Saturday, March 19, 2011

Roasted tomatillo salsa

Tomatillo salsa has a great flavor and color and it pretty much makes itself in the oven.  I smashed mine in the mortar and pestle but I actually prefer this one done in the blender.  Unfortunately my blender is broken so I fused the flavors the only way I knew how - mashing.  The salsa is cooked because tomatillos don't taste good raw - you always want to cook them in some way.  This is another recipe a friend shared with me that I'd like to share with the world.

Tomatillo Salsa:
9 tomatillos, outer paper removed, quartered
5 cloves garlic - no need to peel - after roasting you can squeeze the soft garlic out
1/2 onion - cut in half again
1/2 jalapeño or more, seeds in to increase spice.  If you want mild salsa be sure to core your jalapeño before roasting and remove all seeds
5-6 sprigs cilantro, or more
1-3 limes depending on juciness, size, and your taste
salt + pepper

Put the tomatillos, garlic, onion, and jalepeno on a tray or in a pan for roasting.  Cover with oil, salt, and pepper and roast in the oven until tomatillos are cooked through and garlic is soft.  Probably around 400F, give or take.  The higher the heat the less time it will take, the lower the heat the longer it will take (you get the idea).  Different ingredients will probably cook for different amounts of time so be sure to check them frequently and remove any bits that might burn or overcook.  When it's finished let cool and then blend or mash with cilantro, lime juice, salt, and pepper.  It's even more delicious the day after when the flavors have melded and settled.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Vanilla bean crème fraiche

Recently I had my birthday (celebrated all week) - totaling in 5 birthday cakes.  I love cake.  I wanted to top my birthday cake with some whipped crème fraiche as they do at the restaurant so I took two days to go through the process.  Even though it takes a couple days to make, it's really effortless and can be a good sweet or savory accompaniment to your meal.  However don't be fooled by the name, translating to "fresh cream," it's really more like "freshly soured cream," and it's incredibly versatile.

How to use it:
  • It's better than sour cream - though you can use it anywhere in place of sour cream
    • You can whip it (you can't do that with sour cream)
    • You can cook with it/boil it and it won't separate like sour cream
  • It can be sweet or savory
    • Sweet: whip it with sugar/vanilla to top desserts, use it instead of sour cream in baking (i.e. muffins)
    • Savory: use it to thicken soups and sauces, mix it with herbs or horseradish and top off soups, use it as a component in creamy salad dressings

Crème fraiche:
1 cup heavy cream (pasteurized ok but not ultra pasteurized) to 1 TB of buttermilk.
Keep in mind the higher quality cream the higher quality the end product.  Put the cream and buttermilk in a sauce pan and warm briefly just to take the chill off; it should be lukewarm at best.  Put in a clean glass jar or tupperware, cover, and let it sit out for up to 24 hours.  Then put it in the fridge for 24 hours.  It should thicken up and smell a little sour.  Done!  Use it for about a week.

Whipped crème fraiche topping on the cake:
Whip the creme fraiche with a little bit of cream until it holds it's own without being over-whipped.  Take a vanilla bean, slice open and scrape the insides, mix with creme fraiche.  Stir in powdered sugar to desired sweetness.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Chicken stock and staff meal

Restaurant cooking is so delicious because you don't cook with water.  You cook with flavored liquid - usually some kind of stock.  Make some stock and next time you cook add it to whatever your cooking instead of water; you'll taste the difference.  There are all kinds of stock you can make, AP (all purpose meat), chicken, vegetable, veal, duck, lobster, mushroom, etc.  The list goes on depending on what you are cooking.  However, all stocks share the same base: bones/meat (for meat stocks) and mirepoix - carrots, onion, celery - or leaks.  For meat stocks you want to have about 2 parts bones/meat 3 parts liquid.  The vegetables are supposed to make up about 20% of the stock, but you can eye-ball it.  So ideally after all the meat and vegetables are in the pot the water will  just cover it with room for evaporation.

Chicken stock:
1 fat carrot (2 small/med), peeled and cut into medium sized pieces
1 large onion, quartered
1 really fat leek, (2 small/med) cut and washed
1 whole medium chicken, washed and broken down into parts
Optional: bay leaf, parsley sprigs, herbs such as thyme, garlic, peppercorns, and more, depending on desired flavor.

Bring chicken up to a boil and simmer on low, removing all scum that floats to the top.  If it's boiling too hard the scum will mix with your stock and make it cloudy and give it a funny taste.  After about 30 minutes add the vegetables and any other ingredients. Simmer for 4-5 hours, continuing to skim the top periodically.  Strain through a very fine strainer (chinois).  Taste it - if it's too watery then put it back on the stove and reduce it to the desired flavor.  Cool the finished stock in an ice bath until it can be put into containers in the fridge or freezer.
This container was the whole yield from my small-batch stock.

What you can use stock for:
  • As the main ingredient in many fine sauces
  • To add moisture and flavor to cooking (instead of water)
  • As a soup base
  • With rice, cous cous, quinoa, etc - instead of water for more flavor or as cooking liquid for risotto.
  • As braising liquid

Staff meal:
In restaurants you should know the staff doesn't eat what you eat when you come in.  Surprisingly people in the restaurant industry don't eat very well or even regularly.  There have been many days when I didn't have time for dinner or when I scarfed it down in 3 minutes while continuing to work.  The most common staff meal I've encountered is white rice with chicken and veg.  After making stock, you have leftover chicken and vegetables that have been simmering for hours.  Shred the chicken, chop up the vegetables (or chop up some new vegetables), and sautee with garlic, ginger, red chili flakes, soy sauce or cumin, and other flavors on hand and you've got staff meal.  Needless to say, soy sauce and sriracha are a staple in many kitchens.