Watching Chef Heidi Krahling in action at Fresh Starts Chef Events is like sitting in a good friend’s kitchen.
It’s clear this local celebrity, who often shares her talents on behalf of community causes, enjoys feeding people. And the guests arrived eager to be fed, including many who have visited one or both of Chef Heidi’s establishments.
She explained the first dish, Marinitas Salad, was adapted from a Rick Bayless recipe and has been a favorite for 30 years. Chef Heidi stressed its versatility, noting you can vary the cheese or leave it out, or use romaine hearts instead of Little Gem lettuce.
The salad departs a bit from her well-known Mediterranean menus with use of poblano peppers. Her tips: pick smooth-skinned peppers without creases or divots so they’ll roast evenly and always roast the pumpkin seeds in the oven rather than atop the stove.
As she tasted the vinaigrette, Chef Heidi referred to those TV chefs who take their first taste and declare, “That’s it!” This chef’s response: “I don’t think so!” The first taste is rarely just right.
Chef Heidi acquired her beloved recipe for the second course, Chicken Tagine with Preserved Lemon & Olives, in Morocco — prepared and served not by a chef or a restaurant, but by local women.
Preserved lemons, used extensively in Moroccan cuisine, go into the dish. Chef Heidi offers a short-cut recipe to trim the time needed to cure them from 30 days to five by briefly cooking the lemons at the start.
She recommends chicken thighs for tagine, calling them “God’s perfect piece of chicken.” They’re served over couscous, but she cautions against buying the instant variety, which she says is too delicate and hard to cook.
While the tagine recipe looks complicated, Chef Heidi advises careful attention to mise en place, or assembling all the prepped ingredients before getting started.
Her dessert, Athenian Cream with Kumquat Sauce, came into being when a pastry chef challenged her aversion to putting a panna cotta on Insalata’s dessert menu. Again, Chef Heidi says the recipe can vary, substituting goat yogurt for the mascarpone or sheep’s milk ricotta instead of cream cheese.
As the evening ended, Chef Heidi said, “I love being part of the community, especially on nights like this.” The chef event series supports Homeward Bound of Marin, with students from Fresh Starts Culinary Academy working behind the scenes to make the dishes served to guests.
As the premier sponsor for Fresh Starts Chef Events, The Republic of Tea covers food costs and provides iced tea for diners as well as a gift basket for the raffle. — Contributed by Carol Inkellis with photos courtesy of Neely Wang.
Preserved Lemons – Makes 8 lemons
Most recipes for preserved lemons call for curing the wedges in salt until softened, which takes months. By cooking the lemons first, the process takes about five days. Before using preserved lemons, cut away all the pulp and pith, and give the rinds a quick rinse.
2½ quarts water
¾ cup salt
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
8 whole cloves
2 bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick
2 tablespoons coriander seeds, toasted
Using a sharp paring knife, score the skin of the lemons with lengthwise incisions at ½-inch intervals, taking care not to cut into the flesh.
In a large pot, combine the lemons, water, and salt and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and place a plate on top of the lemons to keep them submerged. Cook until the lemon rinds are soft, about 20 minutes.
Using a slotted spoon, transfer the lemons to a large ceramic crock or glass jar and pack loosely. (You may need two containers; if so, break the cinnamon stick in half and divide it and the lemons between the containers.)
Push the lemons down gently to release their juice. Add the coriander, peppercorns, cloves, bay leaves, and cinnamon stick. Pour enough cooking liquid over the lemons to cover, then cool completely. Cover and refrigerate.
Note: The lemons are best after 5 days and will keep in the refrigerator for 3 months.