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So this week got me thinking about springtime and the fact that here in Chicago we are actually having a proper spring season for a change. I think most Chicagoans feel like we always get the short end of the spring season stick year after year, but this year has been different. Springtime is a renewal of energy to me. It’s the time of the year in which we can change our attitudes and get excited to put the cold hibernating winter months behind us for a while and begin to focus on the warmth and sunshine of the months that lie ahead. With this idea comes a lot of great food popping up from the ground. Food that we haven’t seen all winter and for me, it’s the excitement to eat and cook with foods like fava beans, ramps, soft shell crabs, and so much more. All some of my favorites. So in honor of Culinary Speakeasy’s upcoming dinner on April 21st, I thought I would put up a recipe that may just be a part of our springtime dinner club menu. For those who are interested, the final menu will be posted by the end of the week and there are a few seats left, but not for long. So enjoy a great springtime dish and I hope you will look forward to many more exciting seasonal recipes to follow. Next blog, easy and fun springtime ideas! Enjoy

Roasted squash and Sage Polenta

1 medium butternut squash

1 c. polenta

3 1/2c. water (or any stock can be used)

½ c. parmesan or asiago cheese grated

7-8 large sage leaves, folded and chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

Olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Slice the squash lengthwise in half and place in a baking dish. Score the flesh with a knife, drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper. Place about ½ cup water in the bottom of the baking dish, cover and roast until the squash is soft and easily removed from the skin, about an hour. Once squash is cooked, scoop out the flesh with a spoon or spatula and place in a Cuisinart and puree until smooth. Remove and place in a bowl and set aside.

In a medium saucepot place water over high heat and bring to a boil. Add the polenta and about a teaspoon  of salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and let simmer until completely cooked, about ten to fifteen minutes, stirring frequently. Once completely cooked, add the squash, salt and pepper and grated cheese. Whisk until mixture is smooth and creamy.

Remove the sage leaves from the stem. Stack one on top of the other. Fold the stack in half widthwise and slice into thin strips. This can also be simply chopped if desired.

Serve polenta in a dish, top with chopped sage and a few sprinkles of cheese.

 

 

 

This week’s bl…

This week’s blog got me thinking about when I was a child. As children we are often taught that if we eat all of our veggies we can have dessert. Our food is often used as a bargaining tool, and even used as a threat. For any of you Pink Floyd fans out there, you certainly know the part of the song, Another Brick in the Wall, in which they say, “if you don’t eat your meat, you can’t have any pudding.” Pudding meaning the English slang for dessert. Well this sentiment really speaks to me. It really says that we as an all consuming society aren’t placing value on things that we should be giving our attention to. So we are often raised to believe our veggies are some sort of punishment instead of nourishment for our bodies and minds. Food that will not only nourish and enrich us, but will also satiate us. My theory is simply that we must change our attitudes about food, especially when teaching them to our children. This starts with having an open mind to trying new things and migrates into an active awareness of the things we put into our bodies.

I get a lot of questions about how to make vegetables taste good and my answer is always very simple. Vegetables do taste good, and all we need are a few simple tools to enhance their flavor and mainly the knowledge to not over cook them. I really think most people over cook their food and just learning some basic skills can and will improve your meals, I promise. So here is another vegetarian dish, actually it’s a vegan dish as well that is simple and very basic, but also very tasty. Give it a try!

I made this for myself for dinner tonight….delicious

 

Caramelized Balsamic Onion, Sweet Potatoes and Carrots

1 small white onion, sliced (or 1/2 large white onion)
2 large carrots, peeled and sliced about 1/2 thick
1 sweet potato, peeled and sliced 1/2 inch thick
5 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves pulled from the stems
2 TBS balsamic vinegar
1 TBS honey
1 c. water, vegetable or chicken stock
2 tsp dijon mustard
1/4 c. cooking oil (vegetable, canola)
salt and pepper to taste

Place a large saute pan over medium heat, add oil, enough to cover the bottom of the pan (may need to add more later). Once oil is hot, about 1 minute, add onion and let sit for about a minute. Give them a stir and let sit and caramelize over medium heat until the turn a nice golden brown (not burnt), about 3-4 minutes. Next add the carrots and sweet potato. Cook for about a minute and add balsamic vinegar, dijon mustard, honey, thyme and water (or stock). Stir together, cover the pan and let the vegetables cook in the liquid until fork tender, about 5-6 minutes. Remove the lid, add about a 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp ground black pepper. Taste and serve.

 

Upon request he…

Upon request here is a very basic and easy recipe for a yummy tomato sauce. This sauce can be made ahead of time and can be used as a base for any Italian dish. It can be placed in containers and frozen in small amounts so you can use as needed. So enjoy.

Tomato Sauce

2 large cans of peeled organic tomatoes, whole or chopped
6-8 roma tomatoes, rough chopped
1/2 onion, rough chopped
2 carrots, peeled and rough chopped
5 large cloves garlic, peeled and rough chopped
1 TBS tomato paste
5 sprigs fresh thyme (or 2 tsp dried thyme)
2-3 sprigs fresh oregano (or 1 TBS dried oregano)
1/2 c. water as needed
1-2 TBS olive oil
salt and black pepper to taste

Place a medium saucepot on the stove over medium heat. Add enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pot. Next add onion and carrot and saute for 2-3 minutes then add garlic and cook another minute. Add all the tomatoes, tomato paste and herbs. Stir and add water. Bring to a boil and then cover, reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 35-45 minutes to release all the flavors stirring occasionally. Finally puree the sauce in a blender, add salt and pepper to taste and serve.
Notes: For a thicker sauce, puree only half the sauce and combine it with the remaining sauce. To freeze, let sauce cool, place in freezer safe containers and store.

 

After posting m…

After posting my thoughts last week I was so happy to read all of the comments that people posted in response to my blog. I was fortunate enough to have been asked to participate in a fundraising event for the Red Moon Theater this past weekend. So after 2 days of prepping over 600 portions of chocolate chip banana bread, 6 quarts of spiced granola, 3 squeeze bottles of balsamic caramel sauce, and a liter of honey yogurt, I packed up my food and headed to the Hudson Club for an evening of talented chefs, great food, delicious Goose Island beer and some truly eccentric and inspiring actors and local entertainers of all kinds. This was an evening that was really inspired by so much local talent including some of Chicago’s newest food trucks and performance art galore. I was truly honored to be a part of this fun and extremely successful event. So thank you Red Moon Theater.

Now for the recipe of the week, I of course wanted to post my dish that I created for the weekend’s event. However, I realized the recipe is already on my website for my yummy banana bread. So in addition to my recipe for banana bread, spiced granola is a fun and easy snack to make. It can be added to desserts for an extra crunch, or yogurt for an energizing breakfast or lunch, icecream or simply eaten by itself for a nice snack. I find that granola can be a great outlet for some of our favorite and healthy foods like nuts, dried fruits, coconut or whatever your pleasure. So here is my basic and easy recipe for spiced granola. Have fun with it and be creative. Enjoy and bon appetite!

Spiced Granola

1 1/2 pounds rolled oats (24 oz)
8 oz light brown sugar
1 c. water
1/2 vegetable oil
1 tsp salt
1/2 c. honey
1 TBS cinnamon
1/2 TBS paprika
1 c. dried cherries
1/2 c. dried blueberries
1/2 c. sliced almonds
1 TBS dried rosemary

Place all ingredients in a bowl and combine together with your hands until evenly encorporated. Lay flat and even on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake in an oven at 325 degrees until lightly toasted about 30-40 minutes stirring the mixture once or twice to cook evenly. Remove from oven and let cool. Place in an airtight container and serve as desired.  

Note: Any dried fruit or nuts can be substituted. Shaved coconut, chocolate chips, or any dried herb such as oregano or thyme can also be used. Be creative and have fun with this recipe!

After months an…

After months and months of what I would call blog slacking, and the hopeful early arrival of spring, I feel inspired and ready to make my blog a weekly part of my life. I often get asked various food related questions, recipe suggestions and basic cooking tips or techniques. So over the past few months I have been taking mental notes as to how I can really use my skills and talents to inspire all those people who inspire me on a daily basis.

So with this idea in mind, I feel the urge to share my thoughts about food, wine, travel, yoga, and so many more of the things I love about my life. I was recently asked to contribute a recipe and a brief thought about that recipe for a cookbook that will be going out to my yoga community. For anyone that knows me and most chefs for that matter, they know that we all love food on a very deep soulful level. Most chefs don’t discriminate between meat, fish, vegetables….we eat,cook and love them all! However, is has become very commonplace for people to eat more vegetarian and even vegan diets these days. While I always applaud healthy eating and living, it can be a challenge as someone who has a serious passion for all food to connect to those who have changed their diets. My first thought was that ten years ago most chefs would scoff at the idea of having to cook vegetarian food let alone even thinking anything vegan was actually food in the first place. But things have certainly changed and I do believe our attitudes as chefs have changed for the better. We are constantly trying to challenge ourselves and expand our minds and including and often times excluding things is a great way to think about life and food in different ways. So my contribution to this non meat cookbook included a few vegetarian recipes that I have cooked for others and even for myself on occasion. The idea is that vegan and vegetarian food can and should taste delicious. If one is a true carnivore, like I am, it will never truly replace the joy of meat, but everything in moderation and there is no reason all of our food shouldn’t taste good. So I plan to offer up some simple recipes that anyone can make, both vegetarian and carnivorous for all to explore. So enjoy and look for my recipe of the week every Monday……Bon Appetit….

We should always remember that food is the most universal thing in life everywhere in the world. It is one of our greatest pleasures that enhances our world, inspires creativity, and brings people together with no prejudgements. For those of us that are lucky to have food at our disposal for human consumption, we should celebrate it and try to share with those around the world who don’t have these same luxuries.

Spicy Thai Coconut Soup

recipe yields about 2 quarts

1 to 2 TBS red curry paste (depending on desired level of spiciness)
2 stalks lemongrass rough cut into a few large pieces
2 roma tomatoes, rough chopped
1/2 white onion, rough chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and rough chopped
1 tsp fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1 kaffir lime leaves (if accessible)
1 c. sliced mushrooms such as shittake (can use any preferred mushrooms)
1/4 bunch cilantro, leaves picked and kept whole
2 cans coconut milk
4 c. vegetable stock or water
1/4 c. fish sauce
1 TBS lime juice
1-2 TBS cooking oil (vegetable canola, or any light colored oil can be used)

Place a large stockpot over medium heat on the stove. Add oil once it’s hot, then add the onion and begin to saute. When the onion becomes translucent (about 2-3 minutes), add
tomatoes, garlic, lemongrass, ginger, lime leaves and saute about 2-3 more minutes. Next add the curry paste and stir thoroughly. Let it cook for about 3 minutes to release the flavor. Then add fish sauce, lime juice, stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and add the coconut milk. Let the soup simmer to infuse all the flavors for about 20 minutes. Taste the soup to make sure it has the desired spiciness. To create more heat, simply add small amounts of curry paste slowly. It can get very spicy very quickly. Be sure to taste it frequently. Strain the soup once desired flavor is achieved and discard the strained contents. To serve, place the soup back into the pot and add the mushrooms and let cook for about 3 minutes. Add the whole cilantro leaves to garnish, serve and enjoy

After 13 years working my way up through the intense ranks of the restaurant world, I began to give some serious thought as to where all these experiences have led me. From working salad stations, flipping tenderloins on the grill, to learning the ins and outs of the pastry world, I truly feel my exploration of all aspects of the kitchen has given me the knowledge I have been looking for. So when it was finally my time to run the kitchen and make the decisions, I realized the true sense of responsibility that was necessary to be a success. I discovered it was a combination of so many things that has gotten me to the place I am at today. I feel that having so many different experiences in the restaurant industry has truly led me to a very interesting path indeed. Working for some incredibly talented chefs and also working with some very inspiring cooks has given me an extremely broad perspective on food and on life in general. I managed to develop a serious passion not only for food and cooking, but also for traveling as well. I began traveling at the ripe age of 19 and haven’t looked back since. I have been all over the world with nothing more than a backpack and a passport and I feel that my travels have truly allowed me to incorporate my love for food, cooking and people into every aspect of my life. I think the most important things I’ve learned throughout my career always come back to the idea that food really is the most universal thing in the world. It is celebrated by every culture on the planet in various ways, and ultimately always brings people together in happiness no matter where you my be or what the circumstances are. Even the poorest people in the poorest countries will invite you into their villages and offer you a meal as the ultimate expression of a kind welcome into their culture. It is a true gift of the world, one I wish everyone could experience.
So with this idea in mind, I can say that my greatest experiences and memories have all been about people and food. Possibly because I grew up in a close family that has always celebrated food together. I do believe that growing up with such great people oh whom have always gathered together with food have inspired me since I was a child. So whether it’s eating cuy (guinnea pig) and llama in the mountains of Peru, fresh caught lobster (for about 5 dollars, by the way) on the coast of Mozambique, sampling the numerous types of biltong( beff jerky) throughout South Africa, albondigas in Spain, or the best darn pho you ever had in Vietnam, it is always the same idea; food is what enhances life, it draws communities together, it gives us something to look forward to every day when we wake up, and it is ever changing and yet it manages to stay constant all at the same time. Food is not only essential for survival, but is truly one of life’s greatest gifts. We are lucky to live in a society with such massive wealth and access to food on a daily basis; a luxury the rest of the world does not have. So I am fortunate to be able to share my love for food and cooking with the world and all who will listen. Whatever way I can spread this passion, I take full advantage of.
I think the best way to share a passion is to spread the knowledge and therefore, this is what I plan to do. Thirteen years of cooking has taught me many things, and I really want people to develop a great sense of passion for cooking on any level. So, with that in mind I would like to share just a few good cooking tips for the time being in the hopes that these few things may enhance the cooking experience and will ultimately inspire those who enjoy the art of cooking to learn more, to practice, and ultimately make life fuller for everyone.
The first and most important tip to cooking ( and I will say this again and again) is to always cook with love. It sounds cheesy (no food pun intended), but it really is the truth. There absolutely must be a great aspect of love and interest in the food you cook. Trust me, you will literally taste the difference. That being said, I feel I can set up a bit of an outline here to really give some helpful cooking tips, so here we go….
Important food tips:
1. Always have a sharp knife. It’s important to learn how to keep your knives sharp, it’s essential to maintain the edge on your knife and also can be fun to sharpen and hone it. You should feel at one with your knife and really enjoy using it. Also, learn what each knife is used for. Most of us only really need to use 2 or 3 knives in our daily lives.
2. Keep it simple. It’s not necessary to use 10-15 ingredients, a few ingredients cooked properly will make your meal delicious.
3. Use a large cutting board, it’s much safer to have a large cutting surface, always!
4. Always season your food with salt and pepper!!!! This is a big one. Use pure ingredients like kosher or sea salt and fresh ground pepper. It makes a world of a difference.
5. Try to use fresh ingredients whenever possible, it just tastes better
6. Have patience while cooking. Cooking takes time, so don’t rush the process
7. Take a paper towel and dampen it with water and place it under your cutting board to prevent it from sliding…a kitchen secret that is extremely useful and much safer.
Some important tips for cooking meat
1. Always sprinkle salt and pepper on all sides of the meat. Once again, season your food!
2. Try not to over cook it when in doubt pull it out of the oven or grill before you think it’s done.
3. ALWAYS let meat rest before you cut and serve it. Meat needs to rest before it is sliced otherwise all the yummy juices will bleed all over your board or plate and the juices are where all the flavor is contained. So even your 23 pound turkey on Thanksgiving needs to sit and rest for about 20-30 minutes before slicing…that’s the key to a juicy turkey, well that and basting it with plenty of liquid.
3. Marinate your meats whenever possible, it adds flavor and will tenderize the meat as well.
Now for a few fish cooking tips:
1. Once again, try not to over cook fish. Fish is very delicate and does not require a lot of cooking time. Most fish should not be cooked for more that 8-10 minutes.
2. Always try to get fresh fish whenever possible, it just tastes better.
3. Ask you local fish market purveyor what just came in that day, it will no doubt be the freshest.
So whatever you do when you cook, please always remember, once again, the most important thing is to always cook with love, it truly is the most important ingredient in all cooking all the time. Food will always taste better with love!!!
I hope these few tips will help to enlighten the cooks of ‘The Loop’ for the time being. There will be so much more to come and I welcome all questions and comments. The more we know about food the better it will taste. So happy cooking to all and please don’t forget the most important ingredient….love!

web video #3

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