Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Got the Gold

Been really busy the last couple weeks with a number of things. I went out to judge an amateur cooking competition for some great high school girls from all over the country that was held in Massachusetts two weeks ago. Then I had to drive up to Vermont to take the "written" test for my American Culinary Federation certification as a Certified Executive Chef, which I passed.

Then I started teaching last week on Wednesday and was getting ready for a culinary competition which I went to in St. Augustine, FL. I then drove down to Florida immediately after teaching on Wednesday. I took the opportunity during the drive to find some local BBQ restaurants on my way down. It was sort of a challenge though, as you saw from my last post about I-95.

The competition I was taking part in was an American Culinary Federation "market basket". The market basket is a sort of mystery basket competition. You go into the competition having no idea what the ingredients are going to be. There is a "common stock" of ingredients that one knows about ahead of time. This includes items like flour, salt, sugar, eggs, oil, wine, vinegar, vegetables, etc. The competition allows 30 minutes for creating a menu, then four hours for cooking and finally 30 minutes to plate-up.

The basket given at this competition included a large piece of tuna (about 3 lbs.), two large pieces of oxtail, and 15 quail. Many times we receive a number of vegetables, fruits and other items in the basket, but this basket was limited and required a notion of what was in the common stock in order to come up with a good four course meal, with ten portions for each course.

There were a number of challenges in this competition. My personal challenge was the kitchen I was working in. I was given four portable butane burners to cook on, with an oven, barely big enough to fit a half sheet tray in. This difficulty however seemed to work in my favor, along with the excellent apprentice that was given to me to work with. The other major challenge was a lack of stocks, but a good cook can over come this as well.

For my first course I used the tuna. I made a risotto Milanese, with the tuna pan-seared with some toasted, ground fennel seed and dried rosemary. The sauce I made by sauteing some carrot, celery, onion and garlic. I then added some tomato paste, caramelized again and deglazed with brandy and added some white wine, reduced and then added some heavy cream and simmered for about 30-45 minutes.

The salad course I made was a toasted caraway seed vinaigrette, which I tossed some salad greens in. I paired that with a number of vegetables that I prepared a la Grecque. I also made some blue cheese, pecan crackers.

I used the quail and oxtail for the entree. I brined the quail breasts and thighs, while I reserved the bones for making a sauce. I then smoked the quail with some cherry wood and seared the skin when ready to plate. The oxtail I braised in a pressure cooker, along with bacon, mirepoix, brandy, and red wine. For vegetable I cut obliques of carrots, simmered then until cooked through and then tossed them in butter and fresh oregano. The starch was a potato gnocchi with walnuts. I tossed the gnocchi in some concasse of tomato along with some fresh basil. Finally, the sauce was made from roasted onion, carrot, celery, shallot, leek and tomato paste. I then added that to the sauce pot with the roasted carcasses of the quail. I added equal parts port wine and white wine to the pot and reduced by half. I then added beef broth made from beef base to cover the bones and vegetables and simmered for about 1.5 hours. I then strained the sauce and thickened it with arrowroot.

My dessert was the chocolate cornmeal tart I wrote about the other day. I paired it with a zabaglione, honey tuile cookie and a strawberry frozen yogurt. I topped the chocolate tart with powdered sugar and a little lemon infused sea salt in the middle.

The final results came out pretty darn good. I ended up with a gold medal, which I had not won for this category before. I have won numerous silver medals for this category, along with a couple bronze medals, so I was very happy.

My next competition will be on March 17th. I will be entering a cold food category, for hor d'ourvres in Connecticut. It has been a busy couple weeks, I am in the second week of classes, and I am very behind in my studies for my thesis, but I should be caught up soon. Coming up most immediately though, I will be going out to visit SUNY Delhi to watch the ACF junior team championship for New York, should be a good time. The weekend after I am off to Akron, OH to apprentice judge one of my favorite competitions I have had the honor in the past to be a competitor in.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Driving Down I-95 Hungry

Have any of you ever driven down the east coast of the United States on I-95? I have taken this trip a number of times, most recently today actually to goto St Augustine, Florida. One truly gets to see the degeneration of American cookery when traversing this stretch of highway. Let's just say the word "cuisine" is a hard word to pronounce when taking the trip.

A number of times on my way down I popped in a request for restaurants in my GPS, hoping for some local flavor in different areas on my way down, certainly hoping for something more than fried chicken or hamburgers. I am not a fan of corporate manufactured foods as many of you know. This however, seems to be 99% of the offering within the first few miles of any exit on the trip down the coast.

I swear I saw a sign every ten miles telling me that there is a Cracker Barrel in another ten miles. Southern charm, with none of the charm or flavor, but hey you can buy a rocking chair off their front porch to pretend there is some charm there. The second "restaurant" I saw most often seemed to be Roy Rogers, with Burger King a close second. I always wondered why Burger King seemed to be most popular on the highway, where as McDonald's doesn't even seem to bother with highways or even some malls, but I digress.

Once you make it to the half-way point, Western Sizzler and Denny's seem to be off each exit, and a bit further down Waffle House is another "diner" that seems to have put the local ma and pa diners out of business. I typed in "deli/cafe" into the GPS and all that came up was Subway. I wanted a laugh, so I typed in Italian and got Pizza Hut, is Pizza Hut what we think of as Italian cuisine these days in America? Or is Pizza Hut the pizza equivalent of McD's?

Surely I thought I could get some good barbecue close to the highway. I typed in BBQ in North Carolina and I got a list with Duke's, Duke's and Duke's. Even BBQ is boil in bag now it seems. Luckily I saw on the list a place called Allen's Barbecue which seemed promising.

Allen's BBQ was in South Carolina, it was a 20 minute detour from the highway. I can't tell you the amount of restaurants I was barraged with on my way to find this place though. Lone Star Steak House, Applebees, TGI Friday's, Bob Evans, 99 Steak House, Texas Steakhouse and Salon (A little taste of Texas in NC?) and there were many many many more, doted in the path was obviously a WalMart or two as well.

I was so happy when I got to this place though. It was a little "hole-in-the-wall" place in a strip mall. I missed it on my first pass actually. Lots of locals in there, with one of those old peg boards listing their offerings of just smoked brisket, pork and chicken. They had a number of sides, including baked beans, fried okra, potato salad and the other BBQ usuals. Soda came in a politically incorrect Styrofoam cup and I got myself a Dr. Pibb. Nice southern hospitality, friendly people and the kitchen wasn't spit shined, nor was the dining room and the bathroom left a little to be desired, but ya know what, it wasn't a crappy white washed chain restaurant.

This is what road food used to be. Local people making great food for people on the road. Sharing a bit of love and soul with your fellow man/woman and showing a passion for cooking. Today the highways sell "food", in quotes because there are so many chemicals in the foodstuffs, that they hardly resemble their intended outcome.

So what my pulled pork and brisket have fat in them, yeah there was mayo on my potato salad as well. However, I knew exactly what was in my food and I could pronounce it. This trip really made me think about my thesis a bit and the direction of American cuisine.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

My Veal Stock Recipe

So I gave all of you my version of chicken stock the other day, we will take that post to the next step today with veal. Veal stock is probably the most popular stock made in fine dining restaurants. It is essential to French cuisine and is used for numerous soups and sauces.

Much like my version of chicken stock, this version of veal stock also has a lengthy simmering time. It is important to buy good quality veal bones. Marrow bones are best, that is the bones with exposed marrow. The knuckle bones aren't the best as they do not have enough exposed bones marrow. You might get great flavor, but you will miss out on the gelatin coming from the marrow which is vital for proper sauce viscosity. As with the chicken stock, there are two versions of the veal stock as well, I'll follow up the brown veal stock recipe with the white veal stock variation.

10 lbs. Veal bones, cut into 2 inch pieces
1/2 lb carrots, peeled and large diced
1/2 lb. celery, large diced
1 lb. Spanish onion, large diced
4 tablespoons tomato paste
1 leek
1 bunch parsley
4 sprigs thyme
2 bay leaves
8 peppercorns
1 cup red wine

1. Place veal bones in a large roasting pan and roast in a 375 degree oven for 45 minutes, or until the bones begin to become golden brown.
2. Place the onions, celery and carrots on top of bones and place back in oven and roast another 30 minutes or until the vegetables begin to brown.
3. Coat bones with tomato paste and place back in the oven again and roast until tomato paste until it starts to brown but do not let it burn, approximately 15 minutes.
4. Place bones and vegetables into a large stock pot along with remaining ingredients. Cover the bones with cold water and bring pot to a simmer.
5. While bringing the pot to simmer, place the roasting pan over a burner and add the red wine. Scrap the bits from the bottom of the pan using the wine to deglaze the pan, add wine and bits to the stock pot.
6. Once water comes to a boil, set to a low simmer, and skim the stock of scum and fat for the first two hours.
7. Leave stock pot on a very low simmer for about 18 hours. Periodically skim excess fat from the top of the pot and add water if necessary.
8. Remove pot from heat and strain stock through a fine sieve. Place into individual containers and store in the refrigerator for up to a week or the freezer for up to a month.

White Veal Stock Variation:
Skip the step for browning the bones and vegetables. Also omit the tomato paste and red wine. Place all ingredients into stock pot and cover with cold water. Continue through steps 6-8.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Making Stocks My Way

Someone recently asked me how I make stocks and then requested a post on stocks as it seems most chefs have differing methods on the preparation of stocks. Stock is an essential ingredient for many creations in a kitchen. Most often stocks are the base for soups and sauces. Stock is also important for creating those wonderful braised dishes we love to cook this time of year when it is cold outside. Stock is also a wonderful liquid to blanch vegetables in, along with steaming different foods as stock will add flavor.

Stock is certainly not that liquid found in the Swanson box in the soup section in the grocery store. There is nothing wrong with these products, but they are usually lacking in a few areas. First, they are broths, not stock. Broth is produced from meat, perhaps with bones as well. Meat does not contain the gelatin found in the bones of meat, poultry and fish. This means as the broth reduces it does not gain viscosity. In addition, many of the store purchased broths have salt added. This salt and many of the "odd" flavors found sometimes in broths are reduced and just make your sauce, soup or other dishes taste "off."

Stock is really easy to make at home, not to mention it also adds amazing scent to your home while they cook and once you cook with the real thing, you will kick yourself for making dishes with broth. So here I'll share with you a couple recipes for stock over the next couple days. Today I'll give you my chicken stock recipe. I'll get into veal, vegetable, seafood and shellfish the next few days. My times are a little longer than most other people's variations, but the extra time means extra flavor and natural gelatin.

Brown Chicken Stock:
5 lbs. Chicken bones (backs, necks, thighs, etc. meat removed)
1 onion, large diced
4 carrots, peeled and large diced
4 celery stalks, large diced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 leek, white and light green part only
2 cloves garlic
1/2 bunch flat leaf parsley
5 sprigs of time
3 bay leaves
8 peppercorns

1. place chicken bones in a large roasting pan and roast in a 375 degree oven until the turn golden brown, depending on the meat on the bones, size of bones, your oven, etc. this time will vary. Check the bones after 20 minutes, and see how the browning is going. If it needs more time, use your discretion, you just want golden brown though, no darker.

2. While the bones are browning, heat a large saute pan on the stove top over medium-high heat. Add a couple tablespoons of olive oil to the pan and then add the onions to the pan and saute until soft. Add the carrots and celery to the pan and saute again until soft and the onions begin to take on some color. Add the tomato paste and then saute for a few minutes and lightly caramelize.

3. Place the chicken bones, vegetables and remaining ingredients into a large pot and cover with COLD water. (Many people tie up the spices , herbs and leek to the side of the pot in some cheese cloth. I don't see the point as you will be straining the stock anyways). Place the empty roasting pan from the chicken bones over a stovetop burner and pour a cup of white wine in and scrap all of the bits off the bottom of the pan, add all of this to your stock pot. Heat to pot to simmer, don't boil.

4. Leave pot to simmer, for the first 1-2 hour skim off the "scum" and other impurities and fat that come to the top of the pot (This "scum" is protein and other stuff in the bones).

5. Leave the pot on simmer for 8-10 hours. You my need to add water to the pot, but make sure the pot is just barely simmering and the water is covering the bones. Once the time is up, remove from the heat, strain out all of the solids through a fine mesh strainer and pour stock into a large container. Chill th stock overnight and the next morning there will probably be a cap of solidified fat on top. Just pull this off and toss it out.

6. From this point you can put the stock into smaller containers and chill in the fridge for up to a week or freeze it for about 3-4 months tops. The freezer does funny things to food over low periods of time with all that opening and closing and shifting and what not.

Variation:White Chicken Stock

Do not brown the chicken bones, do not saute the vegetables and do not use the tomato paste or white wine. Place the chicken and other ingredients in the pot as before and cover with cold water and just follow the same process. This will give you a stock with lighter color and flavor.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Been Practicing a Dessert Dish

I've been getting ready for a culinary competition that is coming up in a couple weeks. The competition is called a market basket, but it is often called a mystery basket by competitors. The competition is four course, ten portions each prepared in four hours. When we go in, we have no idea what the "basket" will contain. Usually there will be some sort of meat, a type of poultry, fish and a number of vegetables and perhaps a starch.

There is also a "common-stock" of items we know will be available to us for preparing these items. This list ranges from common vegetables like onions, celery, carrots and garlic, along with some fruits, flour and sugar and the other general stuff you might expect to find in a well-stocked pantry.

Now most people I see compete in this category go in with almost no plan. They start off so over whelmed this way because they have to take the full 30 minutes to come up with a menu and then figure out what they are going to do with the items. I choose to have a template that I have made up and even have certain course pretty much planned with the menu changing by the addition of the ingredients in the basket.

One course I pretty much plan out completely is the dessert course. I enjoy coming up with desserts, but I am by no means a pastry chef. So I come up with a plan that utilizes ingredients from the common-stock and then plan to add in a fruit to one of the components in the course. I just came up with my new dessert today and I thought I would share it. I am preparing a chocolate polenta tartlet with zabaglione sauce, frozen yogurt (flavored with a fruit from the basket) served on a honey tuile cookie.

Chocolate Cornmeal Tartlets
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
4 oz. butter
1 each egg
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
zest from 1/2 a lemon

4 oz. bittersweet chocolate
4 oz. butter
2 each eggs
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons cornmeal
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Combine the flour, cornmeal, sugar and salt for the crust in a large mixing bowl and blend together well. Add the butter, egg, olive oil, vanilla and the lemon zest and mix until well combined. Dust the counter liberally with flour and roll out the dough until about 1/8 of an inch thick. Prepare ten 4 inch tartlet molds with olive oil spray or use non-stick pans. Cut the dough into ten sections and set in tartlets molds and remove the excess from the edges. Set pans in refrigerator until needed. (Note: you can also use one large tart mold with a removable bottom instead)

Place chocolate and butter in a bowl over simmering water until melted. While melting, place eggs, sugar, vanilla and a pinch of salt into a mixing bowl and beat on high speed until the mixture has tripled in volume. Once the chocolate is melted, fold the egg mixture into the chocolate. Then fold in the cornmeal and flour until completely combined.

Fill each tart shell with the filling. Place in the oven and bake for 15-17 minutes if using small tartlet molds. If using a large tart pan bake for 23-25 minutes or until top begins to crack. Remove from oven, chill on rack for at least 30 minutes and then remove from pan.

Frozen Yogurt
Makes 32 oz.
16 oz. plain yogurt
6 oz. fruit juice or puree
6 oz. granulated sugar
1.5 oz. light corn syrup

Combine all ingredients in a bowl until throughly mixed. Place mixture into ice cream maker and freeze until firm. Place yogurt into a quart container and place in a freezer for at least an hour or until hard enough to serve.

5 oz. egg yolks
5 oz. granulated sugar
5 oz. marsala

Mix ingredients in a stainless steel bowl and place over a pot of simmering water and continuously stir with a wire whisk until thickened and the temperature reaches 180 degrees. Place the cooked sauce into a bowl and mix with an electric mixture until it reaches room temperature. Serve at either room temperature or chill.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Bobby Flay's Steak House

Hey everybody, so it's been awhile. I thought I'd give you a restaurant review from my trip down to Atlantic City which I went on for New Years Eve. I went to Bobby Flay's Steak house on the night of the 2nd. The restaurant in located in the Borgatta casino, which is one of the "newer" casinos in Atlantic City.

Bobby Flay's Steak House is one of a number of Chef Flay's restaurants, this one being the second steakhouse for him, the first being in Las Vegas. This got me thinking about the "third restaurant removed" from the original location. Many goto NYC to goto Mesa Grill, Flay's original restaurant, others vacation in Vegas and try out his west side dessert interpretation, so what happens when you goto the third city, Atlantic City, to try a chef's wares?

I'll tell you what happens, you get a show case dining room selling a chef's name under glass. I would've loved to talk positive about this restaurant, but it was missing everything I have had at Flay's restaurant in NYC as-well-as in Las Vegas. I won't say everything was "bad", but everything was not great.

The "joke" about the "chef's name under glass" wasn't so much a joke as it was a comment about the entire restaurant being encased in glass on one side, visible to a portion of the gambling crowd. The dining room itself though is worth looking at from the gambling room. A large high ceilinged room with a grand seating room to the left when you first walk in, then the main dining room to the left. The kitchen is to the back of the room when you first walk in, with some open air areas that are probably used in busy times, but being after New Years Eve, the room was slow. I can't tell you I was accepting of this though as even if you are slow, there should still be some "business" to attract more customers in, or entertain your guests there. "off season" should never be an excuse, take it from a person who is from a tourist town (Saratoga Springs, NY).

Earlier in the night I met a person who told me I just had to try to tuna tartare. As this is one of my favorite dishes I went for it. The dish was well prepared, a bit spicy, but the spice added to the flavor. For this version I would've liked a different "cracker" rather than olive oil toasted bread slices, but they weren't detracting., they just weren't southwestern.

As for entree, well we were in a steakhouse, and that was what we came for. We were told each steak is dredged in Flay's southwestern seasoning and seared on a grill to our desired doneness. I went with a rib-eye, my favorite steak, while accompanying guests had the strip steak and the mixed grill which had a fillet and lobster tail on it.

The steaks were all cooked perfectly, the seasoning was tasty, but I can't tell you it was all that different from any cajun blackening seasoning I have ever had. I would love to tell you the seasoning brought out something magical in the steak, but it really did the same as any other good blackening seasoning does, flavored the steak well and gave a good crust. Our sides were roasted asparagus (tasty), cauliflower and goat cheese gratin (sooo good) and truffled mushroom potatoes (anything with truffle oil is good).

For dessert my guests went for a creme brulee cheese cake, which didn't excite me. I went for a glass of Inninskillin ice wine and a double espresso, booze and caffeine, ahhh the way to a chef's heart. They just so happened to have my favorite ice wine as well, so I lucked out there.

So this was a good over all experience. I certainly would not deter people from going to the restaurant. I would however deter the person looking for a Bobby Flay experince. This is a "different" steakhouse experience. If you want to get away from Morton's, Gallaghar's, Grill 21, and the like, this is the place to go. Not to mention the smoking section for the casino is not to far away for you fellow cigar smokers (you can only smoke in a 25% by area location in casinos in Atlantic city now).

Bobby Flay Steak
Borgata Hotel and Casino
Atlanitc City, NJ 08401

Phone: 866-692-6742

Hours: vary by season, check website, http://www.theborgata.com

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