasures, it's such a comforting ritual and soooo Americana. From the moment I wake up I look forward to my first (of two) cup of Cafe Latte'da seasonal coffee to get me going.  Freshly fueled I spend my next hour or so speaking with farmers, artisans and craftspeople, often getting great recipe ideas for ingredients from the people who grow and make them. As trendy, or mainstream as the idea of the farmers market may have become, it is still a way to support local producers and a way to connect with the community in a personal, physical, and sensory way.

 All that said, one could understand why I have never been one for mail order food services. Blue apron and the like are out, I take too much pride in planning and executing my own meals from soup to nuts. There are specialty services that provide CSA style shares of meat or other niche products, but I do not have the freezer space for storing the volume they provide, so I haven't had a chance to try. I did give Relay Foods a try a year or so ago, but found the disconnect from seeing my purchase, mainly the meat selections, to be off-putting and I quickly lost interest, deferring to Pahl's HogsHickory Chance Beef and the like. With daily produce and specialty meats off the table, and full meal preparation services never in the running, I am squarely outside the demographic for mail order food products. Until this week...

Faced with a rather specific recipe to prepare this week, paired with a shortage of skin-on pork belly at my usual Whole Foods, I decided to give Relay Foods another try. Relay explains that they want to "make shopping for quality, healthy, and sustainable groceries simple and easy...We're here to help you connect to and learn about the people who grow your food, and to empower local producers by providing the online resource for learning about their products and practices." I get it, take the sustainable, low carbon foot print, farm-to-consumer concept digital. They add in community enrichment, rewarding their employees and creating a place where consumers are proud to spend their money. All of which I can totally get behind, and would even consider paying a premium for, as long as they execute.

Full disclosure, my recipe is for Porchetta. Preparation is a slow and deliberate process involving herbed pork loin wrapped in crispy pork belly roasted to perfection. I'm cooking for 4 that evening so I need a significant portion, roughly 3 pounds of porn loin to 3 pounds of skin on porn, enough to completely engulf the loin, skin-side out, end to end. This is important context to this story as my specific need impacted both my decision to use Relay and the quality of my experience. 

The Experience

Ordering on relay is easy. The user interface is pleasing and simple to use with convenient categorical drop downs and search bars. They even break out categories like "organic" or 'grass fed' so one can narrow the search. Not useful to me with my explicit need/intent, but one thing I thought noteworthy, is the addition of recipes ideas that are linked to searches performed. For example a search for "Ground Lamb" produces recipes for Mediterranean Pita, Lamb Kofta, and stuffed portobellas in addition to the actual product offerings, a nice touch. I did not take the time to evaluate the quality of the recipes, but the relevance and aesthetic appeal of the photography was very good.

The first issue when using services like this is availability. Relay can be slightly deceptive, allowing you to search for anything, returning results for most everything, but only once you've clicked into the item does it tell you whether something is in stock. As someone with an immediate need, I would value the ability to easily filter by "In stock" items in my searches. I can see, however, to the casual browser, why seeing all product offerings, agnostic to current availability might be valuable and be good for meal planning, pantry stocking, and recipe ideas for the future. 

This time Relay had what I needed and in stock (or so I thought, more on this later). I found the pork belly quickly. Quite conveniently, the first selection, Timbercreek (a Charlottesville, VA farm) and pasture-raised (animal feelz), was indeed skin on and came in packages approximately 1.5lbs in weight. Perfect! I thought, i would just simply buy two. At that point I proceeded to the check out and discovered that there was a new wrinkle (or at least I think it's new). There was a $5 Minimum Order handling charge for sub-total under $25. This immediately reduced the convenience factor that drove me to relay in the first place. It totally mitigated my ability to find and order the specific item and amount of product I needed without ancillary considerations. So I made a choice.

Faced with this "minimum Order" conundrum, I decided to take this opportunity as writing fodder a critique the product and service experience as a whole. 

I had never previously used Relay for anything other then protein. I figured that would be a rather narrow review, so in order to add  more value I expanded the product categories. I needed a fennel bulb (fronds on specifically), a head of cauliflower, leeks, and dried rosemary (I just ran out). Conveniently I figured these would offer a good cross sectional way to evaluate quality, price and over all value. The vegetables have very clear quality measures: freshness, firmness, cleanliness, and in the case of the leek and fennel, the crispness of the green parts. The rosemary would be an easy way to evaluate value as the price for an explicit amount (oz weight) of a packaged product would be easy to compare across vendors. Faced with this "minimum Order" conundrum, I decided to take this opportunity as writing fodder a critique the product and service experience as a whole. 

I returned to shopping and quickly found all the items I was looking for, once again, in stock. Points earned back for availability there. I found organic leeks for just $2ea (not bad, but not farmers market cheap), a head of organic cauliflower for $350 (regularly $4, decent deal), a fennel bulb for $3.50 (size varies so much, hard to tell if this was going to be a good value), and 5oz of organic dried rosemary from Frontier Natural Products Co. (good brand) for $4.50. I would have to wait to evaluate the produce items in person to judge the quality and value, but I immediately recognized the deal I was getting on the rosemary. Whole Foods is notoriously expensive, so that brand and quality is not surprisingly price at over $6 for the same size package. What affirmed my bargain was encountered McCormick and even store brand rosemary a Safeway, all at higher prices for the same or smaller weight. Early points for value.

I proceeded to the check out having slightly begrudgingly made it past the $35 mark. I learned as I followed the prompts that Relay now offers more comprehensive home delivery, but at a cost. For me, this doesn't really add any value. The drop off location is so close to my home, that it is actually better than lugging grocery bags from from mid workday trips to Whole Foods (I walk to work FYI). I can see someone who orders with regularity or makes larger purchases benefiting from this feature. I even learned they do afternoon deliveries, so the challenge of being home to receive perishables (and stoop stealables) is somewhat mitigated. All options considered, at Monday at 2pm, I placed my order for  the 5:30pm - 7pm pick-up in my neighborhood the following evening. I thought I could sit back and relax and my porchetta was destined for success.

The next day I got the confirmation email , this once is like the second level confirmation of availability because clearly with perishables, something could go wrong during packing etc. To my chagrin, the pork belly that was supposed to be 3lbs, the perfect amount for my recipe, and $22, had been reduced to just one package at $6.53, so I took that to mean just over one pound. I was outraged, and clearly went off to a sympathetic co-worker who understands my culinary neuroses (and general insanity). I fired off an email in reply explaining the specific need for my recipe, how that was the sole reason for my return to Relay, my dismay at expanding my order to meet the minimum, and the reluctant acceptance based on my ability to review the service for this blog. I explained I appreciate the price revisions, but essentially all utility was lost and they might have even ruined my dinner party. If you know me, you'll already be assuming I wasn't gentle.

I got a replay in exactly 8 minutes. It was apologetic and Marlee immediately informed me they had located additional stock and would offer to send it to my home the next business day, free of charge. We went back and forth about sending to my home vs to my office based on the need to received and store it properly and Marlee was more than accommodating. We settled on home delivery based on the afternoon timing of shipping and I breathed a hesitant sigh of relief. 

Tuesday evening arrived and I made my way to the Patterson Park Public Charter School pick-up location, just a few blocks from my home. I waited behind just one other customer to receive my produce and diminutive pork belly. I was home, bag in hand, in less than 20 minutes door to door. More convenience points!

I pulled the items from the bag. Rosemary was as expected. The cauliflower was firm and fresh but was Calorganics brand, and packaged in plastic, which is fine, but doesn't really align with the local, “know your producer”, low carbon footprint ideal which Relay espouses and to which I try to aspire. The leek, however, was bright green at the ends, and thick, a good specimen, still just a decent value at $2. The fennel was a medium bulb, clean and firm. The best part was there was significant frond structure (critical to my recipe) and they were crisp and fragrant, high quality. The small pork belly was from the stated producer, thick, and with a clean golden skin, a nice piece albeit smaller than I had wanted. All in all the quality was very high, cost related value equivalent to the farmers market or slightly worse (aside from the rosemary which was exemplary), but I was yet to truly realize the convenience factor as 2.5lbs of pork belly were still outstanding. 

Throughout the day Wednesday, I received notifications that my package was out for delivery as well as offers to track it, I declined as I had faith in Marlee's ETA. Turns out the final arrival time was somewhere around 7, so Mark was home and able to receive. I did not get home until after 8, so there was no impact to my meal prep plans for the evening.

All in all the experience was not bad, but I am reluctant to say it was great, so I will settle for a soft, low-grade good. In typical finance professional form I expected an STP experience! I wantedhands-free, not having to complain and deal with working out the availability issue, but that's life I guess. The quality of product both produce and packaged was high (the only points off was for the packaged cauliflower) and the value was comparable to what I think are quite economical prices at farmers markets, so in that sense high value made even better by the bargain I got on the rosemary. Ultimately I do have to award points for Marlee and her quick and comprehensive customer service and issue resolution, just wish it never had to happen. All that said, I think Relay, and mail order groceries in general, are better suited for the casual browser or someone who has need of readily available staples. Relay is a great site for browsing, seeking inspiration and stocking up, due in large part to the excellent protein selections. It is not ideal for someone like me with a very specific and time sensitive need, all convenience is lost with one availability hiccup.

Relay is admittedly just one option in this ever expanding field, and this is simply a review of my experience within specific use case restrictions. There are great CSA options with farmers or coops, lots of pre-portioned services (Blue Apron and the like) for those with less time and interest in the creative process, and some intriguing specialty providers like Butcher Box or Hatchery that offer more focused products like grass fed beef or new or unique artisanal ingredients. I plan on exploring some of the specialty services, but for specific recipes and general shopping pleasure, I am going to stick with my beloved Baltimore farmers markets. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Channeling Ina - Career Aspiration & Relationship Goals Soup

My fiancé Mark is very into soup. This may seem like an unremarkable characteristic, but he is someone for whom it is so difficult to cook, that any preference or affinity is notable. Honestly, he is so particular about food that it is often hard for me to find meal ideas that will be both satisfying to me and “acceptable” to him. He refuses to eat bacon, abhors sausage, is finicky about quantity and type of cheese, and generally sparing with constructive feedback on the occasion he does like something. As someone with a formidable cook book and recipe collection and kitchen skills to boot, he is extremely reluctant with menu ideas when asked, but all too quick to shoot down many a proposition. For more on this topic, stay tuned for my other blog “Marrying Mr. (Always) Right – An Engagement Story” coming soon…  

All that said, soup seems to be his culinary kryptonite, a good one can bring him to his knees. So I am always eager for the weather to turn cooler so I can start playing with new recipes and old favorites each fall. 

This year, I feel like I am distinctly channeling Ina Garten in her new book, Cooking for Jeffery, in which she describes her passion for cooking for the people she loves through anecdotes and recipes of her husband's favorite dishes. This blog is totally the same thing...;-)

Throughout the autumn months, I scour the weekend markets looking for the best ingredients that can be stewed or pureed to soupy perfection, all in the name of eliciting praise from Mark. Don’t get me wrong, I also cook for myself, but there is sometime so satisfying about satisfying another, especially a very particular romantic partner. I can impress myself with something simple like perfectly poached eggs anytime, but hearing the happy sated sigh of a dinner guest or fiancé after that first taste of something you have labored over for hours, maybe even days, oh it’s priceless. It is safe to say that one of my greatest pleasures in life is cooking for others. Lucky for him, Mark serves as beneficiary (and challenging critic) of my endeavors on a daily basis.

Preparing dinner is a nightly ritual in our household. One that is as deliberate as it is (usually) delicious. As ridiculous as it may sound, I find myself laying in bed Sunday evenings, mulling over my take from the farmers market and planning meals for each night of the week. From the simple to the complex, dinner for two or for many, it’s what lulls me to sleep and gets me through the work week. I spend down time at the office searching out interesting recipes, maybe a twist on an old favorite, or something new I can adapt from some foreign cuisine. I muse on narratives for my meal prep and service, devising interesting and amusing ways to describe my inspiration and execution. When we have dinner guests, I plan conversation around the meal, from the sourcing of the ingredients to recording the recipe as a party favor. I am always thinking about plating, garnish, serving dish, and ultimately how I am going to Instagram my creation. 

I am literally, for better or for worse, an aspirational food and lifestyle personality.

One recent evening, I was feeling particularly “Ina” so I decided to roast a chicken. In typical Barefoot Contessa style, I put it in a cast iron dutch oven with a ton of fresh and dried herbs, I wanted an intensely roasted and perfumed bird. Once done, I pulled the meat and made a decadent herbed chicken salad, perfect for our lunches during the week (Mark informed me promptly upon returning home for work, there was too much mayo, see what I mean?).

 I saved the carcass and tossed it back into the pot after sweating some mirepoix (carrots, onions, celery) with garlic and leeks. I used sherry to deglaze the base and added tarragon, thyme, bay leaf, sage, fennel seed, anise, rosemary and lots of black peppercorn before covering the bones with water and setting to boil. I let it cook for several hours, adding a bit of salt as I tasted along the way. The fragrant herbs filled my house with the most wonderful and comforting smell, and the hours of cooking lent the liquid a hue so dark I could barely see through. I allowed it to steep and cool covered overnight then strained it in the morning. The flavor was as intense as the color, the bay leaf and fennel adding smoky depth and floral highlights that I had not anticipated, but was delighted to achieve. I divided the pot in two and poured half into a silicone large format ice cube tray, the kind you would use for making single blocks for scotch or whisky. I carefully popped them in the freezer and saved the rest of the stock for later in the evening.

When I got home from work I pre-heated the oven and set a head of cauliflower on a baking tray. I brushed the entire thing with garlic powder infused olive oil and roasted it for nearly an hour. As it neared completion I started to char some leeks in the bottom of my soup pot. I added the reserved stock from the refrigerator as they started to brown. Once the cauliflower was roasted I dropped it carefully into the stock and covered with additional water. While that came up to a boil, I cleaned and chopped a celeriac bulb (celery root) and dropped it into a small sauce pan with a cube of stock and some water. The bracing scent, strikingly reminiscent of raw green celery, filled the kitchen as it mingled with the melting stock. I chose to add this ingredient based on a cherished family recipe Mark shared with me soon after we moved in together. I have been waiting for the chance to use it and to try my hand at creating culinary nostalgia, when I spotted one at the market last week, I just couldn’t resist.

I boiled both pots for close to an hour, letting them reduce significantly and cooking the cauliflower and celeriac to a point they could be broken apart by a spoon. Then I took my immersion blender to the once firm vegetables. Once pureed, I combined the pots and added a cup of cream and around ¾ cup of parmigiano reggiano (ok, maybe a little more). I blended until silky smooth. While I was roasting the cauliflower, I had also cleaned and chopped some cremini mushrooms and tossed them in the oven, covered in white truffle oil. I pulled them out after about  40 minutes after they had gained a golden brown glisten, the scent of the truffle taking over the kitchen. Once the soup was satin smooth and reduced to the point of sticking to the back of the spoon, I served the egg-shell colored cream in colorful bowls floating a few dark, rick, roasted mushroom slices on top. I finished with a pinch of sea salt and a generous twist of fresh ground pepper. The result was delicious. The earthy, charred and garlic infused cauliflower played perfectly with the slightly astringent celeriac. The complex and fragrant stock brought it all together with the salty finish of the parmigiano taking the decadence to just the right point. Mark LOVED it. His only critique was that it could use a little heat. As someone who over seasons nearly everything I make to the point that my brow sweats, this was an affirmation of my successful demonstration of restraint, and I was happy to pass him the cayenne.

Soup and relationship success.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Gay Camping & #Zoodles...

So I am going Gay-camping this weekend. No, not glamping, and certainly not the real rustic stuff so many bearded and Teva wearing folks engage in during the summer months. This is truly Gay-camping. Generally defined as sleeping in a tent at a resort with all or some of the following features; a pool, restaurants, cocktail bar, a place likely clothing optional, but definitely scandalous Speedo friendly…Think of it as beach-bar meets night-club meets the forest... I've already packed five of my smallest and brightest pieces of swimwear for the next two days (guilty). 

Naturally, I am panicking about my body. Should I decide to wear one of my briefest briefs, I don’t want to be cavorting in the woods having to wonder from what angle I might be seen. I mean, I’m not super concerned about the judgment of my friends nor the central Pennsylvania public I may encounter, but I hold certain aspects of my vanity close to my heart. I just want to be prepared.

Like any sane person, I have responded to my last minute realization of this (and lack of physical preparation), by attempting to crash diet. My general disdain for the minutia of the work week and the need to maintain civility at home, eliminate starvation as an option because the #hanger is real.

So, as I poll my family for donations of tents and other camping supplies in preparation, I have decided to give my cooking a more extreme health slant in the days leading up to the trip (see preview pic).

You’ve all seen the stop-motionesque 30-second Facebook videos from Tasty, or received the Pinterest recipe board notification from someone in whom (ironically) you are not interested at all,  espousing the incredible versatility of a Spiralizer, the glory of guilt-free zucchini pasta, and the picture perfect creation you can whip up with your eyes closed (riiiiiggghhhttt). 
#zoodles #whatisthat

Needless to say I am not a fan, for many reasons. Not least of which is the trend factor. I honestly do not want to hear about another “fast and fresh” dinner where you swap out something good (pasta) for something nutritionally void and infuriatingly bland (squash in general).  I especially don’t want to see your poorly lit, badly composed, over-filtered picture of soggy squash and some indistinguishable sauce captioned with the hash tag #zucchininoodes #lowcarb #cleaneating or the absolute worst - #zoodles. Honestly, #zoodles is unforgivable, it’s like tagging #broccolicheddar and posting a sad picture of soup. Only #zoodles is worse because it's unnecessarily abbreviated. I can’t with #zoodles, I’ll just be over here reposting your gram as #uglyfood.

Anyway, in case that rant wasn’t clear, I’m not into Zoodles, at least not until last night.

So last Saturday my fiancé and I took a trip to Williams Sonoma, and among other artifacts of our particular brand of consumerism, we picked up some European made Swissmar vegetable peelers. Kind of like a hand-held mandolin. Completely unnecessary, but like most things, they came home with us anyway.

#broccolicheddar #uglyfood
I had never even thought about making zucchini noodles until I first experimented with this new tool by shaving some carrot into a salad recently. The pieces came out long, and very thin, like orange spaghetti. I should have known it then, but Zoodles were undoubtedly in my future (ugh, I can’t believe I am typing that).

Flash forward to my current impending woodland Speedo sporting body panic phase, and the timing was perfect.

I picked up a basket of four large summer squash at the Sunday farmers market, mixed variety with a good diversity of color, bright yellows and greens would be perfect for my dish (and the photo to follow). I decided something simple, like a basic Bolognese Ragu would be ideal for this first foray into the world of alternative noodles. I started my onions and mushrooms for the sauce, and browned some lean ground beef to begin. After I deglazed with red wine, added tomato puree, seasonings and turned it down to simmer, turned to the squash. The process of making the Zoodles is likely easier with a Spiralizer, but I think my tool actually results in a finer cut, one more delicate and akin to angel hair than say a bulky Bucatini. I cooked the Zoodles very briefly in some olive oil, garlic powder, and too much salt. Too much salt turned out to be a life saver, as I was forced to rinse the Zoodles very briefly under cold water, which stopped their cooking and prevented them from getting too soggy. I returned them to my large pot and added the meat to my simmering sauce. I plated like I would any spaghetti dish and begrudgingly admitted to myself that the Zoodles looked brilliant under the light on a stark white plate. I topped with the Ragu and finished with a generous pinch of shaved parimigano for a rustic effect.  Needless to say the picture was flawless, and fortunately the flavor the same (but I mean, who’s shocked?).

In reality, I don’t know if it was due to the texture from my slicing tool, or the error I made over salting then rinsing, but the Zoodles were absolutely delicious. I know my sauce is delicious, so I was starting from a good place, but I was pleasantly surprised at how satisfying the Zoodles were in flavor, texture, and as a vehicle for the Bolognese. They definitely, and could not possibly, offer the chew or olfactory pleasure of real pasta, but for my current dietary predicament, they really fit the bill. In fact, my fiancé’s reviews were even stronger, and if you know how picky he can be, that is the proof in the pudding.

So, am I am fan of Zoodles? No, never will be, Zoodles isn’t going to happen, it will fade like Acai berries and Greek yogurt, and live on only in the most basic of kitchens and Instagrams.
But, if faced with less than a week until I have to be in Speedo shape, and if done just right, they are a wonderful stand-in for pasta. 

Enjoy, my one and probably only #Zoodles…because Gay-Camping.

Zoodles Bolognese

  • 4 Large Summer Squash
  • 16oz Lean Ground Beef
  • 1 medium White Onion – diced
  • 4 oz Cremini Mushrooms – Sliced and cleaned
  • 28 oz Tomato Puree
  • 1 Small Can Tomato Paste
  • 2 Tablespoons Garlic Powder – Divided
  • 1 Cup Red Wine
  • Dried Herbs to Taste: Bay, Basil, Oregano, Thyme
  • Salt and Pepper to Taste
  • 3 Tablespoon EVOO – Divided
  • Shaved Parmigiano Reggiano to Taste


In a large sauté pan, over medium heat, sweat the onion in the evoo until begins to be transparent, about 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and stir occasionally to keep form sticking as they brown. Turn the heat up and add the red wine, as it sizzles it will pull all the tasty pieces sticking to the pan into the liquid to add flavor to the sauce. Turn heat back to low and add the so tomato puree and seasonings stirring until completely incorporated. Allow to simmer on low while you cook the meat.
In another pan over medium heat, brown the ground beef and add the tomato paste about half way through, 8 minutes total. Drain excess fat and add to the simmering sauce.
While sauce simmers, use a Swissmar peeler, Spiralizer or mandolin to make long thing slices of the squash. Once all 4 are sliced into thin spaghetti- like noodles, toss in a hot pan with evoo and top with garlic powder and some salt. Just allow them to warm and get coated with oil, if they actually cook they can get soggy. Remove from heat and use a utensil to place Zoodles on a plate. Top with a ladle of you warm sauce and finish with shaved parmigiano reggiano.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The Fourth is For Fish Tacos

It was the Fourth of July, so naturally I was in the mood for Mexican food…Before you judge me for my patriotic short comings let me justify this by explaining that I have been in Mexico for the Fourth for the last two years making great memories and frankly, this Monday just  did not lend itself to a hot-dog eating frame of mind.

Believe me, I did my fare share of burger eating and flag waving having finally found myself in the states this year, but I did all that on Sunday night when conspicuous consumption of patriotic beverages (sangria is American right?) and subsequent the use of bunting as fashion accessory was more appropriate (or at least didn’t negatively impact my professional life).

The actual 4th was very un-4thy this year in Baltimore; humid, dreary, featuring a constant and unpleasantly warm breeze, it was a day made for the comforts of air conditioning not BBQ’s and fireworks. As if trolling Instagram full of pictures of friends in other sunny locales, in tiny American flag bathing suits with various spirited beverages  weren’t bad enough, the fact I had to work a half day just added insult to injury.  By the time I finally wrapped work and started to think about dinner and the rest of my evening I was in no kind of celebratory mood.

Mark and I, both exhausted from the weekend which featured a 6+ hour wedding and a drive back and forth to Philadelphia, decided to honor independence day by binge watching the John Adams miniseries on HBO. What this really boiled down to was mark transfixed to the television and me hiding in the bathroom googling Whitney Houston, Jennifer Hudson and other diva’s national anthem renditions so as not to compete with the audio…We all fly our flags in different ways right?

Turns out, you can only watch Whitney’s 1991 Star Spangled Banner performance 4 times before your tear ducts run dry, so pretty soon I was in need of other amusement. You see, I was already lost on John Adams and to Mark’s chagrin I began asking incessant and historically ignorant questions about our founding fathers and their role in the American Revolution. To avoid provoking his ire, and risk revealing the extent of the holes in my recollection of American history, I turned my focus, not surprisingly, to food.

Gray day, gray mood, I decided to make something colorful with bright and strong flavors to counter the prevailing sentiment. As I reminisced on my 4th’s on the sand in Cabo and Sayulita of the years past, I knew that Mexican cuisine was going to be the inspiration, and specifically the flavors of the beach. I immediately started craving fish tacos, and fortunately I had some Mahi Mahi on hand. I picked up some bright red cabbage, a jar of chipotles in adobo, carrots, and a few crunchy serranos to make up my technicolor palette.

I started out by making a chipotle-carrot-red cabbage slaw. The cabbage provides the deep base color and crunch, the carrots brighten visually and sweeten the taste, and the chipotles in adobo lend creeping heat and seductive smoke. I added a bit of sugar to the slaw once mixed to counter the heat and help the cabbage break down while I prepared the fish.

One of my favorite seafood preparations in Mexican cuisine is anything “Al Aijillo” which is essentially garlic, oil, and hot red chiles as a sauce or coating for shrimp, octopus, calamari etc. I love the savory and unctuous flavor of the garlic mixing with the heat of the chiles, however, with my slaw already delivering significant heat, I couldn’t go with this preparation for my fish. Instead, I decided to rub the Mahi Mahi in a healthy coating of garlic powder and rather than add heat, I added cumin powder to deepen the flavor and make the dish more fragrant and earthy. Then, I heated butter in a pan and seared the fish until golden brown. About half way through, I added the juice of a lime to cut the garlic and brighten the flavors.

Now, usually when I do tacos, I will fry the filled tacos in vegetable oil imparting a chewy yet crunchy aspect to the shells. I suspected this would be overwhelming to the naturally more mild flavor of fish as opposed to the usual pork or beef. So instead, I “grilled” the tortillas by briefly laying them on my cook-top on top of the flame. I crisped them slightly, letting them puff up, and gave the edges a smoky char and somehow managed not to burn my fingers. I served the tacos with fresh slices of serrano peppers for the contrast of color and a final spicy crunch. We washed dinner down with a cold and inexpensive Torrontes that was the perfect counterpoint to the heat and savory fish tacos.

The night ended as they usually do, me sated and on the sofa, slowly falling asleep while muttering commentary to make it look like I’m paying attention to the TV, and Mark patiently explaining (insert any scenario here) why Ben Franklin was a much better diplomat and politician than John Adams could have ever hoped to be…we headed to bed to the sounds of the fireworks in Fells…Can’t get much better than that.

Happy Fourth of July!
Garlic-Cumin-Lime Mahi-Mahi Tacos with Chipotle Slaw

  • 12 oz Mahi Mahi fillet (or other white fish)
  • 6 Corn tortillas
  • 1 Small head of red cabbage -  finely chopped for slaw
  • 2 Medium serrano peppers – sliced into rounds
  • 2 Large carrots – grated finely
  • ½ Cup Mayonnaise
  • 1 Teaspoon sugar
  • 1 Can La Costena Chipotle Peppers in Adobo Sauce (or similar brand)
  • 2 Tablespoons garlic powder
  • 1 Tablespoon ground cumin
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 Lime
  • 3 Tablespoons salted butter (you can use oil if you prefer)

In a large bowl, combine cabbage, carrots, mayo, and sugar and incorporate well. Cut the Chipotles into thins strips and add them, with their sauce to the slaw mixture – combine evenly. You can add a bit of vinegar if you find the flavor to rich or prefer a less crunchy slaw, but in this case I did not use any. Set the slaw in aside or in the refrigerator if planning to wait to serve.

Pat your fish dry, and rub all sides with the garlic powder and cumin. Heat the butter in a large pan, but do not brown. Once hot, add your fish and sear until golden. Add a pinch of salt to taste and flip after about 4 minutes on medium heat. After another 4 minutes, add the juice of the lime and turn up the heat to cook of the liquid. I usually break up the pieces of the fish to get more charred surface area.

When ready to serve, carefully, grill your tortillas on your stove top by resting on the grate over the flame and flipping as they puff, crisp, and get a light char.
Place the fish in the center of the tortilla, add a generous serving of the slaw, and finish with the serrano peppers – serve immediately.


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Mother's Day

Mother's Day Dinner

This past weekend I was hired to prepare a private dinner for a young woman’s first Mother’s Day. I was contacted by a new father and eager husband who wanted to do something special for his wife, but was somewhat stymied in traditional brunch or dining options due to the care needs of their very young daughter. He explained his desire to hit the ball out of the park for this inaugural event and had idea the to hire a private chef in order to do so. Ideally, this would allow his wife and baby to remain in the comfort of home yet enjoy the luxury and indulgence of a meal out. Add to the equation the presence of his wife’s parents, who were in town for their daughter’s day, I was immediately on board. As excited as I was to be ask to execute this feat, all this sentimentality brought a lot of pressure. I felt like it was imperative to deliver a superlative experience  - And so I began the process with all the feelings and all the anxiety…


I worked with the husband to plan the menu according to his wife’s preferences. What started out as “isn’t very picky and likes a lot of things” took a more complicated turn when white meats, healthy components , no fried, thick or creamy components, and a sensitivity to spice were added to the requirements. If you are at all familiar with my blog you’ll know that fat  = flavor and nothing can ever be too spicy in my book. I would baste cheese in hot sauce and butter if I could… Immediately I knew this meal was going to be a bit of a departure, but would be a great opportunity to challenge my style and abilities. To be honest, while I was initially averse to the “nothing unhealthy” notion, I quickly grew to enjoy the challenge when thinking about various dishes to interpret or adapt in healthy ways.

Dinner was three courses, two savory and dessert. As the farmer’s market is finally starting to show signs of life with the best of the spring vegetables starting to appear, I figured a composed and substantial salad would be the perfect opening note for a meal with an eye to health. As far as the main course goes, the mention of white meat immediately brought to mind chicken and the subsequent eye roll. Chicken as a main course is something I would never order out, and rarely, and I mean rarely rarely, prepare at home. With most of my favorite pork preparations on the richer side or at least requiring some kind of spice, the other white meat was definitely out of the question. So I reluctantly started to think about birds again. I love duck, and love to cook duck, but talk about fatty, sadly, a no go. Turkey is nearly as bad as chicken, when it comes to flavorless misery, shudder. Then I thought of Cornish Game Hens. Small, cute, great vehicles for a baste or spice rub, the hens would be a richer, and slightly nuttier nod to characteristics of chicken, but with much more pleasing aesthetics and flavors. I was inspired!

Dessert, a word that strikes fear in my heart. It's arguably my Achilles heel. The reason being, I almost never measure when I cook, and almost all desserts, whether its cookies, cakes, pies, tarts, meringue etc, ALL require measurement and adherence to a recipe. The rigidity in preparation is in direct juxtaposition with my style and what I love about being creative in cooking. Perhaps one day I will enhance my skills to the point I can be both creative and successful in the endeavor, but until then, I will maintain my aversion to dessert.

That all said, I have enjoyed some considerable successes in the sweet course. One of my favorites was a salted caramel custard I prepared for a holiday party. While moderately complex in preparation, I managed to successfully produce it several times one winter season, and it has remained in my repertoire since then. When thinking about dessert for this dinner, I decided that it needed to be something small, due to the naturally rich and unhealthy nature of the course. Additionally, I wanted it to be something I could prepare in advance, that way it would be immediately ready after the main course and allow me time to clean up while the client finished out their meal. This would custard fit the bill perfectly.

With that, the menu, or at least the skeleton, was made. I sent my ideas to the client and quickly got approval, I was off!


As I said, I wanted to prepare the dessert ahead of time. Since, I was also most nervous about the success of this course I decided to make it early in the day the Saturday prior to dinner, just in case it failed and I needed to re-plan. I found my old recipe, as well as some others and decided to try a hybrid. I also wanted to work in some deeper flavors and added some bourbon to the caramel base as I prepared. I almost ruined the custard when, in a panic during the thickening stage, I impulsively added a bit of cornstarch at a stage that in hindsight was far too late. Fortunately, a quick pass through a strainer solved the lumpy issue, and moments later my custard was complete. My taste test confirmed it was delicious and I was about to pat myself on the back until I started to pour it into the serving dishes. To my horror, what had been loosely a recipe for 4, didn’t even come close to filling the 4 white soufflé cups I had chosen. I nearly melted down, as the image of a disappointed look and ruined Mother’s Day dinner filled my head, but then I got a grip. I remembered my trip to the farmers market the previous Sunday, where I had seen beautiful local strawberries. Problem solved! I would hit the market the next morning for my other ingredients, and pick up some strawberries. I would cook the strawberries down with sugar, a vanilla bean and some homemade vanilla extract, almost making a preserve, though when chilled not quite so chunky. I’d layer it on top of the insufficient custard, filling the cup and offering a nice sweet juxtaposition to the savory custard notes. Top it all off with some fresh white chocolate whipped cream (made by dissolving white hot chocolate mix in the cream before whipping) and finish with some black sea salt (just for contrast) and I had the perfect, self-contained, make ahead dessert displaying the best of the season and a delicious sweet and savory, decadent yet fruity, juxtaposition. Slowly, but surely I will get good at dessert.

Sunday morning arrived and I was at the farmers market by 8, partially out of nerves and partially because I fell asleep at 9 the night before. The sun was finally shining after a week of rain, and the hoards had yet to arrive, it was perfect. I figured I would let the market tell me what was going to be in the salad. I found beets, and immediately thought, when roasted, they would be the ideal base, sliced thin and laid out on a chilled plate. I would smear a dollop of goat cheese on top to add a bit of restrained richness. Its nearly the end of asparagus season, but there was still some beautiful options, so I decided I would shave the bases, blanch the stalks and lay a few across the top of the beets and goat cheese to create a hearty foundation for the greens to come. I had decision anxiety when it came to greens. I wanted something pretty and delicate, but something with large leaves like butter or bibb would totally overwhelm the composed foundation components in scale. I couldn’t let bright red beets and glowing green asparagus get covered. Ultimately I stumbled across some local arugula. This would work well, I would bruise it slightly to make it malleable, and when dressed, able to be formed into an appropriately scaled nest of greens that played well with the other ingredients. I thought I was done, but when I pictured the plate in my head, it just seemed underwhelming and incomplete. Radishes are very “spring” and they do add a nice color aspect, but I am very over radishes by the time may rolls around, so that was out. I had almost given up when I spotted some brilliant yellow kale flowers. They look a bit like forsythias, long plumes of tiny yellow flowers, and can be enjoyed roasted with a bit of garlic and olive oil. I did not want to cook them, I decided I wanted the fresh flowers for the pop of color they would add as a final garnish to the plate. Luckily, the farmer was kind enough to give me a single frond for free rather than purchasing a whole bunch, so I didn’t have to munch on flowers for the week to come.  With my components decided, and plating planned, I turned to the dressing. Mark recently shared what looked to be a delicious lemon poppy seed dressing recipe. From the ingredients it looks a little strong and savory for the dish I was hoping to prepare. Mark also recently gave me a jar of honey from his school’s apiary. So I decided to combine the two sources of inspiration. I made a sherry, lemon, honey and poppy seed vinaigrette. It had just the right amount of tempered sweetness, bite of citrus, and subtly nutty yet fruity notes of poppy seeds. I outdid myself on that one,  if I am being honest.

For the main course, the Cornish game hens, I spent considerable time researching various preparations from cuisines around the world, finding it rather difficult to complete avoid spice or fat, my newly forbidden ingredients. Ultimately I decided to go a more traditional route. I would focus on herbs, specifically thyme, something I grow in my garden and one of my favorites with poultry, as the prominent flavoring agent. I conceded I would have to incorporate a little butter, mainly to deliver the flavor of the herbs and to achieve the crispy skin necessary for a successful hen. Despite being a step up from chicken on the complexity and fat content scale, Cornish hens can still often be bland and are easy to dry out. To avoid this, and elevate my herb flavors further, I decided to brine the birds in an herb base. I made the brine in the morning, incorporating thyme, tarragon, lavender, fennel seeds and garlic powder, and let the hens bath in it for two hours prior to being rinsed, dried, and packed for transport. While the birds brined, I made a compound butter with thyme and garlic that I would use to brush on the hens as they roasted, bringing out the desired golden hue and crispy texture. I took a few fresh sprigs with me, which I ultimately place on top of each hen half way through cooking, to serve as a rustic and perfumed garnish. To accompany the hens, I picked up some local rainbow carrots, Peruvian purple potatoes, and adorable cipollini onions, which I would roast simply and use round out the plating with their deep colors and gorgeous char.

I did most of my prep ahead, and having devised specific plating already, I arrived to the client’s home feeling quite well prepared. The entire family couldn’t have been nicer and we had some nice small talk about my passion for food and my current private catering endeavor. Their genuine interest and clear appreciation for food, had me overflowing with anticipation and a desire to succeed by the time I started cooking, a wonderful feeling to have.

Execution went off without a hitch, I even managed to time the somewhat dicey process of roasting game hens perfectly for the last bites of first course. Speaking of, the salad was a huge hit, the dressing itself eliciting repeated praise from the guest of honor.

The hens cooked up brilliantly and down to the garnish the plate looked Ina Garten chic, I was beside myself with pleasure and relief. Looks aside, the flavor was great (I had an extra hen as a doneness guide, taste test subject, and bonus Monday lunch for Mom), and when the clients cut into the meat, they all sung it’s juicy tender praises. Again, the mother of honor made specific mention that it was a juiciest poultry she had ever had (I thanked my instinct to brine).

Dessert brought a familiar feeling of tribulation, but I was confident in my planning. Plating was a cinch, and they hit the table perfectly following the main course. Rave reviews ensued. I think the custard, composition and combination of flavors were new to them, but this worked wonderfully in my favor. Who knew I was do good at dessert?!

In the end I could tell everyone was sated and happy, compliments aside, this was the greatest reward. I was so honored to have been able to provide this new mother, and her family, such a satisfying meal and pleasing experience, on what really was a rather landmark day in their lives. I was thanked profusely, though I could have done without, it was a truly fulfilling experience, menu challenges and all.

I could have left, written this post, and never heard from them again and still been just as satisfied. But, I got the ultimate stamp of approval this afternoon, when Mark, who knows the Mom from past jobs, ran into her and she told him it was “one of the most incredible meals I’ve ever had.” What else could I want? With that success in the bag, I am looking forward to the next one.

The Recipes

First Course: Local Arugula Salad, Roasted Beet Carpaccio, Goat Cheese, Blanched Asparagus with Lemon-Honey-Poppy Seed Vinaigrette
  • Ingredients:
  • 12 Thick Stalks Asparagus
  • 6 Large Beets (washed)
  • 8oz Goat Cheese (room temperature, not crumbles)
  • 1lb Fresh Arugula
  • 1 Tablespoon Poppy Seeds

2 tablespoons each:
  • EVOO
  • White Vinegar
  • Sherry
  • Honey


Roast beets, skin on, in 400F oven for about an hour or until tender when poked with a fork, then chill (this can be done the day before). Bring a bot of water to a boil and prepare another pot with ice water. While water heats, shave the tough skin off the base of the asparagus stalks and trim to uniform length. The stalks should be only tips, tender green skin, then have the white interior exposed. Once water is at a rolling boil, drop stalks in and cook for 3 minutes. Remove and immediately place in ice bath. Leave in ice bath 5-10 minutes, then remove and pat dry before plating. In a small bowl add poppy seeds, honey, evoo, sherry and half the vinegar and whisk until emulsified. Taste and add additional vinegar to your preference.
When ready to plate: In a large bowl, use your hands to lightly massage the arugula so it becomes “bruised”. Toss it with the dressing and ensure it can be formed into compact nests roughly the size of your fist. Slice beets very thin (you can use a mandolin) and place on chilled plate carpaccio style in a single layer. Spoon 2 oz of the smooth, room temp goat cheese onto the center. Place 3 asparagus stalks diagonally across the cheese and beets. Carefully place a nest of argula on the center, allowing the beets and asparagus to be visible from the top. Garnish with a nasturtium or kale flowers like I used. Serve immediately.

Main Course: Thyme Butter Roasted Cornish Game Hens with Roasted Carrots and Potatoes

  • 4 Cornish Game Hens (giblets removed)
  • 3 large yellow onions (peeled and quartered)
  • ½ pound cipollini onions (skins removed)
  • 2 lbs whole carrots (tops trimmed)
  • 1 lbs purple Peruvian or fingerling potatoes
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • ¼ cup EVOO
  • Brine:
  • 2 quarts cold water
  • ½ cup table salt
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • A few good pinches of dried: Thyme, Tarragon, Lavender, and fennel seeds
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • Thyme Butter:
  • 1 stick of salted butter (melted)
  • Handful of fresh thyme or thyme leaves
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder


Brine: Add salt, sugar, and herbs to water in a large pot. Bring to a boil and allow to steep for 5 minutes covered so as not to lose the water as steam. Allow to return to room temperature. Place hens in a large freezer bag , pour brine in and seal. Allow to brine in fridge for two hours. Remove from brine, rinse, and pat dry (important if you want the skin to crisp).  Do not over brine or you will have a salt bomb of a bird.

Compound Butter: Combine melted butter with thyme and garlic and chill until solid.

Carrots/Potatoes: Preheat oven to 450. Toss carrots and potatoes in evoo and garlic powder. Place on a baking sheet or in a roasting pan with cipollini and roast for 40 minutes or until the carrots and potatoes are tender, and everything in the pan has a nice golden char. At this heat, be careful not to burn. Ideally this would be done at a lower temp, but at 450 you can do the hens in the same oven at the same time.


In a large roasting pan, pull apart yellow onions and cover the bottom of the pan creating a bed for hens. This will flavor the meat as it cooks and help with sticking to the pan. Insert a quarter of the reserved onion into each hen’s cavity, again this will perfume the meat while it cooks. Take a spoon of compound butter and slather over skin of the hen, leaving a larger piece on the top of the breasts so it will melt as it cooks. Roast for 45 minutes at 450F. Every so often, brush or spoon on more of the compound butter onto the hens so the skin crisps and gets golden brown. When there are 15 minutes left, place a single sprig of fresh thyme on the top-center of each hen. This will crisp up nicely and perfume the dish for plating. Hens are done when the temperature is 170F at thickest parts, and the juices run clear when you pierce a thigh.


Place carrots cross hatch or log cabin style in center of place. Place a few potatoes and cipollini outside. Place hen in the center of the plate on top of the carrots but ensure that the slender tips are visible from above. Garnish with a grind of fresh pepper and a pinch of sea salt serve immediately.

Dessert: Bourbon-Salted Caramel & Strawberry Trifle with White Chocolate Whipped Cream

  • 4 tablespoons salted butter
  • 1 1/2  cup sugar (1 cup and ½ cup divided)
  • 1 + 1 pint cup heavy cream (divided)
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • ½ cup bourbon
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • Sea salt
  • ½ pound strawberries
  • Vanilla bean (seeded)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ Cup white chocolate powder (hot chocolate mix works)
  • ½ cup powdered sugar
  • Black sea salt for garnish


Custard: In a nonreactive sauce pan (stainless steel) cook sugar until completely dissolved, golden brown and begins to smell like burnt marshmallows. Add the bourbon and butter and mix until melted, reduce heat to low. Slowly add the cream, caramel will seize and bubble and become lumpy. Cook with heat low stirring until the lumps dissolve, remove from heat. Stir in the milk and a pinch of sea salt and mix well. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks together. Add about a cup of the caramel mixture and mix well. Add the remaining caramel mixture whisking until blended. Put back on medium heat and cook, whisking constantly until it thickens. It is done when it coats the back of a spoon and the spoon leaves a trail (this can take a while be prepared). Pour until 4 ramekins and cover with plastic wrap, pressing directly onto the surface to prevent it from forming a skin. Chill overnight.

Strawberries and Whipped Cream: In a sauce pan, combine strawberries, ½ cup sugar, vanilla bean and vanilla extract and cook until strawberries are falling apart. Place in a glassbowl and chill. For whipped cream, place 1 pint cream in bowl and combine with white chocolate powder and powdered sugar until dry ingredients are dissolved. Using a hand mixer, whip until soft peaks form, chill.

When ready to serve. Remove plastic from custard, spoon in strawberries until ramekins are full. Place a quenelle or pipe on whipped cream and finish with a pinch of black sea salt for color contrast. Enjoy!