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DIY Spice Storage

My new tins all lined up nicely.

Oh… my old spice rack. What a piece…

Well, let’s back up and first start with my kitchen and its faults. It is tiny, but it is efficient. There is not a lot of extra space to put stuff though. I have one very high cabinet that I use for spices. Since it is so high, there are times when even I (taller than your average woman) need the step ladder. Most notably, when reaching to the back of the spice rack. Invariably, I will knock a bottle over and the five bottles in front of it will also come tumbling down.

This was driving me insane.

I mean, sometimes I felt like if I just breathed wrong, they would projectile at my face.

My old solution to organize my spices was one of those step rack contraptions purchased probably at Ikea/Bed Bath and Beyond/Buy More Crap for Your Home places. The way it works is – you precariously balance all of your top heavy spice bottles on the rack in the cabinet. Then you shut the cabinet door and you hear them falling on top of each other. That’s about the gist of it.

So then you swear and swear and swear some more.

And then you get back on top of the step ladder, CAREFULLY open the door and catch all of the spice bottles that have displaced themselves before they fall and dent the stove. Again.

Old spice cabinet - sure is fug, no?

So I googled a solution to my predicament.

My requirements:

1. Not easy to knock over spices. So, containers need to be wider than tall.

2. Easy to get measuring spoons in/out.

3. Big enough to accommodate ALL my spices. Yeah – even you Sumac-that-I-don’t-know-what-to-do-with. Some day I will find a use for you.

4. Um, cute? And designerly in some way?

So many options…

There was the cute, albeit totally impractical test tube rack. Then there was the racks of little tins held and the variation which was a board with the tins held on by a magnet – which unfortunately only allowed for maybe 20 spices which is about 30 short of my total. I did see one solution that I was intrigued by – the pull out shelf. But I kept coming back to the cute little spice tins. However, the pre-made sets were never big enough.  Then I came across a DIY spice tin solution and thought it was just too cute to pass up. Even if it was a little impractical.

I forget where I saw this inspiration – Apartment Therapy? I have no idea. Which sucks cause the person I glommed the idea from had really cute pix.

Ok. Seriously, I’ve got to find that link…it was so freaking cute. You’ll just die.

So anyway…

The tins

I decided to buy a whole mess of tins from Specialty Bottle. They were very nice and easy to deal with. I, however, really didn’t know what I was doing. I knew from a little research that I wanted lids that screwed on – the kind that just push on/pull off apparently get spices crusted in them and get hard to open after awhile. Some are unlined, which is bad. Also, sometimes the tins have a tendency to rust (I think this is mostly the ones that are unlined). This might happen if you live in an especially humid environment. I’m hoping for the best up here in the Midwest….

Anyway, I bought the 3 oz twistlug tin. They are food safe. In retrospect, these might be just a smidge too small. But I’ve got 50 of them now, so I’ll make do.

The labels

Next up – the labels. I bought some labels from Paper Source (they have a nice little template for printing that you can download at their site). In retrospect – perhaps just plain paper labels is not the wisest choice. I am the kind of person who makes a gigando mess when I’m cooking and invariably, my hands are wet when I grab the spice tin. So, some sort of protective coating on the label would have been smart…

The font

Ok, the font. I got all picky and googled and googled and googled and found some lovely design sites. This site in particular – Eat Drink Chic – has some lovely font ideas. I swoon over people who are good with typography and this woman is killer. I chose one of the fonts she has listed on her site (Ecuyer DAX I think). Downloaded from Dafont.com – my favorite font site – and typed them up.

Then I slapped the labels on the tins. Only to find out…my labels are a smidge too big. Oh well. You win some, you lose some. And from afar, they sure are cute, n’est ce pas?

Whoah...that's a lot of spices!

DIY Spice Tins

Halibut with Citrus Beurre Blanc sauce

Halibut with Ginger Citrus Beurre Blanc sauce

Ever walked into a higher-end restaurant and just get the feeling that your meal is going to be average? Something about the decor maybe or the clientele is turning you off?

And then had your socks literally knocked off? Yeah, I sorta had that experience a few months ago.

I was taking a much needed break from the city with my parents in Door County, Wisconsin. For those of you who do not know, Door County is the peninsula of Wisconsin. It’s a vacation get-away for people from Milwaukee and Chicago (note Chicagoans – yes, you are called FIB by Wisconsinites. I am now a FIB myself and am coming to terms with it. Google it if you must know) . Filled with cute shops, antiques and quaint little restaurants, such as Al Johnson’s with the goats grazing on the roof , it’s perhaps the Mid-West version of Martha’s Vineyard.

One of the quaint restaurants was the Inn at Kristopher’s located in Sister Bay. We walked in and the interior seemed a little old. Not terribly out of date – but maybe early 90’s. And well, Door County really isn’t the hippest place on the planet. Needles to say, I guess I wasn’t expecting much.

Boy was I in for a surprise.

My father and I both had the blackened Ahi Tuna (we are both suckers for raw tuna – still…even though the dish is seriously done way too often) which was absolutely fabulous and served with wonderful tender crisp Asian vegetables. But the real standout was what my mom ordered –Salmon with a Ginger Beurre Blanc sauce. I’m not one for salmon…ever…but the sauce was outstanding. Seriously wonderful combination of flavors that I had never had before. Words cannot describe how good this was. I HAD to replicate this at home.

So off to google and I came across this wonderful recipe for a Citrus Ginger Beurre Blanc sauce and I must say, this was pretty dang close. Of course, I’m so not in the mood to reprint the recipe – and I didn’t change a thing so head over there if you are interested.

Give it a whirl some time.  I served it with Halibut and some shaved cucumber and carrot over a bed of jasmine rice. At the restaurant, it was served over whipped potatoes. Do whatever you wish. 🙂

Enjoy!

Ms. Pantry Raid

Culinary School Day Seven

Instead of hacking up our fine feathered friends, we’ve moved on to creatures of the sea this week.

I don’t make a lot of fish at my house. And if I do make it, it is likely to come in nice little fillets. The reason for this?

It’s right here Ray… It’s looking at me.

Yeah, see, that’s the part of this that totally unnerves me. The fish have EYES. They…know things. Ugh… I mean, even in restaurants when the fish head will be served, I ask for it to be nicely lopped off beforehand. My food should not be able to look back at me.

Anyway…

Fillet of Sole, Baby, it’s my favorite dish*

So that aside, we had to tackle another one of my many “issues”. Some people like cute furry bunnies. I am partial to animals that live in the ocean. Jellyfish, rays and sharks are my favorite animals. Followed closely by flounder and sole – partly cause of the aforementioned song and partly because I love how they burrow in the sand. So I have a bit of an issue cutting them up. Plus, as I said earlier, these animals come to the school pretty much intact – all “innards” are, well, in there. I had to put on my brave face.

Cool facts:

Generally when we are talking about fish you cook, there are two types.

Round fish – are generally more, um, round. They have eyes on both sides of their head. And when you fillet them, you get 2 fillets. Examples – most fish – tuna, salmon, grouper, etc etc.

Flat fish – these are really cool. They start out their life as round fish – meaning they have an eye on either side of their head. Then when they are maybe like a month old or so, one eye migrates to the other side of the head so both eyes are then on one side. The fish, which used to be round and swam upright, starts to flatten out and swim on it’s side. Usually the fish is light colored on the bottom and dark on the top for camouflage purposes. Anyway. How cool is that? Oh – by the way – you get 4 fillets out of flat fish. Examples of flat fish – flounder, sole, halibut, turbo.

So maybe you fish and want to see how to fillet your own fish? Or maybe you’ve gone down to that really cool fishmonger that all the high end restaurants buy from and you don’t want to seem like a wuss buying the pre-filleted fish? Ok, here’s some video for you.

Filleting round fish

Filleting flat fish

Things to keep in mind:

A flexible boning knife is generally better for filleting fish.

Fish fins are very sharp – so use caution!

Also – some fish skin – especially that of flat fish – can be very tough. Again, use caution so you don’t cut yourself!

*Courtesy of The Dead Milkmen. One of my favorite bands in my youth. “Filet of sole baby. Is my favorite dish. Filet of sole baby. When the dish is fish ‘Cause, oh, I lose control. When you serve filet of sole.Yeah, I have issues. I know.

Chicken with Teriyaki Sauce

Teriyaki chicken wings... er...thighs.

A few years back, my cooking club made these fab chicken wings with teriyaki sauce, sesame seeds and cilantro. I loved the flavor of the sauce but I do admit, I’m not all that keen on chicken wings. Gnawing on bones is so not my thing. So I’ve decided to make the recipe using chicken thighs instead (more meat, less gnawing) and served the whole shebang over rice.

But since I’m SOOO not in the mood to translate the recipe into EXACTLY what I made (and I alright, I don’t totally remember but I did follow it pretty closely), I’m putting the exact recipe down here. I halved it and used pineapple juice instead of grapefruit juice (alright, it was orange pineapple blend if you must ask!) and googled the chicken thigh cooking time.

Teriyaki Chicken Wings (Thighs)

From Tyler Florence
Serves 12 cocktail servings
Note: I halved this recipe when I made it
Ingredients:
Wings:
2 dozen chicken wings, about 3 1/4 pounds, rinsed and patted dry (I used thighs)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil
1 tablespoon sesame seeds, toasted in a skillet over medium heat until lightly browned
Leaves from 1/2 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped
Teriyaki Sauce:
1 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1 cup grapefruit juice (I used pineapple juice)
1/4 cup hoisin sauce
1/4 cup ketchup
3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 fresh, hot red chile, halved
5 garlic cloves, halved
2-inch piece fresh ginger, smashed with the side of a large knife

Steps:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Season the chicken wings with salt and pepper and drizzle a little olive oil on them to prevent sticking. Lay the wings in a single layer on a baking sheet.
  3. Bake for 30 minutes or until the skin gets crispy and the wings are cooked through. NOTE: Chicken thighs will take longer – maybe 35-40 minutes. Use your thermometer and your best judgement!!
  4. Meanwhile, combine the teriyaki sauce ingredients in a large saucepan.
  5. Simmer over low heat and reduce until slightly thickened.
  6. Pour the sauce into a large bowl. Dump the wings into the bowl and toss to coat them with the sauce.
  7. Transfer to a serving platter and sprinkle with the sesame seeds and cilantro. Serve hot.

Culinary School Day Six

Stuffed glove boned cornish game hen

We glove boned chickens and ducks today.

What does that mean exactly?

In a nutshell – it’s taking the bones out of a bird without making a slit in the skin.

Gasp!

Impossible! You say. It cannot be done!

Well, to an extent, it kinda is impossible. But you can get MOST of the bones out without slitting the skin. If you are careful.

Pretty much the only bones you will have left are at the very tip of the wing and the very tip of the leg bone.

So… How do you do it?

Here is a pretty good play by play of how to do it.

Why on earth would you want to do this?

Well, you could make a Turducken out of it I suppose – although that’s a bit different since you roll it up (not NEARLY the technical skills required for glove boning).

Or just impress all your friends with your butchering skills. The photo above is my stuffed cornish game hen (done at home). I stuffed it with an apple, raisin, bread stuffing. Many people like to stuff these birds with rice, but I have a rice aversion* so that’s a no-go for me.

So let’s take a look at how I did.

Attempt #1 = notice knife cut in the left leg

Attempt #2 = the champion!

Above is the front of the bird. Kinda looks like wrinkly old man. Ok, that was too far. I’m sorry for the bad imagery. Notice, though, that there are no bones except the very tip of the wings and very tip of the drumstick. That’s it. Those legs? Empty except for the meat. The wings? Ditto except for that part sticking up in the champion pose.

Attempt #1 back = sad 😦

Attempt #2 back = better!

And there is the back. As you can see, Attempt #1 didn’t go so well. Lots of places where my knife went through the chicken skin. Put it breast side up though and no one will be the wiser.

Attempt #1 took 45 minutes to do.

Attempt #2 took 17 minutes to do.

At least I am improving!!

So after I removed the bones, I stuffed them with the aforementioned stuffing and baked.

REMEMBER to adjust times accordingly! Since there are no bones, it bakes pretty fast. But since it’s stuffed, it may take a little longer. This is a time when a probe thermometer would really come in handy…

And one last picture… the CARNAGE!

The carcass...shudder...

* Yeah, rice. If asked to give up rice for the rest of my life, that would really be no problem.

Culinary School Day Five

Back in high school, I had a momentary bout of vegetarianism. About the same time I was involved in Amnesty International and all other liberal student groups I could find (yeah, I was THAT kid). I was absolutely distraught about the dissection of fetal pigs in my Advanced Human Biology class. So much so that I dropped the class to pick up a final semester of French.

These memories came flooding back as we hacked up chickens and ducks in class today. Somehow, when you are cutting up an animal for cooking purposes, things seem a bit different.

So that was our next lesson – we learned how to quarter chickens and ducks. It was a new thing for me – I’m used to getting my chickens already cut up into the pieces I need. Yes, it is probably a little bit cheaper to cut up a chicken than to buy the parts, and it’s a good skill to know. But I’m still not sold on doing this as a home cook. Especially a home cook who is cooking for two.

But anyway. If you want to learn how to do it yourself, check out these tutorials:

How to cut up a whole chicken (this one has pretty decent pictures)

Cutting whole chickens into halves and quarters (this method is a little closer to what we learned)

Enjoy!

Ms. Pantry Raid

Beef Bolognese

beef_bolognese

Wolfgang Puck's Pappardelle with Beef Bolognese. Restaurant taste, including all the fat.

So I put one of the techniques I learned in class to the test today by peeling and seeding five pounds of tomatoes for Wolfgang Puck’s Bolognese sauce.

Things:

1. So you know how I injured myself in class coring tomatoes? Yeah…I didn’t learn. Sliced the same finger. Doing the same damn thing. Christ…

2. You do not honestly want to know how bad food in restaurants is for you. Case in point – Puck’s bolgnese sauce. It is a heart attack on a platter. I couldn’t even bring myself to put in as much olive oil as it called for. I’m thinking the calorie count in this has to be over a thousand per serving. But it sure was tasty…

He sort of has a two-pronged approach for making this sauce, which was fine for me cause I made it over two days (well, three really – I tried making homemade pasta as well…without a pasta machine…but that’s a story for another time).

First you make the bolognese sauce on it’s own. And then you add it to a crap ton of oil, butter, herbs and chicken stock. I think you can probably do without part two, but I put the whole thing together as directed just to see what it was like. Cause somehow, my thighs don’t jiggle enough these days…

Another surprising things about this bolognese? It doesn’t use any milk. I’m sure that to purists, that means this doesn’t qualify as a bolognese. But hey, the recipe came from an Austrian celebrity chef, not an Italian. So being “purist” is probably not much of a concern for him.

Wolfgang Puck’s Beef Bolognese

From Pizza, Pasta and More!

Beef Bolognese part

NOTE: You can just make this part as a good sauce for pasta, or you can go all out and put the whole thing together (see Putting it all together section after Bolognese recipe)

Ingredients:
5 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds coarsely ground chicken, preferably dark meat, or, 2 pounds of coarsely ground beef
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 medium white onion, (about 2 cups), trimmed and cut into small dice
2 medium carrots, (about 1 cup), trimmed, peeled, and cut into small dice
1 medium celery stalk, trimmed and cut into small dice
4 or 5 garlic cloves, cut into small dice
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 1/2 cups dry white wine
2 1/2 pounds Roma tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped fine
3 cups chicken stock, heated
Pinch or minced fresh oregano leaves
Pinch minced fresh thyme leaves
6 or 7 chopped fresh basil leaves
Pinch red pepper flakes, or to taste

Steps:

  1. In a 10 or 12-inch saute pan, heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil. Saute the ground chicken or beef until lightly browned, breaking up the pieces as they cook. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
  2. Remove the chicken or beef with a slotted spoon and drain in a colander. Set aside until needed.
  3. In the same saute pan, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Over medium heat, saute the onion, carrots and celery until they just start to color, 6 to 8 minutes. Do not brown.
  4. Add the garlic, stir in the tomato paste, and cook a few minutes longer.
  5. Deglaze the pan with the wine and cook, stirring occasionally, until almost all the liquid has evaporated.
  6. Add the tomatoes, cook for 2 or 3 minutes, then pour in the stock and reserved chicken and season with the oregano, thyme, and a little salt and pepper.
  7. Cook until the sauce has thickened slightly, about 30 minutes. If the sauce has thickened too much or you prefer a thinner sauce, add a little more stock.
  8. Stir in the chopped basil and the red pepper flakes and adjust the seasoning, to taste.

NOTE: You could stop at this point and serve the sauce over pasta, or you could clog your arteries big time by doing the following –

Putting it all together:

4 T unsalted butter
6 T olive oil
2 cups Beef Bolognese sauce (from above)
1/2 cup Chicken stock
1/2 t minced fresh oregano leaves
12 oz pappardelle
2 T minced fresh parsley leaves
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Shaved fresh Parmesan cheese, for garnish (optional)

Steps:

  1. Bring a large stockpot of salted water to a boil.
  2. In a large saute pan over medium flame, heat all of the butter and 4 T of the olive oil. Stir in the Beef Bolognese sauce, stock and oregano. Bring to a simmer, stirring constantly.
  3. Meanwhile, cook the pappardelle until al dente and drain. Add to the sauce and stir to coat well.
  4. Stir in the parsley, grated Parmesan and remaining 2 T olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.
  5. To serve – divide the pasta among 4 heated plates or bowls. Garnish with shaved Parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.

Enjoy!

Ms. Pantry Raid

Culinary School – Day Four

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

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 !!

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