chefrocks

chefrocks

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

It's Not Asian- It's Asianish

Some days you just have to improvise. Like today. No idea what to cook for dinner, and two choices in the refrigerator- hamburger and boneless beef "ribs". I find myself in a cooking rut every now and then and need to do something to break out of it. Hamburger, hmm.... spaghetti, chili, brown gravy with macaroni. Hamburgers? Meatballs? Meatloaf even? All the same old same old. Boring. Nothing jumps out at me as exciting. 

So Plan B- the boneless beef ribs. They really aren't ribs at all, they look like strips cut from some sort of roast. Nicely marbled so they braise like a charm, but that gets back into the same old same old pattern. I need something creative. A quick foodie conference with my friend Andi and we have decided- something with an Asian twist so I can get some more kimchi on the plate. Perfect! It's not Chinese, nor Korean, nor Japanese for sure, but it is delicious, and easy and reminds me of yummy Chinese takeout. It's....... Asianish.


I like to think I keep a well-stocked pantry when it comes to the basics. I almost always have rice on hand, and soy sauce, something spicy like Sriracha, some kind of veggie to throw in a stir fry. I can do this, and I think it will turn out quite delicious. So I begin by cutting up those pieces of beef. 


If you look at them you can clearly see the grain of the meat, and which direction the fibers are going. To get nice, tender pieces of beef it's important to always cut against the grain, otherwise your bite sized pieces will be stringy and tough.

Trim off any visible fat and slice thinly across the grain. Toss them in a food-safe zip top bag and add the marinade ingredients, zip it up and toss in the fridge to marinate while you work on whatever you need to do- catch up on housework, watch some television, as long as you leave the meat to marinate for a couple of hours. When you're ready to cook, just stir fry with the vegetables of your choice and serve- super easy. Works with chicken and pork as well.

Asianish Stir Fry

1- 1 1/2 lbs boneless beef
5 cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 cup soy sauce, divided
1/4 cup Sriracha sauce, divided
1/4 cup brown sugar, divided
2 tb cooking oil
small bunch scallions or small onion
1 stalk celery
1 carrot
mushrooms
other veggies you like
hot cooked rice
kimchi

Trim meat of excess fat. Cut into thin bite-sized pieces and place in zip top bag. Roughly chop the garlic and add to bag, followed by ginger, 1/4 cup soy sauce, 2 tablespoons Sriracha sauce, 2 tablespoons brown sugar and oil. Close the bag and knead to mix marinade ingredients and cover the meat completely. Place in fridge and allow to marinate for a couple hours.


Cut the scallions into one-inch pieces or julienne the onion. Sometimes I used both so I get a Mongolian beef kind of thing going on. Slice the celery thinly, on the bias. Peel and shred the carrot (or use the peeler to make long thin strips). Slice mushrooms and any other vegetables you are adding.


Heat some additional cooking oil in a large skillet or wok. When screaming hot, add the meat and cook, stirring, until done. Remove from pan, stir fry the vegetables for about one minute, then return meat to pan along with remaining soy sauce, Sriracha and brown sugar. Toss to coat evenly and thicken slightly. Serve over hot cooked rice with a nice serving of kimchi, if desired.


While this dish claims no particular Asian origin, many of the flavors carry that Asian flair. Soy and brown sugar combine to make a delicious sweet and salty base and the Sriracha kicks it up a lot. Kimchi makes a perfect partner with its fresh and crunchy texture. So do those kooky Chinese "noodles" you see in the grocery store- chow mein noodles- or crispy fried strips of wonton wrappers. 



I happened to have half a package of wonton wrappers hanging around that needed to get used up. If you don't use these for lots of things, you are missing out- they make not only every kind of Asian dumpling I can think of but they also make a great stand in for fresh pasta when making homemade ravioli or lasagna. They fry up in just seconds to give you crispy golden "noodles" to top your dish or salad, soup- whatever you like.


Make this dish into a party by adding egg rolls, crab rangoons and any other Asian foods you like. Any kind of boneless steak works great, especially sirloin, as well as pork or chicken. Shrimp would be a great option as well, as long as you omitted the long marinating time. Remember, it's not genuine, it's "Asianish."

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Culinary Homeschooling- Part Two

I thought this was going to be just oh so fun. Things took a dramatic turn for the worse today, as I began reading a most horrific set of chapters. Math. Restaurant math. Food costing. Breaking recipes and ingredients down into servings and cost-per-serving. Establishing menu prices based on math formulas taking into consideration cost per unit and servings per quantity. Now I need a drink!

Thankfully this is just for fun, and I won't be tested on any of these things. I'll be honest, math is NOT my friend. Three pages into how to calculate these things and I was really in over my head. If the raw food cost for one sandwich is $1.70 and the desired food cost percentage is 23%, the selling price must be at least $7.39. Huh?

          1.70 divided by .23 = 7.391

Ok, sure. Whatever you say (insert confused face). On to things that are much more entertaining. Like mise en place. Now I knew what that meant years before ever getting this book. Everything in it's place. In other words, get all your ingredients out, measured, and ready to use so once you start a recipe you don't have to stop and dig through the pantry for ingredients. No brainer, right? 

I read the chapter on knife skills. I love knives. Really. Kitchen knives are my obsession. The book set out the parts of a knife (I knew this), talked about different metals and why some are better than others (I knew this), why a full tang is better (I knew this) and broke down the differences in knife sharpeners and why people choose the different kinds for different uses. I now need to obtain a whetstone sharpener. And more knives.

The knife chapter also included a primer of knife skills and cuts. Rondelles. Chiffonade. Julienne, Batonnet. Brunoise. Dice. Paysanne. Tourner. I am going to get a couple carrots, some basil or small leafy green and a couple potatoes and spend a hour or two brushing up on my cuts and techniques.

I learned about calibrating a thermometer. Never thought I needed to do that, but I now have a new skill filed away in the brain for future reference. Oh coffee- an entire chapter devoted to coffee, all the different roasts, types of grinds, the how and whys. I never knew these things, so I did gain lots of new knowledge from this chapter especially. Did you know that in other countries American Roast is known as City Roast? Neither did I! 


I often play with French recipes and many times they call for creme fraiche. Living in a rural area means I often cannot find ingredients like this. Lo and behold....... this textbook reveals how to make it myself. This changes everything. I'll be a creme fraiche-making fool!

One notable section of the book covered butter and margarine. Everyone who knows me knows my utter disdain for margarine. I am not alone. This point is driven home in great detail in culinary school, and this textbook details the chemical composition of margarine, the history, the nasty stuff, the gross stuff, the hydrogenation process...... things that make the case for Just Say No To Margarine. I feel validated.

I am approaching the food chapters, so I hope you will continue to follow along. Now that I'm getting into the real food nitty gritty I can have some fun with demonstration and really testing my skills.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Rockin' the Restaurant Kitchen

It's no big secret that while The Chef is the lifelong restaurant veteran, i, The Baker, have never worked in a restaurant kitchen. Ever. True, I used to bake homemade desserts for a local watering hole in our nearby small town, but I was able to do that from home. Totally different ball game. 

Well today, I got that chance. 


My plan for this weekend was to stay in the city and babysit my daughter's furkids- she and her boyfriend are restaurant people too, she is a restaurant manager at one of the city's newest and most trendy restaurants and he is the Executive Chef for a very successful group of locally owned restaurants, so their weekends are not Saturday and Sunday, but rather Monday and Tuesday. They had planned a nice weekend away from their busy schedules and high stress jobs but Mother Nature was having none of that, and cancelled their plans by stirring up a snowstorm. 

So I am heading back home to The Little Lake House when The Chef calls me. He asks me if I would mind stopping in the restaurant and making some biscuits. I of course think he is being funny and joking around, but he insists he is not- he really wants me to come in and make biscuits. I'm a little thrown by this idea. Sure, I am a baker. Yes, I have made homemade biscuits many many many times. But in a batch large enough for a restaurant? I've never done that! Am I scared? Heck yes!! I haven't ever worked in a restaurant kitchen- at least not since I was 15 years old and was a bus girl in a small restaurant years and years (and years and years) ago. That involved carrying a bus tub in to the sink area. I certainly never cooked anything for other people!

Well..... there is no time like the present- and I decide to go for it. I am going to bake biscuits in the restaurant kitchen! Yay me!!


I must say I have never made dough of any kind in a hotel pan before, but this worked amazingly well. I may need to get one to use around the house. Since I didn't have any of my cool kitchen utensils, I had to wing it with what they had there. No pastry blender (which probably wouldn't have been very effective with such a large batch of dough, but they did have a whisk that was made of the thickest "wire" whips I have ever seen. Unlike my whisk at home, which is bendy, this was firm- and perfect for blending the shortening into the flour! There was no biscuit cutter to be found, so I had to come up with an alternative- so a soup cup became an impromptu biscuit cutter.


Homemade biscuits are amazing easy to make- the dough is simple. Flour. Baking powder. Sugar. Salt. Shortening. Buttermilk. Simple. Mix it up, roll it out, cut them out. Bake. Done. Sounds easy enough...... but can I wing it without a book to refer to? 

Homemade Biscuits
(ingredients are approximate)

8 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons baking powder
2 tablespoons salt
4 cups shortening
buttermilk
melted butter

Place the flour in a large bowl- or hotel pan. Add the sugar, salt and baking powder; use a whisk to combine everything. Add the shortening in scoops and use the whisk to combine the flour and shortening until the mixture is evenly crumbly.

Grab a giant spoon and add buttermilk- just enough to get a soft dough that holds together. You don't want it to be sticky, but you definitely don't want dry and crumbly. Use your hands to form the dough into a large ball, but DON'T KNEAD! 


Place the dough on a floured surface and roll to about 3/4 inch thickness. Cut with a floured biscuit cutter and place on greased baking sheets. You can space them our or bake them with sides touching. Brush the biscuits with melted butter.


Bake at 425 degrees for about 15 minutes or until deep golden brown.


The biscuits turned out pretty darn good for someone who was winging it without a cookbook to refer to! One of the guys in the restaurant had to sample them right away, so he had a biscuit with sausage gravy and pronounced them delicious! Success!

My first taste of the restaurant kitchen was really a lot of fun. I admit it, it wasn't anything like being there during a dinner rush with the ticket printer cackling away and servers barking at you. The Chef and I always cook together at home, but being able to do it in a professional kitchen was a whole new experience, and a great one at that. 

Who knows, maybe I'm on to something here!!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Trending- Pickle All The Things

Sorry....sorry..... I know, more food trends. I can't help it! Besides always looking for something interesting and delicious to cook, I am also always watching food trends. Who wants to be a year behind the eight ball? Not me! I missed the kale trend and that was a lesson learned. 

I have been reading lots and lots of year end wrap-ups and forecasts for the coming year in food trends- what's in, what's out, what's the new super food, the new kale, the new hip dessert. A lot of writers were poking a little fun at hipsters and how they drive some of these trends. One of them caught my attention- as a home preserver and gardener I can see myself becoming equally obsessed- pickling. 

Maybe not an authentic Chicago Italian Beef but the
giardiniera was just as delicious!!!
As a home preserver who is focused on shelf-stable foods, I tend to stick to the book and not venture into untested recipes and so on (pretty sure I never want a visit from Mr. Botulism) so in that regard a pickle is a pickle is a pickle. However....... if we want to venture into quick pickling, or fridge pickling, hey the world is wide open. If you can shove it in a jar, you can pretty much pickle it!


All kinds of goodness and flavors waiting for me to sample
Quick pickles are so incredibly easy- no lugging out big huge pots and boiling gallons of water and plucking jars out of boiling cauldrons. Oh heck no- a clean jar, something to put in it, and a brine and you're in business.

Carrot pickles have a sweet and sour taste with a hint of spice
A while back I was watching an episode of Haylie Duff's Real Girl's Kitchen in which she and a friend visited a rooftop farm for fresh peppers and then headed to Brooklyn Brine for some homemade pickled peppers. The girls packed their jars with beautiful fresh peppers and topped off with a basic pickling brine. She added a pretty darn generous splash of whiskey to her pickled peppers!! Since we're talking about fridge pickles here, we don't have to worry about a lil bit o' hooch messing up our acid balance.

Fresh and colorful
What can you make into pickles? Basically anything. Raw or cooked vegetables or fruits. Cooked meat or eggs- like the big bar jars of pickled eggs and chubby sausages floating in brine. We are going to make a few pickles that are pretty versatile- serve as part of a relish tray, as a condiment on sandwiches or salads, in a Bloody Mary. The best part about these recipes- SWITCH IT UP! They don't have to be shelf stable so use your favorite veggies, herbs, flavor of vinegar- experiment!

Carrot Pickles.  Your relish trays will never be the same.

1 lb carrot sticks
1 cup sugar
1 cup vinegar
1 stick cinnamon
1 tb whole cloves

I prefer carrot sticks but you can use baby carrots if you like
Precook carrots for 5-10 mins in boiling water. Drain and set aside. Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan, bring to boil. Pack the carrots in a jar (they should all fit in a quart jar) with the cloves and cinnamon stick and pour the hot brine over. Pop in the fridge and chill at least 3 days before serving.

Crunchy and sweet
Pickled condiments are a great addition to your fridge stockpile. Think beyond the humble dill burger chip. Pickled onions, pickled veggie mixes and shredded slaw-like relishes pack a flavor punch and bring a tangy crunch to whatever dish you pile them on. Our pickled onions are absolutely delicious on burgers, brats and roast beef sandwiches. 

Pickled Grilled Red Onions. Red onions are the best choice but you can use any onion you like.

4 small or 2 large red onions
olive oil
1 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
salt and pepper

Slice onion thickly and brush the cut sides with olive oil. Keep the onions together as much as possible- you can use toothpicks if you need to. 

I halved my slices to make jarring up easier
Fire up your grill or use a grill pan to char onions well. Use the highest heat you can so you get the char fast without overcooking the onion. In a pinch you can use the broiler, heated to the highest setting. Let cool then cut slices in half crosswise. I cut mine in half before charring. Pack into jars. 

Red onions with a nice red wine tang. Yum!
Combine wine vinegar, sugar and salt and pepper and heat to dissolve sugar. Pour over onions. Pop in fridge overnight.  Try not to eat them all in one sitting. 

Getting some good ideas yet? You aren't limited to just vegetables. Pickled eggs, pickled sausages (fully cooked), and pickled cheeses- use firm cheese that can be cubed and don't plan on keeping them around too long- are great as quick appetizers or snacks and make awesome garnishes for a Bloody Mary Bar.


Pickled Asparagus. Make it a jar at a time or make several for gifts.

For each quart jar-
1 lb fresh asparagus, ends trimmed
6 scallions, roots trimmed
2 slices lemon or lime
2 cloves garlic, bruised/smashed
2 tablespoons mixed pickling spice 
1 dried long red pepper (such as cayenne)

Trim the asparagus and scallions to fit in a wide mouth quart jar. Pack them in the jar, tips up and onion bulbs down. Hide the garlic bulbs in there, tuck the lemon slices on the sides and stick the red pepper in the jar. Sprinkle with pickling spice.

In a saucepan heat 1/2 cup water, 1 1/2 cups vinegar and 1/2 cup sugar, til dissolved. Pour over asparagus. Pop the lid on and place in the fridge. Wait at least 48 hours before using, and you can pull that pepper out and discard it after the first day for a lighter level of heat. 


Those asparagus- YUM! Totally belong in your Bloody Mary but I like to eat them just the way they are. They are perfect for salads too. Delicious! Of course, as a Midwesterner, I would be in big trouble if I didn't include a recipe for the classic Italian pickled relish, Giardiniera. Love love love this stuff, and since it's not processed like dill pickles, the veggies always stay crisp and I don't have to worry about that olive oil that MUST be included.

Tangy, crunchy, and a little bit spicy
Super Quick Giardiniera. The classic condiment for Chicago Style Italian Beef is also a great addition to salads, as a tapenade or mix into dips.

Finely chop the veggies, like in a relish
1 cup chopped green bell pepper
1 cup chopped red bell pepper
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped carrot
1/2 cup chopped cauliflower
2-4 tablespoons chopped jalapeno (or more if you like it hot)*
4 cloves garlic chopped
1 cup chopped pimiento stuffed olives
1 tablespoon dried Italian seasoning
pinch crushed red pepper
several grinds black pepper
1 cup vinegar
1 cup olive oil

*I did not have fresh jalapenos, so I substituted from my dehydrated pepper stash- I used 3 dried Serrano chilies, crushed, instead. You can use any hot pepper you like. If I made this during the summer months I would substitute hot banana peppers for sure.

That new knife is getting quite a workout this week.
Combine all ingredients. Chill 48 hours.

Veggie love!
Pickling doesn't end there. Pickled peppers, relishes, chow chow, I could type for hours and hours.... Remember, the truly genius thing about quick pickles- you don't have to work out the chemistry- just find your favorites and get pickling!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Winter Storm? Just make a pot of stew

Looks like our bizarre winter of weather in the 40s and 50s in January is coming to an end. A snowstorm is headed this way and finally, we will have some measurable snow to complain about. I'm actually looking forward to the snow. I have always been a winter lover, and while the last couple haven't been the greatest, with furnace problems, frozen waterlines and all sorts of other homeowner nightmares, I am looking forward to the beautiful snow.


Winter is also my favorite time of year for cooking. Roasting, braising, stews and soups, I love all of it. No one wants to heat up the house in August for a roast, but when the snowflakes are flying outside it's the perfect time. 

All my life I have made stew the way my mom did- chunks of meat, chunks of potatoes and carrots, all roasted together low and slow in the oven. That is the ultimate home cooking if you ask me. This time though I thought I'd try something just a little different. What if I roasted the vegetables on a sheet pan, instead of throwing them in the liquid? What would the texture be like? Would this even work? 


Folks, yes yes yes- this works, and it's definitely worth having a sheet pan to wash. The potatoes were tender on the inside but had texture on the outside, a nice crisp exterior from the roasting, and the carrots, that roasting brings out the sweetness in carrots like crazy. They were caramelized in spots, super sweet and so tender. Adding them to the gravy and meat at the last minute preserved the texture and gave good old stew a great big update.


Pork and Roasted Vegetable Stew

1 2-3 lb boneless pork sirloin roast
1 cup flour
2 tablespoons meat rub (we like Feiny's)
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne
cooking oil
1 onion, cut into chunks
4 cloves garlic, smashed
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
1 teaspoon dried thyme
4 cups turkey stock
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 lb carrots, either baby carrots or peeled and cut into sticks
4-5 medium potatoes, scrubbed, cut in chunks (leave the peel on)
1 teaspoon meat rub (use the same as you do with the meat)
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped

Heat the oven to 300 degrees.


Prep the meat by trimming any fat on the outside. Cut into thick slices, and then into good sized cubes/chunks. From this roast I cut 6 thick "chops" and cut each chop into 6 big chunks. In a shallow dish combine the flour, meat rub, pepper, paprika and cayenne. 



Heat a couple tablespoons of cooking oil in a Dutch oven. 



Dredge the meat in the flour and add to Dutch oven; brown the meat cubes well, without crowding. You will have to do it in batches. 



I always remove the browned meat to the upturned lid of the Dutch oven- saves me a dish to wash. 

Once all the meat is browned, add another tablespoon of oil if needed and add the onion to the pot. Cook and stir for a minute or so. Add the smashed garlic cloves. Cook for an additional minute. Stir in the marjoram and thyme, and tomato paste. Deglaze the pot with the turkey stock, scraping up all the browned bits from the bottom.


Return the meat to the pot, cover and pop in the oven. The meat will need to cook about 2 hours.

About an hour before the meat is done, scrub and cut up the potatoes. Toss with carrots, a splash of oil and a teaspoon of the same meat rub. Spread out onto rimmed baking sheet. Roast in the oven alongside the meat until the vegetables are tender and browned; stir during roasting for even browning.


When vegetables are tender remove everything from the oven. The gravy with the meat should be nicely thickened, but if not, remove the meat with a slotted spoon and add a small amount of cornstarch slurry and cook over medium high heat til thickened. Return meat to gravy. Stir the vegetables into the meat and gravy. Sprinkle with parsley.


Serve in shallow bowls with bread for sopping up the gravy.

Like most "winter foods" you bet there were leftovers. You don't have so much of the same texture later, as the gravy does soften the potatoes, but the roasted flavor is preserved, and like similar favorites, this stew is just as delicious, if not more so, the next day.

As for that weather forecast, the missed it. We got a foot. Pass me the shovel, please.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Foodie Field Trip- Royal Mile

Living in a foreign country is something most people never get to experience. I am very fortunate that part of the Story of Me includes four years living in England. Not some big city either, but a small farm village in Suffolk County, quite a distance from London and everything "city". This was the sort of place where your kids played outside without worries, doors were left unlocked, and serenity was a part of everyday life.


The village of Stanton was my home. Located in Suffolk County, we lived pretty close to the North Sea. Really close to a couple good sized cities. Not too far from Cambridge and not all that far from London even. Home to WWII-era RAF Sheherd's Grove. The village anchor is an ancient church (keep in mind here, when in Europe ancient TRULY means ancient), long with a bakers shop, a butcher, a small grocery, post office, a chip shop and of course, two pubs, The Rose and Crown and The Cock Inn

The Rose and Crown, photo courtesy of tripadvisor.com
Stanton has been around since Roman times, so yes..... ancient. Graves in the churchyard date back hundreds of years. St. John the Baptist Church still stands, where it has since the 14th century. 

St. John the Baptist Church
Upthorne Mill was built in 1751. The history and traditional of this beautiful little village made life so much more interesting than anything I could ever have imagined. My time in England impacted me in a way like nothing else.


You can imagine how much I adore the one and only authentic British Pub here in Iowa, The Royal Mile. The first time I walked through the door of this amazing place, I felt transported in time. It is so thoroughly genuine, in decor and food, I could close my eyes and be back at The Rose and Crown. 


The first thing you notice when you come in is the dark interior. Very subdued and very British the bar boasts dark finished woods, the traditional "ugly carpet" and a huge fireplace, surrounded by comfy chairs and tables. 


The bar features a huge list of imported beers and almost always, they have Tennent's on tap. A Scottish brew, Tennent's was always on tap at The Rose, and was by far my favorite. When at The Mile, a Tennent's I must have. The Chef had a tough time choosing but finally settled on a Smithwick's Ale.


Just like an English pub, you can head upstairs with the kiddos for a bite of dinner without the bar scene, or you can tuck yourself away at a high top in the pub and still enjoy a great British meal. The menu is all Brit- from the classic fish and chips to Scotch eggs and unique Indian-influenced curry dishes, shepherds pie, Cornish pasties, bangers and mash and more than a little Guinness making an appearance in dishes. 


During our recent visit I just had to have the fish and cops. Two huge battered and fried cod fillets with a nice pile of steak fries, which I sprinkle liberally with malt vinegar before devouring. Makes me soooo homesick! I miss the little chip shop in Stanton, and like an ice cream truck, there actually was a chip truck that drove around town, just like today's food trucks- selling fish and chips. I miss that!


The Chef went with the special- The Mile's version of a Canadian classic, Poutine, a naughty concoction of French fries, cheese curds and gravy- this one piled high with Guinness-braised beef, mushrooms and caramelized onions, smothered in London Porter gravy. Crunchy, savory, salty, melty- everything you want in a bar bite.


It wouldn't be right to visit The Royal Mile without my own little British girl, my daughter, who was born in England. She joined The Chef and I for after dinner cocktails and lived up to her United Kingdom heritage by ordering Jameson. She is very proud of her unique story and pretty amazing early childhood in an English village.

One more for the road
Incredibly, even the televisions in the pub are tuned to a soccer match, which really helps drive home that authentic pub atmosphere. I truly miss living in England, and while going back is probably not in the plan for a while, a visit to The Royal Mile is almost as good.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 55: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."