Gluten-Free Pink Lentil Encrusted Halibut

14 04 2012

A couple of nights ago I decided to treat myself to a home cooked meal. I went to Whole Foods and picked out a pristine piece of halibut, some fresh peas and leeks (seasonal spring veggies), and fingerling potatoes. It might sound surprising, but when you cook professionally for others all of the time it seems like you are never have the time to enjoy the fruits of your own labor. How counterintuitive? If you ask most cooks what they eat for dinner on a weekday, if they are alone, the answers are often pathetic: pizza, Chinese, Ramen noodles, cereal, a stiff vodka martini, or simply nothing. As professionals, we are trained to cook and care for our customers first. Consequently, we sometimes forget to take care of ourselves.

With that being said, the dinner I made Thursday night was a treat! Not only because I was eating something healthy and delicious, but also because I discovered a new way to think about cooking fish. My initial plan was to bread the halibut, using the standard breading procedure of flour, eggs and bread crumbs, sear it in a pan to crisp up both sides and finish the cooking in the oven. This is my “go-to” way to prepare simple crispy fish.

Instead, I started thinking about different ways I could get the same crispy result by substituting breadcrumbs with a gluten-free option. I thought it would be nice to add some vibrant color to the fish so I went through my pantry and found the perfect substitute “breading” solution: pink lentils! I knew dried lentils would be way to hard to use in their whole form so I took out my spice grinder and ground up the pink lentils, spiced them up with some salt and fresh orange zest, and suddenly I had great breading substitution. Instead of using regular flour I substituted garbanzo bean flour and I was ready to go!

Ground lentils are only one example of a gluten-free “breading” option. Other ingredients you could use include red quinoa, millet, toasted and ground nuts (pistachio’s would be great), cornmeal/polenta, ground wild rice and much more. I challenge you to let your imagination run wild and try a healthier gluten-free “breading” option for your next meal.

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The Perfect Cheese Pairing: Rose Petal Jam

10 04 2012

I think one of the best gifts you can serve at a dinner party is cheese.  It is easy to purchase, lends itself to a variety of delicious alcoholic beverages, and it is a guaranteed crowd pleaser.  When I am in a pinch and really don’t have time to cook up something delicious, I go to my local cheese purveyor and pick out a selection of cow, sheep and goats milk cheeses for a nice display.  I always try to pick cheeses with a variety of textures and flavor profiles.  (I usually choose a firm aged cheese, a soft young cheese and a semi-firm wash rind cheese)

Most people think that cheese and wine make the perfect pairing.  I have to agree, cheese and wine were made for each other.  But, as a chef, I am always trying to find other fantastic ingredients to add to a cheese plate for a new food pairing experience.  I love toasting and grinding pistachio’s to sprinkle over cheese like confetti.  I love adding fresh figs, persimmons, crispy apples or cherries to a cheese display for fresh seasonal flavor.  I love truffle honey drizzled over a firm aged cheese for a sweet and savory combination.

Despite all of these classic pairings, I have to say the most unexpected and delicious specialty ingredient I have ever tasted with cheese is Rose Petal Jam from France.  At first, you might think that a jam made of rose pedals sounds unappetizing. Rose petals smell like perfume, which is definitely not something you typically want to eat.  I was skeptical of this product at first, but I always give exotic speciality ingredients a change.  Let me tell you, it was love at first bite.  I remember smearing one of my favorite Italian cow and sheep’s milk cheeses, Robiola Bosina, (featured in the photo about) from the Langhe region in Northern Italy, on a thin crostini topped with Rose Petal Jam.  I casually took a quick bite and literally stopped in my tracks.  My were eyes closed as I enjoyed the incredible creaminess of the cheese that blended perfectly with the delicate floral, sweet and exotic flavor of the jam.  I think I started jumping up and down because I was so excited.  This had to be my favorite cheese and jam combination in the world!

I’d love for you to order this jam, even if you are skeptical and try it with your favorite cheese. It is wonderful with soft and creamy cheeses like Brie, and equally as delicious with firm cheeses like Pecorino, Manchego or Parmesan.  The Rose Petal Jam is also a great accompaniment to Greek yogurt or vanilla ice cream.  Give it a try and if you like it as much as I do, you might be the hit of your next dinner party.  Also, feel free to share your  favorite cheese pairings with me!





Sesame Pistachio Baked Asparagus Fries

2 04 2012

I am truly inspired by the seasons.  As a Chicago native, I used to take the seasons for granted.  I thought everyone grew up sledding and making snow angels in the winter.  I thought everyone knew the feeling of walking on crispy, crackling leaves in the Fall.  I thought everyone anticipated watching the tulips come out in the Spring.  I thought everyone grew up with hot and humid pool days and cool summer nights.  I realize now, that these memories are very specific to Chicago, my home.

When I moved to California, I learned to experience the seasons in a new way.  The weather did not change dramatically but the food did.  From my first job , I was exposed to seasonal farm-to-table cooking.  What does this mean?  It means you only cook with what the farmers are growing at that specific time of year.  This is the way Europeans have always cooked and also why their food tastes so damn good.  It’s pretty simple, eating the freshest ingredients maximizes the flavor in any dish.  Learning what ingredients were grown during each season was a humbling experience for a mid-western girl like me.  I was enlightened to learn that brussel sprouts grew in the fall, squash and root vegetables in the winter, artichokes in the Spring, and peaches and tomatoes in the summer. I tasted an abundance of new fresh flavors and started to associate those flavors with a specific time of year.

Now that I am back in Chicago, I associate the Spring with way more than nice weather and tulips.  To me Spring means cooking with some of my favorite ingredients in the world: green garlic, Spring onions, sweet peas, fava beans, apricots, Morel mushrooms, rhubarb and asparagus.  I love Spring produce because the flavors are delicate, light and complement a variety of dishes.

Last week I bought my first bunch of spring asparagus and was super excited to roast it off with a little olive oil and salt and eat the whole bunch like candy.  Instead of going with this simple approach (that I highly recommend), I started to play around with some other ingredients I had in my pantry to step it up a notch.  I decided to bread and bake the asparagus to add some Asian flavor and emphasize the crunch of the asparagus.  Typically, the standard breading procedure involves flour, egg and breadcrumbs.  Instead of following the rules, this time I substituted coconut milk with lime zest and rice wine vinegar for eggs and added toasted pistachio nuts and an AMAZING sesame spice blend to the breadcrumbs.  I think the secret weapon in this recipe is the Spicy Sesame Salad Sprinkle from The Spice House.  It’s a combination of two types of sesame seeds, dried herbs and salt that complements the delicate sweetness of the asparagus and gives it an Asian twist.  If you can’t get your hands on this spice blend, feel free to use a combination of toasted sesame seeds and dried oregano instead.  I hope you enjoy this recipe and start experimenting with the seductive flavors of Spring!

Sesame-Pistachio Baked Asparagus Fries with a Wasabi-Lemon Aioli

Asparagus Fries Ingredients:

4 oz. lite coconut milk
1 tsp. sesame oil
1 Tbs. rice wine vinegar
1 lime, zested
1 cup homemade breadcrumbs
½ cup pistachio nuts, toasted and blended down fine
2 Tbs. “Spicy Sesame Salad Sprinkle” from The Spice House (a mix of toasted sesame seeds and dried oregano can be substituted)
1 large bunch asparagus, trimmed ends
¼ cup all purpose flour 
Kosher salt, to taste 

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with wax paper.

In a medium sized bowl, whisk together the coconut milk, sesame oil and lime zest.  In another medium sized bowl, mix together the breadcrumbs, pistachio nuts and sesame spice blend.  Season lightly with kosher salt. (Don’t add too much because the sesame spice blend contains salt)

Rinse off the asparagus and pat semi-dry.  In a large bowl combine the asparagus and flour.  Mix together until the asparagus is coated. Dip each floured asparagus in the coconut milk mixture and then dredge through the breadcrumbs.  Place the breaded asparagus on baking sheet.  They should be spaced out so they do not touch or overlap.

Bake for 12 minutes in the oven.  Broil for the last 3 minutes.  Serve hot with the wasabi-lemon aioli.

Wasabi-Lemon Aioli:

Ingredients:

1 clove garlic
1 whole egg
1 egg yolk
¾ large lemon, juiced
½-1 tsp. wasabi paste (depending on the spice level desired)
1 cup vegetable oil
kosher salt and black pepper, to taste

In a food processor, add the whole egg, egg yolk and garlic.  Turn on the motor and slowly add the vegetable oil.  The mixture should start out loose and bind together  (emulsify) as the oil is slowly added.  At this point the mixture should change from a loose liquid to a thicker consistency, like the texture of mayonnaise.  Mix in the lemon juice, wasabi and season with salt and pepper.