Maximizing Menu Development

Photography by Cathy Nelson Arkle

Today’s class is about menu development.  After all our weeks of training, Chef Carol Cotner Thompson thought we were now ready to be creative and experiment. Scary for me because I want a recipe as my security blanket, but this how we learn.

Once you have a good handle on cooking techniques, different cuisines, and which foods and spices work together, creativity can take your dishes to a whole new level. Here are some tips to help make you look like a pro.

Three Tips for Maximizing Meal Planning

  1. Make sure flavors complement, not compete.
    Any single item now becomes part of a group when you menu plan.  Understanding how ingredients’ flavors relate to one another is a great place to start.  A good resource is “The Flavor Bible.”
  2.  Don’t overdo any one item.
    If your appetizer has garlic, use onions or leeks in your entrée. Too much of a good thing can be bad.
  3.  Keep it simple.
    Limit the number of ingredients per dish. This helps create balance and harmony throughout your entire meal.

Class Assignment

Each student was given a tray of varying items. Our job was to create a complete meal, including dessert.

Photography by Cathy Nelson ArklePhotography by Cathy Nelson Arkle

My tray items were carrots, leeks, arugula and albacore. My first thought was to make the albacore with Asian flavors, but Chef Carol encouraged me to expand my thinking. She suggested utilizing it in a Mediterranean theme with a side of salsa verde, topped with deep-fried leeks. That left me with deciding what to do for dessert.

photography by Cathy Nelson ArklePhotography by Cathy Nelson Arkle
My favorite desserts have fruit, but my tray was fruitless.  That left me with eggs, cream, sugar and flour. I was fruitless and clueless. Chef Carol to the rescue again, with a suggestion that I make flan.

Fabulous, until I found out it includes making caramel. Oh no, the one thing I continually screw up! Carol reassured me, and then watched like a mother hen to ensure my success.  It’s all about the timing, color and not stirring.

photography by Cathy Nelson Arkle Photography by cathy nelson arkle
I was so delighted with my flan, even though it isn’t the prettiest.  For a seasonal flan recipe, check out fellow blogger’s Pumpkin-Orange Flan.

Cathy Nelson Arkle photographyPhotography by Cathy Nelson ArkleFor my main dish – pan-seared albacore and deep-fried leek rings dredged in flour.

Photography by Cathy Nelson Arkle

I also roasted carrots to go with my arugula salad, and dressed with a light herbal vinaigrette.

Across the room, Rona was busy making pork medallions with caramelized onions and beet ice cream!

cathy Nelson Arkle photographyCathy Nelson Arkle photography
Chef Carol shows Rona how to stack her food for presentation. This is an art form all to itself. I will need more classes to perfect my food styling.

photography by cathy nelson arkle
Check out Rona’s blog for her story and recipe.

Here are a few other dishes that were created that day.
Cathy Nelson Arkle photography Cathy Nelson Arkle PhotographySalmon with Carrots / Stuffed Pork Tenderloin with Kale

Today’s Recipe

This is a very easy meal to make. If you can’t find leeks, shallots are a fun substitute.

Albacore with Deep-Fried Leeks and Salsa Verde
Recipe type: main
Serves: 4
  • 2 tuna steaks (each 5 to 6 oz. and about 1 in. thick)
  • Salt & Pepper for seasoning
Deep-Fried Leeks
  • peanut or vegetable oil (for deep frying)
  • 2 large leeks (All of the white part and 1-inch of the green, cut crosswise into ⅛" rings, separated then cleaned)
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • fine sea salt
Salsa Verde
  • ½ bunch mint leaves
  • 2 bunches Italian parsley (leaves only)
  • 4 scallions
  • 6 anchovy fillets
  • 3 T capers
  • Zest from 1 lemon
  • 2 T red wine vinegar
  • 4 T extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper
Deep-Fried Leeks
  1. In a medium sauce pot heat a couple of inches of oil to 350 degrees F.
  2. Dust leeks in flour and fry until golden brown, about 30 seconds. Drain on a paper towel, season with sea salt.
Salsa Verde
  1. Chop all of the ingredients finely and mix together. Season to taste.
  1. Rinse fish and pat dry. Coat both sides of steaks with oil and season with salt and pepper.
  2. Heat a 10- to 12-inch nonstick frying pan over high heat; add fish and cook, turning once, until opaque on both sides but still pink in the center (cut to test), 4 to 6 minutes total.
  3. Transfer steaks to plates, top with fried leeks and serve with salsa verde.

Quote of the Week

“Flops are a part of life’s menu, and I’ve never been a girl to miss out on any of the courses.”  – Rosalind Russell

Failures in the kitchen lead to great and inspiring successes.
…and then she paused for thought.

Rona Lewis and Cathy ArkleHope you have enjoyed our adventure in the culinary classroom. This was my last class of the Pro 2 Series.

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




14 thoughts on “Maximizing Menu Development

  1. Nan

    I’m so impressed! I too rely on the recipe as a security blanket. Great job! I look forward to reading more about your explorations in the kitchen.

  2. Alice Muradyan

    I don’t know what you are talking about! That is the best looking flan ever!!! I can tell by looking at it that the texture and flavor are perfect!!! Everything else looks amazing too! Way to go C!

  3. Rona Lewis

    This, more than any class got me to think differently about food as art-balance, textures and flavors are how we paint the picture. Since art is subjective, there is no ‘perfect’ way to do it! Makes it more fun!

  4. Cheri Cameron Newell

    Wow… given raw foods then having to come up with a recipe… that would scare anybody!!! You did it beautifully! Thanks for the comment about overdoing a seasoning like garlic or cilantro! When I get into a spice… everything is seasoned with my passion for the moment!!!

  5. Pingback: Kale and Quinoa Salad | She Paused 4 Thought

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