A day of cooking at the CIA
By Vikki & Dan Moran
The prestigious Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in nearby Hyde Park, NY is the oldest culinary college in the United States and a dining destination that requires reservations months in advance. There is also a continuing education program comprised of numerous cooking classes for beginners or novices, as well as already-established chefs.
My husband and I had the opportunity to take a one day class – Mediterranean Cooking – last month. After doing so, I realized that this is something every couple should do, especially before marriage. It’s a boot camp of cooperation and teaches you how to work as a team – something essential in a relationship.
The CIA’s Continuing Education program appears to be very successful and from our discussions with attendees (otherwise known as “foodies”), the programs are well received. Many of the attendees had already taken classes ranging from sauté classes to gluten-free cooking.
Our day began in the classroom at 9am. We were introduced to our teacher, Chef Mark Ainsworth and received a classroom orientation. He taught us about the culinary influences of the Mediterranean region, which makes up approximately 15 countries and island nations situated around Africa, Europe and Asia on the Mediterranean Sea. As Chef Ainsworth told our group, “Mediterranean cooking isn’t spaghetti and meatballs.” Rather, it is comprised of the foods of Spain, Portugal, Italy, France, Greece, Turkey, North Africa and the Middle East.
After orientation, we were handed the recipes, and both my husband and I admitted to feeling slightly overwhelmed by the complexity. Secretly, we were both thinking there is no way this group of 17 strangers would get through even something as basic as Mac & Cheese, let alone in an orderly fashion. Our instructions were to form teams (there were five teams of three and five students), read recipes thoroughly and follow the CIA’s Mise en Place organizational method. This means that students do all the prep work, including measuring ingredients and gathering equipment before the actual cooking begins. Student assistances chefs-in-training were there to help if we needed it. We were also instructed to have all foods prepared by 1:30pm for a 2pm lunch.
Chef Ainsworth is witty and confident and very well-versed in the Mediterranean style of cooking, which we learned in great detail. He encouraged us to modify cooking recipes, but never baking recipes. Lucky for us, we weren’t baking. Below is our view of our day.
Dan – I felt that there was no way this would come together. I love to cook, but having to prepare everything ahead like this takes away the fun of the quick trips to the market. I love those quick trips.
Vikki – Wow, what a kitchen it was! We all received aprons and chef hats and two hand towels for lifting pots and the biggest, sharpest knives I have ever used. There was also an aluminum container for all our discarded skins and trash. When you prepare ahead and keep cleaning up as you go along, it really is easy to move through a complicated recipe. Working with a group (my group had four members) allowed us to divide up tasks and even some full recipes. I worked on Caponata while my tablemate, Ray, a visiting Aussie, made homemade mozzarella cheese. My group also made Shrimp with Tomatoes, Oregano & Feta and homemade pita bread.
Dan – One of our recipes was Salt Cod Fritters with Romesco Sauce. My first thought was “ew” because my mother made me creamed cod as a child and I hated it. We also prepared Grilled Lamb Brochettes with Parsley, Lemon & Walnut sauce and a Turkish salad. Ten minutes into the kitchen adventure, I had my first cut. It was a deep one and I ran over to the supply closet for my first of several band aids of the day. I could see Vikki smirking already!
Vikki – Watching the complex recipes made easy with great preparation is an eye–opening experience. I also loved learning the chef’s tips. The first was using only kosher salt for cooking. Why? Because it has flat edges and is larger. The second is that removing all seeds from veggies gives a look of polished refinement in the food presentation. Third, rinsing anchovies can allow even anchovy haters to enjoy the added taste to a dish because it removes the fishiness.
Something that really struck a cord in me was that you can eat delicious gourmet food and still look good and be healthy. It amazed me that Chef Ainsworth, who was just a couple years younger than Dan and I, looked 20 years younger. He said he hasn’t eaten processed foods in many years. It just shows that you truly are what you eat. He eats healthy, but doesn’t deprive himself and the proof is in his appearance.
Oh boy – Dan has just cut himself, he is running for band aids. This is very entertaining!
Several times during the cooking session, we were given group demonstrations by Chef Ainsworth. He demonstrated pasta-making and gnocchi-pinching, as well as how to make mozzarella cheese from cheese curd.
Other groups made dishes including Zucchini with Sweet & Sour Sauce, Macedonian Leek & Walnut Roll, and the group favorite—Turkish Briks. This was made with capers, canned tuna, parmesan cheese, parsley, egg yokes and is wrapped in Chinese spring roll skins and then fried. This was certainly an eye-opening, out-of the-box recipe.
At 1:45pm, we brought all of our prepared dishes to a table in the kitchen to many “oohs and ahhs” and it was finally time to dig in. Buffet style serving is the only way to go with 21 dishes!
Vikki – This was an absolutely fun and rewarding experience. I’m already looking forward to bringing along friends and trying other classes.
Dan – This is definitely the best part. I am proud of what was pulled off. I only cut myself twice, but did not need stitches like the guy in the class next door. And, the saltwater fritters were excellent!
Simple tips for a perfect gathering
You’ve spent the entire day cooking the perfect feast. But it’s an hour before your guests arrive, and you find yourself standing in front of the table, listening to a little nagging voice in your head. Does the knife go on the left, fork on the right, or is it the other way around? Is that centerpiece too tall? Should I go ahead and put food on table before guests arrive, or do I wait until everyone gets here?
If you can’t answer those questions, don’t feel alone. In today’s eat-on-the-run world, you’re not the only one to flunk the dos and don’ts of proper etiquette. “Proper table manners have become a lost art,” says etiquette expert Jill Slatter. “Think back 15 or 20 years ago, families gathered every evening for a proper meal. But these days we’re all stretched so thin juggling work, school and home, most folks don’t have time to sit down together, so when holidays roll around no one’s sure how to act at a formal meal.”
Slatter is an etiquette coach at Greensboro, N.C.-based Replacements, Ltd., the world’s largest supplier of old and new china, silver, crystal and collectibles. The company gets bombarded with questions this time of year from folks looking for a crash course in proper table manners. She says the answers to their most frequently asked questions are sure to help you dazzle your guests.
Set the perfect table
• Forks to the left, knives and spoons to the right. Only set out utensils that will be used for various courses. “If you’re not serving soup or salad, you certainly don’t want an extra spoon or fork in your place setting,” Slatter says. “Not only will those get in the way, the extra utensils may confuse your guests.”
• The bread plate goes on the left of the dinner plate, glasses on the right.
• Wait to pour. Water glasses should be the only glasses filled before your guests arrive. Iced tea, wine and other beverages should be poured once everyone is seated. Wine should be filled halfway, not to the rim.
• Salad and bread should be the only food on the table when your guests arrive.
• Courses are generally served in the following order in the United States: appetizer, soup, salad, main course, dessert.
Be a gracious guest
• Avoid the smear. Female guests should blot their lips before sitting down at the table. This will keep you from getting lipstick stains on linen napkins or glasses, which could be hard to get out.
• Wait for the signal. Your host will let you know when it’s okay to dig in. They may make a prayer or statement or start by passing a dish.
• If you’re not sure which utensil to use with each course, start on the outside and work in toward the plate. If you’re still not sure, watch your host.
• Don’t cut more than one or two bites of food at a time, and never butter an entire roll or piece of bread. Instead, pinch off pieces small enough for one or two bites and butter those first.
• What about those scraps? Neatly push leftover food, fat trimmings, etc. to one side of your plate.
• If you don’t care for coffee, simply say “no thank you.” Turning your cup upside down may be considered rude.
• If you need to excuse yourself temporarily, gently place your napkin in your chair. Signify you’re finished with the meal by placing napkin to the left of the dinner plate. “Most folks aren’t sure what to do with their utensils once they have finished eating,” adds Slatter. “The common way to show that you’ve finished your meal is to lay your fork and knife diagonally across your plate at ten and four o’clock. Place your knife and fork side by side, with the sharp side of the knife blade facing inward and the fork, tines down, to the left of the knife.”
Are you the hostess with the mostest?
• Remember, the hostess is always last seated.
• Unscented candles are a great part of holiday decor, but should only be lit during the evening. “Another thing to keep in mind, flickering candles are more than a distraction, those can cause headaches,” warns Slatter. “That’s why you never want to place burning candles directly in front of your guest, and make sure you situate the flame below eye level.”
• Centerpiece too tall? Sure those flowers you spent hours arranging are pretty, but will only get in the way if your guests have to crane their necks to look at each other. Make sure your guests can see over any table adornments.
• Passing isn’t just in football. Always pass food around the table counter clockwise to the right and refrain from serving yourself first. Always pass the salt and pepper as a set, even if you’re only asked for one.
If you’re still in doubt, a cheat sheet is just a mouse click away. You can find place setting guides outlining the correct layout for all meals at www.replacements.com, under the site’s “neat things” tab. With these tips in mind, you’re sure to throw the perfect holiday gathering!
Courtesy of ARAcontent
Consumer Supported Agriculture
A new way of grocery shopping from an old way of life
By LP Clark
Two years ago, in an effort to be more conscientious consumers, my husband and I signed up to split a Consumer Supported Agriculture (CSA) share with some friends of ours. With all of the media attention being paid to the pros and cons of local versus organic, joining the Denison Farm CSA (www.denisonfarm.com) run by Brian and Justine Denison, was the best of both worlds – local and organic. Their farm is located in the Rensselaer County town of Schaghticoke. This CSA is one of a few in the area that I found online (www.localharvest.org). I chose them because of the convenient pick-up location in Albany, but there are also locations in Clifton Park, Delmar and the Troy Farmer’s Market.
Even though we wrote a large check months in advance for produce we would consume over the upcoming summer, there was much excitement and little apprehension. When it came time to start picking up the vegetables and using them, I soon realized that this was very different from picking up my weekly veggies at the grocery store. Celeriac? What the heck am I supposed to do with celeriac? Not to mention what is celeriac? And where are the tomatoes I like to have every week? We were learning the lesson of seasonal eating—eating what is available because it is the right time of year for it to grow.
Belonging to a CSA means being at Mother Nature’s will. This year, growing conditions were favorable. We got an abundance of cucumbers, eggplant, beets and lettuce. But, she is not always so kind. At the beginning of last spring we missed out on some vegetables due to the flooding. Luckily though, certain vegetables such as kale grow very well in a lot of moisture.
Every week on the day that we are supposed to pick up our share, Justine sends us an email telling us how the previous week of farming went, what to expect in our share and why. For instance, one week we had some dented squash and zucchini due to the nickel sized hail the area had. I would have never learned any of this from shopping in a grocery store, where most of the produce is grown in California.
This correspondence creates a direct connection for us to the farmer. I certainly feel more responsible for using all of the food that we receive in the share knowing the trials, tribulations and hard work that go into growing food organically in the Capital Region.
In terms of utilizing the vegetables in the share, it is fortunate that we are not picky eaters, not to mention reasonably proficient in the kitchen. It is helpful to know how to braise and to be familiar with the different vegetables’ needs in terms of cooking methods and times. For instance, kale and leeks need to be cooked slowly for a long period of time in order to get rid of their natural toughness, but spinach and Swiss chard cook relatively quickly under high heat such as steaming or sautéing. We also utilize our Cooking Light magazine subscription via the Internet to continue to use the vegetables in new and exciting recipes. The Denison Farm recognizes people may have a hard time using vegetables that are new to them and conveniently provides share members with delicious recipes and tips on preparation (Justine’s recipe for stuffed green peppers is below).
A full share of vegetables is $420 for a 22-week season. Some shares require members to do a minimal amount of labor. Denison Farm doesn’t, but they do offer the option of performing eight hours of work which could involve farm work like weeding or helping to package the CSA on Tuesdays, which will shave $40 off the price of the share.
The share generally provides between 8-12 items a week, estimated to feed a family of two adults and two children. The calculation comes out to $20 a week, which, judging from the cost of organic food in the grocery store, would cost more, and grocery store produce is often not local. Local is important because it means that the food was allowed to ripen in its natural environment, which results in better flavor, instead of in the back of a trailer where there are remnants of a long journey, like trucking exhaust. Trekking to Troy Farmer’s Market, where you can find the Denison’s every Saturday, or stopping by a local farm stand would yield a similar result, but there is something about paying the farmer up front and dedicating yourself to weekly pick–up that results in a larger commitment to eating in this healthy way.
The final and most important aspect of this experience is that the food is delicious. Some of the vegetables, and especially the fruit, have more flavor than any that could be had from a grocery store. It is the reward of having a garden, without all of the work. We look forward to Wednesdays with the enthusiasm of kids looking forward to Christmas; but it doesn’t happen once a year, it happens once a week for 22 weeks. If this is something that you have considered, I am confident in saying you will not be disappointed. Our experience in the first year prompted us to get our own share this year and to also purchase the fruit share. It is without a doubt the best way to eat, as well as being an excellent investment in our community and our health.
Reap what you sow
Farmers and chefs working together
By Francesca Bruno
The food that’s on your table didn’t get there by accident or way of magic. Chef Larry Schepici, who is actively promoting a collaborative effort between chefs and farmers, knows this for sure. Schepici, owner of both Tosca Grille and Illium Café in downtown Troy, has been a staunch supporter of local farms since his early culinary days in Boston, where he worked with the Chefs Collaborative preparing meals for special events and fundraisers that showcased fresh, local foods.
“I thought it was the coolest thing in the world,” said Schepici of the symbiotic relationships he witnessed between chefs and farmers.
The Chefs Collaborative, a non-profit founded in 1993, is an organization made up of over a thousand members in various food-related professions who share a concern about running “economically healthy, sustainable food service businesses.” Chefs and other professionals can become members by donating to the organization, which is a nationwide effort based in Boston.
As a member of the Chefs Collaborative, Schepici emphasizes the importance of “sustainable cuisine” through education efforts in schools and at table. He has visited classrooms at the Tamarac schools in Brunswick to educate kids about the importance of local farms and the role of farming across the country and around the world.
“You have to start with young kids and let them know,” he stressed.
In both restaurants, Schepici also makes sure his menu features local, seasonal produce. Reaching out to farms right down the road from his home in Brunswick, Schepici picks out and purchases crops ahead of time from the farmers, uses as much as he can, and distributes the rest to other local chefs. He also occasionally holds special five- to seven-course meals at Tosca that display the local farmers’ food, noting names and locations right on the menu—a practice he carried with him down to New York City when he was invited to cook at the prestigious James Beard House.
“I respect farmers more than any other job in the world,” said Schepici. “They’re working 24/7. You have to put so much energy in, like chefs do.”
Schepici is furthering his promotion of farm-fresh food with a new organic foods store, Le Marche Vert, next to Tosca Grille on Broadway. Slated to open this month, Le Marche Vert (or “The Green Market”) will feature an array of local produce, as well as artisan cheeses and breads, game meats, fish, and handmade chocolates. In addition to eco-friendly heating and lighting, the construction materials and most of the décor will be either recycled or antique. In the spirit of local partnerships, Schepici has been working with Elizabeth Young, owner of The Living Room and downtown Troy business neighbor, on such unique interior pieces as an antique copper chandelier. The store, which will also offer products such as high-end cooking gadgets, will eventually host cooking classes as well.
Different countries, different customs
By Jill Vallecorsa
Not unless I was able to dine in Candyland would I ever imagine that sprinkles would be a breakfast option. Sitting down to my first breakfast in Holland this past summer, I was surprised to notice a bowl of chocolate sprinkles in the center of the table. Was there a Dutch tradition of making sundaes at 9am that I wasn’t told about? Not so. Apparently, a common Dutch breakfast consists of buttered bread fully-coated in a layer of Hagelslag (sprinkles).
With a sugar-coated meal to start the day, I had to wonder what I was in store for at lunch. What I discovered was that the Dutch love French fries. Fries I could deal with, but smothering them in mayonnaise was not something my arteries were up for trying. Mayonnaise is like ketchup to them; it’s even sold in bottles labeled “Fry Sauce.”
Dinner brought about something new for the American taste buds as well. A typical dressing for grilled steak and pork is a rich peanut sauce. The sauce is served warm and resembles melted peanut butter. Peanut sauce is bit strong for newcomers, but it seemed to grow on the palate of some of my companions very quickly.
The lesson learned from this trip is that every country has something different to offer the appetite, and what is considered typical in a foreign land may make outsiders a little queasy. I had to wonder what a person from Holland would think of some of the food offered in America. Would they enjoy peanut butter and fluff sandwiches, corn dogs or Jell-O?
Trips to a different country are a great experience, but it is important to keep an open mind. Here are some interesting foreign dishes to try if you dare!
Mediterranean – A common meal in the Mediterranean region is a boiled sheep’s head. Every part of the head is cooked and eaten.
Scotland – Haggis is a trademark dish of this country that consists of steamed sheep’s stomach stuffed with the animal’s heart, liver, lungs, and mixed with oatmeal, onions, and spices. For dessert, try a fried Mars Bar, which is literally a deep-fried version of the candy bar.
England – In the UK a traditional breakfast is a fry-up. This morning meal consists of eggs, bacon, and black pudding. The pudding is actually a sausage made from pig’s blood, bread, and fat.
Australia – The famous Vegemite is the equivalent of peanut butter for Americans. It’s a dark brown, thick paste with a salty taste, made from yeast extract. Australians typically use it as a spread for toast or on sandwiches.
Ukraine – Salo is a popular dish for Ukrainians. It is a meat slab taken from the fatty under-skin of pork and is usually salted. This dish is served either raw or fried.
East Africa – Grasshoppers are prepared and eaten in a variety of ways. These jumpy insects are eaten whole, roasted, fried or are ground into flour.
Sweden/Holland – A popular treat in these countries is salt licorice. More spicy and salty than it is sweet, this is a very different type of licorice than the American version.
Japan – Seaweed, that nice slimy plant that clings to you when you swim in the ocean, is a main component of the Japanese diet. It is used to wrap sushi and dried fish, in soups and broth, for sautéing, as well as an accent in rice dishes.
China – A sea cucumber is a leathery-skinned creature that resembles its namesake and roams the ocean floor. It is also a popular dish in Chinese households. The sea cucumber is used in stews and soups and often takes days to prepare.
Mexico – Mole poblano sauce is usually served over turkey and is made from the combination of chocolate, dried chili peppers, nuts and many different spices.
Wine & cheese
Proof that heaven is here on Earth
By LP Clark
Charles de Gaulle once boasted that France has 264 varieties of cheese. It’s even more renown for its wine. Yet, heaven lies in the joining of the right wine with right cheese, and the beauty of consuming wine and cheese is that someone has already labored over its preparation and all that is left to do is open and enjoy. Easy, right? Not exactly. Wine snobbery is rampant, and the average diner can be intimidated at the thought of ordering it. Add to this the daunting task of selecting the right cheese to accompany the wine and the anxiety becomes too much to bear. Before you know it, you’re drinking a beer and eating calamari (not that there’s anything wrong with that). But for people who enjoy food, the pleasure of wine and cheese should not be missed, and the sooner you begin enjoying it, the better you get at it, and it’s a wondrous cycle that starts with ordering.
The starting point is simple: know what you like and work from there. Cheese is something that most people are familiar with. If you don’t like a stinky, pungent cheese like Limburger, pairing the perfect wine with it is not going to make you like it. Focus on two spectrums when ordering – one of taste (mild to sharp), the other of texture (soft to hard). If you know your preferences within these spectrums, ordering becomes easier. Besides, any waiter worth his salt will be able to assist in the final decision if you’re unsure.
Pairing a wine can be simple once you know the cheese. As the saying goes, “what grows together goes together”, meaning regional similarity is something to key in on. If the cheese hails from Italy, then pick an Italian wine that will have the same body as the cheese. Neither the wine nor the cheese should overpower the other; the goal is to synergize the flavors. Still, the rule should be that there are no rules—experiment, savor, and enjoy. Grab a friend or that special someone, make up a reason to not cook and head out to the following haunts to get started.
We started our wine and cheese tour at the The Ginger Man on Western Avenue in Albany. It’s a great place for the novice to start for a few reasons. First, you will recognize several of the choices: a Dubliner cheddar, fresh mozzarella, smoked gouda and provolone, along with some you may have heard of, but never tried, like asiago and stilton. This means that you can be as adventurous as you want, but still stay with some familiar choices. Second, the small plate has a total of six ounces of cheese, the large has a total of nine ounces, which come with a generous amount of fruit, a side of apple jelly, breads and crackers. It is a meal for two for less than $20 dollars, representing an outstanding value. A nice touch at the Ginger Man is that they also feature three fresh cheeses, which they make themselves.
I chose the Italian theme—asiago, provolone and boursin, one of their homemade cheeses. In concert with my theme, I ordered an Italian Pinot Grigio, while (Darling Dinner Date) D3 opted to go with a Rioja that was on special. It made for a perfect dinner. The boursin, a spreadable goat cheese, had herbs and garlic folded into it and was creamy and mild, yet flavorful. The provolone was not at all like the kind you might be used to ordering on a sub. This was sharp enough to take your breath away, but absolutely delicious and without a doubt, the strongest flavor on the board. Finally, the asiago was a happy medium– a hard cheese with a moderate sharpness and a creamy finish. The Pinot Grigio held up well as it was slightly heavier than most, so the flavors of the cheese did not completely overpower the taste of the wine. We left completely sated with a doggie bag, and the bill was a mere $33.
Vin Santo Tapas and Wine Bar in Latham Farms offers a slightly more specialized cheese plate. In line with their Spanish tapas theme, the cheese selection is heavily Spanish. We figured, why stray from the restaurant’s specialty? D3 chose the manchego, Spain’s most popular cheese named after the La Mancha region; it’s a sheep’s milk cheese that varies in flavor according to how long it is aged. This particular manchego was mild and creamy, with a nutty finish. If you like Pecorino Romano cheese, you should enjoy this. The next cheese was my choice, Urgelia, a cow’s milk cheese, also from Spain. It only took one bite for me to recognize D3 would be enjoying the rest on his own. It was pungent and smoky, a combination he enjoys, but I do not, however, nothing ventured nothing gained. The final cheese was a Romao, a Spanish sheep’s milk cheese cured in rosemary and olive oil. The brine was solid rosemary and slightly overwhelming, but the cheese had an enjoyable fresh flavor. It came with toasted baguette and a gewürztraminer grape marmalade that we enjoyed to every last drop. The Cortijo Rioja was a perfect complement to the medley of flavors, medium bodied with a fruit and spice character. Again, the total bill was $33, a nice experience. However the portion size was more the start of something, rather than a meal.
The Wine Bar on Broadway in Saratoga is a more advanced venue for the savoring of wine and cheese. In the spirit of Saratoga, I chose my cheeses just like I choose my horses, on name alone–the Lazy Lady LaRoche, a soft goat cheese; the Dancing Ewe Prima Caciotta, a semi firm cow’s milk cheese; the Dancing Cow Bourre and the Cobb Hill Ascutney Mountain; a firm cow’s milk cheese. The cheese selection is mainly local with a majority of them coming from Vermont including three of our selections, with the exception of the Dancing Ewe, which was from New York. It was a good thing that D3 was with me, otherwise much of the plate would have gone uneaten, as all but the Cobb Hill cheese had extremely pungent and gamy flavors. The Cobb Hill was a firm and rich cheese in the same family as Swiss cheese and much more to my liking. This was where having the wine made the cheese all the more palatable. With the help of a white Spanish Rioja, the strawberries, nuts and peach puree on the plate, I was able to enjoy some of the pungent cheeses. This cheese plate also happened to be the most expensive of the three places visited and had the least amount of cheese and accompaniments. Overall, due to my dislike of gamy flavors and the scant portion size, this represented the least value of all of the cheese plates, with the total bill being $40. Perhaps if I am able to build my repertoire of acquired tastes it will be worth a trip back, but for the aspiring connoisseur it is a must–do on the Capital Region wine and cheese tour.
I hope that I have piqued your interest in exploring this institution of culinary delight. In the words of the famous food writer MFK Fisher, “Wine and cheese are ageless companions, like aspirin and aches, or June and moon, or good people and noble ventures.” Make it your next adventure in food.