Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Belgian Endive Salade en Aspic with Smoked Salmon Chevre Mousse and Dijon Vinaegrette

     Aspic salads are not seen very often in fine dining restaurants these days.  For the most part, fine dining cuisine has been cheapened with fusion asian ingredients for the last fifteen years.  Most of the customer base who are fans of two bit fusion fine dining have very little education about classic French cuisine or any other fine classic cuisine.  Because soy sauce tasted good on Chinese To-Go fried rice when they were a kid, fusion cuisine has become an easy bunch of flavors to nouveau riche crowd to like and it takes very little gourmet education to understand.  You might say that in a way, fusion cuisine was designed to take advantage of the nouveau riche from the 1990's to the present date.  
     Old school gourmands of fine dining detest the thought of having to listen to a coarse unrefined cad that made easy money during the real estate balloon market brag about how great tasting a combination of ponzu chicken and miso paste was at a restaurant that has the signature name of a great chef.  The old established money gourmands were raised on fine classic cuisine, so they have a solid gourmet education that is far beyond the class of the clientele of most fusion cuisine restaurants.
     Great chef signature restaurants are kind of a joke in themselves.  Most of these restaurants rely on fusion cuisine.  I have been badly disappointed at two great chef signature restaurants during the last two years.  Both of those great chefs get plenty of media exposure and they can do no wrong in the eyes of the public.  The fact is, great chefs only put their name on a restaurant and they almost never do any cooking at their corporate owned restaurants.  In fact, many great chefs design their signature restaurant menus, so that the food can be cooked by uneducated cheap kitchen help.  Great chef restaurants do tend to rely on fusion cuisine these days, because the targeted customer base tends to have no solid classic gourmet background.  Just because a great chef staples his name on a restaurant, does not guarantee a gourmet dining experience and it does not guarantee that the food will be good at all.
     Aspic salads are not exactly a thing of the past.  Fine French restaurants still offer aspic salads for lunch.  Yacht clubs and country clubs have a clientele base that expects aspic items to be offered on a menu.  Aspic salads are old school classic creations for the palates of old school gourmand customers!
     I made a simple yet nice looking aspic presentation in the photographs above.  A petite portion of smoked salmon mousse is a nice accompaniment for an aspic salad.  Considering the flavor of the aspic salad, nice quality virgin olive oil dijon vinaegrette was all that was needed for an accompanying sauce.  
     When making an aspic that has a three dimensional effect  of the ingredients floating in the aspic, the aspic has to be assembled in stages.  Multiple layers of salad ingredients and aspic are gelled one at a time, till the terrine mold is filled up.  This way the salad does not rest at the bottom of a thick slab of aspic.  When making the aspic, the chicken broth should be clarified, just like for making consomme, but only egg whites should be used to remove the impurities.
     Petite aspic salads are nice for making ahead of time.  Aspic salads are a pleasing surprise for guests!

     Chardonnay Chicken Aspic:  
     This recipe makes a little bit extra aspic!  The aspic can be used as a garnish for another recipe.     
     Heat 1 1/2 cups very light clear consomme quality chicken broth in a sauce pot over medium heat.
     Add 1/2 cup of chardonnay wine.  (White Burgundy from France is a nice choice!)
     Add sea salt and white pepper.
     Bring the ingredients to a gentle boil.
     Remove the pot from the heat and allow the liquid to cool to room temperature.
     Rain 10 grams of powdered gelatin over the surface of the liquid.
     Bloom the gelatin.
     Heat the liquid over low heat and gently stir, till the gelatin dissolves.
     Remove the pot from the heat and use the aspic, before it starts to gel.
     Reheat the aspic over low heat if it gels between applying the layers of the salad later in the recipe.

     Belgian Endive Salade en Aspic:
     Keep in mind that the aspic will be inverted for the presentation, so arrange the salad ingredients accordingly!
     Prepare each of these salad ingredients:
     - a few fine julienne snow pea strips.
     - 1 tablespoon of small dice tomato concasse
     - thin slices of yellow sunburst tomatoes
     - 1 very thin sliced small shallot
     - 8 to 12 trimmed small Belgian endive leaves that are cut in half lengthwise
     - 5 to 7 cilantro leaves
     - 1 1/2 tablespoons of finely diced peeled seeded cucumber
     Arrange 1 sparse layer of the salad ingredients in a 8 to 12 ounce capacity fancy terrine mold.
     Pour a layer of the aspic over the salad ingredients.
     Chill the terrine in a refrigerator, till the aspic gels.
     Repeat these steps, till till the terrine becomes full.
     Keep the aspic salad terrine chilled. 
     Dijon Vinaegrette:
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of white wine vinegar in a mixing bowl.
     Add sea salt and white pepper
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of dijon mustard
     Add a very thin stream of 1 1/2 tablespoons of virgin olive oil, while whisking, till an emulsified vinaegrette is created.
      Set the vinaegrette aside.
     Smoked Salmon Chevre Mousse:
     This recipe make a 3 to 4 petite portions!
     Place 3 ounces of smoked salmon in a food processor.
     Add 2 ounces of French soft chevre goat cheese.
     Add 1 tablespoon of cream.
     Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of mayonnaise.
     Add sea salt and white pepper.
     Finely puree the ingredients, by pulsing the food processor, till a smooth mousse is created.
     Place the mousse in a star tipped pastry bag and chill the mousse in a refrigerator.

     Belgian Endive Salade en Aspic with Smoked Salmon Chevre Mousse and Dijon Vinaegrette:
     Heat 1" of water in a sauce pot over medium low heat.
     Place the chilled salad terrine mold in the hot water for about 10 seconds, so the aspic warms on the surface contact area of the terrine. 
     Invert the terrine mold onto a plate.
     Place a peeled cucumber slice on the plate.
     Place a few cilantro leaves on the cucumber slice.
     Use the pastry bag to pipe a small portion of the smoked salmon chevre mousse on the cilantro leaves.
     Place 4 very thin slices of yellow sunburst tomato on the plate around the mousse.
     Garnish with 5 pieces of tomato concasse.
     Spoon and drizzle a streak of the dijon vinaegrette around the salad.

     Viola!  A nice healthy aspic salad with a modern clean presentation.  This is a nice salad for lunch or as part of a formal dinner.  Yum!  ...  Shawna

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Classic Monte Cristo of Black Forest Ham and Mushrooms

A classic monte cristo with mushrooms!

     Long gone, but not forgotten!  The monte cristo sandwich was once one of the most popular sandwiches in America.  The monte cristo first became popular in the 1930's.  Monte cristo sandwiches were on nearly every American small restaurant and diner menu till about the 1980's.  
     My second cooking job was at a tropical hotel kitchen.  I was a busgirl in the dining room at the restaurant and the cook quit.  Shortly after the cook walked off of the job, the kitchen manager asked me if I wanted to learn breakfast and lunch cooking.  I responded by asking if the job paid better than bussing tables and the answer was yes.  The kitchen manager was a seasoned US Navy cook who had prepared food at the San Diego naval base for over 15,000 people each meal.  The kitchen manager knew every trick in the book for cooking food efficiently and fast.  This guy was a great cook!  There was no better cook to learn short order breakfast and lunch cooking from.  He trained me to be a very fast efficient cook in short time.  I had to be fast, because the hotel was also a Greyhound bus station and 1 or 2 busloads of hungry customers arrived everyday.  I was able to handle an entire kitchen by myself and cook for 40 to 180 customers each shift.  Nobody waited more than a few minutes for their food!
     Breaking in as a short order cook in a diner atmosphere is how many chefs start their career.  It is a great way to learn how to cook fast and efficient.  It is also a great way to learn how to cook basic menu items that always sell, like the monte cristo.  To this day, there are very conservative people that never dine on fancy food.  This type of customer usually frequents old fashioned diners and they only order simple classic entrees.  This kind of customer refers to a club sandwich or monte cristo as being something fancy to eat!  
     Later in my career, sometime in the late 1980's, I often took short order cooking jobs, when no other work was available.  I noticed that monte cristo sandwiches were no longer on the menu at many diners.  When I asked a kitchen manager at one restaurant about the missing monte cristo on the menu, the response I got was just plain ignorant.  The kitchen manager said that monte cristos were taken off of the menu, because they were too messy to make!  I just kind of looked at the kitchen manager and thought to myself that this jerk really does not know his head from a hole in the ground and he probably is a natural slob cook that does not know the classic techniques for making a monte cristo the right way.  
     Yet at another restaurant, a few years later, I worked for 4 idiot brothers from Chicago who were once night club owners, turned drug addicts, who later went semi sober and opened a diner.  These guys did everything wrong, period!  They even refused to pay with a paycheck, so there would be no employee records, therfore they could hire and fire as business went up and down.  Business went steadily down for those guys and deservedly so.  When I asked why there was no monte cristo on the menu, the answer was the same old response of it is too messy to make.  When a customer ordered a club sandwich off of the menu one day, one of the idiot brothers refused to allow the order to be cooked.  His reason for the denial was that club sandwiches are too messy and they take too much time to prepare.  Obviously, the 4 idiot brothers had problems with making a simple club sandwich and a monte cristo was way beyond their capability.  They had hollandaise on the menu, but they purchased pre-made cryovac hollandaise sauce, because they could not even make a basic mother sauce.  
     The low quality of cooks had a lot to do with why the monte cristo disappeared from menus.  Many new cooks are not properly trained and they are just slammed into a spot on a cooking line, then told to go at it.  The low quality of kitchen managers and restaurant owners who were not really restaurateurs in the late 1900's was the fatal blow for the classic monte cristo sandwich.  The health food craze also had a lot to do with the disappearance of the monte cristo.
     A couple years ago, I posted a standard American diner monte cristo recipe.  That monte cristo was made with ham, turkey and swiss cheese.  No powdered sugar and no condiments for the sandwich were on the plate.  That was a plain jane American diner style monte cristo version that many modern food writers mistakenly describe as a regional version of this sandwich.  Regional version?  It was the American diner standard!
     In that monte cristo recipe article, I mentioned that monte cristos were a good candidate for being part of the recent trend of retro gourmet sandwich creations.  I also mentioned that I would post some gourmet monte cristo sandwich creations in the future.  Today is the day!  Instead of going bonkers and making a bizarre monte cristo, I decided to make a monte cristo version that was popular in the 1930's.  
     The original early monte cristo sandwiches were made with only ham and good cheese.  American black forest ham is a nicely seasoned ham that is in no way like the original German Black Forest Ham.  Even so, American black forest ham does taste nice.  Mushrooms were often added to monte cristos in the 1930's.  Gruyere or emmentaler (swiss cheese) were the original cheese options for a monte cristo.  Powdered sugar was sprinkled over a monte cristo.  The sandwich was always served with fruit preserves or jam.  I had no jam or fruit preserves when I made this sandwich, because I have not made any jellies or jams recently, so I made a healthy side of cannellini beans for the plate.  
     By the way, I made this monte cristo at the Le Cordon Bleu campus restaurant as my own employee meal.  The exective culinary instructor chef took one look and said that it had been decades since he has seen a monte cristo sandwich.  I thought to myself that the chef was going to confiscate my meal for himself, like so many chefs do when they see what I cook as an employee meal.  I cannot help if chefs like my cooking!  I got lucky, because the chef was busy cooking a meal for himself, when I made this monte cristo.  That old expression of "Never trust a skinny chef" is false.  Good chefs are skinny, because other chefs abscond their good looking food!  Ce est la vie!   

     Cannellini Beans with Tomato and Herbs:
     Heat a small sauce pot over medium heat.
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil.
     Add 1 pat of unsalted butter.
     Add 1/2 of a minced garlic clove.
     Add 1 tablespoon of minced onion.
     Saute till the onion turns clear in color.
     Add 3 to 4 small tomato wedges.
     Saute till the tomato wedges start to become tender.
     Add 1 cup of rinsed cooked cannellini beans or rinsed canned cannellini beans.
     Add 1 cup of chicken stock.
     Add sea salt and black pepper.
     Add 4 pinches of mixed chopped fresh herbs.  Thyme, oregano, basil, chives and Italian parsley are a nice choice!
     Bring the liquid to a gentle boil.
     Reduce the temperature to low heat.
     Simmer and reduce, till very little liquid remains in the pot.
     Keep the cannellini warm on stove top.

     Classic Monte Cristo of Black Forest Ham and Mushrooms: 
     A monte cristo is best when it is pan fried in a saute pan!  
     Heat a saute pan over medium heat.
     Add 2 pats of unsalted butter.
     Add 1/4 cup of sliced button cave mushrooms.
     Add sea salt and black pepper.
     Saute till the mushrooms become tender.
     Set the mushrooms aside.
     Heat a saute pan over medium heat.
     Add 2 pats of butter.
     Add 4 to 5 ounces of medium thick sliced American black forest ham.
     Saute the ham, till it becomes hot and light brown highlights appear. 
     Keep the ham warm on a stove top.
     Place 2 slices of pullman bread on a countertop.
     Place a few slices of gruyere or swiss cheese on each slice of bread.
     Place the warm ham on one slice of the bread.
     Place the sauteed mushrooms on the ham.
     Place the two sandwich halves together.
     Whisk 2 eggs in a mixing bowl.  
     Add sea salt and white pepper.
     Add 3 pinches of mixed chopped fresh thyme, oregano, chives and Italian parsley.
     Stir the egg was ingredients together.
     Heat a large non-stick or seasoned saute pan over medium/medium low heat.
     Add 5 pats of unsalted butter.
     Dip both sides of the sandwich in the egg wash.
     Place the sandwich in the hot butter.
     Saute both sides of the sandwich, till it becomes a golden color.
     Place the saute pan and sandwich in a 350 degree oven.
     Bake till the sandwich turns a golden brown color.
     Place the monte cristo on a cutting board and cut the sandwich in half.
     Place the sandwich halves on a plate.
     Sprinkle powdered sugar over the sandwich.
     Serve with a ramekin of fruit preserves or a jam of your choice.  (This is not pictured above in the photographs, but fruit preserves always accompanied the original monte cristo.)
     Place the cannellini beans with tomato and herbs on the plate.

     Classic!  This old time version of the monte cristo with good ham and mushrooms is great for a chilly day.  Yum!  ...  Shawna 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Cajun Turkey Neck Filé Gumbo

Louisiana Cajun cookin' for Thanksgiving!

     Southern food, country cooking, down home cooking and Cajun cuisine are all the same in one respect.  They can all be called soul food.  It takes heart and soul to cook these styles of food and it does not matter what race, creed or color that you may be part of!  
     Rich folks are rich folks and poor folks are poor folks.  Many times, the rich folk only demand what they deem to be the finer cuts of meat, like turkey breast.  Most regular folk know that turkey breast usually becomes dry and shredded after cooking and it is not the best meat on a turkey.  The best meat on a turkey is actually the dark meat!  The dark meat remains juicy and tender after cooking and it has much more flavor.  
     Turkey neck bones are dark meat.  Turkey neck bones are most commonly used to make turkey gravy.  Around thanksgiving, turkey necks are sold dirt cheap!  Southern cooks, soul food cooks and Cajun cooks figured out long ago that turkey necks have so much flavor, that they can be featured as an entree.  After looking into a few turkey neck recipes for Thanksgiving, two recipes really caught my eye.  One was turkey neck gumbo.  Traditional Cajun cooks make gumbo with turkey necks.  There must have been about 100 Cajun turkey neck gumbo recipes on the internet.
     Now there will be 101 Cajun Turkey Neck Filé Gumbo recipes on the internet!  After running across the idea of this turkey neck gumbo, my tummy made a few growling hunger sounds.  I started thinking that the cartilaginous turkey neck bones could provide some major nutritional value.  There actually is a deceptively large amount of meat on a turkey neck bone.  The meat on a turkey neck bone is easily pulled free after stewing.  The 2 hour long gumbo cooking process involves plenty of stewing.  Hats off to whoever the first Cajun cook was that originally created turkey neck gumbo!  It was a good idea!   

     Cajun Turkey Neck Filé Gumbo:
     This recipe makes enough for two servings!  Gumbo takes about 2 hours to make.  Have all the ingredients ready, before starting the brown roux. 
     Heat a saute pan over medium heat.
     Add 4 pats of unsalted butter.
     Add 14 to 16 ounces of turkey necks that are cut into about 2" long pieces. 
     Saute the turkey necks, till they become browned.
     Remove the turkey necks from the pan and place them in a bowl.
     Pour the excess grease out of the pan.
     Add 1/2 cup of water. 
     Deglaze the pan.
     Pour the deglace jus over the turkey necks in the bowl and set it aside.
     Place 1/2 cup of small diced celery in a separate bowl. 
     Add 1 cup of small diced onion.
     Add 1/2 cup  of small diced green bell pepper. 
     Set the trinity vegetables aside.  (The Louisiana trinity is 1 part bell pepper, 1 part celery and 2 parts onion.)
     Heat a sauce pot over medium/ medium high heat.
     Add 2 ounces of unsalted butter.
     Add an equal amount of flour while constantly stirring.
     Constantly stir the roux, till the roux cooks to a reddish chocolate brown color.  (If you stop stirring, the roux will burn and it must be discarded.)
     When the roux turns a dark brown color, immediately add the diced celery, onions, peppers.  (This will stop the roux from cooking any further.)
     Add 3 cloves of chopped garlic.
     Add 2 chopped green onions.
     Add 1 chopped seeded green serrano pepper.
     Stir the vegetables with the roux, till they start to cook.
     Add 5 cups of light chicken stock.
     Stir till the gumbo starts to thicken.
     Bring the gumbo to a boil.
     Reduce the temperature low heat.
     Add the sauteed turkey necks and the deglace jus.
     Add 5 ounces of thick half moon shaped slices of andouille sausage.
     Add 1 diced Roma tomato.  (The tomato is optional in a Cajun gumbo, but the acid from a tomato will break down the connective tissue in the neck bones and more nutrition will be released.)
     Add 1 bay leaf.
     Add sea salt.
     Simmer the gumbo for 45 minutes and stir occasionally.  Allow the liquid to slowly reduce.
     Add 2 pinches of thyme.
     Add 1 pinch of tarragon.
     Add black pepper.
     Add 1 pinch of basil.
     Add 1 pinch of oregano.
     Add 1 pinch of marjoram.
     Add 1/2 teaspoon to 1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper.  (Add enough to suit your own level of spicy heat!)
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of paprika.
     Raise the temperature to medium low heat.  
     Simmer the gumbo for about 15 minutes.
     Add 3 pinches of chopped Italian parsley.
     Add 1 cup of thick sliced okra.
     Simmer and reduce the gumbo for about 45 minutes to 1 hour.
     Stir the gumbo occasionally as it simmers.
     Cook 2 portions of plain white rice in a separate pot, while the gumbo is simmering.
     The gumbo should have a medium thin sauce consistency.
     Add water or light chicken stock, if the gumbo becomes too thick.
     Cajun Turkey Neck Filé Gumbo Presentation:
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of Filé powder just before serving.  (Ground sassafras leaves.)
     Use a ring mold to place a portion of rice in a shallow stew bowl.
     Ladle a portion of the Cajun Turkey Neck Filé Gumbo around the rice in the bowl.
     Garnish with an Italian parsley sprig. 

     Rich delicious and satisfying!  There is no end to the great flavor of this Cajun Turkey Neck Filé Gumbo.  Yum!  ...  Shawna 

Petite Sweet Potato Pie

Southern style cookin' for Thanksgiving!

     Sweet potato pie is popular during the winter holidays.  For many people, sweet potato pie is a favorite any day of the year!  There are many versions of sweet potato pie.  It seems like every southern family has their own favorite way of making sweet potato pie.  
     Soul food, down home food, country food or southern food?  It does not really matter what label you wish to use for this American style of cooking.  The origins of the sweet potato are in Central America and South America.  Long before europeans settled in America, sweet potatoes were used in all Native American cuisines.  
     Shortly after the English settlers started to build colonies on this side of the big pond, sweet potato pie came to be.  Because sweet potato plants flourish in warmer weather, sweet potatoes were more commonly found in southern cuisine.  To this day, many Americans that live in northern states have never heard of sweet potato pie.  The main exception are the descendants of Afro Americans who fled to the north during and after the age of slavery.  Sweet potato pie can be found on the menu at modern northern soul food restaurants as well as nearly all traditional southern restaurant menus.
     As a member of one of the oldest families in America, I hope y'all really have a nice Thanksgiving and learn what Thanksgiving is really all about.

     This recipe makes one petite size sweet potato pie!  You can make several small pies for guests or one big sweet potato pie instead.  Small individual pies are a modern trend.

     Pate Brisee Recipe:
     Place about 1 cup of flour into a mixing bowl.
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt.
     Add 3/4 tablespoon of sugar.
     Rice the flour by adding a few drops of ice water at a time while stirring with a whisk.  (The flour should look like grains of rice.)
     Cut 1 1/2 ounces of unsalted butter into pea size pieces and drop them in a bowl of ice water.
     Cut a few pieces of the chilled hard butter at a time into the riced flour.  (Use a pastry dough cutter or the end of a wire whisk.)
     Work and press the dough lightly with your fingers and for a minimal period of time leaving exposed small pieces of butter.
     Chill the dough, till it becomes very firm.
     Roll the pate brisee into a thin sheet on a floured counter top.  (The sheet of pate brisee should show thin streaks of butter!  This is what will give the pate brisee a flakey crusty texture.)
     Refrigerate the sheet of pate brisee, till it becomes firm again. 

     Sweet Potato:
     Bake 1 sweet potato in a 350 degree oven, till it become soft.
     Chill the baked sweet potato in a refrigerator.
     Peel the skin off of the sweet potato.
     Cut the sweet potato into 3/8" thick slices and set them aside.

     Pie Shell:
     I used a 5" wide and 2" deep pop-ring mold for the pie in the photographs.  Use a petite individual size pie mold of your choice.
     Press the pate brisee into place in a small pie mold that is lightly brushed with melted unsalted butter.
     Trim off the excess dough.
     Form a crust or use egg wash to attach a fancy crust.  
     Note:  The fancy pie crust in the photographs was made by cutting 3 thin long strips of pie dough and twisting them like a rope.  The rope crust was cut to length, glued in place with egg wash and the rope crust was brushed with egg wash. 

     Petite Sweet Potato Pie:
     Sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon of brown sugar on the bottom of the pie shell.
     Place a layer of the reserved sliced baked sweet potato in the pie.
     Fill in any gaps with bits of baked sweet potato.
     Sprinkle 1 tiny pinch of allspice over the sweet potato.
     Sprinkle 1 tiny pinch of cinnamon over the sweet potato.
     Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of brown sugar over the sweet potato slices.
     Repeat the previous 5 steps till the pie shell is about 2/3 full.
     Spread a thin layer of coarsely mashed sweet potato over the pie filling, but only fill the pie shell till it is about 3/16" from the top.
     Sprinkle a very thin layer of brown sugar over the mashed sweet potato.
     Slowly pour 1 teaspoon of sour mash bourbon whiskey over the brown sugar.
     Gently press a few pecan halves or walnut halves on the surface of the pie filling.  (I used walnut halves.)
     Drizzle a little bit of honey over nut halves.
     Sprinkle a couple pinches of brown sugar over the nut halves. 
     Place the molded pie on a baking pan.
     Bake in a 350 degree oven, till the crust turns a golden brown color.
     Allow the pie to cool to room temperature.
     Remove the pop-ring mold.  (If you used a regular pie tin, then removing the pie is optional.)
     Use a pastry bag with a star tip to pipe whipped around the crust and on the middle of the pie.  

     Whipped cream is about the only thing that will give this pie a lighter feel!  A good sweet potato pie is filling and satisfying at the same time.  The brown sugar turns into a syrup and combines with the mashed sweet potato.  This is a nice style of southern sweet potato pie!  Yum!  ...  Shawna 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Parmigiana and Peperoni Stuffed Pork Chop with Garlic Portabella Brandy Jus Caramelee and Cilantro Sweet Pea Couscous

A nice stuffed pork chop!

     This recipe is easy to make!  It has a combination of classic Italian and modern French flavors.  Peperoni in Italian means sweet peppers or roasted peppers.  
     Jus caramelee refers to a thin glace sauce of jus with color from caramelized vegetable, meat or sugar.  Sugar was cooked to a medium caramel stage to color and flavor this sauce.  
     In the old days, the term caramelee did not exist.  We simply referred to using caramelized sugar for a sauce as cheating!  If the deglace jus from a roast of beef was not dark enough, caramelized sugar was added to give the jus more color.  Sugar has a few different flavors in the caramel color range.  Light caramel or amber sugar is partially sweet, but it is not quite dark enough to color a sauce brown.  Medium caramel sugar is perfect for a sauce, because the sugar has converted to a savory flavor.  Dark caramel or overcooked caramel sugar tastes bitter and it is better off discarded.
     Parmigiana and Peperoni Stuffed Pork Chop:
     Select a thick 6 to 8 ounce boneless pork loin chop.
     Butterfly cut the pork chop from the side with the fat to where the bone was. 
     Place a thin layer of peeled seeded roasted red bell on one half of the open pork chop.
     Place a few thin slices of Imported Italian parmigiana reggiano cheese on the peperoni.
     Fold the butterflied pork chop back together.
     Season the pork chop with sea salt and black pepper.
     Sprinkle 1 pinch of oregano over the pork chop.
     Sprinkle 1 small pinch of thyme over the pork chop.
     Gently press the seasonings in place.
     Press the pork chop in plain fine French bread crumbs.
     Heat a saute pan over medium heat.
     Add 3 pats of unsalted butter.
     Place the stuffed pork chop in the pan.
     Lightly saute the pork chop on both sides, till the bread crumbs just start to gain a golden color.  (Only flip the pork chop once!)
     Use a spatula to remove the stuffed pork chop from the pan and place the pork chop on a wire roasting rack on a roasting pan.
     Bake in a 350 degree oven, till the pork becomes fully cooked and the parmigiana cheese begins to weep out.
     The sauce can be made while the pork chop roasts!

     Garlic Portabella Jus Caramelee:
     Heat a saute pan over medium/medium low heat.
     Add 1 1/2 pats of unsalted butter.
     Add 2 cloves of sliced garlic.
     Add 1 sliced small portabella mushroom.
     Saute till the mushroom and garlic becomes lightly caramelized with golden brown highlights.
     Add 3 ounces of brandy.
     Add 3/4 cup of light pork broth.
     Simmer the sauce for one minute.
     Remove the pan from the heat and set it aside.
     Place a small sauce pot over medium/medium high heat.
     Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of sugar.
     Cook the sugar, till it caramelizes to a medium brown color.
     Immediately add the ingredients from the other pan.
     Reduce the temperature to medium low heat.
     Simmer and reduce the liquid, till a thin jus caramelee glace sauce is formed.
     Keep the sauce warm on a stove top.

     Sweet Pea Couscous:
     Boil 1 1/4 cups light chicken broth in a small sauce pot over medium high heat.
     Add sea salt and white pepper.
     Add 2 pinches of Chat Masala Indian spice mix.
     Add 1 to 2 pinches of turmeric.
     Add 1/2 cup of small couscous.
     Stir till the water starts to be absorbed by the couscous.
     Reduce the temperature to low heat.
     Add 1/3 cup of small frozen sweet peas.
     Cover the pot with a lid and allow the couscous to steam, till it becomes fully cooked.  (about 3 or 4 minutes)
     Keep the sweet pea couscous warm on a stove top. 

     Parmigiana and Peperoni Stuffed Pork Chop with Garlic Portabella Brandy Jus Caramelee and Cilantro Sweet Pea Couscous:
     After roasting, allow the stuffed pork chop to rest for about one minute.
     Place the parmigiana and peperoni stuffed pork chop on the center of a plate.
     Use a mold to place the sweet pea couscous on the plate.
     Spoon the garlic portabella brandy jus caramelee around the pork chop on the plate.
     No garnish is necessary!

     This is a comfortably rich stuffed pork chop entree.  The flavor combination is very tasty!  Yum!  ... Shawna!

Monday, November 5, 2012

2012 World Food Championships at Bally's, Las Vegas! ~ The Bally's & Paris Shopping Mall

This article was edited on 8-13-2014.  A slide show was added!

     The World Food Championships hosted by Adam Richman!  Lawd have mercy!

    The World Food Championships is a high stakes food competition that goes on in Las Vegas for 4 days.  During the preliminary rounds, the panel of judges decide which contestants qualify to move on to the next round, by placing them in the top ten of each competition food category.  
     Saturday, my evening was spent photographing the event and chatting with some of the top ten qualifying competitors.  The top ten qualifying competitors in each food category were not like the hard nose hot tempered chefs that are glorified on television.  The competitors that I met at the World Food Championship turned out to be very friendly people who had a fun upbeat way of showing their stuff!
     The 2012 World Food Championship was hosted by Bally's Resort and Casino on the Las Vegas Strip.  This prime geographical site actually is where world's busiest intersection is located, which is the crossroads of Flamingo and Las Vegas Boulevard.  Every restaurateur wishes for a prime business location like this.  
     The World Food Championship could not have picked a busier location!  Even so, there was no huge crowd gathered all at one time to see the preliminary rounds, but there was a steady flow of interested onlookers.  A steady flow of customers is never a bad thing.  The top ten food competitors that I met did not seem fatigued by a constant barrage of questions from mobs of spectators.  The competitors were energetic and very upbeat.  A good positive energetic attitude is a good asset to have when participating in a food competition.  Judges observe the composure of the competitors, as well as the food!
     Since most of the competitors that did not make the final cut had already packed up their gear and left the scene, there were many empty spaces between the locations of those who made the top ten cut in each food category.  Some of the final competitors were located in front of Bally's by the Strip and the rest could be found near the open area behind the casino, all the way back to Koval Street, where the Ellis Island Casino is located.  
     Because of the distance involved with walking the World Food Championship grounds, it made for a great opportunity to burn off some calories and get some exercise.  All that walking has a way of creating some powerful hunger and many of the competitors had food for sale.  
     One of the most notable food for a price vendors was the UNLV Rubbin' Rebels Rib Fest BBQ.  I have featured the UNLV BBQ Team's food in blog articles that I wrote when covering the 2011 Las Vegas BBQ Championship and the 2012 Las Vegas BBQ Throwdown events.  The Rubbin' Rebels name is a funny dry rub BBQ take on the official UNLV Runnin' Rebels team logo.  Kind of catchy!
     The BBQ and side dish competition area was full of hard core BBQ, side dish and potato salad competitors from as far away as Georgia and Montana.  I showed up to the World Food Competition just in time to hear the winners for those categories being announced over the loud speakers.  I actually watched the champions being congratulated from an upper tier parking space at the Paris Casino that overlooked the awards ceremony area.  I had no clue that I had parked in a lucky spot for a good vantage point, till I stepped out of the car and looked over the rail.  Sometimes showing up fashionably late does lead to a good viewing opportunity!
     I had a nice chat with the friendly ladies of Just A Pinch Recipes.  We hastily exchanged contact information, because the television crew had just arrived to do an interview with them.  The ladies from Just A Pinch Recipes were some really fun competitors to chat with and we briefly exchanged recipe ideas.  Feel free to check out the interesting Just A Pinch website via this link: 
     The Gettin' Basted BBQ Competition Crew were busy frying tortilla cups for salsa and making a very nice queso fundido creation with long strip of crispy tortillas.  These guys had it goin' on and they were fun to chat with!  Their competition food presentations were well thought out and I wished them luck.  Here is a link to the Gettin' Basted web site:
     Another competitor that I chatted with was Dan Jablow, President and Chief Meat Officer of Jablow's Meats.  Chatting with the Jablow's competition team was really entertaining.  These wild guys were great to talk food with.  Jablow's Meats is a great source for smoked organic hormone free meat treats.  No chemical enhancers are allowed in their products.  Here is the link for Jablow's Meats:  
     The Paris Casino's Le Village Buffet chef was another top 10 sandwich competitor that I chatted with at length.  This competitor was church reverend who became a chef.  Talk about having a competitive advantage from the heavens above!  He was preparing one of my all time favorite sandwich meats, which is slow cooked pulled pork BBQ!  His twist on the pulled pork recipe was a good one.  He added bourbon whiskey to kick the flavor up a notch.  That was a novel idea!  A glass of bourbon goes great with a pulled pork BBQ sandwich, so why not add bourbon to the pulled pork BBQ recipe!    
     Two Las Vegas Le Cordon Bleu School Of Culinary Arts Instructors made the top ten list of competitors in the sandwich and recipe categories!  The two Le Cordon Bleu chefs had completely different themes that they were working on.  One chef was preparing a cutting edge recipes that included American autumn season ingredients, like red yam cheesecake and butternut squash shiitake bread pudding.  The other Le Cordon Bleu chef chose some fine classic Italian flavors like a tomato basil bruschetta topping for the sandwich competition event.  Both Le Cordon Bleu Chefs were within an hour of the recipe entry deadline, so I moved on and got out of their hair, so they could concentrate on winning the top prize money.  We did have fun chatting and we exchanged some sandwich ideas.  
     One of the competing Le Cordon Bleu chefs had a fancy custom engraved French knife that looked very impressive.  We exchanged a few cooking war stories, like veteran cooks do.  He talked about how he had to deal with deliveries of fresh food that always showed up at the job site frozen, while he worked in Antarctica.  I responded with my own war story about receiving fresh food that was wilted or cooked till it was well done, in overheated delivery trucks at Furnace Creek, Death Valley.  Talk about opposite cooking extremes!  We both cooked at both the coldest and hottest places on earth!  
     The other Le Cordon Bleu chef took the time to explain what the World Food Championships was all about and how the prize money pools were distributed.  He confirmed that sponsors promoted their products through this competition event.  Philadelphia Cream Cheese, butter companies, spice purveyors, Grey Poupon Mustard and many other food manufacturers required that their sponsored products had to be used in the World Food Championships contestant recipes.  Of course the sponsored products were donated to the competitors.  When I asked the lady food competitor, who was working on a butternut squash au gratin, about how much butter was donated by the sponsor, she responded by saying "Believe me!  I have got plenty!"     
     Most of the other competitors that I chatted with were busy preparing food with sanitation gloves on, so rather that interrupting their work to shake hands, I placed a business card for this blog site at their booth and kindly asked them to drop a message with contact information for their company.  Any World Food Championships competitors that I chatted with that responded, had their information posted as updates to this blog entry.
     As it was as of Saturday, November 3rd, anybody that made the top ten in a category received a nice tidy sum of money as a prize.  Those who won first prize in their respective food categories were qualified to be sat at the final table on Sunday, November 4th.  The contestants food at the final table was judged to determine the World Food Champion!  The top prize for winning the World Food Championships final showdown was $50,000!
     Because the final table was an event thate required paid admission and because television coverage was involved, only the top winners of each category have been announced at this time.  Information about the World Food Championship Winner can be found at their site and the list of the final table competitors is also posted.  Here is the link to the World Food Championships web site:
     The World Food Championships seems to be an honest run competition.  Regular everyday talented chefs and professional cooking competitors all have an honest chance to win.  Adam Richman is likable television personality who comes across as an average everyday kind of honest guy.  Because Adam Richman hosted this event, the judges honesty for selecting the winners was never in doubt.  In fact, the atmosphere of the event was laid back and fun!  

     Because I covered this food competition event in the late rounds, there was little actual competitive food items to see.  To add a little bit of punch to this article, photos of the Bally's & Paris Shopping Mall were included.  Since I parked at the Paris Casino, I had to traverse the mall anyway, so snapping a few pictures of the sights was the natural thing to do.  There are many dining destinations worth mentioning in this fine shopping area.  The Bally's & Paris Mall is something to experience, when visiting Las Vegas! 
     The World Food Championships was a great easy going food competition that was fun to attend!  I highly suggest checking this event out, the next time it takes place in Las Vegas.  Admission to the preliminary rounds is free.  Tickets for the final table competition are sold for average prices.  If hunger sets in while attending this event, there is plenty of great food to sample.  Yum! 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Cheese Ravioli with Marinara

Ravioli di Tre Formaggi a Marinara!

     Recently, I started to posting fresh hand crafted pasta recipes.  Readers of this blog can now expect to see many more pasta creations and old favorite traditional styles of fresh pasta in upcoming articles.
     Cheese ravioli is by far, the most popular ravioli of them all!  Everybody seems to like cheese ravioli.  Vegetarians who allow dairy products in their diet, usually choose cheese ravioli when dining with guests at an Italian restaurant.  Kids really like cheese ravioli, because the gentle flavors are easy to identify with.  
     About 30 years ago, fried ravioli became popular.  Cheese ravioli was a natural choice for deep frying.  Fried ravioli is usually served as a bar appetizer or as a light meal.  I will post a nice fried cheese ravioli sometime in the near future.  
     Cheese ravioli is usually served with salsa di pomodoro.  Marinara also is a nice choice of sauce.  Marinara is quickly made and it usually simmers for about 40 minutes to one hour.  I usually only use imported Italian canned peeled seeded whole filets of San Marzano tomato that are crushed by hand, when making marinara sauce.  Many Italian chefs prefer a marinara sauce with smoother texture.  For this recipe imported Italian canned crushed San Marzano tomatoes were used.  The flavor is still rich, but the texture of this marinara is like a salsa di pomodoro sauce.  Because it is a marinara, sliced garlic was used and a slight amount of good olive oil weeps from the finished sauce. 

     Pasta Dough Making Tips:
     Pasta dough can be started in a metal gear driven electric cake mixer with a dough hook, but it still must be folded and pressed by hand to finish blending the ingredients.  The dough does not need to be extensively kneaded, because it will be run through the pasta rolling machine several times at the widest setting and folded each in half each time.  Using the pasta rolling machine to finish the kneading of the dough is one of the tricks of the trade.
     Before the dough is rolled out as pasta sheets, the dough must rest in a refrigerator for 3 to 4 hours, so the dough becomes smooth and elastic.
     Pasta dough is usually made in batches and the extra dough can be refrigerated.  It is best to drape a cloth that is lightly soaked with olive oil over the block of pasta dough inside of a sealed container, when refrigerating pasta dough.
     The outside of the pasta dough block nearly always turns a grayish color after a couple of days, because of oxidization.  This is nothing to worry about and the gray surface does not need to be trimmed off.  The gray color will disappear after the dough is worked and after the pasta is boiled.
     Like all fresh products, fresh pasta has a Servesafe 7 day refrigerated shelf life.  Pasta dough can be frozen, but it is better when it is fresh.
     Good pasta dough should not be too stiff and it should not be too soft.  The dough should dent when heavy pressure is applied by one finger and the dough should only slightly or partially spring back.  A pasta dough with this texture will produce some fine pasta.
     I usually use a mixture of semolina and all purpose flour to make pasta.  This is how we made pasta when I apprenticed.  Only a tiny fraction of salt is added to the dough recipe.  A tiny fraction of olive oil is also added to the dough.  The eggs are the key to the texture of the pasta and no water should be added during the initial mix.  When the dough tightens, becomes stiff and starts to crumble, that is the time to start sprinkling very small amounts of water on the pasta dough, while kneading, till the dough becomes smooth and workable again.  Too much water in a pasta dough will result in a sticky stretchy dough that is hard to manage when shaping fine pasta.

     Pasta Dough Recipe:
     1 cup of flour per egg is the approximate proportion for Italian pasta!
     Place 1 1/2 cups of semolina in a large mixing bowl.
     Add 1/2 cup of all purpose flour.
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt.
     Mix the dry ingredients together.
     Pile the dry ingredients on the center of the mixing bowl.
     Form a shallow well on the center of the mound of the flour mixture.
     Place two whole eggs in the well.  
     Add 2 teaspoons of olive oil.
     Use a fork to gentle stir the eggs in the flour well, just like you are mixing eggs for scrambled eggs.
     As you stir the eggs in the well, allow the eggs to slowly and gradually gather the surrounding flour.
     Stir like this, till a dough starts to form.
     Scrape the ingredients from the fork back into the mixing bowl.
     Start using your fingers to gradually incorporate the remaining dry flour mixture into the dough mixture.
     At this stage, at some point, the dough will become dry and crumbly.  Now it the time to add a small sprinkle of water.  Do not add to much water!  Add a small amount, then work the dough.  Add small amounts of water till the dough becomes workable again.  The dough should be stiff in texture.
     Fold the dough and press with the heels of your palms after each fold.  Fold and knead the dough this way, till it becomes blended.
     Press the dough with 1 finger under pressure to make a dent in the dough.  The dough should only partially spring back when it has the correct texture.  The texture of the dough can be corrected by adding a sprinkle of water and more kneading if it is too dry.  If to wet, then work the dough on a flour dusted surface, till it becomes the correct texture.
     Form the dough into a thick rectangular block shape and place it in a sealed container.
     Refrigerate the dough for 3 to 4 hours, till the semolina in the dough becomes smooth. 

     Marinara Sauce Recipe: 
     This recipe makes a 2 to 4 portions of marinara, depending on the serving size!
     For this smooth marinara version, imported Italian canned crushed San Marzano tomatoes were used instead of whole peeled and seeded San Marzano tomato filets.  Some people like a smooth texture marinara. 
     The proportion of  olive oil in a marinara sauce is about 20%.  Olive oil is the key to cooking this classic tomato sauce.  Without enough olive oil, a marinara will turn out to be "flat" like stewed tomatoes.
     Only the best imported Italian tomatoes should be used to make marinara sauce!  Marinara sauce has evolved from being a quickly made tomato sauce that prevented scurvy on a seagoing Italian boat, to becoming a signature tomato sauce that features the very best tomatoes in the house.  The finest Italian restaurants that I worked in always featured San Marzano tomatoes from Italy in their marinara sauces.  
     Imported canned Italian San Marzano tomatoes are the very best and they do command a higher price.  San Marzano tomatoes are a special breed of plum tomatoes that originated in Peru.  
     Heat 5 ounces of olive oil in a sauce pot over medium/medium low heat.
     Add 8 thin sliced garlic cloves.
     Fry the garlic in the oil, till it cooks to a light golden brown color.
     Immediately add 28 ounces of imported Italian canned crushed San Marzano tomatoes to the garlic and oil.
     Add 3 tablespoons of minced fresh basil leaves.
     Add sea salt and black pepper.
     Bring the sauce to a very gentle boil, while stirring often.  (Do not over heat this sauce!) 
     Reduce the temperature to medium low heat.
     Gently simmer the sauce.
     Stir the oil into the sauce once every five minutes.  The oil must be stirred into the sauce regularly so the olive combines with the tomatoes.
     Cook the marinara for almost 45 minutes, till the tomato juices have reduced and till the sauce becomes a medium thin tomato sauce consistency.
     Add 2 tablespoons of very finely chopped Italian parsley.
     Remove the marinara sauce from the heat.  (Marinara is never kept warm on a stove top!  Marinara is made to order or reheated to order.)
    Place a 5 to 6 ounce portion of the marinara in a small sauce pot and reheat the sauce when the ravioli are boiled.

     Tre Formaggi:
     This recipe is enough for several ravioli portions!  Never add salt or pepper to tre formaggi or the delicate "sweet" flavor of the cheese will be lost! 
     Place 15 ounces of ricotta cheese in a mixing bowl.
     Add 3 ounces of finely grated parmesan cheese.
     Add 5 ounces of grated mozzarella cheese.
     Add 1 tablespoon of minced Italian parsley.
     Add 1 whisked egg.
     Mix the ingredients together.
     Chill the tre formaggi mixture in a refrigerator.  
     Pasta Rolling Machine Techniques:
     Follow these instructions and tips for rolling out sheets of pasta!
     A very light dusting of flour on the work surface is best, when rolling sheet pasta.  Sometimes I do not dust with any flour at all, if the room temperature is chilly.
     When running sheets of pasta through a pasta sheet rolling machine, the pasta will pile up like an accordion and stick together, so pause while running a pasta sheet through the roller and gently use the backs of your fingers to carry the pasta sheet from under the machine out over the work surface, so the pasta sheet does not accordion.
     For the widest setting on a pasta roller, the pasta is run through several times, till it becomes smooth and till it starts to become wide.  If the pasta sheet has rough edges, then fold the sheet in half and keep running it through till the pasta sheet has smooth edges.  This is only done at the widest setting on the pasta rolling machine.
     Cut a 1/2" thick, 10" long slab of pasta dough for making the first pasta sheet.  Gently feed the thick slab of dough through the rolling machine at the widest setting to start the process.  The first past through will usually result in a rough broken pasta sheet.  Fold and press the sheet and pieces together, before running the dough through a second time.  On the second pass through the pasta roller, the dough will hold together and start to look like a rough sheet.  
     After the pasta sheet is uniform looking after being rum through the pasta rolling machine at the widest setting several times, then it is ready for the next step.  
     The pasta dough sheet can be run one time through each successive smaller thickness setting on the rolling machine, till the pasta sheet becomes the desired thickness.  
    The pasta sheet can now be turned into desired shapes!

     Cheese Ravioli:
     Place a 25" long sheet of pasta on a lightly flour dusted countertop.
     Place a straight edge or yard stick down center of the length of the pasta sheet, so the pasta sheet is divided in two lengthwise.
     Center 7 or 8 small mounds of the tre formaggi filling once every 3" to 3 1/2" on one half of the pasta sheet.  The portion of the filling should be the size of 1/2 tablespoon to 3/4 tablespoon in size.  
     Remove the straight edge guide.
     Brush the area around the mounds of filling, with a wide streak of egg wash.
     Drape the bare half of the pasta sheet over the filling.
     Use 1 finger to gently press the pasta in place, starting with the folded edge, then the spaces between the mounds and finally the open seam edge.  This way any excess air will escape! 
     Use a fancy pasta wheel cutter, a pizza cutting wheel or a knife to cut square ravioli shapes.  The filling should be centered on each ravioli.
     Place the ravioli on a screen drying rack, if they are not going to be cooked immediately.  The pasta scraps can be reshaped to make more pasta. 

     Cheese Ravioli with Marinara:
     Wait to cook the ravioli, till after the sauce is finished and kept warm!
     Bring a large pot of water to a gentle boil over medium high/high heat.
     Add some sea salt.
     Place the fresh ravioli pasta in the hot water.
     As soon as the ravioli begin to float, then they are done cooking.  
     Note:  The pasta should be fairly firm and not overly soft, when it is ready.  There is no such thing as al dente fresh pasta, but there is such a thing as overcooked mushy fresh pasta!
     Use a fryer net to remove the hot cooked ravioli from the hot water.
     Hold the fryer net over the pot of hot water and allow any excess water to fall off of the ravioli.
     Spread a little bit of the marinara sauce on a plate.
     Place the the ravioli on the sauce.
     Spoon a generous amount of the marinara sauce over and around the ravioli.
     Sprinkle 1 or 2 pinches of finely grated romano cheese over the pasta.
     Garnish with an Italian parsley sprig.

     This is a standard Italian ravioli recipe that will keep everybody smiling at the dinner table.  Yum!  Ciao Baby!  ...  Shawna