Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Tip of the Day- Stopping Onion Eyes

After rereading my post from yesterday, I realized I could answer my own question and figure out a way to stop crying.

Wearing ski goggles provides more funny stories than actual relief from irritation. (True story: I once came home to a late-night cooking session in which a drunk roommate had ski goggles on while chopping onions for a quesadilla. Hilarity ensued.) Goggles don't work very well because the sulfur product released by chopping still lands in your nose and attacks nasal nerve endings.

The solution Harold McGee offers in our useful textbook, "On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen," is to minimize the excretion of the sulfur product in the first place.

Soak your unpeeled onions first in ice water for 30-60 minutes. The cold water will minimize the release of the tear-producing sulfur. Then when you go to cut your onion, these acidic molecules won't reach your nose and eyes.


Goggles: good for sunny days on the hill, not so good in the kitchen.

Tip of the Day- Keep the Root when Chopping Onions

We use them for everything, but chopping onions can be annoying. I say annoying not only because they make us cry (if you have contacts, you're lucky! You have less surface area exposed to the irritating compound) but also because their layered structure easily falls apart.

Today's tip is two-part:
1) Use a sharp knife- the less your onion gets pushed around, meaning the better your knife slices right through it, the better the onion will hold its shape.
2) Keep the root of the onion attached; don't slice the root end off. Peel the onion, slice the shoots coming out the top, and then cut it lengthwise through the root. This cut will leave you with two halves of an onion, its layers held together by the still-attached root. Make your vertical cuts with the grain, careful not to cut all the way through the root end, and then turn 90 degrees and make your little squares. When you get to the root end, your last cut will free the root and then you can toss it, just like you would have earlier.

The onion wants to hold itself together; I just had been cutting off the root prematurely and thereby making my life harder.

Now if only I could figure out a way to stop crying...

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Tip of the Day: Easy Wine Pairing

Tonight I went to a Wine Club meeting. In between pretentious comments from aspiring sommelier classmates ("Don't be afraid to let this chard open up, it's not performing yet" or "If I was on my death bed, I'd have to choose old red Burgundy"), I did pick up a very useful tip.

When in doubt about what to pour, pick a dry rose wine.

Pink wines have lost the negative connotations of the past, namely because roses these days have nothing to do with white zin. Rose is a really flexible wine because it has the refreshing quality of white wine but a little more structure like a red. A dry rose won't be sweet or syrupy, which makes it a great partner for those in-between foods.

What goes with this salad nicoise with seared tuna?

What goes with spicy Indian food?

What about a lean meat, like tenderloin? If there isn't much fat to cut through, do I need the tannins of a bigger red?

No, you don't. Try a rose.

Tonight we drank a Barnard-Griffin Sangiovese Rose 2008 from the Columbia Valley in Washington state. Easy to drink and delicious with the spicy Indian potatoes.

I'm learning about wine by leaps and bounds here, and I get to drink it!

Soooo Gigi Profiles Me!

How's this for meta-blogging?

My friend Gigi Ouf has a blog that focuses primarily on fashion, style, and being fabulous. Think LA flash plus London cool plus New York edge minus Paris prices. Now you know why I take notes from her.

She was kind enough to feature me as her Best Friend Friday subject, and our interview can be read here.

Gigi, thank you for profiling me! The simple act of answering questions always provokes thought; you've given me inspiration for my own blog.

Culinary Confidential: Day Two

After eight months of planning, I have started at the Culinary Institute of America- Greystone. It sounds ominous when I say it in that way, akin to a wedding or some other-CIA executed task force, but the long wait was worth it. I am loving it here.

We don't actually start in the kitchen for another three weeks, which is a bit of a tease. I'm currently sitting in an empty classroom, with a computer and white board and rows of desks and chairs, while I can hear, not fifty yards away, pots and pans and stoves and knives making all the familiar kitchen chatter that I know so well.

I'm surrounded by perfectly stocked dry storage closets, every spice you can possibly name, dairy walk-ins with three types of heavy cream and cheeses galore, Viking ranges at every turn, spacious countertops, Le Creuset wares hanging on the wall because there's too many of them to fit on the rack, knives and more knives- and yet I am not cooking.

I still have three weeks of history, Introduction to Gastronomy, Writing, Mathematics and Food Safety classes before we can start cooking. It would be like sending an adolescent boy to a party at the Playboy mansion but then telling him he has to stay inside and play checkers. Serious tease.

But I will wait happily, because the classes we have at the moment are interesting. I am enjoying reading and studying after three years away from academic pursuits.

For example, last night we read the introduction to J. Jacobs' book "A History of Gastronomy," in which he describes our hunger as the driving force behind our evolution. As our hunger forced us into further and more complicated searches for food, our brain grew: our ancestor might have remained a "dim-witted quadruped had his new-found appetite for meat not impelled him to stalk bigger, faster game." Hunting therefore changed our feet, our posture, and ultimately, our brain. We are the animal we are today because of our hunger. Fascinating!

Or consider the question posed in Flandarin's essay "The Humanization of Eating Behaviors": when did humans go from eating whatever we could get our grubby hands on to eating what we choose? "When did human beings begin to choose among the foods provided by nature and what rules guided their choice?" For surely, what we eat now is a choice, and we are dizzied by the options out there. Humans are omnivores in the truest sense of the word, in that we eat everything. Cannibalism? Insects? Intestines? Frogs? Check all of the above, somebody somewhere eats 'em. So how do we make our choices? And are we better or worse for those choices?

Can you see how a cooking, thinking girl would just be beyond the moon in my shoes? Because I am.

Off to Math class. Finally I'll get good at Fahrenheit to Celsius conversions or remembering cups in a quart in a gallon versus a liter conversions.

More tonight!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Banana Bread

As the old saying goes: When life gives you overripe, mushy, brown bananas, make banana bread.

I came home to my parents' house on Wednesday and started poking around the kitchen, as I always do. In the freezer, I found two bunches of frozen, overripe bananas, just begging for someone to make banana bread.

I decided to take advantage of the opportunity to side-by-side test two recipe variations. I love regular banana bread, but from my childhood I vividly remember enjoying my Tita Bea's recipe that includes coffee grounds for crunch and an unexpected flavor punch. For some reason, I'm not wild about nuts in my banana bread. Just doesn't do it for me.

I used the following recipe, with the addition of one tablespoon of fine ground Pete's French Roast coffee to only the second loaf:

* 4 bananas, smashed (if frozen, allow to defrost in fridge or sink)
* 1/2 cup (1 stick) melted butter
* 3/4 cup sugar
* 1 egg, beaten
* 1 teaspoon vanilla
* 1 teaspoon baking soda
* Pinch of salt
* 1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
* optional: 1 tbsp ground coffee

Mix bananas and butter together, then add sugar, egg, and vanilla. Sift flour, baking soda, and salt (and coffee, if using) and add to banana mixture. Pour into a bread loaf pan, and bake for one hour at 350 degrees F. When the top is browned, and firm but spongy to the touch, it's done.

(This recipe is a slight variation of a recipe I found at the Simply Recipes website
but I upped the butter. Sorry for loving butter.)

Here is a shot of my Christmas present at work, the Kitchenaid Countertop Professional 6 quart mixer. SO PIMP! Thanks Mom and Ben!

The smell alone of banana bread in the oven should be reason enough to try this recipe. Our kitchen smelled like a warm, inviting tea house, which was the perfect contrast to the pouring rain outside.

I also used this side-by-side test to try out two types of bread pans. I have a glass pan and a flexible silicone pan that can be pulled away from a loaf. I had been wondering which one would work best, as banana bread sometimes sticks to the bottom and break off in chunks as the finished loaf is removed.

The end result:
I think the plain banana bread is the best. The loaf with the coffee grounds was delicious, but it was almost too much new flavor, the banana-ness of the loaf was obscured. Though the coffee addition was an interesting tweak to a favorite, I preferred the plain banana bread. Perhaps my parents- even more coffee addicts than I am- liked the coffee loaf; they didn't say one way or the other.

As for the pans, the glass pan did not mangle the banana bread, primarily because it was properly greased with butter (sorry for loving butter). The silicone pan, while very convenient, easy to use, and novel in color (hot pink), didn't hold the shape of the loaf. I ended up with a fat cousin of the regular banana bread, because the weight of the dough pushed the flexible sides of the pan outward. Aesthetically, the glass pan produces a better loaf. Call me superficial, but looks matter! And the difference in loaf removal is negligible.

Moral of the story: if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Classic banana bread is delicious, and glass baking pans work just fine. You know you have some brown bananas lying around, so bake yourself a loaf, make yourself a cup of coffee like my Papa here, and enjoy a warm slice spread with- you guessed it- butter.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Tip of the Day- Pesky Egg Shell Fragments

Ever break an egg and accidentally include a small piece of the egg shell? Never, you say? Well, you are a better huevo-handler than I, because I do it all the time.

I recently learned from Geoff, our sous chef at Plump Jack, that the broken egg shell itself is the best tool to fish out the swimming fragment. If you use a finger, the shell practically dances away from you; I get the same annoying outcome with a spoon. However, the half egg shell, with its jagged edge, will slice through the egg white and allow you to scoop up the pesky little shell bit no problem.

Try it, even if it's just for sport because you never drop shell bits into your batter. It's uncanny how well it works!