Archive for the ‘Cooking Class’ Category

Healthy Tex-Mex

Lunch Express at Whole Foods has become a monthly ritual for me and my girlfriends. You can’t beat a delicious cooking lesson for $18! This month, we hit up the Healthy Tex-Mex class taught by Chef Dan Marek. The menu included Mango Pico De Gallo, Spanish Rice, Portobello Mushroom and Black Bean Burritos, Sweet Potato and Corn Salad and Coconut Dulce De Leche.

I wasn’t sure what healthy aspect Chef Dan was going to incorporate since I felt the menu sounded pretty healthy. For starters, there was no cheese or dairy in any of the recipes. Everything was plant-based and natural. The corn tortillas only had corn, water and lime (Margarita Tortillas)! He also used an interesting method to replace the oil used to saute the onions. Just add water to the pan until it covers the onions. Cook the onions until the water disappears and the onions start caramelizing. Then add a little more water allowing the caramelized flavor to coat the onions. Yum! This method can be used for other veggies, bell peppers, etc.

Mango Pico De Gallo

The Mango Pico De Gallo was lovely. The mangoes were sweet and juicy but were balanced well with onions and lime juice. You could easily replace the mangoes in the recipe for tomatoes. I may try green tomatoes next time I make the recipe.  I noticed Chef Dan added cayenne pepper, surprising since there is already jalapeno in it. I didn’t taste it, but it was probably ’cause I was too busy enjoying the mangoes.

One Action Packed Plate

Our second course – Portobello Mushroom & Black Bean Burritos (ended up being tacos instead), Guacamole, Sweet Potato & Corn Salad and Spanish Rice. It was all good but I wanted more portobello mushroom and less black beans. The natural corn tortillas were a nice touch.  I definitely noticed the tortillas had more flavor than your typical corn tortilla. The tortillas do fall apart due to the lack of fat but it something I’m willing to overlook. The guacamole was chunky and tangy, just the way I like it. It helps mixing it by hand. I finished off my plate with the sweet potato and corn salad. Never had that combo before, but I dug it. The Spanish rice was more like a risotto but the creaminess hid the fact that the white rice was replaced by brown rice. It was delicious.

Coconut Dulce De Leche

Dessert was my absolutely favorite from the day. At first the presentation wasn’t really appealing but after the first bite I was hooked! I could have easily finished it in 2 secs but I decided to savor each bite. It was worth it me pacing it.

Coconut Dulce De Leche

1 Can of Coconut Milk

3 Tbsps Agave

1 tsp Vanilla

1/2 Tbsp Arrow Root

Combine coconut milk, agave and vanilla in a sauce pan, and bring to a boil. Turn the heat to a simmer, add the arrow root and stir constantly. After 10 minutes, set the heat to very low and continue to cook until caramel color appears and the sauce thickens (about an hour). You will need to continually stir the mixture so it does not stick to the pan. When reduced to a thick paste, put into small bowls (about 2 oz per bowl) and put into the freezer. After 10 minutes in the freezer, place in the refrigerator until cold. When eating, break the top with the side of a spoon and enjoy!

Frankly I can’t imagine a world without greasy, cheesy Tex-Mex but I’m willing to substitute healthy alternatives from time to time! Or maybe when I cook Tex-Mex at home for my lactose intolerant boyfriend!

Next month, I’m thinking about going raw and seeing what Chef Dan can do work Italian cuisine.


I love the summertime..

Oh how I love summer – the sounds of blues on the green, the waves splashing on the beach, the smell of Coppertone as it hits your skin, drinking a cold beer while toobing down on the river, eating ice cream sandwiches as it melts between your fingers, the smell of grilled meat during a bbq. I love it all …well except for the blistering heat in Texas. When summertime comes it’s as though certain fruits and vegetables ripen in flavor and taste better. Notice how tomatoes have more flavor and watermelon taste sweeter? Summer is their peak season and truly the best time to have them.

I decided to treat my taste buds to these summertime flavors with Whole Foods’ Lunch Express class: Summertime Garden. The menu featured Heirloom Tomato, Avocado and Watermelon Salad with Sherry Vinaigrette; Saffron Rice Salad with Shrimp, Haricot Verts, Dolce Peppers and Smoked Paprika Vinaigrette; and Madeleines with Rose Scented Cream for dessert. Our teacher, Wes Mickel, was AWESOME! In the mix of demonstrating each dish, he shared facts like there are at least 400 varieties of tomatoes, how to purchase the right tomato, how to pickle onions, the differences between a green bean and a haricot vert or that you can keep vinegar for years! He also introduced me to the dolce and lipstick peppers. I am still amazed at the extensive variety of vegetables out there in the produce universe!

Heirloom Tomato, Avocado & Watermelon Salad w/ Sherry Vinegar

We started with the heirloom tomato salad. It was one of the best salads I have ever had, up there with the wedge salad from Perry’s and a few others. Such a simple salad made with a few ingredients was full of savory bites of sweet yellow watermelon, ruby red heirloom tomato, ripe avocado glazed perfectly with a dressing of sherry vinegar, olive oil and fresh cracked pepper. The sea salt on the heirloom tomato reminded me of summers spent in East Texas visiting my Grandmother and eating tomato slices during lunch. When finished, I literally wanted to drink the remaining dressing on my plate or slop it up with my index finger. But I refrained.

Here’s the recipe if you want to try it at home:

Heirloom Tomato, Avocado and Watermelon Salad with Sherry Vinegar (serves 4-6, but really I could eat the whole thing)

3-4 small heirloom tomatoes, cored, ripe, juicy and cut into thin wedges

1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut into small cubes

1 cup yellow or red seedless watermelon, cut into small pieces

1 avocado, cut into small cubes

1/4 cup mixed herbs, cut small (basil, parsley, tarragon, mint, chives and cilantro all work well)

1 tsp toasted coriander seeds, roughly ground

1/2 cup Sherry vinegar

2 Tbsp sugar

3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Coarse sea salt and fresh cracked pepper

In a small sauce pan over medium heat, reduce the Sherry vinegar and sugar until it has reduced to about 1/4 c. Allow the reduction to cool.  In a bowl, combine the tomatoes, cucumbers, watermelon and avocado with 1/2 the herbs, ground coriander, 1 T extra virgin olive oil and a light seasoning of salt and pepper. Place all the contents on a serving platter or individual plates and finish the salad with a splash of the sherry vinegar reduction, the remaining herbs and salt and fresh cracked pepper.

Saffron Rice Salad with Shrimp, Haricot Verts, Dolce Peppers & Smoked Paprika Vinaigrette

The second course was the saffron rice salad with shrimp. During the demonstration, Chef Mickel explained how to pickle the remaining red onions and extend the life of unused vegetables. Apparently you can pickle anything with 1 pt sugar and 2 pt vinegar and keep it around for a month or so. Duality noted! As I consumed the second salad of the day, I noticed how the shrimp worked nicely with the smoked paprika vinaigrette and saffron rice. Though I really enjoyed this salad, I was still thinking about the first.

Madeleines with Rose Scented Cream

The last course was the madeleines. Unforunately this course was a bit disappointing. The madeleines came presented deliciously and I couldn’t wait to sink my folks into them. I found them dense and chewy. I was surprised since Chef Mickel used a workout analogy about the dough. Working the dough = working your muscles. You must allow the dough to rest or the dough will shrink during baking resulting in tough and chewy madeleines. Looks like someone didn’t let my madeleine dough rest enough leaving my jaw a little sore. And to continue this downer moment, I didn’t get enough of the rose water flavor but what I did expect since it only called for a tsp. But I did enjoy the vanilla bean paste. I had no idea it existed and will keep it in mind for future baking projects.

Despite the disappointing dessert, I ended up waddling out of my cooking class, which is a good sign that I enjoyed myself. I am already planning my next class at the culinary center – Healthy Tex-Mex, I’m highly suspicious…

Whole Foods Culinary Center –