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David Latt

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David Latt has been a television writer/producer for 30 years, working on "Hill Street Blues" (won an Emmy), "The Hitchhiker," "Bakersfield P.D.," "Get A Life," "EZ Streets," "Stir Crazy," David Lynch's "Twin Peaks" (nominated for a second Emmy) and many others. He co-wrote half a dozen pilot scripts and headed the writing staff of DotComix a motion-capture animation website. And through the long hours and stress of dealing with production craziness -- bad weather, out of control costs, needy actors, and distressed fellow writers -- he shopped at farmers markets, cooked, and wrote about how important it is to eat well.

At times after a difficult week, he would cook all weekend. Eight, 10 hours each day, he worked at the cutting board and stove, cooking until he got his focus back and filled the dining room table with small plates of California-Mediterranean style dishes for his family and friends to enjoy. Wanting to share his passion about food, he wrote recipes and described the fun of exploring the local farmers markets.

Putting his television experience to good use, he created Secrets of Restaurant Chefs, a YouTube channel, with lively videos by well-known chefs sharing their favorite recipes.

In addition to writing about food for Zester Daily and his own sites, Men Who Like to Cook and Men Who Like to Travel, he has contributed to Mark Bittman's New York Times food blog, Bitten, One for the Table and TravelingMom. His helpful guide to holiday entertaining, "10 Delicious Holiday Recipes," is available on Amazon eCookbooks. He still develops for television but finds time to take his passion for food on the road as a contributor to Peter Greenberg's travel site, New York Daily News and Luxury Travel Magazine.

Articles by Author

Turn Plantains Into Patacones For An Easy Latin Treat Image

I was intimidated by plantains. Having eaten them in Latin American restaurants, I knew they were good when served with roast chicken, rice and beans. But seeing them in the market, I had no idea how to cook them. A trip to Costa Rica changed all that when a chef demonstrated how plantains are easy to prepare and delicious.

Like bananas, their sweet cousins, plantains are naturally fibrous and a good source of potassium.

Although they look like large bananas, they are not edible unless cooked. Primarily starchy, especially when green, plantains also have a stiff, bark-like peel. Delightfully easy to cook, plantains are used to create delicious side dishes.

Available all year round and grown primarily in the southern hemisphere, plantains are cooked in a great many ways — steamed, deep fried, sautéed, boiled, baked and grilled. The same fruit is prepared differently when it is green than when it is yellow or black. The first time I visited a Mexican market in Los Angeles, I noticed bunches of very large bananas with mottled yellow and black skin. I thought the blackened fruit was spoiled. In point of fact, when the peel turns yellow and then black, the starches in the fruit have begun to convert to sugars.

Plantains, yellow or black, will never be as sweet as a banana, but when cooked in this ripened state, they produce a deliciously caramelized side dish or dessert.

In his kitchen at Villa Buena Onda, an upscale boutique hotel on the Pacific Coast in Costa Rica’s Guanacaste Provence, Chef Gabriel Navarette demonstrated in a cooking video how easy it is to prepare plantains. In fact, they are so easy to cook, now that I am home, I make them all the time.

Chef Gabriel Navarette with a plate of patacones. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Chef Gabriel Navarette with a plate of patacones. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

The only difficulty with cooking plantains is finding a market that sells them. Not available in supermarkets in many U.S. cities, markets serving the Spanish-speaking community will have plantains. Seek them out because besides selling plantains, the markets will also be a good source of mangoes, papayas, tomatillos, chayote, fresh chilies, Latin spices and a good selection of dried beans and rice.

Navarette demonstrated how to prepare plantains three ways. He stuffed green plantains with cheese and baked them in the oven. He flattened green plantains and fried them twice to make patacones, thick, crispy chips served with pico de gallo, black beans, guacamole or ceviche. And, he caramelized yellow plantains to serve alongside black beans and rice on the wonderful Costa Rican dish called casado, which always has a protein such as chicken, fish, pork or beef.

Villa Buena Onda, or VBO as it is known locally, is an intimate destination. With only eight rooms, the hotel fells like a private home with a personal chef. The price of the room includes all three meals. Navarette and his fellow chefs make each dish to order.

Navarette studied at Instituto Nacional de Aprendizaje, a prominent school training professionals in many fields. He worked in resort and hotel kitchens, moving up the ranks from server to line cook, then as a sous chef and finally as the head chef at VBO for the past eight years.

Cooked yellow plantains. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Cooked yellow plantains. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

What attracted me to his food, as well as that of his cousin Diego Chavarria on the weekend and Rosa Balmaceda in the morning, was that each dish tasted home cooked but was plated in the most beautiful, five-star way.

Aided by César Allonso Carballo to translate, Navarette was happy to show me how to cook plantains. I was amazed at how easy they are to cook.

Cooking yellow plantains to use as a side dish or dessert is the essence of simplicity. Simply peel each plantain, heat a half-inch of safflower or corn oil in a carbon steel or cast iron pan over a medium flame, cut the plantain into rounds or in half lengthwise and then cut into 5-inch long sections, fry on either side until lightly browned, drain on paper towels and serve. All that can be done in five to eight minutes and the result is delicious.

The crisp and savory patacones are slightly more complicated to prepare but not much more so.

Patacones from the kitchen of Villa Buena Onda

Yellow or black plantains should not be used to make patacones because they are too soft.

In the restaurant, Navarette uses a deep fryer to cook plantains. That is fast and easy so he can keep up with the orders, but I discovered at home that by using a carbon steel pan I was able to achieve the same result using less oil with an easier clean up.

The oil may be reused by straining out cooked bits and storing in a refrigerated, air-tight container.

Enjoy the patacones with an ice-cold beer and, as the Costa Ricans say, Pura vida! Life is good because everything is OK.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cooking time: 10 minutes

Total time: 15 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

2 green plantains, washed

1 cup corn or safflower oil

Sea salt and black pepper to taste (optional)

Directions

1. Cut the ends off each green plantain. Using a sharp knife, carefully cut along the length of the tough peel being careful not to cut the flesh of the plantain. Pry off the peel and discard.

2. Preheat oil in a deep fryer to 350 F or a half-inch of oil in a large sauté pan over a medium flame.

3. Cut each plantain into 5 or 6 equal sized rounds.

4. Place the rounds into the deep fryer for 3 to 4 minutes or until lightly browned. In the sauté pan, turn frequently for even cooking, which should take about 5 to 8 minutes.

5. Remove, drain on paper towels and allow to cool.

6. Prepare one round at a time. Put the round on a prep surface. Place a sturdy plate on top of the round. Press firmly in the middle of the plate until the plantain round flattens, then do all the other rounds.

7. Place the flattened plantains back into the deep fryer for 2 minutes, or 4 minutes in the oil in a sauté pan as before. Turn as necessary in order to cook until lightly browned on all sides.

8. Remove from the oil, place on paper towels to drain and cool.

9. Season with sea salt and black pepper (optional).

10. Serve at room temperature with sides of black beans, pico de gallo, sour cream or ceviche or all four so guests can mix and match.

Main photo: Green and yellow plantains at Carniceria Mimi in Canas, Costa Rica. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

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Dinner Parties: Make Them Fun For Everyone Image

Cooking for dinner parties should be fun. If the occasion is a holiday, a birthday or a personal landmark, celebrating at home with a meal cements relationships with friends and family. But when preparing the meal is too much work, the fun goes away.

With relative ease, chef Nicole Heaney shows how to create a flavorful dish featuring a filet of fish that is perfect for entertaining. The key for a dinner party, as she demonstrates, is a little planning.

In the kitchen at Schooners Coastal Kitchen & Bar in Monterey, California, chef de cuisine Heaney shows how to prepare sablefish with crispy skin in a brown butter sauce. Adding flavor, Heaney pairs the rich, fatty fish with al dente Brussels sprouts, creamy farro cooked risotto-style and savory apple puree to add acid and sweetness.

Key to making the festive plate is the combination of four elements, each of which takes very little effort to create. And of the four, three can be made ahead. The Brussels sprouts, farro and apple puree can be made hours ahead of the dinner or even the day before. Then, just before serving, reheat the three components and cook the sablefish as your guests are sitting down ready for a celebration.

For a delicious vegan and vegetarian meal, leave out the fish and serve the Brussels sprouts, farro and apple puree.

A kitchen with a view

Chef Nicole Heaney preparing sable fish with apple puree, Brussels sprouts & farro risotto. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Chef Nicole Heaney preparing sablefish with apple puree, Brussels sprouts and farro risotto. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Schooners Coastal Kitchen & Bar is the main restaurant at the Monterey Plaza Hotel on Cannery Row. Working with executive chef James Waller, Heaney cooks in a kitchen with a view of Monterey Bay. Growing up in Wyoming and working in Colorado and New Mexico, Heaney was an adult before she saw the Pacific Ocean.

She confesses that, even after a year at the restaurant, when baby humpback whales swim close to the restaurant, she joins the other kitchen staff members to rush outside for a closer look from the dining patio. There they watch as the whales breach for a long moment before disappearing in the cold blue water.

Her cooking is influenced by the time she spent in Sedona at Mii amo Café. Preparing meals for health-conscious guests of the resort and spa, Heaney learned the importance of clean, fresh flavors. Fats were kept to a minimum. The kitchen did not use butter or cream. Asian ingredients and techniques were frequently used.

The regime is not as strict at Schooners, but Heaney still creates dishes with distinctive flavors and innovative ingredients like the kelp noodles she uses to make her version of pad thai.

An avid reader of Harold McGee’s “On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen,” she knows that the more you understand the chemistry of cooking, the better you can control the results. In her video demonstration, she points out the importance of using acid to round out flavors, as in the savory apple puree and farro risotto.

Apple Puree

Apples and onions poaching in apple juice and apple vinegar. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Apples and onions poaching in apple juice and apple vinegar. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

The apples Heaney uses are grown locally on the Gizdich Ranch in Watsonville, California. She recommends using Gala apples in the recipe. Heaney leaves on the peels to add flavor and color. Because the apples will be pureed, there is no need to cut them precisely.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cooking time: 15 minutes

Final assembly time: 5 minutes

Total time: 25 minutes

Yield: 3 cups sauce

Ingredients

4 large Gala apples, washed, pat dried, peels on

1 yellow onion, washed, peeled and trimmed, roughly chopped

2 to 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup bourbon (optional)

Unsweetened apple juice to cover

Freshly squeezed lemon juice to taste

Kosher salt to taste

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

Directions

1. Heat a large saucepan on a medium flame.

2. Cut open the apples. Remove and discard the core and seeds. Do not peel the apples. Cut the apples into large pieces.

3. Drizzle olive oil into saucepan, add onion and apples and sauté together until translucent.

4. Add bourbon (optional). Cook off the alcohol, which may catch fire. Be careful not to singe your eyebrows as chef Heaney once did.

5. Cover with unsweetened apple juice. Simmer on medium heat until reduced by half and the apples soften and begin to break down.

6. Puree in a large blender. Start blending on a low speed and progress to a higher speed until the puree is smooth.

7. Taste and season with lemon juice, apple cider vinegar and kosher salt.

8. If preparing ahead, store refrigerated in a sealed container.

9. Just before serving, reheat. Taste and adjust the seasoning and, if the puree is too thin, continue reducing on a medium flame to thicken.

Farro Risotto Fit for a Dinner Party

Farro risotto with mirepoix of minced carrots, onions and celery. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Farro risotto with mirepoix of minced carrots, onions and celery. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Cooking farro risotto-style means heating and hydrating the grain as if it were Arborio rice. Substituting farro for rice adds a nutty flavor. Heaney prefers her farro al dente but that choice is entirely personal. Many people prefer their risotto softer rather than al dente.

Better quality ingredients yield a better result. With risotto, that means using quality rice or, in this case, farro. The stock is as important. Canned stocks are available, but they are high in sodium content and can have an off-putting aroma. Homemade stocks are preferable. Any good quality stock can be used — beef, pork, chicken or seafood. For vegetarians and vegans, the farro can be prepared with vegetable broth and without the butter or Asiago cheese.

The cooking time may vary depending on the farro.

Like other whole spices, pepper has volatile oils. To preserve the freshness of its flavor, Heaney prefers to grind the peppercorns just before using.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cooking time: 30 to 45 minutes

Final assembly time: 5 minutes

Total time: 40 to 55 minutes

Yield: serves 4

Ingredients

64 ounces hot stock, preferably homemade, can be vegetable, beef, pork, chicken or seafood

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 yellow onion, washed, peeled, trimmed, small dice

1 large carrot, washed, peeled, trimmed, small dice

2 large celery stalks, washed, peeled, trimmed, small dice

3 garlic cloves, washed, peeled, rimmed, minced (optional)

16 ounces farro

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 tablespoon sweet butter (optional)

1 bunch Italian parsley, washed, pat dried, leaves chopped fine

1 tablespoon chives, washed, chopped fine

1 tablespoon fresh thyme, washed, chopped fine

1 cup shredded Asiago cheese (optional)

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Kosher salt to taste

Black peppercorns, freshly ground, to taste

Directions

1. In a saucepan, heat stock on a low flame.

2. Heat a separate medium saucepan over a medium flame. When hot, add olive oil and sauté onions, carrots and celery until the vegetables are translucent.

3. Add farro. Stir well and sauté until lightly toasted.

4. Add garlic (optional) and sauté until translucent but do not brown.

5. Deglaze the pan with white wine. Cook until alcohol is fully cooked out.

6. Add hot stock in 6- to 8-ounce portion. Stir well.

7. As stock is absorbed, add more stock and stir well. Do not scald the farro.

8. Each time the stock is absorbed, add more stock until the liquid becomes cloudy and the farro softens.

9. If the farro is being made ahead, when the farro is soft but not yet soft enough to eat, or 75 percent cooked, remove from the burner, allow to cool and refrigerate in a sealed container.

10. If continuing to cook or if reheating, taste and continue cooking the farro until it is al dente or to your liking. Set aside until the fish is cooked.

11. Just before serving, to finish, add sweet butter (optional) and stir into the heated farro until melted.

12. Add Asiago cheese (optional) and stir well to melt.

13. Taste and season with fresh lemon juice, salt and freshly ground black pepper.

14. Just before plating, sprinkle in chopped fine parsley, chives and thyme and stir well.

15. Serve hot and plate as described below.

Caramelized Brussels Sprouts

Caramelized halved Brussels sprouts. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Caramelized halved Brussels sprouts. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Heaney prefers her Brussels sprouts al dente. Some people like them softer, in which case, after the Brussels sprouts are washed, trimmed and halved, blanch them in salted boiling water for two minutes, drain and then sauté as directed below.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cooking time: 10 minutes

Final assembly time: 5 minutes

Total time: 20 minutes

Yield: serves 4

Ingredients

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 pound medium-sized Brussels sprouts, washed, discolored leaves removed, ends trimmed, halved

Kosher salt to taste

Freshly ground black peppercorns to taste

Directions

1. Heat a large sauté pan.

2. Add extra virgin olive oil and halved Brussels sprouts.

3. Season to taste with kosher salt and black pepper.

4. Stir well to prevent burning. Sauté until Brussels sprouts are caramelized on both sides.

5. If the sprouts are to be served later or the next day, when they are cooked 75 percent, remove from the burner, allow to cool and refrigerate in an airtight container.

6. When the fish is cooking, heat the sauté pan with a small amount of olive oil. Add the cooked Brussels sprouts to reheat and plate with the fish, farro risotto and apple puree.

Crispy-Skin Sablefish in a Brown Butter Sauce

Also called black cod, sablefish is not actually cod. Heaney uses sablefish caught in nearby Morro Bay. She likes cooking the fish because it is almost “bulletproof.” The flesh is difficult to overcook and is almost always moist, flavorful and delicate.

In order to achieve a crispy skin, Heaney has developed a simple technique described in the directions. She recommends buying a wooden-handled fish spatula with a beveled edge, which helps remove the fish from the pan. The spatula is preferable to tongs, which tend to break apart the filets.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cooking time: 5 to 10 minutes

Final assembly time: 5 minutes

Total time: 15-20 minutes

Yield: serves 4

Ingredients

4 6-ounce skin-on filets of sablefish or black cod, washed, pat dried

1/2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon sweet butter

1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 tablespoon Italian parsley, washed, pat dried, leaves only, finely chopped

Directions

1. Season each filet with kosher salt and black pepper on both sides.

2. Heat a large sauté pan on a medium-high flame. When the pan is hot, reduce the flame to medium-low.

3. Add the olive oil. Allow the oil to heat.

4. Place the filets into the pan, skin side down. Do not overcrowd the pan, allowing space between each filet. If the filets are crowded together, the skin will not crisp.

Sear but do not burn the skin.

Jiggle the pan. That will help prevent the filets from sticking to the pan. If they do stick, use the fish spatula to gently release them from the bottom of the pan.

5. Add sweet butter to the pan and swirl around the filets.

6. Let the filets cook without fussing too much. The fish is cooked when the flesh is opaque.

7. Using the fish spatula, gently flip each filet over. Swirl the filets into the melted butter, being careful to brown but not burn the butter.

After 30 seconds, use a spoon to baste the filets with the melted butter.

8. At this point, the fish is cooked. Add parsley for color and season with lemon juice.

Put the saucepan to the side.

Assembling the dish:

Plate the fish when everyone is seated at the table.

All of the elements — fish, apple puree, Brussels sprouts and farro risotto — should be hot and ready to serve.

Select a large plate. Using the back of a soup spoon, spread a tablespoon of the apple puree across the plate. Add a good portion of the farro risotto in the middle of the plate, then the caramelized Brussels sprouts.

Gently add the sablefish filet, crispy skin side up. Spoon a little bit of the brown butter on top of the filet, farro and Brussels sprouts. And as chef Heaney says, “That is it.”

Serve the dish hot with a crisp white wine and let the festivities begin.

Main photo: Chef Nicole Heaney shows her sablefish with apple puree, Brussels sprouts and farro risotto. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

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Adding Mexican Spice To Thanksgiving Succotash Image

Thanksgiving is the best of times. Friends and family gather together to celebrate one another and the season. And yet there is the nagging problem of devising a menu that protects tradition but still surprises. Chef Keith Stich has an answer. Use the flavors of Mexico. In his kitchen at Red O Restaurant in Santa Monica, California, Stich demonstrated how to spice up a traditional succotash by adding Mexican ingredients.

The Santa Monica restaurant is one of a dozen restaurants and bistros opened by chef Rick Bayless, well known for his many awards, cookbooks and television appearances. When Bayless was looking for a chef to help him expand his Southern California operation, he searched for chefs who shared his passion for Mexican cooking. Stich was selected for a cook-off in Chicago at Bayless’ Frontera Grill.

Inspired for succotash fusion

Chef Keith Stich, Red O Restaurant Santa Monica with his Thanksgiving succotash. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Chef Keith Stich of Red O Restaurant Santa Monica, with his Thanksgiving succotash. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Growing up, Stich loved eating Mexican food. As a young chef, he specialized in the preparation of steak and seafood in restaurants in Colorado and California. He learned to cook dishes with strong, clean flavors. For the competition at Frontera Grill, Stich had to prepare one entrée. Four chefs competed. Stich would win or lose the job based on whether Bayless liked his lobster enchiladas.

The competition among the chefs was tough. But Bayless was impressed. He hired Stich to open Red O in Newport Beach. In a competitive setting, the restaurant did very well. After Newport Beach, Stich was asked to open the restaurant across from the Santa Monica pier, a prime tourist destination, and as corporate executive chef to oversee all three of the Southern California restaurants with more planned in the future.

Celebrating fresh, seasonal ingredients

Boiled and grilled corn kernels are used to make chef Keith Stich's Thanksgiving succotash at Red O Restaurant Santa Monica. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Boiled and grilled corn kernels are used to make chef Keith Stich’s Thanksgiving succotash at Red O Restaurant Santa Monica. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

As the seasons change and the cooks come up with innovations, Stich proposes new dishes to Bayless either over the phone or in person. Sometimes he’ll fly to Chicago and prepare the dishes in the Frontera Grill kitchen. Once Bayless signs off on the new dishes, Stich updates the Red O menus on the West Coast.

Making everything from scratch is an essential part of the Red O identity. Fresh limes and oranges are juiced in-house. All the salsas and sauces are made fresh. The produce comes from local purveyors and the farmers markets. In that sense, the West Coast cooks have a distinct advantage over their Midwestern colleagues. Leafy greens are available in abundance in January at the farmers markets in Los Angeles long before they appear in the Chicago markets.

Adding a Mexican twist to a classic

Chopped butternut squash and grated cotija cheese go into chef Keith Stich's Thanksgiving succotash at Red O Restaurant Santa Monica. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Chopped butternut squash and grated cotija cheese go into chef Keith Stich’s Thanksgiving succotash at Red O Restaurant Santa Monica. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

To create a flavorful side dish that would go well with traditional Thanksgiving dishes, Stich used butternut squash, the quintessential fall vegetable, as a substitute for beans in succotash. He gave the dish a flavor boost by adapting the restaurant’s street corn side dish. To the squash he added dry-salty cotija cheese, earthy poblano peppers and spicy cilantro.

So this Thanksgiving as you help yourself to slices of turkey, Brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, roasted sweet potatoes and green bean casserole, now you can add spice to tradition with a large serving of Mexican succotash.

Street Corn and Butternut Squash Succotash

Thanksgiving Succotash, poblano chilies, butternut squash, corn, onion, cotija cheese. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Thanksgiving succotash features poblano chilies, butternut squash, corn, onion, cotija cheese. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Given how busy Thanksgiving Day can be, an advantage of Stich’s succotash is that all the elements can be cooked the day ahead and refrigerated in airtight containers. Just before serving, when the turkey is resting and the gravy is simmering, the succotash can be given a final sauté on the stove and served with the other dishes.

Poblano chilies and cotija cheese are available in Latin markets. In order to achieve the Mexican flavor profile, the chilies cannot be substituted with green bell peppers; nor can the cotija cheese be replaced with feta cheese.

Because corn season is ending, Stich suggests buying fresh corn now if possible, boiling the cobs as directed, cutting off the kernels and freezing in corn stock, which is made as described below. Cover the kernels with the stock, seal and freeze. The stock will protect the kernels from freezer burn. The day before using, defrost the containers. Strain out the kernels and use them as indicated in the recipe. Reserve and refreeze the corn stock to use in soups and stocks.

When fresh corn is not available in the markets, frozen corn may be substituted, but not canned corn.

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 40 minutes

Final assembly time: 5 minutes

Total time: 60 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

3 ears of yellow corn, shucked, washed

1 small butternut squash, washed, seeded, diced, yielding 1½ cups

1 small red onion, washed, peeled, trimmed, diced, yielding ½ cup

1 roasted large poblano chili, washed, charred, seeded, cleaned, yielding ¾ cup cooked

2 tablespoon grated cotija cheese plus ½ tablespoon as garnish

½ tablespoon fresh cilantro, washed, leaves only, finely chopped

½ teaspoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon canola oil

Sea salt to taste

1 tablespoon micro cilantro (optional)

2 tablespoons sour cream or Mexican creama (optional)

Directions

1. Preheat a grill.

2. Boil the corn on the cobs in water uncovered for 30 minutes.

3. Remove the corn from the water. Using tongs, place the corn on the hot grill. Turn frequently until the outside is slightly charred.

4. Place the grilled ears of corn into a bowl of water with two cups of ice cubes.

5. Once the corn is chilled, use a sharp knife and cut off the kernels. As much as possible, keep the kernels together in slabs. Set aside and if not using until the next day, place in an airtight container and refrigerate.

6. If the kernels are to be frozen, place the cobs back in the hot water. Boil another 30 minutes or until the liquid is reduced by half. Set aside to cool. Then place the cooked kernels in an airtight container and cover with the corn stock. Seal and freeze.

7. Peel the butternut squash, removing the outer skin, seeds and fibers inside. Discard. Using a sharp knife, cut the squash into ¼-inch dice.

8. Add the kosher salt to a pot of water. Bring to a boil. Add the diced squash and cook quickly, approximately 45 to 60 seconds or until fork tender.

9. Prepare an ice bath. Strain the cooked squash and place into the ice bath to chill. Set aside and if not using until the next day, refrigerate in an airtight container.

10. Place the poblano chili over a high flame on the stove burner. Char the outside, turning often to evenly blister the skin. Remove and place under running water. Rinse off the blackened skin. Cut open the chili. Remove the stem and all the seeds and discard. Cut the poblano into ¼-inch dice.

11. Finely grate the cotija cheese. Set aside and if not using until the next day, refrigerate in an airtight container.

12. With all the elements cooked and prepped, all that is needed is to combine and lightly sauté the ingredients. Heat a large saucepan. Add the canola oil.

13. Sauté the diced red onion until translucent and lightly browned. Add the poblano chili, stir well to heat, then add butternut squash and corn kernels until all ingredients are hot.

14. Sprinkle the cotija cheese on top and heat until the cheese melts. Mix in the chopped cilantro.

15. Transfer the succotash to a serving bowl. Garnish with more grated cotija. Decorate with dollops of sour cream or Mexican creama (optional) and micro cilantro (optional). Serve hot.

Main photo: Red O Restaurant Thanksgiving succotash made with corn, poblano chilies, butternut squash, onion, cotija cheese and cilantro. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

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Upstate N.Y. Craft Distillers Get Creative With Gin Image

With fall approaching and colder months on the horizon, it’s time to switch from ice cold bottles of beer, glasses of crisp chardonnay, salt-rimmed margaritas and minty mojitos. On a recent trip to the Finger Lakes Region in upstate New York, James Ouderkirk, general manager at Al’s Wine & Whiskey Lounge introduced me to a cocktail he thought perfect to celebrate the change of seasons: a gin cocktail flavored with apricot preserves and burnt orange peel.

Like many cities in the Northeast that prospered during the early part of the 20th century, Syracuse suffered when heavy industries declined in the 1970s. Now enjoying a resurgence, a revitalized downtown centered on Armory Square is home to new restaurants, bars and shops. One of those is Al’s Wine & Whiskey Lounge.

A trip back in time

The long bar at Al’s Wine & Whiskey Lounge, Syracuse, N.Y. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

The long bar at Al’s Wine & Whiskey Lounge, Syracuse, N.Y. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

The bar’s storefront has served many masters. Once a beauty school and then a cigar store, as Al’s Wine & Whiskey Lounge the space was transformed into the kind of bar my grandfather would have visited in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The walls are painted bordello red or built out of weathered bricks. Besides the front area, there are several rooms, one filled with overstuffed upholstered sofas and chairs. Another has a pool table. Yet another is filled with arcade style video machines.

With a large plate glass window facing South Clinton Street and a two-story-high ceiling, the main room is focused on a 35-foot wooden bar behind which the floor-to-ceiling shelves are filled with an encyclopedic collection of spirits curated locally and from around the world.

A custom cocktail to suit your mood

James Ouderkirk, General Manager at Al’s Wine & Whiskey Lounge, Syracuse, N.Y. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

James Ouderkirk, General Manager at Al’s Wine & Whiskey Lounge, Syracuse, N.Y. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Unlike many bars serving craft cocktails, Al’s does not have a cocktail menu. According to Ouderkirk, the philosophy of the bar is that patrons should describe how they are feeling and which spirits they enjoy, then the bartender will make a drink that will make them feel better.

On the night we met, I was tired. I very much needed a cocktail that would improve my mood. I wasn’t certain what I wanted to drink. I had one specific request: I wanted him to use a local product.

Discovering hard cider in the Finger Lakes

Oak barrels used to age hard apple cider into 2-year aged Apple Jack at Apple Country Spirits, Williamson, N.Y. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Oak barrels used to age hard apple cider into 2-year aged Apple Jack at Apple Country Spirits, Williamson, N.Y. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

For the past several days I had been traveling through the Finger Lakes region, visiting orchards that distilled their apples, pears, peaches and plums into spirits.

On the trip, I tasted hard apple ciders with an effervescence as light as champagne at Embark Craft Ciderworks in Williamson and at the Finger Lakes Cider House in Interlaken. At Apple Country Spirits, I sampled brandies made from apples, pears, peaches and plums as good as any eau-de-vie I enjoyed in France and Switzerland. The biggest news for me on the trip was the fact that in the region apples were being used to create premium vodkas and gins.

Local sourcing for gin and other spirits

Beak & Skiff Apple Orchards/1911 Distillery, LaFayette, N.Y. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Beak & Skiff Apple Orchards/1911 Distillery, LaFayette, N.Y. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Tree Vodka is produced from apples grown in the Apple Country Spirits orchards in Wayne County close to Lake Ontario. 1911 Vodka and 1911 Gin are produced from apples grown at Beak & Skiff Apple Orchards in LaFayette. Different from vodka and gin flavored with apples, these distillations are mellow with a clean flavor.

Ouderkirk suggested he make a cocktail using 1911 Gin. With a portion of St-Germain Elderflower Liqueur, a splash of soda water and a hint of freshly squeezed lime juice, he quickly mixed the drink. After he placed a piece of burnt orange peel on top, I gave it a taste. The cocktail had a light summer freshness. The aromatic gin anchored the flavors while the apricot preserves and burnt orange peel hinted at the fall.

To accompany the cocktail, Ouderkirk platted a selection of local cheeses and charcuterie. Sitting in the darkened room, sipping my cocktail, half listening to conversations at the bar and sampling Camembert, goat cheeses, cheddar and salami, I forgot entirely how tired I had been after my very long road trip.

1911 Gin, Apricot, Lime and Burnt Orange Peel Cocktail

As with all cocktails, the best and freshest ingredients will yield better results. Use a quality gin, apricot preserve and farmers market citrus.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Yield: 1 cocktail

Ingredients

1 3/4 ounce 1911 Gin (or a gin of your choice)

3/4 ounce St-Germain Elderflower Liqueur

Dash of freshly squeezed lime juice

1 teaspoon apricot preserve

Splash unflavored soda water

2-inch-by-1-inch orange peel, unblemished, washed

Directions

1. Mix together all the ingredients except the orange peel. Shake well with ice. Strain into a cocktail glass.

2. Hold the orange peel against the flame of a lighter or a gas stove burner until the peel lightly burns but does not blacken.

3. Place the burnt orange peel atop the cocktail and serve icy cold.

Main photo: Gin Cocktail with fresh lime and burnt orange peel at Al’s Wine & Whiskey Lounge, Syracuse, N.Y. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

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Give Classic French Soup A Citrusy Twist With Sorrel Image

Puréed vegetable soups make an excellent entrée for a delicious meal consisting entirely of a soup and salad.

Wanting an authentic French recipe, I visited chef Jacques Fiorentino in the West Hollywood kitchen of his restaurant L’Assiette Steak Frites where he demonstrated his easy-to-prepare sorrel soup.

Sorrel brings dark, leafy goodness

Fresh sorrel, Coleman Family Farm (Santa Barbara and Ventura County) at the Santa Monica Farmers Market. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Fresh sorrel, Coleman Family Farm (Santa Barbara and Ventura County) at the Santa Monica Farmers Market. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Sorrel is not spinach. The leaves are similar, but the flavor is completely different. Richly flavored with citrus notes, sorrel’s dark green pointed leaves are a good source of potassium, vitamin A and vitamin C.

Unlike many leafy greens, sorrel is a perennial. One spring we were given a small plant in a 3-inch pot. During the first year the plant doubled in size. By pinching off the floral buds and harvesting the young leaves, the plant flourished and we enjoyed sorrel soup on a regular basis. After several years it grew so vigorously that it all but took over the garden.

A riff on soupe à l’oseille, a French classic

Calling his restaurant Steak Frites, Fiorentino announced to the world that his restaurant was solidly in the French bistro tradition. The dark wood interior and precise menu puts a spotlight on favorites that would be found in neighborhood restaurants throughout France.

Like Proust and his madeleines, Fiorentino uses a few carefully chosen dishes to evoke his childhood in Paris. For him that means grilled steak, double-cooked french fries (frites), foie gras and sorrel soup with deep herbal accents. As a nod to contemporary preferences he added salmon and, for vegetarians, portobello mushrooms with frites.

Wash. Sauté. Simmer. Blend. Season.

Immersion blender puréeing sorrel soup in the kitchen at L’Assiette Steak and Frites. Copyright2015 David Latt

Immersion blender puréeing sorrel soup in the kitchen at L’Assiette Steak and Frites. Copyright2015 David Latt

Depending on the chicken flavoring used, you will need more or less salt. Homemade chicken stock has the least salt and is preferred. Packaged stock, chicken concentrate and bouillon cubes have considerably higher salt contents.

Good quality concentrated chicken stock and bouillon cubes can be purchased in restaurant supply stores and supermarkets. Since the sodium content varies considerably, delay adding salt to the soup until all ingredients have been blended, then taste and season.

A vegetarian version can be created by substituting vegetable for chicken stock. As with chicken stock, homemade vegetable stock is preferable to bouillon cubes and will have a lower salt content.

In the restaurant, Fiorentino uses potato flakes for flavor and convenience. If you would prefer to use potatoes, boil the potatoes in salted water until a paring knife pierces the flesh easily. Allow to cool, peel, cut into quarter-sized pieces, add to the soup and blend.

L’Assiette Sorrel Soup

Sorrel soup with sorrel simmering in the kitchen of chef Jacques Fiorentino's L’Assiette Steak and Frites. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Sorrel soup with sorrel simmering in the kitchen of chef Jacques Fiorentino’s L’Assiette Steak and Frites. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 40 minutes

Total time: 60 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

4 ounces unsalted butter

1 small red onion, washed, peeled, roughly chopped

1/2 stalk celery, washed, trimmed, roughly chopped

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram leaves

1 medium-sized potato, Yukon Gold preferred, washed

1 1/2 cups chicken stock (homemade preferred) or 1½ cups water and 3 cubes Knorr chicken bouillon

8 ounces whole milk

4 ounces cream

1/4 pound fresh sorrel, washed, leaves only

Sea salt to taste

Pinch freshly ground white pepper, finely ground

Directions

1. Heat a large saucepan over a medium flame. Add butter, melt and allow to lightly foam. Add chopped onion and celery, stir well and sauté until the onion is lightly translucent. Do not allow to brown. Add thyme and marjoram, stir well to combine flavors.

2. Boil a pot of salted water, cook whole potato, covered, for 20 minutes or until a pairing knife enters easily. Set aside to cool.

3. Add liquid, either chicken stock or water, stir well and continue simmering for a minute or two. Pour in milk and cream, stir well and bring flame up to medium so the liquids simmer five minutes to combine the flavors, being careful not to boil.

4. Add whole sorrel leaves. Stir into the soup. Reduce flame so the soup simmers. Stir frequently and cook 25 to 30 minutes to combine flavors. If water was used instead of chicken stock, add chicken bouillon or base, stir well. Simmer an additional 5 minutes.

5. Blend the soup using either an immersion or a general purpose blender, about 5 minutes. Peel the cooked potato, dice and add to the soup. Blend until smooth.

6. Taste and adjust seasoning with sea salt and freshly ground white pepper.

Serve hot with fresh bread and, if desired, a tossed green salad.

Main photo: Sorrel soup with crème fraîche prepared by chef Jacques Fiorentino at L’Assiette Steak Frites. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

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Mexico’s Best Street Food Treat Makes A Killer Salad Image

An abundance of corn in farmers markets is a delight and a challenge. Having already grilled platters of corn on the barbecue and boiled armfuls of shucked ears, it is time to invent another way to enjoy one of summer’s most delicious vegetables. Borrowing the flavors of elote, a Mexican classic, turns grilled corn into a salad that will delight everyone at the table.

Mexican street food delight

An elote, or corn on the cob, sign at Cerveteca Taco & Torta Joint in Culver City, California. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

An elote, or corn on the cob, sign at Cerveteca Taco & Torta Joint in Culver City, California. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Travel in Mexico and you’ll encounter street vendors selling a great number of delicious food snacks. One of my favorites is elote, or corn on the cob, in which an ear of corn is cooked, dusted with dry cheese and seasoned with chili powder and fresh lime juice. The ear of corn is always served whole, sometimes resting in a paper dish or with a stick in the bottom like a corndog.

Elote is delicious but messy to eat. First there is the matter of the whole ear of corn, which takes two hands to manage. And, with each bite, the finely grated Cotija cheese tends to float off the corn and drift onto clothing.

Deconstructing elote

Charred corn kernels cut off the cob in a seasoning pan to make Mexican corn salad. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Charred corn kernels cut off the cob in a seasoning pan to make Mexican corn salad. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Cutting the kernels off the cobs makes the seasoned corn so much easier to enjoy. In Mexico there is a corn kernel snack called esquites, which employs some of the seasonings used in making elote. This recipe is different because no mayonnaise is mixed with the corn. Mexican Corn Salad can be served as a light and refreshing entrée topped with a protein or as a side dish accompanying grilled vegetables, meats, poultry and fish. The elote salad is the perfect summer recipe.

The best way to cook corn on the cob is a topic of heated debate. There are those who will only boil corn, others who will only grill it. I have seen elote prepared both ways. My preference is to strip off the husk and grill the ear so that some of the kernels are charred, adding caramelized sweetness to the salad.

Just the right cheese

Cotija cheese finely grated to use in Mexican corn salad. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Cotija cheese finely grated to use in Mexican corn salad. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

What gives elote its distinctive flavor is the combination of finely grated dry Mexican Cotija cheese, spicy chili powder and fresh lime juice. Powdery when finely grated, Cotija cheese is salty so you may not need to add salt when you make the corn salad. Often described as having qualities similar to feta and Parmesan, Cotija tastes quite different.

Mexican Corn Salad

Mexican Corn Salad. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Mexican Corn Salad. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 15 to 20 minutes

Total time: 25 to 30 minutes

Yield: 4 entrée servings or 8 side dish servings

Ingredients

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

4 large ears of corn, husks and silks removed, washed, dried

1/2 cup finely grated Cotija cheese

1/2 teaspoon chili powder

3 cups Italian parsley, washed, leaves only, chopped

2 limes, washed, quartered

Directions

1. Preheat an indoor grill or outdoor barbecue to hot.

2. Pour 2 tablespoons olive oil into a flat pan and season with sea salt and black pepper.

3. Roll the ears of corn in the seasoned olive oil to coat all sides.

4. Using tongs, place the corn on the grill, turning every 2 to 3 minutes so that some of the kernels char, being careful not to burn the ears.

5. When cooked on all sides, remove and let cool in the flat pan with the seasoned olive oil.

6. To cut the kernels off the cob, use a sharp chef’s knife. Hold each ear of corn over the pan with the seasoned oil and slice the kernels off the cob.

7. Transfer the kernels and the remaining seasoned oil into a large mixing bowl.

8. Add Cotija cheese, chili powder and parsley. Toss well.

9. Drizzle the remaining olive oil over the salad and toss.

10. Serve at room temperature with lime wedges on the side.

Notes: Adding finely chopped Italian parsley to the seasoned corn kernels brightens the flavors. Cilantro can be used instead of parsley to give the salad a peppery flavor.

Traditionally, mayonnaise is slathered on the elote or mixed into esquites before adding the cheese and chili powder. I prefer to use olive oil to give the salad a lighter taste.

To use as an entrée, top with sliced grilled chicken, shrimp or filet of fish.

The salad can be prepared ahead and kept in the refrigerator overnight. In which case, do not add the Cotija cheese or parsley until just before serving.

To create a large, colorful salad, just before serving, toss the seasoned corn and parsley with quartered cherry tomatoes, cut-up avocados and butter lettuce or romaine leaves.

After tossing, taste the salad and adjust the amount of Cotija cheese and chili powder.

Main photo: Charred ears of corn on a grill. The corn will be used in a Mexican corn salad. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

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