LGBT Weekly » Bobby R. Presents Fri, 09 Oct 2015 15:55:38 +0000 en-US hourly 1 How to host an amazing cocktail party Fri, 09 Sep 2011 16:18:36 +0000

In the immortal words of The Nanny theme song, it was “style and flair” that got Fran Drescher the gig as nanny in the Sheffield’s home. With the addition of style and flair to a common house gathering, you can get the gig as an all-star host or hostess (hopefully sans the nasal voice) of a kick-ass cocktail party.

I have been a guest at, and have hosted, some pretty amazing cocktail parties over the years, but I have been to some egregious ones too. As I was recently putting a cocktail party together for a summer themed event at the end of this month, I found myself outlining the elements and essentials one needs to make (or break) the party. Though a small list: Atmosphere, food, cocktail supplies and guest choice, any one of these items chosen poorly will surely throw your party off kilter. Each contains many subtopics for delineation, however there is one string that ties them all together and that is the cocktail party theme.

Now don’t go out and buy a bunch of teepee items for an Indian summer theme (unless you really want to). When I develop ideas for parties I usually lean toward more abstract elements such as color and texture. One of my Christmas cocktail parties was planned with purple ostrich feathers and gold leaf in mind. Another, “baby cheetah” and no I was not high. Other elements that are a bit more concrete could include: a music genre, artist, song, time period or even a book. Regardless of the inspiration is the ultimate maintenance of the idea in atmosphere, food and libation making you the ultimate party dominatrix (insert sinister laugh here).

Atmosphere: I could never touch on all elements associated with atmosphere but there are certain things that are the easiest to manipulate and are essential for me. I like to have a lot of candles burning with minimal artificial light (except in the kitchen). I personally prefer a more sedate music choice, such as jazz or the newer “lounge” mixes. A silent visual on the television can also provide a subtle distraction. Lastly, it is important to specify attire. You do not want shorts and flip flop clad guests to feel out of place in a room full of cocktail dresses.

For my upcoming “end of summer” cocktail party I will play rock and roll songs that are appropriately chosen, Suddenly Last Summer will be screened without sound and I will suggest guests wear mostly white as uniforms for the croquet tournament that will be going on.

Food: While developing this portion of your cocktail menu it is important to think three tiered. The first being stationary food plate(s) coupled with hors d’oeuvres. Having stationary food allows the guests to nosh on their own accord when they first arrive and start to socialize. The hors d’oeuvres provide an elapsed food experience during the cocktail party time frame. The second is the ease in preparation; you will want most everything prepared in advance so that you can enjoy the party too. Last, food volume should be based upon start time. A cocktail party is not designed to provide a meal, but keep in mind that if you plan to throw it at six, guests may not have eaten dinner and may be hungrier than at a cocktail party with an eight o’clock start time.

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For my stationary plate, I usually choose a wedge of brie topped with warmed compote whose ingredients match the season, served with a couple of roasted heads of garlic (that will make the place smell great by the way) and some toasted crostini and crackers. However elaborate or simple you choose, the stationary food is now out of your sight and mind so that you can focus on the hors d’oeuvres.

Depending on the theme and space, you can choose to tray pass or set out the hors d’oeuvres in strategic places so that all guests can access them from where they are currently located. The latter requires more trays with less food on them to cover the whole area of the party where the former can be placed on one tray and distributed to all the guests by someone carrying it around (I usually choose to do this myself but you could always outsource to a willing friend.) Of course, all this is assuming you have serving trays. If you do not, many things in the kitchen can suffice including a cutting board or cookie sheet lined with a linen napkin. Be creative and don’t forget to provide cocktail napkins (or a close facsimile thereof).

Cocktail: I prefer to have a signature cocktail served to everyone as they arrive. Guests can bring booze they prefer or even decline the cocktail (how gauche) but the initial distribution is fun and shows that they are in the hands of a good host. Wine spritzers are a good choice for ease, budget and general (non) intoxication of the guests but are not the most fancy of beverages. I will use one at the aforementioned summer celebration that will mix gewürztraminer, green tea, ginger ale and peach schnapps.

If you have a friend who considers themselves a mixologist, solicit them for cocktail recipe advice. If they have come up with the cocktail recipe, then they may be eager to bartend at the party too. While developing the cocktail flavor, keep your foods in mind giving a profile that will maintain the mood. There are so many artesian liqueurs on the market now that you may have difficulty choosing. Great liqueurs I have used often are: Canton (ginger flavor), St. Germain (elderflower infused brandy), Benedictine, Chartreuse and Poma (pomegranate flavor). The nice thing about liqueurs is that they are not the primary ingredient in a cocktail so, although the bottle might be expensive, you will have quite a bit left over for the next endeavor. Under-used mixers such as ginger ale, lemonade, iced rooibos or green tea or coconut milk can also dress up otherwise boring cocktails.

I think the most manageable amount of hors d’oeuvres to plan on is three. Selecting choices of meat, vegetable and fish base will cover the whole range of picky guests’ dietary restrictions and gives a nice variety to those that will eat every one. I usually plan to do two “rounds” of each hors d’oeuvres, staggered to last the first third or half of the projected party time frame. The last hors d’oeuvres I did were shrimp and fennel ceviche on endive spears, grilled fillet on a crostini with arugula and aioli and small servings of melon gazpacho.

Once the ingredients are decided, you’ll need ice. Get lots of ice! Did I mention ice? I have been to so many parties, cocktail or not, where the ice has run out or wasn’t even there to begin with. Cocktails need ice, whether provided or brought by guests, so stock the freezer or cooler to the brim, store it in the sink; I don’t care how, just have lots of ice and then enjoy a libation to help loosen up after all that planning.

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Get comfortable with a classic confit Fri, 29 Jul 2011 00:25:30 +0000

Duck leg confit

Confit – the traditional preparation of cooking proteins such as pork or (more traditionally) duck underneath fat – may at first not seem like the most appropriate topic in the months of bared mid-drifts and love handles but, as with most classic techniques in modern foodie vogue, it is now associated with anything cooked under low temperature oils for long periods of time.

This process can be applied to the produce available now at the farmer’s market and with a little patience will produce delicious condiments for the tops of toast or as an accompaniment to your dinner protein.

Pronounced “kohn-FEE,” this traditional method of preservation with salt and fat is associated with Gascony, France and the final product will last up to six months in the refrigerator. Once the process is substituted with olive oil, the shelf life decreases to about one month but greatly reduces the fat content. More sturdy market produce holds up best such as garlic, citrus rinds and root vegetables but once you experiment a little bit, you may choose to try other items such as tomatoes.

The basic technique using olive oil is very straight forward. Enough oil is brought to a simmer that covers the product and is allowed to cook for one hour. Once cool, you can aliquot the portions in airtight jars and store in the refrigerator. The contents can be stretched out by adding more oil if necessary and gives you two separate food products. The tender contents of the jar and the oil that is now infused with the essence of the contents that can be used as a garnish on soup, a drizzle on fish or used as the oil for a simple vinaigrette.

Garlic is the simplest form of confit to execute and is a great example because it is available year round. Simply peel 24 cloves of garlic and place in a deep sauce pan with enough olive oil to cover (about 1 cup) and allow to simmer for an hour. This garlic is so soft it can be used as a spread on toast or included with caramelized onions on top of a grilled pork chop.

Southern California supplies a large diversity of citrus that can be used for confit and especially so in the summer months. I like to use Meyer lemons when available but regular lemons, oranges or even grapefruit will do. There are two specifics to keep in mind when preparing the citrus for confit. First, when peeling, be sure that you are peeling the strips thin enough that you are only getting the zest and not the pith (the bitter white underneath). The second is to blanch the rinds three times so that they do not lose their color. To blanch the rinds, submerge them in boiling water for ten seconds then plunge them in an ice bath then repeat twice more. The rinds should be long strips of the zest peeled with a vegetable peeler. For four lemons submerge the strips in 1/2 cup olive oil, 1/4 cup canola oil, two tablespoons of lemon juice, a pinch of salt and one clove of garlic brought to a simmer. Allow to cook for one hour and serve as described before. This lemon confit is great as a salad topping that is tossed using a vinaigrette made with the oil the lemon is stored in.

Another item at the farmer’s market that lends itself to confit is fennel. Once the stalks and fronds are cut from the fennel, julienne the bulb and submerge in about 1-1/2 cups olive oil with 2 strips of the lemon zest reserved from the previous paragraph, the shavings of 2 carrots and a pinch of cayenne. These vegetables are small enough that they will be done after 20 minutes of simmering under the oil. This is best served as an accompaniment to fish or as a garnish to a cold soup.

The oil method is great to preserve this produce longer than they would last on the counter but also works as a lower fat and more cost effective method on proteins. Duck legs and fat can be very expensive while a pork shoulder and olive oil can be purchased reasonably when on sale. Use the recipe below to try your hand at creating tender morsels of meat in between following the suggestions in this column. Have fun learning this classic cooking method and don’t forget to say “kohn-FEE.”

bobby’s recipe

Pork shoulder confit

You’ll want to start this recipe at least two weeks in advance so that it can sit under the oil an appropriate amount of time.

1 pork shoulder (4 pounds)
6 crushed bay leaves
1 tablespoon of kosher salt
2 teaspoons Herbes de Provence
2 teaspoons crushed black pepper
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon chopped fresh sage
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon allspice
2 sliced onions
8 cloves peeled garlic
6 fresh sprigs of thyme
1 fresh sprig of rosemary
1 quart olive oil

First, cut the port shoulder into three inch cubes with all the fat left on the meat.

Combine the bay leaves, kosher salt, Herbes de Provence, black pepper, thyme, sage, coriander and allspice. Toss the cubed pork in the dry mixture and allow to sit, chilled, overnight.

Preheat the oven to 275 degrees.

Place the onions, garlic, thyme and rosemary in the bottom of an ovenproof pot with lid (shallow is best). Add in the pork and pour in enough olive oil to cover the contents by one inch (about 1 quart depending on the depth of the pot). Place the pot in the oven and allow to cook for four hours, turning the contents every now and then, always ensuring it is covered with oil.

Once tender, remove the pork with a slotted spoon and place in a storage container. Strain the olive oil and pour over the pork so that it covers it by one inch. Seal the container and store at least two weeks (and up to two months) in the refrigerator. Reserve and freeze the rest of the olive oil for a later use (such as pork cassoulet).

Reheat the contents and remove from the oil with a slotted spoon when ready to serve on a toasted roll, perhaps topped with some cold fennel confit.

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Awaken your senses with oysters Thu, 14 Jul 2011 22:45:55 +0000

Oysters on the half shell

Ascribed to Cleopatra and Casanova, an oyster on the half shell has been an element of sexual connotation almost by default. The truth behind the oyster as an aphrodisiac lies in an elevated content of zinc. Oysters deliver 110-1,200 percent of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for every 3.5 ounces consumed. Zinc is associated with increased levels of testosterone and dopamine which facilitate a more hungry sex drive not to mention a boost to the immune system.

Other foods high in zinc and just as sexually alluring to the foodie include caviar, chocolate and pate. But aphrodisiacal treats are not limited to those that contain high concentrations of zinc. Celery is known to increase pheromone excretion and raw garlic has been attributed to an increased blood flow to the sex organs. Some are more visually stimulating, such as the fig, avocado and banana while others lower inhibitions chemically, namely alcohol.

Combining both alcohol with a shucked oyster is one of my favorite ways to decrease my inhibitions while elevating my sexual motivation. The oyster shooter is an oversized shot of spicy vodka, cocktail sauce and an oyster served with a lemon squeeze. This is a cocktail of full oral intensity lending heat from the vodka and cocktail sauce which is then cooled by the oyster rolling over the tongue.

Aside from the shooter, I had never been a fan of eating oysters on the half. My revelation came a few years ago in Georgetown, D.C. I had placed two orders of oyster shooters after a long day of shopping. When the order arrived, at first what seemed to my chagrin, I was faced with a dozen raw oysters on the half shell with two airport bottles of Absolut Peppar. This was the D.C. translation of oyster shooters, a half dozen shucked oysters with the booze as a chaser. I had never before sat to enjoy oysters unadulterated but was not going to send the food back because of a user error and was sure as hell not going to let my dollars go to waste. So I went in with conviction. I learned slowly how to enjoy the lunch but what surprised me most was the sweet taste I had in the back of my throat for the rest of the day. It was like heroin for the foodie. I’ve been chasing that first high ever since.

These raw oysters inherently incite the feeling to blush with flavor descriptors such as briney, sweet and creamy along with the smooth and delicate consistency of a meat that easily slides down your throat. For those who like a more acidic taste note, the mignonette which is the traditional oyster accoutrement of vinegar infused with red onion will satisfy the craving.

Although spitters are quitters, I do understand that the raw oyster is not for all. Fortunately unlike some co-factors and other enzymes, the zinc content of the oyster and absorption by the body is not changed by cooking. Oysters Rockefeller (recipe included) is a great alternative and tasty way for an easy cooked preparation.

Whether enjoying oysters on the half at Oceanaire in the Gaslamp with a perfectly paired champagne or oyster shooters at South Beach Bar and Grill in Ocean Beach remember that though alcohol may lower inhibitions and the oysters lift your dick, too much booze will have the opposite effect. Happy Pride to everyone and down the hatch.

bobby’s recipe

Oysters Rockefeller

Oysters Rockefeller

Of course it is better to shuck them yourself but if you do not know how or simply don’t want to, have your seafood guy shuck the oysters for you a couple hours before preparation, reserving the deep side of the shell in a separate bag. Also, although rock salt works well for cooking and presentation, you can substitute dried beans or rice you have in the cupboard to stabilize the shells.

An appetizer for 4 people:

20 shucked oysters
6 slices of bacon
1/4 pound finely chopped spinach
1/2 cup minced scallions (whites)
1/4 cup plain breadcrumbs or panko
1/4 cup minced parsley
1/8 cup minced celery heart
2 cloves minced garlic
1 stick of butter
1 tablespoon of Pernod (optional)
2 tablespoons anchovy paste (optional)
Pinch of cayenne
Lemon wedges
Rock salt

First, cook the bacon, crumble then set aside.

In a bowl toss to combine the spinach, scallions, breadcrumbs or panko, parsley, celery heart and garlic.

In a large sauté pan melt the butter over medium high heat until the foam subsides. Add in the vegetable-breadcrumb mix and sauté until wilted (about 2 minutes). Add in the Pernod, anchovy paste (both optional) and the cayenne. Set aside and allow to cool. In an ovenproof baking sheet or casserole dish, fill with about a quarter to half an inch of rock salt (or dried beans) and arrange the oyster shells evenly. Place an oyster in each shell half, spooning a small amount of the oyster liquid on top to moisten. Using a small spoon, evenly distribute the vegetable-breadcrumb mix onto the oysters. Sprinkle the bacon evenly on top and finish it off with another sprinkle of breadcrumbs. Bake the oysters at 475 degrees for 15 minutes. Place some more rock salt (or dried beans) on a platter and arrange the oysters. Garnish with some reserved parsley and lemon wedges. Enjoy!

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Do the ‘Rock Lobster’ or the Maine or Canadian Thu, 07 Jul 2011 22:14:08 +0000

Lobster, an American favorite

A greenish-grey exoskeleton, antennae and five pairs of arms. Sounds like a description of an invading alien race instead of one of the most sought after proteins in the American diet, lobster.

Summer to me always screams lobster. Every year, we would dig a large shallow hole in the yard, start a fire and throw in rocks until glowing hot. Once the rocks were topped with copious amounts of seaweed, in went the lobsters and later clams (or steamers as we called them) and any other seafood of choice. In the summer months, lobsters move to more shallow waters to breed and molt which makes them easier to catch and thus lowers the price, which I can remember seeing going below $5 per pound. We don’t always have that price point in San Diego but I always keep my eye on the lobster tank next to the seafood counter at the market.

Lobsters come in two varieties that are available year round. The Maine lobster is caught off the northeast coast all the way up to Canada. They have large front claws and very sweet meat inside. Off the Baja coast are the rock lobsters, smaller than their cousins and lacking the large front claw. The flavor of the rock lobster meat is not as sweet and can be a bit more fibrous. One thing in common for both of the lobster types is the meaty tail, which is often sold separated and previously frozen.

Buying previously frozen lobster tail affords the squeamish a good taste of the treat without having to confront a live beast in the kitchen but it also lends tougher meat with less flavor. To combat this, choose recipes that include a good amount of sauce such as a traditional lobster roll and be very careful to not overcook the meat. I always look forward to killing my own lobster because it is probably the freshest piece of meat I will ever put on a plate but it is necessary to hold to your convictions, otherwise the animal may suffer more than necessary.

There are two ways to kill lobsters. The first is probably the most recognized which is to plunge it headfirst into salted boiling water. This method is fine to enjoy a whole lobster with drawn butter or to prepare the meat for further, more elaborate, recipes such as Thermidor (gratineed in the shell) or a l’Americaine (simmered with tomato, garlic and herbs in white wine). Cook’s note: lobsters do not scream when immersed in boiling water! Any noise heard from the lidded pot is air escaping from beneath the shell. The lobsters are done after about 15-20 minutes in a rolling boil when an antenna can be pulled easily from the head.

The second method, and my preferred, is to kill the lobster before cooking. Face the lobster towards you on a cutting board with a reservoir to catch the liquids. Using a very sharp chef’s knife, position the pointed end down just behind the head where the body joint is. Quickly insert the knife vertically and bring the handle down so that the knife finishes in the horizontal position and the head has been split in two. This method is definitely not for the faint of heart but I feel it is the most humane because it severs all nerve endings and kills the lobster immediately. Personally, if having a choice, I would choose the guillotine before being boiled alive! Cook’s note: the lobster’s legs will move after it is dead due to residual electrical impulses that trigger the muscles to contract.

I choose the later method not only because I think it is more humane but also because I like to use the meat raw (as in the included recipe) and not softened by boiling water. Whichever method you choose based on recipe choice and preference, the lobsters should be cut in half lengthwise to ease the preparation. If boiling the lobsters allow them to cool to a reasonable temperature to handle, turn the lobster so that it is facing away from you and insert the knife into the incision at the head. Bring your knife down carefully to split the entire body in half. If cooking Maine lobster, remove the large limbs where they attach to the body and give the thickest parts a good whack with the back of your kitchen knife allowing easier access to the meat.

Whether you cook rock or Maine lobster, once split you will see a green material inside the cavity which is the liver or tamale. Some find this to be utterly delicious on its own but I usually forgo the green mater unless I choose to put it through a sieve and use it in a sauce. The only thing left to do now is eat the beast. The process can be a bit daunting and requires some kitchen shears but is worth the effort.

bobby’s recipe

Pan roasted lobster with brandy-butter sauce

This recipe can be made with four previously frozen tails if you do not want to split a live lobster or you can kill them first in boiling water and remove before the meat is done which should take no longer than five minutes. Be sure that the claws are cracked well enough so that they can be eaten with little fuss.

Plan to kill the lobster just before cooking and follow the method in the column separating the large claws from the body and removing the tail. This will give you six raw lobster segments per animal. Be sure to remove any intestinal track from the tail as you would with shrimp. Remove the tamale and press with a fork until smooth then set aside.

2 Maine (or Canadian) lobsters (about 2 pounds each)
3 tablespoons peanut oil, bacon fat or ghee
1/2 cup chopped shallots
1/2 cup brandy
1/4 cup dry white wine

Pre-heat the oven to 500 degrees.

In a large, ovenproof sauté pan, heat the peanut oil, bacon fat or ghee over the highest heat for five minutes. Add in the lobster segments, shell side down, and gently agitate until they have taken on a red color with char marks from the oil (about four minutes). Turn all the pieces over and add the tamale to the middle of the sauté pan. Place the pan in the oven and cook three minutes.

Return to the stovetop. Reduce heat to medium high and add the shallots. Sauté quickly and add the brandy. Ignite the liquor and cook, gently agitating, until the flames have subsided. Add in the dry white wine and allow to reduce (making sure the largest part of the claws are in the liquid.

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Ice cream’s the bombe Thu, 23 Jun 2011 18:40:26 +0000

I am continually talking about using leftover kitchen liquids as sorbet but have not delineated the exact process or fundamental concerns to its preparation. I could devote an entire book chapter to the principles behind ice cream making but here I’ll give you a concise overview.

An ice cream maker is one of those unnecessary kitchen utilities that I find worth the investment. Most stand mixers will sell an ice cream mixing component separately; it is a bowl that you first freeze then fit onto the base, a special paddle stirrer fits onto the top and you apply your liquid mix. Other, stand alone, ice cream makers are sold that do not require the stand mixer but do take up a little more room in the cupboards.

At first glance the process of making ice cream is easy; follow directions to make a flavored liquid mixture and apply it to the mixer per manufacturer’s instructions. However if you plan to explore and improve upon existing recipes the concept behind an ice cream’s texture and flavor should be understood.

The flavor and texture of an ice cream will vary depending on the fat content of the liquid mix. Of course, a higher fat content will give a richer flavor but there must be a balance between liquid water, milk fat, milk protein and sugar to coat and adhere to the ice crystals formed. The addition of sugar not only imparts flavor but changes the physical properties of the liquid mixture; lowering the freezing point which allows some liquid to be trapped between the ice crystal lattice. Basically, the ice crystals form a little package of flavor that bursts onto the taste buds once melted … and the smaller the ice crystals the smoother the package.

The size of the ice crystals is directly proportional to the time it takes the mixture to freeze; a liquid mixture that has been brought to a temperature just above freezing will form very small ice crystals immediately when added to the frozen bowl of the ice cream maker, forming the initial lattice for all other ice crystals to form on. The slower it takes the liquid to come to freezing temperature, the longer it takes the ice crystals to form and thus a larger ice crystal lattice that penetrates the taste buds instead of melting quickly on the tongue.

The liquid mixture described is the simplest mix, known as the Philadelphia style. I use this to make a very simple vanilla bean ice cream by dissolving two-thirds cup sugar in 3 cups of heavy cream with the seeds of one vanilla bean and a teaspoon of vanilla extract. Once it is chilled, I spike it with a quarter cup of cognac before applying it to the ice cream machine.

Another style of ice cream is the French or custard style, aptly named for the inclusion of egg yolk to the liquid mixture that, once heated, emulsifies with the water component allowing a greater liquid content within the crystals. Whichever mixture you choose, once the ice cream maker has agitated the mixture to incorporate enough air and brought it to a decent hardness, remove it to a shallow storage container which exposes more surface and allows it to harden faster.

The same principles described here for ice creams are the same (for the most part) for sorbets with the exclusion of dairy and the addition of acid. The final target content of both sugar and acid in my liquid sorbet mixes are about 30 percent and 0.5 percent respectively to the final volume. I also like to add a complimentary flavor of liqueur to the mix that does not freeze in the final product, giving a good liquid quality (as described for ice creams). I think the best base mix is to make simple syrup of sugar, light corn syrup and water (1/2 cup, 1/2 cup and 3/4 cup). Once chilled, I add in the juice of one lemon, 1 cup of your flavoring, a pinch of salt and 1/4 cup of the liqueur.

Once you have developed a base mix for either an ice cream or sorbet and understand the contributing factors of the ingredients, it will be easy to manipulate existing recipes or to create your own. You’ll become your own kitchen sleuth and be able to present with the utmost confidence.

bobby’s recipe

Vanilla ice cream bombe with raspberry sorbet and lemon curd

The bombe (pronounced bahm) is, traditionally, a layered dessert of ice cream and sorbet or sherbet with a custard center. With the proper planning, the components can be made a few weeks ahead in your home ice cream maker or can be made semi-homemade a la Sandra Lee by purchasing quality sorbet and ice cream while making the lemon curd yourself which is fairly simple. Plan your assembly well as each layer of the bombe will take about an hour to harden.

For the lemon curd

4 large egg yolks
Zest of one lemon
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1-1/2 cups sugar
3 tablespoons of butter
Pinch of salt

In a sauce pan over medium high heat combine the egg yolks, zest of one lemon, lemon juice and sugar. Whisk to combine and continue stirring with a wooden spoon until the mixture has thickened and reached 160 degrees (about 10 minutes). Remove from the heat and stir in butter and salt. Store the curd with a film of cling wrap directly on the surface and chill until ready for use.

Bombe assembly

Serve one bombe per person and make (or purchase) the appropriate amount of ice cream and sorbet. The curd recipe makes one cup, which should be more than enough for at least 12 individual servings.

Line a 6-ounce soufflé cup with enough tin foil that will be able to enclose the final product. Spread softened vanilla ice cream into the soufflé cup so that it fits up the sides and on the bottom and is about 1/8 inch thick. Return the soufflé cups to the freezer and harden the spread vanilla ice cream. Once hard to the touch, spread a layer of raspberry sorbet inside the soufflé cup at about the same thickness and shape one eighth inch below the vanilla ice cream layer. Return to the freezer to harden. Spoon in a tablespoon dollop of the curd right in the center cavity. At this point, all the layers should be flush and the vanilla ice cream has a lip of about one eighth inch above the rest. Allow the curd to harden in the freezer then spread some softened vanilla ice cream on the top to seal the bombe. Fold the aluminum foil up and around the bombe and set back in the freezer to harden.

Serve on an individual plate with some lemon zest and a sprig of mint.

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You’ve had potatoes fried, baked, mashed or stewed; now try them boiled Thu, 16 Jun 2011 17:50:16 +0000

I think it is safe to assume that most of us have been brought up on the potato: French fried, baked, mashed, stewed or gratinéed, its versatility is apparent while lending nutritional components to our daily recommended requirements.

But which potato to choose from the wide assortment available in today’s produce section? Almost all available lend themselves nicely to boiling which is the focus of this week’s column.

I think the boiled potato is often overlooked because, at first glance, it appears to be unflavored, unexciting and otherwise undesirable – yet many, very flavorful, uses are available. Boiling the potato in overly salted water or using chicken stock infuses the potatoes with more flavors. If you don’t want to waste the stock, remove the boiled potatoes and reserve the liquid to make a potato soup as described in the recipe included. I think this is a really great kitchen time saver because the potatoes first boiled are reserved for daily use while the soup can be made and then frozen for later.

My choice of potato is usually the red-skinned or Yukon Gold. During this period of late spring/early summer, new (baby) varieties of both types should be available. Not to be confused with fingerling potatoes, which are heirloom varieties, bred to be very small when full grown. Also available in specialty food and farmer’s markets are the purple or blue potatoes. These act as a great addition of color (not to mention conversation piece) while imparting the same cooking characteristics of its white-fleshed cousin.

So now what are we going to do with the boiled potato? The most common application would be the potato salad, which although delicious, has been done to death – so I will not go into detail here. Another place for the inclusion of a boiled potato is the salad. Salade Niçoise (pronounced knee-swaz) is probably the most famous, containing boiled potato and egg along with haricot verts (baby green beans), tomato, olives, tuna and the occasional anchovy. I include boiled red or new potatoes in a spinach salad that I toss in champagne vinaigrette with roasted red pepper, raw red onion, bacon pieces, quarters of boiled egg and top with slices of rare beef.

Another method I have employed to the boiled potato is squishing it down and further roasting it with butter, olive oil and herbs, served as a side in lieu of mashed or baked. I use new Yukon Gold potatoes that are no greater than the size of your palm and boil them in chicken stock (reserved for the vichyssoise recipe) until they are just fork tender, which takes about 15-20 minutes on a high boil.

Once they are boiled, I drain and cool the potatoes before squishing them down with my palm on an oiled and salted sheet pan. I then paint the tops of the potatoes with an oil and melted butter mixture, sprinkle them with herbs and bake in a 450-degree oven for 20 minutes. The use of butter gives them a golden brown color and their texture is a nice hybrid between the mashed and roasted preparations.

So now whether red-skinned, yellow, baby or purple, we have the boiled potato on our tables in one form or another. Diversity paralleled only by its versatility of preparation and applied technique. The only thing left to do is present your final dish and enjoy.

bobby’s recipe

Fennel vichyssoise

This traditional cold potato soup is very easy to prepare and is a nice starter for a warm summer night dinner. It is not the most low calorie item so serve conservative portions since we are all trying to maintain our bathing suit figures. The inclusion of fennel adds some sophistication to the flavor without changing the stark color that I find beautiful served in a dark bowl and garnished with a drizzle of olive oil and a scant sprinkle of parsley.

This recipe will serve eight people.

2 tablespoons of butter
2 tablespoons of olive oil
5 cups thinly sliced fennel bulb (about three)
3 cups thinly sliced onions (two large)
4 cups chicken stock
1 pound of white potatoes cubed to 1⁄2 inch squares
2 cups of half and half
Salt and white pepper to taste
Freshly chopped parsley
2 tablespoons of Pernod (optional)

In a 6-quart Dutch oven or other heavy bottomed saucepan, melt the butter and olive oil over medium-high heat. Once the foam has subsided, add in the fennel bulb and the onions. Sauté until the fennel is tender and the onions have become translucent, stirring frequently and adjusting the heat so that the contents do not brown (about 15 minutes). Add in the chicken stock and potatoes. Reduce heat to simmer, cover and allow to cook for 30 minutes or until the potatoes are very tender.

Remove from the heat and puree with an immersion blender or in batches using a counter blender. For a thinner soup, add in cold half and half. For a thicker soup, heat the half and half to a simmer before adding to the soup, return to heat and simmer for an additional 10 minutes.

Chill the soup uncovered until cold, then season with salt and white pepper to taste (a cold soup will require more seasoning than one served hot).

Optional: Stir in 2 tablespoons of Pernod to spike the soup and add more of an anise flavor before serving. Once spooned into the bowls, add a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of fresh chopped parsley.

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This year’s strawberry harvest is in its prime Thu, 09 Jun 2011 17:10:05 +0000

I may be past my prime – but from now until July, strawberries will be in theirs. Of course they are bought with good intentions but probably not a wealth of ideas. It’s just one of those items that look so good in the market that one wants to buy, and then ends up growing mold in the back of the fridge.

Eating the berries raw becomes boring as does adding them to your yogurt, smoothie or cereal. Identifying the key flavors and (as it may seem) odd additions will bring these banal berries to the center of everyone’s focus.

Strawberries are grouped in the rose family and have been grown in the Americas and Europe for centuries. Through careful cultivation and crossbreeding, commercial strawberries are very hearty and flavorful depending on their maturity and upbringing. But caveat emptor, strawberry plants that are purchased for cultivation from your local nurseries are often susceptible to disease and fruits sold in the market vary in flavor depending on size, ripeness and variety-type.

Whether you decide to dice, slice or otherwise heat the component, strawberries are there for the consumer.

Aside from a bowl of the fresh cut fruit, strawberries can be put through a variety of processes that range dramatically in their degree of effort. In abundance, the fruit can be preserved for those lovers of jelly and jams. The quintessential strawberry pie is presented at most July 4 functions with the addition of blueberries and whipped cream making a red, white and blue star. Or, the maceration of the berry which affords a greater abundance of preparation and technique.

Maceration is the use of osmosis to extract the liquids of a solute (the solid component) into the solvent (the liquid component) or more generally speaking, sprinkling the berries with either sugar or salt and allowing the mixture to equilibrate in its own juices. Osmosis is the natural movement of water to an adjacent environment in which less water molecules are present.

In this case, the water from the berries moves to the surface while the sugar replaces the water content of the berry, leaving an amazingly sweet and flavored liquid to use to your benefit and a berry that has been naturally softened and prepared for the palate.

Try using a more Mediterranean flare of raw fruit with volcanic sea salt as a starter to your meal or incorporate balsamic vinegar as your solute for an interesting finish. But, as always do your research and present what is there for the taking.

bobby’s recipe

Rhubarb sabayon with balsamic macerated strawberries

Although this is not the traditional method of making a sabayon, it streamlines the process very nicely using a counter appliance. Once you have made it a few times, you may choose to adjust the flavors to taste.

This recipe will serve ten people liberally.

2 pints of strawberries
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1-3/4 cups sugar
1/2 pound of rhubarb
1/4 cup champagne
1-1/2 cups of heavy cream
6 large egg yolks
1/4 cup water

First, chop the strawberries and macerate in the balsamic vinegar and 1/2 cup sugar for at least one hour. Drain juices from the berries and reserve all.

Chop the rhubarb into 1/4-inch slices and sauté in the champagne and 1/2 cup of sugar until it has become completely softened (about 15 minutes). Puree with an immersion blender or food processor and set aside.

Whip the heavy cream to a medium peak and chill in the refrigerator until needed. (If using a counter appliance, remove the whipped cream to a separate bowl to refrigerate and clean the bowl for further use.)

Separate the egg yolks and beat until pale (about 5 minutes).

Balsamic strawberries with sabayon

Bring 3/4 cup sugar plus the water to a boil in a small saucepan. Continue to boil until it has reached the soft ball stage (235 degrees Fahrenheit if using a candy thermometer) or about 4 minutes on a high boil.

On low speed, slowly add the sugar mixture into the egg yolks. Once added, increase the speed to medium low and beat until light pale (10 minutes). Reduce the speed to low and add 1/4 cup reserved strawberry-balsamic liquid. Remove from the appliance and fold in the rhubarb puree.

Add a quarter of the beaten whipped cream to the yolk-fruit mix and stir until combined. Dump in the rest of the whipped cream, switch to a large rubber scraper and fold in the remaining whipped cream. Refrigerate until ready for use.

To serve, distribute the macerated strawberries evenly between your serving dishes. Spoon a healthy portion of the sabayon on top, then garnish with a few more strawberries and a sprig of mint.

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Becoming a corn-noisseur of the season’s sweet harvest Thu, 02 Jun 2011 20:21:34 +0000

Probably the most assertive and controversial item, corn appears as overflowing piles of ears, husk and silk at the farmer’s market during the transition from spring to summer.

The ambiguity of corn as a starch and not a vegetable might present a conundrum to some, but is easily solved by focusing on its content and flavor incorporation to choice recipes. You will find corn in your recipes not only as a whole food but also its processed counterparts including high fructose syrup, powdered starch, alcohol or meal.

I say that corn is controversial because of the growing contempt of processed corn goods present in most of our packaged foods. It is a topic so pertinent, Michael Pollan dedicates an entire third of his opus, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, delineating it as an industrial commodity and the genetic manipulation therein (GMO’s).

I have not banned the use of processed corn products in my kitchen; instead, I buy organic ensuring that I am avoiding any products that have been engineered in a lab. I use high fructose corn syrup (better known as Karo) in my sorbets to give it a smoother texture, cornstarch is used to thicken sauces and stabilize pastry creams, corn based alcohols find their way into my diet some way, and lastly corn meal is used for breads, muffins and polenta.

As a whole food, I use corn in as many recipes as I can when it has reached its peak sweetness. Primarily, I like to throw the ears on the grill to slightly char the kernels before cutting them from the cob. The high heat from the fire not only imparts a smoky flavor and nice aesthetic but also caramelizes the natural sugars, enhancing the sweetness without overcooking.

I use the charred al dente kernels in salsas and salads, alone with some butter and salt or as an addition to potato dishes. In the recipe here, the corn is added to both potatoes and fresh vegetables furthering its ambiguity and enhancing the flavor profile.

Corn’s ambiguity is present in its sexuality and reproduction, too. The hermaphroditic corn stalk contains both male (tassels on the top) and female parts (the ears and silks). Even though it can self-pollinate, it does a better job in a field with a lot of other stalks much like a great big corn orgy.

What I find most interesting about corns’ reproduction is that each strand of silk that is protected by the husk translates to an individual kernel of corn. The silk strand is actually a tiny tube that, once the tip is contacted by a male gamete, ushers the cell to its base (some 6 inches) for the growth of the corn kernel.

I cannot pretend to be able to give you all the facts I wish I could here, but hope that this column’s personification of an American staple will spark new interests. Though ambiguousness, assertion and controversy are words not commonly associated with food, they are very descriptive for corn’s infiltration of our diets.

Is corn the Lady Gaga of our tables? Working its way into all the crevices of our daily routines? Not being able to turn around without seeing the decked out persona? Perhaps, but I’m certain that preparation, study and consumption are probably the simplest ways to find out.

bobby’s recipe

Summer vegetable succotash

I am truly inspired by this dish because of the full variety of food types present in what, at first glance, would appear to be a vegetable specific side dish. The inclusion of edamame instead of the traditional lima bean, pack the dish with protein while the corn and potato distribute your meal’s starch allowance.

I like to serve this dish as a side with southwestern-style dry rubbed pork chops or a spicy grilled chicken dish but it is also perfectly suitable to stand alone as a main for a vegetarian or vegan meal once the pancetta is omitted.

5 red potatoes
2 tablespoons of olive oil
3/4-inch slice of pancetta
Three small zucchinis
Kernels from 3 ears of corn
14 ounces thawed, shelled edamame
5 sprigs of thyme
1/2 cup finely diced red onion

Cut the potatoes into one-inch cubes and boil for 10 minutes. Allow to cool. Sauté the potatoes in the olive oil over high heat, turning occasionally, until browned. Set aside.

In a 12-inch skillet, sauté the pancetta, cubed to 1/4 inch, until browned. Remove the pancetta with a slotted spoon, reserving the grease, and set aside.

Slice the zucchinis in half-length, then slice into 1/2-inch thick half-rounds (width wise). In the pancetta grease, sauté the corn kernels and the zucchini over a high heat until just browned (about 7 minutes). Add in the thawed, shelled edamame and the reserved potatoes to the pan. Stir gently and cook until all the contents have been warmed then remove from the heat.

Stir in the thyme leaves and diced red onion. Serve immediately and garnish (sparingly) with the pancetta.

For an added flair, hollow a large heirloom tomato and make a slice down one side. Spoon the succotash into the tomato cup and allow to overflow from the slit.

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Indulging in guilty food pleasures Thu, 26 May 2011 20:36:40 +0000

When shopping, look for veal from calves that were mother-milk fed and were free-range raised.

Guilt! I know I carry it along with me about a great many instances and occurrences: things I have done, things I have not done, and things I have failed to do. I don’t know if it is my Catholic upbringing or just a sense of self-masochism, but guilt follows me perpetually.

In the realm of food, some allow guilt to guide them to a vegetarian, pescetarian or a vegan diet so that they do not participate in what they feel to be cruel treatment of animals. Personally, I do not allow the contribution of food-based guilt to inhibit my guilty food pleasures.

I do not argue that animals should live the most comfortable life possible within reason. Instead, certain food products should be researched before turning a blind eye. There are specific instances, aside from the argument of antibiotics, where buying food products of more humanely raised animals not only contribute to their overall wellness, but to ours, too.

Cows raised on a natural diet of grass (instead of the industry standard of corn and animal meal) live a less bloated life and give us better tasting meat. Free-range chicken eggs not only taste better but also have an abundance of nutrients not found in ones produced, again, on a corn diet.

Free-range chicken eggs not only taste better but also have an abundance of nutrients.

Veal, the meat of baby calves (mostly male) that traditionally had been kept from excess movement, prevent the toughening of the meat. There have been many measures decreasing full restraint and increasing quality of life (for as little time as that may be). When shopping, look for calves that give us veal that have been mother-milk fed and were raised free range, allowed to roam freely for their limited life span, fed also on grass and grains, without antibiotics and delicious once breaded and baked.

Less common but arguably more detested is foie gras. The buttery-smooth and delicious engorged liver of a force-fed French goose. The qualities of the liver are imparted to the organ by feeding the goose enough grains that the liver does not have enough time to process all the contents to waste and, instead, deposits the excess fats to the liver.

Of course there are options other than a “gavage”-ed goose if you would like to enjoy the creamy texture of foie gras: some (non-French) productions time the slaughter of the goose so that it synchs with the natural overeating of the bird just before migration time. Another option is to infuse chicken livers with butter and heavy cream that is turned into a mousse-like pâté that I call a faux gras (recipe included). Although it will never match true foie gras, it just might make you a better foodie who can live guilt-free. bobby’s recipe

bobby’s recipe

Faux gras

This recipe is great as a starter for parties and does not have a strong liver flavor to ease your less adventurous guests into the realms of pâté or foie gras.

4 cups water
1 lb. chicken livers
1/4 brick of soft tofu
1/2 cup brandy
1 cup diced shallots
2 tablespoons butter
2 minced garlic cloves
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 3/4 sticks butter
melted ghee or clarified butter

Do ahead: drain and trim the chicken livers then roughly chop. Cube the tofu, combine with the livers and let soak in the brandy for at least one hour then drain before use.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and place the rack in the middle. Bring the water to a simmer.

Over a moderately low heat, sauté the shallots in the butter until translucent (10 minutes or less). Stir in the garlic cloves and the heavy cream. Increase the heat to medium high and sauté until the cream has reduced and the shallots have absorbed most of the liquid (about 15 minutes). Remove from heat and stir in the sticks of butter, return to heat and stir until the butter is melted and combined.

Combine the onion mixture with the liver and tofu and homogenize using an immersion or counter blender. Pass the mixture through a fine mesh sieve and set aside.

Space four 8-ounce ramekins in a roasting pan or other, shallow, oven proof dish. Pour the liver mixture evenly between the ramekins; cover each with foil, then fill the bottom of the pan 1/3 full with simmering water. Bake until the pâté is just set (about 30 minutes) and chill, covered, for at least three hours.

Once the pâté is cold, seal the ramekins by pouring barely melted ghee (or clarified butter) over the tops so that it covers the pate and forms a seal once chilled. An alternative method (which will keep for less time) is to cover the tops with a gelée that has been prepared with fresh chopped parsley.

Allow the pâté to come up to room temperature (about 30 minutes) and serve with toast points, some softened Gorgonzola cheese, or whatever else suits your fancy. I also like to prepare a roasted tomato confit but will leave you to conjure that recipe.

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Heirloom tomatoes: Bold as nature intended Tue, 17 May 2011 16:09:47 +0000
Assortment of heirloom tomatoes

Assortment of heirloom tomatoes

Whether you choose to plant in early March or have been anticipating their arrival in the markets, heirloom tomatoes are beginning to peek their misshapen, bulbous little heads out at us all over town. Almost grotesque in their beauty of multicolored stripes, smoky purple hues and vibrant greens and yellows, these amazing fruits’ quantity will only multiply as the summer ensues, much like the asexual reproduction of adding water to a gremlin. But unlike the gremlin, the addition of bright light (and the beautiful weather we have been having) will only increase the prosperity of these adorable little monsters.

Heirloom varieties of fruits and vegetables traditionally refer to specific genetically evolved characteristics within the family that distinguish them from their cousins, such as specific disease resistance, flavor, color and shape. Aside from the most commonly sold tomatoes are heirloom varieties of eggplant, squashes and even radishes or beets to name a few. As the heirloom’s popularity has increased, the criteria for classification has become inversely proportional, allowing varieties whose phenotype might suggest an heirloom quality to be so called, while the genotype begs to differ.

But who cares really, except for the most orthodox of fruit and vegetable enthusiasts. If it looks cool and tastes good, nobody’s getting hurt and nobody is the wiser.

My focus is on heirloom tomatoes because they are the first to appear, are the most diverse and continually present throughout the season. When ripe, the tomatoes have subtle flavor differences from each other and an apparent sweetness that is lacking in the more traditional Roma or Vine Ripe sold throughout the year.

The best way to find out the difference is to simply taste them yourself, raw with a sprinkle of salt to cut the acidity. You will soon be an expert at differentiating between the Cherokee Purple, Yellow Brandywine, Green Zebra or Moskvich varieties.

Heirlooms are also cultivated as cherry-sized tomatoes. Trader Joe’s has a great variety pack right now sold for $3 a pint that I use for the included recipe. The variety pack is nice because it distributes a far greater spectrum of color and more flavors than using slices of the larger varieties and often is less expensive per pound.

These aesthetic beauties will dress up any of the traditional dishes you would have otherwise used raw red tomatoes for, such as a Caprese or House salad, but why not go further into more elaborate preparations that will show off both the beauty of the ingredients and the inventiveness of the cook.

Heirloom tomato tart

One such idea is using the basic flavor profile of a Caprese salad and making it into an heirloom tomato tart with pesto and mozzarella. Use a pre-bought nine-inch pie shell and bake as directed after cracking black pepper on the bottom. Then take 3/4 pound thinly sliced mozzarella, 1/2 cup pesto and 2 pounds sliced mixed heirloom tomatoes (that have been separated into thirds) and layer evenly to build the tart. It can be eaten at room temperature. You could even pour an egg and cream mix over the tart and bake it as a quiche.

Other ideas include pureeing the tomatoes and adding them to a Bloody Mary mix or hollowing the tomato into a cup and baking it filled with a summer vegetable succotash.

Dressing yourself and your dishes up in summer colors provides a sense of levity, confidence and charisma. Being bold is what nature intended! bobby’s recipe

bobby’s recipe

Heirloom tomato tarte tatin

Usually made with stone fruits, a tarte tartin is a traditional French dessert that would be the equivalent of a caramelized upside down tart.

Since stone fruits will not be available until the fall, and I love a tarte tatin, I have developed this recipe using the traditional technique of caramelizing fruit with sugar and butter, but substitute heirloom tomatoes as the star ingredient.

I had really bad luck using ceramic ramekins while testing this recipe. Instead, I swapped to a 6 ounce Pyrex soufflé cup that browned evenly, allowing me to see that the bottom was not burning and gave a nice, domed dimension to the dessert.

2 pints heirloom cherry tomatoes
3 tablespoons butter
3 teaspoons granulated sugar
Pastry dough – enough for six 4-inch circles

Heirloom tomato tarte tatin

Peirce the skin of the cherry tomatoes with a paring knife. Squeeze the tomatoes with your fingers over the sink to get rid of the seeds.

Butter six 6-ounce soufflé cups with 1/2 tablespoon butter each and sprinkle the bottom with a generous 1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar.

Divide the seeded tomatoes evenly between the soufflé cups, place in a baking pan, loosely cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.

Remove the foil and press down on the tomatoes with the bottom of a glass or spoon to mold them into the cup. Bake uncovered for an additional hour.

Meanwhile, roll out enough pastry dough 1/8 inch thick and make six 4-inch circles. Poke the circles with a fork and refrigerate.

Remove the soufflé cups from the oven and place the pastry rounds gently on top (they should overlap). Using a butter knife, tuck the sides of the dough down around the baked tomatoes.

Increase the temperature to 425 degrees and bake for 15 minutes until the pastry is golden.

Sit for 10 minutes before running a knife around the edge and unmolding onto a plate. Serve warm with fresh made whipped cream and half a cherry tomato as a garnish.

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Blossoming into quite the pansy Thu, 05 May 2011 19:05:30 +0000


Growing up, every year for Mother’s Day I would go to the nursery with my grandmother and pick out potted flowers. There was a space reserved in the yard specifically for my mother and me to plant these gifts called, for lack of imagination as a toddler, her Mother’s Day garden.

The garden contained both annuals and perennials, any of which were chosen by me for their aesthetics alone. I look back fondly on this garden and recall that as I grew older, I became more aware of my choices and also ever more aware of my Mother’s unabashed love for these simple tokens from her son.

Recounting the varieties that were available early May in Massachusetts, it occurred to me that many of my colorful choices were ones that I see (and use) today as edible flowers: Johnny jump ups, marigolds, impatiens, chrysanthemums, geraniums, snapdragons, violets, and of course her gay son would also give pansies. Other edible flowers were present outside of the garden in the yard such as the lilac tree I used to make forts in, the squash blossoms in the garden, the apple blossoms in the orchard and the rose bushes my grandmother planted in the front of the house.

It wasn’t until my early 20s, 3,000 miles away from home, that I realized the abundance of, otherwise, underused flora at my disposal.

Of course there are a few flowers used regularly in the American diet that are probably overlooked, such as the chamomile flowers in herbal teas, the dried lavender contained in that bottle of “herbs de Provence” and (more specific to southern California) the hibiscus flowers used to make Jamaica. Also, there is that bottle of rose water in the back of your pantry, found in any supermarkets’ international isle, which you purchased for an endeavor you’re still unsure of.

White chocolate mousse with macerated raspberries

But common now, too, is the small rectangular plastic package containing a variety of the edible flowers I had planted in my mum’s garden, tucked away to the far left of all the other pre-packaged herbs.

The most straight forward uses for the package of assorted flowers would be to toss into a light spring salad or use as a garnish on any of your dishes for color (especially dessert). But once you start to separate the package and identify its contents and do some internet research, more specific uses open up.

Dried flowers with strong flavors, such as the nasturtium, marigold and lavender, are wonderful for infusing simple syrups that can be added to cocktails or plain sparkling water. I also like to use these dried flowers to infuse desserts with a cream base, such as the recipe included or another of my all-time favorites, squash-blossom crème brûlée. More sturdy petals, such as the rose or violet, can be candied at home or purchased candied from specialty food shops.

The most important thing about purchasing and using edible flowers (fresh or dried) is they must be 100 percent organic. Flowers will hold pesticides in their petals that cannot be washed out, so be sure to ask the counter clerk, florist or farmer’s market vendor before making your selection.

Another good rule of thumb: never put anything on a plate that is not edible! This may seem a straight-forward tip, but I just wanted to put it out there; it should be assumed that anything put in front of me with a fork in hand will go into my mouth.

I miss my mother often and the garden we shared so long ago, but comforted with my memories every time I enjoy the edible flowers we had planted together. I’ll probably send her some inedible flowers to brighten up her New England day while I enjoy the warmth of our amazing climate. I encourage you to explore other uses for flowers, to call your mum, to have your cake and eat it with flowers too. bobby’s recipe

bobby’s recipe

White chocolate lavender mousse with white pepper shortbread

This recipe serves about 10 people, but keeps well for up to a week, so can be used later or given to a friend (or your mother). The white pepper shortbread delivers a nice flavor and texture contrast but can be omitted for ease. Instead combine the mousse in layers with macerated fruit creating a lovely fool/trifle dessert.

For the mousse

1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons dried lavender
12 ounces white chocolate chips
1 package unflavored gelatin
6 tablespoons hot water
2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup confectioners (powdered) sugar

Bring the cream to a simmer with the lavender. Reduce the heat to just below the simmer and steep the lavender until the desired flavor strength has been reached (about seven minutes) then strain. Keep in mind that the flavor will be diluted once the recipe is finished.

In a metal bowl, pour the heated heavy cream over the white chocolate chips. Place the bowl over a pot of barely simmering water and stir occasionally until completely combined.

Dissolve the gelatin in the hot water. Stir in the dissolved gelatin to the chocolate mixture until combined.

As the chocolate mixture cools slightly, whip the heavy cream and confectioners sugar to a stiff peak.

Fold in 1/4 of the whipped cream to the tepid chocolate mix until combined. Very gently fold in the remainder of the whipped cream using a rubber spatula and an overhand motion so as to not deflate the whipped cream but incorporating fully.

The best way to distribute the mousse is to place in pastry bags before it is allowed to chill, but a storage bowl will do in a pinch and the mousse can be spooned out later.

Chill for at least four hours before serving.

For the shortbread

With a large fork or pastry blender combine:

1 stick of butter at room temperature
1/4 cup confectioners sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons white pepper
1/8 teaspoon salt

White pepper shortbread

Blend in 1 cup sifted flower until just mixed.

Roll out the dough between two pieces of parchment paper until 1/8 inch thick.

Remove the top sheet of parchment, prick generously with a fork, place the dough (still on the bottom parchment) on a cookie sheet and bake at 375 degrees for 15 minutes. The shortbread is done when the edges are golden brown and the center is still slightly soft.

Using a cookie cutter or knife, cut the shortbread into the desired shapes but do not remove until completely cooled. The shortbread will be pretty fragile.

To serve

Place the shortbread on a plate and pipe or, using two spoons, shape the mousse as desired onto the shortbread. Decorate the dessert with fresh fruit and top with a drizzle of warmed honey.

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Swine and dine Thu, 28 Apr 2011 21:53:48 +0000

Trio Porcellini

There is an inherent fear of cooking white meats that I got over long ago using a meat thermometer until I was completely comfortable estimating doneness by texture. Case in point: the other day someone commented that the chicken I had served was very tender and delivered the comment not as a compliment but as a reservation to its doneness. Jeesh, give me a break! Pork, classified as the other white meat, is no exception to this skepticism.

Pork is less cooked in the home kitchen because it does not lend itself to being overlooked if overdone. Chickens in the market today are so plumped up with saline solutions that even if overcooked are still edible with only relative dryness. Pork, on the other hand, when overcooked takes on an almost greenish-grey color and dries out so much that getting it down the hatch could be classified as a gastronomic Olympic sport.

The stigma is so great that it expands beyond the home kitchen and into the restaurant. In my years of restaurant service, I have had to coax many-a-guest toward pork menu items, knowing they were delicious and prepared to perfection, that the guest was originally dismissive of (not to mention better than other options). I hope this coaxing broke the clients’ bubble of apprehension and allowed them to experience more of restaurants’ menus.

That is not to say that restaurants will not try to execute pork-centric dishes and fail. It is important to chat with your waiter about any dish you will order when dining out but even more important if leaning toward pork. Some restaurants will serve thick pork chops at medium rare, perfectly fine for consumption but a deal breaker for some. Any waiter should know all the ins and outs of every dish’s contents and preparation. If they are unsure of the final dish, then choose something different (or ask for a different waiter).

With pig on the brain and its execution on the line, I found myself at Tre Porcellini in Hillcrest to see how they would fare against my humble opinion of pork preparation. Tre Porcellini, opened in late December 2010, translates to “three little pigs” and identifies as a modern Italian bistro. My first visit was in early January when I tried their (almost) eponymous dish, Trio Porcellini, featuring glazed pork belly, a pork chop Milanese and a slice of slow roasted pork shoulder.

Pork belly is one of those underused cuts that have gained notoriety in recent foodie vogue. It contains two layers; the top is crisp and sweet from the oven roasted glaze while the bottom is fatty and filled with flavor that melts on the tongue to distribute its flavor to every taste bud. I have often hooked an otherwise apprehensive eater on this cut by tasting them on it without divulging what it was.

A Milanese style pork shop is thin, breaded and pan fried like my grandmother used to make and was the favorite of the table once we all began sampling each other’s dishes. The bread crumbing was light and allowed the true pork flavor from the chop to combine in a duo of texture and flavor. The dish provided me with comfort in each bite that was an apparently specific device of chef Roberto Gerbino.

Gerbino was kind enough to share the recipe he uses for his slow roasted pork shoulder. A cut that is inexpensive and packed with flavor, otherwise known as pork butt, it can be cooked at home with relative ease and gain you approbation. Gerbino mixes 3 ounces each of salt and light brown sugar to rub the roast down. This is refrigerated for 12 hours, then rubbed off before being sprinkled with coarsely ground pepper and pierced with a paring knife to insert slivers of fresh garlic. The roast is tied tight with kitchen string before slow roasted at 275 degrees for five hours. The internal temperature of the pork should register 155 degrees when done (the target temp is 165 but will raise 10 degrees after 15 minutes out of the oven).

During subsequent visits, I found pork snuck into other dishes under esoteric guises such as speck (smoked prosciutto) and guanciale (pork cheek) to name a few. Beyond pork, Tre Porcellini makes all of their pastas in house and sources local vendors for produce and breads. I have had the pleasure of tasting many items, all done to perfection that include: the “mac and cheese” risotto which is smoothed through with cheddar and parmigiano and finished off with truffle oil and champagne, the braised veal ravioli is flavored with a rich mushroom sauce and served with a marrow filled shank as an accoutrement. I wish I had enough room to go on and on but I think you get the gist.

While maneuvering the menu, pay special attention to items that have the pink pig next to them; they are classified as house specialties and you can taste the love. Aside from house specialties, Tre Porcellini offers discounted beer, wine and appetizers during happy hour daily from 4-7 p.m., lunch specials and pre-fixed dinner options. You can find Tre Porcellini at 1417 University Ave. (next to Baja Betty’s) and additional information on their website,

Whether a few experiments in the kitchen with pork roasts and a meat thermometer or a visit to Tre Porcellini; I think all you little wolves will be coming around to blow the doors in; throwing out (or making) reservations for pork.

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Curing a boring menu Thu, 21 Apr 2011 19:23:57 +0000

Braised lamb shank

Most holidays I can think of encompass foods that are saturated in tradition – whether it is familial, religious or secular. For me, Easter encompasses all three, each lending a particular aspect to the annual brunch I throw. I also incorporate foods of another religious celebration because of the diversity and respect it contributes to the overall meal: Passover.

This Jewish celebration of freedom from slavery normally falls close to Easter and is readily recognized, but I feel it is less understood than the Easter story. I was originally going to write an Easter specific column but with the aforementioned thought, I thought I would outline Passover for the non-Jewish reader.

I am not Jewish nor am I an expert by any means, but I have participated in about a dozen Seders and admire the passion and extreme wealth of ancestral brotherhood associated with it. A Seder is the name of the meal eaten at sundown on the first day of Passover and literally translates to “order” or “sequence” for good reason. During the meal, participants recount the story of Exodus through religious readings from the Haggadah and use specific foods on the Seder plate to symbolize different aspects of their troubles and ultimate freedom from Egyptian slavery.

In the story of Exodus, God sends ten plagues over Egypt to show his power and ultimate want for the freedom of the Jews. These plagues are recognizable in celluloid accounts of the End of Days (think locusts and frogs raining from the sky) and in fact the entire story of Exodus is portrayed again and again in films. The final and most extreme plague was the death of all the first born sons (which would include the pharaoh’s). The Jews were instructed to slaughter a spring lamb and smear the blood above their doors, indicating to the sweeping Angel of Death to “Passover” the abode, sparing the Jewish children.

Seder plate

Seder plate

Other aspects of the Exodus are presented on the Seder plate which can vary slightly depending on sect but maintain homogeneity in the symbolism: First, raw vegetables such as celery, parsley or endive are dipped into salt water that represents the tears cried during the enslavement; next is a lamb shank that is there representing the paschal lamb sacrificed to save their first born; a boiled egg is used to symbolize the mournful reminder of the destroyed temple; unleavened bread, or matzo (probably the most recognizable), shows the haste in which the Jews left Egypt allowing no time for their bread to rise; bitter herbs, such as horseradish, are eaten to remind the participants of the cruel and bitter treatment endured while enslaved; and lastly a mixture of fruit wine and nuts, called haroset, resembles the mortar used while building the pyramids.

I have made a haroset for a Seder and also use it as chutney for roasted lamb on Easter. I mix together 2/3 cup dried figs, 2/3 cup dried apricots 1/3 cup pitted dates all finely chopped with 1 1/3 cups toasted-chopped walnuts and 1/4 cup Manischewitz. I like to season the mixture to taste with cinnamon, cayenne and ginger and substitute a Riesling when making it for a non Seder fare.

Of course, you cannot fill up on matzo and bitter herbs, so once the readings are over and remembrance is given to the ancestral strife, it’s time to eat. Many aspects of the Seder plate can be incorporated into the Passover meal such as matzo ball soup, horseradish mashed potatoes, braised lamb shanks or a parsley and endive salad.

Another item frequently on the table and also present at my Easter is fish. I will normally poach a whole salmon and doll it up à la the ’90s, but another (and much easier) option is to cure some salmon at home. I like to use roasted beets (included recipe) that stain the outer edge of the fish with a nice bright red that contrasts nicely with the pinkish-orange hue.

Whether Easter or Passover, Christmas or Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa for that matter, look to other cultures and religions for your meals’ inspiration. Food is argued to be the building blocks of cultural evolution and I can think of no better way to broaden your mind and pallet. Perhaps this Easter you might sneak in some Seder ingredients of your own.

bobby’s recipe

Beet cured salmon

This recipe will have to be pre-planned as it takes four days to cure.

Dry Mix:


1/4 cup salt
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons crushed white peppercorns
Zest of 2 lemons, 3 limes and 1 orange
Teaspoon curry

Roast two large beets wrapped in foil with olive oil at 450 degrees for 45 minutes. Cool, rub off the skins and finely grate.

House-cured salmon with dill

Take a 1/2 inch thick, 3 pound, boneless salmon filet with the skin on and cut in half width-wise.

Apply the dry rub evenly to the flesh of both halves.

Place a single layer of fresh dill sprigs on one half of the flesh and place the other half on top so that the flesh of both halves are together.

In a Pyrex dish, lay down enough plastic wrap that will cover the bottom and overlap the sides by about half the width of the Pyrex.

Sprinkle half of the grated beet on the bottom, add the salmon, sprinkle the remaining beet on top and pour in 1/4 cup vodka.

Wrap the fish tightly with the plastic wrap and weigh down with another Pyrex filled with soup cans or a brick.

Refrigerate for four days and flip every 12 hours.

Once cured, rinse off all excess dry rub and dry the salmon.

To serve: Slice the salmon thinly width-wise with some softened cream cheese and endive spears.

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Hey Mary! Thu, 07 Apr 2011 20:47:19 +0000

As a lighthouse guides a ship through the fog, so too does the idea of the Bloody Mary guide those through the fog of a hangover; out of their sleeping quarters and off to brunch. I’m assuming after the White Party, Bloody Mary sales will be up and drinkers may even look like the scary legend of a tear, blood and makeup-smeared ghoulish woman peering back at you in the mirror of a darkened bathroom.

Bloody Mary’s come in all shapes and forms these days: made with bourbon, served with beef jerky, celery-salted rims and skewers of grilled shrimp. The derivations are many, but the end results are the same: a drink that acts almost as a meal to those who might be a bit nauseous to the idea of solid foods. And depending on the ingredients chosen, this liquid meal is providing the nutritional requirements for stamina throughout the day. My recipe provided uses V8 juice, which is loaded with vitamins and minerals.

But since everyone’s tastes differ ever so slightly, if you are having a brunch at home, I like to have a build-your-own Bloody Mary bar. I provide a moderately spiked and unassertive base-mix and also side bottles of the Mary mix contents and vegetables on the side. Specific items include, but are not limited to:

• Different types of hot sauce including Cholula, Tabasco and the smoked chipotle sauce from Trader Joe’s

• Other sauces and condiments such as Worcestershire, prepared horseradish and whole grain Dijon are good to have also

• For the produce accoutrement, I include pickled green beans, raw cucumbers, pickled cauliflower and carrots, celery and romaine hearts, olives and wedges of lime and lemon

For a Bloody Mary bar, be sure to provide plenty of ice and maybe even little signs for the vegetables. You could go further and make two or three different mixes for your guests to choose from. Do not forget straws, cocktail napkins, a pepper mill and a dish of celery salt to rim the glasses if desired.

The most important thing, in my opinion, is having a shaker handy so that the Mary’s can easily be homogenized, versus the mess of trying to stir all those amazing ingredients with a straw.

I developed the recipe by having a Bloody Mary tasting party. I invited over eight people on an early Sunday afternoon and had pre-prepared four separate mixes. I made note cards with tasting notes; ascribing a one to five with respect to the heat, acidity, sweetness, saltiness, etc. and provided room for personal notes. This party was a hoot. I provided some of my favorite brunch fare and received the input to make the best Bloody Mary for all my friends at the next brunch gathering.

Don’t forget that a sick day taken the Monday after the White Party may be regarded as an obvious hangover day. Have fun and enjoy your Bloody’s.

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Cukes not nukes Thu, 31 Mar 2011 21:37:29 +0000

In the next few weeks, if not already, we will see the beginning of the cucumber season that will last us through the summer. Being common to almost all Americans, the cucumber probably does not receive the recognition it deserves and falls easily into the background. In this issue, I look at different uses for the vegetable aside from placing rounds over the eyes to reduce heavy bags or the cold cucumber salad.

Cucumbers, or cukes as my grandmother called them, are part of the gourd family. For me, the cukes high water content and subtle melon flavor are the contributions that make them so refreshing. Aside from pickling and eating raw in salads or plain with some salt at the taco shop, I like to juice cucumbers. The water is then used in many applications such as cocktails and lemonade, emulsions for a fancy summer dish, a braising liquid for fish or used to make a sorbet.

To juice a cucumber, simply peel off the skin, cut it into rounds and puree using an immersion blender or counter blender. The pulp and liquid once sieved will produce approximately 1/2 cup of juice for each common cucumber. An English cucumber, which is longer with less seeds, will give slightly more.

My two favorite cocktail recipes using cucumber are both gin based, but vodka could easily be substituted.

The first: I infuse a bottle of gin with cucumber flavor by soaking peeled, chopped cukes in the gin for three days then strain. Pour the gin over ice with the juice of half a lime and some simple syrup. I shake the heck out of it then top it off with club soda. I assure even someone who doesn’t like gin will fall in love with this cocktail.

Liven up that cocktail with some cucumber!

The second gives a stronger punch: I make a traditional gin martini using dry vermouth and Hendrick’s gin, which already has notes of cucumber, and muddle two cucumber rounds in the shaker with a very small sprig of thyme. After shaken and strained into a chilled martini glass, I garnish with a floating sprig of thyme and a cucumber round cut to fit on the side of the glass.

It may seem counter intuitive, and a little pretentious, to use cucumber water in a hot dish, but used as an emulsion or cooking liquid, the cucumber water adds its flare to a nice fish dinner and wows your guests.

I found another hot dish that uses the flesh of the cucumber written by James Beard in his book Beard on Food. He suggests peeling then cutting the cucumber into matchsticks (julienne cut), squeezing the water out of them with a kitchen towel and steaming them in butter with tarragon and lemon juice. I have tried this process a couple times, which is very mild in flavor and best served as a starter garnished with sorbet.

The sorbet I make with the cucumber water is a throw back to Bath and Body Works’ line of cucumber and melon scented products. First, make a simple syrup using 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 cup light corn syrup and 3/4 cup water. Once chilled, mix the simple syrup with 1 1/2 cups cucumber water and 1/2 cup midori, then apply to the ice cream maker per the manufacturer’s instructions. Once hardened, the sorbet is great on its own or as a garnish for a gazpacho. I have also seen it served with peppered, seared ahi called “Fire and Ice.”

We have looked at cucumber water used in drinks, as a dessert and as a savory main dish. I hope these examples have opened your mind to a new realm of cuke use and you will use the many days of spring and summer ahead to experiment. I know that I will keep myself refreshed with a cucumber cocktail and busy in the kitchen looking for other ways to utilize the many varieties I will find at the farmers’ market.

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No spring chicken Thu, 24 Mar 2011 21:51:33 +0000

Trussed chicken

Last weekend was my birthday and with it the reminder that I am not getting any younger. Reflecting on life and age, I looked to staples I have in my life – such as family, friends and my love of cooking. I also thought of culinary staples for the column and decided that roasting a chicken was a good process to describe as an essential for any home cook becoming more august. So using the “spring chicken,” which I am not, let’s roast a bird.

The easiest method to roast a chicken is to use salt, herbs and butter as a rub. I use about a pound of butter (which is greater than most recipes but yields a delicious bird) brought to room temperature mixed with lots of salt, dried thyme, pepper and lemon zest. You can incorporate any herbs and spices you like for a more specific flavor profile, but I think simple is best. The butter mixture is used as a rub to massage the entire chicken; under the skin, over the skin and in the cavity of the bird.

But before we can give the chicken a nice butter massage, we must first prepare it for use. This is the most daunting aspect of a roast chicken, but goes quickly after some practice.

Begin with a completely clean and clear, non-porous, work surface close to the sink. Open the chicken package from the drumstick side in the sink. Turn on the cold water to a medium stream so it does not splash around the outer sink area.

I have larger hands so I can grab the chicken by both drumsticks with one hand while I pull away the packaging with the other. Remove the giblet package from the chicken with your free hand and begin to rinse the bird thoroughly inside and out. Use paper towels to pat down the chicken with your free hand, using as many as necessary to completely dry the bird inside and out. Then place on the work surface.

Although not necessary, I like to smooth butter underneath the skin as well as on top of it. This ensures very moist meat. Being careful not to tear the skin, gently insert the handle of a spoon (or your finger) underneath the skin of the breast at the neck end and slide it back and forth breaking the seal between the two. Slide a tablespoon of the softened butter mixture under the skin of each side of the breast and massage it evenly under the surface. Repeat the process with the chicken thighs and legs using a half tablespoon beneath the skin.

The remaining butter can now be massaged on the outer surface of the bird thoroughly and evenly.

The last step in preparing the bird is stuffing and trussing. I recently watched an episode of the French Chef with Julia Child where she binds the bird like something out of an S&M movie, then spanks it on the ass (no joke), which I assure you is unnecessary.

First, stuff the cavity of the bird with roughly chopped aromatics, such as carrot, onion and celery. Take the small wing tips and bend them so that they are tucked underneath the neck end of the bird.

Lastly, using kitchen twine, tie the legs as taunt to the body as possible crossing them at the ankle like a lady. You can spank the bird now, if you wish, but it will not add anything to the flavor.

Once prepared for the oven, roasting the bird is easy. There are a couple of methods I use depending on the size and my mood: The chicken can be placed on a flat rack in a shallow pan and cooked with little basting and one 180 degree turn half way through cooking.

If you do not have a flat rack, a single layer of thickly chopped carrots and onions tossed in oil will do the trick. For a more evenly browned bird, place it in a V-rack and roast it in a deeper pan.

The French Chef with Julia Child: “the chicken show”

I start with the bird on its side and rotate it three times until it is breast side up where it will finish roasting, registering an internal leg temperature of 175 degrees when done.

If you find the bird to be browning too quickly, a loose aluminum foil tent will protect the skin as the meat finishes off.

Each year, my birthday gets easier and easier to manage as will the roasted chicken with practice; yielding a wonderfully browned specimen speckled with spots of seasoning and juicy, flavorful meat. Perhaps I’ll start to massage myself with butter to secure my suppleness after being bound and smacked on the bottom to celebrate the next year of my life. So with Julia Child in mind, I bid you farewell with, “Bon appetit.”

bobby’s recipe

Simple roasted chicken

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and move the top rack to center.

Mix together:

6 tablespoons softened butter
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon lemon zest

A perfectly golden-brown roaster

Prepare one whole chicken (4-5 pounds) as described in the column, being sure any excess fat is pulled away from the neck cavity. Under each side of the breast skin, smooth one tablespoon of the butter mixture. Smooth half a tablespoon under each thigh and leg. Sprinkle the chicken with a scant amount of salt and pepper, inside and out, and rub down with the remaining butter mixture. Fill the cavity of the bird with unpeeled onion quarters, some thickly chopped carrot, two (optional) lemon quarters and some small celery stalks.

Truss and place on a flat rack (or layer of thick cut onions and carrots) in a roasting pan and roast for 45 minutes. Rotate the pan 180 degrees and continue to roast for an additional 30-45 minutes periodically checking the browning of the skin. If the skin is becoming too brown, use a piece of tinfoil to loosely cover the breast cinching it to the sides of the roasting pan so it is not in direct contact.

Take the temperature of the chicken in the thickest part of the thigh after the last 30 minutes. The chicken is done when the temperature registers 175 degrees (cooking times will have to be adjusted for larger or smaller birds). Allow the chicken to sit covered for 15 minutes. The internal temperature will rise 10 degrees out of the oven and the juices will evenly redistribute through the meat.

Carve the chicken and serve with your favorite starch and vegetable. I prefer roasted potatoes that I throw in the oven with the bird for the last 30 minutes and some pan sautéed zucchinis.

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Green thumbs are in fashion Thu, 17 Mar 2011 20:06:53 +0000


Form versus function seems to be an omnipresent choice in my world: shoes, clothes, kitchen organization and even vegetable planting. With spring next week, I will face a new wealth of these choices: a whole quarter of my closet to choose from again, spring cleaning, organizing and what kind of vegetables I will grow. Of all these choices, I have come to find that vegetable planting can be a perfect marriage of both form and function.

I did not always think that the last statement could be true. In Massachusetts, we always had a vegetable garden, but it wasn’t always the prettiest thing to look at. It wasn’t until the spring of 2009, when I initiated an urban raised-bed garden on the back patio of California Cuisine, that I became painstakingly aware that an edible garden could (and in this case had to) be aesthetically pleasing.

We called it the “Avant-Garden” and by careful planning, diligent maintenance and 300+ square feet of soil grew more than 20 different types of vegetables. Not everyone will have the space, time or desire to command such an intensive feat.

I’d prefer you forego the leggy-herb garden and topsy-turvy upside down planters of past seasons. Instead, try planting some simple, ornamental, edible and container friendly vegetables combining beauty whilst producing edible goods.

The components are simple: a well designed container, soil, sunlight, plants and minimal care.

I prefer square containers made of redwood (plastic works, too), at least 12 by 12 by 12 inches with adequate drainage holes evenly spaced over the bottom surface area. Line the bottom with chicken wire, purchased and cut to size at the hardware store. Fill the bottom about 2 inches deep with river rocks that will facilitate drainage. Lastly, fill the pot with pre-fertilized vegetable potting soil to just beneath the rim. These types of containers are ideal for larger, fruit bearing vegetables, such as eggplants and tomatoes.

I go to the Hillcrest Farmer’s market to buy starter vegetables for planting. The growers are very knowledgeable and will tell you precisely what kind of light and soil the plants need. I prefer to grow vegetables that require full to medium sun to make my life easier.

For small-apartment container gardening, I find that the most visually stimulating and easy to maintain are a combination of Malabar spinach, Asian varieties of eggplant and red chard.

Malabar spinach is not part of the spinach family but named so because of its similar taste and appearance. It produces beautiful deep purple berries during its life cycle and instead of growing close to the soil like traditional spinach, Malabar spinach grows as thin red vines and works very well up trellises. With time, the spinach will fill a square trellis (plant three to four equally spaced in the container described) and act as an edible border for a street or condo facing balcony. Sauté the Malabar spinach as you would any other dark green or serve raw in salads.

Asian varieties of eggplant are good patio plants, not only because they don’t generally grow over 3 feet tall, but continually produce both flowers and small fruit throughout the season. Choosing multiple heirloom varieties for several different containers provides the growing space color diversity without the hassle of different growing conditions. Be sure to pick the fruit when it has reached three-quarters of its full maturity to encourage new flower growth and provide you with the main ingredient for the included recipe.

Red chard

Red chard can be planted alone in a slightly smaller container than the one described or as a border for either the Malabar spinach or eggplant. The chard will use the top soil while the larger plants root deeper, called underplanting, utilizing all the soils nutrients. The red chard produces very dramatic red stalks against its dark green leaves filling in the perimeter of the planting container in a very short period of time. Once mature (about 10 inch long leaves) cut the chard four inches above the soil and it will grow back multiple times throughout the growing season.

As with all plants, they will only grow as well as they are provided for, so please do not neglect watering them. In the heat of the summer, patio vegetable plants will probably need to be watered daily before the heat of the noon sun.

Stick your finger deep down there. If the soil is dry more than 4 inches below the surface, then it’s time to spray them down. Water the soil until it is completely saturated and water is draining from the bottom holes.

While choosing to till the soil, design an edible patio garden or wear white shoes before Memorial Day. Let’s keep in mind the balance of form and function. Looking for an equilibrium between the two in our lives and, perhaps, in ourselves during this time of new growth and emerging life.

bobby’s recipe

Pan seared baby eggplant with herbed goat cheese spread

With the mention of California Cuisine (1987-2009), I was reminded of this dish they served when I first started working there in 1999, under chef Chris Walsh. This is a simple derivation from memory to show off the true flavor of the small, sweeter eggplant.

For the eggplant

To start, pre-heat an iron skillet over high heat.

Leaving the stem intact, carefully slice a baby eggplant lengthwise in 1/4 inch slices. Salt, pepper and oil the fruit being sure to coat all the exposed surfaces without breaking the stem.

Fan out the eggplant and apply to the grill or skillet. Cook until the eggplant is darkened to golden brown. Turn the eggplant and cook until the same coloring is achieved.

Set aside on an oven-proof sheet and repeat with as many eggplants as desired. Transfer the eggplants to a 350 degree oven and warm until the fruit reaches the desired softness and temperature (approximately five minutes).

Serve a whole eggplant per person with one heaping tablespoon of herbed goat cheese spread.

For the goat cheese spread

5 ounces softened goat’s cheese at room temperature
2 teaspoons fresh chopped thyme
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1 garlic clove, finely minced
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Mix all ingredients together in a small bowl. Serves six.

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Everything’s going to pot Thu, 10 Mar 2011 19:24:07 +0000

The essence of a one-pot meal is it is economical, dishwasher friendly and (if the recipe is right) brings people together. In this time of a subdued economy, the one-pot meal has brought me household savings and communion over the stove, both of which provide relief from what can otherwise be an unnerving time. So, with catharsis at stake, the choice of the pot in which the meal will be made is of utmost importance.

I bought my first Dutch oven in 2006 and have not stopped using it since. Aside from the sauté pans, this is the most used piece of equipment in my kitchen. I use it for sauces, risottos, soups, deep frying, browning meats, braising and even making rice.

Its qualities are the same as those found in a cast iron skillet because beneath its shiny enameled exterior is, in fact, cast iron which conducts heat evenly; its temperature reduces little when contents are added and it can go from stove top to oven.

The Dutch oven wins out over the cast iron skillet because of its high sides and smooth surface. The former quality, allows for the one-pot meal (where the skillet is good for only one dish really).

It also utilizes quite a few cooking methods from start to finish. One can sauté aromatics, brown meat, deglaze the pot, then put a lid on it and move it to the oven where it will finish cooking with a slow braise. One of my favorite one-pot dishes (presented here) uses all these methods and has been repeated time and again by friends because of its ease in preparation and wealth of flavor.

The choice of a Dutch oven is easy. Be sure it is made of cast iron and has a quality enamel seal. I have seen aluminum stock pots sold under the name of a Dutch oven, so buyers beware! The other nuances of Dutch ovens are cost and design which are subject to the cooks pocketbook and preferences.

Mine is an avocado green, six quart, Mario Batali Italian Essentials, weighing in at 15.2 pounds with a price tag of $89.99. Also, the lid has self basting spikes which allow the steam to condense back into the pot during cooking. Both the lid and price is what won me over the Le Creuset which rings in at $230 sans the “basting” spikes.

Whichever Dutch oven you choose and recipes that are made in it, know that it will stand as a cornerstone of the kitchen, providing a place for food, friends and family to commune. And during rough times, it is this that keeps my moral up and stomach full.

bobby’s recipe

Chicken bouillabaisse

This recipe is derived from an Ina Garten recipe on The Barefoot Contessa and although these contents are not that of a traditional bouillabaisse, the recipe protocols are the same.

6 chicken thighs (about 2 pounds)
1 large onion, diced
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup dry vermouth
14 ounces chicken stock
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
The zest of 1/4 orange

In a six quart Dutch oven over medium heat, melt the butter with the olive oil. Increase heat to medium high and add in the chicken thighs, smooth side down. Brown the thighs on both sides (about five minutes per side) adjusting the heat as necessary, until golden brown and fond has formed on the bottom of the pot.

Remove the chicken thighs to a side plate, reduce heat to medium and add to the pot the diced onion. Sauté the onions, stirring occasionally, until translucent and slightly golden (about 10 minutes). Add in the garlic and continue to sauté for three minutes.

Separate the contents and liquid from the can of diced tomatoes.

Add in the diced tomato and sauté over high heat until the tomato has darkened in color (less than five minutes) adjusting the heat so that the onions and garlic will not burn.

Deglaze the pan with the dry vermouth, releasing all brown bits from the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon. Add in the chicken stock, canned tomato liquid, saffron threads, fresh thyme and the orange zest. Bring the liquid to a simmer; add back all the chicken thighs in a single layer being sure they are submerged (adding more chicken stock if necessary).

Put the lid on the pot and transfer to the middle rack of a 375 degree oven. Bake for 45 minutes.

In the meantime, make a faux rouille and crostinis

Mix together:

1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 minced cloves of garlic
1/2 teaspoon paprika
Salt and pepper to taste

Cut quarter to half inch slices (on the bias) of a French baguette. Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet and paint (or drizzle) with olive oil. Set aside.

If you like a thicker stew, add a roux to the liquid

Gently melt two tablespoons butter in a small sauté pan until the foam subsides. Add in three tablespoons flour and sauté over medium heat until just barely browned. Set aside.

Remove the Dutch oven to the stove top uncovered. Adjust the heat so that the liquid is at a simmer, add in the roux and simmer until thickened.

Place the bread into the oven and bake until the desired crispness is reached (about four to six minutes for my liking).

To serve

Remove a chicken thigh to a shallow bowl using tongs. Spoon bouillabaisse liquid over the chicken thigh and top (in the middle) with a tablespoon of the faux rouille. Place three crostinis on the side of the bowl and serve.

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All hail Caesar Salad Thu, 24 Feb 2011 22:04:20 +0000

While watching the Academy Awards and deciding who are the best and worst dressed, here is some food for thought. How do you think the celebs were looking at the Hotel Caesars on Revolucion in Tijuana back in the 20s and early 30s? Dashing south of the border to whoop it up, skirting the U.S.’s prohibition, at the birth place of the Caesar salad. I might say that the salad, of all involved, may have very well been the most put together and best dressed at the end of the evening.

Caesar salad is a restaurant staple and, as previously mentioned, has its origins in southern California. Caesar Cardini, an Italian-born Mexican, began operating restaurants in SoCal in the early 1920s. His first in San Diego was in the Kahn building on the corner of Sixth and University from 1923 until 1972, better known today as housing The City Deli.

Cardini operated the sister restaurant in Tijuana so he could sell wine and spirits outside of the United States prohibition laws. The tale goes that when a fourth of July rush had depleted his restaurant of ingredients, Cardini gathered rogue items still available in the kitchen and made the salad table-side to otherwise distract the guests that this house special was in fact a hodge-podge of pantry wallflowers.

These days, the Caesar salad is found with all types of permutations from the original. Chopped romaine, polenta croutons, anchovy fillets, Cotija cheese, a chicken breast or even grilled lettuce. From what I gather, the original Caesar was made of whole leaf hearts of romaine, lightly tossed in a dressing composed of garlic, acids, egg yolks, olive oil and parmesan cheese, served with a coddled egg and supposedly eaten with your fingers.

That is not to say that other variations are not good, just different. As you will see in the recipe, I substitute regular croutons for those made of cornbread and I do love whole anchovy fillets.

So let’s deconstruct the ingredients’ contribution to the full outfit and see how it fares on the red carpet (I guess here, that would be your tongue). The garlic provides a perfume that wafts into each nook of the golden blonde yolk which stretches itself out thin to provide a silky layer for the other flavors to lay against. The dressing begins to glisten after being whisked around a bit with its olive oil counterpart. And the whole ensemble hangs brilliantly on the smooth thin legs of the heart of romaine. Food never sounded so sexy!

As with any tale, there are refutes and other claims as to the origin of the Caesar salad but I like a dramatic story. I entertain myself with an unperturbed idea that the owner himself created the salad amidst a bunch of sloppy drunk celebrities on a busy Fourth of July evening in his restaurant at the Hotel Caesars, Tijuana. Perhaps that night both Caesar Cardini and his inventive salad were, truly, the best dressed.

bobby’s recipe


I follow the traditional serving suggestion of using the whole hearts of romaine, with a coddled egg and eating it with your fingers. However, you can stray from the original recipe by using anchovy and cornbread croutons. This recipe will be easier made with a food processor, but a whisk and strong wrist will work just fine.

Serves 6


3 crushed cloves of garlic
2 anchovy fillets
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
3 egg yolks
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
5 dashes of Tabasco
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan

In a food processor (or using a mortar and pistil), combine the garlic, anchovy fillets, salt and pepper until a paste. Combine this paste (using a whisk if necessary) with the egg yolks, red wine vinegar, Tabasco and lemon juice.

Once combined, slowly add in (emulsify) the olive oil until you have reached the desired consistency. Stir in the Parmesan cheese.

Cornbread croutons

1 3/4 cups cornmeal
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups buttermilk
2 eggs
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper

Sift together the cornmeal, sugar, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Aside whisk together the buttermilk and the eggs. Combine the wet mixture to the dry.

Coat the sides and bottom of an 8 by 8 inch Pyrex (or any other pan with the same volume) with a thin layer of bacon fat or Crisco. Place in the oven until the fat starts to smoke then remove. Pour in the cornbread mixture evenly and bake for 25 minutes (or until otherwise set). Allow to cool. Remove from pan and cut into 3/4 inch cubes. Allow to dry out in a single layer uncovered overnight.

Toss the cubes in the melted butter and olive oil. Sprinkle with the salt and pepper (plus any herbs you may desire). Bake in a single layer at 400 degrees for 15 minutes, turning frequently. Once at room temperature, the croutons can be stored in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.


Separate four to five hearts of romaine depending on size and desired salad size. Rinse the leaves and dry thoroughly.

Working in two batches with a large bowl, drizzle the dressing over the romaine heart leaves and gently toss in a circular motion.

Plate the tossed leaves on chilled plates and top with fresh, course-grated, Parmesan cheese and cornbread croutons being sure to reserve a strategically small space for the coddled egg. Be the first to show your dinner companions that the salad should be eaten with their fingers.

To coddle an egg: Bring enough water to the boil that will cover a cracked egg. Reduce the water to a simmer and crack the eggs into the water one at a time, immediately swirling the water around them with a slotted spoon. Coddle only a few eggs at a time so they have plenty of room and won’t break while cooking (probably two batches if doing six). Remove the eggs with a slotted spoon to a shallow bowl after 2-3 minutes depending on your preferred doneness. Again, you don’t want to crowd or break the yolks. Simply slide the eggs out of the shallow bowl atop the prepared salad when ready.

Bobby R. Presents appears in each issue of the San Diego LGBT Weekly. Questions and comments can be sent to

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Fresh berry tart with pastry cream Thu, 17 Feb 2011 18:42:21 +0000

I usually reserve this recipe for my annual Easter Brunch, but present it here because it fits the bill so well. You will want to use the freshest berries in the market.

For the pastry cream:

3 cups of milk

12 large eggs

1 1/2 cups sugar

1/4 cup cornstarch

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 teaspoons cognac

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 tablespoons heavy cream

Over low heat in a saucepan bring 3 cups milk to just under the boiling point (scalded).

In a kitchen stand mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, beat 12 large eggs on low speed until the membranes have been broken. Add in 1 1/2 cups sugar and beat on medium high until thick and pale yellow (about four minutes).

Reduce speed to low and add in 1/4 cup cornstarch until combined. Keeping the speed on low, slowly add in (temper) the scalded milk.

While the kitchen appliance stirs, rinse and clean the saucepan. Return the tempered yolk mixture to the saucepan and heat over medium low. Constantly stir the mixture with a wooden spoon, scraping the bottom diligently until the mixture separates.

Do not panic! Swap to a whisk and beat the mixture until it comes to a thick homogenous “pudding” consistency (about 2 minutes). Remove from the heat.

Stir in 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, 2 teaspoons cognac, 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract and 2 tablespoons heavy cream. Push through a fine mesh sieve and chill.

For the tart shell:

I used to make my own pâte brisée, but have found that store bought raw pastry dough works just as well and leaves the kitchen without a fine layer of flour. I use a tart pan, with a removable bottom, that is approximately 13.5 by 4 inches. This recipe will make two of these tarts.

Preheat the oven to 375°.

On a floured surface, roll out the dough to fit in the pan. The dough should fit about 1⁄4 inches above the rim without stretching or it will shrink. Butter some aluminum foil and fit it directly on the dough in the pan. Fill the aluminum with dried beans or rice to weight down the dough.

Bake for 10 minutes. Remove the aluminum weight and prick the bottom of the pastry shell over with a fork. Return to the oven and bake an additional 15 minutes or until golden brown. Allow to cool completely before removing the finished pastry shell from the pan.

Filling the tart:

Cut 2 pints of strawberries in half or in quarter depending on their size.

Fill the tart shells with the pastry cream and line the perimeter with the cut strawberries. Fill in the inside with blueberries then top the center with bright red raspberries.

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Any cock-a-doodle-doo Thu, 17 Feb 2011 18:42:19 +0000

Egg laying chicken.

“Thees is Francisco, I huv caught the rooster, I will be back for the hens.” In my Imaginarium, I hear these words as a cryptic incantation for an elaborate spy story’s segue. In the real world, it was a voicemail to a good friend of mine I call “Poodle.” Poodle lives in Golden Hill and has had a rooster and chickens running feral in his backyard for months. Until he sought the assistance of an immigrant associate, who left the aforementioned voice message, the clucks, poops and otherwise annoying occurrences that the fowl manifested bothered his solace.

These chickens were once domesticated, escaped, and have learned to survive wild in our tumultuous climate. I believe that the practice of urban chicken farming is far more prevalent than most would think in the San Diego area.

By my understanding of the zoning laws, one household may keep up to eight chickens (no roosters) in an urban setting as long as the coop and all other accoutrements are kept outside, at least 50 feet from resident’s abodes. In my research, a woman called Shelly Stewart is doing it in University Heights and has a video on YouTube.

A glimpse at Bobby R’s personal notebook.

So, why am I talking about keeping chickens? Aside from an amazing feat of sustainable urban living, they lay eggs. A package of indisputable nutrition and, ultimately, life. The egg of any species is an amazing packet of life fuel and acts as a philosophical tool to mankind. Was it the chicken or the egg? The mother life of earth is considered the egg and there are many analogies between life sustenance and the origin of the egg as a symbol for creation.

For the chef, the egg is a great tool because of its whole ubiquity and individual compartmentalization with respect to use: A whole egg is coddled then placed on toast for my breakfast; while yolks and whites are easily separated by hand, due to the membranes that bind them together. Each component can be used independently in numerous kitchen recipes or combined in an almost infinitesimal amount of variations and ratios. The yolk alone (which is used in the included recipe) is paramount in pastry creams, ice creams and hollandaise-like sauces while the whites are reserved for meringues, soufflés and otherwise lower cholesterol breakfasts.

Keeping your ears perked while enjoying your next breakfast or pastry cream, perhaps you’ll hear the cock-a-doodle-doo of an unzoned rooster from a guerilla chicken farmer right next door. Unlike my Poodle, let the sound bring joy instead of disdain, that sustainable-urban farming is so close at hand.

Bobby R. Presents appears in each issue of the San Diego LGBT Weekly. Questions and comments can be sent to

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Grapefruit and miso glazed salmon on jasmine tea rice with roasted radicchio Sat, 12 Feb 2011 20:20:57 +0000

Grilled radicchio with blue cheese.

The recipe here serves six. Unless you’re having guests over for Valentine’s Day, reduce the fish and radicchio portion of the recipe. The rice recipe is difficult to reduce with respect to the liquid volume, so plan on having left overs to turn into sticky rice, rice balls or whatever your bitter heart desires. The radicchio can be baked on the lower third of the oven and can stay in while broiling the fish to keep hot. The tannins in the jasmine tea present a slightly bitter flavor also, that is nicely offset by the addition of sweetened coconut milk.

For the radicchio:

3 large radicchio heads

Olive oil

Shredded mozzarella

Balsamic vinegar

Salt, to taste

Quarter three large heads of radicchio, leaving the base intact, and place into a bowl of cold salted water for 30 minutes.

Dry off the radicchio and toss the quarters in olive oil.

Gently separate the leaves and sprinkle shredded mozzarella in between.

Drizzle balsamic vinegar on and in the crevices of the radicchio quarters.

Bake for 30 minutes at 375° (or until otherwise softened).

For the fish:

Six 6 ounce salmon filets

Olive oil

Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and preheat the broiler.

Coat the baking sheet with some olive oil and place six 6 ounce salmon filets on the sheet, skin side down leaving room between the filets.

Miso glazed salmon.

For the miso mixture:

1/3 cup yellow miso (red works too)

2 tablespoons grapefruit juice

1 tablespoon mirin (Japanese rice wine)

2 teaspoons soy sauce

1 teaspoon dark brown sugar

1 teaspoon grapefruit zest

Whisk together the above ingredients.

Paint the miso mixture evenly onto the tops of all fish filets. Place the fish 6 inches under the broiler. Allow the fish to broil until the tops have become golden and caramelized (about 5 minutes). Loosely cover the fish with foil and continue to broil an additional 5 minutes until cooked through.

For the rice:

1 jasmine tea bag

1 3⁄4 cups boiling water

1 1⁄4 cups jasmine or long grain rice

1⁄4 cup sweetened coconut milk

Bring 1 3⁄4 cups water to the boil. Steep a jasmine tea bag in the boiling water for three minutes. Remove the bag, reduce water to a simmer and add 1 1⁄4 cups jasmine or long grain rice. Cover and cook over low heat until the rice is tender (about 15 minutes). Allow the rice to rest for an additional 15 minutes. Add in 1⁄4 cup sweetened coconut milk and fluff with a fork.

For the balsamic vinegar reduction:

1⁄2 cup balsamic vinegar

Broiled salmon with radicchio.

2 tablespoons sugar to 1⁄4 cup

In a small sauté pan reduce 1⁄2 cup balsamic vinegar and 2 tablespoons sugar to 1⁄4 cup.

Be sure to warm your plates in the oven for a few minutes. Serve the salmon on top of the rice with the radicchio wedges to the side. Finish off the plate with a drizzle of the balsamic vinegar reduction.

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The sweet bitterness of Valentine’s Day Sat, 12 Feb 2011 20:20:55 +0000

Roasted radicchio with frisée.

As arbitrary as the observance of Valentine’s Day is associated with Chaucer’s Parlement of Foules, so too is an amount of bitterness I have in participating for the sake of another’s liking. I should not allow something so silly to consume me, but with that said, in any relationship whether amorous or platonic, there must be concessions. I will be sweet to my lover by cooking us a Valentine’s Day dinner, but get my own satisfaction by using bitter ingredients in the cache.

Of the five perceivable taste sensations, the taste of bitter is interesting to me because, as well as producing a certain satisfaction to some people’s taste buds, it can be transformed into the sweet by the application of certain cooking methods.

Onions are caramelized by slowly sautéing over low heat, eggplant’s bitterness is softened by soaking it in milk and radicchio is transformed to a marvelous bittersweet side after it has been slowly roasted.

Radicchio is one of my favorite bitter vegetables for its brilliant color. I like it too because it’s another vegetable that is underused simply because people don’t know what to do with it, which seems to be a recurring theme in these columns. In the recipe included, the radicchio lends a beautiful red-purple color to the dish that looks nice for the Valentine’s Day theme. Radicchio can also be halved and grilled followed up with a sprinkle of Gorgonzola or braised in chicken stock as a simple addition to a weeknight dinner.

Whatever vegetable you may be confronting in the market, whether bitter and foreign or sweet and familiar, be open to experimentation. It is a good way to increase your diet and overall kitchen know-how. So now I take the route of the eggplant, fixing myself a hot bath with a half gallon of milk and some rose petals. Hopefully it will soften the skin and my otherwise alkaline disposition before it is time to cook dinner for my sweetie.

Bobby R. Presents appears in each issue of the San Diego LGBT Weekly. Questions and comments can be sent to

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Basic Quinoa Preparation Thu, 03 Feb 2011 21:11:52 +0000

1 cup quinoa
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
Salt, to taste

Rinse the quinoa thoroughly. In a deep large skillet or kitchen pan heat the olive oil over a medium heat until shimmering. Add in the minced garlic and sauté until just golden. Add in the rinsed quinoa stirring constantly until the grains are slightly browned and separated. Stir in the stock and bring to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, reduce the heat so the liquid is at a simmer and continue to cook until the liquid has been absorbed (about 15 minutes). Fluff the quinoa with a fork and salt to taste.

Two-step variation for a dryer, fluffier quinoa:

(I think this preparation is best with scarlet quinoa that looks fine without the browning step that is included in the above preparation.)

Rinse thoroughly 1 1/2 cups quinoa, rubbing through to separate the grains. Do this with the quinoa in a sieve that is set in a bowl of cold water. Rinse the quinoa in a couple changes of the water for thorough cleaning and separation.

Boil the quinoa in a 4 quart saucepan with enough water to cover the grains for 10 minutes. Drain the quinoa in a sieve and rinse with cold water. In the same saucepan, bring about 2 inches of water to a boil. Set the sieve containing the quinoa onto the saucepan being sure the water does not touch the bottom. (If you do not have a sieve that sits on the top of the saucepan, a cheese lined colander will work also.) Cover the quinoa with a thin kitchen towel and lid being sure the edges of the towel are not hanging over so they won’t burn. Steam the quinoa for ten to fifteen minutes until fluffy. Remove the quinoa to a bowl and toss with olive oil and whatever other herbs, spices and vegetables you like. Quinoa can be served hot as a side, or chilled and mixed with a salad or made into a cold dish as you would a pesto pasta.

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Bobby R. Presents: Tasting the intangible Thu, 03 Feb 2011 21:11:50 +0000

Quinoa stuffed acorn squash.

Some cultures performed ritual cannibalism, believing that the consumption of the dead would bestow the vitality associated with the organs eaten. I do not suggest gnawing on your uncle’s brain to gain his keen stock market sense but suggest looking towards your food for the soul of the cook.

I had just got off the BART at Powell station in Union Square, San Franscisco. Starving, and looking for a quick lunch that would be delicious but not take a chunk out of my wallet, and being unfamiliar with the city, I turned to the Yelp application on my iPhone for help. Searching through restaurants filtered by the least expensive, I was drawn to a place called Crepe o Chocolat, which held four stars based on 238 reviews.

The woman behind the counter was exotic, speaking with a mild French accent. She was abrupt with my questions and I would have left if I hadn’t been famished.

Quinoa salad with herbs and cherry tomato.

Looking behind her, I noticed a handwritten chalk board sign reading “Arugula salad: $7” and ordered the seemingly simple dish. Sylvie, I later found she was called, turned her back to me, and in the fashion of the Muppets’ Swedish chef tossed some ingredients in a bowl with great gesticulation. She turned, and presented me with an overstuffed cardboard to-go container plus fork, took my $7, and said nothing.

I walked outside the cafe, opened the container and almost fell over when I saw heaping amounts of scarlet quinoa mixed with the bright arugula. I had low expectations of the containers’ contents based on Sylvie’s curt disposition, but my mood quickly changed after seeing this beautiful display. I have always loved the grain as a substitution for rice or cous cous, and seeing it before me put an immediate smile on my face.

Working my way deeper into the salad I was presented with more hidden treasures. Braised Brussels sprouts, roasted baby eggplant and a thick hummus like dressing. Each bite made me happier than the last as the flavors and textures danced in my mouth.

Arugula and scarlet quinoa salad.

I don’t know what spices she used or what techniques were applied to the ingredients, but what I could tell was that there was a bit of her culinary spirit present in each bite. I was eating a tradition special to her which left me with a feeling in my heart that is very hard to describe.

Back in San Diego, I look back at Sylvie’s rough customer service skills as a nuance unique to her. It made the lunch more special thinking that she was probably just as quirky as I am, and it was a relief I did not have to take a bite out of her arm to experience her culinary skills.

I hope that you will or have had a truly moving foodie experience such as mine, instilling an intangible flavor to your heart, mind and soul.

Bobby R. Presents appears in each issue of the San Diego LGBT Weekly. Questions and comments can be sent to

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Bobby R. presents: Choke on this Thu, 03 Feb 2011 03:13:37 +0000

A much underused vegetable available year round in San Diego is the artichoke. Initially, the prehistoric appearance is intimidating but once you finish this column, it will be as easy to prepare as a side dish of mashed potatoes.

The two most common types of the globe artichoke found in our markets are baby and adult. Baby artichokes can be steamed, sautéed, braised and fried after the outer leaves are removed, exposing the bright green inner leaves. Adult artichokes require a little more work because of their size, but give a far earthier flavor once steamed or stuffed.

Baby artichokes can be eaten whole as long as they are cooked until very tender. The adult artichoke is a little more involved with respect to consumption: each of the outer leaves have a bit of “meat” on the base which is scraped off using your top teeth. A plain artichoke leaf can be dipped in butter or mayonnaise, while a stuffed artichoke will be distributed throughout whatever you chose for the filling.

Once all the leaves have been plucked and consumed of their “meat,” there remains the artichoke heart, which is a bit like the prize at the bottom of a Cracker Jack box. The heart can be eaten whole with your fingers or cut with a fork and knife. Either way creates a feeling of accomplishment, but before you get to the “heart” of the matter, the vegetable requires some preparation.

Cleaning the artichoke:

The exposed surfaces of an artichoke will begin to oxidize, turning the flesh brown. Prevent the discoloration by having a bowl of cold, acidulated water close by; water that has had some lemon or vinegar mixed into it. Drop the artichokes in the water once they are cleaned or rub the surface with a halved lemon if they begin to brown too quickly.

Cut off the top 1⁄4 of the artichoke using a serrated knife.

Peel back the outer most layers of leaves until you get to the very pale green ones.

Using kitchen shears, cut off any remaining hard, pointed tips from the leaves.

Using a vegetable peeler or paring knife, shave off the outer layers of the base (and stem, if still attached) until the softer flesh beneath is exposed.

For baby artichokes: cut in half, length wise, and remove any fuzz or purple leaves from the center. They are now ready to cook.

For adult artichokes: invert the vegetable top down on your work surface. Gently push down in a circular motion spreading all the leaves away from the center. First pull out the purple leaves using your fingers as best you can, then remove the remaining purple leaves and fuzz with a soup spoon or melon-baller.

I believe that the Jerusalem artichoke deserves a notable mention too. Also known as a Sunchoke, it is not an artichoke at all, instead a tuber from the sunflower family. It has a nutty-sweet flavor that is nice in salads and soups, as well as numerous other applications. I bring it up here so that you may impress your friends by identifying this erroneous moniker the next time you are in the produce section.

Here is a soup recipe using both globe and Jerusalem artichokes, giving an overall roundness to the flavor profile. Hurry up and prepare it before spring is here and hot soups are out.

Questions and comments to:

Cream of Artichoke Soup

You will want to purchase 3 large globe artichokes with the longest stems you can find. First squeeze the juice of 1⁄2 lemon into a large bowl of water and drop the lemon half in. Reserve the other half of the lemon to rub down all cut pieces of the artichoke and stem before dropping them into the acidulated water.

Working one at a time, cut off the stem of an artichoke. Using a vegetable peeler, strip away the outer layer of the stem until the pale core is exposed. Continue cleaning the artichoke as described in the column text. It is important to remove a bit more of the outer leaf layers for this recipe so the soup will not be too fibrous. Here, cutting the artichoke into 8 wedges facilitates the removal of the purple leaves and remaining fuzz. Continue the process with the remaining two artichokes.

Peel 1⁄2 lb of Jerusalem artichokes as you would a carrot and cut into 1⁄4 inch pieces. Using a 4-6 quart heavy pot or Dutch oven, heat 2 tbsp butter and 2 tbsp olive oil over medium heat until the foam subsides. Add in:

1⁄2 cup diced onion

1⁄4 cup diced celery stalks

Jerusalem artichoke pieces

Sauté until tender (about 5 minutes) Add in 1 tbsp chopped garlic and continue to sauté until the garlic is just golden (about 3 minutes). Add in the trimmed artichoke wedges and stems drained from the acidulated water. Stir to coat all ingredients and add in a tbsp more of oil if necessary. Continue to sauté until the Jerusalem artichokes are crisp and the globe artichoke pieces begin to slightly brown (an additional 5 minutes).

Add in 3⁄4 cup dry vermouth, increase heat to medium high, release any browned bits from the bottom of the pot and reduce the volume by half (about 5 minutes). Add in 4 cups of chicken stock or broth (reference “stock”ing up at and simmer until the artichoke wedges are VERY tender which will take about 30 minutes. If you like a thicker soup, reduce the chicken stock volume to 31⁄2 cups.

Remove from the heat and puree the soup either in the pot with an immersion blender or in small batches using a counter blender being extremely cautious with the hot liquid. Return the pot to medium heat and add in: 3⁄4 to 1 cup of heavy cream, depending on the consistency you like, plus salt and pepper to taste.

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Cast-Iron Skillet Frittata with Bacon, Spinach and Parmesan Thu, 03 Feb 2011 02:26:39 +0000

Although my youth breakfasts were mostly fried or scrambled eggs, I now like to do something a bit fancier. The finished bubbling, browned frittata is enough to feed eight people a conservative portion or a more substantial breakfast/brunch (or even lunch) for six. When my lover was down for New Year’s, I served it with mimosas for some friends.

Preheat broiler to low with the rack 6″ from the heat source. Heat a 10-12″ cast-iron skillet over medium-high and add in: 1 lb bacon cut into 1⁄2 inch squares, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon until just crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon and pour off all but 1⁄4 cup of the fat. Reduce heat to medium-low, wait until the temperature drops, and sauté 3 minced cloves of garlic until barely golden.*

While cooking the bacon, rinse, remove stems and rough chop one large bunch of adult spinach.

In a separate bowl combine:

12 eggs

1 1⁄2 cups half and half

3⁄4 cup powdered parmesan cheese (picked through for lumps)

Small pinch of salt (the bacon will salt the dish greatly)

Teaspoon of ground pepper

*Add in the spinach once the garlic is sautéed, turning over in the oil and cooking until barely wilted. Add in the egg mixture and the cooked bacon pieces, stir with the wooden spoon to combine and cook over medium heat until 3⁄4 of the outer circumference is set (about 20 min.). Sprinkle the top of the frittata with 1⁄4 – 1⁄2 cup thinly SHAVED parmesan cheese. Transfer the skillet to the broiler and allow to broil until the top is set and golden brown (about 7 min.). Allow to cool slightly before cutting into pie slices. I served mine with some roasted fingerling potatoes, chopped parsley and Sriracha hot chili sauce.

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Bobby R. presents: A Well Seasoned Veteran Thu, 03 Feb 2011 02:26:37 +0000

While shopping for a cast-iron skillet, I found myself looking for the thickest bottom with the lowest weight (seriously). I now use this as a joke with respect to boyfriend shopping and luckily have found both, a perfect skillet and a perfect man.

What struck me to go buy a cast-iron skillet? Maybe I was bored with my sauté pans or maybe I wanted to get back to basic, time-tested cookware. I definitely have enough pans in my kitchen and needed to assess the productivity this item would bestow. Looking at the many things that I could do with a cast-iron skillet, I was drawn by the overall usefulness of this kitchen tool.

Aside from its simple yet elegant aesthetic, the cast-iron skillet is a kitchen work horse and a (personal) piece of nostalgia. It can be used to create almost everything in the kitchen that would otherwise require multiple pieces of cookware; cornbread, soufflés, upside-down cakes, dumplings, seared meats and all things breakfast. The latter item is where the nostalgia kicks in; growing up on a farm in Massachusetts, almost all our breakfasts were prepared in a cast-iron skillet. First the bacon was cooked, rendering the fat that polymerizes with the metal surface, continually “seasoning” the pan. Then the eggs would be fried in the fat, spooning the residual grease over the top of the eggs so you did not have to flip them. It’s a wonder I did not grow up a fat kid.

Seasoning the pan is of much interest and importance to the maintenance and non-stick quality of the surface. Seasoning is nothing more than baking fat into the porous surface of the metal; creating a smooth coating that also prevents rust. This can be done by initially coating the pan with a thin layer of solid fat. I prefer bacon fat or lard, but Crisco will work too, bake the pan upside down in a 350° oven for one hour. Be sure to have your window open, and overhead fan on, because the process will create a little smoke.

Although purchased pre-seasoned and then seasoned again at home, food materials have still been mildly sticking to my pan. This will subside after more time spent cooking fatty foods, the use of oil and proper cleaning. After use, I use water and a scrub brush to remove the residual food stuffs. After every use and gentle cleaning, use a paper towel to rub the pan with a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of coarse salt.

As mentioned before, when choosing a cast-iron skillet, you want to find one that has the thickest bottom but also the lowest weight. Although all are fairly heavy, one that is overly heavy can be cumbersome to a smaller cook when they need to swirl butter or even clean it. As for the bottom, the cast-iron skillet acts as an equilibrating liaison between the heat of the range and the food that you are cooking. The material itself conducts and holds heat, contributing an evenly heated work surface. The thicker the pan, the more heat it will hold, dropping fewer degrees in temperature when food is added I found a 12” Lodge Logic skillet at Crate and Barrel for $27.00 weighing in at 7.2 lbs with a bottom thickness of 5.5 millimeters.

With the greater amount of heat that the skillet will hold, it is important to adjust your cooking temperatures accordingly. This usually means using a lower heat for a longer time which will require a bit more patience. But any well seasoned veteran of the kitchen, like the cast-iron skillet, will persevere and withstand the test of time.

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Bobby R. Presents: Diet rehab Thu, 03 Feb 2011 00:52:16 +0000

The time period just after the turn of the year always cracks me up. Every food magazine boasting healthy recipes for 20XX, new exercise regimes at every turn, a spike in new or renewed gym memberships and an increased attendance at AA meetings. Of all these things, the tag line “Eat Better in 2011” on the cover of Bon Appétit reached out to me the most.

Eating better is not necessarily a complete change of your diet, but it can be an alteration of the diet that you already eat. Slowly incorporating subtle changes to your diet that are practical, plausible and tasty, may be the key to fulfilling your goal. Instead of a 12 step program to eat better you could focus on ingredient quality, portions size and the environment in which meals are eaten.

When was it that we forgot that the periphery of the supermarket is the best place to shop? If shoppers focus their basket contents on this region, it supplies fresher meat, breads, dairy and vegetables than the processed foods occupying the bulk of the center. And as a side note, pro-cessed foods boasting “low fat” will usually be higher in sugar than their regular counterpart.

There is a general theory called the French Paradox. It presents the co-nun-drum that although French people eat rich foods high in fat, they have a lower incidence of obesity and heart disease than Americans. The consensus is that the French eat less food more frequently and the food consumed is of better quality, with less sugar and fewer processed ingredients. The easiest way to apply this to your diet is to include more vegetables and less meat and starch.

The inclusion of more vegetables to the plate immediately reduces the caloric intake and increases the nutritional content of the meal. Under-used vegetables, easy to prepare and very good for the liver, are dark greens such as kale and chard. They can be braised in some stock or sautéed in oil with salt to substantiate the meal.

Whether as a supplement or an ad-dition to your diet, drinking juiced fruits and vegetables will increase the amounts of nutrients you intake naturally, allowing you to forego supplements that may or may not be able to be absorbed by your body. And not all juicing requires a specialized fruit juicer. Many recipes that have a liquid base, such as orange or pineapple juice, can be easily made using a counter top or hand held immersion blender.

At the Mission Hills Farmer’s Market, a guy sells juiced dark greens with whole apple and apple juice called a GreenFix Organic Smoothie. The greens are kale, dandelion, collard, chard, spinach, Romaine lettuce and parsley. Also included are banana and flax seed. I buy one 32 oz. bottle each Friday that lasts me the four days of its shelf life.

Eating on the go is probably one of the most deleterious habits to a healthy diet. When your mind is multitasking during food consumption, it is not free to assess your body’s doneness. When on the go, the only goal is to consume what you have in hand to fill you up; meaning, you will eat everything in front of you because that is the only goal. No enjoyment, no time spent for you. If you must eat on the go, use a homemade smoothie or the GreenFix from the farmers’ market to supply necessary nutrition.

I suggest reading In Defense of Food, by Michael Pollan, as an easy to understand manifesto of how to eat better. It has greatly helped me understand and improve my eating habits, as well as supplied many wonderful references for further reading. I hope this column finds you well and all your resolutions are on their way to being successful.

Questions or comments to

Braised Greens

One bunch of dark greens at the supermarket will be enough for three people. The only caveat to the greens is that they initially take up a lot of space in the pan until they are heated through and reduce in volume.

Run a knife down the sides of the greens’ stalks, separating the stalks from the leafy product.

Half the stalk lengthwise and run your knife down the stalk chopping 1⁄4 inch thick pieces. Roughly chop the greens and set aside.

In a large sauté pan heat 3Tb oil over a medium high heat until shimmering. Add the stalk pieces and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add in 2 minced cloves of garlic and sauté until slightly golden, about 2 minutes.

Add in 1⁄4 c. of chicken or vegetable stock, turn heat to high and add the leafy greens. The greens will probably overflow the sides of the pan but, throw a lid over the greens and let sit undisturbed 3 minutes. Remove the lid, give a good turn with tongs and reduce the heat to medium low. Continue to braise until the leaves are wilted. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and serve.

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