Recently, I had the opportunity to cook another in our series of ‘foodies with cameras’ dinners for my DH and our good foodie and photographer friend, Kevin. Check out the awesome time-lapse Kevin did that evening on Vimeo.
On the menu this evening was a series of recipes from Chris’s and my favorite local chef’s first cookbook, Michael’s Genuine Food: Down-to-Earth Cooking for People Who Love To Eat.
What can I say about Chef Michael Schwartz and Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink- his monument to local, sustainable and simply good food- that I haven’t said already? Chef Schwartz’s passion; his driving force as a Chef, is to showcase seasonal ingredients and promote local farms. He works tirelessly to support small growers and city green space projects; sometimes serving as the only voice small urban gardens have against a city that is at best indifferent to, and at worst hostile regarding, their very existence. I admire Chef Schwartz’s ethos and his commitment to a healthy and balanced way of approaching food. If you buy ingredients that come from down the block and treat them without unnecessary fuss, your dishes will not only taste better, they will be better for your family and community at large.
Even when this James Beard Award winning Chef’s dishes are deceptively simple, like the egg dish below, it is clear that a lot of thought and planning have gone into their creation. It is obvious why Chef Schwartz is highly-awarded; he walks the walk. The book, I was happy to see, also talks the talk and serves as a handy primer for anyone that thinks about the food they eat and where that food comes from. Note: although this may sound preachy, it doesn’t come off as such in the book. Chef manages to give the information needed, food for thought as it were, without ramming a holier-than-thou attitude down one’s throat. He’s much too laid back for that. This is Miami, after all.
In the book, we were happy to see the familiar setup of small plates, large entrees and huge family-style dishes from the restaurant, as well as some of our much loved favorites from MGFD. If you’re familiar with the restaurant, you will recognize a fair amount of the offerings, with quite a few new dishes thrown in the mix for good measure. These are things that Chef likes to make–what he feeds his family with, and what he chooses to serve guests on his rare days off.
We were also overjoyed to see a dessert section featuring desserts from Chef’s Beard Award winning pastry chef, Hedy Goldsmith. Goldsmith is a master of her craft, elevating the simplest of concepts (like popcorn and chocolate peanuts or pop tarts) to high art. Rumor has it that Chef Goldsmith will be releasing her own cookbook this year, and I just might have to snap it up when she does–she’s just that good. She also has a way of making recipes that are easy enough for a baking novice to master, but good enough to wow the most discriminating palate. The dessert I made this evening was simple, classic, and an instant hit.
Aside from a great selection of complete dishes, the book features a truly great section of basics (like fresh bacon and mayonnaise) that can be borrowed and tweaked to elevate even your most simple and treasured recipes to something new.
For our ‘foodies with cameras’ dinner, I chose a selection of four dishes: one each from the Small Plates; Pizza, Pasta and Sandwiches; Large Plates; and Desserts sections. Each recipe I made featured uncomplicated cooking methods that gave an amazing clarity of flavor to simple ingredients cooked to the best of their ability.
Roasted “Double Yolk” Eggs with Tomato and Asiago
We all know by now that I am a sucker for anything with an egg in it And this dish is certainly no exception. I think it was universally the favorite of the evening, even though I managed to slightly-to-really overcook the egg yolks. Good quality tomato sauce with rich egg yolk and salty cheese combines perfectly with stout crusty bread in a dish with the perfect balance of richness, bright taste and satisfying crunch.
Fregola Risotto with Shrimp, Roasted Corn and Melted Leeks
I’m glad I took the time to find Fregola for this recipe. Fregola is a deeply nutty cous cous-like little hand-rubbed pasta–kind of like Israeli cous, but much nuttier and with more of a toothsome quality. Chef Schwartz talks in the book about how great and underutilized an ingredient it is, and although a bit more expensive than Israeli cous, I’m glad I sprung for it. The dish was rich, nutty, creamy, complex and would be wholly satisfying on it’s own. As part of the dinner, it was a satisfying and hearty cornerstone.
Whole Roasted Chicken with Plumped Raisins, Toasted Pine Nuts and Arugula
I have a confession to make. This is the first time in my life I have made a whole roast chicken, and I liked it. Maybe liked isn’t the right word. Let’s go with loved it. This chicken was simply put, amazing. Not quite the heaven-on-a-plate that Chef Schwartz’s is at the restaurant, but damn close. The chicken was juicy, with perfectly crisp skin, and was accompanied by an amazing pan sauce, peppery arugula, toasted pine nuts and sweet raisins. Even though touching the chicken ribs from the inside freaked me right out, I think I’ve been converted.
Meyer Lemon Pudding Cake with Chantilly Cream and Fresh Blueberries
Everyone keeps talking about Meyer lemons, and I’m jealous. For some reason, even though I live in the same town as Chef Schwartz, I can never find them. Probably because I shop at a local market and not the wealth of farmer’s markets he does. Even though I did not have the famed lemons, this recipe (made with a blend of fresh regular lemon and orange juices instead of Meyer lemons) made a light-as-air cake with delicate pudding and silky, sexy cream. A huge hit, to say the very least. Even for bellies stretched with chicken and risotto.