Thursday, January 31, 2013

How to plate your food so you get laid (video)

A way to a man's heart is through his stomach. Do you know a way to a woman's heart? Through her eyes, of course. I noticed an interesting trend in my cooking classes. Most men don't comment on food before they taste it. Most women comment on food way before they taste it, particularly if spoon dragging, squeeze bottles, cylinder molds, and micro greens are involved in the plating process. I used to get frustrated that people judge food before tasting it. How it tastes has nothing to do with how it looks.  But women do eat with their eyes first.  Men, get your pencils ready, and pay attention because if you are cooking dinner for your special someone this Valentine's Day, you'll need a plating plan.*

Since plating is much easier to show than to explain, I made you a little video that covers restaurant beauty tips.

YouTube link: Sexy food plating

In case you want to make this dish, here are the recipes for the components.

Butternut Squash Sauce -- it's the same as a butternut squash soup. If you want it thicker, simmer a small amount in a skillet to reduce or use less liquid up front when pureeing.

Apple Celery Salad

Serves 4

1 large celery stalk
1 apple, cut into brunoise (honeycrisp, pink lady, or some other sweet-tart variety)
2 Tbsp thinly sliced scallions or minced shallots
2 Tbsp minced parsley (or dill, tarragon, chives, mint, cinantro)
1 tsp whole grain Dijon mustard
2 tsp red wine vinegar
2 tsp olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Cut celery into 3 inch lengths, shave thinly (1 mm) on a mandoline or using a peeler.  Put into a bowl of cold water for 1 hour if you want it to curl up.  Drain and pat dry with paper towels.  Toss all ingredients together, taste and correct seasoning. You might want to add more vinegar or salt.

Seared Scallops

6 oz "dry" (untreated) diver or sea scallops per person
salt and pepper
oil for searing

Dry the scallops very thoroughly with paper towels. Yes, there is a lot of drying going on. Moisture is
the enemy of browning.

Crank up the heat under your pan to as high as possible and wait for it to get hot.

You don't need much fat and you can use whatever you want (canola, olive oil, butter, or some
combination). Just add enough to a pan to make a thin coat (about 1/16").

Season scallops just before placing them in the pan to avoid drawing moisture out of them.

Place scallops in the pan leaving some space between them. Since we don't have a stack of sauté
pans sitting by our stove the way restaurant cooks do, it's tempting to squeeze every last piece into
your one pan. Please don't.

When placing scallops in the pan, realize that that's their final destination. You can't move them
once they are in the pan, or you'll prevent the crust from forming.

Don't check them every 2 seconds. In 1.5-2 minutes, you'll see the browning starting to creep up their
sides. That's when you turn them and cook on the other side.

Don't try to cook the scallops all the way through. They should be rare in the center, so as soon as
they are browned on both sides, they are done.

*Guys, you know I am kidding, right? Beauty is only skin deep. Most women feel very pampered and special if you cook them anything at all. I do, and my husband doesn't top his fish with micro greens.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Chicken Stew with Chickpeas, Tomatoes, Saffron

What do we want in a chicken braise or stew?  The first thing that comes mind is fork tender meat.  The second is finger licking good sauce.  Those two are actually quite easy to accomplish, but they produce a somewhat unpleasant by-product -- flabby skin.  This pesky little problem has tormented many a cook.  Judy Rodgers and Kenji Alt solve it by adding just enough liquid to cover the meat but not the skin.  I have tried that method.  It's actually quite good, but the crispy skin is short lived.  If you make this dish a day ahead and rewarm it (much more convenient in terms of timing), the crispy skin is no more.  I have also tried re-crisping the skin in the skillet after braising.  A bit of of a hassle, and I am not sure if that skin was worth it.  It was ok, but nothing like you get on roast chicken.  This got me thinking -- why not just ditch the skin?  It's not the centerpiece of this dish, and is not worth jumping through hoops to achieve it.  While I was at it, I ditched the bones too.  Now I could fit more chicken in the pot and it cooked faster.  Don't worry, you don't have to de-bone the thighs yourself.  Whole Foods sells skinless boneless chicken thighs.  Unlike skinless boneless chicken breasts, they are actually worth buying.

The sauce was inspired by a Spanish onion soup from the Zuni Cafe cookbook.  To turn this into a one pot meal, I threw in a can of chickpeas.  Ouch, I sound like Rachel Ray.  Surprisingly, convenience is not what I was after.  I was trying to find the best possible braising technique to teach in my chicken class.  After trying everything under the sun, I gave the simplest possible approach a shot and to my surprise, I liked it the most.

If you don't have a Dutch oven, you can get good results in an oven-proof skillet with a tight fitting lid or use a combination of a skillet to brown the chicken and make a sauce and any oven proof dish covered with foil to bake.  You can also buy a very inexpensive Dutch oven from Walmart made by Tramontina.  That's the one I use.  

Chicken Stew with Chickpeas, Tomatoes, and Saffron

Serves 4

8 skinless, boneless chicken thighs, trimmed of excess fat
Salt and pepper
1 Tbsp oil for high heat cooking like grape seed, safflower, or canola
3 large yellow onions, sliced thin
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp minced fresh thyme leaves (optional)
A pinch of crumbled saffron threads
14.5 oz can diced tomatoes, lightly drained
3/4 cup dry white wine
3/4 – 1 cup chicken stock
14.5 oz can chickpeas, drained (or 2 cup cooked chickpeas)
1 bay leaf

  1. Preheat the oven to 300F with the rack in the middle.
  2. Dry the chicken thoroughly on paper towels.  Set a Dutch oven or a 12 inch skillet over high heat.  Add the oil and wait for it to get hot (just a hint of smoke).  Meanwhile, sprinkle chicken on all sides with salt and pepper.  Add chicken to pan in a single layer and cook without disturbing until golden brown, about 3 minutes.  Flip and brown on the other side, about 2 minutes.  Remove to a plate and set aside.
  3. Add the onions and a generous pinch of salt to the skillet.  Stir, cover and cook on medium low until onions start to wilt and dissolve the brown bits in the bottom of the pan, about 5 minutes.  Uncover the pan, turn up the heat to medium and cook stirring occasionally until onions are tender, golden brown and slightly jammy, about 15 minutes. 
  4. Add garlic and thyme and cook stirring occasionally for 2 minutes. 
  5. Add crumbled saffron, tomatoes, and wine.  Bring to a boil and cook for 5 minutes to reduce slightly.
  6. Add 3/4 cup stock.  Return chicken to pot along with its juices.  Pour the chickpeas on top and push them into the sauce with a spoon.  It’s ok for chickpeas to stick out a bit, but the chicken should be submerged.  If it’s not, add a bit more stock.  Tuck in a bay leaf.  Bring to a simmer.  Cover with a tight fitting lid and place in the oven until chicken is fork tender and shreds easily, about 1 hour. 
  7. Let rest 20 minutes before serving.  Leftovers can be refrigerated for up to 5 days and reheated on medium-low heat.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Bluestar range update (after 3+ years)

There are many things we take for granted: the ability to breathe, walk, or open the oven door. But all it takes is a traumatic experience that robs us of these entitlements and we realize how wonderful the life is when we have them.

The Bluestar saga has been dormant on my blog for quite some time and for the first time I am happy to report good news. My oven door has been opening and closing for 1 year and 4 months! Most of you dear readers are probably perplexed at such trivial news. Your oven doors might have been opening and closing for 5, 10, or even 20 years. But if you keep in mind that in the 3 years of ownership, 4 doors got stuck and needed replacing, the fact that this 5th door is still opening and closing feels like a miracle to me.

My door problem was not unusual. It was reported on many appliance forums. I used to get frequent e-mails from Bluestar owners whose doors wouldn't open. I hope these problems got resolved for all of you dear cooks because being without an oven sucks.

I frequently get e-mails from people who are considering purchasing a Bluestar. They have read the horror story of my range on my blog and want to know how the range is doing now. The final door still opens with no greasing or any other trickery besides pulling on the handle. Life is good.