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Venezuelan Culinary Extravaganza!

1 Dec

My formal culinary training focused strictly on french cuisine. Even though this is the case I often find that the basic methods of French cuisine apply well to other world cuisines. Simple things such as the cuts, the base stocks, and just general methods have either been adapted from the French tradition or have analogous methods. What does change of course are the elements themselves. Here I prepared typical Venezuelan dishes relying on my classic french cuisine training. The result you ask? Delicious.

I prepared five common elements from the Venezuelan repertoire: arepas fritas, empanadas de carne Mechada, gusacaca, platanos dulces, and yuca frita. Arepas are the staple food in Venezuela. They consist of corn meal that is shaped into something resembling a hockey puck and generally cooked on a flat top and later filled with any number of meats or cheeses. Here I chose to shape them into little balls and deep fry them instead. Empanadas are similar to arepas in that they use the same corn meal dough, but are colored with anatto infused oil and are filled before cooking (like a turnover). For these empanadas I used carne mechada which is the Venezuelan version of a pulled beef dish common in Latin America (Cubans call theirs “ropa vieja”). guasaca is a simpler version of guacamole commonly flavored with small sweet peppers. Although plantains are cooked in a myriad of ways in Venezuela, platanos dulces is by far my favorite method. Essentially, the plantains are fried and then cooked in a spiced syrup. Finally, yuca or mandioca is another starchy root commonly used in Venezuelan cuisine. Here I choose to make fries that went great with the guasacaca.

The key ingredients

After preparing the dough and filling them with meat I arranged them on a tray prior to frying them. I used a saran-wrap cutting board to press the little dough balls into discs that I then filled and closed.

Preparing the empanadas

The syrup for the plantains consisted of brown sugar, cloves, cinnamon, and water. After it reduced a bit, I added the plantains and tossed them around until they were covered, and the syrup had reached the desired consistency.

Preparing the plantains

As I mentioned before, arepas are generally formed into a disc shape and then cooked on a griddle called a “budare.” After they toast they are cut open and filled. However, here I decided to place a bit of half cooked bacon to give the interior dough some flavor.

Placing the bacon in the arepa

Once I cooked all the elements I arranged them neatly for a photo shoot! here are the golden empanadas and syrupy plantains. They were delicious!

Empanadas and Plantains

Here is the yuca fries, the guasacaca and arepas arranged in line. I dipped the fries in the guasacaca and ate the arepas with a little of butter. The half cooked bacon inside gave them a great flavor without making the interior too moist.

Yuca, Guasacaca, and Arepas
More detailed view

I will be posting all the recipes soon in case you want to give these a try! Although my arrangements and general presentation make these  dishes look hard to make, the opposite tends to be the case. I always strive to take simple dishes and make them look perfect.

Here are the recipes. Yum!

Soup trio

29 Nov

Soups are always great during winter because they are so comforting. Often times though soups don’t get the same aesthetic treatment as main courses do. Here I made three simple and common soups but strove to make them not only delicious but visually appetizing as well.

The starting point for most dishes is always what is going to flavor the base. Here I neatly arranged the main elements that played in the layers of each soup. The first soup, a classic pumpkin cream, was complimented by cardamom and cloves. The second soup, a black bean puree, went hand in hand with ground cumin, coriander and cayenne pepper. The final soup, a bacon and split pea, relied on a touch of white pepper and sea salt crystals at the end. In addition to these spices I used fresh bay leaves for all three soups. On a side note, fresh spices and herbs tend to not give as much flavor as their dry counterparts.

Cloves, Cumin, White Pepper, Cayenne Pepper, Cardamom, Fleur de Sel, and Coriander
Fresh bay leaves

For the first soup I started a simple base of melted butter with ground cloves and cardamom with the bay leaves. After the spices started bubbling a bit I added onions. Diced pumpkin followed with some chicken stock. Normally if I was cooking a larger amount of pumpkin soup I would bake it instead of steaming it in the pot with the stock (that way the pumpkin keeps more of its flavor). Once the pumpkin was cooked I pulled out the cardamom and bay leaves and blended it all together with some heated cream.

Base for the pumpkin soup
Cooking the diced pumpkin with the base
Blending once the pumpkin was cooked

For the second soup I sauted some red onions, bacon and garlic as a base. Although there are infinite ways to make this soup, I stuck to fairly standard elements and seasonings. Once the bacon had rendered some of its water and had started to caramelize a bit I threw in the cayenne pepper, coriander, and cumin. As soon as the base was ready I added the black beans along with some chicken stock and let it simmer. Once the flavors had developed I blended it all together.

Base for the black bean soup
Adding the spices to the black bean soup base

The final soup was probably the easiest, yet the one that took the longest. I rinsed the peas and cooked with them in water for roughly an hour. Once they had begun to break apart I added minced onions that had been sauteed in bacon fat along with a bit of cream and chicken stock.

Cooking the peas with the base

After all three soups had been blended I garnished them with elements that complimented the bases. For the pumpkin soup I placed drops of cream along with some toasted pecans. For the black bean soup I added some shredded chicken, some freshly fried tortilla chips, and a tomato paprika coulis. As for the split pea soup, I went with the traditional: steamed carrots and bacon bits.

The three soups nicely arranged
Soups arranged in a line!

Here are the recipes. Yum!

Breakfast Reconstructed

28 Nov

Breakfast has always been my favorite meal of the day. In fact,”breakfast for dinner” nights at the cafeteria during my undergraduate days were the few times that I looked forward to using my meal plan.  Although North American breakfast can include a wide range of elements, the egg is generally the central feature in savory morning dishes. Most breakfast joints tend to focus on omelets and  fried eggs. However, the slightly more ambitious morning chef always takes a stab at poached eggs. Although Eggs Benedict is by and large the most common poached egg feature in breakfast menus, it is by no means the most impressive. The simple combination of bread, ham, poached egg, and hollandaise is delicious, but lacking in creativity and layered flavor. Here I have attempted reinvent the dish by adding some variations to the classic recipe. Although endless variations can improve the dish, I picked  four distinct elements to “spice” up the dish: paprika, thyme, rosemary, and mustard.

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Some of the ingredients in this variation of the classic recipe: Paprika, White Pepper, Dijon Mustard, Thyme, Rosemary, and Fleur de Sel

Pairing ingredients is often a key part of any culinary creation. Here I stuck to fairly conservative elements that work well together. The real challenge laid in how to best deliver these flavors so that the final dish would be layered, aesthetically pleasing, and an improvement on the classic dish.

Closeup of the final arrangement

I decided to use the thyme and rosemary on two levels. First as a minor garnish, and secondly to infuse the clarified butter for the hollandaise. The garnish involved nothing more than deep frying the twigs in olive oil and adding them to the dish as a final step. The infusion on the other hand was done by cooking the clarified butter with the herbs for a few minutes. Additionally, once the sauce was emulsified I added extra mustard to add an extra layer of flavor to the hollandaise and herbs. As for the paprika, I added it to the same oil I had used to fry the garnishes. Once it started bubbling, I passed it through a coffee filter and ended up with a fragrant deep red oil that I spooned over the poached egg.

 

Cooked to perfection

The egg itself was cooked so that the yolk would be slightly runny, but not so much that it would run onto the plate once the egg was cut.

Here is the recipe. Yum!