May 31, 2012

Homemade Ricotta Cheese

Last night, I made my annual trip to Forest Park for the Shakespeare Festival. This year's performance was Othello, and--as always--it was absolutely wonderful.

For my over-achieving picnic, I made four new recipes...all things I've either pinned to or found on Pinterest. I'll be posting some of the recipes and pictures over the next week or two.

My first dish for the night was homemade ricotta cheese served on crostini with roasted grapes. This was the first time I'd made cheese. I now can't imagine buying that grainy shit they call ricotta from the supermarket ever again. THIS was worth the minimal effort it takes to make.

This kind of soft, fresh cheese is very easy. It's done in just 3 steps:

1. Boil milk, cream, and salt.
2. Add lemon juice & simmer for a couple minutes, until the curds form.
3. Drain in a cheesecloth-lined sieve.

BOOM! Then you've got cheese. HOMEMADE cheese. It was one of those "Look what I made!" moments for me. (Check out photos of the process at the end of this post.)

Homemade Ricotta
recipe from Epicurious 

Roasted Grapes

I've made roasted grapes before. In fact, it's one of my favorite things to serve along side a cheese platter. I also use them in a wine-based sauce to go with grilled or oven-roasted meats.

My method is simple: wash some red seedless grapes, throw them naked onto a silicone mat-lined baking sheet, and cook in the oven at 400 degrees for 10-15 minutes, just until they soften & start to split. That's it.

I recently came across a slightly fancier version on Pinterest and decided to try it. This recipe called for tossing the grapes with olive oil, fresh thyme sprigs, salt & pepper before roasting at a high temperature. While this results in a much more flavorful condiment, I thought the grapes got a little too juicy.

This would be GREAT as a base for sauce, though, and I'll use this method for sauce-making next time. However, if I were eating the grapes with cheese & crackers again, I'd go with my "naked" method.

Thyme-Roasted Grapes
recipe slightly adapted from Alexandra's Kitchen

1 package of red seedless grapes, destemmed & washed
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
several fresh thyme sprigs
  • Preheat oven to 450ºF. 
  • Spread grapes onto a sheet pan lined with a silicone baking mat. 
  • Drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt & pepper. Lay thyme leaves over top. Toss all together gently with your hands. 
  • Place pan in the oven for 7 to 10 minutes or until grapes just begin to burst.

May 28, 2012

Sweet Onion & Bacon Jam

My last day of school was May 22, so this weekend kicked off my three-month long summer break. Boo. Yah. 

These past three days were a great mix of music, drinks, friends, sunshine, relaxation, & food. So Much tacos at Broadway Oyster Bar, shrimp boil at a friend's new apartment, and a BBQ at my boyfriend's house that offered 5 different meats...local burgers/brats/hot dogs, our own smoked sausage, and homemade bacon jam.

Let me tell you about that smoked sausage. Last weekend, I went over to Corey's house for dinner. "Whatcha doing?" I asked when I showed up. "Smoking a fatty," he replied.

Um. What? 

"Come here and look at my sausage," he insisted.


I followed him to the backyard, skeptical of what I would find out there, not expecting to see an entire roll of breakfast sausage (unwrapped, of course) being smoked on the grill.

I was Leery. Concerned. Intrigued.

After a 2-hour slow cook over some applewood chips, Corey's sausage was damn delicious. Hubba.

(Sorry, I simply can't resist a good sausage joke!)

Anyway...try this sausage. Then chill it and slice it like summer sausage. You won't be sorry. TRUST ME. 

And then, make some bacon jam. It will be a hit. I promise. It was definitely a big hit at our BBQ yesterday. 

Serve it with crackers. Smear some on a burger. Try it for breakfast on toast with a fried egg. Keep a jar on the nightstand next to the bed. WHATEVER YOU WANT. I won't judge.

Just MAKE IT already.

Sweet Onion & Bacon Jam

recipe slightly adapted from Tim Grandinetti

May 24, 2012

Peanut Butter Banana Cream Pie

I've been slightly obsessed with banana cream pie ever since I made my first one in January. It's just so easy...and a great way to use up those bananas that are expiring on the countertop. And this filling recipe, which I adapted slightly from the Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook, is now my "go to" recipe.

This version was a spontaneous dessert that I concocted with ingredients I had in my pantry. I wanted a quick crust, so I used some gingersnaps to make a simple crumb crust (since I had no graham crackers). I had only very ripe bananas, so I didn't include a layer of sliced bananas. Instead, I added a layer of peanut butter. Bananas + peanut butter = YUM.

 Peanut Butter Banana Cream Pie with Gingersnap Crust

May 7, 2012

Garlicy, Lemony Kale Salad

My new favorite place to eat is Cleveland-Heath in Edwardsville, Illinois. It's a cozy, modern restaurant that features dishes which can best be described as comfort foods. Their current menu (it changes often) includes pork belly with sauteed cabbage, pozole, meatloaf sandwich, papperdelle "beef stroganoff," mac-n-cheese, homemade biscuits with cherry jam, and strawberry shortcake. I've eaten there several times since they opened, and everything I've tried has been pretty fantastic.

My favorite dish on the menu is a staple, a simple kale salad: "garlic, crushed red pepper, parmesan chips, lemon vinaigrette." It's bright green, full of flavor, and ultimately satisfying. I always order one, which is served in a generous-sized portion, and take home half of it to eat the next day. Kale is hearty enough to not wilt overnight. I've eaten as-is from the take-out container for lunch, and I've mixed it with hot pasta for a quick dinner.

I tried to recreate this salad at home tonight, and I think my attempt was pretty successful. The most prevalent flavors in CH's salad is garlic (it's actually fairly potent, so make sure your date eats some too if you plan on making out after dinner) and lemon, with a hint of heat from the red pepper flakes. Here's my version:

1 bunch of kale, stems removed & leaves torn into bite-sized pieces
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
juice of 1 lemon
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Wash the kale & dry thoroughly. Dump into a medium serving bowl.
  • In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients. Pour over the kale & massage the dressing into the greens with your hands until all pieces are coated.
  • Serve topped with parmesan chips, if desired.

May 3, 2012

Muy Sabrosas Margaritas

My Uncle David makes the best margaritas.  I always loved visiting his farm in Tennessee, where he and my aunt had cocktail hour at 6:00 every evening.  At least once during our visits, David would make a pitcher of his infamous margaritas.

His recipe is like a family heirloom.  Once at a wedding shower for one of my friends, the guests were asked to bring their favorite recipe written on a recipe card for the bride-to-be. My mom, who was not known to be a great cook, brought the margarita recipe.  No one was surprised.

When I asked Uncle David for the recipe a couple years ago, this is what he sent:
Start with a larger container than you think you'll need.
Add 1 unit of good tequila.
Add 1/2 unit of triple sec.
Whatever amount you then have, add half that amount of orange juice.
Whatever amount you then have, add an equal amount of good margarita mix (Cuervo, for example; the cheap shit is a sugary mess).
Add one small bottle club soda.
Adjust strength by adding more than 1 unit of tequila; above is the minimum tequila for more sedate gatherings.
Rub rims with lemon, lime, or orange wedges.
Salt rims.  (People who request "no salt" for health reasons should be asked to leave.)
Fill glass as full as possible with ice.
Squeeze in three lemon, lime, or orange wedges over the ice, leaving one of those squoozed wedges in the glass.
Shake the margaritas until you get foam.
Pour over the ice.
The most difficult part of following David’s recipe is the mathematics involved in figuring out units and half units. Here are the actual measurements I used for a pitcherful:
3 cups good tequila (reduce to 2 cups for a sedate gathering)
1 cup of triple sec
1 ½ cups orange juice (freshly squeeze is preferable)
4 ½ cups margarita mix * (see recipe below)
1 cup club soda
* The key to a really good margarita is homemade sweet & sour mix.  The margarita mixes you can buy are made with high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavorings, and preservative chemicals.  It’s easy--and tastier--to make your own.

To make enough margarita mix for one pitcher, you’ll need 1 cup sugar, 1 cup water, 1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, and 1 ½ cups freshly squeezed lime juice. Make a simple syrup by heating the sugar and water together in a saucepan over medium heat just until the sugar melts.  Turn off the heat and let cool to room temperature.  Then add the lemon & lime juices.

May 1, 2012

Summer Cooking Class Schedule

Kitchen Conservatory's summer schedule is now posted online. To register, call Kitchen Conservatory at 314-862-2665 or register online.

This schedule features many brand new class themes and menus. My new "date night for couples" classes include a burger throwdown (June 17), a summer cocktail party (July 20), and a shrimp boil (September 23).  New "girls night out" classes feature cool summer menus, like picnic favorites (June 29) and summer pastas (July 6).

I'll be teaching a few other cool hands-on classes as well. One will be all about my favorite kitchen appliance, the Vitamix (July 22). There's also a fun summer brunch class (July 25) and a grilling & beer class (August 25).

Hope to see you there!

DATE NIGHT FOR COUPLES: 1960'S COCKTAIL PARTY - June 9 @ 6:00-8:30 (hands-on)
  • Inspired by Mad Men and the pop culture of the 1960's, we'll be creating modernized versions of dishes for a divine cocktail party. Sip on a Tom Collins after you prepare caramelized onion dip with white crudités, clams casino, Swedish meatballs with black currant dipping sauce, cheddar-gorgonzola cheese balls with bacon and smoky almonds, deviled ham canapés, plus mini dark chocolate bundt cakes with spiced rum glaze.
  • Muggles and wizards gather for a fun afternoon concocting delicious treats from Honeyduke's Desserts. Satisfy your sweet tooth, with Hagrid's treacle fudge, Mrs. Weasley's strawberry ice cream, marshmallow crumpets, pumpkin pasties, and amazing warm and frothy butterbeer. This class is designed for children, at least 7 years of age, plus a parent.
GIRLS' NIGHT OUT: WINE BAR TAPAS - June 15 @ 6:30-9:00 (demonstration)
  • Before the weekend comes to an end, spend a relaxing evening with the girls and a glass of wine, as I prepare an amazing array of tapas. Enjoy roasted olives spiced with orange and chile, stilton-walnut shortbread with pears and mascarpone, grilled bruschetta with tuna and capers drizzled with lemon oil, fried goat cheese with spicy tomato chutney, polenta bites with roasted mushrooms and caramelized onions, plus chocolate lavender truffles.
DATE NIGHT FOR COUPLES: BETWEEN THE BUNS - June 17 @ 5:00-7:30 (hands-on)
  • Discover your favorite burger, as this hands-on class for couples creates three remarkable burgers, starting with panini-style grilled Cuban burgers with ham, Swiss cheese and pickles. Also learn to make Carolina-style barbecue pork bacon burgers topped with cabbage slaw with honey-mustard sauce, tuna burgers with garlic-tomato aïoli, beer-battered onion rings with blue cheese dipping sauce, plus mouth-watering roasted pineapple-rum milkshakes.     
DATE NIGHT FOR COUPLES: SUSHI U FOR TWO - June 23 @ 6:00-8:30 (hands-on)
  • Join your partner for a crash course in sushi, with a taste test for the final exam to discover the favorites of the evening. This hands-on class will create tempura-fried shrimp rolls, sesame tuna hand rolls, unagi smoked eel rolls, spicy scallop rolls, hot-smoked salmon rolls with mango and jalapeño, plus ginger-peach green tea ice cream - all served with cold beer.
GIRLS' NIGHT OUT: BEAT THE HEAT - June 29 @ 6:30-9:00 (demonstration)
  • Come in out of the sweltering heat and enjoy a summer meal with the girls. Menu includes refreshing watermelon margaritas, green gazpacho shooters, shaved asparagus salad with parmesan dressing, grilled tilapia with cherry salsa served with lemon rice and crispy basil, plus chocolate-ricotta icebox cake.