Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Individual Cucumber Salad Appetizers

This crisp and refreshing appetizer is sure to be a conversation starter at your next social function. The basic recipe itself is simple and harbors an infinite number of variations based upon your own level of taste and creativity. For instance, your can roll the base of the lettuce or mixed greens in proscuitto or thinly sliced ham and then fill the cored cucumber with the combination of the two for a little extra pizzazz. Alternatively, add small cubes of ham, egg, and/or chicken into the cucumber before adding the lettuce. Your imagination is the limit with this one. Give it your own kick of flavor, don’t be afraid to add something you like, break open that stash of hearts de palm, feel free to sprinkle crushed croutons over the top if you want, or even crushed cashews, try some finely diced pieces of dried cranberry, duck, tuna, whatever your little heart desires!

This recipe is good for 5-7 portions…

1 each European cucumber, peeled (reserve a few of the longer peels for plating)
1 cup Mixed Greens, rinsed and blotted dry (aka: spring mix, mesculine mix, look for a good variation of colors, they are your friend)
4-5 each Cherry Tomatoes, cut in half (make sure the overall diameters of the tomatoes you purchase are close to, or slightly larger than the diameter of your apple corer.
2-3 ounces Of your favorite salad dressing or a very high quality Balsamic Vinegar such as *Villa Manodori Balsamico Artigianale*
For more specialty ingredients, check out www.dipaloselects.com

To assemble your cucumber salads:

1.Trim off the ends of your cucumbers and then cut the cucumber into 1-inch to 2-inch segments. You should get five to seven pieces from a standard European cucumber.
2.Use an apple corer to punch out the centers of the cucumbers.
3.On a flat surface, take one-half of a cherry tomato and push it into the bottom of each of the cut cucumbers; Rounded side down. The tomato should fit snuggly into the opening and make a firm seal around the inside so that it doesn’t fall out when picked up.
4.Select multiple colors of lettuce leaves and pinch the bases together, and then push them into the top of the cucumbers.
5.Drizzle your dressing on top of the lettuce leaves. (you can insert some dressing into the cucumber itself at this point if you are using a cone tipped squeeze bottle)
6.Take a few of the longer cucumber peels and lay them out on the edges of a white plate. Cutting them into thin-long strips will give an added visual appeal with very little effort.
7.Arrange your finished cucumber salads in a triangular pattern. (think bowling pins)
8.Serve and enjoy.

For more Smoking Hot, Tips, Tricks, and Recipes check back soon.

Until next time,
Chef James

Have any questions, comments, or topics that you would like to see the Smoking Hot Chef cover? Leave it in the comment box and he will feature them!

Great Deals on Pearl Vodka... So Lets Make Some Vodka Cream Sauce!

Pearl vodka is offering a $10 dollar mail in rebate for their 750ml and a $15 dollar mail in rebate for their 1.75ml bottles of vodka!

The other day on my way home from work I stopped by my local liquor store in hopes of refilling my bar on the cheap. After browsing through the aisles, I came across two 1.75ml bottles of Pearl vodka that had a rebate attached . They were on sale for $23.00 dollars a bottle and after the $15.00 mail in rebate(s) x2, averaged out to $8.00 a bottle. Not too shabby for a 1.75ml bottle aye?

So in celebration, I’m going to post a quick recipe for a vodka cream sauce…

This recipe makes 4-6 portions:

1jar Bertolli Tomato & Basil or Marinara Styled Pasta Sauce (If I’m going the pre-made pasta sauce route, I prefer Bertolli, but you are more than welcome to use any brand, or homemade sauce that you would like.)
4oz Heavy Cream
2oz Grated Parmesan
2oz Pearl vodka
1/4cup Sliced mushrooms
1/4cup Sliced Onions
Salt and pepper as needed. (And you will need it.)

1. Preheat some olive oil in a large pot, and then sauté your mushrooms and onions until soft.
2. Add your heavy cream and reduce by 30%. (this step shouldn’t take too long, maybe 2-5 minutes on high heat.)
3. Add the vodka and stir for about a minute. (Do not pour the vodka directly from the bottle over an open flame! Lest your house may burst into flames! At the very least you’ll singe some hair. I’ve seen it happen a few times.)
4. Finally, add your grated parmesan cheese and tomato sauce. Stir.
5. Heat thoroughly, toss over your favorite pasta, add some grated cheeses for garnish, and enjoy!

This recipe can also be made without alcohol… But for $8.00 a bottle who can resist?

For more Smoking Hot, Tips, Tricks, and Recipes check back soon.

Until next time,
Chef James

Have any questions, comments, or topics that you would like to see the Smoking Hot Chef cover? Leave it in the comment box and he will feature them!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Garlic Fettuccine Alfredo with Fresh Tomatoes, Fresh Basil, Asiago, Parmesan, and Gouda Cheeses

We have all been guilty of going out to our favorite Italian restaurant and ordering some variation of this dish. We always sit down, look at the menu for ten to fifteen minutes, ask our loved ones what they are going to get, think about trying something new… And when the server comes to take the order, we revert to the safety of this dish. Why? Because it’s usually amazing every single time! You know it and I know it. That’s why we buy it when we go out. I am here to change that. Stop paying $14.95+ on this easy to make at home dish. This dish can be made from start to finish in less than 30 minutes, and tastes better than what you get in a restaurant. I’m going to make a few additions to your next grocery list right now. Highlight, copy (ctrl+c), paste (ctrl+v), and print this out the next time you’re thinking about going out for Italian. ; )

The original recipe for this dish was just a little too bland for my tastes, so I decided to jazz it up one night a few years back. Instead of just using parmesan cheese, I decided that it also needed some asiago (which is pretty much the same cheese, it just comes from Spanish cows, whom have a different diet, hence the slightly different flavor profile), and then add some creamy, melt in your mouth, gouda cheese. If you would like to add your own personal touch on this dish, try throwing some cooked shrimp or chicken into the mix.
So stand up, pull out your pots and pans, and set the water on the stove to boil… Because you have some shredding to do.

This recipe makes 2-4 servings depending on your appetite...

10-12 ounce Dried Pasta, (fettuccine, penne, egg noodles…)
3-4 each Fresh Basil Leaves, Cut Chiffinade (stacked, rolled, and cut into thin strips)
1 cup Fresh Tomatoes, Diced
2 cups Heavy Cream (half and half will work as well)
¼ cup Asiago Cheese, Shredded
¼ cup Parmesan Cheese, Shredded
1/2 cup Gouda Cheese, Shredded
1 ¼-teaspoon Salt, plus more to taste
¼-teaspoon White Ground Pepper (Black pepper can be substituted)
1 teaspoon Garlic Powder, plus more to taste
1-2 ounces Butter
2 cloves Garlic, minced

1.Bring a pot of salted water to a rolling boil and add the pasta of your choice.
2.Shred your cheeses and then cut your basil and tomatoes. (keep an eye on your pasta and make sure to stir it.)
3.In a large sauté pan, bring your heavy cream to a boil for 1-2 minutes, then reduce the heat to medium-low. (stir often and be careful it doesn’t over boil.)
4.Add the salt, pepper, garlic powder, minced garlic, and cheeses. Stir well until completely incorporated, and then reduce the heat to low.
5.Drain the pasta when it has reached Al Dente,(firm to the Bite but fully cooked) return it to the pot, and add the butter.
6.Pour the sauce over the pasta, add the tomatoes, and mix well over low heat.
7.Divide the finished dish between 2-4 plates, garnish with basil and additional cheese if desired.

For More Smoking Hot Tips, Tricks, and Recipes check back soon.

Until next time,
Chef James

Have any questions, comments, or topics that you would like to see the Smoking Hot Chef cover? Leave it in the comment box and he will feature them!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Coq Au Vin (Chicken in Wine)

This is a truly awesome dish that I came across and then modified in order to achieve a new flavor profile. This dish pretty much has three different variations, and if you want a change of pace, you can either substitute this recipe with a red wine or you can use your favorite beer. If you use beer, the name of this dish actually turns into Coq Au Beire. (Chicken in beer) I personally like to use Killians Irish Red when making Coq Au Beire. You are not tied to that though, and can pretty much use any beer that you have in your fridge.

If you do choose to use a wine, make sure that you’re willing to drink it! Do not cook with a wine that you would not drink. The only reason that alcoholic beverages are used in cooking is to impart flavor; or to add to the showmanship of your culinary skills by enabling you to set it on fire. There is no other reason.
Not sure what wine to buy?
There are a couple of really nice wines that you can pick up at a very low cost. The grocery store Aldi’s has a wine brand by the name of Winking Owl. Their red wines are comparable to $20.00 bottles of wine in flavor, but at only a fraction of the price. You can buy Shiraz (known as Syrah in Europe), Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chardonnay all for under $3.00 a bottle. It’s a great value for a truly nice bottle of wine. The Chardonnay, their white wine, is a little rough, but will work all right for any cooking purposes that may arise in your kitchen. If you would like to enjoy a glass of wine with this dish, I would suggest buying a Fat Bastard Chardonnay. It has a rich and complex buttery/oaky flavor and is the perfect example of a good, decently priced American Chardonnay. (The down side is that this bottle of wine is in the $20.00 price range, so don’t cook with it unless the price doesn’t bother you.)

Enough already. Right?

On to the recipe:

This recipe is good for 4 portions.

4 each Boneless Chicken Breasts, Or Statler Styled Chicken Breasts
3/4 cup Mushrooms, sliced (I prefer portabella or shitake, but any will do)
3/4 cup Red Onions, Sliced
4 cups White Wine (An American Chardonnay or Chablis works nicely)
4 cups Heavy Cream
2 ounces Oil (preferably olive oil)
As needed Salt
As needed Pepper

1.Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2.In a large oven safe pot, heat the oil over medium high heat and sauté the onions and mushrooms until soft. Remove from pan and set aside.
3.Take two of the chicken breasts and brown both sides, and then set them aside with the mushrooms and onions. Repeat this step with the remaining two breasts.
4.Remove the pan from the heat and add the white wine, half of the cream, the chicken, the mushrooms, and the onions.
5.Cover the pot tightly with aluminum foil then place the lid on top of the foil. (You want an airtight seal)
6.Place in the oven and bake for an hour and a half (1:30) or until the internal temperature of the chicken reaches 212 degrees. (At this temperature, the chicken excretes all of its natural juices and then absorbs all of the liquids around it, making it tender and flaky.)
7.Remove the chicken from the pot, cover and set it aside in a warm place.
8.Place the pot back on the stove and add the remaining cream.
9.Cook over medium-high heat for 10-15 minutes and make sure you stir the sauce often. Be careful it doesn’t boil over. You may have to reduce the heat or remove the pan from the burner a few times during this process.
10.Once the sauce has thickened, add about a tablespoon each of salt and pepper, more if you prefer, or less if you’re watching your sodium intake; Then add the chicken back to the pan to ensure it is sufficiently warm.
11.Serve the chicken and sauce over mashed potatoes and alongside your favorite vegetable. Green beans go nicely with this dish…

For more Smoking Hot, Tips, Tricks, and Recipes check back soon.

Until next time,
Chef James

This recipe will be featured in a video blog very soon!

Have any questions, comments, or topics that you would like to see the Smoking Hot Chef cover? Leave it in the comment box and he will feature them!

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Basics, the Goal, the Overview… The reason I’ve created this, hopefully, interactive and informative forum….

Through the years, I have noticed that everyday cooks put themselves down because they aren’t Chefs. They don’t think that they possess the skills required to make a great meal. This isn’t the case at all. Most home cooks ARE BETTER THAN THE MAJORITY OF THE “CHEFS” THAT I HAVE MET/WORKED WITH OVER THE YEARS. A large portion of you are probably even better than I am, the only difference is… Trained Chefs have the confidence to try new things, make mistakes, learn, and move on with a better understanding of the science that is behind every dish that they make. Well, at least the good ones come away with a little something… Most of the people that I have worked with only find more creative ways to cover their asses… And keep their job; not fix the problem or learn.

I’ve picked up quite a bit of information during my stint as a Chef, and I intend to share every snippet of knowledge with you; All of the jargon, all of the things that make you go hhhmmm, and quite a few cool and flashy tricks. I will also share the cost controlling techniques that are employed by most restaurants that you frequent on a daily basis. How to cost out a meal to help manage your monthly food budget, and even give you the “why” as it pertains to why you should take my advice on controlling costs, and not just write me off as a no-nothing blogger out to dominate the world. Have you asked “why” yet? I hope you did, because if not you’ll have to read it anyways… or navigate away from this page, and that would make me sad….

The “Why” of Food Costing:
The national average on food costing in the restaurant industry is 32%. In laymen’s terms. Only 32 cents out of every dollar that you spend in a restaurant goes to the price of your food. That doesn’t include drinks, just your food. The markup on drinks is out of this world, the profit margins on soft drinks, teas, coffees, and alcohol could be a 200% markup from the original cost-per-ounce price. Want a little larger scale perspective? If you go out to a restaurant, buy a meal (minus the drink, before taxes, and well before you tip), buy a meal for $14.95…. At the 32% average, the food on your plate only cost the establishment $4.78 cents. That’s a $10.17 difference. You could make a little over three plates for that price at home, at that food cost average. And in all actuality, you can have an average food cost lower than that! Most informed Chefs and restaurants do. Keeping that same $14.95 dish in mind, if you had bought a pasta dish at that restaurant, they may have invested a little over 50 cents for everything on your plate. (75 cents if there was a nice garnish and a piece of garlic bread) I’ll let you do the math on that one. You may be thinking right now that I’m a nut, I’m full of anti-psychotics, on the loose from the loony bin… Well I’m not. Restaurants get amazing prices on food when they buy in bulk… AND YOU CAN TOO!!!

As this blogging ball gets rolling, I’ll show you all of the tips, tricks, and all of the how to’s that you ever wanted to know in the kitchen… And probably a few that you didn’t even think of, let alone want to know. But I’ll show you nonetheless. Why? Because you have the right to know, and you shouldn’t throw your money away on average or below average food! You can make it better than the people who don’t care what it tastes like, or looks like, as long as it’s on your table and they’re getting paid….

If your love is food, or you want to learn more about food, you’ve found the right place; I’m not only going to try to save you money, I’m going to try to share everything that I know about food with you so that you’re more willing to take chances, and be more creative in the kitchen.

Check back soon for more Smoking Hot Tips and Tricks!

Till then,
Chef James