02/25/13

Thank YOU!

Heyya hautemealz.com subscribers…this message from Jeff Bridges is for you!

Every month that you’re subscribed to one of our meal plans, you help support, through the Hautemealz Outreach Program,  life-giving organizations like the Amy Roloff Charity Foundation. The Father’s Heart Street Ministry, and the No Kid Hungry project…thank you, you rock!

Chefs Perry, Terry, Chris, and Maryse

02/22/13

Happy National Margarita Day!

classic_margarita-282x400Mmm… there’s not much better than a perfect margarita.

Despite the common belief that the margarita is a Mexican cocktail, there is no solid proof who “invented” this wildly popular drink.

The most likely (and least know) explanation, however, is that the Margarita is merely a popular American drink, the Daisy, remade with tequila instead of brandy, which became popular during Prohibition as people drifted over the border for alcohol.

There is an account from 1936 of Iowa newspaper editor James Graham finding such a cocktail in Tijuana, years before any of the other Margarita “creation myths”.

Given this historical reference (and the fact that “Margarita” is Spanish for Daisy), it seems likely that the modern-day drink is merely a perfected Tequila Daisy”

WHATEVER.

While I’m not usually a fan of sweet drinks, this is one that I love, and here’s my favorite version of it!

Watermelon Margarita

Watermelon Margarita

1 teaspoon lime zest
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons coarse salt
1 lime wedge
1 cup watermelon puree (*see note)
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/2 cup premium 100 percent agave tequila
1 cup ice

In a medium saucepan, combine the lime zest, water, and sugar. Bring to a boil over medium heat, and cook, stirring, until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat. Cool to room temperature and strain out the zest. (Can be made in advance; keep in a covered container in the refrigerator.)

(By the way, if you’re enjoying this article, you may want to subscribe to our free newsletter; we’ll send seven amazing dinner recipes and a shopping list to your inbox each week. Plus, you’ll be helping us teach nutrition, shopping, and hands-on cooking classes to at-risk teens!)

Chill a margarita glass in the freezer for 30 minutes. Place the coarse salt in a shallow dish or saucer. Wet the rim of the glass with a lime wedge and dip the glass into the salt, coating the top edge.

In a cocktail shaker, combine 2 tablespoons of the cooled lime syrup with the watermelon puree, lime juice, tequila, and ice. Shake until frothy and well chilled, at least 1 minute. Strain into the prepared glass and garnish with a lime wedge.

*Note: To make the watermelon puree, remove seeds from fresh watermelon and cut into large chunks. Place in your Ninja blender and process until smooth.


Ole Baby!

-Chef Perry
SimplySmartDinnerPlans.com

02/21/13

Secret #10: Mise en Place

Wow, can we really be half way through? That’s right, it’s day 10 of our 20-Day/20-Part series of blog posts titled “Tips, Tricks, and Secrets of Professional Chefs”. Last post, we talked about Giving Citrus a Roll.

Today let’s take a look at technique that we’ve talked about here before, and one that we incorporate into almost every hautemealz.com menu: Mise en Place.

Professional chefs use a system referred to as “mise en place” (meez n plaas) – or everything in place – to get their ingredients and tools organized and ready ahead of cooking time.

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02/19/13

Secret #9: Giving Citrus a Roll

Okay, it’s Day 9 of our 20-Day/20-Part series of blog posts titled “Tips, Tricks, and Secrets of Professional Chefs”. Last post, we talked about our 5 Tips for Perfect Pasta!

CitrusToday’s post is short, sweet (and a little sticky…) it’s Secret #9: Giving Citrus a Roll.

Whenever possible, when preparing a recipe that calls for lemon, lime, or orange juice, I try to go with fresh-squeezed. It tastes so much better!

Like many folks, I inherited one of those round “citrus juicers” from my mother’s kitchen, but here’s a trick Dad taught me, for getting the most out of my favorite fruits.

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02/18/13

Secret #8: 5 Tips for Perfect Pasta

Okay, it’s Day 8 of our 20-Day/20-Part series of meal planning blog posts titled “Tips, Tricks, and Secrets of Professional Chefs”. Last post, we talked about how  Brown is Beautiful!

Today, we’re gonna get our Italiano on, and look at Secret #8: Perfect Pasta!

Cacio e Pepe con Pollo (recipe link below)

Cacio e Pepe con Pollo (recipe link below)

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02/16/13

Secret #7: Brown is Beautiful!

Welcome to Day 7 of our 20-Day/20-Part series of blog posts titled “Tips, Tricks, and Secrets of Professional Chefs”. Yesterday we looked at some ways to make food look sexy!

Today, we’re going to crank up the heat, throw on the meat, and talk about Secret #7: Brown is Beautiful!

Surf & Turf

Filet Mignon with Umami Merlot Sauce

“Browning is the process of becoming brown, especially referring to food.” – From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Is that not the greatest definition ever?

Okay, seriously…browning, or searing meat in oil over high heat, and doing it correctly, is a major tool in the chef’s bag-of-tricks for getting an amazing richness and depth of flavor out of steaks, chops, stews, casseroles, and soups.

By browning the meat before cooking it with additional ingredients, you get fabulous flavor and beautiful color. This makes all the difference to the finished meat and any sauce (it removes a lot of the excess fat from the meat, as well.)

Pan seared salmon

So…how does it work?

First, let’s look at where all those flavors come from in the first place…

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The chemical term for this type of browning is “The Maillard reaction” which is a reaction between the amino acids and sugars (called “caramelizing” when  referring to sugars) in the meat that breaks down large molecules and produces smaller molecules which our senses are better able to perceive as flavors and appetite-pleasing aromas.

Browning meat

Uncooked meat (with the exception of some types of fish) tends to be pretty bland and flavorless. Browning adds texture and better color and flavor. It’s an absolutely essential step in the deglazing process (loosening the browned bits or “fond” from the bottom of the pan with water, broth, or wine), which is the first step in creating a pan sauce, such as in our Filet Mignon with Umami Merlot Sauce recipe (pictured at the top of the post).

Browning and deglazing is also one of the secrets to the French tradition of building “layers of flavor” in famous dishes like cassoulet.

BTW – if you happen to be lucky enough to own a Ninja Cooking System, you can do both the searing and cooking of these kind of dishes all in one slow cooker. It’s pretty awesome! Here’s one of my favorite recipes, Braciole.

Braciole Ninja Cooking System

Braciole in the Ninja Cooking System

Tips for browning:

  • Use a good cast iron skillet or enamel-covered cast-iron cassoulet pan. Iron retains the heat better (and they last a lifetime!) Non-stick pans don’t perform as well for browning as iron, as the “sticking to the pan until done” is an important part of the process. They will, however, work in a pinch.
  • Don’t add cold meat to a hot pan…again, this just cools your pan. Let meat come to room temperature before cooking for best results. (I know some of you are freakin’ out on this one…trust me, 30-60 minutes on the counter isn’t going to poison your family!)
  • The meat may be a little damp or even wet if it has been frozen, so pat it dry with absorbent paper. WET MEAT WON’T BROWN! This is because the release of water creates steam, which retards the caramelization process by creating a layer of water vapor between the meat and the surface of the pan. Essentially, you’re boiling the meat, instead of browning it. Also, the pan has to be HOT…if the pan’s not hot enough, the meat releases water before it sears and, again, you’re boiling it.
  • Coat the meat with oil rather than adding it to the pan. This is a matter of personal preference, but I do it because it saves oil, and cuts down on splatters (and the resulting burns) that can occur when the raw meat is set in a pool of hot oil.
  • Heat the pan before you add the meat. Adding meat will cool the pan quickly, and if you have too much meat, or not enough heat, you’ll drop the temp below the “browning zone”. The oil should be a little hotter than you think it should be, when you add the meat…just below the smoking point. Remember, you’re not COOKING the meat, you just need to brown it on all sides.
  • Don’t overcrowd the pan. When you’re browning meat cubes for a casserole brown the meat in small batches. Much like our tip, above, about drying the meat, crowding the pan traps in steam. If the meat you’re trying to brown is turning gray…it’s either wet, or you’ve over-crowded the pan.
  • Don’t fuss. Flipping the meat, or constantly poking at it with tongs may make food TV more interesting to watch, but it’s not helping the meat brown. In fact, it’s making it take longer, and drying it out in the process. As meat browns is will typically stick to the bottom of the pan a bit (this is what creates that delicious fond). My father used to tell me, “The pan will let you know when it’s done.” It’s true, when that molecular change from big bits to little bits is complete, the meat will release from the surface. If there’s resistance, leave it alone.

The same browning effect can be had by grilling the meat briefly over hot coals. However, you lose a lot of delicious juices with this method, and, of course, there’s no pan to deglaze for sauce afterwards.

Grilled stew beef

For some soups and stews, however, the additional smoky hint of char that this process lends is pretty amazing…try making a “grilled steak chili” sometime, and you’ll see what I mean!

So, there you go. Try these tips at home, and the next time you wanna give dinner a big boost of flavor…make it brown, make it beautiful!

Be sure to subscribe to our blog and free newsletter for updates, and come back tomorrow for Secret #8: Perfect Pasta

Enjoy!

-Chef Perry
SimplySmartDinnerPlans.com

02/16/13

Blueberry Slush

This recipe is my daughter Gracie’s #1 favorite dessert, and in terms of simplicity, deliciousness, and healthy eating…it’s a trifecta of awesomeness that requires 2-3 ingredients, and about 30 seconds to prepare!

Blueberry Slush

Blueberry Slush
1/2 cup frozen blueberries (I buy fresh, then freeze overnight)
1/2 cup milk, anything from 1% to Whole.
1 tsp preferred sweetener (optional)

Put frozen berries on a bowl, sprinkle with sweetener, and pour the milk over to top until it’s just below the level of the berries.

Let sit 10 seconds, then stir. Repeat until the milk has formed a slush, and there’s no visible liquid in the bottom of the bowl.

Serve immediately.

High in antioxidants, vitamin C, and fiber; low in calories, and with no fat or cholesterol, blueberries are considered a “Superfood.”

A 14-year study that followed 200,000 participants showed that the flavonoids in blueberries can enhance brain health, help improve your memory, protect your brain from age-related decline (gotta get me some of THAT!) and also help prevent high blood pressure.

Gracie just thinks it’s delicious…and that’s good enough for me!

hautemealz.com Chef, Terry Ramsey, introduced this crazy-easy dish to our family, and it’s become our go-to dessert (and sometimes breakfast, l0l).

Thanks Terry!

-Chef Perry

02/15/13

Secret #6: Sexy Food

Welcome to Day 6 of our 20-Day/20-Part series of blog posts titled “Tips, Tricks, and Secrets of Professional Chefs”. In our last post, we looked at  How to make Rice that’s Extra Nice.

Today, let’s take a look at one of my favorite things about being a chef, making…

Sexy food.

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Photo by Danielle Witt

Okay, we’ve talked about this idea before, but let’s really take a look at it a little closer… people eat first with their eyes.

Open your favorite cookbook, flip on your favorite foodie TV channel, or sit down at a “nice” restaurant, and you’ll see they have one thing in common: no matter what they’re serving, nobody’s just slingin’ it on the plate.  Beautifully plated dishes, studied presented…sexy food…it sells the dish before you ever taste it.

(Just a note, before I get comments…sexy presentation will never, ever make bad, or even mediocre food, good. It will, however, make good food better, and great food amazing.)

So, there are three basic elements to consider when plating food…the shape and color of the food, the shape and color of the plate, & the position and spacing of the food(s) on the plate

Owner and Executive Chef, Dee Elhabbassi, of Dar Essalam Moroccan Restaurant, takes simple squirt-bottle technique to the next level!

Owner and Executive Chef, Dee Elhabbassi, of Dar Essalam Moroccan Restaurant, takes simple squirt-bottle technique to the next level!

Rules

A couple of simple rules of thumb:

Square food = round plate. Round food = square plate

Light food = dark plate. Dark food = light (white) plate.

Personally, I’m not a fan of multicolored plates, so I typically stick with black or white, as it keeps the focus on the food.

Also, your plate/bowl/platter is your frame, so make sure you leave a good margin around the edges to highlight the food. This in one reason that restaurants like to use over-sized plates, as it allows each item to be “framed” separately on the same dish.

Tools

A biscuit-cutter is a great tool for sexy food, and a pair chop-sticks are great for placing garnishes and toppings. Here, Chef Terry used a soup can, opened at both ends, to create these beautiful “cake towers”…

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Photo by Danielle Witt

Also, think in three dimensions.

Sure, I can plop that steak down next to the mashed potatoes, and just pour sauce over the whole thing…OR, I can center the potatoes, rest the steak (sliced or whole) at an angle against one side, top with a little color, and drizzle it artfully with sauce (an inexpensive squeeze bottle or two is another must-have tool for pretty plating.)

Plated steak

Lastly, for a little extra eye-candy, give it a sprinkle or fresh chopped herbs, shredded or shaved cheese, or toasted sesame seeds.

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A sprinkle of fresh chopped herbs will make almost any dish look just a little sexier.

A sprinkle of fresh chopped herbs will make almost any dish look just a little sexier.

Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey, in an issue of the BBC’s Olive magazine, offers this advice, as well:

  • Keep your presentation clean and simple
  • Use an odd number of ingredients on the plate to avoid symmetry
  • Avoid moving things around once they’re on the plate, as this will simply make a mess. Visualize what your dish will look like before you start arranging it on the plate
  • Don’t clutter the plate
  • And, of course, don’t serve the food cold because you spent so long dressing it.

TilapiaOne last tip: if you have a somewhat colorless entree, like this tilapia filet, borrow some color from your veggies and use the less visually exciting component as a “frame within the frame.” Likewise, a little diced fresh tomato and minced basil is very pretty on the brown backdrop of a nicely seared steak, chop, or chicken breast.

As with almost any kitchen rule…you’re the chef, so do what you think looks good.

Whatever you do, take your food presentation to the next level, have some fun with it, and eat sexy!

Be sure to subscribe to our blog for updates, and come back tomorrow for Secret #7: Brown is Beautiful! (Secrets to a perfect sear)

Enjoy!

Chef Perry
SimplySmartDinnerPlans.com

02/13/13

Ham & Turkey Cassoulet

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hautemealz.com is more than just a business for us, it’s a means of helping and supporting our community and those who need us most, by doing what we love…feeding hungry folks. In fact, a significant portion of our subscription income sponsors and supports charities and non-profits that share this goal.

Today we had the opportunity to cook, once again, for some of our favorite people, the staff and visitors at The Father’s Heart Street Ministry, in Oregon City. On the menu today was Ham & Turkey Cassoulet (because, well…we had a ham and a turkey, lol).

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02/13/13

Secret #5: How to make Rice that’s Extra Nice

Welcome to Day 5 of our 20-Day/20-Part series of blog posts titled “Tips, Tricks, and Secrets of Professional Chefs”. Yesterday we talked about the importance of heating or cooling plates before serving.

Today, let’s take a look at…

Secret #5: How to make Rice that’s Extra Nice

Sauteing Rice

Hi, I’m Chef Perry…I’m a carb-junkie, and I love rice (every one say, Hi Perry…)

Seriously, I don’t even need it served with anything else; a nice bowl of properly cooked rice, a pinch of salt or a splash of soy sauce, and I’m a happy cook. Admittedly, plain boiled or steamed white rice can be a little bland, but here’s a kitchen secret to make your rice extra nice.

I picked this tip up back in my teens, working in a Mexican restaurant: always lightly brown your rice in a little olive oil, before you add water and boil it.

Sauteing rice for my Creole Risotto, at the 2012 Tualatin Crawfish Mystery Box Cook-Off

Sauteing rice for my Creole Risotto, at the 2012 Tualatin Crawfish Mystery Box Cook-Off

Essentially, you’re toasting the rice, which, just like when toasting nuts or grains, produces a deep, rich, nutty aroma and flavor. Add a pinch of salt and maybe a little minced shallot (which gives a mild onion/garlic flavor) and you have something truly exceptional.

I use this step whenever I prepare rice as a side, for risotto, for Spanish rice…pretty much everything but sushi rice, which needs to be stickier that this process allows for.

Browning works great with all types of white rice, brown rice, and is especially good with a wild rice blend.

Here’s the basics…

Heat 1 tbsp. olive oil in a skillet set over medium heat. Add 1 cup of rice (I prefer jasmine) and saute until the ends of the rice are translucent, and it’s just starting to color. You can add some finely minced shallots in this step, as well.

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Combine the rice with 1 3/4 cups water in a heavy saucepan and add salt to taste. Include 1 tsp. olive oil and set the pan over high heat. Heat the water until it comes to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, stir the rice, and cover the pot. Let the rice cook for 12 to 15 minutes or until all of the water has been absorbed.

Remove the pan from the heat and set aside, covered, for another five minutes. This allows the rice to steam slightly.

Fluff the rice grains with a fork before serving.

NOTE: For flavored rice, replace the water with chicken or beef stock, or add spices like curry powder, 5 Spice, Italian seasonings, or a little cumin and chili powder.

Perfect-Rice

Be sure to subscribe to our blog for updates, and come back tomorrow for Secret #6: Sexy Food!

Enjoy!

Chef Perry

SimplySmartDinnerPlans.com