Monthly Archives: February 2013

General Tso’s Chicken by Appetite for China

Cooking via computer

A couple of weeks ago, at the Roger Smith Cookbook Conference, I had the pleasure of meeting lots of writers, editors, and authors.  One person I had the chance to talk to was Diana Kuan from the site Appetite for China and the recently published The Chinese Takeout Cookbook.  During the season for Chinese New Year, she’s put together a virtual potluck of seven of the recipes from the book.  Each of the bloggers who make one of the dishes before the end of the festivities is entered into a drawing for some really great prizes.  I haven’t had much chance to participate in blogger events recently with culinary school studies, so I decided to take some time over the holiday weekend to throw together one of the dishes from the book.

Plated dishGeneral Tso’s Chicken

General Tso’s Chicken is one of my favorite Chinese restaurant dishes, and it was great to find an easy recipe to make this at home.  The crispy chicken had the perfect balance of sweet-tart-spicy when dressed in the sauce.    It was difficult for me not to munch on the searing hot chicken pieces the moment they came out of the fragrant sauce, leaving nothing to plate for the photo.  I used chicken thighs, as the recipe called for, but I also wonder about using chicken breasts or both the next time.  This dish would be a great addition to the Chinese New Year’s celebration table.

Ingredients

Chicken marinating

Chicken in cornstarch

Frying the chicken

Scooping chicken out of the fryer

Pile of crispy fried chicken

Sauce ingredients mixed together

Sauce reducing

Chicken dressed with sauce

General Tso’s Chicken

Buon appetito!

My Takeaways from the Roger Smith Cookbook Conference

Roger Smith Cookbook Conf

Last weekend, I spent several days in the company of some amazing food-focused folks at the Roger Smith Cookbook Conference here in New York City.  This is the second year I’ve attended this conference, and I took away lots of great information and insights from the various panels and workshops.  This was also my first opportunity to speak at a conference, where I shared some of my experiences of having had content lifted from this website and how I’ve addressed that issue.

Takeaways:

  • “Platform” seemed to be a key catchphrase this year.  How and in what ways do you communicate your recipes and thoughts?  Is in it paper format?  Do you have a blog?  Do you need an app?  How engaged are you on social media streams?
  • Cookbooks are being examined on many other fronts in addition to the printed words on the page or the recipes contained within.  They can also reflect issues of race, class, and income in addition to religion, culture, ethnicity, and nationality.  Even the act of giving and gifting cookbooks can have a meaning about how you wish the recipient to use them or experience them.
  • While there is lots of free recipe content available via the internet, cookbooks are still one of the strongest selling segments of the book-buying market.
  • When taking food photos, don’t copy someone else’s style or the latest fad.  You need to have a personal vision (well, in addition to the right equipment) and execute on it.
  • Copyright and plagarism are very thorny issues.  The Digital Millennium Copyright Act offers some protection and means of redress if this happens to you, but there are also grey areas.
  • “I have something to offer” – This is something to keep in mind when putting together your cookbook and/or your blog if you are serious about making it happen.
  • WOMM (Word of Mouth Marketing) is very important.  It is all about “surprise and delight.”  Make it fun, interesting, and leaving people wanting more.
  • You have to be a part of the conversation, no matter what medium you use (Twitter, Facebook, Google+).  You also have to be accessible, authentic, and accountable.
  • For those who have been writing a while, go back to why you started.  This will help you determine your identity.  Also, figure out what emotion you are looking to create in a person coming to your site or reading your book.

This is far from a complete list of all the terrific information and valuable insights that conference attendees heard during the conference.  Several of the panels were videotaped and additional ones were recorded for audio replay.  You can check them out on the Roger Smith Cookbook Conference website.  You can also pull up the real-time conversations about the conference at the Twitter id #cookbookconf.

Buon appetito!

Lent 2013 Kick-off – Meat-free Meals

Fab-u-lous Dahlin!Easter Bonnet – 5th Avenue NYC 2012

Today is Ash Wednesday.  Lent starts today, so scenes like this one from last year’s annual Easter Parade on Fifth Avenue in New York City are still a few weeks away.  As I mentioned last year, it’s also the start of “Oops!  What am I going to fix on Fridays now that I can’t have meat” and the annual menu re-programming phase.  Hopefully, you haven’t already blown it, like I did, by eating meat this morning at breakfast.  In looking through my recipes over the past year, I realized that I’ve added a few new ideas to my files which I’m sharing with you to round out your Lenten menu planning.

 

 

Ricotta-Stuffed Pasta Shells with Savory Tomato Sauce – a family favorite and so easy to whip together

 

 

 

 

Now that you’ve got a batch of homemade tomato sauce on hand, why not use it to make Eggs Cooked in Spicy Tomato Sauce – add steamed vegetables or salad to make a complete dinner

 

 

 

 

You could also really spice up a Friday night dinner with these Beer-batter Fried Fish Tacos with Kimchi and Guacamole

 

 

 

 

 

Or warm up the evening with some comforting Wild Mushroom Risotto (just be sure to use vegetable stock in place of the chicken stock)

 

 

 

 

Pizza will make it on the menu at some point, so why not try Make-it-yourself pizzas using Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Pizza Dough recipe

 

 

 

You can also see my post “Ack, it’s Lent – Recipes for Meat-free Fridays” for additional ideas on how to get dinner on the table while observing the season.  Hopefully, these recipes will help you and your family to break up the tune casserole / macaroni and cheese / take-out pizza / fish sticks ‘n tater tots rotation for Lenten Fridays.

Buon appetito!

International Culinary Center – Level 5 Working at L’Ecole

GM - Pork Belly dishGarde Manger – Braised Pork Belly with Prune Glaze, Bulgur & Tomatillo Vinaigrette

It looks like it’s been a bit quiet around this website, I know, but the reality is that I hit a really busy patch with classes, volunteering at events, and developing and executing the menu for a major project that we had due in class last week.  About a month ago, my group changed over to the next level in the programme at the International Culinary Center to working at L’Ecole, the restaurant that is affiliated with the school.  This step is to prepare us for the reality of working cooking on the line, a job many students take as their first step in their cooking careers.

Portioning out the pork belly to serve it

In this level, we rotate through the various stations in the restaurant, preparing the dishes that are on the menu that is served to the public.  I don’t have any restaurant experience, so for me, this level has been an interesting almost “baptism of fire” into this realm of cooking.  I’ve helped out at culinary demonstrations, chopped vegetables for a food distribution organization, and worked catered events, but I haven’t worked on the line doing an actual service at a restaurant until now.  It’s definitely a different from my other cooking experiences where we just prep and prepare the dishes, plate everything, and then serve it all at once to everyone at the same time.

Patissier – Cranberry Linzer Torte with Chestnut Ice Cream

The first part of the lesson each evening consists of restocking the mise en place for that day’s service.  Then, when the menu changes over from the professional chefs fixing the meals to the time when we, the students, take over the stoves, with the supervision of our instructors, we put together the plates and give them to the waitstaff to be served, just as in any other restaurant.  Given how hard we all work, and how much experience some of the students already have, it was a bit distressing to me to find out that at least one website has advised possible patrons not to come to the restaurant during the time the students are working their shifts.

Poppy Seed Cake with Lemon Curd and Baked Apple

My first station in the kitchen rotation was in Pastry (Pâtissièr).  So our assignment was to figure out what we need to plate each dish when the orders come in and then make the amount we think we need to fill the orders that night.  With the guidance of the instructors, we make all the individual recipes, like the lemon curd, cake, and baked apple in the photo above, and then organize our stations so that we can respond quickly when the tickets arrive.  The chefs call out the orders and then we plate the dishes per the sample plates that they’ve shown to us.

Gooey French Onion Soup – tried to get to it before my classmate ate it

As the clock starts to tick towards 8:00 p.m., when the student part of the service starts, the chef instructors push us to get everything together and our stations cleaned up and everything in place so that we can work efficiently and quickly when the orders start being called.  From Pastry, I moved over to Garde Manger, where we prepare the appetizers on the menu.  There are two other students in my class with whom I rotate through the stations.  There’s also several other students from the class level above ours who have their own separate recipes to prepare, plate, and serve.

Cooked pork belly

One of our dishes, the braised pork belly, actually takes a few days to prepare.  We start a couple of days earlier by trimming a piece of belly of its tough, exterior skin and rubbing a cure of spices, sugar, and salt on each side of the belly.  This then gets covered with heavy cans and weighed down for about 24-hours.  Then, it is cooked and pressed again at least overnight.  After that, we cut it into serving portions and set it aside until it is glazed with a plum sauce and cooked again right before it is served.  It’s probably my favorite of the dishes I’ve worked on in the restaurant so far.

Seared Scallops with Squid Ink Risotto

After Garde Manger, I moved over to work the Fish Station (Poissonier), which I’ll be doing again tomorrow night.  Here the system works the same way: we arrive in class, do the prep work, and wait for the orders to come in to fill them.  The scallop dish is very popular at the moment, and we seem to fill lots of orders for it every evening, keeping our station pretty busy.  My next turn will be at the Sauce Station (Saucier) where we have a rabbit dish and a pork dish on the menu.  With each rotation, I hope I’m getting better at improving my speed at working in the kitchen.  That’s the goal for this level, as well as having us get used to the pressure and flow of restaurant service.

Buon appetito!