The Food Groupie Club

Hi my name is Sarah and I'm addicted to food. I have been a chef professionally for about 12 years now and am currently teaching cooking classes at a culinary school. I seriously love to cook and eat good food. The problem with cooking and eating like the professionals though is that it can be kind of intimidating for a home food enthusiast. My goal is to bring good food into every-day homes. Anyone can make healthy, good quality, good tasting, and good looking food with the right know-how. So here you made easy by a professional!

I will be featuring some of my favorite chef's recipes in my posts and will note in the post what book was used. Their books that I use will be listed in my must have cookbooks tab.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Banana Whole-Wheat Bran Muffins/Bread

I think I'm in love with this recipe. I've been playing around with baking with whole wheat flour and have been also trying to sneak wheat bran into certain recipes.  So far most of the biscuit and other quick bread recipes I have tried end up being pretty heavy and sometimes too strongly flavored, especially with bran in the picture. This is the best recipe by far that I have made.  I found a whole wheat banana bread recipe on a blog I follow, then made some adjustments so there are no fats or oils and added bran to it. So not only is this recipe super healthy, its also super amazingly good. Light, fluffy, moist...... can't beat it. Plus, make several batches.... these freeze well. Great breakfast or morning snack!

2 cups Whole Wheat Flour
1/2 cup Wheat Bran
1/4 tsp. Salt
1/4 tsp. Baking soda

3 Ripe Bananas {mashed}
1/4 cup Plain Non-Fat {preferably organic} Yogurt
1/4 cup Honey
2 Eggs
1/3 cup Applesauce {no sugar added}
1 tsp. Vanilla

1.  Preheat oven to 350

2.  Stir together all the dry ingredients into a large bowl

3.  Add all wet ingredients and stir until just combined.  Do not use an electric mixer or stir too much.  It will make the bread tough and rubbery.

4.  If you are doing muffins, line or spray a muffin pan and fill 2/3 full with batter.  This will make about 1 1/2 dozen muffins.  If you are doing a loaf, spray loaf pan and fill with all of mixture.  This will make 1 regular sized loaf.

5.  For muffins, bake 20-25 minutes. Check doneness with toothpick.  Should insert easily and come out clean.  For full loaf bake 45-50 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

How To Roast A Chicken

Ok, You may be thinking "who roasts a chicken anymore?". I know its super convenient to just buy the bags or packages of parts and just cook those up, but I believe we should bring back the bird.  Seriously, why do we only roast whole birds once a year at thanksgiving? And we even do that poorly most of the time! Bird roasting is a long lost art that very few people dare to do. I've heard one too many people say recently that they have NEVER roasted a whole chicken and I decided I want to do something about that.  I always tell my students that a sign of a good chef is knowing how to do the simple things well.  I take advantage of the fact that I do this frequently and forget this is not a normal activity for normal people.  So here you go: Bird roasting 101.  I did a chicken, but you can do whatever bird you want... like a turkey... no, its not against the law to cook one outside of the holiday season.

First step to a beautiful roasted bird...... Brine it! 

Letting poultry spend some time in a brine is a magical thing. A brine is just a salty bath for the bird. As it soaks in the brine the salt pulls out the moisture then it all gets absorbed back in: Moisture, salt, and other brine flavorings.  And when it's roasting, less moisture is pulled out because the salt helps to lock it in the meat. Salt doesn't evaporate like water does. Not only will you have the moistest bird ever, but even the leftovers will be moist and the meat will be seasoned and flavored from the inside out instead of just on the skin of the bird.  See, magical! You have a lot of options on the brine.  You can just use salt and water, but I like to use juices and wines in my brine's so there is more flavor. You can do orange, cranberry, or apricot juice, white wine, stock.... pretty much anything you want as long as it is a liquid.  If you do juice or wine, do 1/2 juice 1/2 water to dilute it a little.  It will be a very expensive brine plus the flavor might be slightly too intense if you don't.  You always want to taste the flavor of the bird, don't cover that up with other flavors and spices.  You can also just google "poultry brine's" and find some good suggestions on some combinations and measurements.  For my 4 1/2 pound chicken, I used 15 cups of liquid to 1 cup of salt. Then I just added in some spices I had laying around : black peppercorns, parsley stems, herbs de province, garlic, and lemon juice.  Just dissolve the salt into the liquid then pour it over your bird in a pot or bowl.  You can dissolve the salt by stirring it in, or you may need to warm it slightly.  Just make sure its cool before you pour it over the bird.  Pop the whole pot in the fridge to keep it cool and let it go a minimum of 3-4 hours or up to overnight {12 hours or so}

When you're ready to cook it, pull the bird out of the brine, rinse it slightly and pat it dry with paper towels.  Now its time for some real fun. 
I bought this chicken at whole foods.  I've been researching free range and organic chickens a lot lately and came across Mary's Chickens.  Mary's is a family farm and they provide a great product. No over-crowded chicken houses with un-naturally fat, sickly chickens stumbling around.  I'm very impressed with their handling of their birds.  Plus, while I was checking out this company I realized that I know the son which makes me want to support this farm even more.  Anyways, whole foods distributes their chickens and even for whole foods I thought the price was amazing for the quality of the product.  I just got the free range chicken {$1.99 a pound} but they also do free range organic {$3.99 a pound} and pasture raised {don't remember the exact price. I think it was about $6 or so a pound}  I just chose to get the free-range only because even though its not labeled organic... they're being fed the same and raised the same so I was fine with it.  Whole foods sells these packaged or you can buy them un-packaged from the meat case. 

I really want to reinforce something I have already said..... When you start with a good quality product before cooking, you end up with a good quality product after cooking.  This chicken was amazing.  I've always noticed with the bags of chicken breasts that I buy from Costco, they always have this weird super chicken-y almost sour flavor to it.  Its hard to describe, so hopefully you know what I'm talking about. Its not good.  This chicken tasted like chicken. I loved it! And it had a really good texture to it also.  So worth it.  Really, if you buy 1 chicken, that will feed 2 people at least 2-3 meals.  Plus you can make stock with the bones.  Not too shabby for 9 bucks.

Second step: Prep the bird for roasting. 

Really, if you want to keep it simple, all that needs to be done with the bird at this point is to rub the skin with a little bit of olive oil or melted butter and its ready for the oven. The oil will help the skin get nice and crispy and golden brown because oil helps to conduct heat to the bird. I like things more than simple sometimes though.  I like to cram compound butter under the skin!! Compound butter is a flavored butter.  You can mix in whatever you want in a compound butter.  They are amazing to just have on hand because they make a great finishing touch to a lot of different things.  I used 1 stick of softened {room temperature} butter and added minced parsley, lemon pepper, and garlic.  Add as much as you want of these things, there isn't an exact recipe for this. 
If you gently loosen the skin with your fingers first, you can take finger-fulls of this and push it under the skin and just massage it into all the nooks and crannies of the bird.  Sorry, I don't have any pictures of this but I was home alone and couldn't touch my camera with my butter covered chicken infested hands. But here is the finished product:

You may have notice my Ghetto-rigged trussing job.  I didn't have any butcher's twine to truss my bird.  Trussing is where you tie the legs and arms into the bird to keep it compact and prevents it from flailing everywhere while its cooking.  Its nice, but not 100% necessary, but still.... I couldn't handle the legs just dangling there in the pan.  That would be sad.  So instead I took a piece of foil and rolled it into a snake and wrapped that around the legs then tucked the wings under the body where the head used to be. Good enough right?  OH.... and put some fresh rosemary in the caboose if you have any growing in your yard. Aromatics make a difference!

Final step: Roasting

First let me address temperatures.  You will probably find a million different temperatures to roast a bird at.  Most recipes say 325-350 degrees. I prefer to go a little higher at 375-400 degrees.  The reason I like the higher temperature is I feel it gets better color on the bird and it cooks faster which means less time exposed to heat where it can dry out.  One thing you should not do is low temperature roasting {250-300 degrees}  Let me tell you something......{say that like fire marshal bill}... Chickens and turkeys are not your grandma's chickens and turkey's anymore.  Grandma did a low temp roast and let it cook all day because she ate birds that were running around her backyard.  Those birds had a really nice fat layer between the skin and meat which protected it from drying out.  The fat would melt and self-baste itself and be all nice and delicious with very little external help.  That doesn't happen anymore... so up the temp and just cook it.  If you low temperature roast today's birds, they will end up dry because of the long heat exposure. 

Put the bird in a preheated oven and LEAVE IT ALONE! Do not open the oven to baste it.... it doesn't need it.  Especially if you crammed it full of butter.  Without getting all Bill Nye on you again, basting really doesn't do anything to your bird but sogg out the skin and helps to encouraging drying. Its not necessary.  My 4 1/2 bird took about 1 hour and 15 minutes uncovered at 375 and looked like this when it was done:
I forgot to turn the pan 1/2 way through.... turn yours.  In a conventional oven with all those hot spots you'll get a more even browning on the bird if it gets a little turn. 

How do you know when its done??  BUY A PROBE THERMOMETER!!  This is a must have if you like to roast anything.  
These are wonderful because you can stick it in whatever you are roasting and leave it in.  The oven door closes on the wire and you can monitor the temperature the entire way through and will always know the exact temp the food is at.  You can even program it to beep when it hits a certain temperature.  I also love it because it goes to a high enough temperature so you can use it for cooking sugar too!  

Remove the bird from the oven once it reaches 160 degrees.  Let it rest for about 10-15 minutes and carryover cooking will take it up to the approved finished temp of 165.  Now its ready for carving and serving! 

I hope this inspires you all to tackle the easy task of roasting a whole bird.  I promise you will not regret trying this.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Easy Granola

Adapted recipe from the  100 days of real food website

Hopefully you have been following my previous posts about eating more "real" food.  My husband and I have challenged ourselves to whenever possible eating only unprocessed no refined or modified anything foods.  We already didn't eat "processed" food that often, but we had no clue how many seemingly healthy foods in fact aren't. Label reading woke us up! One of the main packaged foods we did eat A LOT of is cold cereal. We wake up early for work and so anything quick for breakfast is a heaven send. {ok and sometimes for dinner too} No more cold cereal. Ouch.  So I am madly in love with the 100 days of real food website. Its probably the most useful site I have come across with recipes that are actually good.  Anyways, since we are on a no more cold cereal kick that means I needed to make something in its place.  I found Winco bulk foods just in time! I stocked up on nuts, dried fruits and all sorts of other stuff which all go great in granola.  Here is the recipe I use from the site {with a few of my own adaptions of course!}

  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3 1/2 cups rolled oats 
  • 1/2 cup steel cut oats
  • 1 cup raw sliced almonds
  • 1 cup raw cashew pieces
  • 1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds
  • 1 cup raw pumpkin seeds or kernels
  • 1/4 cup flax seeds
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated or ground nutmeg or allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • parchment paper or foil

You can also add in dried fruit to replace the nuts if you have allergies.  I love nuts, so I love this recipe.  I like to add a little handful of dried fruit and milk to this for breakfast.... or just munch on it for a great little snack.

Step 1:
Add the butter, honey, and vanilla to a microwave save bowl. Heat on high for about a minute or until the butter is melted.

Step 2:
Add all of the remaining ingredients into a large bowl then add the melted butter and honey.  Stir ingredients until evenly coated.

 Step 3:
Line 2 sheet pans or cookie sheets {any shallow pan} with parchment or foil. Divide the mixture evenly between the 2 pans and press it flat into a thin, even layer.

Step 4:
Bake at 250 degrees for about 1 hour and 15 minutes {should be a light golden brown}.  Do not stir while its cooking.  

Step 5:
Once again, don't stir it.  Just let the granola cool in the pan.  It will harden and get crunchy as it cools.  Once it is completely cool, break it into chunks then store it in an air tight container.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Alice Waters Baked Peaches

The Art of Simple Food Page 366
**can also be done with nectarines

This is a great way to use in season peaches as a light dessert.  If you have never heard of Alice waters, you have been missing out.  She is well known for a more natural way of eating.  She uses GOOD, simple ingredients in her recipes. She mainly focuses on sustainable organic foods, but more than anything she's a heavy hitter in the "eat real food" movement.  Her cookbook is amazing {no pictures, but don't let that be the reason you don't try her recipes.  They're easy and with ingredients you have heard of}  The name of the book title will hopefully tip you off on the difficulty level of her recipes. 

You will need:

4 large ripe peaches
5 Tablespoons Apricot Jam {or any flavor of your favorite jam, as long as it goes well with peaches}
2 Tablespoons Honey
1 cup water {I like to do 1/2 c water, 1/2 c white wine as a variation}
1 Tablespoon Lemon Zest
2 Teaspoons lemon juice
Brown sugar as needed

Ready for the easy part??

Whisk the jam, honey, water, & lemon zest and juice in a small bowl.  I have mint growing in my yard so I like to add a couple sprigs for a little extra flavor.
Cut the peaches in half and pull out the pit.  Place them flesh side up in a baking dish and pour the sauce over it, making sure the tops of the peaches are well coated with the sauce.  Sprinkle the tops of the peaches with a little bit of brown sugar.
Bake at 400 degrees until you can easily slide a knife into the peach.  The final cooking time will vary depending on how ripe the peach is.  {about 20-40 minutes.  20 minutes for ripe and ready to eat.....up to 40 minutes if its still hard}  Baste the sauce over the peaches a couple times while its cooking. 
You can eat this as is....or you can add a scoop of vanilla ice cream or whipped cream on top.  If you want to do whipped cream, please note..... cool whip or that other stuff that you squirt out of a can.... IS NOT WHIPPED CREAM! Seriously, making your own is super easy.  You just use manufacturing cream, or whipping cream, or heavy cream {or whatever your grocery store calls it these days}.  They're all pretty much the same thing.  Whipping cream vs. Heavy cream.... slightly different fat content, but not by enough to impact its whipping abilities.  So buy whatever is cheaper.  

Pour about 1/4-1/2 cup of cream into a bowl and add a couple teaspoons of vanilla and enough powdered sugar to slightly sweeten it. {do this to taste....and taste it before you whip it}  Also, a pantry necessity is a good vanilla. Buy either pure vanilla or vanilla bean paste {like this can buy it at Sur la table or Williams Sonoma. Its about $10-11 but super worth it.  Makes things look and taste like you used fresh vanilla bean pods}  Vanilla extract is mostly alcohol and doesn't have a very good flavor.
Just whip everything together until the cream forms stiff peaks on the whisk.

Don't whisk it past this point otherwise it will first get super grainy then eventually you'll end up with butter.

To serve, place a peach half in a bowl {or do a whole peach if you really really love this} and spoon some of the hot sauce over the peach and top with either ice cream or whipped cream.