APPCA member Judy Harvey has spent her career feeding people in one way or another. A child of the South, specifically Georgia, Judy came of age on Southern food, eventually launching a career in food service. She honed her cooking skills at home, feeding her family, but got back into the workforce when her kids reached school age as the food service manager at their private school. Yes, Judy was the “lunch lady” at a school that had previously had no food service. For 12 years Judy ran the cafeteria and planned and prepared all of the school’s in-house events–activities like sports banquets and alumni banquets. And then she was diagnosed with inflammatory arthritis, which felled her with pain and what she describes at debilitating fatigue. This was a turning point for her, both in terms of her health and her career. And it’s when she discovered personal cheffing. Today, Judy runs her own business, The Dinner Lady Personal Chef Service, serving central New Jersey. And, what a surprise, it now focuses on people with health issues. Why don’t I let her tell the rest of her story herself. You’re sure to be inspired.
When I was diagnosed with inflammatory arthritis I started to rethink what I was doing and began researching how to start a home-based catering business. In my research I discovered personal cheffing, which I had never heard of at the time.
I decided that this was a much easier business plan and would give me more time to focus on my health. I left my job and jumped right in to learning every thing I could about my new endeavor and also about my disease. I didn’t want to take the pharmaceuticals that were being recommended by my doctors and wanted rather to focus on a healthy lifestyle and nutrition as medicine. I became gluten and sugar free. I cut back dramatically on dairy and also added more organics to my diet.
As my business started to pick up, I found that many people were searching for a chef because of a newly diagnosed health issue and needed a dramatic change in their diet protocol. Purely co-incidentally I had fresh knowledge and understood what they were going through and a had a familiarity in how to cook for them. Of the nine regular clients that I have, seven are gluten free and out of the nine only one client eats a regular diet without restrictions.
So I sometimes call my business extreme personal cheffing! Each client has a very specific diet protocol that I follow. And it seems to be the niche that I have found for my business.
I am willing to work with any clients special dietary needs. I do a lot of research to find exciting meals that fit into their protocol so that they don’t feel like they are deprived. In the beginning of my journey I did see a few different naturopathic doctors who offered dietary advice. Clients sometimes provide me doctor or nutritionist recommended diets. But mostly I use the clients’ dietary guidelines and research online. Blog post are great places, especially for paleo dishes. I use Paleo Grubs a lot, and downloaded their ebook. Paleo often fits into several different profiles, like gluten free.
A book that I found useful for a MS client is Wahls Protocol. This client also gave me literature generated by their doctor which included some recipes.
I recently had a client who could eat only 600 calories a day. That was a challenge! It required 3 ounces of lean protein and 12 ounces of vegetables with each meal. And NO fats at all.
It’s not just about eliminating things from your diet, it’s also about adding things like herbs and certain foods that can help our bodies repair. The changes in my diet have absolutely helped me. I am pain free as long as I adhere to it. I was on the verge of taking a very toxic pharmaceutical and was on a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) drug everyday. I don’t take any meds now, unless I cheat. Then maybe an NSAID for one or two days.
When I meet new people and they discover what I do, inevitably I get asked, “What’s your specialty?” My answer is, “Whatever you’re eating!”
Below is a recipe to look forward to for next fall:
Fall in a Skillet
From Judy Harvey
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
2 tablespoons coconut oil
3 tablespoons bone broth
1/2 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, diced
1/2 pound shiitake mushrooms, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 small butternut squash, peeled and diced
1 shallot, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
Soy sauce or Liquid Amino Acids to taste
2 cups collards, kale, or other greens, chopped
4 sprigs fresh sage or rosemary
1. Place oil and broth in a large skillet over medium heat.
2. Mix in potatoes, mushrooms, pepper, squash, garlic, and shallot.
3. Season with soy sauce or amino acids, and salt and pepper to taste
4. Cook 25 minutes, stirring occasionally until potatoes are tender.
5. Mix greens and herbs into skillet.
6. Continue cooking 5 minutes until greens are wilted.
How did you decide to become a personal chef–or are you considering it? What kind of clientele do you want to serve?
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!
APPCA member Gloria Bakst is a personal chef who specializes in cooking for any medical condition and good health. Among the conditions she focuses on is cancer. We asked her to contribute a guest post here to explain her background, the challenges of working with clients who have cancer, and the discoveries she’s made that have helped them. She generously agreed and even provided us with photos and a soup recipe that she makes for clients undergoing chemo and radiation. If this is an area you are interested in focusing on in your business, you’ll want to read this.
I’ve been doing healthy cooking for the past 40 years. It has been a slow evolution of being educated and applying it to my recipes. I started by taking private macrobiotic cooking classes, which then developed into starting a small catering business.
As a trained personal chef and nutritionist, over the past several decades I’ve cooked for, counseled, and supported individuals seeking to improve their health, lose weight, manage special diets or health conditions, and recover from disease or surgery.
My menus range from macrobiotic to heart healthy, with a focus on flavor and freshness. My current company, Chef Gloria B, continues to offers my personal chef services, including healthy meal preparation customized to clients’ needs, as well as cooking classes and grocery tours.
From 1997 to 2004, while working for Abbott Labs, at ZonePerfect Nutrition, I advised more than 100 people daily on the Zone diet and lifestyle. My weekly “Cooking With Gloria” column on the ZonePerfect website was followed by a quarter million people. I have created hundreds of recipes for health, which have appeared in the Weight Watcher’s Grilling Cookbook, Weight Watchers Meals in Minutes Cookbooks, The Jewish Vegetarian Year Cookbook, and The Healing the Heart Cookbook. These recipes and my approach to a balanced lifestyle have been published by McGraw Hill in my book, ZonePerfect Cooking Made Easy (September 2006).
In 2011, a woman who had stage 4 breast cancer contacted me regarding doing personal chef work for her. She introduced me to Thea, her nutritionist, who had many years working with patients with cancer. Thea gave me a list of foods my client could not have. I cooked breakfast, lunch, and dinner her and it was very challenging because in addition to the restrictive nature of the diet, her taste buds kept changing. However, since I happen to be a person who loves food challenges I was game to figure out how to keep her eating and eating well; it makes me more creative!
I had many opportunities to discuss cooking for cancer clients with Thea. I worked with this woman for four years until she unfortunately passed but I continue to get more clients who have cancer and use Thea’s list whenever I cook for clients. I also got involved with the Cancer Nutrition Consortium. However, I have learned through the years that different nutritionists have different points of view regarding cancer patients and food. I have introduced myself to the nutritionists at Massachusetts General Hospital, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Joslin Diabetes Center. Many are fearful of imposing what they think would be beneficial to the patients because it is restrictive and for fear that the patients wouldn’t eat. Many feel that just feeding cancer patients, because they get so thin, is the most important thing to do.
I have worked with many patients who have liver, brain, throat, lymphoma, and other cancers. The important thing is to find out as much as you can regarding their taste buds at the moment and work at finding creative solutions that will taste delicious and be beneficial.
Because of my background in macrobiotic cooking, I make a bone marrow soup that Thea told me about. This soup is so helpful to all cancer patients’ going through chemo and radiation because it helps to prevent nausea and has all the food important to their health at this time. No, it won’t help them put any weight on but patients aren’t going to gain weight anyway during this period. At least when they have these foods, they are getting excellent nutrition without any negative side effects.
The most important nutrition advice I can give to anyone cooking for anyone with cancer is NO DAIRY OR SUGAR! There is much more but if anyone is interested they can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I get emails from all over the country asking me if I know anyone in their area who could help them. I would like to put together a list of personal chefs who understand how to cook for cancer patient and be able to give referrals.
I feel like this has been my life’s mission. I personally gave up sugar when I was 23 and became lactose intolerant at 37. I really feel as though each step of my journey was about healthy delicious cooking. It’s kept changing as life has taken its course.
Bone Marrow Soup
From Gloria Bakst
Yield: 4 quarts (about 4 days worth of soup)
This soup is intended to nourish the blood. Gloria suggests buying everything organic and from Whole Foods Market. The best bones to get are organic, hormone free, antibiotic-free, beef or bones. Use all the vegetables your client likes in small quantity, it fills up a large soup pot. While she lists vegetables, herbs, and spices below, other optional ingredients are shitake mushrooms, ginger, and various herbs.
1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds beef marrow bones, organic
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme or more
½ tablespoon fresh chopped rosemary or more
3 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley or more
1 tablespoon fresh chopped oregano
1 tablespoon fresh chopped basil
6 to 8 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced
1 bunch small sized beets, boiled with skin removed
1 large bunch beet greens, chopped
1 large sweet onion, chopped
1 large leek, finely chopped
1 bunch baby bok choy (or more)
1/2 to 1 whole burdock root, peeled and chopped (can be found at Asian markets)
2 chopped carrots (or more)
1 bunch baby kale
2 parsnips, peel and chopped
5 fresh turmeric, peeled and chopped (or more)
Himalayan sea salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
In a large pot, place the bones and cover them with purified water. Add thyme, rosemary, parsley, oregano, basil, and garlic. Cover the pot and slowly bring to a boil over medium heat, then lower the heat and simmer for about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
Cut the vegetables into small pieces and place in the pot, along with the turmeric. Cook for an additional 40 to 60 minutes. Add Himalayan sea salt, pepper, and taste.
Remove the bones. They can be given to your client to suck on if they wish.
The soup can be pureed if you wish after it is cooked. Some clients want a smooth consistency. Others like the vegetables in small chunks. This soup can be frozen.
What is your area of specialization? If you don’t have one, are you becoming interested in serving niche 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!
We’ve written about Suzy Brown of The Brown Bag Nutrition & Chef Services. Suzy is a longtime APPCA member and recently started using essential oils. We’ve long been curious about these oils–what they are and how they’re used in the kitchen so we asked Suzy to give us a primer. If you, too, have been wondering about them, you’ll want to ready Suzy’s post below and enjoy the recipe she’s included that incorporates two essential oils:
I went into my local nutrition store and picked a couple, black pepper and lemon, then started learning more about the healing properties of EOs. What I found out is that while they are rising in popularity today, using plants for healing dates back thousands of years. Many of today’s pharmaceuticals have their origins in plants. And it’s not uncommon today to use lavender oil for calmness or ginger to treat nausea. Using essential oils in cooking, however, requires research because some EOs are only meant to be used topically, as cleaners, or sprays, not ingested, while others that are edible are very strong and could cause problems if they aren’t used correctly. Look for a supplemental facts area on the bottles, which notes the oils are safe to ingest.
Once I felt I understand how essential oils worked, I started teaching a monthly class on their healing properties and how to cook with them.
Here are answers to some of the most basic questions I get about EOs:
What is an essential oil (EO)? EOs are fragrant, dynamic compounds that are extracted through the distillation process from flowers, shrubs, leaves, trees, roots, skins and/or seeds. Funnily enough, EOs do not contain lipids like their fatty vegetable oil siblings, and as a result their distinctive chemistry enables them to permeate every cell and administer healing properties in the body. This structural complexity, created through volatile organic compounds (VOC), enables an EO to perform various functions with a few drops.
What purpose do they serve? EOs can provide a myriad of benefits to the body, mind, spirit…and wallet! EOs are used to treat everything from anxiety to yeast infections. All EOs are adaptogens, a natural substance that promotes a balancing reaction in the body.
EOs work by targeting the cause of the problem rather than simply addressing a symptom(s). In some cases you are likely to experience rapid relief and steady improvement. Many EOs are analgesics, acting directly with the nervous system to subdue pain; anti-inflammatory; antiseptics; promote relaxation and stress relief.
Let me give you two examples of how the two favorites I mentioned above work:
Black Pepper: Spleen strengthening, digestive issues, stress reducer, natural painkiller, stimulates the circulatory system, added to hot water or tea, savory dishes.
Lemon: Antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, fights (colds, flu, fever, headaches). Add to water, warm or cold for a natural detox. Flavor Enhancer for savory, sweet, cocktails.
How are EOs made? EOs are, as previously touched on, steam distilled from plants. However, there are different types of extractions, including water vapor distillation, pressure extraction, expression, enlfeurage, solvent extraction, CO2 extraction, and synthetic imitation. For example, citrus EOs are cold pressed. One pound of essential oil requires at least 50 pounds of plant material. So, for instance, one pound of rosemary EO requires 66 pounds of fresh rosemary.
Are EOs safe to digest? While contemporary society has accepted that the use of EOs is dangerous, civilizations have been using them for centuries. Today, industries that produce products like toothpaste, skin care, and sodas use them. So, before you run away from fear, keep in mind that these frequently used items have proven safe to ingest.
When you buy essential oils, look for organic, therapeutic-grade EOs. Purchased products should have bottle and company labels that include the following: 100 percent natural, an English plant name, a botanical name, the utilized part of the plant, the production method, the country of origin, and any hazard or allergy notations. And they should state they are safe to ingest.
What is the toxicity of EOs? Certain EOs have irritation potential and can be toxic when ingested in large doses. A little goes a long way. It only takes a few drops of an EO to make an impact. Regardless, if one were to ingest larges doses of an EO, they may experience these possible, short-term complications: burning of the mucus membrane of the oral cavity, throat, and esophagus, the occurrence of reflux by irritating the digestive tract, some symptoms of nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea, interference of certain medications rending the EO useless, possible interference with anesthesia, and elevation of live enzymes. In that same line, if you are allergic to a food then you will be allergic to its EO. The FDA’s Generally Recognized as Safe, or GRAS, list has been tested with contemporary technology. Note, per the FDA, there are oils that are NOT recommended for ingestion, and oils that are not recommended for use by folks with particular medical conditions, or who are pregnant or nursing.
How do you cook with EOs? First, look back to Q3 and note that for internal use only use organic, therapeutic-grade oils (these oils are 100 percent pure). Also, keep in mind brand reputation. Choose products from reputable companies and suppliers to ensure you make smart, healthy purchases. From there, lead with this golden rule: 1 to 4 drops of EO per recipe.
Some of my favorite EOs you’ll find in my kitchen include black pepper, cilantro, grapefruit, lemon, all varieties of citrus, and peppermint. Below is my recipe for “Crabby Salad,” which features black pepper and lemon essential oils.
“Crabby” Salad Featuring Black Pepper & Lemon Essential Oils
Recipe by The Brown bag; Nutrition & Chef Services
- 1, 15-ounce can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
- 1, 15-ounce can whole hearts of palm, drained and rinsed
- 5 cups fresh celery, minced (baby leaves too)
- 1/4 cup shallot, minced
- 1 poblano pepper, seeded and minced
- 1 bunch chives, minced
- 1/4 cup parsley, minced
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise, vegan or homemade preferred
- Old Bay Seasoning, to taste
- Large pinch Himalayan Salt
- 4 drops black pepper essential oil
- 2 to 4 drops lemon essential oil
In a large mixing bowl add in the chickpeas. Dice the hearts of palm into small pieces, about the size of the garbanzo bean. Mince all the remaining vegetables and add them into the mixing bowl. Toss with the mayo, spices and essential oils. Adjust seasonings as needed.
- Lettuce cups
- Avocado half
- With crackers
- If you mash the garbanzo beans a bit you can even put this salad into a sandwich
Essential Oil Chefs Notes:
- Start with 1 drop of oil then taste.
- Adjust as needed.
- Remember you can always add… you can not remove.
Are you using essential oils for cooking? What are your favorites?
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!
Christine Robinson and Dennis Nosko of Boston’s A Fresh Endeavor Personal Chef Service have long focused on creating healthy meals for their Massachusetts clients. That includes working with families living with dementia. As the population ages and diseases like Alzheimer’s, Lewy Body dementia, Vascular dementia, and others are on the rise, personal chefs like Christine and Dennis can provide a foundation for enabling patients to stay healthy and stay home longer, while also helping caregivers, who live with the stress and anxiety of constantly caring for a declining spouse or parent, with nutritious meals and one less responsibility.
We asked Christine and Dennis to share their experience of serving clients with dementia and their advice is spot on.
Over the years we have had several clients with memory impairment. One of the main concerns of the family is generally how to keep a loved one in their own home for as long as possible, as long as the care level is up to par.
Food and proper nutrition is a huge component in a dementia patient’s quality of life. Balanced meals can allow physical and emotional health to improve. That’s where personal chefs come in. But it is NOT an easy task and it may not be for you. However, for those who feel up to the challenge, you can make a huge difference in the life of a family dealing with dementia.
When clients contact us to work with their family members with dementia, it is usually the children, hoping to keep their parents in their own home. Many times they’re out of state and this can pose some logistical questions. You need to figure out who is the “point” person and make one source of contact so that there is less confusion. We find that there is usually a family member who has good information about the physical health of the actual client and that is generally the person with whom you want to deal.
We always try to make the food all about the client recipient, following any dietary restrictions but making food they seem to enjoy. Keeping them fed is most important.
Not every job works out. You can have a spouse who does not want the service, or the person with dementia does not want other people around. In these cases, you have to evaluate if you are doing more harm than good. While there is no clear cut answer for every case, you want to err on the side of what will keep the client the happiest, even if it means ending the cooking relationship, recommending someone else, or even cooking at a close relative’s home for them to deliver.
Here’s what we recommend when taking on a family with a member who has dementia:
1) Establish whether another person coming into the home is going to be a benefit or a distraction. In-home meal service can either be a huge help or a stranger in the house can cause the family member with dementia extra stress…find out how they would respond. Many times a new person in the mix doing something different can be a welcome thing…but don’t be afraid to ask up front. Also test the waters to make sure how the other family members living in the house, usually a spouse, are going to feel about more help…the dignity and wishes of both parties are equally important.
2) Conduct a thorough client assessment, hopefully in person, and with a caregiver or family member other than the spouse present. Learn what type of dementia the loved one has–it could be Alzheimer’s, but it could also be any number of other types of dementia, which have different symptoms and progression. You can learn more about them on the Alzheimer’s Association website. Find out about medications and other health conditions that can be helped or exacerbated by certain foods. Cranberry juice, leafy greens, and flaxseed, for instance, do not go well with coumadin and other blood thinners. Make sure that any family members seeking your service are provided with copies of the assessment. Seeds, nuts, gassy vegetables, onions, and acidic foods should be explored on paper and in reality. Repeat favorites and get rid of textures that are not working. As the disease progresses and medications change, you will have to revisit this to make adjustments.
3) Pay close attention to textures and tastes. Something as simple as a blueberry skin can be a distraction and texture issue for a patient. Have any caregivers/family members keep track of favorite items, but especially items that are not being eaten. Sometimes a switch from a ground meat to a solid piece can make all the difference. Sometimes, as the disease progresses swallowing becomes more difficult and textures become crucial so patients don’t aspirate food. But each person is different. Keep notes and be amenable to changes. This is not a time to be the creative chef, but to listen closely to a client’s needs.
4) Pay attention to the spouse and his/her likes and dislikes. Many times the person without dementia is the lesser focus. They are going through a difficult time seeing the love of their life slip into unknown territory. Ask about their favorites. Make a treat just for them. Talk to them. So much conversation is focused on the patient that the other person can feel left out, especially if the kids are spearheading the need for the personal chef. Everyone counts and should be part of the experience.
5) Expect that these cook dates will probably take extra time. Plan for it and expect to talk. Take advantage of the moments of lucidity and talk to the client about stories and what they may suddenly be remembering. Be prepared for the opposite as well, when they ask the same question repeatedly or talk to you as if you were a family member no longer with them. Ask their caregiver the best way to respond. Often, it’s just to go along with them and their conversation without correcting them.
6) Don’t try to become the savior. At the stage you are entering their lives, there is rarely a turnaround and no special meatloaf or spice combo is going to be the cure all. Enhance for nutrients where you can, and ask the family if there are any holistic things they want to try, such as cooking with coconut oil, or grassfed meats. As long as it does no harm, take their lead.
7) Expect that you will cry after more than one cook date.
8) Expect that you will get some great, funny, wonderful stories when they talk to you.
9) Don’t be offended by anything that the client may say to you. Dementia works in odd ways and people who would never use coarse language can come up with some doozies. It is part of the condition and please realize it is NOT directed at you.
10) Be flexible and compassionate. Anticipate that things can change on a daily basis and you may be making more or less food as needs fluctuate.
This is a hard job, not for everyone. But cooking for these families can be the most rewarding job. You really can make a difference but don’t enter into it without realizing that a part of your heart will forever hold these families as very dear.
Have you been cooking for clients with dementia? What has your experience been?
When you have type 2 diabetes dessert can be a tricky thing. What everyone immediately fixates on is the sugar. But sugar is really a foil for something larger, which, of course, is carbohydrates. And all carbs are equal when it comes to diabetes management. The other component just as important in managing diabetes is fat. For most of us, our weight is what brought us head to head with the disease. Keeping weight in check through a healthy, low-fat diet along with exercise—and managing blood sugar through carb control—is what will help clients stay healthy in the long run.
So, as we head into the holiday season, where does dessert fall into a healthy diet as you start writing menus for clients? Dessert is an indulgence, a part of the pleasure of a day. But the person with diabetes has to plan for it. My experience has been that it’s all about moderation and portion control—and they’re not necessarily the same thing.
Moderation includes portion control but it also means being discriminating in what you eat. In the context of dessert, for me it means looking for sweets that are mostly made with real fruit or dark chocolate. It means seeking out desserts that are airy—made with lots of egg whites, like angel food cake and sponge cake—which cuts down on the density and carb count. Or simply desserts which call for less sugar than conventional recipes. This is when you need to consult with clients about what this means for them.
Portion control can be tricky. So, you might look for desserts that are by their nature single portion: chocolate mousse servings in a small ramekin, a single piece of dark chocolate, a small honey crisp apple, a bowl of fresh berries. If they want a whole pie or cake you can slice it into individual portions, wrap them, and put them in the freezer. Same with cookies or muffins.
I know there are a lot of people who look for sugar-free choices. But what you have to remember about sugar-free options is that they aren’t necessarily lower in fat or carbs. And they usually include chemicals you clients may not want to consume. Yes, there are healthier sugar-free options; honey and maple syrup are favorites and many people love stevia. For a long time, agave nectar was considered a good alternative to sugar but doctors like Andrew Weil are now concerned about the impact of high fructose and are discouraging its use.
You can also figure out workarounds for some sweet treats. For instance, if I want to make a mocha, instead of carb-laden chocolate syrup, I use a couple of teaspoons of honey mixed with a teaspoon or so cocoa powder and some 1 percent milk in a large mug of coffee. It suits me fine and the carb count is much lower.
Your clients may also enjoy desserts that substitute conventional high fat or high sugar ingredients to create a flavorful but healthier result. Here are some suggestions from Fitness Magazine.
But sometimes your clients just want what they want and you have to figure out how to make it work. I love apple pie. If I make one, yes, I’ll have a small slice. But I also discovered that I could make a crisp and by reducing the amount of butter, sugar, and flour—and eating small portions—I could have something healthier since it’s just topping cooked fruit, not encasing it. I keep the bag of crisp mixture in the freezer, pulling out a handful at a time to top a sliced apple or cup of berries. You can do the same for clients.
In the bigger picture, dessert doesn’t and can’t stand alone. In the course of a day, the person working to manage diabetes has to count carbs. If your type 2 diabetic clients allow themselves three servings of carbs in a meal at 15 grams of carbs per serving, you have 45 grams to work with. That needs to include dessert. So, let’s say you want to have a portion of the Cannoli Cream Napoleon in the recipe below. Each serving of that is 11 carbs. That gives you 34 grams of carbs for the rest of the meal. That could be a couple of servings of whole grains with a protein like chicken or fish and low-carb vegetables, like greens. In other words you have to create balance to make it all work so that your weight and blood sugar stay down.
In fact, it’s all about balance. Balancing carb portions, balancing fat and calories, balancing exercise with relaxation, balancing indulgence with healthy choices. Dessert isn’t something your clients have to cut out so much as balance with everything else they’re doing to stay healthy.
Cannoli Cream Napoleon
Prevention Diabetes Diet Cookbook
By the Editors of America’s Leading Healthy Lifestyle Magazine with Ann Fittante, MS, RD
Makes 8 servings
11 grams carbohydrate
4 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar, divided + 1 teaspoon for garnish
3 sheets frozen whole wheat or regular phyllo dough, thawed
Vegetable oil in a spray bottle
1 ½ cups part-skim ricotta cheese
2 teaspoons grated orange peel
1/8 teaspoon orange extract
¼ cup natural pistachios, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Transfer 2 tablespoons of the sugar to a small fine sieve, sifter, or dredger. On a work surface, lay out 1 sheet of dough so the shorter sides of the rectangle are left and right. Cut from top to bottom into 4 equal rectangles. Coat the top of 1 rectangle very lightly with vegetable oil. Dust very lightly with confectioners’ sugar. Stack a second small rectangle on top of the first. Coat the top of the second rectangle very lightly with vegetable oil. Dust very lightly with confectioners’ sugar. Repeat the procedure with the remaining 2 small rectangles. Spray and dust the top layer. Carefully transfer the pastry to a large nonstick baking sheet. Repeat cutting and layering with the remaining 2 whole sheets of phyllo dough to make 2 other layered pastries. Bake for about 7 minutes or until crisp and browned. Let stand to cool.
- In a bowl, combine the ricotta, 2 tablespoons sugar, orange peel, and extract. Stir with a wooden spoon until smooth. Place one of the reserved pastry on a rectangular serving plate or tray. Spread with half of the ricotta mixture. Sprinkle on half of the pistachios. Cover with the second pastry, the remainder of the ricotta mixture, and the remaining nuts. Top with the remaining pastry. In a small fine sieve, sifter, or dredger, combine the remaining teaspoon sugar with the cocoa powder, if using. Sift over the top of the Napoleon. Cut with a serrated knife.
Note: This dessert is at its finest when served immediately after assembly, but it can be refrigerated, uncovered, for about 1 ½ hours without becoming soggy. Alternatively, you can bake the pastry and store it in a cool, dry spot for up to 24 hours. Prepare the ricotta mixture; cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours. Assemble just before serving.
What kinds of modifications have you made for clients with type 2 diabetes? How do you manage dessert?
Thank you, Tom Herndon of Hipp Kitchen in San Francisco, for your insights on cooking for clients with special needs:
Special diets are either a major pain in your patootie, or a lucrative niche market where you can shine as a personal or private chef. It’s up to you. The demand is there. How you meet that demand comes down to making an important choice: either fully embrace this ever-growing market or suffer your way through it, because it ain’t going away. I recommend the former. That’s what I did. Now, 10 years later, having built a good reputation in the Bay Area for being a chef that knows his way around food allergens, I’ve found the demand continues to grow and evolve.
The market has become way more sophisticated in the myriad of allergen-friendly products and solutions being offered than when this whole “trend” started (do food trends actually last an entire decade?). As a personal chef you’ll find there’s still plenty of room for pioneering. But we don’t have to venture out alone into unknown and sometimes dangerous territory anymore. We now have strong allies including many great chefs who have done much of the experimenting along the way; failing, succeeding, and discovering new and better ways to offer truly delicious alternatives. No more hippie hockey pucks!
If you still feel the need to roll your eyes whenever a client asks for strictly Paleo, or allium-free, or everything raw, please read on. You might still want to roll your baby-blues, but you might see something different. If you have already embraced special diets as part of your journey as a PC, as challenging as it can be at times, then you might appreciate some of the basic insights I have gained.
The YES List
What you can eat is way more nourishing than what you can’t. Sounds simplistic, I know, but if a client’s focus is on what she CAN’T have, then feelings of being deprived and all of the emotional baggage that goes along with that (punishment, scarcity, loss…..name your poison) grow even stronger. It’s hard to win as a chef in that kind of atmosphere. I found early on that by building what I call a YES list (those ingredients that are allowed/safe to use) and designing recipes from those ingredients only, not only did my clients feel better, but I could shift my focus from navigating the mine field of all of the no-no ingredients to looking only for those ingredients that work. No more guessing. You know that phenomenon where you decide to buy a blue car and all you see are blue cars for the next few weeks? That same mindset sets in when you—and your client—choose to pay attention to only those items on the YES list. Suddenly a world of food possibilities opens up. Because for a restricted diet variety is key, the YES list gave me the opportunity to get really good at knowing my way around flavor profiles, especially ethnic. Speaking of which…
Flavor is King
A restricted diet means flavor is of the utmost importance. What your client CAN eat needs to be really tasty. What gives food its flavor is nutrients. The more nutrients the better an ingredient tastes. Good nutrients come from good soil and good growing techniques. Over-farmed soil or over-processed foods contain very few nutrients, hence a bland flavor. Therefore, making sure the ingredients you choose are the most nutrient dense you can find is essential. I have discovered that by choosing great ingredients, half the battle is won. It also means I don’t have to have complicated recipes. Cooking becomes simple, my labor is reduced, which means my margin increases.
Flavor profiles. All of my cooking classes, and I’ve done over 40 of them, are geared towards the Allergenista. My main filter is always no gluten, dairy, soy, shellfish, or peanuts—the five most pernicious allergens. In my first few classes I asked myself, “if diets are restricted, how can I enhance the flavors of what CAN be eaten?” I covered three fundamental areas: spices, herbs, and condiments: three worlds of mostly safe ingredients with the possibility of an infinite amount of flavors. Knowing your way around your spice cabinet, the herb garden, and how to turn simple recipes into flavor-enrichening sauces gives you the ability to provide flavors from around the world. Here are some simple examples of what I mean by ethnic flavor profiles:
- Caribbean: Annato, Chile, Coconut, Ginger, Coriander
- Chinese: Cardamom, Cinnamon, Chile, Garlic, Ginger, Galangal, Licorice/Anise, Sesame, Sichuan Pepper, Star Anise, Vanilla
- Eastern European: Caraway, Dill, Parsley
- French: Lavender, Tarragon, Rosemary, Marjoram, Sage, Lemon Peel, Parsley
Ten years ago, when I was approached by a nutritionist and long-time friend to start cooking for her clients (she told me that when she gives them their elimination diet they are like deer in the headlights), I quickly saw it as learning a new language. The appeal of providing people with the experience of enjoying familiar foods while using only safe ingredients was great. Discovering new ways to have the look, mouth feel, and aroma be as close to the original as possible was exhilarating. For example, I use organic instant mashed potatoes as a thickener for sauces as opposed to guar gum or tapioca or turn soaked and blended raw cashews into cheesecake or ricotta for lasagna.
Special diets and picky eaters are kissing cousins. As a PC you’re always going to have clients who are very particular about what they eat. Food is emotional. Which means it can feel impossible at times. It also means that food can be connective, fulfilling, and immensely satisfying. Cooking would be easy if it wasn’t for food being so emotional, but who wants that?
Lots of good people are on special diets. Will you be yet another cook who rolls your eyes, or will you be the hero of the day? Your choice.
Chef Tom has great examples of adapting recipes with traditional ingredients into recipes that are allergen-friendly. Click here for a free cookbook. Here’s a sample recipe:
Smoked Trout Pate
by Chef Tom Herndon
Yield: 32 cucumber cups
This recipe, says Tom, meets his basic criteria of no gluten, dairy (milk—but he changed it to vegan mayo), soy, shellfish, or peanuts.
1/2 pound smoked trout, heads and skin removed, fillets carefully boned
1/4 cup very finely diced onion
1/4 cup chopped fresh chives
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Fresh lemon juice to taste
2 large English cucumbers (other options are Persian or Lemon cucumbers)
1. With clean hands, squeeze and mash the trout into a thick paste in a bowl.
2. Fold in remaining ingredients. Adjust seasoning.
3. Spoon a teaspoon into a cucumber cup or serve as a dip with gluten-free crackers or crudites.
Are you beginning to take on clients with special dietary needs? How have you approached your learning curve?
These days it’s no longer uncommon to look beyond the animal to plants for sources of protein—plants like grains and legumes. You know: rice and beans.
We’ve long heard that the rice and beans combo makes for the perfect protein. And, yes, it is a great combo, so long as they’re in balance. Since rice is so much less expensive than beans, when cost is a factor rice tends to dominate the pair and then it’s not nearly as nutritious. And, of course, not all rice is equal. As you know, white rice is far less healthy a choice than brown rice.
If you’re looking to plant-based sources of protein to complement or replace animal proteins, remember that what we need to stay healthy are the nine essential amino acids that make up what is called a “complete protein.” These amino acids are the building blocks of proteins that our bodies use to manufacture essentials like muscle tissue, blood cells, hair, and nails among others. Will plant-based proteins offer this? No. Not entirely. But, the good news is that you can combine these “incomplete proteins” with other proteins in meals to create a complete protein. The exceptions? Quinoa (actually a seed not a grain), buckwheat, and hempseed are considered complete proteins.
Generally beans tend to have more protein per serving than grains. I’ve always enjoyed them but I learned some cool ways to prepare them from Chef Vince Schofield. Schofield pointed out some of the ways beans can be enjoyed. Who doesn’t love pork and beans—the saltiness of the pork and the earthiness of the beans “are just fantastic,” he said. Bean purees—think hummus, for example, with garbanzo beans—are the perfect mixture of creaminess and fat. You don’t have to be limited to garbanzos, though. Try making flavorful purees with Great Northern, navy, or cannellini beans—or black beans. Or riff on the mixture and turn them into soups. And then there are red beans, which in Chinese cuisine are often used for desserts.
I visited Schofield one day awhile ago and he prepared a very easy bean dish which showcases beans—in this shelling beans, which, fresh, cook much faster than dried beans. But, Schofield noted, any will work.
The inspiration for this dish, he said, come from humble beginnings and using what you have. Schofield paired the beans with animal proteins, but you don’t have to if you’d rather go vegetarian. Of course, the animal proteins take a back seat by providing flavor, not being the centerpiece. It’s a matter of giving them some TLC to transform beans into a hearty, comforting dish on a cold fall night.
This recipe literally took five minutes to prepare—but, you have to do some advance, if passive, prep with the beans. First, you must soak dried beans overnight. The following day, cover either the now-soaked dried beans or fresh beans in a pot with three times the volume of water to beans. Add one carrot, peeled and halved, one rib of celery and half an onion with the root attached so that it doesn’t fall apart in the water while cooking. Bring the water to a simmer—not a boil. Simmer the beans for 25 to 30 minutes if they’re shelling beans, an hour to an hour and a half if they’re dried. Remove from the heat and let cool. Only once they’re cooling then you can salt them. They won’t absorb the salt until then, said Schofield. At that point, you’re ready to make any bean recipe.
Beans and Harissa
From Vince Schofield
Harissa is a North African hot chili pepper paste that can include spices and herbs such as garlic, coriander, cumin, dried mint and caraway seeds. You can find prepared harissa at international markets. You can also serve this dish with mussels mixed in. If you want to do so, 3½ to 4 pounds of mussels will serve 4 to 6 people as a main dish. Schofield also says that if you don’t want to use meat in the recipe, add garlic and onion or any vegetable paste you enjoy to add more flavor.
Serves 4 to 6
- 3 tablespoons of brunoise mirepoix (two parts onion to one part celery and one part carrot, finely chopped)
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 ounces lardo (cured pork fat) or bacon, chopped
- 1 1/2 tablespoons of harissa paste
- 1 pound beans (shelling or dried), prepped (see note)
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 1 lemon, thinly sliced and charred — keep the juice to use as well (you can also use preserved lemon pieces)
- 1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
To create the mirepoix, rinse, trim and peel the vegetables. Then dice them into 1/8-by-1/8-inch pieces. Sauté the mirepoix in the olive oil until tender. Add the lardo (or bacon) and sauté until crisp. Add the harissa and allow the paste to blossom in the oil (releasing all of its flavor). Then add the beans and chicken stock. Reduce to souplike consistency. Finish with parsley and lemon. Salt if needed.
Eat with crusty bread.
Note: If you’re using dried beans soak them in water for 24 hours prior to cooking. If they are fresh shelling beans this step is not necessary. The procedure will be the same as follows: Cover beans with three times the volume of water to beans. Add one carrot, peeled and halved, one rib of celery, and half on an onion with the root attached so that it does not fall apart in the water while cooking. Beans only accept salt when cooling, so salt at the end to your desired taste.
Are your clients fans of beans? What’s your favorite way to prepare beans for them?
You’ve met APPCA member Anne Blankenship of Designed Cuisine. We’ve written about this Dallas-based personal chef before. She recently sent us a note about a client whose dietary needs posed real challenges to her skill set. But instead of turning them down, she turned it around, did a lot of research, and ended up having a learning experience that she says has made her a better chef. We thought you’d be interested in her dilemma and how she solved it–along with a couple of recipes she created for them.
I have started cooking for the most difficult client (menu-wise) that I have ever had in all the time I’ve been doing this. They are delightful people (thank heavens!) and enjoy everything I cook for them. Personally I think it’s as much about the service as it is the food with this client, but just my thought.
Here’s what they do not eat:
- No sugar
- No onions, beets, carrots, etc. – no root vegetables
- No pasta, potatoes, rice, wild rice, quinoa, farro, barley, or grains of any kind (but they eat about 1 to 1 1/2 pieces of bread a day) – no bread crumbs, panko, etc.
- No beans or lentils
- No mayonnaise or yogurt
- No honey, agave, etc.
- Very little cheese – some fresh mozzarella, ricotta, etc.
- Very little soy sauce/Worcestershire sauce
They will eat a little butter, olive oil, sesame oil, avocado, artichokes, sour cream, olives, and miso. And a bit of salt. They’re not on the Paleo plan, or gluten-free, but just have consulted with a nutritionist and are going by those recommendations. This couple is probably in their 60’s and they look great, so I guess it’s working.
I did a cooking class for this couple’s children and spouses, and they started talking to me that night about cooking for them. I told them I needed to do some research before I could commit. I didn’t want to start cooking for people on such a special regimen unless I had at least a good handful of recipes in my “arsenal,” especially since it would be a once a week gig. And she told me they liked to eat beef (usually a steak) out, so for me to focus on ground turkey and chicken recipes, along with side dishes. Also some fish dishes, although they like to grill salmon. Thankfully it’s summer, so lots of great veggies abound now.
I started going through all my side dish recipes, chicken recipes and the few ground turkey recipes I have. Then I hit the Internet, combing through recipe after recipe, and communicating with the client to double-check on permissible ingredients. After three days (almost solid) of research, I was pretty proud of the fact that I had come up with about five pages of possible entrees and side dishes for them. My brain was fried, though! I also talked to a fellow personal chef here in town for whom I’ve worked with on some dinner parties, and who probably has more experience with special diets than I do. Even she was stumped!
Here are some of the things I have come up with:
- Zucchini Lasagna: Made with slices of zucchini for the noodles, ground turkey, fresh herbs, tomato sauce and paste, and a little fresh mozzarella
- Stuffed Bell Peppers with Ground Turkey and Vegetables
- Marinated chicken: They like to grill so I’ve found some good recipes using garlic, olive oil, fresh citrus juices, and some that are “rubs” to put on the chicken. I also suggested chicken thighs, as they can be more flavorful. I have some more Asian-oriented marinades as well, since Asian food tends to be more healthy (sometimes) and uses things like fresh ginger, soy sauce, Worcestershire, Sriracha, etc.
- Baked Chicken Thighs and Drumsticks with Lemon
- Baked Pistachio-Crusted Chicken with Caramelized Onions
- Roasted Multi-Color Cherry Tomatoes with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and garlic
- Baked Chicken Breasts with Lemon, Cumin and Mint
- Roasted Cauliflower with Garlic, Lemon and Parmigiano-Reggiano
- Turkey Lettuce Wraps with ground turkey, spices & Sriracha, wrapped in lettuce leaves to eat
- Forty Cloves of Garlic Chicken: a whole chicken roasted with 40 cloves of garlic, olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper
- Trout in Foil with Jalapeños and Lemon: A big hit!
- Roasted Broccoli with Garlic
- Steamed Green Beans with Toasted Pecans
- Cucumber, Onion and Fresh Dill Summer Salad
For fish, I prepare it and they like to bake it off, so I do fish in foil, and fish in parchment paper. They were eating tilapia (which, I’m sorry, is “starter fish” to me) so I made them some snapper and halibut and they thought it was the greatest thing in the world! Parchment is great because you can layer aromatics like fennel, lemongrass, etc. and just use a bit of olive oil and lemon with maybe something like capers and you can’t go wrong.
When a recipe calls for onions, I use green onions. I double-check the recipe to see if green onions would be a good substitute and in most cases I can use them, but have to use a lot to make up for the quantity of what would be ½ cup of chopped onion, as an example.
That’s just a few ideas. I also thought about roasting plain chicken breasts or thighs but making flavorful sauces to go on top of them. I have an “Aji Verde” sauce with cilantro, jalapeño, olive oil, garlic, vinegar, cumin and sour cream that is really good. And using ingredients like fresh lemon juice/sliced lemons, mustard (Dijon and regular), miso and similar type things helps flavor up chicken.
The best part of all this is that it has truly made me a better chef. Most of the recipes I have made for them are new to me, but I can tell pretty much whether or not it will be at least somewhat tasty. All that research I did is really good to have and may help me in the future. I am sure there are some APPCA chefs who might think this is a piece of cake but it was really a “let’s raise the bar” moment for me. Guess a lot of my clients have been more “comfort food” oriented, and even the healthy eaters weren’t this strict.
I am more confident each time I cook for them and they are terrific about feedback. They have liked pretty much everything I have cooked and I’m not even halfway through my five-page list yet!
Stuffed Peppers with Ground Turkey and Vegetables
4 green bell peppers, tops removed, seeded, and chopped
1 pound dark meat ground turkey
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1 zucchini, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 yellow bell pepper, chopped
1 cup fresh spinach
1 can (14.5 oz.) diced tomatoes, drained
1 tablespoon tomato paste
Italian seasoning, to taste
Garlic powder, to taste
Salt and pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In skillet over medium heat, cook turkey, Italian seasoning, garlic powder, salt and pepper, until turkey
is evenly browned. Set aside.
Heat oil in same skillet and cook onion, mushrooms, zucchini, bell peppers, and chopped pepper tops until tender. Add drained canned diced tomatoes and tomato paste. Add spinach and cook until spinach is sufficiently wilted. Stuff green peppers with skillet mixture.
Put peppers in oven and cook approximately 40 min.
1/2 cup shelled pistachio nuts, finely ground
3/4 teaspoon salt (DIVIDED USE)
1/2 teaspoon plus 1 pinch freshly ground black pepper
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1-2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup diced sweet onion
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Grind nuts in food chopper. Mix nuts in pie plate with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. If chicken breasts are large, pound to thin them.
Dredge chicken breasts in egg mixture, then pistachio nuts. Press nuts firmly into chicken with hands. Place chicken breasts on plate or tray and refrigerate 30 minutes or longer (helps “set up” the nut mixture to adhere to chicken better).
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in pan and cook chicken breasts, 2 minutes per side. Remove chicken from
Add 1 tablespoon olive oil and sauté diced onion, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and a pinch of pepper. Sauté onions until browned.
Place chicken in baking dish, top with sauteed onion, and bake 15 minutes or until thermometer inserted in thickest portion of chicken registers 160 degrees and juices run clear.
Have you been faced with client dietary requests that knocked you out of your comfort zone? What did you do? Say no or figure it out?
As some of you may know, I have Type 2 diabetes. This morning I enjoyed what has become a typical hot weather breakfast: a quarter cup of granola (15 grams of carbs) mixed with a half cup of nonfat yogurt (eight grams of carbs, plus protein), and a half cup of fresh blueberries (10 grams of carbs, plus fiber). That’s a total of 33 grams of carbs, less if you take into account the glycemic index, which measures how food with carbohydrates raises blood sugar. Blueberries, for instance, have a low glycemic count, thanks to its fiber, so it actually would give a net carb count of eight or nine grams. Add a teaspoon of honey and a bit of low-fat milk to my coffee and I top out at around 45 grams of carbs total for breakfast.
Confusing? Welcome to the world of Type 2 diabetes. Actually, confusing comes only at the beginning of the journey. Once you start tracking carbs it becomes pretty easy to figure out what and how much to eat at every meal. And as a personal chef with diabetic clients, you’ll get the hang of it quickly enough, too.
Carbs have developed a bad rap among the health-conscious public but it’s a vast overstatement to say they’re bad for you. Carbs are a source of energy thanks to the glucose that comes from sugars and starches they contain. Plus they can help reduce weight and prevent disease—assuming you choose the right kinds of carbs. Certainly a diet full of pretzels, pizza, beer, and pasta isn’t exactly healthful. But consider just how many foods that are good for you contain carbs—pretty much everything but meats and fats. So, we’re talking whole grains, fruits, beans, and legumes—food with fiber.
In a healthy person, the body breaks down the sugars and starches that make up carbs into glucose which goes into cells for energy. For people with Type 2 diabetes, glucose, or blood sugar, builds up in the blood instead of going into the cells, which over time can damage your heart, eyes, and kidneys. The challenge for people with Type 2 diabetes is figuring out how much to consume anytime we sit down to eat so our blood sugar levels don’t skyrocket. For example, fruit juice is pretty much out. Think about it. One medium orange contains 15 grams of carbohydrates and goes down to 12 net carbs thanks to the fiber in the orange. But one cup of orange juice contains 26 grams of carbs. You’re better off eating a whole orange and get the reduced carbs and increased fiber than swig a glass of juice.
There’s also a common assumption that people with Type 2 diabetes can’t eat sugar. But they’re stuck in the mindset of refined sugar and forget that sugar naturally occurs in foods like fruit and milk. So, with the best of intentions your client may be offered a big bowl of fruit in lieu of a slice of cake. But while the fruit is healthier, she must still need to limit the amount she can eat.
So, how do you help clients get carbs to work for them? Here are a few techniques I’ve learned that have helped me over the years:
- Go for high fiber. Instead of white rice, serve brown rice. Instead of conventional pasta serve whole wheat pasta. Scout out whole grain cereals. Serve whole wheat sourdough bread, which, thanks to the lactic acid that creates that tangy sour flavor, also makes it low glycemic. Prepare whole grain sides like farro, freekah, wheat berries, barley, buckwheat, and wild rice—turn them into salads with roasted vegetables. Use fresh cauliflower, pulsed in the food processor, to make faux rice.
- Limit portions. How do I know how much I can eat? I took a nutrition class at Kaiser Permanente after I was diagnosed. There I learned that 15 grams of carbs is one serving (regardless of the type of carb). According to the nutritionist, a woman trying to lose weight should have three servings of carbs per meal; a man should have four. To maintain weight, a woman should have four servings at each meal, plus one as a snack; for men it’s four to five. And for the very active, the number of servings goes to six per meal for women and five to six for men. With that, you just do the math with a carb-counting guide and reading nutrition labels on packaged foods. But typically a serving of carbohydrates would be a slice of whole grain bread, a third of a cup of cooked pasta or rice, three-quarters of a cup of cereal, a six-inch corn tortilla, or a half cup of corn, green peas, or beans.
- Shop small. It’s good to eat bananas, but look for very small ones because who wants to eat the leftover half the next day? Shop for small apples and peaches and tangerines. Does your client crave a baked potato? Search for small russets so he can have the satisfaction of eating a whole one without overdoing the carb count. Five ounces is 24 grams of carbs—enough to account for other vegetables and also have fruit for dessert. If you can’t find them (most markets usually go for giant size) bake a red or Yukon gold. Or bake a small sweet potato, which is rich in fiber.
Your client may miss his pizza and big bowls of pasta for awhile, but if you can create meals that are flavorful and have some of the qualities of what he used to indulge in, only in healthy portions, he will find that he loves the new way he consumes carbs–relishing the deep flavors and textures from whole grains or the joy of indulging in a small juicy nectarine or bowl of strawberries. And you’ll have fun testing your creativity, too, as your client enjoys better health and more energy!
Do you have a client with Type 2 Diabetes? What kinds of dishes are you creating that have addressed the carb issue?
Throughout the year we’re trying to dig deep into various types of diets–some address health issues, others represent personal preferences. The latter brings us to vegan diets. Cooking without any animal products can be a challenge to chefs who haven’t dealt with that before–and no one wants to turn down a client. That’s what happened to personal chef and APPCA member Jim Loellbach of Custom Provisions in Chicago. How he went about developing a robust menu for his first regular clients is a lesson in critical analysis and creativity. Below, Jim explains how he went about it–and he gives us a marvelous recipe for Mushroom Bolognese.
Being new to the personal chef game, I recently landed my first regular clients. They’re a busy couple with a one-year-old child and another due in about six months. In addition to the normal challenges that face any new personal chef, I’ve had to face one more: my clients are vegans.
Before becoming a personal chef, I was a cook and sous chef in several restaurants and hotels in Chicago. My first sous chef position was as banquet chef in a smallish boutique hotel. Most of my work was for corporate groups, wedding parties, or other social events from 10 to 100 guests. While these are fairly small numbers in the banquet world, I had to be prepared for guests with special dietary needs. I had to learn the basics of gluten-free, dairy-free, vegetarian, and vegan diets. In the end, I developed a small set of simple dishes that could satisfy these requests. That was fine for one-off events, but more difficult for groups that were in house for many days. Then, I’d have to accommodate a guest’s needs without serving the same thing over and over. When I had enough time, it was a fun challenge; but when I didn’t, it was a real pain!
Vegan cooking has one rule: don’t use any animal products.
For my new clients, I needed to develop a substantial vegan menu. I started by taking my normal menu and simply including everything that was already vegan. Most of my salads were already vegan, or could be by eliminating things like cheese or bacon. I stuck with vinaigrette dressings instead of creamy ones using eggs (although, I’ve since learned of some vegan substitutes). Likewise, many of my soups could be vegan by eliminating cream, using oil instead of butter, and using vegetable stock instead of meat stocks.
It was a bit harder to come up with a substantial number of vegan entrees. I already had a small number of vegetarian entrees which were easily converted to full vegan, but it just wasn’t enough. So I looked at several meat and fish entrees and asked myself whether or not they needed the animal protein at all. I had several items (stir fries and curries) that would be fine without the animal protein. Chicken in Yellow Curry became Vegetables in Yellow Curry, maybe adding chick peas to add more substance. Pasta with Meat Sauce became Pasta with Marinara Sauce.
Next, I looked at meat or fish entrees that really depended on the protein, and thought of substitutes: items like tofu, tempeh, seitan, and textured vegetable protein (TVP). I had a Thai Basil Ground Pork dish that consisted of little more than heavily seasoned spiced ground pork (served with rice, of course). TVP makes a great substitute for ground meat in most dishes, and this dish was no exception. I made it for my clients on my first cook date, and they requested it again for the second. Seitan strips make a great substitute for beef, pork or chicken in a stir fry. Tempeh, a form of tofu made from pressed whole soybeans, can be crumbled into chili instead of ground or diced meat.
Most of the dishes I’ve described so far do not represent the typical American plate: a large central piece of animal protein with supporting sides. I fleshed out my menu with a few more vegan options more along these lines: Miso Glazed Tofu Steaks with Peppers, or Soy Sesame Roasted Portobello Caps with Leeks. When I was done, I had plenty of options for my clients to choose from.
Of course, the first step in all of this was consulting with the clients. What do they usually eat? Do they prefer to have a central protein in meals? Do they already use meat substitutes? Do they like various ethnic foods? Luckily, my clients like food from around the world and don’t require a protein centerpiece on the plate.
One caveat: it’s important that vegans get a mix of essential amino acids in their diet (those that the human body cannot generate on its own). This is easily done by using a wide variety of protein sources: dried beans, rice, wheat, soy, nuts, quinoa, and others. It is not necessary to get this mix in every meal, just over the course of every few days. Variety is the key.
Here are a couple of random tips for vegan cooking. Tofu almost always benefits from removing some of its moisture. First, I almost always press it between paper towels for 15 minutes. If I want it even drier, I cut it into slabs and bake it at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. Most dried pasta is made without eggs, but check the label. Indian cuisine is a great source of vegan dishes. Smoked paprika can add a meaty smoky taste in place of bacon or smoked meats. Soy sauce, miso, kombu seaweed, and dried mushrooms are great sources of umami, which meatless dishes often lack.
For online resources, I can’t recommend anything better than seriouseats.com (for vegan and non-vegan alike). The editor of this site goes vegan for one month every year, and they have collected a large amount of material. Search for “vegan” on that site and you’ll find a wealth of ideas, recipes, and links to other sources.
Finally, here’s an example of a recipe I converted from non-vegan to vegan. It’s a mushroom Bolognese sauce for pasta or polenta. The usual ground meat is replaced by a mixture of cremini and shiitake mushrooms that are chopped in a food processor to have the texture of ground meat when cooked. This sauce is as satisfying as any meat-based sauce I’ve had.
From Jim Loellbach
Serves 4 to 6
200 grams onion, finely diced
54 grams fennel, finely diced
170 grams shiitake mushroom caps
560 grams crimini mushrooms
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil for sautéing onions
24 grams garlic, minced
7 grams salt
3 grams fennel seed, ground
4 grams salt
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil for sautéing mushrooms
Salt and pepper to season mushrooms
520 grams canned San Marzano tomatoes
950 grams vegetable stock
7 grams fresh oregano, minced
Salt to taste
Make a simple vegetable stock using the onion and fennel scraps, the shiitake stems, and 5 cups of water. Reserve.
Place one-third of the mushrooms in a food processor and pulse to chop coarsely, about 10 to 15 pulses. Stop when the largest pieces are around 1/2 inch in size. Put the chopped mushrooms in a bowl, and repeat with the remaining mushrooms in two batches. Do not overcrowd the processor or you will get a paste instead of chopped mushrooms. Set the mushrooms aside.
In a large Dutch oven or two-gallon stock pot, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until golden. Add the onion and salt, lower the heat to medium-low, and cook until the onions are caramelized. Add the fennel and fennel seed and cook until the fennel is softened. Remove this mixture and set aside.
Working in three batches, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the pot over medium-high heat. When the oil shimmers, add one-third of the mushrooms to the pot. Leave undisturbed until the mushrooms release their moisture. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms dry out. Season with salt and pepper near the end of cooking. Remove the mushrooms to a bowl. If the bottom of the pot is getting too brown, deglaze with some of your stock, reserving the deglazing liquid. Repeat with the remaining two batches of mushrooms.
When the third batch of mushrooms is done, add the onion mixture, the two previous batches of mushrooms, and the tomatoes to the pot. Add vegetable stock to any reserved deglazing liquid to get 950 grams total, and add to the pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook until reduced to a thick sauce consistency, about two hours.
Stir in the fresh oregano and the final addition of salt. Correct seasoning if necessary.
Have you been cooking for vegan clients? What tips do you have for colleagues?