Let me share a few things I learned about our celebrity chef. First of all she was in town to promote her third cookbook "Cat Cora's Classics with a Twist". If you've ever seen the Food Network show "Iron Chef" you know the Iron Chef is given a surprise key ingredient to use in several dishes to be cooked in exactly one hour, when we then find out "who's cuisine reigns supreme"! Cat is the first and only female Iron Chef, Bon Appetit Magazine gave her the award of "Teacher of the Year" and made her the magazine's executive chef. Cat is also president and co-founder of "Chefs for Humanity" which was developed in the wake of the 2004 Tsunami disaster. Cat has four young sons all under the age of seven, so "Cooking from the Hip" is what she does best at home...which makes her a great coach for home cooks like me.
When we sat down we were all served a fresh watermelon drink in a little mini martini glass...so cute, refreshing too. The main dish she demonstrated for us was a Chili Lime Marinated Flank Steak Tacos with a Grilled Pineapple Salsa.
For the marinade: In a small bowl, mix the spices, salt, pepper, lime juice, and oil to make a paste. Place the steak in a shallow dish and rub the paste evenly over both sides. Cover and let marinate for 1 to 4 hours.
For the salsa: Light a charcoal grill about 30 minutes before you're ready to cook or preheat a gas grill to medium-high.
Slice off the leafy top of the pineapple and just enough of the bottom so the fruit rests flat on a cutting board. Slice off the skin with a sharp knife, cutting from top to bottom and taking off as little of the flesh as possible, rotating the pineapple as you go. Discard the skin. Cut out any "eyes" with a paring knife and discard. Slice the fruit away from the core in 4 or 5 slabs.
Place the pineapple slabs on the hot grill and grill until the fruit is just beginning to show some browning, 1 to 2 minutes per side, 4 to 5 minutes per side if you want it charred.
Let the pineapple cool for a few minutes, then dice. In a medium bowl, mix the diced pineapple, onion, cilantro, lime juice, vinegar, olive oil, salt, and chile and blend well.
To cook the steak: Grill the steak for 5 to 6 minutes on each side, or slightly longer for well-done meat. Remove from the grill and let rest for 10 minutes before slicing.
Meanwhile, place the tortillas on the hot grill and grill for 10 seconds on each side, then wrap in a cloth napkin to keep them warm.
Slice the steak across the grain into 1/2-inch-thick slices and arrange on a serving platter. Place the tortillas and the bowl of salsa on the table and serve family-style.
Cat's note: The steak and pineapple can be cooked in an oiled ridged grill pan on top of the stove and the tortillas can be wrapped in foil and heated in a 350°F oven.
Cat's heritage is Greek, and she was raised in the South...Jackson Mississippi, so naturally her food is fresh Mediterranean fused with a homey Southern flair. Her style is inspired, fast healthful and family friendly. I say her recipes are easy enough for weeknights, but fancy enough for company. She shared how taking a common ingredient and using it in a different way totally enhances the flavor and adds interest to your dish. For example...she throws just about anything on a grill. Fruit, (pineapple salsa) even avocados, for a grilled avocado guacamole...I am going to try that one for sure. I'll let you know how it turns out.
Cat gave the crowd a great presentation, encouraging everyone to improvise in the kitchen...don't be afraid, "Go with what you have". Feel free to make substitutions, using the recipes as a guide. In her new cookbook she has side notes on the dishes "Cat's touches" and "Cat's techniques" which are little tricks to make a big impact on the plate. This next recipe is an example of Cat taking an ordinary, familiar dish and taking it to a fresh new level.
Grapefruit and Cherry Ambrosia
When I was growing up in Mississippi, ambrosia was brought to family reunions, picnics, graduation parties and potlucks. This version saves what was good in the original but uses fresh, juicy grapefruit segments and sweet, dark cherries in place of canned fruit. Because honey has so many subtle flavor notes, the cream that accompanies the ambrosia tastes much more complex than if it were sweetened with sugar.
In a medium bowl, mix the grapefruit segments, pineapple and cherries with the lemon juice; cover; and refrigerate for 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 350°F and position a rack in the middle. Spread the coconut on a baking sheet and toast in the oven just until it begins to turn golden, 5 to 7 minutes; don't let it get too dark.
For the cream: With an electric mixer, beat the cream, honey and vanilla until it forms soft peaks, 1 to 2 minutes.
With a slotted spoon, divide the fruit among 6 to 8 dessert glasses or bowls, leaving behind most of the fruit juice. Top with the honey cream, toasted coconut and chopped walnuts and serve.
Cat's note: You can go with a light honey, such as clover, lavender honey, or a dark, more brooding one, like a full-bodied buckwheat honey.
Thanks for sharing this experience with me. Let's follow Cat's lead...try to grill something unusual and "Go with what you have" hmm....maybe some of the carrots from last week 5lbs down 10 to go.