Thursday, August 28, 2008

Chicken in Dijon Sauce - 8/25/08

Here's my first meal of my first semester in grad school.

Chicken with Dijon Sauce

It's chicken in a Dijon cream sauce. I preheated the oven to 450 degrees F. Then I patted dry three bone-in chicken breasts and sprinkled them with some salt and pepper. I browned the chicken (starting with the skin side down) on both sides. Once brown, I put the entire oven-safe skillet in the oven for 20 minutes to finish cooking the chicken. After taking the skillet out, I removed the chicken from the pan and set it aside. To the pan, I added some sliced shallots and 3/4 cup each white wine and chicken stock. After letting this reduce by half, I added 1/4 cup heavy cream and let it boil until it was thickened. After removing the sauce from the pan, I whisked in about 3 tablespoons Dijon mustard, some chopped chives, salt, and pepper. To serve, I poured the sauce on top of the chicken. One great thing about using a little heavy cream in a sauce is that by cooking it, it turns out nicely thickened. But don't cook it too long or it will "break" and not set up as nicely. On the side, I chopped up some purple onion and sweet potato and I peeled some garlic, then sprayed it with Pam and sprinkled on some dried sage (I was hoping to match the earthiness of Dijon with sage). I stuck these in the oven while I prepped and cooked the chicken until they were roasted and cooked through. Truth be told, I should cook with chicken on the bone more often because it tends to be juicier and tastier than plain breasts.

Pineapple-Blueberry Angel Food Cake

For dessert, I prepared a blueberry-pineapple angel food cake. I wanted to make something reasonably light to eat so I did not get cravings for chocolate cake all the time. I used a large can of crushed pineapple as the liquid portion for a boxed angel food cake. I also stopped by the Raleigh farmers' market and picked up some fresh blueberries, so I threw some in to the cake as well. They tended to collect on the bottom of the cake while baking, so it almost created a blueberry layer with angel food on top. In any case, I like the cake prepared in a 13x9 Pyrex pan (or larger size) so you don't have to worry about the ring form of the cake falling. With some Cool Whip on top, this cake was quite the delicious topper to a good meal.

Tacos al Pastor - 8/20/08

Robin Miller strikes again. Remember those BBQ pulled pork sandwiches? Well, I got tired of eating all of that BBQ, so I reworked it.

Tacos al Pastor

The recipe I have for tacos al pastor (shepherd-style or minister-style tacos) is not quite made like this, but all of the flavors are there. I cooked half of a chopped onion in some oil until they were soft. I added some chopped pineapple to this along with orange juice, white vinegar, minced garlic, salt, oregano, cumin, and some adobo sauce (for a little heat and smokiness). After letting the flavors meld, I added the remaining pre-cooked pork and mixed it all together with the sauce. While this cooked, I heated up some corn tortillas in a dry skillet, chopped up the remaining pineapple, and combined the other half of chopped onion with a copious amount of cilantro and some lime juice. Once the pork was heated through, I put it into one of the tortillas and topped with the pineapple, salsa and cilantro-onion mixture. The pork had a sweet-spicy tang that was offset by the fresh pineapple and the crunchy onion. The only problem with corn tortillas is that they get soggy a little quicker and I can eat my food. But they are healthier for you, so I guess it's a trade-off. The conclusion here: don't feel limited by yesterday's leftovers; they can easily become today's revamped meal.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Pulled Pork Meal - 8/15/08

A lot of what I cook comes from random inspiration. The inspiration behind today was to make a spin on BBQ sauce. My first idea was to make a pineapple BBQ sauce, so after scouring Food Network's website, I found a recipe for a sauce using cola, so I thought that would be a pretty good base for me to replace the cola with pineapple juice. The end result was:

2 cloves garlic, mashed
1/8 tsp salt
1.75 cup pineapple juice
3/4 cup ketchup
1/8 cup cider vinegar
1T Worcestershire sauce
Pepper, to taste

All of this was combined in a saucepan and simmered for 45 minutes to make a ketchup/BBQ sauce consistency. The flavor is a toned down pineapple-tomato with some nice tang to it too.

BBQ Sauces

Ever since I tasted an espresso BBQ sauce, I wanted to make some for myself. I found this recipe for it from Michael Chiarello. You cannot taste the coffee as a flavor, but it deepens and darkens the flavor of the sauce. Instead of the prescribed 10 minutes, I cooked it for 45 minutes to thicken it up.

Pulled Pork Sandwich & Slaws

What better vehicle for BBQ sauce than pulled pork sandwiches? Paula Dean has a good recipe pulled pork sandwiches, though I will admit I used chicken stock instead of the apple juice just because after 3 trips to the grocery store for this meal, I wasn't going back just for some juice. This pork turned out quite delicious by itself and was even better combined with the BBQ sauces. I will admit that I did cheat and buy some Bush's baked beans to serve on the side as well.

NC Pulled Pork

In the above picture, you can see I made some cole slaws. One is more classic - cider vinegar, honey, salt, pepper, a little mayo, and celery seed. The other is more Asian - mirin, sesame seeds, sesame oil, and seasoned rice vinegar. I ate the classic one by itself, but with the Asian one, I wanted to try something new. In North Carolina, it is common to eat a BBQ pork sandwich with cole slaw on it. In keeping with tradition, I put some of the Asian slaw on top of some of the pork that had been mixed with the pineapple BBQ sauce. The combination of these two items was quite good - soft yet crunchy, sweet yet tangy and nutty. It was a veritable East meets North (Carolina).

Mimosa Salad

As another side, I made a salad inspired by one from my trip. It is a base of spinach leaves, heirloom tomatoes, purple bell pepper (yes, purple), and tangelo segments (membranes removed). The mimosa dressing is made with the juice of one tangelo, champagne vinegar and a little lemon-infused olive oil. I wish the tangelos were a little sweeter right now, but the dressing still had enough of the mimosa taste to it to make me happy.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Cannes Cooking Lesson - 08/01/08

For our day in Cannes, my dad and I took a cooking class from one of the local French restaurants. Our instructor, Sebastian, did an excellent job. He was very patient and taught us some great techniques.

Tomato Confit

The first technique we learned was to make tomato confit (kind of like sugared or candied). First you cut out the core end of a plum tomato. Then create cross-hair cuts on the opposite end. Blanch the tomato briefly in boiling water (just until the skin in starting to peel away) and then shock the tomato in an ice bath. The skins should peel away quite easily. For the confit, cut the tomato in half lengthwise and scoop out the insides. Place each half on a baking tray covered in parchment. Season with salt, pepper and copious amounts of olive oil. For a tomato tart version, cut the tomato into slices and arrange these slices into an organized circle. Bake these at 400 degrees until they are nicely dehydrated but not browned. The goal is to condense the tomato flavors and create a delight tomato with balanced sweetness. After removing from the oven, the single tomatoes can be refrigerated for a few weeks.


We also prepared a ratatoille, so we had to cube up red bell pepper, zucchini and eggplant. Each of these is cooked in lots of olive oil separately, then drained. They are all combined together and cooked briefly, et voila! ratatoille.

Salmon Plucking

Our main dish was salmon to accompany the ratatoille. One trick we were shown was how to debone a fish fillet. You use kitchen tweezers and feel around for the line of bones. Each bone can be plucked from the fillet, leaving it completely boneless.

Salmon & Ratatoille

Here's the final product of the main course. The salmon is seared skin-side down in a hot skillet until it is cooked about half way. Then they are finished in the oven. That way you have a nice crust on the outside but the fillet is cooked perfectly on the inside. The salmon is resting atop the final ratatoille. On top was spread some fresh olive tapenade (tapen = caper).

Tomato Tart

Puff pastry was baked and rounds were cut out. The tomato rings were placed on top of the puff pastry to make a tart. To finish the dish, a fresh pesto was prepared and drizzled on top. An olive oil poached garlic clove was also included. The garlic was similar to roasted garlic, but it had its own flavor. Each dish was garnished with fresh herbs from garden (you could read out of the window for leaves from the bay tree).

Roasted Pineapple

For dessert, we had a great pineapple dish. The pineapples were cut into quarters and cored. Then they were arranged on a baking dish, sprinkled with brown sugar and some rum was poured on top. This was baked at 400 degrees for one hour. The restaurant served them with some fresh berries. The version in the picture above is actually one I made at home. I made a sauce of brown sugar dissolved in water with a splash of rum at the end. Honestly, this was probably one of the best syrup sauces I've made, especially since I did not measure anything.

While we were finishing up our cooking class, our tour guide came up to me to strike up some chit-chat. The chef had hovered around us while we were working at times, but he did not say too much unless we were messing something up. The tour guide let me know that he had told her he thought I had some good cooking skills. This may not seem like a whole lot, but this was one of the highlights of my day. A professional chef saw some promise in me. I'm still not cut out for cooking for a living, but this was a big boost to my confidence. Anyways, our cooking class ended as a marvelous (and tasty) success.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Italy & France - 08/04/08

My family and I went on vacation to Italy and France recently. While I did not do a lot of cooking, I did do a lot of eating, so I thought I would share my eating experiences. Briefly, French cooking is quite saucy - it reminds me in some regards of American cooking (meat + sides + sauce). It is good, but Italian food is where the money is. In Italy, I learned to keep everything simple. Go for one or two flavors/spices instead of all of them. Here are some of the foods we had that really inspired me:


In Nice, there is a local speciality called socca. It is a dough made of chickpea flour and olive oil that is cooked a bit like a crepe. In this case, though, it is served with salt and pepper and piping hot as a finger food while perusing the markets.
On-End Manicotti

This is a form of manicotti with a thick filling, so thick that you can cut the manicotti in half and bind them together with some scallion/leek without the filling leaking out. And the tomato sauce was served on the side instead of all around the stuffed pasta.

Linguine con Vognole

Linguine with clam sauce never tasted so good. The sauce was perfectly balanced on all of the freshly cooked, al dente pasta. Americans sometimes forget that al dente does not mean crunchy, it just means slightly firm.

Crepe Beggar's Purses

Looking for a new use for crepes? Something savory perhaps? How about turning them into beggar's purses. These purses were filled with cheesy deliciousness and tied up with more green onion/leeks.


This dish is not something you find regularly in the US. It is a cuttlefish body that has been stuffed with its own tentacles, along with capers and breadcrumbs. It was very different but quite good. Reminds me of my own stuffed calamari, except pulled off a lot better.

Vesuvio Pizza

The menu listed this pizza as sausage and broccoli, which interested me enough to order it for something different. By broccoli, they actually meant broccoli rabe, which gave this pizza a great flavor. I need to try this at home.

Roman Lunch

The "typical" (i.e. touristy) Roman lunch consists of multiple courses and lots of food. This plate shows the appetizer course, which was followed by pastas, meats and desserts. The fresh mozzarella was wonderful with so much better texture and flavor that what I'm used to. Salami in Italy far surpasses what we can get in our local deli. It has more flavor and a richer texture.


I cannot forget beverages. Do you know the 4 Fanta flavors we get in the states? Well, each country has its own reportoir of Fanta flavors. In Italy, they have limone (lemon), a flavor of some citrus that is supposed to improve appetite, and this flavor, red orange. It had an orangey flavor, but without a lot of the acidity of orange Fanta.


One food goal I had was to eat some gnocchi. This one (from Buca Mario in Florence) was served in a wonderful gorganzola cream sauce that was perfectly attuned to the delicacy of the gnocchi. I did not think they could make this dish any better until we went to Pietro's restaurant in Rome:

Truffle Gnocchi

Yes, the only way to top the above gnocchi was to add freshly grated black truffles to it (and some bacon). Truffles are more popular in Europe and many restaurants had them on the menu. We also ate some thinly sliced zucchini salad with pine nuts, shaved parmigiano, and white truffle oil. I know have an idea to try a truffle turkey or savory truffle cake. Also at Pietro's was a signature drink (champagne with Cointreau, whiskey and muddled basil) and the best cheese bread I've ever eaten. The chef willingly gave me the recipe for the cheese bread, but made me promise I would not reveal it en masse. The directions and measurements are little confused at this point, but I'm going to give it my best shot.

Truffle Veal

Also at Pietro's was veal covered with mozzarella and, you guessed it, shaved truffles. The truffles add a depth of flavor to the food with a slight air of garlickiness. I've already bought some truffle oil to use at home. I was bad about taking copious food pictures (and I was too hungry to wait), so here are some other delicious meals we had:

  • Pasta stuffed with smoked fish

  • Mushroom lasagna with very little sauce and no cheese

  • Lasagna noodles (unassembled) with a creamy pesto

  • Pickled garlic with chiles

  • Mimosa dressing

  • Spinach sauteed with bay leaves

The basic gyst of all of this is to keep your flavors simple. Let the fresh ingredients and spices speak for themselves. Play off of the foods' subtleties. Lastly, one delicious find was limoncello, a lemon-flavored liqueur. The ones I liked were the less intense (lower alcohol content) versions that tasted like a Lemonhead candy without the tartness. Next post is a special surprise I had while we were in France.

Rhonda's Birthday - 07/16/08

I know I have not updated in a few weeks, but I have a good excuse. I've been out of the country for a little over 2 weeks, so I'm going to be posting a few blog updates to catch up. My step-mom, Rhonda, had her birthday before we left on vacation, so here's what we prepared:

Strawberry Dream Cake

Every year, my dad prepares Rhonda's birthday cake: devil's food cake with layers of sliced strawberries and Dream Whip, an instant whipped cream. This year, though, the responsibility ended up on my shoulders. I tried to be a little more artistic with the placement of the strawberries. The cake is nice because it is light (in feeling, not in calories) but still flavorful.

Edge Brownies

There are individuals who love edge brownie pieces, but are plagued by the lack of these pieces in most brownie pans. This is why they invented the edge brownie pan. Every piece, if cut right, is an edge and there are far more corner pieces too. I used an Ina Garten brownie recipe. You may notice that the recipe uses ungodly amounts of butter and chocolate. But these were the fudgiest brownies I've ever eaten. Don't be disappointed by this blog entry, the best is yet to come.