Jul 27 2011

Summer Mishmash Feast

Published by under Dinner

I never intended to blog about this dinner.


It started innocently enough, with a few items I picked up at the farmer’s market over the weekend but shunned Saturday night in favor of going out to a fancy dinner. No shame.


By the time I did get around to these ingredients, I had to figure out what to do with them. So I pulled a genius move and cooked them all together on the stove. Good thing I went to culinary school!


Seriously, this dinner — a mishmash of corn, squash, shrimp and spicy sausage, paired with a watermelon, feta and heirloom tomato salad — turned out to be delicious. And it wasn’t due to low expectations; you know you’re going to end up with a fantastic meal when it starts with farm-fresh summer ingredients. A few takeaways:

  • Use more paprika. The flavor is actually pretty mild, but it gives all my seafood and veggies a Cajun kick that I adore.
  • Buy a watermelon. As my sister said recently, “Who knew there was so much watermelon in a watermelon?” It’s the gift that keeps on giving, and will continue all week.
  • Start with pork. Oops, that was the Mississippian in me, not the Californian. But it makes everything taste amazing, and in small quantities like these, you needn’t worry about a heart attack.



Corn & Squash Mishmash with Shrimp

Ingredients (Serves 2 if very hungry after a long run, 3 if normal):

1 spicy sausage (Italian or Andouille)

3 ears corn, stripped from cob

1 large summer squash (zucchini, crookneck, or Gold Rush, as I used), cut into bite-size cubes or half-moons

2 tbsp. sweet paprika, divided

Salt and pepper

1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined

1/2 cup purslane leaves (or any microgreen, such as watercress)

1 tsp. olive oil, plus more if needed


Squeeze sausage out of casing into a large saute pan or Dutch oven. Cook until it begins to turn brown (about 5 minutes), then add corn, squash, 1 tablespoon paprika and salt and pepper to taste. If pan looks dry, add a tablespoon or so of olive oil.


Pat shrimp dry and rub with paprika to cover all sides, then season with salt and pepper. Once squash is tender, after 5 or 10 minutes, add shrimp and saute until pink, about 3 to 4 minutes.


Toss purslane leaves in olive oil. Serve shrimp and corn mixture immediately and top with purslane leaves.


Watermelon, Heirloom Tomato and Feta Salad with Basil

Ingredients (Serves 6):

1 small seedless watermelon

2 heirloom tomatoes (I used yellow), cut in a large 1/2-inch dice

5 oz. feta cheese

1/4 cup packed basil leaves, cut in a chiffonade

3 tbsp. red wine vinegar

3 tbsp. olive oil

Sea salt and pepper

Remove the rind from the watermelon and cut into 1-inch cubes. Combine watermelon cubes and tomato in a large bowl and crumble feta on top. Add basil strips and drizzle with vinegar and olive oil. Toss well. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside for at least 1 hour before serving to allow the flavors to combine.

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Jul 24 2011

Just a Lazy Saturday

Published by under Entertaining

Never underestimate the power of suggestion.


My sous-chef and I were leisurely walking through the Saturday morning farmer’s market at the San Francisco Ferry Building, peach juices sticking to our cheeks, when a stem of dark green leaves caught my eye. Or, to be more accurate, the sign above it, which read, “Mojito Mint.”


Since the sous has been migrating his after-dinner sipping from whiskey to rum lately, I knew he had a bottle of the good stuff at home. And I promptly declared that we should pick up some limes from the grocery store and spend our afternoon making mojitos.

Because it’s perfectly acceptable to enjoy two mojitos before 3 pm, right? In a jar, because they’re just so much cuter than tumbler glasses?


Glad it’s not just me.


PS: I never meant for this post to become an advertisement for Appleton Estate… but the sous does insist on this brand.




Ingredients (Makes 2 smallish mojitos):

Juice of 3 limes

3 tbsp. turbinado sugar, plus more for glass rims

1/3 cup packed mint leaves

1 shot rum

1 shot water


Rub juiced limes around the edges of 2 glasses, then dip the tops of the glasses in turbinado sugar (optional).


Combine lime juice, sugar and mint leaves in a bowl and muddle, muddle, muddle. Feel free to wander off and let all the flavors mesh together for a while. Fill the bottoms glasses with lime mixture, then add rum and water. Mint sprigs make lovely garnishes and practical stirrers, but a lime sliver will also add some class.

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Jul 08 2011

The Easiest Summer Dinner Ever

Published by under Dinner


Sometimes I wonder if it’s even fair to post recipes as simple as the one I’m sharing today. So let’s call this one a technique, shall we?


The sous-chef has become a true master of the grill this summer. His bison burgers are truly the Best I’ve Ever Had (hint: add minced garlic and LOTS of cumin), and he can deliver a balsamic-marinated portobella with perfect hatch marks. But the best dish he’s created yet is the one that made me appreciate grilled chicken again. (Thank goodness he put a ring on it, because I’ll be eating well forever.)



Poor chicken, always the protein afterthought — it’s thrown on a salad so we can call it a meal and paired with rich side dishes to mask its blandness. I thought I was over it completely, dismissing it in favor of flavorful vegetables and hearty red meat.


Oh, how I was mistaken.


What chicken needs to succeed is tons of seasoning. I’m no fan of marinating, because who has the time? The solution: smother the chicken in high-quality, whole grain mustard. Just trust me on this one — yes, the mustard bits will burn. And that will be delicious.


After talking to Chefs John Currence and Vishwesh Bhatt of Oxford, Mississippi’s City Grocery group recently inspired me to expand my vegetable grilling horizons, as well. They both swore whole okra took well to the hot flames, and they weren’t kidding; the okra was slime-free and bursting with pleasantly nutty flavor.


Grilled Mustard Chicken with Smoky Whole Okra


Ingredients (Serves 2):

For the chicken:

2 organic chicken breasts (between 3/4 and 1 pound total)

1 tsp. olive oil

2 large cloves garlic, minced (for best results make sure garlic is very fresh and mince finely)

3 heaping tbsp. whole grain mustard (we are partial to Maille Old Style)

2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper (or to taste)

Salt to taste


For the okra:

About 8 whole okra pods

Olive oil

1 tbsp. Spanish smoked paprika

Salt and pepper to taste


Rinse the chicken breasts well with cold water and pat dry with a paper towel. Rub thoroughly with olive oil, garlic, and mustard then sprinkle on a light coating of salt and black pepper. If desired, lightly dust them with a pinch of cayenne pepper for more kick.


Fire up the grill and turn the heat to medium-low, allow the grill to heat for a few minutes. Place the chicken breasts on the grill and cook with the top down for 10 minutes on the first side, then flip and cook for another 5 to 10 minutes, or until there are nice grill marks on both sides and the meat is firm.


While the chicken is cooking, rub the okra with olive oil, paprika, salt and pepper. Place on the grill grate and cook for about 2 minutes, turn onto the opposite side, and cook for another 1 to 2 minutes until you see nice grill marks. Serve both chicken and okra immediately.

One response so far

Jun 15 2011

Spring Has Sprung…

Published by under Dinner

… And you probably thought I missed it! But since March I’ve been working diligently on that other blog that’s taking up a big chunk of my time. Thanks to any readers who haven’t given up on me yet, because my heart will always be here at Liv Bites.


And I can assure you that I’ve been cooking plenty, even if I haven’t always recorded it. I used to think it sounded so smug when chefs would breezily dismiss recipes, claiming they preferred to “just cook” and “make it taste good.” Confession: Since finishing culinary school, that’s exactly what I do. I’m annoyed even typing it, but it’s true that once you know the basic techniques, quantities aren’t so important anymore.

That’s the case with the dish I’m sharing today. But first, I’ve decided since graduating that my assistant should be promoted to sous-chef. Seems fitting, right? Congrats to the sous — I couldn’t do any of it without you.

Anyway, my sous-chef has an unwritten rule when it comes to dining out: If there are braised lamb shanks on the menu, he’s going to order them. No matter the type of cuisine or the restaurant, he’s tried every one he’s come across. And since braising is one technique I’m grateful to have mastered during school, I wanted to see if my simple style could compare to the ones at Mission Beach Cafe he so pines for.

I’ll share a secret, too. You can use the exact same recipe and substitute chicken, pork butt, lamb shoulder or any other tough cut for braising. The same steps and ingredients will work every time. You’d likely be shocked at home bare-bones my kitchen at home is, but if I can recommend any cooking tool, it’s a Le Creuset Dutch Oven. Treat yourself to one of these, please; I owe it my every success.

Oh, and the verdict. These lamb shanks are every bit as delicious and fall-off-the-bone tender as restaurant offerings, but with a home-cooked feel I may even prefer. Root vegetables — and bacon! — can always fulfill the need for comfort food.


Spring Lamb Shanks

Ingredients (Serves 2*):

2 lamb shanks*

2 slices quality bacon, cut into bite-size pieces

1 yellow onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup dry white wine

1 can diced tomatoes

4 cups chicken stock

1 tbsp. chopped thyme

1 bay leaf

4 to 5 radishes, quartered

1 yukon gold potato, cut into 1-inch cubes

1 parsnip, cut into 1-inch cubes

1 turnip, cut into 1-inch cubes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pat lamb shanks dry and season with salt and pepper.

In a large Dutch oven, saute the bacon until crispy. Remove the bacon from the pot with a slotted spoon, reserving the fat.

Turn the heat to high and place lamb shanks in the pot. Let them brown for 2 to 3 minutes and do not move them. When the bottom side has browned, turn and brown on remaining sides.

Remove shanks from the pot and turn the heat to low. Add onion and saute for 5 minutes, or until soft. Add garlic and saute for another 2 to 3 minutes until fragrant. Add wine, tomatoes, stock, thyme and bay leaf to the pot, and gently nestle the shanks back into the pot so they are partially submerged in the liquid. Crank the heat to high until the mixture comes to a boil.

Once it boils, cover the Dutch oven and place in the preheated 350-degree oven. Cook for 1 1/2 hours.

Remove the pot from the oven and add in the root vegetables, making sure they are immersed in the liquid. Place the pot back in the oven and cook for another 1 hour. Serve shanks over couscous or polenta, or alone as a stew in a bowl.

*I had a whole serving of broth and vegetables left over after my sous-chef and I ate these shanks. If you’re cooking 3 shanks, you don’t need to increase the quantities of any other ingredients. If you’re serving 4 (with 4 shanks), you can simply increase the cooking liquid to 5 or 6 cups of stock.

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Mar 14 2011

The 10 Most Important Things I Learned in Cooking School

Published by under Cooking Classes

On Friday I graduated from culinary school after six months of nonstop eating and countless loads of laundry — and having learned more than I ever thought possible.

A guest speaker, the head chef at Acquerello, came to class recently and said something that I may never forget. She said next time you’re feeling bad about your life, think about where you were six weeks ago. And six months ago. And six years before that. Then whatever seems like such a big deal now may start to feel pretty insignificant in the grand scheme of the progress you’ve made.

That idea has never felt more pertinent than it does now, as I realize the treasure that these past six months have been. So now, a look back.

10. It’s Okay to Play with Your Food

It’s no secret that half the fun of fine dining is in the presentation. The French clearly have a sense of humor when it comes to plating, so why shouldn’t the rest of us?

9. Make Your Own Bread and Pasta, and Say Goodbye to Your Therapist

Mix the dough. Let it rise. Knead. Let it rise again. Proof. Score. Bake.

There are so many reasons not to make your own doughs from scratch, starting with: Who has the time? But sometimes you do, and it’s worth the effort. I never feel more at peace than when I’m rolling out sheets of fresh pasta, touching the dough with my fingertips and dusting it with flour.

My instructor always says that the care you take with your food determines the end result. Treat yourself.

8. Waste Not, Eat Bread

In a professional kitchen, you aim to waste nothing. If duck breasts are on the menu, the bones are going in the stock. Butternut squash soup? Garnish with toasted pumpkin seeds. When food is money, professionals learn to be resourceful.

The French use a suspicious amount of bread in their classic dishes, and it’s no coincidence; bread was one thing households always had leftover. Thus, dishes were born to use up stale bread. We all love bread pudding, but there’s a reason recipes call for “day-old” bread.

Judy Rodgers is the brainchild behind Zuni Café‘s famous Whole Roasted Chicken with Bread Salad, a version of which we made in class (above). See those croutons? Rodgers once said she dreamed of writing a cookbook solely devoted to using up leftover bread.

And if you’re not feeling creative, you can always make breadcrumbs. They freeze beautifully.

7. Chocolate Is a Necessity

Few ingredients are more difficult to work with than chocolate.

If chocolate is in the dessert, I can count on some stains. It’s sticky. It seizes if it gets too hot and stays lumpy if too cold. It doesn’t hide mistakes well at all, and it melts at body temperature. Don’t even get me started about making chocolate garnishes.

That said, chocolate has a peculiar way of coating your tongue when you take a bite… And all is forgiven.

6. Don’t Panic: You Can Fix It…

If your soup is too thick, add some stock. If the sauce is too salty, swirl in some butter. If you broke your beurre blanc, bring it back with some cream.

The reality is that short of burning your vegetables or overcooking your meat, it’s hard to ruin a savory dish completely. Seasonings may always be tweaked, and I’ve come to see that cooking is as much about damage control as it is about succeeding the first time around.

5. … That Is, Unless You’re a Pastry Chef

Soufflés, custards and confections aren’t quite as forgiving. Precision is key.

4. Cooking Is a Contact Sport

Fact: When 13 people share 2 small kitchens every day, when they are trying to beat the clock, when they’re all working on different recipes at once… Life can become messy.

Physically messy, of course, when spills are involved, and even dangerous. Come into my school any hour of the day and you’d hear people yelling, “Behind you! Hot pan!” in a frenzy.

Also, this is no home kitchen. Leaving a dirty pan on the stove, keeping a messy station and failing to take out the compost are sins punishable by death (read: severe disapproval).

However, the mental and emotional challenge of constant teamwork is much more rewarding. Few efforts leave me more satisfied than walking away exhausted from a four-person assembly line in which everyone is working deliberately toward the same goal: a perfect plate.

3. Pastries Only Look Sweet

A divide exists between sweet and savory, and the chefs who specialize in each. The savory folks are all about hustle and multitasking, but when it comes to pastry, precision and focus reign supreme.

Don’t be fooled: cake decorating is no, well, piece of cake. It takes a steady hand and an otherworldly confidence not to taint your masterpiece, not to mention an exacting attention to detail. The pastry chefs I’ve met over the past six months are some of the most impressive cooks I’ve had the pleasure to observe.

2. Live to Eat

I honestly believe that the number one thing you can do to make yourself a better cook is to taste, taste again, and then taste again. Add salt and taste again; squeeze a few drops of lemon and taste again. The better you understand how isolated seasonings and ingredients affect the flavor of a dish, the better your palate will become, making you more adept in the kitchen.

Taste everything. Fish mousse, smoked salmon soufflé and beef heart are not a few of my favorite things, to say the least, but I tried them all — and cooked them. I even ordered tripe out at a restaurant, and I might do it again. I tasted 15 dessert soufflés in one day (tough job). This education is just as much about comprehending flavors and textures as it is about learning technique.

Yes, I ate a lot of food, and I enjoyed the vast majority of it. In the end though, you’ll benefit so much more if you step outside your comfort zone and really think about what you’re eating.

1. Just Cook

I could have cried when my instructor told our class we wouldn’t be allowed to bring any recipes into the kitchen after Christmas. In reality, that independence was the most valuable thing she ever taught me.

Recipes are guidelines, and in a course like mine they can become a crutch. When I felt like I had no idea what I was doing, I clutched those recipes and read every word.

Keeping them out of sight and out of mind was surprisingly liberating, and it taught me to trust myself. How much white wine do you add to a braising liquid? Try a few glugs. Use your instincts and common sense, have a little faith in yourself, and I promise it will all turn out fine.

And if it doesn’t… See Lesson #6.

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Mar 08 2011

Kitchen Improv

Published by under Cooking Classes,Dinner

I’ve joked before to my classmates that I often feel like I’m a Top Chef contestant at school. We have two minutes left until the main course has to be up, my sauce still hasn’t reduced enough, and I forgot to chop the parsley for garnish. The plates hit the counter not a second too soon, and I see some glaring hole in my masterpiece, like forgetting to add those chopped walnuts I so carefully toasted.

In reality, of course, there is a massive divide between what we do at school and what they do on TV. But last week we were tested with our own Top Chef-style exercise in improvisational cooking — no recipes, and no planning ahead.

My instructor gave us each a scrap of paper with four foods listed on it, and we had to come up with an appetizer and a main course using those ingredients. On TV the ingredients would be something ridiculous like sardines, cake flour, cornflakes and kale, but my combination was much gentler: Chicken Breast, Blood Orange, Beets and Endive.

My appetizer was a Roasted Beet and Goat Cheese Tower with a Picked Herb Salad.

The picture tells you pretty much everything you need to know about how I made that dish. But the main course was more exciting.

A Roasted Chicken Breast with Braised Endives and Blood Oranges, served with a Wild Rice Pilaf.

My rice was undercooked, but I was very happy with how the flavors meshed in this dish. The sweetness of the blood oranges really countered the bitterness of the endive, and I threw a little sautéed pancetta in there for the umami. I kept the chicken simple, seasoning ahead and basting with butter.

The key to wild rice, I’m learning, is that you need much more liquid than you think you do. Don’t be afraid to keep adding more, especially if you want it to cook faster; you can always strain it at the end.

And here’s how we do it.

Roasted Chicken Breasts with Braised Endives, Blood Oranges and Wild Rice


3 tbsp. butter, divided

1 shallot, minced

1 cup wild rice

4 cups chicken stock

2 chicken breasts, skin on

Salt and pepper

4 oz. pancetta, diced

4 Belgian endives, stem end trimmed and quartered

2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar

2 tbsp. blood orange juice

3 blood oranges, segmented

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Melt 1 tbsp. of butter in a medium saucepan, and add shallots. Sauté for 3 to 5 minutes until soft, then add the wild rice. Cook rice for another minute, and then add stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, and cook covered for 1.5 hours or until tender. If mixture is has too much liquid, drain in a colander before serving.

Season chicken breasts with salt and pepper in a roasting pan and dot with remaining 2 tbsp. of butter. Roast in the oven for 45 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 150 degrees, basting twice. Remove from oven and let rest.

While the chicken is cooking, sauté the pancetta in a large sauté pan until crispy, about 7 to 8 minutes. Remove and set aside, reserving the fat.

Heat the same pan with pancetta fat and place endive slices in the bottom of the pan. Brown over medium-high heat, adding more oil if necessary. Flip the endives so that each side attains a golden brown color. Transfer pan into oven with chicken and cook another 5 minutes, or until endives are soft.

Remove endives from oven and add in balsamic vinegar, blood orange juice and blood orange segments. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Cut chicken breasts in half and serve with endive mixture and wild rice.

3 responses so far

Mar 06 2011

Breakfast of Champions

Published by under Brunch,Cooking Classes

Anyone who’s been lucky enough to spend time in Paris knows that nothing compares to a flaky croissant first thing in the morning. No butter, no jam. No honey. Just a shot of espresso and a spoiled smile.

Early on in my cooking career I naively thought to myself, “Wouldn’t it be special to whip up some of my own croissants?” I consulted a few recipes and quickly threw that idea on the back burner. Any recipe that begins Friday evening and doesn’t deliver any goods until Sunday morning isn’t going to find its way into my kitchen. Before starting school, I never counted patience among my virtues.

Fortunately, the last third of my culinary education has been largely dominated by laminated doughs — the ones with ultra-thin layers of butter and bread dough that create the flakes we so long for. First we made puff pastry, the simplest; then croissants, a richer dough; and finally Danish pastry, the sweetest and most American of them all.

And in reality, none of these are that tough or time-consuming to make (isn’t that always the lesson here?) Croissants take about an hour and a half, and then you can throw them in the fridge and bake them off the next morning. And if you’re like me, they’re quite fun to roll up.

An empty Danish is your blank slate. Fill it with cream cheese, lemon curd, jam, or dust it with cinnamon sugar. Just consult the door of your refrigerator and be your own guide.

Croissants, however, have rules. You have two options when it comes to this dough, and they are Croissants and Pain au Chocolat (with a small amount of dark chocolate tucked inside). Don’t even think about trying any creative shapes or smearing on — gasp! — Nutella.

Because as we know, the French have a very particular way of doing things, and it’s best not to mess with it.

And for the Americans… we can have sugar for breakfast.

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Feb 25 2011

Perfect Pairings

Published by under Cooking Classes,Entertaining

I love wine. And I especially love drinking wine accompanied by a multi-course dinner prepared with love. I know what I like and what I don’t — but my understanding of the objective aspect of pairings is admittedly limited. And I never drink white wine with fish, choosing instead to believe that a dry Pinot works just as well (just let me have this one).

Enter Burke Owens, a Master Sommelier who came into class to educate us on the art of food and wine pairing. First, we were given a plate of a variety of food flavors.

Starting at the top and moving right: lemon, fennel, asiago cheese, soft Brie-like cheese, salt, chocolate, tarragon, mint, deli turkey and salami. On the inside, carrot slices and a little pile of ketchup (which was met with disdain by my classmates, but I still love it).

On the wine side, we sipped Prosecco, Riesling, Chardonnay, Beaujolais, Cabernet Sauvignon, and a white dessert wine.

Although our instructor emphasized along the way how subjective tasting and pairing really is, I found that the majority of us agreed on what worked and what didn’t. We tried each wine with a taste of each food flavor, focusing on how they interacted with one another. Sometimes the food enhanced the wine but the wine completely overpowered the food, and sometimes they brought out the best qualities in each other. It’s amazing what you can pick up on when you’re really paying attention; I had a few “wow” moments after some of the most effective pairings that I’ve never experienced before.

The Chardonnay brought out the beautifully herbal quality of the tarragon. The salami benefited from the sweetness of the Riesling. The turkey was a perfect match with the Beaujolais, and — no surprises here — Cabernet tastes really good with all cheeses. And chocolate.

The best pairing came at the very end, when we brought out some foie gras to taste with the dessert wine. The sweetness of the wine cuts the oiliness of the meat, and I had a true “aha!” moment that may have even caused me to close my eyes. Please try this heavenly combination at your earliest convenience.

Some interesting takeaways:

  • Sometimes it’s better to skip the wine pairings you see added to prix fixe menus. According to Owens, restaurants generally stick with mid-level wines that don’t challenge the courses much, because they really want the food to stand out.
  • On that note, pairings can be complementary or contrasting, meaning the wines can either be similar in flavor/texture/complexity to the foods, or they can be opposites that attract. In general, we found that highly processed food like salami or aged cheese generally tasted better with a highly processed wine, or one that was aged in oak.
  • Alcohol has no aroma or flavor, but it does enhance or suffuse other flavors. That’s why the presence of the alcohol in wine can change the effect of the grapes and the food you’re pairing it with.

These foods we tasted are so common that there’s no reason you couldn’t try a similar experiment in your own home with whatever wines you have lying around. However, things can get a little rowdy after two-and-a-half hours of said investigations. Consider yourself warned.

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Feb 23 2011

Fantasy Restaurant

Published by under Cooking Classes,Dinner,Entertaining

I mentioned in my last post that my classmates and I each had to come up with our own full restaurant menu for a recent assignment. Now you know all about the Rabbit and Wild Mushroom Ragout, but I thought it might be fun to post the rest of my fantasy restaurant items. Think of it like fantasy football for the athletically challenged.


Roasted Carrot Soup

Ginger Crème Fraiche, Chives, Olive Oil

Chanterelle Mushroom Flatbread

Caramelized Onions, Sage, Parmigiano Reggiano

Blood Orange and Shaved Fennel Salad

Goat Cheese, Pistachios, Blood Orange-Balsamic Vinaigrette

Dungeness Crab Claws

Celery Stalks, Anchovy Butter


Rabbit and Wild Mushroom Ragout

Grilled Polenta Cake, Broccolini

Grilled Pork Tenderloin

Mustard Cream Sauce, Wilted Mustard Greens, Fontina Risotto

Roasted Stuffed Acorn Squash

Wild Rice, Toasted Walnuts, Swiss Chard, Pomegranate-Red Wine Reduction

Pan-Seared Halibut

Black Olive Tapenade, Israeli Couscous, Green Beans

Fennel Braised Lamb Shank

Shiitake Mushrooms, Baby Carrots, Pearl Onions, Toasted Farro

House-Made Tagliatelle

Duck Confit, Sautéed Kale


Lemon Mousse Napoleon

Pomegranate Seeds, Pomegranate-Blackberry Sauce

Dark Chocolate Tart

Hazelnut Crust, Caramel Sauce, Sea Salt

Goat’s Milk Panna Cotta

Blood Orange Sorbet, Cookie Streusel

Espresso Walnut Cake

Crème Fraiche Gelato, Kahlua Reduction

Some of the things you can most definitely look forward to me trying in my own kitchen are the Roasted Carrot Soup (inspired by a similar one at Coco 500) and the Pan-Seared Halibut with Tapenade. My assistant and I actually took our first stab at the Lamb Shank last night, and though it was delicious, I’m holding off for now — there are exciting improvements to be made next time around.

In other good news, I made the Dark Chocolate Tart in class as well. Recipe coming soon!

The only glaringly obvious thing missing from my menu is a restaurant name. Ideas?

2 responses so far

Feb 21 2011

Silly Rabbit

Published by under Cooking Classes,Dinner

Before I started culinary school and thought I knew what I was doing in the kitchen, I used to love posting my own recipes on my blog. For the past six months, I’ve been learning the correct way to do things — the “techniques” — and I’m happy to say I’m having more fun in my own kitchen than ever. The good news is that even if you don’t want to make classic dishes like a fish soufflé or a heavy Bordelaise sauce at home, you can apply the basics to dishes you do want to eat.

In just a few short weeks I will graduate from Tante Marie’s, and I can’t wait to get back to one of my favorite pastimes: recipe development. I started this blog because there’s nothing I’d rather write about more than adventures in the kitchen — and at the dining table.

That’s why I was especially excited to learn of our latest challenge in class. A couple of weeks ago, my instructor asked each of us to write an entire restaurant menu — complete with four to five appetizers, main courses and desserts — including whatever (cohesive, reasonable) dishes we could dream up. She later announced that we’d each be cooking two of the items from our menu.

I knew immediately which dish I wanted to make: Rabbit and Wild Mushroom Ragout with Grilled Polenta Cake and Broccolini.

The general reaction from my classmates when I announced I had chosen rabbit for this exercise was… dismay. After all, we could make anything we want, and it’s one of the only times we’ve been able to request luxuries like lobster, halibut and beef tenderloin.

But when I was home over Christmas, my dad happened to have a rabbit in his freezer ready to thaw. (He buys a lot of meat he can’t get in the Jackson, Mississippi supermarket online.) Thinking of the braising techniques I’d learned in class, I suggested slow-cooking the rabbit with polenta for dinner, and my father jumped at the idea. I did it without a recipe, inspired by other dishes we’d made at school, and I was positively triumphant when, after eating slowly and quietly, my dad pronounced the dish “restaurant quality.”

This was coming from a guy whose favorite restaurant is Gary Danko. I beamed.

Rabbit and Wild Mushroom Ragout with Grilled Polenta Cake and Broccolini

For the rabbit:
1/2 oz. dried porcini mushrooms
1 rabbit, cleaned and cut into 6 to 7 pieces
2 oz. pancetta, diced 1/4-inch thick
3 tbsp. olive oil, plus more as needed
1/2 cup onion, diced 1/4-inch thick (about 1/2 an onion)
1 large carrot, peeled and diced 1/4-inch thick
1 celery stalk, diced 1/4-inch thick
1/3 cup dry white wine
2 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 14.5 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 bouquet garni, made of a few sprigs of parsley, bay leaf and sprigs of thyme
3 1/2 oz. chanterelle mushrooms, or any wild mushrooms
Salt and pepper

For the polenta cake:
1 cup dried polenta
Salt and pepper
Olive oil, if necessary

For the broccolini:
1 bunch broccolini
1 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. olive oil
Salt and pepper

For the rabbit:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Add enough hot water to cover the dried mushrooms in a small bowl and set aside to soak.
Season the rabbit pieces with salt and pepper and set aside.
Sauté pancetta in a Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot until crispy but still soft, about 5 minutes. Remove the pancetta from the pan and set aside, reserving the fat.
Add one tablespoon of olive oil to the Dutch oven and add the rabbit pieces in batches, taking care not to crowd the pan. Cook each piece for 2 to 3 minutes on each side, until the skin begins to turn golden brown. Remove the rabbit pieces from the pan and set aside.
Add another tablespoon of oil to the pan and sauté onion until soft, around 10 to 12 minutes. Add carrot and celery and cook another 10 minutes, until all vegetables are tender. Return rabbit pieces to the pot, along with wine, chicken stock, tomatoes and bouquet garni.
Bring the mixture to a boil on the stove, then cover the pot and let it simmer in the oven for 45 minutes.
While the rabbit is cooking, roughly chop the chanterelle mushrooms and cook them in a sauté pan on high heat to release their moisture. Then add a tablespoon of olive oil and sauté until tender, about 5 to 7 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Remove rabbit braise from oven, and remove the rabbit pieces from the pot onto a large plate or bowl. Allow rabbit to rest until it is cool enough to handle, then shred the meat from the bones in bite-size pieces and set aside.
Strain the dried mushrooms, reserving the soaking liquid. Add the soaking liquid to the pot.
Return the braising liquid to the stove and bring to a boil, reducing the mixture by half. Once it has thickened, remove the bouquet garni. Add the shredded rabbit meat and sautéed chanterelle mushrooms, and season the mixture with salt and pepper to taste.

For the polenta cake:
In a large saucepan, add the dried polenta and 4 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then simmer until the mixture is thick, and season with salt and pepper.
Spread the cooked polenta onto a quarter sheet pan or other pan that is at least 1 inch tall and long enough to fit the polenta. Let it cool completely.
Meanwhile, heat a grill pan on the stove until very hot. Cut polenta into squares about 2 inches long and wide. Cook the polenta squares on the grill pan until they have nice grill marks, spraying the pan with oil if necessary to prevent sticking.

For the broccolini:
Wash and trim ends off of broccolini. Bring enough water to cover the broccolini (about 4 cups) to boil in a large saucepan. Add broccolini to the pot and let it boil for about 2 to 3 minutes, until it just starts to become tender.
Drain broccolini in a colander, then sauté in butter and oil in a sauté pan for another 5 minutes, until very tender. Season with salt and pepper.
Serve polenta cake with rabbit ragout on top, with broccolini on the side.

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