One of my premium members asked me how to write a recipe the other day. I wasn’t quite sure how to answer that, since I’m not a classically trained chef – I can only offer my own path to painting with flavor. I’ve always loved food, my fondest memories of childhood were of spent in the kitchen with my mother and my Auntie Vera. My favorite past time? My “concoctions days” when mom would let me experiment in the kitchen, but I believe my keenest ability to create new recipes stems from hunger.
Real hunger, the kind where I’d stretch a five pound bag of potatoes for three weeks, making every type of potato imaginable (mashed, baked, boiled, roasted, sauteed etc.) to fill my grumbling tummy. Restless and rebelious, I spent a brief spell of my misguided teens on the streets of New Orleans. I’d stare into restaurant windows watching people eat, to enjoy it vicariously - imagining the flavors on my tongue in a bid to satiate myself. I’d wait until people finished their meal, then try to slip in unnoticed to grab any scraps they left behind.
That deprivation “training” served me well a couple years later when I was approached by a fashion photographer in a Los Angeles nightclub, and would spend the next fifteen years struggling to keep my weight to the absurd lows required of models. There I was, sitting in the top restaurants of the world taking in every aroma that wafted by, rationing myself to one or two bites, and making a mental note on exactly how every flavor danced across my taste buds while savoring every morsel that passed my lips. I was in fact developing my palate in an albeit unorthodox manner. Paradoxically, I wasn’t planning on being a chef – I just missed
eating. As my culinary imagination grew, I would try recreating some of those exquisite dishes in my own home. Since I felt most loved in the kitchen growing up, preparing meals was my way of showing my own family I loved them. Whenever I was not traveling (which was rare in the Duran Duran days) I was cooking three meals a day for Nick and Tatjana, and often entertaining our friends. Cooking for my family became a passion, one that eventually led to an extremely gratifying career cooking for other people’s families.
As I became more practiced in the kitchen, cooking upwards of 200 meals a week for my clients, I became more proficient with the intricacies of various cooking techniques, and flavor profiles of a variety of cuisines. I started relying much less on written recipes, and more on trusting my culinary instincts. Then a Food Network casting director relentlessly pursed me to submit recipes for a new recipe competition show. I finally caved, plucked up the courage, and submitted a few recipes that I’d written hastily. I simply thought about how fusing flavors from different cuisines might work well together. One of those recipes, Jewels Turkey-Jasmine Burgers ended up winning the “best poultry burger in America” on the Ultimate Recipe Showdown.
Filming Food)ography for the Cooking Channel recently
I know how uncomfortable it is to be hungry, I don’t even want to imagine what it is like to die from it, and they are dying in droves in East Africa. Now you know another part of why the The Children’s Hunger Crisis Relief Fund is so close to my heart. Our latest fund-raising effort is Jodi’s jewel for Jewels, a beautiful limited edition pendant jeweler Jodi Zulueta donated – with 100% of proceeds going to the fund benefiting Save the Children!
Thankfully I got my life back on track, and my career no longer dictates how much meat I have on my ribs. Here is an example of my recipe writing thought process applied to the short rib recipe I wrote for a guest chef appearance on Community Cooking in Torrance. I hope this helps you in your own creative culinary adventure.
1). First, I had to understand the chemistry of how to bring the best depth of flavor and texture out of whatever main ingredient(s). For instance short ribs need to be slowly braised for the connective tissues to break down and the meat to tenderize. Then I needed an acid to help break down those connective tissues, so I used a dry red wine which will not only work, it will add flavor. Next I balanced that with some beef stock (you want any added ingredients to enhance the flavor of your main ingredient, not overpower it), and tomato paste.
2). Then I thought adding dimension with various aromatics, spices, and herbs. I thought of various flavor profiles. I knew thyme, Rosemary and flat leaf parsley go well together, because they are often used together in Italian cuisine, therefore it follows that they will probably work well with my new version of braised short ribs.
3). Now what other ingredients might traditionally be used in this dish? I thought about what is in season. I needed some potatoes and vegetables, but decided sweet potatoes, and root vegetables such as parsnips, celeriac, turnips, and/or rutabagas would make a welcome change, adding an element of earthy sweetness to the dish while tweaking it from the norm. Now I had my ingredients, I just had to organize it all into logical order and method to write the directions, and voila, a new recipe is born. How do you approach recipe writing?
HARVEST BEEF SHORT RIBS
I wrote this recipe for a guest chef appearance I did on a television show. You can watch me make these in the media section of this website for extra guidance, but it really is a simple, adaptable dish that is particularly forgiving, so feel free to apply your culinary imagination and play around with the ingredients to suit your specific taste.
2 racks of beef short ribs (4 pounds)
1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon pepper + more to taste
1 teaspoon salt + more to taste
3 Tablespoons canola oil, divided
1 large onion, chopped
3 celery stalks, chopped
3 large carrots, chopped
3 large parsnips, chopped
1 large sweet potato
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped (or 1 teaspoon dried)
2 teaspoons fresh rosemary, chopped (or 1 teaspoon dried)
2 cups dry red wine
14 1/2 oz can diced tomatoes
3 cups beef broth
Italian parsley, chopped
1). Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Mix flour, 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, and 1 teaspoon salt. Dredge the short ribs in the flour mixture, shake any excess off, and brown on all sides in the Dutch oven (you may need to work in batches). Remove to a plate and tent with foil to keep warm.
2). Add onion, celery, carrots, and parsnips to remaining oil and rendered fat. Cook until softened and starting to caramelize, 7-8 minutes. Add garlic, bay leaves, thyme, and rosemary, cook 30 seconds or until fragrant, giving it a good stir.
3). Add tomato paste, stirring well to mix throughout. Pour in red wine, stirring and scraping up any brown bits from bottom of pan, bring to boil and cook until reduced by 1/2. Add sweet potatoes, diced tomatoes, and beef broth. Return to boil, then reduce heat to medium low. Season to taste with salt and pepper, cover and simmer gently for 2-3 hours, until meat is so tender it falls from the bones. Stir occasionally, and make sure there is always at least 1 inch of liquid in the pan (adding more broth or water if necessary).
4). Transfer meat to a platter and tent with foil to keep warm. Skim fat, bring to boil, and cook until sauce has thickened, 10-15 minutes if necessary. Remove bay leaves, pour over meat, and sprinkle with chopped parley.
Additional root vegetables I love in this stew include celery root, turnip, and rutabaga.
Serve over mashed potatoes, with egg noodles, or fresh crusty bread.