Sunday, September 26, 2010

"it was all a dream"

not just a biggie reference. BOEUF BOURGUIGNON.
aka.. beef burgundy
aka..the stew that haunted my dreams.

this is not a joke! one night this past week i dreamt i was making this stew..even refusing to turn the fan on because i was afraid it would cool it down too much. i imagined carrots and onions and perfectly browned chunks of chuck roast. throughout the night i'd wake up sporadically to thoughts of braising, my oven, and  visions of serving the stew over a starch of choice. when i woke up it was as if i had already rehearsed the recipe... cooking this dish felt familiar, as if the night before was the REM mise en place.

i had never even tasted it before! perhaps it was so fixated in my mind because it was basically the third most important character in julie and julia (after of course, julie...and...julia....) which by the way, was not that great of a movie but i still loved it a great deal simply because of the fact that it was about food blogging! and julia child!!!

you'll find tons of versions of this recipe online, but especially since i've been working my way through mastering the art of french cooking vol. 1, why would i use any other than that of julia child's? ze original, the best....

here is a link to an online version of this recipe. (as much as i hate to link to oprah, the layout of the webpage is clean and the recipe clear..and that is what is most important, after all)

chuck roast all ready to be dressed up!
don't skip drying the beef on paper towels! may seem counter-intuitive if you want to end up with a tender final product, however in the case of braising, sealing internal moisture is priority one. to do this you need to form a good crust on the meat so it can finish cooking slowly in simmering liquid. the reason damp meat doesn't brown is because when it hits the hot oiled pan, a pocket of steam forms between the flesh and the oil.. you end up with something slightly steamed and lose your chance to develop browning.

i didn't use bacon grease or any sorts of bacon... i am not too keen on buying bacon which i don't even like, to never use again. so anyways.

adding the wine
ugh at first, it seemed like too much wine. seriously with equal parts wine and broth, it left me wondering "where's the tomato?!" but sure thing i soon learned that you can have a delicious sauce that is not tomato based, a big deal for the girl who eats whole tomatoes like apples..

i added more veggies than called for in the original... i mean come on julia, ONE carrot for 3 pounds of fatty beef?! have you no fear of cardiovascular consequences? ha, just joking. but really, i do love my veggies so why not.

a note about the wine... i used cabernet sauvignon. now's probably the time to admit to you, i know nothing about wine. this is just the red wine i've been using for cooking. julia child however, has devoted a chapter of her book to wine selection, storage, varieties, serving.... there is so much to learn. and at this point in my life, too much. i mean.. i think wine is ok. i love it for cooking but it makes me sleepy and i've not a clue how to pick a decent wine. i'm sure i'll acquire the hobby soon enough, a skill i'll definitely want to become well versed in all in good time. 

goodies ready to be stirred in
speaking of tomatoes, the recipe called for tomato paste. now i don't know why but i hate tomato paste. it's blech. not only because it's canned (because i love ketchup bbq sauce stewed tomatoes and other processed tomato goodness!) but nothing about it seems to resemble the fruit from which it was born. instead i chopped up a tomato, and added 1 tb or so of tomato ketchup :) because americans love ketchup and i am indeed an american.

also i am korean, which of course means i love garlic. i doubled the garlic called for. was tempted to use more, but i resisted the urge! (i'd say my biggest vice is overuse of garlic, guilty as charged)

before putting it in the oven for a 3 hour long simmer bath, the casserole dish seemed quite bad. it reeked of cheap wine, had half-cooked chunks of beef, mashed cloves of garlic bobbing along the top.. ew. i wondered what i had gotten myself into. i was a braising virgin til this point i suppose, because wow what a difference a few hours of a gentle simmer can do. AMAZING

after the meat was fork tender i pulled it out.. it smelled so great. the whole place smelled great, nevermind the fact that it was so hot after having the oven on for several hours. anyhow, i thought the sauce was still a bit thin and wine-y tasting, so i boiled the sauce down for a few minutes to let it thicken before pouring it back over the meat and vegetables.
with parsley, served over steamed rice
the meat was wonderfully soft and easily fell apart. the carrots were creamy and delicious, and even though i omitted the braised onions and mushrooms the flavours really came together. i was quite impressed and pleasantly surprised. they say this dish was traditionally a peasant dish in France... for those who could only afford the cheapest, worst, and toughest cuts of meat. the only way to make these cuts palatable was to tenderize them with alcohol, and wow what a long way this simple idea has evolved. 

finally i got to try my hand a preparing a legendary dish! and what a great time i had with it. now i've enough stew for two weeks :P

Sunday, September 19, 2010

ah, school's overwhelming.

this past week was my birthday, and a biochem exam, and generally too much studying.

i've been cooking when i can, usually late night experiments.... it's therapeutic :)
but the fridge has been rather bare, i've been missing having many great ingredients at hand. it's made for an interesting menu as of late.

for example, i messed around with making puff pastry dough the other night... my vision was to stuff triangles with spiced ground turkey, onion and potatoes (indian-style spices) for a crispy puff pastry take on a samosa. woowwww what failure it was! starting off i didn't understand how temperamental puff pastry can be, especially when done carelessly and in a hurry (like how i did it). my pockets turned out pale, flat, dense, and extremely greasy. after some research i discovered the art that is the creation of pâte feuilletée... there is even pâte feuilletée inversée, an even more fussy version where the turns are completed with the butter on the outside. and chocolate versions, and a multitude of recipes for grease doughs, and fried malaysian spiral pockets based on the same ideas... what enlightment. i had no idea a mishap with puff pastry would open up a whole new world of laminated doughs for me, i am so excited to explore it. when time allows, ahh

also out of boredom and curiosity i looked more into the history of michelin and their infamously coveted stars... a very cool story of how andré michelin started his company, produced his guides, and grew to fame. michelin definitely keeps its iconic status alive by strict anonymity of its inspectors... even company executives don't often meet or learn the names of inspector candidates. the rigorous training program, intense work schedule, air of secrecy etc...reminds me of espionage thrillers and such. so cool! i could go on about this, so i'll leave you with this article... a great one, the only time michelin allowed an inspector to interview with the press. 

major highlight of this week, i pirated a copy of julia child's mastering the art of french cooking. a pdf file of over 700 pages! legendary book, the french cooking bible for the non-french. i was giddy like a schoolchild when i found i could torrent this... sorry julia, simca, louisette... i promise to purchase a tangible copy of your book as soon as i'm no longer a poor student :) anyhow this is what i've been reading in my downtime... so far i've made it through the soup chapter and it is quite an interesting read. it explains kitchen techniques, preparation of ingredients, equipment usage, translations of french cooking verbs... knowing this 2-vol set cut the pretense and made authentic french cooking accesible to all, gives me shivers.. awesome.

my strategy for eating healthy throughout the busy week was pretty simple. at the beginning of the week i cooked a huge pot of sticky rice and white quinoa in a 1:1 ratio in a rice cooker. i kept this in the fridge. when i'd come home from school, tired and hungry, i defrosted a tilapia filet while i chopped random vegetables. it started off with just bell pepper and zucchini on the first day... seasoned the fish with whatever and a little olive oil, and bake them all together in a foil-lined pan at 400ish for about 15 min.
the first day... ta-da
easy! just microwave the rice/quinoa and add the veggies and fish when they're done. throughout the week i changed up the veggies a bit, with mirepoix (a classic french aromatic mixture of celery, onion, and carrot) and whatever odds and ends in the fridge. added herbes de provence (with extra fennel!.. i've been having fun with my new birthday spice rack :D), red wine vinegar.... and the list goes on..

apologies if this entry is not well organized... i have so much i want to say but no time to smooth out my writing to make it sound pretty! got to go back to studying... this week i've been so excited about french cuisine for some reason... what i had previously thought of as superfluous and extremely pretentious actually has so many dimensions to it, there is sooo much more to it than just "haute cuisine" and fancy plating. it has a lot of soul and of course, don't overlook the history of traditions. what i love most is the focus on letting ingredients shine. i've lots to learn indeed.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

lessons from a muffin pan

this week has been quite busy, even with the labor day holiday. ah, so not much cooking to report but i did bake a tiny bit, busted out the muffin pan for the first time since at the new apartment.
here's a picture of my failure muffins...
chocolate-banana-oat muffins
for the recipe i modified a honey-oat muffin recipe i found on tastespotting (which i finally got on, by the way :D but i've probably already told you that a hundred times haha)... adding cocoa powder, chocolate chips, mashed banana, making high altitude adjustments, substituting this and that....

bleh.... is the best way to describe the final result. the original muffins looked so great but i think i made a mess of it. if you want the original recipe, it's this one. i believe the simplicity of that recipe is what makes it stand out. so,

lesson #1: don't add too many bells and whistles, simplicity is often best, occam's razor, etc etc

sadly there was too big of a difference between smooth, sweet chocolate chips and dense chewy oats.. and not in a good way. it just made for one direction-less mess. which leads me to...

lesson #2: do not mindlessly add random things on whim.

i filled half of these with peanut butter which made it even worse. but no worries, as you can see i always learn more when i mess up in the kitchen. or anywhere else in life, for that matter.

---cut to, a later time in the week-----

wednesday, had a big indian dinner with friends and i made some dessert. all prepared by chef sumeet: (some sort of) chicken, mutter paneer, fresh yogurt, etc. etc.. unfortunately no food pictures were taken, but the dishes were soo great!

however here's a pair of leftover chai spiced cupcakes with honey-ginger cream:

fresh spices courtesy of mrs. pawar! thank you!
i worked based off of this, making a few (only a few!!) random changes, altitude changes, and put it in cupcake form. also, i quadrupled the ginger called for in the frosting cause otherwise the flavor was very weak. 

by the way, high altitude adjustments for me usually includes:
  1. a little more flour/dry stuff (such as cocoa or matcha powder)
  2. a little more wet stuff (water, milk, yogurt, oil, mayo)
  3. using AP flour whenever it calls for cake flour.. at high altitude you need that extra gluten for support
  4. reducing leavening agents
  5. reducing sugar 
  6. increasing bake temp by 10-20 degrees C, and often shortening bake time (watch if you're unsure!)
aaaand that's all folks.

Monday, September 6, 2010


pasta is a universal favorite.. a starchy, chewy blank canvas that welcomes all flavour sensations. being kid-friendly and simple in preparation makes it a familiar ingredient in nostalgic comfort foods (think mac n cheese, spaghetti with meatballs, chicken noodle soup, 칼국수!) as well as a support for fancy ragùs, silky emulsions, fiery stir-fries... even as a unique dessert of chocolate fettuccine with raspberry sauce and grated white chocolate (yum). it's a food that is just as tasty nude in oil and garlic as it is dressed to the nines in sophisticated fare.

my love for pasta stems from its simplicity and EASE. anyone can serve a mean bowl of pasta... many store-bought canned sauces taste good in my opinion. add some meat and veggies and it's what many people will call a home-cooked meal! nice taste and presentation without breaking a sweat. this is why especially at this time and place in my life (college), pasta is so important. to me, it is a "step up" from ramen instant noodles. it is the solution to the student's perpetual issues of hunger and time management.

it being labor day, i had some time to make a marinara sauce from scratch. i'm not sure if the use of "marinara" is entirely correct, since there's so many varieties of italian tomato sauces (example, spicy arrabbiata is traditionally made sans basil). anywaaays

first, i blanched some roma tomatoes. boil for a minute or so, then dunk in ice cold water so the skins slip off with ease. removed seeds and cut into small pieces, smashing with a fork as the excess water simmered off the tomato mash. add garlic, diced onion, olive oil, red wine, sweet and purple basil, salt pepper. (i know you're supposed to sauté onions and garlic in the oil first, but eh, i simmered the whole thing long enough i think).

also.. interesting thing about adding alcohol to tomato sauces. i had always wondered with creamy vodka sauce why you would add an essentially flavourless alcohol? after some quick reading i learned that cooking with ethanol helps break down  and release certain flavourful compounds in tomatoes, so it's a good idea to add some alcohol when using less-than-ripe tomatoes. in the case of many tomato sauces red wine is used in order to add a pleasant sweet taste while reaping benefits from the alcoholic sauce (the alcohol simmers off, by the way so don't count on feeling tipsy haha)
Here's a nasty looking picture... looks all purply hahaha
that's more like it.. with all the ingredients! hooray
cooked the pasta to "al dente" (with bite) and finished cooking it in the sauce so it had a chance to soak all the flavors up. i like using campanelle since it holds thin sauces well, plus it's beautiful like a bell or flower. mix it with anything and it looks much neater than say rigatoni or other simply-shaped pastas.

to all you "animal lovers" (cough)... stop worrying and eat up, it's vegan too.
next time i want to up the home-made nature of the dish.. with homemade pasta! i was discussing with my mom earlier on the phone that i have NO idea how i would go about making campanelle by hand, we couldn't even think of how they're made by machines for mass production! i tried looking up recipes for such but so far no success. hopefully soon though, i'll find a nice recipe for pretty pasta so i can continue on my quest to a made-from-scratch pasta dish. til then...

Saturday, September 4, 2010

another weekday lunch

toasted sliced almonds are the latest obsession. they're great on just about everything, from sweet to bitter to savory. their flavour is nutty yet neutral, almost a carte blanche that lets other things take center stage.

found some assorted bagels at king soopers in the bakery markdown section... which by the way is great!! don't hate until you check it out. though some items are stale and indeed past their prime, some are just sitting there because they need the space on the shelves for the newer, often items of seasonal interest to shoppers. yeah yeah, i found 6 great, flavourful and soft bagels for little over a dollar. swish.

after school one day i toasted it and then unloaded my fridge onto the bagel slice. anything that looked good, was piled onto the preceeding layer. "everything but the kitchen sink" ohhh funny

bottom to top: toasted bagel, plain yogurt, smashed chickpeas, baby spinach, tilapia filet, salsa, diced red onion, picked jalapenos, toasted almonds.

people tell me i like weird foods, is this considered a weird dish? perhaps. it is quite random after all. i downed this thing so fast though... then sat for a few minutes in post-meal bliss. food like this makes me feel good, all the way down to my soul. i don't know why, or how to explain, but including a variety of ingredients from different food groups that clash and mesh in taste and texture...often just feels right and makes me quite the happy clam :D

fajita night!

dinner the other night was great. sumeet helped me make chicken fajitas! quite delicious, heavy, and super satisfying.

clockwise from top left: hot salsa, sour cream, shredded cheese, pickled jalapenos, warm tortillas, homemade guacamole, and in the center is seared fajita veggies and cumin-chili chicken strips.

yummm! i love foods that you can build yourself, especially when you have these tasty ingredients to choose from. we were both very very full after eating a few of these... since many of these sides you can pick up ready-made from any supermarket, this is a cheap and easy meal that's practical for busy nights, or nights you might feel too tired to make everything from scratch. the key is to cook the veggies and meat on a very hot, ungreased skillet in order to get that nice charred bits along the edges :) so delicious. thanks sumeet for coming and helping me cook a delicious meal!