We’re now three days out from Thanksgiving. For some of us deciding what to make isn’t an issue. Our recipes seem to be etched in stone and family members will simply not abide any variation. Tradition, my friends, tradition.

But for those of us who like to change things up a bit–even if it means just switching out evaporated milk for cream cheese in our pumpkin pie–perhaps a little inspiration is in order. It could be a different twist on a favorite dish or an altogether new one that could establish a new traditional favorite.

In that spirit, here are some Thanksgiving dishes we’ve featured over the years and a new suggestion:

Turkey Stuffing Muffins and Cranberry Chutney: Just when you thought you couldn’t come up with a new way to approach stuffing someone turns it into muffins. What a cool idea! You could certainly do with your own favorite, traditional stuffing, but take a look at this recipe from the Art Institute of California-San Diego. And pair it with this divine cranberry chutney!

Everything Sourdough Popovers: I just wrote about these popovers, but if you missed it, take a look. Who doesn’t adore airy popovers? Along with the intriguing sourdough flavor these have, I’ve added something a little extra: everything topping–you know, the topping you find on bagels. If you or your clients are not a fan, no worries. You can leave them naked and dunk into a gravy or sauce. You can make them a little sweet by topping them in cinnamon sugar. You could also top them with finely chopped toasted nuts with or without sugar. Be bold! Or not if you or your clients are purists.

 

How to Spatchcock a Turkey (and why you should): Turkeys can be a challenge. You want the skin crisp but if only the breast if facing the heat, the skin on the thighs below tends to get greasy and unpleasant. You want moist white meat but it can get overcooked while waiting for the dark meat to reach the right temperature. Bottom line? Roasting a turkey can be an aggravating guessing game. So, I’m going to make it easy for you. Spatchcock your bird and roast it at high heat. Spatchcocking is a way of breaking down the bird so it will rest flat in a roasting pan and cook evenly. You avoid the age-old problem of having the white meat dry out while the dark meat continues to cook below. Instead, you have moist meat from the drumstick to the breast. And because it roasts at high heat, the turkey cooks quickly and the skin all over the turkey is fully exposed, making it all nice and crisp.

Macaroni and Cheese for Kids and Adults: Is mac and cheese really a Thanksgiving dish? Heck, yeah, and who doesn’t love every cheesy, comfort food bite? 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.

 

Apple Pie: What about dessert? My sense is there are people who love to bake pies and those who are terrified of the idea of making a crust. I get it. I was taught by my grandmother when I was a teenager–but for years it was always an iffy proposition as to whether or not the crust would come out. So I set off several years ago to hit up all my pastry chef friends to learn their techniques. They were all different. Some used butter only. Some butter and lard or butter and Crisco. Despite the variations, I gained confidence. And I make pies with gusto and delight. So, to those of you savory chefs who steer away from THE CRUST, I offer my go-to pie recipe from my friend Michele Coulon. Her way is the traditional French way. It’s simple and straightforward, relies on just a few quality ingredients, and sticking to formula. Bake one up and serve it to clients or your family. You–and they–will be hooked!

Michele Coulon’s Apple Pie

Yield: 1 Pie

1 Southern Pie Pastry (see below)
1 pound, 5 ounces apples (weigh after peeling and coring)
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 ounce butter
1 to 2 teaspoons cinnamon (optional)
2 tablespoons flour
3 tablespoons plus 1/2 cup cream
1 egg

Pre-heat conventional oven to 450°.

Make pastry and set aside.

Peel and core apples, placing in a big bowl. Sift dry ingredients together and add to apples, mixing well. Add 3 tablespoons cream and mix with apples. Set aside.

Place one pastry disk on a floured surface and roll out to just larger than your pie plate or tin so that the edges will hang over. Use the rolling pin to place the dough in the pie plate, then refrigerate for at least an hour. Roll out the second disc and you can either leave it whole for the top crust or slice into 1-inch strips to make a lattice. Refrigerate.

Fill the bottom pie crust with the apple mixture. Dot apples with butter. Put lattice or intact top crust over the apples. To make the lattice, Michele just lays half of the strips in one direction, then lays the other half across them. If you’re using the intact top crust, center it over the apples, then make a 1-inch hole in the center to release steam and use a fork to gently poke holes around the top. Once the lattice or intact crust is set, roll the top and bottom edges together and under the bottom crust edge. Using a fork, gently pinch edges together but do not go all the way through the dough.

Mix together 1/2 cup cream and the egg. Brush egg wash onto lattice or top crust and any dough decorations.

Put on a parchment paper-lined tray (to catch drips) and put in the oven for 10 minutes. Turn down the temperature to 350° and bake until apples are cooked — 30 minutes at first, then probably another 15 minutes. Use the tip of a sharp knife to check. If the tip goes into apple slices easily, they’re done cooking. Remove from the oven and let cool.

Southern Pastry from Michele Coulon

Yield: 2 pie crusts, top and bottom. Cut recipe in half for 1 pie.

4 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 pound cold European-style butter, cut into 1-inch chunky pieces
Ice water

Mix ingredients by hand using two knives in a bowl or in a food processor until coarse crumbs form. Then add 12 tablespoons or 160 grams of ice water. Mix until just blended. It should be rough with striations of butter.

When making the full recipe, divide the dough in half. Shape each half into a disk about 4 to 5 inches in diameter. At this point you can start to bake with them, wrap the disks and refrigerate overnight, or freeze them until you want to use them (defrost in the refrigerator). It’s one of those great do-ahead options.

What dishes will you be making for Thanksgiving? What is the one that makes it Thanksgiving for you and your family?

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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Consider this post another chapter in my quest to identify ways to use excess sourdough starter when I do my weekly feeding. I’ve made cake, crackers, and biscuits so far. Unlike fresh starter, the pre-fed starter doesn’t contribute much to rise. Its role instead is flavor.

Thinking about Thanksgiving, I recently made popovers and thought I’d share the results with you so you could put them on your clients’ Thanksgiving menus. Who doesn’t adore airy popovers? Along with the intriguing sourdough flavor these have, I’ve added something a little extra: everything topping–you know, the topping you find on bagels. You can find everything seasoning online at King Arthur Flour and locally at Trader Joe’s. If you’re not a fan, no worries. You can leave them naked and dunk into a gravy or sauce. You can make them a little sweet by topping them in cinnamon sugar. You could also top them with finely chopped toasted nuts with or without sugar. Be bold! Or not if you or your clients are purists.

The other delightful aspect of these popovers is how ridiculously easy they are to make. You’ll heat up milk until it’s just warm–not hot! Then you’ll combine the milk with eggs, the sourdough starter, and a little salt.

Whisk in the flour–but don’t over mix. Even a few lumps are just fine. This batter is very forgiving. Notice I used the word batter, not dough. This mixture is very loose–like heavy cream. Don’t worry. It’ll work just fine.

It’ll start baking in a very hot oven. After 15 minutes you’ll turn down the heat and continue baking for another 15 to 20 minutes. Try as hard as you can to time this with when you want to serve the popovers because these guys are best eaten right away. But, get this, I froze what I couldn’t eat immediately. When I wanted one, I pulled it out of the freezer and let it defrost, then heated it up in a 350° oven for about 15 minutes. It was still delicious.

If you are going to add a topping, melt butter in a wide little bowl just before the popovers come out of the oven. Then pull them out of the cups, dip, and roll.

Everything Sourdough Popovers
Adapted from King Arthur Flour
Makes 6 popovers

Ingredients
8 ounces milk
3 large eggs
4 ounces sourdough starter, fed or discard
¾ teaspoon salt
4 ¼ ounces all-purpose flour
¼ cup melted unsalted butter
¼ cup everything topping (available from Trader Joe’s or King Arthur Flour)

Instructions

Preheat oven to 450° and add muffin or popover pan.

Warm milk in the microwave or a small saucepan until it’s just warm to the touch.

Combine warm milk with eggs, sourdough starter, and salt. Gradually whisk in flour until it just comes together. Don’t worry about eliminating all lumps.
The batter will be loose, about the consistency of heavy cream.

Remove hot pan from the oven and spray it thoroughly with non-stick pan spray or brush generously with oil or melted unsalted butter.

Pour batter into the popover cups about ¾ of the way up. If you’re using a muffin tin, fill all the way to the top. Space the popovers around so each one is surrounded by empty cups to allow the popovers to expand while they bake.

Bake popovers for 15 minutes, then reduce the oven heat to 375° and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes, until golden brown.

Remove the popovers from the oven. Dip the top into a small bowl of melted butter and roll in everything mixture. Serve immediately or cool and freeze. To reheat, defrost and place in oven at 350° for about 15 minutes.

Will you be making a baked side for Thanksgiving? What is your go-to recipe?

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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Passover is coming up at the end of this week. With Passover it’s all about the Seder, right? Complete with a plate of matzoh, a Seder plate holding traditional symbolic foods, and a Haggadah at every plate to read the account of the Jews’ experience in Egypt and their liberation from the bonds of slavery.

Well, yes, Passover is focused on the Seder. But what happens after that when there’s an entire week in which observant Jews are expected to refrain from eating leavened breads along with a variety of grains? Fortunately, Passover coincides with the beginning of spring and with spring comes spring produce—asparagus, strawberries, artichokes, fava beans, and the like. So, why not create a Passover brunch for Jewish clients that celebrates a new season?

Growing up, my parents would treat us kids—and themselves, of course—to matzoh brei, or fried matzoh. My orientation is toward the savory so I have always loved the plump, crispy pieces of matzoh that emerge from the pan sprinkled with salt. To be honest, it doesn’t look like much and there’s just no dressing it up, but trust me, it’s delicious. And this is what I’ve long liked to serve for my Passover brunches with cold poached asparagus and horseradish sauce. And lots and lots of brilliant red juicy strawberries.

Now I’ve seen a lot of versions of matzoh brei that tend to be more of a matzoh omelet than what I make. Not my thing. Fortunately, it’s simply a matter of changing the ratio of eggs to matzoh. I like the matzoh pieces simply coated with egg so the ratio I use is one egg to two pieces of matzoh. All you do is break up the matzoh into bite-sized pieces, put them in a large bowl, and cover with hot water. Let the matzoh pieces soak in the water for a few minutes to soften and before they get too soggy, drain the water. Beat the eggs in a separate bowl and add them to the matzoh, then gently stir the mixture together so each piece of matzo is coated with egg. Heat a large skillet (cast iron skillets are great for this), add vegetable oil to about ¼ of an inch and when a little piece of the mixture sizzles when it’s added to the oil, pour the rest of the mixture in. Stir and break up the pieces as they cook. The matzoh brei is ready when the individual pieces of matzoh puff up and are golden and crispy.

Then comes some decision making. Do you serve the matzoh brei with sugar and/or applesauce or salt and pepper and/or sour cream? It’s the classic Jewish conundrum (think potato pancakes at Chanukah). Resolve it according to taste or be a mensch and put it all out for your guests.

Here’s a different option for the menu: Sweet Matzo Fritters.

These fritters, created by Chef Jeff Rossman of San Diego restaurant Terra, were a fun surprise. I hadn’t used matzoh like this before. Let it soak and soak and the matzoh collapses into a dough-like substance. The recipe calls for raisins but I didn’t have a bag of raisins. I did have a Trader Joe’s medley of raisins, dried cranberries, and blueberries, and they worked just as well. Once I made them and had made up some whipped cream for strawberries, I tried them together and oh my…

Sweet Matzo Fritters
Jeff Rossman, Terra

Yield: 30 fritters, depending on the size you make them

4 ½ standard sized matzot, plain, whole wheat, or gluten free
3 large eggs separated
¾ cup finely chopped almonds or your favorite nut
1 cup raisins or currants
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
3 tablespoons matzo cake meal
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup granulated sugar
Vegetable oil for frying

Topping:
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

Mix sugar and cinnamon together for topping.

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, break up the matzot into small pieces and cover with water. Let them soak until soft, about 15 minutes. Use your hands to squeeze the matzot dry of all excess water. Press the matzot with your fingers or with a fork and completely crush them. With a fork, mix in the egg yolks, almonds, raisins, oil, cinnamon, lemon juice, zest and cake meal.

In a separate mixing bowl, beat the egg whites with the salt until foamy. Gradually add the sugar and continue beating the whites until they form stiff white peaks. Fold the whites in the matzo mixture.

In a large sauté pan over medium-high heat, heat enough frying oil so it comes up about ¼ to ½ inch up the sides. Drop generous spoonfuls of the batter into the oil. Fry the fritters until they are lightly browned on all sides, turning them once. Drain them on paper towels. Sprinkle with the cinnamon sugar and serve with creme fraiche or whipped cream.

Now, I know I’ve neglected Easter, but this week I plan to focus on lots of Easter recipes on our Facebook page, so go to the page, “like” it, and you’ll get a full stream of dishes to inspire you.

What kinds of dishes do your clients ask you to prepare for Passover?

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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Sublime Chicken Liver Mousse

Filed under: Holiday Foods,Recipes , Tags: , , , — Author: Caron Golden , February 26, 2018

If one of your umbrella businesses is catering–whether large gatherings or intimate dinner parties–you’re probably always on the hunt for dish inspiration, especially for appetizers.

Well, have I got something special for you! A luscious chicken liver mousse. I don’t know about you, but I’m a sucker for a good mousse. I grew up eating the very unluscious chopped liver, which I still love but it’s one of those things you have to have grown up with to enjoy. As I became an adult and was introduced to pâtés and mousses, my palate changed and I craved this rich food. And like anyone who has some sense I limited my consumption to special occasions.

A number of restaurants in San Diego have chicken liver mousse on the menu. I decided I wanted to learn how to make the one at a young eatery called Trust. Chef/owner Brad Wise’s is a silky buttery spread with a hint of herbs and sweet liqueurs, delivered via a slice of grilled sourdough levain and accompanied by a tangy mostarda and sliced radishes. Wise’s passion is for rustic contemporary American.

“It may not look great on a plate, but it’s what I really like to prepare. I’m a wintertime type of guy,” he said.

That, of course, explains his Chicken Liver Mousse, which has refined flavors but he serves in a very rustic style. The process for making it is very simple. And pretty quick, which is great for catering. But you have to build in the time to prep the ingredients. You’ve got to soak the chicken livers in milk overnight. You’ll need to slice shallots, stem and mince herbs, zest a few lemons, and cube a lot of butter. But once you do that, then the cooking process takes about 10 minutes. Oh, and then you need to let the creamy mixture sit in the fridge for at least five hours to reach the right consistency. Then before serving, take it out and let it sit at room temperature to soften.

The directions are straightforward, but I have a couple of tips from Wise. A key one comes while you’re sautéing the livers and shallots. You want the livers to be thoroughly cooked but not overcooked–think medium rare in a steak with a pink, not raw, center. You accomplish this by slicing into the larger livers as soon as you think they’re almost done. If they’re still on the red and mushy side, keep cooking–but remove the small ones so they won’t overcook. Keep testing until they reach that sweet spot.

The next tip has to do with seasoning. Wise adds a good amount of salt to this dish. Consider what you’ll be serving the mousse with. Ideally, you’ll include a sweet/tart preserve, perhaps whole-grain mustard, and gherkins or cornichons–and the mousse will be served on a hearty bread or cracker. They all function as a way to add flavor, yes, but also cut the intensity of the fat. With that in mind, you’ll want to punch up the mousse with more salt than you might otherwise think is appropriate. I found, as he salted, stirred, tasted, and added more, that early in the seasoning exercise the mousse seemed too salty. Then he actually added more, stirred and gave me a taste, and somehow the saltiness gave way to a more full-bodied flavor.

Finally, this is a dish you can prepared days in advance. Wise’s trick here is to prepare it, then melt some more butter and pour it over the finished mousse in its container or serving dish. Refrigerate and then before serving, remove the congealed butter lid from the top and toss it. The cold butter will seal the mousse.

As for serving it, you’ll smooth the mousse over the grilled levain and slice it, then strategically spoon on mostarda or a jam and place thin radish slices and chervil on top. Then finish it with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

You can also pour the mousse into a concave serving dish and place little bowls of preserves, mustard, and pickles nearby. Slice up a sourdough baguette or levain and let it sit out all day to get just a little stale (another Wise tip) and serve that with the mousse.

Trust’s Chicken Liver Mousse 
From Chef Brad Wise
Yield: 4 cups

Ingredients
1 pound chicken livers
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons canola oil
4 ounces shallots, sliced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, minced
1 tablespoon fresh marjoram, minced
2 tablespoons cognac
2 tablespoons madeira
1 tablespoon kosher salt
¾ cup heavy cream
Zest from 3 lemons
2 pounds unsalted butter, cubed

Directions
1. Soak chicken livers overnight in milk. Place in colander over a bowl and drain. Put napkin on top of livers to soak up additional moisture.
2. Place a large skillet over medium high heat and add oil. Sauté shallots until they just start to brown. Stir in herbs. Add livers and cook until the middle is pink but not raw—medium rare. To check on doneness, cut through the thickest part of the livers.
3. About halfway through the cooking process, deglaze the skillet with the liquor. Reduce the heat as the livers absorb the liquor. Add the salt and stir well.
4. Once the livers are cooked, turn off the heat and let sit about 20 seconds.
5. Using a heavy-weight blender, like a Vitamix, add the liver mixture, scrapping the skillet clean to get all the bits included. Add the cream and the lemon zest. Blend until smooth.
6. Take off the top and slowly add the butter while at medium/high speed. Add a pinch more salt while mixing.
7. If you want, you can strain the mousse mixture through a sieve. Stir the mixture and add more salt until it’s just a bit saltier than you think you’d like, taking into account what you’ll be serving the mousse with, such as whole grain mustard and jam.
8. Pour the mousse into a concave serving dish and refrigerate at least five hours to let it firm. You can make this several days in advance. To keep it fresh, melt butter and pour over the top to seal it and refrigerate. Before serving, lift up the congealed butter top and discard.

Do you have a favorite go-to recipe for appetizers? Please share it with us!

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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Are you a movie buff? I am. But one of the downsides is that no matter the topic, there always seems to be a scene from a movie that provides just the illustrative image you don’t want to have. For caviar, there are two and both involve Tom Hanks. The first is the holiday party scene in Big, when Tom the boy/man digs into some caviar not knowing what it is and when he finds out, he pushes it out of his mouth in the way only a grossed out kid can. The other is in the romcom You’ve Got Mail when he and Meg Ryan’s character–also at a party–get into an argument after she discovers he’s the Fox of Fox Books trying to take her down and he starts scooping up all the pricey caviar garnish to eat just to irritate her.

Tom Hanks aside, caviar usually gets much more lofty treatment. In fact, it’s one of those foods that is considered elite and unreachable for the masses. And, sure, the good stuff… the really luxurious good stuff is. I can’t get enough of it when given the chance, but my budget prevents me from wildly indulging. And I’m sure that if you’re catering New Year’s parties or brunches you’re dealing with the same issue. But  I’ve come across a wide variety of caviars that are very tasty and pretty budget friendly. And I’m not talking about the questionable über salty jars of fish roe you’ll find on shelves at places like CostPlus. A visit to Whole Foods or specialty stores or shopping online should offer a variety of options that you can put on the menu without breaking the bank. And, honestly, is there any food more celebratory or that says Happy New Year more than caviar, especially when accompanied by a flute of champagne?

Here are some options:

California Caviar sells a lovely white sturgeon caviar called the Royal. It’s a sustainably farm-raised product from Northern California. The white sturgeon has a taste similar to Osetra. The roe is medium sized, dark, and with a sweet buttery texture. I can’t stop eating it with a spoon, but it’s delicious on a blini with crème fraîche and a little smoked salmon or tossed with butter in fettuccine. Buy some for a client cocktail party for guests to enjoy with sparkling wine or buy a package to give as a client gift.

Salmon roe, which you might recognize from Japanese menus as ikura, is easily found at Japanese markets. I can’t get enough of this roe. These big, juicy beads create a wonderful salty, tangy explosion when you bite into them. I’ve enjoyed these on scrambled eggs, on blini, on a bagel with cream cheese (best brunch dish ever), and as a topping on stuffed mushrooms. Those stuffed mushrooms also incorporated capelin roe, sometimes known as smelt roe–or masago on sushi menus–and  tobiko, or flying fish roe, which glistens like black diamonds in light. I blend the masago with sour cream and crème fraîche and chopped mushroom stems, which I used to stuff the mushrooms. Then I top the mixture with the salmon roe and a dab of tobikko.

You can also use the capelin roe to make taramosalata, a terrific Greek dip. Or use it for sushi or as a garnish. Both the capelin roe and tobiko are quite sweet and flavored with soy sauce.


Whole Foods carries several varieties of the Caviar Russe brand. Yes, you can get a pricey ounce of imported Caspian Osetra Russian sturgeon, but if that isn’t feasible, try the whitefish caviar from the Great Lakes region, salmon caviar or ikura, tobiko, or–what I took home and enjoyed–hardwood smoked caviar. Get your splurge back on with imported Siberian Russian sturgeon. You can buy online also.

And, if you have a vegetarian client, you can create dishes with Seaweed Caviar, sold by Fine Caviar.

Need blinis? You can also pick up a package of Caviar Russe’s cocktail blinis. They are easy to heat up quickly and, while not quite as good as homemade, they are just fine and make life a whole lot easier for a busy holiday party caterer.

Or, chefs, you can make your own. This recipe for buckwheat blinis comes from San Diego chef Ryan Studebaker.

Buckwheat Blinis
From Ryan Studebaker
Yield: About 12 blinis

Ingredients

2 tablespoons buckwheat flour
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup whole milk
1 egg, separated
1/4 cup butter, melted but not hot

Directions

Whisk together dry ingredients. Add milk and egg yolk and whisk until smooth. Whisk egg whites to soft peaks and folk into the batter along with 2 tablespoons of the butter.

Brush a nonstick pan with butter and heat over medium heat until hot. Drop five to seven level tablespoons of the batter at a time onto the pan and cook until bubbles form (about 45 to 60 seconds). Flip the pancakes and cook an additional 45 to 60 seconds.

Serve immediately if you can. Otherwise, hold them at room temperate and reheat in the oven briefly later if needed.

Enjoy–and everyone at APPCA wishes you a happy, healthy, and fulfilling 2018! Happy New Year!

Is caviar on the menu for your New Year’s catering or personal celebration? How do you like to enjoy it?

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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My grandparents carving the turkey–long before I was around!

It’s just days away from Thanksgiving and after Friday we’re all going to be anticipating the holidays–first Chanukah, which begins on the evening of December 12 this year, then, of course, Christmas and New Years.

Now as personal chefs, I have no doubt you could throw a dinner party with your eyes closed and hands tied behind your back. At least figuratively. But my expectation is you know what you’re doing. If not, however, (since throwing parties is different from cooking and then packaging meals) or if your clients are planning holiday dinner parties, I thought I’d share with you the expertise of someone who spent much of her adult life entertaining: my mom, Evie.

For as long as I can remember, she’s pretty much been the queen of dinner parties. My dad was in the museum “business” so curators, donors, artists and other colleagues were always coming over. Plus, my parents always loved to have friends and family at the house for meals. My mom is an astoundingly good cook, someone whose gift I continue to aspire to. Until recently, I regularly served as her sous chef, server and dish washer. I was told, “watch and learn.” At age 82, she doesn’t do any real entertaining any more but when she did, for weeks ahead of time she would be chopping, cooking and freezing. The day before a party, the table was set. The day of, only the last-minute cooking and reheating were involved. By the time the guests arrived, she was usually (fairly) rested, ready and able to enjoy the meal along with everyone else.

So, what’s her secret? Several years ago I sat down with her for lunch at a little Vietnamese restaurant  and asked her straight out what she thinks are the keys to a successful dinner party. Watch and learn–and share with clients to make their entertaining less stressful and more enjoyable:

  • Plan your your meal around one special dish and keep the rest simple so you can have a focal point. Most people think that’s the big protein — a leg of lamb, roasted chicken — but it can also be a very special, exotic side dish.
  • Don’t feel that you have to make every dish. Make some yourself and buy some that are prepared — like side dishes, desserts or appetizers. “Back when I was really entertaining a lot, there wasn’t much available so we had to do almost everything ourselves, but today you can go to Trader Joes, Whole Foods, or specialty or ethnic markets and get some very good prepared foods,” she says. Or, ahem, they can ask you to do the cooking–or some of it.
  • When planning the dishes, try to make them stand out in color, texture and, of course, flavor. (I took this to heart. For a recent dinner I planned to serve roasted chicken and rice with dill and fava beans but I was stumped over the vegetable. Mom shook her head at the idea of asparagus or baby artichokes. “Color!,” she decreed. So, I headed over to a local produce wholesaler called Specialty Produce to pick up multi-colored organic mini carrots and red-and-green micro beet greens. The carrots were trimmed and steamed, then tossed in melted butter and honey, lemon juice, minced greens from a stalk of green garlic, and salt and pepper — and placed on a bed of the beet greens.)

  • Make what you can ahead of time and freeze it. That could be soup stock or homemade ice cream or even a pot roast.
  • Along the same lines, do your prep work in advance — chop herbs, marinate proteins, make your salad dressing. Then, the day of the dinner, much of what you have to do is just heating up and putting everything together.
  • Feel free to use short cuts. Make a pie using a prepared pie crust (I like the ones Trader Joe’s sells) or a tart with puff pastry dough. (I cheated twice here. I used puff pastry squares I found at a Hispanic market and I had a container in the freezer of lemon curd that I had made. All I needed to do was pre-bake the puff pastry squares, fill them with the lemon curd, slice the strawberries and melt a little dandelion preserves for the glaze. Easy.)

  • The day before the dinner party, write a detailed time chart of what needs to be done, step by step, so you know when to pre-heat the oven, when to take out meat from the refrigerator to come to room temperature, when to start heating soup, when to start the grill — whatever. Add time for getting yourself (and your family) ready, feeding the dog, vacuuming. Basically, you want everything in your day to be accounted for so that you don’t have a last-minute crisis and to make sure that your dishes are ready to serve at the right time. And — very important so that you won’t be exhausted by the time your guests arrive — with a detailed time chart you can pace yourself throughout the day with little tasks.
  • On the morning of the dinner party, set out your serving dishes and utensils, write their function on a post-it note, then tag it. That way, you don’t have to think about what goes where when your company arrives and you’re distracted.
  • Set the table the day before or early that morning. Pull out wine and water glasses and whatever you’ll need for aperitifs, clean them, and set up that space.
  • Clean up and put things away as you go along so you’re not facing piles of dirty dishes, utensils, and pots and pans after your guests have left.

And, most important, don’t worry so much about impressing your guests with your cooking and focus more on making them comfortable and happy. The more relaxed you are, the more fun everyone will have.

Evie making our traditional family chestnut stuffing many years ago at my brother’s house.

She’s right. She always is. I’m so grateful for all she’s taught me and am looking forward to her help on Wednesday prepping for Thanksgiving now that it’s my turn to host it.

What did your mom teach you about entertaining and what are you teaching your kids–and 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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Spatchcock Your Client’s Holiday Turkey

Filed under: Holiday Foods,Recipes , Tags: , , , — Author: Caron Golden , December 19, 2016

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Yeah, I know. For some people a roasted turkey is strictly a Thanksgiving affair. But many people also feature turkey for the Christmas holiday table. Turkeys can be a challenge. You want the skin crisp but if only the breast if facing the heat, the skin on the thighs below tends to get greasy and unpleasant. You want moist white meat but it can get overcooked while waiting for the dark meat to reach the right temperature. Bottom line? Roasting a turkey can be an aggravating guessing game.

So, I’m going to make it easy for you. Spatchcock your bird and roast it at high heat.

Spatchcocking is a way of breaking down the bird so it will rest flat in a roasting pan and cook evenly. You avoid the age-old problem of having the white meat dry out while the dark meat continues to cook below. Instead, you have moist meat from the drumstick to the breast. And because it roasts at high heat, the turkey cooks quickly and the skin all over the turkey is fully exposed, making it all nice and crisp.

But heads up–it really only works well with turkeys 14 pounds and smaller so it will fit in a roasting pan. Think that’s not a big enough bird for a crowd? Well, I had 14 people for Thanksgiving dinner at my house and with all the sides that 14-pound bird was plenty and there were still some leftovers.

Here’s how you do it. Place the turkey on a cutting board and pull out whatever may be in the cavity (neck, giblets), trim any excess fat, and drain the bird of any liquid. Pat it down with paper towels so it’s as dry as possible. Using a very good pair of kitchen shears, cut the bird from one end to the other along the backbone. Most people cut the backbone out entirely but I like to keep it and roast it too. When you’ve done that open up the bird skin side up with the breast facing you. Place the heel of one hand over the breast bone and your other hand over the first. Bear down on the breast until you feel and hear a crack. That would be the breast bone. Now your turkey can rest flat on the pan, which is where it should now go.

Pre-heat a conventional oven to 450° F.

I season my bird lightly with garlic salt and paprika. Then I rub in olive oil (you can also use butter) and squeeze fresh lemon juice all over before tucking the remaining lemon halves under the bird. You can also add slices of onion and fresh herbs.

Put the turkey in the oven and let it roast for about an hour and 20 minutes. Don’t baste it. Really. Just leave it alone so the skin gets crispy.

At 1 hour, 20 minutes, pull the turkey out of the oven and measure its temperature with a meat thermometer to test if it’s done. The breast should hit 150° and the thigh should be 165°. If you’ve hit that, turn off the oven and lightly tent the turkey (if not, put the turkey back in the oven and try again in five minutes). Let it rest at least 20 minutes before carving.

Yeah, it’s that simple. Here’s my cheat sheet from year to year:

Turkey instructions

 

P.S. This is a great roasting technique for chicken and even Cornish game hens (just shorten the roasting time).

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Can you believe that Thanksgiving is in less than two weeks? In Southern California, it may be November but as of this writing we’re sweating it out in a heat wave–and turkey and all the fixings seem like a strange meal to be preparing. But it’s here and maybe the grill is better than the oven for the big bird.

If you’re catering your first Thanksgiving and feeling a little dread, relax. Do what you’re so good at as a personal chef: prepare. APPCA’s founder and executive director Candy Wallace is a firm believer in streamlining holiday gigs to keep them from becoming overwhelming. You’ve already done your client assessment, so you know what foods your client and their guests can eat or need to avoid before you planned your menu. And, we’re going to assume that if the meal needs to be vegetarian or vegan, you’ve got experience in that milieu.

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So, really, the biggest things to do are advanced planning and shopping along with mindful prep. With that in mind, Candy offers seven tips to make your Thanksgiving week easier:

  • Make turkey stock to be used in multiple dishes in advance of your event. Roast vegetables and puree in advance to have for a gravy base.
  • Measure and prepackage everything to be used in assembling your recipes. You’ve got that down, of course. Personal chefs are the experts in food packaging and meal storage for clients. But this time, use your skills to set up efficient and smooth assembly of components used to prepare the holiday meal your clients are looking forward to.
  • Are you baking cornbread? Then be sure to pre-measure all dry ingredients, then package and label them. Do the same with the wet ingredients. Same with stuffing.
  • If you’re making cranberry relish, again, pre-measure the berries, dried cherries, etc. and package and label them separately from the liquid components, which you’ll also package. Assemble the relish on the day of service.
  • Vegetables can take a lot of prep. So get that done ahead of time, including any blanching, shocking, and cooling so you can store them and make the recipes with little fuss on the day of the meal. Do the same with your herbs and spices–prep, measure, and store them. If you’re using the same herbs and spices for different dishes, separate them for each dish and mark them.Haricot verte, Escondido FM
  • Clean and prep your bird ahead of time. If you’re dealing with a frozen turkey, be sure you give it enough time to thaw in the fridge. If you’re going to do a wet or dry brine, you’ll need to start that process within a couple of days of the holiday.
  • If space on the stove or in the oven is limited, identify the dishes that can be cooked in advance, frozen, and then reheated for the meal. Many pies–apple and pecan, for instance, as well as stuffing, sweet potatoes, and mashed potatoes–can be made ahead of time, wrapped well, and frozen to be reheated briefly in the oven or (except the pies) in the microwave.

Working a day or even several days ahead will save you time, and keep you sane and strong on Thanksgiving and other holiday service. Hey, do it right and you will still be able to enjoy the day yourself!

Happy Thanksgiving!

What dishes are on your Thanksgiving menu for clients? What tips can you share to make holiday catering more manageable?

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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Come September and it’s soon time for the high holidays. This year, they fall late, with Erev Rosh Hashanah (the eve of the Jewish New Year) falling on October 2 and Kol Nidre (the eve of Yom Kippur or Day of Atonement) falling on October 11. Rosh Hashanah and breaking the fast of Yom Kippur call for traditional Jewish comfort food–and in my family that always includes a sweet noodle kugel–or lokshen kugel if you want to go all the way with the Yiddish.

Noodle kugel (there’s also potato kugel for Passover)–basically a noodle pudding or casserole–is dish usually made with wide egg noodles, sour cream, cream cheese, eggs, sugar, and butter. Made well, it’s a sweet, fluffy, cheesy dish. When I was growing up, my grandparents would often show up at our house for Friday night dinner, almost always bearing three things–her Hawaiian chicken, a Pyrex dish bubbling with a warm kugel, and mandelbread (the Jewish version of biscotti) for dessert. Because kugel is such a cholesterol nightmare it’s no longer something I eat much of, but if I get half the chance I’m all over it. Plus, it holds up well as a leftover or frozen and reheated. For personal chefs with Jewish clients who call on you to make Jewish holiday foods, this is a must-have in your repertoire.

I’ve had many versions of noodle kugel over the years and tend to avoid it at most Jewish delis because at least our local ones in San Diego don’t do a great job with it. A lousy kugel is kind of flat and dense and unpleasantly chewy. Whether it includes raisins or other dried fruit, pineapple chunks, or peaches (as one friend prepared it), it should be a bite of rich creaminess under a crisp top. In looking at other recipes over the years I’ve found a key difference between my Nana’s and these others. Nana always separated the egg yolks from the whites and beat the whites until stiff. You can’t miss with that technique–even if you use cottage cheese (yet another ingredient option).

This recipe below is about as traditional as you can get. But you can change it up with extra ingredients you enjoy, like reconstituted dried or fresh or canned fruit, and different toppings. I added a little brown sugar to my most recent kugel and enjoyed the deeper flavor it created.

Nana’s Noodle Kugel
Yield: 12 servings, depending on how you slice it

Ingredients
1 pound dried wide egg noodles, cooked and well drained
1 cup raisins or other dried fruit (optional), soaked in hot water for 20 minutes, then drained
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 pound unsalted butter, melted
1/2 pound cream cheese, softened and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 pint sour cream
6 eggs, separated

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Beat egg yolks with sugar and add to cooked noodles.

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Beat egg whites until stiff. Add butter, cream cheese, and sour cream to noodles. Gently fold in egg whites. Yes, it will be loose. Don’t worry. It will come together while cooking.

Pour mixture into buttered 13-inch by 9-inch baking pan. If you want you can make a topping with brown sugar, cinnamon, and granulated sugar (and/or breadcrumbs, crumbled graham crackers, streusel, or crushed cornflakes).

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Bake for about an hour until the center is set and the noodles are light brown on top. Let the kugel rest for 15 to 20 minutes before slicing.

Kugel tray

What special dishes have your clients requested for the High Holidays? Do they ever give you family recipes to 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.

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Turning Matzoh into a Meal

Filed under: Holiday Foods , Tags: , , , , — Author: Caron Golden , April 11, 2016

 

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Jews around the world will begin celebrating the eight days of Passover beginning Friday, April 22 at sundown. Traditionally, the first two nights are organized around the Seder, but you knew that.

And, you probably know that for these eight days Jews are forbidden from eating hametz, or leavened food. That’s why we eat matzo. It’s all wrapped up in the symbolism of the holiday, which commemorates the sudden liberation of the ancient Jews from Egyptian slavery. As children, we’re told of the story of the Jews fleeing Egypt with such haste that there was no time to bake bread that needed time to rise. So the flour and water cracker that is matzo became the staple then and ever since has been eaten every Passover. And, trust me, even though we’re talking two, maybe three ingredients (salt), every family has their favorite brand of matzo. Of course, if you’re feeling ambitious, you can make it yourself.

Even with this dietary restriction, it’s amazing the dishes you can turn out. Matzo offers tremendous versatility and below I’ll share some ways you can use it for Jewish clients who want you to prepare kosher for Passover meals.

Matzoh brei2

Soak sheets of it in hot water, drain the water, break it up and add some beaten eggs, then put in a frying pan with oil or butter and you have matzo brei. Now some people use a 1:1 ratio of matzo sheet to egg and enjoy something more akin to a matzo omelet. My family does a 2:1 matzo to egg ratio. I prefer this style which gives you beautiful crispy puffed out pieces of matzo that, depending on your particular style, can be served with applesauce, sugar or salt. I’m a salt girl myself but our family was split with Mom’s side also going for salt and Dad’s for the sweet stuff. (If you’re Jewish, no doubt you have the same sweet versus savory divide in your family at Hanukah over potato latkes.)

Matzo can also be the basis of a sweet, crunchy “brittle,” as in covering it with chocolate or butterscotch or caramel and nuts, baking briefly and then, when cool, breaking it into bite-size pieces. Google “matzo brittle” and you’ll find scads of recipes with any number of variations. In this case, the matzo essentially is just a delivery system for the sugar, chocolate and nuts. And not a bad one, actually.

Salted Chocolate Matzoh2

And, for those who simply cannot live for a week without their favorite dishes, there are recipes for matzo lasagna, matzo spanikopita and matzo quesadillas. And, yes, even matzo pizza. Thanks, but I can do without for awhile. Of course, if you’re desperately seeking ideas for other things you can do with matzo, you have to watch this wonderful video.

Then there’s farfel, which is basically matzo that’s been broken up. Farfel can be used as a cereal substitute or to make sweets (it takes some imagination, but yes, there are recipes for desserts with farfel like this chocolate nut cluster), kugel (pudding) or stuffing. I know someone on Twitter who is using it to make granola with dried blueberries, apricots, sliced almond and pecans. She’s changing it up from this LA Times recipe.

Matzoh meal

And, finally, if you grind matzo you get matzo meal. And matzo meal itself is endlessly versatile. Use it as a bread crumb substitute or pretty much anything for which you’d use flour. You can buy it in a box or, if you’re feeling industrious, grind it yourself using a blender or food processor.

Of course, if matzo meal is known for anything, it’s for being the basis of matzo balls, but during the week of Passover, once the Seder is history and I have to come up with ways to live without my daily bread, I often turn to matzo meal for cooking. Look on the panel of most boxes and you’ll find a recipe for pancakes, in which beaten egg whites play a prominent role to fluff them up. I also use matzo meal to bread and saute fish fillets or skinless, boneless chicken pieces for oven frying. I mix some with grated Parmesan cheese to top a baked tomato or roasted vegetables. And, even when it’s not Passover, I like to use it as the binder for zucchini pancakes (grate the zucchini and onion, wring out to get rid of the liquid, add a beaten egg, minced garlic, salt & pepper and matzo meal to bind it together, then fry in a little olive oil in a skillet).

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Are these enough ideas to help you help your clients through the week?

Do you make Passover foods for clients? What are your/their favorite recipes?

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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