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Food Prep

Master Chef 105: Stir Frying

Stir frying or Sautéing is often considered the chef's microwave. Sauté means to jump, which is what you'll be doing (sort of). Quick, fast and tasty dishes are created using this high heat method of cooking and I would say it's my go to cooking method after a long day of work and no leftover prepped food in the fridge. 

The MOST important part of stir frying is having all you ingredients ready to go. Dice all proteins and slice all vegetables even before putting the heat to your pan or wok. Any sauces should be pre-mixed as well. Once all prep work is done, you are ready to begin cooking. 

Mushroom Chicken

INGREDIENTS:

1 lb chicken breasts, cubed into bite sized pieces

3 Tbsp cornstarch

1 Tbsp Canola Oil

1 Tbsp Sesame Oil

8 oz mushrooms, sliced. (Crimini or white button both work)

1/2 onion, sliced thinly

1 Zucchini, cut into half moons

1/4 c Soy Sauce

2 Tbsp Sherry Vinegar or Balsamic Vinegar

4 Garlic coves, minced

2 Tbsp Fresh Ginger, minced

METHOD:

1. Toss chicken with corn starch

2. Heat the pan over medium and add Canola oil. Cook all the chicken. 

3. Set the chicken aside and turn the pan/wok up on high. 

4. Cook the mushrooms, zucchini and onion until browned.  

5. Add garlic and ginger and continue to cook.

6. Once all the veggies have softened a bit, add back in the chicken and mix well. 

7. Add in the soy sauce and vinegar. Cook until it reduces a bit to a thicker sauce like consistency.

8. Season to taste with salt and pepper if needed
 

NOTE: If you watched the snapchat video I added above, you see that I forget to prep the onions. Which took maybe a minute while I was cooking the chicken. Well that minute where I left the chicken unattended allowed some of it to get crispier (because of the cornstarch and subsequently left the pan too burnt to continue cooking with. So I had to remove all the veggies and get a new pan. Take home lesson? DON'T START COOKING UNTIL ALL PREP IS DONE!

Master Chef 202: Roasting

This Christmas dinner is not possible without the use of an oven and proper roasting technique

This Christmas dinner is not possible without the use of an oven and proper roasting technique

Roasting is one of the most versatile cooking techniques. You can prepare oven roasted vegetables or an elaborate roasted turkey for Thanksgiving. Here's a breakdown of the basics behind each of them. 

Roasting Vegetables

Roasting vegetables all follow a simple procedure.

  1. Preheat oven anywhere from between 400-500 degrees
  2. Toss with oil
  3. Season salt and pepper
  4. Enjoy!

Nicely roasted vegetables need higher temperatures to get the caramelization desired. Here's a batch of roasted Broccoli I made the other day. 

Roasting a Whole Chicken

By age 30, I would say every adult should be able to roast a whole chicken. I was planning on creating a video but I always share this video with anyone who asks "what are the basics to cooking a whole chicken?" Who better than Thomas Keller to explain how to do just that!

Basic components of roasted poultry

  1. Truss chicken (optional)
  2. After room temp, season with salt and pepper. 
  3. Place on bed of vegetables or on a wire rack baking sheet. 
  4. Roast in your oven for 40-60 minutes depending on the size of the bird. 

I will confess that when I'm pressed for time and want to "just eat", I love to butterfly the whole chicken. As the video will elaborate, it allows the chicken to cook at a more even rate and most importantly, much faster. 

Master Chef 201: Braising

Braising is one of my favorite cooking techniques. It allows you to take a tougher less expensive cuts of meat and create some of the tastiest dishes you'll eat. Braising often takes a few hours to break down the connective tissues (collagen) from the muscle fibers via dry and moist heat cooking methods. All braises follow this typical order. 

  1. Sear the meat and vegetables over high heat. 
  2. Add liquid and often an acid to further tenderize the meat. 
  3. Turn heat down to low and cook until meat is fork tender. 
  4. Reduce liquid into sauce or gravy.

Here's one of my all time favorite dishes Beef Bourguignon. This recipe is a quick version adapted from Thomas Keller's Bouchon cookbook. 

1/2 bottle red wine, such as cabernet sauvignon

1 onions, diced

2 carrots, diced

2 celery stalks, diced

4 garlic cloves, minced

2 tbsp flour

1/2c chicken or beef stock

3 thyme sprigs

6 Italian parsley sprigs

2 bay leaves

1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns

2 1/2 pounds boneless short ribs or chuck (about 1 inch thick)

2 carrots, obliquely cut 1/2 inch cooked* 

1 box button mushrooms, cleaned and sliced, cooked*

10-14 white pearl onions, cooked* 

METHOD

  • For the beef: Trim excess fat and any silver skin from the short ribs. Cut the meat into pieces approximately 1 1/2 to 2 inches by 1 inch thick.
  • Heat a heavy bottomed pot, when the oil is hot, add only as many pieces of meat as will fit comfortably in a single layer; do not crowd the pan or the meat will steam rather than brown. Once the meat has browned on the first side, turn it and continue to brown the meat on all sides, about 5 minutes total. Transfer the meat to the paper towel-lined baking sheet. Brown the remaining meat in batches, adding more oil to the pan as necessary.
  • Add the onions, carrots, celery, and garlic to the pot, stirring and cooking until the vegetables are translucent.
  • Sprinkle 2 tbsp of flour over the vegetables and mix together.
  • Add back in the beef, and both the stock and wine. Pour enough wine to barely cover all the meat.
  •  Bring the pot up to a simmer and turn the heat down. Braise the beef for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until the meat is very tender. Periodically skimming off any scum that rises to the top. 
  • Transfer the meat to an ovenproof pot or container. 
  • Strain the braising liquid twice through a fine strainer or a medium strainer lined with a clean and dampened tea towel or cheesecloth, straining it the second time into a saucepan. Discard the vegetables.

While the Beef cooks...

  • Peel and cut the carrots into about 1/2 inch pieces. Add a pad a butter of butter to a pan and sauce until nicely cartelized. 
  • Trim the mushroom stems flush with the caps. Heat the butter in a large skillet over high heat until it has melted and the foam has subsided. Add the mushrooms, reduce the heat to medium-low, season with salt and pepper to taste, and cook gently, tossing often, until the mushrooms are lightly browned and tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Set aside.
  • Final garnish is to add another pad of butter to a pan, and cook the pearl onions. This I would leave alone for a few minutes before shaking the pan so that the onions can get some nice color to them. 

Finally add the carrots, onions, mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper to taste and enjoy.

Master Chef 102: Blanching

Blanching or par-cooking is a technique where you get a pot of salted boiling water, drop the food in for a few seconds to a minute. Then remove and cool down immediately. 

This works great for those who don't want to eat microwaved food and want to save a few minutes at the end of a long work day to prepare dinner.  The technique works well for incorporating vegetables for omelettes and salads to cutting down on cooking time for stir frys.

You could theoretically do this for protein as well so long as you're able to prepare the chicken later on that same day. You run the risk of more food borne illnesses by heating, cooling and reheating meat. 

Here's an easy recipe for Beef with Broccoli

  • 1 pound flat iron steak, cut into 1x1 cube (flank steak, skirt steak or hanger steak may be substituted, but won't be as tender) 
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup Chinese rice wine (Balsamic vinegar or dry sherry work as well)
  • 2 teaspoons corn starch
  • 1/4 cup oyster sauce
  • 1/3 cup low sodium chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 4 scallions, greens and whites sliced. 
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon finely minced fresh ginger
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 pound bite-size broccoli florets, from about 1-1/2 pounds broccoli crowns
  • 1/3 cup water
  1. Combine the beef with 1 tablespoon of the soy sauce and 1 tablespoon of the Chinese rice wine (Balsamic or dry sherry) in a bowl and toss to coat. Let marinate for 30 minutes at room temperature while prepping everything else. 
  2. Bring a bot of water to a boil, salt the water. (Note: salted water should taste like the sea, applies to cooking pasta or blanching vegetables)
  3. Meanwhile, combine the remaining 3 tablespoons of soy sauce with the corn starch and stir with a fork until the corn starch is dissolved. Add the remaining 3 tablespoons of wine, oyster sauce, chicken broth, sugar, and sesame oil. Stir and set aside. 
  4. Combine the scallion whites, garlic and ginger in a bowl and set aside.
  5. By now the water should be boiling, drop the broccoli in to blanch for 1 minute or so. You'll know it's done when the broccoli is bright green and still crunchy. Remove from the pot and run under cold water to stop the cooking process. 
  6.  Heat a pan over high heat and add a tablespoon of oil. Add half of the beef, so that it is in a single layer, and cook without moving until the beef is well seared, about 1-1/2 minutes. Continue cooking while stirring until the beef is lightly cooked but still pink in spots, about 30 seconds. Transfer to a plate. 
  7. Add another tablespoon of oil to the pan. Add the remaining beef and cook without moving until the beef is well seared, about 1-1/2 minutes. Add the scallion whites, garlic and ginger mixture and cook, stirring constantly with the beef, for about 30 seconds.
  8. Add in the broccoli and the other half of the beef to the pan along with the sauce and scallions and mix thoroughly, simmer until the sauce is lightly thickened. Transfer to a serving platter and serve with rice. (Note: If the sauce is too runny, remove the beef and continue to reduce) 

Master Chef 101: Prep

The french have a term "Mise en place" meaning everything in it's place. When reading any recipe, you need to be sure to dice all the onions, measure out the broth and clean/devein the shrimp. There's a reason why restaurants hire people only for prep work, which is one of the most important positions in the kitchen. 

Cooking begins with prep!

Some of the things I'll cover here are:

  • Fabricating a chicken
  • Cutting onions (technique can be applied to garlic, shallots, etc)
  • Preparing lettuce for salad
  • Using a chicken carcass to make chicken stock

Fabricating a Chicken

Why it's important:

  • You get more bang for your buck. 
  • Learn to not waste a single thing
  • Learning how to render down and make your own stock

You can see the 3 points all come down to making your dollar stretch, and who doesn't want to save money while eating better?!

Cutting an Onion

Why it's important:

  • Onions, garlic, and shallots are considered aromatics. There are a few more that fall into that category but I'll leave it to just those considering they're all shaped similarly. 

Preparing leafy vegetables

Why it's important:

  • Most people buy leafy vegetables only to forget about it in the crisper where it gets dry or in the plastic bag they bought it in and it gets all slimy. 
  1. Chop lettuce, spinach (if necessary) or remove stems from greens such as kale and chard.
  2. Wash greens.
  3. Dry using a salad spinner or using clean towels. 
  4. Once dry, store in containers or zip lock bags for easy use. 

Using a chicken carcass to make chicken stock

  • Most store bought stock ends up being high in sodium and nowhere near as flavorful as one you make yourself. 
  • Up your soup and sauce game by using your own stock. I should mention it's very easy to do, get one more use of that chicken carcass. 

Makes 1.5 to 2 litres white chicken stock:

  • 1 chicken, bones and carcasses, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped
  • 6 whole peppercorns
  • 1 bouquet garni (can include bay leaves, thyme, parsley, and garlic cloves.)
  • 2 to 3 litres water (enough to completely cover the bones)
  • 1 tbsp cooking wine (optional)

Note: One of the great things about stock is that this is where you can use things like the tops of celery, carrot skin (after it's washed of course of any dirt) and even garlic peel. This is because you're going to skim and filter everything out at the end!

  1. Chop the cooked chicken carcass, if uncooked. Heat a large heavy bottom pot with a little oil. Cook off the carcass until it appears cooked. Then deglaze the pan with the wine. Scrap the bottom with a wooden spoon. 
  2. Remove chicken, add in the mirepoix (french term for onion, celery, and carrots). Cook until translucent for a few minutes. 
  3. Add back in the chicken and add water. Add in the herbs and spices.
  4. Turn the heat up until you can start to see the water bubbling. Turn it down on low. Simmer for 6-8 hours. The longer the better really. 
  5. Every 15-30 minutes check on it to make sure it's not boiling over and skim off any of the impurities that rise to the top. This helps make a cleaner and clearer stock. 
  6. After simmering, pass the liquid through a fine mesh strainer. Cool immediately. 
  7. Skim off any extra fat and refrigerate. You can also portion it in smaller containers to freeze. Should hold for about 4-6 months.