Musings from a Seattle personal chef
Archive for the 'Techniques' Category
When it comes to preparing dinner for my darling and myself, I tend to be a thrower- togetherer (you’d never guess I have a degree in communications, would you?). I’m often too wiped to put a lot of thought and energy into our dinners during the week; I typically just peer into the fridge for ideas for a quick and easy meal. The other night it was chips with my darling’s homemade salsa (using up the 2 pints of grape tomatoes our neighbor gave us) and a small bowl of canned refried beans heated in the microwave. Another night it was Trader Joe’s roasted red pepper soup with cheese and crackers. Many nights it’s pizza with whatever we happen have on hand (fortunately our fridge tends to be well-stocked).
While these meals are certainly nourishing and relatively nutritionally sound, they aren’t what I consider a “true” dinner — a well-balanced and visually appealing meal of protein, vegetable and starch. They’re most definitely NOT blog-worthy (although I guess I’m contradicting myself by writing about them, aren’t I?)
At any rate, a few weeks ago I had a hankering for crispy panko-coated chicken and sauteed spinach (both adapted from Cook’s Illustrated). For the chicken, I combined a couple of techniques from CI’s “Best Light Recipe” cookbook. Rather than pan-frying, you coat the chicken with toasted panko crumbs, then bake it at high heat. Normally I dredge the chicken in flour, dip it in egg whites and then the panko, but since I wanted more flavor I used the technique from CI’s oven-fried chicken where you coat the breast in Dijon mustard and then the panko crumbs (no need to dredge in flour first).
For the spinach, I pre-heated my wok over my new turbo 16,000 BTU burner, added a bit of oil, some sliced garlic and about a half a teaspoon of red pepper flakes. I quickly threw in about 10 ounces of fresh spinach and some halved grape tomatoes and stir-fried until the spinach was wilted and glistening. After plating the spinach I squirted it with some fresh lemon juice. Some prepared tri-color cheese tortellini completed the dish.
I have an interesting relationship with cookbooks. I’m drawn to those that feature stunning pictures and mouth-watering recipes, but as a chef I challenge myself to craft my own creations. As my skills improve, I’m less inclined to purchase a “cookbook” than a book that features techniques. My favorite culinary game is to pick an ingredient (typically one I happen to have in the fridge), turn to “Culinary Artistry” and come up with a unique recipe.
However, when I was devising my goals for 2007, I decided I should give my neglected cookbooks another chance (I have about 50). My first experiment was from Madhur Jaffrey’s “World Vegetarian” for Malaysian Curried Pineapple (I had purchased the book four years ago when I signed on a vegetarian client. I no longer cook for them). As always, I added my signature to the dish and included tofu for some protein. It was okay, but not stellar (hence no blog entry).
My next target was “Tom’s Big Dinners” by Tom Douglas, a local restaurateur. I’ve prepared several recipes from both this cookbook and his first, “Tom Douglas’ Seattle Kitchen,” with great results. I had a bunch of flank steak in my freezer, so I was intrigued by his Olive-stuffed Flank Steak with Tomato Confit — more for the technique than the actual recipe. When I prepare flank steak, a relatively tough cut of meat, I either briefly grill it or stuff and braise it for 1 1/2-2 hours. Tom’s recipe called for searing the steak then roasting it at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes; interesting!
I fully intended to follow the recipe verbatim and then post a review, but reality has a funny way of intervening. I nixed the tomato confit from the get-go since no amount of slow roasting would coax any flavor out of winter tomatoes. The recipe calls for Kalamatas, but amazingly I had none. Normally I’d just head to the store, but my 8-mile run sapped my energy. I perused the contents of my fridge and found a jar of jalapeÃ±o-stuffed olives (not the double-stuffed ones; those are saved for my martinis). Inspired, I decided to veer completely from the recipe and concoct my own, stuffing the steak with the olives, cilantro, Cougar Gold cheese and pine nuts and serving it with Herdez salsa. Yum!
French fries are one of my (many) weaknesses. I just can’t turn down their salty, crispy goodness. Sometimes I’ll dip ‘em in ketchup; other times, if I’m feeling French, I’ll dip ‘em in Dijon. Chipotle mayo and ranch dressing are also mighty tasty accompaniments. Of course, such caloric indulgences must occur in moderation lest my behind begins to resemble a giant mound of mashed potatoes. Baked French fries lessen the damage somewhat, but they’re still white potatoes — those too easily digested tubers that whip through your system in record time, providing little to no sustained energy. (But DANG, they’re good!).
Enter the sweet potato.
These delightful roots only recently became part of my culinary repertoire. Up until a couple years ago, this Yankee had only associated them with southern cooking. I also didn’t realize what we call “yams” here in the States are actually orange-fleshed sweet potatoes (true yams are humongous tubers only grown in south and central America, the West Indies and parts of Asia and Africa). My first encounter with sweet potatoes was most likely in chip form. Either packaged in a medley of taro, yuca and beet chips, or served as an appetizer with fruit salsa, they had me at the first bite.