If you think about it, one of the first tools that we probably developed over the course of our evolution was a knife or edged tool of some sort. It is such as basic tool, and yet it is amazingly useful. That is why I wanted to start with it for this series of posts. It is a very important tool for all of us when we cook something, but it is very easy to use in ways which are less effective, less efficient or less safe than it could be. The kitchen can be a dangerous place to work, and yet most professionals don’t end up cutting ourselves that often. Last year I cut myself twice. That might be more than you did, but I spend a lot more time in the kitchen than most people.
Today we are going to talk about using your chef’s knife. This is the real workhorse of your kitchen knives. The others are more specialized or really not all that useful. The small serrated utility knife is the worst! The chef’s knife comes in many different shapes and sizes. I have several, all different, and I like them all!
First lets talk about the parts of a knife. First the obvious, there is a handle and a blade. There are a number of parts within each of these. The point, the tip, the edge, and the heal of the blade are the sharpened side of the knife. The part of the blade opposite the edge is the spine. The handle will vary depending on the construction of the knife, but it should be comfortable to hold in your hand. The tang is the part of the blade that extends into the handle. The tang can be partial, or full. A full tang will be the full length of the handle, and the sides of the handle will be riveted to it. A partial will only be part of the length of the handle. You can also have a rat tail tang. It is a thin tang that extends into the handle. This is typically in cheaper knives, and you will not see it at all. This is not to say that a knife with a rat tail tang is a bad knife, just less expensive. The other part of a knife handle to know about is the bolster. The bolster is where the blade meets the handle. On some knives there is an actual bolster, and it is part of the blade that is part of the handle. On other knives it is more of a conceptual thing. The area is still there, but the blade just joins the handle.
Now what? Well lets talk about how to hold the knife. I know what you’re thinking, “Well, there’s a handle. That is what handles are for.” Well, yes, and no. You probably hold the knife with all four fingers on the handle.
As you can see I don’t hold a knife the same way you do. The bolster (remember that?) is sort of in the palm of my hand. My index finger is curled over the spine , and the blade is pinched between it and my thumb. The rest of my fingers are on the handle. My grip may shift a little when I’m holding the knife to actually cut something, but you get the idea. As you can see, my fingers are still all out of the way of any cutting parts. What does this grip do for you? By moving your hand closer to the working part of the knife you gain quite a bit more control. It doesn’t really seem like it would make that big of a difference, but once you try it, and stick with it for a bit, you will NEVER go back.
Why do you get more control? I’m not sure I can answer that, but you do. Today while I was at work I tried to slice some onions holding the knife the way I used to, and I just felt like I had no control over anything that was going on at the business end of things. Believe me, you want the control! At least in part this is because you don’t have to work as hard to actually hold the knife. Since you are not working as hard to hold the knife, you can be more accurate with your cuts, you can cut more without getting tired, cut things faster (with time and practice), and be safer overall. That last point is important, and relates to this… A sharp knife is ALWAYS safer. While that may seem counterintuitive, it is true. A sharp knife requires less effort to make a cut. Then when you are not struggling to hold the knife, and feel more secure holding, cutting becomes effortless. This is important because you are going to cut yourself! The sharp knife in your hand will cut you, but you won’t have been struggling to get the edge to bite into the skin of a tomato, and slip full force into your pinky finger causing a ragged tear of a cut. When you cut yourself, it will have clean smooth edges, and won’t actually be as deep, because there was much less force behind the blade. The nice clean cut will be less painful, and heal much faster. (Yes, it will hurt either way.)
Now that we have your dominant hand sorted out, lets take a look at your other hand. We have a couple of goals for your left hand. The first is to hold the food that you want to cut, and the second is to leave it intact!
As you can see in the picture above my finger tips are curled back from the blade of the knife, and the knife is actually touching the index finger and middle finger. As you can see, my thumb is nowhere near the blade at all. This will allow you to hold the food, and guide the knife as it cuts the food.
Depending on the size and shape of the food you’re cutting there are various techniques you can use. For items like carrots or celery that are going to be chopped and are not very tall the easiest thing to do is to keep the tip of the knife in contact with the cutting board, and make a circle with your right hand. Starting with the blade of the knife on the cutting board, lift the blade and draw it toward you. Then as you descend push the knife away from your body still leaving the tip on the board. When used in this way you will be able to chop all kinds of things. Similarly you can hold the knife above the food, and slice downward through it. In this case the tip of the knife won’t be on the cutting board, but you will still use a motion similar to the basic chopping above. You can also use the tip of the knife to slice items like tomatoes or pineapples that have been sliced. These two techniques will serve you very well for almost anything you will be doing.
These two videos show me dicing a tomato and chiffonading some basil. In the first, I used the tip of the knife to slice the tomato, and then I used the variation of the basic chopping motion to dice it. When chiffonading the basil I used the basic chopping motion.
Remember your knife is not something to be scared of. It is actually one of the most useful tools you have in your kitchen!
Not too long ago I saw on Facebook that a bar near my apartment, called The Silver Ballroom, was having a salsa and guacamole competition. I decided to enter. This is about that, and not at the same time.
All of us eat food. (Hopefully, several times a day!) How many of us take the time to actually pay attention to what we are eating?
I pretty much always taste food I am cooking if I can. At work that is not always possible, but I generally get the help I need. When I make a dish the first time I will follow the recipe fairly closely (unless something just doesn’t make sense to me), and the next time I make adjustments as I see fit. Hopefully, you do something somewhat similar when you’re cooking for yourself.
I decided to enter the contest, more or less on a whim. I decided Thursday night about midnight that I would enter the contest that took place on the following Tuesday. Not a lot of time. Obviously, I had recipes that I felt fairly comfortable with, and figured they would be a good start. If I’m entering a contest like this I want to win! So, I realized that I needed to really make sure that I got my recipes right. (To tell the truth, for my salsa and guacamole there is no actual recipe, more of a concept. I just make them, and taste as I go.)
I wasn’t going to write something down, because then I would be following something that constrains me in these, and I didn’t feel like that would be the right way to go. So, I tried to really pay attention to the flavors in each of the dips. I did decide to take all of the salsa ingredients outside and put them on the grill rather than roasting them in the oven. I figured the charring on the pepper skins and tomatoes skins would give me more depth of flavor, and then since I was making some turkey burgers for dinner, and the grill was lit… Once everything was pureed I added the lime juice and salt and pepper and tasted it. Now, really pay attention… Is there enough salt? Bell pepper? Garlic? Jalapeno? etc., and I tried to really take my time tasting, adjusting until I really felt that I had it exactly how I wanted.
When I made the guacamole I did the same thing. I tried to be very precise with my cuts for each of the ingredients to get them exactly the way I wanted them. When you’re using a knife, you can actually impact the flavor of a dish by cutting things inconsistently. Imagine taking a bite of something only to find a large piece of raw garlic… Probably not what you wanted to go for. And it will certainly affect the flavor of that bite. Of course, if people are judging your food on a single bite, you probably just lost a vote…
Obviously, I was trying to get the flavors just right for the contest, but really we can extend this to almost any time we are cooking or eating. If you are already gluten-free you’re used to paying attention to labels on EVERYTHING you buy at the grocery store, right? And while that is a very good thing, there is more that you can do. Take a little time and when you taste the food you’re cooking pay attention to what you’re actually experiencing. Food is far more than taste and smell. Really, all of our senses go into cooking and eating. Look at the food, and notice the colors and textures. Do you hear anything? Maybe it is sizzling as you cook it… Touch it! If you’ve ever handled meat that has gone bad (yuck!) you’ll know that it feels different, as well as smelling different! Of course, that is not all you can tell by touching your food. In short, pay as much attention to the food you’re eating, when you’re cooking it as when you buy it. Take the time and really experience it. That was the challenge I gave myself. It didn’t really add a lot of time to the prep, but it may have made a difference in the end result.
When all of the salsa and guacamole had been eaten, and the votes were counted it turned out that I took first place in the guacamole and second in the salsa! It was a lot of fun to try something that was somewhat out of my comfort zone like this, and give myself a challenge. Of course, that means next year I will have to defend my title I suppose!
Clearly this is not for the vegetarians among you. If you are one, perhaps now is the time to go look at something else…
Are you still with me? Good, now, lets talk about meaty chili goodness!
I know most of you probably make chili using ground beef or turkey, but we won’t be doing that. What I used might make this the most expensive pot of chili you have ever made. What I used is a piece of beef called the chain. The chain is a strip of meat that is located next to the tenderloin. It is pretty similar as far as tenderness and flavor, but because it is wrapped in fat and connective tissue it is rarely eaten except as ground beef. You can’t buy chains* in the store so I would suggest a chuck roast, and cut it into cubes. Since you will be simmering this for a while you will end up with nice tender meat by the time the chili is ready.
This wasn’t originally going to be chili. I’m not sure what I was making, exactly, but I had a few ideas in mind. As I gathered ingredients it sort of became obvious that it was, in fact, chili.
2# beef chuck cut into cubes
1 TBSP achiote paste
1 TBSP canola oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 large onion diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 large poblano, diced
5 cloves of garlic, minced
25 oz can diced tomatoes
1 1/2 quarts chicken stock
2 cups cooked black beans
salt and pepper to taste
ground cumin, corriander, dry oregano to taste
3 bay leaves
ancho chili powder to taste
The first step is to get the meat marinating. Combine the achiote, oil, salt and pepper, and mix them into a smooth paste. Add your cubed meat. I used the cryovac machine at work to seal this up, and left it in the fridge overnight. Obviously a ziplock bag would do almost as well. At this point you should also cook your beans. Drain them and cool them in the fridge.
When you are ready to cook, gather all of your ingredients. We are going to start with the meat. Heat some vegetable oil in a large pot, and add the meat. Lightly brown the meat, and add the onions, peppers and garlic, and a little salt. Cook until the vegetables have softened, and then add the tomatoes and stock. Bring up to a boil, turn down to a simmer, and season to taste with salt, pepper, ancho powder, bay leaves, coriander, cumin, and oregano. Allow your chili to simmer, and add the beans after an hour or so. Taste it after a while and adjust the seasonings if you need to. If it is to acidic you can add a little bit of honey. That will help balance things out. Give it a couple of hours to simmer, and enjoy. This is not going to be a spicy chili, but it is tasty! If you like it spicy there are lots of possibilities, for instance chipotle peppers would be nice in place of the ancho chilies while still giving you a nice smoky flavor.
This chili was a huge hit at work, and I think it will be for you as well. There are plenty of things you can tweak, but this should get you started. Enjoy it! I know I did!
*In the course of day to day prep at work we do some butchering, and end up with scraps that are perfectly edible. The chain falls into that category. The only way to get chains is to buy beef tenderloin PSMO (peeled, silver skin, side meet on or pismo). To make this chili you would probably need three chains. Of course if you like filet mignon or chateaubriand this will save you quite a bit of money. The less processed the meat the less expensive it tends to be. The last time I went to the store pismos were $19.99/pound, and filet mignon were $23.99. Breaking down PSMO’s takes a bit of practice, and time. It is certainly something you can do, but you do need a sharp knife, and the time to do it.
A lot of people say that they can’t cook because they have to use a recipe to make anything. They seem to be under the impression that a real cook can just throw things in a pot, and have it taste good. In truth you should be able to do both. Very often you will see people who for whatever reason are unable to follow a recipe, but can cook very well. Learning to use a recipe can help you learn to just throw things in a pot and end up with something that tastes good. Pay attention to what flavors work together and use that knowledge to help you with your own dishes.
Throwing things in a pot and making it taste great takes practice, and being willing to fail often. Eventually you will learn that some things just don’t work together. Using a recipe on the other hand is pretty easy, because everything you need to know is right there in front of you. All you have to do is follow directions. Of course, as we learned in grade school sometimes following the directions is the hard part.
With a recipe you can make anything. It really doesn’t make a lot of difference if you have ever eaten it before. The first thing to do is to read through the entire recipe. There may be ingredients or techniques that you are not familiar with. Now is the time to find out what you need to know, and not while you have things burning in a pot . While you read through the recipe you can determine that you have everything you need, or decide what to substitute for something that you are missing. Once you have made the recipe a few times you will probably feel pretty comfortable with it, and be able add or subtract things, or use it as a base for making up your own dishes.
Recipes can come in a lot of formats. The format will depend on the source. The recipes that you see most often on the internet, and in cook books generally list ingredients and quantities. This is followed by a description of the methods used to prepare each component, and the how to assemble them.
In some older cookbooks you may find a very different format:
If you pick up a copy of Escoffier you will find the same format. These books assume a certain level of knowledge and understanding. (I won’t tell you that I am always up to the challenge of these recipes. Some of them are very complex, and may require things that are not used frequently any more.) Although Escoffier and Larousse are old they are very interesting reference books. Some of the recipes you will be able to use, for instance coq au vin. Of course you can find recipes that are in the format we all know for coq au vin in lots of cook books.
Interestingly,you can also see recipes in a similar format to those in Escoffier and Larousse on Twitter. Both Eric Ripert, and Rick Bayless have posted recipes on Twitter. Rick Bayless even ran a contest using recipes in a single tweet. There is very little information given, but in many ways that is freeing. When you have a recipe that is that stripped down, you are free to make it whatever you envision the dish as being.
In a restaurant kitchen you may see recipes that are in a similar format to what you are accustomed to seeing, but often they leave out the directions. So you might get something that looks like my recipe for Shrimp and Basil soup.
Shrimp and Basil Soup
4 large onions large dice
½ cup garlic minced
1 Tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes
3 Tablespoons dry thyme
3 cups fresh basil chiffonade
1 #10 can diced tomatoes
½ bottle white wine
1.5 Gallon vegetable stock
2# frozen peas
2.5# 21-25 shrimp
salt and pepper to taste
That is the extent of the recipe. Since this is used in a restaurant a certain level of knowledge is assumed, just like Escoffier and Larousse. Obviously, this is not really a complicated recipe, but makes a lot of soup! If you have the rest of the information you will have no problem making this soup.
In a large pot sweat the onions, garlic, and red pepper flakes in olive oil until the onions are clear. Add the thyme and basil. Sweat until fragrant, about one minute. Add the tomatoes, and wine, mix well, and bring to a boil. Add the vegetable stock, and return to a boil. Add the frozen peas, and shrimp. Bring back to a boil, and turn the heat down to a simmer. Allow to simmer for 10 to fifteen minutes until the shrimp are cooked through. Taste, and season with salt and pepper.
Assuming you had a pot large enough to make this recipe, lets look at it since we now have it in a format you are familiar with. First, look at the ingredients, is there anything that you don’t have? Anything you don’t understand? Now is the time to find out this kind of thing. It is a lot easier to solve problems before you have food in a pot. Do you know what chiffonade means? Do you have white wine? Do you know what 21-25 shrimp are? Do you know what sweating is? Whatever issues you may need to resolve should be done now.
Only after you know exactly what you need and what you need to do should you even start to do anything that remotely resembles cooking. This hopefully will only add a few minutes to the time it takes you to prepare your dish. Although, if you need to run to the store for something it may have added a little time, but nowhere near as long as if you had started, and realized too late that you needed a crucial ingredient, and then need to start over.
Once you know what you need to do start gathering ingredients, and then prepping them. If you have containers large enough to hold a single step’s ingredients put them together, and once you have everything ready to go into the pot, turn on the heat, and cook!
Some people have trouble with terms used in recipes such as “cook until tender,” “al dente,” “season to taste.” With phrases like this pretty much what you will have to do is fish something out, put it in your mouth, and see if it is tender, al dente, or if it is seasoned properly. These are things that may be hard to specify in a recipe, but are very important. They are pretty easy to check once you realize that all you need to do is taste your food. You should be doing that anyway!
Cooking is very easy once you realize that tasting and adjusting things is part of the fun. If you follow a few very easy principals you’ll have no problem. When you are eating you can take your time, and evaluate things that didn’t turn out quite as well as you would have liked, and remember them for later. The next time you make the dish you can make the changes you noticed. It can be helpful to take notes, and leave them with the recipe to refer to next time you make it.
Now, from the title I would imagine that there are at least a couple of you looking at the screen, and thinking “WTF??” This is the kind of thing that I sometimes come up with when I am facing a seemingly random assortment of things on my shelf, and need to come up with a seafood soup for Friday lunch at work. It isn’t really chili, being short on beef, and having lentils, but don’t really know what to call it. It was very tasty (I have been told.), and could have been made gluten-free very easily!
This all started with a container of roasted poblano peppers that were sitting on my shelf next to a container of diced tomatoes. I have no idea how much precedence for a soup like this there is, but I’ve used similar things together before, and had great results.
You’ll want to cut down the size of this recipe… I tend to make large batches of soups. This one was roughly 4 gallons.
I had eight poblanos that had been roasted, but I had to peel them. This is easy to do, but it is easier to do when they are still warm from roasting. If you’ve never roasted a pepper, you’ll be surprised how easy it is. Simply hold your pepper over the flame on your stove, and when it starts to turn black on the side, turn it. Once the skin is blackened and bubbly all over put it into a sealed container of some kind for about 15 to 20 minutes, and the steam will make it easy to just rub most of the blackened skin right off. Then pull off the top of the pepper, and scoop any seeds out. Done.
1 #10 can diced tomatoes, divided in half (At home: 2 14 oz cans of diced tomatoes
8 roasted poblanos (2 peppers)
2 large onions chopped roughly (1 regular sized onion)
1 cup garlic cloves (4-5 cloves)
3 pounds of 26/30* shrimp tail off, deveined and peeled. You could also use smaller shrimp if you want. (1 pound)
1 gallon vegetable stock (1 quart)
4 bay leaves (1 or 2)
ground cumin, corriander, and oregano
salt and pepper
honey (if it is too spicy honey is a great way to balance things out)
Once you have your peppers roasted put them in your food processor with the onions, garlic, and half of the tomatoes, and process until smooth. You’ll have just made a very tasty salsa! .
Place the salsa in a large pot , and bring it up to a boil. You’ll want to be careful doing this, between the peppers and tomatoes there is plenty of sugar to burn. Keep it moving. Once it is up to a boil, add the shrimp. I just sort of sautéed the shrimp until they started to cook a bit. Then I added the beer, the rest of the diced tomatoes, the cumin, coriander, oregano, bay leaves, and the stock. Bring it up to a boil, and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. If it is too spicy add a bit of honey to balance it out. Let it simmer for a little while, and serve.
This kind of thing is quite easy to make, and tastes great! Its great if you are abstaining from meat during lent, or are looking for a nice seafood soup that isn’t they typical clam chowder!
* When buying shrimp you’ll often see numbers like 26/30 or 21/25, or U10. These numbers tell you how many shrimp are in a pound. The U10 means that there are less than 10 shrimp per pound!
My job gives me a lot of interesting opportunities. There are a lot of things that we do in a club, that you would probably not do at home. Obviously some of those are based on the equipment, and space available, time, or simply thinking that it is too hard. One of those things is creme anglaise. It is usually found on dessert plates, a sauce that adds an amazing vanilla flavor to a desert. Its not something that is needed, but it adds a very nice touch. If you have a special occasion a sauce like this can make a great impression! Of course what most people don’t really realize is that it is very easy to make, and that it is also gluten-free. Another great thing about creme anglaise is that it has other uses beyond making dessert plates look nice. With a little bit of adjustment it can be dessert!
1 quart half and half
8oz sugar divided
12 egg yolks
Those are your ingredients! Simple… Equipment-wise, there’s a bit more to it!
1 metal bowl
double boiler (or a second metal bowl)
(The ice bath in the picture is optional, but nice for cooling things off quickly. I’d use one.)
First split the vanilla beans, and scrape out the insides. Then place half of the sugar, the half and half, and the vanilla beans in the pot, and bring them up to a simmer. Put the other pot on the stove with an inch of water in it, and bring it up to a simmer as well.
While that is going, place the yolks and the remaining sugar in a bowl, and whisk. The yolks will thicken, and lighten in color.
This is where things start to get a little tricky. You’ve got hot dairy, and cold eggs, and you need to put them together. This can easily turn into sweet vanilla flavored scrambled eggs, and that is just not what you want most of the time. (Ever?) That means that we need to temper the eggs into the half and half. To do that ladle a small amount of the dairy into the eggs while whisking, and don’t stop. If you touch the side of the bowl you’ll notice that the temperature of the eggs has come up a bit. Keep combining the two until the eggs are fairly warm, and then pour the eggs back into the half and half, and whisk them together.
Now strain the mix into a second bowl or the top of your double boiler, and place it over the simmering water. Put down the whisk, pick up the spatula, and gently stir the custard. Don’t try to rush the process by turning up the heat. You need to make sure that you keep the spatula in contact with the bottom of the bowl, otherwise you’ll have scrambled eggs. As it cooks, you’ll notice that the mixture lightens slightly in color, and thickens. You are looking for the mixture to coat the back of a spoon. This is what the French call nappe. Dip a spoon into the cooking custard, and then wipe the back of it with your finger. When it is done the custard will not recover the area you wiped. Taste it!
Once the custard is ready get it off the heat. This is one of those things that you need to get cooled as quickly as possible. Strain your custard into your storage container. Do not skip the straining! Nobody wants scrambled egg bits in their dessert! To make the ice bath, put your storage container in a larger bowl. Fill the outer bowl with ice, sprinkle salt on the ice, and then carefully fill the outer container with water. The water around your custard will end up significantly below freezing. Stirring the custard will help cool it, and prevent the eggs from continuing to cook.
What can you do with this? The obvious choice is to decorate plates. Or you could make some meringue, and you would be able to create île flottante or floating islands. (You’ve got egg whites left!)
Another option is ice cream. When I make ice cream I add a quart of cream, and slightly cut back on the sugar, and cook it the same way. If you do make ice cream let the custard cool overnight before trying to freeze it. This will give you a better texture. When you’re making your own ice cream the sky is the limit as far as flavor goes. I’ve made port poached pear ice cream, carrot cake ice cream, and several others.
A similar process will make a curd. A curd is similar to a custard, but eggs are cooked with an acidic liquid. Typically citrus juices are used. Then butter is incorporated. They are very tasty!
Obviously, this is not an everyday kind of thing, but it is a simple way to take a nice dessert, and make it extra special! Besides, if you’re having dessert there’s a good chance it is a special occasion. Why not actually make it special!
The other night Amy and I were trying to figure out what to have for dinner. Neither of us had anything thawed, and didn’t really feel like a big meal, but we both wanted something tasty. What we did have was a can of chickpeas(for some reason we thought they were actually cannelini beans until she actually got them out of her pantry), some pasta, a couple of roma tomatoes, fresh spinach, half of a red onion, some garlic, a bottle of Pinot Grigio that we only needed part of. This is actually a really simple thing to put together, and will get you a really quick and tasty dinner in under a half hour.
The first thing is to cook the pasta. Obviously, you need to follow the recommendations on the package since gluten-free pastas vary in cooking times. Once it is cooked drain it, and rinse it in cold water to cool it. Toss it in a little olive oil, and set it aside for now.
Next, we’ll make our “sauce.” Dice the tomato. Half inch cubes should be fine. Mince a few cloves of garlic. We used about four, but if you really like garlic use as much as you want. Dice half of a red onion. To that add white wine and olive oil to just cover everything. A fifty-fifty mix will work well, but it doesn’t need to be exact.
Open the can of chickpeas, drain, and rinse them. Get a medium sized skillet hot over medium heat, and add a small amount of oil. When the oil is hot add the chickpeas. Saute them for a minute or so to get them hot. Next, add the tomato mixture (There is no rule saying how much to add so go with what looks good to you.), and keep things moving in the pan. Add the spinach to the pan, and cook until it has wilted. You may be surprised at how little spinach it looks like once it is wilted! You’ll eventually get it up to a boil. Once the liquid comes up to a boil add the pasta, and saute everything until everything is hot.
Obviously, this kind of thing gives you lots of room to improvise, and make it your own. In this case, it was vegan as well as being gluten-free. Whatever it little category you want to cram it into, it was very tasty, very quick, and very easy!
Trips to the grocery store for me tend not to be well planned. Sometimes I have decided exactly what I want to eat, but a lot of the time I have no idea. I pick things up, check that they are gluten-free, and they end up in my cart. This is not the most economical way to shop. The other day I picked up a box of rice noodles. This was one of those things I had no immediate plans for, just something I thought might be fun to play with. A few days later I picked up a few oranges. That was when things started to come together in my mind. There is always chicken around in the freezer, and I almost always have ginger, garlic, gluten-free soy sauce, and there is a bottle of rice vinegar in the cabinet. This is a really quick and easy one, but it is very tasty!
2 chicken breasts, cut into bite sized pieces
a couple of carrots, peeled and sliced thinly
broccoli cut into bite sized pieces
any other veggies you may want to put in, julienned bell pepper, napa cabbage, snow peas, water chestnuts whatever sounds good to you.
Rice noodles (I picked up a box of Thai Kitchen linguini style noodles)
2 TBSP gluten-free soy sauce
1 TBSP rice vinegar (I wouldn’t get seasoned rice vinegar. It is for sushi rice, and has salt and sugar added.)
zest and juice of one orange
1 TBSP minced fresh ginger
1 clove garlic, minced
1 TBSP honey
1 TBSP sambal oolek
Lets start with the sauce. First thing, zest your orange. I just use the smallest side of my box grater, make sure not to go too deep. There are a lot of ways to juice citrus fruits, but the easiest is to cut them in half (across the segments), and then stick a fork into the fruit, and twist. You should do this over a bowl so that you can keep any seeds out of your sauce. Then simply combine everything else. If you want a sauce that will coat everything a little better you can bring it all up to a boil, and then use a cornstarch slurry to thicken it. I wasn’t all that worried about that.Next we’ll get the noodles ready. This is really easy. Bring a pot of water to a boil, and then turn it off. Drop in the noodles. They are ready when they are tender. They probably take 8 to 10 minutes. Check the package on yours. Once they are done, drain them, rinse with cold water to cool them, drain them well, and set them aside.
While the noodles are soaking we can prep everything else. First, cut up your veggies. I like pieces that are kind of medium thin. My goal is that they are tender but not mushy. The sizes will depend on what you have. Denser vegetables like carrots would be thinner than a bell pepper. And everything needs to be bite-sized. Put everything in a bowl, and set aside. Next, cut your chicken. Obviously you want something that is small enough to cook quickly, but not minced. I tend to cut a breast in half, and then cut cubes from the halves. Again the key is bite-sized. Of course you could also use tofu if you’re looking for a vegetarian option.
Now, everything is prepped, and ready so we can fire up the stove. Heat a skillet over medium high heat, and add a couple of tablespoons of oil. Canola or peanut would be best. If you want a little bit of sesame oil would be fine, but since it doesn’t have a high smoke point you should use it only as an accent. Tilt the pan, and if you see ripples in the oil, start adding your chicken gently to the pan. Your oil is plenty hot, so don’t splash it all over yourself. Using a silicone spatula keep the chicken moving around the pan until it is mostly cooked. Add the veggies, and continue cooking. When the veggies are tender add the noodles. Mix everything together, and add the sauce. Bring the sauce up to a boil. You’re done! Enjoy your dinner. This kind of thing gives you lots of flexibility when you’re making dinner, since almost anything you have can be put in. The other great thing is that it is really quick.
I make a LOT of soup. Soup is especially great when the weather is less than warm. Like now, for instance. There is snow on the ground, although the temperatures are finally above freezing during the day. Sounds like perfect weather for soup, doesn’t it? I’ve been kind of avoiding writing about certain kinds of soups. What I mean is that I haven’t written about soups that are thickened. There are quite a few ways to thicken soups. You can use a slurry, a roux, cream can give body, eggs can give body as well(They are a little hard to hold for long though.), and sometimes the ingredients of your soup will cause it to thicken, potato, and bean soups do this fairly well. What generally gives us trouble is when a soup is thickened with a roux. Generally, a roux is equal parts flour and butter. It doesn’t have to be wheat flour though, and in this case we’re going to take advantage of that fact.
What we’re going to be making is called a velouté. That translates as velvety, or smooth on the palate. The velouté is one of the five mother sauces. In this case it’s not really a sauce so much as the base for our soup. To make it into a soup we’ll be adding some different flavors, and more ingredients. When I make this soup I generally go for a Cajun flavor. I looked for a blackened seasoning, but couldn’t really find one I was comfortable with. I made my own. I had everything I needed, although I would have added a few other things if I had them.
2 TBSP paprika
1 TBSP cayenne
1/2 TBSP kosher salt
1 TBSP thyme
1 TBSP black pepper
1/2 TBSP oregano
Blackened seasoning (see above)
1 4oz package of wild rice (prepared according to the directions)
4 chicken breasts cubed, seasoned lightly with blackened seasoning, and cooked
1 large onion diced
2 carrots diced
4 celery sticks diced
2 quarts low sodium chicken broth
2 bay leaves
2 quarts water
2 sticks butter
8oz (weight) flour or starch of your choice (I used potato starch)
salt and pepper as needed
Wild rice is not actually rice, but it is gluten-free and very tasty. Wild rice is actually an aquatic grass. It is also very easy to cook, but takes a little bit of time. I found a 4oz package of it. Bring 2 cups of water and 1/4 tsp salt to a boil. Stir in rice, bring it back to a boil, and then turn down to a simmer. Simmer for about 45 minutes. By that time most of the water will be absorbed, and the wild rice will be tender. Drain any liquid, and cool in the fridge until you’re ready for it.
Next we want to move on to the chicken. I had four breasts which I cubed into small pieces, tossed with some of the blackened seasoning, and cooked in the oven for about 10 minutes. Later, I chopped them up a bit so that they would be small enough to fit on a spoon easily. Set this aside in the fridge as well.
Next up, mirepoix. You should have 50% onions, and 25% each celery and carrots. You’ll need about 2 cups total. Figure one large onion, three or four celery sticks, two or three carrots. This should all be a nice medium dice. Having everything exactly the same is not super important, but it helps to be close. That way you don’t get a piece of raw onion in a bit with nicely cooked onions. Whenever you’re cooking you should always try to cut things in similar sizes. Since food is cooking together if your onions are all the same size they will all be about the same doneness. Again, put all of this in the fridge, and we’ll get to it in a bit.
If you’re wondering, breaking a project down into manageable steps is a big part of getting things done in a restaurant kitchen. I can have all of these containers on a tray in a cooler, and add things as I do them. Then if I have to stop I can step away, do what I need to, and come right back to my soup when I have a few minutes. The wild rice takes the most time to cook, so you can really just set a timer, and walk away to do something else.
Our next step is to get the broth heated up. Two quarts of chicken stock, and two quarts of water, plus a couple of bay leaves. In a large pot, and bring it up to a boil. This will take some time. You have everything else ready, right?
Now, what we’ve got to do is make our roux. In this case I used potato starch. I was expecting the potato starch to thicken more than it did. I ended up making a slurry of potato starch and water to get the consistency that I was hoping for. A roux made with wheat flour thickens at a nice one pound per gallon rate. Other starches, and flours will have different thickening abilities. You’ll have to play with them a bit. Generally a starch like potato or corn will thicken more than flour. Also if you’re using a wheat flour roux the darker the roux the less it will thicken. You will get more flavor from a darker roux though. Gluten-free roux will scorch before it will brown, so I wouldn’t try.
Since we’ve got a gallon of liquid on the stove to thicken, and the amount of roux we’re going to be needing is a pound (apparently) start by melting half a pound of butter over medium heat in a large skillet. Once it is fully melted, add a half pound of your flour or starch(Yes, you should weigh your flour. This goes for you gluten eating folk as well.). Whisk it into the melted butter. (Do NOT use your non-stick skillet for this.) You want to keep stirring the roux. You’re cooking the flour, but don’t want it to burn. When it is ready it will have a nice nutty smell. At that point season your roux with the blackened seasoning you made earlier. You’re not trying to make this soup super spicy, just a little. At work since I can’t taste the soup I go by smell when I season the roux. When I can smell the spices I know I am good. Remember, you’re going to be putting this into a gallon of liquid with vegetables, rice, and chicken. Cooking the spices helps the flavors develop, but if you end up a little mild you can adjust, after the fact. Next, pour in the mirepoix, and sweat the vegetables in the roux. You’re looking for the onions to start to get tender. They will simmer for a bit so they don’t have to get fully cooked at this point, but you do want to get them started. Once the onions are starting to get tender set the roux aside, and let it cool.
Once your liquid comes to a boil scoop a bit of the cooled roux mixture onto your whisk, and mix it in a bit at a time. As you do you’ll notice that the soup starts to thicken up, and you’ll see that the liquid will cloud up a bit. If you’re using wheat flour it will look almost creamy, and I would imagine that if I had made my roux from the usual flour blend that I use it would look creamy as well. Hopefully, you get a nice velvety consistency from your roux. If you decide you would like a little thicker soup (like I did) make a slurry of your starch and water, and whisk that in slowly. Whisking will prevent lumps of whatever thickener you have decided to use.
At this point simply add the cooked chicken and the cooked rice to the thickened soup. Bring it back up to a boil, and turn it down to a simmer. Taste your soup, and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper, and maybe a bit more of your blackened seasoning if you want it! Let your soup simmer for about 20 minutes or so. If you want your soup to be a bit richer you could add cream while it simmers. Serve, and enjoy.
The cool part of this soup is that you now have a basis for making lots of other soups. Shrimp bisque, for example, is only a few adjustments away. You could even use a velouté asthe basis for making New England Clam Chowder, and I know you’ve missed that one!
Hope you enjoy your soup!
So, I’ve loved pancakes since I was a kid. I guess that is probably not really a big surprise, I mean who doesn’t LOVE pancakes? I’m going to go out on a limb here, and tell you that there is a pretty good chance that I have made more pancakes than you. (Unless you’ve spent some time as a short order cook, in which case, you win!) When I was a kid I was in Boy Scouts, and every year we would have a pancake and sausage breakfast. We skipped mass for that Sunday, and went to the school cafeteria early in the morning. By early I mean 4:30am. We had to get everything set up in time to feed people after 6am mass. How long is mass? At 6am, not very long at all! Depending on the priest and his mood, 25 minutes wouldn’t be unheard of! Masses were at 6, 7:30, 9, 10:30, and noon. Six was pretty sparse, mostly a few older folks, and it would gradually build. At 7:30 you got a fair number of people who wanted to get things done, and get the day started early. Nine, 10:30, and noon would be more or less packed. I would guesstimate that we made pancakes for 400+ people be the time it was all said and done. I really couldn’t give you a count. I just remember spending hours making pancakes at a flattop. The grownups cooked the sausage, mostly because I think they figured it was a little safer. We were more likely to get burned? I don’t know, sure. All I know is they mixed up batter in the (to me at the age of like 10) gigantic Hobart mixer. (Probably a really good idea. They are big and powerful, and could hurt us worse than the splatter of a little grease! The 30 quart one at work could probably break an arm, and it was probably bought used in 1968!)
What do we need in order to get started? Well, in this case I will admit that I used a mix. I used Pamela’s pancake mix. I will admit that I have never made pancakes from scratch. I used to always use Bisquick, and just follow the directions. I guess I figured that it had worked for me in the past I may as well take a shot at it this time too. Just like the Bisquick I used to use before, the Pamela’s mix had pretty much everything that was needed. All you have to do is add a couple of things, mix, and cook!
1 cup of Pamela’s gluten-free pancake mix (the dark spots in the picture of the batter are almond meal)
3/4 cup water
1 large egg
1 TBSP vegetable oil
Stir to combine, and set aside.
Next, heat your skillet or griddle. In this case I was using the really nice Cuisinart Greenpan that I got when I returned a gift. Just heat it over medium heat, take your time. The pan doesn’t need to be screaming hot, but what you should do it sprinkle a little water on the surface. When the pan is hot enough the water will dance on the surface.
Once your pan is hot enough lightly coat the surface with a little vegetable oil using a paper towel. Pour the batter in your pan. Make them pancake size, for lack of a better term. In other words, You have to be able to get a spatula under them, flip them, and get them back in the pan without landing on any of the others. How do you know when to flip them? You will see bubbles form along the edges. At first they will just pop, but then they will start to set. When the bubbles pop, and leave little holes gently get your spatula under the edge, and then under, and flip it. Just gently turn it over, and back into the pan.
Amy’s little pancakes, flipped.
Pancakes ready to come out.
How do you know when they are ready to come out of the pan? There’s no real rule, but they don’t take very long once you have flipped them. Since you were watching bubbles setting on the tops, they are probably better than 50% cooked. Really all you’re doing is cooking the surface. That won’t take long at all.
Obviously you’re going to be making more than you can probably fit in the pan you’re using to make them, so turn your oven on as low as you can get it, and just stack them up on a plate until you have enough. Make some extras. Pancakes can be held very easily! If you’re going short-term, just spread them out on the plate and stick them in the fridge until they are cool. Then into a freezer bag. Long-term? Spread them out flat. A cookie sheet will work for this. Freeze them, then into a freezer bag. Now, when you’re ready for pancakes, just take a few out of the bag, and reheat them in your oven or microwave.
A couple of things about this post:
1 This is a product review of sorts. I guess, hopefully, you learned how to make pancakes if you didn’t know already. Amy asked how you know when to flip them when I started, so I guess not everybody knows. This was my first time using any of the Pamela’s products, and I have to say I was pretty impressed with the results. Not only did the results taste great they look like pancakes, which although not a huge issue is still important.
2 I don’t use non-stick skillets very often. For a lot of cooking I don’t think they are necessary. I own two. This one, and a smaller and very cheap one. The smaller one I use for cooking eggs, pretty much exclusively. The nice thing about the cheap non-stick pans is that they are very smooth. I make scrambled eggs in it without any kind of utensil, and almost no fat.
The one I was using today was pretty expensive, and is not Teflon based. It uses a ceramic based non-stick, rather than petroleum based. Regardless of the price you shouldn’t use metal utensils in non-stick. Once you damage the surface you will have food sticking to your pan.
Amy ended up not feeling very well the other day. I offered to make her some soup. What kind of soup do you want when you are sick? Chicken Noodle, of course. That of course has a few complications for those of us who are gluten-free. Opening a can of Campbell’s will not work for us. To say nothing of the fact that it’s just not that good, no matter what they say! They have too much sodium, and fat and then of course there is the fact that they contain gluten!
How do we make chicken noodle soup that we can eat? If you think back to when you ate chicken noodle soup from a can, you’ll recall that its actually pretty simple. Broth, noodles, vegetables (onions, celery and carrots), chicken, and a few various herbs, and salt. The problem with soup is that most of the time people think that it is going to take a long time to cook, and be super complicated. Looking at what is in this soup, you’ll realize that there is really not that much to deal with here. A couple of little tricks and you’ll be eating the best chicken noodle soup you have ever had!
1 Large onion, medium dice
3 celery sticks, medium dice
3 carrots, medium dice
garlic, minced (depending on how much you like garlic)
2 chicken breasts, cut into bit sized cubes
1 quart chicken broth (Progresso is gluten-free, I use the low sodium)
1 quart water
salt and pepper
2 oz small pasta, I used Quinoa shells
Once you have everything cut up, you’re ready to go.
The first step is going to be to cook the chicken. Spray a cookie sheet, and then take your cubed chicken and spread it out on it. pop it into your oven at 350F for about 10 minutes, or until the chicken pieces are cooked through. Why do this? Seems like an extra step to you, doesn’t it? What happens is that when you cook chicken (or pork, or shrimp, or beef) is that some of the liquid comes out, and the protein in the liquid coagulates. This makes your broth cloudy, and have bits of crap floating around in it. This doesn’t hurt anything, and it doesn’t taste bad, but it doesn’t look as nice. (Notice, I did not say blood. There really isn’t blood left in the meat at the point that we buy it. Yes, it looks like blood, especially in beef, but it is not.)
Once the chicken is cooked, take it out of the oven, and let it cool. I like to break up the pieces a little before I add it to the soup.
Next, start with your veggies. Heat some vegetable oil in your pot. Add the carrots, onions, celery and garlic. Add a bit of salt, and sweat this over medium heat until the onions are translucent.
Once the veggies are translucent, add the liquids. Turn up the heat, and add 1 TBSP of thyme, and a couple of bay leaves. Also, add a TBSP of salt, and some fresh black pepper. Once this is up to a boil, add the pasta. The quinoa pasta takes about 8 minutes to cook to al dente, so I set a timer. In this case I wanted the noodles a little more done, but that doesn’t take much longer. After a boiling a few minutes I add the chicken into the soup, and bring it back up to a boil. After about 10 minutes the noodles are cooked, and tender. Remember to check the seasoning. You may want a bit more thyme, salt or pepper. Spoon a little broth into a cup and taste from that rather than from the spoon. This will allow the broth to cool a bit so you can taste it rather than end up with blisters on the roof of your mouth! Adjust the seasoning as you need to.
If you need to simmer the soup a bit longer it will not be hurt, and the leftovers will taste even better!
Now that is what I call a bowl of soup!! Hope this makes you feel better!
I’ve been thinking about this blog a bit, and I have realized that it doesn’t really represent me all that well. Sure, I cook. What else do you know about me? Do you know why Amy, and my mom both think I’m out of my mind?
So in essence, what I plan to do is to let you in a little more. I’m going to show you places I go, things I do. I’ll still be cooking for you, but from time-to-time you’ll get a glimpse of what my life is like. Life is about so much more than the time we spend at the stove (or doing dishes), its about how we live, and sharing with people what we can. You might see me at a bar seeing some live music, or out for dinner, or perhaps you might even get to see me playing disc golf. (I spend enough time doing it, I might as well let you see it.) You might get a couple of these posts, since I have some plans for this weekend.
In the not to distant future, you will hopefully get some video of me cooking, and whatever other adventures I have. Thanks to Jessie at Savory-bites I will be getting a new video camera to play with. She does some really cool stuff, and I have plans to tackle at least one of her recipes. Of course I will have to adapt it to be gluten-free, but it should taste great!
That is it for now, hopefully you had a safe and enjoyable New Years, and are ready to have a fantastic 2011. I think there are big things in store for us.
Today my extended family is celebrating Christmas. Which means we’re having a potluck dinner. There won’t be a lot for my sister and I to eat, but that’s ok. My sister, in addition to having celiac also has to watch her carbohydrate intake, so I decided I would make a pot of lentil soup, because in addition to being highly nutritious, and tasty ends up being something she can eat about as much as she wants to. I found this in a book that the sous chef brought in to work a while back, and I made it there a few days ago. It was a hit there, so it should be a hit today as well. It is called Faki, and it is a fairly traditional Greek lentil soup.
I’m making a pretty good sized batch so you may want to scale down the ingredients a bit.
1 pound onions roughly chopped
1 pound carrots roughly chopped (I like carrots)
several cloves of garlic, minced (how much garlic do you like?)
2 pounds of lentils, sorted for extraneous crap, and rinsed well
2 cans diced tomatoes
4 bay leaves
2 tsp marjoram
1 tsp herbes de provence (I love this stuff, and it goes so well in lots of things)
salt and black pepper
water to cover, and more as needed.
red wine vinegar 1 cup (to taste)
This soup is a very easy one to get together. Start by sweating the onions and carrots with a dash of salt in a little vegetable oil until the onions are translucent. Then add the lentils, and mix them in. Next add the tomatoes, bay leaves, all the herbs,and water. Bring it up to a boil, and then turn it down to a simmer. It will need to simmer for roughly 45 minutes, or until the lentils are tender.
That is it, then about five minutes before you serve the soup, add the vinegar. You don’t want it to be overpowering, but you do want to taste it. It will bring a nice balance to the earthiness of the lentils. Serve with some crumbled feta, and enjoy.
This really is a fantastic soup for a cold day, the omnivores will never miss the meat, and your vegetarian friends will be happy too!
Hope everybody had a safe, and happy holiday!
After a second attempt. Well, several attempts actually using the original recipe I have concluded that for farinata to work you need to have a level oven. After a change of venue, using my oven, a skillet that has a nice flat thin bottom, and a pizza stone we got better results that the previous night. They were still not 100% satisfactory though.
For the sake of padding the word count here, I’ll give you a quick rundown of what I tried. As I have researched this I have found a wide variety of recipes, and they all call for the same ingredients, but in wildly differing quantities. All of them seem like they would make a rather thin batter.
2 cups of chickpea flour
4 cups cold water
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons kosher salt
Whisk the water into the chickpea flour. I poured part of the water in, mixed it, added more, and incorporated the water and flour as I went. Once all of the water is incorporated, whisk in the salt, cover, and allow to sit in the fridge for at least an hour. Longer might be better. When you are ready to go, skim off the white foam on top, and whisk in the oil.
Preheat your (hopefully level) oven to 450F, and oil a 12 inch pan, and ladle or pour a thin layer of the batter into the bottom. The thinner the crisper you will end up with. Bake for 10-12 minutes. You should, at least in theory, end up with a crispy on the outsides, and soft inside flatbread. Some of the descriptions call it almost pancake-like. It never quite managed that for me, except for one tiny edge bit. I put a little bit of herbs, and sliced onions on before I baked mine. It didn’t taste bad to me, but the texture could be a little weird for some people. (That was what put Amy off!) I even tried one on the stovetop, but since I have an electric stove I have less even heat. This caused one spot to burn and stick, before most of it had really browned.
Once I get my oven level I will certainly try this again, although I must admit I was more than a little frustrated with having this much difficulty getting a recipe to work. I may also look at a few other recipes to see if one looks like it might end up with a thicker batter.
Farinata is still promising to me, but I think I will be taking a break from it for now. I have a few technical issues to work out before I try again.
Since I am a cook, and we are open for Thanksgiving, I work. After, I go to my mom’s for dinner. We have a pretty basic Thanksgiving dinner. Of course I am also on a gluten-free diet, which complicates things a bit. Amy’s family has Thanksgiving dinner while I am at work, and she comes to our dinner late. It works out well enough. I don’t get to prepare a Thanksgiving dinner of my own, but I try to cook something that feels nice and fall-like. This year I decided to take a shot at gluten-free butternut squash ravioli, and a sage beurre blanc. This was the second time I have made pasta, and the first time gluten-free.
The first thing I did was start with the filling for my ravioli.
1 small butternut squash cut into cubes, and seeded
2 thin slices of guanciale(I used less than a slice of bacon. Use pancetta if you don’t have guanciale.) finely diced (optional)
1/2 small onion, finely dice
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 TBSP herbes de provence
1 tsp kosher salt
1/4 cup shredded asiago cheese
Start with the squash. Cut off the top and the bottom, then cut the neck off. Cut the neck into one inch cubes, and quarter the bottom, seed it, and cut into one inch cubes. Toss with a little oil, and salt and pepper, and roast it until it is softened and brown. Let it cool for a few minutes, and pull the skins off. This will be easy.Next I heated a skillet, and added a little oil, and then the guanciale to render it. Once it had started to brown a bit I added the garlic and onion. Once the onion had become a bit transparent I added the squash, and herbes de provence, and a little bit of salt. Next I transfered everything to my food processor, and pureed it in batches. I added part of the asiago with each batch. Once I was done I put this in the fridge to cool before I filled the ravioli. If you want to make this vegetarian the only change you would have to make is skip the guanciale, and just saute the onions and garlic in a little oil.
Pasta is a fairly simple thing. With wheat flour it can be as simple as flour, eggs and salt. The time I made lasagna noodles by hand that is what I did. With gluten-free flours it is a bit more involved, but only because you need xanthan gum! I used the four flour bean mix from the Gluten-Free Gourmet by Bette Hagman, but I would imagine any good flour blend would work well. This is a variation of her bean pasta recipe. It worked well. In the case of gluten-free pasta we have an advantage. We don’t have to spend a long time kneading to develop gluten, and the dough doesn’t have to rest before it can be worked, and we also don’t have to worry about overworking the gluten.
1 cup flour
2 tsp xanthan gum
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 TBSP oil
2 large eggs
That is all it takes. Combine the dry ingredients, whisk the eggs and oil together, and combine, and mix until a ball forms. I had to add a little water to make it all come together, but it was maybe a tablespoon. Kneed for a few minutes on a counter dusted with cornstarch, or you can do what I did. I worked on a piece of parchment, and then rolled it out between a second piece. This allowed me to cut down on the mess in my small kitchen! If you have a pasta maker you could use that, a rolling pin would work well, and if all else fails, improvise! An empty wine bottle would work just fine. I rolled my dough out as thin as I thought I needed it. (I was a little off! Oops, next time I do this they will be a bit thinner!)Add a small amount of filling to the center of the ravioli. In the picture above I have the right amount of filling. When you are ready to top the ravioli with the top dough a small amount of watter along the edge will help them stick together. Pinch the edges together, and set aside. Make sure you have a pot of boiling, salted water ready.
Now, we need to make the sauce. Beurre blanc is literally white butter. It is a simple sauce, but brings a lot of flavor! Start with white wine, and cider vinegar, in equal amounts. I started with 1/2 cup total, and a tablespoon of finely diced onion (shallots would be more traditional, but this worked fine.) and a little fresh ground pepper. Reduce the liquid au sec, add a half dozen torn up leaves of fresh sage, and then whisk in room temperature butter. I used a bit less butter than would traditionally be used. I used a quarter pound of butter, to make a lighter sauce rather than the half pound that should have been used in a traditional beurre blanc. It was still a nice sauce, and tasted great. While you are working on the sauce, boil your pasta for about 7 minutes, and serve hot, topped with the sage beurre blanc! Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
Cooking is an interesting activity to me. It sits at an interesting crossroads, it is neither science nor art, but in many ways is both. This is a dynamic I find very interesting. At it’s core, cooking is the manipulation of material using various methods to prepare it for consumption. Of course that is a bit simplistic. On the other hand, you have people like Ferran Adria at El Bulli who creates dishes that are so imaginative it takes half a year being of being closed to develop a menu for the next years season. The truth is that most of us are closer to the manipulation of materials than Ferran Adria. His dishes are also more scientific, and more creative at the same time. Unfortunately for us, the techniques used at El Bulli are so far outside of the normal realm of cooking that they are almost irrelevant on a day to day basis. That doesn’t mean that we can’t also be creative in the kitchen. We just have to set our sites a little lower!
So, how would I approach this? There are a couple of ways. First, if you are one of the people who says they need a recipe in order to cook something. Use a recipe. The first time you make it, follow it, exactly, 100%, to the letter. I don’t care what it is. Hopefully, it is a dish that you are at least somewhat familiar with. If you’re reading this, and you cook there is a pretty good chance you have been eating food for at least almost your entire life. That means that even if you have never made that particular recipe before you have at least eaten something with some of the same ingredients. What does that mean for you? It means that even though you think you NEED a recipe to cook, you have the tools you need to start to stray from the printed recipe, and make something that is unique to you. Each person has their own tastes, and preferences. So, start with something simple. Maybe you’re making a cream of spinach soup. Try a small amount of nutmeg. You will be surprised what it will do. It’s probably not in your recipe, but you have nutmeg. Add a little. Next time you make it, what about a little bit of dill? Or perhaps a splash of Pernod? There are a huge variety of things that can go into a dish. You don’t have to stick strictly to a recipe. They can be a handy guide, but think of making your soup like a road trip. You have the recipe like a map, but you can adjust things as you come across something interesting. Do you really want to miss the 27 foot tall garden gnome, just because you are trying to get to the Grand Canyon? This is one way I approach creativity in cooking.
The other way I deal with creativity is a bit more daring. Sometimes, I simply allow my mind to wander. I could be inspired by a trip to the grocery store, the walk-in at work, a menu at a sandwich shop, whatever. I simply allow myself to explore the taste of an ingredient, in my mind. The process is simple, but you have to trust yourself, and be willing to taste things, and make a mistake from time to time. You might use massaman curry paste in a pumpkin soup, because the cardamom, galangal, cinnamon, and mace would work well with the pumpkin, and the spicy elements of the curry paste would counterbalance the sweetness of the pumpkin.
When you can trust your palate to guide you there are a lot of options open to you. Sometimes I will buy something interesting at the store when it seems like something I could do something with, even though I don’t have a real idea what it is for. Other times, I have an idea, but am not sure how it will play out. I made a chevre spread with dates and cardamom. I opened the bag of dates, and the cardamom next to each other, it smelled good so I put them together. It was a hit! The key is just to try things, because you just never know what will work together, and make your next signature dish!
Udi’s Gluten-Free Foods is having a contest. The contest is to come up with a really great sandwich. I entered it, and this post is about what I made. I like my entry quite a bit, and I hope you guys will enjoy it, and head over to their website and cast a vote for me! Please?
I made a roasted pork sandwich with a pear onion relish, and swiss cheese.
First thing, I roasted a pork tenderloin. I seasoned it with salt, pepper and herbes de provence. It took about 30 minutes at 425F. Then let it rest.To make the relish finely dice a small onion, and a medium sized pear. Then sweat in a skillet until the onion softens, add a tablespoon of brown sugar. Allow the brown sugar to dissolve, and then season with 1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper. Deglaze the pan with a 1/4 cup of cider vinegar, and reduce to a syrup.Put that aside. Once the pork has had a little time to rest slice thinly. Next spread grainy mustard on the pieces of bread. Lay the sliced pork on one side, put a spoonful of the relish, top with swiss cheese, and the next piece of bread. From there its a pretty simple operation. Treat it kind of like a grilled cheese sandwich. Butter on the outsides, and into a hot skillet. Brown the first side, and flip. Brown on the second side. If the cheese isn’t melted pop it in the oven for a minute when you flip it. When you’re done with it, it should look like this.
I hope you guys like this. I’d appreciate it if you guys voted for my entry. I’m not really sure if votes help, but I figure it can’t hurt to get votes. Thanks in advance!
Well, this happens sometimes. I end up eating really late. It isn’t intentional, but I get busy doing things and still need dinner. Of course these time are usually when I have some long cooking dinner in the works. Tonight would certainly fall under that heading. I sort of had a feeling it might. I had a family thing to go to, and had planned to pop in, and split in fairly short order. I had hoped to be home, cooking by about 6, and instead didn’t get home until 7pm. It also took a bit longer than I expected to cook the beans, but in the end it was all worth it!
One of the best things about the internet is the abundance of information about cooking, recipes, and food. Michael Ruhlman, Rick Bayless, Eric Ripert, and Mark Bittman just to name a few. I follow these, and several others on Twitter, and they all send out interesting messages, recipes, and today I adapted a post from Mark Bittman. Really, my biggest change to his recipe was to skip the bulk of the meats and just use a couple of chicken legs.
1/2 pound of dry cannellini beans soaked overnight
2 chicken leg quarters
2 cloves of garlic
2 onions cut into half inch dice
2 sticks of celery half inch dice
2 carrots half inch dice
1 zucchini half inch dice
salt and pepper
1 28oz can of diced tomatoes
1 tsp dry thyme
handful fresh parsley chopped
1 quart of chicken stock plus a little water
Since I had my beans soaked last night, and I broke down the chicken to get the legs I was more or less in assembly mode tonight. Step one, heat some oil in the large pot, and brown the chicken a bit. I could have given them a bit more time to brown a bit more, and that might have added a bit to the flavor, but in the end it was pretty good.
Then add the beans and enough stock to cover everything. This took about a quart for me. Bring it up to a boil, and then turn it down to a simmer.This will need to simmer for about an hour. In the mean time, take your diced vegetables, and sweat them in a large skillet. You’re looking for them to start to get nice and tender, but not brown. A little salt is helpful when you are sweating veggies since it draws out moisture. Once they are tender I added the tomatoes, and herbs, and got everything hot, and also reduced the liquid a bit from the tomatoes and whatever came out of the veggies.
Once I had been simmering the beans for about an hour, and the veggies were softened and hot I added the veggies to the beans. Then I returned the pot to a boil, and turned it back to a simmer. This is where patience started to come into play. Everything really started to smell great. Cannellini beans take time to cook, and if you want to do this right you will let them take the time they need. You will be rewarded.My beans took another 30 minutes to finish cooking. They were tender, and not the least bit chalky. After an hour and a half simmering in the stock, and with all of the veggies the chicken was so tender that grabbing a leg bone to fish it out would leave you with no meat at all! That was dinner, and although it was certainly different than the cassoulet that I have had in the past I would certainly be happy to eat it again. That is a good thing, because I have plenty! Next time I make it I will probably find some turkey sausages that I can throw in there, and make it a bit more traditional. Traditional or not this was very tasty. Personally I always find this kind of long, slow cooking process very rewarding. It always seems to pay off in the end with a ton of flavor, and actually is fairly simple to do as long as you give yourself the time to take on the challenge. I ended up having dinner a little later than I would have liked, but it was great, and gluten-free. Hope you all enjoy it.
Edit: One thing I kind of forgot this morning at 2 am when I was finishing this up is a link back to day one, just in case you haven’t read it yet.
I spend a lot of time thinking about soup. Its not so much that I eat soup all the time, or have some unnatural fascination with the stuff. It is more that soup is one of my biggest tasks at work, and that I try to have a wide variety of soups through the week. Things get repeated because they work well. (In this case “work well” can have a few meanings, durable, taste good, easy and quick to put together would be chief among the meanings.) At work I pretty much have free rein to do what I want, and generally nobody has a problem with that. There have been a few missteps along the way though. I have really grown to enjoy soup, both eating and making it. Up to the point where I had to actually make soup I never really got it, but that is probably because most of my experience was with canned soups.
Now that it is colder I am starting to think about heartier soups. I love potato soups! There is so much room to vary them, and although potatoes taste great they kind of work as a blank canvas in soups. Generally these are pureed soups, but I have made soups that are not. The trick to a lot of my soup making is leftovers. When there are little scraps of food that don’t really have a purpose they tend to end up on one of my shelves in the walk-in. That is where I keep soups, scraps, and items that I need for my station. Today I’ll talk about one of my favorites. I like to call it baked potato soup! There is no actual recipe as such, it is just a general idea. This is NOT the delicate pure white potato soup that you generally see, it is certainly not vichyssoise (although I really do enjoy vichyssoise.), and it is better than anything Campbell’s has ever put in a can!
Give this a try sometime. I’m not going to give you quantities because I just don’t have them, and if I told you what I do at work you’d end up with more soup than you could possible eat!
oil or butter
leftover roasted potatoes (I end up with red skinned potatoes, but I am pretty sure you could use whatever you have.)
cooked bacon, diced (less than the onion, it’s just there to give you a nice flavor)
liquid (chicken stock, veggie stock, water – clear-ish is what you want, tasty would be nice too)
a bay leaf or two
shredded cheddar cheese
salt and pepper
That’s all that goes in the soup. You’re going to need a way to puree this one. A blender or food processor will be your best bet here. First heat your pot and add the oil or butter, and get that hot. The add the bacon and onions, add a little salt too, sweat this until the onions start turning clear. Dump in your roasted potatoes. I like to kind of mix things around, although I don’t really have any idea if it does anything in this case! Add your liquid and bay leaves. My only advice here is to just cover everything. Make sure all the potatoes are in the water (or whatever), but you don’t have tons of extra liquid. I’ll try to level them out and then add the liquid. Bring this up to a boil, and then turn the heat down and simmer until the potatoes are nice and tender. They don’t have to be mush, just tender.
Once you’ve got your potatoes tender, your going to need to strain this. Obviously, keep the liquid. Spoon the potatoes, onions and bacon into your food processor. Skip the bay leaves though, and either toss them in the trash or add them back to the pot. Puree the potato mixture until smooth working batches. (Make sure you have the lid on whatever you are using tightly, you do NOT want to wear potato puree!) Return the potatoes to the pot, and add the liquid back, and stir. Return the soup to a boil, and back to a simmer. Add your cream, again, no real guide here, I just stir it in until I like how it looks, and I can taste it. Cheese I just put some in, and taste for it. You’re not going to need a huge amount. Adjust everything with salt and pepper, and enjoy!
The great thing about soups like this is that they have nice body, and don’t need any kind of thickening, because the potatoes do that for you. So, gluten-free, thick, tasty, hearty, warming soup for a cold day!
Well, now, for a quick bit of trivia? What does Doozy refer to? Give up? Dusenburg were at the time the most expensive, fastest, most powerful and most advanced American built cars. Thus the expression, “Its a Duesy.” Why I know this is a good question, and I have no answer. Why I titled this post this way, well… let’s just say, “Its a doozy.”
I’ll start by giving you the plan. Use the CIA’s gluten-free baking book, and adapt to what I have on hand to make the focaccia recipe.
Here’s what is in the CIA’s book:
1 packet instant yeast
1/2 tsp rosemary
1/2 tsp basil
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups Flour blend #1 (their weakest blend)
1/2 cup Flour blend #3 (medium strength)
1 1/4 cup sparkling water (room temp)
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 tsp white vinegar
olive oil and coarse salt for garnish
As it stands, right now I have broken my mixer. The motor literally was smoking! So I continued mixing it by hand to the best of my ability. It proofed, but didn’t look like it did much to be honest. It is now in the oven. We shall see what happens.
So, what I did as far as the recipe goes
1 packet of yeast
1 1/2 tsp herbes de provence
1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 cups Bob’s Red Mill AP Baking Flour
1/2 cup buckwheat flour
3 tsp xanthan gum
1 1/4 cup sparkling water
1/3 cup canola oil
I would have added the vinegar because I was looking at the recipe while mixing, and suddenly I smelled ozone, then smoke, and the mixer stopped dead. I grabbed a spatula, and started mixing by hand as well as I could. I was a bit nonplussed, but decided to continue. So I put it in the pan I had chosen for this particular adventure (an old skillet I have), and let it proof for about 35 minutes. Right now, it is in the oven. It smells good, but I’m a bit dubious at the moment.
It just came out of the oven, and since I don’t have any olive oil at the moment I used a little bit of the smoked Extra Virgin rapeseed oil I have and a little kosher salt sprinkled on top. What does it taste like? I have no idea right now. My plan is to let it cool fully overnight, and see what it does in the morning. Of course, right now I’m thinking about new mixers. I’ve hated the one I had, and now that it has finally bit the dust I can justify a new one that will hopefully be able to stand up to what I am trying to do! So, this didn’t go exactly as I had envisioned, with any luck it will still be tasty!
I decided I would take a shot at eating a piece of the bread. I should have thrown it like a frisbee into my neighbors yard. You could tell that there was almost no leavening going on, which may have been because it wasn’t fully mixed, but also because the buckwheat was cold and didn’t let the yeast really do anything. Or the yeast may have been dead, that was an old packet of yeast. I’ll try it again, but for now I need to find a new mixer! It didn’t taste bad, but it is just kind of a slab of cooked dough.
A while ago, I wrote about rice, and made some risotto. Ok, so what else can you do with rice? How about pilaf? Rice pilaf isn’t a specific dish exactly. It is more like a method of cooking, kind of like risotto. A lot of the specifics will depend on the type of rice that you decide to use. For example, if you make pilaf using the plain old long grain rice that we all have in the cabinet you’ll use a 2:1 ratio of water to rice. Basmati? 1.5:1 Now, do you have to use water? No, of course you can, but it will be kind of plain. There are almost limitless options when it comes to cooking. In fact there are a number of dishes from around the world that use more or less the same method for cooking the rice. Depending on what part of the world different varieties of rice, cooking liquids, and other ingredients will be used. How you want to flavor it will dictate how you will add the different ingredients. The basis for pilaf seems to come from the Middle East. I have a Persian cookbook that has some really interesting rice dishes that are based on a pilaf. I’ll try to come back to some of them as I get time, but for now I just want to give you a basic idea.
Lets start with the basics, you’re going to need rice. Long grain works well here. Basmati, jasmine, or even your basic long grain rice will work. Liquid, depending on the kind of rice you are using will be between 1.5 and 2 times the volume of the rice you have. Mirepoix, a small diced onion, a little celery, and a little carrot. A couple of nice versions you can try are saffron, or curry powder. Obviously, you will need something to cook the rice in, and a second pot to heat up your liquid. A rubber spatula, and a little oil.
First, heat up your liquid. Easy. If you are making saffron pilaf, take a pinch of threads and put it in the cold liquid, bring it up to a boil. Meanwhile, in the other pot, heat the oil, and add the rice. With the spatula, stir the rice, pretty much like you did for the risotto. Again you’re looking for the rice to become clear on the ends, and maybe brown ever so slightly and get a nice nutty smell. Taking the curry option? Add that now, roughly a teaspoon(a bit less) per cup of uncooked rice, and stir that in. Next add in your mirepoix, and stir until the onion has become clear-ish. Add the liquid, bring it up to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover, and let it sit for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, turn off the heat, and let it sit for another 10 minutes. What you will have will be perfectly cooked, tender, and individual grains of rice. It is so easy you’ll wonder why you ever just boiled rice into a sticky mess. (There are reasons to do just that actually, but I’ll get to them later!)
As far as my food preferences go I tend to like spicy food, although not all the time. One of my favorite things before going gluten-free was to go get Chinese at one of several local carry-out places. One of my go to dishes was General T’so’s chicken, spicy, and sweet is one of the flavor combinations that I really dig. As we know, Chinese food is generally off limits due to soy sauce. Needless to say, I was bummed. PF Chang’s and its sister Pei Wei have made our lives a little easier as far as Chinese carry-out. After trying the Spicy chicken at Pei Wei I decided I had found a suitable replacement for General T’so! Not quite the same, but it will do. After a few trips I recently realized that not only did I like it, but I was pretty sure I could come up with my own version for a lot less money, and cut out the trip.
This is going to be a bit of a multi-step thing, but they are easy. First thing you need to do is make your sauce. For most cuisines there are sort of base flavors that are commonly used. If you look at a lot of recipes of French dishes you will spot mirepoix which is simply 2 parts onion diced, and then one part each of celery and carrots. This becomes the trinity in cajun cooking be replacing the carrots with green peppers. Lemongrass and galangal are common in Thai dishes, and in Chinese garlic and ginger. I took the garlic and ginger as a base flavor, and built my sauce from there. Here’s what I came up with:
1 1/4 cup orange juice + lime juice to bring the total to 1 1/3 cup
1 TBSP sambal
1 TBSP honey
1 clove ginger crushed
1 quarter inch thick slice of ginger root
Place everything in a pot, and bring it up to a boil. Then take 1 TBSP of corn starch, and combine with enough orange juice to make a slurry. With the pot still boiling add the slurry while whisking. You don’t want clumps so, be sure you are mixing it while you pour. Remove it from the heat, and cool. Keep this in the fridge till you are ready to finish the dish. Really, that was it!
The next thing I did was get all of the other ingredients prepped. I had four chicken breasts, because I wanted leftovers for lunch for the next few days at work. I also had some broccoli, carrot, and yellow bell pepper. The chicken was cut into bite sized cubes, the broccoli I cut into florets, and the yellow pepper and carrot I sliced thinly.
From here this dish came together pretty much like my last stir-fry chicken post. Start with the chicken, and sauté until cooked nearly through. Then add the veggies, and cook until they are tender. Add the sauce to the pan, and stir to combine, and coat everything. Serve over rice, and enjoy! If you are looking for a vegetarian dish, substitute tofu for the chicken, but remember to get the firmest you can otherwise it will break up while you try to sauté it.
A little bit of analysis: Dinner was very tasty, but… not quite right. It was fairly mild, and not quite sweet enough. It was also not quite thick enough. I still have about half the sauce left, and I think my next step will be to add a bit more honey, sambal, and thicken the sauce a little bit more. It was fun to take a shot at reverse engineering a recipe from only tasting eating it. I’m on the right path, so I’ll keep going a little further. This was a little bit of a challenge just due to the fact that there is a fair amount going on in the sauce.
I hope that my experiment inspires you to see what you can do in the kitchen. All it takes is paying attention to what you are eating, and taking a shot at replicating what you taste. Remember that there is more to what you eat than just the taste. There is flavor, scent, and texture. See how close you can get!
If there is anything you would like me to take a shot at reply here, and I’ll see what I can do. I’d love to hear from you guys!
Lately I have been doing a lot of cooking for groups(outside of work) so I thought I would actually write about it. Under normal circumstances I cook for myself and most of the time Amy, but not always. Over the past couple of years I have been playing disc golf. Now, I am not great, but I have a good time. This past weekend I was helping run a tournament, and we were having our Club Championships. This is generally one of the biggest parties of the year for us, as well as one of our most well attended tournaments. This is a two day event, Saturday we had a 27 hole round, and a couple of kegs of beer from Schlafly, a local micro-brewer (They used to have a gluten-free beer, but axed it due to low sales.), and BBQ for everyone. All told, I think we fed about 160.
Obviously, this task required a bit of help from several people. It also required a bit of planning. I came up with a menu that I figured would require very little prep, because lets face it I was going to have a lot of cooking to get done, and the simpler I could make it the better. Since we had done a pretty wide variety of things and I wanted to not duplicate something that had been done already I settled on jerk chicken. We had a few simple sides to go with the chicken too. I went to a local store that is open for restaurants to shop at, and found a great deal on chicken leg quarters. They were about $.44/pound, and came in 40 pound cases. Of course I needed 200 pounds. With bone in chicken I was figuring a hungry disc golfer would have no problem at all putting away a pound of chicken. So that would give us a little cushion. That was the easy part.
Finding a grill was sort of a nightmare. I needed a really big grill, and of course I don’t even own a small one! I already had some helpers tentatively lined up, and was pretty sure I could shanghai at least a few people to help if I needed to, they would want to eat after all! One Sunday morning during a round the topic of the Club Championships came up, and we started discussing where I was with the planning. Basically the grill was my one real sticking point. One of the guys suddenly stopped and pulled out his cell phone. He called a guy, and arranged for the most fantastic grill I could have hoped for! It even looked like a train!
This grill was amazing! It was hot as anything, but after a while I got the hang of working with it, and was able to get chicken that was perfectly cooked, and tasty. The chicken ended up so tender that you could literally pull the leg bone out of the leg with a simple twist of a pair of tongs! Here’s how we worked this magic: two step cooking. Often you want the skin browned, and the temperature in an oven just won’t do it as easily as the high heat of a grill or a saute pan. In this case the grill actually had two levels. The lower level would be fine for cooking thinner foods like a burger, but the upper level was a bit cooler. So, we used the lower level to mark the chicken, and then finished it on the to level. Season the chicken, and then put it on the grill skin side down. After a couple of minutes, check it, and if it is browned flip it to the other side. Then after a few more minutes we just moved everything to the top level. I was actually able to get about 14 pounds on the lower grill at one time, and in two layers I got an entire 40 pound case of chicken on the top. This is how I got 200 pounds of chicken cooked in an afternoon. It took about 160 pounds of charcoal, and cost me a bit of arm hair, but everyone had a great time!
What do we learn from this? Well, sometimes you can do things in different ways to achieve the same result. Tomorrow I am going to be making the Poulet Basques that I posted a while back for Amy’s birthday dinner. We’re going to have several people over, and I am going to roast the chicken rather than cook it the way I described in my post. I’ll take some pictures when I am doing it so you can get an idea, and write it up too!