Friday, June 2, 2017

Saffron & Mushroom Cauliflower "Couscous"

Happy belated Mother's Day to all of the amazing moms out there! I had a wonderful time with mama Ina in the Hamptons cooking up our favorite treats for Jeffrey...

Well, I wish...

I did, however, enjoy reading through Ina's latest book, Cooking for Jeffrey, which is a tribute to her 50 year partnership to Jeffrey.

It offers a glimpse into their marriage and shares recipes she's cooked for him over the years. Every page illustrates Ina's unconditional and eternal love for Jeffrey, unaffected by her fame, fortunate, or army of hot gay men at her side. It's one of my favorites!

Though I didn't get my dream date with Ina and Jeffrey, I did spend the week in NYC celebrating with my beautiful birth mother, family and friends.

Somehow I was given free reign over choosing the restaurants this year. That's like letting a misbehaved toddler run loose in a candy store. I had no restraint as I added high end restaurant after restaurant onto our "itinerary." (See below). At least it's organized, but also dangerously bordering pathologic.

Sure, I was teased and taunted a bit for my itinerary, but the food. Sigh. Let's just say it was beyond least any words a measly Biology major who struggled through a single college writing course could muster. There were so many sensational experiences but my favorites (in ascending order) were Nix, Gotham Bar and Grill, Dovetail, Annisa, Le Bernardin, Jungsik, and of course, Eleven Madison Park.

I even got to meet Eric Ripert and Anita Lo at their restaurants! Yes, feel free to be jealous...that is until the debt collectors come slamming on my door

But in all seriousness, while I certainly enjoy Michelin-starred establishments, I'd choose delivery from a Piźa Haute chain any day if it meant dining with my friends and family.

Though I love dining out with friends, my favorite option is always to cook for them myself. Like Ina, nothing brings me more pleasure than preparing a simple, intimate meal for my loved ones, my "Jeffries."

However, not every relationship is as fairy tale as Ina and Jeffrey's, and not all good things last. I have always wanted to be honest on here, so I'm sharing that recently, I've had to learn to be my own Jeffrey.

As my own Jeffrey, I've re-discovered joy and excitement in being kind and loving to myself. In addition to getting back to the gym, taking spa days, and snapping a few shameless selfies, I created a dish to represent me - my quirks, borderline manic passions, and love for lavish ingredients.

I ventured to Whole Foods without a plan, but almost instinctively envisioned a cauliflower couscous elevated with morels, wild mushrooms, saffron, and fresh herbs. Basically all my favorite ingredients.

After weeks of tweaking and force feeding cauliflower to my friends, I'm excited to share my masterpiece. It's great as both a meal or a side dish. Just be sure to make extra because you'll be hooked...I've literally eaten it nonstop for 3 weeks.

The couscous is not only comforting and delicious, it's also healthy. It's entirely made of veggies, herbs, nuts, and EVOO...basically making it the poster child for the Mediterranean diet. That means, it's good for your heart AND can help prevent heart disease. (Click to read more).

Believe me, I very strongly dislike "diet foods." I'm a proponent for moderation, so if I occasionally want a slice of pizza, you better give me a goddamn slice of pizza. Don't even think about serving some imitation crust to this NYC Jew. Not gonna happen. Not on my watch!

With that being said, this cauliflower recipe is special. Whether it tastes like couscous to you or not is irrelevant. It's addictive. I've made the recipe over a dozen times and it's always a hit.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. Please let me know on social media or in the comments below!

Tips/Tricks to Make the Perfect Cauliflower "Couscous"
  • After reconstituting dried mushrooms, save the wonderful broth
    • It's great for stocks and recipes. 
    • Just be sure to pass it through a coffee filter to remove dirt and debris
  • Morels add a pretentious factor to the dish, but if you can't find them or are a reasonable person that doesn't want to spend 20 dollars on a tiny bag, just replace them with more wild mushrooms
  •  A food processor is preferred for a finer, couscous consistency
    • Box graters will work just fine, though. Just expect a slightly larger "grain"
  • Flavors vary considerably depending on the size of your cauliflower and your ingredients
    • Be sure to season to taste with more or less salt, pepper, and lemon
  • Have fun and create your own versions. There's endless options. Share your favorites! 
  • Try the couscous with my salmon chriameh. The sauce and cauliflower are perfect together

Cauliflower "Couscous" Ingredients
  • 1 head cauliflower (medium to large), cored, broken into small florets
  • 1 1/2 ounces dried mushrooms (morels + any assortment of other wild species)
    • Roughly half from dried morels (~3/4 to 1 ounces)
    • Remaining portion from other wild species (porcini, chanterelle, lobster, morels, etc)
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 (generous) teaspoon saffron threads 
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
  • 8 tablespoons good olive oil
  • 1/3 cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1/3 cup thinly sliced scallions, white and green parts
  • 1/3 cup toasted almonds, roughly chopped
  • Zest of 1 lemon (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Cauliflower "Couscous" Recipe
Reconstitute the mushrooms:
Place the dried mushrooms in a medium sized bowl and pour 2 cups boiling water over them. Soak for at least 30 minutes.

With a slotted spoon, scoop the mushrooms out of the water. (Don't pour the liquid and mushrooms directly through a strainer to avoid re-soiling the mushrooms with dirt and debris that settled at the bottom of the bowl).

Rinse the mushrooms under cold water to remove any remaining grit and drain. (Nobody wants to eat sand for dinner). The mushrooms may vary in size. Cut any large mushrooms into 2 or 3 pieces. Set aside.

Steep the saffron:
Place saffron threads in a small bowl and soak with 8 tablespoons boiling water. Allow saffron to steep for 30 minutes. Set aside.

Prepare the cauliflower:
Place cauliflower florets into a food processor fitted with the standard S-shaped blade. Carefully pulse until all the florets are broken down and resemble couscous. Do not pulse beyond that point.

To make the "couscous"
In a large, heavy bottomed sauté pan or dutch oven (I use a 5 quart dutch oven from Le Creuset), heat 6 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the mushrooms and thyme and cook for 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for an additional 2 to 3 minutes, till the mushrooms are at desired doneness. Remove the mushrooms and garlic with a slotted spoon and set aside, but leave the excess olive oil in the heated pan.

Immediately add the grated cauliflower to the pan, stirring to combine with the oil. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 2 teaspoons kosher salt, and a few grinds of black pepper to the cauliflower and cook over medium heat for 2 minutes. Using a large spoon, occasionally fluff rather than stir as you would couscous.

Stir in the saffron liquid and threads and cook for approximately 5 minutes, until cooked through. There should be no residual raw cauliflower flavor. As far as the texture, it should be softened, but not mushy. I like it to maintain a slight bite.

Remove from the heat and gently fold in the parsley, scallions, lemon zest, lemon juice, almonds, and mushrooms. Allow the flavors to blend together for about 5 minutes before serving.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Chicken Schnitzel with Israeli Salad

While growing up, there was a strict no frying policy in my mother's kitchen. Even the smallest driblet of grease on the stovetop would provoke turmoil.

Fortunately, a few notable exceptions to this rule made my grim, fry-free childhood almost bearable.
1. Latkes on Chanukah
2. The occasional chicken schnitzel night

Like many other Israeli families, chicken schnitzel is a household staple. The dish, of course, comes from Austria, but has become wildly popular throughout Israel.

It's made with thinly pounded chicken breasts coated with "panko goodness" and then pan fried in olive oil. It's not only ridiculously tasty, but also foolproof and easy to make. It is easily one of my favorite comfort foods.

My version, adapted from an Ottolenghi recipe, is truly special. The addition of white and black sesame seeds, sunflower seeds and flax seeds to the coating takes it to the next level.

I recently featured my schnitzel recipe during my first ever cooking demonstration. The Emory Internal Medicine Residency program rented out a fantastic demonstration kitchen and invited me to host a wellness night for my co-residents.

I wanted the demo to be hands-on, so schnitzel was an obvious choice. With a little sweet talking, my peers helped me bread and fry the chicken which made for a memorable meal together.

The schnitzel was served on pita bread stuffed with homemade hummus and Israeli salad, which I made ahead of time (with the help of my friend Brandon). The sandwiches were finished off with a spoonful of harissa, a magical chili paste from North Africa.

Israeli salad, as implied by the name, is another staple of Israeli cuisine. It's a very popular breakfast salad, as well as a side salad with basically any meal. It's fantastic as is, but there's nothing better than stuffing a few spoonfuls of Israeli salad into a pita filled with schnitzel, falafel, shawarma, etc. 

The fundamental ingredients to any Israeli salad are finely diced cucumbers, tomatoes, and onions dressed simply with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. It's the quintessential example of a Mediterranean style diet abundant in fresh vegetables. 

I like to jazz up my salad with beautiful sliced radishes and lots of chopped parsley. You can use any type of onion, but I prefer scallions to avoid any harsh flavors.

Last, I add a generous spoonful of sumac, a striking red colored spice, which adds a wonderful layer of tartness to the dish. It's definitely worth finding at any Middle Eastern market or online.

Pro tip: Dinner parties are more successful when you literally become Ina Garten
That's why in addition to planning a fabulous menu for the soiree, I broke out my finest chambray shirt and packed my favorite Le Creuset fait tout pan for the occasion. The event was delightful and a second demo is already in the works!

Speaking of Ina...

This was the medicine team that I led last month. We were assigned to Emory "Team I" which quickly became "Team Ina."

Team Ina celebrated our last day together with a photoshoot on the Grady helipad!

And check out who liked the photo of us on Instagram!


Israeli Salad

Tips/Tricks to Make the Perfect Israeli Salad

  • Make Israeli salad your own by adding other fresh ingredients
    • Radishes, carrots, scallions, fresh herbs, leafy greens, etc
    • Bell peppers are popular, but I'm NOT a fan. I find them overpowering and unpleasant
  • Choose bright and fragrant vegetables for best results. Local and seasonal is a plus.
  • Persian cucumbers are ideal
    • Seedless, mini "burpless" cucumbers have a thin, edible skin. So don't peel them!
    • Crisper and more flavorful than slicing and pickling cucumbers
    • I get them from Trader Joe's. I haven't found them at my Whole Foods or farmers market.
    • Can be substituted with small English cucumbers
  • The vegetables should be very small and uniformly diced. There are misinformed (sad) people that prefer larger chunks, but meh.
  • Please don't omit the sumac. It truly elevates the dish. I'll happily find you some if necessary!
  • Za'atar, another wonderful Arab spice, is made with Sumac. Try it on your breakfast salads.

Israeli Salad Ingredients

  • 2 Roma tomatoes (0.5 pounds), seeded and diced
  • 3 Persian cucumbers (0.3 pounds), diced
  • 2 scallions, white and light green parts, thinly sliced
  • 2 radishes, thinly sliced
  • 1/3 cups finely chopped Italian parsley (0.7 ounces)
  • 3 tablespoons good olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 tablespoon sumac
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Israeli Salad Recipe

Dicing the Vegetables

Step 1: Cut into strips lengthwise
Cut each whole cucumber in half lengthwise. Next, cut each halved cucumber in half lengthwise. Again, cut each quartered cucumber in half lengthwise, making a total of 8 thin slices per cucumber.

Step 2: Cut crosswise
In batches, align the cucumber slices and cut crosswise to dice small.

Step 1: Core and deseed
Cut the top off each tomato to remove the stem. Cut each tomato in half lengthwise. Cut out the inner seeds and core of the tomato leaving just the outer shell.

Step 2: Cut into strips lengthwise
Place each tomato shell cut-side down and slice lengthwise into thin strips roughly the size of the cucumbers.

Step 3: Cut crosswise
Align the strips and then cut crosswise to form a small dice.

Swish parsley bunch in bowl of water. Allow dirt to settle. Repeat until water is clear. Shake parsley to dry. With a sharp knife, shave leaves off the stem. Pick out any remaining thick stems, but the thin branches attached to leaves are fine.

Gather leaves together and slice roughly, moving across the cutting board. Re-gather leaves. With one hand, hold the tip of the knife in place on the cutting board. Grip the knife handle with the other hand and rock the knife up and down, moving down the cutting board. Repeat until fine.

Wash really well as dirt hides within the hallow green leaves. Align the scallion bulbs. Thinly slice the white and light green parts crosswise.

Trim off the top and bottom of the radish. Then, thinly slice the radish to make small circles. You may also use your mandoline.

The Dressing

In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, sumac, kosher salt, and a few generous grinds of freshly ground black pepper. While whisking, slowly drizzle the olive oil into the bowl. Set aside.

The Salad

In a large salad bowl, gently combine the diced tomatoes and cucumbers with the scallions, radishes, and parsley. Pour the dressing mixture over the salad and toss till combined. Allow to sit for at least 10 minutes before serving. Season to taste with more salt, pepper and sumac.

Chicken Schnitzel

Tips/Tricks to Make the Perfect Chicken Schnitzel

  • Using white meat chicken and olive oil does not magically transform (glorified) fried chicken into a superfood
    • But this comfort food can certainly exist within a heart healthy diet if enjoyed in moderation
    • Be sure to fill the majority of your plate with salad and hummus
    • Cooking in olive oil limits "bad" fats, but all fats are high in calories. Not ideal for weight loss
  • To make a great schnitzel-pita, use a generous amount of hummus, a few spoonfuls of salad, and definitely worth finding some harissa
  • Thin strips of chicken are essential for crispy schnitzel
    • Butterflying involves slicing chicken in half horizontally to maintain a uniform thickness
    • Pounding involves thwacking the chicken with a smooth surfaced mallet or pan to a desired thickness
  • Use a quality frying pan, such as a cast iron enamel skillet from Le Creuset
    • A well constructed pan will distribute heat uniformly, browning the chicken more evenly
    • Heavy bottom pans are less likely to scorch
  • Olive oil has a low smoking point and needs close monitoring
  • Clean out your pan and replace the frying oil after every few batches. Otherwise, bits and pieces of breading will accumulate and burn
  • Designate wet and dry hand for dredging
    • Use the left hand for handling dry ingredients (before dipping in egg)
    • Right hand transfers egged items

Chicken Schnitzel Ingredients

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breast (1.5 to 2 pounds)
  • 1 cup flower plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1.5 cups plain panko bread crumbs plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons of white sesame seeds
  • 2 tablespoons of black sesame seeds
  • 2 tablespoons of golden flax seed
  • 2 tablespoons of sunflower seeds, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
  • Olive oil for frying

Chicken Schnitzel Recipe

Butterflying and Pounding the Chicken

Lay the chicken breast on the cutting board. If the chicken is very thick, you can butterfly the breast prior to pounding step. To butterfuly: With the knife edge parallel to the cutting board, start at the thickest point and slice through the thickness of the chicken, cutting it in half widthwise until almost at the other end (about 1/2 inch away). "Open" the breast like a book.

Working one piece at a time, place an "open" chicken breast between 2 sheets of plastic wrap. Using a mallet (smooth surface) or the bottom of a heavy frying pan, pound the chicken until just under 1/2 inch thick throughout. Cut each breast into 2 or 3 strips and set aside.

Dredging the Chicken

Line up three wide, shallow bowls. In the first bowl, place the flower seasoned with salt and pepper. In the second bowl, lightly beat the eggs. In the third bowl, combine the panko, kosher salt, white and black sesame seeds, flax seeds, sunflower seeds, and cayenne pepper. Mix well.

Lightly season both sides of chicken with kosher salt and pepper. Working with one chicken at a time, dredge both sides in flour and shake off excess. Next, dip the floured chicken in the beaten eggs, turning to coat evenly. Finally, place both sides of chicken in panko mixture, pressing down gently so that breading adheres to the chicken. Set aside on baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Pan-Frying the Chicken

Pour about 1/2 cup of olive oil in a large skillet until it's deep enough for frying (about 1/2 inch deep) and heat over medium-high heat. Oil should sizzle on contact with the chicken, but is too hot if smoking or splattering.

Fry the chicken in small batches, flipping until evenly golden brown (3-5 minutes per side). Place on paper towel and pat dry to absorb excess oil. Set aside and continue cooking chicken in batches.

Finally, season to taste with salt and pepper and splash with lemon juice and serve hot. Garnish with chopped parsley and lemon wedges.