Back to the Kitchen: Playing with Food Never Tasted So Good

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Gluten free Mac n’ Cheese a.k.a. “Crack n’ Mac” because it’s so good.   Photo: Gwen Kenneally

The very best part of my work is playing with  food.  I have a reputation for certain dishes, such as coconut shrimp; vegetarian moon rolls with apricot, raspberry or ginger mustard; caprese skewers with homemade mozzarella; and all things PIE,  of course.  I also get all kinds of crazy foodie requests, so I  get to make new creations.  At my catering company, Back To The Kitchen, our philosophy rules that when a  client asks for a special, unique dish, we say YES and figure it out.

The evolution of a recipe comes as an idea from a client, a painting, something that was pinned, shared or tweeted. Once the idea is cemented, we start creating.  We make  the dish until we get it right. My friends love me since I always have something at least interesting for them to try.

The Shiitake Mushroom Marsala recipe below came from a client who wanted me to create a different  version of this classic dish. A little tweak here and there and we got the right blend of sweet and earthy with a rich creamy finish.

Another client  wanted an organic gluten free macaroni and cheese. She liked my version so much that she called it “Crack n’ Mac!”

Homemade mayonnaise is delicious, but the French chefs make it unnecessarily complicated.  I’ve concocted a very simple recipe that’s perfect for sandwiches, and as well as a flavorful condiment with added ingrediests.

I am playing with smoothies for my new book and I love getting the benefits of kale and spinach, but mostly hate the flavor and texture of “green drinks”  — adding bananas, pineapple and ginger adds a bit of sweetness  and makes them ever so tasty, yet still healthy.

As the days heat up we are now playing with ice cream. I will devote a whole column to it as the summer progresses, but below are  a  few frozen desserts that we have mastered so far.

Enjoy these recipes and play with them so you can be a part of your own recipe  evolution!

Shiitake Chicken Marsala

4 tablespoons butter

6 sprigs thyme, de-stemed

6 cloves garlic, minced

3 cups shiitake mushrooms, sliced

4 boneless chicken breasts

1-½ cups flour

3 tablespoons olive oil

3 cups Marsala wine

1-cup heavy cream

Kosher salt and pepper

Pound the chicken breasts thin and cut each one into 4 pieces. Dredge each chicken breast in flour and shake off the excess. Heat the oil in a non-stick skillet. Add the floured chicken breasts and cook for about two minutes on each side and remove from pan. Add the wine to the pan and start to reduce it. In a separate pan melt butter over medium heat Add thyme, garlic and shiitake mushrooms. Season the entire pan with kosher salt a pepper and cook until the mushrooms are brown about 3 minutes. Add to the Marsala wine and give a good stir then add the heavy cream. Cook for a minute and then return the chicken to the pan and cook for a minute longer. Adjust seasonings and garnish with thyme sprigs. Serves 4.

Quinoa Pasta and Organic Cheese aka: Crack and Mac

2- 8 ounce boxes quinoa pasta (elbows)

1 – 8 ounce bag shredded organic sharp cheddar cheese

1-8 ounce bag shredded 0rganic mozzarella cheese

1 – 8 ounce block organic gruyere cheese, shredded

1-cup organic parmesan cheese

2-4 cups organic heavy cream

1 stick organic butter

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta for 9 minutes. It should be al   dente, as it will cook more in the oven. Pre-heat oven to 350. In a Pyrex pan or a pretty casserole dish mix the cooked past with half of the cheese, the butter and 2 cups of heavy cream and mix well. Place in the oven for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and mix well. Add the rest of the cheese and more cream to the desired consistency. Place back in the oven for about 20 minutes. Serves 6-8

Quick and Easy Homemade Mayonnaise     

1 whole egg (use pasteurized for safety. You can buy them at some markets at room temperature. (or see below to make your own)

1 cup olive oil

1 wide mouth pint canning jar


Juice of ½ lemon and 1 clove minced garlic

2 tablespoons fresh basil

1 tablespoon Dijon Mustard

1 tablespoon chopped dill

2 tablespoons minced chives

1 tablespoon each — lime, Dijon mustard, honey

Make sure your egg and oil are at room temperature.  Put your egg and oil in the bottom of a glass jar that fits your immersion blender. Put the immersion blender down into the cup and rest it at the bottom.  Turn it on and blend, keeping it at the bottom until you start to see the mayo thicken.  Then gently raise the blender head to blend the rest of the mayo.  Stop the machine when you see that the entire jar has thickened.  Don’t over-blend. Give it a stir and add any addition then cap the jar and store in the fridge. Makes 1 pint and lasts about a week.

How to Pasteurize Eggs

Remove eggs to be pasteurized from the refrigerator and allow them to come to room temperature. Bring a pot of water to a rapid boil. Then turn off. Carefully lower the eggs into the water. Leave the eggs in the hot water for three minutes. Pour off the hot water and let them come to room temperature. Use immediately or put them into the refrigerator.

Meyer Lemon Sorbet

1-cup sugar

1-cup water

1 cup freshly squeezed juice from Meyer lemons (about 3-4 lemons)

2 teaspoons fine lemon zest

In a small saucepan on medium high heat, make simple syrup by heating sugar and water until the sugar has completely dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool. Mix in the lemon juice and zest. Chill by placing in a metal bowl over an ice bath. Once the mixture has thoroughly chilled, freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Place sorbet in an airtight container and freeze until ready to serve. Scoop out preferably with a melon-baller. Garnish with mint. Makes 2 1/2 cups.

Champagne Sorbet

1 ½ cups sparkling wine, champagne or prosecco

1- cup sugar

1-tablespoon light corn syrup

1 teaspoon each, lemon and grapefruit zest

1 1/2 cups fresh grapefruit juice

1/4-cup fresh squeezed lemon juice

Put champagne, sugar, corn syrup, and zest into a saucepan. Bring to a vigorous boil so that the sugar completely dissolves, remove from heat. Add the grapefruit juice and lemon juice. Chill completely by covering with plastic wrap and putting in your refrigerator over night. Process the mixture in your ice cream maker according to the ice cream maker directions. Transfer mixture to a storage container and freezer in your freezer until firm, at least 6 hours. Makes 4 cups.

Very Chocolate Ice Cream

2-cup heavy cream

6 heaping tablespoons Valhrona cocoa

6 1/2 6 ounces 60%cacao bittersweet chocolate

1-cup milk

5 egg yolks

1/2-cup sugar

1/4-teaspoon salt

1-teaspoon vanilla

In a medium pot heat 1 cup of heavy cream with cocoa; whisk well to ensure the cocoa dissolves properly. When cream is bubbling at the edges, remove from heat and add dark chocolate. Wait 30 seconds then give it a good stir until it’s all incorporated. Add remaining cup of cream to pot, stir to combine, then pour the contents into a medium sized non-metal bowl, scraping out the pot as well as you can, and place a strainer over the bowl. Place the pot back on the stove, and add the cup of milk, 1/2 cup of sugar and the salt. Heat the milk and sugar gently on the stove while you get your egg yolks ready. Whisk the egg yolks together and then grab the pot from the stove. SLOWLY drizzle warm milk into the egg yolks, whisking the entire time until everything’s all combined. Then dump the liquid back into the pot. Stir constantly with a wooden or other heat-safe spoon or spatula over medium heat until the eggs thicken a bit, into custard. You’ll know it’s done when you can hold up the spoon and run your finger through the egg-milk mixture and the line you drew with your finger stays there. Pour custard through the strainer into the bowl. Add vanilla and stir to combine the chocolaty goodness. Place a piece of plastic wrap over the bowl, literally touching the entire surface of the ice cream base. Refrigerate for at least 6 hours then prepare according to your ice cream maker’s instructions. Once you’ve got it into your final container, freeze again for at least 6 hours – Remove from the freezer 10-15 minutes before eating so it has time to soften a bit before serving. Makes 6 cups

Sweet Green Smoothie

2 bananas

2 cups pineapple

2 cups kale

1-cup spinach

2 cups almond milk

1-inch ginger, chopped

2 tablespoons coconut oil

1-2 cups ice

Place in blender and pulse until smooth. Makes 2 smoothies.

Gwen Kenneally is the owner of Back to the Kitchen, Full Service Catering and Party Planning. She is the co-founder and master baker at Magpie Gourmet Mini Pies.   CLICK HERE to Learn from Gwen through her instructional videos featured on EHow. Check out her websites and  Her Sweet and Savory Cookbook is available through AMAZON .


About Karen Young

Karen Young is the founder of My Daily Find.