It’s so easy for contemporary home cooks and chefs who consider themselves sophisticated in the kitchen to poo poo casseroles. Many of us grew up in the days of tuna embalmed in noodles and Campbell’s mushroom soup. Or macaroni and ground beef. Yeah, we’ve all been there.

But think of it this way: lasagna is essentially a casserole and we all love lasagna. It’s really a matter of what you do with the concept, which is basically a meal in a baking dish. For some, it’s a way to use up leftover ingredients. For others, it’s the quintessential dish you bring with love to friends or family who are too stressed (from grief, illness, new babies) to be able to make meals themselves. For personal chefs, it can be an easy way to prepare a comprehensive meal packed with nutrition in a single container that just needs reheating by clients.

I got to thinking about this recently when I saw a piece on casseroles in The Kitchn. They ran a list of casserole links and what was interesting was that recipes not only described how to prepare the dish but in advance of that, how to prep the ingredients for freezing and provide instructions to the recipient for  making it later.

One of those recipes struck a chord with me. It was baked chicken with rice. Once I sorted through the freezing instructions, which I didn’t need, I realized that this was a casserole I could fall in love with. After all, it takes two dishes I really enjoy–roasted or baked chicken and grains filled with vegetables and herbs and spices. All this does it put them together in an easy-to-make, one-dish meal.

Like all great casseroles, you can change this up, depending on the season or the ingredients you have or prefer. I happened to find elephant garlic scapes at a specialty market in San Diego. These are a rare find so I nabbed what I thought I could use (I usually make pesto with scapes) and decided to add some to my casserole, along with mushrooms, marinated artichoke hearts, and onion.

You could add sliced kalamata olives and capers for one specific flavor profile. Or you could go in a totally different direction with tomatillos, fresh poblano or Anaheim chiles. Or eggplant, zucchini, red bell peppers, pine nuts, and za’atar. Cooking for one? I do–and I easily cut this recipe in half for two meals. I just used a smaller baking dish.

So, use this as a foundation for building your own one-dish wonder for clients. I hope you’ll share with us what you came up with.

Chicken and Whole Grains Casserole
Serves 2 to 4

Ingredients
4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
½ cup of your favorite vinaigrette
½ cup onion, diced
½ cup fresh shitake mushrooms, sliced
½ cup garlic cloves sliced (or, when in season, garlic scapes)
1 cup marinated artichoke heart quarters
2 cups brown rice
¼ cup wheat berries, wild rice, farro, or other grains
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
4 cups water, white wine, or chicken broth, depending on your preference

Directions
1. The day before you make the dish, combine the chicken thighs and vinaigrette in a freezer bag. Seal and massage the bag to coat the chicken. Refrigerate overnight.
2. Preheat the oven to 375˚F.
3. Grease a 9X13-inch baking dish with olive oil.
4. Combine the vegetables, grains, and herbs and spices in the baking dish. Stir in the liquids. Remove the chicken pieces from the bag and place them on top of the grains mixture.
5. Cover the baking dish with foil and bake for 1 hour. Uncover the dish and bake for up to another hour. You want the grains to have absorbed the liquid and the chicken to be cooked through with crispy skin.

Do you enjoy a casserole or make them for clients? What is your favorite?

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!

Delight Clients with Homemade Cultured Butter

Filed under: Recipes , Tags: , , , — Author: Caron Golden , August 8, 2016

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Have you ever enjoyed Brittany butter, the sweet and slightly crunchy from sea salt butter that comes from cows in a region of France known for its butter production? It’s no neutral spread that functions as a quasi-lubricant for toast. It actually has flavor. Marvelous grassy flavor. After trying it years ago I realized that commodity butter wasn’t going to cut it for me any more.

These days it’s not impossible to find imports–even at your local Trader Joe’s–but why not try making your own butter for clients? A few months ago I poked around and found instructions for butter making–really easy ones (but not involving shaking a jar). I tried it and found I loved the results.

Of course, once you start… and so I had to try making cultured butter. Cultured butter has a tangy, more layered taste than regular butter. And it really comes alive when you take the time to culture it yourself. All that involves is adding the culture to the cream in a bowl and letting it sit at room temperature for from eight to 24 hours, covered. You can purchase the culture from cheese-making stores or you can simply add a couple of tablespoons of yogurt, which is what I did.

Now where regular butter takes little effort and a very short time to make, cultured butter requires little effort but many hours of waiting. Kind of like making bread, but without the kneading. But if you’re not in a hurry, this is makes an über version of butter that you’ll want to try.

As with all recipes with limited ingredients, the few used for making cultured butter have to be really really good. So, be sure to use organic unpasteurized heavy cream or whipping cream (even better if it’s from a local dairy), high quality yogurt, and, if you’re going to add salt, very good flaky sea salt.

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To start you’ll mix together the cream and yogurt in a bowl, cover the bowl with a towel and leave it to sit on the counter at room temperature for at least 12 hours. Ideally room temperature is in the 70s. It should get thick like sour cream and a little bubbly. It should smell clean. If it smells funky, toss it and try again.

Once it reaches the right consistency, refrigerate it for an hour. You can leave it in longer if you don’t have time to make it immediately. I left mine in the fridge overnight, then took it out the next morning and left it for an hour to come back to room temperature before making the butter.

Now the way I make it is in the blender. And what I’ve learned by using my Vitamix is that you have to rein in your impulse to whip the cream on high. Instead, don’t even move the dial from the lowest speed. It’s fast enough to do the job of spurring the cream and yogurt mixture from thick to chunky.

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Once you have some good sized chunks, stop. Let the mixture rest and separate. The liquid you get is buttermilk and it’s delicious. Don’t toss it but do drain it into a container and save it for baking muffins or making buttermilk dressing or however you like to use buttermilk.

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Now you’re going to wash the butter to remove any remaining remnants of buttermilk since that will make it spoil faster. There are different ways to do it. You can squeeze it by hand. You could pull out the chunks of butter, place them in cheesecloth in a bowl and pour ice water over them and press the butter into the ice water so that the water turns cloudy–and repeat this several times until the water is clear. Or you can make life easier for yourself with a trick I learned from The Kitchn–add cold water to the butter chunks in the blender bowl and pulse a few times. Let the mixture sit until the water separates from the butter. It’ll be cloudy. Pour it out, being sure to use a slotted spoon or spatula to keep the butter in the bowl. Repeat a couple more times until the water is mostly clear. Move around those chunks at the bottom near the blades where water accumulates so you can drain it all out.

If you want to salt your butter, this is the time. Add just a scant quarter teaspoon of your sea salt to the blender bowl with the butter and pulse a few times to mix it in. Taste and make sure you have enough. If not, add just a bit more. Pulse again.

That’s it. Scoop the butter into a bowl, cover, and refrigerate. Alternately, you can shape it into a log, using plastic wrap and refrigerate it. It should be good for about three weeks in the fridge or up to three months in the freezer. If you want to make regular butter, there’s no waiting, simply pour a pint of the heavy cream into the blender bowl and follow the instructions above.

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Cultured Butter
Adapted from The Kitchn

1 pint organic, unpasteurized heavy cream or whipping cream
2 tablespoons yogurt
1/4 teaspoon sea salt (optional)

1. Whisk together the cream and yogurt in a bowl. Cover with a clean towel and let sit on the counter for 12 hours. Check to see if the mixture has thickened to a sour cream-like consistency and has formed bubbles on the top. If so, it’s ready. If not, give it some more time. When it’s ready, place it in the refrigerator to chill for an hour.
2. Bring the mixture to room temperature for an hour. This helps it separate into pieces faster. Then place in the bowl of a blender. At low speed, blend the cream-yogurt mixture for a minute or two until it it forms into chunks. That’s your butter.
3. Let the butter chunks separate from the liquid, which is buttermilk. At that point, pour off the buttermilk for another use.
4. Add enough cold water to the butter in the blender bowl just to cover. Now you’re washing the butter. Pulse three times. The water will be cloudy. Pour it off. Repeat two or more times until the water is relatively clear. Make sure you remove all the water.
5. Add salt now if you want. Pulse again a few times to make sure it’s well mixed. Taste to see if you need to add more salt.
6. Scoop out the butter and place it in a bowl, covered with plastic wrap and refrigerate–or shape it into a log using plastic wrap and refrigerate. It should be good for a few weeks. It can also be frozen for up to three months.

Have you ever made butter? If not, why? What other commodity staples have you made from scratch that clients love?

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!

You’re busy chefs and are probably always looking for great ways to save time, money, and ingredients. I frequently post what I think are marvelously clever and useful kitchen hacks on our Facebook page to give you some ideas to tuck away for your use. Today, I’m writing up half a dozen that I’ve seen and used. Periodically, I’ll post more as I collect them. And if you have any to share, send them along with photos!

1. Preserved lemons: This Moroccan staple is brilliant added to pasta, salads, dressings, and proteins like scallops and poultry. And they’re ridiculously easy to make. All you need is a large glass jar, about 7 or 8 Meyer lemons and sea salt. Slice the lemons down the long end almost half way, turn it a quarter and do it again. Stuff the inside with salt. Grab that end, turn the lemon upside down and repeat so both ends are stuffed with salt. Place the lemon in the impeccably clean jar and repeat with as many lemons as you can fit into the jar and still screw on the lid. A lot of juice will come out. That’s fine. Keep the jar of lemons on the counter for a month, periodically turning it over and back to make sure the juice is covering the top. After a month, you can use the lemons in pasta dishes, in rice, salads, sauces, with fish or with Moroccan-style dishes. Keep the jar in the refrigerator and the lemons will last for months.

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2. Freezing ginger: I don’t know about you, but fresh ginger root can be frustrating. You buy a knob to use for a dish and then you still have leftover ginger that, despite your best intentions, doesn’t get used and eventually shrivels up and gets tossed. Enough of that. The Kitchn has a great approach. I learned I could peel a hand of the root, grate it, measure it off in teaspoons, and freeze it. But I changed it up a bit and made it even easier. I didn’t peel the root and instead of grating it, I pulled out my mini food processor, quickly sliced up the large hand, and ground it as fine as I could. Then I used a mini cookie scoop, which measures about a teaspoon, and before I knew it I had more than a dozen scoops of ginger on a parchment-lined pan. I put the pan in the freezer. Two hours or so later when the pieces were hard, I placed those now-frozen ground ginger rounds in a quart freezer bag so I can have what I need when I need it. And sans waste.

Pureed ginger2

3. Dried dill: My mom has a Persian friend who has taught us all sorts of great recipes–and one fabulous trick. She uses a lot of dill so her way to always have what she needs on hand is to slowly dry bunches in the oven and then package it for storage. Wash and dry dill fronds. Cut off the thick stems and place the smaller fronds in a single layer on a baking sheet. Place the sheet in a 225-degree oven. Periodically move the dill around to make sure the air is circulating around all the pieces. Depending on how much you are drying it can take from half an hour to hour until they’re just stiff and crunchy. Remove from the oven and let cool. Then carefully crumble the leaves over a clean sheet of paper so they don’t fly all over your counter. Pull the ends of the paper together so the dill settles into the middle and you can easily direct it into a container, where you can store it in the pantry, or into a freezer bag. This also works for other herbs, like mint and parsley.

Dried dill

4. Vacuum sealing with straws: Unless you have plenty of counter space for large vacuum sealers, this little hack will save you space and money. About $1.50 will buy you a package of straws that can serve a multitude of purposes, including vacuum sealing freezer bag contents. Air is the enemy of freezer storage and as talented as you may be in strategically manipulating bags to push the air out of them, using a straw is way simpler and more effective. Simply fill your freezer bag with what you’re storing, insert the end of a straw and seal the top around it. Then suck in until the plastic tightly encircles the contents. Quickly pull out the straw and finish sealing. Your frozen product will have a much better chance of lasting longer and without freezer burn.

Straws

5. Homemade vanilla extract: For years I’ve bought large bottles of vanilla whenever I’ve gone down to Tijuana. It’s inexpensive and very good. But recently a friend of mine gifted me with a beautiful bottle and a long, thick vanilla bean with instructions to fill the bottle–with the bean in it–with vodka, brandy, bourbon, or rum. Vodka, she says, gives the cleanest flavor. Then let it sit in a cool dark cabinet or pantry for six weeks. At that point, your extract is ready to use. And you can keep adding more alcohol to top off your bottle as you use it. She claims the single bean will give pure vanilla extract for 25 years. Mark your calendar.

vodka vanilla

6. Bacon by the slice: How often do you need just one or two slices of bacon to add to a dish (or make for yourself)? Here’s a great way to access a single slice at a time that I learned from The Kitchn. Buy a package of bacon, separate and roll up each slice individually. Get out a small baking sheet and line it with parchment. Place each little roll on it and put it in the freezer. Once they’re hard (I know; this is like the ginger–but, hey, it’s a great and versatile  technique), remove and toss into a freezer bag. Grab that straw from hack 4 and vacuum seal the bag. Next time you want to add a little bacon to a vinaigrette, you’re all set.

Have a great kitchen hack of your own to share? Post it here or send it to caron@goldenwriting.com with a photo so we can use it the next time we post a collection of hacks.

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

 

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A little over a week ago, we came across this piece from The Kitchn about how to help you cook faster. Since time is money for a personal chef, we posted this on our Facebook feed. Then we got to thinking about tips even more specific to personal chefs–ways that you can focus more on the important stuff, the quality of the food you prepare, and less on the more admittedly aggravating stuff that you have to do to expedite your time.

As Candy notes, classic personal chef service cook dates are unique in that you are transporting ingredients and often a mobile cooking kit to prepare your clients’ custom-designed meals in the safety of their kitchen. Organization is key because you’re preparing multiple entrees and side dishes in a residential kitchen–and you have to do it in a timely and safe way.

So, below are 11 tips that Candy has compiled that should help you make the most of the time you spend in the kitchen so you can stay cool and collected and make your clients happy.

1. Menu plan not only from a standpoint of a full range of taste and textures, but also from a standpoint of stove time and available appliances.

2. When you get to the kitchen, set the oven to 375 degrees and leave it at that level for the day. Adjust the time to finish cook rather than the temperature.

3. Finish entrees and even some sides in the oven to free stovetop burners for searing and sauteeing.

4. If your client enjoys pulled pork or  braised entrees, use a slow cooker for the entrée. Need more burners? An electric pressure cooker can actually  be used as an additional burner, and can be used for multiple purposes during the cook date. You can make stocks in a pressure cooker in about 15 minutes.

5. If you cool it, store it in 2-cup containers and freeze it, you can defrost, enhance it and use it on a future cook date for the client’s enjoyment.

6. Making fresh marinara for your client?  Double the recipe, cool it, and store it for an entrée on your next cook date.

7. Take a pasta cooker with a drain insert on a client cook date for multiple uses. You can blanch vegetables for side dishes while building layers of flavor in the water that can then be used to cook pastas or starch side dishes.

8. To expedite cooling, place several half sheets or quarter sheets in the freezer. When removing hot food from the stove or oven, spread or pour the food onto the chilled half sheet and place on a rack on the counter top to cool.

9. When packing your car always transport proteins and perishables in your vehicle in a cooler or a personal chef choice of a soft-sided thermal bag on wheels with a telescopic handle along with blue ice for safe transport.

10. Buy a 10-pound bag of ice on your way out of the grocery store to use as an ice bath for cooling food at the client’s kitchen.

11. If the client’s kitchen isn’t well ventilated you may want to purchase several small battery-operated fans for the counter top to circulate air AROUND The area where you are cooling entrees to expedite the process…remember NEVER direct the air directly at or onto the food that is being cooled.

What are some of your tricks for efficiently working your cook date? Please share them below in the comments section!

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.

For the home cook, leftovers can mean another meal or two. But how about if you’re a personal chef and you have bits of treasure from dishes you’ve made? You don’t want them to go to waste. And they could probably lend themselves to some stunning new dishes.

Food that’s been safely handled, prepared properly, and stored correctly is simply good food. Most personal chef clients find their custom-designed meal support programs keep leftovers to a minimum but if you find yourself in a leftover-heavy position–as the chef or the client–you might find some of these tips helpful.

Salad bowl

Let’s look at the easy stuff first–ingredient leftovers. If you have unused herbs or proteins–such as chicken, beef, sausage, fish or other seafood–or grilled vegetables, you can certainly use them in an omelet or frittata, or as a filling for ravioli or wontons, or in soups or salads. Quesadillas and tacos are also great ways to use extra fresh ingredients. Leftover pasta can also go in a frittata–or soup. Got mashed potatoes? Make mini shepherd’s pies or use it to top a casserole.

veggies for garlic scapes pesto pasta

Prepped but unused onions, tomatoes, peppers, lemons, watermelon, or anything else coming from the garden can enhance and complement any number of dishes. The watermelon pieces that were part of dessert the night before can be tossed with sliced heirloom tomatoes, pieces of feta cheese, olives, and arugula for a sweet and savory salad.

Our colleague Carol Borchardt of A Thought for Food and her new blog, A Cookbook Obsession, recently wrote about turning vast amounts of leftover grilled sweet corn into smoky sweet corn puree, which she paired with seared scallops. After heating some butter and a little bacon fat from cooking up four slices of bacon, she sauteed chopped scallions, then added the corn kernels, cream cheese, and half and half. Then she added cayenne pepper, salt, and black pepper before pureeing half the mixture. Pieces of cooked bacon and chives are added to the mixture and served with seared scallops.

Seared Scallops with Smoky Corn PUree

Photo courtesy of Carol Borchardt

Risotto is another one of those leftover dishes that never tastes quite the same warmed up the next day. So, how about making risotto pancakes with sauteed mushrooms and onions and strong meltable cheese, like gruyere? Add a binder, like a beaten egg, then form a ball just a bit larger than a golf ball with the risotto. Flatten it into a oval in the palm of your hand. Make an indentation in the middle and add the mushrooms and cheese. Then close it up over the filling. Repeat until you’ve used up the risotto. Saute the pancakes in butter or olive oil on both sides until crisp and serve.

Making pies and have leftover dough? Roll it out and sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon, then get out the cookie cutters. You’ve got cookies to bake.

There are numerous web resources for you to get ideas as well.

  • Food52: Experts and home cooks contribute to this site. Here’s a blog post on creating refreshing summer rolls with leftover fish, plus links to 10 other recipes for leftover fish.
  • Foodinese: Leftover stir fried veggies can be soggy and unappealing after their initial debut on the table. Here’s a video on turning them into dumplings.
  • Epicurious: Got leftover grilled salmon? Flake it, Make a sandwich on ciabatta, per this recipe.
Photo by Marcus Nilsson

Photo by Marcus Nilsson

  • Food Republic: Wow, they must think you never finish a meal. Here are 15 recipes for using up what’s in the fridge.
  • Bakepedia: Are you a baker with leftover ganache or buttercream? Even dessert leftovers can get a new life with these ideas.
  • Tasting Table: Now we’re getting hard core. These “leftovers” are more like the trimmed off stuff you’d ordinarily toss, like stems, leaves, pods, and peels–even baguette ends. But they’re fantastic in all sorts of dishes. Here’s how to use them.
  • The Kitchn: Turn dinner leftovers into lunch. If it reheats well (or is good cold), easy to eat at your desk or the lunch cafeteria, and is easy to transport, you’ve got a delicious lunch. Here are 10 leftover ideas.

Any meal in which there are leftovers is simply another opportunity to make the most of your tasty, beautifully prepared ingredients–whether it’s reheating or reinventing.

What are your favorite leftover ingredients? Have you developed a repertoire of dishes based on leftovers?

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.

Don’t forget to sign up for our September Personal Chef Seminar Weekend!