Just because I live in the middle of nowhere doesn't mean I have to eat like it!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Dorm Room Iron Chef- DSU Style!

(Warning- Massive Wall of Text Incoming!)
Tonight the Math and Science Club of Dakota State University hosted a Dorm Room Iron Chef Contest.  There was a secret ingredient, there were commentators, there was a chairman and there were contestants!

The contestants had 45 minutes to creative an entree item. They had a couple pounds of the secret ingredient, a pantry of items that could be found in a dorm room (or from the grocery store within walking distance of campus,) and prepaid cards with $20 of meal plan money that the contestants could use to buy items from either the Convenience store on campus or the main servery. Contestants each had a butane burner, an induction cook-top, various utensils, pots and pans and knives to use- similar to cooking implements found in the dorm floor kitchens. Judges scored on taste, creativity and use of the secret ingredient. The winner would get the title of Dorm Room Iron Chef and their dish will be featured in the servery at a later date.
The night started out with 'The Chairman' holding an apple and welcoming everyone to the kitchen stadium. He introduced the judges and  then the contestants. With a bite of his apple and the shout of 'A la Cuisine!' the action was on.

The secret ingredient was... Elk! Lots of options and each contestant went in very different directions.Galen was off to the C-Store to find more ingredients, Jimmy was messing with eggs and flour, Jackson was in full stride getting ingredients from the pantry and playing with distilled rice spirits- IE making fireballs... while Vidur was slicing and dicing his onions and peppers.

Five minutes in and Galen is back from the C-Store with Doritos and microwavable alfredo and noodles. He starts up the microwave and POP went a couple of breakers. The organizers call a timeout and they move the microwaves to different outlets. Just too much power for the little breakers to wield...
With power issues sorted out everyone was back in high gear to try and get their dishes out in time. Jimmy was making a large pasta noodle- later we found out to be a spicy elk ravioli. Vidur was making an elk curry. Jackson was making an elk stir-fry while Galen was heating up the alfredo noodles and adding elk to it.

Various problems sprouted up through out the cooking time, most having to deal with the induction burners turning themselves off (they do that if there isn't enough metal in range for the electrons to travel through and heat up the pot) or not turning the knob on the butane burner over far enough to trigger the ignition mechanism.  All contestants were able to overcome these obstacles and finish in time.

With ten minutes to go Galen was plating up his plates. He had the Elk Alfredo with Doritos crumbled over top, some fruit from a mixed fresh fruit cup, half of a sourdough bun with some olive oil and one and half mini powdered donuts. When asked if he felt he was plating too early, Galen simply shrugged and said something along the lines of alfredo tastes the same hot or cold or at least close enough.

Jackson had his stir fry mostly ready to go and was making a yogurt sauce with fruit cashews. Plenty of time to go!

Vidur had his curry ready and was planning on using some croissants with some garlic oil.

Jimmy had his ravioli in the water and was working on a spicy ramen noodle side and saute some tomatoes.

Time is nearing up and Galen got creative with stacking his one and a half donettes. Jackson finished plating his stir fry and cup of fruit and yogurt sauce without setting off the fire alarm. Vidur had his garlic, breadcrumbs and oil ready to grill his croissants  and Jimmy was in overdrive trying to finish in time. The clock has just seconds left and everyone but Jimmy is finished. Jimmy is saucing his noodles and tomatoes as fast as he could. With the final second he managed to finish saucing his fourth plate, just squeaking by.

 Before I go start in on the judging portion I want to make note of some notes I made while cooking was taking place. Jackson left the skins on his kiwi in his yogurt cup and the cashews were burnt- nuts get hard to cook in oil and they keep cooking long after they have left the oil. Jimmy's ravioli dough was a little thick and I was wondering how the ramen would tie in with the ravioli. Vidur's curry was a little watery but he strained the portions he plated for the judges. Galen plated a little early.

Jackson was the first to have his plate judged. One judge didn't like the kiwi skins. Another said the yogurt sauce was a bit sour, with the fruit it balanced out but the sauce on its own was sour. Cashews were burnt so the soup/sauce was dead in the bowl but the stir fry was well received- just could have had more sauce for some judges. The leftovers were picked through heavily before I could get up there so I cannot comment on Jackson's dish.

Vidur was next and his curry intrigued the judges. Apart from a couple small comments on the croissants being oily and fatty they loved the flavors and loved how well the curry and pastries paired up and were surprised that it was not spicy at all! I had a chance to sample Vidur's curry and the flavor was good but kind of offset by how oily it was but I also didn't get the strained stuff.
Jimmy served next and the judges said the ramen was a little on the spicy side. The ravioli could have used more salt and the ravioli could have cooked a bit longer.  There were mushrooms in the ramen and they got high praise other than there could have been more. I was fortunate enough to be close when the leftovers were put out and I got a fork full of ramen and tidbit of the ravioli. Not bad but I am in the 'use a hot sauce other than Tobasco' camp for the ramen. Word on the street is Jimmy always has a large bottle in his backpack.
And nearly thirty minutes after it was plated was Galen. There was an interesting assortment of comments for Galen. The food being cold, strange assortment, a true dorm room dish, doritos were a nice touch, liked the way the donuts were stacked, etc.... There wasn't anything left for me to try, the judges ate it all so sadly no comment from me.
While the judges added up their scores I asked some spectators what they thought of the event. Everyone I talked to was having a great time. Others were glad the event was at DSU. It is something special and very out of the norm. Others were impressed by the number of people that stayed on campus to watch, especially for a Friday night of the suit case campus. Others loved the commentating that took place and the random comments from the 'peanut gallery', saying it helped make the night more enjoyable and more like Iron Chef.
I was also able to talk to a Galen and Vidur before the judging was announced. Galen said his plate came out like he hoped, it was true dorm food and he wasn't afraid that his food being cold would effect the outcome. Vidur had no idea what an elk was and made his dish like he would make something with ground turkey. He also wished he had some rice or better bread to serve his curry with.

Judging was announced by the Chairman and Vidur won with a 49, Jimmy had a 46, Galen a 45 and Jackson with a 38. When I asked Vidur what his thoughts were on winning he was happy and said he felt great, he loves to cook and he eventually wants to open up a couple of restaurants, once he finishes his business degree and learns more about cooking.

While everyone was trying to clean up I talked to Jimmy and Jackson. Jimmy said the right person won and he learned a lot from his first cooking competition, he realized he did plan his time accordingly but looks forward to competing again. Jackson said he had a good time and learned a lot from his first food competition.

When talking to representatives from the Math and Science club they were impressed by the number of spectators saying it was the largest turn out to any event for the Math and Science club. They were also impressed that that many people showed up on a Friday night. I asked if they planned to host any other Iron Chef challenges and they said they want to eventually have preliminary contests with a bracket system to get more people involved in the competition. I was trying to lead up to asking how I could compete without being a student  but they had places to be and books to read or something that college kids do these days.

I was just candidly talking to some judges and they were asking what I thought of things so I figured I would ask them some of the same. The two that I talked to were impressed by the food, especially for only having 45 minutes to do it in!

It was a very entertaining event and I am happy that so many people want to read about it. I look forward to the next one.
If anyone would like some larger pictures, please email me, leave a comment or ask me on campus.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

French Onion Soup

French Onion Soup and I go way back. Ok, not actually that far back but it is one of my favorites. The transformation the onions go through from being the strong, harsh, onion flavor to going to a soup that sole ingredient is onion but not tasting anything like onion but a sweet, savory and flavorful bowl of broth and stringy strands of burnt onions just blows my mind.

I had a craving for french onion soup months ago. Just kind of a passing thought that it would be great as the weather started dipping lower. I'd find myself thinking about it in the kitchen at work when making soup in the morning for lunch or whenever I was sauteing onions for a dish. I started thinking of ways of how I could serve it in a cafeteria out of a soup kettle on a buffet line.

I wanted some french onion soup. The last time I had made it for Abbie and I (she doesn't remember ever having it, how heartbreaking, I know!) we ended up with a lot left. I blame that on myself and only ever making it by the 5 pounds of onions per batch. Needless to say I was hesitant to make it for just the two of us. I asked my mother-in-law,  Tammy if her and Steve like it. She asked when she could come over and have it. I figured I was good to go. Plans didn't work out that night, so I let the idea fall again. Three days later I'm pheasant hunting and doing what I do when I'm passing time, thinking of dinner. I was once again determined to go to the store and buy more onions to make sure I would have enough!

I get home and start in on the soup. I would give out a recipe but I don't measure anything when I make it.  I know it was about 2.5# of onions, a stick of butter, salt, pepper, chicken and beef base, a bay leaf, thyme and some red wine.

I start out by slowly melting my butter in my biggest pot- better safe than sorry! I melt it slowly so I don't brown the milk fat that starts to separate as the butter clarifies. Skim the fat solids out and you're ready to start caramelizing your onions -yes caramelizing. I am lazy and slice my onions while the butter is melting but if I were a good little chef I would have them already to go before I even start melting the butter or just have  a supply of clarified butter but different people prefer different ways of mise en placing. I also think dicing the onions works better than slicing the onions into thin rounds, it makes less of  mess on your chin while you eat it.

One must be patient while caramelizing onions. One can get excited and not let the onions sit on the heat long enough. Sure they break down and get soft and change flavor but they don't change to the flavor we want. We want dark brown but not burnt onions. We want the sugars to be stuck to the bottom of the pan (don't use your nice non-stick pot or you just ruined it!) this is where a lot of your flavor comes from. Let the onions sit, turn them occasionally, be patient. There is no such thing as a good soup that can be done quickly, take your time and let flavors develop.

When the onions have done their best, and so have you for letting them do theirs, take the onions out of the pot and put them in a bowl. Then take some red wine and water and deglaze the bottom of the pot. I'll add my chicken and beef stock, stir the onions back in, add my spices and let it simmer. Once hot I will taste and adjust seasoning as needed. I start off weak and just add until it tastes like how I want it to taste.

To serve I put the soup in coffee mugs(I wish I had fancier stoneware or even Corningware but the coffee mugs work), topped with croutons then put some swiss cheese on top. I slide the cups under the broiler until the cheese is gooey and marvelous then enjoy!

Sorry I do not have a picture. I didn't think to write about the soup until after we had eaten it all. Thanks for sharing my passion - or is it obsession at this point?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Traveling to get a meal...

Abbie and I celebrated our 2nd Anniversary last night by going to Minerva's in Sioux Falls. This was our first time going there and we were impressed! The service was top notch, friendly and expedient. The evening was fabulous.

We started things off with their House Salads. It was a salad. All I'll say. Then we had an appetizer of a sesami and pepper seared tuna steak that had some wasabi, seaweed salad and sesame crackers. AMAZING! Totally hit the spot. Its been a while since I had tuna and I was not disappointed. The outside had a nice sear while the inside was still very rare and very delicious. The seaweed salad was very impressive in flavor with just enough soy and sesame oil to set it off.

Along came our main courses, Abbie had a grilled salmon steak with a lemon-honey bernaise sauce with asiago mashed potatoes and I had a roast duck halfling with lingonberry sauce and some sort of rice that I think had millet and other veggies and grains in it. Abbie's salmon and potatoes were great or so she claimed. My duck was ok.  I cannot be 100% sure but I am pretty sure it was a frozen, pre-cooked duck  thawed and thrown in the friar then topped with sauce. The sauce was decent. The duck could have been better. It was a touch overcooked and slightly mushy. I was still happy to be eating duck, it seems like its out of style these days. The rice/grain whatever was on my plate was too salty for me to want to eat and tasted like it came from a box.  At least my asparagus spears were cooked properly but they were also a touch heavy on the salt as well.

For dessert we got a large chunk of tiramisu to share. I don't care if it was made in house or out it still hit the spot without being too heavy. A cup of decaf would have hit the spot with it but it was starting to get late and we needed to hit the road.

Despite my meal I would still go back to Minerva's without a moment's hesitation, I would just not get the duck. The meals were very reasonably priced and the total price surprised both Abbie and I in a good way. Living in South Dakota has many perks and one of them is good restaurants are priced very reasonably, the only down side to living in Madison is you have to travel over an hour to get to it.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Caramel Apples

So there we were sitting at the coffee shop/wine bar when the owners ask if we want to come over and hang out that evening. They had some hard to get brews from the Twin Cities and they love to share good brews...  We said sure and told them to give us a call when they were ready and we'd follow them out to their house.

I had to make something!!!  I have had the itch to make homemade caramels for a while and Abbie always talked about making caramel apples so I ran with that idea.  I also figured I had everything at the house to make it. I was mostly right...

I set out on Google for a recipe, searching for 'homemade caramel apples' or 'scratch caramel +apple', FAILURE. Nearly every recipe that came up was for a crisp/cobbler or it used Kraft Milkmaid Caramels that come individually wrapped and you just melt in a double boiler. Not my style...

I checked out Alton Brown's Food Network site and he didn't have any up so I just checked out food network in general. A couple promising cooks showed up and I checked their recipes out, KRAFTed again... One more recipe at FN before going to epicurious or cooks.com, BINGO, one to try from How to Boil Water. :) Thinking back... there is probably a recipe in one of the many real books I have in the kitchen but who wants to look through those?

THE RECIPE ... I did not have any heavy cream and half and half would not hold up to the heat so I asked Abbie to head back to the store while I got started on dinner and the other ingredients for the caramel. I also asked her to get more apples in case we liked the recipe we could make more for our get together tomorrow. She set off and got the stuff then I was cooking or so I thought.  The recipe calls for Maple Syrup. I had maybe two tablespoons. Improvise- you went to culinary school... Molasses time! I used 1/2 cup of molasses instead of the full cup of syrup and they turned out awesome!

I thought a 2.5 quart sauce pan would work. NO IT WOULD NOT! Things bubbled over a little bit and I smoked up the house. Luckily it was a nicer day outside compared to what we had in the beginning of the week and I could open a window, the back door and set up a fan to get some air circulating. Now I know to use the 6 quart pan despite it being overkill.

Other things to note: Sil-pats are amazing! If you need new baking sheets, make sure there is a Sil-pat to fit it. The recipe also says 8 apples.  I made 11 and had left over for another 1 or 2.
The caramel was very sticky. If you have old fillings or orthodontic work, don't bother! We were cutting the apple and caramel off the core/sticks and the caramel was sticking pretty good to our teeth.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Just a little something...

A little about myself...  I grew up in Ohio and thought I wanted to be in the Navy/Marine Corp.  Got a ROTC scholarship and went to UCLA. I dropped out of that, not because of ROTC but because of UCLA being in LA...

I worked for six months before deciding to go back to school thinking I wanted to go into Business.  Not enough thought. Go to UK for stuff. Played video games instead. Go back to Hocking but this time for Culinary Arts. I eventually get bored with every class repeating itself (the instructors even say you don't learn much after the first year...) and working full time at a hole in the wall (yet somehow decent for Athens, Ohio standards) restaurant when my bride gets a job offer in the same town her parents moved to a few years before.

I am now in the middle of nowhere far from most things culinary or with flavor.  Sure Madison has its highlights and their little hidden gems of flavor and class, places that don't just serve meat and potatoes or have more than three beer choice and even a few places where wine means something other than Sutter's Home.

I want to talk about how I get by with my champagne tastes on the Michelob Golden Light options.

Take tonight's dinner.  It started out with home made mayonnaise and  grilled chicken breasts but puree a couple roasted red peppers with shallot, white wine, salt and pepper with the mayo and you get rouille. Spread that on your chicken breast and put it on a fresh bun from the grocery and my sandwich is no longer a bland run of the mill chicken breast.

I have some caramel apples cooling on the counter. Hopefully they are worth the effort I put into them and also something worthy to post about. Maybe with some pictures.

Not tonight's dinner but Mike says I need some food porn with gourmet in the title.