Are You Readying for Retirement?

Filed under: Business Strategies , Tags: , , — Author: Caron Golden , October 2, 2017

Are you a person who plans ahead? Well, if you’re heading towards retirement–or at least slowing down a bit–coming up with a strategy for what to do when you retire should be on your to-do list.

That’s something APPCA member Anne Blankenship of Designed Cuisine in Dallas has been doing. She sent us a note to tell us about her plans and we asked her to share it with the rest of our members. Take a look:

I looked up the other day and realized that my upcoming birthday would put me another year closer to Medicare and only 2 years from retirement – Yikes! I absolutely love being a personal chef and having come into it so late in life (at 50+), that I really treasure every day in a career that is so rewarding and satisfying.

It made me start thinking about what would I do when I retired? Never been the kind of person to sit on my behind, and I enjoy staying active as much as possible. I attended culinary school for the experience but in the back of my mind was the thought – “well, when my body starts to give out, maybe I can teach cooking if I have some type of certification.” The certification aspect of finishing culinary school kept me going as much as the knowledge and experience I gained. Proudly graduating as a “Certified Culinarian” was a big day!

As retirement looms closer I started researching about what people do when they retire, why some people are happier in retirement than others, and that if one PLANS for their “golden years” they are well-prepared and more satisfied when this life-changing event occurs. Ah, that word “plan” caught my eye, as all my friends know that I am the one in the group that takes charge, plans events, and am affectionately called “She Who Organizes.” Activities such as volunteering, substitute teaching and other jobs for those who are retired came up in my reading and it started to sink in – I really could teach culinary school when I retired. So my planning/strategy of finishing culinary school had paid off with that little voice in the back of my head saying “finish school so you can teach someday.”

 

Putting some action into all the research I had done, I took a deep breath and decided to contact a community college in the area where I plan to spend 6 months of the year. The worst they could do was to say “no.” My plan is to spend 6 months in the mountains in northeastern Arizona where it is so beautiful and cool in the summer months, with plenty of hiking, fishing and similar activities available. There are many retirees in the area and I was thinking these people would be my potential students. The college responded quickly (a pleasant surprise) and put me in touch with the HR person. Since I knew I would be out there in August of this year, I asked if I could meet with her, explaining my idea and that although it would be a few years away, teaching culinary classes at the college was my interest.

Wanting to be prepared, I had sent ahead by e-mail all the information I could about my certification, my memberships in the American Culinary Federation, Texas Chef’s Association, etc. I was lacking information about my membership in APPCA, so made a call and spoke with Candy. She graciously volunteered to write a letter of recommendation for me and the college was quite pleased to receive it. A super bonus to being an APPCA member!

I had a very nice interview with the college administrator/HR person during my vacation there in August. During my meeting, she explained that once I was vetted, I could set my own schedule for the classes, curriculum, class size and fee (the college takes a percentage). This sounded like heaven! At the end of our meeting she said she would start a file on me and to please stay in touch. They currently have one culinary instructor and are considering building a kitchen at one of their campus locations in the future. I am hoping they vote “yes” on funding for a new kitchen!

So if you are approaching retirement and need some ideas as to what to do with yourself, consider sharing your knowledge and talents with others who want to learn about cooking. I always advocate that teaching cooking is teaching a life skill, and feel like I am “paying it forward” when I do so.

Are you getting close to retirement? What plans are you making for when you’re done with working?

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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This past weekend, MARC (the Mid-Atlantic Regional Chapter) held its annual meeting with Keith Steury as president. In preparation for it, member April Lee of Tastefully Yours Personal Chef Services contacted housewares manufacturer Fagor to learn about any new products and asked if they could give our members a good deal on their equipment.

Fagor Induction Pro Cooktop Black

Well, April got the deal. Fagor is giving all APPCA members in good standing a 50% discount on their stovetop pressure cookers, their electric multicookers (pressure cooker/rice cooker/slow cooker all in one), as well as their portable induction cooktops, with free shipping (offer is limited to two items per person).

Fagor LUXTM Multicooker: 4 qt Pressure Cooker, Slow Cooker , Rice Cooker and Yogurt Maker.

The sale is only good through October 24th.

To place an order, you’ll need to use this order form. Click on the form, download it, and complete it. Then send your order to:

FAGOR AMERICA,  INC.
1099 Wall Street West, Suite 387
Lyndhurst, NJ 07071

Attn:  APPCA  50% Offer

Please allow 6 to 8 weeks for delivery. There’s a limit of 2 items of each per order and one order per person.

 

Fagor Duo 8 qt Pressure Cooker

Is this a good deal? Well, here’s what April has to say about the electric pressure cookers:

“The biggest point I made is that using these big, 8-quart electric pressure cookers is a godsend for personal chefs because they free up burners on the stove. Plus, they automatically come to the proper pressure so you don’t need to babysit the units. I may use three of these at once which takes care of three entrees (e.g., Corned Beef Brisket, Thai Green Curry Chicken, and Moroccan Lamb Stew) while I focus on other dishes. In one hour or less, I can have three main dishes done that would have taken 3 to 4 hours if cooked conventionally on the stovetop or in low, slow oven. The Fagor 50% off deal with free shipping is very sweet!”
What’s your favorite cookware line? Are you an electric pressure cooker user?

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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It has been a little over a year since we last checked in with member Carol Borchardt. Carol owns A Thought For Food Personal Chef Service in the Memphis, Tennessee area and also has a thriving food blog called From A Chef’s Kitchen.

Carol told us all about how she began her food blogging venture in this How I Fell Into Food Blogging post. We asked Carol to give us an update on how everything was going with developing a food blog as an additional source of income and the other creative avenues she’s pursuing in addition to her personal chef business.

As you recall, I had a slow start and at first hit some roadblocks with my food blogging endeavor. However, I feel everything is now coming together rather nicely.

To recap my journey, I became intrigued with the idea of having a food blog after reading Dianne Jacob’s book, Will Write for Food. I read her book because I was doing a biweekly food column for our local daily newspaper that involved recipe development, writing and photography.

After a fall in a client’s kitchen three years ago put me out of commission for a six-week period, I decided that was a good time to start my food blog.

However, my original concept, which was based on my love of cookbooks, seemed to confuse everyone. Most people thought all I did was rework and republish cookbook recipes. I got worn out explaining that wasn’t all I did so I decided to rebrand and change direction two years ago to my current focus, From A Chef’s Kitchen.

Earlier this year, my newspaper column was discontinued due to budget cuts and layoffs at the newspaper. I was a little relieved about that because it enabled me to spend more time on my blog and now I’m beginning to see the fruits of my labor:

  • My traffic is increasing nicely. I have just over 70,000 unique visitors (an important metric brands use that indicates new visitors) to my site each month.
  • The competition is fierce, however I’ve been able to work with a number of brands on sponsored posts.
  • Ad revenue I receive each month has replaced approximately three cookdates and it continues to grow. This is passive income I earn just by having people visit my blog. I still love my personal chef business and clients, but it’s wonderful not to have to stand on my feet all day for that income!
  • I’m now a paid contributor to Parade Magazine’s website, Community Table. I was fortunate to be accepted because they generally like contributors to have at least 10,000 Facebook followers. My From A Chef’s Kitchen page is just over 7,300, but they liked what they saw on my blog. I’m able to post articles and recipes but have been doing mainly collections of recipes such as:

There have been some real eye-openers since I began blogging. I really didn’t pay that much attention to food blogs until I read Dianne Jacob’s book. However, the fact that food blogging is an entire industry and can be very lucrative was an eye-opener such as:

  • There are several paid membership websites by food blogging pros where they share their knowledge and resources.
  • There are countless food blogging conferences around the country, which, I’ve attended several. At one of the conferences, I had the privilege of taking a workshop with one of the best food photographers in the business, Helene Dujardin.
  • Brands work with food bloggers as a cost-effective way to “influence” their readers to buy their product. These are referred to as “sponsored posts.” The brand pays the food blogger to develop a recipe and post for the product. This can be extremely lucrative for food bloggers–especially if their blog is popular.
  • There are ad networks that manage ads on your website enabling you to receive passive income. I’m with MediaVine.
  • There are affiliate sales programs where you earn a commission if someone clicks on an affiliate link on your blog and buys the product.

However, two of the biggest eye-openers were, the amount of time required to be successful and that as a food blogger, you wear many hats. If you want to be successful, you have to treat it like a business and build your brand. Obviously being a good cook is important, but you have to be everything else including the writer, the photographer, the programmer and the promoter. As the promoter, you have to be on top of all the social media trends and how to stand out in a sea of food bloggers. I’m at a point where I’m considering hiring a virtual assistant to help me with the social media.

My biggest challenge has always been and continues to be social media; I’m not a very outgoing person. However, the only way to grow your blog is through social media so I just do it and try not to think about it. There is still more I could be doing to grow my blog such as doing food videos, but my personal chef business still takes up a significant amount of my time.

I really love that as a food blogger, I can be as creative as I want to be. I always enjoyed developing recipes prior to becoming a personal chef and then developing them for my clients. Food blogging is a way to share them with the world and it has solidified my identity as a personal chef.

Becoming a publisher and photographer has taken a lot of time and there have been numerous struggles along the way. Shortly after writing How I Fell Into Food Blogging, I went through a particularly discouraging period because my traffic was not growing. I really wondered if I should keep doing this. Some of my photos never get to my blog because I don’t consider them good enough and I’ve wasted an entire day. However, I get right back at it and remake the dish or photograph it again. It’s all about not being a quitter.

As far as what’s next, I’ll continue working as a personal chef, however, I’ve scaled back to working three days a week when possible. I’d love to do a cookbook of my own or be the photographer for one.

Seven years ago when I shot my first food photo for the newspaper, I never dreamed a well-known food photographer would tell me my photos were good. Anyone can do what they set their mind to.

Are you doing anything professionally to augment your personal chef business? It doesn’t have to be writing. It could be studying to be a nutritionist or becoming a recipe developer for restaurants or corporations. What makes your heart sing?

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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This past weekend, our Candy Wallace taught at cooking class at the Cardiff Greek Festival. The class, called “Drop the Butter” Baking with Olive Oil, featured Candy demonstrating how to make a cake using olive oil instead of butter both for flavor and health. Candy was invited to show off this technique by friend and cooking teacher Mary Papoulias-Platis, who is also a certified olive oil specialist. The class was one of eight free Greek cooking classes held at the festival over the weekend, and Mary said each one drew 50 to 60 people.

The cake, as you can see from the recipe, is extremely simple to make and you can easily change up the flavors. During her demo, Candy made the cake with orange zest and thyme. But, she pointed out, you could easily bake it with lemon and rosemary–or any other citrus/herb combo you like. She also topped it with orange marmalade and at the demo, sprinkled it with powdered sugar.

Olive Oil Cake
by Candy Wallace
Yield: 1, 8-inch cake

Note: This can be made with oranges and thyme or lemon and rosemary combinations.

Ingredients

1 cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons orange zest (lemon can be substituted)
1 1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon finely chopped thyme or rosemary (optional)
2 eggs
2/3 cup whole milk
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup orange marmalade

Directions

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 350F degrees.
  2. Sift the dry ingredients together and set aside.
  3. Rub the zest and sugar between your palms to release flavor and oil in the zest into sugar and then add the eggs, milk, and olive oil. Add the flour mixture and mix until combined.
  4. Pour into a greased and lined 8-inch baking pan.
  5. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes at 350F degrees until golden brown and the cake starts to pull away from the sides.
  6. When the cake is slightly warm cover with orange marmalade and serve.

Have you ever substitute butter for olive oil when baking? What was the dish and how did it turn out?

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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If you’re reading this, most likely you’re a chef. And, chefs, of course, are at the front lines of caring for people’s needs–especially personal chefs, who create menus and prepare food lovingly for clients.

So, let’s extend this compassion to those who are facing devastation in Texas, thanks to Hurricane Harvey. I don’t know about you, but last weekend as I was watching the news and saw the flooding I got right on the American Red Cross website to make a donation.

I’m sure you’re experiencing the same reaction–but perhaps you want to make donations to other organizations. Thanks to Texas Monthly, which compiled this, here’s a list of various agencies that could use your support so they can help folks on the ground:

  • San Antonio-based The Texas Diaper Bank is creating a relief kit for families with very small children who need clean diapers during the flooding and evacuations.
  • The Driscoll Children’s Hospital in Corpus Christi is up and running, and accepting financial donations. Live in the area? Please donate blood.
  • Even if you’re not a pet owner you surely have compassion for those companions who got displaced during the storm. The SPCA of Texas is taking in hundreds of animals transferred from shelters on the coast who aren’t safe where they are right now. You can donate to the organization to help defray the costs. For any of you in Austin who want to work with a local org, Austin Pets Alive! is also helping and has similar needs—cash, to keep operating, and volunteers to foster animals. They can also use certain pet supplies: large plastic or metal bins with lids to store food, leashes and collars, cat litter, large brooms, cat-specific beds, and liquid laundry soap.
  • People with disabilities need a lot of help during this crisis. Portlight has provided inclusive relief to people with disabilities for 20 years—including in Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. It’s now working to make sure necessary medical equipment and assistive technology is available for those who had to evacuate and to make sure that they’re are able to get to safety. They accept donations via PayPal.
  • If you’re taking prescription drugs, you can imagine the fear of those in the heart of the disaster worrying about access to their drugs or those needed by family members. Direct Relief USA offers prescription drugs and other medical supplies to those who need it in emergency situations, and works with clinics and primary care doctors to ensure that the drugs and medical equipment are available to the people who need it. They’re accepting financial contributions.

More conventional charities are also taking donations. Here’s a list compiled by NPR:

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner established a Harvey relief fund at The Greater Houston Community Foundation. The organization connects donors with a network of nonprofits and innovative solutions in the social sector.

GlobalGiving, which calls itself the largest global crowdfunding community, has a goal of raising $2 million for its Harvey relief fund. Funds will be used first for immediate needs of food, water and shelter and then transition to long-term recovery efforts.

United Way of Greater Houston has launched a relief fund for storm-related needs and recovery. The organization says it already maintains a disaster relief fund but anticipates the needs of Harvey will far exceed those existing resources.

GoFundMe, the social fundraising site, has created a landing page that gathers the campaigns on its platform related to Harvey.

The Salvation Army says it is providing food and water to first responders and preparing for massive feeding efforts for residents.

Send Relief and Southern Baptist Disaster Relief says its teams began responding before Harvey made landfall and continues on-the-ground relief work.

Samaritan’s Purse is accepting donations as well as volunteers for Harvey disaster relief for the coming months.

And, here’s what should hit you where you live… The Houston Press has compiled a list of food banks that are serving the population. Even if you live in the area, the best way to help is through donations so they can buy what they need.

Houston Food Bank
832-369-9390
houstonfoodbank.org

Galveston Food Bank
409-945-4232
galvestoncountyfoodbank.org

Food Bank of the Golden Crescent (Victoria)
361-578-0591
victoriafoodbank.org
Closed Friday

Corpus Christi Food Bank
361-887-6291
foodbankcc.com

Southeast Texas Food Bank (Beaumont)
409-839-8777
setxfoodbank.org

Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley (Pharr)
956-682-8101
foodbankrgv.com

Brazos Valley Food Bank (Bryan)
979-779-3663
bvfb.org

Central Texas Food Bank (Austin)
512-282-2111
centraltexasfoodbank.org

San Antonio Food Bank
210-337-3663
safoodbank.org

For more information on all of these food banks go to feedingtexas.org.

And, of course, you want to make sure that your generosity is going to the right place. Before donating to an unfamiliar charity, check it out. One place to start is Charity Navigator.

Finally, are you in the region and being impacted by Hurricane Harvey? What do you and your community need? How can we, your fellow personal chefs, help?

How have you helped out the folks impacted by Hurricane Harvey? Are there any other organizations we should contribute to?

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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Are you a frustrated pizza maker? I think all of us who love to cook have gone through a pizza-making phase, finally giving it up in frustration. We’ve lined ovens with tiles, spritzed with water, tried different flours, different methods of dough making. And then threw up our hands and went out to eat.

I think you should give it one more shot–based on an afternoon I spent with a young man from Milan, Andrea Burrone, who a year ago with two partners opened a delightful Italian pizza restaurant called Ambrogio15 in San Diego’s Pacific Beach. This sweet, charming, and very talented chef, who started out professionally working in banking, has clearly found his calling. And his calling is making pizza in San Diego using traditional Italian ingredients and techniques.

Now Burrone is working with something we don’t have: a ginormous Marana Forni oven imported from Italy that reaches temperatures of 700 degrees–something your clients’ home oven can’t even dream of. But are there any home cooks better than Italian home cooks? If they can do it in their ovens, so can we–if we know what we’re doing.

Burrone revamped the proprietary restaurant recipe to work for a home cook. For one thing, while he uses a biga–or starter–at the restaurant, the recipe we have here is for a direct dough, using active yeast, 0 flour, water, sugar, and salt.

The other thing we should do to make pizza successfully is to bake the crust first, then add the topping. This way the pizza crust gets nice and crunchy, not soggy (yeah, I’ve been there, too). And the dough should be baked first at the bottom of the oven sans toppings and then in the middle once it’s filled.

Burrone demonstrated dough making in a Kitchen Aid stand mixer, using the dough hook. First, he began by activating the yeast, mixing it with room temperature water and sugar, then letting it sit for about 15 minutes.

Once the yeast was bubbling, he placed 0 flour in the bowl of the mixer. He then added the yeast mixture, slowly blending it until incorporated. With that, Burrone added more water and brought up the speed, then olive oil, speeding it up again, then salt. Max out the speed and keep it going until the dough pulls away from the sides and forms a ball. Depending on the weather–both temperature and humidity–you may have to add more flour or more oil to get it to that point.

Stop the mixer, pull the bowl out, cover and let the dough rest until it doubles in size. Then comes the fun. Divide the dough into sections 100 grams each (yeah, you’ll need a kitchen scale to do all this). Each ball will make a 12-inch round paper thin Milano-style pizza.

Turn each piece into a ball by pulling the sides out and under until the ball is smooth. Then turn it over and pinch the underside to seal. Do this to each piece, cover, and let rest at least two hours until they’ve doubled in volume.


When you’re ready to make the pizzas, turn on the oven to 500˚F to preheat. Now you have a choice–you can either use a rolling pin to roll out the dough or use the tips of your fingers to gently press it out. Use flour or semolina to keep the surface from getting sticky when you shape the dough. And when you put the shaped dough on a pan, be sure to put oil topped by a sprinkling of semolina or cooking spray on the pan before placing the dough on it.

Now you’ll place the pan in the lowest part of the oven for 12 to 15 minutes. Remove it and add your topping–whether it’s the delightful Arugula Pistachio Pesto below or tomato sauce (be sure to use peeled San Marzano tomatoes with basil–in the yellow can–for what Burrone says is the most authentic margherita-style pizza), topped with cheese. Then put the pizza back in the oven, but on a rack in the middle of the oven. Bake it for another 4 to 5 minutes until the cheese is melted. That’s it!

Here’s another Burrone tip. If you’re using fresh mozzarella on your pizza, make sure that the night before you place it in a colander over a bowl so that it will release its water–and you again avoid a soggy pizza crust. And don’t, don’t, don’t use pre-shredded cheese. Just don’t.

Arugula Pistachio Pesto Pizza
from Andrea Burrone of Ambrogio15

Note: Most American home cooks are used to measuring by volume, not weight. Here, most of the amounts are indicated by weight using grams. If you have a kitchen scale, this should be no problem–and the measurements will be more accurate, creating a more successful outcome.

Ingredients

Pizza dough
Yield, 5 to 6, 12-inch pizzas

25 grams fresh dry yeast
30 grams water, room temperature
5 grams sugar
575 grams 0 flour (If you can’t find it locally at places like Whole Foods or Mona Lisa it’s available on Amazon.com)
300 grams water
30 grams extra virgin olive oil
12 grams salt

Arugula Pistachio Pesto
Yield: 4 cups

3 cloves garlic
100 grams pistachio nuts, raw and unsalated
150 grams parmesan cheese
15 grams salt
300 grams fresh arugula
450 grams extra virgin olive oil

1 ball of fresh mozzarella, drained overnight
5 or 6 slices mortadella (optional)
6 cherry tomatoes, sliced in half (optional)

Directions
1. Combine yeast, water, and sugar. Let sit 15 minutes. It should be bubbling.
2. Insert dough hook in stand mixer. Place flour in the mixer’s bowl. Add yeast mixer and start blending at the 3 speed until incorporated. Slowly add water and bring up speed to blend. Slow it down and add the olive oil and speed it up again. Slow it down to add salt (and, if it’s too thin, more flour). Bring the mixer to maximum speed (6 to 8) and mix until the dough pulls away from the sides and forms a ball.
3. Remove bowl from mixer, cover, and let the dough rest for 30 minutes until doubled in size.
4. Divide the dough into 5 to 6 pieces, each weighing 100 grams for a 12-inch pizza. Form balls with each by pulling the sides out and under while turning until the surface is smooth. Pinch the underside to seal. Sprinkle some semolina or flour on the counter or a tray and place the balls on them. Cover and let rest for at least 2 hours until the balls double in volume.
5. To make the pest, place all the ingredients except the oil in the bowl of a food processor or blender. Blend them together, then slowly add the oil. If it’s too thick, add a little water. Taste and adjust seasonings. Set aside.
6. To cook the pizza, preheat the oven to 500˚F. Roll out the dough by hand, pressing and shaping it in a 12-inch circle with your fingertips, or use a rolling pin. Spread a little oil on the pan and then sprinkle it lightly with semolina or use a baking spray like Pam. Place the pizza dough on the pan and place on the lowest rack in the oven. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes.
7. Remove pizza crust from oven. Spread about 2 tablespoons of pesto on the crust and top with pieces of mozzarella.
8. Place pizza back in the oven, but on the middle rack. Bake another 4 to 5 minutes. Remove and top with folded slices of mortadella and fresh cherry tomatoes.

Do you make pizza for clients or for your family? What’s your technique? 

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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Cooking with the Seasons: Cherry Berry Salsa

Filed under: Recipes , Tags: , — Author: Caron Golden , August 21, 2017

Hey, chefs, for those of you who emphasize cooking with the seasons, I hope you’ve put cherries to good use in both sweet and savory dishes.

Because cherry season is short and I adore them, I feel an intense obligation to figure out how to make the most of them when they’re at that fabulous sweet/tart height of harvest. And that would be now.

Sure you can snack on them but I got to thinking about how well they go with savory foods like pork and poultry. Four years ago I made a salsa from stone fruit that included cherries, along with peaches. But I got to wondering how a salsa that really focused on cherries would work.

I had just bought about a pound of cherries and decided to put together a salsa that didn’t rely on some lovely balsamic vinegar, but traditional lime juice. Not basil, but cilantro. Since I also had a large container of blueberries I thought they’d add both an intriguing texture and flavor–not to mention stunning color–to the salsa.

In came red onion, the one and only serrano chile in my garden, and the lime’s zest. I didn’t think garlic would be a happy combination so I left it out. I tasted the mixture and it was fine but lacking something, so in went honey–not much, but enough to heighten the sweetness. Another taste and something was still needed.

Then I hit on it. Tajin seasoning! Those of us who live in regions with good-sized Hispanic populations have this terrific seasoning at hand. Tajin is a mild, slightly sour mixture of chile peppers, salt, and dehydrated lime juice (It turns ripe tomato slices into bites of heaven and is also terrific when making micheladas.) I had considered then discarded the idea of adding salt but the Tajin added just enough to bring out the other flavors, just a bit more acid/tartness from lime, and a different kind of heat. It proved to be exactly the right finish to create three-dimensional flavor.

While the salsa stewed in its juices in the fridge, I pulled out a pair of pork chops I had been brining since late morning. Despite the heat of the early evening, I put a cast-iron pan in the oven and let both pre-heat until the temperature reached 400˚. I pulled out the seasoned, lightly oiled chops (adding more Tajin) and pan seared them (be sure to use oven mitts while handling the pan.

I love this technique because you put the chops on the pan and immediately they sizzle and start browning. Once they were golden brown, I placed them in the pan into that still 400˚ oven to cook until they reached an internal temp of 145˚. While they rested on a plate under a foil tent, I tasted the salsa again. It was delightful.

The pork chop was a success–made summery with my cherry berry salsa. Don’t love blueberries? Add raspberries or strawberries–or both! You’ll have a colorful sweet and savory fresh sauce that will be equally terrific on a pulled pork taco, on a quesadilla, roasted chicken or duck, or a pork tenderloin.

Cherry Berry Salsa
Yield: 2 cups

Ingredients
1 cup cherries
1 large lime
1/1 cup blueberries
1/2 cup red onion, diced
1/2 cup cilantro, minced
1 serrano chile, seeded and diced
2 teaspoons honey
1/2 teaspoon Tajin seasoning

Directions
1. Pit the cherries, then quarter them. Set aside.
2. Zest the lime, then cut in half and juice both halves.
3. Combine all the ingredients in a bowl. Mix well and let sit in the refrigerator at least one hour. Taste and adjust seasonings.

What special seasonal dishes are you making now to take advantage of height of summer fruits and vegetables?

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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Last week, Christine Robinson wrote about creating a dish for a themed party. Well, we’re on a roll with this topic because I recently got an email newsletter from APPCA member Nancy Cordi of Mediterrania Personal Chef Services showing off her “Sandals & Sangria”party that she organized for the VeriDiva Business Group. The newsletter so intrigued me, with it’s beautiful food photos and interesting description that I asked Nancy if she could explain to members how to create these kinds of themed parties for clients. Here’s what she created for us. I hope it inspires you!

So it wasn’t long ago that I recently joined a local women’s club, Veridiva, a networking group in support of female entrepreneurs, in the Temecula area.  I was chosen as a member as well as their personal chef to represent the group. Rather than just showing up and being one’s personal chef, I decided to get even more creative and create themed parties and to really enjoy building fun and exciting menus around each theme.
Recently I hosted a “Sandals and Sangria” party which was the theme chosen to showcase one of our newest member’s products that she sells. At this party, it was very tropical and beachy so I decorated in bright floral prints using fabric I purchased on sale and used this material as my tablecloth, used real coconuts and pineapple for table décor, and broke out my tropical straws with various fruit on top which decorated each wine glass that would soon be filled with my homemade sangria. With great excitement, I created a tapas menu which consisted of bright, fresh flavors both savory and sweet, using fresh herbs mixed with fresh fruit topped on my open-faced empanadas with crab and chicken, cauliflower pancakes with fresh mint topped with a Saffron cream sauce and sweet and chewy Mejdool dates stuffed with Stilton blue cheese wrapped in smoked bacon.
And to swish all of this authentic Spanish food all down, I made a juicy fruity sangria which consisted of rose wines, Prosecco, peach brandy and a little bit of Grand Marnier that marinated overnight with chunky pieces of pineapple, strawberries, slices of orange and lime. Adding to that, I made beautiful mango and fresh raspberry purée ice cubes that beautifully enhanced and complimented my sangria in both flavor and presentation. And what ends a nice evening of savory tapas and juicy sangria? My creamy coconut flan topped with buttery caramelized pineapple.
Prior to this themed party, another that recently comes to mind is “Cocktails at Tiffany’s.” For this party, I also did finger foods which consisted of mint chicken and curry satay with a thai peanut sauce, garden fresh tomato, avocado and basil bruschetta on garlic crostini but the big hit of the party were my white and dark chocolate mousse and vanilla cake Tiffany cocktail desserts, each layer representing the classic Tiffany colors of black, Tiffany blue and white with edible silver pearls, and a black fondant bow on top.
And one of my MOST exciting events was my “A Journey to the Mediterranean.” This was my grand showcasing at my first themed part as a Veridiva member. I walked my guests through a culinary journey beginning with palate cleanser of a Moroccan black tea spritzed with orange blossom water. The guests then feasts on various dips, starting with Lebneh, a creamy, soft cheese made my draining the water from Greek yogurt over night, topped with excellent olive oil and fresh herbs, as well as made-from-scratch classic hummus with toasted pine nuts and roasted red pepper hummus. Then, they moved along the journey reaching for fragrant basmati rice made with cumin and cinnamon and fresh herbs which will soon be topped with braised beef and apricots, a succulent lamb meatball slider topped with a creamy whipped feta spread on a toasted brioche bun and a nice cooling side of fresh, citrusy taboulleh.

After they were done feasting on the savory food, I ended their journey with two authentic and decadent desserts, one from Italy, one from Greece and the Middle East. I wowed the guests with my lemon panna cota topped with chopped pistachios and pistachio oil and layers-deep of buttery baklava drizzled with chocolate ganache. I complimented these desserts with a strong Middle Eastern espresso with freshly grated cinnamon on top and even a hit of freshly grated black pepper.  This culinary journey through the Mediterranean was filled with many tantalizing surprises.

Doing themed parties is very exciting and it takes being a personal chef to a whole new level. It is so much fun to create a menu around a themed party as it is based on your inspiration and allows you to be as creative as you want with both food and decorations. It’s more than just showing-up and cooking. You get to experience the fun that you give your guests as well. I would suggest encouraging your client to do a themed party for the person they are celebrating or as a group to make the time and the culinary experience that much more memorable. You can increase your cost per person when doing this as you will provide fun, beautiful table décor and many other creative surprises, which you can provide at a very low cost to you.  Many of the items you can use for themed parties can be purchased at a grocery, fabric, thrift, or hobby store. Gather these party decorations and keep them to use over and over again for similar-themed parties.

When promoting these themed parties, aside from the promotion that comes from my women’s group, I also do email blasts through my website builder such as godaddy.com as well as share the events and details of each event via Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I take many photos of each event, including the people enjoying themselves, décor, and especially the food, and promote them across as many social media outlets as possible. The response to these themed parties is so positive and people just love the experiences they see that I am providing my clients and want to know more about what I can do for them!

My Delicious Juicy Sangria
Serves 12-15
from Nancy Cordi
(please use quality wines)
2 bottles of good rose wine
1 bottle Dolce Vita Prosecco
1 750ml bottle of Christian Brothers peach brandy
1/2 cup of Grand Marnier
2 cups cubed fresh pineapple
1 cup sliced fresh strawberries
2 limes cut into thin slices
2 oranges cut into thin slices
Add all ingredients to large container or glass pitchers with lids and let sit overnight (at least 12 hours).  Serve with mango and raspberry ice cubes.
Mango and Raspberry Puree Ice Cubes
from Nancy Cordi
1 cup of fresh raspberries
1 cup of cubed mangos
1/2 cup of blackberries
3 cups water
1 cup of cane sugar
1 tspn of lemon zest
1 tspn of lime zest
4 silicone ice cube trays
2 baking/cookie sheets
In two sauce pots, separate the mangos and raspberries.  In the pot with the mangos, add lemon zest and the pot with the raspberries, add the lime zest.  Now add 1 1/2 cups of water and 1/2 cup sugar to each pot.  Stir separately on medium heat for about 10 minutes until mangos become soft and water turns yellow and until raspberries break apart and sauce becomes thick and red. Remove from heat and let cool.  Once cooled, for the raspberries, pour through strainer and press puree through with a spatula into another pot, removing all seeds. Now, add blackberries and stir.  In separate silicone ice cube trays placed on baking sheets, pour the mango and raspberry puree into each tray almost to the top of each block.  Carefully slide baking sheets into freezer and allow the puree to freeze for at least 6 hours.  Once cubes are frozen, twist ice cube trays and place in stainless steel ice cube bucket and serve with sangria!

Have you had requests from clients to create a themed party? How did you go about 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.

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

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We hope you enjoy and are inspired by this post by APPCA member Christine Robinson of A Fresh Endeavor in Boston, Massachusetts. Christine, who owns the business with partner Dennis Nosko, posted a picture of the cake on Facebook so I had to ask her for the recipe and the backstory. She, of course, provided both.

Nothing sets the tone of a theme party more than an original creation made for a specific crowd…Designing a dessert just for your client is appreciated and remembered.

Cocktail theme-based desserts allow you flavor layers and combinations you may not have thought about. Dissect the components and you can come up with a unique ice cream, cake, mousse, or sauce.

We were lucky enough to get a request from a woman wanting to celebrate her husband and his 30th birthday with an “End Of The 20’s,” party, with theme dress and décor. Her husband’s family happens to own a vacation home in a town on the North Shore of Massachusetts, chock full of period furniture, antique Spode china, etched crystal goblets, sterling service, and flutes that go back several generations. The hosts and guests showed up in tuxedos and evening gowns. They sipped cocktails and champagne and listened to music from the Gilded Age.

After I got her email requesting the theme, I had to plunge into Google searches for food of the Roaring Twenties and what was popular. There were a few references to The Great Gatsby so I narrowed the search and two themes came up:

Lemon Poundcake/Tea Cakes

Mint Juleps

In Fitzgerald’s classic, Nick Carraway had hosted a tea for Gatsby and Daisy, for which he served 12 lemon cakes. Daisy Buchanan, being from Louisville, loved a mint julep. How to tie the two together?

The dessert we created was a lemon zest and buttermilk pound cake, served with lemon curd mascarpone cream, a mint julep and honey syrup with Knob Creek bourbon, and fresh whipped cream, topped with candied lemon peel.

I started with a classic lemon pound cake recipe from Martha Stewart and tweaked it slightly to add more lemon and more salt, with salted butter.

We call this Jay’s Gatsby….
Lemon Pound Cake
Yield: Each cake serves six

Ingredients
1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter, softened, plus more for pan
3 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled), plus more for pan
3/4 cup low-fat buttermilk
Zest of 3 lemons, finely grated
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice (about 2 lemons)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups sugar
5 large eggs

Directions

    1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees, with rack in lowest position. Butter and flour three 4 1/2-by-8-inch (6-cup) loaf pans.
    2. In a small bowl (or liquid measuring cup), combine buttermilk with lemon zest and juice. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda.
    3. With an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
    4. With mixer on low, add flour mixture in three parts alternately with the buttermilk mixture in two, beginning and ending with flour; beat just until smooth
    5. Divide batter evenly between pans; smooth tops. Bake until a toothpick inserted in centers comes out clean, 50 to 60 minutes (tent with foil if browning too quickly). Cool 15 minutes in pan. Turn out cakes onto a rack; cool completely.

Note: The cakes can be frozen to serve later.

Lemon Curd Mascarpone Cream

1 cup fresh lemon curd
1 cup mascarpone cheese
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Blend well with a hand mixer until fully incorporated and chill until dessert assembly.

Mint Julep Syrup With Lemon & Knob Creek

2 cups water
1 cup bourbon (we used Knob Creek)
½ cup unbleached cane sugar
½ cup dark raw honey
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Handful of mint leaves, lightly crushed
2 tablespoons whole butter
1 large bunch of mint leaves, finely chopped

  1. In a large sauce pan, add the first 6 ingredients over medium heat and reduce to half. Strain out mint leaves and return to low burner. Add more lemon or honey to taste.
  2. Whisk in the butter and chopped mint into the sauce. Keep warm, not hot.

Assembly:

  1. Cut the cake with a serrated knife into slices about ¾-1 inch thick.
  2. On a dessert plate, fill the recessed area with mint julep syrup. The cake will absorb most of the liquid.
  3. Place the cake one side down in the syrup.
  4. Top the cake with 2 T of the lemon curd mascarpone, spreading it evenly.
  5. Add syrup to the bottom of the plate.
  6. Top with fresh whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
  7. Garnish with fresh mint and/or candied lemon peel.

P.S. In case you’re wondering, the dinner we served included Baby Crab Cakes with Cajun Remoulade and a Small Cheese Plate to start. We made a Chilled Fresh Pea Soup with Rosemary Cream, followed by Swordfish with Fresh Herbs, Lemon, and Garlic accompanied by Roast Baby Potatoes and Sautéed Spinach with Fresh Tomatoes and Roasted Corn.

Have you had to create a theme-based menu for catering a client party? How did you go about 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.

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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Tempeh fish tacos

When we talk about proteins, it’s not surprising if what immediately comes to mind is meat and seafood. Or dairy. Or eggs. In other words, animal proteins.

But here’s what else is protein: legumes, like beans, peas, peanuts, and lentils; other nuts; and soy. Yes, plant proteins. And they can create just as hearty a meal as any steak or pork chop. And can be just as rich as cream or custard.

If you’re looking for meat mimics, the trifecta is tofu, tempeh, and seitan. Most people are familiar with the soybean product tofu, but tempeh and seitan are still unusual food products in the typical U.S. household. They’ve been growing increasingly popular, however, as more folks than just vegetarians or vegans turn to plant proteins to round out their diet. And while all three are Asian in origin, you can go way beyond Asian flavors to create a great dish.

Tempeh is a traditional fermented soy product that was originally developed around the 19th century in Indonesia. The culturing can be complicated, which makes it difficult for home cooks to make from scratch.  But it’s easy to find in markets like Whole Foods.

This dense spongy product that can be cut into pieces and brined or marinated before pan frying. It can be crumbled into pieces for chili, stir frys, soups, and stews. It can be grated and substituted for ground beef. You can feature it in tacos, using a blackening seasoning that is pressed into tempeh slices, which are then seared. Add a chipotle sauce made with Vegenaise, an eggless mayo, as well as salsa, guacamole, and shredded cabbage.

Seitan is a very different product—made of wheat gluten. It’s believed to have first appeared during the 6th century in China as a noodle ingredient, but has long been popular throughout China, Japan, and other East and Southeast Asian countries. The term itself was coined in the ‘60s in Japan.

Seitan is for the person who is a meat eater—who likes steak. In the U.S. it’s usually sold in blocks, strips, and cubes by brands like Upton and WestSoy. In its natural form, it’s a perfect blank canvas for flavors, so it’s not uncommon to find a number of packaged flavor variations—even bacon. It’s also pretty easy to make. Home cooks can create loaves of it using vital wheat flour, nutritional yeast flakes, and other ingredients. Like tempeh, it can be refrigerated or frozen to keep longer. Use it to make sausages and lunchmeat or add it to sauces. You can even cook it like a roast.

Because it so readily absorbs flavors, you can take the flavors in a typical meaty dish, like meatballs or even a pastrami sandwich, and transfer them to seitan.

Now tofu is not a stranger to most of us, but let’s go beyond stir frying and other traditional savory applications you’re used to. How about dessert? My friend chef Marguerite Grifka sometimes use tofu to make desserts.

“I make a cheesecake using tofu as well as mousse,” she said. “It’s a good substitute for eggs.”

Grifka pointed out that the tofu used in dessert applications—as well as sauces, smoothies, chowders, and mock sour cream—is silken tofu. Unlike regular tofu, which can be grainy and crumbly, silken tofu has a smooth, creamy texture. Like regular tofu, you can find it in soft, firm, and extra firm. She uses firm or extra firm silken tofu for her Salted Caramel Chocolate Mousse with Tofu.

One of the challenges of making a sweet tofu dish is the tofu aftertaste. Grifka discovered that adding salted caramel to the chocolate cut the aftertaste, resulting in a rich, satisfying sweet and creamy dessert.

The recipe takes all of about 10 minutes to make. First you create the caramel by melting sugar and adding coconut milk. Then you add chocolate chips and whisk until they melt. That cools and in a blender you combine that mixture with the tofu, salt, and vanilla. Then you just have to decide whether you’re serving it in small dishes, spooning it out of a large bowl, or perhaps piping it out from a pastry bag. Chill and then you can top it with berries or shaved chocolate—or a tofu cream topping that can serve as whipped cream.

Here’s the recipe:

Salted Caramel Chocolate Mousse with Tofu
From Marguerite Grifka

1, 12-ounce package silken organic firm tofu (Mori-Nu brand or other in shelf stable/aseptic package)
4 ounces 60% shaved semi-sweet chocolate (or substitute ¾ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips)
2 tablespoons organic sugar
½ cup organic coconut milk
½ teaspoon coarse sea salt (or substitute with kosher salt)
½ teaspoon vanilla bean paste or extract

Have all ingredients measured ready to go before you start, this comes together quickly.

To create the caramel, sprinkle sugar on the bottom of sauce pan. Heat over medium heat. Have the coconut milk close by. Sugar will melt and then quickly turn light brown (caramelize). As soon as you see it turn a light caramel color remove from heat and add coconut milk. It will sputter so be careful.

Return to heat, simmer, and whisk until caramel is dissolved.

Add chocolate chips and whisk until melted, remove from heat.

Put tofu block in blender or chop into a few pieces to fit in food processor. Add the coconut/chocolate mixture, salt, and vanilla. Blend until smooth, stopping to scrape down sides as needed.

Pour into serving dishes or into a bowl to chill. You can place in a pastry bag and pipe through a star tip if you want to be extra fancy.

Chill 1 hour or more.

Top with dairy-free whipped cream or tofu topping (see recipe below), berries, shaved chocolate, chopped toasted almonds or hazelnuts.

Tofu Cream Topping

1, 12-ounce package silken organic extra firm tofu (Mori-Nu brand or other in shelf stable/aseptic package)
¼ cup real maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
⅛ teaspoon salt

Blend until combined. Chill until cold.

Are you cooking non-animal proteins for clients? Share a tip with us for how you use 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.

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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