Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A message for the Ladies

Guys, move along, nothing for you to see here.

I am PMSing. Oh Ladies, it's the usual symptoms, crying at anything, loss of concentration at the wheel, my hatred of anything male (if I could shoot venom with my eyes, I would), sleeplessness..the list goes on and on. The one thing that brought joy to my day today, of course, was food. Hmmm, there is nothing better to quench your salt craving than ham wrapped around a quartered Bubbies pickle. (please, if you haven't had these pickles, you MUST give them a try!) Yes the down side is the water retention, but that is inevitable, is it not?

A Lovely Lunch

Yesterday I prepared lunch for some friends, in exchange for some advice and help with this blogging thing. I am not going to try to make myself out to be savvier than I am. After about 5 minutes of tech talk, my eyes glazed over and I went to my happy place: A green hillside covered in red and purple flowers. Butterflies fluttering about in the cool breeze, blue sky with big puffy, fluffy clouds...I forced myself back to reality to focus. When I arrived, I realized as I viewed other food blogs on my friend's lap top, my blog layout sucks! How amateur is it that my pictures are taken with my camera phone? Who do I think I am? I am not nearly as cool as I thought.

I quickly switched gears and was pleased with what I had prepared because my friends' enjoyment of the meal, matches the amount of help I am going to need...A lot!

Prosciutto and Plugra butter sandwiches on French Baguette, Fresh (frozen) Pea soup and Avocado and Blood Orange salad.

The sandwich and salad are pretty straight forward. If you cannot find Plugra butter, use any European unsalted sweet butter as it has a higher fat content and is divine! I used red leaf lettuce from our local organic farm and dressed the greens with olive oil, blood orange juice and a bit of lemon juice, salt and pepper.

But the soup stole the show!
Saute 1 cup diced onions and 2 teaspoons minced garlic in 2 Tablespoon butter in a medium pot. Cook them until translucent. Then add 1 1/2 pounds frozen sweet peas and enough chicken broth just to cover them. Over high heat bring to a simmer then reduce heat to medium low. Cook just until the peas are tender, maybe 10 minutes or so. You don't want to over cook this soup because then it will turn that unappealing brown green color. Turn off the heat and let your soup cool a bit. During this time set up a blender. Carefully pour your soup with 1/4 cup heavy cream into the blender and puree until smooth. At this time, you can add some chopped mint, chervil or Italian parsley. Season with salt, pepper and if you wish, a bit of nutmeg, about 1/4 teaspoon. For me the trick with seasoning savory dishes with nutmeg is you want to add just enough so you taste something, but not so much that you can discern what it is! If you are serving right away, return to your pot and reheat, or if serving later cool and store in the fridge.

Some garnishes that would be nice are, crumbled bacon, caramelized shallots, a dollop of creme fraiche or a fried sage leaf.
This soup is delicious hot or cold. Enjoy!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Mushy Tomatoes

At culinary school, I was constantly comparing myself, my abilities and my knowledge about food and cooking with the other students. My fellow students varied from 18 year old, newly graduated high schoolers, to guys in their mid-twenties with years of cooking experience. Regardless of what we knew or had learned in the past, the Chef Instructor was always right. It was his kitchen so we did things his way. We quickly learned the militant answer to any question: “Yes, Chef!” Even if you were in the weeds (behind in your work), and the Chef asked if you would be ready for service, even if you didn't think you would be, you shouted, crystal clear, “Yes Chef!” and worked harder, faster and more efficient than you had before. Constantly pushing yourself and striving further than you thought possible, and sometimes failing, sometimes succeeding.

And what helps a person succeed? Knowledge. Knowing the most basic things can make a huge difference in the food you prepare and your experiences in the kitchen.
When I was at culinary school I had an Italian Chef Instructor from Long Island for my Cuisines of the Mediterranean class. He wasn’t nice to anyone. He was a hard man and so explosive, that one afternoon, he had us all stop what we were doing, at our busiest time (preparing dinner for a couple hundred students and instructors), gather around the refridgerator. He ripped a paper bag out of the fridge and tossed it on the table and screamed, “Who put these tomatoes in here? Tomatoes NEVER get refridgerated!” We all were 5-years old again, getting scolded by our Mothers. As I scanned the group, I saw desperate faces. We waited for the person who had put a bag in the fridge, to confess to this kitchen sin. We all knew every moment we stood there, was time wasted. Of course, the guilty person never spoke up. Our group leader did, taking a dive for us all so we could get back to work. We all knew he hadn’t done it for he was one of the most experienced of us all. But nonetheless, we respected him for doing it. Our Chef knew too, and because of that, he allowed the humiliation of the admission be his punishment.
Later, I turned to a friend, one I knew I could trust, who wouldn’t judge me and asked, “Why was Chef so pissed that the tomatoes were in the fridge?” No I was not guilty for the tomato crime, but I felt lame for not knowing what was so bad about a cold tomato! My dear friend shook his head and told me that refrigeration makes tomatoes mushy and mealy. Aha! Okay, I got that lesson learned. Ingrained in my head, I would never mistreat a tomato like that!

And to this day, it pains me so to see a tomato in the fridge. I cringe. Sometimes I have to physically control myself from yelling out, “Tomatoes NEVER get refridgerated!”
As with any industry, there are things that are common knowledge, like the tomato. I have some of this knowledge and would love to share it with you. So I arrive here to write about proper vegetable storage. I know, not the most exciting of topics, but I think many people nowadays are trying to save money and proper storage of goods will help them last longer. Here goes:
Onions, garlic, shallots and potatoes- store in a dry environment, out of plastic bags (being confined in plastic will cause moisture to form and later mold and mildew), once you have cut into them, place in plastic bags in the refrigerator. I suggest removing the papery skins of onions and shallots, to prevent mildew growth.
Lettuces- to make it easy on yourself, I recommend washing them right when you get home for the store, drying them and wrapping in paper towels then plastic bags into the fridge. This way they will be ready when you are. If you buy them from a farmer’s market, or if they are organic, fill your clean sink with water and swoosh the leaves about, and let them sit for a few minutes. This way if there are any bugs, they will be washed away.
Herbs- Cilantro, parsley, mint, chervil: Let soak in bowlful of cold water to release any dirt, and change the water a few times depending on how dirty they are. Next make a new cut at the bottom of the stems and store upright in water, like flowers and wrap plastic around the leaves (oh! same for asparagus.) Thyme, rosemary, oregano, any woody herb, rinse in water and store wrapped in paper towel. Basil is very delicate so pop in the fridge until you are ready to use and wash just before using.
Green onions: fun thing about these guys that I haven’t tried yet: at the end of a green onion, there are roots that can be planted into soil, meaning you can plant one and always have scallions on hand! Or if you aren’t interested in that, I suggest waiting to wash them just before you use them. They tend to deteriorate quickly when washed and if you cut the root end, the different layers of the scallion unevenly expand and lengthen…
Broccoli and cauliflower, wash and store in a paper towel lined bag and wait to cut because the cut ends will turn brown
I like to store mushrooms in paper towel lined plastic bags to prevent them from getting slimey.
Fruit: This is going to sound silly, but my teeth are sensitive to coldness, so I don’t really like my fruit cold. And why would refridgration affect stone fruits like tomatoes? So I keep them out on the counter. But sometimes, you just don’t get to eating them quick enough, so the fridge is inevitable, and that is fine!

So that's that. Good luck in the kitchen. I hope these tips help you, and remember: No tomatoes in the refridegerator!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Farmer's Markets

I hate trends.
I will go out of my way to avoid anything that somebody tells me I MUST try, or a movie I MUST see.
I will never watch Avatar.
If it is the cool thing to do, I am doing the opposite. Especially if it is PC.
Lately : “foodies” going on and on about shopping at farmer’s markets; article after article saying how the quality is better, “support your local, small businesses!” yada, yada, yada. I don’t care. I don’t want to become one of those hippie types who think they are saving the planet because they buy local and organic foods.

Now, in between my stubbornness I have moments of clarity, I realize this: That this is completely stupid of me. I could NEVER be a hippie.

Oh and also, it is silly to totally discount something, just because it is popular: Earth to Blair: Maybe it is popular for a reason! Did I ever think of that?

Well, I have let go of my apprehension to farmer’s markets and in fact, I have become a convert, thanks to my friend Aimee.
Against all that is me, I come to you today and am going to try to convince you to shop farmer’s markets.
One of the most amazing eating summers for me was when I worked at Babette’s Kitchen (http://www.babetteskitchen.com/) in Millbrook, NY. Every weekend the Millbrook’s Farmer’s Market took place. I have never tasted a tomato like the ones I ate that summer. As a lunch special we offered a BLT. Now normally the bacon is my favorite part. But that summer, the tomatoes were the best. The tomato flavor was super concentrated.
Normally zucchinis make me gag. The ones I ate that summer were so tender and sweet, I could eat them raw. This was the summer I fell in love with dill!
Why was the produce so remarkable, you ask? Because they were all picked that morning. They were so fresh, they still had bugs on them (organic!)-which made my skin crawl, but, hey, more protein, right? I ate local mesculane mix, nothing in comparison to the bland, bagged, near compost monstrosity sold at your neighborhood franchised grocery store. Wilted, yellowing chives, leathery looking romaine leaves, limes with skins like they had a bad case of acne. Why waste you money on poor produce? Because it’s convenient? Chives should emanate their lovely fragrance. Lettuce should be tender and flavorful. Juicy citrus should have small pores and shiny skins. Have I gotten in that head of yours?
Another perk of shopping at farmer’s markets, not only will you get the best of the harvest, pay less for it, have it last longer (because it wasn’t picked weeks beforehand) but the produce they are selling is in SEASON! As a country we can get all sorts of produce regardless of the season. That doesn’t make it right. I challenge you. Eat a tomato at the height of it’s season. Then eat one in the middle of winter. Notice the difference in color, flavor and juiciness. Is it red on the outside with a pale, anemic looking flesh?
I don’t need to hear your comparisons, I already know. Take advantage of the seasonal produce because they fit the season for a reason. Potatoes, turnips, cabbage in winter=braises! Long cooking processes that warm your home and hungry bellies. Tomatoes, basil, cucumbers=quick, light, cool sauces for hot, sweaty summers!

Well I have given it my all. I have a stated my arguments, it is now up to you. Yes, the convenience is a good argument to stay with your nation wide grocery store. But I ask you once: Just try it. If the produce isn’t as hugely better than what you expected, and if supporting a local, small business isn’t as satisfying, well then you are more stubborn than I. Good for you.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Cookies so scrumptious, they'll make you cry outloud

Previously I had written that I am a horrible baker. I don’t really need to go into details, but just imagine a flour-dusted Blair, sweat pouring down her brow, frazzled with burning smells coming from the oven. It isn’t pretty.

But once and a while, there is a recipe written for even the best of the bakingphobes. Not only is this recipe a snap to make, but has made grown women, I am talking upper class ladies, the best of the SoCal gals who are very conscious of images, let out moans of pleasure in the middle of a luncheon. I was there, I heard them. Even better, I have witnesses.
Alas, I cannot take credit for this delight, but instead will bow to the creator Barbara Fairchild who wrote “The Bon Appetit Cookbook”. I will sacrifice, in your honor Ms. Fairchild, many cattle to the Gods.

Giant chocolate-toffee cookies
Makes 18

1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 pound bittersweet (NOT unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 3/4 cups (packed) golden brown sugar
3 large eggs
1 Tablespoon
5 (1.4 ounce) chocolate covered English toffee candy bars (like Skor of Heath bar), coarsely chopped
1 cup walnuts, toasted, chopped (I don’t like nuts in my sweets, so I leave these out)

In a small bowl whisk the flour, baking powder and salt until blended.
Stir chocolate and butter on the top of a double boiler set over simmering water until melted and smooth. Remove the mixture from heat and cool until lukewarm. Using an electric mixer, beat sugar and eggs until thick, about 5 minutes. Beat in the chocolate mixture and the vanilla. Stir in the flour mixture, then the toffee and nuts. Chill the batter until firm, at least 45 minutes and up to one day.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two large, baking sheets with parchment paper. Drop the batter by 1/4 cupfuls onto the baking sheets, spacing them about 2 1/2 inches apart. Bake the cookies just until dry and cracked on top but still soft to the touch in the center, about 15 minutes. Cool on the baking sheets. (The cookies can be made 2 days ahead, just store in an airtight container at room temperature.)

Now, stop what you are doing and go make these cookies. In no time you will be in a chocolate toffee cookie swoon!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Party Time this Sunday!

Like many other singles out there, I dread Valentine's Day.
TV, radio, stores, it's all around me, throwing love, commitment and relationships in my face. Those bastards remind me, (like I need to be reminded) that yet again, I will spend this day, alone, bitter and feeling sorry for myself.
Well guess what? Not this year!
No, I haven't come to the decision to not attend my pity party...Oh no, I will go to my party, and I will feel pity, pity for myself and I will sulk and feel sorry for myself, all day.
But in between the memories of failed relationships, I will be spending the day at my bud Aimee's place. She is throwing a party to promote her very talented artist husband. (http://www.jaceklazuka.com/). He does amazing modern art paintings...check out his website. I don't know much about art, but his work is unique!

Anyway, seeing as how I am somewhat of a chef, I have been enlisted to cook.
It is a simple menu, but nonetheless, delicious:
Lemon, Garlic and Rosemary chicken skewers (equal parts vermouth and lemon juice, minced garlic, chopped rosemary with a bit of olive oil)
Bourbon Soy Steak skewers (equal parts bourbon, soy sauce, water, a bit of toasted sesame seed oil, minced garlic and ginger)
Roasted corn, portobello mushroom, spinach and Parmesan farfalle salad (tossed with a bit of sauteed minced garlic and olive oil)
Sliced fennel, orange and feta cheese salad (tossed with lemon and orange juice with olive oil, salt and pepper)
And for dessert, a chocolate lover's fantasy: Chocolate toffee cookies!
I wish you all a Happy VD, may all your romantic dreams come true!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Aspiring Chef

Okay, I make mistakes.
I am not PERFECT.
I am human.

My salmon sauce was well thought through. It made sense on paper. The strong flavors of the capers, basil and anchovy could hold it's ground against the intense taste of the salmon. But unfortunately, on the plate? Yeah, not so much. I thought my sauce overpowered the salmon. Now don't get me wrong, my sauce was delicious. But I decided that it would be better paired with a tamer fish. Perhaps one with a great texture like halibut, white fish or sea bass. The darker the meat, the stronger the flavor and higher the fat content. The pale fish are mild and really need a sauce to add flavor to what would be a bland dish.
Suzie argued that perhaps next time I should serve less sauce. This is an option, but I think from now on I will eat my salmon the old way: with Lawry's garlic salt, pepper, a lemon wedge and enjoy the salmon, all by itself.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Salmon (gulp)

After working in restaurants and dealing with a variety of fish, the list of fish I will consume has vastly decreased. The reason for this, I will not share with you, because I don’t want to ruin fish for you. Mostly it has to do with handling fish too much, getting grossed out by the rawness of it and the lingering stink on my hands and clothes. I used to love sushi! Not so much anymore. It’s raw. As in: it hasn’t been cooked. Who knows how old it is and if it has been properly handled? Because of this, I won’t order it-raw or cooked, at a restaurant. Now don’t get me wrong, all the places I worked at were very cautious and safely stored their fish, I just don’t trust anyone else to do the same.
Unfortunately for me, in my home one of “our” favorite menus is grilled salmon, garlicky spinach and baked sweet potato. I have been able to choke down my salmon, pushing away any past unpleasant fish images in my head, to the point where now I am enjoying it again. Normally I am happy to season it with Lawry’s garlic salt, pepper and a squeeze of fresh lemon, but I want something more tonight. So I brought out my Culinary Artistry inspired to come up with a sauce to shake things up. Now as you know, I tend to eat on the “healthier” side, but what the hell? Let’s have some fun and make something with mayo and sour cream. Maybe, just maybe, some bacon!

Okay,first off, what about a relish/salsa with diced tomatoes, onions, minced garlic, white wine vinegar, lemon or lime juice, olive oil and basil, chives, or tarragon?
Another option would be roasted corn, bacon, tomatoes, avocado, chopped cilantro with lime juice and olive oil.
Why not a compound butter? (Please see my post on Compound Butters)
Or a lovely quick sauce with equal parts mayo and Dijon. You could also add some course mustard to add some texture.
Like horseradish? Make a horseradish cream sauce with crème fraiche (or sour cream) with as much horseradish as you can take!
An herb mayo would be a delicious green sauce. Mix a combo of chopped chives, dill, parsley and chervil into mayonnaise with a bit of fresh lemon juice.
For me, a mayo sauce is too rich paired with the fattiness of the fish, so you will see I have added an acid (citrus juice or vinegar) to those sauces. Actually, I added it to all the sauces because I really like citrus juice. If you don’t, leave it out!
The one I am going to try tonight is very similar to a putanesca sauce:
In a pan sauté some onions and garlic in olive oil, until translucent. Next, add maybe a half teaspoon or so of anchovy paste, 1 tablespoon chopped black olives and cook that for a minute. Then add chopped (or pureed), canned tomatoes, a tablespoon of rinsed, drained and chopped capers and simmer until the sauce has thicken. Now here is where my Mother and I ALWAYS differ. I was taught by a very scary Italian Chef (he had a glass eye that lingered in the opposite direction than his real eye, which sounds funny but it was terrifying in combination with his temper) that you cook the tomatoes until they turn sweet. Suzie says sometimes the tomatoes are too tart and adds sugar. Both have years of experience, who am I to say who is right? If it is still tart, cook more or add sugar, I will leave that up to you. Right before serving I will add some basil chiffonade (fancy for sliced basil) And of course, season to taste.

We shall see how it goes. Let me know if you come up with any yummy sauces for your favorite fish dishes!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Hey all you brown rice eaters!

Brown rice, hmmm. Let's be honest, it can't really compete with white rice, can it? Unless of course, you slather it with butter, cheese, bacon and cream, but what would be the point of eating the healthier rice choice with all that added fat and calories?

If you are like me and determined to make the switch to healthier foods, there are a few things you can do to make your brown rice not only palatable, but delicious!

As the direction reads on the package, it tells you to cook your rice in water. Okay sure, that works, but because you are trying to add flavor and richness, instead cook your rice in broth. I use chicken broth, but you could also use beef or vegetable broth. To add even more flavor throw in a sprig of fresh thyme (or a pinch of dried thyme), a bay leaf and a whole garlic clove into your cooking liquid.

Now that you have rice cooking let's add even more flavor. Saute some sliced mushrooms in olive oil with shallots and garlic. When your rice is done fold this in along with some sliced green onions. Don't forget to salt and pepper.

Another option is my newest creation. Halve some cherry or grape tomatoes (7-8 tomatoes for a 1/2 cup uncooked rice) and place in a dry, smoking skillet over high heat, so they start to brown. Then, this is the dangerous part: pour in a 1/4 cup vermouth. Because your pan will be so hot and the vermouth has alcohol in it, it will flambé, or light on fire. (Because of this, please don't pour straight from the bottle!) Don't worry, once the alcohol has been burned off the flame will subside, which should only take a few seconds. Also you could keep a pot lid close by and pop that on your pan when the flame starts. (I added too much vermouth tonight and had a three foot flame going! Eek, I was just a tad nervous when this happended!) Add 1-2 teaspoons of minced garlic and cook until liquid has reduced by half. When your rice is done, fold in tomatoes, garlic, vermouth mixture along with some sliced green onions (I like green onions). Salt and pepper and drizzle in some olive oil.

You could also make some fried rice with canadian bacon. frozen corn and peas with onions, garlic and a bit of soy sauce. And it isn't fried rice without scrambled eggs, or egg whites!

Also another huge hint, this is a no brainer: make sure you cook your rice long enough. If there is a bite to you rice, put it back on the stove. It should have a lovely chewy texture. I am a huge fan of sticky rice so I cook mine until the rice grain has popped open. Also try different rice types. There is long grain, basmati and my personal favorite: short grain.

I hope these ideas work out for you. If you have any tricks for brown rice, please post!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Smoked Pulled Pork, an ode to an ex

I got this recipe from my ex.
We dated 2 years and in the end, all I got was a semi-broken heart, 20 extra pounds , a cat I didn't want and some recipes. As I sit here, I am happy to tell you that my heart is healed, I have lost the 20 pounds plus 10, I love my cat as though I had been the one to choose him, and I am becoming quite the smoker (as in BBQing)! I come to you today to say, “This cooking thing, is way easier than you think!” What IS difficult is being fearless and ready to fail. Unless, you don’t like to cook, then it will always be a thorn in your side. But, I am here to help you through any cooking dilemma!
Like anything else, everybody has his way of doing things. If you go online you will find a plethera of information on smoking. You will be told the equipment you must have, the method you must do, etc. etc. Well, come into my corner and I will tell you my method. (What real BBQers will probably call “half-assed”.) But, I don’t care. They are the true Masters while I am merely a novice. Novice yes, but I know my pulled pork will be devoured!
I have made pulled pork a dozen times on a gas grill and it never got as smokey tasting as I thought it should be. This time I brought out the old, rusted Weber and it put the gas grill to shame. The process of smoking this time was much easier.
I like to get started on my pork a few days in advance because I do things differently each time therefore am never sure when it will be done. First you need to go and buy a nice pork butt, or shoulder. Next, it’s time to season it. If you want to make it easy on yourself, you could buy a pre-made spice mix, no judgment here. I have made the following recipe (from Cook's Illustrated, but I have tweaked it a bit) a few times and it is by far my favorite. Depending on the size of your pork you may need to double or even triple this recipe:

4 Tablespoon paprika, 2 Tablespoons cumin, 2 Tablespoons chili powder, 2 Tablespoons black pepper, 1 teaspoon cayenne, 2 Tablespoons salt, 3 Tablespoons brown sugar, 1 Tablespoon oregano, 1/2 Tablespoon garlic powder, 1/2 Tablespoon onion powder

Place seasoned pork on a plate and store in the fridge over night, uncovered. Take pork out on hour before you start smoking. At this time soak your wood chunks. This is my first time using the chunks instead of chips. The chunks last much longer and don’t need constant replenishing. There are a variety of wood types and I like using apple wood. It is well paired with pork and chicken, and it smells delicious! After forty five minutes, it’s time to start heating your charcoal. I used briquettes, they worked pretty well so far. Using a chimney starter, fill it 3/4 of the way up with the charcoal and place a wad of newspaper in the bottom. Light the newspaper and set in grill. Let the coals heat for about 15 minutes. You should be able to feel the heat when you put your hand over the top of the chimney. Pour out the coals and separate into two piles on either side of the grill. Drain 2-3 wood chunks per pile and place on hot spots (you will need to add more coals and wood as you smoke). If necessary, fan the coals to get the chunks smoking. The wood should never be on fire. If this happens pour a bit of the soaking water on the flames until they go out, but the coals should still be aglow. Put your pork on the rack in the center of the BBQ and cover. The vents should be about half open on the top and bottom. And let it do it’s thing, smoke.
Now here is where an expert would come in handy. I kept my smoker going for 2 1/2 hours- any more and my pork would have been too smokey. I believe with anything, you must practice, practice and learn by doing. This time, I got lucky.
Next I put my pork on a bed of sliced onions, 4 garlic cloves, two cups of broth (water would do too), wrap well with foil and into a 300 degree oven. Again, depending on the size of your pork, the cooking time will vary. This time I cooked my pork for 4 1/2 hours, until super tender and beginning to fall apart. Once done, I separate the meat from the liquid (strain through a sieve) and cool meat until cool enough to shred. Add some of the cooking liquid so your pork is moist, but not too soupy. Other recipes will have you make an additional BBQ sauce or a vinegar sauce, but I think that the pork is so flavorful, it doesn't really need anything. Serve on a burger bun and top with some coleslaw and chow down!
If you are lucky, you will have leftovers. One of my favorite ways to eat pulled pork, is at breakfast with a fried egg on top! Also you could make some pulled pork tacos, or quesadillas would be terrific! In the end you will have that dark broth that is infused with the pork, spices and smokiness. I always save it with great intentions of coming up with some delicious recipe, but have never. But, I do have some ideas: think it would be really good in chili or maybe tortilla soup or pozole (Mexican pork and hominy soup)?

Smoking doesn't end with pork: smoked salmon, chicken, sausages, the list is endless! If you are a fan of pulled pork, need a hobby or want to expand your culinary abilities I would recommend getting in to smoking. Or, if you want another excuse, to drink beer!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Super Bowl Gluttony

Hi there. Well, tomorrow is the big game. Truthfully, I don’t care about it. I don’t even know who’s playing. But it is a chance to make sinful food and indulge. Plus, it is a great excuse to entertain, and my Dad is having his golf buddies over. As always, we have planned a feast! I have listed what we (Suz and I) are preparing to give you some ideas in case you are watching it with a crowd, or by yourself.

Fried grit sticks with pimento cheese (The Chef I learned this recipe from called this “crack cheese” because it’s so good it’s addictive, like crack!)
Suzie’s famous, cream cheese and scallion dip (the best with potato chips!)
It wouldn’t be Super Bowl without Buffalo Chicken Wings and bleu cheese dressing (I just follow the recipe at the back of Franks Hot Sauce bottle)
Irish Nachos (seasoned waffle fries with melted cheese, bacon, green onions and Chipotle sour cream)
Oh, and my Smoked Pulled Pork Sandwiches with Cole Slaw!
And of course, my most favorite, BEER!
I may have to give in and have one of each and wash it all down with a frosty beer! Enjoy the game, enjoy the food and be safe!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Taking special requests

I was asked by a friend to write about what I think is in a well stocked pantry. Immediately my ego shot through the roof. Someone is asking me! What I think! Yay! I have a purpose today! Then it hit me like a truck, I remembered reading an article where some food writer said, “no pantry is complete without dried mushrooms.” (Oh pretentious snob, who does he think he is? Telling me what should be in MY pantry) Hmm, dried mushrooms. Well, okay sure, that works for you. But what if you think reconstituted mushrooms not only reek, but are totally unappealing and you have no intention of ever using them? Then, those mushrooms are a waste of money and of space in your pantry! Okay, so where does that put me? How do I answer this request without sounding exactly that the other writer? My tastes are not yours, right?
Well, I put the question to you, dear reader: What do you cook? What do you like to eat? Also, for what reason do you want to have things on hand? So that once home from a long day at work, you have the ingredients to make a nourishing meal? Or are you the type that have friends pop over and you want to have some snacks to present? Well I forged on and made a list of things I think are convenient to have on hand but also to inspire you to expand your ingredients list to incorporate new flavors.
As you read, you may notice an absence of baking supplies. I am a nervous baker, I hate it. I cannot bake anything without making a huge mistake. If you are a baker, you are way a head of me and really, you don’t want me telling you what you keep in your baking pantry.

Oils: vegetable, olive oil, grapeseed (Love, love, love in salads and for high heat searing), toasted sesame seed and Pam or any other cooking spray
Vinegars: Now this is quite the list, but I love them all, because I like to pair my salad greens with my vinegar. I love champagne, rice wine, white wine with gentle, tender
lettuces like mesculan or butter lettuce. While I prefer red wine, sherry and cider vinegars with heartier lettuces like romaine, iceberg and arugula. Cider is also awesome with grape seed oil in cole slaw!
Stocks: I know I preach about making your own chicken stock, but when you are in a pickle, the canned stuff will work just fine. Go for one with reduced sodium.
Canned tomatoes: for pasta sauces, chilis and soups
Salt, pepper, garlic salt: I use all three to season EVERYTHING! Lawry’s garlic salt is a staple in my house (http://www.lawrys.com/Products/Spice-Blends/Garlic-Salt.aspx)
Spices: Red pepper flakes, cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, smoked paprika, cayenne, chili powder, Mexican oregano, dried thyme, curry, cinnamon
Soy sauce
Vanilla beans
: halve 4 and put in a bottle of white rum and a few months later: Homemade vanilla extract! Or, vanilla rum, excellent with coke!
: if you have never used these Japanese bread crumbs, I strongly suggest you stop reading and head to your grocery to pick some up. I think it makes a far superior crispy crust for chicken breasts (flour, egg wash, Panko, into the hot fat! Yum!)
Canned beans: black, cannellini- I love black beans in chili, heated through with some onions, garlic and chipotle sauce for some Smokin’ Black Beans, or a colorful, flavorful black bean relish with cilantro and roasted red peppers. Heat cannellini beans with onions and olive oil. Puree and serve on crostinis topped with sautéed garlicky spinach
Polenta/ corn meal
Short grain brown rice
: I have abandoned white rice for the healthier brown, alas, I miss it so!
Quinoa: for when I tire of brown rice
Pastas: I eat the whole wheat kind with a little minced garlic sauteed in olive oil with red pepper flakes and Parmesan, a delightful side dish!
Hot sauces: I like Chipotle Tabasco and Tapatio
Agave nectar and honey
Garlic, onions and shallots

Coconut milk: oatmeal, soups, rice pudding
Green chilis: Mexican rice dishes, quesadillas
Tomato paste: Mexican rice, pasta sauces, chilis
Anchovy paste: putanesca, and it is fabulous added to sauces, because as it is heated, the fishiness flavor fades and just leaves a fantastic umami flavor (http://www.umamiinfo.com/what_exactly_is_umami?/)
Anchovy stuffed olives from Spain: just because every once and a while I get a hankering for them!

This is my list. I will update it, as I am sure I have left things out. I know some are items you may never use. No doubt, other items I didn’t include you may use all the time. But I think for any cook at least have stock, oil, vinegar, salt and pepper always on hand. Oh and Culinary Artistry!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


Hello there. Tonight I made my potatoes au gratin according to my previous blog, and to my dismay, I posted a few mistakes ! (call myself a Chef!) Nothing major, but I have made adjustments. If you haven't made it yet, I recommend that you do!

Roast chicken, that's it!

Roast chicken is a no brainer. If you can salt, pepper it and plop it in the oven, you can serve a tasty dinner tonight. Because chicken is such a clean slate, you can really have fun playing around with the flavors. You can stuff the cavity with lemon wedges, halved onions and garlic cloves, place sage, thyme, rosemary leaves under the breast skins. Even better, why not defrost some of the fine compound butters you have the in the freezer and spread that under the skin? (please see my post Compound Butter) Or, because bacon makes everything better, cover the chicken skin with five or six bacon slices.
Now that you have your chicken seasoned, you could place your chicken in a roaster and start cooking, or you could make a bed of sliced onions, chunked up potatoes and a couple of garlic cloves. If you like flavors on the sweeter side, you could wedge up some granny smith apples and sliced fennel, and sprinkle the chicken skin with curry powder.
In a 375 degree oven, place your dressed up chicken and cook for about an hour for a
3 1/2-4 pound chicken. Your chicken will be cooked when the breast meat is 150 degrees and the thigh is up to 170 degrees. Another way to check if it’s done, is when the meat is pierced the juices should be clear. If pink, it’s back in the oven!
A very important step in cooking any chicken, roast or steak is the resting period. Once removed from the oven, the chicken should sit for 10 minutes. Don’t worry about it getting cold, the residual heat will keep it warm. During this time the juices have time to redistribute through the meat and when you cut it, the juices will stay in the chicken and not end up on your cutting board.
Now, take a moment to check out your roaster pan. See all of those lovely brown bits on the bottom? If you pour these down the drain, I am going to come to your house and hit you upside the head! These bits are gems. This is what the French call, “fond”, sounds like “fawn”. Your next move is to heat a tea kettle and pour about 1/2-1 cup of boiling water in the pan and with a wooden spoon work the bits off the bottom and sides. You could also use white wine (I use vermouth or Riesling would be delicious) or, have some fun and use a bit of red wine vinegar and water. Now what? You could thicken the juice with a bit of flour and use as a sauce for your chicken, or store in the fridge over night, remove the chicken fat from the top and freeze the juice for future soups, cooking rice or polenta!
Here is another variation: Instead of a roaster, you could cook it in a clay pot. Chicken cooked in this clay pot is so tender, moist and very nutritious which you know I love! I suggest you check clay pots out. I have a Romertopf (http://www.romertopfonline.com/) but since we as a people have been cooking in clay vessels since the beginning on cooking, they are available in a variety of sizes, shapes and styles. Please check back later tonight to see a pic of my dinner, Roast Chicken!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Calorie Extravagance

There are some foods out there that are so decadent, so flavorful, I want to swim in them. Just to taste them is not enough, I want to be surrounded by them. I know that sounds strange, but that is the only way I know how to describe this feeling. You know, something that is warm and gooey, creamy and smooth, so mouthwatering....What luscious dish am I writing of? Potatoes au gratin. Because for me, nothing is better than potatoes and melted cheese. Oh, and beer! I love beer. I would trade sweets for the rest of my life if only I could drink beer sans the beer belly.

Moving on: potatoes au gratin. Everyone has his own recipes and dos and don'ts. Aren't Chefs bossy? I will share this recipe and hope that you find it as sinful as I do. One recipe will serve 4-6 people, but I think after one whiff of this baking, you won't want to share! And while I would love to take credit for it, I cannot, for what follows is a variation of a recipe written by Patricia Wells in her book, Bistro Cooking.

Please do not substitute any other kind of Swiss cheese, it needs to be Gruyere. Also the recipe calls for creme fraiche, but you can use heavy whipping cream instead. Because this is a very rich dish I like to serve it with grilled or roasted asparagus, because it's strong flavor can stand up to the intense cheese. Or if you are a fan of broccoli rabe, saute it in olive oil with garlic red pepper flakes and sweet peas. (The peas help balance the bitterness of the broccoli rabe.) And a steak, perhaps a filet or New York strip, would be the greatest pairing- lamb may be too rich and the delicate flavor of chicken may get lost. But what the hell? I don't know your palate. Do what you want to do, eat what ever you wish, just make sure to enjoy every bite.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Take one garlic clove and smoosh it with your thumb along every surface of a gratin pan. As you rub, the clove will break up and I like to scatter them evenly around the pan. Grate 1/2 a pound (about 3 cups) Gruyere cheese and put aside. Spoon creme fraiche in a mixing bowl and stir in enough heavy cream to make the creme fraiche just pourable. Wash and peel 2 pounds of russet potatoes and plop in a bowl of cold water. Using a mandolin slicer (other recipes say you can cut them by hand, yeah, no. You most likely don't have a knife sharp enough and using a mandolin makes slicing the potatoes super fast and efficient. I recommend investing in one) slice each potato into 1/8 inch thick slices. Now you could put them back into your bowl of water, OR you could work quickly and utilize the natural potato starches to thicken your gratin, and place them overlapping in the gratin dish. Sprinkle with a 1/3 of the cheese, pour in 1/3 of the creme fraiche mix and freshly ground pepper. Layer this two more times and pop in the oven. Notice after only a few minutes the aroma filling the air? Cook, uncovered, until a toothpick or cake taster slides in smoothly, about 50-60 minutes. The cheese will be crusty brown on top, and the sides will have cheese grease bubbling up. I know, the first thing you want to do is taste it! But that would be bad because you would burn the roof of your mouth and most of your taste buds. Then you wouldn't be able to enjoy the wickedness of your potatoes au gratin. Let the dish sit for a few minutes for the flavors to intertwine, let the cheese cool and set. When you do finally put that first spoonful in your mouth it will be..... hmmm, I think I will let you finish that sentence.