We recently bought a copy of a new book by Michael Ruhlman: Twenty: 20 Techniques. 100 Recipes. A cooks manifesto. He believes there are Twenty fundamentals that, if mastered, make you a better and happier cook. Our cooking has improved over time but we felt we had reached a plateau. We needed help with techniques. We wanted to learn more about how flavors work when ingredients are prepared in different ways.
A quick read through the book made us realize three things: 1. Some of the techniques are a little over our heads and required a quick google search. 2. If we did master these techniques, we would be more confident cooks. 3. We bought the book BEFORE he won the James Beard award so we had already learned enough to make a wise choice.
We are going to work our way through all Twenty techniques and write about our successes and our blunders. The first technique is:
THINK: WHERE COOKING BEGINS
Mise en place. A French phrase for “organize and prepare”. It’s a very pretty phrase for a very practical action. Go ahead say it and then try to deny that it makes you want to run to your kitchen and give it a try. Mise en place. Prepare your work area. Remove any clutter. Whatever your eyes see travels to your brain. Put away the mail or the car keys. Clutter on your counter means clutter in your brain. Place all the ingredients and tools you will need for the recipe on your counter. Place the pots you will use on the stove. Preheat the oven. Prepare a baking dish if needed. Read the recipe again. Think about every step. Visualize it and how it should look at every stage. The recipe is our weak point. We have never been completely comfortable with the recipe. We are comfortable enough as cooks to read a recipe and know what we might want to add or subtract to make it more to our liking; but the flow of the recipe throws us. We are constantly re-reading and asking each other “what did it say to do next?” Our brains are cluttered and we know it-the car keys and mail on the counter are the least of the clutter! So from now on we are going to move to the kitchen table, read the recipe once, gather what we need, read the recipe again and then start cooking. We will remove the clutter from our brains just as we already have from our counters. Mise en place.
THE MENU: ASPARAGUS, CHORIZO FRITTATA, SHAVED BRUSSEL SPROUT SALAD, S’MORES
ASPARAGUS, CHORIZO FRITTATA
- 2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
- 1 small bunch fresh chives, coarsely chopped
- 1 pound asparagus, blanched, cut in to 1/2 inch pieces
- 12 eggs
- 2 large shallots, diced
- 1/3 cup flour
- 1/2 pound chorizo, casing removed
- 1 cup milk
- salt & pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350. Cook chorizo in a small frying pan. Drain on paper towels. Whisk eggs in large mixing bowl. Add remaining ingredients except for the chives. Whisk until mixed. Pour in to large cast iron frying pan or prepared baking dish. Sprinkle the chives on top. Cook for 45 minutes or until firm in center. Remember if you’re using cast iron, the frittata will continue to cook once out of the oven.
SHAVED BRUSSEL SPROUT SALAD
- 1 pound brussel sprouts, ends trimmed, dark green leaves removed
- 1/4 cup diced shallots
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon agave syrup
- 1 tablespoon course Dijon mustard
Shave brussel sprouts on the 3/16″ setting on a madoline. Note: a fork is easier to use than the food holder that comes with the mandoline. Place in medium sized bowl. Add shallots. Mix vinegar, agave and mustard in a small bowl. Add olive oil in a slow stream. Whisk until blended. Pour over brussel sprouts and toss to coat. Chill before serving.
DESSERT: S’MORES – YES WE LIT THE GRILL JUST FOR S’MORES