Tuesday, June 29, 2010

6 Things to Consider for the Beginner and the Seasoned Cook

I hear a lot from people who want to get into cooking, but don't know where to start. In general, the question is a very broad one, and one I put a lot of thought into considering the goal of this whole operation is to help people cook more.
Over time I've come up with a few key concepts to keep in mind when getting into cooking. The more I consider these tips, however, the more they influence my own practices. So while they are intended to help people fall in love with cooking, they might help others rekindle the flame.
Here they are.

1. Keep it simple
When jumping into any preparation, keeping it simple will go a very long way.
- You buy less ingredients, spend less money, and are left with fewer specialty ingredients that sit in your pantry for ages
- the process is easier: less prepping/chopping, cooking, and clean up
- Less room for error. A botched effort can leave you with a bad taste in your mouth.

2. Stick to what you know
At least in the beginning! When you understand what the final product of your efforts should be, the process somehow is more intuitive. When your mind understands the particular flavor profile of say . . . a tomato sauce, or a Vietnamese salad (depending on your upbringing) it will make make more sense to you why a dish might not work out. Maybe it needs salt, sweetness, or a squeeze of lime.
Staying in a familiar arena will help you develop a method for understanding taste, and how to adjust it to your liking. As opposed to when a recipe foreign to you doesn't work, it's much harder to understand why.
Once you have this down pat is when you can start to scribble outside the lines.

3. Adjust as you go
Monitor the process! Every kitchen is different, tools are diverse, and ingredients will vary a lot. As you cook, taste a lot and be aware of changes throughout the process: react accordingly. Many people simply execute a recipe and expect a result, but it just doesn't work that way. You have to learn to adapt as you cook.

4. Do it for you
This kind of relates to keeping it simple, I find a lot of peoples' first efforts are for groups of people. This is a risky undertaking. It distracts from the process, and introduces a lot of variables, meaning it's more likely to bomb. It could be embarrassing. All things that might prevent one from cooking more.
Cook for yourself (and maybe a friend/partner/spouse/etc.) It makes it more enjoyable, and let's you take more away from the procedure.

5. Buy quality
I say it over and over again, better ingredients translate to better food. Of course you have to prioritize this a little. A very common question is "How do I make great tomato sauce?" and the answer is simply, "With good tomatoes." Whatever the recipe, it wont be great with mediocre tomatoes. Again, this is much easier to do when keeping it simple.

6. Screw it up
You're going to fail. New to cooking or not, you'll bomb from time to time. It's the best way to learn and hone the practice moving forward.
You'll realize your boundaries and how to test them. You'll find your groove and develop a true love for cooking.
Just don't miss the learning opportunity that failure presents.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Open Ended Mac & Cheese

Who doesn't love a good mac & cheese. Like the horizontal mambo, even a bad one is still pretty good. It's one of the few food items in America that people have an opinion about. Like a mother's tomato sauce in Italy or a grandma's hummus from anywhere in the middle east, people across the states debate the way mac & cheese should be. In the oven or on the stove top? Saucy or gooey? Eggs or no eggs? With topping or without?
Like many Americans, my first impression of macaroni & cheese came from a box. (which I still indulge in from time to time for posterity's sake) So for me it's a saucy concoction made on the stove top. Though these days I go for a little more flavor than my original.
This recipe has a base cheese sauce that's good on just about anything. The recipe is perfect for a one pound box of pasta. I like cavatappi in particular, it's reminiscent of elbows, but longer for substance and with ridges to hold onto the sauce. I'm always tempted to put some hot sauce in with the cheese mixture, but you have to avoid this as it can make the cheese separate. Lastly, I included and "accent cheese" so you can make it your own. Put in whatever cheese floats your boat or sub in some more cheddar for strait old school.

Mac & Cheese

5 tbsps Butter
4 tbsps All Purpose Flour
1 qt. Milk
1 tsp Garlic Powder
1 tsp mustard powder

1 Cup Gruyere, grated
1 Cup Sharp Cheddar, grated
¼ cup accent cheese (Parmagiano Reggiano, Blue Cheese, stinky cheese: Tallegio, Camembert)

1 lb. Pasta

1. Melt the butter over medium heat until bubbling. Whisk in the flour. Cook for 5 minutes continuing to stir with a wooden spoon or spatula being sure to scrape the bottom of the pot. (you're making a roux here by the way)
2. Add the milk and whisk vigorously. Bring to a simmer, whisk in the garlic and mustard powder and cook for 8 more minutes.
3. Add the cheese, kill the heat, and stir gently until the cheese is completely melted.
4. To complete, simply follow the directions on whatever you deem to be the best pasta for the job. Stir the 1 pound of cooked pasta into cheese sauce and your ready to go.

The roux, the cheese sauce, and the final product . . . mmmm!

Note: I like it best straight out of the pot. You could put this in a casserole dish and reheat in the oven, but I find it heats better in a pan with a splash of milk. It keeps the sauce nice and creamy.

For a topping I slowly toast 1 cup of panko in 3 tbsps of butter and
then toss in some herbs. Each helping then gets a healthy dusting.
HOWEVER, crushed kettle cooked potato chips make a great topping as well.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

New Amsterdam Market

This coming Sunday (June 27th) I’m going to be stationed down at the New Amsterdam Market -fielding cooking questions as usual. If you like food and haven’t been, then you need to go.

First off it’s a great market, the list of vendors goes on and on. You need to show up hungry and plan on leaving with a snack in your pocket and grub to cook dinner - if there’s still room.

Secondly, it’s a great market to support. A non-profit organization aimed at revitalizing what an American marketplace once was; a crossroads for great people and great products. The New Amsterdam Market has its heart set on building this bazaar in what used to be the Fulton Street Fish Market. Such a venture could be more of an asset for the culture of our great city than condos and offices with a view.

Lastly, as I said before, I’m gonna be there to help you find your way through the place. So come on down and pay us a visit.

**If you have a kind heart and some extra time The New Amsterdam Market is looking for some helping hands to help facilitate all of the yummy do-gooding. To inquire email info@newamsterdammarket.com

Monday, June 21, 2010

Summer's Easiest Hors d'oeuvre

Summer's backyard BBQ's and picnics have their hosts scrambling for menu ideas that coincide with the casual environment while still being dressed to impress.
One of my favorite summer treats meets all of these criteria with hardly any effort at all; a do-it-yourself platter of crispy radish slices around an array of compound butters and some nice salt.
A suped up butter is the perfect thing to cut through that unique residual heat that radishes have, topped off with a pinch of coarse sea salt to accent the experience.

Plain butter works just fine, but I like some variations. You can make the butters up to a few days in advance, just be sure to set them out so they soften up a little for easy spreading. Here are a few ideas; in each instance bring 1 stick of butter to room temp and mix well in a food processor with the listed ingredients.

Anchovy - 1 tbsp anchovy paste+1 tbsp shallot minced
Lemon Caper - Juice & Zest of 1 lemon+1 tsp capers+1 tsp Extra virgin olive oil
Mint - 1 cup mint leaves, chopped
Blue Cheese - 1/4 Cup of Strong blue cheese (Gorgonzola, Stilton, Maytag, Cabrales, etc.)
Coriander & Fresh Turmeric- 1/2 tsp coriander (freshly toasted and ground if you can) + 2 inches fresh turmeric grated.

A little too much anchovy butter, some coarse sea salt and a
little sage leaf make for a perfect bite.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Which Came First, the Chicken or the Waffle?

That's right, I butter my fried chicken. What're you gonna do about it?

Most mornings my breakfast is composed of fruit- a banana on the go, some berries and yogurt, maybe the occasional bowl of oatmeal. It's all perfectly healthy and boring.
What would you say if I told you I could make up for it all in one perfectly unhealthy but exciting mid-morning meal- Fried Chicken and Waffles.
The combo is of semi-unknown origin. It's one of those dishes that everyone claims to have invented, but no one can really prove. Some claim it originates in the south. Others attribute it to a hybrid of southern fried chicken that traveled north with African-Americans and put with the waffles enjoyed by the french and dutch in the North. There a even a few restaurants out there touting its invention as their own. The issue fades from thought while you're eating it.
For me the dish revolves around the chicken. I love a good waffle as much as the next guy, but this is not a high highfalutin' dish. Despite it's hazy history, its emergence is undoubtedly that of a simple dish for simple people like myself. So I'll pass on the sous vide chicken that's then fried and delicately rested on the perfect Belgian waffle. Yes, it might be good, but that's not what this dish is about.
For the sentimental version, you need a perfectly old-school buttermilk fried chicken over a flat diner-style waffle (or in my apt. a toaster waffle since I don't have a waffle iron)
Since I'm just toasting a waffle the dish really boils down to making good fried chicken; no small feat. It requires time, effort and a fair list of ingredients. It makes a mess and you'll smell like a fry cook for a day or two. That said, it is sooo worth the trouble.
I don't do a lot of frying, but when I do, I try to do it right. There are a few key tricks wrapped into this recipe worth noting so pay attention.
The true art of it is in frying well. Here's how:
  1. The oil has to be hot. Know the temperature of your oil. I use a probe thermometer to monitor it. Hot oil basically kicks the surface moisture of whatever you're frying up to boiling point, pressuring steam out and preventing oil from getting in. If the temperature of the oil dips below 212 degrees (water's boiling point) the fried food in question may start to absorb oil. Resulting in greasy food.
  2. Keep stuff moving a little. If the items your frying sit in one place for too long the temperature of the oil around said item will drop. Especially with larger thing like a chicken thigh. Movement in the oil (known as convection) makes sure hot oil is always in contact with the surface of said fried food. Preventing greasiness.
  3. Use fresh oil. Through time and use oil breaks down. Loosing it's ability to fry well. Especially for a process like fried chicken, in which you fry for a long period, fresh oil yields a better result.

Fried Chicken and Waffles

12 Chicken parts (a full breast counts as two parts)

Buttermilk Brine
2 cups buttermilk
1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp Black pepper, freshly ground
2 tbsps Hot Sauce (Tobasco, Cholula or whatever you like)
2 tbsps Honey

2 tbsps salt
1 tbsp garlic powder
1 tbsp paprika
1 tsp cayenne
1 tsp black pepper, freshly ground

All purpose flour

2 qts. Fry Oil (vegetable, canola, peanut, corn)

1. In a bowl, whisk together all of the ingredients for the buttermilk brine and submerge the chicken parts. They should soak for at least 6 hours and up to 30. This could be done in a ziplock bag, but I prefer bowl or container because later there's a second dip.
2. Remove the chicken from the buttermilk (leave the buttermilk) and allow to drain for a few minutes. Mix the the seasoning ingredients and season the chicken liberally. Note that this step is in lieu of seasoning the dredging flour. I find that practice to be superfluous because you never use all of your dredging flour, so the seasoning also goes to waste
3. Dredge the chicken in the flour, shaking off the excess.
4. Once you have dredged all of the chicken, go back and dip the chicken in the buttermilk and dredge in the flour a second time. This gets you an extra crispy crust.

5. Over medium high heat. Warm enough oil to completely (or almost completely) submerge the chicken. Once it reaches 375-400 degrees. Gently drop in the chicken. The temperature of the oil will drop a little.
6. To insure that it fries well, give it 4 minutes so to form a crust and then gently move them around the stir the oil. Keeping the temp as close to 325 as possibe, fry for 8-10 minutes on each side, always keeping in mind that the bottom side in contact with the pan will brown quicker.
7. Remove the chicken from the oil and place on a rack to drain excess oil. I like a thermometer to test for doneness (165-ish degrees). I use the same probe thermometer I use to measure the temp of the fry oil. You could also just cut right into a piece at the thickest point and look at it. Your crust should be golden brown and extra crispy.

For condiments I serve 1 cup of syrup mixed with 1 tbsp of hot sauce + plenty of butter.
Then I dial 911 so that the ambulance is there to take me to the hospital when I'm done.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Guiness Beef Stew

My friend, from a wee town in Ireland, completely redid my kitchen with the most amazing thought and craftsmanship for hardly any money.
I want to make him an incredible meal-he is a meat and potatoes guy and I don't really know any traditional Irish meals. Can you recommend any?

For your Irishman, the first thing that comes to mind is a Guinness Beef Stew (recipe below) My friend Ori makes a great one that goes over very well with Irishmen.
Also, I don't know where you are in the city, but there's a great Irish butcher in sunny side queens that Ori turned me onto. You could just go out and pick him up some great stuff. It's worth the trip.

Enjoy your new kitchen!

Guinness Beef Stew

  • 1 pound boneless beef sirloin, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1/4 lb (or more if your irish) bacon
  • 3 large carrots, peeled, sliced
  • 1 large onion, 1-inch dice
  • 3 teaspoons all purpose flour
  • 1 box beef broth (low sodium)
  • 1/3 cup Guinness

  • 1. In
    a pot (4 qt.) render the bacon until lightly crisp over medium high heat. Remove and reserve.
    2. Add beef and sauté until brown on all sides, about 5 minutes. remove and reserve.
    3. Reduce heat to medium-low. Add carrots and onion to skillet; toss to coat with pan juices. add the flour and saute for 4-7 min.
    4. Add the beef, bacon, beef broth and guinness and bring the whole thing to a boil.
    5. Cover and stick the pot in a 325 degree oven for 3 hours.

    You might notice there are not potatoes in the stew. You could cut a few in and it would be delicious and easy. You could also spoon the stew over some mashed or roasted potatoes.
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