by Nancy Sweet, director, culinary programs and operations, LLCC
I have a hard time going in a straight line in the kitchen. Meaning, I get a general idea of what I want to make and then I either wing it or use three to four different but similar recipes and pull out parts of each recipe that I like and combine it all.
Now, I don’t think this is a bad thing necessarily. It certainly gets me thinking more in depth about my cooking, in terms of ingredients, techniques and my own opinions of how I think a recipe should be executed. However, I think this can also cause me to end up in a cooking rut. By not following a recipe from start to finish, I think I subconsciously start to avoid certain ingredients or techniques without even meaning to, and my daily cooking turns into the same old thing all the time.
Because of that, I made a resolution this year to start following more recipes from start to finish. I decided this would force me out of my comfort zone, which I felt had become boring and monotonous, and it would make me branch out to cooking styles I may have overlooked in the past.
I’ve always loved just reading cookbooks, not necessarily to get a specific recipe from it, but to just enjoy the learning. When the book is specific to a chef, I love learning about his or her viewpoints on cooking, such as my first “chef” cookbook, Tom Colicchio’s “Think Like a Chef” or Judy Rodgers “The Zuni Café Cookbook.” For books that are more specific to a subject, such as Damon Lee Fowler’s “New Southern Kitchen,” I love immersing myself in the history and culture of that food. Recently, the two cookbooks that I find myself returning to again and again include “The Essential New York Times Cookbook” and “Cook’s Illustrated.” With that, I have tasked myself each week to make at least one “new to me” recipe. Below are some of my favorites.
From “The Essential New York Times Cookbook”:
*2 ½ tablespoons olive oil
*1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
*1 clove garlic, minced
*1 ½ cups crumbled soft feta cheese (about 6 oz)
*1 cup roasted red bell peppers, coarsely chopped
Heat the oil is a small skillet over medium heat. Add the chili and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the garlic and remove from the heat. Let cool for 3 minutes.
Place the feta and the red peppers in a food processor and process until smooth. Add the chili-oil mixture and process until well combined. Scrape the spread into a bowl and serve with bread, pitas, or raw vegetables.
Creamy Salad Dressing
*1 egg yolk
*2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
*1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
*salt and freshly ground pepper
*1 teaspoon white vinegar
*1/2 cup vegetable oil
*2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
*1 teaspoon heavy cream
Beat the egg yolk and add 1 teaspoon of it to a bowl (discard the rest). Whisk in the mustard, a dash or two of Tabasco, and the garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Add the vinegar and whisk vigorously to blend. While whisking, gradually add the oil, beating until thickened and well blended. Add the lemon juice. Beat in the heavy cream. Taste. Add more salt, pepper, mustard, or lemon juice to season to your liking as needed. Toss into nice greens and other salad additions for a large salad for 4.
Dijon and Cognac Beef Stew
*¼ pound bacon, diced
*1 large onion, diced
*3 shallots, chopped
*4 tablespoons unsalted butter
*2 pounds boneless beef chuck, cut into 1-inch cubes
*2 tablespoons flour
*1/2 cup Cognac or other brandy
*2 cups beef broth
*1/2 cup Dijon mustard
*1/4 cup whole grain mustard
*4 large carrots, peeled, halved lenhwise, and cut into half-moons
*1/2 pound button mushrooms, stemmed and quartered
*1/4 cup dry red wine
Cook bacon in a Dutch oven over medium-low heat until fat is rendered. Remove bacon (leaving the fat), increase heat to high, add onion and shallots, and cook until softened (but not brown), about 10 – 15 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer onions to a large bowl.
Add two tablespoons butter to pot. Dust beef with the flour and season with salt and pepper. Shake off any excess flour and place half the cubes in the pot. Cook until well browned, almost crusty, on all sides, then transfer to the bowl with the onion. Repeat with the remaining beef.
Add the Cognac to the pot and cook, stirring, until the bottom is deglazed and the crust comes loose. Add in the broth, Dijon mustard, and 1 tablespoon of the whole grain mustard and stir to combine. Return meat and onions to pot, lower he heat, partially cover, and simmer gently until he mat is very tender, about 1.5 hours.
Add the carrots and contue simmering for another 30 minutes or until tender. Meanwhile, melt 2 tablespoons butter in a medium skillet over medium-high heat and sauté the mushrooms until browned and tender, about 3 – 5 minutes. Stir mushrooms into the stew, along with the 3 remaining tablespoons whole grain mustard and the red wine. Simmer for 5 minutes, then taste and adjust seasoning.
Serve with buttered egg noodles.
From “Cook’s Illustrated”:
Creamless Tomato Soup
Serves 6 – 8
*1/4 cup olive oil
*1 onion, chopped
*3 garlic cloves, minced
*1 bay leaf
*2 (28 ounce) cans whole tomatoes in juice (not puree)
*4 slices white sandwich bread, crusts removed, torn into 1-inch pieces
*2 tablespoons brown sugar
*2 cups chicken broth
*1/4 cup brandy
*salt and pepper
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add onion, garlic, and bay leaf. Cook, stirring frequently, until onion is translucent, 3 – 5 minutes. Stir in tomatoes and their juices. Using a potato masher, mash until no pieces bigger than 2 inches remain. Stir in bread and sugar. Bring soup to boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until bread is completely saturated and starts to break down, about 5 minutes. Remove and discard bay leaf.
Transfer half of soup to blender. Add one tablespoon oil and process until soup is smooth and creamy, 2 – 3 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and repeat with remaining soup and oil. Rinse out Dutch oven and return soup to pot. Stir in chicken broth and brandy, if using. Return soup to a boil and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Pork and Cabbage Potstickers
Makes 24 dumplings
*1/4 head Napa cabbage, chopped fine
*3/4 teaspoon salt
*12 ounces ground pork
*4 green onions, minced
*1 egg, lightly beaten
*4 teaspoons soy sauce
*1 /2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
*1 garlic clove, minced
*24 gyoza wrappers
*4 teaspoons vegetable oil
*1 cup water
For filling, toss cabbage with salt in colander set over bowl and let stand until cabbage begins to wilt, about 20 minutes. Gently squeeze cabbage to remove any excess moisture, then transfer to medium bowl. Add pork, green onion, egg, soy sauce, and ginger and combine thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate until cold, at least 30 minutes and up to 24.
For dumplings, working with 4 wrappers at a time, place a rounded tablespoon of filing in center of wrapper. Moisten edges of wrapper with cold water on your fingertip, and then fold in half. Press firmly on edges to close. Transfer dumplings to baking sheet and repeat with remaining filling.
Line a large plate with double layer of paper towels. Brush 2 teaspoons oil over bottom of 12-inch nonstick skillet and arrange half of dumplings in skillet, overlapping just slightly if necessary. Place skillet over medium-high heat and cook dumplings, without moving, until golden brown on bottom, about 4 minutes.
Reduce heat to low, add ½ cup water, and cover immediately. Continue to cook, covered, until most of water is absorbed and wrappers are slightly translucent, about 8 minutes. Slide dumplings onto paper towel-lined plate. Repeat process with remaining dumplings. Serve with Dipping Sauce.
*1/4 cup soy sauce
*2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
*2 tablespoons mirin
*2 tablespoons water
*1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
*1 green onion, minced
Combine all ingredients in a bowl and serve.
Want to know more?
Lincoln Land Community College offers associate degree programs in Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management and academic credit certificates in Culinary Arts and Baking/Pastry. For more information call 786-4613 or visit http://www.llcc.edu/hospitality-culinary-arts/ .