Catalyst Cooks

Make. Food. Happen!

You’re Missing our New Posts! March 29, 2012

Filed under: © Jen Antila and Jen the Catalyst, 2010 to present. — Jen Antila @ 6:28 pm

Please make sure to go to our new home… and “Take It To Go” or subscribe to our FEED.


We’ve Moved :) March 13, 2012

Filed under: © Jen Antila and Jen the Catalyst, 2010 to present. — Jen Antila @ 11:13 am

Hi to you out there, you aspiring Catalyst Cooks!

It’s been a little quiet around here… and now you get to see why 🙂

Creative collaborating has resulted in a new logo, new location (for the website), and a new look!

Please do “Take It to Go” again and re-sign up for Catalyst Cooks posts. 

So now, go check out the new and have fun!



What’s Cooking in the Catalyst Kitchen – 3/7/12 March 7, 2012

Filed under: © Jen Antila and Jen the Catalyst, 2010 to present. — Jen Antila @ 6:36 pm

I did a couple of exciting things this week.  On Monday, I got into the Signature Café Kitchen (I’d highly recommend the restaurant, just off Hwy 280 & Franklin Av. between Mpls and St. Paul.)  I assisted with food prep and service for a 49-person wine dinner, and got to see first hand how to coordinate and get 49 plates out at the same time.

I also worked in my kitchen yesterday with Tamara, who has purchased a food truck.  The truck is currently finishing conversion to a commercial kitchen, and she is in the final stages of preparing a menu (she wants a Gluten free truck).  My cooking this week is a result of that collaboration!

Pinto Bean Cassoulet (gluten free)

This rich dish features seasonal vegetables braised with pinto beans, tomatoes, and some red wine.  I whipped up some scratch sausage by grinding some fresh local pork roast with Italian seasonings like marjoram, basil, oregano, rosemary, toasted fennel, and a bit of peppered bacon for some smoky flavor.  The freeform patty was placed right on top!

Wild Rice Salad with celery, toasted walnuts, and citrus dressing (gluten free, meat free)

This dish will fill you up with goodness… and the dressing has some fun flavors that are asian inspired: freshly squeezed orange juice & zest, seasoned rice vinegar, shoyu sauce.

Lasagna (meat free)

I intended for this dish to be gluten free too.  I mixed some gluten free dough together (using a blend of two rice flours and some Bob’s red mill all purpose GF flour).  The flours don’t have gluten (duh!), so it was pretty “crumb-y”.  I couldn’t get it to roll out into sheets for lasagna, so I decided to form them into orechiette “ears” and adjust the dish accordingly.  Well, good thing I taste the components of what I’m making before I serve it because the pasta tasted awfully “crummy”.  I threw it away and quickly made lasagna sheets this morning- with wheat flour- and made a nice non-traditional lasagna which has a green edamame crème layer, a tomato/roasted red pepper/caramelized onion/wilted beet greens layer, a few olives tossed in, and lots of mozz.  I’m enjoying this mistake!!!

The new website development is ongoing… I’m hoping to convert all of this website to the new one (which will have the same address, by the end of the month!  It will have a whole new look and is very exciting!


Design a Kitchen: a Cook’s Countertop February 2, 2012

This is the first post in the “you help me design my kitchen” series — today’s installment: COUNTERTOP.

You’ve seen my countertop.

oh, that’s right, no you haven’t.  Because I’m always hiding it with my cool butcher block cutting board or taking pictures in the dining room on the table or sideboard.

Well let me just tell you.  It’s plain jane blah off-white ugly.  And tough to clean too.

Probably some sort of laminate that also functions as a backsplash.. yay!

Makes me miss my old house, where I replaced the laminate with some beautiful limestone tile.

Oh wait.  While that was really pretty, I found out the hard way that coffee, ketchup or any other acidic food/juice/condiment would leave a permanent mark on my countertop.  Not exactly the budding cook’s dream.  No amount of stone sealer could combat the juice of a lemon.

What countertop or work surface (s) do you have in your kitchen?

Do you like, love, or hate them?  Why?

What would you love to see in a house you purchased?

Some things I’m thinking are important in the decision:

  • Cost.  Looking for something not out-of-this-world expensive (where are some good places to shop???)
  • Practicality.  No plate-breaking, oops-don’t-put-your-lemon-there countertop.
  • Beauty.  But by gosh let’s not have the countertop be so ugly that I don’t even want to be in the kitchen.
  • Function.  Can I put my hot pasta water right on the countertop without fear?  Can I use it as a cutting surface?
  • Cleanability.  I don’t want to have to invest in some obscure, expensive counter cleaner to keep ‘er clean.

What say you?  What should I put on my short list, and what should I avoid???


3/8/12: Colette linked a great article on her FB page:


Technique of the Week (be the Superhero of your Kitchen)- Knife Skills II January 27, 2012

Now that you are getting comfortable with your knife, let’s practice!

Get your potatoes out…

First- an easy multiple choice question.  Is it easier to cut something laying flat on a flat surface, or something rolling around?

Yes, that’s right.  It’s easier to cut something with a flat surface.  So if you’ve been trying to cut carrots, onions, or potatoes without first cutting a flat surface, you’re not doing yourself any favors!

Once you’ve got your flat surface (and yes, please, cut your carrot in half before you go any further, and please do cut your onion in half from stem to root before you try to dice it)- lay your potato flat on the cutting board.

And make sure that pesky index finger isn’t on top of the blade of your chef’s knife for pete’s sake!

Now, we’re going to go to more perfection land.  For those of you who don’t believe in that yet- and I was one of those- here are some reasons why chefs practice these cuts on bags and bags of potatoes (and onions) while they are in culinary school.  – and why you won’t see diced potatoes on a plate very often, because the Chefs got Sick of ’em.

1.  Food that is consistent and uniform is inviting to the eye.  Yes, beauty is one reason to practice knife cuts.

but if you are more practical like me, food beauty may not be compelling enough to practice these cuts.  So there are two better reasons to practice this….

2.  Practice = speed.  As you practice these knife cuts, your skills will get better and faster.  So will your prep to table time!

3.  Uniformity= consistent cooking results.  Where same size= same doneness, different size = different doneness.

If you believe that, please continue cutting your potato.  First, cut your potato into a 1″ square ended- rectangle.

(If it were 3/4″ square you’d be on your way to a Large Dice- but we’re not stopping here.)

Next, cut your 1″ square into 4 x 1/4″ ‘wafers’.

Next, cut the wafers into 1/4″ square-ended hand cut fries – otherwise known as Battonet

(bet you didn’t appreciate those hand cut fries before!)

As the last part of your practice, you can cut your Battonet into “Small Dice”- 1/4″ square pieces of potato, ready for your skillet.

My dice in the picture is not perfect… I diced the ends I had cut off to make my squares.  So this would not pass the Culinary Institute test.  But it’s great practice and I personally don’t demand perfection from myself.  My goal is to improve my speed and accuracy over time.

What to do with these potatoes?

Well, you can boil them and turn them into mashed potatoes…. or use them for a breakfast potato dish… or put them in soup… or deep fry them for mini-tots.  Practice more and you’ll get to try potatoes in fun new ways!


Cook yourself a fantastic Chinese New Year Dinner January 23, 2012

Happy Year of the Dragon- 2012!

I love to cook Chinese New Year Dinner… where an even number of courses are good luck.  This past weekend, Bartender Steve and his Heidi were the lucky winners of this year’s 6 course Chinese New Year dinner.  Take a look at the video to learn how to make your own version for this week’s celebration!


Technique of the Week (be the Superhero of your Kitchen) – Knife Skills January 18, 2012

This is a new feature of the blog, “Technique of the Week”.  It’s meant to be a little something that can change your life in your kitchen, big time.  The not-so-secret secrets that I’ve found very, very helpful in my cooking.

If you like to cook from scratch, Knife Skills and some practice have the potential to save you oodles of time.  Learning how to hold a Chef’s knife (above left) and how to use it are the best things I’ve learned in the past year.  If you watch cooking shows, it’s the first thing they teach new recruits and the first thing they test in competitive cooking.

Get a Grip 

The smallest- and hardest and most impactful- adjustment is to start holding your chef’s knife correctly, and making the commitment to practicing until it feels comfortable.

   If you do what I used to do, you put your index finger on top of the blade.

It was tricky to unlearn that, but if you have a good chef’s knife, there is a place to rest your finger and thumb (see the photo at right) – and firmly grip the blade.

Once you’ve got the right grip, you will have better control over your knife cuts.

My favorite easy practice is to cut celery- it lays flat on the cutting board so I can practice my rocking motion without having to raise my hand too high or worry about bits rolling off my cutting board.

Use a rocking motion and, to the extent you can, leave the tip of the knife resting on the board at all times.  Your hand should be moving steadily, firmly, and easily.

It’s best if your knife is sharp.  You can tell if it’s sharp by cutting a piece of newspaper in the air.  If the blade easily slices through the paper, the knife is sharp.  If it doesn’t, it’s dull, and you should sharpen it.

You’ll know you’re successfully holding a knife if you get a great callous like this:

Practice Practice Practice…  you’ll get faster and more accurate, and your meal prep will go so much faster than it does today.

Happy Knife Holding… your first Technique of the Week!




%d bloggers like this: