Category Archives: Cooking

The Tao of Richard Blais: Part II

Schnitzel and pork ribs and ice cream…oh my!

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Breakfast in Bed (Except Not in Bed and Not Breakfast)

But that was the name of the class we attended at ICE: The Institute of Culinary Education way back in October.

Actually, the full name was “Couples: Gourmet Breakfast in Bed” and we had been meaning to go for almost two years. It was a Christmas gift, you see, and a good one at that. My wife gave it to me for Christmas 2007, back when we were in Philadelphia. Two location changes later and we were running out of time, so here we were.

James Briscione

Our instructors were the husband-and-wife team of James Briscione (a professional chef who some may recognize from his appearances on Chopped) and  Brooke Parkhurst (an author). Overall, the class was loose, fun and informative.

Our group consisted of the instructors and five other couples, whose experience ran the gamut from novice to fairly good. We split into three groups to tackle the six dishes on the menu.

The wife and I (and our partners) were responsible for two of the more basic dishes: blueberry pancakes and breakfast burritos. After James taught us some knife skills (including a killer move for chopping sweet peppers), we were basically left alone to go at it. Some interesting things I learned along the way:

  • Breakfast burritos are a favorite meal of many chefs. James was not the first who’s told me that it’s his go-to comfort food.
  • You don’t have to cover rice to cook it. You can make it “pasta style” by adding the rice to salted water and draining the results.
  • If you want the blueberries to stay in the middle of a pancake, do not mix them into the batter. Instead, add a handful into each pancake right before you flip it.

In addition to the above two dishes, each person was given the chance to make a perfect lump crabmeat omelet. If you do it right (like James), it takes only a few minutes to cook. He taught us the French folding technique, which makes these omelets look more like crepes than what you see in a typical diner. Mine turned out pretty well, although it was slightly overcooked on the bottom. (Though compared to some of my fellow classmates’ attempts, my omelet was a masterpiece.)

After assembling the burritos and making a ton of pancakes, we were ready to assemble all of the dishes for a breakfast feast. Of course, it was a Friday night, which is kind of weird time to have a breakfast feast.

Here’s a final rundown of the dishes. See if you can identify them all in the images.

1. Sherry Shrimp and Grits

2. Blueberry Pancakes

3. Buttermilk Raspberry Muffins

4. Baked Apples with Creme Fraiche

5. Savory Sweet Potato Tart with Garlic Custard

6. Lump Crabmeat Omelet

7. Breakfast Burritos

For the most part, everything turned out nicely. Some of the muffins were a bit undercooked, but the tart was amazing! Not only was the experience worth the time and money, but we got to take home the recipes. Writing this may be the inspiration I need to finally whip up some burritos.

To the kitchen, mi amigos!

Let’s Get Polish

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Kielbasa and pierogi — them’s real Polish eats. Or at least the only thing I know about Polish food.

Before I met my wife, I never got pierogi (it’s plural…really). OK, I understood them, I just never purchased them. I think it’s because I saw them as a lesser version of the holiest of Italian foods, ravioli. Potato? Who needs it when you can get some nice ricotta cheese in the middle?

It didn’t help that we didn’t know how to prepare these potato-filled dumplings. I mean, we knew to boil them, but then what do you put on them? We usually used leftover tomato sauce, but it was overpowering. So I turned to the Internet…and wonder of wonders, it suggested a classic Italian preparation: fry them up with some butter and olive oil, after FullyCookedLeanTurkeyKielbasa-main_Fullsoftening some onion and garlic in the pan.

Fine by me.

After adding some salt and pepper, these things were done. So it was time to add some Polish protein: the oft-maligned kielbasa sausage. In our case, it was Lean Turkey Kielbasa, courtesy of Jennie-O. Well, actually it was courtesy of the company because they didn’t send it to me free. (But if you’re reading this, Jennie-O, you still have time!)

Anyway, I cut it up into big chunks and threw them into the pan for some heat (it comes fully cooked already). Now that I’m looking at pictures of how it’s prepared elsewhere, I’m thinking I left the chunks a little too big. Maybe they’re supposed to be cut into coin-like shapes, as pictured on the package. Eh, what do packaging pictures know?

IMG_2944After a thorough mixing of the pierogi and kielbasa pieces, we only had to wait for the string beans to finish steaming and we were ready to eat.

I think it turned out pretty good for a quick, mid-week meal. The only problem? The kielbasa was salty as all get-out. I mean, lip-curling, water-clamoring saltiness. Hey Jennie-O, you don’t need to make up for the fact that it’s turkey with more salt than the ocean. It’d still be good with half the sodium.

This is the part where I end with a funny but inappropriate Polish joke. Fortunately for you, I don’t know any. Feel free to leave some good ones in the comments…

Broccoli Fail

broc

I am preposterously bad at broccoli.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s fresh or frozen, I cannot for the life of me get this vegetable right. For instance, I bought a whole big bag of fresh cut florets from Costco and threw them in the freezer. I figured they’d keep for as long as it would probably take me to use them – several months.

I also thought they’d be easy to prepare. Boil up a little water, maybe add some salt, throw in the broccoli and let simmer for several minutes. Poof – instant side dish!

broc2Well, not so much.

Over the course of those several months, I’ve consistently prepared some of the most inedible greens this side of the Mason-Dixon.

It’s not that they look terrible (the pictures are of actual samples of the ghastly veggies). It’s just that they are completely tough, taste terrible and stink up the house for at least two days. I’m serious! My wife could not stop gagging the last time I tried this.

In short, I need some help with broccoli. Won’t you please take part in my poll or leave a comment? You will be saving an innocent vegetable from being mangled in new and horrifying ways, and you might just contribute to the domestic peace and tranquility of yours truly.

Thanks!


Buitoni Wild Mushroom Agnolotti

finished agnolotti

So, one day I came home to find a rather large box at the door.

agnolottiI opened it up, expecting to see a major award, only to find a styrofoam-insulated, ice-packed package of Buitoni Wild Mushroom Agnolotti sent to me from the good folks at Foodbuzz.

Though I was bit perturbed at the waste of packaging (the Al Gore in me screamed out in pain), I was just as excited to give these fresh pasta pillows a try.

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An Electrolux Evening

ovens

And so it came to pass that yours truly took part in a truly unique cooking event set in the basement of art studio in Soho.

Kinda random, huh?

The event was sponsored by Electrolux, maker of fine kitchen appliances, and featured Executive Chef of Brooklyn’s River Cafe, Brad Steelman, preparing three dishes and (and several passed hors d’oeuvres) using Electrolux products.

Let’s get to it…

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My First Scallops

scallops-done

No, they’re not the first scallops I’ve ever eaten… just the first ones I’ve ever prepared.

They turned out decently, all things considered. And by “things,” I mean:

  1. I had no idea what leeks looked like. I forgot to check the web before going to the supermarket, so I had to depend on some visual aids in the produce department. Thankfully, I picked the right weird-looking vegetable.
  2. I used frozen scallops, which seem to have their own rules for defrosting. According to the Trader Joe’s bag, defrosting at room temperature is a no-no. Thanks, Trader Joe’s bag!
  3. I seared the scallops in a nonstick pan. I don’t think you’re supposed to do that.

scallops-two-pansThe recipe can be found here, and I must agree, it is pretty easy to make.

I subbed in vermouth for brandy (because I never have brandy lying around), so I guess the leeks and mushrooms were vermouthed [trademark: me], rather than brandied.

I was pleased that I didn’t overcook the scallops – they weren’t chewy and yielded easily to a butter knife. On the other hand, the mushroom/leek mixture had kind of a funky taste. I’m not sure whether that was due to the missing brandy or the fact that I’m not used to eating leeks. I’ll chalk it up to both.

Since I was not as traumatized as I thought I’d be from my first scallop cooking experience, I guess I’ll give them another shot.

But you can be sure I won’t overdue it, like Jamie on Top Chef. After all, as Fabio would say, “This is Man Eat Food, not Man Eat Scallop!”