Boulder brew

After spending Friday night doing laundry- and writing about it- I must admit that I felt just a bit guilty. Guilty: one, for my uncharacteristic social apathy; and two, for not exploring the food and drink of an incredibly food-talented city.

My remedy? Start with coffee. Trade in the living room desk for a local coffee shop to do weekend studying. I poll all of the two people I know outside of class and decide to try Ozo. Ozo is a local coffee roaster company with two joints in town so I pick the one downtown. It’s an easy walk from my condo. And their website had a picture of a beautiful cappuccino.

Yep, we eat- and drink- first with our eyes, and that’s what sold me. Not the north facing or south facing patio, or the ratio of hippies to athletes, or the lack of hungover CU kids… all perfectly legitimate ways to decide on a coffee bar. It was the photo of the cappuccino.

And the cappuccino did not disappoint. It was probably the closest I’ve tasted to ones in Italy and every bit as artistically poured. I had a few. As well as some small talk with the barista. But mostly, I studied. And the walk home felt slightly less guilty.

My love-hate relationship with cows

Beef Tenderloin with Bordelaise SauceAs an animal, I think a cow is pretty cool in the spectrum of species. We actually had one growing up, a Jersey, that my mom milked- more for the fun of it than anything else I think. And it had two calves that I loved! They would run around the pasture with the stiff-legged gait of an animal not really built for grace or speed. And then they left and returned as little white packages for our freezer.

I haven’t eaten red meat in several years. But I can’t blame my mom for that. At least, not entirely. And I definitely care about the conditions of an animal’s life- and manner of death- but I can’t really claim ethical reasons for my diet lacking in cow either. Health reasons? Honest try, but I can down a whole tube of Girl Scout Thin Mints in no time flat. Hard to make an argument there.

Not loving cows on my plate started as an issue of texture- the ligaments, tendons, fascia, major arteries… I know what those look like under a microscope, and they feel absolutely horrible in my mouth. Initially I would only order cuts of meat in which I could very obviously spot the offender and dissect it away from the rest of my bites. But that eventually turned into just ordering tofu or chicken or fish because it was simpler.

And that’s really not been a problem for me until today. This is week three of Culinary School. To my dread but the utter delight of most of the class, chef instructor included, we have bravely forged into the territory of preparing meats and game. How can I write about food I can’t eat? And how can I properly prepare an item I can’t manage to taste?

Our menu today: beef tenderloin with bordelaise sauce, duchesse potatoes, sautéed broccoli, mixed greens with mayonnaise-based dressing… I don’t need to go on, because my duty started right with the cow. My kitchen team, wise beyond their years (I can say that as I’m a solid decade older than most of them), assigned me to prep the tenderloin. Lovely. But, yes, that’s exactly what I needed.

It looked amazing. Sizzled as it seared in the cast iron skillet. The smell of the bordelaise was borderline intoxicating. It was cooked to a perfect medium-rare. And I ate it. Well, I ate half of it. But I didn’t dissect it, and I didn’t hate it. I could appreciate the fact that- for someone who likes cow- it was indeed just about perfect.

Do I love cows now? Not exactly. And I probably won’t order a piece of one next time I go out for dinner. But it’s one stiff-legged little step in the right direction.

Veggies 101: Roasting a Pepper

roasted red peppers in Farmers' Chicken

Roasted peppers pop up in many recipes- including the traditional Italian “Farmers’  Chicken” pictured- and they’re surprisingly easy to make. Peppers acquire a tender texture and more complex flavor in the few minutes it takes to roast. This method can be used for sweet red, green, yellow, and orange peppers as well as most hot peppers and chilies.

As always, when you’re working with hot peppers, wear gloves or be sure to wash your hands before touching any tender areas- eyes, lips, and I’m sure you can think of a few more.

  • If you have a gas range, first of all I have stove envy: my condo has good old electric coil burners. Second, it will be very easy for you to roast your peppers. Just hold the pepper with metal tongs directly over your open flame until the skin is black and charred on all sides.
  • If you don’t have an open flame you can get the same result by placing your pepper directly under the broiler in your oven. It may not get completely black, but it will roast just as well. This method’s also handy when you have multiple peppers to roast.
  • Carefully wrap the hot pepper in plastic wrap and the skin will partially loosen as the pepper cools.
  • Once your pepper is cool, the skin will be easier to remove, and the flesh of the pepper underneath will be softer with a more pronounced, deeper flavor.

Core and cut your pepper as needed for your recipe and enjoy an extra layer of roasted flavor.

Poultry 101: Sauté Basics

poultry from Lucca, Italy- too cute to cook!

Properly sautéed pieces of chicken should be moist and juicy on the inside and have a mahogany colored crispy skin on the outside. Arm yourself with an instant-read thermometer and a little nerdy food science background, and you can have the best chicken on the block- every time.

How do I get the outside properly browned?

The science: Though poultry is composed primarily of protein, it also contains small quantities of carbohydrate. When the proteins are heated- generally to around 310F- they react with the carbohydrate molecules on the dry surface and form a dark mahogany color and richer flavor. This is scientifically called the Maillard reaction. We call it tasty.

What to do: Once your chicken is placed in a hot pan with a little oil, LEAVE IT ALONE. Give the reaction a few minutes to happen. Frequent moving and turning will keep the surface from reaching critical temperature and loosing the moisture you need for a crispy brown skin. Turn only once to brown both sides.

How do I keep the chicken from sticking to the hot pan?

The science: If a pan and the oil in it are heated at the same time as the chicken, the chicken will bond with the pan and stick every time. If, however, the pan and oil are already hot when the chicken is added, the chicken will initially bond with the pan (as the Maillard reaction begins) but then release as it becomes browned. Proteins coagulate when heated and then shrink, thus releasing them from the pan.

What to do: Place a small amount of oil in your pan and heat on moderate to high heat until it shimmers. On it’s hot, carefully add your chicken- you should hear sizzling immediately.

How do I keep the inside moist?

The science: Minimum internal cooking temperature for poultry is 165F for 15 seconds. All poultry and meats have carry over cooking that occurs after they are removed from the heat source. Depending on the size of the particular piece of poultry, this can be 5 degrees up to 20-25 degrees. Larger pieces will have higher carry over cooking temperatures.

What to do: After sautéing to brown the chicken, place in a 350F oven until an instant-read thermometer (inserted in the thickest portion, away from bone) reads 150-160 depending on size. Let the poultry rest for a few minutes before serving. Trust the numbers and enjoy a perfect piece of chicken 🙂

Friday night laundry

Writing about how much I love Culinary School or posting a recipe is actually pretty easy. It’s safe. You may not love red chard and I’m alright with that. But writing about how I’m doing- how I’m really doing- outside of school and homework and exercise… that’s harder. Definitely not so safe.

It’s Friday night. And yes, I am single in a new, young, cool town. And I just finished washing my laundry. My excuse? There is only one washer and one dryer for twelve condos. That’s true. But what’s also true is that leaving friends and a familiar place to start over in a town where I know no one has been a heck of a lot tougher that I thought.

The hours in class, doing homework and sleeping are no problem. It’s during those other hours the dichotomy begins. Part of me loves feeling productive without having to think about anyone else. It even sounds horrible as I write it! Before classes started, I could literally get through an entire day without speaking to another human. For those of you that know me, that seems pretty darn hard to imagine.

But the other part of me, the much larger part that has just needed a little break, misses having those friends to chat with anytime. That person to sit with you when you’d like to go out for a drink. Or dinner. There are as many good restaurants in Boulder as there are hippies it seems like, and I have a huge list of places I want to try. I could go by myself. And eventually I will.

But tomorrow I’ll wake up happy that my laundry is already finished. And maybe I’ll give my living room a rest and walk to a coffee shop to study instead.