Tuesday, August 31

The End of A Much Needed Vacation

Image via IMP Awards

To all of my faithful readers, thank you for inudating me eith emails and comments about the recent lack of posting. I took a much needed vacation, from work, from blogging, and only slightly from cooking. School begins tomorrow, and with that my regular schedule commences. And on that note, here are some posts to look forward to:

New York Restaurant Week: Review of Arabelle at the Hotel Plaza Athenee
Homemade Vegetable Stock: A Healthier Base for Your Fall Soups and Dishes
Is It Possible to be a College Student and a Foodie: A Lesson in Trite Food Writing

...and more!!!

Sunday, August 22

Zucchini-Potato Chips: A Way To Get Your Vegetables and Eat Them, Too

Chips generally are not a good, healthy option. Even when they are made out of a less starchy, more substantive vegetable. But they sure do taste good.

I had the idea for zucchini chips when I realized I had a lot more zucchini than I had time to use it all. And I wanted another method of preparing them that wasn't steaming or sautéing or roasting. They came out well, though a few tweaks would be necessary to make them great. I would like to mention that Mike found them good enough to replace or accompany bread that is served before a meal at a restaurant.  That has yet to be seen...

General method

Slice vegetables very thin, using a knife or mandolin slicer. Place in layers in a colander, cover in salt, and allow to drain for 30 minutes. 

Rinse the vegetables and pat dry. Fill a saucepan with a mix of canola and olive oils, or peanut oil, or any oil with a high smoke point, and heat to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Cook small batches at a time, allow to fry in the oil for about 5 minutes. Drain the vegetables in a colander or bowl lined with paper towels, sprinkle with sea salt and serve. 

My tiny kitchen. 

Potatoes and zucchini frying on the stove top. 

Chips draining in a paper towel-lined bowl. 

Friday, August 20

The Professional Chef Series: Part One, Chapter One - Introduction to the Profession

My eyes glazed over as I opened the cover, revealing over a thousand of some of the most inspired knowledge of cooking and classical techniques. Despite my anticipation, I wanted to crawl over this text, moving slowly from paragraph to paragraph so I could soak in the full breadth of the information that existed on each page. And upon opening it, I began with the introduction.

Part one of this book is called "The Culinary Professional." It is meant to introduce the culinary profession as well as the concept of menus and recipes, nutrition and food science basics, as well as explain the importance of food and kitchen safety. Given the rise and popularity of food television, the exponential growth of recipe websites, use of techniques such as sous vide and other molecular gastronomic methods, and massive recalls of eggs and other food stuff across the United States, none of these topics are unimportant. Without a mastery of this information, there is no precedent for a mastery of cooking.

And so I'm toiling in the most boring topics in the book. Though, not without an end, as I plan to provide an overview, and my own reactions, to each section, warranted or not.

Introduction to the Profession

The culinary industry is constantly changing, developing, and that means that you must be flexible and spontaneous, willing to communicate and share with others to keep your work contemporary and constantly evolving. Moreover, there is a degree to which your job will be that of an executive, developing a mission for your organization, and that of an administrator, who implements and tracks that overall goal.

There is a third role that must be played, that of a manager. This job must be handed in four regards: managing physical assets of the business; managing information resources, including media and technology, trends, restaurants and menus; managing human resources, so that you provide an environment in which employees have the capacity to make contributions to the business; and managing time, so as prioritize and accomplish tasks.

There are many career opportunities and all offer a number of interesting and creative challenges for a chef. These settings include hotels, full-service restaurants, private clubsexecutive dining rooms of corporations, institutional catering, caterers, and home meal replacement. Newer, less traditional opportunities, have also begun to arise, many which don't involve the production or service of food. These include food and beverage managers, consultants and design specialists, well-informed salespeople, teachers, food writers and critics, food stylists and photographers, and research-and-development kitchens.

Lastly, this first section includes a list of the kitchen brigade system, as outlined by Escoffier as a solution to the chaos that ensued when workers lacked clearly-defined responsibilities. The positions in a classic brigade are as follows:

  • Chef/Chef de Cuisine/Executive Chef
  • Saute Chef (Saucier)
  • Fish Chef (Poissonier)
  • Roast Chef (Rotisseur)
  • Grill Chef (Grillardin)
  • Fry Chef (Friturier)
  • Vegetable Chef (Entremetier)
  • Roundsman (Tournant)
  • Cold-Foods Chef (Garde-Manger)
  • Butcher (Boucher)
  • Pastry Chef (Patissier)
    • Confiseur (candies, petits fours)
    • Boulanger (Baker)
    • Glacier (frozen and cold desserts)
    • Decorateur (show pieces and special cakes)
  • Expediter/Announcer (Aboyeur)
  • Communard
  • Commis/Apprentice
A list of the dining room brigade was also included and is as follows:
  • Maitre d'hotel (Dining Room Manager)
  • Wine Steward (Chef de Vin, Sommelier)
  • Head Waiter (Chef de Salle)
  • Captain (Chef d'etage)
  • Front Water (Chef de Rang)
  • Back Watier/Bus Boy (Demi-Chef de Rang, Commis de Rang)

It appears that there is a large amount of coordination that is important to remember. Moreover, there is a very clear hierarchical system in terms of responsibility and ones relation to other positions. There were many instances in which positions were combined, for example the saucier is also the poissonier, or the maitre d'hotel is also the sommelier. But for the most part there is a class system. And in light of this, it is important to develop ones communication, organization, marketing and managerial skills, as well as culinary and technical skills in order to gain recognition, move through the ranks, and be the best chef one can be.

The Professional Chef Series

It has finally arrived. The Professional Chef is the landmark textbook of the famed Culinary Institute of America, in Hyde Park, NY. This book, currently in it's eighth edition, is a resource, a bible, if you will, for all chefs. My intention for this book is to use it to develop basic culinary techniques and learn more about the profession and the industry itself.

This endeavor is a testament to how seriously I take my cooking and want to develop, hopefully beyond the home kitchen.

So, now you have lots to look forward to. It's an anecdotal experiment with a tried-and-true culinary behemoth.

Wednesday, August 18

Georgetown Cupcake: A Tradition to be Upheld

Mike and I have a stupid cute mushy googly* personal weekly tradition that revolves around Georgetown Cupcakes. Unfortunately, given the increase in tourism that DC has experienced during the summer months, and the untimely premiere of the TLC show DC Cupcakes, the lines are reached an unprecedented length. But on an unseasonably cool Sunday with no other plans, it seems worth it to brave the line, all in the name of expensive habits.

Given that I had about 2 hours to kill, what to some seems like an unbearable wait only wasted half of my time. Sure, I could have gone home to make cupcakes, but then I would have gotten there only to realize that I didn't have cream cheese, or powdered sugar, or food dye, or marzipan, because who honestly carries all of these ingredients on a regular basis. And even if I did, my cupcakes would be good, but not as good. I would get 10 or 12 out of my batch, but I don't want 12 cupcakes sitting around fighting for me to eat them. So, I stood in line.

It was rather comfortable, with points along the way to sit and rest. Also, luckily enough, I picked a day that was relatively overcast, with a subtle breeze to keep me cool and sane, lest the wait cause me to lose my mind. All of these comforts, as well as a few podcasts and articles, kept me productive and filled the void of accompaniment that most others had filled with friends and families. I was stuck in the middle of a crowded line, yet, ironically enough, it felt like my own alone time and it was consoling.

And the fruits of my patience. By the way, they were delicious. Bet you wish you weren't too good to wait for a $20 cupcake now!

Cupcakes in a different lighting.

*"googly" refers to the googly-eyes that people in a relationship share. It is looked down upon with spite and resentment, particularly by Twin #1, of Twins on Twins fame.

Tuesday, August 17

How I Spend My Sundays: The Calm of Making Bread

I've really gotten into a bread kick. Maybe it's because I've come ever closer to perfecting the ratio of all purpose to whole wheat flour; the amount of olive oil or walnut oil, lightly kneaded into the bread; the time that a pan of steaming water should be left in the oven as the dough bakes to crusty perfection.

My favorite is a rosemary-thyme-black pepper loaf. It's crusty on the outside, with just enough crumb formation, while the inside remains soft, chewy, with pockets where air from the yeast gently massaged the innards of the loaf. I love this bread with butter; I love this bread with homemade blueberry or nectarine-basil preserves; I love this bread with melted Fontina cheese; I love this bread sopping up whatever sauce fell delicately off the pasta in my bowl. But I also came to the realization that it might be time to try other breads. It was the bread, it was me, and "me" was ready to move on.

This past Sunday was damp, cool, and overcast, not like a typical Sunday in DC during the summer, that typical Sunday being wretchedly hot, followed by massive, pitch-black clouds, thunder, lightning, and torrential downpour. (Actually, that sounds like everyday this summer!) I wanted to go to the mall, but Mike convinced me that it would be nice to just stay in and relax all day. Of course, I was not content with simply sitting on the computer, in front of the TV, eating chips and salsa all day.

To me, relaxation means kitchen time. I would much rather get my hands dirty, elbow deep in tomatoes and olive oil, than sit in front of the TV watching sports center reruns, eating cups of granola, pretending that by eating extra granola I am being extra healthy. I baked three loaves of bread. All three bursting with a different flavor, a different season, a different personality.

Nectarine, rolling in cinnamon and nutmeg, is ethereal, and, perhaps with a few refinements, something beyond spiritual. It brings about the calling of autumn, mingling with the orange flesh of summer, fresh on ones lips with each bite.

The tart bite of cranberries floats around the herbal scent of rosemary and thyme, with a touch of honey asking for sweeter things to come. It evokes the flavors of a summer herb garden, bushy and overrun, practically begging to be picked, to be inhaled.

That same herb garden is full of basil leaves, reminiscent of Genoa. They are a ripe green, green with jealousy of stories of basil consorting with Parmesan, and garlic, olive oil and nuts, to form a sauce that hugs a shapely pasta. But this time, they will be deconstructed, separate, but equally stuffed into a ball of well-oiled dough.

Ok, so I may be an ocean's away from a career in food writing. I am no Ruth Reichl, Anthony Bourdain, or Michael Ruhlman. But I know I love to bake bread, and I enjoy describing the food I make. Cooking is full of imagery. Moreover, it is an implicitly sensual experience, as food will entice you with its taste, the superficial appeal of its colors, the way its flesh yields to your grip, however slack or firm.

From Left to Right: Deconstructed Pesto Bread, Rosemary-Thyme Cranberry Bread, Cinnamon-Nutmeg Nectarine Bread

Monday, August 16

Olive Oil Chocolate Mousse with Raspberry and Peach Coulis and Sea Salt

This may be my longest lapse in posting yet. Thankfully, I have a sweet post to get everyone back at the table. I have a recipe for chocolate mousse that I made back in February or March. It was sweet, creamy, rich and dense, and after a day in the fridge it developed this great, complex flavor that made it that much more irresistible. However, while the dense-ness of the dessert was nice in the fall, I needed something a little lighter as we entered deep summer in DC. The tweaks I've made are small, but they result in a nice, smooth consistency and a fluffiness that feels as though you are eating a cloud spiked with chocolate. As for the coulis, it was my first time doing anything of that sort. It came out great, but I need a squirt bottle before my plating looks more like art than someone just spooning some syrup onto a plate.

Chocolate Mousse with Raspberry and Peach Coulis

2 eggs, whites and yolks separated
3/4 C milk
6 oz semi-sweet chocolate
1/4 C olive oil
3 T dark-roast coffee
1 T maple syrup
1 t vanilla extract

Separate the yolks and the whites. Whisk the egg yolks and the milk together, then pour into a sauce pan over medium heat, mixing in order to prevent the milk from scalding. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form, then add to the yolk-milk mixture. Heat until it reaches 160 degrees, then remove from heat. Pour through a fine mesh sieve to remove any bit of egg that may have formed from the heat in order to create a smoother consistency.

Melt the chocolate in a separate sauce pan over low heat, stirring frequently to prevent the chocolate from burning. When melted, take off the heat, stir in the coffee, vanilla extract, maple syrup, and the olive oil.

Add the milk and egg mixture to a blender or food processor. Slowly, pour in the chocolate mixture until well combined, and frothy. Pour the mixture into your serving glasses or a large glass bowl (I used my 4-cup pyrex bowl) and refrigerate. Depending on the size of the containers it will take anywhere from 30 minutes (2 ounce serving glasses) to 3 hours (my 4-cup pyrex bowl) to set.

Serve with the coulis drizzled on the plate, a pinch of salt on the mousse, and a dollop of whipped cream.

The blobs on either side of the plates are the unstrained raspberry coulis and peach coulis.

For the coulis:

(I didn't measure anything out so here are some approximations.)

1 handful of raspberries or one peach, peeled and cut into small chunks
1 t brown sugar
1 t lemon juice

Allow to steep in a small bowl in the refrigerator for one hour. Mash with the back of a fork, then strain using a fine mesh sieve (straining is optional, though I like the results). Reserve the pulp or seeds (still tastes good and some people like it). Use the strained coulis to garnish.

Braised Hoisin Eggplant and Tofu

For a quick, easy, healthy, and currently in season meal, try braised tofu with eggplant. Braising is one of my favorite methods of cooking. It's a way to maintain moisture in the food, and deepen the flavor of the cooking substance with the braising liquid. Anyway, here is a guideline, a stepping stone for your own tofu and eggplant recipe. Enjoy.

Braised Hoisin Eggplant and Tofu

1/2 block firm or extra firm tofu, water pressed out
1/2 medium to large eggplant, sliced
1 clove garlic, diced
2 T hoisin sauce
1 t chili paste
1 T soy sauce
1 T peanut oil
1/2 t sesame oil
1/4 C water or chicken stock
1/4 C scallions, sliced, for garnish (optional)
1 t sesame seeds, for garnish (optional)

Remove the tofu from the packaging and drain off the water. Place on a plate, covered with paper towels, and place a second plate and a weight on top, allowing to drain for 20-30 minutes. Dice into 1 inch pieces.

Cut the eggplant in half and slice lengthwise. Place sliced in a colander and cover in sea salt and allow to drain for 15-20 minutes. Rinse off salt and pat dry.

Add the peanut oil and sesame oil to a wok or large pan over medium to high heat. Add the diced garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Then add the eggplant. Using a spatula, continue to move around the eggplant so it doesn't stick to the pan or burn. (Keep the peanut oil close by and add another teaspoon or two of oil if necessary, as eggplant soaks up oil.)

Add the diced tofu, soy sauce and hoisin sauce, and cook for 1 minute more. Then add the water and chicken stock and lower heat to medium-low and allow to simmer until the sauce thickens, about 10 minutes.

Remove from heat, serve with white rice, garnish with the scallions and sesame seeds

Tuesday, August 10

Happy Birthday, Mike and Ryan

I am finally sending a long overdue birthday shoutout to Mike and Ryan. Ryan came down to DC for the weekend, and after torturing him with diswashing and an egg breaking tutorial, we finally got to eat some cake.

Monday, August 9

Invoking a Homey Fall Dish in August: Gorgonzola-Gruyere-Parmesan Cheese Sauce

I recently discovered the lemon-pepper pappardelle noodles from Trader Joe's. The name pappardelle comes from the Italian word to "pappare," meaning "to gobble up," which I have a hard time refraining from doing, but I would like to still be able to fit into my clothes.

While Mike is not a fan of lemon, I love the sour, sweet, bitter, citrus-y, zesty flavor. I'm not calling for big bold, lemon-ness, just a subtle hint of that acidity in the right dish is awesome to me, and that is where Trader Joe's got it right with these noodles.

With flat, broad noodles, I like a nice cream sauce. I'm not a big fan of red sauces in general, but it could be that the ones I've bought and the ones I've made are just subpar. I think that complacency toward red sauce has allowed me to develop a love for pesto and, especially, cream sauces. I tend not to indulge in cheese and milk within my routine habits, but I love a good cream sauce, especially with the sweetness of spring peas, and the mellowness of mushrooms in the fall.

But it's summer now, and a good bechamel is looked upon with disdain from bikini-wearing, food-phobics. I, on the other hand, welcome a savory dish, as long as I eat a little less and up the vegetable count at the same time. And the result is a bacon and anchovy laden sauce with so much cheese-flavor packed into the small portion that it would make a Swiss swear off fondue. I think the amount I made was sufficient for 2 people, but I greedily ate the whole thing. In retrospect, it was a little much, but it was oh so good.

Gorgonzola-Gruyere-Parmesan Cheese Sauce
Yields 2 servings

2 slices of bacon, diced
2 anchovy fillets, minced (the kind packed in olive oil, such as Cento brand)
1 shallot, diced
2 cloves garlic
1 oz gruyere cheese, grated
1 oz parmesan cheese, grated
1 oz gorgonzola, crumbled
1/2 C milk, 2% or whole

Place all of the bacon in a saucepan over medium heat and cook until crisp and the fat has been rendered. Remove and reserve.

Lower the heat to medium-low and in the sauce pan add the diced anchovy, garlic and shallot and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the grated and crumbled cheeses and stir to combine. Add the milk and simmer until the sauce browns slightly.

You can cook it for less time if you'd like a blonde sauce, or longer if you'd like a nuttier, deeper brown sauce.

The salt is very salty, which I liked in combination with the sweeter noodles. I added some cherry tomato confit that I made, as well as some steamed haricots verts for color and for a nice, vegetal crunch.

I see this great with green peas, pancetta, even spinach or kale, and maybe some added lemon juice for that sweet, acidity, when tomatoes sadly disappear from farmers markets.

Friday, August 6

Questioning the Virginity of Olive Oils in American

I read an article a month or two ago about how the US has become a dumping ground of poor quality olive oil. Despite the relevance in the lives of most Americans (who doesn't have a bottle of olive oil at home, even the most reluctant of cooks), I just pushed it out of mind and out of sight. But now that the story has resurfaced I have a need to share the news. 

There is a lawsuit being pursued by chefs against olive oil producers for distributing extra virgin olive oil that, for the most part, wasn't actually olive oil, or was watered down with canola or other cheep oils. 

"The lawsuit, which seeks class action status, targets 10 major olive oil brands, including Bertolli, Filippo Berio, Carapelli, Star, Colavita, Mezzetta, Pompeian, Rachael Ray, Mazolla and Safeway Select. It also names 10 major supermarket chains and big box stores that allegedly marketed substandard oil under the extra-virgin banner, based on covert testing done by the law firm, Callahan said."

These are brands that I see in many households and I would hate to think that they feel as though they are getting the full benefits of olive oil, when in fact they are using some alternate, and inferior product.

Luckily, justice will be served in the form of the US adopting standards similar to those of the International Olive Council. 

Here is a link to the full article.

Oh, and if you were wondering, I buy President's or California Estate Bottled Olive Oils from Trader Joe's and Whole Foods 365 Everyday Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

What's Been Cooking this Week?

Since I went a bit on cooking overload, there were lots of leftovers to enjoy at the beginning of this week. But now I'm once again trying to get through the tons of food in my fridge, and I might be on the winning side this week.

Zucchini fritters frying in the cast iron, soy-balsamic glazed chicken braising in the back (recipe for the fritters coming soon, as well as an explanation on braising and why it is one of my favorite ways to cook).

Other half of the zucchini was cut into half moons,  tossed with olive oil, salt, black pepper and a pinch of red chili flakes. These were roasted in my toaster over (that's right, a toaster over, and what!) at 450 degrees until they were tender and slightly charred (that leant a slightly smoky taste that feels summery; Mike thought they tasted as though they were grilled -- he loved them btw).

Here was dinner.
Clockwise from the top left: Soy-balsamic glazed chicken, left over pan-fried albacore, white rice, roasted zucchini
At the Top Left: More white rice, zucchini fritters
At the Top Right: Kool-aid (ooooooh yeaaahhh)

Made Mike a pepperoni pizza (I have an experiment going to find the perfect ratio of white to whole wheat flour that he really enjoys). For myself, I made a gorgonzola-gruyere-Parmesan cheese sauce with anchovy and bacon, mixed into lemon-pepper pappardelle (from Trader Joe's), with haricot verts for color and orange cherry tomato confit* for sweetnes and acidity, perfect for countering the saltiness and umami* goodness of the cheese sauce.

*Confit is used to describe foods that have been immersed in what I believed was always fat/oil, but apparently it's anything that will preserve it and add flavor.  The French are known for their duck and goose confits, and there are also fruit confits, with sugar used as the preservation substance.
*Umami is another name for savory, named by the Japanese scientists that discovered this flavor profile. It's a flavor commonly used to describe meat, mushrooms, and cheese.

And it appears Safeway has begun catering to a new class of shoppers. Anyone want to split 1/100th of a pound of Truffles*?

*Truffles are a fungus, prized by Chefs and home cooks alike, and referred to as the "diamond of the kitchen." While truffles are definitely out of most people's budget, truffle oil maybe be a more cost-friendly substitute. Though, keep in mind, truffle oil is not actually made from real truffles, but instead a synthetic substance.

Wednesday, August 4

Fish Chowder with Corn and Bacon

This past weekend I spent a lot of time in the kitchen, mostly making lunches for during the week. Here is a little tasting of most of the things I made

Clockwise: Hoisin Eggplant and Tofu, Dry-Fried String Beans, Brown Rice 
and Plantains, Fish Chowder with Corn and Bacon, Whole Wheat Bread

Everything was good, but the Hoisin Eggplant and Tofu and the Fish Chowder with Corn and Bacon were the standouts of the group. Below I've provided the recipe for the chowder.

Fish Chowder with Corn and Bacon

Yields 4 (1/2 cup) servings

4 slices bacon, diced into 1/2 inch pieces
2 medium shallots, finely diced
1/4 medium onion, sliced
1 clove garlic, chopped
5 new potatoes, peeled, diced into 1/2-inch cubes
2 T whole wheat flour
1 C sweet corn kernels
2 C chicken broth
1/2 lb halibut pieces
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Put a saucepan on the stovetop over medium heat. When the pan has warmed, add the bacon pieces, stirring around to prevent them from burning. When the fat has completely rendered from the bacon, remove the bacon and reserve. Add the shallots and garlic to the pan and let it sweat. When the shallot is translucent, add the potatoes and the sliced onions. Cover the pan and let it cook until the onions and potatoes are soft, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Add 2 tablespoons of flour to the pan and let it sit with the onion and potato and thicken for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the corn and chicken broth and let it cook over low heat until it begines to thicken. Add the halibut pieces and the bacon and continue cooking until the fish is completely cooked through. Add salt and ground pepper, seasoning to taste.

When serving, add 1-2 tablespoons of water per serving, if you find it to be a little too thick, then add 1 tablespoon of creme fraiche to each bowl of chowder. Stir to combine, top with freshly ground pepper, and enjoy.


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