Persimmon Sweet Potato Winter Pudding

Seeing as the leaves have well turned - if not almost disappeared - I've come up with a wintery pudding to make use of some of the season's crop (serves 4):
1 medium sweet potato
1 T honey
1/4 t nutmeg
1/2 t cinnamon
3/4 cup warm almond milk
1 med persimmon (peeled, tough core removed, and roughly chopped)
1 banana (peeled, and broken up into pieces)
1 medium ripe bartlett pear (peeled, cored, and diced)
1 lime - juiced
1. Preheat oven to 400F. Wash the sweet potato, poke holes all around it with a fork, and wrap it in foil. Bake until the potato is very fork-tender. Once the potato has cooled, peel it and roughly chop.
2. Combine the honey, nutmeg, cinnamon, and almond milk in a bowl and whisk until the honey has melted. Allow to cool.
3. In a blender, combine the sweet potato, persimmon, banana, pear, and lime juice. While the blender is on, slowly add in honey mixture and blend until a smooth pudding consistency (you may need to add more honey water, depending on the ripeness of your fruit).
4. Serve with your favorite tea cookie.


Food Styling

Green Beans w/ Fig Vin
Ginger Pears
Huevos Rancheros
Pear Ginger Muffins

Having my [delicious] plate full of various freelance work, I slightly neglected my beloved blog readers. Here are a few recently styled photos, which I worked on for WholeFoods Market Cooking as well as Food52 (fantastic websites for cooks of all facets). More to come!

Thai Snapper


Essence Magazine June 2011 Contributor

Check out my article and recipe contributions to the June issue of Essence magazine-a three page spread!


Review: James Beard House-Take 3

For a someone-special's birthday, we decided to treat ourselves to an extraordinary experience at the James Beard House. Each time I've had the opportunity to visit the amazing venue, I've always been enchanted by the soiree. The welcomed master of the evening was executive chef Lawrence Knapp, of The Hurricane Club. A most appropriate theme for a hot summer day-Polynesian Luau!

   Tobegin the hors d'oeuvre hour, we helped ourselves to The Hurricane Club's signature cocktails, including: 'In the Shell' (an overly sweet coconut concoction, served in its home of a coconut shell), 'Stormy Ginger" (a refreshing citrus drink made with ginger beer), and "Strong" (appropriately named Knob Creek cocktail, garnished with cucumber and tomato).

As we settled into the hot summer air in the outside patio, the small bites made their way into the crowd. Peking duck tea sandwiches were melt-in-your-mouth tender, served on crispy mini white toast. Chicken parm shumai, served in porcelain spoons, were a colorful delight with a slight sweetness.

Crunchy coconut shrimp were served elegantly on skewers. The Elvis, a unique combo of crispy, thick cut bacon, banana, and spicy peanuts was an incredible marriage of flavors. While my favorite of the evening outshone the rest: a peanut butter and guava jam sandwich with prosciutto and Thai basil. Superb!

As we were called into the grand dining room the fantastic staff showed us to our table, where we continued the culinary adventure. A trio of ceviche (snapper, hamachi sashimi, and toro tartare) were served with a cool Sauvignon Blanc. Fresh and tangy flavors were subtle, allowing the fish to shine.  Honey glazed baby back ribs and The Club's signature wings arrived on family style serving platters. The tender meat departed the bone with ease, while the sweet and succulent marinade coated our fingers. San Miguel, a light amber and slightly citrusy beer, complemented the multitude of succeeding helpings.

While anticipating the next course (and as if we weren't already loose enough), we received a watermelon surprise at our table...for more lubrication. A vodka-watermelon cocktail, served family style, was a fun and extremely boozy conversation piece.

Crispy peking pig (paired with a sweet hard cider) was yet another family style presentation of tender and crispy meat. Served with a multitude of sauces and buns, each guest made their customized version of a pork bun (or two.... or three... or...).

The black bean lamb chop and spice crusted shrimp surf and turf arrived plated. While the Hawaiian fried rice and baby bok choy were served for the table. Once more the chef presented us with extremely delicious flavors and textures (paired with a bit overly-sweet Riesling). I reluctantly gave up the bone of my perfectly cooked chop and couldn't get enough of the delicious rice and vibrant greens.

With the consumption of the aforementioned cocktails, wines, beers, and liquors, we were exceptionally at ease and happily cheered for the chef as he made his way into the dining room. He briefly described the desserts we were about to feast on: chocolate kill devil's food cake (an unimpressive and somewhat bland spongy cake), the pina colada upside down cake (a tasty, flavorful, and doughy batter, served with a rich yet refreshing pineapple ice cream), and the king of the evening's desserts...the Samoan! An incredible, lick-your-plate-clean melange of angel food cake, coconut, and caramel. An airy delight to end yet another incredible J.B. experience.


Review: Perry Street

When the name Jean George is uttered, the palate is automatically aroused while an intrigue and excitement sets in. This was the initial spark when we entered Perry Street-Jean George's 'neighborhood joint' in downtown Manhattan.  The low-pitched hostes showed us to our lunch table-an almost comunal attachment to the clients adjacent, with paper placemats yet comfy chairs. The floating and serene waitress took our orders and we were greeted with buttery croissants to start. As we waited for our first course to arrive, we examined the pristine atmosphere, chatty clientele, and well dressed staff.

The arctic char sashimi was presented on a white square, simply garnished with lemon zest, crispy skin, a few paper-thin slices of chilis, and olive oil. The tender slices of fish were garnished with large salt flakes (Maldon perhaps) and had a pleasant texture.

Crispy calamari were our other starter...extremely tender, however, a bit difficult to pierce with a fork, as the batter had hardened significantly-resulting in fried dough pieces all around. The whipped ponzu-sesame sauce was savory and a perfect dipping accompaniment for the croissant as well.

Service was quick and attentive and the semi-communal seating added to our amusement. We couldn't help overhearing a few gentlemen comment on their discontent with portion size, as they ordered more plates after finishing their entrees.

When our main dishes arrived, we understood their concern. Although cooked to perfection and delicious, the two humble slices of grilled hangar were questionable size for an entree. Unfortunately the 'crispy' potatoes were appropriately called due to still being crisply undercooked...not so much to their fried composition.

The slow cooked salmon was the biggest surprise of the lunch. Having experienced this dish at the James Beard House, as well as preparing it in the past, I was looking forward to the melt-in-your-mouth-feel of the delicate preparation. I was presented, however, with a simple baked salmon, overcooked at the edges. The accompanying asparagus and bok choy were fresh, crispy, and delicious, and the herbal chili sauce was flavorful and had a smooth consistency, however lacked the chili mentioned in its title.

Dessert was once more a hit and miss. The warm chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream seemed as if originating from the frozen isle of Trader Joes (which I love...however, I was expecting more). The cassis mousse with a small carrot cake layer and sorbet was a delicious mix of sweet and tangy flavors and greatly succeeded it's partner. Although beautifully presented, the food did not WOW our excited palates.

Were my expectations too high? Is Perry Street a faulty representation to the JGV world? I hold my breath and anticipate a better experience in one of his alternate venues.


Chocolate Chip Cookie Obsession!

One of my grand fixations-chocolate chip cookies-have been perfected through numerous trials and taste tests (of course). Extra gym excursions are imperative at this lusciously, full-bodied juncture. Makes 20 cookies:
2 sticks unsalted butter-room temp
1/3 cup + 2 1/2 T brown sugar
1 1/2 T confectioners sugar
1 t salt
2 t orange infused oil
1/2 t vanilla extract
1 orange-zested
2 eggs
2 1/4 cups AP flour 
baking soda
2 1/4 cups semi-sweet chocolate chunks (62% cocoa)
1/3 cup toasted almonds-roughly chopped
cooking spray
1. Preheat oven to 375F. 
2. Using the paddle attachment, mix the butter and both sugars until combined.
3. Add salt, orange oil, vanilla extract, zest, and eggs; mix well.
4. Sift the flour and baking soda together and add [in thirds] to the mixing bowl. 
5. Take the bowl out of the stand and add the chocolate and almonds, incorporating by hand. 
6. Scoop 2 tablespoons of dough for each cookie and shape into rounds. Place cookies on a sprayed baking sheet. Bake for 15-18 minutes, until the cookies begin to brown.
**NOTE: substitute dried fruit (cranberries, currants, strawberries, etc) for the chocolate, should you prefer; alternatively, add the dried fruit to the mix!


Park Slope Food Walking Tour

Wanting to make the most of a few recent days off, (and since eating at just one restaurant is never enough), I've decided to incorporate self guided walking food tours into the mix. All the extra walking will make up for the extra eating...right? The way this works is: a neighborhood is chosen (within a few streets) and restaurants are hopped in and out of, at random...tasting/drinking/and amusing at each. The most recent stroll was along 5th Avenue in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Luckily, my companion can pack it away like a food disposal, making for a great accomplice for such an event.

The first stop-Chavella's. A tiny Mexican restaurant near Prospect Park, which brings on huge flavor!
The Pescado taco presented perfectly cooked Dorado (mahi), cradled by two tortillas, with crunchy lettuce and fresh salsa; while the crispy Taquitos were filled with gooey Oaxaca cheese and topped with crema and salsa. Perfectly distinct flavors left us craving more, but we had to pace ourselves as the tour had just begun! We chose house made sangria to end the meal, which was super refreshing and slightly sweet. Loaded with fresh oranges, limes, and apples, it left us craving an entire pitcher (each), however we stood strong and continued our adventure.

Bonnie's Grill burgers have been reviewed as some of the best in Brooklyn. Based on these, as well as friends' recommendations, we decided to make the plunge into burger world, splitting the Spiced Black Angus Sirloin Burger (with 'spicy' cole slaw). While we waited for our meat to arrive, we enjoyed a Smutty Nose and a light Pino Grigio. The boasted burger arrived atop a kaiser roll, packed with lettuce, tomato, onions, cheddar cheese, and jalapenos. Unfortunately, we can't all have great days...this was evident today. The first bite of the unseasoned meat did not infuse taste onto the palate. It seemed as though this batch of beef was simply ground and thrown on the grill-no salt, pepper, or spice! Although cooked to a perfect medium-rare, the bland burger and dense, cold bun were the opposite of all the rave reviews. Consistently, the disappointment continued with the 'spicy' cole slaw-nothing more than store bought, mayonaise filled cabbage...once more lacking in seasoning. The name of the slaw (as with the burger) was completely deceiving, having no red pepper flakes/jalapenos/cayenne/or any other spice in the bowl. We paid or tab and were quickly on our way...anticipating the next meal!

Making a stop at Flipster's is always a favorite, for one of the greatest happy hours in Brooklyn-half off drinks! After a few Pinos and drafts, we were ready to stimulate our palate.

As we walked passed Coco Roco, the happy rooster on the front made me feel warm inside (it may have been the Pinos talking...but we'll go with the former). The Peruvian restaurant seemed busy with patrons and the front counter was flooded with take-out orders. We sat at a small table next to the window and were quickly greeted by a server wanting to take our drink orders. We happily gave up the info and munched on crunchy fried corn kernels and plantain chips, to start. Our order of fried sweet plantains, fresh mixed seafood ceviche, and Anticuchos (grilled and seasoned beef heart skewers) arrived just as we were finishing the munchies. 
The gigantic plate of sweet plantains was juicy and delicious. The flavorful ceviche carried mussels, shrimp, squid, sweet potato, and corn in a tangy marinade. While the beef hearts were tender and perfectly seasoned, served with grilled potatoes. Alas! A flavorful and extremely delicious meal to complete the savory part of our tour.
With our bellies full, our minds loose, and our feet ready...we ventured off in search of dessert. Stumbling [literally] completely past Sky Ice, we retracted a few steps to ogle at the menu of this charming, new cafe. Homemade ice cream with no preservatives, high fructose corn syrup, or artificial flavors? Sold! After trying the creative options (seaweed, sea salt, green tea, etc), we settled on the homemade brownie with a trio of ice cream. The presentation (in a biodegradable serving dish) was top notch and the ice cream flavors were fresh, clean, and delicious. The distinct essences of each were precise (confirming the use of fresh, REAL ingredients). The brownie, however, left more to crave. With a lack of flavor, perhaps a bit of vanilla, some cocoa nibs, or carob chips would have added to the bland, quarter piece. Although the friendly service and fresh ingredients would persuade us to give it another try. Looking forward to seeing more unique flavors!

In the late evening hours, we rolled ourselves home, feeling happy and more than satiated. An overall walking tour success with more to follow.


Chocolate Pastry Cream Fruit Tarts

Being a loving best friend, I put together a few chocolate pastry cream tarts for a special occasion! TO decorate, use any fresh berry you can get your hands on and let your creative juices flow! (makes two tarts):
2 cups flour
2 T sugar
1/2 T salt
2 sticks butter-cold and cut into 1/4 inch cubes
1/4 - 1/2 cup cold water
Chocolate Pastry Cream:
12 oz milk
2 oz sugar
3 oz corn starch
3 eggs-beaten
3 oz dark chocolate chips
fresh berries (strawberries, blue berries, raspberries, black berries, etc)
1. Preheat the oven to 425F and sift the flour, sugar, and salt into the bowl of a stand mixer.
2. Using the paddle attachment, slowly add the butter until small dough balls form and the butter is incorporated.
3. Slowly add the water until a shaggy dough forms. Do not add too much water, just enough to form the dough.
4. Split the dough in half and form two balls (be sure to handle the dough as little as possible). Roll out or press the dough into a 9 inch tart pan. Using a fork, lightly poke the dough all over (to avoid air bubbles).
5. Bake the dough until golden brown, approximately 30 minutes. Allow to cool.
6. Bring the milk and half of the sugar to a boil.
7. Combine the other half of the sugar with the cornstarch. Add this to the beaten eggs and whisk until smooth.
8. Slowly temper the egg mixture into the milk mixture and cook for 2-4 minutes (while whisking the entire time).
9. Remove from heat and whisk in chocolate chips. Pass the pastry cream through a strainer, cover with plastic wrap, and allow to cool completely.
10. Fill each tart with pastry cream and decorate with fresh berries; refrigerate for at least 2 hours.