Iowa City Scratch Cookery

In-Home Cooking Lessons From An Expert

Summertime Update

It has been some time since I last posted, but don't worry, I've been staying busy all summer. I thought I would catch everyone up on a few fun lessons I worked on over the last few months. The first lesson I'll mention, I did a "pizza party" lesson for a father and daughter; we covered thin crust and Chicago-style. I demonstrated how to prepare a simple tomato sauce, how to work with the dough, and how to easily rig a standard oven to bake like a commercial pizza oven. 

Another lesson this summer had a French theme. We prepared trout Meuniere Amandine, which is trout with brown butter, almonds, parsley, and lemon. That dish was made even more French by serving it over Ratatouille; a stewed vegetable dish of eggplant, tomatoes, red pepper, and zucchini.

Last week was an Italian lesson for my vegetarian clients. We prepared fresh pasta for ravioli and tortellini. The filling was roasted butternut squash with thyme, garlic, and mascarpone cheese. I taught my clients how to prepare a simple brown butter and sage sauce, and we accompanied the pasta with a roasted medley of carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower. For dessert we made a simple lemon curd with blueberries and Chantilly cream.

The last client I'll mention commissioned me for a series of five basic cooking lessons. Each week I would show up and teach her a different meal that wouldn't take more than an hour to prepare, had less than ten ingredients, and was relatively healthy. I covered a variety of cooking techniques, we got a chance to work with 5 different proteins, and I showed how simple cooking can be with the proper preparation and planning. At the end of the series, I presented a booklet of all the recipes to the client, but they're more than just recipes. They are the building blocks to becoming a competent cook. My advice to any aspiring home cook who doesn't know where to start is to choose 5 to 10 basic meals and cook those meals a lot. Once you become proficient at those you can create countless variations simply by substitution; swap shrimp for scallops, rosemary for thyme, or pearl barley for brown rice. My client just needed some exposure to real cooking in a familiar environment. She now has five great meals anytime she needs to feed friends or family.


Children's Birthday Party_02-27-2016

This last weekend I had the pleasure of leading a pizza/cupcake making birthday party for a family in Coralville. We had a lot of fun learning how to shape the dough and how to make that stretched dough into an actual pizza. I was surprised how many of the boys were willing to try fresh basil on their pizzas. The highlight of the day had to be when the kids got to decorate their cupcakes. I made a chocolate Swiss buttercream and each child got their own pastry bag to pipe on to their cupcake.

Since starting this business, I've been asked by parents if children would eat foods prepared from scratch. That those foods may be too unfamiliar for their child to even sample. I agree that if the food is unfamiliar a child will more than likely turn their nose up at it. However, if you can replicate the food that your child already enjoys than your odd for success go way up. For example, the pizza dough I make has no preservatives, the pizza sauce has no added sugar, and the Swiss buttercream has 50% less sugar than standard buttercream. I know what I'm advocating is no where near the level of Jamie Oliver's crusade, but I believe that small changes add up to big changes.

Here are some photos from the event:

Family Meal #4

Tomato, Chicken, and White Bean Soup with Wild Yeast Bread

During the winter, I make a weekly soup for my family to enjoy. Wild yeast bread, or pain au levain, has been an obsession of mine for more than a year. So much of an obsession that I'm considering offering a lesson on the subject. I just need to figure out how to cover a three day process in a short two hours.

This soup is adapted from a recipe I made for Top Chef Iowa City 2014 when I was representing Nodo Downtown. The original recipe was a chorizo, chicken, white bean, and tomato that I garnished with cilantro and queso fresco. Great Soup, but it was a chore to tell all 300 people in attendance the name. This recipe is a perfect example of where I was at in my career. Being my first chef position where I had some creative control, I was really focused on being unique and riffing on classic combinations. I learned the hard way, that customers bought the classic soups/baked goods I made, and passed on my more "high concept" creations. Since then, I have focused my time on learning classic recipes/techniques and cooking with the seasons.

Back to 2016, the soup I made this week is a stripped-down, "kid-friendly" version. Here are all the ingredients I used:

Note: once the chicken is roasted and a stock is made, this recipe takes less than an hour to throw together.

Below is a run-down of the steps involved:

Meanwhile, this was going on (I'll do a more detailed post in the future):

Family Meal #3

This last Saturday, I decided to make braised pork shoulder sandwiches for our family meal. Something really easy that I could do in advance and not have to stress over right before dinner time. Here is basically what I did:

1. Sear the shoulder and assemble mise en place.

2. Sweat aromatics until softened and slightly caramelized; deglaze with cider. Once all the delicious bits have been released, return pork to pot and pour in chicken stock, lime juice/zest, and the remaining cider.

Bring to a slow simmer; cover with parchment circle and let cook for 2 to 3 hours on a back burner.

Remove pork and let cool. Strain cooking jus and skim off fat; reduce to concentrate flavor. Meanwhile, separate out large pieces of fat from pork and shred meat with two forks.

Adjust seasoning of pork jus and mix into shredded meat. I served mine on toasted potato rolls, but this pork would work well in tortillas, savory crepes, or even a rice dish.

Pizza Consultation

This week I had the pleasure of helping out a new restaurant in Cedar Rapids. They were having trouble with the pizza oven that was left by the previous owner of the space. They also needed a little help with their pizza dough recipe. I met them at their location, and in just few hours I was able to help them with both their problems. We made a batch of dough, from a recipe I supplied, and everyone got a chance to shape, stretch, top, and bake their own pizza. I went over maintaining and operating a wood-fire pizza oven; it was a beautiful pizza oven by the way. At the end of the lesson, I left them with a pizza dough recipe of great quality and lower food cost. I even showed them a couple different ways to repurpose leftover dough. This was such a fun opportunity and I really had a blast from start to finish.

Homemade Croissants

A couple weekends back, I decided to take on a fairly involved project, make my own croissants. To make croissants, one must first make a laminated dough or puff pastry and, as the name implies, it puffs up when baked at high temperatures. The reason it puffs is due to the many miniature layers of butter and dough. When the high heat of the oven melts the layers of butter, they bubble and lift the layers of dough. The butter is then absorbed by the dough, leaving miniature pockets of air in the structure of the pastry. How is this effect achieved? There is a block of butter that is sandwiched between the layers of dough; the dough gets rolled out, re-folded, and rested in the fridge three different times before a final rest in the fridge overnight. In the morning the dough is rolled out to a large rectangle and cut to the desired shapes. The pastries are then proofed for an hour or two and baked. I had never done this at home; my only experience was in a professional kitchen using a sheet roller. My only tools were a rolling pin and a yard stick, but I made up for my equipment disadvantage by using cultured butter and King Arthur flour. I was really happy with the results of all my hard work. I made croissants and kouign Amann.

Family Meal #2

Pizza Party

One of my family's favorite nights of the month is pizza night. I have worked in a lot of pizza places over the years so we make everything from scratch and turn our kitchen into a pizzeria for the night. Everyone lends a hand crafting their own pizza and I bake them up one at a time on a stone in the oven. Tonight we made sausage/basil, pepperoni, kid's margherita, and a dessert pizza.