Monday, February 28, 2011

D.I.Y Chili Powder

"Real" chili is the topic of debate that stretches across the country, but concentrates in Texas.  Does it have tomatoes? Pork and or beef? beans? Masa flour?  Then you run into specialty items like chocolate, mole, mushrooms and even MSG.
However, every chili seems to build around a variation of one thing - chili powder.
All crazy ingredients and Texans aside, making your own chili powder is the first step towards a great bowl of "red".  Once you take this leap, you'll never go back.

D.I.Y. Chili Powder

    3 mild & sweet chiles - Ancho, guajillo, mulato
    3 complex & tasty chiles - Cascabel, chipotle, pasilla
    3 hot & spicy chiles - arbol, cayenne, habenero, pequin
    2 tablespoons whole cumin seeds
    2 tablespoons garlic powder
    1 tablespoon oregano (Mexican oregano if you can find it)
Starting at the top left and going clockwise - New Mexico Chile, Smoked HabaƱero, Chipotles and Pequins
Stem and seed your chili peppers. Toast them in a heavy bottomed skillet , along with the cumin seeds, over medium heat until the cumin just starts to just jump around and pop.  It should smell amazing.  Transfer to a bowl and allow to cool. 
Once they're cool,  transfer to a spice grinder and grind well.  Store this in an airtight (preferably opaque) container in a dark cool place. It'll be good for up to 6 months . . . if it lasts that long.

Print this recipe!

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Quenelle: a Quick How-To

Lauren Rauh

Do you ever find yourself wanting to give your home cooked meals a little aesthetic boost? Or more likely, do you ever marvel at the artful plating at some restaurants? At my new job (yes I'm still alive and kicking!) I've learned some of these tricks to creating eye-pleasing presentations of yummy food. One of these tricks is called quenelling, or making quenelles. Quenelle refers to both a specific food (usually a small meat dumpling) and/or a specific football-esque shape. The shape and simple technique to make it, is often used to present a dollop of some soft material, like clotted cream, a soft cheese, or chocolate ganache. With only the ingredients in my very bare refrigerator at my disposal, I chose to "quenelle" with peanut butter. What you will need is two spoons, a glass of water, and a plate of choice to present your lovely quenelles.

Wet your spoons by quickly dipping them in the glass of water. Shake off the excess water and take one spoonful of your delicious spread, cream, etc. of choice. Turn the bowl of the spoon towards you. Place the bowl of the other spoon over the [peanut butter] and apply slight pressure.

Scoop the top spoon down and towards you by sliding it against the other spoon (back to bowl) effectively scooping up the peanut butter on the new spoon.

Dip and shake the first spoon in your glass and press and scoop again. Repeat this once or twice more before placing the quenelle on the plate (or on top of a piece of cake, or pie, etc.).

Peanut butter may not be the most attractive quenelle...

Speed is (eventually) key here to make sure that the spoons don't get sticky, the quenelle misshapen, and the ingredient too soft from so much handling. Your plating will never be the same, happy quenelling!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

How to Prevent Sticking

This is a quick video on how to cook in a regular stainless steel skillet with out having your ingredients stick.  I actually cut the video off because you can't hear me at all after the fish starts to cook, but I will get better at this, I promise.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Painless Pickling

by Lauren Rauh

I used to think pickling was for those who were super crafty and had lots of time on their hands. I listened with wide-eyed wonderment at tales of tasty, tart homemade pickles and exclaimed sheer admiration when such time-consuming treasures were brought to potlucks and parties.
I decided for my first attempt at pickling, I would pickle kohlrabi. Kohlrabi looks like a turnip, but tastes a little like cabbage, and has the texture and firmness of a broccoli stem. It’s an odd vegetable, to say the least. It does, however, have a claim to fame as a superfood (packed with antioxidants) and I am not one to shun a superfood.
I researched some basic pickling recipes and unfortunately did not have many of the spices called for. So this is my pared down, but very tasty pickling recipe, prime for experimentation. One quick note: the recipe that follows is for a refrigerator pickle. This means that unlike pickles that have been canned (this involves boiling the jar, having a special canning lid, etc.) these go straight in the refrigerator and stay there, they cannot sit out on your shelf for months and months and months unless you wish to research the process of mold growth. As my container, I used an empty 16-ounce salsa jar and washed it thoroughly with hot soapy water. So save your glass jars and make some pickles.
The pickle:

3 kohlrabi, sliced in ¼ inch matchsticks

The brine:
½ cup white vinegar

¾ cup water

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 Tbsp sugar 

1 tsp salt

1 tsp chili flakes

5 pepper corns

Wash and slice your kohlrabi. Place the kohlrabi slices in a colander and salt them lightly. Let it sit for about an hour to draw out the excess moisture (this is not a necessary step, but it does make a crisper pickle). Drain the kohlrabi and place in your clean pickle jar. In a small saucepan, combine the brine ingredients, adding a teaspoon of additional spices (i.e. mustard seed, dill seed, etc.) if you wish. Bring the ingredients to a boil and pour into the pickle jar. Stir slightly so bubbles come to the top and tightly twist on the jar lid.
Let the jar sit out until the contents have cooled then store your pickles in the back of the refrigerator. The pickles should sit unopened for at least a day, but the longer they sit the more flavorful they will be (that’s why you should put them in the back of the fridge). I held out for a week and it was worth the wait.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Ubon Rathachani- Thai Food

This is the second leg of a three legged trip. These are some pics of some of the great food I had in Thailand. If you haven't been I would seriously consider going. It's a beautiful country, and the people are swell . . . the food ain't bad either.
Get the flash player here:

Friday, February 11, 2011

What is the difference in potatoes? 

Q:  Between Yukon and Idaho and such recipes are being much more specific about potatoes, namely yukons are being called for.  It seems like yukons are moister than others.  Is there a reason when to use a certain potato in dishes?  If so, then which should go with which dish?  Which makes the better mashed or better potato in a stew?  I never thought about this until now, and I know that you will be able to help me out with this.

A:  I'm going to break potatoes down into two categories, waxy and starchy. Though each varietal will fall somewhere different in the spectrum of flavor and texture.

Waxy potatoes would be ones like new potatoes and fingerlings.  Typically smaller specimens with tight thin skin, also their flesh is . . . well. . . waxy.  These are tasty potatoes, but because they don't have much starch, they're limited to applications like potato salad.  They also make great roasted potatoes, but don't contain enough starch to be used in something like gnocchi.  And in methods like a mash they produce a very different texture.

Starchy potatoes tend to be bigger with a little less pronounced flavor.  Think of idaho potato (AKA the Russet) which tends to be a little more powdery when cooked.  Because of this they produce silkier mashed potatoes, work better in soups and gratins, and work perfectly for gnocchi.

Yukon gold potatoes, thought starchier, exhibit traits from both ends of the spectrum and also pack a ton of recognizable potato flavor.  A lot of people (myself included) like them for this reason.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Just In: A Report from the Trenches

by Lauren Rauh

Garde Manger, Week One: 

My knees hurt, my eyes burn, my hands are cracked and covered in stab wounds and cuts, my shoulders are permanently stiffened at my ears, and I feel like I could sleep for a month and still be exhausted. No, I am not undergoing boot camp training, nor am I stuck in a Burmese prison. I have just completed my first week of work in a New York City kitchen (a new development since my first post!). In a whirlwind of coincidence and serendipity, I have begun my adventure of grueling work as the Garde Manger at The Fat Radish, a trendy newish restaurant in the Lower East Side. Having no previous restaurant experience and no culinary training it has been both the opportunity and the challenge of a lifetime. In one of those "it must be fate" moments, I happened to meet the Chef de Cuisine of The Fat Radish's sister catering company (Stonesilk) during a night out. Even after hearing my complete lack of professional experience, she told me to come in the next day for an interview. An interview, as I soon found out, in the restaurant world is called "trailing" in which you are simply put to work to see if you are fit for the environment. After holding my own during a 12 hour shift on a hectic Saturday night, I was hired!

As the newest member of an overworked team of chefs, I am burdened with long hours, high expectations, and tremendous pressure to learn quickly and work faster. At the same time, I am blessed with the patience, support, understanding and quality instruction of a kitchen that believes I can rise to the tasks at hand. Those tasks are specifically, a handful of hot and cold appetizers, pickles and condiments from scratch, salads, and two desserts. I must prepare for all these dishes ideally before the restaurant opens it's doors at 5:30pm. On a typical day my prep may include, making a batch of slow cooked chutney, baking a pan of bread pudding (from cutting the bread, to mixing the custard), picking 6 quarts of cucumbers, making 20 apple and butternut squash crisps (from peeling and cutting to making crumble topping), thinly slicing vegetables for salads, selecting herbs for garnish, building 20 sandwiches…and all before customers begin to order! A major part of the job is simply understanding what is needed and managing my time to get it done. As with any job, this takes practice, but when there are 180 reservations on the books and I've just cut off the tip of my thumb with the mandolin again it's easy to get discouraged.

I almost threw in the towel this past Saturday. On my fifth order of oysters that night (shucking oysters is my Achilles's heel) I stabbed myself squarely in the thumb with the shucking knife. Fighting back tears, I managed to bandage my thumb and plate an order of grilled cheese and two scotch eggs, all the while being yelled at for not having prepared vegetables for a specific salad that I had misunderstood to not be on the menu for that evening. At the end of that 15 hour day, I could barely walk home. After washing the smell of fryer oil out of my hair, going back to the restaurant in less than ten hours was the last thing I wanted to do. But through the blood, sweat, and tears (not in the food, I promise) I am getting the culinary training of a lifetime. I want to learn as much as possible and at the very least, I am gathering tremendous material for a memoir down the line (and this blog). At the most, I am learning from some of the very best.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Overcoming the Crust

Lauren Rauh
  It's devastating for me to admit this, so I'm telling you in confidence: despite my general poise in the kitchen, there are certain dishes/foods that intimidate me. One of these elusive items is the pastry or pie crust. Even the most scrumptious pie filling can be ruined by a disappointing crust. This blog however, offers me a perfect opportunity to face my fears head on. For a baby step in overcoming my crust making adversity, I chose a recipe for, what I hoped would be, a forgiving crust. In this galette (French word for free form crusty pie like thing) a yummy caramelized squash, onion, and goat cheese filling is surrounded by a wholesome and flaky, whole wheat crust. The pastry flour is important here since all purpose whole wheat flour is much too dense.

My recipe is inspired by this lovely collection of recipes on

The Crust:

1 1/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup olive oil

The Filling:

1 medium butternut squash or 2 acorn squash, peeled and diced
1 medium onion, sliced in rounds
1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 garlic cloves
4oz fresh goat cheese
salt and pepper

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Toss the squash and onions with olive oil, salt and pepper to taste (a dash or two) in a shallow baking pan. Place the un-peeled garlic cloves on top of the seasoned vegetables. Bake for 35-45 minutes until the squash is tender and the onions are caramelized. Remove from the oven to cool. Leave the oven on at 375 degrees.

While the vegetables are roasting, you can make your crust. Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl. Make a well in the center of the flour mix and add the water and olive oil.

Mix by hand or with a wooden spoon until the mixture becomes a cohesive dough. Add more water if the dough feels too dry. The goal is to achieve a dough somewhere between crumbly (too dry) and sticky (too wet). I ended up adding another 1/2 cup of water. Pat your dough into a disk and wrap it tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate the dough for at least 30 minutes.

When the vegetables have cooled slightly, squish the roasted garlic out of its peel and mix it with the other vegetables. Stir in half of the goat cheese, mashing the squash slightly as you do.

When the dough has chilled sufficiently, remove the plastic wrap and place the dough on a lightly floured surface. Roll out the dough in a rough circle, paying close attention to keeping the crust at a uniform thickness. I stopped rolling at about 1/8 of an inch, but I would now recommend trying to get the dough even thinner.

Place the rolled out dough on a lightly greased baking pan. Fill the center of the crust with the vegetable mixture, leaving a 2-3 inch border. Fold the edges of the crust up over the filling, pleating as you move around the circle. Sprinkle the remaining goat cheese on top of your galette and place it in the oven for 30-40 minutes.

The crust should be a golden and the cheese nicely browned. Slice and serve warm.

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