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Monday, May 17, 2010

Cooking with a "Real" Chef

I wrote a restaurant review column for my high school newspaper. I also edited the 8-page supplement to the paper with Jessica Wood, who subsequently became a good friend, like an older sister to me.

Jess and I, sadly lost touch in college but when she saw my blog on my Facebook page, she immediately got back in touch:

"Subject: Your Lovely Blog
Message: Hi Sara!
A couple of things:

1. I love your blog!
2. Let's cook together some time!
3. I can't put it in a five word phrase, so please see below.
It just so happens that I will be starting "Classic Culinary Arts" at the French Culinary Institute. I'll be attending night class while I work full time, for nine months. Why am I telling you this? Because I see that we are on similar paths, and why not get together, catch-up, and discuss our culinary passions!"

Isn't it so funny how things come in full circle?
So that is how the other week, I got to cook with a "real" chef... ok well a soon-to-be real chef.

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The menu (we thought this up on the spot in the aisles of Whole Foods):

-Halibut with a White Wine Sauce
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-Roasted Potatoes, Onions and Sunchokes
2010-04-29 20.51.03.jpg

-Caramelized Brussel Sprouts, Pearl Onions and Pancetta

What went down was absolute culinary chaos. We split up and were each responsible for our own dish. I tackled the brussel sprouts, Jess worked on the fish and sauce, and Jess's boyfriend took on the potatoes and sunchokes....

I did manage to get bits and pieces of what everyone was doing at their respective stations, and I even was able to snag Jess's recipe cards from class with the recipe for white sauce. I promise to share all of this tomorrow. It's late an I'm tired so if you want to know what a sunchoke is and how to cook one, you will have to stay tuned...

Friday, April 23, 2010

Oktoberfest in April

Ahhh Oktoberfest... 16 days celebrating nothing but German food and beer....What's not to love?

October seems eons away, so last week we declared it...

Oktoberfest in April

Just as we took didn't strictly adhere to the true dates of Oktoberfest, we took some creative liberty in our menu...

Chicken Schnitzel

Typically Germans use veal....but my friend Allison makes a fantastic chicken cutlet which we renamed "Chicken Schnitzel" for the purposes of this blog entry....

Bier (or beer)

Ok so Hoegaarden isn't exactly German beer...I looked it up and it's actually from Belgium. Close enough, no? This is Oktoberfest in April (not October), after all.

Potato Salad

Authentic recipes for German potato salad don't call for mayo.. but I wanted to practice whipping my own so this recipe had to suffice. I used this delicious potato salad recipe from class which is essentially just roasted red potatoes and mushrooms that are cooled than mixed in with homemade mayo, watercress, basil, garlic paste, salt and pepper.

Sauteed Broccoli

Really no correlation to Oktoberfest but we thought the meal could use some green...I'm sure they must eat broccoli in Germany anyway. Super simple to make - we just sauteed some fresh broccoli in oil and added some minced garlic and red pepper flakes. Mahlzeit!

How to make Allison's famous chicken schnitzel/cutlets:
  • 12 thin boneless chicken breasts
  • Italian style bread crumbs
  • Spices (garlic salt, onion salt, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper)
  • 2-3 eggs beaten
  • Frying pan
  • Oil (about 2 cups)
  • Large freezer bag

Allison's mise en place.

Heat about 2 cups of oil in a pan over medium high heat. According to Alli, it's ready when you sprinkle water in it and it "snaps" and "sizzles."

While you are waiting for the oil to heat up, place about 2 cups of breadcrumbs in a large freezer bag. Season with salt, pepper, garlic salt, onion salt and Italian seasoning.

Dip chicken in egg. Then place in bag with breadcrums. Shake to cover chicken.

Remove chicken from the bag and put into the pan with oil (once it is heated). Repeat with remaining chicken.

Watch carefully! Chicken should turn a golden color and should not burn. If it is beginning to burn, lower the heat.

Flip over when they are golden on one side. Cook until the other side is golden.

Remove from heat, let rest on paper towels and serve!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Artichokes for the Folks

Maybe it's because I moved five blocks from Artichoke Pizza, or because I discovered Trader Joe's life-changing Spinach-Artichoke dip or because its spring.... Whatever the reason, I've been totally crazy for artichokes, ordering them as pizza toppings, putting them on salads or just eating them right out of the jar.

Yes, the jar... I've always assumed working with fresh artichokes would be something like wrestling a cactus.

Tonight I turned over a new leaf and tackled the prickly plant discovering they really are quite easy to handle!

I was home in Connecticut, where cooking is always a treat because I have more than 10 sq. ft. of kitchen space. My dad is also turning over a new leaf and retiring so I thought I would make him and my mom a special meal.

I nominated my Dad as my "blog-ographer," with his new found time and fancy new camera.

I call this dish....

Artichokes for the Folks

Essentially it's Mark Bittman's (New York Times) recipe for Artichokes Provencal but I added shrimp to make it more of a main course.

What you need:
  • a couple tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil (enough to coat the bottom of a large pan)
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed, then peeled
  • fresh herbs - I used thyme for garnish (optional)
  • 1/2 cup good black olives, pitted (I actually hate olives, there are no "good" olives in my book...I must have been possessed when I chose this recipe)
  • Salt
  • 12 baby artichokes (small artichokes are MUCH easier to work with!)
  • 1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes tomatoes, halved or left whole (I left mine whole)
  • 12-16 uncooked shrimp can be frozen or fresh, peeled or unpeeled
  • a large pan with a lid

My "mise en place," or everything in place to cook.

Start by heating enough oil to coat the bottom of a large pan over medium heat. While you are waiting for the oil to heat up, smash and peel some garlic and throw it in the pan.

*Hint: Be careful not to burn the garlic, if they are getting too brown you can take them out and let them hang out for a bit like this.

While the garlic is heating up, it's time to tackle those baby 'chokes.

Peel off the hard outside layers.

You will be exposing the artichoke heart (the edible part!)

Now cut off about an inch from the top (the top is where the artichoke bulb comes to a point). That stuff isn't edible either.

Use a peeler or a paring knife (I used a paring knife) to shave off the rough part of the stem and about an inch from the end.

Looking back at the above photo, I'm realizing I probably should have peeled about one more layer off this artichoke. It should be less green/more white. I'm learning too!

Then split it down the middle.

Toss them in the pan with the exposed layers facing down. You can peel, cut and place the 'chokes one at a time. This way the first ones you place will be done when you put the last ones in.

They're all in now...

Now you can start flipping them over if they're browned.

Once you flip them all over you can start tossing in the other "good" stuff, like the olives and tomatoes. This is an ideal time to put back that garlic if you took it out.

Now add a few pinches of salt (not too much because the olives are salty) and just a little bit of water.

Cover your pan and leave it be for 20 minutes.

While your waiting...Go ahead and boil some water in a different pot. Then toss in your shrimp, just until it turns pink, about 2-3 minutes. If they are even a little undercooked that's probably ideal because they will cook some more with the artichokes.

Strain them. Rinse them. Peel them (if they came unpeeled like mine).

After your artichokes and such have been cooking for about 15 minutes, go ahead and toss in your shrimp, put the lid back on and let everything cook together for a few final minutes.

These last few minutes are a good time to chop or prepare your herbs. I used thyme, but I'm sure parsley would be nice too.

Then test your 'chokes for doneness with a fork, they should be quite tender.

Serve your shrimps and 'chokes for your folks (or friends or whoever), on a nice serving platter and garnish with your fresh herbs.

And remember....From start to finish this should take under 45 minutes...

So "Thyme is on your side..." Haha get it?

Friday, April 9, 2010

EastOver... Passover meets Easter Feast!

We are so lucky to have Kellie and Ali as neighbors. We take turns hosting dinner parties once or twice a week. They are the best dinner party guests and on nights when I commute to CT and come back exhausted, there is nothing better than going over to their place for a home-cooked meal and some "southern hospitality" (Kellie is from Georgia and lives up to my expectations and more of what a Southern hostess should be like!)

Last week was our turn and it just happened to be Easter Sunday/the second to last night of Passover.

I was brisket-ed out and wasn't feeling the usual Easter fare of lamb/ham. So I settled on this springy menu instead. :

-Thai Style Mussels

-Sweet Potato Encrusted Flounder over Greens and Mango with Creamy Garlic Lime Dressing

-Matzoh Brittle

If you just wanted a "taste" you can stop reading here. If you want to know how it's all done, read on....

Thai Style Mussels
I used this recipe from

I bought a 2 lb bag of mussels. Closed mussels are alive and good to go. If they are open just pinch them closed and count to 5. If the stay closed they're good. If not, toss them.

So easy. In a large pot with a top, just mix together:
-1/3 cup of fresh lime juice (2-3 limes)
-1/3 cup of white wine
-1 can of unsweetened coconut milk,
-1 1/2 T of thai red curry paste
-2 cloves of garlic
-1 T fish sauce
-1 T sugar

Bring to a boil. Then add mussels. Reduce heat just a bit and cover. In 5-8 minutes they should be open which means that they are done!

I must not have waited 5-8 minutes before taking this picture because the mussels aren't open yet. Clearly I am impatient.

Sweet Potato Encrusted Flounder over Greens and Mango with Creamy Garlic Lime Dressing

I had this dish at Little Moir's Food Shack, a strip mall gem in Jupiter, FL. It blew me away and I immediately scoured the internet for a similar recipe. Luckily was able to find this one on Epicurious which comes out almost exactly like the original dish.

Here is Little Moir's version:

Here is mine... How'd I do?

This isn't terribly difficult but has a lot of components so you have to stay organized. Also, I'd highly recommend grating the sweet potatoes using a food processor (if you don't have one, hopefully you have a fantastic roommate like mine who will lend a hand/an afternoon peeling and grating...Thank you Sarah!)

First assemble the salad. It's just greens, string beans (boiled in hot water, then "shocked" in cold water), and cubed mango.

Again, I was impatient and took the photo before adding the string beans...use your imagination?

Cubing mango is easy. Here's how you do it (I had to YouTube this myself)

Cut it like this...

Then flip it inside out like a porcupine and cut along the skin to release the cubes.

Next make the dressing. Just whisk together:
-1/2 cup mayo
-1 1/2 T sour cream
-1-2 T lime
-1 T lemon
-1 t sugar
-garlic paste

Next, make the fish...

I used flounder, but any fresh, flaky, white fish will do.

Heat a few tablespoons of oil in a large pan. Put a handful of grated sweet potatoes on the pan.

Make an "egg wash" by setting up 1 plate with flour and 1 plate with 2-3 lightly beaten eggs.

Dip fish in flour. Then dip in egg. Place fish atop your sweet potato pile in pan (the fish will stick to the sweet potato because of the egg). Then add another handful/layer of sweet potato on top of the fish. When sweet potato is golden on the bottom, flip the fish very carefully. Cook the other side until golden.

When both sides are golden and fish is cooked through, remove from pan, place atop greens and drizzle with dressing. Repeat with remaining pieces of fish.

Matzoh Brittle
Why are Passover desserts always so lame? Not this one....

I used this recipe from

First preheat your oven to 375 degrees F. Then, bring 2 sticks of butter with 1 cup of brown sugar to a boil in a small saucepan. Watch it carefully so it doesn't burn.

Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spread out 3-4 sheets of matzoh on it.
Pour the brown sugar-butter mixture over the matzoh and bake for 7 minutes.

When you take it out the brown sugar-butter mixture should have formed a nice golden crackly layer over the matzoh. Quickly (white it's still hot!) pour a layer of chocolate chips all over the matzoh and allow to melt. You can get really snazzy and add sprinkles, coconut, slivered almonds and the like...unless of course you are a matzoh brittle purist like me.

Cool in the fridge for a few hours. (Or the freezer if you're impatient like me). Break into bite-sized pieces and enjoy!

And no EastOver can be complete without a little Easter "Peep Show." Yes, very mature...I know.