Ask Chef Rachael - February 2013

Q. Do you have any meal ideas for a romantic dinner for two?
A. Skip anything really garlicy or overly rich, and be sure to have wine – preferably bubbly – to set a romantic mood. I like a traditional candlelit steak dinner, but that can sometimes be a bit heavy. If you go that route, I think a smaller portion, say 3 oz., is ideal. In my opinion, salmon is even better than steak. It's lighter but still satiating, decadent and luxurious tasting. The pink color is pretty romantic, too. I'd add some herbed couscous or brown rice and a roasted vegetable – probably broccoli. While this might sound a little healthy, I think serving a decadent yet healthy meal is a great way to show someone you care. For dessert, however, chocolate is the only way to go, in my opinion – but not too much. A single really, really good truffle will do the trick. I like the Whipping Cream Assortment from Abdallah.

Q. I like my eggs sunny side up, but at home I can never get the white fully cooked without flipping them. What am I doing wrong?
A. Egg recipes in general can be tricky. Eggs cook really quickly, and sunny side up eggs present a special challenge because they don't get the benefit of that flip you mentioned, or from stirring (like with scrambled eggs). I have found that putting a lid on top of the skillet while frying a sunny side up egg helps trap some of the heat on top of the egg to help it cook. I've even found that adding a tablespoon or two of water before placing the lid provides a quick burst of steam that will help finish the white on the top of the egg before the yolk gets overdone. Use a medium to medium-high heat at most, and be patient.

Q. What can you do with ricotta cheese besides use it in lasagna?
A. Tons! Sweetened with a little sugar or honey, it is the traditional filling in cannoli (and you can find prepared cannoli shells near the pie fillings and prepared pie shells). You can use it in place of all or part of the mascarpone in tiramisu, too. In Italy, it is eaten on its own much the way ice cream would be, sprinkled with pistachios, dried apricots, chopped figs, or other fruits or nuts and drizzled with honey. Try it on a bagel in place of cream cheese or in crêpes, too. It's very versatile used in recipes from pancakes to cheesecake to Danish.

Q. Have you ever really screwed up a recipe?
A. Sure! Some of the best lessons in the kitchen (as in life) are the result of disastrous mistakes – and I've learned a lot over the years. If I'm working on something completely new for which I don't have a reliable recipe (or any recipe) to learn from, I don't expect to get it right the first time. Even with recipes I've done a million times, if I get distracted, mistakes can happen. But I've never given up as a result of a failed recipe attempt – I've even been known to make something three times in a row just to prove I can. I say, "live, learn and move (cook) on!"

Q. What is your go-to meal when you want something healthy for dinner?
A. Stir fry, but not because it's healthy – that's just a happy byproduct of my choice. I crave stir fry. Something about Asian food is very satisfying to me. I find it generally has a natural balance of sweet, sour, salty and spicy that pleases my palate (which is important, because I don't eat anything that doesn't taste good, even if it is good for me). I also really enjoy looking at stir fry – which may seem a little weird, but I am one of those people that thinks food should look good, too. With lots of color and texture and such a varied, intricate composition, stir fry has built-in eye appeal. My favorite stir fry veggies are broccoli, green beans, Brussels sprouts, onions, mushrooms, red peppers, bean sprouts and cabbage.

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