My easy tomato sauce recipe

This is a special one to me. Being Italian, creating a simple, delisuous tomato sauce is a right of passage. Everyone has their method and their “secret” item. I keep mine simple and almost neutral. I can evolve it further to fit with what I’m cooking if need be. What you’ll need:
Fresh tomatoes

Thyme

Basil

Oregano 

Salt/pepper

Olive Oil 

Red wine 

Red chili flake 

Garlic

White onion

Celery 

Fennel 
That seems like a lot, but its so easy to do. First heat your olive oil, add your garlic and chili flake and infuse the oil with those flavors. 
Add your small diced fennel, onion and celery, sweat down and season. Once this is done I add my chopped herbs. I mix this around a bit and add my red wine. 
Then I add my diced tomatoes and simmer for around an hour. I like mine chunky, I like the texture. You can blend it, but I think it’s really better a little chunky. Chunky sauce sits on your pasta better anyway. Now this is a neutral Italian tomato sauce that can be used in so many ways. 

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My Rustic Meatball Recipe

Being Italian something that people always request I make is meatballs. I love a good meatball, however I find when I go out to eat I always get a dry or bland meatball. A meatball should be firm, but not hard and moist, but not wet. The sauce being served with it is also important. Just a simple tomato sauce. I can upload that recipe if you would like too.
What you’ll need:

Olive Oil

Salt/Pepper

Garlic

Onion

Mushrooms

Thyme/Basil/Oregano

Ground beef 73/23

Seasoned bread crumbs 

Tomato sauce 

Cooked Angel Hair pasta 
Now the first step is a common first step in Italian cuisine. Heat the olive oil on a medium heat, add your minced garlic and let it get a little toasted. Once that’s a bit toasted add your onion, mushrooms, chopped herbs and sautee until the onion is translucent and the mushrooms are cooked.
Now you must squeeze the mix to get rid of a little moisture. I usually set my mix on a cloth and ring it out a bit. Now in a mixing bowl add your breadcrumbs, salt, pepper, onion mixture and ground beef. Mix it together well and refrigerate for a half an hour. 
Remove from the fridge and roll into the ball size of you’re choosing. Get your sautee pan hot and add the meatballs, sear all sides. Now I’ll add my tomato sauce and put my pan in the oven. I let them simmer in the tomato sauce until they’re cooked.
To plate set down the pasta on the plate, add a few meat  balls with a few extra spoonfuls on tomato sauce and serve.
The mushrooms and onion both help with keeping the meatballs moist. Cooking in the tomato sauce does this also and it Infuses the meatball flavor with your tomato sauce. 

The Importance of a Foods Texture

A good dish will use all the customers senses to make the dish special. Texture is the sense of touch. In food it’s the second most difficult to pull off well. The hardest being auditory. Contrasting textures add much needed depth and can lift a dish. A monotone textured dish is more likely to be remembered as monotone all around.

Sometimes it’s there and we don’t even think about it. Take a creme brûlée for example. It’s a baked custard with a burnt sugar top. Now imagine the creme brûlée without the crunch from the burned sugar. It should still taste great, but lacks in depth. It’s completely different without the crunch.

It’s a small detail that makes a significant difference. Have contrasting textures on a plate. If the elements are all soft the customer can feel like they’re on a blender food plan. If the textures are too firm it can be chewy and discomforting on the customers jaw. It’s important to think so critically when writing a menu. One of the first things I do when trying something for the first time is ask myself how easy will it be for the customer to eat the dish.

Another consideration one must take into consideration is off putting textures. A lot of people think oysters for example have a terrible texture to them. I’m not saying don’t serve oysters by any means, but take the texture into consideration as to not alienate the customer. Texture is one of our five senses used when dining. It’s important that restaurants use all five of the customers senses to make the dining experience special.

Balancing Flavors

The most important aspect of food is the flavor. It’s important that the dish being served has a balance of appropriate flavors. There are five flavors; salty, sweet, bitter, sour and umami. Umami is the fat coating taste you get after eating something fatty like duck or a steak. A well balanced dish has a lot more depth than one that utilizes two flavors.

A good example of how to balance flavors to add depth is an orange and fennel salad. The vinegarette is sweet and sour and the orange and the fennel are mildly sweet. Take the orange segments and replace them with grapefruit. Now you’re utilizing bitter as well. It will have a similar flavor, but have a more well rounded one. The grapefruit has the same citrus aspect, but the bitter it gives the dish really makes a difference.

Use the flavors the dish is supposed to have. I wouldn’t put something bitter in a sweet and sour soup. It’s not meant to be bitter, so it would disrupt customer expectation. The more flavors utilized the more difficult it is to balance well. It takes time of practice to grasp fully what makes sense together.

Smell in large part has to do with taste. This is why adding aromatics are critical to a good dish. Usually parsley is the go to aromatic. For me I will not add parsley to something that doesn’t have parsley in it to begin with. Mint can be an aromatic to a dessert. It’s refreshing and light, so it goes well together. Spices can be an aromatic too. Take a curry for example. If you like curry when you smell it you crave it.

It takes years to get good at balancing flavors well. Practice is the only good way to get better at it.

The Advantage of Multiple Courses

In many restaurants today its typical to only order one or two courses. The meals are usually rather large and filling. Its become typical to only see appetizers, entrees and desserts on a menu. There is a huge advantage to the tasting menu type meal. They do still exist, but are not as common. A tasting menu type meal generally consists of about five small courses, and can really be a treat.

Trying many things in a meal can be good or bad. If the chef executes it well the meal will be well rounded and not overwhelming. Generally speaking a good tasting menu will stay with a theme. The them could be a region, cooking style, or things to that affect. Usually a lot of work goes into tasting menu type meals, so they can be pricey. In my experiences I ask around and do research on what restaurants do it well.

The food can be truly remarkable. The skill and care that goes into it can be a culinary adventure. You get to try a variety of foods and while you probably won’t love all of it, you’re bound to like a lot of it. You have the opportunity to try many flavorful dishes in one sitting. You can learn some new things that you like. A tasting menu is the chef showing off his skill and creativity, with an array of small plates.

Tasting menu type meals should flow well. For example, I would not serve a consume right before a curry. The meal should flow naturally and stick to the theme the chef picked. This is why I recommend researching the restaurant, before trying their tasting menu. A tasting menu can be terrible and not flow well if the chef doesn’t have a well rounded skill set. The expense is usually pricey, so you want to make sure your’re going to be trying a good one.

Keep Food Simple

In school and the industry it’s taught that you should keep food simple and not over do it. I agree. The more things that go on the plate the more complex it gets to make it right. Everything on the plate has to work with one another. It’s a web that must coincide.

I’m not saying that having many things on a plate is bad. Complexity lends credibility to who’s cooking. When things go on the plate they must make sense to go with one another. Even if everything goes well, but one component it won’t work.

The product used is in large part what influences over complexity. If the product isn’t good than it takes more to make it a good dish. Using quality product is key. I say it a lot, but it’s absolutely true. Over complication can also show a chefs insecurities. A chef who’s insecure will often times over complicate dishes.

The fewer things on a plate the more you focus on making those great. A cornucopia on a plate generally consists of a lot of good product, rather than a few great ones. The chef either uses a few items well, or a lot in a mediocre fashion. I see it more in school than in restaurants. The thought is to use a lot of product well, but executing something like that is easier said than done.

Too many flavors confuse the pallet. It’s overwhelming and flavors generally over power each other. The customer shouldn’t have to ask themselves if they liked it or not. Using a few items well shows confidence.

The dish above is one I made at school today and consists of 6 items (not including the breading). Prawns, crab, pita, yogurt, mint and salt.

Potatoes

The simple potato is the most common starch here in America. It’s served in almost every restaurant as a go to side. It’s mild flavor and assorted range of textures from variety to variety make them very versatile. Almost every time I’ve gone out to eat I’ve had potato in some form with my meal. Whether it’s a side of fries or in clam chowder it has many uses.

There are two main catagories of potatoes; waxy and starchy. Waxy potatoes are better for things like chowders where you need them to stay together longer. Waxy potatoes are baby reds and Yukon golds. Starchy potatoes have a lighter, fluffier texture and break down more when cooked. Mashed potatoes are made from starchy potatoes. Russet of chef potatoes are starchy.

A lot of the time potatoes get labeled as boring unuseful for anything other than a side. Potatoes are the base of many classic dishes such as sheppards pie, consisting of ground lamb, potatoes and vegetables. For breakfast hash browns are often customary, at lunch it’s usually French fries and at dinner it’s usually a mashed potato.

Potatoes are a wonderful thing. Eating potatoes makes us full more quickly than eating other things, so can assist in not overeating. The potato generally has more nutrients with the skin on. The exception to this is overlooking the potato. Overlooking the potato drains the skin of its nutrients. The fact that the skin sometimes is left on in mashed potatoes is more for texture than anything else.

Potatoes are rarely given much thought. It’s often cooked and served very simply as a formality of having a starch. It’s not the easiest thing to do in the world, but you can make potatoes special. You can bring life to potatoes and make them worthy of the plate. Potato gratine for example is a layered potato dish with cream and cheese that tastes good and seperates them from the pack.

Food Should Speak for Itself

Confidence in the food you’re producing is of the upmost important to a chef. An insecure chef often times gets gimmicky with food and presentation. The flavor and look of the food itself should require no further explanation, than the description on the menu.

Things shouldn’t be put on the plate for show. Every component of the dish should serve a purpose. Putting parsley as a garnish on everything is a bad practice. It adds aromatic affects, but shouldn’t be overused. It should not be used to add color alone. Non edible items shouldn’t never be added to a plate.

A dish served multiple ways shows a lack of confidence. For example chicken 3 ways. It comes off as trying too hard thinking the customer is bound to like at least one of them. It seems often times that less care is put into something served multiple ways. Serving a chicken one way on a dish you tend to put more effort into it. This can also be bad, because it eliminates flow. Having an Asian, American and Hispanic cuisine all on the same plate is off putting. It messes with the pallet.

Gimmicky presentation is another key sign of a chef lacking confidence. Things coming out flaming that isn’t necessary or with a dome of smoke. It may look cool, but it almost never affects the overall flavors of the dish. I’ve seen things come out hanging from metal skewers in an awkward tower of over cooked meat and vegetables. I’ll take my meal on a plate please. I seldomly see it anymore, but some places serve dishes the customer doesn’t know how to eat.

One of my biggest guidelines is to keep it simple. It’s just better that way. Having to do crazy things to the presentation of food isn’t impressive as much as it is strange.

TV Cooking

Cooking shows are exciting to watch, always something moving or on fire. It glamorizes cooking. I love cooking and it is fun, but what’s on TV isn’t an accurate portrayal of what really happens in kitchens for the most part. For example, in many cooking TV shows it’s a race against the clock to finish the dish, usually about an hour or so. I can’t remember the last timeI had an hour to produce one dish.

Something’s always moving or buring in some dramatic fashion and it’s just for the TV value. I understand ratings matter, but cooking isn’t about fighting with co workers and throwing pans. One of my favorite cooking shows is Hell’s Kitchen, but it’s not realistic. There are so many fights, because they take a group of chefs, put them in a kitchen and say go. A lot of chefs, especially if they don’t know each other, try to take charge right off the bat ands you have too many leaders and no followers. The tension, yelling and fights make sense in that scenario, competing for money and a job doesn’t help much either.

Another aspect that I find unrealistic is how much they tend to waste. A fillet is messed up and has to be thrown away, in reality that cook would get chewed out badly. In shows like Hell’s Kitchen a dozen fillets will be thrown away a night. Most real restaurants would go out of business at that rate. Wasted product not only adds food cost, but it costs time as well. That’s labor cost wasted and a possible table turn wasted. That adds up to be a lot of money.

i do like and watch a lot of cooking shows, but I know they’re not accurate as to what the industry does and is about.

Vegetarian Food Doesn’t Have to be Boring.

Its really a shame that vegetarian food has the reputation of being boring and bland. I do understand the thought process of the people who think that. Thinking anyone who doesn’t enjoy a rib-eye steak is crazy. The protein is often times considered the star of the plate. Its really a shame that a lot of the time only the protein itself gets special attention. The starch and vegetables are boring and simple a lot of the time.

I was once a skeptic of vegetarians. I thought everyone should love the taste of a medium rare prime rib. I thought that vegetarians ate bland food on a regular basis. It took me a long while to try a good vegetarian dish. It was at a Mediterranean restaurant and it was baked eggplant with middle eastern spices.

You can really have some flavorful vegetarian dishes. The first step to cooking how to cook vegetables properly. If you don’t cook the vegetable properly the dish is already not up to par. Vegetable cookery is easy, but takes time to truly nail down. A lot of vegetables have different signs to when they are cooked.

A well seasoned vegetarian dish is really a great thing. You have to find a way to make a dish of it, not a side. Lasagna can be made from spaghetti squash and a thicker tomato sauce and can even be a tasty vegan dish. If done properly the dish is east to make, filling and extremely flavorful. I just love Italian food so I make the most examples out of it.