Chef Amanda Freitag grew up in Cedar Grove, New Jersey, and she began her culinary career as a busgirl.
In high school, her home economics teacher suggested she visit the Culinary Institute of America. She did, and as Freitag describes it, the campus was "chef heaven" -- and she was hooked.
After graduating, she worked her way through several top kitchens, including a stint in Paris, before landing at The Harrison in New York, working beside famed chef Jimmy Bradley.
It was her vast restaurant experience that brought her to the attention of the Food Network, and she is a regular judge of the hit show, "Chopped." She is also a co-host, with Ty Pennington, of her own Food Network show, "American Diner Revival."
Freitag just released her first cookbook, "The Chef Next Door: A Pro Chef's Recipes for Fun, Fearless Home Cooking."
Here's how to make some of her signature dishes: beef short ribs, root vegetable puree, beet salad with beet vinaigrette, broccolini with lemon and rosemary, smashed Yukon Gold potatoes, deep-dish apple rhubarb pie, and manzana margarita.
Beef Short Ribs
Makes 4 to 6 servings
5 pounds bone-in beef short ribs, 2 inches thick
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 large carrot, peeled and cut into 8 pieces
2 onions, peeled and cut into 8 pieces
1 turnip, peeled and cut into 8 pieces
3 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup red wine
6 cups beef stock
Prep: Peel and cut the carrot, onions and turnip, peel the garlic
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
2. Generously season the ribs with salt and pepper.
3. In a large heavy-bottomed pot or dutch oven, heat the canola oil over medium-high heat. Once the oil is hot and rippling, carefully add the short ribs to the pot and sear until well browned on all sides, about 2 minutes per side. Work in batches as needed so as not to crowd the pot; you need the heat high enough to really sear the ribs.
4. Remove the ribs from the pot with tongs and set them aside on a baking sheet.
5. Carefully pour off all but about 3 tablespoons of the fat remaining in the pot.
6. Turn down the heat to medium and add the cut vegetables and the garlic to the pot. season with salt and pepper. Sauté until the vegetables begin to brown slightly, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook until it begins to turn a deeper shade of red, 3 to 4 minutes.
7. Deglaze the pot with the wine and use a wooden spoon to scrape up the caramelized bits from the bottom of the pot. Simmer until the wine has reduced by half.
8. Add the beef stock, bring it to a boil, and return the ribs to the pot. Add water as needed to cover.
9. Cover the pot and put it in the oven. Braise the ribs for 3½ hours or until fork-tender, soft and nonresistant.
Root Vegetable Puree
Makes 2 cups, to serve about 4
2½ cups medium-diced butternut squash
½ cup small-diced celery root
1 cup medium-diced turnip
¼ cup kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
⅓ cup heavy cream
Prep: Peel and dice the vegetables
1. Place all the vegetables in a large saucepan and add water to cover. Season the water with ¼ cup salt. Cover and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Turn down the heat to maintain a simmer and cook until tender, 15 to 20 minutes.
2. Drain the vegetables in a colander and set aside to cool briefly.
3. In a small saucepan, combine the butter and heavy cream over low heat. remove from the heat when the butter has melted and the mixture is warm (do not simmer).
4. Transfer the vegetables and butter-cream mixture to the bowl of a food processor or blender and blend until smooth. You might have to do this in batches.
5. Taste the puree and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Serve warm.
Beet Salad with Beet Vinaigrette
Makes 2 servings
½ cup pistachios, chopped and toasted
1/8 teaspoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
2 large beets, peeled and julienned, with ¼ cup trimmings (leftover after julienne) reserved to make the vinaigrette
¼ cup beet vinaigrette (recipe follows)
1 bunch watercress
1 cup (8 ounces) mascarpone cheese
Prep: Chop and toast the pistachios, julienne the beets and reserve the tops, make the beet vinaigrette, rinse and dry the watercress
1. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Spread the pistachios on a rimmed baking sheet and sprinkle with the sugar and kosher salt. Toast for 3 to 4 minutes, or until lightly browned and fragrant. set the baking sheet aside to cool.
2. In a large bowl, use a spoon or tongs to toss the beets with the pistachios and vinaigrette. Let the mixture sit for 5 minutes.
3. Add the green and toss the salad again to coat the greens in the dressing.
4. Spread a layer of mascarpone cheese in the center of two salad plates.
5. Top with the beet salad.
Makes 2 cups
1 cup red wine vinegar
¼ cup sugar
1 cup reserved better trimmings
3 shallots, thinly sliced
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
pinch of salt
¼ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
Prep: Slice the shallots
1. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring the vinegar, sugar, reserved better trimming and shallots to a boil. Simmer until the sugar has dissolved, about 1 minute.
2. Remove from the heat, add the olive oil, and season with the salt and pepper. Stir and set aside, allowing the flavors to develop while you finish the salad.
3. Strain the vinaigrette just before using it. Transfer the rest to a tightly sealed container and save in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.
Broccolini with lemon and rosemary
Makes 4 servings
1 bunch broccolini, trimmed
4 garlic cloves, sliced
¼ teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
½ teaspoon chili flakes
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
¼ cup fresh lemon juice (from 2 lemons)
¼ cup olive oil
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
Prep: Trim the broccolini, peel and slice the garlic, chop the rosemary, zest and juice the lemon
1. Blanch the broccolini.
2. Combine the rest of the ingredients in a bowl and whisk together.
3. Pour the sauce into a large sauté pan and gently warm it over low heat, slightly cooking the garlic and blooming the chili flakes.
4. Add the broccolini and coat it with the warm sauce, making sure all the florets are dressed.
*Broccoli rabe and standard broccoli both work well in this preparation
Smashed Yukon Gold potatoes
Makes 4 servings
2 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, unpeeled
2 tablespoons kosher salt, plus ¼ teaspoon for seasoning
½ cup chicken stock or vegetable stock
1 cup finely chopped scallions
freshly cracked black pepper
1 cup sour cream
Prep: Scrub the potatoes, chop the scallions
1. Place the potatoes in a large stockpot and add enough water to cover and the 2 tablespoons salt. Bring the water to a boil over high heat and cook the potatoes until fork-tender, about 25 minutes. Drain the potatoes.
2. Return the potatoes to the still-warm pot and add the stock. using the back of a wooden or metal spoon, roughly smash the potatoes to expose the flesh. Add the scallions and season the potatoes with the remaining ¼ teaspoon salt and pepper to taste. Add the sour cream and stir to incorporate completely.
3. Transfer the potatoes to a serving dish and crack some additional pepper over the top before serving.
Deep-dish apple rhubarb pie
*Cranberry subs for rhubarb
Makes one 10-inch deep-dish double-crusted pie
4¼ cups all-purpose flour, plus ½ cup for dusting
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, very cold
4 large eggs
8 gala or granny smith apples, peeled, cored and cut into ¼ inch slices
4 rhubarb stalks, cut into ¼-inch half-moons (*1 cup of cranberries can be substituted in place of the rhubarb)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ cup granulated sugar
Juice of 2 lemons
3 tablespoons graham cracker crumbs (from 1 cracker)
5 teaspoons all-purpose flour
Nonstick cooking spray, for the pie pan
2 large eggs, for the egg wash
¼ cup turbinado sugar (sugar in the raw) or granulated sugar, for sprinkling
Prep: Peel, core and slice the apples, slice the rhubarb, juice the lemons, crush the graham cracker into crumbs, clean a large, clear surface for rolling out the dough
1. To make the pie dough, in a large bowl, mix the flour, sugar and salt. With a pastry blender or your fingers, cut in the cold butter until the mixture is in pea-size pieces.
2. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs with a fork until fluffy and pale yellow.
3. Add the eggs to the flour mixture and mix with a fork until the dough just comes together. Use your clean hands to form it into a ball, taking care not to overwork the dough.
4. Cut the ball in half, forming two smaller balls of dough. Gently press down on each to form two disks. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and refrigerate them for at least 2 hours, or even overnight.
5. When the dough has chilled sufficiently, make the pie filling. In a large bowl, combine all the filling ingredients. Stir to make sure the flour and sugar combine and start to melt onto the fruit.
6. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Coat a 10-inch deep-dish pie pan with cooking spray.
7. Remove the plastic wrap from the dough disks and place them on a lightly floured surface. Using a rolling pin, roll one disk into a ¼-inch thick circle that's about 2 inches wider than the pie pan.
8. Roll the dough circle onto the rolling pin. Lift the dough over the pie dish and slowly release it from the rolling pin, letting the dough drape over the pan as it unfurls. The dough should be centered over the pan and hanging evenly over the edge. Do not trim the crust yet!
9. Spoon the fruit filling into the center of the crust, creating a mountain of fruit with a high central point. With clean hands, gently push down on the center point to even out the filling into a heaping mound and gently press the crust into the sides of the pan. Trim the crust right to the edge all the way around the pie pan.
10. Roll out the top crust the same way and drape it over the fruit filling, letting the excess dough hang over the sides of the pie pan.
11. Flute the edges by pinching the dough between your thumb and forefinger all the way around the edge. Trim any excess dough that hangs over after fluting around the edges. Cut small decorative/functional holes or slits in the top of the crust with a pairing knife or a fork to allow steam to escape.
12. Lightly whisk the eggs in a small bowl with a fork to make the egg wash. Brush the crust with the egg wash with a pastry brush or your fingers. Sprinkle turbinado sugar all over the crust.
13. Place the pie pan on a baking sheet and bake for about 1 hour, or until the crust is golden brown and the juices begin to bubble.
14. Let the pie sit at room temperature for a few hours before cutting; this will allow the fruit filling to firm up, if you can wait that long!
Makes 1 drink
2 oz tequila reposado
3 oz apple cider
1 lemon, juiced
1 tbsp maple syrup
For sugar rim:
2 tsp Mexican cinnamon
¼ cup superfine sugar
Apple chips for garnish
1. Shake together all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice.
2. Moisten the rim of a rocks glass with a lemon wedge, dip into mexican cinnamon sugar mix. Fill glass with ice and strain the margarita mix over the ice. Garnish with apple chip.