Wednesday, February 24, 2010

It's Beer Thirty!


Today we moved on from tasting wines to tasting beers!  I generally love beer, but some of the ones we tried today were just nasty! Haha.  I'm never a fan of Guiness, but there were some others that I really didn't enjoy... they were generally the darker beers.  Just too bitter and funky tasting for me.  We tried a Hefeweizen, which reminded me of how much I like Hefeweizen, and will make sure to order some next time I'm out :)  In any case, here are some pictures from today's class!

Mr. D's the Man! Haha

From Left to Right: Coors, Pilsner Urquell, Harpoon Hefeweizen UFO, Bass Ale

Harpoon IPA, Dogfish Head Palo Santo, Guiness Extra Stout, Sam Adams Double Bock

JWU Home Brewed Bock Beer, Sea Dog Blue Paw Wild Blueberry Wheat Ale

The Beers We Tried

Again, Mr. D is So Talented with the Stacking of Things!

Lots 'o Beer in the Coors Beverage Laboratory ;-)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

In Vino Veritas


Although I'm suffering from a bit of late-Olympics-watching-early-morning-rising exhaustion, I will suffer through it to post what I've been up to these past few days in my Principles of Beverage Service Class.  First of all, I aced my Mixology practical exam, in which I had to make 12 drinks in 12 minutes!  Here is a pic of what I made.  The list of drinks is on the card :)

Now that Mixology is over, we started studying coffee including types of coffee, how and where it is grown and harvested, and how to make various espresso-based drinks, including cappuccino (left) and cafe latte (right), both of which I made (and then drank) this morning in class!  The espresso machine we use in class is restaurant grade (and size) and would cost $30,000 if you were to buy it.  I think I'll invest in a teeny tiny one instead, what do you think?

Here is an example of different grades of grinding coffee beans for different uses.  Coffee beans are in the top left corner, then moving down we have coarse grind for using in a French press, then medium grind for a drip coffee maker, at the bottom is a fine grind for espresso, and on the plate to the right is extra fine for Turkish (or Armenian) coffee.

In addition to coffee, this week we've also been learning about wines.  We've discussed the varietals of grapes, growing restrictions, how the grapes are harvested, fermented, aged, and so on.  We've also talked about the different bottle shapes, what they mean, what glasses are supposed to be served for each type of bottle, etc.  So much information to absorb in so little time!!  I'm a bit overwhelmed.

We also did a bit of wine tasting today, made notes of the characteristics we observed through sight, scent, and taste.  Honestly, if there is one thing I have to admit that I think I'm horrible at and completely unable to do with any authority, it's tasting wine and acting like I know what I'm doing.  Does that smell floral, fruity, or woody?  Do I taste cherries, or rocks?  Or is it just... WINE?  To me it smells and tastes like wine.  I can on occasion pull certain perceptions from the scent and taste, but I usually just sit there perplexed thinking to myself, "Well, I smell... wine.  Kind of fruity.  I mean, yeah it comes from grapes, so that's fruity.  Is that floral?  Nope, I dunno, it smells like... wine.  Okay let's taste it.  Okay, yup that tastes like wine.  I'm also tasting... wine?  Maybe it was aged in oak, there a little bit of woody flavor.  But in the end... it still tastes like wine."  FAIL.  I suck at this.  I know which ones I like and which ones I don't like.  I just can't tell you the nuances in the flavors.  I know what tastes sweet and what tastes dry.  I know that wines higher in tannins (ie dry mouth-feel) are NOT for me.  I just can't pick out those fancy descriptors that people read on the back of wine bottles, "nuances of chocolate, vanilla, pineapple"... yeah I get none of that, haha.  I mean, I have pretty good taste buds, I can taste very specific ingredients in dishes and can tell when they've been added or are missing in certain cases, but for some reason when I taste wine, I just can't get past the taste of wine. 

The best part about the wine tasting today... drum roll... was the accompanied CHEESES we got to taste and pair with the various wines.  Oh yes, the cheeses made my day!  We had a goat cheese, brie, cheddar, and blue cheese.  Again, I could generally point out which cheeses tasted better with which wines, but if asked why, I would have no idea.  It's definitely a skill I will need to develop.  Nobody's perfect :)

Friday, February 19, 2010

Mexican Friday


Although I lived in Los Angeles for many years, I in no way claim to know much about authentic Mexican food.  I'm completely aware of what is not authentic (read: Taco Bell), and thus have experienced some dishes that I would consider to be more on the authentic side in relation to those.  When it comes to enchiladas, one thing I'm sure of is that they are supposed to be made with corn tortillas.  I also know that adding sour cream as a condiment is a very American addition.  I'm also pretty sure that melting cheese on top of enchiladas is more American than Mexican (filling them with cheese, however, is perfectly fine as far as I'm concerned).  Whenever I've had really good enchiladas they are usually smothered in sauce, and left at that.  Naked and cheeseless.  Pure and delicious.  So with those few guidelines, I went to work to create something I would be proud of and want to share.

In preparing this meal today, I wanted to use as many shortcuts as I could (I'm going on about 4 1/2 hours of sleep at this point), and also use up some ingredients that we already had on hand.  My sister had canned corn which I used, although I usually prefer fresh or frozen.  Use whatever you like.  We also had a blend of shredded Mexican cheeses that were prepackaged, so we went with that.  You can use any cheese you like that compliments Mexican cuisine (although most that I probably associate are American cheeses like Monterey Jack and Cheddar... not really Mexican at all).  In any case, my experiment turned out pretty amazing.  The salsa verde was SO good.  Next time I will double the recipe and make extra to enjoy on its own with tortilla chips.  I was also pretty pleased looking back on the meal that it was surprisingly low in fat for Mexican food.  The most fattening part is the cheese and I only used 1 cup (or 4 oz of shredded cheese) for the entire recipe, which splits up to about 6-8 servings.  There is minimal olive oil used in the rest of the recipe, and the corn tortillas were only 1.5 grams of fat for 2.  Not bad.  I will definitely revisit this recipe again.

Chicken and Corn Enchiladas Verde with Refried Black Beans
Serves 6 to 8

Salsa Verde:
1 1/2 lb tomatillos, husks removed, washed, and roughly chopped
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
2 jalapeno peppers
1 tsp. olive oil
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
Salt and pepper to taste

1 4-5 lb rotisserie chicken, skin and bones removed, shredded
1 cup corn
1 cup (4 oz) shredded cheese (Monterey Jack, Cheddar, etc)
About 15 corn tortillas (the amount of filling may vary depending on the size of your chicken)

Refried Black Beans:
4 15.5 oz cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1 small onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. olive oil
1 1/2 T. chipotle sauce
2 tsp. cumin
Salt and pepper to taste
Water, as needed

To make the salsa, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Toss the tomatillos and onions with the 1 tsp. of olive oil, salt and pepper to taste on a sheet pan.  Off to one side add the jalapeno peppers in a "nest" of aluminum foil.  This way in case the tomatillos release a lot of liquid, the peppers can still dry roast.

Roast for about 30 minutes, occasionally turning the jalapenos so they cook evenly.  They should be fairly tender with the skin beginning to blister, while the tomatillos are completely softened at this point.

Remove as much skin as you can from the peppers, remove the stem and seeds, roughly chop, and add them to a blender with the roasted tomatillos, onion, cumin, coriander, and cilantro.  Blend for about 15-20 seconds until it is nicely pureed.  Season to taste and puree again briefly to combine.  Set aside.

Next, start the beans.  Heat up the olive oil in a pot over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and garlic and sweat over medium heat, being careful not to burn the onions and garlic.  Add the drained beans along with the chipotle sauce, cumin and salt.  Cook the beans over medium heat until the begin to soften, smashing them with the back of a spoon against the edge of the pot to start breaking them down a bit, about 10 minutes.  It will most likely seem a bit dry at this point, so add some water a little at a time until it reaches your desired consistency.  Continue to cook about 10-15 minutes or so, adding more liquid if necessary.  Taste and adjust the seasonings.  Keep warm.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  To assemble the enchiladas, mix together the filling by combining the shredded chicken, corn, shredded cheese, and 1/2 a cup of the salsa verde.



The rest will be used to top the enchiladas. Grease a baking dish and set aside.  The corn tortillas must be heated up so they can be rolled without breaking.  There are a few ways you can do this.  The best and most time consuming is to heat up each tortilla in a dry pan for a few seconds on each side to warm it enough to make it pliable.  You can try heating more than one at a time by wrapping up a few tortillas in foil and putting them in the oven to warm, or use the microwave (according to the package directions) but this can affect the quality of the tortillas.  The only problem is if you have too many tortillas heating up at once, by the time you get to the last few, if they have cooled significantly, they will break when you try to fill them, so heat them in batches if you can.  Spoon some filling down the center of each warmed tortilla, a few generous tablespoons should easily fit.

Roll each tortilla like a cigar to encase the filling and place each on the greased baking dish seam-side down.  When all the enchiladas have been assembled, ladle the remaining salsa verde over the enchiladas.  It isn't necessary to bathe the enchiladas in a pool of salsa, but if you want a more generous coating you may want to just double the salsa recipe (it is worth it, even for snacking with chips.)

Bake the enchiladas uncovered for 20-25 minutes until heated through.  The exposed parts of the tortillas will start to lightly brown, but this adds texture to the dish.  Serve enchiladas with a side of refried black beans.

After baking

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Hey, Bartender!


Hallelujah!  The class I hated is over (I got an A, regardless of the deep loathing I felt on a daily basis), and I've moved on to Principles of Beverage Service a couple days ago.  For the first week we are focusing on mixology (making cocktails and mixed drinks, and learning about the fermentation and distillation of beers, spirits, liqueurs, etc) and next week we will move onto learning about coffee drinks, red and white wines, and beers.  Needless to say, I'm in a very happy place right now, haha.  We are learning how to make about 20 drinks and are actually being tested on making 12 drinks in 12 minutes tomorrow.  I'm a little nervous and have to study the drink recipes a bit more to make sure I'm confident going into the exam.  Also, yesterday we got to do a bit of tasting of 12 different types of alcohol to compare and contrast.  I've had my share of cocktails and mixed drinks, but don't usually make a habit of drinking hard alcohol on it's own, so it was a pretty interesting experience to try these different flavors on their own.  I hated most of them, haha.  I loved the gin, sweet vermouth, and Chambord the best.  A personal side note, last night I discovered an old unopened bottle of Chambord still in its box in my parents' basement.  They had gotten it maybe 20 years ago as a gift (the price tag says $19.99) and probably had no idea how lucky they were because they never used it.  Now it's alllll mine :)  I'm a very happy camper, haha.  Here are some photos from class this week...

My bar station

Perfect Rob Roy on the Rocks, Smokey Martini on the Rocks, Cape Codder, Bloody Mary

Singapore Sling, Orgasm, Perfect Rob Roy Up

Adding the first bunch, a Martini and a Brandy Alexander

And a Margarita...

Tequila Sunrise, Comfortable Screw, Girl Scout Cookie, Mai Tai

Along with a Whiskey Sour and a Grasshopper

Our Liquor Tasting, Right to Left: Citron Vodka, Rum, Tequila, Gin, Scotch, Irish Whiskey, Canadian Whiskey, Bourbon, Cognac, Sweet Vermouth, Grappa, and Chambord

Grappa does the funniest thing when you add water... it gets all cloudy!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Red Lentil Kofte


As a self-proclaimed meatetarian, I cannot see myself enjoying a diet completely void of animal products.  On occasion, however, there are certain dishes that just transcend me to an animal-free place of mind where I find myself completely content eating things of the Earth. 

This completely vegan (my family uses olive oil instead of butter in this dish) and absolutely delicious Armenian entree (yes, meat-eating Armenians can sometimes eat meatless dishes) is my next installment in my international cuisine ode to the Olympics... I certainly couldn't leave out my mother country :) 

This recipe calls for red lentils which are a bit different than green or brown lentils, which you may be more familiar with.  These actually become completely mushy when you cook them, but that is the point for this dish!  You don't want them to retain their shape.  The whole mixture is going to get incorporated with olive oil, onions, fine bulgur wheat and seasonings to form little Heavenly mouthfuls of pure pleasure. 

And to top it all off, a fresh veggie "salata" either on the side so you can dip your kyoftes in it, or served over them to then be eaten with a fork (I tend to take the latter route since the kyoftes can be a bit on the soft side and difficult to eat with your hands).

*Note* Photos above were updated on 6/14/15.

Red Lentil Kofte
4 servings

1 cup red lentils, picked over for stones and rinsed
3 cups water
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large onion, finely minced
1 cup grade #1 fine bulgur (cracked wheat)
3 green onions, minced
1 T. finely chopped parsley
Salt and hot pepper to taste

1 green Italian pepper, diced
1 cucumber, peeled and diced
4 plum tomatoes, diced
4 green onions, minced
1/2 cup finely chopped parsley
1 tsp. paprika
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 T. olive oil
1 tsp. sumac (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste

For the salata, mix together all the ingredients and set aside until service.

In a large pot combine the lentils and the water.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Reduce heat and simmer about 20-25 minutes or until the lentils are very tender.  The mixture will still have a lot of liquid. 

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in another pot over medium heat and add the onion.  Cook until soft and translucent and remove from heat.  When the lentils are cooked, add them to the olive oil and onion mixture, and then add the bulgur.

Mix, cover, and set aside for about 20 minutes or more until the bulgur wheat has absorbed the excess liquid and is nice and tender.  If the mixture still has a crunch, cover it and let it continue to absorb until it is completely soft.

When the mixture is finally the right texture, use a wooden spoon or your hands (dip them in warm water first) to knead the mixture.  Mix in half the green onions, reserving the rest for garnish.  Add salt and hot red pepper to taste and blend well.

To shape the kofte, set up a bowl with warm water beside the pot, dip your hands in the water and grab a small handful of lentil mixture.  Form it into a ball and then lightly begin to make a fist with your hand to make it a bit more oblong (but not completely flat) and leave finger imprints on one side.  Place on a serving dish, dip your hands in warm water and repeat the process until all of the lentil mixture has been used to form koftes.  Garnish with the remaining green onions and the parsley and serve with the salata as an accompaniment.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Honey Sesame Chicken


I'm not only a huge fan of the Olympics, but also a big Disney fan.  I love Disney movies, Disney characters, and Disney theme parks like it's nobody's business.  When I lived in LA I would take every opportunity to go to Disneyland and would basically have to be dragged kicking and screaming by my friends out of the park once it was closing.  What can I say?  I just can't get enough Disney :)

So a few years back I went on a Disney cruise (absolutely one of the best weeks of my life... I highly recommend it if you love Disney, cruises, and tropical destinations.  It's not only great for families but adults too as they have an adults only pool, restaurant, bars, etc) and purchased a pretty awesome cookbook from the Disney store aboard the ship.

I've tried a handful of recipes from this book over the years, but the one recipe I tend to go back to repeatedly is one from the China pavilion in Epcot at Walt Disney World: Honey Sesame Chicken from Nine Dragons Restaurant.  Since I've got the whole international food trend going on with the Olympics, I've decided to take a little trip to China (in theory) and share this recipe as well (with a few slight adjustments)!

PS I've found that by frying the chicken in a non-stick pot, I've had better results since the chicken doesn't stick to the pan when you first drop it in.  Also once they are fried, make sure you keep them in a single layer on a paper towel-lined tray because if you crowd or layer them, the crust will get soggy.

*Note 2/20/15* All photos have been updated. I served this Honey Sesame Chicken in my Mickey casserole dish to make it extra Disney!

Honey Sesame Chicken
Serves 4
(Adapted from Cooking with Mickey and the Disney Chefs Cookbook)

3/4 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1/2 inch by 2 inch strips
Dash ground white pepper
Kosher salt, to taste
Sugar, to taste
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup white wine
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 heaping tablespoon baking powder
1 egg white, beaten
2/3 cup water
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Pinch of salt

Honey Sauce:
1/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons ketchup
1 tablespoon white vinegar
Pinch Kosher salt

Toasted white sesame seeds

Stir the marinade ingredients together in a medium bowl, add the chicken and toss gently to coat.  Let stand for 10 minutes.

For the batter, mix together the flour, cornstarch and baking powder, then add the egg white, water, and oil.  Put mixture aside for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the honey sauce by mixing all ingredients in a bowl and set aside for when the chicken is cooked.

Pour enough oil into a 2-qt saucepan (non-stick works best) to come to a depth of 2 inches.  heat over medium-high heat to 320 degrees F.  Place the chicken pieces into the batter mixture and coat.  Using large tongs or chopsticks, drop chicken pieces into hot oil and fry until golden brown and cooked through, about 2 to 4 minutes, as needed.  Drain in a single layer on paper towels.

Heat the honey sauce mixture in a clean frying pan over medium-high heat, stirring until mixture bubbles (don't overcook or it will become caramel).  Mix the chicken pieces into sauce and toss with the toasted sesame seeds. Remove from the heat.  Place on a serving dish and serve immediately.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Fondue-Inspired Macaroni and Cheese


One of the winter Olympics powerhouses is the ever-neutral country of Switzerland.  I've been there before, and can attest to their love of cows, chocolate, and cheese.  A popular Swiss dish that has made its way onto French menus as well is cheese fondue, a gooey pot of melted cheeses served with an array of bread cubes, pickles, and more for dipping.  A traditional combination of cheeses used in fondue consists of Gruyère and Emmenthaler (Swiss cheese).  I decided to use fondue as the inspiration for my next Olympics-related dish, macaroni and cheese done the Swiss way (and also my way).  I didn't make a straightforward fondue with the cheeses, but instead went with the classic bechamel and cheese concoction that starts many a mac and cheese.  I wanted it to be super cheesy with a nice crust, the way any good mac and cheese should be.

I also chose to bake them off in individual oven-proof bowls as opposed to a larger casserole, although either way works.  I found that each oven-proof bowl could easily serve one very hungry person, or could be split to feed two (I only ate half of one for lunch since it was pretty rich, but am looking forward to eating the rest tomorrow!).  I also decided to freeze a couple of the assembled mini casseroles to enjoy them at a later time... 'tis the joy of making them in smaller vessels.  I can just put one in the refrigerator the night before I want to enjoy it to defrost and then bake it off.  You can bake them right out of the freezer too, but I think it will take a lot longer to heat all the way through if it's rock solid.  In any case, it turned out to be quite possibly the best mac and cheese I've had!  Gruyère and Emmenthaler are a couple of my favorite cheeses and I didn't skimp on the quality, and opted to get aged versions of both, nice and flavorful.

Swiss Macaroni and Cheese
Serves 3 to 6

1/2 lb penne pasta
2 T. butter
2 T. flour
2 1/2 cups low-fat milk, heated to a simmer
8 oz Gruyère cheese, grated
6 oz Emmenthaler cheese, grated
2 slices bread, crusts removed (I used Italian whole wheat bread)
1 tsp olive oil
Pinch of nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste

Cut the bread into pieces and put in the food processor.  Process until you have fairly fine bread crumbs.  Set aside.

Mix the shredded cheeses together in a bowl, and reserve 1/2 cup for the topping.  Set aside.

Bring a pot of water to boil.  Add salt and the pasta, and cook until just shy of al dente (it will continue cooking in the oven).  Drain and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add the flour to make a roux and whisk until it is nice and smooth.  Cook for a couple minutes to cook out the raw flour flavor, but do not allow the roux to brown.

Add the hot milk a little at a time, whisking in between each addition, until all of it has been added.  Cook, constantly whisking, about 5-8 more minutes on medium heat until thickened, but do not bring it to a boil.  Season with nutmeg, salt and pepper.

Remove from the heat and whisk in the shredded cheeses, a little at a time until completely combined.

Once the cheeses are all combined and melted, add the pasta and stir to coat.  It will be very saucy.

Divide the pasta and cheese mixture between three oven-proof bowls.  Alternatively you can use a casserole dish, or even large ramekins, depending on your preference.

Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top of each.

Drizzle the olive oil over the fresh bread crumbs and toss with your fingers to mix.  Distribute the bread crumbs over the pasta.

Bake the pasta for 20-25 minutes until nice and bubbly, and golden brown.  Allow the pasta to cool for a minute before serving, as it will be extremely hot.



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