Love to cook? Read on for professional tips on building flavor without all the calories!

Archive for March, 2014

Steak or Lobster? That is the question!

Our meat supply is shrinking. Why? The Department of Agriculture forecasted in May that “Beef output in the U.S., the world’s top producer, will fall 5.3% this year to 24.35 billion pounds, the lowest since 1994.

Photo Credit: Food and Fire

Photo Credit: Food and Fire

According to The Wall Street Sector Selector, “At the start of this year (2014), the cattle herd fell to 87.7 million head, the lowest since 1951, following drought and high feed costs.” In addition… “Porcine epidemic virus has killed more than 4 million pigs, according to an industry group.”

According to Bloomberg News, “This is very unusual to see this kind of price increase this early in the season,” Donnie King, the President of prepared foods at Springdale, Arkansas-based Tyson, the largest U.S. processor of beef and chicken, said in a March 13 presentation to analysts. Cattle futures reached an all-time high… up 25 percent from last year’s low in May. Hog futures surged … and are up 47 percent this year. Domestic wholesale pork has advanced even more, gaining 56 percent this year.”

What does that mean to you?  Increased costs to restaurants and retail stores get passed on to the consumer, so it’s going to cost you quite a bit more to eat beef and pork.

What to watch out for? Look not only at the price of the package of meat you want to buy. Check the weights on the packages too. Although retailers will cut what they can to keep their margins intact, he first thing you can expect to happen is that an attempt will be made to fool you by changing packaging. In other words, the price you normally see will be the same or very slightly more, but there will be less in the package, so you don’t notice the increase in price. Do notice it, though, because it’s definitely there.

What to do? Take a look at other products whose supply has increased, causing their prices to drop. An example is lobster – once brought into households only as a luxurious indulgence.

Supplies of lobster have dramatically increased. Why? According to The Columbus Dispatch, “last year’s record haul of 126 million pounds is double that of just a decade ago.” That made prices very cheap. They go on to say, “No one knows exactly why lobster populations have increased so quickly. The answer, says marine biologist Robert Steneck, is likely a combination of warming water temperatures, the overfishing of inshore predators like cod and a long history of forward-thinking conservation measures.” That means that lobster is suddenly really affordable. It’s also very simple to prepare this delicious meat!

Photo Credit: LeOeuf

Photo Credit: LeOeuf

What to look for in buying lobster: Buy them live, as fresh as possible and as close to preparation time as possible. Retailers keep live lobsters in tanks. Make sure your lobster is lively when taken out of the tank. If it has a lot of energy, it will probably try to curl up. If lobsters are in the tank too long, they get lethargic and lose muscle mass because they are not fed there. You can ask the retailer when they arrived so you know exactly how fresh they are. Once you choose your lobster, keep them in the refrigerator until cooking time.

Here are the best two ways to prepare lobster:

  1. Bring a large pot of water (infused with 1 Tablespoon of salt) to a boil. You can usually cook several lobsters at a time, but it depends on the size of your pot. Plunge the live lobsters head first into the hot water and cook them until they turn pink, about 15-20 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain well. If you want to spoil your guests, crack the back and claws in two with a large, sharp knife and serve immediately with fresh lemon quarters (to squeeze on the meat) and clarified butter. (What is clarified butter? When you melt butter, the white solids rise to the top. If you skim them off, that’s clarified butter.)
  2. If you buy frozen lobster tails, take them out of the freezer the day before you want to serve them and thaw them in the fridge. Sprinkle the meat side with salt and pepper. Squeeze on fresh lemon juice. Then get your grill hot and grill for 12-15 minutes. Again, serve them with a little dish of clarified butter for dipping and some fresh lemon.

Googling lobster will find many more recipes, but these are the simplest and in my mind, the most delicious. If you use too may spices, you will easily overpower the taste of the meat.

What wine to serve?  Loren Sonkin ofInToWine” suggests – and this is in order of price, with the first being the highest – a Montrachet (from Burgundy in France), a California Grand Cru Chardonnay, or a Gewurztraminer. He says, “In my opinion, boiled lobster with drawn butter begs for a medium bodied white wine with perhaps subtle nuances of oak ageing.”

So choose your wine price point and go enjoy that lobster while the prices are still lower than hamburger! 🙂


BYOB to restaurants is now legal in Michigan!

Wine Cellar PhotoFor those of you who like wine and would like to take your own to a restaurant, here’s some important news! Until now, it was illegal in Michigan to bring your own wine to restaurants unless they were designated a “resort” (e.g.  The Townsend Hotel).

However, in December, Governor Rick Snyder approved House Bill 5046, (Effective Date: March 14, 2014) which allows restaurants with liquor licenses to let patrons bring their own bottles of wine to drink at those restaurants. They must be bottles from licensed wineries, so note that you can’t bring your own moonshine! Note also that there is no regulation on corkage fees (what restaurants can charge in order to uncork and serve the bottle to you). So expect to see some disparity and make sure you check out the situation in advance! Here’s why:

Many Bloomfield Hills residents often eat in Birmingham because it’s the closest fine dining. So, I did a survey of 25 Birmingham restaurants and restaurateurs are well aware of the change in the law. Many are considering making a rules change to allow patrons to bring their own wine. However, they are looking at different ways to make it work for them as well as their customers. This is a big step for them, so be patient. Of those I polled, here are the restaurants you can count on, listed with their corkage fees:

  • Big Rock Chop House:  $25. (Must be a wine that is NOT on their list.)
  • Café Via: $30 (Prefer just for special occasions)
  • Forest Grill: $25.
  • Hyde Park Prime Steak House: $25.
  • Rugby Grill in the Townsend: $35.
  • Social Kitchen and Bar: $35. (After March 14th only)
  • The Stand: $50.
  • Tallulah: $15.

I’m sure there will be a lot more now that the law has taken effect, so call and check before you show up with your brown bag. 🙂

You can still take an unfinished bottle of wine home from a restaurant that you purchase from the restaurant if their staff replaces the cork even with the lip of the bottle. However, the way the law reads, you cannot legally take unfinished wine home if you have not consumed a meal. You also may not take additional wine unless they are classified as a merchant.

There will be a learning curve on both sides with this new practice, so be patient. Realize that the wine mark ups for restaurants are anywhere from 100% to 300% above their wholesale costs. That extra revenue goes a long way toward paying restaurant expenses. Also, tips on wine are important revenue to staff. In most cases, with corkage fees, it only makes sense to bring your own if it’s a relatively expensive bottle of wine. Let’s say that the corkage fee is $20. If you buy a $15 bottle, you will pay $40 to drink it at the restaurant. If the restaurant bought the same bottle for the same price and marked it up 300%, you would pay $45 or maybe even less if their markup was less, so it wouldn’t be worth it. For a much more expensive bottle of wine – say a $300 bottle, you do the math and you could see that it would definitely be worth it.

 So what about the person who serves the wine? The fair thing to do is to tip on the value of the wine – or if it’s an exorbitant value – use your judgment, but definitely don’t tip just on the meal. It’s important to keep your server happy! Believe me… He/she won’t forget.

 Etiquette is going to be important for these restaurants to accept the wine law change. Here are some more tips for bringing your own wine to restaurants:

  1. Call ahead to see if it’s acceptable to them and ask what the corkage fee will be so you are not surprised. Ask if the bottle you want to bring is on their list. If it’s for a special occasion, tell them to help them understand your situation. If you want to bring more than one bottle, also ask if that’s OK.
  2. A very cool thing to do if you have enough people is to also buy a bottle from the restaurant’s wine list.
  3. Offer a taste to the Sommelier or if you don’t drink it all, send what’s left back to the chef. (I love using leftover wine after parties in sauces!)
  4. Don’t bring a bottle that’s on their wine list. Do bring a special bottle for a special occasion.

 If you want to read the law, you can find it here online:

If this change is important to you, be informed about the new rules and promote it by talking to restaurant Managers who are not yet participating. The law reads that restaurants “may” allow people to bring wine, so encourage them to change their policies after March 14th because it is now possible to BYOB!

Six Great Appetizers

On my last cable television show, I invited Ruben Griffin from NYA Catering to come back and show us his six favorite appetizers. He is so good at mixing flavors and coming up with fun ideas. Here are the recipes for you. Do try them at home!


Left to right, they are 1. Bacon wrapped pineapple and scallop skewers, 2. Ginger minted melon salad in a prosciutto cup, 3. Jamaican Jerk Guacamole on a Plantain Chip, 4. Cauliflower Cheddar Cakes with Saffron Aioli, 5. Curried Crab Salad on a Watermelon Popsicle, and 6. Sweet Pea and Saffron Arancini.

1. BACON WRAPPED PINEAPPLE AND SCALLOP SKEWERS. To make, simply place the thawed scallop and a piece of pineapple on a skewer and wrap it in a piece of bacon. Bake in a preheated 375 F oven until the bacon is crisp,about 12 minutes.

2. GINGER MINTED MELON SALAD IN A PROSCIUTTO CUP. To make the cups, turn a muffin tin upside down. Wrap prosciutto around the upside down cups, making sure you have no big gaps. Bake in a preheated 375 F oven until the bacon is crisp, about 12 minutes. To make the salad, mix together 1 diced cantaloupe, 1 diced honey dew melon, 1/4 cup mint chiffonade, 2 cups ginger simple syrup and a teaspoon of cracked black pepper. This will make about 16 cups. (To make the ginger simple syrup, mix together 1 cup of sugar and 1 cup of water. Bring it to a boil and let it cool. In this case, put 4 Tablespoons minced, fresh ginger in it before you boil it so it will have a ginger flavor. Add just enough to the salad to moisten it.) (To make chiffonade, roll the mint leaves and then make tiny slices across the roll.)

3. JAMAICAN JERK GUACAMOLE ON A PLANTAIN CHIP. It’s important to use plantains instead of regular bananas here. The picture shows this done with a banana because they were unavailable, but the plantain curls up and makes a little cup, which is nicer. Slice the plantains on an angle, leaving the skin on. Fry in vegetable or olive oil until soft. Top with the salad, which is a mixture of 2 diced Avocados, 1 Tablespoon minced cilantro, 2 Tablespoons Jerk Marinade (which comes in a jar that you purchase at the store), Zest from 1/2 lime, Juice from 1/2 fresh lime, 1/2 cup small diced pineapple and 1/2 cup chopped red onion.

4. CAULIFLOWER CHEDDAR CAKES WITH SAFFRON AIOLI. Boil one head of cauliflower in water until it’s very soft. Drain, let it cool and mash it with a fork. Mix the cauliflower with 2 large eggs, 1/2 cup grated Cheddar cheese, 1 cup Panko, 1/2 teaspoon Cayenne pepper ( or more to taste), 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg and salt to taste. Form into cakes. Fry in olive oil into slightly browned. Garnish with a little cilantro.

5. CURRIED CRAB SALAD ON A WATERMELON “POPSICLE”. Cut watermelon into 1 X 2 by 1/2 inch pieces. Mix together 1 can lump crab, 1/2 cup mayonnaise. 2 Tablespoons curry powder, 1/4 cup minced fresh chives. Insert the popsicle sticks into the watermelon rectangles. Top with the salad and garnish with a piece of serrano chili cut on an angle.

6. SWEET [EA AND SAFFRON ARANCINI. Make 1 pound of risotto. (In a small amount of olive oil, soften 1/2 onion. Add the rice and toast it for a minute or so. Start adding hot chicken broth (1 box) 1/2 cup at a time. Stir and add in 1 cup of wine and 2 pinches of saffron. Then keep adding the broth until the rice is soft. Finish with several Tablespoons of butter and 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese. (Stir through.) Add 2 cup frozen peas to the mix. Prepare three bowls, one with 4 cups flour, 1 with 10 beaten eggs and 1 with 2 cups Panko bread crumbs. Form the risotto into balls, then flatten them and push some grated Fontina into the middle, covering it with the cake. Dip the cake into the flour, then the egg, then the Panko. Fry in vegetable oil until slightly browned. Garnish with Saffron Aioli and a little chive.

To make the Aioli: Bloom a pinch of saffron in 1/2 cup cider vinegar. Mix in 2 egg yolks, 1 egg and 1 Tablespoon of Dijon mustard, 1 Tablespoon honey and 3/4 cup vegetable oil (OR canola, corn or grapeseed oil. Whisk together well. (PANKO bread crumbs can be found in the Asian section of most grocery stores. They are crispy and flavorless so they are great for adding crunch without interfering with the flavor combination that you have created.

TIP: Making your appetizers as equal as possible in size and lining them up makes them look professional Enjoy!


DATE NIGHT! What to cook?

Imagine that a much anticipated “date night” is just around the corner for you and your partner. You look forward to putting the kids to bed and creating that dream dinner for your spouse or partner. But what should it be? What will make it so special that it will put stars in his or her eyes? Here are some tips on how to plan a meal that aims to please.

AVeg Stir Fry1. Tailor it to YOU and YOURS. Each circumstance is different and personal. Your likes and dislikes are not the same as the next person. Making your moment special could mean:

  • Making a favorite meal that you don’t make very often.
  • Cooking something together if your partner also enjoys the process. You can especially make him/her feel special by having the ingredients all set out and any chopping done ahead of time. This will make the meal go together quickly and is much more fun. Everyone loves having a Sous Chef! 🙂
  • Making something you don’t particularly like to cook, but you know your partner will appreciate it if you make it.
  • Choosing a favorite ingredient and including it in each course (e.g. coconut would be would be one of my choices. My husband and I both love it!)

2. Keep it SIMPLE. Remember that the purpose of a date night meal is romance, not hours in the kitchen. Simple, healthy foods that are presented in a pretty way are Rolled Pork Roastalways welcome. What matters is the flavor, not how complicated it is. Use your spices and taste everything before you serve it to be sure that it’s just right. Keep in mind though, that some things that LOOK complicated actually are not all… like rolling some stuffing into the middle of your pork roast instead of just baking it.

3. Explore “make ahead” options. Plan your meal and shop ahead. Many things can be purchased and even made yourself a day or more ahead. Risotto is wonderful for that. It re-heats well and as you will see below, RISOTTOcan be made into other things. As well, many things may be simply chopped and organized well ahead. Don’t leave too much to the last minute. You want to have energy to engage with your partner. Make sure you protect your energy source so you’re not nodding off in your soup!

4. Don’t try anything too exotic. This might not be the time to try something new unless you are both very good natured and can withstand a failure. Comfort or familiar food is just fine. Go with the known bet in this case.

5. Make it pleasing to the eye. Pay attention to presentation! Nothing makes a person feel more special than knowing someone else has really fussed over something for them. Take that extra minute or two to carefully present what you have made. A few ways to make your presentation look special are:

  • Equal portion sizes look more professional.
  • Use a scoop to mound dishes like risotto or potato salad. You can then lean your meat against the mound.Melon Balls
  • Cut meats with a sharp knife so you have clean, straight edges. Cut everything, by the way, with a really sharp knife for this reason!
  • Use edible flowers as accents. (You can buy small amounts of them in many grocery stores and markets. My favorites are Nasturtium. They have a delicious, peppery taste.)
  • Garnish! Snips of fresh herbs make colorful, attractive garnishes. Choose an herb that contrasts with the color but goes with the spices/herbs in your dish. Other great garnishes are tiny bits of chopped, colorful bell pepper, egg yolk pushed through a sieve, tiny strips of carrot and tips of asparagus spears. If you keep small amounts of leftover vegetables, you can always use them as garnish too. They add color, interest and a little extra nutrition.
  • Serve your dish on attractive dishware. Keep your eye out for interesting dishes and then just buy two to keep the price down and to be able to offer variety.

6. Have more than one course. It’s so easy to full into a cooking rut. Whether you work outside the home or not, life is busy, hectic and tiring. It’s tempting to grab something on the run or throw together a one dish meal. Not that that is always bad, but your partner will be impressed if you come up with more than one course. It isn’t that hard. The first course could be a “store bought” soup (with a garnish of course!). The second could be something special you made yourself and dessert could be ice cream with a special sauce or berries or something purchased from a store.

aHow to make soup out of anything

This is a great time to think about any leftovers in your refrigerator. Is there anything that could be re-worked to become a course on its own? For example, if you have leftover risotto, you can form it into balls, press a small cube of cheese in the middle, dip it in egg and then flour and then deep fry it for a delicious appetizer or starch side dish. A little bit of leftover soup can be served in a tiny terrine as an appetizer. Leftover cheese and turkey can become a mini grilled Panini sandwich appetizer. Simple scoops of melon on a skewer make a light and refreshing appetizer. Use your imagination. The list is endless!

Pick out some ideas above, add a smile and your special person will feel like he/she is in a restaurant created just for them! Happy Date Night!

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