Chef blab...

Schnappy Tortellini with Schnappy Peas and Butternut Squash

Comments Off 29 January 2013

Say it with me…schnappy – it just brings a smile to your face! Snappy peas, butternut squash, cheese tortellini all topped with crispy proscuitto and a beautiful creamy grana padano cheese.  Healthy, colorful. wonderful to eat.  Now why wouldn’t you describe that as Schnappy!

Knock this one out for dinner tonight!!

Chef blab...

Crafting the Perfect Menu

Comments Off 14 January 2013

 

Did Beethoven compose his 5th Symphony in a day? Did Picasso paint the Mona Lisa before breakfast? Was Gone With The Wind a simple short story thrown together one evening? To those questions you would shout a resounding NO! There was passion, research, suffering and love that went into each of those works of art and I believe the same time and effort should go into writing a menu. Okay maybe not the same amount of time, we would all starve but the same passion and effort should be expected from any artist seeking to create art. Continue Reading

Chef blab...

Dishing it out: Put some spring
in your skillet!

Comments Off 21 March 2012

As seen in MontereyCountyThe Herald Posted:   03/20/2012 02:45:08 PM PDT March 21, 2012

When I think of spring, it’s the same old delicious story that comes to mind — the story of a crop that’s a nutrient-dense food, high in folic acid, is a good source of potassium, fiber, vitamin B6, A and C, and thiamin. It has no fat, contains no cholesterol and is low in sodium.   A harvest that eats well in almost any fashion: steamed, blanched, grilled, blistered, baked, wrapped, dipped or raw.

I’m talking about the tale of asparagus, those vibrant, green-as-an-emerald, mild yet inimitable spears of the earth. As a salad, in pasta, with a steak, to me, asparagus is spring! Continue Reading

Chef blab...

Solving the truffle kerfuffle

Comments Off 14 February 2012

Todd Fisher Dishing it Out!
Posted: 02/07/2012 01:36:20 PM PST
Updated: 02/07/2012 05:30:46 PM PST

A long-time reader called with what should have been an easy-to-answer question about Truffle oil, sort of a when-should-I, how-should-I-use-it deal. But you know me, and after triple-distilling my thoughts and over-kneading my dough, here is what I came up with.

When I started to answer the two questions, I realized there are a few things we all must understand before revealing the who, what, where and when of truffle oil usage.

One, lets make sure we all know what it is we’re talking about. Let us start with the first ingredient. Truffles have been found in Europe, Asia, North Africa and North America. They live in close mycorrhizal association with the roots of specific trees. Their fruiting bodies grow underground. Truffles are round, warty, and irregular in shape and vary from the size of a walnut to that of a man’s fist. The season for most truffles falls between September and May.

Just the mention of truffles conjures up images of the expensive French black truffle from the Périgord region of southwest France, used in making p té de foie gras. Or the renowned odorous white truffle of Alba, in the Piedmont district of Italy, famously shaved paper thin over tender arborio rice.

Truffles are among the most expensive of the world’s natural foods, often commanding as much as $1,000 per pound. Truffles are harvested in Europe with the aid of female pigs or truffle dogs, which are able to detect the strong smell of mature truffles underneath the surface of the ground. The female pig becomes excited when she sniffs a chemical that is similar to the male swine sex attractant. Yummy!
The use of pigs is risky, though, because of their natural tendency to eat any remotely edible thing. For this reason, dogs have been trained to dig into the ground wherever they find these odors, and they willingly exchange their truffle for a Scooby snack and a pat on the head.

The flavor of the truffle is directly related to its aroma. The chemicals necessary for the odor to develop are created only after the spores are mature enough for release, so they must be collected at the proper time or they will have little taste. This is the only sure indication that the mushrooms are ready to be harvested. That is why animals have proven to be the best means of assuring that the fungi collected will be flavorful.

Truffles are evanescence. For one to truly appreciate the sensational experience of dining on truffles, one must eat fresh, uncooked specimens as soon after harvest as possible. The intensity of the truffle flavor decreases rapidly with each passing moment above ground. However, these earthly gems can be purchased online from some specialty stores that will pack them in airtight containers and overnight them to you — adding yet more to the already exuberant price tag.

Now to the oil part of the deal. Olive oil and grape seed oil are the two most common oils chosen for truffle oil. Good choices, I’m sure you would agree. No first-press olive oil here, That would be too strong for the subtle flavor of the truffle. A pomace quality oil that will carry the flavor but not over power it is ideal.

Very few truffle oils on the market are, in fact, oil with crushed or chopped truffle added to them to create truffle oil. Premium retailers and online sources will offer you the best options. Look for packaging that says made with real truffle. And never have I found real white truffle oil.

Unfortunately most truffle oils are actually artificially enhanced oils that use an organic compound called 2,4-dithiapentane (the most prominent of the hundreds of aromatic molecules that make the flavor of white truffles so exciting). These oils, created in a laboratory with their petrol-chemical, one-dimensional flavor, are changing common understanding of how a truffle should taste. Many of us have never had the privilege of sitting down to a plate full of succulent, tender pasta adorned with white truffle shaved over the top with the orgasmic scent wafting up, intoxicating our minds with sinfully decadent wonderment! And to be quite honest, no truffle oil will ever give you the same wow factor as the real McCoy!

Should you choose to use truffle oil, less is more. Drizzling real black truffle oil over a hot, creamed soup like cauliflower or parsnip gives an earthen, musky, sexy aroma that elevates the simple row crop bisque into something far more elegant and unique.

Drizzled in unison with a vibrant vinegar over pungent greens to top a juicy, well-marbled, toothsome cut of beef, will draw out the forest floor of any dreamy Cabernet you choose to enjoy in harmony. You can dress up macaroni and cheese for a high end steakhouse rendition of your childhood favorite. Or make a batch of “Princess” french fries — crispy shoestring potatoes doused in black truffle oil, sea salt and Grana Padana cheese that will make any regal royal weak in the knees.

For real-deal truffle appeal at home, I highly recommend dropping a little coin on truffle salt, generally made of French sea salt and minced pieces of truffle, which is excellent for finishing grilled steaks, succulent scallops and other delicious mentionables. Also, truffle butter, made from combining minced black truffle with creamy butter, is a staple in my freezer. Yes, it freezes remarkably well and easily shaves off to finish a sauce or adorn some roasted vegetables for a fantastic winter melange.

Until next time my friends, cheers!

Celebrity chef Todd Fisher is a Herald columnist, chef de cuisine at Stick’s at the Inn at Spanish Bay and a brand consultant. E-mail him at cheftoddsdish@gmail.com.

Chef blab...

A Holiday Fit for Localvores

Comments Off 16 December 2011

Todd Fisher: Dishing it Out

As seen in the Monterey Herald

So it is that time of year again, time for the annual gastro gift-giving list that I prepare each year for the foodie in your life or home. This year I am taking a slightly different slant to the whole gift-giving brouhaha that is Christmas. It is a local gift-giving expose! You won’t find any pepper spray wackos waiting for the opportune moment to foul you as you stand in line to purchase these gifts. Unfortunately, you probably won’t even find a line.

I love giving gifts almost as much as I enjoy receiving them. Notice I said almost. If you were planning on getting me a little something, please do not let that comment deter you. Actually, gift giving is one of my love languages, and I might say I am one heck of a shopper, not much of a looker. In fact, this exercise in finding ideas for you has cost me a fortune. I read this great “keep it local” piece a few weeks ago online, and it resonated with me so much that I have quoted a few morsels from the piece. I don’t know who wrote it, but they are spot-on in the concept.

Christmas is about caring about US, encouraging American small businesses to keep plugging away to follow their dreams. And, when we care about other Americans, we care about our communities, and the benefits come back to us in ways we couldn’t imagine.

As a small-business owner, I know all to well the difficulties of competing in a chain restaurant-superstore world. Now don’t get me wrong. Jobs are jobs, and Lord knows we need local jobs. Local does not mean buying out of the back of someone’s car this holiday season, although farmers market shopping does make my list. What I am saying is when you go into a small restaurant or local boutique and purchase a gift certificate or a dress, you are making it possible for that Mom and Pop restaurateur to breathe a little easier, and you are making it possible for the little boutique owner to live her dream here in our magnificent little community, a community built around customer service, hospitality and tourism. We live here and we need to buy here. So here is my list of great gifts to give the foodie in your life:

· Everyone enjoys a dinner out, even someone who loves to cook. Consider a gift certificate to your favorite local eatery. Doesn’t matter if it is a taco shop or a white tablecloth establishment — if they are buying local and are supporting their local farms, grab a gift certificate or two and give the gift that gives to your intended, the server that will provide them sensational service, the cooks that will be cooking it up and so on and so forth.

· Home Grown Healthiness — CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). Walk the farmers market this week and fill a basket with locally grown goodies and drop it off for your culinarian. Better yet, sign a family member up for a monthly CSA from Serendipity Farms. What says “I care” more than wholesome, healthy, locally grown foods every month.

Gastronomes appreciate the time and effort gone into artisan-crafted products like bacon smoked locally, salumi cured and dried locally, jams made with local fruit and canned locally. Serendipity gets a double dippidy here because some of my favorite artisan producers will be selling their locally produced, handcrafted yum yums Dec. 15 at their holiday gift sale. Check their website for more information.

· I don’t know too many foodies that aren’t winos. Sign your foodista up for a local wine club. The grapes are grown here, the juice is squeezed and refined here and the winemaker and their family live here. With more than a few dozen producers here in Monterey County you will be affecting lots of people with a gift of wine this holiday season. I have way too many winemaker friends to recommend any one club to join — which means you get the joy of shopping aka, tasting, in the hunt for the one you want to gift.

· All of us cookerooskies love gadgets and knives and spoons! Yep, that is what I said: the spoon — the ultimate cooks tool. We all have our favorites, and I will tell you about one of my new favorites: Jonathan’s Wild Cherry Spoons. All their spoons are handcrafted in Pennsylvania from beautiful wild cherry wood that is sustainably harvested from well-managed forests. I know that Pennsylvania is not “local,” but you can buy them locally at Coast Galleries or the Phoenix Shop in Big Sur. And They are made in America.

· Gadgets and tools are hard to find. Sur La Table has a great selection of goodies for the stocking-stuffer knickknacks you’re looking for, and many of them are denoted as American made. Remember, local shopping supports the locals that live and work here, too.

· Every cook needs his or her cast iron pans. Again, not manufactured here in California, but you can buy them here.

· Send ‘em to school. Local cooking classes are something I know a little about. Go to my website,cheftoddfisher.com, for a full 2012 class schedule and to sign up. Classes are $95 per cutting board, or get the six-pack discount: 6 classes for $525. For a super-duper wow gift for your gastronome and new this year: The Chef Todd Boot Camp, a five-day intensive in THE KITCHEN (dates to be determined). Only 12 cutting boards will be allotted for this unbelievable culinary excursion, from basic knife skills and stocks to a fabulous dinner party that you will prepare for your invited guests.

· And I’m not the only cooking-school guru in town. Stone Creek Kitchens offers not only a calendar of classes, but many of the tools I have mentioned above can be purchased there as well. In fact, on Dec. 21, from 7 to 8:30p.m., men are invited to an evening of private shopping after the store closes to the public, for only $5. Stone Creek Kitchen staff will act as your personal shopper, if desired, to help you select the perfect gift for everyone on your holiday gift list. Then they will gift wrap everything for you too — for free. The five bucks gets you a plate and a glass for a little manly grub and a brew to sustain you while shopping. Reservations not required. Simply show up and bang on the door.

· For the foodie with a woodie: If your foodster has a wood-burning oven or pit, buy them the gift of some locally cut and seasoned white oak, almond or manzanilla for a sophisticated and unique flavor enhancer for their cooking pleasure!

· Monterey Bay Sea Salt is a locally harvested sea salt that has the deep, briny deliciousness provided by only fine sea salts of the world. The grain is large, so it is a great accompaniment with a grinder and some delicious California first-press olive oil.

This year give the gift of genuine concern for others — your neighbors. No longer can you doubt that buying local is helping locally. Yes it is!

 

Celebrity chef Todd Fisher is a Herald columnist, chef de cuisine at Stick’s at the Inn at Spanish Bay and a brand consultant. E-mail him at cheftoddsdish@gmail.com.

 

Chef blab...

Dishing it Out!
Have a puff or two
for the holidays

Comments Off 05 December 2011

Have a puff or two

for the holidays

As seen in the Monterey County Herald

Posted: 11/30/2011 01:32:58 AM PST
Updated: 11/30/2011 01:32:58 AM PST
I can be almost certain that your holiday schedule is somewhat like mine in the sense that you don’t have a whole lot of down time between festivities, shopping, wrapping, untangling lights, propping a dead tree up in your house, decorating the tree and the house, splendid family visits and getting out to Christmas carol with your neighbors — all whilst the regular rigamarole that has us busy enough when it’s not the holiday season is happening around us.

As I was thinking about the wonderful chaos that is the Christmas season, I thought to myself: It’s too early to write about the Christmas season. But then realized that the stores have been selling us Christmas since October, so I should be OK. And since I was not ready to roll out my 2011 “Gastro Gifting” hot list for the foodie in or near to all of us, that will be the next column.

I felt it would be nice to actually give you a gift that could, in fact, save you this and every holiday season to come.

When I think of the aforementioned blessed pandemonium that comes with this holiday of giving, I had the usual visions of sugar plum fairies dancing in shimmery pink tutu’s and my two youngest daughters dancing their hearts out on stage with this year’s production of “The Nutcracker” at the Sunset Center. Yes, tickets are still available for all of the shows, and yes, I know that was a shameless promotion, but it is truly the best performance between San Francisco and LA — and not just because two budding Broadway dancers with the last name Fisher are performing.

Oh yes, back to your gift. Yep, flakey, buttery, delicate puff pastry for all my friends. Look for it in your mail box, but don’t open until Dec. 25.

Well, obviously I am not sending you a sheet of labor-intensive puff pastry, but I am giving you the endowment of all the ways this French confection can save your life during the holiday season. First, however, what is puff pastry? It’s a light, flaky dough made by repeatedly layering pastry dough and butter or another solid fat, called laminating, to form a thin dough that puffs in the oven. The puffing occurs when the moisture in the fat creates steam and the fat keeps the layers from sticking together. Puff Pastry is said to have Spanish roots and be a relative of phyllo dough. However, more often than not it gets credited with having been invented in about 1645 by a French pastry chef’s apprentice named Claudius Gele. At the end of his apprenticeship, Claudius wanted to bake a delicious loaf of bread for his sick father, who was prescribed a diet consisting of water, flour and butter.

Claudius prepared a dough, packing the butter into it, kneading the dough out on the table, folding it, and repeating the procedure ten times, after which he molded the dough into a loaf. The pastry chef, who had watched the procedure, advised Claudius against baking the loaf as he thought the butter would run out of it. Nevertheless, the loaf was put in the oven, and as the loaf baked, both the pastry chef and Claudius were more and more surprised at the shape and the unusual size it attained. And with this, a star was born.

The production of puff pastry dough is uber time-consuming, because it must be kept at a temperature below or at approximately 60 degrees to keep butter or shortening from becoming runny, and must rest in between folds to allow gluten strands time to link up, thus retain layering. Now I know when too much information is too much, so I will not bore you with the equation that calculates the number of layers in puff pastry, divided by the number of folds. Just know that every croissant you have ever eaten was an algebraic equation before it was a flakey, delicate buttery snack. Culinary giant and legend Julia Child recommends 73 layers for regular puff pastry and a staggering 730 layers for p te feuilletée fine.

I have made puff pastry only one time in my career, and it was a less-than-spectacular offering. Thankfully, commercially made puff pastry is available in grocery stores. I hope you have a newfound respect for your local patisseries.

You know puff pastry in many forms, even if you didn’t know you knew: Croissants, palmiers, petite fours, napolean (a classic layered dessert), baked brie, beef Wellington, even salmon en crožte. Basically, if you need to bake something in a crust, puff pastry can do it, and with a little practice it is a very easy way to do it.

And it can do almost anything. I’m not kidding when I say puff pastry can do almost anything. Here are a few of the things I have used puff pastry for over the years, and yes, a few have them have been a stretch to the imagination but have played out well and, in some cases, have even become go-to items. As for appetizers: petite tart shells, cheese sticks (recipe to follow, great accompanying a cheese board), pigs in a blanket, mini empenadas, tiny calzones, Pissierade, savory Palmeirs; for covering pot pies, crust for a quiche, making any kind of meat pie, dumplings, even a bread crumb for coating (after it has been baked of course).

As for sweet treats, pie crusts, tart shells, cinnamon rolls, cookies, doughnuts, beignets and popovers: Sometimes the puffiness works to your advantage, sometimes simply rolling it out to keep the layers from puffing to the puffable maximum is in order, and other times baking it with a weight on top of it makes it act more like a pie crust, where it is still flakey and light but durable and absorbent. So when you are feeling the pinch this holiday season, make sure you have a box or two of puff in the freezer so you can puff like a rock star. Or is it shine like a rock star?

Till next time, when I give you my Gastro Gifting Hot picks !

 

Easy Cheesy

Parmesan Cheese Straws

All-purpose flour, for surface

1 package (14 oz.) puff pastry

1 large egg, lightly beaten

1 oz. Parmesan cheese, grated (1/3 cup)

¼ tsp. Malden salt

½ tsp. cracked fennel seeds

½ tsp. cayenne pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment.

On a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin, roll puff pastry into a 12-by-16-inch rectangle. With the long side facing you, lightly brush bottom half of rectangle with some of the beaten egg. Sprinkle ¼ cup Parmesan and the salt on top half. Fold bottom half over top half. Gently roll dough to seal. Cut rectangle lengthwise into thirds. (You should have three 2-by-16-inch strips.) Sprinkle remaining 1 T. Parmesan on one strip, fennel seeds on another, and cayenne on remaining strip. Cut each strip lengthwise into eight ¼-inch-by-16-inch strips. Transfer strips to baking sheets, spacing 1 inch apart. Working with 1 strip at a time, hold each end with your fingers, and carefully twist strip in opposite directions, forming a spiral. Press ends of strips against parchment to prevent unraveling. Freeze or refrigerate until strips are very firm and cold, about 15 minutes. Bake 1 sheet at a time, rotating halfway through, until straws are golden brown and cooked through, 12 to 14 minutes. Transfer straws to wire racks, and let cool.

 

Celebrity chef Todd Fisher is a Herald columnist, chef de cuisine at Stick’s at the Inn at Spanish Bay and a brand consultant. E-mail him at cheftoddsdish@gmail.com.

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