Link

Post-Grad Life

Last Friday, I graduated from college. My days of cooking in collegiate kitchens are over. Like most American post-grads, I’ve moved back in with my parents and have begun scouring the web for employment and writing slammin’ cover letters as if were my job.

In the attic, all of my kitchen wares have been packed up and labeled, awaiting the day I move out. Including the Burnt Pot.

2011 was a crap year. Mom had cancer, Grandma died, and various other things that didn’t help the situation. I am very glad that 2011 is over. 2012 has certainly been wonderful. Mom is healthy again, I’m done with school, a family wedding is just around the corner, and summer is just beginning. The whole year is certainly going to be a metaphor for new beginnings.

Dad ordered my coffee-maker to be packed away with everything else, as he does not want the smell of brewing hot coffee lingering in his house. (My new ‘roommates’ are difficult sometimes.) I needed something yummy and economically savvy, since I can’t afford daily trips to DD (Dunkin Donuts) anymore, and that doesn’t make the kitchen smell like DD.

So, in honor of the onset of summer (and the coffee addiction I have developed since completing student teaching) I give you the awesome recipe for Cold-Brew Iced Coffee from the Pioneer Woman. So Good!

The Pioneer Woman’s Cold-Brew Iced Coffee

Mr. DeMille, can I finish whisking this?

“Don’t breathe.”

I now have empathy for the poor cast members of “America’s Next Top Model.” Though, I believe have more cause for frustration under light and lens because, unlike the models of reality TV, I have my own task to accomplish at the same time. The taste and appearance of my final dish depends on a process, and timing. Trying to do all that and work with a photographer, with his own tasks, is vexing.

“There’s the money shot.”

Mad props to my photographer, whose commission was paid in Chicken Crunch with Cap’n Sauce. The pictures came out fantastic! He spent many an hour afterward adjusting and tweaking.  The results of such effort warrant a sushi trip later this weekend.

“Hold it right there.”

So, advice on taking pictures of food: get up close and personal. Really get into the detail of the food. Play with light. I took the desk lamp from my room and clipped it to a chair. For about 20 minutes, my kitchen was a movie set. Since I can’t cook and shoot at the same time, investing in an enthusiastic photographer was a good idea. Have the patience to really get the aforementioned “money shot” instead of making haste due to hunger. Hint: macro.

“To the left a little.”

You and the Cap’n (and some Chicken) Can Make it Happen

I have just as much enthusiasm for Chicken Crunch as I do Fried Oreos and Kettle Corn. Good chicken doesn’t come from KFC, (Killer Fatty Chicken.) Though, I know of a good recipe for chicken from “Down Home with the Neely’s” called Get Yo’ Man Chicken. The recipe itself is designed to do just what its name says. I’m waiting for the Neely’s to develop a recipe called “Broke Up Wit’ Dat Douchebag Chicken.” Yum.

Until then, for lack of Panko bread crumbs, and a KFC (the local one went out of business soon after fraternity hooligans stole the drive-thru talk-box, twice… or at least that’s the word on the street) I decided to bread my chicken using the fruits of a sea-faring cereal fellow in a blue suit.

Chicken Crunch with Cap'n Sauce

Chicken Crunch with Cap’n Sauce

Ingredients:
chicken breast
1 egg
½ c. heavy cream or milk
4 cups Cap’n Crunch cereal
Flour
Vegetable oil

It took some trial and error to find the best way to coat, batter and fry my chicken.  If done improperly, the delicious Cap’n Crunch coating will fall off when fried. So, the Cap’n, which is mostly sugar, needs something to stick to. Solution:  dip the chicken in flour THEN the liquid, creating a starchy base for the Cap’n to stick to.

Having a coating on your chicken makes it more difficult to see when your chicken is fully cooked. As a rule, you want the outside of the Cap’n Chicken to be crispy golden brown when it’s taken out of the oil, so to make sure you have fully cooked chicken before your Cap’n starts to burn, (and it might because it’s a sugar in oil) the shape of your chicken is important.

Some adaptations of this recipe also use Kellogg’s Corn Flakes in addition to Cap’n Crunch, like Planet Hollywood’s. Here’s a link to that recipe on cdkitchen.com

I like to slice chicken breast so it’s about  ¾ inch thick. (You can buy chicken already cut this way in the poultry section of your supermarket.) You can cut into strips for easy finger food fun, or make them the size of your palm, it’s up to you.

Dip chicken in flour, then in an egg/milk mixture, and toss around in crushed Cap’n Crunch (almost a powder consistency, anything coarser will tend not to stick.)

Your oil should be on medium heat, and be a ¼ to ½ inch deep in your frying pan. Test your oil before putting your chicken in first, a piece of Cap’n dropped into the oil should crackle. Nothing is worse than trying to fry chicken in cold oil. It should take about 1 ½ to 2 minutes for each side of the chicken. If you have a splatter screen, use it. Lay chicken on a few layers of paper towel to soak up excess oil before eating.

Now, let’s get saucy. Yes, it will turn out pink. Yes, it will be an explosion of flavor in your mouth. Do not have qualms on eating your chicken with a sauce that is pink. Penne alla Vodka is “pink” too.

Cap'n Sauce Prep

Cap’n Sauce

1  T. Dijon mustard
2T. Red wine vinegar
2 T. Honey
Splash of lime juice
2 T. lemon olive oil (You can find it at Wegman’s)
1 t. soy sauce
1 t. grenadine (I like Rose’s brand)
Salt and pepper

Mix all of the above together in a bowl, and stirring fast with a balloon whisk constantly, emulsify ½ c. vegetable oil in.

I didn’t know what it meant at first either, so here it is:
Emulsify: to blend together liquids that are water-based with liquids that are oil-based. If you passed high school chemistry you know that oil is denser than water, and when the two are poured into the same container, will not mix. Unless… you persuade them. Mayonnaise is an emulsion.

The salad you see is a simple spinach, yellow pepper and tomato drizzled with a red wine vinegar and olive oil dressing.

Photos by Devon Cioffi

For the undeveloped tastes, from the kid to the collegiate

Let’s face it, our parents tried their best to keep us on track and eating right when we were still young and malleable. Then it happened… Somewhere between recognizing the Pink Power Ranger on a box of fruit snacks (yes, I was a 90s child) and trading the bag of Doritos for a Dunkaroos at the lunch table in 5th grade–we developed our own tastes.
Somehow, with some, this taste has evolved very little, and still made its way into the collegiate arena. Mini fridges stuffed with frozen, processed chicken nuggets and stacks of EasyMac lining the bookshelves,  its disappointing. Colleges don’t ask, “Hey, what did you have for dinner last night?” on applications. Wouldn’t it be nice though?

As a former picky-eater, I’d like to say, the broadening of a palette is a life skill, like playing poker and driving manual transmission. My father used to ask me what I was going to do when I was 16 and a boy took me to a restaurant on a date. I couldn’t very well say, um… pasta, with sauce on the side? (Mind you, I was 10.) I couldn’t let that happen, I liked boys much more than I liked pasta.

So the question remains of what happens if one of these primitive palettes comes over to hang out? (Moms: this goes for you too!)

The psychology behind picky eaters has been a topic of puzzlement for moms since…well, the beginning of time. To reach an answer to this problem, remember these things: texture, simplicity, and familiarity. Sometimes, we simply don’t like the texture of what we eat. I know I hated meatloaf because I could never chew it to the point of my being comfortable with swallowing it, and by then the taste was gone. So to combat this problem is to simply change up the texture. If they don’t like your tomato soup because it’s chunky, toss it is a blender, and over time don’t pureé it as well until you don’t have to do it anymore.

Next, is the simplicity problem. Imagine you’re looking at a plate of nachos. Everything but the kitchen sink is on these nachos. You like X, Y, and Z on your nachos because you know its what you like. Suddenly, you get OCD. Oh no! These can’t be good nachos. They got messed up! (Think like a 10 year old…)

Last is familiarity, we’ve touched on this in the previous two. Kids like to stick to what they know. So when they get the impromptu courage to taste something new, do NOT make it a big deal. Especially at a restaurant. Having them assist in the kitchen can help too. Involving them in the cooking process will help them understand exactly what they are eating, and its like Toto ripping the green curtain away, revealing the man behind the “Wizard.”

Or you can just be sneaky about it and dangle social humiliation over their heads, like Dad.

So if what they like is chicken nuggets and EasyMac then bring it on.

Food trends to look for in 2010

I’ve got the Food Network on, and in the commercial they cut to a shot of a chef putting Sriracha sauce into a blender. Can’t miss it, it’s a very distinctive bottle.

Sriracha sauce

Sriracha is a sweet, garlic and chili pepper sauce, also known as “rooster sauce.” Invented by David Tran, a Vietnamese immigrant in California, who found a way to make an Asian version of the American tradition Heinz 57 ketchup brand. Its uses are so numerous, any food that could use a little heat added could use Sriracha. This may include things you’d never have thought to add spice to… ice cream? Sriracha sauce is certainly on its way to becoming inducted in the Condiment Hall of Fame. Get to know Sriracha: here

We’ve seen the Food Network’s attractive chefs and cleavage-baring cheffettes Cough!GiadaCough! But with the release of Julie & Julia, America realized cooking is really about substance over glam. Good food is better than pretty food. This, in combination with the recent recession, “flair” in food has gone to the wayside. So it’s “back to basics.” This favors amateur cooks like me. Yay!

Nothing better than old-school American comfort food. For instance, apple crisp, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, and chicken soup. Look for new ways to change up this good ol’ stuff. (Maybe with some Sriracha? Hint!)

Another trend we can look forward to seeing is greater support for the local farmer’s stand and small-scale food markets like Trader Joe’s. If you have Trader Joe’s near you and haven’t gone. Go. Write that down. In the warmer months, Jersey tomatoes and corn are a slice of heaven. There’s a farmer’s stand down the road from campus! You bet I’m going to be headed there once it opens.

Trader Joe's

Remember when you were in school, waiting in line for lunch? Did you ever wonder where it came from? Were you unsure, and made you uneasy? In 2010, we ought to be aware of where our fresh food comes from and the methods used to produce it. I’m not talking about putting yourself in a cage, body paint and a cardboard sign in order to find out. Read you labels if you don’t know, ask the guy behind the deli counter.  By law, “All meats, fish, and fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables must be identified by their country of origin, whether by a sticker, a sign, a placard or a label.” You’ll often see produce labeled with the state that grew it, like– “Florida Oranges,” “Idaho Potatoes,” or “California Grown”. This is due to the state’s initiative to advertise it that way. Read more here.

Now, go forth. Do a cabinet audit.

Freak Weather Conditions Will Affect Produce Prices

Florida has been experiencing January the way we mere mortals do up here in the northeast. Ha ha ha! As a result, we all can expect our produce, like oranges, tomatoes, and cucumbers, to go up in price. Boo.

Read all about it: Florida Freeze

Hopefully, I will not have to say goodbye to my signature comfort food, cucumber sandwiches, until spring.

Review of Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc At Home

The quality of a cookbook depends on who you ask. I’m told this is the hot new cookbook. On Amazon.com, it’s on back-order until February 2, and you can hardly find it in any bookstore for the same reason. Though, friends of the family saw it on the sale rack at BJ’s for $25 (a steal when you see the retail value!) and snatched it up. (Start the car! Start the car!)

At Hoc At Home - Thomas Keller

I was intrigued by what it said on the back, “…a big collection of family meals and everyday staples, delicious approachable food, recipes that are doable at home. No immersion circulator required. No complicated garnishes. I promise!”

Sounds like my kind of chef! But careful, first impression are hardly ever correct!

In the first section “Becoming a Better Chef” he describes tools, techniques and ingredients that even I can put to use. For example, there is so much I didn’t know about how to use salt. So here’s what I’ll do when I learn something new:

Lesson One: “Salt steaks, chops, and other smaller cuts 15-20 minutes before cooking them…”
Lesson Two: “Salt enhances flavors that are already there–if you can taste the salt in the dish, it’s too salty.” (Page 5)

This is the part that particularly concerns me. “If you don’t have good kitchen tools, you have to be a more skilled cook to compensate for that.” Right you are, guv-na!

My pots and pans, with the exception of the fallen All-Clad, were purchased at the local secondhand store. My hand-tools? Picked up on sale from the grocery store aisle. I didn’t go to Gourmet Chef, but then I don’t believe I need to. It’s possible to make amazing food without the designer kitchen.

So, in light of that, Keller says I need to be prepared. I have knives, cutting board, pots and pans, which he deems necessary. Although, I am without the “Big Four”, a Vita-Mix (very powerful blender), a standing mixer, a scale, and food processor. He even uses a blowtorch on prime rib roast on page 56! What?!

As I flip through the recipes, I WANT to make everything. I have no doubt in my ability to say, flip a potato pancake a la Julia Child with the “courage of my convictions,” but for a cookbook that is supposed to be “approachable” this looks beyond my means. If I had the twine to wrap a boneless pork cutlet I would! Piment d’Espelette isn’t exactly something I have ready-to-go in my cabinet either. I’m glad the internet can’t “hear” my blog, because I totally fudged Piment d’Espelette.

[Pause button] When I don’t know something, I find out. There might be someone reading who doesn’t know French either.

Lesson Three: Piment d’Espelette is pretty much French chile powder. Similar to paprika, which you can substitute with. Piment d’Espelette means “Pepper of Espelette,” a town in southern France.

So, Ad Hoc At Home is an amazing cookbook to flip through. As I looked and read, I wanted to try everything in it! Cheffies and foodies alike are drooling over this book for good reason.

However, I now feel much like I did when I was 14. At Christmas I had wanted a particular coat, very chic and high fashion from Anthropologie very badly. To my excitement, I opened the box and there it was! I put it on and being honest with myself it fit but it didn’t, fit. I was too young for it. This beautiful coat belonged on the shoulders of some fabulous woman much older than I was. So the coat stayed in the closet for years afterward.

This cookbook is much like my coat. Perhaps when my kitchen is older, and I am out of college and have a food processor? I’ve taken ideas from it and plan on applying them in my wee kitchen. Other online reviewers seem to agree Keller’s recipes sometimes require preparation a day ahead of time, and when you work, and have a family, that can be difficult to fit in. The book takes home cooking to a more professional level. I’ve learned a lot from it, but just can’t do it all right now.