The Kitchen Counter Cooking School

The Kitchen Counter Cooking School

On a trip to my recent discovery, Elliot Bay Book Company, I picked up “The Kitchen Counter Cooking School” because it sounded fun, educational and was in the bargain area. I didn’t realize until I got home and took a closer look at the cover, that I owned the author’s first book, “The Sharper Your Knife, the Less you Cry“. I read that one a little over a year ago and truly enjoyed getting a glimpse into her trials, tribulations and successes attending Le Cordon Bleu  in Paris. I loved that she was just a regular foodie who decided to be adventurous and attend one of the top cooking schools in the world. That book is a memoir and has more of a concrete narrative with a very sweet story. 

The “Kitchen Counter Cooking School” is sort of the story of an experiment. Kathleen herself doesn’t know how it will turn out in the end, but takes it upon herself to give basic cooking lessons to 9 “culinary novices” to see if giving them the skills and tools to take on their kitchens will change their eating habits and boost their cooking confidence. She even had some food pros as guest teachers for some of the classes to teach on their respective area of expertise.

Growing up eating homemade, delicious, “from scratch” meals, I hadn’t really realized how spoiled I was. My mom is an exceptional cook and I was lucky enough to grow up eating healthy, fantastic meals consistently. The desire to continue those eating habits is probably what spurs my food obsession to this day.

The cooking newbies described in the book were mostly intimidated of the kitchen and had financial or time constraints that prevented them from doing much actual cooking in their kitchens. When meeting each student, Kathleen had them create a meal that they make often. These meal descriptions almost made me sick! “White Trash Garlic Bread” consisted of a hamburger bun, margarine, garlic salt and canned Parmesan cheese. “El Paso Casserole” was made up of canned tomato soup, canned turkey chili, canned cream corn and shredded Cheddar cheese. Their cupboards were stocked with cans, packaged, processed and instant “food”. I was so thankful this was the beginning of the book and that there would hopefully be some progress!

The basic skills that she taught these students were super helpful for me to read. I learned scads about knife skills, flavor profiles, baking bread, creating vinaigrettes, stocks, soups and using leftovers. I don’t think I was taught much on “how to cook”, I just really wanted to eat healthily and scrumptiously so I just tried to figure it out. I’m still intimidated by things like yeast, sifted flour and fish but after reading this book, I feel pretty confident that I should just get over my fear and try. Seriously, what is the worst that could happen!? It doesn’t turn out perfectly and you try again. Just like with anything else, practice makes (close enough to) perfect.

And on the off chance that it does turn out, I can’t think of anything better than food to experiment with. Can you?

This book had some seriously useful tips, lessons, theories and some great stories thrown in .  Can I get a ticket to one of those Red Velvet Dinners!? Kathleen Flinn also has a website that is sort of an offshoot of the book and curates anything and everything that will help you “Cook Fearlessly“.

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Basic Knife Skills

One of the most essential kitchen skills to learn is proper knife etiquette.

Knowing which one to use, how to handle it, types of cuts and how to care for your knives is fundamental to not only your safety but it also makes your kitchen life so much simpler and more uniform. I am just now learning these fundamental skills which is honestly kind of shameful.

I was so excited to get new knives as a wedding present that I kissed them, odd I know. But, I confess, I was nervous of my large chef’s knife and stuck to a smaller utility knife for almost everything.

But no longer!

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I just took a knife skills class at The Pantry and learned so much! Mataio Gillis of Ciao Thyme showed 11 students and I some basic knife skills and gave us personalized tips based on the knives we brought in from home. Mine has issues so I sent it away to Epicurean Edge so they can work their magic and fix it up. I highly recommend some sort of basic knife skill class or do a bit of research on your own. Hell, even just do a Youtube search! I’m committed to practicing on many a vegetable this winter.

Check out the below infographic for a nice cheat sheet or Kathleen Flinn’s handy tutorial here.

Basic Knife skills via Reddit

Herb roasted acorn squash quinoa bowl

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I’ve noticed that Fall here in Seattle is like, its own distinct season. Not just the slightly cooler summer time that jumps right into winter frost and naked trees that the Midwest deems as “Fall”. Here, it is crisp, cool and colorful. Sure it rains and is often overcast, but today? It is delightfully sunny and as I left my apartment, it was just warm enough to make me turn around and leave my coat at home. Ideal.

Just like fall fashion, fall foods are cozy and lend themselves to layering. I had an acorn squash for a week or two while I thought about what to do with it. I think this basic recipe lends itself to multiple flavors. Next time I’m planning to go the Asian inspired route and include the likes of sesame oil, ginger, scallions, rice vinegar, basil and cilantro. Then perhaps Indian with toasted chickpeas, curry, turmeric and carrots?

This time I went with some simple herbs and  a few vegetables to experiment.

Herb roasted acorn squash quinoa bowls topped with goat cheese

Preheat your oven. Cut the acorn squash in half and place the two pieces cut side up in a baking pan. Slice lines  into the squash (but not all the way through the skin) lengthwise and widthwise. This will help with scooping later and allow the oil and herbs to seep into the squash.

Fill the baking pan with about 1 inch of water to keep the squash nice and soft as it roasts. Chop up a bunch of herbs (sage, parsley,rosemary etc) and mix with some olive oil, salt, black pepper and a dash of red chili flakes. Pour this nice savory mixture into each squash half and spread around to coat.

Roast the squash for about 35 minutes. Check to see if it is getting soft and you know, roasted looking.

-I put a couple garlic cloves in the squash hoping it would caramelize and impart its sweet flavor into my squash, but it didn’t really roast like I wanted and remained slightly raw. Next time I’d roast garlic separately and put them into the quinoa veggie mixture-

While the squash roasts, make a cup of quinoa and prepare your chosen vegetables. I sautéed up diced onions, red bell pepper, green onions and zucchini. Mix up your cooked quinoa, vegetables and some beans. I used about half a can of black beans and diced up some pre-cooked beets to add as well. Splash some olive oil and add a bit of cumin, salt and pepper. Be sure to taste to see what else it needs!

Take out your squash and pour out the olive oil and herbs that settled to the bottom into your quinoa mixture and stir to mix.

-I left the squash as is and just put a few scoops of the quinoa mixture into the squash ‘bowls”. But this made it a bit hard to eat comfortably so I suggest scooping out most of the savory, soft squash and combining with the quinoa mixture.-

Spoon as much of your quinoa, veggie, squash and herb mixture into the acorn “bowls” as will fit. Place a small scoop of goat cheese on top. If you want, toast some breadcrumbs/panko and a bit of herbs and add that to the top to add some crunchiness.  Place quinoa stuffed squash bowls back into the oven until you notice the goat cheese melting and browning just a bit. This took about 20-25 minutes for me.

Top with a drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper and serve!

Indie food in MOUTH

Now that the holidays are almost upon us, it is time to pin things like mad to our secret “Presents” boards.

That could just be me…

With present buying, I usually find things that I want myself so I’ve found just loads of ideas at the online indie food shop, MOUTH.

Their manifesto sounds right up my alley:

WE LOVE FOOD.

WE LOVE HANDMADE AND SMALL-BATCH.
WE LOVE FOOD MADE BY PEOPLE NOT COMPANIES.
WE LOVE INDIE FOOD.
WE LOVE DISCOVERING THE NEW AND THE DELICIOUS.
WE LOVE TASTING THINGS ON LITTLE WOODEN SPOONS.
WE CAN’T HELP BUT LOVE BEAUTIFUL PACKAGING.
WE LOVE OUR PASSIONATE, RISK-TAKING FOOD MAKERS.
WE LOVE OUR CUSTOMERS.
WE ADMIT THAT WE LOVE SHOPPING ONLINE FOR OURSELVES AND FOR PEOPLE WE LOVE OR LIKE A LOT.
WE LOVE THAT OUR TABLE IS PILED HIGH WITH GOODIES WE’RE TASTING, DEBATING AND HOPING YOU’LL LOVE TOO.

Some of my favs

RAS EL HANOUT MOROCCAN SPICE BLEND

Holiday Gift Collections

Fall for you collection

The Happy Couple

Chocolate Taster

Crafty Cocktails

Chef Taster

Goat Milk Caramel… and faint!

Food gifts are the best gifts.

NOLA

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We traveled to New Orleans this past weekend for my husband’s work conference. Such a hilarious combination, the ultra conservative corporate atmosphere and the raucous party atmosphere that is NOLA at Halloween. I must admit,  I had some fun exploiting that combo on social media, see #cpcu13.

On to the food!

First,  we discovered that NOLA had no good coffee. Coming from Chicago and Seattle this wreaked havoc on us. We just couldn’t get our minds around it and couldn’t help but take it personally.

Spitfire Coffee was decent, which is far and away better than the siphon fiasco that was Sucre. I had read good things about the coffee truck Brigade Coffee , but we were  unfortunately never able to get to them.

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Spitfire coffee in The French Quarter

My palette is not one for crawfish, alligator, oysters and po boys, so classic NOLA cuisine was lost on me. We did find a few places that were more our style.

Sylvain was through a tiny alley and had a quaint outdoor area with quite a few tables. We tried a few solidly tasty dishes there and some stellar cocktails. My favorite one of the trip was The Green Bastard which was made with Green Chartreuse, Lime, Egg White, Homericon Mastic, and Bittermens Hellfire.

Green Chartreuse is delicious guys. Get your fix with a Last Word sometime.

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The Last Word: gin, lime juice, green Chartreuse, maraschino liqueur

Domenica was in the Hotel Roosevelt and we definitely overestimated our appetites here.

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Ordered a bit too much food as so many things sounded irresistible.  You try to fight off the likes of ” Roasted Cauliflower with sea salt and whipped goat feta”,”Burrata with honey roasted pears and arugula”, “Fried Tuscan Kale” or “Roasted carrot pizza with goat cheese, red onion, brussel sprouts and beets”.

Exactly.

Because they are in a hotel, there will be some private events there so just be aware of that if you choose to visit. They have a Happy Hour every day from 3-6 where all their pizzas and many drinks are half price.

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Also at the Hotel Roosevelt was SazeracHistory says that the sazerac was the first cocktail and invented in New Orleans, so just about everywhere had one.  The one here was heavy on the Peychaud bitters which made it unique and scrumptious.

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Arnaud’s French 75 bar was another spot with a very old fashioned feel, a nice respite from the sleazy madness that was Bourbon Street.  Of course I had to have a French 75 here. We asked the bartender to make us some whiskey cocktails and he whipped up some brilliantly boozy concoctions.

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French 75: Courvoisier VS, Sugar, Lemon Juice, Moet and Chandon Champagne

I know it looks like we just drank cocktails the entire trip , and though we had a fair amount we did , in fact eat. It just was nothing incredible or out of the ordinary.

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We took the free Canal Street Ferry one day, across to Algiers, a quaint neighborhood with a few little shops. Tout de Suite provided me with a much needed salad and had some yummy breakfast options.

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When I was desperate for some salty fries, St Lawrence came to our rescue with upscale bar food and some craft cocktails.

One place I definitely do not recommend is the Pirates Alley Cafe. Horrific drinks trying to pass as cocktails, I think they bank on their patrons being completely drunk before stopping by. However it did provide me with my favorite picture of the trip:

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Toxic Baby Shot

I think my favorite spot was Bar Tonique. They had an extensive menu of classic cocktails and a Happy Hour from 12-5 on weekdays with a few solid $5 drinks.  I had a few Aviations and a Corpse Reviver #2.

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Corpse Reviver #2

Lastly Mister Gregory’s had some french inspired pastries, soups and sandwiches. Nice little lunch or breakfast spot.