Archive for December, 2011

December 26, 2011

Culinary Challenge: Christmas Edition

Question: What do you do when the power goes out just as your stepmom is about to put her Christmas pie into the oven?


You bust out the gas grill.

Anyone who has talked to me about Top Chef knows that I think many of the challenges they make the contestants perform are completely  ridiculous, not to mention a poor means of judging whether or not they are actually talented chefs. However, when the power went out on Christmas and I came up with the idea of using the gas grill to cook the pie, I felt like I had just landed in a surprise twist elimination challenge.

To achieve an oven-like cooking environment, I lit only the burners on one side and used a roasting rack and a baking tray to raise the pie away from the direct heat. After getting the temperature to about 475 degrees, I quickly popped the pie and closed it up. The cold air dropped the temperature just below 425 (proper pie-cooking temperature, or so I was told) but it came back up in short time.

The end result was almost identical to a proper, oven-cooked pie. The only difference was a hint of smokiness in edges of the crust – honestly not a bad flavor pairing with the sharp, tart cherry filling.

There’s nothing remarkable about barbacueing a pie per say, it just isn’t an option most people think of when their oven goes AWOL. That’s the beauty of cooking though: the principles are universal, and once you know that it’s easy to alter the ingredients, the structure, or even the environment that you cook in, to get the results you want.

I’ll be returning to regular posting soon now that the holiday season is beginning to settle down. Until then, remember to cook adventurously and think outside the box when you’re in the kitchen. Happy Holidays!

December 8, 2011

Deconstructed Margherita Pizza with Mushrooms

Patrick and I are still working on our full write up of SliderPalooza. But I would never leave you, my dear readers, hanging.

So to keep your mind, eyes and stomach amused while we furiously try to fabricate recipes (which we never wrote down) and craft clever prose to bring them to life (we’re cooks, not poets!) I bring you a brief intermezzo: Deconstructed Margherita Pizza with Mushrooms.

This recipe is the perfect example of the right reason to deconstruction something. Although the technique always make for a phenomenal presentation, the real benefit of deconstructing a dish is allowing each component of the dish to shine individually.

Margherita pizza is composed of a handful of bold ingredients. And though I could have made this with simply those ingredients, I decided to bring mushrooms into the dish as well to add another dimension to both the flavor and texture. When baked together in a pizza the ingredients create a classic, flavorful dish. Separate, each component becomes the star of its own act in a play.

First, the sweetness of the cherry tomatoes bursts forth as the roasted exterior gives way. Then you get the crunchy, rustic flavor of the toasted foccacia. After that come the buttery, meaty seared mushrooms followed by the salty, creamy goat cheese mozzarella. Finally everything comes to a close with a hit of basil that lingers on your tongue.

These deconstructed bites make wonderful appetizers, and can also serve as the perfect amuse-bouche for an full course Italian meal. No matter how you’re serving them, they’re bound to impress!

Deconstructed Margherita Pizza with Mushrooms

  • 1 carton cherry tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 loaf focaccia bread
  • 5 medium-sized mushrooms, cut into 1/8 inch slices
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon pepper
  • 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup basil leaves, torn into 1 inch x 1 inch squares
  • 1/4 cup of goat cheese mozzarella, crumbled into pieces approximately 1/2 inch in diameter
  • toothpicks

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Cover a baking tray with aluminum foil and empty the cherry tomatoes onto it. Add the olive oil and balsamic vinegar and toss until the tomatoes are evenly coated. Add the fresh ground pepper and place in the oven. Cook for 20-30 minutes or until the skins of the tomatoes just begin to crack. Remove from the oven.
  2. Switch the oven to broil on high. Place the focaccia loaf in the oven and toast for four minutes, or until golden brown on top. Flip the loaf and toast for another 2 minutes, then remove.
  3. Heat a skillet to high heat. Add the butter and allow it to cook until it just begins to brown. Add the mushrooms and toss until evenly coated. Cook until one side of the mushrooms are seared, approximately 4 minutes, then toss and repeat for the other side. Mushrooms should be golden brown on both sides when done.
  4. Cut the focaccia into 1 inch x 1 inch squares. Place a mushroom (or two) on each square.
  5. To assemble, use a toothpick to skewer a piece of basil, a tomato and a chunk of mozzarella. Carefully push the skewer into a focaccia and mushroom square. To serve, assemble the skewers on a platter of your choosing.
December 4, 2011

SliderPalooza Preview: Mashed Potato Slider with Apple-Fennel Slaw

Last week I finally got together with my old partner in culinary mischief, Patrick. Patrick is the Chef de Cuisine at the Crepe Cafe and Wine Bar, the same spot that I did my one and only stint in a restaurant. We’ve always had a knack for cooking together – before, during and after my time at the cafe – but we were long overdue for a little collaboration.

So we put our heads together to answer the most fundamental question of our joint cooking styles – “how can we take some creative license, create a variety of different dishes under a common theme and still leave our guests feeling satisfied?”

Our answer:  sliders.

The night was such a success that we have since  dubbed it SliderPalooza. We will be posting the full recap of the event – complete with pictures and, of course, recipes – in the coming week. In the mean time, here is a preview of one of five sliders that we put together: the Mashed Potato Slider with Apple-Fennel Slaw.

We love Thanksgiving and all of its leftovers, but eating plain mashed potatoes for a week straight becomes supremely boring about three days in, if not sooner. This recipe repurposes this holiday standby into a new and delicious package by flash-frying it and using as the ‘patty’ in this rustic, vegetarian slider.

The crispy-creamy mashed potato patty is topped with a perfectly balanced apple and fennel slaw. The sweetness of the apple plays off the earthy, licorice notes of the fennel and its fronds, while the light searing brings out the flavors while maintain the perfect amount of crunch in both ingredients.

The end result is a dish that plays jump rope with the line between sweet and savory. It can be a filling bite that makes a great starter for a protein heavy meal, or the perfect vegetarian dinner when plating four or five together. No matter how you serve it, it’s an easy way to do something exciting with one of the most common Thanksgiving leftovers.

Be sure to stay tuned for the SliderPalooza main post!

Mashed Potato Slider with Apple-Fennel Slaw

  • 3 cups leftover mashed potatoes, chilled
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 medium apple, cored, skinned and diced
  • 1 fennel bulb, diced
  • 1 tablespoon fennel fronds, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon pepper
  • 6-9 slider buns


  1. Form the mashed potato into slider sized patties. Combine the flour and salt and dust each side of the patty with the mixture.
  2. Heat a pan to medium-high heat. Add the butter and coat evenly. Quickly sear the mashed potato patties, approximately 1 minute on each side. Be sure not to overcook or the patties will fall apart.
  3. Heat a different pan to high heat. Add the apple, fennel, fronds and pepper to the pan and toss rapidly to evenly distribute the heat. Continue to cook for 3 to 5 minutes or until the apple and fennel just begin to get tender.
  4. Toast the slider buns in an over or toaster oven. To assemble, place a potato patty on each bun bottom half, add a heaping pile of apple-fennel slaw (remember, all sliders should be messy), and place the other half on top.
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