Because personal chefs are instrumental in assisting clients address health issues through diet, we’ve asked members who actively create special diets to help the rest of us understand them. It’s the first step in learning more so that if clients approach you with special dietary needs your first instinct will be to say, “Yes, I can help.” This week Monica Shoemaker of Home Plate Personal Chef Service in Portland, Oregon, is introducing us to the basics of the anti-inflammatory diet.

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Creating beautiful meals for busy families, professionals, individuals is not all we do as personal chefs. People often come to us with health issues that they recognize can be made better by the foods they eat. And often times, they aren’t able to cook for themselves or don’t have the energy to do so because of an ailment or serious disease. That’s where we come in. The anti-inflammatory diet seems to be the latest trend that I think is going to stick around for a while. Created by Dr. Andrew Weil, the Harvard-educated pioneer of integrative medicine, and based on the Mediterranean diet, this approach to nutrition is centered around his belief that certain foods cause or fight systemic inflammation. He views inflammation as leading to diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s Disease, and heart disease. To reduce the risk of age-related disease, Weil counters it with healthy fats, fiber-rich fruits and vegetables, a lot of water, and limited amounts of animal protein, except omega-3-rich oily fish.

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That’s a preventative approach, but the diet can also be employed to treat issues clients already are dealing with. Stress, lack of exercise, smoking, can all lead to inflammation. Inflammation occurs naturally when there’s an injury. For those with diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s, arthritis, joint pain, and auto-immune conditions like fibromyalgia, the anti-inflammatory diet can be a salve and calm the body. Common culprits to avoid are sugar, wheat, dairy, and too much red meat. I know what you’re thinking… no fun! But it’s our job to create delicious and creative ways to prepare foods that nourish and heal when the challenge arises. Eating an array of colorful fruits and vegetables that are loaded with antioxidants can ward off the oxidative stress put on the body, as well as avoiding salt, and refined and processed foods. We can add beans, nuts, olive oil, onions, salmon, tuna, anchovies, and other cold-water fish to the client’s diet. What we’re stressing here are fiber, anti-oxidants, monounsaturated fats, and omega-3-rich foods.

Additionally, there’s a theory that too much acid-producing food can cause inflammation and that increasing alkaline-promoting foods can counteract negative effects and promote better health. Alkaline foods are primarily fruits and vegetables. And, no, that doesn’t rule out citrus. Fruits like lemon are acidic in their natural state, but when metabolized by the body, they have an alkalizing effect and healing can occur more rapidly.

I have a client for whom I’ve been cooking for six years now who has multiple sclerosis. When he first came to me he had consulted with a naturopath and a nutritionist about how to manage his newly diagnosed disease. Not only does he take medication, but they recommended an anti-inflammatory diet which can improve symptoms and slow the progression. They provided me with a list of foods, herbs, and spices that are acidic and a list of foods that are alkaline. With that information, I was able to customize menus for him that influence good health. In addition to that, I recently cooked for a new client who is a breast cancer survivor and hired me to cook for two other families going through chemo and radiation. She wanted them to have a month’s worth of meals just as she had when she was undergoing her treatments. She said that it was such a blessing to have lovingly prepared meals for her family that were nutritious and ready to eat.

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I feel that it’s our responsibility to educate ourselves about the anti-inflammatory diet, and other health conditions that can benefit from healing foods. Since special diets are a large part of our business. What’s great about our jobs, is not only do we get to do what we love, we also provide a service that people really appreciate. We help clients by giving them nutritious meals and we help them save time so that they can do the things they love.

You can easily find information about anti-inflammatory diets on the internet and there are a lot of great books on the subject. It’s very important to ask our clients to consult with their doctor about their health, but this is a way of eating that everyone can benefit from.

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Here’s a recipe that I created and have made for clients for years. It is quick and simple to make. It has fresh ginger, which is anti-inflammatory, as well as the other components. This was my son’s favorite soup when he was young and still is.

Vietnamese Chicken Ball Soup

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Ingredients

8-10 cups chicken broth
1 ½ pounds ground chicken
1 knob (about 3 tablespoons), fresh ginger, minced
3 tablespoons sesame oil
3 tablespoons tamari
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup cornstarch
1 1/2 cups snow peas, sliced on the bias into thirds
2 cups shitake mushrooms, sliced
2 carrots, sliced on the bias
2 green onions, sliced on the bias
3 cups fresh spinach
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped

Bring the broth to a boil while assembling the meatballs. Gently mix the ground chicken, ginger, sesame oil, tamari, cilantro, and salt and pepper. Form into a 1½-inch ball, roll in cornstarch, shake off excess, then drop into the boiling broth. I do these one at a time and drop them into the broth as I make each one. It goes quickly. The cornstarch helps keep them together. The meatballs are somewhat loose, but they firm up in the hot broth.

Add the sliced carrots, let them cook for a few minutes, then add the shiitakes. Cook for a few more minutes, then turn off the heat. Add the snow peas and green onions once it starts to cool a bit, otherwise the snow peas will get overcooked. Add the spinach. Garnish with a little chopped cilantro and serve.

This freezes well too!

Vietnamese Chicken Ball Soup

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Monica Shoemaker has been cooking ever since she can remember. Growing up in Texas on the Mexican border, her first memories are of making tortillas with the family housekeeper, Maria. “Those hot tortillas coming off the griddle were my first memories,” she recalls. “I always loved cooking, loved experimenting. A friend of mine in high school used to joke that I was the only person who would throw parties when my parents were away and serve hors d’oeuvres.”

But Monica had never actually considered cooking as a career choice, opting instead to get a degree in social work. All the while, however, she had been teaching herself how to cook, waiting tables at restaurant, and did cook tableside at a chic Mexican restaurant in Houston. The restaurant asked her to cater for them and she even got a gig as a private chef for her flight instructor. Yes, she was learning how to fly.

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Then she moved to Portland, following her brother, in 1996. She got married, and had a baby boy. “When my son was three I wanted to have the freedom and flexibility of having my own business and do it cooking. I did some research and found APPCA. I went to a summit that year and met Candy. She’s amazing. She’s given me lots of great business advice. I love her!”

The name for her new business, Home Plate Personal Chef Service, came to her in a dream while she was in Houston visiting her mom. Back in Portland, she was able to get clients from some of the top headquartered companies in the region, including Nike, Adidas, and Intel. She’s focused on cooking nutritious, healthy meals and loves creating meals based on clients’ special diets.

“I do everything from paleo to helping people with food allergies and sensitivities, like gluten-free and MS or other anti-inflammatory diets,” she explains. “I’m always reading up on nutrition and medical journals. People come to me because they want to eat clean, healthy food.”

But, like many chefs, she likes to have her moment to shine with food that’s a little more extravagant. “I love doing dinner parties, too, she says. “That’s when I can pull out all the stops.”

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One of the greatest times of her life was a trip made with a group of personal chefs to Italy, led by Candy. She participated in a cooking course at the Academia Barilla in Parma. “It was an amazing experience. Not only were we able to taste the best olive oils in the regional and learn how they made parmesan and prosciutto, we even got to cook with a chef who cooked for the pope! I loved the produce, the little markets. It was incredible!

Monica at Academia Barilla

“But what I gained the most, aside from the amazing food and lovely scenery, were the friendships I made there–in particular, Katie Jackson and Gina Capobianco, both APPCA members, whom I’ve seen many times over the years since we met there,” adds Monica. “We travel together, meet up in other cities, and talk on a weekly basis. It also gave me a deeper appreciation for the APPCA and I was able to bond with a lot of other chefs in our association, which was fantastic since we often work alone when we’re at the homes of our clients.”

Today, Monica is weaving in a new skills set with her cooking. She just became an aesthetician. She’ll continue to work with her clients, but is also hoping to work in a wellness center to do nutritional counseling and skin care.

Monica has a special Persian-style lamb stew recipe to share–perfect for cold winter nights.

Spiced Lamb Stew with Walnuts and Pomegranate

From Monica Shoemaker

The recipe has been adapted from Jamie Oliver’s recipe.  I made a few changes…but the method of cooking is the same.

Serves 4

2 to 3 pounds quality roasting shoulder joint of lamb, boneless
2 tablespoons plain flour
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil
1 red onion, peeled and finely sliced
4 sticks celery, trimmed and finely sliced
4 cloves garlic, peeled and finely sliced
½ stick cinnamon
1 cup walnuts, chopped
2 bay leaves
2 cups of pomegranate juice
1 cup of chicken broth
1 bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley

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Cut the lamb into thumb-sized cubes. Spike the flour with a teaspoon of sea salt and black pepper. Toss the lamb cubes in the seasoned flour.

Heat a large pan and pour in 2 tablespoons of olive oil. When the oil starts to smoke, add as many lamb pieces as will fit in one layer, cover with a lid and cook for a few minutes until soft and browned evenly. Remove from the pan, then repeat with the remaining cubes until they are all browned. Return all the lamb to the pan and turn the heat down.

Add the onion, celery, garlic, cinnamon, walnuts and bay leaves to the pan. Put the lid back on and cook very gently for 3 to 5 minutes, stirring often to make sure nothing sticks to the bottom of the pan, until the onion is softened.

Lamb stew ingredients in pot

Cut your pomegranates in half and ease out a few of the seeds and put to one side. Stir the juice into the lamb and top up with water to cover. Simmer very gently for 1½ hours, or until the lamb is tender, adding a little water now and then if the stew gets dry.

Remove and discard the cinnamon stick and bay leaves. Season to taste and sprinkle with the parsley and reserved pomegranate seeds. Lovely served with steaming hot saffron rice.

Lamb stew

Photos courtesy of Monica Shoemaker.

 

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