Monday, October 25, 2010

I Love Bacon

In my quest to re-embrace pasta and Italian cuisine, I made Amatriciana sauce today (sounds fancy, eh?). My class actually had to do make pasta for a Culinary Foundations assignment: We are bringing frozen spaghetti to class tomorrow morning to defrost and taste in class. Of course, I've already critiqued my pasta and sauce up and down as I ate it for lunch today. First, I used the tomatoes I canned myself. I'm still alive and feeling well at the moment, so I must not have poisoned myself with botulism. That was the first time I had ever canned tomatoes and I'm neither here nor there on the taste. I didn't de-seed the fruit, which doesn't bother me much but may bother others. The tomatoes are on the sweet side, another thing I can't decide about. But the juice was very thick and made a really great sauce once reduced in volume. I'm thinking ahead to what Chef Tim will say when he tastes it, and I think I overcooked the bacon. But it's bacon, how bad can it ever be?

My roommate just decided last week to commit to eating vegetarian, a life decision I find very admirable. I'm also against the mistreatment of animals. But as I was pulling thick slabs of bacon out of its vacuum-sealed bag, a greasy film developing on my fingers, I told myself again that I could never give up meat completely. I go probably go without steak or burgers, and I definitely could go without dry chicken and tough pork. But it's the fat I can't do without. That bacon has a flavor you just can't get in the vegetable world, and it's the strips of fat lining the red strands of meat that melted into my sauce today or that crisps up in the skillet on a Saturday morning. I could live without it, but I wouldn't want to. I'm so glad Amanda and so many of my friends are committed to not eating meat or only eating meat that has been sustainable and humanely treated, but I think I'll just be your cheerleader if that's alright.

Amatriciana Sauce:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 medium onion, diced
3 thick slices bacon or pancetta, cubed
1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes, chopped juices reserved
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Parmesan-Reggiano or Pecorino-Romano

In a saute pan, heat the oil and butter on medium. Saute the onion until translucent. Add the bacon and cook until fat has rendered and the meat has crisped a bit (five minutes). Add the tomatoes, red pepper flakes and salt (to taste), bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Meanwhile cook pasta (spaghetti or fettucini) until al dente. Drain pasta and add to the sauce, stirring to coat. Serve sprinkled with grated cheese.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Pasta Revelations

At some point in the past two years of blogging, I moved away from pasta. It was easy, I had done it before, it was kind of boring to eat and to make. I was wrong. It is simple; I was right about that. When we made four pasta sauces in class on Tuesday, all the recipes involved minimal ingredients and the simplest of techniques (simmer, stir, repeat), but ended up so delectable. Chef Tim mixed together an al fredo in five minutes with like five ingredients that was oh-so creamy yet still light and which clung to the pasta like dust to a TV screen. He boasted that people would pay a lot of money for that simple pasta with sauce, and they wouldn't be disappointed.

I took care of the puttanesca and making the pasta. Our pasta ended up a bit on the dry side (first time), which made it incredibly difficult to roll out. Chef rolled his perfect ball of dough into a nearly paper-thin sheet in minutes. I stood over mine sweating some flavoring into the tagliatelle that was anything but smooth and even. But I actually turned out to love my pasta with all its flaws. Chef advised making homemade pasta that looks like homemade pasta--makes perfect sense. But because my sauce had so many flaws, the sauce clung to the ridges and bumps perfectly. Usually, I douse my pasta with chunky sauce. I had never realized this was because the pasta itself was lacking. The puttanesca turned out fine (not as good as the boys' sauce, but still good), but I didn't need or want the chunks of cubed tomato. The briny-tomato juice had all the flavor of the nicoise olives and capers and stuck sublty and kindly to the outside of the wide noodles. The homemade pasta was so good, I don't know that I'd buy dry noodles ever again.

1 pound flour
4 eggs
a tablespoonn or so of olive oil

Make a mountain of flour in a large bowl, leaving some of the pasta to the side to be mixed in as needed. Make a well in the mountain with a fork. Crack the eggs into the well. Sprinkle with salt. Incorporate the eggs into the flour by stirring with a fork. Add olive oil once about three-fourths of the flour is wet. Turn sticky dough out on a floured surface. Work and knead the dough with your palm, incorporating more flour as needed until the doughs stays in a ball and has a smooth surface. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for one hour.

Remove dough from fridge. Turn out on floured work surface. Roll dough until it is thin enough to read a newspaper through. Cut thin strips of pasta with a pizza cutter. Cook pasta in boiling, salted water for two minutes or until cooked through.

1/3 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon garlic
4 cups canned tomatoes and their juice
12 nicoise olives, halved
2 tablespoons capers, drained
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, finely chopped
1 anchovy filet
1 tablespoon fresh basil, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, finely chopped

In a saute pan, heat the oil. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant. Add the tomatoes, olives, capers and oregano, bring to a boil, reduce heat so it simmers and cover for 10 minutes while simmering. Add the anchovy filet, stir to incorporate. Season to taste. Let simmer another 10 minutes. Add the cooked pasta to the sauce, season with parsley and basil. Serves four.

Thanks to Jessica who took the photos.

Monday, October 18, 2010

A Subtle Taste

I'm suddenly longing for long steamy summer evenings and popsicles that drip and run down your legs, as if that were a simpler time. But there was never a simpler time, was there? There is unknowing and knowing. Now I know a few things, and I'm trapped in this insecurity not knowing what to do next. This is a rare place for me. I'm decisive. I think about things and then I choose something. Sometimes (often) I choose wrongly. But then you get the knowing place, and it feels worth it there even if it's more painful and humbling. The paralyzing unknowing is where I stand now. There's no decision to make me feel safe; there is only               . I can't control a             .

Summer is that simple season. Same with winter. It's just hot, or it's just cold. You wear either as little or as much clothing as possible. You eat either salads or plain roasted vegetables and meats. Grilled or baked. But fall and spring, they are times of change and complexity. We go back to school (or finish out the year). There's a new bounty of produce to be made into stews or soups or braised for hours.
I'm scattered all over here today when what I should be doing is remembering and recounting a great meal I had last week. Most of the meal involved poaching, a form of cooking known for its subtlety. Subtlety, that is an art form I am decidedly not well-practiced in. Decisive, direct, to the point in my cooking and elsewhere. I lack the patience I think. My dad would tell me that the best things are the ones you wait for. He's so wise you sometimes want to punch his arm really hard.

So that brings us to the salmon poached in water infused with lemon and peppercorns. I say infused because it smelled like tea just before the salmon went in. And the salmon was just ever so lightly flavored with lemon that you couldn't much taste it once it was covered in the horseradish dressing. If I draw a silly metaphor, which I now will, my dad is the subtle quiet salmon who says the most important things at just the right moment. And the horseradish dressing, all zing and creamy spice, is my mom (and me), she keeps things interesting.

The poached apples were a bit of a showstopper, at least for me. A knife sliced through the apples cleanly, but they were cooked through--maybe you could call it al dente because it still had some bite. Incredibly, after an hour of soaking in hot apple cider, the fruit I had plucked from some trees last weekend actually tasted more like apples than when I had munched on some in the orchard. The candied almonds and amaretto whipped cream didn't hurt. And neither did the company. I called up a bit of a random group of friends to help me with my homework (eating the food, that is). I love to surround myself with people. And I always think the louder the more rambunctous the better. But maybe I'm wrong about that.
Poached Salmon Salad: from What Katy Ate
2 8-ounce filets of salmon
3 cups water
juice from one lemon
1 teaspoon black peppercorns

2 or 3 large handfuls of mixed salad greens
1 15-ounce can garbanzo beans (rinsed and drained)
1 teaspoon capers, sauteed to cripsy in olive oil
salt and pepper
feta cheese

1 tablespoon minced horseradish
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/4 cup cream
1/4 cup milk

Pour the water, lemon juice and peppercorns into a saute pan, turn on medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Let boil for five minutes so the flavors meld together. Remove from heat, add the salmon and cover, cooking for 15 minutes. Or until salmon is firm to the touch and light pink and flaky. Set aside to let cool and flake apart.

Arrange the lettuce on a serving platter. Toss on the garbanzo beans, capers, salmon and feta. I left the dressing on the side because I know not everyone is fond of horseradish.

Poached Apples with whipped cream and almonds: from Gourmet
6 apples
1/2 lemon
1/2 gallon apple cider
1/2 cup brown sugar

For whipped cream:
1/2 cup chilled whipping cream
1 1/2 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 tablespoon amaretto liqueur
1/4 teaspoon vanilla

Candied almonds:
1 cup slivered almonds
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon butter
1 egg white

Apples: Peel top two-thirds of apples and rub outside with lemon to prevent discoloration. Bring the cider to a boil. Once it's boiling, add the apples and brown sugar. Remove from heat and let sit for one hour. Remove apples and let cool or chill. This can be done several days ahead of time.

For the whipping cream, combine all the ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer. Mix on high speed until it forms soft peaks.

Preheat the oven to 450 for the almonds. In a small bowl, combine all ingredient and stir together. Lay out on a piece of parchment paper and bake for five minutes. Let cool and break apart to garnish the dessert. Combine all the parts for one apple drizzled with leftover cider served with almonds and a dollop of whipped cream.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Chicken Salad

Pulverizing vegetables will always be gratifying.

Chicken Salad:
1 carrot
1 stalk celery
1/4 medium onion
1/2 pound cooked chicken
Landry's seasoned salt

Put the carrot, celery, chicken and onion in a food processor. Pulverize. Stir in mayo with a spoon until it comes to the desired consistency and season to taste.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Apple Church

Amy called it "apple church." On Sunday morning, two cars of friends headed to Nebraska City to appreciate the glorious outdoors for what has become an annual quest for apples by the peck. We rounded up pinova, golden delicious, gala, fuji, braeburn and cameos whilst avoiding the bees also feasting on the fruit. It's quiet work, at least if you get there right as the orchard opens.
Nebraska City is famous for the inception of Arbor Day. Once, long long ago, the state of Nebraska was completely devoid of trees, but this Morton guy (of Morton salt) moved here and planted saplings to make it a happier place for everyone.

Now his palacial home is a historical site, and a half dozen orchards and wineries are clustered in the town. My family used to visit when I was younger, and I just loved that old house. My imagination would go wild with picturing what my life would have been like if I had lived in that old house. Even at home when I played American Girl dolls with my sister, that house came to life. This year we had enough time to visit the site, which was the center of a meager reenactment. All the reenactment amounted to was a costumed guide through the house, a blacksmith and some ladies who were cooking cakes over coals in a Dutch oven--obviously this was the highlight and definitely something I need to bring to a high-maintenance camping trip (one involving a camper or at least a van). They had combined a cherry pie filling with a box of cake mix (because that was available for the pioneers in the 1860s) and sodas such as Dr Pepper or 7UP. I even scored a "Dutch Oven Cooking" cookbook from the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission's Becoming an Outdoors-woman Workshop. How could I have missed that workshop?! The cookbook includes recipes for cowboy potatoes, meat loaf, Dutch oven steak dinner and Dismal River Cow Camp coffee cake (among others).

We made it home by mid-afternoon, which gave me enough time to make another gallette with homemade whipped cream before watching Juno. Nothing like a movie about teenage pregnancy to remind you how insignificant your problems are.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Emerging Terrain

My friend Sarah and I got the chance to cover this event called Stored Potential for The Reader, she as the art critic and I as the food person. The event brought together some of Nebraska's best chefs to serve 500 people family-style at the opening of a larger-than-life art installation. Thirteen of 300 submission were chosen to be printed on a large scale and hung from the side of some grain elevators in Omaha. The murals were chosen for how they addressed issues of feeding people and land use. The organization Emerging Terrain put on the installation and you can find better information about the art on their Web site or by reading the part of the article that Sarah wrote when it comes out next week. I was only there for the food.

When we got there, I was immediatley filled with energy. I think everyone was. There was a table that stretched nearly the entire length of the silos (which are owned by some friends who are converting it in a rock climbing area called SILO extreme outdoor adventure). I got to meet everyone I've written about and interviewed on the phone--all in one place. I even got to meet Jeanne of Jeanne Eats World, who was there as a volunteer server.

The story Sarah and I wrote covers a lot of the ins and outs of the installation including what messages they're trying to send to morning commuters who see the silos as they drive downtown on Interstate 80. But, as always happens with something worthy of a great story, the story doesn't quite capture the enormousness of what it was. Even now I'm having a difficult time translating the events that transpired into something more than two dimensional.

The dinner brought the meat, poultry and produce of local farmers into the skills hands of local chefs who made this spectacular meal out of a bison, two whole pigs, 50 chickens and countless vegetables. The story describes the meal in a little more depth but doesn't go into the energy of the event. Everyone there was so excited about what was going on. The silos, which have been something of a horizon eyesore in the past, now have this art meant to emphasize the importance of knowing about our food. The area where the tables were arranged is on the city's plan for an extension of the Field Club bicycle trail. And the chef's and students were so excited to be sharing this phenomenal local food to 500 eager eaters.

I had so much fun running around interviewing attendees, chefs, farmers and organizers, getting everyone's story on why they were there and why they cared. I interviewed Chef Brian O'Malley who is the chef in charge of the culinary program at Metro, where I'm attended. He is such a magnetic force. He's got this great booming voice and when he talks to you no one else is there but you and him. I got to interupt Chefs Matthew Taylor and Paul Kulik who were in this heated post-dinner discussion of the process and how amazed they were with the quality of food they were given to work with. They were going on and on about how great each course was. Chef Taylor was raving about this vinegar. The entire day just made me so excited to be around such outstanding lovers of food and especially to get the chance to hear their stories. This blog post seems more scattered than what came out splitting the story. It's like I couldn't even wrap my mind around what was going on.

The site was so poetic in its past of feeding people mass quantities of food juxtaposed against a 500-something foot long table of people eating organic and ethically grown and raise cuisine. For a moment, I could even faintly smell the sweet odor let off by a nearby rendering plant. I wanted to put it in the story because I thought it was a little ironic to be celebrating local food while the remains of sick and abused animals were being made into commercial products nearby, but Sarah hadn't smelled it and thought it was a little dramatic--it's true, for a reporter, I definitely err way too much on the meladramatic side. The truth should be strong enough.

Daily Grub's Chef Elle Lien's vegetable plate of roasted vegetables. (That sage just melted in my mouth.)
Roasted apples from Chef Kevin Shinn's (bread&cup) and Paul Kulik's (The Boiler Room) pork seven ways.
Chef Tim Shew of La Buvette and culinary students from Metro serving up the pork with fruit and vegetables. (I was dying over those pickled radishes, dying.)
From left, Clayton Chapman of Grey Plume, Mattew Taylor and Paul Kulik with culinary students.
I love this picture because you can tell the woman in the middle is a little nonplussed to be eating an entire pig but the lady on the left is loving it.
Tim Shew plating the bison with green cabbage choucroute.
Chef Brian O'Malley showing a server how to get the champagne glaze all over the bison.
Apple crisp, honey ice cream and carrot cake for dessert.

Monday, October 4, 2010

A Bird's Habit

I'm sure other people get overwhelmed with the life that is swirling around them just like me. This past month has been a doozy. There has been so much new stuff to digest. I consciously gave away the comfort of knowing exactly what to expect at my old job. I could sit in cubicle, edit things when I felt like it, I knew where everything was, I knew everybody (and I liked them), I could listen to music all day long, I went on my walks around the industrial business park and that was good enough to get me through most days. Now I have this job at a pastry shop and cafe where there's something new I haven't been told every single time I go in. Not to mention the humilty of serving people their food and cleaning up after their mess. And that doesn't even touch on school. Culinary school is completely new. I'm used to reading and regurgitating. When it comes to academia, I can be a star. This is not so in Culinary Foundations. Typically, I can run or do yoga or bicycle or go climbing at the gym to burn off some stress, but not so when you have a lung that doesn't quite expand all the way. Simple things like sleeping have even been a physical challenge in the past couple weeks. As my friend Alexis says, "I've got a gypsy's heart with a bird's habit."

I've thrown out my old familiar ways for an exciting new path, but I'm grappling to find a routine that sets my racing mind at ease.

Thursday night I was pleasantly suprised that I could still come back to my own kitchen and lose myself in the preparation for a meal of roast chicken with vegetable risotto. The world was quiet while I rubbed salt and pepper all over the skin of young hen. I rhythmically diced carrots, peppers, mushrooms, (my favorite) onion and garlic into haphazard squares that flavored a creamy rice risotto. I could think of nothing but the moment--the smells, the sights, the sounds, the taste--which is the way I wish I could live always.

Lemon and Herb Roasted Chicken:
1 whole chicken
1 lemon, halved
1 head garlic, halved
1 sprig rosemary
2 sprigs thyme
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 425. Sprinkle the inside and outside of the chicken with salt and pepper. Stuff with lemon, garlic, rosemary, thyme and parsley. Bake on roasting tray for 1 to 1 1/2 hours until juices run clear. Let sit for 10 minutes before carving.