Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Hunger Games Recipes

Recipes from the Hunger Games
By: Chef Cristian Feher

Over the past few days I have found myself sleeping two to three hours per night. I’ve started to pay close attention to the wild animals I spot as I drive to my client’s homes. I wonder if I could catch them, and which ones would taste better than others. I am aware of my endless water supply, and it seems almost like cheating. Do I know how to set a snare? Could I shoot an arrow to save my life? I notice how little exercise I’ve gotten lately, but I reckon that I could survive a couple of weeks without food - physically, that is. I would probably go insane much sooner. These are the questions that plague me now.

Last week my wife came home and told me about The Hunger Games. “You’re hungry?” I asked.

“No, The Hunger Games. It’s only the most popular movie and book out there right now!” She responded.

Since that day I have not been able to stop reading The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. It’s by far, one of the best stories I’ve ever read. Although the main character is a girl, I have been living vicariously through her perilous life for the past few nights. The story sizzles with suspense, action, and most importantly, food. Suzanne Collins’ description of the lavish cuisine of the Capitol (a decadent society in the not-so-distant future) against the rudimentary backdrop of District 12’s survival game meats, sets my imagination on fire, and makes my stomach yearn for both - fresh caught rabbit - and cream soup with rose petals.

Below are a few recipes that I’ve adapted from the book. Enjoy!

Capitol City Lamb and Plum Stew

- 2 Lbs of boneless leg of lamb cubes
- 1 large onion diced
- 4 cloves of garlic minced
- 1 cup of fresh chopped parsley
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 cups of strong beef stock
- 1 cup of Shiraz wine
- 2 cups of ripe chopped plums
- 1/2 cup of prune juice
- Flour
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste


1. In a heavy cast iron dutch oven or ceramic pot on the stove top, begin to cook the onion and lamb with a little olive oil for 10-15 minutes or until the onion begins to become soft and translucent. Then add the garlic, parsley, bay leaves, and plums and cook for another 10 minutes. Pre-heat oven to 375.

2. Add the beef stock, shiraz, and prune juice and bring to a simmer. Cover the pot and stick it in the oven. Cook for 45 minutes.

3. Mix a roux by combining equal parts flour and oil in a small bowl to the consistency of toothpaste. This will be the thickener for the stew.

4. Remove the pot from the oven and put back on the stove top. Bring to a low simmer. Whisk in a little bit of roux at a time until desired thickness is reached. Cook this out for another 10 minutes and adjust seasoning.

5. Enjoy as if it were your last meal!

NOTE: If lamb is not yet tender, put back in oven at 350 and check every 30 minutes until lamb is tender.

Capitol City Chicken in Orange Cream Sauce

In this recipe, I believe Katnis refers to the color of the sauce instead of the actual ingredient. And I believe it to be a saffron cream sauce that she is eating. This rich dish would pair nicely over garlic mash. I would use a pressure cooker for this recipe, but may use a regular dutch oven and cook it covered a simmer for 1 hour.

- 1 whole chicken cut up into eighths
- 1 large onion diced
- 3 cloves of garlic minced
- 1 pinch of Spanish saffron
- 1/4 tsp of ground cumin
- 2 cups of chicken stock
- 1 cup of heavy cream
- flour
- oil
- salt and pepper


1. WIth the pressure cooker uncovered, cook the onion with a little olive oil for 10 minutes or until soft and translucent. Add the garlic, cumin, saffron, and the chicken. Cook for another 5 minutes.

2. Add the chicken stock. Put the lid on the pressure cooker and cook on high pressure for 23 minutes. (quick release)

3. Mix a roux by combining equal parts flour and oil in a small bowl to the consistency of toothpaste. This will be the thickener for the sauce as in the recipe above.

4. Remove the lid of the pressure cooker and bring the liquid to a simmer. Add the cream. Bring to a simmer and whisk in a little bit of roux at a time until desired thickness is reached. Then simmer for another 10 minutes to set the flour.

5. Season with plenty of salt and pepper and enjoy, while figuring out how you will kill your opponent across the table.

Capitol City Noodles with Green Sauce

This dish is most likely pasta with a basil pesto or possibly a spinach pesto. Although they probably use some genetically-altered District 11 super-nut for the sauce, here is my rendition using cashews.

- 2 Cups of fresh Basil leaves and/or baby spinach (pack them in there!)
- 1/2 Cup of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 1/3 Cup of Roasted Salted Cashew Nuts
- 4 Garlic Cloves
- Salt and Pepper to taste
- Cooked pasta noodles


1. It's easiest to use a food processor to make this. Add all the dry ingredients into the food processor and turn it on. As soon as you turn it on, start adding the olive oil. Process the mixture until it's all an even, moist green paste.

2. Store in a jar, or use right away.

3. NOTE: You can store pesto in the fridge for several weeks by making sure that there is a layer or olive oil covering the top of the pesto (at least 3mm thick). Note that the pesto may solidify in the fridge. It is normal for some olive oils to solidify under cold temperatures. You can still use it with no problems!

District 12’s Famous Roasted Wild Rabbit

This recipe works great with most creatures of the forest - squirrel, rabbits, and game birds.

- 1 unlucky rabbit (arrow removed)
- Wild onions
- Wild garlic


There are really only two ways to prepare this meal in District 12:

1a) Cover the wild rabbit (cleaned and cut up) with wild garlic and wild onion pieces in a container. Let it sit for an hour to absorb some of the taste. If you can find some salt to trade for at the Hob, you can rub some salt on the meat. If the container is made of metal, cook it over a fire along with the vegetables. The rabbit should release just enough fat and juices to simmer the veggies below it and make a rudimentary dry stew. Note that the rabbit’s belly skin can be rubbed onto the hot metal to render some oil from the fat for cooking.

1b) If your container is not made of a heat-resistant material, skewer the rabbit and roast over a fire. The meat should have absorbed some of the wild garlic and onion taste.

2) Don’t get caught in the forest.

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Thursday, March 22, 2012

How to cook steak

How to Make the Perfect Steak
By: Chef Cristian Feher

A question that I am regularly asked is how to make a good steak. And while tastes and preferences can differ, I would like to give you a comprehensive guide to what I consider good steak.

A wise man once said that to understand life, you have to live it from the top down, and the bottom up. And having eaten steak from Poland to Argentina, I consider myself to have an understanding of beef; enough to write this article.

Finding the perfect steak will take a four-man team. Pick the fastest man as the “bull-bait” and give the strongest man the hammer. Now, remember, although cows look stupid, they are well aware of their surroundings - especially the bull. Now, when you spot your cow, it will most likely be part of a harem belonging to an individual bull. You want your “bull-baiter” to run up to the bull, smack him in the butt and start running away from you, leading the bull with him. An experienced bull-baiter will have an assortment of screams and yells to further entice the bull. Next, you’ll quickly sneak up on the harem - hold it! On second thought, this may be too purist. I’m going to take this up to the 21st century.

For most people the perfect steak begins nicely cradled on a foam tray with an absorbent diaper at the supermarket or butcher shop. Many people brag about their specialty butcher, but honestly, I love the Kirkland brand beef at Costco. It is very good. I get grass-fed Argentinian beef at my local organic food store (Nature’s Food Patch) and I find the Fresh Market to have good-quality Hereford beef. When I need superlative, high-class, I don’t-care-how-much-it-costs Wagyu beef, I order it online at So, what cut do you choose?

Cut of Steak

My three favorite cuts are tenderloin, sirloin, and rib eye.

Organic beef is better for you because it’s lacking antibiotics and growth hormones (as in regular beef which may make you fat and have your kids go through puberty at an early age) but compared to corn-fed beef, organic may lack in taste. American corn-fed beef will taste better than organic, and will be more fatty. But the best is Argentinian grass-fed beef - it’s marbled with nutritious fat, it rarely has growth hormones or antibiotics, and it will taste amazing - you’ll know it the second you put it in your mouth.

I don’t mention Wagyu beef here, because at an average price of $50 per pound, it’s not something most people would eat on a regular basis. But just so you know, Wagyu beef is super fatty, flavorful and melts in your mouth. A little about each cut below:

Beef Ribeye - The beef rib eye is the cadillac of steaks. It’s well marbled (it has a lot of fat spread out throughout the meat), it’s very flavorful (again, because of the fat and its proximity to bone), and it’s soft. When all I care about is enjoyment, I choose this cut. The juicy inner-fat melts in your mouth, while the outside fat can be cooked to a crunchy, fatty, flavorful bonus. If Elvis had invented a steak, this would be it.

Beef Tenderloin - If I’m feeling health-conscious and want to keep my fat intake to a minimum, I will choose a nice beef tenderloin steak. This is the only lean muscle on the cow that remains soft (even if you overcook it). The tenderloin is the muscle used by a bull to mount a cow. Cows don’t mount bulls, and hence the muscle is never actually used. That’s why it’s so soft. It is also a good steak for beginners, since it will still be edible if you should choose to make it “very” well-done.

Beef Sirloin - If you’re looking for a semi-soft steak with the option of lean or fat, this is it. Anatomically speaking, the sirloin was raised in the same neighbourhood as the rib eye. But while the rib eye was out partying with hot girls, the sirloin stayed home and studied. However, the rib eye grew up to be a fat guy with a menial job, while the sirloin is now fit, drives a nice car, is a good provider, and has options. The meat is lean (for when you don’t feel like eating fat), but there is fatty cap on the side that gives you the option of keeping the fat on, or taking it off. It’s definitely my go-to steak when I want to enjoy my meal, but save some money. It’s not as fun as the rib eye, but it’s still good.

How to Season

All a good steak needs is some salt and pepper. If you need steak sauce to make your steak taste good, you may need to buy better meat. If you put ketchup on your steak, you need to stop reading this and really think about what you’ve done. But actually, I sometimes enjoy a good side condiment like chimichurri, garlic butter, or spicy guacamole to augment my steak. So, ketchup guy, you can come back. I know I was a bit harsh on you. But seriously, you should stop putting ketchup on steak.

Before my steak is cooked, I like to rub it with Goya brand Adobo seasoning (which has powdered salt). And If I don’t have any of that on hand, I like to use just regular powdered salt (or popcorn salt) because it melts and permeates through the meat much better than coarse salt does. Coarse ground pepper is also rubbed in.

How to Cook It

Although I only know one way to skin a cat, there are several ways to cook a good steak. And they depend largely on how much time I have.

No time - If I have very little time to cook a nice steak, I will heat a cast iron skillet on the stove on high heat until it smokes. I will then sear the steak about 2-3 minutes per side - I like it rare. If I wanted it more cooked than that, I would sear the steak once on each side and finish it in the oven at 450 until desired doneness is reached. Or I would just keep it on the skillet longer.

30 minutes - A half hour usually gives me enough time to light up the propane grill and cook my steak on it. I don’t cook the steak directly on the flames. I turn on two heating elements on high and put the steak over the third heating element that is off. I close the lid and cook it like an oven at 500. If you have a simple grill that doesn’t allow for this, you can cook the steak directly over the flames, making sure to flip it often so it doesn’t burn.

All the time in the world - If I have a lot of time, I like to cook the steak properly in the charcoal grill. I start by making an oakwood fire, then I add charcoal, and wet applewood chips (to create smoke). I cook the steaks with the lid closed so as to smoke them at the same time. This is the best method for a perfect steak!

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Sunday, March 11, 2012

Strawberry Nachos Recipe

Strawberry Nachos Recipe
By: Chef Cristian Feher

Yes you heard right! Strawberry nachos. Fruit and cheese pair really nicely together and have been enjoyed together by food lovers as long as cheese has been around.

Although this recipe sounds strange, I couldn’t resist the combination of sweet and salty with soft and crispy.

I made the strawberry salsa using fresh green seedless grapes, and Florida strawberries. I then spread the mixture over corn nacho chips and baked them with sharp cheddar. I hope you like these as much as I do.

- 16oz of strawberries
- equal amount of seedless grapes (as the strawberries)
- 1 cup of brown sugar
- nacho corn chips
- Shredded sharp cheddar cheese


1. To make the grape and strawberry salsa, I put the grapes and strawberries (minus the green parts) in a food processor until they got chunky. I then transferred the mixture to a skillet and added the sugar.

2. Simmer the mixture in the skillet for about 30 minutes. Then pour into a mesh strainer and get most of the water out. You want to end up with a thick, chunky mixture.

3. Pour some of the mixture on some nacho chips, and top with shredded cheddar.

4. You can bake this in the oven, set it near the mouth of a volcano, or microwave the dish. The bottom line: you just want the cheese to melt.

5. Enjoy!

Hungarian Strawberry Dumplings - Gomboc or Gombotz

Hungarian Strawberry Dumpling Recipe
By: Chef Cristian Feher

This recipe is based on a really good Hungarian recipe for plum dumplings (szilvas gombocz). My grandmother used to make this recipe for us and It was one of my favorites growing up.

Yields: 8 servings

- one dozen Florida strawberries
- 1/2 cup of brown sugar
- 4 cups of potato flakes (for instant mashed potato)
- 4 cups of all purpose flour
- 4.5 cups of hot water
- 2 tsp of salt
- Bread crumbs
- Butter


1. Cut the strawberries into quarters and mix them with the brown sugar in a bowl. Set aside.

2. In another bowl, combine the potato flakes and 4 cups of hot water. Mix until the potato forms into mashed potatoes.

3. Add the flour to the potatoes and knead with your hands. If too dry, add another 1/2 cup of hot water. Knead gently until you get a sticky dough. This will be the dumpling dough.

4. Grab a piece of tennis-ball-sized dough and flatten it out into a circle about 4 inches in diameter. Spoon 4 pieces of strawberry into the middle and close the dough around the strawberry, encasing the strawberries in the center. Pinch the seams well, and roll the ball in your hands to seal it.

5. Gently place each dumpling in a large pot of boiling water. Make sure it’s a gentle rolling boil. If the water is boiling too violently, your dumplings might fall apart.

6. Boil the dumplings for 15 minutes.

7. Take the dumplings out with a slotted spoon and drop each of them in a bowl of bread crumbs so that the crumbs stick to the dumplings. Transfer to a serving bowl or platter.

8. Microwave a stick of butter and drizzle the melted butter over the dumplings.

NOTE: You can serve these dumplings with all kinds of sweet sauces, ice cream, whipping cream, strawberry sauce, etc. Use your imagination. I have also stuffed them with strawberries and Nutella, and they were fantastic!

Strawberry Recipe

Strawberries with Boursin in Phyllo Cups
By: Chef Cristian Feher

This is a great recipe for dinner party hors d’oeuvres.

Yields: 30 pieces

- 15 Strawberries
- 1 or 2 little boxes of Boursin Cheese (Garlic and Herbs)
- 1/2 cup of brown sugar
- 2 boxes of frozen phyllo cups (15 in each box)


1. Cut the green part of the strawberries (the tops) off. Cut the strawberries in half. Toss them with the brown sugar and let them sit for half hour in a bowl.

2. Spoon or pipe a little Boursin cheese in each phyllo cup. Top each with a half-strawberry.

3. Enjoy!

Strawberry Pizza Recipe

Cream Cheese Strawberry Pizza Recipe
By: Chef Cristian Feher

This is a quick and delicious dessert pizza perfect for brunch or entertaining your guests. You can make this recipe really easy by using pre-made pizza crusts, baking your own store-bought pizza dough, or making your own dough from scratch.

For this recipe I will do it the ol’ fashioned way - using a really good brioche dough recipe. However, you can use a pre-made pizza crust and skip ahead.

Ingredients for the brioche pizza dough: (makes about 4 pizzas)
- 2/3 Cup of lukewarm water
- 1/2 tbsp of granulated yeast
- 3/4 tbsp of kosher salt
- 2 1/2 large eggs lightly beaten
- 1 tsp of vanilla
- 1/2 cup of white sugar
- 3 1/4 cup of unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1/3 cup of melted butter (unsalted)

- Large airtight container with a lid. (poke two small holes on the lid with the tip of a pen or screwdriver)

Instructions for the dough:

1. Mix the yeast, salt, eggs, sugar and vanilla with the water in a large bowl. or a lidded container with two to three holes on the lid.

2. Add the flour and then pour in the melted butter over the top. Mix the dough using a wooden spoon, or a heavy duty stand mixer with a paddle.

3. Cover the dough and allow it to rest at room temp until the dough rises and collapses for 2 hours (it may just flatten on top without collapsing - this is fine).

4. After the 2 hours, put the dough in the fridge for at least 3 hours to chill it. You should still have it in a lidded container with the two little holes on the top.

5. When ready to make the pizza, roll out the dough on a floured surface. Roll it out with a pin, or stretch and pinch it gently by hand until you get something that looks like a pizza! I like to make the pizza on a pizza peel and then slide it onto a pizza stone in the oven. Cook the pizza for about 20 minutes at 350.

6. Take pizza out of the oven when finished cooking. Let cool for 5 to 10 minutes and top with the strawberry toppings (below)

Ingredients for the pizza topping.
- Sliced Strawberries
- 1 cup of brown sugar
- 12 oz container of whipped cream cheese
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- Chocolate sauce (optional)
- Sweetened condensed milk (optional)


1. In a bowl, mix the cream cheese, heavy cream and brown sugar with a whisk until mixed well.

2. Spread some of the cheese mixture on the pizza.

3. Arrange the sliced strawberries over the cheese.

4. You may choose to garnish it with swirls of chocolate sauce and/or sweetened condensed milk.

5. Cut into slices and enjoy!

Ingredients for Chocolate Cream Cheese Pizza:
- Sliced Strawberries
- 1 8oz container of Kraft Philadelphia milk chocolate indulgence
- Sweetened condensed milk


1. Spread some Kraft milk chocolate cream cheese on the pizza.

2. Top with sliced strawberries.

3. Drizzle with sweetened condensed milk and cut into slices.

4. Hold on to your hats!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Choosing and Pairing Wines

Choosing and Pairing Wines
By: Chef Cristian Feher

Wine choosing and pairing can be a tedious and overwhelming task. It can also be intimidating if you don’t know a lot about them.

At some point, our society entered into a tacit agreement that knowing your wines elevates you into a higher class of refinement and taste. And if you don’t know your wines, you’re not part of the club. It was also around that same time that people agreed to get really serious about golf.

I’m not knocking golf or wine, I’m simply suggesting that they’re not a social grading system. IQ and aptitude tests would better serve that purpose. However, I do realize what a lame work outing that would make. And so wine and golf do seem to be a more palatable test when looked upon in that regard.

As a professional chef it is expected that I have a fine knowledge of wine. To be honest with you, I struggled with that subject for years - not being a big fan of wine myself - I found it a challenge to know the perfect wine for the perfect occasion. And it was a little disheartening to see the disappointment in my customers faces when mention of their favorite wine pairing elicited little response from me. I simply did not “speak wine”. That is, until I had a wine talk with one of my favorite customers.

Mr. Joyce is one of America’s great CEO’s. He’s traveled the world, sampled the finest wines and even manages to play a little golf in his spare time. Just ask any of the hundreds of people that have had the pleasure of knowing him, and they will tell you part of what makes him a great CEO is his ability to look straight through a complex situation and see the workable facts. And so it was, with a patient and gentle explanation, Mr. Joyce made something that I found complex, simple and workable.

While preparing a lavish dinner party for his birthday, we got on the subject of wine and I admitted to him that I didn’t know quite as much about it as I should - that I didn’t want to make a pairing suggestion seeing as he knew more about wines than I did. But we did agree that part of what makes a good wine, aside from taste, was one that did not give you a headache.

Mr. Joyce simply looked at me and said, “You know Cristian, I’ve had wines from all over the world. I’ve had good ones and bad ones. But picking out the right wine comes down to a few simple rules that I’ve observed.” And he continued to lay out the few simple rules that I now use to choose the right wines for my pairings. I will share these with you below.

Wine Regions. If you ask most people what country makes the best wine, they will undoubtedly say “France!”. However, with the advent of modern technology this is no longer the case. An important part for many people in enjoying a good wine is not having to pay for it with a headache. And while you might think that factor depends more on quantity versus quality, there may likely be a chemical factor.

French wine makers still use 200-year-old wine making techniques. Part of these traditions involve adding sugar to ferment the wine. This gives certain French wines a certain chemical combination that may cause headaches.

Wines made in Australia and California use newer high tech methods of making wine which do not require the addition of sugar to the fermentation process. This yields a cleaner, head-friendly product. They also taste just as good (some better) than French wines.

Score. Nowadays, most wine stores provide you with a scoring system. Most wines are graded and given a score from 1 to 100. Mr. Joyce suggested that anything above 89 is good.

Age. Wine starts out as grape juice, and through the process of fermentation changes into an alcoholic juice we call wine. There is an ever-changing chemical evolution inside each bottle that takes place over the years. When choosing red or white wines you should make sure they are at least five years old. At this stage in the fermentation process you start to get a high quality wine with chemical compounds that have mellowed out.

I have also noticed that I get no headaches from wines that are more than five years old, as compared to younger wines which do cause headaches. This may be due to certain chemicals in the wine that have not yet broken down before this five year mark.

Price. Mr. Joyce suggested that I not bother with anything over $25 per bottle. There are plenty of good quality wines, aged over five years, around the $15-$25 range that are quite good.

Champagne and Sparkling Wines. Bubbles change the game. In choosing a sparkling wine such as Champagne, I prefer fresh, young wines. Sparkling wines may taste sweeter with age, but I find younger sparkling wines cleaner, and I feel better after drinking younger wine, than older ones. Mr. Joyce prefers young sparkling wines as well.

Now that you know how to choose the right wine, let’s move on to pairings.

I used to say this when I didn’t know anything about wines, and I will say it again (this time with a little more authority): “The right wine pairing is the one you enjoy drinking.” Don’t forget this as the senior rule. In fact, it doesn’ t have to be wine. Some meals are much more enjoyable with beer, club soda, Pepsi, or heck - even Kool-Aid! It all depends on you personal tastes and occasion.

But let’s come back to wines. When I look at a food to pair, I only pay attention to three main things: The color, the density (is it heavy or light) and the taste (is it sweeter or more savory) This allows me to match a wine to go with it.

Color. If the main star of the plate is red (as in a steak), I know that I’m going with a red wine to match the color. If it’s a chicken breast or a fillet of white fish I will go with a white. If it’s a pink duck breast I will go with a rose. If it’s a mushroom risotto (brown is part of the yellow spectrum) I will go with a dry white (yellow). You get the idea, right?

Density. If I look at the density - a steak versus a piece of salmon - they are both red, but one is light (salmon) and one is heavy (the steak). So I would choose a lighter rose wine for the salmon and a heavier dark red wine for the steak. Here I’ve matched both color, and density.

How do I judge the density for wine? By how much light can show through the wine.

Taste. Taste is quite easy. Generally speaking, wine is either sweet or dry. It’s not hard to do a simple wine tasting at your local wine store to see which ones are sweeter and which ones drier.

Now, when you taste your dish, you can tell if it’s a savory dish or a sweet dish (and there is a gradual scale between the two, as there is with wine). So you can use this to match your wine. For example, I would match a fruity white or rose wine to BBQ pork ribs (sweet), and a dry white to Dijon pork chops (savory). Here I have matched, both, the taste and the color.

As you can see, with the help of Mr. Joyce, I have managed not only an understanding of how to choose a good wine, but also a simple pattern of pairings which works very well for me. I hope to see you at my next dinner party! And remember, keep it simple.