Monica Shoemaker has been cooking ever since she can remember. Growing up in Texas on the Mexican border, her first memories are of making tortillas with the family housekeeper, Maria. “Those hot tortillas coming off the griddle were my first memories,” she recalls. “I always loved cooking, loved experimenting. A friend of mine in high school used to joke that I was the only person who would throw parties when my parents were away and serve hors d’oeuvres.”

But Monica had never actually considered cooking as a career choice, opting instead to get a degree in social work. All the while, however, she had been teaching herself how to cook, waiting tables at restaurant, and did cook tableside at a chic Mexican restaurant in Houston. The restaurant asked her to cater for them and she even got a gig as a private chef for her flight instructor. Yes, she was learning how to fly.


Then she moved to Portland, following her brother, in 1996. She got married, and had a baby boy. “When my son was three I wanted to have the freedom and flexibility of having my own business and do it cooking. I did some research and found APPCA. I went to a summit that year and met Candy. She’s amazing. She’s given me lots of great business advice. I love her!”

The name for her new business, Home Plate Personal Chef Service, came to her in a dream while she was in Houston visiting her mom. Back in Portland, she was able to get clients from some of the top headquartered companies in the region, including Nike, Adidas, and Intel. She’s focused on cooking nutritious, healthy meals and loves creating meals based on clients’ special diets.

“I do everything from paleo to helping people with food allergies and sensitivities, like gluten-free and MS or other anti-inflammatory diets,” she explains. “I’m always reading up on nutrition and medical journals. People come to me because they want to eat clean, healthy food.”

But, like many chefs, she likes to have her moment to shine with food that’s a little more extravagant. “I love doing dinner parties, too, she says. “That’s when I can pull out all the stops.”


One of the greatest times of her life was a trip made with a group of personal chefs to Italy, led by Candy. She participated in a cooking course at the Academia Barilla in Parma. “It was an amazing experience. Not only were we able to taste the best olive oils in the regional and learn how they made parmesan and prosciutto, we even got to cook with a chef who cooked for the pope! I loved the produce, the little markets. It was incredible!

Monica at Academia Barilla

“But what I gained the most, aside from the amazing food and lovely scenery, were the friendships I made there–in particular, Katie Jackson and Gina Capobianco, both APPCA members, whom I’ve seen many times over the years since we met there,” adds Monica. “We travel together, meet up in other cities, and talk on a weekly basis. It also gave me a deeper appreciation for the APPCA and I was able to bond with a lot of other chefs in our association, which was fantastic since we often work alone when we’re at the homes of our clients.”

Today, Monica is weaving in a new skills set with her cooking. She just became an aesthetician. She’ll continue to work with her clients, but is also hoping to work in a wellness center to do nutritional counseling and skin care.

Monica has a special Persian-style lamb stew recipe to share–perfect for cold winter nights.

Spiced Lamb Stew with Walnuts and Pomegranate

From Monica Shoemaker

The recipe has been adapted from Jamie Oliver’s recipe.  I made a few changes…but the method of cooking is the same.

Serves 4

2 to 3 pounds quality roasting shoulder joint of lamb, boneless
2 tablespoons plain flour
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil
1 red onion, peeled and finely sliced
4 sticks celery, trimmed and finely sliced
4 cloves garlic, peeled and finely sliced
½ stick cinnamon
1 cup walnuts, chopped
2 bay leaves
2 cups of pomegranate juice
1 cup of chicken broth
1 bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley

lamb stew ingredients2

Cut the lamb into thumb-sized cubes. Spike the flour with a teaspoon of sea salt and black pepper. Toss the lamb cubes in the seasoned flour.

Heat a large pan and pour in 2 tablespoons of olive oil. When the oil starts to smoke, add as many lamb pieces as will fit in one layer, cover with a lid and cook for a few minutes until soft and browned evenly. Remove from the pan, then repeat with the remaining cubes until they are all browned. Return all the lamb to the pan and turn the heat down.

Add the onion, celery, garlic, cinnamon, walnuts and bay leaves to the pan. Put the lid back on and cook very gently for 3 to 5 minutes, stirring often to make sure nothing sticks to the bottom of the pan, until the onion is softened.

Lamb stew ingredients in pot

Cut your pomegranates in half and ease out a few of the seeds and put to one side. Stir the juice into the lamb and top up with water to cover. Simmer very gently for 1½ hours, or until the lamb is tender, adding a little water now and then if the stew gets dry.

Remove and discard the cinnamon stick and bay leaves. Season to taste and sprinkle with the parsley and reserved pomegranate seeds. Lovely served with steaming hot saffron rice.

Lamb stew

Photos courtesy of Monica Shoemaker.


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Over the next several months we’ll be addressing a topic that many personal chefs take special pride in: learning how to help clients with special dietary needs. Several member chefs who have developed specializations will contribute posts that explore how they got through the learning curve and developed dishes that make life healthier and happier in their clients’ daily lives.

We start with Beth Volpe of Savory Eats by Beth, who has developed the ability to work with a spectrum of clients with special needs. She tells us how this developed and gives tips for how to take on a new dietary challenge so you don’t have to say no–and, in fact, can be the great change in a family’s life.

Working with Special Needs Clients
by Beth Volpe

Last March I was contacted by a nutritionist who had a client with food sensitivities. “Tom” is in his early 30’s, has a high pressure job, is married to a wife with a minimal palate, and his colon was removed 11 years ago due to severe ulcerative colitis. He does not feel good most of the time. He was put on a food sensitivity diet consisting of 25 items (this included herbs and spices). Cooking for clients with dietary specifications of course requires more work and research. However, cooking with only 25 items presents even more challenges when it comes to making the food look and taste good. I was able to add one or two items to the list weekly. Unfortunately, we found that combining certain foods together caused a negative reaction.

Chicken Loaf with Spinach and Ricotta Cheese--created for "Tom." After a couple of months of cooking for him, he was able to enjoy ricotta cheese.

Chicken Loaf with Spinach and Ricotta Cheese–created for “Tom.” After a couple of months of cooking for him, he was able to enjoy ricotta cheese.

I don’t have formal training in dealing with food sensitivities but fortunately there are lots of resources out there. In “Tom’s” case I stayed in close contact with his nutritionist at first to fully understand the list of foods. I cooked twice a week for this client, making 14 dinners and 14 lunches weekly. Half were frozen. Since the couple doesn’t cook I was also cooking for his wife, who did not like many items on his list. More work! I still cook for “Tom” today, however I have given him my recipes and he cooks on his own now. I see him every three to four months.

Vinegar and Coconut Milk--special for "Tom"

Vinegar and Coconut Milk–special for “Tom”

What I have learned:

  1. People with food sensitivities or intolerances feel sick when they eat foods that do not agree with their body. It has been described to me as the same feeling as a hangover.
  2. I always ask if their condition has been diagnosed and who made the diagnosis. Was blood work done? For too many people, the answer is gluten-free diets.
  3. These clients require lots of research by the chef. For me, I needed to understand this dietary program. I always research any medical condition my clients have before I meet with them so that when we do meet I am at least somewhat familiar with their condition. Then I’m able to ask the right questions.
  4. To date, I have never turned down a client with special dietary needs. However, today, I would not take on a client like this or a vegan client or anything that looks too complicated.  At the time I met “Tom” I had just started my business. I was in the market to get clients and entertained any interested parties.
  5. I cook fresh only. I don’t freeze foods anymore. My clients seem to prefer fresh food and are willing to pay for me to come in weekly and cook for them.
Raw Apple Pie--created for a paleo diet

Raw Apple Pie–created for a paleo diet


My business fell into a niche market from the get go. My first client was diagnosed pre-diabetic. Then I did a Paleo Valentine’s dinner (that was fun and interesting). That was followed by a young mother with Multiple Myeloma. She had just had a stem cell transplant. The rest were/are referrals from nutritionists. Now my clientele consist of gluten free, gluten free/lactose intolerant, heart conditions (bypass surgery or heart attack), and cancer/chemo patients. All of these require research. All of these are challenging.

Gluten-Free, Lactose-Free New York Steak and Potatoes with Onions

Gluten-Free, Lactose-Free New York Steak and Potatoes with Onions

If you’ve been approached by people with special dietary needs, don’t turn them down out of hand because you’re afraid you don’t have the knowledge base to help them or that it will be too difficult. But there are challenges in working with them. I’ve put together some tips to help you get started:


  1. Make sure you have the time to devote to clients with special needs. It is not as simple to put a recipe or menu together. They personally may want more of your time.
  2. Be prepared to research what you need to know about their situation. That may mean talking to their doctor or nutritionist directly. Buy the book, Google it, read blogs. Get familiar with why they are seeking your help.
  3. Be patient and be ready to do what the client needs, not what you want to do. I always considered myself a savory cook. Making food taste over the top was what I did. Well, that all needs to be put into perspective when you are limited by the foods you are able to cook with. It doesn’t mean you can’t still be creative. It means you must become even more creative. Save your amazing recipes for those wonderful dinner parties.
  4. It’s a good idea to find out what type of oil the client, doctor, or nutritionist wants used in cooking. Generally extra-virgin olive oil, sesame, and coconut are acceptable. I was surprised to find out that commercial brands of oil such as canola (and many others) are not acceptable (for my clients).
  5. For your lactose-intolerant clients, butter and milk alternatives must be used. I use ghee when butter is called for in a recipe.
  6. Chia seeds are a great binding alternative in any ground meat such as meatloaf. Mixed with a liquid it becomes a tasteless gel.
Chicken Fajitas and Spanish Rice--gluten and lactose free

Chicken Fajitas and Spanish Rice–gluten and lactose free

Beth Volpe is the chef/owner of Savory Eats by Beth Personal Chef Services in Los Angeles.

What types of medical conditions or diets are potential clients contacting you about? How have you learned to help them?

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

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Nicole Aloni

Why have we chosen the path of personal chef? A few reasons come to mind. We love to take care of others. We love cooking. And we want control over our careers so we can live a more fulfilling life on our own terms. But, even with the best of intentions and drive, we’re people and we often come up short in meeting our goals and living our dreams. The new year is a time of reflection and re-evaluation, of setting new goals and re-motivating ourselves for the future. So, we’re lucky that life and career coach (and chef) Nicole Aloni has offered to write a three-part series to guide us in how to bring more ease, more fulfillment, and more mastery to every aspect of our life–from our careers to our relationships. Nicole feels that these are some of the most valuable skills she shares with her coaching clients. Nicole is a long-time friend of APPCA and has given inspiring programs at several of our national meetings.

In this three-part series, Three Keys for Personal Chefs to Enjoy More Balance and Fulfillment in 2015 (heck, any year), Nicole will discuss:

Part 1: Discovering Your Personal Values
Part 2 (in February): How to Identify and Manage Your Gremlins (your internal sabateurs)
Part 3 (in March): Nicole’s favorite techniques for managing stress and enhancing your sense of well being and joy

Discovering Your Personal Values
by Nicole Aloni

We are all on a hero’s journey toward discovering our true life’s purpose—the impact we were born to make on the planet. When we have discovered that path and step in to it, our lives feel full, balanced, and joyous.

To understand and embrace your unique role, it’s essential for you to come to understand what your values are. Firstly—values are not morals. Your values are those energies or qualities without which your life is flat, frustrating, and out-of-sync feeling—and often not as successful as you would like. For example, one of your top values might be receiving recognition/being number one. That is not a moral choice; it is who you are. There is nothing inherently virtuous (or not) in your values. What is important is not the value itself but the degree to which you are fully living it in your day-to-day life.

When you understand your values and then use them as the benchmarks by which you measure all major decisions, your life will come to feel easy, joyous, exciting. You will feel in “flow.” You can wisely assess each decision or opportunity to see whether your top values will be honored or trampled by making that choice and decide accordingly. Making these kind of informed choices will help you find and stay on your own, personal path of flow and fulfillment.

So, it’s essential that you do the work to identify these values that are intrinsic to you—as unique as your DNA. This values discovery is often the work of a focused session or two with your coach. But you can do much of this on your own.

A Values Exercise
Think of a fantastically happy time in your past. Isolate a three- or four-minute snapshot of a time when you felt on top of the world. Were you lying on the beach in Phuket with your toes being lapped by gentle waves? Picking up your baby for the first time? Making a perfect run through powder down a 5-diamond run?

Close your eyes and bring this experience to mind as vividly as you can. Really feel it. Now ask yourself: What made this experience truly marvelous and amazing? Was it my feeling of adventurousness? My sense of mastery? Of independence or vitality? Serenity or the honoring of family? These are values. (Below is a list of some other values that may resonate with you.)

Start your list with the two or three words that are clearly popping out of your experience. Those are values that were being fully honored in that moment. That’s why you felt so alive, plugged-in!

Because our feelings are so complex, most people find it useful to use a string of two or three words to really fully embody a value. And the more absolute specificity and clarity you can achieve, the more powerful this knowledge will be for you moving forward. For instance, consider how different the meaning expressed by the values string of spirituality/love/risk-taking is from spirituality/service to others/intuition.

Ultimately, we are looking for a list of your top 10 values (each probably a string of powerful words as above) that you will order from #1 (most essential to your life, your well-being—this is the one you know you can’t live without) and so on to #10.

This will likely change over time. The order in which you rank your values may shift, and some values may actually slip off the list to be replaced by something new. Lives change. We evolve. And it’s great to check in with this a couple of times a year throughout your life.

Finally, forgive and appreciate yourself just as you are today—about to begin this journey. You are already great!


Nicole is the author of three books about the art of cooking and entertaining: The Backyard Bartender, Secrets From A Caterer’s Kitchen and Cooking for Company. She is also a life and career coach, freelance writer, and teacher.

Nicole completed the diploma course at La Varenne Ecole de Cuisine in Paris, and then stayed on to work as a chef in France. In California, she owned her own restaurant and directed one of the country’s largest catering operations where she produced events for queens, divas, presidents and Julia Child. Nicole then opened her own high-end catering company, which also produced a line of gourmet food products for fine stores.

After completing her studies at the prestigious Coaches Training Institute, Nicole added whole life coaching for food professionals and others to her career. Nicole helps her clients discover what is possible for themselves and their business. She works with the whole person, bringing into balance the various aspects of life so clients not only reach their potential, but also find deep satisfaction and joy.

She coaches, cooks and entertains in Seattle, WA. You can reach Nicole at and

Values Thought-Starter List
(Keep in mind, the isn’t a shopping list, just a thought-starter. You may identify with some of these or your values may not appear here at all.)

Being the best
Peace of mind
Personal Growth
Receiving Recognition
Risk Taking
Service to others

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Aim High for 2015 With a Living Business Plan

Filed under: Business Strategies , Tags: , — Author: Caron Golden , January 5, 2015

Motivational speak Zig Ziglar is often quoted as saying, “If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time.” Operating a business without a business plan as your road map is a form of aiming at nothing–and is a guaranteed scenario for disaster.

The opportunity to redirect, redefine, and refresh your business plan at the start of each new year is an important process that can set you in the direction you choose to pursue with self-set attainable markers to chart your progress. Establishing it when you launched your business isn’t enough. Your business plan is a living document that must be regularly updated to reflect where you are and where you want to go. Making an appointment with yourself to review and bring it up to date is a date with your destiny that clarifies your plans and goals.

And they don’t have to be strictly business goals, although things do tend to circle back to the business. What you include in your plan can help you determine if the business is meeting your needs–all your needs. Is it both sustaining you financially and supporting you spiritually so you can spend the time you want with family, friends, and your community? Are you learning new skills that help your business grow or help you blossom as a person? Are you shedding things that are no longer important to you? Have your priorities changed over the course of a year? Remember, this career path as a personal chef is designed to promote your own expertise and your specific business and lifestyle requirements.

Assuming you’ve addressed the basics–committing to writing your strengths, skills, and time; a realistic initial sales forecast; and your business model/s for generating revenues–you can review other critical business issues over time, such as changing markets and revised sales forecasts. Here’s where you include potential new revenue streams like catering events or teaching classes. It’s where you evaluate your current client base and determine if it’s still viable or needs revisiting. It shows you where you need to spend time marketing and identify the best approaches for doing so.

Yet another issue to revisit in your business plan is how well set you are for dealing with new, unexpected responsibilities. Perhaps you’re going to be a new parent. Perhaps your parents need your help as a caregiver. Perhaps you’re getting married or divorced or are buying a new home. Does your business plan reflect the changes that are inevitably taking place in your life?

Revising and updating your business plan is a great way to dedicate time to thinking about what you want to achieve in the coming year and what you want your life to be truly is filled with. Putting your goals and dreams down in a document gives it a solidity and reference point that just mulling it over in the middle of the night lacks. And be sure to set several goals instead of one singular grand goal. You don’t just want to increase revenues by 10 percent. Perhaps you also want to include learning a new skill like public speaking or writing a blog or improving your food photography. Perhaps it’s something as basic as developing a half dozen new sauces and a killer chicken stock. With several goals, you can celebrate your accomplishments throughout the year. (Because you are going to return to your business plan throughout the year to check on your progress, right?)

Taking the time to update your living business plan enables you to deal with evolving circumstances. And that gives you power. It allows you to deal with change effectively and immediately, without panic or anxiety. It allows you to bite off small chunks of accomplishments while working toward the greater goals of the year. It gives you something to strive for and to measure achievements by. It’s a New Year’s gift you give yourself both in serenity and helping you attain your ambitions.

And, remember, if you find yourself stuck in creating or updating your business plan, get in touch! That’s what we’re here for!

Have you begun to assess and update your business plan? If not, what’s holding you back? What are some of the new goals you’re identifying for 2015?

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



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Dom Petrov Ossetra and Hackleback (r)1

With the New Year upon us this week, we’re facing the inevitable feast of resolutions. Well, we don’t want to be left out of the fun. And we’re always keen on trying to help our members thrive in business and life. So, we’ve come up with strategies that we believe will help with both. And, if you’ve got any to suggest, please include them in the comments section below!

So, in the spirit of stepping right up to the future, generating new business, keeping current business, and just all around embracing life, we hope you will:

1. Jump start your business marketing in innovative ways that attract the people you want to work with. Dive into social media and really engage people with a mix of what you’re doing, useful information about food/diet, and showcasing what you admire in others (generosity is a winning character trait on social media that attracts others). Join professional or volunteer organizations that will help you network beyond your usual circle. Contact us about guest blogging in this space or to ask Caron Golden to write a feature post about you. Let us know your area of expertise so we can call on you as a resource. (And then promote the heck out of the published piece!) It all helps you get your name out into the wider world!

2. Refresh your website and be sure to include the most important information about yourself, specifically your name, service geographies, and contact info (you’d be surprised at how many people seem to keep this a secret). Keep your site up to date and informative. Brag on yourself! And, be sure to get someone else to give new copy a once over to catch typos and grammatical mistakes. Make it as professional as you can.

Chef Carol Borchardt, who is generous with business advice and photography expertise

Chef Carol Borchardt, who is generous with business advice and photography expertise

3. Improve your food photography. The difference between a mediocre photo and a mouthwatering one is often as simple as lighting and focus. Don’t display muddy shots of brown food. Make every dish glow. That’s what you’re selling! Take a photography class. Buy a food photography book like Plate to Pixel by Helene Dujardin and study it. Read our past posts by member/photographer Carol Borchardt and learn from them. Study photos you admire and learn how to style from them.

4. Focus on learning a couple of new cooking techniques or a new cuisine to reignite your passion for cooking and so you can introduce new recipes into your client repertoire.

5. Conduct regular client assessments with longtime clients–perhaps every six months. It’s good to have ongoing conversations about where they are in their health, diet, and preferences. It’s also an opportunity for you to introduce new dishes to them and encourage them to give you referrals.

6. Set aside a budget to go out to eat at new restaurants, ethnic restaurants, anything that gets you out of your rut so you experience new tastes and new approaches to food and cooking. It’s research and it’s fun.

7. Get out and ask questions. What do people need in your community that you can provide? Does a community college need cooking teachers? Does a cooking school need someone who is able to teach kids or elders or people with specific dietary issues in which you have expertise? Does a local business need a regular caterer? Does a dietician with special needs clients need a chef to refer them to?

All editions of The Professional Chef

8. Identify gaps or deficiencies in how you run your business and find ways to improve them so that you’re more efficient and can earn more money. We have plenty of materials and software that address the business of being a personal chef. I can help and if you need other tools, we can direct you to them. Or come to San Diego and take a Personal Chef Seminar to recalibrate your business. Or take a class to learn a new skill set (in accounting, marketing, public speaking) at your local community college.


photo 2


9. Add a new related revenue stream to your business. This can range from teaching cooking classes and doing food demos at events to providing small markets with take0ut foods or catering meetings for businesses.

10. Set aside time once a month to get out of the kitchen and away from your business and do something fun. We all need to clear our heads and just enjoy life. We chose this industry so we could earn a living doing what we love on our terms. Set your priorities so you can lead a balanced life and be with those who are important to you.

January is traditionally a time for activating a new approach to life. We may not need to diet or exercise more, but who couldn’t  improve on what we already do well or simply learn something new that will enhance our business or life?

With the economy improving, 2015 is bound to be a terrific year! What can you do for yourself and your family to fulfill that promise?

Dennis and I wish you a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year!

What are you planning on doing to make 2015 a banner year?

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

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Guest post by APPCA member Nicole Gaffney:

Nicole with clams

Christmas Eve in our family is a big deal, unlike Christmas Day, when we lazily lounge around in our PJ’s all day. Each year there’s a huge Christmas Eve party with my extended Italian relatives from my Mom’s side. Each of my maternal grandparents came from a family of 13 siblings, so the amount of aunts, uncles and cousins will make your head explode. And of course, at the center of our gathering each year, is the food.

The vast majority of my family members made their living as commercial fishermen, so I never really thought twice about how most of the food on our table was seafood. When I got older, I learned about the Italian tradition of The Feast of The Seven Fishes and realized that our seafood-centric celebration was not just a coincidence.  I suppose having family in the business just makes it a little easier to pull off.

This tradition of eating seafood on Christmas Eve evolved from the Roman Catholic custom of abstaining from the consumption of meat products on holy days, much like during Lent. Many families, like my own, follow the tradition simply for the fun and deliciousness of it.

grilled fish

There are many traditional dishes served at The Feast of Seven Fishes, such as octopus salad, baccala (salt cod), fried smelts, stuffed shrimp, clams, and scallops. But to host a celebration of your own, any of your favorite fish dishes will do. The key to a successful spread is making sure you have the freshest seafood possible and not to overcook it.


Here are some of my family’s best tips for selecting and cooking seafood:

  • First and foremost, have a good, trustworthy fishmonger. Get to know them, and ask their opinion on what is best that day or time of year.
  • The flesh of fresh fish should look vibrant and firm, never dull and mushy. If buying fish whole, always look at the eyes and gills. The eyes should be ultra clear and slightly protruded, while the gills should be bright pink. An old fish will have cloudy, dull sunken eyes and grayish gills. Avoid this at all costs.
  • Ask your fish monger to filet and skin a whole fish for you; they should do it at no additional cost. This way you can select the freshest fish possible without having to wrestle with it at home.
  • Fresh fish begins to deteriorate quickly after its caught, so purchase as last minute as possible, and always store it on ice. It’s best to place the fish on ice in a perforated container over top of another container so the water can drain out, as you don’t want the fish sitting around in the water.
  • Choose bivalves like clams, oysters and mussels that are tightly closed. If some of them are slightly opened, give them a little tap. If they’re alive, they will snap right shut. If not, it means they are dead and should be discarded (or not purchased in the first place).
  • If access to a good fishmonger and fresh seafood is difficult, frozen seafood can be a great option, especially when planning ahead. Cold water fish spend their lives in near freezing temperatures, so freezing them doesn’t affect their flesh much at all. Alaskan king crab, snow crab, shrimp, and lobster tails are often flash frozen right on the boats, so they’re just as good as buying fresh. Always look for the words “vacuum sealed” or “flash frozen” when purchasing frozen seafood.
  • Defrost frozen seafood gradually – overnight in the refrigerator is best, or under cold running water. Never run under hot water, never leave at room temperature, and never ever microwave.
  • Ask your fishmonger if they have any leftover shrimp, crab, or lobster shells they can either give or sell you on the cheap. You can use these to make an incredibly flavorful soup or stock to use in pasta or risotto. I save my shells all year long and take them out at Christmas time to make the most delicious bisque. I love being able to utilize what would have been waste in order to make a luxurious and elegant soup.
  • To freeze shells properly, be sure to clean them thoroughly of all guts and remnants of meat. Dry them off and store in doubled plastic ziplock bags with as much air removed as possible.
  • When cooking fresh lobsters and clams, it’s best to pop them in the freezer for about 20 minutes (but no longer) prior to cooking. For clams, it helps them to open easier, while for lobsters, it temporarily paralyzes them making it much easier to get them into the pot. The same tip also works for opening raw oysters – a few minutes in the freezer will get them to pop open with ease.


lobster meat

Whether you opt for one fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish, all 7 fishes or no fish this Christmas, the important thing is to enjoy it with the ones you love.

From my big Italian family to yours, we wish you a very happy, healthy, and whole holiday season.

New Jersey resident Nicole Gaffney is a chef, writer, and television personality best known for being second runner up on the 10th season of the reality cooking competition, Food Network Star. She runs a personal chef business called The Dinner Belle and is the author of the blog, Too Full for School.

Photos courtesy of Nicole Gaffney

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apple crisp1

When a client has type 2 diabetes, creating a healthy dessert can be a tricky thing. What everyone immediately fixates on is the sugar. But sugar is really a foil for something larger, which, of course, is carbohydrates. And all carbs are equal when it comes to diabetes management. The other component just as important in managing diabetes is fat. For most people with type 2 diabetes, excess weight is what led to the disease. Keeping weight in check through a healthy, low-fat diet along with exercise—and managing blood sugar through carb control—is what will help those with type 2 diabetes stay healthy in the long run.

Now that we’re smack dab in the holiday season, where does dessert fall into a healthy diet? Dessert is an indulgence, a part of the pleasure of a day. But the person with diabetes has to plan for it. My experience has been that it’s all about moderation and portion control—and they’re not necessarily the same thing.


Moderation includes portion control but it also means being discriminating in what you eat. In the context of dessert, it means looking for sweets that are mostly made with real fruit or dark chocolate. It means seeking out desserts that are airy—made with lots of egg whites, like angel food cake and sponge cake—which cuts down on the density and carb count. Or simply desserts which call for less sugar than conventional recipes.

Portion control can be tricky. So one approach is to look for desserts that are by their nature single portion: chocolate mousse servings in a small ramekin, a single piece of dark chocolate, a small honey crisp apple. If a client is craving pie or cake you can slice it into individual portions, wrap them, and put them in the freezer. Same with cookies or muffins.

Pudwill Berry Farms Honey Crisp Apples2

I know there are a lot of people who look for sugar-free choices. But what you have to remember about sugar-free options is that they aren’t necessarily lower in fat or carbs. And they usually include chemicals we may not want to consume. It’s better to eat natural ingredients. Yes, there are healthier sugar-free options; honey and maple syrup are favorites and many people love stevia. For a long time, agave nectar was considered a good alternative to sugar but doctors like Andrew Weil are now concerned about the impact of high fructose and are discouraging its use.

Sometimes your client just wants what she wants and you have to figure out how to make it work. Does she love apple pie? How about ditching the crust and instead make a crisp? By reducing the amount of butter, sugar, and flour—and eating small portions—she can have something healthier since it’s just topping cooked fruit, not encasing it. You can even make a bag of crisp mixture, store it in the freezer, and she can pull out a handful at a time to top a sliced apple or cup of berries.

Ultimately, it’s all about balance. Balancing carb portions, balancing fat and calories, balancing exercise with relaxation, balancing indulgence with healthy choices. Dessert isn’t something you have to cut out so much as balance with everything else you’re doing to stay healthy.

Caron Golden’s Crisp Mixture

What I love about this recipe is that I can make the mixture in advance and store it in the freezer. Then I can create an individual serving for myself or a large dessert for company, using whatever fruit is in season. In cool seasons, I peel, core, and slice a Granny Smith apple. Then I toss the slices in a small amount of flour and sugar, and place the slices in a large ramekin or individual pie dish that I lightly coated with baking spray or vegetable oil. I’ll pull out the crisp mixture from the freezer and spoon out just enough to top the fruit, then bake. In less than an hour I have a pretty healthy, fiber-rich dessert.

Makes 8 to 10 servings, depending on how much you use per serving

Mix together:
2 cups quick cooking oats
1 cup toasted walnuts, chopped
1 ½ cups lightly packed brown sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon fennel pollen
1 cup unsalted butter, melted

Store in the freezer until you’re ready to bake.

crisp mixture

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare fruit. Toss with a little flour and sugar. Arrange in a baking dish lightly coated in baking spray or vegetable oil. Top with enough crisp mixture to cover the fruit. Store remaining crisp mixture in the freezer.

Raw apple crisp

Bake for about 40 minutes or until fruit is bubbly and the topping is browned.

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So many chef stories begin with childhood anecdotes of cooking with grandparents or just being born with a passion for food. For Silver Plum Personal Chef’s Elizabeth Prewitt, preparing food started simply as a post-college bargain with her parents. After graduating from Auburn University with an industrial design degree, she moved back to the family home in New Orleans. The deal was that they would buy the food if she would cook it–not necessarily because she had proven skills, but because they were working hard at their consulting business and didn’t get home till late. They needed someone to make dinner.

You could call that her first personal chef gig.

Smoked Trout & Endive Puree Canape

Smoked Trout & Endive Puree Canape

Prewitt was self taught, with the help of her parents’ subscriptions to Cooking Light and Cooks Illustrated (“I have no idea why they had these subscriptions,” she joked.). She muddled along with those and chefs from Food Network. Until Hurricane Katrina hit. Then she and her parents headed a bit north to Kentucky where her sister lived in Louisville. And it was then that she decided to attend culinary school at Louisville’s Sullivan University, where she graduated magna cum laude in 2007 with a specialty in baking and pastry arts.

“I’ve always loved the arts and creative expression,” Prewitt explained. “Cooking is a way for me to be creative three times a day. I like doing things I’m good at and the more I cooked and baked the better I got. And, it’s a way to help people.”

During this time, she’d had a long-distance relationship with the man who would become her husband. He lived in Chicago, so eventually Prewitt moved there to be with him. She’d already done the restaurant shift thing, having worked at New Orleans’ famed Commander’s Palace and Louisville’s Proof on Main. “I had worked in enough restaurants to know I didn’t want to do that,” she recalled.

Quinoa Salad with Almonds, Lime, & Cilantro

Quinoa Salad with Almonds, Lime, & Cilantro

So, instead she took jobs that would give her steady daytime hours that would allow her to spend evenings and weekends with her husband. She worked for awhile with a jewelry designer, then as a receptionist at an architecture firm. But when the recession hit and she got laid off, she did some research on Sullivan University’s website and learned “that personal cheffing was a thing.” The university offered a degree in this but Prewitt thought, “shoot, I could do that.” She found APPCA through Sullivan, became a member, and launched her business in 2010.



Today, it’s thriving, thanks to a lot of word of mouth and a dynamic website filled with her beautiful food photography. She focuses on higher-end clientele, emphasizing high quality and customization. “I want to give my clients the experience of fine dining on their schedule in their home,” she said. She specializes in bi-weekly and monthly service and special events. “And I’ve been very successful doing that. I just stick with my strength.”

Prewitt also has a food and travel blog,, which features recipes and her travel stories.

Cardamom Citrus Cake with Mango Jam and White Pepper Crunch

Cardamom Citrus Cake with Mango Jam and White Pepper Crunch

One thing that Prewitt feels has given her an advantage in her business–which is currently running a waiting list–is the fact that she’s a trained pastry chef and baker. “I definitely think it gives me an edge, especially for dinner parties. I can make an amazing dessert for a client that works with the savory meal I’ve created.”

Prewitt is sharing with us a simple holiday treat she makes for friends every year.

Crispy Chocolate-Mint Guys
From Elizabeth Prewitt, Silver Plum Personal Chef

Makes about 50
These could not be simpler.  They’re a fantastic way to use up any leftover melted chocolate, if you ever have any.  Take care when adding the peppermint oil, as one drop too much can make them taste unbearably minty.

10 ounces good-quality chocolate (not chocolate chips)
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon peppermint oil (not extract)
2 cups (about 4 ounces) puffed rice cereal (such as Rice Krispies), or a little more if needed


Chop the chocolate into 1/2 inch pieces, leaving about a third in larger 1 inch pieces (which will help temper the chocolate).  Place all the chocolate in a medium to large microwave-safe bowl.


Heat the chocolate in the microwave on high for 45 seconds.  Remove and stir (it will not be very melty yet).  Continue microwaving in 10 to 15 second increments, stirring after each one, until the chocolate is mostlymelted, but a few large lumps remain (this is important to help the chocolate temper properly; do not fully melt it in the microwave).

When chocolate is heated enough, remove from microwave and stir gently until all lumps melt.  This may take a minute or two.  It’s okay if all the chocolate doesn’t melt, just remove those lumps after stirring.

Stir in the peppermint oil in 1/16 teaspoon increments (it’s easiest to add such a small amount with a dropper or pipette), tasting after each addition, until chocolate has a noticeably minty flavor.  Add the oil until you’re okay with the flavor.  Note: peppermint oil is potent, and adding too much can make these taste unbearably minty, but you do want it to be a little too minty right now — just a little –to account for all the cereal you’re going to add.  (If you accidentally add too much oil, melt some more chocolate and stir it in.  Solved.)


Add the cereal and stir until fully coated, using extra cereal if necessary.  Spoon out onto a wax-paper-lined sheet tray in bite-sized mounds, a shy tablespoon or so per mound.


Let sit briefly, about 15 minutes.  If properly tempered, the chocolate will begin to firm up.  If not, place in refrigerator until set.  Even if they don’t look perfect, they’ll still taste the same.



Photos courtesy of Elizabeth Prewitt

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

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Forget Potato Pancakes for Hanukah; Try Turnips

Filed under: Recipes , Tags: , , , , — Author: Caron Golden , December 1, 2014

Guest post by Caron Golden

With Hanukah just around the corner, those of you with Jewish clients will probably pull out your recipe for traditional potato pancakes, or latkes. But what you might not realize is that the true focus of the dish isn’t the potatoes; it’s the oil. It all goes back to the legend of the Maccabees having only enough oil to keep their lamp in the temple burning for one night, but, miracle of miracles, it burned for eight. Hence the eight nights of Hanukah.

With that in mind, you could take this traditional latke recipe and use zucchini or carrots, or sweet potatoes–or, how about this, turnips.


Gold Baby Bunch Turnips2

I discovered the wonder of turnip pancakes when I was given a bag of beautiful gold, pink, and Japanese turnips to try. I loved that I could eat these vegetables from root to top, sauteing the greens in olive oil and garlic, and slices of boiled turnips. Then I tried my hand at making latkes out of them and frying them in rendered duck fat. The confetti-like mixture of the shredded turnips made for a pretty plate. And I couldn’t get over how sweet they were.

Now I’m going to assume that like me, you see turnips as one of those root vegetables that you pick up to add to a chicken soup stock, but otherwise ignore. It’s been a big mistake for me. These baby turnips in particular are not only very pretty, with their bold colors, they’re really delicious. Raw, they’re sweet with just a hint of spiciness–kind of like radishes. Cooked, they’re melt-in-your mouth sweet.

And, what I especially appreciate about them is that they’re low in carbs. So, for dealing with my diabetes, I can create dishes that I would otherwise use potatoes for and have something equally delicious but less problematic. So, I can make mashed turnips instead of mashed potatoes. Scalloped turnips. Sauteed turnips. You get the idea. And, I can eat them raw, chopped into a salad. You can’t do that with potatoes.

Making the latkes is very easy–and they’re a great way to introduce your kids or your clients’ kids to a new veggie (and maybe even yourself). Be sure to use a cast iron skillet to get them extra crispy. They’re also freezable. Reheat them straight from the freezer in a 350-degree oven until warmed through and crisp.

Baby Turnip Pancakes
Makes about two dozen, three-inch pancakes

1 pound of baby turnips, trimmed but not peeled
6 large green onions, trimmed
3 cloves garlic
3 large eggs, slightly beaten
1 cup Panko or seasoned bread crumbs
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons fresh, chopped herbs (parsley, oregano, thyme, etc.)
salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil or rendered duck fat for frying

1. Grate the turnips coarsely, using the large holes of a box grater or food processor grater. Put the grated turnips in a colander, set over a bowl, and let the liquid drain from the turnips.

Grated baby turnips1a
2. Chop the green onions coarsely and add to the bowl of a food processor fitted with the chopping blade. Add the garlic and pulse until the onions and garlic are minced.
3. Put all the vegetables in a large bowl and add the Panko, baking powder, herbs, garlic, salt, and pepper. Stir it all together to fully mix the ingredients.
4. Add the eggs and mix well. The batter should be moist but not runny.

Frying turnip pancakes1a
5. Heat 1/4-inch of oil or duck fat in a hot pan. Place a tiny bit of the batter in the pan. If it begins to sizzle, the fat is hot enough for the batter. Use a large spoon and drop the batter into the pan, then flatten into a pancake. Don’t crowd the pancakes by putting too many in at one time. Cook for several minutes on each side until the pancakes are golden brown. Put the pancakes on a plate with paper towels placed on top to drain the fat. Then serve (with applesauce, sour cream, or crème fraîche).

Turnip pancakes1a


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Turkey Stuffing Muffins an essential? What, you’ve never heard of them? Well, after you try these they will become as essential as the stuffing itself. After all, you get the best of the actual stuffing and you can eat it with your hands. You can make extras and freeze them. You can make them all year long (wouldn’t they be wonderful for brunch?). And, even though this recipe calls for specific ingredients, it would be easy enough to riff on them with the ingredients in your personal favorite stuffing.

Then there’s the cranberry chutney. Now I know that there is a large camp of people who in other contexts would turn up their nose at the very thought of eating jiggly food out of a can, but at Thanksgiving simply will not hear of anything else but slices of canned jellied cranberries embedded with the rings of the can on their holiday table. Good for them. For the rest of us, always seeking a new twist on cranberry sauce, you’ll love this vaguely traditional, but ultimately fresh and bright twist on a seasonal favorite.

So, where do these recipes come from? Our social media manager Caron Golden got to make them at a recent Contemporary Thanksgiving Side Dishes class at The Art Institute of California-San Diego, taught by my friend Chef John Miller. She swears she loved them all, but after raving about the muffins and the sweet, sour, and spicy chutney (she admits she added more red pepper flakes than called for and loved it), we agreed we had to share them with you.

Turkey Stuffing Muffins-small

Turkey Stuffing Muffins
The Art Institute of California-San Diego
Yield 6 to 8

4 ounces of bacon, diced
1 cup onion, diced
1 Granny Smith apple, 1/4-inch dice
4 eggs
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon poultry seasoning
1 tablespoons fresh parsley, minced
salt and pepper to taste
1 day-old baguette, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Place diced bacon in a saute pan and just cover with cold water. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and let water evaporate as the bacon cooks. Saute until bacon is crisp. If necessary, you can add additional neutral flavored oil to continue rendering the fat.

Bacon, Onions, Apples

Add the onions and apple and continue to cook until translucent. Transfer to a bowl and let cool until it’s under 180°F.

Whisk together the eggs, cream, milk, poultry seasoning, parsley, and salt and pepper. Place bread in a large bowl and pour the egg mixture over the bread cubes. Gently fold ingredients together and let rest in bowl for 15 minutes so the bread can absorb the liquid. Add the cooled bacon mixture to the bread and eggs. Don’t over mix.

Mixing all ingredients-small

Lightly grease the cups of a muffin tin with butter or use a non-stick pan spray. Using your hands, fill the muffin tins with the stuffing mixture (squeezing out excess moisture) to slightly mounded muffins.

In the muffin tins2

Bake for 20 to 30 minutes until the tops are browned and crisp.

Baked muffins2

Cranberry Chutney

The Art Institute of California-San Diego
Yield: 4 cups

1 orange
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled and diced
1/2 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 cup onion, small dice
1 cup golden raisins
3/4 cup sugar
12 ounces whole fresh cranberries, thoroughly rinsed
1 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup orange juice
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 cup brown sugar, tightly packed
1/2 teaspoon fresh garlic, minced
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

Remove zest from the orange and mince. Remove white pith from the orange and discard. Chop the orange, being careful to remove any seeds.

Combine all ingredients into a stainless steel saucepan. Bring to a boil then reduce heat toa simmer. Cook gently until cranberries are soft (approximately 15 minutes). Stir often to prevent chutney from sticking.

Remove from Heat. Chill at least 24 hours before serving to allow flavors to blend.

Cranberry Chutney-small

Denny and I wish you and your family and friends the happiest of Thanksgivings! We hope this is the beginning of a brilliant and special holiday season for you!


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