Category Archives: Basics & Techniques

Avocado & Bacon Deviled Eggs

deviledegg1 copyWhew, I finally have some time to update here!  I’ve been catering like a crazy lady over the past week, which is awesome.  So with that in mind, the next several posts are going to be from a big event I did last week for Savannah House, an interior design showroom in Houston.  They had a big re-opening last week and I did breakfast, lunch, and hors d’oeuvres for them throughout the day!   It was a lot of fun.   One of the recipes I did were some avocado and bacon deviled eggs.   The combination occurred to me when I was brainstorming, and a quick google search told me I’m not as clever as I had hoped.  But I added a few extra dashes here and there to separate mine from the other deviled egg recipes out there.  The trick with deviled eggs, obviously, is getting the hard boiling process down and then using a pastry bag and tip to get the nice little swirl of filling.  Here is a link to some instructions on how to hard boil eggs, since I don’t want to just retread that ground here:  http://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/how_to_make_perfect_hard_boiled_eggs/

Hope you like it!

Avocado and Bacon Deviled Eggs

18 large hardboiled eggs

1 large Haas avocado

3 T light mayo

Several dashes Tabasco

Several dashes Worcestershire Sauce

1 1/2 tsp garlic powder

1 T lemon or lime juice

2 T dijon mustard

Salt

3-4 Slices Applewood Smoked Bacon, baked, drained of grease, and chopped into bits

Paprika, for garnish

Make sure your eggs are boiled and chilled.   Peel the shell off of the eggs and discard, then slice each egg in half lengthwise as evenly as possible.  Pop out the yolks into a food processor or mixing bowl and set the egg halves back on a tray and refrigerate.  In the bowl or food processor, add the avocado, tabasco, mayo, Worcestershire sauce, garlic powder, lemon or lime juice, and mustard.   Blend until the mixture is completely smooth.  If it is still very thick, add more mayonnaise and a little more lemon or lime juice.  Blend again.  Season with a bit of salt, taste, and continue to season until you are satisfied with the flavor.  Scoop the mixture into a pastry bag with a large pastry tip of your choice fitted in.  Pipe about a tablespoon or so of the egg mixture into each egg white half.  Sprinkle a bit of paprika over each egg, and then garnish with the bacon bits.  Enjoy!

Makes 36 deviled eggs

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Braised Short Rib Hors D’Ouvres

shortrib2Looks pretty tasty, right?  These little guys were something I came up with to put on a menu for an event I’m catering next month.  Yesterday I decided to do some experimenting because no matter how delicious something sounds in your head, it’s always a good idea to make it a few times to get it just right before serving it to anyone.  So what this is is a puff pastry circle topped with whipped potatoes and shredded short rib in sauce.  It sounds wildly complicated but really is quite simple, and you could actually just make a dinner out of it by foregoing the miniature size and puff pastry for just the short ribs and mashed potatoes.

Short ribs are incredibly tough little dudes.  I’ve had good luck cooking them in the pressure cooker in the past, but braising is the classic way of preparing them.  They come in two cuts:  English cut, which is when you have the single bone per rib and not as much meat, or flanken cut, which are the ones with a big hunk of meat and usually a side that is all fat.  This is not a bad thing; you want that fat because it adds flavor and typically a lot of it cooks away during the braising process.   I used some of both yesterday while making this dish, just to see which worked better.   For my purposes, which is getting more meat, the flanken is superior.

A bit on braising:  braising is a process in which meat is browned and then cooked in large sections in some type of liquid.  It’s not unlike stewing, except stewing uses smaller cuts of meat and is typically done on the cooktop rather than finished in the oven.  For this dish, red wine and beef stock were my braising liquids.  You always want to make sure to season your meat before the searing process, and definitely save the cooking liquid after the meat is cooked through because that will be your sauce!

For the puff pastry circles, all I did was buy some frozen puff pastry sheets, let them thaw, and then I used a little circle cutter to make the rounds.  I laid them on a sheet pan covered with parchment paper, pricked each one with a fork, and then covered them with more parchment and another sheet pan.  They baked at 400F for about 8-10 minutes, until golden brown.  You want to be sure to prick them and cover them with weight because puff pastry wants to rise and get really delicate.  Pricking them lets any air escape during baking and then the extra weight is a failsafe.

The mashed potatoes were super easy.  Just peel and dice a russet or two, boil until tender, and then throw the potato in a food processor with some salt, 3 T butter, 4 T milk, and blend until super smooth.  I piped them out with a pastry bag onto the puff pastry circles.  I would also recommend topping that with just a tiny bit of shredded or shaved parmeggiano reggiano.

Braised Short Rib Appetizers

2-3 lbs flanken cut beef short ribs

Vegetable or canola oil

Salt and Pepper

2 carrots, peeled and rough chopped

2 celery stalks, rough chopped

1 yellow onion, chopped

2 T tomato paste

3 T All Purpose Flour

2/3 Bottle Red Wine (I like Cabernet Sauvignon for this dish)

4 garlic cloves, smashed

1 full rosemary stalk

2 stems fresh oregano

3 stems fresh thyme

3 C beef stock, low sodium

Room temperature Butter & Flour, mushed together

Season short ribs generously with salt and pepper.  In a dutch oven, heat a couple tablespoons of vegetable oil.   When hot, sear all sides of each short rib and then remove to a plate.  Add the carrot, celery, and onion to the pot and cook about 2 minutes, stirring. You want the onions to get a little bit translucent.  Add the tomato paste and flour, stirring until the tomato paste turns a sort of burnished orange color.  This is a technique known as “pincer” and will help the sauce to thicken up.  Add the short ribs and any juices back into the pot.  Pour in the wine, bring the pot to a low boil, and let it reduce by about a half.  This should take 20 minutes or so.   Once this is done, pour in the stock, and add the herbs and garlic.  Cover the pot with a tight fitting lid and put in the oven.  Let braise for roughly 2 hours and 15 minutes.

Remove the pot from the oven.  Take the short ribs and put them on a plate.   Strain the cooking liquid through a sieve into a large skillet.  You want to have  a lot of surface area on the bottom of the pan to induce quicker reduction.  Bring the sauce to a simmer and let cook about 7 minutes.   A little at a time, whisk in the butter and flour combination.  This is called “beurre mania” and just thickens the sauce and adds flavor and shine.  When you can dip a spoon in the sauce, wipe your finger down the back of the spoon and the line stays, you are ready to season.   Add kosher salt to the sauce and taste until you are satisfied with the flavor.  Shred the beef from the short ribs and then add back to the sauce.  Keep warm.  If making the appetizers, assemble them starting with the puff pastry, then the potato, parmesan, short rib, and some minced parsley for garnish.  If you want to just have dinner, serve the short ribs with sauce over mashed potatoes with some greens on the side.  Enjoy!

Makes about 100 small appetizers/Serves 4 for dinner

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Chocolate Chip Cookies Nom Nom Nom

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Everyone and their mother has their own cookie recipe that they swear by, and will protect any secret ingredients with their lives.  Well, I’m here to share.  I make a mean chocolate chip cookie, and simple as they are, the techniques in making the perfect cookie are paramount.

When I was in culinary school, my first batch of cookies came out a mess.  They had all baked into one giant, thin, glob of a cookie.  I was flabbergasted.  I had followed the recipe, so why did they come out so horribly?   The main reason was the oven – in our lab, their was one that baked at completely wonky temperature, like a good 25 degrees off what it said on the dial, if memory serves.  It’s a good idea to invest in a little oven thermometer that stays inside and tells you an actual temperature rather than going by just what the dial says on the outside.  Many ovens have hot spots and cold spots as well; I know mine cooks faster in the front left corner.

When it comes to actually preparing the batter, no matter what recipe you use, there are a few really important things to keep in mind.

1)  Creaming the butter and sugars together is something you cannot overdo.   You want it to be really blended, and don’t worry about over mixing at this stage.

2) Same goes for adding in the eggs and vanilla extract.  Just make sure it’s completely homogenous.

3) However, when you start adding in the flour, baking soda, salt, you absolutely CAN over mix.  You want to just mix it until it’s combined, on a low speed so you don’t poof flour everywhere.  The more you mix, the more gluten development will occur, and the chewier your cookie will be.  (And not chewy in a good way.)

4) Once again, the same goes for the addition of chocolate chips, or raisins, or oats, or whatever thing you add to your cookie.  Just mix it a tiny bit, because you will again encourage gluten development as you mix once there is flour present.

A few more things on the science of cookie baking:

You can change the texture of your cookie by raising or lowering the type of sugars present.  For a chewier (in a good way!) cookie, do more of the brown sugar.  As brown sugar bakes, the raw molasses in the sugar will bake out and into the cookie, binding everything together and giving it that soft texture.  Conversely, if you add more granulated sugar, your cookie will be crispier since this kind of sugar bakes more into a hard solid.

The last thing to really keep in mind is the batter temperature.  If you chill the batter before baking, your cookies will hold their shape better, and be more even in size.  If you put a warm batter in the oven, they are just going to glob everywhere.  So either chill the batter in the bowl or put the sheet pan with the dough dollops already set out in the fridge to chill before baking for about 30 minutes.

Also, by the end of that baking course in culinary school, I had the best cookies in the entire school – and the highest grade.  That sound is me tooting my own horn.  As a non-baking inclined individual, that was one of my proudest moments 🙂

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Foolproof Chocolate Chip Cookies

3 Sticks + 2 T Unsalted Butter, Slightly Cooler Than Room Temperature

1 1/4 C Granulated Sugar

1 1/2 C Light Brown Sugar

4 Eggs

1 T Vanilla Extract

3 3/4 C All Purpose Flour

1 1/4 tsp Baking Soda

2 1/4 tsp Salt

3 1/4 C Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips

Preheat oven to 350 F.

In a stand mixer on medium speed, cream butter and sugars together until lightened in color and smooth.  Add the vanilla and then the eggs, one at a time.  Blend together on medium speed until completely combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed.

Toss in the salt and baking soda, and then the flour.  Mix on low speed until just combined.  Add the chocolate chips and mix for 15 – 20 seconds on low at the most, just to disperse the chips throughout the batter.

On a sheet pan covered with a silpat or parchment paper, lay out dollops of batter about 2 tablespoons in size, at least 1.5 inches apart.  Bake for 12-14 minutes, depending on your oven.  When they are done, remove the cookies to a wire rack to cool.   Enjoy!

Makes about 40-45

Let’s Get Corny. (and Bacony!)

cornsalad2I’ve been craving bacon ever since that bacon mouthwash thing started making the rounds on Facebook (which, what?! That is the grossest thing ever.)  But bacon is delicious, as we are all well aware of at this point in our foodie culture.  In my opinion, the only reason bacon hasn’t jumped the culinary shark is because it really is that tasty and essential for so many dishes – it won’t be going the way of the sundried tomato or foam.

So anyway, I got some veggies and made a salad with some bacon in it.  Very simple and easy!  This would make a great side dish for a summer barbecue, or could even be a salsa and served with some tortilla chips.  If you want to switch things up, swap out the tomato for some red bell peppers, or the cilantro for basil.  The main idea that I was going for here were bright colors and mild flavors so the bacon was star of the dish.

A quick word on making bacon for a salad or sandwich:  You want to be sure to make sure it cooks in a way that it drains the fat off, rather than soaking in it.  I have a cooling rack that fits perfectly inside of on of my sheet pans and just lay the bacon across it, which leaves about a 1/2″ gap between the bacon and the tray.  I bake the bacon at 375 F for about 10 minutes, or until it is crisp.  The length of time ultimately depends on the thickness of the bacon.  What you achieve from all of this is that crispier and less greasy bacon, and the resulting salad or sandwich is not drenched in bacon fat.  I always dab the bacon with a paper towel after it is done, too.

Corn & Bacon Salad

3-4 ears of corn, husks and silks removed

2 roma tomatoes, seeded and diced

1 avocado, diced

3-4 slices of bacon, cooked and diced

2 T fresh chives, minced

4 T fresh cilantro, minced

1 red onion, small dice (optional)

For the dressing:

4 T light mayonnaise

1 lime, juiced

1 clove of garlic, very finely minced

1/2 tsp cumin

Salt & Pepper

Dash Tabasco, optional

Over a large bowl, run your knife down the corn so that it drops into the bowl.  Once this is done, add the tomato, avocado, bacon, chives, and cilantro to the bowl.  Stir to combine.

To make the dressing, combine the mayo, lime juice, garlic, cumin, salt and pepper, and Tabasco in another bowl.  Stir to combine.  If you need to make it thinner, add a teaspoon or two of water.

Pour the dressing over the salad, and let sit for about 30 minutes before serving.  Serve as a side or with tortilla chips for dipping.  Enjoy!

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Wedding Registry Advice From A Professional: Part 3

images-1Whew!  I’ve bulldozed through three days of registry-mania.  Here is the last list, comprised of those items that not everyone will need, and not everyone will want, but can be great to have.

Here are the previous two lists:

Part One

Part Two

Let’s get to it.

Kitchen Accessories:  Some of these, like the trivet and spoon rest, are not entirely frivolous, and actually quite helpful.  But I wanted to focus most of the list on actual cooking items, rather than decor related accessories.

kitchen accessoriesA dish rack is nice to have if you have a lot of counter space.  It gives you a place to dry things that shouldn’t go in the dishwasher, like your knives, and can also be attractive if you go for one of the newer, more modern models.   A spoon rest is simple:  it keeps your stove clean.  You can also get a set of clips that go on the side of your pots to hold the spoon, if you don’t enjoy the idea of a spoon rest.  Trivets, again, pretty obvious: somewhere to put a hot pot.   Now, enclumes are what most of us know as “those hanging pot rack things.”  They range in prices, and most places have them available for special order.  I recommend using gift cards for these, as you don’t want to receive it without having somewhere to immediately put it.  You also want to make sure you have available studs in your kitchen to mount it, and enough overhead room.  They range in price, size, style, and finish.  Salt keepers also range in styles, and are great for keeping kosher or sea salt available to pinch on your food.  The one above is made of olivewood and has a magnetic swivel lid – great for keeping dust out.

Brands I Love:  Le Creuset, Threshold, Williams Sonoma (enclume), Berard (olivewood), Simplehuman (dish rack), Umbra (dish rack).

Grilling Tools:  If you have a grill.  These are -usually- the groom’s favorite selections, especially in Texas.  Men love their grills.  So do women!  If you don’t have a grill, just skip it.  These things aren’t that expensive and won’t be difficult to purchase when and if you ever do decide to go grilling.

Grill Tools

 

A stuffed burger press is actually something you don’t even have to have a grill for, just a love of burgers with things in the middle.  Make sure you always use parchment or burger papers with one, as the meat will stick to the sides otherwise.  You can also get a regular burger press, to ensure perfectly formed patties.  Firewire is just free flowing wire with a kabob poker on the end.  It’s easier to marinate your food if it’s already on the skewer, and these coil up to go in a bowl or bag for marinating.  You can also fit it on your grill easier.  A grill press is great for cooking steaks or chicken (not burgers!  You’ll press the life out of it!) Grilling tools are just regular tools but with longer handles – and usually a bit more heavy duty.  Same goes for the basting brush.

Fruit Tools:

fruit tools

 

For the knife wary, these can be a great solution.  They are very self explanatory, and this is just a few of the available options.  Plus, if you have kids, this is a great way to induct them into the kitchen without worrying about them getting cut.  Now, they do take up drawer space, which is why I left them to the end.  There is nothing that the above tools can do that you can’t do with one knife, but there is a huge population of gadget enthusiasts out there.  These are some of the best.

Brands I Love:  Chef’n, OXO, Rosle

Pizza Tools:  Again, completely not necessary.  But really fun stuff if you love pizza!

pizza tools

 

Pizza stones are great for grilled pizzas or to bake them in the oven.  I actually prefer the much more lightweight and easier to store pizza crisper, which has perforation to encourage a crispy crust.  Pizza peels really just remove the hot pizza from the oven or, if you are the luckiest person in the world, wood burning oven.  A pizza cutter is actually good to have even if you don’t cook; those DiGiorno’s don’t come already sliced.

Brands I Love:  Emile Henry (pizza stone)

Barware: 

bar ware

 

The reason I left this section for last is purely personal; I don’t drink a lot at home and don’t have a lot of parties because my neighbors freak out and call the cops if they can hear the slightest peep.  Seriously, it’s happened during a quiet dinner.  Arg.  Anyway, for those of you with nice neighbors and who enjoy the after work cocktail, the above is a basic assortment of tools.  Honestly, none of them are very expensive at all so just like the other tools, they are great add-ons.   So if you register for some tumblers, someone can buy two and then throw in the shaker for a themed gift.  Fun!   The Soda Stream is also something to think about registering for if you love sparkling water; that’s all this machine makes.  It can save you hundreds of dollars in Pellegrino.   Or you can get some syrup and make your own soda!

Final Items For Those Who Have It All:

Have It All

 

This final section is just an assortment of items that you really don’t need, but if you are experimental in the kitchen or just have a deep love of cooking, they can be awesome to own.  The Breville Personal Pie Maker is a fantastic little machine that heats up and cooks pies, eggs, etc.   Love it.  Google it.  The Smoking Gun infuses food with a smoky flavor, without a huge smoky mess.  Raclette is a more modern version of the dreaded fondue pot, that staple of registries past.   This is a lot more fun and versatile than a fondue.  You melt cheese, grill meat, veggies, etc all yourself while sitting around this little heating unit.   Finally, the electric deep fryer is truly the most unnecessary but really cool thing to have.  What it does is self-explanatory.  I covet one.

Brands I Love:  Breville, Polyscience (smoking gun), Swissmar (raclette), Krups & Breville (deep fryers).
Some Final Thoughts (like Jerry Springer!):

You’ll notice that I didn’t get into dishes, china, glassware, table linens, etc.  Those decisions are really quite personal.  A lot of couples these days are not registering for fine china, much to the chagrin of the older generations.  I completely understand.  It’s hard for us to see the need to register for something that literally just takes up space, and most of us cannot remember our parents EVER using the wedding china.  As Monica Gellar once said, “I’m saving them for when the Queen of England comes over!”  Pretty much.  But I think it is better to invest in really great every day dishes with some statement salad plates so that when you set the table for company, you still get that “wow” factor.

Don’t register for sale or discounted items.  They are more than likely going to sell out, and then the store probably won’t get them back in.  I saw many couples register for so many sale items that there was hardly anything on their registries to purchase.  It’s also, obviously, important to frequently check in on the status of items on your registry.  Go online, and if something has gone on sale, just check with the store to see how the stock numbers are doing.  If you need to replace it, do it.

Things I purposefully left off:

Toaster – If you really want one, by all means.  But you can save space for something that the oven doesn’t already do.

Juicer – I know juicing is all the rage right now, but that is one bandwagon I personally haven’t jumped on.  If you must, must have a juicer, go with a slow juicer.  Breville and Hurom both make excellent models, and they are SO much better than the others.  You get more nutrients in the juice, more juice from the foods, and less pulp.  Plus, they are almost silent.  The other, larger juicers tend to sound like a jet liner is entering your kitchen, which your new spouse will not appreciate if you wake up early to juice.

The bottom line is this: it’s your wedding and your registry.  You know what your current situation is and should register accordingly.  If you need to change it, do it.  The store should work with you to accomodate your needs.  Also, consult with the sales people.  They know the items better than anyone and will be able to really guide you in the right direction.  Above all, you should be happy with what you get and these items that you are choosing together should make you feel more comfortable in starting a life with one another.

 

Wedding Registry Tips From A Professional: Part 2

1311271766weddingIf you missed yesterday, click here to read part one of this series!

Today’s list will go through items that are slightly less essential than yesterday (except for cutting boards, which I just forgot about.  You need cutting boards.)  Most people will wind up getting these items eventually, but why not register for them?  If you have room in your kitchen, they are great to have.  Let’s get started.

Food Prep Tools:

This is really a cross-section of different prep tools.   Obviously, you can throw in a garlic press, a mandoline, food mill, what have you, but these are more basic just to give you an idea.

food prep tools

Glass or stainless prep bowls are one of those things I don’t budge on.  You need them in your life if you are going to cook efficiently.  Lots of stores sell them in neat little sets, and they are great add-on.  A lot of people like to build their own little gifts; they’ll get one medium item and then throw in something like the bowls and then perhaps buy a tool to tie on the outside of the box.  This is why it’s good to give options in terms of size and price.

The serrated slicer (seen here: Kobra Slicer by De Buyer) is just one of those things I like.  You could substitute a mandoline here if you are a bit more advanced, but for the sharp-edge shy, this is a little less scary.  As far as cutting boards go, you can get the large wood blocks but know that they are a lot of work.  You have to massage and coddle them, though they are lovely and you can get them engraved sometimes with your initials.  I prefer bamboo boards as they are dishwasher safe, light weight, and great on knives.   They’re also not as heavy, so if you’re doing a big move after the wedding or just short on space, these are much easier to handle.  Finally a word on lemon juicers:  do not register for one that is enamel coated or painted.  The lemon or lime juice is acidic, and eats away at the paint!  I love the polypropylene ones by Chef’n.

Brands I Love:  Chef’n, De Buyer (mandoline), OXO (tools & mandoline), Epicurean (cutting boards), Boos (block cutting boards)

More Electrics:

I went over must-have electrics yesterday.  These are ones that I find fun and great to have if you can support the space.  They also are meant to sort of bring you and your new spouse together in the kitchen.

great electrics

So the waffle maker and espresso maker are great for weekend breakfasts – and if you have to impress your in-laws when they come visit.  I like a good Belgian waffle maker but the round ones are perfectly suitable.  As far as espresso machines go, Nespresso makes wonderful options in all sizes and prices.  You have to order their pods, but they are super fresh and come in a variety of strengths.  Not everyone is a barista or  has time to tinker with an espresso machine every morning, so this is a perfect solution.  Starbucks also has a new option in this field, but I prefer Nespresso.

The panini press can double as a grill on cold nights, and can replace that janky George Foreman grill you got freshman year.  You know what I’m talking about.   Finally, we all know I love pressure cookers.  Go for electric as they are much easier to use, and can significantly cut down the amount of time you spend making dinner.

Brands I Love:  All Clad (waffle makers & pressure cooker), Nespresso, Breville (panini), Cuisinart (panini and pressure cooker).

Essential Bakeware:  So we aren’t all bakers.  If you hate baking, just skip these, except for the baking set.  You just never know.

essential bakeware

For those of you that love to bake, here’s some stuff you will need.  Get a great cooling rack.  Get some expensive bakeware – high quality pans are less likely to warp in the heat of the oven and will last a very long time.  If you like to bake cookies or other small items, a silpat is a must.  It helps to keep things from getting to brown on the bottom or sticking.

I prefer tapered or French rolling pins.   They are easier to grip and if you need to roll something out round, this is the way to do it.  They can run pretty inexpensive, so again, a great add-on.   A cake tester is another wonderful addition to a larger gift.

You probably already have some measuring spoons or cups, but go ahead and register for a nice set – stainless steel will last a long time.   For the advanced baker, a digital scale is also not out of the question.

Brands I Love:  Silpat, All Clad, Williams Sonoma & Sur La Table House Brands, Target Brands, OXO, Calphalon (bakeware)

Kitchen Linens:  

kitchen linens

Now, the tempting thing to do with linens is to go crazy with patterns and super cutesy ones.  You won’t use them, unless decoratively.  Pick a neutral pattern and register for several sets of cotton kitchen towels.  It’s always nice to have several, and by sticking with a neutral, you can add pops of color elsewhere without clashing.   If you both cook, register for a couple of aprons.  Going with a more frilly one for the bride makes it a great shower gift.  The one above is from Anthropologie (I have that one) and they have an amazing selection.  Lastly, you can match your mitts to your linens if you like.  Just make sure you register for at least one pot holder and one mitt.

I have to say, linens are the item that if you don’t register for them, some family friend that you don’t really know is going to get them for you anyway and they will probably be in a color or pattern you hate.  I really recommend just registering for at least a few of the above to avoid that.

Brands I Love:  Anthropologie, Target (their new Threshold line has fantastic stuff for a steal!), Williams Sonoma Linens, Crate & Barrel, West Elm.

Holiday Essentials:  If you are registering in the spring or summer, chances are you aren’t going to be thinking about the possibility that your family may want to have Thanksgiving or Christmas at your house at some point.  By registering for some basic large  meal prep tools, you will be all set just in case.

holiday essentials

Stoneware, or ceramic baking dishes, are perfect for all types of casseroles, macaroni and cheese, or even things like bread pudding.  Go ahead and get at least two – one with a lid and one long one.  The stoneware makes for a better serving dish than a pyrex baking dish and will last a lot longer.  Most brands offer a variety of colors, so you can pick one and stick with it or go color crazy (like me!)    You can also get a matching pie dish, with ruffled edges for extra pizzazz!  A roasting pan with an included rack is what you will need for doing turkey, ham, chicken, etc.  A nice stainless one is perfect because you can use it on the stovetop to make gravy with the pan drippings, and it will last forever.

A potato ricer just makes life easier, and you can impress everyone with mega fluffy potatoes.  I think I’ve talking about 15 times on this blog about meat thermometers, but you really need one.  If you want to register for one of the fancy roasting thermometers, go for it.  I just warn against these new “remote” thermometers.  They work for about 3 minutes before you will want to throw it against the wall.  Just not perfected technology, especially for how much they cost.

Brands I Love:  Emile  Henry Stoneware, Le Creuset Stoneware, All Clad (roaster), OXO (ricer, thermometer), Tayl0r (thermometer).

So that’s today’s list!  Come back tomorrow when I will detail the last list, stuff you probably don’t need but want nonetheless 🙂

Wedding Registry Tips From A Professional: Part One


tumblr_lkzluad2zc1qjld6zo1_500Professional cook that is, not bride.   I have yet to cross that particular threshold (ahem.)  But I do know an awful lot about what you simply must have in your kitchen and those fun things that you might not buy out of your own salary, but would sign up to receive!  I worked in kitchen retail for years and also had the opportunity to try out a lot of products.  I know what’s good and what looks good but isn’t actually good.  Good.

So the way I want to organize this is by necessity.  I’ll have three tiers:  first, the must haves.  Second, good things to have.  Third, fun things to  have.  Not every couple getting married is moving into a space with massive amounts of storage, so it’s better to sort of start with the stuff that you need and think about what you can really use and fit.   If you are lucky enough to be moving into a large home or, like me, just have a lot of kitchen stuff already, go ahead and register for the less practical.

A few tips:  really think about what you register for.  Nothing is more frustrating than when brides would come in with thousands of dollars of stuff that they changed their mind about, or decided they wanted store credit for.   If you want the couch from the sister furniture store, don’t register for stuff you can return at the kitchen store for credit.  Register for gift cards at the furniture store.  Also, to the friends and family of the registrees: if a registry has things on it that aren’t to your taste, don’t worry about it!  Buy the couple what they registered for, not stuff you think they want or you would want!  Guess what happens when you decide you know better than the bride and groom.  They return your gift.  And then act awkward around you FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE!   Ain’t nobody got time for that.

That said, here’s my first tier.  Stay tuned tomorrow for the second tier.

Cookware:  Register for it piece by piece, rather than all in one big set.  It makes it more affordable for your guests that way, and then if you want to return it because it has a ding in it or something, you are more likely to be able to find a replacement.  There just aren’t as many large sets kept in stock at most stores.

You really need several key pieces:

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I’m not going to tell you exactly which brand of each to buy; that’s up to you.  But there are 6 pieces of cookware you absolutely need, as outlined above.  These are very basic, but you’ll be able to do simple cooking.  If you are an accomplished home cook and want to make your own stocks, by all means get a stock pot (but you can get a great one at a restaurant supply for like, 1/4 the price).  Or a griddle if you want to do big breakfasts.  But for the most part, this is it.   Do not buy or register for all nonstick cookware.  You won’t be able to get the same outcome as with stainless.  You need one nonstick pan for eggs or pancakes, but not a whole set.

Brands I Love:  Staub (cast iron), All Clad, Demeyere, Calphalon (nonstick), Williams Sonoma & Sur La Table House Brands, Kitchen Aid (budget).

Cutlery:  Again, registering by the piece can be a more budget friendly option for your guests.  However, there are several starter sets that aren’t too expensive.  The most important thing that you can do when registering for cutlery is to actually go into the store and try out the knives.  I know most of the high end kitchen stores will let you do this, and have great people with a lot of knowledge. (Houston people:  go see Lilly at Williams Sonoma in Highland Village!!)  Anyway, holding the knife gives you a feel for the weight distribution, handle size, length, etc.  Sometimes the ones that feel the best are not the ones you thought you would end up with.  Knife sets aside, here are the specific types you really need:

essential cutleter

And that’s really it.  I mean, I love a good santoku knife but not everyone does.  For more info on what all the different knives do, check out my earlier post.

Brands I Love:  Wusthof, Shun, Zwilling, Kuhn Rikon, Victorinox.

Electrics:  This is where you can sort of go for the higher end, splurge pieces for your family and close friends to buy.  Look, I know it can feel sort of like you are a spoiled brat asking for expensive items but those that love you WANT to spend the money to celebrate your wedding.  Trust me.  I had more people get frustrated that there weren’t enough big ticket items on their, say, nephew’s registry.  So go for the high end mixer; ask for a Vitamix even!  Then you’ll never have to buy another blender in your life.  Even if you don’t receive it, chances are you will have enough gift cards and returned item credit to buy it eventually anyway.  Plus, some stores give you a registry completion discount for the months surrounding your wedding, making things like this more affordable.

essential electricsSo the slow cooker is great for newlyweds without a lot of time for dinner; you can throw stuff in it, forget about it, and come back later.  Blammo.  Dinner’s done.  Plus, Pinterest has about 342 million slow cooker recipes.  The stand mixer is just something everyone wants.  It’s a statement piece.  Go with Kitchen Aid.  It’s the only brand that really stands the test of time.  As far as blenders go, just make sure it has ice crushing capability.  If you feel like you want to register for a Vitamix, please do.  It’s the best thing that is out there for kitchens, hands down.  Look it up.   Finally, a food processor.  If you go through my recipes on here, you’ll see that I totally depend on it.  Just makes life easier.

Brands I Love: Cuisinart (slow cooker, food processor), Breville (everything), Vitamix, All Clad (slow cooker), Magimix (food processor)

Finally, the last group of absolutely MUST have kitchen tools:

Cooks Tools: So this section is sort of obvious, and you might have some of these already, but why not register for newer, better ones.

essential toolsGet some great tongs; they should last a long time and be at least 12″ long.   Too short and you can’t use them for grilling, reaching in the oven, etc.  Also, you need at least one microplane zester.  These are handheld graters that you can use for zesting citrus, grating parmesan, chocolate, whole nutmeg, etc.  Super useful.  I also love the Microplane brand box grater – it has 4 sides and is very comfortable to use.  You’ll want some great peelers, and now you can get sets with a straight edge peeler, a serrated peeler, and a julienne peeler.  Finally, some offset spatulas.  The one pictured here is rather wide; good for flipping eggs or steak or fish.  The narrow ones are great for icing cakes.

Brands I Love: Microplane, Rosle, Wilton (icing spatula), OXO, Chef’n, Swissmar (peelers).

Finally, if there is one more absolutely essential gadget I can recommend, it’s a good can opener!  OXO makes one that gives you a flat edge and it is fantastic.

Stay tuned for tomorrow, when I post about items that are slightly less essential and a little more whimsical!

Simple Appetizer: Olive & Feta Bruschetta

bruschetta1 copyLet’s start today with a little lesson in pronunciation.  Bruschetta is said with a hard k sound, as is the rule in Italian when you see “ch.”  I know in English “sch” makes one want to say it like “brushetta” but alas.  However, you don’t need to overpronounce it like Giada.  Calm down, lady.

So anyway, bruschetta is a traditional Italian dish that consists of some sort of vegetable, cheese, meat, bean, etc piled on crusty grilled bread.  As with so many Euro dishes, it started as a means of necessity:  bread’s gonna go bad!  Quick, make something with it!  Presto!  Delicious bruschetta.

A lot of times on American menus you will see it with just tomato, basil, olive oil, perhaps some red onion.  I like that combination, but I think you can dress it up and make it a little more special.  The blend of flavors with olives and feta give it an almost Greek flair, and the colors just look so pretty all mixed together:  green, red, white, purple.

This is an exceedingly simple appetizer or snack to prepare but there is one part of it that needs to be attended to carefully.  Don’t toast your bread and leave it out way ahead of time – it will become super dry and overly crunchy.  Toast it just before serving, and then it will be warm when it goes out, while crunchy enough on the outside to support the topping but still easy to bite into.

Olive & Feta Bruschetta

3 roma tomatoes, quartered, seeded, and diced

3 T fresh basil, finely chiffonaded

1 1/2 T fresh oregano, minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

10-12 kalamata or other red/purple variety olives, chopped

1/4 C crumbled feta cheese

1/4 of a red onion, small diced

1 lemon, juiced

3 T olive oil

Salt, pinch

8-10 Slices Italian bread or French baguette

In a medium to large bowl, toss together the tomato, basil, oregano, olives, feta, onion, and garlic.   Pour the olive oil over the top and then squeeze the lemon over it.  Toss again and then taste.   The feta can be quite salty, so very carefully add a little kosher salt or fleur de sel if you deem it necessary.  Let the tomato mixture sit at room temperature for about 30 to 45 minutes so that the flavors can mingle.

Just before serving:

Preheat oven to 375 F.

On a sheet pan, spread out the bread slices and drizzle with olive oil.  Sprinkle a little salt over them, and toss to coat.  Toast the bread untll crisp on the outside but not completely hardened, about 10 minutes.

Pile the tomato mixture on top of the bread and serve!

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Steak Frites

steak1Boy, am I glad I decided to make this when I went to the store the other day.   My allergies have been going bonkers lately (hello, spring!) and I took two extra strength excedrin today for a headache, on an empty stomach.  Cue the shakes.   Nothing like a little steak and carbs to cure all that ails!

Steak and fries are two deceptive dishes.  Seemingly simple, they are two of the most often screwed up foods by home cooks, and even some restaurant cooks.   Let’s talk about fries first.   What you want is a nice, golden brown, crisp fry with a soft inside.  There are as many fry recipes as there are restaurants that serve them.  I will stick with the basic tips here:

French Fries (Frites)

1) Start with an Idaho potato or russet.  Starchy potatoes work better for frying than waxy varieties, and give you more fries per potato.

2)  Peel the potato, and then cut into 1/4 inch sticks.  If you have a really long potato, cut them in half so they aren’t too long as the fries are more likely to break in half if they are too lengthy.

3)  Soak the fries in cold water for anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours.  Soaking pulls some of the starch away from the potato and makes them fry better.  Some people will say eight hours, but I dunno, I think that’s more likely to wick away almost all of the starch from the outside of the fry.   After they are done soaking, dry them thoroughly.  If they are wet, the oil is going to pop and not get as close to the potato.

4)  Heat your oil (canola, vegetable, sunflower, or peanut all work) up to 300 F.  Use a candy thermometer clipped to a wide bottomed pot to monitor your heat.   Working in batches, cook the fries for about 2 minutes and then remove to a tray.   Let them cool completely.   This blanches the fry, cooking the inside without crisping the outside.

5)  Raise the heat to about 375 or 400 F.   Again, working in batches, fry until golden brown and crispy on the outside, about 3 to 5 minutes per batch.  Remove to a lined tray, and sprinkle with kosher salt or fleur de sel quickly.   The salt will pull away excess oil and season the fries.  Serve within 8 minutes, and keep warm in the oven if you need to!

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Now let’s discuss steak!  I live in an apartment, so I don’t have the luxury of an outdoor grill.  I do have what is, in my opinion, the best grill pan on the market.  It’s enameled cast iron, with deep grooves and the capacity to be used on the cooktop, in the oven, or even on your grill.  Love it.  But the tips I will give you here really apply to both indoor or outdoor grilling.

If you get a good steak, like a tenderloin (filet  mignon), porterhouse, New York strip, sirloin, etc, you don’t need to do anything to the exterior except the following:

1) Bring it to room temperature before grilling.

2) Sprinkle with salt and pepper right before you put it on the heat.

That’s it.  If you want to finish it with a little herbed butter, go for it, but if you choose a steak with good marbling and thickness, nothing more is needed.

Get your grill or grill pan good and hot.  Place the steak on the heat and let cook about 5 minutes, then turn 90 degrees for the grill marks.  Cook another few minutes then flip over and repeat.   Don’t press down on the steak while it’s cooking with a spatula or anything.  No need.  Here’s where things get preferential.   I like my steak medium, or about 140 inside.  So, using a meat thermometer, I look for about 135 F and then take it off the heat.  THEN I LEAVE IT ALONE.  Don’t, I repeat, DO NOT cut into your steak right away.  All the juices will pour out, and you’ll be left with a leather shoe for dinner.  So let it rest about 5 to 7 minutes.  Then serve it.  As the steak rests, the juices sort of settle out and it actually continues to cook a little bit, for me that final 5 degrees to get to 140.  Then it’s perfect!

Hopefully this is clear and helps with your steak and fry cookery!  It’s a great dinner to make and if you get it right can really impress.  Bon appetit!

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Vichyssoise, Now with 100% Less Potato (Say What?!)

leeksoup2I am a massive fan of potato – leek soup (hot) or vichyssoise (cold).  There is something immensely comforting in that equally starchy and creamy spoonful; it’s like taking a time machine back to fine dining in 1960.   Something about that appeals to me.   However, as with most of the food featured on this blog, I actually eat what I cook.  When I cook for myself I try to tread the fine line between healthful and tasty.  So the other day at the store, I found myself grabbing leeks and thinking of what to do.  Then I saw the cauliflower, and all the pieces fell into place.   I would make a faux-chyssoise, replacing the carb-laden potatoes with the lighter cauliflower.

Now, I’ve tried to make a cauliflower soup before and it turned out…not so great.  I found a recipe in some magazine, zoned out, and followed it verbatim.  It called for 1 head of cauliflower to like, 6 CUPS of stock and water!  That is crazy talk.    With that much liquid, you wind up with basically globs of cauliflower puree floating in a water and stock mixture.  Blugh.  So today I barely used 2 cups of stock to the cauliflower.  The result was creamy and even.  It’s not quite the silky sensation that true potato leek soup is, but I think a pass through a fine mesh sieve or a chinois would help with that.  I was hungry, and didn’t really care about that so much in the moment.  If you like a bit of texture in your soup, just leave it as it is after you blend it.   For my garnish, I sprinkled the top with some toasted and diced proscuitto – a salty little bite to contrast with the mildness of the soup.   I also prepared some toast with goat cheese to go on the side.  Add a little mixed greens with balsamic to your plate and you are in business.  It’s a fresh, simple meal that satisfies both the gourmand and the realist that coexist in my head.

*A quick note on leeks, for the novice:  Always remove the rough top parts, using only the white and light green parts.  Usually this is the bottom 2 1/2 to 3 inches.  Then chop of the furry root.  Most importantly, cut them in half lengthwise and rinse under water.   Leeks are roots, and are grown in sand, thus are very likely to have a lot of grit and dirt trapped in their many layers.

Cauliflower & Leek Soup

1 head of cauliflower, rinsed and de-leafed, cut into medium chunks

Olive oil

2 cloves garlic, chopped

2 leeks, chopped

2 -3 cups chicken stock (just enough to cover the top of the cauliflower in the pot)

1/2 tsp rubbed sage

1/8 tsp nutmeg

1/3 C milk

Salt, to taste

Prosciutto or Pancetta, lightly browned

Chopped fresh rosemary

For the toast:

4 slices of italian or french bread

Olive oil

Salt

Goat cheese

Preheat oven to 375 F.

On a sheet pan, toss the cauliflower with a little olive oil and salt.   Roast gently for about 7-10 minutes, until just softened but not browned.  Meanwhile, in a dutch oven or pot, warm about 4 tablespoons of olive oil.   Add the garlic and leeks, and cook over medium heat until softened.  You want to keep the heat under control here and pay attention, because the goal is for the leeks to be very pliable and soft but not browned.   Add the cauliflower, stock, sage, and nutmeg to the pot, and simmer for 20 minutes or until the cauliflower is quite soft.

Pour the contents of the pot into a blender or food processor.  Blend until smooth.   Pour back into the pot.  Over low heat, stir in the milk.   Stir gently and season to taste.  Garnish with pancetta or prosciutto and chopped fresh rosemary.

Toast:

Oven should already be at 375.  On a sheet pan, drizzle the bread with olive oil and a little salt.   Bake for about 5 minutes, or until toasty but not super hard and crunchy.  Spread with a little goat cheese.   Enjoy!

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