Alex’s Day Off

Alex Guarnaschelli #3

Alex Guarnaschelli was kind enough to answer a few questions for me about the launch of her new show, Alex’s Day Off, debuting on the Food Network October 18th at 9:30 am. Alex is a formally trained chef who graduated from La Varenne Culinary School in Burgundy .

After seven years studying and working in France she has brought her talents home where she has been the executive chef at Butter Restaurant in New York City since 2003.

She answers a few questions about her food philosophy, how she handles celebrity and in which direction she thinks the food movement is taking us all.

Following the interview she included a recipe of mouth watering proportions!

Do you feel pressure to do the unexpected now that you are in the spotlight?

I am not letting the pressure get to me right now. I’m focused on sharing my cooking style–American flavors, local ingredients, family cooking! Things that make every “day off” special to me.

Has your newfound celebrity status influenced your basic food philosophy?

Celebrity is amazing but I am focused on food. I love the idea that “Alex’s Day Off” provides me with a way of sharing recipes and shopping tips with Food Network foodies!

Alex’s Day Off, your new show with Food Network launching this month; what will that be?

“Alex’s Day Off” launches on October 18th at 9:30am. It’s a unique opportunity for me to cook recipes that are close to my heart and what I cook for my family and friends on my days off from being a restaurant chef and working mother. The recipes vary from great breakfast menus to dinner with friends and dishes from my childhood.

What are some of your favorite childhood food memories and do you find them influencing your cooking?

My childhood memories definitely shape a lot of what I do now. My parents always spent as much time selecting great ingredients as they did cooking! The other essential for me is filling the kitchen with great aromas–spices, roasted onions, baking sweet potatoes, a rib roast, cookies…the list is endless.

Does having a baby change the way you think about food or how you eat?

Having a baby has definitely influenced my cooking and eating. I am always looking for a variety of flavors and textures. For a baby, life should be a joyous (and healthy); a vitamin-filled roving buffet.

Do you have some French food favorites which Americans have never developed a palate for?

I believe Americans can be convinced to love anything, that’s what makes us a wonderful and varied culture. That being said, I do think some great things missing from American palates are snails with garlic and parsley baked in puff pastry, sautéed calf liver with Mustard and Onions, and chicken breast cooked in a pig bladder.

What is on the frontier for food and dining?

The new frontier, I think, is simply this: ingredients trump preparation. Americans want to know, more than ever, where our food is coming from and how it can be cooked and eaten in the simplest, tastiest ways. This philosophy also applies to dining out. Restaurants have to keep it simple and inviting as ever. It’s not only because of the economy, but also because Americans are going back to the classics and the tasty foods and ingredients we have always loved. The restaurants that survive are the ones that make food people crave.

Green market inspired menus are very popular now. How would you advise the home cook; some on limited budgets, to incorporate these principles into everyday food?

Shopping at your local greenmarket doesn’t have to break the bank. Buy a few simple ingredients from your local farmer–onions, garlic, a few bunches of herbs–these little touches can transform your cooking in a manageable way. Don’t give yourself a hard time if you’re not living in a solar-powered house and wearing hemp clothing! Just try a few things from the market and see what a difference that can make.

Homemade Doughnuts with Cinnamon Sugar and Cranberry Jam
Recipe courtesy Alex Guarnaschelli

1 tablespoon plus 2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling dough and baking sheet
1 1/4 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
2/3 cup granulated sugar
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 1/2 cups bread flour
1/2 gallon frying oil, plus a little for oiling bowl
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Cranberry Jam, recipe follows

In a medium bowl, stir together the yeast and the water. Set aside to “proof”.
After 10 minutes, stir in the 1 cup of all-purpose flour, cover with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar for 8 to 10 minutes. With the mixer on low speed, add the eggs, 1 at a time. When the mixture is smooth, stir in the vanilla and salt. Add the bread flour and mix on low speed until fully incorporated.

Stir in the yeast mixture until thoroughly incorporated. Put the dough into an oiled bowl and allow to proof for 1 to 1 1/2 hours. In a medium bowl, mix together the granulated sugar and the ground cinnamon. Set aside.

Lightly flour a cool work surface and roll the dough out to about 1 1/2-inch thickness. Cut the dough with a round 3-inch cutter and turn them onto a floured baking sheet to rest, about 20 to 30 minutes, before frying.

Heat the oil in a large heavy-bottomed pot to 365 to 370 degrees F. Drop the dough rounds, in batches, into the hot oil and cook until golden brown on 1 side. Using a slotted spoon, turn the dough rounds on the second side and cook until golden brown. Remove them from the oil to paper towels to remove any excess oil. Roll the doughnuts in the cinnamon sugar and arrange on a serving platter. Serve immediately with the Cranberry Jam for dipping.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Cranberry Jam:
1 pound fresh cranberries, washed and dried
2 cups granulated sugar
1/3 cup water
1/2 cup orange juice, plus 1 orange, zested and juiced
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

In a medium pot, add the cranberries, sugar, water and the 1/2 cup of orange juice. Stir to blend and bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat and add the cinnamon stick, allspice and nutmeg. Stir to blend and simmer for an additional 5 to 7 minutes. Some of the cranberries will burst and some will remain whole. Stir in the orange zest and orange juice and transfer to a serving bowl. Serve warm with the doughnuts.

Yield: about 2 1/2 cups

  

Falling in Love with Julia!

julie_and_julia_1

I saw Julie/Julia last night and for any foodie, blogger or both it was an inspiration; but not in the way that I had anticipated.

I thought that the movie would inspire blogging success; I thought that I would be driven to finish that novel saved in pieces in “my documents” on my computer. No such luck.

I fell in love with Julia Child!

Watching Julia on TV as a little girl I was fascinated by her. She had an unidentifiable accent; she had a commanding and intimidating presence. And she was always entertaining guests for dinner. I wanted this kind of life. Even as a 12 year old. I knew that wanted to serve fancy hors d’oeuvres and elegant French desserts to my dinner guests. I wanted to cook with wine, something very exotic where I grew up.

When the movie came out it sparked an interest to renew a bond with my childhood icon. The “rock star” world of celebrity chefs worshipped “deconstructed” food, used bacon in ice cream, and tried to shock the palate. I wanted to learn how to make puff pastry. I wanted to learn why those French sauces tasted so good. I wanted to make food that was just really good to eat!

I revisited an old favorite on my cookbook shelf; Julia Child& Company. It was published in 1978 and was a kind of cookbook documentary of her WGBH cooking show out of Boston, MA. I read it from cover to cover. Julia was charming, funny, warm, encouraging, and so very generous of spirit. She was not the kitchen commando that I remembered her to be. Maybe I was too young to pick up on her humor or warmth, and maybe I focused on the parodies made famous by late night comedians who lampooned her awkwardness and eccentricities. I missed a lot.

Nora Ephron gave us that gentle Julia Child. The women who wanted to demystify French cooking for the average “serventless American cook”. She gave us Julia who encouraged our mastery in the kitchen for the pleasure of sharing good food with those around us. She gave us a Julia who was graceful in spirit and above all forgiving of our foibles. To persevere was her dictum. We are making food to be eaten, not to thrill or surprise to intimidate or to threaten.

For those of us diving recipes for Jalapeño Banana cupcakes with Mascarpone and Basil Icing, it would do us well to revisit the nurturing wisdom of a great lady who taught us not only how to cook but to master the skills of the kitchen which cant be camouflaged with smoke and mirror culinary acrobatics.

  

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