Shaved Fennel, Roasted Beets & Paula Red Apple Salad followed by Seared Sea Scallops over Celery Root Puree & Spaghetti Squash with Balsamic-Sage Brown Butter

Yesterday was quite a whirlwind of a day, chock full of meaningful human interaction, coachable moments and a kitchen alive with fervor.  Three Corporate chefs, each paired with one young grasshopper or Sous Chef hopeful, descended upon my kitchen.  Their mission: to produce three vegetarian dishes each, in two hours time,  to be served to a gathering of 15 or so other Corporate glitterati.  Six extra life forms in my kitchen alone is enough to challenge my time-space continuum let alone the addition of their beets, apples, eggplant, peppers, arborio rice, liquid eggs, kitchen gadgets, awkward clumsiness and selfish intensity.  None the less my kitchen was humming & buzzing with activity and that my friends is what charges my batteries. 

So, as these three teams focused on their marching orders I quietly found a tiny little corner of my own kitchen in which to prepare a 3 course lunch for 8.  And the steps of preparation I will share with you now.

For the first course I prepared a salad of Shaved Fennel, Roasted Beets & Paula Red Apples with a Sweet Cider Gastrique & Vinaigrette and Sheeps Milk Cheddar.  I gathered, removed tops and washed 3 medium sized beets.  Place beets in a roasting pan like a pyrex lasagna dish, add some fennel seed or 4 pieces of  star anise, 2 Tbls of olive oil and 1/2 cup of water.  Cover pan tightly with foil and wack in the oven for about an hour until beets are tip of  a pairing knife tender.  Let these cool down before peeling.  While beets are roasting take care of the gastrique by reducing some apple cider and lil’ bit of sugar with a piece of cinnamon bark, more fennel seed and a slice of fresh ginger.  When this is reduced by 75% or syrupy if you will, add a splash of white balsamic vinegar.  Reserve s0me of this gastrique to dot or streak your plate with.  Use the remainder to make a vinaigrette with some whole grain mustard, pure olive oil, not extra virgin and some more white balsamic….use the vinegar to achieve the sweet-tart balance that you prefer….oh and whisk, whisk,whisk to emulsify. You have time to shave your fennel on a mandolin or slicer, cut match sticks from your Paula Reds and splash them with some vinegar to curb oxidation.  Toss the fennel with some baby beet greens or arugula.  So, the beets are cool…peel them and cut into 1/8 inch thick discs.  Line each plate with 3 overlapping discs of beet.  Season your fennel & greens with kosher salt & fresh ground black pepper then dress with your vinaigrette.  Mount…i said mount your greens and fennel atop the beets…this is why food is so sexy.  gently lay your apple match sticks atop the greens, shave your sheeps milk cheddar atop this then dot, drizzle or streak all with the gastrique.  You can use the tip of a spoon to do this or a squeeze bottle or a small zip lock bag with a tiny bit of the corner cut off. 

Second course of seared sea scallops over celery root puree &  spaghetti squash with balsamic-sage brown butter:

Grab 2 medium sized celeriac or celery root, peel them down and cube.  Simmer in some milk until knife tip tender.  Strain from the milk and place in a food processor or blender.  Slowly add the warm milk while machine is spinning until you have a smooth puree.  Keep puree warm or just give it a zap in the micro when ready to plate up.  You should have already split 2 whole spaghetti squash lengthwise and placed them cut side down on a cookie sheet that you have pan sprayed, and spray the tops of the squash too.  Roast squash in a 350 degree oven for about an hour or until they are tender as well.  Come to think of it you should have done this step with your beets…it would conserve energy i suppose.  Once the squash is cool enough to handle, remove the seeds.  Then take a fork and gently drag the tines through the squash perpendicular to lengthwise so you get long strands that resemble spaghetti…hence the name.  Reserve the squash for plating and same deal, either keep warm or zap in the micro.  Make a beurre noisette or brown butter.  Noisette meaning hazelnut in French as this is the reminiscent aroma of brown butter.  So be very careful, don’t burn the butter but let the milk solids settle to the bottom and get toasty and let the foamy stuff dissipate.  Smell it…you’ll know if you nailed it.  At this point throw some fresh chopped sage in…careful again, it’s going to erupt.  Reserve some of this heavenly concoction in another small sauce pan and add a couple splashes of balsamic and reduce for 2 minutes or so.  This will be for the scallops.  The rest of the brown butter is to dress the spaghetti squash, which you will also season with salt & fresh black pepper.  Now time sear the scallops.  Shake a little wondra flour on these pups, it will foster a nice carmelized crust on them.  Get one side nice and crispy, paper bag brown color, flip over for 1 minute then remove to a sheet pan so you can blast them in the oven just before plating…..I am assuming that you have not overcooked your scallops but rather they are still slightly undercooked in th  middle.  Okay, so time to bring it together…place a smear of celery root puree on each plate, some dressed and seasoned squash in the middle of this;  then after you have blasted the scallops in the oven to bring up to proper doneness, mount 4 or 5 scallops atop the squash and drizzle some of that sexy balsamic brown butter on all. 

If you’re like me you have served your salad already, eaten it with your guests then run back to the kitchen to put your scallop dish together because you did most of the leg work prior to crunch time.  I’m not saying you’re not going to be in full sweat by now but hopefully you’ve been tipping back some tasty libations and you don’t really give a shit bout that anyway.

Oh yeah, dessert, well I didn’t make it…my amazing Sous Chef did.  It was gingerbread cake with caramel whipped cream and a compote of gingered pears …..it was fucking killer !!  Go crazy

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One thing is certain…hearts will be broken

a cascade of golden sunshine by surprise as rain clouds break

 a ruby-red starburst behind pursed heavenly lips

 sensuous velvety chocolate cream pie kisses

a playful phantasm of  light dancing thru a prism…beautifully transformed in cadence

……………………………………………………………….

as a waterfall invigorates, if leashed all magnificence and awe seize

as a snowflake inspires, if touched despair reigns 

or an early spring meadow dew, as the day warms dreams are dashed

the scent of a cool breeze drifts in from the sea and the sun disappears….and so does she

………………………………………………………….

the stars gaze and smile for they are wise in the sky

 destiny laughs in the face of fear as the winged baby aims precisely

mortal man stands by as harmony awaits in the story of unturned pages

a gossamer thread intricately woven as words in the tale of  futile love

…………………………………………………………

what hand masters the strings upon which these souls dance to the rhythm of fate

the battle is fierce as committment and rules, compassion and worry dig in

divine intervention and  free will conspire as circumstance strategizes his march

and unrequited love screams justice as the universe awaits the call while celestial forms take position

………………………………………………………………….

fear steers, society binds and imagination teeters on the lip of a cliff, doom and chaos wait with the jester below

let the cards fall with unabashed courage and may hope prevail

in love and war a slight of hand and all else is fair

One thing is certain….hearts will be broken

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The Whoopie Pie that tamed The Scorpion

A reference to thebhj  and his post about his daughter turning six.

There is this alien creature living in my house that happens to be my 13-year-old daughter.  She gets herself up every morning while we lie sleeping.  If not for her intrusion into our bedroom to use our bathroom I might not catch a glimpse of her before she slithers off to school. 

Her routine starts at 5:45 am with a 16oz glass of orange juice and ESPN.  She primps, obsesses and huffs, which also sometimes affords me the chance to notice her, until she jets out the front door to catch the bus.  If I happen to rise early either out of ambition or a nudge from my wife I might embark on a pre-dawn encounter with this strange being.  I might engage conversation with an offer to make a cheese sandwich for her lunch or I might get blitzed with snap finger demands like “can you make me an omelette?” or “where is my Northface?”. 

So off she goes and I am left disoriented.  No hugs but only a mumbling of  “love you” in response to my “I LOVE YOU !!!” and I think maybe it’s just out of habit for her because I thought I should tell my children “I LOVE YOU” a million times a day since day one because I don’t ever remember hearing it myself  growing up.  And little girls and boys too like to hear and say “i love you” alot….but she is not little anymore.  And I realize that I don’t get my ass out of bed early enough to just be there in the morning so she is not all alone and so grown up so fast.  And why don’t I ?  Well I should because I am sure this is the stuff she will remember and it’s getting really late in the game here. 

And she comes home from school and maybe I’m home that day and maybe 2 days have passed since I have last seen her.  You would never know I was in the room and she thinks that I am a plant table that someone placed in the middle of the kitchen floor and she digs right into the second half of that jar of Nutella with barely a hello.  And I realize why I was afraid of girls in 8th grade and 9th & 10th…..and so on.  And after “how was school?” falls flat on its face I get right into “when was the last time you cleaned the cat box?” and this is how I came to be known as the Dad who the only thing I talk to my daughter about is whether or not she has cleaned the cat box.  So I agreed with my lovely wife that I will not be the one to inquire about the damn cat box anymore.  Maybe I haven’t given it enough time but there have been no major breakthroughs in bonding and the fucking cat box has 5 days of shit in it.  So another good reason to get my ass moving earlier …..I’ll scoop the poop okay.

And off she goes again to cheerleading practice this time.  And it’s 4 days a week and like 8 hours on Sundays and it’s year-round because it’s not the cheerleading you’re thinking of.  So she will be home by 9:30 pm, then she will eat dinner…either a plate that I left her or she will make herself an omelette if she doesn’t like what I’ve prepared and she makes a damn good omelette by now because we’ve worked on that together.  And I’m not allowed to ask about her homework because she is a straight A student but I don’t know how she does it because she is always coming & going but mostly going.  I might get lucky or the planets may align and I can steal a few minutes with her as we watch the Food Network and she enjoys the Whoopie Pie I’ve made for her because I believe that is my way to her heart and she recharges her batteries before bed. 

 And even though I’m also known as the Dad who hates competitive cheerleading because it sucks and they rape my wallet at the competitions by charging me admission to an event after I’ve already sunk thousands of dollars into gym fees, airfare, motel rooms, accessories and fucking crappy food……I support her endeavor because she loves it and she is awesome.  And she is ripped, solid muscle and beautiful.  And I don’t like to stereotype but the groupies and all the freaks that surround this whole racket make my skin squirm and the music is loud and throbbing and it goes on and on and on.  So it just seems like another roadblock,  another contrariety in our relationship.

I press on and frequently, politely beg for a hug, fearing adverse outcomes.  Sometimes I’m obliged with a one-armed sideways hug because she is becoming a young women and I’m guessing she feels uncomfortable about her maturation and it makes me uncomfortable too.  And I so often ask her out to lunch or a movie only to be rejected.  And again I realize why I was afraid of girls and all the times that I wish I took more chances looking back maybe I’m glad that I didn’t. 

This past Friday she left again with her Mom to Washington D.C. for another competition and right before she left I experienced another beautiful moment in my life, that I took the time to relish.  As we stood there preparing to say goodbye, with her little sister hovering, she gave me a two armed hug, all shoulders… no chest and her little sister was so inspired that she exclaimed “I LOVE YOU!!” to her big sister and they hugged and Mom & Dad let out a huge Awww and each wiped away a tiny tear.  At that moment I realized that the breakthroughs are fleeting and I might feel at times that they will never come again.  But they do come, sometimes by surprise but often contrived or at least nudged along because relationships are hard work but if motivated by love the benefits are so sweet and so worth every bit of energy.

So I resolved to construct my Whoopie Pies and fill them with raspberry cream and drizzle them with melted Nutella and sprinkle them with powdered sugar in an effort to  tame The Scorpion.  I will take the nudgings and put them to good use….I will get my ass out of bed.  I will not however disclose that the cake was made with Guinness Stout or enforce the Bear Hug for she may become startled and strike or retreat. 

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Rootbeer Floats

I thought it was a fine idea.  A petting zoo of kids.  That’s right….not for, of.  This would be a  venture that I would silently back.  I’m done running my own business.  I would support this idea of dropping your kids off at THEIR petting zoo because I need a fucking break from my kids and other kids sometimes. 

Just drop the little ankle biters off when you’ve had enough and you need some extra drink money.  Yeah, you get $$$ when you pick them up because other folks will pay major bucks to swing by and pet your kids.  I suppose this is where Mr. Perversion hijacked my concept.  Petting is a term of endearment you jackasses.  I’m getting these strange looks from the people I confide in.  Why do I continue to share my most prized revelations with them.  They’re looking at me like I’m the pervert.

I have the most adorable looking kids.  My little monsters are so god damned cute looking,  people just want to pet them.  I understand it is a partial statement, coming from me, the father but it also happens to be factual…….strangers walking by have told me many times.  They are animals though and as damn cute as they may look they sometimes need to be caged or penned….whatever you want to term it.

So, it’s a great idea right ?  I would pay money to pet my kids if they weren’t my kids or I might even pay money to pet your kids if they caught my attention.  Kids can be so freaking cute sometimes.  Mr. Perversion is not allowed in the petting zoo okay.  This is strictly reserved for the adoration in a non-perverted way of handsome children.  And yes, there is a screening process…..no fugly kids allowed…..they wouldn’t make you any money anyway as you would soon find out.  I’ll think of something else to do with them later…..maybe they could pick up trash along a busy highway.

So, I’m getting these looks from these parents that I’ve shared this brilliant idea with and they just don’t get it.  I’ve been entertaining their kids for the past 2 days and I’m a little burnt out.  The intensity level of the fun I’ve introduced them to has tipped the scales of good and clean…..I’ve resorted to holding them upside down by the ankles and dunking their cute little toeheads in the icy galvanized beverage tub.  And that was funny until one of the Moms pointed out that it wasn’t.  At this point the little monsters are all crying because they have never had so much fun in their lives.  It’s time for the petting zoo so I can go fucking ski or drink or both.  And the only one who gets it is my 4 year old…..the part about drink money….because she goes through gallons of apple juice a day.  I love that kid.

Get with the program parents.  Either we drop the chirrens off at the petting zoo and make some cash at the end of the day or Uncle makes Rootbeer Floats all day long and we play hard, laugh, cry and learn how swear with dignity.

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Set Back Saturday

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Linguini with Clams

Why is it that life’s most precious gifts are most cherished after the moment has long passed ?  Those beautiful occasions forever embossed on your brain, reinforced with photographs and  accompanying letters.  The fleeting winks you must absorb and live with ferocious fanaticism lest they never come again.  And by the same token the tragedies you have witnessed and the mistakes you have made seem to tear at your insides for eternity, challenging your self-esteem, value to society and determination to start each day anew.  Snap shots of time that can’t be re-lived yet they play over in your mind like some relentless curse or reoccurring dream that won’t shake. It is all a part of the live and learn process I guess….but sometimes while we are living we are struck with a brief case of amnesia about what we have already learned and the moment  passes leaving us with desire, regret, sorrow and a yearning to go back.

My father had fought prostate cancer for some 7 years or so.  Hormone treatments and frequent trips to Slone Kettering Cancer Center in NYC seemed to be keeping things at bay.  He had an incredible passion for life….always, even before the cancer.  This made it difficult to get inside his head about what his own sense of finality was.  Pop always lived each day like it was his last.  And conversations of death didn’t happen, at least between us.  By 2005 his condition was changing or one could say in retrospect, getting progressively worse.  My Dad and Stepmom had just sunk some retirement  money into a two bedroom condo in Bradenton, FL.  They both were golfing as much as the weather would permit both up North and in Florida,  though it was not uncommon to hear a story about Dad on the golf course in December, 35 degrees out and a thin cover of snow on the ground…..he played those rounds solo.  He was talking about buying a bass boat and I was excited about that. 

That whole winter season down south was miserable for both of them.  The majority of time spent making 3 hour round trip treks to Tampa to another cancer treatment center….he was determined to stay in the warm weather even though returning North and resuming visits to Sloan may have been the wiser choice.  The first year in their new digs was not enjoyable and best be forgotten.

Thanksgiving came around and I packed up my family for the trek to visit Dad at his house, the town where I grew up, in the Hudson Valley.  I had recently written him a letter pouring out some emotions.  Stuff that he probably didn’t want to think about……you know death and dying shit….how much I admired him and valued him as a role model well maybe he wasn’t the best role model but he had heart and charisma…..mushy, mushy, ,mushy stuff.  He and I never got mushy with each other.  It was only but 10 years or so that we started giving hugs when getting together or parting ways.  He used to hug me all the time when I was a kid….why did that stop for so long….I wish it hadn’t.  Well, I never got his take on the letter I wrote him.  No phone call, no letter back….nothin’.  So, I was curious as to whether he received it or not.  I went snooping around up at his dresser but found nothing.  I didn’t bring it up.

He was excited about having us up for Thanksgiving.  He was an incredible cook with unabashed style and creativity.  He cooked what he wanted to eat and it was most of the time excellent.  His knees were bad from all the years of high intensity sports…basketball, tennis, badminton etc… plus he was a big guy at 220 lbs. and bad knees run in the family.  In general his faculties were in disrepair from the past months of treatment and I knew he would need help pulling off this dinner.  He was intense, barking out orders, making a huge mess in his kitchen but mostly in great spirits…probably drinking a few beers too.  My stepmother was always the one to take the brunt of his incessant demands…..even long before his illness.  She oh so lovingly obliged most all of his needs, occasionally replying with wit and mild sarcasm but always a genuine smile encouraging  challenging him to fend for himself because he was a big boy now.  Man….sometimes I’d be in the house, unbeknownst  to him and I’d here him bellow from upstairs, SUE !…..she’d be outside or something.  I would here crashing around up there and then he’d be down in the kitchen with a towel wrapped around himself, all red in the face and scowling, shocked by my presence.  I’d say smirkingly, “whatdaya looking for Pop”…….he wouldn’t tell but it was his freaking  jockstrap, cause it was Thursday night…..tennis night.  I thought that shit was the most hilarious reoccurring comedy that took place it that house….and I’d razz him about it every time.

So, the dinner went off okay, I helped out a bit but he caused a mini scene, embarrassing moment some slight uncomfortableness.  He was demanding about the order of courses served and other silly shit like garnishing, temperature and spoon size for the soup.  He was taking it out on my stepmom and it was pissing me off.  It was a tough call because of his condition and all but I gently put him in his place and told him to quit it.  Dinner was delicious and we had plenty of laughs too.

We were leaving that evening so I started the process of loading up the chariot with family of five weekend getaway luggage half the fucking house plus gifts from grandparents.  We were having trouble with the car battery or alternator or something and I had just purchased this piece of shit battery charger that wasn’t working.  I was all pent up with the emotions of the day, my panties were in a bunch and I started acting like my father.  I am his son afterall.  I was causing my own mini scene about not getting the car started.  I’m out in the driveway and finally got the damn thing started and threw it into reverse almost running poor Dad over in his own driveway…wouldn’t have known it but for the rap of his fist on the side panel.  He came limping around the passenger side of the car so I rolled down the window and blurted “what are you an idiot, you want to get run over?”  He softly replied, with his own little battery charger in hand “thought you might want to try this one”.  My heart sunk and I  gulped out “thanks, I got it”.  We left that evening after exchanging hugs.

By Monday Dad’s condition had drastically changed for the much worse.  It was as if he expended every last bit of energy on that Thanksgiving dinner.  Sue got him back down to Sloan for a three week stay…he was in rough shape.  By the Friday before Christmas he was back up at Vassar Brothers Hospital with Docs somewhat baffled but working hard to keep a fever down.  He had an infection that worked it’s way to his heart.  So I made the trek again back to the homeland by myself this time. 

I guess I caught him on a good day that Friday at Vassar Brothers because he was upright and hungry.  He wanted Italian food from some local joint that he raved about in Poughkeepsie.  I asked him what he felt like, that I’d be happy to go run for it.  He said “I want a menu”…….did I hear that right as I glanced over at my stepmother.  Normally I would have said “what are you freaking crazy”…It’s a red sauce Italian joint…just like ordering Chinese food….same menu every place you go.  But I stifled it and said “sure Dad…I’ll go get one”.  It was only 10 minutes down the road anyway and just the reminder of the comedian, crazy ass that my Dad was made it all the more worth it….all I could do was laugh and cry a little too. 

I get the menu back to him and he ponders it for a few minutes then exclaims “Linguini with Clams…lets get some Linguini with Clams”.  Okay, done.  I felt like Linguini with Clams too.  So I called the place, ordered our stuff and then called my brother to tell him to swing by the restaurant and pick up our order on his way over. 

There we were, the four of us, enjoying our last meal together in that depressing hospital room with Dad in his Johnny.  I hate those god damned things…..Johnies.  No one should have to eat one of their last memorable meals in one, nor with someone in one, nor have visitors while wearing one….they’re stupid !  That was it.  Although there was still a glimmer of hope that Dad would pull out of this mess because he had more zest for life than anyone I know and because he was a strong  Ox I knew the end was near.  That was the most memorable Linguini with Clams I will ever eat.  Not because of the clams at all but because of that beautiful yet so sad occasion forever engraved on my brain of us all together mostly getting along and Pop exercising his true form with his crazy, yet honest demands.

He passed away a few weeks later on January 12th 2006.  Not peacefully, not gracefully, not free of pain and discomfort and not quickly.  It was a crappy way to go but he fought to the very bitter end.  If you have a momentary lapse of compassion or memory and forget what you already have learned then you are only human.  Pick yourself back up and try to do better the next time.  I called my Dad an idiot and I’ll never forget that, yet I know it didn’t get him down because not much did get him down and it probably made him tickle inside because it reminded him of the way we got along when I was a teenager which wasn’t so bad at all anyways.  And more importantly because I know I didn’t mean it and I’m sure he knew that I loved him unconditionally.  There are no do overs, no replays, only todays and tomorrows ……… savor your Linguini with Clams moments and never deny yourself the innate right to love, cry, laugh, apologize and express your emotions openly, with fervor.  I love you Dad !   R.I.P.  11/07/1939 – 1/12/2006

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Are You Passionate ?

Are you “influenced or dominated by intense emotion or strong feeling” thank you Random House.  Do you wear it on your sleeve everyday ?   Those lifeless drones out there who show up to their uneventful jobs, who wake up everyday to their mundane lives….you know who you are.  That was  me, yup…..been to that place before, still visit it occasionally.  I’m sure you all have at some point…..even sporadically dispersed throughout your otherwise passionate lives.  Writers block, the daily grind, same shit different day, How you doin ? “Not bad”  WTF….how much better is “not bad” from absolutely fucking miserable….on the brink of disaster or go away you bug me.  Well, passion is in there somewhere.  Yes, in everyone…i know it.  Don’t ask how, i just do.  It is squelched, disguised, hiding, smothered…you get the point.  Is it a question of validity….is your passion worthy, respectable, healthy, self-destructive, harmful, profitable ?  It is your passion….piss off those opinions.  How about those lucky bastards, intuitive geniuses, selfish Mo FO’s, sell outs, politicians, celebrity chefs  oops don’t dis them ahemmm, celebrity chefs and remarkable people who have found a way to parlay their passion into a viable career and a balanced life.  And what is this silly new literary tool that allows you to cross out what you’re really thinking but still let it peep thru.  I’m passionate about using it more often.  Speak up if you’re out there you freaks who have it all figured out.  Is it even possible…something has to give.  What if you have multiple passions…..where is the space for other important crap you gotta take care of or that someone else is expecting you to take care of.  I got it……I’ll be passionate about being the person you want me to be.  It will feed itself just like every good passion should.  Here’s another thing…raging, roaring fires of passion don’t die if they are not fed.  They smolder, simmer, ferment…it is your eternal flame man…like a dormant volcano.  Unleash your passion, set it free……go find it again….you will recognize it when you see it.  Your passion will not die but you surely will if you do not answer it.  Oh, one last thing…don’t hurt anybody or cause irreparable damage to any person or thing that is deemed valuable to any person .  You can piss people off if you want but be prepared to live with the consequences….you know this.  Go on…Go….. get to it.  I’m gonna go get passionate with my Hennepin Belgian Style Saison.

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