August 31, 2014

Zucchini Dip with Mint & Za'atar

I haven't been cooking much lately because I'm kind of obsessed with a new hobby.

I've been knitting.

I learned the basic knit stitch a few years ago after I took a class. Everyone raved about how easy knitting is, that you can even knit a scarf while watching a movie! They lied. At that time, I found knitting to be tedious and exhausting. The patterns were too mathematical for me, I got frustrated when I made a mistake and had to start over (which happened often), and so I gave up. Half of a red scarf pierced with wooden knitting needles sat in my nightstand drawer until last fall.

I decided to reteach myself how to knit by watching YouTube videos and to finish that scarf. Since I'd made many mistakes, the scarf was uneven and had a bunch of holes in it. I ripped it all out and started over. Then, I made another scarf using a different stitch. Then another. Then a baby blanket. Then a couple of ear warmer headbands. Then a hat. I'm working on another scarf now.

I'm addicted. I have a bag full of needles and yarns. I have a list of things I want to make: more scarves and hats, fingerless gloves, a shawl, a bigger blanket...

Now I find knitting to be soothing, a way to calm my frequent bouts of anxiety. When I feel wonky, I pick up my needles and focus on the stitches. It forces me to think about something else. Plus, I like the sound of the needles softly clicking together, the feel of the soft yarn as it pulls through my fingers.

I've realized that knitting is a lot like cooking. I feel a sense of productiveness and accomplishment when I make scarf just as when I make a soufflé. I start with a ball of yarn and a pair of needles and made something new, just like when I start with eggs, milk, and flour to bake a cake. I MADE THIS, I think. It's hugely satisfying.

* * * 

I tried this new recipe to use up a giant zucchini that a co-worked gave me & some chocolate mint (which only has a faint chocolate flavor but is named so because of a tinge of brown in the leaves & stems of the plant) a friend gave me a couple weeks ago. Za'atar is a Middle Eastern seasoning blend of herbs (often oregano, thyme, marjoram, and savory), sesame seeds, and sumac. Traditionally, it is eaten with pita dipped in olive oil. I served this refreshing green dip with pita chips.

Zucchini Dip with Mint & Za'atar
adapted from Eating Well

August 21, 2014

Chicken & Dumplings


School started on Monday. I ended my summer break last week by binge watching season 2 of The Mind of a Chef. Sean Brock is just so damn adorable. And his southern comfort food is absolutely swoon-worthy.

One recipe that I knew I wanted to make as soon as possible was his mother's version of chicken & dumplings. Here's the clip:


All last week, I needed comfort food as I watched the world implode around me. The unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, hits close to home...literally. Ferguson is only 15 miles from my front door. So I decided there was no better way to start the school year and to relieve some of the tension of current events than by inviting friends over for chicken & dumplings and pie.

Here's my version of the Brocks' recipe:

Chicken & Dumplings

Note: This dish is much brothier when it's first made, more like a soup. The picture above was taken after the leftovers had been in the fridge for a couple of days, soaking up all the stock. Still delicious.

August 18, 2014

Old Fashioned Raspberry Pie with Hot Water Crust


I'm calling this an "old fashioned" pie because it features a hot water crust and tapioca in the filling...two things you don't see much of these days.

This recipe comes from The American Gothic Cookbook, copyright 1979.  The small, 62-page booklet was inspired by Grant Wood's iconic painting.


The introduction explains:
Born in Cedar Rapids through the eye, mind, and paintbrush of Grant Wood, the American Gothic couple uniquely reflect the cultural traditions of the Midwest.
Here are the recipes from the models who posed for the painting, from the artist who painted them, from people who knew them, and from their neighbors, including the famous.
While the Woods and the McKeebys, as their names imply, were of stock from the British Isles, their Iowa neighbors were the Germans of the Amana Colonies, the Czechoslovakians, the Scandinavians, and the Amish of the Kalona area. Part of the essence of the Midwest is the blend of culinary traditions now even including the Oriental. Here are the recipes of the American Gothic people.
I bought this book at a used cookbook sale. Considering my love of American Gothic, I had to have it.

I referred to this pie as "Raspberry Frankenpie" because I had some problems with the top crust. It wasn't crumbly, but it would break whenever I tried to roll it out or pick it up. So, I pieced it together on top of the pie, going for a patchwork look, and added some "stitches" for decoration.


I know what I did wrong. The recipe says it will make two crusts. It does not. So, when I mixed a second crust, I didn't use boiling water...I used the hot water that was left in the kettle without reboiling it. As a result, the shortening never got creamy when mixed with the water. Since the first crust worked perfectly, I'm sure this was the problem.

Still, it tasted just fine! I did miss the buttery flavor of my regular pie crust recipe, but this was an interesting recipe to try...and an easy way to make a crust for those who might be intimidated by making pie.

The filling, however, was spectacular. I liked using instant tapioca to thicken the filling as opposed to cornstarch or flour. It created tiny, translucent, fruit-flavored pearls. It wasn't slimy, gelatinous, or chunky (which is what I think of when I think of tapioca pudding). I may use it in all of my fruit pies now!

August 1, 2014

Fall 2014 Cooking Classes


My new menus include a couple of Girls' Night Out demo classes on October 18 & December 13. The first contains recipes that focus on spices: cinnamon, paprika, saffron, cumin, peppers, etc. The latter is a champagne-laced feast that features seared scallops and white chocolate cupcakes.

I also have a few new Date Night for Couples classes. My favorite one, on November 9, will feature my grandmother's Croatian dishes. Once again, I'm throwing an Ultimate Cocktail Party on December 21 with a couple drinks and several appetizers. Another fun couples class on December 27 includes a smoked lentil salad, cayenne & coffee rubbed steaks, homemade sweet potato tots.

Below is my schedule through December. To register, call Kitchen Conservatory at 314-862-2665 or register online.

DATE NIGHT FOR COUPLES: READY TO RUM-BLE - October 11 @ 6:00-8:30 (hands-on)
  • Learn to prepare coconut bisque with rum flambé, macadamia-crusted scallops with rum beurre blanc, jerk pork tenderloin with spiced rum glaze, Caribbean rice, mini-hot buttered rum cheesecakes with caramel sauce, plus a piña-limonada cocktail.
GIRLS' NIGHT OUT: SUGAR AND SPICE - October 18 @ 6:30-9:00 (demonstration)
  • Enjoy a maple-cinnamon apple martini and five-spice cashews, freshly-baked skillet bread with Old Bay artichoke-spinach-crab dip, paprika-spiced cauliflower soup, tomato-poached salmon with saffron, roasted carrot and red quinoa salad with spicy cumin dressing, plus buttermilk panna cotta with strawberries in port wine-peppercorn caramel sauce.
HEIR AND A PARENT: WIZARDS IN THE KITCHEN - October 26 @ 12:30-3:00 (hands-on)
  • Attention all Muggles! Experience the world of Harry Potter and make magic in the kitchen as I help you prepare delightful dishes described throughout the J.K. Rowling series, including The Three Broomsticks' butterbeer, ham-and-cheese pasties from the Hogwarts house-elves, and Mrs. Weasley's potatoes with béchamel sauce. Before you apparate home, you'll make Aunt Petunia's individual berry-pudding trifles. This class is designed for children, at least 7 years of age, plus a parent.
DATE NIGHT FOR COUPLES: CONTINENTAL AND COASTAL CROATIA - November 9 @ 5:00-7:30 (hands-on)
  • Discover authentic Croatian cuisine from the coast to the continent, as I share my grandmother's recipes. You will learn to create cevapcici - lamb meatballs with an eggplant-pepper relish (ajvar), brodet - fish stew with shrimp and mussels and cod, sarma - cabbage rolls stuffed with beef and pork and rice in a tomato sauce, blitva - sautéed potatoes and Swiss chard, plus potica - sweet walnut rolls.
SUPPER BOWL SUNDAY - November 16 @ 12:30-3:00 (hands-on)
  • Join me in the kitchen to create four steaming pots of soup: andouille and corn chowder, creamy butternut squash and ginger soup, egg drop soup with homemade pressure cooker chicken stock, lamb minestrone, plus quick and easy yeast-risen baguettes.

July 13, 2014

Salt Cod Fritters with Spicy Cilantro Sauce


Salt cod is cod fish that has been preserved by drying and salting. Before it can be used, salt cod must be either soaked in cold water for a few days, changing the water two to three times a day, or boiled to rehydrate and remove some of the salt.

It is most commonly used in brandade, a French gratin of mashed potatoes mixed with salt cod, garlic, and olive oil (which is smeared on bread and is heavenly); with ackee fruit in the national dish of Jamaica; in New England fish cakes; in a casserole with potatoes & onions; or battered & fried (as I did).

So, why use dried and salted fish when you could use fresh fillets? NPR compares salt cod to prosciutto, asking "Why eat prosciutto [...] when you could have fresh ham?"
This is not a gratuitous comparison. As Harold McGee writes in his encyclopedic work of food science, On Food and Cooking
The best of these [salted fish] are the piscatory equivalent of salt-cured hams. 
In both, salt buys time for transformation: it preserves them long and gently enough for enzymes of both fish and harmless salt-tolerant bacteria to break down flavorless proteins and fats into savory fragments, which then react further to create flavors of great complexity.
I made these fritters in a Girls' Night Out cooking class that I taught on Friday. Having never seen, used, or eaten salt cod before, most of the women in class were skeptical. However, this recipe was a hit!

Salt Cod Fritters