Food Talk with Amanda


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Take a Moment to Rest

My husband and I have tried making pasta a few times and it didn’t pan out.  The dough was always lumpy and sticking to the machine, it usually ended with a mess.  We decided it was time for a new recipe, we found one that involved resting the dough for approximately 20 minutes.  This simple step made all the difference, the pasta we made was fantastic.  It also made me realize that I avoid recipes with long amounts of resting time because I think it is unnecessary or I don’t have the patience .  I decided that I need to kick this habit and make recipes that I have wanted to try but never did because you had to let something cool or simmer for a long time.  The first thing I did was make ice cream.  I love making ice cream because it is fun and one of my favorite treats, but any recipe that involved cooking the mix seemed too time consuming so I would made vanilla base’s that you added other ingredients too like: cookies, mint chip, raspberry etc.  My first attempt was a salted caramel ice cream, it seems to be very popular right now.  I had to make the caramel in a pan, without burning it, add cream and then let it cool.  Then I made a custard base that involved heating milk and adding eggs.  The last step was letting everything cool and putting it in the ice cream maker.  My end result was pretty good, I think the base needed more caramel, but I was impressed.  The second ice cream I made was white chocolate raspberry, which is very refreshing in the summer.  In a blender I mixed white chocolate and sugar, then I added hotel milk and blended until smooth.  Once that cooled I stirred in heavy whipping cream and put the mix in the ice cream maker and added raspberries at the end.  I really liked the way this turned out, the subtle white chocolate and the burst of raspberries made for a very nice combination.  I have been cheating myself out of delicious custards and chocolate ice cream because of my impatience, never again.  I don’t have time every night to create meals and deserts that take hours but occasionally I can find time to make some exceptional creations.

 

The Importance of Letting Food Rest from “On food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen” (a great reference book for cooks)

  • While  pasta dough is resting the water is actually being absorbed and the “gluten network” begins, this leads to the dough being more manageable.
  • Once meat is done cooking it is important to let it rest before serving because it becomes more solid making easier to cut and it retains moisture.
  • When making bread it is essential to allow the dough to rest because the yeast is producing gas that leads to better flavor and texture in the bread.
  • One of the benefits to cooking ice cream and allowing to cool before it putting it in the ice cream maker is that heat reacts with the proteins allowing for a creamier texture.


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Brining, Essential for Good Poultry

 

Turkey

Thanksgiving is right around the corner and that means it is turkey time.  Everyone has different ways of seasoning and cooking their turkey and their is no right or wrong, however the key to any good turkey is brining.  The most common complaint about turkey is that it is dry and lacks flavor.  Brining combats this by giving the meat more moisture and adding flavor to the bird while it is raw . For a more in-depth explanation click on this link and watch a short video by Alton Brown.  This video may seem simplistic and cheesy but it covers the basics, a brine is a saltwater solution that that penetrates the turkey through osmosis increasing the liquid and the seasonings the meat will have.

If you need more evidence or information about brining you should read this article from Fine Cooking.  The author explains that as meat cooks it loses moisture which is observed in the a reduction on weight, to prevent this brining gives the meat more moisture initially so as it is cooking losing liquid it will be moister than if no action had been taken.  Another reason that the poultry stays remains moist is that the salt causes the protein to trap the water so it doesn’t flow out of the turkey while cooking.  This article also offers some great tips about the amount of salt, water, and length of time necessary to brine meats.

A great Thanksgiving meal does not have to overly complicated but it does require some planning, you have to remember 6-12 hours before the turkey is put is the oven you have to brine it.  Also be sure that the turkeys temperature remains within a safe level, do not let it get warm.  There are a variety of brine recipes that out there any internet search will yield some good ones or keep it simple and do a cup of salt for every gallon of water necessary to cover the turkey, click on link for recipe.


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How Many Ways Can You Have Chicken?

Image courtesy of Suat Eman/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Suat Eman/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I am no poultry expert but I have a minor responsibility when it comes to poultry buying.

Here is what I know:

  • WOGs- whole chicken without giblets, hence the term WOGs, they are packed according to size of the birds you can get 2.5 pounds or under, 3 pounds and up, or 4 pounds and up.
  • Randoms- essentially a box of “random” chicken breasts that vary in size and are skinless.
  • Chicken thighs- they come boneless skinless, bone-in skin-on, bone in skinless, and boneless skin-on.
  • Double Lobe- a chicken breast that has been split in half, aka butterfly chicken breast.
  • Airlines– chicken breasts that have part of the wing still attached and are typically skin on, click on link to see video.
  • Frenched Airlines- the same as airlines but the bone that can be seen has been cleaned making for a better presentation.
  • Straight Cut– A whole chicken that has been cut into 8 or 10 pieces. The pieces consist of: two wings, two breasts, two thighs, and two legs.  The difference between an 8 or 10 piece is the chicken breast has been split in half.  Click on link to view video.
  • Free Range–  This term has a variety meaning that depends on the company producing the chickens.  The USDA has defined free rang as poultry that has access to the outside, there aren’t any established limits how long they are outside. Some popular brand’s for free range is Mary’s and Jidori’s.
  • Chicken Breast- they can be ordered in a variety of ounce sizes ranging from 5-12 oz (I’m sure there are other sizes but this is the range I’ve seen at work), then you choose single lobe or double lobe, and skinless or skin-on.

Poultry in my opinion is easier than red meat to understand, while there is lots of information it is a great place to start when working in the meat industry.


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Mistake of the Day

Image courtesy of Marcus / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Marcus / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I am new to my job and I’m careless which make for a dangerous combination because I am always making mistakes.  I have made several mistakes but one of my most embarrassing mistakes was sending a client bottom round when they ordered top round.  This incident got me wondering about me rounds and what they are.  I’ve learned some information at work and done some internet research, here is what I discovered.  There is a steamship round which is the entire round or butt of the cow.  This round is then broken into various pieces including top round and bottom round.  Click on the link to see a the steps with corresponding pictures for breaking down a round, this is a great way to actually see what the meat looks like.  The consensus is  that rounds are a “tough lean meat” that should be cooked using a moist heat method.  Rounds can be used for a variety of dishes but it is known for making roasts.

Cuts of Rounds (main ones)

  • Top Round (inside round)- The more tender part of the round. From this portion you get: top round steak  and top round roast.
  • Bottom Round- A tough portion of meat split into bottom round roast and rump roast.  Bottom round roast is typically used for corned beef and pot roast.
  • Eye of the Round-  This is a boneless piece that can be used for steaks or roast.  This can be used to make cube steak or stew meat.

For complete description click on the link above.

 

 


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Grading Beef

Image courtesy of Suat Eman / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Suat Eman / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Meat is one of my downfalls in the culinary world, which is a shame because I have started working at a meat company and I know nothing.  One of the salesmen was doing a demonstration on how chefs grade beef.  He pulled out some visual aids and explained that meat is graded on the amount of marbling (the white bits seen in raw meat), basically the more marbling the higher the grade.

Here is some more information:

  • Marbling is what makes beef delicious.
  • There are three common grades of steak Prime, Choice, and Select.
  • Prime is the best, followed by Choice, and the last is Select.
  •  Marbling is not the only factor when determining the grade of beef, the younger the meat the higher the grade.
  • When purchasing meat only trust the grade on the label if it is next to a USDA shield
  • To see photos click on the information link above.

I’m going to do more short posts on different topics about meat so I can increase my understanding and hopefully become better at my job.


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Stir-fry the Greatest Dinner Ever

I love to make stir-fry because it is easy and delicious, two of my favorite things in cooking.  There are a variety of ways to do stir-fry but here are the basics.

Ingredients:

  • Meat chunks/strips- I prefer chicken but of beef will also work.
  • Rice- I use brown rice because it is one of the few healthy decisions I make in life,
  • Vegetables- There are plenty of stir-fry vegetables in the freezer section so you will always have them on-hand for a last minute meal.  I am fond of using green beans but broccoli is also tasty.
  • Sauce- This is where it gets tricky, you have to decide what kind of stir-fry you are making.  If you are making a sweet stir-fry it will involve vinegar and sweeteners like sugar or pineapple and reduce to make a syrup.  I like one that involves sugar, vinegar, ketchup, a dash of soy sauce, and water.  If you are making a traditional stir-fry like I normally make it is a soy sauce base with rice vinegar,garlic,ginger, something with some heat, honey, water, and cornstarch. There really aren’t any rules with making stir-fry I’ve seen recipes using orange juice or peanut butter, It depends on what is in your pantry.
  • Nuts- I top mine with cashews, almonds, or peanuts.  These are technically optional but I consider them essential.

Process:

  • If you are using regular rice start it first.
  • Heat oil in a pan and add meat, sear on both sides.
  • While meat is cooking combine ingredients for sauce.
  • Add vegetables to pan with meat.
  • Before vegetables are done cooking add sauce and stir until thickened.
  • Serve over rice.

There are lots of recipes online and in cook books, I recommend looking at them and looking at your pantry then creating your own stir-fry recipe.  When done right stir-fry’s can be a healthy dinner option because you can use lean meat, whole grains, vegetables, and a low-fat sauce.


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Halloween

In honor of Halloween, one of my favorite holidays, I decided to try something new for this post.  I looked some different Halloween treat ideas and I found something that I thought was pretty cool.  It was a cupcake graveyard that you could pull apart to make it easy to serve.  The design wast pretty fancy involving marzipan ghosts and other things that I didn’t have lying around.  I challenged myself to spend very little money on this project so the only thing I bought was marshmallows.

I made Texas Sheet Cake cupcake because it is one of my favorite chocolate cakes and I like that you can frost it while it was warm.  Texas Sheet Cake is traditionally in a long flat plan, not a cake pan.  I usually make it in a cake pan because I like thick slices of cake, the problem is it tends expand in the middle and the cupcakes did the same thing.  After I arranged my cupcakes and marshmallows on a glass dish I poured the warm frosting over time, my goal was for it to look messy and I succeeded.

I didn’t want to mess with marzipan so I cut various shapes out of cookie dough and baked it, while I was waiting I made orange, grey, and green frosting to decorate the cookies. I didn’t have any Halloween cookie cutters so I   free-handed my shapes, which was not my best plan but it worked out.  Below is a picture of my final product, my cupcake graveyard.

 

 

 

The point of this post is not to brag about the desert I made because it wasn’t anything amazing, the point is to inspire creativity.  I know today is Halloween but it isn’t too late, you can make some crazy Halloween themed dessert from ingredients in your kitchen.  Start with searching the web for ideas and see what you can create.

 

Happy Halloween Everyone!