Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Gardening at Greystone

"What happened to your face?" Rosario suddenly asked me the other day. My friend in the dish room at school was deeply concerned about the sunspots on my cheeks. I explained to her that I often get funny pigmentation on my skin in the summertime, underscoring that it was totally fine because I'm actually trying to look like a catcher's mitt by the time I'm 40.

But seriously, the real reason for my super dark complexion these days is the amount of time I've been spending in the student garden here at Greystone. The work can be exhausting, but I consider it an opportunity to get three birds with one stone: gardening, exercise AND some stress-busting vitamin D production all at once.

Located between Highway 29 and the Silverado Trail on Deer Park cross road, our two acre garden plot is not impressive at first glance. Started four years ago by a small, dedicated group of students, the student garden is neither well-funded nor perfectly organized. We don't weed every day. The chain link fences that divide our plot from neighboring vineyards wouldn't mesh with a landscape architect's vision for a Napa Valley garden.

Somehow, none of that matters. I've wandered the neatly manicured rows of the French Laundry garden, across the street from that temple of haute cuisine in Yountville. I've poked around Brix' beautiful beanstalks and I've picked perfect parsley from Plump Jack's herb garden in Squaw Valley. I love our garden the best, if only because it's ours.

Our student garden has hay bales all over the place, but we know that hay, when strewn over the rows of plants, will help retain moisture. The fava bean remnants have been laying around for weeks, but that's only because we were waiting for them to dry out so we could clear the rows easily with a rake. The rose bushes need to be trimmed. Sometimes, the irrigation tape running the length of the rows will spring a leak, and pools of excess water- and weeds- will erupt uninvited.

But when smitten, we see what we want to see, and all I see is beauty.

Left: Serrano chiles waiting to spice up my avocado salsa verde

On days when I feel overwhelmed in the kitchen, I long for the garden. Cooking challenges me, but gardening soothes me. An afternoon in the garden erases bad knife skills, missed plating window times and disappointing dishes. An afternoon in the garden reminds me that cooking is only the final expression of a long, delicate process of coaxing dirt and seed to bear fruit. An afternoon in the garden gives me cotton-candy sweet sungold tomatoes and eggs with golf-ball sized golden yolks. Edible flowers pop with color that begs to brighten my dinner salad. Blackberries tease me with a few winners but mostly still-bitter fruit. I see geese swoop down to the irrigation pond in perfect formation, while our garden manager, Luis, tells me jokes that shake my ribs with laughter.


Do I sound like my father the poet, waxing philosophical about dirt, flowers and weeds? The apple doesn't fall far from the tree, I suppose. But things are happening in the garden this summer, both with vegetables and flowers, and within me. I feel closer to the person I want to be.

Now if only I could remember to wear sunscreen.

When we have enough of it, we sell our produce at the St. Helena Farmer's Market. Left: Our price board from the season's first market in May.

Edible flowers and herbs for sale

The gallina girls

Sungold tomatoes at various stages of ripeness

Sunflowers in bloom

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Did you know...? Nigiri and Sushi

...what nigiri means? or sushi for that matter?

Whether I go to Blue Ribbon in New York, Mamasake in Squaw or Fuki Sushi in Palo Alto, I love getting nigiri sushi. But before our Cuisines of Asia class today, I never really knew what I was ordering.

Nigiri is a thin slice of fish laid over an elongated ball of rice, with fresh wasabi underneath for some punch.
Close-up of Nigiri sushi with salmon held between chopsticks

However, the word nigiri means finger, and the name comes from both the thin, curved shape of the fish and the hands that create it. The elegant curve is meant to evoke a fish jumping clear out of water. Gorgeous, right?

Sushi itself refers to the rice, not the elaborate rolls we have come to equate with the name. Su- means vinegar and shi- refers to the cooked rice. Thus, the most important element in sushi is the quality of the rice. Supermarket sushi rice is invariably a cold, sticky mess, more closely related to wallpaper paste than the melt-in-your-mouth quality of good sushi rice.

Once we get the rice down, the fish element poses a larger question: what about the health of our oceans? A recent New York Times Magazine cover story warned of the end of blue fin tuna and the decline of our fisheries. How do I reconcile my love of sushi with a desire to be sustainable as well?

Here at school, our instructors frequently point us to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch for the latest information on sustainable fisheries. There's even an iPhone app for that! You can search by fish or by region, and Seafood Watch will rate how sustainable your choice is. Now it's easy to have your, fish and eat it too.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Tip of the Day: Cleaning A Pan with a Burned Bottom

I learned today's tip from the ladies in the dish room at Greystone. Day after day, they take our scorched, greasy pans and clean up our mistakes without grumbling. I've burned a couple pans pretty bad, but they taught me how to release the nasty, tough bottom layer without hours of soaking or scrubbing.

Fill the pot with enough water to cover the burned area and place it back on the stove. Turn the burner on to medium-low and just let it simmer. In the meantime, do other dishes. Try to make the dish over again, this time without the bitter, burnt taste. Or, if the creation can be salvaged, go ahead and eat. Twenty minutes at a low simmer will release the burned crust easily. Simple as that!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Key to Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies

Everybody loves a good chocolate chip cookie; they're simple to make AND they're wonderfully delicious. The recipe I've been using for years came off the Toll House chocolate chips bag. I love how easy the measurements are with just one stick of butter and one egg.

However, recent conversations with Corrie Beezley, a Greystone graduate who now runs her own cookie bakery The Farmer's Market Pantry, revealed that I've been missing two important components in cookie baking: 1) I haven't been using enough brown sugar, and 2) the cookie dough should be baked from frozen, not room temperature.

Following Corrie's advice, I tweaked my recipe a little. Instead of equal parts brown and white sugars, I upped the brown sugar ratio. I also used room temperature butter and egg, and then froze the scoops of dough before baking. This technique prevents the dough from melting across the pan. Cold butter holds it shape better and produces a taller cookie, rather than the flattened pancake type I've struggled with for years. Be patient with first, the butter coming to room temperature and second, the freezing process before baking. By freezing the dough, I finally achieved the moist, chewy cookie I've been trying to bake for years.

Notice I'm not saying they're the best EVER- those of us who have been to Wildflour Bakery in Squaw Valley know that would be a tough claim. But this recipe comes from years of tinkering and a few small changes in the method that really make a perfect homemade cookie.

Chocolate Chip Cookies
yield: 16- 2" cookies

1 stick butter, softened to room temperature (do not microwave to soften, this just produces runny cookie dough)
1 egg
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup + 3 TBSP flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup chocolate chips

1. Combine the butter, egg, sugars and vanilla until creamy.
2. Mix the remaining ingredients before adding to the butter mixture to insure ingredients are evenly spread.
3. Combine dry ingredients with butter mixture.
4. Using an ice cream scoop, make balls of dough on a plate and place in the freezer for at least an hour. Be patient. This step is the crucial part of the recipe.

5. Preheat oven to 375F.
6. Grease a baking sheet with a little butter, or use a SilPat silicone sheet if you've got one.
7. Place the cookies an inch apart on the sheet, and bake for 12 minutes, or until very light golden in color.

8. When the cookies look like they're a minute or two away from finished, pull them out and allow them to finish cooking on the pan. This technique creates a soft center without over-browning the outside of the cookie. Even if the cookies look underdone when you pull them, another two minutes on a hot pan will finish them off nicely. As soon as the cookies are firm enough, transfer to a wire rack or paper towel to cool.

9. Pour yourself a glass of milk and enjoy!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Tip of the Day: Kitchen Tools

People often ask me "What is one kitchen tool you can't live without?" While there are a few specialty tools that really make the difference between the professional and the home kitchens, most tools aren't anything nifty or high tech. Specialty stores like Sur La Table and Williams-Sonoma would have you think otherwise; how else are they going to sell that Christmas Tree shaped spatula or motorized bread knife?

The truth is: most of the tools you need are already in your kitchen, you just need to re-purpose them.

Don't have a super sharp chef's knife for slicing tomatoes? Don't have a mandolin either? Use a serrated knife. The teeth will grab the tomato skin while you slice, keeping the tomato from squirting away from you under a dull knife.

Tired of cupcakes, muffins or cookies that turn out all different shapes and sizes? (I've run into this problem when children feel slighted because of a much smaller cookie or cupcake.) Use an ice cream scoop for even amounts of dough. With cupcakes, the ice cream scoop transfers the batter to the liners with much less spillage than a spoon.

For large parties, use an ice cream scoop to portion guacamole, mashed potatoes, and potato or pasta salad. (Just be sure you wash it after those chocolate chip cookies!)

Don't have a melon baller to scoop perfect spheres of fruit or to clean out cucumber seeds? Use a tablespoon measure.

No rolling pin in your kitchen for pizza dough or pie crust? Wash off the side of a wine bottle.

Is the salesman at Williams-Sonoma urging you to buy elbow-high oven mitts made of space age silicone for a cheeky $150? Tell him to buzz off; those gloves only make your hands sweat. Instead, keep a folded kitchen towel hanging on your apron string or just sitting on the counter by your workspace. You're not Homer Simpson in a nuclear reactor; you're a cook!

So don't sweat the equipment, really. Make like MacGyver and get creative with whatever you've got. Nine times out of ten, professional chefs are doing the same thing.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Mango Avocado Salsa

Summer is the perfect time to take advantage of big, fresh tastes like mango, avocado, cilantro and lime. Make this salsa with grilled fish for a light and flavorful dinner, or serve with a vegetable quesadilla to revitalize your lunch routine.

Above: Pan-seared sea bass on a bed of arugula greens and mango avocado salsa, topped with crispy leeks.

Mango Avocado Salsa
yield: 2 cups (enough for 2 dinner portions, or 1 portion of salsa dip)

1 ripe mango
1 avocado
1 red bell pepper
1 shallot (small, purple onion look-alike)
1 leek (cut off the woody green top and just use the white bottom bit, but trim the roots)
1 ear of corn, grilled and cleaned off cob (see yesterday's post)
1 jalapeno pepper
1/4 bunch of cilantro, rough chopped
1 lime, juiced and zested
salt and pepper

1. If you're using the salsa as a bed for grilled fish, thinly slice all the vegetables and combine. It will resemble a shoe-string salad. If you're making a salsa for chips or dips, chop everything into rough squares.
2. Toss with the cilantro and lime juice and zest. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Tip of the Day: Clean Corn Quickly

The perfect summer vegetable? Corn on the cob. We're in prime corn season at the moment, and sweet corn on the cob ranks high on my list of things to throw on the grill. Yet, pulling the husk and the silk threads can be a little annoying. The thin silk strands can stick to the kernels, making more prepreparation than you bargained for.

Don't peel the husk or silk before cooking your corn. Instead, throw the whole ear of corn, husk and all, right on the barbecue or straight into a 350F oven for 10 minutes, at least. The heat will cook the sticky silk threads and make them easier to pull off.

Protected in the husk, corn can stay on the grill or in the oven for nearly 30 minutes and be fully cooked through. Leave the corn for a shorter time if you just want to peel the husk and silk, and then boil the corn in water. I prefer to toast the corn "naked" on the grill for a slightly smoky taste.

Summer corn ideas:

Pull the husk and silk back, but don't detach from the cob. Tie with a short piece of twine for an elegant backyard presentation.

Turn the corn vertical and run a knife down the cob to free all the kernels.
Then: Add to a chopped salad with tomatoes and avocado.
Add to any salsa for some bright yellow color.

Stir kernels into cornmeal dough for cornbread; bring to your local summer chili cook-off.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Best Summer Idea Ever: Pizzas on the Grill

It's the Fourth of July, and everyone has the grill going. If you're in need of barbecue inspiration, here's a list of (nearly) everything under the sun that can be grilled: 101 Reasons to Light the Grill. NY Times Dining columnist Mark Bittman recommends the simply genius (#89 Cuban pork sandwiches and #97 Pound cake) and the playful stretch (#3 Tofu? #10,11 AND 12 Corn, and #101 Olives for a dirty martini. Really?). Filled with mostly good suggestions, the list does suffer one glaring omission: grilled pizzas. Trust me, these thin-crust charred pizzas will end for good your off-again-on-again abusive relationship with the frozen, grocery store variety. Just try it. You'll never cook pizza in the oven again.

But won't the dough melt through the grill? you balk. How is that possible? my friends ask incredulously every time I've made pizzas in this way. The key to cooking a pizza on the grill is heat; the grill must be hot hot hot. Think of a wood-fired oven; those babies are glowing red. By keeping the cover on the grill for at least ten minutes before cooking, you're essentially pre-heating the oven.

The next crucial component is the dough. Pizza dough is easy to make, and can be made well beforehand. Actually, the dough is best if it's made the night before and allowed to rest overnight in the refrigerator. However, if you don't decide on dinner plans until the last minute, don't worry. You can make the dough, let it rest while you prepare your toppings and still be good to go.

This dough recipe comes from my good friend Deborah, a fellow culinary student at Greystone in St. Helena. Though initially hesitant to share her secrets, Deborah eventually caved to my constant pestering after I saw her cook pizzas on the grill at school. The thin crust pizzas crisp up in a few minutes with the barbecue's high heat, and the char marks on the crust impart a smoky, rustic flavor that neither a pizza stone nor a regular baking sheet can produce.

Pizza Dough
yield: about 10- 8in. pizzas

4 cups flour (you can substitute up to 2 cups of whole wheat flour if you like) + additional flour for the counter/rolling out process
2 cups warm water
1 oz yeast (1 little packet)
1 tsp sugar
1 TBSP olive oil
salt to taste (I like 1-2 TBSP)

optional: 1/3 cup rough chopped herbs, like marjoram or oregano to give the crust a little color. I had some dried oregano and marjoram in the spice drawer, I just tossed some into the dry flour before adding liquid.

1. Pour warm water and sugar into a small bowl; add yeast. Give the mixture a quick stir and let sit 10 minutes to activate yeast.
2. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour and salt (and herbs, if using). Make a little well in the middle of the flour.
3. Smell the bowl of yeast; it should smell like a bakery at 6 am full of fresh, warm bread. Add the olive oil to the liquid.
4. Pour the liquid into the well in the flour. Mix well with a wooden spoon.
5. The mixture will be a little wet, so add a small handful of flour as you mix it until the dough is manageable. It should ball up and not stick too badly to the sides of the bowl. Once you can handle the dough, sprinkle a large handful of flour on the counter or on a cutting board (put a wet paper towel under the cutting board to hold it in place). Move the ball of dough to the floured surface and knead for 5 to 10 minutes.

I tend to use kneading time as a stress release. Remember your boss who likes to ignore/berate/harass you? Now's the time to work that out. The more you work the dough, the more you activate the yeast and start the formation of the dough texture that we love so much.
6. Once the dough is elastic, place it back in the mixing bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let it rest in a warm spot in the kitchen for about an hour; it will grow in size. This is desirable. Don't freak out. Your dough is alive.
7. After an hour, punch the dough down and reshape into a ball. At this point, you can put the dough into a gallon plastic Ziplock bag and leave it overnight in the refrigerator. It will continue to grow in size, but at a much slower pace because of the cooler temperature.
8. If you're using the dough right away, break it into baseball-sized clumps, and roll out into pizza rounds. If you don't have a rolling pin, a wine bottle works. We MacGyver'ed this move at a recent dinner party and it served us just fine. Less-than-perfect circles add to the rustic, homemade quality of these pizzas, so don't trip too hard on the shapes.
9. Lay each rolled out pizza onto a piece of waxed paper, layering wax paper between each one. Put the tray of stacked dough in the refrigerator until just before you're going to make the pizzas; the colder the dough, the better it will transfer from the waxed paper to the grill, and the better it will hold its shape.
10. Get down to it. Clean a hot grill with a wire brush. Lay the dough straight onto the grill rack. When the dough cooks half-way through, it will be rigid enough to flip. Turn it over and then spread a thin layer of sauce, leaving a border all around the edges for your crust. Top with cheese (always less than you think you need, too much cheese contributes to saggy pie a la Pizza Hut) and whatever toppings you can imagine.

For sauce, I like Rao's tomato sauce and Buitoni pesto, both available at most grocery stores. (The ambitious can make their own sauces too; that blog entry is forthcoming. ;-)

Since the heat comes from below on a barbecue and the pizza dough cooks so quickly with this technique, I like to cook my toppings beforehand so they only need to warm through. That way, once the cheese is melted, you know the pizza is done. It also helps to have all your toppings ready in bowls; easy access to the toppings is key to inviting guests to create their own.

Some of my favorite toppings are:

Caramelized onions- thinly slice two yellow onions and cook them in a saute pan over medium-low heat for 20-30 minutes, stirring every so often.
Below: onions at the beginning of the process. Let them cook down until they're brownish and sweet, seen in the white bowl in the photo here to the right.

Your kitchen will smell good enough to bring the neighbors around, and the onions will develop a deep brown sugar color and taste. A good task to knock out while the dough is rising.
Sauteed mushrooms- slice white mushrooms and saute over medium heat with a tablespoon or two of white wine. When the wine is nearly all cooked off and the mushrooms are soft, reserve them in a small bowl for topping later.
Shaved Parmiggiano Reggiano cheese.
Dollops of goat cheese.
Rounds of fresh Mozzarella.

Roasted garlic-take a whole head of garlic, paper skin still on, and place in an oven-safe pan. Coat with a little olive oil and just leave the pan in a 375F oven for 45 minutes, or until the softened garlic can be squeezed easily from the paper. A little sticky, this roasted garlic paste can be spread right onto the crust or dotted onto the sauce.
Arugula or Spinach.
Thinly sliced tomatoes.
Pepperoni or salami.

Grapes sliced in half (really! An unexpected but welcome sweet note)
Fresh basil leaves.

My favorite combination: caramelized onions, goat cheese and arugula on a pesto pizza. Yes, I love goat cheese on everything but this combination of flavors is sweet, rich, slightly bitter and salty all at once. On the pizza below: tomato sauce, sauteed mushrooms, caramelized onions and Parmesan cheese. Also a winning mix of flavors.

Unlike burgers or tri-tip steak, which can monopolize the grill and bring out macho fire-monger tendencies, the grilled pizza party encourages all guests to participate in the production of the meal.

Herein lies the beauty of grilling pizzas. Everyone can top their pizza as they see fit. The only requirement is that we gather around the grill and discuss our topping tactics and techniques with a cold beer in hand and the setting sun shining in our faces.

Happy Fourth of July!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Tip of the Day: Better Grilled Chicken

It's a midweek evening. You've just gone for a run after work, you just showed the gym who's boss. You come home and you're starving, but you want to make a healthy dinner. You toss a large spring salad, you grill some chicken breast, and you sit down for a vegetable and protein feast. Except your grilled chicken tastes like chalk board dust pressed into a little brick of a breast. It's dry, stringy meat that brings nothing to your meal. What gives?

Here's a little trick to keep chicken moist and healthy:
Keep the skin on the chicken breast (or any piece of chicken) when you're cooking it, and use both a pan and the oven to cook a moist, flavorful piece of meat. Put a tablespoon or two of olive oil in an oven-safe frying pan and let it heat up. Once the oil is slick and viscous (it will slide easily around the pan and look shimmery), place the chicken breast skin side down and let it sear for a few minutes. Don't move it; you'll lose juices and it shouldn't burn if you have enough olive oil. You don't even need to turn it. After the piece has a little color, pop the whole pan in the oven at 400F for 7ish minutes. When you remove it from the oven, the chicken will have retained its juices and flavor, saving you from choking down chicken-shaped cardboard clippings.

I admit that in college I used a Foreman grill to cook chicken, but I'm never going back. The design of the Foreman grill squeezes out any and all juice (read: flavor). Leaving the skin on for the cooking process helps retain those juices. If you're really watching the calorie intake, remove the skin AFTER the cooking process, since the skin will protect the meat from moisture loss and burning. If you're down with crispy, golden goodness, leave the skin on. You'll be reminded that chicken doesn't have to be boring.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Restaurant Review: La Bodeguita del Medio

Every now and then, we find a little gem that transports us from our immediate reality to a better place. Central Park on a warm May afternoon? Midtown Manhattan is miles away. Skiing Squaw Valley on a sunny morning? I'm pretty sure that sales meeting got canceled. I recently found one such place in the middle of my hometown, and I suddenly feel like I've been missing out on one of the best restaurants Palo Alto has to offer- namely, La Bodeguita del Medio.

The Cuban-inspired restaurant on California Avenue has been the anchor for a blossoming culinary scene away from Downtown Palo Alto. Neighbors include the lovely French eatery Bistro Elan, Italian perennial Caffe Riace, and the recently opened Baume, led by former Chez TJ executive chef Bruno Chemel. After receiving one Michelin star at TJ, Chemel's latest venture into the molecular gastronomy world makes no bones about its goal to secure at least one star.

Did La Bodeguita del Medio inspire these great Palo Alto restaurants? Hard to say, but its presence in the neighborhood can't have hurt. La Bodeguita attracts patrons of all Palo Alto stripes: geeky tech types with more money than they know what to do with, old timer Palo Altans in rusty Volvos looking to connect with Cuban culture, and Europeans tired of the University Avenue scene. In fact, La Bodeguita lures so many guests that last Saturday night we could have waited an hour for a table in the dining room.

Happy with a corner table in the bar, we stayed put. As any Cuban restaurant should, La Bodeguita specializes in Mojitos, that minty, sugary, summer delight that makes bottles of rum disappear. Wanting to appear original, I bucked the trend and ordered a Sidecar. While satisfied, I couldn't help but feel like I had gone to In-and-Out Burger and ordered a small side salad.

With the next round of cocktails, I went for the Mojito and wasn't disappointed. La Bodeguita doesn't muddle their mint (perhaps after a bartender's revolt over the sheer number of mint leaves they had to muddle; they do a pretty brisk Mojito business on a weekend night). I can only deduce that the mint leaves are left whole on purpose. If you chew on a rum-soaked mint leaf at the end of your drink, you get a shot of rum and minty fresh breath.

This kiss-ready cocktail, I'm convinced, is part of La Bodeguita's master plan. The ambient noise somehow encourages intimate table conversation without drowning it out. The lights are flatteringly low. An older gentleman with a guitar sings melancholy but sexy music. It sounds like the Buena Vista Social Club, except it's the soundtrack to your Saturday night.

La Bodeguita does feel authentic as well. Could it have been the server's slight accent or was it the seafood-centric menu? No, it was the mango-cilantro salsa; instead of being on California Avenue between El Camino and the train station, I was convinced I'd just stepped off El Malecon in La Havana.

While La Bodeguita has nailed the inviting ambiance ticket, their food is great, if inconsistent. Perhaps they are resting on 13 years of success, or perhaps it was a busy Saturday and a few things were rushed through the kitchen. Near-perfect dishes confounded at every step. I could not eat enough of the roasted corn salsa and cilantro pesto accompanying the crab cakes, while the cakes themselves were less than memorable. I expected the classic Spanish croqueta, filled with bechamel, ham and cheese. Instead, I bit into a sweet-potato filled, tamarind-chipotle hybrid. Tasty enough, but not what I had in mind.

The embutido plate was excellent. Their Castillian charcuterie flew me back to Barcelona with the nutty jamon serrano and the rusty red chorizo. A seared tuna entree dazzled with pineapple chutney, but the tuna steak itself was an inch or two too thick. The empanadas are the highlight of the menu- crispy, golden half moons of pulled pork and roasted chilis, topped with jack cheese and jalapeno salsa. Next time, I'm ordering six of these, a Mojito and a cold beer to top it off.

I'll be interested to visit La Bodeguita in July or August to see if Chef Lord Stevenson (really? that's his name?) decides to lighten up his fried food focused menu. I love fritters and plantain tostones as much as the next girl, but hot summer weather calls for more than just fries. He seems to have the fresh, inventive salsas down; he should play to his strengths. With summer's harvest just around the corner, I can't wait to get back to see how the menu changes.

La Bodeguita would be the perfect place for a date, an anniversary dinner or a post-wedding party. Don't worry if they don't have a table in dining room; if it's a Friday, they likely won't. Grab a bar stool or corner perch, and survey the scene as it's meant to be: lively, just loud enough and lusciously Latin. If the tasty food and the sparkling drinks don't have you half way to Havana, the man on the guitar will.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Recipe: Garden Wraps

I'm on a vegetable kick because it's springtime. Everything is blooming and green and fresh and wonderful.

I prepared these Garden wraps for a dinner party last Friday night, and they were the biggest hit on the table. They were also the most simple to prepare. Did I mention they are really healthy?

Garden Wraps, from Sunset Magazine, April 2009

Servings: 4
Time: 30 minutes

1 cup Greek yogurt (I went for 2% fat and I was happy with the creaminess.)
1 tbsp of each: chopped fresh Italian parsley and chives (The original recipe calls for chives, mint and cilantro, I just didn't have all of them. All of these mentioned fresh herbs will work.)
1 tbsp lime juice (about the juice of one whole lime)
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups shredded carrots (I bought two big carrots, the loose ones in piles at the grocery store. You can use baby carrots we all have in the fridge, but watch your fingers on the grater!)
1 1/2 cups thinly sliced cucumbers
1/2 cup sliced red onions
1/2 cup cooked peas (You know you have at least one bag kickin' around in your freezer!)
1 package medium size tortillas (Just don't go corn tortillas, and don't go for the taco size, which is too small. I used green spinach wraps for a visual freshness as well.)
2 tomatoes, sliced and chopped into chunks (as if for salsa)


1. Mix chopped herbs, lime and salt into the Greek yogurt.
2. In a mixing bowl, combine carrots, cucumbers, red onion and peas.
3. Spoon Greek yogurt mixture onto flat tortilla. Spoon some chopped tomatoes over the yogurt, and then add about a handful of the vegetable mixture.
4. Roll up like a burrito, making sure to fold ends in first before rolling up.
5. Secure the tortilla wrap in place with two toothpicks. Slice down the middle.
6. Enjoy your fast, fresh and healthy meal.

The reduced fat Greek yogurt, the fresh herbs and the red onion give these wraps all the flavor you could ask for, while the carrots, cucumbers and tomatoes provide crunch and moisture. It's a simple but satisfying combination.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Tip of the Day: Blanch your Vegetables

A couple months ago, I wrote a short Tip of the Day on whole leaf spinach. While we all know vegetables are an essential part of a healthy diet, we don't eat hardly enough of them. Like the whole leaf spinach tip, today's suggestion aims to improve our vegetable cooking techniques and thereby up our veggie intake.

Blanch your vegetables in salted water that's up to a roiling boil, for just a few minutes. Get a large amount of water boiling, enough to circulate freely around the quantity of vegetables you're going to cook (if you're cooking lots, consider tossing the vegetables in batches). Add a little salt to the water for seasoning, and then cook your vegetables quickly.

Asparagus, green beans, and broccoli- all delicious when cooked properly, but all too often overcooked to gross levels- will turn a vibrant, almost kelly green color after only 3 minutes- that's all you need. Spinach should take just 60 to 90 seconds. Strain from the cooking water with a slotted spoon, and sprinkle with a wee bit of salt, no butter necessary.

Cooked properly, these vegetables are a delicious way to get your five servings a day.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Recipe: Easy Scones with Home-Churned Butter

Is there anything better than the smell of fresh baked goodies on a Sunday morning?

I baked scones for Sunday breakfast the past two weekends, one in Colorado with my girl Christie and another brunch in Palo Alto with my parents. These scones are similar to biscuits; however, you can add ham and cheese or currants or any dried fruit if you like. The home-churned butter is very simple; you can also add vanilla and a little sugar during the whipping process for a sweet spread on a simple scone.

This recipe comes from my CIA classmate Roxanne Rosensteel, and I thank her for sharing these with me.

Roxanne's Scones

3 ½ cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
4 ½ teaspoons cream of tartar
½ cup unsalted butter, diced
2 tablespoons vegetable shortening (you can omit the shortening and add a little more butter if you don't have it. I tried both ways with minimal difference in the finished scone.)
1 cup milk
1 egg (for egg wash)

1 quart heavy cream

2 ½ in. round cookie cutter
Baking pan

Preheat oven to 425˚F.

1. Sift flour, salt, baking soda and cream of tartar into a large bowl.

2. Rub in the fats until the mixture goes damp like sand. Add the milk all at once; mix briefly and turn out onto lightly floured surface. Knead lightly to form a dough.

3. Roll out to 1 ½ in. thickness. Cut out rounds and place on baking sheet.

4. Brush with beaten egg (if you don't have a pastry brush, use the rounded back of a spoon to smooth the egg over the scone). Sprinkle with sugar.

5. Bake for 10 minutes, until tops are golden brown.

Serve with home-churned butter.

How to Make Cream into Butter
1. Take a quart of heavy whipping cream and pour in an upright mixer with the whisk attachment. If you don’t have a counter-top mixer, you can use an electric egg beater with two whisks, but this will take a little longer; it’s still easily do-able though.
2. Whip the cream well past whipping cream texture, about 12-15 minutes. The butter fat will separate from the water, which will start to splash around the bottom of the mixing bowl while the yellowish butter clumps on the whisk.
3. Pour water from bowl. Spread on hot scones. Revel in delight.

Here's a photo of this morning's spread: fresh-churned butter, poached eggs on tomato-gouda toast, fruit and these scones. Nice little Sunday...

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Recipe: Spaghetti alla Carbonara

I am appalled to see that I haven't written since March 28th. I was on such a roll for a while!

My absence from the blogosphere is due to my recent trips to New York and Colorado, and to our current class block, Skills Development 1. My weekend in New York was another epic chapter in my love affair with the city. Steamboat Springs gave me skiing, sunshine, and smiles.

On the other hand, Skills Development 1 is kicking my ass all over town. Rulers don't lie when I'm trying to dice onions into perfect quarter-inch squares.

But these are excuses. Thank you to my loved ones who have gently chided me to write more often. You keep me focused on my food writing.

To honor that food writing focus, today's post features a recipe for Spaghetti Carbonara from Saveur Magazine. I traveled to New York to interview and try out in Saveur's test kitchen. My visit went well, and starting in September, I'll work a five month externship at Saveur. On the top floor of the magazine's editorial offices in Midtown Manhattan, this test kitchen is my dream workplace. I'll be testing recipes and exploring exotic ingredients all day long. YESSSSSSSSSS!

This Carbonara sauce is easy to make at home, much more so than pesto or a quality tomato sauce. If you can cook bacon and you can stir, then you can make this delicious Italian classic.

Spaghetti Carbonara
For this recipe in particular, it is very helpful to have all the ingredients portioned out into little bowls beforehand. For example, once your pancetta is cooked, it's really helpful to have your egg yolks and Parmesan cheese ready to add.

4 TBSP olive oil
4 oz pancetta (quarter pound if you're asking the butcher)- you can use thick cut, un-smoked bacon, cut into half-inch pieces
2 tsp cracked black pepper
1 3/4 cups finely grated Parmesan cheese
1 egg plus 3 egg yolks (crack the three eggs in half and pour the yolk back and forth between them until the whites have slipped away)
1 pound spaghetti

1. Start large pot of salted water to boil for spaghetti.

2. Heat the oil in a medium skillet; add pancetta and cook until slightly browned, 6-8 minutes. Add pepper and cook until the pepper aroma is noticeable, 2ish minutes.

3. Transfer the cooked, peppered pancetta to a large bowl (you'll add the cooked spaghetti to this bowl later) and let cool a little.

4. Add egg plus 3 egg yolks and 1 1/2 cups of Parmesan cheese to the pancetta bowl. Save the rest of the Parmesan to top the finished dish. Mix eggs, cheese and pancetta until just combined.

5. Cook spaghetti in boiling water for 8-10 minutes; try a strand to test doneness. It should be just bite-able, not soft or gluey.

6. Before straining the pasta, pull out 3/4 cup of the cooking water. It will look slightly milky, but this liquid will give the Carbonara sauce more body than regular water would without the heaviness of cream sauce.

7. Strain the spaghetti and add to the large bowl of pancetta, eggs and cheese. Toss the pasta while adding the reserved cooking liquid a little at a time until the sauce reaches your desired consistency. I found that 1/2 cup was enough coat the spaghetti without being watery.

8. Salt and pepper as you like. Top with the remaining Parmesan cheese.

Don't be intimidated by the number of steps I've described here. This recipe is really just pasta tossed in a bacon, egg and cheese mixture.

With a pound of spaghetti, this recipe is enough food for a dinner party or several lunch and quick dinner leftover options as well.

Come September, I will be cooking Saveur's recipes, just like this one, multiple times before they are published and shared. I've already started the countdown.

In the meantime, back to knife drills for Skills 1. I have to pass this class first!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Recipe: Avocado Salsa Verde

It's springtime in California, and this warm, sunny Sunday calls for avocado salsa and cold Pacifico cerveza. I've adapted this recipe from a old issue of Food and Wine Magazine; they found the original recipe in a cookbook from a hotel in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.

Coincidentally, my friends Catie and Connor were married in San Miguel de Allende last summer. Throughout our stay, we enjoyed bowl after bowl of guacamole and salsa verde much like this recipe I'm sharing now.

Here I am in the San Miguel outdoor fruit market.

You don't have go to a fresh market like this one, however, to obtain the ingredients for this recipe. Staple ingredients combined in flavorful ways make this recipe one of my favorites. Simple to prepare, this salsa verde makes guests feel special because of the grilled jalapeños and the fresh tomatillos.

Serve with blue corn tortilla chips, tacos and lots of cold beer. Feliz Primavera, amigos!

Chunky Avocado Salsa Verde

2 jalapeños
2 TBSP olive oil
1 small yellow onion, diced
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 pound tomatillos, husked and chopped (Tomatillos look like green tomatoes with a papery husk on the outside. Don't worry, even SaveMart has them.)
1 avocado, diced (Cut the avocado in half. Pull the pit. Scoop the flesh out with a spoon and cut into squares as if it were a graph paper grid.)
1/2 cup chopped cilantro (You can omit the cilantro if you dislike its flavor, but I highly suggest including it. The avocado can taste a little too creamy without it.)
1 TBSP fresh lime juice

1. Heat a grill pan. Grill the whole jalapeños until charred. Their outer skin will turn black; that's OK. Stem and seed the jalapeños. (Scoop all or some the white seeds out if you don't want too much spice. Leave the white seeds in if you're name is Trisha Patel and you were raised on chilis for breakfast.) Finely dice the jalapeños.

2. In sauce pan, heat olive oil. Add diced jalapeños, onions and garlic, and cook over moderate heat until golden, about 10 minutes. (At this point, your entire kitchen will smell crazy delicious.) Add tomatillos and cook until softened. Transfer to a bowl and let cool.

3. Stir in cubes of avocado, cilantro and lime juice, season to taste with salt and pepper.

4. Party.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Tip of the Day: Fish Lowdown, Skip the Escolar

From our Seafood Fabrication class, I've picked up a lot of useful information about the muscular structure of fish and the effect on eating quality.

For example, sole and halibut are flat fish (both eyes on the top side of the body!) that lounge around the ocean sea floor, getting very little exercise. The fact that flat fish are such couch-potatoes means their flesh will taste very mild and will pick up the flavor of any accompanying sauce. For this reason, halibut makes it way onto many restaurant menus.

On the other hand, high activity fish (long distance swimmers like swordfish, salmon and tuna) have very developed muscle structure and highly vascular flesh. Consider the rich maroon color of ahi tuna, or the vibrant pink-orange of salmon; these fish migrate thousands of miles and their flavorful flesh proves it. Flat fish will be comparatively lean because they don't need energy reserves, while high activity fish will be rich in healthy fats and Omega 3s.

One fish with remarkable fat content is escolar, occasionally seen on specialty seafood or sushi menus. Despite escolar's novelty, even the most intrepid eater should skip it. The human stomach cannot digest the chemical structure of the fat in escolar, meaning it causes upset stomachs and other digestive problems (ahem) shortly after eating. Instead, try toro, the fatty belly of ahi tuna. The Japanese market pays top dollar for toro, so it's rarely seen here. Occasionally, toro does make its way to the U.S. If you see it on a menu, ask for a sashimi or nigiri portion- it's beyond delicious!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


After my blood test for shellfish allergy came back negative, I decided to make a concerted effort to try more seafood. Luckily for me, our Seafood Fabrication class is full of opportunity to taste oysters, lobsters, clams, mussels and crawfish.

Picking out my next oyster...

In this shot, I chose an oyster from Tomales Bay, just north of Point Reyes. Glad to know for a fact I'm not allergic to these briny, tasty delights.

The Importance of Salt

Our chef instructors tell us over and over again: the difference between merely acceptable food and memorable food is salt. We seasoned our boiling pot of potatoes, corn, Andouille sausage and Sacramento Delta crawfish with heaps of salt.

We're talking CUPS went into this crawfish boil. Louisiana native Chef Tucker Bunch (could he be from anywhere but the South with a name like Tucker Bunch?) tossed in handfuls of peppercorns, Bay leaves, coriander and chili flakes too, but the amount of salt surprised me.

The taste, however, was perfect. The live crawfish don't actually absorb that much cooking liquid since they still have their shells on. The potatoes aren't cut at all, and the corn picks up more spice than salt. Lunch was so finger-licking good that the limited elbow room at the counter caused a few spats. Alright, it was mainly me telling others to back off my real estate, but that's only because I couldn't get enough!

I do try to limit my salt intake for health reasons. My doctor reminds me to eat less salt every time I come in for a physical. While lower salt intake does have health benefits, don't cut it out completely. Salt is an essential nutrient and a vital ingredient.

Salt was once the most important commodity in the world. In Roman times, its value was so great that payment for labor or services was often made with salt. Our speech today reflects this ancient practice with the word salary (from the salt root sal-) and expressions such as “any man worth his salt.” It is also reflected in the fact that I love sea salt on everything from dark chocolate to hard-boiled eggs.

For more interesting food facts and history, check out:
Mark Kurlansky's book Salt, a history of the mineral's importance
and Harold McGee’s food lore and science bible, On Food and Cooking

Friday, March 19, 2010

Tip of the Day: How to Get Rid of Fish Hands

From my photographs this week, it’s clear we’ve been handling a lot of fish. While fresh fish shouldn’t smell foul, it does have that unique aroma that sticks around for quite a while. Clothes, hair, and hands will smell like fish for hours after cutting the stuff. An outfit change and a shower will usually do the trick, but sometimes your hands just keep stinking. What to do?

To get rid of fish smell, wash your hands with lemon juice and salt. The abrasive salt will scrub the last remaining offensive particles from your skin, while the lemon juice refreshes with its clean, citrus scent. After cutting cod, skate, trout, monkfish and salmon this week, you can bet your bottom I’ve been using this little trick a lot. (Just be careful if you have scratches or paper cuts on your hands, the lemon juice will sting!)

Best Suited Cooking Methods for Meat

One of the most valuable lessons from our Meat Fabrication class has been the linking of various cuts of meat to their original location on the animal. Where a cut of meat comes from on the carcass will inform the best cooking methods for that cut. As a general rule, the further from the hoof, the more tender the cut will be.

Osso buco is a cross section of a calf’s leg bone and its surrounding muscles; it must be slow braised since these muscles exercise with every step the cow takes, and thus produce tough meat.

Consider the tenderloin- a long muscle that runs along the inside of the rib cage, far from the hoof and protected from strenuous exercise by the ribs. It’s not surprising that the word tender is part of its name, nor that filet mignons hail from this region of the animal as well.

The most surprising discovery from our butchery lessons last week was the provenance of the skirt steak, cut from the diaphragm muscle in the belly. Responsible for drawing air into the lungs, the diaphragm contracts thousands of times a day, meaning skirt steak will be terribly tough. Now it makes perfect sense that skirt steak is always marinated for long periods of time; otherwise, it’d be too chewy to enjoy.

It’s remarkable how a simple anatomy lesson can teach so much about appropriate cooking methods. Our Chef Instructor reminded us that to butcher meat properly and to cook it well is to honor the animal that has died for our dinner. I buy that, for sure.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Tip of the Day: Cleaning up Fish Guts

Today's tip: When scrubbing down countertops covered in fish scales, guts, and slime, be sure to use plenty of soap and water but DON'T scrub so vigorously as to splash your chef instructor with fishy soap scum. Invariably, he will not be amused by your hurried cleaning, and he will use the word "demoted" to refer to your kitchen status post gaffe. True story.

Aside from my total shank on the clean up, I really enjoyed Fish Fabrication today. We cut, from the top to the bottom of the cutting board below: flounder, trout, and Thai snapper.

Here I am with my filet'ed flounder.

Lastly, I get a little fresh with the trout. He was making big eyes at me; I had to!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Did you know... Dry Aged Steaks

Picture the scene: you’re at a classic steakhouse, the kind with tall leather banquettes, wood-paneled walls and maitre d’s in white tuxedo jackets. The extensive wine list intrigues you, the Bearnaise sauce calls your name, and the dry aged steak must be tasted. If it’s ten dollars more than the filet mignon, surely it’s the best cut on the menu.

But... ever wonder what you’re paying for?

Meat Fabrication class focuses on the different ways to concentrate flavor in meat, and dry aging- hanging large cuts of beef in a temperature- and humidity-controlled room for several weeks- is one of them. Historically, meat products were preserved either with a heavy, dry salt cure or through this dry aging process. The former method gives us prosciutto and jamón serrano (how thankful are we!), while the latter produces the valuable dry aged steak. However, the reason an aged steak is so expensive is because dry aging is actually a form of controlled spoilage; the outer section will have to be trimmed off to reveal the flavor-concentrated center. Once trimmed, the remaining steak is sublime but expensive because so much meat has been lost to spoilage. When you order an aged steak, you pay for more complex flavors, yes, but you’re also paying for a large portion of meat that isn’t on your plate.

This discovery will not deter me from ordering aged steaks in the future; I’m just amazed to learn the elaborate preparations and efforts that haute cuisine requires.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Breaking Down Lamb- Vegetarians Might Get Squeamish...

Ever wonder what a whole lamb looks like?

The neck is curled up on the far side of the saw.

Below: the hind legs of the lamb get split into their two sides, right through the pelvis.

Tip of the Day: Skip the Pre-marinated Pork

Ever see those marinated pork tenderloins at the grocery store? I’ve tried the Teriyaki and Lemon Pepper varieties; I thought they were pretty decent, but I was a little worried that I couldn’t control the salt content since they're vacuum sealed. While these pre-marinated pork tenderloins may seem like a convenient time saver, we learned today in our Meat Fabrication class that the meat is actually defective, and these flavor-enhanced tenderloins are the pork industry’s attempt to sell less-than-optimal pork meat.

Left: a whole pig, cut the long way. Thanks to Anne's hand for perspective.

What do I mean by defective? This pork is safe for human consumption, but the reason it has made its way into a pre-marinated package is because after slaughter, this pork meat was designated PSE, an acronym for “pale, soft, and exudative.” Since it doesn’t have good pink color, lacks healthy, firm texture and exudes all its moisture (read: gets slimy quickly and dries out quickly upon cooking), this meat isn’t suitable for pork chops, cutlets or roasts. I have to commend the pork industry for their inventive marketing, but the fact of the matter is these “enhanced” tenderloins are injected with sodium phosphate and flavorings to make a buck on meat that would otherwise not make it to market.

Instead, look for pork meat that has a darker pink color (more flavor than pale white meat, see photograph below) with moderate fat marbling for the best quality. Is Hormel going to send their henchmen to straighten me out? Maybe, but I have been duped before by enhanced pork products; I figured I had to share.

Below, our Chef Instructor Tucker Bunch breaks down a pork loin.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Tip of the Day: Don't Stuff Poultry

Today in Meat Fabrication class, we butchered chickens and discussed the numerous ways to cook birds. One of the most important lessons of the day was to cook the bird evenly, which can be tricky with whole poultry (whole chicken, turkey or smaller game hens). Because I tend to like rice or apricots or bread stuffing with roasted chicken, I was shocked to learn that it's best NOT to stuff a bird. Wait, what about Thanksgiving stuffing? What about delectable Cornish game hens?

The key to stuffing a bird is using only aromatics (lemons, herbs, or onions) instead of rice, bread or other grain products.
Aromatics will flavor the chicken or turkey from the inside out, but they won't affect the internal cooking temperature. In contrast, bulky stuffing only promotes bacterial growth inside the bird. The slow, warm cooking temperature in the cavity coupled with the starchy stuffing ingredients create the ideal, cozy environment for growth if bacteria are present (not quite the Cancun party of sponges, but comfortable, nonetheless).

Heavy stuffing also prevents the bird from cooking evenly. By the time the stuffing has cooked through, you've overcooked the heck out of the bird. No wonder Thanksgiving turkey can be so hard to get right.

While it's true we're months from the holidays, this tip also can be applied to whole roasted chickens, a year-round favorite.

Tomorrow we are butchering beef. Keep you posted on our next lesson!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Tip of the Day: Keeping Cheese

This week has been dairy overload here at Greystone. Monday night we tasted Mexican cheeses (Panela, Oaxaca, and Queso Fresco) in Spanish Club. Tuesday night's Cheese Club meeting showcased fresh and aged goat cheeses from Vermont. Wednesday was a dairy tasting that involved buttermilk to skim milk and everything in between. In this photo, I'm trying yet another cheese- I can't remember if it was Vella Dry Jack, Farmstead Cheddar or Carmody. They're all blending together!

More important than just eating all these cheeses, however, have been the lessons in how to keep cheese in the refrigerator. Cheeses are actually living things; the bacteria in cheese respire and change the nature of the cheese, while preserving the cheese at the same time. So what's the best way to keep cheese?

If it's a fresh cheese (like mozzarella fresca, feta or mascarpone), keep it tightly covered to retain moisture, and store in the back of the refrigerator to keep as cold as possible. These cheeses are just one step away from fresh milk and should be handled similarly.

If it's a soft, bloomy rind cheese (like Stilton Blue, Brie, Camembert or Mt. Tam), wrap it in paper or perforated plastic wrap; these cheeses need to breathe. If they are wrapped tightly in plastic, their exhalations will cause condensation on the inside of the plastic wrapper and create new, different (i.e. bad for that cheese) types of mold.

If it's a hard cheese (like Cheddar, Gruyere, or Grana Padano), it's alright to enclose in plastic wrap. These cheeses aren't quite as alive as the softer cheeses, meaning their moisture content has pretty much run its course.

American writer Clifton Fadiman once said, "Cheese is milk's leap towards immortality." In respect for the gifts and pleasures of cheese, I think it's only appropriate that we help it towards immortality as best we can. It's just so darn good!

Photos: Desserts at Culinary School

The gorgeous, overflowing bounty found daily on the culinary school dessert table. This photo collection is dedicated to the "candy kitchen crew," the most precise, talented group of cooks around.

A rainbow of petit fours. As lovely to look at as they are to eat.

Almond Rochers and Madeleine cookies (Proust, eat your heart out).

Mini strawberry cream tarts and Chocolate Bouchee sandwiches

Chocolate Othellos (think high class Twinkies)

Mini Mousse Cups with fresh berries and Dark chocolate coins topped with dried fruits and nuts

Chocolate Coconut Tortes, topped with the coolest chocolate wafer I've ever seen. How do they make those?

Assorted truffles rolled in cocoa

Did I mention I have a terrible sweet tooth? ;-)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Tip of the Day: Ditch the Sponge

We are two days from taking our Food Safety certification exam, the ServSafe test. Not only do chefs need to be talented cooks, but we need to know how to run clean, safe kitchens as well.

Today's tip doesn't have to do with cooking, but rather food safety. Because the average kitchen sponge is dirtier than your toilet, use a wire brush or a thin, green scrubber pad instead when washing dishes. The thick, foam structure of a sponge is to bacteria what Cancun is to drunken spring breakers: party time. No matter how often you run your sponge through hot water or where you store it, the sponge is just too dirty to be used for cleaning food items.

The wire brushes and thin, green scrubber pads will dry much faster and have less porous surface area, making them less hospitable environments for bacterial growth.

While I prefer to stay away from scare-tactic tips, I couldn't keep the "sponge-is-dirtier-than-your-toilet" image to myself. Don't let this stop you from cooking at home; just cook clean!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Root of the Word "Avocado"

Avocados are a hallmark of Californian cuisine and I love them for breakfast, lunch and dinner. But ever wonder where we got the name?

The word avocado comes from the Central American language Nahuatl, spoken by ancient Aztecs and some indigenous Mexicans today. Referring to the avocado's pear-like shape and its bumpy skin surface, the Nahuatl root word ahuacatl literally means "testicle."

Sorry for being juvenile, but I'm never gonna eat an avocado again without chuckling a little inside.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Tip of the Day: Avoid Sticky Pasta with Lemon Juice

Despite the low-carb madness of recent years, I love pasta. No matter the dish- linguini with cream sauce, spaghetti and meatballs, ravioli, capellini primavera, I love them all- the most important element is how you actually cook the pasta. How frustrating is it when you cook spaghetti but then it turns into that sticky tangle in the strainer?

Two cooking techniques to avoid sticky pasta: 1. Use lots of water (5 quarts of water to every pound of pasta) to dilute the starch released during cooking and to keep the noodles separated.

2. Add a little lemon juice to the boiling water. Most municipal water companies add calcium and magnesium to tap water (giving it a mineral taste frequently called "hard water") to prevent pipe corrosion. While this treated city tap water is fine to drink, the alkaline pH of the water breaks down the noodle surface much faster than neutral or slightly acidic water. Lemon juice balances out the pH of the water and reduces stickiness.

If you're not going to eat the pasta immediately, you can also toss the noodles with olive oil to prevent sticking.

Culinary School Photos

Maui onions, cipollinis, pearl onions, green onions, leeks, and gingers for our root vegetable tasting. Our chef instructor had us chop these up and caramelize them to taste their differences.

The lunchtime dessert table, which is fully stocked everyday with truffles, cakes, pies, and tarts from the Baking and Pastry classes. INSANE.

Citrus Tasting in our Product Knowledge class. We try Minneola oranges, blood oranges, Meyer lemons, Persian lemons, key limes, Rangpur limes, kumquats, pomelos, ruby grapefruit, I can't even remember them all. We do this tasting for every subcategory of produce (lettuces, root vegetables, apples and pears, cabbages, spices). Definitely beats regular lecture classes.