Well, it’s been, what, five months–six months–since what should probably call “before times.” Who can keep track anymore? In that time, many or most of us have found our lives and businesses have been turned upside down. Some of us have gotten sick. Some have lost family or friends. Our country has lost more than 150,000 people. These are sad, confusing, frustrating days.

And, yet, we have to go on, albeit carefully. Those of us who operate solo businesses have to do our best to hang in there and find new resources, new ideas, and new opportunities to shine and earn a living. It’s all about flexibility, ingenuity, and doggedness.

Over the past several months we’ve tried to offer ideas and inspiration for new approaches to your personal chef business. And we’ll continue to do so.

Today, though, here are some tips for solo entrepreneurs. We tend to call these the lazy days of summer. If that’s true for you, perhaps it’s the right time to start mulling over next steps and thinking about how to rev up business come fall. We’re hoping these tips can sizzle your brain and juice up your enthusiasm for this very important business you run.

  • Stay agile and don’t be afraid to say no. Andrew Wassenaar of software firm Timely makes the great point that without extra staff, solo business owners have less baggage and are able to enjoy more freedom in business. It’s so true. You may wish you had help or a boss to tell you what to do, but as a personal chef running your own business you have the agility to switch things up if you find something isn’t working or you discover something unexpected that brings you joy–and more money! As Wassenaar notes, it also gives you the flexibility to say no to whatever doesn’t align with your vision. “It comes back to the fact that time is valuable, and when it’s being consumed by things that don’t contribute to what you’re doing, it’s being wasted,” he writes.
  • Be specific with your goals. Kelly Spors of The Hartford’s SmallBiz Ahead published seven business tips from successful small business owners. One of them seemed directly relevant to personal chef business owners. Be very specific with your goals. Break big goals into smaller ones. It could be based on a timeline, such as 10 years, three years, and one year. It could be work/life. It could be seasonal. Once you have set your goals, develop a dashboard that allows you to note your progress with your goals to help you stay focused.
  • Build a wide range of skills. Small Business Trends published a list of 21 rules for solopreneurs to live by. Among them is “Build a Wide Range of Skills.” Now you already know how to cook, but during this down or downish time you could focus some more on the skills of owning a business–like marketing and accounting. Networking might seem like a crazy idea these days but “out of sight, out of mind” is a cliché that’s all too true. Work on your Zoom or Facetime skills and make or revive connections. Get smart with video and teach virtual cooking classes. Learn how to write professional recipes using tools like “The Recipe Writer’s Handbook” and put together virtual meal kits for clients or launch a food blog. Improve your food photography.
  • Get technical. Of all places, The UPS Store published a series of tips to advertise your solo business. Their idea is you want to drive awareness and engagement. Even if you don’t advertise, we hope you’re doing a good amount of marketing via social media, email newsletters, and blogs. We’ve offered lots of tips on these in the past, but here are some extra ones. If you’re on Twitter, use their polling feature in a multiple choice survey question about, well, anything. Perhaps you’re interested in changing up your menu. You could test out ideas. Or you’re considering targeting a different type of client. Ask questions that would help determine if athletes or vegans or adult children helping their aging parents are a viable option. Or just ask food-related questions that are fun and capture an audience’s imagination. They also advocate asking for retweets on Twitter (let’s extend that to “sharing” on Facebook and Instagram) and making use of SEO, but using SEO keywords that aren’t as competitive. Clueless about SEO? See above’s “build a wide range of skills.”
  • Band together with others. Time published a fascinating piece on small business owners banding together to adapt during the pandemic. It featured a New York City chef scheduled to open her first restaurant in March. She never got a chance to open it. As you can imagine, she had to transition to takeout and discovered a community of fellow restaurateurs in her neighborhood seeking to help one another. As personal chefs, you work alone. But you live in a community that might have other personal chefs, and certainly small markets, farmers, and other purveyors. You all need to do business. How can you help one another? Perhaps you buy from them, they promote your services. Or you and your fellow personal chefs who have different types of clients can cross promote each other. This calls for networking, zoom meetings, and ingenuity.

What tips resonate with you? Do you have any special tips to share with your colleagues?

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.

And if you are a member and have a special talent to share on this blog, let us know so we can feature you!

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Bali Beef Curry

Filed under: Recipes , Tags: , , , — Author: Caron Golden , July 27, 2020

So let’s just get this out of the way first. What exactly is curry? If it’s on a restaurant menu, it’s a complexly flavored sauce that creates heavenly dishes with vegetables, tofu, chicken, beef, or seafood. And, well, it’s got to include fragrant ingredients like lemongrass, and ginger or galangal, and, perhaps chiles, although those herbs and spices will vary depending on the dish and its geographic origin.

Then there is curry powder. These aromatics tend to be used in the Indian subcontinent and in British dishes, but are also found across Asia and into the Caribbean. There’s no one combination of dried spices that makes up curry powder. They tend to have specific names to will tell you their use, like garam masala, which usually has cumin, cardamom, turmeric, pepper, cloves, and cinnamon. You can create a curry dish with curry powder but also use it for a marinade or a spice rub or sprinkled over roasted vegetables to add flavor.

And, there are actual curry leaves. These green leaves tend to be citrusy and sometimes bitter, and, yes, they’re used in Indian cuisine, but they aren’t a substitute for curry powder.

But for our purposes, let’s talk about curry, the well-traveled saucy dish. The name is derived from the southern Indian word “kari,” meaning sauce and was transformed into “curry,” probably by the British, who had colonized India in the 18th century. You’ll find curry not just in India, but also Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Bali, Japan, and the Caribbean—not to mention around the world in countries that have fallen in love with its powerful flavors and often creamy texture.

I have friends in San Diego who own a wonderful restaurant called World Curry. Bruce Jackson actually discovered curry in his mid-20s in Japan during a visit. Nothing fancy, it was the popular boxed instant curry that the Japanese, he said, eat all the time. He’d also find it in Singapore and Thai restaurants there and since he loved cooking, he started experimenting, taking cooking classes in Thailand and doing deep dives into cookbooks. His ex-wife Momoko, who is Japanese, started the business with him back in 1995 and continues to work with him, handling the marketing.

If you’ve been wary about trying your hand at making curry, Jackson assures that curry is pretty straightforward. “It’s like making spaghetti sauce in that you stir once in awhile and don’t let it burn. For Thai curries, all the work is in making the paste. Once you have that, it goes quickly.”

To achieve real smoothness with both the sauces and the pastes, Jackson recommends using a blender instead of a food processor.

The dishes also benefit from time—lots of it. Jackson likes to cook the curries the day before serving them to give the flavors time to mingle.

This is especially true, Jackson said, for the Bali Beef, a rich, thick stew that he explains is basically an Indonesian curry since Bali doesn’t use much beef. His inspiration was a curry at a Bali food cart, sticky rice and beef—like a rice ball with spicy beef—served with a banana leaf. In Jackson’s version, the brisket ultimately falls apart in the long, slow cooking process, bathed in garlic, cumin, black pepper, chili powder, onion, lemongrass, galangal, and coconut milk. Brown sugar adds depth and a little lemon juice, star anise powder, and cinnamon give it brightness.

Successfully making curry, according to Jackson, is basically about taking care with each step and creating building blocks of flavor. “Even an extra 20 seconds can make a difference in the results,” he said. “Letting the sauce gently simmer and settle in will yield more flavor.”

Bali Beef (Rendang)
From World Curry
Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients
¼ cup cooking oil (canola, peanut, or other vegetable oil)
1 ½ pounds brisket or stew meat, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 tablespoons fresh chopped garlic
2 tablespoons cumin powder
2 tablespoons coriander powder
2 teaspoons black pepper
2 teaspoons chili powder
½ cup fresh chopped onion
¼ cup fresh lemongrass chopped
2 tablespoons galangal or ginger chopped
1 cup coconut milk
¼ cup brown sugar
1 ½ tablespoons lemon juice
1 ½  teaspoons salt
½ teaspoons star anise powder
½ teaspoons cinnamon

Directions

  1. Heat oil on medium/high heat and sauté the beef until browned on most sides. Remove the beef with a slotted spoon and set aside.
  2. In the same pan sauté the garlic until golden. Stir in the cumin, coriander, black pepper, and chili powder and cook for another minute. Stir in the onion, lemongrass, and galangal. Cook for another 2 to 3 minutes.
  3. Add the contents of the pan and the cup coconut milk to the blender. Blend until smooth and pour the blender contents back into the stock pot.
  4. Add in the browned beef, then add all the remaining ingredients to the same stock pot.
  5. Bring to a low boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 4 hours stirring occasionally. When the beef falls apart and is tender the curry should be done. Serve with steamed rice.

Do you ever make a traditional curry? Tell us about your favorite recipe!

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.

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Any of us who don’t live in food deserts have really not had to think hard about where to buy groceries–either for ourselves or clients. If we did, it was pretty much to sort out the many options available from our local supermarket to farmers markets to Costco/Sam’s Club to Trader Joe’s, culturally specific markets or our favorite specialty stores, including fish markets.

Then came the coronavirus and if you live in a region hit hard, you have faced staples shortages, long lines–and even the question of whether you should venture into a store at all. Which then led to the ethics of having someone else shop for you or being able to book an Instacart delivery date during your lifetime.

In short, marketing has been complicated for many of us.

Thankfully, much of the hoarding and shortages have abated, but the virus has not and we don’t know what fall months hold in store. So, it’s not a bad idea to know what your options are for now and looking ahead into at least the next six months.

This came into focus for me in a Real Simple story that ran at the end of April. It brought up some very good suggestions for identifying some unexpected places to find groceries. These include:

  • Local restaurants: Many have been helping both their suppliers and customers by selling groceries–either individual items or a bagged packages of groceries or meal kits. We’ve seen everything from flour, pasta, and yeast to fresh produce and seafood. Sometimes even toilet paper. They have great resources. Take advantage of them.
  • Online housewares stores. How often have you been to Bed, Bath & Beyond, World Market, Williams Sonoma or other housewares stores and picked up snacks or coffee/tea or specialty items? You can find them in the brick and mortar shops, but you can also shop for them online.
  • Restaurant supply companies: Sure, you may shop them for your equipment, but there are plenty of edible goods available–and some may even deliver. The caveat may be the quantity of packaged items, like 50 pounds of flour or 30-pound bags of rice. But splitting staples is what friends and neighbors are for, right?

  • CSAs: Community-supported agriculture, or CSAs, package weekly or bi-weekly boxes of fresh produce to subscribers. They do three things very well–they provide subscribers with a delightful and steady supply of local produce, they directly support farmers (many of whom live life on the edge and have now lost restaurant business), and they keep the money in the local economy. You can also expand your reach by purchasing boxes from Imperfect Foods and Misfits Market. These companies sell delicious produce but they are either a little odd looking or the wrong size for very strict supermarket guidelines. There are also CSAs for meats and seafood (think Moink, Butcher Box, Farmer’s Cart, and Heritage Foods–but also check around for local businesses that sell at your farmers market).
  • Alternative online stores: Real Simple notes that businesses like Thrive Market offers organic food and food delivery while Loop is an ecofriendly store focused on numerous brands and retailers that ships packages of grocery and health and beauty supplies in reusuable, returnable packaging.
  • Buy direct: Need white whole wheat flour? You could buy it directly from King Arthur Flour or Bob’s Red Mill. Why not just go directly to the company that has the product you’re craving or needing and see if they sell directly to consumers?

To this I’ll add that the megachains like Target and Walmart made a huge investment in grocery departments in the last few years. Neither is my first choice for grocery shopping, but in a pinch you can buy produce, milk, bread, and so much more. Same with Big Lots and “dollar stores.” I haven’t even mentioned Amazon’s offerings…

Do you have a good grocery wholesaler that’s open to the public? In San Diego, we have a place called Specialty Produce. They have long since branched out into specialty products from local makers and purveyors–local honey and other condiments, cheeses, pastas, etc. And, they’ve put together their own version of a CSA that combines fresh produce with local seafood, cheese, bread, and other products. Your city may have a similar wholesaler. Likewise, does your community have a butcher shop, seafood market, or other specialty store that has been selling other groceries that complement their main product line?

We’re living in disruptive times that require creativity and ingenuity from all of us. We’re lucky that the supply chain is holding for now (although the ethics of how that’s going is another discussion worth having) but keeping clients–and our own families–fed is probably not going to be as effortless for quite a while as our old marketing habits were back in January.

Where have you been shopping for food, if not your grocery store? Did we miss a great resource?

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.

And if you are a member and have a special talent to share on this blog, let us know so we can feature you!

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Chill Out with a Homemade Shrub

Filed under: Cooking Tips,Recipes , Tags: , , , — Author: Caron Golden , July 13, 2020

Welcome to July! It’s getting hot! And while it’s easy for clients to reach into the fridge for a soft drink or juice or iced tea, how about making them a berry or other summer fruit shrub? If you haven’t heard of shrubs, they are a fruit syrup, preserved with vinegar. The chemical transformation in just hours of the mixture of fruit, perhaps some herbs, sugar, and vinegar creates a unique sweet and tangy libation as part of a cocktail, blended with soda water, or used as an ingredient to make a dressing or sauce. You can pour shrubs over ice cream, too. And you can blend them with fresh fruit and freeze into popsicles.

There are essentially two methods of making a shrub, both easy and requiring few ingredients. One is via heat and a fairly quick process. The other is a cold method that sits for several hours or even a day or two as the ingredients macerate.

Essentially what you’ll want is your fruit, sugar, and vinegar–red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar are good choices. You want something that has some substance but won’t overtake the fruit flavors. Balsamic is a good choice, too, but know that it will vie with the fruit in terms of flavors. It’s actually what I used for my shrub along with the apple cider vinegar.

Another cool thing about shrubs has to do with the fruit. Since the fruit will be turned into a liquid, you don’t need to buy the most flawless, perfect fruit. If you have peaches or plums or berries that are a little past their prime, they’re great candidates for a shrub.

Okay, so what do you do? The quick way is to combine equal parts sugar and water in a saucepan and stir the mixture over heat until the sugar dissolves. Then add your fruit. Stir as it simmers and the juice melds with the sugar mixture, becoming syrupy. Let it cool, strain the solids, and add your vinegar. That’s it.

Now some people feel that the way to extract more complexity and brightness is to go with the cold method. There’s no heat to dull the fruit flavors. This, too, is quite easy. And, it’s what I did.

In a bowl I gently mashed a mixture of mulberries, blackberries, and raspberries to extract some of the juices to let the sugar to penetrate more easily–sort of a head start. Then I added the sugar, covered the bowl with plastic wrap, and refrigerated it. The next morning, I pulled the bowl out of the fridge and could see the juices and syrup already forming.

At this point you strain the liquid from the fruit. If you have a fine mesh strainer or chinois, that’s the perfect tool for this. Press down on the fruit to get every last drop. )And save the fruit to enjoy on ice cream or to spread on French toast.) Then you’ll whisk the vinegar into the liquid. Pour it into a pretty bottle using a funnel and you’re good to go.

Your shrub will be wonderfully tart and sweet, a combination that will mellow with time when stored in the fridge. I like to keep it simple and enjoy it combined with sparkling water on a hot late afternoon. And, as I said, enjoy the remaining preserved fruit over ice cream!

I’ve got a recipe for you that I adapted from Serious Eats that outlines the process perfectly.

Cold Processed Berry Shrub
Yield: 20 to 24 ounces of shrub syrup

Ingredients
1 cup of berries
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar

1. Place berries in a bowl and gently mash them to release some juice.
2. Add sugar and mix together. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least six hours or overnight until the fruit releases liquids into a syrup. There’s no hurry here.
3. Place the mixture into a fine mesh strainer or chinois over a bowl or measuring cup and carefully press on the fruit and sugar mixture to extract as much syrup as possible. If there’s some sugar remaining in the original bowl scrape that in, too. Save the fruit for ice cream or to spread on French toast or pancakes.
4. Whisk the vinegar into the syrup.
5. Using a funnel, pour your shrub into a bottle. Seal and keep refrigerated.

Have you ever tasted or, better yet, made a shrub? What flavors do you think you’d mix for a signature shrub? 

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.

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When you run a small business, like a personal chef company, it can be helpful to keep track of trends–both to keep you in the know about the industry and consumers and to give you some new ways to think about what you do and what your clients want or need.

SmartBrief published a piece on July 2, 2020 by Laurie Demeritt, the CEO of The Hartman Group, which does market research. The Hartman Group just released The Hartman Group/FMI U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends COVID-19 Tracker report representing mid-May. Here’s some of what they found:

  • In planning meals, focus often goes to minimizing trips and waste through smart use of perishables.
  • Over one-third (36%) feel they are now eating healthier. Younger consumers especially have adjusted how they eat, with more emphasis on maintaining a healthy body while at home.
  • Older consumers aim to safeguard their health via prudent consumption, minimizing trips and waste.
  • During the timeframe of the report during the lockdown, 41% of consumers said they were cooking more of their meals, 27% said they were “planning more meals in advance, and 20% said they were trying more new dishes.
  • Consumers are reevaluating the very necessity of shopping trips and turning to larger, less frequent trips and alternative modes of sourcing perceived to be safer, such as online and click and collect.
  • Consumers are reevaluating the very necessity of shopping trips and turning to larger, less frequent trips and alternative modes of sourcing perceived to be safer, such as online and click and collect.
  • Looking farther ahead, new routines that focus on preparation for the unknown are likely to have lasting impacts.

Spinach Salad with balsamic vinaigrette and candied walnuts

So, no surprise, the pandemic has deeply impacted consumers’ lives when it comes to food and cooking. But what about those who are finding being in the kitchen less joyful? This same report noted that 23% of shoppers said their priority when cooking is to spend as little time as possible doing it and 33% said they seek “something interesting” to eat when they cook at home, which apparently indicates some fatigue with cooking.

And here’s where it gets even more fascinating for you: More than half–57%–of households outsource cooking to food service and dine out at least one a week with 21% doing it three or more times.

Is there anyone more “food service” than a personal chef? For these shoppers, the decision between cooking at home–seen as being more healthy than eating out–considers three things: cost, time and effort, and taste and cravings.

These little data bites should make you stop and think about the possibilities for your personal chef business. They can guide you on how to market yourself to potential clients or sell yourself again to clients who may have drifted away around March when the world started shutting down. And, they can also give you some inspiration for a new way to conduct your business or add services to it for now, during the pandemic,  and once it eventually comes to an end.

It could mean not just preparing meals for clients but sending the message that their exhaustion in preparing their own meals–and perhaps the same old things–can come to an end with an exciting menu you create for them.

Baja Fish Tacos with Quinoa

For those still anxious (including you) about preparing meals in clients’ homes, it could mean renting time in a commercial kitchen, perhaps a restaurant kitchen that’s reduced hours and could use some income, and then delivery the meals to them. Sometimes the old way doesn’t work all the time.

And then there are those people who you could help by putting together a weekly menu of recipes and sourced ingredients. You could do your own version of a Blue Apron and create a video cookalong to help with technique.

Look above at what you’ve learned about consumers. They don’t like making grocery store trips. They want to eat healthier. They want to prepare meals in advance. They want to try new dishes. How can you not look at this data and project your own business onto it! This is an opportunity a serious personal chef should take advantage of!

How is your personal chef business evolving during the pandemic? What are you learning about consumers during this time?

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership. 

And if you are a member and have a special talent or point of view to share on this blog, let us know so we can feature you!

 

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What is a recipe? According to the ginormous reference on one of my bookshelves, The American Heritage Dictionary of The English Language, recipe is first defined as “A set of directions with a list of ingredients for making or preparing something, especially food.”

But the second definition is just as interesting: “A formula for or means to a desired end.”

The question is are recipes written in stone or a template for a concept for a dish? Let’s set aside baking–which requires fairly strict adherence to a recipe to result in a bread with the right texture, a cake with the right crumb, etc. How closely do you adhere to a recipe you got from your grandma, chose in a cookbook, or found online?  Do you stick to it the first time to see how it works and riff from there? Based on your expertise, can you see flaws in the ingredient amounts and make adjustments? And how do you expect others to use your recipes?

What does a recipe mean to you?

Eater recently ran an article by Navneet Alang that wrestled with this. Alang points out that cooking is an act of care and that following a recipe can be ritualistic, “the practice of repeating established, sequential steps a comfort when the world feels uncertain.” He likens it to received wisdom or repositories of knowledge. And,  he explains, “There is a reason recipes are passed down from generation to generation.”

APPCA member Lola Dee says, “I have a very difficult time sticking to recipes, I tend to tweak everything and substitute ingredients, using what I have. I think if you use the recipe as a guideline and apply correct methods you can come up with some delicious breakthroughs. However, if you’re cooking institutionally or for a restaurant, you do have to stick to the recipes for consistency, costing, etc.”

I know I can relate to this. I, too, am a recipe tweaker, although with recipes using a technique unfamiliar to me, I tend to follow them precisely the first time to learn.

But an experienced, confident home cook or chef can take the essence of a recipe and turn it into a dish that doesn’t just make do with the ingredients we have or can source–an issue we’ve faced through the pandemic. Their massage of the recipe can be an act of creativity, a way of imprinting oneself on a dish. Or, of course, a adaptive way to address dietary restrictions. We look at a recipe’s construction to learn where to build flavor, how to build body, how to transform texture. We are taking a basic melody and essential instruments and coming up with our own orchestration.

Essentially, the recipe transforms from a directive to a template. A happy guidepost to our own destination.

As personal chef, food blogger, and recipe developer Gina Bean explains:

“Recipe writing is a skill… A good recipe has its place, for sure. But, cooks should make dishes the way they, and their diners, like them.”

What is your approach to using recipes and writing them? Are they set in stone or a template for creativity?

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership. 

And if you are a member and have a special talent or point of view to share on this blog, let us know so we can feature you!

 

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Little Chef Izzy

If you’ve ever enjoyed watching the food competition shows that feature children–Top Chef Junior, Kids Baking Championship, Chopped Junior, and MasterChef Junior, just to name a few–they might just take you back to your days as a child in the kitchen. Or not. While it’s pretty awe-inspiring to watch kids wield the kind of culinary technique most adults can only dream of, many of us who grew up cooking had much more modest skills that were honed only later in life.

If you’re on Instagram you might also have come across a precocious British three-year-old named Little Chef Izzy, who has actually been on the platform since September 2019. According to a story about her in MyRecipes, she’s been baking cupcakes, gingerbread men, pizza, and more since before she was two.

Little Izzy may have talents way beyond what we had at that age but it does make you think about what kids are capable of and how we should encourage them in the kitchen. After all, isn’t that what molded us?

“My mom had me at the counter watching and helping at three,” recalls APPCA member Christine Robinson. When asked how she helped and what was the first dish she made by herself, it wasn’t quite up to Instagram’s Little Chef Izzy, but instead more relatable to those of us whose adventures in the kitchen were more, well, childlike. What I love about Christine’s cooking adventure was just how resourceful she was.

“Um…that was the ill-fated creamed potato experiment,” explains Christine. “I was under specific instructions to never turn on burners nor the oven and to never use the sharp knives. So my mom made the best creamed potatoes. All I knew was that there were potatoes, sour cream and butter. But how to make them on my own without breaking my restrictions? I got out a small stainless saucepan and cut the (not peeled) potato with a butter knife, dumped sour cream in with a stick of butter and climbed on the counter to utilize the only heat source I was allowed to use, the metal toaster. I set the pan atop the toaster and proceeded to turn it on to its highest setting, hit the switch, and stirred furiously with a metal fork. I chose all conductive metal for the project. Every time the toaster would, pop I would press the switch down again and resume stirring.

“This went on for a good 15 minutes,” Christine continues, “until my mom walked in and started screaming I was going to electrocute myself. Needless to say, it was a failed experiment. I lost toaster privileges and we moved on to supervised baking after that.”

Okay, pull yourself together and stop laughing. Christine was just more creative than most kids.

Yes, we all have stories. Here’s mine. I was about three–and this is my first memory period–when my dad decided to teach me how to make scrambled eggs. Yes, I was way behind Izzy… Instead of putting me on a step stool, he held me over the stove and gave me the spatula to let me stir the curds into what would become breakfast. I was never a science geek but watching the runny yolks and whites solidify into soft pale yellow buttery mounds was transformative. I ended up learning how to make all sorts of dishes from my parents, from meatloaf (how much fun is it to sink your clean hands in a bowl with cold ground beef, a couple of eggs, ketchup, matzo meal, and spices and mush it all together), roast chicken, flank steak spirals, and lamb chops. I made salads and set the table. I made coffee in the morning for my parents and still recall the pop of opening a new can of MJB and the heady aroma that burst out. Or arguing with my siblings over who got to lick the spoon and the bowl from the cake or brownie batter and cookie dough we made with our mom. Yes, we three were raised in the kitchen.

As soon as APPCA member Shelbie Hafter Wassel was tall enough to reach the stove, she recalls making spaghetti and meat sauce. And, like many of us, there were what we now call “dump cakes.”

“My mom used to keep boxed cakes in the house for my friends and me to make,” Shelbie says. “She said it was good for us to read the directions and learn to measure… this was probably fourth to fifth grade.”

Jennifer Grawburg asked her mom to teach her at age 13. The dish was Jiffy Blueberry Muffins. “My grandma and my mother were good home cooks and inspired me to be the chef I am now.

Grandparents make learning how to cook and bake special. Anne Blankenship says that she was probably seven or eight years old when she made “kitty kat pancakes (two circles and ears) with her grandfather. “I was lucky to have a mother, grandfather and two grandmothers from whom I learned to cook,” she says.

So, what are you doing to help a new young generation of children to learn how to cook? Whether you’re a parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle, there are all sorts of dishes you can teach them to prepare–at the level they’re at. It could be starting with measuring ingredients or stirring them together, learning how to read a recipe, or just offering tastes to get them interested in new flavors. Older kids can learn knife skills, how to sauté or fry or bake a loaf of bread. Teach them favorite family recipes and recipes that are deeply part of their heritage.

Teach them how to feed themselves and those they love and gain a skill that helps them be independent.

And then teach them how to do the dishes.

How old were you when you first learned to cook? What did you make?

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership. 

And if you are a member and have a special talent or point of view to share on this blog, let us know so we can feature you!

 

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It’s been a few months since the country locked down. That means we’ve had some time to rethink how we go about serving clients–and if we’re serving clients.

Brian Kasten of the Supper Solution in Vermont and an APPCA member explains, “When I saw this coming I secured a commercial kitchen that was unused and have done a temporary transition for those clients I have that are immune compromised. One day a week I work out of this kitchen to cover those clients and I am the only one allowed in… Plus I spend two hours re-sanitizing before any equipment is moved in. And then afterwards.”

Kathy Dederich of Chef, Please! in Arkansas and also an APPCA member recounts, “We have a man here who was in the process of opening a restaurant…his plans are on hold, but he’s cooking in a church kitchen for the community. The church pays for the food, but they accept donations. In a twist of fate, the American Legion hall decided to sell their building and, rather than build out the initial space he had selected, he’s hoping to take over the hall…which is a much nicer facility. Talk about serendipity!”

On June 3, 2020, Eater published a story about how New York’s fine dining chefs have done a 180 and have been starting entrepreneurial home businesses. Alejandra Nicolon, laid off as a pastry chef from Eleven Madison Park, is now making bagels with her husband Andre Lev Pavlik, formerly sou chef at Tom Colicchio’s FiDi restaurant Temple Court. Daniel Burns, from closed, Michelin-starred restaurant Luksus, is making meals. Kate Telfeyan, formerly the chef de cuisine at Mission Chinese Food is not only making dishes like cumin-spiced lamb and kimchi stew, but she’s delivering them herself by bike.

As a personal chef, you probably find this sounds familiar and perhaps not quite kosher.

“We developed the personal chef concept almost 30 years ago specifically to provide a legitimate alternative career path for professional culinary workers who found it difficult or impossible to work in traditional commercial kitchen situations yet chose to support their families using their culinary skill and expertise,” explains APPCA founder and executive director Candy Wallace. “We worked with state and city governments to develop a template to assist chefs and cooks in setting up and operating legitimate, successful businesses as personal and private chefs which meant operating within the safety and licensing requirements of their particular municipalities so the industry could grow and contribute to the benefit of clients who required or desired the service and the financial stability of the chef owner/operator.”

Candy points out that food preparation in residential kitchens being delivered to client’s homes or businesses is illegal in all 50 states in the U.S. Operating with a municipal or State business license, specific local Food Sanitation certification and Specific General Liability Insurance coverage is also required.

So, if you’re not already a personal chef and certified, please, she says, pay attention to these important requirements before you proceed.

“In our current reality of the Covid-19 virus, cooking for clients in your home or their home at this time is dangerous from a potential virus transfer standpoint but also from a legal vulnerability standpoint. If any of your clients or their extended family members become sick, you are a big target,” Candy emphasizes. “If you have no liability insurance coverage, you are cooked. If the health department or city administration departments in your city or state choose to pursue you, they will, and you will find yourself in a morass of red tape that will prevent your being able to open another business.

“Please think before you act.”

Candy suggests that instead you locate a licensed commercial kitchen and deliver safely and legally from it. Protect yourselves by being aware of local requirements and cover your bases.

“I have been a professional chef, author, educator and advocate for many years, and have dedicated my life to the industry I love,” Candy says. “Please be careful, keep safe, be strong, and be kind, support your colleagues, and most of all, be proud of your craft.”

What have you been doing with your business since the lockdown? Have you discovered some useful workarounds to serve clients?

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership. 

And if you are a member and have a special talent or point of view to share on this blog, let us know so we can feature you!

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While many in the greater world are just discovering their kitchens, thanks to lockdowns, you chefs have tons of expertise is all aspects of meal making. But there are things we do by habit or were taught that could be improved on, whether it’s to save time, save clean up, or just be more effective.

We thought it would be interesting to learn what some of your favorite kitchen hacks are so we asked people on our Facebook pages to share. Here’s what they had to offer:

  • “I grate my eggs when preparing egg salad. I create a simple sauce with lemon mayonnaise mixed spicy mustard and seasoning. Mix in capers and serve with butter lettuce salad.” Allyson Demlinger Shapiro
  • “I zest my lemons holding the lemon and using the zester facing up. It holds the zest and I can see how deep I’m going. It’s backwards but makes more sense to me.” Jennifer M. Grawberg
  • “Using a jumbo paper clip — opened to like a “C” — to truss the legs of poultry before roasting. Way easier than twine.” Kim Jones
  • “Using a frozen stick of butter and a (preferably flat) grater, peel down paper on stick of butter and grate butter into flour for pastry dough; then combine with pastry cutter or fingers.” https://www.facebook.com/designedcuisine/videos/712702312420776/  Anne Blankenship
  • “A year ago I bought a wooden oyster holder from France … I broke it eventually and looked for a replacement at Sur La Table … replacement was made of plastic and rubber … accompanying knife was dangerously sharp … I have reassembled my broken wooden French version … and will take my chances … how do you open oysters?” Walter Newell

And, because who doesn’t love a great kitchen hack, here are some others I found around the Internet:

  • Employ a “garbage jar”: If you love baking and find yourself with bits of leftover ingredients like chocolate chips, coconut flakes, nuts, and dried fruits, put anything less than half a cup into a jar. Next time you bake a batch of cookies or Rice Krispie Treats or the like, shake up the jar and add your collection to your recipe. From MyRecipes 
  • Flattening parchment paper from a roll: Got parchment paper that won’t stop curling up on the pan? Easy fix–just crumple it up in a ball and then flatten it out. From Food & Wine
  • How to clean your spice grinding: Remember the old coffee grinders we used to use for coffee. We’re so sophisticated we use burr grinders for the beans and use these for spices. But cleaning them is a drag. Unless you use a hunk of bread. Bonus! You wind up with spiced bread crumbs! Don’t want to use them at the moment? Put them in a bag and store in the freezer. From Epicurious
  • Juice your lemon without cutting it: If you only need a teaspoon of juice from a large lemon, why cut it when you stick a skewer into the non-stem end and squeeze out just what you need? Then put the lemon in a bag and store in the fridge. From Southern Living
  • Get more use from your loaf pan than banana bread: Make smaller casseroles, meatloaf, a terrine, a stacked dessert, pull-apart bread. From MyRecipes
  • Get rid of static plastic wrap syndrome: Simple–store it in the freezer. From Southern Living

What are your favorite kitchen hacks?

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership. 

And if you are a member and have a special talent or point of view to share on this blog, let us know so we can feature you!

 

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Caprese empanadas

Back in 2015, I posted here some recipes for empanadas. Well, just a few months ago, before lockdowns and quarantines, I spent time in the kitchen of an Argentine chef in San Diego whose entire business revolves around empanadas. I surely hope he’s still in business because these pastries are so divine.

Empanadas are traditionally shaped into crescents — a form that comes from simply pulling the edge of one half of a circle of dough over the filling to the edge of the other half and pressing together the edges to make a seam. But, as Matias Rigali, owner of Empanada Kitchen, explained, the array of beautifully shaped pastries and twisted seams that you can find in a home or a shop is a way of distinguishing pastries with different fillings. Beef and chicken filled empanadas tend to have the usual crescent shape, but the twisted seam of the beef has smaller folds than a chicken empanada. His Caprese and Ham & Cheese empanadas are both shaped into circles by pulling together the two ends of the crescent and sealing, but the ends of the Ham & Cheese variety are crisscrossed. The Mushroom & Goat Cheese variety has a more rectangular shape. And on it goes.

While beef is considered the classic version, Rigali explained that there are endless types of fillings. Many have an Italian influence, which aligns with Argentina’s population.

I got to learn Rigali’s dough recipe and his Caprese recipe, which I thought I’d share since we’re in the thick of spring, and tomatoes and basil are coming into season. This dough is home-cook friendly so even if you’re dough phobic, as a chef you should have no problem. And this dough, which uses Spectrum, an organic vegetable shortening, or Nutiva, an organic shortening that’s a blend of red palm and coconut oil, as the fat, is far more heart healthy than his country’s traditional beef tallow. Rigali said it also makes for a flaky pastry.

The dough is simple, made with all-purpose flour, salt, the vegetable shortening and water. Mix the first three ingredients together and slowly add the water. If the dough is still a bit dry, you can add more but a very little at a time. After forming balls, chill the dough for an hour. Rigali highly suggests using a pasta machine to roll it out, with the roller set at 8. But you can also roll it out with a rolling pin. It needs to be as thin as a flour tortilla. Then cut into 5 1/2-inch circles.

To make the Caprese filling, clean Roma tomatoes of the seeds and dice. Mince fresh basil just before using it to keep the edges from browning. And finely shred mozzarella cheese. Combine the mixture, which also includes salt and pepper, in a bowl, using your fingers to keep the tomatoes from breaking and to more evenly spread the spices. Then you’ll form 2-ounce balls.

The fun part comes with the assembly. Place a ball of the filling in the middle of the rolled-out dough circle. If you’re a beginner or teaching a child, do this on the counter, then fold over half the dough to meet the other half and use the tines of a fork to pinch the edges together and then pull the ends together and pinch to make a circle. Once you’re feeling a little more confident and competent, place the circle in your hand, place the filling in the middle and fold one half of the dough over the other and use your fingers to first seal together and then draw together the ends of the crescent to form a circle. Once assembled, each hand pie should be pricked with a skewer or toothpick twice on the upper side to allow steam to escape while baking.

Rigali stressed a great trick to perfect this hand pie: freeze the raw empanadas overnight and bake from frozen. This allows the pastry to cook briefly at high heat without either burning the dough or overcooking the filling. Before baking, give each pie a quick brush of egg wash. Bake a single layer 10 at a time at 550 degrees for 10 minutes. Then keep checking 1 minute at a time until they are a light brown. Serve them with a bowl of chimichurri.

Empanada Dough
Makes 20 empanadas

3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons un-hydrogenated vegetable shortening
1 cup of water

Mix flour, salt and vegetable shortening in a bowl. Start adding water until it is absorbed. Add more water if necessary. Divide the dough ball in smaller balls, wrap each in plastic, and chill for at least an hour. Stretch the dough, ideally with a pasta machine set at 8. If rolling it out with a rolling pin, the dough should be about the thickness of a flour tortilla. Cut the dough into circular shapes about 51/2 inches in diameter.

Caprese Empanada
Makes about 20 empanadas

1 1/2 pounds Roma tomatoes, cleaned of seeds and diced
2 ounces fresh basil leaves, finely chopped just before using
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 pounds mozzarella cheese, finely shredded
20 empanada dough circles
1 egg, beaten

Mix the tomatoes, basil, salt and pepper in a bowl with your fingers to better disperse the spices. Let sit for 20 minutes.

Add the mixture to the mozzarella. Blend carefully, trying to avoid breaking up the tomatoes. Make 20 small balls of about 2 ounces each.

Assemble the empanada by placing a ball of the mixture on the center of the circle. Fold over and seal the edges, either with the tines of a fork or pinching the edges closed with your fingers. Poke the top side with two small holes to release steam while baking.

Freeze overnight on a baking sheet.

Preheat oven to 550 degrees. Brush the frozen empanadas with the beaten egg and bake in batches of 10 for 10 minutes, checking in one-minute increments after that until they’re golden brown.

Do you make empanadas? What varieties do you enjoy?

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership. 

And if you are a member and have a special talent or point of view to share on this blog, let us know so we can feature you!

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