Saturday, March 14, 2009

the melting pot & my chicken phobia

It's Lent and one of my "resolutions" is to cook more at home.

Beside saving me money, I'm really trying to explore different flavors and techniques. Here are a few meals from this week:

Our "Bachelor finale-watching" meal:

Flank steak tostadas
Grilled corn and radish salad
Avocado crema

Not only is this meal pretty healthy (minus the fried tortillas), but fun to make as well. To begin, I made the corn salsa and avocado crema. For the salsa, I grilled my corn on the grill pan with olive oil and salt then cut it off the cob. Add the warm corn to minced jalapeno, red onion, cilantro, sliced radishes and lime juice. For the crema, I added the fruit of two avocados to the food processor with plain Greek yogurt, lime, honey and salt to get a smooth, thick consistency.

Meanwhile, I fried tortillas (I chose CM whole wheat) in vegetable oil until puffy and crispy then set them aside to drain on paper towels. I also heated vegetarian refried beans with a bit of garlic and oil to later spread on the tortillas.

Now for the steak...first, I made my marinade with chipotles in adobo, salt and pepper and rubbed the flank steak with it. Keep in mind, these chipotles are HOT so use with caution. I actually wiped most of the marinade off right before grilling but the smoky flavor still remained. I then grilled the steak on my grill pan to medium rare, let it rest and sliced it.

To serve, spread the fried tortilla with refried beans and arrange steak slices. Top with cheese (we used fontinella and I highly recommend this), the corn salsa and a dollop of avocado crema...Olé!

Our homemade "BBQ" and Heat-watching meal:

Salad with romaine, candied pecans, feta and homemade balsamic dressing
Smoked brisket
Pork ribs
Scallion cheddar mashed potatoes
Corn on the cob

Although my contribution to this meal was minuscule, it was so dang great I had to mention it! The brisket and ribs were smoked for 24 hours and were to-die-for tender. My contribution was the candied pecans (I was too busy watching DeNiro and drinking beer) and they were super simple. I toasted the pecans with butter, honey, red pepper flakes and salt then let them cool before they went into the salad.

Our "Ode to Morocco" meal:

Moroccan chicken with saffron risotto

Although I can't take credit for this meal either, I can definitely comment on the preparation. The risotto was made with saffron threads, onion, garlic and herbs. For the chicken, sear it first with salt and pepper, then add a wet paste of smoked paprika, curry powder, turmeric, saffron, salt, pepper, cumin, chopped kalamata olives, cilantro, onion and olive oil and return to the pan. Add white wine to cover chicken and reduce until sauce consistency is reached (about 10 minutes). Finish the sauce with a few pats of butter and serve with saffron risotto.

Our current focus in culinary school has been the ever-flowing melting pot of American regional cuisine. For the northern and eastern states (I drew Pennsylvania) we drew dishes out of a basket to recreate and then had to make an individual dish using any type of beans. Yes, beans.

I drew Boston baked beans (ehh..) and Buffalo stew (double ehh...). The beans actually turned out pretty delicious. It was your typical dish with dry mustard, molasses and brown sugar but I added chopped bacon and thyme to it as well.

For my personal bean dish, I grabbed the garbanzo beans and decided to make a salad- Spinach apple salad with spiced fried chickpeas and a lemon ginger vinaigrette.

The next class, we concentrated more on the Southern and Western states (I chose Florida). For my required dishes, I drew Jambalaya (yay!) and Navajo fry bread. For our individual dish, we were required to incorporate any type of corn (fresh, frozen, canned, corn meal, masa harina, etc.)

Beside my torment of cutting up an entire chicken*, the jambalaya was really fun to make.

*Disclaimer: I have a huge chicken phobia. I don't like to order it in restaurants unless I've had it before. The raw skin irks me and I feel like the raw chicken is going to jump up and start dancing before I cut it. I also hate slicing the backbone. Yes, I'm a huge baby and this is ridiculous. Just let it go...

First, I seared my beautifully fabbed chicken with salt and pepper then removed it from the pan. Next, I sauteed onion, garlic, parsley, cubed ham, cubed pork loin and sliced kielbasa in the same pan. I then added the spices (dried basil, thyme, cayenne, paprika, salt, pepper, etc.), homemade chicken stock, long grain rice and my reserved chicken back in the pan. Bake for 45 minutes (stirring occasionally) at 350 degrees and you've got some damn good jambalaya.

For the fry bread, I made a dough of flour, baking powder and salt. After kneading for a few minutes, I set the dough aside to rest for 15 minutes. To prepare the dough for frying, roll out until about 1/4 inch thin into circles 3 inches in diameter. Deep fry the dough circles- it only takes a couple minutes a side.

For my individual dish with corn, I stuffed my fry bread with a fried corn salsa of jalapeno, lime juice, cilantro and salt with a mango vinaigrette. For the vinaigrette, I combined the fruit of one mango, orange juice, lime juice, chopped scallion, salt and olive oil in the food processor. To serve, I stuffed the fry bread with the corn salsa, a bit of mango vinaigrette and slices of orange and salted avocado.

The next few weeks will be crazy- seafood class in culinary school, catering a tea party for 50 then catering an outdoor BBQ for 300! Time to start menu-planning...


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