I’m so incredibly thankful right now that I’m road tripping to my friend’s house in Green Bay on Saturday (to run a f**king marathon in 80-f**king degree weather, PLUS 10-20 mph winds! … Deep breath. Composure. I’m good.), and bringing dinner with me.  Because, people, if it weren’t so, I’d be leaving leafy greens at the neighbors’ doorsteps without a note.  Instead of being the anonymous zucchini dumper, I would be the anonymous leafy green leaver. Oh, ugh, that was bad.

Bad alliteration aside, if you haven’t figured it out, I’ve got a cornucopia of green veggies on my hands.

Though they are so very beautiful. And I’m thankful for that, too.

The lettuces will go in an entree salad this evening, tomorrow, on Saturday, and throughout next week until they’re gone.

Young onions will go into the spaghetti sauce I’m making for dinner on Saturday. The rest of them?  No clue… yet.

Radishes will also find their way into salad and on my breakfast plate with a sprinkle of fleur de sel. The greens will be sauteed and combined with my Growing Power scrambled eggs.

Cabbage… maybe cabbage rolls, and/or a mexican slaw with tacos. I’m in need of some inspiration here.  I’m not a Kimchi fan, so don’t even suggest it.

Isn’t this baby pac choi gorgeous?!?

I don’t cook much Asian cuisine, and every other time I’ve  tried to cook pac choi (aka bok choy), I didn’t get it quite right (stem too crunchy, leaves too slimy).  I’ll be scouring the recipe sites and cookbooks for some serious guidance this time around. It’s just too beautiful to mess up.  If you have pac choi expertise or just some fav recipes up your sleeve, please share.

I’ll share what I do with this bounty over the next couple of weeks.  Until then, take 2 minutes to get cozy with Kermit.

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I brought home my first batch of beautiful veggies from High Cross Farm yesterday!

Since it’s probably hard to identify everything in the photo, here’s the list:

  • RHUBARB, and a whole 3 lbs!  Yum-OH!
  • Green garlic
  • Arugula
  • Wild (!) mint that they foraged from the woods.  (How cool is that?)
  • Oregano
  • Baby Kale
  • Baby Chard
  • Lettuce
  • Garlic mustard, which is an invasive plant in this area, and honestly, I’m not overwhelmingly excited about cooking with it, but I’ll let you know how it goes.

I was in a bit of hurry after I got home last night, since I had plans to go to this.  (It was great fun!) I decided to make life easy.

I washed the lettuces and arugula, and made myself a big spanish-inspired salad.  I started off by making a quick sherry viniagrette that I can use all week long:

1/4 cup sherry vinegar
2 tsp dijon mustard
1 garlic clove, smashed
3/4  cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine everything in a jar, and shake the bejeezus out of it until it emulsifies. Easy.

Note:  The ratio for viniagrette is 3-1. Three parts oil to 1 part acid, which can be lemon/lime juice or vinegar.  You can play with this ratio to your own taste, but it’s great to have it in your back pocket when you don’t have time to prepare a fancy salad dressing with lots of ingredients. Plus it’s endlessly adaptable. Add fresh herbs, capers, honey, soy, even cheese.

Note 2:  When you combine garlic and oil, and leave it there for a long time, that’s a recipe for botulism. So don’t think you can keep the dressing indefinitely.  Use it or throw it out after a week, 10 days tops.  See? There are reasons behind these storage guidelines we see everywhere.   

I doctored up the salad with julienned piquillo peppers, slivered pieces of Pamplona style salami from Bolzano’s, Bel Gioso ricotta salata (I didn’t have manchego on hand, OK?), red onion and radishes.

I would have added chickpeas as well if they weren’t frozen solid in their cooking juice in my freezer.  And some sea-salted marcona almonds would have added some crunch and an extra hit of rich flavor, too, but like I said, I was in a hurry.  And it was a great salad without these additions.

I’m already dreaming about breakfast from my CSA:  soft scrambled eggs with sauteed greens and green garlic.

But I have to go for my run first.

Happy trails, and happy cooking!

I’m not calling it a resolution, because I would inevitably break it.  You know what I’m talking about if you belong to a gym.  It’s ridiculous. You can’t get on the elliptical for 3 weeks after the new year because everyone and their freaking pet has made a resolution to lose weight.

I’m calling this my anti-resolution. And the fact that I’m just now writing about it on January 25 only supports my case that this has nothing to do with a new year’s resolution. Even though the word resolution is in my name for it… Oh, nevermind.

Enough beating around the bush… or should I say butter?  I’m going to make a pie every week in 2012. (Good thing I’m also training for a marathon this spring, and a bike race in late summer.)  I really like pie.  I mean, I like pretty much any dessert food, but pie is homey, comforting, and endlessly adaptable.  I also love a good crust. I’ve made really good crusts in the past.  Problem is I haven’t made them consistently.  And I want to be able to whip out a knock-your-socks-off pie anytime the mood strikes, so I’m on a mission to find and perfect pie crust, and I plan to just have some fun with the fillings.  Because at the end of the day, the filling is the easy part.

What I want in a crust is a great buttery flavor, and a flaky, melt-in-your mouth texture.  I know this has been done. I’ve read about it all over The Internets.  And I’ve had really great pies from my pie hero Paul, who I met at my church, and my other pie hero, and these guys approach hero status, too.

Mission definitely not accomplished as of this writing. Not YET, that is.

1st week:  Pecan maple pie.

I actually used a Cooks Country recipe, which comes from the folks at America’s Test Kitchen.  Usually a pretty good resource.  The pie crust was fine.  It called for shortening, but I used all butter.  Great buttery flavor, but not so flaky.  The filling though… GAG!  I think my maple syrup was bad.  Had to throw the darn thing away.  Bummer, because pecans are damn expensive these days!

2nd week:  Lemon custard

Lemon custard pie. You can see my crust really shrunk on one side. I have found in my limited trials thus far that all butter crusts shrink more and don't hold their shape as well. Back to the lab!

Basic lemon custard was quite good.  Couldn’t really judge the pie crust.  I rolled and crimped it, arranged it in the pie plate, stuck it in the freezer, and promptly forgot about it for almost a week.  It was a bit freezer burned, but hell, it tasted OK, so I took it to work, and it was gobbled up.

3rd week:  Sawdust pie

I rolled out the crust a little larger than I needed to, and so had quite the overhang. You can see how it spilled over the side of the pie plate.

I used the filling recipe from the book Baked Explorations, and I threw some chocolate chips in the mix.  It’s basically a filling with crushed graham crackers, coconut, pecans, and sugar, held together with egg whites.  It’s too sweet.  Needs some potato chips or super salty pretzels or something like that. Maybe I’ll substitute some of the graham crackers with potato chips next time.  Yeah, that’s what I’ll do! On the other hand, I may just move on to other fillings.

For the crust, I read about a trick, I think on this blog, about using heavy cream in place of some of the water. What it does is prevent gluten from forming too quickly, so I did that.  I used all butter, and I also used some pastry flour, which has less protein, which means less gluten development, which theoretically means more flakiness.  But it was whole wheat pastry flour, and I honestly don’t know if that has less protein, so I’m not sure it made a difference.

I didn’t like the crust, anyway.  It’s OK, I guess, but it’s definitely back to the drawing board.

I also ordered this book.  It’s a bible, right?  It’s like, God’s word on pies.  So, what the hell… er, I mean, heck.

Oh, also, I know these photos suck.  My awesome photographer friend Stef is coming over to give me a lesson, so you won’t have to avert your eyes when you look at my photos next time.  It’s because I care. I really do.

Thursday nights will bring Advanced Sauces to my repertoire.  I was not looking forward to the class for 2 reasons:

  1. Almost everyone I know from my previous classes is taking the class on Wednesday night, meaning I would not know anyone in the Thursday class.
  2. After a cursory review of the syllabus, it all looked like a review of the sauces we learned in the introductory course, Stocks, Sauces, and Soups, and this camper was none too pleased about that considering how much cash I’m putting on the table for these classes.

But, I decided to give it a chance, and boy, I’m glad I’m sticking with it.

We are a small group, and my classmates, from what I can tell are salt-of-the-earth types. True, I didn’t know most of them before Thursday, but I’m looking forward to working with them.

We also have Chef Stranek as an instructor, and I like him.  He is, in the eloquent words of a classmate who shall go unnamed, “kind of a hard-ass” but he’s a good guy who wants us to learn.  Plus, he’s a straight-shooter,  a man of few words who is effective in communicating what he needs to, no more.  Good stuff. I like people like that.

Really, I like all kinds of people, but in an instructor, those are good qualities.

Last night was largely review, but we made a couple of new things, one of which I plan to repeat for any occasion worthy of a celebration, because this stuff is the bomb.

What sauce could possibly bring so much pleasure?  Zabaglione, of course.

Say it with me:  ZA-BA-GLEE (love that show)-OWN-A.  Zabaglione!  Sounds like something a magician would say after a seriously gnarly trick.

I’ve actually heard of this sauce, and I may have even tasted it at some time in my life, but never really knew what it was or how it was made.  Turns out it’s made using hollandaise technique, which isn’t very difficult.  Who knew?

Basic formula for Zabaglione:

2 oz. marsala (or champagne, white wine, cognac, or other liqueur*)

2 oz. sugar

3 egg yolks

In this version, I am using Grand Marnier.

Combine all in a metal bowl with a whisk.  Place bowl over low heat (or if you need a little security, place it over a bowl of simmering water), and whisk vigorously and consistently until it reaches ribbon stage and is steaming.  Basically, you’re whisking until the yolks are cooked, but not scrambled.  It will probably take about 10 minutes. (Yes, your arm will be tired.)

Ribbon stage looks just like how it sounds – it looks like a silky ribbon, the sauce will nicely coat the back of a spoon and as you mix you will leave a trail in your bowl.

This is how it will look after you've whisked it enough.

*If you use a liqueur or something stronger than a white wine, you may want to reduce the amount for a less boozy result, and instead use a bit of water to dilute the mixture.

I know it doesn’t sound like much, but zabaglione is much greater than the sum of its parts.

We poured the sauce over strawberries, gave it some broiler action (called a salamander) for a couple of minutes to brown the top, and it tasted like toasted marshmallows, only better.  You could fold whipped cream into it and make a mousse, trifle, or parfait, or freeze it for a frozen dessert.

Here is my Grand Marnier zabaglione with sliced pears and a dollop of creme fraiche. I also mixed some creme fraiche into the mixture. Berries would be better, but I didnt have any on hand.

Versatile and delicious.  You can’t ask for much more than that.

My last quarter of culinary school started on Monday with the first night of my Introduction to Baking class.  I wasn’t actually in attendance on Monday due to a work commitment, so my first day was Tuesday, April 12.

On the menu:  muffins

I make muffins a LOT.  They’re a nice little breakfast or mid-morning snack that carries me to lunchtime.  I occasionally try to inject some good nutrition by using a bit of whole wheat flour or oatmeal, but since the muffins I usually make are small, and I don’t eat them every day, I don’t get too anxious about it.

Good muffins make me happy.   Am I alone in this feeling?  I didn’t think so.

There are 2 ways to make muffins.  One way is the muffin method.  It sounds like it should be a song or nursery rhyme, doesn’t it?  It’s a simple technique with 3 completely uncomplicated steps:

muffins

The muffins and quick bread that Mavis and I made. Rhubarb-pistachio muffins with a cinnamon sugar topping, and cranberry ginger loaf with oatmeal streusel.

  1. Combine your wet ingredients:  melted butter or oil, vanilla, milk, eggs
  2. Combine your dry ingredients:  flour, salt, baking powder, and sugar (whisk ‘em up real good so they’re well mixed, or sift them together if you wish).  And here’s a little trick I learned from Dorie Greenspan.  If you’re using citrus zest, mix it into your sugar with your fingers before combining it with all the other ingredients.  The oils from the zest release into the sugar and it’s like a double-hit of citrus-y goodness.
  3. Combine your wet and dry ingredients, mixing just until there aren’t any dry flour streaks. This should only take a minute or 2.  Lumps are OK.  In fact, lumps are good.

If you mix too long, you’re doing 2 things to your batter that will make your muffins tough.

  1. You’re working air into your batter.  You need a little air, because that’s part of what makes them rise (in addition to the baking powder), but not too much or they’ll collapse as they cool on your rack and form these weird little tunnels on the inside that makes it look like small worms invaded your baked goods. Muffins are supposed to make you happy.  If they collapse or look like they’re a home for worms, you won’t be happy, and you’ve defeated the purpose of making muffins.
  2. You’re activating the gluten in the flour.  Gluten is the protein that gives bread its structure.  Gluten is good in bread.  Not so much in muffins.  Your end result will be a tougher texture and a larger crumb.  You won’t want to eat them, and you won’t be happy.

The second method for muffins is the creaming method.  You use the creaming method when you make cookies, layer cakes, and a host of other yummy treats.   And sure enough, if you use the creaming method to make muffins, and do it right, you’ve got yourself little cakes to munch on.  It helps to use pastry flour if you really want that cakey texture.

The creaming method is also simple, but generally involves more equipment (which generally means more dishes, so I don’t usually go this route, but it’s good to know just the same):

  1. Whisk together dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, salt, and any dried herbs or spices you’re using. Set aside.
  2. Mix your softened butter and sugar in a stand mixer for a few minutes until it’s well combined.  It will be kind of fluffy and pale, and you’ll notice that the sugar has begun to dissolve in the butter.  If you want to soften your butter quickly, stick in in the microwave for a minute at 10% power.  You can also just cube the butter, stick it in the mixer and run it at fairly high speed until it warms slightly.  But if you melt the butter, you’re screwed.  Switch to the muffin method if that happens.
  3. Scrape the sides of your bowl, and add your eggs one at a time until just combined. Scrape down the bowl after each addition.
  4. Add your flour and milk, and mix at low speed until combined.  Again, small lumps are good, but definitely make sure the batter is all together and uniform.

Once the batter is mixed in either method, you can add whatever you want to your muffins:  dried and/or fresh fruit, nuts, candy, chocolate, coconut, etc.

Rick's muffins

Ricks muffins. Dark chocolate orange, with a hint of chile. Sweet, but not too sweet, and delectable. Arent they pretty?

I was doubly happy last night, because not only were we making muffins, but I was reunited with my cooking partner, Mavis.  We didn’t have classes together last quarter, and I missed her laugh and fun spirit in the kitchen.

We decided to make rhubarb pistachio muffins with cinnamon sugar topping.  In our second batch, using the muffin method, we made cranberry ginger mini-loaves.  They both turned out rustically beautiful, and they were scrumptious.

Classmates came up with equally mouth-watering combinations including chocolate peanut-butter, oreo cookie, currant-orange, and more.

Our other fine partner in kitchen crime, Rick, made muffins with one of my favorite flavor combos: dark chocolate and orange.

Lovely, happy muffins.

Did you get it?   OK, here’s a hint:  absorbant, and yellow and porous is he.

Yeah, I didn’t know the answer either.   It was a question on my last quiz on Monday, in case you were wondering what the hell this has to do with cooking school.   Turns out all the people with kids figured it out right away.

The answer: Sponge Bob Square Pants.

Monday was the final quiz and exam review.  Tuesday was the final – written exam and practical, which I passed.

So there you go.  I’m finished with my 5-week Intro to Professional Cookery class.  You may applaud now.

I thought I just might get through the thing without a single injury, but alas, during my practical final, I nearly sliced off the tip of my index finger.  Not pretty.  It took an eternity for the thing to stop bleeding.  It reminded me of a scene out of Kill Bill.  Many thanks to classmate Mavis for her assistance (who also has an awesome blog)

During our practical final we had some very specific and precise cuts we had to make with potatoes, carrots, and onions.  I was being way too paranoid about getting it exactly right, and I ended up sticking my finger exactly where it didn’t belong.  Lesson learned.

That said, I was able to finish my practical, and managed to get through the final with some decent scores.  At the end of the night, Chef DeWan asked, “Did you cut it enough?” referring to my finger.  Ha. Ha. Ha.

Now we move on to Stocks, Sauces, and Soups, which I’m seriously pumped about. Sauces are so important, especially in French cuisine.

But I would be remiss if I didn’t discuss some of the oh-so-fun tasks we performed over the past couple of weeks. And of course I will share some recipes, too.

After spending the first couple of weeks on vegetables, we finally got to start playing with birds.  Chicken and duck, specifically.  We sectioned, deboned chickens, airplaned chicken breasts, and we deboned and partially confited a duck.  I love duck. Eating it, that is. Deboning it is tough.  But when you debone either chickens or ducks, you can stuff it with filling of your choosing, truss it, and roast it, and when it’s done, you slice it, plate it, and eat it.  Totally yummy goodness.

We also made brown duck stock that evening, which made the entire kitchen smell amazing.

Next in line were fish.  We filleted lots of fish, both round and flat.  That was fun.  Unfortunately, we weren’t able to eat any of our fish that night, because we just aren’t cooking that much right now. So I got my practice over the weekend at a friend’s house . . . who happens to be vegetarian.  She was very gracious about lending her kitchen to me for the task.

In our final week, we worked with one of the most important ingredients in a restaurant kitchen:  butter.   It’s the stuff of gods, I’m tellin’ ya.  We clarified butter, though some of my classmates made ghee – commonly used in Indian cuisine. Instead of removing the butter from your heat source when it’s completely clear, you cook a little longer until the butter browns.

We also made compound – or flavored – butter.  Chef gave us lots of options with the compound butter.  We could make herb butter, garlic butter, anchovy butter, anything we wanted.

Luckily, there was some shrimp in the cooler and some cans of escargot hanging around the joint, so we cooked both in our compound butter and had a lovely snack late in the evening.  My comrades and I made a tarragon-garlic butter, and it was divine.

The only downside of working with butter all night is that I felt like I had a layer of the stuff coating my body after we were finished that evening.  On the long drive home, it wasn’t the most pleasant sensation, despite what you may think.

OK.  Enough chatter.  Here are some recipes.

Mushroom Duxelle

1 lb mushroom
1 T butter
2 T shallots, minced
1 tsp garlic, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
1 T parsley

  1. Mince mushrooms
  2. Sweat the shallots and garlic in butter until tender. Add the mushrooms, cover with parchment round,  and saute until dry.
  3. Season with salt and pepper and add the parsley.

The next time you debone a chicken (because I provided a link to an awesome Jacques Pepin video on how to do it above), stuff it with this, and maybe other herbs, or prosciutto, or cheese, shove it in the oven until it’s done, and voila, you don’t need to go to that overpriced restaurant anymore (unless you don’t feel like doing the dishes – totally valid!).

Compound butter

As I said, the variations are endless and can get very creative.  Chicken butter, anyone?

Here’s a basic recipe for garlic butter:

40 g parlsey leaves, minced
40 g shallots, minced
30 g garlic, minced
500 g butter
5 anchovy fillets, minced (optional)
2 T anise
salt and pepper
20 g hazelnut, chopped very finely (optional)

Instead of mincing all this stuff by hand, you can do it in a food processor.  Mix it with softened butter.  Drop the stuff on a piece of plastic wrap or parchment and shape into a log.  You can freeze it or refrigerate.

For the record, I would never make this recipe as is as a home cook. Just way too complicated, don’t you think?

For a great herb butter, use about a cup of minced herbs for every pound of butter. Add some minced garlic if you’re a garlic lover. Yum without the fuss.

I have made flavored butters before, and recently made this ancho honey butter. It is delicious!

Also, I like this site, and they have a good slideshow on compound butter that you should look at.

White or brown stock

After you debone your chicken or duck, save the bones for stock (but don’t use the organs, or your stock will be funky).

There’s a formula for stock, so I’m not going to actually give you a recipe.

  1. Weigh your bones.
  2. Your mirepoix  – 2 parts onion, 1 part celery, 1 part carrot – is 30-40% of the weight of the bones.
  3. Start with cold water.
  4. Sachet. The classic ingredients in a sachet are parsley stems, bay leaves and thyme.  You wrap them up in cheesecloth and tie it with kitchen twine. For every 5 pounds of bones, you’ll use 2-3 bay leaves, a couple sprigs of thyme (dry is acceptable), and a couple of parsley stems.  If you like a highly seasoned stock, use more.  If you like other herbs and spices, use them. Garlic – why not? What do I care? The only thing you should never do to a stock is add salt, unless you’re just planning to drink your stock straight up.  Weird, but whatever.

If you’re making white stock, all the ingredients are raw.  If you’re making brown stock, you roast the vegetables and bones first, then deglaze the pan with water or wine, and add the stuff to the pot.  That’s the only difference.

  1. Put your bones in your stockpot, and cover it with water. Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer, and skim off the scum that rises to the surface.
  2. Add the mirepoix and sachet.
  3. Continue simmering and skimming until stock is done:
  • 6-8 hours for veal stock, which is usually brown stock. Yeah, I know it’s a lot of hours, but you’re not going to make it at home anyway.  Puh-lease!  But hey, if you do, stick it in the oven overnight. Way easier that way. Also, add some tomato paste or puree when you add the mirepoix to the stock. Gives it good color and body.
  • 3-4 hours for chicken or duck stock.
  • less than 1 hour for fish stock

4. Strain stock through fine mesh, cool, and refrigerate or freeze.

Let me know if you try any of these recipes or technique!  The thing about being in class is I don’t have as much time to practice as I would like.  Would love to hear about your experience.

Bon Appetit!

I know it sounds like an episode of Hell’s Kitchen, but no joke, this was the exchange at the end of the night in our kitchen classroom last week Tuesday evening.

It was a fun moment, but it was illustrative of an important lesson that my fellow cooks-in-training and I learned on Day 4 of the course, Introduction to Professional Cookery.

Basically, the lesson can be summed up thusly:

  1. Listen very carefully and do everything your chef tells you to do. Do it quickly, and with enthusiasm.
  2. Your chef is always right.

Here’s the back story.

We turned on the stove for the first time on Tuesday, so we were all excited about that, considering we had already spent several hours in class without cooking a thing.

Knife skills, kitchen safety and sanitation are all extremely important. We get that.  But it was time to light the fire!

We were making a simple tomato sauce called Tomato Portuguese.  First, Chef DeWan showed us how to blanch, shock, peel, and chop tomatoes to make our concasse.  Next, Chef handed out a recipe, we looked it over together, and he answered our questions. Finally, he sent us on our way with a few verbal instructions.

We were to break up into teams of 3 students for the 8 cooking stations in the kitchen.  Divide the tomatoes equally among the 8 stations, and proceed with your recipe in your team.

We scattered, and everyone was running.  We were loading up our bowls willy nilly with tomatoes, shallots, garlic, parsley, herbs, etc.  We were gathering pots, pans, cheesecloth and scrap bowls.  It was a bit chaotic, but within a few minutes, we got busy mincing our shallots and pasting our garlic.  We were movin’ along. And we fired the stoves!

A few minutes later, the Chef asked loudly, “Why are there tomatoes left in this box?”

Immediately, my gut lurched just a little bit. Uh oh.

“Gather around!” said Chef DeWan.

“You would all be fired right now if this were a professional kitchen!”

Silence.

“What did I say? I said divide the tomatoes equally among the 8 stations.  Start over!”

Chaos ensued all over again. The tomatoes eventually got portioned somewhat evenly, and we all proceeded with the recipe.

The rest of the evening was largely uneventful, even successful.  At the end of the night, after the dishes are clean, floors are mopped and work services wiped down, we gather around the chef for a few more words of wisdom.  On this evening, he was understanding, but firm in reminding us of the lesson we learned.

Basically, the message I heard from him was: yeah, I get you’re excited that we fired the stoves. It’s good this happened tonight rather than further down the road when we’re cooking multiple things. Don’t let it happen again. Always listen to your chef, because it’s his/her word above all else, and he/she is always right.

Then, by way of demonstration, Chef DeWan turned to one of my classmates and said, “You’re an asshole.”

“Yes, Chef,” replied my classmate without batting an eye.

<laughter>

“Very good,” said Chef DeWan. “Have a good night!”

Now, here’s the story behind the back story.  In other words, why did this happen?

The recipe that Chef DeWan handed out said we needed 2 pounds of tomato concasse.  Everyone was focused on that number, so most of us grabbed what looked like 2 pounds of tomatoes, and went on our merry way.  We almost immediately forgot what our chef told us about dividing the tomatoes equally, because we were so intent on the recipe.

Further, in addition to cooking in these new digs, we had to practice our conversions.  So instead of starting with 2 pounds of concasse, we had to go with whatever the portion was, and then covert the rest of the ingredients to the proper proportion.  Math – ARGH!  I know I was stressing about that, and it made me forget about what the Chef had said.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the deadliest sin in a professional kitchen.

Recipe:  Tomato Portuguese

2 lbs tomato concasse
1 Tablespoon shallots, minced (OR 4% of the weight of your concasse)
2 Tablespoons olive oil (OR 1% of the weight of your concasse)
3 cloves garlic, pasted (OR 2% of the weight of your concasse)
1 Tablespoon tomato paste (optional – we didn’t use it)
1 bouquet garni

salt, pepper and sugar to taste

Heat olive oil in a pan at medium high heat. Add minced shallots and sweat to soften. Turn down the heat if the shallots start to brown. Add the garlic paste, then the chopped tomatoes and bouquet garni. Bring to a simmer, then lower the heat.  Cover with a round piece of parchment paper and cook until the water has completely evaporated. Remove bouquet garni and set aside. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Personally, I thought this sauce was a pretty good base, but definitely needed some livening up.  Add some cumin and jalapenos to make it latin, or stick with the european preparation, but add more garlic to your liking, maybe some smoked paprika, or red pepper flakes.  You could also start it out with stronger aromatics like onions and celery to give a more robust flavor.

Bon Appetit!