Beef Slice with Sweet Fruit and Potato

This recipe spawned by accident due to lack of sleep, existing ingredients in my kitchen, and time constraint...surprisingly this restrictive combination makes for an exceptionally moist and delicious beef slice (serves 5):
1.5 lbs lean ground beef
2 potatoes-pealed, boiled, and riced (or smashed with a fork)
2 eggs
3/4 cup onion-small dice
3/4 cup tomato-small dice
3/4 cup dried black currants (feel free to use dried apricots-chopped small, raisins, or dried cranberries)
3/4 cup Granny Smith apple-small dice
1/4 cup whole wheat bread crumbs
2 T salt
1.5 T pepper
chili powder-to taste
1/4 lb Havarti cheese (feel free to use substitute-feta, parm, or cheddar)
1. With the exception of cheese, combine all ingredients and mix well.
2. Season well.
3. Make a test batch (by cooking a tiny patty in a pan to make sure the beef is seasoned properly). Taste and adjust if needed.
4. Shape the beef into two logs and make an indentation, lengthwise. Place cheese into the indentation and enclose it, reshaping the logs (ending up with the cheese in the middle of the log).
5. Place logs into a baking sheet and bake at 375F for ~35-45 minutes, or until meat is cooked through.
OPTIONAL: Serve over watercress or frisee salad; make half of the mixture into hamburgers and top with cheese.


Review: Is It Possible to Eat at Grimaldi's In 40 Minutes (Wait Time Included)?

After fighting through downtown Brooklyn traffic, you may have had the unfortunate conquest of finding a line the length of your small intestine, outside of Grimaldi's Pizzeria. As you hang your head and gaze up at the massive Brooklyn Bridge (while salivating for one of the best pizzas in the city), you tell yourself that next time you'll be the first in line, at 11:30am, when they open! The rash pizza breakfast, however, is not necessary.

On a recent, bitterly Siberian weekday night I decided to venture out to the ends of Brooklyn, in hopes of finding no ridiculous line for my [detrimentally too often] pizza craving. Upon arrival, which was accompanied by a suspiciously easily attained, super close parking space, I breathed a sigh of relief to find myself waived in by a friendly server. "Please sit anywhere in the middle section," he suggested, as I found myself in awe of the 4...no, 5 empty tables, in the classically packed eatery.

Having never been able to eat inside this raved about pizza haven (due to the afore mentioned setbacks), I had a good feeling about the simplicity of the restaurant. Red, checkered table cloths lined ~30 or so tables with simple wooden chairs; photos of Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, and Marlon Brando plastered on every inch of wall space; and an exposed kitchen, spilling with eager, brunette, male servers, ready to make your pizza dreams come true. The simple menu featured: antipasto, calzone, red or white pizza (small/large), toppings, desserts, and beverages. Due to its popularity, Grimaldi's can demand almost any price they deem appropriate for their famous pies-making your outing (comparatively) a semi-high-end, doughy event.

After perusing the menu and various neighboring tables' choices (of red wine, beer, olives, and salad), I went straight for the goods: a large with ham and mushrooms. The monstrosity, which was brought out in approximately 5 minutes, deliciously loomed over my table (on a pizza stand) with imposingly sweet aromas. The famous, coal fired brick oven truly makes this pie-o-heaven. The bubbly, fresh, white mozzarella, puffed up on the edges, ready to burst with flavor. The sauce, composed of lightly and flawlessly seasoned fresh, aromatic tomatoes, is a perfectly sweet balance with the few pieces of fresh baked basil (for which you should set yourself back a buck and order an extra topping of). The toppings, simple and fresh...and last but most important...the crust. Although (per tradition), made with white flour (I prefer whole wheat), this savory dough is the opposite of bland. The seasoning has [I'm sure] been perfected to a science and is impeccably appropriate. At times you might find yourself with black fingers (that is to say that you eat your pizza with fingers and not the provided utensils, which you may or may not quickly abandon after the initial few bites) from the coal burning oven, which ads an incredible sweet-smokey flavor to the dish.

As I savored each bite, the description that remained prominent was freshness. The consumption of fresh aromas, simultaneously with taste makes for an amazingly delicious meal. The flavors of this outing quickly revived my memories of Italy's plethora of culinary flair. The many tiny local cafes, with hand made mozzarella, fresh herbs, and just baked doughs...oh yeah, and where's the leather bag I bought in the middle of that piazza...? All this is not to proclaim Grimaldi's as the one and only, yet to simply to acknowledge the combination of skill and value of fresh ingredients-which breed an extraordinary following and hard-to-resist pizza!

As I dished out the $25 (cash only) for the feast, I was amazed at the timing. While only arriving ~40 minutes earlier, I was waiving goodbye [and freezing once more] by 10:45pm! Unforeseen conclusion: if you are a local, craving a delicious, pizza, at approximately 10:00pm, on a weekday evening, in the middle of winter...YES! A ~40 minute freshness pie awaits you at Grimaldi's!
Grimaldi's-19 Old Fulton Street-Brooklyn, NY



Review: Sedap Taste Good Malaysian Cuisine...The Name Is Not Deceiving!

Ahh, Elmhurst Queens, you never fail as haven for a myriad of internationally infused cultural adventures. Just east of the city and north of the other international capital [Brooklyn], Elmhurst houses a multitude of immigrants who've turned each section of the area into a 'home' of their own. Among the Latin, Polish, and Chinese aggregation, Taste Good restaurant has found a home on 45th Avenue.

Be sure to keep your eyes peeled as you navigate to the tiny sit-down restaurant, as the next door food market almost engulfs the lilliputian sign and entrance. As we entered the curry haven, the aromas from the semi-exposed kitchen on the left overwhelmed our senses and the salivating began on impact. The 90% populous of Asian customers didn't bother looking up from their steaming bowls, chopsticks in hand. A warm feeling overcome, as we thought: this place may be authentic...

The overly accommodating, non English-speaking staff welcomed us with open arms-literally-waving over to the only open table in the house. Byob and no corkage fee...1-0, Elmhurst-Manhattan. Before we could undress (just our coats...it's not that kind of place!), a hot pot of tea was rushed to our table. Mild, with a hint of rose, served in tiny ethnic tea cups, it was a great aperitif to a culinary feast. An intermission from table conversation was definitely warranted to browse the 8 page menu, filled with an incredible variety of appetizers, soups, curries, noodle and rice dishes, meats, and sides. As we diligently studied our options, the staff was more than willing to help...indirectly. Although our two smiling waitresses and one buss girl were not able to understand us [or reply in English], one considerate patron was beckoned over as a translator.

We ordered roti canal (crispy Indian pancake with curry chicken sauce) to satiate ourselves while deciding. The 5" round was accompanied by a small bowl of flavorful, spicy curry with a few pieces of steamed chicken, happily floating about. The pancake, a perfect combination of a crisp outside with a moist and warm inside, was a great vessel for the savory, flavorful curry. As the [assumed] owner was making small talk with us, we finalized our choices and as a thank you [for finally ordering] she brought over a plate of achar salad (mixed pickled vegetables, tossed with ground peanut, sesame seed, and tamarind sauces). Our taste buds were blissfully overwhelmed with a combo of sweet, spicy, savory, and crunchy veggies, for which we profusely thanked our gracious host. Malaysian popiah (paper thin steamed pancake, stuffed with vegetables, rice, and egg) followed as our third appetizer of the evening. The rolled crepe-like log, stuffed, and topped with a pleasantly spicy sauce was a great accompaniment to the Saperavi we brought. The delicate dough melted in our mouths as the tangy spice and sweet rice kernels fused.

For the main course, Curry chicken noodles and Hainanese chicken rice. The curry, presented in a deep bowl, united boiled chicken, tender vegetables, and thick noodles in a moderately spicy coconut curry-which could have taken a bit more spice (perhaps they were being careful due to our alien status). Nevertheless, a tasty finish with the last drops of hot tea. The tender, mildly flavored chicken (notably boiled in a flavorful broth) was served atop vegetable rice, with a soy based dipping sauce.

With the slight exception of a spicier curry, the meal was perfectly seasoned and not overly salty. The overall experience-including staff, presentation, and freshness-were all eminently executed...hence an appropriately simple, unforgettable name. It tastes good!
Taste Good Malaysian Cuisine-8218 45th Avenue-Queens, NY


Review: Emeril's Miami Beach

In the heart of South Beach, Miami, Emeril Lagasse has made a home for his originally named annex, Emeril's...Miami Beach.

While visiting the sunny state, one of my eager and hungry accomplices decided that this was the place for our extravagant evening out. My initial reaction-another over-hyped chain, offering over-priced fare with an over-abundance of fluff and an understate of quality. Being in an affluently relaxed frame of mind, I gave into the collaborative efforts of my entourage and, while admiring my newly acquired tan, went to get dressed.

Upon arrival, we were greeted by an exceptionally friendly sommelier who [at the time] was doubling as host, and escorted us to our table. We were seated in a simple dining room, which had uncomfortably bare walls, and bland coloring throughout. To get the important things out of the way, a bottle of Pinot Gris for the table please! As I grazed the leather bound menu, my eyes' reflex is to initially inspect the dessert list-an abundant tabulation of banana cream, key lime, and various other pies. The Southern Style Chocolate Chip Pecan Pie with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream, however, was the one which had me at first glance.

As we finalized our choices (being with 2 other women, you can imagine that this only took about... ~forever and a day), we happily placed our order with...no, not him, he's the bread guy...not him either, he pours the wine...no, this guy places the napkin on your lap...him! Our waiter!

After the first toast, and a few bites of an incredibly moist and not overly sweet corn bread, our appetizer made its way to our table...Emeril's Muffalada Salad. I've only experienced the marvel of the aforementioned in sandwich form, in New Orleans, and this low carb alternative was just as amazing. Fresh mixed greens, the perfect ratio of salami, and mozzarella, a light and flavorful red wine vinaigrette and an overabundance of olives and garlic (good thing I wasnt looking for romance that evening). This was just a tease of what awaited, as our entrees werent too far behind. Andouille Crusted Redfish with Roasted Pecan-Grilled Vegetable Relish, Brabant Potatoes and Creole Meunière Sauce, in which the marriage between the gentle, moist redfish and the crunchy, salty andouille (bonded with a savory, smooth sauce) proved to be a match made in heaven. Sweet Potatoes, which melted in our mouths. Miso Glazed Atlantic Salmon with Bamboo Rice, Pickled Ginger-Daikon Salad and Spicy Mustard that was cooked to perfection and dissolved with a gentle touch of your tongue, leaving a salty, tangy sensation. Pan Seared Tanglewood Chicken Breast that, again, was tender in entirety, with a kick of spice and accompanied by bitter, savory greens.

The portions were just right, not overbearing with a complete balance of accompanying vegetables and starches to last throughout the entirety of the protein, leaving us with just enough room for dessert. As we savored our last bites, not wanting the taste-gazms to end, we breathed a sigh of complete indulgence and satisfaction, with the last sip of wine.

After recovering and reentering reality, the focus was geared on dessert. Can our taste buds [once more] be so aroused by Emeril's flavorful creations in a sweet arrangement? The Southern Style Chocolate Chip Pecan Pie with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream did the trick. A warm tart, with the sweetness of brown sugar and crunch of pecans and chocolate chips, was supporting a scoop of rich, vanilla ice cream-a perfect combination of cool and warm. The New Orleans Style Bread Pudding with Brown Butter Bourbon Sauce and Praline Crumbles, however, was the sole under performer of the evening-offering more of a bland muffin appearance [and taste] than a moist bread pudding. The Bourbon sauce was its only savior [and moisturizer].
This small blunder, in comparison with our main feast, did not damper our experience one bit. Well done Emeril, well done! An almost perfect, distinctive meal left our senses overexcited, didn't push our budgets over the top, and sent our taste buds head over heels for Emeril's Miami Beach.
Emeril's Miami Beach-1601 Collins Ave-Miami, FL


Great Grandma's Pancakes-aka, Blinchiki

When my mother told me about her childhood favorite, my face cringed at the time commitment...however, once I tried these (with some adjustments), I developed a routine around them, as the taste is incredible! These are by far the most light and moist pancakes you'll ever taste. As for the routine: the first time you have to allow the yeast and flour to rise, go for a run, bike ride, or jog. Come back, finish adding the ingredients, do some sit ups, butt lifts, and leg lifts, shower, and the 2nd rising is done! Now you've certainly earned the deliciousness that awaits you-enjoy! (serves 2):
2 teaspoons dry yeast
1/2 cup water
1 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1.5 teaspoons sugar
1 egg-separated
1 tablespoon butter-melted
1/4 cup milk
butter for pan cooking
1 tablespoon apricot jam
syrup, yogurt, fruit, nuts, honey-optional
1. Activate the yeast by combining it with water in a bowl; allow to sit in a warm place for about 10 minutes, until bubbly.
2. Add 1/2 cup flour to the yeast and incorporate well-there should be no clumps. Put the bowl in a warm place, cover with a damp towel and allow to rise (for an hour)...go for a run =)
3. After risen, add salt, sugar, egg yolk, and butter and mix well. Add the other 1/2 cup of flour and incorporate-there should be no clumps. Slowly add milk and mix well. Cover the bowl with a damp towel and put in a warm place to rice again (for an hour)...do sit ups and leg lifts =)
4. After risen, beat the egg white to medium peaks and mix into dough.
5. Heat and butter a pan, ladle dough into pan with a spoon (dough will be sticky, but do your best). Cook on each side until brown. Enjoy with apricot jam or any of the other options!


Cranberry with a Kick-Thanksgiving Sauce

Makes: 1 cup of sauce
1 t butter
zest-from one orange
zest-from one lemon
1 t zested ginger
1.5 cups water
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 t cayenne pepper
1 T dark rum
1/2 t lemon juice
3 T orange juice
1 cup fresh cranberries (can use frozen, just thaw)
1/4 t apricot jam preserves
1/4 t honey
1 small pinch salt
1/4 t butter

1. Lightly butter the pan and toss the orange, lemon, and ginger zest for a few minutes, just until the sugar begins to extract (on low heat).
2. Add water, brown sugar, cayenne pepper, rum, lemon and orange juice, and cranberries; bring to a boil and lower to a simmer.
3. Add jam, honey, and salt and continue to simmer, on low heat, until the sauce reduces to a coating consistency (~20-25 minutes).
4. Turn off the heat and mix in the butter; serve warm.


Stuffed Plum Tomatoes

Even the non-tomato eaters gobble this one down (serves 4):
8 oz ricotta cheese
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
3/4 cup multi-grain bread crumbs
1/2 t cayenne pepper
2 T parsley-chopped
4 plum tomatoes
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
salt-to taste
pepper-to taste
1. In a bowl, mix ricotta and mozzarella cheese, breadcrumbs, cayenne pepper, parsley, salt, and pepper.
2. Cut each tomato in half, length wise, and remove seeds and core (which can be used for tomato salad, sandwich garnish, or tomato sauce).
3. Fill each tomato half with cheese mixture; top with Parmesan cheese.
4. Place stuffed tomatoes onto a baking sheet, sprayed with cooking spray, and bake at 400F until tomatoes are soft and the tops have browned (approximately 15-18 minutes).

Warm Swiss Chard Salad in Brown Butter, with Sauteed Vegetables, Walnuts, and Goat Cheese

Having extremely enjoyed chard directly from a garden, I decided to make this yummy and healthy green more versatile by basing a salad on it. Although, my garden is non existent, living in NYC, the local veggie market has a great selection of greens. The nuttiness of the brown butter along with the veggies really brings out all the fall flavors; while the walnuts give a nice crunch and tie in with the brown butter. As an addition, cube some multi-grain bread and toast-to make multi-grain croutons, and top the salad. Yum! (serves 2):
1 lb Swiss Chard
4 T butter
1 shallot-minced
1.5 cups yellow squash-cut into finger size rectangles
1.5 cups zucchini- cut into finger size rectangles
2 cups eggplant-cut into small dice
1 oz olive oil
1/2 cup walnuts
1/2 cup grape tomatoes-halved
1/2 cup pear-cut into small dice
1/2 cup goat cheese
salt-to taste
pepper-to taste
1. Cut the ends off of the bottom of the stems of the chard, and dice them into very small pieces; reserve.
2. Cut the chard into ribbons; reserve.
3. In a pan, heat the butter until it's lightly boiling (on medium heat) and continuously stir until it nicely browns and the aroma is nutty. Remove from heat, transfer to another container, and reserve (if you leave it in the same pot, which is hot, it will burn).
4. In a saute pan, sear the shallot in brown butter, add chard and turn continuously with tongs until it just begins to wilt; season with salt and pepper, remove immediately, and allow to cool.
5. In a saute pan, cook the squash and zucchini, in the brown butter, until soft and light brown; season, remove, and allow to cool.
6. In a saute pan, cook the eggplant in olive oil until soft and light brown; season, remove, and allow to cool.
7. To serve, toss the chard with walnuts and place on a plate; top with squash, zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes, and pear; dot small spoonfuls of goat cheese on top of salad.
8. Enjoy!


Marinated Brussels Sprouts with a Dark Chocolate Cayenne Sauce

This recipe gives a new image to brussels sprouts. Even the biggest cynics of this much criticized veg were converted! (serves 2):
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
4 T olive oil-divided
1.5 cups brussels sprouts-quartered, with ends trimmed

1 T shallot-minced
1/4 t cayenne pepper
1.5 cups chicken stock
2 t dark chocolate-chopped
salt-to taste
pepper-to taste
1. Combine balsamic vinegar with 2 T olive oil and add burssels sprouts; marinate for 10 minutes.
2. Add 2 T olive oil to a hot saute pan and sweat shallots.
3. Add marinated brussels sprouts to pan and saute on high heat for ~3 min.
4. Add cayenne and chicken stock to the halfway point of brussels sprouts.
5. As soon as the liquid comes to a boil, turn the heat down and simmer (covered) until brussels sprouts are just tender (~15 min); remove brussels sprouts.
6. Add the rest of the chicken stock to the pan and reduce the liquid by half; season.
7. Take the pan off the heat and add chocolate, until melted.
8. Serve the chocolate pan sauce over brussels sprouts.



Throughout the culinary adventures I've stumbled upon thus far, my new, massive acquisition is by far my worst and best friend.

During a recent catering assignment, my kitchen duties included everything from prep and production, to service and plating. Bracing for a 900 guest event, the kitchen was buzzing with energy and anticipation of an interesting night. Having only served a max of 300 in the past, I was very excited for a evening of this magnitude. With the little chef's blister on the inside of my pointer finger, which has [by this time] satisfyingly turned into a callous, I was ready for julienne, small dice, and anything else that was thrown my way...or so I thought!

After successfully chopping mache, parsley, and thyme, assembling goat cheese balls, and plating 300 ladles of vegetables and chicken, I was feeling great about the event. Unfortunately, my shift wasn't over yet.

When all dies down and the waiters are impatiently waiting for the guests to finish dessert and coffee, the kitchen is responsible for preparations for the following day. Aside from julienning mushrooms and marinating fruit, one of my tasks was to cube 80 pounds of chicken breast. Sounds like an easy task? Yeah! I thought so! Luckily, 2 others were also recurited for this extraordinary feat. As we hacked away at the slimy project, all were completely exhausted and watching the clock. "Another breast please", I mumbled, as my hands felt like anvils, attached to my wrists. Toward the end of the evening, my knife's sharpness was beginning to dwindle and the cubing required a lot more force. I kept feeling a sharp pain over my little [or so I thought] callous, but since gloves and chicken goo were covering my anvils, I couldnt see where the pain was coming from. In actuality, the result of this fun little project is noted in the photo above; a huge blister, the size of a dime, over my little pleasant callous...impossible you say? See for yourself. By the way, does anyone have an industrial sander I could borrow?

Tangy Kasha

Growing up, kasha (aka buckwheat groats) was not only a dietary staple, but also a medicinal remedy. Stomach ache? Runny nose? Severed limb? The delicate, little grains, drenched in butter, were a comforting go to.
Below is an alternative to my childhood staple (serves 4):
1/4 cup shallots
2 oz olive oil
1 cup buckwheat groats
2.5 cups water
1 large cucumber-small dice
1 cup fresh tomatoes-small dice
1/2 cup parsley-finely chopped
1/2 cup mint-finely chopped
1/2 cup feta cheese-crumbled
salt-to taste
pepper-to taste
1.5 cups olive oil
3/4 cups lemon juice-fresh squeezed
cayenne-to taste
salt-to taste
pepper-to taste
1.In a medium sauce pan, on medium heat, sweat shallots in olive oil (~5-7 minutes).
2. Add groats to pot and toss (~30 seconds, until coated).
3. Add water, season, and bring to a boil; turn the heat down and simmer until all water is absorbed and groats are tender (approximately 12 minutes); strain if necessary; allow to cool.
4. In a bowl, combine cooked groats, cucumber, tomatoes, parsley, and mint.
5. Season and top with feta cheese.
1. Whisk all ingredients; toss with above salad.


Chicken Paillards with Marinated Pear, Goat Cheese and Almond Slivers

It's time to alter the daily chicken blues (serves 6):
1/2 cup olive oil-divided
3/4 cup balsamic vinegar
5 medium size pears-sliced thin and cored
1/4 t cayenne pepper
4 boneless/skinless chicken breasts
3 T goat cheese
1/4 cup almond slivers-toasted
1/4 cup parsley-chopped
1/4 cup chives-chopped
salt-to taste
pepper-to taste
1. Mix 1/4 cup olive oil and balsamic vinegar and marinate pears in mixture for 10 minutes.
2. Place pears on baking sheet (sprayed with cooking spray).
3. Season pears with salt, pepper, and cayenne and roast in the oven at 400F until soft (approximately 10-12 minutes).
4. Butterfly, pound, and cut chicken breasts in half (attempting to resemble a pear shape).
5. Season chicken breasts and brown on both sides, in 1/4 cup olive oil, until cooked through.
6. Top each chicken breast with one pear slice.
7. Place 1 teaspoon of goat cheese in the center of each pear.
8. Place ~4 almond slivers into the center of the goat cheese.
9. Garnish the plate with parsley and chives.


Andouille Crusted Duck, with Ricotta Stuffed Sweet Pepper, and Spicy Kasha with Sweet Snow Peas

Quak Quak-no more chicken! Here's a poultry alternative when you're chickened out (serves 8):


¼ lb Andouille sausage

¼ cup whole wheat bread crumbs

8 skinless duck breasts

2 oz canola oil

1 medium shallot-small dice

6 oz white wine

16 oz chicken stock

salt-to taste

pepper-to taste

1 oz chopped parsley


1. Cut Andouille into small dice and cook until brown; mix with breadcrumbs.

2. Season duck breasts and brown on both sides in canola oil; remove and reserve.

3. Add shallot to pan and cook for 30 sec.; deglaze pan with white wine and reduce au sec.

4. Add 8 oz of chicken stock to pan.

5. Toss duck breasts in Andouille mixture and return to pan; top off duck with remainder of Andouille mixture.

6. Bake at 375F until duck is cooked through (approximately 15 min); place on rack.

7. Deglaze pan with white wine.

8. Add remainder of chicken stock and reduce by 1/3rd on stove top; mont au beurre and serve over duck

9. Top with parsley.


Sweet Peppers:

8 small, yellow sweet peppers-tops trimmed and reserved; ribs removed and discarded

2 medium carrots-small dice

1 medium onion-small dice

1 oz olive oil

1 cup whole wheat breadcrumbs

15 oz ricotta cheese

½ cup grated parmesan cheese

1 t zested ginger

8 oz chicken stock

salt-to taste

pepper-to taste


1. Cook onions in olive oil, until they turn light brown; add carrots and sweet peppers; when cooked through, season, remove, and reserve.

2. In a bowl, combine breadcrumbs, ricotta cheese, parmesan cheese, and ginger; season.

3. Combine cheese mixture with vegetable mixture and spoon into peppers.

4. Braise peppers in chicken stock, in a large rondeau, until tender when pierced with a fork (approximately 20 min).



2 medium shallots-small dice

2 oz olive oil

2 cups Kasha (aka buckwheat grains)

1.5 t zested ginger

4 cups water

1 t crushed red pepper flakes

3 cups snow peas

salt-to taste

pepper-to taste


1. In a saucepan, sweat shallot in olive oil; add Kasha and ginger and toss until incorporated.

2. Add water; bring to a boil and turn to a simmer; add red pepper flakes.

3. Cook until Kasha absorbs all of the water (approximately 15 min); season.

4. Blanch snow peas and strain; cut on a diagonal in ¼ in pieces.

5. Combine snow peas with kasha.


Alligator Legs

While walking through Chinatown, I couldn't resist...the delicious outcome is deserving of 3 photo posts (serves 2):
1 1/2 lb alligator legs (from your friendly alligator dealer)
1 cup olive oil
3/4 cups soy sauce
1/2 cup lemon juice
5 parsley stems
4 cups chicken stock
5 thyme sprigs
1/4 cup orange juice
salt-to taste
pepper-to taste
1. Marinate alligator legs with olive oil, soy sauce, lemon juice, and parsley for 1.5 hours.

2. Pat dry, season, and brown legs in pan, on high heat.
3. Add chicken stock, thyme, and orange juice; bring to a boil.
4. Turn the heat down and simmer for ~3 hours, or until meat falls off the bone.
Serve with: ginger flavored rice, sticky rice, coconut rice, snow peas, and/or sauteed carrots.

Braised Duck with a Sweet Apple Pan Sauce

Poultry dinner alternative (serves 2):
2 duck leg quarters
olive oil
1 Granny Smith apple-sliced thin
1/4 cup white wine
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
3 sprigs of thyme-leaves only
zest from one orange
zest from 1/2 lemon
1 T butter
salt-to taste
pepper-to taste
1. Season duck and brown on both sides in olive oil; remove from pan.
2. Add apples to pan and brown.
3. De-glaze pan with white wine and reduce.
4. Add chicken stock, duck, thyme leaves, lemon and orange zest to pan and place in 375F oven until duck reaches internal temperature of 165F; remove duck from pan.
5. Place pan on stove top and reduce sauce by 1/2; finish with butter and serve over duck; sprinkle with remaining lemon and orange zest.


Things [the infamous] 'they' dont tell you

So you want to go to culinary school? It's an ever expanding field, with tons of opportunities! Photography, styling, writing, creating-the possibilities are endless! The glamor, fame, and glory! And by the way...

As with any profession, the culinary field has a few quirks: the odd hours and the occasional crazy, screaming boss.

A few of these quirks, however, are not so typical and are not mentioned in your culinary arts school tour...
  • Exceptionally sore fingers, hands, and wrists-who knew that fingers can be sore? From the chopping, carrying, dismantling, stirring, and various other necessary performances.
  • Not-so-light knife bag-which is to be lugged around each day...to and from work...to and from class...to and from home.
  • Knives-which are to be sharpened and honed daily...which otherwise prove to be completely inadequate, inefficient, and otherwise wretched.
  • $80+ Danskos-without which your back, neck, and feet wouldn't be here today to tell their story.
  • Last, and unfortunately not least, additional tasting pounds-which are thoroughly enhanced with every dish you make, as everything MUST be tasted.
Lucky for me, food is my absolute adoration, so I'll spend a few extra minutes on the spin bike, to tackle those unruly tasting pounds and schedule a much needed massage for the sore hands...any volunteers?


I Got It!

My first 'trail' was a success! With a job offer proposed within a week!


Mushroom Crepe Torte

Cheesy, savory goodness (serves 4):
1 egg
1.5 cup milk
1/4 cup water
1 cup whole wheat flour
8 oz mushrooms-sliced
1/4 cup onions-small dice
1/4 lb Gruyere cheese-sliced
1/4 lb fresh Asiago cheese-sliced
1/4 cup Parmesan-shreaded
Cooking spray
Salt-to taste
Pepper-to taste
1. Whisk egg, milk, and water.
2. Add flour and salt (to taste) to egg mixture; whisk to smooth, milky consistency (with no clumps; if needed, add more flour or liquid to reach correct consistency).
3. In a sautee pan, sweat onions; add mushrooms and cook to al dente; season well.
4. Spray a small sautee pan with cooking spray; depending on your pan size, ladle crepe batter into pan in 1/4 - 1/2 cup-full increments; tilt the pan in a circular motion so the batter coats the pan evenly. Cook to golden, then flip crepe and cook other side; continue (while spraying the pan before each new crepe).
5. Assemble: in a baking dish, lay down one crepe, top with mushrooms, top with 2 slices of Gruyere, top with 1 slice of Asiago, repeat until all crepes are used.
6. Top last crepe with grated Parmesan.
7. Bake in a 400F oven until top layer and Parmesan are crisp (aprox 6-9 min).


Lamb Lasagna with Eggplant and Spinach

Not your typical Italian fav, but still mouthwatering (serves 2, with leftovers):
6 Lasagna noodles, broken in half
1 oz butter
2 oz olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
3/4 lb ground lamb
1 shallot-small dice
1/2 lb eggplant-pealed, chopped in small dice
7 sprigs thyme-leaves only
1/2 bunch spinach, chopped coarsely
1 egg
8 oz ricotta cheese
1/4 cup parsley leaves, chopped
3 cups Parmesan cheese
1 cup Gruyere cheese
6 oz [good] tomato sauce
salt-to taste
pepper-to taste
1. Boil lasagna noodles until al dente; butter and reserve.
2. Sautee onions in olive oil until just golden.
3. Add lamb to onions and sautee until almost done, season; reserve.
4. Sweat shallot in olive oil, add eggplant and thyme, cook until soft, season, add spinach, mix, and turn pan off; reserve.
5. In a bowl, mix ricotta, parsley, Gruyere, and season lightly.
6. Assemble: in a round baking dish, one ladle of tomato sauce, lay down 3 noodles, top with ricotta mixture, top with lamb, top with eggplant mixture, top with Parm; repeat.
7. Top last noodle layer with Ricotta mixture and extra Parm.
8. Bake covered, in a 400F oven, for 10 min; uncover and bake 20 min longer.


A Food Trail?

So how does one go about getting that delicious culinary job? A trail. My initial reaction of, "I love hiking!" was shut down by a brief explanation of an 'audition'.

Once I landed an interview with my sparkling, new culinary resume, whimsical cover letter, and genuine phone charm, I was looking forward to the experience. After meeting with the serious and all too familiar HR representative (who, with her grimace mug, eyed an empty water bottle standing on the floor next to the chair where I was sitting, in the reception area...but it wasn't mine! It was there when I arrived!The Seinfeld in me almost lost composure), I was escorted to the kitchen, where a very pleasant, young sous chef asked me a few questions and showed me the assignment.

I was to prepare a slew of tasks, from a one page long document, while being secretly observed and timed. Tournet? Blanch? Fabrication? I was amazed at the number of functions we'd just practiced in class the day before! Funny how things work out sometimes. I set myself up in a part of the kitchen and quickly went to work.

Everyone around was working on their daily tasks, preparing for a food service, and knew my position...as just some time ago they were all in my Danskos. Luckily, they were very helpful, pointing me to the spice rack, letting me know an oven is out of order (which remained arctic 20 minutes after I turned it on), and showing me to the walk-in fridge where the butter is stored. As I hacked away at the assignment, I was ecstatic about the experience. I'm in one of the best kitchens in the country, working along side the most prestigious chef and staff, in the highest-end catering facility in NYC...and I actually know what I'm doing!

After all the fancy cuts, finely chopped herbs, peeled and seeded tomatoes, and perfectly balanced vinaigrette [among others], the final step was to plate everything for the chef. My presentation consisted of a bed of blanched asparagus, topped with pan seared chicken breast-finished in the oven with a white wine sauce, carrots-glazed in pomegranate molasses, and parsley potato tournets-crisp outside with a melt-in-your-mouth center.

As the chef inspected my presentation, I was not nervous or jittery. My energy was positive, clear, and surprisingly calm. He asked a few questions (how did I know the chicken was done? what is the ratio of the vinaigrette? did I boil the potatoes ahead of time?) and all of my answers were quick, meaty, and confident-because I did it! "The asparagus is cooked perfectly", he said as he snapped one of the stalks. "The potatoes are great! I didn't have lunch today", as he went back for seconds and thirds. I was gloating inside at the praise and my speed of the concoctions...after all, this was my first performance with no rehearsal.

After thanking everyone for their time, saying my goodbye-s to the kitchen staff, and HR, I walked away with a smile. Even if there's no offer made, I thoroughly enjoyed my first audition and cant wait for more!


Office woman gone mad!

You've made the right click! My goal has always been rather simple-to feed others...really, REALLY well. The closed, rolled back eyes, pressed lips, tilted head, and that familiar 'mmmm' moan (not that moan-get your mind back into the kitchen) are typically pretty good indications of satisfaction. After experimenting with some of my mom's typical dishes, I saw that chicken can be more than just seared...crepes can be made with wheat flour and stuffed with a multitude of fillings (aside from ground chicken)...and eggs are absolutely NOT limited to sunny side up and have boundless use.
My views didn't always synchronize with my extremely educated family's belief of life success:
  • marrying a nice Russian lawyer,
  • being a 'manager',
  • owning a home, and
  • bearing heirs-ASAP
This is not to say that I didn't try. After wrangling in my lifeless Business Management degree, like a nice daughter, I got myself a corporate job! In addition to my own office, I had a normal schedule, a regular paycheck, essential health insurance, and a mundane workweek. I continuously scouted the internet [between meetings and during phone calls] for new recipes and ways I could make them my own. I couldn't wait to get home and make a tapas dinner to share with my eager roommate.

'Mariya's cooking tonight', she'd tell her co-workers; they all knew a token feast awaited. I'd have my shopping list ready days in advance; I'd browse the plethora of store circulars [between meetings and during phone calls] to get the best deals; I'd even leave work extra early to avoid the 'after5' grocery-store-herd. Naturally, all this eating couldn't exist without a workout-which I conveniently crammed in before the festivities.

By the time my roommate arrived, the apartment was filled with a blend of aromas-from cheesy sauteed vegetables, toasted pizza-like breads, and stuffed mushrooms, to panko crusted salmon, sauteed shrimp, and luscious fillets. The spread was always a surprise of new variations and ingredients...however one constant remained: a dark, bitter-sweet, very happy, chocolate ending. It typically consisted of melted chocolate being poured on, dipped into, or otherwise consumed with any and everything available in the house (to include: nuts, pretzels, cookies, crackers, fruit, bread, cake, crepes, peanut butter, utensils, etc., etc., etc.). Typically, the next day was reserved for recovery after which the cycle continued...[between meetings and during phone calls].

After the 'office-woman' facade of 3 years, I decided to take some time off, travel, and search for my passion (which was very difficult for my family to grasp-as it was so 'insensible' of their accomplished daughter). Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and various countries in Europe were stops of choice-each offering their own amazing spread. I anticipated every next meal and impatiently waited for my body to digest and become hungry once more, so I could experience the overabundance of feed. Upon my return, the 'office-woman' in me decided that the logical thing to do was to get the same type of job...only in a food related environment. Close, but not quite. While managing a high-end catering operation I saw a lot of creative and interesting ideas (while consuming them), but was still not satisfied.

Always loving New York, and not being very satiated with the limited opportunity the city of Baltimore had to offer (where I grew up from the age of 10, after moving from my birthplace of Kiev, Ukraine), I finally got the courage to make the move. Needless to say, when I announced my plans, my rational parents, strict chef/boss, and hungry roommate weren't too thrilled. Nevertheless, I stuck to my decision and went for it.

For a while, in the big [delicious] apple, I played around and did various odd jobs (fashion assistant, office manager, model, movie extra, etc.); all the while maintaining my culinary passion by carousing NY's markets, hosting dinner parties, and even attending the Rachel Ray show!

As my savings account began to resemble the frozen turkey case at the market on Thanksgiving day, and I considered my options for 'what I want to be when I grow up', food was always on the forefront of my mind (and in my mouth). With a hard nudge (err...bulldoze) from a friend, I did my research of various culinary schools and set forth on my culinary arts degree. Can one really make a career out of cooking? Weren't we fighting for women's rights [to get out of the kitchen]? Shouldn't I want a corner office? All valid questions [mom]-but...not so much! I want to cook! At this point I'm ~4 months into culinary studies and:
  • instead of-marrying a nice Russian lawyer-live with my 1/2 Egyptian boyfriend,
  • instead of-being a 'manager'-work 3 jobs (event planner, cook, and gym girl),
  • instead of-owning a home-rent an apartment in Brooklyn, and
  • ...do I even have to say?
But I'm happy!


Salmon with Yogurt Dill Sauce, Roasted Chinese Eggplant and Potatoes

Dinner again? A tweaked alternative to a restaurant classic (serves 2):
2, 8oz salmon fillets
3/4 lb snow peas
2 potatoes-diced into uniform shape of your choice
2 Chinese eggplants-diced into uniform shape of your choice
6 oz Greek style yogurt
1 cucumber-small dice
1/2 cup dill
Olive oil
Italian seasoning-to taste
Salt-to taste
Pepper-to taste
1. Season salmon fillets with Italian seasoning, salt, and pepper.
2. Coat pan with olive oil and sear fillets on both sides, until golden; finish salmon in a 400F oven.
3. Blanch snow peas, by tossing them into a pot of boiling, salted water for ~15 seconds; immediately remove and submerge in an ice bath for ~15 seconds (to stop the cooking process).
4. Toss potatoes and eggplant in olive oil and season with Italian seasoning, salt, and pepper; roast both in the same roasting dish on 400F until tender when pierced with a fork.
5. Combine Greek yogurt, cucumber, dill, salt, and pepper.
6. Serve salmon over snow peas and top with yogurt sauce; serve potatoes and eggplant on the side.


Roasted Platter

(serves 8):
2 lbs fingerling potatoes
4 large sweet potatoes
1 head of garlic
rack of lamb (8 chops)
1/2 cup bread crumbs
2 T parsley, chopped
1 whole chicken
1.5 cups chicken stock
8 oz mirepoix
2 lemons; sliced
2 apples; sliced
1 oz butter
olive oil-for coating
zest from 1 orange
salt-to taste
pepper-to taste
3 rosemary sprigs
fresh sage-chopped
1. Cut fingerling potatoes in half and toss in olive oil, rosemary, salt, and pepper; roast in oven at 400F for 35-40 minutes, or until tender when pierced with a fork.
2. Cut sweet potatoes into medium dice and toss with olive oil, orange zest, sage, salt, and pepper; roast in oven at 400F for 30 minutes, or until tender when pierced with a fork.
3. Cut off the top of the garlic head; coat garlic in olive oil and bake in oven for 45min-1hr, or until soft to the touch.
4. Season lamb chops and sear in a pan ~3 minutes on each side, or until golden; mix bread crumbs, olive oil, and parsley; coat chops in bread crumb mixture and roast in oven at 375F until the inside temperature reaches 125F; allow to rest.
5. Season chicken well and rub with butter; stuff chicken with lemons and apples; coat mirepoix in olive oil and place on bottom of pan; place chicken on top; add chicken stock; roast at 400F for 15 min (until brown); baste and turn oven down to 375F; roast until internal temperature reaches 165F; allow to rest.


Protein Tapas

Once you have all of your mise en place (which can be done a day ahead and refrigerated), all you have to do is assembly! (serves 4):
2 breasts chicken-grilled or pan seared; sliced thin
2, 8 oz pieces Salmon-grilled or pan seared
10-15 large shrimp-grilled or pan seared
2, 8 oz cuts steak-grilled or pan seared
1 lb Asparagus-grilled or blanched
2 tomatoes-sliced into wedges
2 Granny Smith apples- sliced into wedges
Cheddar cheese-for topping
Cilantro and parsley-for topping
~10 slices whole grain bread
Olive oil (garlic, basil, or rosemary oil can be substituted)
1. Cut crust off bread and slice bread into 3x3 in squares; brush with olive oil (garlic, basil, or rosemary oil can be substituted); toast bread.
2. Cut all proteins into 2x2 in squares.
3. Assemble salmon: place one salmon square on top of toast, top with flavored oil.
4. Assemble salmon 2: place one salmon square on top of tomato wedge, top with cilantro and arranged asparagus.
5. Assemble chicken: place one chicken square on top of each apple wedge; top with thinly sliced cheese strips and parsley.
6. Assemble chicken 2: place one chicken square on top of each tomato wedge; top with thinly sliced cheese squares and cilantro.
7. Assemble steak: place one steak square on top of each bread slice; top with cilantro, flavored oil, and asparagus.
8. Assemble steak 2: place one steak square on top of each bread slice; top with thinly sliced tomato and parsley.
9. Assemble shrimp: place one shrimp on top of each tomato wedge; top with cilantro.


A New Way To Eat Oatmeal

Tired of the same old oat meal? Try black currant oatmeal pancakes with organic yogurt and walnuts (serves 2):
2 eggs
1 cup milk
2 cups oatmeal-quick oats
1/2 cup dried black currants
2 t brown sugar
1 t vanilla extract
butter or cooking spray for pan
1/2 cup organic vanilla yogurt
1/2 cup walnuts-toasted
1. In a bowl, mix the eggs and milk.
2. Add oatmeal, currants, brown sugar, and vanilla into the bowl.
3. Heat and butter a pan (or spray with cooking spray). Ladle batter into the pan and cook pancakes until just brown on each side (about 2 min).
4. Top pancakes with yogurt and walnuts.

Alternatively, try plain oatmeal cakes (serves 2):
2 eggs
1 cup milk
2 cups oatmeal
3 t brown sugar
1 t vanilla extract
2 t lemon juice
butter for cooking (or cooking spray)
optional: chocolate chips, bananas, raisins, strawberries, whipped cream, jam
1. In a bowl mix the eggs and milk.
2. Add in oatmeal, brown sugar, vanilla extract, and
lemon juice.
3. Add optional ingredients.
4. Heat butter in pan (or spray pan with cooking spray) and brown cakes on each side (approximately 1-2 minutes on each side).
5. Serve warm optional items.