Saturday, January 26, 2013

Chef Simone’s Favorite Kitchen Toys: The Zester

Some of my favorite kitchen tools are my zesters. Zesters are super handy can be used for many culinary jobs in the kitchen. Zesters come in many sizes and range from fine to course zest. I love to use mine for citrus zest, fresh grated nutmeg, fluffly grated Parmesan cheese and shaved chocolate on desserts. Also, using a zester with fresh ginger is a great way if you need a bit of ginger pulp to zest up a recipe.

Zesters are easy to clean and fairly inexpensive ($9-$16). A definite must in any foodie or budding foodie’s kitchen. A really good quality line of zesters that I prefer is made by Microplane.

Also zesters can make a nice little paddle for naughty prep cooks. OH MY! Yes, I do love my zesters to help me make some yummy Foodgasms. Sometimes just a little zest is all you need to make a decent dish turn spectacular.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Vinaigrette 101, or Salad Dressing for dummies

Do you wish you could cook better? Do you wish you were eating more freshly made food? For a simple way to start making your food from scratch, try making homemade vinaigrette. It’s easy to do and better for your health. I started experimenting with years ago. It’s such a simple yet very satisfying thing to make. This vinaigrette is both vegetarian and vegan.

And it’s very impressive to friends and family. You can turn an average salad into a gourmet salad with the flick of a finger (with some simple guidelines in your head). Once you have the basic ingredients in your fridge and pantry, it’s a snap to do anytime. AND, you can make a bigger batch and store it in the fridge for future salads (I recommend storing your vinaigrette in glass containers-- canning jars work great).

There are two basic ways to dress your salad. First there is vinaigrette dressing which is; oil and vinegar based; or a creamy dressing that is usually mayonnaise based. Creamy dressings sometimes use sour cream, yogurt or buttermilk to add creaminess as well.

For vinaigrettes, you have 3 to 2 parts oil to 1 part an acid (vinegars, citrus juices, etc), salt/pepper and then any other fun ingredients you want to add in to give it the flavor you want.

Mustards are fun to add in as well for a nice bite. They also help to emulsify the dressing. I prefer to use Dijon or coarse grain mustards. Your dressings can be sweet, sour, spicy, tart, salty, mild…anything you desire. Here is a really basic vinaigrette recipe that I started out with and I'm sure you'll truly enjoy.

Basic Vinaigrette
Vegetarian • Vegan
6 oz. extra virgin olive oil
2 oz. red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1-2 teaspoons honey
1 fresh clove of garlic
3 teaspoons fresh tarragon, chopped or 1 teaspoon dried tarragon (optional)
pinch of kosher salt
pinch of fresh cracked black pepper

Whisk together oil, vinegar, and mustard.  Add pepper, salt and honey (Note: honey is optional, but it often adds a sweet taste and can help balance the taste of bitter greens). Chop tarragon leaves. Finely mince the garlic. Add to mixing bowl and whisk in. Gently toss with a salad or drizzle on top. Enjoy!

Once you’ve mastered that basic idea, you can experiment with using different acids and different oils mixed together. Fresh herbs (dried herbs will do in a pinch as long as you give it time to open up*), bottled sauces, fruit juices and alcoholic spirits can be then added in to enhance and sculpt the flavor you desire. 

You must take in mind not only the ingredients in the salad, but the whole meal itself. For example, a creamy blue cheese dressing might not go together so well with an Asian meal. Or a spinach salad with fresh strawberries would work well with sweeter vinaigrette. And since you can make dressings in a small quantity and they are quick to prepare, it’s easy to experiment with many different dressing ideas

*When using dried herbs in a dressing, you should put them in at the beginning of the recipe to give them time to soften up and refresh their flavor. Also, you will use a little less of the dried herbs than the fresh. The ratio for dried herbs to fresh is 1 to 3. But I strongly suggest using fresh herbs when possible.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

A Fiery Foodgasm

Who doesn’t love a little hot sauce to spice up your food? I know I am a huge hot sauce fan. Here’s my recipe for a green hot sauce that has a little heat and zesty tang to it. It’s a very flavorful hot sauce. 

Remember when working with any hot peppers, it is advised to use rubber gloves or just be very careful thoughtfully (many times over) to wash your hands after working with the peppers. Be careful to also not touch your eyes. 
Poblano peppers on the left and jalapenos on the right.

This recipe makes a nice big batch, so you can give some away to friends for gifts. Hot sauce is a great way to add a little heat and spice in your life (wink, wink)! You’ll be sure to have a fiery Foodgasm when you splash this on your food.

 Zesty Green Hot Sauce
Makes about 3 cups hot sauce

2 ½ lbs fresh jalapeno peppers
12 oz. fresh banana peppers
8 oz. fresh poblano peppers
4 cups white vinegar

1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, sliced (about 2 ½ cups)
½ cup garlic, chopped
2 tablespoon kosher salt

Optional- 1 tablespoon Xantham Gum
(you don’t need this, but it helps keep the hot sauce from separating when it settles and adds a nice little thickness to the sauce)

Fully wash all the peppers. Slice off the stem and rough chop (make sure to keep all the seeds, as this is a HOT sauce). In batches puree the peppers with some of the vinegar in the blender or food processor (put just enough vinegar in each batch to help the peppers blend easily). Once the peppers are all pureed, add in the remaining vinegar if there is some and set aside.

In a large sauce pan, sauté the onions and garlic in the olive oil over medium heat for about 5 minutes or until they are translucent and tender. Make sure they don’t burn and adjust the heat down if needed. Add in the pepper/vinegar mixture and salt. Bring the mixture to a boil and then simmer for about 20 minutes. Sprinkle the xantham gum over the hot sauce and quickly stir it in. Strain the mixture using a sieve over a large bowl. You may need to do this in batches. Make sure to press the mixture fully into the sieve to collect all the yummy hot sauce below. The pepper pulp can be thrown away or used in your favorite spicy recipe. With the remaining liquid, taste and adjust the salt level to your liking. Let cool and using a funnel put the hot sauce into clean, sterilized glass containers. These can be stored at room temp, in a cool, dark place. This hot sauce has a little heat and a lot of tang, perfect for every meal needing a little kick.

Tip: When working with hot peppers, you might want to wear plastic gloves. If not, make sure to carefully and fully wash your hands many times before touching your eyes, as it will sting very badly. I note this from personal experience.