Both of my grandmothers were terrific cooks and one, my mom’s mother, was also an accomplished baker. I have a collection of recipe cards from her, my Nana, but when I was in my 20s I asked her to make me a cookbook of her recipes. By then she was closing in on 80, if not that already. Her memory of exact recipe ingredient amounts was sliding and her handwriting had become a bit wispy. But she accommodated my request and within months presented me with a blue denim three-ring notebook filled with handwritten recipes. I adore that book. It’s on my list of items to grab in case of evacuation.

I’m going to take a big leap and assume that you, too, have some stacks of cherished family recipes in a drawer or box, or shoved into cookbooks. Would I be right as well in assuming that on some to-do list somewhere is a goal of organizing them for yourself or your kids? I ask because I happened upon an article in My Recipes that has all sorts of wonderful ideas for how to turn old family recipes into heirlooms. Sure, there were the expected takes, like the notebook and box for index cards. But the author also surprised me with some unexpected ideas I just have to share. Because it seems to me that if you’re stuck at home looking for a new project to take on after binging on all your favorite shows and mastering baking sourdough bread, creatively corralling all those recipes–perhaps even your own, if not those of parents and grandparents–could be a satisfying activity.

What does the author suggest?

First, the photo album, of course. I’m partial to this idea, along with the next, because I love being able to hold the pieces of notebook paper, the backs of the envelopes, and the stained index cards with my Nana’s or mom’s sprawling handwriting.

Then, there’s the recipe box. This can be as well-ordered with section markers or totally random for the fun of discovery. When my mom sold her house following my dad’s death a few years ago, she gave me a hefty orange recipe box that I periodically riffle through. I even found what had been someone’s (my little brother’s?) art project with a recipe lightly written on it. Was it the first thing she grabbed to take down a recipe from a friend on the phone? I’ll have to ask her.

Now, you could just buy a recipe box on Amazon. Or you could get creative and make one or get a bare bones box and decorate it. Or have a kid decorate it. Or scour Etsy for the recipe box of your dreams.

From inmyownstyle.com

Then the writer surprised me. How about framing favorite old, handwritten recipes? She demonstrates this with recipe cards and burlap as the matting, but whatever works for your style could be wonderful. This is where inspiration from Pinterest could come in handy.

Next came the idea of creating a memory recipe box. This is quite a bit different from gathering and organizing family recipes. Here you’re hitting on a recipe or group of recipes that strike you where you live and build a sort of altar to them, placing them in a shadow box with photos and other items that represent what those recipes mean to you.

WeeCustomDesigns on Etsy

Finally, there’s this very cool idea of transposing a cherished family recipe onto a tea towel or cutting board. Imagine this as a gift idea for relatives who all know and love Grandma’s oatmeal raisin cookies or lasagna. It can be a DIY project (you can go to the original story for a couple of sources) or you could have an artisan do it for you–and you can find them on Etsy.

Do you have a collection of family recipes that need organizing? How have you pulled them together or displayed them?

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Asparagus Season is Almost Here!

Filed under: Recipes,Vegetarian , Tags: , , , — Author: Caron Golden , March 9, 2020

When you were a kid were the food seasons really seasons? Did you have to wait for summer for tomatoes and corn? For fall for apples and chestnuts? For winter for citrus and root veggies? And for spring for asparagus and artichokes?

It seems that with our global economy comes global accessibility year-round to otherwise seasonal food–unless you’re committed to cooking and eating locally. That means that for many of us we can have what we want when we want it, as long as we’re willing to eat food shipped from other countries.

But wasn’t the anticipation of the first of the season produce or seafood or even flowers pretty thrilling? So, here it is March and while I can certainly find asparagus in my local supermarket and Trader Joe’s somehow its appearance at my farmers market or in the display areas for the seasonal produce just makes me happier and more eager to take it home to cook. And it’s almost time!

Back in the day, asparagus was exotic and pricey. At least pricey for my family. I may have first discovered them in their canned form, which is so not a winning introduction. Canned asparagus is overcooked and kind of slimy. But fresh asparagus! Oh, that’s another matter entirely. Especially grilled or broiled.

Now over the years two questions about asparagus persist:

1. Pencil thin or thick? (As if my preferred medium girth weren’t an option.)
2. Eat with your fingers or your fork?

I’d love to know your favorite way to prepare them and hope you’ll share them below. The way I enjoy them the most requires medium girth and a fork at the table–because I cut the asparagus into two-inch pieces. You see, I love them sautéed in olive oil and garlic, before being caramelized by lemon juice, and tossed with toasted sesame seeds and sea salt.

This is the simplest of dishes and yet, to me, is all about the asparagus and how well it marries with each of these few ingredients.

Here’s how it goes down: Wash the asparagus and then snap off the tough, woody bottom end. Slice into two-inch pieces (or as close as you can get). Mince a couple of cloves of garlic. Lightly toast a couple of teaspoons of white sesame seeds. Get a nice juicy slice of lemon (I use Meyer lemons from my garden but a conventional lemon is fine, too).

Now pull out your favorite sauté pan and place it on the stove over medium high heat. To be honest, I have a Scanpan wok that I’ve had forever. I rarely use it for Asian cooking (I have a “real” wok for that) but love to sauté veggies in the Scanpan wok because the flat bottom perfectly fits one of my ceramic stove’s front burners and the swooping sides give me more cooking room.

Add a couple of teaspoons of olive oil and let it heat up a bit, then add the garlic. Once you can smell the garlic’s aroma, add the asparagus. Stir it in to coat with the oil and garlic.

Then be patient and let the asparagus cook for a couple of minutes. Stir and let it sit some more. It takes about six minutes for the asparagus to show signs of browning. You don’t want it overcooked, just a little seared. Then add the lemon juice. Stir and let the juice reduce and caramelize the asparagus. The garlic will turn into brown bits that actually are delicious, not to mention crunchy. Sprinkle the asparagus with sea salt, then toss in the sesame seeds. Mix well. That’s it. Time to plate it.

Sautéed Asparagus with Garlic, Lemon Juice, and Sesame Seeds
Serves 2

Ingredients
2 dozen medium-width asparagus spears (about a pound)
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 teaspoons sesame seeds, toasted
Juice from 1/4 lemon
Sea salt to taste

Directions
1. Wash and trim the asparagus to remove the woody bottom. Slice into two-inch pieces.
2. Heat a sauté pan over medium high and add minced garlic. Once you can smell the garlic, add the asparagus. Stir to coat the asparagus with the oil and garlic. Then let it sit for a couple of minutes. Stir and let it sit some more. Continue to stir a couple of more times until the asparagus starts to brown–about six minutes.
3. Add the lemon juice. Stir and let the juice reduce and caramelize the asparagus. Sprinkle with sea salt and stir in the sesame seeds. Serve.

What spring food are you waiting, waiting, waiting for? And how do you love to prepare asparagus?

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Honey Skillet Chicken Thighs

Filed under: Recipes , Tags: , , , — Author: Caron Golden , February 25, 2020

Chefs are nothing if not creative, but sometimes every cook can get into a rut. And there may be nothing that induces a rut more than your basic roasted chicken. We like what we like. We’ve figured out our perfect technique and favorite ingredients and it’s just an easy go to.

But how about dialing it up a little with a slightly different approach, if not for clients perhaps for yourself? As in a skillet chicken with a finger-licking sauce?

This would certainly work for any piece of chicken–including a whole cut up chicken–but I’m partial to thighs. I love their moistness and flavor.

Since I like to caramelize chicken skin with honey on occasion we start here with honey, along with garlic–such a great pairing. To offset the honey’s sweetness I use anchovies. I have a large tin of salted Sicilian anchovies and they’re perfect to mince with the garlic. Meyer lemons are in season this time of year so clearly they, too, factor in.


Finally, butter. Yeah, butter, browned and foamy and nutty. That pulls it all together.

Making this dish isn’t just a matter of throwing the ingredients together and shoving the pan in the oven to bake for awhile. Nope, you have to hover over the stove to build the flavors.

So, pull out your reliable cast iron skillet and add a tablespoon of unsalted butter. While the butter melts over the heat, season the chicken thighs with a little salt and pepper. Then, with butter sizzling, place the thighs into the skillet to sear, skin side down first, then turned to cook for a few more minutes. Remove, along with most of the pan juices, which you can discard (the juices, not the chicken, of course). Add just a bit more butter to the skillet, scraping up the bits, and gradually the stirred butter foams and browns. To that add the honey, stirring it to get it to dissolve, then the garlic and anchovies. Now don’t make a face. The anchovies are fairly indiscernible in the dish, but create this lovely underlying salty umami.

Once the aroma becomes this side of mouth watering, add the lemon juice. Now you’ve got sweet, salty, and tart in a molten sauce. That’s when you add the chicken back to the pan skin side up and continue cooking, spooning some of that sauce over the chicken to baste. You’ll cover the pan to finish it up before running the skillet under the broiler for a couple of minutes to crisp the skin.

And that’s it. For the effort, you get tender, juicy chicken bathed in one of the best sauces you’ll ever love. Serve it over rice. Serve it over greens. I chose arugula for the spiciness. Then spoon the sauce over it all and swoon a bit.

Honey Skillet Chicken Thighs with Meyer Lemon, Garlic, and Anchovies

Ingredients

4 chicken thighs
Salt and pepper to taste
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 tablespoons honey
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 anchovies, minced
Juice from 1 lemon

Instructions

Preheat your oven to broil.

Melt one tablespoon of butter in a 12-inch oven-proof pan or cast-iron skillet over medium high heat. While the butter melts, season chicken thighs with salt and pepper.

Sear chicken thighs, skin side down first, until the skin is crispy. Turn and sear again until golden. Drain all but about 2 tablespoons of the pan juices. Transfer chicken to a warm plate.

Melt the rest of the butter in the same pan or skillet the chicken was seared in over medium heat, scraping any bits left over in the pan from the chicken with a spatula. Stir the butter and swirl the pan occasionally for about 3 minutes as the butter changes color to golden brown and has a nutty fragrance.

Add the honey and stir it into the butter to dissolve. Then add in the garlic and anchovies. Sauté for about 1 minute until fragrant. Add the lemon juice. Stir well to create a well-blended sauce.

Return the chicken thighs skin side up to the pan with the sauce. Cook for 5 minutes uncovered in the sauce, occasionally basting the skin with the pan juices. Reduce heat to simmer, cover the skillet with a lid, and continue cooking until the chicken is cooked through, about 5 minutes. Use a thermometer to measure the doneness. It will be fully cooked at 165 degrees F.

Remove the lid and transfer the skillet to your oven to broil for another 2 to 3 minutes, or until the tops of the chicken are nicely charred. Then remove from oven.

Serve over rice or a plate of arugula. Drizzle sauce over the chicken and rice/arugula.

Have you recently been in a chicken rut? How did you change things up?

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Homemade Yogurt

Filed under: Recipes,Special Diets,Special Ingredients , Tags: , , — Author: Caron Golden , February 10, 2020

Imagine being a New Stone Age human, just starting to engage in food production back around 9,000 B.C. You have sheep and goats that you’ve discovered are tasty (Domesticated cows wouldn’t show up until about 4,000 B.C.). And, their wool keeps you warm. But what really made them appealing is their milk. It’s so nutritious!

Just one problem that many of your clients can relate to. People—not all, but enough—couldn’t digest it easily. Yep, there was lactose intolerance back in the very old days. But by fermenting the milk—as in creating yogurt and cheese—a lot of that lactose morphs into lactic acid, which is much more easily digested.

Today, of course, there are entire walls of supermarkets dedicated to yogurt. And, yeah, it’s so convenient to toss a bunch of containers into your cart. It’s a great, easily transportable snack, transforms into a beautiful sauce or dip, and, yes, is magical when flavored and frozen.

But you haven’t tasted the real deal until you’ve tasted homemade yogurt. That’s because it’s missing all those chemical additives that keeps the processed stuff more time to languish in your fridge. What you have with homemade yogurt is the milk—cow’s, sheep, or goat—along with some culture. That’s it.

The most important element in making yogurt is the quality of the milk. Sure, you can buy milk, even goat milk, at a market but read the labels and you’ll find they’ve been pasteurized to within an inch of their lives. Your task is to dive into relationships with farmers, Local Harvest, and natural health food stores to find out how you can access farm-fresh milk.

The cooking process is then straightforward. First make sure everything—from utensils to the cooking container—is spotlessly clean. You’ll pour the milk into a stainless steel pot and heat it to about 180 degrees, then cool it down to 115 degrees with an ice bath. The milk is then ready to receive the culture that will transform it. Use either a cup of unflavored yogurt or yogurt culture that you sprinkle on the milk. Stir it in well and then place the yogurt in a water bath. If you have an Instant Pot you can use the Yogurt setting. If not, you can use a clean, sanitized ice chest with water that’s 120 degrees. Cover the milk mixture tightly and let it sit in the chest or slow cooker for up to 24 hours. Then you’ll refrigerate the yogurt, aiming for 38 degrees. If the yogurt isn’t as thick as you’d like, turn it into Greek-style yogurt by hanging it in muslin over a bowl to drain the whey (which you should save and use).

At that point you can flavor it if you want and pour it into individual containers. But first taste it. It will taste like no yogurt you’ve ever had—fresh and tangy and clean. You’ll want to eat it all up or, if you have some will power, use it as an ingredient in a sauce.

Two issues to note: Again, make sure everything involved is scrupulously clean, but if for some reason your creation doesn’t smell like yogurt or cheese, don’t eat it. And don’t flavor it until it’s cooked (except the coconut yogurt, to which you can add agave or other sweetener and vanilla bean). Ford explained that the flavorings will deteriorate the yogurt faster than if it is plain.

Sheep, Cow, or Goat Yogurt
Yield: Depending on the species, yields will vary. Sheep and cow milk will yield between ¾ and 7/8 of a gallon. Goat milk will not have as high a yield. If you make Greek-style yogurt, yield will decrease about 50 percent.

Ingredients
1 gallon fresh milk
Yogurt culture or a cup of yogurt

Tools
Stainless Steel Pot
Thermometer
Extra Fine Butter Muslin
Colander
40-quart Ice Chest, or a Slow Cooker, Ricer Cooker, or Instant Pot

Directions
Pour the milk into a large stainless steel pot on the stove and bring up to 175 to 180 degrees.

Once milk reaches the correct temperature, cool the milk down to 115 degrees by pouring it into a bowl and place that bowl into an ice bath.

When milk is cooled sprinkle culture on top of milk and let hydrate for a minute or two. If you use yogurt simply stir into the milk. Stir yogurt culture into the milk going both directions and bottom to top to make sure the culture is well mixed, otherwise your yield will go down and it can also result in a grainy texture.

In a clean and sanitized ice chest pour in 120-degree water for your water bath. It should be just enough so that the water line and milk lines are level. Not enough can cause yogurt not to fully develop, while too much will cause pot to float and possibly tip over. Cover the pot of milk tightly with lid or plastic wrap. You can also use individual, sanitized glass jars. Close the lid of the ice chest and let sit for 18-24 hours.

As an alternative you can pour the milk into a slow cooker, rice cooker or Instant Pot and set to low or yogurt setting for 12 hours.

Remove yogurt from ice chest/water bath or electric cooker and refrigerate until fully cooled and set.

Once yogurt is well chilled (38 degrees), you can create a thicker Greek-style yogurt by placing the yogurt in a fine butter muslin and colander and letting the whey drain into a bowl. The more you hang and drain the whey the sour/tart flavor will increase. Save the whey and use in smoothies, blend with fruit for frozen pops, or include in sauces.

Have you ever tried to make homemade yogurt? Did it live up to expectations?

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Many clients are eager, especially as part of New Year’s resolutions, to cut their carbs consumption. And yet they still crave a hearty, warming meal–like lasagna. Now, if you have clients who love eggplant–and all the great ingredients that eggplant complements–you can’t go wrong with this faux “lasagna.”

Eggplant is such a versatile vegetable. Fry them, bake them, roast them, marinate them… the list goes on and on. And you find them in so many cultures around the world, which adds even more to their versatility and the range of flavor profiles you can create.

Here’s a dish that features sliced, roasted eggplant; roasted, peeled red and yellow peppers; homemade tomato sauce, rich with spicy Italian chicken sausage and mushrooms; and lots of garlic mixed into the ricotta, Parmesan, egg mixture. Oh, and let’s not forget the panko mixed with grated Parmesan that tops it all off.

All of these ingredients are layered into a deep 9 by 9-inch ceramic baking dish and baked at high heat for about half an hour. It comes out of the oven brown and bubbling from the cheese. Cut into it and you have layers of sublime flavors all complementing each other. Your clients can pair it with a salad and serve it with a crisp white wine. And, you can freeze it before baking or freeze well wrapped baked slices.

Baked Eggplant and Bell Pepper in Ricotta

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil plus 2 teaspoons for the baking dish and to drizzle on the casserole
2 large eggplants, sliced lengthwise, about ½ inch thick
3 bell peppers (any color but green, which is too bitter)
2 fresh spicy Italian chicken sausages
4 ounces Cremini mushrooms, sliced
3 cups marinara sauce
15 ounces ricotta
3 eggs
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese plus ¼ cup reserved for topping
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, minced
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, minced
1 teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup panko crumbs

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 450°.

2. Place eggplant slices on two half sheet baking pans and brush lightly on both sides with 3 tablespoons olive oil. Roast for about 25 minutes, turning slices over halfway. The eggplant slices should be golden brown. Remove from oven and set aside.

3. While the eggplant is roasting, roast the peppers on your stove top or alongside the eggplant until all sides are blackened. Remove and place in a brown paper bag with the top rolled up to steam the skins off the peppers. Wait about 10 minutes and remove the peppers and peel the skins off. Slice in half and remove the core and seeds. Then slice into segments and set aside.

4. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet. Slice through the sausage casings and add the meat to the skillet. Break it up and sauté until browned. Set aside and add the mushroom slices. Let them brown. Add the sausage meat and the mushrooms to the marina sauce.

4. In a medium bowl mix together the ricotta, eggs, garlic, Parmesan cheese, herbs, salt, and pepper.

5. To put the casserole together, brush an 8-inch baking dish with olive oil. Then layer half of the eggplant on the bottom of the dish. Follow that with half of the marina sauce and a layer of the peppers. Spread with half of the ricotta mixture. Repeat these layers and end with the ricotta mixture. Sprinkle the top with the ¼ cup reserved Parmesan cheese and the panko crumbs. Drizzle with olive oil and bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until the casserole is bubbling and golden brown. Let cool about 10 minutes before serving.

What’s your favorite low-carb riff on lasagna? What ingredients do you feature?

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Don’t waste time feeling anything like pity for those of us who live in Southern California and “endure” its  winters. While the rest of the country is digging out of snow over the next few months, we shiver when the temps drop into the low 60s. But it does at least mean we can all agree on one thing: the magical qualities of a steaming bowl of soup. Warming, comforting soup that’s also deliciously healthy with winter veggies.

I’m working on a story for the San Diego Union-Tribune on healthy winter soups and have my recipe line up ready. Somewhat similar to one of these recipes is one I came up with a few years ago when I was gifted with a huge bag of baby spinach, already cleaned and prepped and looking for a purpose. I had just made spanakopita so that was out. There’s only so much spinach salad one person can eat, so that wasn’t going to do it. And back then San Diego was about to get hit with another storm so a cold salad didn’t appeal to me anyway.

I already had the remains (meaning the breast meat) of a rotisserie chicken I had bought at Costco. (Existential question: Does anyone really enjoy a market rotisserie chicken beyond the convenience factor?) I had feta cheese and a just wrinkling jalapeño pepper I needed to use, a huge head of garlic, a quart of vegetable stock and an onion, fresh herbs and Meyer lemons in my garden, and purple prairie barley in the pantry. As I scoured my kitchen and garden I figured, okay, I had the makings of a big pot of soup.

Now you can, of course, add other vegetables to this. Mushrooms, carrots, potatoes, or winter squash would all be nice. You could leave out the chicken for a vegetarian soup or add sausage or other proteins to make it even more hearty. Couscous or rice would work instead of barley. Basically, add whatever your clients will love most. But what you really want to keep in–besides the spinach, of course–is the lemon juice. It’s the magical ingredient that makes this soup special. It turns a very nice conventional soup into something bright and interesting. And makes it the perfect go-to for a chilly cloudy weekend. And it freezes beautifully for clients to store.

Lemony Spinach Soup with Chicken and Barley
Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, diced
1 jalapeño pepper, minced
1 pound baby spinach, thoroughly washed, dried, and chopped
1 quart vegetable or chicken stock
2 cups water
Juice of 1 lemon
8 ounces shredded chicken or other protein (optional)
6 ounces barley
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, minced
1 teaspoon fresh oregano, minced
crumbled feta for garnish

Directions

1. Heat a large Dutch oven and add olive oil. Add the garlic and onion. Sauté until golden. Add the pepper and sauté another 30 seconds.

2. Add the spinach in batches, stirring until it cooks down.

3. Add the stock and water, stirring to mix. Then add the chicken and barley. Bring to a boil, then reduced to a simmer. Cover and cook for about 40 minutes or until the barley is tender.

4. Add the herbs and lemon juice. Stir. Let cook another 5 to 10 minutes.

5. Serve with feta.

What winter soups are you preparing for clients–or your own family? What are your favorite riffs on ingredients?

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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Fennel Gratin

Filed under: Recipes,Vegetarian , Tags: , — Author: Caron Golden , January 6, 2020

Fennel is the coolest vegetable. It’s a bulb and an herb, thanks to its feathery green fronds. The bulb and stems can be eaten raw (think thin slices for a sweet crunchy salad) or cooked–braised, sautéed, roasted, or featured in a soup. It has its own unique anise flavor but is welcoming to all sorts of other flavors. And–at least in Southern California, where I live–it’s a perennial plant.

But, sadly, it’s a much overlooked vegetable. Let’s change that for your clients, especially this time of year when we all want to focus on vegetables, but also are keen for warming food!

For years I’ve used fennel for fresh salads but I’ve also sliced the bulbs in half lengthwise, brushed the surface with olive oil and then sprinkled grated cheese and bread crumbs on top before baking. It’s a side dish I got from my mom.

But, inspired by an eggplant gratin dish I enjoy making, I thought I’d do something similar with fennel. I had two super large bulbs that still had some fronds attached. I separated those and minced them. I then trimmed the fennel top and then cored the bulbs before quartering them. With the oven primed for roasting, the bulb quarters and sliced stems went onto a foil-lined baking sheet (along with some garlic cloves for me to snack on), got drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with salt before going into the oven for roasting for about half an hour.

Then I made a modified sauce with milk, gruyere and parmesan cheeses, green onions for flavor and color, and garlic. I don’t love sauces that drown the main ingredient, but having just enough to bathe and flavor can be delightful. This does it. The onions and garlic were sautéed in olive oil to which I added the minced fronds and fresh thyme from my garden. I mixed them in a bowl with the milk, cheeses, and some salt and pepper.

Once the fennel bulbs came out of the oven, I placed them into a ceramic baking dish I’d brushed with olive oil. I tucked the cheesy oniony mixture over and around them. On top I sprinkled a topping made of panko crumbs and more cheese. Finally, I drizzled olive oil.

Into the oven it all went, back at 400° F for about 25 minutes until it was all brown and bubbly. You know you have something when you take a bite and involuntarily sigh and smile.

Fennel Gratin
Serves 4

Ingredients
2 large fennel bulbs, trimmed and quartered
6 garlic cloves, peeled
2 tablespoons olive oil
pinch of salt
6 green onions, thinly sliced
5 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 tablespoon fennel fronds, minced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, minced
½ cup milk
½ cup grated gruyere cheese
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

For topping:
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
½ cup gruyere cheese
½ cup panko crumbs
Drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 400° F degrees.

Place fennel bulb quarters on a foil-lined sheet pan. Drizzle with 2 teaspoons olive oil and a pinch of salt. Roast for 30 minutes until soft and just becoming brown.

While the fennel is roasting, sauté the green onions and garlic in olive oil (about a tablespoon or more). Don’t brown them. You just want them soft. Add the minced fennel fronts and thyme and cook for another minute. Set aside.

Remove the roasted fennel from the oven and place quarters in a baking dish coasted with olive oil.

In a medium bowl, mix together green onion and garlic mixture with milk, cheeses, salt and pepper.
Spread over the fennel in the baking dish.

To make the topping, combine the cheeses with the panko and evenly spread over the fennel bulbs and green onion and garlic cheese mixture. Drizzle with olive oil.

Bake uncovered at 400° F degrees for 25 minutes until brown and bubbly.

Are you a fennel fan? If so, how do you like to prepare 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.

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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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One of the great things about our website’s forums and our Facebook business and closed group pages is that members share all sorts of great ideas they have about food. When I saw longtime member Suzy Brown’s post about making a lentil-walnut meat substitute I had to ask her to share it here. The owner of Thyme to Heal, Brown has been on a quest to offer clients holistic nutrition therapy. Here we get to share this cool concept and chefs can try it out with their own clients. Thanks, Suzy!

As many people are looking to reduce their animal protein consumption they look to different alternatives to emulate the same taste and texture of animal protein. Some people, like myself, prefer using whole food plant-based foods instead of resorting to the highly processed plant-based foods on the market.

I started using lentils and walnuts in combination to give the texture of ground beef. Even though the taste is not exactly the same as ground beef it is a great substitute even for your pickiest eaters.

When you combine black lentils and walnuts together almost any recipe calling for ground beef can be substituted with 1:1 swap.

Why use lentils? These gems are easy to prepare and are an affordable ingredient to swap in many meals. And they’re so nutritious. One cup of cooked lentils contains around 230 calories, 18 grams of protein, 1 gram of fat, and 16 grams of fiber–both soluble and insoluble. 

As for walnuts, they are a delicious way to add extra nutrition, flavor and crunch to a meal. While walnuts are harvested in December, they’re available year round and are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, and benefit the heart and circulatory system. 

How to Prepare the Lentil Walnut Mince:

Boiled walnuts

I prefer to use the Beluga Black Lentil. I like their texture and flavor, especially when using it as a ground beef swap. For a quick and easy batch which would replace roughly one pound of ground beef I use 1 can of organic black lentils, drained and rinsed, and 1/2 cup of organic walnuts, boiled for 5 to 10 minutes. Then you strain and chop the walnuts into a mince. Combine them with the lentils. That’s it.

Note: Sometimes, I will pulse lentils in a food processor or smash with a fork to give a greater ground beef texture.

So, here’s how I make Lentil Walnut Taco Meat:

Lentil Walnut Taco Meat

  • 1 tablespoon avocado oil
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 recipe of lentil-walnut mince (about 2 cups of mince)
  • 1 can green chilis
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • Salt and pepper to taste

In a large skillet heat avocado oil and add onion. Sauté until golden brown. Add lentil walnut mince and continue to cook until well combined.

Add green chilies and dry spices. You may need to add some water to thin the mix. Continue to cook until you have the texture and consistency of ground taco meat.

Adjust seasonings as needed.

I also like to make Cuban “Beef” Picadillo using lentil-walnut meat. Here’s the recipe:

Cuban Beef Picadillo
Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium large yellow onion, diced
  • 6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • ½ red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • Ground black pepper to taste
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 cup diced Yukon gold potatoes
  • 1 recipe of lentil-walnut mince
  • ¾ cup dry white wine
  • 1 can Fire Roasted Diced Tomatoe
  • ½ cup whole green olives, stuffed w/ pimentos
  • ¼ cup capers, drained
  • Vegetable stock, as needed

Directions

  1. In a large frying pan, heat olive oil over medium-low heat and cook the diced onion until soft.
  2. Add the chopped garlic and tomato paste. Cook until almost golden.
  3. Mix in the bell pepper, cumin, pepper and a little salt – not too much as the olives and capers are salty.
  4. Add potatoes pieces and cook for about 5 minutes.
  5. Add the lentil-walnut and the wine, let the liquid reduce.
  6. Add diced tomatoes. Cook for 5 more minutes and then add the olives and capers.
  7. Add as much stock to cover. Reduce heat and continue cooking over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are ready, the sauce thickens–about 90 minutes
  8.  Taste and adjust any seasonings: salt, pepper, cumin or additional olives/capers.

Have you created any delicious and nutritious meat substitutes you’d like to share?

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 Suzy Brown

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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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