It’s the time of year for gift giving–and for personal chefs, nothing says “Thank you for your business. I so appreciate you!” like handmade edible gifts. Over the years we’ve published a number of ideas. Now, just a day before Christmas but still a week out from New Year’s, here’s one more: Sweet and Spicy Slow Cooker Nuts.

I don’t know about you, but I love spiced nuts, especially my recipe for those from Union Square. You know, their Bar Nuts. But I was surprised to see a recipe in The Kitchn for Slow Cooker Spiced Nuts. As in, why would you make spiced nuts in a slow cooker?

But curiosity got the better of me and since I have an Instant Pot I thought I’d check it out. Only instead of their “spiced nuts,” which only include ground cinnamon as the spice, along with some vanilla paste, I thought I’d amp it up with a sweet and savory version–like the Bar Nuts.

I’m lucky to have planted a garden filled with herbs so I clipped rosemary, oregano, thyme, and sage, washed and chopped them up and prepped everything else–melted the butter, whisked the egg whites to make the sauce. I added cayenne pepper to get a kick of heat but if you have spice-averse clients, you can, of course, leave it out. After prepping, you make the sauce in the slow cooker pot. Then add the nuts, stir up the mixture to coat the nuts, and let it rip–or, in this case, gently cook. It’s actually a very easy recipe–but, it’s a slow cooker recipe so it requires patience. And your presence. Unlike other slow cooker recipes in which you can head out and it all takes care of itself, with this recipe you need to stir the nuts in their salty, herbaceous sweet sauce every 20 minutes.

The recipe also gives you an option in cooking times. Cook low for three hours or high for one hour. I went all in since this was, after all, a slow cooker recipe. But after three hours it still didn’t look done–whatever that was. So, I amped the heat up to high and gave it another half an hour.

And I liked them. They’re gooey, and the nuts won’t be crisp as they would if you toasted them. But they actually have a lovely almost creamy texture and addictive flavor. You’ll be as stuck on these as kettle corn. And don’t try to have any self-control. They only last a week in an airtight container at room temperature.

Sweet and Spicy Slow Cooker Nuts
Adapted from The Kitchn
Makes 6 cups

Ingredients
2 large egg whites
1 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, roughly chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh sage, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons fresh oregano, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, roughly chopped
1 tablespoons ground cayenne pepper (optional)
6 cups raw, whole nuts, such as almonds, pecans, cashews, or walnuts

Instructions
1. Lightly coat a 6-quart slow cooker with cooking spray.
2. Place the egg whites in the slow cooker and whisk until frothy. Add the brown sugar, butter, vanilla, salt, herbs, and cayenne pepper, and stir into a thick syrup.
3. Add the nuts and stir with a spatula until they are evenly coated.


4. Place a double layer of paper towels over the top of the slow cooker to catch condensation. Cover with the lid and cook, stirring every 20 minutes, until nuts are fragrant, lightly browned, and the coating appears dull and not shiny, 3 to 3 1/2 hours on the LOW setting or 1 to 1 1/2 hours on the HIGH setting. If you go with 3 hours on LOW, you can add another half hour on HIGH.


5. Stir one final time, then pour onto 2 baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Spread into an even layer, separating the nuts as much as possible, and cool completely.
6. Once cool, break apart any nuts that have stubbornly stuck together and transfer to a serving dish, jar for gifting, or airtight container for storage. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.

What edible gifts are you making for clients? Have you ever made this kind of dish in your Instant Pot?

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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We’re two days out from Thanksgiving and no doubt most of you have either decided on your meal–or the dish you’re bringing if you a guest. But for those of you still hoping for last-minute inspiration I thought we’d revisit some of our favorite Thanksgiving recipes–because you never know when that “aha” moment will strike and you’re motivated to rush to the market to gather ingredients and start cooking.

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. This is so clever. While you could do this with your own favorite, traditional stuffing, take a look at this recipe from the Art Institute of California-San Diego. And pair it with this divine cranberry chutney!

Macaroni and Cheese for Kids and Adults: Don’t even question if this a Thanksgiving dish. This mac and cheese is inspired by two big names: Alton Brown and Martha Stewart. Based on their recipes I created my own version. 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.

Celery Root Mashed Potatoes: You’ve probably seen these gnarled weird root veggies in your market’s produce section and then scurried away, but celery root, or celeriac, is wonderful, especially when mashed. Not surprisingly, it tastes like celery. You’ll also get some great ideas through this link for making other unusual root vegetables.

Ancient Grains Salads: Freekah. Einkorn. If you haven’t cooked with these, you’re missing out on a whole lot of flavor and texture. And they’re perfect for turning into a beautiful late fall salad, like this Kale and Crimini Mushroom Greenwheat Freekah Pilaf. Follow the recipe or be inspired to create your own on the fly.

Madeleines Two Ways: Have you been asked to bring dessert? These citrus and chocolate madeleines are easy to make and will win you new friends at the Thanksgiving potluck. The ingredients are easy enough to source. Just get a couple of madeleine forms and perform your magic!

Apple Crisp: Not comfortable baking pies but still want the traditional flavors? Make this apple crisp! In fact, make enough of the crisp part to store in the freezer so you can make a last-minute dessert with ease. The crisp is the thing here–you could add persimmons or pears or pomegranate seeds to the apples and still come out with a magnificent dessert.

Candy, Dennis, and I wish you the happiest of Thanksgiving–and we’re filled with gratitude for you!

What are you making for Thanksgiving this year? 

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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Vegetarian Thanksgiving? No Problem!

Filed under: Cooking Tips,Holiday Foods , Tags: , , — Author: Caron Golden , November 18, 2019

If you have vegetarian clients–or family or friends, for that matter–and you’re in charge of Thanksgiving, whether it’s a personal gathering or you’re catering, you may be smacking your forehead trying to figure out how to create a meal that’s not all about the turkey.

No worries. But, first a couple of ground rules your guests will appreciate. Let’s start with the whole premise of the meal: it’s celebrating a holiday with family and friends and making it your own–not about specific dishes. So, don’t be rigid in your thinking about what dishes you feel you have to make.

Second, if you’re going vegetarian or vegan, don’t try to make things taste like something else. As one chef friend of mine told me, “You’ll never see tofurky in my house.”

 

Many vegetarian and vegan people are used to composing courses much like non-vegetarians—a main course of protein, starch, and vegetable. But, the beauty of vegetarian courses is being able to focus on just one or two primary vegetables and back them up with flavors that enhance. Say, grilled eggplant with sauteed shitake mushrooms, goat cheese, and tomato jus with herbs.

Keep it simple. It’s very easy for cooks to combine so many vegetables on a plate that it gets messy in terms of flavor. Try a stuffed acorn squash with a simple vegetable medley or grain with bright flavors to contrast with the creamy, earthy, and sweet flavors of the squash. Stuffed vegetables are a hit for presentation and the combinations are endless.

You can’t miss by using what’s in season. This time of year, for Thanksgiving, it’s all about greens, root vegetables, pumpkins and squashes, wonderful citrus fruits, apples, pears, and persimmons. Instead of fake meats use grains to add flavor. Also, contrast textural elements of dishes to put them in the forefront rather than have a table full of side dishes. Stuffed acorn squash with quinoa, Swiss chard tamales, and parsnip au gratin are all dishes that can stand up proudly to any turduckin.

Many of these dishes above work well as main courses. Build around them with complementary Think salads made of greens with Gorgonzola, toasted hazelnuts, persimmon slices, cranberries, and a pomegranate vinaigrette.

And don’t skimp on the good stuff—rich cheeses, chestnuts, morels and chanterelles, even truffles for a splurge. Just because you don’t eat meat doesn’t mean you can’t still indulge in culinary treats.

For vegetarians, that could also mean a gorgeous puffy cheese soufflé as the meal’s centerpiece, or a truffle mac ‘n cheese, or an omelet roulade filled with spinach and roasted peppers. For vegans, it could be a root vegetable pot pie spiked with truffles, with a rich sauce made from root vegetable stock. Or consider sautéed or roasted vegetables snuggled rustically in phyllo packages—which have the additional benefit of being able to be made in advance and frozen before cooking. You can wrap each portion individually with a big fluffy knot of phyllo on top, and use olive oil instead of butter when cooking for vegans.

The idea boils down to having a holiday feast that highlights a few main dishes with side dishes and salads to complement them.

Here are some great cooking tips for making vegetarian and vegan Thanksgiving dishes from my friend Susan Sbicca, a chef in San Diego:

  • Use flaxseed meal as a thickener for sauces and gravies.
  • Cashews make excellent cream and milk alternative.
  • Use mushroom stems, soy sauce or tamari and a touch of molasses for a hearty rich broth for gravy.
  • Use combinations of raw and cooked vegetables and grains for more flavor depth. Example:  quinoa or farro with matchstick cut carrots, marinated grated parsnip, julienned raw arugula and of course spinach
  • Keep close watch on the amount of oil used in recipes and vegetable marinades. Eggplant and portabella mushrooms (delicious hearty entrees) act like sponges. Use a combination of soy sauce or amino acids, good olive oil, a touch of lemon and vegetable stock to keep them moist but not fat bombs. (throw in a medjool date or two for deeper sweetness).
  • Stuffed vegetables are a hit for presentation and the combinations are endless.  Stuff baby pumpkins, acorn squash, patty pan squash etc.
  • Make salads interest using seasonal dried berries such as dried cranberrys and cherries.
  • Add more texture to a dish with seasonal nuts: walnuts and pecans.
  • Think about combining mashed foods: potatoes and parsnip,  butternut and pumpkin, yams and yellow potatoes.
  • Use medjool dates as sweeteners in recipes that call for sugars.

Are you making a vegetarian or vegan Thanksgiving meal? What are some of the dishes you’re presenting?

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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We’re two weeks out from Thanksgiving and while we tend to focus on our own family celebrations, some industrious personal chefs may also have picked up a Thanksgiving catering gig. Whether you’re expert at managing your own expansive meal or you usually bring a dish or two to someone else who’s hosting, it can be a little daunting to create this big, über meaningful holiday meal for a client. Not only do you have to meet their expectations, but also those of their guests, who come with life experiences and expectations of their own traditions.

But you have a distinct advantage. As a personal chef you are expert in preparation and organization. And who is the best at both? Our own executive director, Candy Wallace. We thought we’d share again some of her best tips for streamlining Thanksgiving so you can avoid feeling overwhelmed.

Let’s assume 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, let’s assume that if the meal needs to be vegetarian or vegan, you’ve got experience with creating delicious options that meet that criteria.

With that behind you, really, the biggest things to do are advanced planning and shopping along with mindful prep. And here’s where Candy can help, offering 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 purée 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.
  • 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.
  • 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–can be made ahead of time, wrapped well, and frozen. So can stuffing and even mashed potatoes.

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.

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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Getting ready for Easter catering gigs? Need some inspiration? Who better to call on for a delicious recipe and stunning photos than our Carol Borchardt? She’s given us her twist on Deviled Eggs + a primer for successfully hard-boiling the eggs. Your clients will swoon and you’ll have a foolproof method for a technique many struggle with. 

Deviled eggs are essential for any Easter brunch.  However, this Easter favorite has a downside—peeling lots of hard-boiled eggs.

Peeling hard-boiled eggs used to be a real chore and I tried every tip and trick.  Nothing worked well until I began using a method from Cook’s Illustrated and now it’s my go-to method:

  • Get a saucepan full of water to a good, gentle boil over medium-high heat.
  • Prepare an ice bath.
  • Carefully lower cold eggs just out of the refrigerator into the water with a slotted spoon. Cook 10 minutes maintaining the gentle boil.
  • Transfer the eggs to the ice bath and let cool 5 minutes. Do not let the eggs sit in the water or they’ll become hard to peel.
  • Gently crack the eggs all over. Peel the eggs starting at the wide end where there’s an air pocket.  Refrigerate if not using right away.

Cook’s Illustrated explains that when the cold eggs hit the boiling water, the thin membrane between the white and the shell separates from the white and adheres to the shell.

Once you have perfectly peeled hard-cooked eggs, there are myriad ways to fill them.  These Southern-style Jalapeno Pimento Cheese Deviled Eggs are my new favorite and will be on my Easter table!

Before moving to the South from Wisconsin almost 24 years ago, I had not experienced Southern food at all.  Where I lived, food was about brats, fish fries and cheese curds.

One of the first Southern specialties I experienced was pimento cheese.  The combination of cheddar cheese, mayonnaise and diced pimentos is a Southern staple and every Southern cook worth their grits has their own version.

To make the jalapeno pimento cheese, start with a good prepared pimento cheese then simply kick it up with fresh jalapeno.  If you want to make your own pimento cheese, here’s my basic recipe:

BASIC PIMENTO CHEESE

1 ½ cups mayonnaise
1 jar (4-ounce) diced pimentos, drained
1 tablespoon finely grated yellow onion
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
1 block (8-ounce) yellow extra-sharp Cheddar cheese, finely shredded
1 block (8-ounce) yellow sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded

Combine mayonnaise, pimentos, onion, Worcestershire and cayenne in a bowl.  Stir in cheese.  Store up to one week in refrigerator.

JALAPEÑO PIMENTO CHEESE DEVILED EGGS
24 servings

1 dozen eggs, cooked, peeled and halved
3/4 cup prepared pimento cheese
1/3 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons Dijon or yellow mustard
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded if desired, finely chopped
Jalapeno slices, for garnish

Remove yolks to a bowl and mash.  Add pimento cheese, mayonnaise, mustard and salt and black pepper and stir until well blended.  Alternately, combine in a food processor and process until smooth.

Stir in chopped jalapeno.

Refill eggs with pimento cheese combination.  Garnish with jalapeno slices.

SERVING SUGGESTION:  Because every guest may not like the intense heat of fresh jalapeno slices, garnish every other egg and leave some slices off to the side.

Chefs, what are your favorite (or your clients’) Easter dishes? How do you make deviled eggs?

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!

Photos by Carol Borchardt

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Passover is coming soon. In fact, it begins at sunset on April 19. If you’re cooking a seder for clients or meals for observant Jewish clients you know that there are some basic rules you have to follow. I’m not going to go through it all here, but send you off to a site that outlines what is “chametz” or leavened and what is “kitniyot” or food that traditionally Ashkenazi, or Eastern European, Jews don’t eat during Passover. Sephardic, or Middle Eastern, Jews have somewhat different Passover traditions, which you can learn about here
I thought I’d ask one of our longtime members, Shelbie Wassel for some recipes that might inspire you. She provided three that sound divine: Coffee Brisket, Gefilte Fish, and Passover Profiteroles. I’ll let Shelbie take over from here: 

Shelbie Wassel

As Passover is a sentimental holiday in many regards, my family and clients seem to navigate towards traditional recipes. I think the most requested recipe this time of the year, is the coffee brisket. I found this recipe many, many years ago published in the Baltimore Jewish Times. The “JT”, as we locals call it,  is a weekly magazine that provides local, national and international news pertaining to the Jewish community. One edition had locals submit their favorite brisket recipe and Mrs. Ribakoff”s recipe for coffee brisket was the editors choice. I’ve tweaked it a bit over the years, but I still love the veggie gravy that is created in a blender after cooking. As with any first cut brisket, the trick is to leave a good layer of fat on its bottom side during cooking. After it’s cooked, the fat can be easily removed and sliced cross wise into ( my preference) thin slices.

Another Passover favorite for Seder and then served as either an appetizer or lunch dish is Gefilte fish…  Yes, it’s definitely an acquired taste. Many believe you must grow up with the concept of a fish meatball covered by gel and a monster sized carrot slice. The term “gefilte” is translated from the Yiddish word for “stuffed”. Originally, the ground mixture was stuffed into fish skins. Can’t say I’m sorry that the practice of “ fish skin stuffing” was abandoned somewhere down the pike. (fish pun intended). Now, gefilte fish is stuffed into jars with labels like Rokeach and Manischewitz. Passable in a pinch, the jarred variety is far more filler than fish.
I have concocted a homemade recipe that is less time consuming and less labor intensive than what our grandmothers made. I have also been able to reduce the cost of the fresh fish by shopping at H Mart, the Korean grocery store. Otherwise, the fresh fish can cost a mortgage payment.
Lastly, I am including one non-traditional Passover recipe for dessert. I’ll go on record saying that I loathe many of the traditional Passover desserts. They often use 12 eggs and create a cake that is never meant to leave the pan. ( Passover trifles were created just for this reason.) The other choice is Passover cake meal, which as a derivative of matzoh meal, is the reason stewed prunes became a Passover regular. While I generally do not mix dairy with meat during the Passover Seder, my profiteroles can be made with Almond milk and nondairy chocolate chips to create a parve dessert. These  chocolate profiteroles ( IMHO) are fabulous! Made with potato starch, the custard is rich and creamy… And, the profiterole shell could be used for other ideas.

Mrs. Ribakow’s Brisket
Serves 6

Ingredients
3 ½ – 4 pounds brisket, first cut
2 medium onions cut into chunks
1 bunch of celery, leafy tops only, sliced
1 large bay leaf
1/3-cup ketchup
½ cup black coffee
Salt and pepper

Directions
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Sprinkle salt and pepper on the bottom of a roasting pan. Place brisket in the pan and sprinkle top of brisket lightly with more salt and pepper.

Arrange onions and celery around and on top of the brisket.

Drizzle with the ketchup.

Roast meat, uncovered, for 15 minutes to sear.

Reduce heat to 350 degrees.

Add the bay leaf, coffee, and cover tightly with foil.

Continue cooking for approx 2 ½ hours longer. Meat should feel tender when fork is inserted in the thickest part.

Cool before slicing. Refrigerate gravy and veggies. Skim off fat.

To serve: Puree gravy and veggies in a blender. Pour over sliced brisket and heat through.

Shelbie’s Gefilte Fish

Yield: 12 to 13 pieces
Ingredients
4 pounds, non-oily white fish fillets…let’s mix a few (snapper, haddock, cod) preferably on sale.
2 cartons fish stock, available next to the boxed chicken stock
3 large carrots, plus 2 additional large carrots, cut into diagonal slices for garnish
A bunch of celery
One large onion
3 large eggs, beaten
¼ cup matzo meal
Several cups of water
A little bit of bland veggie oil
About 1 ½ – 2T salt
Freshly ground pepper
1T sugar, optional

Directions
In a large stockpot, empty the contents of both cartons of fish stock. Add 1 roughly chopped carrot, a stick of celery, and ¼ of the onion. Bring to a gentle simmer while preparing the fish mixture.

In your food processor, grind about 2 carrots, 3 sticks of celery and ¾ large onion. Scrape the bowl and place the ground veggies in a large prep bowl. Cut the fish fillets into large chunks and add to the food processor. Give a few good swirls in the processor until the fish is nicely ground.
Add the ground fish to the veggies and mix well. Add the matzo meal, eggs, and about one tablespoon of oil. Mix well. Add freshly ground pepper and salt (sugar, if using)
Chill the fish mixture for a few minutes in the fridge to make handling easier.
Remove veggies from the stock and discard. Shape the fish into ovals and gently place into the simmering stock. Once all of the fish ovals have been placed in the pot, add enough water to cover the fish. Cover with a lid and keep at a simmer for about an hour.
 Towards the last 20 minutes, add the carrot slices to the stock. Strain the fish pieces and top with a carrot slice. Pour a little stock over the fish and allow to cool.
Serve with horseradish.

Shelbie’s Passover Profiteroles (Dairy)
Yield: At least one dozen

Choux Pastry
Ingredients
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter or margarine
1-cup water
1cup matzo cake meal
Pinch of kosher salt
4 large eggs

Directions
Place butter, water and salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the matzo cake meal all at once and stir vigorously.

Cook, until mixture forma a ball. Remove from heat and cool slightly.

Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each.

Using a large spoon, drop about 2 T of batter, roughly 2 inches apart. With wet fingers, lightly create a rounded mound.

Bake 15 minutes at 450 degrees, then reduce heat to 325 degrees and bake for 15 minutes longer or until lightly browned.

Remove with spatula and allow cooling on racks.

Pastry Cream
Ingredients
1/3-cup sugar
3-½ T potato starch
6 lightly beaten egg yolks
2 cups milk or unsweetened almond milk
1 t vanilla

Directions
Mix sugar, potato starch and egg yolks in a saucepan. In another saucepan, heat the milk until bubbles form along the edges. Cool the milk for a minute or so. Slowly, pour the milk over the egg yolk mixture, stirring rapidly with a whisk.

Cook over low heat, stirring until mixture is thick and smooth. Cool and add vanilla. Chill in refrigerator until very cold.

Chocolate Glaze
Ingredients
1-cup semi sweet chocolate chips
2T unsalted butter or margarine
2-3 T milk or almond milk
1 t vanilla or 1 T instant coffee granules

Directions
Combine in small saucepan over double boiler. Mix gently until combined.

Cut cooled pastry in half. Fill with cream and drizzle chocolate on top.

 

Chefs, do you have favorite Passover recipes you create for clients? 

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

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

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Celebrating Norooz

Filed under: Holiday Foods,Recipes , Tags: , , , , , — Author: Caron Golden , March 11, 2019

This year Norooz, the Persian New Year, begins on March 21. Celebrating Norooz, which means “new day,” is a very old celebration that has nothing to do with religion. It marks the transition from winter to spring and is filled with feasting.

In fact, the holiday, celebrating the vernal equinox, has been a part of the culture of the people of Iran and Mesopotamia since antiquity and is deeply rooted in the rituals and traditions of the Zoroastrian, the religion of ancient Persia before Islam. Weeks before, people will put seeds of grass or lentils or wheat or mung beans in water in a decorative pot so that they will sprout by the first day of Norooz—bringing to life the concept of growth and the arrival of spring. Then the house gets a thorough spring cleaning.

Norooz is celebrated for 12 days, but my friend Mahin Mofazeli, who owns a Persian restaurant in San Diego called Soltan Banoo, explained that on the 13th day, Sizdeh Bedar is celebrated. In Iran, she said, the tradition was to leave the city and go for a picnic to “get rid of the thirteenth.” They’d bring the sabzeh that had grown tall in the pot and tie knots in the young growth, then make wishes on the knots. Then they’d leave them behind, throwing them in the river, before returning to the city because after that, having the sabzeh would be bad luck.

So, what foods are made for the new years?

The first thing to know about Persian food is that everything starts with basmati rice. Know how to make this well and you have the foundation for numerous dishes. The rice requires rinsing a couple of times to remove the starch and then soaking to reduce cooking time. When you’re ready to cook it, you’ll drain the water and transfer the rice to a large pot of boiling water containing a little olive oil where it will cook, uncovered, for 10 to 15 minutes.

Perhaps the most traditional Norooz dish is Sabzi Polo, or Rice with Fresh Herbs. The herbs usually include cilantro and parsley, but could also include dill weed and fenugreek. At the bottom of the pot is really the best part—the tahdig, a crunchy layer formed by rice or bread or sliced potatoes, or even tortillas. Mofazeli prefers potatoes. She slices russets with the skin on and makes a single layer on the bottom of the pot, which already has a little olive oil and saffron water (she always has a mixture of that in her kitchen), then starts layering with rice, then herbs, then more rice, then more herbs until she’s used all the ingredients. She’ll add a little saffron water, then put it on the stovetop over fairly high heat to cook uncovered for about five minutes. Then she puts on the lid, lowers the heat, and lets it cook for about 30 minutes. The dish is traditionally served with Mahi, or fish, since it represents abundance. In Persia, it’s white fish from the Caspian Sea.

For a true feast,Sabzi Polo can be accompanied by dolmehs, or stuffed grape leaves; kookoo sabzi, an herbaceous omelet-like dish; Baghali Ghatogh, lima beans with egg and dill; and pastries like honey-soaked baklavah.

Norooz Pirooz! Wishing you a prosperous New Year!

Sabzi Polo (Rice with Fresh Herbs)
Serves 6

Ingredients:

½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 ½ cups water
½ teaspoon ground saffron dissolved in 4 tablespoons hot water
1 large russet potato, sliced
3 cups cooked basmati rice, prepared using the four steps
1 large bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
1 bunch fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped
1 bunch scallions, chopped
3 whole cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
3 whole cloves garlic or green garlic
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Directions:

  1. Whisk together 4 tablespoons oil, ½ cup water and 1 tablespoon saffron water. Spread the mixture on the bottom of a large non-stick pot. Place a layer of sliced potatoes on the bottom of the pot.
  2. Cover potatoes with a layer of rice. Combine the herbs and then add a layer of the herbs and the crushed and whole garlic over the rice. Repeat the layering of the rice and herbs, adding a sprinkling of cinnamon between the layers.
  3. Pour a mixture of 4 tablespoons oil and 1 cup of water over the top of the rice and add the remaining saffron water.
  4. Place pot on medium high heat for five minutes, uncovered. Then cover the pot, reduce the heat and cook for 30 minutes.
  5. To serve, spoon out the rice onto a platter. Garnish with the potato tahdig and serve with fish.

Do you celebrate Norooz? Have you ever made any Persian dishes?

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No doubt over the last few weeks you’ve been binging on holiday cookies–or at least recipes for them. I studiously avoided adding to the glut. But here it is a week from New Year’s Eve and all I can think about are the beautiful snowball cookies I grew up with.

You may have seen variations on these. I’ve seen them called alternately Mexican Wedding Cookies and Russian Tea Cookies. In our home, they were snowballs–and why not, what with the double dipping of these spheres into powdered sugar.

These cookies are addictive, mostly because they’re not overly sweet. Yes, they’re coated in powder sugar, but in the cookie dough itself, there’s a mere tablespoon of sugar. The rest is butter, flour, vanilla, a pinch of salt, and toasted nuts (preferably toasted chopped pecans). It’s that very classic combination of vanilla, butter, and nuts that is so compelling.

And, they have a classic aura of elegance. They can be dressed up on a pretty plate and be a perfect accompaniment to New Year’s Eve champagne. As a thank you to clients who enjoy a good cookie, you can’t beat these–and they’re easy to make. You just need a whole lot of powdered sugar! And the willpower to not eat them all yourself. FYI, they freeze wonderfully!

I’ve always referred to these as my Nana Tillie’s cookies. Back in the day after I had graduated from UCLA and moved to New York, she regularly packaged them in a shoebox and sent them to me with her unusual chocolate bit cookies (chocolate chip squares topped with meringue and walnuts), rugelach, and mandelbread (a recipe I’m not allowed to give out to anyone outside of our family). I lived for their delivery and I always became everybody’s best friend at my job on the 33rd floor at The William Morris Agency when they arrived. I have Tillie’s handwritten recipe for the snowballs and at the top of the page she attributes it to my cousins’ grandmother Ida. But, my mother insists that she actually gave Nana the recipe. So, these are now Evie’s Snowball Cookies. Whoever came up with them, all I can say is thank you. They remain my favorite and I hope become yours and your clients’.

Happy New Year!

Evie’s Snowball Cookies
Yield: About 40 cookies

Ingredients
1 cup butter, room temperature
1 tablespoon powder sugar
2 generous tablespoons vanilla
2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup chopped, toasted nuts (I prefer pecans but you can also use walnuts)
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups powder sugar

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
2. Cream butter. Add the rest of the ingredients up to the 2 cups of powder sugar. Mix well.
3. Form balls about the size of ping pong balls and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 30 minutes until just brown.
4. Add the 2 cups of powder sugar to a medium-size bowl. When the cookies come out of the oven, start dunking and rolling in the powder sugar. You’ll do this twice. The first round, while they’re still hot, is to get the sugar into the cookie. The second roll is for decoration.

Note: Cookies can be frozen before or after baking.

What are your treasured family cookies? How do you thank clients at the end of the year?

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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Holiday Brunch Blintzes

Filed under: Holiday Foods,Recipes,Vegetarian , Tags: , , — Author: Caron Golden , December 17, 2018

Are you going to be catering holiday brunches? Have you considered making blintzes for guests? They’re easy enough for a kid to make (I’ve been making them since I was a child) but sophisticated enough to impress. Plus, you can make them in advance and freeze them, meaning all you have to do the day of is fry up the defrosted blintzes to serve. You can even make the fruit compote ahead and freeze that. What’s not to love?

Unfamiliar with blintzes? Okay, you don’t want to miss these. They’re thin pancakes that are crepes-like (but with more eggs and no milk), cooked only on one side, then stuffed with a filling (traditionally cheese or fruit compote to be a dairy dish, but they can also be savory and have a meat filling). Once filled, they’re pan fried. The sweet, dairy blintzes are traditionally topped with sour cream or a fruit sauce. Think Eastern European Jewish breakfast burrito.

Earlier this fall I had a cook date with a chef friend who actually asked me if she could come over and make them with me. She had a craving and figured this Jewish girl could help fill it. And this Irish-American introduced me to a slightly different approach to the cheese filling that totally won me over. Instead of the traditional eggs and ricotta and cinnamon sugar my Nana Tillie taught me, my friend Maeve Rochford blends goat cheese and ricotta with melted butter and sugar. So the filling remains creamy and full bodied, with a slight tang.

One thing I love about making blintzes is how forgiving the batter is. Eggs, water, sugar, flour, and vegetable oil come together in a mostly smooth, just slightly thickened texture. Whisk it together well to get as many lumps as possible out–but don’t worry if some remain. Heat a non-stick pan and add just a bit of oil. Using a ladle drop a couple of ounces into the center, swirling the batter around until you get a nice large circle. Let it sit until the edges curl up. You won’t be flipping it. Instead slide it onto a plate and then start the next one.

At this point, if you aren’t ready to actually make the blintzes, you can just refrigerate the crepes for a few hours or overnight. You can also prep the blintzes, which involves dropping a dollop of the filling onto a blintz crepe and folding it up like a burrito. Wrap them well to freeze them until you’re ready to defrost them and then pan fry them in butter. So, yes, they’re very versatile.

And we haven’t even discussed the compote, which is divine. Maeve and I collaborated on this. Here’s our blueprint, but feel free to riff on it with flavors you enjoy. We used citrus liqueur, honey, lemon zest, and lemon juice with the fresh blueberries. Simmer and stir it over heat until the blueberries begin to burst. You could just as easily, with just as marvelous a result, use sugar and cinnamon, and no liqueur.

You can also go seasonal and make an apple compote or applesauce. Or come up with other toppings for the season: jams, a sweet compound butter, even maple syrup or chocolate sauce.

(But make the compote. It’s really good!)

Cheese Blintzes with Blueberry Compote
Yield: 12 blintzes

Ingredients
Crepes:
5 eggs, beaten slightly
2 cups water
1 ½ teaspoons sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons vegetable oil

Filling:
Maeve’s version
2 cups ricotta cheese
12 ounces goat cheese
¼ cup butter, melted
¼ cup sugar

OR

Nana Tillie’s version
2 eggs
1 pound ricotta cheese
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon sugar or to taste

Blueberry Compote:
¼ cup water
¼ cup citrus liqueur, like Cointreau (or substitute with more water)
½ cup honey
Lemon zest from half a lemon
10 ounces (2 cups) fresh blueberries
1 ½ tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Directions
Make the crepes by beating the 5 eggs slightly. Add the water and sugar and beat together. Slowly beat in the flour until smooth. A few lumps are okay.

Set out a plate covered with wax paper. Heat a skillet and brush it lightly with vegetable oil. Using a 2-ounce ladle, scoop in some batter and pour it onto the skillet. Tilt the pan all around so the batter forms a circle around 9 inches in diameter. Don’t worry about perfection. This is a homey dish.

Return the skillet to the heat and let the crepe cook until the edges curl up slightly and the surface is cooked entirely–you won’t be flipping them to cook on the other side. Use a spatula to help you turn out the crepe onto the wax paper on the plate. Then brush the pan again and repeat until you use up all the batter. You should have a dozen crepes. You can make these a day ahead. Just cover the crepes and store in the refrigerator.

To make the blueberry compote, bring to the boil compote ingredients. Simmer, stirring periodically, 3 to 5 minutes until the blueberries begin to burst. Remove from heat. Set aside.

To make the filling, blend together the ingredients from either of the choices above.

Make the blintzes by placing 2 to 3 tablespoons of the filling in the center of the crepe. Fold the bottom half over the filling. Then fold the sides in. Then fold the top down over the center. Refrigerate until ready to fry.

Heat a sauté pan and add butter. Once the butter has melted add three to four (or five, depending on the size of the pan) and fry at medium heat until the first side browns, then flip the blintzes and brown on the other side. Serve with the blueberry compote.

The blintzes can be frozen before or after frying. The compote can also be frozen.

Are you catering holiday brunches this year? What are your go-to dishes?

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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.

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