Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Make the Most of Dinner Out

Lately I've seem two articles related to making the most of a restaurant meal.

The first was the final column by Frank Bruni, restaurant critic of the New York Times, where he discusses how to choose from a menu. Bruni recommends not ordering any appetizers or entrees that are like dishes you've seen elsewhere because the chef's heart isn't in them. Don't order dishes "aggressively fanciful" because too much ego may be in them. And don't order anything with truffle oil!

Andrew Knowlton, BA foodist, answers two readers' questions in the September issue with surprising answers. If you are told a restaurant only has reservations 5:30 or 10:30 available, is it true? Yes, most likely because everyone wants to dine at 7:00 and a restaurant needs to be full all evening. He suggests asking to be on the waiting list and calling back the afternoon of the day you want to dine and ask about cancellations.

Should you be disappointed if a celebrity chef isn't cooking the night you are there? Actually, Andrew states that you are better off if the chef isn't in the house so that the chef de cuisine and sous chefs can do their best. They have something to prove. And they will be the next celebrity chefs!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Healthy Fats

Healthy fat is an important part of our diets. Polyunsaturated fats such as olive oil and canola oil are an essentail factor in reducing the incidence of heart disease.

Studies have shown that healthy fats, such as olive oil, also help us maintain a healthy weight and are important in weight loss diets. That's the reason Weightwatchers has 2 teaspoons olive oil as an important daily requirement.

Fats do provide twice the calories as carbs and proteins, so it's important not to consume too much fat and limit saturated fats found in dairy products and meats.

One of my favorite ways to use olive oil is in Sweet Potato Oven Fries.

Sweet Potato Oven Fries (serves 2)

1 sweet potato (about 12 ounces)peeled and cut into wedges
2 teaspoons olive oil
Coarse salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Lightly spray a baking sheet. Toss the sweet potatoes with the olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Place on baking sheet.

Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until potatoes are fork tender. I usually bake until the potatoes begin to brown.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Not Your Everyday Potato Salad

Everyone in my family who has heard about my new recipe "Loaded Baked Potato Salad" has been anxious to try the recipe. Labor Day is still almost two weeks away lots of time for picnics and easy grilled dinners.

I serve this potato salad when we grill hamburgers. Potato salad completes a simple meal when juicy burgers on toasted buns are topped with lettuce and slice of tomato. I use a coarsely ground beef with 85% lean for a juicy burger.

Loaded Baked Potato Salad

The best toppings from loaded baked potatoes are combined in this salad. Because I don’t peel tender new potatoes this salad doesn't take much time. Roasting the potatoes is easier than boiling and adds "baked potato" flavor. Spread the roasted potatoes out on a cookie sheet to cool them rapidly.

Serves 4-6

2 lb. small red new potatoes, quartered
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup regular or light sour cream
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
4 slices crumbled bacon, 1 tablespoon reserved
2-4 chopped green onions, 1 tablespoon reserved

Heat the oven to 450 degrees F. Lightly spray a baking pan and add potatoes.
Drizzle with olive oil, 1/4 teaspoon salt and freshly ground pepper. Roast potatoes for 20 minutes or until fork tender, stirring once during baking. Cool to room temperature.

Combine the sour cream, sugar, vinegar, remaining salt and pepper to taste in a small bowl. Add to the cooled potatoes and toss to mix. Stir in the cheese, bacon and green onions. Chill until serving.

Garnish with remaining bacon and green onions just before serving.

Copyright Pat Sinclair 2009

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Next Food Network Star

OK, I admit it, I did get sucked into The Next Food Network Star. There's not a lot on TV in the summer. As a food professional, it was fascinating to watch the contestants responses to the challenges they faced. Honestly, I couldn't have come up with some of their solutions, especially with larger quantities of food. And I could sympathize with some of their "less successful" results.

I'm not sure I would have picked the same winner as the judges, but I'm sure we have different criteria!

I just found a reference to the LA Times article about the runner-up getting his own show. It proves that if you are really good, even if you don't come in first, you can still be noticed.

Here's the link:

Friday, August 14, 2009

Salad Suppers

In the hot humid days of August we often have a salad for dinner. With homegrown tomatoes,drizzled with a little balsamic vinegar and a few shreds of basil, and an ear of fresh sweet corn, boiling the water for the sweet corn is what takes the longest.

Most of my summer salads start with chicken. Yesterday I watched a video on about poaching chicken breasts Here is the link:

I usually prefer to roast chicken breasts on the bone when I need to start with cooked chicken using Ina Garten's method.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. and place chicken on a baking pan. Rub with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake 35 to 40 minutes, until the chicken is no longer pink in the middle. (A meat thermometer should read 160 degrees F.)Let rest until the chicken is cool enough to handle.

The easiet method of all, is to use the meat from a roasted chicken purchased at the supermarket!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Dinner at La Belle Vie

In any list of Twin Cities restaurants, La Belle Vie, is always near the top. Last night my husband and I enjoyed a leisurely meal focused on fresh flavors. We had the three course tasting menu (three course besides the 2 amuse bouche, and a plate of miniature cookies after dessert!).

After two delicate Gruyere Gougeres, a plate with a demitasse cup was placed in front of us. The cup contained a bottom layer of corn panna cotta, topped with shaved truffle and fois gras. It was very rich with delicate flavors and we almost licked the cup clean! We always have sweet corn this time of year, but never before as panna cotta.

A salad course came on a long rectangular plate decorated with basil puree. There were three bites of miniature tomatoes. A cherry tomato filled with burrata cheese, poached red and yellow grape tomatoes and perfect tiny squares of tomatoes served with compressed watermelon and a watermelon foam.

My main course was one diver scallop with a caramelized layer, topped with fried proscuitto and serve on a bed of sauteed spinach and pureed eggplant. The scallop was tender and moist and the salty proscuitto a delicious contrast.

Dessert was a White Chocolate Tart (white chocolate ganache on a tough pastry) and garnished with tiny poached balls of fresh peach. An almond tuile provided a sweet contrast and icy peach sorbet the final refreshing touch.

There wasn't even the tiniest bite of food left on every plate that was cleared from our table. Although the portions looked small, the total meal was just the right amount. We knew we had dined on extraordinary fare.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Not Just any Potato Salad

On Friday I appeared on Showcase Minnesota for KARE 11. The subject was variations on Potato Salad. Because this year Memorial Day was early and Labor Day is late, the summer season is actually longer. So there's time for more picnics!

I demonstrated Loaded Baked Potato Salad and also brought Sweet Potato Salad with Lime Vinaigrette and Country French Potato Salad with Green Beans.The recipes are on Showcase Minnesota's website.

Here is the link to the show.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Summer Potato Salad for Two

I'm going to be on Showcase Minnesota on Friday (August 7) and suggested potato salads that are different from the old standby. I've developed recipes for Sweet Potato Salad with Lime Vinaigrette, French Country Potato Salad with Green Beans and Loaded Baked Potato Salad.

Thinking about potato salad brought to mind a simple salad I use often in the summer because it is so easy to make and doesn't need to chill.

Easy German Potato Salad

Warm summer days call for lazy casual dinners. Start with hamburgers or brats cooked on the grill and add a couple of sides. I make this potato salad often because it doesn’t need to be chilled and can be served warm or at room temperature. I don’t peel the potatoes which eliminates a step and makes the potatoes more nutritious. The bacon flavor is important and I like the reduced sodium bacon bits but one or two slices of crumbled bacon work as well.

Makes 2 servings

4 medium red potatoes, (about 8 ounces)
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
2 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon chopped green onion
1 tablespoon bacon bits

Scrub the potatoes and cut into 1/4-inch thick slices. Place the slices in a small saucepan and cover with water. Bring the water to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer potatoes 6-7 minutes or until fork tender. Drain well.

Combine the vinegar and sugar in the same pan and heat over low heat until the sugar dissolves. Return the potatoes to the pan and add the green onion and bacon. Toss to mix. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature.

SIDEBAR: Rice vinegar has a more rounded flavor than distilled vinegar. It contains a small amount of sugar and salt but you can use cider vinegar instead. If rice vinegar isn’t shelved with other vinegars look for it in the Asian foods section of the supermarket.