Saturday, August 25, 2012

Toasted Sesame Garlic Dressing Recipe Homage to the Lobster Pot, Green Salad with Green Beans and Walnuts

Provincetown Mass. is probably one of the most beautiful places on the planet and definitely one of my favorites. It is a magical place full of the promise of freedom and Summer openness in a way that few places can mirror. It's setting on the hills above a blue bay curving around in on itself and capped with a light house that beckons as well as warns. Beckons "come and partake" but warns to ""leave all your judgements and prejudice" at the harbor's mouth. The houses rise in clusters and rows winding up the narrow streets that branch off from the water's edge. Gardens and flowers are everywhere, testimonial to the season and the Summer's rebellion against the harsh Winter that is bound to follow as if it were yet declaring,"I am here and blossom in my season regardless of what fierce cold and blustery winds you will bring in your time, this is mine and i am Alive"!

The town bustles with Families and groups of friends and strangers engaged in the business of summer fun. And that of course involves dining and eating. And that means Seafood and one of the landmark establishments that celebrates seafood is of course The Lobster Pot. www.ptownlobsterpot.com/ 

SO as you can tell I must be a fan! Well I am mostly in the sense that my friends and I who go every Summer have a tradition of going for dinner once during our time there. And we always have a great meal and a lot of drinks! 

One of the highlights which might seem silly it the salad that accompanies the dinners. It is nothing more than a big bowl of various lettuces and a tray of 4 dressings. Blue Cheese, Toasted Sesame, Creamy Garlic, and Italian. You can pick whatever dressings you want. Well somewhere along the way someone discovered that if you mix the Toasted Sesame Dressing with the Creamy Garlic you get a taste sensation! I mean this stuff is Yummy Good! So of course we always end up asking for more lettuce and eat a very healthy portion of salad with our meals. 

Well I came back from Ptown aka Provincetown, and decided why not just make a dressing that was a combo of the two. Well it worked and I created a dressing that was garlicky and thick and herbal with that toasted sesame undertone. With this dressing I decided on the fly to put together a salad for my dinner party that night. So I shredded up 1 head of romaine and some basil leaves and chopped up about 4 oz of french green beans. I also crushed up some fresh walnuts and thought that would add some more texture and make a nice topping. Also I added a touch of grated parmesan cheese but you could leave that out. I just love cheese. I cut some tomatoes into wedges and lined the out side of the plate. Piling the dressed salad in a mound in the middle and then garnishing with the crushed walnuts. I added in some chopped scallions ( the white parts ) and viola! I had a great salad! 

Creamy Toasted Sesame Garlic Dressing

3/4 cup Mayo
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons Toasted Sesame Oil 
2 tablespoon garlic oil ( if you don't have garlic oil add another teaspoon of garlic powder
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon Worchestershire
1 teaspoon salt 
1 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon Italian Dried Herbs
2 teaspoons Dried Basil
1 teaspoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon grated romano cheese
1 teaspoon white vinegar

Put into a dressing bottle and shake everything together till creamy, add more sesame oil if you want it more pronounced.
Enjoy Ya'll

Friday, August 24, 2012

Church Camp, Inspirational Foods for a "Divan" Environment

Summer always means going to the beach for me. I grew up the first 12 years of my life on or around the water. Being in the navy my father moved us to some great locations. California, Florida, Hawaii, and or course back and forth to South Carolina.

Now one stop on the Navy train that did not put us near the water was our furlough in the Washington D.C. area. Not that it was not with out standout opportunities, but it was not near the ocean. But there were several things about it which made it special. It's location to all things historical concerning the beginning of our country and through to the Civil War and beyond. The capital, the entire D.C. monumental cityscape,the museums and the arts opportunities all provided a natural jumping off point for parents who wanted their boys to have a clear understanding of all things American.

But getting back to the beach. When we first moved to the D.C. area we were acquainted with a church called the Reston United Christian Parish. It was an ecumenical trial at 5 Protestant denominations getting together into one church and sharing ministers and creating a community of faith not based on practice alone. Well it worked pretty well and we had a great experience as a family attending that church. My brother and I shared our enjoyment of the youth fellowship activities and both of us came of age within the fellowship of that supportive and loving body of people.

One of the big opportunities for us with the Church was to attend the annual Beach Church Camp at Bethany Beach in Delaware. About 4 hours with traffic from Reston, Va. it was our chance to go to the beach as well as have fun and fellowship hanging out in a relaxed and comfortable environment. There were both Adult/Family camps and a Youth Camp. While Family camp was fun it was youth camp that really was the best.

Being that it was church camp there was always coffee to be had and the other drink which I will forever associate with church camp, Russian Tea. Now this concoction was nothing short of brilliant and really a great way to get something hot when there was a chill in the air without resorting to the coffee cup!  Instant iced tea mix was mixed with orange drink mix ( aka. Tang) in equal parts and BAM! you had a hot cup of loving something that was delish and easy.

The other thing that I will forever associate with church camp is Chicken and Broccoli Divan. I mean church camp food was never really bad. Chili, Sloppy Joes, Meatloaf, Potato and Sausage Soup, Jello and Big Bowls of iceberg lettuce with Italian Dressing were always around.  As were various casseroles which were made from all kinds of things. Now there are dishes in the archive of American casseroles that I think of and wonder "who ever came up with this stuff", and then there are dishes like Chicken Divan, which is probably my favorite traditional casserole of all time. It's become a household staple and growing up anywhere in the U.S. where a "hotdish" was a common food, this dish was probably there.

Today people look down their noses at a dish like this but it had it's origin's in the gourmet restaurant's of New York city. That's right you foodie freak nazi's, it was gourmet in it's day!  But of course it has become pedestrian with time as have many of the old school things. But at church camp it reigned supreme!


Chicken Divan is a naturally a chicken casserole dish. It was first created at the Divan Parisien restaurant in New York City. It is classically a casserole of sliced chicken breast, spears of broccoli, which was covered with sauce Mornay and baked until the top was golden brown.

The Divan Parisien served Chicken Divan as their signature dish in the 1950's. The chef or chefs who originally created it are unknown. In France the word divan refers to a meeting place or great hall. This name was chosen to attract the attention of the Divan Parisien owners by implying a kind of continental elegance.

Now a  Mornay sauce is a classic French sauce. It is a Bechamel sauce with shredded or grated cheese added. Usually, it is half Gruyere and half Parmesan, though variations use different combinations of Gruyere, Emmental cheese, or white cheddar.


SO here's my take on this classic dish. It is easy as a Sunday morning and simple good eats. It's got a few additions to the original but just for some extra flavor I find. Not a lot of fuss, you could make this in individual dishes and serve it up at a party a little more fancy like at the Parisien, or you could just serve it up. Either was it's delicious! 

Forrest's Divine Chicken Divan ( Put this in your church camp and smoke it!)

4 large chicken breasts cooked through and cut into strips or chunks
4 cups of fresh broccoli florets (3 8oz packs of frozen broccoli florets)
3 tablespoons. butter
3 tablespoons. flour
1 1/2 cup whole milk
3/4 cup mayonnaise

3 tablespoons sherry
2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
3/4 cup sour cream
1 can cream of celery soup

3/4 cup sharp White Cheddar Cheese or Gruyere Cheese ( cheddar is less expensive)
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
1/4 cup sliced almonds crushed with your hands and 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs

Chicken Divan Preparation:


 Boil chicken for 45-60 minutes or until it is cooked. At the same time boil broccoli for 10 minutes or so until al dente. (if you like broccoli soft cook it until you like it) Make cream sauce from butter, flour and milk. Add celery soup and mayonnaise, Worcestershire sauce and nutmeg. Mix well. Stir in sour cream and cheese. Add sherry and pepper. Mix well again. Place broccoli in the baking dish, top with chicken. Cover with sauce. Sprinkle top with almonds and bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese. Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes. You can divide this amongst individual baking dishes if desired. Serve hot. Enjoy!!!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Steak salad...well a Salad that can stand up to steak

There are salads and there are salads. There was an amazing post on 101 cookbooks the blog, the other day about a yellow bean salad with a coconut dressing. Sounded delish and it inspired me to look at beans again as another source of side dishery for the summer. I make several mean green bean salads. I love them. They are lighter than a starch yet give you that feeling that you are eating something substantial. And salads are a source of summer culinary joy! But I mean there are salads that stand on their own and are an entree unto themselves, and then there are salads that are part of a collection of dishes in the summer that help to make up a feast. This post is about such a salad.

 The other day a friend brought over the most amazing rib-eye steaks ever. Aged for 30 days and so decadent. He wanted to serve it up grilled with some soft blue cheese from france melted on top and a dap of butter. Heart healthy I know! So I was to come up with some sides that would support this very ambitious red meat eating frenzy.

At first I thought I would make a potato salad and a tomato salad. This sounded pretty good. But as the evening approached and I went to the store I decided on a little something more summery. Inspired by the 101 cookbooks post I looked around the store and decided that a green bean and fresh corn salad with a warm bacon dressing and some other tasty tidbits was in the works.

Now before you scoff at this being another one of these "I love bacon things",  let me say that this salad actually came out very light. There was in fact very little dressing on it and because of the crunchy beans, corn,  onions and almonds it was hefty but not heavy. The dressing was really little more than the left over bacon drippings some red wine vinegar, some danish dill sweet mustard ( I had in the pantry) and a dash of olive oil. Believe me when I say lightly dressed yet delicious. The mustard and the dill helped a lot.

But the real tribute to this salad was that it really stood up flavor wise to the steak. And that's what's great about it. So the next time you are going to try and use some green beans, give this a try.

Haricot Vert and Fresh Corn Salad with a Warm Bacon Dressing.
make 4 to 6 servings depending on other sides

8 ounces Haricot Vert ( I used one package from the Trader Joe's Veggie Aisle)
2 ears of corn yellow sweet
2 stalks of celery finely diced
1/3 of a red onion finely diced
1/3 cup sliced almonds
3 oz slab bacon cut into lardons
1/3 cup french fried onions ( I use the fancy french ones you could use French's)
1 teaspoon pink peppercorns ( optional for garnish)

Cook beans in the microwave for 1 1/2 minutes on high remove and cool
Cut beans into three segments
Cut corn off the cob
Cook the bacon slowly to release the fat. Remove leave drippings in the pan
Put all remaining ingredients into a bowl along with the beans, corn and bacon.
Toss in the dressing taste and season with S&P to taste and let stand at room temp for about an hour, or serve immediately if you want.

Dressing:

Warm the bacon drippings in the pan ( about 2 tablespoons)
Add 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 tablespoon Dill mustard ( Or mix dijon with some dill and sugar)
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon water
S&P taste
Stir together over low heat till warm and mixed through, dress salad while warm.





Friday, August 3, 2012

Fresh Corn and Shrimp Salad

Every now and then I try to use the fresh ingredients that are totally seasonal and in the rawest form. This is especially true in the summertime when we have access to things being sold in their real growing season. I also have been trying to eat more fresh foods ( aka salads) in the heat wave we are having because grilling is hot!

Now being from coastal South Carolina. I have over time and upon reflection recognized that people down there are slightly Shrimp obsessed. I mean it's clear why. Shrimp are fresh and local and Shrimp are good eats. In any form fried, boiled, poached, bbq'ed, roasted, hot or cold Shrimp are good! They are also a great summer warm weather protein. Light and fresh they go well with the "it's too hot out to eat a big meal" mentality. I mean your could consume a pound of peel and eat shrimp and still have room for that burger right...but I digress.

So this summer for some reason I have also returned to my memory of eating fresh corn. I mean it's a memory because I only remember it as a small boy in the summer at my Big Mama's house. Corn right  out of the garden and right off the cob, blanched for a hot second and served up at the table with lots of butter and salt and pepper. Yum! It was amazing. So this summer I thought why not return to that goodness. And so I have, serving up a corn salad which I wanted to pair up with a seafood as an entree salad for a rooftop meal. I choose shrimp because they are so easy breezy cover girl to throw into anything right out of the freezer bag. Just thaw, de-tail and go! But I suppose you could use just about any seafood/shellfish.

The point is the corn salad is nice and crunchy and fresh. I mean it's not even cooked!
The seafood you could leave out and no one would miss it. In fact I made this again the other day and left out the tomatoes and the seafood and it was amazingly good! So eat a little corn Ya'll it's good!

Fresh Corn Salad with Herbs ( Shrimp and tomatoes optional)

Feeds 4 to 5 as a side dish

6 large ears of freshest corn cut right off the cob
1/2 small red onion finely diced
5 scallions chopped including whites
12 basil leaves chiffonade
1/4 cup of fresh chopped parsley

Dressing:

1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup mayo
4 tablespoons tarragon vinegar ( use cider if you don't have )
1 bunch of chives
1/2 cup parsley
4 tablespoons milk plus more added only if too thick in the blender
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste

Place everything in a blender and puree till smooth.

Mix dressing with the corn and other ingredients till lightly dressed and serve right away. Or chill in the fridge for a couple of hours or overnight for a more marinated flavor.

Additions:

Add chopped multi-colored cherry tomatoes and some heart of palm sliced also some peel and eat shrimp for an entree salad.

Shrimp and Fresh Corn and Herbs Salad

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Forrest's Famous Burgers, If you have had them, you know!

OK, it's summer and it's time for grilling and the roof here in NYC. I have a great roof deck. And I love to entertain. So that being said, work has slowed down in the catering business, the grill is on and the weather is hot, so it's up to the roof for some hanging out time.

Now one of the staples of the American Grill Experience has got to be the Burger. Oh and by Burger I mean Cheeseburger, cause what else is there really! When I was a kid we lived in very tropical and sub tropical climes. My Dad and Mom both were big fans of the grill, and as a little boy especially when we were stationed in Hawaii ( yes navy brat here ) we spent plenty of nights cooking out. Now my Dad did a lot of the cooking and he would whip up some tasty things. Especially loved the steaks, done Hawaiian style, which was popular at the moment. And I loved his burgers.

Now that being said I am not sure to this day who came up with the seasoning that went into the Hedden Family burger mix. It could have been my Dad or my Mom, but it could also have been my Grandmother Irene, my mom's mom, who lived with us from the time I was in 2nd grade on. She and my Mom split duty in the kitchen and so you never were sure where and who invented some of the wonderful recipes I remember eating growing up. So it is with the burger spice mix. but I will get to that. First let's just talk about burgers.

OK, now today we have an explosion of Burger technical knowledge going on. The Food Network has stars like Bobby Flayhttp://www.bobbyflay.com/recipe.php?id=200&v=2 and Tyler Florence http://www.tylerflorence.com/?p=877 providing no end of burger expertise and advice. The science of making the best burger is really amazing and people are invested fully in it. Chefs everywhere seek out the right custom meat blends and place emphasis on the most organic and obscure ingredients to differ their burger from the next. I mean short rib mixed with sirloin, mixed with pork shoulder. I mean come on, pork shoulder in a burger??? But nonetheless these guys are serious about what they are doing and take things to extremes of taste and texture never before seen. And we haven't ever started to discuss the bun or the cheese or the condiments! Wow, too much work Maria!

Well back in the late seventies we didn't have such luxuries, and even if they had existed, we were a poor military family living on foods from the commissary! No such meat blends there. No so as I approach making burgers I do it like my Dad did, use what you got! And that meant ground Chuck. Yes, the ole staple of the supermarket bargain brand. Now mind you they did try for the lower fat content, but ground Chuck is ground Chuck. And fat equals flavor, so they were onto something even with such a pedestrian meat choice!

The other element of the burger was the spices they put in them. Now I know what some of you are thinking! Sacrilege!! Spices in the meat. Well, yes that was the way it was done. I mean who wants just beef flavor? Well, believe me I know how good that can be and i know meat should speak for itself, but indulge me. I getting at a flavor profile here that is a little different. So, back to the spices. I am to this day not completely sure of the spice blend and have since made it my own but i can tell you the basic elements are the following, Worchestershire sauce, onion powder, garlic powder, salt, black pepper. That's it. Very basic but the quantities are important. Basically lots of the sauce, onion and garlic. A little salt and a good dose of pepper. Sometimes there would be chopped onions in it, sometimes not. I like the not, but sometimes there were. This when placed in the meat creates amazing beefy flavor. People love it. I have now been making these burgers for at least 10 years in NYC and I can say without exception people always want the recipe. I tell them what I will tell you, it's all in the feel, just add in what you want and how much you want. These are the ingredients, make it your own!

OK, now we get to the other elements of what makes my burger, my burger. I am talking cheese and condiments. So to make a Forrest Burger it's quite simple. But let me explain. When I make a burger I make you a burger. This is not Burger King and unless you have an allergy you will eat it MY way! Just kidding, well just a little. Actually when I do burgers I serve them fully dressed and skewered with a long pick to hold it together. So you get the full effect! I mean it's a chefs creation here so just go with it!

Ok Bun, let's talk Bun. I have to say I love a potato roll. Martin's potato rolls are some how amazing! But I would not say no to a really lovely seeded hamburger bun if top quality, nor to a brioche if very fresh and not all dried out. Or you could go old school and use a sesame bun. So those are the choices, mostly using the potato rolls cause I love them and they are very easy to find!

And then the Cheese, well I have to say I like yellow sharp Cheddar slices from the dairy case. Nothing too fancy I am afraid. Melted nicely on the patty and then served onto the bun.

Finally condiments, well  here's the trick. I use the basics and include one thing that's a little different but I find brings it to a home run. So that being said the condiments are mayo on both sides of the bun, on the top bun a little ketchup and mustard ( yellow), then a thin slice of tomato the same size as the bun, and shredded romaine lettuce mixed with a little bit of mayo. Then on the bottom bun a nice smear of hickory flavored BBQ sauce. Yes it must be hickory. Kraft makes a good one.

And that is it. So this is all stacked on top of the beef patty which sits directly on the bottom bun.  Skewered with a long pick and served up either on the plate or on a platter for a buffet. And that if it. Enjoy Ya'll!

Forrest's famous Burger's
Makes 10 burgers

3 pounds of ground meat 80/20 min fat content chuck or mix of sirloin and chuck
3/4 cup Worcestershire Sauce (I use the French's version of the bottled sauce)
2 tablespoons onion powder
2 tablespoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons of black pepper
1 tablespoon oil
salt to taste

The Cheese:
Slices of good quality sharp yellow cheddar cheese

Buns:
Martin's Potato Roll Large dinner rolls or burger buns

Toppings:
2 1/2 cups shredded Romain lettuce
10 center cut tomato slices from beefsteak tomatoes
1 cup chopped white onion
30 slices of dill pickles 3 per burger

Condiments:
Ketchup
Yellow Mustard
Mayo
Hickory flavored BBQ sauce

Method:

Mix meat gently with the spices don't over mix
form into 6 burger patties ( I use a metal burger form)
Before grilling use your thumb and press an indentation in the center of each burger this will keep them from puffing up during cooking.

Over a hot grill, coals or on a griddle cook 3 to 4 mins per side for med rare turning once and don't press the juice out of the burger just let them get a good sear on them. Melt the cheese 1 to 2 mins before you pull them off the grill.

Toast the buns on the heat and spread with a slather of mayo
spread a nice smear of BBQ sauce on the bottom bun and place the dill slices and onions on it
When burgers are done place on the bottom bun
top with lettuce then tomato slice
Place a good smear of ketchup and mustard on the top bun an close
Skewer with a 6 in restaurant wooden pick if you can find them or a skewer of any kind.

Serve up with a loaded baked potato or salads for a summer buffet

Enjoy Ya'll!!!






Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Chips and Dips are for Whimps! Avocado Spread with Rosemary Flavored Foccacia Toasts!



I love avocados in the summertime. I mean what's not to like about them. They are the basis for Guacamole which has got to be one of the best things ever. They are smooth and rich and buttery tasting, and have the most wonder ability to compliment a variety of starchy foods.

In this past month's issue of Food and Wine Magazine, one of the contributors talked about avocado toasts with sea salt and red pepper flakes. He explained that the simplicity of the grilled bread with the rich and picante flavor of the mashed ripe avocado was the highlight of his dinner party. Well he was right on. I tried this delectable recipe and I have to say it was good. However, you know I love to take something and make it my own so I decided to do just that. But lets not get ahead of ourselves here, this desire to do something different with it started with the Toast.

Now toasted bread is perhaps one the greatest things in the world as far as I am concerned! Toasted bread is crispy, crunchy, warm and can be savory or sweet, It can be topped with anything from butter and jam or vegetables to melted cheese. It is in short the most wonderful vehicle for savoring a variety of foods. But all toasts are not created equal. And when I thing of toast I want two things, excellent flavor and exciting mouth feel. I love good old plain bread toast for certain things. But for a toast or bread plate to really be special I think you need to move past the everyday bread into the realm of flavor and texture. And the one bread which I think has both these in spades in the Italian Bread called Foccacia!

So for those of you who do not know what Foccacia is let me explain. It is Italian in origin. It is a yeast bread which is baked into a flat load and is loaded with olive oil goodness. It is soft and sponge like yet firm and chewy. It is excellent plain but I have discovered it is even better toasted. Toasting the Foccacia gives it another layer of texture and brings out it's oily goodness even more.

Well using that as a starting point I thought, why stop at toasting the focaccia? Why not give it a grilled treatment, not unlike what grilled cheese bread goes through. Butter it and grill it crispy, crunchy and salty and serve it warm. Maybe with olives and olive oil. Yum. Well that's where my bread plate idea started. But where is ended was with the avocado toast idea.

So to make the avocado toasts normally you slather it on and serve it up. But I decided to make a play off the chips and dip idea and serve it already prepared like guacamole would be letting people put it on the bread themselves. And then substituting things like the sea salt and pepper flakes, lemon juice and good quality olive oil for the traditional Mexican flavorings Thus giving the spread an richness like green butter. Ah, and it was so good when I served it up!

So next time you are having people over make a little effort and try this instead of the old chips and dip. It will elevate your dinning experience a notch or two and make your guests so happy. So enjoy, Ya'll!

Avocado Spread on Foccacia Toasts
serves 4

4 small to medium ripe but not over ripe avocados
Maldon Sea Salt ( or other course flaky sea salt)
1 to 2  teaspoons red pepper flakes depending on your heat level ( plus more for garnish)
VERY good quality finishing olive oil about 1 1/2 tablespoons

Method:

mash the avocados in a bowl till very creamy add sea salt flakes to taste and red pepper flakes to taste.
Add the olive oil and stir together till creamy and combined
Place in a small dip or serving bowl and garnish with more salt and red pepper flakes, drizzle olive oil over the top till it rests in a small pool in the rim of the dish.
Serve with toasted bread

Forrest's Bread Plate

Foccacia Bread loaf
Good butter at room temp
olive oil
rosemary flavored oil
Maldon Sea Salt

Method:

Cut bread into rectangular pieces which are about 4 inches by 2 inches
Slather one side with butter
Place enough olive oil in a skillet till the bottom is lightly coated
Turn on heat to med high
When very hot place the bread butter side down in the pan and allow to cook till toasted and browned
Turn over and let grill till the other side is toasty
Drizzle the rosemary oil over the bread and sprinkle with the sea salt
Place on a plate and serve immediately or at room temp is fine but warm is better!

Enjoy ya'll