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Rice Pilaf Please
Wednesday, May 14, 2014

I love rice.  Short grain, medium grain, long grain, whole grain, sticky, red, black, white, yellow, and even green rice are delicious, filling and simple to prepare.  

My favorite rice preparation by far is rice pilaf.  Long grain rice that is loose, fluffy, and filled with flavor.  The method is simple and, once the pilaf is going, it's hands-free till dinner.  I can get a pilaf started and, while it cooks, prepare the rest of the meal with one less thing to think about.  That's vital, because my brain is already full of daily routines, food info, and every spoken line from The Princess Bride.  You have to make priorities, people.

A few keys to rice pilaf:  

  1. Long grain rice
  2. 2:1 Liquid to Rice
  3. "Pearl" or saute the rice in oil 
  4. Heat the liquid before adding to the rice

 

Start with a sweat of 1 cup standard mirepoix (50% diced onion, 25% diced celery, 25% diced carrots) in a little olive oil. Toss the rice (2 cups) and saute until fragrant and "pearled".  Add 4 cups of hot chicken stock, stir a few times, and bring to a simmer.  Cover tightly with foil and bake in a 400 degree oven for 25 minutes.  Remove from oven and let sit, covered for 10 minutes.  Remove foil, fluff rice and serve.

 

Courtyard to Table
Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Ahhh, Kentucky in the Spring!  I love the warm weather, blossoming plants, and the first smells of backyard barbecues.  One of my favorite signs of Spring is the opening of the Lexington Farmer's Market.  My family visits just about every Saturday to hob-nob with our vendors and see what local produce is available.  

This week I took a journey to a local garden to pick some fresh produce for our daily salad bar.  Beautiful, young spinach for a fruit and spinach salad.  Here's the really cool thing.  My journey took me all of two minutes.  The garden was located in The Lexington School courtyard garden!  The students can be proud that the literal products of their labor will feed their mouths.  Come and join us for a delicious lunch that includes uber-local produce!

See you at the market!

Tender is the Chicken
Wednesday, April 30, 2014

I had a fantastic opportunity to meet and discuss food with Alton Brown.  During our discussion he brought up a list he has titled, "10 Things I'm Pretty Sure That I'm Sure About Food."  The title was birthed from the fact that food trends and "rules" change so quickly that most of what we say we know about food will be different tomorrow.  One item on his list: "Chickens do not have fingers."

Chicken fingers are a huge industry and for obvious reasons.  They're delicious, crunchy, rich and comforting.  Really the only problem with chicken fingers is they do not exist.  Chickens do not have hands or fingers.  The closest thing they have to fingers would be their toes and I promise you, we would eat far fewer chicken "fingers" if toes were the option.  If chicken fingers did exist, I would start ordering chicken thumbs.  They would have to be accumulating. :)

In The Lexington School's Kitchen we serve chicken tenders.  The tender is found beneath the chicken breast against the bone.  We save the tenders from the whole chickens we portion for Herb Roasted Chicken day, toss them in seasoned breadcrumbs and bake them in the oven. Tenders are not healthier than fingers and I'm not in a march to save us all from deep fried fingers.  I take food seriously and it is my mission to teach the students and all visitors of our dining hall what real food is and where real food is produced.  My mission would fail if I pushed a product that did not exist (i.e. chicken fingers).

Totally Love Secret Ingredients!
Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Recently The Lexington School kitchen put on a special event for our students, faculty and parents:  Iron Chef TLS.  The students voted on a list of secret ingredients for our creative kitchen cooks to use each day.  Here is a run down of the ingredients and dishes for each day:

Monday: Yogurt

  1. Shrimp w/Wasabi Yogurt Sauce- James Minter
  2. Yogurt Cake- Tracy Estepp
  3. Indian Raita- Connie Bowsher
  4. Peach & Yogurt Soup- Billy Ferguson

Tuesday: Strawberries

  1. Strawberry Creme Brulee/Strawberry Cheesecake- James Minter
  2. Strawberry Salsa w/Cinnamon Sugar Pita- Tracy Estepp
  3. Fresh Strawberry w/Kitchen Made Marshmallow Brulee- Connie Bowsher
  4. Strawberry & Rhubarb Flatbread with Berry BBQ Sauce- Billy Ferguson

Wednesday: Rice

  1. Bacon Crispy Rice Treat- James Minter
  2. Rice Pudding- Tracy Estepp
  3. Rice & Lentil Curry with Caramelized Onion- Connie Bowsher
  4. Pineapple Risotto- Billy Ferguson

Thursday: Mangoes 

  1. Mango Mint Lassi- James Minter
  2. Mango Chutney- Tracy Estepp
  3. Mango Salsa- Connie Bowsher
  4. Mango & Red Pepper Quesadilla- Billy Ferguson

Friday: American Classics

  1. Triple Cheese & Macaroni- James Minter
  2. Meatloaf- Tracy Estepp
  3. Warm Potato Salad- Connie Bowsher
  4. Chicken Chili- Billy Ferguson

 A special thanks to Chef John Foster and Chef Melissa Armstrong from Sullivan University as well as Chad Pennington for participating as our judging panel. 

On behalf of all of us here in the TLS kitchen and our chairman, Chuck Baldecchi, I bid you good eating!

Sauces Have Mothers Too
Wednesday, April 16, 2014

I've heard it said that the simplest things in life are the best.  I agree to an extent, but sometimes the simplest things are good because they are the base for truly great things.  

Take, as an example, macaroni and cheese.  I love macaroni and cheese.  The shape of the pasta does not matter to me.  I will gladly eat shells, elbows and even penne.  Honestly, as long as the pasta is cooked correctly, the shape of the pasta is not nearly as important to me as the sauce.

The sauce we make for macaroni and cheese (Mornay sauce) is rich and delicious.  I like to think that Mornay learned to be so good from its mother.  Mother sauce, that is.  To make Mornay, first we make a bechamel sauce, one of the five mother sauces (the others are Espagnole, Tomato, Veloute, and Hollandaise).  We thicken milk with a roux of flour and butter and enhance with onion piquet (charred onion with bay leaf studded by a clove).  To this bechamel sauce we add cheddar cheese and season with salt and white pepper.

With a little know-how and creativity a simple bechamel can be the base for a truly great macaroni and cheese. 

P.S.  Quality can be included in allergy sensitive food.  Our gluten free macaroni and cheese follows a similar technique, we just use gluten free flour and pasta!

Rocking Stock
Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Soup is a daily item at The Lexington School Dining Hall.  A few favorites include creamy potato, beef vegetable, and broccoli/cheese.  The most popular soup is chicken noodle...and by most popular I mean we make exactly twice as much chicken noodle soup as any other soup we make.  Want to know the secret to outstanding chicken soup?  Do you promise not to be disappointed if the secret is really simple?  Ok, then, here's the secret: water.  Not just any water, mind you.  This water is simmered for hours with vegetables, herbs and bones, skimmed for impurities, strained and cooled.  We nurture the water until it transforms into a wonderful elixir known as stock.  

Preparing stock is not difficult, but it can be time and space consuming.  We can solve those issues with a little time managment and creative thinking (oh yes, Mission Skills are needed in kitchens as well).

Stock, be it chicken, beef, lamb, pork, fish, or vegetable all start with carrots, celery, and onions (mirepoix).  Though I agree with many professional chefs that perfect stock comes from the best quality versions of these magical three ingredients, stock pots are a glorious way to use the peelings, skins, and otherwise unusable parts of the vegetable.  If you like dark and deep flavored stock, roast the vegtables to caramelize the vegetables.  If you're making a protein based stock add the bones (again roast if you prefer a darker stock) and cover the ingredients with COLD water.  Bring the pot to a bare simmer- only a few small percolations.  Boiling stock will cloud the color and body of the finished product.  Skim the top of the stock occasionally to remove unwanted bits and particles.  This can simmer for hours and hours (ours usually simmers for six hours).  Strain the solids and chill the liquid by surrounding the exterior of the pot with ice and stirring regularly.  Move to storage containers and refrigerate.

I know the thought of watching a pot for hours seems like a terrible waste of a day.  We can do it in the kitchen as we go about our regular preparations but the home cook already strapped for time just can't babysit stock all day.  How about using the crock pot?  A friend of mine bakes his stock in a dutch oven by bringing the liquid to a simmer on the stove and then leaving it on the lowest setting in his oven all day.

Of course after you have made six quarts of stock, you have to store it somewhere.  I recommend using different sized containers and freezing the stock.  The various container sizes allow you to thaw as much stock as you need when you need it.  We keep our stock in large quantities at The Lexington School but at home I keep 2 cup and 4 cup containers as well as a few ice cube trays of stock.  Once the cubes are frozen, I pop them out and keep them in a freezer bag.  1.5 ounce portions of stock ready to finish a sauce or flavor a glaze or add to a pasta or...let your creativity run wild!

Here is a quick and easy Chicken Noodle Soup recipe:

1 cup yellow onion, diced

1/2 cup carrot, diced

1/2 cup celery, diced

1 1/2 cup cooked chicken, shredded or diced

4 cups chicken stock

1/2 lb egg noodles

2 TBSP fresh parsley, minced

Salt and Pepper to taste

INSTRUCTIONS:

Sweat vegetables in a little butter or oil for 8-10 minutes.  Add chicken and stock and bring to a simmer.  Add egg noodles and cook 4-6 minutes or until noodles are cooked through.  Add parsley, season with salt and pepper and serve.

Chili Powder
Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Many cultures have a dish that is at once common and unique.  Every grandma, grandpa, mom and dad has not only tasted this dish but has her/his special recipe that makes the dish personal. Curries, pierogi, marinara, tandoori, and dumplings are all names of recipes that, depending on the family, tow the line of age-old tradition and creative personalization.

We have a dish like that here in the U.S.: Chili.  Cook-offs and contests, potlucks and special events all centered around one pot that contains a wonderful elixir of individualism and community.

We all know the expected flavor of chili, but the unique variations to the common recipe are what make chili so special to our culture.  Personally, I like mine spicy, hearty, and thick enough to be substantive but thin enough to soak my peanut butter sandwich when I plunge it in.

With all the secret seasonings, ingredients and cooking techniques, we seem to have forgotten the most important addition to chili, namely, chili powder.  We search for the perfect peppers, dice the onions just so, add a little ground lamb for depth, concoct chocolate, molasses, truffle oil super sauces and then reach for ground chili powder that has outlived its potency and flavor.

Well I say,” no longer, America!”  We are leading the charge in the kitchen at TLS to improve chili and getting back to the fundamental flavor of chili powder by making it ourselves.  Here is a scaled recipe for home use:

 

TLS Chili Powder

 

Recipe By :

Serving Size  : 25    Preparation Time :0:00

Categories: Sauce & Seasoning

 

 Amount  Measure       Ingredient -- Preparation Method

--------  ------------  --------------------------------

 4           each  pacquillo chiles -- seeded, ground

 1           each  ancho chile -- seeded, ground

3/4  teaspoon  onion powder

3/4  teaspoon  garlic powder

 1 1/16   tablespoons  paprika

 1 1/2  teaspoons  coriander -- ground

 1 1/2  teaspoons  cumin -- ground

 

Combine all ingredients.

 

Stir Fry
Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The culinary profession leaves a lasting mark on its workers.  I mean that quite literally.  I have scars on my arms and hands from burns and cuts.  I’m not complaining or seeking sympathy from you, dear reader.  How could I?  When in the company of fellow culinarians, I proudly brandish these marks and tell the stories of how they came to be, and I happily listen to the stories of how they received their scars.  The mark I’m the most proud of is a callous on my right index finger.  It’s my cutting callous; the callous that has developed after years of flesh rubbing against the spine of my chef’s knife.

We do a lot of cutting in the kitchen at The Lexington School.  The day that requires the most knife work is stir fry day.  Peppers, onions, carrots, mushrooms, chicken, tofu, scallions, garlic, ginger are all processed by the skilled hands of our kitchen staff.  The stir fry menu is very popular with the students (and visiting parents!).

If you would like to make a delicious stir fry at home, here are some tips:

  • Cut vegetables into small and consistent sizes to help them cook evenly.
  • Heat wok or skillet over medium high heat until VERY hot.
  • Stir fry vegetables in small batches.  Over-crowding a pan will cool it down and that searing heat will be lost.
  • Allow your pan to re-heat between batches.
Celebrate The World
Wednesday, March 12, 2014

In The Lexington School Kitchen, we celebrate the influence international cultures have made on our food.  We do this regularly within our menu i.e. stir fry, quesadillas, lasagna.  We join with The Lexington School community to place special emphasis on diverse cultures during the annual Foreign Language Week.  This year we celebrated “street food” or food that can be purchased from mobile vendors in various cultures.  Here is a quick run-down of the food we enjoyed:

Tuesday:  Banh Mi- A Vietnamese sandwich with pork, vegetable slaw and baguette.

Wednesday: Crepes- Herb and cheese stuffed crepes folded in a traditional French “cone”.

Thursday:  Gyros- An American version of the Mediterranean classic made with seasoned chicken, house-made tzatziki, tomatoes, and parsley.

Friday: Beef Tamales: Hand wrapped Mexican style tamales with seasoned ground beef.

We shared fun facts about the history of the dishes, displayed pictures, eating instructions and even a video showing how some of the dishes were made.

Celebrabis hunc mundum!

 

 

Rich in Flavor Part I
Monday, December 10, 2012

Recently I had the opportunity to join an informational radio program for a bit about cooking.  The topic was healthy cooking during the holidays and though I always protest the "healthy" word, I was happy to talk about ways to increase flavor in dishes that did not add calories, fat, or any of the other frightful buzz words so often associated with the meals we eat around this time of year.

1.  Herbs are Your Friends!-  Fresh herbs add big flavor to any dish without adding calories.  If you cook a turkey during this holiday season, think of sage, rosemary, thyme, and oregano.  Cornbread stuffing calls for thyme and sage.  Tarragon, lavender and thyme work well with ham.  Rosemary, thyme, and parsley are great with beef.  Mint is good with lamb, but I prefer rosemary and parsley.  When using dry herbs, add them at the beginning of the cooking process because they need to rehydrate to achieve their full flavor potential.  Also, if a recipe calls for fresh herbs and you use dry, reduce the amount of dry herbs you use by half. After you give them the time to rehydrate, dry herbs tend to be more potent than fresh herbs.  When using fresh herbs, add them towards the end of the cooking process.  Fresh herbs will dilute in flavor the longer they cook, or worse, become bitter.  Fresh herbs can be pricey in the grocery store so I recommend growing your own.  I have seen pre-packaged fresh herb blends designed for poultry, beef, and pork.  These seem like a better bang for the buck in a pinch.

2. Coarse Kosher Salt!- This is a must in any kitchen I cook in.  Is it healthier?  Nope.  But it has a cool nerd-y quality that just gets my inner "foodie" all riled up.  Traditional iodized table salt is processed to be smooth and even.  If you checked iodized table salt under a microscope you would notice that each granule is a smooth sphere or a perfect cube. If you looked at coarse kosher salt under a microscope you would notice the granules have irregular edges.  This is important!  The irregular edges help the salt adhere to the product you are seasoning better.  So if you've ever sprinkled table salt on a turkey before roasting and then needed to add more at the table when it was served, it's probably because the salt fell off-into the drippings.  So now you have to salt an already salted bird and then you pour salt gravy over the bird.  Just switch to coarse kosher salt.

Ever wonder why table salt is iodized?  Iodine is a necessary dietary mineral.  Some soil is rich in iodine, particularly the soil near the the ocean shore.  Some vegetables inland are not very good at absorbing iodine from the soil due to its heavy atomic mass.  Iodine has been added to salt to provide the minimal source of iodine that we need in our system to protect against thyroid conditions (goiter) as well as some brain development issues.  Other foods that have iodine as a property include: navy beans, tuna, russet potatoes (it's in the skin), eggs and kelp.

Food I Fight For Part 2
Monday, December 3, 2012

"Do you like to eat grits?"

This is a fun question to ask in Central Kentucky because the answer varies so much.  There are those blessed people that answer, "What's a grit?", though, typically they hail from the "North" (lest you think I'm judging these "Yankees", I'm originally from Ohio, so I'm very understanding of those, under-cultured Americans).  For those familiar with the dish known as grits, we tend to love it or hate it, and there are few feelings inbetween.  As you may gather from the title, I enjoy grits.  I believe that much of the vehement disgust with grits stems from some of the despicable atrocities served as this wonderful dish. (How's that for passion?)

What's the secret to great grits?  We'll get to that but first, let's set some terms.

"What's a grit?"  Well, it's corn.  Flint or "dent" corn more specifically.  Dent corn is so named because as it is dried small indentations (dents) form on each kernel.  To make grits, white dent corn is treated with an alkaline, such as lye, which changes the structure of the corn and swells the kernels two or three times the orginal size.  You might recognize these puffed parcels as hominy.  The hominy is dried and ground to make grits. (*Note- the grits I am discussing are not the "instant" or "quick" varities.  In my opinion, if it doesn't say "stone-ground" on the label or ingredients, it needs to just stay on the shelf.)  Why all the process to make a dish out of cornmeal?  The cool thing about making grits from hominy, is the chemical change that takes place from the alkaline, keeps the granules from ever completely breaking down.  Essentially, hominy grits are gritty-er than grits made from plain cornmeal.

I have had a few people in my life ask me for my recipe for grits.  The great thing about the answer is that it's not a recipe; it's a technique.  To make a good, creamy dish of grits, whisk one part grits into five parts boiling liquid.  Simmer for 25-30 minutes whisking occasionally.  To make a firm grit cake whisk one part grits into three parts boiling liquid.  Simple, right?  What's so fun about the technique is that as long as the ratio is true you can change the liquid however you would like.  Having grits and chicken?  Use chicken stock!  Having fish?  Fish stock, or fumet!  Having breakfast?  Cream or milk!  In my favorite liquid combination, I use 4 parts of stock and 1 part of cream or half/half.  I always season mine with a little Tabasco, worcestershire sauce, salt and black pepper.

Local First, But Gratefully Global
Wednesday, November 14, 2012

I'm a big fan of Kentucky.  I've grown to love our unique culture and eccentricities.  I'm even getting into bluegrass music more and more.  Incidently, if you are on the fence as to whether bluegrass music is your "thing" check out the album "Fade to Bluegrass."  The whole album is bluegrass covers of Metallica songs.  How's that for a cultural melting pot?

We grow some great food in Kentucky.  We have a beautiful calendar of growing seasons.  In May, we have aparagus and strawberries.  June brings raspberries and blueberries.  In July, our produce is in full swing and farmers' markets are loaded with great local tomatoes, cucumbers, blackberries, and green beans (oh, and BEETS!).  August makes me think watermelon and the first apples.  September brings our autumn selections of apples, pears, and the first varieties of hard squash.  October begins warm with the last of the late summer produce and finishes with warm pumpkin and rich apple cider.  Even in the hard, cold months of our winter we have the adaptability to supply potatoes, onions, and even some greens.  (Note: The growing season for beets is from mid-June to the first part of November.  That's a lot of time to enjoy beets!)

During those winter months we can still get vegetables.  California provides us with quite a bit and Central and South America handle the rest.  We are blessed with a great, seasonal variety of produce and while this fact puffs my pride in my city and my State, I learned a hard lesson last summer that taught me the value of food distribution.

My church played host to a group of missionaries from Niger. For this event, the organizers wanted to serve light appetizers that reflected the food of Niger.  I was terrified to do this.  I mean, they know that food, right?  They will know if I get it wrong.  I didn't want to risk insulting our guests so I started some research.  I found very little about the food...VERY little.  I ended up learning some about the flavor profile and then just kind of making my own stuff.  The event went well and I learned some really cool facts about their village.

I grabbed one of the missionaries after the event and asked him about the food.  He was happy for the creativity but acknowledge that this was nothing like what they eat.  He began naming off foods that were staples of his culture.  I asked what role vegetables played in their diet, assuming that vegetables were the staple.  His answer was very simple, "We have vegetables in vegetable season."  I'll never forget that statement.  "Vegetable season" is a window of time after the intense rainy season and before the extreme dry season.  They use some methods of preserving and storage but if it's not vegetable season, meals consist of grain and a little meat.

Since that evening, I've seen those flavorless "winter" tomatoes and under-ripe melons in a new light.  Yes, the flavor of our produce suffers through the winter...but we have produce.  I believe in seasonality, local products, and adjusting menus to take advantage of the best tasting fruits and vegetables available, but I filter these beliefs through the lens that we are truly blessed to have such an abundant supply of vegetables.

Building Bigger Barns
Tuesday, October 30, 2012

I hate to throw food away.  Seriously, it makes me mad; it makes me mean mad.  It works on me till I'm nothing but a big, furious ball of mean...you get the picture.  In our kitchen, food waste is not only costly, it's irresponsible.  If you're like me, keeping food fresh is important.  We employ the following two level strategy to get the most out of the food we buy:  1) Store Properly and 2) Cross-utilization.  This week, let's talk about storage.

Proper food storage is essential to keeping food fresh for the maximum amount of time.  You can spend as much as you want on a refrigerator, but, essentially, they just keep food cold.  How you prepare the food for that cold storage determines if it keeps 24 hours or 10 days.  Here's a quick run-down on produce cold storage:

1. Dark leafy greens- Key thought: wet leaves rot quickly.  Go ahead and remove the fibrous stems and wash the leaves by dropping them in deep water (at least 5 inches of water, if the water isn't deep enough, the grit will just rest on the greens again), give them a shake, and let the sand and grit sink to the bottom of the container.  Shake the excess water off the greens and give them a good spin in a salad spinner. Put the greens in a zip-top bag with most of the air sucked out with a straw.  They will keep for 3-5 days.

*Note: Making a whole big mess o' greens?  You have a GIANT greens cleaner in your house already.  Just tear the greens directly into your washing machine, give them a few minutes on the rinse cycle and then turn on the spin.

2. Lettuces are essentially large cellulose pockets of water.  You want to keep those pockets in tact to prevent quick decay.  Rinse whole heads of lettuce in very cold water, then let them drain for 2-3 minutes.  Tear whole leaves from the head.  Spin in your salad spinner.  Roll the leaves gently in paper towels and then store the roll in a zip-top bag with most of the air sucked out with a straw. The theme with lettuces and dark, leafy greens is low moisture and oxygen deprivation.

3. Celery should be treated like a flower.  Leave the root end in a vase or plastic container (the lower end of a 2 liter bottle cut in half works).  Loosely cover the top with plastic wrap.

4.  Cut apples and pears brown due to oxidation (it's like fruit rust).  To slow the oxidition, place cut fruit in acidulated water, that is, water treated with an acid.  Typically lemon or lime juice is used but if you ever run out of lemons or lemon juice you can always crush a Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) tablet and dissolve the powder in water.

5.  Root Vegetables-  This one is a little nerd-y but it's my favorite to share with people.  The secret to storing carrots, turnips, BEETS (you are buying beets, right?) is to make conditions similar to their growing environment, you know...the ground.  Recreating those conditions (cold, dark, loosely covered) is really simple: sand.  Put cheap play sand in a covered container and bury whole carrots, parsnips, and BEETS under the sand.  Put the whole container in the refrigerator.  You can get 10-14 days out of roots stored this way.  If you are worried about sand germs, spread the sand onto a baking sheet and send it through the self-cleaning cycle of your oven.

Soup's On!
Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Video filmed by Chef Ryan and edited by Justin Kline (class of 2013)

The Food I Fight For
Wednesday, October 24, 2012

I am an adventurous eater.  Some of the tastiest ingredients I enjoy (oysters, rabbit, shittake mushrooms) were discovered through trying them despite my ignorance or fear of what it would taste like.  I advertise food this way to the students at The Lexington School.  "Just give it a try," or "This is one of my favorite foods," are some of my selling lines that I use to try to get the students to be a little more adventurous with their eating.  This is the easier sell; getting a child to be brave enough to try something that they have never tried before.

The more difficult sell (and this is not limited to Elementary and Middle School students) is getting someone  to try something that they have tried before...and disliked.  The two major reasons for disliking a food tends to be poor quality ingredients or poor cooking technique.  Several foods have an undeserved bad reputation.  I have taken it upon myself to fight for some of these foods and change their reputation.  Food Nerds, Assemble!!!

The first food I fight for is beets.  Beets are delicious, luxurious and fairly inexpensive.  Unfortunately for many, they come in cans.  If you are someone who declares they dislike, distrust, or...well...you just plain "dis" beets, I'd be willing to bet my 1955 misstamped copper penny that it's because your first and last experience with beets began with a can opener.  If this is the case, you and I are of the same disliking of beets.  I'm not a fan of the can.  That's catchy isn't it?  "Not a fan of the can."  Maybe that'll be my "Git-R-Done" someday.

"If one is to befriend the beet, you must find a beet that's fit to eat."-Alton Brown. 

Bottom line: a "fit to eat" beet does not come from a can.  Fresh bulk beets can be found in most mega-mart produce sections.  Typically I buy beets with the stalks and greens still attached.  The greens are also delicious and packed with Vitamin A which is important for healthy vision. (*Skip to the end for Food Nerd Note). 

Roasting beets couldn't be more simple:

  1. Clip beets from stalk and greens (save the greens!).
  2. Wash and dry beets.
  3. Rub with a little olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt. (Oil is important so don't skip this step!  The oil performs two jobs: it acts as a heat conduit to roast the beet evenly and helps keep the roasted beet moist by creating a moisture barrier around the beet.)
  4. Wrap in foil and roast in a 400 degree oven for 25-30 minutes.  (Check beets like a baked potato with a skewer or paring knife.  A perfect beet will be firm/tender.  If it feels like a perfect baked potato, you've overcooked the beet).
  5. Rub with a kitchen towel to remove the skin, slice and serve warm.

For all you visual learners here is a Beet Video for you to enjoy.

Stick with the song...I chose it carefully. :)

Adventurous Eaters: Add a couple peeled shallots and a few sprigs of rosemary to the foil pouch before you close it.  They taste just as good as they smell!

So be adventurous!  The cells in your tongue's taste buds change every 2 weeks.  Who knows what you will love tomorrow (assuming it is fresh and cooked correctly).

*Food Nerd Note: There is a myth that Vitamin A (specifically the kind in carrots) improves night vision.  While Vitamin A is important for ophthalmological health, the night vision myth comes from World War II.  The British engaged in a misinformation campaign about the true reason they were so accurately targeting Nazi bomber planes .  Instead of revealing the Intercepting Radar, a cutting edge technology the British were developing, they spread the rumor that the Allied pilots ate lots of carrots.

It's Not Delivery
Monday, October 22, 2012

Filmed and edited by Chef Ryan

What is Your Favorite Food?
Wednesday, October 17, 2012

"What is your favorite food?" 

As you can imagine I get this question a lot.  It's a good question and I enjoy answering it, but for a nerd-y reason.  Basic food needs aside, we eat food for all sorts of reasons.  Most holidays have a food that is connected with them and about the time that holiday rolls around, our minds start causing us to crave those kinds of food.  Think about it.  Sure, Thanksgiving has turkey, but think about the less food centric holidays- food still works its way in. Memorial Day, we grill or potluck (many families have their own tradition), Mother's Day-restaurants are packed, Independence Day, we eat meat, and a lot of it (what other holiday can you have a steak, a burger, and a brat and feel patriotic at the same time?).  Basically, if we have a celebration, food will be there.  "What is your favorite food," could be asked, "Which food brings love and community to your life?"

By all means, stop reading and think about that for three minutes.  I bet you'll be smiling by the end of the three minutes.

What is my favorite food?  Here is my two-part answer:

1). When I cook to impress, I make a very specific dish.  Seared scallops with a vanilla/orange broth (OJ, vermouth, shallot, garlic, split vanilla bean, reduced to a concentrated broth, finished with butter); white cheddar grits (Weisenberger Mill, of course), and a tart red slaw made with red cabbage, beets, and a vinegar nage.  I learned this dish from a local chef and I remember working the line on a busy Friday night, order tickets to forever, and the wonderful scent of that broth hitting the pan was still show stopping.

2). When I cook for people I love, I make roasted chicken.  The secret here is kosher salt and pepper.  Herbs are nice but I love the simplicity of salt, pepper, and good chicken.  I roast breast side down to start, flip the bird and finish with higher heat to get that beautiful crispy, golden-brown and delicious skin.

So, what is your favorite food?

Thousand Island Dressing
Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Where do we get our salad dressing for the salad bar? Take a look...

Video filmed and edited by Chef Ryan

I Yam What I Yam
Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Sweet potatoes are the topic today but first, a quick food nerd note:  Popeye's family did not always gain strength from eating spinach.  His great great great great grandfather, Hercules' original culinary human growth hormone was garlic.  Bluto discovered this secret and destroyed Hercules' personal stash.  As Bluto was putting a whuppin' on the un-garlicked and weakened Hercules, an upper-cut sent Hercules into a spinach patch- face first.  The mouthful of spinacia oleracea sent a surge of fore-arm smashing strength into the sailor man and the rest is history.

Seriously, look it up.  :)

"And now for something completely different": Yams and sweet potatoes.  Are they the same?  The answer is no...and yes.  Botanically the answer is a big no.  Not even close...like not even in the same family.  But to dismiss yams and sweet potatoes for their differences and scoff at the "dumb Americans" that don't know our food, isn't really all that fair. 

The "yes" part to the question is more of a study of etymology rather than botany.  See, when the Spanish explorers first started showing up in the New World, they began to enjoy many new foods, incuding a little root that the Natives called batata (this was what we now call the sweet potato).  When the explorers returned to Spain with their treasures (including tomatoes if you'll remember) they brought batatas with them.  In Spain they began calling thempatatas.  As the sweet potato gained popularity throughout Europe, its name developed.  The British were the first to coin (or rather mangle) the word potato.  White potatoes (russets) get their name from sweet potatoes, not the other way around.  As Irish immigrants brought russet potatoes back with them to the United States, "sweet" was added to sweet potatoes to identify them from white potatoes.

So what about calling sweet potatoes, yams?  That's acutally a pretty recent development.  In the 1930s, Louisiana farmers had developed an orange variety of sweet potato and they wanted to differentiate between the two (the original sweet potato was rather yellow).  "Yam" was slang in the South for sweet potato (it was dubbed that by slaves from West Africa because it reminded them somewhat of the yams they cultivated in Africa).  So orange sweet potatoes were called yams and the yellow variety were called sweet potatoes.  So are we eating yams or sweet potatoes?  In the United States, unless you purchased from a specialty store or buyer, you bought a sweet potato.

Just Being a Food Nerd
Friday, September 28, 2012

Something I have really enjoyed these last few weeks is taking some time from my "rounds" in the dining hall (that's right, dining hall, not cafeteria) and joining the faculty table for some discussion.  Often it turns to food, which I am more than pleased with though I have perceived that many of our sweet faculty members are stricken by the intensity of my food nerditude.  I wear the badge of "food nerd" with pride and I want to use this outlet to share some of the nerdy things that I think are cool about food.

Tomatoes, to-mah-toes, or 'maters are an interesting food.  So many of us have lost loved ones in the great "Fruit or Veggie" conflict that has been raging for decades.  The conflict has many levels and the real answer is that it is a vegetable fruit.  Technically fruits are the ripened plant ovaries and the parts that we eat are accesory parts of the mother plant.  Tomatoes consist of a single ovary but the rest of the berry is all accessory.  Also the tomato grows on leafy green vines that only survive for a single season like peas and pumpkins (also vegetable fruits).  But that is science, not nerd-ness.  Here comes the cool stuff.

What country do tomatoes come from?  Do a Family Feud type survey and I'd say the first couple of answers would be Italy, France, or Spain.  Three X's, baby, all three are wrong.  Check some of the oldest recipes in Italy and tomatoes don't start showing up until the 1500s.  Weird, right?  I mean this is the country that brought us marinara, bolognese, lasagna, and pizza sauce.  Why didn't they use tomatoes before this?  Because they didn't have them.  Hmmm...early 1500s...what could have happened right around that time to bring tomatoes into the spotlight of Italian cuisine?  Think about it and if you need a hint-1492.

That's right!  The New World (which was more Central America on the first trip) brought all sorts of exotic treasures like corn, squash and beans (the 3 Sisters of Native American cooking) and...tomatoes!  Now it is a common myth that the Europeans thought that the tomato was poisonous.  As with most myths, the truth is far more interesting.  The Italians and the French loved tomatoes immediately.  The British were afraid of tomatoes, primarily because the acid in the vegetable fruit was tarnishing their silver platters.  A surgeon and naturalist in Britain helped spread the fear that tomatoes were unfit to eat and that they only reason the French and Italians could eat them is because they were "not quite human."  Cool huh?

Our Roast Turkey
Friday, September 21, 2012

Every morning before the first student arrives on campus, we begin roasting turkey for the salad bar. Take a look...

Video filmed by Chef Ryan and edited by Sarah Jewell Noonan (class of 2013)