Monday, March 27, 2017

Decorating with Food

I'm going to start this post by admitting that food art is wasteful.  The whole point of this blog is to avoid wasting food.  Yet, part of food presentation includes the table, and that doesn't have to mean just flowers or candles.

This isn't about garnishing.  If a decorative element is a part of the dish and meant to be eaten, I heartily endorse it.  I'm talking about tomato roses, radish sunbursts, and bell pepper tulips.  Of course, with my so-so relationship with peppers, I would rather see them as decoration most of the time.  Somewhat less offensive is watermelon whales or baskets, since you scoop out the insides.  It isn't like a carved melon that isn't eaten, unless the back of that is carved out to put a light in it.

For some real fun with food that will never be eaten, check out this game I played recently.  Almost all of the scenes are dioramas made entirely of edibles.  You don't actually have to play the game to access the scenes, just look for arrows and hotspots.

I've also used bolted lettuce flowers as decoration, which is a much better use of the concept.  The bunches smell like freshly picked salad (in this case, arugula), and are an economical way to make use of the plant before giving up and ripping it out.  If you're growing broccoli, you can let some sprigs bloom for the same effect.  If the plant is successful, you won't mind in the least if some of it goes to seed.

A food decoration should also make sense with what you're serving.  For my senior culinary competition, I made tulips of bell peppers supported by asparagus stems reinforced by skewers.  Both vegetables were in the dishes I made.
If you're interested in the decorative garnishing aspect of garde manger, there are plenty of YouTube video demonstrations.  Just enter "vegetable carving" or "fruit carving" or something along those lines.  Something to do with all that zucchini you can't unload this summer.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Preserves in Action: Reuben Sandwich

I was on vacation during the time I would have marinated my own corned beef, so I bought one for considerably less.  Not the same as bragging rights.

Then of course came deciding what to do with the resulting meat.  I'm not a massive fan of the Reuben, but I kind of like it.  My problem is the Thousand Island dressing, because I don't really like the stuff.  It's the sweet pickle relish.  I don't like sweet pickle anything, and routinely pick them out of my hamburgers.  (I learned long ago never to make more than one adjustment when ordering off a menu, so I always choose that one thing to be the mayo or 1,000 Island, which you can't pick off.)  Looking at how I planned to alter the recipe, it was pretty close to Papa Smurf's Special Sauce, so I just made that.

I decided to do the variation of the sandwich that includes mustard, to finish off an open jar of Beer Mustard.  Instead of buying sauerkraut, I opened a jar of kohlrabi relish.  Same taste, and it's still veggies.

8 slices rye bread
1/4 C 1000 Island dressing
1/4 C mustard
8 thin slices Swiss cheese
1 lb thinly sliced corned beef
1 C sauerkraut

1.  Lay out bread slices in pairs, insides facing up.  Spread 1 Tb thousand island on each top, and 1 Tb mustard on each bottom.  Lay a slice of swiss on every bread slice.  Top with 1/4 lb corned beef per sandwich, a little on each face.

2.  Warm up sandwiches in the microwave for 30 seconds.
3.  If you have a sandwich or Foreman grill, close them up and go for it.  If not, toast open-faced either in the toaster oven or under the broiler, to melt the cheese and crisp up the bread.

4.  Spoon 1/4 C of drained sauerkraut on each sandwich.  Close, cut in half, and serve warm.

Difficulty rating  π

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Tahini Lettuce Wraps

This was inspired by a couple of different dishes on The Chew, with an assist from some very healthy romaine in my front yard.  Really, a lettuce wrap is just putting the salad inside the leaf.
You could use pretty much any protein in these.  Tahini goes with everything.  I happened to choose tofu because I haven't had it in a while and I ate a lot of red meat and shellfish on the cruise.  The veggies were mostly what was on sale and some leftover tomatillo salsa.  And a one-pound carrot out of the garden that I kind of forgot about because it was behind a massive beet that I also should pull soon.

I also decided to try amaranth, a cousin of quinoa, as the grain.  It isn't KLP, but those rules are so arbitrary that if you use kitnyot, there's no problem with it.  It's a gluten-free seed that is loaded with nutrients and has been a staple of mesoamerica for millennia.  Personally, I found it gummy and dense, but the flavor was nice and once it merged with the tahini dressing, it wasn't so clumpy.

Tahini Vinaigrette
*1 Tb tahini paste
*2 Tb lemon juice (half a lemon)
*1 Tb rice wine vinegar
1 Tb olive oil
*1 clove garlic, minced
salt and pepper
*pinch of fresh grated ginger (optional)

1.  Whisk together all ingredients except the salt and pepper.  Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.

2.  Refrigerate for at least 1 hour to let flavors marry.  Re-whisk before using.  Makes about 1/3 cup.

Top quinoa, bottom amaranth
Amaranth Salad
1/2 C dry amaranth
*1 lb carrots
1/2 lb asparagus
1 Tb olive oil
*1 C tomatillo salsa or chopped Roma tomatoes
1 container extra-firm tofu
1/4 C chopped green onions for garnish
1/2 C raw cashews for garnish
1/4 C Greek yogurt for garnish
*1 head Romaine

1.  Preheat oven to 350º.  Peel carrots.  If you get stuck with thick asparagus like I did, peel asparagus.  You can't be picky for 88¢ per pound.  Cut both veggies into 2" sticks, like you were doing a stir-fry.  Carrots may have to be cut in halves or quarters.  In a bowl, toss with olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.  Wrap in foil and bake until just getting soft, about 30 minutes.

2.  While the veggies are roasting, make your salad dressing and amaranth.  In a small saucepan, combine amaranth and 1/2 C water.  Bring to a low boil, lower heat to simmer, and cover.  Cook until all water is absorbed, about 20 minutes.

3.  Prep your garnishes and chop the tomatoes (or drain extra liquid out of salsa).  Slice the tofu into manageable pieces.  For cashews, toast in a dry pan over medium heat.  Season with salt, chili powder, or whatever you want.
4.  In a bowl, toss together roasted veggies, tomatoes/salsa, amaranth, tofu, and tahini dressing.  Salad can be served at room temperature, or pre-made and held in the refrigerator.  Spoon a generous amount of salad onto each leaf of Romaine.  Garnish with yogurt, cashews, and onions and serve 2 to 3 per person, depending on size of leaves.

Difficulty rating  :)

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Less is More

Sorry this took a while.  I got a nasty cold on the boat and only just got around to uploading photos.  At least my worst days were after the cruise was over.

I did get photos of some wonderfully arranged food.  Holland America, for the most part, has reduced the likelihood of illness (the petri dish of shaking hands and pressing elevator buttons not included) by setting out pre-portioned dishes, even at the buffet.  It upset many of my traveling companions that they could not serve themselves, but I appreciated the effort from a food safety point of view.

My lunchtime favorite quickly became the small-plates array.  Any appetizer I had skipped the night before was likely to be there in a slightly altered fashion, as well as creative vegetable dishes.  There was always a charcuterie plate and a cheese arrangement.  Small bowls of grain salads that I later learned were the vegan options were less popular, but still available.
What really struck me was the portion size.  It was appropriate.  You could have two or three small plates and a roll and call it lunch.  Sure, there was a taco bar and a hamburger window.  Someone else was making carvery sandwiches that would put Subway to shame.  And fancy desserts were set out at all times.  Let's not even go into the extensive breakfast options.  (I tried every version of Eggs Benedict they served.)  But what really struck me was the adherence to the three-ounce rule.  Only dinner entrees were large, and even then it was a manageable amount of food.  I ate more in port.  And managed to gain less than two pounds in the week.  Yes, even with two or three desserts a day over the course of four meals (we were late seating, so we had some kind of teatime every day).
There's also a beauty in presenting a few slices of something.  It's almost about the negative space on the plate.  You can decorate with a few leaves or nuts and a light drizzle of sauce.  While this technique is impractical for a large buffet party at home, you can still do some presentation with tasting cups or small plates and just leave the big stuff for self-serve.  I did that with some individual 6-layer dip cups once.
Parisian Benedict: baguette, arugula, prosciutto, poached egg, hollandaise
It may be a few more days before I feel like cooking anything interesting.  Right now, it's mostly canned soup.  I did buy a blueberry pie.  Happy π Day!

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Part X : Presentation

It has been a very long time since I've changed topics.  Since I'm always learning, I'm always finding new things to share.

Part of culinary arts - a big part - is an exciting presentation.  Anyone can throw food on a plate.  Think of what your meal looks like when you sit down after loading up at a buffet, or even serving yourself from the items on the table at home.  Then think about a meal presented by a server.  Even a cheap diner will make some kind of effort.  Granted, an expensive restaurant will have a more elevated level of presentation.

Right now, I'm driving down to San Diego to board a weeklong cruise.  (Don't worry; I wrote this ahead of time.)  Assuming cruise ships aren't declared enemy combatants in the next week - odder things have happened recently - I'll have plenty of photos when I get back of elegantly arranged food and decorative elements.

I'm not taking photos of every meal.  I really hate when people Instagram everything they eat.  Plus, I'm not taking my computer and the memory card would fill up.  I'm going to photograph things that anyone can do without much added time and expense that will make a meal look professional.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Almost Home-Made

I found some Rana ravioli in the freezer that I think I bought because it was on sale.  I'm going on vacation at the end of the week and am trying to use up perishables.  I think I bought too much milk.  Anyway, I had half of a 2-pound bag of rainbow carrots and most of a meal was born.  I picked up some fresh green beans and made an alfredo with some of that extra milk and cheap parmesan from a canister.
There were still a couple of carrots left.  I put them in a stoo over couscous and should run out of most of my perishable food by Saturday.  We'll see if the open container of orange juice and the remaining milk are passable when I get back.

Quickie Alfredo

1 batch white sauce base + extra milk to taste
*1/2 C diced onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 tsp nutmeg
*1/2 tsp dried oregano
*1/4 C grated parmesan

1.  For making the white sauce base, sauté the onion in the butter first.  Add garlic and cook about one minute, then add the flour and work in the milk.  Stir in salt and pepper to taste, as well as nutmeg and dried oregano.

2.  Stir in parmesan.  If too thick for your use, slowly add extra milk to desired consistency.

Makes between 1 and 2 cups