Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Mahogany Wild Rice Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette

This is an excellent side for grilled fish or chicken, or add tofu for a complete meal.

1/2 c. wild rice, cooked and chilled
1/2 c. grape tomatoes halved
1/2 c. cucumber slice and peeled
1/2 c. scallions, thinly sliced
1/3 c. olive oil
1/4 c. lemon juice
2 tsp. fresh parsley leaves
1/4 tsp. pepper

1. Cook wild rice according to package directions and allow to cool.

2. Whisk together oil, lemon juice, parsley salt and pepper in salad bowl. Add tomatoes, cucumbers, scallions and rice.

3. Stir gently to combine all ingredients.

4. Allow to sit and chill for at least 10 minutes. Serve chilled or room temperature.

That Cookbook You've Been Putting Off...

Attention all cooks and chefs:

I know you've been toying w/ the idea of putting together a cookbook. And either you're too busy, too over-committed, intimidated or lazy (or some combination of the four) to get it done.

I've found a gorgeous, inexpensive, professional looking alternative to doing all of the work yourself. It's called TasteBook.

I just started mine last night with only one recipe, but it was enough for me to see that this could be a great gift, family heirloom, or goldmine in the right hands. Check it out here: My First TasteBook

So get all your recipes and/or photos together (don't have photos? they'll provide some gorgeous food shots) and get busy making your first cookbook happen. No more excuses.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Shop & Cook Meal Planning Class this Saturday!

This class has been in high demand for some time now, so DON'T MISS OUT!

The Shop & Cook class will show you how to:
* quickly and efficiently plan your week's shopping and meals
* shop like a pro with minimal waste and optimal flavor and nutrition
* prepare a meal for immediate consumption, prep a meal for quick assembly later in the week, and prepare a frozen meal to be eaten at your convenience
* support a healthful diet by stocking your pantry and freezer
* use many more time saving tips that will help keep you eating well!

Whether you're cooking for yourself or a family of five, this is THE class you've been waiting for. Make shopping a breeze, and drop the burden answering of "what's for dinner?" with this Life Chef Shop & Cook session!

This is healthful and time-saving information you will use again and again and again!

This class will meet to for the "Shop" part of the class at the Publix at East Lake at 10 a.m. and retreat just up the street to the Youth Cafe at Saint Philip AME Church for the "Cook" part of the class.

Don't miss this class! For more information, call 404-513-6468. This class is from 10 a.m. - noon, Saturday Sept. 23, 2008. The class is $15 per person, with a seniors' discount for people over 55 years old.

Publix at East Lake
2235 Glenwood Ave SE
Atlanta, GA 30316-2319

Saint Philip A.M.E.
240 Candler Road
Atlanta, GA 30317
The Natural Foods Series continues at Sevananda Natural Foods Co-Op on Oct. 1 with Natural Foods 102: Food as Medicine. Come learn more about the healthful properties of food as we discuss some of the latest findings in science and medicine that support a natural foods diet. Taste for yourself how good "medicine" can be!

This class is from 10 a.m. to noon, at Sevananda Natural Foods Co-Op. As a community service venture, this staff training class has opened to the public for $10. Please pay at customer service and proceed downstairs to the classroom.

Women's Wellness Workshop

Womens' Wellness Workshop
Saturday October 11, 11:30 a.m. - 1:30 p.m.
This cooking demonstration and wellness workshop discusses various illnesses affecting women at all stages of life.

Learn how certain foods, herbs and spices can positively affect your mood and fight illness and the side affects of disease.

In addition to taste-testing different foods, you will walk away with screening information and resources to assist you with identifying and managing disease and illness.

The presenters for this workshop are Staycee Benjamin-Stone, a preventive care specialist from Kaiser Permenente; and Asata Reid from Life Chef.

AYM Fitness and Dance Studios is located at 4051 Stone Mountain Hwy, Suite G101B in Lilburn, GA 30047 in the Publix Shopping Plaza at the intersection of Hwy 78 & Killian Hill Road. For more info call 770.921.5424.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Women's Wellness Workshop

Hey folks!
I wanted to let you know about this fantastic workshop that's coming up in October. I hope to see you there!

Womens' Wellness Workshop
Saturday October 11, 11:30 a.m. - 1:30 p.m.

This cooking demonstration and wellness workshop discusses various illnesses affecting women at all stages of life.

Learn how certain foods, herbs and spices can positively affect your mood and fight illness and the side affects of disease.

In addition to taste-testing different foods, you will walk away with screening information and resources to assist you with identifying and managing disease and illness.

The presenters for this workshop are Staycee Benjamin-Stone, a preventive care specialist from Kaiser Permenente; and Asata Reid from Life Chef.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Griled Stone Fruits with Balsamic Glaze & Vanilla Ice Cream

Talk about flexible! This dessert can be remade any number of ways. Stone fruits are fruits with a pit: plums, apricots, peaches, pluots. But pears or apples are any number of semi-firm fruits could work in this dessert. Even grapefruit!

And what a great way to use fruit toward the end of BBQ Season. Of course if the weather is nasty, you can always grill the fruit on a grill pan, in a pan or on a griddle.

Just remember the secret ingredient: butter. Yep, good old fashioned butter will give you a nicer carmelization that oil, in my humble opinion, but using oil or even cooking spray will still get the job done.

For this desert I used apricots, plums and pluots (cross between a plum and an apricot), about 4 each. That could serve anywhere about form 4-12 people depending on how you dish it up.

Grilled Stone Fruits with Balsamic Glaze & Vanilla Ice Cream
12 pieces of fruit, pitted and halved
butter, oil or cooking spray
10-12 oz of balsimaic vinegar
2 Tbsp raw sugar
1 generous pinch of black pepper

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Plantain Fritters

This was a fun recipe using deep frying "technique." We went at it blindly, without any research as if plantain fritters had never been made before. We also had a specific flavor profile in mind: mojo. The goal was to blend the starchy sweetness of the plantains with the citrusy tang and garlicky pungency of mojo -- a marinade associated with yummy Cuban flavors. Usually plantain get a sweet treatment, versus savory, with the addition of cinnamon, sugar, allspice and the like. We relied on some garam masala, cumin, cayenne, tons of garlic, fresh onion and lime juice to give these fritters zing, spice and depth of flavor.

We went to the DeKalb Farmer's Market and gathered 4 plantain -- a cousin of the banana -- from the bottom of the pile. While they looked a little bruised and dingy yellow, I thought they were the perfect ripeness for these fritters. As plantain ripen, they darken and the black plantains that would get tossed if they were bananas are the sweetest and softest.

Still, I wanted them to still be fairly starchy -- plantains can be almost potato like when they're barely ripe and at that point they're perfect for tostones, but I wanted to feel them give a bit when I squeezed them so that hopefully the ripening was underway and the sweetness was developing.

Also, after we got started, we learned that most plantain fritter recipes call for cooking the plantain first. We managed to circumvent this step by making small fritters, like bite sized hush puppies, by using a common teaspoon and dropping them into our Fry Daddy to deep fry them until they floated. As a note on technique, they do need to cook on both sides for even frying so be prepared to roll these little boogers over unless you make them really small.

The only other hardware we used was the food processor. If you don't have one, you can make small batches in a blender, or you can probably process this the old fashioned way with a potato masher or grater.

Finally, it was important that the plantain fritters had enough flavor to stand up on their own because they were the side to some Lime Ginger Grilled Amberjack with a salsa fresca. There was no dipping sauce except perhaps for the lime and olive oil drizzle from the salsa. I wanted these fritters to be good enough to eat without a dip or sauce, which would make the simple accouterments of cilantro leaves, sliced onion and a squeeze of fresh lime that more fantastic, fresh and flavorful.

Wow that's a lot of info if you don't know what a plantain is, much less mojo or tostones, so I've put links in along the way for you to learn more. I'm very happy with they way these turned out. We fried up four batches... and ATE four batches. We've stored the remaining batter in the fridge for future use and it seems to hold up well. I recommend freezing it if you're not going to get back to it within three days.

Plantain Fritters
4 medium-ripe plantain, peeled and sliced
6 cloves of garlic, chopped
1/2 medium onion, chopped
juice from 1 1/2 lime
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 Tbsp garam masala
1 tsp cayenne
salt, pepper

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend, stopping occasionally to scrape the sides and incorporate chunks. Blend until a smooth pasty consistency.

Meanwhile heat oil in a fryer or deep pan until 350-375 degrees.

Using a kitchen teaspoon (not a measuring spoon unless you want them that small), carefully drop spoonfulls of batter into the oil. Allow to fry for a couple of minutes then carefully shake your fryer basket or use a spoon to help release the fritters from the bottom of the pan or fryer basket if they happen to stick.

As the fritters begin to float, roll them over so they can cook on both sides. After a total of about 6-7 minutes they should be done.

Remove one from the oil and allow to drain on a plate covered with paper towels. Break it open with a fork (careful it's hot!) and make sure the fritter is cooked. If so remove the remaining batch and allow to drain. If it's not done, continue cooking the fritters another few minutes and adjust your overall cooking time.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Parsley: to stem or not to stem

Thanks to Robert-Gilles, a Frenchman living in Japan (oh we MUST talk!), I'm reminded that I meant to address the use of pretty much the entire parsley bunch in my latest video. A pop up, well pops up, that addresses whether or not you should stem parley. By "stemming" it I mean picking the leaves off of the stems before cutting up the herb. If you've watched the video then you know I didn't stem the part I used.

I say this as a golden rule above all others when cooking: use your instincts. Follow that with your senses: sight, smell, taste, texture. And finalize your decision through the filter of common sense. That applies to every dish, every time. But back to the parsley...

This bunch of Italian (flat leaf) parsley was very verdant and lovely. The leaves burst forth virtually from the base of the bunch, and it wasn't long or "leggy" which herbs tend to be as they grow older. In other words, this was a fresh, young bunch of parsley and it had an amazing color and aroma. I remember it made a distinct impression while I was cutting it, and I am soooo tempted to attribute the perfection of this parsley to its ORGANIC origins. You'll notice that I diced it up pretty fine, although I was aware that in a dish like this, the crunch from tiny bits of stem would actually be a welcomed contrasting texture, and made the conscious decision to utilize both the leaves and the stem up to the point where the leaves began to grow out. That was my choice, and tasting the dish, I'm happy with it.

When NOT to stem:
Thinking holistically, and in the vein of minimizing waste, using the entire herb is a no-brainer. Also from the Food as Medicine stream, we benefit from ingesting as much of an edible herb as possible, and in the case of parsley, as often as possible. Some herbs and plants have tender stems up where the leaves are, and you'll find this in baby or young greens as well. I don't necessary stem or "vein" my young turnips or kale. Depending on the dish, I don't always stem basil up at the very top where the tiny leaves make florettes (I admit that I enjoy eating basil florettes, though everyone might not). Again, this is one of those choices that comes from knowing your ingredients, knowing the outcome that you're shooting for, and using your senses (including the common one) to determine your next move.

Still as a professional chef, I gotta tell you, there are times when you won't want to use the entire herb.

When to stem:
~If you're making a dish that doesn't benefit from texture, then definitely stem your parsley. Also be sure to cut a very fine dice or perhaps even a chiffonade if you're going to circumvent the dare-I-say? toughness that parsley can bring to the dish.
~If you have a good use for the stems, like say you're making some stock or soup in the very near future, or you plan to steep the stems like tea for a medicinal concoction.
~If you're making a garnish or something where the chopped up stems will be visible and therefore a distraction to the eye. Of course now we're getting into Food as Art instead of Food as Medicine, the latter of which would encourage you to eat the entire plant for the most health benefits. The aesthetics of what you eat is very important, or can be if you allow yourself to really enjoy your food. This is when food starts to get decadent!
~If you are making a shi-shi frou-frou dish and having hoity toity guests over to eat it. They WILL notice your parsley stems and will think you are either lazy or ignorant for not having the sense to pick your parsley. Which leads me to the last reason (said in jest)...
~If you are working for a French-trained chef. They pick everything. Thyme, parsley, chervil. You got it? You pick it! And you do it quickly and right the first time, and with nothing more than a "Oui chef! Right away chef!" and a skip in your clogs to get it done.

So there you have it folks! The much-longer-than-I-intended answer to whether or not you should pick your parsley. And lest you think I'm being too serious about my food (let's face it, food is what I DO) let me leave you with this thought: You can pick your parsley, and you can pick your nose, but you can't wipe your parsley on the couch!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Kids Can Cook: Roasted Duck Dinner

I'm sure you're well over the "What's for Dinner?" question. I know I've had days where absolutely NOTHING came to mind and I've had to fight the urge to turn to Chef Boyardee. On this particular day though, I drove to the DeKalb Farmers Market with the kids and said, "Pick out something you've never had before." Well that was fun because we ended up with this restaurant quality menu feeding a family of five, for a grand total of $35:

Roasted duck a la pluot with roasted purple and fingerling potatoes and soy glazed long beans.

Sounds fancy, but tasted fantastic. The kids helped with all of the prep and they were talking about this wonderful meal for days to come.

First we "brined" the duck by giving it a salt water bath while we did all the prep. Then we picked the thyme and marjoram from the stem, a perfect job for little 6 year old fingers, as was cutting the tips off of the long beans.

Next we sliced the potatoes into 1" in pieces, something you can definitely trust a 13 year old to do. He also peeled and smashed a couple cloves of garlic (OK more like 6) and peeled and quartered pearl onions. While the kids took care of that portion of the meal, I peeled the pluots (a cross between a plum and an apricot) and put them in a pot with ginger, cinnamon, allspice and touch of turbinado sugar. A lot of spices, but I used a very light hand for each of them.

Now we didn't actually COOK anything up to this point because we had to go get our three year old from daycare. So once we got back, I rinsed the duck, seasoned it with the herbs by sticking them under the skin next to the meat, filled the cavity with a lemon, some garlic cloves and hit the entire bird with fresh black pepper and popped that bad boy in the oven (no need to salt it as it'd been in a salt bath for 3 hours).

Next the potatoes were dressed with a little olive oil, salt pepper and the last of the herbs and they went in after the duck had been in the oven about 30 minutes.

Finally I turned on the pot with the pluots so they could cook down, and heated a large pot of salty water to cook the long beans. Once they were tender, I drained them and dressed them lightly with sesame oil and soy sauce.
Yes they kind of look like long green snakes, but I think that's exactly why the kids like them!

About half of the pluots went on top of the duck during the last 10 minutes in the oven and made a nice fruity glaze over the crispy skin. I saved the rest as a fruity natural topping for toasted waffles or French toast (YUM!)

Was it good? Heck, any time you can get your kids in the kitchen AND get them to eat a meal of whole foods that includes vegetables and "new" foods, you're looking at a success. Not to mention our meal was delicious. That duck carcass looked like a swarm of locusts had picked the bones by the time we were done with it! Who say's kids can't cook?

Stump the Chef: Pine Nuts

I've created the Stump the Chef category because honestly, I get asked questions during classes and seminars that I don't have the answer to, and I'm not so far gone to think I SHOULD know everything. In fact, some of these are down right funny, like this first example -- Pine Nuts -- which seems to be really obvious, but even though I've been using pine nuts for YEARS I never really gave thought as to their source.

Recently at the Healthy Desserts class down in Warm Springs, I got stumped: What are pinenuts? Do they really come from pine trees? Are they indeed a nut?

I'm surprised I didn't know this, but yes, they DO come from pine trees, although they're really seeds, not nuts. Although all pine tree seeds are edible most are too small to make harvesting worthwhile, and most of the varieties we're familiar with come from about 20 different varieties of pine trees. Pine nuts are native to North America, Asia, the Middle East/Mediterranean/North Africa and Europe. American varieties contain less protein than European varieties, but either way all pine nuts contain more protein than any other "common" nut. Asian varieties tend to have more pine flavor, which is all but absent from the seed of the Stone Pine that most cooks are familiar with. For an everything-you-ever-wanted-to-know look at pine nuts click this Wikipedia article.

The harvesting process is interesting and can be messy because you're dealing with unopened pine cones and that sticky tar or "pitch" that comes along with pine trees. Liston Pine Nuts are harvested in Nevada, and they've put out a TON of info about pine nuts, their harvesting and storage with recipes and much more on their website

Pine nuts have a meaty almost creamy texture kind of like a soft cashew but less sweet. They have wonderful mild flavor that is enhanced to a sweet nuttiness when toasted. They have a fairly high oil content so adding them to low fat diet can provide some of that "fat satisfaction" that you may be tempted to acheive from a french fry binge. Instead of reaching for a bag of chips next time you get a salty, fatty craving, top your salad, rice dish or main protein with some toasted pine nuts to give your body what it craves.

If you're allergic to tree nuts, you're probably allergic to pine nuts too. Sorry. They aren't a nut substitute.

Some Life Chef recipes that use pine nuts include Poached Pears with Figs and Greek Yogurt and Summer Greens with Pine Nuts and Lemon.

In many recipes that cause for toasted almonds, pecans or walnuts, try using pine nuts. Store them in the refrigerator if you're not going to use them up immediately. Like many fresh nuts, they can become rancid in warmer temperatures if left out.

I hope that clears up any ambiguity you may have had regarding pine nuts and their uses. I'm still giggling that after all these years I never knew that!

If you have any questions and want to play Stump the Chef feel free to email me. It's a great way for me to keep learning, and a true chef is never "done learnin'."