Sunday, July 31, 2011

Ode to Cilantro

I wrote this "Ode" a few years ago when I felt the need to put my true feelings for Cilantro down on paper.  I'm one of those bizarre people who upon eating Cilantro feel like they've had their mouth washed out with soap. 

I don't make it a habit of sipping on nice, tall glasses of soap, but I have on rare occasion had some soap left on my fingers after doing dishes and had the unfortunate displeasure of putting them too close to my mouth and BAM- soap taste all over my tongue.  Icky!

Cilantro ranks right up there with turnips, which if you've read my blog you know I think those taste like toe jam. :)

So without further ado, I bring you my emotionally riveting poem about my dislike of cilantro:

An Ode to Cilantro

Cilantro, Cilantro so green and so leafy
To others you look like a cousin of parsley
When I eat you I mope
Cause you taste just like soap
I went to Chipotle
Because it is Friday

And ordered a chicken burrito-

With cilantro lime rice and little black beans
Your flavor is truly not what it seems

I dissected my meal
and I thought "what's the deal?"

And was saddened by what I discovered.

So many flecks of your green leafiness
Had invaded my Mexican supper.

So I picked and I tossed every green piece I saw
so my burrito is now without flaw.

One final note, which I feel I must make

Oh, why can't you just taste like CAKE!?!?!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

You Say Potato, I Say Cocotte

During the first 4 weeks of Culinary School, we learned approximately 31 different knife cuts. Gone were the simpler times when as a home cook I only had to worry about chopping, slicing, dicing and mincing my veggies or spuds.
After every cut was learned, I ended up with some favorites, and some not so favorites. My favorite cuts were the brunoise (broon-wah) and brunoisettes (broon wah zhay).  Essentially it is cutting veggies or potatoes into little 1/16" cubes or little 1/8" cubes.   (Here is a picture of nine of the cuts we have I did twice.)  I am aware that a potato IS a veggie, however thanks to our wonderful friends the French, they've required that we separate the two, and as a result a potato is considered a starch, not a veggie.  Hey, I only follow the rules and ridicule them, I don't make them.

My next favorite cut would be Julienne and Julienne Fine (feen)  Most people know what a simple Julienne cut looks like, but did you know that they each have specific measurements?  

Yup- they do. I mean, we are talking about the French here people, and if I've learned one thing over the past six weeks it is that the French desire to drive every non-French person stark raving mad by a plethora of crazy rules and special names for every.little.thing.  Granted their way is the best, and once you learn their way, it's rather logical and perfect, I just wish they weren't so right all the time, but I digress.  (I seriously don't hate the French in any way, shape, or form. I just enjoy picking on them.  Don't worry, they're used to it I'm sure).

OK, back to the measurements.  A Julienne cut is 1/8 x 1/8 x 2-2 1/2 inches long.  The Julienne Fine cut is 1/16 x 1/16 x 2-2 1/2 inches long.  No, seriously, we actually measure these.  Or, as our Chef Instructor said "Check yourself before you wreck yourself".

My least favorite cut has to be the ever so wonderful Cocotte (coh-cott) or Tourner 
(tore 'nay).  Simply put a cocotte is when you intentionally (and purposefully) cut a potato into a 2 inch x 3/4 inch 7 sided football shape.  A Tourner is the same cut, only done on a veggie, such as a carrot, turnip, parsnip, beet or zucchini.  They look something like that picture on the left.  I actually did cut the 28 cocottes you see to your left, and even after all that practice I still stink. 

I bet you are all wondering "why would anyone want to cut a potato into a 7 sided football shape, and how do you prepare them?  Ah, I'm so glad you asked.  I'm not sure why anyone would WANT to sit and turn potatoes for the heck of it, however they are pretty, and with practice if they are all made roughly the same size they cook pretty evenly and for some reason pretty shapes just taste better.  

Cocottes taste amazing when they are par boiled for a few minutes in well-salted boiling water and then sauted in bacon fat until a little golden brown and crispy on the outside. (Yes, I actually did just post a picture of bacon fat.  Bacon fat is awesome.  Embrace it.)  To finish them, sprinkle with salt and pepper and enjoy.  When you have to cut as many potatoes and carrots as I've had to cut in order to practice you get rather creative about ways to prepare them.  
Another way to prepare these cocottes is to drizzle olive oil into a large bowl, toss in the spuds, coat each one in the oil, sprinkle on a liberal amount of Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, or a little white pepper, and some fresh rosemary and roast them.  YUM!

Friday, June 24, 2011

What do you mean your spaghetti sauce comes out of a jar?

This was our dinner tonight. (not a bad picture considering I used my iPhone to take it)  Yesterday I started a big pot of homemade Marinara sauce (or as my niece calls it "Sketti sauce"), and today after simmering it for a few more hours, I thought I'd get adventurous. The picture to the left is what I came up with.

Okay, I'll admit it- a nice, pan seared chicken thigh doesn't really belong on the same plate as Penne pasta covered in a tomato-basil cream sauce with a cute garnish of fresh mozzarella pearls and fresh basil...

However, in my defense it was the only protein I had thawed out, and I had changed my mind about what we were going to have for dinner about 15 minutes before we normally sit down to eat.  Tomorrow we'll have stuffed shells with marinara sauce and meatballs.  All homemade.  Except for the shells.  I'm not crazy enough, skilled enough, or in the possession of a shell shaped fresh pasta die cutter, so my pasta shells come from a box.  Don't judge. 

Tonight's dinner was really good, even though the chicken and pasta didn't really come together as a cohesive dish, on their own they were simply divine.  I thought I would share my recipe for Marinara sauce, and then my recipe for the tomato-basil cream sauce with everyone. 

I've been making homemade marinara sauce for about 15 years.  It's a constant work in progress.  I married an Italian, but didn't get the stereotypical Italian Mother-in-law, so I had to learn how to make it without a recipe that was passed down from generation to generation.  I did get the hottest of all the brothers, so I feel the trade off was fair.

This is a pretty basic sauce.  It isn't fancy, it isn't funky, it isn't stuck-up-it's simple.  Because it is rather simple, it is VERY easy to dress up, and make other sauces out of it- one of which is the cream sauce I made tonight.   I'll do my best to come up with exact measurements, but in all honesty I do all the spices and herbs to our specific tastes.  You can always add more, but you can't take it out, so start out slow and build from there.

Another point to remember is that the acidity levels of tomatoes varies, so you may need to calm the acidity level down a bit by adding a tiny bit of sugar (1/4-1/2 tsp or a pinch of baking soda) to the finished sauce. I personally prefer sugar, but that's cause I'm addicted to it. :)

My Homemade Marinara Sauce
Makes approx 8-10 cups  (feel free to freeze some for a later date, it does freeze well)

  • 2-28 ounce cans of diced tomatoes.  I prefer Muir Glen Organic, but Contadina and Red Gold/Red Pack are also good brands.  If you don't like chunky sauces, use 1 can of diced tomatoes and 3 cans of sauce- as long as you have a total of 4 cans, it's all good.
  • 2-28 ounce cans of tomato sauce.  Again, I prefer Muir Glen organic, but Contadina and Red Gold/Red Pack are my next top picks.
  • 14 ounce can of Tomato Paste.  
  • Approx 42 ounces of cold water (just fill one of those empty tomato sauce cans one and a half times)
  • 1-2 Tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 3 medium-large garlic cloves finely minced
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper and sugar (if necessary)
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh basil- cut chiffonade.  (that's chef-speak for roll the leaves into a cigar shape and slice very thin ribbons of basil)
  • 2-4 Tablespoons fresh oregano- roughly chopped  (start with 2, you can always add more if you want)
  • 2-4 Tablespoons fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley- roughly chopped (start with 2, you can always add more if you want)
  • The rind from a hunk of GOOD Parmesan cheese.  I always save the rinds and freeze them.  I use the rinds to flavor soups and sauces.  If you don't happen to have a spare rind sitting around, either run to the store and buy a hunk of good Parmesan (please, don't come home with that green canister of grated Parmesan...hath you no shame, people?) or throw in a 2-3 ounces of fresh Parmesan cut into 1/2 inch pieces.
  • 1 large bay leaf.  Fresh is best, dried is just fine
  • 1/2 teaspoon of each of any combination of the following dried herbs: Oregano, basil, marjoram, rosemary, Italian seasoning, parsley.  I personally don't use rosemary, but knock yourselves out if you happen to like it.

In a large stockpot or dutch oven over medium-low heat, combine tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, water, minced garlic, fresh herbs, dried herbs and bring to a bubble.  Once your sauce starts to bubble, add the Parmesan cheese rind (or chunks of fresh Parmesan) and the can of tomato paste.  Stir well and reduce heat to lowest burner setting.

Simmer for as long as possible.  I simmer mine for at least a day.  Stir it frequently until the Parmesan has fully incorporated into the sauce and there is no longer a chance that it will sink to the bottom of your pan and burn.  Burnt cheese isn't good cheese, and it will ruin your sauce, so keep an eye on it until it is fully incorporated into the sauce. With each stir, taste it to check on the acidity level of the sauce.

After about 2-3 hours, taste sauce again and adjust the seasonings. You may find you want to add more fresh herbs, a little dash of some dried herbs, you may need a little bit of sugar because your tomatoes were rather acidic, and you may fancy some salt and pepper... at this point, your possibilities are endless so adjust to your particular preferences.  Once you've added what you want to add, continue to simmer for another 2-4 hours, take off the heat, and let it cool down as much as possible.  Cover and refrigerate, and just heat thoroughly the next day and serve with pasta and freshly grated Parmesan. (if you simply can't wait a day while your sauce does magical things as it chills in the fridge, go ahead and serve it over some pasta)

There you have it.  Pretty easy, huh?

Okay, now onto the cream sauce from our dinner tonight- the very top picture.

Take 4 cups of the finished sauce and set aside in a bowl.
1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion finely diced
2 Tablespoons fresh basil, cut chiffonade
1/2 cup heavy cream

Heat a saucepan over medium heat.  Add oil, add onion, stir, and cook until tender.  About 3-4 minutes.  Add a little pinch of kosher salt and a pinch of fresh black pepper.  SLOWLY add your homemade tomato sauce and reduce heat to low.  Simmer for 10-15 minutes, stirring frequently.  Add cream and basil and heat through for another 2-3 minutes, serve over pasta.  I like Penne and Linguine for this particular sauce.

I truly hope that you enjoy learning how to make your own marinara sauce.  It's so easy to do, and it is one of those dishes that you'll spend the rest of your life trying to perfect, each pot will be "the best one yet", until you make another pot.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Top 10 Most Interesting Things About Culinary School

#10- Ripping the arms off a lobster before putting it out of its misery isn't as fun as one might think. (No babies or lobsters were harmed in the writing of this blog entry.)

#9-  The French are even more annoying once you start to learn their language and the French codification of cuisine.

#8-  I've annihilated more potatoes and carrots than I care to admit.  We could feed the homeless in St. Paul for a month on the veggies we've wasted in class.  Sad, but true.

#7-  It is possible to get tired of mashed potatoes- after you save 25 pounds worth of fancy shaped cut spuds, you'll understand my tater-pain.

#6- I like veal and lamb, and feel a little guilty that I do.

#5-  I think turnips taste like toe jam.  No, I have never actually consumed toe jam, but I have in my mind an idea of what I think it would taste like, and turnips fit the bill.

#4- Cutting yourself while cooking at school doesn't hurt as bad as it does when you cut yourself while cooking at home.

#3- You are either a pudgy chef, or a skinny chef.  There doesn't seem to be a happy medium.

#2- Although I find the French immensely annoying, I do admire their love of cream and butter.  Long live yummy fats.

#1- I will never eat store-bought mayo again.  Homemade is the only way to go.  I mean look at that beautiful emulsified yumminess!

And, just a few more for posterity...

  • I never knew I was capable of making and memorizing SO MANY FLASHCARDS!
  • There may only be one way to skin a cat, but there are several ways to cut a carrot.
  • Fresh Salmon is simply amazing.  Forget grocery store fish people- seriously. 
  • I make hounds-tooth check pants sexy.  Just sayin'...
  • Getting up at 4:45 am isn't getting any easier, but I wake up excited to start each day and thankful for the blessing of being able to live my dream so I deal with it.
  • There are some cranky looking Chef Instructors at my school.  Not sure how anyone can be grumpy when surrounded by that much cream and butter.  I walk around with a Perm-a-Grin for crying out loud... couldn't smack that smile off my face. 
  • Never try to make lamb stew for the first time on memory from how your Chef Instructor made it in class.  invariably you will forget several steps and ingredients and the turnips will make your stew taste like dirty feet.  Again, I've never sucked on dirty feet, it's just that if you've ever eaten a turnip you'd understand.  And, if you like turnips, forgive me, but you need shock therapy cause somethin' ain't right with ya!  ;o)
  • Once you go through Sanitation classes, you will judge the movements and actions of every waiter, waitress, hostess and chef at every restaurant you go to, and you'll never want to eat at McDonald's again.
  • I suddenly leave the house with less and less makeup on every day, and I'm not bothered by it.  I know...if you had pearls on you'd clutch them, right? 
  • Whisking egg yolks and clarified butter builds muscles you didn't even know you had. 
  • Clarified butter.  Oh.My.Gosh! 
  • I get to carry knives around...legally.
  • I still hate tests. You would think after taking about 2-3 per week that I would start to enjoy them, but I don't. Despite knowing all the answers I usually forget that I do at least one question per test.  Yes, I'm that anal and want 100% on everything...sue me. :)

Well, that about sums up the past 6 weeks of classes.  It's been intense, insane, challenging, fun, exciting, fun, cool, sad (sorry Bob and Hermanetta the lobsters) and nothing short of amazing.

I can't wait to share more culinary school adventures with you guys.

My Little 4.0

Greetings- Well, I certainly wasn't expecting to take this long in getting around to the maiden post of my new blog-however Culinary school has proven to need more attention as far as homework and studying goes, so I put that first.

As a result of all my hard work, and endless studying, I walked away with a "Little 4.0"- In Beach Boys style I thought I'd write a little song about it- to the tune of their hit "Little GTO"...

♪♫Little 4.0, you're really lookin' fine
Test scores that all start with a nine
I did so well, I'm living my dream
Watch me turn it on, cut it up, blow it out 4.0! ♪♫

I look sorta cute, in my chefy whites
Baggy checkered pants and a hat so tight
I studied all day long, and well into the night
Watch me turn it on, cut it up, blow it out 4.0  ♪♫

♫♪Wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-wa... tourne, cocotte and allumette
Hacher, cheveau and demi-lune
I can chop things and even carry a tune ♪

I've learned a zillion words in French
Way more than any weight I can bench
I'm real proud to just let ya know
I rocked my classes and got a 4.0  ♪♫

Looks like I may just have a future with Weird Al Yankovich should I ever desire one. :)