Follow me on Twitter

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Think Like A Chef - Braised Short Ribs

This was an interesting lesson in the Think Like A Chef Series.  It took me out of my comfort zone, which is good for me, but I have to say it was a bit time consuming.  And starting and stopping on Saturday and re-starting on Sunday was quite interesting as well.

The first step in braising short ribs is to make two chicken stocks.  The first is a white chicken stock, which would then be used to make a brown chicken stock.  My butcher saved 5 ½ pounds of chicken bones for me.  I supplemented that with some chicken wings.

Now I should say that I have always wanted to make stock because everything I have read, heard, etc. was how much better homemade stock is.  We’ll see…I use a pretty good product called Kitchen Basics, and it is, of course, gluten free.

Now, the first step in making a while chicken stock, according to Tom Colicchio, is to rinse the bones, get as much fat off of them as you can, boil the bones for just a couple of minutes, and then pour out all of the water.  The reason being, no matter how much you skim the top, you will never get rid of all the blood, and coagulated proteins, etc.  Unfortunately, after I did this, I noticed a puddle on the floor.  I thought I had spilled some of it, but as I was cleaning it up, I realized I didn’t spill any of it; my garbage disposal had sprung a leak.  We needed it fixed right away because I was cooking and Cathy was going to be doing a lot of baking over the weekend.

So, $525 later…

I went out and bought 8 pounds of chicken wings.  It was here that I realized that taking the skin off of a chicken wing is near impossible.  Tons of video on You Tube about how to skin a leg…nothing on the wing.  So, I took off as much as I could…which wasn’t a whole lot.

In any case, I boiled four pounds of the wings for two minutes, poured out the water, and simmered the wings for an hour.  I skimmed the top every 10 minutes or so.  Then, after an hour, I added an onion chopped into quarters, a roughly chopped carrot, two roughly chopped celery stalks, a bay leaf, some peppercorns, and the white part of two leeks.

Now, in the past, I have avoided cooking with leaks for fear of giving my wife food with dirt in it.  I know, what’s the big deal?  Just wash it!  I guess it was just something that gave me pause.  However, once I did it, it was really no big deal.  I cut off the green part, and then cut the white part down the middle and submerged it in water, then separated the pieces.  Really, I don’t know what I was so scared of.

Anyway, I cooked that for 15 minutes, and then I add a few sprigs of flat leaf parsley and a few sprigs of thyme, and cooked for 5 minutes.  And there you have white chicken stock.

The next step was to create a brown chicken stock.  Essentially, this is the same technique with a few exceptions.  You must brown the bones being careful not to burn them; otherwise, the stock will be bitter.  Also, instead of covering the bones with water, you cover them with the white chicken stock you just made, and you add some tomato paste.  Also, you add all of the vegetables at once, and you also add rosemary.  Then you strain the stock and put it back on the heat until it is reduced by half.
So it was quite easy to do, but it was time consuming.

Now, finally, on to the short ribs.

First, I preheated my oven to 350 degrees.  Two tablespoons of peanut oil went into my Dutch oven, and when it came to temperature, I added (in two batches) a total of 4 pounds of short ribs, with each rib cut in half. (Eight ½ pound pieces).  The reason this must be done in batches by the way, is because if the pan is too crowded, you end up steaming instead of searing.  The short ribs were, of course, seasoned with salt and pepper. 

After the ribs had been seared, I removed them from the Dutch oven and added a chopped onion, one chopped carrot, one chopped celery stalk, three cloves of garlic, and two sprigs of thyme.  I cooked this for five minutes or so, and then I was supposed to add eight cherry peppers.  I was a bit worried about this making the dish overly hot.  Why?  I had never actually tasted a cherry pepper so I ate one, and it was pretty hot, so I cut the cherry peppers down to six.  Then I cooked all the vegetables together for another ten minutes or so.

I then added the short ribs back into the pot, put in ½ cup of sherry vinegar, and then added the brown chicken stock I made, just high enough to come up over the sides, but not covering the short ribs. 

Next, I brought the braising liquid up to a simmer, added some tarragon and three more sprigs of thyme, and put it in the oven for an hour.  After an hour, I turned all the ribs, and continued to cook them for 1 ½ hours more.

While that was cooking it was time to think about side dishes.  It seems there is an overall consensus on line that there are two really good matches for short ribs.  Polenta and mashed potatoes.  I love mashed potatoes, so I went with a garlic mashed potato recipe from Anne Burrell.  She uses Yukon gold potatoes (which I love) and, rather than roasting the garlic, she just throws raw garlic into the water that the potatoes are boiling in.  The garlic is then pressed through a ricer (which is my tool of choice for mashed potatoes) along with the potatoes.  This produces a very slight garlic flavor, rather than a heavily roasted garlic flavor.  I didn’t know if I would like it like that, but as it turns out, I liked the slight hint of garlic flavor, rather than having it hit me over the head.  Then, of course, add butter and cream.  I opted for evaporated milk instead of the cream…though with the butter and short ribs, I’m not sure why I bothered to think about calories.

Now, as that was finishing, I took the Dutch oven out of the oven, and removed the short ribs and the cherry peppers.  I skimmed the fat off the braising liquid, reduced it a bit, and then added back the ribs to heat through.  The recipe actually called for adding the peppers back in, but I chose not to.  Then I served everything.

There are a few things that I have cooked that I think are really, really good.  Shrimp over pasta with warm remoulade sauce.  Seared scallops with a white bean puree.  This dish goes right to the top of the list.  The short ribs were fall-off-the-bone tender, with a good amount of heat from the cherry peppers, but not overpowering.  The fattiness of the meat was cut by (I think) the acid from the sherry vinegar, and they were full of flavor.  The mashed potatoes were also extremely good.  This was comfort food to the max.  A really good meal on a cold winter day.

Now, a couple of notes. 

First, I think one mistake I made was not having a second side dish that was crunchy to add texture to the overall dish, because, obviously, both the meat and the potatoes have a soft texture.  Perhaps even something as simple as a small side salad would have done the trick.

Second, I’m not sure how much better the dish was by using the homemade stock rather than the Kitchen Basics stock.  That stock is pretty good, in my opinion.  I’d be interested to know what others think.

Third, for better presentation, I should have cleaned the side of the plate.

Last, there was not a lot of liquid left in the pot, so I am thinking I need to buy an oven thermometer to make sure when my oven says 350 degrees, it really is 350 degrees.

Next up:  Braised Pork Belly

Monday, December 24, 2012

Restaurant Review - The Friendly Toast

Do you remember that person who you used to go out with that everyone loved?  Everyone except you?

Oh, you liked them well enough.  They were perfectly nice.  All your friends and family absolutely adored them.  They loved them so much, they figured this person was for you.  And as hard as you tried…there was just something…missing.

That’s how I feel about the Friendly Toast.

Now granted, I have just gone for breakfast.  Maybe the rest of the menu works.

When you walk in, there is a very funky vibe.  For instance, there is a huge Barbie, cool things hanging on the walls, etc. And when you see the menu, you think there are going to be a lot of interesting flavor combinations.  My kind of place!

Well…it is…but it isn’t…exactly...

First, all of their pancakes, other than the pumpkin pancakes, can be made gluten free for $1.00 extra.  I think this is perfectly acceptable.  Being somewhat of a traditionalist when it comes to pancakes, I ordered the blueberry pancakes.  They were good, don’t get me wrong.  Nothing wrong with them.  But I have tasted better at other places, including the pancakes Cathy makes.  Perhaps the King Cakes that are made with bananas, chocolate chips, and peanut butter are great.  They may well be.  You should try them if you like that sort of thing for breakfast.  Just not for me.

When you get past the griddle type of things, you come to some very interesting breakfast combinations.  I tried the Mexican Mashed Meal.  This is a combination of spicy mashed potatoes, chorizo, fried eggs, with chipotle sauce.  This is the kind of meal that I always go for.  And it was good.  Again, nothing wrong with it.  It just wasn’t something that would make me go back again and again.  In fact, as I was eating it, I was thinking how good this would be as separate components, because as much as I was hoping they would go together, it just didn’t work for me.

I have also tried the eggs benedict, as they allowed me to substitute a Glutino  English muffin for their own.  Again, it was good.  But…

I should add that the service has always been good.

I really want to love this place.  And when I get bored going to my normal breakfast spots, I’m sure I will go back to try things like the Costa Rican, or their famous Sklarmageddon.  I am hoping one of those dishes will make me fall in love with them. 

But for now, I just think we should be friends.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Think Like A Chef Breakthrough!

I had originally intended this post to be a restaurant review.  I’m way behind on those.  But, I kind of had a “Think Like A Chef” breakthrough.

Last week, I was going to braise short ribs, but didn’t have the right ingredients, so instead, Cathy said, “Well, get a turkey breast and I’ll cook that.”  When I got to the store, the only turkey breasts they had were frozen.  That’s when the following conversation between me and myself took place:

 “Well, I guess I’ll just buy a cooked chicken later tonight.” 

“Wait a minute…what are you doing all these Think Like A Chef blogs for, if you aren’t going to use what you learn?  Cook something.”

“You don’t have a recipe.  Buy a cooked chicken.”

“What have I learned so far?  Mostly roasting.  I’ll roast a chicken.  I don’t need a recipe.”

“No recipe?  C’mon Mike….I mean….you can’t cook without a recipe.  Cook without a recipe??  You may as well ask Hubert Keller to hire you as his sous chef.”

“Now wait a minute.  I can’t actually ask Hubert Keller to be his sous chef…at best he’d make me a dishwasher, and I’m way too old to start a new career as a dishwasher, and anyway, I’m sure the pay isn’t very good.  But…I can actually roast a chicken without a recipe…so I’m gonna do that.”

And here are the results:

I bought a five pound chicken.  First step…into the cavity went thyme and rosemary.  That was the way Colicchio did it in the book, and the way I did it last time.  But I also decided to add half of a small onion, a couple of baby carrots and a small piece of celery as well.  My thought process here was that, many times I see people roast chickens on top of a mirepoix, so I thought, why not get some aromatics from them?

Next, trussing the chicken.  Not perfect…but better!

Next, dry the skin like crazy!  I think I went through ½ roll of paper towels drying the skin.

Then came the seasoning.  This time, I got under the skin and seasoned it with salt and pepper.  Also did the top of the bird.  Next, I browned the sides for seven minutes each, and then it went into a 375 degree oven for twenty minutes, before adding the butter/olive oil product, and basted occasionally.  Total cooking time in the oven was 75 minutes as this was a five pound bird.

Uhhh....I guess you can tell where we tried the was crispy!!

After I took it out, I steamed some broccoli, but left it ever so slightly crunchy.  Just to give it some mouth feel.

Then I plated the breast, leg, and broccoli and finished it with sea salt.

The skin was crispy.  (Cathy and I treated ourselves to a small piece.)  The chicken was incredibly juicy and full of flavor.  The broccoli was also a very good compliment to the chicken.


Now…onto those short ribs…

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Think Like A Chef - Braised Haddock

The first step in braising haddock is to make the lemon rosemary vinaigrette.  The ingredients are pretty simple - just white vinegar, lemon juice, rosemary, salt, pepper, and olive oil.  The main thing to remember when making vinaigrette is to whisk and drizzle in the EVOO slowly, so it doesn’t break.  Simple.

Step two was to prepare the Brussels sprouts.  I had a choice here.  I could save myself a bit of time and get the Brussels sprouts that were already in a bag, or I could take them off of this…branch?  I went with the branch.  First, the bagged Brussels sprouts really wouldn’t save me that much time, and quite frankly, the ones on the branch looked a heck of a lot fresher.

Isn't this cool?

I went with the Brussels sprouts because I had only had them once before, and didn’t like them, so I wanted to see if I could improve on what I had eaten.  Also, they are a fall / winter vegetable, so I thought it would be a good fit.  And, aside from all that, they are pretty healthy.  Low calorie, good amount of fiber, and they offer protection against prostate, colon, and endometrial cancers.  You can read about them on the “Nutrition and You” website here.

After taking them off the branch, you need to peal the outer leaves until the lighter green leaves appear.  Then, simply put some extra virgin olive oil on them, along with some Kosher salt and fresh pepper, and roast them in a 400 degree oven.  One note here:  Last time I roasted vegetables, you may remember I felt I used too much oil, because they came out greasy.  This time I only used 1½ tablespoons and it was the perfect amount.  I actually combined two recipes for this: a Paula Dean recipe and an Ina Garten recipe.

Now, as for the fish, the first step was roasting a red bell pepper, so I put it on the burner until the skin had started to burn and then I put it into a zip top bag, so the skin would loosen.  Then I took the skin off, cut off the top, took out the seeds, and then cut the pepper into strips.
Next, I peeled a lemon.  First time I ever did that, and it came out pretty good.  Then I cut the lemon into segments.

Now, as for the actual cooking, first I had to get the skin on the fish crispy, so I cooked it in a tablespoon of EVOO over medium heat.  3½ minutes later, the fish gave itself up and I took it out of the pan.  Quite frankly, I still don’t have the crispy skin thing right.  I need to keep working on that.

Then, I took the fish out, wiped the pan out, and let it cool slightly.  Then, in went the bell pepper and the lemon segments, and the lemon-rosemary vinaigrette, but just enough to come up the sides of the pepper strips.  Then I nestled the fish into the vinaigrette and brought the heat up to a simmer.  All the while, I was also turning the Brussels sprouts.

Two problems: First, the skin is not crispy. Second, corn starch got into the picture.

Time to eat.  First, I took out the Brussels sprouts and put them in a bowl.  They were a bit browner than I would have liked, but I looked at some videos of roasting Brussels sprouts on YouTube, and for the most part, they were brown and not green.  Not as attractive as I had hoped...I roasted them for 35 minutes…I think 30 would have been fine. Once in the bowl, I sprinkled some chopped lemon zest on them.

I plated the fish…one piece flat and then the second piece leaning up against it, and put the Brussels sprouts next to them.  I then poured a bit of the cooked vinaigrette, the lemon segments, and the bell pepper strips onto the fish.

How did everything taste?  Well, the fish was flakey and moist, but still was ever so slightly firm.  Definitely a nice lemony flavor, with just a little contrast from the bell pepper.  Cathy ate every bite, so I consider that a success.

As for the Brussels sprouts, I liked them.  They were a bit crunchy on the outside, and soft, but not mushy on the inside, with a slight lemon taste that came from the vinaigrette and the lemon zest.  Cathy however, was not a fan.  I would eat them again, but I don’t think I would go out of my way to eat them.  Still, I’m glad I tried them.

This meal was approximately 351 calories, 14.3 grams of fat of which all but 3 grams were from the EVOO, so it was good fat.