BEING A GUEST SPEAKER

I was invited to teach a cooking class on a subject of my choice at “Natural Grocers” in Overland Park, Kansas and last Saturday was the day….and it was such a nice group of people. The facility was really nice too. There is a very large meeting space with a kitchen set up at one end. There is a sink, stove/oven combination, a refrigerator. Just about everything you could want. There is an overhead television so the stovetop is projected on a screen for the audience to see, and a microphone for the speaker to use. Neither of those were working, but then I have never needed help talking loudly, just ask any teacher I ever had in school. THAT was not a problem for me. So I just went au-natural’. When I say they had the necessary equipment I just mean they had a few pieces, but because it is a new store they were lacking in some kitchen utensils. So I ended up taking all of my own pots, pans, knives, measuring cups, measuring spoons, etc, etc, etc. But because I ended up taking all my own equipment, I decided to keep my menu GLUTEN FREE. And had I used their equipment, I wouldn’t have been able to do that. So my Sous Chef, Wanda Burke, who has been with me for almost 10 years, and believe me she is the best ever, and I set up our own mini-kitchen.

My theme was “TIPS AND TRICK TO HELP YOU COOK AHEAD” . MY recipe was a base recipe of Quinoa with roasted chicken breasts. A lot of people think Quinoa is a grain, but in actuality, it is a seed. It has been around for over 7,000 years. The main crops are grown in the South American countries of Ecuador, Peru, Chili and Argentina. But some is being grown in California and a few other western states in the last few years. The popularity of Quinoa has tripled in this country alone in the last 4 to 5 years. But the popularity has exploded worldwide. It has become so popular that the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has declared 2013 the year of Quinoa. It has also tripled in price. Which has made it difficult to grow enough to export AND still keep enough to subsist on for the local farmers who grow it. And there is also the issue of clearing land to plant more crops that is better left un-cleared. But that is a different subject best left for another time.

There are many colors of quinoa. I tend to like the multi-colored because the red and brown seeds have a nutty, crunchy texture after they are cooked. The beige or off white seeds seem to become quite soft and to me seem mushy. I prefer the darker colors I guess because they don’t seem to lose their body even after reheating or sitting in a dressing of some kind.

Here is a basic recipe that can be changed to include any number of different herbs, spices, meats or vegetables and therefore it turns into a fresh salad, a warm side dish, a stand along main dish; if using all vegetable products and no meats, it is a great vegetarian meal, and it is gluten free by nature.

4 organic chicken breasts, dusted with a fine rice flour that has sea salt, pepper, a good amount of garlic powder, and all purpose seasoning added to it.
1/4 cup olive oil

1 medium onion diced
3 medium carrot, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups chicken stock plus 1 package chicken concentrate such as Better than Bouillon
1 15 oz. can Cannellini beans drained and rinsed or fresh soaked overnight and cooked 1 hour
1 cup frozen corn or fresh cut from the cob
1 cup frozen peas
1/2 cup fresh basil, julienne
3 tbsp thyme, fresh
2 springs fresh parsley
2 tbsp salt free all purpose seasoning

Rinse the Quinoa in a fine mesh drainer. Set aside

Heat the oil to medium heat. Coat the chicken breasts with the rice flour, spanking any extra off.
After a small pinch of flour sizzles in the pan, add the chicken breasts and brown in the oil. Do not turn the breasts until they are turning white around the edges. And resist the urge to move them in the pan as this will cause them to lose their golden brown coating if you move them before they are ready to naturally release themselves because they have developed a coating. Keep warm on a rack and set aside in the oven.

Drain all but 2 – 3 tablespoons of the oil from the pan. Add the onion, carrot, celery and saute until vegetables are beginning to soften. Add the garlic and cook about 5 minutes, do not brown the vegetables. Add the chicken stock and slowly simmer, loosening the fond from the bottom of the pan with a spatula. Add the quinoa and all purpose seasoning. Cover and cook about 12 minutes. Set a timer and at 12 minutes check by taste for texture. Depending on the texture continue to cook as long as 10 more minutes. Add the corn, peas, fresh herbs and all purpose seasoning. Cook about another 5 minutes, long enough for the flavors to combine. Taste for salt and pepper. Correct if needed.

Mound a cup of quinoa on each plate. Place a sliced chicken breast across each mound, top with a sprinkle of extra parsley and serve.

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The best part of growing herbs is eating them

It has been a busy month since I last sat down to write a note. Just one thing right after another. But with all the interruptions the one constant has been my herb garden. It just keeps growing. My basil got so thick I had to cut it yesterday and decided to make a batch of pesto. I love pesto. It is so good on pasta, with chicken, veggies, a big handful of fresh grated cheese and a drizzle of bright pure first pressed olive oil. But it is also good mixed in a little mayo as a sandwich spread, great on a cold pasta salad, good to dress blanched green beans. If you run out of things to use it on it freezes beautifully. Just put it in a plastic bag and get all the air out of it, fold it over, and it will freeze really well.

 

You need– 3 cloves garlic, 1 cup parmesan cheese, 1/3 pine nuts toasted , washed and sorted basil about 2 cups, 1/2 olive oil and additional to cover top of pesto in container, salt and pepper to taste. All this is gently pulsed in a food processor and voila’ you have PESTO.

{One little note, if you can’t find Italian Pine nuts (versus ones imported from China) you can use almonds. The reason I mention this is there is some thought that there is a thing called “pine nut taint” that affects ones taste buds after consuming pine nuts sourced from China. You can do a search on it for further information and form your own opinion, but I personally try to stay with US sourced pine nuts or Italian sourced nuts. New Mexico is a source for the nuts also. They can be found. And believe me, if you have gotten the toxic taste, you won’t use them again.

Well, until next time, enjoy. If you have time, join me next Saturday at Natural Grocers, in Overland Park, Kansas. for a Cooking Class. Begins at 1pm. First come, first seated. Look forward to seeing you there. Check their web site for details-www.http/naturalgrocers.com

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Things that remind me of Italy

We went to dinner last week with friends, and visited a restaurant that served a dish that always makes me think of Italy. Both because my Italian friends here fix it a lot, but also because it is to be eaten almost everywhere in Italy. Fritto Misto Di Pesce. Of course, when one eats in Europe, the fish and the vegetables that are fried crispy are what is freshest at the market and what is caught that day.

I was absolutely thrilled to walk through the many markets and small stores in each town we visited in Italy. They don’t have large super markets like we do here in the United States. And Europeans don’t ship their food hundreds of miles in a green state, gas it, and then hope for the best as it lays on a store shelf for customers to purchase. They eat what is harvested in season, close to their towns. The markets are surrounded with tiny stores of all kinds, specializing in pasta, meats, breads, balsamic vinegars. Just about anything one could wish for. I absolutely wore my eyes and feet out. Of course my husband loved it because I didn’t have a kitchen, so I couldn’t buy one of everything in the market. But just to show him I could buy in bulk, I brought lots of goodies home (shipping is the way to go and the hotels are quite accommodating). We were right across the Grand Canal from the main market in Venice, so a short water taxi ride is all it took to take me straight to heaven so to speak, the Rialto market. And the fish market was right next to that. It was just heaven. I still can close my eyes and transport myself back there.

And the same thing I’d true the Florence. We stayed in a modest hotel very near the main market area in Florence. I could literally walk out my door, turn left, walk two blocks, turn left again, and there before my eyes was a market with everything I could need to have the most wonderful dinner, and it was all so fresh. And stores with all types of merchandise.

Our hotel room in Florence was on the 4th floor overlooking the street. We ate breakfast on the balcony. The buildings are beautiful and quite old and close together. There was a very old lady across the street in a window from us one morning. It was quite easy to see that she had just finished her breakfast and was leaning on her window ledge looking down at the street below. She must have eaten some type cereal, as her bowl appeared to have milk in it and she had a wooden spoon. (Maybe she was making her daily bread or pizza.)

It was quite common to see pigeons on window ledges or balconies (much to the annoyance of our hotel waitress who had a broom battle with three very sly and dodgy fellows near our breakfast table). Well, my neighbor looked up the street, she peered down the street, she very carefully checked below her window, and when she felt the coast was clear she stretched her very old arm out her window and dumped the contents of her bowl out to the birds below on the street. Of course I found that to be hilarious, especially since I wasn’t walking under her window when she hurled her breakfast out for the birds. I often wonder if she is still there, how she is doing and if she is still feeding the birds. Betcha she is……

I would love to go back to Italy. It was so magical. The way of life is slower, I think the people kinder to each other, the pace is not as frantic, people seem to be more interested in each other than in material things. Don’t get me wrong, there in nowhere where people look more beautiful or handsome, it’s just that Italians seem to take time to care for each other more, to take time to appreciate the things they have rather than to always be looking to something in the future that they haven’t achieved yet.

I will go back! That is a promise. And the next trip I will walk slower, sit on a curb and just breath in the air and watch life as it presents itself. I will stay in an apartment where I can cook, and I will take cooking lessons from a Nanna who carries a wooden spoon and feeds the birds.

SUSHI IS– WHAT SUSHI IS!

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I love the weekends when we get a chance to go the our local sushi restaurant to enjoy a few rolls, some Asian BBQ Ribs, maybe a plate of shrimp tempura. I think I just love about everything that they make at Kobe Steak House. Over the 8 years since they opened, we have enjoyed their food almost every weekend. Of course we have favorites, and there are also some new rolls on occasion that strike our fancy.

I enjoy introducing friends to sushi that have never gone there before. If they are afraid it is because their idea of “Sushi” is usually that it is raw fish, which it of course isn’t always. So it gives me a chance to explain that the word “sushi” means the way the rice is prepared, not the fact that some of the seafood is eaten raw. The first time I ate sushi was in San Francisco some 30 years ago. At that time there were few if any sushi restaurants in my small town of Independence, Missouri. There is no way one could have found the ingredients needed to make sushi, at least not locally. Now the components are carried in markets everywhere. I am amazed at how popular edamame have gotten in the midwest. Now I see them in all kinds of food preparations. Even as recent as 10 years ago that just didn’t happen around this part of the country. Talk about a paring, love them with dried cranberries…in a salad. How about crab meat, spinach, deviled eggs, maybe a Louis dressing, edamame, dried cranberries, NEED I SAY MORE?..oh my.

Being this far from both coasts, I find that most foodie trends hit here about 2 to 3 years after they hit the east or west coast. And newer styles and food preparation methods are for the most part slow to become main stream (but we do have some REALLY fantastic restaurants in KC now, ones that can’t be beaten anywhere in the world, like Michael Smith’s two restaurants, my fav I guess is Extra Virgin, and Blue Stem – which is a James Beard award winner and has done Kansas City proud, Story, Jaspers, our list is growing and I am not naming all of the greats in my list of favorites.

But I wander from my sushi. My mind is like a little butterfly when it comes to food. Jumping from one delight to the other. Japanese/Asian/Pacific Rim /Fusion–and it has become a fusion in my poor little brain. There are parts of each regional style food that I totally enjoy eating all at the same time. Thai pot stickers, Yaki Soba – one of my go to comfort foods– miso glaze for salmon, (sake-mirin-plum sauce or brown sugar-miso paste)–also broiled salmon noodle soup.

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Uni – or sea urchin. Not typically one of my favorites, because it is a textural thing more than a taste thing. When we were in Kauai, Hawaii we ate at one of my favorite restaurants in the whole world- “Roy’s”. One course was lobster ravioli with an Uni butter sauce. Wow! What a way to use uni. Every time I see uni I think of Hawaii and that wonderful dinner.

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I am by no means a Sushi purist. I have picked and chosen my favorite gems from all the places I have eaten that serve sushi or a combination of sushi-ish cuisine. It is fun, give it a try. There are lots of rolls that don’t have raw fish. Some don’t have fish at all. Seat yourself at the sushi bar if you can, so you can watch your sushi Chef prepare the rolls.

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Jeffrey the Sushi Chef at Kobe Steak House

MY CAT TOLD ME ” THERE’S A BIRD ON MY WINDOW ”

IMG_0725 THIS REALLY HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH COOKING,

but I just couldn’t help myself.  IMG_0726

It must be spring. There has been a little bird flying up and down my windows for the last three days, quite to the amazement of my cats.  Of course since he is outside and they are inside cats, he is safe and they are amazed.  Maybe even puzzled.  You see, he sits in a tree or on a bannister, just outside one of four windows he has decided belong to him, and periodically swarms the window, lights on the sill and does some kind of primal flying dance up and down the window.  Katie, my brown cat, has definitely decided that it is the challenge of her life and is sure this bird is trying to steal her entire house.  I on the other hand am a little confused.  If the bird thinks it can intimidate the house in to moving out of her territory, shouldn’t it pick on something a little more it’s size?  I am sure it has built a nest near us, and that is the reason for all the scare tactics.

Last year a tiny wren built a nest under our upper deck.  It actually hatched 5 babies, up very close to the house.  Our upper porch is screened, so is the underside of the deck.  Some how she found the tiniest little space to crawl through, built a magnificent nest, and hatched those babies and we didn’t even see her until the babies got out of the nest.  It makes our cats crazy with anticipation but I enjoy seeing these tiny creatures.  It is so fresh and pure, such a beautiful reminder of the way the world is supposed to be.

I especially love to watch the films of people walking down a street or through a park and getting dive bombed by a bird.  I just can’t help myself.  I guess because it isn’t my head getting pecked, I think it’s really funny.  But if this bird in my window won’t let me out my back door, maybe I will re-think how funny I have always thought those films were.  And if my cats never get to take their daily “catnaps” I guess that’s not so funny either.  They have been exhausted each night by the time  Mrs. Birdie finally goes to roost.

THE SALMON ARE HERE

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It’s that time of the year again. The Wild Alaskan Salmon are showing up in the store. I am waiting for Jim Bennett at Costco, my Independence Fish supplier to call me and tell me my case is ready to pick up. I order what I can get, what is available depending on what is being harvested, and then freeze the fillets. That is what we eat all year. I don’t eat farmed salmon, it is not sustainable, it has to have dye added to its food to make the meat red, and it just isn’t something I want to promote.

I like to grill the salmon on a grill pan. It doesn’t take long, and I feel like I can control the degree of doneness better. I use a simple rub– 1/4 cup brown sugar, 1/2 tsp. cumin, 3 tbsp chii powder, 2 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp. dried thyme, 1 tsp. papriika, sea salt and white pepper.

Love Salmon Chowder, Salmon Quesadillas, Salmon Cakes, Salmon Loaf, just about Salmon anything. But if you are new to cooking Salmon, remember, don’t over-cook it. It will be dry and undesirable.

Salmon truly is one of natures gifts. That is why our stewardship of it is so important. For more information on this species and many others check out such sites as Monterey Bay Aquarium’s “Seafood Watch”. You can even print off a handy guide to take with you to help you make wise choices when shopping. There is even a Sushi Guide to help make sushi choices that are good for the environment.

Help make wise choices. Help preserve our oceans and seafood for future generations. It is a worthwhile way to spend a few hours reading about something that can change your life and the lives of those you love. You’ll be glad you did and so will the future…

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Tuesday morning and what has been around the corner

It certainly has been a refreshing (if not somewhat chilly) couple weeks since the last note. The weather has been delightful, frightful, warm, cold, snow, sunshine you name it and we have had it. My poor herbs are so confused they don’t know if they should stick their little heads up or burrow back under the leaves again. But lets try this again, it’s spring in Missouri, so it is time for all the lovely green plants to be brave and hang in there. Actually, this last snow we received doesn’t appear to have harmed anything, but I certainly was surprised, and so were the plants.

When you think of ketchup I bet it isn’t the most exciting thing on your grocery list. I know it didn’t used to be on mine, that is until I met Bruce Steinberg. Bruce is the inventor/brains behind the new condiment (I feel bad calling it a mere condiment it is so much more). There are several flavors, which lend themselves to different types of foods. I have a couple favorites, one being the Black Truffle Ketchup….OK, now if that isn’t special, tell me what is. I mean, does the name just make you think of a hot sizzling steak fresh off the grill, drizzled with wonderful Black Truffle Ketchup. And the best part is, all the work is done, the flavor is there, all I have to do is just pour it on. Two others flavors I really like are the Roasterie Coffee flavor and the Alderwood flavor (salmon anyone, that’s what jumped into my mind the instant I say the Alderwood flavor). But the other 9 flavors bring instant pictures to mind also. What does Lemon Twist or Thai Ginger or Habanero Heat make you think of? Yeah, me too. Makes me hungry just to think of it. Well, they are showing up on store shelves all over the metro, and soon nationwide. Here is the website http://www.finevinesketchup.com. I wish you could taste what the Truffle Ketchup did for my humble T-Bone steak. It was amazing.

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