Sesame Pistachio Baked Asparagus Fries

2 04 2012

I am truly inspired by the seasons.  As a Chicago native, I used to take the seasons for granted.  I thought everyone grew up sledding and making snow angels in the winter.  I thought everyone knew the feeling of walking on crispy, crackling leaves in the Fall.  I thought everyone anticipated watching the tulips come out in the Spring.  I thought everyone grew up with hot and humid pool days and cool summer nights.  I realize now, that these memories are very specific to Chicago, my home.

When I moved to California, I learned to experience the seasons in a new way.  The weather did not change dramatically but the food did.  From my first job , I was exposed to seasonal farm-to-table cooking.  What does this mean?  It means you only cook with what the farmers are growing at that specific time of year.  This is the way Europeans have always cooked and also why their food tastes so damn good.  It’s pretty simple, eating the freshest ingredients maximizes the flavor in any dish.  Learning what ingredients were grown during each season was a humbling experience for a mid-western girl like me.  I was enlightened to learn that brussel sprouts grew in the fall, squash and root vegetables in the winter, artichokes in the Spring, and peaches and tomatoes in the summer. I tasted an abundance of new fresh flavors and started to associate those flavors with a specific time of year.

Now that I am back in Chicago, I associate the Spring with way more than nice weather and tulips.  To me Spring means cooking with some of my favorite ingredients in the world: green garlic, Spring onions, sweet peas, fava beans, apricots, Morel mushrooms, rhubarb and asparagus.  I love Spring produce because the flavors are delicate, light and complement a variety of dishes.

Last week I bought my first bunch of spring asparagus and was super excited to roast it off with a little olive oil and salt and eat the whole bunch like candy.  Instead of going with this simple approach (that I highly recommend), I started to play around with some other ingredients I had in my pantry to step it up a notch.  I decided to bread and bake the asparagus to add some Asian flavor and emphasize the crunch of the asparagus.  Typically, the standard breading procedure involves flour, egg and breadcrumbs.  Instead of following the rules, this time I substituted coconut milk with lime zest and rice wine vinegar for eggs and added toasted pistachio nuts and an AMAZING sesame spice blend to the breadcrumbs.  I think the secret weapon in this recipe is the Spicy Sesame Salad Sprinkle from The Spice House.  It’s a combination of two types of sesame seeds, dried herbs and salt that complements the delicate sweetness of the asparagus and gives it an Asian twist.  If you can’t get your hands on this spice blend, feel free to use a combination of toasted sesame seeds and dried oregano instead.  I hope you enjoy this recipe and start experimenting with the seductive flavors of Spring!

Sesame-Pistachio Baked Asparagus Fries with a Wasabi-Lemon Aioli

Asparagus Fries Ingredients:

4 oz. lite coconut milk
1 tsp. sesame oil
1 Tbs. rice wine vinegar
1 lime, zested
1 cup homemade breadcrumbs
½ cup pistachio nuts, toasted and blended down fine
2 Tbs. “Spicy Sesame Salad Sprinkle” from The Spice House (a mix of toasted sesame seeds and dried oregano can be substituted)
1 large bunch asparagus, trimmed ends
¼ cup all purpose flour 
Kosher salt, to taste 

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with wax paper.

In a medium sized bowl, whisk together the coconut milk, sesame oil and lime zest.  In another medium sized bowl, mix together the breadcrumbs, pistachio nuts and sesame spice blend.  Season lightly with kosher salt. (Don’t add too much because the sesame spice blend contains salt)

Rinse off the asparagus and pat semi-dry.  In a large bowl combine the asparagus and flour.  Mix together until the asparagus is coated. Dip each floured asparagus in the coconut milk mixture and then dredge through the breadcrumbs.  Place the breaded asparagus on baking sheet.  They should be spaced out so they do not touch or overlap.

Bake for 12 minutes in the oven.  Broil for the last 3 minutes.  Serve hot with the wasabi-lemon aioli.

Wasabi-Lemon Aioli:

Ingredients:

1 clove garlic
1 whole egg
1 egg yolk
¾ large lemon, juiced
½-1 tsp. wasabi paste (depending on the spice level desired)
1 cup vegetable oil
kosher salt and black pepper, to taste

In a food processor, add the whole egg, egg yolk and garlic.  Turn on the motor and slowly add the vegetable oil.  The mixture should start out loose and bind together  (emulsify) as the oil is slowly added.  At this point the mixture should change from a loose liquid to a thicker consistency, like the texture of mayonnaise.  Mix in the lemon juice, wasabi and season with salt and pepper.

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Salad in the City

9 03 2012

Daily life as a culinary entrepreneur can be pretty strange sometimes.  You don’t have set hours.  You don’t have an official office.  You don’t have to get up at 8am, run to Starbucks by 8:30am and be at your desk at 9am like everyone else in the world.  Someday’s I love the freedom of making my own schedule.   Other days, I wish I could succumb to corporate america and feel more normal.

So what do I do?  I make my own schedule to structure my life.  I go to yoga four days a week and take it as seriously as having a business meeting.  I assign specific days each week to get out of my pj’s, put on a cute outfit, and work at a coffee shop with other self-employed people in Chicago.  What continues to amaze me is how many people are working for themselves these days.  Coffee shops make “the outsiders” feel comfortable.  I look around as I sip on my chai latte and feel understood.

As a result of my coffee shop work days, I have tasted all kinds of cafe food in Chicago.  My expectations for the “soup de jour”or cafe “signature salad” are never high, but once and I while I am impressed.  Today I was at my favorite cafe in the city, Swim Cafe  at 1357 Chicago Ave (Ukranian Village). It’s not my favorite place to do work because it’s posh or decorated nice.  But they have THE BEST cafe food in the city.  You could easily pass by this place without any idea that it’s a hidden gem.  But believe me, GO INSIDE!!!!!  Everything I have eaten at this dive is delicious. (including their Seitan Gyro with feta cheese….I have never liked seitan before trying this sandwich)

My favorite thing on their menu is definitely the Summer Salad.  It’s full of basically every ingredient I am in love with: avocado, tomatoes, hearts of palm, toasted sunflower seeds, thinly sliced shallot and mixed greens.  The best part is their signature Green Goddess Dressing.  The flavors are herbaceous, acidic, yet well-rounded and earthy.  Every time I order the salad I spend at least 10 minutes tasting the dressing and thinking about why it is so damn good.  It never occurred to me to simply ask the chef what is in it.  Today….I got the goods. (and obviously I am sharing them with you!)

Swim Cafe’s Green Goddess Dressing:

1 bunch parsley, stemmed

1/2 cup apple cider vinegar

1/2 cup tahini

Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste

Blend all of the ingredients together and store it in a air-tight container.

*It’s fabulous on any salad but would taste great over fish, chicken, scrambled eggs or bread.  I’m obsessed.

Let me know what you think!





San Francisco Inspiration

13 01 2012

This week I took a trip down memory lane and had the opportunity visit old friends, incredible restaurants and the fabulous farmers markets in San Francisco and Berkeley.  After living in the Bay Area for almost four years, I knew I was in for a treat, but I was surprised by the overwhelming nostalgia and appreciation I felt almost every moment of my trip.  San Francisco is not only one of the best food cities in the entire world, it is truly the place that transformed me from a passionate foodie to a chef.

While my pace and cooking skills advanced in San Francisco,  the most important skill I learned was how to create menu’s with seasonal ingredients.  Believe it or not, in Chicago I had never worked with kale, Meyer lemons, satsuma tangerines, tarragon, parsnips, turnips, dandelion greens or frisee before stepping foot in Boulettes Larder (my first San Francisco restaurant).  I had no idea that restaurants had menu’s that changed on a daily basis depending on farmers produce.  I couldn’t understand how a chef could see produce at a market and simply be inspired to put unique flavor combinations together and make a new menu.  It’s something that is hard to explain and just happens to those cooks that live and breathe food.

On Saturday night I went to Nopa, one of my favorite restaurants in San Francisco.  I choose this restaurant because it embodies the quintessential San Francisco restaurant experience with its consistent use of local ingredients, incredible hand-made cocktails, an exposed kitchen, wood-burning stove and a long community table.  One of my friends ordered their pork chop and I jealously stared as he ate the luscious meat with crispy onions, fingerling potatoes in each bite. The next morning I hit up the Ferry Building Farmers Market to buy produce for a dinner party I was hosting at my friend’s house in Berkeley.  In true San Francisco style, I walked into the market having no idea what I would be cooking that evening.  I knew I would let the ingredients inspire my decisions.

Here’s a little clip of how I choose what to make for dinner:

I got home extremely energized from my wonderful experience at the market and cooked all afternoon.  My friend went to the fish market and picked up a 4 lbs. of fresh cod that I decided to poach with olive oil, Buddha’s hand, orange rind and white wine.

I used my inspiration from the Pork dish at Nopa to roast fresh turnips, spring onions and fingerling potatoes in the oven to give contrast in texture and color to the buttery fish.  I must say, the meal turned out delicious because it was made with the best ingredients around a lot of love!





Is Whiskey the New Vodka?

15 11 2011

I know, that’s bold question.  But I am pretty certain whiskey IS the new vodka.  As of today, I am a self-declared whiskey lover.  Bourbon, in specific. (this affair has been going on for over a year but today I am officially out of the closet)   I love its full body and funk.  I love its personality and the way that it can mix with such a variety of flavors.  I love how it warms my tummy and makes me happier on a cold night.  While I am in love, it seems like I am not alone. Chicago restaurants, bars and trendy gatherings are focusing on Whiskey cocktails more than ever.

Last Sunday I went to this fabulous market in Chicago called “Dose” at the River East Art Center.  Dose is a year-round market featuring ever-changing local vendors of fashion, artisanal food and high-end design.  It’s a mix of vintage and current fashion trends, hipsters and preps and wonderful local bites.  It’s hip, it’s happening and even if you don’t have money to buy Versace, it’s an amazing place to people watch.  It’s also one big  “Culinary Gathering” of strangers.  What’s not to like?

The highlight of the market for me  was tasting the incredible alcoholic cocktail that was offered at this artisanal bitters booth called bittercube (www.bittercube.com, you can order the bitters and get free recipes on the website).  I thought I was going to get the typical “spiked apple cider” but this warm Fall beverage was above and beyond my expectations.  It was a blend of hot cider, whiskey and bitters.  The bitters were definitely the secret ingredient that added the “wow factor”.  As a chef, I am always on the look-out for the key ingredients that will make my food or drinks taste unique.   The owner of the company explained that he used two types of bitters used in this drink:  Jamaican #1 and Cherry Bark Vanilla.  The Jamaican Bitters added a blend of allspice, ginger and black peppercorn  while the Cherry Bark Vanilla Bitters added infused the cider with  wild cherry bark, vanilla and cocoa.  I mean, how cool are those flavor combinations?!

The bottom line is that Bittercube bitters can make any simple cocktail into an exotic creation.  I bought the sampler pack of 6 types of bitters and feel so excited to experiment with these flavors in all types of cocktails.  Tonight, I re-created the Apple Cider Whiskey cocktail for myself and I am feeling GOOD!!!  I might have another….

Check out the recipe:

Whiskey Cider with Bitters

1.5 oz. Templeton Rye, Jefferson Whiskey, Makers Mark (or any other nice whiskey)
4.5 oz. Spiced Honey Cider
1 dropper Bittercube Jamaican #1
1 dropper Bittercube Cherry Bark Vanilla
Cinnamon Stick for garnish (optional)
 
Warm a mug and add the Whiskey and Jamaican #1 Bitters.
Add the warmed spiced cider when it is near a simmer. The
spirit will cool it a bit. Rim the glass Cherry Bark Vanilla Bitters.  Add a cinnamon stick and  enjoy!

Chicago’s mixology scene is literally overflowing with whiskey cocktails. Here are some great spots in the city to try a fantastic Whiskey Cocktail:

Barrelhouse Flat
The Bristol
Violet Hour
The Aviary
Guilt Bar
Curio
Longman and Eagle
In Fine Spirits
Big Star

I welcome all of your feedback and whiskey cocktail recipes!





Spice Video, Ep. #1

6 09 2011

Over the next month, I have decided to take a culinary adventure with you.  The topic: Spices.  Why? Because spices are underrated and they add incredible flavor, color and nutrients to food.  I think more people need to feel comfortable using spices when they cook. It’s important for people to know you don’t need to add butter or oil to make their food taste better.  Spices, in their freshest form, can transform any normal dish to an exotic delicious creation.

I have to be honest, I don’t remember everything I learned in culinary school.  But I will NEVER forget learning about spices from Tom, the owner of “The Spice House” in Chicago.  Tom’s lecture literally rocked my world….teaching me so many facts that I had never considered about spices.

Key Points that I remember:

1. Grocery store spices are not dated.  They can be packaged and sit in a warehouse for years before they make it to shelf of a supermarket.  At the supermarket they are usually never rotated so a “new spice” you buy is most likely expired by the time you use it.

2.  It matters where your spices come from.  If you go to a store that specializes in spices, they come directly from the source (Africa, South East Asia, Spain) and the flavors taste 100 times stronger and have a higher nutrient value.

3.  It’s always best to buy spices in their whole form. (whole seeds vs. ground)  They don’t go bad this way.  When you are ready to use them, you toast and grind them yourself to get the freshest taste and quality.

4.  Spice grinders are cheap and super easy to use.  They are basically the same thing as an expresso grinder and cost 20 bucks at Bed Bath and Beyond or Target.

5.  There are hundreds or different types of salts that you can use for different reasons.  Salt not only adds flavor to our food, it preserves, tenderizes and gives our body essential nutrients.

If you’ve never been to the Spice House in Chicago or Evanston, YOU NEED TO GO!  Don’t be intimidated if you don’t know what to buy at first.  Start with a spice blend or some finishing salt and take baby steps to the exotic stuff.  I’d love to share a video of my experience at the Spice House in Chicago this week:

This month I am going to continue to do video’s featuring some of my favorite spices and share the recipes with you. If you have any questions or want to chat about spices, respond to the blog or visit one of the two Spice House locations.

Locations:

Spice House Chicago, 1512 N. Wells St, Chicago Il. 60610  (in Old Town)

Spice House Evanston, 1941 Central St., Evanston Il. 60201