Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Pumpkin Pancakes, a Humorous Attempt with Recipe

It’s never pretty when my husband attempts to cook. Maybe it’s because I’m a *slight* control freak, but it makes me nervous when he seizes control over my domain. A little background . . . my husband came to me with this beautiful recipe for Pumpkin Pancakes from Men’s Health magazine. It really makes me happy when he submits his own special requests for dinner or breakfast.

My theory on pancakes is that unless you have a huge griddle, you must have a strategy mapped out for cooking the little suckers. Especially when all you have is a non-stick fry pan for cooking pancakes. My *almost* full-proof plan has been to cook three (3) small-ish pancakes in the fry pan, and give them all to my husband to eat while they’re still hot. Then I make myself three (3) pancakes and serve them to myself immediately. We may not eat our pancakes together at the same exact time, but at least they’re piping hot and fresh when we devour our breakfast.

And so the problem begins . . . minding my own business, eating my pumpkin pancakes my husband walks up to the skillet and says “I’m still hungry, I’m going to cook the rest of the pancakes myself honey.” A small flood of anxiety rushes over me as I shoveled the rest of my pancakes in my mouth to witness what was about to happen.

Just as I made it over to the skillet, I noticed he had already poured WAY too much pancake batter into the fry pan. At that same moment I was literally thinking in my mind “Honey, you might want to make smaller sized pancakes, they’re easier to flip.” – I just couldn’t get it out in time. Then I hear him say “Oh nooooo, the pancakes are melting together.” As I see him grab a metal knife to cut in-between them on my non-stick pan! Ehhhh, I had to stop him right there and interject with a plastic spatula so he didn’t destroy the non-stick pan.

And then, witnessing him flip the pancakes – I must say, that was the best part. The pancakes were abnormally big and lopsided, so trying to get the spatula under the entire pancake was nearly impossible. The first pancake ended up squished and scrunched like an old man’s wrinkled face. The second flopped half-way onto itself and looked more like a panini sandwich than a pancake. He immediately blamed me for making him ‘nervous’ while watching him flip his pancakes.

Either way, it was an extremely amusing morning making pancakes.

About the recipe - - people, this pumpkin pancake recipe is AWESOME. The best pumpkin pancakes I've ever had. The only ingredient I changed was the dark brown sugar; I used light brown sugar instead. Otherwise as-is. It’s such a great Fall breakfast dish. And the pumpkin makes these pancakes soft, hearty and filling. Also, I like this recipe because it doesn’t go over-board on the pumpkin pie spices – it’s really just the perfect amount of spice and sweet.

2 cups of your favorite dry pancake mix
3 Tbsp light-brown sugar
2 1/2 tsp pumpkin-pie spice
1 1/2 cups milk
1 cup canned pure pumpkin puree (not pie filling)
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 Tbsp vegetable oil, plus more for the griddle


1 In a large bowl, combine the pancake mix, brown sugar, and pumpkin pie spice. In another large bowl, mix together the milk, pumpkin, egg, vanilla extract, and oil. Add the pumpkin mixture to the dry ingredients and stir to combine.

2 Heat a lightly oiled griddle or large frying pan on medium high. Pour the batter onto the griddle, using approximately 1/4 cup for each pancake. Cook the pancakes until bubbles form in the batter and the edges begin to brown. Then flip them and cook until the other sides are lightly browned.

3 Serve the pancakes drizzled with maple syrup.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Fresh Tomato Sauce That Doesn't Smell Like Chicken

My first attempt at making homemade tomato sauce, to say the least, was a disaster. When you’ve been slaving all day in the kitchen and at first smell your husband asks, “Why does the tomato sauce smell like chicken stew?” You know you have a problem. My first mistake was I used a tomato sauce recipe from a culinary book that was ridiculously complicated. Two more mistakes – 1) I didn’t de-skin (blanch) the tomatoes 2) The recipe called for chicken stock, and I don’t make good chicken stock (not yet at least). On top of that, it was the same night as the infamous “Pasta without a Pasta Machine” debacle. My husband has since requested that I learn only one new technique per dinner service. Ha! I don’t blame him.

Second time around was a world of difference – astonishing, a spiritual experience. I purchased pasta from the grocery store and decided to focus only on making an amazing tomato sauce. To come up with my recipe I perused a number of You Tube videos and read a less complicated culinary recipe. I decided to tackle the tomato sauce with these few ingredients and techniques:

6 Tomatoes (I would use more tomatoes next time)
1 large slice of White Onion (diced)
1 carrot (peeled and diced)
2 Cloves Fresh Garlic (pressed or mashed)
2-3 TBS Olive Oil
1-2 TBS Butter (unsalted)
3 Leaves of Fresh Basil
Salt, Pepper & Dried Oregano to taste

The first thing I did was blanch the tomatoes. When you blanch a tomato, you cut a small slit in side of the raw tomato, drop it in boiling water for a minute (till the skin starts to peel), then you drop the tomato in icy cold water and the skin should peel right off. See image below. After blanching I then cored and partially de-seeded the tomatoes and set them aside.


My next step was to cook everything in my fry pan. I heated the oil and butter, then sautéed the white onion and carrot until the onion was translucent. During the sauté process I pressed two cloves of garlic into the onion and carrot mixture. I sautéed for 3-4 minutes.

I then added the tomatoes into the pan and broke them up. After the tomatoes were added, I sliced up the Basil and tossed that into the tomato mixture. I seasoned with a dash of salt, pepper and dried oregano. Isn’t it beautiful?!?


And then I waited, and waited and waited. I simmered on medium-low for 40 or so minutes without the lid on the fry pan. The goal now is to reduce the water content so it becomes sauce-like. Once the sauce was to my desired consistency, I put a lid on it and made the noodles.
I served the fresh tomato sauce on top of spaghetti noodles with fresh grated parmesan.

I have to say, this is probably the best tomato sauce I’ve ever had. It was fresh, simple and reminded me of tomato sauce from Italy. I should have doubled the recipe because my husband and I were dying for more after we finished our plates. Delish!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Mexican Wedding Cakes are Really Cookies

I was a little confused the first time I learned that Mexican Wedding Cakes are in fact cookies. When I picture a wedding cake I often think of a multi-tiered, fluffy, over-the-top dessert with icing and a plastic bride/groom placed on the top as decoration. Come to find out, Mexican Wedding Cakes are little mini-cakes or cookies – and they are simply delightful.

Historically, the Mexican Wedding Cake is a dessert that has stood the test of time and has been handed down through families over the centuries. I can attest this recipe has been passed through my mother’s side of the family for many generations. Some food historians claim its roots are in Medieval Arab cuisine, evolving then into Russia, Sweden, Italy, Cuba, and Mexico carrying names such as Pecan Balls, Swedish Tea Cakes, Russian Tea Cakes, and Snowballs. Whatever the ‘actual name’ I think they’re an inexpensive way to make a tasty dessert. On the contrary, I’ve also read the original tradition is to make these cakes around the holidays and to use your very best and most expensive butters, nuts and sugars. Who needs expensive ingredients in the middle of a recession? Not me!

But, let’s be honest. The real reason I’m baking Mexican Wedding Cakes is that I’m getting married in Mexico in a month. "Wedding" in "Mexico", let's make Mexican Wedding Cakes! Okay, truth-be-told my husband and I snuck off to the courthouse a few weeks ago, but the ACTUAL ceremony is in Mexico very soon (shhh, don’t tell). My mother was in town for the bridal shower, and in facilitating mother/daughter bonding time we made cookies together. When I asked my mom to help cook this recipe she warned, “Be sure to buy a pound of butter, we’re gonna double the recipe.” Good thing I like butter. Butter is good for you. Now let's bow our heads and pay tribute to Paula Deen for making butter chic again.

Here is the Recipe directly from my family cook book:

Mexican Wedding Cakes

½ Cup Butter (1 stick, thaw to room temp)
2 Tablespoons Powdered Sugar
1 Cup Flour
1 Cup Chopped Pecans
1 teaspoon Vanilla (REAL Vanilla, not Imitation)

Cream the butter and powdered sugar. Add flour, pecans and vanilla. Roll Dough into 1 inch balls. Place on greased baking sheet and flatten slightly. Bake at 300 for 45 minutes. Roll in additional powdered sugar when the cookies are still warm – place back on baking sheet to cool completely. Once cooled, roll the cookies in powdered sugar again and eat up!!


Monday, September 20, 2010

Chicken Salad, Hold the Mayo


It was the first week of dating when I learned my future husband didn’t like to eat anything “white and creamy”. I invited him over to dinner at my place; I was going to cook, of course. As an appetizer I prepared a divine white, creamy cheese spread for tasting on crackers before our dinner. To this day, I’ve never seen someone dance around white cheese spread like my husband. He finally caved and admitted he had an aversion to “white and creamy” food substances. Upon hearing this news, I was devastated. Here is this man, the most perfect specimen of human being – kind, good looking, intelligent, successful – pretty much everything I’ve ever dreamed in a man. And, I can’t cook half of my recipes for him!

It may seem like I’m still holding resentments towards my husband about this "white and creamy" issue – but I assure you I am not. I’ve learned a few work-arounds and of course I can totally sneak a little mayonnaise or sour cream on occasion. Truth be told he rarely notices the "white and creamy" substances if I camouflage them into the food real nicely.

This distaste for “white and creamy” has also forced me to look for recipes that do not contain mayonnaise, sour cream, cream cheese, marshmallow cream, alfredo, cream anglaise.

And today I announce I have been victorious in finding a badass chicken salad recipe that does not contain mayonnaise! Seriously, there’s no sneaking mayonnaise into this recipe. I hadn’t heard of mayo-free Chicken Salad until this recipe. I adapted this recipe from one that I found on All-Recipes.com, but then tweaked it to fit my tastes.

Here is what I did:

First and Foremost, when I create most chicken dishes, I like to roast a whole chicken so I get the white and dark meat. It really tastes better too. I purchased a Four (4) pound chicken at the store, covered it with foil, and baked it for 2 hours on 350 degrees – only a little salt and pepper needed for seasoning.

I chilled the entire cooked chicken in the fridge until I was ready to prepare the chicken salad. With the cooled chicken, it was easy to pull the chicken meat from the bones.




I ended up with 3-4 cups of chicken, and added this:
2 Large Red Diced Apples (with skin)
1 Cup of Celery Diced
2 Green Onions, White section chopped
¾ Cup Chopped Walnuts
3-4 Tablespoons Balsamic Vinegar
4-6 Tablespoons Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper


Mix well and chill for 10-15 minutes.

I served the chicken salad on a bed of Romaine Lettuce with Sliced Cucumbers and Tomatoes. I tossed a little Oil & Vinegar on the lettuce to. And Presto – Chicken Salad without mayonnaise!

My husband said, “Wow honey, this actually TASTES like chicken salad. Are you sure there isn’t any mayo in this?” And my response was, “ Oh sweetheart, I would never sneak anything white and creamy into your food.” At least not this time, ha!

PS
Recently, my friend Bry and I started working on a theory about how there are many men in this world that do not like "white and creamy" - - straight men of course. On the contrary, most women I know really like the "white and creamy" - any thoughts on this people? Seriously, most women I know like cream cheese and mayo - but, men that hate it are found everywhere! A possible Freudian theory of the unconscious mind that I'm quite interested in exploring.

Mandy Lea

www.selftrainedchef.com

mandylea@selftrainedchef.com

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Pork Belly is Actually Uncured Bacon, Who Knew?


Okay, I feel a little duped by fine dining restaurants. Over the years, I’ve ordered many dishes and renderings of pork belly. I had always thought of pork belly as one of those risqué yet oddly luxurious dishes for a chef to make. Without asking questions or researching, I had always imagined pork belly was derived from the lining of a pigs stomach - -is that weird? Let me remind the audience, I am an aspiring self-taught Chef, still in Training!! I guess I associate the word belly, with stomach lining. I never knew why pork belly was so fatty and delicious; whenever I ordered pork belly I just assumed the chef was really talented in working with stomach lining, ha!

All of my misconceptions about pork belly were shattered this weekend. On Friday night I attended a Cocktail Event at The Viking Store for the Food Blog Forum Seminar here in Atlanta. The renowned Chef Kevin Rathbun, of Rathbuns graciously created two Pork Belly dishes for us.

At the beginning of the demonstration, Chef Rathbun held up the first pork belly slab as if he were holding-up a golden trophy and said, “Ya’ll know that Pork Belly is just a fancy word for “bacon”, right?” Everyone in demo kitchen nodded their heads in agreement, like they were saying “of course we knew that Pork Belly was bacon”. Jaden from Steamy Kitchen chimed in, “Yeah, you can charge $4 more per pound when you call it pork belly.” All the while, I’m in a state of mass confusion. Pork belly is uncured bacon, I had no idea!

Kevin Rathbun made two dishes for us; the first was a pork belly and watermelon skewer – sweet and salty, balancing textures with the fruit and meat. And the other dish was a pork belly taco with homemade hoisen in a flour tortilla - yumm. During the demonstration, Chef Rathbun explained the long process of curing meat – chilling it at a certain temperature, wrapping it in cloth, draining the liquids for weeks or more at a time. We watched him create a rub with various salts, pepper, and garlic and massage it into the slab of pork belly. Watching his demonstration made me think of him as a “manly” chef. I started thinking that maybe male chefs cure meats as a form of expressing their masculinity in cooking – just a thought.

Since watching Chef Rathbun, I decided to do a little reasearch of my own at Whole Foods. I spoke with Larry the butcher at Whole Foods and asked him for a slice of pork belly. I must have had an unsure look on my face, because Larry's first comment to me was "You know that pork belly is really bacon, right?" Ha! Before I scurried off with my new slab of pork belly I asked him to hold up the entire slab of pork belly for inspection. Of course Larry held up that meat like it was a trophy. "The other white meat" trophy, to be exact. Classic.



I have to say, I’m thrilled to know the truth about pork belly. Now I know what I’m eating when I order it! Since Chef Rathbun’s demonstration I’ve been perusing my friend Jason Molinari’s cured meats blog. People, it's impressive. Check it out: http://curedmeats.blogspot.com/

Jason hosts an annual “Sausage Fest” every year (okay I know what you’re thinking), but he’s agreed to let me watch him make Sausage for this years Annual event. This is exciting to me as I will obviously fully document the sausage making. Stay tuned!

Mandy Lea

www.selftrainedchef.com

mandylea@selftrainedchef.com

Monday, September 13, 2010

Urban Myth: Fresh Pasta without a Pasta Machine


I have an extremely Italian maiden name, Minino, along with a large Italian family in Omaha, Nebraska to boot. It’s only natural that I would like to “represent” my homeland by making a homemade pasta dish. Since I’m new to my Self-Taught Culinary endeavor, I wanted to attempt to make the pasta, without a pasta machine. There are two reasons I didn’t make the pasta with a pasta machine 1) I don’t currently own a pasta machine 2) I’m cheap and didn’t want to buy one.

I decided to attempt the pasta while my husband was at work. From the research I did online, homemade pasta is quite the messy endeavor. My husband is the “clean” one in the family, and I just pictured his eyes widening as the flour from the pasta started flailing and forming a fog in room. Quick decision, I’ll make the pasta while he’s at work so the anticipated desecration of our kitchen would take place without his knowing (and I’ll have multiple hours to clean the scene of the crime).

I consulted many You-tube videos and online resources to formulate my plan of attack. I decided to have a clean surface on my counter with:

2 ¼ Cup Unbleached Flour
3 eggs
1 dash of Kosher Salt

I dished the flour on the counter, and formed a little hole in the middle of the flour. I then cracked the three eggs into the hole in the flour, and created a swimming pool where three egg yolks were having fun. Immediately one of the egg yolks decided to play games and leap over the side of the flour/egg yolk pool. Bastard. I had to chase that little guy back to safety into the swimming pool.

After washing my hands I grabbed a pinch on Kosher salt and splashed it into the yolky swimming pool. I grabbed a fork and started to break apart the yolks and swirl the flour into the egg. I quickly decided the fork wasn’t very useful, so I decided to dive into the pool with my bare hands. And that’s where the fun begins.

There’s something about playing with food in your hands. It seems dangerous, and naughty - - we’ve all been taught to not play with food in our hands, and the idea of ‘breaking the law’ had me smiling from ear to ear. I would describe playing with pasta dough as pure nirvana - gooey at first in-between my fingers, then success as it turns into the desired firm pasta dough. Part of the pasta making process is to knead and play with the dough for 7-ish minutes until it forms a nice ball that isn’t sticky. If it gets sticky, you add more flour.

After my main dough ball was formed, I split the big ball into three balls (that sounds weird), and let the three dough balls rest for 20 minutes.

When I came back to my dough I broke out the rolling pin and decided I was going to roll each dough-ball out as thin as humanly possible. Once a piece was rolled out, I gently rolled up the flat dough into a circle, kind of like a ‘Fruit Roll-Up” and cut my fettuccini looking pasta slices.

You would typically ‘hang’ the pasta to dry on the special dowel rod contraption. I used the laundry clothes drying rack – it worked just fine!

The pasta dried for most of the afternoon. When my husband came home, I made the pasta for dinner that night - - with high hopes. I boiled the water with salt and went directly from drying rack to boiling water. About ¼ of the pasta noodles broke in the transfer from drying rack to boiling water. They’re pretty brittle when they dry, and my husband just cracked himself up in the background as I let out a little squeal every time a noodle broke and landed on the kitchen floor. He later regretted not video taping that debacle.

With the noodles finally making it to the boiling water, I became concerned after about 10 minutes because the noodles hadn’t become flaccid. After about 15 minutes of boiling, I decided the noodles needed to come out and we were to enjoy. I didn’t want to overcook the noodles, as many online tools said they only needed 3-5 minutes in the boiling water - - -right then I knew something was wrong.

I poured some fresh tomato sauce and grated parmesan cheese over the pasta. My first impression of the pasta was that it was “meaty” and “robust”. I have to say, a grain shouldn’t hold a texture of meat – I think that’s when you know you have problem. My sweet husband said he liked the pasta - -I would say he was lying, but he ate his entire plate-full. I think he was just really hungry – he’ll pretty much eat anything when his blood sugar is low. The words “chewy” and “thick” also come to mind when describing my homemade pasta – uh oh, not good. I also think it was a little salty - - and I’ll probably avoid the salt next time.

What did I learn about making homemade pasta?
1) I really want a pasta machine for Christmas
2) It is an urban myth that you can make 'good' pasta without a pasta machine

PS On a side-note, I went to a pasta cooking demo the next night at The Viking Store. I went up to the instructor, and almost bragged that I had attempted to make pasta, without a pasta machine. The instructor got a really weird look on her face and said, “Even I’ve never made pasta without a pasta machine”. Ha! I felt like such a dummy. Even the pros won’t try it. As I tasted the Viking Instructors pasta, I immediately understood. Her pasta was thin and perfectly cooked. Nothing “chewy” or “meaty” about it. This was a great lesson, and I will attempt pasta once again when I have a pasta machine.

I think it’s fair to say I have a new found respect for the makers of Angel Hair Pasta – how do they do it?

Mandy Lea Turchin

mandylea@selftrainedchef.com

www.selftrainedchef.com

Friday, September 10, 2010

It's Not Easy Becoming a Self Trained Chef

The name, “Self Trained Chef” may suggest that I’m already “Trained” to be a chef. But I assure you that is not the case at all –as my husband pointed out to me the other night, “Honey, you’re still in training”. Ha! What does he know about food anyway, right?

So how am I going to become a Self Trained Chef? I think I’m going to tackle this project in a multitude of ways. The first assignment I gave myself was to hijack a few Culinary Arts Textbooks from a student in desperate need of a little cash. I found Erika on Craigslist; she’s a current Culinary student. We met at Starbucks where I proceeded to trade her pennies on the dollar for three beautiful Culinary Textbooks. I also felt it necessary to tell her how insanely jealous I was that she was attending one of the most expensive Culinary Arts School without me. I think she found that statement weird, and only responded with “Thank goodness for Grants”. Where the heck were MY grants when I applied to Culinary School?

Anyway, I digress. So I purchased these three amazing Culinary textbooks and my first impression was that 1) All the recipes use a funny measuring system like Quarts, and Ounces instead of Cups and Teaspoons 2) Many recipes, and many broths are made with a three vegi concoction called Mirepoix. I must get to the bottom of both this new conversion system and culinary term. I have a feeling all my pre-conceived notions about food are about to be shattered.

The first Culinary textbook recipe I tackled was a “simple” tomato sauce. I also found that nothing in a Culinary textbook is “simple”. One ingredient in the tomato sauce recipe called for:

Mirepoix 1 lb. 8oz. 750 grams

Umm, what the heck is this Mirepoix, and why do they need so much of it? Apparently Mirepoix is a mixture of diced onions, celery and carrots. As I read online on many websites, the fancy name comes from the renowned chef Charles du Mirepoix who coined the mixture as Mirepoix. Believe it or not, I found a whole webpage dedicated to Fun facts and trivia for Mirepoix: http://www.frenchentree.com/france-food-cuisine/DisplayArticle.asp?ID=32224 This funny to me.

Besides the weird volume conversions, and an array of new terminology, I think the Culinary Textbooks were a good buy in my pursuit of my becoming a “Self Trained Chef”.

In addition to the Culinary Textbooks, I’ll be using the internet, YouTube and asking Chef’s and other foodies around town for advice on improving my culinary skills.

The end goal in all this is to share my findings online through videos and this blog to help other aspiring “Self Trained Chef’s” have an additional resource to also become educated in the Culinary Arts!

Let the adventure begin!




Mandy Lea Turchin