Thursday, August 12, 2010

France - Week 1

Ok so after this week I am making a conscientious effort to get my posts in sooner; so you can see everything up to the minute (so to speak). This week we made cuisine traditional to the country of France...I know we have done a lot of French cuisine. Then again they are considered the fore-fathers of the modern kitchen/cuisine.

The menu consisted of: Soupe de Legumes aux Petits Coquillages (Vegetable Soup with Shellfish); Le Blanc de Poisson Belle Mouginoise (Fillet of Fish Bell Mouginoise); Filet de Porc Farci Lyonnaise (Stuffed Pork Tenderloin); Ratatouille; Salade de Poire (Pear Salad); and Mousse au Chocolat (Chocolate Mousse). Peggy made the vegetable shellfish soup and chocolate mousse, Kelsey (sp) made the pear salad and ratatouille, Maria made the white fish (fillet of fish), and I made the stuffed pork tenderloin.

The vegetable shellfish soup was really good; it included clams, mussels and scallops (which were added in at the last minute; just before serving so they do not get tough). The clams and mussels are steamed open in some clam juice and placed aside. You then sweat some vegetables, add some diced tomato, place the mussels back in bring to a boil with the clam juice, and then add the clams and scallops at the end. Viola, a great cup of shellfish soup; of course remember to taste and add salt and pepper to your liking. The fish was prepared by Maria and it was perfect...

Maria began by thinly slicing tomatoes, cucumbers and white mushrooms; she then arranged them nicely on top of the lightly seasoned fish fillets (any skinless, boneless, firm white fish will do in this recipe). You can see the pattern in the picture shown here. You then add the layered fish onto a buttered pan; large enough to hold the fillets. Almost forgot...make sure to also spread some minced shallots to the buttered pan; then place the fish on top of the shallots. Add some vermouth and white wine to the pan (approximately 4 1/2 oz) in a preheated oven at 400 degrees F; the cooking should not take more than 4 -6 minutes or until cooked (do not overcook). Remove the fish from the cooking liquid and set aside to keep moist and warm. Add some fish stock (fume) and a little heavy cream to the cooking liquid, reduce the liquids to sauce consistency (coating the back of the spoon). After it is reduced you whisk in butter and chives vigorously; until shiny and creamy. Correct the seasoning in the sauce and then pour over the top of the finished fish layed out on a serving platter.

The stuffed pork tenderloin is made by the same method I have spoken about a few times now in this blog. Start by butterflying a pork tenderloin; pound it out with a meat clever; lightly season with salt, pepper and olive oil; then stuff with a prepared stuffing. In this case the stuffing consisted of sauteed onions and garlic, raw ground pork, salt, pepper, chopped herbs (oregano, chervil, sage, and parsley), breadcrumbs and one egg. Of course roll up the stuffed tenderloin tightly and secure closed by trussing it in twine. Pan sear the roll ups in a small amount of oil; place aside and drain off the fat. Deglaze the pan with red wine; add in a bay leaf or two, some herbs (sage, oregano, parsley stems, chervil); place back in the pork and fill halfway up the meat with brown stock and diced tomatoes. Bring to a boil and braise in the oven at 350 degrees for about 35 - 45 minutes. When finished take out the pork and keep warm in a covered plate...reduce the sauce and take out the leaves, stems, etc. Add a little dissolved arrowroot (or cornstarch) and finish off with a little melted butter. Slice the pork on the bias, thinly, and serve on a plate topped with the reduced sauce. This meal goes great with Ratatouille; which Kelsey made and it turned out great! Kelsey's ratatouille was also served by itself in a small bowl; accompanied with toasted french bread brushed with olive oil.

The chocolate mousse is made using the same recipe I have outlined before in past posts (use the search bar above to find recipe). The difference in this mousse was the presentation; I got creative and split an orange. I then carved out the fruit from the skin from half; and used a melon-baller to scoop out the rest of the fibers stuck to the rind. The other half of the orange I segmented and julienned some of the skin. Peggy piped the finished mousse into the empty half of orange and I topped it with julienned orange zest. We then surrounded the finished product with the segmented orange slices. Again a night of great food and awesome photos...

Butter and Cheese and Cheese and Butter - Nothern Italy

The Northern Italians have the opportunity to keep things like dairy chilled in the winter and of course they like food that keep them warm as well. Welcome to butter and cheese and cheese and

Last week we made dishes classic of Northern Italy; they consisted of Vitello Tonnato (Veal in Tuna Sauce), Osso Buco Milanese, Risotto Alla Zafferano (Risotto with Saffron), Panna Cotta, and Gnocchi Di Patate Salsa Di Parmesan Reggiano E Poire (Potato Gnocchi in Parmesan Cheese and Leeks). Phew! that was a mouthful and believe me the menu was nothing short of big dishes.

Veal Tonnato
The veal in tuna sauce was made by Peggy; and is made a nice size of veal, eye round or top round, seasoned with salt and pepper wrapped in cheesecloth and tied up like a salami. You then combine brown stock, wine and a bouquet of parsley, bay leaves and oregano; and bring to a boil. After it comes to a boil you add the veal; cover and remove from the heat. The meat will poach for about 10 -15 minutes and will be kept medium rare. Finish making the tuna sauce which consists of pureed anchovies (canned in oil - drained), tuna fish (canned in oil - drained), capers, olive oil, salt and pepper. Take out the veal and chill in the fridge or place in a bowl with an ice bath underneath. After the meat is completely chilled slice into very thin pieces, line on a plate with thinly sliced lemon and accompany with cornichons, capers, tuna sauce, etc. This was not a winner with most; but I thought it to be pretty tasty once you added the tuna sauce.

Osso Buco with Risotto alla Zaffron
I made the Osso Buco which was pretty easy to make; not intimidating at all. Start by lightly seasoning your veal shanks and then in a small amount of olive oil sear the meat in a rondeau (Picture of a Rondeau); set the seared meat to the side. Add some diced mirepoix (onion, carrot, celery) to the pan and deglaze; then add minced garlic until aroma is released. Next add some red wine to the pan (off of the heat - after pouring in wine place back on heat); add some diced tomatoes and replace the meat back into the pot. Make sure to add brown stock to the pot; halfway up the side of the shanks. Put some bay leaves, oregano, rosemary, etc into the pot for seasoning. Bring to a boil, place the lid on the pot and braise in the oven at 350 degrees for about an hour. The meat should be tender and falling off the bone; be careful to not let the meat boil, but rather simmer in the oven. You can also flip the meat once or twice while waiting for the final verdict. Our dish turned a=out great and I topped it with a Germalotta (minced - parsley, lemon zest, garlic & boiled micro-diced carrots).

Maria made the Risotto with Saffron; it was awesome...great compliment to the richness of the Osso Buco. She made it using the standard risotto procedure; pan frying the risotto in a pan with a little oil and then adding wine to the rice until absorbed. Always stir the risotto making sure it does not stick to the pan because it is very easy to burn. You then add a little chicken stock at a time to the risotto until absorbed; continue this process until the risotto is no longer crunchy. Halfway through the cooking of the risotto with the chicken stock; add the dissolved saffron. You dissolve saffron by placing a pinch of it in a couple tablespoons of warm water (or chicken stock). Finish the risotto off with a little butter, cheese and serve with the Osso Buco. Risotto is a Northern Italian short grain rice which becomes very creamy; and can served as an appetiser or main dish at times.

Fresh Fruit with Mint
Overall the night was great; except for a couple of unexpected hiccups...the gnocchi tasted great! However, it either overcooked or was placed in too many at one time; so they clumped up in the strainer. I stress this however, the gnocchi tasted great. It is not an easy pasta to make and if it remains wet before placing it in the boiling water, it will fall apart on you. Also our Panna Cotta did not have enough time to set up in the oven; so we improvised; Maria made a fresh fruit plate with fresh mint and light sugar coating (pictured to the left).This week was awesome and I look forward to making some of these dishes a little on the lighter side.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Central Italy

This week we made dishes from Central Italy; which also includes Rome. The dishes from the region are very simplistic and easy to make. The ingredients are very fresh and homemade pasta is the norm for this area.
The dishes we prepared included: Homemade Tagliatelle Red Pepper pasta with a roasted garlic/olive oil sauce; eggplant rollatini; bruschetta, chicken sauteed with mushrooms and polenta; asparagus with Parmesan cheese and tiramisu.

The fresh pasta was made with 3 cups of flour, 3 eggs, 1 tsp of powdered (crushed) red pepper flakes, 1 tsp of salt, 2 tbsp of olive oil, and 1/2 tbsp tomato paste. I started by by pouring the flour onto a clean surface and making a well in the middle of the flour; then crack the eggs into the well, add the olive oil, salt, paste and pepper flakes. Beat the mixture well with a fork in the well; then start incorporating some of the flour along the edges of the well with the fork. After a while you will begin to work it together with your clean hands and a dough scraper. Knead the dough using the heel of your hand until all of the ingredients are incorporated and smooth. If the dough is too wet slowly add some flour to get the smooth, silky feel. Form the dough into a round and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Allow the dough to sit out while you prepare the rest of your meal. Once the dough has rested for at least an hour uncover and cut into 4 equal pieces. With your pasta roller feed it through; constantly dusting it with flour to keep it dry. Be careful not to roll it out too thin, square off the flattened dough, and slowly roll the two sides into the middle. Slice the dough across both rolled in sides about 3/4 inches wide; slide your knife under the slices and lift. The dough should hang off of your chef knife and you can then separate the strips. Lay the strips of pasta out on a lined cookie sheet and dust with flour to dry. I have actually seen some homes where they line the pasta on a clothing line in order to dry it out. Be careful to not over cook the pasta (only to al dente) and make sure there is enough water to allow room for cooking. If you need to cook in batches, it is ok to do so...I roasted some garlic pressed out the finished product; mashed up the garlic with some salt and added it to 2 tbsp of olive oil and white wine in a pan. Brought this just up to a boil while constantly whisking; then tossed the pasta in the sauce and served with shavings of Parmigiano Reggiano.

Maria made the Eggplant Rollatini; which was dredged on paper towels after lightly dusting with salt; then pan fried to soften the eggplant; and stuffed with ham, asiago cheese. Finally they are rolled up and placed on a baking dish; topped with sauce and more asiago/mozzarella cheese. They are baked for a short period of time to heat and melt all of the ingredients.

The bruchetta was wonderful and made by Mike; he diced and concassed some yellow and red tomatoes into a bowl with minced garlic, shallots and chopped basil. The mixture is then tossed with olive oil, red wine and balsamic vinegars. Seasoned the mix with salt and pepper; then add thin slices of red onion which have sat in ice water to make crisp. The mix is served in a small bowl or plate accompanied with slices of country bread which is topped with a garlic aioli. The garlic aioli (garlic mayonnaise) gives taste and keeps the wet ingredients of the bruschetta from making the bread soggy.

The asparagus is made by snapping off the ends gently where it naturally breaks; then sliced at the bottoms to even them out. Then you place them in a pan and cover with slightly salted water; place it on the heat and bring to a boil. At the boil shut off the heat and remove from the pan from the coils/fire. Pull the asparagus out of the water immediately and place on paper towels to dry. Top them dry asparagus with grated Parmesan cheese and melt in the broiler.

Pollo alla Toscana; chicken with mushrooms is a dish which I think resembles chicken cacciatore. The dish consists of lightly flour chicken which is pan fried then removed from the pan to be put back in later. You then add sage leaves and wine, reduce to almost dry; add mushrooms and chicken stock and reduce by half. You add tomatoes, simmer for about 10 minutes and then correct the seasoning with salt and pepper. Place the chicken back into the sauce and let stew until chicken is done. The chicken is then served with slices of polenta; which Peggy made with mushrooms so it complimented the chicken well.

The tiramisu was a tricky dessert because it needs time to set up in the fridge and we did not have a lot of time that evening. The custard is a mixture of whipped egg yolks which have hot sugar (candy state) poured in while still being mixed. Marscapone cheese is then incorporated into the mixture and spread over layed out lady fingers. More lady fingers and then more cheese/cream; espresso, amaretto, or brandy is added to the cream as well. The idea is to allow the dessert to set up in the fridge overnight...overall the week was awesome and we made some pretty tasty dishes.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Southern Italy

Two weeks ago we made pretty impressive dishes celebrating the cuisine of Southern Italy. Some of those dishes included a couple of antipasti dishes; Peperonata (stewed peppers) and Caponata. A pasta dish of Orchietti Pasta with Artichokes (orcechietti con carciofi); Salad of Squid and Shrimp; Tuna Palermo Style; Focaccia (Sweet onion and roasted garlic); Braciole Calabresi (stuffed Pork Bundles) and Torta Caprese (Chocolate Almond Cake).

The two antipasti dishes (before pasta) were made to go with the yummy focaccia bread I made. Peperonata is basically stewed peppers, onion and garlic; along with tomatoes and basil. You cook the mixture until the skin begins to fall off of the peppers. The Caponata is a mixture of stewed eggplant, olives, tomatoes, celery, and red onion. Both antipasti dishes should be served at room temperature with bread; in this case Focaccia. The Focaccia is made by mixing active dry yeast treated in warm water, 3 3/4 cup of flour, 1/2 cup of water, 1/3 cup olive oil, 2 tbsp yellow corn meal, 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt, 1/3 cup dry white wine. Mix all together in a straight dough method and proof in a warm moist place. Spread out the dough onto a well oiled sheet pan; carefully kneading it until the dough fills the pan resting for an hour to rise. Bake in a 450 degree oven for 10 minutes; take out and spread with rosemary, onion or garlic (whatever please you) and place back in for another 5 - 10 minutes or until golden brown. Cut into wedges and serve with the anitpasti dishes...

The Braciole was pretty easy to make; start by flattening out slices of pork loin (cleaned of fat and silver skin). Make a mixture of parmesan or romano cheese, 1 egg, 2 tbsp of chopped parsley and 2 cloves of minced garlic. The mixture should be a paste and easily spreadable; if it is too wet sprinkle some breadcrumbs in to thicken the mixture. Next make sure you moisten the pork with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Spread a small amount of the cheese mixture on the middle of the pork. Roll the pork into bundles; tucking the sides in as you roll. Close with toothpicks and place in prepared tomato sauce (recipe can be found in earlier entries of blog) you can add a little red wine and some brown stock to the sauce as well. Make sure you do not boil the sauce or the meat will seize and stiffen up...

The Torta Caprese was wonderful and very of the best deserts I've had including baking class. The Tuna Palermo style was good but I am not a big fan of the sardines...Mike however did a killer job with grilling the Tuna. Maria made a very good orechietti pasta with fresh artichokes and pancetta. Overall the week was excellent and brought back remembrance of my late great grandparents and their cooking.

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