July 20, 2009

An Evening with Curtis Stone

Imagine…a house in the Hollywood Hills on a warm summer night, guests lounging poolside with drinks in hand, and incredible cuisine prepared by a prominent celebrity chef. Is it possible that I have died and gone to foodie heaven? Almost - it was Curtis Stone’s backyard barbecue.

Known for his popular show “Take Home Chef” on TLC as well as his recent runaway hit cookbook, “Relaxed Cooking,” Aussie Chef Curtis Stone has taken the States by storm. That’s why when I arrived at his home for the barbecue I was surprised to see him diligently at work in his home kitchen. He greeted guests like family and chatted it up as we hung around the kitchen island watching him prepare our food for the evening. Curtis even asked my opinion on a cucumber sorbet versus a version made with a tomato consomm√©. Later in the evening he wondered if I preferred a tuna poke dish or the ceviche. I came to realize he is the real deal. Curtis is a man who is passionate about his cuisine and his craft.



Throughout an evening filled with incredible food, his laid back approach to entertaining further reveals itself. He doesn’t “perform” or simply play the role of host while other cooks prepare his food. His hands make the meal. Curtis mentions how much he dislikes it when other chefs host parties where they never actually cook. Here he is chef, host, everything. Seamlessly floating between the kitchen and the outdoor grill, one minute he is socializing with guests and next helping to clear plates or serve another round of amazing food. Toward the end of the evening, he sits down with us for a drink and a chat. This is relaxed cooking personified.



After a taste of Curtis in his own environment, I wanted to know more about his background. Beyond the resume points (an impressive list of restaurants across the globe, most notably with the infamous Marco Pierre White), I wanted to know about his food background in the home, with his family, and where this palpable passion for food began: “I think my hunger for food came from being a greedy little kid. I just loved to eat, I couldn’t get enough. My Granny was from Yorkshire. When I was four years old she taught me how to make her beautiful sugary fudge. I’d go and measure out the sugar and the butter. I liked measuring everything out, and eventually I was making it on my own. I enjoyed the composition of it all, and of course loved the result.”

Curtis continues, “The kitchen is really the heart of the home, I think. As it pumps, the rest of the house does well. For me, it’s the difference between having KFC in front of the television, or walking through the door smelling what someone’s cooked. It’s about appreciating that, about communicating with one another around the dinner table, and even co-operating with the clean up. There are all these little words: appreciating, communicating, and co-operating, that are all family values. Without that, without something to do, a lot of it is lost.”

Next, I inquired about his new product line. “Curtis Stone Kitchen Solutions” is one of the most distinctive and user-friendly range of products I have ever seen. I wanted to know how these unique design concepts came about and to learn of his involvement in the process. Curtis replied, “I decided a long time ago that I didn’t want to endorse someone else’s kitchen ware. That’s usually the relationship. Someone comes up with an idea, puts a celebrity stamp on it, and you get a percentage or whatever. So I decided not to, and we set up our own company. When I first came to do Take Home Chef, it was my first real insight into how people have to cook. I thought there has got to be an easier way. Your products should work for the better, for you.”

For more information on his kitchen product line, check out my review on several of the items or visit his website www.CurtisStone.com.



As the evening was winding down, I thanked him again for the magnificent food and his hospitality. Curtis’s response struck a chord: “It’s so simple right? You cook for each other. I have always said if you have a friend and you have never cooked for each other you’re not friends. If all you have ever done is go to restaurants you are only acquaintances.” I have never before heard someone summarize home cooking so eloquently. Caught off guard, I paused momentarily to think of how many of my friends might now only qualify as acquaintances. After a meal prepared by Curtis, I can only hope for the opportunity to someday return the favor and cook for him.





RECIPES

One of the highlights of the evening was Curtis’s baby back ribs. With his recipe, you find yourself nibbling every last morsel and licking your fingers. The barbecue sauce can be found in his latest cookbook “Relaxed Cooking.”



CURTIS STONE'S BARBECUE BOURBON SAUCE

2 ripe peaches, pitted and coarsely chopped
4 Tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon celery seeds
1/3 cup bourbon
2 cups prepared barbecue sauce
1 cup ketchup
1 cup pineapple juice
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

1. Puree the peaches in a food processor until smooth. Pass the puree through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl, discarding any solids; set the puree aside.

2. Melt the butter in a heavy pot over medium heat. Stir in the chili powder, oregano, allspice, ginger, salt, sugar, and celery seeds. Remove the pot from the heat and add the bourbon. Return the pot to medium heat and simmer gently for 1 minute. Then stir in the peach puree, barbecue sauce, ketchup, pineapple juice, soy sauce, and Worcestershire sauce, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer gently for 30 minutes or until the sauce thickens.

At the end of the night, at that moment when you think there is just no more room for another bite, Curtis passed around this light summer dessert. Suddenly I had room for a final sweet treat.



LEMON CURD TARTS WITH FRESH RASPBERRIES

“Lemon curd is one of the first things my mum taught me to make. We used to have it for breakfast on hot toast with a bit of butter- delicious! It's great in these easy tarts but also nice spooned over ice cream. The curd can be made up to a week ahead and refrigerated; the shells can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for a day or two. Simply fill the shells with the curd before serving. This is a light dessert; you don't need to use too much lemon curd in each one.”

Serves 4

Pastry Shells

12 sheets filo dough (each about 17 X 12 inches)
About 8 Tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted

Filling

4 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1 Tablespoon grated lemon zest
8 Tablespoons (1 stick) salted butter, diced
1-1/2 cups fresh raspberries

Confectioner's sugar, for garnish

To make the pastry shells: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place 1 sheet of filo pastry on a dry flat surface and brush it with some of the melted butter. Place another sheet of filo on top of the first sheet, and brush it with more melted butter.
Repeat this process until 6 sheets of the filo are stacked on top of each other. Cut the stack of filo sheets into two 7-inch squares; discard the trimmings. Gently press each stack into a shallow 4-1/2-inch diameter tartlet pan. Using kitchen shears, trim away the excess pastry, leaving about 1/2 inch of pastry above the rims of the tart pans. Place the tart pans on a heavy baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining 6 filo sheets and melted butter. Bake the pastry shells for 15 to 20 minutes or until dark golden brown. Carefully lift the shells from the pans and place them on a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the filling: Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to low. Whisk the eggs, sugar, lemon juice, and lemon zest in a medium stainless steel or glass bowl to blend. Place the bowl over the hot water and whisk in the butter. Continue to whisk for about 3 minutes, or until the lemon curd has become thick and creamy and coats the back of a spoon. Remove the bowl from the heat and whisk until most of the heat has dissipated from the lemon curd, about 10 minutes. Set the lemon curd aside to cool completely; stir it occasionally while it is cooling. (The curd will continue to thicken as it cools.)

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