Sunday, January 25, 2009

Easy as 1-2-3

Several years ago I read an article in the local paper on how to prepare a Thanksgiving turkey using only three ingredients. The article guaranteed a moist, succulent, perfectly cooked turkey. This of course meant you followed the recipe and threw out old notions of getting up at the crack of dawn to insure that the main event would be ready in time for the mid-afternoon repast. While I did not prepare the recipe, it wasn't my year to cook the turkey, I did find the idea of preparing wonderful meals with only three simple ingredients intriguing.

With Christmas fast approaching, I added the cookbook, Recipes 1-2-3 by Rozanne Gold, to my list. To my delight, I found this wonderful resource under my tree on Christmas morning. It has been an invaluable tool in my cooking arsenal. Using just this one cookbook you can prepare a three-course dinner for six and still go through the express checkout!

Imagine a slow-braising leg of lamb with forty cloves of garlic in a wine-dark broth of Cotes du Rhone or salmon baked in briny grape leaves. From appetizer to dessert, Recipes 1-2-3 will provide you with an abundance of choices. I find myself pulling it from my shelf every time I have a dinner to prepare for a client. I have never been disappointed and more importantly, neither have my clients.

One of my favorite recipes from Recipes 1-2-3 is grilled veal chops with yellow tomato coulis and basil oil. It is super easy and when paired with the tomato coulis, vibrant haricot verts, and creamy mashed potatoes makes a beautiful presentation.

Grilled Veal Chop, Yellow Tomato Coulis, and Basil Oil

Rib veal chops, each 1 1/4 inches thick
Basil Oil
Yellow Tomato Coulis

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Season the veal chops with salt and freshly ground pepper. Brush lightly with the basil oil.
In a well seasoned cast-iron skillet, sear the veal chops on both sides until browned. Finish cooking in the oven until done, about 15 minutes.
Divide to tomato coulis evenly on the plates. Top with the veal chops and spoon more basil oil over the top.

Serves 4

Yellow Tomato Coulis

12 ounces large yellow tomatoes, blanched and peeled
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Cut the tomatoes in half and squeeze out the seeds. Cut in large pieces. Place the tomatoes in a blender, add the oil, and puree until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Makes 3/4 cup

Basil Oil

1 large bunch fresh basil
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Remove the leaves from the stems and wash. Blanch the leaves in boiling water for 1 minute. Plunge in ice water. Drain and gently squeeze the eater from the basil. Place in a blender. Add oil and puree until smooth. Add salt to taste. Refrigerate.

Makes 2/3 cup

Should yellow tomatoes not be available, the veal chop is equally delicious with red tomato coulis

Wondering what wine to serve? A luscious red Italian with with a touch of berry fruit partners well with this dish. Try a Rosso di Montalcino. For something French, open a Rully Rouge, a medium-bodied wine with a true Burgundian bouquet.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Back to Reality

As I sit huddled in a hooded sweatshirt, a mug of steaming tea at my elbow, and a heater at my feet, I realize that I am once again back in my real life. My big adventure of running the Phoenix Marathon has been completed and the good news is that I finished on under my own power, thanks my awesome sister, who was a fantastic coach.

So today, I will once again get to the business of growing my business. I had a pretty good December and February looks promising, but I know that I have to be more proactive than I was in '08. True, much of a personal chef's business comes from referrals, but one can't count only on those referrals to keep the income coming. Face to face interaction is important. Making your services known to other businesses is critical. Having your name the first one they think of when they have a need is the goal. Even in today's tough economic times there is a market for personal chef services. You just have to do the footwork to find it. And so another type of race begins...

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Springtime in January

I have the great fortune to be spending a few days in California with my niece, escaping the sunny but cold temperatures of Atlanta. Capri's and short sleeves are the dress of the day.

Tomorrow my niece and her mom, my sister, and I will fly to Phoenix so that she and I can run in the Phoenix marathon. This will be my first and my sister's seventh. I have trained hard since June and am looking forward to the challenge. My goal is to finish with no injuries, regardless of the time. Our plan is to complete it in 5 1/2 hours.

When I began this adventure I could not imagine running for that length of time. I still can't, but today I know that it is possible. I have had some physical challenges that has not always made training easy, but I stuck with it and know that when I cross the finish line on Sunday I will feel a great sense of accomplishment and pride.

Will I do it again? It's hard to tell. I like the results of constant training so as I begin celebrating my 53rd year on this planet, I'll say it's a distinct possiblity.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Recipe Redux

Atlanta weather is back to being cold, well in the 40's and that's cold to us, so I decided that I would pull out the slow cooker and put together the makings for some comfort food. I have a great cook book, Slow Cooker cookbook, published by Cooking Light and have always had a satifying meal from the recipes I have tried, until yesterday.

I decided on Chicken Brunswick Stew and for once I had everything on hand! I followed the recipe to the letter, plugged in the old crock pot and waited in anticipation for a delicious meal. Seven hours later, the dish was completed and we sat down to dinner.

Given that I had not made this recipe before, I depended on my personal food critic, aka "the husband", to give me honest feedback. This time I didn't even have to ask him because before he could say anything I had already rated the recipe as "needs improvement". The immediate issue, for me, was that the dish was way too sweet. This is the same comment my husband made; followed quickly that it didn't tast bad, just too sweet. He asked if I follwed the recipe or made substitutions since perhaps I didn't have all of the correct ingredients. He knows me so well. Assuring him that I used exactly what the recipe called for I began trying to determine the cause of the sweetness. The recipe calls for creamed corn and chili sauce, both sources of sugar so I concluded that these two ingredients led to a less than satisfactory recipe outcome.

I am going to prepare the recipe again, but make some ingredient modifications. Hopefully this time the outcome will be more like and entree rather than a chicken dessert. Below is the recipe as printed. Changes that I'm going to make follow the recipe.

Chicken Brunswick Stew

5 cups chopped onions
6 (4-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breasts halves
2 (14 1/2 - ounce) cans no-salt-added cream-style corn
2 (14 1/2 - ounce) no salt-added diced tomatoes, undrained
1 (14 ounce) can fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
1 (12 ounce) bottle chili sauce
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 teaspoons dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
Freshly ground pepper (optional)

Place onion in a 4 - 6 quart slow cooker; top with chicken. Add corn and next 9 ingredients (through pepper sauce); stir well. Cover with lid; cook on high setting for 1 hour. Reduce heat to low-heat setting; cook 6 hours or until chicken is tender. Remove chicken; shred and return to stew. Ladle stew into bowls; sprinkle with additional black pepper, if desired. Yield: 9 servings (1 1/2 cup servings).

NOTE: Be sure to use the hot pepper sauce that contains whole peppers packed in vinegar rather than the red-colored hot sauce.

Lana's changes: reduce cream of corn soup to one can, use half (6-ounces) of the chili sauce, and increase the black pepper to 1 teaspoon.

I'll let know about round two. If you do make either version of this recipe, I would love to know what your thoughts are.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

A Mother's Joy

My son Jack is in the Army and is currently deployed to Iraq. This is his second tour; the first one being only four months. He left on December 1, 2008 and will return about the same time this year. He loves the Army and is excited about serving his country. See Jack believes that everyone has a right to think and speak their own thoughts and he is here to see that they keep that right.

We had not heard from him in a while so when my cell phone rang at 5:40 a.m. this morning I knew that it could only be him. Unfortunately I did not get to it before it went to voice mail. He did call back a short time later and we were able to get our web cam set up so we could see him. The picture wasn't the greatest and there was a bit of delay in the transmission, but we could have cared less. Sitting at the computer in our pajamas and seeing our son's face was the greatest thing we could imagine.

Mail delivery has been an issue for him, but he did finally receive his Christmas box. Since he can't wear civilian clothes and there are limited places for him to go, I sent silly stuff to him, like a package of plastic drinking cups with the University of Georgia's logo on it and chemical activated hand warmers. I also sent the makings for his favorite fruit salad Five Cup Salad, or Jack's Salad as it is known to us and countless friends. I thought that maybe he would feel a little closer to home if he had something he knew we would serve on Christmas. I'm certain that you have this or a variation of the recipe, but it has been in my family for as long as I can remember. It always is on the holiday menu, regardless of the holiday. For those of you who may not have the recipe here it is:

Jack's Salad (aka Five Cup)

1 can mandarin oranges. drained
1 can pineapple tidbits, drained
1 cup mini-marshmallows
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup sour cream
Mix ingredients together and chill for at least two hours. A variation to this is to replace the pecans with one cup of coconut.

Now I don't know how he solved the sour cream issue; perhaps he talked a mess cook out of some. Hopefully he was able to have a little slice of home in a far away place.

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Perfect Lemon Bar

One of my favorite sweets to offer to clients are lemon bars. I have been using my mom's recipe for many yeas, but I am always searching for new recipe that has just the right 'gooyness' yet firm enough not to fall apart when you pick it up. This can be challenging since I usually double or triple the recipe.

I needed lemon bars for a client's Christmas party so I pulled out a few of my cookbooks and began looking for a recipe. One of the cookbooks was Texas Tapestry, by the Houston Junior Woman's Club. I was given this cookbook and a gift bag of "all things Texan" (says the girl who flies the Texas flag at her home in Georgia) while attending a cousin's wedding in Houston. You know the kind of cookbook, tried and true recipes of the club members.

Well I do believe that I have found the perfect lemon bar recipe from this cookbook; sorry Mom
Here is the recipe as printed. Any changes I made follow the recipe.

Lemon Bars

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 cup

2 cups sugar
4 beaten eggs
1/3 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Powdered sugar

In large bowl, sift flour and sugar; cut in butter until mixture clings together. Press into a 13x9x2-inch pan and bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until lightly brown. For filling, beat eggs, sugar, and lemon juice; add flour and baking powder. Pour over baked crust and bake 25-30 minutes at 350 degrees. Sprinkle with powdered sugar. Cool completely.
Yield: 30 bars

I spray the baking pan with non-stick spray and line it with parchment paper. Once baked, I let the entire pan cool and then lift out onto a cutting board for easier cutting. Once cut I sprinkle each bar with powdered sugar. You can also cut these into fingers, especially if you are serving several desserts.