When you run a small business, like a personal chef company, it can be helpful to keep track of trends–both to keep you in the know about the industry and consumers and to give you some new ways to think about what you do and what your clients want or need.

SmartBrief published a piece on July 2, 2020 by Laurie Demeritt, the CEO of The Hartman Group, which does market research. The Hartman Group just released The Hartman Group/FMI U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends COVID-19 Tracker report representing mid-May. Here’s some of what they found:

  • In planning meals, focus often goes to minimizing trips and waste through smart use of perishables.
  • Over one-third (36%) feel they are now eating healthier. Younger consumers especially have adjusted how they eat, with more emphasis on maintaining a healthy body while at home.
  • Older consumers aim to safeguard their health via prudent consumption, minimizing trips and waste.
  • During the timeframe of the report during the lockdown, 41% of consumers said they were cooking more of their meals, 27% said they were “planning more meals in advance, and 20% said they were trying more new dishes.
  • Consumers are reevaluating the very necessity of shopping trips and turning to larger, less frequent trips and alternative modes of sourcing perceived to be safer, such as online and click and collect.
  • Consumers are reevaluating the very necessity of shopping trips and turning to larger, less frequent trips and alternative modes of sourcing perceived to be safer, such as online and click and collect.
  • Looking farther ahead, new routines that focus on preparation for the unknown are likely to have lasting impacts.

Spinach Salad with balsamic vinaigrette and candied walnuts

So, no surprise, the pandemic has deeply impacted consumers’ lives when it comes to food and cooking. But what about those who are finding being in the kitchen less joyful? This same report noted that 23% of shoppers said their priority when cooking is to spend as little time as possible doing it and 33% said they seek “something interesting” to eat when they cook at home, which apparently indicates some fatigue with cooking.

And here’s where it gets even more fascinating for you: More than half–57%–of households outsource cooking to food service and dine out at least one a week with 21% doing it three or more times.

Is there anyone more “food service” than a personal chef? For these shoppers, the decision between cooking at home–seen as being more healthy than eating out–considers three things: cost, time and effort, and taste and cravings.

These little data bites should make you stop and think about the possibilities for your personal chef business. They can guide you on how to market yourself to potential clients or sell yourself again to clients who may have drifted away around March when the world started shutting down. And, they can also give you some inspiration for a new way to conduct your business or add services to it for now, during the pandemic,  and once it eventually comes to an end.

It could mean not just preparing meals for clients but sending the message that their exhaustion in preparing their own meals–and perhaps the same old things–can come to an end with an exciting menu you create for them.

Baja Fish Tacos with Quinoa

For those still anxious (including you) about preparing meals in clients’ homes, it could mean renting time in a commercial kitchen, perhaps a restaurant kitchen that’s reduced hours and could use some income, and then delivery the meals to them. Sometimes the old way doesn’t work all the time.

And then there are those people who you could help by putting together a weekly menu of recipes and sourced ingredients. You could do your own version of a Blue Apron and create a video cookalong to help with technique.

Look above at what you’ve learned about consumers. They don’t like making grocery store trips. They want to eat healthier. They want to prepare meals in advance. They want to try new dishes. How can you not look at this data and project your own business onto it! This is an opportunity a serious personal chef should take advantage of!

How is your personal chef business evolving during the pandemic? What are you learning about consumers during this time?

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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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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What do your pantry and freezer look like? Back in March when the country began to shelter in place and we were discovering empty shelves for the first time, it was clear hoarding was on. Beans, rice, pasta, canned tomatoes, frozen pizza, chicken–gone. All of a sudden it felt like we were living in the 1970s Soviet Union.

Supply chains have been struggling so it’s no surprise that in May we’re still finding some empty shelves–or being told to limit our purchases of beef or tomato sauce or eggs. But it’s hard to tell what exactly is happening in the kitchens of America when you’re stuck in your own kitchen.

So, it was fascinating to read this article in Axios last week, called The Quarantine Diet. I thought I’d share with you some of their findings.

For one thing, all those food and nutrition trends we were anticipating for 2020? Things like the rise of plant-based meat substitutes, low-alcohol/no-alcohol drinks, and organic or sustainable products? See ya!

Instead, customers are purchasing historic amounts of frozen foods–from pizza to vegetables to entrées. Same with canned and processed foods. According to The New York Times, food sales at General Mills and Campbell Soup rose more than 60 percent in the four weeks that ended April 4. Consumer data company Nielsen also noted that Kraft Heinz, Kellogg, Flower Foods, and others had increases of 37 to 50 percent. This comes after a downward sales trend for soups and other canned foods as consumers began to favor fresh produce and other more nutritious options. Now people are stocking up–what the food industry calls “pantry-loading.”

Another option being revived for those who can afford it are meal kits, like those from Blue Apron and Home Chef. But it’s not just dedicated meal kit companies. Restaurants are getting into the act as well. Chains like Shake Shack and Chick-fil-A are introducing their own meal kits along with Denny’s, Panera, and Just Salad. Panera, like many neighborhood restaurants, is also adding groceries for sale. According to The Wall Street Journal, U.S. customers spent around $100 million on meal kits at retail stores in the month ending April 11. That’s nearly double from the same period the prior year.

And good-bye to the sober-curious. Meet the bored and the anxious (dare you look in the mirror?). They’re driving up liquor sales. Think “quarantinis” and Corona beers (too on point for me). Apparently, the rise in drinking corresponds to the same instincts driving up to childhood comfort food favorites. And dairy is making a comeback. Ice cream. Cheese. Butter. These complete proteins calm us and comfort us.

Axios pointed to several trends to watch. Faux meats are heading south, thanks to the pandemic, which Suzy Badaracco, Culinary Tides consultancy CEO Suzy Badaracco forecasts will continue. According to Badaracco, despite a national meat shortage, people will seek out alternative sources of protein, like legumes, rather than imitation burgers. Vegetarians will celebrate plants being plants even as meat eaters will return to animal proteins at an accelerated pace.

And, sadly, “sustainability sales,” which include organic foods, will continue to decelerate. Badaracco attributes this to cost, not desire.

What food and beverage trends have you noticed in your region? Do these trends sound familiar to you?

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

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

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What’s in this apple pie that makes it so indefinably good? See below!

Are your flavor profiles in need of a refresh? Do you have a recipe or two that you and your clients enjoy but could be elevated? Brightened? Recharged?

If so, here are some suggestions we hope you’ll consider inspiration. All are easy to find, whether in your local market–if not the traditional supermarket, then an Asian or Latinx market–or online.

Let’s start with sumac. It’s a deep red powder that you’ve probably enjoyed in Middle Eastern food. It comes from the sumac flower, which is a relative of cashews of all things. Sumac has a fruity tart, lemony flavor–just a bit astringent, which makes it wonderful in vinaigrettes, sprinkled over roasted vegetables, or to season meat or fish. Incorporate it in a dip you want to have a lemony flavor. You could even include it in a dessert. Importantly, it’s a key ingredient in the spice mixture, zatar. Look for it in Middle Eastern markets and Whole Foods, or online on Amazon, The Spice House, Williams-Sonoma, and Penzys.

Next up is merquén. A friend of mine who was a buyer for years at Dean & DeLuca introduced me to this Chilean smoked chile condiment long ago. I add it to everything savory–from meats to whole grains to tomato sauce. Merquén’s base is the cacho de cabra, a pepper that is first dried naturally in the sun, then smoked over a wood fire before being ground. The merquén I buy and have used since that long-ago introduction is a brand called Etnia. It mixes this smoked chile with salt, dehydrated cilantro seeds, and cumin. Use it as a dry rub for lamb, beef, or poultry. Sprinkle it over sauteed vegetables or an omelet. Add it to stews or soups, to ceviche, tacos, or a bowl of lentils or beans. This is your go-to for a touch of smoky heat. I found it at My Panier, Walmart, and The Gourmet Import Shop.Nigella seeds are a fascinating spice. If you taste these tiny black seeds on their own with your eyes closed you would swear you were munching on oregano. They’re native to the Mediterranean but found wild across Egypt and India, as well as North Africa. Leave them whole or grind them. I leave them whole and use them as a substitute for sesame seeds. Add them at the end of cooking a dish like sauteed or steamed potatoes to add a crunchy texture. Mix them into a whipped feta and yogurt dip for crudites. Add them to whole grains. If you bake crackers, top the crackers with the seeds before baking. You should be able to get them at your local Middle Eastern market or online at Amazon, Spice Jungle, World Spice Merchants, and The Spice House.Oh, how I adore Shichimi Togarashi! It’s a much-loved Japanese seven-spice mixture that offers citrus and just a bit of heat. It can vary but typically, the blend includes red chili peppers, sanshō or sichuan peppercorns, dried orange peel, black sesame seeds, white sesame seeds, ground ginger, poppy seeds and nori (seaweed). Add this to eggs, steamed or sauteed vegetables, ramen, soups, sauces, edamame, chicken, lamb, salmon, shrimp, or tofu dishes. Whisk it into a marinade or dressing. Sprinkle it on skewered, grilled dishes to finish. You can easily find it at an Asian market or any online store that sells spices.Yuzu Koshio is quite unusual. It’s a spice mix, but in the form of a fermented paste made from chilies, salt, and citrus fruit. The traditional name is actually yuzu kosho but the version I bought comes from a Seattle-based company called Umami Kushi and they added an “i” to the second word. It is truly an umami flavor bomb for fish, steak, noodles, soups, and desserts. If you have a dish for which you want to cut the fat flavor, this is the antidote. It’s also perfect to add to a dressing to pour over sturdy vegetables like eggplant or winter squash. You can find it on Amazon, but I discovered it and bought it on My Panier.

 

Finally, there’s fennel pollen. Fennel pollen is collected from wild fennel, with an anise flavor melded with  a musky sweet, floral taste. You can use it alone to elevate pasta dishes, sauces, grains, roasted pork or chicken, and sausages. But I’m actually a sucker for “Divine Desserts,” which is a blend of fennel pollen, orange peel, lemon grass, cayenne pepper, sour plum powder, star anise, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, ginger, vanilla powder, clove, coriander. If you’re a baker coming on fall dessert season–think apple pie–add a touch of this mixture to your apples. It’s now part of my apple pie recipe and I always get questions about what’s in the pie that makes it so different and good. You can also add it to banana bread, carrot cake, or muffins or scones, or spice cookies. Not into baking? Sprinkle it over fresh fruit. I get mine from Pollen Ranch but you can also find it on Amazon.

What new magical spices or spice mixes are you now enchanted by? How do you use them?

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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I don’t know about you, but I’ve been air fryer curious for awhile. What’s prevented me from buying one when I scoped them out at Target awhile back was their sheer size. They’re huge and can take up a lot of counter real estate.

But I came across this article in The Kitchn and both it revived my desire and helped me focus on some options. Now there was no way I was going to spend $350 on one so I’d have to go for second best for about $100. This was the NuWave Brio 6-Quart Healthy Digital Air Fryer.

I always go big since even though I live alone, I want to have the flexibility to cook for a crowd. But my fears panned out. I couldn’t put it on my counter. It had to go on my glass-top stove. And I didn’t like it at all. It was hard for me to figure out how to use it, took way too long for the food–sweet potato fries (of course) and a chicken thigh–to cook separately. But I’d have put in more time to figure it out had my entire house not reeked of burning plastic.

I returned it.

But I couldn’t let go and a month or so later I went back to The Kitchn article and thought I’d scale down and give this much smaller Dash air fryer a try. Dash has the fryers in multiple cool coolers with a small compact footprint, and both manual and digital displays.

Here’s mine (and no, I don’t get any payment from either Dash or Amazon):

I used it for the first time on, what else, the shishito peppers. Normally, I would toss them in a little oil and let them blister in a hot cast iron skillet. It’s not a big undertaking, unless the temperature is soaring in the summer. But cooking them up in the air fryer–essentially using convection heat–was even better because I didn’t have to hover over the skillet and deal with peppers so twisted they wouldn’t stay where you turned them.

With the air fryer all I had to do was toss them in a little vegetable oil and place them in a single layer in the crisper  basket, which rests in the crisper drawer. The downside? Because it’s a small unit I had to do two batches, but it wasn’t a big deal since the cooking time is a mere five minutes. This particular air fryer is very intuitive so you press the power button and it immediately shows the temperature, which I turned up from its default 360° to 390° with the + button.

Then you press the timer/temperature button, which displays the default time of 10 minutes and move it to 5 minutes using the – button. Press the start arrow button and it takes care of the rest. In fact, the temperature and timer alternate on the display so you know exactly what is going on as it counts down. And once it hits the one-minute mark, it counts down in seconds.

Midway, pull out the basket and shake, then put it back into the machine. When the timer beeper goes off, check and make sure your shishitos are sufficiently blistered. If so, pull out the basket and use tongs to pull out the shishitos (excess oil may have collected in the bottom of the crisper drawer below the basket so you don’t want to risk burning yourself by flipping it over).

Now how do you season your shishitos? If you’re like most people you salt the shishitos, then squeeze lemon juice over them. And that’s perfectly wonderful. I’m fond of ponzu sauce on them as well. But with this batch I sprinkled coarse sea salt and shichimi togarashi, which is a traditional Japanese seasoning mix.

It has a bite, thanks to chili pepper and szechuan pepper. But it also contains black and white sesame seeds, orange peel, and dried basil. So it offers plenty of zesty flavor, too, and pairs beautifully with the blistered shishitos.

Now do I think you’ll use an air fryer for clients? I don’t know. But if you can think of it as a mobile convection oven you might think of some uses for it when cooking for clients who only have a conventional oven. I’ve made chicken thighs with this little one and they cook up nicely and faster than if I put them in the oven. You can create “fried” foods for clients who can’t have all that oil. In other words, it’s another tool to add to your cooking arsenal. And, hey, it’s something to have at home to get a meal for yourself made with less hassle.

Have you tried using an air fryer yet? What do you think?

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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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?

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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Pan de sal. Who can resist these sweet, pillow-soft buns? They were my first introduction to Filipino food back in 1988 when I found them at a bakery in a little mall in the San Diego community of Mira Mesa. It took me too many years to seek out more. It wasn’t until about 2010 that I started thinking about this lovely cuisine, which somehow still eludes the mainstream. And that’s so odd, given the popularity of fusion and global cuisine. After all, Filipino food is nothing if not a clear global melting pot, embracing Southeast Asia, Latin, Chinese, American (we’re to thank for their love of canned foods), and native traditions. With a tropical climate, multiple languages, diverse geographical zones—including 7,000 islands—and more than 120 ethnic groups, the Philippines is bursting with a multitude of delicious food traditions.

Where Candy, Dennis, and I live in San Diego is one of the largest expat Filipino communities in the U.S. So, there’s plenty of opportunity to enjoy traditional Filipino food–and to shop for it. And now we’re seeing a new generation of Filipino-American chefs draw from their traditions to lend the ingredients and flavors to new dishes.

One of them is my friend Anthony Sinsay, who is currently the chef at a downtown restaurant called JSix (if you live in San Diego or come for a visit, I encourage you to go). I went to his kitchen one day to learn how to make a dish of his called Mussels Adobo. Now, as chefs you’ll probably appreciate one of his most important cooking techniques: conversing with his food. He says that this conversation helps you learn where your food is in the cooking process.

He had sautéed a sliced jalapeño, garlic, and onion–one of the best fragrances ever, of course. Then he added the ebony Prince Edward Island mussels to the pan. He stopped explaining what he was doing to me to listen.

“You’ll hear the mussels purge their water,” he said. “Then you know you need to add a little liquid to keep them moist.”

The dish, which would be divine for a dinner party for clients, is inspired by Sinsay’s mom. “She grew up in the southern part of the Luzon Island in the Philippines. She made this dish with chicken that would simmer in the adobo sauce. I like making it with mussels, but I had to add sugar to the adobo sauce recipe to compensate for the shortened cooking time. When you cook vinegar a long time it becomes sweet. This dish with mussels cooks so quickly I needed to add a sweetener.”

Sinsay’s Mussels Adobo is based on a traditional adobo sauce–soy sauce, vinegar, and water. Sinsay quickly whips up the sauce and sets it aside while he first sautés the vegetables, then adds the mussels. He mixes in the adobo sauce and covers the pan, cooking the mussels until they open. Then, in what takes the dish to a seductive level, Sinsay adds coconut cream and butter. That’s it. Oh, except for one more critical addition: grilled pan de sal, the addictive sweet white Filipino yeast bread. Just brush slices with olive oil and toast on a grill until crispy–then try not dunking them in the luscious mussels sauce. I dare you!

 

Mussels Adobo
From Anthony Sinsay
Serves 4

Adobe is the national dish of the Philippines and varies from region to region. This version is closest to the adobo I grew up with made by my mother from southern Luzon. The sauce is an acidic broth comprised of white distilled vinegar, soy sauce, and water. Cooked with onion, garlic, and jalapeño balancing sweet, umami, spicy, and salty. It’s finished with coconut cream and butter to enrich the flavor and texture. The Pan de Sal is a Filipino yeast-risen dough with a slight sweet flavor, contrary to what the name suggests. Garnish the mussels with chive spears and crispy garlic chips (slice the garlic thin, blanch, then fry).

Ingredients
3 ounces adobo sauce (see below for recipe)
1/2 ounce of olive and canola oil blend
1 jalapeño, sliced in rings (include seeds if you want more heat)
1 1/2 ounces yellow onion, sliced in rings
1 whole peeled garlic clove, minced
9 1/2 ounces mussels, cleaned
1 1/2 ounces coconut milk
1/2 ounces butter
.1 ounce fresh chives, sliced into 2-inch pieces
1 loaf pan de sal, sliced
Olive oil

For adobo sauce
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup distilled vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 cup water

Directions
1. Make adobo sauce: Combine all ingredients and mix thoroughly until all sugar is dissolved. Set aside.
2.  Sauté the jalapeño, onion, and garlic clove in oil. Brush pan de sal slices with olive oil and grill.
3. Add the mussels and stir together.
4. Add the adobo sauce, stir together, and cover, cooking until the mussels open.
5. Remove lid and remove mussels from the heat. Stir in coconut cream and butter. Taste the sauce and add salt if necessary to balance the flavor.
6. Garnish with chives and garlic chips (optional). Serve with grilled pan de sal.

Have you ever tried or cooked Filipino food? What dishes are your or your clients’ favorites?

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

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

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Are you someone who enjoys canning? Well even if you think you have all the resources you need in the form of cookbooks here comes Sarah Marshall’s new book Preservation Pantry: Modern Canning From Root to Top & Stem to Core (Regan Arts/$24.95). It’s the subtitle that says it all. Marshall, creator of Marshall’s Haute Sauce in Oregon, doesn’t only offer unique recipes for preserving harvests, she includes–even stresses–the parts of fruits and vegetables we usually toss. It’s the quintessential no-waste preserving book.

Preservation Pantry is organized to help preserving novices get their bearings. Like any good preserving book, it lays out the tools and equipment and steps to successful canning and preserving, and offers a thorough lesson in the step that most frightens the novice: water baths. What I love about this section are the illustrations that show everything from can jar sizes, chopping, what “headspace” looks like, and how to remove air pockets.

Then come the recipes: first fruit, then vegetables, a to z. Within each section is a preserving recipe, a second recipe for the fruit or vegetable, then a recipe for the “discards” followed by a recipe for using the discards preserves. So, for apples Marshall starts with Ginger Liqueur Spiked Apples, made with brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, star anise, and ginger liqueur. You’ll remove the peel and core–and save them. The Ginger Liqueur Spiked Apples, she writes, can be used to make her Drunk Apple Crumble recipe a few pages away. The following recipe is for Matcha Tea Applesauce that you can enjoy as part of a breakfast bowl. Again, hang on to the peel and core. Next is her boozy caramel sauce, made from those saved peels and cores, along with whisky, cinnamon, sugar, salted butter, and whipping cream. All this leads to–ta da!–her Drunken Apple Crumble, which contains both the Ginger Liqueur Spiked Apples and the Whiskey Apple-Core Caramel. Brilliant!


And so it goes with cherries (save the pits for making bitters), lemons (save the peel for a spice rub), beets (the leaves will make dolmas while the stems will pickle cauliflower), onions (Onion Peel Powder), and turmeric (Turmeric Skin Golden Cashew Milk). And, of course, there’s more.

Finally, Marshall is an enthusiastic canning clubber, so she has a section at the book’s conclusion all about how to start your own canning club and set up and work a trading table. You’ll also find a section for stocking your pantry, with vendor contact information.

The recipes in the book are quite unusual so they’re bound to be launching points for any enthusiastic canner considering how to use their own local, seasonal bounty.

Do you enjoy canning for clients? What are your favorite fruits or vegetables to preserve?

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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If you’re a personal chef who is starting to get requests from clients for vegan meals, chances are you freaking out just a little. Because while there are plenty of meat- and dairy-free dishes out there in the world that would be considered vegan—salads, sautéed or roasted vegetables, pasta and tomato sauce just for starters—that’s not the stuff of a well-rounded diet. People need protein, for starters, and they want complex flavors that are so easy to come by when you add in animal-based proteins.

So, where do you start?

A brief survey of some of our members yielded some favorite websites. And I’ve also included some I’ve found.

  • You might want to start at the Academy of Culinary Nutrition, which has a list of the Top 50 Began blogs. This directs you to blogs that will teach you how to make vegan yogurt to nut-based “cheeses.” Their top pick? Angela Liddon’s Oh She Glows. Their favorite recipe? Sundried Tomato, Mushroom and Spinach Tofu Quiche.

  • Member Jennifer Zirkle of The Ginger Chef in Michigan likes Forks Over Knives. This plant-based diet website evolved from the documentary of the same name. The site offers a meal planner, cooking course, articles, and, of course, recipes—435 of them. They also have an app you can download. So, you can be inspired by Smoky, Saucy Black-Eyed Peas; Pesto Penne; Sweet Potato Mac and Cheese; or a Festive Vegetable Pot Pie.

  • Member Suzy Dannette Hegglin-Brown of The Brown Bag Nutrition & Chef Services in Northern California is a fan of the blog Vegan Richa. Richa Hingle is its author. She’s been featured on Oprah.com, Huffington Post, Glamour, VegNews.com, The Kitchn, and many others. She’s also the author of Vegan Richa’s Indian Kitchen. On the day I visited her site it featured Peanut Butter Cauliflower Bowl with Roasted Carrots. She includes Instant Pot cooking, as well. And check out her Indian Butter Tofu Paneer. It looks divine.
  • The Vegan Society is committed to making veganism easily adopted. They publish a magazine, The Vegan—and if you subscribe, you also get access to a website that addresses nutrition and health, food and drink, recipes, shopping, travel, and more.
  • Cooking for vegan kids? Check out the list on Hummasapien. They include a range of kid-friendly recipes like Zucchini Tater Tots, Vegan Carrot Dogs, Vegan Broccoli Cheeze Chickpea Burgers, and Summer Vegetable Lasagna Rolls.

  • Chickpea Magazine is a vegan food and writing quarterly. Love the idea of Cauliflower Wings? Get the recipe here!
  • Chefs like Jamie Oliver have developed vegan recipes. Oliver has well over 100, from Whole Wheat Maple Cinnamon Buns and Sweet Potato & White Bean Chili to Homemade Mustard and Spiced Plum Chutney. He also has videos that will teach you how to make vegan gravy, chocolate pots, and raw “spaghetti Bolognese.”

Because vegan eating has gone so mainstream, you’ll also find plenty of resources on conventional food websites, like Food Network, Serious Eats, Food and Wine, and even Good Housekeeping.

Finally, we have a lovely recipe for you to try from member Carol Borchardt’s blog From a Chef’s Kitchen. This Thai Red Curry Sweet Potato and Lentil Soup will surely make your clients warm and cozy in these chilly winter months. (Note that Carol offers a choice of chicken broth or vegetable broth. Use the latter, of course, to make this dish vegan.)

Thai Red Curry Sweet Potato and Lentil Soup
from Carol Borchardt
Serves 6

Ingredients

2 tablespoons canola oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons red curry paste (or to taste)
6 cups chicken or vegetable broth
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed (1/2-inch cubes)
1 can (15-ounce) petite diced tomatoes, undrained
1 1/2 cups red lentils, picked over
1 can (14.5-ounce) coconut milk, light or regular
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup chopped cilantro plus more for garnish if desired

Instructions

Heat oil over medium-high heat in a large heavy pot such as a Dutch oven. Add the onion, reduce heat to medium and cook 5 to 7 minutes or until onion begins to soften.

Add the garlic and red curry paste, give it a quick stir, then add the broth, sweet potatoes, tomatoes and lentils. Bring to a boil, cover slightly and simmer until potatoes and lentils are tender, about 20 minutes.

Add the coconut milk and heat through.

Season to taste with salt and black pepper. Stir in cilantro.

MAKE AHEAD: Can be made up to 2 days ahead. Cool thoroughly. Reheat on the stovetop or in the microwave for individual servings. FREEZER-FRIENDLY: Cool thoroughly and package as desired. Freeze up to 2 months.

 

Do you have vegan clients you cook for? What dishes are in your repertoire? What were your biggest challenges?

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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