Monday, March 25, 2013

Purple Parmesan Mashed Potatoes, Easter Colors and the Pocono Mountain House DInner

The Pocono mountains are beautiful in the early spring when the weather warms and kisses the trees with bright green buds of spring. And the world slowly wakes from it's winter slumber and life feels lighter and more alive. This is the season of Easter and as Easter is a celebration of the rising from death to life again so the Spring reminds us as a metaphor for the message of Easter that renewal brings fresh things to life and that new opportunity awaits us.

Several years back my very talented and dear friend Tony Parise bought a home in the Poconos and we would go up to visit it and spend long wonderful weekends cooking, eating, drinking, talking, telling stories, and generally having a relaxed wonderful time. Both of us were at a place in our individual lives where a little renewal was in order. And wonderful dinners and cocktails on the long summer evenings, seated al fresco on the deck beneath a blanket of twinkle lights and candles, seemed to be some of the best therapy we could have asked for.

I have great memories of those weekends. Long talks and long walks through the woods and around the lake. Trips to Bushkill falls, antique shops and outlet shopping. We would always cook up delicious meals and we even celebrated several holidays there as well. One such holiday meals I remember was an Easter dinner that was as colorful as it was delicious. Tony was quite the food stylist and meals with him had to look as good as they tasted. So it was with this easter dinner.

On the menu were amongst other things a roasted ham, purple mashed potatoes, buttered carrot coins , spring peas, onions and sauteed lettuces, and a yellow squash casserole. The ham was an incredible thing but it was the side dishes with all the colors of easter right on the table that took the spotlight. Each of these dishes were really easy to prepare and came together for our easter meal.

Now as I have stated before I LOVE mashed potatoes! They are simply some of the best things you could put in your mouth. I had never seen blue or purple potatoes before I lived in NYC. I understand you can get them many places now but they instantly became fascinating to me. I loved the color and the nutty flavors. Very interesting indeed. This recipe could not be easier. It's a bit of a play on potato salad but come out delish when made this way. I simple mash the potatoes with butter, blend in some milk and some white potato instant flakes to lighten the color and give them more depth of flavor. Then I add Parmesan cheese which pairs well with the nutty flavor of the potatoes and a bit of mayonaise to give them that extra silken touch and luscious mouth feel. Chopped chives add color and a slight oniony backdrop. All in all delish! If you want a different potato dish for your dinner this is the one to try! Goes well with Ham or the Bird or the Beef or the Lamb. So you can't lose! Enjoy Ya'll!

Purple Parmesan Mashed Potatoes
serves 4

2 to 3  lbs purple or Peruvian Potatoes
1/2 cup potato flakes instant
1 cup warm milk
4 tablespoons Butter
2 tablespoons mayo
1 cup grated Parmesan
1 small bunch chives finely chopped

Skin and Slice potatoes into pieces
Boil in a large pot of water about 20 to 30 mins until fork tender, drain well reserve warm
Next add flakes to potaotes and add butter and milk mash together and stir till well combined adding water if the flakes need more liquid till smooth and creamy
Add cheese and mayo and stir should tighten up but if too loose add more flakes if to tight add water.
Add chives and stir reserving a few for garnish
Place in a serving bowl and serve right away while hot or reserve and reheat.
Garnish with chives and serve enjoy!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Midwinter English Tale or Driving on the Wrong Side of the Road and Chicken Leek Pot Pie

Right after I graduated from college or University as they like to say in England, I had no clue what the heck I was going to do with my life. I had studied a mishmash of subjects finally earning a BBA in International Business Studies with three minors. Economics, German, and Music. Very confused was I. I also had never had a job outside of food service really and was so uncertain about what I wanted to be when I grew up I was on the brink of despair.

My father asked me what I wanted to do and I think out of confusion and desperation  and not to feel to like a complete loser I declared "I want to go to Europe again and this time have a job". The first time I went was during school, and I had been in Switzerland. This time I wanted to go to the Vaterland! So my father being the man he was called up a business associate with a management consulting company and asked if he could arrange an internship for me with their German office. The guy asked what can your son do, I think my father said nothing really he just graduated! Anyway I got my chance to go to Europe. What was supposed to be a Summer internship turned into 18 months of living and working in Germany as the assistant to one of the firms Principles, who was British. And being that he was a Brit he had several clients that were in England and thus I was sent a number of times to London on errands for the company. On one such trip I was invited by one of the fellows in our office in London to spend a weekend out where he and his wife had a lovely country home. There was just one hitch. I would have to drive myself out to their house. No big deal I said. I could drive in England I told myself and so off from the rental place I went at Heathrow airport map in hand and I must say that I did fine getting out of London and onto the M5 which is the big highway to the north. Now they lived about an hour and a half or so outside of London and all was well until it got dark and I needed to make a pitstop!

So I get off the highway and I find a service station and a WC. it's now gotten quite dark and there are not lots of lights or signs. I am in the country. I get back in my car find the freeway entrance and am back on my way. All of a sudden a car comes at me in the lane next to me. Flashing it's lights and honking. Then another and then another. Now at first I thought that's strange. Then I look over and there are cars in another two lanes across the median going the same direction I am. Suddenly I am overcome with a sinking feeling. Then a touch of terror as another car blows by me flashing it's lights and honking! Then it hits me! I AM IN THE WRONG LANE GOING THE WRONG WAY ON THE WRONG SIDE OF THE MOTORWAY!!!

I quickly see an upcoming exit ramp! Well not exactly it's an on ramp but I have little choice it's dark and empty and I take it off the highway just as I encounter another car. I reach the top of the ramp and pull over heart pounding and adrenaline rushing! I get out of the car and survey where I am and locate the on ramp for the correct side of the highway. I get back on the road and make it to my destination unharmed but wow was that scary!

So I finally arrive at my destination. I am enthralled. It's a farmhouse from the 1500's which this couple  had gutted and completely redone. Tudor style exposed wood beams and clapboard floors redone and white thatched walls are amongst the hallmarks of the home. The Modern blended seamlessly with the Old making it very warm and inviting. A large fireplace you could look through dominated the center of the house separating the living room from the dining room. A roaring fire and some good wine greeted me along with tangy english cheese and crackers. I did not mention my driving debacle to my hosts. I did not want to upset them. But that night in the deep damp English winter I feasted on watercress salad with roasted carrots and goat cheese and chicken and leek pot pie and a port poached pear for dessert. Not a bad meal to end a stressful trip I must say, for a Yankee Kid that almost crashed on the M5 motorway.

It may have been there I fell in love with Pot pie. I never really grew up with them. Casseroles I knew from  but not the crusty pot pie! I really enjoyed it! So many years later as I was thinking about what to make for some dear people I know who were coming over for dinner I recalled this pot pie and this story of how I first had this dish. And since I have been on a potpie kick this winter I thought i would try and recreate it!

I made up a recipe based on the fact that one of the guests was lactose intolerant. So it had no dairy in it. Yeah me cooking with no dairy go figure! It came out wonderfully and hearty and tasty so I thought I would pass it on to you all. It will be the last pot pie entry I fear for another year till the winter comes upon us again. But on the doorstep of Spring I will give this one to you! Enjoy Ya'll!!!

Forrest's Chicken, Leek and Mushroom Pot Pie with Tarragon and Dijon. 

12 oz of cooked chicken breast cut into large dice
4 leeks cleaned and chopped into discs
3 cloves of garlic minced
8 oz of sliced bella mushrooms
1/2 cup green peas
4 tablespoons olive oil
4 heaping tablespoons of flour
4 cups chicken stock
2 shallots minced
1 clove garlic minced
4 tablespoons brandy
2 pie crusts
2 tablespoons dried tarragon
2 tablespoons fresh thyme finely chopped
2 tablespoons Dijon
2 good shakes of Worcestershire sauce

Place leeks and mushroom in a pan with a little oil and slowly saute till soft but not mushy
Add 1 garlic clove
1 tablespoon thyme and season with S&P

In another pot heat 4 tablespoons olive oil add shallots and let cook for a minute then garlic.
Add flour and cook stirring for about 2 mins till flour has cooked out the raw flavor.
with a whisk add the stock slowly till thickened and well combined add the mustard.
Add tarragon and the rest of the thyme and season well with salt and pepper.
Add the chicken and the leeks and mushrooms combine turn off heat add brandy and peas and taste for seasoning.
Pour into 4 pot pie dishes and cover each with pie crust, cutting holes with a knife or fork to let the steam escape crimp the edges with a fork if you want and use extra dough as decor on top.
Preheat oven to 400.
Bake for 25 to thirty minutes or until the crust is browned and golden!
Allow to cool slightly and serve!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Magic Pan Crepes Cordon Bleu and the Summer of Fun

So one of the greatest summers I ever had as a college student was spent working at the Magic Pan restaurant. The Magic Pan was the upscale San Francisco based eatery which had spread out as a national chain in the 1970's and 80's and capitalized on the crepe craze which was evocative of the 1970's fascination with new and trendy foods from Europe and other world cuisines.

Each location was different and had a unique look. But the one staple as well as the one thing that was most memorable was the giant spinning wheel of gas jets over which rotated specially constructed upside down saute pans dipped in crepe batter cooking hundreds of crepes and later in the chains life also serving as a cooking platform for "sauteed" Entrees such as chicken marsala and sesame chicken.

My best friend from high school and I Kai Larsen got jobs there our junior year of college and had a blast working, making really great money and also playing at the beach and all over northern Virginia. It was a summer of fun.

Of course a great deal of it was taken up with the work part. But we didn't mind because the crew we were a part of was awesome. We were 2 of 5 summer employees at the Pan. The rest were all full timers. They were so because for a restaurant job the Pan was a very lucrative place to work. Full all the time it was the favorite of the boozy ladies who lunch of Northern Virginia and young turks taking their dates out on the town for an impressive meal. Families and single ladies in groups all favored the Pan. Quite upscale for the time it had a "She She Fa Fa" reputation for being the place to be. Well that was while the food trends lasted and more and newer competitors were not sucking the customer base away. Which was the end of the Pan.

But this was the 80's and the Pan was still flying high. So for a cash job it was excellent as a student. I loved that summer and really have to say it was the most fun I ever had in a service job.

Now the food at the Pan was awesome I have to say. All freshly made nothing from a central commissary. And while some things were later out a can they were at least prepped on site. That's what eventually was the cost downfall of the chain and it's too bad. Regardless, the food was great. And that's what counts.

There were many favorites but today I will share with you the Pan's signature dish and one of the most popular on it's Menu. The Condon Bleu crepes were the epitome of how creative the chefs were at the Pan. They were basically a deep fried set of crepes filled with Ham Tuckey and Swiss cheese as well as a special herb cheese filling which was the secret to the dish. It was then topped by a mushroom béchamel . In short it was delish! Many would like to know the secret to this recipe and I actually have it from the old kitchen manual from the Pan. And so I share it with you, hope if you get adventurous you will try to make these cause I promise they are great!

Serve this up at your next dinner party and watch them swoon! Enjoy ya'll!

makes 4 servings You will need:

10 crepes (8 crepes plus 2 extra in case of tearing)

8 oz shaved ham or ham ground in the food processor

8 oz shaved Turkey
8 slices of swiss cheese
Herb Cheese recipe follows
1 eggs whipped for egg wash
1 1/2 cups breadcrumbs seasoned with a little salt

Fill 8 crepes with Swiss cheese, shaved ham, shaved turkey and a small scoop of the French herb cream cheese. Fold into a square using the egg wash on edges to hold it together. Brush on the egg wash all over and coat with bread crumbs. 

There you have your Crepes Cordon Bleu. This is deep fried and served on a small oval covered with some sauce on a lettuce leaf with an orange twist/parsley bouquet. The sauce is a béchamel sauce with mushrooms.


1⁄2 lb Cream Cheese 1⁄4 lb Margarine (yes Margarine)  5 parts Garlic Puree 3 parts Thyme
2 parts Marjoram 4 parts Dill

Béchamel Sauce (butter, flour, milk, chives) Make standard roux cooking butter and flour add milk and whisk till thick add cooked mushrooms and chives


Sunday, March 3, 2013

Regional Actors, Murffaritas the Best and Easiest Margarita On the Planet a Recipe from the Seaside Music Theater Days

Now I hope I haven't bored you with stories about my times at Seaside Music Theatre. Because there is a lot of inspiration that came from those days down on the Florida east coast. In Daytona Beach, doing shows summer after summer in the Floridian sunshine.

The best thing about working at Seaside was the people. I have to say that if I went through a roster of actors that have been on Broadway in the last 10 years it would include quite a few of the people that I  worked with on the stage at Seaside. The people there were not just talented but they were amazing human beings. Many of them I still call friends to this day.

I mean the thing about being a working actor in the 90's was there were a lot of venues to ply one's trade. That is compared with today. I mean since the recession in 2008 so many regional theaters went belly up. They just went bankrupt. And now they are gone.

Now this not only affected the acting community but the overall landscape of cultural outlets in this country. Fortunately there are small theaters popping up all over the place. Some legitimate Equity theaters some non-equity and some just homegrown community theaters. Regardless there are people making art still even in these cash strained times. Sometimes it's amazing art at that!

Speaking of actors many amazingly talented people work outside the shadow of the Broadway community. And I did not mean to infer in my comments above that only the talented are on Broadway. Actually I was never on Broadway and some considered me pretty talented, including Cameron Mcintosh, the world's most famous theatrical producer, For whom I played Fagin on the road.

These regional actors make their livings on the stage, not in a coffee shop or restaurant waiting for the next gig. They working in smaller theaters all over the place. And sometimes have way more longevity working in the regional markets than people do in a Broadway career. Plus their quality of life is better. They own houses and condos in cities all over. They have cars and have material lives that many who struggle in NYC or even make it in NYC will never have. It's a choice. A choice one makes, not out of fear of the big city, but out of wanting to have something they may never have in New York, a certain quality of life. The city is a hard place and not one to be taken lightly.

I could name many brilliant regional actors I know of but one certain special lady comes to mind today. Elizabeth Murff is somewhat of a legend in the southern regional theater world. Not only is she one of the most powerful fearless performers I know and have worked with, but girl can party! Murff was always one for a good time and she wasn't shy about it. So this recipe is a legacy of my having worked with her multiple years at Seaside. It's a simple yet deadly drink that will definitely but the PA in your party and the party in your pants if you are not careful! They are called murffaritas in honor of herself. Easy, old school and delicious.

So whip some up tonight and get ready for a good time. They are amazing in the summer heat but really good anytime. I just made some and's a party already in here! Enjoy Ya'll!

Murffaritas ( Margaritas Southern Sister)

you will need

Frozen cans of Lemonade or Limeade Concentrate from the freezer section of the store

Here's what you do:

In a blender...

Empty the can of lime or lemonade into the blender
Fill the can with Tequila
Pour it into the blender
Fill the Blender with ice to the top
Hit the button and Whirl till creamy
Drink with a slice of lime
You can salt the rim of the glass if you want to.

I am not kidding these are awesome!!!

Friday, March 1, 2013

Hawaii and A Japanese Steakhouse Tradition and How Benihana's Chicken Fried Rice Kept the Tradition Going

When I was in 2nd through 5th grade we lived in Hawaii. My father was a naval officer and we got stationed at Camp Smith in the Pearl Harbor area of the island of Oahu. It was a total cultural change for us as a family. At the center of this culture shock was a new wave of foods that while we were living there became a part and parcel of our family dinner table and were carried on with us wherever we traveled on from Hawaii as a family and to some extend as individuals.

There were really four parts to this cultural awakening for us. First was the multitude of cultures that we encountered. No better place to find this out than in our church in Hawaii. Pearl City United Methodist church. We were a mixed family of protestant backgrounds and Catholic undertones so in Hawaii my parents decided upon this congregation as they had a really excellent mix of military folks and locals as well as a strong sunday school program for my brother and myself. My parents came into their own as believers in this church and it shaped many of my brother's and mine experiences in faith for years to come. It was also here in this church that the term "pot luck supper" took on a new and exciting meaning. With a congregation representing over 60 different nationalities and cultural back grounds we had some amazing church suppers. And the spirit of fellowship that those meals created in the congregation was a lovely thing. It was here that the concept of food and fellowship first made sense to me.

The second was the military presence in Hawaii and it's impact on the economy, especially our families economy. We lived for the first time in military housing which was a big change for us. Shopping at the commissary and exchange and living only little off the local economy. Especially because of how expensive everything was on the local economy.
But this also gave rise to our use of such things as the Officer Club dining rooms ( scene of some amazing meals). As well as recreational activities we would have otherwise not have had access to. I like to joke that my mother taught my brother and me all the country club sports there are. Tennis, golf, swimming, horseback riding and diving were all explored because of the plethora of options available to us on the bases there. I also like to joke that she taught me and my brother how to bowl and play pool. Doing so in the enlisted mens clubs and getting no short supply of looks from the young men recreating around us! After all she was a stunner!

The third was the incredible diverse activities we could partake of in Hawaii from snorkeling to climbing the steps of the largest Buddhist and Shinto Temples. Camping, enjoying historical gardens sites and even tea houses from the time of Robert Louis Stevenson. Who was the author of some of my favorite books as a boy.  There were forts and palaces from the time of the Hawaiian Royalty and Asian fish and food markets which held untold treasures in dinning yet undiscovered!

The last was the Island itself which presented a natural setting for everyday life that was unparalleled in my way of thinking. One of the most truly beautiful settings imaginable. And it was the 1970's so it was still not as developed as today. In short it was for a young kid a perfect place to be growing up. Summer all the time, long play days and a never ending string of discoveries that kept life exciting and interesting. From school and interacting with kids of all backgrounds to the endless canvas of imagination that led us on adventure after adventure being cowboys or knights or explorers. Being a kid there was a grand thing.

Amongst the many food experiences we had in Hawaii, none became more of a tradition that the Japanese Steakhouse. Teppanyaki or the Japanese Steakhouse cooking method is the showy cooking used as a showcase at a grill in front of the customers. It was first experienced by us as a family in Hawaii.  It was quite a show and we loved the fun and flair it provided the meal. In fact, when we returned to the main land in Virginia, we sought out a Japanese Steakhouse for special occasions. And I can remember going every year on my birthday after we returned to Charleston. It was a special and singular reminder of the sweet, gentle, growing time we all had in Hawaii. As a child it was wonderful. I sometime contemplate how it must have been for my folks as adults, and what I would have seen as an adult that I missed out on as a kid. But alas that time is gone forever and even if I went back now it would not be the same.

SO...As an adult traveling the country I have enjoy reliving all of this by going to the Benihana Chain. While on my last Musical Theater tour I hit every Benihana in every city we went to. And that meant a lot of them! And every time I go I feel like am transported back to that first Japanese Steakhouse experience. The adult man in me fades and  I am suddenly again the 7 year old little boy I was then. Smiles and eyes popping at the pomp and showmanship of the chef preparing the meal. There aren't many places that can do that to me but Benihana does it every time.
But it's not just the meal, it's the fact that like that first time, I am usually with people, I love having a wonderful time and sharing food that is just fun, festive and yummy.

So aside from the steak and chicken and lobster, ( Ha Lobster!!) one of things I love at Benihana is the chicken fried rice. In fact I am not a fan of fried rice generally, but this is special stuff let me tell you! So I thought I would recreate it at home. As well my favorite sauce that i like to smother the rice with. So that's my story and  here is my take on this dish from Benihana, hope you enjoy it Ya'll!

Benihana Chicken Fried Rice

(Serves 2)
2 ounces cooked chicken
8 ounces steamed rice
2 eggs
2 tablespoons onion, chopped
2 tablespoons carrot, chopped
2 tablespoons green onion, chopped
2 tablespoons green peas
1 teaspoon sesame seed
3 tablespoons butter
1 to 2 tablespoon safflower oil ( or other cooking oil)
3 teaspoons soy sauce ( or more)
6 pinches pepper
2 cloves minced garlic
1 tsp fresh grated ginger
Sesame seeds
Salt to taste


In a wok or large pan :
Heat chicken quickly in a pan with a little oil reserve
Scramble eggs till very soft reserve and chop after cooking.
Saute chopped onion, green onion, seasoning and carrots in the oil until done and mix with chopped scrambled egg and chicken.
Break off chunks of steamed rice and mix with vegetable, egg and chicken.
Add sesame seed, minced garlic, ginger, salt and pepper, stirring well.
Add butter and soy sauce into the mixture, stirring well until done.
Enjoy Ya'll!