Thursday, March 31, 2011

Seasoning Cast Iron

By Lauren Rauh

In a cleaning frenzy my roommate scrubbed my cast iron skillet squeaky clean. Though done with the best intentions, I knew the next time I cooked with the skillet would be a disaster. Cast iron skillets can make cooking a dream--non stick, even heating, great heat retension--but only if they are well seasoned. A brand new, unseasoned, or scrubbed cleaned skillet makes everything stick, perhaps burn, and the clean up afterward is a huge pain. But seasoning is very easy and can make a cast iron skillet your favorite pan in the kitchen (it's definitely mine). To season, all you need is a baking sheet, your oven, oil or shortening, and the skillet.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Clean your skillet with hot soapy water and dry it well.

Rub your skillet thoroughly with oil, coating the entire inside service.  I have read that flax seed oil works very well, but it can be costly stuff.  It's also ideal to use saturated fat when you can, as it protects against rancidity.  (palm oil, veg. shortening, bacon fat, lard, etc.)

Place the skillet face down on the baking sheet to catch any oil that might drip out. Put the sheet and skillet in the oven for two hours.

Remove the very hot pan and carefully wipe out any excess oil.  There should be find sheen on the surface of the skillet.  If not, the skillet needs more seasoning, and you have to repeat this process.

Simply using it, will keep your skillet seasoned, especially if you have an affinity for bacon.  Next time you use and then clean cast your iron, use hot water and a scrubby without any strong grease cutting cleaners.  Salt or coarse cornmeal (grits) can be a great abrasive and will absorb some access oil as well.  

If your skillet doesn't see much active duty you'll need to season it regularly. 

Friday, March 25, 2011

Canned Caramel

This little recipe always slips my mind when I'm looking for an easy dessert.  All you have to do is submerge a can of sweetened condensed milk in water and cook at what I would call a vigorous simmer for three hours.  (this recipe has failed me once and I don't know why, it came out a tepid blond color.) Alternatively, you could cover this pot of water throw it in 350˚ F oven for three hours. Once it's done, allow it to cool for around 30 minutes before opening.**

The result is a silky, perfectly sweetened, dulce de leche.  Spread this on a wafer cookie with a tiny pinch of sea salt and you have an amazing dessert.

**NOTE: Do not just drop a room temp. can of condensed milk into an already-boiling pot of water - the temperature contrast could cause the can to burst.  and DO NOT boil a can and return it to your cabinet for few months - once cooked I would not consider this a shelf stable product. 

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Some Thoughts on Time Management

By Lauren Rauh 

Time management has always been an issue for me. Sometimes it simply results in emails being responded to a little later than I'd like, or laundry piling up. But things can really come to a head when you've got a lot of little tasks to do in a short period of time. I'm am thinking specifically of my job in the restaurant and the amount of prep required to be ready when our first customers sit down for dinner. But even if cooking isn't your job, it can feel like it when you get home from work and are faced with things to chop and pots to simmer while your tummy rumbles. If you find yourself deterred from cooking most nights of the week because of the time it requires, your woes can be alleviated with some simple time management.

I'm sure you've heard it all before: plan your meals in advance, choose one day to cook large amounts of food and eat left overs all week. Yes, yes these are true, but I'm thinking small picture here. You can save yourself a lot of time while preparing a meal by figuring out what tasks can be done simultaneously. Say for example, you are making a dish that includes, sautéed veggies, brown rice, and roasted chicken. To efficiently manage your time you would first put a pot of water on to boil and get the chicken in the oven. Then, you would start chopping your veggies while the rice simmers. By the time the veggies are sauteed, the rice will be tender and the chicken nice and juicy. Of course, I've left out details like seasoning and basting, but in the scheme of things those tasks do not take up a lot of time. Thinking about time management in the kitchen takes some common sense and practice, but it in the long run it allows you to free up time to explore more complicated recipes and try out new culinary skills rather than just stress about getting dinner on the table.

Monday, March 21, 2011

A Substitute for a Pack of Jell-O

Q:Is your thinking cap on? There's a cake recipe on a bag of flour that gives me some ideas. However, one of its ingredients is "1 package lemon jello." Lemon jello is sugar, gelatine, yellow dye # something, artificial lemon flavoring.
How the heck do I replace that, and in what quantity? Got any ideas?
A: Ok, here goes. 
Lemon Jell-O is going to bring a few unique characteristics to a cake.
1. Gelatin - This is going to give your cake a unique texture.  You can replace this with 1/2 ounce (2 1/4 tbsps) of powdered gelatin.  
2. Lemony flavor - this is probably best substituted with lemon oil (or a bunch of zest) and ascorbic acid (you can literally crush up a vitamin C).  Straight lemon juice will involve water that throws off the moisture content of a recipe. 
3. Sugar - this is going to be a matter of personal preference, but a regular jell-o pack has about 7 tablespoons of sugar. 
4.  A yellow hue - If you really want that yellow color you could add a touch yellow food coloring.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Are there any basic knife-skills tips you can give us?

Improving your knife skills is a time saving and confidence building component of overall culinary competence. At some point, muscle memory kicks in and slicing hundreds of cucumbers, for example, is no longer a daunting task. Everyday I find myself a little faster and a little more precise. This increased confidence has it's pros and cons. Whipping through the preparation of ingredients allows me to think about the next task at hand, but this also means that my mind is wandering from the cutting board. A wandering mind can mean wandering fingers, and well, wandering fingers while holding a knife…you get it. Therefore, one of the most important components of overall knife skills is keeping your fingers protected with "the claw." "The claw" simply refers to the position of your fingers while holding the ingredient you are slicing. Your knife is obviously doing it's thing in your dominant hand, while your other hand steadies the sliceable food. The steadying hand, therefore, is vulnerable to slicing and dicing as well, unless you protect yourself with this tried and true method….

Curl your fingers under towards your palm so that your finger joints are perpendicular to the side of your knife.
Use the joints as a guide and keep your fingers curled in (don't forget your thumb), walking the fingers back along the vegetable (or whatnot) as you slice away.

This may feel incredible uncomfortable at first, but your temporary discomfort is nothing compared to the pain of a missing finger tip!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Getting Away From Recipes

Sometimes ordering in just isn't the right thing, and your pantry isn't boasting the right ingredients for any one recipe in your repertoire. 
The only option: make something from nothing . . .
This is a huge question that plagues a lot of cooks, and one that I hope to elaborate on moving forward.  But to start the process I took a look in my own pantry, to see what I can make.
Staring blankly into my pantry, the first thing that strikes me is that, as much as I cook, there are items in my pantry that my eyes just look past.  Cans of tuna, bizarre spices, grains, canned beans and some veggies.  This bag of Fregola Sarda has been hiding out, in plain site, in my cabinet for almost two years, shuffled between the pasta shelf, it even survived a move to Brooklyn.  It is a toasted pasta nugget, similar to Israeli couscous.  It's made from durum wheat and originates from Sardinia.   It takes a while to boil, but the result is worth the wait.

So this, as with any pasta or grain, is a great place to start.  For this reason I always have a selection on hand.  Also, in the fridge I found a lemon, a shallot, some garlic, basil and, strangely enough, a small Spanish Mackerel fillet. (leftover from an event)

Obviously, you have to consider the congruency of flavor in whatever you're going to make,  but manage to keep your preconceptions about flavor in check when you're improvising.  These items go together fairly well, though in my opinion basil isn't exactly ideal.  I would have preferred a nice strong parsley,  and if I had had them, some capers would have been nice - but the whole point here is that we're making do with what we have.  Be prepared to botch this process from time to time, things will not always work out, but it's the practice that's important. 
To toss this together, I browned the fish chunks and then I sauteed the shallots along with the garlic, I stirred in the pasta and added the lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil, basil and almost too many chili flakes.  

The final product made for a pretty good impromptu meal.  I would absolutely make it again, but I might just take the leap again and hope to pull a great meal out of an empty cabinet. 

Friday, March 11, 2011

D.I.Y "Ricotta"

Before you read this article, Read This!
I was mistaken in some of my information in this entry.  See the comment below.

We've all done it before - you're on your way home, you stop and pick an extra gallon of milk thinking you're doing everybody a favor and you get home to find somebody else just did the same. 
Before you start mixing up White Russians and reenacting The Big Lebowsky, consider this, a simple fresh cheese.  In addition to getting a little longer shelf life out of your milk, it will open up a world of options - granted, none of them are cocktails.**

D.I.Y. Fresh Lemon "Ricotta"

2 qts. (that's a half gallon) whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 tsp salt
Juice and zest of one lemon
The separated curd

1. In a heavy bottomed pot, bring the milk, cream and salt to just a simmer.
2. Once it hits a simmer, (don't let it simmer for long) stir in the lemon juice and turn off the heat and let this stand for 10-12 minutes.  Do not continue to stir - you sill see the curd and whey separate.
3.  Line a strainer with a cheese cloth and strain the curds out of the whey.  (If you had pigs the whey from this would be one of their favorite snacks. At one time in Parma italy, for your prosciutto to be considered "di Parma" your pigs would have to have feasted on the whey leftover from making Parmigano Reggiano)
4.  Stir the lemon zest into the curds and throw the whole thing in the fridge for 2-4 hours.  (the curd in the cheese cloth, in the strainer, in a bowl)

Your cheese is ready to go.  Transfer it to an airtight container.  This can be used where ever you would use ricotta, but mine was shoveled away with crackers before I could apply it to anything.

Variation Notes:  In this recipe, I use the word "ricotta" but many cultures have a version of this cheese with slight variations on the recipe and process.  It's very similar to the process of making paneer, farmer's cheese, pot cheese, and if you pressed the curd and let it sit, you'd have queso blanco.
Also, if you used skim milk and rinsed the curds, then soaked them in half & half you'd have cottage cheese. 

** If somebody has a cocktail that involves ricotta cheese I'd love to hear about it.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Guts and Glory

By Lauren Rauh

After nearly two decades of vegetarianism I have recently decided to start eating [sustainably caught] fish again. However, my adult life thus far, or in other words the part of my life in which I have been cooking for myself (adulthood in a nutshell, right?) has not yet included the preparation of fish. As a result, I decided to put myself up to the challenge of cleaning and roasting a whole fish. At the fish market I was faced with well, a lot of glazed eyed fishy faces, but the pickings were slim for sustainably caught fish. I left, therefore, with three sardines. 

I am aware that cleaning and gutting sardines is not on the same level as filleting a mackerel for example, but try to be supportive here, I'm making baby steps. To learn this, not so necessary but seriously bad ass skill,  I talked briefly to the counter people at the fish market, got the details from my fish-gutting fanatic friend, and then filled in the gaps with a little internet search. So, what follows is my thrilling account of how to clean a small fish, by a recently lapsed vegetarian...

How to Clean a [small] Fish:

First, wash the fish under cold water. Place the fish on a cutting board or butcher paper (something that can be thrown out or cleaned well). With the dull side of a knife, descale the fish by briskly dragging the knife from the tail to the gills along the body. You will see the clear mica-esque scales brush off. Repeat until you've cleaned the whole fish body and rinse the fish under cold water, again.

With a sharp knife, cut a slit along the belly of the fish from the gills to the tail. Try to cut only the skin and avoid puncturing any innards. Pull out all the guts and goop from the fish belly and rinse the fish inside and out again. Step back and admire your work.

Suggested Preparation: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Coat the whole fish with olive oil, salt, and pepper and roast on a baking sheet until the skin is slightly crisp and there is no dark pink visible in the fish belly.


Epilogue: To fillet a fish after cleaning, you slice it down the middle and carefully take out all the bones. But that's a little beyond me at the moment and I think my first attempt a cleaning a [small] fish was a very successful breach of my comfort zone. So successful in fact, that I may never do it again. Or maybe, I will take the time to learn the filleting process from the amazing prep cooks at work. One member of the kitchen team used to be a restaurant owner and chef in Mexico and he has jaw-dropping skill and knowledge of anything and everything culinary. He can fillet a three foot fish in ten minutes, where as I can clean and roast four sardines in an hour. Nothing like a month in a professional kitchen to realized I've got a lot to learn...

Monday, March 7, 2011

Brush off your radio . . .

Eric from has invited me to join him on Martha Stewart Living Radio, the sirius/xm station. If you're cool enough to have sirius in your car or home, you can tune in at 2pm. If I figure out a way for people to listen live online I will let you know.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Do you have any simple recipes for a simple crawfish dish?

In order to sleep well at night I have to have 3 staples in my freezer at all times.

1. Bacon - for obvious reasons.
2. Ice - it's my favorite mixer.
3. Crawfish tails - when the craving arises, nothing else will do.

I love eating crawfish. They are one of the tastier creature scurrying on this planet, and they've scuttled right into one of the tastiest cuisines on the planet (In my own humble opinion).
In honor of mardis gras, and the need for a quick & easy crawfish dish, I decided whip up a memorable concoction - Crawfish Cardinale. 

Crawfish Cardinale

1 lb. of crawfish tails
2 tbsps, cajun seasoning**

2 oz. (1/2 a stick) of butter
1 bunch of scallions, roughly chopped
3 tbsps tomato paste
1 cup heavy cream
3 tbsps cognac
3 tbsps fresh parsley, chopped

1. Season the crawfish tails with salt and the cajun seasoning.  Set aside.
2.  Heat large skillet over medium heat. Melt the butter and add the scallions to cook. Stirring occasionally. 
3. Once they are slightly softened and translucent, after 3-5 minutes, add the cream, cognac, and tomato paste.  Bring this to a simmer and reduce until thick. (by about 2/3's), this will take around five minutes.
4.  Dump in the crawfish and simmer just enough to warm them well.  Toss in the chopped parsley and serve with nice french bread or over pasta.

Print this recipe!
A good test to see if it has reduced enough is to scoot a song along the pan, if it leaves a clear wake your sauce is ready.

You can serve this over pasta, but I prefer simply with buttered bread.  It can be a great app for a table of empty bellies, or a great meal for two.
The only draw back to the meal is that now there are no longer any crawfish in my freezer.

**You could use something like Paul Prudhomme's Baleckening Seasoning, which I love.  OR you could make some yourself.

Cajun' n Creole Seasoning

1 tsp paprika
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp ground cayenne pepper
2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp dried oregano

Simply mix the ingredients well and store in a dark, dry, cool place.

Note that this is pretty much the same as blackening seasoning.  However, there is no salt in this mixture, I like to leave the salt levels up to the cook.  If you wanted to sub this into other recipes for store bought mixes you would have to add 2 tsps salt.
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