Semi Homemade….wha what???

Ok, so everyone that knows me, I’m the queen of scratch made food.  Why?  Because it just tastes better.  Pillsbury, Swanson, Cool Whip, these companies are just not in my vocabulary.  When something tastes really good, chances are, someone took the time to actually compile ingredients, mix em all up and bake/cook them.  I’m really against processed foods.  Not only for the lack of true flavor but because I think they are the root of all evil.  Ok, whoa, that was a bit dramatic but hear me out.  Obesity is this country is off the charts, heart disease, high cholesterol, all those bad things…even the big C, are all linked back to all the fake a** food we ingest.  I know there are some that would say that our good ole apple is sprayed with so many pesticides and chemicals that you are damned either way but at least you can buy organic and rest (somewhat) easy.

Now, with all that mumbo jumbo being said, I”m also a realist.  Donna Reed is just not in the kitchen anymore.  Most homes include one or both parents working their butts off to make ends meet, juggling the kids, and trying to just make it though another day.  So, sometimes a short cut here and there, isn’t going to kill ya.  I cook…alot.  Its my life, my passion and also my job.  So for me, to tackle four to five recipes in one day has just become second nature.  But, I also have a life, and kids and all that jazz.  Therefore, sometimes I will add a little short cut to a recipe to get “almost” the same result as when I do it the “right” way.

I love Quiche, or as my 5 year says, Egg Pie.  Now, Quiche is wonderful but its also a bit of work.  Making dough, blind baking it, taking it out, adding the egg mixture, back in the oven and then out to cool.  So, sometimes, and just sometimes, I won’t make the crust.  Yes, I know, homemade crust is amazing and flaky and delicious but it also makes a mess, has to be kneaded, rest, ah, I’m just tired writing about it.  So, I have a dirty little secret.  I always have frozen pie crusts in my freezer.  Now, I buy the “good” ones that claim “real butter” and “just like Grandma used to make.”  But we all know they aren’t perfect.

However, when the crust is all done for you and already in its own little tin and all you have to do is mix up some eggs, the Quiche becomes also more doable, even on a weeknight!

The other cool thing about Quiche is you can put about anything you like in it and it tastes good.  Oh, and they freeze really well so I always make two, eat one immediately and freeze the other one.

Almost Homemade Quiche

1 Frozen Pie Crust

2 slices Swiss Cheese

1 small onion, fine chop

5 slices, low sodium boiled deli ham, chopped

2 Tablespoons of Parsley or chives, chopped

1 Tablespoon Olive Oil

4 Eggs

2 Egg Yolks

2 1/2 cups heavy cream or whole milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

In a frying pan, heat olive oil and saute onion until soft.  Add ham and heat until lightly browned.  Add salt and pepper and chopped parsley or chives for a bit of green.  Let cool.

In a large bowl, mix eggs, yolks and cream.

Lay swiss cheese on the bottom of the pie crust and sprinkle onion/ham mixture on top.  Pour egg mixture on top.

Cover edges of crust with tin foil so they don’t get black.  Cook for 30 minutes.  Rotate and remove foil.  Cook for another 20 minutes until top is slightly brown.  Delish!

 

Miso In Love With Miso

I think I have mentioned it before in prior posts but I can’t say it enough.  I love Asian food.  I always have.  My love affair began as a child with Chinese food.  I come from a small town and the restaurant options were limited.  We had a number of pizzerias, a few family Italian places and two Chinese restaurants.  We didn’t go out to eat often, but when we did, it was usually for Chinese food.  So, I grew up associating a “fancy” dinner out, with Chinese fare.

The restaurant was owned by a Chinese family and they all worked in the kitchen.  The food was simple but good and everyone knew the owners.  To this day, I have never had an egg roll as good as the ones they served there.  However, when I moved to Manhattan, I definitely tried alot of egg rolls.  Chinese take out is a weekly staple to most Manhattanites.  Everyone has their “place” and many times, you have never actually seen the place you are ordering from.  My friend and I used to joke that we only knew the menu and the friendly delivery guy.  We weren’t entirely sure where the restaurant actually was.  One day, I took a wrong turn and ended up in front of “my” Chinese place. YUCK!  It was small, cramped and smelled really weird.  Needless to say, I didn’t order from there any more.

As my love for cooking was growing, so was my ambition.  I decided I would try to make some of my favorite Chinese dishes at home.  Some were good, some were not but they were all from my kitchen, and that was nice.  I knew exactly what was going in and didn’t have to say, NO MSG!  From there, I started making Thai dishes too because I became a Pad Thai junkie.  I also thought Japanese would be fun so I got a rice cooker and wok.  As I grew as a cook, I learned, I could attempt any cuisine.

I remember my first trip down to Chinatown to shop for food, not knock off perfumes and sunglasses.  It was really amazing.  Buying fish sauce, miso and rice thread noodles were among my first purchases and it was really thrilling.  Me, a little Italian girl from RI, buying all these crazy ingredients and actually knowing what to do with them!

Miso Shrimp is a recipe I came up with when I wanted to make a stir fry and didn’t want to use my old stand by, Teriyaki Sauce.  Miso paste can be purchased pretty much any where now and lasts forever in the fridge.  It is very salty so when you use it, don’t salt the dish until you try it.  I usually don’t add any salt when using soy sauce or miso but season to your own taste.

Like all my recipes, every time I cook them, I am brought back to the first time I tried to make it.  Success or failure, food memories are what make up my culinary journey and I love remembering where I came from and how far I’ve come.

Miso Shrimp

1 lb large Shrimp, cleaned and deveined

3 Tbl White Miso Paste

Juice of one Lemon

1 Stalk Lemongrass, minced

1 Tbl brown sugar

Splash of fish sauce

1 t Sirahcha

1 Tbl Sesame Oil, 2 Tbl Canola oil

1/2 cup thin sliced red peppers

1/2 cup thin sliced green peppers

1/2 cup thin sliced zucchini

(any other veggies you have in the fridge will do, the more the merrier!)

1/2 cup peanuts

 

Mix all ingredients, except for Shrimp, veggies and peanuts, in a bowl.  Once brown sugar has dissolved and all ingredients are incorporated, add shrimp and marinate for 10 minutes.  Heat both oils in wok and wait until almost smoking.  Remove shrimp from marinade and drop into wok.  Stand back, its going to get a bit steamy.  Discard marinade.  Once shrimp has caramelized on one side flip and remove after 30 seconds.  Don’t overcook your shrimp!

Take them out and throw in the veggies, just long enough for them to get some color and wilt.  You don’t want mushy veggies.  Leave a little crunch to them.  Remove them to a dish with shrimp and wipe out wok.  Be careful, it’s HOT!

Throw the peanuts in just long enough to get them warm and toasty.  Then, throw everyone back in the pool, I mean, wok and let all the flavors come together.

Serve with rice or noodles.

 

Duck Confit Mon Ami

Hello Friends.  I have missed blogging so I figured I’d write up a post about my best meal as of late.  The reason I love this dish is because it takes a classic French technique and makes it super easy!  You just need a little prep and plan before the feast.  I love Duck Confit.  When you see it on a restaurant menu, its always oodles of money because, when done traditionally, it takes quite a bit of time.

My recipe is super easy and a real show stopper.  What I’m most proud of though is the sauce.  Sauce makes everything taste better.  You have a cheap cut a meat, throw some sauce on it!  Overcook the chicken?  NO problem, douse it in some good sauce.  The right sauce can make even an old leather boot palatable.

My duck confit sauce is super simple.  All ya have to do is saute some shallots in butter and then reduce 1/2 cup of red wine down to about 1/4 cup of wine.  Then, the kicker, 1 cup of cherry jam.  Splurge on the good stuff that has whole cherries in it.  Its worth it and makes a really sweet/tart sauce that compliments the salty meat that if done right, is falling off the bone.

For the duck, either butcher one down to eight pieces yourself or have the meat guy do it.  Even at the grocery store, if you ask one of the meat men to butcher it down, they always say yes and repackage it for you.  Just remember to tell them to give you all the excess fat they trim off.  Oh yeah and a “Please” and “Thank you” is always appreciated as well.

Anyway, so now you have your duck and fat.  Pre heat the oven to 250 degrees at  8 pm.  Yes, 8 pm.  This is going to cook ALL NIGHT LONG, all night, (sorry, now Lionel Richie is stuck in my head).

Aggressively season the meat with kosher salt and pepper.  Get a few thyme springs, some bay leaves, rosemary, whatever woody herbs you have on hand will do.  Put all the meat pieces in the dish and surround with the herbs.  I also throw in some garlic, just peel and leave whole.  Now, you take the fat and put it on top of the meat like a nice little blanket.  All the meat should be covered in the raw fat.  Scrumptious, right?  Ok, not really but it will be.

Then, you place that bad boy in the oven and just forget about it.

When you wake up in the morning, you home will smell a bit like “burnt toast” (that’s a direct quote from the husband).  Open the oven and viola…duck confit.  All the fat will be melted and you will see your beautiful little babies all warm and succulent!

Pull it from the oven and let it cool slightly.  Then, get in there and take out all your meat.  Strain fat and reserve.  You can use duck fat in place of butter for alot of recipes.  It keeps for months in the fridge.  Sear one steak in duck fat and now you know what the restaurants do!

At dinner time, get a pan screaming hot with a bit of olive oil.  Place the duck in, skin side down for a few minutes to heat it up.

Serve it with the sauce and I swear, you won’t believe your taste buds!!

 

 

Detox Shmetox

So pretty much the day after I graduated culinary school I decided I needed to do a detox.  I mean, after nine months of butter rich foods, freshly baked breads and all the stock based sauces it was time to cleanse my system and jump start some healthier meal choices into my daily routine.

Detoxing can come in all shapes and sizes.  Some can last a month, a day, whatever you wish.  I decided to detox for 7 days.  I figured 7 days of no coffee, dairy or processed foods would do a body good.  And, I think it did.  After the first few days of headaches (caffeine and carb withdrawal) and a growling stomach, I actually got used to eating really clean food, lots more veggies and fruit.

However, lets remember that I love food, ALL FOOD,  so for me, a vegan lifestyle is just not realistic.  I appreciate the vegan culture and all the health benefits.  I also believe that we eat WAY too much meat and drink WAY too much coffee in this country.  So what I decided is that going forward, I will try to limit my meat, dairy and caffeine intake and see if over the next year, I feel better.  I also found that when my ingredients became limited, I became much more creative in the kitchen and that is always a good thing.

I have made some pretty delicious veggie stir fries, quinoa salads and fruit smoothies over the past 7 days and now start my morning with a delicious wheat grass shake that gets me all the way through til lunch.  NO coffee needed!

I think the only way to properly detox is to not feel like you are detoxing.  I tried to find a way to make every meal taste good and fill me up so that I didn’t miss the stuff… that was missing!

With that being said, I had some over ripe bananas left over from all my smoothies so I decided to make banana crumb muffins.  Yes, I have fallen hard off the detox wagon today.  But, I know, I will enjoy my delicious muffin today and tomorrow, I will jump back on track.  If you can eat with a health conscious mindset about 90% of the time, and you allow yourself to eat something decadent now and again, the need for a detox will be completely unnecessary!

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That’s All Folks!

I’m done, finito, fine…ok, you get the picture.  On Friday, I passed my Culinary school final and on Monday, I graduate.  It was absolutely crazy how nervous I was.  I got there at 5pm in order to take a written test and draw our final dishes from a hat.  There are always a few dishes I really wanted to get and others I really DIDN’T want to get.  I guess the heavens were shining down on me because I drew the two dishes I was very much wanting.  My final dishes were to be Striped Bass with Mustard Greens and Sacher Cake.  I wasn’t thrilled about having to do dessert but  I knew I could execute the Bass dish well so I was content.

We were then given 5 minutes to write down anything we wanted before heading in.  No recipes allowed in the kitchen so I used my five minutes to write down the measurements for the cake.  You just can’t wing it with pastry so I know I needed to know the amount of grams for the chocolate, cake and filling.

Once I was in the kitchen I just got into the “zone.”  The zone is best described as head down, mind focused and working as fast as you can without getting sloppy.  In the kitchen are two chefs watching your every move.  That means if you mess up, they see it.  If your station is a disaster, they see it.  If you start to hyperventilate, they see it.

I had to present my first dish at 9:20.  So, around 8:30, the “freak out” starting bubbling up in my stomach.  I was so hot and still had so much to do.  My knees were sweating for God’s Sake.  I didn’t even know knees had sweat glands but apparently, they do.  The chef came over because I just one of those people that has a hard time masking the freak out.  She wasn’t happy that I had so many components for my dessert out on my station while I was filleting my fish.  So, she instructed me to put the fish back in the fridge and finish the dessert.  I was not a happy camper.  As I’m finishing up the dessert, all I keep thinking about is the fact that my fish is still not filleted and I have to have a complete dish on the tray soon.  But, you have to do what you’re told.

The tears are starting to well up and a melt down is on the horizon.  Somehow, I get the dessert done in 10 minutes, grabbed my fish and filleted the heck out of it.  I mean, there were four, perfect portions in front of me and I was ready to start cooking them.  Thank you Jesus.

The fish, I must say, looked beautiful.  I was so happy with the crispy crust and the moist center.  It was a Hail Mary moment and I knew I could do it.  I got my fish on the plate, with the greens, puree of celeriac and apple and delish shallot sauce in time to be at the door at 9:19.  Go Anna Go Anna Go Anna.  I was really happy and just ready to hand off the dishes and head back to plate the dessert.

I handed my dishes off to be served to four judges and ran back to the kitchen Forest Gump style.  The dessert was pretty much done but the chocolate glaze was just not setting up.  Meaning, it was still soft on the cake and I needed it to be hard in order to decorate the top with more chocolate.  Then, my pastry bag tip kept failing me.  The chocolate was coming out too fast and too thick.  The minutes were just flying by.  I really didn’t think I was going to make my 10:09 time.  It was 10:07 and my ice cream was still not on the plate.  I had to write on the top with the glaze still soft and the decorative writing ran a bit.  But, I got out the door on time.

On to the judges…we had to sit and listen to the critique from four judges.  I was last…of course.  They were nice to everyone but found little items on each dish to critique.  Finally, my turn.  The first judge looked at me and said, your fish was my favorite of the night.  Perfectly cooked in every way.  The other three nodded their heads.  The last said, I gave you all tens and I never do that.  He continued, “If I got that in a restaurant, I would go back.”  Not one criticism.  Wow, tears of joy in my eyes.  I did it.

Now on to dessert.  “Cake was moist, nice plate…but, your glaze was not set so the design was a bit smeared.  Seems as if your glaze was not set up”  Ok, I’ll take it.  She was absolutely right.  It wasn’t perfect but at least it tasted great.  For me, success.  I gulped down the champagne they handed us and just thought, wow I DID IT.  I’M DONE.

I can honestly say that this past year has been one of the hardest of my life.  So little sleep, so much stress and so much to juggle.  I could not have done it with the support of my loving family.  So, to me, this success belongs to me, my kids, my husband and my parents.  Together, we made a huge dream for me come true.

I can’t wait for the next chapter, next challenge of my life.  I look back on this experience with so much love and happiness.  I hope every dish of food I prepare from here on out, reflects that love.

As I always say, Food is Love and I Love Food.

If You’re Happy And You Know It, Clap Your Hands

My spirits are high and there is a spring in my step.  Why? Because I have exactly two weeks left of culinary school, 6 classes to be exact.  And while the thought of my final next Friday has me beyond nervous, I can see the light at the end of this long tunnel and its a very, very bright light.

I know about a month after I finish school, I will forget the time it took me three hours to get there because they decided to close the Holland tunnel.  I will also forget all the late nights, bleary eyed mornings and overall feeling of exhaustion.  I will remember the amazing friends I have made.  People I know I will support and love for the rest of my days.  I will also remember how it felt to get an “Excellent” on a dish in Level Three and the times some crazy thing would happen in the kitchen and we would laugh about it for days.

That’s the crazy thing about life.  The harder it is, the longer the fight and the more obstacles you face, the better you are for it.  

I am so excited for the next chapter of my life.  I plan to have an amazing summer with my girls and figure out how I’m going to take this amazing education and mold it into a career that satisfies me both emotionally and creatively.

If I have any piece of advice for ANYONE that is thinking about taking a giant leap towards something he or she truly wants to do, I say, close your eyes, bite your lip and JUMP as hard and fast as you can.

I’m Running This

I’m very happy to report that on Friday, I began Level 6, the LAST level of the Culinary Program.  That means, in seven glorious weeks, as long as I pass the final, I will graduate from FCI. Can I get a Halleluah?  In addition, I think I’m going to enjoy level 6.  Don’t get too excited, I’m still exhausted, sick of commuting and ready to get out of there, however, it’s just nice to finally know where every piece of equipment  in the kitchen lives, understand the order/fire system and just feel comfortable in a restaurant kitchen.

We also have the new Level 5 students running around the kitchen like chickens with their heads cut off and I was laughing to myself the other night because now I know what I looked like for most of my Level 5 experience.  I was also blessed with a great Level 6 class that really showed us the way so I want to pay it forward.  When I saw a deer caught in headlights the other night, I tried to direct him or her.  It’s quite rewarding to be able to help someone out in the midst of the dinner service craziness.

Another positive factor, (yes, I’m Suzy Sunshine this morning), is that our Level 6 dishes are pretty delicious.  I’m currently in Garde Manger (Appetizer Station) and our Asparagus dish is really nice.  I’ll post some pictures tomorrow.  Most importantly, these are the dishes we will have to cook for our final so I find myself really concentrating and focusing on making these dishes spot on in preparation for the big day.

So, after reading my last post, I’m trying to leave Debbie Downer behind and approach my final level at school with a new outlook.  These are the last seven weeks I will ever be in Culinary school so I want to enjoy them.  In years to come, I am sure I’ll forget the commute and the harsh hours and just remember the amazing people I met and the fantastic skills I learned along the way.

Kumbaya.