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I'm going to start this year talking about my last dining experience of last year.  I also must preface this with I know that a lot of you know where Cortney and I spent New Years and I cannot stress enough, this is not in any way, in any form, intended to cast a negative shadow on our dining experiences there.  They (all 3) were all great and humorous in their own way and the food, for where we were, was surprisingly extraordinary!  So again, this is not about the food, it's more intended as observational humor mixed with a soupcon of gastronomical situational awareness, and a couple dashes of millennial.  Cortney is going to write about all of our dining experiences in her blog post on Thursday, all which were great in their own right. 

I know that there are a number of you who have been to my Lunch and Learn Talks about "How Chef's Fool You".  For those that haven't this should give you something to think about - as far as the way menus are written from a chef's standpoint.  Also, to the best of my knowledge, there are no restaurants with a 501 (c)(3) status, and all are there for one purpose: to make money.

  1. Techniques that take time usually cost more in labor and are done with lesser quality ingredients – You have to do more cover up inferiority.  Words like slow-cooked, braised, and stewed are enticing adjectives to trick you into thinking a young Linguini came into work that day and had one job.. to stand there and make that one dish, just for you.  If that were the case there would be 100 people in every kitchen, when the reality is most are running notoriously understaffed.  In turn, all of that extra work done to a dish morphing something cheap into something great costs money and that charge gets passed on to you. *Lesser quality/inferiority is not necessarily referring to something barely fit to eat, but a less expensive cut of that requires more time and preparation from start to finish.*
  2. Fancy Terms / Different Names - Word-Play . All those warm and fuzzy words on the menu are meaningless. The word 'fresh' is the worst offender - it could just mean 'never frozen' or something that's recently been brought into the restaurant. Just like anything else, there are certain words that can be written onto a menu description that are meaningless, but will have dollar signs attached to them. Also, also, also... adjectives. You can't eat them. Don't let the flash of the menu paparazzi distract you from observing the price of what you're paying for. Certain words can keep your eyes poised in one direction, and are a clever ruse to distract you from the fact that you are paying $27 for a chicken pasta dish because it looks good in a pair of yoga stretch pants.  
Which leads me to our New Years Eve Dinner.  Now, and I don't want to go on a rant here, but quotes around a food item on a menu make about as much sense as Julia Child coming up with recipes for Idi Amin at the Last Supper.  I'm not saying I'm not guilty of it, I am.. or was.  Like was back in 2003 when I would make "Caesar Salad" in a hollowed out toasted french bread cuff with whole grilled leaves of romaine and tempura fried white anchovies... or, and my favorite, "soup du jour", at a molecular level where all of the flavors of a soup were deconstructed and presented to you in a fancy bowl but were all turned into different singularly flavored foams all of different densities and bubble size; creamy and airy, oh yeah, and for a modest $24.  To be completely honest, there wasn't even 1 ounce total weight of foam "soup" (what you are paying for is process and idea).  Ahh.. those were the days.  The purpose of telling you this is because on the New Year's Eve dinner menu was a Beef "Wellington".  What in the even is "Wellington"?  Cortney, being the better of the two of us, asked our very clueless, but the most genuine young man who was our server if he could perhaps provide an explanation.  His response was, "the chef is very proud of his beef.  It's Wellington beef, you know, like Kobe."  I couldn't look up - there's no way I would've been able to keep a straight face.  But our server said it with such poise and pride, you couldn't even be mad at him.   A couple moments later, a Beef "Wellington" came out of the kitchen destined for another table seated with a couple of stomach-growling patrons ready to fill their bellies right before a night of uninhibited drinking, "woo-hoo"ing, howling at the moon, and screaming Happy New Years at midnight.   What we saw go by was NOT Beef Wellington.  It was however, for sure, Beef "Wellington".  A small grilled piece of filet perched atop of a sheet of baked puff pastry large enough that it moonlighted as a window pane on its nights off, and topped with a smear of mushroom paste.  I get it, an attempt was made, and I'm not for a second negating the hard work that the chef went through to prepare the meal - the presentation was just on sabbatical that particular night.   So because of this, I am going to teach a demonstration class on Beef Wellington - Friday March 22nd -  with a breakdown of a whole tenderloin, I'm going to have foie gras flown in from Hudson Valley New York, we're going to make a real mushroom duxelle,  and do it all the right way.  Because we want you to be informed consumers, patrons and diners, and we don't want you to get this for the first time and think that this is what it always is.  It's not.   And again, I'm not saying that it wasn't delicious, it was probably amazing.  Oh, and lastly, there were a few other quoted food items on the menu, our most favorite being "butter".  That one we were both too afraid to ask about.

In case you were wondering our last experience of 2018? We went back to our room and as we were waiting for the party festivities for the evening to start at 9, we fell asleep.  This getting older thing is for the birds.

This week, here are some of my favorite recipes to kick off the New Year, none of them in quotes, the youngest one in curls (The Brady Bunch is the only thing on TV right now at 4am, ugh).

Pressure Cooker Beef Carbonnade

• 2 lbs. beef roast, cut into chunks

• ¼ C. flour

• 2 oz. butter, divided in half

• 6 slices bacon, diced

• 2 onions, diced

• 2 carrots, sliced

• 5 cloves garlic, smashed

• 1 16 oz Belgian style Ale

• 2 cans beef consommé

• 3 T. molasses

• 3 T. apple cider vinegar

• 5 sprigs thyme

• 3 sprigs flat leaf parsley

• 2 fresh bay leaves

• Baguette, to serve

• Fennel pollen, to serve

1. In a large bowl, season beef with salt and pepper, and then toss with flour to coat. In a pressure cooker on the sear setting, add 1 oz butter, then add beef and sear until brown and crispy on all sides. Do this in small batches. Set aside.

2. Add bacon, and render the fat. Add the remaining butter and saute the garlic, onions, and carrots. Cook until they have started to pick up color. *Keep an eye on the garlic and make sure it doesn’t burn*.

3. Add the beer, beef consommé, molasses. Apple cider vinegar, thyme, parsley, and bay leaves. Season with salt and pepper and close the lid to the pressure cooker. Set to 40 minutes on high pressure.

4. To serve – rip the baguette apart into hand torn pieces (roughly golf ball size. Do this by hand, not with a knife. Uniform pieces are not preferred.) Place the bread on a baking sheet and toast in the oven until crispy.

5. Use the crusty bread to act as a thickener in the stew. Use as much or as little as preferred. This stew is also delicious over egg noodles.

Braised Eggplant with Mint Yogurt

• 4-6 eggplant, depending on size and variety

• 2 T. olive oil

• 4-6 T. garam masala (roughly 1 T. per eggplant)

• 1 14 oz. can garbanzo beans

• 1 14 oz. can fire roasted diced tomatoes

• 4 thumbprint sized pieces fresh ginger

• 1 T. kasoori methi (dried methi leaf)

• 1 serrano chile, chopped – removing seeds is optional

• 5 cloves garlic, chopped

• ½ preserved lemon, diced

• 1 C. greek yogurt

• ¼ C. chopped mint

• 1/2 tsp. ground Sumatran berry, or sumac

• 1 bunch cilantro, chopped, divided in half

1. Preheat oven to broil.

2. Cut the eggplants in half lengthwise. Brush with olive oil and season with the garam masala. Place in a baking dish, cut side facing down, and broil on the top shelf for 4-5 minutes or until the eggplants have started to color and the garam is fragrant. Remove the eggplants from the oven. Reduce the oven temperature to 400 degrees.

3. In a large bowl, combine the garbanzo beans, diced tomatoes, ginger, methi leaf, serrano chile, garlic, half of the cilantro and preserved lemon. Season with salt and pepper and toss well to combine.

4. Remove eggplants from baking dish. Pour the bean tomato mixture into the baking dish and place the eggplants back on top, cut side facing up. Place back in the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes or until the eggplants are cooked through.

5. While the eggplants are cooking, combine the greek yogurt, mint, and ground berry. Season with salt and pepper and stir well to combine. Use this as the sauce for the eggplant. Garnish with the other half of chopped cilantro.

Brazilian Chicken and Paprika Stew

• 2 lbs. boneless, skinless, chicken thighs, cubed

• ½ lb. linguica, or Mexican chorizo

• 1 lime, juiced

• 3 T. olive oil

• 1 onion, julienned

• 5 cloves garlic, sliced

• 1 T. smoked paprika

• 2 T. tomato paste

• 6 C. chicken stock

• 3 fresh bay leaves

• 1 sprig thyme

• ½ C. frozen corn kernels

• 1 (14 oz) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

• 1 C. collard greens, chiffonade

• 1 T. masa

• ¼ orange, zested

• 3 T. cilantro, chopped, for garnish

• Flour tortillas, for serving, optional

1. In a large bowl, toss the chicken and linguica (chorizo) with the lime juice and season with salt and pepper. Let side for 15-20 minutes

2. In a large dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium high heat and sear the chicken and sausage on both sides. Work in small batches so a nice crust is achieved. When finished, transfer to a plate and set aside. Chicken does not have to be cooked through at this point.

3. Reduce the heat to medium and add the onions and garlic. Cook 4-5 minutes or until fragrant. Add the tomato paste and the paprika. Toss the tomato paste well into the onions and garlic. Let the tomato paste toast in a single layer for 1-2 minutes or until it has caramelized.

4. Add the chicken stock, thyme, corn and cannellini beans. Bring to a simmer. Add the chicken and the sausage and cook for 20 minutes until the chicken is cooked through. When the chicken is cooked, add the collard greens and cook until they are wilted.

5. Remove ½ C. of the broth from the soup and mix with the masa and stir to form a paste. Slowly add the masa mixture back into the stew and cook until thickened. Stir in the orange zest.

6. Garnish with the chopped cilantro, and serve with flour tortillas for dipping, optional.