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Sailing into the sea of my memories

May 26, 2011


I love sailing into the sea of my memories, waving ashore the thoughts of culinary memories from past travels, welcoming them like children coming home from school. This week, I was in the studio and had the opportunity to recreate a favorite garlic shrimp recipe.

Gambas al Ajillo is a wonderful dish I mastered in La Boqueria, a market located on La Rambla in Barcelona, Spain.  I spent time with a little man named Ponixio who had devoted his life to making austere Spanish foods in his unpretentious booth. La Boqueria, simply stated, is paradise for the senses.  The market boasts a diverse selection of goods: fruit, seafood, meats, cheeses, nuts, vegetables, even bags of snails – and sprinkled throughout the market, are small, yet bustling bar-restaurants. My culinary senses awakened to the smells, sounds and colors of La Boqueria as I drifted down the small market lanes.   I spied a multitude of different types of mushrooms in one stall and a little shop that offered 25 different types of olives! Just ask, and they will let you try.  With overwhelming excitement, similar to an artist visiting the Louvre for the very first time, feelings of exhilaration ran down my spine as the explosion of colors lined the market luring me in to experience each stall one at a time.

With this shrimp recipe, you can experience the world feel of Barcelona without leaving your kitchen.  What I really love about this simple dish is the intense garlic flavor, coupled with its mass crowd appeal.  When it comes to shrimp, I actually prefer to cook them with their shells on, which helps protect the shrimp.  While they simmer in the pan, their shells infuse the oil with a taste of the ocean, perfecting a delightful savory shellfish flavor. Layering upon piquant flavors is the sensory experience of eating with your fingers, peeling back the shells, and letting the taste buds unlock the aroma and textures of the dish.

If you have the opportunity to recreate this recipe in your own home, be sure to close your eyes with the first bite and let all five senses take over just like Ponoxio taught me in Barcelona years ago.  Vamos a comer!

Garlic Shrimp Tapa Recipe – Gambas al Ajillo

lb shrimp, 25 count to a pound
4 large cloves of garlic, finely minced
1 tsp sweet Spanish paprika
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1/4 cup virgin olive oil
3 tsp chopped fresh parsley
1 lemon for juice
1 Baguette

Preparation:

In a sauté pan or heavy frying pan, warm the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and sauté for about one minute or until they begin to brown. Be careful not to burn the garlic!

Raise the heat to high and add the shrimp, lemon juice and paprika. Stir well, then sauté, stirring briskly until the shrimp turn pink and curl – about 3 minutes.

Remove from heat and transfer shrimp with oil and sauce to a warm plate or serve right from the pan. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Sprinkle with parsley. Serve with fresh warm crusty bread.
Serves 4

PORK BELLY WITH GARAM MASALA AND HONEY

May 17, 2011
crisp pork belly

A nice layer of meat, a nice layer of fat, another nice layer of meat, another nice layer of fat and shatteringly crisp skin.


O
nce upon a time, in a far off land, not so long ago, you could only find pork belly hanging in windows in Chinatown or found on Korean menus. Now, every menu aspiring to be gastronomic chic showcases pork belly prepared in many fashions.  Every scallop in town wants a punch on pork belly’s dance card.  The humble piglet’s tummy has finally been given the attention it most certainly deserves.

The key to the recipe below is alternating between two different cooking temperatures. The alchemy involves the pork skin slowly crisping to a magnificently crunchy and crackling top layer.  As the fat from the individual tiers dissolve, it is essential to baste the pork continuously so not to underestimate the slowly caramelizing onions underneath. The sweet, spiced glaze serenades the taste buds with a melt in your mouth feeling. After licking your lips, you are left wanting more.

PORK BELLY WITH GARAM MASALA AND HONEY
1 piece pork belly, boned, rind left on and scored with razor or sharp knife.
2 tsp olive oil
3 large yellow onions, sliced
2-3 tbsp clear honey
1 tablespoon garam masala

Heat oven to 320F. Lay the pork, skin-side up, on a rack in a roasting tin. Brush with a little olive oil, season with sea salt and freshly milled pepper. Place in the oven, then cook for 1 hour. Remove from the oven and baste with the juices. Continue to cook for another 1½ hrs, basting every 20 minutes or so.

Put the sliced onions in the roasting tin under the pork. Mix the honey together with the garam masala, brush it over the pork, and increase the oven temperature to 390 F.  Cook for another 30-40 mins, basting occasionally, until caramelized with a rich, golden glaze over the pork. Once cooked and tender. Remove pork from the oven, then leave to rest for 10-15 mins.

While the pork is resting, heat the tin on the stove with the onions, adding 2 tbsp water. This will lift any residue from the pan, creating a moist, cooking liquid. Season the onions with salt and pepper, then divide between six plates.

Cutting the crackling off the pork makes the meat ready to snap into deafeningly crispy shards of crunchy delight.  Cut the pork against the grain into serving pieces, which will be meltingly juicy. Serve with salad, veggies, or make a scallop’s day.
Serves 6

Recipe of the week: Chicken tikka masala

May 9, 2011


Chicken tikka masala is the dish most often ordered in Indian take-aways and restaurants across the world. This recipe it tremendously flavorful and it is sure to knock the socks off of anyone who takes a bite.

For the chicken
4 boneless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces
1 lemon, juice only
1/2 tsp red chili powder

Marinade
1 teaspoon cumin powder
4 large cloves garlic
1 inch ginger
1 red onion
2/3 cup plain yogurt
1/2 tsp garam masala
1 tbsp fresh cilantro leaves, chopped

For the sauce
2 tsp tomato paste
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1/2 cup heavy cream
3 tbsp fresh cilantro leaves, finely chopped
1 inch ginger, grated
1/2 tsp sugar
juice half lemon
4 tablespoons butter

1. Place the chicken in a ceramic dish.

2. Mix the lemon juice and chili powder and spoon over the chicken, coating well. Leave on one side for 20 minutes.

3. Roughly chop the garlic cloves, ginger and onion and grind in a food processor until smooth – feel free to add a spoon of yogurt to help it on its way.

4. Stir in the remaining yogurt, garam masala, cilantro and ground cumin.

5. Pour this yogurt marinade over the chicken. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for a couple hours in the refrigerator. If you can, turn the chicken once while it’s marinating.

7. Make sauce.  In a large pan, whisk the tomato puree with chicken stock. Stir in the cream, cilantro, ginger, sugar lemon juice and cumin.

8. Heat a sauté pan over medium-high heat, and add a little oil. Take the chicken out of its marinade and sauté for 5 minutes.

9. Now add the cooked chicken pieces and accumulated juices to pan with sauce. Bring the sauce to a simmer and cook on a low heat for about 8-10 minutes.

10.  Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve with a stack of naan bread or fluffy basmati rice.

Love, Loss, and Laughter. Happy Mother’s Day, Victoria Ashton…

May 4, 2011

Mother's day, cake.
Mother’s Day is a simple reminder to honor the kindness, affection, and spirit of moms everywhere.  For many, this is an important day to come together and show our gratitude for all the little things mom does for us from wiping away our tears, cheering us on, and loving us unconditionally. Mothers have the uncanny ability to give us the strength and courage to be our best selves.  For some, including me, it’s a day of loss, reflection, and a video reel played on repeat filled with special memories, togetherness, and laughter.

The one thing that my mom, Victoria Ashton, surely taught me was how to laugh, granting me the grace to embrace every moment of my incredible life.  Without her knowing, this gift got me through times of betrayal and extreme pain, and changed my attitude toward any obstacles that crossed my path.  I feel her presence every time I hear a funny joke or take stage and deliver a humorous story.  I feel her lean in to watch Victoria Mei and I giggle when we bake together. Her love shines on us as we make funny faces while patiently watching our cupcakes rise in the oven. I carry her memory around in my heart and share her hearty laughter every chance I have. Even in her absence, laughter is our common language of love. No matter how hard things get, mom continues to remind me that the panacea to every hardship is a good belly laugh.

If you are fortunate enough to enjoy time with your mom on Mother’s Day no matter what your personal dynamic is, make sure to appreciate the moments.  Cherish and accept all the imperfectly perfect parts of her. Sprinkle in some compliments or share your favorite stories from growing up.  Bake together.  Take stock in your roots.  Plant some colorful tulips as a reminder of love that continuously blooms.  Change your Facebook picture to celebrate your relationship.

If you’re like me and you’re missing your mom, take a long walk, call a close friend, open up an old photo album and share your favorite story about mom with your own children, or volunteer for the day in her name.  The kindness you show will come back to you in countless ways.  Mending a broken heart isn’t always easy and although time does seem to fill in some of the empty spaces, you’ll never stop missing her, especially on Mother’s Day.

To honor my mom, I’d love to share her favorite English dessert.  Here’s to you, mom. I love you today and always.  For all the moms out there, thank you.  You are an exceptional gift.

Vicky’s Sandwich Cake
1 cup sugar
1 cup butter, room temperature
4 large eggs, beaten
1 cup all purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 tbsp milk

FOR THE FILLING
1 stick butter, softened
1 1/2 cups confectioner’s
sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence
strawberry jam (I use Smucker’s)
confectioner’s sugar, to decorate

Heat oven to 350 F. Butter two 7 inch cake tins and line with non-stick baking paper. In a large bowl, beat all the cake ingredients together until you have a smooth, soft batter.

Divide the mixture between the tins, smooth the surface with a spatula or the back of a spoon, then bake for about 20 minutes until golden and the cake springs back when pressed. Turn onto a cooling rack and leave to cool completely.

To make the filling, beat the butter until smooth and creamy, then gradually beat in icing sugar. Beat in vanilla extract if you’re using it. Spread the butter cream over the bottom of one of the sponges, top it with jam and sandwich the second sponge on top. Dust with a little icing sugar before serving. Keep in an airtight container and eat within 2 days.

Victoria Mei’s Royal Wedding Tea Party!

April 28, 2011
william and kate kiss

As the world tunes in to the fanciful Royal Wedding this Friday, I will be creating my own charming tea party for my four-year old princess, Victoria Mei.  With watchful speculation over cakes, apparel, and guest lists, America continues its love affair with royalty.

The last Royal Wedding I recall celebrating was the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana. The street I grew upon, Howden Drive, in Liverpool celebrated via a block party. Back then Granny Ashton was still alive.  Always a fan of the monarchy, she prepared a feast fit for the Queen herself. Looking back, I remember the parade of trifles, scones, and sandwiches with the crusts cut off floating down the street. (This was something we reserved for posh events or when wealthy people visited).  It was a celebration that joined all the neighbors together, as we honored our country’s history and shared family recipes.
Speaking of family recipes, Victoria Mei and I will be celebrating on Friday afternoon complete with Daddy’s tea and Mei’s fairy wine (pink lemonade).  I will certainly teach her how to make Granny Ashton’s scones so we can share with the neighbors.

With magical twirling ribbon sticks, Victoria Mei dances around the kitchen regularly. Her two favorite things, at four years old, include the color pink and princesses.  She is at the perfect age to find the Royal Wedding exciting as she curtseys and plies around the house in her pink ballet slippers.  To that end, the Royal Wedding has inspired creativity and playfulness in our house this month, and we’ll transform our living room into a mystical garden tea party on Friday.  It will be a day that will truly make some beautiful family memories.
If you would like to create your own delightful tea party and view my top five favorite English recipes, please pop along to www.Relish.com
Jon xox.

Stir It Up….

April 20, 2011

Jamaica Cove Grilled Jerk Chicken

Famished from a long travel day and grueling media schedule, I wanted to grab something to eat before returning to my hotel. Tired of the same ole’ same ole’, I drove along praying something would grab my attention and satiate the hunger pangs rumbling in my belly. And then, out of nowhere, Jamaica Cove appeared. I turned into this modest roadside jerk shop and immediately knew I had made the right pit stop.

As much as my head was telling me I didn’t need to be eating a heavy Jamaican dinner, my stomach took over. As I walked in the front door, I nearly fell to my knees in olfactory overload from the aromas calling seductively from the kitchen. An intoxicating combination of onions, thyme, cinnamon, nutmeg, and chilies lured me in as stewed meats settled in large cast iron pans over a piping hot stove.

As head chef, Sherry, a Jamaican native, has been cooking Caribbean food for over 50 years. After a few minutes of chatting, I learned Sherry’s mum passed away when she was a young girl, and it forced her to take the helm and learn how to cook for her siblings.  When I asked her what makes her food taste so good, she gave the perfect answer.

“I have preached for years about love. I start all my recipes with equal amounts of love”.

With a dash of Jamaican humor, she presented her dishes with flair and imagination. Each item that came out of the kitchen was delicately spiced and flavored with jerk sauce! My heart started pounding as I tried to resist ordering one of every item from the menu. Oxtail, jerk chicken, curry chicken, beef patties, and plantains all looked equally delicious. The Braised oxtail was tender, flavorful, and had a sweetness I most closely associate with Chinese takeout. The rice & beans were light and tender and the cabbage and plantains were both cooked perfectly. The smoky jerk chicken and crispy skin were in complete contrast to each moist morsel. One might call it “allspice baked chicken” instead of jerk, but I recommend it all the same.

Unlike many chefs, Sherry was more than willing to share some family secrets.

“Any tips?” I asked.

“When it comes to oxtail stew, most people don’t trim the fat. It’s important to dredge the oxtail in flour before browning. Stew slowly. Put on some music and make ya home smell good.”

“Sprinkle a little extra allspice on your Jerk chicken before grilling it”

With these culinary gems, I downloaded two Bob Marley cds (I know…cliché) and headed to the kitchen to master jerk chicken. The following recipe is a true winner. My 70-year old father found it a tad bit spicy for his taste buds, but I hope you’ll try it for yourselves.

Every city has its diamond in the rough, and I want to try every single one of them. If you find yourself in Atlanta and you want to “Stir it Up”, why not pop along to Jamaica Cove?

Jamaica Cove
610 S Central Ave
Hapeville, GA 30354

I promise you won’t be disappointed. My dinner with a ginger beer only cost $9.00. As a side note, real jerk chicken washes down particularly well with an icy cold Red Stripe.

Jon’s Jerk Chicken
To me Jerk is Jamaica to the bone. My goal in creating this recipe is for you taste the fresh thyme and bold allspice with every bite.

For Jerk marinade:
3 scallions, chopped
5 plump garlic cloves, chopped
3 shallot onions, peeled
2 – 4 fresh Scotch bonnet or habanero chilies, stemmed and seeded
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 1/2 tablespoons sea salt
1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
4 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
2 teaspoons ground allspice
2 teaspoons black pepper
3/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

3 pounds chicken thighs or chicken breasts.

Make marinade:
At least 1 day before cooking, pat chicken dry with paper towels. Combine remaining ingredients in a blender or food processor and grind to a coarse paste. Slather all over chicken, including under skin. Refrigerate 2 sealable plastic bags 12 to 36 hours, turning once or twice a day. Bring to room temperature before cooking and lightly sprinkle with more salt and ground allspice

To cook chicken:
Open vents on bottom of grill and on lid. Light a large chimney of charcoal briquettes and pour them evenly over one side of bottom rack (depending on how much you are cooking, you may add a double layer of charcoal).

When charcoal turns grayish white and you can hold your hand five inches above rack for 3 to 4 seconds, sear chicken in batches on lightly oiled rack over coals until well browned on all sides, about 3 minutes per batch. Move chicken as seared to side of grill with no coals underneath, then cook, covered with lid, until cooked through, 25 to 30 minutes more.

One Bite Won’t Kill You.

April 13, 2011

lemon cake

“One bite won’t kill you, Ann,” I said to my 70 year old dad’s significant other as I passed on a bowl of shrimp curry.
“But I don’t like shrimp, Jon,” Ann stammered at the thought of trying something new.

We all know our share of finicky eaters.  My favorite is when someone claims not to like something before ever actually trying it. This is Ann.  She has made up her mind she doesn’t like onions, shrimp, most vegetables, and of all things, cake.
I decided to take it on myself to win Ann over and show her how cooking is fun and new ingredients can be yummy. My first attempt was a complete debacle after making the devilish mistake of moving too fast and serving up sashimi. As I grabbed my gas torch to slightly sear a beautiful piece of hamachi, Ann’s eyebrows raised in outright suspicion. I topped the fresh fish with a tangy, yet sweet, citrus soy sauce and creatively arranged the pieces on Ann’s plate.  Her response?
“You’ve got to be joking. I am not a cat.”

Back to the drawing board!   Next stops, in order, included chicken pot pie, Spanish style garlic shrimp, and a really lovely lemon and mushroom pasta so enticing it had the power to even awaken a zombie’s taste buds.
“I’m not eating that,” Ann said in protest.

Day four and 16 cups of tea later, I recalled Granny’s favorite phrase. “Find someone’s food weakness, and you will always have a friend forever.”

A light bulb clicked on as I recalled Ann saying she loved lemon meringues.  As I started to replay the DVD of times I have been in Ann’s company, I remembered her always saying she didn’t like cake.  Interestingly enough, she has a remarkable way of making it disappear! With Granny’s sage words echoing in my ear, I set off in the kitchen to create a lemon vanilla butter cake complete with lemon/lime glaze drooling down its sides.

I purposely invited Ann to grate the zest of the lemons and the limes to arouse her culinary senses.  She was love struck at the first whiff of fresh Florida citrus mixed with vanilla.  With the batter mixed and ready to be poured into a loaf pan, I questioned if I should let her lick the spoon.  Why Not?
I expected “MMMMM, Yummy!”  Instead, I was met with a stoic Mona Lisa face. Was it a smile? A frown? And then silence.
We stood by the oven and switched on the interior light to watch the magical transformation of flour, sugar, butter, and eggs into a perfect pound cake.

“This smells gorgeous,” Ann exclaimed in delight.

Frosted and ready to serve, I invited the neighbors over to join us for a pot of tea and a slice of cake. To Ann’s delight our dessert was met with rave reviews. Rightly so, this divine cake can convert the most finicky eater.
Completing my week’s culinary conquest, I left Ann with a steaming cup of tea in the kitchen and the quickly vanishing cake.  T-R-I-U-M-P-H-A-N-T!!!!

Lemon Butter cake with zesty drizzle
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
2 cups white sugar
4 eggs
zest 1 lemon, finely grated
2 teaspoons vanilla essence
2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

Lemon & Lime icing
Zest of 1 lemon
Zest of 1 lime
Juice 11⁄2 lemons
3/4 cup powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 325°F with rack in middle. Butter an 8 1/2- by 4 1/2-inch loaf pan.

Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt.

Mix together sugar and zest with an electric mixer at low speed until sugar is evenly colored, then add butter and beat at high speed until pale and fluffy, about 5 minutes.

Add eggs 1 at a time at medium speed, scraping down side of bowl frequently, then add in vanilla. At low speed, mix in flour mixture until just incorporated.

Spread batter in loaf pan and rap pan several times on counter to eliminate air bubbles. Bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean, 1 to 1 1/4 hours. Cool in pan on a rack 30 minutes.

While the cake is cooling in its tin, mix together the lemon zest, lemon juice and sugar to make the drizzle. Prick the warm cake all over with a skewer or fork, then pour over the drizzle – the juice will sink in and the sugar will form a lovely, crisp topping. Leave in the tin until completely cool, then run a knife around edge of pan and invert cake onto rack. Cool completely, top side up.