Monday, February 2, 2015

Cooking with George

It's really great to reconnect with a friend you haven't seen in forever. I'm very fortunate to have friends that share a lot of my interests, especially food and drink. It's been a long time since I've seen my friend Vivian. We met at church a good ten or more years ago and stayed in touch all these years through the wonders of social media. We've had kids grow up, lives take very unexpected and shocking turns, and the miracle of grandbabies, and here we are- two girls on the town with something really fun planned!

Vivian, Chef George, and me
I absolutely love taking cooking classes. Even if it's something I already make, I love it. Love meeting people, learning new techniques, seeing the food from a different chef's perspective and tasting new dishes. I was browsing the internet a couple weeks ago, visiting some of the many pages I follow all the time and read that my favorite new Latin restaurant, Malo (you've seen us visit Malo before and after opening), is hosting a series of demonstrations/classes called Cooking With George. 

George Formaro is the executive chef and restaurateur who owns this fantastic new restaurant and the menu sounds absolutely fantastic. I was fortunate enough to watch George do a demonstration at The World Food Festival a couple years ago and really enjoyed his presentation. He prepared barbecoa and HINTED at a new restaurant in the works with a Latin twist. 

So the series- four different menus on four different days; a four course dinner with wine pairings and George's expert tips and techniques. What were the options?

January 10- Mexican Bistro- Crab cake with chile and cilantro slaw; mixed greens with agave jalapeno vinaigrette with diced apple, crispy bacon, toasted pumpkin seeds and queso fresco; street style roasted chicken with tomatillo salsa, bacon, and corn relish and the Chef's Choice for dessert.

February 13- George's Latin Flavors- Chipotle shrimp with garlic sauce and mushrooms; mixed greens with cilantro lime dressing, corn relish, queso frescoand tortilla strips; short rib birria with salsa borracha, hominy, crispy prosciutto and spinach; and Chef's Choice dessert.

March 17- Modern Mexican- Lobster and Brie quesadilla with corn salsa; mixed greens with pumpkin seed crusted goat cheese, radish, onion, cucumber, honey, tomatillo and jalapeno vinaigrette; chile-rubbed ribeye steak with mashed potatoes, demi glace and smokey green beans and Chef's Choice dessert.

April 10- Old School Classics- Modern Manchego cheese dip "fondue" with Pacifico beer, chorizo, corn and green chiles; Mexican street snack with cucumber, mango, pineapple, papaya, jicama, chile and lime; Pork carnitas with salsa verde, cheddar grits and chioptle onion demi glace and Chef's Choice dessert.

Amazing, right? I want to go to them ALL really........but so far I have had to pick just one. So January 10 is my day. I'm super excited to see George's take on crab cakes, one of my very favorite foods, and I'm already hungry for dessert! 

The setup was great- a private room gave the group a lot of privacy and space and George had the perfect demonstration set up- even included an overhead camera with a television monitor so we could see the action in the pan or bowl. To kick off our evening of food and fun- a round of Malo house margaritas. Without a doubt, one of the best margaritas I have ever had. The recipe is a secret and I can understand why. This cocktail was just fantastic, made in a shaker and strained into a salt-rimmed glass, not on the rocks or blended. 

Chef George started off preparing the appetizer- Crab cake with chili and cilantro slaw. The slaw was the perfect blend of creamy, crunchy and a teeny bit of heat. He held back the heat a bit to make it more friendly for everyone in the group and I would use just a touch more chipotle and jalapeno. I'll definitely be making this slaw. George said it was a great topping for fish tacos, and I agree! The crab cake was plump with sweet crab and crunchy on the outside, flavorful and just perfect. 

The crab cake and salad course were accompanied by one of the best white wines I have ever tasted- a 2012 Txomin Etxaniz Getaria. I have never tasted this wine before but it was perfect. Very herby, citrusy and definitely acidic enough to easily sit next to a crab cake and light enough to stand next to the salad plate. I'll be hunting far and wide for this wine.

You don't normally think of salad when you go out for Latin food but George tossed simple salad greens with some inventive toppings and a fantastic dressing to make mixed greens with agave jalapeno vinaigrette with diced apple, crispy bacon, toasted pumpkin seeds and queso fresco. He made the dressing using an immersion blender and created this fantastic, thick and creamy dressing with citrus, cilantro, chilies. Delicious! 

For the entree George talked about brining and what kind of results you can get from this simple step or prep that a lot of people wouldn't think of. George prepared street style roasted chicken with tomatillo salsa, bacon, and corn relish. The skin-on boneless chicken got a nice bath in brine, then crisped in a hot skillet and finished in the oven. A quick fresh corn salsa and a bright and herby roasted tomatillo salsa finished the chicken perfectly, and made a fantastic sauce for the crushed and fried potatoes.

I was surprised to hear that George recommends cooking chicken, especially dark meat, to 200 degrees. I always thought that would be overcooked and dry but the brining helps prevent that. This chicken was so delicious and the skin- yes, I know it's not healthy but it is soooo delicious!

To pair with the chicken, we had a 2012 Tres Exilos Bonarda from Argentina. On the nose it was all grape, jammy and fruity. To taste, it was just slightly dry, very smooth and reminded me of grenache, one of my favorite red grapes. This wine would also be a perfect sangria wine.

Speaking of sangria, might as well start off the evening with a
glass of Malo's house sangria. Fantastic!
A quick word about the potatoes- they were a surprise! Cooked baby Yukon gold potatoes got a little smash under the chef's palm and then a few minutes in the fryer to create these crispy "raggedy" potatoes with crispy skin and tons of flavor.

Dessert was "Chef's Choice" and of course, since Malo is a Latin restaurant I was hoping and hoping it would be.....and YES it was...... FLAN!! So creamy and delicious, bathed in caramel, not too rich and not too light- just the right finish, paired with a fantastic Mexican coffee- coffee, rum, Tia Maria, a fluff of whipped cream dusted with cinnamon. I'm not a big coffee fan but I chugged that coffee! I wish I had another cup right now......

We all received a copy of the recipes George prepared this evening, to take home and recreate (and you bet I will!). After dinner was finished, and questions asked and answered, George spent time with the guests, talking about all sorts of things- how he got his start, where he went to school and where he likes to eat when he is not working. He and I had our Cookbook Conversation and Vivian and I had a great time catching up and talking about life. With three more Cooking with George events and four Malo Wine Classes coming up....... I just might be very busy!


  1. This looks like an incredible experience. I've never met him, but love following his social media accounts. I did eat at Centro years ago. We hope to return to Des Moines soon.

    1. I want to do all 4 classes- just for fun. George is such a great guy- we are both cookbook collecting freaks !!