Cooking Class with Chef Ivan Flowers – Lesson 80 Clam Chowder

Cooking Class
Chef Ivan Flowers

In the last class I taught you how to make delectable Roasted Fingerling Potatoes. I hope you not only made them, but also made some unique dishes using them. Thinking about those potatoes led me to thinking about another one of my often requested dishes; New England Clam Chowder. New England Clam Chowder is the cream based one, Manhattan style is tomato based. The New England variety to me is like eating seafood ice cream! The pop of the fresh corn, the creaminess of the soup, the brininess of the clams all work together to create a salty/sweet bowl of lusciousness. It is a dish that has remained popular for years for good reason.

Before I get into the class, I want to talk about a technique you will be using in this recipe; a roux (pronounced roo). Roux is a French term for a thickener that is used in soups, gravies and sauces. It is equal parts fat (butter, oil, bacon grease etc.) and flour that is cooked together in a pan while being stirred. The starch of the flour gets suspended in the fat and that makes it distribute evenly into the liquid you are thickening. Without the fat, the flour would simply create clumps in the liquid. The key to a successful roux is in the cooking. It not only helps to get the flour suspended in the fat, but it also removes that raw flour taste. This is a technique you will use again and again.

Now let’s get cooking!

This recipe will serve four. For it you will need: one quart canned minced clams in juice, one ¼ cups small diced white onion, three tablespoons unsalted butter, two ½ cups peeled russet potatoes small diced, three tablespoons flour, two cloves minced garlic, one cup finely chopped celery, two cups fresh, uncooked corn kernels, ½ quart cream, ½ quart low sodium chicken stock, salt, pepper, knife, measuring spoons, large spoon, large stock pot with a lid and wooden spoon.

First thing to do is put the butter into the stockpot over low-medium heat. Next add in: garlic, onion, celery and potatoes. Cook uncovered and stir occasionally. You will cook this for about four minutes. You want the garlic and onions to be translucent. The potatoes will not be completely cooked, but do not worry; you want them to finish cooking as the soup cooks so they maintain their integrity. If you let them cook too long in the beginning they would fall apart and disappear into the soup.

Okay, now you are going to create the roux. Add in the flour and start stirring. Keep stirring and cook the roux for three minutes. Next add in the clams and all the juice. You are using canned clams in this recipe because it is so much easier than using fresh clams. Trust me it tastes just as good and you are not going through the time and expense of buying, shucking and cleaning the amount of clams needed for this dish. Make sure you add in all the clam juice, it adds a wonderful flavor. Once the clams are in the pot stir the soup and cook it, still uncovered, for an additional three minutes.

Next add in the cream and the chicken stock. You want to use low sodium stock because it allows you to control the seasoning. This is the same reason you are going to wait to add salt and pepper at the end of cooking the soup. Clams have varying degrees of brininess (read saltiness), the stock is also salty so if you salt and pepper before you have completely cooked all the ingredients together you run the risk of having an over-salted soup.

Now turn the heat up to medium and add in the corn kernels. You keep them raw and add them into the soup for the same reason; you want that fresh sweet corn pop when you eat the soup. If you cooked the corn or added it too soon, it would get mushy.

Stir the soup and cook it, still uncovered, until it comes to a simmer. Once at a simmer, continue to cook it uncovered for ten minutes. After ten minutes, turn the heat down to low and cover. Cook covered for ten more minutes, stirring occasionally.

The final step is to salt and pepper to taste. That’s it!

When I eat this soup I like to have a sourdough baguette with it. I rip off large chunks of the bread and dunk it into that fabulously creamy soup. You can also serve it with the traditional oyster crackers. Another nice touch is a few dashes of hot sauce on top. You really can’t go wrong with this soup. And now that you know how easy it is to make, I hope you eat it more often! Remember, as with any technique or recipe, the most important component is the cook’s heart. The heart is what helps you create delicious meals you’ll never forget.

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Cooking Class with Chef Ivan Flowers – Lesson 79 Roasted Fingerling Potatoes

Cooking Class
Chef Ivan Flowers

In the last class I taught you how to make a quick Caprese Pasta. I do hope that it inspired you to cook more meals at home. With ease of preparation at the forefront of my mind, I thought this roasted fingerling potato recipe would be appropriate. If you’ve never eaten a fingerling potato you are in for a real treat, they are creamier and sweeter than a standard size potato with a slightly nutty flavor. A huge bonus is due to their size, they cook much more quickly than their larger relatives.  What is nice about this recipe is that is not only quick, but it affords so many wonderful possibilities (I will share them with you later).

Before I get into the recipe, I want to talk a little more about fingerling potatoes. Firstly, they come in a variety of colors: red, yellow, purple, etc. Note that the color of the skin has no effect on the flavor. They all taste the same, but I personally like to roast a variety of colors because I find it aesthetically pleasing. When buying these potatoes look for them to be firm and blemish free. Store them in a cool dark place until you are ready to use.

Now let’s get cooking!

This recipe will serve four people. For it you will need: one pound fingerling potatoes, ¼ cup canola oil, one tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary, one tablespoon sweet chili, juice of two lemons, one tablespoon granulated garlic, one teaspoon smoked paprika, salt, pepper, spray oil, knife, large bowl, baking sheets and a large spoon.  

First thing to do is preheat your oven to 400 degrees. While the oven is preheating, slice all the fingerling potatoes in half lengthwise and place in a large bowl. Make sure the bowl is large enough that you can easily toss the potatoes with the other ingredients.

Once you cut the potatoes you are going to want to proceed with the recipe immediately because a cut potato will quickly oxidize and turn brown. Once all the cut potatoes are in the bowl, add in: juice of two lemons, sweet chili, granulated garlic, canola oil, smoked paprika and rosemary. You use granulated garlic in this recipe instead of fresh because fresh garlic would burn and become bitter. Once everything is added into the bowl, toss well with the spoon and make sure every potato is coated.  

Now spray your baking sheet or sheets generously with oil. Place potatoes in a single layer on the baking sheet. You don’t want to overcrowd them or they won’t cook evenly. If need be, use two baking sheets. Next place the baking sheets into your preheated oven and check after fifteen minutes. What you are looking for is a nice golden brown color and for them to be fork tender. What that means is that you can JUST get a fork into the potato. Once they are cooked, remove from the oven and salt and pepper to taste.  

That’s it!

Now the possibilities I mentioned earlier. Of course these make a fabulous side dish, but there are other things to do with them. Think about tossing them into your favorite salad. Or how about adding some mayonnaise and vinegar and creating an over the top potato salad? Having a party? Top the roasted fingerlings with a dollop of sour cream and some black truffle caviar, delicious!

How about a play on hash? Sauté some onions and garlic in a pan, add in the roasted fingerlings, top with shredded cheddar cheese and crumbled bacon. Place under the broiler until cheese is gooey and wonderfully melted.

Now that you have this technique you can use it on more than just fingerling potatoes. This method works great on cauliflower or broccoli florets, parsnips, carrots, turnips and onions. It is also a fabulous way to make croutons using cubes of stale bread. Additionally, play with the herbs and fruit juice. Orange and coriander would make a carrot sing. Thyme and lime would work wonderfully on cauliflower. Remember, as with any technique or recipe, the most important component is the cook’s heart. The heart is what helps you create delicious meals you’ll never forget.

 

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Cooking Class with Chef Ivan Flowers – Lesson 78 Quick Caprese Pasta

Cooking Class
Chef Ivan Flowers

The last class was all about developing crispy skin on fish. I’m hoping that you not only made my Crispy Skin Trout recipe, but that you also experimented with other types of fish. This week I’ve been thinking about getting more people to cook at home. It saddens me that we have become a society that is so reliant on take-out and delivery. Cooking at home is not only healthier, but it is also a wonderful way to connect with your family. I believe one of the top reasons people are not cooking at home is because they think it is too much work and takes too much time. So I came up with a quick and easy dish that will let you have a delicious and healthy dinner on the table in about fifteen minutes!

Before I get into the recipe I want to talk about what exactly is Caprese. Caprese is an Italian salad that comes from Capri. In fact, Caprese means salad of Capri. It consists of fresh tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, fresh basil, salt and olive oil. It is plated tomato, mozzarella, basil leaf, so it mimics the colors of the Italian flag. Then a sprinkle of salt and a drizzle of olive oil is added. It is a classic and the flavors work fabulously together. So this Caprese Pasta has all of those flavors plus a light sauce. Hungry yet? Good.

Now, let’s get cooking!

This recipe serves four. For it you will need: one pound penne (I like using whole wheat pasta), five Roma tomatoes diced with the pulp removed, ¼ cup olive oil, ¼ cup Chardonnay, one tablespoon unsalted butter, juice of one lemon, ¼ cup chopped fresh basil, three cloves garlic finely minced, ½ pound whole milk mozzarella diced, ¼ cup grated Parmesan, large sauté pan, wooden spoon, knife, colander, large sauce pan, salt and pepper.

The first thing to do is get the water boiling for your pasta. Remember to add in a generous amount of salt because that is the only chance you get to season the pasta. Cook the pasta to al dente according to package directions. Al dente means to the tooth, in other words, you don’t want overcooked, mushy pasta. Once the pasta is cooked, drain in the colander, reserving one cup of the pasta water.

Now into the large sauté pan add in the minced garlic and olive oil. Turn the heat to medium and stirring occasionally cook until the garlic is soft. This will take about two minutes. Next add in the Chardonnay and the lemon juice. Remember to use a wine you would drink. A bad wine becomes unpalatable when used in cooking because you are concentrating the flavors. If you don’t want to use wine, you can sub in low sodium vegetable or chicken stock. Let the liquid come to a simmer and once it is simmering, cook for about four minutes. You want the liquid to reduce by 1/3.

Once reduced, add in the diced Roma tomatoes and the butter. I had you remove the pulp from the tomatoes (simply cut them in half and use a spoon to scrape out all the seeds and ribs) because it allows the tomato to stay firmer when you cook it. Because I want this pasta to mimic a Caprese salad, I want those tomatoes a little firm. Give it a stir and add in the cheese. Please use whole milk mozzarella, not the part-skim variety. This is because the whole milk variety has more fat and will melt more easily.

Cook and stir for two more minutes until the cheese starts to melt. Once this happens add in the pasta and the basil. You add the basil in last so it retains its color and flavor. Now, salt and pepper to taste. At this point, if you want saucier pasta, add in some of the reserved pasta water. Transfer to a plate and top with the Parmesan.

That’s it!

This pasta is fabulous as it is, but you can add in so many things to this recipe and change it up a bit. Try adding in roasted mushrooms, peas and roasted broccoli for a Primavera. Or add in grilled chicken or sautéed shrimp. How about topping it with meatballs? Yum! Also, don’t forget to serve it with my killer garlic bread!

There you have it, a quick and easy dinner you and your family will love. Once you start cooking at home, you will not want to go back to those take-out meals. Build a go to repertoire of quick and delicious recipes and use them for your weeknight meals. Remember, as with any technique or recipe, the most important component is the cook’s heart. The heart is what helps you create delicious meals you’ll never forget.

Cooking Class with Chef Ivan Flowers – Lesson 77 Crispy Skin Trout

Cooking Class
Chef Ivan Flowers

The last class I told you all about knives and which ones I believe are good for the home cook. I truly hope that you all will start a knife set that you will use for your lifetime. This week’s class came from more readers. Many people go out to restaurants and order skin-on fish and love it, but when they make fish at home, they think they can’t replicate it. If you have never eaten crispy skin fish, you must try it! It is like eating a sweet potato chip. It adds a wonderful mouth feel to the fish and it also helps to keep the fish moist. This class has a recipe for crispy skin trout, but be aware that the technique for achieving the crispy skin, once learned, can be used on other fish. On thicker fillets (think ½ inch or thicker) you will want to cut slits in the skin to keep it from curling, but because the trout is a thin fillet you won’t need to do that for this recipe.

Before I get into the recipe I want to talk about what type of trout you will need for it and shopping for fish in general. When buying fresh fish here is what you need to look for: clear eyes, red gills, firm to the touch and it should smell like cucumbers. If you walk up to a fish counter and it smells like a pier, run! Now for the trout you will need to get a head on, skin-on whole fish. You also want to make sure that it is split and that it has had the pin bones removed. These are the tiny bones that are buried in the flesh. Not only are they time consuming to remove, but they are also a choking hazard.

Okay, now that you have your trout, let’s get cooking!

This recipe will serve two. You will need: one trout (as prepped above), salt, pepper, three tablespoons canola oil, ¼ cup low sodium teriyaki sauce, juice of one orange, large sauté pan and a spatula. First thing to do is heat the sauté pan over medium heat without oil for two minutes. Why heat it without oil? Because when you put cool oil into a hot pan the oil coats the bottom more evenly and you want a very even coating of oil for this recipe so you develop perfectly crisp skin. While the pan is heating, salt and pepper both the inside of the trout and the skin side. Once the pan is hot add in the canola oil and put the seasoned trout into the pan skin side down. Don’t touch it for at least two minutes. If you try to move it too early the skin will stick. After two minutes jiggle the pan to see if the trout moves, this is to insure that the skin is not sticking. After you jiggle it, let it cook for one more minute and the skin will be crisp.

Now is the time to flip the fish. Once the trout is flipped add into the pan the teriyaki sauce and orange juice. Please note, watch your liquids as you add them in; you want the liquid to just come up to the skin. You do NOT want it to cover the skin. You worked hard to get that skin crispy so you don’t want to “uncrisp” it with the sauce. The liquid will come to a boil almost immediately after you put it into the pan. Once it is at boil, remove the pan from the heat and let it sit for one minute, this will finish cooking the fish.

After the minute, use your spatula to remove the trout from the pan and place it skin side up on a plate. That’s it! The skin will be perfectly crisp and the flesh will be super moist with a fabulous flavor imparted from the teriyaki and orange.

If you are not a fan of teriyaki or orange, don’t worry, use the same technique and substitute low-sodium broths and lemon. Or try some beer and lime. The possibilities are endless.

I like to serve this fish with in season vegetables or a mixed green salad. Now that you know this technique you don’t have to go to a restaurant to enjoy crispy skin fish.

Remember, as with any technique or recipe, the most important component is the cook’s heart. The heart is what helps you create delicious meals you’ll never forget.

Cooking Class with Chef Ivan Flowers – Lesson 76 Knives 101

Cooking Class
Chef Ivan Flowers

In the last class I taught you all about steak sauces and that got me thinking about steak knives! Yes, knives. As a chef, I am often asked about which knives I recommend for the home cook. Additionally, it is one of the most requested classes I get from my readers. What follows is a profile on a good, basic knife set that every home cook should have in their kitchen. As you advance, you can always add to this set.

Before I get into the list, I want to talk about knives. I’m sure you all are thinking to yourselves, what is there to talk about, they are knives and they cut things. Well, to a chef, a knife is much more. Chefs become attached to their knives and do not like to use another chef’s knives. This is why you see them schlepping their knife bags to competition shows on television. My point being is that knives are a very personal thing. A brand of knife that I can’t live without may be a brand that doesn’t work for you at all. So I will NOT be recommending any particular brand of knife. I suggest you go to the store and pick up many different brands of knives. See how it feels in your hand and if you feel comfortable handling it. Trust me, one brand will jump out and that will be for you. Finally, I do suggest that you spend some money on your knives. There is a difference between cheap knives and pricier ones. You don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars either, but think of your knives as an investment that will pay for itself many times over. Okay, I could wax poetic forever about knives and how I love them, but I won’t, on with the list.

Chef’s Knife– This is a knife with an 8-10 inch blade and is up to 14 inches in total length. There are two styles, French and German. They both have a straight edge, but the German is more curved. I prefer the French style, but again, this is a personal preference. You use this knife for slicing, chopping, dicing and butchering. Look for a comfortable weight and a carbon steel blade (all the following knifes should have this type of blade or a similar non-corrosive material). The steel will keep it from rusting or corroding.

Santoku– A Japanese knife that name means three uses. The blade on this knife varies from 5-8 inches and has a long flat edge. The blade also has divots; these keep the food from sticking with the knife. This knife has become very popular recently and you will see it used a lot on cooking shows.  You use this knife for small veggie work and cheeses.

Boning Knife– This knife has a sharp point, narrow blade and very little flexibility. You use it to remove bones from poultry and meat. It is normally 5- 61/2 inches in length and the blade is thinner than other knives. This allows precision when you are trying to de-bone a chicken, etc. Look for a boning knife that will act as a scalpel in your hand.

Fillet Knife– This has a very similar profile as a boning knife, but it is much thinner and very flexible. It is flexible because you use it for filleting, especially fish. The flexibility allows you to run the knife, with precision, directly under bones, releasing a fabulous fillet.

Serrated Knife– This knife has an 8-10 inch blade with teeth that are similar to the ones you see on a saw. You use this on bread, semi-frozen foods and fruits and veggies that are hard on the outside and soft on the inside (i.e. tomatoes). When using this knife, you utilize a sawing motion. With a straight edge knife, like a chef’s knife, you utilize a slicing motion.

Paring Knife– This blade of this knife is 2 ½-4 inches long. You use it for intricate work like deveining shrimp. This knife is also good for small fruits and vegetables and peeling.

Okay, you have your knife set, now what?

I want to talk to you about safety, cleaning and storage. Get plastic blade guards for all your knives. This protects you and the blade of the knife. Have the guards on whenever the knife is not in use. Store your knives flat in a drawer with the guards on the blade. Never put your knives in the dishwasher. Wash by hand with a little warm soapy water, then dry thoroughly and put back in the drawer. Your knives will need to be sharpened. I suggest getting them professionally sharpened about once a month. More if you are using them a lot, less if you aren’t using them often.

One more thing, I get asked a lot about ceramic knives. I do not suggest them. If you drop them, the blade shatters and that is simply a waste of a precious knife.

That’s it, Knives 101! Having a set of knives like this will put you well on your way to being able to accomplish anything you want in your kitchen.

Cooking Class with Chef Ivan Flowers – Lesson 75 Steak Sauces

Cooking Class
Chef Ivan Flowers

In the last class I taught some quick and easy dorm room dinners. This class I’m continuing with readers’ suggestions and teaching you three steak sauces. One of the reasons you all love dining out at a steak house so much is the choice of sauces. But when you make a steak at home, you tend to reach for a branded steak sauce or ketchup (nothing wrong with either of those!). Steak sauces don’t have to be intimidating and once you learn some basic techniques, you will be off to the races. So thank you, Rick Levang for your suggestion.

Now let’s get cooking!

All sauce recipes will serve six. The first sauce is a green peppercorn sauce. I love the richness and complexity of this sauce and think it makes even a mid-week meal feel like a special occasion. For this recipe you will need: large sauté pan, medium saucepan, whisk, sieve, large spoon, ¼ cup clarified butter (8 ounces unsalted butter), one ½ tablespoons finely chopped shallot, three tablespoons Port, ¼ cup cognac, seven tablespoons heavy cream, one tablespoon brined green peppercorns, one ounce cold unsalted butter, ½ teaspoon red wine vinegar, salt and pepper.

First thing to do is to clarify your eight ounces of unsalted butter. Yes, it must be unsalted, that way you control the seasoning of the dish. Don’t panic, this is easier than you think. Clarified butter simply means you are separating the milk solids from the fat. Doing this creates pure butterfat which has a higher smoking point. This recipe will make more than you will need, but that’s okay, store the extra in an air tight container in the fridge and use in place of oil to sauté veggies, etc. So, put two sticks of unsalted butter in an uncovered medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Let it cook until it comes to a simmer. Once it is simmers, put heat to low and cook for ten to fifteen minutes. It is ready when all the milk solids come to the top. It will look like it is covered in white foam. Once this happens, remove from heat and using a large spoon, skim off all the foam and discard. You will be left with clarified butter. Set this aside.

Next in a large sauté pan over medium-low heat and in ¼ cup of the clarified butter and let it heat for two minutes. While it is heating take your brined green peppercorns and rinse in a sieve. You do this so you get SOME of the salt from the brine, but not all of it.  Now, once the butter is heated whisk in the shallot. Remember a shallot tastes like a combination of a mild onion and garlic. If you don’t have one you may substitute red onion. Cook the shallots for two to three minutes until translucent. Remove the pan from heat and let it cool for two minutes. Next, with the pan still off the flame, add in the cognac and the port. You ALWAYS add alcohol into a pan while it is off the flame because there is a fire hazard if you add it while pan is on a flame. Now go back to the flame and tilt the pan toward it until the contents ignite. Keeping the pan on the heat let the flame burn out. This has burned off all the alcohol, but left all that fabulous flavor from the cognac and the port. Next add in the cream and the rinsed and drained green peppercorn and whisk to combine. Continue cooking over medium-low heat until this is reduced by half. This is the time for the ounce of cold unsalted butter to be added. You want it cold so it incorporates into the sauce slowly and helps to emulsify it. Whisk continuously once you add in the butter. Once it is melted, add in the red wine vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. That’s it!

The second sauce I’m going to teach you is a red wine sauce.  I love this classic sauce and the earthiness of the wine works wonderfully with a steak. For this recipe you will need: medium saucepan, whisk, sieve, large bowl, two cups good red wine, one tablespoon balsamic vinegar, ½ tablespoon brown sugar, one tablespoon cold unsalted butter, one teaspoon tomato paste, one clove chopped garlic, ½ teaspoon Dijon mustard, salt and pepper. Remember; always cook with a wine you would drink. Cooking concentrates the flavors, be they good or bad. Place all ingredients, except the cold butter into the saucepan and whisk to combine. Cook uncovered over medium heat until reduced by ¾. Once reduced, strain it through a sieve into the large bowl. You do this because you want all the flavor from the garlic etc., but you are creating a silky sauce. Once strained, put it back into the saucepan over low heat and whisk the cold unsalted butter into it. Once the butter is melted, salt and pepper to taste. That’s it!

The third sauce is one I have made quite a bit as a chef. It is a blueberry sauce. Before you stop reading the rest of the recipe, let me tell you, this sauce works not only with steak, but also with chicken or pork. It is smoky, sweet, has a touch of acidity and just a little heat. For this sauce you will need: medium saucepan, large spoon, blender, one ½ cups blueberries, ¾ cups Chardonnay, two tablespoons balsamic vinegar, one tablespoon honey, ½ teaspoon cumin, ½ teaspoon smoked paprika, ½ jalapeno chopped, salt and pepper. Reminder, if you don’t like too much heat, remove the ribs and the seeds from the jalapeno, if you do like a little more heat, leave them in the pepper. Put everything in the saucepan over medium-low heat and stir to combine. Cook uncovered ten minutes until it gets syrupy. Once it looks like syrup, let it cool for ten minutes and then place in the blender. You want to let it cool a little because if you go into the blender while it is very hot, steam builds up and the lid pops off creating quite a mess. Blend the sauce until smooth and then salt and pepper to taste. That’s it!

There you have it, three steak sauces that will add some pizzazz to your meals. Now that you have these techniques, experiment a little, add in a sprig of rosemary to the red wine sauce to make it a little herbaceous. Or instead of the red wine vinegar, squeeze some lemon at the end of the green peppercorn sauce for a punch of citrus. Remember, as with any technique or recipe, the most important component is the cook’s heart. The heart is what helps you create delicious meals you’ll never forget.

Cooking Class with Chef Ivan Flowers – Lesson 74 Dorm Room Dinners

Cooking Class
Chef Ivan Flowers

In the last class I taught you how to make an elegant casserole. I do hope some of you wowed your friends and family with the dish. This class will be the first of few I will do with this theme. A couple of my readers, Carolyn Adair Cooke and Krista Anderson Belling suggested this idea and I loved it. Times sure have changed since I was in college in New York. Back then if you had a mini-fridge and a toaster oven in your dorm room it was a huge deal. Now dorms have kitchens! What a fab idea and a wonderful way to get younger people cooking. I created the following recipes to be healthy, quick and with a minimum amount of ingredients and equipment. All recipes serve four.

Let’s get cooking!

The first dish actually requires no cooking; it is a quick Ahi Poke. Poke (pronounced Pokee) originated in Hawaii and literally means chunk. It refers to any dish that has meat or seafood cut into small chunks and served with sauce. For this poke, you will need: one pound Ahi tuna, one tablespoon reduced sodium soy sauce, ½ teaspoon sesame oil, two tablespoons canola oil, one tablespoon minced scallion, one large avocado, juice of ½ a lime, ½ cup mayonnaise, two tablespoons Sriracha, salt, small bowl, medium bowl, large bowl, whisk, large spoon, knife and cutting board.

The first thing you want to do is create the dressings. You do this so the flavors have time to marry and develop. In a small bowl whisk together the sesame oil, canola oil and soy sauce. Please do not substitute olive oil for the canola oil. Unlike olive oil, canola oil has a neutral flavor that won’t interfere with the other flavors in the dish.

Next, in a medium bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise and the Sriracha. Now mince the scallions and dice the avocado. On the diced avocado you want to squeeze the lime and salt to taste. The lime will keep the avocado from oxidizing and the salt enhances its flavor.

Set these aside and dice the Ahi. Make your cuts as uniform as possible. This is always important, but especially so in this dish because you want every bite to have an even distribution of ingredients.

Place the Ahi in the large bowl and add in the scallion, avocado and sesame oil dressing. Mix with a large spoon. That’s it! Serve chilled with a drizzle of the Sriracha mayonnaise.

The second dish is Pasta Can-Do. This recipe takes advantage of low cost canned foods. Yes, canned food DOES have a place in cooking. For this recipe you will need: two cans no salt added petite diced tomatoes (14.5 ounce), one can low sodium black olives (6 ounce), one can no-salt added sliced mushrooms (8 ounce), three garlic cloves, two teaspoons dried Italian seasoning, three tablespoons olive oil, one 16 ounce package whole wheat linguini, salt, pepper, large sauce pan with a lid, large sauté pan with a lid, cutting board, colander, knife, large bowl, wooden spoon and can opener.

First you want to get your pasta cooking. I chose whole wheat because it is much higher in fiber and protein than white pasta. Fill your saucepan with cold water and add a generous amount of salt. You add the salt because this is the only chance you will get to season the pasta. Once the water is boiling, add in the pasta, give it a stir and cook uncovered until it is al dente. Al dente means “to the tooth,” so the pasta is cooked so it is still firm when bitten. Drain the pasta in a colander, reserving one cup of the pasta water.

Next mince your three garlic cloves and slice the olives. In the sauté pan add in the olive oil and put it over low heat. Add in the garlic and the Italian herbs and let it cook, stirring occasionally, until the garlic is soft, but not browned. This will take about 3-4 minutes. You put the herbs in with the garlic so they can flavor the oil. Once the garlic is cooked, add in the tomatoes, mushrooms and olives. Stir to combine and increase heat to medium-high and cover. Bring this to a simmer and then uncover, stir and reduce heat to medium. Cook this until desired consistency. Before adding pasta, salt and pepper to taste.

Once it is ready, stir the pasta into the sauce in the sauté pan with the heat on low. You do this because it allows every strand of pasta to get coated with the sauce. At this point, if you want a saucier pasta use some of the reserved pasta water. This is an old trick that adds in flavor and a bit of the pasta starch into the sauce. Once all is combined, put into a large bowl and enjoy! I like to serve this with some freshly grated Parmesan.

The final dish is Eggs-cellent Dinner. This is a recipe for a Frittata, which in Italian means fried. It is a baked egg dish that is wonderful because you can add basically any of your fave ingredients into it! For this recipe you will need: eight large eggs, two teaspoons unsalted butter, two teaspoons olive oil,  ½ cup cream or milk, one cup shredded mozzarella, one cup fave cooked veggies or meats, large bowl, salt, pepper, rubber spatula, whisk and 12 inch oven safe sauté pan.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl crack all the eggs and add in the cream. Whisk this together until just beaten. Over beating the eggs will result in a dense Frittata.  Now add in the shredded mozzarella, ½ teaspoon salt, ¼ teaspoon pepper and your veggies and or meats and combine. Next add the butter and olive oil into your sauté pan. You want to use unsalted butter because that way you control the seasoning of the dish. You use the olive oil so the butter has a higher smoking point (it won’t burn). Put the pan over medium-high heat and once the butter is melted, add in the egg mixture. Using the spatula stir the eggs a couple of times and then let them cook. Once the eggs start to pull away from the side of the pan (about 5-7 minutes) put the pan into the oven and cook until set, about 15 minutes. That’s it! You can serve this warm or at room temp. I like to eat it with a nice mixed green salad.

There you have it, three quick and healthy dinners ideal for dorm room cooking. Once you master these recipes and techniques, have some fun with the recipes and make them your own. Don’t be afraid to make a mistake that is how you learn. Remember, as with any technique or recipe, the most important component is the cook’s heart. The heart is what helps you create delicious meals you’ll never forget.

Cooking Class with Chef Ivan Flowers – Lesson 73 Divine Chicken Casserole

Cooking Class
Chef Ivan Flowers

After the last lesson’s lighter fare, I thought I would balance it out with some comfort food. The idea for this class came from some readers, Helen Djukic and Macy Crane, they asked me for an elegant casserole. Normally when you think about a casserole you think tuna noodle, mac n’ cheese and the like, you know, deliciously comforting casual food. But believe it or not, a casserole can be elegant enough to serve at a fine dinner party. My Divine Chicken Casserole fits the bill and it’s what’s on the menu for this week’s class.

Before I get into the class, I want to note a few things. One thing, this recipe is a two day affair, so please plan accordingly. Another thing, you will note that I took advantage of some pre-cooked store bought items. This is perfectly acceptable, so please, if you ever need to use these items, do so guiltlessly.

Now, let’s get cooking!

This recipe will serve four to six people. For it you will need: a 4” high by 3” wide ring mold, 9 x 12 casserole dish, three pie pans, two large saucepans, wooden spoon, colander, two baking sheets, 2 large bowls, spoons, knife, whisk, foil, forks, potato masher, spray oil, three large Yukon Gold potatoes, four sprigs of thyme, 3 peeled garlic cloves, eight ounces unsalted butter, one cup whole milk, ½ teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary, two ½ cups flour, two cups shredded smoked mozzarella, ½ cup heavy cream, sixteen ounces white button mushrooms, ½ cup frozen peas, one box no boil lasagna noodles, ½ pound thinly sliced black forest ham from the deli, one rotisserie chicken, five beaten eggs, 1/3 cup water, two cups Panko, juice of ½ a lemon, one teaspoon granulated garlic, salt, pepper, ½ teaspoon smoked paprika and two tablespoons mayonnaise.

Day 1

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and spray a baking sheet with oil. Place the mushrooms cap side down on the sheet and then spray them generously with oil. Roast for about 30 minutes, until they are nicely browned and cooked through. Remove from oven and salt and pepper. You season the mushrooms after you roast them so they do not become soggy and mushy. Once they are cooled, thinly slice and set aside.

While the mushrooms are roasting, put the Yukon Gold potatoes in a large saucepan and cover with cold water. You use a Yukon Gold potato because they are creamier than Russet potatoes. The cold water is so the potatoes cook evenly from the inside out. Now add into the water the three peeled garlic cloves and the four sprigs of thyme. This will season the potatoes as they cook and remember seasoning at every level creates delicious. Put them over high heat until they boil, then reduce heat to medium, cover and let them simmer. They are done when a fork slides easily out of center of potato. Drain them in a colander and discard the garlic and thyme.

As they cool, use the same saucepan to heat four ounces of unsalted butter, ½ cup heavy cream and the chopped rosemary. Heat over medium-high until the cream comes to a simmer then stir in ½ cup shredded smoked mozzarella.

Set this aside and cut the potatoes into quarters and place in a large bowl. Slowly pour the cream mixture, a little at a time, over the potatoes, using a masher to work it in. Continue this process until potatoes are desired consistency, you want them thick, not runny, think thick vanilla pudding. You may not use all your cream mixture. Once they are completely mashed. Salt and pepper to taste and set aside.

Remove the breasts from the rotisserie chicken and then remove the skin. Using two forks finely shred it in to a large bowl. Add in the mayo, the lemon juice, granulated garlic and smoked paprika. Stir until well combined. Salt and pepper to taste and set aside.

Now it is time to make a Béchamel sauce. This is simply a thickened cream or milk sauce. For this recipe you will be adding in some cheese. Don’t get intimidated by this sauce, it is easier to make than you think. In a large saucepan over medium heat add in four ounces unsalted butter and let it melt. Once melted, add in ½ cup of flour. Using a whisk, combine the flour and butter and continue cooking and whisking until it is a blond color and smells slightly nutty. You do this to cook out that raw flour taste. Next add in the whole milk and continue cooking and whisking until it thickens, about two to three minutes. You keep whisking so the mixture stays smooth and doesn’t develop any lumps. Once thickened, whisk in one ½ cups shredded smoked mozzarella a little at a time; so, add in some cheese, whisk and then add in more cheese, whisk, etc. Continue until all cheese is incorporated. Salt and pepper to taste, then turn off the heat and let it sit while you assemble your mise en place.

It is time to assemble! Preheat oven to 350 degrees. You want a three-layer casserole so use about 1/3 of every ingredient in each layer. Please note, to make sure you still have Béchamel sauce for the final top layer you will want to use ¼ of it, not 1/3 for each layer.

First spray your casserole dish. Next get your mise en place in place: mashed potatoes, shredded chicken, sliced deli ham, frozen peas (these will cook in the casserole), sliced mushrooms, Béchamel sauce and no cook lasagna noodles. Having everything organized and close at hand will make assembly very simple. Spoon ¼ of the Béchamel sauce into the casserole dish and spread it with a spoon. Place a layer of lasagna noodles over the sauce, completely covering it. Go ahead and break them if need be to make a solid noodle layer.

Next spread 1/3 of the potatoes over the noodles and then sprinkle 1/3 of the chicken on top of them. Okay now you put 1/3 of the peas and 1/3 of the sliced mushrooms, sprinkled evenly over the chicken. Now lay out 1/3 of the sliced deli ham. Repeat the next two layers exactly the same.

Once you are at top layer, use the last bit of Béchamel sauce to cover the ham and then top that with a final layer of noodles.

Cover with foil and place on a baking sheet. Cook at 350 for 45-60 minutes until the casserole is bubbling. Remove from oven and let cool then place in fridge overnight.

Day 2

Note you are going to want at least one hour between the time you bread this casserole and the time it goes into the oven. Doing this will make sure that the casserole cooks evenly.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Set up your breading station using the three pie pans. In the first pan place the two cups of flour, in the second the beaten eggs and water and in the third the two cups of Panko.

Now remove the casserole from the fridge and spray your ring mold with oil. Starting at a corner, press the ring mold into the casserole and give it a few spins to make sure the casserole is completely cut. You may need to use a fork to help guide out the casserole and the ring mold.

Place the casserole, still in the ring mold, onto a baking sheet and gently remove the mold. Continue this process until you have as many rings out of casserole as possible. This is why you refrigerated the casserole overnight. The cold casserole is much easier to cut than a warm one and will keep its form. Don’t throw out the leftover casserole pieces, these are a delicious snack!

Now take a casserole ring and completely cover it in flour, tapping off any excess, next roll it in the egg mixture and finally completely cover it in Panko. Once breaded, place back on the baking sheet and continue process until all rings are breaded.

Let them sit one hour, then bake them for about 20 minutes in a 350 degree oven until they are golden brown. Serve hot with some marinara sauce.

There you have it an elegant casserole! If you don’t want to bread the casserole, it is perfectly acceptable to serve it the first day you cook it. You can also omit the ring mold and simply cut into squares and then bread it. Remember, as with any technique or recipe, the most important component is the cook’s heart. The heart is what helps you create delicious meals you’ll never forget.

Cooking Class with Chef Ivan Flowers – Lesson 72 Lighten Up

Cooking Class
Chef Ivan Flowers

Last class I gave you some quick tips to make it easier for you to make all your favorite dishes. People are always asking me for tips, so I thought I would continue with this theme and give you some quick and easy ideas to help you eat more healthfully. I hear all the time that it costs too much time and money to eat a healthy diet. The truth is, with a few go-to recipes and tricks, healthy eating can be both affordable and easy. I will be giving you three meals that you can build upon on your path to healthy eating.

Before I get into the recipes, I want to talk a little about nutrition. First of all, I am not a nutritionist, very few chefs are, but I was lucky enough to marry a woman that has taught me quite a bit about this subject. Healthy eating and nutrition can feel daunting, so I am concentrating on recipes that are low in sugar and sodium and are high in fiber and flavor. Remember, the easiest way to eat better is to avoid processed foods. They are usually high in sugar, sodium and preservatives. Whenever possible, use fresh food and if you do use any processed foods, read the labels and choose low sugar/low sodium whenever possible.

Let’s get cooking!

A healthy breakfast can seem almost impossible to accomplish with everyone having such hectic mornings, but it can be done. I love a berry smoothie because not only is it quick and nutritious, but it is also portable which means I can “eat” my breakfast in the car on my way to work. This recipe will make one smoothie, so if you are making it for more people, simply increase the amounts, keeping the ratios the same.

You will need: blender, one cup frozen berries (no need for ice!), ½ cup nonfat/no sugar added Greek yogurt, one packet Stevia, ½ cup nonfat or light soy milk and if you would like add in a scoop of protein powder or fiber.

Put all of the above in a blender and blend until desired consistency. That’s it! You can make this with any of your fave frozen fruits.

Lunch is another meal that people tend to grab anything they can get their hands on due to the fact that there is a limited time in which they can eat it. The best remedy I have found for this is to make lunch the night before and bring it to work. Yes, even I, as a chef, bring my own lunch into the kitchen. I find it keeps me from mindlessly eating and it helps to keep my nutrition on track. I love a sandwich and my favorite is this California Chicken, but if you prefer, you can prepare this recipe as a wrap using a low carb/high fiber wheat tortilla.

Again, this recipe is for one, but you can increase amounts and make for as many people as you like. For this recipe you will need: two slices double fiber whole wheat bread, ½ an avocado, one six ounce boneless skinless baked chicken breast, spray oil, salt, pepper, juice of one lemon, two slices tomato, arugula, olive oil, red wine vinegar, baking pan and a small bowl.

For the chicken breasts, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a baking pan with oil and spray both sides of the chicken breasts with oil. Season both sides of the chicken with salt and pepper. Cook for ten to twelve minutes until chicken has no translucency. Remove from oven and squeeze half of the lemon over all the breasts. This will create a nice punch of flavor without adding fat, sugar or salt. Make an entire pack of chicken breasts at once and keep in your fridge, these are great to use in all sorts of healthy dishes.

While the chicken cools, salt and pepper the tomato slices and using a fork, mash the avocado to a spreadable consistency. Then add in salt, pepper and the other half of the lemon juice.

Now in a small bowl, put a handful of arugula, drizzle about a teaspoon of olive oil on top and ¼ teaspoon of red wine vinegar. Toss to coat and then salt and pepper to taste. Why all this trouble? Just as in any other dish, you season at every level to create delicious. This is even more important when trying to eat healthfully because without flavor, you won’t eat it. Next, cut one chicken breast into thin slices. Now to assemble, spread both pieces of bread with the mashed avocado. Put sliced chicken breast on both sides of the bread. Now on one side place the tomato slices then top them with the arugula. Finally, top with the other slice of bread.

That’s it! I do believe this will become one of your go to lunches.

Okay, you’ve made it to dinner! This recipe is quick, delicious and a real crowd pleaser. The recipe for Orange Glazed Pork Tenderloin will serve two. You will need: fourteen ounce pork tenderloin, ¼ cup red wine vinegar, juice of one orange, one packet stevia, ¼ teaspoon fresh chopped sage, medium sauté pan, roasting pan, spray oil, tongs, medium saucepan, spoon, pastry brush, meat thermometer, salt, pepper and a knife.

Preheat the oven to 400. Pull out the tenderloin and let it sit on the counter. In the saucepan combine the juice of the orange, red wine vinegar, packet of stevia and chopped sage leaves. Put uncovered over medium-high heat and stir. Let it cook about five minutes until it becomes syrupy then set it aside.

Spray the medium sauté pan with oil. Salt and pepper all sides of the tenderloin then place into the pan. Put heat to medium- high and cook each side for about two minutes. You are looking for a nice golden brown color. Once all sides are browned, put into a sprayed roasting pan and cook for about 10 minutes. Cook until internal temperature is 140 degrees. Remove from oven and generously brush the glaze over the tenderloin. Repeat several times as it rests at least ten minutes before you slice it. Remember you let meats rest so the juices stay in the meat. That’s it!

I like to serve this thinly sliced with a little more of the glaze spooned over it. I usually eat this with some roasted veggies or a nice green salad. Delicious!

See, not so hard, right? Once you get in the habit of making and eating these healthy dishes you will feel so good you won’t want to go back to your old eating habits. Remember, as with any technique or recipe, the most important component is the cook’s heart. The heart is what helps you create delicious meals you’ll never forget.

Cooking Class with Chef Ivan Flowers- Lesson 71 Quick Tips

The last class was all about fritters and I certainly hope you all “frittered” some time away! Being a chef, I am constantly asked advice on a myriad of cooking questions. So I decided to compile some quick tips that answer the questions I am most frequently asked.

Pull out meat/poultry one hour before cooking.

This will let the meat warm up a little and will insure even cooking.

Always let cooked meat/poultry rest.

The reason you do this is to allow the juices to redistribute back into the meat. If you cut meat hot out of the oven, the juices end up all over the cutting board and this results in dry meat. For larger cuts, tent with foil and rest at least 30 minutes. Smaller cuts, tent at rest at least ten minutes.

Always use unsalted butter when cooking.

You do this so you have complete control over the seasoning.

Use Extra Virgin Olive Oil in dressings and to finish.

You want to enjoy the fruitiness of this oil which is why you use it in things that will bring that flavor out. Cook with vegetable oil or a regular olive oil.

Add peeled garlic, fresh herbs and peppercorns to the water when you boil potatoes.

Doing this allows you to add another level of flavor to any dish you are going to make with the potatoes.

Tap shellfish on a counter BEFORE using.

If they close, they are still alive. If they remain open, discard them, they are dead and you cannot use them.

Grate Parmesan as you need it.

When grating from a Parmesan wedge, don’t grate ahead of time. This will dry out the cheese. Grate it as you need it to get the most powerful flavor.

Pull cheese for cheese plates out of fridge at least 45 minutes before serving.

If a cheese id too cold, you can’t experience its full flavor. Additionally, if you are serving cheeses like Brie, you want them warmer so they have the correct soft, runny consistency.

When you want more of a “bite” than Parmesan, use Romano.

These are not interchangeable. Romano has a distinctive bite at the finish, while Parmesan tends to be warm and nutty. I like to use Romano on salads and roasted veggies.

When making biscuits, scones, shortbreads, do NOT twist when using the dough cutter.

If you twist instead of pulling the cutter straight out of the dough, it will impede the rise of the product.

Check your dried spices.

Yes, they do lose potency. My advice is to go through your spices every six months and replace any that either are no longer fragrant or that you have not used in a while.

Take pan off the flame when you add alcohol.

If you don’t you risk lighting yourself on fire. The flame can travel up the bottle and ignite. So remove the pan from the flame, add the alcohol and then put it back on the flame.

Balance acid with sugar.

This creates a gastrique. So if you are adding citrus juice, vinegars, etc. always add in some sugar.

Don’t store tomatoes in the fridge.

Doing this kills the flavor. Store them on your counter and remember to give them a sprinkle of salt and pepper before serving or using, this will amp up the taste even more.

Ripen avocados in a brown paper bag on the counter.

I NEVER buy ripe avocados! I find the flavor is much better if I buy them green then ripen them at home. Simply place in a paper bag and fold it down so no light gets into the bag. Once they are ripe, transfer them to the fridge.

When cooking meat on a bone, remove from oven 5-8 degrees BELOW desired temp.

This is because the bone acts as a heat conduit and will continue cooking that meat after it is removed from the oven.

Don’t touch mouth after handling artichokes.

If you prepare fresh artichokes and don’t immediately wash your hands, then inadvertently touch your mouth, oh boy! EVERYTHING you eat for two to three days will taste like metal.

Store yeast in the fridge.

Cold retards the action of yeast, but allows it to remain alive. Heat will kill the yeast, so it won’t work when you go to use it for your baked goods product.

Only cook with wine you would drink.

Remember, cooking with wine concentrates its flavors, so good bad wine becomes unpalatable.

Have fun!

The joy you feel while cooking transfers to the dish. So relax, be creative and enjoy yourself.

 

Remember, as with any technique or recipe, the most important component is the cook’s heart. The heart is what helps you create delicious meals you’ll never forget.