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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Chefs-In-Training Get The Skinny On Fats

It's week number three of Natural Foods Chef Training and Chef Jennifer Brewer is tackling the sensitive subject of fats. We quickly learned that the choices of oils are many but decisions are best made based on cooking temperature to maximize health benefits.

Obviously, the whole food versions are preferable and less is best when it comes to heat. We also compared the refined and unrefined versions of several oils as in the next picture. Notice how much darker the unrefined sesame oil is on the left compared to its refined counterpart on the right. Unrefined is always the best choice unless your recipe dictates high cooking temperatures. We learned that the healthiest oils are also the most fragile so they need special packaging and often refrigeration to maintain their quality. Just like their food counterparts the closer to their raw natural state the better.

As always class begins with an array of fresh, organic ingredients. It's a six course menu tonight and we will be using a variety of oils to create a complete meal featuring two entree level dishes.

1. Appetizer - Flaxy Crackers & Hemp Seed Olive Tempanade
2. Salad - Field Greens with Creamy Flaxseed Dressing
3. Entree #1 - All Purpose Asian Marinade with Grilled Salmon
4. Entree #2 - Spicy Orange, Cilantro & Cumin Grilled Tempeh
5. Side Dish - Balsamic Marinade with Roasted Vegetables
6. Dessert - Chocolate Avocado Tart with Raspberry Coulis

The tip of the evening for me was a nutritional heads up about one of my favorite spices, garlic. Jenny said to allow raw garlic to sit for ten minutes before adding it to a recipe in order to activate its photochemical compounds.

And now...Dinner Is Served!

Breaking our crackers into bite size pieces was really fun. And I had no idea how much oil is packed into an olive. We added only spices, capers, lemon juice and hemp seeds to make the perfect dip.

Our local wild caught salmon was primed for oven roasting after a bath in the Asian marinade loaded with fresh ginger, soy sauce and garlic.

Sliced Tempeh was so simple but turned into a tasty grilled strip that even a true carnivore would enjoy. The spicy orange, cilantro and cumin marinade made the flavors just snap.

Another surprise for me were the roasted vegetables. The dark color of the balsamic marinade deepened their color but they were definitely not overcooked. It was a barrage of contrasting textures ranging from the tender eggplant to the very crunchy beets.

Our final act was a chocolate dessert but with a twist. We used avocados in our tart to add sweetness and the many lower cholesterol benefits of its monounsaturated fatty acids. Adding to the goodness and flavors were walnuts, dates, cranberries and coconut. Jenny's last minute substitution for raspberries with a fresh orange reduction made a perfect drizzle.

The End. (Until next week of course!)

Friday, April 17, 2009

Chef Training Is Brewing At The Newest New Leaf Community Market On The Santa Cruz West Side

I'd like to introduce you to Chef Jennifer Brewer. In the nutritional and natural food worlds Jennifer needs no introduction. She is a graduate of the Chef's Training Program at the Natural Gourmet Cookery School in New York. She holds a Masters Degree in Nutrition and is a Certified Nutrition Specialist through the American College of Nutrition as well as a James Beard Scholarship recipient.

Jenny has been teaching a variety of classes for the Santa Cruz based New Leaf Community Markets. New Leaf has just opened up a flagship store on the Santa Cruz Westside at 127 Fair Avenue just off Mission Street. This grand new location has its very own Community Classroom for cooking instruction and gatherings. What an ideal setting for Jenny to launch her eight week Natural Chef Training Program. This course quickly sold out but I was lucky enough to slip into the second session which featured cooking with whole grains.

Chef Brewer (on the right) is pictured here with her assistant, Lydia Simmons, who is a recent graduate of another prestigious nutritional culinary school in Santa Cruz, Bauman College.

The theme of the second class in the series was on whole grains. Jenny began with tutorial on their nutritional benefits and then we all quickly slid into some hands-on prep work for our dishes.

Presenting these classes right on location inside the New Leaf Community Market means the very freshest of organic and often locally grown ingredients will be at our fingertips every week.

On the menu for tonight were Caramelized Onion & Rosemary Mini Quiches. We got the onions caramelizing first because it's a step you really can't rush. The key to this dish was lots of fresh rosemary and a touch of balsamic vinegar. To create their fun "mini" size we baked them in muffin pans.

Our quiche entree was flagged beautifully by a pair of very hearty salads. One group made the Quinoa Pumpkin Seed while the other prepared an amazing Kale, Brown Rice and Tahini salad. The big surprise in the Kale dish was that it was completely raw. Instead of even a quick par boiling we only massaged the leaves with sea salt which made them totally tender. Both the quinoa and brown rice starred in leading roles as the focus of our featured subject of whole grains. When we were all asked to evaluate the dishes I commented that either of these salads were so satisfying that they could stand on their own as a main course.

We also roasted some asparagus spears but definitely kicked them up a notch with a delicious Onion Confit topping. The confit was made much like their caramelized counterparts but with a touch of Dijon mustard to make it pop.

Our finishing act was a wonderful Millet Coconut Pudding. As rich and satisfying as it was it still felt like a decadent dessert topped with raw almonds. We all agreed how very flexible this dish could be as a breakfast, snack or dessert. Vanilla, cinnamon and cardamon spices all added to the pleasures here.

And in the end who were the most critical judges of our work? Of course, it was the cooks themselves as we all got to taste the fruits (and grains) of our efforts.

This class will be a Thursday tradition for the next six weeks. I will be back to tell you about each one. One thing is certain. It will be full of surprises and tips on how to make nutritious foods taste great.