As a chef, one of the fun things that I really enjoy about food is understanding the “why” behind the product. Certain things, like geography, trade, and culture all contribute to why certain foods, dishes, and even seasonings are used – or scorned – in a recipe.
Given that fact that cereal grains form the backbone of agriculture in Asia and Europe, dishes that could be made with these could be found in every home and the economy of the regions kept prices low and supplies high.
Case in point – pasta. We normally think of it almost exclusively as an Italian dish, but in reality, it was probably brought to Italy in the trade routes opened by Marco Polo with the Far East in the thirteenth century.
Yep. “Pasta” is likely Chinese. At the same time, nearly every culture in Europe and Asia has some kind of noodle – but we usually forget about the German spaetzli, the Greek orzo, or the Polish pierogi.
All of these share a common ancestor in a flour paste mixed with water or eggs. As easy as that is to actually make in your own kitchen, too many times, I hear (and see!) students react with alarm at the thought of making their own pasta.
Why? It’s not hard – making bread is far more difficult.
It’s not expensive – the ingredients are easy to find and purchase and the only tools required can be had for a fraction of the cost of many kitchen gadgets.
It’s not time consuming – the actual time needed to produce enough pasta to feed six guests might be an hour.
No, the reason that so few people today enjoy making their own pasta is that many people believe it’s “too hard” … and nothing could be farther from the truth! After all, if something is truly difficult to make, how do you think that it can become so popular? How can it possibly become a staple in so many lands – remember, the humble noodle crosses far more borders and is found on tables the world over – and be so important for millennia?
If it was that hard to do, you and I both know that it would never have been so widespread as a foodstuff for so many years.
Now, here’s where I want you to think outside the box – the box of dried pasta sitting in your pantry – and come and see how easy it is to create your own fresh and healthy alternatives to overpriced (and underwhelming) store-bought pasta.
It’s fun, it’s easy, and it’s one of the most popular classes here at the Culinary Classroom. My next class is THIS Saturday, 4/14/18 at 3:30pm and I would love to have you in class – I welcome teens, too!
Now, we’re not just talking ravioli here. In class, I teach how to make a wide variety of pastas – from Angel Hair to Bowties to Fettuccine – and lots of sauces to pair them with – and more importantly, as Spring begins, plenty of us are going to be thinking about our Summer Beach Bodies … and that brings me to one more important reason to attend this Pasta Class.
You can make Pasta healthy!
You can’t do that with that dried stuff in the box and a sauce filled with chemicals and preservatives but – here’s the important part – you can do it with fresh pasta and the light sauces we teach in class.
Over the years we’ve taught this class (it’s one of our most popular) the overall result has been that students learn how to create healthy, filling meals from scratch in a variety of tasty ways. I truly love teaching this class. Did I say it’s one of the most popular among my students, too?
The children in my kids camps love making the pasta by hand and even like eating the pasta without sauce. I teach Pasta making in my Culinary Basics Series and it is a real favorite at my Private Parties and Team Building Events. I mean, who doesn’t like to play with their food?
Okay, it’s confession time. I work a lot. As a chef, it’s not unusual to find me in the kitchen 6 or 7 nights a week, and truly rare is the day that goes by without me in the kitchen at all. So it was a pleasure to be able to sneak away one night a couple of months ago to join friends for dinner.
Did you catch that? “A couple of months ago?”
Yep. Like I said, I work a lot and as much as I love to share, sometimes things get pushed back.
I told you all that to tell you this… the friends that were able to join us that night live on the Westside, so using Jonathan Gold’s 101 Best Restaurants in Los Angeles as a guide, I chose Rustic Canyon on Wilshire Boulevard in Santa Monica. Mr. Gold had written a great review about the food at Rustic Canyon and the Chef, Jeremy Fox. One thing that intrigued me was how Gold elaborated that Fox isn’t interested in celebrity, just providing great food, atmosphere and service. He likes Rustic Canyon so much, he ranked it #5 out of his top 101 restaurants to visit.
With that in mind, our trip to Santa Monica was exciting and I’d like to share the night in both words and pictures.
I started my evening with a cocktail. When it comes to adult beverages, I usually have a beer, like a Belgian Saison. But, nights out like this don’t happen often, so I decided to try one of Rustic Canyon Signature drinks, the Angelino. Served in a small champagne coupe, this mixture of Rye, Vermouth, Grand Poppy Liqueur and Orange Bitters was served ice cold with a wide strip of orange zest as a garnish.
The drink had a nice combination of grain and herbs from the Rye and Vermouth, with citrus notes from the Bitters and Liqueur. I found that the size of the cocktail served as a great starter to the meal. In fact, I was planning on having a beer with my main course, but decided against it after one Angelino.
I sipped the Angelino while we shared the Marcona Almonds with Lavender. Ever since I worked and lived in Barcelona, I have become an almond fanatic. Marconas are sensational, completely different from any Almond you have ever tasted. The Lavender was subtle and not overpowering. It’s always a pleasure to have something as simple as a roasted almond seasoned with such care.
The four of us decided to share some appetizers, starting with some Beets, wonderfully cooked then mixed with some Blackberries, Quinoa, Avocado and Pistachios. I have always liked Beets, especially baby ones. My father raised a vegetable garden when I was a teenager and we really enjoyed the fruits of his labors. Beets were one of those vegetables.
The earthy quality of the Beet was paired nicely with the sweet and slightly tart flavor of the Blackberry. The nutty quality of the Quinoa paired well with the Pistachios and then there was a little avocado to give the dish a rich creamy flavor. One of us (not me!) said that they don’t usually like Beets, but with the Blackberries, it was very good.
Next were the Spring Peas. Perhaps they were obtained from the Wednesday Farmers Market in Santa Monica. These are one of my absolute favorite vegetables, a portent of the growing season and care in harvesting – especially with the challenging weather this year. Delicate and sweet, peas need to be prepared and eaten as soon after picking as possible.
The Peas were served in a bowl small dollops of a Pecorino Custard. The idea of a savory custard is always exciting, especially when you know that a classic sauce like Hollandaise is basically that, a savory Custard. The Pecorino may have been made like a Hollandaise, or it may have been more like a Mayonnaise. It was very thick like a Mayonnaise, and the Pecorino flavor was not overpowering, just enough to give the peas a little richness. Mint and Red Wine Vinegar were also used, giving the peas a different sweetness and acidity. Lastly, some Pea Shoots were used to garnish the dish. One vegetable I always envision eating in the garden, straight from the vine!
Roasted White Yams were next. Nicely caramelized and slightly crunchy on the outside and creamy on the inside. They were served with Green Garlic Butter, Celery, Hazelnut Dukkah and Aioli. As with the other dishes, the attention to detail and seasoning was top notch. I got just a hint of the Green Garlic Butter and Garlic from the Aioli, but not enough to be overpowering. The Celery and Dukkah added a nice crunch and spice. For those of you who don’t know, Dukkah is a nut and spice blend commonly used in Egypt. Hazelnuts, Sesame Seeds, Coriander and Cumin are commonly used, but like the Indian Spice blend Garam Marsala, you will find many different versions.
Next I had a roasted half Chicken, Potato Puree and Sugar Snap Peas. Nice crispy skin and simply seasoned. The Puree was very smooth, creamy. Very decadent way to have Potatoes. I’m Irish and I love potatoes this way, but can’t have them all the time. Not with all that butter and cream! A few quickly sautéed peas garnished the top. Even though I had those wonderful Spring Peas earlier, I didn’t mind having more! What I didn’t see listed in the menu and truly loved was the jus. A simple sauce made from the drippings from the chicken. Nothing better to mix with those potatoes!
My wife had the Pork Chop, which to her great surprise came sliced and fanned out on her plate. The Strawberry-Pine Nut Sofrito is an interesting take on the classic Spanish mixture of Red Bell Peppers, Onions, Tomatoes and Garlic. Fruit and Pork are always a good combination and the sweetness of the Strawberries and the softened texture of the cooked nuts was a welcome addition to the dish. A Salsa Verde was part of the presentation. All of this sitting atop a nice helping of creamy Polenta.
Our friends had a Poached Trout. For me, fish always tastes better when paired with another meat and this dish was served with a broth made from smoked ham. Nappa cabbage and more peas (it is that time of year!) made this dish very flavorful indeed. What was very different was that the fish was poached and served with the skin on. You don’t see that very often, because the skin gets chewy. But the portion size of the fish was small, perhaps the filet came from a young fish.
Dessert was a great way to end our evening. My wife had a sweet and tart Blood Orange Sorbet. Simply scooped onto her dish. No other garnishes or accompaniments. I had the largest slice of homemade Brioche that I have ever had. It came on a pool of Dulce De Leche Caramel with a little Salt. A little Ganache over the top of the bread and that is a dessert for someone running a marathon the next day. I only ate half of it, but I have to confess that the rest of it found its way into my stomach later that night!
Our friends had the flourless chocolate cake, which was studded with hazelnuts and carob chips. A little whipped cream to top it off. Nothing like Hazelnuts and Chocolate, a classic combination!
If you are in Santa Monica and want to have a really well prepared, farmers-market-driven dinner, head to the Rustic Canyon.
There comes a time in everyone’s life when they realize they don’t know how to cook.
Whether the epiphany strikes in middle school or mid-midlife crisis varies from person to person, but the solution remains the same: It’s time to learn! And it’s not as impossible as it might seem –even if you’re intimidated by cooking spaghetti. Chef Eric’s4-Week Culinary Basics Series is especially crafted for beginners, and take it from graduate Alan Weil: “Anyone interested in learning to cook will come out of this series much more confident about his or her cooking skills.” Chef Eric will make sure of it!
So what’ll we cover? Lots of meals that YOU learn to make and we eat them at the end of each Class!
Week 1: Knife skills. Proper technique is the foundation of proper cooking, and we make sure you’ve got it down. We’ll go over how to hold, use, clean and sharpen a knife before you start slicing and dicing. Then you prepare some simple meals like Latin-Style Strip Loin Steak with Chayote Squash, Risotto-Style Orzo Pasta with Parmesan Cheese and Spiced Peruvian Chickpea Cakes.
Week 2: Meal prep. We’ll build off what we learned in the first class and start playing with international recipes like Spice Rubbed Skirt Steak, Thai-Style Noodle Salad with Asian Five-Spice Chicken Skewers and Spicy Peanut Sauce, Italian Chicken, traditional Meatloaf, and Lemon Orzo Pasta with Kalamata Olives. And yes – taste-testing is encouraged!
Week 3: Homemade pastas and potatoes. By now, you’ll be ready to tackle the art of pasta-making. Trust us; it’s far better fresh! We’ll learn how to make it, cut it, cook it and pair it with splendid sauces like Bolognese, Herb and Cheese Spaetzle, and creamy Alfredo. We make a killer Potatoes au gratin, too!
Week 4: Seafood. With a focus on safety and sanitation, we’ll prepare fantastic fish dishes like Seared and Spice-Crusted Ahi Tuna, Grilled Chipotle-Spiced Shrimp and Sole Vin Blanc with Ginger-Lime-Scallion Butter – all of which are sure to blow your friends and family away at the next dinner party you’ll be hosting, armed with your newfound knowledge.
Don’t let takeout take over your life. To quote the great Julia Child, “The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude!” So don’t be afraid to learn to cook; Chef Eric will be there every step of the way. You ARE capable of cooking!
For some reason, sushi is one of those foods that sports an invisible warning: “Don’t try this at home.” But you really can conquer this Japanese favorite! All you need is a little direction from Chef Eric Crowley – and it’s your lucky day, because you can follow along as he teaches Fuller Housestar Candace Cameron Burehow to chop, roll, and make perfect sushi rice on the Hallmark Channel’sHome & Family Show. To quote a excited Candace, “I made it!”
How to DIY sushi with Chef Eric and Candace from FULLER HOUSE on the Hallmark Channel - YouTube
Traditional Sushi Rice Yield: 4 Cups
Rice, short grain, washed
Giant kelp (Konbu), 1 ½ ” piece
Salt, preferably sea salt
Put the rice in a heavy bottomed small sized pot and add the water. Wipe the kelp with a damp cloth. Score the kelp if necessary. Place the kelp in the pot, cover the pot and bring it to just below a boil. Remove the kelp and recover the pot.
Boil the rice for about 2 minutes, then lower the heat to medium and continue to boil for 5 minutes.
Reduce the heat to the barest simmer and let the rice cook for about 10-15 minutes or until all the water has been absorbed. Turn off the heat and let the pot stand on the burner for about 10-15 minutes.
While the rice is cooking and resting, prepare the dressing by mixing the rice vinegar, sugar and salt in a small pot and dissolving it over low heat. Transfer the dressing to an ice bath to cool it quickly.
Toss the rice as per demonstration. Gradually add enough dressing to flavor it, but not enough to turn the rice mushy.
Keep the cooled rice in a container to fit, covered with a damp cloth.
Nigiri and Nori-Roll Sushi
Yield: 4 Servings
Fresh fish, skinless filets
Nori sheets, toasted
Cucumber, Japanese, julienned
In a small bowl, mix the rice vinegar and water. This is a “hand vinegar,” used to keep your finger moist while shaping the rice.
Slice the fish as per demonstration.
Shape the rice per demonstration. Place a small dab of wasabi on the rice and lay the fish on top.
Serve with pickled ginger, wasabi and soy sauce mixed with mirin (4 parts soy sauce to 1 part mirin).
Using the Nori sheet, rice and cucumber, make a nori-roll as per demonstration.