Saturday, January 24, 2015

Cuban Flavors- Fricase de Pollo

My cooking around the world continues. This time I am exploring some Latin flavors, but nothing like the Americanized "Mexican" food so many of us are familiar with. Instead, I've been reading up on Cuban flavors, traditional recipes, getting ideas. Since we live in the country and closest grocery store is quite small, our choices for meats is a little limited, so I tried to stay with ideas that used either chicken or beef. 

Fricase is a long lost cousin of classic French cooking. In the late 18th century a flood of French immigrants landed in Cuba and brought their cooking styles with them. While the classic French "fricassee" might have a white sauce and light herb flavors, the Cuban fricase is a flavor knockout with a Spanish influence in the tangy olives and capers, peppers and onions, with a hint of sweetness from raisins and citrus.

Since the weather outside isn't exactly picnic weather, a nice stew-like dish would hit the spot perfectly, so a version of the traditional fricase de pollo sounds like the right way to go. I found loads of different versions. Some with peas, some without. Some with half a pantry of spices. Some were creamy, others were more tomato based. Deciding on the best way to make it work for me was easy- leave out what I don't have or don't like (like the raisins- doesn't sound even remotely good, so I won't be using raisins, or capers, but only because I am out and don't want to drive to the city to get another jar) and braise the chicken and vegetables.

So let's make some Fricase de Pollo. 
(adapted from about 15 different versions)

1 package chicken pieces
1/2 cup orange juice, unsweetened
olive oil
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 bell pepper (I used half red and half green), sliced into julienne strips
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon Herbes de Provence
big pinch oregano
big pinch cumin
2 tbs tomato paste
2 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
2 potatoes, peeled and cubed
handful green olives
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Place the chicken pieces in a large zip-top plastic bag, pour orange juice over. I also zested some of the orange to get really good flavor going, but that is optional. Allow the chicken to marinate at least 4 hours or overnight.

When ready to cook, remove chicken from marinade, reserving marinade. Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper. I used a package of chicken legs, but you can use whatever pieces you like. Boneless and skinless chicken has less flavor, so use whole pieces. Heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil in deep heavy skillet. Brown the chicken in the hot oil until browned all over; remove to a plate. Do the chicken in batches so you don't crowd the pieces- they will steam instead of brown if too crowded, adding more oil if needed.

In same skillet add the onions and peppers. Cook and stir for a minute or two to soften slightly. Add the garlic and herbs; cook for a minute. Add the tomato paste and stir. Deglaze the pan with the stock. Add the wine and reserved marinade. Return the chicken to the pot, cover and cook for about 30 minutes.

Add the carrots, potatoes and olives. Cover and cook 20-30 minutes until vegetables are tender and chicken is done. I had a handful of baby purple potatoes to use up so those went in along with a couple small white potatoes.

This dish is really pretty. Lots of great color and texture and served over rice, is delicious. Make sure you have some bread on hand. The pan juices are so delicious with the spice, the orange, the olives- so savory and wonderful. Now I want to really get out the atlas, cookbooks and go for a cookbook tour of lots of Latin locations and cook all sorts of interesting new dishes!

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Michelin Star

The Michelin star. Is it an historical relic or still relevant? 

Travelers since 1900 (yes, THAT long ago) have relied on The Michelin Guides for help in planning travels to cities and countries. That first Michelin Guide was published in France by Andre and Edouard Michelin, the tire manufacturers, as a hopeful way to drive up tourism, the need for more cars and, ultimately, more tires. They printed 35,000 copies and gave it away for free, hoping the information about hotels, gas stations, hints on tire repairs, car maintenance, and maps would get people on the road. Perhaps they were on to something? The Michelin brothers eventually added other European countries and publication was stopped only during World War I. It has been a travel standard over many decades.

The Company's website says that the guides were given away free until Andre noticed that the guys in a tire shop had used one to prop up a piece of equipment. The brothers adopted the adage "a man only respects what he pays for" policy and began charging for the guides. It was around this time that they also started to include and review restaurants. The brothers hired a group of reviewers whose job was to travel the country (at this time it was only in France) and secretly review restaurants.

Crispy Duck and Waffles from Momofoko in NYC, a
two Michelin Star restaurant
1926 was the inaugural year for the Michelin Star. Back in those days, you either had a star or you didn't. You had a 50/50 chance to make it in the Guide and enjoy the boost in business. Five years later they introduced the three-star review system and five years later revealed to the world the meaning of those coveted stars:
  • *      "A very good restaurant in its category" 
  • **    "Excellent cooking, worth a detour" 
  • ***  "Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey" 

It wasn't until 2005 that Michelin published its first guide in the United States. That guide contained reviews for 500 New York restaurants.

So.......I'd like to know HOW one scores a gig like becoming a Michelin reviewer? They must remain completely anonymous as they travel about. Sounds like a great job for me-I'm a blend-in-the-woodwork kind of girl, quiet and unassuming. No one would ever guess if I were a Michelin inspector!!

I could travel around and eat fabulous things like
this gorgeous dessert. Picture from Sarah Gomez.
What do American chefs have to say about the Michelin rating? Some have never heard of it, others think it's archaic and in the Internet age, irrelevant. I talked to chefs who feel that in the U.S. a James Beard nomination or award is more important in this modern day and others who would be extremely humbled just to be considered for either. Overall, the chefs that I talked to said they think that the James Beard nomination/award is more important in the U.S. and they don't really give much thought to Michelin. They are just happy to be doing what they love and having people enjoy what they create. 

Dessert from Le Bernardin in NYC,
a three Michelin Star restaurant.
The Michelin Guide has not been without some bumps in the road. Once called "the only guide that matters" it has been accused of showing preference to certain chefs, and being harsher on restaurants that differ from classic French cooking. Michelin claims to review a restaurant every 18 months but at least one former inspector claims it was typically twice that long between visits due to the reduced amount of inspectors on staff. 

Do we still value these old ranking systems or have we let technology and the Internet help us form opinions and make plans when traveling or eating out? Have you ever visited a Michelin Star restaurant, or even know or care? I know I would LOVE to be able to visit as many as I can. Michelin now has guides for all over the U.S. and Chicago is not too far away....... maybe it's not such an impossible dream after all!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Kimchi- discovering love and dumplings

Food television is a bad influence. Seriously. I'm wracking my brain trying to find a place to purchase sea beans in the middle of an Iowa winter. Hunting down mushrooms that just don't ever show their faces in rural grocery stores. Starting a batch of sauerkraut in my back bedroom when I don't really care for the stuff in the first place, followed up with a batch of kimchi that, quite honestly, I am not sure I'll like either! Making homemade kimchi and watching shows on Food Network have inspired me to find delicious ways to try these new foods and watching a show the other night one of the hosts was visiting a restaurant in L.A. and having "Vegetarian Mandoo" which featured kimchi so I got to thinking.....why not? The rest of the ingredients they used were all easy to locate, even for me here in the country so naturally.......

It's not hard to make a vegetarian dish very substantial when you add hearty vegetables like mushrooms and yams. Mushrooms especially take on a very meaty texture on their own and I just don't miss the actual meat in the food at all. So these "mandoo" (their creative spelling) swapped the meat for mushrooms and I needed to research some recipes and find something comparable. That didn't exactly pan out. The dumplings are actually "mandu" and finding a no-meat recipe left me with a ton of tofu versions. On the show they had no tofu in there- they didn't list the ingredients but we did get to see the chef cooking it- no tofu was used- rather she used diced yams with enoki mushrooms, a sliced green of some kind (slivered green onion maybe), and piled on the round wrapper along with some chopped kimchi; brushed with egg wash; pan fried and served over yam puree drizzled with a sesame vinaigrette dressing.

So let's get going with my Mandu Science Project. You will need-
  • 1 package mushrooms (any kind is fine)
  • small bunch scallions
  • 2 fresh yams 
  • 1 cup kimchi, chopped
  • 1 package round wonton wrappers
  • 1 egg
  • oil for frying
Make the dipping sauce/dressing and set aside.

Peel the yams. Cut into small dice; steam or cook in a small amount of water until tender. Set aside 3/4 cup diced yams. Puree remaining yams, season with salt and pepper and set aside for now.

Chop enough mushrooms to make 1 cup. Cut the scallions into 2-3 inch lengths and julienne finely. Reserve a couple tablespoons for garnish. Beat the egg and set aside.

Heat a couple tablespoons of oil in a skillet. Saute the mushrooms until softened. Add the scallions and cook for a minute or two. Remove from heat and toss with reserved yam and kimchi.

Spoon some of the filling on the wrappers; brush the edges with egg and seal.

Heat a little more oil in the skillet and fry the dumplings on each side until golden brown and heated through. Remove and allow to drain on paper towel while making the rest.

To serve, spread a smear of the yam puree on appetizer plates. Top each plate with four dumplings; drizzle with dressing; sprinkle with reserved scallion and serve.

Plum Sesame Dipping Sauce
  • 1/4 cup plum sauce
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons toasted sesame seed
  • 1-2 drops sesame oil (optional)
Combine in small jar; shake to combine. Chill.

I used my own recipe for the plum sauce, which you can get HERE, but any commercial plum sauce will also work.

These were soooooo good!!! It was easy to fry them in my cute IKEA wok-like pan without using a ton of oil,and keep them warm in the oven while I finished. The sweet potato puree on the bottom was nice but next time I'd play with adding some ginger to it. The dipping sauce was good, and quick to throw together. These would be a great appetizer at a party too. 

Now about that kimchi- I am just so angry at myself for not trying it sooner! It was delicious and totally made this dish. I love love love love the stuff! Since it has been holding in the fridge for a couple weeks it has really developed nicely and the heat is fairly intense. It gave the mandu the perfect level of heat that balanced so well with the sweet sauce, creamy puree and crunchy wonton wrapper. I think from now on there will be a nice spoonful of kimchi added to many dishes around here, Asian or otherwise!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Foodie Field Trip- Culinary Fight Night

It's all about who you know!! Seriously! I thought this year I would have to scale back on my Foodie Field Trips and spend more time poring over the cookbook stash and cooking at home for entertainment, but when you have a child in the culinary industry you sometimes have a bit of an edge! My lovely daughter Laura graciously invited me to go with her to the 2015 Culinary Fight Night in Des Moines and of course, I said yes!

I'd heard about this event a while back and really wished I could go. As a charity event, the chefs will be raising money to help support the Central Iowa Shelter Services as well as winning some cash for themselves and a black boxing glove as the trophy. As a food event, there will be some amazing dishes to experience. 

Along the line of a Chopped meets Iron Chef type competition, the chefs battle face to face in a Vegas-style boxing ring and each of the chefs will create an appetizer, entree and dessert, and guests vote for their favorite. Besides the exciting menu, guests get to meet and greet with the judges, chefs and other guests, enjoy appetizers and cocktails before the event and take home some swag as well.

The swag was not your typical bag of goodies. Intended to bring home the importance of helping people in need, it was a stark contrast to the typical "goodie bag" at events. While we were dining on filet mignon, lobster, uni, truffles, and enjoying cocktails in a beautiful ballroom, there are people living in shelters, in cars, without even the basic needs. 

Who are the chefs?

Chef Dominic Iannarelli is a graduate of Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, with a degree in hotel restaurant management. After cooking around Ames and Des Moines for a while, he became the Executive Chef at Splash Seafood. Working with Bruce Gerleman, Chef Iannarelli opened Jethro's BBQ, and we all know how successful Jethro's has been! Besides having numerous locations around the Des Moines area, they have been featured on many television shows including Man vs. Food on The Travel Channel.

Chef Mike Holman is one BUSY guy! He is the Executive Chef for Dos Rios, Big City Burgers & Greens and Catering DSM. Also a former Ames resident he began his cooking career at the Iowa Culinary Institute and after, headed to France where he practiced in the St. Etienne region. A passionate advocate of local sources and products, and a supporter of various charities in the area, Mike sounds like a fierce competitor and a peek at the menu he has created for this event demonstrates his skill and vision.

Students from the Iowa Culinary Institute assist the chefs
The scene. The Iowa Ballroom at the Des Moines Marriott was transformed into a boxing arena, surrounded by tables for the guests to watch the action. The pre-fight Meet and Greet gave everyone a chance to visit with the judges, chefs and other locals, and enjoy a cocktail or two and appetizers.

The secret ingredients. All the guests were able to vote ahead of time for a secret ingredient they would like to see the chefs use, and the top three voted were jelly beans, marshmallows and root beer. The chefs could use one ingredient per course OR all three in one course.

The menu. Can I just say WOW? Two appetizers, two entrees and two desserts, and are they are exciting. Chef I used jelly beans to create a gastrique for his shrimp appetizer and Chef H used marshmallows in his white chocolate sauce. The food fight starts with-

Crispy sugar cane shrimp, raspberries, rocket salad and Manchego dressing (Chef I) AND 

Tabasco-seared scallop, gingered sweet potato puree, warm white chocolate sauce and crispy bacon (Chef H). I am dying and headed to the Pearly Swinging Kitchen Doors! So much delicious and we have barely started. The shrimp was speared on a sugar cane stick and placed atop a fresh and crispy salad, with this amazing and light dressing. The scallop was delicious, tender and perfectly cooked, nestled onto a bed of the most delicious sweet potato puree I have ever tasted. Little bits of ginger lingered in the puree. The scallop was my favorite appetizer.

Then we move on to entrees. The entrees had to use the secret ingredient of root beer. Both chefs incorporated it into a sauce-

Honey glazed BBQ duck, sesame seared baby bok choy, garlic and leek fried rice (Chef H) AND 

Szechuan peppercorn crusted filet medallions, lobster XO sauce, uni risotto (Chef I). I am officially in culinary heaven. I have never had uni before so this is an amazing and rare treat for me. of my lifetime favorites. I wish I could describe the duck- it was perfectly cooked, rare, juicy with perfectly cooked skin, nestled onto an Asian-inspired fried rice. Lobster and  filet are always perfect, but paired with a lovely risotto and topped with a shaving of black truffle, it was truly elevated. 

No room for dessert? Well here are two anyway. Chef I used his last secret ingredient, marshmallow, in the tiramisu, and Chef H created a jelly bean sauce to top his ice cream dish-

Hot Chocolate Tiramisu with peppermint Schnapps (Chef I) AND 

Brown sugar glazed bananas, Orange coconut cardamom ice cream, toasted walnuts and salted caramel whipped cream (Chef H). There just are no words. The ice cream was very light, the banana was caramelized beautifully and not too sweet, and the drizzle of jelly bean sauce brought that touch of sweet. The tiramisu brought the sweet in a big way. Soft ladyfingers, creamy mascarpone, drizzled with the hot chocolate sauce, it reminded me of cannoli.

The judges. Five dignitaries/personalities were on hand for the official judging, and they were KCCI Reporter Emmy Victor; Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie; Miss Iowa 2014 Aly Olson; cookbook author, writer and TV Host Wini Moranville and Juice Magazine's Rebecca Sidles. As guests we also had a say in the competition after trying all the courses by casting our vote for the best chef.

The competition was incredibly close. By a score of 379 to 377.......the winner of the 2015 Culinary Fight Night Des Moines is...........Chef Mike Holman of Dos Rios! This event was so much fun, I want to visit some other cities and experience what their chefs bring to the ring!

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."

Friday, January 9, 2015

Kitchen 101- Gremolata

Food trends come and go but every good cook needs a few of the basics under their belt. What are the basics? A handful of really good sauces- pan sauces, a marinara-type sauce, gravy, a good basic pastry dough, and condiments. One good mustard, handmade mayonnaise and something herby. 

What are herby condiments? Chimichurri is a very hot trend right now. Used as a finishing sauce or a marinade, chimichurri brings a bright green pop of color and flavor to the plate. Pesto is a true classic. Italian cooks have been using this herb, oil, cheese and nut mixture to dress up everything from a humble pasta dish to elaborate and complex dishes. Gremolata is unlike the first two herby condiments in that it's a "dry" mixture- chopped herbs, citrus zest and garlic that is sprinkled over a dish to add that fresh note. 

It's hard to believe something so simple, so uncomplicated can bring such a huge impact on a dish. Three simple ingredients come together and transform whatever you sprinkle it on. It's the traditional finish for Osso Buco and makes braised, roasted or grilled meats really stand out. Use it to top all sorts of things- fresh vegetables, pasta, fish and seafood. Let's make some.

You will need-

1 small bunch parsley (1 cup loosely packed)
1 large clove garlic
2 lemons, scrub the outside well

Place the parsley on a large wooden board. Using a chef's knife or santoku knife, finely chop the parsley until you have about one half cup finely minced parsley. If you are as obsessed with knives as I am and own a mezzaluna, this is a GREAT time to use it!

Using a microplane grater, grate the garlic clove over the parsley on the board. 

Use the same grater to zest the lemons onto the board as well. Save a step and don't wash the grater in between- it's all going in the same bowl anyway. Then finish by chopping further with the knife to make sure everything is very finely minced and combined. The gremolata is ready to use.

That's it- super simple and once you have tried it, you'll make it again and again. It's fantastic sprinkled on a sizzling hot steak. You can also use it to make a fabulous compound butter for even more versatility. I love gremolata so much more than chimichurri or pesto. I like to use it for salad dressings too- just add some to a basic vinaigrette and you have a fresh, delicious. 

Give it a try and share your ideas and how you liked using it- I love hearing from you!

Friday, January 2, 2015

The Gerwegian girl's braciole

I was so surprised the other day- at the grocery store they had the BIG pieces of round steak. The big ones- like I remember as a child, my mom slicing up and making pepper steak or stroganoff, or pounding the everloving life out of and smothering with cream-of-something soup and baking for a couple hours. Not the fanciest cut by any means, but certainly one of my favorite if for nothing but the memories. Anyway, there it was in the meat department beckoning to me to cook something really good.

If it was the right time of year, pepper steak would have been my first choice but in general I avoid certain kinds of grocery store produce in the winter, like tomatoes and peppers. It's just not the same as fresh from the garden or farmers market. Mushrooms, however, are available year round and pretty consistent PLUS they had a nice basket of fresh shiitakes begging to be taken home. Inspired by the recent picture a friend had shared with me, I decided a stuffed steak was in order.

What I ended up with is my own version of Braciole- without the Italian flavor profile. Mushrooms are a natural with steak and so easy to chop up and create a stuffing with. The shiitkes are a real treat to work with- once you pinch off and throw away the inedible stem they cut up into perfect firm little cubes of delicious. I chose cremini as my other mushroom (although I bought some of every kind they had in the store that day!), a little onion, garlic, some stale bread (do YOU keep your bread butts in the freezer for things like this?) and roll it up in some pounded out steak. Here is how I did it-

Mushroom Braciole

about 2 lb round steak (or similar- flat iron, flank steak, etc)
1 small onion
4 cloves garlic
4 slices stale bread
1 tsp chopped thyme
8 oz mushrooms- I used shiitake and cremini
salt and pepper
2 cups beef stock
1 tablespoon cornstarch
olive oil
2 tb butter

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. 

Cut or tear the bread into small pieces and spread out to let it dry as much as possible, set aside for now.

Cut the meat into 6 equal portions. Pound using a meat mallet until flattened and even in thickness. Pounding out to the right shape is a little tricky but try to get the pieces as rectangular as possible. I was so busy pounding away The Chef finally asked me if I was ever going to be done or was I building a garage.......sigh...... Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

Finely chop the onion and garlic and place in bowl. Clean the mushrooms, trim off the stem ends (remove tough shiitake stems) and chop into small dice and add to bowl. 

In a medium skillet heat 2 tablespoons olive oil and butter. Add the onions, garlic, mushrooms, thyme and season with salt and pepper. Cook for several minutes until onions are softened and mushrooms begin to brown. Meanwhile, crumble the bread as much as possible in a medium bowl. Pour the mushroom onion mixture over and mix well. It might be a little dry, not like stuffing you'd serve at the holidays- that's ok, it doesn't need to be super moist.

Grab a piece of steak and place a scoop of the stuffing on it. Pat it and spread it out over the meat surface evenly, leaving a little edge uncovered. 

Roll up and secure with picks, or tie with string if you're especially handy like that. I use picks because, well..... I'm not. Continue with all pieces of steak until done. 

You might have some leftover stuffing. I did because I could only get 5 portions from my steak, and Louie enjoyed it thoroughly.

Heat a tablespoon of oil in that skillet you cooked the mushrooms in and brown the rolls on the outside; place in dutch oven or covered roaster/braiser. 

Mix the cornstarch into the beef broth while browning the meat and when done, deglaze the skillet with the broth. Whisk over medium high heat until slightly thickened and bubbly. Ladle sauce over the braciole in the pot; cover and bake for one hour and 15 minutes.

When done, remove from oven and let rest a few minutes so the stuffing will firm up just a bit. Remove picks from rolls and slice. Serve with pasta, rice or potatoes and the sauce. I have been making this dish for years and years and it's one of my favorites. Not very "gourmet" but certainly delicious and an old family favorite. Oh, I almost forgot- the Gerwegian??  German and Norwegian of course!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Best Mashed Potatoes I Ever Ate

So after Thanksgiving I bought a turkey. That's not something you hear all the time but I did. Most people are pretty sick of turkey after Thanksgiving and don't want to see one for a long long time. But since we don't host Thanksgiving at our house we never have turkey leftovers. My intent was to roast it, can some of the meat and make another batch of stock. However, a family emergency took me away from home for several days and we knew it wasn't going to happen. Turkey for dinner became the plan and I'll tell you what- the last of the turkey was probably the BEST meal I have had in a looong time. I did bring home the family's Thanksgiving bird remains and made stock that weekend so I had a few pints on the shelf already, and one of those became part of this delicious quick dinner also.

The Chef decided it was his turn to cook and I let him! He reheated the last of the turkey meat in some of that stock and made a delicious turkey gravy. Simple, homey and easy. What he served it over knocked my socks off and made me second-guess our family's traditional holiday side dish of Fat Ass Potatoes. Folks, mashed potatoes are comfort food no matter how you make them, but when you add some imagination to the pot like The Chef did they become an entirely different realm of food. These seriously belong on a restaurant menu- in some amazing steakhouse. What did he make?

Rustic Roasted Garlic and Sun Dried Tomato Mashed Potatoes

6 potatoes
1/3 cup sun dried tomatoes
3 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
2 tablespoons plus 1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup half & half (plus more if needed)
1/4 cup sour cream
white pepper

Begin by scrubbing the potatoes very thoroughly. You want to leave the skin on for this dish- hence the "rustic" character. You can cook the potatoes whole (The Chef always does for some reason) or cut them up. 

Place in a saucepan and fill with cool water. Bring to a boil and cook until fork tender.

Chop the sun dried tomatoes. Use the oil-packed tomatoes if you can, otherwise you want to soak the dry tomatoes in hot water until pliable and drain, discarding the water. 

In a skillet, melt the 2 tablespoons of butter. Mince the garlic cloves very finely and add to skillet. Cook over low heat until pan roasted and golden. Your garlic should be very soft golden and not brown.

When the potatoes have cooked, drain the water. Mash the potatoes with an electric hand mixer or potato masher, adding all the ingredients. You might need to add a little more half and half until you reach the consistency you like. Season with pepper and salt and serve immediately.

The Chef served these absolutely incredible potatoes with lots of turkey and gravy, and holy smokes it was delicious. These potatoes mean business folks- they truly would be heaven on a plate with a medium rare steak sizzling alongside them.

Oh ya........ there were NO leftovers this time.