Thursday, December 2, 2010

12 Days of a Culinary Christmas: Day 5

Day 5: Go Green Already!
Combine holiday spirit, environmental consciousness and caffeine all in one tidy, convenient gift.  Re-usable coffee cups are everywhere these days.    It always kind of bugged me that when I'd stop somewhere and order coffee to came with an extra sleeve of paper around the outside. Here's a simple way to make a statement for more responsible packaging and still enjoy your morning brew. You can find these in any of the locally-owned gift shops around town, and if I'm not mistaken...a lot of coffee shops will give you a small discount for bringing in your own cup! 

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

12 Days of a Culinary Christmas: Day 4

Even the best of us get wrapped up in cooking that is defined by convenience.  And there's nothing wrong with that.   We're all getting more done in less time than ever before.  But, just because you don't have time for a 43-ingredient, 5 preparation boeuf bourguignon...doesn't mean you don't appreciate the technique, precision and adherence to classical execution. Thumbing through the pages of a great cookbook...taking in the photos, the recipes, the tips on technique... is always a great escape, even if its just from a pile of dishes.  So, here's one of our favorites...and we're sure you'll like it too.

Day Four: Thomas Keller's "The French Laundry" Cookbook
Chef Thomas Keller is known for classical French flair expressed in modern Bistro dishes.  His acclaimed restaurant, The French Laundry is located north of San Francisco in Napa Valley.  Each and every day, he prepares a 9-course tasting menu in which no ingredient is ever repeated.  The result is a series of small bites that intrigue, satisfy and inspire.  He notes, "What we want you to experience that sense of surprise when you taste something so new, so exciting, so comforting, so delicious, you think 'wow' and then its gone...We want you to say, 'I wish I had just one more bite of that.' And then the next plate arrives, the same thing happens, but in a different way."

Keller's The French Laundry features 150 recipes from his famous restaurant, and some even refer to it as a "culinary manifesto."  His interpretation of modern dishes and ingredients such as Peas and Carrots (lobster paired with pea shoots and creamy ginger-carrot sauce) will delight any foodie.  He's a modern-day classic himself.     In addition to The French Laundry, Keller has also published Bouchon and Ad Hoc At Home.  One of these books weighs 6.5 pounds! Discover which one for yourself. 

PS- Have you seen these books in a locally-owned bookstore?  If so, please comment below!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

12 Days of a Culinary Christmas-Day Three

Did your mom ever make you a slice of bread with peanut butter...accented by a hand-drawn heart?  Even thirty years later, I still think that nothing says I love you like gifts of homemade food or treats.  No matter how the cook makes their mark on the package, it's always special because you know that it was made just for you. 

But, there does come a time when you've got to add a little sophistication and panache to your presentation. 

I give you the Williams-Sonoma Personalized Embosser.  It's a notary stamp for foodies, complete with name or monogrammed initials.  This embosser is perfect for the person who is always baking and cooking for others.  Simply insert a golden foil sticker, press down, and seal the meal with your initials and a personalized message.   There's options like "Recipe From...", "Cellar of..."  and "Made from Scratch."    You can "notarize" a recipe, use a gold foil sticker or even a vellum gift tag.  Homemade, quite artistic, and made with love.

Remember, if you know where to find this, or any of the ideas on our list from a local business, please leave a comment and let us know where to go!


Monday, November 29, 2010

12 Days of a Culinary Christmas- Day Two

Day 2: Digital Kitchen Scale
One of the most under-utilized tools available to home cooks is the digital kitchen scale.  These cool little scales are available at a great range of price points...some even starting at $15 or so.  Without sounding too obvious, digital scales serve the purpose of helping you measure your ingredients by weight...rather than volume.   Why is this important, you ask?    

Think like a pastry chef.  Most baking is based upon reactions that cause a chemical change in your ingredients as they form your final product.  As the cooking process takes place, those ingredients react together and are completely transformed;  they can't ever be separated again.  Great baking recipes, and great chemistry, require precision.    

Most home cooks have learned to differentiate between wet and dry measures for their ingredients...i.e. a liquid measuring cup versus 1/2 cup or 1/4 cup scoops for dry components like sugar or flour.  But, once you advance to more challenging and intricate recipes, you may find that the dish calls for a certain number of grams of sugar.  A digital kitchen scale allows you to make those precise measurements by specific as the 1-gram graduation or better. 

Here's a Digital Kitchen Scale by American Weigh.  It has up to an 11-pound capacity and a removable bowl- very convenient for home-based baking.   Digital scales are great for portion control too...but then again, it's the holidays and who wants to think about that?


PS-If you know about a locally-owned business who sells this or other items on our list, please leave a comment below so that we can support local business owners!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

12 Days of a Culinary Christmas- Day One

'Tis the season of eating, celebrating, gifting and sharing...and when it comes to holiday gifts, I favor gifts that are practical, useful and of course, edible.   Really, anything that you can use in the kitchen to make a new dish, try a new technique or incorporate a new flavor you've never tried before is a great gift in my book.  So, without further adieu, I present to you the 12 Days of a Culinary Christmas, with my top picks for the special foodie in your life (or for your own cupboards too). 

Day One: Penzey's Spices
Penzey's Spices offers more than 250 specialty spices ranging from Garam Masala to Chipolte Peppers to Vietnamese Cinnamon and more.  When you can't find fresh herbs or when your recipe calls for an exotic dried herb, Penzey's will have it. Check out the gift sets like the Grill & Broil, Indian Curry for the Pepper Lovers. And, here's a few favorite spices & herbs to look out for:
  • China Tung Hing Cinnamon-extra sweet, spicy and strong
  • Ground Ancho Chile Peppers- not hot, just richly flavorful and colorful
  • White Peppercorns-a rich, somewhat hot flavor for soup, grilled meats, light-colored dishes
  • Smoked Spanish Paprika-smoked over oak fires and a great addition to a lot of grilled dishes
Check out Penzey's website, or they've even got a store in Birmingham.  

Sunday, November 21, 2010

3 Little Words to help you think like a Chef

Alright, here's another old quote for you..."Play like a Champion Today."  Yes, its a football reference, but when it comes to getting ready for Thanksgiving this week, I want you all to go big!  The best way to have a great turkey day is to think like a Chef all week long.  Really, it all comes down to three little words:  
 Mise en place   
Mise en place is a French phrase that means "everything in its place."  Its all set up.  Your menu and your individual dishes are well thought out and you've prepared for each step that you'll need to take to execute.  So, what does mise en place mean for your Thanksgiving? 

It means you can actually watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.  You can catch a few quarters of the Lions vs. the Patriots.  It means you won't have an insurmountable pile of dishes before you even eat dinner.  Mise en place is essential in the kitchens at 801...we've got a small space and a tight-knit team, but taking the time to do the essential preparation and planning before every service helps us send great dishes out of the kitchen consistently. 

So, here's a few quick tips to help you think like a Chef this week. 
  • Monday: This is a great day to review your guest count, set the table, clean & iron tablecloths and set out water and wine glasses.  Make sure that your turkey- whether its fresh or frozen, is cozy & comfortably cold in your fridge.   Finally, do you have a meat thermometer?   An instant-read thermometer is essential to help you know when your bird is done.  It should read 180 degrees when inserted deep into the thigh, not touching bone.   We've all got a drawer full of old kitchen gadgets- like thermometers- and wonder if they still work.  You can test your thermometer by bringing water to a rapid boil, and inserting your thermometer. It should read 212 degrees F.   Make your major shopping trip if you haven't done so
  • Tuesday:  Think like a Pastry Chef.   Work ahead and assemble your pie crusts, cheesecake crusts and tackle any other baking prep work that you can.  Are there sauces or fruit coulis you can make in advance?
  • Wednesday:  Do a final review of your shopping list for any last minute items.  Brine the bird and set out your roaster.  Assemble any appetizer platters that can be prepared in advance.  What potatoes and veggies can you clean, trim and prep for their ultimate recipe destination?
  • Thursday: Estimate your turkey's cooking time and remember that it will need to rest for at least 20 minutes after its done roasting.   Work clean as you assemble your dishes;  wash and put away what you can as you go--it's even better to enlist the help of a few younger family members when you can.  That way, you'll only have dinner dishes to deal with after the meal...not a mountain of mess from all of your cooking endeavors!

Finally, and most importantly, enjoy your day. Toast with your family and friends and count your blessings. You're really thinking like a Chef when you're most grateful for the memories created at the table. 


Monday, November 15, 2010

The Secret Life of Citrus

What's that old saying... Don't judge a book by its is only skin deep...its what's inside that matters.    The list of colloquialisms goes on and on, and they're all really saying the same thing.  When it comes to people, you've got to move past judgments based upon appearances and find out what someone's all about on the inside.  Let me make one confession...I can be a shallow Chef... but only when it comes to citrus

Lemons, limes, oranges...the most beautiful part of these fruits runs just skin deep.   Citrus peels are intensely perfumed and packed with essential oils that impart tremendous flavor into your food. Yes, you can certainly use the juice of any one of these fruits to flavor your dish. But, its the beauty wrapped into the zest, peel or grating of the skin that packs a subtle yet powerful punch.  Citrus has a way of unlocking the flavor profiles of your entire dish; its as if it heightens your senses for all of the flavors that are present. You'll see us add citrus peels to our marinated olives; and zest in everything from to seafood to vinaigrettes. Citrus even has a way of waking up the warm, spicy tones you'll find in Fall chutneys and pies.   

Remember the secret life of citrus...its beauty runs just skin deep...but it always packs a powerful punch. 

Are you ready for Thanksgiving yet?  Here's a take on Cranberry Sauce with Citrus Zest- a variation on one of our chutneys. 

Cranberry Sauce with Citrus Zest
1 pound fresh cranberries, washed 
2 cups granulated sugar
1/3 cup water
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 orange, zested and juiced
1 lemon, zested

Combine the cranberries, sugar and water in a medium pot. Gently stir as you bring the mixture to boil over medium heat. Allow to gently boil for a few minutes, watching for some of the cranberries to break down. Reduce to a simmer and add the cinnamon stick, allspice and nutmeg. Continue to stir gently as needed, and simmer for an additional  6-8 minutes.   Stir in the orange juice, orange zest and lemon zest-- adding a little bit of each at a time and tasting as you go along.  Tasting as you cook is the real secret in improving your final product and creating balance, no matter what you're cooking.  Your cranberry sauce should be subtly sweet, tart, warm with spices and bright from the citrus.   Allow to cool before serving. 

Photo from wizardrecipes