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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

My Food/Cooking Bucket List

A while back, I saw someone pose the question, “What is on your food/cooking bucket list?”  In other words, what do you want to cook (or in my case many times, master in the kitchen) before you “kick the bucket”?

I found it an oddly interesting question and one that I really couldn’t answer fully at the time.  And I am sure my list will grow with time.  But here are some things that I think would go on that list for me (in no particular order):

  1. Homemade pasta: ravioli, linguini, gnocchi… you name it. I want to make it.
  2. Smoking meats: meats of all kinds… brisket, ribs, chicken… I want to smoke it all.  But I guess I need a smoker first.
  3. Complete the Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge I started many eons ago.
  4. Tamales
  5. Homemade corn and flour tortillas: tortilla press… gotta have one.
  6. Meringue: this falls under the category of “mastery”.  As I mentioned in a previous post, I have made meringue pies, but have not quite mastered the “mile high meringue” that doesn’t deflate. That’s my goal.
  7. Croissants: not canned crescent rolls. Real life flakey and buttery croissants.
  8. Homemade sausage: now where is that meat grinder? Oh yeah. Need one of those, too.
  9. Boeuf Bourguignon: I received the set of Julia Childs’ Mastering the Art of French Cooking books as a gift for Christmas this year from my father in law.  Time to get to know Julia just a little better, don’t you think?
  10. Lobster or crab of some kind.

There are several things that I have done in recent years that I think would have gone on this list that I think deserve a mention… you know, so I can put it on my list and then cross it off…

  1. Sourdough bread:  this was a huge accomplishment for me.
  2. Homemade marshmallows
  3. Chili with no chili powder, only ground dried chili peppers.
  4. Jelly/Jam/Preserves and canning

What about you?  What are some things that you want to at least try to cook/bake/make in the kitchen before you “kick the bucket”?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Hearty Chicken Tortilla Soup

I took a chance recently and ordered tortilla soup at a local Mexican food joint.  I usually don’t order it out unless I have a really good recommendation from someone that I know and trust.  But, here we were at the restaurant, I had a hankering for tortilla soup and this was my only choice.

To say I was pleasantly surprised would be an understatement.  While it was broth based rather than thick and creamy like the soup I make at home, it wasn’t just a normal bland beige colored broth with a little chicken thrown in for good measure.  No.  It was a rich tomatoey red colored broth that was full of spice and flavor.  It had big chunks of carrot, squash and celery.  It was a huge bowl and I took about half of it home to have for lunch at work the next day. 

I decided to try to replicate it at home.  Overall I got pretty close.  The broth wasn’t quite as rich of a color as the one at the restaurant, but it was a very good version of the soup.  And the kids both loved it enough that we ended up going to the store to get some soup thermoses for the kids to take some of it to school the following day.  I’d call that success.  Wouldn’t you?

You could possibly add more tomato juice or even try crushed tomatoes or tomato soup for a richer color to the broth.  And depending on how you like your soup, you could increase the amount of broth and tomato products appropriately.   The one served in the restaurant had a high liquid to chunk ratio, but my man prefers more chunks in his soup… so I tried to land somewhere in the middle.

This makes a big pot of soup.  Enough for several meals.

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 Hearty Chicken Tortilla Soup

Ingredients:

2-3 tablespoons oil
1 yellow onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons paprika
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons Mexican oregano
1 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes
1 10 ounce can Ro*Tel diced tomatoes & green chiles
1-2 5.5 ounce can tomato juice
Several cups chicken broth or stock
3 carrots, sliced rather thick
3 celery ribs, sliced rather thick
2 yellow squash, cut in half lengthwise and sliced rather thick
2 zucchini, cut in half lengthwise and sliced rather thick
1 pound cooked chicken

Method:

Heat oil in stock pot over medium heat.  Cook onion in oil until translucent and beginning to brown just a little.  Add garlic, paprika, chili powder, cumin, coriander, and Mexican oregano.  Cook briefly until fragrant.  Add diced tomatoes, Ro*Tel, tomato juice and 2 cups of chicken broth, being sure to scrape up any browned bits off the bottom of the pot.  Add carrots and celery and stir everything to combine well.  Add more chicken broth if needed.  Cover and bring to a simmer.  Cook on low (simmering) for about 1 hour until carrots and celery are tender.

Add squash, zucchini and chicken.  Add more broth and/or tomato juice if needed and to suit your own taste as to the ratio of liquid to vegetables.  (Some like lots of liquid.  My man likes the vegetables and meat to be more prominent.)  Cover again and continue to simmer until the squash and zucchini are very tender (30-45 minutes). 

If you need to leave at any point in the cooking like I did, you may cover the pot and place into a 325°-350°F oven.

Taste and adjust salt and pepper to taste.

To serve, place some broken tortilla chips in the bottom of a bowl and top with grated cheddar or Monterrey Jack cheese.  Ladle hot soup over the cheese and chips.  Top it off with some slices of avocado.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

My favorite dish and discovering a new love

It was November of 1999.  We were 26 years old and we had been married only about 3 1/2 years.

1999 in Florida

In a word, we were “Babies.”

And I was thin. (Not that you could tell for the overalls. What was that about?)

And you know that prominent gray streak I have now…. yeah, you can’t even see it in this picture.

But I digress.

Mike had a training conference for work to attend that just so happened to be held at the Walt Disney World resort.  Of course, I had to work, but I made a way to swing a few days off to fly down to Florida and join him so that we could make a long weekend of it.  We did, after all, want to “do Disney World” before we had kids. 

As I always do in these situations, I began to research what to do while we were there and how to do it.  I found out that part of the resort was set aside for what they called, at that time, the Disney Institute.  If my memory serves me correctly, the Disney Institute was a place where companies could send staff and management level employees to receive specific training.  However, in addition they offered enrichment courses of study in everything from photography to the culinary arts.  What a perfect idea for the days that I would be there with Mike while he was still in his training classes and meetings.  So I registered and filled up my itinerary with photography, wine appreciation and, of course, cooking classes.

I spent two full days at the Disney Institute and on the grounds there.  It was a beautiful and very tranquil setting right on a small pond across from the Downtown Disney area.  I spent break times just sitting outside in the quiet and taking pictures of the local birds.  I ate at least one meal at the restaurant there and I remember to this day how my waitress warned me, “If you notice a bunch of staff walking past your table, it’s because I told them about your hair.”  Yeah.  That streak that doesn’t even show up in photographs was clearly visible even at age 26. 

I know that was a long lead-in, but it was in this setting that I was introduced to what has become one of my favorite dishes to both cook and eat.

One of the cooking classes that I had on my schedule was “A Taste of the World” and on this particular day, we were covering “Italia Cucina,”  But not just your ordinary pasta and such.  Northern Italian country cooking.  And that meant Osso Buco.

This was our classroom, complete with about seven student stations and a chef’s station at the front that was outfitted with overhead cameras and screens at the front so that us students could follow what the chef was doing.  It was pretty darned hi-tech for 1999.

1999 Disney Institute Studio D - Culinary

We spent our morning class time preparing our own lunch of veal Osso Buco with Risotto alla Milanese  and a dessert of strawberries with balsamic vinegar and Zabaglione.   I had never had such a delicious lunch before.  And I had made it with my own two hands.

I also took a Pastries and Confections class in this same studio that was focused on Christmas Cookies as the holidays were approaching.  Each member of the class made a different recipe of cookie under the watchful eye of our chef instructor.  As we mixed and baked we talked about each individual recipe and some of the science behind each of them.  In fact, I have talked on this blog about some of what I learned about baking cookies in that class (see this blog post).  We then were able to sample all of our handiwork at the end of class.  Rewards are sweet.

I have come to realize that it was in this very same studio, in the process of taking both of these classes, that I said, “Hello, Lover.” I said hello to the world of really cooking for the first time.  I said hello to understanding much of what food, cooking, and baking were about.  I said hello to what I believe is a passion that will also be a life-long pursuit. 

In a word (or three), it was heaven.  Bliss.  Euphoric.

I think I realized for the first time that even I could create something in the kitchen that tasted every bit as good as those things I had eaten in fine restaurants.  All it required was the “know how.”  I may never do it as efficiently or neatly as a professionally trained chef in a 5 star restaurant.  But I could do it.

Veal Osso Buco and Risotto alla Milanese

And that may be why Osso Buco is my very favorite dish to cook and eat.  I have a connection on a level that is so much deeper than just sustenance.  And the fact that it is like velvet in your mouth doesn’t hurt.  But each and every time I eat it or make it, I am taken back to that moment in time at when I realized…

I love to cook.

*******

Recipes mentioned in this post:

Veal Osso Buco
Risotto alla Milanese
Peppered Balsamic Strawberries and Zabaglione

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Nutella Æbleskivers

A new favorite recently in our house has been Æbleskivers.  I received this Æbleskiver (or Ebelskiver) pan for Christmas last year (2010) from my mother in law.  Of course this was right as we were really starting up the great kitchen remodel of 2011 and therefore it did not get used until I had use of the new range. 

So far, I’ve only used the mix that I was given with the pan.  It is pretty good and very easy.  But making the batter from scratch is not any more difficult than making pancakes or waffles. 

So, in case you were wondering, this is how they are made.

After spraying with non-stick spray or using a little butter (I have personally found non-stick spray to be easier than butter in this case) and heating the pan over medium to medium-low heat, I use my medium spring loaded scoop to put one scoop of batter in each little bowl of the pan.  I always start in the middle.  Then I work my way around the perimeter going clockwise from 12:00.  That way I do things in the same order each time and they each get approximately the same amount of cooking after each step.

Ebelskiver Pan

Almost immediately, using the same patter of middle then working around the perimeter in a clockwise direction, I use my smallest spring loaded scoop to add a dollop of Nutella (or other chosen filling) right in the middle if each.

Nutella Æbleskivers/Ebelskivers

Coming back to the batter, I place a little more batter on top of each dollop of Nutella, just so that it is covered.

IMG_1302

By this point, the Æbleskivers are cooked enough on the first side and they are ready to be turned.  I do so using the same routine of staring in the middle and working the perimeter in a clockwise fashion as I have done in each preceding step.

One thing that I have found very helpful has been these wooden turning tools.  They get some batter on them in the turning process, but if you just keep a paper towel handy, they clean up easily with a quick wipe off.

IMG_1303

IMG_1304

Once they have cooked sufficiently and are golden brown on the 2nd side, I remove them carefully with a pair of tongs.

Æbleskivers / Ebelskivers

And they are ready to be enjoyed.  MMMMMMM……

Nutella Stuffed Æbleskivers

Æbleskivers can be filled with many things.  We have enjoyed them with homemade peach preserves, strawberry preserves… any kind of preserves, to be honest.  We also have some of the chocolate mix that we have enjoyed filled with peanut butter.  We have also had more savory combinations like bacon, sausage, or pepperoni and cheese. 

Or, you know, you could just do them plain and not stuffed with anything. 

Regardless, their cute little finger food size and shape will be a sure hit with your family.  It has been with mine.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Just a housekeeping note

In case you didn’t notice, I added a gadget on the right. 

Over there >>>>>>

Under my “About Me” section.

There you go. 

I got to thinking that you might not realize that sometimes I’ll post a recipe on the recipe blog but may not post anything here on the main blog.  So I added this little gadget to let you know what’s the most recent recipe out there in case you are interested.

Carry on.