Archive for the ‘Cooking’ Category
What if a famous Australian chef came to your home and offered to make dinner?
That’s the premise of a new television cooking show-but with a twist. Chef Curtis Stone is making his debut on American television, ambushing unsuspecting shoppers with an offer they simply can’t refuse. Each episode in the series called “Take Home Chef,” shown Fridays at 8:00 p.m. on TLC, begins with a covert Stone racing through a grocery store as he searches for the perfect culinary partner. Once he’s found one he turns on the charm, offering to accompany the shopper home and prepare a gourmet meal using the items in his or her shopping cart-plus a few savory extras.
Once participants seem willing to go along with this culinary adventure, they take Stone home and work with him in their own kitchens or out at the grill to create a delicious dinner. And, as Australians are known for “throwing another one on the barbee,” Chef Stone is likely to be sharing a lot of his grilling secrets from Down Under, while at the same time learning how to function in an average American kitchen.
Some of the grilling tips offered in “Take Home Chef” include:
• When cooking larger pieces of meat, like roasts, pile the coals on one side and place the food on the other. This allows for indirect cooking and reduces charring.
• Don’t use charcoal lighter fluid or briquettes that have added starter fluid built into them. This will leave an unpleasant taste in the smoke.
• Rubs are one of the best things you can use to add flavor to your meat. They are combinations of spices that seal in the flavor of the meat, form a tasty crust, enhance color and pull moisture from the air while drawing juices from inside the meat, causing the meat to marinate itself as it cooks.
Chef Curtis Stone started his culinary career at The Savoy Hotel, in his hometown of Melbourne, Australia at the age of 18. The European and British chefs he knew there taught him the importance of working abroad to increase one’s experience and skills. That’s why, once he’d qualified as a chef, he set off for Europe to experience Italy, France and Spain before finally arriving in London.
There, he was eventually promoted to be head chef at the critically acclaimed Quo Vadis, a London institution since 1926.
So what’s this new American TV show like for Chef Stone? “Cooking in someone else’s home can be absolutely anything; it can be fabulous or a complete disaster,” he says. “It’s the fear of the unknown that makes it so exciting.”
We see them on the Food Network every day. Rachael, Paula, Emeril and others zip around their kitchens making quick work of fabulous recipes. In no time, they’ve whipped up three or four dishes that look so appetizing you can almost smell them through the TV. As thoughts like “I can do that” ramble around in your mind, you begin dreaming about the glory of becoming a professional chef. Can you do it? Are you professional chef material?
Like all great things, obtaining the title of chef takes time. Both formal training and hands-on experience need time to cultivate in order to bring your skills to the level of a professional. That means culinary school and an apprenticeship or externship may be necessary as part of your training.
Characteristics of Great Chefs
Some of the best chefs are found in Hollywood, California. Culinary arts school instructors in this area of the country are quick to tell would-be chefs what characteristics play a vital role in their quests for professional status. From personal observations of those in California who have attended a cooking school and reached the level of Executive Chef or Master Chef, the first two traits that stand out are hard work and creativity.
Becoming a chef will require dedication to the time and tasks of completing culinary school, working through an externship and gaining years of experience through frontline work in restaurants. As you build your cooking and baking skills, you’ll incorporate the physical tasks of chopping, slicing, mixing and others into the creative tasks of developing recipes and plating your dishes with unique presentations. The end result is a multisensory experience of sight, smell and taste that truly brings pleasure to those who eat what you’ve prepared.
What else is required? The ability to work as part of a team. Yes, even though Rachael and Emeril appear to be going it alone on their shows, they have an entire staff behind the scenes that assists them. A professional chef must be able to delegate responsibilities, supervise the work of others, coordinate every step of the menu and culminate the efforts of everyone involved into wonderful dishes that are served hot, fresh and on time.
A love for food is also needed to be a great chef. Do you wonder about how different seasonings and textures work together? Are you always experimenting to find new combinations of spices, herbs and sauces that bring out the flavor of your dishes? This curiosity and love of food will certainly work in your favor as you strive toward your goal.
Do you possess some or all of these characteristics? Then who knows . . . with the proper training and experience you could one day own your own restaurant or be the next up-and-coming star!
Bamboo Shoots: Bamboo shoots are called for in many Thai recipes. In order to prepare a bamboo shoot for cooking you need to peel them and boil the white inner stalks for 30 minutes in water. If you are using canned bamboo shoots you will only need to boil them for 10 minutes, or if they are going into curries or soups, boiling might not be required.
Basil (fresh): There are three types of basils used in Thai cooking; sweet, holy and lemon. Sweet basil is much easier to find because it is commonly used in western cooking. Holy basil has a spicier taste and can be recognized by it’s slightly purple leaves. Lemon basil has a lemony flavor and can be detected by its distinct lemony scent. If you can only find sweet basil you can compensate for holy or lemon basil by adding finely chopped chili peppers or a bit of lemon rind.
Bergamot: Also known as kaffir lime leaves has a slightly limey flavor which goes well with all Thai dishes. Since this may be hard to find, granted lime rind can be used in its place although it is a poor substitute.
Chili paste: This can be bought in bottles or tubes in almost any supermarket. Used for adding spice and flavor to most dishes, a particularly popular version by Thai cooks is burnt mild chili paste.
Chinese mushrooms: Mushrooms are added to a lot of Thai cooking and many people chose to use the dried variety because they are cheaper and have just as much flavor and nutritional value. You will need to soak the mushrooms in warm water for 30 minutes before using them and the stems are usually discarded because of their tough nature.
Coconut milk: Coconut milk can be bought in cans almost anywhere. If the recipe you are using calls for coconut cream scoop the harder white substance that has formed at the top of the can. If you need coconut milk, stir the can thoroughly before using.
Curry Paste: While some people prefer to prepare their own curry pastes, many bottled curries are available at the supermarket. Most recipes use red, green or yellow curry.
Fish sauce: Made from collecting the liquid off of fermenting salted fish, this pale, watery brown sauce is sometimes used to replace all the salt in recipes. It is very flavorful and compliments all Thai food. It is called for in many recipes but you can also use your imagination with it, as it is very versatile.
Galangal: A close relative to ginger, is used in many curries and soups. Since it is quite rare to find fresh you will probably have to purchase it dry and soak it in water for 1 hour before using.
Garlic: Thai garlic might be available in some Asian markets, however if you cannot find it, the Western variety will work just as well. Use the smaller, tighter cloves on your garlic head for Thai cooking because they are more flavorful and will not be over powered by the other herbs and spices used in your dish.
Ginger: Easy to find and used quite often in modern cooking, ginger is extremely healthy and flavorful. It must be peeled before it is grated or chopped. Fresh ginger is much better than dried, although dried may be substituted if needed.
Lemon grass: Lemon grass is one of the most commonly used items in Thai cooking. It is a long stalk that looks like a small leek. The hard outer portion should be removed and the lower, bulbous part is used. You can either add sliced pieces to your food while it is cooking and remove them before serving your dish, or you can blend them in a food processor so they can be consumed with the dish, which will give it more flavor.
Palm Sugar: Some Thai recipes call for palm sugar which is available in some Asian markets as cellophane wrapped blocks. If palm sugar is unavailable you can substitute with dark brown sugar or real maple syrup.
Rice: Thai people prefer long-grain white Jasmine rice. This is a flavorful and aromatic rice that cools and compliments spicy Thai dishes.
Rice papers: Used for making fresh Thai spring rolls, you can buy rice papers at any food store. To use soak papers (one at a time) in warmish water until they are soft and pliable, then dry off with paper towel and use immediately.
Sesame Oil: A vegetable oil that comes from pressed sesame seeds and originated in East India. This is a very flavorful oil and works very well with Thai cooking.
Preparation and cooking techniques:
Vegetables: Vegetables used in Thai cooking should be cut as finely as possible. The idea is that the smaller they are chopped, the less time they will need to be cook, therefore retaining as much nutrients as possible.
Stir frying: Most people have cooked a stir fry before, so will be familiar with this method of cooking. Oil should be poured into a wok and vegetables should be added over high heat while being constantly stirred. Vegetables should only be stir fried for a couple of seconds so they remain crisp and brightly colored.
Mortar and Pestles: Perfect for making sauces, curry pastes and salads, every Thai cook should own a mortar and pestle preferably made out of clay or wood.
Mincing: Since Thai cooking uses so many intensely flavorful ingredients they should all be chopped very finely so one flavor never overpowers the other. You should always use a very sharp knife for this.
Roasting and grinding spices: When adding spices and herbs to your Thai dish you should always roast them by slowly heating each spice individually in pan until they begin to crackle and turn brown. When each spice is done roasting they should be ground very finely in a food processor or mortar.