Monday, July 31, 2017
Of all the cookbooks I have read, none tell you about the importance of being a master of heat.
There are knife techniques and butchering; flavors and how to build them and pair them; composition and plating: I have yet to see a book that discusses how and when to apply the right amount of heat at the right time for the right amount of time.
Controlling heat is the secret of being a great chef. How many cooking competition shows have you seen where the chef with the under-cooked or overcooked protein gets chopped?
Poached eggs are not as easy as they look. You want a runny yolk. How runny? It depends on the cooking time and a proper simmer.
Bring a pot of water to a simmer. Use cold eggs. Crack an egg into a cup without breaking the yolk. Slide the egg into the simmering water. The simmer will stop. That's okay. Use a timer. 3 minutes - nice runny yolk. I like 4 minutes. 5 minutes and the yolk is almost completely set.
Serve the eggs right away. If preparing ahead, plunge the poached egg into ice water to stop the cooking. In this case, we start cold and end cold. For serving, reheat in the simmering water.
Grilling is another test of heat control. I have complete control over a gas grill. If you like that charcoal flavor, cooking with coal offers a terrific challenge.
Despite what the package of charcoal says, I would never spread the coals evenly over the bottom of the grill. I would pile the coals on one side of the grill and grill indirectly. Why? No flare ups. No blackened burgers or chicken thighs that are raw in the middle.
Baking in the oven is problematical. There may be hot spots. The temperature setting may be off by as much as 15 degrees. Get a quality oven thermometer so you know exactly what temperature you are using to bake.
Know your stove. Know how your pans conduct heat. Know your oven. Know your grill. Know your broiler.
Get an instant read thermometer. It should have a range of temperature readings that go up to at least 350 degrees so you can measure the temperature of oil for frying. If the oil is not hot enough, you will get soggy, oily fries for example.
For meat, steaks will come out a perfect medium rare (130 degrees). Turkey or chicken will not be dry if cooked to 160 degrees. 160 is that magic temperature where bacteria can no longer survive but the poultry still retains its juices.
Get a good oven thermometer. Keep it in the oven!
Even the humble pancake needs the right amount of heat applied for the right amount of time. The first one never comes out perfect because the pan is not hot enough. The last of the bunch are slightly burnt because the pan has gotten to hot.
Master and control heat. It takes practice and repetition.
Sunday, July 30, 2017
Stuffed Shells with a Twist
- 28 oz tomato puree (use a good brand)
- 1 handful basil leaves (torn)
- 1 rind Parmesan cheese (optional)
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp onion powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 1 tbsp olive oil (extra virgin)
- 3/4 cup ricotta
- 3/4 cup Greek yogurt
- salt to taste
- pepper to taste
- 1/2 tsp lemon zest
- 2 tbsp minced celery leaves
- 14-16 jumbo shells (or as many as will fit in the baking dish)
- 3-4 oz mozzarella cheese (grated)
- 2 oz Romano cheese (or Parmesan, grated fine)
- minced celery leaves
- Balsamic vinegar
- Get all the ingredients together. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
- Add all the ingredients for the sauce and simmer while you prepare the shells.
- Combine all the ingredients for the filling and stir well.
- Boil the shells in salted water for 8 minutes. Drain and set aside.
- Ladle sauce on the bottom of a baking dish.
- Add as many shells as will fit.
- Fill the shells with a heaping teaspoon of the ricotta-yogurt mixture.
- Ladle sauce on top of the stuffed shells.
- Grate the mozzarella cheese. Add the grated mozzarella over the top.
- Add the finally grated Romano over the top.
- Bake uncovered for 30 minutes at 400 degrees. Rotate the dish after 15 minutes if your oven has hot spots like mine.
- Garnish with a drizzle of Balsamic vinegar over the dish and sprinkle finely minced celery leaves, or parsley, on top.
- Let cool, covered with foil for 20 minutes. Slice and serve.
Friday, July 28, 2017
Old Timey Lemonade
The ultimate summer drink.
- 1-1/3 cup lemon juice (8-10 lemons)
- 1-1/3 cup sugar (more or less to taste)
- 80 oz water (2-1/2 qts)
- lemon slices for garnish
Cut all the lemons in half.
Squeeze the lemons through a strainer.
Using a funnel or measuring cup, pour lemon juice into a large container.
Add the sugar.
Add the water.
Shake or stir very well and taste. Too strong, more water. Too sour, more sugar. Too sweet, add the juice of one lemon and another cup or two of water.
Serve in a tall glass with plenty of ice and garnish with a lemon slice.
If you have an electric juicer, great. There are hand held juicers as well. I put the lemons between a pair of tongs and squeeze, turn 90 degrees and squeeze again.
Thursday, July 27, 2017
Celery Leaf Chimichurri
The local farm stand has fresh picked celery. Unlike the stuff in your grocery store, this is a dark green product that has more leaves than stalks.
So, what can you do with celery leaves?
Chopped fine, they can be used like parsley. The leaves can be used in salads. Here we make a chimichurri sauce/salad dressing/marinade for use on salads, grilled meats and vegetables.
- 1 bunch celery leaves
- 1/2 cup white vinegar
- 1/2 cup olive oil (extra virgin)
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1/8 large red onion
- 1/2 jalapeno (sliced lengthwise)
- 3/4 tsp sea salt (or Kosher salt)
- 1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
Put everything in a blender and pulse a few times. Turn the blender on medium speed for one minute. Pour into a Mason jar and refrigerate.
Without a doubt this makes the best salad dressing I ever had.
You can use it on almost anything grilled. It might be a little too strong for fish.
Tonight, I used it in a grilled chicken dish.
Wednesday, July 26, 2017
Who doesn't like pizza? This is one is rated 'A' for adults only.
Pizza dough literally is a blank canvas. The twist here is that I have mixed ricotta cheese with Greek yogurt to make a tangy spread.
- 1 cup ricotta cheese
- 1 cup Greek yogurt
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp pepper
- 1 pinch nutmeg (1/8 of a teaspoon)
- 2 tbsp olive oil (extra virgin)
- 2 tbsp milk (or more to get a pudding like consistency)
- 1/2 cup golden onion (thinly sliced)
- 1/2 cup fennel (thinly sliced)
- 1/4 cup Granny Smith apple (thinly sliced)
- 2 cloves garlic (shaved very thin like Paulie did in Wise Guys)
- 1" slice Jimmy Dean sausage
- 1 handful fennel fronds (for garnish)
- 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese (for garnish)
- 1 ball store-bought dough (brought to room temperature)
- all-purpose flour, as needed (to prevent sticking to the work surface)
Flour the ball of dough, cover with plastic or a damp cloth, bring up to room temperature.
Form the pie. Start with your finger tips pressing down and out to form a small circle. At this point you can get fancy and place the dough onto both of your fists and start tossing it in circles to stretch it out. A rolling pin works as well. Keep the work surface floured to prevent sticking.
Since this is a heavy pie, dock the dough with a fork to prevent bubbles and pre-bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes on a pizza stone or an upside down baking sheet.
Take out the pre-baked pie crust. Raise the temperature of the oven to 500 degrees.
Assemble the base by combining the ricotta, yogurt, olive oil and spices. Thin out with milk as needed so you have a thick but spreadable consistency. Stir or whip the mixture well.
Spread the mixture on the pie crust all the way to the edge.
Take the time to evenly place the shaved garlic all over the pie.
Add the sliced fennel, onion and apple.
Break up the slice of Jimmy Dean sausage into bits and drop as evenly as possible onto the pie.
Bake at 500 degrees for about 12 minutes. The ricotta will actually start to bubble. The edge will start to get dark. It may char a little, but take out of the oven when you start to see that.
Garnish the pie with fennel fronds and a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.
If I had to do this again, I think I would oil the crust as opposed to the filling.
The pie lacks acidity, so there is no reason why you can't drizzle a little balsamic vinegar over the finished product.
The ricotta and yogurt together measure two cups. You don't have to use it all. Use what you need to cover the crust from edge to edge.