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Mediterranean Magic

Photo by Cathy Nelson Arkle

Mediterranean cuisine is not the result of a specific culture or ethnic group.  It is more the culinary collaboration of a diverse range of people that live in the Mediterranean Sea region.

The term Mediterranean means “in the middle of earth” or “between lands” as it is between the continents of Africa and Europe. Twenty one countries have a coastline on the Mediterranean Sea. Quite a bit of diversity to explore in one cuisine!

map of mediterranean sea

Our class concentrated on the eastern side of the Mediterranean.

Chef Carol Cotner Thompson began this week’s culinary class by demystifying the term “Mezze” which means, “to eat with pleasure.”  It is the pleasure of savoring little bites of food, accompanied by feelings of peace and serenity.

The Oxnard Companion of Food traces the roots of “Mezze” to Persia, where wine was the center of an emotional and esthetic experience that also included other forms of entertainment, such as food and music. No matter how you define it, mezze is a fabulous idea for enjoying food with friends and family.

Most European food begins on a subtle note, builds with each course, then crescendos to a finale. Not so with Mediterranean food! It starts with a bang.. like if you played the Hallelujah Chorus in reverse. Continue Reading →

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methods & madness… class 12: poultry pt. 2
braising awareness in the kitchen

Braised Moroccan Chicken

Recipes & Ramblings from Chef School

Looking for a meal that is inexpensive, simple and delicious? This week’s classroom technique of braising and stewing makes that possible as it uses inexpensive cuts of meat and cooks an entire meal in one pot.

fryer fresh chicken

Alas, in class I had to cut up a whole chicken again! After hitting the erase button on last week’s experience, Rona graciously walked me through the harrowing procedure again.

To see what I am stewing about click here for Poultry Part 1 )

 

Brilliant Braising

Braising is a cooking technique in which the main ingredient is seared, or browned in fat, and then simmered in liquid on low heat in a covered pot.

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methods & madness…
class 11: poultry pt.1 – chicken in the kitchen

Poussin with Apples, Brandy and Cream
Recipes & Ramblings from Chef School

What comes to mind when you hear the word poultry? Hopefully it’s not chicken McNuggets! Actually, the word poultry refers to any domesticated bird used for human consumption including chicken, duck, goose, ostrich, turkey, pheasant, mute swan and emu.

This week’s blog focuses on chicken because, according to the USDA, chickens are the number one species consumed by Americans. I’m not a contributor to that stat, but after sampling some great recipes from class, I may convert. To understand my sordid past with chickens on the farm, please read my other chicken blog.

This week we learned how to cook your chicken using dry heat methods such as broiling, grilling, roasting, baking, sautéing, pan-frying, and deep-frying.

Something to Crow About

No matter how you cook your chicken, it can be a tasty and nutritious meal. No wonder chicken is the world’s primary source of animal protein. Chicken is also a great source of niacin, protein, vitamin B6 and selenium.  It is low in fat and cholesterol and has no carbs.

Continue Reading →

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methods & madness…

class 8 part 1: legumes, grains & rice

Moroccan Pilaf

PHOTOGRAPHY BY: CATHY NELSON ARKLE

Recipes & Ramblings from Chef School

If I told you we are learning about plants, grasses and seeds in school this week, you might think I took a wrong turn and ended up at a gardening class… not so. We learned about nutritious foods that our ancestors ate. Today’s recipe is a contemporary twist on an old classic.

Loveable Legumes

Legumes are plants with seedpods. The seeds are released by splitting open along two seams. Edible seeds in the legume family include beans, peas, lentils, soybeans, and peanuts. Some seeds are eaten fresh, canned, frozen, dried or as flour.

Legumes are rich in protein, fiber, B vitamins, minerals and disease-fighting phytochemicals, low in sodium as well as gluten free. They are inexpensive, versatile, and have a long shelf life. What more could one want?

To prepare dried legumes

  • Remove stones or shriveled beans.
  • Put in pot with cold water — remove any that float to the top as they are too dry for culinary or nutritional value.
  • Drain and rinse well.

To soak or not to soak 

The culinary jury is still out on this one, but my research says soak.

Benefits

  • Softens skin for more rapid and even cooking
  • Creamier texture
  • Activates enzymes that break down indigestible starches and sugars which are responsible for flatulence as they ferment in your gut producing gas.

Two methods of Soaking

  • Long Soak — Place in pot, add water to cover by 2 inches. Soak in refrigerator four hours or overnight.
  • Short Soak — Place in pot, add water to cover by 2 inches. Bring water to simmer. Remove pot from heat and cover. Let steep for one hour.

Proper cooking techniques would include simmering or steaming.

TIP: Don’t boil legumes, as high heat will make them tough, as will adding salt to your beans while cooking.

black beans and lentils

RECIPES WE MADE IN CLASS: BLACK BEANS & GREEN LENTIL SALAD

Gratifying Grains

Grains are a staple in the diets of cultures around the world and have made an important contribution to daily nutrition since cultivation began around 10,000 B.C.

In their natural state growing in the fields, whole grains are the entire seed of a plant. This seed is made up of three key parts: the bran, the germ and the endosperm.

Whole grains may reduce the risks associated with heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and obesity. Whole grains may be eaten whole, cracked, split or ground. They can be milled into flour or used to make breads, cereals and other foods.

Fun Fact: One of the most popular whole grain foods is popcorn.

quinoa salad and tabouli

RECIPES WE MADE IN CLASS: QUINOA SALAD W/DRIED FRUITS & NUTS & TABOULI

Cereals and Meals

Cereals are grasses whose seeds are used as food grains. Cereal grains are excellent sources of complex carbohydrates, low in fat, and good sources of protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals.

Meals are whole grains that are ground until they have the con­sis­tency of sand.

  • Cereals — wheat, rice, millet, oats, bulgar, barley, maize and rye
  • Meals — grits, polenta, semolina, and cream of rice

Renowned Rice

Rice has fed more people over a longer period of time than any other crop dating back as far as 2500 B.C. Worldwide there are more than 40,000 varieties of rice.

Rice is classified mostly by the size of the grain.

  • Long-grain rice is long and slender. The grains stay separate and fluffy after cooking, so this is the best choice if you want to serve rice as a side dish, or as a bed for sauces.
  • Medium-grain rice is shorter and plumper, and works well in paella and risotto.
  • Short-grain rice is almost round with moist grains that stick together when cooked. It is very starchy and the best choice for rice pudding and sushi.

Most varieties are sold as either brown or white rice, depending upon how they are milled.

Brown rice retains the bran that surrounds the kernel, making it chewier, nuttier, and richer in nutrients. Brown rice takes about twice as long to cook as white rice.

White rice is more tender and delicate, but lacks the bran and germ, hence it’s less nutritious than brown rice.

Wild rice is not really rice at all. Wild rice is a remote relative of white rice, actually a long-grain, aquatic grass. It is richer in protein and other nutrients, and it has a more distinctive and nutty flavor.

Rona covers cooking rice in her blog, click here to check it out.

We also learned about pasta which I have included in a part two of this post.  Click here to read about pasta and a recipe for Potato Gnoochi with Brown Butter Sauce that I made in class. Rona made Basil Pesto on Linguine and Bucatini all’Amatriciana.

basil pesto and spaghetti

Click here to read her post and get the recipes.

Homework Assignment

I was quite mesmerized by the Moroccan Rice Pilaf we ate in class, so that is the recipe I’ll share with you. I served it with  Spice Rubbed Salmon.   

Moroccan Rice Pilaf
Author: 
Recipe type: Side Dish
 
Ingredients
  • 2 tablespoon olive oil
  • ⅓ cup blanched slivered almonds
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 carrot, peeled and cut into ¼ inch dice
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup long grain rice
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • ⅓ cup dried tart cherries
  • minced zest of 1 orange
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 ½ tablespoons snipped fresh chives
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly oil a shallow 1½ quart casserole dish.
  2. Heat the oil in a large skillet, and sauté the almonds over medium heat until they are browned and fragrant, 3 minutes. Stir in the onion, carrot, cinnamon and salt. Cook 3 minutes.
  3. Add the rice and cook, stirring, until translucent.
  4. Stir in the stock, cherries, orange zest and cayenne pepper. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat.
  5. Transfer mixture to the prepared casserole and bake, uncovered until the liquid has been absorbed and rice is tender, about 45 minutes. Sprinkle with chives and serve.
Notes
Cook time: 45 mins - Serves 6

 

“Legumes offer a host of health benefits that make them a  highly sought after, non-animal source of protein.”
– Terry Walters, Clean Food

I am not ready to give up my carnivore nature, but I am willing to participate in the international campaign called Meatless Mondays. Eating more legumes and grains will make the process easier.
…and then she paused for thought

Hope you have enjoyed our adventure in the culinary classroom. Join us each week as we continue learning new culinary skills.

You can also read about Rona’s experience on her blog or What’s Cookin online magazine.

 

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methods & madness… 
recipes & ramblings from the culinary classroom

Thai Style Cabbage Salad with Grilled Shrimp

In the beginning…

As a child growing up on the farm, I remember loving to help my mother in the kitchen. At the wee age of one I was allowed to watch… and learn.  As mom kneaded bread, I played with the dough.  Soon I was baking mud pies in the sun, eventually graduating to edible cakes. My favorite part was food coloring and the creative license that came with it. Purple cake with green frosting, blue cake with magenta frosting…I mean really, why did they print color combinations on the back of the box if I wasn’t supposed to use them?

It has been many years since my cow pie inspired baking days. My inspiration these days come from culinary classrooms. “Hi, my name is Cathy and I am a cooking class junkie.”

Tiring of recreational classes, I recently upped the ante with a 20-week professional chef course at The New School of Cooking.  If you have ever dreamed of taking chef courses, or if you are a closet Food Network fan, I invite you to join my journey.  I will be sharing the adventure with my friend Rona Lewis who has penned two cookbooks.

Class One

I was already stressed after dealing with LA traffic, but quickly relaxed after meeting my fellow chefs in the making. First, we received our white chef coats, along with an explanation of how they worked and why.  I didn’t realize there was so much to this simple garment.  The double-breasted jacket can be buttoned both ways… In case you spill, you can simply cover it up by switching sides… clever! The second order of business, was receiving handouts of rules, regulations and other pertinent, but boring stuff. The real prize was an encyclopedia looking book called The Professional Chef from the Culinary Institute of America. Score!

Parlez vous francais?

I was thrilled to discover a bonus – not only was this a cooking class, but I would be learning French as well since so many cooking terms are taken from the language.  I couldn’t remember them all, let alone spell them.  I am still regretting taking German in college.  Our first term was Mise En Place (meez ahn plahs) “everything in its place”.  It aptly describes the preparation and assembly of all ingredients and equipment prior to cooking.  We learned that a well-organized cook is the basis for a great chef.  Oh dear…I could be in trouble. Continue Reading →

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