Monday, November 8, 2010

Seasonal Ingredients

Hello world, I have returned!

I know, its been a while, right? Well, rest assured, I have not stopped cooking and coming up with dishes to share. Tonight's meal had a little to do with a movie and a lot to do with veggies that are in season: Ratatouille.

Before I dive into how I prepared it I'll give you a brief history on what ratatouille is, just incase you aren't familiar with the dish.

Ratatouille is traditionally a French peasant dish made with zucchini, squash, eggplant, tomato, and sometimes onion and green pepper sliced and layered, then cooked in a stock.  These were pretty easy ingredients to come by so it didn't cost much for people to make this.  I guess I tend to look at it as "French soul food", considering their similar origins.

First off, let me say that I love these ingredients and the season that brings them about.  I can honestly say that I've been looking forward to making this for a while and I'm not ashamed to admit that it reminds me of the movie "Ratatouille" almost everytime I think about it.  I mean, its an excellent movie, especially for anybody with a passion for cooking...but I digress.

I persoanlly think that the "wow" factor of ratatouille comes in with the layering of the vegetable slices.  each of the colors just compliment each other and really makes it stand out on the plate.  Aside from the layering of the ingredients, the change that I personally made to the recipe was to sautee the aromatics (rosemary, thyme, sage, basil, lavender, onion, garlic, salt and pepper) in a little butter before adding chicken stock to the sauce pan.  After I let the stock simmer a bit, I added in some tomato paste and poured it over the layered veggies, covered the dish and then let it bake for about 30 minutes.

I paired this with a roasted chicken breast, which is an obvious favorite in my house and made a white truffle pan sauce to go with the chicken using white truffle oil, truffle salt, pepper, heavy cream, chicken stock, onions and garlic. I deglazed the pan I roasted the chicken in with the chicken stock, and added the rest of the ingredients and let the sauce reduce until I was satisfied with the results.

So, all in all, dinner was great and I'll definitely be making ratatouille again before the season is over with.  I'll also be sure to have more frequent posts with some of the other things I've come up with since my last update.

Thanks for reading & enjoy!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Keep it simple...or not?

Sometimes the best meals are based on simple foundations with just a few complex components.  Lets take tonight's dinner for example - Meatloaf and Mashed Potatoes.

When you think about it, there really isn't anything complex about it; you mold meat into a loaf, mash up some spuds and viola, dinner is served...but not in this house.  Personally, I think that if you are taking the time to make dinner, then you need to enjoy it - even if that means putting in a little extra work.

For tonight's meatloaf, I decided to go with a veal demi-glace gravy, which made such an insane impact on the flavor of this meatloaf. DE-LI-CI-OUS!  I basically made a roux with diced onions and a few table spoons of veal demi-glace.  Once the flour was cooked through, I added 2 cups of chicken stock, some herbs (rosemary, thyme, salt and pepper) and let it simmer and reduce to a thick, smoothe gravy. If you ever have the chance to taste or cook with demi-glace DO IT! you wont regret it, I promise you!

*Now, just in case your not familiar with demi-glace, here's the basic explanation:  Its pretty much a traditional French preparation.  It is created by slowly simmering stock (in this case veal), aromatics (herbs, oils, etc) and wine down to a super, super concentrated and flavorful glaze.  Because its so intense in flavor, its excellent for using it in sauces, stews, soups, risottos, etc.  There are all types or demi-glace, but the most popular versions are veal, chicken, beef, and mushroom.*

As for the potatoes, I went with a tried and true method; roasted black garlic and onions.  After boiling the potatoes, I passed them through a food mill (such a great creation - perfect for silky, smoothe potatoes) and added some butter, cream, salt, pepper and the roasted black garlic and onions...which reminds me, I need to go buy more black garlic.

All in all, tonight's meal was a home-run.  Comfort foods are always great, especially when you're able to find ways to improve upon them.  I can definitely say that I am excited to find and cook with the other versions of demi-glace and see what dishes I can come up with. I think that from this point on, demi-glace will be a mainstay in my home.

Meatloaf with Veal Demi-Glace Gravy & Black Garlic Mashed Potatoes

Friday, October 1, 2010

Viva Italiano!!

I'm one of those people that gets a craving and then tries to move mountains to fulfill it.  Its a gift and a curse - I know that as soon as I start glaring at the pantry, I'll eventually end up in the kitchen.  In this particular case, the result was Italian food.  I think that of all of the cultures of food out there, Italian is probably the one that I do best - and its also one of my favorites.  Its hearty, social, family oriented, and just plain GOOD.  You know good Italian food when you taste it.  Think about it, everybody can remember atleast one Italian dish that after the first bite, you had to close your eyes and really think about what you just ate and how happy you are that you have an entire plate of it in front of you.  For me its stuffed shells - my mom's stuffed shells to be more precise, but since I have to always put my spin on things, I've taken them to another level.

There are a few key ingredients that I use in my stuffed shells to amp them up a bit.  First, I use basil...and lots of it.  Basil is definitely my favorite herb to cook with, especially in Italian dishes.  It adds a bit of a minty/lemony taste but still clean at the same time.  In my personal opinion, nothing screams Italian food like basil.  My second addition is roasted or fire roasted tomatoes (you can roast them yourself or buy them by the can).  Its an INCREDIBLE flavor booster for any marinara sauce. My third addition is red pepper flakes.  The red pepper flakes give the sauce a nice little back heat - not too much, just subtle enough to feel/taste it as you finish your forkful of goodness. The last addition I add to my shells is alfredo sauce.

you read that right - alfredo sauce.
But I don't add this into the marinara, I layer it onto my shells before layering on the marinara sauce.  You wouldn't believe how much flavor this adds to the end result, but trust me, it is WELL worth the additional ingredients.

This is probably one of my best Italian recipes so I'll be HAPPY to share it with you if you would like to try it yourself, just hit me up and I'll toss the list of ingredients and the how-to list your way. Be warned, it is a labor intensive dish, but on the plus side - it is fantastic and it will easily feed 4-6 people or 2 people with plenty of left overs.


Stuffed Shells

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Everybody Loves Chocolate!

I'm Baaaaaaaack!!

Sorry about my recent disappearing act (I've been having some technical difficulties with my internet connection) but never fear,  because I have returned with a REALLY cool post for you!

A really good friend of mine named Mica is running a pretty successful business by the name of Confectioneiress Cupcakes & Sweets and she honestly makes some of the best cupcakes and desserts that I have ever had.  When you get a chance, you should definitely take a look at her blog because it posts her current or upcoming cupcake flavors and where you can find her to get your hands on some of them.

She recently invited me over to help brainstorm and experiment with some new flavors and being the foodie that I am, I instantly jumped at the opportunity.  I will be the first to admit that although I am a pretty decent baker, I am far better at cooking entrees, so I looked at this as an opportunity to learn from someone who I know for a fact is amazing at what she does.  Her initial idea was to start with a cake flavor that could stand up to any of the experimental ideas we came up with, and dark chocolate was the winner.  Her dark chocolate cake recipe (sorry, I can't give that out :-p) is probably the best I've ever had.  It was moist, aromatic, dense without being too dense, and as decadent as possible.  I could have eaten the cupcake itself without any frosting and been perfectly happy. 

Another goal we were shooting for was to step outside of the box; meaning to come up with flavors that would appeal to the people who aren't afraid to be adventurous with their food and try something new.  We both agreed that being adventurous is one of the fun aspects about being a foodie.  So many people say they don't like things before they even give them a try, and because of that , they miss out on some fantastic experiences.  You never know what you will like until you try it...and if you liked it, try it again! Thats how I try to live my life when it comes to food and I've had some of the best gastronomic experiences I can remember, simply because I pushed myself to be open minded.

The flavors that we ended up experimenting with (and they were all great) were: Bacon Dark Chocolate, Strawberry Balsamic Dark Chocolate, Dark Chocolate Pink Peppercorn and Dark Chocolate Curry.

Dark Chocolate Curry Cupcake
I was pleasantly surprised at how well curry goes with chocolate. 
The curry was definitely a subtle flavor in comparison with the dark chocolate
but the aromas from the curry along with the sweetness of the confectioner's sugar
made for a great cupcake.

Dark Chocolate Pink Peppercorn Cupcake
The thing to keep in mind with this one is that pink peppercorns
aren't actually pepper, they just taste like a much milder black peppercorn
which results in a really cool flavor and texture combination with the chocolate.

Strawberry Balsamic Dark Chocolate Cupcake
Strawberries and Balsamic reduction are already a classic combination,
but when paired with dark chocolate it was pretty much fantastic.
The tart flavor from the balsamic and sweetness from the strawberries complimented the rich chocolate perfectly.

Bacon Dark Chocolate Cupcake
This was probably my favorite creation of the night. 
We candied the bacon with brown sugar and crumbled it on top of
milk chocolate frosting with bits of a Vosage Bacon Chocolate Bar for garnish.
The Salty/Sweet combination was amazing...I could have eaten about a dozen of these.

All in all, this experimenting session was both eye opening and fun at the same time.  Its almost a necessity that with food you have to be open to try new things and new combinations. Sometimes the weirdest combinations can turn out to be one of the most delicious things you've ever eaten - just look at candy corn and peanuts.  Its also a good idea to give things a second try. Just because you don't like the way one person prepared a dish or used an ingredient, doesn't mean you'll dislike the way someone else does it.

So I'll leave you all tonight with a challenge:

Go out and try something new or something that you don't think you'll like and let me know how it goes- and I'll do the same.  For example, I personally don't like cinnamon, but I also know that I have never had cinnamon done well; it has always been done with a very heavy hand and the only thing that I tasted was cinnamon. So what I'm going to do is go to Mica for one of her Apple Cinnamon Churro cupcakes because I know that she is good at what she does and I feel confindent that I wont be overwhelmed with cinnamon.  Who knows, I might find a new favorite flavor.

...And all because I was open minded.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Meat and Potatoes

I have never been one to have dinner with no meat and I'm pretty sure its because of the way I was raised. I can't remember ever having a meal without meat as the main attraction. Even now, it seems like the protein is always the center of attention in my dishes. Don't get me wrong, I am definately not complaining about this, just an observation I made while cooking dinner tonight.  I initially planned on making a marinara meatloaf, but when realized that there was no beef in sight I switched gears and decided to go with pan roasted chicken (which only cements my observation - find some meat!).

Pan roasting has become one of my favorite way to prepare chicken.  One of the tips I learned early on was that when you transfer the chicken from the stove top to the oven, make sure the chicken is skin side down - this will help keep the thickest part of the chicken juicy..  Not only that, but it makes the skin crispy. I know its not the healthiest thing to eat but I looooove crispy chicken skin.

gotta enjoy the little things, right?

Oh, and if you decide to try this, don't you DARE get rid of the brown bits that are left in the pan when you remove the chicken - this is the heart and soul of an amazing pan sauce.  With a little bit of chicken stock, butter, garlic, onions and herbs, you will have a great addition to your meal.

The side kick tonight was black garlic smashed (not mashed) potatoes.  I had never used black garlic before.  To be completely honest, I hadn't even seen or come in contact with it until about 2 weeks ago.  I have to say that its delicious - it has a much sweeter and milder flavor than regular garlic, and it also has a much softer texture. I decided to go with a smashed potato because they have a bit more texture.  As much as I love the smooth consistency of mashed potatoes, I also love the chunks of potato sticking to my fork with smashed potatoes.  With a bit of sour cream (prevents dry potatoes), just a liiiiiiiiittle bit of heavy cream, toasted black garlic, ample salt and pepper, the dish was done.

And here is the end result...

I had to go back for seconds...

Monday, September 20, 2010

Monday Night Dinner

So today I tried a couple of things that I had never done before.  For one, I tried my hand at making a puree and I think it came out well...not stellar, but not bad by any stretch of the word. I ended up making a roasted beet and carrot puree with some other ingredients (toasted pine nuts, cilantro, fresh orange juice, and pineapple).  It was a bit earthy before I added in the pineapple, orange and cilantro, so the additional ingredients definitely "brightened up" the flavors of the puree. If I had to give the puree a grade, I would probably give it a solid B...before it was paired with its counterpart - Herb Crusted Pork Medallions.

The pork came out great!  I loved the way it tasted and the way it was cut made for a pretty cool presentation. Sometimes pork can be difficult to control. It is easy to over-cook and just as easy to under-cook (very bad idea), but I've learned over time that the smaller the cut of the meat, the easier it is to control.  It was very easy to keep the pork juicy without undercooking it by cutting it into smaller pieces/medallions. The herbs that I used for the crust were: sage, rosemary, thyme, mexian oregano, smoked paprika, sea salt and cracked pepper. It could definately have stood alone but when partnered with the roasted beet puree it was even better.  Great combination.

Roasted asparagus is always a good side dish.  It seems to me that roasting vegetables enhances the flavor immensely, especially asparagus.  This was also the first time that I had ever used hollandaise sauce over asparagus - another great combination.

I just recently learned how to make hollandaise sauce and it can be a little difficult but heres a good trick - Use a blender.  Hollandaise requires so much attention and mixing that using a blender cuts out a lot of hard work, and you still get the same results.

And by the way, Hollandaise + Bacon = AMAZING!

During the course of the meal, I learned that the mixing of the citrus in the hollandaise and the smooth texture of the puree played really well together. I eventually found myself "sopping" up the combined sauces with the pork shame here!

So tonights dinner:

Herb Crusted Pork Medallions & Roasted Beet Puree with Roasted Asparagus & Hollandaise Sauce.

        Plating without Bacon

     Plating with Bacon

Which one do you think looks better?
I couldn't decide so I'm leaving it up to you guys!

And so, it begins...

So this is it.  I have been tinkering around with the idea to start a food blog for a few weeks now, and I have even been taking photos of all of the things I've cooked that way I have things to post here.  I mean, it only makes sense -


The first word that come to mind for me when I think of food is: Therapeutic.

I cook to relax (I know, weird right?), I cook to celebrate, I cook to reduce stress, I cook when I'm happy, I cook when I'm bored and I eat for the same reasons...which means I have to work out all the time otherwise I'd be morbidly obese.

 But I can't help it. I love it, and I know that a major part of why I love it so much is because it allows me to express a creative side of myself that I don't really express in other aspects of life.  And I know I'm not the only one out there that feels this way.

As my entries gather speed and numbers, some of my food items may....emphasis on MAY come with a recipe and some won't. This will pretty much be determined by how proud I am of any specific dish.  If it was a particularly difficult technique that I used, I will have absolutely no problem sharing it (maybe you can help me make that technique easier if you're better at it than I am) and I welcome ALL comments and input. I would LOVE to hear from you, who knows, I may have you over for dinner one night and you can tell me if I'm really as good as I think I am!

So here goes: the first post/pic of the food blog.

Tonight's Dinner was pretty good.
Angus Beef Chipotle Cheddar/Bacon Burger with Caramelized Onions
Parmesan Truffle Frites with Garlic-Chive Aioli
Banana Cream Parfait with Dark Chocolate Shavings
Carmel Apple Martini

I figured out that the real trick to crispy frites a.k.a. fries (I just wanted to sound fancy) is to soak the potatoes in ice cold water before frying to remove some of the starch - and don't forget to dry them before you put them in the oil. The second trick is to double fry them. After you take them out of the oil and let them drain a bit, give them a second fry and this gives them that extra crunch you get in restaurants.

No real trick here, just layering the ingredients for a cool presentation is the only thing I would suggest.  Dark chocolate shavings make for a really interesting/delicious garnish.

I can give out this recipe, Its not like you wouldn't be able to look it up online anyway.
plus I'm a nice guy and I like to share:

-1 shot of Apple Vodka - I used Smirnoff
-1 Shot of Apple Puckers - It enhances the sweetness in the apple and gives it that green "glow"
-1 shot of Buttershots - This is what gives it that Caramel flavor.

Combine them all in a martini shaker with ice and shake it like it owes you money.
Pour it in a martini glass with an Apple Garnish (sometimes I use an actual caramel sauce drizzled along the inside of the glass) and you will be impressing people every time you serve it.
I know I have.

Hopefully this first post is entertaining enough and gave you a few things to think about trying yourself in the future. If you have stuck with me this far, THANKS!!

Til next time,
Eat Well.