Wednesday, February 24, 2010

"CHEF" First Letter Stands For "Culture" "Compassion" and "Company"

This evening I had the privilege to be among some extraordinary people--nutritionist, coordinators, fellow chefs, volunteers, Niyyirrah El who provided a demonstration of African drumming and dance, and Meghan Johnson, national coordinator for the Share Our Strength Operation Frontline nutrition education program. People who manage to find time in one way or another to give back to the community via City Harvest. Tonight we were gathering to celebrate Black History Month, but moreover to celebrate our improvements, our strengths, our goals and aspirations as a people, moreover as a people concerned with nutrition, health and food in America and beyond.

I arrived a bit after the start time and they were only a few warm and familiar faces present. I began to question the turn out, but soon those thoughts vanished. Within minutes we all found ourselves snacking on fruits, wheat thins and hummus and socializing. Then the festivities kicked off!  Maggie and Aliyah each presented a slide show. The first were photos and facts about a Mali, Africa.  The slideshow focused on the people, the food, and their way of life.  The photos were raw and proved that a picture speaks a thousand words. The other slideshow focused on facts concerning food, nutrition, African Americans and how the migration to America has influenced many of the flavorful cuisines we have today. "Soul food" being one that immediately comes to mind, but that serves as just one of the many examples.

Soon after we were teased with delicious scents of food, but before we could indulge we had to work for it! The deal? We had to dance first! No one dared to complain.  Chances are if you heard the sounds coming from those drums you too couldn’t help but move. It was vibrate, upbeat and soulful if you will.  I must confess, I started off with intentions to dance, but I have problems moving my feet and hands at the same time.  So while Ms. El, the dance instructor and drum player, made the moves easy to follow, I sort of moved to the side and watched as the energy filled the room. Then it was time to eat!   
Now as a chef I pride myself in eating just about anything, or at least trying everything once. Tonight was my first time eating African food. We were fortunate to have Ms. Eva Forson--a chef specializing in African cuisine and a City Harvest OFL chef for almost 10 years--among us.  Ms. Forson made an absolutely delicious, mouth-watering, fall off the bone (you get my point) Yassa Au Poulet (Senegalese chicken braised in lemon sauce).  Alongside this dish was a healthy spin on Mac & Cheese, Ethiopian Lentil Salad and last but not of course not least, Aliyah's Raw Kale Salad with Pine Nuts and Golden Raisins. Need I say more!!!
The evening was phenomenal. It was simple, but diverse. Everything from the presentations, the dance, the food, and the people made the evening special. And while I may never be able to lure Ms. Forson into giving me the secret ingredient for her chicken dish--regardless to how hard I tried, and believe me I tried!--I know it was the love and desire to please others that made the food remarkable. In fact, it was that same passion and devotion from all the attendees that made this Black History celebration memorable. To me the event went beyond a celebration of Black History Month.  While I certainly learned a lot about African American culture, the evening demonstrated how powerful a few diverse people can be when everyone’s compassion is shared among them. 

Thank you everyone at City Harvest, all the attendees, and those who sprits were among us for but unfortunately could not make it, for making such an evening possible. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Valentine Adventure for Two that Doesn't Break the Bank

Valentine’s Day is a day that prices on flowers, chocolates and restaurant items seem to increase dramatically. Year after year we all manage to get sucked into the holiday and pay exuberant prices despite our better judgment. At least our significant other knows our intentions are good and heck it's only once a year. That’s our usual reasoning, right?! Well this year Alex and I took a different swing on things and because of it we experienced 4 different places for the price of one meal at one of NYC prestigious restaurants.

First up Franny's in Brooklyn. Franny is a restaurant serving Italian dishes and pizza. We had the Olive Oil and Sea Salt pizza and even yummier, the Tomato, Buffalo Mozzarella and Sausage pizza! That paired with two glasses of a delicious full bodied red wine made our lunch perfect! (And under $55)
Second my favorite tea shop, Alice's Tea Cup. A charming tea shop offering 2 scones and a pot of tea for $10!!! The tea list is very long so it will satisfy every tea drinker and the scones are flakey, moist, fresh and delicious!
Third, Taste Good Malaysian. A small "hole in the wall" offering absolutely delicious Malaysian dishes. We indulged in the home-style tofu with mushrooms, chicken satay with peanut sauce, beef rendang and roti canai. Dinner cost least than 40 bucks! And tea is served.

Lastly, dessert again! This time at Cannelle Patisserie—an excellent pastry shop offering a large variety of French pastries. Think child in a candy store! Definitely worth the trip to Queens. Did I mention it’s owned by the former pastry chef of the Waldorf Astoria?! Price of 3 almond croissants, 2 cheese danishes, 1 chocolate mousse cake, one mini chocolate mousse cake, a small tiramisu, a mini pear tart and 3 cappuccinos? A bit under $52 and of course we had dessert for 2 days after!

Needless to say we had a very wonderful Valentines weekend....feeling a bit fat today, but it was so worth it! And so cost effective too, to think rather than wine and dine at the usual establishments (and nothing wrong with that either!) But this time we made our own culinary adventure.......cost of that................Priceless!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Company Over? No problem!

Sometimes company comes by unexpected: "I'm in the area, mind if I drop by?" Sounds familiar? Instantly your heart and mind starts racing. And thoughts of "What am I possible gonna feed these people?" come to mind. It's true, you are not forced to cook a meal for them--you never expected company--but, as a gracious host it's always nice to have a little something to offer your guest. Thus, I always try to keep dough on hand. Whether it’s one that you can buy in those cylinder tins with the cute little dough boy or something you whipped up and kept in the freezer it’s a great thing to have on hand. For instance, palmiers both savory and or sweet are perfect for such occurrences or late night snacks! Moreover, crepes which you can instantly fill with nutella and bananas for dessert or with a white mushroom sauce for a quick dinner!

In my case my mother-in-law was dropping by and would be here shortly. Fortunately I had thawed a store bought puff pastry sheet earlier in the day. I honestly don't recall what I had originally had in mind for that dough, but on the flash I decided to caramelize some onions which is one ingredient I always have on hand. A little thyme, butter and a little love and 20 minutes later sweet caramelized perfection! I proceeded to taking my puff pastry, lightly rolled it out (don’t want to over work it or the buttery goodness will start to melt), cut the edges about 1/2 inch width to form borders which I glued onto the remaining puff pastry with a little egg wash. Next, I used a fork to poke some holes in the center to prevent it from rising and then added the caramelized onions and thyme. Hmmmm, delicious. Bake at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes until the dough is puffed and golden. Then slice into squares. By time your company arrives and begins to settle in, they would be welcomed with a great comforting dish that looks like it took a lot of effort to make, but only you know the truth of its simplicity!

FYI, this dish is nice warm, but can easily be served at room temp. You can easily make this a quick dinner by adding mesclun tossed with a simple vinaigrette on the side. Either way it's a great dish to have in your back pocket for those planned and unexpected visits!


Monday, February 1, 2010

Hands-On Cooking Classes

Dear Fans,

I am very happy to announce that I will be giving hands-on cooking classes for children 13 and up at Queensborough Community Kids College this March! Please see page 8 of their brochure for more details!!!

Hope to see you there!