Fresh as you Can Get

Interested in the ins and outs of true farm-to-table cooking? Take one of the Farm to Fork Culinary Classes at The Keeter Center, and get a hands-on lesson from Chef Robert Stricklin.

DISCLAIMER: The information in this article was fact checked and accurate at press time, but 417 Magazine cannot guarantee its accuracy indefinitely.

Imagine my surprise when I asked my husband, Gary, if he’d like to attend a cooking class at The Keeter Center with Executive Chef Robert Stricklin and he said, “Sure.”

It was an early Saturday morning call since we were to meet Chef and our other classmates at 8 a.m. Once we were all there, Chef loaded us into vans, and we headed to the farm at College of the Ozarks. College of the Ozarks raises much of the produce, and some of the meat, served in Dobyns Dining Room. We learned about the different varieties of vegetables and fruits and how much is harvested every season. The agriculture students run the farm, and the biology and horticulture students use the plants for research. It’s fascinating how so many students learn from the farming project.

After the farm tour, we headed to the kitchen. There were six work stations with two people at each. This area is the teaching lab Chef uses for culinary classes. We were given the choice of a chef hat (those big tall ones) or a hair net. I swallowed my pride and chose the hair net, Gary opted for the hat. 

Chef explained what we were going to accomplish over the next few hours and the payoff of getting to eat what we prepared. 

Ricotta cheese was our first task.  Chef said we would make it in less than five minutes. Yeah, right. But, he was right. None of us could believe it. We made ricotta cheese in just a few minutes, and it was amazingly delicious. 

Milk, eggs and vanilla were given to us to make cream for a peach tart. Chef learned to make this from a French cookbook and has been making it for more than 30 years. It’s no wonder because it was delicious. Chef gave us a liberal supply of tasting spoons and said we should always taste what we’re cooking.

Next, the beets. After donning rubber gloves to protect our hands, Chef showed us how to peel beets using a kitchen towel. Clever. Then, the vegetables were passed around. We chopped tomatoes, green peppers, banana peppers, onions and zucchini and threw it all in a skillet with a good spoonful of garlic paste and tomato sauce. Stirring in a little salt, pepper and a bay leaf and we were well on our way to making ratatouille.

Pastry crust was our last task. Gary did a great job of rolling it out and placing it in the tart pan. Then we built our peach tart and placed it in the oven.

Anticipation mounted as we headed to the presidential dining room to enjoy the fruits of our labor.  I must say, we did pretty well.

Farm-to-Fork Culinary School Menu

Fresh Ricotta in Five Minutes or Less

2 cups whole milk
¼ teaspoon table salt
2 Tablespoons distilled white vinegar or lemon juice

Line colander with four layers of cheesecloth or two layers of food-safe paper towels and set over large bowl. Combine milk, salt and vinegar or lemon juice in microwave-safe glass one-quart measuring cup/bowl. Microwave on high until lightly bubbling around edges, two to four minutes (mild should register about 165 (degree sign) F on an instant-read thermometer). Remove from microwave and stir gently for five seconds. Milk should separate into solid white curds and translucent liquid whey. If not, microwave for 30 seconds longer. Repeat until fully separated. Using a slotted spoon or wire skimmer, transfer curds to prepared colander, cover exposes top with plastic wrap and allow to drain until desired texture is reached. Store in covered container in refrigerator for up to five days.

Yield: ½ cup


Confectioner’s Custard

6 egg yolks
½ cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
6 tablespoons flour
2 ¼ cup milk
1 vanilla bean, split

Equipment: 1 bowl, 1 saucepan

Place egg yolks and about one-third of the sugar in a bowl and whisk until they are pale and form a light ribbon. Sift in flour and mix well.

Combine the milk, remaining sugar and the split vanilla bean in a saucepan and bring to a boil. As soon as the mixture bubbles, pour about one-third onto the egg mixture, stirring all the time. Pour the mixture back into the pan and cook over gentle heat, stirring continuously. Boil for two minutes, the tip the custard into a bowl. Flake a little butter over the surface or dust lightly with confectioner’s sugar to prevent a skin from forming as the custard cools.

Add a little unsweetened cocoa or coffee powder to the custard instead of vanilla to give you a chocolate or coffee-flavored cream. If you use cocoa, use a little less flour and add a touch more sugar.

Yield: 1 pound, 9 ounces

Walnut Vinaigrette

¼ cup walnut oil
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
½ tablespoon chopped fresh chives
½ tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
Salt and pepper to taste

Whisk ingredients together, adjust seasoning.


Garden Fresh Ratatouille

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, coarsely chopped
2 large tomatoes (about one pound), halved and sliced into ½ inch thick pieces
½ pound zucchini, sliced into ½ inch chunks
1 medium red bell pepper, cut into one inch pieces
1 medium green bell pepper, cut into one inch pieces
1 medium yellow or orange bell pepper, cut into one inch pieces
1 bay leaf
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Heat olive oil in large, deep skillet. Add onion and cook over moderate heat until softened, about five minutes. Add garlic and cook for one minute. Reduce heat to moderately low and add tomatoes, zucchini, peppers and bay leaf. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally until the vegetables are very tender, about one hour. Discard the bay leaf and serve warm or at room temperature. The ratatouille can be refrigerated for three days.


Flan Pastry

2 14/ cups flour
½ cup butter
1 large egg
1 ½ teaspoons sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ cup water

Place flour on a work surface and make a well in the center. Cut the butter into small pieces and place in the well, together with the egg, sugar and salt. Cut in all these ingredients with the fingertips of your right hand. With your left hand, draw in the flour a little at a time. When all ingredients are almost completely mixed, add water. Knead the dough two or three times with the palm of your hand, until completely smooth.  Wrap in waxed paper or plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for several hours before using.

Wrapped in waxed paper or plastic wrap, it will keep for several days in the refrigerator or can be frozen for several weeks.

Yield: one pound

Tarte aux Fruits de Saison

10 ounces Flan pastry
Pinch of flour
14 ounces peaches
2 tablespoons butter, for greasing
¼ cup sugar
5 ounces confectioner’s custard
¼ cup apricot jam, sieved

Preheat oven to 425ºF

The pastry shell:
On lightly floured surface, roll out pastry into a circle about 1/8 inch thick.  Grease flan ring, slide it onto a cookie sheet and line it with the pastry. You’ll have about one ounce leftover. Carefully flute edges with your fingertips, then crimp them diagonally with your fingertips or a pastry crimper to give an attractive effect. Leave to rest in the refrigerator for 20 minutes.

The peaches:
Wash them, cut in half and remove pits. Place peaches on a cookie sheet, skin side down and sprinkle over the sugar. Place in preheated oven for five minutes to precook them and, most importantly, to let some of the juices run. Carefully transfer to a colander set over a bowl to catch the juice.

Assembling the tart:
Spread the confectioner’s custard evenly over the pastry shell and arrange the peaches on top, skin side up, placing them very close together. Bake in preheated oven for 40 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool on the cookie sheet for 10 minutes. 

To glaze:
Heat the apricot jam in saucepan until it begins to boil. Add the reserved peach juice and carefully brush the glaze evenly over the peaches.

To serve:
Serve the tart whole; it should be a room temperature, never chilled.

Fresh Basil Pesto

2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan-Reggiano or Romano cheese
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup pine nuts or walnuts
3 medium garlic cloves, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Equipment: Food Processor

Combine the basil in with the pine nuts. Pulse a few times in a food processor. If you’re using walnuts instead of pine nuts and they aren’t already chopped, pulse them a few times first before adding basil. Add garlic, pulse a few times more. Slowly add olive oil in a constant stream while food processor is on. Stop to scrape down sides of food processor with a rubber spatula. Add the grated cheese and pulse again until blended. Add a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Serve with pasta, over baked potatoes or spread over toasted baguette slices.

Yield: One cup

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