Home cooks have to be a careful when it comes to a cookbook written by a restaurant chef. There often can be a disconnect between what it takes to get restaurant food onto our home tables when we don't have exotic ingredients flown to our doors and a dozen employees to prep them, not to mention years of professional training and the extraordinarily high btu's of a huge, multi-burner professional stove. So when I picked up San Francisco chef Mitch Rosenthal's new cookbook Cooking My Way Back Home, I'll admit I was a little cautious. Was this going to be one of those books that frustrated me with hours of prep work, and too many ingredients and complicated techniques? Read on for what I discovered.
Mitch Rosenthal is the executive chef and co-owner of three San Francisco restaurants (and counting) as well as a restaurant in Portland, Oregon. In the introduction to his new cookbook, Cooking My Way Back Home, he straight up admits that up until he started writing this book, he rarely cooked at home. An intuitive and spontaneous cook, he at first balked at creating recipes and measuring ingredients. Lucky for us, he has learned his home cooking lessons well, offering a book full of fun, accessible recipes and good, basic cooking advise.
It appears that Rosenthal really appreciated the opportunity to translate the gutsy, soulful essence of his restaurant food to the home table. His recipes have an honesty and boldness can be felt throughout the book. When things do get a little more complex, what he refers to as a 'long-term relationship recipes', it's for a reason and it's worth it. The payoff is in layered flavors and complexity, and an incredible depth of flavor.
Cooking My Way Back Home is full of exciting, adventuresome and vivid tastes. Rosenthal's background is an intriguing mashup of time spent in the old-school apprentice system of chef training. Beginning in as a teenager in a Jewish deli in New Jersey, Rosenthal went on to learn from the feisty, spicy cuisine of Paul Prudehomme in New Orleans, the unconventional open-mindedness of Seppi Renggli of the Four Seasons in Manhattan and the playful elegance of Wolfgang Puck's Postrio in San Francisco. The result is bold, masculine food that is also approachable and friendly. Eating this food is like getting a big, warm, happy-to-see-you hug from a favorite uncle who just happens to be a great cook.
The Basics: Hardbound, 263 pages; 100 recipes; dozens of gorgeous, full-colored photos by Paige Green; index and table of contents. The book is divided into nine chapters: Small Bites; Big Bites; The Cheese Department; Sandwiches; Smoke and Fire; Slowed Cooking; Grilled, Roasted and Fried; Desserts; Basics.
Recipes for Right Now: Fried Oysters with Spinach Salad and Herbsaint Dressing; Penne Pasta Quatro Fromaggi with Butternut Squash and Sage; Herb Fired Rainbow Trout with Apple and Horseradish Salsa Verde; Butterscotch-Chocolate Pot de Creme; Sticky Toffee Pudding.
The Extras: Doug Washington's Dinner Party Notes are fabulous and spot on; the Basics section with Recipes for Shrimp Stock, Preserved Lemons and How To Cook and Clean a Lobster is wonderful and handy.
Note: The recipe below makes a great first course for an informal dinner party. Just bring platters with arranged with slices of carved smoked ham, the jelly in pots, softened butter and the biscuits to the table. Your guests will enjoy creating their own two bite appetizer. Or make the biscuits even smaller (one-inch size) and set the platters out at a cocktail party for easy finger food. This dish also makes a hearty breakfast, served with scrambled eggs and good, strong coffee.
Mitch says: A couple of months before Town Hall opened, an article about artisanal ham producers in the South appeared in the New York Times. It was good timing because we were looking for an interesting ham dish for the menu. We ordered hams from each company. They were all great, but when we tried the prosciutto-style from Johnston County Ham of Smithfield, North Carolina, we knew we had the one we wanted. While testing this recipe, I found that the pepper jelly can be used in lots of ways, too. My wife and I found ourselves using it throughout the day, spreading it on an English muffin in the morning, pairing it with sausage in a sandwich at midday, and stirring it into a sauce for dinner.
Red Pepper Jelly
2 red bell peppers
1 green bell pepper
3 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup cider vinegar
1 teaspoon dried chile flakes
One 3-ounce packet liquid pectin
12 to 18 thin slices cured ham
Country Biscuits (see recipe below)
To make the jelly, halve all of the peppers lengthwise and remove and discard the stem, seeds, and membranes. Chop into 1-inch pieces. Working in batches, add the peppers to a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Transfer the peppers to a heavy-bottomed pot and add the sugar, vinegar, and chile flakes.
Have ready a candy thermometer or place 2 or 3 small saucers in the freezer. Place the pot over high heat and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Lower the heat to medium-high, add the pectin, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the jelly registers 220°F on a candy thermometer (about 10 minutes). Alternatively, remove the pot from the heat and drop a small spoonful of the jelly onto a cold saucer, let stand for 1 minute, then push the edge of the jelly with a fingertip; if the top of the jelly wrinkles, it is ready. If it doesn't it, return the pot to the heat, cook for 2 to 3 more minutes, and test again.
Remove the jelly from the heat and let cool to room temperature before serving. The jelly can be covered and refrigerated for up to 1 month. Bring to room temperature before serving.
Makes 15 biscuits.
The secret to making the biscuits is to have both the butter and the dough very cold. That way, the heat from your hands won't activate the gluten and you will get a nice, flaky biscuit. This method will give you a biscuit with a texture that is perfect for the ham and pepper jelly recipe.
4 cups all-purpose flour
11/2 tablespoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 pound, plus 1/2 stick butter, frozen, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 cup buttermilk
You can make the biscuit dough in a stand mixer or by hand. To use the mixer, fit it with the paddle attachment, then whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in the bowl. Scatter the butter over the top. On low speed, beat until the butter is about the size of peas. Add the buttermilk and continue to beat until the dough begins to come together. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl and incorporate the dry crumbs at the bottom of the bowl. Then continue to beat until combined and the dough comes together.
To mix by hand, in a bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. Scatter the butter over the top and, using a pastry blender or 2 knives, cut the butter into the flour mixture until the butter is the size of peas. Add the buttermilk and mix with a wooden spoon until combined and the dough comes together.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Fold it over onto itself a few times, patting it down after each fold. The dough should be soft and cohesive. Roll out the dough about 1 inch thick and transfer to a sheet pan. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to a day. (If you need to speed the process, slip the pan into the freezer for 15 minutes.)
Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Clean the work surface and lightly flour it again. Reroll the dough into a round about 1 inch thick. Shore up edges of the round with your hands as needed to ensure the dough is of uniform thickness. Using a 2-inch round biscuit or cookie cutter, and pushing straight down, cut out as many biscuits as possible. You should have about 15 biscuits. Arrange the biscuits on the prepared sheet pan and place the pan in the refrigerator for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400°F.
Bake the biscuits for about 25 minutes, or until lightly browned on top and baked through.
Arrange the ham slices on a platter and serve with warm biscuits and the pepper jelly alongside.
Reprinted with permission from Cooking My Way Back Home by Mitchell Rosenthal with Jon Pult, copyright © 2011. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.
Get the book: Cooking My Way Back Home by Mitchell Rosenthal with Jon Pult and photographs by Paige Green, published by 10-Speed Press. $22.00 at Amazon.
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(Images: Page Green © 2011)