Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Dinner With Me

Believe it or not I still enjoy cooking on my time off. I usually cook dinner every Monday night for me and my wife, Anna, whose palate is as adventurous as mine. Not only does it allow me to experiment with different flavor combinations, it also allows me to do something that I absolutely cannot do at the restaurant: have a dish that fails. Of course, my idea of fail is far from inedible; it just doesn't fulfill what I believe would wow our customers enough for them to return again and again.

With that said you may think that every week we eat a rich, extravagant feast, but actually the meals I prepare are relatively healthy and somewhat simple, at least as far as I'm concerned ;). For instance, a few weeks ago I prepared what I felt was a rudimentary soup consisting of lentils simmered in a broth with some leftover pork cooked on my wood burning grill and a little curry powder. The result was outstanding! There was a touch of magic that came out of that combination of smoke and subtle Middle Eastern flavors that I had yet to realise. I knew after one bite (and the look in my wife's eyes) that I had to incorporate these flavors into one of my specials.

To offset my obsession with pork I decided to use chicken instead for this dish. First, I deboned chicken thighs (my favorite part) and used the bones to make both the foundation for a stew as well as the cooking stock for the lentils. While the stock simmered I quick-smoked about a quarter of the thigh meat and added it to slowly cooked onions, garlic, carrots and a touch of sweet curry powder that I used to cook French green lentils, the best in my opinion because they hold their shape without becoming mushy.

Once my lentil inspiration was set I started to build a stew around it by separately roasting rutabaga (a.k.a. yellow turnip), carrots, fennel and pearl onions and then adding them to the chicken stock along with tomatoes, smoked paprika, thyme and garlic. To finish the dish I sauteed the remaining thigh meat until golden brown and added the infused broth, served it with sauteed lentils and finished it with the delicate fennel frawns.

Don't think of it as a entree that you've had in a restaurant, but more like a dinner with me at our house.

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I think that a lot of people are surprised that citrus fruits are actually in season this time of year, as opposed to the summer due to their bright and refreshing flavors. For me, that is the best part about them: a shining star in a culinary season of heavy, rich and creamy.

Once I saw that mandarin oranges were available, I knew that the would make a great cocktail because they are sweeter and have a thinner skin than their orange cousins, which allows their flavor to be released more easily under a bartender's muddler. With the addition of Absolut Mandarin vodka and a splash of Grand Marnier this cocktail bursts with more sunshine than we will see here in months!!

I'm not complaining, though; a little rain never hurt no one.

With Love,