Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Hawthornes Attend Cooking Class At The North Carolina Aquarium On Roanoke Island.

For the past several years,
Mr. Hawthorne and I have enjoyed the winter-spring series of cooking classes offered by the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island.
Wednesday, we headed to Manteo for the first class of the 2011 series. And would you look who the chef is today?
Mario Batali! OK. I guess it's just me. Actually it's Chef John Romm of Keefer's Bar and Grille at The Pointe Golf Club in Powell's Point about 3 1/2 miles North of the Wright Memorial Bridge. It was good to see Chef Romm again. Mr. Hawthorne and I had enjoyed a previous class of his very muchly. Chef Romm, a native of Currituck, NC., (just over the Wright Memorial Bridge) went to CIA in New York and is very knowledgeable, engaging, and entertaining in his presentation.

Chef Lawrence Gardner assisted.
Here's our first dish -
Balsamic Asparagus Salad with Crab Strudel.
And our entree - Atlantic Salmon atop Parmesan Shrimp Risotto with Corn and Black Bean Salsa in a Phyllo Cup. I apologize to Chefs Romm and Gardner for any inaccuracies that may appear in the recipes I'm offering here. I listened to their ingredients and added my amounts and will offer my suggestions.
For the salad, the asparagus was blanched. To blanch asparagus or other vegetables, briefly immerse in boiling salted water, maybe a minute. Drain and immediately plunge into an ice water bath to halt the cooking process and set the vibrant green color. The mixed greens and cherry tomatoes were tossed with a simple balsamic vinaigrette. 
These would be my measurements for the vinaigrette:
 2 TB balsamic vinegar
 1 TB coarse grain mustard
2 cloves minced garlic
 freshly ground salt and pepper
 1 cup olive oil
Mix ingredients and slowly drizzle in olive oil, whisking constantly. Taste test and adjust accordingly. Here's my suggestion: I'd give it a punch of citrus. Preferably lemon. Possibly zest. Add some feta and croutons to the salad. Sliced red onions. Sliced cucumbers. Why not some olives? Aren't salads always better when someone else makes them? 

 For the crab strudel: (12 servings)
 Puff Pastry - 2 10 x 15 sheets, cut into 6 squares each
 8 oz. cream cheese
3 oz. goat cheese
2 TB chopped parsley
(Chef Romm used curly parsley. I would use Italian flat leaf parsley. Prefer it to the curly.)
2 TB pepper, small dice, sweated
 2 TB yellow onion, small dice, sweated
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
 1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp tarragon
1 pound lump crabmeat

Egg wash - 2 eggs, 1/4 cup half and half

 Beat cream cheese and goat cheese on medium, scraping down the sides. Add parsley, pepper, onion, Parmesan, lemon juice, and tarragon. Incorporate for another 10-15 seconds. Gently fold in crabmeat by hand, trying not to break up the lumps. Set aside. Cut thawed pastry into 5 x 5 squares. Diagonally, spread a heaping tablespoon of crab mixture in the center of the puff pastry. Brush edges of pastry with egg wash and fold together, forming a triangle. Crimp edges with a fork and refrigerate for 20 minutes, covered. Sprinkle a little cornmeal on your baking pan (to keep pastries from sticking) and place crab strudels on top. Bake at 375 degrees about 15 minutes or until golden brown. Brush with melted butter and sprinkle garlic salt on top. 

I was happy to hear the fish du jour was salmon, because I don't like salmon. That probably doesn't make sense to you, but it does to me. Whenever I don't like a particular food, I keep on trying it, and in most circumstances, I end up loving it. (See: cilantro, blue cheese) So I'm ready for another preparation of salmon. In fact, after the presentation, Chef Romm confessed he didn't care for salmon himself. Sometimes one's frame of mind has a lot to do with how one perceives and appreciates a meal. Apparently, the planets were properly lined up, the moon was in the correct phase, and the tides were just right. In other words, I liked the salmon. Go figger. The salmon was very simply prepared. Salted and peppered, then sauteed about 3-4 minutes in a combination of 3 parts olive oil and 1 part vegetable oil (to raise the smoke point). The steaks were then put on a baking pan and baked in a 375 degree oven for about 3-4 minutes. For the risotto, you need a short grain rice. Look for arborio in the grocery store. You won't find a rice called risotto. Risotto is the process, not a type of rice. Heat butter in a skillet and saute some chopped onions Add in 2 tsp chicken base, then the rice, toasting a bit. Gradually add in the liquid until totally absorbed. Chef Romm used stock, but I like to use a combination of stock and a little white wine. The process takes about 30 minutes. Taste test for a tender grain. The shrimp was sauteed in oil until about 75% done. Add to the hot risotto to finish. Add in about 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese. Risotto done. 

 For the corn and black bean salsa, Chef Romm roasted corn (1 can) with olive oil and a little garlic salt in a 375 degree oven. Next he added in about 1/2 can of rinsed black beans. 
Add in:
 maybe 1/2 red pepper, diced 
1/2 onion, diced
1 tsp garlic, minced
1 TB cilantro 

For the dressing, Chef Romm whisked together: 
2 TB rice vinegar 
1 TB olive oil 
some sugar 
salt and pepper 
Pour dressing over corn/bean mixture and toss to coat. Set aside.

Prepare phyllo cups. Take a sheet of phyllo and dot - not saturate - with browned butter. Fold phyllo sheet three times and place into ramekin. Bake at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes. To serve, mound risotto and place salmon on top. Place phyllo cup and fill with corn bean salsa. 

 I have to admit. I liked the salmon. Maybe it was the combination of the salsa flavors with the salmon? I don't know. But I liked the salmon. I would have done something more with the salmon now that I think about it. I'm thinking a reduction of balsamic vinegar and pomegranate juice with a hint of soy and ginger. With scallions on top. And perhaps some cayenne. 

 I liked everything else too. What's not to love about puff pastry and phyllo? I think my favorite was the crabmeat in puff pastry. The flavors of the cheese and crabmeat were perfectly balanced. And if you're a regular reader, you know I love corn/bean salsas. Add that to a phyllo cup and you have a thing of beauty. All in all, a beautiful presentation and delicious food. After the cooking class, Mr. Hawthorne and I strolled through the aquarium. All 68,000 square feet. I love this place. 
This is one of my favorite exhibits at the aquarium - Wetlands on the Edge - where land and sea meet. Here are the otters:
The turtles are in this area too.
As are the alligators. I mean in separate exhibits. The alligators aren't in with the cute little otters. If you're lucky ...
... you might get to see Graveyard of the Atlantic divers. Here's their webcam.

The big tank. I love this room. That's Mr. Hawthorne.
Here's a bad video of the tank: More exhibits:

I thank
Beth Wilcox and Wendie Paramore
of the
North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island
for making this post possible.
Beth, Special Events Coordinator, plans all these classes,
and Wendie, registrar, found my notes I'd left behind at the cooking class.. When I frantically called her the next day about the notes, she was nice enough to fax them to me. As in immediately. I didn't have to wait until the class next week to pick them up so's I could get this post out tonight. Thank you, ladies!

1 comment:

Marilyn said...

Ah, I wish I was there with you. That looked like fun.

I am with you on the salmon, though. I have only eaten salmon once where I actually liked it. I just find it too "fishy" for my tastes.