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?

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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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.

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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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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Swiss Chard Pesto for Kids

Filed under: Business Strategies,Recipes,Vegetarian , Tags: , , — Author: Caron Golden , November 4, 2019

We’ve written here periodically about teaching cooking classes for kids. Well, I was looking back at an old calendar and saw entries for classes I used to teach as a volunteer at Olivewood Gardens in National City, just south of San Diego. Olivewood Gardens is a non-profit oasis in a fairly low-income community, with organic gardens and a Queen Anne house outfitted with a kitchen where classes are taught to school kids. Olivewood Gardens is designed to help families learn where their food comes from and help them learn how to prepare nutritious and delicious meals. What’s taught at Olivewood is part of the school curriculum and kids come one or two times a year. On any given day there, I’d teach six, 25-minute classes to a group of about a dozen kids.

I thought I’d share my experience there as inspiration for some of you chefs who may also be interested in working with families on these issues and demonstrate how exciting and easy to develop recipes for and cook with children.

Back on that November morning the dish I decided to make with the kids, who were in the fourth and fifth grades, was a lavash pizza with garden veggies and Swiss chard pesto.


See, we had several criteria for our recipes — they needed to be nutritious, they needed to be able to be made and eaten in 25 minutes, they had to be something the kids could help prepare, and the ingredients had to include produce grown in the gardens. As we all know, with November the pickins are a little slim–even in Southern California. What did they have in abundance? Swiss chard. So, I played around with the pesto idea and came up with a recipe that tasted good and also would be fun for the kids to squirt out of a bottle and decorate their pizzas. Sort of a cooking/art project.

The kids, of course, were completely unfamiliar with lavash (and we discovered they also need help with geography since they had no clue about what countries make up the Middle East), but they were open to trying it. First came a layer of shredded mozzarella. Then they each added a rainbow of veggies that could include mushrooms, broccoli, cherry tomatoes, red onions, red peppers, jalapenos, grated carrots, sliced black olives, zucchini, and tomatillos. Then a little more cheese followed by squirts of the pesto.

Each square went into a 375-degree oven for about 13 minutes. I have to say they were delicious and the kids loved them.

Now, here’s the kicker. By the third class I was looking to change things up so when we were making the pesto I asked the kids if they wanted to add any other ingredients and see what would happen. They decided on a handful of chopped tomatillo and a few tablespoons of chopped chives. And, it was delicious! Even better than the original, plus the kids were thrilled that they had created a recipe.


Swiss Chard Pesto
Makes 2 cups

1 pound Swiss chard (or kale, spinach, or other leafy green)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon lemon juice
½ teaspoon honey
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
3/4 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground pepper
½ cup or more olive oil
(feel free to add about 1/2 a cup of chopped raw tomatillo and 3 tablespoons of chopped chives)

Carefully wash the Swiss chard leaves. Remove the tough central ribs, then tear into smaller pieces.

Purée all the ingredients in the food processor or blender to form a smooth paste. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Store in the refrigerator in a glass jar, covered with a thin layer of oil, where it will keep for a week or more. It also freezes well.

Do you teach kids cooking classes? What kinds of recipes do you develop for them?

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

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

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Over the years one thing I’ve learned from APPCA executive director Candy Wallace is how important client care is. By nature Candy is someone who is generous to others and loves surprising them with treats. But she’s also a smart businesswoman–and letting clients know how special they are to you is an important aspect of successfully running your business.

That’s why this time of year I like to offer ideas and recipes for edible gifts that you can make to give to clients for the holidays. Whether you make them or use them as inspiration for treasures you dream up, it should be a pleasure to offer a token of your appreciation you know your clients will enjoy, along with a sweet note that expresses that appreciation and your excitement about working with them in the coming year. And it’s also a smart gesture to make to potential clients you’re trying to win over.

The treat I’m offering you this week is something you can make now and store away for a couple of months. Pickles, of course, are a delight to many. These pickled watermelon gherkins are very special, if only because they’re so compellingly unusual. I got this recipe from my friend chef Kelli Crosson of A.R. Valentien in La Jolla, California, who I first made them with to give out at a big annual fall food event, Celebrate the Craft.

First, something about watermelon gherkins. These heirloom gherkins are known by numerous names, including Mouse Melons, Mexican sour gherkins, Cucamelons, and Cuka-Nuts. They’re treated as cucumbers, but technically they’re a different genus so they’re more like “honorary” cukes. They’re tiny, about the size of a grape, and look just like ultra-mini watermelons. They’re terrific for pickling, but you can enjoy them raw, add them to a salsa, or even to a cocktail. The question, of course, will be if you can find them in your city or town. If you have a specialty market that services restaurants, that would be the first place to look. And farmers markets, since farmers across the country do grow them. But hurry, as the weather co0ls, they’ll become harder to find this season.

Start, of course, with sterilized half-pint glass jars and lids. Then begin adding the herbs and spices. Slice and distribute the serrano chiles. Then add the little gherkins, followed by a classic pickle brine of water, distilled white vinegar, sugar, and kosher salt that has been brought to a boil.

(And if you’re a pickling geek, check out this stainless steel confectionary funnel I use to inject the water/vinegar mixture into the jars. It gives so much control with hot liquids!) Screw on the lids and place the jars into a water bath. Once they cool, label the jars and store in a cool, dark pantry until you’re ready to gift them.

Pickled Watermelon Gherkins are itty bitty flavor balls–crispy with a little saltiness, a hint of clove, and a pleasing hit of heat on the palate.

Pickled Watermelon Gherkins
from Kelli Crosson of A.R. Valentien

Makes 2 pints

1/2 pound watermelon gherkins, washed with stems removed
1 1/2 cup distilled white vinegar
1 cup water
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 serrano chile, halved
4 garlic cloves
2 cloves
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon black peppercorns

1. Wash and sterilize two pint jars and lids, per manufacturer instructions.
2. In a non-reactive saucepan, bring the vinegar, water, salt, and sugar to a boil.
3. Meanwhile, divide the serrano, garlic, clove, bay leaf, mustard seed, and peppercorns between the jars, and pack with the watermelon gherkins.
4. Pour hot brine over the gherkins, leaving a 1/4-inch headspace.
5. Close the jars and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.
6. Store in a cool, dry, dark place for at least two weeks before eating the pickles. After opening, store in the refrigerator.

What do you make for clients–or potential clients–for the holidays? 

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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Classic Filipino Adobo

Filed under: Recipes , Tags: , , , , — Author: Caron Golden , October 14, 2019

I don’t know about your community, but in San Diego we are enjoying a boom of Filipino-American chefs who either are running Filipino restaurants or putting a Filipino flavor spin on fine dining restaurants. Back in 2018 I shared a recipe here from my friend Anthony Sinsay for his Mussels Adobo–one of my favorite dishes. He’s since moved on to Seattle, where he is the chef at Outlier.

 

Another chef friend, Evan Cruz, took the time a few years ago to introduce me to his family and their market, JNC Pinoy Food Mart. Here Cruz’s aunt Nora served me house-made pancit, a dish that revolves around thin rice-stick noodles tossed with pork, shrimp, and chicken. There was kare-kare, a rich mixture of thick peanut sauce, eggplant, and string beans. I enjoyed taro leaves cooked in coconut milk like spinach, classic lumpia—a Filipino spring roll stuffed with ground pork, beef, onion, carrots, celery, and water chestnuts—and crispy pork belly served with what’s called liver sauce. After all, this is a culture that uses everything from the animal. The pig’s innards are used to make a rich brown sauce.

Then Cruz’s grandmother, Rosario Cruz, showed me how to make a family and customer favorite, turon. This dessert version of lumpia is something you’d find as a mirienda, or snack, in the Philippines and is especially popular with kids. Cruz said the best ones are sold by vendors in front of elementary schools—like an ice cream truck. The dish is simple. Using a lumpia wrapper, which is just made of flour and water, you place slices of plantain or pear banana and jack fruit on the wrapper. Then sprinkle a good tablespoon of sugar over the slices. Fold the bottom of the wrapper over and tucked under the fruit and sugar. Roll, bring in the sides, moisten the top inside of the wrapper with a slurry of cornstarch and water so it will adhere to the rest of the wrapper, and finish rolling. Chill for a day, then fry in vegetable oil and finish in caramel. Easy. But let it cool so you won’t burn your tongue.

Cruz, whose grandmother taught him many of the dishes he grew up with, showed me how to make the classic Filipino adobo, with the caveat that everyone in every village throughout the Philippines makes it slightly differently. His adobo is what he calls “dry,” and features pork or chicken. He noted that anything that can be braised can be an adobo. Those living by the sea, like his maternal grandparents, tend to make it with octopus or squid. His paternal grandparents lived inland. The sauce ingredients are simple—soy sauce, distilled vinegar, water, bay leaves, garlic, black peppercorns, and canola oil. While others include onion, Cruz doesn’t. It’s not part of his family tradition.

Now, the polite way to eat adobo is over white rice. But Cruz laughed when he told me that he and his younger brother Marc always fought as kids over the way their dad prepared it—adding the rice to the finished adobo so that it could caramelize and get crispy. And, Cruz made it for me like that, too.

Some family traditions are universal.

Chicken or Pork Adobo
From Evan Cruz
Serves 4

Ingredients
4 pounds chicken , cut into 8 pieces or chicken wings
Or you can substitute cubed pork shoulder or belly
2 cups low sodium soy
2 cups white distilled vinegar
2 cups water
4 bay leaves
8 ounces garlic, peeled
2 ounces black peppercorns
2 ounces canola oil

Directions
In a large pot, add all ingredients except the canola oil and bring to a simmer. Cook for about and hour and a half or until the meat is tender. You can serve it as is or follow the next step.

Remove half the meat and continue to reduce liquid by half.

In a large sauté pan over medium heat add canola oil. Add meat and lightly sauté. Add reduced sauce and reduce until sauce glazes meat.

Serve with steamed white rice.

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

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This time of year I wish I lived in New Mexico–and for one very specific reason. It’s Hatch chile season. This year Labor Day barely passed when I came across them at my local Sprouts. I also see them at farmers markets and more conventional supermarkets. I assume that across the country they make a play as well. Don’t ignore them. Scoop up a couple of pounds of these long, firm green chiles and head back to your kitchen or your client’s kitchen to roast them.

I wish I could tell you I had some fantastic hand-cranked fire-roasting contraption that you see at the farmers markets. Nope. It’s just the chiles, heavy cookie sheets, and the oven broiler. There’s no special trick to it. Just line them up in a single layer and fire them up. Let your nose tell you when they’re ready to be turned–once–and then removed from the oven. You’ll get the distinctive aroma of burning chiles and, indeed, they should be well charred.

Then it’s time to gather them into plastic or paper bags, close the opening, and let them steam for about 10 to 15 minutes. This helps loosen the thick skin from the flesh. Then peel off the skin, remove the stem and seeds, and chop or slice them. I bag what I don’t use immediately and put them in the freezer, so I have them to use the rest of the year. Which means I’ll be heading back out to Sprouts again soon to stock up.

You could rightly ask at this point, “What’s the big deal about Hatch chiles?” Clearly, there’s some superb marketing going on. The chiles, known as Big Jims, are grown in one region, the Hatch Valley, along the Rio Grande in New Mexico, although it’s also an umbrella term for the green chiles grown throughout New Mexico. Maybe it’s the elevation that makes them so distinctive; maybe it’s the volcanic soil. Or the hot days and cool evenings. Or the combination of all three, plus its short August/September season. Anaheim chiles are descendants of the Hatch chiles, but Anaheims don’t have nearly the allure or the uniquely sweet, smoky, earthy scent and flavor. You can learn more about Hatch chiles in this Bon Appetit article.

Traditionally, your prepped Hatch chile can go into posoles and enchiladas. I have long used them in a pork stew, corn bread, and tomato sauces. They can run from mild to hot, so gauge your accompanying ingredients accordingly, whether its for a savory dish or even desserts like ice cream, cookies, and brownies (you’ll want to use a puree for those to create a uniform flavor).

No time to fuss over a big recipe? Then how about a Hatch Chile Frittata? That’s what I did with a couple of the chiles I had after packaging the rest. There’s no recipe here, just some suggestions.

Take a look in the fridge and see what’s in need of being used. I had a quarter of an onion, a couple of boiled red potatoes, and a wedge of Pondhopper farmstead gouda. It’s a goat milk that’s slightly yeasty thanks to being steeped in beer. It would easily match the flavors of the chiles.

You’ll need a well-seasoned cast iron pan. I have several but my favorite is an eight-inch Lodge pan I bought about 30 years ago at a hardware store on Broadway on the upper west side of Manhattan, where I lived once upon a time. It’s in perfect, shiny condition from years of use.

Heat up the broiler. Slice the onions, chop the chiles and potatoes, and break the eggs. Beat them with a little milk till frothy. Heat the pan on the stove and add about a tablespoon of olive oil. Then add the onions and sauté until they start to brown. Then add the potatoes and do the same, adding some salt and pepper. While they’re cooking, dice up some cheese. Once the potatoes and onions are browned to your liking, reduce the heat and add the beaten eggs. Let them just start to cook, then sprinkle the chile pieces over the forming omelet. Let it cook for a minute or so, then top with the cheese. Use a thick towel or oven mitt and carefully move the pan to the broiler. It’ll just take a minute or two to finish it off.

The result will be a puffy, almost souffle-like egg dish. For me, two eggs and an egg white made a complete solo dinner. More eggs, more servings. Add a salad, a glass or wine or beer and you’ve got an easy meal after a long day of cooking for someone else.

Are you enchanted with Hatch chiles? How do you cook with them?

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

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

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