Welcome to Harlem.

Before tonight I had never eaten grits. But now that I'm living on the cusp of Harlem, I've been feeling as though I ought to add more soul food cooking to my repertoire. There is a hot new restaurant in the area that was opened by resident Top Chef Master, Marcus Samuelsson, called Red Rooster Harlem. Though I haven't eaten there yet, I've read several rave reviews of the place and it is on my list of venues to try (if I can secure a reservation...) Coincidentally, Tasting Table featured Chef Samuelsson in one of their daily Chefs' Recipe e-mails last week, sharing his take on a Southern classic: Red Grits and Shrimp. It was an invitation to make my debut in down-home cooking -- by paying homage to a recipe from one of the neighborhood's finest.

So I grabbed some grits 'n shrimp, rolled up my sleeves and mustered up a big dose of soul.
The dish was fantastic -- it tasted so fresh and the trio of the chile powder, paprika and tomatoes added a crimson depth and unique flavor to the meal. The grits were thick and creamy, but much lighter than I expected. Paired with shrimp, it's the perfect balance between filling comfort food and a light seafood meal. I can't wait to try the signature version at Red Rooster so I can see if mine lived up to the master's.


1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 red onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon chile powder
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 cup stone-ground grits
1 bay leaf
1 cup canned crushed tomatoes
1 cup fresh or frozen corn
½ cup white wine
Salt and freshly ground pepper
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
12 jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined
8 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley

1. In a medium saucepan, warm 1/4 cup of the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the onion, half the garlic, ½ teaspoon of the chile powder and 1/2 teaspoon of the paprika and cook until the onions soften, about 5 minutes. Add the grits and bay leaf and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Add the crushed tomatoes, corn, ¼ cup of the white wine and 3 cups of water. Reduce the heat to low and simmer the grits, stirring frequently, until the liquid is absorbed and the grits are creamy, about 25 minutes. Discard the bay leaf and season to taste with salt and pepper.

2. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine 2 tablespoons of the lemon juice with 1 tablespoon of the remaining olive oil, the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of chile powder, the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of paprika and the shrimp. Let sit for 15 minutes at room temperature.

3. In a medium skillet, cook the shrimp and remaining garlic over high heat, stirring, until just pink, about 2 minutes. Add the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil, the remaining 1/4 cup of white wine, the remaining 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, the cherry tomatoes and the cilantro and parsley and cook for 2 minutes longer. Remove from the heat and season to taste with salt and pepper.

4. Divide the grits among 4 shallow bowls. Top with the shrimp, tomatoes and sauce and serve immediately.


Bring A Spoon to the Superbowl...

In honor of the Superbowl throwdown between the Steelers and the Packers last night, my dad and I had a chili throwdown. His -- a white chicken chili; mine -- a recipe already in my armory -- Chipotle & Chocolate Chili. I knew I had to revise the original version I made, since the first time around there was too much heat for my mom and brother (who were the appointed judges for the throwdown...)

While they noshed on a quick guac that I whipped up....avocado, diced onion, tomato, cilantro and lime juice...Dad and I got to work.

After a few hours of battling in the kitchen, (followed by attempts to out-do each other's presentation for the judges), we all found it was hard to compare the two -- they were very different in their ingredients and each had its unique strengths. My dad's white chicken chili had a light, cannellini bean base with ample amounts of onion and several varieties of peppers that had been processed almost to a pulp. Though jalapenos were included, they were de-seeded, so there wasn't much heat to the chili, and in my opinion the shredded chicken came to overpower the flavor. Still, it was a delicious blend of ingredients.

My chili was the complete opposite -- it was dark and had a rich, smoky flavor. There was a perfect balance of heat and sweet from the union of chipotle peppers and chocolate. Last time I made the chili I used ground turkey, and since I often find ground meat a somewhat boring addition to chili dishes, I decided to do get creative. (Plus I had to separate my dish from my dad's to win points with the judges!) So I formed the ground turkey into small meatballs to maintain the meat's integrity and keep it from getting lost in the chili. This revision was noted by the others as a favorable aspect of the dish.

In the end, there wasn't a clear winner of the throwdown, however, my brother later told me under the radar that he thought mine was more "chili" while my dad's was more "soupy"...so I take that as an indication that mine was the favorite.

Here are some shots of the dueling dishes, followed by my revised chili recipe.


The recipe he used was from Cook's Illustrated and incorporates the following ingredients:

3 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken breast halves , trimmed of excess fat and skin
Table salt and ground black pepper
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 medium jalapeño chiles
3 poblano chiles (medium), stemmed, seeded, and cut into large pieces
3 Anaheim chile peppers (medium), stemmed, seeded, and cut into large pieces
2 medium onions , cut into large pieces (2 cups)
6 medium cloves garlic , minced or pressed through garlic press (about 2 tablespoons)
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 cans (15 ounces each) cannellini beans , drained and rinsed
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice (from 2 to 3 limes)
1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro leaves
4 scallions , white and light green parts sliced thin


Cooking spray
2 cups diced onion (about 1 large)
1 cup chopped red bell pepper
1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 1/4 pounds ground turkey breast
1 egg
1/4 cup homemade breadcrumbs
1/4 cup finely chopped onion

3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons ancho chile powder
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 (15-ounce) cans pinto beans, rinsed and drained
2 (14.5-ounce) cans diced tomatoes, undrained
1 (14-ounce) can fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
1 chipotle chile, canned in adobo sauce, minced

2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup light sour cream
Chopped green onions (optional)

1. Assemble turkey meatball mixture -- combine ground turkey, 1 egg, 1/4 cup finely chopped onion and 1/4 cup fresh breadcrumbs in a medium mixing bowl. Set aside.
2. Heat a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add onion, bell pepper and garlic to pan; sauté 8 minutes or until vegetables are tender.
3. Add sugar and next 9 ingredients (through chipotle) to pan, stirring to blend; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer 15 minutes or until slightly thickened, stirring occasionally.
4. Meanwhile, heat oil over medium-high head in a cast iron skillet. Using a spoon, dollup bite sized meatballs into the pan; cook for a few minutes on each side until browned and cooked through.
5. Add meatballs and unsweetened chocolate to the chili, stirring to melt.
6. Ladle chili into bowls; top each serving with 1 tablespoon sour cream. Garnish with green onions.


Pizza Frittata

Pepitas, or pumpkin seeds, have been making frequent appearances in my recent pursuits in the kitchen. I'm growing quite fond of tossing them into dishes whenever I can to boost crunch and add a nutty flavor. After recently making a salmon dish that uses pepitas as a crust, I stumbled across a frittata recipe that incorporates the seeds as well. Always looking for ideas to adapt one of my favorite egg dishes, this frittata from Heidi Swanson had some unique flairs (including pepitas) that I caught my eye and my appetite.

Heidi's version differs from frittatas that I've made in the past, not only because it uses crunchy peptitas to juxtapose the creaminess of the eggs, but also because of its noticeable separation of the ingredients. Traditionally, frittatas set the accompanying ingredients within the egg mixture itself, where they become imbedded in the eggs as they set. Yet this variation uses an alternative preparation technique -- the vegetables are cooked first and set aside, allowing the eggs to cook alone. They are incorporated back into the dish atop the nearly-set eggs and only then is the entire group baked together in the oven. The method is interesting as it allows the ingredients to be more individually pronounced -- the vegetables don't become lost in the egg mixture, and as such, the egg retains its integrity as the base of the meal. Another magic touch in Heidi's frittata is the addition of a cilantro sauce that is drizzled over the egg mixture just before adding the vegetable, cheese and pepita toppings -- an almost pizza-like style of preparation.

Here is my take on Heidi's inspiring dish:


-Cilantro Sauce-
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1 small bunch cilantro
1 green (serrano) chile, seeds removed
2 pinches ground cumin
a few big pinches of salt

6 large organic eggs
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 small sweet onion, diced
1 zucchini, sliced
1 red pepper, sliced thinly
shredded mozzarella cheese
freshly grated parmesan cheese
cilantro, for garnish

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
2. Make cilantro chile sauce by pureeing garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, cilantro, chile, cumin and salt until smooth. Set aside.
3. In a medium bowl whisk the eggs. Set aside.
4. Heat a medium ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add olive oil and onion. Saute, stirring constantly, until onion begins to brown, 3-5 minutes.
5. Add zucchini and red pepper, cover, and cook for another 3 minutes. Slide vegetable mixture onto a plate and set aside.
6. Turn down the heat a bit. Add the eggs to the same skillet and cook over medium-low heat until the eggs are just set. There shouldn't be a lot of liquid running around the pan, so tilt and pan and use a spatula to allow the uncooked eggs to run underside and cook.
7. Once nearly set, drizzle the eggs with a few tablespoons of the cilantro chile sauce. Add the zucchini-pepper mixture on top.
8. Place the skillet in the oven and bake for about 7 minutes, until well set and puffy. Sprinkle shredded mozzarella cheese, parmesan and pepitas over top of the frittata and cook an additional 2 minutes.
9. Remove from oven, cut into wedges and serve.

Pepita-Tortilla Crusted Salmon

Upon a recent venture to Williams-Sonoma, we have a new edition to our kitchen's stainless All-Clad fleet: a jumbo 6-quart saute pan. It's a beauty. For its maiden voyage, Dad and I prepared a meal worthy of such a sizable vessel: salmon in the style of one of Kinkead restaurant's signature dishes. The recipe calls for a pepita (pumpkin seed) and tortilla chip crust, two different sauces (cilantro and ancho crema) to drizzle over the fish, plus a fresh tomato relish to put on top. Though slightly time consuming in its multi-part preparation, the dish has a surprisingly simple list of ingredients. Somehow all of the accompaniments to the salmon find harmony while remaining true to each unique flavor. The resulting experience for the tastebuds proves why this salmon is one of Kinkead's best-selling dishes.


-Ancho Crema-
1 ancho chile
1 Tbsp freshly squeeze orange juice
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/2 cup Salvadoran crema or sour cream

-Cilantro Crema-
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves
1 scallion, chopped
2 Tbsp mayonnaise
4 Tbsp sour cream

1/c cup pepitas, toasted
1 cup tortilla chips
sea salt and cracked black pepper
30 ounces salmon fillets, skinned and cut into 6 portions
1 cup buttermilk

-Tomato Relish-
6 plum tomatoes, seeded and diced
lime juice
olive oil

1. To make the ancho crema:
In a saucepan over high heat place the ancho with enough water to cover. Bring to a boil and cook for about 5 minutes, until soft. Strain and dry. Remove the seeds and stems. In a blender, combine the softened ancho, orange juice, and salt. Purée to a paste. If too dry, add a little water. In a stainless steel bowl, mix the purée into the Salvadoran cream or sour cream (I used half sour cream, half plain Greek yogurt). The crema should be thick but pourable. Refrigerate for up to 2 days.

2. To make the cilantro crema:
In a small saucepan bring 2 cups of water and ⅛ teaspoon of the salt to a boil. Blanch the cilantro leaves and scallion for 1 minute and refresh in an ice-water bath. Strain and squeeze dry. Transfer to a blender and purée. Place the purée in a stainless steel bowl, add the mayonnaise, sour cream, and remaining salt, and mix well (again, I used half sour cream, half plain Greek yogurt, omitting the mayonnaise). Refrigerate for up to 2 days.

3. To make the salmon:
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a food processor, place the pepitas and toritlla chips and pulse to a medium coarse mixture. Salt and pepper each salmon fillet and dip into the buttermilk on one side only. Next, dip each fillet into the pepita-tortilla mixture. Let rest in the refrigerator for 5 minutes. In a sauté pan over medium-high heat, heat 2 tablespoons of the peanut oil. When hot, sauté the fillets, coated side down, for 3 minutes or so, until they start to brown. Carefully turn over and place in the oven for 4-6 minutes, until just barely cooked in the center. You will most likely need to do this in two batches for 6 portions (unless you have your All-Clad 6-qt saute pan, you can do it in one batch!)

4. To make tomato relish:
Combine tomatoes with the olive oil, chopped cilantro, and 1 Tbsp lime juice.