Friday, August 20, 2010

Catching Up With the Chef (Part 2)

Ok, once more. With feeling.

As I've mentioned in a couple of previous posts, I'm a big fan of (Top Chef producer/head judge) Tom Colicchio. At least, I'm as much of a fan as you can be of a chef whose food you've never eaten (his restaurant Craft is at the top of my "fancy restaurants to visit next" list). I like his demeanor on the show and thoroughly enjoy his blog on the Top Chef official website. He's smart, well-written, and funny when he wants to be. I also adore the approach of his cookbook - Think Like a Chef. It's designed to train a person in the basic techniques of cooking and how to pair foods based on the freshest ingredients available. It's a fantastic text book that reads more like a friend giving you advice.

The first section in Tom's book is all about roasting. He tells you the basic steps (brown on the stove, cook in low heat, baste, rest) and then presents a few recipes to show how those steps are adapted for different dishes. The first recipe was a chicken. I've covered roasting chicken before, and this method didn't provide many new experiences, other than learning how to truss a chicken (note - if you are looking for butcher's twine at Target, it is in the automotive section for some reason). Next up is a roasted bass. Now, bass apparently isn't in season because I can't seem to find it anywhere around here (not even Whole Foods, which does have Chilean Sea Bass, but that's not REALLY bass, it's Patagonian Tooth Fish), but Tom says any firm fleshed fish will work. I went with salmon because it was the only one of his suggestions I could find. I got one of the thickest salmon filets I've ever bought (I admit, I often buy frozen, not fresh) and seasoned it as suggested. One of the revelations I've had from Tom's book is kosher salt. I'd always used iodized and upgraded to sea salt for the fancy stuff. Now, almost every dish I serve contains coarse kosher salt. It's like a magic potion that makes things delicious. It adds a crunch and the flavor is perfectly suited to classy cooking - salty without being overpowering. The fish came out wonderfully rich and oily to the point of literally melting in my mouth. Fish is touchy, but this one came out perfect:
I also used a recipe from later in the book for pan-roasted asparagus. I didn't follow it too carefully, just got the gist of it and seasoned it with what I had on hand. That happened to be sage. In case you were wondering, sage and butter go VERY nicely with asparagus. The roasting softened the vegetable but kept it firm enough to still be pleasant. I was very proud of my ability to not stay married to a recipe and create something that was quite delicious using my own instincts and experience.

I'm also a big fan of Jamie Oliver. His "Food Revolution" is a cause I fully support and I use his 20 Minute Meals iPhone app quite a lot. His recipes are simple, healthy, and still very flavorful. My first experience with his recipes came from a card I picked up during the Food & Wine Festival at Disneyland. Pretty basic - spaghetti and tomato sauce. I've been looking to move away from jarred, store-bought pasta sauces, so it was a natural choice. I was a little disappointed that the recipe called for canned tomatoes, but I went with it. I was also introduced to a Jamie Oliver favorite - the red chile. I have made five of his recipes so far, and they have ALL called for a sliced red chile. I appreciate the kick it gives to his food (especially this pasta sauce). This dish came out well enough that I made it twice. Fresh basil can really add a lot of flavor to anything.
One chef I know next to nothing about is Cat Cora. I know she's an Iron Chef America, but I've never watched an episode where the contestant chose her. I know she's supposed to be doing a series of web videos with the Muppets, but I haven't seen any of them released. Other than that, all I knew was that she had made an appearance at the same Food & Wine Festival I mentioned above. Obviously, someone who appears at Disneyland can't be all bad. I saw the recipe she had prepared for the festival online - Greek Sliders with Sweet Potato Fries. Sounds good to me!

Apparently Cat is a Greek Southerner and that inspires her cooking. I'm a sucker for Greek food, so I was already on board. I don't know where to buy slider buns, so I just cut up some focacia rolls:The burgers came out fine. I don't remember much about them, specifically. They were basically a smaller version of the burgers I've made and grilled many times before. The tzatziki was perfect. Greek yogurt and the flavors that it is infused with are just music in my mouth. I don't know why. I have no Greek heritage and I don't having any great memories of Greek food; I just love it. It was a nice twist on an American classic, and I devoured it.

I also devoured the fries. I've tried several recipes for sweet potato fries and they normally come out mushy and a little under flavored. The technique for these didn't seem that different than what I had tried before (season, coat in olive oil, bake), but these ones came out perfectly crispy, the way you would expect a french fry from a fast food restaurant to feel. I used to pepper to give them a little kick and for some reason they were absolutely perfect. Maybe I have to pay more attention to Cat Cora from now on.

That's all for now. More catching up soon.