Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The best is yet to come...

Realizing the incredibly low readership of this publication (echo), I wanted to make a statement to anybody who might stumble across this and think it is dead. Rest assured it is not, and there are many many ideas floating around inside my head. This past year has been incredibly difficult for my family and me, and while we are on the path to improvements, have not quite made it there yet. So hold tight, because exciting things are right around the corner....

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Of Bakers and Bread

When Hands-On Cuisine was only a thought in my head, I never imagined it to be solely a repository for my own recipes; I wanted to include my own culinary thoughts and musings as a reflection upon cooking in a modern household.  A lot can happen in one year, and culinary discoveries can be made!

I like to experiment with different and unfamiliar processes, and over the past few months I have taken up the mysterious art of bread baking.  I was captivated by how four of the most simple ingredients, flour, salt, water, and yeast, can elicit such a wide variety of results while carrying such stigma for being difficult and time consuming.  Bread has been the staple food of the western diet for thousands of years, and I find it amazing that a skill so integral to even our most recent ancestors has been nearly totally lost in the last 50 to 100 years.  What happened?  I, not unlike the proverbial cat, had to have my curiosity resolved; I had a whole modern kitchen at my disposal,which is certainly more than medieval Europeans had, this couldn't be that hard.

Since my curiosity was piqued I did what now comes naturally to me; I hit up the internet and was speedily overcome with a sense of information overload.  It seemed like there was so much information, yet so little actual content.  I'm sure you know the feeling, hell, it might even be what brought you here.  It seems the world of bread baking is filled with people who all have THE ABSOLUTE BEST RECIPE IN THE UNIVERSE AND THEN SOME!!!!, and as we all know if you set astronomical expectations you best be prepared for disappointment.  So in an effort to help you save some time and frustration I want to give out some pointers to the burgeoning baker as the kickoff to a somewhat periodical series on bread.

If you are really interested in trying your hand a bread baking I would suggest picking up a good book on baking, many of which also include sections on cookies, cakes, and a wide variety of delicious confections.  I find a good book clearly teaches the fundamentals of baking and will usually provide extremely helpful illustrations from master artisans.  While  I have bought and tried out a few different books, one that I have absolutely fallen in love with is Buchon Bakery by Thomas Keller and Sebastien Rouxel (2012).  The book was a gift from my wife and has been absolutely wonderful.  I find Keller and Rouxel's approach to be straightforward with a rich and experienced presentation.  The bread baking segment is geared for the home-cook and I found it easy to jump right in.  They even note that every recipe has been ideally scaled for preparation using a KitchenAid stand mixer, which is extremely convenient.  They also provide all measurements in grams, which ensures that the recipes are reproduced exactly and consistently; baking does require you to be a bit more exact in your measurements after all.  This book has helped me to understand the chemistry behind bread baking and acted as an outstanding introduction.  This was exactly what I was looking for.

The intent of this post was not a book review, but as an introduction to a world I have recently discovered and found to be quite delicious; a way to get your hands doughy if you will.  Gone are the days of overpriced baguettes in our house, but here to stay are fresh bread bowls for soups and warm bread straight from the oven!  So with that in mind keep your eyes peeled for some exciting new entries on bread.

  A French batard prepared following Buchon Bakery's instructions.



Monday, March 25, 2013

A Year in Review

Ideas always seem bigger inside my head.  Now that we are approaching the first year of Hand-On Cuisine I can heartily say that I am happy with where it went and am excited to what the future has in store. (You can't get rid of me that easily!)  Now, all other things aside, this past year has proven to be much more difficult than I had ever expected on a personal level, but alas that is no excuse for laxity!  For this next year I plan on continuing to provide an exciting approach to home cooking, but also want to find ways to incorporate more interesting content to help the home cook whip up some amazing recipes.  So pardon the food puns, but stay peeled for more exciting things!  And make sure to "LIKE" me Facebook or follow me on Twitter!  (Do I need a catch-phrase?  It seems like one would fit her perfectly.)

Thursday, January 3, 2013

How do you like your chicken? A lefty friendly guide to breaking down this most popular poultry

In America today it seems nothing is more important than convenience, but what frequently remains unnoticed is the extra price we incur for it.  One place that this can be most obvious is at your local meat counter.  One of the easiest ways to spare your wallet is to steal some very easy work from the butcher (not to say we don't want to keep him gainfully employed.)  I'm not suggesting you go kill and clean your own livestock, rather, pinch a few pennies by utilizing some tools nearly everybody already has in their kitchen.  Of course the best part is that you need no formal training, and by simply remembering a few tricks and taking a hands-on approach you can keep your bank account a little bit happier.

So let's take a look at something you are all probably very familiar with; Gallus gallus domesticus, a.k.a. the chicken; a protein which since the early 90's has become the most consumed protein in the United States. (See: http://www.meatami.com/ht/a/GetDocumentAction/i/48781)  According to the American meat institute you and your neighbor ate roughly 85 pounds of the stuff each last year.  Assuming you're eating this all at home, the next natural question is where you're getting your birds.  I buy all my meat at the local bulk store, e.g. Costco, where you can reap the benefits of buying in larger quantity.  Next we will look at the cut; taking convenience into factor we will assume you are buying boneless skinless breasts.  They're practically instant gratification, which is something you will pay for at an average price somewhere between $3-$4 per pound.  Multiply that (we'll say $3.50) by the 85 pounds we ate last year and you get an annual cost of almost $300 on chicken alone!  Can you see where I'm heading?  I buy all my chickens as whole fryers; fresh, young, and small compared to their larger counterparts the roasters (which are often injected with a brine or marinade of some sort. yuk.)  I've seen these go as low as $.79 per pound, but most often pay $.99.  So right there I save almost $200 a year just by buying the whole packaged deal!  If somebody were to pay me an hourly rate to break down 85 lbs of whole chickens over the course of a year, I would most certainly not make $200, but that's what you're paying your butcher...

Now I know what you're thinking. I can steal the words right from your lips.  "You're paying for the bones and gizzards also, which totally go to waste."  Not here they don't!  Oh no, when I'm done the only thing that makes the trash can is the plastic bag and the extra fat (which could be rendered down into a product called schmaltz.)  The wing tips, organs, necks, backs, and anything else all make their way to the stock pot, (I'm sensing a future entry here).  So without further ado we will now examine how one can easily break down a chicken into its constituent, and tasty, parts.

Tools you will need:

Knife: You can easily get away with using your Chef's Knife.  Since I look for ways to blow my money on expensive kitchen gadgets I use a boning knife and cleaver.  These are by no means necessary (but rather fun)!

Large Plastic Cutting Board: Mine has a nice groove cut into the surface which helps to keep any liquid on the board and off the counter.  Plastic is easily sterilized in the dish washer, whereas wood can soak up harmful bacteria.

Plastic Baggies:  I usually do this 6 chickens at a time and proceed to freeze all the parts for later use.  I really love using Ziploc vacuum bags as they keep the freezer burn to a minimum.

Large bowl and Platter:  As a pre-bagging staging area.

Step 1:  It is very important to make sure that you have everything set up and ready to go before you begin.  Once you get started things can quickly become quite messy.  Disorder can be kept to a minimum by having all your supplies nearby and a garbage can at the ready.  With that being said, I feel I must give the standard disclaimer on food safety, especially when handling raw meat and poultry.

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One of the things taking a hands-on approach to cooking means is doing something yourself in order to gain a greater appreciation of what makes it to your table.  There are often reasons why people would prefer to buy pre-processed items: mainly time related but also ease of use.  Raw poultry can harbor a wide variety of nasty microbes, and you can be put at risk if you do not take the proper precautions to safeguard against food-borne illness.  When doing a job like this it is important for you to try and keep your mess as contained as possible.  Make sure the drippy chicken packaging makes it straight to the trash and doesn't leave a wet trail on the floor.  Turn the sink on and off with your clean elbow in order to minimize contaminating the handles with your icky hands.  Carefully disinfect your counter top and preparation area when complete.  A little common sense goes a long way when it comes to food safety, especially around the house.

Step 2:  Remove the chicken from the packaging and pull-out the giblets which are stored inside the cavity.  As I mentioned above these should be reserved for later use.  If nothing else you can cook em' up for the dog, but that would be a waste of all the wonderful flavors locked away inside.  Also give your bird a quick rinse, then set breast-side up on your cutting board.  You might notice some big fat deposits clinging to the skin near the cavity.  These can simply be pulled off and discarded.


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The only part I waste besides the plastic, and only because I don't need more fat in my diet

Step 3:  As I get told every day (it goes in one ear and out the other), exercise is good for you.  The same goes for your meat... er... I know it sounds a bit macabre but this might be the one time you get to play with your food!  Your once-feathered friend will be a bit stiff from it's trip to the supermarket, and some simple stretches will help free it up so your cutting job is a bit easier.  Give the wing and leg joints a few good extensions until you feel them start to free up and get loose.

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And a-One and a-Two, and a-One and a-Two!

Step 4:  The first cut you will make will be to remove the leg and thigh combo, aka leg quarter, which is my favorite part... but you already know that from my Minneola Chicken recipe.  First extend out the joint and hold it firm.  Then pick up your boning knife (or whichever knife you will be using) and make the first incision in between the skin and staying close to the body until you hit the thigh joint.

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Stay close to the body until you reach the joint

Step 5:  It was at this point that I came up with the subtitle for this entry.  My apologies for all you righties out there, you can now understand the grief us lefties go through every single time you show us how to do something.  (See pictures if you don't get it yet.  And no, I don't have ADD.)  Once you hit the joint use your fingers (see figure below) to forcefully dislocate it.  After you've popped it out you can simply cut through the remaining tissue and remove the whole leg quarter.  Beautiful!  Repeat for the other side!



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Practice makes perfect

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Nom nom nom

Step 6:  Now we will remove the wings, which is a process very similar to removing the leg.  Approaching from the armpit... rather... wingpit area cut in until you reach the joint, and pop it out just as you did with the thigh.  You can then easily cut through and remove the wing.  Repeat.

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In any other context this photo would be disturbing

Step 7:  Next we will remove the breasts.  Take up your cleaver in one hand and rest the chicken vertically on the cutting board with the cavity facing up.  With the legs removed you should be able to see where the breast and ribs connect to the back.  Apply strong downward pressure with a slight sawing motion to almost effortlessly separate the breasts from the back.  Use the weight of the cleaver to cut through the ribs; that's what it was designed to do!  Cleavers are not incredibly sharp, and are cut at a wider angle than most other knives, making them extremely poor slicers.  They get their strength from their weight and are an indispensable tool when cutting through bones and breaking-down meat and poultry.

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Let the tool do the work

Step 8:  At this point we have the following prepared parts: 2 leg quarters, 2 wings, 1 split breast, and a back.  You could stop right here.  A chicken breast that has not yet been separated is called a split breast, and while rather large are actually great for the grill.  There are also some wonderful stuffed preparations utilizing aluminum foil along the underside.  Keeping the breast together with the skin and bones helps the meat stay moist and flavorful.  I almost always take it a step further though and separate the breasts; it makes the much easier to handle and serve for most dishes.

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Again we will use our cleaver because we will be cutting through the breast bone.  I like to make a quick slit to split the skin, and then set the cleaver along the bone.  Finally give it a good solid pound with your fist and the breasts should split cleanly in two.  Now that's what I call cleavage...  I prefer to stop here, as I almost always leave the skin on through any cooking process; serving it skin-on it if it's crispy preparation or removing and discarding before serving if otherwise.  Leaving the skin on during cooking really helps lock in moisture and provide a much tastier dish.  If boneless skinless are your thing, then simply pull off the skin and cut out the remaining breast bones.  It's really that simple.


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Step 9:  If there's one all-american junk food I enjoy it has to be buffalo chicken wings.  Consequently, chicken wings aren't really good for much else, but they are always broken down into those scrumptious little pieces.  Using the cleaver and one firm fist pound remove the wing tip at the joint; I save all these for the stock pot.  Finally, with your boning knife pop out and then cut through the remaining joint. Voila!  Chicken Wings.  I toss these all into a gallon freezer bag we keep in the deep freeze in the basement.  When the bag gets full we fry up chicken wings.  I can't think of a better utilization for this all-too oft overlooked appendage.


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The best part of the chicken?

Step 10:  You now have all your pieces parts separated, and after some practice your cuts will look just as clean as what you would buy at the supermarket.  Carefully bag them up in whichever combination you please and freeze for later use, or toss them immediately on the grill, or in the oven.  The possibilities are endless.

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And you thought it was impossible!
 
Oh, I forgot, Step 11:  Make sure you carefully clean everything up and sanitize all nearby surfaces.  All that hacking about with your cleaver was bound to spray a little goo somewhere, and I personally don't prefer salmonella in my morning coffee.

So there you have it folks, another one for the books.  Geeze... that took over 6 months.  More to come, and sooner I hope!


All photos Copyright © 2013 Hands-On Cuisine/Trevor Braun

Saturday, June 9, 2012

For the love of Farmer's Markets

Part of the whole hands-on experience when it comes to feeding your family is finding fresh and delicious ingredients.  For the past few weeks I have discovered what a wonderful thing a local farmer's market can be.  Although the prices were not much better than the local supermarket, which was contrary to my initial belief, you actually get more bang for your buck because of how flavorful and fresh the produce is.  For example, about a month ago I purchase a gigantic plastic clamshell of bright red strawberries for about $4.00.  They looked absolutely delicious, but that's about where it stopped.  These strawberries were an ugly girl with bright red lipstick; almost completely white on the inside and totally sour.  Conversely, today at the farmers market I was able to pick up a quart of equally pretty strawberries for $6.00.  Fewer strawberries, more money, you might think I'm an idiot.  As it turns out these berries were picked just last evening, and are so sweet and juicy you wouldn't even think they were the same fruit as what I grabbed at the supermarket.  What would you rather buy?  A big cheap container of sour berries, or a smaller, fresh, and candy sweet ones?

As I have mentioned in earlier posts, I like to get inspiration from fresh foods I run across.  What better thing is there than the fresh local produce of a farmer's market from which to be mused?  Plus you get the added benefit of knowing that you are helping to sustain your neighborhood local small businesses.  It's a win-win-win as far as I can tell.

Happy cooking!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A Tale of Two Pies


It was the best of pies, it was the worst of… wait?  Who’s ever heard of bad pie, let alone worst pie.  There can certainly be pie that is not as good as another, but never worst pie.  Worst is too harsh a word to describe such a wonderful thing.  If you know me personally you probably know how much I love pie, and over the past couple of months have been working on perfecting my pie skills.

Practicing you ask?  Over the years pie has earned itself quite a reputation, and however easy the guy on TV makes it look, it isn’t.  It was at a work luncheon a few months ago that I realized many people don’t know the joy which is a homemade pie.  After the lunch dishes had been taken away we were each given a randomly selected slice of pie on a Styrofoam plate when several people pushed it away.  Some even exclaimed, “ew, I don’t like pie.”  It could be easy to understand why someone might not like pie if all they ever had was what comes from the local supermarket; flat and bland crust, gummy processed fruit filling, sandy crumble topping.  With an unending variety of forms and fillings I think it misjudging to make such a broad statement.  That person just needs to find their pie.

And with that I present you with today’s (rather long) entry; a duo of pies that couldn’t be more different, a tart and refreshing Key Lime with graham cracker crust, followed by another southern classic with a reputation as tough as the shell of its ingredients, a hard nut to crack it you will, Pecan! (I will try and hold off on the nut puns, but no promises.)

Key Lime pie is actually incredibly easy to make, and can be thrown together surprisingly quick.  Here’s what you’ll need:

KEY LIME PIE

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1 9 Inch pie plate

Crust:
4 tablespoons (or a half-stick) unsalted butter - melted
¼ cup white sugar
1 brick graham crackers
Dash of salt

Filling:
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 lb fresh key limes – zest removed and juiced (roughly ½ cup juice)
2 egg yolks

1.  After pre-heating your over to 350 degrees, we will prepare the wonderfully crumbly graham cracker crust; a classic when it comes to Key Lime pie.  In your food processor, destroy your brick of graham crackers.  That’s right, absolutely pulverize them.   Then add the sugar and dash of salt and pulse a few times to incorporate.

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Absolutely pulverized

2.  Toss the crumbs into your pie plate and pour the melted butter over top.   Stir together until fully incorporated, and then press into the shape of the pie pan.  The wall needs to be around an inch in a half tall to hold all the filling.  Mine was too high, so after filling I pressed it down for a better presentation.

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You can add more butter if it isn't coming together.  Make adjustments!  Recipes aren't chiseled in stone.

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3.  Toss the crust in the oven for 7-8 minutes to brown and set.

4.  Now for the fun part, prepping the limes.  The first thing you will notice is that key limes are really small, and for somebody with big hands like myself are a pain in the butt to work with.  They are also delicious and worth every ounce of trouble they bring.  If you don’t live in Florida and can’t get them locally you’ll also notice that they probably have some brown spots on them.  This is fine.  Wikipedia tells us that Key Limes have thin skin and are highly perishable, so it is easy to understand why the ones you just bought have some slight discoloration, which certainly doesn’t affect the flavor.  I begin by zesting the limes using a Microplane; drawing them across the Microplane and avoiding the brown spots, and also not going deep enough to remove the bitter and white pith.  Cut the limes in half, and using a citrus reamer harvest their souls… er… juice.

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If they could speak they would be begging for mercy!

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Make sure you keep the Microplane stationary and pull the lime across the grating surface

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We're naked!

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Whew. That was a lot of work.

5.  Separate your eggs.  I save the whites in the freezer for my wife, no use throwing away half of what you paid for.  Combine egg yolks, sweetened condensed milk, lime juice and zest and whisk briskly.

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6.  Pour filling into baked crust and bake for 15 minutes, just long enough to get those eggs cooked and harness their thickening power.

7. Serve with sweetened whipped cream (2 teaspoons confectioners’ sugar, ½ tsp vanilla extract, 1 cup heavy cream beaten until stiff.)

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Yum!

This pie is the perfect way to wake up your taste buds for the fresh flavors coming this summer.   The key limes bring a wonderfully bright flavor that isn’t quite as harsh as your generic lime, and the sweetened graham cracker crust plays off the sour filling.  The taste of the tropics right here in Ohio.  Remember what I said about traveling somewhere on the cheap?  Close your eyes while eating this pie and you almost feel like you’re sitting on the beach.

For pie number two we’re going to tackle a permutation that requires a larger skill set, and certainly more practice.  But before we can make the filling, we have to understand the crust.  The following recipe is for two 9-inch pie pans.  Consequently I usually make 10-inch pies, which are a bit larger than standard, so I always make this recipe and reserve about 1/3 of the uncooked dough for later (read: giving to my dad and wife to eat raw).  What can I say, bigger is better!  The following is an incredibly standard recipe for pie dough.

PIE DOUGH

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 ½ teaspoons salt
3/4 cup really cold lard (I’m not condoning the use of shortening)
3 Tablespoons really cold unsalted butter, sliced into small cubes
Ice water (about ¼ cup)

1. Begin by combing the flour, salt and butter cubes in a food processor.  Pulse a few times (3-5) until butter is incorporated.

2. Next add lard and pulse again until mixture has a mealy texture (3-5 times).

3. Turn on food processor and add the water slowly (but not too slowly!) until the dough comes together.

4. Pull off your excess 1/3rd, and pass to wife for a snack.  Lightly flower the remaining portion’s exterior, form into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and place in the fridge for 30-45 minutes to rest.

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5. Remove dough from fridge and using a rolling pin roll out until the edge goes a few inches beyond the size of your pie plate.  Make sure your hands, work surface, and rolling pin are lightly floured to avoid sticking and tearing! (VERY IMPORTANT!)  Overworking your dough will make it gummy, and be sure to keep it as cold as possible, this will maintain flakiness!
 
6. Once dough is the proper size, gently roll up on your rolling pin, and unroll into pie plate.  The best analogy I can think of is those old rolling window shades you used to snap up in school to annoy your teacher.

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7. Cut edges to fit, and crimp as desired (I’m still not that good at this, but you can bet your britches when I master it I will put something here!)

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As you can see, I still need more practice.  Still tastes great!

8. Follow recipe to complete pie.  For this recipe the crust will need to be pre-baked in order to ensure a dry and flaky crust.  Without this step the liquid filling will make the crust soggy.  Yuk.

To Blind-bake your pie crust:

1. Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees.  Poke some holes into bottom of crust with a fork to vent.

2. Butter one side of a piece of aluminum foil that is large enough to cover entire crust.  Place inside with butter-side down, and then fill with some sort of bake-able weight.  I have a bag full of dried pinto beans that I’ve been using for years.  Cheap and easy.

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No, this is not pinto bean pie....

3.  Bake for 15 minutes with beans in place, and then remove beans by simply removing the aluminum foil.  The foil will cool down almost instantly, so quickly tear it into strips and cover the crimped edges of the crust.  This will prevent them from browning too much.  Return to oven for another 5 minutes.

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4. Let cool completely before filling pie.

And now for the deliciously sweet pecan filling (which can quickly be whipped together while your dough is resting in the fridge.  See step 4 above):

PECAN PIE FILLING

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5 eggs
1 ¼ cups brown sugar (Use light or dark depending on your preference, I liked a combination of both)
1 Cup Golden Syrup (More on this later)
6 Tablespoons butter, melted
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
½ teaspoon salt
2 ½ cups toasted and spiced pecans (recipe to follow)

1.  While your oven is pre-heating to 375 degrees, whisk together the eggs, brown sugar, golden syrup, butter, vanilla extract and salt until homogenous.

2.  Spread pecans evenly inside prepared crust, and slowly pour syrupy mixture over top.  Believe it or not, the pecans will float on top of the mixture, creating that lovely layered effect that is a trademark of classic pecan pie.  Who knew?

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3.  Bake for 35-40 minutes or until the outside is set and the center is still slightly wobbly.  Be careful!  While your pie may not look at all done after 30 minutes, an additional 5 minutes goes a long way.  This pie can go from perfect to overcooked quickly.

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See!  They do float!  Nobody ever told me that secret.

4.  Let rest for 2 hours or so until cooled and set.

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For the toasted and spiced pecans, I simply tossed the pecans into my cast iron skillet with a teaspoon of white sugar, a ¼ teaspoon each of cinnamon and cumin, and a tiny dash of salt.  Toss over medium-high heat until the nuts have developed their flavor and begin to smell toasted, around 5 minutes.  This adds additional depth of flavor to the nuts and really awakens their… nuttiness.  There’s no better word.

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Pecan pie wasn’t something I discovered until recently, but have since become a huge fan.  The amazingly sweet filling plays the perfect foil to the earthy and toasted nuts, both in flavor and texture.  Put that inside a rich and flaky crust and I’m in heaven, a destination you won’t reach with the pie from your grocery store.

And for the golden syrup mentioned above?  This ingredient is much more popular in Great Britain where it is sold as a by-product of the sugar refining process; much like molasses is sold here.  In comparison to the traditional clear corn syrup many people prefer to use in their pecan pie, the golden syrup brings a much greater depth of flavor to the party.  It can often be found in the international section of your local supermarket, unless you live in Cincinnati, in which case you should go to Jungle Jim’s. :-D

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Stickiest.Stuff.Ever.  But oh so delicious.

So that about wraps it up for this (long) entry.  Let me know what you think!  I realize this entry took forever to prepare and get made up.  Life happens, but believe it or not I already have several more entries prepped, and should shortly be on the way, pending any currently unforeseen disasters (you never know whats right around the corner.)  And as always, don’t forget to like me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/handsoncuisine, and follow me on twitter @HandsOnCuisine.  Happy eating!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Traveling for Cheap

One thing that I love is traveling.  There's nothing quite like slipping away from the dull routine of life and experiencing something new and exciting.  Unfortunately, traveling also costs money.  Sometimes lots of money; so much that you can't visit someplace you really love for many years at a time.  One thing people often fail to realize is that it's easy to travel on the cheap right from your own kitchen.  Many times the memories we build while traveling revolve around the food we enjoy at that far off destination, and it can be an insatiable craving when you're reminiscing about a wonderful trip you once had.  That luxurious pasta you had in Europe, the rich curry you tried at that Indian restaurant in Japan, or simply the chicken paprikash you had at the local Hungarian restaurant; all of these can be created right in your own home, and after a little experimenting you can get surprisingly close to developing those exact flavors.

I often draw inspiration from dishes I've had elsewhere that I can't get at home.  It's a fun way to strengthen your chops in the kitchen and test your palate and memory.  So what are some tips for imitating a recipe when you're starting from scratch?  First I like to make a list of ingredients that I know are essential and positively part of the recipe, which can sometimes be astonishingly simple.  The same goes for processes, such as making fresh pasta or rolling meatballs.  If I'm really stumped at nailing down some elusive flavor I will sometimes scour the internet or cookbooks for help. Make sure you are prepared so that the process runs smoothly.  After reviewing the ingredients and processes I will develop a mental plan of execution, and set up my mise en place.  Finally, it's critically important when developing any recipe to TASTE your food throughout the cooking process.  You're working on developing a distinct flavor from your memory and from scratch.  Making adjustments is naturally part of the process.  The real work comes once you sit down to enjoy your creation.  If successful, you will be surprised at how wonderful the achievement feels as you are transported to your favorite getaway.  If it didn't come out just right, enjoy what you've made and learn from it.  Perhaps you missed an ingredient, overcooked a component, or maybe you just need a little more practice rolling out pasta dough.  Don't become discouraged, you can always try again. (Remember what I said about family members as guinea pigs???)  Either way you can be proud of your final product while enjoying how short and cheap the trip back to that tiny Italian restaurant on a sunny afternoon in Germany really was.  All for the price of dinner afterall...