Mrs. Bentley’s Cooking Class

May 26, 2014

Quince de Mayo! OLE!

Cooking class #13

Grilling Corn Tortillas

I conducted my first cooking class at the home of a dear friend.  She asked that I put together a class for her networking group.  Since the class was scheduled for the 15th of May, I called it Quince de Mayo!  and came up with a Mexican menu.  Here’s what we made:

  • Corn TortillasCorn Tortilla Chips, Grilled with a Touch of Sea Salt for a No Fat, Crisp and Tasty Dipping Chip.  We laid fresh, uncooked corn tortilla chips on a hot grill and sprinkled them with coarse sea salt.  The heat of the grill causes the sea salt to stick to the tortilla.  Using tongs, we peeked at the undersides and when they had nice grill marks, we flipped them.  After just a few minutes, they were nicely charred and we tossed them into a bowl.  We kept grilling them until we had a nice big pile.  We cracked them by hand into approximate quarters.
  • GuacamoleSkinny Guacamole is Lightened Up by adding Roasted Tomatillos to Fresh Avocado – So Fresh and Yummy!  Tomatillos look like green tomatoes.  They come with a lose papery skin that feels like tissue paper.  They are very acidic and have a flavor similar to a lime, but a little more intense.  I discovered that if they are added to guacamole, the guacamole never turns that horrible grayish brown color.  Yeah!  Also, they are fat free and very low in calorie, so they thin down the calories in quacamole.  Yeah again!  Two problems solved!   Everyone loved this new twist on an old favorite!  It was so good, we had to make a second batch.
  • Roasted Tomato Salsa 500Roasted Tomato Salsa, Earthy and Surprisingly Light.  We grilled whole tomatoes for about 10 minutes, until they had nice char marks and the skin was beginning to peel off.  At the same time, we had pablano peppers on the grill.  The grill was set to high.  We grilled the pablano peppers until they were completely black on all sides.  Then, using tongs, we popped them into a zip bag and sealed it up so the pepper would steam.  After about 10 minutes in the bag, the blackened skin on the peppers slips right off.  We slipped them out of their skins over the sink because it can get a little messy.  Then, we cut the tops off the peppers and removed the seeds under running water.  The tomatoes and the peppers went into the food processor along with a few grilled tomatillos we had left over from the guacamole.
  • MoleChickenLegsSmallChicken Seasoned with Mrs. Bentley’s Secret Mole Spice Blend and Baked for an Aromatic Savory Treat!  I taught the participants how easy it is to make this delicious chicken, and it can me made for a crowd just as easily.  We had 30 chicken thighs in the oven while we made the other items on the menus.  Normally, a tray of chicken for a family dinner would cook in about an hour.  For 30 thighs on 4 trays, it took an hour and a half to cook.
  • GreenRiceI modified my basic Green Rice recipe by adding onions, peppers, garlic and cumin to give this dish a Mexican flair.

 

 

  • PannaCotta5My friend had asked that I make everything “healthy”, so instead of making a Mexican flan, I made Panna Cotta, the Italian gelatin based dessert.  This is another basic recipe that can be changed up in so many ways.  It is essentially, milk or cream and gelatin.  You can add any flavoring you like.  You can sweeten it with sugar or Splenda.  I’ve made chocolate, key lime, raspberry and vanilla before.  Look at the basic recipe and then use your imagination.
  • margarita2Everyone really enjoyed the Skinny Margaritas we made!  We made them with fresh lime juice, orange juice, tequila and the secret ingredient – Diet Mountain Dew!  I’m not kidding, we used Diet Mountain Dew and they were incredible.

 

Cooking class #1a

Participants Watching Intently As Salsa Is Being Made

Cooking Class #8a

Enjoying Skinny Margaritas!

PennySqueezingLimes

Our Hostess Squeezing More Limes Than She Has Ever Squeezed!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Summer Soup

September 2, 2013
Summer Soup 026

Corn and Asparagus Soup Tastes Like Summer!

This soup was sort of an accident of good fortune.  I had boiled fresh corn on the cob the night before.  I had extra corn, and the water it was boiled in, left over.  I also had left over asparagus spears, minus the pretty tips.

I had used the asparagus tips for another recipe and couldn’t bear to throw away the naked stalks.  So, voila!  Corn and asparagus soup was born.

I cut the corn kernels from three cobs and set them aside.  I put the stripped cobs back in the corn water and boiled it until it had reduced to about 4 cups.  I removed the cobs and added the asparagus stalks that had been cut into one inch pieces.  I had a goodly handful of stalks.  I simmered the asparagus for about 5 minutes and added the corn kernels.  I simmered for another 5 minutes and turned the burner off.

After cooling, I ran the concoction through the blender in batches.  Watch out, when blending hot liquids.  The resulting steam can blow the lid off the blender and splash and burn whatever it hits.  I leave the feed hole open and put a dish towel over it to absorb the steam.

After I blended everything up, I wasn’t happy with the consistency.  It was too chunky.  So, I strained out the solids.  The result, was the most beautiful colored, creamy soup that tasted just like summer.  I added about 2 tablespoons of half and half for extra decadence.  No salt was added because the original water I used to boil the corn had been salted.  A few asparagus tips floated on top would have been the “piece de resistance”!   If I ever make this on purpose, I will make sure to save a few tips for garnish.

Corn and Asparagus Fritters

Corn and Asparagus Fritters

I can’t stand to throw anything away and I was left with the solids that had been strained from the soup.  They looked pretty good to me.  So, I turned  that wet veggie mash into fritters.  I added an egg, some rice flour and some corn flour (corn starch).

I’m pretty much gluten free, thus my flour choices, but you could add regular wheat flour.  I added salt and pepper and let the batter rest for 15 minutes to absorb the flours.  I dropped spoonfuls into a hot non-stick fry pan with a tiny bit of canola oil and a wee pat of butter.  Wow!!  These turned out to be amazingly delicious.  They went perfectly with my accidental summer soup of corn and asparagus.

I think I might be a genius.   Well, probably not, but I felt pretty good about turning some pretty sorry looking leftovers into this lovely summer lunch.

 


Pork Tenderloin with Onion Jam and Apple Cider Molasses

June 23, 2013
Pork Tenderloin with Onion Jam and Apple Cider Molasses

Pork Tenderloin with Onion Jam and Apple Cider Molasses

Visually stunning, aromatic, lean and healthy, this menu will become your new “go-to” menu when company is coming for dinner.  Two homemade condiments make this dish a wowee, wowee entree.  They are Apple Cider Molasses and Onion Jam.

 

 

Apple cider molasses is made by boiling down a gallon of apple cider until it is thick and syrupy.  It has a surprisingly bright sweet tart flavor,which is fantastic with pork.  Very simple to make, it lasts for months in the fridge.  Next time I make it, I think I will preserve it in small canning jars to make it last even longer.

OnionJam

Caramelized Onion Jam

The onion jam is also simple to make, but a bit of a pain in the eye to peel all those onions.  I like to make a big batch so I have it on hand for recipes like this.  But you can try a small batch for the first time, to see if you really like it.

I peeled eight large sweet onions and chopped them using my food processor.   I did a rough chop.  The onions are then, slow cooked in a big saute pan with a little butter, some salt and a splash of vinegar.  After about an hour and a half the onions will be reduced to a thick, jam-like consistency.  Thanks to the vinegar, the jam lasts a long time in the fridge.  You can use this jam in so many ways; with cream cheese on crackers or crostini, baked with chicken, pork or beef, on pizza or pasta, used in marinades, etc.

Grilled Pork Tenderloin With Caramelized Onions

Grilled Pork Tenderloin With Caramelized Onions

For this pork recipe, I made a marinade with olive oil, the cider molasses, soy sauce, Worcestershire  sauce, Fresno chili peppers (red jalapenos),  salt and pepper, and herbs.  After marinading, I grilled the pork tenderloins.  I reserved the marinade for a finishing sauce.  I added some onion jam to the marinade and cooked it down until it was thick.  I like to add a small pat of butter at the end for glossiness.  The end result is a savory sauce with a hint of sweet, balanced with the tartness from the cider molasses, a little bit of heat for excitement and made rich by the caramelized onions.  You can see from the picture how beautiful the sauce looks on the sliced tenderloin.  For a detailed recipe click here.

Beet and Fennel Salad with Walnuts and Orange Vinaigrette

Beet and Fennel Salad with Walnuts and Orange Vinaigrette

And just to take this menu over the top, I served this gorgeous fennel, orange and beet salad.  The flavors in this salad compliment the pork beautifully.  The salad has roasted beets, fresh sliced raw fennel, orange segments and toasted walnuts.  The dressing is made with orange juice, rice vinegar, and a splash of canola oil.  The trick to keeping this salad looking its best, is to dress the fennel separately from the beets.  Then, ever so gently, mix the two.  Otherwise the red beet juice turns the whole salad red.  It is much prettier when you can see the contrast of the white fennel, the orange segments and the red beets.  Finish it by zesting a bit of orange peel on top.  For a detailed recipe click here.

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Creamy Polenta With Sage Butter

To round out this fabulous company menu, I prepared creamy polenta with sage butter.  I prepared the polenta according to the package directions.  Then, I added fresh chopped sage leaves that had been sauteed in butter.  Of course, I added the butter as well!


Opa! Best Moussaka Ever!

April 14, 2013

I love the flavor profiles in Greek food.  Lemon, garlic, oregano, dill and mint.  I love the sharp tang of the various sheep’s milk cheese used in Greek cooking.  I frequently make a side dish of chopped spinach, fresh dill and mint with a smattering of good quality feta cheese and a squeeze of fresh lemon.  My guests always seem to love it.  It’s a big step up from ordinary cooked spinach.  The flavors are bright and fresh and it is a snap to put together.

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Lamb Based Moussaka and Spinach with Dill, Mint and Feta Cheese

What could I make to go with that spinach?  After flipping through a few magazines and then a couple of cookbooks, I came up with Moussaka – OPA!!  Okay, I know you’re only supposed to shout, Opa! when the flaming saganaki cheese arrives at your table in a Greek restaurant, but I can’t help myself.  I like to shout Opa! when any Greek food comes to my table.  Actually, I like to shout, Opa! whenever the mood strikes me.

After reading five or six different recipes, I came up with my own variation.  I don’t eat any wheat or gluten, and the typical creamy cheese topping on Moussaka begins with a flour and butter roux.  So, I needed a variation on the standard topping.  I ended up using a blend of ricotta cheese, Greek yogurt, an egg, soft goat cheese and a handful of grated pecorino romano.  The combination of the goat cheese and the pecorino romano, which is a sheep’s milk cheese, gave me that tangy zing I was looking for.  The combination of the ricotta and the yogurt mimicked the roux beautifully.

The meat sauce in Moussaka is what will make or break this classic Greek dish.  It is a blend of lamb, onion, garlic, tomatoes, red wine and a very aromatic blend of spices; cinnamon, allspice, clove and bay leaf. Wow, I had forgotten how delicious this dish can be until the meat sauce came together.  Just a few pinches of this unusual spice combo makes this dish other-worldly!

Traditional Moussaka, also known as Greek lasagna, is a multi-layered affair.  It’s fussy and time consuming to make.  I took the easy route and I don’t think the final dish suffered at all.  As a matter of fact, I think the final dish was a nice improvement over the original.  The traditional Moussaka calls for thinly sliced fried eggplant, layered with a lamb based meat sauce and thinly sliced potatoes, all topped off with the rich creamy cheese sauce.

I peeled and diced the eggplant and roasted it on a cookie sheet in the oven with a little spritz of olive oil.  I parboiled the potatoes, then gave them a large dice.  I mixed the diced eggplant, potatoes and meat sauce together and put the whole thing into a casserole dish.  I topped it off with my version of the cheese sauce and baked it.  It looked beautiful, made a great presentation at the table and the taste and textures were heavenly!

Give this super simple, amazing menu a try!  Finish it off with my baklava cups for dessert!  For the recipes, click on the links below:


Polynesian Grilled Shimp

July 1, 2012

Polynesian Grilled Shrimp With Peppers And Pineapple

The grill was calling my name but I hadn’t been shopping in over a week.

I scrounged around and came up with a bag of frozen shrimp, a red bell pepper and half of a fresh pineapple.  I had a little bit of left over barbeque sauce, but not enough for what I had in mind.  So, I added a bit of this and dash of that and I added the juice from the pineapple.   It came out great!  A little sweet, a little sour and a little bit more spicy.

I threaded everything on metal skewers and poured on some of the barbeque sauce.  I let the skewers marinate for a bit before I put them on a hot grill.  I turned them every few minutes and mopped them with more sauce each time I turned them.  I took them off after about ten minutes, all nice and glossy and charred.

Here’s the hot tip on grilling shrimp – leave them in their shells!  The frozen shrimp I had, was still in the shell, but had been deveined – perfect.  By leaving the shrimp in the shell, you can grill them long enough to get plenty of sauce to glaze up and long enough to get a nice char.  The sauce permeates the shrimp through the slit made in the back of the shell during the deveining process.  Also, the shells add more flavor.  It’s kind of a pain to peel them with your knife and fork at the table, but it’s worth it.  So, actually, the bigger the shrimp the better in this case.  The bigger shrimp are much easier to shell with a knife and fork.  I wish I had found larger shrimp in my freezer, but scroungers can’t be choosers.

What luck, I also found a bag of pre-cooked frozen brown rice in the freezer.  This is a great staple to keep on hand.  It’s super inexpensive and what could be easier at the last minute.  It takes me an hour and a half to make good brown rice.  The frozen stuff takes 7 minutes.  And, believe me, it’s good!

So, take a scrounge around the back of your fridge, your freezer and pantry and see what amazing dinner you can come up with.


Summer Menu With Ribs and Crisp Fennel, Orange and Beet Salad

June 30, 2012

If it’s summer, it has to be ribs for dinner.

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Moist and Sticky Barbequed Ribs with Summery Salad

I did baby back ribs and paired them with a luscious summery salad of crisp shaved fennel, juicy orange segments, roasted yellow beets and red onion on a bed of baby arugula.  I made the dressing with fresh orange juice and orange zest, fresh lemon juice, chopped shallots, grated ginger and extra virgin olive oil.  I topped the whole thing off with a few crumbles of feta cheese.  I used fat free feta, but you can use your favorite.

I just read through the new issue of bon appetit, the July 2012 issue.  On the cover is a picture of amazing looking ribs.  So, I was inspired to try their “ultimate do-ahead ribs”.  This is a great recipe for company because you can do the bulk of the cooking several days before the ribs are finished on the grill.

Crisp Shaved Fennel with Roasted Beets and Orange Segments on a bed of Arugula with a sweet tart Ginger Dressing.

First, I rubbed the slab of baby back ribs with a mixture of salt, pepper, brown sugar and ancho chili powder.  You could use any kind of chili powder.  Then,I wrapped the full slab in heavy duty tin foil.  I placed the packet on a cookie sheet and baked them in a 350 degree oven for two hours.  I drained off the liquid the ribs generated into a glass bowl and refrigerated for later. I wrapped the ribs back up in the same foil and put them in the refrigerator.

At this point, you can leave the juices and ribs in the fridge for up to 3 days.  When you’re ready to eat, add the reserved rib juices to store bought barbeque sauce or your own homemade sauce.  Put the cold ribs onto a hot grill and slather them with the sauce/juice mixture.  Turn the ribs over every minute or so and slather on more sauce each time.  Do this for about seven minute or until the ribs are heated through, nicely glazed with some nice char marks.  Delicious!!


Holiday Sides Lightened Up

November 17, 2011

Does the thought of facing Thanksgiving dinner have you dusting off your elastic waist pants?  I’m here to tell you, no worries if you use some of my tricks for taking out the calories but leaving in the flavor.

I have been transforming my holiday and party recipes into delicious, low fat, low calorie dishes.  I had to take a big leap to try recipes that don’t start with bacon fat, but I promise, you won’t miss it!  Honest!   Here are a few I’ve already tested:

Fresh Green Beans with Caramelized Shallots

Instead of green bean casserole, try green beans with caramelized shallots.  I am very pleased with how easy this recipe is, but, wowee-delicious!  I caramelized the shallots in a teeny tiny bit of olive oil in a non-stick pan.  I cooked them over medium-low heat for about 30 minutes.  They became lusciously browned with a bit of crunch.

GreenLine Trimmed and Washed Green Beans

I used the pre-cleaned bagged green beans that come in a microwavable plastic bag.  If you haven’t tried these yet, I must insist – try them – immediately!!  They have become my go-to vegetable, holiday or no holiday.  You poke a few holes in the bag with a fork and microwave them for four minutes.  Instant farm stand green beans with no fuss, no muss.

After I caramelized the shallots, I nuked the green beans.  I added them to the shallots and tossed to coat the beans with all that yummy shallot flavor.  Add a sprinkle of coarse ground sea salt and a bit of black pepper and serve.  I can’t believe how good these are!  And the best part, you can do the shallots ahead of time.  Let them hang out on the back of the stove until you are ready to serve.  Nuke the beans, toss together and this dish is ready in a flash.  Click here for the recipe.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Cranberries

How about fresh Brussels sprouts roasted with fresh cranberries?  Look how gorgeous they are.  And this is another, super easy side dish.  I tossed the Brussels sprouts with a tad bit of olive oil and spread them out on a foil lined cookie sheet.  I tossed the cranberries with a dressing I made from honey and orange juice (a tablespoon of each).  I sprinkled the coated cranberries over the Brussels sprouts and sprinkled everything with smoked sea salt.  Smoked sea salt??  Yeah baby, it’s all the rage and it has become my new favorite “tastes like bacon” ingredient.   You can find a wide variety of smoked salts in gourmet shops and online.

Hot from the oven and perfectly browned and beautiful!

Cut the Brussels sprouts in half and put them cut side down on a foil lined pan.  This way, they get evenly browned and beautiful.  Roast the sprouts and berries for 20 minutes at 435 degrees with no turning or stirring.   When you turn them into the serving bowl, give them a light spray of Pam and a fresh sprinkle of salt.  This dish will be a crowd pleaser!  Click here for the recipe.

Butternut Squash with Sage and Onion Brown Butter

Wait til you try this twist on the classic butternut squash side dish!  How about kicking up the flavor with sage and a hint of onion?  Who needs all that butter when you have those yummy holiday herbs and flavors added?  And my super-secret short cut for this dish – use frozen cooked butternut squash puree.  If you’re afraid you might be smited by the ghost of your great grandmother, then by all means, buy the fresh squash.  You can peel it, seed it, roast it and mash it if you like.  I tested the recipe both ways and couldn’t taste the difference when I used the frozen squash.  Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!  I think I was just poked by an ancestor!

Another trick to boost the flavor using less fat is to use “brown butter”  In a medium sauce pan, heat 2 teaspoons of butter until it becomes toasty and browned.  Be careful not to burn it, just lightly toast it until you can smell the nuttiness and see the slight browning of the butter.

Meanwhile, grate half of a large sweet onion.  Grate the onion on your box grater.  I guess you could use a food processor, but it is really easy to use the box grater.  You’ll end up with lot of onion juice and some onion pulp.  I like to use grated onion when I don’t want the onion chunks, but I want the fresh onion taste.  Add the grated onion and onion juice to the browned butter.  Saute over medium heat until most of the onion juice has evaporated.

Add a tablespoon of dried rubbed sage and saute for another minute or two.  I don’t recommend fresh sage for this dish.  I find fresh sage is good if it is cooked for a long time, but in a quick dish like this, fresh sage can taste bitter and has a medicinal flavor.

Add the pureed squash (fresh or frozen, I’ll never tell) to the onion sage mixture and heat through.  Season with salt and pepper and serve with a garnish of fresh sage leaves.  Delish delish delish!!  Two measly teaspoons of butter for the whole dish is plenty, thanks to the flavor boost from browning the butter and the onion and sage.  Added bonus – this dish can be made ahead of time and reheated.  Yay!!  I love make ahead holiday dishes!!  For the complete recipe, click here.

Pumpkin Pie Custard Cup

If you don’t have the calorie budget for pumpkin pie, or you can’t find your elastic waist pants, try this amazing knock off.  No-crust pumpkin pie custard cups with a dollop of fat free cool whip or fat free frozen vanilla yogurt.  You won’t miss the crust.  I tested this recipe by making a batch of the standard pumpkin pie filling, except I made a few substitutions.  I substituted fat free evaporated milk for the full fat kind.  Also, I used a little bit of real brown sugar and the rest Splenda artificial sweetener.  I used whole eggs because you need the yolks to make a good custard.  I added the standard spices and poured the mixture into custard cups that had been sprayed with Pam.  I baked them for about 50 minutes at 350.  Really really good.  Try the recipe by clicking here!


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