technique: green your grains

If you know me, then you know I don't really cook with "recipes." Rather, I like to collect general principles of cooking, adapting them to different flavors and ingredients as necessary. Of course, one can learn such techniques from a recipe, which brings me to Rick Bayless.

"Greened Grains" in a rice bowl—freekeh cooked in a sorrel/ramp broth

"Greened Grains" in a rice bowl—freekeh cooked in a sorrel/ramp broth

I had the happy opportunity to meet RIck Bayless through my work at the Institute of Culinary Education, and let me tell you—he knows his stuff. Being something of a novice in the field of Mexican cuisine, I felt inspired to host a dinner party inspired by my meeting with Bayless, which is how I discovered the magic of poblano rice

It's a simple process. Cook your peppers in broth, blend that mixture until smooth, and then cook rice in the poblano broth. Though basic, it's a totally *genius* idea, because it infuses a side dish with such bold flavor that it transcends the bland status of "starch." 

I've since applied this process of "greening my grains" to a whole slew of ingredients. I find this technique especially useful in spring, when I tend to overbuy seasonal ingredients like garlic scapes, ramps or sorrel—not to mention those times when I've got quite a bit of leftover herbs. For the ultimate no-fuss version of this technique, I blend up leftover greens (that might otherwise go to waste!) with a touch of water and freeze. Then, when I'm ready to make a big pot of grains for the week (see: freekeh, rice, quinoa, etc.), I'll toss in my pre-frozen portion of greens during the standard cooking process for said grain.

Whether you're topping your grains with a runny egg, mixing them into a rice bowl, or sticking to a side dish strategy, this sustainable technique is a smart way to make the most of fresh produce that might otherwise go to waste. Most importantly, it's a simple way to make everyday meals just a little more exciting. 

recipe: italian stuffed artichokes

In every family, there are a handful of simple, soulful dishes that evoke the essence of home. For me, there is no single meal that reminds me more of childhood than my mother's stuffed artichokes. 

My fondness for this technique has only grown the farther I've lived from home. (For example, when I lived in Paris, I tried this recipe with the gorgeous spherical artichokes in the greenmarkets. Sadly, it didn't taste like a thing.) What you want is the classic green, slightly elongated artichokes found in most American grocery stores, which offer a much stronger flavor. I promise, it's well worth the effort.

Ingredients:

  • 2 artichokes
  • 1/2 cup croutons (or toasted, roughly chopped breadcrumbs)
  • 2-3 tbsp freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 garlic clove
  • olive oil and salt, to taste
  • fresh parsley, optional

Instructions:

  1. Heat a medium pot of salted water to a boil.
  2. Remove artichoke stems from bulb and peel.
  3. Trim the top quarter to third of the leaves on the artichoke bulb.
  4. Rinse the artichoke bulbs and stems and place in boiling water for 10-15 minutes.
  5. In the meantime, crush croutons, mince garlic, and chop parsley (optional).
  6. Remove stem and bulb from boiling water (reserve water). Chop stem into small pieces and mix together with croutons, parmesan, garlic, parsley and a pinch of salt.
  7. Stuff artichoke bulbs with stem, crouton, garlic, parmesan and parsley mixture.
  8. Place stuffed artichokes upright in pot (water should come nearly to the top of artichokes, but no higher than the tops—remove water from pot as necessary). 
  9. Cover artichokes and cook on a simmer for 75 to 90 minutes. (Check water periodically and add more if the level in the pot gets below the halfway mark on the artichokes).
  10. Check artichoke leaves for tenderness. Plate in bowl, spoon over 1-2 cups of artichoke broth. Drizzle with olive oil and serve immediately.

Life as a Culinary Student: Graduation

When I first stepped into the kitchens at ICE seven months ago, it never felt like this day would come. Graduating from culinary school felt different from any prior graduations I’ve experienced, as perfecting a hands-on skill is entirely different than writing papers, crafting persuasive arguments or memorizing facts and dates. Of course, culinary training involves a bit of typical academic work, but it’s ultimately about honing your instincts and hands-on skills, about becoming that guy or girl someone can count on when the going gets rough.

In the corporate world, I’ve heard people use the phrase “putting out fires” to describe the stress of last minute deadlines. But in the kitchen, no matter how well you plan and prep, every task is still a last minute deadline. The turnaround between getting your clients’ order and delivering your product typically takes less than thirty minutes. It makes even the most notoriously stressful desk jobs sound almost easy.

Luckily, for our graduation, we weren’t working as short-order cooks. Our assignment held other challenges: serving up eighty catering portions of a cold appetizer, a hot entrée and a dessert. Working in teams of two or three students, we had to devise dishes that were impressive enough to wow our friends and family, but not so complicated that they couldn’t be prepared within a 10-hour window. (And yes, 10 hours may seem like a lot of time, but if you’ve never cooked for eighty people, it’s really not.)

My teammate Mari and I opted to create three dishes: Thomas Keller’s famous truffle custard, wiener schnitzel and blood orange tiramisu. Each of the dishes held sentimental value: the truffles were one of the most complex dishes from the curriculum at ICE; wiener schnitzel is my mom’s favorite dish; and the blood orange tiramisu recipe was developed by Mari’s coworkers at BAKED in Red Hook.

Each dish presented its own challenges. First and foremost, the tiramisu: neither Mari nor I had ever made a tiramisu cream that included egg yolks—and the original recipe suggested we use them raw. Not wanting to risk poisoning a room full of people (especially people we love!), we had to devise a sabayon strategy with Chef James—an experiment that turned out beautifully, but ultimately cost us valuable time.

Then, the wiener schnitzel: being a deep-fried dish, it could only be prepared so far in advance. So while my homemade cranberry sauce and cucumber pickles were ready to go hours before, I was concerned about keeping my veal hot, dry and crunchy. (It’s worth noting that this predicament—cooking in advance and reheating food—is one of the primary skills we learn in culinary school. You’d be shocked at what you can cook in advance. It just takes experience, training and a dash of restaurant magic.)

As for the egg custard, the complicated, multi-step process meant that Mari had to clean out the shells of nearly 100 eggs. Beyond being tedious, it was a precarious task, as was slowly cooking the tender custard. While the recipe seemed straightforward when prepared for twenty people, the larger scale of our efforts presented issues of over-salting, perfecting the custard texture and other unforeseen hurdles.

Yet in the end, when we finally served our first dishes as culinary school graduates to our friends and family, all of this anxiety dissolved into pride. First and foremost, our dishes were pretty delicious, and it was incredibly satisfying to show our parents and friends how much we’ve learned. I even got some of the pickiest eaters (ages seven and under) to try my wiener schnitzel!

Last, but not least, it was a thrill not only to receive my very first chef’s hat, but also to learn that my classmates had nominated me for the Wüsthof Leadership Award. One of three awards presented at graduation—the others given to “Most Likely to Succeed” and “Top Toque”—it felt particularly special to be recognized by the very peers with whom I had worked side by side for so many months.

Graduation was also an exciting time to consider my classmates’ futures. Technically, we will not have “graduated” until we fulfill a 210 hour externship in the field. (I, for one, am already elbow deep in a recipe-testing project for a cookbook, while others have secured externships on the line at such restaurants as Blenheim and Aldea.) I’ll definitely miss the feeling of hands-on teamwork that we enjoyed in the ICE kitchens, but I'm mostly excited to see what comes next.