Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Cooking with Casey (August)

Let me introduce you to my little sister Casey.   
My Sister and Sous Chef, Casey
She is one of my favorite people to cook with and I’m excited that she will soon be moving back to Minneapolis and we will be cooking together a lot!    She was in town this past weekend to apartment hunt and we had a girl’s night in, which of course means cooking.   We decided to make the rule that we couldn't make anything we've made before.  

On the menu for the evening:  
  • Mango/Avocado Salad
  • Fish in with Coconut Milk Sauce
  • Chocolate Soufflé

First off, we had to start with a Cooking Cocktail.   We mixed Effen cucumber vodka, diet 7-up, lime juice, and a jalapeño slice and served it over ice.   
Cooking Cocktail Fixins
It was very refreshing (even with the little jalapeño kick).    Maybe too refreshing as I felt like I was drinking water from the spa.   
My dress matches the vodka bottle!

For the mango/avocado salad, I just made it up.  I thought something with mango and avocado would go well with the Asian-style fish.
Mango/Avocado Salad

For dressing, combine the following in the bottom of a salad bowl.
  • 3 Tbsp. orange juice
  • 2 Tbsp. grape seed or canola oil
  • ½ tsp. smooth mustard (I use Champagne mustard)
Whisk the above together with a fork or whisk.   Then add:
  • Minced red onion (just a couple slices, less than 1/3 of the onion)
  • Mince jalapeño (as much as you are comfortable with, less than 1/3 of the onion)
  • Chopped Cilantro
  • 2 slices of avocado (mashed)
  • S+P (salt and pepper)
  • a squeeze or two of fresh lime juice (lime zest would be good too)

Mix the above ingredients together well and you will have your dressing.   To finish it off add diced mango (1 whole mango), diced avocado (1/2 avocado), leaf lettuce and toss together.     

Verdict:  This was very good.   I love mango and avocado together.   Before I added the lettuce we joked that we should grab some chips and eat it as salsa instead.      

For the fish, we got the recipe inspiration from the Cuisine à Latina cookbook by Michelle Bernstein.  She has a Banana-leaf Wrapped Fish that was intriguing.   If you want the original recipe, check out her cookbook.   Otherwise, this was our version……..

Fish in Coconut Milk Sauce
2 tablespoons canola oil
½ cup unsweetened coconut milk
2 medium cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 shallot, peeled and chopped
1 half of a jalapeno
1 tablespoon sugar
1 piece (2 inches) fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt
Parchment paper or foil
4 fish fillets (we used halibut – Michelle Bernstein suggested Yellowtail, Bass, Grouper or Halibut)

  1. Place 1 Tbsp. oil, garlic, shallots, jalapeno, coconut milk, sugar, ginger, and salt in the bowl of a food processor; pulse until a smooth paste is formed.
  2. Preheat oven to 375.   
  3. Briefly sauté the fish in a skillet on the stove top.  Warm up pan over high heat, turn down to medium high.  Add oil (1 Tbsp. Canola) and the seasoned fish (season each side with salt and pepper).  Sauté the fish for about 45 seconds on each side.
  4. Set each fillet in a piece of foil.  Top with the above mixture and seal the foil into individual packets.  
  5. Place the fish in the oven for about 8-10 minutes.    (You can also grill it.  In this case I would double up the foil to ensure that there is no leaking.   Place foil-wrapped fish on grill and grill, turning once, until a metal skewer or sharp, thin-bladed knife inserted into the center of the fish comes out hot, 5 to 6 minutes per side.)
  6. Carefully unwrap fish from foil and place each banana-leaf-wrapped fillet on a plate; serve immediately – garnish with lime wedge and cilantro.   Serve with jasmine rice mixed with fresh cilantro.
Sautéd Fish in the foil waiting for the sauce.

Verdict:  I thought the fish was really tender and the sauce had a great flavor.   The sauce was a little thin but that might be because we used “Light” coconut milk.   I would definitely make it again, I liked the tropical, spicy flavor of the sauce.  Next time, I would like to try grilling it in banana leaves, as the original recipe calls for; we couldn’t find any so we had to go to plan B.  

Pairing:   This meal would pair great with our Cooking Cocktail (above) or a light, fruity & floral, white wine.   

For dessert, we debated this one for a bit and then settled on soufflé, which neither of us had made before.   And I happened to have everything we needed – how often does that happen?   Never.  It was meant to be.   We found a recipe online and the making of our first soufflé commenced.

Individual Chocolate Soufflés Recipe

By Rebecca Franklin, Guide

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 30 minutes 


  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar, plus 2 tablespoons for sprinkling
  • 5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped finely
  • 3 large egg yolks, room temperature
  • 6 large egg whites, room temperature
  • 1/16 teaspoon salt
  • Butter
  • Powdered sugar


  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter 6 individual soufflé ramekins and sprinkle with sugar; set aside.
  • Melt chocolate pieces in a metal bowl over barely simmering water, constantly stirring. (Even a small amount of overheated chocolate will ruin an entire recipe.) Once the chocolate is melted, remove the bowl from heat and stir in the egg yolks.
  • In a separate bowl, beat egg whites with salt on medium high speed until they hold soft glossy peaks. Continue beating egg whites on high speed, gradually adding the remaining 1/3 cup sugar, until the egg whites hold stiff glossy peaks.
  • Gently stir 1/3 of the eggs whites into the chocolate mixture, then carefully fold in the remaining egg whites. The chocolate mixture should be light and bubbly, and even colored, without egg white streaks.
  • Spoon your soufflé mixture into the prepared ramekins and allow to rest for up to 30 minutes or bake right away for 12 – 15 minutes (slightly longer at high altitudes) until risen with a crusty exterior. Serve with a dusting of cocoa or powdered sugar if desired.
  • Makes 6 servings.

Verdict:  I didn't have 6 clean ramekins so we used 2 small ones and one big one.  I also had a half of a bittersweet candy bar and a half bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips so I melted those two together.   The soufflés were really good.   We ate them warm with vanilla ice cream and a little bit of caramel and fudge on the side.   Frankly, I was surprised that they turned out.  I seem to always hear people’s horror stories about their soufflé deflating.    I guess we were on our game.   

You will definitely be seeing more “Cooking with Casey” posts.   I’m excited and you should be too.  Knowing I have someone to help me (she likes to say she’s my kitchen slave) makes me aim for more difficult and time-consuming dishes.   

Who is your favorite person to cook with?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Food Truck Fair = FAIL!

I attended the “First Annual Minneapolis Food Truck Fair” downtown Minneapolis on Sunday along with thousands of other people; a thousand too many.   

I bought my ticket on Groupon for $7.00 (half of the general admission price).  I had seriously debated the VIP ticket Groupon was offering for $25.00 but decided “a free slider and free beer samples” wasn’t enough to win me over.   I made a good call.   

Sunday was a beautiful day and I was hungry.   I worked out and skipped breakfast in anticipation.  When I arrived with my sister at 12:40, we couldn’t believe the line to get in.   It was insane!   We debated leaving right away and heading to a nearby patio for Bloody Marys.   Instead we found our friends in line.   They were a little closer to the front but not much.  They had VIP and were in a separate line that wasn’t moving at all.   

Lots of People in Line
This picture doesn't do it justice, but if you see the tent to the far right and then the light post to the left, that is basically the line (and it wasn't single file, it was about 12 people wide).   People were line up past that last light post waiting to get to the white tents.  CRAZY!
The front of the line was a complete mess.  They had too few people trying to hand out wrist bands and it was completely unorganized.   When we finally got in, we headed straight to the “Get Sauced” food truck.  The line was relatively short and we ordered pork tacos and corn.  The food was great. 

Having to sit on the dirty curb in the hot sun was not great.  The event only had enough tables for about 30 people to sit and the people that had those seats were not giving them up.  They had people holding the seats while other members of their party went on food and beer runs.   Did I mention I was thirsty?  And that they did not have any beverage options other than beer and whiskey and the lines were too long to wait to spend more money in this darn festival.  I was hot, thirsty, and irritated.  By the time we finished our taco the food lines were completely insane.   Waiting for food and beverages for hours was not appealing so we left.   It was a complete waste of time and money.  I am mad about my $7.00 but am happy that I didn’t go the VIP route.  Had I not pre-paid, there is no way I would’ve waited in line to pay to get in there.  It was ridiculous.   I feel bad for those that came in from out of town for this and didn't have the foresight to bail at the sight of the line.  

I am not sure who planned the event but clearly they were amateurs.    They completely oversold the event and executed it poorly.    Here are some things that they need to do IF they try again.
  • Have clear lines set up.   There should be a line for people with tickets, people that need to buy tickets, and a VIP line.  
  • There needs to be clear exits.   The area was fenced in and the only exit was to try to work your way out through the narrow entrance you entered through.    It was tight and it would’ve been complete chaos if there was a fire or anything that required an evacuation.
  • There should be non-alcoholic beverages readily available.   I was told that he food trucks weren’t “allowed” to sell beverages.   So if you were thirsty and didn’t want beer or whiskey (or to wait in a 30 minute line for one) you were to remain parched.  
  • Don’t oversell the event.   The organizers got piggy and completely oversold the event.   It was way too many people in a small unorganized place.   
  • Have more food trucks.   There were lots of food trucks that weren’t there and there needed to be more with the amount of people.  And there needs to be more options.  For example, I didn’t see any dessert trucks there?   Ice cream would’ve been perfect.   
  • Have sample sizes.   The food trucks should offer small “tasting” samples of their food.  It would be nice to try more than one item and “sample” many different things in smaller portion sizes.  That would be good for the food trucks too.   If I have my top two picked out and the portions are big, I'm not going to have room in my tummy or cash in my pocketbook to try anything else; but if there were smaller sample sizes that would be a great way to explore more of the trucks.
  • Have express “VIP” lines.  I didn’t really see any advantage for the VIPs.   It seemed like a total rip off.  And the line for the free burger was insane.   
Honestly though, even if they do implement some of the suggestions above, I'm not sure I'd give them a second chance.  The whole thing really left a bad taste in my mouth.   AND.... I can hit these food trucks around town without paying an admission fee.   The whole idea of it is asinine if there are no benefits to make the admission fee worthwhile. 

OK, I’ve spent enough energy on this event.  If you want to know how everyone else felt (hint – I am not alone in my opinion), check out these links.

They got lots of negative feedback/comments on their facebook page:

On a positive note, what is your favorite food truck (in Minneapolis or elsewhere)? 

In Minneapolis.....I really liked the Get Sauced truck, I love the lobster rolls a Smack Shack, the fish & chips at Anchor Fish & Chips are really good, and I really like the mini donuts at Chef Shack (they were at the Food Truck Festival but didn't have the donuts on their menu - which was very disappointing).   Another truck that I can't wait to try is World Street Kitchen. 


Monday, August 6, 2012

Penelope the Food Judge

Yep, it's true. Friday I put on my food judge hat at the the Kitchen Window Culinary Arts Competition at the Uptown Art Fair in Minneapolis.

It was fun to watch some local chefs battle it out Iron chef style. The competition teamed chefs and artists to show off their creativity.  The teams were given four key ingredients and 30 minutes to design a unique and flavorful dish and a matching piece of visual art.

The three mandatory ingredients were: artisan chocolate from Minneapolis chocolatier B.T. McElrath, beer from Schell’s Brewing Co. and rice from Gourmet Rice, which they had to include—along with a unique secret ingredient—in both the dish and the visual art.  Yes, you read that right - rice, beer, and chocolate all had to be present in the dish.  The teams also had access to a pantry stocked with misc. staple items from Whole Foods.

Now add to that a secret ingredient (peaches in round 1, beets in round 2, and bananas in round 3) and it is no surprise that I didn't encounter anything totally "craveable." 

The chefs and artists did a good job given the ingredients that they had to work with but I had higher expectations for more artistic plating of the food and more flavor in the dishes; the chefs seemed afraid of salt and spice, which can made for some bland dishes.

Overall, I had a lot of fun and met some great people and certainly tasted some interesting dishes.  One of my favorites out of the six I tasted was a beet risotto (no doubt cooked in beer) with a hint of chocolate and topped with crispy fried rice puffs and perfectly cooked steak made by a chef from Oceanaire. 

To see more photos of the event, go do the Kitchen Window's Facebook page.

I would "judge" again in a heartbeat and thought the idea of pairing food and art was a cool idea for the Art Fair.  It was great to see the artists and chefs create their works of art.   I've always believed that food is a form of art and the sky is the limit on how creative you can get with it. 

I'm already looking forward to next year's competition.   You should definitely check it out as it is a great addition to the Uptown Art Fair.

Now, this competition got me thinking... 

What are you're top three favorite ingredients to cook with? (excluding the obvious "pantry" items- salt, pepper, oils, butter, chicken stock, lemon juice, garlic, etc.)

What would be your "worst nightmare" secret ingredient?  

Please "comment" and share your answers.  

For me, I think spinach, Parmesan cheese, and halibut would be three fun ingredients to work with.    My worst nightmare secret ingredient would be gelatin; I've never really worked with it before and am somehow intimidated by it.   Let me know if you have a easy way to get past this.   I really need to  just embrace it.  


I couldn't resist this photo, I was walking behind this lady a she got a free bag and stuck her dog in it.