Prep Cooking

October 31, 2010

Shepherd's Pie, Green Chili, and Turkey Burger Dinners

I may have only been home for 32 hours this weekend before taking off on my last leg of the crazy travel, but that didn’t keep me from getting some serious cooking done. But you may think that looks like an awful lot of food to eat in such a short time…looks more like a week’s worth of food huh?

Well, with a fridge full of CSA veggies, it was a pleasure to whip up some “ready to heat” meals for Em for the week I’ll be away. A turkey, potato and parsnip shepherd’s pie, roasted brussel sprouts and radishes, and a soy and sesame turkey burger will hopefully be as delicious as they look! And with a nice batch of green tomato and poblano chili, I have a bunch of cooking to look forward to when I get back in town…

And speaking of which…Don’t forget to vote for the hotel food re-do!


On the Road Again…

October 28, 2010

The Golden Gate

So there won’t be much cooking until a week from tomorrow. That’s an awful lot of time to go without my “glass of wine” at the end of the work day, so I guess I’ll just have to have the real stuff while I’m away! But ironically enough, November 5th is more than just the day I’ll be back home, thrilled to get in the kitchen. November 5th will mark the second anniversary of this blog which is kinda crazy to think about. So thanks to everyone for keeping me going and making this blog my “cup of coffee” in the morning.

So sticking with the theme of being on the road…

I had one of those silly culinary eye-opening moments last night. Because as I took a peek at the room service menu (a habit of mine even though I almost never order anything), there was absolutely no surprises. What I mean is, I could have guessed every item offered without evening opening the pages. And not that I’m complaining. Because well, a hotel’s goal is to make each and every guest as comfortable as possible. And familiar foods is an awfully powerful tool to ensure that comfort. I wish someone had the time to put together a chart that showed the frequency of menu items in hotels across the country…any takers?

So help give me something to look forward to. When I get back in town, what familiar menu item should I re-do (remember my re-done general tso!)?

I’m Going Casserole Crazy!

October 26, 2010

My Casserole Cookoff Entry: Jewish Penicillin

Last night was the sixth annual Brooklyn Casserole Party hosted by Emily Farris, the author of “Casserole Crazy: Hot Stuff for Your Oven”. This would have been my third year attending if not for a last minute scheduling conflict during last year’s event, which is why I was thrilled to be back competing. And while the basic premise, celebrating the love for all things ooey gooey and baked in a casserole remained the same, the magnitude of the event has seriously taken off. 44 (yes, I said 44) casseroles were to be judged by the panel of three all while the rest of us scarfed down on the cheesy, meaty, veggy filled offerings and washed it all down with some free (thanks to the donation) Brooklyn Brewery beer.

“Enough with the description…how the hell did you do!”

Well, I guess you’d say, defeat never tasted so good! Out of the 44 casseroles I can’t say much on where I “finished” but this matzo ball soup inspired casserole did get a ton of compliments. (Including some serious love from Cathy from Not Eating Out in NY) And that’s plenty good for me. So what is a matzo ball soup inspired casserole?

Starting off with a homemade chicken stock and the meat from the chicken that made it, the comforting flavors of every Jewish (and other) mother’s go-to remedy were immediately obvious. Boiling the matzo balls in the broth was another way to boost the flavor for what ended up being the required “starch” that held the casserole together. Using the chicken stock and a roux to make a thick and creamy sauce, the matzo balls were covered with chicken, leeks, carrots, celery and cheddar cheese and baked until golden brown. But the real kicker got a few heads turning. Because while bacon may be a favorite of many to top off an already rich meal, I stuck with my theme. Crispy chicken skin not only perfumed the smell of soup throughout the room, but it tasted so damn good!

Judges Table

And while my dish wasn’t one of the top three judged by the panel which included Camille Ford from the Travel Channel’s “Food Wars”, Ann M. Kansfield, a co-pastor at the Greenpoint Reformed Church, and Corey Henderson from the Universal Records Database, the night was wildly successful. The Greenpoint Soup kitchen raised close to $1000 (at least by the time I had left) and everyone left feeling full and comforted…at least I know I did!

As for the winners, congrats to everyone who participated but particularly to the top 3 who left with some pretty sweet casserole inspired prizes! Unfortunately with 44 casseroles present and a mob scene trying to get a taste of everything, I was unable to try many of the dishes. But I’ll keep an eye out for other casserole cook off run downs to post to figure out who did what. Thanks again to Emily Farris and her hard working team. I’m already looking forward to next year!

No more greens please!

October 25, 2010

Stuffed Zucchini w/ Roasted Green Vegetables

With just two more weeks to go in my first year of the CSA, I’ve got mixed emotions. Although it has been fantastic receiving the weekly bundle of local vegetables, the last few weeks have lacked the excitement I had been getting used to. Let’s just say that I am looking forward to heading to the green market for some variety and that “greens” may not be on my shopping list….

One of the staples of the last few CSA shares has been ridiculously enormous zucchini. And I mean ridiculous! And since there is only so much zucchini bread one can eat, I thought it would be the perfect time to make one of my favorite meals. Stuffed Zucchini in my mind is much better than the bell pepper version because well, green bell peppers have to be my least favorite vegetable. This time around I used an earthy filling of sautéed ground turkey and butternut squash. With some celery for crunch and a bit of my favorite curry powder, the stuffed zucchini came out terrific! Perfect with a side of roasted broccoli, brussel sprouts, and scallions. So pumped for brussel sprout season!

And in exciting news, tonight I make my triumphant (let’s hope so) return to the Casserole Cook-off. If you remember, two years ago I had a great time despite not bringing home the prize. But this time around, I’m feeling extra confident about my entry. I won’t give it away (for fear of potential copy cat contestants) but with a name like “Jewish penicillin” I bet you could start to guess…Wish me and my casserole luck!

General Tso Chicken

October 21, 2010

General Tso Chicken

General Tso chicken is kind of a funny thing. You won’t hear anybody (at least not that I know) try to argue the cultural validity of the dish, but at the same time, you won’t find many people who don’t simply love the stuff. With very few variations at the “China Woks” and “Empire Palaces” of the chinese food world, it’s no wonder it’s an american favorite. Fried pieces of dark meat smothered in a silky sweet and spicy sauce served with white rice and some steamed broccoli may be what you were looking for, but don’t forget, my version was supposed to be a re-do!

And a top chef like re-do (is there anything better than those “classic to new twist” challenges) is only successful if the familiarity is not immediately obvious. Only after a few bites, should the meal guide your thoughts to the “ah ha” moment. Well, bite by bite, flavor by flavor, and texture by texture, my version of general tso chicken really worked!

First I roasted the broccoli lightly seasoned with a chinese five spice blend. Using this broccoli, held together loosely by egg and bread crumbs, as the filling for these chicken breast roulades brought the bold flavors of the general tso chicken into each and every bite. Developing the sauce from soy, ginger, garlic, sugar, and a touch of sesame oil, I wanted to ensure the chicken breast was sufficiently coated without a goopy mess so typical of the dish’s inspiration. With just a hint of spice coming from fresh chilis, and a bit of roasted scallion for garnish, my general tso chicken was only missing one thing! Toasted rice cakes not only added the starch so needed for a good chinese dish, but even more importantly added a bit of crunch we so love in the classic, from those crispy fried chicken pieces.

I’m really liking this idea of classic re-dos, so stay tuned for much more to come! Any dishes you want to see re-done?

LSFE: This Quiet is Delicious!

October 20, 2010

It’s been a crazy few weeks of travel and with quite a bit more on the horizon prior to Thanksgiving, this article seemed particularly relevant. Because for years airline food has been the brunt of many a joke and in many cases, avoided completely. Yet despite the history, and although I’m probably the last person to be commenting on the evolution of on board meals, there has been some significant improvements. At the very least, airline companies have been working on it. Anyone remember that Top Chef episode a few seasons ago where the cheftestants were forced to create gourmet dishes that would be heated and served on board a plane? It is still one of my favorites! Because even with the greatest of intentions, how good can food be when it is prepared and re-heated under those conditions?

But this most recent study adds to the problem airline companies are facing. Ignore the process, ignore the cost, because unfortunately there is no way to ignore the noise. The argument is simple. The louder the background noise, the harder it is to taste. And quite frankly this seems pretty obvious. Think about the stories and the experiences of those who suffer from a deficiency in one of the five senses. Or even close your eyes or put on a blindfold. Whether your hearing is truly improved or your awareness of it is simply increased, it seems our senses are very much connected.

So with all that noise on the plane, it’s not shocking the food is bland. And simply adding salt is only masking the issue. But with more and more studies like these, and more and more airline culinary efforts, it will be interesting to see how airline food continues to evolve. At least it can’t get worse, right?

But beyond airline food, this phenomenon is an interesting one to consider. Where else does background noise play a role in our eating? For good or for bad? In terms of noise, what is your ideal dining setting?

Unsung Heroes: Celery

October 18, 2010

Butternut Squash and Celery Soup

Whether you are classically trained or attribute your culinary prowess to Rachel Ray, you have probably started every soup or stock you’ve ever made with a mirepoix. Dicing up carrots, onion, and celery for a first step saute is something I have for sure repeated countless times. And although I know the balance of these ingredients produces a great first level of flavor, I can’t think of a single time the colorful mix was on my mind at the time of enjoying the final product. This seemingly mandatory blend of vegetables acts as the unsung hero to many a dish; only praised through a repetition of use.

So when I received a butternut squash and a beautiful stalk of celery this past week in the CSA, I felt it was time to give arguably the least appreciated of the trio its due respect. Because when you think celery, there isn’t a whole lot that comes to mind. Covered in peanut butter for a snack, or dipped in blue cheese as a hot sauce reprieve, celery is typically used as a carrier. But when you take the time to carmelize and cook down the subtleties of the celery, the burst of flavor is truly fantastic.

And in this case, combined with the roasted butternut squash and curry seasonings, the burst provided a delicious upgrade. A soup that can sometimes be a bit one note was transformed into what I will describe (dramatically of course) as a bridge between the seasons. And since my CSA continues to pump out some fantastic produce, this shouldn’t be much of a surprise! So next time you are cooking up that mirepoix, maybe go a little heavy on that celery!

And while you are waiting for that soup to simmer, make sure you vote for my chinese food re-do!

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