Macademia Nut Cresents

Macadamia nut white chocolate cookies are nothing new. The flavor combination of rich macadamia nuts and silky white chocolate is very popular and found in many mass-produced cookies. My version of macadamia nut and white chocolate cookies uses a very fragile short dough and is sandwiched with white chocolate buttercream and tangy orange marmalade before being dipped in white chocolate. They are one of my best fancy cookies. When produced in small one-bite cookies they are classified in a category known as petit four sec in classic French pastry.

A platter of my Petit four sec-from left to right Frangipane tartlets, Linzer cookies, White chocolate macadamia nut crescents, Dresden schnitten, Checkerboard cookies, Florentine cookies, and Frangipane tartlets.

I first developed this short dough many years ago when I was the executive chef at the Capital City Club in Raleigh, NC. In July I prepared them for a local ACF scholarship fundraiser dinner as a to-go gift.

Fill the baked crescents with white chocolate Swiss buttercream and orange marmalade.

Here is my recipe for the dough along with a step-by-step photo gallery for how to prepare them.
1) Prepare the dough and chill well
2) Roll out the dough on sheet pans and chill again
3) Cut the dough into crescent shapes with a fluted cutter
4) Egg wash half of them to be used for the tops
5) Bake at 350F until lightly brown and baked through
6) Cool to room temperature
7) Pipe a thin fence around the edges of half of the crescents with white chocolate flavored Swiss buttercream
8) Fill in the center with orange marmalade
9) Place the egg-washed tops on the filled bottoms
10) Dip in tempered white chocolate
11) Chill and serve.

Macadamia Nut Dough
Yield: 15 lbs
Ingredients:
3 lbs                              Unsalted butter
3 lbs                              Granulated sugar
3 lbs                              Toasted macadamia nuts, ground
15 each                         Eggs
4 ½ lbs                          50/50 cake flour/bread flour, sifted
1 Tbl                             Baking powder, sifted
6 Tbl                             Vanilla extract
2 Tbl                             Salt, sifted

Method:
1) With a paddle attachment in a large mixing machine cream butter and sugar until smooth.
2) Add nuts and blend well.
3) Slowly add eggs and vanilla until well-mixed.
4) Add dry ingredients to nut dough and mix well scraping the bowl often to ensure proper mixing.
5) Transfer to a parchment-lined sheet pan and chill for 30 minutes.
6) Remove just what you need and roll out and cut into desired shapes.
7) Bake and use.

Here is another way that I have used the crescents, topped with white chocolate truffles for a garnish on individual white chocolate buttercream tortes
Here the white chocolate macadamia nut crescents were used as a garnish for one of these fancy pastries that I served while I was the Exec Chef at the University Club of MU.
A Taste of Gold

Besides being used as a fancy sandwiched cookie I also use round cookies made from the dough as a base for one of my composed desserts, “A Taste of Gold” which is a layered sphere-shaped dessert made with Mango Bavarian Cream, Rum soaked Sponge Cake and Coconut Pastry Cream encased in a thin White Chocolate. A Taste of Gold is an award-winning dessert and the recipe can be found in my pastry book – Pastry & Dessert Techniques.

For a personally signed copy please email me at daniel.pliska.gmail.com

Twelve ways to reduce food costs at home and save money

Stir fry rice with vegetables, nuts, marinated pre-cooked diced protein, and egg is a very economical dish. Portion and marinate meats and seafood prior to freezing to minimize kitchen prep time.

Inflation is running rampant and food costs are rising to historic levels. Improving and learning more about cooking and baking from scratch will save you money, increase your health and make your food taste better. As a professional chef, many of the ways that I have used to cut food costs in professional kitchens can also work at home. Here are 12 ways to cut your food cost and improve your diet for a healthier life.

  • Cook more with grains, legumes, and rice. Most of us love foods that are made with flour like pizza, pasta, and sandwiches made with wheat bread. However, flour is going to become much more expensive with the war in Ukraine. Learn how to make rice dishes like paella, jambalaya, stir fry rice,  etc. Buy dried beans and legumes and cook them yourself instead of using canned beans which are more expensive and not as healthy.
Lentils or beans cooked with diced vegetables and flavorful spices in stock or broth then serve with rice makes a filling, tasty side dish. Dried legumes are cheaper than canned and contain no added preservatives.
  • Learn how to fabricate your own meats and fish then buy large sub-primal cuts like pork loins, top sirloins, whole legs, whole chickens, and skin-on whole filets of salmon. Then cut, marinate, and freeze. Additionally, use cheaper cuts of meat such as flat iron steaks, thigh meat, turkey, etc.
Learn some fabrication techniques and buy sub-primal cuts then break down, portion, and freeze to save money. Here is an image of a bone-in whole pork loin that is broken down and cut into various portions and roasts.
Buying whole chickens and cutting them up will save you money and then make stock from the bones and freeze then use later in soups, sauces, or rice dishes. Pictured here are 3 whole chickens two cut up in different ways than one whole one trussed for roasting.
When fabricating large sub-primal pieces of meat costs can be reduced by learning how to use all of the trim in other ways. Here beef tenderloin chain is used for beef Burgandy and trim is used to make stir fry beef.
  • Learn how to use leftovers to cook in tasty ways. Enchiladas, pasta dishes, soups, stir fry dishes, etc. Purchase and learn how to cook in a slow cooker like an Instant Pot or Crock-Pot. Make stocks and broths whenever possible and use them in soups and sauces or in rice dishes to increase the flavor.
  • Cook in large batches, portion, and freeze – chili, stews, soups, lasagna, etc. Invest in a vacuum sealer to extend the freezer life of your food and inhibit freezer burn.
  • Control over production – don’t cook more than you will eat whenever possible. That is of course if you do not have a plan for your leftovers. Take rice for example: instead of cooking a cup of rice which is the standard recipe on most rice containers try cooking a half cup. The perfect portion for two sides of rice.
  • Cut your own vegetables, lettuce, and fruits. Whole heads of lettuce will last longer and are much cheaper if you buy them whole instead of pre-chopped. This goes for fruit as well.
  • Learn how to make your own desserts or dessert toppings instead of buying premade desserts, cakes, pies, etc. Some easy desserts that take minimal equipment and skill are cobblers, crepes, cheesecakes, pies, poached fruits, cream puffs, bread pudding, and dessert sauces such as chocolate, caramel, or fruit sauces.  
  • Organize your refrigerator and freezer to minimize waste- try using inventory lists on your refrigerator. This will help you to rotate your food out before it becomes too old, or freezer burned.
  • Grow some of your own food if possible. Focus on vegetables that are easy to grow and produce high yields. Tomatoes, squash, potatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, Swiss chard, and herbs and learn how to preserve them by freezing, drying, pickling, and making sauces. Many of these can be grown in containers like 5-gallon plastic buckets or pots if yard space is an issue.
Tomatoes are easy to grow and can be made into sauces and frozen and used later in the season to preserve the harvest.
  • Compost your vegetable and fruit scraps and use them in your garden, mix with equal parts dry brown matter such as leaves or shredded brown paper, and turn frequently, perhaps in a compost tumbler. Coffee grounds and eggshells work well in compost as well. Don’t use any meat scraps or citrus fruits.
  • Don’t buy convenience foods such as rice mixes, dressings, frozen dinners, etc. Make them yourself. They will taste better and save you money.
  • When shopping- Instead of buying what you want or items that are listed on specific recipes buy items that are on sale (loss leaders), buy in bulk when possible, however, do so only if you can use the food before it spoils, purchase produce that is in season. Don’t shop when you are hungry so as not to impulse buy foods that are more expensive or risk purchasing too much.

Cooking more at home can be very joyful. If you have children cook with them to increase your family time and help them to learn life skills that will be useful when they grow up. If your children have grown and left the nest or you do not have children cook with friends before you dine with them. Have some small appetizers or charcuterie boards to snack on while cooking and promote the anticipation for dinner. Play some good music that matches the type of food that you will be cooking such as Latin music when making Mexican food, Italian opera when cooking Italian, or New Orleans Jazz when making Creole or Cajun foods.

I hope my ideas will help you cut your food costs and prompt you to cook more at home and have fun when cooking. Until next time- Bon Appetit!

Secrets of the Saucier

The aim of a great sauce is to bring food to ethereal heights. Great soup creates sumptuous comfort when eaten and can create memories that will always be cherished. Developing flavor and silky consistency is the goal for cooks who make sauces and soups. Although this is a vast topic and one that takes years to master there are five core principles/secrets that will enable you to make great soups and sauces.

  1. Extraction + reduction = Flavor
  2. Low and slow cooking
  3. High-quality ingredients produce the best results
  4. The best soups and sauces begin with a great stock
  5. Skim, strain, and reduce
Clockwise from the top – Oxtail Consomme with Ravioli filled with braised Oxtails and Porcini Mushrooms, Chicken and Sausage Gumbo Ya Ya, and Vegetarian Napolean with roasted Tomato Coulis, Stuffed Sole on a creamy Lobster Ragout, Oven poached Cod with Mussels and Leeks with Buere Blanc made from the poaching liquid.

In my Soup and Sauce class at Ozarks Technical Community College, I teach the classical ways to create soups and sauces in ways that could be used in contemporary fine dining establishments. We focus on building soups and sauces from stocks made carefully from bones, vegetables, and aromatics. In this post, I will discuss the 5 basic principles/secrets for building flavor. The photos in this post feature soups and sauces which were derived from modern versions of the Mother sauces found in the classical Haute cuisine. The Mother sauces that students learn are Espagnole, Veloute, Bechamel, Tomato and Hollandaise.

Extraction + Reduction = Flavor

This equation describes the process of developing flavor at its most basic level. Consider the example of making stock for a flavorful chicken soup. The first step is to create a stock by pulling the flavor of the chicken out of the bones, mirepoix, and aromatics into a pot filled with cold water. After the stock has cooked slowly for 3 to 5 hours it is strained and then reduced to evaporate some of the water and to strengthen the flavor of the chicken. Umami is the sought-after flavor profile in a great chicken soup and when it is consumed it can create a comforting memorable feeling.

Low and Slow Cooking

The best stocks, broths, sauces, and braised dishes are achieved by slowly cooking. When stocks boil rapidly with the bones and vegetables the process agitates the particles and any fat in the liquid. This results in a clouding finished product. Slow and gentle simmering creates a clear clean stock. Another important point when making stocks and broth is to always start with cold water. This is done to slowly draw out the flavor and nutrients from the bones, mirepoix (vegetables), and aromatics (herbs and spices) to create a stock or broth this is achieved through the scientific process of osmosis. In the braising of meats, slow cooking keeps the meat tender when finished. In contrast, if the cooking is done rapidly the meat can become stringy and unpleasant when eaten.

This stuffed chicken breast is served with a pan sauce made with reduced golden chicken stock (glace de viande), sherry, and butter. Produced after pan-roasting the stuffed chicken. The classic glace de viande or meat glaze is when a stock made from meat is reduced to a thick syrupy glaze without any starch such as roux or slurry.

High Quality Ingredients Produce the Best Results

Always try to use the best quality ingredients when preparing soups and sauces. Start with the freshest and best ingredients and treat the products with care in the prepping and cooking process. This will produce the best results in finished dishes. We used to say you have to baby a soup or sauce when cooking it by treating it with the best care and techniques to yield extraordinary results.

These lobster shells are flambeed with brandy after roasting and then made into a lobster stock along with mirepoix, tomato paste, and aromatics. Use for lobster bisque or lobster sauces.

Fantastic Soups and Sauces Begin With a Great Stock

Stocks and broths are the foundation of any great soups or sauces. Compare this to an analogy in the construction of a house, starting with a solid foundation on top of which a frame can then be built which will result in a beautiful house when finished. Without a solid base to start with the finished product will not be excellent. Always start with a flavorful clean and clear stock to build and produce the best sauces and soups.

In this presentation of beef tenderloin prepared in the classic style of “Beef Wellington,” the rich sauce that was served with it was made with a modern version of Demi-Glace. This sauce is created from a stock (Fond Brun de Veau) made with roasted veal bones, mirepoix, tomato paste, and aromatics then slowly simmered for at least 8 hours.

Skim, Strain, and Reduce

These three actions are of the utmost importance when creating flavorful stocks and sauces.

Skimming the scum, grease, and impurities that rise to the top in the simmering process of stocks and sauces must be done carefully and often throughout the cooking process to create a clear stock and a shiny sauce. This technique is called Dépouillage in French. Do this by carefully pushing the scum to the side of the pot or kettle and carefully skimming it off and discarding it.

Straining the stocks and sauces is also very important to yield a clean and shiny sauce by removing any of the particles that would break down and cloud a sauce during the cooking process. This is often done several times throughout the process of reduction (cooking down the sauce to evaporate water). Each time transfer the sauce to a clean smaller pot and then repeat the process. A fine mesh strainer (Chinoise) or sometimes cheesecloth is used to achieve the finest results.

Reduction is the process of simmering or lightly boiling stock or sauce to evaporate the water to intensify the flavor of the finished sauce or soup. If a sauce or stock is bland and watery the flavor will be weak. Reduce it to improve and strengthen the flavor.

If you would like to make the short ribs in this post go to my page on recipes and scroll down to find my recipe for braised short ribs with wild mushroom sundried tomato risotto. I hope the techniques and images in this post will help you to improve your soup and sauce making and as always if you enjoyed this post or have any questions please let me know in the comments. Bon Appetit!

Comforting Chicken/Turkey Pot Pie for the Holidays

During the holiday season cooking at home for family and friends is enjoyable and can help to facilitate comfort and relaxation. In this post, I offer my recipe for Chicken Pot Pie, which I recently demonstrated in a virtual conference for high school consumer science teachers from the kitchen of Ozarks Technical Community College. In the actual demo, I prepared the Chicken Pot Pie with an Arugula Pear Salad with Candied Pecans, Gorgonzola Cheese, and Dried Cranberries. I decided to share the techniques and recipe on how to make a pot pie because many people serve roast turkey during the season and then wonder what to do with the leftovers. A pot pie is a good way to use leftover meat with a stock made from the roasted turkey carcass. In order to make a great pot pie two separate preparations need to be accomplished. First, a pie dough needs to be made and then the filling needs to be prepared. After the filling has been made and bowled up in an ovenproof dish or dishes, it is covered with the pie dough. In the final step, it is brushed with an egg wash and baked until the crust is golden brown and then it’s ready to be served.

To make a flakey tender pie dough, cut the chilled fat into the flour until the fat particles are the size of small peas. Make sure the fat and water are very cold. When forming the dough mix briefly with the water to avoid too much gluten development which makes the dough tough.

Pie dough

  • ½ lb                                                                      All-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp                                                                  Salt
  • 3/8 cup                                                                 Shortening, chilled
  • 1/8 cup                                                                 Butter, chilled and small diced
  • ¼ to ½ cup, or more                                             Water, ice cold
  1. In a stainless steel or glass bowl mix the flour with the salt
  2. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender
  3. Cut in the shortening until only small pea size lumps can be seen
  4. With a fork mix in the water in small increments to form a shaggy dough
  5. Form into a ball, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or over-night.
Once the dough is made and is chilling and relaxing the next step is to prepare the filling with a classic basic sauce known as Veloute.

Once the pie is made prepare the filling with the following recipe:

Chicken/Turkey Pot Pie

Yield 2 Individual ovenproof casserole dishes or 1- 8” glass pie dish

  • 12 oz                                                     Pie dough
  • Pinch Coarse Sea salt (optional)
  • 2 cups                                                   Chicken, cooked and large diced (Leftover turkey can also be used)
  • ¼ cup                                                    Carrots, medium diced
  • ¼ cup                                                    Parsnips, medium diced
  • ¼ cup                                                    Celery, medium diced
  • ¼ cup                                                    Pearl onions, blanched and peeled
  • ¼ cup                                                    Mushrooms, medium diced
  • 2 ½ cups                                               Rich chicken stock, or double chicken stock
  • 3 TBL                                                     Butter
  • 4 TBL                                                     All-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp                                                      Chopped Tarragon or Chives
  • 2 tsp                                                      Chopped Parsley
  • ¼ cup                                                    Heavy cream, hot
  • 2 TBL                                                     Dry Sherry or Maderia
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Corn starch slurry if needed        50/50 starch and Sherry or water
  • Egg wash                                             1 egg and 1 yolk, mixed with a little water
  • Large crystal sea salt if desired
  • AP flour for rolling out the pie dough
  1. Prepare the pie dough and chill
  2. In a heavy bottom sauce pot, melt the butter and sauté the pearl onions, carrots, parsnips, celery, and mushrooms
  3. Dust with 3 TBL flour to form a roux and cook while stirring over low heat for 5 minutes
  4. Whisk in the chicken stock to make a Velouté
  5. Simmer while occasionally stirring for 10 to 15 minutes, skim any scum that forms
  6. Add the diced chicken and return to a simmer, cook for 3 more minutes
  7. Add the hot cream, chopped herbs, and sherry
  8. Adjust the consistency if needed with some cornstarch slurry
  9. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper if needed
  10. Remove from the stove and fill the oven proof dishes or pie dish with the filling using a slotted spoon so as not to get too much sauce. The filling should have just enough sauce in it to make a hearty filling and should not be too runny.

Final preparation:

  1. Dust a cutting board or surface and roll out the pie dough
  2. Cut into the proper shape and cut a small hole in the middle of the dough to form a vent
  3. Brush the rim of the dishes or the pie dish with egg wash
  4. Cover the dishes with or pie dish with the dough and crimp the edges
  5. Brush heavily with the egg wash and sprinkle on some of the large crystal sea salt if desired
  6. Bake at 350F for approximately 30 to 35 minutes, or until the dough is golden brown

Remove from the oven and serve.

Smokin’ with Show Me Beef™!

Show Me Beef™ ribs slow smoked on the grill makes for a great summer meal with beef raised, processed and sold in Missouri. In full disclosure I was gifted this beef to prepare and enjoy at home to showcase in this post and as a self proclaimed beef aficionado I am happy to do so.

Chefs have many things in common. When it comes to food, we all get excited when a new high-quality purveyor comes to our area. Recently I was invited to a grand opening event introducing a line of beef raised, processed, and sold in Missouri both for retail consumers at Price Cutters and for restaurants and chefs from Springfield Grocers. It is also sold throughout the state. For more locations and information about the beef go to https://showmebeef.com

Show Me Beef™ short plate. Photos from top right- Short plate has three bones, Two plates broken down into boneless short ribs, soup trimmings and silver skin for beef jus, and bone in ribs for smoking, BBQ glazed ribs ready to eat, dry rubbed ribs ready to be smoked.

In this post I am using the short plate. The short plate is the sub-primal cut from which comes short ribs that are highly prized by chefs and beef lovers. Smoked short ribs that are fabricated from the plate are used in many ways such as slow smoked, braised in red wine and cut thin marinated and grilled in the Korean Style. For more information on the short plate go to https://www.beefitswhatsfordinner.com/cuts/cut/2850/short-plate-primal.

Located in the front part of the belly in the carcass the short plate comes from the forequarter portion of the animal. It is a tough cut of meat with high amount of fat which makes for better flavor when cooked slowly.

Smoking the ribs with the indirect grilling technique for a low and slow method takes time and patience.

The process to prepare the ribs first starts by trimming off the silver skin (tenuous gristle) and fat from the top of the short plate. Then portioning the plate into ribs by cutting down the plate between the bones separating them into single bone ribs.

Next prepare the spice and rub into the meat on the ribs and refrigerate for at least 4 hours. This enables the spice to penetrate and flavor the meat prior to smoking.

Prepare the beef jus use as a basting juice on the ribs in the next step.

To smoke the ribs I used my weber grill with charcoal and hickory smoking chips. First build a hot fire on one side of the grill. Bring out the ribs and allow them to come to room temperature for about 20 minutes and soak about 2 cups of chips in water. Once the charcoal is white and hot, sear the ribs directly over the coals. Once they are marked on both sides move them to the opposite side of the grill so that they are not directly over the coals (this technique is called indirect grilling). Place the smoking chips on a disposable pie tin or on a tray made from foil and put over the coals and bring them to a smoking point. Then cover the grill and open all the vents on the cover. Let smoke for 45 minutes and then uncover and add a few more charcoal briquettes and re-cover the grill. Continue to grill for 45 more minutes. Uncover and turn the ribs and baste with the beef jus. Check the charcoal fire and add a few more briquettes if needed then re-cover and continue this process two more times for a total time of 3 hours of smoking. Then turn the ribs once more and baste with the BBQ glaze and add a few more briquettes to the fire and continue to smoke for 30 minutes. Repeat the process until the beef ribs are tender. Then remove from the grill and cover with foil (tenting) and let them rest for 30 minutes, serve with BBQ sauce if desired. The total cooking time will take around 4 to 4 1/2 hours.

Short Rib Spice Rub

Yield approximately ¼ cup

2 Tablespoon  Kosher Salt

1 Tablespoon  Sugar

2 teaspoons    Black Pepper

2 teaspoons    Paprika

1 teaspoon     Chili Powder

1 teaspoon     Granulated Garlic

1 teaspoon     Onion Powder

Mix all together and use or store in a jar.

Beef Jus

Yield 2 cups

½ pound    Silver skin beef trimmings

½ each       Small yellow onion, cut into slices

1 each        Garlic Clove cut in half

1 each        Small bay leaf

8 each        Whole black pepper corns

2 ½ cups    Cold water

Optional     Parsley and rosemary

  1. Spread out the silver skin on a baking sheet and roast in the oven at 400F until brown (to render out the excess fat) for 15 to 20 minutes
  2. Drain the fat and discard or reserve for another use
  3. Brown the onions in a little beef fat in a thick bottomed pot over medium high heat
  4. Add the browned silver skin, garlic, bay leaf, peppercorns and herbs if used
  5. Bring to a boil, skim and simmer for 1 to 2 hours
  6. Strain and use as a basting juice for the ribs or reserve for another use.

BBQ Glaze

Yield ¾ cup

½ cup BBQ sauce (commercial tomato based)

¼ cup Beer (IPA, Pilsner or light beer)

1 teaspoon Honey

Mix together and use as a mop to glaze the smoked ribs in the last 30 minutes of cooking.

Smoked Short Ribs with Bi-colored Corn, Sweet Potatoes and Potatoes… Yum!
Show Me Beef™ Rib Eye in all its glory!

As an added bonus I was given this rib eye to cook. It had great marbling of fat throughout the muscle and the steaks that were tender and flavorful. Compound butters are a great and easy accompaniment for steaks. Here is a recipe for one of my favorite butters that goes great with a grilled rib eye right off the grill or out of the the cast iron pan. Use the best quality butter for the best taste and flavor.

Hope you enjoy it and until next time- Keep on Grillin!

Steak Butter

Yield 18 to 20 servings:

1 pound          Butter (Unsalted European style)

1 Tablespoon  Fresh Tarragon leaves

1 Tablespoon     Fresh Chives

2 Tablespoons    Fresh flat leaf Parsley leaves

2 Tablespoons   Minced shallots

½ teaspoon     Ground black pepper

¼ teaspoon     Kosher salt

1 Tablespoon   Worcestershire sauce

  1. Prepare the steak butter by coarsely chopping the herbs and mixing them along with the rest of the ingredients thoroughly with the soft butter.
  2. Roll up in parchment paper or plastic wrap and chill or freeze slightly to firm up into a cylinder.
  3. Slice and top hot grilled steaks or chicken right off the grill.

Sold out! Six of my most popular Chef Specials.

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Grilled Colorado Lamb Chops with Charred Romaine, Red Bell Peppers, Artichoke and Kalamata Olives.

After a semester of only serving food to go in our student run-restaurant “Scallions” at Ozarks Technical Community College, I am excited to announce that we are planning to reopen for full service dining this Fall. In this post I will summarize my teaching methodology for our capstone class and will showcase six of my past specials from 2019 that will hopefully give you some ideas for cooking at home or in a professional setting.

Held on the OTC campus in Springfield Missouri the aim of our Restaurant Operations class is to teach the students how to run an a la carte kitchen. The class is designed to give the students some real world experience in an actual restaurant setting and is open for lunch one day a week.  In the restaurant we serve between 60 to 80 covers (guests) on an average day. In the class I teach how to design a menu, write the recipes, how to cost out the recipe items and determine the menu food cost as well as how to develop prep sheets and par sheets for each station. In culinary training I introduce new techniques and skills in the core menu and in my chef specials. The recipes also re-enforces previously learned techniques from earlier fundamental classes. 

The students rotate between 6 stations every two weeks. The stations which are typically found in actual restaurant kitchens are Sautee, Middle, Grill, Pantry, Pastry and Sous Chef. The theme of the menu focuses on American Bistro style and offers the types of foods that are popular and easily procured in the Midwest region of the country. The menu is broken up into three sections: the core menu, student specials and chef specials. We prep the menu on Tuesdays and service is on Thursdays. The majority of menu items come from the core menu which I tweak every semester, the student specials come from a four-course signature menu that they plan and create at the beginning of the semester, and includes a salad, soup, entrée and dessert. I create the weekly chef specials and teach the students how to prepare and serve them. The orders are taken and the guests are served by the front of the house management class. 

My chef specials showcase my philosophy for designing menu items that are desirable for the majority of guests that live in this part of the country. In this post are six of my most popular creations from past semesters, each of which sold out, with between 16 and 25 portions that were produced.

The opening image is of Colorado Grilled Lamb Chops. These were marinated in a Basil Balsamic Vinaigrette prior to being grilled to order.

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My version of Surf and Turf- Filet and Lobster.

The next special is Filet and Lobster which was a center cut 5 oz filet of beef topped with Maine Lobster and Asparagus Béarnaise sauce and a Veal Demi Glaze. Béarnaise sauce is a classic derivative sauce made from a base Hollandaise sauce, which is basically a butter egg yolk emulsion and is classified as one of the five mother sauces in classic haute cuisine. It is produced by making a tarragon reduction by cooking down white wine, vinegar, tarragon, and shallots and then adding it to Hollandaise sauce.

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Grilled Swordfish and Sweet Corn Risotto

Grilled Swordfish with Sweet Corn Risotto was another popular dish that I served with grilled sliced zucchini planks, small diced red peppers, and corn. I then garnished it with grilled shrimp and charred scallions. Seafood is very popular in the Midwest however only well-known species are normally consumed by most diners. That being said I sell only sustainable species and steer clear of endangered overfished options that are often sold in many restaurants.

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Beef Roulades with Spätzle, baked Acorn Squash, braised Red Cabbage and Green Beans with Hazelnut Butter.

During the month of October, I sold Germanic-style inspired specials to celebrate the month. The most popular was my version of the German Classic- Beef Roulades with Spätzle and Red Cabbage. Two of the other Octoberfest specials of note were Chicken Bavarian, and a duo of Wiener Schnitzel and Venison Medallion with Huckleberry Sauce and Potato Pancakes both sold out quickly. Germanic style dishes are becoming harder to find in most restaurants, as of late, and I believe when done well are still very much desired by many Midwesterners. Supporting evidence of this statement is illustrated with the amount of feedback that I received when I posted this image on a “German Recipes and Traditions” Facebook group. The post garnered more than 1000 likes and comments combined.

Stuffed Sole and Sea Bass with Clams
Two seafood presentations- Sole stuffed with Royal Red Rock Shrimp, Bay Scallops and Italian Vegetables with Pernod Burre Blanc, and Braised Bronzini (Mediterranean Sea Bass) with Little Neck Clams in a Tomato, Fennel, Leek, and Garlic Broth.

Another popular Seafood Special that I prepared was Stuffed Bronzini filet with Royal Red Rock Shrimp and Bay Scallops with Italian Vegetables. To be more specific I used Zucchini, Fennel, Red Onion, Leeks and Red Peppers with a touch of garlic, basil, and oregano. Which was then served with a Pernod Beurre Blanc. I wasn’t able to get a good photo of the special so I used this image that I took from a seafood lab in my Fabrication class where I made the dish with Filet of Sole instead of Bronzini, the plate in the background is Bronzini also known as Mediterranean Sea Bass

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Braised Short Ribs of Beef in Red Wine with Sundried Tomato- Wild Mushroom Risotto and Fried Parsnips.

The last of the six most popular specials is Braised Short Ribs of Beef in a Rich Red Wine Sauce with Risotto made with Wild Mushrooms and Sun-dried Tomatoes garnished with fried Parsnip Ribbons. I make this dish with a regional red wine -Saint James Norton which is a red grape varietal that is produced from Saint James Winery in Southern Missouri.   A great dish that is always popular during the cold months of the year. If you want the recipe I have previously posted the recipe in my recipes page of this blog.

Classic traditional cooking techniques and recipes using regional popular foods will always be hit with diners. Unfortunately, many of these types of dishes are hard to find in many of today’s restaurants for a variety of reasons.

From Garden to Table

Yellow squash with their beautiful edible flowers are prized by chefs for stuffing with cheese and then serving them tempura fried.

When I was a young cook it was always about learning advanced techniques with exotic ingredients. Although I still love that aspect of cooking… as I grow older I gain satisfaction from growing my own food and cooking it direct from the garden. Cooking fresh vegetables with basic staple items brings out their natural flavors giving new appreciation to the term- Eat your vegetables.

Nappa Cabbage looks like lettuce when young. Here it is planted in a raised bed with Swiss Chard and Leaf Lettuce. As it grows it pulls together to form a foot ball sized head.

Nappa Cabbage is very popular in Asian cuisine. Perhaps best well known is the Korean national fermented dish Kimchee. It’s mild thin frilly leaves are also great when blanched quickly, shocked in ice water and then wrapped around fish with a stuffing prior to steaming. For a simple home use I often stir fry it with garlic, oyster sauce, chili oil and sesame oil.

Potatoes, Baby Carrots and Sugar Snap Peas with Chive Butter. Garnished with Nasturtium flowers and leaves. One of the trendy IT! garnishes used by Chefs on many fine dining plate presentations.

Minimal processing and cooking with fresh herbs, olive oil, grapeseed oil, butter, vinegars, fresh ground black pepper and sea salt will allow your vegetables to taste their best.

In my garden I grow as many types of fresh herbs that I can in my region of the country like Basil, Chives, Thyme, Tarragon, Dill, Flat Leaf Parsley, Cilantro, Dill, Sage, and Oregano. Three of the best ways to use them are in Pesto, Chimichurri, and Herb Compound Butters.

Compound butters are made by mixing soft butter with herbs, spices, citric acid and often other ingredients. In French classical cuisine there are many types. Maitre d’hotel butter is perhaps the most well known which is made simply with butter, lemon juice, shallots, parsley, salt and pepper. All compound butters should be served soft an slightly melted on a hot grilled or pan seared steak, chicken breast or firm fish steak (swordfish, tuna, etc.). Here is my recipe for a steak butter. I like to use it for grilled Rib Eye or Strip Steak.

Steak Butter

Yield 18 to 20 servings:

1 pound                                              Butter (Unsalted European style, Plugra) room temperature

1 Tablespoon                                      Fresh Tarragon leaves

1 Tablespoon                                      Fresh Chives

2 Tablespoons                                     Fresh flat leaf Parsley leaves

2 Tablespoons                                     Minced shallots

½ teaspoon                                         Ground black pepper

¼ teaspoon                                         Kosher salt

1 Tablespoon                                      Worcestershire sauce

  1. Prepare the steak butter by coarsely chopping the herbs and mixing them along with the rest of the ingredients thoroughly with the soft butter.
  2. Roll up in parchment paper or plastic wrap and chill or freeze to firm up into a cylinder.
  3. Slice into disks and top hot grilled steaks or chicken right off the grill.
Chives, Basil and Marigolds… Marigolds are used for both pretty flowers and to help keep away harmful bugs when planted next to edibles.
Herbs are very easy to grow in containers from left to right Rosemary, Thyme, Oregano, Chocolate Mint and Sage.
Refrigerator pickles are easy to make from pickling cucumbers which are shorter and smaller than other types.

Preserving the harvest has always been a challenge for home gardeners as well as farmers throughout time. There are many different methods used. Pickling or fermenting with salt, vinegar, herbs and spices is a popular age-old method used for many vegetables.

For fresh herbs drying works well and can be done in a low temperature oven or in the traditional method by tying in bunches and hanging. Making Pesto and freezing or infusing them to make herb oils or herb vinegars also works well.

For tomatoes I like to make sauces and then freeze them in small batches to use in the winter. At home any of these methods will help you to enjoy your garden raised produce and herbs all year long. Bon Appetit!

Thank you to our Artiste en Residence for this lovely sign – My beautiful wife Brigitte.

Sundried Tomato Garlic Pork Sausage

Sausage is enjoyed all over the world and is a great way to use up the trim from fabrication of larger pieces of meat. In my fabrication (butchering) class at Ozarks Technical Community College I teach the fresh sausage making technique. Although my recipe Sundried Tomato Garlic Pork Sausage calls for using pork butt here I used the trimmings when I broke down a whole end to end pork loin. Shown here in the image.

Useable cuts from a whole end to end bone in pork loin are pork chops, boneless pork loin roast, pork tenderloin, sate meat, and trim that I use for pork sausage.

In this recipe I use an additional technique of brining the trim in a salt and sugar solution prior to grinding the meat and stuffing the sausage casing. This step increases the flavor and moisture of the meat in the final sausage. I also tied the links in shorter lengths to create a more dramatic presentation once plated.

The next step I use is to poach the sausage in beer and onions prior to grilling the sausage. This also increases the flavor and is done so that the sausage does not burst open in high heat of the open grill.

Poaching the sausage prior to grilling will keep the sausage from bursting through the casing in the direct heat of the open grill.

Here is my recipe for the sausage:

Sun-Dried Tomato and Garlic Pork Sausage

By Chef Daniel Pliska CEC

Yield 3 1/2 Lbs

Ingredients:

3 Lbs Pork Butt cut in 1”x 1” strips Cured in brine for 4 hours

5 oz Sun-dried tomatoes Blanched reserve blanching liquid and reduce to 1 cup

5 oz diced white onions

1 oz chopped garlic

1/2 Tbl. Chopped fresh sage

1 Tbl. Chopped fresh rosemary

1 Tbl. Chopped fresh thyme

1/2 Tbl. Fennel seed

1 tsp. kosher salt

1 Tbl. Coarse ground black pepper

1/2 tsp. Sweet crushed red pepper

2 extra large eggs

1/8 cup Cornstarch

2 Tbl. Olive oil

1 cup Sun-dried tomato blanching liquid

Curing Brine:

2 Quarts Warm water

1 ½ cups Granulated Sugar

1 ½ cups kosher salt

2 Tbl. Crushed Red pepper flakes

2 Tbl. Coriander seed

2 Tbl. Fennel seed

1 Tbl. Crushed Star Anise pods

12 Each Bay leaves

2 Tbl. Cracked Black pepper

20 Sprigs Fresh Thyme

Method:

  • Sweat onion and garlic in olive oil until translucent
  • Add sun-dried tomatoes all herbs and blanching liquid and reduce until dry then cool to room temperature
  • Remove the pork from the brine and rinse off all of the spices
  • Add the sun-dried tomato herb mixture and chill
  • Progressively grind the meat thru a large die in a meat grinder then thru the medium size die
  • In a mixing machine mix in the eggs and the cornstarch and chill
  • Place in a sausage stuffer and fill pre washed casings then tie into lengths
  • Poach in beer, onions and water or broth
  • Grill or pan fry as desired.

The final plated dish is completed. Skewered sausages on toasted sliced baguette and country mustard coleslaw topped with a olive-caper relish accompanied with fried Yukon gold sliced potatoes.

Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte – Germany’s most famous cake

Known in the English as Black Forest Cake this national cake of Germany features chocolate, cherries and cream. Image taken by Robert Watson featured in my book- Pastry & Dessert Techniques

Made with only 10 ingredients this popular cake has two tricky steps that take some practice to get just right. The first is the Dunkel Wiener Masse which is better known as Cocoa Genoise or Chocolate sponge cake. Considered to be a pastry basic this extremely light sponge cake contains no leavening agents and is created by whipping a warm egg and sugar foam to its highest volume then folding in the flour and cocoa powder followed by a small amount of melted butter. This is where the technique of folding in the dry ingredients followed by a little melted butter must be done with utmost care to keep the batter from deflating.

The other step that takes some skill is making smooth chocolate cream. Once made it must be used immediately to sandwich the sponge cake layers with dark sour cherries. It is made in a three-step process: first whip heavy cream to soft peaks, then mix 1/4 of the cream into melted dark semi sweet chocolate (couverture). Lastly, pour the chocolate cream base back into the remaining 3/4 of the whipped cream and quickly whisk it all together. If not done correctly the cream will turn into a chocolate chip whipped cream instead of a smooth rich chocolate cream.

Kirshwasser, dark chocolate and sour cherries are the three main flavors of Black Forest Cake

According to legend the cake was created by Josef Keller in 1915 at the Café Agne in Southern Germany in what is now the city of Bonn. The distinguishing feature of this famous torte is the use of Kirshwasser (cherry brandy) that some have called cherry firewater. In the torte, as in all tortes made with sponge cake, the sponge must be saturated with kirshwasser mixed with a simple syrup of sugar and water. Genoise is extremely light however it is somewhat dry if not doused with a syrup.

Lastly, to create the best torte use the best quality Kirshwasser and dark sour cherries to yield the best results. As in all pastry, and cooking as well, the best finished products use the finest base ingredients. Light and creamy with rich chocolate cherry flavors this world famous cake has been and will continue to be a popular dessert that has stood the test of time for over a century.

Listed below is the recipe for the cocoa sponge cake and the chocolate cream. To make the cake cut the cake into three layers and soak each layer with a good kirshwasser simple syrup and sandwich each layer with the chocolate cream and canned sour cherries. Lastly, make more whipped cream and sweeten with a small amount of powdered sugar and ice the entire cake with the cream. Pipe into the top large rosettes of cream and top with cherries. Shave dark chocolate and cover the cake then dust with powdered sugar.

Black Forest Cake (Swartzwalder Kirsch Torte)

Yield 1 -10” cake

Genoise (Sponge Cake)

6 each                                      Extra-Large Eggs

6 oz.                                        Granulated Sugar

4 1/2 oz.                                  All-Purpose Flour or Cake Flour

1 ½ oz.                                    Cocoa Powder

2 1/2 oz.                                  Melted Butter

  1. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and the sugar together over a pot of boiling water until warm (110F).
  2. Transfer the egg sugar mix into a mixing machine bowl and whip on high speed until light and frothy (ribbon stage).  Reduce the speed to medium and continue to whip for 10 minutes (this creates a more stable egg/sugar foam)
  3. While the egg foam is mixing, sift the flour and cocoa powder together on to a piece of parchment paper.
  4. Turn off the mixing machine sift in and fold in the dry ingredients by hand (be very gentle and do not over mix or batter will deflate).
  5. Fold in the melted butter last and pour into the cake pan that has been greased and lined with a parchment or wax paper circle covering the bottom.
  6. Bake at 350F for 15-20 minutes or until the cake springs back when depressed slightly with your finger-tips.
  7. Sprinkle the top with granulated sugar and turn over onto parchment paper.
  8. Let cool to room temperature then remove from the pan and use or freeze.

Chocolate Cream

2 cups                                      Heavy Cream (whipped to soft peaks)

8 oz                                         Semi Sweet Dark Chocolate Couverture ( melted)

  1. Mix  1/4th of the whipped cream into the melted chocolate
  2. Quickly whisk in the remaining whipped cream to form a smooth chocolate cream
  3. Use immediately before the cream sets up.

The Love Apple -a Guide to Missouri Tomatoes

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Homegrown tomatoes are one of the hallmarks of summer. I originally wrote this for Missouri Life Magazine where the article was edited and shortened, Here is the full un-edited piece with some tips for growing and using your own tomatoes. To see the magazine article go to https://issuu.com/missourilifemagazine/docs/ml0817lr

 Tomato or Tamato, no matter how you pronounce it, the fact is Missouri grows some of the best varieties of this annual favorite. Indigenous to South and Central America the word tomato comes from the Aztec word Tomalt. They were first brought to  European cooking in the 16th Century and have since then become prominent in cuisines of Italy, Greece, Spain, Southern France, and of course Mexico where they originated. Known as “pomodoro” by the Italians, which means golden apple, tomatoes are also called “pommes d’amour” in French means love apple.

Tomatoes come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from green and purple to yellow and crimson red. There are many varieties; some that are better for eating raw and some that are at their best when cooked. Once thought of as poisonous because they belong to the nightshade family, the fruit itself is obviously harmless although the leaves and stems are toxic.

Tomatoes can be classified as heirloom or hybrid. According to Tim Reinbott, the Director of Field Operations for CAFNR at the University of Missouri, heirloom tomatoes must be grown from seeds that have not been crossed with any other varieties for at least 50 years or longer. Heirloom tomatoes are not known for their beauty since they are often misshapen; however they do ripen into many different colors and when it comes to flavor and taste, heirloom varieties have some of the best flavor. To be classified as an heirloom, the seeds for the annual planting are saved and passed down from many generations. Reinbott says that hybrid varieties, unlike heirlooms, are interbred in order to improve their disease resistance, thickness of skin, and yield. By creating new hybrid varieties, taste and flavor is sometimes sacrificed to improve other qualities.

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Celebrity tomatoes are a popular hybrid tomato. Easy to grow and pair well with homegrown cucumbers for many uses in salads and soups.

When it comes to selecting tomatoes that will be grown at home one should consider the harvest season for when the fully ripened tomatoes will be ready for picking. Some gardeners like to have the bulk of the tomatoes to ripen at roughly the same time and others wish to have tomatoes ripen at different times so as to make them available throughout the growing season. This characteristic is known as the determinate or indeterminate variety of plant. The determinate types is when all of the tomatoes on the vine grow to maturity and ripen at the roughly the same time. The indeterminate type is when the vine bears tomatoes all season long in lesser quantities and they consequently ripen at different times. Missouri has a good climate for both determinate and indeterminate types. As far as general tips for home growers Reinbott offers this advice:

  • When it comes to keeping the tomato vines disease free sanitation is very important. To do this wipe down the steaks, cages or anything that touches the vines with a 10% bleach to 90% water solution
  • Mulch the vines with a thick layer of straw or leaf mulch. This helps with water retention as well as disease prevention
  • When low branches touch the ground make sure to stake them up or trim them
  • Tomato plants love the heat but do not do well in wet conditions. When the growing season is rainy tomatoes tend to have a lot of problems
  • One of the pests that can damage tomatoes is the hornworm. If you find them on your plants it is best to hand pick them off and dispose of them
  • Blossom end rot is another common problem for tomatoes which is attributed to a nutrient deficiency. To guard against this, use calcium nitrate around the roots of the vines

Tomatoes come in a vast array of varieties many of which grow well in Missouri’s hot humid summers. They can be loosely categorized into four major groups: salad, plum, cherry, and beefsteak tomatoes. Each group of tomato has its own specific characteristics which pertain to the sweetness/acidity level, thickness of skin, amount of seeds, and amount of water that the tomato contains. Tomato colors span the spectrum from red, orange, yellow, purple, pink, black and green when fully ripe. Some varieties are best grown on the ground, some staked or in cages and some grow well in pots or containers.

Salad tomatoes are normally 2 to 3 inches in diameter and are used in salads, sandwiches and salsas. Heirloom and hybrid varieties include Arkansas Traveler, Creole Original, Djeena Lees Golden, Oh Happy Day Hybrid, Green Zebra and Garden Peach.

Plum Tomatoes contain less seeds and water then salad tomatoes. This makes them an excellent choice for sauces and soups. This is also the type of tomato that is used to make tomato paste.  Plum tomatoes along with cherry tomatoes are delicious when dried or slow roasted in olive oil with garlic and herbs. Some varieties are Roma, Amish Paste Tomatoes, Amos Coli and San Marzano.

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Pico de Gallo also known as Salsa Fresca is a good way to use Plum tomatoes due to the small amount of seeds. Made with just 5 ingredients tomatoes, onion, chili’s, lime and cilantro.

Cherry and grape tomatoes bear fruit in clusters and can be grown in pots. Served most often in salads, cherry tomatoes are a good starter plant for young children who love to eat the tasty ripe tomatoes when harvested. Varieties include Chadwick Cherry, Fox Cherry, Pearly Pink, Black Cherry and Blue Cream. Some of the best are Super Sweet 100’s, Sun Sugar, Sun Gold and Sugary.

Surimi Salad
Cherry and grape tomatoes are excellent in pasta salad. Served with a light vinaigrette and fresh herbs.

Beef steak tomatoes are prized for their size and mild flavor, usually used in sandwiches. These behemoths can weigh as much as 1 to 3 pounds. Due to their gigantic size, they have a longer growing time when compared to the other types of tomatoes and special care has to be taken since they are so large. Some types of beefsteak tomatoes are: Steak House hybrid, Mortgage Lifter, Big Rainbow, Cherokee Purple, Brandy Wine Pink and Missouri Love Apple

Three of my favorite ways to serve tomatoes are as a smoked tomato relish (great with grilled steaks), as a slow roasted tomato in olive oil known as a tomato confit in culinary terms (best served on croustades with chopped olives and herbs or as a garnish for grilled fish or chicken), or in a cream of roasted tomato soup garnished with goat cheese and chive mousse. No matter how they are served, when homegrown tomatoes are picked at the peak of their ripeness and prepared carefully with top quality ingredients, they will be the hit of any summer get-together or dinner party. It is no wonder why they are called love apples.

1st steps in peeling tomatoes
Peeling and deseeding tomatoes is important for many recipes. Here are the steps on how to do it.

next 4 steps for peeling tomatoes
Once peeled and seeded, tomatoes can be chopped up for a variety of uses. Classically they are called “Tomato Concasse”.