Friday, May 23, 2008

Greek Cuisine

One of the Worlds Oldest Known Cuisines

Greece is a Mediterranean Cuisine with strong ties to Middle Eastern Cuisine; Hundreds of islands and vast coastlines; no land in Greece is more than 85 miles from a sea coast.

Common Ingredients include a wide variety of seafood, lamb, eggplant, olives and olive oil, mint, honey, yogurt, spinach, garlic, saffron, pine nuts, rice, figs and dates, tahini, and ouzo.

Cuisine includes a multitude of small dishes called Mezze; similar in style and use to Spanish Tapas. These include small portions of composed salads, marinated meats, sliced cheeses, cured olives, and pita bread with various garnishes.

Todays Menu:
Greek Salad
Shish Kabob
Fried Dough with Honey and Nuts

Other Common Dishes:
Gyros: rotisserie cooked lamb, thinly sliced, served with pita and tsatziki (cucumber yogurt sauce)
Moussaka: layers of ground lamb, fried eggplant and bechamel sauce (lasagne style)
Dolmas: filling enclosed in an edible wrapper: fillings include ground lamb and pine nuts, rice and mint. Wrappers are commonly preserved grape leaves or cabbage
Spanikopita: spinach and feta cheese wrapped and baked in phyllo dough
Baklava: layered nut pastry - phyllo, lemon syrup, nuts

More Iberian Peninsula

The Cuisine of Portugal

Today we explored the flavors of one of the greatest seafaring cultures in history: Portugal.

Cuisine features seafood in many forms, as well as the pork sausage known as linguica.
Portuguese Mussel Broth
Salt Cod Fritters
Salt Cod Salad
Camorones en Salsa Verde
Arroz Doce
Portuguese cuisine typically uses more herbs and spices than Spanish cuisine, based, I would surmise, on their long-term sea trade with spice producing nations to the East.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Traditional Spain Day 1

Todays lesson covered several traditional style Spanish dishes: Gazpacho, Tortilla Espagnola, and Paella.

Paella is a dish that most likely was developed in the region of Valencia, as did many other rice based dishes. Paella is the dish that served as inspiration for the Creole dish Jambalaya. Based on medium grain rice flavored and colored with the indigenous spice saffron and then garnished with a variety of proteins [chorizo sausage, chicken, various shellfish and vegetables]

The Tortilla in question here is far from what we first think of when we hear the word tortilla. This tortilla ("small cake") is more of a frittata, an open faced omelet, in this case filled with potatoes and onions.

Gazpacho began as a creamy white soup derived from almonds, garlic, olive oil and sherry vinegar, but when the "New World" delivered tomatoes and bell peppers it was transformed into what we now sometimes label a salad in a soup bowl. A chilled puree of perfectly ripe vegetables is concentrated and strained and then served with cuts of those vegetables, and/or grapes or other creative garnish. Perfect for hot weather but well received anytime quality ingredients are available.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Flavor 101

Flavor Dynamics
What is the key to good cooking? Making sure the food tastes good, plain and simple. When you learn about how flavors are developed through good cooking techniques you’re ready to impress with every meal you prepare.
Describing a cooked dish is always tricky. Tastes great. That’s wonderful, but what does it taste like? Tastes beefy? Spicy? Fishy? Tastes like chicken?
The tasting of food is a chemical and biological process that many of us (most of us) find difficult to express with language.
Bitter, sweet, salty, sour and what Eastern tradition (Chinese, Japanese, Asian) calls Umami, a feeling of heat and pungency. These are great general concepts to start with, but where do we go from there? Do all bitter items taste exactly alike? Is it bitter or sharp or astringent? How about puckering?
As an industry that deals with flavors, tastes, and aromas on a continual basis we often find ourselves at a loss when trying to convey the nuances.

Flavor – an identifiable or distinctive quality of a food, drink or other substance perceived with the combined senses of taste, touch and smell

– sensations, interpreted by our brain, of what we detect when our taste buds come into contact with food, drink or other substances. Taste refers specifically to what is perceived through the taste buds.

Taste Buds – the bumps you see on your tongue are not taste buds; they contain taste buds, which in turn contain taste cells (chemical reactors)

The number of tastes we can perceive is very limited (5)

It is the chemicals in food that cause reactions in the taste buds – some affect others (for example, Cynarin – a chemical in artichokes that temporarily makes other foods taste sweeter)

Scientists are working with chemicals that can block ability to taste sweet or bitter flavors – some occur naturally (Capsaicin, the chemical that puts the heat in chile peppers: temporarily lessens sensitivity to bitter and sweet flavors but leaves our perception of acids and salts unaffected)

Saliva acts to begin breakdown of foods into chemical components – This is why you won’t taste a pill no matter how bitter it may be, if you get it down before it starts to dissolve.

Alcohol also works this way; part of the reason a little alcohol added to a dish can make such a big difference in taste.

Some particular taste cells do seem to respond best to one type of stimuli – they are all capable of responding to all of them in some degree. “Map” of tongue is inaccurate.

Temperature affects taste – Bitter tastes are lessened when tasted hot as compared to room temperature – Explains why cooled coffee seems more bitter than hot

Sweetness is much less perceptible at very low temps – allow frozen desserts to warm slightly before serving

Sweetness may be the flavor most notably subdued by cold, but all flavors, even bitterness, decrease in intensity at very cold temperatures. Despite its popularity, ice cold beer has little flavor; beer aficionados prefer their beer warmer. Over chilling a white wine can hide the flavors; most all foods benefit from not being served directly out of the refrigerator (salads…)

Sense of smell: If you’ve had a cold you know that tastes suffer. It’s the same for anyone sitting next to someone with way too much perfume or cologne; makes it hard to taste your potatoes.

The average person can identify thousands of odors and discern about ten levels of intensity in each of those.

The connection between the mouth and the nasal passage accounts for the fact that taste and smell combine so thoroughly to produce the phenomenon we think of as flavor.

All substances, including foods, release more odor molecules when warm or hot than when cold, so smells are stronger (think trash on a hot summers day).

Natural Flavoring: Some researchers spend their time delving into the molecular structure of foods we eat in order to isolate the molecules responsible for various flavors (have isolated more than 4000 flavor compounds). They can concentrate these compounds and add them to foods as “natural flavorings” (making such things as buttered popcorn flavored jellybeans). Flavoring compounds in nature are made up from hundreds if not thousands of these compounds.

Desensitization: We “get used to” aromas, tastes and smells and then use more to get the same effects (too much perfume, too much salt)

Tasters, Non-Tasters, and Supertasters: There is a genetic component to how strongly we taste. The ability to taste the chemicals is determined by whether one has a particular dominant gene: those with two recessive genes are known as “non-tasters”, those with one recessive and one dominant gene are “tasters”, and those with two dominant genes are “super-tasters”. Overall about ¼ of the population are non-tasters, ¼ are super-tasters, and the remaining ½ are tasters.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Nougatine Cookie Tray

Many materials can be used to construct serving pieces, pulled sugar or pastillage for instance. Nougatine can also be used and it has the additional quality of being totally edible. Thin sheets of nougatine can be cut into decorative shapes and used as garnishes, while thicker pieces can be used like these.
Nougatine is composed with four ingredients: almonds, sugar, glucose, and water.
Lightly toast the almonds, produce a caramel with the remaining three ingredients, add almonds, cool and roll or shape into desired form.
Trimmings may be re-used if you are careful to not let it turn darker brown or allow the almonds to be ground into a fine powder.
[Rose garnish is spun sugar]

Plated Desserts

Plated Desserts

Today's class was centered on dessert plating skills. These are not the Professional Pastry and Baking students - these students live on the savory side, but all chefs to be need to develop their presentation skills.

Plating Considerations:

  • First, cook or bake correctly - properly prepared food will always look better
  • Watch your cuts - no raggedy edges, uneven or rough sides
  • Utilize differing sizes and shapes, colors and patterns
  • Vary your plate choices: sizes, shapes, colors and designs
  • Look for balance - do not overcrowd - stay off the rim
  • Identify a focal point and build around, using a natural flow

Good online source for ideas:

Monday, May 5, 2008

Cinco de Mayo

Cinco de Mayo

The holiday celebrates a Mexican victory over French troops on May 5 1862 (the Battle of Puebla) with support of American supplies. Our main interest, of course, is in the traditional foods used to celebrate, along with Mariachis, dancing, fiestas and parades.

Traditional Cinco de Mayo Foods:
Tinga poblana de pollo
Chorizo, Bean and Cheese Nachos
Grilled corn salsa

Posole: from Spanish Pozole: Traditional stew dating back to pre-Columbian days featuring hominy, chilis and vegetables - after arrival of Spanish pork was added to the mix (There is a rumor that the pork was added in place of the original secret ingredient: human flesh)

Hominy: dried maize (corn) kernels which have been treated with an alkali of some sort. Process is known as Nixtamization. Corn is soaked in lye water solution, derived from wood ash, until germ and hard outer shell are removed, then dried.

Friday, May 2, 2008

USA Pasta Day

A Modern Approach to Pasta

In this American Regional Cuisine class students prepare pasta a bit differently than in other classes. Chocolate pasta is melded with a standard egg pasta
  • Some of it is used to layer, napoleon style, with berries and cream
  • Some of it is crisped in the deep fryer
  • Some has been made into chocolate vermicelli served with white chocolate curls and a coffee-vanilla cream sauce

Another version is made with fresh herbs and used in an open lobster ravioli.

When it comes to flavoring pasta you are limited only by your imagination.