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Alright Chefs/Cooks - Let's Step Up

I figure everyone should to contribute to this forum based on their talents - for a few months now, I’ve been soaking up everyone’s expertise, reading articles, contributing nothing myself. Since I cannot pretend to have a leg up on anyone when it comes to nutrition/training, I figure my years as a cook might fill my contribution gap. (contribution gap, hehe)

Like a lot of folks here in the Hot Rox challenge, I am doing a T-Dog (modified) diet. The world can be brighter than baked chicken breasts and cottage cheese though, I’ve found.

So, a few cooking tips, a few recipes. I’m sure there are better cooks around here than me (only been at it for 7 years), so I’d love to hear some of your recipes as well.

I figure everyone should to contribute to this forum based on their talents - for a few months now, I’ve been soaking up everyone’s expertise, reading articles, contributing nothing myself. Since I cannot pretend to have a leg up on anyone when it comes to nutrition/training, I figure my years as a cook might fill the contribution gap. (contribution gap, hehe)

Like a lot of folks here in the Hot Rox challenge, I am doing a T-Dog (modified) diet. The world can be brighter than baked chicken breasts and cottage cheese though, I’ve found.

So, a few cooking tips, a few recipes. I’m sure there are better cooks around here than I am (only been at it for 7 years), so I’d love to hear some of your recipes as well.

SALAD DRESSING:

Since we all know that raw olive oil, in moderation, is a pretty good fat, a perfect dressing for many salads is vinaigrette. Not the crappy out of the bottle kind, but one you can make at home in about 2 minutes.

You only need three things: olive oil, your choice of vinegar (usually a balsamic), and an emulsifier (like mustard or lemon juice.)

The secret to vinaigrette is the oil to vinegar ratio ? 3 parts virgin or extra-virgin olive oil to one part vinegar is generally the best choice.

Put your emulsifier and vinegar into a bowl and stir up with a fork or whisk. If you feel like adding some chopped raw herbs or roasted garlic, throw them in there too. Now, while continually whisking this mixture, slowly drizzle the olive oil in a small, steady stream. Whisk whisk whisk whisk. In about a minute, you should have a perfectly combined, tasty salad dressing that can be stored in the fridge for two weeks.

A sample recipe that I like to use:

MUSTARD AND BALSAMIC VINAIGRETTE
Makes about 1/3 cup

I like to use a rasp or box grater on my shallots ? really pulverize them to bring out the flavor. The vinaigrette can be used immediately, but the flavors develop if it is left to stand at room temperature for about 1 hour before use or in the fridge overnight. This vinaigrette is well matched with bitter salad greens such as radicchio and fris?e.

1/4 cup olive oil (this recipe is better with virgin rather than extra-virgin, but either works)
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/2 small shallot, finely grated (about 1 teaspoon)
3 cloves roasted garlic, minced
1 teaspoon finely minced fresh tarragon or chives (or any old herb you find tasty)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

Notes: The best balsamic vinegar comes from the Modena region of Italy, and is really the only choice (those supermarket brands taste like ass.) A great bottle of natural, Modena balsamic (with no additives) can be had for under $10.

CHICKEN BREASTS

The chicken breast is the most passionate of animal boobs. It tastes good, is a vehicle for most every type of sauce or flavor, and is high in protein. When you eat a whole lot of them, however, the tendency is to just slap them in the George Foreman or bake off a whole pan, producing dried out pieces of animal goo that barely reflect the original idea.

The secret: treat your breasts with respect and BRINE them.

Brining is the process of soaking poultry or seafood in a solution of salt and water for several hours in order to internally season the meat and denature the proteins, which makes it juicier and more tender.

Jane Bowers, head of the Department of Foods and Nutrition at Kansas State University, says salt is used in meat processing to extract proteins from muscle cells and make these proteins more viscous: “Brining chicken causes a change in the structure of the proteins in the muscle. They become sticky, which allows them to hold more water.”

Tina Seelig, scientist and author of The Epicurean Laboratory (W. H. Freeman, 1991), says salt causes protein strands to become denatured, or unwound. This is the same process that occurs when proteins are exposed to heat, acid, or alcohol. “When protein strands unwind, they get tangled in one another and trap water in the matrix that forms,” says Seelig.

And Dr. Bill Schwartz, director of technical services at the Butterball Turkey Company, adds that when these unraveled proteins are exposed to heat they gel ? much like a fried egg white ? and form a barrier that prevents water from leaking out of the bird as it cooks. The capillary action that draws blood out of the meat and gives it a milky-white color also helps the brining solution penetrate deep into the meat, according to Schwartz. This accounts for the pleasant salty flavor even of the inner breast meat.

So next time you cook chicken breasts or turkey, do yourself a favor and throw them in some brine for a few hours before cooking them ? you won?t have to season them before cooking, and they taste oooooh sooooo much better.

BRINED CHICKEN/TURKEY

Brining your chicken or turkey is easy. Just combine a cup of KOSHER SALT with a gallon of cold water. Throw your chicken or turkey (or shrimp or salmon) in, cover, and leave for 3-12 hours.

For those breaking every sacred religious concept of the T-forums, add a 1/2 cup of sugar to the brine ? it makes the meat even more tender, and adds a nice sweetness.

You can also add flavoring to the brine ? I like to toss in a couple bay leaves, some black peppercorns, and chili-flakes, especially when brining a whole chicken or turkey overnight.

PAN SEARED CHICKEN BREASTS

Now that you have your chicken all nice and brined, all you need is a non-stick pan. Heat that sucker up to medium-high (no oil needed, the brine keeps the chicken moist), throw the breasts in and sear on each side for 2 minutes.

Whenever cooking chicken breasts in a pan, NEVER LET THEM TOUCH EACH OTHER. By keeping them an inch apart, they can sear ? by letting them touch each other, they only steam, giving a dull, flat taste.

After the four minutes is up, throw them in the oven at 375 degrees until finished ? about 10 minutes.

I like to add some chopped parsley and basil to my chicken when it has about 1 minute left in the searing pan. This moisturizes the herbs enough so they won?t burn in the oven, and gives the flavors a chance to mingle over the heat.

More to come soon?.

Rumbach, we gotta hang out man. For this post, your stocks have skyrocketed in my book. :slight_smile:

I’m hungry

CLASSIC RECIPES, T-MAN STYLE

We all love the classic foods, but there is a reason we love them ? butter, fatty meats, dairy, and carbs. That tubby bitch Emeril can jump around and BAM as much as he likes, but that doesn?t excuse the amount of canola oil he just dumped in his pan. Classic recipes can be reinvented though, to keep the carbs limited to leafy greens and good vegetables, and the fats healthy.

KICK ASS COBB SALAD

The Cobb salad is one of my favorite ?fast? recipes ? the problem, however, is that the classic preparation depends on bacon and bacon-fat vinaigrette for its flavoring. No good; however, replace that fat with lean sirloin strips and that dressing with beef-garlic vinaigrette, and you?re set. Dance around your kitchen and ?kick it up a notch? and you suck. Just kidding, dance around your kitchen all you like.

THE VEGGIES

2 cups chopped Romaine Lettuce
1/2 cup Haas avocado, diced
1 small ripe tomato, diced
1/4 cup red onion, raw, diced
1/2 cup yellow corn (either drained from a can or fresh steamed)
2 eggs, hard-boiled, cut into wedges (remove yolks if you like)

Other leafy greens ? if you feel like it, toss in some Bibb lettuce or watercress.

THE MEAT

8-12 oz lean beef, cut into 1/4-inch strips and seasoned with black pepper (or anything else you like)

THE DRESSING

Fond from beef (the brown sticky bits at the bottom of the pan you just cooked in)
1/8-cup balsamic vinegar
1/2-cup olive oil
Juice of 1/2 lemon

All right, now you?ve got your ingredients. The rest is easy.

  1. Throw all the veggies together in a bowl.
  2. Heat up 1-tablespoon olive oil in a pan ? once it is hot, throw your seasoned beef into the pan. Keep the pieces spread out so they don?t steam, but rather sear. Give them a pushin? around with a spoon or whatnot until they are cooked to your satisfaction. Use tongs to take them out of the pan, and SAVE THE BROWN BITS OF GOO AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PAN.
  3. Turn up the heat a bit, and throw your vinegar into the pan and QUICKLY stir up all that brown goo (called fond). Take the pan off the heat. This process, in pretentious cooking terms, is called deglazing the pan, and is usually done with wine.
  4. Now, using the beef-vinegar, proceed with the vinaigrette recipe given above, earlier in the post.
  5. Throw the beef and vinaigrette together and into the bowl of veggies. Season with a bit of salt if you like, or fresh herbs.

Voila, T-man Cobb salad that tastes good, has a good mixture of nutrients, and is big enough for two or three meals.

Ike - sincerely, I’d love to meet you and all the Portland t-folk. Hopefully before the Mahler workshop!

I have really fallen in love with grill-mates marinades. I marinade 3 lbs of chicken breasts at a time, and usually for 12 to 36 hours, (contrary to 30 minutes in the directions)
I marinade them in a cake pan with a lid and just pull out 1 or 2 breasts at a time and grill them as I need them.
The last 2 or 3 are always the best as they usually been soaking for 3 or 4 days.

Brining rules. I never make poultry or pork unless without brining it. Or, I buy Empire Kosher poultry, which is the BEST quality I have found, and basically is already brined.

Last night I made an artichoke and cannellini dip from Fine Cooking magazine:
1 can artichoke hearts, drained and rinsed
1 can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 clove garlic, minced
2 T fresh lemon juice

Puree in food processor, then with processor running, add 2 T olive oil and 1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary, salt and pepper to taste (I used a lot of salt).

I used this as a dip for steamed fresh artichokes – yum! Lots of fiber.

Runbach: Where are you cooking? I am at the Heathman right now. From your posts, I’m guessing that Italian is your specialty.

I will post something later when I have time.

Screw it. I’m not doin’ anything better tonight (goddamn diet). I’m gonna fire up the ol’ brinin’! Hell, I’ll give the Cobb Salad a go, too.

This’ll be the virgin go-round. I’m gonna brine’em up reall good and cook 'em up in the morning.

I’ll report back with successes, failures and kitchen explosions.

Fellas, this is nuts, I just learned a boat load of info on brining and making meats taste great. I cook everything I eat and love it, I consider myself a rookie or CHEF to be, but after this shoot Im no where near the minor leagues.

I personally love using a crock pot for whatever meat I plan on cooking. Whether it be beef, ground turkey, turkey breast, chicken breast, and even steak. I simply or usually add a sauce and broccolii then meat on top and wow. I usually use pepper flakes and lowery’s seasoning. I just found a great tasting seasoning though, it’s labeled as a salad seasoning salt, but all meats taste superb with it.

One question: when you guys start to brine your meats, what do you use to put it in? ziploc bag? glass container?

Da Boxer

Ike - go for it man, a nice brine overnight is well worth it.

ko - as of now, i’m actually (shame faced) bussing tables at caprials and not cooking professionally - i cooked from age 14-19 in indiana (trained in french cooking) and then through college for a catering company doing italian. funny, i’m pretty sure i make more bussing than i did cooking, plus my full time job during the day (at reed college) doesn’t allow the weekend nights working that would be required.

hows the heathman? your food there is excellent, the few times i’ve been - haven’t heard much about kitchen conditions, but seems like a well respected crew. are you guys doing the 25 for 25 menu?

boxer - when i brine, i use either a stockpot with a lid or a plastic cambro. ziplock bags are fine for small amounts of meat, but i usually brine 15-20 breasts at a time, so i need more space.

And I’m up early in the morning to go do meltdown on an early stomach.

You bastard. :slight_smile:

Sounds good. I’ll probably give brining a try tonight.

And I just gotta say - it’s finally warm enough outside to barbecue, and I couldn’t be happier. We BBQd some chicken last night on our new grill and I couldn’t believe how moist it was. Love that smoke flavor, too. I can’t wait to BBQ some hamburgers tonight.

Rumbach, thanks for the brining tips! How about giving us tips on cooking a great steak?

Jeff Rage - funny, thats what I’m working on right now - the definitive science guide to cooking steak. I’ll post it as soon as it is finished.

mmmmm, bbq. anyone know the caloric/macronutrient value of charcoal ash? hehe.

Rumbach, nice thread. Thanks for your contribution to the T-world…!

Gonna have to try that brining thing out pretty soon… Just got a question: if you brine some chicken breasts, how long can you leave them in soaking before they go bad? Someone mentioned having some marinading for three days or some such - I find that my chicken breasts, left uncooked, will generally go bad within two days even if I have them in the -1 degree “chilled room” of my refrigerator. (Which in not the freezer…)

Does having them soak in something increase the time before they go bad? Inquiring T-minds wanna know…

Rumbach: You probably are making more money bussing. Sad is’nt it. We have a good crew right now. I am currently working the breakfast shift, as the hours are better (I work 4-10 hour shifts) and I wanted the experience. As for the 25 for 25, I think we are doing it, but not advertising it.

Chardawg: Brining will prolong the life of your meat, but do not store it in the brine, as it will get too salty. As a rule brine 2 hours for every pound of meat. I personally would not prepare more than a week worth of meat at a time.

Another tip for flavoring you brine. Bring it to a boil, then add any herbs or spices to the brine. This will release the flavors into the solution. This needs to be done in advance, as you need to cool the brine before adding you meat to it.

ko - thanks for the advice on how long to brine the meat. I brined four chicken breasts, and was to impatient to wait to get the kosher salt, so I used 1/2 cup common table salt with 1/2 gallon of water. Then I got busy and didn’t cook them after a few hours. Instead, I let them sit for a full day. They were much more tender, but very salty. After I did a Internet search on kosher salt, I realized the difference in the saltiness of coarse-grained kosher salt and table salt. My bad. Would a full day of soaking still be too long with kosher salt if time got away from you?

Thanks for the advice Ko - forgot to mention heating the brine to bring out the flavors of the herbs…

To answer a few questions I have gotten privately -

  1. The chicken or poultry DOES absorb salt in the brining process - so, if you are being super careful about sodium intake, you might want to try a weaker brine - but, no need to add seasoning to the meat afterwards in the form of salt.

  2. The secret to pan searing chicken breasts to is put them in the pan DRY. A wet chicken breast will steam, and never get that tasty brown crust and flavor associated with it. I personally use a pad of paper towels or newsprint to dry the breasts coming out of the brine, some people throw them into the refridgerator for an hour (the cool air draws moisture off the breast)

  3. Brining is particularly useful for grilling and other forms of cooking where there is no external moisture being added to the meat, like grilling or searing (as opposed to roasting or braising, but you still should brine!)

  4. You should let the meat rest for 5 minutes after cooking to let the process finish (meat temps will raise approx. 6 degrees off the heat if let alone for 5 minutes), plus, the meat will “reabsorb” a lot of juices. You know when you cut into that steak straight off the grill and the juices run everywhere? Thats no good, you lose a lot of internal moisture - if you let meat sit for 5, it stays moist.

Steak article coming up really soon, plus another “classic” recipe reinvented, beef stew.

STEAK 101

Ahh, the steak. I love you steak. You make me happy. I am sorry people like to mess you all up and destroy everything good about you, such as cooking you to “well done” a.k.a. the asshole temp. You deserve better.

Until I started working in a restaurant as a grill cook at the tender age of 14 (the same restaurant was later fined 135,000 dollars for child labor violations), I had very little appreciation for the beef. Slap it on the grill, in the pan, cook the shit out of it and smother it with A-1. Wrong. Just plain wrong. To truly appreciate a well flavored, juicy steak, one only needs to know a few basic principles about beef. A well prepared steak is perfect for the T-Man, because it needs no other adornments (carb laden sauces) and is packed with protein.

I admit, I am not the steak master. Some of you grill warriors, those who know the fine art of marinade and flame broiling, please step in and fill the gaps in my knowledge. But, I will attempt a 101 of steak preparation.

THE SCIENCE OF BEEF

Alright, so a steak is basically meat mixed with connective tissue and fat. As you know, that connective tissue is the chewy, gross stuff we don?t want. The fat is the stuff that we do. What most people don?t realize is that the connective tissue is only tough past a certain temperature. If you were eat a raw steak (or if you have eaten raw steak, like tartare or carpachio), you would notice how wonderfully tender it is. The problem is, as you heat beef up, the connective tissue dries out, leaving the steak tougher and tougher. As you approach medium to well done, you basically took a wonderful thing and made it into a large chunk of dried out carbon and tough connective tissue. This is why steak should never, never never never, be cooked past 135 degrees internally, or mid-rare to medium. Yes, it will be pink and warm throughout. Yes, there will be blood. No, it is not dangerous.

Another interesting thing about connective tissue in beef is that at a high enough temperature, it breaks down ? that is why a beef stew or beef braise is so tender ? the long exposure to gentle heat breaks the connective tissue down, and the liquid the meat is cooked in keeps it moist and flavorful.

So, lesson #1. Cook your beef to 115-130 degrees internally (or rare-medium) before pulling it off the heat ? the temp will raise about another 5 degrees as you let it sit and reabsorb its own juices.

Lesson #2 ? Even at low temp, the connective tissue can still be a little tough. This is why you see people beating the shit out of steaks with a TENDERIZER or MEAT MALLET. By gently whacking the meat with a textured hammer (or if you get really fancy, the awesome 64 blade tenderizers restaurants use), the meat will be even more tender.

BEAT YOUR MEAT, DON?T FORGET THE SALT RUB

So, basic preparation of whatever steak you are using (you have many options, from bone in to cut and thickness). First, try to cook beef near room temperature. I know, this sounds dangerous, and it can be if you are using crappy meat from a suspicious source. But, for steak to cook properly, it shouldn?t go from fridge to pan or grill, it should have an hour or two sitting at room temp. This way, the outside doesn?t cook much faster than the inside, leaving you with charred crust and raw center.

Second, trim the excess fat from the outside of the steak. It is a myth that this fat flavors the meat ? it is the internal fat, or the MARBLING of the beef that matters. Look at your steak ? see all those pretty white lines through the red? That is fat, and that breaks down in cooking and flavors the beef. That chunk on the outside? Get rid of it.

Third, season your meat well in advance of the cooking ? a few hours or overnight. I for one prefer a very basic rub of garlic, sea salt, hand crushed black peppercorns, and bay leaves. Some people love to tenderize and then throw in a marinade, like apple juice and beer (the snakebite) or soy sauce and Chinese hot sauce. There are a ton of marinade recipes on the internet, all worth trying. A new one that supposedly works very very well is a pineapple juice and soy sauce marinade from COOKS ILLUSTRATED (the best practical cooking magazine in the world). Check out their website to find it ? www.cooksillustrated.com. The chemicals in soy sauce seem to break down beef connective tissues very well, and pineapple juice is a natural match.

One additional note ? brining doesn?t work for beef or pork, only poultry and some fish.

COOKIN? TIME

I see two basic ways to prepare a steak. First, the pan searing method, where you cook both sides of the steak at high temperature to form a brown crust, then throw them in the oven to finish them off. Second, on the barbecue, where the same principles should apply (high heat to low heat).

So, heat a pan up on medium high heat (those cast iron skillets work the best, made by Lodge or La Creuset) and sear the steaks on both sides for two minutes (or until nice and brown) and then toss the whole thing in the oven. I personally use an internal digital meat thermometer to check the temp as the steak is cooking ? or do it by feel, something I learned cooking a few hundred steaks a night through high school. You can cut into the steak to check its progress, but this seriously reduces the tenderness of it. A good rule of thumb is 12 minutes in a 350 degree oven after searing for medium rare, but after a few tries you?ll learn.

Or, heat up the bbq and make a STAGGERED GRILL. Basically, have a high heat side of the grill and a low heat side, where the steaks can sear for 4 minutes on the hot side and then be transferred to the cool side for finishing. This works well for veggies like asparagus and corn as well.

One rule ? this applies to searing or grilling anything including chicken breasts ? once you throw that steak down, don?t keep picking it up to check on it ? give it 2 minutes without touching it, then the same on the other side. A better crust will develop, and the juices won?t get a chance to run underneath the steak, thereby making steam and ruining the searing process.

NOW LET YOUR MEAT REST BEFORE STABBING IT

As I mentioned above, let that meat rest out of the pan or off the grill for 5 minutes before cutting into it ? the juices will reabsorb, and the temp will rise slightly (6 degrees or so).

Now, cutting a steak. This is one most people don?t know. If you cut it all willy-nilly, it won?t be as good. You should cut on the BIAS and with the grain. Basically, put your steak in front of you long-ways, and cut at an angle of 70 degrees. Why does this work? I actually have no idea. Ko, do you know? But, you?ll see a difference, I promise.

All right, the basics of steak prep. I?m sure there are many many more that could be said. I personally love using that pan juices to make a quick sauce for the steak with green peppercorns and a little blue cheese. Or, to throw a little cherry-veal demi-glace I have frozen in my freezer in the pan and whip up a quick sauce (minus the butter you would usually use). If you would like recipes for these sauces, just let me know, I?ll write them out.