Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Watermelon Gazpacho for Chef Jerve

“Look at this place, it’s huge!”
“Yeah I know. I heard this place used to be a hangout for German Fascists in the early 1900's, they used to bowl here I think.”
“Really? And now it’s a cooking school? That’s crazy.”
Standing there on the first day of cooking school, listening to my classmates exchange myths and rumors about the California Culinary Academy, left me with much to hide. I couldn’t ruin it for them, they were so excited, running around in their stark white, overly starched chef aprons and hats, peeking into every classroom, looking into the oversized Hobart mixers and ovens, like kids in a candy shop, literally (we were near the baking and pastry hall). I didn’t want to tell them I’d seen it, I knew the real stories, that I knew some of the Chef Instructor’s already, that I had been there. Really been there, like already been a student been there. Being only 22 years old at that time, they wouldn’t believe it if I told them, I had been a student there some 8 years back, at only 14 years old. Most of them were home discovering their acne, having their first kiss at summer camp, playing hacky sac in their neighborhoods. And me? I was parked in front of the T.V. watching Julia Child’s cooking shows and begging my mom to drive me to the city during the week so I could attend CCA’s “Summer Young Enthusiasts” program. It was expensive, it was all summer, and it would mean staying with my grandma the whole week and only coming home on the weekends - quite a commitment, and I was only 14.
“Are you sure this is what you want to do? Why don’t we just enroll you in some classes around here, I think my aerobics instructor has a neighbor that teaches kids to make apple sauce out of her barn. Or maybe it’s apple butter…..I can’t remember.”
“Mom, please, I really, really am sure about this, it’s what I want. Please, I want the real deal, and the CCA is the real deal. I want to be a Chef and I’m never going to want to be anything else. Please? I’ll hitch hike if you don’t drive me.”
“Hitch hike, huh? And just how will you pay for the classes once you get there?’
“Dishes….I guess” I think I squeezed out a sniffle and a tear……and that was just the trick. I was in. Before I knew it, I was packing my bags and was on my way to what would be the official start to my culinary career.
“GAZPACHO!” Chef Jerve yelled in a thick as mashed potatoes German accent, with either enthusiasm or anger, I couldn’t tell. “Who’s had it?” He beckoned. Looking around, the class was pretty dismal in attendance and demographic. “Young Enthusiasts” turned out to be a misnomer, well the latter at least. They were young for sure, but enthusiastic they were not. The class was mostly made up of angry, upper middle class teenagers from Orange County that had been sent there as a last resort by their desperate and fed-up parents. Most were in high school it seemed. I was the spring chicken of the group, and interested, so being an outcast from the older, angst filled rich kids, I was relieved when Darnell walked in. Darnell was a nice kid from the inner city, he was there on a scholarship he’d been granted from his high school, and like me, he cared and really wanted to be there, so we were instant buddies.
Darnell raised his hand but didn’t wait for Chef Jerve to call on him. “I’ve had it, that soup is cold, right?” I was nervous for my new friend, was he right? How was I supposed to know, Julia didn’t make gazpacho, she only cooked French. I didn’t know for sure, but I didn’t think gazpacho was French. I had never heard of a French word ending in “pacho”.
“Ya, deez soup iz cold,” Whew, in the clear. “Good Danielle.” Darnell and I looked at each other and both laughed. Chef Jerve called Darnell “Danielle” for the rest of the Summer.
“En now, vee make deez soup.”
Well, we made deez soup, and I wish I could say that that I loved it, but this is an honest blog and that would be lying. Truth is, I hated it, and I have since to try or make a gazpacho I did like. I’ve had it in restaurants, on cruise ships, served in little cucumber cups by waiters in tuxedos at fancy parties, I’ve even tried making it myself hoping to come up with a version I’d like - “Nien”, as Chef Jerve would say. They were always too spicy, too cold, too bland, either too much gaz or not enough pacho. I had given up all gazpacho hope. It wasn’t until a few months ago when my Nicholas took me to a little bistro downtown Santa Rosa for a late lunch on a lazy Sunday afternoon that my hopelessly dormant world of gazpacho was suddenly awakened. “Watermelon gazpacho?!?” I exclaimed from my menu with utter delight and amusement. My Nicholas looked up confused but intrigued. “Well, I normally hate gazpacho, but you know how much I love watermelon, so this might be good.” He was skeptical, but supportive. I interrogated the waitress about the ingredients, and once I was satisfied that this gazpacho wasn’t going to resemble anything like the traditional gazpachos I’d had in the past, I ordered with confidence. As I waited, I felt like I was anxiously waiting for test results……was I right? Would this finally be the gazpacho I’ve been searching for all my young adult life? And then, when the bowl was finally placed in front of me, it was love at first sight, or bite rather. It looked like a mardi gras of colors, textures and elements. I scooped up my first bite, took a breath and said a prayer, and down the hatch it went. Perfection! It was delicious. The halleluiah angel chorus began. A light shone down from heaven. The flavors began doing a quick step jive on my tongue…..dill…red bell pepper…..jalapeño….basil….watermelon, I was in love! I had found it! This was my gazpacho. And although it might make old Chef Jerve cringe with revulsion because of how untraditional it is, “Deez ez nien gazpacho!” is what he’d say, I couldn’t care less. I love it, and I think if he gave it a fair shot, he’d love it too. So with all do respect Chef Jerve, this one is for you.

Spicy Summer Watermelon Gazpacho

1 medium seedless watermelon, peeled, and half of the watermelon cut into very fine dices, and the other half large diced, keeping the large dice and small diced watermelon in separate bowls
2 large red onions, very finely diced
2 yellow bell pepper, seeded and very finely diced
2 red bell pepper, seeded and very finely diced
2 hot house cucumber, seeded, peeled and very finely diced
About 2 large jalapeño peppers, seeded and very finely diced
1 large bunch dill, stems removed and finely chopped
1 large bunch basil, stems removed and finely chopped
1 cup red wine vinegar, and more to taste if desired
About 3 Tablespoons of Salt or more to taste
Black or white pepper to taste

In a very large bowl, combine all ingredients except the large diced watermelon, and mix thoroughly. In a blender, puree the large diced watermelon in batches until it is completely liquefied, and add to the bowl with all the vegetables and small diced watermelon. Continue until all the large diced watermelon has been pureed. Mix the gazpacho thoroughly and check for seasoning, adding more vinegar, salt and pepper to taste. Chill for 1 hour and serve. The gazpacho will keep for 2 days in the refrigerator.

You Start with the humble watermelon

And an array of beautiful produce........

Ready to dice.................

The diced watermelon goes into the bowl...................

The large chunks................

....into the blender.

And puree until liquified

Next the red and yellow bell peppers, into the bowl......

And now Mr. Cucumber......

And his buddy the red onion...............

Everybody into the pool..............

The hottie Mr. Jalepeno (I like to use my Pampered Chef Hand Chopper for these!)

Take out the seeds, and either chop by hand or se a handy dandy gaget like this one - Oh, and I sell these :)

So much easier! As my Nicholas always says, work smart, not hard!

It's looking pretty enough to eat :)

Take the stems off the dill and chop pretty finely by hand (or with a handy dandy gaget)

Same goes for Mr. Basil...........

Done! I promise it will be worth all the work! Now just to add the vinegar and salt to taste.....

Add in the vinegar and give it a good stir.....

Your Watermelon Gazpacho is done!

Down the Hatch :)

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Yogurt Cheese and Mrs. B

"You have to taste this! Oh and this! And wait, let me give you a bite of this to try! There's so much here I want you to taste. Now that you are my Chef, I want you to know all my favorite foods. Put this in your mouth, isn't it good?"
I've never had a Client, before or since Mrs. B, so enthusiastically pull me around her kitchen shoving bits of random peices of food into my mouth for me to try. She was adorable, Mrs. B. One of those 100 lbs soaking wet, really tan, over caffeinated retirees in her 60's with a yoga instructors physique and a zest for life that should be bottled and sold. I was exhausted just looking at her run around her home with such vigor. Her home was stunning. Up on a hill off Coleman Valley Road, shaded by the Redwoods with pockets of sunshine that would filter in on all the right places. She was a retired dance instructor and artist - typical West County. She still had an art studio on the property that she still actively worked in, and when she showed it to me, her art took my breath away. It was whimsical, inspiring and tragic all at the same time. But we weren't in the art studio for very long, she was too eager to feed me.

We started in her pantry, which seemed more to resemble a coat closet in the hallway that she had converted it into a dry goods storage area. She started to rummage through all her packages and boxes with pride and excitement, like a squirrel that had been hoarding food all winter and was really excited to show off all the different nuts and berries she had collected. "Have you tried these crackers? They are made from rice flour, no gluten! They are sooo good. Here..." No gluten cracker - down the hatch. "Ifs wilwy gooo" I mumbled with a dry mouth full of cracker. "Oh oh, and see these cookies? No eggs! I can't have those either, do you want to try one or two?" I hold up one finger, with caution. No egg cookie - down the hatch. Not so good. "Okay, before I show you my herb garden, you have to try this stuff my friend taught me to make." I raise my eyebrows and show my teeth with one of those overly exaggerated, phony smiles, trying to act as excited as possible; I didn't know how much more I could stomach. "Okay try this and tell me what you think, it's yogurt cheese." Uh Oh. Yogurt cheese - down the hatch......YUM. "Whoa, this stuff is really, really good" I say, much to my own astonishment, actually surprised and impressed by my new Client that she indeed did have good taste, so to speak. Now Mrs. B was REALLY excited. "I know! It's the best, right?" Her eyes were beaming. I was glad to finally share in her excitement. Yes, the yogurt cheese was phenomenal, and to this date, the most unanticipated, delicious piece of food given to me by Mrs. B. Thank you Mrs. B, this one is for you.


Yogurt cheese is very basic and very easy, and there is really only one ingredient you will need- you guessed it - Yogurt! I like to use Greek Yogurt instead of regular yogurt as a standard in my kitchen, as it's loaded with protein, plus it's always thicker and creamier than normal yogurt, so it makes for an even more luxurious and rich yogurt cheese. I like to use the yogurt cheese in place of cream cheese on bagels, as a spread on crackers, or if I'm serving it to guests, I'll add in things like lemon zest, chopped basil, garlic, salt and pepper or sundried tomatoes, basically to make it a healthier version of those less healthy herb cheese spreads you buy in the store. The variations are endless, and you can treat it the same way you would treat a cream cheese or goat cheese. It's really good as a sweet treat too. Top it with berries, or mix it with some vanilla extract, sugar and orange zest to eat with a slice of angel food cake. Yogurt cheese is healthy, easy and most importantly, it's delicious. Down the hatch!

What you'll need:

A medium size bowl

2 chopsticks

Cheese cloth

1 1/2 Cups Plain, 0% (non-fat) Greek Yogurt

Spread the cheese cloth out onto a work surface, making sure it has about 3-4 layers folded over onto itself.

Spoon the yogurt into the center of the cheese cloth.

Twist the cheese cloth around the yogurt to make a parcel.

Skewer the chopsticks in an X through the cheese cloth (it helps if your chopsticks have a pointed end like the ones I used do, that way they poke more easily through the cheese cloth. If yours aren't pointy, use a sharp knife to help poke a hole through the cheese cloth first.

Place the package over the bowl like so and place in the fridge overnight.........and that's it! Your yogurt will immediatly, albeit slowly, start to drain to make your wonderful yogurt cheese.

You can see it start to drain as the moisture from the yogurt starts to seep out of the cheese cloth.

And after either 8 hours or overnight in the fridge, it's ready. As you can see, about 3/4 cup of water will come out of the yogurt. Now just unwrap the yogurt cheese, put onto a plate and finally enjoy it.

You can see how thick the texture is, almost identical to a soft goat cheese, but much milder in flavor.

Spread onto a cracker with kosher salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper.....

I just had to take a bite :)

Elegant enough to serve to guests.......and they won't even know it's good for them!

A sweet variation with some fresh, organic strawberry jam......

YUM :)