Thursday, December 31, 2009

Every New Beginning Comes From Some Other Beginning's End

2009 was a good year, for a variety of professional reasons:  finishing my Masters degree, passing my licensing exam to be a school principal, starting a successful and popular Forensics Science elective at school, teaching physics, being able to go to work with some of my best friends.

2009 was a good year for a variety of personal reasons:  I watched as two good friends got married to awesome ladies.  I saw my best friend start a relationship with an amazing girl (and a kickass baker!).  I heard amazing news from friends that they are expecting a baby in the new year.  I saw my parents, sister and the rest of my family go through another year in health and happiness, along with the addition of 2 new Great Dane puppies to the family.

2009 was a good year for my cooking and blogging:  All you need to do is go and read my previous posts.  My skills have improved, and I've gotten a bunch of new toys to play with in the kitchen.  I've been trying to be consistent in updating my blog.  I've been taking more and more pictures of my food, both during the process and the finished result.  I'm thankful for all the people from all over the world who have stopped by to read what I've got to say.

All in all, a good year.

While reminiscing is fun, let's look forward.  Here's some things I'm hoping to do in the new year, food-wise:
  • Eat more vegetables:  It's always a goal of mine, and I'm doubly-committed to it with Steph's and my new eating plan for the new year.  Look for me to be cooking and eating with a wider variety of veggies, even some more esoteric ones.  At the top of my list:  salsify (OK, it's a root, but it's a vegetable!)
  • Try to cook more 'on instinct':  I like to follow recipes.  It's probably because I was a chemistry major, and I am a science teacher, and so I like following procedures.  I've read enough cookbooks to know about technique, timing, and flavors that I have the knowledge that I can whip together a meal just by looking at what I've got in the fridge/freezer/closet...I just don't do it as often as I should.
  • Make more stock:  I've done it, I know how to do it...I just want to do it more.  I'm going to try the oven method, as I've done the measurements and my giant stockpot fits in my oven.
  • Ingredients I've never cooked with, but want to:  truffles, skate wing, pork belly, duck, bonito flakes, whole fish, liquid nitrogen, salsify, foie gras, rabbit loin, Cornish hens, smoked salt
  • Eat at the Chef's Table at Nicholas:  not so hard to reach this goal, as Steph and I have already decided that we're going doing this for our anniversary.
  • "Molecular gastronomy":  Love it or hate it, it's definitely changed the culinary landscape over the course of the decade.  It's not something I'll do often, but I bought the Alinea cookbook because I wanted those recipes, so look for me to do a thing or two from there.  I'm also dying to eat at wd-50...maybe for my 30th birthday?
  • Eat more 'locally':  I've got tons of farmers' markets around me, and I'm a lazy ass for not taking advantage of them.  I also need to take the time to go up to Red Bank on Sundays when the weather is warmer for their Sunday market at the Galleria.
Here's a some things I'd like to accomplish, blogwise, in the new year:
  • Write more about everyday eating:  my friend Heather's blog is an amazing chronicle of all the healthy things that she eats on a daily basis.  Since Steph and I are being really on top of our intake, I want to chronicle that more.
  • More pictures:  I've gotten better at playing with the settings on my camera, and have gotten more adept at editing my pictures.  However, I'm hoping the coming year will bring me a fancy new camera.
  • Play around more with Blogger:  There's like tons of things that I can do with this software, I just need to take the time to figure it out.

That's about it for now.  Here's two questions for you:  What other things do you want to see me try (and blog about) in the kitchen in the coming year?  What culinary goals and plans do you have for the coming year?

To everyone reading, a happy and a healthy New Year to you and yours!  Eat well in the coming year!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Beef Wellington, for Two

Beef Wellington with Madeira Sauce
Recipe courtesy of Cooking for Two by America's Test Kitchen

It being the holiday season, Stephanie and I have been indulging quite a bit.  We've both made a commitment to get back on track with eating healthier (so expect to see some more Meatless Mondays and maybe even a Meatless Thursday now and again).  However, I wanted to have one more decadent and rich meal before I started counting my points and watching my intake...hence, beef wellington.

Traditionally, beef wellington is a tenderloin roast, smeared with foie gras pate and duxelles, wrapped in puff pastry and baked.  However, there are a few things that can hold a chef back when trying to cook this recipe at home for 2 people, most primary being the cost.  A whole beef tenderloin?  Too much meat for too much money.  Foie gras pate?  Wegmans had D'Artagnan Mousse of Duck Foie Gras for $27 per 8 oz tub (quite the markup, don't you think?).  The other issue is the actual cooking of the dish:  to get the steak perfectly cooked while having the puff pastry baked to completion at the same time is something that chefs go to college for.  Not exactly something I was willing to undertake lightly.

The solution, as elegantly presented by the Test Kitchen, is to cook the beef and the pastry separately, then combine them together in the end.  Not the most elegant solution, but it still provides all the flavors, if not the perfectly gift-wrapped package.

There's the tenderloin filets, trimmed, tied, and browning.  From there, they were destined to go to the oven for a nice 10 minute roast.  While the beef was in the oven, I assmebled my sauce ingredients.  Mushrooms, shallots, Madeira wine, parsley, thyme, Dijon mustard and lemon juice.  All that went into the saute pan after the beef went in the oven.

Those puff pastry squares were made by cutting a sheet of puff pastry into quarters.  The more interesting picture is my liver-smeared beef tenderloins.  Not spending a boatload on duck foie gras mousse, I called my emergency hotline for all things food - my mother (of course).  She recommended that since I couldn't get duck liver or chicken liver mousse, that I just buy a liverwurst and go with that (I chose Schaller and Weber calves' liver pate, since I felt that the flavor should be more complementary to beef than a pork liver pate).  The pate melted on the meat while the steaks rested.  The pastry squares were split, the meat was plated and the mushroom-Madeira sauce was poured all over.  The result?

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Snow Weekend

If the weather forecast calls for snow, it's a good bet that I'll be busy cooking some tasty goodness.  Here's what was on the menu this weekend:
  • Pancakes at my mother's house.  First time I'd made these for her, and she rather enjoyed them, even though she only ate like two of them.  She cooked up a bunch of breakfast sausage, and I made eggs as well.  I'm supremely jealous of her two-burner nonstick griddle, as it was pretty easy and fun to cook on, especially our eggs (over easy, of course).
  • A giant pot of chili.  My chili is a Cincinnati-style, with chopped sirloin (as opposed to the more traditional ground), onions, garlic, a boatload of spices (chili powder, cumin, paprika, oregano, cayenne, along with some weirder ones like cinnamon and cocoa powder), crushed tomatoes and kidney beans.  Topped with a ton of shredded cheddar (and a giant dollop of sour cream for Steph), I'm rather proud of my chili recipe.

  • A bottle's worth of mulled wine.  An easy recipe - a bottle of light red (I spend $7, my Uncle David said I spent too much), 1/4 cup sugar, the zest of 1 orange (in long strips), 6 cinnamon sticks, 12 cloves, 3 allspice berries, 1/2 a cracked nutmeg and a sprinkle of ground ginger.  Dump it into a saucepan, heat it over low until warm.  Don't let it boil, then run it through a fine strainer into glasses.  Delicious on a cold day.
  • Chocolate chip meringues.  Having a KitchenAid makes making meringues the easiest thing in the world.  These were easy to make and tasted great.  Steph couldn't tell you as well as I could, because I think I ate all but like 3 of these.  Not quite your quintessential 'cold weather cookie' but they really hit the spot.
  • Steph woke up this morning and says "Man, I wish I had asked you to pick up cinnamon buns".  Steph, you see, is a fiend when it comes to Pillsbury cinnamon buns - she loves them more than most things I make.  However, I didn't pick them up, so I figured I'd look up how to make them.  Fortunately, I found this recipe for easy, non-yeast cinnamon buns.  They came out more like biscuits than real cinnamon buns, but they were close enough, especially with the icing on top.  When I make them again (which will most likely be tomorrow morning...thank you, snow day!), I'll work on making them stick together.  I admit - these tasted delicious, but look ugly as hell.

Tomorrow, the plan is to make more cinnamon buns, some ginger cookies, and a deep-dish pizza.

Here's the question:  what are YOU cooking on a snowy day when you're stuck in the house?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Hannukah Gifts aka Why My Cousin Caleb is Awesome

My family doesn't need to work too hard when it comes to me and the holidays - pretty much, anything for the kitchen is a sure way to go.  Whether it's a new piece of cookware, some fun kitchen gadget, or a cookbook, it's easy to go shopping for me, even though I'm not the biggest fan of getting gifts.  Needless to say, this year has been no exception.

First, a Le Creuset risotto pot from my awesome Aunt Tami.  Even though I christened it tonight to make potato latkes a la Nicholas (with quince puree and bacon) as opposed to risotto, I cannot get enough Le Creuset - their stuff is awesome.  Technically, this is a gift for both Steph and I, but I get to 'use' it more, while Steph reaps the rewards indirectly ;)

Next, a super-geeky gift from my Uncle David and Aunt Lisa - a Cylon toaster and a set of BSG mugs.  I don't know how they could have thought that this would be a hit-or-miss, but this was a WIN.  Check out the link for the toaster - how amazingly nerdy is it that I can now have toast that says "Frak Off"?!?  I can't wait to make enough toast to destroy all the human toast on the Battlestar Galactica.

Of course, some great gifts from my parents and in-laws.  Steph and I have been dying for new plates, and we've been fans of the square plates that we've had out at restaurants, so that's what we decided to go with.  We also needed some service pieces, so we picked up a few of those as well.  Finally, like some other people I know, I needed a new blender, so I picked out a doozy of one - probably one of the best you can buy before shelling out $400+ for a Vita-Mix.

However, despite all of these gifts, of which I am extremely grateful, my cousin Caleb gave me the best gift this year.  My Aunt Tami had told him about my blog and about my skills in the kitchen, so he decided to make me a handmade recipe box.  Check this awesomeness out.

Seriously, without a doubt, the best gift I got this year.  Plus, a ridiculous recipe for a panettone French toast that I am going to make for Stephanie on Christmas morning.  Major props to my cousin Caleb for this one - thank you so much!

Butternut Squash Soup - Pictures

I finally got my hands back on our camera, so here are some pics from making the butternut squash soup from the Restaurant Nicholas cookbook.

Here's a before/after of the giant butternut squash that I used.  The smell that my house had while these were in the oven was absolutely heavenly.

In order, here's a celery root (one of my new favorite ingredients), my aromatic mise en place (carrots, celery root, shallot and onion), my sachet of spices (cracked nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves) and the roasted and mashed squash from the oven.

Finally, one of the finished product - 2 gallons of soup!  This was quite the hit, and when I brought up what a hit it was to Chef Nicholas last Friday, he was pleased!  Woot!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Sick Chef

I imagine that in a real restaurant, on the rare occurrence that a chef calls out sick, the other chefs pick up the slack and still turn out great food.

Not in our house.

Since Sunday, Alex has been taken down by the flu. Don't know if it's H1N1, but if it is, I love the irony of my pork-loving husband getting the swine flu.

Anyway. . . what happens when the food-provider in the family is out of commission? TAKE OUT!

Sunday: Ibby's Falafel. Great Middle Eastern restaurant right around the corner from us. I finally gave in and tried Middle Eastern food. . . and LOVED IT. Tried their lamb shawarma. It's my second time trying shawarma and it's not just for me. But I wanted to try Ibby's to see if theirs was different. Their falafel is to die for. And so is their hummus and ghanoush.

Monday: Pizza. It's what Alex wanted - I swear!

Tuesday: Chicken noodle soup from Wegman's for Alex, sushi from Wegmans for me. Of course this means that I had to go to Wegmans. Don't get me wrong - it's a fantastic grocery store. But I HATE food shopping. I NEVER go. And I had to pick up some supplies because Alex was so sick, he hadn't been shopping. Of course, I forgot the granola bars, apples, and Gatorade - all of which were on the list in my hands. I'm just not good at this kind of thing.

Wednesday: Tandoori chicken with Major Grey's chutney and an apple-side-thingy. Yes, I kinda cooked. In his infinite charity, Alex cleaned and cut up the chicken while I prepared the tandoori coating. And then it happened. As I was grating the Granny Smith apples on the grater, the food gods demanded a sacrifice. The top half of my left index knuckle. According to Alex, his grandmother swore that food always tasted better with a bit of flesh and blood in it (especially her potato latkes).

So that's it. I cooked (kinda), and he ate. There's a first (and last) time for everything.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

From Average to Awesome.

Check out the new banner at the top of the page!  If you're thinking "Wow, Alex, I didn't think you had that level of artistic skill", you would be 100% correct - I'm good at drawing physics diagrams and molecular structures in MS Office products, but not anywhere near that level of sophistication.

So where did this amazing new banner come from?  Major thanks to my blog buddy Rob, who knows a guy.  Who doesn't want to be pals with someone who knows a guy?

Now all I need to do is figure out how to do threaded comments and I'll be a happy camper.