Friday, September 21, 2012

Cooking with Casey (Sept.)

Casey is officially back in town.  Yippy!   We got together last weekend for a girl’s night in the kitchen.    With the hint of fall in the air, I was craving fall food.

This was our menu:
  • Blue-cheese stuffed figs wrapped in prosciutto
  • Arugula salad with goat cheese, beets, and toasted, honey almonds
  • Surf and turf with risotto two ways (scallops with lemon, parmesan, spinach risotto and beef tenderloin with mushroom and truffle risotto)

I kind of made up all of the recipes, so I will try to recreate them here.

TIP:  I have said this before and I will say it again.  I am not a professional recipe writer, so definitely let me know if you have questions or if something doesn’t make sense.  Also, remember these 3 things:
1)     Always read the recipe in full before you begin.  That way you can make sure you have all of your ingredients and you know the process.    It helps to get all of you ingredients and supplies in order.   Basically reading the recipe gives you the gist of what you will be doing before you begin and that is important.  Believe me; I’ve learned this the hard way.
2)     Recipes are only a guide.   Play!   Experiment with different ingredients.  And if you really like something (like parmesan) add more of it, if you don’t like something leave it out or substitute it with something you do like.
3)     Taste as you go.  That way you will know if your risotto is still hard and needs more time of if you need more salt or whatever.   

Blue-cheese Stuffed Figs Wrapped in Prosciutto
  • Wash the figs and cut them in half (cut off the stem too)
  • Put a dab of blue cheese on the flat side.
  • Wrap in prosciutto (I cut the prosciutto in half and it fit perfectly)
  • Bake at 400 for about 10 minutes.  You want the prosciutto to get crispy and the cheese to get soft. 
  • Drizzle with honey and serve. 
  • Red wine optional but encouraged
This is a such an easy appetizer and it is delicious.   Perfect for fall while figs are in season.

Cute Story: I was at Trader Joe’s and saw the figs and had to have them.   I put them in my cart and decided on the recipe above.    Not more than 20 seconds after putting the figs in my cart, a woman came up to me and asked me what I was going to do with the figs.   I told her and she thought that sounded fabulous.   She grabbed some figs and off she went.   Then when I was by the cheese and salami, she reappeared and asked me which I was going to pick.  I showed her which prosciutto and cheese I thought would be best and she put them in her cart too.  It was really cute.  Then she asked how long to bake them for.  I gave her some tips and told her to drizzle them with honey and enjoy with red wine.   She was so excited.    I have to say that has never happened to me before.  I thought it was kind of fun – random people bonding over food and cooking and sharing ideas.  There should be more of that happening.  

Arugula Salad with Goat Cheese, Beets, and Toasted, Honey Almonds

Step 1:  Make dressing

Balsamic dressing
3 Tbsp. Balsamic Vinegar
¼ cup Canola Oil
½ cup Olive Oil
2 tsp. Dijon mustard (I like Champagne mustard)
2 tsp. honey (or agave nectar)
Salt and pepper
Optional - Fresh minced garlic, shallots, and fresh herbs.

Whisk for at least a minute so that the ingredient combine and the dressing gets a little thick.

(I admit that I kind of make my dressing different every time.  Sometimes I will use balsamic glaze or a balsamic reduction, sometimes I will use a raw egg yolk instead of mustard as an emulsifier, sometimes I will use a different vinegar, etc….  I suggest you play around with it and find your favorite way to make it.    Whatever you do, do make it.  It is so much better than the bottled stuff.)

Step 2: Combine the following in a bowl
Roasted beets cut into bite-size pieces (sometimes I roast them myself and sometimes I buy the already roasted ones at Trader Joe’s.)
Honey goat cheese (regular is fine too) broken into pieces

Step 3: Toss with Dressing

Step 4: Plate in bowls and top with fresh pepper and Caramelized almonds or pecans (I found some new honey roasted almonds at Trader Joe’s that were really great.   It saves all the work of caramelizing the nuts yourself (although I will admit the ones I do myself are always the best, but these are a good time saver.)

1 Tbsp. butter
1 large shallot, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 ½ cups Arborio rice
1/4 cup dry white wine
4-6 cups chicken broth, kept warm on the stove
½ cup grated parmesan

Heat the butter in a heavy saucepan/skillet. Add the shallot and cook until translucent.  Stir in the garlic until just fragrant and then add the rice.  Stir the rice around for a couple minutes in order to "toast" it.  Add the wine. Cook until it's almost completely evaporated, and then add 1-2 ladles of the broth. Cook, stirring frequently, until most of the broth has been absorbed, and then add another 1-2 ladles. Keep stirring.

Risotto usually takes 22 minutes from start to finish.  (I’ve timed it many times).
The trick to risotto is to add the stock slowly and stir frequently.  The risotto should be a bit runny - that is, ALL of the liquid should NOT be absorbed like regular rice.   

Stirring the Risotto with my other little helper, Miko
At about 10 minutes into the risotto, sauté mushrooms for the mushroom risotto and then get started on the scallops and beef.  Remember to keep stirring and adding stock.   You’ll have to multi-task.   This is where a sous chef, like Casey, comes in very handy.   

Clean, dry, and slice one package of mushrooms (I like baby portabellas or shitake).
Sauté in a skillet over med-high with a little bit of butter until caramelized.   Set aside.

Beef Tenderloin
Cut the beef into appropriate portions.  Since we are doing surf and turf, I had very small portions of beef and allocated 2 scallops per person (the scallops are big).
Pat the beef dry with paper towels and season both sides with salt, pepper.
Sauté the beef in a hot pan with olive oil; about 3 minutes each side for medium rare.  Turn off heat.

Pat the scallops dry with paper towels and season both sides with salt, pepper, and cayenne.  Sauté the scallops in a hot pan with clarified butter.   Clarified butter is the the secret to perfect scallops.  Clarified butter helps caramelize the scallops perfectly and has a high smoke point so you can get it really hot to get the perfect sear.   To make clarified butter, just heat up some butter (about 4 Tbsp.) and then when it melts the milk fat will rise to the top.   Skim that off and you have clarified butter.   It is the milk fat that burns, which makes regular butter hard to sauté in because you can’t get it very hot for very long without burning.    Sauté the scallops for about 2 minutes each side.  Do not over cook.  

Back to the risotto……. 
Just before your rice is cooked al dente (risotto done properly still has a bit of texture), add the parmesan.  Stir to combine and season to taste with salt and pepper.   Then divide it into 2 separate pans over low heat.   Add ¼ cup of chicken stock to each.   

Lemon Spinach Risotto
Add fresh, raw spinach (roughly 2 cups) and lemon zest (roughly 2 tsp.).  Stir.  

FYI – for lemon zest, use a microplane or cheese grater (with the smallest holes) and zest the yellow part of the lemon – do not get the white part as it is bitter.   I like using the zest instead of lemon juice in risotto because it gives it a refreshing tastes rather than an acidic taste.   

Mushroom Risotto
Add the mushrooms and drizzle with Truffle Oil (white or black).   Stir.

Make a half and half plate – half lemon, spinach risotto and half mushroom risotto.   Grate with fresh parmesan.   Add the beef on top of the mushroom risotto and the scallops to the other.   Enjoy!

Risotto is one of my favorite comfort foods and it is so versatile.    You can add pretty much anything and there are so many variations.     What is your favorite kind of risotto?

Pairing:  I went with my old standby – bubbly!   I love Champagne with everything!   I also think this dish would be great with red wine. 


Sunday, September 16, 2012

Saga Hill Cooking Class: Summer Essentials

Last week, I attended a cooking class with my friend Michelle at Saga Hill Cooking School.  I love taking cooking classes, especially in the fall.   Even though I’ve attended culinary school, I always feel that you can learn something new in every class; whether it is a new technique or recipe or whatever.  

This was my first class at Saga Hill and it won’t be my last.  The owner and Chef, Marianne Miller, probably had me with her #1 rule: Have FUN while learning culinary skills. This is non-negotiable!
Chef Marianne

This info, as stated on her website, will give you a feel for the vibe of the classes:  “I teach science-based cooking techniques, not stuff you can find in a celebrity chef's cookbook. ALL my staff have worked or work in professional restaurants, so we sometimes curse, berate Rachel Ray and use carrots as double-entendres!  If you are NOT OKAY with that, DO NOT come to our cooking class!  We are not like any other cooking school in the State and we don't believe that you are always right, should always get your way, or should sit by yourself at your own table. Nope, cooking is too much fun for any of that silliness. What we do care about is that you learn in a relaxed, communal setting that's free from marketing, bad hobby chefs, and overpriced kitchen knick knackery. In a nutshell, we care only about the REAL stuff. The time honored, kitchen tested, honest culinary skills that you need to learn so you can have fun cooking.”

The attentive class
This class is perfect for beginners and experienced cooks.   Chef Marianne really makes cooking approachable, straightforward, and fun.   When trying to think of words to describe Marianne, these are what I came up with: playful, childlike, funny (in a stand-up comedian kind of way), down-to-earth, charismatic, and did I mention funny?   In the first 5 minutes I wrote on my notes, “I love this chick!”   Now that is saying something.   Her approach to food is that it is subjective; we are not looking for perfection as it is different for everyone.   Amen to that.  

We started off with a Hollandaise sauce.  I learned a couple tips that I did not know before.  
1)  Crack eggs on a flat surface, not on a corner.
2)  If your sauce breaks, throw an ice cube in it.  (According to Chef Marianne, it reacts like a man when jumping in a cold pool – it contracts and pulls in).   Great visual on how to save your sauce and bring it back together.  

We added some fresh tarragon, which turned it into a bearnaise sauce.   We drizzled (ok poured) it over scrambled eggs with bacon and it was delicious.  The sauce has a stick of butter in it so of course it was good.     

Next up was Vegetarian (carrot, cucumber, avocado) Sushi Rolls. 
I have to say that as intimidating as making your own sushi sounds, it really isn’t that hard.   That said, while I have everything I need at my house to make it, I find that sushi is just one of those things that I like to go out for.   Plus I like variety and I’m not about to make five different sushi rolls.   The two tips that stuck out for the sushi were:
1)  When rolling the sushi roll, make sure you keep it really tight.   Pull and tuck, pull and tuck; “tuck the baby in tight.”
2)  When cutting the sushi roll, cut the roll in half, then in quarters and go out from there. If you just start cutting it into pieces then stuff inside will ooze out the sides.  After all that work, you don’t want that to happen.  


Cocktail Break – Mojitos
Now, my husband is a self-proclaimed mojito connoisseur.  And I admit, he makes the best mojitos.  So, I was very curious to learn this recipe.

I have to say, I think Chef Marianne is onto something.    Basically, why use water for your simple syrup, which is usually a 50/50 sugar to water ratio, when you can use booze.  (She confessed that swapping water with booze is how she makes all of her friends.)

Here is the recipe. FYI -he can’t serve liquor in class, so this recipe uses a combo of sparkling wine and white wine.  Personally, I think it’d be better with rum - for sure.  

Simple Syrup:
•3 Tbsp. sugar
•2 cups White Wine
•2 cups of Champagne or Sparking
•2 cups of Lemon/Lime Soda (like 7-Up or Sprite)

1 Tbsp. Torn Mint  (or more)
Squeeze of Lime

•Create your simple syrup
•Combine the simple syrup ingredients over heat for 60 seconds until sugar is dissolved, turn off heat
•Add torn mint leaves and lime juice
•Pour over ice

While making the mojitios, Marianne was listing off the different alcohols you could use, such as vodka, rum, or tequila.  Without missing a beat, she mentioned that unfortunately she was allergic to tequila and then went on to say “yeah, when I drink tequila it makes me break out in.... handcuffs.”  Seriously funny.   I'm pretty sure everyone out there has a tequila experience they'd like to forget; me included.      

Now don’t start feeling bad for me for only getting one mojito that didn’t even have the hard stuff in it……   I forgot to mention that for $15 extra (the price of the class was $55) you can get unlimited wine.   I dare you to find another cooking class that offers that.  

Michelle & I enjoying our wine

Next up was Stuffed Peppadews
Peppadews are these bright red, bite-sized peppers that are perfect for stuffing.   I usually stuff them with goat cheese but it was fun to learn a new variation.  The debate is on as to whether they are spicy.  I don’t think they are.  They are sweet with a tiny bit of spice towards the end, but not “heat” – nothing that would make your mouth feel like its on fire.   

We stuffed the peppers with a combination of Chorizo, Sour Cream, Cream Cheese, and Blue Cheese.    

FYI - The Peppadew website has a library of recipes for these little red numbers:

Last up were Lobster Rolls
Who doesn’t love a good lobster roll?   Chef Marianne reminded me how cheap lobsters are right now due to the excess inventory, so I need to plan some lobster meals soon!   Maybe you should too.    I have great pasta recipe with lobster in a brandy cream sauce = YUM!

Mini Lobster Roll

I will say I left class a little hungry.  For some reason I was thinking there was a grilled pizza course too?    Not that I need to be stuffed, but I think another course in there would’ve been good because the 4 items we made weren’t that filling.  

SIDEBAR: We met some fun people and I can’t resist telling you a story that a lady at our table shared.   She works for General Mills and got a complaint from a guy who was making a cake for his wife.  He buttered the bottom of the pan as instructed on the box and when he put it in the oven it started smoking like crazy and the cake was ruined.    Well, he literally buttered the BOTTOM of the pan - on the outside rather than the inside.  DUH!

Chef Marianne is one smart cookie and only changes the menu quarterly.   So you can go four times a year and experience four different menus.  I think that is genius and a great way to get regulars (of which there were many).

I will definitely go back and if you live in Minneapolis, I suggest you do the same.  Check it out:  
If you don’t live in Minneapolis, check out some cooking classes in your area.   A lot of grocery stores have them so that could be a good start.

Whatever you do, keep learning and experimenting. 


PS – Please email me if you would like the recipes.   I'd also love to hear about what good cooking classes you've taken?

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Halibut with Grilled Pineapple Salsa

This recipe was inspired by one of the dishes taught at my "Cooking with Coastal" event (see previous post).   I love how light and flavorful the salsa is and grilling the pineapple helped release some of the juices.   And since we are getting some bonus summer days, maybe you should make it this weekend. 

Grilled Halibut with Pineapple Salsa

Pineapple Salsa
Grilled Pineapple - I just cut a pineapple in half, squirted it with lime juice and put it on the grill.  I put the flesh side down first for about 5-7 minutes and then flipped it for another 4-5 minutes.

Let the pineapple cool a little but before cutting.

Chop and combine the following:
  • Cilantro
  • Red Onion
  • Sweet peppers (orange and red)
  • Jalapeno 

 Squeeze the juice of 1/2 lime and season with salt and pepper.

Add the chopped pineappple and serve on top of the fish.

  • You can use this salsa on a variety of things and you could even grab some tortilla chips and just dig in that way.  
  • I think it is best to make it at least one hour ahead of time so that the flavors have a chance to marinate together to intensify the flavor.   
  • I served it with jasmine rice and a grilled shrimp. 
Grilled Halibut
Halibut Fillets (preferably with skin on one side)
Season with Salt and Pepper (and cayenne if you like spice like me)

Grill for about 10 minutes with the skin side on the grill.    Close the lid of the grill to help cook the fish all the way through.    

Since halibut can be a somewhat delicate fish, you could also wrap in it foil, add some coconut milk and other misc. spices and steam it that way on the grilll for 8-10 minutes.  It will be moist and delicious.    In fact, that is probably what I will do next time.   

Easy, healthy, and delicious.

Pairing:  This dish would go well with Prosecco, a light white wine, or a tropical cocktail.


Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Cooking with Coastal

Coastal Seafoods that is; which is my favorite place in Minneapolis to buy seafood.
Let me give you a little background….  In addition to loving food, I also love wine; sparkling wine especially.    Two years ago I started a Sparkling Wine Club with 10 ladies that meets monthly to try a different themes of sparkling wines.    To mix it up for August, and as a farewell to summer, I decided to hire a chef from Coastal Seafoods to come in and give us a cooking lesson.   We paired Blanc de Blancs bubbly with seafood and the results were fabulous.

This was our menu…..
  • Spicy snow crab rolls
  • Tuna Tataki salad with a miso ginger dressing
  • Marinated, grilled blue shrimp 
  • Halibut with the pineapple salsa
  • Grilled marlin stuffed with feta and herbs
  • Fresh Oysters
  • Cedar planked sockeye salmon with Rosemary and olive oil

Chef Nils all prepped and ready to go
Chef Nils showed up with all the food and did a great job of showing us how each dish was made.  He was informative and a good instructor.  I must say, it can sometimes be difficult to get the attention of 8 ladies with a bubbly buzz but he pulled it off.

Captive Audience
We stared with a fresh snow crab sushi roll that was amazing.   And I found two new products that I will certainly be picking up on my visits to the Asian grocery store (I like United Noodles, which very close to Coastal's Minneapolis shop).  First was Japenese mayonnaise, which was creamy and seemed to have a rich depth to it.   Second was a sesame chili oil; they combined my two favorite oils (chile + sesame) to make one fantastic oil.   Nils mixed the two together for create a wonderful sauce in the sushi roll.
Let me see that sushi roll (couldn't help myself).  To the left......

The Tuna Tataki salad with a Miso Ginger Dressing was my favorite and relatively easy once you gather the ingredients.   

Tuna Tataki salad with a Miso Ginger Dressing = Delicious
Here is the recipe:

1 Tbsp Miso Paste
1 Tbsp Sushi Vinegar
1 Tbsp Sesame Oil
1 Tbsp Finely minced Ginger
About a quarter cup of water to thin it out.

Take your sushi-grade tuna and sprinkle with salt and pepper.   Sear in a hot pan for about 70 seconds each side.    
Searing the Tuna
Spread mixed greens on a plate and top with sliced tuna.   Drizzle with salad dressing.

Top with daikon radish sprouts (found at Asian grocery stores), toasted sesame seeds, and diced green onions.   

Everything was really tasty and pretty easy to make.   I definitely added some new fish dishes to my repertoire.

Shrimp Marinade Recipe:
  • About a 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp course ground mustard
  • 1 Tbsp white wine vinegar
  • juice of one lemon
  • fresh cracked pepper and sea salt
  • You can throw some fresh minced herbs in too 
Beautiful Blue Shrimp
Marinating the Shrimp

The finished, grilled shrimp.   It was sweet and excellent.   If you see Blue Shrimp, buy it.   When I make it, and I will definitely make it, I will add a little cayenne or red pepper flakes to the marinade to give it some heat.

The Marlin was stuffed with feta mixed with fresh herbs and salt and pepper
Feta-stuffed marlin
My adorable dog, Miko, hoping that Nils will drop some fish for her
Fresh Sockeye Salmon awaiting its turn on the grill

It was a lovely summer evening complete with fabulous food and sparkling wine.  If you live in Minneapolis, I highly recommend hiring Nils for your next gathering.  At $50/per person (+ tip), I thought it was a great deal.   They also teach classes at their store (but then you can't have wine).  

PS - Out of the six sparkling wines we tried, my favorite pairing of the night was the Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs.  It paired beautifully with the seafood.   It is a domestic bubbly with the richness of Champagne.  You can find it for about $30.