Chop! Chop! Culinary School Starts Soon

I don't look good in hats. That's going to be a problem because we have to wear one for chef school. I hope they're not too picky at Bauman College of Holistic Nutrition and Culinary Arts.
They have sent me a list of supplies I need:
-8 inch Chef knife
-3 inch paring knife
-vegetable peeler (apparently no chef should be without one of these)
-hard, closed toe shoes or "professional chef shoes"
-chef coat
-hair wrap (cap, hat or scarf)
-white shirts
-chef pants
-chef gear bag (not really sure what that is and haven't found one online either)
-instant read thermometer
and some computer software called Master Cook.

I like wearing a uniform. When I was a kid I was a girl scout and I had my little green polyester uniform that proudly pronounced, "Hey, look at me, I've got the cookies!"

Yesterday there was a post card from a personal chef on my car window. Basically it states that if you're tired of grocery shopping, hate to cook and never have time to make a decent meal you should hire this guy and he will do it for you. I respect his right to market this way however that is soooo not my philosophy about all of this.

First I am doing it for the experience. I have a handful of experiences in my life that I look back on and say were totally worth it and very rewarding. For example, the time I bought an old Victorian house in Denver and totally renovated it from the ground up. What an amazing experience (though mind you it was a lot of work and I would never do it again!). I want culinary school to be like that...just in and of itself a totally cool, fun, and engaging moment in my life. When I told my co-worker this he said I sounded very "Oprah-ish."

And, unlike the guy marketing on my car window, I come from an empowerment model. I want to teach people to cook. I want to help them have fun with it and reclaim it and nurture their bodies with it. And while I do understand how busy we can all be, I wonder how much of it we have been programmed into believing. Manufacturers came up with prepackaged food during the war for the soldiers. The question was how to market it to consumers post-war. It's interesting to think about these words from the book The United States of Arugula by David Kamp, "...the packaged-food companies would abandon any pretense of claiming their processed and frozen products were superior in taste, instead stressing their convenience. Cannily (and often with canned foods), these companies' advertising campaigns actually stigmatized the experience of spending hours in the kitchen...an ad for Minute Rice that sounds like it was written by someone hopped up on Dexedrine: 'Baby fussing? Dinner to get? When baby wants attention and Daddy wants dinner, your best friend is quick-quick Minute Rice!" could it be that on some level we are at least in part victims of marketing and rather than enjoy the preparation and dining experience with food and conversation we've been programed to think it a drudgery?

When my partner and I got together she would come to my place and we would have "The Kissing Lounge." We would have a cocktail called a French Kiss along with a plate of cheese, crackers and fruit. We would sit and sip our drink and eat and talk about our work day. Then we would go make dinner. We had a one drink limit so that we would not cut off a finger.

Ah well, I digress. So school starts April 1 and I will be spending the next few weeks checking off items on the list. Stay tuned for class updates...

Drake's Colorado Cowboy Cookies

I lived in Colorado for over 20 years so I feel a connection to anything with a name like Colorado Cowboy Cookies. The original recipe can be found on epicurious.com but I've made a few modifications that I think you'll like. One is the switch from all purpose flour to whole wheat pastry flour, which yielded wonderful results.

The other modifications have to do with the sugar. The original recipe calls for 3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp dark brown sugar. I have made these cookies many times but I always use light brown sugar because that's what I have around. However, after making the Pots of Gold recipe on Orangette's blog (absolutely to die for!) I had some dark muscovado sugar left over so I used 2 tablespoons of this for a really tasty result. If you can't find it at a local grocery you can order it online at indiatree.com. Lastly, I did not use white sugar -- instead I used cane sugar (a sort of light brown colored sugar you can often find in the bulk section).

Actually, now that I'm looking at the recipe I realize I also changed the nuts, I don't chill the dough for an hour and I don't bake them the way they say to. The baking modification has to do with this very finicky antique -- read: OLD -- stove we own (which I cannot stand beyond words but oh let's save that topic for another day).

So, I admit to having turned the recipe inside out but hey, that's the fun of cooking -- being creative and in the moment and ending up with something that goes down really well with a glass of milk...and a pair of cowboy boots.

Drake's Colorado Cowboy Cookies
Original recipe from Bon Appetit: inspirations theirs, modifications mine.

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
2 cups old-fashioned oats
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup cane sugar
3/4 cup light brown sugar
2 tablespoons dark muscovado sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 to 1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips (depending on how much you like chocolate)
1 cup chopped toasted pecans (can substitute walnuts if you prefer)

Whisk first 5 ingredients in medium bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat butter and all sugars in large bowl until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla, beating to combine. Add 1/2 of the dry ingredients and mix. Repeat with other half just until blended.

I line my baking sheets with parchment paper, which is the cooking god's gift to mankind. Drop healthy tablespoons of dough onto the sheet leaving a little room between them (they don't spread a lot) and flatten them just a bit with your fingers. Bake about 8 minutes at 350 degrees F, longer if needed to get golden brown on the bottom and just around the edges. Remove from pan when done. I always put my cookies on a cut up paper bag to cool. Enjoy!


Roasted Butternut Squash Salad with Sherry Maple Vinaigrette & Croutons

In case I haven't mentioned it yet, my partner, Dylan, is a nurse in the ICU at Children's Hospital. On this rainy Saturday she happens to be working and I was wondering what I could make her for dinner. She loves salad but on this cold evening that didn't really seem fitting. I went thumbing through some cooking magazines and various cook books for inspiration and came up with this combination. Her response? "Wow, I feel like I'm at a restaurant!" We probably won't get to make this again until next fall, but if you hurry you can squeeze it in before squash goes by the wayside. This salad has some wonderful surprise flavors...raisins soaked in port, sweet maple syrup and spicy Dijon mustard in the vinaigrette oo la la.

Menu: Roasted Butternut Squash Salad with Sherry Maple Vinaigrette, Homemade Garlic-Parmesan Croutons

Roasted Butternut Squash Salad
adapted from The Best of Fine Cooking Fresh, Fall 2007

1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup port
1 butternut squash (about 2 lbs.)
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
2 Tbs. olive oil
2 Tbs. real maple syrup
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 medium head frisee, trimmed, leaves torn into bite size pieces
4-6 cups mixed fresh organic salad greens, rinsed clean and spun dry

Cover the raisins with port and let sit for at least 3 hours. I used a 1997 Zinfandel Port from the Napa Valley. I felt kind of guilty opening it for some raisins of all things, but truth be told I don't drink port (obviously, since it's been in my liquor cabinet for, oh, 11 years now).

Heat the oven to 400 degrees F and then (and oh how I hate this part) peel the squash and cut it into 1/2 to 3/4 inch cubes. Feel free to cheat and use the pre-cut squash you can find in stores these days. You can really use any kind of squash that you have on hand as long as it is flavorful. I cut open an acorn squash and it was pale, pithy and bland -- yuck! That went into the compost pile.

In a medium sized bowl toss the
squash and onion with the olive oil and maple syrup. I use a grade B organic maple syrup, which has a nice flavor without being overpowering. Spread onto a rimmed baking sheet (good idea to put some parchment paper down first) into a single layer and sprinkle on a little salt and pepper. Roast, stirring occasionally, until the squash is just cooked through and it and the onions are browned -- approximately 20 minutes. You can do this step in advance if you'd like and then just microwave it before adding it to the salad.

Toss the greens and frisee together in a large bowl with about 1/2 cup of the vinaigrette (recipe follows). Plate individual salads and add some of the still warm (not hot) squash and onion mixture. Drain the raisins and sprinkle some on each salad. Serve with garlic-parmesan croutons (recipe follows).

Sherry Maple Vinaigrette

1/3 cups sherry vinegar
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
2 Tbs. real maple syrup (I use Grade B - very mellow)
1 Tbs. finely chopped shallots
1 cup grapeseed oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Combine the vinegar, mustard, maple syrup and shallots in a bowl and whisk in the oil in a slow, steady stream. Season with s & p to taste.

Garlic-Parmesan Croutons

These croutons are easy to make, hard to mess up and they taste really good. These can be made using the bread of your choice. Tonight I used 5 slices of some ciabatta we had on hand and a few slices of sour dough bread stolen from the loaf we had in the freezer. The garlic is subtle so as not to overpower your salad or dressing.

6 cups bread, cut into bite size pieces
3 tablespoons of olive oil
2 large cloves of garlic, crushed, chopped up
sea salt
parmesan, finely grated

Put your oven to 400F and get out a 9x13 baking sheet with edges

Pour olive oil into a bowl and stir in the garlic. Allow to sit for a few minutes.
Add the bread to the bowl and toss until all of the pieces get a little oil. Spread the bread onto your baking sheet. I then use my microzester, holding it over the bread and lightly grating some parmesan onto the bread squares. Lastly sprinkle the bread, again lightly, with salt.

Bake for 5 minutes, turn, and bake for another 5 minutes, watching carefully so nothing burns. Remove from oven and place on paper toweling, allow to cool. If needed add another sprinkling of salt. Store in airtight container.


Oaxaca Tacos with Seasoned Black Beans and Lime Cilantro Slaw

We just finished having Oaxaca Tacos for dinner and we're both sitting here asking ourselves if there is possibly room for a few more bites in our already full stomachs. We've decided to split one more because they just tasted so good. You know that feeling, don't you?

The first time we actually had Oaxaca Tacos was not in Oaxaca. As a matter of fact, we were in Oaxaca in August and I never saw them on the menu. We were introduced to them at the Hotel San Ignacio in Belize. When we told the waiter we wanted something vegetarian he scrambled back to tell the chef and emerged with these wonderful corn tortillas filled with a mashed pototoe mixture. Honestly, I would never have put that combination together but I assure you, dear readers, it tastes great.

I can't remember what was served with this dish at the hotel, but we serve ours with black beans and have modified the filling a bit. Feel free to invent your own filling by adding various veggies to the potatoes.

I'm going to break this recipe down into 3 parts: the black beans, the tacos and the side lime cilantro slaw. But please don't be intimidated, once the black beans are made the rest is easy. If you do the beans in advance and freeze them you can just pull it out in the morning and use it in the evening for dinner.

1. The Seasoned Black Beans
adapted from the oh-so-good cookbook: Hot & Spicy & Meatless

If you have never made your own black beans, try this recipe and you will never go back to canned. The aroma that fills the kitchen while the beans are cooking is worth it in and of itself.

2 cups dried black beans
1 bay leaf
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
2-3 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon curry powder
salt and pepper to taste

First soak the beans overnight in a pot with cold water. The next day you can rinse away the old water and add fresh water to cover by 3 inches or so. Bring to a boil then add the bay leaf, oil, cumin, oregano, garlic and curry. Reduce heat and simmer for 1 1/2 - 2 hours until the beans are soft. Add a little more water along the way if it boils away. Salt and pepper to taste.

2. The Oaxaca Tacos

Gather the following ingredients:
3 large russet potatoes, peeled, quartered
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 - 1 1/2 cups grated jalepeno jack cheese
3/4 cup roasted corn
8 corn tortillas, thin variety
canola oil for frying

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Put potatoes into a pot and cover generously with water. Bring to boil then lower heat to simmer and cook until potatoes are soft (aproximately 15 minutes). Drain well and while they are still warm go ahead and mash them with the butter and salt. Set aside.

Heat canola oil in a frying pan over medium-low flame. There should be enough oil to just cover the tortilla when frying - you may need to add more along the way as the oil is absorbed. Dip each tortilla into the oil for about 20 seconds on one side, turn and another 20 seconds on the other side. The idea here is to warm the tortillas to a pliable state. You do not want them to get crispy. Lay them into a pie pan and cover with foil until you have all 8 tortillas prepared. Or if there are two of you one can cook the tortillas and one can fill and roll them!

Now you're ready to assemble the tacos. Spoon about 4 tablespoons of the mashed potatoes onto a tortilla. Spinkle on some corn and some of the jalepeno jack. Roll and place into a 9x13 pan seam side down. Repeat with the remaining tortillas.

Put tacos in oven for 15 minutes until they are just starting to crisp up. While they are in the oven you can throw together the slaw.

3. Lime cilantro slaw

Grab a small and medium sized bowl and the following ingredients:
1/2 head green cabbage, shredded
1/2 cup cilantro leaves, chopped coursely, large stems removed
1 lime
olive oil
Salt and Pepper

Squeeze the juice of 1 lime into a small bowl (or even a little jar). Whisk in an equal amount of olive oil, then salt and pepper to taste (about 1/2 teaspoon of each).

Toss together the cabbage and chopped cilantro in your medium bowl. Add about one half of the dressing and toss again. You may add more if you feel it is too dry.

Take the tacos out of the oven and plate up a couple of tacos, a large scoop of black beans and the slaw on the side. Garnish the tacos with whatever you have on hand: a few sprigs of cilantro, some extra cheese, black olives... And enjoy!