Musings on Food and Life
Food is my passion. I create, read, write, breath, eat, photograph, love and live food. As a chef and culinary instructor, each day is a quest to learn something new about a food ingredient, recipe, history, or fact about all things edible. Three silly dogs share my passion for eating and I'm blessed to be married to my best friend Tracy. Tune in for my thoughts on food, recipes, dogs, travel, music and life.
Saturday, December 25, 2010
I heard a sermon recently that talked about being ungrateful. No one every thinks they fall into this category. As I think about my life, there are times when I know I have been ungrateful, even if it was for something as simple as forgetting to say thank you to someone for their kindness. This day and every day, remember to be grateful for life, family, friends, meaningful work, health, and healing. Most of all, for grace.
Thursday, December 9, 2010
In the chef world, it's always interesting when people don't plan ahead when they want a holiday event. They don't understand why they can't find an in-home chef on Monday when they want to have a party for 100 on Saturday. Even "light appetizers" for 100 is a mountain of work. You must also hire people to help you prepare the food and serve it. Not to mention that I have been booked well ahead for almost all December weekend dates, as have my other chef colleagues & servers who excel at doing parties. In this uncertain economy, people are waiting longer to arrange an event to be sure they want to and can spend the money. Can't blame them for that. But the good ones are usually already booked.
And then there are folks who want to pay a very minimum amount for a 4 - 6 course beef tenderloin dinner. What goes into any dinner party is a great deal of work, way more than meets the eye. Menu development, client meetings (in person and by e-mail), writing up the prep list and contract, food shopping, loading & unloading my car, driving to the client location, executing the party (food, service, clean up), and finally heading home to plop into bed. Much of this work occurs before I get to the client location so it is not seen. I can't do all that to take home just $100 for hours and hours of my time. Credentials and experience should mean something. I am certified, insured, have a culinary degree, know how to handle food safely, and darn it, my food is really good. If a potential client can find a chef who will cut them a "deal" and work for almost nothing, more power to them and shame on the chef. Chefs who conduct their business in this way tarnish what we do.
As I cruise into the middle of this crazy holiday time, I am truly thankful for the passion I have for my work. I am so thankful for my clients who appreciate my food and the care that goes into it, and who are willing to pay a fair rate for it. I have met some of the most amazing people in this industry who work so hard serving others because they love it.
In the spirit of the holidays, here is a great little recipe for a quick, easy appetizer that you can make ahead, freeze, and pull out to bake at a moments notice. Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, and may you have the love of friends and family surround you this season.
Artichoke Parmesan Cups
20 ounces (more or less) marinated artichokes, drained (reserve marinade)
3/4 cup shredded or grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1 large garlic clove, minced (about 1 teaspoon)
pinch of cayenne pepper
salt and fresh-ground pepper, to taste
2 boxes (15 per box) frozen Phyllo cups
Combine the artichokes, 1/2 cup of cheese, garlic and cayenne in the bowl of a food processor. Process until relatively smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. If the mixture is too thick, use a teaspoon or so of the reserved marinade to loosen the filling. It should not be runny.
Using a small scoop or a teaspoon, fill the phyllo cups to the brim. Top with a garnish of the remaining parmesan. Bake at 375 for 10 - 12 minutes, until the cups are slightly browned around the edges. Serve immediately!
Sunday, November 21, 2010
It was then that I saw it. I had only seen that devistating look before on a television "animal cops" program. It was was past heartbreaking and the more I looked, the more I began to wish I knew who had done this so I could report them. This was a crime of the worst type: neglect. She had such a pretty black and white face, and a sweet, calm demeanor. In spite of the extreme physical condition, with ribs sticking way out on her large mostly white frame, she still was a pleasant girl. The Mom explained that the dog showed up a the end of their driveway. She was almost unable to walk anymore, she was so weak. The teenage daughter called her Calli, since no name was written on the collar. To say Calli was emaciated is an understatement. Skin and bone. What type of person would allow this beautiful, sweet dog to become a skeleton with fur?
My vets were kind as usual, and carried her back to the exam room. I talked with the Mom and gave her my e-mail address, asking if she would let me know the outcome of the visit. An e-mail later that day confirmed the worst....Calli was in renal failure, which is not reversable. They were hoping for better news; another sweet, innocent doggie life lost. The good part? That someone cared enough to make a difference, to show her daughter that taking time to give yourself to something worthy is the right way. May God bless Calli and the family who showed her unconditional love in her last days.
Sunday, November 7, 2010
Recently I taught a doughnut class at a local Cooks Warehouse store. The hardest part about developing the class was deciding which four doughnuts should go on the menu. Wanting to showcase different types of dough, I chose the Old-Fashioned Buttermilk Doughnut, a Ginger Cream-filled Doughnut, a Maple Glazed Bar, and the cinnamon-sugar Churro with a Chocolate dipping sauce. These represent three doughs - leavened dough, yeast dough and a pate a choux dough. Each is fantastic in their own right. It just depends on your mood and how much time you have available to create the perfect bite. The churros were especially light and tasty and the ginger cream was to die for, but being a cake doughnut fiend, I just can't get past a fresh, homemade Buttermilk doughnut.
This past week I spent a few days in New Orleans with some chef friends, home of the infamous powdered sugar-coated beignet. It simply wouldn't be right to make a trip to the French Quarter without diving into a plate of piping hot beignets and a cup of cafe au lait at Cafe du Monde. What a delightful way to start your morning, sitting at an outside table on a cool day, noshing on these little beauties. It's like the potoato chip in that you can't eat just one.
In honor of the humble yet delicious doughnut, here is a recipe that's sure to please. It's from Elinor Krivens book called "Donuts", a tasty little collection of several types of doughnut recipes, fillings, and dipping sauces.
Old-Fashioned Buttermilk Doughnut
1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fresh-grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
1 large egg
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 tablespon unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon good vanilla extract
Canola or peanut oil for frying
Confectioners' sugar for dusting
Sift together the dry ingredients in alarge bowl. In a separate bowl, beat the egg and sugar together with an electric mixer on low speed until creamy and pale in color. Add the buttermilk, butter, and vanilla, and the beat until well blended.
Add the flour mixutre and beat on low speed just until the mixture comes together in a soft dough. Cover and refrigerate until firm, at least 30 minutes and up to 1 hour.
Line a baking sheet with paper towels. Pour the oil to a depth of 2 inches into a deep fryer or large saute pan. Warm the oil over medium-high heat until it reaches 360 F.
To roll out the doughnuts, generously flour your clean work surface. Using a rolling pin or with your hands, roll or pat out the dough int a 10-inch circle about 1/2-inch thick. With a 3-inch round doughnut cutter, cut out as many doughnuts as possible, keeping the cuts as close together as possible. Gather up the dough scraps and repeat rolling and cutting. If you don't have a doughnut cutter, use one small and one large cutter.
Carefully lower 2 - 4 doughnuts or holes into the hot oil. Avoid crowding the pan or fryer. Fry until dark golden in color, about 1-1/2 minutes. Turn over and cook until dark golden on the other side, about 1 minute. Transfer the doughnuts to the towel-lined baking sheet and continue frying the remaining doughnuts and holes, allowing the oil to return to the starting temperature of 360 F between batches.
Using a small fine sieve or sifter, dust generously with confectioners' sugar. Serve immediately. These are always best enjoyed the same day they are made.
Monday, October 4, 2010
Lavender. Nothing has a more relaxing, alluring fragrance. So many know the aroma but not the taste of this bud. I discovered lavender several years ago when I happened on a Lavender, Honey & Balsamic Roasted Chicken recipe. It was, and still is, hauntingly delicious. Another favorite lavender recipe is Lavender Lemonade. It has a beautiful rosy pink color and a refreshing sweet flavor, particularly endearing on a hot summer afternoon.
Recently I taught a class entitled Lemons and Lavender. These two of my favorite flavors compliment each other very well in both sweet and savory recipes. Many of the guests who attended the class mentioned that lavender was previously uncharted food territory for them. I love it in pound cake or cupcakes, ice cream, chicken and so many other dishes. One book with several interesting recipes is The Lavender Cookbook by Sharon Shipley. But my most favorite lavender recipe of all comes from my Canadian personal chef friend Tim Stewart. It's a simple butter cookie with lavender and is sublime with tea. It's also an unexpected treat in a gift bag for a special friend. Try lavender (be sure it's culinary grade) for more than just a sachet....you'll be happy you did! Be careful not to overdo the amount specified in a recipe, as a little can go a long way.
(adapted from Chef Tim Stewart)
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon real vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon dried lavender buds (culinary grade), rough chopped
Preheat oven to 350 F. Place butter and sugar in a mixing bowl. With a hand mixer, cream together until combined and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the egg and vanilla, and then mix until absorbed. Combine the flour and salt and then add in two batches, mixing just until combined. Fold in the lavender.
Using a small scoop or two teaspoons, place a teaspoon full of batter on a silpat- or parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 15 - 18 minutes until browned around the edges. Remove from the oven and cool cookies on a wire rack.
Yield: about 32 cookies
Friday, September 3, 2010
Saturday, August 21, 2010
Finally it came down to the smooth, velvety red Gazpacho and the Sundried Grape Tomatoes & Fresh Mozzarella Bruschetta. The Bruschetta won first prize, but both were divine. I would be proud to have either one of these on a client dinner party menu.
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
Let me introduce the critters I fondly call the "goobers". First there's Curly, the pom mix. Big attitude in a small, cute, red package with a curly tail. Curly is the alpha dog and he really rules the roost. He came from the local pound and is both very smart and very stubborn. The whole neighborhood is his oyster and he thinks everyone should listen to him when he talks. He's my little watchdog and loves to pose for the camera. Walks are high up on his list of favorite things. There's a cute story behind how we found out what Curly's name was and although it's too long to list here, it has to do with the Three Stooges. It makes me smile.
Next there is Elsa. She's a black and white rat terrier and truly is my sweetheart dog. Elsa was unloved at a young age, found starving, neglected, and left to fend for herself in the freezing cold with four starving, half-dead puppies. She is still a little scared of men but has come a long way in the past 6 years since she found her forever home with us. Elsa is truly the sweetest, most loving dog I have ever met. Like me, she is very food focused. Unlike me, she will eat anything that remotely looks edible. Food quanity is way more important to her than quality.
Our newest addition is Petey and don't ask me what breed he is. No clue, with his shepherd face and wiry red and white fur. He is without a doubt the most fun dog I know! Petey sings, purrs, smiles, loves his toys, and is obsessed with chasing squirrels. This little guy is so adorable and I think it was love at first sight for me. He had been almost 2 years without a forever home and I asked my honey if we could foster him. Well, we tried, but call us the "failed fosters". Probably the first time in history that being a failure was a GREAT thing. I am writing a book about Petey. With his antics, it could be a series of books. He can gut a stuffed toy in two minutes.
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
Dollywood truly has something for everyone. There are indoor and outdoor shows, museums, a steam locomotive train, a few rollercoasters, and the usual food, candy & gift shops. The doggies even got to stay at "Doggywood", a climate controlled kennel just outside the main entrance of the park. They were much more comfortable in their large air-conditioned kennel area than we were inside the park! We could go out to walk them anytime, spend a few minutes cooling off, and return to the action. One great thing about Dollywood, you can enter after 3 pm one day and come back anytime the next day using the same ticket.
My favorite part of Dollywood though is the Country Fair. It's reminicent of days long gone when the traveling fair came to my township each summer. Memories of anxious anticipation for a ride on the ferris wheel, a sugar buzz on cotton candy, and playing carnival games in hopes of winning one of those priceless stuffed toys immediately came to mind. I loved the Sky Rider, which takes you up and around in a two-seat plane. I could have ridden that one all evening with the warm yet inviting breeze hitting my face and the Animals song Sky Pilot running through my brain.
Friday, August 6, 2010
A personal chef runs every aspect of their business. All of us are good at some things and not as good at others. I love cooking, creating menus & events, teaching others (and sometimes myself!) about foods and cooking, and serving clients. However, I'm not so fond of loading and unloading my car with equipment or being on my feet for a zillion hours some days. And then there is grocery shopping. Not that I mind it in general, but some folks at my local Publix think I work there, if you get the picture.
When I teach classes to people who want to be a personal chef, some of them dream that rich celebrity clients will be "waiting" for them when they start their business, and pay big bucks for their service. My clients generally aren't rich or famous, and I like it that way. They use my cooking service for a variety of reasons but at the end of the day, they all sit down to a great, healthy meal. These folks are so very important in many ways as mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, teachers, employers, bosses, coworkers, and friends. You don't need to be famous to be outstanding in these roles. I appreciate all of my clients and some I feel are like family. It really is all about relationships.
Have you ever heard the starfish story? A man was on the beach that was filled with starfish, who would die if out of the saltwater for too long. He was furiously throwing each starfish he could into the water. Another man came up and asked him what he was doing and he said," I'm trying to save these starfish!" The second man looked around and said, "Why bother? There are just too many to make any difference." The first man picked up another starfish and gazed briefly at it. As he threw it into the surf he said, "But it made a difference to that one." Our time on earth is short but I believe that God has a distinct purpose for each of us to impact the lifes of others through our gifts and talents. That's why I'm a personal chef - to make a small difference in this big world.
Saturday, July 31, 2010
Today's fig fest led to fig chutney which I use as a sandwhich spread, side condiment for pork or chicken, on crostini with blue cheese or goat cheese on top with perhaps a few toasted hazelnuts. Chutney was the perfect addition to our teriyaki chicken kabobs for dinner. If the fig tree has ripe figs through this week, a baked fig dessert will likely be on my menu. For the pastry affecionado, an absolutely fabulous dessert book is authored by Claudia Fleming called The Last Course, The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern. Her recipes are both elegant and beautiful, and I think her cornmeal fig tart might just be calling. Since Tracy is an ice cream fiend, making fig ice cream is a must. Try this tempting recipe - we'll be enjoying next weekend!
Fresh Fig Ice Cream
(adapted from David Lebovitz's book The Perfect Scoop)
2 pounds fresh figs
1/2 cup water
zest of 1 lemon
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Remove the stems from the figs and then cut each into 8 pieces (for small green figs, cut in 4 pieces). Place figs in a non-reactive medium saucepan wiht the water and lemon zest. Cover and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes until figs are tender.
Add the sugar and continue to cook uncovered on medium-low heat until it reaches jam-like consistency, about 15 - 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow the mixture to cool to room temperature. Stir in the cream and lemon juice and then cover and chill in the fridge. Churn in your favorite ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's directions.
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Pour 1 inch of oil into a heavy skillet and heat the oil to 340 F. Spoon the okra batter by heaping tablespoons into the hot oil; avoid crowding the pan. Fry until golden brown on one side and then carefully turn and fry until golden brown on the other side. Remove from the skillet and drain on crumpled paper towels. Serve immediately as a side dish or appetizer. Aioli goes well as a dipping sauce.
Monday, July 26, 2010
Watermelon Mango Salsa
1 cup diced fresh mango (chopped small dice, 1/4 inch)
3/4 cup diced fresh seedless watermelon (small dice)
1/3 cup diced red onion
1/3 cup diced English cucumber (seeds removed)
1 finely chopped jalapeno pepper (seeds removed)
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 - 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
kosher salt & fresh-ground pepper, to taste
Prepare by mixing ingredients together and season to taste with salt and pepper. Mix 1 hour before serving. Serve with baked chicken or fish (tilapia, flounder, snapper).