Last week I wrote about a long-time favorite recipe of mind: The Vegetarian Epicure’s Eggplant Soufflé. It caught member Suzy Dannette Brown’s attention. The owner of The Brown Bag Nutrition & Chef Services loves eggplant and decided to add more Middle Eastern flavors–and make it for herself. That same day the eggplant was in the oven roasting and her creative juices flowing. Suzy added caramelized red onions, Mediterranean oregano, substituted grated parmesan for fresh sheep feta (love this idea), cow’s milk for almond milk, and oats for wheat flour.

I asked her why she made the changes.

“Well, I love roasted eggplant to the point of almost burnt,” she explained. “This is why I roast it till it is collapsing. I find it is easier if you cut it in half versus leaving it whole. I prefer this method. The end product is to my personal liking. I know roasting it whole until very very soft other people like better. That is, I think a personal choice. 

“I love red onions so deeply caramelized (just before burning) with brandy. Sometimes you may need more fat in the pan so they do not burn. I use a small red onion. I think red onions caramelize better than their yellow and white siblings. I also prefer the flavor. 

“Putting the two together is amazing.”

Suzy also added the garlic to the roux to permeate the roux with the garlic flavor. Adding in the chopped caramelized onions, she said, darkens the roux. “It’s a quick way to turn it from blond to brown,” she said.

Because eggplant to her is so Mediterranean, Suzy used the oregano and feta. In fact, she suggests using a zaatar spice mix to really hike those flavors.

Finally, she doesn’t drink cow’s milk and so chose almond milk and prefers oat flour to all-purpose wheat flour.

Suzy’s next step is to work with aquafaba (chickpea water found in canned chickpeas), whipping the aquafaba to replace whipped egg whites.

“I love taking traditional recipes and see how I can make them vegan,” she said.

Eggplant Soufflé for 2
Suzy Dannette Brown, The Brown Bag Nutrition & Chef Services

Ingredients
1 cup roasted eggplant, pat dry and chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon butter
1/2 teaspoon avocado oil
1/4 cup sliced red onion
1/2 teaspoon Mediterranean oregano
1 tablespoon brandy (optional)
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon oat flour
1 medium clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup almond milk
1 ounce fresh sheep feta, crumbled
2 large eggs, separated
Middle Eastern chili sauce (optional)

2 10.5-ounce ramekins, buttered and sprinkled with salt and pepper

Directions
Preheat oven to 400°.

Slice 1 small eggplant in half lengthwise. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place on a lined sheet pan flesh side down. Bake for about 45 minutes or until the pulp is soft and caramelized. Cool to room temperature. Scrape out all the pulp and discard the skin. Place the pulp on a paper towel to drain a bit and chop it. Season it with salt and pepper, as needed. This can be done a day in advance.

In a small skillet heat a ½ teaspoon of butter and ½ teaspoon of avocado oil. Add red onion. Season with salt and pepper. Sauté onions on low until they begin to caramelize and turn golden brown. I like to add a splash of brandy to give the onions a bit more depth of flavor.

Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a small saucepan. Stir in the oat flour and let the roux cook for a few minutes. Add minced garlic and caramelized onions to combine well into the roux.

Slowly whisk the almond milk into the roux. When the sauce thickens, remove it from the heat and stir in the oregano, feta and the eggplant pulp. Season with salt and pepper. Add the egg yolks and fold in until everything is well combined.

Whisk the egg whites until they are quite stiff but not yet dry. Stir about a third of the egg whites into the eggplant mixture thoroughly. Gently fold in the remaining whites.

Pile the prepared soufflé ramekins. Place ramekins on a rimed baking sheet, place in oven and fill with some warm water (just enough to bing up ¼ inch of the ramekins). Place in a preheated, 400-degree oven. Bake the soufflé about 10 to 12 minutes. The soufflés should be firm to touch but not dry. Serve at once.

I like to top them with a Middle Eastern chili sauce

Are you a chef who likes to turn traditional recipes upside down? What have been your successes? What didn’t work out quite the way you wanted?

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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So, here’s what I will readily admit. Making a soufflé for a dinner party can be tricky business, whether you’re a chef or a home cook.

However, decades ago I discovered a soufflé that is pretty much foolproof and even time forgiving. In fact, it even survives as delicious leftovers. I first made the Eggplant Soufflé from The Vegetarian Epicure when I was just out of college and living in a fifth-floor walk up in Manhattan. My mom had bought me a soufflé dish at Bloomingdale’s, among other “necessary” kitchen items to help me get started with my first solo apartment. I stared at that white dish a lot–but used it to serve salad. No way was I going to make an actual soufflé. That was big league cooking. It was scary stuff. But I pulled out The Vegetarian Epicure and that particular recipe with the eggplant, perhaps my favorite vegetable, intrigued me. I stared it down. I decided this was the time to conquer that mountain.

And it turned out that the recipe was straight-forward, reliable, and produced a divine cloud of cheesy eggplant that my friends and I scarfed down. Let’s face it: In the late 70s and early 80s, it was oh-so-sophisticated a dish for a new college grad to mak– and I did it.

Younger cooks may not be familiar with this cookbook since The Vegetarian Epicure dates back to the early ’70s. I fondly embrace it as part of a moment in time along with The Whole Earth Catalog and Our Bodies, Ourselves. Yet, it stands out as one of the few vegetarian cookbooks of its day that actually had great recipes. Today everyone’s talking about–with justification–Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty and Plenty More. But I think The Vegetarian Epicure deserves a revival.

I thought about all this a awhile ago when a friend of mine, a wonderful cook and cookbook writer, Kathy Strahs, posted a piece on Facebook about her challenges in making a soufflé and I responded by bringing up this recipe and book. Then I thought, “Wait a sec. It’s been decades since I’ve made this. I wonder if it holds up all these years later.”

So, I pulled out the much worn book, which opened directly to the recipe, and gave it a try. And, yes, my friends, it’s still as forgiving and fabulous as ever. The flavor is smooth, the texture rich and creamy. It’s not loud and bold. It’s actually a kind of comfort food.

So, I feel the need to share this with you, in case you, too, have been intimidated by the idea of making a soufflé–or think they’re passé. What I realized is that it is a great recipe for personal chefs to make for vegetarian clients who want a catered dinner party. And it’s a great recipe for those of you who also teach cooking classes. Here is a true confidence booster for home cooks, including kids, who may assume that soufflés are a guaranteed fail.

Now, I really don’t change a thing in this recipe (okay, I do add an extra clove of garlic and cook it up in a larger saucepan than called for, but that’s it). But one thing I did come up with years ago was a spicy tomato relish to accompany it.

The relish is simple: fresh chopped tomatoes, julienned fresh basil, a diced jalapeño, diced red onion, minced garlic, sea salt, and a dash of balsamic vinegar. You may not think this soufflé/relish combo works, but I love it still. It brings the punch I like to an otherwise mild, comforting dish. These days, I also appreciate that the soufflé is low carb and low fat.

Eggplant Soufflé
From The Vegetarian Epicure by Anna Thomas
Serves 4

Ingredients
1 medium eggplant (about 1 lb.)
1 tsp. salt
2 Tbs. butter
1 small clove garlic, put through a press
2 Tbs. flour
1 cup milk
2 to 3 oz. fresh-gated Parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp. fresh-ground black pepper
3 egg yolks
4 egg whites
1/8 tsp. cream of tartar

Directions
Bake the eggplant in a pie dish in a 400-degree oven for about 45 minutes or until the pulp is soft. Cool it under running water so that you can handle it, then split it in half and let the excess water drain out. Scrape out all the pulp and mash it well. Season it with a teaspoon of salt.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan [note: use something larger since all the ingredients will go into it.].  Stir in the flour and let the roux cook for a few minutes.

Heat the milk slightly and beat it into the roux with a whisk. When the sauce thickens, remove it from the heat and stir in the grated cheese and the eggplant pulp. Season with black pepper. Finally, add the egg yolks, lightly beaten.

Add a pinch of cream of tartar to the egg whites and beat them with a whisk until they are quite stiff but not yet dry. Stir about a third of the egg whites into the eggplant mixture thoroughly. Gently fold in the remaining whites.

Pile the mixture into a buttered 6-cup soufflé dish and place it gently into a preheated, 350-degree oven. Bake the soufflé about 45 to 50 minutes and serve at once.

Do you have an “impossible” dish that is actually very accessible for clients and cooking class students? 

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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Are we in the age of salmon collars? Back in the 80s, if you had a dinner party, chances are you were going to serve salmon “steaks”–remember them? These were thick cuts of salmon cut perpendicular to the backbone.

Then we seemed to evolve into fillets. They’re the same meat–but instead cut parallel to the backbone and the bone. Fillets–of all kinds of fish–are still hugely popular. And delicious. But I’d like to think we’ve now evolved to enjoying more cuts of more fish. The belly. The tail. The cheeks. Maybe even the whole fish. At a time when we’re all concerned about food waste, using as much of the fish as possible is just smart, not to mention delicious. And, while I’m talking here about salmon, try tuna, yellowtail, halibut, and rockfish–to name just a few. Whatever is local to your region.


One of my favorite parts is the collar. This is a cut right along the clavicle behind the gills. It’s got some rich belly meat and a lovely fat cap. Get that collar near high heat and the fat caramelizes the skin and it becomes this crispy, luxe fish lollipop that you can grab by the fin to suck off the meat. Oh… And did I mention how cheap they are? At my local fish market in San Diego they’re priced at less than $2 a pound. So, this is also an economical dish to serve at a client dinner party.

Now the question is how to cook them. Yes, they can really flavor up a stew. They’re a delight in a curry. Yet to my mind, they’re really best grilled, but this hasn’t exactly been grilling weather. Instead I could run them under the broiler. Or I could do stove-top grilling using my carbon-steel pan. Since the pan is relatively new to me so I decided to test it out with the salmon using a teriyaki-style marinade I thought could possibly confound it because of the sugar (it didn’t).

What I found was a recipe published a couple of years ago in Food Republic by Myra and Marea Goodman, authors of Straight from the Earth, a vegan cookbook. Their teriyaki recipe is part of a larger one for Teriyaki Tofu Broccolette on Wild Rice, which sounds fabulous. But in the meantime I made the sauce for my collars. Not exactly vegan, but a good recipe is a good recipe.


The sauce calls for what you’d imagine are the usual suspects–soy sauce, brown sugar, unseasoned rice vinegar, garlic, ginger, and red pepper flakes. It’s pretty simple. Put them all in a small, heavy saucepan together with some additional water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and let it simmer until it thickens. It’s wonderfully sweet, salty, and sticky.

Now you’re not really going to marinate the collars. Instead you’ll heat up your pan and add an oil with a high smoke point. I used canola. Forget doing the usual seasoning with salt and pepper. The marinade has plenty of each. So clean and trim the collar, which may have some “stuff” hanging on to it–organs and blood lines, for instance. Clip them into two pieces.

Then place them skin side down on the now very hot pan (and open windows, turn on fans because there will be smoke). It won’t take more than a minute or two for them to cook up on the first side. Flip and brush the teriyaki sauce on the cooked side. Let the second side get brown and then flip and remove them to a plate where you’ll brush more sauce on that side.

That’s it. If it burns, don’t worry much about it. That’s just superficial–and makes it all divinely crispy. The meat inside will be amazing. And if your clients feel the need to use their fingers, all the better. Save the rest of the teriyaki sauce for seasoning chicken, vegetables, tofu…. You’ll want to keep it on hand.

Teriyaki Salmon Collars
Serves 4

Teriyaki Sauce
(from Straight from the Earth by Myra and Marea Goodman)

3/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, peeled and finely minced
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon garlic, finely minced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Salmon
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
4 large salmon collars, cleaned
1. To make the teriyaki sauce, combine the soy sauce, sugar, vinegar, ginger, garlic, red pepper flakes and 1/2 cup of water in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat.

2. Bring to the start of a boil, and then reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, until the sauce thickens slightly, about 10 minutes.

3. Remove the pan from the heat and let the sauce sit at room temperature while you prepare the salmon.

4. Heat the pan on the stove top. When it starts to smoke add the oil. Then add the salmon collars skin side down. After no more than 2 minutes flip them over. Brush the cooked side with the teriyaki sauce. After about a minute flip the collars and remove them to a serving plate. Brush that side with teriyaki sauce or pour some reserved sauce on it.

5. Serve with rice or other grains.

How are you working to avoid food waste and what less conventional food products are you finding to be really delicious?

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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Well, we’re at the precipice of month three of 2017. What actions did you lay out in your 2017 business plan to build your personal chef skills? Have you acted on them yet?

Now, you’re probably assuming we’re talking about cooking. And, yes, that’s a part of it. But being a successful personal chef involves more than cooking skills. It involves marketing yourself and your business. Gaining financial literacy so you actually make a profit. Broadening your social skills to be able to engage with clients and potential clients. Maybe it’s developing a specialty and attaining the critical knowledge of that area of specialization to deliver on it to clients.

With this in mind, here are five ways to build your personal chef skills:

  1. If you’re feeling that your cooking skills need a boost so you’ll feel more confident and able to expand your repertoire of recipes, enroll in cooking classes. They can be local classes or you can get certified by a cooking school. Our partner Escoffier Online International Culinary Academy offers self-paced Culinary and Pastry Arts programs. In fact, several of our members are graduates.
  2. Amp up your visibility by building a social media presence. Figure out where your potential people are. Facebook? Twitter? Instagram? Pinterest? You don’t have to tackle them all but two, maybe three platforms will start to build your reputation among potential clients. Make sure you take great, well-lit photos of your food and reach out to others (including us) to build connections who can help share your posts.
  3. Where you live can make a difference in how you shape your business. So, why not reach out to other APPCA members in your city to network? You can exchange marketing tips, resources, and maybe collaborate on projects–catering large special events or backing each other up with gigs you can’t take on.
  4. Set yourself apart with an area of specialization. Some people focus on dietary specialties–gluten-free or vegan, heart-friendly diets, building athletic strength, disease oriented. Others like to cook for new moms and young families or busy executives or older adults. If there’s a type of diet or a type of client that really excites you, build a business around that–but make sure you have the special skills and insights you need to put you in demand. And that’s a combination of cooking skills and human interaction skills.
  5. Reinforce what you’ve learned and may have forgotten or weren’t ready to act on. When you joined APPCA did you attend our weekend Personal Chef Seminar at Candy’s home in San Diego? If you didn’t, this intensive course will give you a vast array of information, tools, and insights into running your business that you’ll leave excited and energized. If you did attend years ago, how about going back for a refresher course? With some experience behind you, you may discover some gaps you’re ready to fill. And Candy can offer you suggestions within the context of the seminar based on your evolved needs. The next seminar is March 11-12 and the following one will be held in May.

Enjoying lunch and some San Diego sunshine at a recent weekend seminar

We can help you with any of these five tips. Get in touch with Candy to discuss the Escoffier culinary program. Get in touch with me to get some help with social media (or take a look at past posts here and here and here). If you’re looking for local APPCA members to network with, go on our forum to reach out or our APPCA group page. Or ask Candy for a list of local members to contact. Get input from colleagues on specializing in both of these groups–or, again, Candy. We’re here to help you succeed!

What steps are you taking to rev up your business? How can we help you?

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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Cocoa Buckwheat Crepes1

Two weeks ago we featured a wonderful post by APPCA member Jim Huff, describing the development of his recipe for his Nutella Banana Bread Bread Pudding. Recipe development is a key part of being a personal chef as you adapt ideas into dishes that both represent your culinary point of view and address client preferences or dietary needs. Maybe you have a concept in mind—transforming a traditional dish with gluten into something equally delicious but gluten free. Or you love a concept for a recipe but the ingredients either aren’t seasonally available or not regionally available.

So, you work it. You substitute ingredients, adjust amounts, and eventually voila! You have your your dish. But sometimes you give it a good try and it fails. Dismally. Then what? Well, you keep going to find a solution or—if it becomes clear the original concept is a nonstarter—you just move on. Here’s an example:

Will Gustwiller is a chef I know in San Diego. He started out as a truffle maker, which is when we became acquainted. But his interests were broader and he started branching out, incorporating chocolate of all kinds into savory dishes. His place, Eclipse Chocolat, started hosting special chocolate dinners. About four years ago he moved to a larger space in a nearby neighborhood which gave him the opportunity to create a sit-down cafe with a regular menu.

I joined him one day while he was working on a new concept for a savory cocoa buckwheat crepe. Not unlike your own kitchen when you’re experimenting with dishes, we had a hell of a time with a variation Gustwiller was trying with the crepe. He wanted to make it both vegan and gluten-free. The gluten-free part we had down. We were using buckwheat after all. But we found that soy milk and going egg free just didn’t work. Not only did it not come together well, it tasted dreadful. So, out that batch went. We tried some other options but they, too, failed. It was clear this wasn’t the day this recipe was going to turn vegan so we moved on and went back to his tried-and-true batter with dairy. You’ve probably had that experience in one way or another, too.

But the good news is that this is still a wonderful dish. The crepe has minimal sugar so not only does it work well in savory dishes, it doesn’t overwhelm a sweet dessert filling (like the strawberries I intend to try the recipe out on). Once we reverted back to the original recipe, it took less than an hour to get all three components together and ready to eat. One of the secrets to its success is filling the crepe, folding it into quarters, then putting it in the oven briefly to crisp the pancake’s edges. The result is a firm crepe with a hint of cocoa. The creamy shallot filling is sweet from the caramelized shallots and Riesling but just a bit tart from the crème fraiche. Topping it off with the mushrooms adds another dimension of flavor with a little bite from the fresh green onions. It’s rich, but not overwhelmingly so for a first course. This is definitely something you should make if you’re catering dinner parties or brunch.

Savory Cocoa Buckwheat Crepe with Shallot Filling and Mushroom Sauce
from Will Gustwiller
Serves 4

This crepes make a terrific first course for a dinner party or main course for brunch.

For crepe:

Ingredients
1 cup buckwheat flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 eggs
3/4 cup skim milk
1 1/4 cup water (thin as needed)

Making the crepes

 

Whisk together ingredients and strain to remove clumps. Since there’s no gluten, there’s no need to rest the batter but you can refrigerate before using if you want to make it ahead of time.

Heat a nonstick sauté or crepe pan, spray with a little vegetable oil. Ladle in about a quarter cup of the batter and swirl it around the bottom of the pan. Depending on the pan size you may need to add a little more batter. When the edges start to curl and the crepe has set, flip it over and let it finish cooking briefly, then flip onto a plate. You can separate the crepes with wax paper. (You can also freeze cooked crepes, layered with wax paper.)

For shallot filling:

Ingredients
1 cup shallots, diced
1/4 cup butter
1 cup Riesling wine
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, minced
1 teaspoon lemon zest
salt to taste
1/2 cup crème fraiche

Caramelize shallots in butter and deglaze with the wine. Remove from the heat and finish with remaining ingredients. Set aside.

Shallot and mushroom sauces

For mushroom sauce:

Ingredients
1 cup + cremini mushrooms, sliced
4 tablespoons butter
1 cup + Riesling wine
4 green onion tops, sliced
salt to taste

Sauté the mushrooms in a pan with plenty of room. Deglaze with wine and season to finish. Top with green onion slices.

Pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees F. On a flat crepe, add a couple of tablespoons of the shallot filling and spread the filling over the entire crepe. Fold into quarters. Place on a baking sheet and put into the oven for five minutes. Remove and plate the crepes. Top with the mushroom sauce and serve immediately.

Adding mushroom sauce

Do you have a recipe you’re still trying to perfect? Share your story! Maybe a colleague has an idea for getting it to work.

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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La Cocina Que Canta

One of my favorite food writing jobs was contributing to Rancho La Puerta’s blog and app. Every month, I would go down to their cooking school, La Cocina Que Canta, and participate in a hands-on class taught by a renowned cooking teacher, restaurateur, or cookbook author. One month it was Deborah Madison and it was memorable. For one thing, it was pouring rain, so the usual routine of participants first going to the magnificent garden just outside of the cooking school and picking the produce before returning to cook had to be scratched. But that was okay because the plan for that day was to make soup.

The kitchen

So, 15 of us sat around a long table and Madison led us through what you could call the soup-making journey—10 basic steps that most soups require, a concept she developed for her book Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, a book she’s just updated and reissued. See, while recipes are wonderful, being liberated from them to make delicious soups through inspiration and basic knowledge is something any cook or chef aspires to. Of course, we had seven of her recipes on hand to guide us in the kitchen that rainy day—from Red Lentil Soup with Lime and Spinach to Quinoa, Potato and Spinach Soup with Feta Cheese (recipe below).

New Vegetarian Cookbook

Not familiar with Madison? You should be. A chef, writer, and clearly talented cooking teacher, she was among the first contemporary chefs to develop the farm-to-table menu style now so popular among restaurants across the country. With Greens restaurant in San Francisco, where she was the founding chef in 1979, Madison established a career that has led to more than a dozen cookbooks (which have earned awards from IACP and the James Beard Foundation among others) and writing assignments from Saveur, Cooking Light, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Fine Cooking, and Garden Design.

IMG_3104
While she admitted she doesn’t spend time thinking about the connection between words and food, Madison believes that food is bigger than a recipe and has everything to do with what we are. For her food is a lens through which anyone can view his or her life.

“It has nothing to do with being interested in food, or a good cook, or a lousy one, or a foodie or any of that,” she told me that day. “It has to do with everything we are, starting with nurture or the lack thereof.”

Given her enthusiasm for the bounty of the garden and farm, it makes sense that Madison’s starting point is the contemplative space of her home garden in New Mexico, and the community scene of the local farmers market. In fact, Madison spent time as a market manager and is a big fan of the Santa Fe Farmers Market. “It’s about running into friends, some of whom are the farmers, exchanging greetings and news, maybe sharing a recipe idea for some new squash or other produce, sometimes planning an impromptu dinner.”

One of her books, Local Flavors, gives advice on how to shop at a farmers market, but she also offered some tips for those just venturing away from the grocery store and into the open air:

  • First of all, shopping at a farmers market for the first time is an adventure, and adventures are good for us to have, so go with an open mind and don’t worry.
  • Always make a pass through the market and take a look at what’s there, the prices, the quality, what appeals to you, before you buy. That way you get the lay of the land. As you shop more and more at a market, you may find you have favorite vendors that you always return to—I know I do —but even so, I like to take a look around first just to see what’s there.
  • Do accept tastes and ask questions about foods that may be unfamiliar.  And just because you took a taste of something, it doesn’t mean you have to buy. You’re sampling and informing yourself.
  • If you feel very unsure about what the food you see at the farmers market, for you might well see different varieties than what’s in the supermarket, start with those vegetables and fruits that are familiar, that you already use—carrots, onions, garlic, apples, strawberries. Then maybe choose one food that’s new to you—a white eggplant, a different variety of cabbage, an exotic fruit.

Once you have that produce back home—and maybe it’s a soup kind of day like ours was—Madison has suggestions that include making your own quick vegetable stock from the trimmings you would ordinarily immediately toss into the compost pile, tasting the soup not just for more salt but perhaps acid to create balance (it turns out a little lemon juice can go a long way to creating that “aha” flavor moment), and to just make plenty.

“Soup generally gets better as it sits,” Madison said. “It can make an instant homemade meal when you’ve got a big pot on hand, and, if you give a little thought to the garnishes and textures, you can turn one pot into many soups.”

That’s the über cooking teacher offering practical guidance. But now that we’re into cool, even cold, weather when soups become more than just a flavorful meal but, in their heartiness, are embracing and nurturing, it’s worth thinking about the connections Madison draws between food and our inner lives.

“Perhaps that’s where the magic lies,” she proposed. “Food is really about our larger, deeper lives, and we all have those, whether we’re close to our deeper selves or not.”

IMG_3124

Quinoa, Potato and Spinach Soup with Feta Cheese
From Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison
Serves 6

“This grain-based soup is light, delicious, pretty, fresh, and very simple to make. And with the quinoa, it’s highly nutritious. What more could one ask of a recipe?” DM

Ingredients
3/4 cup quinoa, rinsed
1 small bunch spinach, stems removed, leaves washed and chopped
8 ounces Yukon Gold or other potato, diced in 1/4-inch cubes
1 jalapeño chile, seeded and finely diced
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon ground, toasted cumin seed
1 teaspoon salt, to taste, and freshly ground pepper
4 ounces feta cheese, finely diced in small cubes
3 scallions, thinly sliced in rounds, including a few of the greens
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
1 hard-cooked egg, diced (optional)

1. Simmer the quinoa in 7 cups water for 10 minutes. When the quinoa is done, drain it, reserving the water, which you’ll use in the soup.
2. While the quinoa is cooking, cut the vegetables and set them aside.
3. Heat the oil in a 3-quart saucepan with the garlic and chile, cook for about 30 seconds, without browning the garlic, then add the cumin, salt and potatoes. Measure the quinoa cooking liquid plus water, if needed, to make 6 cups. Add it to the vegetables, bring to a boil, then add the quinoa and simmer, partially covered, until the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes, then turn off the heat. Taste for salt and season the soup with pepper. Add the cheese, then stir in the spinach and the scallions. As soon as the spinach is wilted, serve the soup, garnished with the cilantro and hard-cooked egg, if using.

IMG_3122

Is there a chef/cookbook author who inspires you? Tell us about that connection!

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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APPCA member Jim Huff of the Traveling Culinary Artist in New York is a self-described Nutella-holic, constantly fiddling with Nutella desserts. He admits that many have been complete failures while others have been just passable, thanks to the Nutella. And there have been some good and a few great. One of the great ones is this bread pudding.

So, how did it come about? As chefs, I’m sure you’ve had what you thought was a great idea for a dish that contains an ingredient you’re passionate about. Then reality hits as you struggle to turn that concept into reality. This bread pudding was no different. Its roots come from banana bread, specifically Kathy Huff’s Banana Nut Bread. Jim’s wife made this on request for get togethers f0r years. The recipe itself was no secret. It came from the Jiffy Mix baking mix box. Unfortunately, by the late ’80s, Jiffy Mix was becoming hard to find and what Jim could find didn’t yield the delicious bread everyone had loved.

“We ordered some directly from Jiffy and by the time we used them up they must have been stale because the famous Banana Nut Bread was never as good as we remembered,” Jim says.

In the meantime, Jim’s grandmother had given him James Beard’s famous Beard on Bread cookbook, which Jim fell in love with. So the Huffs started making the quick breads from the book. 

Then Nutella entered the equation. According to Jim, “The idea for the recipe came from two of these experiments. 1. Nutella Bread Pudding–great concept boring application. Might as well have made good brioche toast with Nutella spread on it!  2. Banana bread with Nutella swirled a la Marble cake. The Nutella ended up gathering itself while baking and the result was more like blobs than swirls!  My quest for a great Nutella Bread Pudding led me to the Internet. I found lots of recipes adding bananas and or chocolate chips, etc.  Then I had an epiphany, what if I used Banana Bread!  I found many bread pudding recipes using banana bread, now to adapt, using bananas, Nutella and Chocolate Chips.”

Nutella Banana Bread Bread Pudding

Good enough, but then there was the quest to turn this concept into individual desserts, something that could be served at the dinner parties he caters.

“We find we get great response for people receiving their ‘own’ self-contained slice of heaven versus an actual slice of something made en masse,” he explains. “So simultaneously my Internet searches included bread pudding in muffin tin recipes.”

The problem was coming up with the right ratio of bread to custard, plus factoring in using muffin tins. Every chef friend and home baker Jim consulted had their own advice–more milk/less egg, soak longer/don’t soak. “A less obsessed person would have moved on,” he jokes.

But eventually, after many failed attempts they finally got the right proportions of bread, custard, Nutella, and banana bread down pat–and they did their testing in oversized muffin tins. The biggest test? How would their son-in-law, also a borderline Nutella-holic like it? But all was well after sending their daughter home with two. His comment after his second bite? “There’s only two?”

Cross section

Jim and Kathy added the bread pudding to their menu, pairing it with vanilla gelato and caramel drizzle. They got their first request for a client party of 10 and plated their new creation over raspberry sauce. Everyone loved it but couldn’t finish it because the portion was too big. So, they’ve downsized it to standard muffin size. And, as Jim says, “They’re always devoured completely!”

The recipe is still a work in progress. The Beard on Bread recipe calls for nuts, which Jim’s omitted. But now he says he’ll be experimenting–with hazelnuts of course.

Nutella Banana Bread Bread Pudding
from Jim Huff of Traveling Culinary Artist
Servings: 6

Use the banana bread recipe you like. We link below to the banana bread recipe found in Beard on Bread, which is what Jim uses.

Ingredients:

6 slices banana bread, ¾”-1” thick
4 ripe bananas
1/3 cup Nutella
3  large eggs
1  cup whole milk
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1  teaspoon  vanilla extract
1/2  cup mini chocolate chips

Directions:

Cut the banana  bread into small cubes.

Place onto a baking sheet and bake at 350°F for 5 minutes to create dry stale bread. Cut into cubes and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl mash the ripe bananas with a potato masher. Add in the Nutella and mix with the masher until blended with the potato masher. Add the eggs and mix until blended, add the milk, cinnamon, and vanilla extract. Stir.

Once fully mixed add your bread cubes and stir until the bread is totally wet. Let it soak for 10 minutes. Stir again and spoon mix into a 6 cup extra large muffin tins. Sprinkle mini chocolate chips on top.

Bake at 350°F 25 to 30 minutes until set.  Let rest for 10 minutes. Remove from the tins and serve immediately.

Serve with vanilla gelato and a drizzle of salted caramel!

Ready for plating

Do you have a recipe you’re passionate about that took awhile to reach perfection? Share your story!

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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Like Candy and Dennis, I live in San Diego. And I’m cold. All of you on the East Coast and Midwest may laugh but thin-skinned San Diegans have been living in temperatures in the 50s with winds and rain. We’re shivering, actually wearing jackets and rain boots, turning up the heat in the furnace.

And eating a lot of soup.

I’m sure each of you has your favorite for the winter months. I know I have a bunch–hot and sour, roasted tomato, lentil, and, of course, chicken soup come immediately to mind. But one that truly warms me is this Mushroom Barley Soup with Beef and Greens. It’s hearty and thick, thanks to the barley and beef. And the umami flavor that comes from the mushrooms (my favorite to use are dense shitakes) gives it a rich, earthy mouth feel.

Shitake mushrooms, barley, garlic

Plus, like most soups, once you wrangle the ingredients, it’s so simple to make–and then freeze in individual containers for weeks to come.

A note about the barley. While pearled barley is the most common you’ll find, try to find hulled barley. This is the whole grain version of the grain. Both are chewy. Both are healthy. But compared with pearled barley, where the outer husk and bran layers are removed, hulled barley only has the outermost layer removed, which makes it even more nutritious. Remember, also that with the additional layers removed, pearl barley takes less time to cook than hulled barley.

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Can you change this up to suit your clients’ or your own preferences? Of course! If you have vegetarian or vegan clients, eliminate the meat and use vegetable stock and more mushrooms. For those who don’t eat beef, substitute with chicken and chicken stock. Use multiple varieties of mushrooms and multiple types of greens. Add root vegetables and winter squash. Consider this a template and make it your own.

Mushroom Barley Soup with Beef and Greens

Serves 6

Ingredients

1 pound of boneless beef short ribs, cut into cubes
Olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves of minced garlic
2 cups of mushrooms, sliced
2 large carrots, grated
3/4 cup of barley, preferably hulled
1 quart of beef stock (if using meat, otherwise you can use chicken or vegetable stock)
A couple of splashes of good dry sherry
Salt
Pepper
3 cups or so of Swiss chard or kale

Directions

Use a large stock pot. If you’re including the beef, heat the pot, add enough oil to cover the bottom, let that heat for a minute till it shimmers and then add the beef. Let it brown on all sides and then remove and set aside.

Add a splash more olive oil and then add the onions and garlic. Sauté on low heat until the onion turns translucent and just a little golden.

Then start adding everything else: the mushrooms and carrots, then the beef, then the pearl barley. Then add the liquid. If that’s not enough to cover the contents, add a little water, then a splash or so of sherry to up the flavor. Finally add some salt and pepper to taste.

Mushroom Barley soup

Mix it well. Then bring it all to a strong simmer and skim the fat. After that, turn down the heat to a low simmer and cover the pot. Let it cook for a couple of hours and toward the end of the cooking time, add the greens. Adjust the amounts if it doesn’t look right to you. Add other ingredients you might like. Cook until they’re wilted and serve.

Beef Barley Mushroom Soup

What’s your favorite winter soup to make for yourself or 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 to share on this blog, let us know so we can feature you!

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Stew3

With all the buzz in the last six months or so, you’d think that the Instant Pot was a brand new piece of kitchen equipment. In fact, Instant Pot Company, a Canadian-based company, was founded in 2008. The appliance itself debuted in 2010. Thanks to social media and huge deals from Amazon, though, Instant Pot has more recently become a sensation. There are user clubs on Facebook, bloggers who post Instant Pot-specific recipes, and vast numbers of postings on places like Pinterest and Instagram. 

With that in mind, we thought we’d ask one of our members who uses Instant Pot to explain why she does and how it’s working for her. Jennifer Zirkle, who runs The Ginger Chef in Michigan, loves hers. Read on to learn what it helps her with. And enjoy her GF Beef Stew Recipe:

Following social media these days can be an adventure but if you’re following food trends on your favorite sites you’ve no doubt seen mention of an Instant Pot. These electric pressure cookers seem to be the biggest trend launching 2017 and home cooks are in love with them. They’re part slow cooker, part pressure cooker, part rice cooker and part saucepan. As a personal chef, they can be incredibly versatile and free up some much needed stovetop space.

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I have been using my Instant Pot since September with amazing results. I’m working to become an expert in all of its many uses and I have found it to be such a time saver. My clients have reveled in the results of tender meats and stews that taste like they’ve been cooking all day. I’ve used it to make tender Osso Bucco, Wild Rice Chicken Stew, Beef Tips in Gravy, perfect Homemade Chicken Stock and even quick items like steamed green beans that turn out perfect. These little pots of magic combine the convenience of a crock pot with the speed of stovetop cooking. Perfect mac and cheese can be done in 15 minutes rather than 4 hours in a crock pot or even the multi-pan inconvenience of stove-top morney sauce and noodles.

Electric pressure cookers have many preset settings to choose from. Settings vary from model to model but most have a stew setting, rice cooker setting, beef, chicken, etc. Some models even offer you a customization tool to add more or less pressure or to add more or less time to each setting. For example, when making chicken stock, I set it to the “soup” setting and increase the time from 40 minutes to 100 minutes.

Recipes are popping up everywhere from Pinterest to even more reputable sites like Tasting Table https://www.tastingtable.com/cook/national/instant-pot-recipes-pressure-cooker?utm_medium=email&utm_source=TT&utm_campaign=Weekend&utm_content=Editorial

I’ve taken several of my favorite crock pot recipes and cut the time by a quarter. I’ve even taken my gluten- free beef stew recipe and given it an Instant Pot twist. I’ve included the recipe below. I encourage you to schlep the extra equipment to your next cook day.

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Gluten-Free Beef Stew for Electric Pressure Cooker

Yield: 2 to 3 quarts

Ingredients

2 pounds stew meat
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
½ cup rice flour
2 medium carrots, diced
4 medium Yukon gold potatoes, cubed
1 stalk celery, diced
1 small onion, diced
6 cups beef stock
¼ cup sherry vinegar
1, 10-ounce bag mixed vegetables
Salt and pepper to taste.

Directions

  1. Season stew meat. Set Instant Pot to “sauté.”
  2. Add olive oil and stew meat. Brown meat to develop flavor.
  3. Add butter and rice flour. Stir to combine.
  4. Add carrots, potatoes, celery, onion, stock, and sherry vinegar.
  5. Place cover and set Instant Pot to “Stew.”
  6. Let Instant Pot run. When finished cooking, let pressure release naturally.
  7. Uncover and add mixed vegetables. Add salt and pepper to taste. Let vegetables warm thoroughly and serve or freeze for later.

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Are you using an Instant Pot for client service? What difference has it made to your cooking routine?

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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Phyllo rolls

Are you launching a catering service under your personal chef business umbrella? If so, you may be looking to build your appetizer recipe repertoire. We have just the pass-around app for you for this season: Savory Ricotta + Winter Greens Phyllo Rolls!

I got this recipe years ago from Atlanta chef Alisa Barry when she was visiting our region and teaching at Rancho La Puerta’s La Cocina Que Canta. Her Savory Ricotta + Wilted Winter Greens Phyllo Rolls was so straightforward and so divine I knew I’d be making them for parties. And I have, twice. Plus, I made them with the kids when I taught at Olivewood Gardens.

So, what is it that makes this such a winning recipe? I love the crunch of baked phyllo combined with the lusciousness of ricotta and wilted Swiss chard. The touch of nutmeg adds a spicy note. But, what’s truly great about this recipe is how versatile it is. Add tiny pieces of preserved lemon. Add toasted walnuts or pine nuts. Or, as I did the last time, add scallions, marash pepper for some subtle heat, and plump raisins soaked in Grand Marnier for sweetness.

rolling up

The other change I made to Alisa’s recipe was to the assembly part. Alisa calls for folding one sheet of phyllo dough twice. That’s fine, but yesterday I decided to make the rolls a little thinner so I sliced the sheet in half lengthwise and folded it just once. Since you roll the filled dough like a cigar, it’s still plenty thick. But, I leave that choice to you.

Savory Ricotta + Wilted Winter Greens Phyllo Rolls
Adapted from Alisa Barry

1, 1 pound box frozen phyllo (or filo) dough (follow the directions on the box for thawing)

Filling:
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 cups mixed winter greens (Swiss chard, kale, arugula, for example)
4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
2 large scallions (green onions), sliced
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon Marash pepper or other red pepper flakes
3/4 cup raisins, marinated for at least two hours in Grand Marnier
1 container (15 ounces) of ricotta
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

For Assembly:
Olive oil
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees and spray baking sheet/s with olive oil (or use parchment paper.

2. In a large sauté pan, heat oil and add garlic, greens, scallions, and salt. Cook until wilted. Strain excess liquid and add to a medium-sized mixing bowl.

3. Add Marash pepper, ricotta, drained raisins, and nutmeg to greens and mix well.

4. To assemble, lay out one sheet of phyllo dough* and slice in half lengthwise. Brush both pieces lightly with olive oil. Fold in half lengthwise. Spoon two teaspoons of the filling mix at the short end of the dough and roll up like a cigar. Repeat with the rest of the dough and filling, placing each roll on the baking sheet. Brush the rolls with olive oil and sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese.

baking

5. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes or until brown. Depending on the quality of the phyllo and how many usable sheets you get, you should have about 3 dozen rolls.

*Note: When working with phyllo, be sure to keep the sheets from drying out. Dampen a dish towel and lay it over the stacked dough, removing it only to remove a sheet of dough and then placing it back over the stacked dough.

Just out of the oven

Are you developing new appetizer recipes for new catering gigs? What will be on your menu?

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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