Dining with Oscar

Filed under: Food Entertainment , Tags: , , — Author: Caron Golden , February 18, 2019

Are you or your clients movie fans? If so, I’m sure you know that this year’s Academy Awards will be held on February 24, just one week away!

What has this got to do with food? Well, like everything! I don’t know about you, but some of my favorite movies are all about the food.

In celebration of Oscar, I thought I’d list some of the movies I’ve enjoyed that celebrate food. Some are obvious, some you might have seen years ago but may have forgotten, and some may be new to you. And, help me jog my memory with those I may have left out!

  • Julie and Julia: 2009, directed by Nora Ephron (Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Stanley Tucci) Based on Julie Powell’s blog/book of the same name and Child’s book, My Life in France, written with nephew Alex Prud ‘homme. Most of my friends agree we’d have rather spent the two hours, or more, just with Julia/Meryl, but still a delicious movie.
  • It’s Complicated: 2009, directed by Nancy Meyers (Meryl Streep, Steve Martin, Alec Baldwin). Forget the ridiculous plot. I want Meryl’s house and garden and I want to make croissants with her.
  • Big Night: 1996, directed by Campbell Scott (Stanley Tucci, Tony Shalhoub and cast of thousands) Remember the big dish, Timpano? A feast!
  • Eat Drink Man Woman (Taiwan): 1994, directed by Ang Lee – remade into Tortilla Soup in 2001 with Hector Elizondo about Mexican-American family. The former is one of my very favorite movies. I love the scenes in which the father prepares multiple complex Chinese dishes for his daughters. Woks sizzle, cleavers fly, crustaceans and chickens give it up for the sake of a sumptuous family meal. The remake is fine, a close parallel with the Taiwanese family film, but there’s just something so much more poignant about the original.
  • Babette’s Feast: 1987, based on novel by Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen) set in 19th-century Denmark. The setting is grim and as restrained as you can get, setting us up for the stunning opulence of the dishes Babette prepares with her winnings.
  • Mostly Martha: 2002 (German) – remade in 2007 into No Reservations with Catherine Zeta- Jones and Aaron Eckhart. I think Mostly Martha is the better film, showing us a woman chef who must take in her niece following her sister’s death and learn how make a family, not just food.
  • Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory: 1971, based on Roald Dahl’s book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. (Gene Wilder, Jack Albertson, Peter Ostrum) Charlie breaks my heart. Grandpa Joe is my hero. And Willie Wonka? Gene Wilder’s Wonka is marvelously nuts. But what I want is a dip in the chocolate river and plenty of Everlasting Gobstoppers. It’s the world’s greatest candy factory! I like this version more than Tim Burton’s 2005 remake, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with Johnny Depp.
  • Like Water for Chocolate: 1993, based on Laura Esquivel’s novel. You can’t not want to learn to cook after seeing how these women transform the people around them with the food they prepare and the spirituality that infuses it.
  • Soul Food: 1997, directed by George Tillman, Jr. (Vanessa Williams, Vivica A. Fox, Irma P. Hall, Nia Long, Brandon Hammond). One of the great family movies and, oh, the Sunday night dinners. But the family begins to disintegrate with Big Mama’s illness. Can a great meal bring them back together?
  • Last Holiday: 2006, directed by Wayne Wang (Queen Latifah, LL Cool J, Gerard Depardieu, Timothy Hutton) Yes, it’s a silly silly movie, but I love Queen Latifah and her character’s passion for food. And Gerard Depardieu is the quintessential French movie chef.
  • Sideways: 2004, directed by Alexander Payne (Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, Sandra Oh, Virginia Madsen) Oh, the angst. Oh, the Pinot Noir!
  • What’s Cooking: 2000 (Mercedes Ruehl) Taking place in LA’s Fairfax district, four families of different ethnic groups celebrate Thanksgiving in between dealing with family conflicts.
  • Ratatouille: 2007, directed by Brad Bird (Pixar) – Parisian Remy the rat wants to be a chef. That rodent can cook!
  • Chocolat: 2000, French, directed by Lasse Halstrom (Juliette Binoche, Johnny Depp, Judi Dench, Alfred Molina, Leslie Caron, Lena Olin). France. Chocolate. Johnny Depp. Mmmm.
  • Christmas in Connecticut: 1945 (Barbara Stanwyck, Dennis Morgan, Sidney Greenstreet, Reginald Gardiner, SZ  “Cuddles” Sakall) This movie actually made me hungry for kidneys. But America’s top food writer Elizabeth Lane (Stanwyck) can’t cook! No, she can’t cook.
  • Waitress: 2007, directed by Adrienne Shelley (Kerri Russell) Sweet, heartbreaking on so many levels. All about the pies!
  • Dinner Rush: 2001, directed by Bob Giraldi (Danny Aiello, Polly Draper) Food and the mafia. It’s New York’s Little Italy so why not?
  • Woman on Top: 2000 (Penelope Cruz) Motion-sick Chef Penelope starts out in Brazil then goes to San Francisco and ends up a TV celebrity chef. Uh huh. But it’s a fun romp.

What are your favorite food films? Are you catering an Oscars party this year?

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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Sweet and Sour Cabbage Soup

Filed under: Recipes , Tags: , , — Author: Caron Golden , February 11, 2019

We talk a lot about the importance of family recipes–both yours and your clients’. Sometimes it’s the process of making the recipe that brings home a rush of memories, like making holiday cookies or even a complete holiday meal. Sometimes it’s the aroma of a family dish that wafts through the house like a hug from your grandma. Of course, often, it’s simply the eating of it that takes you back to your childhood.

Like many of you I come from a long line of cooks and grew up with two grandmothers in close proximity. One was a great cook whose family owned a major Jewish catering hall in Brooklyn. My mom’s mother–my Nana–came from much humbler circumstances and was a phenom both in cooking and baking. And I spent a lot of time with her in the kitchen and got her to write me a little cookbook filled with her recipes.

This time of year I crave this sweet and sour cabbage soup that she used to make. It’s thick with cabbage and tomatoes, rich from beef short ribs, and has that terrific tang of acid from lemon juice. I’ve always adored this and, fortunately, got the recipe from her when I was in college. I don’t know if the soup was something her mother made and if it goes back to her early childhood in Ukraine. She never talked about that part of her past. All I know is that this recipe, along with many others, went from her to my mom or directly to me in that cookbook.

My mom, who inherited and then bested her mother’s skills, changed up the recipe to reflect a healthier approach. Back when she was still cooking, instead of browning the cabbage in butter, then adding the beef and cooking up the soup all at once to create a soup with chunks of beef flanken, she had the butcher trim all the fat off and cooked the beef separately, then shredded it, adding the cooked beef to the rest of the ingredients to simmer into soup. And, she didn’t brown the cabbage.


Mom also added carrots, potatoes, and onions. As she says, it’s one of those recipes that you can change without doing any harm.

I love these additions. She made the soup a few years ago when my brother was visiting from North Carolina. We came into the house and found this pot burbling on the stove. The scent was home.

I’m taking the middle ground. I’m all for getting rid of the unhealthy fat from the beef, but I think sauteing the cabbage, onion, and carrots–in olive oil–adds more flavor. Like Mom, I then add the rest of the ingredients. Nana? She didn’t add the salt, sugar, and lemon juice until the soup had cooked for a couple of hours. We’ve tried it both ways and don’t think it makes a difference. So, for convenience, we toss it in all together at once and let it cook.

Sweet and Sour Cabbage Soup
Serves 8

2 pounds short ribs, trimmed of fat, with bones
2 tablespoons olive oil (optional)
1 large green cabbage, thinly sliced
1 onion, sliced
2 large cans crushed or diced tomatoes (juice included)
2 red potatoes, diced
1 or 2 carrots, grated
Salt to taste
Juice of two lemons
4 to 5 cups water
Brown or white sugar to taste (Nana’s directions start with 1/4 cup)

In a large pot, add meat and cover with water. Add a little salt to season the meat. Bring to the boil and skim. Reduce the temperature and simmer for a couple of hours or until the meat is tender. Remove the meat from the pot and let cool. When you can handle it, shred the meat and discard the bones.

Wash the pot, heat the oil, and add the cabbage, onions, and carrots. Saute until browned. Then add the rest of the ingredients. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to simmer. Cook for two hours or until the cabbage is transparent and soft. Taste to adjust the lemon juice for sweet and sour balance.

My mom also likes to top it off with a bit of fresh dill and a little (non-fat) sour cream. I also like a crusty sourdough bread for sopping up the liquid.

What is a family recipe that when you make it, gives you joy? What is a favorite family recipe of a client? 

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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Colleagues, Not Just Competitors

Filed under: Business Strategies , Tags: , , , — Author: Caron Golden , February 4, 2019

Our friend and colleague Anne Blankenship of Designed Cuisine in Dallas sent this guest post. As a freelance writer who relies on referrals for much of my business I could easily relate her conviction that the very people who I could consider “competitors” are also the best people to recommend me for a gig that may not be right for them or that they’re too busy to take on–and that I could reciprocate in this as well. It’s also just good karma and makes life richer. Take a read and think about your relationships with personal chefs in your locale. If you don’t already know one another perhaps it’s worth reaching out and befriending and assisting one another. 

“Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.” – Henry Ford.

When I started my personal chef business 12 years ago, I was so excited to discover that I could potentially do what I loved and be able to make a living. After undergoing the initial training through APPCA, I was fired up about putting into action all the terrific marketing ideas that had been learned during their seminar.  However, my phone didn’t ring off the wall as I had hoped.  This was probably due to the fact that I couldn’t quite let go of the steady paycheck, so was unable to devote all my time and attention to growing a new business.

Reality hit when I lost my paralegal job and was at a crossroads in my career.  I knew if I didn’t give it my all to pursue personal chef business, I would never do it.  I had to focus and concentrate all my attention and waking hours to culinary school and finding clients.  Now was the time to dip into that savings account.

Not ever known for being a “shrinking violet” I contacted two APPCA members in the Dallas area and we met and got to know each other.  I think this was the beginning of my trying to network with other personal chefs in the area and possibly get or give referrals of clients.  One became a good friend, with whom I have worked over the years.  If you are just starting your personal chef business, add to your marketing list of things to do a reminder to start contacting AND stay in touch with other personal chefs in your area.

Clients started slowly trickling in and I found that small dinner parties and catering jobs were more plentiful, so I took what I could get, still working for some of the large catering companies to make ends meet.  At one point I was attending culinary school, cleaning houses, doing odd catering jobs, and working for my fellow APPCA member on occasion while hoping for those clients to start calling.

Looking back at 2018, I know that I have finally achieved what I set out to do – my phone is ringing, I have a full roster of clients, and am actually having to turn business away.  Again, never one to be shy I started contacting fellow personal chefs in the area to see if they could take on any new clients.  In the e-mail exchanges to them I made the point that we are not just competitors for clients, but we are colleagues as well in the same profession.  Lately there seems to be plenty of business to go around, so my thought was “why not join forces and work together instead of constantly competing against each other??”  A novel concept to some, but when you can refer a potential client to a fellow personal chef whom you trust, that client will remember you and be grateful that you have helped them.

Recently I received an inquiry from a lady in North Carolina who wanted to hire a personal chef in Dallas to handle a dinner for her elderly parents.  I was unable to do so but referred her to a good friend of mine with whom I attended culinary school.  I knew his personality would be perfect for what she wanted.  What she wrote back to me after she hired him, is exactly why I am happy to make referrals to those I know:

“Hi Anne,

You really put the personal, into “personal chef.” 

Thank you for being so gracious and so helpful. Yes, we are working with Chef Thomas, and we think he’s a great fit for our parents’ needs.  What a nice and, obviously, talented person he is.

 It was great to have a referral as we were just wingin’ it, being from out of town.  You gave us peace of mind and we’ll always remember that. 

 Merry Christmas.  Best wishes with the holiday parties!

It is good business to know your competitors and what they have to offer so you can ensure you are at the “top of your game” with your own business. I feel strongly about not looking at the personal chefs in your area as just competitors, but as colleagues. When I finally got to meet with the personal chef in Dallas last month with whom I had corresponded, we both agreed that it made sense to be able to refer business to each other if we were overloaded and to keep each other in mind for parties and events if we were unable to do them.  We made “short work” of discussing our backgrounds, our businesses and how we could help each other.  It was an excellent meeting and since we run into each other while shopping many times, we can now say hello and briefly trade stories on our respective businesses and “the good, the bad & the ugly” about our clients.  Being on friendly terms with your colleagues who are also competitors just makes good business sense.

Do you know the personal chefs in your area? How have you helped one another?

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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With this chill in the air it feels like bean time. While Alubia Blancas are my favorite, I recently tried Moro beans, which are a project of Rancho Gordo with XOXOC. Moros are black beans indigenous to Mexico and grown by small farmers.

Uncooked, the beans are like little gems. You would hardly be surprised to see them along a sea shore like little pebbles you’d want to collect. They appear to be a cross between pintos and black beans and when cooked, release a delicious broth. The website notes that they should be cooked as simply as possible, which is fine. I, of course, played around with them a bit and came up with a very basic first batch, which was delicious, then turned them from there into an even more flavorful, nutritious soup. It was perfect for San Diego’s recent chilly, rainy weather, but more to the point, these dishes would be perfect for clients–and easy to change up, depending on their dietary preferences and what’s in season in your region.

First things first–actually cooking the beans. You can do this in all sorts of ways: in your basic pot on the stove, in a slow cooker, or in a pressure cooker. You can soak them. Or not. You can add all sorts of flavorings to the cooking water. Or not. It all depends on what you want the results to be and how you want to use them.

Here’s what I did: First, I picked the beans over to remove any non-bean debris (little stones can inadvertently get into batches of packaged beans so always do this). Then I rinsed them and soaked them in a bowl of water covering them by about two inches. I did this in the morning and let them soak for about six hours. I kept the soaking liquid because that’s where the flavor and some of the nutrition of the beans can leach out.

For the flavorings I diced and gently sautéed a couple of slices of bacon, not to crisp them but to render the fat (you can skip this for a low-fat or vegetarian dish), and then added diced onions and smashed garlic cloves. Once they turned opaque I added a couple of bay leaves along with the beans and soaking water. I brought the bean mixture to a boil, then lowered the heat after 10 minutes and partially covered the post with its lid (oooh, new brilliant red Staub 4-quart Dutch oven!). I simmered the beans for a little over two hours until they were al dente, adding more boiling water (to maintain the temperature in the pot) as needed. Then I added salt and enjoyed them as a side dish.

After a couple of days I revisited my leftover beans and decided they’d make a nice soup. I’m growing lacinato kale in my garden–a wonderful variety that I think is much more tender than standard kale). I lopped off half a dozen leaves, clipped a couple of Serrano chilies from their plant, and opened a bag of shiitake mushrooms, pulling out half a dozen or so to hydrate for several hours until nice and chewy.

As you’d expect, I kept the mushroom’s soaking liquid and sliced the mushrooms. I roughly chopped the kale, and minced the chilies, along with a few cloves of garlic. The garlic started the sauté process. Then I added the chilies, then the mushrooms. The trick to getting the most beautiful and flavorful mushrooms is to place them in a single layer in your pan and just let them brown. Then flip and repeat. At that point I added the kale and sautéed them briefly–just until they began to wilt.

At this point I was ready to put the soup together. The beans went into my go-to little white Le Creuset pot with the remaining bean liquid and the sautéed vegetables. Then I added the mushroom liquid, stirred it all together, and brought it to the boil. Now it was ready to simmer gentle for about an hour. During that hour, when it started to look a little less soupy, I added a little more water to get it to the consistency I wanted. If you don’t want it to be soup, let the liquid cook down. After an hour I salted it and dug in. I ate about half and when I had the leftovers the next day, it was even better.

Moro Beans with Lacinato Kale and Shiitake Mushrooms
Serves 4

Ingredients
1 cup Moro beans
Water
2 slices bacon, diced
1/2 yellow onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
2 bay leaves
Sea salt to taste

6-8 dried shiitake mushrooms
Water
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 red Serrano chilies, minced
6 large leaves lacinato kale, chopped
Sea salt to taste

Directions
Pick through beans and remove any debris. Rinse well, then place in a bowl and cover with water. Soak for several hours.

Sauté the bacon just enough to render the fat, then add the onions and garlic. The goal is for them to soften and become opaque, not brown.

Add bay leaves, the beans and the soaking water. Add more water if necessary so that it is about two inches higher than the beans. Bring to the boil and continue boiling for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to as low a simmer as possible and partially cover the pot to allow for evaporation. Cook until the beans are al dente. If necessary add more boiling water (to keep the temperature up). Remove and discard the bay leaves.

At this point they are ready to enjoy. However, you can add additional ingredients to create more flavor and even turn the mixture into a hearty soup.

Soak the shiitake mushrooms in a bowl of water until they are soft. Remove the mushrooms and set aside the liquid. Slice the mushrooms.

Heat olive oil in a skillet and add minced garlic. Sauté until fragrant then add the chilies and sauté another minute. Add the sliced mushrooms, spread them into a single layer and let them slightly brown. Turn them and repeat. Add the kale and sauté until slightly wilted.

Place the prepared beans and any bean liquid in a pot with the sautéed vegetables. Add the mushroom liquid. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cover. Simmer for an hour, adding a little water if necessary. Add sea salt to taste and serve. It’s even better the next day.

Do you prepare beans from scratch? What are your favorites or those of your 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.

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Shirataki Noodles

Filed under: Cooking Tips , Tags: , , , , , — Author: Caron Golden , January 21, 2019

Chefs, if you have clients who have issues with carbs–perhaps they have diabetes or weight issues—or they have wheat allergies, there’s another option for pasta that you may not be aware of and that can complement vegetable noodles: shirataki noodles.

Shirataki noodles originate in Japan. Slick and slippery, packaged in bulging plastic bags of water, they’re not what you expect in pasta. According to Serious Eats, they are made with glucomannan starch extracted from devil’s tongue yams. Essentially, it’s an indigestible dietary fiber so it goes in and out barely leaving a trace, so you end up with no net calories or carbs. For those who are gluten free, they’re perfect for those clients, too. They’re also keto friendly.


The best place to find shirataki noodles is at your local Japanese market, although some American markets carry them (look near where the tofu is stocked). Not only are there several brands with several choices of shirataki noodles, but there’s a whole other choice you can make–tofu shirataki, made with tofu and water with a little yam flour. And these, made by a company called House Foods, are going the extra distance with varieties in shapes like spaghetti, angel hair, macaroni, and fettuccine. Crazy! They also have no cholesterol, 0.5 grams of fat per serving, are extremely low in sodium, and are all of 20 calories per serving. And additional good news–if you don’t have a Japanese market in your community they’re available on Amazon.com.

Now are either version truly like wheat noodles in terms of flavor and texture? No. Let’s not make them into something they’re not. But if your clients have been craving traditional pasta and simply can’t have it this is not a bad substitute. In fact, your clients can enjoy them on their own terms. Because they have no flavor they are the perfect delivery system for any sauce you create. And their slick, jelly-like texture is kind of fun to chew. You can add them to soup (don’t cook them in the soup); mix them up with vegetables, olive oil, and Parmesan cheese; make mac and cheese; or, as I have with a package of “macaroni,” add them to turkey chile. Or create a chilled salad.

The noodles do have a distinct odor to them, acknowledged in the package’s preparation directions. But all you need to do is rinse them under water, put them in a bowl, and heat them in the microwave for–get this–a minute. The smell goes away and you have warm noodles with a bit of chew to them and a neutral flavor. Ready for pretty much anything for which you’d use regular pasta.

What options do you create for a “pasta” treat for 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.

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Salmon. It can make you crazy. Are we only supposed to eat wild Alaskan salmon? What about farmed? What’s in the chemicals added to make it, well, salmon colored? How about Scottish salmon? It’s so delicious but it has to be shipped here and how is that good for the environment? Forget salmon. What about swordfish. Is it okay to eat it? And, no bluefin tuna? Seriously?

Talk about sustainable seafood is all the rage. With two-thirds of the world’s fisheries reaching depletion and overfishing putting some species, including some in California, close to extinction, we have serious issues to consider as consumers. We aren’t supposed to eat endangered species or seafood caught by large trawlers with turtle by-catch. Or eat some farmed fish. We’re encouraged to eat local, but what’s local (especially for those not on a coast)? Is it from oceans surrounding our country or more specific?

We’re encouraged to eat species like swordfish that are caught by harpoon or hook and line, not net. But how do we know how it’s caught?

Good luck, chefs, keeping all the do’s and don’ts straight.

And, yet it’s important to make the effort. According to the annual Fisheries of the United States reported released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, fish and seafood consumption in the U.S. increased in 2017 to 16 pounds from 14.9 pounds in 2016. And we’re eating more of a variety of seafood. While shrimp, salmon and tuna continue to be America’s favorite fish and shellfish, the Top Ten Species List by National Fisheries Institute makes up only 84 percent of the 16 pounds consumed. In 2016, this list accounted for 90 percent of the 14.9 pounds consumed. That means we can influence what shows up in restaurants and stores. But we have to be smart about it.

So, what is sustainable seafood? Addressing how to be a good consumer is complex, not the least because depending on who you talk to you get a different definition of sustainability. NOAA holds that seafood is sustainable when, “the population of that species of fish is managed in a way that provides for today’s needs without damaging the ability of the species to reproduce and be available for future generations.” But others–from Seafood Watch to the Monterey Bay Aquarium to chefs engaged in seafood sustainability all have different definitions. And different issues that concern them, such as carbon footprint and community economics.

So, it’s complicated. And, some of the decision making consumers have to do centers around how much research they’re willing to put in on an ever-changing industry that is often accused of fudging its practices.

It also has to do with personal values and economics and even a willingness to try new things. Perhaps grilled sardines instead of tuna sashimi. Farmed fish instead of wild. And consuming less of it all, just as with beef, pork, and chicken.

So here are some things you can do for yourself and your clients, assuming this is a concern of theirs. First some guides to sustainable fisheries:

Consumers can find guides on websites including

Now, are these guides the easy fix for consumers? No, a pocket guide is one tool among many, including Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) labels at major retailers like Whole Foods.

Smart consumers should also recognize that they need to ask their vendors questions about where seafood comes from, how it was caught, if it’s sustainable. The bottom line? Buy from businesses you trust.

All this can make a difference. When there’s a shift in customer demand and interest, it can impact businesses that sell fish. Back in 2012, Trader Joe’s announced a goal of shifting all seafood purchases to sustainable sources by the end of the year. And they can use their purchasing power to leverage change among seafood suppliers.

And here’s one other issue to consider. How do you use your seafood? Are you buying strictly filets or trying other parts of the fish, like cheeks, collars, and bellies? How about preparing the whole fish?

Is seafood sustainability an issue you’re interested in? If so, how do you go about selecting your seafood?

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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Winter Comfort Food: Stuffed Cabbage

Filed under: Recipes , Tags: , , — Author: Caron Golden , January 7, 2019

Chefs, how many of you rely on cherished family recipes that come from your people or your clients’ family? Given how closely knit food, tradition, and love are my guess is that even if you don’t exactly replicate those recipes many are the basis for the dishes you prepare for clients–and, of course, yourself and your own family.

When I was in my 20s I hounded my grandmother, Tillie Gould, to write down her recipes for me. The result was a small denim loose-leaf notebook with a photo she taped on the front page of her with my grandfather Abe carving a Thanksgiving turkey. The photo was taken before I was born and I treasure it and the notebook, which is filled with all sorts of family favorites. The recipes vary from holiday classics–Jewish holiday classics, that is–to kind of strange salads of the day, jello molds, chuck roast, dill pickles, and hummus. And lots of desserts. Tillie was a wonderful baker.

But one of the most cherished recipes in this book is for stuffed cabbage, or prakas in Yiddish. Unfortunately, by the time Tillie wrote it out for me her handwriting was moving toward illegible and she had a tendency to leave out ingredients or directions in her old age. So I took out a red folder filled with recipes my mom has given me over the years. There it was. But the ingredients list was slightly different. I gave Mom a call and together we reviewed the process with me typing and editing as she talked. Then I got an assignment last summer from the San Diego Union-Tribune to write a piece on holiday dishes for Rosh Hashanah. We spent a day in late August making it together in anticipation of the photo shoot. The great thing is that this fairly labor-intensive dish is freezable, so we were able make a ton of it for the shoot and then freeze it to enjoy later. You see, prakas is a traditional Rosh Hashanah dish, but it’s not exclusive to the holiday. In fact, it’s the perfect comfort food for a cold winter’s dinner.

Stuffed cabbage is one of those peasant dishes that makes great use of inexpensive ingredients to create a large filling meal. Traditionally, it’s made with ground beef but I’ve had it with ground turkey and it tastes wonderful too.

Here’s the trick for getting the leaves off the head of cabbage intact. Core the cabbage head, then microwave it in short bursts. That will loosen the larger leaves enough so you can more easily pull them off. Then trim the thick membrane and blanch the leaves so they’ll fold.

Stuff them with the ground meat mixture like you would a burrito and place the rolls seam side down in a tall-sided pan. You’ll cover them with crushed tomatoes and tomato sauce, as well as dried apricots and prunes.

After two hours pull out as much  of the now soft fruit as you can and some of the juices. Instead of pushing them through a sieve, like my mom and Tillie used to do, make life easier for yourself and puree them in a blender with the pan juices. Then add a mixture of lemon juice and sugar to the puree, stir, and pour back into the pan to continue cooking. By the end you’ll have a thick sauce enveloping your cabbage rolls. I think this sweet-and-sour sauce is the dish’s most important element. Play with the lemon juice and sugar amounts until you get it just right. It should have some punch to it.

Try to make this at least a day before you’ll be serving it so the flavors can deepen.

Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

Yield: About 20 rolls, depending on size

Ingredients

2 large green cabbages
2 1/2 pounds lean ground beef or turkey
2 cups cooked or instant rice
½ cup pine nuts, toasted
1 tablespoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Large can of crushed tomatoes
Medium can of tomato sauce
½ pound each seeded prunes and dried apricots
2 bay leaves
1 ½ cups of sugar
Juice of 2 1/2 lemons (to taste to get sweet and sour flavor0

Directions

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

Bring large pot of water to boil. Core cabbages and microwave each for about a minute and a half to begin to soften the leaves so they can be gently lifted with as few tears as possible. Once they become difficult to separate, microwave again at 30-second intervals. You only want the largest leaves but pull off some smaller ones to use as patches in case larger ones tear. On the back of the leaves is a thick membrane. Slice a thin piece off to make the leaf more flexible for rolling. Blanch the leaves in batches in the boiling water for about 40 seconds or until the spines are pliable. Drain and stack on a plate. Set aside.

Mix together ground meat, rice, pine nuts, garlic salt, kosher salt, and pepper. Place about 2 ½ ounces—depending on the size of the leaf—toward the bottom of the cabbage leaf. Fold the bottom up and over the meat mixture. Then fold in the sides and roll to the top. It should look like a cylinder. Place each roll in a high-sided pan with the seam of the roll on the bottom. You can stack a couple of layers.

Scatter the prunes and apricots around and on top of the rolls. Pour crushed tomatoes and tomato sauce over the rolls. Add bay leaves. Cover and bake for about 2 hours or until the leaves begin to look wilted. Starting after 45 minutes in the oven, baste the cabbage rolls with the liquids. Do this a few times in 20-minute intervals (more or less).

While the cabbage rolls are cooking, mix together sugar and lemon juice in a small bowl. After the two hours, remove the pan from the oven and spoon out a little of the hot cabbage roll liquid and add to the sugar/lemon juice mixture to dissolve the sugar and create a sweet-and-sour sauce. Remove as many of the prunes and apricots you can find. Put them in a blender and add the sweet and sour sauce. Puree and pour the puree back into the pan with the cabbage rolls. Stir it around to incorporate well. If it’s too thick, add a little water and stir into the sauce.

Taste and correct with more sugar or more lemon juice until flavors are balanced sweet and sour but not bland. Make sure the sauce covers the cabbage so it absorbs the flavors.

Cover and return to the oven to cook for another hour. Then remove from the oven and remove the bay leaves. The cabbage rolls can be served at this point but the flavors are best when this is made a day ahead. It can easily be frozen with the sauce.

What family recipe do you most love to share with clients? How have you updated it?

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As we look ahead to 2019, Candy and I hope you’re taking whatever downtime you may be enjoying right now to plan your business strategy. I thought it might be helpful to look back across our blog’s 2018 posts for the helpful words you and your personal chef colleagues offered us. Think of it as a friendly reminder of the wisdom you and your peers have and have enthusiastically shared. Perhaps they will spark some cool idea that you were just developing. Or perhaps they’re concepts you’re ready to hear and act on now that you weren’t months ago.

We also wrote several posts in 2018 with strategy in mind that we hope you will find worth revisiting. I’m going to start with this essential checklist I wrote this time last year:

General Review:

End of Year Checklist: Start here for the basics—from reviewing and updating your business plan to reviewing your equipment and organizing records for taxes.

Making Changes in 2017? Tell Your Clients Now!: Candy addresses how to talk to clients about issues like price increases or other changes in service.

Time for Your Year-End Business Review: Candy’s advice for reviewing the past year and making plans for what you want to create in the new year—from how to enjoy your business more, evaluating your income streams, and marketing.

Is a Commercial Kitchen Right for You?: Most personal chefs travel to clients’ homes to prep meals, but some chefs are opting to rent commercial kitchen space. Here’s why and how.

Marketing:

Five Venues for Marketing Your Personal Chef Business: If you’re looking for marketing inspiration, check out these tips.

Can Public Speaking Help Your Business?: Members offer tips for getting started in public speaking

Are You YouTube Ready?: Here’s why you should start doing video to market your business—and how to do it, from fellow chefs.

Five Essential Marketing Tools for Personal Chefs: We get down to the basics, from photography and business cards to a Facebook page, good website, and chef’s coat.

Marketing Your Business Through Williams-Sonoma Chef Demos: Member Anne Blankenship explains how she got into doing demos at the retailer and how it works.

Specializing:

Serving Clients with Dementia: Christine Robinson and Dennis Nosko of A Fresh Endeavor Personal Chef Service talk about how they work with dementia clients and their family.

Cooking for Patients with Cancer: Member Gloria Bakst explains how she helps clients with cancer.

Cooking for Special Diets: Tom Herndon of Hipp Kitchen gives insights on cooking for clients with special needs.

How to Create a Vegan Menu for Clients: Here we learn from Jim Lowellbach of Custom Provisions about how he developed a vegan menu for clients.

Cooking for Seniors: Do seniors need personal chefs? Yes, and here’s why and how to best serve them.

Taking on Special Diets: A Personal Chef Challenge: Food sensitivities?: Yes, you can handle this. Learn how.

Additionally, check out these topics:

We’ll be back in 2019 with more ideas and suggestions to help you run your business effectively. And we hope you’ll contribute guest posts with your own successful strategies! In the meantime, we wish you a very happy and prosperous New Year!

What are your 2019 business strategy resolutions? What do you need help with?

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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No doubt over the last few weeks you’ve been binging on holiday cookies–or at least recipes for them. I studiously avoided adding to the glut. But here it is a week from New Year’s Eve and all I can think about are the beautiful snowball cookies I grew up with.

You may have seen variations on these. I’ve seen them called alternately Mexican Wedding Cookies and Russian Tea Cookies. In our home, they were snowballs–and why not, what with the double dipping of these spheres into powdered sugar.

These cookies are addictive, mostly because they’re not overly sweet. Yes, they’re coated in powder sugar, but in the cookie dough itself, there’s a mere tablespoon of sugar. The rest is butter, flour, vanilla, a pinch of salt, and toasted nuts (preferably toasted chopped pecans). It’s that very classic combination of vanilla, butter, and nuts that is so compelling.

And, they have a classic aura of elegance. They can be dressed up on a pretty plate and be a perfect accompaniment to New Year’s Eve champagne. As a thank you to clients who enjoy a good cookie, you can’t beat these–and they’re easy to make. You just need a whole lot of powdered sugar! And the willpower to not eat them all yourself. FYI, they freeze wonderfully!

I’ve always referred to these as my Nana Tillie’s cookies. Back in the day after I had graduated from UCLA and moved to New York, she regularly packaged them in a shoebox and sent them to me with her unusual chocolate bit cookies (chocolate chip squares topped with meringue and walnuts), rugelach, and mandelbread (a recipe I’m not allowed to give out to anyone outside of our family). I lived for their delivery and I always became everybody’s best friend at my job on the 33rd floor at The William Morris Agency when they arrived. I have Tillie’s handwritten recipe for the snowballs and at the top of the page she attributes it to my cousins’ grandmother Ida. But, my mother insists that she actually gave Nana the recipe. So, these are now Evie’s Snowball Cookies. Whoever came up with them, all I can say is thank you. They remain my favorite and I hope become yours and your clients’.

Happy New Year!

Evie’s Snowball Cookies
Yield: About 40 cookies

Ingredients
1 cup butter, room temperature
1 tablespoon powder sugar
2 generous tablespoons vanilla
2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup chopped, toasted nuts (I prefer pecans but you can also use walnuts)
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups powder sugar

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
2. Cream butter. Add the rest of the ingredients up to the 2 cups of powder sugar. Mix well.
3. Form balls about the size of ping pong balls and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 30 minutes until just brown.
4. Add the 2 cups of powder sugar to a medium-size bowl. When the cookies come out of the oven, start dunking and rolling in the powder sugar. You’ll do this twice. The first round, while they’re still hot, is to get the sugar into the cookie. The second roll is for decoration.

Note: Cookies can be frozen before or after baking.

What are your treasured family cookies? How do you thank clients at the end of the year?

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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Holiday Brunch Blintzes

Filed under: Holiday Foods,Recipes,Vegetarian , Tags: , , — Author: Caron Golden , December 17, 2018

Are you going to be catering holiday brunches? Have you considered making blintzes for guests? They’re easy enough for a kid to make (I’ve been making them since I was a child) but sophisticated enough to impress. Plus, you can make them in advance and freeze them, meaning all you have to do the day of is fry up the defrosted blintzes to serve. You can even make the fruit compote ahead and freeze that. What’s not to love?

Unfamiliar with blintzes? Okay, you don’t want to miss these. They’re thin pancakes that are crepes-like (but with more eggs and no milk), cooked only on one side, then stuffed with a filling (traditionally cheese or fruit compote to be a dairy dish, but they can also be savory and have a meat filling). Once filled, they’re pan fried. The sweet, dairy blintzes are traditionally topped with sour cream or a fruit sauce. Think Eastern European Jewish breakfast burrito.

Earlier this fall I had a cook date with a chef friend who actually asked me if she could come over and make them with me. She had a craving and figured this Jewish girl could help fill it. And this Irish-American introduced me to a slightly different approach to the cheese filling that totally won me over. Instead of the traditional eggs and ricotta and cinnamon sugar my Nana Tillie taught me, my friend Maeve Rochford blends goat cheese and ricotta with melted butter and sugar. So the filling remains creamy and full bodied, with a slight tang.

One thing I love about making blintzes is how forgiving the batter is. Eggs, water, sugar, flour, and vegetable oil come together in a mostly smooth, just slightly thickened texture. Whisk it together well to get as many lumps as possible out–but don’t worry if some remain. Heat a non-stick pan and add just a bit of oil. Using a ladle drop a couple of ounces into the center, swirling the batter around until you get a nice large circle. Let it sit until the edges curl up. You won’t be flipping it. Instead slide it onto a plate and then start the next one.

At this point, if you aren’t ready to actually make the blintzes, you can just refrigerate the crepes for a few hours or overnight. You can also prep the blintzes, which involves dropping a dollop of the filling onto a blintz crepe and folding it up like a burrito. Wrap them well to freeze them until you’re ready to defrost them and then pan fry them in butter. So, yes, they’re very versatile.

And we haven’t even discussed the compote, which is divine. Maeve and I collaborated on this. Here’s our blueprint, but feel free to riff on it with flavors you enjoy. We used citrus liqueur, honey, lemon zest, and lemon juice with the fresh blueberries. Simmer and stir it over heat until the blueberries begin to burst. You could just as easily, with just as marvelous a result, use sugar and cinnamon, and no liqueur.

You can also go seasonal and make an apple compote or applesauce. Or come up with other toppings for the season: jams, a sweet compound butter, even maple syrup or chocolate sauce.

(But make the compote. It’s really good!)

Cheese Blintzes with Blueberry Compote
Yield: 12 blintzes

Ingredients
Crepes:
5 eggs, beaten slightly
2 cups water
1 ½ teaspoons sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons vegetable oil

Filling:
Maeve’s version
2 cups ricotta cheese
12 ounces goat cheese
¼ cup butter, melted
¼ cup sugar

OR

Nana Tillie’s version
2 eggs
1 pound ricotta cheese
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon sugar or to taste

Blueberry Compote:
¼ cup water
¼ cup citrus liqueur, like Cointreau (or substitute with more water)
½ cup honey
Lemon zest from half a lemon
10 ounces (2 cups) fresh blueberries
1 ½ tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Directions
Make the crepes by beating the 5 eggs slightly. Add the water and sugar and beat together. Slowly beat in the flour until smooth. A few lumps are okay.

Set out a plate covered with wax paper. Heat a skillet and brush it lightly with vegetable oil. Using a 2-ounce ladle, scoop in some batter and pour it onto the skillet. Tilt the pan all around so the batter forms a circle around 9 inches in diameter. Don’t worry about perfection. This is a homey dish.

Return the skillet to the heat and let the crepe cook until the edges curl up slightly and the surface is cooked entirely–you won’t be flipping them to cook on the other side. Use a spatula to help you turn out the crepe onto the wax paper on the plate. Then brush the pan again and repeat until you use up all the batter. You should have a dozen crepes. You can make these a day ahead. Just cover the crepes and store in the refrigerator.

To make the blueberry compote, bring to the boil compote ingredients. Simmer, stirring periodically, 3 to 5 minutes until the blueberries begin to burst. Remove from heat. Set aside.

To make the filling, blend together the ingredients from either of the choices above.

Make the blintzes by placing 2 to 3 tablespoons of the filling in the center of the crepe. Fold the bottom half over the filling. Then fold the sides in. Then fold the top down over the center. Refrigerate until ready to fry.

Heat a sauté pan and add butter. Once the butter has melted add three to four (or five, depending on the size of the pan) and fry at medium heat until the first side browns, then flip the blintzes and brown on the other side. Serve with the blueberry compote.

The blintzes can be frozen before or after frying. The compote can also be frozen.

Are you catering holiday brunches this year? What are your go-to dishes?

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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