Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Tabasco butter....for June, the nicest friend I have yet to meet.

I have been experimenting with flavored butter, using a good local pastured butter - if I can find one, Kerry Gold from Ireland or Smjor from Iceland are two wonderful butters that are easy to find at Whole Foods.

side note ---------->  June and her husband Danny owned a restaurant in Ecuador that served incredible food called "Bocaditos No Tipicos" but sadly closed their doors in hope for a more normal life instead of the LONG hours needed to run a first class eatry, a favorite among Gringos and locals.  The good news is that  they now conduct extraordinary culinary workshops and cooking classes. Beside the usual kitchen skills, June and Dan tour local markets, teaching 'chefs' the how's, what's and when's about local produce and groceries; visits to local farms to see where it all comes from; and excursions to artisians cheese makers, and wineries for inspiration. 
Even with airfare, the cost of the classes would be a savings compared to what is offered in the States. June and Dan are New Yorkers in a former life. I had the chance of meeting them through a stroke of good fortune.

Tabasco Butter. Tabasco  is a trade name... you can use any hot peppered red sauce that you like. I will call it Tabasco because the recipe from the cookbook- My Favorite Ingredients by Skye Gyngell calls it as such.

8 tbs of unsalted Butter. Smjor is sold as lightly salted and will work.
I tbsp of Dijon Mustard
25 drops or so of Tabasco
good squeeze from half a Lemon.
sea salt

Soften butter to room temperature, do not melt in microwave
Add mustard and Tabasco and whip in small bowl
Squeeze lemon half, then whip with a pinch of salt for the unsalted butter.

Lick spoon...wait for it, wait....  Is it too hot or not hot enough? make adjustments. Does it need a pinch of Basil or Dill?  Too hot?  Add some local Honey.  

Return to refrigerator.  Soften to use.

This is great on Asparagus and mixed with mayo for a burger, you figure it out- that's half the education.

As Dan pointed out in his comment, Butter is a great Confit to preserve fresh Herbs. There is an herb that compliments every dish and Butter goes with everything, so pick some favorites for chicken, lamb or veggies like cauliflower and Broccoli.

Maitre D'Hotel
This goes well with grilled fish or steak
8 tbs Butter
2 tbs finely chopped Parsley
Light squeeze of Lemon.

Soften butter then whip in a bowl, adding the parsley and a small squeeze of Lemon, whip to a smooth even colored finished, slightly chill.  With a melon baller, scoop into balls and place iced water for 20 mins, and then refrigerate until needed.
use parchment paper and roll butter up like Turkish taffy, refrigerate until hard, unwrap and slice when needed.  Butter will have a nice green tint.

Nasturtium, garlic, anchovy, brandy, rum, honey and mustards- all  work well.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Local Food Finds @ Moorestown & Headhouse Farmer's Markets

Carlos plays a medley from Wizard of Oz 
Headhouse Farmer's Market, Old City, Philadelphia
It was a perfect weekend to visit several local farmers’ markets. One purpose of this blog is to encourage cooking. Cooking your meals is the keystone to good health. Everything is in your control not somebody from a chain restaurant watching the bottom line from a corporate desk with a view from high a top a large city. Good meals need a good cook and a good cook needs good ingredients. And good ingredients deserve respect. A farmers’ market is the only place to go and buy good local straight from the farmer (or the farmer's daughter working the stand) ingredients. Yes, it cost a bit more but cheap food is a plague on society (more on that later). Buy quality, and eat quality so to BE quality. It is YOUR Health, so why be penny wise and dollar foolish. Pay the Farmer now or pay the Hospital later. 

Headhouse Farmers' Market is in Old City, Philadelphia a block from South street on 2nd and Lombard.  Local sustainable farming is the rule here for agriculture, dairy and meat.  A win-win-win. Merchants such as Hillacres Pride sell cheese, raw milk and grass fed beef; Savoie Organics has heirloom produce, and greens; and Philly Fair Trade Roasters- damn good Nicaraguan medium roast just to name one they offer. This was my first visit and I'll be back every Sunday.

Moorestown farmer's Market. located on an old farm (how perfect) on Centerton Rd, Moorestown, NJ is my "go to" every Saturday farmers' market. Smaller in size then some but loaded with top notch merchants like Artemis Farm for the very best eggs and grass fed pork, veal and beef produced a proper farmer who respects the connection of Farm and Kitchen.  Hunter's Farm for vegetables and produce, Spinella Farm for dandelion, mixed greens, fresh asparagus, and the best green beans on the planet- they better save me some. And I'm leaving out a few that I will make mention in future posts.

You will also has find live music, cooking Demonstration by some of the best chefs in the area, hand crafted soap, flowers and craft merchants and cooked food round out the market. Moorestown is power packed.

Hillacres Pride  Raw Milk
Garlic Scape, use like scallions, taste like garlic. Makes a nice pesto with almonds.
Tatsoi - use like Spinach- Blooming Glen Farm. Headhouse, F-M


 Many exotic greens like Tatsoi are now being grown locally thanks to the effects of sustainable farmers working outside the supermarket system

Memorial weekend shoppers @ Headhouse F-M 

Sea of purple tipped Asparagus at the Moorestown Farmers' Market

Hunter Farms @ Moorestown F-M

(l) Red Radish and (r) French Breakfast Radish
The French like to dip the radish in butter for breakfast- can't argue with that !

Baby carrots
 All photographs taken by Michael Plunkett and are not to be re-posted  copyrighted 2011- MP

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Making Stock

Bones for a beef sstock

We are going to explore the art of making stock - beef, chicken and vegetable. It does take a little work, mostly water and heat. The time is well spent and besides your dog will love you. Homemade stock is so nutritious, the stuff in the supermarket pales in comparison. Get proper bones from a properly raised grass fed animal and you will understand why in the old days chicken soup was grandma’s antibiotic.

 Nothing satisfies a hunger like a simply bowl of beef stock with a few onions.  Stock is great for many recipes that call for simply water, just choose your stock wisely. Chicken works for almost everything. Always use a stock instead of water in a Risotto.

Because quality beef bones are harder to find these days, we will start with making a chicken stock.  I will post the procedure shorty. 

I have found very little difference in any of my cookbooks with making a chicken stock, and  plenty of different approaches to making a classic brown beef stock  but I will give you two versions, one Irish and one French, a Fond de Volaille.    The Irish version is very simply and yields about 3 quarts with less chicken whereas the French version is richer and darker by using more chicken and reducing it down to 2 quarts. I’m guessing the Irish were hungrier. 

Irish version a combination from Darina Allen and her friend Colman Andrews:
You will need a large pot-  8-12 qt is plenty big. Wait until you have made one or two before purchasing a good one.  A second smaller pot or bowl to drain the stock into. A skimmer to skim off foam and solids.  And a strainer of fine mesh. Plus a little cheesecloth never hurt. Kitchen twine. Glass containers for stock with lids like Pyrex.
About 3-5 pounds of chicken bones. It can be raw ( buy a roaster and carve off the good pieces to use some other time or left overs with neck, heart, liver and gizzards if you have them. Get in the habit of never throwing away anything.  Break up the carcases if they are large.
1 or 2 onions,  rough chop, don’t dice 'em small.  Yellow, Sweet, Spanish are best.
2 carrots again a rough coarse chop
2 stalks of celery- rough chop.

The onion, carrot and celery are aromatics and are called the “Trinity” in many cooking circles and a mirepoix by the French. Don’t  walk into a kitchen without them.
Options:  white part of a Leek, some Parsely leaves fresh only, a sprig of thyme and about 6 peppercorns. Again, an option  Darina list them but not Andrews.
Salt – much later.

Details:  Put all ingredients into the large pot and add enough COLD water to cover by an inch or two- no more.  Cover pot and bring to a quick boil over high heat.  Uncover pot, REDUCE heat to LOW and let simmer for 3-4 hours. Skim foam and solids every 20 minutes or so.

Strain the stock, discarding the solids. Rinse out pot, then return the stock and simmer for another 30-40 minutes, add sea salt- about a tablespoon.  Cool in room for a short time, then refrigerate fopr about three hours. You can put into containers at this point. After three hours you can skim off solid fats from the top- freeze some and began to use some.  The last removal of fat makes the stock lighter and clearer. Leave the fat for a richer darker but more cloudy stock.

Want more flavor?  Use more chicken and / or reduce the stock you have saved in a pan by a third or half.   

I love the endearing quality of my Irish cookbooks and I would be remiss if I didn't add that according to Colman Andrews, Rabbit bones can be substituted for chicken- just so you know.    

next up a french version.....

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Steak - a book review

                               Steak- One Man’s Search for the tastest Piece of Beef.

Mark Schatzker is an award winning food and travel writer who decided to get to the bottom of the Steak Problem. The King of Meat was tasting lousy. Has modern agriculture bled the flavor out in the name of efficiency and profit margin?   
Schatzker journeys the world in his odyssey across four continents and six countries seeking fellow steakophiles to guide him to great cuts of beef. Starting in the industrial feedlots of Texas, the source of the problem; to France, Scotland, Italy, then Japan for their famous Kobe beef, down to Argentina to experience beef grilled over open hardwoods. Finally to Colorado where we learn why grass fed cattle is the only way to produce beef. We met Temple Grandin and her work changing the way animals are slaughter. Grandin, autistic, has changed the way animals are treated both in life and in death.  Schatzker even raised three cows of his own and had to come to terms with their deaths,
 “Fleurance’s last day was a cold Thursday in early December. I planned to make it her best. Inside [the barn] it was dark and I stood there inhaling the smell of livestock and stared into the black. I pulled my cell phone out of my pocket and used its glow from the display as a flashlight. She was waiting for me.  I had brought tins of Creemore Springs Lager and poured two in her feed bucket and offered it to Fleurance. She stuck her nose in, sniffed, then removed it, unsure. She stuck it back in but her nose was still dry when she pulled it out again. My plan was unraveling, Fleurance, I whispered, this is no time to refuse beer.”
A serious book for Foodies.  Very readable, both informative and fun.  A great Primer for those interested in grass fed beef.  “Pollan-like” at times so we learn a lot beef production and the King of Meat - Steak. What other meat gets a structure named after them?  We go to Steak Houses, not pork houses or order a 2 inch Haddock.  Steak rules the droll.
Schatzker with the help of Allen Williams, and Bill Kurtis of Tallgrass Beef Company explains the fine art of feeding grass to cattle. Much like growing fine grapes for wine, it takes a required skill and amateurs abound using the term - "Grass Fed." Schatzker’s best steak was grass fed and so was his worst.  But grass fed is the only way to go, in the hands of a virtuoso, crazing on grass allows the cow to live outdoors under the sky and not in an overcrowded, disease-ridden feedlot waiting to be march merciless to slaughter.
Its the meat- not the sauce that makes a great steak dinner.

Rating:  an 8+ A MUST READ, on par with a Michael Pollan but below a Rowan Jacobsen.   Keep a tissue nearby as his meal descriptions will produce droll for obsessive carnivores. 

Steak    linked here to Amazon.com

more to come.....

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

                                                 mplunkett  c2011

This was a big suprise. Sweet like corn, red like wine.  Versatile, great with goat cheese and avocados.    
    According to Darina Allen, one of my favorite chefs and cook book authors and  founder of Ballymaloe Cookery School in Shanagarry, County Cork, Ireland, where I will visit one day and take a lesson or two, clean the dirt off the beets- good food has dirt on them, not chemicals, wash the dirt away and boil for 2 1/2 hours. Seems like a lot of time to boil them but that is what it is. Drain, cool and gently rub off the skin and set aside. Slice thin piece of and taste- Incredible huh? 
    Who would have thought after getting stuff from a can all these years and tossing it in the trash with a scrapping of the fork.  Dice it and it reminds me of a kernel of corn but with out the genetic modification. 
   Spread some Chevre on a small piece of crisp toast, top with a big scoop of diced beets and enjoy.... more to come...

Friday, May 20, 2011


    What Tomatoes are to summer ....

                            and Apples are to autumn.....

                                            Asparagus is to spring.

                                                                         mplunkett 2011

          "Velocius quam asparagi coquantor"  or "Faster than you can cook asparagus"
                                                                                              ... Emperor Caesar Augustus
Asparagus marks the start of the Farmer's Market season. This beautiful Spring vegetable comes to market as other vegetables are being planted. A welcome relief after a long cold winter, this green offering for the Earth has a short delicious six week season usually May to mid June.

What tomatoes are to summer and apples are to autumn, asparagus is to spring. Thin or fat, green or white, asparagus fans have their opinions as to which is better. Thin stalks are the first to arrive as they are the first spears to appear from a large mass of roots. Thin has less of a fibrous peel that does not need to be removed and cooks quickly. Within a few weeks a much fatter asparagus with a thicker peel stands in a bundle for sale. But with this thicker stalk that needs to be peeled, comes a more tender, rich juicy flesh. You owe it to yourself to try them all and decide for yourself.

Asparagus with Tomatoes

How to prepare:
 Remove the woody base end. Locally grown have less of a woody end -  if fresh. The woody end is still good to eat, it just takes longer to cook compared to the rest of the stalk, and the number one rule in cooking asparagus is to Never overcook it. So save the ends for your risotto or soups, they taste great. Fatter stalks will need a slight peeling from a potato style peeler to reduce that fiberous peel, but go easy, the rich, juicy, flesh under there.  

Boil or steam for 2-3 minutes, no more. Have a bowl of ice water ready to plunge the stalks Into, refreshing them to keep their texture and bright color. They should be a bright green not an oil be drab. Thin stalks need no peeling and even less time cooking. This is stanadard blanching.
I prefer use my cast iron pan and slice my stalks into thirds and drop them into a hot slightly oiled iron cast skillet for about a minute.

Try these:
Eggs- being an early arrive they pair beautifully especial with yolks.

Butter and butter sauces are a natural. It is easy to make flavored butters like Tabasco or vanilla by adding the flavor to a soften grass fed butter like KerryGold or Smjor.

Tomatoes are good if you can find a good tomato in the spring or with a light tomato paste, olive oil and garlic.

with a crreamy yolk of a farm freah egg
 Goat cheese, especial a soft chevre.

Rolled in a thin slice of ham

Simple squeeze of lemon

Bacon, of course.    

Footnote- Chicken with Asparagus was what I ate at my wedding and I didn't eat it since. Seems to me that was a like of time missed enjoying delicious "sparrow- grass" as the english once called it, but supermarket stalks boiled in water wasn't going to cut it for me.  Experiencing the difference of fresh natural  foods changes everything. I guess a had to wait for the time to be right before discovering this spring delight.
 Asparagus adds color and taste to a breakfast of leftovers and an egg.

Diet thoughts

Three diet tips you can use today.
I will be discussing “diets” in future posts but a few quick thoughts. Any new eating approach will result in a ten to fifteen pound weight lost in the first week. The first week of a diet, the food choice changes as to what you have been eating will allow your intestinal tact to undergo a small detox. You cleaned out a lot of bowel movement, you lose a little water weight and now you are ready to step in front of the camera and endorse this wonder diet. Losing waste and water weight won’t repeat itself week after week. Four weeks won’t be forty pounds, Yeck, you might even gain a few pounds.  So, what to do?
Real foods, no labels.

1-     Get naked - look at yourself in the mirror and forget about the scale. I’m convinced people don't care what number shows up on the scale (as if we glue it to your forehead) but they do love how their clothes seem to become larger as their body shrinks to a proper weight.  How do we shrink the body?
2-      Stop eating WHITE foods. No sugar, no enriched white flour products, no starches.  If these foods are the bulk of your diet than you do need an intervention.  Start slow with one group then add another. Explore how your body feels- make a few notes. Detoxing clean of cheap white carbs will cause your body to get very very pissed off at you- it is their drug of choice. It loves having a bag of chips ready to go as you switch channels, it wants the supersize French Fries. Carbs cause cravings. You will never get enough of them to satisfy your body.  Your body has a survival mode and will turn all the carbs your blood doesn’t use into fat cells. Protein ( beef, fish, eggs, diary) doesn’t turn into fat cells unless extreme (an athlete who no longer trains) or Fat (coconut, egg yolks, olive oil, butter- even saturated fat from animal proteins) do not turn into fat cells. The carbs do and the body wants them. Excessive carbs become…drum roll… Cholesterol.  Want lower HDL and LDLs?  Then seriously cut back on carbs.  As I say- "Fear the Bread not the Butter!"
3-     Stop counting calories-  this only leads to failure because the food portionswill be way to small, usually mere greens and tiny fake industrial “snacks”  Cut back on those white foods and enjoy some real honest non-industrial food.  The calories will fall into place without the counting. Changes are you are subtracting the wrong calories so cut back on wheat and wheat products, sugars and you arte good to go.   And.....  No exercise program will fix a bad diet.  “It’s all about the diet, silly”  

Recap-  Get off  the scale- let your clothes inspirer you.
Cut back on the white crap- this will not be easy at first but keep looking in the mirror. 
Stop counting calories- it leads to failure.   Be a JERF- Just Eat Real Food.  

One last thought. Please go have your blood sugars tested. Start witrh the simple fasting plasma glucose test (FPG) at any doctor's office. This will tell you how much Carbohydrates you can eat. It is simply and doesn't hurt.  In our lifetime, or say your children's lifetime 3 out of 4 people will be diabete or pre-diabete (if they even know).

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Why Cook?

Jersey Thin Stalked Asparagus in the Cast Iron. Quick, simply and tastier than boiled.

For your health - both physically and mentally. Physically it is the single best way to control weight.  The famous series of books Eat This! Not That! has opened the eyes to HOW food is prepared in both fast food drive thrus and major chain franchises that love to pour on the taste that sky rockets the amount of calories, sodium and carbohydrates so you go" yummy", and order another with a cool sugary drink to wash it down.  This is not food, it's not even eating; it is a belly pacifier gone wild, beyond satisfaction and more akin to Caligula’s food orgies.
Cooking for yourself  (and loved ones)addresses this. Buckminster Fuller said that you should never address a problem by fighting its reality but by changing to a new model that makes the problem model obsolete. So instead of trying to eat at a chain or fast food restaurant with a heart health (yeah right) menu or a salad stripped of its nutrients but not pesticides. Change the problem model and learn to cook. Besides learning a new skill to keep the brain cells happy, cooking will improve the quality of your diet instanty and only get better as we learn about real ingredients.

Studies have shown that although people throughout the world eat different diets, the one constant among them for health and longevity has been that they all ate Real food and NOT factory processed food.  Simply.   We will look at how to start, and what to cook.  More to Come 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

4225 is for Avocado

Avocados might be the sexiest food allowed to be eaten in public, its rich golden creamy buttery flesh melts in your mouth. This ancient Mayan symbol of fertility and first made into Ahuacatlmole (our Guaucamole) by the Aztecs, avocados are the plant kingdom's gift of essential FAT to the world’s diet. If I had to pick one food to eat for the rest of my life, the Hass avocado form Mexico would be it. As wonderful as the smell of Bacon or the first bite into a gourmet Hamburger and fall of the bone braised leg of lamb are, I would still pick this wonderful little package of golden butter- the avo.

creamy golden buttery good

 Used as butter in South Africa, Brazilians make ice cream, while Ecuadorians make soup (me too) from them.  The best way to eat an avocado is to slice around the pit and separate it into two halves. Use a spoon to scoop out the flesh- don’t rush- if you happen to cut one open on that perfect day it is succulent, ripe and it looks like the picture to the right  You really have something special.  Use the heel of a chef knife to remove the pit.  The hole now becomes a bowl to fill with shrimp or tuna. Try some goat cheese and diced beets. Or the avo can be sliced and layered in a martin glass with seafood, a touch of coconut milk and lime. It is called a Ritz served as an hor devour. You don’t have to wait for a warm humid night in bed under a ceiling fan to share one with someone awesomely significant, but please have some ready. It just doesn’t have to be guacamole. The first thing I do when I open a cook book is turn to the index and look at the bottom of the A section and discover a new way to eat them.  Enjoy but save me some- its 4225 on the food code scanner. 

Soon, recipes will be added as well as video instruction and interview with food experts.  Let me learn.   

Beet and Goat Cheese Ritz

Two fat ready to enjoy avocados

The well traveled Avo Pit

All photos taken and copyrighted 2011 by Michael Plunkett. No outside use.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


Food no longer has value in our society. We buy it boxed or bagged. It comes pre-cooked and processed for shelf life. Taste is added chemically. We eat behind a steering wheel while talking on a Bluetooth burning fuel from red light to red light.  We eat to fill our bellies just to pacify it for a few hours and we eat this junk at blazing speeds, gorging on starchy carbs like a drug addict creating hunger and cravings with every bite. No wonder we are obese and pre-diabetic.  Food, Socrates said, is our medicine, and we treat it like porn. It looks good, tastes good - more please, with no regard to the consequences. 
Two years ago I was very diabetic, and obese and ate as such.  I have learned a lot since then. I will attempt to share what I learned.  Be pre-pared -what you think is healthy probably isn't. Lets explore the joy and flavor of real food, the honest ingredients we have long forgotten, and some cooking skills to use them.