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Chef’s Tasting Menu at Olea

IMAG1793When guests visit for days, I often take them for a jaunt to New Haven. It’s about a half-hour drive from Fairfield, and offers the Yale University Art Galleries. New Haven also has great restaurants. I’m adding another to my list. The owners of Olea, a Spanish-Mediterranean restaurant, invited me to experience the chef’s tasting menu.

Olea has a calming, contemporary atmosphere, that looks upscale, but soon transformed into a buzz. In the site of the former Ibiza, Olea shares a heritage with that acclaimed Spanish restaurant; the new chef/co-owner is the former chef of Ibiza, and worked at Meigas and Meson Galicia in Norwalk with chef Luis Bollo, when it was the best Spanish restaurant in the Northeast.

Olea is now assuming that mantle.  The Mediterranean food reveals classic technique, with fun molecular gastronomy touches of foams and soils, bound in a love of craft and of cooking for restaurant guests.

The meal began with a sampling of three tapas on a rectangular plate. A clear glass of pureed orange-hued gazpacho balanced sweetness and acidity (a quality in many of the dishes to follow). A codfish croquette rested in a drop of aoli. The crisp exterior gave way to a soft, creamy blend of fish and béchamel. A tiny toast, fresh silvery marinated anchovy perched on pureed avocado and cilantro. Crunch, soft, fresh, rich avocado, and briny sea.

The first course was topped with “air” — Aji Amarillo air. The chef transformed the yellow Peruvian pepper into a foamy essence of sweet heat. Mexican-style ceviche, in sweet, tomato sauce, was flecked with precise pieces of mango and red onion, among tender shrimp, little scallops, a slice of octopus, and a mussel.

The second dish spread a series of textures across the plate: rich, moist duck confit and strands of duck prosciutto, against juicy, pickled beets, whisper thin rounds of peppery radish, and crisp plantain chips, gently lassoed by balsamic vinaigrette.

Next, Mediterranean sea bass.

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The filet balanced on green snow peas and rounds of rich soft sweet potato, topped with earthy micro greens and Kalamata olive “soil.”

The final course, suckling pig, rolled in crisp skin, on a mini potato gratin, enriched with cream and parmesan, topped with brunoised Granny Smith apples.

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Romero is that rare chef who excels at both savory and desserts, and the dessert menu is tempting with housemade ice creams like honey-rosemary and passion fruit, and multi-part desserts like the Sweet Forest, pistachio sponge cake, lime meringue, grapefruit and coconut ice cream.

After the chef’s menu, however, we needed a light dessert. A bowl of fruit that treated each piece like a jewel, mandolin thin apple and a slice of coconut, pared strawberry, blackberry, raspberry, kiwi, orange supreme, in a puddle of tropical coconut sauce. On the side of the plate, croutons of orange cake, and dried coconut.

 

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Given the level of creativity, cooking, and service, Olea is reasonably priced. The chef’s menu is $66 (with $35 for wine pairing). A summer three-course meal is $34. Olea also offers a range of experiences, tapas at the bar, where the bartender is likely to suggest his newest concoction, and shake up an icy, smoky mescal- cucumber martini. A diaphanous serpentine curtain sections off part of the room for group dining.

The restaurant partners are about to open a second restaurant, Kala, in North Haven next month. In the meantime, I’m stopping into Olea for the Sweet Forest dessert.

Olea 39 High Street, New Haven, (203) 780-8925

Bringing Something to the Party

What to bring to a summer party? I got beautiful carrots and beets from the Black Rock Farmer’s Market. The beets came from Sport Hill Farm.

My friend Red Bee Marina, who was hosting a little gathering in her garden, suggested coleslaw, but the carrots were too cute to shred.

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The brine was one cup of apple cider vinegar, one cup of warm water, salt, pepper, onions, ginger, herbs from the garden–lemon balm, thyme, marjoram, chives–and a little honey.

Beets

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Because it’s summer and I didn’t want the house to get too hot, I boiled the beets. (Roasting in the oven is my preferred method.) After they were tender, I slipped off the skins, sliced the beets, and put them in brine.The carrots and beets rested in the brine, in the fridge, from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., till we left the house. I repacked them in Ball jars for travel.

After a glass of prosecco, everyone went to Marina and Vic’s garden, and picked greens for pesto.  I picked mint and chamomile flowers. Before serving the pickled vegetables, I sprinkled the herbs on the dishes.

Our hosts served lobster, which we dipped in melted butter, and squirted with lemon. I was rather messy. Apologies to those who were splashed.IMAG1767

And corn on the cob.

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We ate outside, dogs at our feet, chickens locked up safe, bees buzzing around the red and yellow hives on the sunny hill.

What to Forage Now: Dandelion Leaves and Wild Onions

My basic theory of gardening is that plants want to grow. And if they want to grow — if they spring up on their own and we can eat them, don’t interfere. That means dandelions in the yard and vegetable garden (they grow strongest in the sun). Wild onions have shot up everywhere too.

I’m very much against poisoning them.  Pulling up “weeds” is the most effective way of dealing with them (despite what you’ll read on the internet about vinegar solutions). Dandelions aren’t “weeds” to me. Picking and eating dandelions in the early spring is an ancient ritual. They are filled with minerals and vitamins, and are good for the liver.

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Cleaning the April pickings, dandelion leaves, parsley and wild onions.

Dandelion leaves can be bitter. The are less bitter when small and the flowers haven’t bloomed. Large leaves from blooming dandelions can be cooked to mellow their flavor and make them tender.

Dandelions don’t have poisonous lookalikes, according to Wildman Steve Brill, an expert forager who leads tours in New York and Connecticut. Chicory looks like dandelion and is edible, so if you’re foraging, you’ll probably pick up both.

To counter the bitterness of a wild dandelion and chicory salad, I give it a hearty dressing, an emulsion of olive oil, lemon juice, mashed garlic, and salt. Then add chunks of rich, creamy avocado and slices of crisp, sweet red bell pepper.

You can also subdue a dandelion with a dressings of hot bacon fat, apple cider vinegar, then top with lardons and garlic-rubbed croutons. Avocado works in this salad too.

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To cook, first gather as many as you can. A big bowl of leaves will reduce when cooked.  Wash them — you’ll probably have to soak them in water twice. (I use it to water the seedlings on the back porch.)

Bring a big pot of salted water to a boil. Add the greens. When the water returns to a boil, let them cook for a minute. This step removes the bitterness. Remove from water and place in a bowl of cold water.

In a large frying pan, simmer garlic or wild garlic cloves in olive oil until it smells good, but doesn’t brown. Add blanched dandelion greens.  Saute them in the oil, add fresh water, salt, and more olive oil, and bring to simmer. Partially cover and cook for ten minutes or so until the leaves do not resist to the bite. Serve in a bowl with some of the water, drizzle on more olive oil to taste. The water the greens simmer in tastes delicious. I’m certain it’s good for you.

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Another classic  Italian recipe, which Lidia Bastianich told me about, pairs cooked dandelions on top of pureed fava beans. It’s made with dried favas, which are actually less time consuming to work with than fresh.   It’s a dish from Puglia, and the pleasing contrast of sharp greens and rich beans, is eaten in alternating bites, with good country bread.

Giuliano Bugialli has a recipe for dandelions with favas in his book Foods of Italy.  My photojournalist friends will note that John Dominis shot the gorgeous photos. He gave a copy to my mother and inscribed it. I learned to cook from Foods of Italy, and I return to the recipes.

That reminds me of another one of my favorite dishes, which I call Beans Over Greens. Cooked dried beans (white beans or chickpeas), sautéed in garlic, scallions and parsley (which is also flourishing in my garden right now.)  I usually serve this over arugula. It could also be served with a super-early green like mache or ackersalat.

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Mache or ackersalat must be planted in the fall for an early spring crop.

But ackersalat seeds must be planted the previous fall.  Meanwhile, the arugula seedlings have sprouted, and the leaves will be ready to eat in a few weeks.

In the meantime, I’ll eat dandelions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lunch at The Modern

A great meal, the three-course prix fixe at The Modern in New York City.

First, an amusing amuse bouche. Glasses of shredded, dehydrated beets, into which the server poured warm broth.

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With it, a bowl of fresh cheese with beet chips.  A waiter appeared with a tray holding six adorable mini rolls. I think the waiter told us we could have as many as we wanted. We demurely (so I like to think), took one, a pretzel roll for Paula, and a whole wheat roll for me. It was light textured, slightly sweet.

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My first course, sea bass with sunchokes and watercress. No words needed.

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Paula started with this gorgeous salad. There’s burrata beneath the leaves.

For my second course, beef with marrow, celery root and black truffle. A waiter holding a little copper saucepan spooned truffle sauce onto plate.

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Paula’s second course was seared salmon. Sensible girl. It had Meyer lemon confit, endive and radicchio.

And then, dessert. I had chocolate marquise with earl grey ice cream.

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Paula’s dessert was ricotta cannoli with picked rhubarb and crème fraiche sorbet.

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Service at The Modern was excellent. When I arrived, the hostess told me Paula was already there. The reservationist had noted that we had a theatre date, and our server asked what time we needed to leave. The check was ready the moment I needed it,  prepared but not given until I looked at our server.

The Modern has a no tipping policy.  I’m all for it.  Instead of ending a delightful meal by frowning over the check while trying to figure out the 20 percent tip, one blithely signs.

As we left, we asked if they’d take our picture. A host lead us to The Modern’s kitchen for an awesome backdrop. Which truth be told, has a lot more charm than the dining room, which looks like an airline lounge with a view of a construction site. The atmosphere in the bar section of the Modern is livelier, and they have an a la carte menu. Would I go back to The Modern? Yes!

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Video Prep Chili

After prepping the food for a cooking video last week, I came home with extra prep from a chicken ranch salad.

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At first I thought I’d make soup, so I sautéed the vegetables.

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There was extra chopped red onion and chopped parsley from another dish (we shot five ), so I added those.

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Chopped the remaining half of a jalapeno that had topped the cheese on another dish from the shoot,  deconstructed stuffed cabbage, otherwise known as cabbage-beef casserole.

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Crumbled bacon was the finishing touch on the Ranch chicken salad. Tossed into the pan, along with an extra slice of cooked back-up bacon, rough chopped.  I was reveling in not having to be precise.  I decided to make chili rather than soup.

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Added a can of whole tomatoes and their sauce. In the freezer, I found chicken stock, and added about a cup and a half.  Chili powder, from the cabbage-beef casserole, and a teaspoon of homemade habanero sauce from the fridge. Used my favorite little spatula to cut the tomatoes into quarters.  Look at all those vegetables! Makes me feel healthy just looking at it.

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Two poached skinless chicken breasts were added at the very end, after the sauce had simmered for 40 minutes, and the vegetables were tender. Along with the chicken, I added two cups of pinto beans. These just happened to be in a pot on back burner. I’m lucky to live with another cook.

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You can tell how good this was, right?  Thick with vegetables, bright, spicy, and hearty. We served it straight up in bowls, not wanting rice or even bread. The big pot of Video Prep Chili disappeared in a day.

 

Spring Breakfast

It’s the first day of Spring and the ground is covered with snow, but there’s a change in the light and air. And I didn’t burn the toast.

My friend’s chickens are laying eggs. I felt very lucky when Lynn gave me these beautiful eggs. Her chickens have the best diet, non-gmo grains supplemented by foraging.

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Just look at that yolk.

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Here’s a 5-minute breakfast. Toast some bread. My favorite morning toast is The Luncheonette, which is baked by Fairfield Bread Company. I’m a taste-tester for Fairfield Bread Company.

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Scramble the egg, add lots of chopped parsley because it’s growing in the garden already and it’s filled with minerals, and it will help distract if you’re not using cheese because it’s Spring and it’s time to eat less and move more.

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Pour egg-parsley mixture into an oiled hot cast iron pan. When the eggs are set, remove, fold and place on the toast.

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Assemble and serve. IMAG1279

No Shopping Blizzard Baking

We don’t go shopping before a storm. Storms have taught us that we have enough/too much food in our house. When the storm baking bug struck, I foraged through the cabinet.

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I found a bag of plantain flour. Must have bought it at the International Food Bazaar supermarket in Bridgeport. I wasn’t sure what it would be like. I once used a fresh yellow plantain to make dough for empanadas filled with chicken, olives and raisins, and it came out great.

But this soft plantain flour was different from a mashed plantain. To understand the flour’s properties, I mixed some water with it. It took on a batter-like consistency. It smelled sweet like a ripe banana and tasted sweet and banana-y.

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Marion Cunningham’s Fannie Farmer Baking Book, unfailingly reliable, has a recipe for rum-raisin banana bread that’s not too sweet. I followed the recipe, with a few substitutions. Plantain and water mixture replaced the banana, Amaro grappa replaced the rum (a fitting end for a raisin), and they soaked and pumped up while the ingredients were assembled, rather than overnight. And because we had no walnuts (and no bananas), I added toasted chopped hazelnuts.

The plantain bread turned out quiet well, with a fine tender structure, banana aroma, not overly sweet.

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There’s still more plantain flour in the bag. Next up, gluten-free plantain pancakes.