Months ago I blogged about Yard House's new social justice campaign, Round It Up America. Initially, I saw the campaign and thought it could be better. Apparently, Yard House was alerted to my post and I received a call from the President of Yard House, Harald Herrmann, the same day. After speaking with him, I blogged again, sharing my content in learning that Round It Up America was designed to be a broad campaign, adoptable by every restaurant in America. Great plan!
And, Yard House moved on...so did I.
But a few weeks ago, Mr. Herrmann's office called me, inviting me to attend an award ceremony for the program. I thought the invitation was peculiar, but rolled with it. "Sure," I said. Then, a few days before the event, I received another call, asking if I'd be willing to hand over one of the checks to a recipient non-profit. "Sure," I said.
And Thursday morning I show up to this event. I don't know exactly what it's for, or why I was invited. But, I liked Harald and I like the program, so I was curious enough to jump in with both feet. I check in, grab some coffee and grab a seat at the bar. About 40 or so people milling around. All professionals. All smiling. And they all seemed to know each other. Everyone except for me.
So a woman walks up to greet me, and after introducing myself, she lets me know I'll be giving the first check. I'm really starting to wonder, "what is going on, and why me?" I've at least come to realize that there's money going out to charities today. I got that. And, it seems to that everyone there wants to be there, but I still haven't quite figured out my role in this little gala event. And then she asks me if I've met Harald. "Only by phone," I say.
I'm rushed away to meet him, his VP of Marketing, a founder of Yard House, and a few other people. And it turns into story time. Harald introduces me to everyone as the guy that wrote an email, challenging the model. And, he introduces me as a guest of Yard House. I'll be handing over a check to the first charity on behalf of all guests of Yard House. The people who actually 'round it up.'
Then it starts to come together.
The ceremony begins. Harald explains how this program came together. The difficulties. The hurdles. The impossibilities. How it took a village to raise this baby. And I see the look on his face and see the sincerity and I'm blown away. "This guy is for real!" He's excited because a program designed to give is actually working!! I look around and the people in the room are excited too. They're a part of something that works. Something that gives back to society. And they built it with their own hands, blood, and sweat.
I suddenly feel proud to be part of this little soiree.
You see, in retrospect, I've had people talk to me about pushing social justice in the business context because it's good for PR. Giving is the new keeping. It's a bandwagon. So you can understand if I'm a little skeptical. But what I saw with these guys was legit. At least Yard House. At least Harald Hermann. And legitimacy is the new...legitimacy.
The good news, Yard House did listen. To me? Who knows, but they listened to something bigger than their bottom line. And that's all I care about. They did remove their own branding and allow other restaurants to participate without competing (and without a reason to create their own charity campaign). The result will be bigger donations and bigger checks to charities. Broader participation and broader branding. It's brilliant.
Congratulations, Harald, and congratulations, Yard House. Nice work.
Next time you go to a restaurant, ask if they are part of Round It Up America. If they are, round it up. If they're not, ask them to visit Round It Up America and join. It's worth it and it's easy. And easy is the new easy.
Friday, October 29, 2010
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
This is a bold and easy meal. It hits that spot for intense flavors, and can cook up in about 20 minutes. You'll want to marinate the chicken for at least a few hours, or before you leave for work in the morning, but it couldn't be much simpler than this.
Marinate chicken thighs (or breasts or whatever part you like) in white wine, rosemary, lemon juice, salt and garlic.
Heat your grill, and throw this on for about 15-20 minutes. Top with lemon juice, salt and fresh basil.
Rub olive oil, salt and pepper into both sides of the mushroom. Grill for about 15 minutes, turning often. This is meaty! You can have this as your main dish if you don't want meat, or if you want to go full vegetarian.
Side these dishes with some melon chunks and have lemon wedges for squeezing, and you're ready to go.
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
I was inspired for this meal by a picture of a guy eating noodles at David Chang's Momofuku Noodle Bar. It's amazing when even an image of someone else eating can inspire you to cook! Well, that's me. I'm inspired by many things, including pictures of people hogging down.
Anyway, I won't lie...the Ginger Scallion Sauce you see here is an exact replication of David's recipe in his book, Momofuku. Granted, I don't think the consistency in mine looks like the consistency in the images in David's book. But, maybe I'm wrong. And, to be honest, I was disappointed. It lacked depth, it lacked punch, and it lacked complexity. I can cook, trust me, so it wasn't my skills. And, I rarely, rarely follow a recipe point-by-point. This one time I did, and I was not happy with the outcome.
I don't know David, but I certainly hope he's not one of those chefs who leaves out key ingredients in his cookbooks simply so that people can't replicate his work. That's just plain stupid. The day a home chef puts a professional chef out of business simply because the home chef uses the exact same recipe at home is probably the same day an ostrich will fly. If you're that good, your skills will be greater than the sum of your ingredients.
It actually reminds me of why I don't follow cookbooks in the first place. Years ago, I bought a few Williams-Sonoma cookbooks, because the pictures looked amazing and made me think the recipes would be as well. They were not. They sucked...horribly. I think Williams-Sonoma saw an opportunity for product variation based on brand recognition and went for it. In my mind, an utter and complete FAIL! You want the best cookbook? Ask your grandma to write down her recipes. Start with that. Find someone who really cooks and will be honest with you. Have them write down their recipes, and that will be the best cookbook you will find. Why? Because it's real.
Anyway, that was a l o n g departure from the recipes here. And, you can bet that I won't leave out ingredients on purpose. Because my memory fails? Yes. But intentional - never!!
Braised Taiwanese Ribs:
This is inspired by the Taiwanese beef noodle soup found in many Taiwanese restaurants in the US, like Sim Ba La, and obviously in Taiwan. I adapted the flavors from that beef soup into a braise mix for pork ribs.
1-2 pounds meaty pork ribs cut into 2 inch sections (have your butcher do this, unless you want to cut through bone). Season with salt and pepper.
In a dutch oven, add some vegetable oil and brown the ribs on all sides, about 4 minutes. You may need to do this in two batches. Put those into a bowl nearby.
In the pot, add 1 chopped red onion. Fry for 2 minutes, then add 6 garlic cloves, pressed. Fry for 30 seconds. Add a couple star anise with seeds, continue frying. Add 4 chopped vine-ripe tomatoes. Stir. Add back in ribs and accumulated juices. Add 1 can of beef broth. I use Swanson's. Add 1/2 cup of soy sauce. Mix well.
Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and cover. Let this braise for 2-3 hours. You can stir occasionally, but keep in mind that the longer the ribs braise, the more they will fall from the bone. You want to keep them intact, so don't stir too much.
When they're braised enough, they're done. I removed them with tongs and set them on my noodles. They'd be good with rice too. You can also use the braising liquid to spoon over.
For this, just pick a good noodle and cook it according to instructions. Toss with a tiny amount of sesame or vegetable oil. Set aside for use.
Ginger Scallion Sauce:
Chop ginger and scallions and add vegetable oil. Follow David's recipe, and add some of your own thoughts. For me, I'd use less oil, some salt, a red chili, and some sugar.
Grilled Soy Sauce Chicken:
Marinate your chicken in 1/2 soy sauce and juice of 2 lemons, plus some sesame oil and a splash of sake. A pinch of ginger, salt, pepper, and garlic. This is an intense marinade, so I like to brighten the flavor on the grill by squeezing lemon on the chicken while it cooks. Probably need 15 minutes of cooking time.
Monday, October 25, 2010
This is a perfectly acceptable "healthy" meal in my book. It has fish, a veg, and a potato that isn't fried. Argue if you want, but I don't see any reason why you can't eat like this every night of the week.
You already know that I'm a big salmon fan. I eat fish all the time, and salmon is one of the top pics. I'll tell you this, though. For the longest time - maybe almost a year - I've been eating salmon fillets. Then, a few weeks ago, I made a salmon steak. Wow! Wow! Wow!!! That extra flavor coming from the bones, fat, skin and other components you don't find in a fillet impart SO much more flavor. But, you can't beat the adaptability of a salmon fillet, so don't worry about making this dish with anything else.
So, I usually get into building fish dishes around Asian flavors because they meld so well. I just wanted something different, though, so I thought of building the flavor around vodka. I also had panchetta on hand and some tri-color potatoes, so I knew that would work with it. Snap peas were a nice color and texture balance, so I picked them for the trifecta.
Grilled Vodka Salmon:
Marinate the salmon fillets in enough vodka to cover halfway, along with the juice of one lemon, salt, pepper, and a glug or two of olive oil. Let these marinate at least 1 hour. Take them from the fridge at least 20 minutes before going to the grill.
Heat your grill. Baste the fillets with the marinade, cooking about 3-4 minutes per side. Top with a pinch of kosher or other chunky salt. I used a pink Hawaiian salt, but I don't think you can catch it in the image.
Roasted Tri-Color Potatoes with Pancetta and Salt:
I picked up a bag of tri-color potatoes at Trader Joes. I also bought my pancetta there. In a roasting pan, I mixed a bunch of chunk-cut potatoes with olive oil, cubed pancetta and kosher salt. That's all you need. Roast on 350 for 20 minutes, then 450 for 20 minutes or so. Mix everything up once or twice during the cooking time, to ensure you're distributing flavors (pancetta) and nothing is burning or sticking.
Blanched Snap Peas:
Drop them into boiling salt water for 30 seconds. Drain and top with kosher salt.
Saturday, October 23, 2010
Crepes are an interesting thing. They wow people, they're adaptable, and they rock the free world. But, they're also somewhat delicate. You can tear and burn them in a flash. You can also ruin them with too much of this or not enough of that.
I have a basic recipe for crepes below, and it's easy to make. But, the thing you'll learn about making crepes is not so much what goes into the crepes as much as how you make them.
2/3 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt
2 Tbs powder sugar
Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl. In a small bowl, beat 2 eggs and 1 cup of milk. Pour this wet mixture into the dry mixture and mix well.
Put the crepe mixture into the fridge for about 30 minutes.
When it's time, bring out the mixture, mix it well again.
Melt 3 Tbs butter in a large non-stick skillet. Pour the melted butter into your crepe mixture, and mix well.
The first thing you notice is that your pan has a lot of butter in it. That's a good thing! Your first crepe will be heavenly heavy, with a buttery sheen and plenty of depth.
Holding your mixture in one hand (I usually use either a small mixing bowl with a handle, or for larger batches, I use a plastic drink pitcher), and holding your hot pan in the other, start pouring the mix into the pan while you're moving the pan around to let the mix coat the bottom of the pan. You'll have to tilt it pretty far, because the batter will immediately begin to stick to the pan, so this is a quick process.
Sorry I didn't take a picture of this part of the process (I was using both hands at the time!), but think of having a basketball and setting your pan on the top of the ball. As you pour the batter into the pan, you would be sliding the pan around the sides of the ball in a full circle, so your batter moves in all directions.
You'll get the hang of this, trust me. At first your crepes will be thick. After a while, you can make paper-thin crepes with ease.
Second thing you'll notice is that they cook fast. I have a numbered gas stove, so I usually put it on 6 or 7 (out of 10). Medium or medium-high is the ticket. Unlike a pancake, you won't see bubbles form. You need to look at the color change and browned edges. Sometimes you'll flip too soon and sometimes too late. Don't worry about it, practice makes perfect!
The third thing you'll notice is that as you continue using your mix, the crepes appear a bit dryer. That's the butter in your pan being absorbed by each prior crepe. Maybe every 3 or 4 crepes, add a thin sliver of butter and whirl around.
The end result is spectacular. You an eat these with any type of syrup, jam or jelly. My wife loves them with rum-simmered bananas. I love them with white-wine-simmered strawberries.
Either way, you'll enjoy!
Thursday, October 14, 2010
Spanish food rocks! I was inspired for this dish by Jose Andres and his Made in Spain show.
One thing you'll soon pick up (if you cook enough) is that recipes in books, TV, etc. are never what they seem. They tell you cook this for 10 minutes, and it really needs 50 minutes. They say add 1 tsp of a spice and you really need 2 Tbs. That's why you can't cook without some degree of intuition.
If you've ever followed a recipe exactly as stated and wondered why it tastes like crap, here's why: the recipe is a general idea of the sought after dish. It's a Cliff's Notes version of the real task of making something.
So here's what I'd like you to do. Take a recipe from your favorite book or TV show. Get out everything they tell you to do. Now double the spices, except the salt. Yes, DOUBLE THE SPICES. Try it. What happens? Well, for one, maybe you have a flavorful dish. Next time, cook whatever it is you're cooking for twice as long. See what happens. You'll be surprised, and you'll learn something in the process.
Enough of that, here's how I made my Spanish meal.
Arroz con Vieiras y Alcachofas [Rice with Scallops and Artichokes]:
First, get your sofrito. You'll need at least three large dollops of that.
Take three large ripe artichokes and get them down to the hearts. Here's a pretty decent video on getting it down to the heart, so watch it if you don't know what you're doing. Store the hearts in a large bowl of cold water with some fresh lemon juice and Italian parsley. When you're ready for them, cut each heart into 8 pieces (4 if they're small).
Get a handful of clean mushrooms, and chop them.
Pour a couple Tbs of olive oil in a large pan and drop in your artichokes. After about 2 minutes, add your mushrooms. Fry this all up for about 5-7 minutes, adding 1/2 cup of white wine somewhere along the line. Then, add your sofrito. Stir it and mix well, being careful not to burn the mixture. Add three cups of water and bring to a boil, while stirring. Once boiling, add 1 cup of arborio rice. Mix well and boil on medium-high heat for about 5 minutes, then cover and lower heat for about 15 minutes.
Add juice from a lemon, and one Tbs smoked paprika, as well as 2 bay leaves. Mix well and put the lid back on for another 20 minutes or so. Low heat.
Meanwhile, add salt and pepper on your scallops (about 1 handful of bay scallops). Pan fry them in olive oil for 2 minutes. You do this right before your rice is done. You're going to add these into your rice when it's done. Once you add them in, mix well and you're good to go!
Camarones a la parilla [Shrimp on the grill]:
Take 1/2 shrimp and marinate in 1/2 cup white wine, handful of chopped parsley, juice from 1 lemon, salt, pepper and paprika. Thread onto a skewer and grill for about 2 minutes per side.
Escarole (pan fried):
Wash and chop a head of escarole. Heat olive oil in a large pan and fry it for 2 minutes. Add 2 Tbs water, put a lid on and cook down for a couple minutes. Take off the lid, add some kosher salt and you're done!
This whole meal works well with a bit of aioli (mayo, olive oil and pressed garlic).
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
This is a base for Spanish cooking. It's really simple, but do it right and do it well.
Finely dice one large onion. Sautee it in olive oil until translucent, but not browned. Add 3 cloves pressed garlic and stir for 30 seconds. Add one large can of crushed tomatoes (24oz). Mix well, reduce to medium-low or low heat and cook for about 30-40 minutes, stirring often.
Some things are exactly as they appear. You might look at a dish and think it's complex, but simplicity is a key to cooking. Although I'm not afraid to be in the kitchen all day long, I tend to gravitate towards meals that take 30 minutes or less. In fact, most of my recipes can be executed from start to finish in a very short time - most under 30 minutes.
Anyway, here's a simple, but intensely flavorful dish you'll want to try right away.
Sweet and Salty Pan Fried Shrimp:
As the name suggests, these are sweet (sugar) and salty (salt). Take 1 pound of shrimp and mix with 2 tbs sugar and 1 tbs salt. Set aside for 15 minutes. Shake off or rinse off excess salt/sugar. Boom, they're ready to cook. Heat 1 tbs vegetable oil, and pan fry for 2-3 minutes.
This is a brilliant addition to shrimp. Cook 1/2 back of edamame according to instructions. Drain and shell the beans into a processor. Squeeze some wasabi into the beans and add 1/2 water. Start your processor. Slowly add water into the mix until you reach your desired consistency. Taste. You may need more wasabi, or you might need a little kosher salt. Add some if you need it, mix again, and then you're ready for use. This can be eaten warm, or cold. If you refrigerate it, it may turn a little firm, so you may have to add a little water and mix before use if it's too cold.
Chop your favorite mushrooms. I used crimini, but you could use just about any type. Add some olive oil to a pan and start frying your mushrooms. After about 1 minute, add 1/4 sake. Keep stirring and frying. Cook up for another 3-5 minutes. Add some kosher salt and you're ready to go.
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
This is a take on your typical sushi bar baked scallop dish. It's straight-forward, flavorful and easy to fit in your counter broiler.
Spicy Baked Scallops:
Set aside 1 or 2 cups of bay scallops. Make sure they're completely thawed, drained of any liquid. Put them in ramekins about 1/2 full. Add some spoonfuls of mayonnaise, and some squirts of Sriracha. Finely chop some green onions and add them into the mix. Mix well.
Place in your mini-oven or broiler and make on high for about 10 minutes, or until nicely browned and charred on top.
Monday, October 11, 2010
This is one of the easiest dishes to make, and it has so much flavor. Literally two ingredients - miso paste and salmon. I think it works best with a salmon steak, although you could do it with a fillet. Ultimately, the steak is superior and broils nicely.
Broiled Miso Salmon:
Take a salmon steak about 1 to 1 1/2 inches thick. Slather it in miso paste, put it in a zip lock bag, and put it in the fridge for at least 4 hours. You can even put it in the miso overnight.
When you're ready, let the salmon rest on the counter at least 15 minutes before you cook it. Heat your broiler. If you've had the miso in the bag longer than a couple of hours, you'll want to rinse it off before you cook it. Otherwise, just wipe off the excess miso.
Broil this for about 7 minutes on the first side, then flip and broil for another 7-10 minutes until it's cooked through and nicely charred.
Enjoy this with a pan fried vegetable (like spinach & garlic or something like that) and some rice.
Sunday, October 10, 2010
This was a slight twist on my Scallop Ceviche recipe. I originally used this for a Kentucky Derby party, but this version was for a small family gathering.
So, if you want to make this, follow my original recipe, but in the gremolata, add some minced green onion, and a splash of ponzu sauce. Also, you'll notice the color in the sauce on this one is much deeper orange than the original. For this version, I used honey tangerines. I wanted the scallops to rest in a sauce, so I made some fresh honey tangerine sauce (juice from 2, plus lemon juice, walnut oil, ponzu, and sugar), and made it ice cold to pour over before serving.
Saturday, October 9, 2010
Persian food is fantastic. In fact, all Middle Eastern food is fantastic. I'm a big fan. Along with North African/Moroccan, these are some of my favorite foods to cook and eat.
But, I'm not very experienced cooking Persian food, specifically. This was a first for me.
I had Fesenjan one time in a restaurant more than a decade ago, and another time at someone's house, but other than that, it was just a craving I had. Pomegranates were on sale at Wholesome Choice, and it just made sense.
I wasn't sure what to do as a vegetable, but cucumbers sounded really good and I also had some dried apricots on hand. Also had some bulgur on hand. Tabbouleh! Add some basmati rice, and that's a meal.
Fesenjan (Persian Chicken in Pomegranate Walnut Sauce):
Start with 1-2 pounds of chicken. I used chicken breast tenders, because I'm not a big fan of dark meat, but I think this would probably be wonderful with dark meat. I browned the chicken in a small amount of olive oil, and set aside.
Dry roast 1/2 cup walnuts in a hot pan - do not burn!! Drop those into a processor and chop without turning into a paste. Set aside.
Meanwhile, finely dice 1 large onion and fry it in a bit of olive oil. Add 4-5 pressed garlic cloves, a sprinkle of cinnamon, and some salt and pepper. Continue frying another minute or two.
Add in your walnuts, and about 1/2 cup of pomegranate molasses, also juice from 2 pomegranates, about 1 1/2 or 2 cups water, a couple table spoons of sugar, some salt and pepper. Add your chicken back in, along with any juices. Mix well, bring to a slow boil, and them cover and reduce to low and simmer for 30 minutes.
After about 30 minutes, use two forks to shred the chicken. Also add juice from 4 lemons. Mix well and have heat on lowest setting. If your meal is becoming too dry, add a small amount of water - maybe 1/2 cup.
Simmer for another 45 minutes to an hour. Check the flavor. Need it sweeter? Add some sugar. More 'brightness'? Add some lemon juice. Salt or pepper?
In the end, you want a well-melded, flavorful dish.
Take 1 cup of wheat bulgur and cover with water at least 3 times the amount. Set aside for at least 30 minutes, but better for 1 hour. Drain well, and squeeze through a clean cloth or paper towels. Set in a large mixing bowl.
Finely chop a handful of parsley, and a handful of mint. Add to the bulgur. Chop 1/2 cucumber, and add in. Chop up some dried apricots and add in. Pour some olive oil (maybe 1-2 Tbs), and juice from 2 lemons. Mix well and place in the fridge.
After about 30 minutes, mix well and taste. Add salt and lemon juice, as necessary.
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
On a hot day, you need something cool. This salad screams cool. Only four ingredients, and less than 10 minutes to make, it's a classic Summer dish.
I'm partial to somen - it's a Japanese noodle, thin, quick to cook, very adaptable, etc. A common drawback of somen, though, is it's ability to wick up liquids and flavors surrounding it. It left too long, it may turn to mush. That's why you want to cook this quick, cool it quick, and eat it quick. No problem there.
Cold Shrimp and Somen Salad:
Boil some water, add raw shrimp, and cook for 2-4 minutes.
Boil some more water, add the somen noodles and cook according to instructions (about 2-3 minutes). Immediately drain and rinse under cold water or put them in an ice water bath, then drain. The point is that you want to stop the noodles from cooking, and cool them down.
Cube some Summer fruit - watermelon, cantelope, papaya, mango...something like that.
Create a bed of romain, spinach or red leaf lettuce. Add your noodles on top. Add your fruit and shrimp on top of that. Put the plate in the fridge while you make your dressing.
Dressing - pour 1/4 cup rice vinegar in a mixing bowl. Add some sugar. Add some sesame oil. Sqeeze a lemon or lime into it. Mix well.
Drizzle dressing over your salad, and toss some kosher salt over the whole thing. You're good to go!