Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Raiding the Pantry: dress up your waffles

We all know the mantra: breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But, important doesn't always translate into exciting or delicious. In this edition of Raiding the Pantry (our first!) we'll help you re-energize an old breakfast classic: the waffle.

Some may have frozen waffles languishing in the back of the freezer, others may have a waffle-maker collecting dust in a closet, patiently sitting in its original packaging. Action figures can be worth more in their original packaging; not so for food gadgets. Regardless of your waffle predicament, now's the time to start eating them again.

Our mission at FoodPair is to help you use all those extra ingredients you bought, but forgot to use. Turns out, a lot of kitchen and pantry staples pair well with waffles, so let's raid the pantry and get cooking!

1. Jazz up the Waffle Batter.

While plain waffle batter is always tasty, it's also a great canvass for other flavors. You can mix almost anything into waffle batter and it'll taste great.

We've had fun making chocolate waffles with the addition of cocoa powder or chocolate sauce. After that, fruit is always a nice touch, so feel free to add jam or sliced fresh fruit into the mix. Here's a great recipe for Banana Waffles with Nutella filling. Another interesting breakfast idea is to add crumbled bacon into the waffle batter.

2. Go Nuts with the Toppings!

Once the waffle is cooked, it can be topped with nearly anything. Any kind of fruit will do. Plus, there are always nuts, chocolate and sugar lying around the house. For dessert, topping a warm waffle with ice cream always does the trick. Finally, for a filling breakfast waffle, feel free to top it with an over-easy egg, ham or bacon and some melted cheese.

3. What Would an Iron Chef do?

Iron Chefs are well known for making tasty dishes out of crazy ingredients, like sea cucumber or jelly fish. But, they also know how to think outside the box and turn ordinary dishes into true artistic creations. Here, we're talking about using your style and creativity to present waffles in new ways. If KFC can create the Double Down and Friendly's can make the Grilled Cheese BurgerMelt, we can develop something new for the waffle.

People have been doing chicken & waffles for decades (perhaps centuries), but how about a savory waffle sandwich for lunch or a cool waffle ice cream sandwich for dessert? For the lunch waffle, try adding your favorite meat, cheese and a spread. For the ice cream sandwich, use your favorite flavor with some nuts and chocolate sauce and top it off with powdered sugar.

4. Energize your Presentation

We can all drop a waffle on a plate, but that's not going to win any style points. Try going vertical by cutting the waffle into pieces and stacking it up on the plate. Or, use the squares to your advantage and create an alternating pattern with your toppings. Finally, a little extra whipped cream, powdered sugar or garnish of mint will make your dish restaurant-worthy.

Have additional tips or creative ideas for waffles? Post them in the comments section!

Monday, September 27, 2010

State Spotlight: the Best of Vermont

Some of the FoodPair crew were lucky enough to be in Vermont this past weekend. The weather was fantastic, the scenery was amazing and we stuffed our faces with all the fresh apples and maple syrup we could find.

The Fall Foliage Season in Vermont is peaking right now, so hit the road for beautiful and relaxing sightseeing. Don't forget to soak in the amazing patchwork of trees with their bright red, orange, yellow and green leaves.

Because you'll surely work up an appetite along the way, FoodPair is here to give you plenty of simple and delicious recipes for all the apples and syrup you haul back home. Enjoy!

While we focus on apples & maple syrup, we have to give honorable mention to Vermont's great cheeses and ice creams, notably Cabot Cheese and Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream. Both offer great factory tours in Vermont. Come to think of it, both are great pairings for most of the recipes below!

Apple Coffee Cake
A tasty alternative to apple pie, this cake is great for dessert or snack.
Ingredients in this recipe: cinnamon stick, egg, apple, butter, sugar, salt, all-purpose flour, baking powder, milk

Apple Ginger Mint Iced Tea
It's still hot in most of the country, so try this refreshing drink.
Ingredients in this recipe: honey, mint, apple, ginger, water, apple cider, ice, green tea bags

Curried Chicken Salad
Apples are a crisp and sweet addition to this savory chicken salad.
Ingredients in this recipe: cilantro, olive oil, chicken, scallion, apple, raisin, mayonnaise, yellow onion, yellow curry powder

Apple Pie with Cheddar Cheese
Few can resist a great pie, especially one with Vermont cheddar.
Ingredients in this recipe: egg, apple, butter, lemon juice, sugar, Cheddar cheese, pie crust, tapioca

Classic Baked Acorn Squash
Maple syrup adds sweetness to this healthy and easy veggie dish.
Ingredients in this recipe: butter, maple syrup, brown sugar, acorn squash, salt

Grilled Marinated Sirloin Flap Steaks
Genuine maple syrup is also useful as a marinate for meats.
Ingredients in this recipe: garlic, balsamic vinegar, maple syrup, soy sauce, steak

Let’s get cooking!

Any other states or regions you'd like us to highlight? Post them in the comments section!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The FoodPair Weekender: tailgate like a champ!

It's a great time of year to be a sports fan: college football on Saturdays; pro football on Sundays & Mondays; and the baseball season keeps going and going well into November.

So, what's the best way to celebrate and what should you eat? FoodPair to the rescue!

Invite some friends over to watch the games on that new HDTV you just bought or take the gang on the road for an old-fashioned tailgate. Regardless of where you go or what you do, you're going to need some drinks & grub.

While there are plenty of casual main course options, like burgers and hot dogs, the focus of any good game-day experience is the snack table. We love chips, dips, cheese, and crisp fresh veggies.

Here, FoodPair lays out a bounty of great snack ideas for your next outdoor or indoor tailgate. Enjoy!

Crispy Tortilla Chips with Guacamole
Everyone loves guac and you can easily make tortilla chips in the oven.
Ingredients in this recipe: avocado, cilantro, lime, olive oil, thyme, chili pepper, black pepper, flour tortillas, sea salt

Quick & Easy Artichoke Dip
Another classic dip that's great with chips or fresh veggies.
Ingredients in this recipe: Parmesan cheese, salt, black pepper, mayonnaise, canned artichokes

7 Layer Bean Dip
We're all fans of 7 layers of deliciousness.
Ingredients in this recipe: tomato, avocado, bacon, sour cream, Cheddar cheese, salt, refried beans, chili powder, cumin powder, pickled jalapeno peppers, black olives

Hot Crab & Salsa Dip
A hearty and savory dip that's sure to please.
Ingredients in this recipe: crab, salsa, breadcrumbs, cream cheese, mayonnaise, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce

Light as Air Potato Chips with a Sweet & Smoky Dip
Easy homemade potato chips with a kick-ass dipping sauce.
Ingredients in this recipe: garlic, salt, cumin powder, black pepper, mayonnaise, smoked paprika, Russet potato, cooking oil

Juicy Beef Skewers with Horseradish Dip
For something on the meaty side, try these great beef skewers.
Ingredients in this recipe: olive oil, beef, rosemary, sour cream, chive, horseradish, red wine vinegar, kosher salt, Worcestershire sauce, Port, Dijon mustard

Let’s get cooking!

Any other favorite game-day recipes? Post them in the comments section!

Monday, September 20, 2010

The secrets for an amazing burger

Summer is officially winding down, so before it's gone we thought it was time to give away all our secrets for making an amazing burger. And don't worry, even with the grill in storage, you can always make great burgers in the kitchen.

Between restaurant trips and backyard barbecues, we've eaten hundreds (possibly thousands) of burgers over the years. Even with the burger juices running down our arms and ketchup clinging to our faces, we managed to take careful notes from the best restaurant chefs and grill masters across the country.

With a couple smart substitutions and techniques, you'll be able to make irresistible burgers and maybe win a competition or two!

1. The Meat

The best burgers we've eaten were made with freshly ground meat. Forget about that pre-packaged ground beef and head to the butcher counter or steak section. The Cadillac-level burger, like those from Epic Roasthouse in San Francisco, use a beef mixture that's equal parts brisket, short rib and sirloin. When you can't find those exact cuts, nearly anything with a reasonable fat content will do- we've substituted tri-tip for one of the meats and it was still delicious.

At most stores, the guys behind the counter will grind and mix the meats for you. If they won't or if you prefer to do it yourself, a large food processor or meat grinder will do the trick.

Next, form the meat into patties. Two key points with this step: (1) don't pack the patties too tightly, a loose form that keeps its shape is best and (2) using the bun as a guide, make sure the patties are the right size 'cause no one likes a burger dwarfed by a bun or one that's spilling out the sides.

Finally, season with some salt and pepper and you're ready to cook.

As you no doubt know from our grilling post, make sure the grill is hot and the grates are greased before putting the patties down. You'll probably need about 4 to 5 minutes per side for a medium-rare or medium burger and try not to turn it more than once or you'll risk losing the juice into the flame. Here, a meat thermometer is very helpful- for a nice medium-rare burger with a pink center, aim for 145 degrees, for medium go closer to 160.

You'll want to let the burgers rest for a minute or two after coming off the grill before serving.

2. The Cheese

Any one of your favorite cheeses will do, so don't be afraid to get creative or use more than one at a time! We always enjoy a nice sharp cheddar cheese. They key with any cheese is to make sure it's fully melted before serving, so lay those cheese slices on the patties a minute or two before the cooking has completed.

3. The Bun

A good bun is also important. While some national brands work just fine, those from a local bakery or the bakery section of the supermarket are even better. The best are light, buttery rolls such as brioche. Before serving the burgers, remember to toast those buns!

4. The Fixin's

Like the cheese selection, the ideal fixin's are a matter of personal preference. The classic toppings are a nice crisp lettuce and red-ripe tomatoes. Onions, whether raw or caramelized, are also a nice addition.

What, you may ask, do the pros use? We'll tell you now. First, thin slices of a nice sweet pickle (or pickled strips of any vegetable, like zucchini) add a great salty-sweet component to a rich and meaty burger. Second, a tart aioli (a garlicky flavored mayo) or secret sauce (a la In-N-Out's thousand island style dressing) takes any burger to the next level.

5. Putting it all together

Well, you probably know how to assemble a burger, so we'll keep this short. Start with that toasted bun. On the bottom layer, slather on any aioli or secret sauce. Then, place your perfectly cooked cheeseburger on top. Add a couple pieces of lettuce and thin slices of tomato to that. Spread your ketchup, mustard and any other favorite condiments on the top bun, press it down lightly, and you're ready to eat a delicious burger!

Have additional tips? Post them in the comments section!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Mushroom season is here, so try some of these easy recipes!

Mushroom season is upon us, so there's no better time to try a few of the over 38,000 varieties of mushrooms. While a skilled few will take to the woods to track down wild mushrooms, the rest of us will be happy to get to our local farmers markets and grocery stores where the picking and sorting has been done and we can even get our questions answered.

China is the world's largest producer of mushrooms and supplies nearly half of the planet's cultivated mushroom supply. Mushrooms are an extremely versatile ingredient used in cuisines across the globe. They're also healthy- loaded with protein, B-Vitamins and minerals. Plus, they're low in calories, but packed with flavor.

Try adding mushrooms to your next meal. To help you along, here are 6 great recipes containing mushrooms:

Soft Scrambled Eggs with Mushrooms and Chives
First thing in the morning you can include mushrooms in your next scramble or omelet.
Ingredients in this recipe: eggs, butter, mushrooms, chives, black pepper, salt

Wild Mushroom Soup
Blending mushrooms into soup is a great way to unleash their full flavor.
Ingredients in this recipe: olive oil, bacon, potato, shallot, carrot, onion, parsley, salt, chicken stock, black pepper, ice, dried porcini mushrooms, mixed mushrooms

Roasted Asparagus with Wild Mushrooms
The earthy flavor of mushrooms is a great complement to asparagus.
Ingredients in this recipe: garlic, olive oil, asparagus, lemon juice, chanterelle mushrooms, morel mushrooms, black pepper, sea salt, cremini mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms, Italian parsley, oyster mushrooms

Marinated Mushrooms
This is a new take on a classic Italian side dish.
Ingredients in this recipe: garlic, olive oil, red onion, black pepper, white wine vinegar, sea salt, cremini mushrooms, coriander seeds, Italian parsley, oregano

Japanese Noodles with Shimeji Mushrooms
This is a great and simple Japanese noodle dish.
Ingredients in this recipe: garlic, olive oil, parsley, soy sauce, miso, salt, black pepper, udon noodles, shimeji mushrooms

Chicken, Mushrooms and Tomatoes with Port Wine
Mushrooms pair well with chicken and take this entree to the next level.
Ingredients in this recipe: tomato, garlic, chicken, shallot, butter, salt, black pepper, cremini mushrooms, Port

Let’s get cooking!

Any other favorite mushroom recipes? Post them in the comments section!

Monday, September 13, 2010

You put what on your hot dog?

Now that Labor Day has come and gone, the time has come for students and teachers to head back to school. Where did that three month vacation go?

When we were in school, nearly every lunch consisted of a hamburger, hot dog, basket of fries, slice of pizza, or sometimes all of the above. Good times indeed. But, depending on where you grew up, those hot dogs could be vastly different. New York and Chicago have strong hot dog traditions, but so do other parts of the country.

Here, FoodPair breaks it all down for you, so next time the hot dog cravings hit you can take a culinary road trip.

1. The New York Dog

New Yorkers are opinionated about their dogs, and a lot of other things for that matter. The classic New York Dog is relatively plain- topped with deli mustard (something along the lines of Gulden's Spicy Brown) and sauerkraut. Some places will add steamed onions, but mustard & kraut are the classic NY toppings.

2. The Chicago Dog

The Chicago Dog is a monster and can handle nearly everything you throw at it. These dogs typically come with yellow mustard, neon green relish, fresh chopped onions, two tomato wedges, a pickle spear, two sport peppers and a dash of celery salt. Wait, you're not done yet- you'll also need an all-beef dog and a poppy seed bun. Oh yeah, hold the ketchup.

3. The Southern Dog

Southerners are partial to Slaw Dogs, which come slathered in a mayo-based coleslaw. We've also seen versions with BBQ slaw and Chili slaw, so feel free to get creative.

4. The Midwestern Dog

Across the Midwest people love their Coney Dogs, which come topped with meaty chili, mustard, chopped onions and often shredded cheddar cheese.

5. The Sonoran Dog

Bacon-wrapped hot dogs have been popping up across the country, especially right outside bars at closing time. The Sonoran Dog is popular in Arizona. They start with a grilled bacon-wrapped dog and then add pinto beans, chopped tomatoes, chopped onions, mayo and jalapeƱos. Some places offer shredded cheese, salsa verde and even guacamole.

6. Honorable Mention

There are plenty of other regional varieties when it comes to hot dog preparation. In New Jersey some shops deep fry their dogs until they burst. In Kansas City, they top their dogs with sauerkraut and melted Swiss cheese.

Baseball stadiums have also entered the creative hot dog craze. The Fenway Frank is served on a New England style bun with mustard and relish. The Rockie Dog is a footlong with grilled peppers, sauerkraut and onions. The Texas Dog at Minute Maid Park is covered with chili, cheese and jalapeƱos.

Unless you're a World Champion hot dog eater like Joey Chestnut or Kobayashi, you may want to try these recipes one or two at a time, but don't let us stop you from going for the record!

Have additional creative hot dog recipes or regional specialties? Post them in the comments section!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Potatoes: they're versatile and nutritious

Americans eat a lot of potatoes, but mainly as french fries. We all know and love fries, but without a deep-fryer they're tough to make at home and a lot of us are avoiding fried foods (at least for the next couple hours). The good news is that there are many other delicious and easy ways to use potatoes.

Potatoes originated in South America and today over 99% of all potatoes consumed are descendants of a variety from southern Chile. The Spanish introduced potatoes to Europe in 1536 and they quickly became a staple of diets around the world. Recently, a lot of people have been avoiding potatoes because they're high in carbohydrates, but most of the carbohydrates come as starch, which is resistant to digestion and has similar health benefits to fiber. On top of that, potatoes are high in Vitamin C, Potassium, and B-Vitamins.

So, now that we're eating potatoes again, let's use some in our next meal.

Here are 5 great recipes containing potatoes:

Potato Gnocchi
Gnocchi can be light, fluffy and delicious if you don't use too much flour!
Ingredients in this recipe: egg, potato, salt, all-purpose flour, marinara sauce

Wasabi Smashed Potatoes
Try this great Asian-fusion recipe to energize those classic mashers.
Ingredients in this recipe: potato, scallion, butter, soy sauce, wasabi, milk

Turnip and Potato Patties
The Jewish holidays are here, so it's a great time to try this twist on a classic latke recipe.
Ingredients in this recipe: egg, potato, scallion, turnip, salt, black pepper, all-purpose flour, vegetable oil

Baked Potato with Indian Cured Salmon
House-cured salmon with transform a baked potato into a healthy meal.
Ingredients in this recipe: potato, salmon, butter, cream, dill, mustard, cayenne powder, all-purpose flour, milk

Roast Potatoes with Sage and Orange
This is a unique and tasty way to serve roasted potatoes as a side dish.
Ingredients in this recipe: garlic, olive oil, sage, orange peel, Yukon Gold potatoes

Let’s get cooking!

Any other favorite potato recipes? Post them in the comments section!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Meet a chef's best friend: a flavorful stock

Ever wonder how your grandmother and restaurant chefs effortlessly make delicious soups and sauces while we struggle?

Well, the secret's out and the good news is that it's way easier than you think: just start with a great meat or vegetable stock and the rest is simple. Plus, you can make stock in a huge batch days or weeks in advance and freeze it until you need it. And finally, the ingredients in stock are often the cheapest in the supermarket.

Because stocks are the foundation to many dishes, a good home-made one can take your food to the next level. Here's what you need to know to make each type of stock. Don't forget to check out the helpful tips at the end!

1. Chicken Stock

To make a great chicken stock you'll need: 1 set of chicken bones or a whole chicken carcass, 1 onion, 1 celery stem (without leaves), 1 small carrot, 1 herb bouquet.

You can buy a chicken carcass from the butcher counter at any supermarket. They also typically have a set of chicken bones for sale for making stock. Better yet, after you've roasted a chicken for dinner, save the scraps for a stock.

An herb bouquet is a mixture of herbs you can buy or make yourself. A traditional bouquet consists of parsley, thyme, and a bay leaf and is bound in cheese cloth so you can pull it out once the stock is made.

Making the stock is easy: in a large pan, heat some oil over medium heat and add the carcass, which you should brown while breaking it up with a spoon. The longer you cook the meat and bones, the more brown the stock will become. Next, add the vegetables & herbs and enough water to cover all the ingredients. Simmer for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Finally, strain the stock and it's ready.

2. Beef Stock

To make beef stock you'll need: a couple pounds of beef bones and some beef trimmings, 1 onion, 1 celery stem (without leaves), 1 small carrot and 1 herb bouquet.

For a brown stock, roast the bones and trimmings with a little oil in a roasting pan. Put the pan into a preheated 400 degree oven and roast until well browned. Once that's done, transfer the meat (and don't forget to scrape or deglaze the roasting pan to incorporate all the extra flavor into the water) to a large stock pot. Next, add the vegetables, herb bouquet and add water until ingredients are just covered. Simmer for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

For a light beef stock, you don't need to roast the meat, you can add it raw to the pot with the water and vegetables and simmer until cooked.

3. Vegetable Stock

To make a vegetable stock you'll need: 1 onion, 1 celery stem (without leaves), 1 small carrot, 1 leek (only the white part) and 1 herb bouquet.

Put a little oil into a stock pot and saute the vegetables gently. Next, add enough water to cover the vegetables and the herb bouquet. Simmer gently for 30 minutes. Remove the herbs, strain and it's done!

4. Fish Stock

To make a fish stock you'll need: 1 fish skeleton (cod or flounder are good, or for a seafood stock shrimp or lobster tails & shells), 1 onion, 1 celery stem (without leaves), 1 leek sliced (only the white part) and 1 herb bouquet.

In a stock pan, add a little oil and the fish scraps. Cook over low heat and then add water, vegetables and the herb bouquet. Simmer very gently for approximately 20 minutes. Remove the herbs, strain to remove the fish bones and shells and you're done!

5. Tips to Remember

- Simmer at a very low temperature, just at the point the mixture begins to boil because this will allow the flavors to infuse gently into the stock.
- Avoid adding celery leaves as these can make the stock bitter.
- Don't add salt and pepper to the stock, you can use these to season the final soup or sauce.
- The bones, meat scraps and vegetables can all be discarded after cooking because their flavor will be in the stock.
- For very clear soups, such as consomme, allow the stock ingredients to sediment then ladle the clear fluid from the top.
- Stock can always be separated into portions and sealed and frozen for future use.

Now you have all the tools you need to incorporate a great stock into any dish, soup or sauce calling for one.

Have additional tips? Post them in the comments section!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Tips for Improvising: cooking when you don't have every ingredient

We've all encountered this problem: you want to cook a dish and you're fired up and ready to go. But, after searching high and low for all the ingredients, you're missing something and don't have the time or energy to run back to the store. What to do?

The answer: time to improvise. Don't worry, it's possible and can be done well if you follow these rules. So, channel your favorite Top Chef competitor, fire up the stove, and let's do this!

1. Look through your fridge and pantry to see what you have

The first step for any good improvisation is finding out what you have available in your house. You'll often be surprised by what you find. Also, this is a great way to make use of things that have been languishing at the back of a shelf or in the fridge for far too long.

2. Categorize the ingredients you find

Spices and other flavorings: categorize them into major taste categories: sweet, salty, spicy, sour and bitter.

Vegetables: categorize them based on whether they are "wet" or "dry." Vegetables that release water when cooking are wet, including tomatoes, eggplant and cabbage. Vegetables that do not are dry, including carrots, asparagus and lettuce.

Meats: categorize based on whether they cook quickly or slowly. Fish, shrimp and other seafood items tend to cook quickly whereas beef, chicken, lamb and other land animals tend to take more time to cook properly.

3. Look back at the recipe you plan to use and categorize the missing ingredients in the same way

4. Note the purpose for each missing ingredient in the dish and the cooking method the recipe requires

At this point, you should consider whether the missing ingredient was used for flavoring (herbs and spices), color or texture. Also think about the method of cooking to find out if you can or need to replace the ingredient. For instance, for a sautee or stir-fry you're, you'll need some kind of oil and nearly any will do, but if you use butter, make sure to pay attention for burning because it has a lower smoke point than most oils.

Categories of flavor are key: when replacing spices and flavoring, replace with things from the same category. If you need something spicy, find another spicy ingredient in your pantry (even hot sauce will do).

You can adjust for different types of vegetables: you can replace wet vegetables with dry ones, but then make sure to add water to the dish. When replacing dry vegetables with wet ones, stir fry the wet vegetables first to cook off some of the water.

When substituting meats, the key is cooking time: if the recipe calls for beef and you're replacing it with shrimp, add the shrimp later in the process because it cooks much more quickly. Or if you're using beef when a recipe demands shrimp, cut the beef into smaller pieces, add it earlier and cook it longer than the recipe for shrimp suggests.

OK, let's do this, and remember to have fun with it! Let us know your thoughts or other tips in the comments section below.