Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Cooking like a pro

Okay, so it might not be the dream of most everyone, have crowds of tuxedo dressed men and lovely ladies in evening dress all eating the food you have labored over for hours and enjoying it all immensely.  It really isn't my dream either, and it has only happened to me one time.  The work involved was tremendous, the reward was but a pittance.  However, the satisfaction was worth it all. 

Cooking for group events is still something I do for friends, and it is a lot of work, and still rewarding.  Those same techniques i use to cook for big events can still be used when cooking for yourself, your family, or your friends and for your own group events.  For me, there is no reason whatsoever to go to a fast food purveyor of high fat high sugar low or no fiber meals when anyone can be a great cook and make health and nutritious meals at home in little or no time.  My advice to everyone, use your freezer.  Make stuff, eat it, freeze the rest and eat it when you need to.  It's always better than the slop from the Gilded Arches. 

First off, so many people tell me that food that I cook, or food that they buy in restaurants is far far better in flavor than anything they can make at home.  Let me let you in on the one big secret that restaurants, well, good quality restaurants do that home cooks don't do.  They use spices, and they use a lot of them.  And they use fresh ones.  If the spices you have in your cupboard have been there since you moved into the house 8 years ago, they don't have any flavor.  Good restaurant chefs use so many spices and herbs that they never get old.  And they douse their food liberally with them.  And they also use a lot of salt.  That is one thing that I never cook with.  Once you start NOT eating a lot of salt in your food, it really opens up all the other flavors and those can be even more thrilling and exciting to your palate.

Let me give you an example of what I mean.  A week ago I cooked a bunch of food for an event for some
friends.  Not a lot, only about 50 people.  One of the items I made was lasagna roll ups. These are fun, very easy to do, can make a fantastic presentation of just be great for every day meals.  Some of my friends that were at the event, told me that these were some of the best things I ever made for them.  The secret, spices.  For these, I actually made them with Italian sausage.  They were for a group of friends that eat meat, not for me, so the menu was with a lot of meat.  Here's how they were done.  I first took 3 boxes of lasagna noodles and cooked them for 13 minutes, even though the box said to cook for 8 to 10 minutes.  I drained them, let them sit in cold water to cool them off and then drained again and just tossed lightly with olive oil so the wouldn't stick together.  Then I browned the sausage and drained it, made sure it was broken up into pretty small pieces.  Then in a large bowl I beat 6 eggs and added an entire bunch of Italian parsley that I chopped fine and 5 pounds of ricotta cheese.  Added in the drained sausage and 3 pounds of shredded Mozzarella cheese.  I mixed this in well and on a board I then would lay down one cooked noodle and spread some of the filling onto it on all but about 2 inches on the end.  I then rolled it up into a little roll and set it in a pan with a little sauce spread on the bottom.  After they are all done, more sauce and cover with parchment paper and aluminum foil on top and bake at 375 for an hour and a half.  Well, remember there are now about 12 pounds of them in the big pan.  The next thing here to look at and what it was that gave this all the flavor was the sauce.  I took a number ten can of crushed tomatoes and two 26 ounce cans of tomato puree and and added that to a stock pot in which I had taken a bottle of Merlot and brought to a boil with 1 and a half cups of my Italian spice blend, a cup of chopped garlic, a quarter cup of crushed red pepper and a half cup of dried parsley flakes.  I boiled the spices for about 2 minutes, then added the tomato products.  Brought it all to a simmer and used it to make the roll ups.  Easy peasy, quick and easy.  And the best I've ever done. 

Use a lot of spices, your system will love it, and you will soon get away from all the salt.

The next thing I made was a big hit as well.  Cheddar stuffed, bacon wrapped meatloaf bites.  Again, meat.  Not my thing, but I don't cook my food for my friends.  I've tried, meatless meatball sandwiches, stuff like
that and they all thought it was weird stuff.  But for this event, this was the bomb.  I have a nice helper, a big french loaf bread pan and that worked great to make the rolls.  I took a pound of smoked bacon and lined the pan with the strips just over lapping.  One pound for just about does the whole pan.  Then the meatloaf mixture was the easy part.  For a ten pound chub of 80/20 ground beef I took two one pound loafs of good real whole wheat bread I had baked and chopped fine in a blender.  These I did the day before and spread it out on a cookie sheet to dry.  Then I took 8 eggs and beat them with 2 cups of my Italian seasoning mix and a quarter cup of cayenne pepper and a bottle of beer..  Mixed in the ground meat well and started to make the rolls.  I just put a row of little balls of the meat mixture on the bacon and smashed them down into one long piece.  Then made an indentation down the middle.
  Next came the cheddar cheese.  I took 2 pounds of sharp cheddar in block form and cut it into long 3/8 inch cubes about 6 inches long.  Those go down into the indentation, and more meat mixture went on top.  Press that down and fold the bacon up over the meat loaf.  The you can sort of roll it out onto a long piece of foil, seal it up and place on large baking sheets and bake at 350 for about half an hour.  This just sets the meat up a bit and makes them easier to handle.  Let them cool in the fridge overnight and set up a cooling rack on a baking sheet and remove the foil from the loaf and place it on the rack with the folded ends of the bacon side on the rack.  Now bake them in a hot 425 oven for about another 45 minutes to an hour, or until the bacon starts to crisp up on the tops and sides.  The above recipe made 5 of these big meatloaves and I served them by slicing into inch and a half slices, about the width of each slice of bacon.  Then served with my Honey Bourbon Barbeque Sauce from my Frantic Foods business and everyone loved them.  Here's a couple shots of them in the process

  You don't have to go that big, but just make all your stuff with lots of spices and stop using the salt.
You know, I made a few other things for the event last week, but it just seems I get to working and i forget to take pictures of my stuff.  Some of the other stuff I made were jalapeno peppers that I cut in half and using a melon baller I scooped out the seeds and membranes and then stuffed with chorizo and pepper jack cheese.  Then I made corn muffins with cheddar and jalapeno peppers.  And one of the things I could eat was taking small Yukon god potatoes I sliced them in half and tossed with olive oil and fresh herbs then baked until well browned in a hot 450 oven.  Lastly I made home made ice cream that was flavored with Frangelico and had chocolate chips added to it.  That, was indeed my favorite.  Again, for five quarts of ice cream, I used a whole bottle of Frangelico to flavor it.  You have got to use a lot of spices, herbs and flavorings to get that restaurant taste.  I also use a lot of beer and wine in my cooking, especially when I cook for others, it does in fact add tons of flavor to anything you cook.

Don't be afraid to experiment, do fun stuff and above all else, eat healthy.  

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