Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Challenge, the first.

So a couple weeks ago I instituted a challenge system to try and make this blog a little more interesting and challenging for me.  So on a semi regular basis, I'm thinking weekly, I elicit a list of ingredients from some of my friends and then use those ingredients to make a dish.  If it comes out good the challenge is a success, if it comes out bad then its a fail.  This evaluation system may need to be reworked at some point but I'm out of ideas at the moment so it will have to come at a later date.

The ingredients for this week were, thyme, cumin, pearl onions, duck, and brown sugar.  So in the end i decided to kind of cheat and make a pairing of dishes so this week I made french onion soup and duck al'orange.
So, the first thing I did to start off this challenge was to start the soup going, because i figured it would take a while to just chill out on the burners and cook.  This required first skinning and cutting all the pearl onions, which since they are very small it took alot of them to get the requisite amount of onion, and this in turn took a good amount of time.  After they were all chopped I just threw them into the pan and let them caramelize a bit before putting them in the pot with the beef stock and thyme.
The stock did get supplemented several times over the course of the cooking, firstly by the addition of some thick cut hardwood smoked bacon and its accompanying fat, and lastly by the fat that was rendered from the duck breasts as they seared.
After the soup was happily bubbling away I started the sauce to cooking.  This was just a simple affair of orange marmalade, white wine vinegar, cumin, and some peach schnapps.  Mix it up until it is all homogenous and then reduce it down under medium to medium-low heat until it sticks to a spoon and is at the thickness you want.  You should also taste it throughout to make sure it is coming out how you want adding more sugar or liquid as needed to get the desired sauce.
Those pictures are mostly of the croutons I made out of a mini baguette and some mozzarella cheese as I was a bit pre-occupied at this stage of the cooking and neglected my photo-documentation duties.

The duck was the scariest part because they were frozen, that and i had never cooked duck in any way shape or form before this and I had NO idea what I was doing.  I started by putting the duck on a hot pan skin side down, as the instructions on the box told me to do, and yes the duck came in a box.  The thing with ducks are that they are fat fat fat birds and have alot of fat stored in the area between their skin and the meat.  Because of this alot of fat will render out of the meat and will fill the bottom of the pan, I simply poured the fat out of the pan and into the soup to fortify it with yummy duck fat.  Again ducks are very portly creatures and this had to be repeated another two to three times and all the fat had not rendered out, which actually was nice as it made the meat nice and juicy and gave a pleasant texture to the finished product.  I gauged how many times to empty the fat just by checking the skin each time I drained the fat and when the skin was golden and crispy I flipped them over onto the not skin side to finish cooking. 
When all was said and done I put the duck on a place and put sauce over it and then just served the duck alongside the soup.  The two paired ridiculously well, and the addition of the cumin to the sauce added a very interesting dimension to the orange sauce which I think really made the duck extra special, especially since it was my first time cooking it.  All in all I feel safe in saying that this challenge was a great success.

Beef of the Thatched Roof Cottage

So this began as an attempt to make chinese takeout style beef that was supposed to be super super spicy.  In the end it turned out not to be nearly as potent as I had anticipated it would be so it was downgraded from Trogdor level spiciness to beef of the thatched roof cottage.  General Trogdor's chicken actually was realized and will be posted soon, like in an hour or so as this blog has become incredibly backlogged.

So down to the cooking.  I started with some beef, a simple cheap cut which I cubed out into strips with my santoku knife and then lightly floured and then seared to give the outside a crust like texture.

To cook the beef I literally just floured it and then dropped it in a pan of hut butter to sear and get a nice crust.  After that I just piled it all on a plate and then drizzled the sauce over it for presentation.

The sauce was actually alot simpler than I had first thought.  I took a jar of blackberry preserves and combined that in a small pot with some soy sauce, white wine vinegar, and wasabi powder.  I thought that the wasabi powder would give the sauce a pretty good kick but as it cooked and reduced down apparently so did the potency of the wasabi.  Ultimately I just let it reduce until it was thick but still a liquid, if it starts not wanting to pour smoothly off the spoon.  The hardest part of this dish was the haphazard attempt i made at a crushed peanut topping.  Apparently if you put a bunch of peanuts into a plastic bag and then strike them with a frying pan, they band together, forming some sort of blunt force trauma mutual defense pact.  But it added a little pizazz to the finished dish so if you have the time/patience/implements to easily pulverize some peanuts to top the beef, then more power to you.  If not the beef was still delicious.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

First Entry- Stuffed Pork Chops


So for the First real entry in this blog I wanted to do something beyond my ordinary repertoire.  That and i really wanted to play with my new knives as i just received them this week and I can now safely say that there is a world of difference between these new knives(Henckels) and my old knives.

Originally I had wanted to make stuffed chicken breasts, but as I rolled ideas around in my head I really wanted to do something with red curry and but didn't have the time or energy to research how to do it properly.  So in wandering about the Stop & Shop for inordinately long periods of time inspiration and weekly sales eventually yielded the ideas behind this dish, which on some level was also inspired by "The Luggage" from Terry Pratchett's Discworld series (In my minds eye the chops looked a little like suitcases when they were wrapped in the bacon.).  Anyway enough preliminary stuff, onto the cooking!

The first phase of the prep for me was to start some rice in the rice-cooker.  I use a 3 cup Zojirushi, which rocks, and it is super easy as you just set it and about 50 minutes later it is ready to go.  So I started with 2 cups of sushi rice, I just personally prefer sushi rice to long grain but the rice is really secondary at best so whatever grain you prefer should work fine.  Then start in on prepping the apple and mushroom for later.  I diced them relatively finely to aid in the stuffing later on.  After you have them chopped i just threw them into a pan to sweat and develop a little flavor.  I didn't use any butter or olive oil for this and things turned out pretty great.  The mushrooms will start to sweat and take on a nice sheen after a minute or two in
 the pan, I took them off the heat right as they were starting to accumulate liquid in the pan and you could clearly smell the mushroom's fragrance.  The apples i just threw in to get some quick caramelization on them to lock in the sweetness and so they would keep a little of their texture into the baking process.  I took the apples off the heat as soon as they started getting a little soft and were showing some color.  Now that the prep is done the hard part commences.

In my opinion the hardest part of this entire enterprise was cutting the pocket into the chop itself.  This is where it helps to have a nice sharp knife as you want to make the first cut in and slice all the way to the back of the chop to really get as much area as you can for the stuffing pocket.  Once you have the knife in just drawn it to the other side of the chop using your hand that is holding the chop to feel where the point of the blade is so you can keep it on course.  Once you have the pocket cut it is just a matter of stuffing the chop however you like.  I put in a small piece of butter at the innermost part of the pocket, in retrospect I would not recommend this as it didn't help develop any flavor at all.  That and I only used one of the two apples that I had prepped for stuffing the pork.  In the future I would use both apples as a higher proportion of apples adds ALOT of flavor to the dish and opens the possibility to really play with that flavor profile and just have some fun, like maybe working some cinnamon into the dish (totally doing that next time).  Anyway, once you have the chop stuffed to your content I grated a little parm-reg onto it, which also proved extraneous as it was too little to truly impact the flavors at work in the dish.  Once your done filling the chop I used two toothpicks to pin the opening closed, and made sure to score the fat on the back of the chop.  Once the opening was closed then comes the bacon wrapping.  Essentially take whatever poison you prefer as far as bacon, for this I used some thick cut hardwood smoked bacon and wrapped it around the chop and then pinned it in place with a toothpick.  You may want to use more than two slices but I would offer this warning, that while the bacon is delicious, and it gives great flavor to both the chop and the rice underneath, yeah bacon flavored rice ::swoon:: , it comes with the drawback that it makes the final dish a little bit harder to cut and eat as a whole unit.  

So once the wrapping is done just place the chops on top of a bed of rice in a baking pan and throw it on in the oven.  I left it in for about 45-50 minutes at 400 and it came out pretty damn good.  This also gives you time to clean up the kitchen before sitting down to eat.

All in all I think the dish was a great success, the braeburn apples paired amazingly with the pork, and bacon makes ANYTHING better, especially in this case the rice underneath the pork which acted as the side dish, and is also highly flexible as to other ways you could possibly jazz it up, though not with Zatarain's.  This will definitely be a dish to repeat and honestly doesn't cost all that much to make and while it looks complicated is really pretty simple.  And this has proven to have gone on alot longer than i ever anticipated it would so I'm going to cut myself off, that and I'm hella tired and need to get up early for trial team tomorrow, peace.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Testing the formatting

Test Test, porcupines and walrii.  Smart foxes run across the moon at midnight while dancing with John Goodman.