Continuing Ed

This weekend I took my very first cooking class at ICE (Institute of Culinary Education). The morning of class I packed up my snack, notepad and pen, kissed the kids goodbye and off to school I went. I don’t know which I was more excited for, the class or the childfree time I would be spending on the train into the city. Thirty-five whole minutes to read a magazine with no one asking me “Are we there yet?”

Of course, like any other kid just starting school, I wanted to have a friend in class so I recruited my buddy Candice to sign up with me. If there is one thing we both love, it’s dim sum, so when I saw this course become available I immediately put us down for the last two slots.

Class started with a meeting led by our chef/instructor to go over ingredients and basic kitchen rules. After that we broke off into teams to tackle the ambitious menu that we would be preparing that day. Candice and I volunteered to start some pork bun dough while the rest of our group began dicing.

Candice and I basting the spareribs - and taking our job seriously

Candice and I basting the spareribs – and taking our job seriously

Things started leisurely but as the hours passed and our hunger increased the pace in the kitchen got a bit more frenetic. Everyone jumped in where they could to get it all done because we were all starving! Since Candice and I were stuck in our own little world of pot stickers and pork buns I am not too sure what went on in the rest of the kitchen. Somehow our nine-course meal got completed and it was time to eat the fruits of our labor.

The pot stickers were overdone, the pork bun dough ended up slightly raw, the spareribs that we so lovingly basted ended up burning, the hoisin meatballs were dry, and the custard tart was all crust and hardly any custard. I guess there were literally too many cooks in the kitchen. Despite the questionable culinary results, we all dug into our feast as if we were eating a five-star dinner at Jean Georges.

All in all, it was a great day and I can’t wait to get my ICE apron on again soon! In the meantime, I am going to try and recreate the pot stickers for my own little sous chefs and see how it goes.

Vegetable Pot Stickers

Ingredients

Dipping Sauce

1/3 cup soy sauce

2 Tbsp rice wine vinegar

1 Tbsp julienned ginger

1 tsp sugar

1/4 tsp Chinese chili paste (optional)

 

Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl. Set aside.

Filling

1 Tbsp sesame oil

2 cups chopped cabbage

1/4 cup chopped onion

1/4 cup chopped carrot

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 egg

1 Tbsp fish sauce

1/2 tsp white pepper (or black pepper is fine)

1 Tbsp vegetable oil

1 package wonton wrappers (round or square will work)

2 Tbsp water

 

Heat sesame oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add cabbage, onions, and carrots. Cook, stirring frequently, until cabbage is wilted. Mix in egg and cook until no longer runny. Add fish sauce and pepper and cook an additional minute. Remove from heat.

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To assemble the pot stickers, first moisten the edges with warm water. Place approximately 1 tablespoon of the vegetable mixture on the top portion of the wonton wrapper.

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Fold the wrapper in half over the filling and seal edges. Work from the middle out to the edge, pushing down to seal. This way the air will be removed and the pot stickers will hold together.

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Crimp up the edges of the wonton, you don’t have to be fancy here! This will help the filling stay in the dumpling.

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Preheat the vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Cook pot stickers approximately 1 minute per side, until lightly browned. Place water into the skillet and reduce heat. Cover and allow the pot stickers to steam until water is gone.

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Serve immediately with dipping sauce. Fingers are encouraged but chopsticks work well too!

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And the VERDICT is:

Matthew (age 6): “These are not like at the Chinese restaurant”

Dylan (age 4): “Sauce is not good for you, right?”

Liam (age 4): “Don’t like the inning”

Tougher than the critics at the NYTimes… In my opinion, these came out amazing and a lot better than our local Chinese restaurant!

Fresh Herbs

Our local farmers market was bustling with people last week. Everyone seemed to be out enjoying the first days of cool Fall weather. All the vendors had long lines but I didn’t want to leave empty handed so we stopped at a vegetable stand that was offering some fruits to sample. Just the thing I needed to occupy the boys while I picked up a few things and waited in line to pay.

You know how at the supermarket register there are displays of impulse items designed to prompt a last minute purchase? Well, this particular vendor had a similar set-up, although instead of packs of gum, there were little bundles of fresh herbs. While waiting we played a game of smelling the herbs to see who could guess what the different kinds were. Of course the boys didn’t get any right but it occupied them long enough to reach the end of the line.

When our turn came, I had them choose their favorite smelling herb and it was unanimous, they all loved the rosemary. Liam said it smelled like a holiday, which immediately sold me, so I added a few sprigs to our order.

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Here is a dish that I think would be perfect for any holiday – it was fast, easy, and the perfect accompaniment to the fish appetizer I cooked last week. All I had to do was put it in the oven and let it do its thing. This left me plenty of time to gut the fish we had caught that day. See my post from last week on the How To’s of gutting a fish.

Rosemary Chicken w/Roasted Veggies 

Ingredients:

2 russet potatoes, cut into 1/2” cubes

1 cup carrots, diced

1 onion, diced

2 Tbsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped, divided

1 Tbsp fresh thyme, finely chopped, divided

1 Tbsp garlic salt, divided

1/2 Tbsp salt, divided

1/2 Tbsp black pepper, divided

6 Tbsp olive oil, divided

8-12 pieces of chicken, legs & thighs, bone-in, skin-on

 

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a large rimmed baking with parchment paper and set aside.

Peel and dice the potatoes and place them in a bowl of cold water. Dice the carrots and the onion and place in a large mixing bowl. Drain and rinse the potatoes and then pat dry. Add the potatoes to the onion and carrots. Add half of the rosemary, thyme, garlic salt, salt, pepper, and olive oil to the chopped vegetables and mix well. Spread the vegetables on the baking sheet in a single layer.

IMG_6183 In the same large mixing bowl, add the chicken and combine with remaining half of the spices and olive oil. Mix well to coat. Nestle the chicken among the vegetables and place in the oven.

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Roast for approximately 60 minutes, until chicken is cooked through and the skin crispy, and vegetables are caramelized.

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Note 1: Soaking the potatoes in cold water will draw out the starch and help them crisp while roasting.

Note 2: I would recommend only using dark meat for this recipe so the meat doesn’t dry out while the vegetables caramelize.

And the VERDICT is:

Matthew (age 6): “Chicken bones, my favorite!”

Liam (age 4): “Is this too healthy?”

Dylan (age 4): “I got the foot!”

The only change I would make to this recipe is to add more carrots. Otherwise, a very successful dish.

The End

Every summer we take a trip to Montauk with our cousins. It has become a family tradition that we look forward to all year. We pack the minivan to capacity and head out on NY-27 to the End, as Montauk is often referred to. Once we finally arrive at our dive motel, the kids’ scream “Montauk!” and the fun begins.

Most people would define vacation as a time devoted to rest and relaxation. But our kids never seem to get that memo. Strangely, their energy level seems to increase exponentially as the days goes by.

One minute they want to be at the beach, the next it is the pool, followed by a trip for ice cream, fishing, or miniature golf. Then back to the beach, which makes them hungry again so back to the room for a snack. Each of these trips requires no less than a shower, a bathroom break, and a change of clothes. If you have ever read the popular children’s book, ‘If You Give a Mouse a Cookie…’, then you get the idea.

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Our vacation wraps up with our big family potluck dinner. Personally this is one of my favorite nights. Some menu items this year were Robyn’s famous meatballs, Chris’s sausage & peppers, and our turkey chili. In years past our Aunt Harriet would make a huge pot of clam chowder to start off the meal. I am making my own version this week, heavy on the veggies, with a little bacon thrown in for good measure.

Corn Clam Chowder

Ingredients:

5 slices bacon, diced

1 Tbsp butter

1 cup onion, finely diced

1 cup celery, finely diced

1 cup carrots, finely diced

Juice from 10oz. can minced clams, clams reserved

1 cup chicken broth

1 cup potato, cubed

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

3 Tbsp all-purpose flour

3 cups whole or 2% milk

1 cup fresh or frozen corn

 

Directions:

Cook bacon in a large saucepan until crisp.

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Remove bacon with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels and set aside. Add butter, onions, celery, and carrots to the bacon drippings. Sauté vegetables until softened, about 20-25 minutes.

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Add clam juice, chicken broth, potatoes, salt, and pepper. Cover and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.

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In a mixing bowl, whisk together flour and milk. Add reserved clams and milk mixture to the soup and continue cooking over medium heat, stirring often, until thickened and bubbling, about 8-10 minutes. Add corn in the last two minutes of cooking.

Garnish with bacon bits and serve with crusty bread for dipping.

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And the VERDICT is:

Matthew (big brother): “My tastebuds don’t think it’s yummy”

Liam (little brother): “EEEWWW – what is THAT?”

Dylan (little brother): “It’s so disgusting! Mommy, why did you cook this for dinner?”

Funny, I don’t remember my Aunt Harriet getting that reaction!

Milestones

Matthew lost his third tooth this week and was giddy with excitement. That night, he jumped right into bed; there were no pleas to watch more TV, no arguments about brushing teeth, no last minute trips to the kitchen for water. At first light, he popped out of his room waving the dollar bill he had earned from the Tooth Fairy.  I was half asleep but I do believe the clock read 5:15….

It is hard to remember that magical moment you experience in childhood when you awake to discover money under your pillow; proof the Tooth Fairy really does exist. But as a parent I have discovered it is just as enjoyable to be on the other side of the fence because you are now in on the joke. When we tiptoed into Matthew’s bedroom to make the exchange, it was so hard to hold back our laughter and not wake him. We conducted the transaction, dollar for tooth, and ran out giggling when it was done. And of course, we both feigned amazement the next morning when he proudly showed us our his dollar.

Matthew has five more teeth loose at the moment. He is already counting the money. The other day he mentioned a friend had told him that his two big front teeth were worth 10 dollars each because they were the big ones! We gently broke it to him that it must have been a fairy tale his friend heard; it could not be true.  Having three kids, tooth fairy money adds up, we have college tuition to think about! Any parent out there reading this giving over a dollar per tooth please keep it on the down low…

I had planned to make corn on the cob this week but due to the Matthew’s lack of chewing abilities I had to make a few adjustments – I ended up doing sort of a corn salad instead.

Corn Crab Salad w/Pepita Pesto

Ingredients:

Pepita Pesto

1 cup fresh parsley leaves, packed

1/4-cup grated Pecorino Romano

1/4-cup roasted pepitas (shelled pumpkin seeds) *

1 clove garlic, minced

2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

1/2-cup olive oil

Salt & pepper to taste

* pine nuts are traditionally used in pesto but most any nut will do, pepitas work very well and are a lot less expensive.

 

Corn Crab Salad

1 Tbsp olive oil

1 onion, diced

2 ears of corn, kernels removed, about 2 cups

2 Tbsp pepita pesto (see above)

1 cup crab meat (optional)

 

Directions:

For the pesto:

Combine the parsley, Romano, pepitas, garlic and lemon juice in a food processor. Pulse until it is a paste.

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Add olive oil and pulse until well blended. Add salt and pepper to taste. If the nuts are already salted you probably don’t have to add any more salt. Refrigerate remaining pesto for up to one week.

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For the corn salad:

In a large skillet heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the onions and cook until caramelized, about 20 minutes. Add the corn and cook until warmed through, about two minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the pepita pesto.

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Lastly, gently fold in the crabmeat. Shrimp would work well in this recipe too.

Serve warm or cold.

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And the VERDICT is:

Matthew (age 6): “I like a good corn”

Dylan (age 4): “I ate everything in a row, this, this and even this leaf”

Liam (age 4): “ Did not like the things in this!”

A so-so verdict. I used the pesto on pasta the following night and it got a much better reception!

Family Fun Night

Our local beach has a wonderful tradition; every Friday they host a Family Fun Night. Each week there is a theme with a special menu built around it. It is not five star dining but they really make an effort to cook authentic dishes. In addition to the food they also set up a Tiki Bar.  (I think I can speak for most people that this is the real draw!)

This past Friday the theme was Family Fiesta, before that was Fisherman’s Catch, Tapas night and American BBQ. They even had a Hawaiian Luau, complete with a pig roast. Sadly we missed that one. Upcoming events include: Mardi Gras, Italian night, and the end of year Clam Bake, a huge favorite.

They call it Family Fun night but it is really more of a Happy Hour (kids welcome) for the Moms & Dads. It is a great way for the working parents to connect with the stay-at-home parents after a long workweek on both sides. Since the beach is small most everyone is a familiar face. And the best feature of our beach is a six-foot fence so kids can’t escape! It is nice to be able to let the boys run around and they are thrilled to have their little bit of freedom.

The beach has extended hours Friday nights and most kids (and some parents) get to stay up way past bedtimes. But after dinner and the obligatory ice cream we usually don’t make it much past 8pm. Once we start to see the beginnings of a meltdown it’s our signal to pack up our brood and head home for bath and bedtime. The boys always give us a hard time about leaving but we remind them that there is always next Friday…

For Tapas night, there was a dish on the menu called Albondigas.  Sounded very exotic, turns out it means meatballs, which is right up our alley. Traditionally, they are served in a soup with similar ingredients to Matzo Ball Soup so I thought the boys might like this one.

Albondigas Soup (adapted from recipe of Chelsie Kenyon)

Ingredients:

1/2 lb ground beef

1/2 lb ground pork

1/2 cup rice (uncooked)

1 tsp salt

2 tsp cumin, divided

4 cloves garlic, finely minced, divided

2 quarts chicken broth

3 stalks celery, chopped

2 white onions, diced

3 large carrots, or 12-15 small carrots, chopped

2 cups baby spinach, fresh

Handful fresh cilantro leaves

2 tsp oregano

 

Directions:

In a large bowl mix ground beef, pork, salt, 1 tsp cumin, 2 cloves garlic until well blended. Do not overwork. Form small meatballs, about 1” in diameter.

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Bring chicken broth to a boil, then turn down to a simmer and add in meatballs. Simmer for about 20 minutes. Then add the remaining ingredients.

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Simmer for two hours, until vegetables have softened and rice in meatballs has cooked through.

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And the VERDICT is:

Matthew (age 6):  “This soup is so yummy but don’t be sad Mommy, I like Grandma’s          carrots better”

Liam (age 4): “I ate a carrot!”

Dylan (age 4): “These meatballs keep rolling off my spoon!”

Even with the runaway meatballs, I considered this a very successful meal.