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Archive for February, 2012

The Kitchen Counter Cooking School

A "Must Read" for every home cook!

A blend of memoir, cookbook and reality show, Kathleen Flinn’s The Kitchen Counter Cooking School” reminded me how satisfying it can be to cook with nutritious and flavorful ingredients using easy techniques.

She modeled her book after a reality TV show. Flinn had been wondering how to best use her culinary degree. She wanted to motivate, teach and inspire people to cook. Then one evening she tuned into “What Not to Wear.” On the show, participants opened their closets to a fashion expert, who tutored them on how to dress, and transformed them from dowdy to dashing. Using this show as a starting point, Flinn’s idea was to recruit self-identified culinary novices, examine their pantries, refrigerators and freezers, teach them basic cooking techniques, and transform them into “fearless home cooks.”

At first I didn’t see the connection between the two topics. What does dressing have to do with cooking?  However as I thought about it, I realized they share many attributes. We must dress and eat day in and day out. Each requires a budget. And no one wants to waste money on buying the wrong thing. Who among us hasn’t found some garment in the back of a closet or some vegetable in the back of the refrigerator that we’ve forgotten?  I can’t count the times that with good intentions I bought cauliflower or cabbage, only to let it rot in my refrigerator.

Having the basics in your closet helps you put together a stylish look. And the same goes for the kitchen; a pantry and refrigerator stocked with basic ingredients is the first step to creating a flavorful and nutritious meal. 

Dressing attractively causes us to feel good about ourselves. Eating wholesome food does the same. So I see the connection between “What not to wear” and “What not to eat.”

Most of us don’t rely on recipes when it comes to clothes. Personal taste leads us to a particular color, certain accessories and a hip or classic style. We use an intuitive approach to matching colors and combining patterns. However In the kitchen, we seem to have less confidence in our ability. This is what I love about Flinn’s book. She shows us how to put a meal together without a recipe which encourages creativity and makes cooking fun.

If you are looking for ways to reduce your consumption of processed food, eat more nutritiously, cook more creatively and cut your food budget, this book is for you.

Five Take-Aways from “The Kitchen Counter Cooking School.”

  1. Maximize flavor with Flinn’s “flavor splashes,” a blend of a few ingredients from a particular cuisine. For example to make her “Asian Ginger Splash,” blend 2 teaspoons of sesame oil, I teaspoon fresh grated ginger or a couple of pinches of dried ginger, a few squeezes of lime juice and 1 teaspoon of soy sauce. Heat through for 3 minutes. Serve on steamed vegetables.
  2. Save money by making your own bread, soup, sauces and vinaigrette. Buy a whole chicken rather than a package of boneless skinless chicken breasts. One chicken can provide several meals. Use the bones to make chicken stock.
  3. Stop waste by planning meals. Use older foods first. Instead of throwing away that cauliflower that’s looking ‘tired’, add it to home-made soup.
  4. Use leftovers and you will save money and contribute to a better world. According to Flinn, people In the United States throw away about 40% of the food produced for consumption. When that food goes into landfills to rot, it emits methane gas, more toxic than carbon monoxide.
  5. Avoid processed food. Boxed food products, such as Hamburger Helper or Rice-a-Roni, are created “primarily to stimulate consumption.” Maximizing nutrition is an afterthought. Eating simpler foods that are more flavorful, with more fiber and nutrients, means we are satisfied with fewer calories and eat a healthier diet.

I recommend this book to anyone looking for strategies for creating healthy, flavorful, home-cooked meals while saving time and money.

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This is a recipe I created using Kathleen Flinn’s “Fish en Papillote, or Baked in Paper.” Rather than offering exact recipes, Flinn’s approach invites creativity by offering general instructions. Hope you enjoy.

Sole & Asparagus in Parchment

Serves 1

6 ounce Petrale sole fillet

2 asparagus spears, cut diagonally into ¼ inch pieces

1 carrot, julienned (cut in thin sticks)

1/8 cup onion, diced

¼ cup sugar snap peas

½ tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon oregano

Salt and pepper to taste

Juice from half a lemon

 

Preheat oven to 400F

On a 10 by 12 inch sheet of parchment paper, place sole fillet. Drizzle olive oil and lemon juice over fish, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place asparagus, carrots, onion and pea pods on top of fish. Season with salt, pepper and oregano.

Fold parchment paper vertically and make 2 folds, and then twist ends.

Put on baking sheet and place in oven for 20 minutes at 400 F.

Serve with ½ cup quinoa

Serves 1

 

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Cookies on plate for lunch

Coconut Caramel Thumbprint Cookies with Lavender & Sea Salt

The pressure was on. I’d invited a special friend to my home for lunch and wanted everything to be perfect.

Pranee Khruasanit Halvorson loves food and is a talented chef and culinary teacher. She shares her recipes and images on her blog, “Pranee’s Thai Kitchen.”

I tried to imagine what she might like for lunch. Looking for something light, I settled on my favorite Greek salad served with grilled chicken breast and crusty, rustic bread. It’s flavorful and special.

The dessert stumped me until I browsed through an issue of Martha Stewart Living and spotted a recipe for “Coconut Thumbprint Cookies with Salted Caramel.”

I studied this recipe, imagined the flavors and remembered my visit to Lilie Belle Farms in southern Oregon, where I tried a divine candy, Lavender Fleur du Sel Caramels. The combination hit all the right taste notes – sweet, salty with a hint of floral. My memory moved on to Fran’s Chocolates. This Seattle chocolatier puts sea salt on caramels. My favorite variety is Fran’s Gray Salt Caramels.

With my culinary memory working overtime, the cookies Pranee had given me at Christmas came to mind. She had added coconut to create her version of Russian Teacakes and called them “Coconut Teacakes.”  That reminded me how much Pranee loves coconut.

Coconut Caramel cookies won out and Martha Stewart’s recipe became my starting point. Lavender would give these cookies more flavor and personality. I added culinary lavender with the sugar plus lavender extract (from Lavender Wind Farm). After I finished baking the cookies and added the caramel, I sprinkled each cookie with a pinch of culinary lavender along with sea salt. For the culinary lavender, I selected Royal Velvet buds for its floral taste and vivid color. The culinary lavender came from Helvetia Lavender Farm in Oregon.

The doorbell rang as I placed a plate of cookies on the dining room table. Everything was ready. Pranee walked into the dining room and glanced at the cookies. “Mmm, what are those? Is that coconut?” she asked.

Eating with Pranee is fun because she appreciates good food and is curious about flavors. I told her how I’d found this recipe and modified it based on the chocolates I’d tasted. She told me that combining sea salt and caramel made the list of 2012 culinary trends. We chatted nonstop about cooking classes, websites and blogs.

Pranee had brought Mango Tea from Maui.  We sipped tea and praised the winning combination of caramel, coconut, lavender and sea salt. Cheers to cookies, tea and friendship!

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Cookies
Coconut Caramel Thumbpirint Cookies with Lavender & Sea Salt

Coconut Thumbprint Cookies with Lavender &  Fleur de Sel

3 cubes of unsalted butter (12 ounces)

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon dried culinary lavender buds, finely ground

1 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract

¼ teaspoon lavender extract

3 ½ cups all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon table salt

2 large eggs, slightly beaten

12 ounces sweetened flaked coconut

44 small soft caramel candies (12 ounces), such as Kraft

6 tablespoons heavy cream

Large flaky sea salt, such as Maldon or Sel Gris

  1. Preheat oven on 350º. Beat butter and lavender sugar with a mixer on medium speed until pale and fluffy. Then add vanilla and lavender extract.
  2. With mixer on low speed, gradually add flour and salt until combined.
  3. Press dough together in plastic wrap. Then roll into 1 ¼ inch balls, about 1 ounce each.
  4. Dip each ball in beaten egg, the roll in coconut. Place balls on parchment-lined baking sheets, and press an indentation into each with your thumb or with a wooden spoon handle. Bake for 10 minutes.
  5. Then remove baking sheets from oven, and repress indentations. Bake cookies until golden 8 to 10 minutes more. Let cool on wire racks. Repeat with remaining dough.
  6. Remove wrapping on caramels. Place the caramels along with heavy cream in a small saucepan over low heat. Cook, stirring constantly until the caramels are melted and mixture is smooth, about 4 to 6 minutes. Spoon into indentations in cookies, and sprinkle with sea salt and lavender buds. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 days.

Note: You can also freeze these cookies for up to 1 month.

Makes approximately 4 dozen cookies

 

Variations: Instead of coconut, coat cookies with finely chopped walnuts, pecans or almonds. In place of caramel, fill thumbprints with raspberrry or mango jam.

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