Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Quick post.

Just a quick update since it's 1 am and I have a large amount of Math and English to be working on...

To all my know, all...what, 3 of you? Perhaps you noticed I changed the name of my blog. Culinary Journeys of a Midwestern Foodie just didn't quite mesh right. I'm not a true midwestern(I'm a damn nomad), I don't know that I'm necessarily a foodie per say...I'm not a food snob. I'm not dining out, critiquing a different fine dining restaurant every night of my life,...though I might on occasion. I want to call this blog a food blog, but at the same time I don't, because some entries aren't solely focused on food(although most will involve food in some way). Some are merely mind vomit that has ended up in cyber space. Really, it's a record of my passions. I have many. Cooking, writing, photography, the combination of the 3, family, friends, art(especially when presented on a plate), music. So, right now, I'm just doing what I love. I know it lacks structure. It's unorganized. Sometimes it doesn't make much sense. But that's my life.
Read at your own will.

Other than that, I am working on a couple more entries that are soon to come(maybe in the next week, we'll see how my schedule works out). One about my consommé that I made in Soup/Sauces this past Tuesday(that had the flavor profile comparative to watery chicken juice), and the other I throw in some good ol' nostalgia.

Tonight I had food a few good shots of the drinks we made. I'm happy to share. It was a fun time til the weather turned nasty.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Le Fond

The new quarter has started. I’m 2 weeks in but still don’t feel like I’m in it full swing. For some reason I’ve been dealing with a lack of motivation. I’ll blame it on the depression I’m feeling from the holidays. (Bahumbug). I’m taking Soup and Sauce Cookery, Oral and Written Reports, Culinary Math, and Food Styling. 14 credits, 18 classroom hours. I’m sure I can narrow my two favorite classes down to Soup/Sauce and Food Styling. To me, doing any form of Math is equivalent to gauging my eyes out with a ball point pen. Oral and Written Reports is all research and presentation, but at least it’s geared toward something I have an interest in.

My first night of Soup and Sauce didn’t contain near the amount of excitement that my first foundation’s class did. I’m not sure why. Perhaps because everything was so new and there was a lot of nervousness. The first lesson in foundations was on egg cookery. I already wrote about it once, but how excited can one be about an egg? I ask this because I know all of you are thinking it. Really, though, an egg is very exciting. In fact, in the culinary world, it is thought about with almost a religious-like devotion. From the beauty of its design, to its many functions from binding to leavening to coloring, to its ability to be delicious solely on its own (poached, shirred, over easy, sunny-side up, boiled, scrambled) to be paired with other things and become even more heavenly. The egg even sauces itself. And makes other sauces when combined with cream and butter and whisked into oblivion (hollandaise). I assume you’ve gotten my point by now. Onto Soup and Sauces.
We learned THE, if not one of THE, most important elements to the foundation of a great culinary education.

Making a great stock.

Why must a stock be great, you ask? Because it is the base to everything else in a kitchen. Great stock gives the potential for a great end result. If you start with something less than great, as with anything in life, generally its potential decreases from there on. There is reason for the French’s reference to stock as “le fond” meaning “the foundation.
The steps to creating a great stock are fairly simple: low heat and great, fresh ingredients. There are 5 types of stocks: chicken, beef, fish, vegetable, and the most versatile of all: veal. From Michael Ruhlman’s The Elements of Cooking: “ Stocks are a distillation of flavor, an extraction by water of the ingredients. If those ingredients are old, or if they are pale and weak, those qualities will be reflected in the quality of your stock. Ask yourself: Do these ingredients look good, would they be tasty if I were to cook and eat them as they are? If so, they are suitable for stock."

Onto heat. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of low heat. The stock must NEVER boil. In fact, it should almost not even simmer. Let’s say just barely simmering. The temperature should range from 170-180 degrees, but never more than that. When a stock boils, the bubbles stir up the impurities and fat resulting in a cloudy looking and tasting liquid. Cooking too high will also overcook the vegetable causing them to soak up your precious liquid.
You should begin by cooking the bones first to enrich the flavor. You would blanche them for a white sauce or roast them for a brown. Follow up by pouring cold water over the bones and allow the temperature to rise gradually. Once reaching ideal temperature, strain for impurities.
Cooking times for stock will vary. 1-4 hours for chicken, 4-6 for beef, an hour for vegetable, less than an hour for fish, and 8-12 for veal. Once reaching doneness, the liquid should be passed through a strainer or chinois, then through cheesecloth to remove as many particles as possible. After the stock has cooled, the fat should rise to the top to be removed easily. Once reaching room temperature, you can transfer it to the fridge. The stock can be used for up to 4 days in the fridge and frozen for later uses.

I don’t know if anyone reading this was hoping to get a lesson in making stock, but it couldn’t hurt. In my opinion, it makes the world a better place.

Classic Veal Stock

7 pounds veal or beef bones, cut into 2 or 3-inch pieces
1 can best quality tomato paste
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped carrot
2 cups chopped onion
1 cup red wine or water, for deglazing
Small handful peppercorn
4 bay leaves
3 sprigs thyme
Cold water

Preheat oven to 425 degrees, F.

Spread bones in a roasting pan and roast for about 30 minutes, turning once. Remove from the oven, and paint a thin layer of tomato paste over the bones. Put the vegetables on top of the bones, and roast an additional 15-20 minutes, until the vegetables begin to caramelize.

Remove the bones and vegetables to a stock pot. Deglaze the roasting pan with wine or water, and pour this into the stock pot. Add peppercorns, bay leaves and thyme. Cover the bones with cold water.

Over medium heat, slowly bring the bones up to a very gentle simmer. Don’t let the stock boil. Adjust the temperature to maintain a gentle bubbling. Every thirty minutes or so, skim off any foam that rises to the top of the pot.

Let the stock simmer gently for at least four hours. If you have the time, it can simmer for up to 12 hours. Add a little more water and lower the heat if you are getting too much evaporation.

When the stock is done, remove the bones and discard. Strain through a very fine mesh strainer or through a colander lined with three or four layers of cheesecloth. Chill quickly, then refrigerate. Skim off the fat from that has solidified on top, and discard.

Monday, December 6, 2010

So, you want to hear about Tennessee?

Going back “home” as people like to say…it’s a weird thing for me. I’m not quite sure where my home is. I didn’t grow up in one place with one solidified family. I’m not sad about that fact….I’ve just begun to think about it from an objective perspective since I’ve gotten older.
I’ve been “homesick” few times in my life. Do you know the feeling I’m talking about? Where things just don’t feel quite right in your gut and nothing you do can make it better. Nothing. Unless that something is to pack your bags and head right back where you came from. For me, I would get homesick for certain smells. They say that smell is the strongest sense when it comes to memory. I would go on month long road trips with my father in the summer(he was a truck driver), and I always handled it well. Never really got homesick. But once arriving home, walking through the door of my mother’s house, a comfort would surround me. At that time in my life, I would usually come home to some kind of a soup on the stove. Onion, garlic, and other various aromatics sprinkling the air. (As my Aunt Terry would say, “Your mother, I swear that woman could make a soup outta rocks!!”) She’d greet me with a hug. She usually smelled of a combination of Estee Lauder’s White Linen, Virginia Slims, and hard farm work.
My father on the other hand, I never really got “ homesick” for. He wasn’t around much when I was younger. I would see him for a bit probably on average about every 3 months. He would send cards and call often and every meeting was a joyous occasion. It had to be. There were so few, I certainly would hope they wouldn’t be bad ones. I remember mom dressing me up in my best dresses. There were bows in my hair, and bells and lace on my socks. My shoes shined. I would pace back and forth struggling to contain my excitement, driving my mother up a wall, making her regret even telling me he was coming. I’d sit at the French doors of the back porch. Nose and hands stuck to the glass, condensation from my breath fogging the rectangular windows. And then I’d spot him. He was rather hard to miss, really. A great big green Peterbuilt truck parked across the street at the Shell Station. And I had the same reaction every single time. I’d leap to my feet, wrench open the front door, and run as fast as my 3,4,5,6,7,8 year old legs could transport me. I was pelting towards him while he walked his typical carefree gait. A 6 foot 2 inch broad shouldered man wearing a Kansas Jayhawks cap and a big smile, with arms wide open. He smelled just like his cards that came in the mail. Clean, aftershave, coffee grounds.
Now as a grown woman (and it’s still hard for me to write that….me? a woman?), I still remember those smells and how they made me feel. They can transport me back to a world where my biggest worry and concern was where my favorite stuffed dog, Peanut, had disappeared to. When going back to Tennessee in November, I was slapped in the face with those smells. And let me tell you, it had been a LONG time. It had gradually started to sink in on the 14 hour drive down. The grassy plains rescinded into rolling hills, rolling his transformed into highways carved through mountains. The air became heavy, damp, and cold. It was fall on the edge of winter in the South.
My car hugged the outrageously curvy roads with much success surprisingly, and they seemed to grow more twisted the closer I got to my mother’s house. Finally I pulled in at the very top of the ½ mile long driveway. A rusted gate overgrown with grass was pulled off to the side. A large portion of open pasture was interrupted about halfway down by an elegant red barn on the left, and another random outbuilding on the right. The driveway was washed out like a riverbed and had a steep slope leading to what used to be remnants of a thriving garden on the right, Up the hill a little ways was the log house. What used to be considered my “home”. A structure built from a family’s 2 log cabins from over 200 years ago, torn down to make 1 big, fairly modern one. It sat there staring at me, almost completely choked in green ivy. Stoic, it reminded me of something beautiful in its sadness, a picture out of “The Secret Garden”.
I could go on and on and paint you picture by picture with words and descriptions of smells and sights, but none of it would encompass the feeling I felt when stepping over the threshold of the back door into my mother’s kitchen and similarly a couple more steps into her arms. Years later, the same smells remained. The house and land had undergone some major wear and tear, but it was all still the same. Unfortunately, though the house seemed to still hold its noble ground, my poor mother seemed quite simply, exactly what she was. Older. More tired. More sadness. More pain. I won’t go into it any more than that. Describing the house is much easier to do.
One of my fondest memories of the trip was cooking dinner for her, my brother, and his wife. We had just had a lab on braising the day before I executed the drive so, I was determined to practice my learned skills. I have to say, braising might be my favorite of all the cooking methods. It’s humble. It doesn’t ask for much more than a little love and a lot of time. You don’t have to be pretentious and buy the most expensive piece of meat off the cow. Tough, inexpensive cuts from the shoulder, breast or lower chest, or hind sections. These sections of the cow work much harder than the middle sections and are therefore much more exercised with stronger connective tissue. By cooking them slow and low in a flavorful liquid, the muscles and fibers are tenderized resulting in an exquisitely elegant piece of meat.
The braising liquid is very important. Veal stock is ideal. I realize this is difficult to come by in some cases…if you don’t have the bones or time to make you own, you might be able to purchase it at your local butcher’s shop. Otherwise, try to make a beef stock…but if you’re unable to do that, I suppose the only option is to buy commercial beef stock off the shelf of a grocery store. If you do this however, be expectant that the great potential of your end result will be stifled. The 2nd important liquid is a good red wine, preferably a burgundy. Once again, better the wine, better the end result. It’s a personal choice.
Here is the recipe from my class Copyrights Chef Timothy O’Donnell:
6 pounds beef short ribs, cut 2" thick,
trimmed to include one bone each
to taste salt
to taste pepper
3 each onions, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 each leeks, white and pale green
parts only, roughly chopped
1 each carrot, peeled and roughly
2 each plum tomatoes, roughly
6 cloves garlic, smashed
6 sprigs thyme
8 sprigs parsley
3 each bay leaves
1 ½ cups red wine
3 cups veal stock, hot

¼ cups parsley, chopped
½ each lemon, zested and minced
1 clove garlic minced

1. Season ribs generously with salt
and pepper and refrigerate 4 to 6
hours, or overnight.
2. Arrange ribs bone-side down in
roasting pan and roast at 475
degrees until lightly browned, about
20 minutes. Meanwhile, saute onions
in olive oil in large skillet over medium
heat until lightly colored, 6 to 7
minutes. Add leeks and carrot and
cook until slightly softened, 3 to 4
minutes. Add tomatoes, garlic, thyme,
parsley and bay leaves and saute 2
minutes more.
3. Spread vegetables in roasting pan
large enough to hold ribs.
Arrange ribs on top of vegetables,
bone-side up. Add wine and enough
hot stock to barely cover ribs. Cover
pan tightly with foil and place in oven.
When braise begins to simmer, after
about 20 minutes, loosen foil and
reduce heat to 350 degrees.
4. Begin to test for doneness after 1
1/2 hours. A skewer or paring
knife inserted into meat should
encounter no resistance, and meat
should be nearly falling from bone.
When they are tender, uncover ribs and
turn them again so that bone side is
down. Pour off and reserve braising
juices. Raise heat to 450 degrees and
return ribs to oven for a final
5. When they are beautifully glazed,
after about 10 minutes, remove
from oven. Strain braising liquid into
bowl, pressing down on solids to
extract juices. Allow liquid to settle,
then spoon out grease. Pour liquid
back over ribs and reheat if serving
immediately, or cool, refrigerate and
serve next day with Gremolata.
6. Gremolata: Just before serving,
mix parsley, zest and garlic and
scatter over short ribs. (These
ingredients should be prepared at the
last minute.)

I served these with vichy carrots, celery root puree, and steamed asparagus.

Friday, November 26, 2010

We made it!

Well, my first official quarter of culinary school has now came to pass. Funnily enough even with my severe lack of grace, I made it out with all appendages still intact, not even partially severed. I also came out of that class with a bit of newfound confidence and respect for myself-both attributes I've been trying to attain over the past 20 years of my existance.

I have an incredibly LONG way to go, but that class will forever be engrained in my memory. It was me, the struggling protagonist embarking on her new frontier, fearful of failure but not willing to give up, grasping for success. And her fate was dependent on the flip of an egg.

Boy,I was sure was scared. I think I thought Chef hated my innards for a good 3 weeks(which is a long time for a girl constantly seeking everyone else's approval). After those 3 weeks however, I started to fall into a kind of groove. Maybe a tinge of non-chalance too but not in a bad "I don't give a damn" way. More like a "if you mess up this one time, the world might possibly STILL remain on its axis and continue with its rotation" type of way.
I remember the tip of my nose practically glued to a recipe card for the entire duration of the first couple classes. That was definitely hindering me. They were all basic concepts we were learning...but I became so wrapped up in a silly recipe card, i couldn't really deliver the way I should have. I began to memorize the recipes before class...a major step in my mise en place for the day. I started eye-balling measurements, started hustling, the wheels in my brain finally started to turn. And thus, the obsession began.

I now think about preparing food constantly. ICA has evoked some kind of crazy passion in me that I had never been aware of before. Sure, I enjoyed cooking....otherwise, I never would have entered this program. BUt this has really introduced a lifestyle change. I not only want to cook and prepare the food, I want to know the process of hunting and gathering it, where it came from, what is its history?
I no longer drive under golden arches or anywhere near a drive through not because I'm a food snob, but because I now know that the majority of the beef produced in the US has been scaled to fit McDonald's standards....not because it's impossible to have better meat but because they are the biggest buyer. And it offends me. It also makes me sad to think that an animal's life like a chicken or a cow's was taken just so it could be some thoughtless soggy disaster that Americans cram into their mouths without even giving a second thought. That a chicken can live a horrible life just to die so that it can be turned into pureed, breaded meat. Terrible.

I've grown outrageously aware of what I put into my mouth...and it's sad to me that you can't even trust a tomato these days. Buy a tomato in winter, and it's really not a tomato. It's the idea of a tomato. Maybe a ghost.
Phew, anyway, I didn't mean to get off on some kind of a rant there. That should be its own topic. I just want to say, my life is changing dramatically, and it's all because of food.

My passion for the subject was not discovered at my grandmother's knee in the kitchen as so many others like to say. My grandmother was way too sick to be in the kitchen by the time I came along and my mother really didn't like me in the kitchen as a little kid because I was in the way and it was dangerous. I used to think a homemade cake came out of a box. And that Mom's spaghetti sauce was the best there ever was....but it was actually Kraft's spaghetti sauce. No, I have to say my first love for cooking came from the feeling of feeding someone else. It was a bad relationship I was in with a guy, but something infinitely good did manage to come out of it. I would cook for him every single night...striving for his approval. And then it wasn't just about him, it was about everyone else too. I put together my first Thanksgiving dinner for an entire family when I was 19 years old. Then I got held responsible for Christmas. I would spend over a week planning out what I was going to do.

This year, I did Thanksgiving dinner for my parents. My father said it was the best Thanksgiving dinner he's had in his entire life. He's 63! EIther he's had a lot of awful Thanksgivings or maybe...I did something right.

I'm doing something right. It feels right. It is right. This is me. I've finally found it.

Anyway, I have a lot of pictures I left out from previous Tuesdays. I will go ahead and just post the mess of them here.

braised beef shortribs, carrots vichy, celery root puree

roasted root vegetable(straight to my heart...mmmm)

chef taking a torch to my chicken

Lainey and Ian rolling pasta dough

She's so proud!

My Amatriciana

Lainey's Puttanesca( dirty girl!)

deep fry week

lemon poached salmon with maple bourbon reduction

Final Practical: (practice week) warm salmon nicoise salad with dijon vinaigrette

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Roasted Tomatoes

Okay, Okay so it's been a while. Forgive me please! I could go on and on about my horrendous schedule and lack of time but that hasn't really stopped me from writing before…perhaps I'm getting old. Perhaps my body is actually starting to crave that strange thing called sleep. And when a person sleeps, as most of us know, it's hard to write. You can walk, you can talk, ….but can you sleep write? Well, I can't. So please kindly accept my futile apology and excuses.

Truth is, I do plan to make it up to you. I have a ton to write about so there will be many more posts to come after this one. I just have to tap into my memory bank. For now we'll start with a recent endeavor.

Monday afternoon.

I had just finished my last sanitation class. Orientation was also over. What could this possibly mean? An entire evening and partial afternoon to do whatever my heart desired! So what do I do?

I drive with much conviction to the bank and withdraw some much needed cash.

I zip over to Whole Foods(*cough* Whole*cough* Paycheck*coughcoughcough*) and walk right up to their tomatoes. Bright, red, seemingly juicy. They are now out of season, which is sad….because if any of you know me at all, I'm a goner when it comes to tomatoes. When I was a little girl in the summer time in Tennessee, I would eat them whole like an apple. Tomato in one hand, salt shaker in the other, savory juices running down my chin…a custom much brought on by my sweet grandmother who did the exact same thing. I still, in fact, can be spotted devouring them in such a way. I can also eat them with sugar, a taste that my stepfather introduced me to. I will eat them stewed. I will eat them sun-dried. They are the first morsel I dive for in a salad. I eat them with pasta (the Italian's are genius for coming up with that combination!), and yes, being a southern girl, I will eat them fried ,green, and crispy.

But what is my favorite way? Well, I have 2. When they are fresh, in season, bursting with redness, I prefer to appreciate them in their most simplistic state with only salt enhancing their beauty.

Unfortunately, it is November, and even if I buy the best organic Roma tomatoes from Whole Foods, they still don't do justice to what I picked out of my mother's garden in the summers.

A solution?

I take the roma tomatoes, I halve them, I sprinkle them with a wee bit of salt and basil and coriander and just enough olive oil so see them glisten and then I let them go in the oven until they're shriveled and wrinkly and fragrant, and oozing oil and juices. Ideally, if I weren't a crazy tomato maniac, I would be patient and let them roast slow and low for 6 hours. But let's get real here. I'm hopeless and positively bewitched by a roasting tomato (oh, I'm hopeless - by any tomato at all, really). I make the oven hotter and then chain myself to a sturdy piece of furniture for two hours, because otherwise I'll be absolutely compelled to continuously wrenching open the oven door in despair because it's not time to take the tomatoes out yet.

And what to do with them? Namely, anything.Use them as a pasta picker-upper, or store them in the fridge covered in olive oil, lay them over chicken, salmon, tuna or mixed vegetables. Put them in salsa. My favorite thing to do with them though is put them… in my mouth. Or mix them with white beans or slivers of basil. Or in my mouth. Or in salad. But mostly in my mouth.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Heavenly Chicken

Currently, I'm sitting at the nurses station writing this future blog entry because I'm afraid it might be the only quiet time of my life this week to reflect on what I've learned.
2:30 am, someone's monitor is blaring because their heartbeat is irregular and I'm thinking about roasted chicken. Heh.

My thoughts the past couple weeks have ranged from total pessimism and frustration to complete and utter happiness. My schedule has been grueling to say the least and I've felt a strong urge to complain, but honestly, I'm quite blessed. I wouldn't have it any other way. It is because of my current job that I am able to support myself and finance my education without help from anyone. And no, it's not easy, but nothing that's worth anything in life is.
So I find myself fried by Monday mornings, dragging my haggard, frizzy-haired self out to my car that just so happens to be in the furthest corner of the parking lot. I drive myself home with about as much focus as an intoxicated driver with blood alcohol level of .4, somehow turn the corner and park in a space in front of my building(within the yellow lines!). I trapse up 3 flights of stairs to my cozy one bedroom,stumble out of my shoes and socks, collapse into my bed still clothed in scrubs and I sleep. I sleep until noon at which I spring out of bed, complete the hygiene routine, and cheerfully head out the door to my first class of the week.
I have never been this busy before in my life, and yet I realize I've never been happier.

I stumbled across a quote this week that put me into check.
"The best day of your life is the one on which you decide your life is your own. No apologies or excuses. No one to lean on, rely on, or blame. The gift is yours-it is an amazing journey- and you alone are responsible for the quality of it. This is the day your life really begins."

That gave me the strength to suck it up. And it also gives me hope that if I can handle this, I'm that much better off than the next guy.

All of that aside, I did manage to roast a chicken this Thursday. And after doing so, I've reached the conclusion that I will never buy boneless, skinless chicken breast again. I spent 8 bucks on this little bird, and he managed to feed me for the past 4 days.
He and I kind of bonded. It was a nice change to the usual hectic atmosphere I'm surrounded by.

In a quiet meditational silence, I rubbed him down with salt and pepper, a little lemon juice. I stuffed him with fragrant rosemary,thyme, parsley, garlic and some more lemon and gently laid him on a bed of mirepoix.

He roasted at 375 degrees for an hour and a half, in which he debuted with a crispy golden brown skin. I carved off a piece of the breast . The flesh was perfumed with the herbs and transported me back to early days in Tennessee, particularily Christmas.

After spending a while first carving off the most presentable meat for serving, then the other for chicken salad and soup, I surrendered the carcass to a pot and covered it with water, 2 sprigs of parsley, a bay leaf, an onion, salt and pepper, and left it to work its magic for 6 hours.

In the meantime, I felt inspired and began the process of my aunt's homemade noodles. I actually had no idea what her recipe called for but figured it couldn't be more complex than flour, eggs, oil, and water. I must've been right because they turned out great.

Towards the end of the day, I strained the stock and added oblique cuts of carrots and celery, then noodles and chicken. By the end of it all, I had a masterpiece.

I cannot express enough the appreciation I have learned for mother nature. She, no doubt, is the true artist.