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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Think Like A Chef - Pan Roasted Sirloin

In order to Think Like A Chef, it seems to me an important thing to think about is ingredients.  In the past, I have been okay with using ingredients from grocery stores.  I mean, let’s face it:  It is much easier to go to your local grocery store down the street, rather than go hunting for fresher ingredients.  And even if you do find a farmers market, how do you really know where their food came from?  That being said, when the next recipe in Tom Colicchio’s book was for a pan roasted sirloin steak, something told me that better ingredients would make this taste better.

There is a small butcher shop in Winthrop that I have avoided going to because, the only time I had visited, it seemed to me that they were more interested in selling cold cuts than good meat.  But I figured, “What the heck, let me see what they have, if they don’t have what I want, I can go to Whole Foods.”  As it turns out, they had a beautiful 14 ounce sirloin steak.  I will have to take a closer look at them in the future!

Now, I know that part of my “quest” was to cook as low fat as possible.  The fact of the matter is this was basically unrealistic given the cut of meat.  Normally, I cook on Sunday.  I decided to do this on a Saturday, which is our “free day.”  Cathy and I eat super healthy Sunday through Friday, and then we indulge on Saturday. 

The ingredients were, again, very simple.  A 14 ounce sirloin steak cut that was an 1 ½ to 2 inches thick, cut in ½ so there would be two square medallions, some rosemary, peanut oil, salt, pepper, and butter.  I used the butter/olive oil spread. 

Now, in the past, whenever I have cooked a steak, I have seared the sides on high heat and finished it in the oven.  This called for pan roasting the entire steak on a burner, over medium heat.  I chose to use my cast iron skillet.  So, after bringing the steaks to room temperature, patting them dry, seasoning them, and letting the pan with the oil in it get hot, I cooked each side of the steaks over medium heat or slightly lower, so the oil would sizzle, not sputter.

After three minutes on each side, the directions called for me to brown the fat on the steaks.  I have to say, I’m not sure why I had to do this.  I tried to find something in the internet on it, but couldn’t find anything.  Was it to render some of the fat?  Was it simply for appearance?  I really don’t know so if anyone does know, I’d love for you to tell me.  In any case, we don’t eat the fat anyway.

Next the steak goes back on the side first cooked for another two minutes, adding the butter/olive oil spread, and continues to cook for a total cooking time of 13 to 15 minutes, basting occasionally.
Now the recipe called for two tablespoons of the butter.  I used 1 ½ tablespoons, and I think next time, I would even cut that down to 1 or maybe less.  While it did add flavor, I like my steak to taste like…well…steak.

In any case, I wanted the steaks to come out medium rare.  I use the “chin, nose, forehead” technique for testing doneness and at the 13 minute mark, it seemed as if I had slightly overcooked it to medium, so I got them out of the pan and let them rest for 10 minutes.

In addition, I got a comment on my last post about side dishes, and the writer suggested roasting some root vegetables.  So I got baby carrots, a potato, parsnips and a turnip, cut them up and roasted them with extra virgin olive oil and salt.  Ultimately, I should have cooked them on a higher heat than 350, and to be honest, I didn’t like the turnips or the parsnips, but on the other hand, I had never tried them before, so I am glad I tried them.

After waiting 10 minutes, I plated the steaks and the vegetables, and sprinkled a tiny bit of coarse sea salt over the steaks.  They were cooked a perfect medium.

This appears to be the end of the basic roasting technique.  Chicken, fish, and meat.  Now comes some slightly higher level roasting, including leg of lamb and salt-roasted salmon.  Should be exciting.
We will be busy over the next couple of weekends, so I may not get to that for couple of weeks, but I will try. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The North End Series Part 2 - Terramia

Our next visit to the North End took us to Terramia.  If you look at the Yelp ratings, they are pretty good for the most part, although this small restaurant doesn’t show up on many gluten free sites.

We were seated promptly and our waiter came over to take our drink order.  Cathy said it before I did.  “Excuse me, you don’t sound like you’re from Italy.”  In an English accent, he said, “No, no I’m not.  Now, How about some bangers and mash?  A nice Guinness will go with that, don’t you think mates?”

Ok, he actually didn’t say that.  He was really from England.  That part was true.  Not that it makes a difference, and we all had a good laugh, but that was the first time we ever visited the North End and were waited on by someone who wasn’t Italian.

On to the food.

The first course Cathy and I shared was the Capesante.  The three scallops were perfectly seared and just opaque in the middle.  A little sweet and just firm, this was a very nice starter. 

For my second course, I asked if the Chef could make two half portions of different items.  I got the gluten free Bolognese, and a special - pasta with shrimp and lobster.  That dish was good.  Nothing to write home about.  The shrimp and lobster were perfectly cooked as was the pasta, but I think it could have used something to brighten the dish…maybe some type of acid. 

As for the Bolognese, I thought it was quite good.  Thick and creamy, it was made with veal, pork and beef, along with San Marzano tomatoes.  The pasta was cooked perfectly al dente.  For me, it hit the spot.

The wine pours were quite generous, and we both were too full to have dessert.  The service was very good.

Overall, I liked Terramia, and I would recommend it to anyone visiting the North End.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Think Like A Chef - Pan Roasted Fish

The next cooking adventure in Thinking Like A Chef was Pan Roasted Fish.  This was going to be interesting, being that Cathy does not like fish. 

The ingredients are pretty simple.  The original recipe called for red snapper, but I could not find that.  The book said any firm white fish would do, so I went with haddock.  The skin was to be left on.  Other ingredients included peanut oil, thyme, salt, pepper, and butter.

Now, after my last entry, there were quite a few comments about butter and the butter product I used.  All the comments, by the way, were greatly appreciated.  I decided to do more research, and I came across a website called  There was an article about the best and worst butter substitutes.  I will give you one guess what they felt the worst one was.  EXACTLY!  I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter.  To quote from the website, “They all claim "zero trans fats" on the front label, yet their ingredients lists (sic) contain Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil - that's a code term for trans fats. What a scam!”  Hmmmm……..

Ok, what shall I use then?  After giving it much thought, and listening to everyone’s advice, I decided that, at least for this recipe, I would go with a butter product, but something that was more butter than product.  One of the products they recommended was Olivio spreadable butter.  It contains Sweet Cream, Canola Oil, Light Olive Oil, Salt, Flaxseed Oil and Natural Flavoring.  To quote the website, “This spread combines the best of both worlds - sweet cream plus healthy oils. It's also low in saturated fats and cholesterol - and contains no trans-fat!”

Of course, I went to the store and they didn’t have this.  Land O’Lakes makes something similar that had Sweet Cream, Olive Oil, and Salt.  Being that not much is going to be absorbed, this is what I decided to go with.  

Now, I made a major mistake.  I was to cook the fish skin side down to crisp up the skin.  I used the wrong pan.  I used a non-stick pan as you can see. 

They just don’t work for browning or crisping.  I made the decision to do this because I live in a condo and the fire alarms frequently go off.  The configuration of my stove is such that the regular burners are in the back, and there isn’t much room between the burner and the back of the stove.  On top of that, the vent we have is the bottom of the microwave so it doesn't exactly work very good.  That being said, I should have checked to see if the right pan would have fit back there, but I did not.  So I went with the non-stick, which I knew would fit.  Basically, I need a smaller fry pan and a better vent!

So in the peanut oil went, and heated up under medium heat.  When it was hot, I put in the fish.  One of the great lessons I learned in this chapter was heat control.  Colicchi says that as you hear the oil start to sputter, to turn down the heat so you only hear a sizzle.  So heat control was very important here.
About three minutes on each side, though a bit longer on the skin side. 

Then the better butter product (say that three times fast!) went in…I used two tablespoons, I could have cut that down by ½. Then cook for two more minutes on each side, occasionally basting the fish with the browning butter, all the while readjusting the heat as necessary.  When done, put the thyme on top of the fish, plate and drizzle the browned butter onto the fish.

I must say, the fish looked beautiful to me, and it tasted fantastic!  Not overcooked, juicy on the inside, firm, but not tough.  It must have been good, because Cathy ate the entire 6-oz piece!  A first!

As for the nutrition:  Again, figuring absorption of the peanut oil and the better butter product, I figure for a 6-oz fillet of haddock, 169 calories, 4.3 grams of total fat, 0 trans-fat.
So I learned a lot this time around.  I can’t wait to see what’s next!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Think Like A Chef - Roast Chicken

I cannot begin to tell you how many times I have tried to do something as simple as roasting a chicken.  It comes out over cooked, or worse yet, not cooked.  Roasting happens to be the first technique in Tom Colicchio’s book “Think Like A Chef”.  Of course, the first recipe is Roast Chicken. 

The recipe is simple enough.  One chicken 3 to 3/12 pounds, 2 sprigs of rosemary, two sprigs of thyme, a tablespoon of peanut oil, kosher salt, sea salt, pepper and 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter.


Remember, part of my challenge is to make this food as fat free as possible.  So, the question becomes, do I use “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” instead?  The pros and cons are pretty obvious.  Butter is all natural, the “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” is definitely not.  I’m not a huge fan of putting chemicals in my body.  On the other hand, I’m also not a big proponent of putting fat in my body.  The butter is used for basting the bird.  According to a blog that I found called, “An American Chef in London”, most of the basting liquid is not absorbed.  It is used to slow down the drying out process.  So less chemicals or less fat?

For every tablespoon, Land O'Lakes unsalted butter has 100 calories, 99 from fat.  That’s 17% daily allowance of fat and 35% daily allowance of saturated fat.  The butter “product” shows 100 calories, 17% daily fat allowance, but only 11% daily allowance of saturated fat.  That’s a huge difference, especially since I am using two tablespoons.  Even though most of it would not be absorbed, I finally chose to go with the “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter.”

The first thing I had to do was stuff the cavity of the bird with the thyme and rosemary.  Yes…I took out the bag holding the giblets.  Then I had to season the bird with kosher salt and pepper.  One mistake I made was that I should have seasoned the bird underneath the skin.  A lot of the fat from poultry comes from eating the skin, which we were not planning on eating, so I will need to remember that for next time.

Then came the trussing of the bird.

Ok, I have a confession to make.  I am the least mechanically inclined man living on this planet.  Oh, all right.  You caught me in a lie.  Truth be told, I am the least mechanically inclined HUMAN BEING on earth.  Really.  If it goes beyond hammering a nail, I’m pretty useless.  So despite watching 15 videos on YouTube, showing how to beautifully truss a bird, mine came out like this:

Funny, huh?

Despite being possibly the worst trussing job in the history of mankind, it did the trick.

Now the recipe calls for the oven to be preset to 375.  While the oven is coming up to temp, I am supposed to heat up a pan with the peanut oil and brown the sides of the bird with the peanut oil for about 7 minutes a side.  I did some research and read that the higher the temperature of the oil, the less oil is absorbed.  This calls for a medium high heat, so I don’t think that much oil will be absorbed into the bird.

Also, this is the first recipe I have seen for roast chicken where you brown the sides of the bird.  But if you think about it, it makes sense.  The breast tends to dry out faster so by the time the legs and thighs are done, the breast is like a desert.  This technique will give the legs a head start.

After 7 minutes a side, the bird goes in the pan breast side up, and cooks for 20 minutes.  My bird was 3.82 pounds, so I increased the cooking time to 22 minutes.  After that, add the butter to the pan and cook for another 30 minutes or so, basting occasionally.  I increased the time to 34 minutes.

You’ll notice from the picture that the skin on the breast was not really browned.  As anyone who has read my restaurant reviews, that is a big no no.  But, I am not going to eat the skin. I imagine this happened because there is a high water content in the butter product I used.  If it was my “Eat Anything You Want” day, I would have used regular butter, and it would have browned better, I’m sure.

We saved the legs and thighs for an “Eat Anything You Want” day, and concentrated on the breast.  Once the breast is on the plate, you sprinkle it with a tiny bit of sea salt.

I have to tell you, the bird was a success!  The breast meat was super juicy and I tore apart the leg and it too was cooked perfectly.  The breast meat was ever so slightly under seasoned due to me seasoning the skin which we were not going to eat, but it was still delicious.

As for the calories:  I tend to overestimate these things, but I think it is pretty close.  The breasts on chickens these days are huge.  You know how when you see a wild turkey, the breasts are not as big as they are when you see them at a farm?  Same thing.  So we are getting two meals – or four portions - out of the breasts.  With no skin, if I use Perdue Perfect Portions as a guide, the calories are 150 calories, 13 fat calories or 1.5 grams.  That’s constant.  In trying to estimate the calories and the fat content from the peanut oil and the butter product, since it seems that most of this isn’t absorbed, I will go overboard and say 1/2 of each is absorbed.  Then those numbers will be divided by 4 since we are getting four portions.  So the butter product is 100 per tablespoon.  Two tablespoons = 200 calories.  ½ is absorbed so we are back to 100 calories.  We got 4 portions, so 100 divided by 4 = 25 calories, or 2.75 grams of fat.  (Follow that?)  The peanut oil is 120 calories from fat.  We only used 1 tablespoon, so ½ absorption = 60 calories.  Divide that into the four portions and we have 15 calories from fat or 1.5 grams of fat.

So the way I figure it, the total calories for Tom Colicchio’s Roast Chicken - breast meat only -  is 190 calories, with 53 calories from fat - or 28%.  Generally, Cathy and I try to keep our fat content to 30% and under, so this turned out really well.  We finished it with a nice side of corn.

Next up:  Pan roasted fish.