Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Zuppa Toscana

After eating at Olive Garden due to a crave for their soup and salad lunch special, I decided to try to make the Zuppa Toscana they served.  The significance behind this dish is that it is my special person's favorite soup, and it made me realize as a self aspiring home cook, that things aren't as difficult if you plan.

The recipe I used could be found here, but I will cut and paste to make things easier to see.  Note: I also modified it just a wee bit.


Ingredients (changed)

  • 1 (16 ounce) package jalapeno sausage
  • 4 potatoes, cut into then chip like slices
  • 1/2 chopped onion
  • 8 slices bacon
  • 4 cloves minced garlic
  • 2 cups kale - washed, dried, and shredded
  • 3 cups of chicken stock (low sodium)
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1/3 to 2/3 cup heavy whipping cream - note: the more you use, the whiter the soup will be.  Also, (obviously) the heavier the soup will feel when eaten.



Directions

  • Preheat oven to 300 degrees F (150 degrees C).
  • Place sausage links onto a sheet pan and bake for 25 minutes, or until done. Cut links in half lengthwise, then cut at an angle into 1/2-inch slices.
  • Place onions and bacon slices in a large saucepan and cook over medium heat until onions are almost clear. I left the bacon inside the soup to cook with everything.  Personally, I don't think crispy bacon in this soup would make a huge difference.  But if you are looking for a crunch, remove the back from the onions before going onto the next step.


  • Add garlic to the onions and cook an additional 1 minute. Add chicken soup base, water, and potatoes, simmer 15 minutes.

  • Add crumbled bacon (if you did that), sausage, kale, and cream. Simmer 4 minutes and serve.

The first time I created this dish, I accidentally put the heavy cream in one step before when adding the water and other liquids.  Don't fret, it turns out just fine one way or the other.  


From what I am told, the soup tastes just like the one at Olive Garden.  I suppose with the ingredients, you can't really stray too far from the original taste.  

Monday, June 20, 2011

Boeuf Bourguignon

While creating this dish, I have come to a realization to my limitations as a new "cook".  Although I am a bit more confident in the kitchen, my limits were found while grocery shopping.  After having to deal with an incompetent butcher, I noticed I don't know a damn thing about meat.  After a few Google searches and cow section diagrams in some cookbooks I found, it's still a little complicated for me to grasp the different cuts.

Boeuf Bourguignon is essentially a standard "beef stew".  Depending on the recipe, you literally place carrots, potatoes, onions, and of course, beef, into a pot.  What makes it a "Bourguignon" is the wine that is placed into the stew (a wine from Burgundy; region in eastern France) - the Burgundy is typically made from Pinot Noir grapes.

"Beef for stew" cut

After seasoning, the recipe called to sear the beef in a pan, then to stew the rest of the ingredients in the pan.  Afraid I was going to over cook the meat, I decided to use my slow-cooker.  I've used it previously on the typical beef stew, and the meat would be so tender, it would fall off the fork.  So I thought it was a good idea.

Slow-cooker

Everything turned out savory, but the meat was a little over cooked for my liking.  The slow-cooker I have has four settings - off, keep warm, low, and high.  Since the amount of liquid and material being used in this recipe literally filled up the entire pot up to the rim, I was worried the low setting wouldn't heat it up enough to cook properly.  So I placed the setting on high. 


Next time I create this dish (and for those of you with a similar slow-cooker), I would recommend using the low setting.  I started cooking late in the day, which caused me to choose the high setting even more. Aside from the beef being a little over cooked, things turned out better than expected.  A little side note - for those of you who want to create a broth for a French Dip Sandwich, the broth from the Bourguignon makes a great Au Ju.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Cod Basquaise

I stumbled upon this dish on Chef Eric Ripert's website, and decided to cook it.  The thing that attracts me to the French Cuisine is the subtle, and simple ingredients that they use to bring out the flavor of the dish.  Of course like any style of cooking, there are some difficult techniques (haven't learned any yet).  

Cod

One of the most difficult things I have run into while cooking is that I have absolutely no idea what anything is suppose to taste like.  As someone who is coming from an Asian American decent, French food was never offered to me as a child or even as I was growing up.  Till this day, I have yet to go to a real French restaurant (La Madeline, you don't count).  Luckily, I was able to find one, so I'll just have to make the trip there one day.

Red & yellow peppers w/ tomatoes

The use of yellow and red peppers give the fish a "refreshing" taste due to their natural flavors.  I used a cheap-o red wine for the sauce, and I think that's what made it not as delicious as it should've been.  It wasn't bad...just not as good as I would've hoped.  I believe a Shiraz would give the peppers a nice kick to it, versus the bitterness of a Merlot (which is what I used).  


Thyme

A lazy and dumb mistake I made with the thyme was that I didn't peel the leaves off and just use those.  I know...it was stupid.  But I never use these things.  The only previous times I ever even purchased them was to use them for the bouquet garni.  Needless to say, the twigs were a pain in the ass to get out, and was even worse when you started to chew on them.  

Vietnamese red peppers

Those baby sized peppers may not look it, but they pack a punch.  For those that are unfamiliar, you usually would see these peppers mixed with soy sauce, fish sauce, or any other Asian type sauce.  After soaking these babies in the sauce for a bit, it gave it a bigger kick than one would think.  I used these as a substitute since I couldn't find a Piment d'Espelete (according to wiki, it's a dry, French red pepper).  A pepper is a pepper right? 


Even though I made weird substitutions and mistakes (stupid thyme) with this, it still turned out pretty well.  The sauce was subtle, the fish was cooked just right, and the peppers made it feel light.  When I attempt to make this again, I will change up the wine and use the thyme correctly.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Petatou

Petatou?  Potato?  Never in my life have I ever had olives and a potato mixture together.  It's just not common in my neck of the woods.  Whatever the case may be, making this dish was enjoyable.  I actually planned ahead and took my time.  I didn't have hungry faces staring at me as they use their expressions to silently ask, "is it done yet?", or knowing I had to do something afterwards.  I had all the time in the world at that moment...and I loved it.  

Potato bath

The pre-blogging era of my time, I never thought of boiling the potatoes first, then peeling them.  For whatever strange reason, I alway tried to peel them first.  Maybe it was my noobness of it all, but it makes it easier to boil them first, then peel.  The recipe called for red bliss potatoes.  My Google searches turned up nothing useful except images of red bliss potatoes cut in potato salad.  So I went to my local store and found a red potato.  These are sweeter than the standard potato you would purchase in the bundle, but I am sure I could've gotten away with using the normal one (maybe?).

Black olives

I tried to find fresh olives at the store, but no luck.  So I went with the pitted ones in the can.  As I was cutting them, it gave me a craving for supreme pizza.

Mixed

This was the first time I ever used heavy cream.  I was a little worried that I was going to burn the cream, but it's a little more forgiving then using 2% milk.  While the cream was reducing, I started separating the yolk from the egg to whisk it.   I have a spoon/tool that separates it if I just plop the yolk in the middle of it, but since I wanted to gain the experience, I did it myself.  I have done this once prior to this dish (I think in middle school).  I ended up crushing some shell pieces inside the yolk and fished it out...which caused the yolk to liquify a bit.  But no worries.  It was going to get a whisk beating anyway.

Yolked


Instead of using a 3" PVC pipe cut out or a 3" steel ring (since I didn't have either), I decided to use my ramekins for the first time.  I looked at photos online of people using the steel ring to hold the petatou together, but it just doesn't look as appealing since all the juices flow out from underneath it.  

 Pre-bake


Although the ramekins look small, this dish is extremely filling - which surprises me that it classifies as an appetizer.  The heavy cream and the goat cheese to top give it a very bold flavor.  It's not as harsh as one would think with all the random ingredients mixed together.  The Petatou is easily one of my favorite things to make.  It may be that it wasn't as difficult as I thought or maybe it was just because I was enjoying myself.  But creating this did lift my spirits from prior dishes (since I seem to keep messing up).  If it's anything that I learned from this, it's that good food can never be rushed.  




Saturday, May 21, 2011

New England Clam Chowder?

Canned minced oysters

Having a good bowl of soup nowadays is extremely difficult.  Everything is mass produced in cans or a restaurant would fill the entire stock with oil to keep it "fresh".  Last weekend I decided to give clam chowder a shot.  Why clam chowder?  Clam chowder has always been a comfort food for me.  It brings back memories of my younger days when I was sick.  Although I complained about the soup-in-a-can not tasting as good...that's what my mother served me, and I loved it.  It was fast.  It was easy.  And, it shut me up. 

I didn't realize I didn't have potatoes.  For future reference for those of you who are going to make a chowder...this is where the chowder comes from.  I bought the center cut bacon.  I personally don't eat much pork, but that's what the recipe was calling for, so I couldn't hold back.  I was told (and read) that when purchasing bacon, you need the fat infused with the meat for it to cook properly (since it can dry out easier than most meats).  I am not sure how true that is, but I noticed that it was easy to cook.  Not by the idea of just throwing it into the frying pan, but how forgiving it is if you leave it on one side too long or that it won't burn so easily. The bacon fat allowed me not to use any cooking oil to fry things.


Another thing I learned was that they sell oysters in a can.  I wanted to buy live oysters and cook them on my own, but my grocery budget didn't allow me to do so.  It's actually in the canned-tuna section next to a bottle of oyster-juice.  While cooking the bacon and onions, I should have been cooking the potatoes in the juice to start creating the starch.


Even though I didn't have the chowder in my chowder...it wasn't so bad.  The use of corn-starch didn't help so much to create the texture as I was hoping for.  So as stated before - the chowder gets its character from the potatoes.  The end product was thin, and extremely salty.  I followed the recipe from a random cookbook I have at home, which called for salt.  The bacon provided enough to satisfy a horse.  


I can't help but feel what is the point of making it from scratch.  The main ingredient is from a can.  So...why not just buy the canned clam chowder from the store?  But being the stubborn person I am, I am going to try the recipe again someday in my quest to find the perfect clam chowder.


Saturday, May 7, 2011

La Quiche


Who knew making a quiche would be so simple.  One wouldn't think it would simply consist of flour, eggs, and milk.  How can restaurants get away with charging ~$6 for something that is so...painstakingly easy?  Whatever the case may be, I was never a fan of the whole idea of a quiche to being with.  This random act of baking was due to a co-worker bringing it in as a treat.  Not that quiches are horrible, I just never saw what makes them so delicious.  I've tried the ones from La Madeleine and it didn't "wow" me, but then again, nothing there really is wonderful (not that I can make anything better).  But I digress.

Quiche pizza

A quiche reminds me of a "healthier" pizza.  You really can put anything you want in it.  I layered parmesan cheese, deli turkey, mushrooms, and spinach.  The parmesan cheese and turkey were surprisingly salty, so I didn't add anymore.  A strange thing I learned is that it requires mustard powder.  Weird huh?
Prepping the base

I did cheat though.  I bought frozen pie crust.  This is my first time baking, so I didn't get the full experience as I should have.  But I was hungry, and it was getting late.  

Pre-oven

The few things I learned by making this is that you can't really trust your eyes as a new cook/baker (at least mine).  As the quiche was baking, I had a feeling it was done after about 30 minutes of baking.  However, the quiche still showed to have some liquid bubbling and I assumed it wasn't done baking the eggs or milk.  But once I took it out of the oven, it stopped bubbling and was actually cooked all the way through.


Needless to say, I burned the crust, but the spinach didn't get burned although it looks like it.  I was also learning how to use my oven convection setting - apparently it converts itself 25 degrees lower than what you set (i.e. set at 400F -->375F).  I couldn't figure it out until I read the manual.  

Even though I dislike quiches, I learned two major things as a new, aspiring cook/baker: 1) don't always trust only your eyes, and 2) learn the functions of your oven before you use it.  

As for Les Halles, I hope to return to that book soon.  I noticed I have to switch away from it due to the financial needs the book calls for.  Some of them aren't so bad, but they don't yield my lunch for the week sometimes.  

Friday, April 29, 2011

Hot Sauce/Beer(Sausage + Peppers) = Delicious

Since last week's Boeuf lasted me more than a week, I decided to take a breather and not cook.  There were many different left overs from that plus the spaghetti I made (not shown) just for the sake of having lunch the rest of the work week.

Pepper stoplight

My cousin brought up an "Iron Chef" idea - we were to cook a dish with beer.  The rules were extremely lax, but the point was just to use beer somehow.  After a few searches, I was able to find a delicious recipe that incorporated beer, sausage, pepper, and of course, hot sauce.  This is where things got interesting.  From the first entry of my newfound blog, I had the habit of measuring things out.  Not this time.  It was complete chaos, but things turned out alright.

Cheese filled sausage

I didn't get to take as many photos as I normally would have liked, but these show the basic ingredients I used.  The recipe called for sausage, so I purchased three different kinds - cheese filled, kielbasa, and smoked.  And of course, I bought the three kinds of bell peppers.  One thing that needs to be said is that the peppers do not just look different, they also taste different.  I did find, however, that the green peppers were a bit more firm versus the yellow or red.  Maybe it could've been the one's I have chosen, but I am not a pepper expert.


Once the sausages were cooked, I threw all the peppers and random spices I could into the pan (my wok).  This is the first time I cooked with beer (instead of drinking it while I was cooking it at least).  I couldn't tell what this dish was suppose to look like once cooked.  Was it suppose to be like a stew or sauce?  Mine turned out to be stew like.  The alcohol didn't burn as much as I thought it would've, and when combined with everything else, it made it seem like a stew base.

Ran out of room so I switched to a larger pot

Although it was a disaster as far as a planning standpoint, I don't think I would change what I did when I make this dish again.  The beer wasn't overpowering, the spices I added were spot on, and most of all, it was just fun to do.  One old habit I need to break away from is "eyeballing" what I add.  I got lucky this turned out as good as it did, but before, it was a complete and utter mess.