Thursday, February 2, 2012

A successful failure....

So as promised, I made soup. I really wanted to make a Pumpkin Bisque, but I am currently a solid 15-20 pounds overweight and there was NO way I was going to be able to make a bisque that would not make me gain weight (or at least NOT lose any). With the Super Bowl coming up I had to save my calories for Sunday. So I decided instead to make a Carrot Ginger soup as natural as I possibly could. I searched around the web and as usual I found about 200 versions of roughly the same recipe. The more and more I found the more and more I decided to kind of wing it with spices and keep it simple. 

Me, keeping it simple
Carrots - Check
Ginger - Check
Low Sodium Chicken broth - Check
Shallots - why the hell not, I like shallots
Olive oil - for the shallots, dummy....

I could not have made this any easier on myself.
- Peeled the ginger (about half of that which was roughly 2 1/2 TBSP). 
- Minced both shallots.
- Broke down the pre-peeled carrots into even smaller pieces. 
- Olive oil in medium/high pan
- Shallots in pan until translucent
- Add Ginger
- Dump broth
- Add carrots until tender (took FOREVER)
- Put in food processor
- Season to taste

When it came to seasoning, I have NO clue what I did or did not put in as far as measurement. Black pepper, cinnamon, some dried ginger, salt, coriander and more black pepper. 

 The Final Product

The Good:
The taste was solid. The cinnamon was not overpowering but I did enjoy having the note of it. The ginger was not as strong as I thought it would have been, but it was definitely on the front of the tongue. The pepper was the last bit you tasted which was exactly how I wanted it to react which was great. 

The Bad:
The consistency sucked. I don't know if it was the carrots not being "mushy" enough or if maybe it's time to consider a new blade on the food processor but it was far too stringy. I did add some flour to try to tighten it up (which it did) and about 3 TBSP of half and half as well which had a positive effect, but not nearly positive enough. It was good, not great. If I could get the consistency right the flavor was almost spot on. Next time i'll dial up the ginger and shallots a bit and let the carrots cook WAY down. 

I wish had some Parsley I could have thrown on top for presentation, or maybe a dollop of cream.... Next time Gadget, next time...

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

How come I don't make more soup?

Seriously, I love soup. It's delicious, can be incredibly good for you without tasting like cardboard, and I live in the northeast (it's cold here for those of whom are bad with weather/geography). Also, rarely are foods as pretty as soup can be. it's one of those foods that visually can COMPLETELY change the way I taste the food.

Ginger Pumpkin Bisque....

Cheese Soup

Tomato Soup 

NE Clam if it needed an introduction

I made a chicken soup about a week ago. Asparagus, home made chicken stock, sesame seeds and a BUNCH of spices (red pepper, paprika, onion powder, garlic, parsley and salt and pepper). It was simple, completely on my current diet, and very flavorful. Now it was not good looking AT ALL, it was one of those things that happened where I was sick, wanted soup, had no soup, and started opening cabinets until I found stuff I could make soup with. 

So the charge for me is as follows....I am going to make soup this week. At least once, possibly twice. I tend to think soup is better a day or two after you make it (the flavors really marry together nicely after hanging out with each other). 

I will post pictures....hopefully

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A Random question

So while talking to a friend the other day a question came up that I feel the need to document:

What makes a good cook?

So first and foremost I have to preface a few things prior to the following diatribe;
1. I refuse to use the word "Chef" unless you are trained, as in schooled, because to become a Chef is an arduous and difficult process and I don't ever want to take away from people who have withstood that task.
2. This is mostly a wording issue. It's not a reflection on anything other than me combining two of my very favorite things, words and food.

OK. So the question was as follows; if someone follows a recipe well, does that make them a good cook?

My gut reaction is no. It makes them someone who can execute well when given direction. Which, in my humble opinion, should probably be something most any adult can achieve. Granted the extent of the aforementioned recipe is a change agent, being that some recipes are incredibly difficult to execute. But for arguments sake, let's say the recipe is pretty straight forward.

In my admittedly demented and pretentious head I think of someone being a good cook when they can operate in a kitchen given just about any circumstance. Someone who without recipe's can navigate through a meal on instinct or knowledge.

While I appreciate greatly technology and use it to myself, I do think it is somewhat contributing to my point. It's so easy to prepare things that before took refined skill and practice. Now everyone's just an instrument away from having the perfectly executed whatever. It's diluting the artistry of cooking a great meal. It's all, somewhat, souless....

I make no qualms with recipes in general. I use them myself. No one who cooks doesn't. But I know some people in my life that I consider great cooks and I know some people in my life I think can cook, and the more and more I think about it the more and more I find a distinction. You can tear a page out of a cookbook, buy the ingredients, follow the step by step directions and reproduce a delicious meal having little to no concept of WHY the recipe calls for what it does, HOW the recipe came to be, WHO created the dish and WHAT makes all those flavors makes sense together.

I get that this point in history the idea of a truly original dish is sophomoric. Everything has been made at some point. We have found new ways to build it, present it, grow it etc but all in all most things have already been thought up. I get that. But I still think there is a difference between someone who KNOWS the food they are cooking and someone who KNOWS the recipe they are following.

I'm sure this stems from my overall elitist attitude and my unhealthy addiction to all things delicious. In all honesty, I think of myslef as somewhere in the middle. I can operate without recipes (in fact I usually do) but I don't know food well enough to hit a home run every time. If I followed recipes more often I would fail much less often. But for me this food thing is a journey of sorts. I like wandering the aisles of a grocery store thinking about what would taste good with the first thing I picked up. I like learning how and why things don't work together instead of knowing ahead of time. I like "creating" a dish that has no doubt been documented and is probably a 101 lesson in culinary school without knowing that's what I made. I like knowing that I am not a great cook and I like that I have to keep cooking to get any closer. And I guess most of all, I like then when I do hit a home run, it's because my instincts were right, my concept was good, and my execution didn't let me down.

Or maybe I really am just that damn snobby....

Friday, December 2, 2011

Giving it a try....

I make my own pasta. I try to make my own pizza dough whenever possible. Generally, I try to make everything I can from scratch. Especially when it comes to Italian. Italian food is something I am overly comfortable with. It's my wheelhouse, my comfort zone, my go to. When in doubt, I can always count on Italian food to make it through a meal for people.

My father is Italian. My grandfather was a butcher. The man knows food. He also knows, well, I think he knows everything. He also get's that everyone has their own taste. We do not share a pallet. He cannot partake in heat like I can, he dosen't overindulge in cheese like I do, and he ENJOYS bitter food. While I would say he enjoys food, he could just as easily make a sandwich and not be bothered.

My mother is not Italian. My grandmother was a casserole slinging, Mac and cheese making, here have a sandwich kind of lady. In spite of this, my mother has an exquisite pallet. Whether she likes a taste or not, she gets it. She is aware of it. It effects the way the other food will taste. She is terrifying to cook for. She ENJOYS food the way I do. It is more than just nourishment, it is a moment in time you will never experience the EXACT same way you are experiencing it at that very moment.

I digress. I have been dying to try to make my own ravioli. I don't own a pasta maker. I don't own a lot of things I really feel I should own for my kitchen. The main culprit currently is this little guy
Is it weird that I hear "Isn't she lovely" by Stevie Wonder in my head every time I see this. 

So when I make pasta, it's the old fashion way. Flour, eggs, water, olive oil on a counter-top. Doughy handed I mush and mush until I feel like it's right. The reason I have yet to make ravioli is because, well, because it's really hard. You have to make it so thin. So perfect. Otherwise it's so damn heavy. And you have to cut it just right. And I don't have a ravioli cutter. Or ravioli pan thingys. The potential for disaster has just been too damn high for me to take the risk. Until now....

So in case I screwed up the main course I decided to make an easy appetizer that I knew would please everyone. Sweet yellow baby tomato's, a basil leaf and fresh mozzarella rolled in a piece of prosciutto, served on a thin cut toasted piece of Italian bread and lightly dusted with a raspberry balsamic. Fun little finger sandwiches based loosely on  Mozzarella Caprese. 

I had been dying to make a basil-tarragon pesto. Normal pesto sauce except I use peanuts instead of pine nuts (still toasted) and the addition of tarragon adds a bright note I have grown to love.Cooking for my parents and Kay I knew seafood was the right way to in lieu of stuffing. Ricotta, shrimp, arugula, mozzarella and some grated pecorino romano cheese.

So all that was left was the construction. This part was the nerve racking part. This was not a disaster, per se, but it was NOT one of the best dishes I have put together. The dough was too damn think. It was tasty, but it was really really thick. I couldn't get it thin enough to hold the filling. It was depressing. I was sad. I still am sad.

The filling was a disappointment as well. The shrimp just didn't hold up to the other flavors. It faded away. The cheese was a perfect mixture and made the ravioli at the very least decent enough to eat. The only bright spot was the pesto. Pesto is delicious. I would put pesto on ice cream if given the opportunity. It's that good. I really enjoy it with peanuts too. It's a simple switch but it really elevates the flavor

As I said, overall it was not a disaster, but not a raving success. My parents were kind as always and Kay likes anything I cook. It was a great night regardless of the food faux pas. I plan on trying to make them again soon. Not sure what the hell to do differently other than roll and roll and roll and roll. We'll see. Tonight I brine a Turkey (hard cider, all spice, peppercorns, cinnamon, salt, sugar). Tomorrow, Friendsgiving (Thanksgiving all over again for my closest group of friends). Pictures to follow. 

Off to look for something else to eat....

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Follow up to Breakfast Sausages

The Spices

The Patties

The Product.

My buddy at work Anne has asked me about these. It really is the easiest damn thing to make and super inexpensive. I have the spices in my house all the time anyway and pay practically nothing for the turkey ($3.49 for 1.2 lbs, all natural from Shady Farms). Other than the fact that you have to touch the raw meat (thats Anne's hold back) it really is delicious and easy. A small dinner role (I buy Mastrianni's. They are surprisingly good for you in comparison to a lot of other breads), a half a slice of Munster cheese, and one sausage patty. It's quick, portable, home made, and really pretty good for you. 

It's not as good as Grandpa Jack's, but it's damn good and nice and healthy. 

When you leave me alone....

So, as I stated in a post earlier today, I wanted to attempt to make Snow Chicken, a dish which I love from the bottom of my stomach, however I have never been able to figure out what the hell it truly is.

This is an order of snow chicken from Sake Cafe in Price Chopper plaza in Slingerlands. I am not usually one for sweet tastes, I generally prefer spicy/hot/fire/magma, but for some reason this dish sings to me. The soft tempora batter mixed with a sweet, semi-thick glaze is one of my favorite dishes period. I can't get enough of it.

So in my pursuit to find this mystery meal, I went to one of my favorite blogs, Table Hopping. Steve Barnes, being the gentlemen he is, posted an email I had sent to him to asking what the hell Snow Chicken was. Although not met with overwhelming response, one reader DID post something I could use. Honey Walnut Shrimp.

I know, I said Chicken. But judging from the ingredients it SOUNDS just like the Snow Chicken I have come to love so deeply. And better yet, it all seems easy enough. A quick Tempura batter, a super easy to make sauce, minimal ingredients, and done.

Tempora Batter - the equivalent of 5 or 6 egg whites. The recipe called for 4, but I like super fluffy tempora. Then simply added some corn starch, whisked, and it was ready for the chicken to be dipped in. 

The sauce is literally as easy as it looks above. Mayo, sweetened condensed milk, honey. I went with light Mayo and fat free sweetened condensed milk. I actually added some water to thin the sauce out a bit after originally mixing everything. It thinned it out the perfect amount.  

Tempora battered chicken. Cannola and peanut oil mixture (by choice believe it or not). 3 to 5 on either side depending on the size of the piece of chicken. To be totally honest, this would have been more than enough for me. I LOVE tempora anything.

The finished product. It was very very good. I learned a few things.
1. Fat Free Sweetened condensed milk does in fact taste different (not surprised)
2, The light Mayo was actually fine. Didn't taste any different given the addition of the honey. 
3. It needed something to cut the sweetness. I have not yet figured out what I think would do the trick, however I will most definitely be experimenting with this to figure it out. 

Best part of this whole experience, only $14 at the store to but everything, and I have more than enough of everything left over (sans the chicken, of course) to do it all over again. 

Off to look for something else to eat...

And now for something completely different...


I am going to attempt to make Snow chicken tonight, which I believe to be a mutant offspring of Honey walnut chicken, It is a Chinese dish with condensed milk, honey, and tasty little bits of lightly battered and fried chicken. The opportunity for me to screw it up is high.