Friday, January 15, 2016

Stephanie Cmar Re Imagines McDonald's Ingredients

My parents had a real affinity for making us kids get up early for activities when I was little.  I remember early wake up calls in the summer for beach days, and even earlier ones in the winter for skiing.  We'd pile into car, lunches packed so we could concentrate as much time to the slopes as possible, and set off for the mountains.  It was tradition however, to stop at McDonald's for breakfast.  I'd always get a sausage egg and cheese, and I'd remove the sausage to save it to eat last.  I've always been a big proponent of saving the best for last apparently.  

Over the years however, I stopped eating at McDonald's.  I believed the negative hype, I turned my attention more to my own cooking, and worked towards eating as healthy as possible.  So when I was invited to a dinner with menu made completely of McDonald's ingredients and cooked by the incredible Stephanie Cmar- I was intrigued.  I am beyond impressed Chef Cmar.  Her work on Top Chef, and her ventures since have all been fantastic.  She takes great pride in her work and it shows with everything she makes.  I knew all of this when I accepted the dinner at Farmstead Kitchen, where Chef is currently stationed as Executive Chef.  

I cant lie- I was intrigued.  I hadn't dined in a McDonald's in decades.  I hadn't even considered them an option, yet here, one of the most respected chefs in Boston had partnered up with them.  She had created a full meal based on their ingredients.  I couldn't wait to hear her describe her thoughts on her collaboration.  I smartly captured a video of her speaking about it, I stupidly forgot to put on my flash.  Please listen and ignore the terrible lighting.

So here we had it.  McDonald's ingredients, investigated and proven to be full of
REAL food.  Single ingredients.  Ingredients that are easy to pronounce.  OK- I'm in.  Let's eat.

The meal that Chef Cmar treated us to was exemplary.  Chicken nuggets were re imagined to croquettes dressed with a cucumber and peanut salad and wilted Romaine puree, topped with cilantro lime sauce.  Those french fries that we all crave after a long night, chef somehow made them even more decadent.  Pureed from their fry shape, she transformed them to tender gnocchi tossed with a sausage and beef bolognaise.  The mind of Chef Cmar apparently knows no bounds.  Her talent is just as limitless.   The gnocchi were as light and fluffy as any could be that were made from potatoes destined for gnocchi as opposed to french fries.  
The bolognaise, topped with fried spinach leaves, was robust with gentle acidity, and fresh flavors throughout.

She ended her meal, as no one else can with a big, puffy glazed donut, with a cranberry and salted caramel glaze.  I promised myself I wouldn't eat the whole thing, but Ill be honest- I ate that donut so fast it basically flew off the plate.  

McDonald's.  A fast food chain sourcing real, true, tested ingredients.  Ingredients that our best chefs are proud to use.  Ingredients that we all know and are comfortable with.  Ingredients that can be served in the best restaurants and charged a premium dollar for.  This is the truth.  

Now I am not going to dispute the evidence out there- eating high amounts of fried foods, consuming a diet that isn't diverse in nutrients, and filling up on sugars and bad fats isn't doing anyone any favors.  But blaming McDonald's, who offers multiple options for those looking for a better meal, also isn't the answer.  Fueling our bodies should be about finding the best options to give us energy, to carry us from one task to the next.  But it should also be about satisfying our cravings and our souls.  Its about flavor, and memory.  It's about love, and nostalgia.  It's about finding the right mix of naughty and nice.  Find your own balance.      

Monday, December 21, 2015

Pepperidge Farms Holiday Favorites

Sure, Christmas is the time for spending time with  family and friends and giving...but let's be honest it's also the time for cookies.  There is no debating it- a good cookie is worth its weight in gold, but let's face it- between the parties, the shopping, the gift wrapping and everything else going on during this time, baking the perfect cookie isn't exactly on the top of everyone's list.  Here's the secret though- the fact that Pepperidge Farms exists means that you don't have to make the perfect cookie- they do it for you!

Now, I enjoy a good baking session every so often, but for my money, the Pepperidge Farm varieties are so perfectly done that they always satisfy my craving- and this holiday they have introduced so gloriously festive types.  Take their peppermint Milanos.  Imagine the crispy, buttery milano, filled with not only rich dark chocolate, but also a perfect hint of peppermint to incorporate that classic pairing.  

During the holiday season they also sell boxes stuffed full of all different types of their cookies, from Milanos to chessmen and everything in between.  These are the perfect assortments to put out at any holiday party- or to snack on during those amazing Christmas movie marathons they run!

I gotta say though- my favorite this year were their gingerbread men.  Sweet and Spicy, crisp and delicious- these guys were perfect on their own, but I decided to jazz them up a bit. I swapped them into Martha Stewart's Cookie Pie Crust and then used the crust as the base for my Thanksgiving Pumpkin Pie.  The flavor of these cookies made that pie irresistible, so much more fun than your average pie crust.  

In my mind, Pepperidge Farms does very little poorly- if at all.  Their holiday selections of cookies are perfectly delicious and the most wonderful way to honor your friends and family.            

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Cranberry-Marinated Rack of Australian Lamb

How did the wonders of lamb get relegated to springtime?  What law got passed so many years ago that said- all of the delicious dishes that lamb can make should really only be eaten between March and May?  I think it is long past time to change that rule- and luckily the Australian Lamb Board agrees with me. The US shortage of turkeys this year around our holiday season has sent a lot of people scrambling for an alternative to the healthy bird.  Lamb is well known as one of the leanest meats, its low in cholesterol and a 3 oz serving has only 175 calories.  So as your loved ones gather around the table- when you serve lamb you'll know that you are serving them a meal that will take care of them as much as delight their taste buds.

I was the very lucky recipient of two racks of lamb from the Australian Lamb Board a few weeks ago and I got to try one of their recipes perfectly crafted holiday inspired recipes- their Cranberry-Marinated Rack of Australian Lamb.  Now I've never made a rack of lamb before, but their recipe was so well written, and easy to follow that I flawlessly was able to serve a gorgeous and flavorful rack without too much fuss.  And really isn't delicious and easy two key features to a holiday meal?  

Give this recipe a try and impress every guest at your holiday party!

Servings:  6

2 Australian lamb racks, frenched
1 cup pure cranberry or pomegranate juice 
1 cup white or red wine 
½ cup cranberries
1 sprig fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Place racks of lamb in large, deep dish. Add juice, wine, cranberries, and rosemary. Cover and marinate 2-3 hours or overnight. 

Remove lamb from marinade, pat dry and season to taste. Place marinade in
saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until reduced to a thin glaze. Discard rosemary. Keep glaze warm. 

Preheat oven to 400ºF. Heat oil in a large pan and sear lamb on all sides to brown, place in oven and cook 8-10 minutes for medium rare or until cooked as desired. Allow to rest for a few minutes before slicing into individual chops.

Spoon sauce over lamb and serve with rice and steamed green beans.

Marinate the lamb the day before. 

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