Meeting Chef Carla Hall, co-host of the daytime series, The Chew, as part of Pfizer's Get Old Blogger Conference, was a real treat. Having her cook my lunch was the best!!!
(I know this photo is a tad blurry but I wanted you to see me next to the lovely Carla)
For our lunch, we were escorted a few blocks from Pfizer headquarters to a test kitchen where Carla was waiting for us. Immediately, we were captivated by her southern charm. She let us all "ooooh" and "awww" at her and take pictures before we settled in to watch her prepare our meal. As she cooked, she explained all the steps to her recipes and welcomed us to ask any questions we wanted.
The first course of our meal was a winter salad that she prepared which included butternut squash, spiced pecans, chopped apple,and pieces of aged cheddar cheese, all tossed in a vinaigrette salad dressing. .
Carla was amused that I had never eaten butternut squash in my life (too squishy I told her). She assured me that the way she prepared it would change my mind -- and my taste buds. What she did was cube the squash and toss it in some olive oil. She lightly sprinkled some salt and pepper over the squash cubes, and then seared the squash in a hot pan, a few pieces at a time.
The spiced pecans were both spicy and sweet. Carla first whisked some egg whites and then added some spices: a little ginger, black pepper, brown sugar and salt. Next, she tossed the pecans in the mixture so they were lightly coated. The pecans were then spread out on a silicone pad spread over a baking sheet (When I got home, I bought one of those silicone pads just so that I could make this). The nuts were baked in a 300 degree oven for one hour, tossed slightly on the pan every once in a while.
There is nothing as delicious as homemade vinaigrette salad dressing. Carla first finely chopped a couple of tablespoons of green onions (you could substitute red onion just the same) and stirred it in some reduced apple cider vinegar. Next, she added some Dijon mustard, a little sugar, and about a fourth of a cup oil. Shake it up and the dressing is ready to use.
After the salad, Carla prepared some homemade ragu sauce that she included in a"packet" meal of fish, ragu and parsley. Simply delicious.
While Carla was cooking, she shared some of her professional tips and cooking philosophies:
1) She is a huge proponent of cooking from scratch. As she pointed out, "You take away your palette privileges when you eat processed foods."
2) Salt should be added to the food as you cook -- not sprinkled on after. This way it goes in to the food instead of just sitting on top. Best way to apply: sprinkle it from above.
3) Don't pick fruits and vegetables after a rain because they will be water logged.
4) Taste your food as you go. Change it up as necessary before the dish is finished cooking.
5) And my favorite thought shared: "It is through food that we realize that people are more alike than we think"
After lunch, we learned about her line of Carla Hall Alchemy Petite Cookies. Itty bitty little cookies that come in unique savory and sweet flavors like cheddar pecan and almond ginger cherry shortbread. The perfect treat when you are needing "just a little" something. I got a sample of the Black Forest Crinkle--morsels made from dark chocolate, cherries, and other all natural ingredients. Yum. Yum.
Before we left to head back to Pfizer, we were able to get a sneak peak at Carla's new cookbook which was recently released, Cooking with Love -- Comfort food that hugs you.. It features her home cooked, southern heritage, philosophy of cooking.
Carla was fun, approachable, full of vim and vigor. Just like any favorite friend who happens to love to cook. The lunch hour just flew by. I left recommitted to spending more time in my kitchen preparing home cooked meals and less time figuring out the quickest pre-fab alternative.
Thank you Carla Hall for the delightful lunch and thank you Pfizer for the Get Old reminder: you are what you eat.
What is your favorite home cooked meal?
Pfizer invited me to attend their Live Well. Get Old. Blogger Summit on October 19, 2012. Pfizer paid for my airfare, hotel, meals and transportation during my stay and provided me with a basket of Pfizer consumer health products, a book from one of the speakers and a mat used in our yoga session. I was not asked to write or talk about the event. Opinions are my own.