Given that I have diabetes, macaroni and cheese isn’t on my list of dishes to make. I love it–who doesn’t–but like pizza it’s the poster dish for all I shouldn’t eat. But when my neighbors decided to have a potluck alley party I was in need of a dish that both adults and kids would love. What better than mac ‘n cheese?

Because I’m not an old hand with a favorite dish, I consulted various people in my circle and was told that a chef friend of mine had made a stunning one recently. I texted her, asking what her key ingredients were. Her answer? Heavy whipping cream, sharp white cheddar and manchego cheese. Oh, and bacon.

I was with her up till the bacon. I love bacon but I felt it was just one ingredient too many for what I wanted to do, especially if kids were going to eat it. After all, they were likely fans of the blue box. I went shopping for ingredients and found that heavy whipping cream–at least at Trader Joe’s–was ridiculously expensive. Since most people use milk for mac ‘n cheese, I compromised with half and half.

Then there was the actual how-to. I’m curious, chefs, about how you create or adapt a recipe for a favorite dish about which people have so many strong opinions. Do you turn to the dish you grew up with and modernize it via technique or better ingredients? (For instance, my grandmother made beautiful pies and taught me how to make them–but as an adult I rejected her margarine in favor of butter. No doubt margarine was cheaper and made more sense for her Depression mentality, but today I want the real deal.) If  you live in another region from where you grew up, do you look at the ingredients in a traditional recipe and adjust it for your new locale to be able to incorporate its fresh, local ingredients? Do you adjust for dietary restrictions? How about techniques that make the process go faster? Say, instead of mashing soft cooked ingredients through a chinois to create a sauce, just pureeing it all in a blender? Please write and let us know your strategy for recipe creation!

But back to the macaroni and cheese. You’d be surprised at how many different techniques there are for making it. Yes, I know, your mom or grandma’s is the best, but, whoa, there are a lot of contenders out there. After spending perhaps too much time looking through cookbooks and online to get a better sense of what’s involved I was drawn to two approaches by two big names: Alton Brown and Martha Stewart. By then it was easy enough to sort out the basics and create my own version using the best of what I found. A little less cooking of the pasta here, the spice combo there, tempering eggs, adding a panko topping.

Well, it all came together in a bubbling, rich, creamy casserole with a crusty top and lots of flavor. And, friends, I had very little left over to take home. I’ll remember it fondly when I munch on a green salad.

Macaroni and Cheese

Serves 12 to 16

Ingredients

1 pound elbow macaroni

8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter

6 cups half and half

½ cup all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons kosher salt

¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 cup yellow onion, finely diced

1 bay leaf

2 large eggs, beaten

12 ounces sharp white cheddar, shredded

12 ounces manchego cheese, shredded

Topping

3 tablespoons butter

1 cup panko bread crumbs

Instructions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Butter a 3-quart casserole dish and set aside.

Fill a large pot with salted water and bring to a boil. Add pasta and cook 2 to 3 minutes less than the package directions. (The pasta will finish cooking while it bakes.) Transfer to a colander, rinse under cold water, and drain well. Set aside while making the sauce.

While the pasta is cooking, in another pot, melt the butter. When it bubbles, whisk in the flour and stir for 1 minute. Stir in half and half, salt, nutmeg, ground pepper, cayenne pepper, onion, and bay leaf. Temper in the eggs by stirring in a little of the milk mixture to the eggs and then adding that mixture to the sauce. Slowly stir in ¾ of the cheese. Whisk constantly until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick. Remove from heat and remove bay leaves.

Stir the macaroni into the sauce. Pour the mixture into the prepared casserole dish. Mix together the remaining cheeses and sprinkle evenly over the mixture.

Melt the 3 tablespoons of butter for the topping in a sauté pan and add the panko crumbs. Stir until coated. Top the cheese-covered macaroni with the bread crumbs.

Bake for 45 minutes uncovered or until brown on top. Remove from oven and let rest for 5 minutes before serving.

What was your most successful reinvention of a favorite recipe? How did you go about changing it up?

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Peach Tomato Panzanella

Filed under: Cooking Tips,Recipes,Vegetarian , Tags: , — Author: Caron Golden , July 30, 2018

I don’t know what kind of steamy swampy weather you’re enduring right now, but in San Diego, where Candy, Dennis, and I live, it’s been pretty hot and humid. Just the thought of standing over a stove or turning on the oven makes me sink onto my couch in front of a blasting fan. It’s forced me into a chill–salads and summer soups and smoothies. If you feel the same way–along with your clients–here’s a dish you’ll love and that you can make for clients and their special events. And the only heat involved comes from toasting bread.

I’m talking about panzanella. But not your traditional panzanella. This one marries peaches and tomatoes.

Now you may wonder why peaches and tomatoes? But they actually pair beautifully together. And peaches are perfectly lovely in a savory dish. Is it authentic panzanella? Well, consider this, the “pan” is panzanella means bread. Food experts, including one of my heroes, J. Kenji López-Alt of Serious Eats, put it this way: “Panzanella is not a tomato salad with bread; it’s a bread salad flavored with vegetables.” I’m going to extend that to fruit. I doubt he’d mind.

There are a couple of tricks to making this salad that I picked up from López-Alt. First is that instead of letting the bread sit out to get stale, try drying it in the oven, tossed with olive oil. What you’ll have are magnificent large croutons that will soak up the vinaigrette and vegetable/fruit juices, yet still remain crispy. It makes for a great bite.

The other is to chop your tomatoes (if you use them), toss them with salt, then drain the juices into a bowl with a colander. This will increase your juice yield, which you’ll want when you make the vinaigrette.

Everything else is easy peasy. While the bread is toasting, make your vinaigrette, chop the peaches and basil. Once the toasted bread has cooled it’s time to put it all together. Then let it rest for half an hour so the vinaigrette can penetrate the bread and the flavors come together.

One other thing I learned–on my own. It doesn’t make for great leftovers unless you’re fond of soggy bread. The next day, facing leftovers, I just picked around the bread and ate the tomatoes and peaches. My suggestion? Add just enough of the croutons for the servings you plan to eat at that meal and save the rest for possible leftovers and add them at that point.

Peach Tomato Panzanella
Adapted from J. Kenji López-Alt’s Classic Panzanella Salad
Serves 2 to 3

Ingredients
1 pound tomatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ pound rustic bread, cut into ½-inch cubes (about 3 cups bread cubes)
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (2 tablespoons for the bread)
1 shallot, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoon red or white wine vinegar
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large ripe peaches, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 tablespoons capers
¼ cup packed basil leaves, roughly chopped

Directions
Place tomatoes in a colander over a bowl and toss with kosher salt. Place on counter at room temperature to drain for at least 15 minutes. Toss periodically during that time.

To toast the bread, pre-heat oven to 350°.  Place rack in center position in oven. You can also do this in a toaster oven. Toss bread cubes with 2 tablespoons olive oil and spread out on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until crisp and firm but before they brown—about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and cool.

Remove colander from the bowl with tomato juice. Place the colander with the tomatoes into the sink so it won’t drip on the counter. Add the shallot, garlic, mustard, and vinegar to the bowl with the juice and mix. Gradually whisk in the remaining olive oil until it emulsifies. Season vinaigrette with sea salt and pepper to taste.

In a serving bowl mix together the toasted bread, tomatoes, peaches, capers, and basil. Add vinaigrette and toss to coat all the ingredients. Season again with sea salt and pepper. Let rest 30 minutes before serving, tossing occasionally until dressing is completely absorbed by the bread.

What’s your go-to hot weather dish? 

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Looking for a no-cook option for creating a brunch for clients? Then you’ll want to make gravlax. It’s easy to make, a rich and briny alternative to lox or smoked salmon, and perfect for these hot summer days when you don’t want to get near an oven.

First let’s tackle the difference between lox and smoked salmon. Lox is cured salmon, preserved with salt. But back in the day in places where salt was a scarce resource, the fish was smoked. According to Jewish food historian Gil Marks in his “Encyclopedia of Jewish Food,” during early 1930s America cured salmon fillet became known to Eastern European Jewish transplants as lox. This is the Americanized spelling of the Yiddish word laks, or salmon, itself from the German lachs–and the Swedish gravlax. See where I’m going with this?

Skip ahead past the ways shipping and refrigeration technologies evolved and made intense brining to preserve the fish unnecessary and you have a lightly salted preservation method, which resulted in a smoother, milder tasting fish. What evolved for lox was a method that could include light brining or dry curing in salt and perhaps brown sugar before then cold-smoking it. This method doesn’t cook the fish the way warm-smoking does. The result is a delicate slice instead of flaky flesh.

While we’re here, let’s also address the difference between lox and Nova. Lox became known as the curing style that was wet-brined with no additional smoking or cooking. Nova, with its origins in salmon from Nova Scotia, became known as the method discussed above: mild brining in salt, water, and perhaps brown sugar, then lightly cold-smoked for up to 24 hours. Lox, as anyone who tastes it knows, is the saltier of the two. And, as Marks notes, it’s less expensive because it’s easier to prepare. Today, the terms are largely interchangeable since most of the lox sold today is actually prepared Nova style with cold smoking.

Now to gravlax. Here’s a brined salmon dish that anyone can make with just a few key ingredients. This Scandinavian cured salmon is primarily different from Eastern European lox thanks to the inclusion of dill. Look up recipes for gravlax and you’ll find all sorts of intriguing variations. But what doesn’t change is the salmon belly, salt, and dill. Lots and lots of dill. And time–48 hours in the refrigerator.

You can sweeten it a bit with sugar. You can add vodka to the brine. You can add pepper. You can also add complementary spices. I add fennel seeds and grains of paradise, a cool variation on peppercorns, with a floral scent and flavor.

Here’s how making gravlax works:

Buy the freshest 1 1/2 to 2 pounds of salmon belly you can. Most recipes will call for it to be skin on. I accidentally found myself with a big piece that was supposed to be skin on but wasn’t. It turned out fine.

Make sure you or your fishmonger pulls out all the pin bones in the fish. Then in a bowl mix up your cure: salt, sugar, spices. Mine is a mixture of lightly toasted, then crushed fennel seeds and grains of paradise along with sea salt, granulated sugar, and brown sugar. And have on hand bunches of dill. I also had Absolute Citron vodka to add a distinctly citrusy Scandinavian flavor.

Place half of the dill fronds in a baking dish just large enough to hold the fish. Then sprinkle half of the cure on the dill and place the fish on top and press down gently. Sprinkle the vodka over the top of the fish and then the rest of the cure and the rest of the dill. Cover the fish with plastic wrap.

Now you have to weight it down so the curing mixture will penetrate into the fish. So place another, slightly smaller, baking dish on top of the wrapped fish and a couple of cans into that dish. Refrigerate overnight. After 24 hours, remove the weights and flip the fish over so the cure will penetrate the fish evenly. Put the weights back on the fish and everything back into the refrigerator.

Once the 48 hours has passed you can remove the fish from the refrigerator, remove the weights and unwrap the fish from the plastic. Don’t worry about any liquid that’s accumulated. That’s exactly what you want. Discard the dill and rinse the fish with cold water, removing the salt, sugar, and spices. Pat dry.

Now comes the fun part. You’ll need a knife with as sharp an edge as possible because you’re going to slice the gravlax very thinly at a sharp diagonal. If you have skin on the fish, slice away and off the skin. You can plate the slices in straight lines or as rings. Sliced lemon goes nicely with it, as does diced red onion and capers.

And then we return to our initial conversation. Bagels and cream cheese? Sure, it’s grav”lax” after all. But, how about some marscarpone cheese and black bread for a change?

Gravlax
Serves 8 or more, depending on how many other dishes are served

Ingredients
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon grains of paradise (you can substitute with black peppercorns)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 cup sea salt
2 bunches of dill
2 tablespoons Absolut Citron vodka (or regular vodka)
1 1/2 to 2 pounds salmon belly, pin bones removed

Preparation
Lightly toast fennel seeds and grains of paradise. When cool, crush them together in a mortar and pestle.

In a bowl mix together the fennel seeds, grains of paradise, both sugars and salt.

Place half of the dill fronds in a pile the size of the salmon in a baking dish just large enough to hold the salmon. Sprinkle half of the curing mixture on the dill. Then set the fish on top. Sprinkle the vodka over the salmon and then press in the rest of the cure. Top with the remaining dill fronds to cover the fish.

Cover the fish with plastic wrap. Place another, smaller baking dish on the fish and put a brick or two cans into that dish.

Refrigerate for 24 hours, then remove the weights and turn the fish. Put the weights back on the fish and refrigerate another 24 hours.

When you’re ready to serve, remove the fish from the refrigerator, remove the weights, and remove the plastic wrap. Discard the dill and rinse the fish under cold water, then pat dry.

Using a very sharp knife, slice the gravlax as thinly as you can at a diagonal. If the salmon still has skin on it, slice away from the skin and discard the skin once the salmon is sliced.

Serve with lemon, diced red onion, capers–and a whipped cheese–on brown bread, pumpernickel, crackers, or a bagel.

What’s your favorite hot weather dish for catering brunch? 

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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Aged Fruit 911: Savory Plum Compote

Filed under: Bites & Bits,Cooking Tips,Recipes , Tags: , — Author: Caron Golden , July 9, 2018

No doubt, like me, you have the best of intentions when you are at the market, especially during spring and summer. All that gorgeous produce in all their vibrant colors and alluring fragrances can be too much to pass up. So you buy. And buy. And buy. You put the veggies away in the bins in the fridge and set out the fruit on the counter to ripen.

And you forget about them. Or you accept too many dinner invitations. Or you just overbought and can’t keep up. But time passes and what was once bursting with freshness and seduction is now just this close to becoming garbage.

Of course, you want to prevent that to begin with, but if you somehow let that produce go beyond nature’s expiration date there are ways to save it before it’s time to toss. Veggies can go into soup or a sauce or undergo roasting. And, the same with fruit, too. Puree strawberries (which have virtually no grace period),  add them to a smoothie, or make jam or sorbet. Turn blueberries into a granita. And, as I did recently, rescue über soft plums and pluots and make a savory compote.

Those plums. Oh, they were delicious when fresh. Dribble down the chin juicy with a hint of crunch. Sweet yet tart. But, then I had a spell of outings and there they sat, waiting–fruitlessly–for me to remember they were there. They softened. They sank. And then finally when they caught my eye again they no longer held any attraction and I tried to ignore them. But there was no ignoring them and since I had some free time–and a gorgeous Berkshire pork chop I planned to make for dinner–it occurred to me that I could work their sad state to my advantage and turn them into compote.

Plums and pluots have plenty of natural pectin so they are perfect for jamming and for compote. Since I only had half a dozen pieces of fruit to work with, I decided on the compote as a perfect accompaniment for the pork chop and in about an hour and a half had a gorgeous purple sauce at the ready.

The process is simple. You’ll sauté shallots and garlic until they’re translucent, add a little wine–in my case, Madeira–and reduce it, then add the plums and the rest of the ingredients. Simmer slowly, stirring periodically, and the liquids will gradually evaporate, leaving you with a deeply rich perfumed sauce that complements pork, chicken, and duck.

Now, I’m offering this in the context of preventing waste, but even if you’re cooking for clients and think they’d enjoy a fruity but savory sauce to accompany the proteins you’re cooking for them, a plum–or peach or other fruit–compote is a lovely addition.

Plum Compote

Ingredients
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 shallot bulb, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon Madeira
6 plums, very ripe, seeded and roughly chopped
2 tablespoons blackberry balsamic vinegar (or other fruity balsamic)
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and minced
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 stick cinnamon
1 dried red chile
2 dried lemon verbena leaves, crushed (or 1 teaspoon fresh, minced)
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Directions
In a stainless steel saucepan, add olive oil and heat. When warm, add shallots and garlic. Sweat them until they’re translucent. Add the Madeira and simmer until it disappears.

Add the plums and the rest of the the ingredients and stir to mix. Slowly and gently simmer until the mixture reduces and thickens until jammy–stirring occasionally. It should take about an hour. Discard the cinnamon stick and red chile.

Serve as a sauce with pork, chicken, or duck.

What are the ways you use up tired produce (besides soup)?

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Do you ever have an occasion in which you feel you should gift one of your clients? Usually we discuss this around the holidays but over the course of the rest of the year there are birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, or other special events your client celebrates. And, how about a thank you on the anniversary of your beginning work for them?

Well, if you’re feeling the need to present a gift, how about making them sea salt caramels? If your client can eat–and absolutely loves–sweets, this will be such a cool way to say thanks or congratulations.

There are certain foods that no matter how simple they actually are to make if you actually endeavored to learn how still have a mystique about them. Caramels, for me, fall into this category. Honestly, we’re talking just four basic ingredients–butter, cream, sugar, and corn syrup. But this quartet, once cooked together, is the foundation of sweet magic–that is, if you use really good ingredients and have the finesse and creativity to take it to a sublime level of deliciousness. I found someone in San Diego, where I’m based, who taught me her secrets.

Nancy Flint created a small business–Sugar Mamma–around caramels five years ago. She’s taken these four basic ingredients and elevated them with various flavorings to create 17 flavors of caramels that you can find all over San Diego County.

Flint makes everything by hand by herself out of her Talmidge home kitchen, usually working in the neighborhood of 12 hours a day every day to meet her orders. She starts by combining her foundational ingredients–the butter, sugar, cream, and corn syrup, in a large pot, heating the mixture over medium high heat until it reaches 248° F–stirring all the while.

“Once the sugar dissolves, you can step away briefly, but stay close,” she advised. “You can stir every minute instead of constantly but you don’t want it to stick or burn.”

With a jelly roll pan lined with parchment paper next to her, Flint stirs until she reaches the temperature she wants, at which point she removes the pot from the heat. Then she adds kosher salt and vanilla, stirs to incorporate them and pours the mixture into the pan. If it’s her Sea Salt Caramel flavor, she’ll give the mixture a few minutes to set, then sprinkle Maldon sea salt over it. In general, fruity flavors get the fruit addition during the cooking process. Any alcohol flavor gets that at the end of the cooking process, once it’s off the heat.

If you make these–Flint has generously given us her Sea Salt Caramel recipe–follow these additional tips of hers:

  • Use the best ingredients you can.
  • Pour what comes out into the pan. Don’t scrape the dregs of the pot into the pan because they won’t crystalize. Instead, scrape them into a silicon ice cube mold.
  • Got bubbles? Don’t worry. Flint said they tend to pop on their own over the 12 hours.
  • Got a sticky pot? Soak it in hot water to melt the sugar so the mess will release.
Sea Salt Caramels
from Sugar Mamma
Yield: 240 1-inch pieces
Ingredients
3/4 cup of unsalted butter
4 cups heavy cream
4 cups granulated sugar
2 cups corn syrup
2 teaspoons kosher stalt
1 teaspoon vanilla
Maldon sea salt to sprinkle
Directions
1. Line a 10- X 15-inch jelly pan with parchment paper. Set aside.
2. Combine the butter, cream sugar, and corn syrup in a large pot. Bring to the boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly.
3. Once the mixture comes to the boil continue stirring by just every minute instead of constantly. Add a candy thermometer to the side of the pot reaching into the caramel mixture. Once it reaches 248° F, remove the pan from the heat.
4. Stir in the kosher salt and vanilla. When mixed well, pour into the jelly pan.
5. After 5 minutes sprinkle the Maldon sea salt over the mixture.
6. Let set for 12 hours or overnight. Cut into 1-inch pieces and wrap them individually in wax paper.
Have you ever made caramels? Do you ever make special edible gifts for clients?

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Those of you chefs who cater, especially for vegetarian clients, are probably thrilled that summer produce is finally here and simply begging us to turn it into irresistible meals.

That’s especially true of tomatoes. I plant several varieties of cherry tomatoes in my garden and already am harvesting them, little by little. Most of the time I can’t even wait to take them back into my kitchen. Instead I tend to munch on them  them while watering my garden. There’s really nothing like eating a sweet, sun-warmed, perfectly ripe tomato with one hand while holding a hose in the other.

There’s no point in even mentioning the many ways to enjoy tomatoes. I assume you and your clients have your favorites. But if you’ve never tried making a tomato tarte tatin, you both are missing out, especially if you’re catering a dinner party or brunch. It has a lot going for it–it’s pretty easy to make, requires few ingredients (some of which can be prepped in advance), it’s stunningly gorgeous to present to the table, and it has a sweet savory flavor that you can elevate even more depending on your ingredient choices. Me? I add kalamata olives to insert a little saltiness. I’ve also been known to top it off at the end with shredded burrata.

I made my first one years ago at the home of a friend. She has an abundance of tomatoes on her home’s grounds (yes, it’s that kind of home; it has “grounds.”). One year when she had a bumper crop, she invited a bunch of friends over to make sauce. And I made a tarte tatin. It all went well until I took the masterpiece out of the oven and placed it on the stove to cool. I got involved in something else–I can’t remember what exactly–but I needed to move the tart out of the way and unthinking just wrapped my hand around the skillet’s handle. And screamed.

It was a stainless steel pan that had just come out of a 425-degree oven. And so I ended up with a painful second-degree burn. Yikes.

I learned after that to pay special attention to the pan since then.

Recently when I made the tart I pulled out the only 9-inch skillet I had, a flameware skillet. If you haven’t heard of or used flameware, you’re missing out on a great cooking experience. This is a clay cookware that is specially created to be totally heat resistant, that cooks evenly even at high temperatures, and doesn’t get killer hot the way metal does. I bought mine online at a Minnesota shop cookbook author Paula Wolfert introduced me to, Clay Coyote.

I hadn’t made a tomato tarte tatin in a flameware skillet before but it worked out perfectly. And, significantly, the pan is so light it makes flipping it over onto a plate a breeze, much easier than stainless steel or cast iron, and with almost no sticking–certainly no more than any other metal skillet I’ve used.

The tart itself is a marvel of sweet and savory. There are several ways to make it in terms of ingredients. Sugar instead of honey, sherry vinegar instead of red wine vinegar. Whole tomatoes, cherry tomatoes. Whole or sliced tomatoes. Onions. No onions. Whatever. The fundamentals are tomatoes, some kind of caramelizing ingredients, and puff pastry. For me, I enjoy a lot of red onions, cooked down and caramelized in butter and a large pinch of brown sugar. Honey and vinegar. The kalamata olives I mentioned above. And, the star of the dish, whole organic multi-colored cherry tomatoes.

You’ll start by cooking down and caramelizing the onions in a large skillet. Put them aside and in the oven-safe, 9-inch skillet you’re going to make the tart in cook up the honey and water to a point at which it thickens, then add vinegar and swirl to combine the two. Remove the pan from the heat.

You’ll sprinkle the olives over the honey vinegar mixture and start building the tart. The tomatoes go in–whole–over the olives, along with finely minced fresh thyme. (Want to use basil instead? Go for it.) They should cover the entire bottom of the skillet. Then you’ll spoon the onions over the tomatoes, and season with salt and pepper.

The last step is rolling out the puff pastry sheet and creating a 10-inch round. Place it over the onions and tuck the excess around the tomato onion mixture. Cut some long vents into the pastry.


Before you put the tart into the oven, be sure to place it on a baking sheet covered with foil to catch the tomato juices so they don’t hit the bottom of your oven. Bake for 30 minutes until the crust is nice and puffy and golden brown. Then remove it from the oven and let it cool briefly before running a knife around the edges.

Now comes the moment of truth: Select a plate/platter larger than 9 inches. Place it upside down over the pastry. Be sure to use oven mitts or a thick towel and carefully flip the skillet and plate over, place it on the counter and gently lift the skillet. If all goes well–and why wouldn’t it–you’ll have a beautiful, rainbow of glossy tomatoes staring back at you, encased in a crunchy crust. That’s perfectly good enough as it is, but you can also decorate it with a scattering of basil leaves.

 

Tomato Tarte Tatin
4 to 6 servings

Ingredients
1, 14-ounce package all-butter puff pastry
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 red onions, halved and thinly sliced
Pinch of brown sugar
3 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
½ cup pitted Kalamata olives
1 pound cherry or grape tomatoes
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Preparation
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onions and a pinch of brown sugar and sauté until onions are caramelized. If you’re using a pan in which there’s some sticking, at the end of sautéing add a couple of tablespoons water and let it cook off, scraping brown bits from bottom of pan.

Transfer onions and brown bits to a bowl.

Combine honey and 3 tablespoons water in an ovenproof 9-inch skillet. Cook over medium heat, swirling pan gently until honey bubbles and thickens, 5 to 6 minutes. Add vinegar and swirl gently for another 2 to 3 minutes until combined. Remove from heat.

Sprinkle olives over honey mixture. Scatter tomatoes and thyme over olives, then spoon onions on top.  Season with salt and pepper.

Unfold puff pastry sheet and roll out into a 10-inch round. Place on top of onions  and tuck edges around the mixture. Cut several long vents on the pastry.

Place tart on a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake in middle of oven until crust is puffed and golden, about 30 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes. Run a knife around pastry to loosen it from pan, place a large plate upside down over the skillet, and, using oven mitts, flip the skillet upside down, place the plate on the counter, then carefully remove the skillet.

What is your favorite summer dish to prepare 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.

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Carrot radishes

It’s just shy of official summertime but in San Diego the days are still balmy and on a recent weekend it was virtually required to make a visit to the farmers market.

Now, I recognize that in this part of the country with year-round growing seasons there’s no bad time to visit a local farmers market. But there’s something about late spring/early summer when the colors of produce are most vibrant and foods your body has been craving for months are now appearing. Look! Cherries! Oh, fava beans! No, over here, green garlic!

Fava beans

At one of my favorite markets, the Little Italy Mercato, which climbs up a slight hill to overlook the San Diego Bay, it was overwhelming to see all the brilliant colors of fruits and vegetables. I’m sure that wherever you live and cook for clients you have a market that’s this special. Are you going? No? How come?

Reed avocado, green garlic, chicken eggs

At my market today, I learned how to enjoy softball size, round Reed avocados. I bought my favorite eggs from a family of farmers I’ve known for years and learned one of the daughters is getting married this summer. Another farmer pointed out the relative timeline for how long different varieties of cherries he was selling would last. Still another farmer gave me ideas for how to enjoy the unusual carrot radishes he had and how he came to grow them.

So, what would otherwise be an anonymous shopping errand at a grocery store instead turned into a social event and several learning moments. I was out in the fresh air. I was walking. My senses were stimulated. It was really more of an adventure than fulfilling a basic necessity of buying food. And, I was supporting my local food community.

Yes, it’s probably more expensive to buy produce at a farmers market. But I’m guessing I’m buying more judiciously and wasting less food. And it’s fresh! It hasn’t been force ripened with chemicals. It didn’t travel more than 100 miles from the farm–and actually, the mileage would be much less, knowing the farmers I bought from.

So, if you’ve been on the fence about shopping at your local farmers market–or got out of the habit over winter–jump back in. You’ll have a wonderful experience, your farmers will earn needed income, and your clients will eat better!

French breakfast radishes

Now among my purchases were two types of radishes: the carrot radishes and red and white French breakfast radishes. Sure you can eat them out of hand, slice them into salads or pickle them–but how about roasting them?

Roasting radishes is easy and quick. You don’t even need a recipe. Just a bunch of radishes (or more, depending on how many people you’re serving), extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, ground pepper, and your favorite herbs or green onions.

Here we go:

1. Separate the radishes from the greens and set the greens aside.
2. Wash the radishes and trim them, leaving a bit of stem on top.
3. Pre-heat the oven to 450° F.
4. Once the radishes are dry, slice in half lengthwise, then place in a bowl and toss with extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, and ground pepper.
5. Place cut side down in a cast iron pan and roast for 13 minutes.
6. While the radishes are roasting, slice a green onion or mince parsley or other herbs.
7. Remove the radishes from the oven. Plate and sprinkle with the herbs. Eat right away. They’re best hot.

Are you a big farmers market shopper? What are your favorite kinds of purchases?

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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There are times when we get so tripped up in the nomenclature we forget that diets stressing vegetarian or vegan practices embrace dishes we already create or eat. Instead we think of them as eliminating something–in the case of vegetarianism it’s meat, of course–and not bringing something absolutely delicious to the table. Dishes already in our considerable repertoire.

Knowing that not everyone in my circle eats meat–and that I, while an omnivore, have cut down substantially on meat–I turn to dishes that feature vegetables combined with other proteins. But, admittedly, I don’t really think of them that way. It’s vegetarian, just food I enjoy. Dishes like eggplant soufflé. Salads and sides with ancient grains.

And spanakopita.

Mediterranean cuisines in particular are great sources of beloved everyday dishes that happen to fall into the vegetarian category. As chefs you’re already well are of them. Spanakopita is one of my favorites–big greens, almost always spinach, combined with cheese and herbs and eggs, enveloped in a crunchy crust of phyllo. It’s impossible not to love this dish. And, for personal chefs who will freeze portions for clients to reheat, it’s a perfect freezer candidate. I always store my leftovers in the freezer and reheat individual slices in the oven or toaster oven.

Spanakopita is also the perfect entertaining dish. It’s like a casserole–only prettier. The two challenges, of course, are cooking down the greens–I do it in batches using a wok to take advantage of its depth–and working with phyllo. Brushing the phyllo with oil or melted butter and layering it repeatedly is a bit time consuming but not a deal breaker. Just remember to keep the phyllo, which has a tendency to dry out, covered with a damp towel when you aren’t pulling off a sheet.

While traditionally, spanakopita is made with spinach, there’s no reason you can’t substitute the spinach with other greens like kale or Swiss chard. Or combine them. Take advantage, especially in spring and summer, of bright herbs like mint and dill, and earthier herbs like Greek oregano. Add a unique spin to onion by using leeks instead. You could also include sliced kalamata olives or artichoke hearts to make the recipe your own. Just be sure that the greens and other additions are drained of as much liquid as possible before you mix them with the eggs, feta, and seasonings. Otherwise you’ll get a soggy bottom.

Spanakopita
Serves 8 to 12

You have a choice of olive oil versus melted butter to brush the phyllo leaves. I used olive oil but butter will add a rich flavor to it. And a tip here: Cooking down 2 pounds of spinach requires some skillet space. I use my wok because it gives me the cooking elbow room it needs. This part also just takes the most time. Once that’s done the rest will go by fairly quickly, even with the phyllo. Don’t worry about tears in the phyllo. It’s all very forgiving, thanks to all the layers.

Ingredients
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, preferably Greek, or melted butter, plus a lot extra for brushing filo
3 leeks, white and light green parts, chopped and rinsed
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 pounds fresh spinach or other greens, well rinsed and dried
1 teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ pound Greek feta cheese, crumbled or diced
½ cup fresh dill weed, minced
½ cup fresh mint, minced
¼ cup fresh oregano, minced
5 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 pound phyllo, defrosted overnight in refrigerator

Directions
Preheat oven to 375° and place rack in middle of oven.

In a large skillet, heat oil or butter over medium-high heat. Add leeks and garlic and sauté until fragrant and soft, about 4 minutes. Add spinach in handfuls, stirring in as you add each batch. Let it wilt and cook down before adding the next handful. Once all of the spinach is in the pan, season with salt and pepper.

Remove from heat and spoon mixture into a colander. Place over sink and, using the back of a large spoon, press down to release excess liquid. Set aside to cool.

Once spinach mixture is at room temperature, add feta cheese, dill, mint, oregano, and eggs. Fold together until well incorporated. Set aside.

Brush the bottom and sides of a 9”-by-13” baking dish with olive oil. Keep ½ cup of olive oil (or melted butter) nearby. Unroll the phyllo and lay flat. Carefully pull the top sheet and place it into the baking dish with ends hanging well over the sides. Brush lightly with oil. Continue placing sheets one at a time into the dish at different angles so the entire pan is lined with sheet ends hanging down over the sides. Do this until you have only 3 sheets left.

Pour the filling into the dish, then fold over the hanging ends to cover the filling and brush with oil. Layer the remaining 3 sheets on top, brushing each sheet with oil. Fold the excess into the sides of the pan.

Use a sharp knife to cut through the layers to the filling in a few place. Brush the top with oil or butter and bake for 50 minutes until the top is puffed and golden brown. Let sit on counter for 10 minutes. Then cut into squares and serve warm.

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We all know the frustration of preparing a dish and making various components for it, only to have leftovers. We all hate waste, but what do you do with that extra squidge of tomato sauce or pie filling? Well, APPCA member Chef Jim Huff of Traveling Culinary Artist in New York City has a lot of thoughts about this–and some marvelous tips. Here he is with them: 

Recently my baking sous-chef, aka my wife, and I made a delicious and easy Meyer Lemon Tart—from this recipe: http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/lazy-marys-lemon-tart and had extra filling after topping off  our tart shell. I wasn’t about to toss it so I grabbed a handful of Trader Joe’s Meyer Lemon Wafer cookies and crumbled them into the bottom of a ramekin. I should have added melted butter to them but time was of the essence. We baked the ramekin along with the tart, then cooled the tart and the ramekin in the fridge overnight. When I took the ramekin out for lunch dessert I realized that during the baking process the cookie crumbs in the ramekin rose to the top and the filling baked underneath the crumbs! It was Awesome!!! I couldn’t stop eating it!

This successful spur-of-the-moment rescue of otherwise wasted ingredients got me to thinking about other ways I work with “overruns.”  BTW the term overruns is a throwback to my life in the garment industry!

Cooking for two can be challenging when you try cutting recipes from 4 to 6 servings, so very often you are left with extra ingredients that you had to purchase due to packaging sizes. The best examples are canned beans, canned tomatoes, tomato sauce, etc.

Of course it’s often easier to make the dish to the full amount of servings and then store it for another meal.  After all as a personal chef, that is what I do for my clients.  But sometimes I want to try new recipes and increase the variety of what we consume in a given week. Hence, leftover ingredients…

Some examples of how I use up the bits and pieces:

  • Generally, it’s easy to use up lots of the bits and pieces in soups and stews and stir-fries.
  • A 1/2 a can of beans that have been rinsed and drained are often used the next night, added to a simple tossed salad or dropped into a quick soup using up other leftover raw and/or cooked vegetables. Also I frequently will add them another vegetable such as sautéed green beans or blanched broccoli.  Chickpeas are great in ratatouille.
  • Extra canned tomato products work great in soups and stews, even when not called for in the recipe.  It’s also good to use them as a base for a quick pan sauce.
  • One of the most obvious uses I learned as a child from my mother is the extra egg batter from making French toast: scramble it and add to the serving platter.

  • It’s always easier to imagine using up extra herbs by making pesto and freezing or even simply chopping and mixing with small amount of olive oil and freezing in ice cube trays to be added to soups, stews and sauces. Or mince garlic and stir the herbs and garlic with some sea salt. Spread on a tray and let dry for a few days to create a rub. (Bonus: your kitchen will smell divine!)
  • Half a bag of spinach or other greens can be chopped and stirred into rice pilaf, quinoa, or couscous as well as soups or stews. Once I was out of parsley that I wanted to add to some simple boiled new potatoes. I found the extra spinach in the fridge and tossed it into the pan of drained potatoes with butter and garlic for a colorful side dish.
  • When dealing with extra parts of fresh vegetables I often create a mélange of roasted vegetables and serve them over pasta, rice, quinoa, couscous or my wife will put them chilled over cottage cheese for her workday lunches.
  • A great way to finish off pieces of cheese along with other ends of the jar ingredients like sun-dried tomatoes, olives, artichoke hearts, etc. is to make pizza.  The combos are boundless.
  • We have always used up extra pie/tart fillings by baking them separately in ramekins with and without crusts.  Good for a quick individual dessert for lunch or afternoon tea. Do you have extra pie dough? Reshape the dough into a disc and freeze or roll it out and make tartlets in muffin tins or get out cookie cutters and make cookies sprinkled with sugar or sprinkles.

  • Buttermilk is always a challenge, as I have never been a fan of drinking a glass of it!  I push myself to use it up in salad dressings, sub for milk in baking muffins, quick breads or even bread machine recipes.
  • Have leftover cooked grains? Sure you could just reheat them but for more imaginative repurposing Google things like “Leftover Risotto.” You’ll get anything from Classic Arancini to Risotto Stuffed Mushrooms, or dig around in your own fridge and produce Risotto Fritters stuffed with mushrooms and cheese!

Of course, there are plenty of well-known uses for bits and pieces like Parmesan rinds in your slow simmering tomato sauce and leftover wine (an anomaly in my house) for pan sauces. It just takes a little creative thinking but it’s easy to find places to tuck the odds and ends into other dishes, sometimes adding some extra nutrition and flavor profiles along the way.

Let’s bring in more ideas! What are some of your favorite ways to repurpose “overruns?”

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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