Thanksgiving “Wow” Recipe

23 11 2011

It’s crunch time.  Tomorrow’s Thanksgiving and are you still trying to figure out what make for dinner?  I am sure the turkey and stuffing are a must, but what about a great side dish?

You want to impress.

 You want to cook something easy.

 You want to make something heathy because EVERYTHING else is going to be so heavy.

Look no further….I have a FANTASTIC recipe for you that will “WOW” your family and friends.  I made up this recipe last week for my a Culinary Gatherings “quick, easy and healthy” cooking class and it was the hit of the class. This dish is a perfect side to make for Thanksgiving or any upcoming holiday party.

Have a wonderful holiday!

Squash, Walnut and Pomegranate Salad
2 small Delicata squash, cored and thinly sliced (found at Whole Foods Grocery)
1 small butternut squash, cored and small diced
1 small Acorn squash, cored and thinly small diced
½ cup olive oil
2 handfuls of fresh arugula or dandelion greens
½ cup walnuts, toasted and roughly chopped
4 oz. crumbled blue cheese
½ cup fresh pomegranate seeds
3 Tbs. sherry vinegar
1 shallot, minced
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/3 cup canola oil
Kosher salt and ground black pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees.  On separate sheet trays, lay out the three different types of squash.  Toss each squash with olive oil and sprinkle with Kosher salt.  Roast in the oven for 15-25 minutes, until tender, depending on the thickness of the squash.  Set aside to cool.

In a small bowl whisk together the sherry vinegar, shallot and mustard.  Slowly drizzle in the canola oil and season to taste with salt and pepper.

In a medium sized bowl add 1/3 of the cooled squash.  Delicately add the arugula, walnuts, blue cheese and pomegranate seeds and drizzle with the vinaigrette.  Continue this process (two more times) with another layer of squash topped by the other colorful and delicious ingredients.   Drizzle the vinaigrette over the top and season with freshly cracked pepper and sea salt.

*If you don’t like blue cheese you can substitute goat cheese

**Crispy bacon would also be another fantastic addition to this salad!


Is Whiskey the New Vodka?

15 11 2011

I know, that’s bold question.  But I am pretty certain whiskey IS the new vodka.  As of today, I am a self-declared whiskey lover.  Bourbon, in specific. (this affair has been going on for over a year but today I am officially out of the closet)   I love its full body and funk.  I love its personality and the way that it can mix with such a variety of flavors.  I love how it warms my tummy and makes me happier on a cold night.  While I am in love, it seems like I am not alone. Chicago restaurants, bars and trendy gatherings are focusing on Whiskey cocktails more than ever.

Last Sunday I went to this fabulous market in Chicago called “Dose” at the River East Art Center.  Dose is a year-round market featuring ever-changing local vendors of fashion, artisanal food and high-end design.  It’s a mix of vintage and current fashion trends, hipsters and preps and wonderful local bites.  It’s hip, it’s happening and even if you don’t have money to buy Versace, it’s an amazing place to people watch.  It’s also one big  “Culinary Gathering” of strangers.  What’s not to like?

The highlight of the market for me  was tasting the incredible alcoholic cocktail that was offered at this artisanal bitters booth called bittercube (, you can order the bitters and get free recipes on the website).  I thought I was going to get the typical “spiked apple cider” but this warm Fall beverage was above and beyond my expectations.  It was a blend of hot cider, whiskey and bitters.  The bitters were definitely the secret ingredient that added the “wow factor”.  As a chef, I am always on the look-out for the key ingredients that will make my food or drinks taste unique.   The owner of the company explained that he used two types of bitters used in this drink:  Jamaican #1 and Cherry Bark Vanilla.  The Jamaican Bitters added a blend of allspice, ginger and black peppercorn  while the Cherry Bark Vanilla Bitters added infused the cider with  wild cherry bark, vanilla and cocoa.  I mean, how cool are those flavor combinations?!

The bottom line is that Bittercube bitters can make any simple cocktail into an exotic creation.  I bought the sampler pack of 6 types of bitters and feel so excited to experiment with these flavors in all types of cocktails.  Tonight, I re-created the Apple Cider Whiskey cocktail for myself and I am feeling GOOD!!!  I might have another….

Check out the recipe:

Whiskey Cider with Bitters

1.5 oz. Templeton Rye, Jefferson Whiskey, Makers Mark (or any other nice whiskey)
4.5 oz. Spiced Honey Cider
1 dropper Bittercube Jamaican #1
1 dropper Bittercube Cherry Bark Vanilla
Cinnamon Stick for garnish (optional)
Warm a mug and add the Whiskey and Jamaican #1 Bitters.
Add the warmed spiced cider when it is near a simmer. The
spirit will cool it a bit. Rim the glass Cherry Bark Vanilla Bitters.  Add a cinnamon stick and  enjoy!

Chicago’s mixology scene is literally overflowing with whiskey cocktails. Here are some great spots in the city to try a fantastic Whiskey Cocktail:

Barrelhouse Flat
The Bristol
Violet Hour
The Aviary
Guilt Bar
Longman and Eagle
In Fine Spirits
Big Star

I welcome all of your feedback and whiskey cocktail recipes!

Culinary Gatherings Review in Crain’s

10 11 2011

Here’s a Friday submission from chicagosnob on how to spice up — and more importantly, survive — the holidays:

*BLINK* Welcome to the Holidays; summer is over! Thanksgiving is right around the corner, along with Chanukah, Christmas, and the New Year. It’s time to plan get-togethers and holiday parties with the friends you like, and strategically avoid the ones you don’t.

Enter, holiday anxiety. What do you do? How do you plan? What will be fun and different?  What will stand out and create an experience that everyone will remember and talk about?

Do what I did: have a beautiful Chef come to your home and host a dinner cooking class.  Allow me to introduce you to the lovely Chef Kasey Passen, owner of Culinary Gatherings.

Culinary Gatherings brings a shared culinary learning experience like that of The Chopping Block or The Wooden Spoon, to the intimacy of your own home without the headache of having to coordinate everybody for the same class or dealing with limited space, etc.  In the same vein, Chef Passen will do all of the shopping, bring the food and equipment, and suggest a good wine or beer to pair with the experience. 1-on-1 classes, and private catering are also available.

What makes Chef Passen stand out from the rest? She’s qualified. This young Chef is ambitious. She’s a graduate of the University of Michigan, attended the Kendal College Culinary Arts program and moved to San Francisco to work at Boulettes Larder (where the menu changed three times every day) to work with locally-grown food, in the farm-to-table movement, prior to being hand-selected to be the Chef, design and implement the culinary program at Cellar360’s flagship wine bar, where she designed the menus to be specifically paired with the in-house wine selection, catered hundreds of events, and launched an in-house culinary education program. She has also traveled throughout Spain, Italy, Israel, and a good portion of South America, learning and studying local cuisine the entire way.

Recently, I put her to the test. “Teach me something,” I challenged her.  To my surprise, she responded with salt. Salt? Yes, salt. Little did I know how little I knew about salt and properly seasoning my food. Growing up, I was always told not to salt my food, not to cook with salt, and to beware of salt in general. This was a wake up call.

Chef Passen held a Salt Class where she presented and educated me and my guests on a variety of salts, ranging from the usual iodized table salt, to Kosher salt (which isn’t blessed by a Rabbi), to Fleur De Sel, varieties of unrefined sea salts, including Hawaiian Black Lava and Red Alaea Clay Salt,Porcini Sea Salt, and Maldon (sea salt flakes) – all of which can be found at Chef Passen’s and my favorite place for spices: The Spice House. What’s more, she didn’t just educate us, she had us all experience the difference these salts make when properly implemented. My guests and I made both unseasoned and seasoned versions of a few dishes.

Chef Passen with FishAmong these dishes were Truffle Popcorn, Roasted Cauliflower with a Szechuan Sprinkle, Salt Encrusted Yellow Snapper (shown left, pre-salt encrusting), Tri-Tip Steak, and a Butternut Squash and Ginger Soup. As we cooked and tasted the various dishes, Chef Passen educated on why we were using the salt(s) we were using, and made sure we tasted pre- and post-seasoned versions of each dish. The differences were astounding!

As educational and impressive as this evening was, here’s why I recommend Chef Passen and Culinary Gatherings: I would actually do this class again and invite more friends, not only for a refresher, but for a truly memorable and remarkable experience.

For more information on Culinary Gatherings, and to book your own event, visit theCulinary Gatherings website and call Chef Kasey Passen at 312.447.1354. For innovative recipes and video demonstrations, visit Chef Passen’s blog, Chow Bella. With the Holidays fast approaching, her calendar is filling up quickly, so call right now before she’s no longer available for your event. Make sure you mention this post when you call.

By the way, a great wine pairing for Chef Passen’s Salt Class is the Frank Family Vineyards 2009 Pinot Noir.

Celery Root and Potato Gratin

8 11 2011

I am assuming most people pass this crazy looking vegetable in the produce aisle of your grocery store.  I admit,  she looks more like a sprouting brain than a vegetable.  She looks complicated and I know most people don’t want to buy a complicated vegetable that they have no idea how to use.  Let me introduce to an incredibly delicious and very under-used vegetable: Celery Root.  Her flavor resembles celery but it is much more elegant and soft-spoken.  She is the kind of fall ingredient that you might not be able to identify in a dish, but she tastes unusual in a good way.

Yesterday the sun was not shining and the birds were not singing in Chicago.  It was actually very gloomy and did not give me happy vibes.   I decided to rebel against my “Chicago Seasonal Affective Disorder” and make one of my favorite fall side dishes.  I was inspired to cook a whole gratin casserole for myself simply to feel better and to fill my apartment with the amazing smells of melted Gruyère cheese and crispy potatoes. (I mean, there is nothing like it)  You might be asking, what is a gratin?  It is a layered casserole of thinly sliced vegetables, typically potatoes in France, made with cream, herbs, garlic, cheese and topped with bread crumbs.  What’s not to love?  I love this dish because you can make it seasonal with all kinds of different vegetables.  In the summer I often use eggplant and tomatoes instead of potatoes with fresh basil and mozzarella, using the same technique as the recipe below.  The best part of the dish is that is very affordable and a huge crowd pleaser!

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Celery Root and Potato Gratin Recipe:

9-10 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, (skin on) and cut into 1/8 inch slices (use a mandoline if possible)
3 celery roots, peeled and trimmed and cut into 1/2 inch slices (use a mandoline if possible)
8 oz Gruyère cheese, shredded
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
1.5 pints of heavy cream
4 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
2 Tbs. of fresh thyme, chopped fine
2 Tbs. of fresh marjoram, chopped fine
4 Tbs. dry white wine
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees.  In a small pot over a low flame, heat the heavy cream with one clove of chopped garlic.  Let it reduce for 15 minutes and then remove it from the heat to cool. 
To prepare the celery root, cut off the top and bottom.  Using a knife, cut down the sides of the vegetable removing all of the skins and gritty texture from the celery root.  The end product, should be smooth and free of skin. Thinly slice the celery root with a mandoline or by hand in 1/8th inch pieces. (just like the potatoes)
Pour a small layer of cream on the bottom of a casserole dish.  Place a layer of potato in an overlapping pattern and sprinkle with salt and pepper,  fresh herbs, slivered garlic, and Gruyère and Parmesan Cheese.  Pour a little cream and white wine over the potatoes.  Make the second layer using the same technique with celery root (instead of potatoes).  Continue with two more layers. (one of potato and one of celery root)  The final layer with have potatoes and celery root overlapping in layered rows. (see photo above)   Bake, uncovered, for 45 minutes. Sprinkle some more Parmesan cheese and breadcrumbs and broil until the  cheese browns, about 5 minutes.  Let the gratin rest for 5 minutes before serving.
Check out this link for a great mandoline slicer, if you do not have one already: