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

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

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

What does a recipe mean to you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Little Chef Izzy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then teach them how to do the dishes.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Please think before you act.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your favorite kitchen hacks?

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

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

 

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Caprese empanadas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Empanada Dough
Makes 20 empanadas

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

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

Caprese Empanada
Makes about 20 empanadas

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

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

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

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

Freeze overnight on a baking sheet.

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

Do you make empanadas? What varieties do you enjoy?

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

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

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