Sometimes in order to create a dish that is truly unique, you have to let go of the things you have been taught. After all, innovation can only exist if there is a starting point or an original idea, right? You might feel like creating a mint and arugula pesto, watermelon soup, or a mango shrimp pizza. All of these items may not sound appealing for everyone, but then again they must have sounded good at some point in order to have been born into the culinary universe.
When going out on a limb and getting creative in the kitchen, there are a few things you might want to consider:
* Test your idea in a small batch. Try simply tasting the ingredients individually first then making different combinations.
* Use your noodle! If you are putting chocolate and peanut butter together, it’s likely to taste good, but tarragon and papaya might need a third element to tie it together. Does it need acidity, salt, sugar, heat? Ask all the questions you can – it will only add to your bag of tricks to find out the answer.
* Recipes are your friend. If you want to make a vinaigrette you know it’s usually 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar. The type of vinegar or “acid” – orange, lemon, or lime juice, for example – can be adapted or swapped out for the most part with good results. This being said, you should always taste as you go, rinsing your palate each time.
* Add ingredients in small amounts. If you think it needs more lemon juice, add just a touch, then taste. You can always add more, but you can’t take it back out.
* Keep it simple. Less can truly be more and if you have a good concept picked out, try not to over do it. Sometimes a cook will get swept up in the creative process and ends up ruining their dish. I have been there plenty of times and it’s a real bummer. Just try to relax, have fun, and keep things simple. If you do end up with a star fruit beef stew tower with almond milk foam, try not to feel bad about it – instead, feel good about trying something new. People get into ruts with food and you can’t make a magnificent discovery without a few attempts.
If you have never tried cooking fusion or sweet & savoury foods, try following a recipe at first in order to experience the balance the chef was going for – this may help you to create your masterpiece. Pick a dish you have made your own way with the “normal” ingredients so you have a jumping off point, and always get others involved when you can. In my kitchens, we taste everything together and talk about it. Is it too salty, does it need to be puréed more, or is it perfect? These questions shouldn’t put you on guard – they should open your mind up to what your guests will be tasting. With a little confidence and a lot of practice, you can be innovative and exciting in the kitchen all while satisfying your own cravings and curiosities. Enjoy!
Orange Vanilla Apricot Short Ribs
8-10 large beef short ribs with the top membrane trimmed (you can get your butcher to do this)
2 large oranges, quartered
2 cups orange juice
1 quart low sodium beef broth
2 tablespoons apricot brandy
2 bourbon vanilla beans
2 sweet onions cut into six wedges
6-8 fresh apricots, sliced about 1/2 inch (plus garnish)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon whole black pepper corns
1/2 bunch fresh thyme (plus garnish)
Preheat oven to 300°F.
Season short ribs on all sides with salt. In a large skillet over high heat brown all sides of your short ribs quickly. In a large container mix together orange juice, brandy, beef broth, and tomato paste and set aside. Place the short ribs in a large braising dish with the bone sticking up and wedge the sweet onions and oranges between the ribs so they wont fall over. Split your vanilla bean in half lengthwise with the tip of a small knife and add it to the braising dish along with the pepper corns and the fresh thyme. Carefully pour your liquid mixture into the braising dish as well being careful not to disturb the short ribs from their positions.
Cover the dish tightly and bake for about two hours. Stir the contents gently and resume cooking an additional 45 minutes to one hour or until the meat is fork tender. Carefully remove the ribs from the braising dish with a slotted spoon and into a pan to keep them warm.
Skim as much fat as you can from the sauce left behind in the braising dish. Strain the sauce through a mesh strainer into a sauce pan pushing the onion though and stirring until all the liquid has been extracted and discard solids. Bring the sauce up to a simmer and add your apricots. Once you have stirred your apricots in remove the sauce from the heat and allow to sit for 1 minute. Serve the sauce complete with the apricot slices over the top of your short ribs while it’s still hot.
Garnish with a sprig of thyme and apricot slice.
Looking for something different? Check out these upcoming food events that play with your expectations. Bacon and Sour Belgian beer? A dinner party inspired by the last meals of dead celebrities? Vegan ceviche anyone? Check these out:
Saturday, April 27 I Bacon & Sour Belgians With Biscuits – New York, New York Come in to Jimmy’s No. 43 for April Sours! You’ll join a beer expert for an afternoon of casual, laid-back Belgian sour beer plus food tasting. For three hours (noon-3 p.m.), a congenial host will guide you through many of their favorite and award-winning Belgian brews, which will be paired with different styles of bacon, Jimmy’s famous mini-biscuits and additional offerings.
Saturday, April 27 I The Last Supper – St. Louis, Missouri Mad Art Gallery’s second Off Beet Dinner; The Last Supper feature courses that are inspired by the last meals of the famous and infamous. Each course is uniquely interpreted to reflect the original. Inspirations included: Jimi Hendrix, JFK, & Timothy McVeigh (The Oklahoma City Bomber) to name a few. Be part of a unique dinning experience inside the Mad Art Gallery. Mad Art is housed in the old 3rd District Police Station and they have transformed the jail cells into inviting dining spaces for 24 guests with the use of warm lighting and re-purposed materials. It’s something they call a “Micro Restaurant.” This dinner will be a chef-driven concept in the tradition of small hand-crafted dinners that involve one individual preparing, plating and presenting each dish exclusively. Dining out is a social act. This communal dining experience encourages guests to make a conscious decision to interact with others for the purpose of enjoying their meal. Dining in this manner encourages fellowship at the table in the company of both old friends and new acquaintances.
Sunday, May 5 I Cinco de Mayo: Cocina Vegana Creativa – Los Angeles, California ¡Viva la vegan! Join Urban Dinner Socials in Atwater for creative vegan cuisine! Their May 5 menu includes avocados and mangoes, cauliflower ceviche, three kinds of tacos, and chocolate cinnamon ice cream. This very special Cinco de Mayo dinner is sponsored by Whittier Backyard Farms. You’ll enjoy an Urban Dinner Socials traditional-but-vegan four-course meal and go home with papel picado (paper cutouts) in honor of the holiday. Dinner to be held indoors due to cool evening weather. Enjoy foyer dining or dinner theatrics in the kitchen! All-Vegan Menu: Avocado Mango Salad, Cauliflower Ceviche, Three Tacos: Spicy Potato, Crispy Kale, Savory Portobello, and Chocolate Cinnamon Ice Cream, rich raw cacao with freshly milled cinnamon in a cashew base. Come enjoy delicious food and good company with the Urban Dinner Socials. ¡Salud
Photo: Xceron at work on a mural photographed for the Works Progress Administration. Identification on verso (handwritten and stamped): Please credit New York City W.P.A.; O.P. 65-1-97-2063; W.P.1 Date: 1/13/42; Photographer: Fredmacher; Negative No.: 6736-1; Location: 1947 Bdway; John Xceron on Mural Abstraction to be placed at Rikers Institute Chapel.
Xceron, Jean, 1890-1967