Monday, June 27, 2011

Fish Tacos and Fried Plantains

A warm summer night called for a light and refreshing meal, so I came up with blackened hake tacos with lime-avocado spread and a sweet chili sour cream. I picked hake because it's a nice flaky white fish like cod that goes well with all different types of seasoning. To go along with this, I made a cucumber salad and fried plantains.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Pork Chops and Strawberries

 Summertime and berries. They go together like... berries and summertime? I was in the mood to make a dish that featured some fresh fruit. I decided to get a nice bone-in pork chop, as pork lends itself very well to the flavors of fresh fruit. I also wanted some spice, so I picked up some spicy red peppers. To go along side this spicy, fruity, porky dish, I wanted some potatoes and brussel sprouts.

For the strawberries, I cut them up with the pepper and put them in a small saucepan with some honey and white wine. I let this cook down until the berries and peppers were falling apart and the mix could be crushed with a wooden spoon.
 I cut up the potatoes and put them in a fry pan with about half an inch of salted water. I love cooking potatoes this way because they have a really great starchy and salty flavor. I cooked the potatoes until the water evaporates and then add olive oil to the pan and saute the potatoes until they start to brown. The pan ends up getting brown because of the burning starch, so it's important to toss the potatoes frequently so they don't burn or stick to the pan. Once the potatoes were nice and brown, I removed them and added on white wine to deglaze the pan. I scraped up all of the burned starch, cooked the wine to burn off the alcohol, and pour the "potato gravy" over the cooked spuds.
For the brussel sprouts, I cut them in half and quickly blanched them until they started to become bright green. I then cooked them with capers in canola oil in a hot cast iron until the browned and the capers were crispy.

Once the brussel sprouts were done, I cooked the pork. I had coated the chop in salt, pepper, and panko crumbs to give it a breaded exterior. I set the heat on the cast iron to medium high and started cooking the pork. I flipped it after about 6 or 7 minutes when the bread crumbs were nice and golden. I cooked the other side 7 minutes, and pressed on the meat to see if it was done. When the meat was firm enough, I took it off, let it sit for 5 minutes to finish cooking and let the juices settle, and then spooned some of the strawberry mixture on top.
The dish turned out really well. The potatoes were very tasty and the capers gave the brussel sprouts a nice pungent but not overpowering kick. The strawberry sauce and pork worked nicely together. The sauce had a nice balance of spicy and sweet (though it could have used a bit more sweet to give it further balance) and the mild sweetness of the pork complemented the powerful flavor of the sauce. All in all, a great dish that looks tough but really isn't that work intensive or time consuming.

A visitor, a pregnancy, and halibut

 My sister was in NYC for the weekend, so we wanted to have a really good Sunday dinner. She lives in Colorado and is pregnant, so seeing her in the city was cause for celebration. I decided to buy some halibut. It's a really mild white fish that has a nice meatiness that other fish like cod lack. To go with the fish, I wanted to make contrasting sides. I decided on a white bean puree with chorizo for a warm flavor and a corn and zucchini salsa for a bright and sharp flavor.

I cut the fish into even pieces for me, my sister, and my girlfriend and rubbed salt and pepper on it. I then removed the hot Italian sausage from the casing and browned it in a saucepan. Once the meat was brown, I removed it from the pan and added some chopped garlic and chopped sage. Once the garlic began to brown, I poured in 2 cans of cannellini beans which I had opened and drained. I let that cook until the beans began to break up and used a hand blender to puree the mixture. Once the beans were smooth, I added the sausage back in and let the puree sit on low.

I then chopped up the zucchini, red pepper, red onion, garlic, jalapeno, and removed the kernels from the corn. I tossed all of this in olive oil, salt, and pepper and sauteed it in my hot cast iron pan until lightly cooked through but still crisp. I put lemon juice and chopped cilantro over the salsa and set aside.

I tossed the veggies in olive oil, salt, and pepper and sauteed it in my hot cast iron pan until lightly cooked through but still crisp. I put lemon juice and chopped cilantro over the salsa and set aside.

 Once the 2 sides were done, I seared the fish skin side first in the cast iron, cooking it for about 6-7 minuted aside until the flesh came apart easily. Once the fish was cooked, I put the bean puree on the plate, the fish on that, and then spooned the salsa on top. I added a little dollop of quark cheese on top with some cilantro and served.

The dish was superb. The warm puree and crisp, bright salsa worked perfectly with the fish, and the quark added a nice tangy flavor. We toasted water and celebrated a really great night in the city together.

*Disclaimer - I was just told by my sister that Halibut is actually a fish with a high mercury content, so it is not recommended for pregnant women. Now I know...

Monday, June 13, 2011

Father Son Cooking Class

This past weekend, my father went back to Trinity College to celebrate his 50th Reunion. Prior to the weekend, the alumni coordinator had inquired if he had any interest in giving a lecture or teaching a class about something he is passionate about. He enjoys cooking as much as I do, so he proposed a cooking class. Being that both of us went to Trinity, the class was a perfect opportunity for a father/son cooking combo.

The dish he decided to cook was a Mediterranean fish stew with an avocado and onion salad. He first learned of the stew when my sister ate it in Israel with rave reviews. He figured out how to make it using cod in place of a typically Mediterranean fish like Sea Bream.

Once we setup the kitchen for the class and the audience arrived, we began cooking the meal, talking our way through the dish step by step. To begin, we boiled water and made white rice to serve the stew over. While the rice was cooking, we chopped up 2 yellow onion and 8 cloves of garlic. We began the stew by sauteing onions with a little salt and pepper in a large pot. Once the onions were translucent, we added garlic, a teaspoon of saffron, and some crushed red pepper. Once the garlic was cooked through, we added 2 cans of whole peeled tomatoes (breaking them up with a spoon in the pot), and 2 containers of Kitchen Basics fish stock, and let it cook for about 15 minutes.

While the stew was cooking, we made our avocado and onion salad. We sliced up 6 avocados and 2 sweet vidalia onions, and then made a simple dijon vinaigrette using lemon juice, red wine vinegar, dijon, salt, and olive oil. We tossed the salad with the dressing and set aside.

Once the stew had cooked for a bit to expand the flavors, we added the cod (6lbs for 15 people), which we had cut into 2x2 pieces, and some chopped cilantro. The fish was cooked through in about 12 minutes, and we served the stew over the white rice alongside the salad.

The class went really well. The audience was very engaged and asked a lot of good questions, and they were impressed with the ease and efficiency of making the dish. My dad and I had a great time teaching, and we're hoping to do it again at another Trinity alumni event.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A Classic Comfort Dinner

My girlfriend and personal food photographer, Devon, requested a simple, comforting meal for dinner. One of my favorite dishes to cook is roast chicken and potatoes with salad. This meal is extremely simple to make and always makes me feel like it's a nice, home cooked meal.

I preheated the oven to 450 degrees, and started by washing and drying the chicken. I then rubbed it with salt and pepper, put some sprigs of rosemary in the cavity, and tied the legs.

I then cut up the potatoes, added some garlic cloves, and coated them with olive oil, salt, pepper, and paprika. I then spread the potatoes around the chicken along with a few more sprigs of rosemary, and put the pan in the oven for an hour.

I then seared some green onions in a hot cast iron, and made a salad with the seared green onions, cuke, red pepper, tomato, and mixed lettuce. For the dressing, I mixed dijon, lemon juice, red wine vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper.

I checked the chicken after an hour of my apartment smelling of delicious garlic and rosemary, and the result was a golden brown skin and a perfectly moist chicken. The potatoes were nice and crisp, and the salad added a colorful touch and bright flavor to the meal. Devon was very satisfied and happy I could fulfill her request.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Tyler's Not Award Winning Chili

A couple weekends ago, I competed in a Texas alumni chili competition. The competition was open to all, and each team was required to provide 5 gallons of chili. If you’re not familiar with measurement amounts, 5 gallons is a massive amount of chili. Our team of 5 people was named “To Bean or Not To Bean” (we beaned). My job was to plan and execute the making chili, with my friend Andrew and my girlfriend Devon as my sous-chefs.

Wrapping my head around the sheer volume of ingredients needed for this amount of chili was one of the hardest parts of the preparation. I had never made that amount of anything before, so I had to do a bit of guessing in terms of what quantities to buy. My normal chili recipe feeds about 6 and is about 1-1.5 gallons, so I figured I could just quadruple that and be set for the competition. 

I picked up 20 lbs of meat (10 of a ground beef blend of chuck and sirloin and 10 of boneless short rib). I like using boneless short rib because it’s a very marbled cut that breaks down well when cooked for a long time. Chunks of short rib give chili a nice texture and a bit more heartiness than using only ground beef. In addition to the beef, I bought 3lbs of onions, 2 lbs of carrots, 2 celery hearts, 2 garlic cloves, 1 lb of jalapenos, 4 cans of diced tomatoes, 6 cans of kidney beans, 2 bars of 100% dark chocolate, brown sugar, 2 4oz cans of tomato paste, 2 16 fl oz boxes of chicken broth (I like Kitchen Basics, Pacific Organics, or Whole Foods brand – most other ones are too salty and have some artificial ingredients in them), and 2 bottles of Yuengling beer. In order to transport all of this, I had to bring my large rolling duffel bag to whole foods and pack everything nice and tight to I could get it home.

Once home, we started on the chili. Andrew diced the vegetables, while Devon cut the boneless short rib into small cubes. I made my special spice rub which consists of toasting and grinding whole peppercorns, cumin seed, mustard seed, and crushed red pepper, and mixing those with paprika, chili powder, cayenne, cinnamon, and salt. Once the spice mix was done, I mixed some of it in with the ground beef and began to brown all of the meet in a couple heavy bottom pots. Browning the meat gives it a nice caramelized flavor that you wouldn’t get if you just tossed it in the chili, and it cooks off a lot of the fat content, making the chili a little healthier and a little less greasy. I did reserve the fat for use while cooking, as it does have great flavor (I just didn’t want to use all of it).

Once I browned all of the meat, I started cooking the vegetables. Because I was making so much chili, I wanted to use 2 pots to cook so that it heated more evenly and I could better prevent burning at the bottom of the pot. I did my best to divide the ingredients proportionally between the two pots. I cooked the onion, celery, and carrot until translucent, and added the remaining spice mix, the peppers and garlic. Once all of the veggies were ready, I added the meat in, the tomato paste, the cans of tomatoes, the broth, and the beer. I also put in a couple bay leaves to give the broth more flavor. I had wanted to add beef bones to the broth, but Whole Foods didn’t have any. These would have added a rich beefy quality to the liquid. Once everything was stirred, I let it simmer, and then let it simmer some more.

The chili cooked for about 3 hours that night. After hour 1, I added the chocolate and some brown sugar. After hour 2, I added the kidney beans. I stirred it about every half hour, and watched it go from a brothy red to a thick reddish brown. The texture was perfect. You want chili to be a little thicker than a stew. As you cook it, it begins to grow an identity of its own. The color changes, the textures change, and the flavor develops and expands.

Once the chili was done, I put all of it in a big 5 gallon pot, and put it in the fridge to sit until the competition. On competition morning, I got up early, divided the chili between 3 pots to heat it, and stirred it constantly to avoid burning. I also added a little more sugar and some crushed red pepper and cayenne. The chili was good! It had a rich flavor that was sweet at the beginning and hot at the end. We brought it to the competition, setup our table (led by Keeli and Lily, the other two team members), and served the chili to judges, competitors, and attendees. Everyone seemed to like it a lot, other than the judges...

We didn’t make it to the finals because the chili was too sweet and not hot enough. Next time I will make the chili with less sugar and use habanero peppers instead of jalapenos to add more spice. We had a blast at the event nonetheless, and now I have a clear goal for my chili making throughout the year - perfect my chili, and win the competition!!