(Recipe for MICHAEL VOLTAGGIO'S PEACH BRÛLÉE WITH GREEK YOGURT, CINNAMON CROUTONS & POMEGRANATE MOLASSES follows story)
I felt as if I had entered an alternate universe. Outside the vendors were hawking deep-fried butter and frogs' legs (no worries, dear reader, I had the chicken on a skewer) and inside Michael Voltaggio, last year's winner on Bravo TV's Top Chef, was decomposing a salad, his "vegetable landscape," with over twenty artfully arranged ingredients in a primordial forest tableau- not exactly what you might expect at the Orange County Fair!
Broccoli was blanched, dehydrated and then fried at 400°. "It pops like popcorn," he said. "I hated broccoli as a child, so I recreated it. I'm a big fan of broccoli now."
I love mushrooms in my salad, but I have to admit I've never tried puréeing them and using the purée in cake batter instead of sugar, "a savory cake," and baking the concoction in a tiny log-shaped mold, but if you're creating the forest floor on a plate, you've got to have a log, no? "Mushrooms grow where there's fire," he noted, so he scorched it with a blowtorch.
Voltaggio peeled a baby eggplant, threaded it with a cinnamon stick like a skewer and grilled it. "Cinnamon has a peppery flavor and gives you a whole new food experience. Try it on steak or fish," he recommended.
Roasted beets, grilled spring onions, dehydrated coriander flowers, fried okra battered in chickpea flour - this was no ho-hum, everyday salad!
Tips of tender baby asparagus and fresh peas went in raw. "You don't have to cook the crap out of everything to make it taste good," he advised. Strawberries macerated in rice vinegar and mirin (Japanese sweet rice wine) and melon slices got the vacuum pack treatment.
Some hints from Chef Mary Sue Milliken
Mary Sue Milliken, chef co-owner of Border Grill
Restaurants and Truck, talks to me about her recent experience on Bravo TV's Top
KANCIGOR: What was the biggest surprise between what you thought you
were getting yourself into when you agreed to do the show and how it
really played out?
MILLIKEN: At first I was pretty reluctant to do the show. It took me a
long time to warm up to the idea to do it at all. I was braced for the
worst. One thing I found to be really interesting and exciting is I
allowed myself to focus on nothing else except the competition every
single day, a pure concentration I probably haven’t had since my
twenties. There were no distractions, no email, no phone calls, no kids.
I just gave myself this gift and allowed myself tunnel vision. I really
learned and grew through that. Now when I get frustrated or irritated, I
just focus. Anybody could probably use a dose of that kind of focus.
KANCIGOR:Did you do anything special to prepare for the show?
MILLIKEN:I asked Susan [Feniger], my partner of 30 years, who had been
on the show in Season 2, “Do you think I should get in the kitchen and
work on the line for a few weeks?”
She said, “No, you’re not going to have any problem. You’re fast with a
What I tried to do to prepare is think back through all the different
dishes I’ve made and loved that were a huge success, make myself a list
of those and remember them, so I could access something pretty quickly.
You don’t want to change gears midway through, but choose a dish to cook
and stay with it and cook it at as beautifully as you can while you’re
jumping through hoops.
KANCIGOR: How did it feel to watch the show? Were there any moments you
wish had not been edited out or wish had been edited out?
Murphy’s Law was operating in full force last night as I tried to
duplicate Chef Mary Sue Milliken’s Lemon Soufflé recipe seen on Bravo
TV’s Top Chef Masters a few weeks ago.
While Milliken lost in the final round to Chef Floyd Cardoz, the judges’
oo-ing and ah-ing sent visions of lemons dancing in my head. But the
recipe serves 12. Who would be my guinea pigs?
My opportunity came last night as my houseguests from Sweden – a
delightful family of five – sampled the dish. Unfortunately they also
“sampled” my haphazard style as they watched me screw up a seemingly
simple recipe. And yet, despite six (count them) mistakes, the result
was tasty, but here are some tips so that may learn from the wisdom of
Pay attention and concentrate! The good news is I have an open kitchen
which allows me to talk to guests as I’m cooking. The bad news is I have
an open kitchen which allows me to talk to guests as I’m cooking.
Read the recipe! Seems obvious, doesn’t it, but I can’t tell you how
many times I’ve looked at the list of ingredients without consulting the
method. “Oops” is not something you want to hear in the kitchen.
So where did I go wrong? Here goes:
(Step 1) Notice it says “half the sugar.” Don’t throw all the sugar into
the yolks and then try to pick some out later. In this case, the other
half the sugar is for whipping the egg whites, which need to get only to
the medium peak stage, so no harm done there. (Whew!)
(Step 2) When you’re bringing milk to a boil, don’t start chatting and
turn your back on it and let it boil over with skim forming on top so
that you have to strain it.
Attention shoppers. A new fruit in town will hit the shelves any day
now. Check Ralphs and Trader Joe’s for a white apricot called
“angelcot,” a trademarked name from Freida’s, the specialty produce
company headquartered in Los Alamitos.
And here’s a recipe any busy cook will love: “Split open an apricot, dip
it in Cholula Hot Sauce – you know, the one with the wooden top – and
eat!” says Karen Caplan, Freida’s daughter and president of the company.
“It’s a delicious combination of hot and sweet.”
As Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa, would say, “How easy is that?”
Now in its fiftieth year, the company was the brainchild of Freida
Caplan, who started as a cashier at the produce market and began selling
a neglected stack of mushrooms near the cashier stand. They took off.
“Unable to find enough mushrooms to supply her growing customer base,
she did something really wild and unheard of,” Karen writes in “The
Purple Kiwi Cookbook” (Favorite Recipes Press), a tantalizing recipe
collection based on the exotic produce –– from Asian pears to wood ear
mushrooms – that Freida’s markets today.
“She began visiting growers. No one at the produce market had ever
thought of that before.”
Why the Purple Kiwi Cookbook?
“My mom introduced the kiwifruit to America in 1962, first imported as
Chinese gooseberries and renamed it.” Karen noted. And the company color
is purple, because it was the only color the sign painter had on his truck!
“The Purple Kiwi Cookbook” demystifies cactus pears, horned melons,
lychees, passion fruit, quince, star fruit – all those exotics you’ve
seen in the market and wondered, now what do I do with this?
from Orange County Jewish Life magazine, March 2012. (Recipes for Layered Hummus and Eggplant with Roasted Garlic and Pine Nuts plus three varieties of Hamantaschen follow the story.)
Every Jewish school child knows the characters: Ahasuerus, the foolish king; Vashti, the spurned wife; Haman, the wicked first minister (sound your groggers now!); Esther, the brave and beautiful maiden; and Mordecai, her honorable protector. Their tale of intrigue is told in the Scroll of Esther (Megillah) as an annihilation plot is foiled and our people saved. Purim, which begins at sundown on Wednesday, March 7, is the holiday of merriment, mirth, and trickery!
To celebrate our deliverance, sweets are the order of the day. Gifts of cakes and fruit (shaloch manot) are exchanged. For Ashkenazim no Purim celebration would be complete without eating three-cornered hamantaschen, traditionally filled with poppy seeds, while Sephardim
enjoy honeyed pastries called oznei Haman (Hebrew for Haman’s ears).
Bulletin! This just in! Taschen means “pockets,” and Haman never wore a three-cornered hat! (You just can’t believe anything you hear these days.)
New Year’s Eve is almost upon us, and you’re having a party. So why does
the thought of celebrating in your own home with your own family and
friends make you nervous? The whole world is throwing confetti, and
you’re already saying to yourself, “What was I thinking?”
“Special occasions and special recipes do not have to be difficult or
fussy,” says Sheila Lukins in “Celebrate!” (Workman $19.95), a cookbook
I turn to again and again for menus and party ideas for every holiday
Beautiful color photos leap off the page as Lukins invites you to
celebrate not just Thanksgiving and Christmas, but a housewarming, a
bridal shower, a new job, glorious summer… 43 holidays and celebrations
The book begins as the year does, with New Year’s, and offers recipes
for a casual New Year’s Day celebration that won’t leave you harried.
Keep it low-key, she suggests, with an open house buffet and food that
will stay delicious throughout the day as friends drop in and out.
“I believe the most memorable celebrations take place at home,” Lukins
writes. “In mine, all celebrations begin in the kitchen, and part of the
fun is deciding what to prepare, creating a menu with appeal, start to
You’ll find a tempting array of dishes to serve 24 as you ring in the
New Year. This sumptuous buffet includes the foolproof, doable, yet
impressive dishes we’ve come to expect from the coauthor of the “Silver
Party pork tenderloins are the centerpiece with a trio of sauces: Pebre,
a fresh salsa verde with herbs, onions, and garlic (similar to
Argentinean chimichurri); Lemon-Garlic Aїoli and Romesco
mayonnaise, a Catalan tomato- and bell pepper-based sauce that Lukins
combines with mayonnaise for body and a splash of orange juice.
You know those packages that say, “Do not open until Christmas”? If you tend to avoid resolutions until the actual first of the year, then eat, drink and be merry tonight, and save this column for tomorrow.
It’s New Year’s resolution time again, and I’m making the same one I make every year (sigh), to lose those extra pounds. And how I would love to implement my resolve at, say, the world-renowned Golden Door spa, pampered in the epitome of luxury with world-class chefs lavishing me with nutritious, satisfying, and glorious meals.
Ain’t gonna happen.
With the tight economy affecting travel plans, more and more Americans are choosing a staycation instead of a vacation – you know, donning bathing suit, sunglasses, and a wide-brimmed hat for a luxurious loll in the backyard.
I’m spending my staycation at home with the help of the new “Golden Door Cooks at Home” cookbook (Clarkson Potter, $40) by executive chef Dean Rucker with food writer Marah Stets.
This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of Golden Door with resort spas in Escondido, California, as well as throughout the United States and Puerto Rico.
“It used to be that the term ‘spa food’ evoked images of unadorned dishes without flavor or flair, created to contain as few calories and as little fat as possible without regard for how enjoyable it was to actually eat them,” writes chef Rucker.
No longer. The emphasis now is on a healthy diet and portion control. “And this is made far easier when the food is both delicious and filling,” he says.
Chicken and Scallion Potstickers with Chili Lime Sauce. Pan Roasted Lobster with Basil Potato Puree. Moroccan Spice-Rubbed Lamb Loin with Chickpeas, Feta, and Olives. Warm Flourless Chocolate Cake with Orange Sauce.
Spa food? Hardly.
My Christmas story for The Orange County Register contains a recipe for a Swedish pastry called Lussikatter. It's a wonderful eggy sweet bread reminiscent of a saffron-scented challah. Read the whole story.
I met chef Annie Miler of Clementine (across from Century City, 310-552-1080) and award-winning pastry chef Sherry Yard of Wolfgang Puck’s Spago in Beverly Hills (310-385-0880) a few years ago at gala fundraiser for Women’s Chefs and Restaurateurs (WCR). I couldn’t resist the opportunity and asked them to give us some tips for the holidays.
“Thanksgiving is about cooking with your friends and family, not about being one person performing,” said Miler. “That’s what makes it stressful. Relax!”
The day prior to Thanksgiving is the single busiest day of the year for Clementine, she noted. “I always have a set of family members here before Thanksgiving and Christmas to help pack gravy and get the orders out. For our own dinner I could just order from Clementine, but this year my mom wants to make everything herself. After days of packing gravy she may decide to order!”
“Desserts like apple pie and pumpkin pie always taste better the next day,” observed Yard, “so why not make them the day before. And this will free the oven to let the turkey spread its wings!”
She also suggested measuring and prepping ingredients for dishes that need last-minute attention the night before.
Try a trifle for an easy, but showy dessert, she suggested. “Buy some gingerbread cake and layer it with whipped cream – fold in candied ginger – and sprinkle the cake with a simple syrup made with brandy or Jack Daniels.”
For an easy take on Miler’s hors d’oevre, serve bruschetta: roasted balsamic onions on toasted French or Italian bread slices.
Sherry Yard’s intense and velvety chocolate ganache is the basis of so many memorable desserts from truffles to mousse. For her “It” tart, pour the ganache into tart shells and top with tiny grapes that have been rolled in melted chocolate (no need to temper), then dusted with cocoa powder.