Tuesday, April 21, 2015

We Are...Brunch!

Nothing bad happens on a day that starts with champagne.  Especially true when you bus, train and drive in a gang of college friends for an epic day of eating, drinking and catching up on all the worldly adventures among the crew. So to celebrate, I put together a brunch menu fit for the occasion.

"did someone say boozy raisins" - Llama
plating the first course, fresh pea soup, crab salad,
pancetta, brioche breadcrumbs

I have really enjoyed the creative process of planning and designing a menu and I was definitely pleased with how this one came out.  The themes usually change from party to party, but its usually some combination of five courses (plus one surprise) with everything made from scratch.  It being spring and all, I wanted to make something super seasonal and fresh, so I thought a fresh chilled pea soup would be perfect.  While tasty, I don't think I want to go through the process of hand shucking 10 lbs of favas, english, snow and sugar snap peas by hand again - without the help of at least 3 sous chef friends.  I did however burn through 3 episodes of last season's Game of Thrones while working on the peas, so I suppose it wasn't a total loss.

cast iron, you the real mvp.

The main course of the brunch was my riff on chicken and waffles.  Instead of the traditional fried chicken, I went for a pan roast of chicken thighs which I let brine for 12 hours (Thanks Thomas Keller for the recipe).  I'm telling you now, if you want the most delicious chicken you've ever had, brine it first.  the lemony, herby, salty flavor seeps all the way to the bone and stays moist through cooking.  I promise you will not be disappointed.

The one thing I've learned after almost 5 years of throwing this big food parties is that timing is everything.  The more I make ahead and the less I plan to cook or finish the morning/day of the better.  This leaves more time to actually hang out with my friends.  So a little hesitant at first, I decided to make the Belgian waffles the night before and freeze them over night.  A few minutes in the oven at 425 and they seemed like they were fresh out of the iron.

really digging my new decorative plate from Sur La Table

And then finally, the dessert.  When I asked if there were any requests, multiple friends demanded french toast, so french toast dessert they got.  Banana Cream Pie French Toast to be exact.  For this one, I got a couple fresh white sandwich loaves from Metropolitan Bakery in Reading Terminal Market.  I then sliced them about an inch thick, then sliced those down the middle 3/4 the way and stuffed them full with a banana and cream cheese custard.  I let them soak overnight in the french toast solution and then they were ready to fry off in the morning.  Of course, I never met a caramel that I didn't salt, so these got topped with some homemade salted caramel sauce.  And done.

there is never a reason to not salt caramel.  i dare you.

And there it was, a brunch among friends. who all met over 10 years ago.  Incredible to see that in spite of all the advanced degrees, world travels, marriages, and other life events, we still genuinely enjoy each other company and are still close.  Days like Saturday are the reason I cook.  

Oh, and also to open champagne with swords.

A few more pictures to highlight the rest of the day.  (Photo Credit to IG: @JASONDERCK the incredible photographer capturing all the moments throughout the day)

crispy skin chicken can be had without the deep fry.  inquire within.

the chicken is now ready to be waffled.

getting the french toast ready to come out and play 

banana cream pie french toast, salted caramel and fresh blackberries
here's the main spread minus a few additional dishes.  but this is pretty much what started the party.  

feels like just yesterday that Megan and I were midnight shopping the aisles of walmart trying to select the perfect fabric for our Beerlympics togas
Thank you Penn State.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Valentine's Day Dinner Ideas

Friends.  Whether you like it or not, Valentine’s Day is coming up.  While some of you will be making reservations at restaurants, others will be opting to stay in and make their special someone a home-cooked meal (definitely the way to go).  As a friendly public service, here are a few tips for those playing home chef for the night.  

Keep. It. Simple. – Sure, butter poached lobster risotto and chocolate soufflé is delicious but if you've never made either before, this is certainly not the time to experiment.  Stick with items you feel comfortable cooking and think about ways to elevate.  For example, if thinking about meat, go ahead and splurge on a premium cut of steak.   You can then make a killer sauce to go with it.  Or, if thinking pasta – find a place that sells fresh pasta vs. the boxed stuff.  Trust me, the it will make all the difference for a memorable meal.  Some suggested V-Day menu items: 

herbed whipped ricotta, w/ /olive oil and lemon zest
  • Pomegranate and goat cheese salad over bibb lettuce w/ champagne vinaigrette 
  • Herbed whipped ricotta on toasted bread (brioche is always a good decision) 
  • Charred brussels sprouts w/ pancetta and shaved parmesan.  

  • Steak (bone-in strip or ribeye which is perfect to share or filet mignon for the less adventurous) w/ salsa verde 
  • Seared Scallops w/ horseradish whipped potatoes and chili oil
  • Fresh Pasta w/ roasted mushrooms and lemon


Relax, and Don’t Stress.  While following a recipe, don’t freak out or worry about having every last item.  Yes, you can use white pepper over black pepper.  Fresh herbs are key to a great dish, but if you have only have thyme and not oregano, that’s totally fine!  Go ahead and substitute.

Focus on Dessert First.  – This is key because you can usually make the dessert ahead of time.  With dessert wrapped up, you can focus on the rest of the meal.

Less is More.  – You don’t need to feed an army, and nobody wants to throw bedroom eyes while in a food coma.  Thus a shared appetizer, light entrée and shared dessert are more than enough.

Don’t Forget the Booze. – Chilled champagne is ALWAYS a good idea.  However having a couple bottles of his/her favorite red go a long way to a successful meal.

Finally, have fun!  If everything doesn't come together perfectly its no big deal.  Just open another bottle of red and enjoy your the company of your date for the evening.


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Steakhouse, At Home.

Pan Roasted Ribeye Steak with Sautéed Spinach and Whipped Potatoes

Classics are classics for a reason.  This dinner doesn’t require anything fancy at all.  Just solid ingredients and a hot pan and you can eat steakhouse quality food right in your own kitchen. 

Whipped Potatoes (2-3 servings)

3-4 yukon gold potatoes
¾ cup heavy cream
¼ cup butter
2 tbsp. salt
2 tbsp. minced garlic


Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Peel and quarter potatoes and add to boiling water.  When the potatoes are fork tender, add the potatoes to a food processor or mixing bowl.  Then, process or whisk (I used a stand mixer) the potatoes with the rest of the ingredients.  Feel free to adjust cream/butter/salt to taste and texture preferences.  For a light and airy texture on the potatoes, continue to process or whisk.

Sautéed Spinach (2-3 servings):


Olive oil
1 lb fresh spinach
½ cup apple cider vinegar
Kosher salt
Cracked black pepper
Crushed red pepper

Heat a la couple tablespoons of olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat.  When the oil is hot, add the spinach to the pan.  Sautee the spinach for a bit, then add the vinegar.  Cover the pan for 1 minute as the spinach wilts a bit.  Remove the cover, add the salt and peppers and sauté a bit longer.  When the spinach is cooked through, remove from heat.

Pan Roasted Steak

I decided to make a bone-in ribeye.  Typically, bone in meats have more flavor than boneless, but take just  a bit longer to cook.  Don’t let this deter you.  Pan roasted simply means you start it on the stovetop then finish the cooking process in a hot oven.  They keys to getting that great steakhouse style crust on the steak is making sure the meat is dry before cooking and the pan is VERY HOT.  If the pan isnt hot enough, you'll get that dull gray color on the meat.  Nobody wants that.  


1 lb bone in ribeye steak
Kosher salt
Cracked black pepper
3 tbsp butter


Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place pan that you will be cooking the steak with in the oven to get it hot.  While this is happening, pat the steak dry with a paper towel, then season both sides of the steak LIBERALLY with salt and pepper.  Make sure the steak is room temperature before cooking.  When ready to cook, place the hot pan on the stovetop over high heat, and add a few tbsp. of vegetable oil to the pan.  When the oil is hot and the pan is very hot, add the steak to the pan.  Sear the steak on both side for 3-4 minutes per side.  After searing on both sides (and a nice caramelized crust has formed on both sides place the pan in the hot oven and let the steak cook through for a couple minutes.  Then, remove the steak from the oven and place back on the stove over high heat.  Add the butter to the hot pan and as the butter melts, spoon the hot melted butter over the steak.  (You can tilt the pan a bit so the butter pools at one end of the pan to make it easier to spoon over the meat).  After the butter is complexly melted remove the steak from the pan and let it rest on a cutting board for 7-8 minutes. 

After the steak is done resting, you’re ready to eat.


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

If I Had a Restaurant...

I get that question a lot.  "J, you gotta open a restaurant, what would it be?  What kind of food would you serve?"  Oddly enough, I've never had a solid straightforward answer to that question.  During the Masterchef process, when the answer to that question was of utmost importance, I gave the question some serious thought.  So when asked, I gave it a minute, looked directly into the camera and replied with, "I want to make delicious food that makes people want to go home and have sex."

I wonder how that would look in the pages Bon Appetit?

With my latest dinner party, I decided to undergo the wildly cathartic experience of creating and cooking my most ambitious menu that I would serve if I opened my own restaurant.   16 people, all plated (no family style)

What do you think?

the look on this m*fer says  "eat this or get the f out."

 1st Course: Lobster.  Butter poached lobster tail with a corn, mango and jalapeno salsa.  topped with avocado, because well, avocado is delicious.

plating these tiny f'ing spoons was no small feat for my giant paws

2nd Course: Asparagus.  This was actually a fresh asparagus soup.  I finished the soup with some roasted pancetta, marinated cherry tomatoes, sauteed asparagus, lemon zest, shaved parmesan and basil.

3rd course: Duck.  

I love duck.  Details on this dish can be read here.

4th course:   Pork.  One of the best meals I had in 2013 was at the local restaurant Serpico.  This dish is an homage to one of the items I had while eating there with two dear friends.  Roasted pork shoulder, horseradish cheddar grits, green chili sauce topped with potato chip crumbles

this is the dinner party version

this is the personal one I made.  

5th course: Chicken.  Ok, yes... I would serve fried chicken at my restaurant.  You're stupid if you don't like it.  My version uses a 8 hour lemon brine on the chicken, then shallow fried, finished with kosher salt and orange zest.  

you will eat this, you will love it, you will go home and make babies.   (then nap)
6th course: These boozy shakes never barely made it out of the blender before they were devoured.  Unfortunately, there was no time for a picture.  Just picture, vanilla ice cream, bourbon, chococolate chip cookies.  yes.

7th course: Budino. It's no secret that I've had a long time love affair with the salted caramel budino.  Anyone that is visiting Philadelphia, I immediately send them to Barbuzzo to try their masterpiece.  That said, I feel that I have to serve my own version of this ethereal dessert at my own restaurant.  Bottom Layer: crushed oreo cookies, then salted caramel pudding, then salted caramel sauce, then dresh whipped cream, then a dusting of the cookies.

yes, this dessert is flirting with you....
p.s. "mathew" is my middle name.

Catching Up...In the Kitchen

This year has been incredibly busy, but not too busy to throw a couple incredible dinner parties.  Earlier this year, I decided to step outside of my comfort zone and host an all vegetarian dinner party.

I'll take puns with my food any day of the week.

Everything came out incredibly well, despite my reservations about making fresh spinach fettuccine for 16 people.  woof.  However with the help of my eager guests, I was able to roll, cut, hang, dry, boil, strain and serve the pasta without issue.  Not to be outdone, each other dish had its highlights....... 

Winter Salad: I braised the endives and half of the butternut squash in a ginger/orange/carrot broth, ended up giving the salad the perfect punch of acidity it needed.  Goat cheese on pizza no.  Goat cheese hugged by a maple vinaigrette and bitter greens, YES PLEASE.

Flatbreads: you all already know my feeling on egg topped dishes.  this one was a hit.  I implore you to try the caramelized onion, sriracha, honey combo.  I don't care how over used red rooster is.  It's everywhere because its delicious.  Moving on....

Celery Root Gratin: Oh this dish had its doubters, but I offset the richness of the gratin with a last minute sub.  Instead of the fig/pasilla sauce, I went with a horseradish-Worcester sauce.  The tang (with the help of a shot of lemon zezt) cut right through the gratin and worked wonderfully.

Bananas Foster Bread Pudding: This one I wasn't worried about.  I couldn't do anything super elaborate since by this time the party had grown to twenty guests, but this dessert was a crowd pleasing hit.  

winter salads do not have to boring and punchless.  

ok, so I threw a little shredded pork on this one (kill me)

saying "cauliflower" automatically gives you a Brooklyn accent.  Who knew vegetables were so fun?


composing the dish.  adding the spinach pasta to a bed of fresh corn soup



I suppose vegetables aren't so bad after all...

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Let's Raise a Glass to 2013

2013 was an incredible year. Professionally, I had my most challenging yet rewarding project, helping facilitate a divestiture of a university while simultaneously enabling a hospital to operate as a stand alone facility. Countless late nights, weekend work, Sunday conference calls however incredibly satisfying to look back and take comfort in the real good we did.

Family-wise, I took the reins in thanksgiving dinner and have watched my nieces grow into little pseudo adults (I will be registering for a gun license as my oldest niece will be assuredly be dating at any moment, see the clip below for reference.)

Mom retired from work and unsurprisingly is staying busier than ever as they prepare to move to Florida full time.

Personally in 2013, I made my last first guy friend, traveled to Europe to hang out with my best friends in life (#ninjasinspain), spent a long weekend in Seattle on a whim where I successfully ate and drank my way through that beautiful city. Add to that Vegas, Miami, Chicago and countless weekend in NYC....it's been a great travel year.

I've dated incredible women, auditioned for television shows and have expanded my joy and passion for cooking. Not sure what 2014 will bring, but if it's anything like 2013....I think we're all in for a tremendous year. If nothing else, we for damn sure won't go hungry.

With that I'd like to raise a glass to 2013 and share pictures from my last dinner party of 2013 that was "Best of..." themed.  I was fortunate to eat in a number of incredible restaurants this year so I wanted to recreate the best dishes and cocktails to match for the evening. A thousand thanks to my guests who prepped, mixed, shook and poured the spirits.


the menu.  best things I ate and drank in 2013.

oh, it was a classy affair

octopus simmering away.  my first octopus.

needless to say, John was skeptical at best.

out in front of of my cutting board, a usual spot for me.
would've been much more effective over an open flame, but was able to get the
grill pan hot enough to get some color on the octopus

finished first course with the octopus, farro and andouille sausage
pickled red onions and homemade chili oil

2nd course, arancini (fried risotto balls) with mozzarella. I made a risotto
with pancetta and pink vodka sauce for this version.  we paired this with a selection of rose wines

course 3, roasted pork belly, tomato quiche and pepperoncini spread... delivious.
bacon old fashioned to pair

devon prepping the signature drink for the main course, champagne and hamburgers.
finished product below

i mean, how can you now love individual serving cans of bubbly.  

rosemary french fries, with sea salt of course

signture course, champagne and hamburgers.  These however were
shortrib sliders, seared fois gras, red onion jam and truffle aoli.  

dessert time. 2 pies:  key lime and salty honey, and homemade raspberry gelato

dessert plate with paired beverage, blackberry bourbon lemonade.  F'ing delicious

ok, fine, I admit... I used a premade pie shell.  A rarity, so sue me.

nothing beats a night of new friends, old friends, food and drink.

2013, out.