Archive for August, 2011

August 28, 2011

I Left My Heart in San Diego

by Jen Wanous

Safely nestled in Annie’s apartment, I waited out the monstrously destructive Hurricane Irene (note: read sarcastically) by enjoying Dark and Stormies made with fresh ginger beer. From this day forward I will come to regard all natural disasters as an opportune time to consume drinks that are closely associated with some environmental catastrophe. Mud Slide, anyone?

I almost didn’t make it home for hurricane cocktail hour as I am freshly back from a trip to visit my family in Southern California. With my shiny new “Chef” title, I thought that I would be asked to whip up meals for my near and dear but turns out; I hardly picked up a knife. Instead, I was still just “Jeni” to everyone back home and was thusly served lovely home cooked meals for much of my visit.

Living 3,000 miles away from my California heart is hard. People are going through hard and momentous times alike, babies are turning into kids and kids are turning into teens. I left feeling a longing, like I didn’t do quite enough catching up with friends and family. The days flew by and I savored all that I could, mostly through meals. There were BBQs, dinners, my mom’s pancakes and, of course, Peppertree, my high school stomping ground for the best chocolate peanut butter shake ever.

My life is very different from the lives of my friends who sling kids from their hips, juggle careers and manage a mortgage. One friend asked me about my Food Network audition, her eyes big and full of curiosity. After I told my tale, I asked about her due date and how she will balance having two children. Who can say what path is better? We each have our own unique life to live. Ideally we should all be able to commit ourselves to following our passions along the way, in both little and in big ways. As I write, I am reminding myself of this.

So many of us are away from loved ones. We communicate in our individual, meaningful ways, whether through thoughts or prayers, phone or Facebook. We all are connected to a broad network of people who care for us. I am so thankful to be a part of my particular network. I trust that the many ways we stay connected will fill each of us with the hope and courage it takes to follow our hearts in this world full of obstacles.

Fig, Arugala and Goat Cheese Salad with Balsamic Reduction Vinaigrette

Here is an easy end of summer salad for your next BBQ or family affair. My mom and I hosted a BBQ on the beach and I made a version of this salad. This is a Trader Joe’s friendly dish.

Ingredients:

1 bag washed arugala

6 oz goat cheese, crumbled

1 pint fresh figs, quartered

1 bag of salty and sweet pecans

Dressing:

½ cup balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons brown sugar (or maple syrup)

½ cup good olive oil

Generous Salt

Fresh ground pepper

Procedure:

To make the dressing, combine the balsamic and sugar in a small saucepan. Simmer over low for 15 mins, or longer, until the consistency is like thick syrup. Pour this mixture into a bowl, then with a whisk and a slow drizzle, add in the olive oil. Whip vigorously. Add S&P. Toss with all other ingredients.

Advertisements
August 15, 2011

Serving Cilantro Ice Cream: Believe It.

by Jen Wanous

A dear friend of mine from California, Ms. Kati Bissonette, celebrated her 30th birthday in the Big Apple. I love bringing people together in celebration and what better way to do that than with food! With a guest list of 10 for this dinner, I knew that I had to get a bigger table. I have the rare New York City luxury of having a large living/dining room.  I hopped on Craig’s List and found a folding table that would fit 10. A car trip and a tour inside a Brooklyn artist’s apartment later, I was the proud owner of a flea market-worthy six-foot long folding table.

Now, on to the dinner. I have started a tradition of creatively crafting a menu based on the guest of honor’s five favorite ingredients. I asked Kati what her fave five  were and this is what she said:

1. truffle oil

2. seared beef

3. pumpkin

4. cucumber

5. cilantro

Good ones, Kati! This gave me a lot to work with. I set out to my local co-op grocery store and picked up ingredients for the menu:

  • Drink: Lemongrass, lime and rum cocktail
  • Appetizer: Ginger butternut squash soup with truffle oil crutons
  • Dinner: Beef laarb, cucumber som tom and sticky rice
  • Dessert: Chocolate, coconut cake with cilantro ice cream
I know, cilantro ice cream is a bit out there. The guest of honor was skeptical too. Much to her amazement, the flavor won her over, and she gushed about how good it was. The combo of chocolate, coconut and cilantro paired nicely. It was sweet, decadent, creamy and refreshing in its herbal complexity. Happy 30th birthday Kati!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Cucumber Som Tom
Many years ago I lived in Bangkok and I loved this salad. This is a modified version of a Thai favorite from when I lived there.
Serves 4-6
1 clove garlic
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon sugar
8 cherry tomatoes, halved
hearty handful green beans, cut on a diagonal
1/4 cup peanuts, roasted
1 tablespoon fish sauce
juice of one lime
thai chili pepper to taste
2 large cucumbers, cut into long matchsticks
Procedure
1. Using a mortal and pestle or bowl and wooden spoon, smash the garlic with the salt and sugar. Add the tomatoes and green beans, pound a few times, bruising them.
2. Add all the other ingredients and mix well.
Cilantro Ice Cream
Yields 1 Quart
2 big bunches cilantro
2 cans coconut milk (28 oz, don’t use “light”)
1 cup sugar
1 pinch salt
Equipment you’ll need: blender, fine mesh strainer and ice cream machine.
Procedure
1. Blanch and shock the cilantro: Clean cilantro, dip in simmering water for a about 15 seconds, move to an ice bath, drain.
2. Add cilantro and coconut milk in a blender. Blend on high speed for a minute or two. With a fine mesh strainer, strain out all the solid pieces of cilantro.
3. To the liquid, add sugar and salt until dissolved. Freeze according to your ice cream machine guideline.  (about 20 mins)
August 8, 2011

Auditioning for the Next Food Network Star: What I Would Bring to Aarti’s Party

by Jen Wanous

Filling out the application to be the next Food Network star is no easy task. There are 28 essay questions like, “If you were an ingredient, what would you be and why?” and “What are your top five original food/cooking/ingredient tips that demonstrate your food knowledge?”

I busted out my poster-sized post-it notes and started brainstorming.  In the center was “What is my unique culinary point of view?” In clusters around this were thoughts ranging from existential “Who am I?” to the more tangible like, “Eat what feels right for you.” Slowly but surely, I started to whittle my ideas down into something that resembled a T.V. friendly shtick.

Jen Wanous is an adventurer who follows her heart and hunger.  She brings raw, approachable honesty through sharing her doubts and highest aspirations.  Her optimistic, “go-getter” approach to life lends inspiration to others to follow their dreams.  She is food-savvy, business-smart and always has a quirky story to tell.  Through a commitment to loving life and doing by it consciously, Jen Wanous is the “Healthy Hedonist”.

Hedonist: Pursuit of or devotion to pleasure, especially to the pleasures of the senses. 

I brought this 11 page whopper of an application to an open casting call. I wasn’t sure what to expect but was surprised to see that when I reached the address, it was a bar. Every chair in the joint was full and I put my name on the queue.  I was number 123.  I took that as a good sign.  I waited in my 40’s style summer dress and red lip stick biding my time by chatting with different war-torn catering veterans, some of which were taking full advantage of the bar (it was 11am, mind you).

When my number was called I took a deep breath, pushing my nerves away and made my way into a big open room where a small table was set up.  At the other end of the table I was half expecting to see Simon or Paula but instead I was met with a nice woman with a friendly smile.  Right away I felt at ease.  She gave me a warm handshake and we sat down to talk about why I want to be the next Food Network star. Words came flowing out of my mouth. I was going on and on about my school and health and people’s lack of connection to their bodies and my ideas for cooking demos.  All in all, it was maybe five minutes and then she said that they will be going over everyone’s applications over the next few weeks and will call if it’s a good match.

She was the type of person who you can’t tell if they like you or not because they are so smiley all the time, so I wasn’t sure if I’d get a call back, but heck, I felt good! Who knows exactly what they are looking for. It was invigorating to get myself out there and do something different. Even though the application was challenging to get through, it helped me define my culinary angle.

I will keep you posted on any happenings, fingers crossed!

As some of you who are fans of the show know, Aarti Sequeria of Aarti’s Party was named Food Network Star last season.  Here is a recipe of what I would bring to her party:

Pakora Pancakes with Broccoli

1/4 cup flour

1/4 cup brown rice flour

1/4 cup coconut flour

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon cumin

1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon salt

7 tablespoons cold water

1/4 cup broccoli, shaved

1/4 cup red onion, small dice

1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped

4 tablespoons olive oil for frying

1.  In a bowl, mix together flours, baking powder, spices and salt.  Stir until free of lumps until the consistency of pancake batter, adding more water if needed.

2.  Add broccoli, onion and cilantro, stir until combine.

3.  Heat oil in a medium skillet over med-high heat, before oil starts to smoke.  Add about a two tablespoon of the batter and pan fry each pancake until golden brown, about 5-7 minutes. 

4.  Quickly transfer to a paper towel lined plate, just to absorb the oil, then onto a rack to maintain the crispiness you just worked hard to get.  Enjoy!

I would like to thank Chef Richard LaMarita for his inspiration of this dish, from which this recipe was adapted.

August 2, 2011

Getting Schooled Outside of School: My Internship at ABC Kitchen

by Jen Wanous

On the ground floor of a tall Manhattan building, a nuanced seasonal menu crafted by A-list chefs like Jean Georges and Dan Kluger welcomes diners with open arms. A sophisticated experience, yet far from pretentious, the waiters arrive at your table in a uniform of plaid shirts and jeans. Hip music plays in the background and twinkling light comes from chandeliers fitted with those old timey light bulbs where you can see the filament. ABC Kitchen was named Best Restaurant in the Country and a solidly packed reservation book of diners is consistently lining up to find out why.

The title was well deserved as I found out in the basement kitchen of the restaurant. ABC truly has an uncompromised integrity in buying local, sustainable, high quality food that is prepared by a meticulous team working in unison to the point of perfection. For a brief moment, I was part of this well-oiled machine. Granted, as an intern, I was merely a peon in the chain, but still. The chef for whom I worked held a tight grip on his staff and operated with speed and seriousness at all times (I would try to crack jokes and ask him things like “what’s your sign?”, but most of the time he pretended not to hear me and he certainly didn’t think I was funny). Toiling away in the damp maze of a basement, we worked at a fevered pitch. My co-workers and I literally ran from place to place, wielding knives, plowing through prep work. The pressure was palpable, as the chef barked orders, expecting an ever-faster turnaround.

I arrived every morning to find a timed list of things to accomplish that day. A typical list of tasks might include ‘pick 5 quarts of herbs, finely mince two cups of garlic, bias cut 10 lbs of squash, hull one flat of strawberries, crack 300 eggs, separate egg whites from 150 eggs, stuff bass, confit 2 quarts of lemon rind,’ and on and on. Of course, these were just the written tasks and, as an intern, you are officially everyone’s bitch so anyone can ask you to do anything.  “Hey, what’s your name again? Oh yeah.  Can you run down and bring me the jalapeños?”  Up and down the stairs I went, grabbing things along the way.

It took me a couple days to figure out my routine. The first few days I didn’t once pee, eat, drink or sit. Then I figured out that there is a “family meal” twice a day and that I can use a quart container as a cup for water and that the world would not stop spinning if went to use the bathroom. The sitting part, I never figured out.  You are literally on your feet for 10 hours a day.  As odd as it sounds, I got used to that. My legs stopped cramping, my back stopped being so sore– but I would nearly lose my mind when some little kid took a seat on the subway, because when my shift was done, boy were my dogs barkin’!

Most of the people were negative Nellies, Debbie downers, bitter brontosauruses and/or angry negative assholes– you get the picture. (Okay, some of them were nice; I just really needed to write that rant). I worked my magic on some with the tried and true lesson of ‘kill ‘em with kindness.’ I did my best to remember people’s names and greet everyone with a happy “Good morning Nate!” or “How’s it going, Emily?” As my face became more familiar, people began to open up a tiny bit, giving me a hint of a smile here and there.  I consider these moments as my biggest victories.

I took solace in the knowing glances of the Spanish speaking prep-crews. My Spanish lessons paid off and I even learned a few new phrases. I was able to try my hand at pasta making, sausage stuffing, sauce making and lobster killing.  All of those were great learning experiences.

For me, the biggest takeaway is knowing what it’s like to be in a full-on industrial kitchen. There is an epic amount of work that goes into your roasted carrot salad. I can never eat in a restaurant in the same way again and I certainly can’t romanticize about how “fun” it would be to have my own restaurant. It’s incredibly demanding work and requires a very specific brand of gruff diligence–one that I have tremendous respect for after having experienced it all first-hand.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.