I love winter squashes and have written about them a lot over the years. There are so many unique varieties that are so beautiful and versatile. The dense flesh transforms into perfect creamy soups for chilly days–and you can even make the soup in the squash itself. Roast them and, as you chefs well know, you get some magnificent sweet flavors that stand on their own, can be part of a stew, or can be turned into filling for ravioli. The baseball-sized ones are a perfect chalice for stuffing. They’re a one-dish meal. And, hey, I love chomping on roasted seeds.

Making stuffed squash is pretty easy and, of course, you can riff on any ingredients that sound great to you or your clients. When I made my dish recently I chose acorn squash for stuffing and farro as my grain but rice, quinoa, barley… any of them will be wonderful. You don’t have to include meat, but I enjoy a flavorful sausage. Instead of pork, I went with sweet Italian chicken sausage. I had a box of crimini mushrooms, onions, garlic, and a package of Trader Joe’s Quattro Formaggio Shredded Cheese Blend, which is made up of asiago, fontina, parmesan, and mild provolone. Perfect. For me, sausages, mushrooms, onion, and garlic are a winning combo. You could also include sautéed spinach, pine nuts, raisins…the list is endless. You can add herbs or spices, but I think the Italian sausage has enough in them already and didn’t want to mask those flavors.


The first thing you do is par-bake the squash after cleaning it. Cut the squash in half lengthwise, pull out the seeds and then scrape the hole with a spoon to remove all the remaining fibrous material. Then put the squash halves cut side down on a baking sheet and add water to surround the halves up to about a quarter inch. Cover them with foil and bake in a 375-degree oven for about 45 minutes or until they are easily pierced by a fork.

While the squash is cooking you’ll make the filling. Put up your grains to cook. Chop your vegetables and fruit–I like adding apple or persimmon or citrus or pomegranate seeds to a savory filling. Then start sautéing.

I’ll give you a marvelous tip on sautéing mushroom slices that I learned from Alice Waters on a show she did many years ago with Julia Child. Leave them alone. That’s it. Add them to a hot pan with olive oil, spread them single layer, and just let them be until they brown. Then flip them over and leave them alone again. By not constantly stirring them you end up with beautifully caramelized mushrooms that taste phenomenal.

So, sauté the mushrooms and put them in a bowl. Sauté the onions and garlic, then add the diced apple and let them just brown. Add the sausage after removing the casing and poke it into small chunks as the meat cooks. When the sausage is browned, you’ll add back the mushrooms so the flavors can meld. Put the mixture back in the bowl, add your cooked grains and the cheese and mix well. The cheese will melt a bit to bind the ingredients. By then the squash should be cooked and out of the oven. Now some people scoop out the flesh, chop it up, and add it to the filling. Go ahead. I chose to keep it intact. Either way, rub a little olive oil on the inner surface of the squash and then fill the squash “bowl” with your very fragrant filling. Top with some more cheese and put them back in the oven (yes, keep the water in the pan) uncovered. You’ll cook the squash for another 15 minutes. Then serve or cover and refrigerate, then reheat before serving.

Stuffed Winter Squash with Italian Sausage, Mushrooms, and Farro
Serves 4

Ingredients
2 round(ish) winter squash, about the size of a baseball
3 to 4 cups of cooked grains
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1/2 large onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large sweet Italian or spicy Italian sausage (about 8 ounces), casing removed
1 firm apple (I like Granny Smiths for this), peeled and diced
Olive oil for sautéing and to rub the cooked squash
1 cup shredded cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions
Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Slice the squashed in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. You can reserve them to clean and toast as a snack. Using a spoon, scrape the remaining fiber off the surface of the squash flesh. Place all four halved cut side down on a baking sheet. Add enough water to rise about a quarter inch along the sides. Cover with foil and bake for about 45 minutes, until a fork easily pierces the skin. Remove the squash from the oven and turn them cut side up. Reserve.

While the squash is baking, make the grains and the stuffing. To make the stuffing, add oil to a pan and turn on the heat to medium. Add just enough mushrooms to cover the bottom of the pan in one layer–you may have to sauté them in a couple of batches. Let the mushrooms cook on one side without disturbing them. As they shrink, they’ll brown. Then flip them over and let them cook on the other side until done. Add them to a large mixing bowl. Add more oil to the pan and sauté the onions and garlic until they turn golden. Add the diced apple and let them also cook to a golden color. Then add the sausage.

Crumble it as it cooks and let it cook until the pink of the raw meat turns to brown. Add back the mushrooms and stir together briefly. Put the mixture into the mixing bowl and season with salt and pepper.

Add the grains and two-thirds of a cup of the grated cheese to the stuffing mixture and stir together to thoroughly combine the ingredients. By now the squash should be out of the oven and ready to be stuffed. Rub a little oil on the cooked flesh. Then scoop the mixture into the hollow of each squash half. It’s okay if it overflows a little. Top each half with the remaining cheese.

Return the squash to the oven and bake for about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve immediately–or you can let it cool and refrigerate covered. Before you’re ready to serve it let it come to room temperature and then put back in a warm oven to reheat.

How do you prepare winter squash? Do you have a favorite? 

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How do you and your clients feel about garlic? I’m an admitted fanatic. I just love the stuff. I also love ginger. Several years ago I wrote about grating and freezing ginger so it would always be on hand and I wouldn’t have shriveled roots that would inevitably be tossed. It’s been a great kitchen short cut as well as a waste reducer. Then I came across a piece in Bon Appétit extolling garlic season. Test kitchen manager Brad Leone offered up a wonderful garlic and ginger paste that combines the two with olive oil. He puts the paste in ice cube trays to freeze and then stores them in plastic freezer bags. Well, I was on it. Only instead of the ice cube trays, I used a small cookie scoop and froze the little flavor bombs on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet, then popped them into a freezer bag. They’re remarkably versatile and so handy. You can use them to do a stir fry, make a vinaigrette, or add to soup or stew.


I happened to have bought a Cornish game hen, which I defrosted. Initially I was just going to roast it with garlic salt, smoked paprika, lemon juice, and olive oil. It’s sort of a lazy go-to for me for poultry. Then I recalled my ginger-garlic flavor bombs. Eureka! I took out half a dozen of them to let thaw and considered what else would work. I remembered the most marvelous chicken recipe in Deborah Schneider’s book, Baja! Cooking on the Edge. Her marinade of garlic, chipotles in adobo, salt, and oil is a classic in my cooking repertoire. So, I modeled a very different sauce on the concept. This one is made up of ginger, garlic, shichimi togarashi (a vibrant Japanese seasoning containing chili pepper, black and white sesame seeds, orange peel, basil, and Szechuan pepper), lime zest and juice, salt, and olive oil. It’s just a bit chunky, even pureed. Slather it all over the hens and let it penetrate the birds for at least a couple of hours but up to overnight.


In the past I’ve grilled Deb’s garlic chipotle birds and you can do that with this recipe, of course. But on this Sunday night I chose to roast the hen in my oven. I enjoyed it with small red, purple, and white potatoes rubbed in olive oil and garlic salt, with the hen resting on a pile of fresh baby spinach, dressed with its juices and a good squeeze of lime. The hen burst with bright ginger and citrus flavors and each bite ended with a bit of a kick of heat from the togarashi. After marinating for five hours, the flesh was moist, but the skin was perfectly crisp. And with the leftover marinade I gave a punch of flavor to a salmon fillet.

Ginger-Garlic Flavor Bomb Cornish Game Hens
Serves 2

Ingredients
6 ginger-garlic flavor bombs (directions on Bon Appétit), thawed
1/4 teaspoon shichimi togarashi
Zest of 1 lime
Juice of half a lime
Pinch of kosher salt
1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 Cornish game hens, trimmed and halved or quartered

Directions
In a small prep food processor or a blender, combine the first six ingredients and puree. You should have about a half a cup of marinade.

Slather ginger-garlic mixture all over Cornish game hen halves. Place in sealable plastic bag and refrigerate for 2 hours or up to overnight.

You can grill the hens or roast them in the oven. To roast, pre-heat oven to 375˚. Roast hens skin side up for an hour or until the skin is brown and juices flow clear.

What is your go-to marinade? What are your favorite flavor combinations?

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Candy Wallace making introductions

Disciples Escoffier International has 10 new members. On Monday, October 8, the San Diego Chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier International held the first Disciples Escoffier International Induction and Celebration Dinner in Southern California.

Michel Escoffier with Chef Sharon Van Meter of Dallas, Texas

Presided over by Michel Escoffier, great-grandson of Auguste Escoffier and president of the Foundation Escoffier in France, the event–held at the Marine Room in La Jolla–honored:

  • Bernard Guillas, executive chef at the Marine Room
  • Patrick Ponsaty, chef de cuisine at 1500 Ocean
  • Jeffrey Strauss, owner/executive chef of Pamplemousse Grille
  • Mark Kropczynski, executive chef of U.S. Grant Hotel

2018 inductees with Michel Escoffier, Candy Wallace, and Mary Chamberlin

  • Javier Plascencia, executive chef/owner of Mision 19, Finca Altozano, Jazamando, Erizo and Cafe Saverios
  • Luis Gonzalez, executive chef/owner of Puesto Restaurant Group
  • Dame Flor Franco, executive chef/owner of Indulge and Franco’s on Fifth
  • Dame Michelle Ciccarelli Lerach, founder of Berry Good Food Foundation
  • Dame Maria Gomez Laurens, Past President of LDEI International/Hospitality Professional/Philanthropist
  • Dame Araceli Ramos, Director of Worldwide PR for Mundo Cuervo

Candy with her long-time friend Chef Jeremiah Tower

The event also drew culinary luminaries including Jeremiah Tower.

And who organized this stunning sunset evening? Our own Candy Wallace. Candy, of course, is not only a Dame, but she was inducted into Disciples Escoffier International USA in October 2014. Candy handled the behind-the-scenes work, from getting Guillas to hold the event at the Marine Room and managing the publicity to serving as the MC that evening. It was a stunning evening with a menu designed by Guillas and inspired by his early 1900’s Auguste Escoffier cookbooks.

Following the meal and induction ceremony presided over by Michel Escoffier, Candy, and Mary Chamberlin, there was both a silent auction and live auction run by Candy and Gomez-Laurens. Proceeds will fund educational scholarships and grant programs in San Diego.

Candy and Dennis Wallace

All I can say is you should have been there! You should be so proud of Candy!

What would you consider your greatest contributions to the culinary field? What do you aspire to?

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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I spend a lot of time on social media, much of it on behalf of APPCA. I started to notice a lot of interesting tweets coming from an APPCA member, Angela Capanna of Eat Your Heart Out Edibles. She serves South Jersey, Philadelphia and Pennsylvania, and Delaware. The tweets are engaging and fun. She clearly knows what she’s doing. So I asked her to share her strategy and approach. She generously has–and I hope she inspires you to do more and do it thoughtfully as part of your marketing strategy.

My website is the primary source of new leads for my business, Eat Your Heart Out, and social media has become a significant driver of traffic there – as well as direct inquiries, I might add. As a busy chef, I operate on the KISS principle (keep it short and simple!)…I use two main channels – Facebook and Instagram (eatyourheartoutedibles). I have Facebook set up to auto-post to Twitter (@EYHOEdibles) – two for the price of one! LOL).

I make sure to stay consistent with posting timing; I post by 10 a.m. and again between 5-7 p.m. daily. If I have time, I’ll do a third post in afternoon. That allows me to catch followers’ attention no matter what time of day they’re on social media. Another point of consistency is that I always use certain hashtags with every post. I do roughly the same posts on Facebook and Instagram, modifying if needed for format.

In terms of content, of course the majority of my posts have to do with meals that I am cooking, or recent catering events – always with at least one picture. (Here’s my Grilled Mediterranean Chicken and Quinoa Salad.)

I also try to post something “personal” a few times a week, as that really engages followers. (I have read studies on this, and I find this to be true with people I follow). Overall, with everything I post I try to represent my brand image. What I mean by “brand image” is that I like to keep my posts mostly about food/cooking/personal cheffing/catering, with a few personal posts about me – but never about politics, current events, etc. I always try to keep anything too personal off my EYHOE social media so that whatever I post ultimately points back to my business – food and cooking. I guess you could say that my brand image is one of a creative, somewhat adventurous, chef who takes food, but not herself, seriously.

One approach that I have found to generate a lot of “engagement” is my “Name that Food” game, where I post an unusual picture of a food, and ask my followers to identify it. I also suggest that they like and share the post to get their friends in on the fun – which can result in more followers for me! Then I post the answer, usually the next day, with a “normal” picture of the food, replying to/tagging the commenters to keep them involved. Here’s a close-up of a “Rambutan”, the edible fruit of a tree from Southeast Asia.

Once the prickly skin is peeled away, the fruit reveals a sweet and juicy flesh, with bitter seeds found in the center. The second picture is “the big reveal.”

I also use social media to promote my blog, “Annie’s Anecdotes.” Whenever I have a new blog post, I will post a lead-in and link to the blog on Facebook and Instagram, to generate blog readership.

While making these posts does take a certain amount of my time, I def think it is worth that investment. I love engaging/getting personal with my followers on social media. The best part of social media is the engagement with followers! After all, I am a “personal chef”! love going back and forth with them; their comments are often insightful.

Chefs, are you active on social media? What is your strategy? How’s it working?

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How long do you spend in front of a display of apples or tomatoes or berries searching for the items for client meals that are just the right size, are unblemished, and with the coloring you consider the right stage of ripeness? In other words, seeking perfection…

Yeah, we all do it. But what you may not know is that all that produce already has to conform to grocery store sizes and qualities. The produce that doesn’t make the cosmetic grade tends to get tossed. Yeah, we’re talking about quirky shaped carrots and oblong yellow onions or really small avocados. According to UNESCO and the Environmental Working Group, 1 in 5 of these fruits and vegetables don’t meet cosmetic standards and go to waste. All of them food we could eat and enjoy.

Now you might find ugly produce at your local farmers market–and you should buy them since there’s nothing wrong with the quality. But here’s another option for your “no-waste” tool belt: Buying from a San Francisco-based food subscription company called Imperfect Produce.


Imperfect Produce was founded in 2015 by Ben Simon and Ben Chesler. Simon had originally founded the Food Recovery Network as a student at the University of Maryland after noticing food going to waste in the cafeteria. The FRN has since expanded to more than 180 colleges and universities across the country. Simon and Chesler decided to scale the concept nationally and to source “ugly” produce directly from farms. They would then deliver it directly to consumers’ homes at a discount. They claim their pricing is about 30 percent less than grocery store prices.

The produce arrives in a recyclable cardboard box–and nothing else–to limit waste. Like a CSA, you can choose from a small, medium, large, or extra-large shipment, organic, all fruit, all veggies, or mixed, with costs ranging from $11 to $13 weekly or bi-weekly for a small (7- to 9-pound) box of conventional produce to $39 to $43 for an extra-large (23- to 25-pound) box of organic produce. And you can customize your order. A few days before your delivery is scheduled to arrive you’ll be notified that you can log in and select from 30 to 40 items what you want–you know, so you won’t waste either. So if you hate beets or want all fruit, you can skip the beets and order citrus or whatever else is available. The site has tips for how to get the most from customizing–for instance, stocking up on items with a long shelf-life and multiple uses, like onions, potatoes, and hard squash that can be used in soups.


Imperfect Produce has already launched in the Bay Area, Los Angeles, Orange County, Portland, OR, Seattle/Tacoma, Chicago, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, San Antonio, and most recently San Diego, where I just experienced it. And in keeping with its mission, any produce that doesn’t go to customers goes to a food bank or other nonprofit. According to the company, it has recovered 30 million pounds since its launch.

While Imperfect Produce tries to source locally, the options vary by the day and week, depending on the seasons and weather. Their company philosophy is “follow the waste” and, they note, since more than 80 percent of the U.S.’s produce is grown in California, this is where they source most of their fruits and vegetables. But, they also source from out of state and Mexico when it’s necessary and seasonally appropriate.

“Our primary focus is reducing waste. Food waste has no borders,” their website notes. “Waste is a problem worldwide, and we do what we can to reduce waste wherever and however we can. In the winter, this means sourcing from Mexico and beyond.”

I got a sample box that contained four Roma tomatoes, a very small head of green cauliflower, a grapefruit, several apples, a couple of small oblong yellow onions, three small avocados, a bunch of carrots, and several small red potatoes. All look very appetizing. I’ve been enjoying the carrots (as has my dog Ketzel, who scarfed one from the counter), the potatoes, and the tomatoes so far.

For those who say, “Keep it local,” I’m with you. First choice is to buy local and from farmers. But I consider Imperfect Produce to be a great tool for those who can’t get to a farmers market or those who live in a climate with limited growing seasons.

How do you buy produce? What do you do to contain waste?

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