PERRYSBURG - Tired of burgers and fries? Looking for something a little more exciting than a Taco Bell burrito under the heading of foreign cuisine?
|Bowling Green-Penta culinary student Victoria Lamb serves Cuban flank steak and saffron rice at Taste of the Nations. (Photo: J.D. Pooley/Sentinel-Tribune)
Attendance at Penta Career Center's "Taste of the Nations" offers the chance to tour 12 different countries at one time - at least when it comes to food.
This was the fourth year for Taste of the Nations, in which students, public and staff are served full meals from Italy, Russia, Cuba, Greece, Brazil, France, India, South Korea, Australia, Madagascar, Macedonia and Pakistan. The meal, a friendly but high-pressure competition, is prepared by two-member teams of high school seniors who are studying culinary arts at Penta.
"Australia has done a nice job in the last couple years - they're in the lead," notes Chef Janea Makowski, instructor at Penta. "France is a close second."
"Both years the Australia team has included shrimp, which seems to be popular" at this time of year. Shawnee France from Rossford, Charles Williams of Northwood, and Zach Bethel from Anthony Wayne put together a menu of ribeye and mock fish, shrimp on the barbie, blue pumpkin soup and lamingtons.
Also on the menu in the student-run Culinary Connection restaurant for two hours Wednesday and Thursday were stuffed mussels from Italy, olive and bacon empanadas from Brazil, and chocolate cherry cake from Russia.
Among the most interesting nations featured was Cuba. Victoria Lamb from Bowling Green High School and her partner, Nick Burch of Oak Harbor, chose to prepare two different meals, plus a dessert.
One of the meals was quite traditional for the Caribbean - jerk chicken and coconut rice. The second caught everyone's attention: Flank steak, saffron rice, and bean and corn salsa. For dessert, Lamb and Burch served crispy sweet plantains.
That entire meal - from steak to plantains for dessert - is being offered in this week's Cook's Corner.
"I was responsible for the steak and the chicken and rice, and he for the dessert. We each know our weaknesses. I'm better on the grill; he's better on desserts," explained Lamb, adding that her partner also did the marinade for the steak.
Much thought went into the meal.
The two seniors found that plate presentation was the biggest challenge of the project. "Putting it all together, what seasonings did we want to use, should we do a sauce," explained Lamb.
She's spent years in the kitchen, though, so she found this senior project exhilarating rather than overwhelming.
"I liked to cook with my mom when I was younger; cakes, cookies, and my favorite food to make was fried chicken."
Cooking offered a chance to spend quality time with mom for Lamb, who has five sisters.
Her family moved from Toledo to Bowling Green when she was a freshman in high school.
Now she's ready to move on to college. "I'm leaning toward BGSU or Johnson and Wales (culinary school) in Florida.
If she ends up at Johnson and Wales, "I would plan on working at a five-star restaurant" as a career goal.
If Lamb opts for Bowling Green instead, she intends to major in business management, "running my own restaurant" at some point in the future.
Of each of the six different dishes she and her partner made for Taste of the Nations, Lamb said the flank steak was her own personal favorite.
"I really like the marinade that's on it," jazzed up as it is by fresh lime juice and lime zest, soy sauce, chile powder, cumin and oregano.
"Steak is my second favorite food," following the previously mentioned fried chicken.
She recommends marinading the meat for a full 24 hours.
Lamb said she would give the flank steak, with rice and beans, only a five on a one-to-10 scale of difficulty.
Her biggest note of caution involves the saffron rice. "Keep an eye on it so it doesn't scorch, because it cooks fast," she warned.
Timing is also important when it comes to the steak.
"Try not to get any burns on it, because that burned flavor will really spread throughout" the dish.
The dish officially known as tostones is another name for fried plantains.
Most people know only that plantains are a first cousin to bananas, but they've never cooked with them.
"Plantains have a bigger layer of skin and have a little crunch to it when you bit into it, compared to a banana. And it has more starch."
To prepare tostones, "you deep fry 'em, and smash 'em, and deep fry them again. So when you bit into them you get sweet, tart taste in your mouth" as well as an interesting texture.
Cuban flank steak
1 flank steak
1/3 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 cup olive oil
(1 tsp.) ground cumin
(1 tsp.) dried oregano
(1 tsp.) onion powder
(1 tsp.) garlic powder
1 tbsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp chile powder
(2 tsp.) lime zest
Combine marinade ingredients. Put flank steak into a Ziploc bag and pour marinade in, seal bag, and marinate all day in refrigerator. (You can marinate up to 24 hours if desired.)
Take meat out of refrigerator and let it come to room temperature before grilling. Oil the grill with a paper towel dipped in olive or vegetable oil, then preheat gas or charcoal barbecue grill to medium-high
Grill meat to desired doneness, approximately 4-5 minutes per side for rare to medium-rare or 6 minutes for medium. I wouldn’t cook flank steak more than medium or it will be tough. Cooking time will depend on the thickness of your flank steak, the best way to judge the doneness is to use an instant-read meat thermometer, cooking to 140-145 for medium rare or 155-160 for medium.
Remove meat from grill and let rest about 5 minutes.
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup green pepper, finely chopped
1/4 cup red pepper, finely chopped
2 cups rice
1 teaspoon salt
4 cups chicken broth
8 saffron strands crushed with a mortar and pestle and dissolved in a small amount of hot water
3 tablespoons butter
Heat olive oil in a large saucepan and sauté onions and peppers until translucent. Stir in rice and salt and sauté briefly, until the rice begins to brown slightly.
Add chicken broth and saffron water, and bring to a boil. Lower heat and cook, covered, for about 20 to 30 minutes. (Perfectly cooked rice will be tender and fluffy.) Just before serving, stir in 3 tablespoons butter.
Tostones (crispy sweet plantains)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3 plantains (green, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces)
2 cup brown sugar and cinnamon mixed
Peel the plantain: Cut the ends of each plantain off with a sharp knife. Use the knife to cut through the peel only the entire lenth of the plantain. Loosen the peel along the cut and remove peel by hand. Cut the plantain into slices, about 2 to 2 1/2-inches wide. Fill a large skillet a third full with oil and heat over medium-high heat to a temperature of about 300 degrees F. Once the oil is hot, fry the plantain slices for approximately 3 to 5 minutes, turning once, just long enough to make them soft. Remove the plantains and drain on paper towels. Use a plantain press or a brown paper bag folded over to smash the plantains to about half their thickness. Let the oil come back to a higher temperature – this time about 375 degrees F. Fry once again, turning occasionally, until golden brown on both sides. Remove and use paper towels to absorb excess oil. Sprinkle with plenty of brown sugar and cinnamon.
Black bean and corn salsa
2 cups sweet corn
15 ozs black bean
2 cloves garlic (minced)
2 jalapeno (seeds and stems removed, diced)
1/2 red bell pepper (seeds and stems removed, diced
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tbsps lime juice
Salt and pepper to taste
Mix all ingredients.