Traditional Culinary and Pastry Arts


Our greatest joys as chefs are cooking, serving and educating students and staff about the many types of seafood that are available to purchase. Shellfish is one type of seafood that is both delicious and available to cook, both in professional kitchens and in our homes. In this post, I will focus on three types that are featured in the opening image. Oysters, clams, and lobster.

Although most of the earth is covered with oceans much of our treasured wild seafood is being overfished. That being said it is important for us to learn about the types of seafood that are sustainable to serve and to make sure that we as chefs and home cooks treat the seafood with the care and respect that it deserves. As a culinary arts teacher, I emphasize this on a continuing basis in our kitchen labs and classrooms. For a good resource for checking on which fish and seafood to use and to avoid see the link from the Monterey Bay Aquarium:

Here are a few tips for how to cook, care for and serve some of these beloved shellfish that come from the seas.

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Littleneck clams “Casino Style” is a very tasty way to serve this beloved mollusk.

Littleneck clams are the smallest size available of the Atlantic clam species. These are easiest to serve by cooking them quickly in a very hot pan with shallots, garlic, parsley, and white wine, covered and steamed to release their own juices. Cook them until they open wide and serve with crusty French bread.

Another way that takes more effort is to cool them after they are cooked and then remove one of the shells and serve them topped with a garlic herb butter, bread crumbs and crisp bacon. To make this even more interesting I remove the clams from the shells, then chop them and add them to a tomato, fennel, bell pepper and onion mixture that I reduce down with the clam cooking liquid prior to cooling and topping with bread crumbs and bacon. This is my way to create the classic “Clams Casino” which, as legend has it, is said to have been created in 1917 by a Maitre de’ in New England.

lobster at lobster night
Split steamed lobster served in its shell is a classic way to serve this luxurious crustacean served simply with drawn butter and lemon.

Maine lobster is a cold water species that is famous for being one of the finest lobsters in the world. The best way to purchase it is alive! After killing it by piercing the head between the eyes with a heavy chefs knife immediately cook it in a steamer or rapidly boiling salted water for 7 to 8 minutes per pound. Then split and serve it or ice it down and cool for another use. I like to serve 1 1/2 to 2-pound lobsters which are the most tender.

If I remove the meat from the shells I always go on to use the shells for a lobster stock or lobster cream by roasting them and then crushing them up prior to sauteeing them with 25% mirepoix and a little tomato paste. The next step is to add a good amount of brandy and then carefully ignite (flambee) prior to adding herbs and water for a lobster stock or heavy cream and a small amount of water for a decadent sauce.


Served on the half shell- oysters are served in restaurants and oyster houses near the coasts often with just a dash of lemon or a peppery shallot vinegarette known as mignonette

Eating oysters raw on the half shell just after being shucked is an acquired taste. However, it is cherished by many who love the creaminess and briny saltiness that can only be found in these raw bi-valve creatures that are farmed or harvested wild from our coastal regions. There are many different types of oysters available in this country, all of which belong to only 5 species. They are Atlantic, Pacific, Kumamoto, Belon or European flat and Olympia all of which are different in taste and size. Atlantic Bluepoint oysters, which are the ones pictured in the opening image of this post, are one of the most popular types; some of the best come from the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. For more on oysters go to

As with all oysters, when served raw it is best to know where they originate specifically and purchase them from repeatable dealers. This is due to the fact that eating them raw can be dangerous to your health if the oyster has been tainted by toxins or pollutants that can cause serious illness if consumed raw. Cooking them is a safer way to eat them and two of the best ways to do this are either fried or baked as in the classic oyster dish “Oysters Rockefeller”.

Shellfish are also often served cold for buffets, at raw bars and in the famous cold seafood platter known as “L’assiette fruits de mer” which when translated from French means, a platter of seafood. I like to serve cold seafood on canapes as well. Here are three of my favorites: Butter Poached Royal Rock Shrimp, Smoked Mussels and Cilantro Lime Grilled Scallops. Simply delicious!

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Vegetables range from common to exotic such as the baby Romanesco which is a type of Broccoli.

Eating more vegetables should not be just a passing practice for a New Years resolution. As a self-proclaimed carnivore, I also enjoy balancing my daily intake of meat and seafood with vegetables and fruit. Here are some tips and thoughts for preparing vegetables in the new year.

  1. Roasting vegetables such as carrots, parsnips, butternut squash, cauliflower, and Brussel sprouts is a great alternative for boiling them in water. Toss with olive or grapeseed oil and season with salt, pepper, and cumin or turmeric then roast until lightly brown.

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    Brussel sprouts, Cauliflower and Tri-colored Carrots are ready to be roasted.
  2. Quick blanching and then wok stir frying is an Asian technique that yields very tasty vegetables. Try doing this with split baby Bok Choy. Stir fry it in sesame oil, garlic, and chili oil or oyster sauce then top with toasted sesame seeds. To do this use a pot of salted boiling water and wok or saute pan on two separate burners. Plunge the vegetables into the water for a brief few seconds then remove them with a strainer or tongs and stir fry them in the hot wok or sauté pan with the garlic, sesame oil, chili oil, and oyster sauce or fermented black bean paste.
  3. Cooking vegetables Au Gratin is a classic French preparation which yields excellent results. The classic technique for this is to make a Bechamel Sauce, then blanch or steam the vegetables then shock them in ice water. Place the vegetables into a casserole dish then cover with the Bechamel Sauce and top with buttered bread crumbs mixed with grated parmesan or other suitable cheese and bake in the oven until golden brown. Try this with asparagus, cauliflower, Belgium endive, or Brussel sprouts.
  4. Dips are a great way to add another flavor profile to vegetables when batter fried, steamed or roasted. Try using an aioli sauce with the vegetables. Aioli is classically prepared with raw egg yolk and olive oil. Due to salmonella risks, try using a good quality mayonnaise as a base for the aioli then mix in roasted garlic and olive oil to create a base sauce that can be flavored with saffron steeped with white wine or pureed with avocado and lime for very tasty dipping sauce.
    Beer batter fried vegetables can be served with an Avacado Aioli. In this image, I served them in bamboo cones.
  5. Mix mashed potatoes with other vegetables such as cauliflower or parsnips to decrease the white starch content in a side dish and to increase the vegetable portion. This is very easy to do, just boil or steam the vegetables until very soft and mash with the boiled potatoes.  Finish with butter and hot milk or cream. Try adding roasted garlic, chives and a touch of nutmeg for additional flavor.
  6. Try fennel and leeks if you have never had them. Fennel is a bulb that tastes like licorice and leeks is a green root vegetable in the onion family. Try fennel stewed with green beans, tomatoes, bell peppers, and garlic.  Leeks can be sautéed with mushrooms, shallots, dry sherry and a splash of cream for a delicious sauce or gravy with mashed potatoes. They are also excellent when sautéed with spinach and then cooked down with cream and puréed.
  7. Sautéing with shallots and toasted nuts or herbs is an excellent way to prepare many types of vegetables. Green Beans Amandine (sautéed with almonds) is the most well-known version of this preparation. To do this:
    1. First steam or parboil the green beans until the desired point (al dente for some, fork tender for others)
    2. Then plunge them into cold ice water to stop the cooking and retain the color,
    3. Sautée some chopped shallots in butter and then add the toasted nuts,
    4. Sautée briefly with the par-cooked vegetables to reheat them and season with salt and fresh cracked black pepper and serve.  Try doing this with broccoli or cauliflower for a great result as well. Substitute the almonds with toasted chopped hazelnuts or pecans for another flavor profile. If you don’t care for nuts omit them and use fresh herbs such as basil, chives or green onions, adding them at the end of cooking just prior to serving.

If you are a vegan check out my recipe for spicy lentil rice cake on My Recipes tab. It is bound with flaxseed and water which is a vegan substitute for eggs often referred to as a “flaxseed egg”. Wishing you a happy and healthy 2019 with more vegetables in your daily diet.



Baby squash with their flower blossoms attached are a special treat. Chefs often serve them stuffed with goat cheese and tempura fried in a very light batter.


Making the transition from working Executive Chef to Chef Instructor is and has been a natural progression for many chefs and is now the path that I have taken. Rewarding, humbling and challenging are three words that have summed up my experience so far.


Rewarding for me to be able to teach and demonstrate my style of culinary techniques for students who are eager to learn the necessary skills to be successful in the modern kitchen. To be more specific, the type of kitchen where food is the focus and culinary arts reigns supreme. I tell my students that although taste is king – presentation is queen when it comes to food because as we all know, that we eat with our eyes first before we ever take a bite.


In my first semester at Ozarks Technical College, I have taught classes in Garde Manger, Fabrication, World Cuisine, and Contemporary Cuisine. Garde Manger is basically the techniques and methods of cold food production. It includes many different skills that take years to learn and master and are applicable in many different environments. The main segments that I teach are cold appetizers, canapes, fruit and vegetable carving, salads, patés and terrines, and smoked and cured seafood. The class is an 8-week class and with a subject so broad I am only able to touch on many of the skills that are a part of this discipline. Certainly, a challenge to teach such a broad subject in such a short span of time.

eye of rib eye

Fabrication which was also an 8-week class is a technical name for a butchering class. This is also a broad field and encompasses both meat cutting and fish and seafood portioning and cooking. The challenge that students have is that cutting a piece of meat or filleting a fish once or twice does not enable them to become proficient. However, all chefs need to be quick and efficient in breaking down large pieces of meat such as beef, pork, chicken or game into usable parts before the cooking process begins. As with all eye/hand techniques practice is the key to mastering these skills.


Humbling is the word that best describes the emotion that I often feel when teaching culinary arts. So many students with different skill levels, abilities, and experiences. All look to me to lead them on the path of learning how to cook and run a kitchen. In our Contemporary Cooking class, we operate a working kitchen for lunch once a week in a 16-week span of the course. The students rotate through the stations of Sous chef, Sautée, Middle/vegetable, Grill, Pantry and Desserts in a 2-week cycle. They have to produce a core menu along with their own personal signature items on a weekly basis. Here is the menu that we serve.


In world cuisine, I share my experiences and philosophy for cooking ethnic cuisines from the major regions and countries on the globe in a 16-week class that meets once a week. As I expressed to the class, this type of cooking can be interpreted and produced in three ways: authentic, in the style of, and fusion. Most of the recipes and techniques that I teach in this class are from the area of what I label as “in the style of”. I have also been honored to have some authentic trained chefs come to visit the class as well. Chef Steve (Yutaka) Oshita is one of these chefs who hails from a well known Japanese restaurant here in Springfield. He came to class to demonstrate the basics of Sushi and also gave some history from his homeland in Japan as well. A field trip to visit Chef Andy Hampshire, owner of a British gastro pub (Farmers Gastro Pub) has also been a topic for one of these classes. Researching and studying the cuisines of the world has been quite a humbling experience. The challenge that I have discovered in this class is that the more I think I know about a subject the more I find out that I need to know before I write my lesson plans for world cuisine.

Chef Oshita demonstrates the basics skills that are needed to make sushi.

In closing, I am happy and honored to be have been given this chance to teach and share my experiences at OTC to a diverse range of students in a well-run ACF accredited program.  A new path in my ever-evolving culinary journey.

Until next time I remain yours in all things culinary,



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Molded chocolate bonbons are one type of chocolate candies that are very popular today in many shops and restaurants.

Chocolate candies are without question one of the most luxurious and enticeable treats that have ever been created. Ever since chocolate was first brought from the new world to Europe, where it was first used as a drink, it has held the fascination and appreciation of all who consume it. This complex compound is derived from the laborious process from the pod of Cocoa plant yields what we in the culinary and pastry trade know as Couverture, which is basically the refined chocolate solids mixed with sugar, cocoa butter, and lecithin. From couverture comes the multitude of chocolate candies. The two most well known are molded bonbons and chocolate truffles.

Before any type of chocolate candy, chocolate decoration or showpiece is made one must first learn how to properly melt and cool the chocolate so that it will set properly. If done correctly the cooled set chocolate will yield a shiny crisp finish after it has hardened. This process in technical terms used by chocolate makers and pastry chefs is known as crystallization or in older terminology as tempering. When the chocolate is properly crystalized it can be piped, formed, molded or poured onto thin sheets called acetate to create many different shapes and decorations. The process basically is done by melting and cooling the temperature of the chocolate through three temperature ranges which are: melting, cooling and working ranges and differ slightly on the brand and type of chocolate.

Chocolate does not have to be crystallized if mixed with something else, as in a chocolate mousse for example. Only when it is used on its own is it necessary to be concerned with the proper crystallization process.

White chocolate bon bons
Properly crystallized chocolate couverture is poured into polycarbonate molds to create thin outer shells. When filled with delectable fillings such as ganache, gianduja or gelee they yield delectable chocolate bonbons.

A basic reason for this is that when chocolate (couverture) is melted and re-sets as it cools the various fats and solids contained in the chocolate set at different rates and at different specific temperatures. If done naturally without using a method to control the crystallization the chocolate would not set properly and would be grey and streaked when it hardened. Here is another way to look at it: Think of an instance in the summer when you left a chocolate bar somewhere hot and it became slightly melted and soft, then you took it into the house and refrigerated the bar. What happened once it rehardened? It had become an unsightly grey with streaks (this is called bloomed or fat bloomed in chocolate making jargon).

To crystalize (temper) the chocolate there are three basic methods. They are tabling, seeding and microwave methods.

The table method (the classical method used for generations) is accomplished on a marble slab. The chocolate is first melted to a specific temperature range and then a portion of it is poured onto the marble and then spread back and forth with an offset palette knife. When it begins to cool and set it is returned to the original bowl and stirred until the chocolate is cooled to the proper temperature. Lastly, the chocolate is then briefly re-warmed to bring it to the working temperature and ensure that it is fluid enough to work with.

In the seeding method, the chocolate is first melted to the correct temperature range and then a portion of pre-crystalized chocolate (that has not been melted and is shiny and hard when purchased) is added to the melted chocolate and then stirred until the chocolate has reached the proper temperature and the entire batch is crystallized properly. In both of these methods, the correct ranges of temperature along with the slow gentle stirring of the chocolate is of utmost importance in order to create the proper formation of the crystals, ensuring a smooth workable chocolate that will set properly when cooled.


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Properly crystallized chocolate is held in a chocolate holding machine that keeps the chocolate at the correct temperature to keep it fluid for use. This machine used by professionals can be used to crystallize the chocolate by way of the seeding method.

For home use, the best way to work with chocolate is to use the microwave method. This is done in a plastic bowl by melting the chopped chocolate on 50% to75% power until about 3/4ths of it is melted. The bowl is then removed from the microwave and stirred until all of the chocolate has melted. This technique is accomplished because all of the chocolate is not melted and therefore the chocolate that is still solid remains in a crystallized state. When stirred with the melted chocolate this enables the entire batch to develop the crystallization needed to bring it in its proper state. If done right and then tested the chocolate can be used for candies, decoration, and showpieces.

In all of the methods, the temperature is of the utmost importance. If the chocolate does not reach or exceeds the top temperature then the chocolate will not crystallize properly. Make sure to use a good thermometer to check it throughout the phases. See the following guide.

  Crystallizing Chocolate  
Type of Chocolate Initial Melting

Temperature Range

Cooling Temperature Rewarming/Working Temperature Range
Dark 113°F to 122°F 80°F 88°F to 90°F
Milk 104°F to 113°F 79°F 82°F to 84°F
White 96°F to 100°F 77°F 80°F to 82°F


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Always make sure to test the crystallized chocolate when making chocolate candies or decorations. One test is to dip a small palette knife into the chocolate and allow it to harden in a cool place and then cut it off with a paring knife to create a chocolate curl. If you can do this the chocolate has been crystallized properly

Decorations made with crystallized chocolate is an art form that uses many techniques some of which are shavings, piping, ribbons, plaques, and filigree.

Chocolate shavings are the most basic type of chocolate decoration made by scraping a paring knife across a chocolate block onto parchment paper. The shaving can then be stored for topping pastry and tortes prior to service.

Piping chocolate is a technique that takes practice to create thin graceful lines with no breaks. Done with crystallized chocolate this technique which is also used for chocolate writing is a skill with many applications.

piping chocolate
Piping thin lines of chocolate on plates and then filling in the negative spaces with colored jam or piping gel is one technique used to decorate with chocolate.


Chocolate curls, plaques and filigree can be used to make decorations or showpieces for elaborate presentations.


This chocolate decoration can be used to top a torte or as a centerpiece garnish for a platter of chocolate pastries.

Chocolate is surely one of the most luxurious and enticing foods in the world. With knowledge and practice, it can be used to make candies and desserts and simple decorations in both the home and professional kitchen!


Warm up cold winter nights with spicy charred tomatillo salsa! Normally I like to make this type of salsa on a cast iron pan over my backyard BBQ grill in the summer. However, when the days are short and the nights are cold, and we shiver in the grips of deep winter this can be a great snack to bring us back to warmer days.

The secret to the flavor of this type of salsa comes from the technique of charring the vegetables on the stovetop in a cast iron pan (make sure to turn on the hood fan). Charring or slightly burning food is the hallmark of the Argentinian Gauchos and it is mostly done over an open fire. This simple tomatillo salsa is made with the green Mexican tomatilloes, poblano, and jalapeno peppers. It is great as a snack with tortilla chips or as a side condiment for Quesadillas, Tacos or Enchiladas.


As always, prep all of the ingredients before the cooking process begins. Start by removing the papery like husk surrounding the tomatillos. Then wash all of the vegetables. Cut the peppers in half and remove the seeds.


Over high heat in a very small amount of olive oil char the tomatillos (do not burn). Then remove from the pan and continue with the rest of the vegetables.

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Puree half of the tomatilloes and rough cut the rest of the vegetables and add to the puree.

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Wash the cilantro and rough chop. Do not cut too finely — this reduces the flavor by driving some of the essential oils of the cilantro into the cutting board during the chopping process. This is the reason that many chefs like to use scissors to cut herbs instead of chopping with a knife.

IMG_1535 To complete the salsa cut a small lime in half and insert a fork then twist and squeeze out the juice into the salsa (this is one technique used to get all of the juice of limes or lemons… who needs a reamer) and add the olive oil and season with salt.

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Tomatillo Salsa
Yield 3 Cups

7 Each                         Tomatilloes
1 Each                         Poblano Pepper
1 Each                         Jalapeno Pepper
2 Each                         Tomatoes, medium size slicers
2 Slices                       Red Onions, 1/2 thick
3 Each                         Garlic Cloves, peeled
1 Each                         Lime, small
¼ cup                          Chopped Cilantro, coarsely chopped
2 Tablespoons           Olive Oil
Olive oil                      For Charring the vegetables
Salt                              To taste

  1. Remove the outer husks encasing the tomatillos
  2. Wash all of the vegetables
  3. Cut the peppers in half and remove the seeds
  4. In a very hot cast iron pan char all of the vegetables until soft with a small amount of olive oil (this can be done over a charcoal grill on cast iron as well to get a smoky finish)
  5. Puree half of the tomatillos
  6. Rough chop the rest of the vegetables and add to the puree
  7. With the aid of fork squeeze out the juice and add to the salsa by inserting it into the cut halves and twisting while squeezing
  8. Add the chopped cilantro and olive oil and season with salt
  9. Serve with tortilla chips or as a condiment for quesadillas, tacos or enchiladas.


Keep warm and cozy in the winter with warming and comforting foods, time will pass more quickly, and remember spring is right around the corner.

When it comes to holiday seasonal desserts Pear Frangipane Tart is unquestionably one of my all-time favorites. This classic French tart or “tarte” as it is spelled in French is known as Tarte Bourdaloue. It is said to have been created in the pastry shop Bourdaloue in Paris in 1909 by the famous patissier Coquelin. However, there is some dispute about the legitimacy of that claim.

In my version of the Pear Almond tart, I start with poaching pears in a simple syrup of sugar and water that is flavored with Chardonnay and Vanilla. I then roll out a chilled base of pate sucrée and form into tart pans. I then place the sliced pears on a small amount of jam and fill in the empty spaces with Frangipane. I then decorate with a border of sliced almonds and bake them. Once baked, the Frangipane has the texture of cake. Frangipane (also spelled Frangipani) is used in many types of tarts and pastries. Two of these are the famous Bakewell Tart from England and the French Pastry, Pithivier that is encased in puff pastry.

To make this pastry, any type of tart pan can be used; however, I like to use the pans with removable bottoms because of the ease of removal of the tart once baked. In this post, I produced these tarts in large production in our club’s kitchen with a special machine called a dough sheeter which is used in commercial pastry shops and bakeries. It has two conveyor belts on both sides with a set of mechanized steel rollers in between.  As the dough is rolled back in forth the rollers are brought closer and closer together by the operator in order to reduce the dough in thickness until the dough reaches the exact size that is needed. Alternately the dough can be rolled out by hand for small production or at home. My home size recipe is as follows:

Pate Sucree (Home recipe)
Yield 2 -10″ Tarts

18 ounces            All-purpose flour
12 ounces            Butter (unsalted)room temperature
6 ounces              Granulated Sugar
2  each                 Eggs, Large
1/2 teaspoon     Vanilla Extract
Pinch or salt

1) Cream the butter and sugar together in a mixing machine with the paddle attachment
2) Add the flour, eggs, salt, and vanilla
3) Mix just until a smooth paste is formed
4) Take out the dough and knead it into a ball and chill until firm
5) When ready to use knead the dough just enough to make it pliable and roll out while still cold.

pear franjipane tart step 1&2
Step one and two in preparing the tarts is to poach the pears and to roll out and fill the tart pans with pate sucree.

While the pears are poaching, the almond cream (frangipane) can be made. It is a simple recipe or formula, as bakers and pastry chefs like to call it, accomplished in three steps in a mixing machine. Made with almond paste, granulated sugar, eggs, butter, cake flour, a small amount of vanilla and a touch of salt.  Here is the recipe for Frangipane:

Frangipane (Home recipe)
Yield 2 – 10″ tarts
8 ounces   Almond Paste
8 ounces Granulated Sugar
8 ounces All-purpose or cake flour
8 ounces Butter (room temperature)
4 each Eggs
1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract

1) In a mixing machine with the paddle attachment mix the almond paste and the sugar with one egg until smooth on low speed
2) Add the butter and add one more egg and mix until smooth
3) Add the flour, vanilla and the last two eggs; mix until a smooth creamy paste is formed
4) Use as needed or store in the refrigerator or freezer until needed.

pear tart steps 3&4
In the next steps pipe in a small amount of apricot jam or orange marmalade, then slice the poached pears and lay them into the pans.
Final steps to finish the Pear Tarts
In the last steps with a pastry bag fitted with a large tip, fill in the empty spaces in the tarts with the Frangipane. Then press some sliced almonds into the edges of the Frangipane and bake.
Pear Almond Tarts
Hot out of the oven these tarts are now ready to be glazed.

To finish the tarts, I brush them while still hot with an apricot glaze and then slice them and serve them warm with vanilla ice cream or Cream Anglaize for a decadent dessert that is perfect for the cold winter weather of the Christmas holiday season. Happy New Year!

Pear Frangipane Tart - Tarte Bardaloue
One of my favorite wintertime tarts is made with Pears and an Almond cake-like filling known as Frangipane. It is served best warm with Ice Cream or Vanilla Sauce
Roasted Plums with Goat Cheese, Red Onions, Candied Pecans and Arugula laced with Red Wine Vinaigrette makes a tasty salad platter for cold buffet station.

When comes to healthful eating, dieticians like to tout the saying “Eat the Rainbow of Colors” in fruits and vegetables to ensure the intake of vitamins and antioxidants. Some of my favorite purple and dark red colored fruits are Plums, Blackberries, Figs. They are all delicious and easy to pair with other foods to create tasty healthy dishes if you know how to use them and get them at their peak.

Plums can range from the color purple to dark red and in some cases green such as in the Mirabelle variety. One of my favorite ways to serve them is in a salad with Goat Cheese, Arugula, Red Onions and candied Pecans laced with a red wine vinaigrette.

The technique that I would like to share in this post is that of roasting the plums. To do this the washed plums are cut in half and then de-stoned, after which they are tossed with a five spice flavored cinnamon sugar and then roasted until soft. When cooled they are used to top the salad. This gives the plums a sweet and exotic flavor that goes perfectly with the bitter arugula greens and creamy earthy taste of goat cheese.

For those of you unfamiliar with Chinese Five Spice it is an ancient spice blend that is made with a combination of spices which can include  Anise, Cinnamon, Cloves, Szechuan Peppercorns, Ginger, Fennel, and Star Anise, depending on who makes it. It can be purchased pre-made and is used in many Chinese and Asian inspired dishes.

Candied Pecans are easy to make in just a few steps:


Candied Pecans – Yield 1 cup

1 cup cold water
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup pecan pieces
2 TBL sugar

  1. Mix the water, sugar, and pecans in a small pot
  2. Bring to a boil over high heat (blanch)
  3. Pour off the water through a strainer
  4. Toss the blanched pecans in a bowl with the sugar
  5. Spread out onto a baking sheet on a nonstick silicone mat
  6. Bake at 375F for 12 to 15 minutes stirring occasionally until dry and golden brown
  7. Cool and use or store at room temperature in an airtight jar.
Duck Breast with Blackberry Molasses Whiskey Sauce is served with Sweet Potato Puree, baby Romenesko, Pistachios, Blackberries, and Arugula for a memorable dish at a recent wine dinner.

Blackberries are most notably served in jams and jellies. Due to their large seeds, they are not as popular as their cousins, Raspberries. This unusually shaped berry is scientifically known as drupelet because it is actually a cluster of small fruits grouped together in one berry. The taste of the juice from blackberries makes great sauces and is full of the powerful antioxidant pigment anthocyanin which is prevalent in all of the purple fruits and vegetables. Here is my recipe for Blackberry Molasses Whiskey Sauce that goes great with duck or pork.

Blackberry Molasses Sauce
By Chef Daniel Pliska
Yield 3 cups

1 cup                       Sugar
1 cup                       Red wine vinegar
4 cups                      Blackberries
¼ cup                       Whiskey
¼ teaspoon             Cinnamon
¼ teaspoon             Cumin, ground
½ cup                       Molasses
2 cups                      Rich Duck stock or Chicken Stock

  1. Mix the sugar and vinegar together in a sauce pot and cook until caramelized (gastrique)
  2. Add the blackberries and flambé with the whiskey
  3. Add the molasses, spices, and stock
  4. Bring to boil and then reduce to simmer
  5. Puree with an emersion blender
  6. Simmer for 10 minutes and strain
  7. Return to heat and thicken with a small amount of cornstarch slurry
  8. Strain and serve.

Figs which many people would consider to be an exotic fruit make great tarts and also pair well with another blueish purple food: blue cheese.  I like to wrap the figs and blue cheese up into small bites with thinly sliced prosciutto ham. The technique that works well for pears and figs alike is to poach the figs in a port wine syrup and then reduce the syrup after the fruit is poached to a thick glaze. This can then be drizzled over the prosciutto wrapped figs and blue cheese bites once cooled. To add texture and crunch to the bite I sprinkle the bites with candied walnuts or pecans before skewering them so they can be eaten easily in one bite.

Wrapped Poached Pears in Port Wine with Blue Cheese Topped with candied Pecans or Walnuts is a wonderful bite that can be made with figs as well as pears for a passed appetizer or a cold food buffet.

All of these purple foods were served at the University Club of MU and can be made at home for unique dishes that will surely create a wonderful experience for your family and guests. Enjoy the color purple.

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Baked stuffed tomatoes are a great way to serve tomatoes from your garden. In this image credited to Harry Katz/Missouri Life, I stuffed them with two fillings; creamed spinach, and goat cheese, along with Indian spiced ground lamb and Basmati rice.

Every summer gardeners delight in their harvest of home grown tomatoes. From the hearty beef steak and slicing varieties to petit cherry and grape tomatoes to the flavorful plum tomatoes, they all have their place on the dining room table. No matter how you serve them or what recipe that you use, learning some basic techniques for preparing them is a definite must.

In this blog, I will focus on two techniques that can be used to prep your tomatoes for any number of uses. In the first series, I illustrate a series of steps used to hollow out the tomatoes in preparation for stuffing. When they are finished they can be stuffed for baking or with cold salads such as shrimp or chicken for a tasty light lunch or as a first course for a dinner. I like this way of hollowing out the tomatoes because it is a quick and efficient way to create a cavernous hole in the tomato for maximum filling. Once finished the cores can be used to make a tomato soup or a sauce.

Hollowing out the tomatoes in preparation for stuffing takes three steps:

  1. Place the tomato core side down and cut a deep circle (slightly more than 3/4 of the way through the tomato) in the tomato making sure not to cut all the way through the tomato
  2.  Insert the paring knife into the bottom of the tomato and slicing with an arching movement release the core (make sure not to cut the initial incision any larger than necessary)
  3. Once the core is released pull out the core and reserve it for another use.

The tomato is now ready to be stuffed. See my July blog post for the Indian spiced ground lamb and Basmati rice recipe for a tasty filling.

steps for baked stuffed tomatoes
Hollowing out tomatoes for stuffing is done in three easy steps. Image by Harry Katz/Missouri Life.

The second series involves the steps used for peeling and seeding tomatoes. The tomatoes once peeled and de-seeded can be utilized in many ways for different recipes. One such use is for the classic, tomato concasse,  which is considered to be a foundational procedure in culinary circles and taught to students and apprentices. Tomato concasse is defined as roughly chopped tomatoes that have first been peeled and de-seeded. One of my recipes for peeled seeded tomatoes is as a Smoked tomato relish that I use for grilled steaks or chicken breasts. In the next two series of images are the steps for peeling and de-seeding tomatoes, images by Harry Katz/Missouri Life.

1st steps in peeling tomatoes

Steps one through four are clockwise from the top left-hand corner:

  1. Cut out the core with a paring knife
  2. Cut a small x in the bottom of the tomatoes
  3. Then  briefly plunge the tomatoes in rapid boiling salted water for about a minute or less (known as blanching)
  4. Once the skins start to blister remove the tomatoes and chill quickly in ice water. This helps to release the peel of the tomatoes

next 4 steps for peeling tomatoes

The final steps for peeling and de-seeding tomatoes are:

5. Peel the chilled tomatoes with a paring knife
6. Cut in half across the diameter of the tomatoes
7. Using a paring knife scrape out the seeds while squeezing the tomatoes.

Once peeled and de-seeded the tomatoes are ready to be smoked by using the indirect smoking method with wood chips in covered BBQ grill for use in a Smoked Tomato Relish. They can also be used for tomato concasse or other recipes.

Smoked Tomato Relish
Yield 2 1/2 to 3 cups

1/4 cup                        Shallots, finely diced
1 teaspoon                   Black pepper
1 teaspoon                   Granulated sugar
2 Tablespoons             Fresh basil chopped
½ teaspoon                  Salt
¼ cup                          Balsamic vinegar
¾ cup                          Extra virgin olive oil
5 each                        Medium slicing tomatoes

  1. Blanch, peel and de-seed the tomatoes,
  2. Indirect smoke with wood chips for 10 minutes,
  3. Remove the tomatoes from the smoker and cover with plastic wrap and cool to room temperature,
  4. In a large bowl mix the shallots, black pepper, sugar, basil and salt with the balsamic vinegar,
  5. Whisk in the olive oil,
  6. Dice the tomatoes and mix in,
  7. Serve with grilled steak or chicken.

Growing tomatoes and then preparing them in unique and delicious ways for your family and friends always brings twice the satisfaction. Enjoy and keep on cooking!

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Grilled rib eye of beef topped with Smoked Tomato Relish is a tasty way to feature tomatoes with steak from the backyard BBQ. Photo Credit goes to Harry Katz/Missouri Life.


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Toasting the whole spices in a dry saute pan brings out all of the aromatic flavors prior to grinding and sifting to create a flavorful Garam Masala blend


Known in India as the “hot spice”, because of the warming qualities that it produces in the body when consumed, Garam Masala has many variations. It can be made with just a few spices or with as many as 30 or more. It is one of the most famous spice blends that hails from India and according to the ancient Indian medical practice of Ayurveda is reputed to have medicinal properties that warm the body when eaten. This ancient spice blend from Northern India is very flavorful but not spicy hot and is used in many different dishes with or without meat. In this post, I use it for a ground lamb and rice pilaf dish.

Chefs and cooks use spice blends for recipes to provide consistency to their dishes and almost all the world’s cuisines have blends that have proven to be popular over the ages. Some of the more famous blends are the French Herbes de Province and Quatre Epices, North Africas Ras el Hanout, and the Chinese Five Spice. From India comes Curry Powder, the most well known along with Garam Masala. From America mixes include BBQ spice blends, Creole Spice, and Pickling Spice. At the University Club kitchen, I use four spices that are commercially blended to my specifications: Mexi Spice, Creole Spice, Blackening Spice and Duck Roasting Spice.

Garam Masala which is a toasted blend of ground whole spices is somewhat like a curry spice blend except that it does not contain turmeric which gives curry its yellow color. According to my research, it is normally used as a finishing spice; however, I like to use it as a base spice to season a basmati rice dish made with ground lamb, peppers and onions, pine nuts and golden raisins. I then use more of the spice blend as a dusted garnish when the dish is served. The main points that I would like to share with you in this post are:

  • the toasting of the spices which is done in a dry saute pan
  • grinding the toasted spices in a coffee grinder and then sifting through a sieve to yield a finely ground blend
  • the technique of using the spice blend first in the cooking process to fully release its flavors and then as a finishing spice to accent the dish along with fresh herbs and toasted pine nuts
  • the rice pilaf technique, which is the technique/recipe that is done by browning the rice with the other ingredients, adding a hot stock and then baking the rice in the oven. This technique is used in many rice dishes from Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, North Africa and India.
  • lastly, the mise en place (French for everything in its place) which is the act of preparing all of the ingredients and carefully measuring them before the cooking process begins. This a very important so that nothing will be missed and even more important in baking and pastry making! This term is also used in professional kitchens to mean having everything prepped and organized prior to service. This is how service in a commercial kitchen is done efficiently with many meals being served either in an a la carte or banquet kitchen.

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Indian Spiced Ground Lamb and Basmati Rice Pilaf
By Chef Daniel Pliska
Can be used to Stuff Tomatoes or blanched Onions for baking 
Yield: 4 portions

1 pound                      Ground Lamb Meat
1/4 cup                        small Diced Onions
1/4 cup                        small Diced Red Peppers
1/4 cup                        small Diced Green Peppers
1 Tablespoon             Minced Garlic
1 1/2 teaspoons         Garam Masala Spice
1 cup                           Basmati Rice
1/2 cup                        Golden Raisins
2 cups                         Chicken Stock
1/4 cup                        Chopped Scallions
1/4 cup                        Chopped Parsley
1/4 cup                        Toasted Pine Nuts
1Tablespoon              Olive Oil
Kosher Salt to Taste

Garam Masala Style Spice:
1 teaspoon                 Whole Cumin Seeds
1 teaspoon                  Whole Coriander seeds
1 Stick                          Cinnamon 1” long broken up
1/2 teaspoon               Whole Cloves
1 teaspoon                   Sea Salt or Kosher Salt
1 teaspoon                  Whole Black Peppercorns
1/4 teaspoon                Ground Cardamom
¼ teaspoon                   Ground Mace

  1. In a dry pan toast the Cumin, Coriander, Cloves and Cinnamon over medium-high heat until fragrant. Make sure to agitate the spices constantly once they heat up by sauteeing or stirring with a wooden spoon so that the spices brown evenly and don’t burn.
  2. Add the Salt, Whole Peppercorns, Ground Cardamom and Mace and grind to a fine powder in spice grinder
  3. Sieve through a strainer and use or store in an airtight container for future use.

Lamb with Basmati Rice:

  1. Sautee the Lamb with the Garlic, Onions, Peppers and 1 1/2 teaspoons Garam Masala Spice
  2. Drain some of the Fat
  3. Add the Rice and Brown
  4. Add the Raisins and Stock
  5. Bring to a boil, cover and cook in the oven 30 to 35 minutes until Rice is cooked
  6. Remove and add the Herbs, Pine Nuts (reserve a small amount to garnish the finished rice) and adjust seasoning to taste with more Salt if needed
  7. Fluff with a fork and garnish with more Garam Masala, Chopped Herbs, and Toasted Pine nuts and serve or cool and stuff tomatoes or blanched onions in preparation for baking.
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Mise en place for Ground Lamb with Basmati Rice. Mise en place is the French term meaning “everything in its place”, and refers to having everything for a recipe prepped and measured before the cooking begins

After the Garam Masala is prepared dice all of the vegetables and measure all of the ingredients. Everything is ready ( Mise en place) to cook.

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Brown the lamb with Garam Masala in olive oil and then add the vegetables and then the rice and stir until the rice has browned. This is the first step in the Pilaf technique and can be done with as few as six ingredients (minced onions, rice, butter, stock, salt, and pepper) or more as is in this recipe. The act of browning the rice enhances the flavor of the rice, and by stirring it with the fat and other ingredients the rice becomes coated and keeps it from not sticking together when cooked.

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The rice pilaf technique is a way to cook rice by browning the rice with the other ingredients, adding a hot stock, covering the dish and baking it in the oven until done. The name Pilaf comes from the Turkish word Pilav and is a prepared in many countries in the region.

Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Then cover with foil or a lid and bake at 350F until all of the stock is absorbed and the rice is cooked.


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After the rice is cooked and all of the liquid has been absorbed fluff the rice with some of the toasted pine nuts, chopped parsley, and scallions


Add the toasted Pine nuts and the chopped herbs and fluff with a fork. This final step ensures that all of the ingredients are mixed thoroughly and lightens the rice so that it is not too compact. If needed adjust the seasoning with more salt and serve.

The rice can also be used to stuff small or large tomatoes or blanched hollowed out onions and then baked in the oven topped with herb flavored bread crumbs as shown in the following image. Either way, this rice dish flavored with Garam Masala has a unique and flavorful taste that will surely be appreciated by anyone who eats it. Enjoy!

basmati rice stuffed tomatoes
Baked stuffed Campari Tomatoes filled with Ground Lamb and Basmati Rice are ready to be served.

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