Thursday, July 30, 2009

Winding Down

We're in the final countdown now. As of this Monday there was exactly one month left of school. Going into Bauman I had no idea what to expect. Would this be a "real" culinary program? It certainly isn't as well known as the CCA, Cordon Bleu, or myriad other professional cooking schools out there. I did what research I could, including an open house, web search, and careful read of all the school's materials. But honestly I had no idea what was to come the day I walked in that door.

Now, with five months of hindsight, would I do it again? ABSOLUTELY. No doubt whatsoever. Why? While I haven't received a traditional culinary experience (we had only one day of working with "meat," in our case only poultry), I have learned a ton. This has been a real education in how to make the type of food people should be eating; food that's not only delicious, but also healthy. Beyond the culinary skills, I feel extremely lucky to have a wonderful cast of characters as my costudents -- everyone from a former chef at Esalen, to my cauliflower-loving high-tech working carpooler, to a former physical therapist. Plus, as I've asked around in the food industry I've heard only good things about Bauman.

While I'm counting down the last days of class with a sense of sadness (there won't be a next year to look forward to like in grade school), the fact that the end is in sight is also somewhat of a relief. Just as I discovered this is a "real" program, I also realized the demands weren't trivial. Quite a few of my classmates are not working. My long work + class days have been exhausting at times. But I don't have it nearly as bad as some of my working classmates who are also commuting an hour+ each way to school.

What has been my biggest surprise in school? Probably that I like baking! I always considered myself more into cooking than baking, but I've found myself volunteering for more and more baking recipes, and realized that many of my blog postings have been baking related as well. This week, when I made the class' dessert (an almond torte with chocolate and raspberry sauce) I mentioned to everyone that I've never been into baking. They all said they'd gotten the impression it was my thing.

When this is done what's next? Spain! I have my flight booked. It's a trip planned around a dinner (thanks to my friend's El Bulli reservation... a meal at the world's #1 restaurant, what could be more appropriate for culinary school graduation?). I'm also hoping to take a cooking class in Barcelona, and do a food tour through the city. When I get back, I'll have about 40 internship hours to complete before I receive official certification as a Natural Chef, but I have six months to do those.

These last few weeks have been busier than usual, with a final project to prepare and showcase meal to plan. My final project subject is cooking for individuals with lactose intolerance, and I'll have the "awful" homework tomorrow night of testing a goat cheese cheesecake recipe I plan on preparing for the class (goat milk dairy is often easier to digest for those who have difficulty with cows milk). Because of the packed schedule, I've had less time to update photos and add recipes recently. But I plan on posting new favorite recipes soon, including the almond torte and a really flavorful fresh green bean and corn saute with chile powder and lime.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Weight Management Class Recipe: Roasted Salmon with Minted Plum Salsa

I'm having trouble figuring out which recipes to post from Weight Management class. They were all good! My teammate Jit and I made lettuce soup... Sounds weird, right? It was in fact delicious, simple (and of course healthy). Cooked lettuce is something that fascinates me. And the soup had tarragon too, which is one of my favorite herbs and completely underappreciated. There were also lemon almond cookies, chickpea basmati burgers with tomato chutney, cauliflower "couscous" and a zucchini carpaccio salad I'll get around to posting too.

But in the end there was one recipe that really blew me away:

Roasted Salmon with Minted Plum Salsa

1 ¾ lbs salmon fillets, skinned, portioned
½ cup lemon juice
¼ cup tamari
6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
black pepper

2 Tbs honey
⅓ cup apple cider vinegar
1 medium jalapeno, minced
4 large plums, whole, 1/4" dice
½ medium red onion, finely chopped
½ cup yellow tomato, 1/4" dice
½ Tbs grated ginger
2 Tbs minced mint
2 Tbs lime juice
2 Tbs olive oil

1 Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
2 In an oven proof dish, marinate fillets for about 30 minutes in lemon juice and tamari, turning once midway.
3 Before roasting press garlic slices on top of each fillet then grind some black pepper over. Roast in the marinade for about 7 - 10 minutes, depending on thickness. Baste with the marinade occasionally. When done, flesh will look opaque and feel firm yet the middle should still be slightly reddish. The fish will continue to cook
after removing it from the oven.
4 PLUM SALSA: Combine honey and vinegar in a small saucepan and cook over moderate heat until reduced and it coats the back of a spoon. Remove from heat and let cool.
5 Combine remaining salsa ingredients together in a medium bowl and stir in the cooled reduction. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon over salmon fillets.
From Weight Management

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Making Seasoned Salts

Seasoned sea salts are a simple pantry item that can absolutely transform a dish. I use mine on roasted meats and veggies, sprinkled on scrambled eggs, and to rim glasses -- really you can use them on most things (farmers markets often showcase them on fresh heirloom tomatoes). They sell for around $15 at my local grocery store, but are extremely cheap to make yourself. And we learned in class that they are also very easy to make. So before you consider shelling out money for a fancy little packet, check out how to make a big batch at home. They also make beautiful party favors, holiday gifts, etc.

In my research I came across a posting from Mark Bittman of the NY Times on making sea salts that provides additional ideas you may want to check out. I notice he doesn't oven dry his, but I expect doing so preserves the herbs and other additions so that your salt keeps better.

Seasoned Sea Salt

1 cup good quality sea salt (make sure you use sea salt and not simple table salt. sea salt has minerals and better flavor. plus table salt can actually leech minerals from your body)
At least 1/4 cup fresh herbs, washed and thoroughly dried, then rough chopped (Any mix you'd like. Rosemary, parsley, thyme, oregano, lavender, etc...)
Other additions (a garlic clove or two and citrus zest work well)

1. Preheat oven to 100F.
2. In a food processor, add all ingredients and process until well combined (herbs should be small specks of color). It is essential that herbs are completely dry before doing this. You can wash them approx. a day ahead, spin dry or pat with towel, and then leave out to dry completely until use.
3. Spread salt on a baking sheet in a thin layer (use multiple baking sheets depending on amount). Place in oven and bake approx. 45 minutes. (If you have a food dehydrator, you can use that instead of the oven).
4. Cool before packaging. Clumps may form. If you want to ensure even texture you can run the salt in the food processor again once oven-dried.

Note: We made rosemary and garlic salt with lemon zest. For our batch, we halved the recipe, used one clove of garlic and the zest of one lemon (to give a sense of proportion).

Recipe: Roasted Garlic and Herb Mashed Root Veggies

There's nothing more comforting than mashed potatoes. I'm always on the lookout for alternative versions since I can't have a lot of dairy and most use milk or cream. Plus, in class recently we discussed other health conditions that limit consuming potatoes due to their high-glycemic content (which spikes blood sugar and is bad for anyone who needs to limit their sugar intake like diabetics or those with candida).

Even if you don't have specific reasons to avoid potatoes, this "alternative mash" is soooooooo good. From the roasting, the veggies develope a sweet overtone that is rounded out by the savory roasted garlic and fresh herbs. You can use it as a versatile frame, swapping in any type of root vegetables you'd like, or use different herbs (we didn't have thyme and used rosemary instead).

Garlic and Herb Root Mash

1 large bulb garlic
2 medium turnips, peeled cut into 1 inch cubes
2 medium rutabagas, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes
2 heads cauliflower, chopped into medium florets
1 tsp fresh oregano
1 tsp fresh thyme
to taste salt and pepper
2 Tbs ghee, if desired

1 Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut the top off of the garlic bulb and drizzle with a little grapeseed oil. Wrap the garlic bulb in parchment paper and then foil and roast for 30- 40 min.
2 Place the turnips, rutabagas, and cauliflower in a large steamer pot and steam until very soft when pierced with a fork, about 15-20 minutes. It's fine if the cauliflower is softer than the other vegetables.
3 Once tender, transfer the vegetables to a large bowl and add the roasted garlic. Mash well with a potato masher. Alternatively, puree in a blender for a smoother consistency. Add the oregano, thyme, salt, and pepper and mix well. If desired, add the ghee for a creamier taste and texture.

Author: By Katherine Wilson, Natural Chef Instructor

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Three Twins Ice Cream Flavor Winner

And the winner is Ginger with Carmelized Pears and Roasted Macademia Nuts!!

Thanks to everyone who voted. I was secretly rooting for Strawberry Rhubarb Pie, which took an early lead but then the ginger flavor pulled ahead. This one sounds really good too though, and it's about to be pear season so perfect timing.

The Madison Farmers Market and Cheese Curds

My San Francisco neighborhood, the Inner Sunset, got a brand new farmers market last month. It's a wonderful community addition among a region full of different market options. But no market in California compares to the one I went to every summer weekend growing up... the Dane County Market, on the Capital square in Madison, Wisconsin.

I wanted to share some photos taken on my recent trip back which will give a sense of what it's like at the country's largest market. With over 300 vendors total and 150 on any given Saturday, there's an impressive array of people and goods, along with many "only in Wisconsin" elements. First of all, of course there's lots of cheese. Cheese curds, goat cheese, organic cheese, cheese spreads, frying cheese, and multiple bakery stalls competing to corner the spicy cheese bread market. And there is state pride. I'd estimate at least 1 of every 5 patrons are wearing Wisconsin shirts. Plus there's cheese shaped like the state and cookies shaped like cows (marked by signs noting that they will put you in "Udder Bliss").

From Cheese Curds & the Madison, WI Farmers Market

This year, I was impressed to see more organic farms, and a growing diversity of vendors. One stand sold only gourds -- miniature, gigantic, and everything in between. The woman there turned out to be a San Franciscan who had moved to Wisconsin five years ago. And my favorite discovery was a booth selling Emu eggs, which were a unique shade between deep purple and brown, and about 10 times the size of a chicken egg.

Every time I go back to the Madison farmers market I get cheese curds. If you haven't had them, they're bite size pieces of cheese that, when made fresh, actually squeak between your teeth. Hardcore Wisconsinites sometimes fry them, but eating them as is provides enough of a thrill (and enough calories) for me. I grabbed a bag of curds and hand-carried them home to California to serve at my belated b-day gathering. They were a highlight of the night. Our waiter was even kind enough to serve them up on a silver platter!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Chicago Salmon

Last week I went to my hometown of Madison, Wisconsin. While there, I dined in a favorite restaurant. One that you'd expect to represent the highest-caliber dining experience in town. I do love the people there and have gone for years, so I won't name names. But I couldn't resist sharing this real exchange with the waiter from while we were ordering:

Waiter: “Does anyone have any questions?”

Me: “Yes, is the salmon in the special wild or farm-raised?”

Waiter: “Hmmm… let me check on that.”

(He goes to the kitchen and returns a few minutes later)

Waiter: “I’m not really sure, but it comes from Chicago if that helps.”

Poor waiter. I burst out laughing and actually felt quite bad about it afterwards. But when was the last time you saw salmon swimming through streams in the Windy City?