Cooking with Chef Mike Needle

As part of Barker School’s Community Education program, Mike Needle, top chef at the Basket Factory, came to do a cooking demonstration. My foodie buddy Lynnemarie Donner joined my sister and I as part of a group of 20 participants. To say it was a feast is an understatement! Not knowing what to expect for the inexpensive evening class, I’ll admit we were hoping for a nibble of something good but I had no real expectations. We were wowed by his seemingly effortless skills and relaxed manner.

So what was the menu? The first thing the chef got going was a duxelles, a a finely chopped (minced) mixture of mushrooms and stems, red onion and herbs sauteed in butter. This needed a head start to reduce to a paste (with the help of a little Merlot) for our last surprise.

We started our tasting with a hot dip of lobster meat, artichoke hearts and baby spinach in a luscious cream sauce, scooped up with crisp taco chips. Then there were finger shaped pieces of Swai fish, floured, dredged and rolled in sweetened, crushed walnuts before frying, accompanied by a chili sauce dip for the fish fingers.  Have you ever heard of “slobster?” It’s a huge shrimp that’s similar to lobster and Mike brought a bag of slobster tails to fancy up. The tail was left attached to the shell at the base, split, filled with a mixture of gorganzola cheese, sour cream and citrus spice, wrapped in a slice of bacon and plopped back in the shell and into the oven. What decadence!!

That duxelles, when cooled, was put atop a chunk of seared tenderloin and wrapped in rolled puff pastry. The result was a miniature beef Wellington… for each of us! You would have thought the group hadn’t eaten in days by the way we gobbled up the food Mike prepared! The two hour demo just flew by but we managed to talk our chef into coming back for the January community ed session, to let us get some hands-on cooking experiences! Thanks to Laura and Deb for assisting and doing dishes (and trusting us to save them some food).

If you’ve never been to the Basket Factory, stop by. My very favorite appetizer there is a gratin bowl with four big shrimp, topped with artichoke hearts, bathed in cheese and a Sambuca cream sauce. (Sambuca is an anise-flavored liquor and the taste in the dish is very subtle.) My sister’s vote goes to their baked cheese covered french onion soup. The menu is varied and Mike is always coming up with new specials. The hardest thing will be making up your mind!

Our sincere thanks goes out to Mike Needle for a delectible two hours! Lynnemarie had her camera, so check out her blog for photos!

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