Chef Monica Pope writes about eating & cooking where your food lives

Déjà vu… July 31, 2010

Bruschetta with Red Wine Fig Compote, Japanese Eggplant with Red Curry, Simply Wilted Bok Choy

Green Plum Cooking School – Saturday, July 10th, 2010

“We already did that one,” Megan says to me, aghast, when I tell her what recipe we’re doing for the Green Plum cooking class this Saturday.  I just hired Megan to be my kitchen assistant.  She reminds me that it was the class I did on the day that I met her and hired her on the spot.  I liked her spunk then, but now I’m being spunk-ed.  It was less than a month ago and I have absolutely NO memory of doing Armenian Eggplant.  “Wow, really?”   I guess I don’t remember it because I didn’t even blog about it (sorry, folks).

The Secret Garden has some gorgeous Japanese eggplant right now and Chinese chives.  Well, there’s more than one way to cook eggplant.  I like to cook eggplant…the right way.  Most people, including my own kitchen crew, don’t cook it right — that is, they don’t use enough oil.  Eggplant doesn’t cook to caramelized goodness without a lot of oil.  What I like about the Armenian eggplant salad is that we use the cooking oil that is used in sautéeing the eggplant as the oil part of the vinaigrette.  We season the cooked eggplant with champagne vinegar, cinnamon, and lots of parsley.  The cinnamon adds that je ne sais quoi-thingy I love.  I also add olives because I like cinnamon with green olives.  That’s not Armenian, but I’m not Armenian, so…je ne sais quoi.

I’m still going to do eggplant; however, I’m going to cut it differently and keep it simple.

I’ve just gotten off my Central Market cookbook tour:  five Texas cities in five days.  No wonder Lindsay Lohan is in jail — life on the road is tough.  I found out the hard way that Big D either doesn’t know me or doesn’t like me.  However, Ft. Worth wanted to take me home with them!  Or at least out to dinner.  One Ft. Worth-ian said that Dallas is about trendy and Ft. Worth is about tradition.  Hmmmm.

So, for this class, the first thing I’m going to do is a bruschetta.  Our growers have figs right now and The Houston Dairymaids have some Pure Luck Ste. Maure (an ash rind goat that is similar to a Bucheron) and SlowDough Bread Co. has some ciabatta.  So, I am going to make a jammy Red Wine Fig Compote.  Typically, I make this recipe with honey and lavender as a topping for a Provencal-style sundae with caramel semi-freddo and balsamic syrup.   Today, I am going to go savory with it for the bruschetta.  I tell the audience that they could also add some mustard seed or some ginger for a little heat, but you don’t have to.  I’m thinking it would be great with our walnut bread, but I’m not sure I say it out loud.  I seem to be jet-lagged even though I never left the Texas time zone.  I’m really not cut out for the cookbook tour circuit.

Pure Luck's Ste. Maure



Delicious Drama May 14, 2010

Green Plum Cooking School – Saturday, May 1st

Moroccan-Style Grilled Cheese Sandwich

It has been crazy wild around here since my appearance on Top Chef Masters.  As you may know, I managed to win the Quickfire challenge with a Moroccan-style Grilled Cheese Sandwich.  The best part is that I won $5,000 for the charity I was playing for, Recipe for Success.  Of course, this is the season that the Quickfire Challenges don’t contribute any points towards your final score.  Kind of like when, back in 1996, I won Best New Chef from Food & Wine Magazine, and the next year was the year they started putting the Best New Chefs on the cover.  For some reason, this kind of thing always happens to me.

The night my episode aired, we had a watch party at t’afia; a good customer told me that, if I won anything, she was going to match it as a donation to Recipe for Success (ooh, I hope she can afford $5,000!).  Since then, I have been overwhelmed by how supportive and generous people have been — my wallet is full of checks for Recipe for Success…$50, $100, $150.  I am excited that people were moved to give and are stepping up to make change in the lives of our children.  Both Gracie and I say thank you from the bottom of our hearts!

The actual Top Chef Masters challenge was to do a grilled cheese sandwich that reflected me as a chef, that really represented “my” food.  Some folks are having trouble connecting the Moroccan Grilled Cheese to what they perceive as “Monica Pope food.”  But Coastal Mediterranean cuisine has always been my thing.

In the Top Chef Masters studio kitchen, they take you around to the pantry and coolers so you can assess the ingredients on hand; there’s a cheese fridge, a lettuce fridge, a miscellaneous pantry, breads, etc.  We were also allowed to bring some signature ingredients with us as long as they fit in a 17” x 24” metal bin; I stuffed my suitcase with all sorts of things, including pomegranate molasses.  From the start, I had my eye on the loaf of date-walnut bread and I immediately came up with this Moroccan-style grilled cheese with feta, farmer’s cheese and a melt-y white cheese.  I made a cumin butter (to toast the bread with), sprinkled some cinnamon, used more fresh dates and voila.  I also grabbed three micro herbs — cilantro, basil and mint — to make a little accompanying salad with an orange blossom water-honey dressing.  I finished the plate with a swizzle of a pomegranate molasses-maple syrup mixture.

So, for class today, I am going to re-create my TCM Quickfire Challenge sandwich.  Luckily, I’ve got a posse of women sous chefs today that I motivate to grate and slather all these grilled cheeses and to pick and clean and dry lettuces because we’ve got a full class!



To The Top of the Class You Go, Joe! May 3, 2010

Joe's Twice-Baked Cauliflower

Green Plum Cooking School – Saturday, April 17th

After being judged on Top Chef Masters, it’s now my turn to judge.  I’ve judged two kids’ events this month:  Sharpstown High School’s Teen Iron Chef competition and Travis Elementary’s “Chef’s Night” contest.  At Travis Elementary, all grades were involved and their assignment was to make a healthy snack or meal, with extra points for those who used the most items from the school’s incredible garden or other locally-sourced ingredients.  The kids did great, surprisingly so.  Lance Fegen (from The Glass Wall in the Heights) was also one of the judges as was Scott Tycer’s wife, Annika (owners of Textile and Kraftsmen Bakery; Scott was at home nursing a basketball injury).  The garden at Travis Elementary is really wonderful and was spearheaded by our friend and Houston photographer, George Hixson.  My only wish is that the kids would have done more with the food from the garden. The kids did focus on using less than five ingredients and made healthier substitutions (like low-fat dairy, whole wheat pastas and yogurt instead of mayo), which was good.

Local Cauliflower

For today’s class, I was inspired to make one of the dishes from a student at Travis Elementary:  Joe’s Twice-Baked Cauliflower.  I loved how brave Joe was to use cauliflower and make it in a way that kids would love it (who can resist anything mac n’cheesy?).  Of course, he did a healthy version with low-fat milk and cream cheese, kind of a like a bechamel.  I autographed his recipe and gave him two thumbs up.  I’ve adapted Joe’s recipe, Pope-style:  I’m ramping it up a bit by using Cabot’s cheddar powder and the three cheeses I used in my Top Chef Master’s Quick Fire-winning grilled cheese sandwich (feta, Monterey jack and mascarpone).



Seeing Red (In A Good Way)… April 23, 2010

Filed under: Green Plum Cooking School — monicaspeak @ 4:13 pm
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Red "Tabouli" with Red Quinoa, Red Beets & Red Clover

Green Plum Cooking School – Sat., April 10th

You might have heard me chant this mantra before:  What Grows Together, Goes Together.  Another of my mantras (this one from my old Boulevard Bistrot days) is Diversity is the Mother of Invention.  I’m not sure that either statement could hit home with my class any more than it did on this Saturday.

I am sure you are familiar with the classic Middle Eastern tabouli salad made with bulgur and lots of parsley, mint, tomato, lemon juice and olive oil.  Well, instead of doing that I am using what I have — which is red quinoa and beets.  Quinoa is a super food:  it has all eight essential amino acids, which makes it a complete protein.  Pretty cool for a grass!  Everyone thinks quinoa is a grain (because it eats like one) but it’s really a relative of beets, spinach, Swiss chard, and lamb’s quarters.  But you can cook and use it just like a grain; we cook it for about 15 minutes, just like pasta.  You have to rinse or soak it prior to cooking because it is coated with something called Saponin.  Saponin has a purpose in nature — its bitterness repels insects and birds to protect the grass while it is growing.  While Lisa is telling us all about quinoa, I am wondering what purpose my bitterness serves.

While the quinoa is boiling, I work on the beets (these have already been boiled for about 45 minutes to 1 hour).  You know beets are ready when the skins come off easily as you rub it with your fingernail.  I choose not to wear gloves to peel the beets to make a statement.  Many of my customers have what I call family of origin beet trauma. Someone at some time made you eat a beet, probably a canned one at that, and you just didn’t, and still don’t, like them.  In fact, you hate them!  You think they taste dirty.  And you certainly don’t want to get dirty (or pink as it is with me) from working with beets.  But, if you do like them, typically you ask me to prep them for you anyway.

Yep...sometimes you get a little dirty (and red)



Local Food, Trendy? Whatever It Takes… April 11, 2010

Mild Coconut Curry with Local Vegetables

Green Plum Cooking School – Sat, April 3rd

Today, I’m making a mild coconut curry with local vegetables.  Just so you know, the Pope don’t do “mild,” or so I’m thinking.  I’m afraid it’s going to be boring.  The recipe calls for green peppers, squash, eggplant, corn, green beans — you get the idea, summer vegetables, most anywhere.  Here in Houston, we’re smack into spring, which anywhere else would be summer, but the whole point of this dish is that you can utilize any vegetables you find at the farmers market right now — pick five or go for the sky as your limit.

The recipe also calls for lentils, of which I have four varieties down in the t’afia kitchen, so I bring them all up.  The only thing I’ve prepared ahead of time is to roast some small beets, mainly to see if I could actually get them to cook in an hour and I also didn’t want them to discolor the curry by cooking them with the other vegetables.  Pink curry is… well, pink…and sometimes that color doesn’t quite translate.  Also, when we did beets last year when we were “cooking with Alice,” trying to fully cook beets during a one hour class was one of my only failures; we ate very al dente beets that day!

We start with lilies, of which I have many (that’s why I did a five-lilies soup for Easter). You know, we named our child after the lily because she makes us cry with joy, in Yiddish the word is kvell. But, of course, we chose the Lili Taylor (indie actress) and Lili Fini Zanuck (Hollywood producer) spelling because I’m a little bit country and a little bit Hollywood!

The allium genus consists of hundreds of varieties commonly known as onions, garlic, leeks, scallions, ramps and so on.  They are of great importance in the kitchen and form the base of most stocks and sauces, the aromatics of braising liquids, the underpinnings of well-made soup – basically, all things good in the kitchen.

I open the first bag of lentils and promptly drop the crimson legumes.  I take a deep breath and decide not to cry over spilled lentils, but mention my crying on Top Chef Masters.  I begin to cook the lentils and the potatoes together — I have local red potatoes and four types of lentils (crimson, black, white and green).  The black lentils are referred to as beluga because they resemble beluga caviar, that’s great marketing when you can make a lowly legume seem like an extravagant ingredient, right Oleg?

Potatoes & Lentils




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