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April 5, 2011

As a teenager, the allure of bold, aromatic fragrances wafting around my dear friend, Kamal’s home hooked me on Indian food from the start. I was captivated by slow simmering curries and the brilliance of ginger, garlic, and onion diving into a pot of Tandoori Chicken.  Being from an English meat and potato family, I was slightly scared by the pungent wafts of turmeric and cumin.  Without knowing anything about these exotic spices, I thought I had walked straight into a circus arena complete with smelly non-house broken elephants. Little did I know my first dinner invitation at Kamal’s home would oen my world to bold spices and fiery layered flavors.  Kamal’s family enchanted me with their complex cuisine and I instantly fell in love with Indian food.

Speaking of Indian cuisine, I spent last weekend in the kitchen with two of my dear friends, Pretti and Sujatha, who are both from different regions in India. It was an honor for them to share family recipes passed down through generations. There is nothing cozier and more charming than spending the day in the kitchen cooking family style. With my insane travel schedule darting around the world, I don’t often have the chance to cook at home with friends. It was wonderful having the opportunity to share tips and laugh over a bunch of ingredients.  As a chef, I’m a sponge for learning new techniques and enjoyed Sujatha’s musings over family memories and Southern Indian delicacies.

Sharing casual, home-style Indian food is perfect for everyday cooking.  The ingredients are fairly inexpensive and most recipes are approachable. Sujatha’s seductively spiced dal was on the weekend menu and her version included dried red chilies, mustard seeds and curry leaves we lovingly picked from a curry tree growing in my garden.  The aromatics from the large enamel pots were fresh and bright and we agreed upon five core spices to have readily available in your pantry when preparing Indian food.  If you can stock your cabinet with turmeric, cumin, garam masala, mustard seed, and curry leaves you’re well on your way to understanding the fundamentals.

Cooking together was a labor of love.  I especially enjoyed watching Sujatha gingerly prepping her spices without measurement.  It seems the best cooks don’t follow recipes verbatim but use them directionally as a springboard. I have always said no recipe should be placed in a straitjacket. Your culinary passport awaits your direction.

With that I give you the scroll to find your own Indian treasure.  Here are a few recipes we shared in my kitchen this past weekend. The congee I dedicate to Victoria Mei. She calls it her special rice.

As always, remember happy memories are always made in the kitchen. Share, Eat, and Enjoy!

Sujatha’s Dal

Smash 6 garlic cloves blended with a little water to make garlic paste; Set aside

Rinse 1 package of red dal

3 garlic cloves, minced

2 pieces of ginger-julienned

6 green chilies; minced

Mix in 2 Tbsp garam masala

½ tsp turmeric

1 ½ tin of whole plum tomatoes

½ yellow onion, diced

Mixed together with hands

Add curry leaves and cover with water

Boil until water is absorbed

Add Salt to taste

In a separate frying pan while dal is cooking:

2 ½ onions in the pan with 1/3 cup oil

Add garlic /ginger paste

Curry leaf

Add ¼ cup mustard seed until it pops

Pinch Red Pepper

Pinch turmeric

Pinch salt

Add fried onion mixture into dal

Coconut Potato Curry

One yellow onion, diced

2 chilies diced

5 potatoes peeled and quartered

Add all to a saucepan

Roast Fenugreek with dry curry leaves in a separate pan

Add ½ tsp to curry mix

1 tsp turmeric

2 pinches salt

Mix with hands

Add garlic clove

Cover with water

Bring to boil; reduce until thickened

Add a curry leaf near end.

Add ¼ cup coconut milk and bring back to boil

Enjoy Jon xoxo


Sunday Roast Dinners and Family Celebrations.

March 29, 2011

With blizzard warnings looming, ice storm threats impending, and howling winds wrapping on our windows, nothing remedies a case of the deep freeze like Sunday roast dinner.

As the snow continues to fall, why not take comfort in a kitchen filled with the savory aromas of mouth watering pot roast dripping over a medley of caramelized root vegetables?  On the back burner of the stove, the distinctive sweet perfume of roasted turnips intermingles with the wafting steam of freshly cooked broccoli begging to be a saddled with a pat of butter.  Yorkshire pudding stands tall like a solider protecting Buckingham Palace and rise in oversized metal muffin tins while Yukon potatoes are mashed and whipped into creamy clouds.  Simply stated, Sunday dinner is a true labor of love best enjoyed with family and friends on a chilly winter’s evening.

Growing up in Liverpool, Sunday dinners were a weekly staple. From as a far back as I can remember, Granny Ashton would take me into the kitchen to prepare our weekly feast. I was her loyal taste tester. Mum and some other family members would nip to the local pub for a good ole sing along and a dinky poo or two, while Granny and I baked the bread and prepared the roast. We would sit down around a table filled with traditional English fare. My brother, Derrick, would poke me under the table, but Granny’s watchful eye was enough for us to stop fidgeting, sit up straight, and keep our elbows off the table.  Looking back, It was a day full of great food and family stories.

In the virtual world of social media and in a time of multi-tasking through our work responsibilities and other obligations, the family table is becoming something of the past. I like the idea of recreating family traditions of Sunday roast dinner as a way to reconnect and create a weekly event to look forward to.  The dinner can be simple.  Many hands can help prepare. Sometimes slicing, dicing, and peeling, side by side, with music streaming from the stereo presents an opportunity to relax and invite laughter and camaraderie.  Get the little ones involved.  There’s always room for jobs like stirring the gravy, setting the table, and of course, washing the dishes!

The winds may howl and scream, the snow may softly fall, but nothing makes a house a home more than filling it with close friends and family, a perfectly braised roast, and a homemade apple pie.  Memories are flashes of photographs we store in our minds. As adults, we feel a sense of nostalgia when we fondly look back at our happiest moments of childhood.  Sunday dinners were that for me.

Whether it’s an Italian supper, a tasty table filled with tapas, or a traditional roast dinner, be sure start your own Sunday dinner tradition.  Invite friends, share recipes, and make it potluck.  Here’s my simple roasted chicken with veggies recipes to get you started.

Roasted chicken

1 x 3½ lb free range chicken
1 large yellow onion, peeled
3 whole cloves
4 leeks, trimmed and washed
4 carrots, peeled
4 sticks celery, halved
6 parsley stalks
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 bay leaf
1 clove garlic, crushed
Salt and freshly milled black pepper
Preheat the oven to 450°F

First rub the inside of the chicken with salt and pepper and a little butter. Then place the onion stuck with the cloves inside the chicken and rub some butter and seasoning over the outside. Now put the chicken in a roasting tin and bake in the top half of the oven for about 30 minutes, by which time it should have developed a nice golden brown skin. Then remove it from the oven and transfer it, together with any juices, to a deep pot.

Surround the chicken with the vegetables, herbs and garlic, and pour over sufficient water to not quite cover the bird, adding the giblets as well. Bring to boiling point and simmer very gently with the lid on for about 1 hour, or until the chicken is tender. Then remove the chicken and vegetables and cut the chicken into 4 portions; place the portions on a warmed serving dish surrounded by the vegetables, cover and keep warm. Now discard the giblets and boil the remaining stock briskly until it has reduced and the flavor has concentrated. Spoon some of the juices over the chicken and vegetables, sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve.

Herb roasted Vegetables

1 lb baby roughly chopped carrots, peeled
1 lb baby roughly chopped parsnips, peeled and sliced in half lengthways
12 oz small red potatoes, unpeeled, each cut into 8
1 medium onion, peeled and cut into 8, through the root
1 head celery, cut 3 from the base and then lengthways into 8
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
1 bay leaf
salt and freshly milled black pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 400°F

Whisk oil and vinegar together in a bowl. Now fold the piece of foil in half, then lay one half along the length of the roasting tray, brush it with a little of the oil mixture, and lay all the vegetables on the foil on the tray. Season them well with salt and black pepper.

Add the sprigs of herbs and the bay leaf, then spoon the remaining vinaigrette over and toss all the vegetables around so they get a good coating – you’ll need to do this quite carefully so as not to break the foil. Now fold over the other half of the foil and turn over all the edges 2 or 3 times to seal it all round. What you should end up with is a parcel that fits the tray exactly but with some air space between the foil and vegetables.

When you’re ready to cook the vegetables, place them in the pre-heated oven, one shelf higher than the middle, for 45 minutes. To serve, carefully unwrap the foil and tip the vegetables into a warm serving dish.

The Raw Deal.

March 22, 2011

As a recap from last week, I decided as a chef highlighted in the media, I owed it to myself to learn more about the raw food experience. I wanted to create a new portfolio of delicious foods and understand the health benefits boasted by this type of eating regimen.

Although I’m happy I put my body to the challenge, I can say, without hesitation, a completely raw diet is not for me. I like the variety of balanced foods including dairy, whole grains, and protein from chicken and meat. I really missed my daily cup of coffee, milk in my smoothies, and overall selection.

However, the past seven days has given me a renewed appreciation for raw veggies as well as cooked ones. Mother Nature’s gifts are all around us, and the pure taste she offers should be incorporated into all of our diets. I’ve compiled a few of my honest findings over the past week on why it was hard to stay raw.

1. Expensive- In order to receive the full benefits from eating raw, it is suggested you eat 100% organic. Ca-Ching. I’ve never spent more money on groceries than what I’ve spent in the past week. Whilst I certainly am a fan of pesticide-free, locally grown foods, I understand how many families simply cannot afford them. In tough economic times, putting a meal on the table is already a struggle without adding the higher prices for organic foods. I found ordering vegetable/fruit juice at my local fresh food store was more economical than purchasing a juicer and buying organic kale, apples, and lemons for each drink.

2. Inconvenience: As a traveling chef, it is hard to find raw foods in an airport. It takes dedicated prep time and creative solutions to keep on track. You can imagine the TSA attendant’s face when I tried to get through security with a beet/carrot juice elixir. Many raw foods involve extra hours of dehydrating or chilling foods, which adds a great deal of commitment. The hustle and bustle of daily life between work, kids, and other obligations makes the diet fairly inconvenient for the average working mom or dad.

3. Moody – Maybe it comes down to the old adage that you want what you cannot have? It seemed that by Day 3 I had a headache from the detoxification, and I was about to snap if I had to ingest one more snap pea. Plus, I was under siege with MMS messages from chef friends sending me scintillating photos of fabulous dishes. Were they trying to lure me back to the other side? I also received many disapproving emails and phone calls from folks wondering if I had either lost my mind or had turned my back on the food industry as a whole.

4. Lack of Choices when eating out– Unless you plan on bringing a refrigerated bag around with you at all times with raw snacks, there is a limited supply of restaurants that cater to the raw lifestyle. Most restaurants do offer salads but most are spruced up with croutons, cheese, and other toppings. This made eating out with clients very hard. No rice. No dairy. No alcohol. No sugar. No cooked foods=a lonely life for a chef with a passion for food.

If a journalist asked me if I was glad I tried this diet, I would definitely say yes! I like setting challenges for myself. In the end, I did walk away with a five-pound weight loss. I appreciate the role that dairy and cooked foods add to the overall nutrients in my daily life.

So what makes for a good diet? I’d probably advise a well balanced meal program full of veggies and other nutrient rich foods. I stick to the eat less, exercise more mantra. Portion control and an active lifestyle will certainly take off the holiday pounds this winter without sacrificing all of your favorite foods.

Going for a walk several times a week with your partner should be added to every diet plan. It is amazing what a walk with someone you love can add to your emotional and physical well being. In the end, I added a few new raw recipes to my repertoire. Here is a sauce recipe I found to be a favorite staple from this past week. If you’d like to give it a try, I’ve included below.

Spinach Puree:
1 cup spinach
1/2 cup peas
1/2 cup fresh tarragon
2 tablespoons olive oil.
Filtered water
Celtic sea salt
White pepper

Puree in blender with enough water to make a nice purée. Season with salt and pepper to flavor to your own liking.