Cooking with Annie

Cooking with Annie at Gerhards Minnetonka

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Thank you to everyone that attended our second Cooking with Annie event at the Gerhards Store in Minetonka, MN! Annie prepared Spaghetti Carbonara and Pumpkin Fudge. She also recomended different wine parrings that complimented her Spaghetti Carbonara. Annie will be continuing to visit other Gerhards locations cooking up delicious recipies and letting us in on her kitchen tips and tricks. Make sure to check out our Events Page or sign p for our Monthly Newsletter so you don't miss out.

During our Cooking with Annie event we asked Annie a few questions about her recipies. Here is what she had to say.

We're serving wine today. What did you recommend?

For a white wine, we have a Chablis and for red we have a California Pinot Noir. These wines are good compliments as lighter wines with low acidity that won't over power the lighter dish.

You mentioned carbonara is a very versatile dish. What are some variations you recommend?

This recipe uses bacon but you could use a pancetta or any kind of meat. Or you can make it vegetarian without the bacon or serve it with salmon to add some protein.

Why is carbonara a dish you enjoy cooking?

What started me with carbonara is my husband and I went to Italy and in Murano we went to a small fisherman's cafe where we orders the most outstanding carbonara. When we got home we were searching for the best recipe. This is my compilation of the the search.

Some people are intimidated by cooking candies. What are your tips for making candies and sweets?

Find a good recipe that you know works whether it's your grandmas recipe or a reputable chef's recipe. It's key to hit the temperatures so make sure you have a thermometer. The higher the temperature the harder the candy. A good heavy pot is important to heat the ingredients evenly.

I like fudge with nuts. Is it possible to add nuts to this recipe?

Definitely. You can always be creative and add to or change a recipe. I would add pecans or really any nut. Crushed ginger snaps can be stirred in or you could stir in chunks of white chocolate.

Sometimes making candy is messy. Any good tips for cleanup?

If there is melted sugar around the edges of your pan, fill it with water, bring it to a boil and it will dissolve the sugar. 

We also asked Annie about kitchen tips and tricks and her thoughts on different topics including best kitchen tools, her favorite recipes and restaurant insider info.

What's your best knife tip?

Make sure whatever you're cutting has a flat side to it so it doesn't roll around. For example, if you're cutting a carrot cut it so there is a flat side first by cutting it in half. Also make sure there is something under your cutting board to it doesn't slip or move on your surface. I use a damp sheet of paper towel but a washcloth or rubber mat would work as well.

What is one of your favorite kitchen tools?

I use a silicone liquid measuring cup constantly. It's great for sticky liquids because they come out easily. You can get a smaller one that measures teaspoons and tablespoons which is very helpful. They're also really easy to clean.

What is one of your favorite kitchen fixtures?

I have an Elkay stainless sink in my own kitchen that is wonderful. It's really deep so I can fill a whole pot of water but it cleans well and is quite durable.

What is your best tip about cooking pasta?

Always add enough salt to the water so it tastes a bit salty. But wait to add the salt until the water is almost or just boiling to protect the bottom of your pots from pitting. If you add the salt at the beginning it sits at the bottom until it dissolves which can damage your pots. I assisted with a Master Chef exam while I was at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park and the chef at the exam liked his water "as salty as the ocean." I tend to think that's overly salty but just goes to show how much salt can be used. (The Master Chef exam is the highest level of culinary achievement possible. There are only around 100 Master Chefs in the US and most people who start the exam fail before they're able to finish the seven day test.)

What is one of your favorite recipes?

Mile High Baloney Pie. You fry thick cut German baloney in a pan. Set it aside and cook sliced potatoes, onions and carrots until soft and then add peas. Put the vegetables in a pie crust, top with the baloney and then a top crust. You can make your own crust or use store bought. Bake it at 375 degrees for 30 minutes. It's an excellent dish to bring when a neighbor has a baby or isn't feeling well. It's delicious comfort food!

What tips do you have for baking?

Don't over mix the ingredients. Your ingredients should be lumpy when you're done. You know you've over mixed your ingredients if your cake or brownies are tough. If you mix the batter smooth you begin to activate the starches and enzymes too soon and you won't get a light, fluffy result.

What kitchen fixture in your home is the most useful?

I love my kitchen faucet. I have a Kohler HiRise faucet with a separate side spray. The big gooseneck on the HiRise fits pretty much everything underneath and it looks beautiful. I've had it for years and I've been really happy with it!

What's a great kitchen tool we should buy?

I like non-stick baking mats. Food doesn't absorb into them so you can bake fish on one, wash it and use it right away for cookies and you won't get any flavor transfer. At the same time, they're really easy to clean. I use Silpat is one brand that I use but there are many options.

Give us some restaurant insider info.

Restaurants make salads in a bowl including adding and tossing the dressing and then plate the salad. This keeps the salad from getting too soggy and overdressed. Salads should be lightly coated but not dripping with dressing.
Everything in a professional kitchen is cooked by time rather than temperature. When chef comes in, the oven is turned to 500 and that's it. There is typically a separate pastry oven, though, for things like breads, cakes and desserts. 

What's your favorite recipe for a quick week night dinner?

I just experimented with Hawaiian meatloaf and it was a hit at my house. My four year old and two year old even loved it. Mix teriyaki sauce, garlic, ginger and a little Worcestershire sauce with ground meat. Put it in a loaf pan and top with sweet & sour sauce. Bake it at 400 for 30 minutes and serve with roasted potatoes. It made tasty sandwiches that my husband and I took to work the next day, too.

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Cooking with Annie at Gerhards La Crosse

We had a great turnout at our Cooking with Annie event at our La Crosse Gerhards Store. Thank you to everyone that attended! Annie prepared a scrumptious BLT pasta salad and bacon bourbon brownies. We look forward to future demonstrations with Annie at some of our other locations. We can't wait to see what she will be cooking up next! Make sure to check out our Events Page or sign up for our Monthly Newsletter so you don't miss out.

During Annie's visit we asked her a few questions about cooking tips and tricks she has in the kitchen. 

Where do you find your recipes?

Some of them I make up based on my ideas. Otherwise, a combination of cookbooks, magazines and the internet. I usually use recipes as a starting off point and create a dish from there. America's Test Kitchen cookbooks are my go to resources for a lot of information. It gives a lot of background on why ingredients are mixed a certain way or why a dish turns out or sometimes doesn't.  

What's your best tip for success in the kitchen?

Don't be afraid to try new things. Use recipes as a guideline but if you think a different ingredient or cooking something a different way sounds better, give it a shot. You might find something that you enjoy even more.

You talked a lot about knives today. What should people look for when buying knives?

Buy good quality knives but they don't have to be the most expensive knives. A knife that can be easily sharpened is a good knife. I use Wusthof, Henkels and Culinary Institute of America knives. German knives tend to be very good.

What's a tool you can't live without in the kitchen?

Beside knives, a microplane is a really handy tool. You can use it to grate or zest just about anything. You can buy them at any kitchen store and many places that sell kitchen supplies. You can buy different grate sizes but a fine grate is the most versatile and the one I use the most.

What was your favorite thing about the Gerhards kitchen you demonstrated in today?

The Cambria countertops are excellent. They're easy to clean, the patterns tend to camouflage a lot, and they're very sturdy. I have Cambria countertops in my own house.  

Annie Leslie Profile:

Annie graduated number one in her class at the Culinary Institute of America (Hyde Park, NY) in 2009. She is currently Executive Chef and Commercial Research and Development Manager at AmeriQual Foods in Evansville, IN. 

  • Graduated from Aquinas High School 2001 earning the Olympithan Award
  • Went to Purdue and played Soccer in the 2001/2002 season and went on to earn a Bachelor of Food Science in 2005.
  • March 2008 Katharine Angell Academic Achievement Award for graduating at the top of her class at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park NY with an Associate’s Degree in Culinary Arts
  • Worked at Kelly Liken – Vail COPastry Chef Assistant
  • Worked at Chateau Pech-latt Vineyard, Corbieres France
  • Fruit Auditor up and down the West Coast from California Coast to Washington for Atys US grading Strawberries, Peaches and Cherries that are used in Parfaits, Yogurt etc.
  • Enology Lab at Purdue assisting with wine production and research
  • Working on the Indy International Wine competition
  • Worked at the Target Headquarter in their test kitchens (Externship from the CIA)
  • Teaching cooking classes since 2009 in Evansville, IN
  • Recipe for 5 Spice Pecans in the Taste of Home Books 2011 Quick Cooking Annual recipes
  • Recipe testing for Elite’s Culinaria
  • After Culinary School went to Chengdu China Culinary School to learn Szechuan cooking
  • In Cape Town, South Africa learned local cooking at Gold Restaurant.
  • Worked with: 
    Marcus Samuelsson – New York City.
    Made desert for Mario Batali at Kelly Liken
  • Work with all the major food companies such as Campbell’s, Sprout, Kraft, Nestle and Plum Organics making everything from baby food to full meals that are shelf stable
  • Develop from recipe to store shelf with full commercialization.
  • Ameriqual is the number 1 supplier of MRE’s to the military.

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