duck salad

i took french in high school.  i then promptly flitted off to madrid, SPAIN for a semester in college, where all that french was not so helpful (except for that one day when our 65-year-old señora had a friend-of-a-friend come stay at the apartment and he only spoke french, so she spoke to me and i “spoke” to him. something about a lightbulb.)

well, mom and dad, my french came in quite helpful in this second go-round in higher education. Classical French Cuisine is the class that gets all the culinary kids shakin’ in their boots. The chef is hard, the material is hard, it’s a lot of work.  QUELLE SUPRISE. it’s the foundation of modern cuisine.

first day–chef is jovial, cracks some bad jokes, makes no mistake we understand his immense qualifications, and lays out the course in very clear terms. i can do this.  different from every other class, each student is solely responsible for one specific dish. it’s a traditional french brigade kitchen, so you do have a loose “team,” but you need to come in every day prepared  and ready to rock–solo.

each day started with lecture. we learned lots of important things about the history of french cuisine.

quite smartly, chef connected everything to a story–the person a dish was named after, a region, culinary lore–which not only made it fun, but being the queen of pneumonic devices, made it infinitely easier to digest the large amount of material.

then, we cooked. on the first day, i made a very distinguished pommes puree. mashed potatoes. which was perfect, because on that particular day i had the bubonic plague. but after i came back from my brush with death, I got to make some delicious venison (bambi) with a peppercorn cream sauce and the only thing i took a terrible picture of–thon provoncale (tuna with olives, tomatoes, and herbs)

that would be a ring of basil oil (most of which ended up on my apron), ratatouille wrapped in a zucchini slice, and grilled tuna topped with olive tapanade

 i had to grill the tuna then flash it to order. seems like a good idea, except that tuna is easy to overcook and overcooked tuna is BAD. so, i used my exceptional poke-it-with-your-finger-and-hope-for-the-best skills, tasted a couple, and said a prayer. After service, the every-charming teacher from the dining room came in, and asked for a tuna for her to eat. huh, she must have thought it looked good.

“this is the first time i’ve had tuna in here that wasn’t GREY!” was what more than a few kids remarked to me. yea!

so each morning even before lecture, we had a quiz on the material from the day before.  10 french words–define them. go. After day 4 or 5, there were an awkward few moments at the end of class where chef called me and another classmate over and asked us a series of strange questions about our assigned recipes for the next few days. we thought we were in trouble. chef comes over and declares, “2 students have gotten 100% on all their quizzes, so I did a tiebreaker, and KAREN, you’re the winner of this beautiful and distinguished Johnson and Wales University baseball hat!” hell yea! (i imagine you understand my excitement was not for the actual hat, but the recognition).

After the requisite jeering from my fellow classmates, a friend who is as southern as they come, comes up to me and says “what did you get for #9? i’d never even seen that word before!”  I said, “oh it’s finely diced mushrooms” She looks at me with sheer confusion and says “but I studied the duck salad with mushrooms, what is this?”

duxelles. pronounced duck-SELL.

something about a lightbulb.

nutritious and delicious

Thanksgiving break marked the end of our first term of classes.  5 labs down, 10 to go. First up after turkey day: Nutrition and Sensory Analysis. The timing couldn’t have been better, huh? I was really looking forward to this class–I knew the instructor and knew we had very similar views on food.

What a new term also means is new classmates.  A group of about 8 of us “big kids” from our first session got together and all registered for the same classes, which meant about 12 new faces.  The first couple weeks were a little rough. I quickly named a group member “Wonder Boy,” and not as a term of endearment. We’ve all settled in though, and get along pretty well.  But it is VERY exciting to see old friendly faces in the halls.

So let’s get to the good stuff–the food! Each day before service we went down the whole line and each group had to explain why each of their dishes were “nutritious and delicious.”  Not surprisingly, i LOVED all the food in this class. A fellow health nut and I talked so excitedly about how much better we felt after class each day–we had more energy, were in better moods,  and life just seemed a little brighter.  After the land of cream sauces and mushy meat, it was like discovering the promised land.

upper left: shrimp spring rolls with rice noodles and fresh mint
lower left: banana nut bread (barf)
center: buckwheat pancakes! deeeeelicious
upper right: vegan tofu chocolate pudding with raspberry coulis. deeeeesgusting.
(i try to like tofu. i really do. but i just don’t. i don’t hate it like i hate bananas, so that’s something)
lower right: spaghetti squash with tempeh bolognese. tempeh is another meat substitute made of fermented soy beans. infinitely better than tofu.

 here’s a couple shots of the full lot of daily production (well, actually each of these are only about half of it):

two of my accomplishments: brocco-flower cheddar soup and smoothies (blueberry-banana and strawberry-raspberry-peach)


hands-down one of my favorite things i’ve made to date: falafel!

wonder boy made the tzatziki. took him approximately 2 hours.

 and the crowning glory after two weeks of very little meat, cheese, or fat:

bacon cheddar sliders with caramelized onions and chipotle mayo on fresh-baked rolls. the southern carnivorous males were in HEAVEN.

For our final, we had to take a recipe and modify it to pretty strict nutritional requirements.  I took a sautéed salmon with a beurre rouge sauce (read: 2 sticks of butter with some red wine) and turned it into:

Ancho Chile Salmon with Clementine Reduction

(after being tasted and graded. A+!)

I marinated the salmon in fresh clementine juice, clementine zest, ancho chile powder, brown sugar, salt, and pepper. 30 minutes later, they got baked at 375 until cooked through, about 12 minutes.  The brown sugar and the sugars in the juice caramelize on the outside of the fish, and the higher heat allow it to cook quickly and not dry out. Meanwhile, I reduced the exact same mixture as the marinade over medium heat until slightly syrupy. Drizzle that over the fish, top it with some toasted panko breadcrumbs and BAM (he’s a jwu alumnus, ps)!

Nutritious and delicious.

top secret and highly confidential

Sunday supper, asian style.

Tuna steaks! Marinated for about an hour in Manfriend’s Top Secret Marinade(TM) and seared to perfection on the stove-top-grill thingy.

I handled the veg department.  We saw some super cute baby bok choy at Eastern Market Sunday morning and brought them into a good home.  Along with a bunch of bananas, which the shopkeeper shoved in my bag before I could say a word. And by say a word, I mean throw a fit.

These youngens were prepared like so: Spicy Bok Choy in Garlic Sauce.  And yes that’s a bit of risotto peaking out of the right corner.  It was delightful, but we both agreed, not really necessary in this meal (hello LEFTOVERS).

take it to the bank.

Allow me to introduce you to your new weeknight friend: the broiler.  Yes, that scary bottom drawer on your oven that spews fire.  Get down there. Take a look.  All that fire? It cooks food–FAST. Melts cheese like a dream.  Gets dinner on its way in no time at all.

bonjour, mon ami.

You need to treat your new friend with much love and tenderness.  Don’t plan to stick something in the broiler and then…you know, go vacuum, watch tv, or anything else that doesn’t have you standing directly adjacent to your oven carefully monitoring your broiler. He gets lonely and will scorn you by burning your little fishy in the blink of an eye. Stand by your friend.
Ok, enough with the lovefest. Let’s get cooking. $10 says you have almost everything you need for this currently in your kitchen.  And less than $10 will buy you plenty fish for 2 people. Another $10 says you can make $10 betting your dining companion you can have dinner on the table in 15 minutes flat.
Ingredients (for 2 servings, original recipe is 8)
  • 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon butter, softened
  • 2-1/4 teaspoons mayonnaise
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/8 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon celery salt
  • 1/2 pound tilapia fillets


  • Preheat your oven’s broiler. Grease a broiling pan or line pan with aluminum foil.
  • In a small bowl, mix together the Parmesan cheese, butter, mayonnaise and lemon juice. Season with dried basil, pepper, onion powder and celery salt. Mix well and set aside.

i do not have celery salt. life goes on

  • Arrange fillets in a single layer on the prepared pan. Broil a few inches from the heat for 2 to 3 minutes.


  • Flip the fillets over and broil for a couple more minutes. Remove the fillets from the oven and cover them with the Parmesan cheese mixture on the top side. Broil for 2 more minutes or until the topping is browned and fish flakes easily with a fork.* Be careful not to over cook the fish.

someone couldn't wait to dig in 😉

*First big of culinary knowledge from my class this weekend: cooking a fish until it “flakes with a fork” is equal to cooking a piece of meat to shoe-leather consistency.  WAY overdone.  They tell you to cook it that long because they can guarantee it will be cooked and therefore can’t be blamed for making someone eat undercooked fish.  Fish will become opaque as it cooks. You should remove it from the heat when there is stil a little line of raw in the middle–the residual heat will finish cooking  and it will be perfectly cooked and tender.  Take THAT to the bank. With your $10.

For Liscious, with love

I made this for the first time a couple months ago when I had my friend Liscious over to show off my fab new apartment. ( I’m sorry other friends…I know you all need shout outs too.)  I read the recipe a few times, understood the method, and then just kind of threw it together while we were chatting over…ice water. Well, we sat down to eat and continued talking until about 5 bites in we both realized how GOOD this salad was! Easy, fresh, flavorful, filling. SOLD. She demanded the recipe and made it for her manfriend to rave reviews as well.

I attempted to recreate the magic last night for Manfriend (capital M). All went well. The pics came out good (after I remembered to take them). We sat down to eat. Oh shit. I oversalted the fish. It’s important to heavily season the fish, as salt and pepper is all it gets…but I got a little overzealous. It happens. It wasn’t unpalatable–just not to my standards. So, note the pics of the prepared fish, and take it with a grain of salt. Oh come on, that joke had to be made.

Sauteed Tilapia with Honey-Scallion Dressing
From Cooking Light
4 servings (I halve it)


  • 2 1/2 T fresh lemon juice (approx 1 lemon, juiced)
  • 2 T chopped green onions
  • 1 T honey
  • 1 T low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 t bottled ground fresh ginger (I use fresh ginger root, minced)
  • 1/4 t dark sesame oil (I use light, I’m sure EVOO works fine)


  • 1 T canola oil
  • 4 6-oz tilapia fillets
  • 1/2 t salt (ok, this is way not enough. but i went too far)
  • 1/8 t black pepper (more of this too)
  • 4 c. gourmet salad greens


  • Prepare dressing: combine first 6 ingredient in bowl, stir well with whisk.


    i used a little dressing mixer guy instead of a bowl and whisk. As previously discussed, I dont often follow directions.

  • To prepare fish, heat canola oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat.




  • Sprinkle fish evenly with salt and pepper.  Add fish to pan, cook 3 minutes on each side or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork.
despite the excess sodium, i'll be damed if this isn't a fine piece of photography.

despite the excess sodium, i'll be damed if this isn't a fine piece of photography.

for real 3 minutes is all you need on each side.

for real 3 minutes is all you need on each side.

  • Arrange 1 cup greens on each plate. (Manfriend likes his greens. We went sky-high with them)
in a supporting role, my cute pics hanging in my cute apt.

in a supporting role, my cute pics hanging in my cute apt.

  • Place one fillet on each plate, drizzle with 2 T dressing.


Manfriend raved about the dressing. It really is awesome–bright and zingy, a perfect match with tender fish and crunchy greens. He wants to try it as a marinade…maybe for shrimp? Or as a dipping sauce for pot stickers or dumplings. Stay tuned–the possibilities are endless!