Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Stop Hunger Now Service Project: 20,000 Meals in One Hour

Members of First Presbyterian Church in Douglasville, Georgia, package meals for Stop Hunger Now. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
A couple of weeks ago, members of my church did an extraordinary thing ~ we packaged 20,000 meals in under an hour. Not exactly the Biblical loaves and fishes, but extraordinary nonetheless. We donned hairnets and sanitized our hands and assembled around tables as a representative from Stop Hunger Now talked us through the creation of the meal - a rice mixed with a nutritious (and vegetarian) flavoring supplement. The packages were sealed and boxed and in a little over an hour, we had created more than 20,000 meals that were shipped overseas to help children and families.

One of the great aspects of this service project is the variety of tasks involved and that there is a job for every age group.

The sanitizing station.

With every 1,000 packages, the gong is sounded.

When the bags are filled, the call is made for a "runner."

For more information about Stop Hunger Now, check out their website

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Eating with a spiritual compass...and Marcus Samuelsson

Marcus Samuelsson @Macy's Lenox Square. James Camp/Macy's
Chef Marcus Samuelsson is one of the most exciting personalities in food and media today. In my opinion, his unusual biography – born in Ethiopia, adopted into a middle class Swedish family, trained as a chef in Europe, a successful career as an American chef, restaurateur and media personality, makes his perspectives on food and culture just that much more interesting. Add to that the fantastic food this energetic chef produces and it’s hard not to pay attention when Chef Marcus cooks…and speaks.

I had the opportunity last week to meet with Chef Marcus on his visit to Atlanta and ask him a few questions. Macy’s Culinary Council brought him to town to cook a Game Day menu at its Lenox Square store. Before he took to the stage, he kindly answered a few questions. The publicity person who arranged the interview requested no personal questions, so that left just politics, which segued quite neatly to religion. 

Marcus Samuelsson @Macy's Lenox. James Camp for Macy's.

Samuelsson cooked for the Obamas’ first state dinner at the White House a few years ago, and in turn, he has hosted them at his Harlem restaurant, Red Rooster. He shared that the President’s favorite dish is the spicy cornbread with honey glaze served with lots of butter and tomato jam. As for his thoughts on the First Lady’s impact on food, “I think she could have picked any subject to focus on and she chose food,” he said. “She unified the chefs and stakeholders to provide better food for children and families.

“Food-wise, we’ve come far and we have a lot of challenges ahead of us. We’re off to a great start.”
Samuelsson used a phrase I love ~ “eating with a spiritual compass” to describe a lifestyle of awareness of the provenance of our food and the responsibility that comes with consuming it.

“Spirituality and food are connected,” he said. “Throughout the world, through every culture and religion, there are times for fasting, then times of celebration and sharing.” Chef Marcus will fast, he says, by not eating meat for a few days, and other practices of moderation. 

Marcus Samuelsson at Macy's Lenox. James Camp for Macy's.

Eating with a spiritual compass also entails being a good steward of the food that’s provided, and that means taking care with leftovers. The recipes he shared during his kitchen demonstration were examples of his “Poor Man’s food” fancied up for the restaurant. Crab cakes, using potato to stretch out the precious crab meat; New Orleans-style dirty rice making use of leftover shrimp, sausage and what-have-you; and his Fried Yard Bird, a spicy fried chicken so darn addictive there can not possibly be  leftovers.

Marcus Samuelsson @Macy's Lenox. James Camp for Macy's.

The crab cakes that Chef Marcus cooked at Macy’s were outrageously good ~ the grapefruit supreme and frisee salad cut through the rich mayonnaise and crab cake. This is ritzy Game Day fare, but it’s perfectly portioned and very satisfying.

Crab Cakes with Chipotle Mayo and Citrus Salad. James Camp for Macy's.

Crab Cakes with Chipotle Mayo and Citrus Salad

2 red grapefruit (garnish)

Supreme the two grapefruit by slicing off the top and bottom of each with a sharp knife. Using a paring knife, slice down the side of each grapefruit to remove all the rind and pith. Remove each grapefruit segment without the pith and skin and set them on a plate. Reserve.

Chipotle Mayo

2 tablespoons almonds, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 chipotle peppers chopped
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
Juice from 2 limes
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper

Put the almonds in a dry cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Shake the skillet and let the almonds toast for 1 to 2 minutes, just until they take on a golden color and smell fragrant. As soon as you smell them, turn the almonds into a medium mixing bowl and let them cool for a moment or two. Add the remaining ingredients, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

Crab cakes

3 Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into quarters
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 teaspoons cilantro, chopped
2 teaspoons mint, chopped
1 teaspoon mild chili powder
Salt and pepper
2 teaspoons mustard
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 pound jumbo lump crab meat
1 tablespoon cornstarch
½ cup bread crumbs
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
3 limes, cut into quarters for garnish

Bring the potatoes to a boil in water. Add the garlic and let simmer for 15 minutes. Strain the liquid and mash with a fork. Let cool down.

Mix the chili powder, salt, cilantro and mint in a bowl. Add in the mustard, pepper, mayonnaise, mashed potatoes and crab meat and toss quickly. Make the crab cakes 2 inches round and 1 inch thick.
Mix cornstarch and bread crumbs and lightly dredge each crab cake in the mixture. Heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil in a pan set over medium heat. Fry until golden brown, about five minutes on each side. Drain on paper towels; serve.

Citrus Vinaigrette

1 shallot
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Juice of 1 orange
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon sesame seeds, lightly toasted
1 to 1 ¼ cups extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
6 cups frisee

Finely chop the shallot.

In a bowl, add the kosher salt, then pour the balsamic vinegar over it and whisk to dissolve the salt. Stir in the orange and lemon juice, and add the chopped shallot.

In a sauté pan, over medium high heat, lightly toast the sesame seeds for 3 minutes. Remove the sesame seeds from the heat.

Slowly drizzle the olive oil into the bowl with the salt, vinegar and juices. Whisk the mixture vigorously as you pour the oil into the mix. Continue to whisk until the vinaigrette emulsifies. Add the toasted sesame seeds and the freshly ground black pepper to taste and whisk again for a minute. Toss frisee with vinaigrette.

Plate the crab cakes on top of the frisee salad. Top crab cake with a dollop of the Chipotle Mayo and a couple segments of grapefruit with each serving.

Yield: 6 servings.

Crab cake. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Recipes provided by Chef Marcus Samuelsson.

Many thanks to Macy’s for the pictures from the event.

 I am a member of the Everywhere Society and Everywhere provided me with compensation for this post about Macy's Culinary Council. However, all thoughts and opinions expressed herein are my own.

This post is part of #LetsLunch a monthly Twitter party of writers and cooks all over the world. This month’s topic was TV snacks, in celebration of hostess Lisa Goldberg’s Australian Open viewing party. Check out the other stories and recipes from the #LetsLunch crew!

Lisa’s Sausage Rolls at Monday Morning Cooking Club
Cheryl’s Mongolian Buuz at A Tiger in the Kitchen
Grace’s Taiwanese Beef Sliders at HapaMama
Jill’s Spiced Pecans at Eating My Words
Karen’s Sporting Eats at GeoFooding
Rashda’s FInger Licking Good Curried Ribs at Hot Curries & Cold Beer
Emma’s Super Bowl Wings Two Ways at Kitchen Dreamer
Annabelle’s Idiazabal and Black Pepper Gougeres at Glass of Fancy
Sonja’s Sticky Ginger Beer Chicken Wings at Foodnutzz

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Meyer Lemon Cheesecake with Biscoff Crust, Wildcard Winner

Meyer Lemons. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
Last January, I went on a Meyer lemon kick, using the orange-y lemons, or is that lemony oranges? in a plethora of sweets. Meyer lemon scones with dried blueberries, coconut macaroon tarts with Meyer lemon curd, and a Meyer lemon cheesecake with Biscoff crust. All were memorable recipes, but the cheesecake was spectacular. It's a riff on the classic Three Cities of Spain cheesecake published eons ago in Gourmet Magazine and probably the best-tasting and simplest-ever cheesecake to make.

Well, this little cheesecake has gotten quite a following ~ I submitted the recipe last year to Food 52 for the Best Citrus Recipes contest and it became a Community Pick, with a very nice review. And just today, it was a Test Kitchen Wildcard Winner, complete with a Glamour Food Shot and link from the front page of Food 52.


Check out the sweet pictures of this confection and if you want to impress your family and friends with a lemony dessert, pick up a bag of Meyer lemons and a package of Biscoff cookies and make this stupendous dessert!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Calzones for Super Bowl Sunday

Calzones. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Super Bowl eats are all about hearty flavors and who better to deliver the goods than Emeril Lagasse? This calzone recipe from last fall's #SeriousSandwich blogalong is a game-winning touchdown, just right for sharing with family in the glow of the flat screen.

The recipe makes four calzones; I make them half-size, yielding eight breads that fit smaller hands and appetites.

Sopressata and Genoa Salami Calzones
4 calzones
I love this calzone with a variety of salami, but this is a recipe where you can safely go in many directions. Change up the cheese, use roasted red peppers or sautéed mushrooms instead of the meat, add Roasted Garlic (page 79) . . . I could go on and on. And you don’t have to eat them right out of the oven, either—they travel well, so pack your picnic basket!
1 recipe Semolina Pizza Dough (use Emeril’s recipe, or your favorite homemade or storebought)
1 cup Quick Tomato Sauce for Calzones (recipe follows) or your favorite jarred pizza/pasta sauce
1 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
8 ounces mixed sopressata, hot sopressata, Genoa salami, and/or pepperoni, chopped
1 cup ricotta cheese, drained
8 ounces smoked mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
¼ cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
Flour or cornmeal, for dusting the pizza peel
1. Place a pizza stone in the bottom third of the oven and preheat the oven to 500°F. (Alternatively, place an upside-down rimmed baking sheet on the rack in your oven.)
2. Halve one of the pieces of dough and roll it out on a lightly floured work surface to form two 8-inch rounds. Spread ¼ cup of the tomato sauce over the bottom half of each round, leaving a 1-inch border. Sprinkle ¼ cup of the basil and one-quarter of the cured meats evenly over each portion of sauce. Sprinkle one-quarter of the ricotta, mozzarella, Parmesan, and crushed red pepper over each portion of meat. Gently fold the top half of the dough over the filling, rolling and pressing the edges together with your fingertips to seal them, and crimping as you go along. Make 2 more calzones with the remaining ingredients.
3. Depending on the size of your oven, you may be able to bake only 2 calzones at a time. Cut several small slits in the top of each calzone to allow air to escape while baking, and transfer the calzones to a pizza peel that has been lightly dusted with flour or cornmeal (to facilitate moving the dough). Tilt the pizza peel to slide the calzones onto the preheated baking stone. Bake for 16 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and the dough is cooked through. Remove the calzones from the oven with the pizza peel or a spatula, and serve immediately or at room temperature.
Quick Tomato Sauce for Calzones
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
One 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, drained and pureed
1 sprig fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Heat the olive oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, and cook for 3 minutes, until soft. Add the tomatoes, thyme sprig, salt, and pepper, and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from the heat. Stir in the extra-virgin olive oil, discard the thyme sprig, and set aside until ready to use.
This recipe is reprinted with permission from "Emeril's Kicked-Up Sandwiches: Stacked with Flavor" (Morrow Cookbooks, $24.99)

For more of Emeril's kicked-up sandwiches cooked by some fantastic bloggers, check out my #SeriousSandwich Pinterest board. Emeril's website,, features football favorites for your Super Bowl party.