Saturday, March 26, 2011

How Cute Is This?

In February I spent the weekend in Houston with 20 personal chefs, most whom I had not met before. We had a weekend of laughter, sharing, great food, and friendship. Sharon, our hostess extraordinaire, planned our day trips around various ethnic markets as well as other foodie stores. One of the stores that we visited was Phoenicia Specially Foods. It is an amazing market with imports of international gourmet foods. Much of what they sell is Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and North African with a smattering of foods from other countries. They are known for their fresh baked artisan breads, which "fall from the sky" and award winning pastries.

I could have wandered the isles for hours, but unfortunately we didn't have that much time. I did manage to pick up some fresh made pita bread, sesame bars, of which I have found an online site where I can order it them, several kinds of baklava and mamoul, all of which got eaten before I could take any photos! Sorry! I also found this really cute rainbow mortar and pestle.

Isn't is just the cutest thing you've ever seen? It's almost too cute to use, but I did actually grind rosemary in it the other day for a recipe I was preparing.

I just love fun kitchen gadgets. Don't you?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Happy St. Patrick's Day

This is a repost from a 2011 post.

 Spotted Dog is in the oven as I type. Wishing you all a Happy St. Patick's Day!

May you always have a fire in your hearth
And flour in your bin.
May the cooking fairies smile kindly upon you
And may you always have spotted dog on your table.

Okay, so it's not a real Irish blessing (duh). In fact it's a really bad impersonation of one, but I couldn't resist. I don't have a poetic bone in my body, but sometimes...well just count this as one of those times I thought I did.

It's already St. Patrick's Day! All over the world, at least I'm pretty sure it's worldwide, people will be dining on Irish fare, or what they think is Irish fare. And we am no any different. We are approaching our St. Patrick's Day meal a little differently this year. Since there are just the two of us I decided not to make Guinness stew and colconnon. But I did make "Spotted Dog". Spotted Dog is probably the husband's favorite bread that I bake. It is super simple, and a great way to use up that extra buttermilk you have in the refrigerator, but yet I don't make it more than once a year, and he relishes every morsel.

I found the recipe in the late 90's when we were going to have some friends in for a St. Patrick's Day party. The recipe came from the "Will O'Glenn" Irish Bead and Breakfast in Glenn, Michigan.

Spotted Dog
(Irish Soda Bread)                               
Make one loaf

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups raisins
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp double acting baking powder
5 Tbs sugar
1/2 cup butter
1 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 400F.

In a small bowl, cover raisins with boiling water and let stand for 5 minutes. In a large bowl, sift flour, soda, baking powder, and sugar. Cut in butter until mixture looks like coarse crumbs. Drain raisins, stir into flour mixture. Add buttermilk all at once. Stir vigorously with fork.

Shape into ball. Place on a greased 8-inch pie plate. bake 15 minutes at 400F, reduce heat to 375F and bake for 30 more minutes, or until a knife comes out clean

Remove from pie plate. Cool one hour. Cut into wedged or slices. Makes 10 large servings.

As for the rest of our St. Patrick's Day meal, I have Three Many Cooks to thank. We'll be celebrating the day with their Corned Beef and Cabbage Slaw Sliders and Baked Potato Chips with Paprika and Garlic.

Chan fhiach cuirm gun a còmhradh.
A feast is no use without good talk.
Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Baked Ratatouille with Goat Cheese

I really have been trying to go meatless on Monday's, but have not been as successful as I would like. However, yesterday was one of those successful days and we had a fabulous dish thanks to Chef Nancy Waldeck.

I subscribe to Chef Nancy's "The Friday 4" and last week her recipe was for Baked Ratatouille with Goat Cheese. I have had, and prepared, many versions of ratatouille, but never one that was baked. So on Sunday, as I was planning our weekly menu, another hit or miss activity, I decided that we would go meatless on Monday and have this dish.

After an appointment yesterday morning, I hit our brand new Fresh Market and picked up some zucchini and a beautiful egg plant, the stars of the recipe. I also grabbed a cylinder of creamy goat cheese. I was stoked. I love anything with goat cheese in it!

I got into my kitchen about 4:30 pm thinking that I'd get everything ready to pop in the oven about 5. I knew it would take about and hour or so to cook. That's when I read the entire recipe. I always tell the students in the cooking classes that I teach to read the recipe in its entirety before starting, but I didn't. See, the zucchini and eggplant had to be roasted before they were baked...something that I almost missed because I didn't follow my own advice. So we ate a little later than usual last night, but it was well worth the wait.

Here's the link for you to get the recipe Taste and Savor. Sign up for Chef Nancy's "The Friday Five" while you are there. Chef Nancy really knows her wine too and there is usually a pairing that is perfect with the dish of the the week.

I added my own little spin on the recipe by adding yellow peppers. I had a piece in the crisper that was just this side of gone, so I sliced it and threw it in to roast with the other vegetables. I used San Marzano marinara sauce, but Chef Nancy's gives you a great quick and easy tomato sauce recipe you might want to try.

The dish was perfect! The creamy goat cheese added just the right amount of tanginess and melted in your mouth. I paired the dish with a fresh crusty baguette and a salad.

And the husband said it's a "keeper". Guess we'll be seeing this dish again.

Thanks Chef Nancy!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Friday Night Pizza

Don't you love it when you know what you are having for dinner every Friday? I do! And for us, Friday has become pizza night. Several of my chef friends have been eating pizza on Friday's for years, but I am just now jumping on the the wagon. I love pizza, but until recently I had not found a pizza dough recipe that I really liked, well more like a dough that is easy to stretch and form. I have used different bread machine recipes and various recipes that I have found in cook books and on the Internet. They are all about the same as far as ingredients, but I just never seemed to be able to stretch them without a ton of work, and then they were pretty ugly.

About a month ago, I spent a wonderful weekend in Houston with some of by chef friends and we had pizza one evening. We had two master pizza makers in our midst so I paid close attention to both their dough recipes and techniques. I was determined to come away having learned their secrets. I'm not sure that I was that good of a student, but I did come away with a dough recipe that I love and some hints on making a better pizza.

Here is the recipe that I have been using since that weekend:

Pizza Dough
Makes 4 balls for 9” pizzas


1 package active dry yeast (I used Rapid Rise yeast and it worked fine. I still sprinkled it over the warm water.)
1 1/2 cups very warm water
4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil


Sprinkle yeast over warm water to dissolve and set aside.

Place flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor with steel blade and pulse once or twice to mix the two together.

Add the olive oil to the dissolved yeast and water and, with the processor running, add to the flour in a steady stream. (Be sure all the yeast ends up in your dough). Pulse a couple of extra times to mix well.

Scrape the dough out of the bowl onto a lightly floured board. With floured hands give the dough a few kneads (avoid adding extra flour to the mass). Let the dough rest for 10 minutes, then divide it into four pieces with a sharp knife or dough scraper.

Knead or roll the pieces (without using extra flour) into tight balls.

At this point you can choose to freeze each ball individually in re-sealable bags for future use or refrigerate the balls for up to 2 days on a floured, dishtowel-lined pan, covered with plastic wrap. Or, to use the same day, you can allow the balls to rise at least 1 hour on a floured board, covered with a towel at room temperature. Give them room as they nearly double in size.

To shape the pizza: Take the risen dough ball and dip both sides lightly in flour, then place on a floured wood peel. With your fingertips press the ball down evenly into a disk about 1 1/2 inches-thick and 5 inches in diameter. Lift the dough onto the back of your fists  and gently stretch it, allowing gravity to help you use the weight of the dough to stretch it. Stretch and rotate the dough until it’s about 1/4 inch-thick with a nice thick rim and about 9 inches in diameter. (Try not to let the center of the disk become too thin.) Make sure the pizza peel is well-dusted with flour, then gently lay the disk of dough in the center. Now you’re ready to top your pizza.

This recipe makes very soft dough, which bakes up into the perfect bite of crunchy exterior and soft crumb. Don't overload this dough with topping; it has enough flavor just drizzled with olive oil and a bit of salt. The longer and slower the balls of dough rise, the better the texture and more flavorful the finished crust. Overnight in the fridge is best, but they'll rise more quickly (in an hour or less) if left out on a counter at room temperature.

NOTE: I put my dough in Ziploc baggies once I cut them. Put a little olive oil in the Ziploc bag, coating the entire interior, and then put the dough in. Seal and let rise in the refrigerator. Bring the dough back to room temperature before using…take it from the refrigerator 2 hours before you need it.

Adapted from: recipe and my fellow personal chef Chef Patti Anastasia.

Three stages of pizza dough

I have always used cornmeal to help keep the dough from sticking to my pizza peel when sliding it onto the stone. Well after the Texas Cheffin' Weekend, I learned an easier, and less messier, trick...parchment paper.  I shape my dough on a piece of parchment paper that has been sprayed with non-stick spray.  I then brush the dough with olive oil, sprinkle on kosher salt and black pepper and then add my toppings, being mindful not to go overboard with the toppings. Once I top the dough I slide it onto the stone, along with the parchment paper.

I also learned that a super hot oven is critical. I used to heat my oven to 425F, but learned that a hotter oven is needed for quick cooking and a super crispy crust. I now preheat my oven to 500F and my pizza stone for at least 30 minutes before using. When ready, I cook the pizza for 4 minutes and then pull out parchment paper, continuing to cook the pizza for another 4-5 minutes. At 500F, it does not take as long to cook the pizza.

Now the biggest challenge is figuring out what kinds of toppings to use. So far, I have used sausage, bacon, roasted heirloom tomatoes, roasted peppers, peppadews, basil, black and green olives, fresh mozzarella, wasabi goat cheese, artichokes and hummus. So...what kind of pizza will it be next Friday, maybe....

Pizza sauce, olives, basil and mozzarella and sauce, sausage, olives, and wasbi goat cheese.

Top: sauce, bacon, roasted herloom tomaotes, green peppers, basil,  and mozzarella
Bottom: hummus, artichokes, peppadews, and goat cheese

Friday, March 11, 2011

Food Rules

One of the blogs I follow had a great post last week focusing on the latest book by Michael Pollan, Food Rules, An Eater's Manual. You might be familiar with his other books, which include In Defense of Food and The Omnivore's Dilemma. The blogger listed several of her favorite rules, there are 64, and I thought it would be fun to share some of my favorites.

Don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food.

(Imagine your great-grandmother, or even your grandmother picking up a package of Go-GURT Portable Yogurt tubes and no having a clue whether this cylinder of colored and colored gel is food or toothpaste.)

Avoid food products containing ingredients that no ordinary human would keep in the pantry.

(Ethoxylated diglycerides? Cellulose? Xanthan gum? If you wouldn't cook with them, why let others use these ingredients to cook for you?)

Avoid food products containing ingredients that a third-grader cannot pronounce.

(Basically the same idea, different mnemonic. Keep it simple!)

Avoid foods that are pretending to be something they are not.

(Imitation butter - aka margarine- is the classic example. To make something like nonfat cream cheese that contains neither cream nor cheese requires and extreme degree of processing.)

Eat only foods that will eventually rot.

(The more processed a food is, the longer the shelf life, and the less nutritious it typically is. Real food is alive - and therefor should eventually die.)


Don't ingest foods made in places where everyone is required to wear a surgical cap.

It's not food if it arrives through the window of your car.

("Eating what stands on one leg (mushrooms and plant foods) is better than eating what stands on two legs (fowl), which is better than eating what stands on four legs (cows, pigs, and other mammals." - Chinese proverb)

Don't eat breakfast cereals that change the color of the milk.

Eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself.

(There is nothing wrong with eating sweets, fried foods, pastries even drinking a soda every now and then, but food manufactures have made eating these formally expensive and hard-to-make treats so cheap and easy that we're eating every day. If you make your own French fries or cakes and pies, chances are you won't be making them everyday.)


Eat more like the French. Or the Japanese, Or the Italians. Or the Greeks.

(People who eat according to the rules of a traditional food culture are generally healthier than those of us eating a modern Western diet of processed food. Any traditional diet will do: If it were not a healthy diet, the people who follow it wouldn't still be around.)

Pay more, eat less.

(With food, as with so many things, you get what you pay for. There is also a trade-off between quality and quantity, and a person's "food experience".)

"The banquet is in the first bite."

(No other bite will taste as good as the first, and every subsequent bite will progressively diminish in satisfaction.)

Spend as much time enjoying the meal as it took to prepare it.

Buy smaller plates and glasses.

(The bigger the portion, the more we will eat - upward of 30 percent more. Research shows that reducing the size of the plate can reduce our consumption by 22 percent.)

"Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, dinner like a pauper."

Don't get your fuel from the same place your car does.

(American gas stations now make more money inside selling food (and cigarettes) than they do outside selling gas. But consider what kind of food it is.)


(Cooking for yourself, or if you can afford it, hiring a private chef,  is the only sure way to take back control of your diet from the food scientists and food processors, and to guarantee you're eating real food and not edible food like substances.)

Break the rules once in a while.

(Obsessing over food rules is bad for your happiness, and probably for your health too. All things in moderation, including moderation."

Source: Food Rules Am Eater's Manual by Michael Pollan.


Sunday, March 6, 2011

Cooking for others...a day in the life of a Personal Chef

When I became a personal chef, I envisioned preparing meals for clients so that they could come home and enjoy a delicious meal without the fuss. I would dazzle them with my wide variety of recipes, cooking techniques, and flavor profiles. I would have then begging for more...of me and my food.  In the first year or two I had a few regular dinner service clients. I would spend a day in their kitchens about every six weeks and prepare, what we in the PC world call, a 5x4, five different entrees with accompanying sides, four servings each. Occasionally I would prepare a 5x6 or a 3x4. Now days I have fewer regular clients and do more specal event cheffing, but when I do chef a dinner service I really enjoy it.

Recently, I had the opportunity to fulfill a dinner service gift certificate. It's been a while since I have done a dinner service so I had to have all of my ducks, or pots, in order to pull it off in a timely manner. Timing is everything. Knowing what to begin with first and what can wait until the end is essential.

I  first met with the GC recipents to get a sense of foods they liked and disliked. Luckily, they had no dislikes. I knew from our meeting that the client wanted to freeze everything I prepared, so keeping that in mind I developed a menu for their approval. After a phone call wanting to know what couscous was, the menu was approved and we set up the cook date.

Menu for 3x2 Gift Certificate

Classic Chicken Divan
Egg Noodles

Baked Chicken with Tomatoes, Olives, and Mushrooms
Brown Rice
Roasted Green Beans

Braised Honey Lemon Pork Tenderloin
Fruited Couscous
Baby Carrots and Peas

On the cook day I shopped for groceries, arrived at their home...and literally took over their kitchen for the next three hours, prepared, packaged the entrees and sides, and left them ready to go into the client's freezer.

3x2 Dinner Service

Meals packaged and ready for freezer

I love knowing that I have given my client's meals that are delcious, healthy, and quick for them to heat and eat. What a great job I have!

And as a bonus, sometimes I even get to prepare the husband's and my supper from what I had left after a cook day. This was one of those days.

Tomatoes, Olives, and Mushrooms over Chicken and Sauteed Spinach
It's a great day to be a personal chef!