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Posts Tagged ‘Cooking’

Meatloaf

When most people hear this word their first instinct is to utter some sort of guttural sound like “ugh” and follow it with a repeat of the initial word with a sound of disbelief – “Meatloaf?!?!?”  I used to feel the same way.  The word induced a flashback to a mound of meat, wet and glossy from the heat of the oven, sliced onto a plate with a squirt of ketchup.  I think the real nail in the coffin was “loaf” at the end of a word beginning with meat.  That kind of word will never make people jump out of their seats and run to the dinner table.

This is unfortunate.  Meatloaf is a vessel for so many interesting combinations of meats, vegetables, herbs and seasoning.  Recently there has been a burger revolution.  It has evolved from a hunk of ground beef between two pieces of white bread to creations like a lamb curry burger on English muffin with cucumber raita.  Why not the same flavors baked into meatloaf?  There are sliders, the mini burgers.  Why not bake meatloaf in muffin tins for mini loaves?  There are gourmet burgers with Kobe beef, gourmet mushrooms and shaved truffle.  Why not shave truffle on a Kobe beef meatloaf?  To me, meatloaf is the low-carb, super moist, less clean-up, no grill required, version of a burger.  Yet it remains in the shadows.

Let me tell you a story.  A very simple and delicious meatloaf was one of the first things I learned to make for myself.  It was easy, healthy (my version), and fed me for several days at a time.  It was one of the first things I cooked for Matt.  Which in retrospect, was completely unromantic and not sexy.  Yet whenever I cook meatloaf now, he recalls this first meal I cooked for him and how delicious it was.  Obviously I made an impression.  And why not?  It’s comfort food.  It reminds people of home and family meals.  If guys love burgers then logically they should love meatloaf.

My questions remains.  Why has meatloaf been left behind?  We are witnessing the evolution of the burger in restaurants all over the country.  Gourmet fast foods served from trucks and updated comfort foods are creeping onto menus.  My prediction is that we will see a meatloaf revolution.  Mario Batali will make an Italian style mix of beef, pork and veal formed into meatloaf, baked, and served with a spicy tomato sauce.  Eric Rupert will create a poached ground fish loaf with a red wine reduction that will send taste buds soaring.  Alice Waters will add to her menu a locally raised 100% organic beef meatloaf flavored with organically grown roasted tomatoes and herbs.  Emerill will add his special seasoning, chopped peppers, some onions and then BAM – it will be dinner!

Equally important as the meat is the potatoes.  I served garlic smashed potatoes.  Yum!  But any potato dish that you can execute well will do.  Now let us all watch and wait, myself anxiously, for the meatloaf revolution.

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Today I experimented with some different potato preparations.  I am getting ready for my practical exam this coming week.  We have to create a dish with three components.  The main part of the dish is a sauteed chicken supreme with pan sauce prepared however we choose.  The first side dish must be a potato preparation.  The potatoes will be Idaho potatoes and we cannot do mashed or pureed potatoes.  The other side is a vegetable assigned to each of us randomly right before the practical.

I got to work this morning with about 5 pounds of potatoes.  Boiling some in cubes, whole, and slicing some into thin rounds.  I made different types of potato cakes and one scalloped potato dish.  The winner was my scalloped potatoes with smoked mozzarella and sage.  First of all, this dish looked beautiful.  Creamy yellow/white potatoes, slightly crisped on the edges, and topped with crunchy browned bread crumbs and diced ham.  Second, it tasted wonderful.  I infused the milk base and potatoes with sage leaves before placing them into the gratin dish.  The smokiness from the mozzarella added another dimension to the dish.  I browned the bread crumbs with diced ham on the stove top before sprinkling onto the potatoes.  This intensified the flavor and brought a contrasting texture, which is important.

I have shared my recipe with you for Scalloped Potatoes in the recipe section.  It is creamy and can be heavy so it would go best with a lighter protein such as a lean grilled steak, or roasted chicken.  If you are like me, you can make this dish your entree.  Serve with a green salad and homemade applesauce on the side.  Delicious!

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When most people think of pasta they think of Italian food.  At least I do.  And the Italians certainly have many many shapes, sizes, and uses for pasta – but they really only use two types of noodles.  Wheat flour based noodles with eggs or without eggs.  Asian cultures, however, have many more varieties of noodles.  Wheat-based noodles make up a fraction of the noodles.

Asian Noodles (to name a few):

Somen – very thin, delicate, dried, wheat-based

Udon – flat, 1/8 inch wide, wheat based but no egg, white

Lo Mein – fresh, wheat based, with egg, long and rounded like spaghetti

Chow Fun – wide ribbon, fresh, rice based

Mee Fun – very thin ribbons, fresh, rice based

Pad Thai – flat, long, ribbon, dry, rice based

Bean Thread – dried, bean starch based, cooks up translucent

Soba – buckwheat based, dry

Asian noodle varieties all have their own preparation method which varies depending on the dish, the noodle, and the region.  In Italy, everyone boils pasta in rapidly boiling, salted water until al dente, drains, and then tosses with sauce (never rinse!).  In Asia, certain preparations call for rinsing the noodles in cold water before tossing with sauce.  Many times if the noodles are dry, they are soaked in lukewarm water for 15-20 minutes before being added to a stir-fry to finish cooking.  Rice noodles are very delicate, and therefore are never put in rapidly boiling water.  They are simply simmered gently until done.  Soba noodles are not cooked al dente, but usually further until they are soft – another Italian no.  I never knew cooking noodles could be so complicated!  Seems I will be following recipes until I learn all the rules, just to be on the safe side.

One of my favorite noodle dishes is Pad Thai.  This dish originated in central Thailand, like most of the American adapted Thai foods.  Rich soils and abundant farm lands characterize this region.  Bangkok, its major city, is a big tourist destination.  If you have never had pad thai – I strongly urge you to find a good Thai restaurant and try some ASAP.  It is sweet, salty, savory, spicy (sometimes mild), and just plain delicious.  A bowl of noodles mixed with thinly sliced vegetables, bean sprouts, strips of chicken and/or shrimp, flat rice noodles (pad thai noodles), and of course, the sauce

We made Pad Thai in class yesterday, and while the preparation and cooking had several steps, none were too complicated.  Heat wok to smoke point with oil, add ingredient, stir and brown then remove and reserve, wipe out wok, reheat wok with more oil and repeat process with second ingredient.  Repeat process until all the ingredients are cooked.  At the end all ingredients are put together in the wok with the sauce until hot and then served.  The cooking process all happens very quickly, so having all the ingredients prepared and nearby is important.   The wok, I have come to understand, is not only an important cooking vessel in Asian foods, but considered to be an ingredient.  They have a saying, “The breath of the wok”, which is a flavor dimension added to foods cooked in a seasoned wok.  They take this stuff very seriously.  The level of heat needed to achieve the breath of the wok is not possible in most home kitchens in America.  Burners, especially electric, are just not powerful enough.  Sorry, but the solution maybe to find a trusted and consistent take out restaurant as your go-to.

Nutrition Recommendations:  I love pad thai, but the fat and salt content are quite high.  Just about every ingredient is pan fried, separately, in the wok.  Some sauce ingredients, fish sauce and soy sauce, are quite high in sodium.  Portion control is important.  On the good side, it does have many types of vegetables that are briefly stir fried, and therefore retain much of their nutritional value.  Usually lean white meat chicken and omega-3 rich shrimp are the protein in pad thai.  It can even be made with tofu for a vegetarian spin.  If you are watching your calories or fat content, opt for the noodles dishes that are not stir-fried.  They can be just as delicious and flavorful, but with far less calories and fat.

I have found a recipe on the Food Network website for Pad Thai.  It is simliar to what we made in class, but simplified.  My recommendations – use chicken stock instead of coconut milk, omit the garlic, omit the Sriracha, add 1/2 Tablespoon red thai curry paste to the pan with the shrimp, you can substitute diced chicken for the shrimp or tofu (cook chicken separately in wok before combining all ingredients).  Shrimp and Vegetable Pad Thai

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What better way to celebrate the warmer days here in the city than grilling fish?  It goes great with a frosty beverage, like a frozen margarita or sangria (my favorite).  Cooking at home was a nice escape from the French and Italian cuisine we have been cooking in class.  I did not have to use butter, cream, flour, eggs, or brown veal stock for anything!

I will share with you the components of a very yummy fiesta style meal you can prepare at home.  There is a lot of vegetable chopping if you make the salsas at home.  But they will be more fresh, vibrant, and seasoned exactly how you like.

AppetizerPan-crisped plantains (pictured above)

How-To:  Buy a nice and green plantain.  Cut 1/2 inch thick slices.  Sprinkle with salt.  Heat a tablespoon of vegetable oil in a non-stick saute pan over medium heat.  Add the plantains as well as 1 tablespoon agave syrup (or sugar).  Reduce heat to low.  Cook until one side caramelizes and turns brown.  Flip and repeat.  Remove from pan, taste and adjust seasoning with more salt or sugar (depending on the ripeness of the plantain).

Main CourseGrilled Fish with Lime

How-To: Buy two large fish fillets (enough for however many people are eating).  Heat a non-stick grill pan over medium-high heat.  Brush fillets with vegetable oil and sprinkle with salt.  Grill, flipping once, until fish is opaque and cooked through.  Do not over cook.  Remove to platter and squeeze fresh lime juice on fish (about 1/2 lime per pound of fish).

Accompaniments:

Warmed tortillas

Steamed Rice

Black Beans

Salsas (See Salsas in Recipes section)

Nutrition Notes:  Everything was delicious and healthy!  Overall this meal is low in fat and can be low in salt.  You can use less oil by utilizing a non-stick grill pan for the fish.  This meal is full of fresh vegetables, herbs, and fruit.  A wide variety of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.  Especially since the three salsas are not cooked and therefore most of the nutrients are retained.  Serving with black beans increases the fiber and protein in this meal.  Top scores for nutrition and deliciousness.

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Ciao Italia!

We had our last lesson of Italian cooking today (tear).  Everyday we prepared at least one, and usually many, really incredible dishes.  These past two weeks also marked the point where most of my classmates realized their pants are fitting more tightly (myself included).  This is the sign of food so delicious that you can’t help yourself from taking a second, maybe a third helping.  I justify the weight by telling myself I will never be in this situation again where I can taste such a broad range of wonderful gourmet cuisine.  All part of the learning experience right?  Keep in mind calories and fat content are paid no mind in culinary school.  The focus is technique, flavor, and presentation.  Before things get out of hand, however, I will have to up my gym routine.

After these two weeks, I have concluded that if forced to eat one country’s cuisine for the rest of my life,  that country would be Italy.  No question.  It is the origin of so many of my favorite foods.  Pizza (southern Italian style), pesto sauce, tomato sauce, eggplant, extra virgin olive oil, fresh mozzarella, and baked pastas.  Oh, did I mention my love of gelato – fresh Italian style only please (which you can find at a wonderful little place called Cones in the West Village here in NYC).

I have also decided that pasta is the most versatile food around.  It can be tossed with anything, served at any meal, and eaten at any temperature.  Really.  Can you think of any ingredient that pasta won’t pair with?  You maybe thinking fruits or chocolate… but I saw Giada on the Food Network yesterday make a fettuccine with roasted winter fruits and chocolate shavings on top for a dessert.  And haven’t you ever heard of a pasta fritatta?  That’s right, pasta for breakfast, its delicious.  Seriously I’m not making this up.

I can imagine carb-fearing people who are reading this and shaking their heads.  But pasta is not what makes anyone fat.  It is the portionof pasta and choice of toppings.  In America we also have a habit of eating bread with a pasta meal.  Italians usually do not do this.  The pasta dish is only one component of a multi-course meal.  All the other components are usually not carbohydrates, but proteins, vegetables, and fat.  Vegetables do contribute some carbs, but not as much as grains.

There is much more to be said about the wonders of pasta and my love of Italian food, but I will leave that for future posts.  For now, I am going to reheat my pasta fegola from class today and enjoy.

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As a temporary escape from Italian food – I cooked scrambled egg this morning for breakfast.  This was also partly due to the fact that the Italian breakfast is espresso or cappuccino and a cigarette.

You may not know, but there are important techniques to learn in order to make perfect scrambled eggs.  Nobody wants to eat rubbery eggs but eggs can cook very quickly.  This turns them from wonderful and fluffy to something that your dog may not even eat.  There is a also a formula I have found to making them lower in fat and cholesterol without compromising flavor.

Scrambled Egg Technique:

  1. Use fresh eggs. See previous post Farm Fresh Eggs.
  2. Add about 1 Tablespoon milk or water for every 2 eggs.
  3. Break yolks with a fork and stir until mixed.  Do not beat.
  4. Add salt to taste.
  5. Melt butter in a non-stick saute pan over low heat.
  6. Swirl pan so the butter covers most of the pan.
  7. When butter is foamy, pour the eggs into the pan.
  8. Let them sit for 30 seconds to a minute until a little crust forms around edge.
  9. Using a spatula scrap the eggs off the bottom of pan and the sides gently (at this point the eggs will be very loose). 
  10. Wait a couple of minutes, then repeat the above step.
  11. Continue doing this over low heat, cooking the eggs very slowly.
  12. It should take between 15 and 25 minutes.
  13. You know they are finished when they are fluffy, pale yellow, a little shiny and wet, and cooked through.  You do not want browning or completely dry eggs (if they reach this point they are overcooked).
  14. When the eggs are done cooking taste them for seasoning.  Add shredded cheese (if using) and cook a another minute to melt.

Lower-Fat Scrambled Egg Formula: 2 Servings

  • 2 Whole eggs
  • 3 Egg whites
  • 2 Tablespoons low-fat milk
  • 1/4 Teaspoon salt
  • 2 Teaspoons butter
  • 1/2 Cup shredded low-fat sharp cheddar cheese

When you mix whole eggs with egg whites, the yellow color and egg taste is not lost.  I have found that using exclusively egg whites results in a bland and colorless mess.  Due to additives,  I generally do not use egg beaters or egg substitutes.  However, you can buy egg white cartons that are 100% natural.  The low-fat sharp cheddar (I like Vermont cheddar) brings flavor with less fat.  You will not get the same effect with American or a mild cheese like young Gouda.

For egg nutrition see the link above for farm fresh eggs.

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Sometimes the best cooking requires no cooking at all.  Tonight I put together some top notch sandwiches that took a total of 10 minutes.  The secrets to accomplishing a sandwich that meets beef burgundy eye to eye in deliciousness is using at least one aged or cured product, a complimentary spread, and really good bread.

The aged/cured product I used was Prosciutto di Parma Crudo, brought home from our Italian class.  If you are not familiar with this Italian meat, it is ham that is aged, and commonly cured – crudo, then sliced paper thin.  The Prosciutto di Parma is regulated by the Italian government.  In order to bare this title it must come from a certain pig, in a certain region, and prepared in a certain traditional manner.  The result is very flavorful meat that is so soft it melts in your mouth, seriously.

The spread of choice was a pesto Genovese we prepared in class.  This is one of the Liguria region’s most famous exports.  Pesto is a sauce of basil, garlic, pine nuts, olive oil, and cheese prepared traditionally in a mortar and pestle (but in my kitchen – in a Cuisinart food processor with great success).  To Ligurians a true pesto consists only of these ingredients, and specifically, from Genovese basil.  Today in the US you can find pesto made from all sorts of herb, nut and cheese combinations.

The bread was bakery Italian semolina demi baguettes toasted in the oven.  Some of the best I have found is fresh baked flash frozen baguettes from Fresh Direct.  You reheat these baguettes straight from the freezer in the oven for 12 minutes.  Viola!

For assembly:

  1. Slice baguette length wise to split open.
  2. Lightly spread pesto on the top and bottom of baguette (a little goes a long way).
  3. On the bread place a layer of baby arugula leaves topped with 2 slices of prosciutto followed by slices of plum tomato (garden fresh tomatoes in season are best).
  4. Finally a layer of fresh mozzarella slices (the no salt kind that comes in a ball).
  5. Put the top back on and with a bread knife, cut baguette into smaller sandwiches that are more manageable.
  6. Serve with an arugula salad with diced tomatoes, grated Parmesan, and balsamic vinaigrette and you have a lunch or dinner.  Finish with a bowl of fresh berries.

Note:  Order of ingredients is important to maintain the intergrity of the baguette.  Also, do not overload the sandwich.  Slice your cheese and tomatoes about 1/4 inch thick and use only 1 or 2 slices of prosciutto.  I think one sin of sandwich making is the mile high sub – how do you get your mouth around that anyway!

This may sound too simple…. it is… but delicious!  It also looks impressive and the colors are wonderful.  Deep red tomatoes, pink-red prosciutto, bright green pesto and arugula leaves, and shining white mozzarella.  To up the wow factor prepare your own pesto sauce.  Basil is easy to find in the summertime, as well as great tomatoes.  Thanks to California, if you get the inkling you can find basil year round today.

Nutrition Facts: 2 Slices of Prosciutto

  • Calories: 70
  • Total Fat: 5 gm
  • Saturated Fat: 2 gm
  • Protein: 8 gm
  • Cholesterol: 20 mg
  • Sodium: 730 mg

Nutrition Facts: 1 Tablespoon Traditional Basil Pesto

  • Calories: 63
  • Total Fat: 5.8 gm
  • Saturated Fat: 0.8 gm
  • Protein: 0.8 gm
  • Cholesterol: 0 mg
  • Sodium: 198 mg

Nutrition Facts: 1 Oz Slice Fresh Mozzarella Ball

  • Calories: 70 mg
  • Total Fat: 6 gm
  • Saturatd Fat: 2 gm
  • Protein: 5 gm
  • Cholesterol: 10 mg
  • Sodium: 20 mg

A 6-inch section of Italian baguette is 200 calories, 2 gm fat, 0 mg Chol, 470 mg sodium, 7 gm protein, and 38 gm carbohydrates.  Tomato slices and arugula add nutrition value but negligible calories and no fat, bonus.  This brings a grand total of 403 Calories, 18.8 gm total fat, 4.8 gm saturated fat, 21 gm protein, 30mg cholesterol, and 1418 mg sodium to the sandwich.

This sandwich makes a low calorie, low fat (23%), low saturated fat and low cholesterol meal.  Downside is the sodium.  If you are watching your sodium, I would recommend using only 1 slice of prosciutto and keeping the rest of your meal very low in salt.  A reduced sodium ham could also fill in for the prosciutto.

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