Tuesday, July 31, 2007

It's good to be loved

After working the dreaded "6 to 6" shift (6am to 6pm), I rarely have any inclination whatsoever to step foot into the kitchen and do anything even resembling cooking. Usually, on days like this, the most work I do toward the preparation of my food is asking the person on the other end of the phone at Bullshead to cook my buffalo burger medium-well. It is on days like today that it is wonderful, nay, sublime to have someone who loves you decide she is going to take matters into her own hands and cook a fabulous dinner for the two of you. Today was one of those days, and I have the fortune of being loved by such a woman.

We are both always wanting to try cooking new things; new styles, new ingredients, new levels of difficulty. We have for while not been very big fans of fish and seafood, a tragedy I attribute mostly to us not having been exposed to it properly and not experiencing the right mixture of ingredients. So it is with that sentiment that we occasionally try to broaden our horizons in the world of underwater delicacies, such as my wonderful fiance did tonight. The recipe comes to us courtesy of the good people at Epicurious.com.

Milk-Poached Alaskan Halibut with Asparagus and Morel Mushrooms

It should be noted at the outset that we did not include the mushrooms. Morel mushrooms are expensive and difficult to find, and neither of us being a connoisseur of mushrooms, we did not know what would do in their place. The dish turned out great anyway. The recipe was also adjusted a little for the number of servings. 1 large halibut stake is probably enough for two people.

2 small or 1 large halibut fillets with skin (just over 1lb.)
1 1/2 teaspoons of sea salt
3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
4 tablespoons (1/4 cup)white wine, preferably white burgundy
12 thick asparagus spears, peeled & trimmed
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil

Pat halibut dry and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. In large, heavy skillet over moderately high heat, heat vegetable oil until hot but not smoking. Add fish, skin side up, milk, cream, and wine. Bring to light simmer, cover, and place in oven until just cooked through, 7 to 10 minutes. Remove halibut from liquid, cover, and keep warm. Reserve poaching liquid.

While halibut is in the oven, cook asparagus in 8-quart pot boiling salted water until tender, about 3 minutes. Using slotted spoon or tongs, remove asparagus from water and transfer to large bowl. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil, sprinkle with 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and toss gently to coat. Cover and keep warm.

Place poaching liquid over high heat and simmer until reduced by half. Remove from heat. Divide asparagus between the plates. Peel skin off of halibut and place 1 fillet (or 1/2 a fillet) on top of asparagus on each plate. Spoon sauce over fish and serve.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Good Advice

Yesterday afternoon, while my fiance and I were enjoying the rare sunshine warming downtown San Francisco and browsing the shelves of one of my favorite stores in the free world, the Williams Sonoma on Union Square, we stumbled onto a cooking demonstration by the executive chef of Hotel Rex's Cafe Andree, Evan Crandall. As we arrived, Mr. Crandall and his Sous Chef were just finishing a demonstration on making the restaurants signature crab cakes. (As a quick aside, the crab cakes were awesome. On the strength of these crab cakes alone I would recommend anyone in The City go and sample Evan Crandall's menu. I know I'll be there.)

Once the demonstration was completed, I had an opportunity to talk with Mr. Crandall briefly about the trials and tribulations of becoming a chef. I have been debating for some time now going to culinary school and learning to become a pastry chef. With some prodding from my always encouraging fiance, I figured who better to ask than a seasoned chef at a high end San Francisco restaurant. Despite my usual shyness and aversion to human contact, I found Evan extremely helpful and easy to talk to. He gave me some great advice on where to go to school and how to proceed after I've finished. He even went so far as to give me the names and phone numbers of some people who might be able to help me along in my journey to professional pastry chef. So Evan, thanks a bunch. I hope someday to have you eat at MY restaurant.

After the kind words of advice and encouragement from my new friend, I decided to get to work honing my skills at baking. Once at home, I found a simple recipe for blueberry scones, hit the store, and quickly got to baking. Turns out the recipe is great. The scones are sweet and crumbly, with just enough tartness from the blueberries. Not bad for my first go at breakfast pastry. Thank you to my friends at Bakespace.com for the recipe. Here we go.

Blueberry Scones

Makes 8 scones

2 c. flour
1/4 c. sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1/8 tsp. salt
6 T. unsalted butter
1 c. fresh blueberries (or frozen blueberries, thawed completely)
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 c. heavy cream
1 tsp. orange zest

Place oven rack in the center of the oven. Preheat to 425 degrees F. Line cookie sheet with parchment or waxed paper. To prevent scone bottoms from over-browning, stack the prepared cookie sheet on top of another cookie sheet.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Mix in the butter with a pastry cutter or two knives. The mixture should look like coarse crumbs. Gently fold in blueberries. In a small bowl, combine the egg, vanilla, cream, and orange zest. Add to the flour mixture and stir just until the dough comes together. Do not over-stir.

Knead dough in the bowl four or five times, then transfer to a lightly floured surface or a large plate covered with waxed paper. Pat dough into a 7-inch circle and cut into 8 wedges. Place wedges on the prepared cookie sheet. Bake at 425 for about 20 minutes, or until scones are browned.

Option: Melt 2Tbs. unsalted butter and brush over the warm scones fresh out of the oven. Sprinkle lightly with cinnamon & sugar. Serve Warm.

Storage: After cutting batter into wedges, wrap them in plastic wrap in layers and place in the refrigerator. Let the dough return to room temperature before putting in the oven.

Kitchen Confidential

So there is this book that I have to share with all of you. First of all, let me warn you: This book is not for the faint of heart. This book is not for those people who believe that the food they order at their favorite four star restaurant is personally prepared by the clean and careful hands of their favorite celebrity chef. This book IS for people who are curious to know just exactly how a real kitchen works and what it takes to survive in the second ring of hell that is a busy dinner rush; let me tell you, it is nothing like the safe and relaxed atmosphere of Emeril's TV kitchen.

"Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly", by Anthony Bourdain, is a brutally honest, eye-opening look into the world of cooks and kitchens, about the world of the people who prepare the food you eat. Bourdain is bitter, vulgar, and cynical; He is whip-smart and is a quintessential New Yorker. He completely de-mystifies the world of working in a restaurant, from dish washer to executive chef. I must warn you, though, that what you find in these pages may not always be pleasant. You will find, however, hysterical and memorable moments that you will be repeating to your friends and loved ones over and over again. I am pretty sure that my fiance is sick to death of listening to me prattle on and on about what "Bourdain says in his book."

For instance, you will learn just what is in your Hollandaise sauce and why under no circumstances should you order fish on a Monday. You will also learn about the journey Bourdain took to become the executive chef of Les Halles in Manhattan. Bourdain's experience is a unique one, and he shares it with complete honesty and integrity. The world of the cook is not necessarily as rough and gritty as Bourdain's, but it's good to know it could happen. For any one thinking about becoming a chef or trying to run a restaurant, this book will probably cause you to think twice. But it could also inspire you.

Anthony Bourdain is also the Author of "The Nasty Bits" and most recently "A Cook's Tour", a record of his travels around the world. He can also be seen on the Travel Channels "No Reservations".

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Great Chops

Here is a pretty simple recipe that I enjoy making often, mostly because its delicious, quick, and easy to clean up. (A very important consideration with a mini-kitchen.) I am not sure where I saw this recipe, or if I just pulled it out of thin air, but it has managed to find its way into our regular repertoire of meals. I know I am not the first to make this dish, but I hope this version of a fairly simple recipe makes others as happy as it does me. The flavors of the caramelized onions and apples mingle together very nicely and marry perfectly with the lighter flavor of the pork chops. I recommend serving a simple mixed green salad with chopped apples, pears and goat cheese to compliment the flavors of the meat and caramelized vegetables. I like to use a slightly tart green apple like a Granny Smith and a red onion. The red onion is a bit sweeter than their yellow or white cousins, and the tartness of the green apple really comes out in the heat of the skillet.

Pork Chops with Caramelized Apples and Onions

2 Center Cut Pork Chops
1 Granny Smith Apple
1/2 a Red Onion
Salt & Pepper
Olive Oil

Chop the apples into bite-sized chunks and set aside. Slice the 1/2 onion into thick ribbons. Season both sides of the pork chops with salt and cracked pepper. Pour a few good glugs of olive oil into a large skillet on medium-high heat. Once the oil has heated up, drop the apple and onion into the oil and season with salt & pepper. Saute for about five minutes, or until the onions start to become translucent and the apples begin to brown.

Make a hole in the center of the pan, and place the seasoned pork chops in the middle. Continue stirring the apples and onions around and over the chops, letting them caramelize and flavoring the meat at the same time. After about five minutes, flip the chops. When the pork chops are brown and crispy on each side, take the pan off of the heat. The apples should be soft and brown and the onions translucent and caramelized. Serve the pork chop covered with the apples and onions.

Apple and Pear Mixed Green Salad

1 Granny Smith Apple
1 Danjou Pear (or whatever looks best at the market)
Mixed Greens
Crumbled Goat Cheese

Chop the apple and pear into bite sized chunks, toss in with the mixed greens. Add the goat cheese crumbles to suit your tastes. Drizzle lightly with a balsamic vinegar or sesame seed dressing.


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Beef Tenderloin Bites on a Bed of Arugula

Cooking at home is all about using the best ingredients you can get your hands on and making due with what you have at your fingertips, especially when grocery shopping happens right after a long and exhausting work day. It is also about finding new and tasty things to add to your repertoire and improving on your basic cooking skills. So tonight we went with Beef Tenderloin Bites on a Bed of Arugula, along with a Roasted Beet, Onion and Orange salad.
Now first off, beef tenderloin, as the gentleman at the meat counter today explained, is another word for Fillet Mignon. And Fillet Mignon is another word for $25 per pound. The meat-guy looked at me sideways when I told him I was going to chop it up into little bites, cover in breading, and broil. So, we went with the top sirloin instead, which is slightly more economical. It should also be noted that the "gourmet" grocery store I shop at did not have arugula, so we had to settle with red leaf lettuce. Turned out to be pretty good anyway. It should also also be noted that apparently I cannot tell the difference between regular parsley and cilantro. If any of you are having trouble identifying your herbs, please consult with the closest store employee. I am seeking professional help for my apparent herb-related dementia and hope to recover quickly.

Beef Tenderloin (Sirloin) Bites on a Bed of Arugula (or Red Leaf Lettuce)

1 1/2(ish) cups bread crumbs
(I used fresh bread chopped up in a food processor, but only because I like to make more of a mess than necessary. You can buy pre-packaged crumbs that would work just as nicely.)
Handful flat-leaf parsley, chopped fine
1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, (couple of handfuls)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 - 4 cloves of garlic, chopped fine
2 to 3lbs Top Sirloin or Tenderloin steaks, about 2 to 4 steaks, depending on how many people you are serving.
Salt & Pepper
5 to 6 cups arugula (or red leaf lettuce), chopped
1 lemon, halved

Preheat broiler to high.
Mix bread crumbs with parsley, cheese. Warm the oil and garlic over low head to infuse flavor, about 5 min. Pour oil into bread crumbs and combine to distribute equally and moisten the bread crumbs.
Season the meat with salt & pepper. Coat the meat in bread crumb mixture to coat evenly. Spread meat onto baking sheet and broil until crisp and meat tender, about 6 to 7 min. Serve meat on bead of shredded arugula (red leaf lettuce). Squeeze lemon juice over beef and arugula.

Roasted Beet, Onion, and Orange Salad

1LB beets, preferably small ones
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Salt & Pepper
20 large pearl onions, about 1/2lb
4 oranges, 2 peeled and cut into wedges, 2 juiced (about 1/2 cup)
2 tablespoons hazelnut oil
1 tablespoon coarsely chopped cilantro (Basil works fine, too, in the absence of cilantro)
OPTIONAL: Grated pecorino or Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Cut the stems and tails off the beets. Do not peel. Line the bottom of a baking pan with foil. Place the beets in the pan and toss them with half of the olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast for 25 minutes.

Trim both ends off the pearl onions. Then toss them with remaining olive oil and salt and pepper. Add pearl onions to the beets and roast an additional 15 minutes, until beets and onions are tender.

Peel and remove the membranes from the oranges with a sharp paring knife. Cut the oranges in half lengthwise and then crosswise into thin slices. Seed the slices, if necessary.

Peel and quarter the beets. Lay the beets on a large platter. Top the beets with the orange pieces. Scatter the roasted onions around the beats.
In a medium bowl, combine the hazelnut oil, coriander, and orange juice. Whisk until well combined and season with salt and pepper.
Drizzle the dressing on top and sprinkle with coriander and grated cheese.

I would recommend getting the beets and onions going first before starting to work on the meat. You will have 25 mins while the beets cook and an additional 15 while the onions cook to get the meat ready to cook and onto the baking sheet. And, if you are like me and only have one oven, you will need to have the vegetables out of the oven before you turn on the broiler and cook the meat. If you have the time and the extra hands, get the bread crumb mixture ready while your significant other/neighbor/dancing partner preps the beets and gets them in the oven. This will give you both plenty of time to bond while chopping all of the other vegetables. Many thanks to Rachel Ray and Michael Chiarello of Food Network for creating these dishes.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Caramelized Pineapple (Attempt #1)

Tonight on a whim we decided to try to caramelize some fresh pineapple chunks chopped from a Maui Gold Pineapple that was getting to the point of "eat or toss". Without any instruction or knowhow, other than having watched the episode of Jacques Pepin's cooking show on the topic, we made our first attempt at what should be a relatively simple recipe. We checked a few interenet recipes, all of which called for a few ingredients we didn't have, such as corn syrup or rum, but hey, caramel is just cooked sugar and water, right?

After the sugar carmelized, we poured in about 1/2 cup of pineapple juice (canned), watched as the brown sugar turned into a sticky, viscous clump. Caramel, right? Not really. We added the pineapple chunks, and waited. And stirred. And waited. Nothing really happened. Maybe too much liquid, not enough sugar, I don't really know. The pineapple sat, being sauteed in sugar water until it grew soft and we figured we should take the whole operation off of the heat before we ended up with warm pineapple mush. Strangely enough, after the initial caramelization of the sugar, nothing much turned into caramel, on or around the pineapple.

So we live again to try another time. Maybe next time with just sugar and water. Maybe I should learn how to make simple syrup. Maybe I should try my hand at caramel? Oh well. At least the ice cream was good.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Roll Call

Thanks to a very enterprising young woman out there in the Blogosphere, Jenn, the "Leftover Queen", we foodies now have our own easy to use list of food blogs at our disposal. The Foodie Blogroll, (check out the right sidebar) is a quickly growing roll call for all of the food-related blogs out there for us all to enjoy. The premise is pretty basic: Get all of the hundreds of thousands of food blog writers to post their web address on one roll call, and anyone looking for an interesting blog on say baking, English cuisine, or even the misadventures of one cook in his tiny San Francisco kitchen can basically overdose on food-related stuff.

Admittedly, there are plenty of more interesting blogs than this one, and I am just happy that my little piece of the Blogosphere can be added to the long list of fun sites dedicated to food. So to Jenn the "Leftover Queen", thanks for the great idea and the chance to get my modest fledgling blog about my tiny kitchen out into the great big world.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Why Six by 10?

I named this blog Six by 10 because of the microscopic size of the kitchen in the San Francisco apartment occupied by my fiance and I. The kitchen itself is six feet wide by ten feet long, with an electric stove, full size refrigerator, about six feet of impossible to use counter space, and one electrical outlet. And the refrigerator is plugged into that outlet. So in reality, we have one plug with which to power the microwave, coffee maker, blender, toaster, and the laundry list of other small appliances we use to occasionally make our favorite culinary delights. Needless to say, the kitchen is tiny. Tiny, and completely impractical as an actual kitchen. But somehow we make it work. The two of us can't actually both be in the kitchen at the same time, as it makes it impossible to get anything made, but the magic still happens.

So in my tiny kitchen and outside of it, we love food; preparing it, cooking it, learning about it, and of course, eating it. I hope that with this blog I can share my experiences, successes, failues, good and bad restaurants, insights, and whatever else comes to mind in regards to the world of food. Who knows? Might be fun.