The Beer Trials

Today I opened my mail to find that the authors of The Beer Trials (one of whom is a friend of mine) sent me a brand new copy of their just published book! I am still enjoying The Wine Trials, which I have not yet posted on, but will someday soon.

The premise of Campbell and Goldsteins book (and the last as well) is to convince you that you should not and need not enjoy a bottle of wine or beer simply because the label tells you to do so. To persuade you of this, the authors have traveled the country brown bagging it...and letting blind tasters confirm their opinion that your palate and wallet may be in sync as far as quality and enjoyment of these adult beverages are concerned. However, should you be willing to pay a bit more for a glass, this guide will help you choose the beer that is right for you.

Obviously I haven't read through the entire book yet, which includes how the study was put together, why good beer can cost less, and a primer on the making and style of beer. The meat of the book consists of 250 different, beers? tasted blindly by a very lucky group of individuals. Each beer is beautifully described and assigned a price point (indicated by dollar signs) as well as a rating (1-10).

I don't pretend to be a beer aficionado, though I have taught many classes with beer professionals, my job providing the food pairing of course. However, being a St. Paul resident, I have the honor of living behind the Happy Gnome and down the road from the Muddy Pig, arguably the two best pubs with the two best selections in the state. Over the years I have acquired an expensive hobby...drinking truly amazing beer.

Naturally, I had to compare a few of my favorites.

First I looked up a classic, Saison Dupont, and was proud to see a rating of 9 (10 being highest). Next, Delirium 8, not bad. And lastly, Goose Island, IPS with a solid 9.

I think what I like best about this book are the descriptive write-ups on each beer. If you didn't know a thing about beer but really want to dive in, this is the book for you.

Obviously none of the truly great Minnesotan beers are mentioned: Surly, Rush River, Bells, naseum. Robin, for a taste of these remarkable beers, you will need to pay me a visit. I would be honored to treat you to Minnesota's finest. :)

Uncles and Salsa

Not all of you are lucky enough to have an uncle who sends you suprise food packages at the begining of your week. Over the years I have been the recipient of some extremely cool and widely varied gifts from my food loving uncle, who hasn't wanted me to miss out on some of the more exotic and unique food stuffs he has stumbled across.

Today's gift box contained fresh salsa and chips from Arizona. The minute I stepped in the door from work this evening I was handed my gifts and immediately opened both taking a huge bite of perfectly spicy, deliciously smokey salsa. How did he know we were eating fish tacos for dinner? The pairing was perfect. 

Ok, so on to the chips and salsa.

Chips from Alejandro's Tortilla and Bakora
Salsa: Coffee Infused Chipotle Salsa from Burnt Orange Gourmet Foods.

The reason for the gift? As my uncle put it "where else you gonna find coffee infused salsa!" Ok, my Minnesota foodies. I have a challenge for you! What mid-west food should I send back to Arizona? (Penzy's and Tea Source have already been emissaries of our great land.)

Book of the Month: Goat Song by Brad Kessler

Over the last few years I have found myself enjoying books written about food, but my favorites talk about the animals that produce food or who become the food we eat. Today I finished a book, Goat Song, my fabulous neighbor Alison lent me. It is a self acclaimed "short history of herding and the art of making cheese." And true to its book flap, I learned how a New York couple uprooted their lives to raise goats in Vermont and become cheese makers.

What I LOVED about this book was how it was written. Kessler entwined Jewish ancestry, Buddhism, Christianity, ancient history and his deep love of entomology into his treatise on goat rearing and cheese making. For example, he frequently pointed out similarities between cheese making and other things, such as the relation of the word for book (a tome) to a tomme, or wheel of cheese. He also chronicled a step by step comparison of the Passion of Christ with cheese making.

I think what made this book so powerful were all the parallels drawn between working the earth, the art of cheese making and the stories of historical animal tending through the ages. I was drawn in to the history and richness described.

In one chapter, Kessler is concerned about coyotes nearby and the impact they could have on his herd. I learned that female coyotes can decide how many cubs to bear when they mate and all can literally follow in each others tracks leaving only set of prints. Brilliant animals and they way he scared them away...inspired. He and his dog Lola would find fresh scat and both "mark" it. The coyotes took the hint and beat it.

Not only will you learn about coyotes but quite a bit about goats. In fact, much more than you probably ever wanted to know...some of which will be burned into my brain forever. Suffice it to say that male goats are just absolutely disgusting.

The book was full of sage sayings interwoven through, my favorite by Basho: "what is important is to keep mind high in the world of mere understanding, then, returning to daily experience, seek there in the true and beautiful". Kessler's thoughts on this which resonate with me still "we live in exile, not from Paradise but from the present. How often do we dwell here?"

Meditative and full of introspection, it is Discovery Channel meets Eat, Pray, Love written in a Michael Pollen tone but with no judgment, simply a love of the land and the milk and cheese produced there. Unlike many sensationalistic or shocking books on food, Kesslar simply shares why he has chosen the life of a cheese maker and what it has taught him. I highly, highly recommend it.

Spring Cooking Classes

My classes for the spring are out. Don't see something you like? Send me an email, I love to teach personal cooking classes.

How to Boil Water - Full

Soups from Scratch
Saturday, March 27, 2:00 PM-5:00 PM, $65
Rachael Rydbeck

This is the ideal class for aspiring home chefs who want to expand their repertoire. We'll split into groups and start with stocks, then chop, measure and work our way to stellar flavor combinations. Join us at Cooks and go home with the skills you need to make delicious gourmet soups all your own.

Menu: Homemade Stock; Mulligatawny Soup with Lamb; West African Sweet Potato and Peanut Soup; Creole-Style Shrimp Gumbo.

Rents and Runts: Play with Your Food
Tuesday, March 30, 6:00 PM-9:00 PM, $55
Rachael Rydbeck

Prepare to get your hands -- and pretty much everything else -- dirty! Rachael has put together a menu that's chock full of gooey, sticky fun. Parents and kids will learn some basic cooking techniques for making peanut butter, pasta and some of the best chocolate chip cookies you've ever had. You'll even whip up a batch of play-dough to take home. This class is intended for 'rent and runt pairs: one 6-12 year old child and one adult. Though the 'rents come into the kitchen too, the runts do most of the "work." Join Chef Rachael to play with your food, then let us clean up the mess! Price is per person attending the class

Menu: Play-Dough; Mini Peanut Butter and Marshmallow-Chocolate Snacks; Homemade Pasta with Meatballs; the Best Chocolate Chip Cookies Ever.

3-30 Minute Meals for May
Saturday, May 1, 1:00 PM-4:00 PM, $65
Rachael Rydbeck

"Not enough time" is just an empty excuse. If you have time to watch "Wheel of Fortune," you have time to whip up a well-balanced meal. Rachael is here to share some of her secrets to fitting a delicious dinner into your busy life.

Menu: Meal One: Slow-Roasted Salmon with Horseradish Sauce and Four-Bean Salad. Meal Two: Bacon-Wrapped Tenderloin and Brussels Sprouts in Browned Butter and Prosciutto; Shrimp Fra Diavolo with Linguine and Sauteed Green Beans.All classes are at Cooks of Crocus Hill.

Roasting vs Deep Frying

After brining my birds overnight (see Brining the Turkey), I washed off the brine and let them air dry in my fridge. Thanksgiving morning we roasted one bird and deep-fried the other. As I have never deep-fried a turkey I read many different perspectives on the topic online, arriving at my own method of cooking. Luckily, one of our guests had cooked a turkey this way many times and knew what to expect in case things went awol.

Early in the morning I thoroughly dried off the bird destined for the deep-fryer hoping to wick off as much water as possible. To test out the fryer, I loaded it with oil and turned it on high. I fried a batch of sweet potato fries to go with a paprika aoili and felt comfortable with my control of the temperature (only after burning the crap out of the first two batches).

It was then I stumbled across a truly exceptional tip online. Put your turkey in the deep-fryer when it is empty. Fill the fryer with water so you can see how much oil you need. Pull out the turkey and look at the water line. That is how much oil you need. Oops. Instead we bailed lava hot oil out of the fryer and into a pot...and eye-balled it.

Deep Fried Turkey
When it was fryin' time, Dave put on some thick rubber gloves, grabbed the12 pound turkey by its legs and centimeter by centimeter lowered that fowl into the oil. We were extremely careful to go slow enough that the water left in the bird didn't cause an eruption in the oil, which leads to bubbling over and all kinds of nastiness. We also took care not to deep fry in the garage, which apparently is a leading cause in fires over Thanksgiving.

Roasted Turkey
That said after about 40 minutes in 325 degree oil, we ended up with a very dark brown beautiful turkey. Side by side both birds were lovely, but in a blind taste test, the roasted bird was our favorite.

One site I referenced, should you decide to try your hand at frying next year.

Brining the Turkey

The week of Thanksgiving, Tuesday night is brining night. Tonight I picked up my birds from Whole Foods...yes, I said birds...and brought them home to soak in the simple tangyness of a salt/sugar/spice/water blend. I picked up two birds this year so I could try my hand at deep frying a turkey, something I have always wanted to do. And on the off chance it blows up...I will have my backup turkey in the oven slowly roasting.

I am sitting in my kitchen staring at my freshly made gallon and a half of homemade chicken stock and smiling at the thought of my two little birds marinating away. Generally, a brine is used to help pull extra moisture out of meat and replace it with salt through osmosis. For a better description than I can hope to give, I refer you to the expert in all things food science, Harold McGee.So as not to confuse you, I should point out that this year, McGee is decidedly anti-brine. Whatever.

For a two gallon brine, here is what I did:

  1. In a saucepan, dissolve 2 cups of salt in 2 quarts of water. Add 1 cup of brown sugar and most of the hard round spices you have such as peppercorns, juniper berries, cloves, etc. I threw in some poultry seasoning and bay leaves this year. And in one batch I added cidar instead of brown sugar.

  2. After the mixture is dissolved, pour into a container (I use a hunter orange Home Depot bucket when the weather is cold enough to store the turkey in the garage over night) and add ice and cold water until you have two gallons cold brine water.

  3. Rinse off turkey (always rinse meat before you use it as bacteria grows on the outside) and submerge in container. I use the vegetable drawer in my fridge when the weather is you can see in pics.
Before making my brine tonight I surfed in the internet for new ideas. I didn't find any that I liked, but I did stumble across someone's technique for making sure you have enough salt in your water. They claim that you can tell you brine is salty enough if a raw egg (still in shell) floats in the water.

I tried this in extremely salty water and my egg fell right to the bottom. For my second batch of brine, I tried floating the egg before diluting the water all the way and it still didn't float. I was really hoping to have fun little trick to share with you...but alas, I don't. Unless you wanted to know a trick that doesn't work.

My chickens aren't fully submerged in my fridge drawers as that much water weight would surely do damage, so I will flip the birds occasionally Tomorrow night I rinse them off and leave them in the empty bins to air dry a bit...further evaporating more water and condensing that salt.

For more tips on my turkey roasting and deep frying...check back with me.

On Food in Spain...Pineapple Carpaccio and Galatian Octopus

Those of you who know me, know that I am married to a man who wanders the globe. When Joel is gone we do our best to stay in touch via phone messages, text messaging, email, online chatting and of sharing. If he is traveling within the US we will even watch a show on Hulu together.

One of my favorite things about his travels are all of the food pictures he sends me. As he is in Spain this week, they have been particularly fun. And of course, I wanted to share a few with you. The first is a pineapple carpaccio. Joel said the pineapple was raw and served with ice cream and a special sweet sauce.

The second just cracks me up as it came with directions:

Galatian Octopus
Bake in oven
Boil coper coin in water
Take octopus out of oven and dip in boiling water 3 times

Top Chef Night: Arctic Char with Salsa Verde of Turnips

A friend of mine loves Top Chef and has invited me to join her in the weekly ritual of watching people cook on tv. I have joined a couple of times...and while I can't say I am adicted, it is a lot of fun to see the creativity expressed by some of these cooks/chefs. I for one am disappointed that the show seems to be more about the end product and less about the process. So, I decided to recreate one of the winning meals for my friends, to see what really goes into a Top Chef dish.

The winning dish a couple of weeks ago was Arctic Char with Salsa Verde of Turnips. And you can find the complete recipe here, though after attempting to recreate it myself, I doubt it was tested. I can just image some poor intern who had to watch footage of all the chefs scrambling to meet their deadline and then attempting to recreate the winning recipe...but I could be wrong.

Anywho, the recipe is full of techniques I have absolutely never tried before and doubt will try again. The only thing I skipped was to dust the char in fennel pollen. I called 12 local stores to see if they had fennel pollen and only one (Kitchen Window) had just over an ounce for $20. Nope. Golden Fig was most helpful and even offered me the name of a farmer they work closely with who could track it down.

One element of the dish required me to melt a pound of butter into some water and then add a juiced cucumber (cucumber pulp pictured). Into this mixture I cooked romaine lettuce. Gross to look at, but it was pretty tasty...and um, low calorie. Cooking the char was most interesting as I let olive oil infused with thyme and garlic heat in the oven at 180 for 45 minutes before removing it and allowing the fish to "baste" in the oil until cooked through. Didn't quite work, but turned out fine.

I dirtied almost every pot and pan in my kitchen and ended up with small lovely little plates of food that my guests assured me were tasty. I also served a bruschetta and ratatouille as I wasn't sure how much food would be edible. Totally fun and a great experience!!

Have you ever cooked a meal you saw on food tv? Tell me!

3-30 Minute Meals: Coconut Macaroons

Last night I had the privilege of teaching my 3-30 Minute Meal class to 16 fabulous individuals at the Cooks of Crocus Hill in Edina.

We talked about basic cooking techniques, great meals you can make quickly, basic grilling tenants, and then finished up with some coconut macaroons (inspired by a Cook's Illustrated recipe). If you missed this class, or want to check out others I am teaching this quarter, click here.

Coconut Macaroons

1 cup cream of coconut (not to be confused with coconut milk)
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
4 large egg whites
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
½ teaspoon salt
3 cups unsweetened shredded coconut
3 cups sweetened flaked or shredded coconut

1. Adjust the oven racks to the upper- and lower-middle positions and heat the oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with the parchment paper and lightly spray the parchment with non-stick cooking spray.

2. Whisk together the cream of coconut, corn syrup, egg whites, vanilla, and salt in a small bowl; set aside. Combine the unsweetened and sweetened coconut in a large bowl; toss together, breaking up clumps with your fingertips. Pout the liquid ingredients into the coconut and mix with a rubber spatula until evenly moistened.

3. Drop heaping tablespoons of the batter onto the prepared sheets, spacing them about 1 inch apart. Form the cookies into loose haystacks with your fingertips, moistening your hands with water as necessary to prevent sticking. Bake until the cookies are light golden brown, about 15 minutes, rotating the baking sheets front to back and top to bottom halfway through the baking time.

4. Cool the cookies on the baking sheets until slightly set, about 2 minutes, remove to a wire rack with a wide metal spatula.

Shiso Ume aka Japanese Plum Paste

Last night, against all better judgment, I had a few of Joel's co-workers over for sushi. Two were in town from California and one is married to an amazing Japanese cook. Needless to say, one of our distinguished guests far trumped my knowledge of sushi in the kitchen. Had I remembered this when I originally planned the menu, I would undoubtedly have cooked Italian or French or Ethiopian or Thai or...

Anyway, most of the sushi turned out well and one in particular I loved. (No pics, sorry guys.) My Caprese-style-Halibut cones were super easy and a great use of our summer veggies. I mixed diced sushi-grade halibut, chopped cherry tomatoes, basil, olive oil, salt and lemon. I rolled this mixture up in nori cones with rice and served with a dipping sauce and wasabi.

The best roll of all was thanks to my out-of-town guest Matt. He brought me a gift of Shiso Ume, which is a Japanese plum paste. It comes in a bottle that looks a lot like wasabi, except it's purple. Trying it alone it has a very tart fruity flavor. As a "closer" roll, I made cucumber rolls with sesame seeds, rice and quite a bit of this paste. According to the box, the ingredients are: Japanese Plum Paste (not helpful), Cucumber, Beef Steak Plant, Xantahngum, Alcohol, Water, Lactic Accid, MSG and Natural Flavor. It was so delicious and very refreshing. Now I just need to find some in town...

Matt showed me some cool ways to make half-rolls and I shared with him how to cool sushi rice off fast with a blow dryer. Though while very awesome, would be totally not approved in his own kitchen. ;)

Have any signature rolls or great sushi tips of your own?

The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry

Over the summer, my neighbor Marsha lent me a fun foodie read called "The Sharper Your Knife, the Less you Cry" by Kathleen Flinn.This book chronicles the journey Kathleen makes from a classy desk job in England to her enrollment as a student at Le Cordon Bleu in France.

For anyone who wants to quit their job and go to cooking school (and there are many of us who have or would LOVE to), this is a great read for you

The title is attributed to a chef who monologues that a dull knife crushes more of the onion, releasing fumes that make you cry. Thus you should always use a sharp knife so you have fewer tears. Before reading this excerpt, I thought the title referred to fewer casualties in the kitchen. Easier to cut yourself with a dull knife and so on. Either way, the book is full of great cooking tips and enough juicy food descriptions to keep you perpetually hungry throughout the entire read.

Each student takes home the dish they prepared in school that day and one of my favorite stories is about a homeless man who plants himself on a corner outside Le Cordon Bleu in the hopes of getting hand-outs. Well-fed, enterprising man.

The book is more than just a dry summary of what it was like to attend Paris' famed school, Kathleen does a great job pulling you in so you actually care about the chefs, students, grades and her life there. As someone who attended a Le Cordon Bleu here in Minnesota, I enjoyed seeing the similarities and differences between our programs. The book is also full of recipes from the school and fellow students. I have yet to try any, but if you do, let me know what you think!

I should also give a shout out to the movie Julie & Julia which I felt completely captured the heart and soul of the book. I particularly loved Merell Streep's portrayal of Julia Child. Definitely a food classic. Have you seen it, what did you think?

15 Minute Meal...Beef Tenderloin, Sauteed Spinach and Corn on the Cob

Sunday I stocked my kitchen with about 30 pounds of veggies from the Farmer's Market (baby eggplant, Asian eggplant, apples. rhubarb, peas, beets, peppers, spinach, corn...). This week I am doing my best to cook my way through them. Last night I made a dinner in about 15 minutes, nothing remarkable, but thought I would share it with you in case you find any of these tips handy.

My recommendation is to turn on all pans at once to speed up the cooking. Turn on the broiler, put the pot to boil and throw butter and garlic in a large pan for the spinach. By the time you have shucked the corn, washed the spinach, and wrapped the bacon around the tenderloin, you will be ready to get cooking!

2 4 oz Beef tenderloin (or fillet minion or any tender cut of meat)
2 pieces bacon
Salt and Pepper

Heat broiler to high. Wrap bacon around trimmed tenderloin pieces and secure with toothpick. S&P top and bottom of tenderloin. Place 3-4 inches below broiler and broil for 4-5 minutes on each side or until done. (Keep an eye - and a thermometer- on these guys as they will cook differently depending on how thick they are and how hot your oven is.)

Corn on cob, shucked
Olive oil
Salt and Pepper

Bring 2 inches of water to a boil in a pot large enough to hold corn. Cook 5-6 minutes or until corn is al dente when poked with a fork. Remove from heat and drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper.

1 lb spinach (I used Chinese Spinach, pictured)
3 TB Butter
2 cloves garlic, sliced thickly
Salt and Pepper

Heat butter and garlic over medium heat until butter is brown and garlic is soft. When other items are ready, throw in spinach, salt and pepper, and cook 3-4 minutes until tender. Remove from heat, reduce butter/water mixture until sauce-like. Pour over spinach.

Chinese Spinach is a hardier, spicier spinach that I had never used before. It held up really well in the saute pan and kept its form while adding a nice zing to the sweetness of the corn and the smokiness of the bacon.

Tip for the day: Research shows that washing a bag of pre-washed spinach can actually introduce more germs and bacteria than were in the originally pre-washed bag. (Cooks' Illustrated). So it really is pre-washed!

What delicious meals have you made in a jiffy recently?

New Fall Cooking Classes

If you don't see any classes you like, I offer personalized in home cooking classes as well. Feel free to e-mail with any questions!

Cooks of Crocus Hill Classes

Three 30-Minute Meals

Wednesday, September 2, 6:00 PM-9:00 PM, $55

Think you don't have time to make dinner? In half the time it takes the CSI guys to solve a dastardly crime, you can prepare a complete meal to die for. This class covers the most essential skills for any home cook: key kitchen tools, food presentation, menu planning and ingredient substitution.

Menu: Menu 1: The Perfect Burger; Grilled Caesar Salad. Menu 2: Grilled Meat Lovers' Pizza; Caprese Salad. Menu 3: Smoked Trout Spread; Spinach and Cheddar Cheese-Stuffed Portobella Mushrooms; Coconut Macaroons.

An Introduction to Food and Cooking: Latin America
Wednesday, September 30, 6:00 PM-9:00 PM, $65

Designed for the beginner chef, this hands-on class offers the perfect introduction to basic cooking. We'll cover a wide range of techniques, including pan roasting, reductions and meat cookery. By the end of the session, you will have prepared a fabulous Latin American meal and have new culinary skills to last a lifetime.

Seviche; Cuban Black Beans with Smoked Ham Hock; Chicken Mole; Dirty Rice; Mexican Chocolate Soufflé.

How to Boil Water (my favorite class)

Friday, October 9, 6:00 PM-9:00 PM, $212
(with Mike Shannon)

The scenario: three days, 25-plus recipes. The goal: to make you confident in the kitchen. This intensive, three-day class is one of the most popular offerings at Cooks for both the beginner and accomplished cook. It delivers both the how and why as well as a chance to get your hands in the mix. As we cook (and eat!) through the recipes, Rachael and Mike will also discuss equipment essentials and niceties, share great sources for food in the Twin Cities, and answer all the burning culinary questions you have. By the end of class, you'll have walked through more than 25 recipes, from chicken stock to seafood en papillote. You'll leave with the confidence to tackle any recipe in your own home. We will even leave you with some bonus recipes to try on your own!

This class meets three times: October 9, 6 pm - 9 pm; October 10, 1 pm - 4 pm; October 11, 1 pm - 4 pm.Menu:

Day One: Chicken Stock; Dressings; Homemade Pasta; Macaroni and Cheese; Pasta Salad with Shrimp and Pesto; Linguine with Olive Oil, Garlic and Herbs.

Day Two: Pumpkin Bread; Drop Biscuit Scone Muffins; Chocolate Chip Cookies; Lemon Tart; Omelets; Frittata; Garlic Mashed Potatoes; Roasted New Potatoes; Lemon Rice Pilaf; Steamed Broccoli; Sautéed Green Beans; Wok Vegetables.

Day Three: Beef Stew; Roasted Pork; Roast Chicken with Pan Gravy; Sautéed Breasts of Chicken with Shallots; Marsala and Mushrooms; Seared Salmon; Seafood en Papillote.

An Introduction to Food and Cooking: Greek
Monday, November 9, 6:00 PM-9:00 PM, $70

Designed for the beginner chef, this hands-on class offers the perfect introduction to basic cooking. We'll cover a wide range of techniques, including pan roasting, reductions and meat cookery. By the end of the session, you will have prepared a fabulous Greek meal and have new culinary skills to last a lifetime.

Menu: Roasted Garlic Hummus; Pita Chips; Rice; Chicken Kebab; Lemony Herbed Yogurt Sauce; Greek Salad with Kalamata Olives and Feta; Baklava. Served with a Tasting Flight of Two Greek Wines.

Chef's Gallery Classes

A Crash Course in Hands-on Cooking
Wednesday, October 28, 6pm-9pm
$55, Participation

In this class we tackle some of the basic culinary skills essential to success in the kitchen. Together we will learn how to make a perfect fluffy omelet, fresh pasta from scratch, beautiful sushi, and flaky pie crusts. Then we apply our new-found skills in the preparation of Sausage and Veggie Omelets, Handmade Pasta in an Herb Butter Sauce, California Sushi Rolls, and Apple Pie.

On Cooking Octopus and Making Beet Salad

Ever since we moved to Minnesota ten years ago, I thought the advent of spring deserved a celebration. It comes upon us so quickly here that I never get around to actually planning a welcoming spring party. However, this year, I was a bit more proactive.

I have realized recently that as I am not working in a kitchen, or taking culinary classes (rather I give them) and watch no food tv, that the only source of inspiration I have is from my cookbooks and friends.

So why not cook some recipes from these famed coffee table culinary authors? I assembled a daunting menu that I was sure would challenge and perplex myself as well as some of my guests. Octopus Terrine, Carrot Terrine, French Baguettes, Crackers, Smoked Trout Spread, Roasted Beet Salad, Chicken Liver Mousse, Ceviche, Candied Citrus Peels and Fruit Tart.

All of these were completely brand new recipes except the mousse. I tried new cooking methods, used new ingredients and combined foods in ways I hadn’t tried before. Most of my inspiration began with chefs such as Keller and Aureole, but I quickly realized that many of their ideas on paper didn’t really translate well in the kitchen.

The most fun I had was with the octopus terrine, which absolutely would not have worked out if I had followed the recipe. I did however, manage to cook it in simmering chicken stock for about 20 minutes watching as it turned from a gray jellyfish consistency to a firm purplish-red bobbing creature.

I think the biggest hit was the beet salad. I am not a beet lover, in fact I loathe them, or did. Which is why I decided to make them. I will share my recipe here with you:

Beets Micro greens (or baby spinach)
Goat cheese
Bacon crumbles
Truffle Oil
Olive Oil
Salad Dressing

Cut root end off of beet and place on top of kosher salt in a square of tin foil. Pack three beets at a time (or two if they are large) in the tin foil and bake in 350 degree oven for 2 hours or until a knife inserted into the tin foil feels like it is cutting through butter.

Let cool, peel and slice thinly (wearing gloves). Layer on a plate. Toss greens with salad dressing (below is one option) and top beet salad artfully. For a full salad, place greens underneath beets. Garnish with toasted walnuts, pieces of goat cheese, bacon crumbles or lardons and finally drizzle with truffle oil and olive oil. Sprinkle salt and pepper for good measure.

Dressing: In saucepan reduce 1 cup of port and 1 cup of wine with 2 chopped shallots by two-thirds. Slowly stir in one cup of olive oil, juice from ½ lemon, and 2 tablespoons of balsamic (more to taste). Season with salt and pepper.

Spring Cleaning

Most of the time when spring rolls around, I get spring cleaning fever. I feel the insatiable urge to clean and scour every bit of my house. That lasts until it wears off. I make a decent dent in my to-do list and leave the rest for when the next bug strikes.

Joel sent me an article from the New York Times today on how to get your dishwasher to be more effective. The gist of it is to let your dishwasher do more of the work....leaving me more time to dust the blinds I never seem to get to. The idea of the article is that with rinsing and scrubbing beforehand we aren't leaving a lot for our dishwasher to do...and thereby propagating the ugly cloudy spots on our glasses known as etching.

Last night I had a particularly beastly set of dishes to wash. They were a day old...remnants from a dinner party the night before (shout out here to the lovely Forsbergs). After reading this article, I decided to give not scrubbing a try. I threw away large pieces of food and for the most part loaded a helter skelter.

The result?

Tonight upon unloading, nary a bit of food or a cloudy dish. Hmnmm. I think my favorite part of the article was the last little bit suggesting that we open our dishwasher door during the last five minutes of the cycle to allow the hot air to evaporate rather than sit on the dishes to prevent streaking and/or spotting. But how to time those last five dishwasher doesn't exactly come with a count down. Ah well.

What is your latest kitchen cleaning tip?

My Bookshelf

Over the years I have talked to many foodies and chefs and one thing many of us have in common is a love of cookbooks. I think my collection is somewhat smaller than most avid foodies, but you may be a better judge. I keep most of my cookbooks in my kitchen, and I undoubtedly have a dozen or so floating around the house or lent out.

On the right hand bar I have a link to my Amazon bookshelf where I have created a list of all the cookbooks I own as well as a wish list of books I would like to buy some day. I will try to keep this updated as I grow my collection (and my wish list).

Any I am missing from my collection...what are your favorite cookbooks?

Joel's Favorite Lunch

For those of you who hate beans, this blog is not for you...and I know you are out there. This blog is devoted to disgustingly healthy eaters who love fresh veggies for lunch. At least once a week I make Joel a salad we fondly refer to as "Bean Salad". Should you have a better recipe title, I am all ears.

Basically the salad consists of the following ingredients and is delighfully yummy:

- Black beans
- Cilantro
- Tomato
- Minced Garlic
- Avocado if you have it
- Protein optional (canned tuna, seared raw tuna, or cooked and cooled beef or chicken...)

- Olive oil
- Dash of red wine vinegar
- A bit more of balsamic vinegar
- Squeeze of lemon
- Salt and pepper to taste

What is your favorite lunch?

Swine Flu

While the flu and other maladies rarely see the light of day on this blog (here we try to focus on the pleasanter side of life...chocolates, baked goodies, all things yummy), the name of this new pandemic has caught my eye.

In recent news the deputy health minister, Yakov Litzman, of United Torah Judaism is protesting the name "swine flu" as it refers to a forbidden and unkosher animal in the Jewish faith. He suggested we change the name to "Mexican flu" which met with equal resistance. As of last week Israel's stance was to ignore Litzman and continue to call the flu by its orignal name.

(This picture was taken on a recent trip to the zoo. Joel and I visited the farmyard exhibit to see the baby animals. It was also a chance to take a peek at our tasty animal the pig. I think the guy in the middle drew the short straw.)

Lucky Girl

One of my favorite things is Saturday morning breakfast. Most days of the week I consider a large cup of Joe a sufficient morning meal. However, I make an exception on Saturdays, as it is the one morning where Joel puts on the chef hat. As you can see in the picture I am spoiled with French Toast, Eggs, Bacon, and any number of yummy treats. And should I have the good fortune to sleep in past the magic breakfast bewitching hour, I am served in bed. Ahhh!

Tip for today: Lately we have been freezing our French Toast bread, 2 slices to a bag so we always have bread ready to go. Joel his gluten-free and mine from a baguette or Ciabatta.

Under Pressure: Cooking Sous Vide

While this blog has been silent over the last few months, I have been very active. My culinary adventures range from teaching classes to catering, and dining at new restaurants to eating up new cookbooks. I have even resolved to cook my way through one of the Mayo Clinic Cookbooks in the next year and to finish reading Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking by the end of the summer. With obviously lots to say, I am going to dig right in and try to get caught up.

Last week I enjoyed my 31st birthday and with it some lovely culinary gifts. This years' tributes were Thomas Keller’s Under Pressure: Cooking Sous Vide from my husband and a really cool Microplane Cut Resistant Glove from my mother-in-law. Both are items I have been wanting to play around with for a while now. I have used the glove three times already over the past week: shucking oysters, slicing with a mandolin and zesting. As far as the cookbook, I have been fascinated with sous vide cooking (which I will explain more in detail below) since I first heard about it over a year ago.

So, what is sous vide, and what should you really know about it? Sous vide involves vacu-sealing food (sometimes with other ingredients such as a marinade) and then slowly cooking the items for long periods of time. A sous vide machine is used to help regulate the temperature of the water. One recipe locks a marinade and pork tenderloin together before slowly cooking them for 12 hours. Yes, 12 hours. As you can imagine cooking at a low temperature for an extended period of time results in very flavorful, perfectly cooked delicacies.

My first very rough attempt at sous vide (a year and a half ago) took the shape of marinating salmon in a ziploc bag that I then pulled the air out of (a straw works nicely for this). I placed the bag in a simmering pot of water for over an hour and monitored the temperature closely. The salmon was incredibly tender and has become one of my favorite dishes. Keller's book takes this style of cooking to a whole new level. And in the style of his previous books, will be a better addition to my coffee table collection than a practical addition to my kitchen's bookshelf.

As I dig into this new culinary tome, I am excited to share with you any recipes I do try or new techniques I learn. And, should you find yourself in my neighborhood, I am happy to peruse the pages with you over a cup of Joe.

While I am on the topic of fabulous foodie gifts, do you have any to share? What is the best foodie gift you have received or one on your list?