Monday, October 14, 2013

What to do on a very rainy day?

It is a rainy day.  One of those days where it rains and rains and rains so the best way to spend it?  Thinking about food and cooking, of course.
Oh wait...I do that everyday!
I kind of like the occasional gloomy day where you really should just stay inside (if you can).  I think fall weather may be trying to actually take hold this week with highs in the 60's and lows in the 40's and I am ready for it!  Fall is when I am most productive with brisk days and even brisker nights.  You can really get some traction with all kinds of fall-ish food and the change in the seasonal produce.  I love all of the winter squash varieties.  I think they are so much more interesting in flavor and texture than their summer brethren.  I have a deli case full of butternut squash from my boyfriend's garden and they are big and beautiful and waiting to be made into one of my favorite soups and I really don't even like soup.  I know, I know, anathema but I just don't really like soup.  Well, let me clarify.  I like soup once.  I don't want to eat it over and over again until it's gone.  And, you know, that's kind of the point of soup...that you can eat it many times and it gets better each day (to a point).  And, I agree it does get better but I still don't want to eat it more than once.  There, I'm done with the whole soup situation.
So...my favorite soup and one that I created from scratch (yes, here comes another exercise in cooking without a recipe but I will give you the soup recipe) is Roasted Butternut Squash Soup.

This was a soup that was inspired by many restaurant-made squash soups and here's how I did it.
First, I knew that I wanted to use squash puree hence the need for roasting until soft.  Part of the reason is I don't like to cut up raw squash so if I can find an excuse to roast it for a recipe, I will!  But it also gives you an opportunity to instill additional flavor because it is seasoned for the roasting process.

From there, I thought of flavors that go well with the buttery, slightly sweet yet still savory squash.  This is where you can go crazy but try adding or changing ingredients/amounts one at a time so you have control over what is happening with the soup.

I love Asian/Thai flavors (I think you all know) so I leaned toward curry and ginger.  The trick is to saute the curry and ginger together before adding squash puree.  That step really brings out the essential oils and aromatics. To add to the sweetness, I included an apple along with onion and carrot.

Then to make it creamier, just a little heavy cream after I used the immersion blender to really smooth out the texture and make it velvety.  Butternut squash is really good at being velvety.

As an aside, you could also take this recipe in a more Mediterranean direction with rosemary, thyme and carameliized onions...hey, maybe that's where we'll go next with this soup!
In the meantime, here is the really great recipe for my "favorite" soup.  And, just try to tell me that it ISN'T restaurant quality.

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

Serves 12

¼ cup unsalted butter
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
1 sweet/tart apple (like Fuji), peeled, cored, finely chopped
¼ cup (scant) grated fresh ginger
4 – 5 tbsp good curry powder
3 medium butternut squash, roasted, flesh removed
2 quarts chicken broth or stock, unsalted
1 cup heavy cream
Kosher salt
Black pepper

Melt butter in large heavy stockpot or saucepan over medium heat.  Add onion, carrots, and apple, season with salt and cook until soft but not caramelized. 
Add ginger and curry powder and cook until the spices are fragrant.

Meanwhile, place roasted squash in the workbowl of a food processor and puree (it will be thick).  Add enough chicken broth or stock to thin it to a heavy cake batter consistency.  Add sautéed vegetables and spices to the processor and continue to puree until the mixture is quite smooth.

Return puree to the pot and process with an immersion blender.  Begin adding chicken broth or stock until the consistency is similar to heavy cream.  Allow soup to simmer briefly then add cream and warm slowly over medium low heat.

Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Serve with large homemade croutons.  It is also nice to add crumbled bacon over the top with a drizzle of sour cream.

And as always...
If you like this post, SHARE it on Facebook, Twitter or with someone you think needs to see it! 
Come join the fun and take a class with us!  
Visit my website at Urban Kitchen on Cherry Street and check out the Class Calendar.

And, if personalizing your cooking and making it fun sounds interesting to you, you might enjoy my Complete Resource Guide to Stress-Free Entertaining.   Check it out by clicking on the link....it's free!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Makes my day!

I have been challenging myself in the last few months, trying to learn things that are not all together unfamiliar but the nuances of pulling this endeavor off have been daunting, at times.  I am a lifelong learner, however, that was instilled in me as a child.  And, I tell myself that my brain will continue to function at a much higher level if I keep learning new things.  Was it Oliver Wendell Holmes that said, "a mind stretched to a new idea never returns to its original shape" or something like that.  Forgive my rather sad effort at quoting him but I think you get the point.
In any event, in the cooking arena (where I am very comfortable), I am happy to say I have several people who attend my classes regularly.  One of my "regulars" is quite gifted and creative and emails me often when he comes up with a new dish.  I received one of those emails this morning as I was toiling away at my PowerPoint presentation that is critical to my new project.  His creativity, excitement and desire to share with me makes my job more than satisfying and confirms that this new project (yes, food-related) is precisely what I need to be doing.  He thanked me for providing him with great ideas.  He had just attended a Cuban cooking class where we made the traditional sofrito so important in Cuban cuisine.  He had, of course, taken the idea from the class and then pushed the creative envelope with a whole chicken on the grill under a brick, etc., etc.  I have no doubt that it was absolutely delicious.  His fearless experimentation is the essence of what I endeavor to teach in all of my classes.  Cooking has so little to do with following recipes but much more with the attitude and enthusiasm that you bring to the mix.  That's what makes it fun and makes it worthwhile not only to others but to yourself.
So, thanks, Mike for sharing.  You make my cooking and teaching meaningful and more than worthwhile.
For those of you who might be just the least bit curious and were not able to attend our Night in Havana, here is the sofrito recipe....and please, don't hesitate to be fearless!

Cuban Sofrito
Serves 6

2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
5 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp kosher salt
¼ tsp ground black pepper
¼ tsp ground cumin
1 tsp dried oregano, crushed
2 bay leaves
2 tomatoes, chopped (optional)
¾ cup canned tomato sauce

Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat.  Add onion and garlic, and cook until onion is translucent. Add the bell pepper, and saute until tender.  Season with salt, pepper, cumin, oregano and bay leaves.

Continue cooking until the mixture becomes a paste.  Stir in the tomatoes and reduce slightly.  Gradually stir in the tomato sauce simmer until the color changes to deep red.  Taste, and adjust seasonings if desired. 
Remove bay leaves before serving.

Monday, September 30, 2013

A trip down Memory Lane...

It's hard to believe that it's been almost three years since we opened the doors to Urban Kitchen.
So...I had to grab a little excerpt from one of my posts from 2010 before it all happened...makes me a little nostalgic and just a bit incredulous that we actually did it.
Here's a little blast from the past:

Next...the kitchen is coming together in spite of all of the crazy things that have happened from the vent hood installers cannibalizing my hood fans to figuring out the new heat sensor requirements to...well, I'm sure there's something else but I can't think of what it is.  Here is a picture of the kitchen...not the same one as on Facebook so a little variety coming atcha...
On the food front...I just read that legendary Chef Alain Ducasse has expressed himself on the subject of complicated food and he says...it's too damn complicated!  YAY!! Thank you so much!!  In fact, he is completely reworking his menu and is going so far as to limit all items to three ingredients.  That just speaks to my heart after all this silly, self-absorbed, overly complex cooking that's going on out there!  So...as I have always said, delicious, honest food, completely identifiable that you can be passionate about.
We will start being passionate about the food we cook very shortly at Urban Kitchen on Cherry Street...can't wait to share with everyone...I will be scheduling cooking classes in November!

So, actually, we didn't schedule cooking classes in November of 2010 because the Health Department insisted on a particular kind of floor drain under my three compartment sink that required additional plumbing and tearing up of the tile.  Oh yeah, and did I mention that while I was at it, I needed to put in a grease trap?  Lord help me, I don't know how any of us survive the food business with all of the "help" we get from the city.  We also didn't get a break from the weather gods either with one of the worst winters on record (exception being the ice storm of 2009) so I think we started classes in the Spring of 2011.

But now, three years later and lots of experiences under my belt here is little Urban Kitchen on Cherry Street where we're cooking fearlessly...one recipe and a time!
And, oh yeah, again...Chef Alain Ducasse is still my hero!












And as always...
If you like this post, SHARE it on Facebook, Twitter or with someone you think needs to see it! 
Come join the fun and take a class with us!  
Visit my website at Urban Kitchen on Cherry Street and check out the Class Calendar.

And, if personalizing your cooking and making it fun is interesting to you, you might enjoy my Complete Resource Guide to Stress-Free Entertaining.   Check it out by clicking on the link....it's free!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Tools: The big, the small, the essential

Let's talk about what you've got in your kitchen.  Not what food you have, what kinds of tools and equipment you have.  Do you have a favorite whisk or wooden spoon or spatula?  I do!
And, because I do, I'm going to share a few of my go-to's.  I could come up with an entire list of things and maybe I'll do that, in the future but for now, let's just stick to some great basics.  I love basics because they're a really good way to get started.

Of course, there are the knives but I could spend an entire email (or more) just on knives so let's save that, too and get into some super cool tools that will make your time in the kitchen easier and, dare I say, fun!  This will also be fun because I'm going to show you pictures of my personal favs!

I limited myself to five but I have many, many more.
So here are the top five small kitchen tools on my Hit Parade and in my kitchen, right now!

Number 5 - Fine mesh strainer
Pour sauces or stocks through this to get perfectly clear liquids, nothing is left behind.  Also good for draining and rinsing canned goods.


Number 4 - Microplane
Always sharp and makes grating cheese or veggies a breeze.


Number 3 - Poultry shears
These are indispensable for cutting up chicken or other birds.  These are cool because they come apart for easy cleaning...no chicken "goo" left on these!


Number 2 - Utility tongs
Man, I love these things!  If you don't have anything else for picking things up out of a hot pan, this is the tool.  They are really an extension of your hand.
Finally, and this was a hard one because I really love those tongs but...


Number 1 - Japanese mandoline
You must be careful with this guy but if you are...slicing is so fast and fun!!  Plus, it's super inexpensive.  So if it breaks (and it could although none of mine ever have), you don't feel bad throwing it away and getting a new one.

So these are a few of my favorite things, I think I feel a song coming on.
But instead, how about a recipe?  Experiment with it and have some fun!

Penne Mac ‘n Cheese
 Serves 4 – 6

¼ cup unsalted butter
¼ cup all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
2 cups shredded mozzarella
1 cup shredded aged cheddar
½ lb penne, cooked al dente, cooled and drained
½ cup Panko bread crumbs
Kosher salt
Black pepper

Preheat oven to 375°.

Butter a 2 qt baking dish.  In a heavy saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter, stir in the flour and cook, stirring for about 2 minutes.  Slowly whisk in the milk until smooth.  Simmer until the sauce is thickened.  Remove from the heat and stir in 1 cup of mozzarella and ½ cup aged cheddar.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

In a large bowl, combine the pasta and cheese sauce.  Stir in ½ cup of mozzarella and transfer to prepared dish.  Top with the remaining mozzarella and aged cheddar then bread crumbs.
Bake for at least 30 minutes or until the pasta is browned and bubbly.  Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Be sure to try different types of pasta and cheeses with it!

I continue to get great feedback about my Complete Resource Guide to Stress-Free Entertaining.  If personalizing your cooking and making it fun is interesting to you, you might enjoy this free guide.  Check it out by clicking on the link.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Stop buying salad dressing!

*Note from Candace*
I have been reviewing old posts and sharing them as it seems appropriate.  I ran across this one from May, 2009.  It is funny how consistent my message (mission) has been even from four years ago.  
This is where the Urban Kitchen house vinaigrette started.  It's fun to see how it has evolved.  To my favorite container option, I would add a squeeze bottle.  With the bottle, you not only have the salad dressing mixer but an easy way to deliver the dressing on to your greens.  As for vinegar choices, consider white and red balsamics as well as the others.

The point is:  don't be afraid to experiment, use fresh ingredients and once you make dressing for the first time, you'll never buy the bottled, preservative-laden stuff again! 
Warmest,
Candace
And as always...
If you like this post, SHARE it on Facebook, Twitter or with someone you think needs to see it! 
Come join the fun and take a class with us!  
Visit my website at Urban Kitchen on Cherry Street and check out the Class Calendar.

We all have our favorite bottled salad dressing...come on, admit it! Mine was (note the word, WAS) Seven Seas Creamy Italian. I ate enough of that dressing to float a boat - no pun intended. When I was in college, I would eat it on anything...well, not on chocolate, but that was about it. Nowadays, so many bottled dressings are filled with preservatives...so much so that you can hardly identify what it really is supposed to be. Then I started making my own dressings a number of years ago. It is not only fast but, once more, you can use your imagination and create so many different flavors. I am going to share my salad dressing "base" with you. Then sally forth (did I really say that?) and add different spices, herbs, ingredients to it...whatever you like or whatever seems to go best with what you're serving. Add fruit, fresh or dried. Add vegetables. I don't think meat would work but who knows...! Try it and let me know!!

Now, you will see a lot of chefs whisk the oil into the salad dressing ingredients. The reason for this is to create an "emulsion"...an emulsion is a mixture of one liquid with another that it ordinarily will not combine with...such as oil and water or, in this instance, vinegar. You add the oil very slowly and whisk the vinegar quickly so that it binds. This is, of course, the classic way of doing things but sometimes you have to throw classic out the window and get real. My favorite method for "emulsifying" my oil and vinegar is with a small screwtop jar and a little Dijon mustard. The flavor of Dijon has a way of blending into whatever type of dressing you're making or it can express itself, for instance, in a honey Dijon salad dressing. In any event, the mustard acts as an emulsifier and helps the process along...call it cheating if you like but it works like a champ. And, I think most people don't make dressing because of the idea of whisking things. So now no more excuses...get a half-pint Mason jar and go to it!

Candace's Salad Dressing Base (this is purely a jumping off point)

In a small jar with a tightly fitting lid (preferably screw top)
Add:
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 heaping tsp Dijon mustard
1 - 2 tsp dark brown sugar (depending on how sweet you like it - you can also leave it out completely)
1 tbsp minced shallot and/or 1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
2 parts vinegar to 1 part oil (I like light and not oily dressings)
Place the top securely on the jar and shake it like crazy.

Now you've got salad dressing that is fresh, light, full of flavor and will last in your fridge for at least a week or more...actually, probably not that long because you'll use it so fast! A half-pint of dressing is enough for many, many salad greens but please, do not commit the Cardinal sin of over-dressing your greens. Let your greens shine through...they deserve their place in the spotlight...but that's another tip for another day.
Now just to get you started thinking...
For sweeteners: try honey, maple syrup, light brown sugar, light or dark corn syrup
For vinegars: try red wine, white wine, rice (unseasoned), raspberry, sherry, or champagne
The oil you use will depend on whether you want to taste it...flavorless canola, vegetable, or flavorful olive oils...I wouldn't recommend sesame except as a flavor enhancer in an Asian dressing.
You can use this same theory with mayonnaise-based dressings.
Don't be afraid to experiment...it's just food...it doesn't care!
The rest is up to you!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Are you keeping it personal?

I know, I'm asking crazy questions again!

But are you keeping your cooking personal?  And, by that, I mean, is your kitchen space personal to you, is your cooking the kind or the way you like to do it?  If it's not, then I bet you don't enjoy cooking (or at least, not as much as you could!).

Now, you're going to either say, huh? or, Candace, what are you talking about?  I don't know HOW to keep it personal!  Well...here are a couple of tips for keeping it easy and fun that will help simplify your life.  Remember, this isn't rocket science so don't make it that way!

But first, a little background...I'm all about making things easier for my students in my cooking classes.  My goal or maybe I should say, my mission is to show you how to make great food that will impress your family and friends and be as easy as possible to cook.  So, I try to show you sensible ways to have it going on in the cooking arena and not dazzle you with my fancy footwork.  That means that you take what we learned in class and do it at home.  So...keeping it personal is just an extension of what I teach in my cooking classes.

I don't emphasize recipes that need exact measurements (for me, that's most recipes, really).  I use ingredients that are not difficult to find but are not your run of the mill, ordinary meat and potatoes.  And, I show you techniques that will make your life easier.

Case in point, I get tons of questions about knives.  What knife should I get?  Frankly, I don't know.  You are the only one who knows what kind of knife you need.  So in class, I provide everyone with an inexpensive but very sharp knife to begin finding out what kind of knife they like.  The weight, the shape of the handle and the blade are all important but above all else, it must be sharp.  So you can have great success with a very inexpensive knife IF it is super sharp.  You can also have a disaster with a dull, expensive knife.  There's one way you keep it personal...get a knife you like.  And, don't buy a big set like that salesperson wants you to buy at the gourmet kitchen store.  Buy your knives one at a time so that it makes sense when you add a new one to your personal kitchen.  And, then keep them sharp.  Learn to use a knife steel that straightens the blade (that's another story) and then have them sharpened professionally when needed.  "When needed" is also personal because everyone uses knives differently.

Bottom line is choose knives, tools, equipment and food to suit your personal style.  You like Asian food...get a wok, go to the Asian market, familiarize yourself with ingredients and flavor profiles for Chinese, Korean, Japanese, or Vietnamese foods, search the Internet for ideas, that's what I do when I want to personalize my cooking or cooking classes.

Wouldn't it be cool, though, if there was a resource out there that provided you with a step-by-step method for personalizing your kitchen and cooking and making it super enjoyable.  Well, stay tuned my friends...help is on the way!

To that end, you know that I have to include a little somethin', somethin'.  Here's a great recipe for Grilled Romaine Hearts and the house vinaigrette from Urban Kitchen.  With Labor Day coming, this will change up your grilling routine.
Be sure to play around with it...make it you're own!

Grilled Romaine Hearts

Serves 8
4 romaine hearts
1 red onion, thickly sliced
4 oz. crumbled blue cheese or goat cheese                                                             
Olive oil
Kosher salt
Black pepper

Rinse romaine hearts and remove any blemished outer leaves.  Cut hearts in half lengthwise. Drizzle with olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper.  Set aside.  Drizzle red onion slices with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Set aside.

Heat grill to medium high.  Place sliced onions (oiled side down) on the grill and drizzle the other side with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Grill for 2 – 3 minutes until they have grill marks.  Flip onions and allow to cook until softened and slightly caramelized, about five minutes.  Remove from the grill.  Allow to cool and then chop the onions.  Set aside.

Place romaine hearts cut side down on the grill for about a minute until the edges start to wilt.  Remove from the grill.  Dress with your favorite vinaigrette (mine is below).  Followed by chopped grilled onions and crumbled goat cheese.

White Balsamic Vinaigrette
 Makes about one cup of dressing

1 garlic clove, smashed
1 heaping tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp brown sugar
½ tsp kosher salt
¼ tsp ground black pepper
¼ cup white balsamic vinegar
¼ - ½ cup canola/olive oil blend

In a pint jar or squeeze bottle, combine all ingredients and shake well.
Enjoy!
And as always...
If you like this post, SHARE it on Facebook, Twitter or with someone you think needs to see it! 
Come join the fun and take a class with us!  
Visit my website at Urban Kitchen on Cherry Street and check out the Class Calendar.

I continue to get great feedback about my Complete Resource Guide to Stress-Free Entertaining.  If personalizing your cooking and making it fun is interesting to you, you might enjoy this free guide.  Check it out by clicking on the link.

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Curiosity of Cooking Classes Redux

There is so much going on!  I am catching myself coming and going!  But I can't let my blog go without a weekly post so I went through the archives and found this little jewel...honestly, this is one of my favorite all-time posts (with the exception of one about a particular "Throw Down with Bobby Flay" which I have promised not to re-post, for now anyway).  We do have a lot of great, fun classes at Urban Kitchen.  And, I am happy to say the Asian classes are much more popular than they were when I first posted this lament.
Warmest,
Candace
And as always...
If you like this post, SHARE it on Facebook, Twitter or with someone you think needs to see it! 
Come join the fun and take a class with us!  
Visit my website at Urban Kitchen on Cherry Street and check out the Class Calendar.
 
I am constantly amazed by the number of people who want to learn how to make pasta...often to the exclusion of anything else.
Take this week's classes as an example:  Wednesday was Vietnamese Street Food which I cleverly titled "What the Pho?" and Thursday was Ravioli.  To me, the opportunity to make a dish as thoroughly fascinating as pho and the banh mi sandwich would win hands down over ravioli.  Boy!  Was I wrong!
My poor little East meets West fusion class would have been canceled had it not been for two stalwarts and, frankly, I should have canceled it anyway (didn't have the four required) but I couldn't bring myself to deny these gals the wonders and utter simplicity yet flavor explosion of these two dishes.  Plus, I really wanted to prove that I could make an acceptable pho (I already knew I owned banh mi land).  So we had a great class and explored the ingredients and methods of Vietnamese cooking with all of its French influences.  We even snapped a quick pic of the pho yummy-ness.  Not up to Melanie Dunea quality but passable.
Now on to my quandary...what is this fascination with pasta?  The ravioli class on Thursday was packed...I even had a woman in there who just found out she had to cut out gluten...yet she was still in class!
Don't get me wrong (I know I say that a lot but I don't want to be misunderstood, of course), I love pasta!  But please, please, please...I don't want to be reduced to becoming the Pasta Teacher of Tulsa...sounds very grand, doesn't it?
I agree...it IS fun to make pasta and it IS easy but come on, people, let's branch out!  I have soup, puff pastry, pie, roasted chicken, appetizers, and grilling, grilling, grilling classes but nothing fills up like pasta.  We've made simple pasta, all kinds of ravioli and gnocchi.  We've made sauces and fillings until they're coming out of our ears but it's never enough!
Yes...I will continue to teach you how to make pasta but couldn't you throw in a little excitement here and there? 
I'm just sayin'...