Cooking with the CIA

The Culinary Institute of America that is.

I was recently given the wonderfully great anniversary gift of classes at the Culinary Institute of America in San Antonio. I have been a home cook for as long as I have been able to see over the top of the stove and try to come up with new dishes that everyone will love. That being said, I have never had any type of formal or professional training when it came to cooking and kitchen techniques so going to a class at the CIA was a little intimidating to say the least.  I had no idea what to expect or how this was going to work so I I will admit to being a little nervous going in. Trying to decide which class to take was a pretty tough decision as they offer a wide range of classes ranging from basic knife skills to several different types of cuisines including Latin, Chinese, Italian and a course in Everyday Grilling. Since I love grilling and that was the next available class to take I decided to go with the Everyday Grilling class.

When I arrived at the CIA located next to the Pearl Brewery in San Antonio I was greeted by one of the assistant Chefs and given my welcome pack which included a CIA apron, a CIA cookbook filled with many Grilling recipes, a name tag, a print out of several recipes that we would be cooking that day and a bar of dark chocolate flavored with sea salt. I was then directed to a dining area off of the main kitchen where the rest of my fellow enthusiasts were waiting. This class ended up being a smaller group of ten instead of the usual 20 to 25 which ended up being a great thing but I will get into why a little bit later. The class started off with a tour of the building and grounds and some brief history of the CIA. We then did an introduction and meet and greet with our Chef instructor followed by a power point presentation about grilling essentials and techniques. Once that was over we split into three teams and headed down to the kitchen to start cooking.

My team ended up with 4 team members which were all great people to work with and just a really nice group of individuals. We assigned our menu items out to each other and got started picking our ingredients. It was pretty nice as they had everything laid out for us and we got free reign of the kitchen and all of the supplies and seasonings. At first I was a little hesitant being in a new kitchen and environment but quickly got accustomed to the work flow and even started helping some of the others identify there ingredients and find stuff.

My team was assigned Cedar plank salmon with an incredible sauce (that the name happens to escape me at this time), Grilled Fennel salad with orange slices and red onion, and grilled pineapple with a honey tequila glaze. My dish was the grilled fennel salad. One of the reasons I went with this is that I wanted a little bit of a challenge. I do not care for the taste of fennel or olives which is a big ingredient in this salad and I am also not that experienced when it comes to grilling veggies. Its just not something I do much of other than peppers. So this dish was something a little our of my comfort zone and something I wanted to do to stretch myself a little. Everyone was given a printed out version of the recipes that come straight from one of the CIA cookbooks. The recipes are laid out step by step with all you will need to know to make a great dish. While we were cooking the Chef instructor would come over and check on everyone and would also take opportunities to call everyone in for demonstrations of different techniques and tips. This part to me was invaluable. A little over half way through the class the chef called us together and said that since they already had several other ingredients prepped and did not want to waste anything he would like volunteers to take on a couple of extra items. One of my team mates took the Mahi Mahi and set out to marinade and grill it and I snapped up a nice piece of Salmon belly.  The Chef gave me the choice of coming up with my own rub or asked if I wanted suggestions. I of course went with my own as I already had something in mind. I came up with a dry rub of chipotle chili powder, black pepper, salt, coriander and a touch of cayenne pepper. After everything was done cooking we set out all of the dishes buffet style so we could try each recipe. This was quite a feast. I will try and remember everything that we had but I am sure I will leave  something off because there was just so much.

There was:

Grilled New York strip

Grilled Mahi Mahi

Cedar Plank Grilled Salmon

Grilled Salmon belly

Grilled Pineapple with honey tequila glaze


Bell Pepper salad

Grilled Fennel Salad

Grilled radicchio salad

Grilled Lamb patties

Grilled potatoes with curry mustard sauce

Hummus and flat bread
Like I said I am sure that I forgot something but everything turned out great, even the fennel salad which I was a little hesitant to try came out great and is something I would make again. We all got to sit down together with the Chef and his Student Chefs assistants and enjoy everything we made. One of the greatest parts of the day was when the Chef asked everyone what was one of their favorite stand outs of the day and my grilled salmon belly got a mention as a favorite. That was a pretty great experience.

The day started out a little iffy with me not knowing what to expect but quickly turned into a great experience and something that I plan to do again. The staff were all very professional and friendly and everyone seemed genuinely happy to help us students out. This is definitely something I would recommend to anyone that loves cooking and would like to learn a little more and have fun doing it.  Now the hard part for me is going to be picking the subject matter for the next class. Wish me luck.

Thanks for reading


Salmon Patties

Growing up one of my favorite meals that my mother made were her homemade salmon patties. There was just something about them that I couldn’t get enough of. Maybe it was the crunchy outer texture or just the overall flavor. Over the years I have never really attempted to make them myself more than a couple of times and when I did I would try and follow her recipe exactly but they never came out the same. So when I got the craving the other day I made the decision to try and come up with my own version of this classic recipe that I so love. Here is what I came up with.


Canned Salmon (two 14oz cans)

Corn tortilla chips (Crushed into about 3/4 of a cup of little crumbs)

Jalapeno  (2 seeds removed and finely chopped)

1 medium white onion (finely ch0pped)

red pepper flakes (1 tablespoon)

garlic powder (1 tablespoon)

cajun seasoning (1 tablespoon)

black pepper (1 tablespoon)

salt (1 teaspoon)

2 eggs

olive oil (for cooking)

Mixing the ingredients

First you will want to open both cans of salmon and drain them (leaving a little extra water for mixing) and add them to a large mixing bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients to the bowl and mix everything together well.


This is where it gets a little tricky. Since this is kind of a dry mixture you will need to pat out the patties as you cook them and not before hand. So heat up about a 1/4″ of olive oil to medium high heat in a large pan. Pat out and press firmly together the patties and place them in the hot oil and cook to golden brown on either side.  One large pan should fit about 4 patties with room for turning. Be careful, if you flip too early they may break. This is a little more on the healthy side for this recipe. If you wanted to make them stick together a little more you can add about half a cup of Helmanns mayonnaise. This gives them a little better consistency to work with but also adds the calories so I will leave it up to you.

These are great on their own or served with mashed potatoes and gravy. All and all a nice little treat for any seafood lover out there.

Thanks for reading


Italian Stuffed Peppers

As promised for my second Italian recipe of the week I give you my take on stuffed peppers.  I have not had stuffed peppers of any variety in quite some time and the ones that I have had in the past I was never a huge fan of, so I set out to make them in a way that I  would enjoy them. I think the one thing I have never cared for in stuffed peppers is the rice to meat ratio, so I cut out the middle man and this recipe goes riceless (I’m not sure if that is a word but it sounded good while I was writing it). The good news is that if you have read my recipe for lasagna you will be using most of the same ingredients. It worked out nice that way.

What you need:

1 lb ground beef

1 lb Italian sausage

1 medium white onion (diced)

3 garlic cloves (diced)

1 24 oz jar of your favorite marinara sauce (I used Rao’s Arabiata sauce)

1 pack of sliced fresh mozzarella

1 6 oz container of shredded Parmesan cheese.

olive oil (3 to 4 tablespoons

Garlic powder

red pepper flakes

Italian bread crumbs

4 large bell peppers (tops cut off and seeds and membranes removed)

First you will want heat the olive oil in a pan and then saute the onions and garlic in until they start to turn clear. Then add the meat (both sausage and beef) and cook until the are brown. Drain any excess fat from the pan and then pour cooked meat and onions into a large mixing bowl. Add in about half the jar of sauce, 1 cup of Italian bread crumbs and about half the container of Parmesan cheese and stir them all together.

Now place the 4 peppers in a baking dish and fill each one to just about 1/2 an inch from the top of the pepper with the meat mixture. The other half an inch will now be filled with the sauce. Now place a slice of the fresh mozzarella on top of each pepper. With the remaining sauce fill the bottom of the baking dish.  Now sprinkle a little garlic powder and red pepper flakes on the top of the whole thing.

Place the peppers is the oven on the middle rack (preheated to 375) and bake for an hour to an hour and half or until the peppers start to get soft but will still hold together.

You will want to let them cool a little before serving. Then you can put them on a plate and spoon on a little extra sauce and enjoy. The good thing about this recipe is you can prepare it ahead of time and store it in the fridge for a couple of days before you cook it.  It is a nice take on an old classic and should satisfy even the most die hard stuffed pepper lovers out there.

Thanks for reading.


Lasagna (No Ricotta Required)

This week is Italian week and I am going to be bringing you two Italian recipes that use a lot of the same ingredients, starting with my (no ricotta) Lasagna.  Now I know some of you are asking why no ricotta? Well there are two reasons starting with the most important being that ricotta is not a very popular cheese in my household and second, I wanted to try something a bit different. So I came up with what I think turned out to be a delicious alternative to the more traditional lasagna.

Here is what you need to get started

1 lb ground beef

1 lb Italian sausage

1 medium white onion (diced)

3 garlic cloves (diced)

1 24 oz jar of your favorite marinara sauce (I used Rao’s Marinara)

1 8 oz bag of shredded mozzarella cheese

1 pack of sliced fresh mozzarella

1 6 oz container of shredded Parmesan cheese.

olive oil (3 to 4 tablespoons

1 package lasagna noodles (I ended up using 9 full pieces for this recipe)

Garlic powder

dried oregano

red pepper flakes


Dice the onion and garlic into small pieces. Heat the olive oil on medium in a large pan and then add the onions and garlic. Stir occasionally until the onions start to loose color.  Turn the heat up a little and add the sausage and beef and cook until brown.

While the beef is browning start water boiling in a pot large enough to hold the lasagna noodles.  Put in about 12 (I used 9 but a couple extra will not hurt in case you have mishap and one breaks up. You want to cook these until they are flexible but not fully cooked. Take them out while they are still a bit on the tough side but flexible, they will finish cooking in the oven.

Now the beef and sausage should be nice and brown. you will notice that a bit of fat has accumulated in the pan from the sausage. Go ahead and drain that and then cook the beef and sausage for a couple more minutes.

Poor the jar of marinara sauce into a large mixing bowl (leave out about half a cup) and then stir in the meat and onions. Mix them together. I would normally use my home made marinara but was feeling a bit on the lazy side and Rao’s sauce so good.

Now it is time to assemble the lasagna.

Spray a large rectangular baking dish with non stick spray.  Poor the half a cup of sauce you left out into the bottom of the baking dish.  Now lay out 3 of the lasagna noodles in the bottom of the dish They should cover the bottom. Next spoon in enough of the meat and sauce mixture to cover the noodles about 1/4 inch.  Now take the Parmesan cheese and put a nice coating on top of the meat and then do the same thing with the mozzarella. No put three more lasagna noodles on top and repeat the steps above. You should come out with three layers of noodles and a top layer of meat and sauce and cheese. Take a few pieces of the fresh mozzarella and place around the top of the lasagna.

Now sprinkle a lite coat of garlic powder, oregano and red pepper flakes on the top and insert it into a preheated (to 375 degree) oven. You will want to let it bake about 30 to 40 minutes, or until the cheese on top starts to brown and bubble up.

All that’s left is to remove and let it cool before cutting in to it. Which can be the hardest part because at this point is smells so good.


Thanks for reading