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Archive for October, 2009

Two important announcements:

1. We used the STOVE today. FIRE, folks. I’m not sure why were trusted.

2. And going along with the trust issue – the inevitable finally happened – my first kitchen injury. 😦

But first – lecture.

We learned a little math. Most specifically – we learned units of measure for volume (liquid) and their equivalents. This is probably good to know/memorize so I’m including it here for reference:

1 teaspoon
1 Tablespoon = 3 teaspoons
1 ounce = 2 Tablespoons
1 cup = 8 ounces = 16 Tablespoons
1 pint = 2 cups = 16 ounces = 32 Tablespoons (yeah, doubt you’ll ever need to know that).
1 quart = 2 pints = 4 cups = 32 ounces
1 gallon = 4 quarts = 8 pints = 16 cups = 128 ounces

So on to the kitchen.

Today we made Tomato Portuguese.  Basically, it is tomatoes concasse (peeled, seeded and chopped tomatoes) simmered with cooked onions, garlic, and bouquet garni. You keep cooking till all the water is evaporated. Season to taste.

What is this used for exactly? Good question. I have no clue really. Maybe the base for other tomato sauces?? I was so busy making this today, that I never thought to ask.

Cool technique – in case you don’t already know how, here’s how you peel a tomato.

So yeah – the injury – as I said, I was coring a tomato using a chef’s knife even though I thought it was awkward and KNEW better. And then…it happened. I thought, meh, that isn’t so bad. And then…I rushed to the bathroom to rinse and then put pressure on with a paper towel.

I’ve had my share of kitchen injuries – the worst being bagel slicing and the time I was working in a kitchen in college and picked up a lid to a lasagna pan that had been in the oven for an hour and a half…yeah.  But this was somehow worse.

My husband gets a little squeamish at the site of blood. I’ve always been quick to yell out “wuss!”.

I will keep quiet now. For the first time ever, I almost blacked out due to a minor kitchen injury. Gah…WTF?

Anyway, I’m fine now. Just a cut. No stitches. All is well.

And I damn well will never core a tomato with a 10 inch chef’s knife again.

Words of wisdom.

Ms. Pantry Raid

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So what happened today that was exciting?

Let’s see.

There was chopping. And then more chopping. And then…some more chopping.

We did learn a handy technique – how to make garlic paste. Basically what you do is take a couple of cloves of garlic, mince them really fine, sprinkle with salt and then with the side of your knife, mash it together till it’s (relatively) smooth. Really, it’s something you have to see in action cause it’s hard to explain. The dude in the video does it a bit different than how I was taught, but it all comes out the same, yes?

Why would you want to do this? You can use it for soups, stews, tomato sauce or…you could make some killer garlic bread !!

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Sorry about the pix - it gets dark so early now and I broke my indoor lighting contraption. Just know this tastes better than it looks!

Sorry about the pix - it gets dark so early now and I broke my indoor lighting contraption. Just know this tastes better than it looks!

Thanks to our conversation in culinary school the other day, I FINALLY cracked open myMastering The Art of French Cooking book. I am embarrassed to admit that I’ve never made a Julia Child recipe before. I am happy to report that it certainly won’t be the last.

Julia’s Boeuf Bourguignon has seen a resurgence in popularity recently due to the book/movie Julie and Julia. It’s a cute book and a cute, albeit totally different, movie (due partly to the fact that it was based on both the Julie/Julia book and Julia’s My Life in France. I highly recommend both (well, all three).

This is good stuff. It’s pot roast on crack.

Or I guess, pot roast you wouldn’t be embarrassed to serve to company.

But first, a few things about Julia’s writing.

Her recipes are…a little vague. Meaning – she gives you leeway as the cook to use your own judgement. Thing is…most recipes that I am used to are written assuming I am a cooking novice. Directions are spelled out in such a way that I can’t mess it up. Julia kind of assumes I’m not a dummy…even though sometimes…

Case in point:

She tells you to crank up the oven to 450 degrees when you put the beef in. I thought, huh, that seems really really high. Then she says to make sure the beef is at just a simmer – adjusting the heat accordingly. I kind of don’t like that because I don’t like opening the oven door and releasing the heat.

I mean, just TELL US what temp you want it to cook at, ‘mkay?  And ok, I just sorta forgot to turn it down… So the heat remained at 450 degrees.

At the two hour mark, I thought MAYBE I should check on it.

THANK GOD I DID because it had already formed a black crust on top. Another twenty minutes and it would have been burned to a crisp. I had saved it just in time.

And oh my goodness. Wow. Rich. The sauce had thickened perfectly and coats your tongue. The meat was meltingly tender. I cannot tell you how good this was.

What else did I learn?

Two-buck Chuck is maybe a wine that doesn’t age well? Ha! Just an FYI. We don’t drink wine at our house so whenever we get a bottle, it sits around. I’m not sure, but I think we had this wine maybe 3 years? There was some heavy duty sediment in the bottom of the bottle. I honestly don’t think this is because it was “well aged”. Anyhoo, it did no harm. Maybe it added some good flavor?

Oh – and I screwed up the pearl onions part. I searched for frozen pearl onions because I did NOT want to go through the trouble of peeling the little buggers, but I could not find them. Alas, I got frustrated, the onions weren’t cooked correctly, yadda yadda.

And my final screw up? Due to the fact that I essentially overcooked the dish, there was no straining of the sauce at the end. Which maybe turned out to be a benefit since, like I said, I was frustrated by the end of my cooking expedition (note: maybe making Beef Bourguignon, Bolognese sauce and Sourdough bread all at the same time is A LITTLE overboard… so take what I say about being frustrated with a grain of salt).

Anyhoo, because the recipe is lengthy and I want to give you the full experience of Julia’s recipe writing (read: I am l.a.z.y), here’s a link to the recipe in Julia’s own words.

Julia Child’s Beef (Boeuf) Bourguignon

Beef (Boeuf) Bourguignon recipe

Brown-braised Onions (Oignons Glaces a la Brun)

Mushrooms sauteed in butter (Champignons Sautees au Beurre)

And finally, just an FYI – what kind of cuts of meat are appropriate for this dish? This is what Julia says:

(From Mastering the Art of French Cooking)
The better the meat, the better the stew. While cheaper and coarser cuts may be used, the following are most recommended. Count on 1 pound of boneless meat, trimmed of fat, for 2 people; 3 if the rest of the menu is large.
First choice: Rump Pot Roast—Pointe de Culotte, or Aiguillette de Rumstek
Other choices: Chuck Pot Roast—Paleron, or Macreuse à Pot-au-feu
Sirloin Tip—Tranche Grasse
Top Round—Tende de Tranche
Bottom Round—Gîte à la Noix

Enjoy!

Ms. Pantry Raid

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Well, I can honestly say nothing super interesting happened on day two. More knives. More cutting. Ho hum. Batonnets this time.

What’s that you ask?

Ok, so you take a potato. Peel it. Cut off all the sides so that it resembles a rectangular prism (is there a term for that? Geometry class was oh so long ago…) that is about 2-2.5 inches long. Then cut planks for your rectangular prism that are 1/4 inch thick. Then cut those planks into little logs. So you end up with a bunch of little rectangular prisms that are 1/4″ by 1/4″ wide by 2.5″ long.

Cool, so…what can you use them for?

Well, then you take your little logs and cut them into 1/4″ cubes. Voila! Fine dice! If you had made 1/2″ cubes, you’d have medium dice. 1/8″ cubes you’d have brunoise.

What if you didn’t make them into cubes at all?

You’d have French fries!

So the day after class, I tried out my mad knife skills by making French fries. I’d include them here, but I didn’t think they turned out all that well. In the future, I’d just go with Ore Ida (flame away).

My method? I did a triple cook. Parboiled the batonnets. Cooled and dried them. Fried them once at 325 degrees. Cooled them. Fried them a second time at 375 degrees. I did something bad though…when I cooled the parboiled potatoes, I put them in the fridge. AFTER I did that, I read that this often makes your potatoes brown too fast when you fry them. And…this is what happened to me. So I had to take them out of the second fry before they were done. Don’t let this happen to you!!

So if you want to make your own fries…go here.  Or, if you have a fool-proof way to make fries, please do us all a favor and share your method!

What else did I learn?

A little history about restaurants. Fun fact: the word restaurant comes from the French word restaurer, which means to restore. People used to go get “restoratives” which were generally boiled meat broths. Eventually more items were offered and thus, the restaurant as we know it was born.

What else…

A few “people of note” in the history of restaurants. Marie-Antoine Careme. August Escoffier. Alice Waters. And we ended with a little info about Julia Child.

And that discussion let me to finally – FINALLY – make Julia’s Boeuf Bourguignon. And I will never make basic pot roast EVER again. You should make it too. I might make it again next weekend – it was THAT good.

Stay tuned…

Ms. Pantry Raid

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Peanut Butter Jelly with a baseball bat (sorry! I couldn't resist!)

Peanut Butter Jelly with a baseball bat (sorry! I couldn't resist!)

I promise not to break into song on this one. Even though I want to just scream out Peanut Butter Jelly Time at the top of my lungs. How one song could be both so stupid and so catchy…

Anyway, this is take two in Ina Garten is a goddess series (previously, it was her Fruit Tart). What could be better than a dessert like your childhood favorite sandwich? They are delightfully nostalgic, yet fit for adults. Peanut butter crust, jelly in the middle, more peanut butter and topped with a sprinkling of more peanutty goodness.  Be warned though – these little guys are sweeter than sweet. I undercooked them a bit – I can’t remember why I did that, but be careful doing that with these bars – when really undercooked, they barely hold together.

Shoot. These are just good. My mouth is watering thinking about them.  So quit listening to me and just go make your own? I’m probably going to go whip up another batch anyway.

Peanut Butter Jelly Bars

Ingredients:

1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups (18 ounces) creamy peanut butter
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 cups (18 ounces) raspberry jam or other jam (I used blackberry)
2/3 cups salted peanuts, coarsely chopped

Steps:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Grease a 9 by 13 by 2-inch cake pan. Line it with parchment paper, then grease and flour the pan.

3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until light yellow, about 2 minutes.

4. With the mixer on low speed, add the vanilla, eggs, and peanut butter and mix until all ingredients are combined.

5. In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

6. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the flour mixture to the peanut butter mixture. Mix just until combined.

7. Spread 2/3 of the dough into the prepared cake pan and spread over the bottom with a knife or offset spatula. Spread the jam evenly over the dough. Drop small globs of the remaining dough evenly over the jam. Don’t worry if all the jam isn’t covered; it will spread in the oven.

8. Sprinkle with chopped peanuts and bake for 45 minutes, until golden brown.

9. Cool and cut into squares.

Enjoy!

Ms. Pantry Raid

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So I mentioned I am going to culinary school, right? I’m working s.l.o.w.l.y on a certificate program. I suppose maybe some of you would like to know what it’s like? Well, I’m hoping to chronicle a bit about it, so here goes nothin’:

Question: Should you wear your uniform on day one?

The answer to that is yes, you should. And you should have your jacket buttoned to the top. How do I know this? Well, I managed to get yelled at approximately 20 minutes PRIOR to my first class because the top button of my jacket was not fastened and I dared walk in the cafeteria past a discerning Chef. The horror! Shoot, I wasn’t even really sure how to put the thing on at that point. You should also have your neckerchief tied properly (hint: it should be a Windsor knot. In today’s “business casual” work environment, 90% of my class was Windsor knot noobs).

Question: Who goes to culinary school?

Answer: Well, I can only answer about my particular class. We seem to have an astonishingly high number of people who work in the Finance industry. I suppose that makes sense because, especially in this economy, who else can afford it? Anyway, I’m just going to leave it at that before my flaming liberal ways get me in trouble. Let’s say the majority of the class is over 40, white, male and in their second career. Add in a handful of white females, a couple of African-American students, one Asian female and a Hispanic male and you’d have my class. I suppose it’s relatively diverse for such a small group.

Question: What’s the instructor like?

Answer: Your instructor is called Chef. As in, “yes, Chef, I will keep my fingers curled under so I don’t chop them off” or “no, Chef, I am not the jag who dumped the potatoes in the sanitation sink”. Our Chef is quite a bit like Conan O’Brien – both in looks and his penchant for cracking jokes.

Question: This is cooking school, don’t I get to eat in class?

Answer: Yeah…not really? Unless you have a utensil to get the food to your mouth. Otherwise forget it. You put your finger in your mouth, you wash your hands. You scratch your face, you wash your hands. Got it?
So on my first day, I had a light snack before my 5 hour class. By the time we got to the kitchen, I was pretty hungry. Standing up listening to more lecture while all the stove burners and broilers were lit and there was no air circulating, I started to feel faint. I looked around; wasn’t anyone else hot? Sweat on their brow? On the verge of passing out? Am I the ONLY ONE who thinks it is unbearable?? I had to get down on the ground and wait for it to pass. Thankfully, at that point Chef excused us to start working. I immediately bee-lined for the bathroom to splash cold water on my face. Another student joined me who was having the same problem. And of course, neither of us had eaten before class…
Moral of the story? Eat before class!

Question: What do you learn in the kitchen on the first day?

Answer: We learned how to hold a knife (thankfully, I already do that right) and the “claw” grip (something I’ve never gotten the hang of…but I’m getting it now). We cut stuff. Potatoes and carrots. We julienned and made batonnets. Small dice. Brunoise.

Wanna learn? Head over to where I learned it all many years ago on egullet. This is a seriously fabulous step by step instruction on knife skills and practically mimics what we learned in class.

Stay tuned for more excitement on Day two…

Ms. Pantry Raid

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Fig and Olive Tapenade - great for parties!

Fig and Olive Tapenade - great for parties!

Need a chichi appetizer to bring to your next soiree? Fig and Olive Tapenade is it. For very sophisticated, adult palates only please.

I first came across this recipe years ago in a wickedly funny entertaining book by Erika Lenkert,The Last-Minute Party Girl : Fashionable, Fearless, and Foolishly Simple Entertaining. She, in turn, got the recipe from Carrie Brown of Jimtown store in Sonoma County. So now I’m passing it on to you.

And you must check it out. Briny olives, sweet figs, a dash of mustard and a squeeze of lemon to liven it up. It’s just about the most perfect spread you’ve ever eaten. Smear it on french bread, add it to your grilled cheese or sandwich, pair it with Proscuitto or salami and some good cheese or serve it with chicken or fish. Oh, sooo fabulous!

Note: this recipe is extremely paired down from the version in Lenkert’s book. Her recipe makes enough for a big party (4 cups). I think 1 cup is a little more reasonable.

Fig and Black Olive Tapenade

About 1 cup
Ingredients:
1/2 cup (about 3 ounces) stemmed & quartered, dried Black Mission figs
3/4 cups water
1 cup black olives; Nicoise, Lyon, or Greek, rinsed and pitted
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons whole-grain mustard
1 small garlic clove, peeled
1/2 tablespoon capers, rinsed and drained
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
black pepper and salt, if necessary

Steps:
1. In a medium-sized saucepan, simmer the figs in the water for about 30 minutes, until very tender. Drain, reserving a few tablespoons of the liquid.

2. If using a food processor, pulse the pitted olives, drained figs, lemon juice, mustard, garlic, capers, and fresh rosemary to create a thick paste. Pulse in the olive oil until you’ve achieved a chunky-smooth paste. Season with black pepper and salt, if necessary. (The spread can be thinned with a bit of the reserved fig poaching liquid.)

3. Allowing it to sit for at least a few hours (if not overnight) helps the flavors meld.

4. Serve. Serving suggestions: smear on French bread toasted with a little olive oil, or with meats like Prosciutto or salami and mild creamy cheese, or on a sandwich/grilled cheese, or with your favorite grilled meats.

Enjoy!
Ms. Pantry Raid

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