Chill Out with a Homemade Shrub

Filed under: Cooking Tips,Recipes , Tags: , , , — Author: Caron Golden , July 13, 2020

Welcome to July! It’s getting hot! And while it’s easy for clients to reach into the fridge for a soft drink or juice or iced tea, how about making them a berry or other summer fruit shrub? If you haven’t heard of shrubs, they are a fruit syrup, preserved with vinegar. The chemical transformation in just hours of the mixture of fruit, perhaps some herbs, sugar, and vinegar creates a unique sweet and tangy libation as part of a cocktail, blended with soda water, or used as an ingredient to make a dressing or sauce. You can pour shrubs over ice cream, too. And you can blend them with fresh fruit and freeze into popsicles.

There are essentially two methods of making a shrub, both easy and requiring few ingredients. One is via heat and a fairly quick process. The other is a cold method that sits for several hours or even a day or two as the ingredients macerate.

Essentially what you’ll want is your fruit, sugar, and vinegar–red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar are good choices. You want something that has some substance but won’t overtake the fruit flavors. Balsamic is a good choice, too, but know that it will vie with the fruit in terms of flavors. It’s actually what I used for my shrub along with the apple cider vinegar.

Another cool thing about shrubs has to do with the fruit. Since the fruit will be turned into a liquid, you don’t need to buy the most flawless, perfect fruit. If you have peaches or plums or berries that are a little past their prime, they’re great candidates for a shrub.

Okay, so what do you do? The quick way is to combine equal parts sugar and water in a saucepan and stir the mixture over heat until the sugar dissolves. Then add your fruit. Stir as it simmers and the juice melds with the sugar mixture, becoming syrupy. Let it cool, strain the solids, and add your vinegar. That’s it.

Now some people feel that the way to extract more complexity and brightness is to go with the cold method. There’s no heat to dull the fruit flavors. This, too, is quite easy. And, it’s what I did.

In a bowl I gently mashed a mixture of mulberries, blackberries, and raspberries to extract some of the juices to let the sugar to penetrate more easily–sort of a head start. Then I added the sugar, covered the bowl with plastic wrap, and refrigerated it. The next morning, I pulled the bowl out of the fridge and could see the juices and syrup already forming.

At this point you strain the liquid from the fruit. If you have a fine mesh strainer or chinois, that’s the perfect tool for this. Press down on the fruit to get every last drop. )And save the fruit to enjoy on ice cream or to spread on French toast.) Then you’ll whisk the vinegar into the liquid. Pour it into a pretty bottle using a funnel and you’re good to go.

Your shrub will be wonderfully tart and sweet, a combination that will mellow with time when stored in the fridge. I like to keep it simple and enjoy it combined with sparkling water on a hot late afternoon. And, as I said, enjoy the remaining preserved fruit over ice cream!

I’ve got a recipe for you that I adapted from Serious Eats that outlines the process perfectly.

Cold Processed Berry Shrub
Yield: 20 to 24 ounces of shrub syrup

Ingredients
1 cup of berries
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar

1. Place berries in a bowl and gently mash them to release some juice.
2. Add sugar and mix together. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least six hours or overnight until the fruit releases liquids into a syrup. There’s no hurry here.
3. Place the mixture into a fine mesh strainer or chinois over a bowl or measuring cup and carefully press on the fruit and sugar mixture to extract as much syrup as possible. If there’s some sugar remaining in the original bowl scrape that in, too. Save the fruit for ice cream or to spread on French toast or pancakes.
4. Whisk the vinegar into the syrup.
5. Using a funnel, pour your shrub into a bottle. Seal and keep refrigerated.

Have you ever tasted or, better yet, made a shrub? What flavors do you think you’d mix for a signature shrub? 

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Last Call for Summer: Watermelon Tomato Gazpacho

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo from Reviews.com

Back in the ’90s, my parents lived in Boston and one of my favorite expeditions when visiting them was to a Newbury St. housewares store I loved. I no longer remember its name–and it probably isn’t there anymore–but back then they had an astounding array of reconditioned knives. I built my knife collection there and still have many of them, including a chef’s knife.

But back in San Diego at Great News!, a much-loved housewares store that finally did go out of business, I bought what immediately became my favorite, go-to, pack-when-I-evacuate-for-a-fire knife. It’s a Wusthof Dreizack Culinar santoku knife. I didn’t even think I needed a new knife until a friend who worked there put it in my hand. It fit perfectly. I have small hands and this knife made me feel for the first time that I had control.

You can talk about materials, craftsmanship, and price–all of which are important. But ultimately if a knife is going to be an extension of your hand, what makes a perfect chef’s knife is very personal.

“My mother-in-law bought me a Wusthof Ikon Santoku because she liked how it looked,” said personal chef and food blogger Carol Borchardt. ‘I’ve been in love with this knife ever since. It feels great in my hand because of the shape of the handle.”

For personal chef Suzy Dannette Hegglin-Brown, it was important to find a great knife guy and build a relationship with him. Hers, she said, is old school and knows what she likes.

“I like a well-balanced knife. I do not like a heavy knife,” she explained. “So my knife is a cross between a Global and a Henkel. The brand is an F. Dick. It fits my hand well. Not too heavy so I don’t get tired… Not so light that I feel like it’s cheap. It is an extension of my own hand. I love this knife. I have two of them. One for home and one for work.”

Photo from Suzy Dannette Heglin-Brown

San Diego chef Christian Eggert is a knife fanatic. He has been collecting them since he was a kid and said he has about 40. For Eggert, the quality of the steel is his first priority. “It equates to the knife’s ability to hold and edge and be resharpened.” However, he suggested that less experienced cooks should go with a Kyocera ceramic knife.

“They need to be careful with the brittleness of the ceramic as far as impact and cuts that require blade flexibility, but the warranty and inexpensive repair far outweighs the cost of a real knife,” Eggert said. “If you go for steel, though, I would recommend nothing less than a S30V or VG10 steel. These hold a true edge and can take a fair amount of abuse. When they want to get to a top layer steel R2 is world class along side D2 or other steels that add resilience and sharpen ability.”

Christian Eggert’s Mr. Itou knife

Then there’s grip. Linen micarta, Eggert said, is the best. “It gets grippy when wet and wears like iron. Ideally it should just about balance on your pointer finger. I like a little weight in my knife so I use a full tang custom (Mr. Itou). But again, even though they are very light, the Kyoceras are the knife I would recommend to most people for their ease of use, edge holding, and they are very light which reduces fatigue overall.”

Of course, a light knife isn’t for everyone and it can take time to get used to it if you’ve been a longtime user of heavier knives. Personal chef Jim Huff picked up an 8-inch Wusthof classic chef knife at Sur La Table because it felt “right” to him (and he got a nice discount as a student taking a class there). But he’s since picked up a Wusthof Pro Chef’s Knife that is much lighter. “I’m still adjusting to using it at home,” he said. “Up till now I’ve always preferred the heavier knives.”

Almost every quality food magazine invariably has stories dedicated to how to buy a good chef’s knife. Do a Google search and dig in. But you might also want to check out Reviews.com’s recent piece that lays out various features that aren’t subjective. They culled a list of 170 knives to 11 top performers. Then they put the knives through a series of tests–cutting herbs, carrots, butternut squash, and chicken. And they found that, just like the rest of us, the test wasn’t going to work as planned since right out of the factory, they would all perform well. Instead, it would be fairly subjective.

“Were we able to grip it comfortably? Was it too light or too heavy? Did the spine rub awkwardly against our index fingers as we chopped? These are the details that can make or break a cook’s relationship with their kitchen knife.”

But, even given the variety of testers, they were able to narrow the field down to some favorites, based on the user’s experience.

For many of us, of course, some of these choices come down to price. For Carolyn Tipton Wold, she went with what she was used to when she was training to become a personal chef and it wasn’t the most expensive. “I have a set of Wusthof and another well-known brand, but they couldn’t hold their edge when sharpened. Professional sharpeners wouldn’t sharpen them because the steel was too soft. I went back to my training knife and for $25, I haven’t been disappointed!”

Eggert noted that a Kyocera santoku will cost less than $50. Depending on the material, a Mr. Itou santoku will range from $400 to $600. More familiar names, like Kramers, Shuns, Henkels, and the like have a high price based on branding. But, Eggert said, there are far superior knives with a smaller price tag.

Serious Eats has a terrific guide by J. Kenji López-Alt. Here’s his list of things to consider (aside from personal preference). To my mind, these will help get you to personal preference:

  • Style: Do you prefer a slim-and-maneuverable modern gyutou-style hybrid knife, a rough-and-tough Western-style knife, or a more precise and delicate Japanese-style santoku?
  • Design: A good knife should be as fine-tuned as a race car with every aspect, from the curvature of the blade to the weight of the bolster to the shape of the handle, taken into consideration for optimal balance and performance.
  • Craftsmanship: Do the pieces all fit together tightly and firmly? Are the rivets going to fall out or is the blade going to separate from the handle? Is the finish on the handle smooth and pleasant to hold, and is the blade properly honed straight out of the box?
  • Materials: Is the steel hard or soft? Harder steels in Japanese and hybrid-style knives retain edges for a longer time but are tougher to sharpen. Softer steels are easier, but need to be honed and sharpened more frequently. Is the composite or wood in the handle durable and comfortable?

Once you hit all your priorities in terms of these four issues as well as price, then it comes down to how it feels in your hand and how it makes you feel about getting the tasks done with it. (And keep that feel-good condition. Don’t neglect sharpening and honing them!)

What chefs knife do you use and how did you come to choosing 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!

Holidays—and Thanksgiving in particular—are supposed to be joyous occasions filled with family and friends. But clearly households across the U.S. have yet to figure out how to do it without having nervous breakdowns. Witness the scads of articles that appear this time of year with advice on how to cope. The title of this piece in Serious Eats sums it up: The Food Lab’s Complete Guide to a Stress-Free Thanksgiving, 2013.

Funny, nowhere in the piece does it mention, “hire a personal chef.” And yet our clients are clamoring for help from us.

Now some of us have the ability to take time off. Chef Sarah Robinson of Forever Feasting in Concord, New Hampshire tells us, “I don’t work close to holidays. One of the reasons I love this job is making my own schedule and being able to make my family a priority. The work will be there when I’m well rested.”

Chef Carol Borchardt's Cornish Game Hen with Clementine Glaze

Chef Carol Borchardt’s Cornish Game Hen with Clementine Glaze

Carol Borchardt of A Thought for Food in Memphis also feels no compunction about turning down work to be with family, referring clients to other personal chefs who are okay with working on that day.

But it doesn’t mean she doesn’t help—she just does it ahead of time. And, interestingly, she says that most of her client requests around the holiday are for things other than the traditional Thanksgiving meal. “They’re brunch items to have while their guests are in town and appetizers. A few request side dishes but because I’m doing them ahead they have to be freezer friendly.”

Every personal chef business is unique, and each of us has to determine whether or not to offer holiday service, but before you turn down requests, here are some options for how to help clients and still enjoy a holiday of your own:

  • Offer a complete holiday meal featuring a glazed stuffed turkey or goose, side dishes, and dessert—delivered to the client’s home along with specific instructions for the morning of the holiday for roasting, warming, and serving. Of course, if you want to take on more work, you can offer to prep and serve the meal.
  • Offer your client support and assistance with meal planning, shopping, and prepping, or prepare side dishes in advance, like Carol does, that can be defrosted, heated, and served on the day of the holiday.
  • Create a limited menu of desserts and appetizers ahead of time that you can present to clients. This should offer choices that allow you some control and them some variety.

For many years I would write a letter to all of my clients, thanking them for allowing me to serve them during the past year and offering them a list of items they may choose to order in advance to enhance their holiday` entertaining experience.  Orders were to be placed by November 15th for delivery on November 22nd.

The selections ranged from selected appetizers, entrees, side dishes and desserts that were prepared in a licensed commercial kitchen and delivered to the client’s home in advance of the holiday to be warmed and served at the client’s convenience so the client could entertain drop in guests or invite friends and family over for a celebration.

Chef Suzy Brown's roasted Thanksgiving goose

Chef Suzy Brown’s roasted Thanksgiving goose

Ten flavors of cookie dough were also offered in 24-ounce rolled logs for both Thanksgiving and Christmas which could be sliced and baked by the client for that holiday cookie aroma throughout the house or delivered baked off and plated.

Service is the backbone of the personal chef industry and those of us who operate individual personal chef businesses are committed to accommodating our clients. The trick is becoming adept at doing so while maintaining a strong commitment spending time with our own families on important holidays.

And, in that spirit, I wish all of you a very happy Thanksgiving!

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