Potato and Leek Soup

Today for dinner it was potato and leek soup. That was the intent that was the lofty goal. Reality was it turned out to be potato applesauce. Ok, I didn't put apples in it but imagine mashed potatoes with the consistency of applesauce. That was the result.

I wish I had taken pictures.

I took the recipe from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything: The Basics. My mistake? Oh, many mistakes I'm sure. But soup tends to be forgiving. That's why my latest cooking fad has focused on soups. Among my many likely mistakes I'm sure one was by ridicoulsly large potatoes. The recipe called for 3 potatoes. I opted for the gargantuane (sp?) regular brown baking potatoes. I should have realized it when I needed a forklift to get them to the car. They were probably twice as big as the recipe intended. Additionally if I had done a little more reading or YouTube viewing I might have actually chosen a less starchy potato. I knew I was in trouble when I went to pour the soup out of the blender and nothing came out. It was just that thick.

Moreover I probably should have let it cool off a little more before I blended it. The recipe called for cooling it out some before blending but when have I ever actually paid attention to what the recipe actually said. I think that too contributed to the stickiness. 

I tired making up for it by adding another cup and a half of chicken broth. That might have worked if I didn't then decide to follow the recipe and add half a cup of heavy cream. 

Overall the tast was good. My wife tasted the leeks. I didn't. I couldn't taste anything but the potatoes. I don't think that was the recipe I think it was because of the monolithic potatoes I used. What I was able to taste wa good. It's just hard for me to judge whether I succeeded or not because of course I've never had potato and leek soup.


You mean healthy as in not good?

I've been trying to get motivated to the point of getting off the couch for quite some time. My weight over the years has peaked and dipped in an endless cycle. It really isn't anything new since I've struggled with my weight since I was high school and even more so when I was in the Marines. So I decided I was going to watch the Biggest Loser on Netflix (189 episodes, thank you so much @netflix).

Surprisingly enough its actually working.

I've been to the gym 4 out of the last 5 days, haven't eaten out for lunch or dinner during that time, and have been feeling remarkable. I think a big struggle for me is going to be....well OK, there are going to be a lot of struggles but one of the struggles for me is learning to like new foods. Let me rephrase that. Learning to re-like old foods. I'd hardly say apples, peaches, bananas, are "new foods". I've just been so addicted to immediate over-flavored processed foods for so long that a lot of fruits just don't turn me on. Got it. I fully take responsibility for that statement and just how inappropriate it sounds. I meant to say I'm just not excited or hungered by the idea of eating fruits. How sad is that.

I discovered tonight that I actually like peaches. More specifically peaches that are just on cusp of being ripe. My disappointment in peaches has always been that they;re mush. Too soft. Too wet. Ripe peaches taste to me like peaches on the verge of going bad. Not necessarily flavor wise just texture and wetness.

So moral of the story is if you don't like the goopiness of ripe peaches try them just before they're ripe.


Russian Shepherdess

Well, it's been a while since I posted and there has been a lot going on. Since my last post I've been back to Norway again and even had a little vacation within a vacation in Riga, Latvia. Yes, Latvia is a real country and no it's the fictitious country Dr. Doom comes from. While we were in Riga we ate at a terrific Russian restaurant and I kind of Shepherd's pie but it was covered in bread instead of potatoes.
Here's a picture of it. On the menu it was called Shepherdess.
It was terrific. It was a lamb stew with baked bread over it. Delicious. As a child of the cold war I would have never suspected I liked Russian food.

There's a ton more to share including Norwegian kababs and a 12th century feast. More to come I promise. That's it for now.


Green to be back!

Hello world! 
Did you miss me? I know I've been away for a while but I'm hoping to get back on track. The biggest change for me since I last posted is that I've recently moved. I'm excited about it because we're within walking distance of a (very) local market that has terrific fresh produce and groceries. I stopped by yesterday to pick up some stuff for sandwiches (since our kitchen isn't fully unpacked yet) and not finding the standard chain cheese or lunch meat I bought a few small packs of the fresh cheese. 

Imagine my wonder and amazement when I got home and had cheese that actually tasted like real cheese. It had flavor. It had a distinct taste. It didn't have that "over taste" of concentrated flavors of what cheese is "supposed to taste like". I could actually get used to this. It's been a while since I've had cheese that actually required me to use a cheese slicer. 

One of the things that caught my eye at the grocer was their fresh green beans and snow peas. After doing some googling and wikipediaing (ok, not a word but you get my point) I'm opting to handle green beans first and snow peas second. 

I've been watching green bean videos all night and I'm surprised there is such a diversity in how to cook them. Normally for a particular food you may find a lot of variety in cooking methods but typically you find an excess of one particular way. Not so with the green bean. I found videos on blanching, sauteing, steaming, boiling and even baking. There was no clear obvious method based solely on the number of videos favoring one way over the other. 

I think though my most likely choice will be blanching followed by sauteeing with some butter, garlic, and lemon. I just love the color of blanched vegetables than other methods. There's something that psychologically makes you think you are eating healthier when the vegetables are like super mega-green. 

Enough for tonight, just wanted to stop in and say high. Hopefully I'll put something up on howmy green beans went in the next couple of days. 


Technique #126 Vegetable Salads (Salades de Legumes)

My blundering stumbling tripping journey into the culinary arts is Salades de Legumes or Vegetable Salads. This is technique #126 from Jacques Pepin's Complete Techniques.

Now the tricky part about this here technique is that its actually four techniques. There are four different vegetable salads listed here; String beans and Tomato Salad, Beet Salad, Zucchini Salad, and finally Carrot Salad. 

I have actually done two of four techniques, well, one and a half. I'll blog the other one another time but this time on the red carpet it is......drum roll please.......zucchini. That's right. It's summer and one of the best fresh foods that says summer to me is zucchini. Versatile, super green, filling yet light. I loves me some zucchini. 

So Zucchini Salad it is. Or, as Jacques would say Salade de Courgettes. I was very proud, by the way, when my wife and I were watching one of Gordon Ramsay's many UK shows (Best Restaurant) and they started talking about courgettes and I knew just what they were talking about. 

So first step? Get some yummy zucchini from the farmers market. I got some delicious zucchinis from Oak Hills Farm at the Pearl Brewery farmers market. 

Next step is to cut the top and bottoms off. 

Next step cut each one into roughly 2" sections. 

Then cut lengthwise (as in set them up vertical and cut from top to bottom) into quarters. 

Then slice off the seeded sections (at the tip of the quarter). 

Looking at them side by side (before and after) they should look something like this. 
Trimmed (left) and Not trimmed (right)

The above part, trimming the seeds, is something I might disagree with Jacques about. I don't know if there is a reason why. That is to say, am I removing them because they (the seeds) somehow impact the taste, the cooking, or the texture? OR does he suggest doing it because that is simply the way the french have always done it. I don't know. Sorry if I built you up thinking I was going to answer those questions. I really would sincerely like to know. My apologies for misleading you into thinking I had any clue about what I was doing. 

The reason I question it is because to me the seeds don't do anything to detract from the flavor. Also, trying to trim out the seeds resulted in cutting away quite a bit of flesh. But if that's what Jacques wants then that's what Jacques gets. 

Next step is to lay them in a single layer on a cookie sheet and sprinkle with salt. Then pop them into a preheated oven at 425 degrees. Oh shit, I guess I should have told you to do that at the start. Oh, by the way preheat the oven to 425. You'll need it in about.......um...zero minutes.

Well you only want to have it in the oven for about 3-4 minutes. Just long enough for the zucchini to start sweating. What do I mean by sweating? Check out the pic below. Can you spot the sweat?

Ok, how about I help you. Now can you see it? Relax, its not real sweat. That is, not people sweat. Just the moisture being pushed out of zucchini. 

Once they cool off (yes, this is a "room temperature" dish) toss the zucchini 1 tablespoon olive oil (or peanut oil), 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Now that's what the recipe called for. I actually used 2 teaspoons of olive oil (2/3 tablespoon for those that can't Google). I probably could have gotten away with one teaspoon of olive oil. 

Even with two teaspoons of olive oil (to me) it was a bit oily. Throw in a wife who isn't crazy about olive oil and you're bordering on disaster. 

All in all though it really is a very fast, very summery, and very delicious dish. I highly recommend. 


Technique #105 Asparagus Stew (Ragout d'Asperges)

This is technique #105 Asparagus Stew a.k.a. Ragout d'Asperges from Jacques Pepin's Complete Techniques. Are y'all tired of me blabbing about Pepin's book? Well tough, suck it. I'm obsessed and his book will have me on TV by the time I've gone through all his techniques.

I really don't know if it should be called asparagus "stew". The quotation marks means that "stew" is what them there fancy peoples call it. But when I think "stew" I think 1)brown and 2)long cooked. This is more of a. .. .um.....saute? no.....poach? no.....braise? no.....ok,well its something. A wee bit of water, plenty of butter (of course), and really short cooking time. This is actually a really fast and delicious side to have with just about anything.

Ever since I realized there aren't a lot of foodies or contestants on Top Chef whose repertoire is confined to corn dogs and microwave mac and cheese I knew I was going to have to try new foods. After turning my nose up at asparagus for years (Green foods = Scary) I found out I actually looooooove asparagus.
Wow! I actually took this great picture of Asparagus. 
Up until now all of my asparagus cooking has been almost exclusively in the roasting categories. Snap the asparagus, a little olive oil, pepper, and salt. Pop in the oven, 10 minutes at 425 degrees, deliciousness done!!!

In addition to wanting to try asparagus another way I also to add another technique to my not-so-mad skills. So my main man Pepin (which is funnier when you say it aloud because "man" and "pah-pan"rhymes) had a simple fast way to put some asparagus together.

It calls for two dozen or so asparagus, 1/2 stick butter, and 1/4 cup chopped parsley. The butter should be cut up into itty bitty cubes.

Up until now I've always "snapped" asparagus to get rid of the less edible ends (opposite the spear). Just hold the spear and the other end and bend them towards each other until it snaps. Mother nature has a built in pull tab. Where it snaps is likely where the tougher portion that you would discard anyway. At least that's what my wife says.

But Pepin introduces me to peeling asparagus. Keeping the whole thing and just peel it. Now he says to use your fingernail to find where the asparagus gets tough. Well, let me say this, I scraped a line down about twenty or so asparaguses (sp?) asparagi (sp?) asparagus (?) and I walked away still having no clue what the hell he was talking about. I, for the life of me, couldn't figure out where this supposed magic line was. I think Jacques put it in his book just for sheets and giggles knowing all of his readers would scratch each asparagus.

But back to what I was saying. this was the first time I peeled the asparagus. Since I couldn't find Pepin's magical asparagus line I just peeled the asparagus with a regular old vegetable peeler.  I took each asparagus and rolled it as I peeled.

I think I probably pushed too hard because some of the asparagus got very thin in parts. I also think I peeled it much higher than I actually needed to. I probably could have gotten away with only peeling the lower 1/3 to 1/2 of the asparagus.

The next step is cutting them diagonally into about 1 inch pieces. I'm not a very good diagonal cutter person but I tried my best. My wife said the trick is to cut an angle on one side then roll it halfway over and it cut it again at an angle.
Don't look at my old man knuckles.
I didn't do that though. It sounded too complicated, it was frustrating try to roll asparagus that I had (probably) overpeeled, and (as with many things my wife tells me) I didn't understand why she was telling me to do it. In retrospect (i.e. writing this blog) it would have given them a little rooftop which would have looked prettier. I will next time do that.....I think.

Once everything was cut up and prepped I put the asparagus into a skillet with 1/3 cup water and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Cover and bring to a strong boil. Boil for about 1 1/2 minutes, uncover, and add the butter and parsley.

Return to a strong boil and shake the pan (you know, kind of like when you make a french omelette) for about 20-30 seconds. The reason for the shaking (and strong boil vs. gentle boil) is to get the water and the butter to mix (bind) into a sauce. When there is an equal amount of water and butter a strong boil should bind the butter together with the water. If there is too much water you'll have buttery water. If you have to much butter you'll have watery butter. If equal parts (plus shaking/strong boil/other slamming of molecules) you get a creamy butter sauce (Beurre Blanc).

When the water/butter mixture starts to rise (lots of bubbles, think boiling over milk) its done. Slide it right onto a serving dish and you're done.

Delicious, fast, easy, and pretty darn nutritious. I highly recommend it. Enjoy.


Technique #172 Pepper Steak (Au Poivre)

Pepper Steak, Steak Au Poivre, or Technique #172. Anyway you describe it it taste delicious. How did I come up with calling it technique #172 you ask? Its actually from Jacque Pepin's book "Complete Techniques". Hands down it is one of the best books out there for aspiring cooks. It is so full of broken down step by step techniques.

I love to buy cookbooks. Especially books that focus on technique over pure recipes. I'm always stunned when I get distracted by other books why I ever left Jacque (or at least Jacque's book). His book is so complete, so well written, so explanatory. Truly a tome of tomes.

The recipe is simple enough. Take some fresh peppercorns and crack them all open. I'm not sure it matters a lot what you use. Jacque suggests rolling a heavy based pan over the peppercorns. I used a mallet after putting the peppercorns in a sandwich bag. I made a lot of noise and suddenly my peppercorns were transformed from mere mortal peppercorns to "mignonnette". Peppery flavorful and fresh.

Put your "mignonnette" ("ha ha ha, we all sound like Maurice Chevalier" -- that's an obscure Mel Brooks History of the World reference) on a plate and drop your steak in the peppers. Season with salt. Flip it and repeat the process. Your steak is just about ready.
If you look at the picture you can see where I started making a mistake. Or at least I feel like I started making a mistake. When it was all said and done I felt like I didn't do quite as well as I should have. If you look closely you can see an abundance of whole peppercorns. I don't think I crushed the peppercorns as much as I should have. When we were eating it we would hit whole uncrushed peppercorns and it was just a wee bit of too much spiciness.

I was definitely touchy about crushing the peppercorns too much. I was worried that I might be over-crushing them. Ok, its confession time and in retrospect I know this might sound silly. I was worried if I crushed the peppercorns too much it wouldn't be too different from the ground peppercorns from the grinder. I didn't think the recipe called for ground peppercorn. It called for crushed peppercorn. I tried crushing the peppercorns without pulverizing them.

In writing this blog entry I just reread the recipe and realized I made a second mistake. The recipe actually says to cook in browned butter. I, as is often my preference, cooked the steak dry. Why dry? Because I LOVE FOND!!!!!!

Here's a pic of the finished product (served with corn and asparagus stew (see next post)). There's actually a balsamic reduction on top too.
So peppercorns weren't cracked enough. Should have used butter. I guess that means this technique goes back into "to do" list. Don't get me wrong. It still tasted really good. It just wasn't as good as it could have been done. The portions of the steak that had fewer whole peppercorns were delicious. I love the simplicity of the recipe as well. Don't get discouraged by my stumbles. It's still good and tasty.

I will say too that as I've started cooking more and more I am getting a better feeling on seasoning meats. I've learned that to properly season meat it includes using a lot more salt than I would have normally used. And when I am talking about seasoning I mean pre-cooking seasoning not post-cooking. If you are   adding some salt and pepper to a simply straight forward saute cut of meat, use more rather than less.