Do It Yourself

Kitchen Tech Saturday: Online Cooking Classes

Happy Weekend, my lovelies!

The big grocery store chain in the Chicago area, Jewel-Osco, is running a Monopoly game promotion right now. The cashier hands out game pieces according to how much you spend at check-out, with some items in the store being worth bonus pieces. Of course, we’ve probably all played a Monopoly game like this before. I know that the big prize, in this case, $1 million dollars, is likely not going to happen for me. Buuuut, since they’re handing me those game pieces anyway, I always pop them open to see if any of them are instant winners or have any good coupons. So far, I’ve won a free tub of potato salad, a free Shutterfly photo book, and two online cooking courses from Rouxbe Cooking School.

Kinda crazy, right? I’d never heard of Rouxbe, so of course I went poking around the interwebs for some reviews (here, here, and here, to name just a few). Turns out, Rouxbe has a pretty good reputation for offering great classes that cover a broad range of topics, from a beginner level plant-based cooking course, to basic knife skills, to food safety. A lot of the courses for home cooks are definitely things we covered in culinary school, but for home cooks who are looking to step up their game in the kitchen, I can definitely see the benefit in investing the time and money to really dig in. If you’re interested in checking out Rouxbe, they do offer a free trial, so you can see what you’re getting into before you drop the cash for the membership fee.

Obviously, this became a big ole rabbit hole for me, and I started looking around at other online cooking schools. A lot of the big names you’d expect to see came up in my search… Allrecipes.com, Sur la Table, America’s Test Kitchen, and one of the newest, Gordon Ramsay’s Master Class. Of the first three, Allrecipes.com and America’s Test Kitchen both offer some sort of free trial period, and Sur la Table provides a short preview of each class. The Rouxbe classes, as well as the other three mentioned have discussion boards available to bounce ideas and questions off of fellow students, and the Rouxbe classes offer instructor feedback, quizzes, and an actual grade at the end, which is nice if you really need the accountability to stay on track. All of them are self-paced, which means you can fit the classes into your week at your convenience. The Gordon Ramsay version is a set of 20 lessons for one set price, but the likelihood of getting direct feedback from Ramsay himself seems pretty slim.

If you’re ready for a little more of a challenge, want to dive deeper into a particular style of cuisine, or you’re looking to fine tune your basic kitchen skills, online cooking classes might be the next step for you. I guess my advice, as someone who’s shelled out a LOT of money for culinary school, would be to really do your research to find the online classes that best fit your budget, your learning style, and the amount of time you’re willing to commit. Some programs offer full access to all their classes for a membership fee up front that let you see the full course catalog, and then an additional cost associated with each class. Others will let you pay for classes as you take them. Some will provide a good amount of instructor feedback, and for others, the feedback comes primarily through discussions with other students. This can be a great way to really hone your skills, as long as you choose the program that’s right for you.

If you’ve taken any online cooking classes in the past, I’d love to hear your feedback. What site did you use? What class(es) did you take? What the experience beneficial? Do you still use what you learned?

I’d also like to offer one of my readers the chance to take a Rouxbe class, using one of my Monopoly prize codes. You’ll have to use the code by May 30th, and then you have 60 days from redemption to complete the course. To enter the giveaway, all you need to do is leave a comment here on this blog post telling me which one of the three available courses interests you most:

The Cook’s Roadmap

Wake up! Becoming a better cook doesn’t have to be a nightmare of sifting through endless online and offline content. Let Rouxbe’s guided instruction open your eyes to understanding the “world of cooking” — a set of puzzle pieces that can be rearranged to unlock the code to tastier, healthier and more nutritious food.

Plant-Based Cooking: Level 1

As kids, we’re told to eat our veggies as an important part of a healthy lifestyle. But what about quality and taste? Don’t panic. Take a step back and look at the big picture of cooking and health. This course will guide you through essential techniques and ingredients to help you incorporate more high-quality and surprisingly delicious plant-based dishes into your life.

Knife Skills

Start chopping! Learning to use a knife will radically change your kitchen experience and your health. The more comfortable you are cutting food, the more you will cut. The more you cut, the more you cook. The more you cook, the better you feel, so get chopping and change your life.

I’ll draw the winner on Friday, March 17th, St. Patrick’s Day, and announce it both here and on Facebook (So make sure you follow me there, too!) on Saturday, March 18th by Noon, Central Standard Time. The winner will have 48 hours to contact me, or the prize is forfeit.

I’ve just signed up for the Plant-Based Cooking class. We’re headed into Spring, and that means all those delicious seasonal vegetables are about to start showing up in grocery stores and farmer’s market. What better way to get in that veggie state of mind?

Good luck to everyone who enters!

Kitchen Tech Saturday – Reduce food waste with the foodkeepr app!

I’m going to try this cool (?) thing for Saturdays, and I’d love some feedback. Every Saturday, I’m going to introduce you to a piece of tech designed to help you out in the kitchen, doing your shopping, keeping track of recipes, etc.

I’m not so clever with the names. If you can think of a better name for all this *waves hand around the post*, please speak up! I haven’t designed a graphic to go with the series because I’m sincerely hoping someone far more clever than me can help.

Anyhoots, this week’s technological wonder is the foodkeepr app. It’s a simple little app that helps you create a shopping list, then, once you’ve made your purchases, keeps track of the expiration dates of all perishables and will remind you to use them up before they go bad. It’ll even connect you to Food Network to help you find recipes to use up those last little bits of things before they’re past their prime.

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$200 BILLION (!) dollars worth of food, or about $1100 per household, is wasted in this country… Thrown away because we didn’t get around to using it before it went bad. That’s both horrifying, and preventable. Little things, like shopping lists based on what you really need, meal planning, and getting over that weird fear you have of leftovers (ok, maybe those of you who have been subjected to 4 day old tuna noodle surprise might not find that so easy) can help.

Join me in the fight against food waste by using foodkeepr grocery list!

Android: http://goo.gl/t0QBZJ

iOS: http://goo.gl/zMIWLq

Things in bowls…

As I write this, I’m listen to the popping and crackling of a fire burning in a little black stove in the corner of the room. It’s different from a fireplace, which, in my mind at least, evokes nostalgia and maybe a touch of romance more than anything else. But, the fire that burns tonight is one of necessity. It requires attention– poking, prodding, stoking, and feeding. It’s the fire that warms us, that heats the water for tea, that warms through chunks of leftover cornbread, and keeps a large pot of split pea soup bubbling away. This home is not without some modern amenities, but when this little stove can do so much with so little, it’s easy to forget that they’re there.  Like a ballerina dancing a steady, controlled adagio so slowly that you are somehow a little surprised when she’s made it to the other side of the stage, I’ve barely noticed that time has seemed to march backwards a little. I don’t feel inconvenience, or “without.”  Just… I’m not sure what the right word would be. Content? Sure? Serene? I do know I’ll miss that little wood stove when it’s time to move on.

My time here in Taos, so far, is making me thinky. Very, very thinky.

I’m thinking a lot today about things that cook in pots, and meals eaten out of bowls. Those soups and stews and braises cook for hours. They’re the things we cook when there is still so much work to be done. While chores are finished, projects moved forward, emails checked and answered, phone calls made, homework done, blog posts edited, snow to be shoveled… whatever it is that needs to be accomplished, these pots of things simmer and bubble away, filling the house with promises of an end in sight. When we finally sit down, bone and/or brain weary, to a bowl of comforting… whatever it is that’s been cooking in that pot all day, it feels like the logical, natural conclusion to something.

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Our soup feels somehow even more fulfilling because the peas, and the carrots, for that matter, came from the ground right outside the front door. It’s a big pot, and we’ve revisited it multiple times over the past couple of days. I’m not bored with it yet, and am actually a little sad knowing we’ll hit the end of it soon.

I ventured into town today, and, fortified against the cold with an Americano spiked with cinnamon and chile powder (called The Coyote), wandered around Taos’ central plaza. After a little bit of shopping, lunch was yet another meal in a bowl– a fiery green chile, thick with tomatoes and potatoes and a delicious broth that delivered on both heat and flavor.

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My server warned me, “It’s really spicy,” and kept coming back to check on me to make sure I was ok. “Geez, you’re a trooper.” I ate the whole bowl, and every last shred of the homemade tortillas that came with it. I’ll admit, it took another hour for the last vestiges of heat to fade away, so maybe I’m not so much a trooper as I am a glutton for punishment.

I’ve had some interesting conversations about food with the locals here. There’s a strange dichotomy that comes from living in a place that supports both a thriving locavore community as well as native culture, but also the hesitant necessity of big chains. I’m still learning, so maybe I’ll hold back on pontificating any further until I’ve gotten to dig in a little more. I really don’t think a week and a half will be nearly enough time to learn it all, but isn’t that the way? For now, I’ll just enjoy the lessons as they come. Hopefully there’s more to learn from the things that come in bowls.

Demystifying Lamb: Advice Straight from the Rancher

This post is one of a series of posts I’m sharing about Sacramento IFBC 2016. In exchange for a discounted ticket, I agreed to share my own personal experience about IFBC on my blog.

“Agriculture was not always a source of pride for Sacramento.” Mary Kimball, Executive Director of Winter, California’s Center for Land-Based Learning shared that sentiment with an audience of food bloggers during an IFBC Panel on what it really means to be America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital.

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That lack of pride changed when perspectives started to shift, thanks to a full on Farm-to-Fork campaign launched by the Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau. As consumers, farmers, and retailers started to feel more connected, and the story of Sacramento’s agricultural bounty was told, it became a shared experience for everyone involved in the local food cycle, from start to finish. These days, it’s a story most Sacramento residents will gladly share.

Pride in his product came through loud and clear as lamb rancher Ryan Mahoney showed us around Brown Road Ranch in Rio Vista. While the bloggers on the tour peppered him with questions about everything from the stock, to feeding cycles, to how the lamb gets to market, it was easy to see his sincere interest in making sure we all “got it,” and came away with a real education. Of course, because we’re food bloggers, we quickly started digging around about flavor and recipes we could share to help home cooks get the very best from the lamb they buy, regardless of the cut. A quick peek at Ryan’s Instagram account (@californiasheeprancher) shows he eats plenty of his own product, and from chops to meatloaf, he knows what he’s doing.

The first thing we all wanted to know—what’s the difference between American lamb and the product from New Zealand and Australia? American lamb is bred for flavor, as opposed to the Merino stock the imported product comes from, which was primarily bred for wool.  That means American lambs go to market about 30 pounds bigger than the imports, on average, with more even fat distribution and better platability, which refers to the tenderness, juiciness, and flavor of the cooked product.

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I’ve heard people say they’re a little intimidated by the idea of cooking lamb at home. But I say, don’t be scared! While the flavor is different, the same basic cooking rules as the ones we follow for beef still apply.   Among the more tender cuts, Ryan says the easiest cut to cook is the center loin chop, seasoned with garlic salt, pepper and rosemary then grilled just like a steak.

Harder working, tougher muscles get lower heat with longer cooking time– think braising or stewing. He shared his family recipe for a leg of lamb.. Marinate the leg overnight in a mixture of brown sugar, Dijon mustard, lemon pepper and soy sauce. Braise it in low, moist heat in the oven, then reduce the marinade down in a pot on the stove to use as a sauce. Lamb shanks are even easier, and slow cooker friendly. His advice? “Throw ‘em in a Crock Pot with a bunch of stuff and they come out real tender and good.”

Just before sitting down to write this post, I noticed a picture of a lamb meatloaf Ryan posted to his Instagram account. I immediately asked for the recipe. He wasn’t very specific about some of the seasoning amounts, so I had to play around a little to find the right ratios. But, I think I figured out a version that worked well. We ended up with moist, juicy meatloaf that was packed with deep, complex flavor, and will make some excellent meatloaf sandwiches later in the week.  Give it a shot, and tell me what you think.

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Equipment:
Knife and cutting board
Measuring cups and spoons
Mixing bowl
Rubber spatula, or maybe just a pair of disposable gloves if you’re mixing by hand
Loaf pan

Ingredients:
1 lb ground American lamb
1 lb ground beef chuck
1 C milk
1 egg
1 T Kosher salt
½ T lemon pepper
½ tsp smoked paprika
1 T garlic, finely chopped
½ medium white onion, small dice
1 T fresh ginger, or ¼ tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground sage
¼ tsp mustard powder
1 T Worcestershire sauce
3-4 shakes of your favorite hot sauce (I used Cholula)
Pan spray

Preheat your oven to 350°. Spray the loaf pan generously with pan spray and set aside. Combine all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl until just evenly combined. Don’t overmix.

Pour the mixture into the loaf pan, evening out the top with the spatula. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 160° on your meat thermometer. Allow to rest for 15 minutes, then slice and serve. Should make eight slices.

If you’re a beer fan, like me, pair it with a rich, malty Porter. Yum! Looking for other pairings? Check out this cool chart on the American Lamb Board website.

Wait, what? You don’t have a meat thermometer, you say? You don’t have a cutting board? You don’t really understand all those cuts I mentioned? Don’t fret, my pet! I just might be able to help. Thanks to the folks at the American Lamb Board, I’m going to hook up one of you with a fun little goody bag full of everything you need to get started exploring the wonderful world of American lamb.

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Inside the reuseable lunch bag, you’ll find a meat thermometer, a flexible cutting board, a cute little tin of a wonderful seasoning blend you can use on just about any cut of lamb, a great collection of lamb recipes as well as a little “Curriculamb” education on lamb cuts, and a few other goodies.

All you need to do to win is leave a comment below telling me your favorite way to eat lamb. If you’ve never tried it, let me know that, too. The winner will be drawn randomly at 7pm MST on Saturday, August 13th and announced on my Facebook page, so be sure to go over there and hit that “Like” button to be sure you stay in the loop.

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.