Month: January 2015

The Apple of My Eye

Him: “So… what do you want to do for Valentine’s Day?”

Me: “Umm… I dunno. What do you want to do?”

Him: “We’re nice to each other all the time. Do we have to make a thing of it?”

Me: “Well, I definitely don’t want to go out to dinner with all those other couples being gross and weird.”

Him: “Agreed.”

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the extent of the boyfriend and I’s conversation about Valentine’s Day. I suspect there will be dinner at home and some binge watching of something on Netflix and if I’m very lucky and ask nice, he’ll make me popcorn. He makes the best popcorn. So, yeah, pretty much what it’s like almost every weekend.

I’ve been trying to come up with some options for a dinner/dessert combo that says, “This day is maybe a little special but not like… a big deal in the grand scheme of things.” Dinner is still a little bit of a mystery, but dessert might be sorted.

It might be this Mini Apple Brulée Tart. I am a broke culinary student without a lot of funds for just playing around, so my experiments typically have to be limited to what I already have on hand. The ingredients in this tart can all be purchased for less than $10 total, assuming you have a few staples like cinnamon, honey (or agave) and sugar on hand.

I have apples. I have one sheet of puff pastry. I have cinnamon and a tiny sample sized jar of jam. I can work with that! I have just enough of everything to make two of these fun little tarts, and BONUS! I get to use the brulee torch I bought myself for Christmas.

Equipment:
baking sheet
fork
parchment paper
knife and cutting board
small bowl
small pot
spoon for stirring
measuring spoons
vegetable peeler
apple corer (if you’ve got it. if not, just cut the cores)
box grater or hand held zester/grater thing
1 sheet of paper towel
Brulée torch

Ingredients:
1 sheet of puff pastry
2 apples (The bag literally just said “Pommes/Apples” on the side, so I’m not sure what kind I used. McIntosh, Braeburns, or Fujis would work.)
2 tablespoons of any sort of jam that you think would taste good with apples
1 teaspoon honey
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon of lemon juice (maybe)
2 tablespoons of granulated sugar
2 teaspoons of powdered sugar

Preheat your oven to 425º.

Line your baking sheet with parchment paper.

Cut two 4 in. x 4 in. squares from your sheet of puff pastry, then cut eight 1/2 in. x 4 in. strips. Use the strips to create a border around the edge of each square. Poke holes with the fork in the center, not on the border, to keep them from puffing up too much.

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Bake them in the preheated oven for 12 minutes. If the centers still look a little too puffed, you can push them down a bit.

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Peel and core both apples.

Grate one apple against the small side of your grater. Basically, this is going to puree the apple. Yes, you could use your food processor or blender for this, but do you really want to pull that whole thing out and have to wash it later for 1/2 a cup of apple puree? I didn’t think so. So, grate the apple until you end up with that 1/2 cup of puree.

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Cut the other half into thin slices. You only need about 8 slices, 4 slices per tart, but I recommend just eating the rest because apples are delicious and good for you. Gently dry the surface of each slice with a paper towel and set aside for a minute.

NOTE: This recipe comes together pretty fast, so your apples probably won’t have time to go all brown on you. If you get interrupted, you will need to sprinkle a little lemon juice over them to keep them from oxidizing while you do whatever it is that you need to do. Just remember to dry them before you put them on the tart.

If you don’t have a Brulée torch, go ahead and set your oven to broil.

Put the puree and the 2 tablespoons of jam into the pot over medium low heat. I used this little jar of Pear and Spice jam from Jam Lab that I got in the mail.

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Once that mixture has started to bubble, add the cinnamon, honey, and vanilla and stir to combine. Simmer the mixture until it’s lost about 1/2 its liquid.

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Spoon about 2 tablespoons of the apple mixture into the center of each tart.

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Shingle four apple slices over the top of each tart.

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Sprinkle the apple slices generously with the granulated sugar. If you have a Brulée torch, this is where you’d turn that puppy on and use it to caramelize the sugar on top. If you don’t, just a minute or so under the broiler should do the job. It’ll happen fast, so keep a close eye on it. (FYI, I’ve also used one of those extended camping lighters to burn sugar. That’s probably some sort of no-no, so I’m not advising you to do it. I’m just saying that if I was worried about the pastry burning under the broiler and I wanted a better way to direct the heat right to the sugar on the apples and I didn’t have a Brulée torch, I might do that.)

And just like that, your tarts are ready. You can keep it simple and just dust them with a little powdered sugar like I did, or you can put a little scoop of ice cream or some whipped cream on the plate with them with a final sprinkle of cinnamon and that’d be really yummy, too.

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Enjoy!

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Lessons from Culinary School

Happy Wednesday!

One of the things I really wanted to get back to this year is passing on some of the stuff I’m learning in school to you all. These past few weeks have given me some really cool firsts: First time making bread that actually worked and the first time I’ve ever made my own pasta. Exciting stuff, yo!

Lesson 1: Bread

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I’ve tried bread a few times in the past. It’s come out… ok. Edible. But definitely not something I’d be proud to bring to the dinner table. This time, though, I think I’m on the right track.

First thing I learned? Be patient and be prepared. Bread isn’t all that mysterious, but I’m impatient and in the past I think I’ve just been in a hurry to get to the final product. Basic bread dough is simple– flour, yeast, salt, and water. If you can remember 2 cups flour, 1 cup water, 1 tsp instant yeast, and 1 tsp salt, you can make dough that will make a baguette, a round loaf, or even rolls, if you want.

Make sure all your ingredients are at the right temperature. If you keep your flour in the freezer, bring it up to room temp before you start. Cold flour will keep the yeast from activating. If you’re one of those people who would rather bundle up in the winter than turn up the heater, make an exception. Warm up the kitchen a little before you start mixing the dough. The best temperature for activating yeast depends on the type you’re using.

75°F–95°F (24°C–35°C) Best temperature for yeast activity
85°F–100°F (29°C–38°C) Best water temperature for hydrating instant yeast
100°F–110°F (38°C–43°C) Best water temperature for hydrating active dry yeast

Also, dough needs to be kneaded. Probably a lot more than you think. If you have a stand mixer with a dough hook, that becomes a lot easier. If you’re doing it by hand, remember that the dough should be smooth and elastic, and the gluten strands need to be well developed to get there. If your dough reaches a point where it just keeps snapping back on you and refuses to stretch, put it down and let it relax for a bit. If it’s still sticking to your hands and the counter top after a few minutes, knead in a little more flour.

Lesson 2: Pasta

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I really lucked out this quarter for European Cuisine. I got an actual Italian chef instructor. He’s passing along his family recipes for things like bread, sauce, and (yay!) pasta. It’s such an easy formula I memorized it on the spot.

6 eggs
3 1/2 cups flour
1 half an egg shell of water (about a tablespoon)

I didn’t get a chance to make my own pasta way back last year when I was taking fundamentals, so I was stoked to get a shot at it this time. You guys… it’s so easy.

Put the flour in a bowl, make a well in the center, crack the eggs into the well, add the water, and start mixing with a fork from the inside out, slowly incorporating the flour into the eggs until it all comes together. Knead it a few times, until it smooths out, then cover it and let it rest for about 30 minutes. Roll it, cut it into whatever size noodle you want, cook it in well salted boiling water for about 5 minutes and there you go.

If you have a pasta roller, or an attachment for your stand mixer, of course that’s ideal, but I experimented a little with some of the extra dough and found that in a pinch, you can roll it out thinly enough with just a rolling pin. Just takes a little work, and you should not try to roll out the whole thing at once. Just do a little at a time. Also, once it’s cut, let it hang out over the edge of a bowl, or on a sheet pan with a little flour for about 10 minutes to let it dry and relax from all the rolling. It’ll give you a better texture in the final, cooked product.

I hope if any of you have ever let either of these things intimidate you, you’ll put on your big girl (or boy) britches and embrace the challenge. I think you’ll find it’s not so complicated after all, and it can be something you’ll take pride in knowing how to do for the rest of your life.

 

It’s a Non-judgmental Lentil

I just very nearly typed, “It’s been a long week,” and then I realized it’s only Monday. Good grief.

Next Sunday is Superbowl Sunday. There will be gatherings of people crowded around televisions to watch the sports ball while simultaneously putting food in their faceholes. Ahhh, tradition.

I always thought it was a little unfair that just after so many of us have had a decent January of eating healthy and getting our bodies out of Holiday Food Coma-geddon, they go and drop a day full of  deep fried, sauced, beerified, cheesy, crunchy snacks on us. I love those snacks. So, so much. *wistful sigh*

But I have an alternative for you. Or, if not an alternative to the whole array of goodies, maybe an alternative for one of the things on your game day plate. It’s kind of a dip… hummus-y sort of thing that is packed with flavor.

It was inspired by this Roasted Garlic and Red Lentil soup posted by Patricia over at Grab a Plate. I thought it sounded awesome as a soup, but maybe equally as delightful as a dip. I experimented a bit, and came up with this little ditty. You can do some of the prep, like cooking the lentils and roasting the garlic, a day ahead and then whir everything up in the blender on the day of the game. Or the day of the sitting at home watching Empire on Hulu while avoiding any mention of football altogether and snacking your face off.

Equipment:
1 medium bowl
1 medium pot
1 baking sheet
measuring cups and spoons
aluminum foil
spoon
knife and cutting board
blender

Ingredients:
1 cup red lentils, soaked for 30 minutes just covered in water
1 cup water and 1 cup chicken or vegetable stock
1 whole garlic bulb
salt and pepper
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tsp ground coriander seed
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 400º.

In a medium pot, combine 1 cup water, 1 cup of stock, and the lentils. Bring to a boil over medium-high, then lower the heat to a simmer and cover for 30 to 40 minutes until the lentils are tender.

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While the lentils are cooking, divide the garlic bulb in half horizontally, place it on a piece of aluminum foil, drizzle with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

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Wrap the whole thing up and pop it in the oven for about 40 minutes. When it comes out, it’ll be all roasty and sweet and mellow and smooshy and just really freaking delicious.

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Once the garlic is out of the oven and the lentils are ready, pour the lentils, as much garlic as you like, the red wine vinegar, and the ground coriander into the blender. Pulse 5 or 6 times to combine, then let the blender run while you stream in 1/4 cup of olive oil. Taste for seasoning, adjust, pulse a couple more times, then, viola! You’ve got dip.

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You can drizzle a little more olive oil on top, kind of like the way you serve hummus.

Also, you can play around with the seasonings to your hearts content. I imagine some curry spice would be interesting, or maybe a little smoky cumin. Give it a whirl!

So, what exactly is a superfood anyway?

I’m about to drop some truth. Yep. Right there on your head. I hope it doesn’t spin your whole world into a tizzy, but it’s happening, so get ready.

There’s no such thing as a superfood, from a nutritional and a medical standpoint. It’s a marketing word created by some ad agency genius. Yes, genius, because it worked. Seriously, go on Pinterest right now and search for “superfood.” There’s a list of foods a mile long.

Do not misunderstand. I’m not saying the foods on those lists aren’t good for you. They’re great for you! They’re full of good stuff like antioxidants and phytonutrients and, well, yeah, lots of really good things. You should eat the foods on those lists because your body will appreciate being well taken care of. But, that’s all a superfood really is– a food that is good for you because it contains the vitamins and nutrients your body needs to function and feel good. It’s food that is super for you!

So, when I show you how to throw together this salad, I’m calling it a “Superfood” salad because it tastes super, it’s super satisfying, it’s made of foods that are super for you, and it’s super easy to make. I made it for myself for lunch because I have this horrific flu straight from the depths of hell and I am desperately shoving anything that is good for me into my body until it decides to straighten up and fight back. I have literally been eating an apple a day since Monday. No joke.

This salad with roasted lemon-ginger vinaigrette contains:

Baby kale: Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, copper, potassium, iron, protein, calcium
Toasted pumpkin seeds: magnesium, zinc, omega-3, fiber, antioxidants
Fresh blueberries: Vitamin C, Vitamin E, riboflavin, niacin, folate, phytonutrients
Shredded Brussels sprouts: low-glycemic properties, protein, fiber, Vitamin C, antioxidants, Vitamin K
Roasted Lemon: Vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, pectin
Ginger: anti-inflammatory, anti-nausea, may reduce blood pressure, and when consumed ahead of time, may help reduce the damage to your liver caused by taking acetaminophen
Olive oil: reduces risk of high blood pressure, stroke, and high cholesterol, anti-inflammatory, and may have a slight protective effect against depression

Super!

Equipment:
Aluminum foil
Knife and cutting board
Small grater (or the small side of a box grater)
Teaspoon
Large Bowl
Small bowl (for making the vinaigrette)
Whisk

Ingredients:
1 Lemon (I used two because I have plans for the second one later next week)
1 large knob of ginger, to produce about 1 tablespoon of grated ginger
1/3 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup of shredded/thinly sliced Brussels sprouts
1 cup of fresh blueberries
1/4 cup of toasted pumpkin seeds
3-4 cups baby kale (or full sized kale, cut into thin strips)

For the vinaigrette:

Heat your oven to 450º.

Poke several small holes in the lemon.

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Place it on a medium sized sheet of aluminum foil with a small pinch of salt and pepper, then wrap the whole thing up into a little package and roast it for about 20 minutes.

While that’s roasting, take the skin off of your knob of ginger with a spoon. Don’t use a knife, because you’ll probably take off more than just skin and the outer layer of ginger is the bit with all the flavor. Instead, use the edge of the spoon to scrape off the thin outer skin of the ginger, then grate the peeled ginger directly into the small bowl you’re going to use to make the dressing.

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When you take the lemon out of the oven, open it over the bowl to catch any juice that might have already come out. Squeeze the rest of the juice into the bowl, being careful to catch any seeds. Mix the ginger into the lemon juice. Slowly drizzle the olive oil into the lemon-ginger mixture while whisking briskly. The ingredients should start to emulsify.

I’m sorry I don’t have pictures of this step. I blame all the crap clogging up my noggin area. However,  I found a great video on how to make a basic vinaigrette that shows you the whole whisking thing at :47

http://www.howcast.com/videos/187985-How-to-Make-a-Basic-Vinaigrette

Alternatively, put all three ingredients plus a little salt and pepper into a jar with a lid and shake it like a Polaroid picture until it all comes together.

For the salad:

Thinly slice your Brussels sprouts. Alternatively, you could peel each tiny leaf off one by one… if you have all the time in the world and no place to be for the next little while. But yeah, let’s just go with the shredding thing.

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Roast your pumpkin seeds in a dry pan, just until they start to get some color.

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Toss the Brussels sprouts and the kale together in your large bowl. Top with the toasted pumpkin seeds and fresh blueberries. Drizzle with the vinaigrette.

Ta da!

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Have a super time making/eating this super salad that will make you feel super.

 

Winner Wednesday!

Winner stamp

 

 

This is becoming my favorite day of the week!

Congrats to angelasaver! You’ve won the Crisp™ paring knife.

crisp paring

I’ve got your email address (thanks!) so check your inbox for instructions.

Thanks to all of you who commented. Have a great Wednesday.