Archive for September, 2008

Michael Ruhlman’s book, The Soul of a Chef:  The Journey Toward Perfection is a fascinating look into three distinct aspects of cooking:  culinary school, owning a restaurant, and developing recipes. I was excited to learn Ruhlman is from my hometown, Cleveland, and that one of the restaurants he profiled in detail was Lola Bistro & Wine Bar, owned by Michael Symon, who currently stars on the Food Network on both the Iron Chef and Dinner: Impossible shows.

Ruhlman separates the book into three sections that give the reader a clear picture into what chefs may go through to realize their dreams. The first section, “Certified Master Chef Exam (Or the Objective Truth of Great Cooking)” follows the journey of Brian Polcyn, a chef attempting to pass the certified master chef exam at the Culinary Institute of America. The exam is an expensive and exhausting process whereby chefs from across the country strive toward winning the title of “certified master chef.” This is the equivalent of an expert in the field and can open a variety of doors for those that win. Ruhlman does an excellent job making the reader truly care about Polcyn and the other chefs he competes with.

In part two, “Lola,” Ruhlman follows the adventures of Michael Symon, executive chef and owner of Lola Bistro & Wine Bar in Cleveland, Ohio. The fun-filled atmosphere Symon creates in his kitchen and in the dining room of his restaurant is clearly portrayed, and Ruhlman’s descriptions would make anyone want to try the food at Lola. Symon’s unique approach to cooking and positive attitude is displayed in the way he interacts with his guests and the clear popularity of his restaurant.

“Journey Toward Perfection,” part three, made me want to visit Napa Valley as soon as possible. Thomas Keller, executive chef and owner of the famous French Laundry restaurant in California, describes how he makes his one-of-a-kind dishes that cause people to fly in from all over the world to experience his cooking. And he has no formal culinary training of any kind! I appreciated the humanity Ruhlman brought to Keller’s story, describing his struggle to buy the restaurant and maintain it in his first years of ownership. I also admired Keller’s approach to business, striving to use every part of the animals he uses in unique and flavorful dishes – including popular dishes he has never tried himself! In one chapter, Ruhlman asks Keller what he likes about one of his most popular dishes, “Pearls and Oysters” (an oyster on top of a bed of tapioca “pearls”). Keller replied, “I’ve never tasted it. You don’t have to put your hand in the fire to know it’s hot.”

Ruhlman elaborates on the purpose of his book at the end:

Keller, in his 25 years as a chef, I guessed, had fed one million people. Probably more. This was a good thing. He was a good, thoughtful cook. The work had provided him a livelihood. It had made him famous in food circles in his country and beyond. But more important than that, and this was everything, it was the good use of one life, and he knew it. No less so for Brian Polcyn and for Michael Symon. By the time they reached Keller’s age, they would likely have served a million people or more. Maybe they already had. They all were great chefs; they never forgot for a moment what the work was all about: to cook for people and to make them happy.

The best part of the book were the recipes at the end! A few I wanted to try are listed below. If you’re interested in the New York Times book review of The Soul of a Chef, check out Anthony Bourdain’s article here.

Corn Crepes (Michael Symon, Lola Bistro & Wine Bar)

  • 1/2 cup corn kernels
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 oz. milk
  • 1 tsp. corn oil
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • Pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 cup green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/4 cup scallion, chopped

Puree all ingredients in food processor till combined.

Pour a tsp. of oil into a small hot saute pan or crepe pan. Ladle in 2 oz. of batter. Cook till lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Flip crepe, continue cooking for about another minute; remove to a rack to cool. Repeat with rest of batter. (Michael serves with BBQ sauce and sour cream. Serves 4.)

Crab Tater Tots (Michael Symon, Lola Bistro & Wine Bar)

  • 2 lbs. potatoes, peeled
  • 2 oz. butter
  • 3 yolks
  • 3 oz. flour
  • 4 oz. bread crumbs
  • 2 tbs. chives
  • 8 oz. lump crab meat
  • Oil for deep frying

Boil potatoes till tender through the center; drain, let moisture steam off; then rice, mash, or pss through a food mill. Work in the rest of the ingredients while potatoes are still hot. When the mixture has cooled, incorporate the crab. Form into spheres the size of golf balls. Deep fry (makes 18 tater tots; serves 6).

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I love Wednesdays, because that means the food section in the Washington Post! I have been looking forward to seeing their 2008 cooking class listings for quite some time, and I recently got my wish. Every year, the Post asks for submissions of local cooking classes in the Washington area and divides them into categories: baking and pastry; business/professional/hobbies; for children; general; healthful; international; and wine and spirits. This year, they have 82 options! I highly suggest checking it out here. I’m already scheming as to what classes I might take – I especially like the culinary options at Northern Virginia Community College and Fairfax County Schools, cooking parties with the DC Dining Society and L’Academie de Cuisine, and wine tasting/food pairing with Greater Washington Wine School and Wine Seller & Vineyard Table.

I’m seriously considering taking a few classes at the community college in Northern Virginia. Check out the listings and see what works for you!

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I love reading about chefs, cooking, and food almost as much as I enjoy cooking myself. When I came across a book – written by chefs – about mishaps in the kitchen, I knew it would be a great read. Don’t Try This at Home:  Culinary Catastrophes by the World’s Greatest Chefs (edited by Kimberly WItherspoon and Andrew Friedman) left me laughing out loud and wanting more.

In my long and checkered career I have been witness to, party to, and even singularly responsible for any number of screw-ups, missteps, and over-reaches. Busboy stabbing busboy, customer beating up customer, waiters duking it out on the dining room floor – I’ve seen it all. (Anthony Bourdain, “New Year’s Meltdown”)

Some were funny – Anthony Bourdain’s tale of an overzealous, over-inebriated crowd of customers on New Year’s Eve with a kitchen short on time and ingredients (“New Year’s Meltdown”); Scott Conant’s unfortunate encounter with dozens of live, slimy eels on his kitchen floor (“This Whole Place is Slithering”); and Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger’s unintended “butter” fashion statement (“Our Big Brake”). Others were downright sad – Michel Richard’s wedding cake fiasco and coverup (“Alibi”); Hubert Keller’s weather-induced wedding hysteria (“Just Add Water’); and Tom Douglas’s experience being snowed-in on the most important night at his new restaurant (“Hope for Snow”). Other chefs – well – they should stick to cooking and let the writers handle the writing 🙂

Don’t Try This at Home is an easy read, and I loved being able to hear – straight from the chef’s mouths – what worked and what didn’t. It helps you to realize that even celebrities like Daniel Boulud, Eric Ripert, and Tom Colicchio aren’t perfect, even though they try just as hard as the rest of us.

The travel stories are endless, but at the end of the day I guess all of these experiences have taught me that if I’m lucky enough to get invited to see the world one kitchen at a time, then ultimately it’s my job to get it right – whatever that takes. Sometimes it’s hard, sometimes it’s nerve-wracking, but the rewards always outweigh the inconveniences and mishaps. It’s a job I wouldn’t trade for any other in the world. Except maybe rock star. (Tom Colicchio, “The Traveling Chef”)

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I recently mentioned my new love for the often-ignored vegetables, fennel and leeks. The recipes I told you to try are not posted online, so I wanted to write them here. My favorite out of all three is the orzo with steak.

Grilled Skirt Steak and Orzo With the Works

(p. 252, 365: No Repeats; makes 4 servings)

  • 1 1/2 to 2 lbs. skirt steak (I just used regular steak from Costco)
  • 3 tbs. balsamic vinegar (eyeball it)
  • 2 tbs. EVOO, plus some for drizzling
  • Coarse black pepper
  • Coarse salt
  • 1/2 lb. orzo
  • 1 large red onion, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 fennel bulb, quartered, cored, and thinly sliced
  • 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes (a couple of pinches)
  • 1 cup chicken stock or broth
  • 1 pint grape tomatoes (I actually didn’t have any, and it still tasted great!)
  • 10 fresh basil leaves, chopped or torn
  • 1/2 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves (a couple of generous handfuls), chopped
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (a couple of overflowing handfuls)

Coat the skirt steak in balsamic vinegar, a good drizzle of EVOO, and a lot of freshly ground black pepper and marinate in a nonreactive dish for 5-10 minutes.

Preheat an outdoor grill or ridged grill pan to high.

Bring a large sauce pot of water to a boil to cook the orzo. Once boiling, salt the water and add the orzo. Cook until al dente, with a bite to it, about 12 minutes.

While the water is coming up to a boil, preheat a large skillet over medium-high heat with the 2 tbs. of EVOO (twice around the pan); add the onions, garlic, fennel, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper and cook, stirring frequently, for 4 to 5 minutes, or until the veggies are slightly tender.

Season the steak with salt and grill for 3 to 4 minutes on each side. Remove the meat to a plate, tent loosely with foil, and let it rest for 5 minutes to allow the juices to redistribute.

To the veggies, add the chicken stock and grape tomatoes, bring up to a bubble, and cook for 2 minutes, or until the grape tomatoes begin to burst. Add the cooked orzo, basil, parsley, and grated cheese and stir to combine.

Slice the meat very thin on a sharp angle. Serve alongside the orzo with the works.

My Friend Frank’s Famous Chicken

(p. 138, 30-Minute Meals; makes 4 servings)

  • 2 tsp. balsamic vinegar
  • 4 pieces boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • EVOO
  • 1 large bulb fennel, halved, then thinly sliced
  • 1 medium Spanish onion, sliced into strips, lengthwise
  • A handful golden raisins (about 1/4 cup packed)
  • 1 can (14 oz.) no-fat, low-sodium chicken broth
  • A handful chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • Kosher salt and cracked black pepper, to taste
  • Toasted pignoli (pine nuts) to garnish

Rub the balsamic vinegar into the chicken to tenderize it.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Go twice around the pan with EVOO. Cook chicken breasts 5 minutes on each side and remove from pan. Add fennel and onion. Cook, shaking pan every so often, until onion begins to caramelize (sweeten or turn caramel-golden in color), about 5 minutes. Return chicken to pan. Add raisins, broth, parsley, and salt and pepper. Heat through. Pour dish out onto a serving platter and granish with toasted pine nuts.

Shrimp Primavera Pasta With Asparagus, Peas, and Leeks

(p. 46, 2-4-6-8 Great Meals; makes 2-4 servings)

  • Salt
  • 1/2 lb. spaghetti
  • 1 leek
  • 2 tbs. EVOO
  • 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 lb. shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced
  • 1 cup chicken or vegetable stock
  • 2 tsp. lemon zest
  • 1/2 lb. medium-to-large shrimp, peeled and deveined (you can also substitute chicken for the shrimp)
  • 3/4 to 1 lb. asparagus (1 bundle), trimmed to 4 inches then cut into thirds
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 2 tbs. butter, cut into small pieces
  • Black pepper
  • 1 cup shaved or grated Romano cheese
  • Handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped

Place a large covered pot of water on the stove and bring it up to a boil for the pasta. Salt the water and cook the spaghetti to al dente.

While the pasta is working, trim the tough green tops and the roots from the leek. Halve the leek lengthwise and dice it thin. Place the leeks in a colander and rinse them vigorously to release any grit. Drain the leeks well.

Heat the EVOO in a large, deep skillet over medium heat, add the garlic, and cook for a minute. Add the leeks and shiitakes and cook until they are tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the stock, raise the heat a little, and bring it up to a bubble. Once the stock bubbles, add the zest and the shrimp and cook it for 2 minutes, then add the asparagus and peas to the pan and cook them for 2 minutes more.

Melt the butter into the sauce, add the drained pasta to the pan, and toss to combine the shrimp and vegetables with the spaghetti. Season with a little pepper, adjust the salt to taste, and garnish with the cheese and parsley.

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I get tired of using the same vegetables over and over again in dishes – peas, green beans, corn – they taste great, but I need a little variety in my life! Enter two new vegetables that are quickly making their way to the top of my list: fennel and leeks. I was very intimidated the first time I purchased them at the store, not knowing how to cut, clean, or prepare them – but they were ingredients in two dishes I wanted to make so I plunged in headfirst!

First up – fennel. I shouldn’t be surprised that I love this vegetable, considering it contains many of the same flavorings as anise, which is behind the black licorice jelly beans I covet every Easter! Fennel comes in bulbs (often two that are connected) with large, feathery, leafy fronds emerging from the top of the bulbs. I have never eaten the leaves, although they are edible; the white bulbs have a less pungent flavor that does not overtake a dish. Rachael Ray has two dishes that made me fall in love with fennel: Grilled Skirt Steak and Orzo With the Works (p. 252, 365: No Repeats) and My Friend Frank’s Favorite Chicken (p. 138, 30-Minute Meals). She also has a Fennel, Sausage, and Potato Stoup recipe on her Every Day With Rachael Ray site that I’m dying to try!

Next up – leeks. I always thought of leeks as a vegetable your mom would force you to eat (even though I am part of the minority crowd that enjoys brussels sprouts). Their light, oniony flavor is actually refreshing – if you can get past the time-consuming cleaning process (soaking in water until the grit has washed away). Rachael Ray’s refreshing, light Shrimp Primavera With Asparagus, Peas, and Leeks (p. 46, 2-4-6-8 Great Meals) is a great summer supper. I cooked it for 12 people during our beach vacation – serve it up with a side salad and some white wine, and it’s delicious!

In doing research for this post I came across this recipe for Red-Pepper Fennel Soup With Pita Chips, which includes both fennel AND leeks! The best of both worlds 🙂

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In one of their recent daily recipe emails, the folks over at Hungry Girl gave the directions for making their Loaded n’ Oated Pepperoni Pizza. I’m all for trying new things, so I gave it a whirl. But wait – pizza with a crust made of instant oats, egg, and crushed Fiber One? I’ll admit, I was skeptical. Essentially, you make the crust by combining the above ingredients and lightly frying it in a pan similar to a thick pancake. The personal crust is quite small, and I was afraid it wouldn’t be enough to fill a hungry stomach! What I didn’t realize is how filling Fiber One is – cover that crust with some low-fat mozzarella cheese, turkey pepperoni, and some Italian seasonings, pair it with a small Caesar salad and a good glass of wine (we like Malbec – spicy but not too dry – and you can pick up a cheap version at the store for around 7 bucks!), and you’ve got yourself a very satisfying meal that’s also healthy! I would highly recommend it – not just to create pepperoni pizza, but other combinations, such as roasted garlic and fresh tomato; roasted chicken and pineapple; or turkey sausage and basil/oregano.

I also appreciated this recipe for introducing me to turkey pepperoni – I’m not sure I knew it existed, and boy, have I been missing out! With less fat than regular pepperoni with the same amount of taste, it’s become one of our new favorite foods. I used it when making Rachael Ray’s amazing stromboli, and it tastes wonderful in a panini with a little store-bought pesto and provolone cheese. Eat up!

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I realized tonight that it’s the second time in a week that I’ve made a soup that was featured on one of my favorite Seinfeld episodes ever, The Soup Nazi. Last week I tried Rachael Ray’s version of Jambalaya (“Jambalika,” p. 158, 30-Minute Meals) – who can forget Newman sniffing his soup and running down the street yelling “Jambalaya!” Tonight I tried Mulligatawny, a spiced Indian soup that was Kramer’s favorite on this episode. I served up a side of Indian flatbread (called “Naan”) to cut down on the spice.

This was a Weight Watchers recipe (from the same cookbook I mentioned in my post on Baked French Toast) and there was nothing but healthy, fresh ingredients in the dish – it was fantastic! My only complaint was that it didn’t make a lot of food, so supplementing the soup with some salad and bread will fill you up. Jared and I had a nice glass of Malbec with dinner – the richness of the red wine cut down on the spiciness of the soup. (Note – I’m not crazy about really spicy foods, but the Mulligatawny had just enough to make you feel it, but not enough that it takes away from the overall dish.)

  • 4 tsp. reduced-calorie margarine
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1/2 carrot, chopped (I used a handful of baby carrots instead)
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped
  • 1/2 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1 tart apple, peeled, cored, and diced
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. curry powder
  • 1/8 tsp. ground mace or nutmeg
  • 1 whole clove
  • 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 tomato, peeled, seeded, and chopped
  • 1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 cups diced cooked chicken breast (I used one can of cooked chicken breast from Costco)
  • 1/4 tsp. salt

In a medium nonstick saucepan, melt the margarine. Saute the onion, carrot, celery, bell pepper, and apple until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the flour, curry, mace/nutmeg, and clove; cook, stirring one minute; gradually stir in the broth. Add the tomato and lemon juice; bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, 30 minutes. Add the chicken and salt; heat to serving temperature. Makes 4 servings.

Nutritional Facts (per serving): 187 calories, 7g fat, 15g protein. 4 Weight Watchers points.

I served this Weight Watchers recipe for Naan with the soup. It was great, but I recommend two things that I learned:  1) Make the dough the night before and refridgerate until you are ready to bake, and 2) Make sure you watch the bread as it bakes. I left it in for the recommended 10-12 minutes, but it browned a little too much for my liking. In the future, I plan to take it out after about 9-10 minutes (after the bread has started to “puff up”) to keep it softer.

  • 1/2 cup fat-free milk
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. baking soda

In a small bowl, beat the milk and egg. In a food processor, combine the flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, and baking soda. With the machine running, pour the milk through the feed tube until the dough forms a ball. Knead the dough by pulsing until it is smooth, almost 30 times.

Spray a large bowl with nonstick cooking spray; place the dough in the bowl. Cover loosely with plastic wrap or a damp towl and let the dough rise in a warm, draft-free place three hours.

Place a large baking sheet on the center oven rack; preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Lightly sprinkle a work surface with flour; turn out the dough. Divide the dough into eight pieces; flatten each into a 3/8″ thick teardrop shape. Transfer the teardrops to the baking sheet. Bake until firm; 10-12 minutes. If you like, run briefly under a broiler to brown the tops lightly. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Nutritional Facts (per serving): 122 calories, 1g fat, 4g protein. 2 Weight Watchers points.

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I had the privilege of attending the Disney Institute this past April for Leadership Excellence training. It was a three-day course focusing on leadership and vision in the workplace, and if you ever have the chance to take this, I highly recommend it.

One of the perks of the training was the food! Each day we had a gourmet breakfast and lunch prepared for us by the chefs at the Contemporary Resort. The second day, they served Fire Roasted Tomato & Tortilla Bisque for lunch (topped with homemade jalapeno cornbread cubes – wow!). My fellow classmates and I raved about the dish so much, our instructors brought in the chef who made it, who in turn gave us all copies of the recipe! I’ve made this several times, and it’s delicious. If you want a lighter version, substitute fat-free half-and-half for the cream. Serve it with a light salad and cornbread, and you’ve got yourself a meal!

  • 4 oz. onion
  • 2 oz. celery
  • 2 oz. carrots
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 24 oz. canned diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 bunch cilantro
  • 1/4 bunch parsley
  • 1/4 bunch oregano
  • 1/4 bunch basil
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 6 corn tortillas, chopped
  • 4 oz. canned green chiles
  • 2 tbs. cumin
  • 1 tbs. paprika
  • 1 tbs. chili powder
  • Salt & pepper, to taste
  • 1 pint heavy cream, heated

Saute onion, celery, carrots, and garlic in a large pot for five minutes, or until the onions turn translucent. Add tomatoes, herbs, corn tortillas, chiles, and spices to pot and bring to a simmer for 15 minutes. Puree with a burr mixer or place in a blender on high, until smooth. Finish with the heated heavy cream and adjust seasons to taste. Yields 1/2 gallon. (Trust me, it will all disappear!)

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A friend at work brought me her Weight Watchers Cookbook last week to flip through, and I found dozens of recipes I wanted to try – in fact, I found so many that I plan to just go out and buy the book sometime soon. In the meantime, however, I made plans to try a few new ideas, including Mulligatawny with Naan (Indian soup with bread), Stuffed Peppers, and Chicken With Feta Sauce. Since we have the day off for Labor Day today, I wanted to try the French Toast recipe. My husband is what I would call a French Toast “connoisseur,” so I knew this dish had to hit it out of the park in order to fly with him. Luckily it did! In fact, we were both so hungry to eat it by the time it was done, I didn’t get to take a picture! My only complaint is that it takes a little over half an hour to bake – the recipe suggests making the bread mixture in advance and refridgerating overnight to save time – I’ll have to try that the next time I make it. This recipe makes four servings, so we each will have breakfast waiting for us tomorrow, too! I served the slices warm, topped with a little honey, alongside a fruit salad (strawberries and bananas) and two pieces of turkey bacon.

  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup fat-free milk
  • 3 tbs. packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
  • 4 slices whole-wheat bread, cubed
  • 2 small apples, peeled, cored, and diced (I used one large Granny Smith apple)
  • 3 tbs. all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp reduced-calorie margarine (I didn’t realize I forgot this ingredient until just now, as I typed it up! I wondered why the topping didn’t stick. Not to worry – it still tasted great!)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray two 5×3 loaf pans with nonstick cooking spray (I used one metal 8.5″ loaf pan). In a medium bowl, lightly beat the eggs; blend in the milk, 1 tbs. of the brown sugar, and 1 tsp. of the cinnamon. Add the bread cubes and apples, stirring gently; let stand until the bread absorbs all the liquid, 2-3 minutes (a quick way to do this is to cube the bread first and add to the egg mixture while you dice the apples – by the time the apples are done, all you have to do is stir a bit, because the bread has already soaked up the mixture).

To make the topping, in a small bowl, combine with a fork the flour, the remaining 2 tbs. of brown sugar, the margarine, and the remaining 1/4 tsp. of the cinnamon.

Divide the bread mixture between the loaf pans; sprinkle with the topping. Bake until golden brown, 35-40 minutes. Cool slightly and serve warm.

Nutritional Facts (per serving): 223 calories, 5g fat, 8g protein. 4 Weight Watchers points.

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