Sophisticated Savories

Sophisticated Savories

Friday, March 30, 2012

When Life Gives You Lemons…

Lemons Post Zesting!
Hey Family and Friends!

Forget the lemonade… how about lemon bars?  I know, not exactly “good” for you… but delicious.  I have to share this recipe with you!

Lemon Zest
One of my favorite clients who adored anything and everything lemon.  Since he traveled for business, he also ate in world-class restaurants.  I was honored to be the private chef for him and his wonderful family.  Through that experience, I created a plethora of recipes, cooked hundreds of meals and experimented every day in the kitchen with no budget.  I know… a chef’s dream.  Honestly, I had never experimented too much with lemon before working for the family.  After trial and error, I created lemon macaroons, lemon cakes, lemon bars, lemon pies, lemon sorbet (I know… starting to sound like Bubba Gump’s Shrimp Company list…)  I have a few additions to a typical Lemon Bar which enhance the flavor and richness of citrus.  Subtle changes, yet noticeable on one’s palate:

Lemon Bars:     
Easy Recipe. 
Prep Time:  10 min 
Resting Time:  25-30 min 
Cook Time:  55 min – 60 min
Total Time:  1 hr 30-40 min

Lemon Curd
½ pound butter, softened
½ c. white granulated sugar
2 c. all-purpose flour
6 eggs
3 c. white sugar
1 c. all-purpose flour
2 lemons, juiced
Lemon curd 1-2 Tbsp
Lemon zest – 1 large lemon
Vanilla extract – Madagascar vanilla paste – about 1 – Tbsp*  (see note below)
Confectioner’s Sugar

Preheat oven 350 degrees F
Blend together softened butter, flour and ½ c. sugar, lemon curd, lemon zest and vanilla.  Note: most recipes do not call for the added lemon curd, lemon zest or vanilla.  The lemon curd provides a more tart flavor – subtle, but essential.  The zest allows for the lemon bar to “pop,” – a more robust and in-your-face lemon flavor.  The vanilla aids in brightening the entire citrus dish – blending the tart curd and acute zest into a natural pairing. 
Lemon Bars in between Parchment Paper
Gently press into the bottom of an ungreased 9x13 inch pan.  This is your crust.  Cook for 15-20 minutes – until light golden brown.
In another bowl, whisk together the remaining 1 1/2 cups sugar and 1 cup of flour. Whisk in the eggs and lemon juice.  Allow the crust to cool on a wire rack… when properly cooled, pour over the baked crust.
Bake for an additional 30-35 minutes in the preheated oven.  The filling will be “set” when ready. 
Madagascar Vanilla Bean Paste
Allow to cool, then cut into squares/diamonds/any shape you so desire.  Can also use cookie cutters to cut shapes.  Dust with confectioner’s sugar.  One of my favorite decorations is gold leaf – the glistening gold pairs brilliantly with the bright golden hues of the lemon bar and white contrasting sugar.

*Note:  My favorite type of vanilla extract is actually Madagascar vanilla paste.  When I was working as a chef is Paris at Hotel de Crillon, we were fortunate to use fresh Vanilla Beans on a daily basis.  They were bursting with natural vanilla and made all of the difference in terms of taste.  Unfortunately In the US, our supply of vanilla beans is… well… it pales in comparison.  When you purchase most vanilla beans, they are already aged, shriveled and cost a small fortune for one or two miserly beans.  So disappointing.  But I have found that a good alternative in the US is Madagascar Vanilla Bean Paste.  In terms of actual vanilla, it has the most potent, natural taste and maximum yield.  Can purchase at Sur La Table or Whole Foods.

Have a fantastic weekend, friends!

All my love from Dallas, y’all!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

"The Healthiest Vegetable on the Planet? Don't Mind if I do..."

Hall leading into the BEST breakfast buffets
at The Greenbriar

Hi Family and Friends!

Buffets have always been a crowd-pleaser.  I mean, common… who does not love the huge amounts of food, ridiculous ice-sculptures, chocolate fountains, festive holiday/celebratory decorations and perfectly-placed greenery.  What many of you do not know, however, is that the healthiest vegetable on the planet (per the Center for Science in the Public Interest) is often passed. 


Unfortunately, kale is very bitter when consumed in its natural state.  Not only that, but it is often used as the “perfectly-placed greenery” on the buffet table for decorations.  Now, rather than simply gnawing on the super food whilst waiting in queue for the prepared food, I will share with you one of my favorite recipes that will yield the most flavor and health benefits from consuming said greenery.

As humans, we perform the most efficient and effective when we follow a diet that reflects how we were created to eat: foods in their most natural state.  In today’s “hustle-and-bustle,” number-crunching, deal-making, competitive market and world, eating healthy can be a challenge.  Fast food restaurants spring up like weeds, produce can be expensive and spoil quickly if not consumed immediately… the cost benefit of eating healthy (cost being both time and money) simply is not enough for the majority of Americans.  Result?  Increase in illness, obesity and lethargic, lack of concentration/motivation.

Pass me a plate of those gooey cheesy fries and bacon-laden burger?

I think not.

Kale Salad with Sauteed Purple Potatoes,
Butternut Squash, Broco-flower, Carrots, Daikon
Radish and Baby Yellow Squash
In all honestly, we as humans need a “cheat day” when maintaining a healthy life-style.  While I would probably advise against Mark’s mother-load of all sammiches: Krispy Kreme doughnuts as buns, In-N-Out Burger for meat and What-a-Burger TaterTots mashed in between… a sloppy burger and fries are ok… just in moderation.  I enjoyed sharing fully-loaded cheesy fries and BBQ burger on Sunday evening for dinner.  But right back to an egg-white omelet with fresh vegetables, kale and whole-wheat toast with almond butter for breakfast.  (Sorry, UM… I’m too young to die just yet!) 

But I digress… Kale.  The best way to consume kale is raw; however, the taste of raw kale is not exactly palatable nor enjoyable.  Rather than frying kale to make kale chips (great garnish – but be careful when consuming, as they are doused in oil).  Ergo, my favorite kale salad recipe… while maintaining the best taste and preserving the nutrients of kale:

3 Bunches of Kale – Cut leaves away and discard rib
Lemon juice
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 tsp. Salt
1 tsp. Cayenne Pepper
Filet Mignon with Asparagus, Broccoli, Zucchini,
Edamame, Kale and Edible Flowers
(Had to)

Simply cut the kale into strips and sprinkle with lemon juice, EVOO and salt/cayenne.  Allow to marinade for about ten minutes.  The acid of the lemon essentially “cooks” the kale – breaking it down to be more palatable.  I adore the salad for the follow variations:

Veggie Kale Salad – Add beets, broccoli, cauliflower, bell peppers, celery, cilantro/herbs, tomatoes, cucumbers, pickles, carrots, banana peppers, asparagus, squash, zucchini, mushrooms, etc.

Fruit Kale Salad – Mandarin oranges, grapefruit, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, figs

Nuts/Seeds – Cashews, almonds, pine nuts

Proteins – Scallops, shrimp, salmon, chicken, beef

Cheeses – Parm, Fat-free Feta, low-calorie small cubes

Reduced Balsamic vinegar

Whole-wheat bread-crumbs/pita chips
As you can see… the possibilities are (almost) endless. 

I admit… kale is an acquired taste.  I encourage you to try the wonder-food…

It does a body good.

Love from Dallas, y’all!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Beans, Beans, The Magical Fruit…

Hi Family and Friends!

My Gorgeous Mother - 9-year Breast Cancer Survivor
Strongest, Most Positive Woman that I know
Growing up, I was blessed in having a mother who taught herself how to cook.  After 39 years, she has come a long way from her first meal prepared for my father (her boyfriend at the time) of fresh white fish “soup.”  Well… intended to be baked white fish, but accidentally over-baked it and the actual fish disintegrated into soup.  When I first began cooking, I had no idea what I was doing.  Literally.  However, by studying in Paris, absorbing as much knowledge as possible while working in 3 Michelin-starred restaurants, experimenting, learning from “failures” and allowing my natural God-given talent to shine through experience, I am fortunate to share what I have learned with those that I love.  Cooking is intimidating when venturing into the unknown for the first time.  But what adventure isn’t?
Go Green!

Regardless, mom experimented as a newlywed and quickly turned her inexperience into a passion.  She raised our family on a diet consisting of fresh vegetables, lean meats, hearty soups (tradition, veggie soup!)  After living in San Francisco for several years while my father was studying at Stanford, she learned the value in fresh produce.  She was “green” before it was “cool to be green.”  Yes mom, you are a trend-setter.  For that, I am grateful that my “comfort foods” are fresh greens, vibrant veggies, seafood galore, lean proteins, warmed lentils, whole grains, oats, long-grained rice and milk, milk, milk (although Vanilla-Almond Milk has become a new favorite!)

As a youngster, my brothers and I were involved in a plethora of activities.  Reflecting back on my childhood, I have no idea who my parents juggled three children who were motivated to excel in every venue of their life.  Each of us were hungry to fight for our dreams… and continue to do so.  Because of our motivation, homework was often executed in the car while being transported from activity to activity.  Meals were consumed prior to workouts and practices.  My parents sacrificed SO much of their lives in order for their children to pursue our own dreams, goals and God-given talents.  In my heart, I desire to do the same for my children one day.
Tofu Goes West - A Family Favorite...

My mom was devoted to cooking us healthy meals.  As her children grew older, time was a commodity that was more and more precious.  She would often spend one day a week cooking… and making an absolute mess of the kitchen.  She would make meals that would be able to be frozen (and portioned into meal-size amounts), as well as fresh meals that would last for the week.  The general rule for food – it can be stored in Tupperware in the refrigerator for up to one week.  Beyond that, discard… it is better to be safer than sorry.  Health should not be jeopardized by “being lazy.”  My mom was able to save time during the week because she only had to clean up the mess from cooking once a week.  Because my brothers and I were athletes, the consumption of her nutritious meals was expedited compared to a “normal” rate.  She also saved money by purchasing in bulk and making large quantities of said meals. 

My Mother Used This Book to Prepare
Healthy Recipes for the Family
While We Were Growing Up
She desired to fuel our bodies with nutrients that would enhance performance in the classroom, athletic field, performance stages and work-field.  She made it happen.

Veggie soup was a hearty family favorite.  Lentils are often dismissed simply because people have no idea how to prepare the protein-packed beans.  Not only are lentils full of fiber and fatigue-fighting iron, but they are a healthy alternative to Rawmen-noodles in terms of cost.  The great benefit of soup is that soups are very forgiving (they do not need a significant amount of attention when cooking), as well as versatile (any type of vegetables, potatoes, proteins and spices can be added).  Growing up, our Baumert “Tradition Veggie Soup” consisted of:

2 c. Dried Orange Lentils
2 c. Chopped Green Cabbage
1 c. Diced Carrots
1 c. Diced Bell Pepper (Red, Orange, Yellow or Green – or mix of all)
1 c. Diced Celery
1 c. Squash – Zucchini or Yellow Squash (or both!)
1 c. Chopped Onions
8 c. Chicken/Veal/Vegetable Stock (Organic, low-sodium)
1 Tbsp. Curry Powder
2 tsp. Cayenne Pepper
2 tsp. Garlic Salt
2 Tbsp. Minced Fresh Parsley
Optional – Diced potatoes/whole grain rice

Drizzle a small amount of Extra-Virgin Olive Oil on a sauté pan and add onions, green cabbage, bell pepper, carrots, celery and zucchini (add diced potatoes if desired).  Cook for about 5 minutes – stir the vegetables to prevent them from burning on the bottom of the sauté pan.  Add 1 c. of the stock and continue to cook until the stock had been evaporated. 

Gorgeous, Fresh, Organic Vegetables
Stir in lentils, curry powder, cayenne, garlic salt and the remaining 7 cups of stock (also add rice if desired).  Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium.  Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are soft and the stew is a thick, vibrant orange soup – about 25 minutes.

Season with parsley (and black pepper if desired).

Curried Lentil Soup (with Quinoa!)
and 0% Plain Greek Yogurt
Options – Cooked chicken, turkey, beef, shrimp, salmon, quinoa, whole-wheat pasta can all be additions to any basic Veggie-soup.  Forgoing the Curry and adding other spices can also be an option (Herbs de Provence, Italian Herbs, Rosemary, Lavender, etc.) 

Fat-Free Feta cheese can be sprinkled atop the soup with fresh roasted almonds.  0% Greek yogurt is one of my favorite accompaniments to soup, as the texture transitions into a thicker, more creamy flavor.  It also helps to balance the spice of the curry and cayenne pepper.

I encourage you to try cooking with lentils.  Not only will you save on your budget, but the energy-laden beans provide increased health benefits and you will expose yourself to new flavors.  The aroma that permeates through your home will also welcome even the “pickiest” of eaters.  Make it a tradition amongst your family and friends.

Why not create and enjoy a meal that will benefit your body and those that you love?

Do it.

All my love from DALLAS, y’all,

Thursday, March 22, 2012

"Citrus and Left-overs"

Orange - sb style
Hi Family and Friends!

Planning.  Practice.  Patience.  Transforming your entire nutrition regiment into a healthy, balanced diet takes work.  Hard work.  However, the results of good nutrition in sustaining an individual’s overall health reflects in a multitude of benefits: more energy, sound sleep, better concentration and focus, stronger hair and nails, clear complexion, improved overall health, etc.   

After being classically trained at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, my passion is transforming calorie-laden recipes into healthy, energy-promoting dishes.  Food is fuel.  Food is art.  Food brings individuals together for celebrations and holidays.  Whilst the secret to French food is butter and cream, an individual cannot simply consume such rich food on a daily basis.  However, similar recipes can be created by knowing the correct substitutions and cooking techniques to use in order to promote the most flavors, while maintaining health benefits to said creations.

Crab or chicken salad has always been a favorite.  Although I am working long hours during the Accounting “busy season,” I still make time to cook dinner.  Cooking has always been my passion and I desire to share creative, nutritious recipes!  After work yesterday, my body was craving crab.  Rather than having to go to the grocery store, I simply opened my pantry and began searching for items to create a delicious dinner.  Pairing seafood with citrus fruits helps to “brighten” the overwhelming “fishy” taste that can often overwhelm a dish.  Citrus fruits are also rich in fiber and vitamin C – an antioxidant that helps boost the immune system.  Some of my favorite citrus fruits include: oranges, lemons, limes and grapefruits.
I like to play with my fruit...

Back to the crab.  I had cooked crab legs several days ago (simply steamed in boiling water!)  Rather than discarding the crab, I decided to transform the left-overs into a new dish, bursting forth with flavors and colors!  From my refrigerator, I pulled random ingredients – mandarin orange, cilantro, carrots, red cabbage, lemon and lime juice, head of lettuce, crab, and 0% Greek yogurt.  I also used sesame oil and roasted almonds:

2c. Shredded Crab (can also substitute chicken, shrimp or turkey)
1 Tangerine – broken into segments
1/2c. Shredded Carrots
1/2c. Shredded Red Cabbage
1 Head Lettuce
2 tsp. Lemon Juice
2 tsp. Lime Juice
1 tsp. Salt
1 tsp. Cayenne Pepper
1/4c. 0% Greek Yogurt - Chobani
Sesame Oil
Roasted Almonds – slivered

Plated Crab Salad - Gorgeous colors!
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Lay slivered (or whole) almonds onto a baking sheet and allow to roast in oven.  Almonds will be finished when golden brown.  I rearrange the almonds during cooking time in order to promote a more uniform cooking.  Roasting nuts can be cooked, then stored in Tupperware in the freezer in order to expedite time.  Roasted almonds with a  hint of sea salt are a great protein-rich snack as well.

Simply combine crab, tangerine, carrots, cilantro, lemon juice, lime juice, salt, cayenne pepper (hot!), and yogurt in a bowl.  Drizzle with sesame oil.  Because sesame oil is very robust, a little goes a long way.  Do not overwhelm the crab with too much sesame oil.  Sprinkle with almonds.

Shape the lettuce head leaves into small cups.  Spoon crab salad into lettuce cups.  Garnish with cilantro.

Chobani Greek Yogurt
Crab salad is often smothered in mayonnaise which overwhelms the delicate crab.  In order to create the same texture and consistency as a traditional crab salad, I chose to use a small amount of 0% Greek Yogurt.  Chobani yogurt has been a staple of my diet, as the creamy yogurt has two times the protein compared to most yogurts.  It also contains five types of live and active cultures (three strains of probiotics which help with digestion!)  Chobani is also gluten-free, meaning it contains no wheat, rye, barely or and other gluten-containing thickeners.  Yet another bonus.  Love it.

Delicious, healthy dinner that literally takes minutes to make – all with left-overs.  Not too shabby, eh? 

And you’ll adore the vibrant colors.

Back to the books!

All my love from DALLAS, y’all,

Monday, March 19, 2012


Viv, me and Myrinda at the
Dallas 2012 St. Patrick's Day Parade
After the 5K Run!
Dear Family and Friends!

I hope y’all had a wonderful St. Patrick’s Day!  Myrinda and I ran in the Dallas St. Patrick’s Day 5K race on Saturday, then watched the fantastic Dallas parade on Greenville Ave.  Good times had by one and all!

On Sunday evening, I spend a fantastic dinner with Jackie, Landon and Viviana at Sambuca 360 where we heard Daniel Chrysler sing (he is a great friend and always a pleasure to hear him serenade the crowd.)  We enjoyed a delicious meal of appetizers… but their Bruschetta was particularly delicious.  Bruschetta is a healthy, fresh dish that can be enjoyed in a plethora of settings – appetizer for a formal dinner, shared at any type of athletic event, pass-around hors d’oeuvre for a more sophisticated setting, or a simple family dinner side dish.  This is an incredibly simple recipe, yet tastes delicious and looks fantastic when plated in a beautiful, artistic manner.
Landon, Jackie and me at Sambuca

Bruschetta - Basic
3 Large Organic Roma Tomatoes (can use regular tomatoes as a substitute, but I prefer Roma)
2 Cloves Garlic – fine dice
2 Basil leaves – chop fine
Olive Oil
Balsamic Vinegar
2 tsp. Salt/Pepper (or more if so desired).
1 Whole Wheat Baguette – cut into ½ inch slices on the bias cut (diagonal). 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  On a baking sheet, brush slices of baguette with olive oil, rub with garlic clove, sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Place in oven and allow to cook until lightly golden brown.  Be aware of bread in oven, as it toasts quickly.

Begin by cutting the Roma tomatoes into quarters.  Remove the seeds by cutting the inner membrane, then dicing the tomato into small cubes.  Since this is a rustic dish, do not worry about the uniform shapes and sizes of the tomato cuts.

Fresh Basil
Place diced tomatoes, garlic and basil (desired amount – I love basil… ergo, I add more than usual) in a bowl.  Sprinkle the ingredients with Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Balsamic Vinegar and salt/pepper to taste.

Allow to marinate for at least 10 minutes in the refrigerator.

Serve on toasted bread and enjoy!  I like the drizzle reduced balsamic vinegar on a white plate (swirled design), then place toast with tomatoes atop on said plate.  If serving as a pass around hors d’oeuvre, cut the toast into small circles, then place the tomatoes atop the bite-sized toast.  When watching an athletic event, leave the tomatoes in a bowl and the toast on a separate platter… it will be more of a “dip” in this presentation.

Variations to the basic Bruschetta:
Toss in roasted almonds, pine nuts, artichoke hearts, mozzarella cheese, parmesan cheese, goat cheese… experiment with likes/dislikes!  With the remaining Bruschetta, store in the refrigerator.  Can be a great addition with eggs for a morning breakfast or served with a salad at lunch/dinner.

Bruschetta reminds me of a similar recipe that I served while working as the private chef at The Bradley Oaks Ranch in Texas. 

Roma Tomatoes
Tomato Concassé is nothing more than peeled, seeded and chopped tomatoes.  In order to remove the skin from a tomato, bring a large pot of water to a boil.  On the top of the tomato, remove the vine and cut away the core.  Score the bottom of the bottom with an “X,” then drop the tomato into the boiling water.  When the skin begins to peel away (fast process – can be finished in as little as 7 -10 seconds, depending on the ripeness of the tomato!), immediately remove the tomato with a spoon and refresh into iced water.  The ice water provides a “shock” to halt the cooking process.  Remove the tomatoes from the ice water and peel away the skin.  Cut the tomato into quarters, then cut away the seeds and inner membrane.  You are left with four “tomato petals.”

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Place the tomato petals in a bowl and sprinkle with dried Italian herbs, 1 basil leaf (fine chop), salt, pepper, juice of ½ lemon, 1 garlic clove (diced) and olive oil.  Place the tomatoes on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and allow to roast until almost falling apart.  The tomatoes should be tender and juicy.  (about 10-20 minutes, depending on the strength of the oven). 

Haricot Verts
(French Green Beans)
Remove from the oven and place tomatoes in a bowl.  Mash the tomatoes together with a fork, then allow to marinate in the refrigerator for at least ten minutes.

Haricot verts (French beans) accompany the Concassé beautifully.  Wash haricot verts with cool water, then dry and chop beans into 2 inch long segments.  Instead of a heavy, calories-laden dressing, toss the cooked haricot verts in Greek, plain yogurt.  Season with salt, cayenne pepper (a little bit goes a long way!) and lemon juice.  Allow to marinate in the refrigerator for at least ten minutes.

Tomato Concasse with Marinated
Haricot Verts, Olive Oil and
Micro Greens
This dish makes for a beautiful presentation.  Remove the marinated Concassé from the refrigerator.  Place a circular-shaped cookie- cutter onto the center of the plate.  With a spoon, carefully add the marinated Concassé to the center of the mold (only about ¼ inch high).  Remove the mold and place stacks of the marinated haricot verts in the center of the marinated Concassé circle.  Garnish with mirco greens, olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette.  May also add roasted almonds/pine nuts or feta/goat cheese/ Parmesan cheese.  Serve chilled.

I encourage you to try to make these recipes.  The colors are gorgeous and the tastes will be sure to tickle your palate.  Remember… the presentation is essential when serving food to guests.  It is very much all about the minute details… taking the time to arrange and rearrange.  Food is art.  Your white plate is your blank slate.  Taking the time to allow your creativity to shine reflects the love and care behind your passions.

On that note, Happy 5 Year Wedding Anniversary to my brother and sister-in-law (although I prefer to refer to her as my “sister”) – Stephen and Susan!  Congratulations!! 

Love from Dallas, y’all,

Thursday, March 15, 2012

“Mom, Dad… I cooked shrimp!”

Hey Family and Friends!

St. John's College - Oxford
During my undergraduate years, I was blessed with the opportunities to study abroad.  One such session was the chance to study at Regents College in London.  Another was an amazing experience living and studying at Oxford… specifically at St John’s.  During my time abroad, I fell in love with Europe.  In my heart, I knew that I was being lead to return… but in what capacity?  Over an Easter brunch feast during my Junior year of college,  I remember one particular conversation with my father.  I was slightly discouraged as to my future… while I enjoyed my major, I knew that the desire to return to Europe was growing stronger with each passing day.  But how in the world would I return?  Under what circumstances could I justify and solidify a move to Europe?  My dad suggested culinary school.  If I was going to learn how to cook… then why not learn from the best?  Let’s face it, the French own the culinary arts.  They have the flavors, plating, and every aspect of cooking down to an art.  Perfection.  Upon said suggestion, I immaturely rolled my eyes and said, “Dad… do I look like Martha Stewart?”   (Now mind you, this was coming from a girl who had been an athlete from the time she was three and still wore glitter in her 20’s.  I know, sweet life, sb).

Tour Eiffel - PARIS
But the seed of culinary school began to sprout in my mind.  As I began to entertain the idea, firm roots became established and my mind was made up.  Although never having set foot in a kitchen in my life (well, aside from consuming the amazing organic-home cooked meals from my amazing mother on a daily basis), I sent my application to Le Cordon Bleu, Paris.  In my mind, I knew that it made no sense for them to accept a “girly-jock” from Ohio who had zero cooking experience.  However, if it was meant to be, then they would give me a chance and accept me into the school.

Based on my prior successes in both the classroom, as well as athletic fields/dance stages/swimming pools, I was accepted.  Au revoir, USA.  Two weeks after graduating from college, I left my family, friends and country behind… and moved to Paris, France to learn how to cook.  I know, this is the stuff of which movies are made…

From day one I fell in love with the culinary arts.  Cuisine and pastry encompass everything that I adore… creativity, artwork (on the plate), delicious flavors, hard work, an adrenaline rush (during a difficult lunch/dinner service)… I worked diligently to adsorb as much knowledge and experience as possible while studying at LCB, and then applied the same work ethic in the work arena.  I had the privilege of remaining in Paris after graduation from Le Cordon Bleu and working at two of the most exclusive restaurants in the world… Hotel de Crillon and Hotel Le Meurice.  Talk about a Baptism by Fire… I began as a stagiaire (essentially an intern) – which included even scrubbing the floors at both establishments (I did cuisine a t Le Meurice and pastry at Crillon).  I quickly ascended the ranks, having proven myself with the delegated assignments.  The culinary world is a male-dominated, stress-filled, perfection-driven, and physically/mentally exhausting profession that involves  hours beyond measure.  I loved it.  I was able to express my creativity in learning the true art of plating, as well as developing flavors that were beyond tastes that I had ever experienced.

Per necessity of keeping this simple and sweet, I shall share one experience with y’all which sky-rocketed my confidence in the kitchen.  When working at Crillon, I was given the opportunity to cook shrimp for the first time... and said shrimp was actually going to be served to the clientele at the restaurant!!  I remember shaking as I peeled the exoskeleton away from the jumbo shrimp.  I sharpened my knife, then carefully cut the back of the shrimp open in order to devein the unwanted waste.  I was probably moving less than 1mph, but being inexperienced, I did not want to mess up!

As I turned away from my work station, I knew that I had to face my greatest fear… cooking the shrimp… dun, dun, dunnnnn!

Ohmygosh, sb.  Could you be more dramatic??  Good grief.

Hotel de Crillon
In all fairness, I had never cooked for clientele before.  And to be working at a restaurant that has 3-Michelin stars, as well as charges… well, let’s put it this way… if you have to ask the price, you already cannot afford it.  Be that as it may, I proceeded with my shrimp.

After deveining the shrimp (note – in the US, shrimp can often be purchased already cleaned and deveined) I lightly sprinkled the translucent bodies with salt and Herbs de Provence.  Herbs de Provence is one of my favorite seasonings… a mix of dried savory, fennel, basil, thyme and lavender flowers from the Provence of France.  The delicious mixture can often be purchased at any local grocery store in the “spices” section.  In addition to the savory, mild herbs, I also lightly dusted the shrimp with cayenne pepper.  Some like it hot.

One secret to cooking any type of protein… it is essential to allow the oil/butter to heat to the appropriate temperature before sautéing said produce.  After adding enough extra virgin olive oil to coat the bottom of the sauté pan, I wait until the EVOO actually produced smoke (just a little!) to place the shrimp on the fire.  It is known as the “smoking point.”  If the oil temperature is not warm enough, then the piece of protein will not develop a nice “crust/color” on each side of the skin.  What occurs is that the protein actually boils in the oil, as opposed to sautéing (literally means, “to jump”) on the heat.

Raw Shrimp (left)
Cooked Shrimp (right)
Shrimp cooks quickly… about 1 minute per side (depending on the size of the shrimp).  One key to determining if the shrimp is cooked is the color.  An uncooked shrimp is translucent grey (typically).  When cooked, the shrimp transforms into a light pink/white… no longer translucent or rubbery.  The first time that I cooked shrimp for clients in Paris, I simply sautéed the fish on the stove top with olive oil:

5 Large Shrimp – deveined and cleaned
1 Tbsp Salt
1 Tbsp Herbs de Provence
1 tsp Cayenne Pepper
Extra Virgin Olive Oil – enough to coat the bottom of the sauté pan (thin layer)

I love to add shrimp to salads in order to enjoy both fresh vegetables/fruit, as well as adequate protein in my diet:

5 large cooked shrimp
2 c. Fresh, Organic Spinach and Mixed greens
Blueberries, Strawberries, Raspberries, Mandarin Oranges
Pomegranate and blueberry vinaigrette (purchased at Whole Foods) – any dressing is optional, but I love the fruity vinaigrette with the fruit in the salad.
Parmesan cheese – optional
Roasted almonds - optional

1)  Toss all ingredients together and add as much fruit as desired.  Any dressing can be used, but I love the fruity vinaigrette with the fruit in the salad.  When in a restaurant, order the dressing on the side, in order to prevent your salad from drowning.  Ordering a salad that is drenched in dressing defeats the purpose of healthy eating.

2)  Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and roasted almonds if desired… and enjoy!

I also have made Spinach Galette with mushrooms, tomatoes, swiss cheese and shallots... shrimp and fig-basalmic vinaigrette:

3 c. Fresh Organic Spinach
3 Cherry Tomatoes – cut in ½
1 oz. Swiss Cheese – dice
1 Medium Portabella mushroom – clean with a dry paper towel (to remove grit) and dice into small cubes
½ shallot – minced fine
2 tsp Salt
1 tsp garlic - minced
1 tsp Cayenne pepper
2 tsp Italian dried herbs
1 sheet of puff pastry (frozen section of the supermarket)
½ c. Balsamic Vinegar
1 Fig – chop into fine pieces
3 Cooked Shrimp

1)  Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Defrost the frozen puff pastry by leaving on the clean counter at room temperature for about 10-15 minutes.  Cut desired shapes into the puff pastry, then place puff pastry onto parchment paper on a baking sheet.  Allow to bake until golden brown and “puffed.” (about 10-15 minutes)  Convection oven is the best method to bake the puff pastry, but no problem if a regular oven is the only option.

2)  “Sweat” the minced shallots in olive oil.  To “sweat” means to cook the shallots until they are no longer crunchy.  The shallots will become tender and translucent when fully cooked.  When fully cooked, add minced mushrooms, salt, cayenne pepper, dried Italian herbs and garlic.  Mushrooms will cook quickly – finished when tender to the bite (try a piece in order to ensure fully cooked!

3)  Toss spinach into the sauté pan and allow to wilt.  Remove from heat and add the cherry tomatoes and diced Swiss cheese.

4)  In a separate sauce pan, add the Balsamic Vinegar and chopped fig.  Turn the heat onto high and allow the Vinegar to reduce (or evaporate).  The fig will permeate the Balsamic Vinegar and allow the aroma of the fig to shine.  Remove from the heat after the vinegar has reached a consistency similar to molasses. 

5)  Plating – Drizzle the Fig Balsamic reduction on the plate in a decorative manner.  Place mixed greens (tossed in desired dressing) atop design.  Add puff pastry, then top puff pastry with Spinach Gallette mixture.  Place shrimp around/atop and top off with micro-greens/edible flowers/gold leaf (but of course).

So coming to a close, it has been years since first cooking shrimp for the first time… yet, I still remember the excitement that reverberated through my body when my final plated dish was served to the clients at Crillon.  I called mom and dad as soon as I was finished (which, due to the time difference, was in the middle of the night in Arizona… my apologies!)  I know… the, “mom, dad… I just cooked shrimp that was actually served to the clientele!” seems trivial… but to me, it sky-rocketed my confidence.

In the kitchen, confidence is key.  As with any relationship in life, it takes time to build confidence and trust – in yourself and with others.  It takes years to build trust, yet seconds to destroy.  Experience in the kitchen allows confidence to grow.  With a  solid foundation, that confidence may be shaken at times, but never fully destroyed.

Fall seven times.  Stand up eight.

Love from DALLAS, y’all,

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

"Quinoa and Blueberry Pancakes... Got to."

Hey Family and Friends!

A few weeks ago, my friends and I ran the Dallas Trinity River 10K, located at the new Trinity Bridge (absolutely gorgeous architecture) in Dallas, Texas.  Y’all.  Upon completion of the race, my body noted its dire need to getting back into shape.  Not going to lie, it was a struggle since I had not run for a number of weeks… but I finished… success!  (Way to go Myrinda - you did awesome!!)  After our run, we had brunch at a wonderful restaurant in the Bishop Arts District.  Whilst the main feature of my brunch included scramble egg whites (yes, with ketchup), veggie sausage and fruit, I also ordered a whole wheat pancake.  While the majority of my nourriture was delicious, I was slightly disappointed with the pancake.  Said enormous pancake was not “bad,” by any means… simply bland.  And dumping Maple Syrup and smothering it in whipped cream seem to defeat the purpose of ordering a whole wheat pancake!  (I know, maybe layering it between Krispy Kreme doughnuts and What-a-Burger tater tots would have done it justice… all while washing it down with a Yoo-hoo… right Mark?)

But I digress… while working as a chef at True Food Kitchen in Phoenix, Arizona, I learned how to make Quinoa and Blueberry pancakes.  I know… Quin-what?  Quinoa is a gluten-free, easy to digest, seed.  Because it is grain-like, it resembles rice or wheat.  However, because it contains a balanced set of essential amino acids, it is a pure protein source.  In order words, it has more protein (high, at 18%) than most wheat and oat derivatives.  For this reason, many vegetarians consume quinoa in order to have adequate protein levels in their diets.  So why not transform a not-so-healthy-food (pancake) into a more healthy, enjoyable creation (that doesn’t taste like “health food” or cardboard).  How about that, Jarid?

Quinoa Pancakes with Blueberries
1 c. Whole Wheat pastry flour – can substitute unbleached bread flour
1 c. Quinoa flour
1 t. Baking soda
1 t. Baking powder
¼ c. Evaporated Cane Juice Sugar (can substitute regular granulated if need be)
½ t. Salt
1 Egg (or 2 egg whites)
1 Tbsp. Melted Butter (or Earth Balance)
1 c. Kefirr – Vanilla (or plain) – Can also substitute milk/ almond milk/ buttermilk/ soymilk
½ Tbsp Vanilla Paste or Vanilla Extract
½ c. Cooked Quinoa

1)  Combine all of the dry ingredients into one bowl (WW pastry flour, Quinoa flour, Baking Soda, Baking Powder, Sugar and Salt).  Quinoa flour can be purchased at your local grocery store.  If you would like to have a more textured pancake, adding 1/2c. of Cooked Quinoa is an option at this stage… it allows the pancakes to have a more “crunchy” texture.

2)  After mixing all dry ingredients together, form a “well” in the center of the bowl by pushing the dry ingredients to the sides of the bowl (it will look like a donut).  Add the wet ingredients to the center of the well (Egg, Melted Butter, Kefir, Vanilla).  For the Vanilla… my favorite product is a Madagascar Vanilla Bean Paste over Vanilla Extract.  It is slightly more thicker and actually contains vanilla beans within the paste.  However, if you prefer the taste of Almonds, you can always flavor the batter with Almond extract (or lemon, orange, rum (yarrrrr!), etc.)  As the chef, you choose whatever tickles your fancy.  Um.  Yeah...

3)  Slowly wisk all ingredients together.  It is essential to incorporate all ingredients together slowly in order to prevent lumps in the batter.  If lumps exist in the batter, then when the pancakes cook, small clumps of uncooked flour/baking powder/soda will remain in the pancake.  Biting into raw flour/baking powder/soda is an awful taste.  Yes, I do speak from experience.  I remember when beginning to cook, I was rushing with the batter.  I figured that the lumps would simply “go away” with the cooking process… but they do not.  Take your time to create an even, smooth batter.  The extra love devoted towards the products truly reflects in the final outcome.

4)  Cooking pancakes is easy… it just takes practice.  Turn griddle on to medium heat (or use a non-stick sauté pan) and spray with butter spray (saves calories than using butter/oil to prevent “sticking”).  Ladle pancake batter onto the surface and sprinkle with fresh blueberries.  Allow pancake to cook… when it is ready to be flipped, small “bubbles” will appear on the top of said pancake.  Flipping pancakes takes experience, so practice makes perfect.  The best way to flip a pancake is in a fast, yet graceful manner.  One fell-swoop, if you will.  And hey, if you mess up, guess what… it is not the end of the world.  No crying over messed up pancakes.  Good grief, when I was first beginning, I was awful at flipping pancakes.  By no means am I perfect to this day, but after experience, it becomes easier and the outcome improves.  Just please do not forget to breath and pass out on me… honestly, it’s not life or death here.  It’s just a pancake, folks.

5)  After successfully flipping the jack, be sure not to press down with your spatula on the pancake.  Squishing the air from the fluffy round edible pillow defeats your hard work.  Wait for the pancake to finish cooking (when golden brown on both sides).  Patience is a virtue.  In more than one avenue of life.

6)  Remove pancake from heat when complete.  Stack pancakes atop one another when serving “family style.”  If plating the breakfast/brunch… be creative!  Use cookies cutters to cut shapes from the pancakes (I prefer more modern designs, so I used circular cutters.  However, pancakes can be cut into any shape or size (have the kids help with this!)

7)  White plates are my favorite color of plates, as they allow the focus to be centered on the food and vibrant colors resting atop the “blank slate.”  Blueberry pancakes can be served plain, or any type of topping can be added… Greek yogurt, fresh fruit, blueberry syrup (or any flavored syrup), butter, whipped cream, sprinkles, chocolate, nutella, almonds, etc.

My favorite aspect about this recipe is sharing a healthy recipe with you... and one that is actually bursting forth with delicious flavors!  Actually... honestly, my favorite aspect is adding gold-leaf at the end when serving said pancakes, but that is beside the point... the quinoa provides additional protein, whole wheat flour provides the grains, kiefer provides calcium and probiotics, fruit provides necessary nutrients.  Remember that a healthy diet consists of balance, moderation and variety.  Enjoy!

Love from DALLAS, y’all.