The Master's Tome

The little lady purchased Complete Techniques by Jacques Pepin for me and I couldn't be happier. The book is comprehensive to say the least with over 800 pages and over 1000 techniques. It covers everything from folding napkins to the basic of making a variety of stocks to decorative techniques with fruits and vegetables to much more advanced techniques.

I have been lamenting to my wife my need for focus on techniques overs recipes for a long time. It's not as technical as On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of Kitchen which goes in depth into the molecular reactions and history of foods and ingredients. On Food and Cooking is, by the way, fascinating and does provide a lot of the "why's" behind gastronomy. But Pepin is thorough and writes at my level as a beginning cook. He provides plenty of pictures at most steps and has dishes and food that seem both delicious and fun to make.

Having the book for only a couple of days I have already tried my hand at making a variety of different croutons (even a bread basket) and made some potato balls. Using a melon baller to get almost perfect balls of potato that are blanched then sautéed to give them a little crunch was both fun and tasty. It's not the most efficient use of the potatoes but the presentation of it certainly makes up for the waste.

I hate that as a forty year old man I still find myself giggling when I say potato balls out loud. Of course my wife and I have to go through the whole "Schweaty Balls" (see below) routine half a dozen times. I mean seriously, at what point to I stop acting like a high shool freshman? Am I still going to be giggling every time someone says their toasted nuts are a little salty when I'm sixty-five?

Next couple of items up on the agenda include cucumber turtles, apple swans, some cauliflower soup maybe. These all being the side dishes I have either spaghetti or Chicken Unitarian (from Allrecipes.com) on the agenda for dinner tonight. Spaghetti seems so "Chef Boyardee" compared to the stuff I have been making recently. But, alas, I have some ground turkey that needs to be consumed soon before it goes bad. I might run through Allrecipes though and see if there is something I can do with it.

Let's talk Bacon. I bought Hormel "Thick Sliced" bacon the other day and I put the quotes around "Thick Sliced" because while it is sliced it is hardly "thick". Before this I had bought the Oscar Meyer thick cut bacon and it was excellent. The Hormel bacon (while maybe thicker than standard bacon) was both very thin and very fatty (you know the white bits that don't fry up well). I think I'll stick with the Oscar Meyer next time. Stick with your sausage, Hormel.

Tee hee, I said "sausage".

Aw, dang it. There I go again.

My question to the interwebs this week is what type of tomatoes have the most flavor? Last week I had made a Caprese salad and it was good. But not as good as I remember them. I blame the tomatoes. The tomatoes (regular medium tomatoes from the grocery store) didn't have the real twang I was looking for. Yesterday I bought "vine ripe" tomatoes so I could try again. I don't know if they are going to taste any better or if "vine ripe" is just grocery store talk for "hey, let's throw on the vine ripe label so we can charge an extra dollar per pound."

So what did I learn this week?

  • Don't try making croutons with bread unless it is good and stale. 
  • Oscar Mayer thick sliced bacon is superior to Hormel "barely an itsy bit thicker than regular bacon thick cut bacon"
  • Pepin knows how to write educational cookbooks
  • Potato balls look great but taste pretty much the same as boiled potatoes
  • I have the maturity level of a twelve year old boy (who is really immature)


Awesome Artery Blocker

Since today was another weekend day I got plenty of time to mess around in the kitchen again today.

Ever hear of a tomato sandwich?

I don't know how common or rare it is. I think its Iowan comfort food since I inherited the sandwich from my Dad. It's super easy to make and oh so yummy if you're in the mood for tomatoes.

It has toasted bread, plenty of mayonaise, and thick (or thin, your preference) slices of tomato. Boom! Sandwich made.

So tonight for dinner I made smothered chicken breasts from Allrecipes.com. As sides I had simple boiled potatoes and my attempt at glazed carrots.

I did do a little switcheroo on the recipe based on what I had in the cupboard. I was out of lemon-pepper and the wifey-poo had suggested regular pepper and a little lemon juice. Dang! No lemon juice either. I would up seasoning the chicken with salt, pepper, and about 1-1/2 tablespoons of ground dijon mustard. It turned out fantastic.

The recipe also calls for cooking the chicken then the bacon then onions. I figured that bacon was easier to keep warm than chicken and that bacon rendering would give more flavor to the chicken than vice versa. So I cooked the bacon first, then the chicken, then the onion and brown sugar. It also gave the the bacon time to dry, stiffen, and get that perfect crunch.

I was a little worried about using an entire quarter cup of brown sugar but amazingly it was definitely not overly sweet. I don't know if it was the bacon grease or chicken fond or what it was that soaked up the majority of the sweetness. It really did give a great slightly sweet taste.

I didn't have colby-monterrey jack cheese so I used some Mexican blend cheese I had left over. Still turned out great.

Early I said I attempted glazed carrots. The carrots were perfectly cooked (if I do say so myself) the problem is they weren't glazed (just boiled). I don't know if I didn't heat them fast enough or if I brought things to a boil too quickly. The problem was they were done cooking (by taste and softness) well before the sauce had reduced to a glaze. I had to make a judgment call of perfectly done or perfectly glazed. I went with perfectly done (especially after yesterday's eggplant overcooking fiasco). The recipe called for 6 tablespoons of butter for a measly 1 1/2 lbs of carrots. Coronary anyone?

By the way, I love my meat thermometer. It has saved me either 1) from overcooking plenty of proteins and/or 2) slaughtering the appearance of many a piece meat by trying to cut it open and see if its done 3) allowed me to worry less about the cooking times in recipes because I know the true measure of being done. I don't have to worry about some arbitrary number chosen by someone who has absolutely no clue how hot (or not) my stove is.

The little lady made desert today. It was coffee roasted pears via Jacque Pepin. They were delish. The recipe starts at about 20-21 minutes in (so you don't have to sit through the whole thing.

So what did I learn today?

  • Pans are measured from inside rim to inside rim.
  • The French love butter (6 tablespoons? Really?)
  • Bacon makes everything better. 
  • Coffee and pears can actually go together. 
  • I don't know how the heck to reduce sauces or liquids.

Oily Rats and Size Matters

Today I spent the better part of the day reading about food, preparing food, cooking food, or cleaning up food.

This morning I was looking for something to make for the little lady today and decided to go with Saute De Boeuf A La Parisienne (Beef Saute with Cream and Mushroom Sauce) and serve it with Ratatouille.

Both recipes were from Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck.

Remember that I don't profess to be a professional chef or even experienced home cook. I'm really just starting my education in the kitchen and trying to move beyond the routine of being able to tell you without viewing the menu that a Number 3 combo with an enchirito thrown in cost $7.44.

So knowing my lack of experience or education you can imagine the many tribulations I faced today. Even shopping for the ingredients was a chore. A number of recipes in MAoFC list cuts of meats that frankly I have never seen in the neatly packaged containers at my local grocery store. I am especially ignorant in the arena of butchery. I couldn't tell you the difference between tenderloin butt and booty call shoulder roast? So when I went to the grocery store and was looking for tenderloin butt I was more than a little lost. I found some packages that were tenderloin cuts but absolutely none that were tenderloin "in da butt, Bob. In da, butt". Since what I found was not exactly verbatim what I was looking for I panicked a little and opted for NY Strip Steak. Why?

Well, I understand that NY Strip Steak is a good cut of beef? I mean it is usually one of the more expensive items on the menu at Chili's. Right? So logically then it would be OK for me to get a better cut of steak as long as the cut I got was more expensive or from a better place on the cow. Right?

I wish meats in the grocery store were like underoos with little tags that you could mix and match.

My second dilemma was the wine (or at least the wine like substance). The recipe called for Madeira as a first choice and dry white vermouth as a second choice. My blank, lost, WTF expression could not have been more noticeable when I walked down the wine aisle. Is Madeira a wine? Or...? Do they sell that at the grocery store? I know Vermouth goes in some other drinks but do they really sell it separately? I was complete lost. I haven't had a drink of alcohol in almost two decades. I was completely lost.

If there was vermouth or Madeira at the grocery store I definitely didn't find it. We wound up going to the local liquor store and luckily the guys there were pretty helpful. They didn't have Madeira but they did have Vermouth and that is what we wound up using in the recipe.

I did, however, learn a very useful talent today. I learned how to peel, de-seed, and juice tomatoes. It only took 2 or 3 easy to find you tube videos to get me on the right track.

I, as is par for the course, started freaking out when I started cooking. I have a bunch of mismatched pots and pans. I have a very large Emeril sauce pan that is probably in the 12 inch range but is relatively shallow. When I say it is a sauce pan I mean it has straight up and down sides not graduated sides like a saute pan. Well my first panic centered around the pan I was using being too big. The amounts of oil or cooking times can be (from my experience) thrown off when the pan is anywhere from 3-5 inches bigger than the recipe calls for.

I watched a number of videos about making ratatouille. The biggest difference between the recipes in the book and the recipes online was that a number of recipes online said to make sure that cutting the eggplant was the last thing to do. In contrast, the MAoFC has me doing that first. In fact, I cut the eggplant first, salt it, and let it stand (with the cut zuchini) for 30 minutes.

The problem I ran into with cutting the eggplant first was that it turned browned very quickly (almost immediately). My wife said it was because I didn't cover the zuchini and eggplant when I let it sit but the fact is it browned before I even had a chance to finish cutting everything. I'm not sure if this always happens or if it was something about the particular eggplant I got. The recipe also called for me to peel the eggplant. That's when I made my next major discovery.

For over 40 years I have been using vegetable peelers wrong. Pull the peeler towards you and not away from you? Who knew? Apparently everyone else on the planet other than me. No wonder I hate peeling potatoes so much and no wonder it took so much time and energy.

I am realizing this post is going on way too long so I need to cut to the chase.
Here is the end results;

Despite replacing NY strip instead of tenderloin butt and using dry white vermouth instead of Madeira the steak, mushrooms, and sauce turned out very nicely. The ratatouille was a completely different story.

Thats why size matters. When you use a skillet or pan that is large (size matters) you wind up using more oil than the recipe calls for. When you are also using eggplant its important to remember that eggplant does a great job (in fact too well) of soaking up oil. Oh, and when a recipe says "more oil if needed" it is better to go with less than more. The result was a very oily ratatouille (hence oily rats). In fact, oily and slimy to the point of being unappealing and bordering on inedible. OK, inedible is a strong word. But definitely unappealing. Despite the probably 2 hour cooking time,  my wife and I barely ate more than a couple bites of the stuff. I mean I was tempted to call BP for help with the oil.

So let's recap what I learned today;

  • I know nothing about what cuts of meat can be substituted for others. 
  • Eggplant browns faster than a red headed Irishman in the Texas sun. 
  • Peeling tomatoes is easier than I ever imagined. 
  • Be sure to use the right sized pan. 
  • Eggplant should be salted (according to both the recipe I used and every single video I saw)
  • It takes 40 years for me to figure out how to properly use a vegetable peeler. 
  • Madeira is a wine but has a pretty high alcohol content. 
  • Eggplant soaks up oil better than the Bounty lumberjack on steroids. 
It was a long day in the kitchen but still fun and I am learning a little more with each dish I cook. Even if it does take me 40 years.