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Monthly Archives: January 2012

Dread the Pot Roast!

Dread the Pot Roast!

Dread the Pot Roast…..

It’s Sunday night.  Grandma has been cooking that hunk of beef in the crock pot since before the break of dawn.  Serving time.  Stringy, dry, dead and flavorless meat with flaccid gravy and mushy chunks of potatoes, carrots and onions.  You fight through with a smile for sweet Grandma, and promise yourself that you would never do something so horrid to your own kids.  That’s right folks.  It’s pot roast.  That maligned and mistreated, often misunderstood bit of Classic American Cuisine…

Or is it?  Before we go into what can go VERY right, let’s look at what went wrong with Grandma’s roast.

Cooking Time…  The Pot Roast that many of us grew up with is commonly known as Yankee Pot Roast.  Braised in beef broth with the same traditional aromatic vegetables, Grandma cooked it in that ever present and forever stained crock pot for hours and hours and hours and hours.  Well, that’s just too many hours!  Even the cheapest and toughest cuts of beef, commonly used in pot roast, such as Chuck Steaks or Chuck Roast cannot stand up to that kind of cook time.  While they are handy, the old school crock pots tended to cook at higher temps than expected, which caused either scorching, or over cooking of your final product.

Cooking Medium…  Beef broth.  More than likely, Grandma had a can of Swanson’s Beef Broth for the braising liquid.  Just how much flavor can that bring to the party?  Beef on beef love may sound like good cow porn, but for braising?  You need MORE FLAVOR!  Borrow from the French on this one man.  Beef Bourguignon is a classic dish.  Use Red Wine for a braising liquid!  No red wine, and not into the French thing?  Try something All American for your braising liquid.  Sam Addams Boston Lager makes a FANTASTIC braising liquid.  The hops and natural spicy tones of the beer are a fantastic flavor note.

The Veggies…  Pretty simple stuff here folks.  If you cook a vegetable for that long, you have cooked the flavor, and all of the fibers into mush.  If you insist of keeping those veggies, blend them into the sauce.  It can make a nice option for a thick sauce if you are gluten free.

The Method…  Let’s talk about that word that has been thrown around this article a few times now.  Braise.  What is braising?  Braising is a traditional cooking method that combines two cooking techniques.  Searing, which is the high heat cooking of the outside of the product in fat, and slow cooking of the product in a flavorful liquid?  As mentioned before, the tougher the meat, the better the result.  Tough cuts of beef and pork can stand up very well to the long term cooking, and the slow moist heat breaks down the connective tissues to make the meat juicy and the cooking liquids richer.  Braising differs from stewing in the amount of liquid that is used.  Stewed meat is cooked more soup style and in smaller pieces.  Braised meats are whole cuts, or larger cuts of the tougher parts of the animal.  The usual suspects?  On the cow, you have areas in the leg and chest.  Chuck, shoulder and round.  Why?  The muscles around the legs and chest of the cow, and for that matter, the pig, the lamb, and anything that you cook with legs, tends to be tough.  Why again?  Collagen.  That same stuff you hear about in high end cosmetics is what makes your meat tough, and your stocks and sauces made from that stock rich and meaty.  The weight bearing muscles of your cooking buddy contains more moving muscles, and therefore more connective tissue that moves those muscles.  Those connective tissues are made of collagen.  Collagen is a long, stiff protein that is the most prevalent protein in your cooking buddy.. It’s something like the way fibers are twisted around each other to form a rope.  That structure is what gives it its strength.  The low and slow braise slowly breaks down that collagen and converts it to that soft and supple meat friend, gelatin.  Yes, one and the same.  Gelatin.  Ever wonder why your vegan friends don’t enjoy that Jell-O for dessert?

Now that you know the long and the short of the method and how to make it a success.  Let’s go over dinner.

Mise en Place.  Again with that word.  Very repetitive theme in culinary man.  Get used to it.  Onions, carrots, celery, bay leaves, rosemary (or thyme) garlic and concasse tomatoes.  Tonight we are rolling with a smaller chuck roast of the boneless variety.  Salt and pepper your meat, and get your Dutch oven or braising vessel of your choice that can be covered, nice and hot over medium high heat on the stove.  When the pan is hot, add about a tablespoon of canola oil and add your meat.  You are trying to sear the meat.  That is adding color and flavor via the Maillard Reaction.

Huh?  What the heck is that you ask?  The Maillard Reaction is the chemical reaction between the amino acids and the reducing sugars in the meat that cause a brown color change and the creation of new chemical compounds on the surface of the meat that dramatically enhance the flavor of the product.

Back to the cooking stuff….  Sear all sides of your meat.  Don’t move it around too much, the longer you have contact with the pan, the better the sear.  Once you are nice and brown on all sides, add your vegetables, coarsely chopped.  You want to get the edges of the veggies browned.  Place your browned meat directly

on top of your aromatic vegetables.  Add the liquid of your choice for braising.  Tonight, we will go with a descent red wine.  Rule of thumb with cooking wine.  If you would not drink it, don’t cook with it.  Do you want crummy flavored wine cooked into your good food?  Don’t drown your meat.  You are braising your meat.  Pour the wine until the liquid is about half way up the side of your meat.  Add your tomatoes concasse and your fresh herbs, cover and throw it in the oven.  I run my oven at 225 degrees.  Low and slow is the right answer.  You are not trying to boil the meat to death.

Why add the tomatoes? The fibers in the meat are added in their breakdown with the addition of a little bit of acid.  You get your acids from the tomatoes, as well as the improved flavor profiles from that illusive savory flavor profile of Umami.  Don’t fret, I will go over that one soon enough.  It’s pretty important stuff, but I am getting long winded tonight.

How long do I cook it?  It depends on the size of the cut of meat.  You don’t want your meat to be dead and grey.  But you want it to be nice and juicy.  Your best bet is to go by temperature AND time.  Your best read is to get your meats internal temperature up to 150.  Past 160 and your meat will turn grey.  Grey is ugly man.  150 is a generalized number though.  If you meat is super tender and is a little under don’t fret, it’s done.

Take your beautiful meat and set it into a nice warm oven covered gently to keep it warm, because now we are making sauce.  Strain out the veggies and get rid of them.  Just like with your stocks, they are dead.  Skim as much fat as you can from the cooking liquid and start to reduce it down.  At this point, I enhance the cooking liquid with a highly reduced beef stock.  That is up to your taste.  Cook it down by at least half in volume.  Taste it.  Remember to always taste your foods.  If your flavors are good, your seasoning is good, etc., don’t go too far with it.  Otherwise keep going.  Remember to keep tasting your sauces!  The more you reduce the more intense the flavor.  If you get to the point that you are happy with the flavor but not the thickness, or richness, it’s time to bring out Captain Corn Starch!

Make a slurry of cold beef stock and an equal part corn starch.  Mix well.  Lumps in your slurry will be lumps in your sauce.  Keep your sauce hot.  Bring it back to a simmer, not a boil.  Slowly add in to the sauce whisking it in as you go.  Bring your heat back up and to a low boil.  The starch does not start to thicken your sauces until you reach boiling temperatures.  Continue this process until you get the thickness that you desire and the sauce does not have a starchy flavor to it.

You are now good to go!  Slice it, sauce it, serve it and enjoy it!  You have now saved your kids and family from that dreaded dead and grey meat and have made the humble pot roast something to be enjoyed!

 
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Posted by on January 30, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Culinary 101 – Sauces – Sauce Tomate

Culinary 101 – Sauces – Sauce Tomate

Tonight we will go over the next on the complexity scale of the Escoffier Mother Sauces, Sauce Tomate, or Tomato Sauce.  The yield of this sauce will be 1 quart.  A good manageable amount.

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Mise en place.  Buy now, you should be getting used to this word….

  • 1 quart of Tomato concasse( don’t worry, it will explain)
  • 1 pint of canned tomato puree
  • 2 ounces of yellow or white onion, diced
  • 2 ounces of carrots diced
  • 1 ounce of either salt pork or bacon
  • 1 small ham bone
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1 stem of fresh thyme
  • 1 stem of fresh rosemary
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ¼ teaspoon of crushed black peppercorns
  • Salt to taste
  • White sugar to taste

Equipment:

  • Heavy bottom sauce pot
  • Either a food mill or bur mixer
  • Cheese cloth.

Ladies and gentlemen, I have done something on this blog tonight that I have not done before.  I have posted an actual RECIPE!  Why?  This is a very straight forward, but highly useable everyday sauce.  If you are willing to make this on a weekly basis, there is no reason to keep the little baby cans of processed tomato product in your pantry.  This is SO much better than that “stuff.”  Now, don’t be mistaken.  This is not the sauce your Italian MaMa puts on your pasta.  This is base stuff.  Use this in place of your cans.

Now for the how to.

Render the salt pork or bacon.  Huh?  Render?  Okay.  That means.  Cut it into small pieces.  Put it in your sauce pot, and cook it on medium heat until the fat is melted off.  You DO NOT WANT TO BROWN YOUR BACON.  Sorry, did not mean to yell.  But you are not looking for smoked bacon flavor.  You just want the fat.  Take the cooked bits out.

Add your onions and carrots and sauté until slightly softened, do not brown.

Build a sachet with your herbs.  Again with the culinary words huh?  Okay.  A sachet is a pouch made from cheese cloth that herbs are tied into to infuse flavors into sauce, without having to dig out sprigs and twigs later on.  What goes into your sachet?  Everything on your recipe list from garlic on down.  Take a 4 or 5 inch square of your cheese cloth.  Put everything in the middle.  Gather the corners, and tie off the top.  Drop it in.

Add your tomato concasse, juices, and tomato puree.  Now for the tomato concasse.  Big word for an easy concept.  Tomato concasse is nothing more than tomatoes that have been peeled and de-seeded.  Ummmmmm…  How do I peel a tomato you ask?

For the volume that we are looking at, 4 cups or 1 quart, you will need 2 pounds of roma tomatoes.  Why?  They have a good flavor, and they tend to be cheaper than their hot house counterparts.

Put the little buggers on the stem side down, and cut an X into the bottom of each of them.  In a large sauce pot, bring 1 gallon of salted water to a boil.  In a separate stock pot, build 1 gallon of ice water.

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When all of the tomatoes have been “X’ed” and the water is boiling, float enough on the top of the water to just cover the surface.  Count to 30.  (30 seconds by the way)  Scoop them out and drop them in your ice water bath.  Leave them in the ice water for as long as needed.  Rinse and repeat.  When they are all

done, you will notice that the skin of the tomatoes will easily peel off from the point that you cut the X.  Cut them in half and scoop out the seeds.  Rough chop what is left.  That is tomato concasse.  Why go through all of this?  Because you don’t want skins or seeds in your sauce, and it is much easier to address this now, than to go through the pain in the rear of having to back out and clean out your food mill, or pull skins out of your burr mixer.

Now that you have added your concasse, add your section of ham bone.  Visit your local butcher if you do not have one from your previous Easter dinner stuck in the freezer.  Oh, if I have not mentioned it before, DO NOT THROW AWAY BONES.  They are cooking greatness.  Exception?  Cooked chicken or fish.  Way to tedious to deal with.  Steak bones, ham bones, pork bones?  Save ‘em and freeze them.  Then refer back to the article on stocks.

Now that we have gone through ALL of that.  Cook your sauce on low heat for 1 to 2 hours.  Low heat, because tomatoes will scorch VERY quickly.  After your 2 hours, your sauce should be reduced down to a nice consistency.  Pull out the bones, and sachet.  Get your handy burr mixer ready to go, and give it a buzz.  You should have a nice thick tomato sauce.  Salt and sugar to taste.  Always taste and season your food!!!

Lessons for today?  Don’t be scared of funny sounding French words.  They are really simple if you get down to the brass tacks of it.

On a side note.  If you are NOT in the mood to concasse tomatoes, you can substitute canned diced tomatoes.  You may have a few seeds and skins to contend with, but this will work if you don’t have the time or patience.

 
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Posted by on January 27, 2012 in Culinary 101

 

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Everybody Loves Pizza!!

Everybody loves Pizza!

Why bother buying the frozen hockey pucks, be they “self-rising” or not.  Why would you order a grease laden card board ring with “cheese”, or some other strange melted substance?  Do you REALLY want to know just how bad a slice of delivery pizza really is?  Why not make your own?  Venture forth my friends in that dark and frightening world of the bake shop.  Tonight, we bake.  TONIGHT WE MAKE PIZZA!!!!

Every good pizza starts with a strong foundation.  Crust.  Yummy, chewy, crispy crust.  This is where people usually turn and run.  YEAST!  I CANNOT MAKE YEAST BREAD!!!  IT’S TOO HARD!!!!  No.  It’s really not that bad folks.  Pizza dough is one of the easiest yeast breads, and yes, it is bread, you can make.  Let start with the basics.

Culinary Technique time!  Straight Dough Method.  Pizza dough, and its close cousin, Italian bread, are made using the straight dough method.  What does that mean?  Real easy.  Take your ingredients.  Put them in your mixer.  Turn it on.  You have a straight dough.  Minor details…  Mix your yeast with your flour.  Get your water to about 105 degrees.  Put the flour in first.  Put in everything else.  Now you know the most basic of dough types.

Mise en place.  Remember mise en place?  Everything in its place?  Basics.  Mixer, scale, pizza peel, pizza cutter, pizza stone, corn meal, bread flour, yeast, malt syrup, olive oil, salt, water.  Why do I need a scale you ask?  Grab 2 measuring cups.  Grab your flour.  Grab your scale.  Scoop 1 cup of flour and set it aside.  Scoop another and tap it down a little.  Now top it off.  Both look the same.  When you weigh one scoop, it may weigh 4 ounces and the other 6 ounces.  2 ounces of flour makes a big difference!  Baking is a science.  Even a small variation in the level of ingredients can change the texture of the recipe completely.  If you see a professional cook book, the ingredients are almost always listed in ounces or grams, including eggs, water, etc.

Now.  Grab your scale and the bowl for your mixer.  For accuracy, switch to grams.  Weigh out 1lb 12oz of bread flour (750 g), add in ¾ oz. yeast (20 g), stir together well, weigh in ½ oz. salt (15 g), .13 oz. malt syrup (4 g) and 1 lb. 1 oz. warm water (460 g), ¼ oz. of olive oil (8 g).  Turn your mixer on to the medium setting with the dough hook.  Don’t know what that is?  It looks like the accessory from that famous book with the pirate, and the flying kids.  You know which one I am talking about.  This step will take about 3 to 4 minutes for the dough to develop into a nice homogenous mass that pulls away from the sides of the bowl.

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Culinary talk time for a second here.  I ran out some ingredients that you may or may not have heard of before.  Fear not.  They are not difficult to deal with.  First we said BREAD flour.  Bread flour is higher gluten flour milled from hard wheat that has up to 13% protein versus All Purpose flour which is milled from softer wheat and contains up to 11% protein.  Why is protein important?  The proteins that we are talking about is a combination of gliadin and glutenin.  When you mix them with water and agitate them, they will de-nature, and form the substance gluten.  Gluten is what makes breads and pizza dough chewy, and gives a crisper crust.  You CAN use all-purpose flour for your breads and pizza dough, but you will not have quite the same result.  It will not have the same chewy texture you expect when you get good pizza dough.  You cannot however use bread flour in all areas that you use all-purpose.  Try making a cake or a cookie with bread flour and it will be tough and chewy, instead of soft and fluffy.

Now, the second item.  Malt Syrup.  Huh?  Sounds like something from a soda fountain.  Well, you are not too far off.  Malt syrup is also called Malted Barley extract.  While they are made from the same product, malted barley, they are not quite the same thing.  Malt syrup has a distinct flavor and not as sweet as white sugar.  It is used in yeast breads as food for those same yeasts.  You can usually get it from your local grocery purveyor.  If you cannot find it there, check at specialty markets like Central Market or Whole Foods.

Now you move to the kneading phase.  No, you are not going to take it out of the mixer and had kneed it.  Turn the mixer up a level.  Let it run for at least 10 minutes. Watch out. The dough is thick and can cause your mixer to jump around a bit.  After your 10 minutes, grab a little bit of dough, a little smaller than a golf ball.  Roll it into a ball and stretch it out.  Keep stretching it until it gets thin enough to see light through it.  If it tears before it gets to that point, you have not developed enough gluten and you need to keep running the mixer for a few minutes.  This is known in the baking side of the kitchen as window paning.

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Once you get your proper gluten level, take your dough out of the mixer and pull it into a ball, stretching it to a point on the bottom.  Take the ball with the gathered point at the bottom, and roll it in your hands to tighten the skin of the dough ball more.  Doing this will make a nice skin for the dough later on.  Put a drop of olive oil in your bowl, and drop the dough in.  Cover it with a damp towel and set it aside for about an hour to an hour and a half, until the dough doubles in size.

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While your dough is in the rise phase, you can start gathering your toppings.  Traditional cheese is mozzarella, but you can change things up and mix in other Italian cheeses like fontina, romano, parmesan, or asiago.  This is your pizza.  Pick your passion.

Sauce.  Hmmmm.. You could go with the jar.  It’s easy.  You can also take a few minutes to make a simple sauce of your home made Sauce Tomate (coming tomorrow) or plain tomato sauce, mixed with salt, pepper, olive oil and garlic with a touch of rosemary and you will have a spicy sauce with a nice little kick.

Now, back to the dough.  You will have enough dough to make four, twelve inch pizzas.  Cut the dough into quarters, and treat them like you did the big dough ball.  Rotate them between your hands with the pucker side down and tighten the ball up.  Let them sit for 10 to 15 minutes to allow them to relax.

While you let your dough balls relax, fire up your oven.  If you happen to have an old school dial oven with a cleaner setting like this one, you can really crank it up.  The hotter you can get your oven the better.  Turn the oven to bake and crank the dial as far as you can and still have the oven heating.  The hotter you get it, the crisper the crust.  Put your pizza stone in the middle rack.  Why use a stone?  Ovens tend to fluctuate up and down between 20 and 30 degrees while they cycle.  You can still make pizza with a sheet pan, but you will not have the same crust result.  You want that constant and direct heat.  They are not that expensive and are well worth it.

Now that your dough has relaxed, roll it out as thin as you can get it.  Be patient.  If it is bouncing back to much, pick it up and stretch it out.  Put it into your hands and work the circle around, stretching it out as you go along the edges.  Lay it down and finish rolling it out.  Now you dock the dough.  Huh?  What does that mean you ask?  Docking the dough means that you are punching little holes into it to allow steam to escape preventing the middle of the pizza from looking like it has a bad sunburn and blisters.  You can use a fork and punch holes in it, or you can use the specialty dough docker that most average folks would look at like it was a medieval torcher device.  Okay.  Your dough is ready to go.

Grab your pizza peel.  Put a little corn meal on the peel.  This acts as a medium that keeps the dough from sticking to the peel.  Top as you please.  Cook until it the cheese is bubbly and the crust is just turning brown.

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Eat and Enjoy!

 
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Posted by on January 27, 2012 in Menu Items

 

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Culinary 101 – Stocks and Sauces – Bechamel and Veloute

Culinary 101 – Stocks and Sauces – Bechamel and Veloute

Culinary 101.

Okay.  So it was one of those days.  Nothing fancy on the menu tonight.  It’s hockey night.  Kids in the door, chow down hard and fast, and out the door.  What did they chug down?  I did make Sourdough Ham and Cheese Panini’s tonight.  I digress.  Nothing spectacular on the menu, so we will start to cover some of the basics.

I want to go to the more “fun stuff” of sauces, but ya gotta start with the bare bones.  Literally.  Stock.  Particularly, chicken and beef/ veal stock.  Without those two most basic liquids of the culinary gods, you cannot build any sauces, or for the most part, not do too much of anything.

Let’s go easy first.  Chicken stock.  Simple stuff really.  Chicken, water, a mix of veggies and herbs, and time.  I do chicken stock at home as a dual purpose thing.  I get cooked chicken, and I get a nice flavorful and rich stock.  Since your average home kitchen cannot come up with a 40 pound case of chicken carcasses, we will get ourselves a bag of chicken leg quarters.  You can usually get a 5 or 10 pound bag of random sized chicken leg quarters for a really cheap price.  The traditional method calls for just the bones.  Since you are using meat on the bone chicken, you will do this in steps.

Put the chicken in a cold empty stock pot.  The biggest you have.  If you are using all 5 pounds of the chicken, you will need two large yellow onions, 2 large carrots and 1 head of celery.  Cut your veggies.  You don’t have to be fancy.  Peel the onions and cut into quarters.  Cut the carrots into about 4 pieces, you don’t have to peel them. Cut the celery into about 4 or 5 cuts.  Use the root and leaves.  Next get 4 or 5 stems of fresh thyme, bay leaves and parsley.  Put everything in the pot.  Fill the pot until you have covered your chicken and vegetables.  Now cook it.  Low and slow.  Bring your pot to a simmer and cover it.  Cook it about 35 to 45 minutes.  Come back and check to make sure the chicken is fully cooked.  Now for the hot stuff.  Wear a couple of pairs of latex gloves to help shield your fingers.  Pull the chicken from the pot and pull the skin off, put the skin back in the pot.  Pull the meat off the bones.  Put the bones back in the pot.

Now we cook some more.  Cover the pot and leave it overnight.  You want to be able to pull the bones out of the water and have them be soft and easily breakable in your hands.  Why you might ask?  You are cooking the connective tissue and collagen from the bones and joints.  What is collagen you might ask?  Collagen is the protein that is contained in the bones and the connective tissues that binds everything together.  When you slow cook the bones and connective tissues, you denature the proteins and allow them to permeate your stock.  This gives it a nice rich texture and body.  Now you have chicken stock mixed with bones and used veggies.  Strain the whole thing in your finest strainer, and refrigerate your stock.  Throw the rest away.  No use for it anymore, you cooked all the good stuff into the stock.  After the stock as sat overnight, the fat that was cooked out will have congealed at the top.  Put it aside.  You can cook with it.  Cook with and enjoy your chicken stock.

Now for the more complicated variety.  Brown stock.  For this you will need bones.  Beef or veal leg bones are your best bet.  You can ask your local butcher shop to hold bones aside for you, they are usually happy to do so.

You will need the same pot as with your chicken stock.  Your same vegetables prepared the same way.  Here is the big difference.  You are going to “precook” them all.  Get a couple of sheet pans and layer them on to cover.  Put your veggies on top of the bones.  Now you are gonna roast them.  Put them into your oven at 300 and bake them.  It’s gonna take some time.  If you can stand it, 5 to 6 hours.  You are trying to brown and develop flavor in the bones.  Your veggies will take color too.  This is a good thing.  If your veggies start to look too far gone pull them out and set them aside.

Now we proceed as with the chicken stock.  Same herbs, same water.  No issues with pulling meat this time.  But, this takes more time too.  You are cooking some pretty heavy duty bones.  When the color is cooked out of the bones and the stock is dark and rich, you are done.  Roll the same procedures as with the chicken stock, except you can still cook the bones one more time for a white beef or veal stock.

Guess what.  You have large volumes of liquid to store.  That can be a pain in the butt to deal with.   There is a solution to that too.  Cook it down more.  Figure out how much you have to start with.  You will need to know what your ratios are to make it stock again.  Cook it down, uncovered until you can fit it into the container of your choice.  Note your final volume so you can reconstitute your super concentrated and reduced stock or Glaze back to regular strength.  You can use or freeze at your leisure.

What is next?  The fastest stuff you can cook.  Fish stock, or fish fumet.  Caution.  Your house will smell like a fish shop for a few days after you cook it.  You will need the same basic stuff.  You need bones.  Ask your fish monger at either your local grocery or your favorite fish shop.  If they filet their own fish, you can get the bones.  They will give them to you.  My favorite bone for fish stock is halibut.  Why?  Tends to be a bigger fish, more girth to the bones, and allows a slightly longer cook.  You need the same veggies.  Cut them a bit finer this time, you are not cooking it as long.  Use the same herbs, parsley, bay and thyme.  The difference is using 1 half a lemon and about half an ounce of peppercorns.  Bring to a simmer and cook for 45 minutes to an hour.  If you do use halibut, you can cook it for up to 2 hours.

Part deux.  Roux.  Pronounced roo.  Simple stuff really, flour and butter.  It’s all a matter of color.  Use equal parts of each.  If you use 1 tablespoon of butter, use 1 tablespoon of flour.  Roux is the thickener of choice for the vast majority of professional chefs.  You go into any kitchen you will find a big batch of roux sitting on a shelf or in the cooler.  Start with the butter.  Over medium heat, melt your butter.  Keep it cooking until the bubbling has stopped.  Why?  You are cooking the water out of your butter.  American butter, by law, must contain at least 80% butter fat.  So considering the 1 or 2 percentage that is butter solids, that leaves 18% on average water.  When you mix flour and water, you get glue.  You don’t want glue in your roux.  Hey.  That rhymes!  Okay.  Now for the roux.  When the bubbling is done add your flour to the pan.  Start whisking.  Keep whisking.  You are coating the individual flour granules with the butter fats.  Keep the roux cooking at a low and slow pace.  You will start to see it change colors.  This is good.  You are developing flavor.

There are 3 plus 1 basic colors of roux.

  • White
  • Blonde
  • Brown
  • And plus 1 for our Cajun friends, Black

White roux is the “youngest” of your roux.  Cook it just long enough to cook the raw flour flavor out of it.  Blonde roux is just that.  Cook it until it just takes on a nice straw like color.  Brown roux is the next step.  Cook it until it is light brown.  Each roux will have a distinct nutty aroma.  The longer the cook, the more potent the aroma.  Last but not least is Black roux.  Cajun stuff.  Brown roux cooked until it is just on the right side of not being burned.  This is a major flavor and thickening component in the classic Cajun dish, Gumbo.  Mmmmmmmm  gummmmboooo…..  Sorry. Homer Simpson moment there….

You have your roux.  You have your stock.  Now we can make sauces.

What did the ol’ culinary instructors beat into the impressionable minds of the lowly first year culinary students?  Sauces.  Not just any sauces, but the “Mother Sauces.”  What are the Mother Sauces?  They are the base for any and everything in French cuisine.  Established by Georges Auguste Escoffier, the grand-father of the modern French cuisine, the mother sauces consist of the following:

  • Sauce Veloute
  • Sauce Bechamel
  • Sauce Espagnole
  • Sauce Tomate
  • Sauce Hollandaise

From these sauces, there are as many varieties of small sauces as there are chefs that cook them.  Since I have droned on for a while now, we will look at two of our five sauces today.

Sauce Veloute is the most basic of the 5 sauces.  It’s simple stuff.  Roux and stock.  Use the blonde roux that you have stashed aside.  For every 8 ounces of blonde roux, use 2 ½ quarts of your reserved chicken, fish or white veal stock.  Heat your roux over a medium pan, then gradually whisk in your stock.  Increase the heat to bring the mixture to a boil.  After it does boil, the traditional recipe call for reducing the heat to a low simmer and cooking for an hour, adding stock as needed to get your consistency.  When you are done cooking, strain it through your finest strainer.  This sauce is not traditionally seasoned, as it is almost always an ingredient in another recipe.

Sauce Bechamel is the second level technical stuff sauce that the home cook can make.  You want to make or use your reserved white roux.  Instead of using stock, you will be using milk.  The roux part was easy.  To make your sauce you will need a small white or yellow onion, 1 or 2 whole cloves and a bay leaf.  For every 8 ounces of roux, you will need a half gallon of milk.  Set your ratios from there.  You will want to scald the milk.  That means you are going to put it in a pot and boil it.  After it boils, turn it off and let it cool a bit.  Into your nice hot white roux, you are going to gradually whisk in your hot milk.  Be careful.  It will steam and spatter if you have your pan too hot.  Now that your milk is incorporated, you will add your onion, clove and bay leaf.  Cook your sauce for up to 30 minutes to impart the flavor from the onion and spices.  Strain it well, and season it with a pinch of salt and a little bit of fresh nutmeg and white pepper.  For my southern readers, this may sound like your traditional old fashioned white gravy.  You are right.  That is pretty much what it is..

Okay.  What do you do with these sauces?

Veloute:

  • Stir in mushrooms while cooking, strain it and finish with a little chopped parsley and lemon juice to taste and you have Sauce Poulette
  • Add a little tomato puree and you have Sauce Aurora
  • Sweat some white onions with paprika and reduced white wine, stir in your veloute and you have Sauce Hungarian

The options keep going from there….

Bechamel:

  • Finish your sauce with tempered heavy cream and you have Cream Sauce
  • Stir in Gruyere and parmesan until just melted and finish with a little butter and thin as needed with a little milk and you have Sauce Mornay
  • Stir in cheddar cheese, dry mustard and a splash of Worcestershire and you have cheddar cheese sauce

Again, the variations are as varied as the chefs that cook it.

Get creative with your sauces!  And remember as always.  Taste what you cook!

 
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Posted by on January 25, 2012 in Culinary 101

 

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Asian Sesame Ginger Chicken Salad

Asian Sesame Ginger Chicken Salad

Today’s subject will be a healthier version of an Asian Sesame Ginger Chicken Salad that I introduced to the menu at Maudee’s Café and English Tea room as a special.  It was such a hit, that it has stayed on as a very popular item ever since.

Okay folks.  Salad.  Salad you say?  That’s easy stuff!  Just open the bottle and dump away right?  Sure.  Processed goo from a bottle and bland greens are GREAT.

(sarcasm)yum.  i can feel my enthusiasm for that one.  yeah (/sarcasm)

Salad can be done well.  Salad can be more than just the flavorless and dead to the world iceberg lettuce and goopy bottled “ranch dressing”.  Salad can be Goo…   ooooohhh…  Don’t want to get in trouble for any trademark infringement.  Salad can be good stuff man.

Let’s do some technique talk first.  Okay.  First principal in a professional kitchen is mise en place.  French stuff.  It is not mice in place.  You want to know how to pronounce it before you know what it is.  Meeze on platz.  That is really what it sounds like.  What does it mean?  Literally translated is means putting in place.  In the culinary world it means that everything is in its place.  You have your prep done.  Your protein is out and thawed.  Your greens are out, washed and prepped.  You have all of your spices, oils, vinegars, everything you will need, in your work area, including tools.  This will prevent spinning.  Spinning is what you do when you are running from fridge to pantry to counter to pantry to counter to cupboard to fridge and back again.  While it’s great for exercise, it sucks for cooking.

Next?  Emulsion.  Your salad dressing today will be an emulsion.  There is an old saying.  “They get along like oil and water.”  Why?  Remember in elementary school science?  They don’t mix.  You can shake it as much and as hard as you want, but it’s just not gonna happen.  Again see the exercise part…  Well, ladies and gentlemen, with a little culinary science, you will make the impossible happen.  You will make oil and vinegar (water) mix!  You will need what is called an emulsifier.  Common emulsifiers in the culinary world include:

  • Egg yolk (in which the main emulsifying agent is lecithin)
  • honey
  • mustard (where a variety of chemicals in the mucilage surrounding the seed hull act as emulsifiers)
  • Proteins and low-molecular-weight emulsifiers are common as well
  • Soy lecithin is another emulsifier and thickener

Today we will be using mustard powder.  Why?  It’s readily available and ads a nice flavor to your salad dressings.  We will also be borrowing a page from our friends in the fabulous world of molecular gastronomy by stabilizing our emulsion with Xanthan Gum.  Sounds exotic and hard to find huh?  Try Whole Foods.  They have it in their baking area.  Cool stuff.  Commonly used as a food thickener.  I have used it to add body to soups, and stabilize emulsions.  Xanthan gum is a polysaccharide, or complex sugar that is a bi-product of the fermentation of glucose, sucrose or lactose with Xanthomonas campestris bacterium.  Sounds scary?  Not to different from making beer.  Ah fermentation.

Let’s get to it.  We will be making a Sesame Ginger Dressing that we will serve on our Asian Chicken Salad.  We need the ginger part.  Don’t bother with the dry stuff in a jar.  Use fresh.  You will look at this funny looking little thing and pull out a knife or peeler right?  Nope.  You will be wasting that wonderful fragrant material.  Use a spoon.  The skin on ginger is soft.  Scrape the edge of the spoon along the ginger.  You will be amazed at how easy it is to peel.  Slice it up and end to the blender.

Since we are looking at low cal/ Weight Watchers friendly foods, we will be substituting Splenda for the normal white sugar.  Roll with less than a ¼ cup, instead of the normal ¼ cup of sugar.  Regardless of what they say, Splenda is still sweeter than sugar.  Next pour in your ½ cup of rice wine vinegar.  Now for the emulsifiers.  You don’t need much, we are not making gallons.  We are making cups.   Add and eight of a teaspoon of your mustard powder, and about half that amount again of your Xanthan gum.  Got it all in the blender?  Don’t forget to put the top on.  Messy otherwise, trust me.  Spin it on high until you don’t hear the clunk, clunk of the ginger swirling around the blades.  Now that you are done with that, you will need to make the emulsification part.

Oil.  Toasted sesame oil to be specific.  Lots of flavor.  Too much if you are not careful.  I cut it.  You need ½ a cup of oil.  I go for a bit more than a quarter cup of toasted sesame to the balance of the half cup of canola oil.  Drizzle it slowly into the still spinning dressing.  When it’s all in, taste it.  Always taste your food man.  Season with a little salt if you think you need it.  Pinch at the most.  Bottle it, zip lock it, whatever, it’s done.  Set it aside.

Flavor complements.  Oranges and onions.  We are making Supremes of orange.  Ever wonder how they peel all those orange segments?  You are gonna learn.  Why?  Do you want orange membranes stuck in your teeth?  It’s easier than you think.  Use a very sharp knife.  Cut the top and bottom of the orange, you know the part with the belly button and the other side…  Set the orange on your cutting board.  Cut sections of the peel off, just past the pith, or the nasty bitter part that is under the skin.  All you want is the bright and juicy meaty pulp of the orange visible.

Look close.  You can see the membranes of the orange.  Take that same nice sharp knife and cut out each segment.  Be careful.  Remember that you have a sharp knife in your hand you are cutting toward your own hand.  Take your time.  You will need two oranges worth of Supremes.

Now for the onions.  Use red ones.  Much less “hot” than their yellow or white cousins, and they just look nicer on the plate.  Peel it, cut it in half and super thin slice what you want.  Up to you how much you use.

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Time for the Chicken part of the Asian Chicken Salad.  Easy stuff.  Lay out your chicken breasts flat.  Take your sharpest knife and cut through the middle like you would be butterflying it.  Just keep going.  It may take practice if you are not used to it, but you need to cut it so it will cook quickly and evenly.  Season it with salt and pepper.  Hit each side with a little pan release spray, and set aside to wait for your pan to get nice and hot.

Sauté on each side until the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees.  You want to kill those potential nasty pathogens like salmonella.  Nothing worse than a nice week long case of the praying to the porcelain god to convince you to cook your chicken.  Want it to move quicker?  Use steam.  After you get good color on both sides of the breast and you temp it at 100 degrees, add a splash of water to the pan and cover.  When the water is evaporated, temp it again.  You will be close to your 165 pretty quick that way.  Using steam in a covered pan will allow 100% coverage of your food product to 212 degree heat.   Try sticking your hand into a 500 degree oven.  Kinda warm, but not gonna burn you for a while.  Try putting your hand over a steaming tea pot?  Quick burns, and bad ones.  Steam is a super-efficient conductor of heat.  More science, I know.  And you thought you were just making a simple little salad huh?  Now, set your chicken aside so we can build our salad.

Put a nice mix of your favorite salad greens into a nice mid-sized mixing bowl.  Add your amount of choice of your sliced red onions, toasted sesame seeds, a pinch of salt, and a pinch of pepper.  Salt and pepper?  Yes.  You ALWAYS season a salad.  ALWAYS.  No exceptions.  ALWAYS.  Use your squeeze bottle and put no more than about 1 teaspoon of dressing on your greens.  Wash your hands.  Why?  They are the best salad mixing tools you own.  Toss your salad…  Taste it.  Remember.  Always taste your food.  If you want more dressing, now is the time to do it.  You are not trying to drown your salad in dressing.  You should not have puddles on your plate when you are done.

Plate in the center, with some height.  Cut your chicken breast and fan across your greens.  Garnish with 6 or seven of the Supremes of orange and sprinkle a little more sesame seed on top, and you have a refreshing, healthy and filling salad that you can be proud of.

 
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Posted by on January 24, 2012 in Menu Items

 

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Pork Piccata with Brown Rice Mushroom Risotto and Garlic Sauteed Spinach

Pork Piccata with Brown Rice Mushroom Risotto and Garlic Sauteed Spinach

Rave reviews from the family! All but the 3 year old, but hey, ya can’t win ’em all right?

Tonight I used a Weight Watchers Pork Piccata recipe and modified it for my needs and tastes.

The pork was quick and easy, just like the traditional piccata. The sauce was defiantly not the butter mounted piccata that I am accustomed to, but it had a nice tart flavor that could pass well for the real thing. As would be expected, the risotto was the long term project. Because of the brown Arborio that I used, the creamy factor was not there, but the texture and bite of the rice was a nice touch.

Now for the down and dirty…

Since it takes a solid hour to cook, let’s start with the Risotto. Slice length wise, two large shallots. Slice 8 oz. each, cremini and button mushrooms. Hit your sauté pan with a spray of pan release, sauté the shallots until they are slightly browned translucent. If the pan is overly dry, put a splash of water in the pan to keep things moving.

After your shallots are as described, add your mushrooms. Sauté the mushrooms. When all the liquid is out of the pan, put a splash of water in the pan to help move the items in the pan. Continue to cook until the majority of the liquid is out of the pan. Set the mushroom and shallot mixture aside.

Do not clean the pan out. The dark stuff in the bottom is nothing but flavor. In the business, we call it fond. It is the foundation for almost all of your pan sauces. Hit the pan again with your pan spray.

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When the pan is good and hot, at medium high heat, toss your two cups of brown Arborio rice into the pan. Stir the rice until it is slightly browned and the edges are translucent. This is part of the traditional preparation of risotto. Normally this is done with either butter or olive oil. While the pan spray version does not develop the same flavors, it does still impart a little extra flavor.

Now we build the big flavor. Use real chicken stock. We will go into the making of chicken stock soon. Using box broth or powdered chicken base just does not add the depth of flavor or richness. Add the stock 1 ladle at a time. As the stock is cooked into the rice, you add more. This is where the time comes in, especially with the brown rice, and its thick hull. This is the rinse and repeat side. You will use up to 6 cups of your stock to make this recipe. Where you differ from the traditional, is about 3/4 of the way through the cook process, cover the pan. You want to eat tonight, and the hull on the brown rice will keep you stirring in stock all night long.

When you rice is to the tenderness that you desire, stir the shallot and mushroom mixture back into the rice, cover, and keep hot on low. If you were to try this with non-brown rice risotto, you would be continuing the cooking process and making wall paper paste. Since you are using brown, it is very forgiving as there is not as near the starch content of its de-hulled cousin.

While you are between doses of stock, it’s time to work on your pork. Slice your pork tenderloin into half inch slices. Place those slices in a zip top bag. This is where my culinary school teachers cringe. Take a nice heavy pan. Smack the meat in the bag a couple times, until it is about 1/4 inch thick. Why not use a meat mallet you ask? Your average grocery store meat hammer is the old school tenderizing hammer with the nasty looking points on it. It looks like a waffle iron you can crack your skull with. What this does to delicate meat is destroy it. You can go out and buy a nice high dollar French, heavy flat mallet, but if you have an iron skillet or omelet pan, why bother?

Now that you have, I will resist the urge to say it. Flattened out your meat. You have what is referred to as scaloppini. Again we diverge from the traditional preparation. Normally you would take your meat, and dredge it in a mixture of flour, salt and pepper. The flour, salt and pepper are still there, but in lower quantities. We are trying to lower the calorie count.

Instead of dredging, you will dust both sides of the meat. This will be an area of change that changes the base and flavor profile of the sauce. Now you set it aside, until you reach the last step on the risotto.

Now we get to some of the technique side. Get your pan hot over medium high heat. When the pan is hot, add your 2 teaspoons of olive oil to the pan and lay 5 to 6 pieces of pork to the pan. Don’t mess with it too much. You want color on the meat. The more you jack with it, the less color your meat will take. Why not heat the oil and the pan at the same time? Because your food will stick to the pan. The old rule of thumb is, hot pan, cold oil, food won’t stick. It does really work.

When both sides of your pork have that golden and delicious look about them, put them into a warm oven to keep hot for service. Because we are going healthy, you will want to remove most of the oil from the pan, but not the fond again. Fond is flavor.

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Looks like a lot of spinach? Not really. By weight its only 10 ounces. For four people, that is all you need. Let is sizzle for a few seconds and then splash a little water in, and toss in some crushed roasted garlic, salt and pepper and set aside to keep it hot for service.

Not so much spinach anymore…..

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Time to build that not so traditional sauce. Clean your pan from the spinach. In a bowl, or measuring cup, mix 1 1/4 cup of your chicken stock and a half cup of fresh lemon juice with 4 teaspoons of corn starch. Yeah, I know this is not the classic piccata sauce, and your Italian grandmother would slap you silly for doing this, but it is a low fat version.

You will bring it to a quick boil in the pan. As the liquid boils, the cornstarch will do its magic and thicken your sauce. Stir in your cappers and cook for a minute to impart flavor, then season with salt, pepper and a splash of sherry. Taste it. Always taste your sauce man.

Before you plate, stir a small handful of chopped chives into your risotto. Plate a half cup in the center of the plate. Fan 3 of your hot pieces of pork and dress with your spinach. Spoon your sauce over the meat and serve.

 
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Posted by on January 24, 2012 in Menu Items

 

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Personal Chef at your service!

Personal Chef at your service!

Are you tired of staring blankly into that refrigerator every night?  Have you had the unfortunate experience of throwing away an entire shopping trip’s worth of produce because you did not have the time to cook it all?  Do you want to be more adventurous in what you eat, but don’t know how to create the strange and cool foods you see on Top Chef or Iron Chef?

Call me:  I am here to help you by making your culinary dream come true.

I am a degreed chef with experience in the smallest to largest of kitchens and I can give you:

  • gourmet meals in your own home
  • exciting and exotic dishes you’ve been dying to try but thought you never could
  • quality time relaxing with your family by letting you escape the kitchen

I will:

  • Meet with you to learn your family’s taste, preferences, allergies, dietary restrictions, etc.  I can work with Gluten Free, Celiac, Diabetic, Atkins, Weight Watchers, and many other dietary programs.  Tell me what you need and I will design a menu within your guidelines.
  • Prepare a weekly menu of dinners that are healthy, fresh, tasty, and diverse
  • Complete all of the grocery shopping for your planned dinners (up to and including picking up your favorite cereal for breakfast!)
  • Prepare all the food, including cutting fresh fruit and veggies for convenient snacking
  • Prepare your planned dinners so all you have to do it throw them in the oven, on the stove, in the crockpot, etc.
  • Clean up before I leave

I can also prepare a weekly batch of muffins, cookies, granola, etc. if you desire.

If you want me to prepare everything in your home, I can do that.  If you’d prefer that I do the cooking in my kitchen and deliver it to you that evening when you get home from work, I can do that, too.

Once per week service is $100, plus the cost of the groceries.

(Groceries must be pre-paid according to the estimate we work up on the day of or the day before I cook for you.  Payment may be in cash or credit and you’ll get the complete receipt along with any change on cook/delivery day.)

 
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Posted by on January 23, 2012 in Uncategorized

 
 
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