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

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

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

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

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

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

Macaroni and Cheese

Serves 12 to 16

Ingredients

1 pound elbow macaroni

8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter

6 cups half and half

½ cup all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons kosher salt

¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 cup yellow onion, finely diced

1 bay leaf

2 large eggs, beaten

12 ounces sharp white cheddar, shredded

12 ounces manchego cheese, shredded

Topping

3 tablespoons butter

1 cup panko bread crumbs

Instructions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Be Sociable, Share!

Last Call for Summer: Watermelon Tomato Gazpacho

Filed under: Recipes,Vegetarian , Tags: , — Author: Caron Golden , September 10, 2018

The calendar may say September, but that doesn’t necessarily indicate a sudden shift in the weather. In San Diego, heat waves will continue well into October–and I’m betting that’s no different across the country. So, to help out you and your clients endure those sudden blasts of rising temperatures and humidity, here’s a dish that will make you sigh in relief–and it brings together savory and sweet: Watermelon Tomato Gazpacho.

When I came across this gazpacho in Serious Eats I immediately felt refreshed–and bet you will, too. Instead of prepping a hot soup that you can then chill, here’s a cold summer soup that requires only the patience of waiting for flavors to come together in the fridge, not of schvitzing over a hot stove. The big activities are roughly chopping the fruit and vegetable ingredients and, after they have been mixed together with salt and marinated for an hour to bring out more flavors, puréeing them into soup in your blender. So easy!

So, what besides the watermelon makes this gazpacho unique? Well, first, let’s not under rate the value of the watermelon since who doesn’t love a cold slice in 90° temps plus high humidity? Add that splendid sweet juiciness to a traditional tomato soup and you’ll be sighing in happiness. But the other factor is the substitution of toasted almonds for bread. Now we have a light, low-carb summer soup that adds nuttiness and creaminess.

Like a little heat to offset the sweetness? Me, too. So I added a couple of seeded Serrano peppers from my garden to the soup. It won’t blow your top, but it will give your mouth a little zing, along with the acid of the sherry vinegar.

Top this light soup with crema, sour cream, or, as I did, some crumbles of goat cheese.

Watermelon Tomato Gazpacho with Toasted Almonds
Adapted from Serious Eats
Yield: 2 quarts

Ingredients
6 cups watermelon, roughly diced
2 medium tomatoes, roughly diced
1 medium cucumber, roughly diced
1/2 medium red onion, roughly diced
2 Serrano peppers, seeded and roughly diced
1/2 cup toasted almonds
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt to taste
1/3 cup crema, sour cream, or goat cheese
Additional diced vegetables for garnish (optional)

Directions
1. In a large bowl combine watermelon, tomatoes, cucumber, red onion, peppers, toasted almonds, kosher salt, and pepper. Set aside to marinate for about an hour.

2. In a blender, working in batches, purée the vegetables and their liquid until smooth and creamy. Transfer the soup into a large bowl. Whisk in the sherry vinegar and olive oil. Taste and adjust the seasoning with sea salt and pepper (and even the sherry vinegar, if necessary, to balance the acid).

3. Cover soup and chill in refrigerator at least 2 hours and up to 3 days. Taste and further adjust seasonings if necessary. Ladle soup in bowls and garnish with the crema and diced vegetables.

What are your favorite end-of-summer, no heat dishes to make for clients? What’s your go-to dish for yourself 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!

Be Sociable, Share!

For years I’ve been making pickles, mostly dill pickles. I never really thought of it as “fermenting.” But I recently researched and wrote a story on fermenting vegetables for the San Diego Union-Tribune. It was then that I realized that fermenting was exactly what I was doing. Perhaps you’ve been doing it too. Or, perhaps you’ve been curious about it and intrigued enough to want to do it for clients–perhaps as a gift of a healthy snack.

Thanks to my friend Curt Wittenberg, a scientist who has been fermenting everything from beer to sauerkraut and has been my guru through this, I decided to branch out and pickle some vegetables I had  using a salt brine. (Pickling with vinegar is just pickling.) And that’s what I did last month with a simple quart of vibrant purple cauliflower, a pretty red and yellow stripped bell pepper, huge jalapeños, and lots of garlic cloves. I kind of had the makings of a giardiniera so I thought I’d use the seasonings for that: black peppercorns, dried oregano, celery seeds, and red pepper flakes. No olive oil, though.

And, by the way, this is the perfect post-farmers market shopping project. Do it with your kids or grandkids. Hey, it’s a science project!

I had forgotten that several years ago I had contributed to a Go Fund Me for a little company called FARMcurious that was creating a fermenting set, with lids, stoppers, and airlocks. The set locks out air–and mold and yeast–and provides an escape for carbon dioxide. As a funder, I got one and put it in my garage–and it just became part of the landscape of the shelves. But no more. I pulled it out and was almost ready. But in interviewing Curt I realized I needed two other tools I didn’t even know existed (I had jars): glass fermentation weights, to make sure the vegetables stay covered by the brine, and a vegetable tamper, which you use to cram as much produce into your jar. I ordered those from Cultures for Health.

The process is simple. Chop up the vegetables to the size you like. Make a salt brine of water and salt. Make sure everything you touch–from the jar to the fermenting set to the tamper to the weights–is perfectly clean. Then start filling the jar. Add your spices first, then the vegetables. You can layer them by vegetable type or mix them up. I layered these. Tamp them down. Then add the brine. Top with the weight (and carefully pull out any little random pieces of vegetables or spices. Screw on the lid of the fermenting set. Set it out on your kitchen counter, away from direct sun, and let science do its work.

That’s it. If you don’t have a fermenting set, no worries. I never used one before and have been making pickles for seeming centuries. Instead use a clean lid and “burp” the jar, meaning slightly loosen it and then tighten it again once a day for the first few days. This lets that carbon dioxide escape.

Here’s a quick note from Curt about the proportions for the brine and vegetables. In short, it’s kind of improvisational. It depends on the size of the vegetable pieces and their density. So, he suggests having an extra bottle or bottles in different sizes in case there’s overage. You can always rummage around your fridge and add more vegetables if you didn’t prepare enough for another quart jar. And save any excess brine to add in case some bubbles out of the bottle or to add after you remove your pickle pebble and want to start sampling.

After a few days or up to 12 days (I pegged it for five days, at Curt’s advice, given the hot weather), unscrew the fermenting set and replace it with a regular screw-on lid and refrigerate. Then eat! Add these to a sandwich or a cheese or charcuterie platter–or just snack on them.

So, here we were on Day 1. I was hoping: A) No mold develops and B) It tastes terrific. I expected that those vibrant colors of the first day would fade but with luck/science, the colors would be replaced by big flavor.

Instead, I was surprised to find that the purple from the cauliflower leached through the mixture to create a jar of fuschia pickles. And they are wonderful. Crunchy and briny, but with the essence of oregano coming through. I love snacking on them, even the slices of jalapeños. In fact, they turned out so well I made a second jar with conventional cauliflower and sans the peppers for my mother, who is tickled with them.

Fermented Giardiniera
Adapted from Curt Wittenberg’s Lacto-Fermented Mixed Vegetable recipe
Yield: 1 quart

Ingredients
1 tablespoon coarse sea salt or kosher salt
Approximately 1 1/2 cups water
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon celery seeds
6 black peppercorns
4 or more peeled garlic cloves
1 cup cauliflower, chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 red pepper, cut into bite-sized pieces
3 large jalapeños, thickly sliced

Instructions
To prepare brine, warm 3/4 cups of water, add salt, and stir to dissolve. Add 3/4 cups cold water to bring brine to room temperature.

In a quart jar add the oregano, red pepper flakes, celery seeds, peppercorns, and the garlic cloves. Fill jar with vegetables, leaving about 1 ½ inches of headspace. Pour brine over all, just covering the vegetables and leaving the headspace. Top with the glass fermentation weight.

Cover jar with lid and airlock, if using, or tight lid. Ferment at room temperature for 3 to 12 days. If using a tight lid, be sure to burp the jar by slightly loosening the lid and then tightening it again daily for the first few days of fermentation.

Once the vegetables have developed the desired acidity, move them to cold storage.

Have you gotten into fermentation? What do you make and what advice do you have for beginners?f

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!

Be Sociable, Share!

It’s fig season and if you and your clients are like me you consider figs to be rare and wonderful things that should be enjoyed as much as possible while they’re around.

Now I know personal chefs aren’t usually focused on desserts, but for those of you who have clients who want dessert from you or who cater dinner parties, I hope you’ll try these Orange Poached Figs with Vanilla Custard Sauce. This custard is cooked stovetop. It’s more labor intensive than simple baked custard and you’ll get a bit of a steam facial but the flavor and texture are so marvelous it’s worth it–and can be done in advance if you’re entertaining, then put together when you’re ready to serve it.

To make this delicate sauce you’ll be using a double boiler. To avoid it curdling cook the custard over, not in, the boiling water in the lower pot so it won’t get too hot. Stir the mixture constantly. Cook only until the custard leaves a thick coating on the back of a metal spoon, then remove it from the heat to keep it from cooking. If worst comes to worst and you see streaks of scrambled eggs, you can either pour it through a fine sieve into a bowl or pour it into a blender jar and process it until it’s smooth again, then return it to the heat.

For the figs, poaching is a dream. You can riff on the liquid flavorings–using red or white wine or a dessert wine or water and juice or even balsamic vinegar. Add sugar, perhaps herbs, vanilla, or citrus zest. I focused on orange, with a syrup made of cointreau and orange zest. The flavor perfectly complements the vanilla custard sauce. Combine the ingredients, bring to a simmer for five minutes, then add the figs and simmer for another five minutes. If necessary turn the figs as they’re cooking to be sure the figs poach evenly. Then remove the saucepan from the heat and let the figs cool in the syrup.

When serving, quarter the figs and place them on a plate with a lip and spoon the custard around them.

Orange Poached Figs with Vanilla Custard Sauce
Serves 4

Ingredients
1 cup orange liqueur
Zest of 1 orange
1 1/2 cups water
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 vanilla bean, split
8 fresh figs (I used brown turkey figs)
2 cups milk
4 egg yolks, slightly beaten
1/4 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt,
Seeds scraped from 1-inch length of vanilla bean

Prepare figs first. To make poaching liquid combine liqueur, zest, water, thyme, and vanilla bean into a non-reactive medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer and let simmer for five minutes.

Add figs to the syrup and continue simmering for another five minutes, periodically turning the figs to ensure they cook evening. Remove the saucepan from the heat and let the figs cool for about 10 minutes in the syrup. Then remove to a plate. You can save the syrup by straining it into a container.

Prepare the custard by bringing water in the bottom of a double boiler to the boil. In the top of the double boiler scald the milk. Then slowly stir in the egg yolks, sugar, and salt. Stir the mixture constantly over (not in) the boiling water. Once it has thickened enough to coat the back of a metal spoon remove the custard sauce from the heat and continue beating to release any steam. Stir in the vanilla seeds. Pour into a dish and chill in the refrigerator.

To plate the dish, quarter the figs to show off their interior. Place two each flower-like on a plate with lips or shallow bowl. Carefully pour the custard around the figs.

Do you have a favorite recipe for using figs? Please 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!

Be Sociable, Share!

Chefs, what vegetables are you growing this summer? In my garden I’ve been growing two varieties of sweet Italian peppers: Jimmy Nardellos and Marconi Reds. Both are considered frying peppers, although the Marconi Red–yes, singular; so far I’ve only gotten one–is at least three times the size of the Jimmy Nardellos.

These are what you could call “wash and wear” peppers. They don’t need skinning. They barely need seeding. Put them on the grill, chop and add to a sauce, add raw to a salad, pickle them, or sauté and add to eggs or a quiche or wherever you enjoy a pepper.

I decided to culture bend and create a lovely summer appetizer I call Sweet Italian Peppers and Goat Cheese Toasts–and want to share it with you as an easy and really tasty dish you can create for catering gigs. This doesn’t call for a strict recipe. All you’ll need are olive oil, the sweet peppers, a red onion, garlic, sea salt and pepper, a baguette or long loaf of Italian bread, and a creamy cheese.

Slice the peppers into thin strips. Slice the red onion. Mince the garlic. Sauté them in olive oil until they’re soft and just beginning to caramelize, then season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Want to change up or deepen the flavors? Add capers like I did. Or add toasted pine nuts. Add currants or diced dried figs. Or basil leaves. Or sauté a small amount of fennel root. Or a dash of sherry vinegar or dry sherry or your favorite red wine or balsamic vinegar.

Okay, once you’ve cooked up the peppers, turn on the broiler. Slice the bread in half lengthwise and into individual pieces (about 2 1/2 inches in length), then place in the broiler cut side up for just a few minutes. While the bread is lightly toasting, break up the cheese. It could be mozzarella or ricotta or panela, or–as I used–chevre (remember, I already acknowledged culture bending).

Pull the bread out of the oven and top with the pepper mixture. Then dot with the cheese. Put back under the broiler for about 3 to 4 minutes until the cheese begins to melt or darkens. Remove from the oven to plate and serve.

Have extra pepper mixture? Don’t toss it! Leave it for your clients to add to scrambled eggs. Or a tomato sauce. Make polenta and top each serving with a spoonful. Stir it into pasta. Just don’t waste it!

Do you have a much-loved go-to summer appetizer you make for clients? Please 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!

Be Sociable, Share!

Peach Tomato Panzanella

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s your go-to hot weather dish? 

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!

Be Sociable, Share!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s how making gravlax works:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be Sociable, Share!

Aged Fruit 911: Savory Plum Compote

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plum Compote

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Be Sociable, Share!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Be Sociable, Share!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

 

Tomato Tarte Tatin
4 to 6 servings

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

Preparation
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

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

Transfer onions and brown bits to a bowl.

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

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

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

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

What is your favorite summer dish to prepare for yourself or clients? 

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

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

Be Sociable, Share!

Last updated by at .

Older Posts »