Sunday, June 27, 2010
tried to grasp a handle on the classic baguette. more work is needed. i attempted with what is called a "lean dough" meaning there was no fat involved. flour, water, salt and yeast is all that is involved here. i was happy with the shape, as they were the first time i have ever attempted forming one, but not as happy about the texture. i will attempt again soon, but a good baguette should have big air pockets in the finished product, mine didn't. it tasted, looked, and cut just like a loaf of french bread you would buy at your local megamart at 5 pm. good but not great. to form then i rolled the 2 times proofed dough into a 12 X 6 rectangle and then rolled, and squished with the palm of my hand, then repeat, then repeat, etc. i washed the outside with an egg wash and was happy with the overall color and taste. texture is what i need to be better at here though and i will continue to develop a method. i cut these on a bias and then lightly coated them with olive oil, and then further toasted to make a crostini. made a roasted summer vegetable salad to go on top of them and it all worked out well. another continuing problem that i have is that i think that bread usually needs more salt, and salt actually inhibits the growth of yeast. in a perfect catch 22, i have a hard time balancing the two. i lay awake some nights wondering how much salt is too much. this baguette needed more, i can usually cover a bit with an egg wash an a topping of Pacific Ocean sea salt, which will help with the crust but the bites that don't have crust suffer for it. the people i talk to that have more bread experience then i don't seam to have the answers that i want, so i go back to the drawing board (text books). i will most definitely keep you all posted.
Friday, June 25, 2010
i love breakfast. from childhood i remember Saturday morning breakfast, pancakes, waffles, eggs, breakfast breads, etc. i wish i could wake up most mornings and just cook breakfast pastries and meats. obviously then i am a pretty big fan of the biscuit. light, flaky, versatile, and quick. there is absolutely no reason why you should buy biscuit dough in a popping can. you can make them start to finish in about 30 minutes (cooking included) which if you include time to preheat the oven is quicker than the store bought ones will cook (i checked). everything required to make biscuits should be in your pantry and fridge. i turn to them fairly often for breakfast but also for as bread for dinner as they are the quickest solution that i am aware of. biscuits use baking powder and so they are classified as chemically leavened. i use clabber girl double acting baking powder at home. double acting simply means that its releases of gases happen two times- once when originally mixed and again when the product hits 140-150 degrees. i also love them for their versatility, they take any sort of flavorant well, different cheeses, chili, onions, nuts, etc. most of which can be simply added to an existing recipe. like a pie crust the goal here is not to work the gluten in the flour more than you have to. luckily we only have to worry about this when you have added liquid to the flour. i would give you a recipe but almost every can of baking soda has one on the back, those guys are biscuit pros and i am not, so i trust them. combine the flour, salt and baking soda. Cut in your cold butter (some call for shortening which i never use, but is easily replaced with cold butter)and get into it with you hands, working it until it has a course "mealy" consistency. if you are going to add flavorants this is the step to get them incorporated. make a well and add all of the liquid (usually milk, or buttermilk) at one time. with my hands i work to bring together a "shaggy dough" then turn it out of the bowl onto a floured surface and hand knead for less than 30 seconds. roll it to about an inch thick and cut with a cutter or a buttered glass, place on a cookie sheet, gently re roll remaining dough and repeat. cook at about 400 degrees for about 15 minutes. seriously should only take about 30 minutes total, and is well worth it. these had some gorgonzola crumbled in to them, and i made a bacon gravy to go over them, but they are also perfect with some of grandmas raspberry jam.
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
As some of you may be aware there are some some chef's out there that are using chemicals to make what they are calling molecular gastronomy. 5 yrs ago there were a few fantastic chefs that were doing all of the R and D involved, now there are more, some of which are still fantastic, others are not. i know that this sort of cooking (if you can call it that) is pretty far from what i consider to be my food. i also get really frustrated when i see people using these products that cant cook in the first place. last year in our high school tutoring program we actually lost to two teams that were making faux ravioli using a blend of two different chemicals to set purees and juices into a skinless ball that burst when you bite it. i take issue that someone allowed these kids to do this, instead of learning to use a knife, or making polenta, or correctly making mashed potatoes. sure its cool, but teaching more basic skills would have a greater impact on their cooking careers and lives.
on the flip side of all of that, these things are rapidly becoming more popular with chefs all over the country, some who's names you would recognize. also i really like to approach food with an open mind. in a relentless quest to gain knowledge, i dont think i can discount types of cuisine, or different styles. if i did i would be a weaker cook for it. also it is not odd that cooks and chefs get tired of the food we put out on a daily basis. i have found a few things to keep me entertained (like this blog) but walking into the same situation, looking at the same prep lists, with the same people day after day gets tough. i dont worry about this to much but i have a few really good young cooks that i worry about losing to different experiences. if i can teach them something they are far more prone to hanging out. i need to make these guys happy cause eventually they will be my sous chefs (thats why often chefs and sous chefs come in a packaged deal together- years of working together, teaching and learning together makes a strong bond) bottom line if i dont entertain these guys, and i dont push myself to know the basics of molecular gastronomy, what excuses do i have. at some point i will need to know the basics of these things, just like i need to know that basics of pastry and baking kitchen tasks. so via work i was able to procure some stuff. with an agreement to not use any of it for production in the kitchen at work i will mostly do some experimenting with it at the house. i started very simple, we will see how it goes.
Tapioca Maltodextrin- this is what i used to make the peanut butter powder. when mixed in equal portions with a liquid or solid it takes on a very grainy texture, which is then passed through a very fine strainer called a "tamis". what forms is amazing. a powder that is more fine than light snowfall, and virtually weightless that rehydrates with the saliva from your mouth. it tastes like whatever you mix with it, but in a hard to describe sort of way it becomes more aromatic, tasting almost more like peanut butter than peanut butter does.
Heavy Cream Powder- like milk powder just a dehydrated product. nothing crazy about it but the fact that it is 78% milkfat. cream usually has 32% and heavy cream can have any where from 38-40% milkfat. not sure what i will do with this but fear not it will be very delicious. sidebar- i saw on the discovery channel once that some seal mothers produce milk for their pups that contains just shy of 80% milkfat which means you could shake it and it would be whipped. if anyone has a mother seal at home or access to some milk from one please let me know, i wont give this up till i can procure some.
Soy Lecithin- lecithin is found mostly in egg yolks and has amazing emulsion properties. its the reason that egg yolks are usually in Caesar salad dressings, and vinagrettes of all sorts, and the reason that hollandaise is possible. it helps to bond two ingredients that dont normally want to combine into one. the hope is to figure out how to use it to help in dressings, or to be able to make a caesar salad dressing with out the addition of egg yolks.
Ultratex 3- this is another tapioca derived compound that will thicken at room temperature. the starch from the tapioca will actually swell without heat. pudding could be made without cornstarch or heat, and cold soups and sauces could be thickened while preserving delicate flavors (think watermelon).
i will experiment with these myself in the coming days, and most likely with some other chefs and cooks in the coming weeks. i will definitely keep you guys posted in my progress. again this by no means implies that this is my new culinary style, just that i am not naive enough to ignore its importance.
Saturday, June 19, 2010
Locally green beans should be coming into market in the coming days. this is yet another discipline task in the professional kitchen cause if i am going to use beans for the evening dinner service i need just shy of a 40# box. they then need to cleaned, blanched, chilled, re-heated, seasoned, and served. i like to pick off only the wooded stem end and i like to keep them whole (most people like to break them in half) because they present a bit nicer. there are many variety's of beans to chose from and with my location at least, so many of those varieties are able to grow locally. flat beans, haricot vert, romano, pole beans, and whole families of waxy beans. cooking will be the same for almost all of them. a quick blanch in boiling water that has been salted. the salt is a chance to get some seasoning on the beans, the water should be salty enough to taste like the ocean. often people will add baking soda to the water as it will help to preserve the bright colors of the beans. i am not a fan of adding chemicals that don't need to be there, so i will usually add the juice from a lemon or two. the acidic reaction will help as much as baking soda will. the beans only need a moment in boiling water, again most times people will say to let the water return to a boil but i think that is too long. then into some ice water and chilled. another key is to get them out of the water as soon as they are cool. the more time they sit the more they will absorb so get them cold and get them out and let them drain as much as possible. they can be held like this for more than a day but not more than two, as the remaining water will deteriorate the flesh of the bean quickly. when ready to eat, another quick ride in some boiling water will get them hot, i like them with some salt and olive oil, but blanch them a tad longer and get them dry and toss them with a vinaigrette, and some nuts and you have a wonderful bean salad. a healthy handful will feed a family of 3 or 4 which makes them inexpensive, healthy, local, and delicious.
Wednesday, June 9, 2010
Smoke is a huge tool in my repertoire at home. i love it, i wish i could smoke almost everything i cook. it is an amazing flavor enhancement, and takes so much technical aptitude that i am infinitely drawn to it. i cant necessarily find literature about smoking so what i know i have experienced first hand. i own a small barrel smoker, that i break out ever so often, but as often as i use it i actually chose to use my Weber grill as much or more. i find that i have a bit more heat control with my Weber. i don't even think that the flavor of smoke is what i am after but i am absolutely infatuated with the prepping of smoked foods and the amount of time involved. if you haven't realized by now i don't have any sort of issue with dedicating 10 hours of work to pull off an amazing meal for my family and friends. i smoke with a pretty wide variety of wood but the thing to remember is you have to smoke with hardwood. softer woods like pine give off some rather nasty chemicals and there for should be avoided. hardwoods vary in flavor but all hard wood smokes exactly the same unless you smoke for more than 5 or 6 hours, i lean towards fruit woods usually like apple, and cherry. whatever i am smoking, i will usually try to rub with a spice blend at least 24 hours in advance, then apply smoke liberally as needed, often finishing the item in the oven. smoking is a true passion of mine, and i find myself toying with things that aren't smoked often. i love smoked cheese, tomatoes, corn, vegetables, etc. it isn't odd to find smoked pork of course, but i really enjoy smoked beef as well. with my infatuation of smoke comes some sort of natural desire to cook ribs at least once a month. i smoke pork ribs often but also enjoy beef shortribs as well. i sometimes think that SMOKE would be a great name for a restaurant. when meat is properly smoked it develops a smoke ring that cant be faked for all the money in the world. smoke will actually penetrate meat and give it a pinkish hue in the outer layer. by brining the meat before and then air drying you can also form what is called a pelicle layer, bringing water soluble proteins to the surface of the meat, which in turn with act as a smoke adhesive. regardless of what your preference of meat is, it is very rare that someone says "i don't like the taste of smoke" and if you ask me. we need more of it at dinner time.
Pictured are the first available local morel mushrooms of the year. with better weather these would've been available over a month ago in Eastern Oregon, but it has been to cold for them to come up. they are one of the most prized of the locally foraged wild mushroom as their season is earlier (most of the other truly wild mushrooms wont be around until early to late fall) and they have an amazing flavor. they are honeycomb looking and these are a bit larger than average. i featured them on the menu at work for most of last spring and summer and while i couldn't buy them fresh for all of that time i was able to find a source for them dried. drying mushrooms is a great way to preserve and all but chanterelles (more on them later) dry really well. when re-hydrated with stock, or water, they are almost as good as fresh. i bought 5 pounds of these, and 2 pounds were transferred to another restaurant, and 2 were dried at work. of the last pound, some sauteed over a new york steak for dinner tonight, and some will make a cream sauce for a pistachio crusted piece of halibut tomorrow night. now the real killer.... these costed me $50 dollars a pound. that's right fifty. i worked with them for a bit today and figured out the cost about one dollar a piece, three eleven per ounce. this was five pounds or 250 dollars worth. ouch. i know i have been through what that can buy before so i wont go there again. i will however add that i am extremely fortunate to work at a place that will sign that check without so much as a double take. they should drop in price in the coming days (i think i have them locked in for about 20/# for the weekend). they are ugly, they are dirty, they are even expensive but all is forgiven with the simple taste of sauteed morels.
Thursday, June 3, 2010
Locally (willamette valley) strawberries only grow in full force for just over a month out of the year, and we are at the very beginning of the season. i was able to get one flat about a week ago, but no more until today. i bought one for use here at the house, and two more for the restaurant. Oregon strawberries differ from the California berries that you see in the market year round. They are never as uniform looking (basically they haven't been altered as much so they aren't as pretty), and they don't last very long at all. shelf life of a few days max. when you eat a California strawberry, they also tend to have a hollow center, where Oregon ones aren't hollow. the color of Oregon ones are much deeper and richer, while the California ones look more pink in comparison. they also smell much more aromatic then the ones from further south. the good news is these should be available at your local farmers market, or at u-pick places, and roadside stands everywhere in the coming weeks. they are worth the time to seek out, and usually are less expensive then the California's would be at the grocery store. try to get your hands on some and once washed (mine were really muddy-due to the juneuary weather we have been having) they are fantastic with a bit of sugar and a of course a pinch of salt.
Started simple cure of some salmon gravlox today. gravlox or "lox" is a cured salmon (usually). again one of the oldest food preservation methods in existence. i had two about 3 pound each sides of local King salmon that i skinned, boned, and trimmed. i used 2 parts sugar, and 1 part salt, with the zest from three oranges, and some course cracked pepper. the salmon was set on a layer of the cure, then covered with the cure, then i sliced the oranges and placed them on the cure, and then covered that with more of the curing mixture. these will set for at least 24 hrs, but maybe closer to 48 hours, and then will be rinsed well and patted dry, then hung out to air dry in the walk-in. sometimes when you buy lox this process is done in a matter of hours with needles and injected brines and such, and then the product can also be cold smoked. this probably wont be smoked, but sliced thinly it is the classic New York accompaniment to bagels, but i think its great with some crostini and some horseradish. the whole process only takes a few days max and will extend the shelf life of fresh salmon indefinitely. just keep in mind that when you start with a crap product you will end up with crap, so buy, or even catch quality salmon before attempting this.
a cioppolini (chipoleany) onions is a small onion that is larger and flatter than pearl onions. they have a relatively mild taste with a bit of sweetness and present wonderfully. at the restaurant we look at things like this as "value vegetables". as customers expect the best, and we want them to have a meal they feel has ample value especially when regarding vegetables we have to look for things they haven't seen before, or things they have seen that are cooked differently, or things that have value in the amount of time they have taken to get prepped, cooked, or plated. these are a great option as most haven't seen them, and they take us forever to prep. pictured here is a three gallon bucket that is over half full of trimmed and peeled onions that aren't bigger than 2 inches in diameter and its only about 15#'s. it takes even my fastest prep cooks hours to clean them, so we usually try to tackle them as a team effort. we usually buy them in 25# pound bags, so i find myself dealing with them pretty often. these were grown in Gilroy California by Cristopher Ranch. Gilroy is the garlic capitol of the world, growing some amazingly large percent of the garlic consumed in this country. They are available in fall and spring, but like any sort of onion, storage is easy and when stored in the perfect conditions they can be held (on the manufacturers side of it) easily for 6 months or more. another basic discipline task that requires almost zero skill and is not very entertaining (when they come off of the produce truck everyone moans a bit), but still has to be done. these were headed for a quick saute with a fortified wine called sherry,and some salt, then finished in a 500 degree oven so they get brown and the wine reduces to a syrup consistency.
Maillard Reaction- a complex browning reaction that results in the particular flavor and color of foods that do not contain much sugar, including roasted meats. The reaction which involves carbohydrates and amino acids, is named after the French scientist who discovered it. There are low temperature and high temperature reactions, the high temperature reaction starts at 310 degrees- TPC 8th edition
Whether we are talking a pork roast for your crock-pot, or a duck breast, most foods benefit from the addition of the Maillard reaction or searing. searing is also the first step in getting together a proper braise. the intent is simple- to develop more flavor. a lot of chefs will say that searing also seals in juices but i don't buy it for a second. i sear to develop flavor, and if i didn't everything that i cook i might as well just boil and then serve. that's why we love grilled foods, the high heat involved on a grill introduces more flavor. i try to sear most of what i cook at home. a roast is a great example of something that you can give this a shot with. do everything you normally do when cooking a roast, but before you do it season the meat with salt, oil it, and introduce some heat (i sear in a cast iron pan, on an electric griddle, or on a cast iron griddle if we are talking about a bigger piece of meat) high heat can be used as the process will take a short amount of time. turn the meat as needed, i like to sear all sides, and then cook as you normally would. i will caution you that additions much beyond salt can burn in the searing process. things like herbs, spices, and even black pepper don't take really high heat very well, so add them after searing, but the meat wont burn unless you get out of control with the heat. smoke will be created and it will spatter but these are small sacrifices as far as i am concerned. another little quip i have is that in the restaurant i don't like the word burnt (granted things happen and are technically burnt and then discarded and recooked) so we tend to say things like over-caramelized, even over-cooked, or "i was testing the maillard reaction theory". just makes it sound like you didn't mess up as bad as you did. enjoy your day.
Tuesday, June 1, 2010
I recently finished reading "The Jungle" by Upton Sinclair. The book was written in 1905 and is a story of an immigrant worker, and subsequently his family, and their experiences in the stockyards of Chicago. after its release in 1906 the book was refused by several publishers which lead to a simplified, censored version that was in circulation in a few different forms for more than 80 years. at some point along the line the original writtings were found and republished in an uncensored format beggining in 05. the writings are not for the weak at heart or stomach, and while the book touches on many things political, and the way that are country treated the immigrants who worked in these yards and elsewhere, i read the book for the absolutely horrifing accounts of the meat packing industry. the book contains some of the most foul situations that one could possibly imagine. the story goes that after the book was released President Roosevelt called the author to find out how much of the book was true, and Mr Sinclair simply exclaimed that all and more was true of the working conditions that people endured. in turn we passed the pure food and drug act in june of 1906. the book was one of the very reasons that the FDA was invented and the reason that our meat (especially beef) is graded by certifed USDA inspectors in a extremely rigourous process. now i know that the process isnt foolproof, nor am i naive enough to belive that there arent dark sided ventures going on in slaughterhouses, but i am positive that it no way is even remotely as bad as it could be. if you have the least bit of interest in history, food, politics, etc it is a great read. i was able to buy it from Amazon used for less than $5. i will warn you that the page layout is a tad overwhelming, and the language used takes a bit of getting used to, but it truly is worth the read.
Aptly named as they were relatively unknown until the mid 70's when a few big airline companies began to use them for in-flight meals, and airline breast is usually chicken (can be other poultry as well though) that has the skin on, and the wing attached. in restaurant they can be also be called statlers, or wing tip breast. at work i have them on the menu twice, once stuffed with crab, spinach, and jack and asiago cheese, and the other baked to a gorgeous brown then topped with a seasonal local mushroom sauce. we sell the daylights out of them, which means in turn i clean a lot of them. it isn't odd for me to buckle down with my boning knife and clean 100 in a sitting. we buy them with the backbone on, and so it comes off and the wing is lacerated to the bone, then i turn it and bend the joint of the wing back and pull it off. i know that it is a bit off putting to some, but it doesn't bother me at all. the wings go in the stock pot and the skin is trimmed to present a bit more cleanly. the bonus to all of this is when done correctly they present fabulously, also by still having the wing bone attached (even though it has been stripped of all the flesh) and the skin on, the chicken will retain more moisture then a boneless skinless breast will. in almost every instance you will find that a bone in a piece of meat will yield a juicer cooked product (steaks with bone tend to be more expensive in the grocery store than boneless ones are). since i cant walk into a grocery store and order like i can from my meat purveyor at work i cut them off of whole chickens if i am going to use them at home. these were seared and then baked in the oven at a high temperature for about 20 minutes, rested, then served on tortellini. dont be afraid to get your hands on a whole bird and give it a shot, chickens are cheap and available year round, and they make a great meal. two birds will make a meal of 4 airline breast, another 4 braised legs, and a carcass for stock, all for about 9-11 dollars. i know some people are horribly scared of the bacteria that they are notorious for carrying, so buy them from a reputable source (i think foster farms does a great job) take them straight home, store them at the bottom of your refrigerator, and when it comes time to harvest give yourself plenty of space, and get your "place" together. have a sharp knife, paper towels, sheet pans, and ziplocs to put things in. when your done wipe up and then sanitize. buying whole chickens will teach you about being a tad more versatile, less wasteful, and will usually give you a true never frozen product that has less chance of having been chemically treated at some point along the line, and is usually less expensive then buying skinless breast.
pancetta is a salt cured pork belly product that is then rolled, much like bacon, differing only in that pancetta isn't smoked like bacon is. it is rather spendy and hard to find locally, but its a great addition to all sorts of things. it tastes similar to bacon but the pork flavor and fat flavor comes across as a bit more refined on the palate. i cut big rings from it in this instance and then cut what we call "lardons" which is a rather fancy way of saying pieces that are about 1/2 inch in width, then slowly rendered fat out of them over the stove and ended up with perfectly crisp bits of pork belly. i cut it into some polenta for a dinner special, adding a bit of the rendered fat for more depth of flavor and better mouth feel. great product. when you look at a lean fish or protein for that matter it is always nice to think about contrasting that lean-ness with something that will offer some fat for a much more balanced. per bite, flavor. it may seem excessive but- "if i want to impress someone i use olive oil, if i want to amaze someone i use butter, and if i want to blow them away, animal fats are the only real option."