Chef Michelle Bernstein's Cuisine a Latina

January 27, 2009 9:46:22 AM PST
Chef Michelle Bernstein has an on-going love affair with Mexican food and she shares this love in her new book Cuisine a Latina: Fresh Taste and World of Flavors from Michy's Miami Kitchen. A James Beard Award-winning chef and Food Network host, Chef Michelle has a unique background as a Jewish-Latino woman. She says her background has made her passionate about the history and traditions behind authentic Mexican cooking. She has created recipes that honor her heritage and she is sharing recipes for some of her favorite Latin comfort foods. "One of the more popular food trends we'll see in 2009, because of the economy, is a strong return to cooking at home and most people will be turning to more comfort foods," Chef Michelle says. "Today I am sharing my ultimate comfort food recipe for Latina Shepherd's Pie which is a great dish to make on a Chicago winter day!"She has also created other recipes that will bring restaurant quality food to your family's kitchen table: Creamy Polenta, Sausage Niblets and Artisan Cheese, and Tortilla Soup with Avocado and Mexican Cheese.

"Anyone can cheat when it comes to making Latin recipes by short cutting on fresh ingredients - but it's important to capture the freshness and authenticity that makes us all love Latin dishes," the chef says. "The ingredients you choose are just as important as the preparation of the food. Always start with fresh, natural ingredients."

Growing up in cosmopolitan Miami with an Argentinean mother and a Midwestern dad, Michelle Bernstein found culinary influences from literally all over the map. Fennel salad one night, oxtail soup the next: Michelle soaked up the Latin and Italian influences of her mamá's homeland while acquiring an unusually adventurous palate. Now chef-owner of Michy's in Miami, Michelle is building a national reputation for her fresh, globally-minded take on Latin cuisine. Drawing from the rich flavors of her upbringing, the vibrant Latin influences of her hometown, and her classical French culinary training, Michelle has created a cuisine all her own. With her new cookbook, Cuisine a Latina, Chef Michelle introduces us to her world.

Vividly seasoned but not fiery hot, here are some dishes featured in the cookbook:

  • Caribbean Pumpkin Soup with Island Spices: With a hit of chili to spice up the sweet pumpkin, a whisper of cinnamon, a splash of sherry, and sweetened with iced roasted apple, this soup is the perfect starter for a late fall meal.
  • Fideua: Pronounced "FEE-theh-wah," this colorful Spanish seafood dish is the lesser-known (and far easier) cousin of paella. It's made with pasta instead of rice.
  • Mom's Arroz con Pollo: Latin home cooking at its best, Michelle's chicken and rice is perfect for a large group or for a weeknight dinner
  • Mojo-Marinated Cornish Hens: Say "MO-ho!" For a big hit, try this instead on your Thanksgiving turkey. Marinated in a garlicky mixture of cilantro and a bit of chile, the bird has a bread-crumb stuffing seasoned with chorizo (spicy Spanish sausage) and apple, smoothed out with a touch of cream.
  • The Miami native's signature approach to "luxurious approachable food" may be sampled at her recently opened namesake restaurant Michy's, located in the new "upper east-side" of Miami. Bernstein also reopened her restaurant MB at the Aqua Hotel in Cancun, Mexico. MB originally began in 2004 but was part of the Hurricane Wilma Disaster. The hotel and restaurant recently reopened to an even more beautiful surrounding and lavish environment.

    A former professional ballerina, she trained at Johnson & Wales University and under the late renowned chef Jean-Louis Palladin. For two years, Bernstein co-hosted The Food Network's "Melting Pot", a show that presented the traditions, stories and recipes of her Latin background. She was also a competitor and winner on the Food Network's "Iron Chef America" series.

    Chef Michelle won the 2008 James Beard Award for "Best Chef: South." Michy's received "Top 50 Restaurants in the Country" from Gourmet Magazine, "Best New Restaurant 2006" from Food and Wine Magazine, made the "Top Hot List 2006" from Bon Appétit Magazine, "Hottest New Restaurant" from New York Magazine and finally "4 Stars" from The Miami Herald. Chef Bernstein was recently given an honorable Doctorate in Culinary Arts from Johnson and Wales University. She was also awarded the Philanthropic Award of South Florida, the Glass Ceiling Award from the Jewish Federation, "One of the 15 Top Latinas in the Nation" from Latina Magazine, and "Top 10 Jewish women in America" from Jewish Woman International Federation. Bernstein has her first cookbook, Cuisine á Latiná, coming out this year with Houghton Mifflin.

    Latina Shepherd's Pie

    Prep Time: 20 minutes
    Cook Time: 60 minutes
    Yield: 6 servings


    Picadillo ingredients:
    * 1/4 cup olive oil
    * 1 yellow onion, peeled and minced
    * 4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
    * 1-1/2 lbs. ground beef chuck
    * 1/4 cup tomato paste
    * 1/2 cup dry sherry
    * 1-1/2 cups peeled, chopped tomatoes
    * 1 teaspoon ground cumin
    * 1 teaspoon chili powder
    * 1 teaspoon red crushed chili flakes
    * 1/4 cup Italian parsley, finely chopped
    * 1 teaspoon oregano, finely chopped
    * 1/2 cup raisins
    * 3/4 cup green olives with pimientos

    Boniato mash with mojo:

    4 boniatos*, peeled and chopped * Approx. 2-1/2 cups half-and-half, enough to cover the boniatos
    * 1/4 cup garlic cloves, sliced thin
    * 1/4 cup olive oil
    * 2 limes, juiced
    * 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
    * 1-3/4 cups (7 oz.) Sargento® Artisan Blends? Shredded Authentic Mexican Cheese

    1. To prepare picadillo: Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onion and garlic. Cook, stirring until soft, about 6-8 minutes. Add ground beef, stirring with a wooden spoon, making sure the beef is broken up into small pieces; cook for about 8-10 minutes. Spoon out about half of the fat in the pan. Add the tomato paste, stirring for about 3 minutes. Add all other picadillo ingredients. Cook, stirring for about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
    2. To prepare the boniato mash: Cook the boniatos in half-and-half in covered saucepan over medium heat about 20 minutes until tender. Meanwhile, prepare mojo by heating oil in a small saucepan until almost smoking; add garlic, shaking pan constantly and season with salt and pepper. When the garlic turns golden brown, add the lime juice. Set aside until the boniato is done. Drain the boniato, keeping about 1/2 cup of the half-and-half. Put the boniato through a food mill or potato masher; add the mojo, cilantro, 1/2 cup reserved half-and-half and season with salt and pepper.
    3. For individual little pies, place about 1 cup of picadillo in each ramekin. Top each with 3 tablespoons of boniato mash. Top with 2 tablespoons cheese. Bake at 400°F for 8 minutes. Serve hot.

    Tortilla Soup with Avocado and Mexican Cheese

    Prep Time: 20 minutes
    Cook Time: 35 minutes
    Serves: 6

    ? 3 Tbsp. olive oil
    ? 1 cup chopped onion
    ? 4 cloves garlic, minced
    ? 1 Tbsp. chili powder*
    ? 1 tsp. ground cumin
    ? 6 corn tortillas, torn or cut into small pieces
    ? 1 large tomato, chopped
    ? 3 Tbsp. tomato paste
    ? 6 cups reduced sodium chicken broth
    ? 1-1/2 cups (6 oz.) Sargento® Artisan Blends? Shredded Authentic Mexican
    Cheese ? 1 ripe avocado, peeled, seeded, cut into slices or chunks
    ? 1 cup broken tortilla chips or fried corn tortilla strips
    ? 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
    ? 6 lime wedges

    1. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and garlic; cook, stirring often, 5 minutes. Stir in tortillas, chili powder and cumin; cook 3 minutes, stirring once. Add tomato and tomato paste; cook 1 minute. Add broth; bring to a boil over high heat. Cover; reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes.
    2. Transfer 1/3 of soup to a blender container. Cover; hold a pot holder over cover to keep hot soup from popping the cover off. Blend until soup is pureed; transfer to 2 warmed shallow serving bowls. Repeat twice with remaining soup. Garnish with cheese, avocado, tortilla chips and cilantro. Serve with lime wedges.

    *For a spicier soup use chipotle or ancho chili powder.

    Tip: Soup may be prepared in advance and chilled up to 3 days. Reheat before serving.

    Creamy Polenta, Sausage Niblets and Artisan Cheese

    Prep Time: 15 minutes
    Cook Time: 25 minutes
    Yield: Serves: 8

    2 cups reduced sodium chicken or vegetable broth
    2 cups milk
    1 cup polenta, corn meal or grits (not quick cooking)
    8 oz. breakfast sausage or Italian sausage, casings removed, crumbled, cooked and drained (1-1/3 cups)
    2 cups (8 oz.) Sargento® Artisan Blends? Shredded Authentic Mexican Cheese, divided

    1. Combine broth and milk in a large saucepan. Bring to a simmer over high heat. Gradually whisk in polenta. Reduce heat to low and cook, stirring frequently, 20 minutes or until polenta is tender and mixture is creamy and thickened. Stir in sausage and half the cheese.
    2. Immediately spread mixture into a greased 8 or 9-inch oven-proof baking dish; top with remaining cheese. Broil 4 to 5 inches from heat source until cheese is melted and bubbly, about 2 minutes. Serve immediately.

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