Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

Kitchen Tips Tuesday: Caramelizing Without a Blow Torch

March 7, 2017

Writing Kitchen Tips Tuesday gets tough after awhile. It is hard to come up with legitimate tips to share, week after week without running out of them. I just saw a video clip of this one, and it is definitely one we don’t all know and use on the reg.

When making things like meringues and creme brûlée, chef’s use a small kitchen blow torch to caramelize the sugar on top. I have placed things under the broiler in a pinch, but it takes constant watching, turning and stealth speed to make sure it doesn’t burn.

But what if you don’t own a small blow torch?

via Food Network

This tip, from Jeff Mauro of The Kitchen on The Food Network, uses a metal measuring cup to do the job. Sprinkle sugar on top of creme brulee, flan or even a lemon tart, heat a flat bottomed measuring cup on the stove, and carefully, using a pot holder to grab the hot handle, press the cup down on the sugared surface. You will hear a big sizzle, signaling that the sugar has melted and is fully caramelized.  Viola! A crisp caramel top without using any special equipment at all!

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Best Laid Plans

February 9, 2017

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I am currently in the midst of a pink marshmallow nightmare. My fingertips have little tiny cuts on them, and all the scrubbing and soaking is not getting the chocolate out from under my fingernails. It’s Valentine’s Day, and I am happily inundated with orders for mostly heart shaped sweet treats. This morning, it took a little internal pep talk to get me up and out and ready to dive back into the task at hand. Here are a few of the tips and tricks I’m using to get through the latest holiday rush: (BTW, wasn’t the last holiday rush just a few weeks ago?)

These tips work whether you are shipping hundreds of s’mores, or planning a dinner party:

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Mis en place: You’ve heard me mention this before, and although it has a little different format in this case, the concept still works. Mis en place, is a French term for “putting everything in it’s place.” For many chefs, that means having all of the washing, chopping and even some of the measuring done in advance. In this instance, that meant that I pre-ordered or puchased my ingredients ahead of time, and made all of my different doughs, (which can live nicely in the refrigerator for a few days) early in the week so that I just need to roll and bake them along the way.

Categorize: Rather than fill the orders one by one, I have been trying to make all the like items at once where possible. That means that all the fortune cookies are done, and I am finishing what I hope will be the last of the hot chocolate sticks, before starting the s’mores. Since my product is perishable, and there is a singular “due date”so it pretty much has to be done over the course of just a couple of days.

All the retail orders got shipped last week, and any orders that didn’t request waiting for Valentine’s delivery have been moving through, but it feels like for every order I shipped, 3 more grew back in it’s place. ( NOT COMPLAINING!)

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Pick the most daunting task and get it done first: Right now, the hot chocolate sticks are my kryptonite. I have made a ton of them, and wiggling the chocolate out of the heart shaped cutter is slow and messy process. This morning, I am committed to getting all of the heart shaped ones finished off and packaged so I can move on to the next. Since I cut most of them last night, it’s just busy work that will feel so fulfilling once it is complete.

Make a list and check it twice. I keep going back through the orders and double checking them. I am down to the last 24 or so, but in checking them carefully last night, I realized that many of them not only had multiple items, but also multiple quantities. Because my individual elements (marshmallows, hot chocolate, dough etc. ) need to be made and allowed to set for many hours before using them, I need to make sure I am not caught short at the last minute. That means, don’t just check, but break it down. I figured out how many more marshmallows I needed across the various items, how many batches of chocolate, or dough, etc. For a dinner party, it might equate to how many onions and garlic cloves you can dice at once to be used across several dishes. Work smart.

Don’t put off for tomorrow, what you can do today. At midnight, when I finally finished up, I forced myself to replenish a couple of batches of marshmallows and some hot chocolate so it would be ready to use in the morning. I am so glad that I did. It frees up the pans for the next batches, and gives me something to work with without having to wait several hours to use them.

Give yourself the satisfaction of crossing things off that list! Somehow, crossing things off, or shipping things out and having the order leave the queue is very satisfying, and takes a little stress off as the list gets shorter.

Take mini breaks to keep productivity high. Check email, read the paper,have a snack,  or even take a 15 minute nap when you need it to keep yourself going for long periods of time. Sometimes hitting your personal reset button is all it takes to get refreshed and reinvigorated.

Promise yourself a treat when it’s over. Have something to set your sights on, even if it is as simple as sleeping in, having a glass of wine, or binging a new tv show. Give yourself something to look forward to, to keep you moving towards your goal.

What do you do to get through big projects at work or at home? Tell us in the comments.

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Sweet Potato Toast

February 6, 2017

The internet is buzzing right now, with this year’s versions of gluten free alternatives. In an effort to replace those processed carbs, a plethora of vegetable substitutes abound. First, there was cauliflower, masquerading as mashed potatoes, rice and even pizza crusts. The latest iteration for healthy substitutes is the sweet potato, sliced and popped into the toaster to create  “sweet potato toast”.  These slabs of hot and slightly caramelized potatoes, get slathered with everything from nut butter and bananas, to the beloved avocado mash that everyone seems to covet.  Paleo and Whole 30 approved, this one could be a game changer in the boring low carb, no grains, no dairy, no sugar, no legumes, no fun world of food.

via mind, body green

via mind, body green

Skeptical of the natural sugars dripping into, and ultimately ruining my toaster, I set forth to explore this phenomenon myself. The results? Not bad!

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If you decide to use your toaster, be aware that you will have to press it down and retoast several times until the inside of the slice starts to soften. It seems that putting it in the oven, especially if you want more slices than your toaster has slots, is a better method.

It is important that the slices are uniform, so that some aren’t burnt when others are hard. One of my slices charred on one edge, which was easily trimmed off after toasting.

To make sweet potato toast in the oven:

Place the long slabs of sweet potato on a rack over a cookie sheet, and toast in a very hot ( 400-450 degrees) oven for about 15-20 minutes, until brown on the outside and softened, but not mushy on the inside. Top it with fruit, eggs, smoked fish or avocado, or simply slather it with butter and jam, if your diet allows. Anything you might put on bread is a candidate for sweet potato toast.

 

via the paleo paparazzi

via the paleo paparazzi

Nobody is going to believe that this is bread, anymore than people believe that thin strips of zucchini are pasta. But both are very healthy and tasty alternatives to the real deal, bringing a new texture into your diet and offers a healthy break from the “same old, same old.”

via blissful basil

via blissful basil

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Unrecipe of the Week: Arugula, Radicchio + Pear Salad

February 2, 2017

We’re always dreaming up new salads to help our catering clients get their greens. This week, we were inspired by a recipe from Giada De Laurentiis for an arugula, radicchio and pear salad. That’s all we needed to know, to set us off on our own journey towards salad greatness.

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We started with the greens, and built it from there. Adding sliced pears (soaked in lemon juice to keep them from browning), ricotta salata cheese, and a sprinkling of toasted walnuts for a finishing touch, we dressed it in a honey, dijon dressing that was just the right balance of sweet and tart.  This is light enough to be a starter, and interesting enough to be the centerpiece of a meal, with a little sliced chicken or some white beans to up the protein quotient.

Arugula, Radicchio and Pear Salad:

Wash baby arugula and radicchio, cored and sliced thin and place it in a bowl. Slice ricotta salata and pears into thick matchsticks. Toss with Honey Dijon Vinaigette, and sprinkle with toasted walnuts.

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Honey Dijon Vinaigrette:

Whisk together 1/4 cup olive oil, 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, 1 heaping teaspoon of dijon mustard, 2 tablespoons of honey, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper. Be sure to taste, and add more vinegar if it seems too sweet.

BONUS: Don’t limit yourself to salad! I used this vinaigrette on a simply broiled piece of salmon and it was delicious! It was just thick enough to coat the fish, and give it a tasty glaze. Yum!

Photo: Glasshouse Images

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Kitchen Tips Tuesday: Storing Citrus Zest

January 31, 2017

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Food waste has become so prevalent, that we sometimes toss the very things that we need later. Skins and peelings fit this category.

We often use the juice, or the flesh of citrus, and discard the peels. Yet, some of the most flavorful part is on the outside.

Before you squeeze or peel that lemon, lime or orange, stop and zest it first. Put the zest into a small glass jar and keep it in your freezer for later use.

Citrus zest adds a jolt of flavor and brightens up fish, chicken and vegetables and sauces, with just a little sprinkle. We also use it in baking, for scones, muffins and pound cakes.

How To Zest Citrus:

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Wash the outside of the fruit, and wipe it dry. Using a microplane grater, rub it all over the fruit, shaving off the colored part of the rind, and leaving the white pith behind. You can also use a vegetable peeler to peel off the rind, and then julienne it into tiny strips. Toss it in your jar, and enjoy it as needed.
The fruit can then be peeled or juiced as normal.

Photo: Glasshouse Images

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Kitchen Organizing

January 13, 2017

The end of the year was a whirlwind for me, with 20 hour days in the kitchen and frenzied shopping for ingredients. Lack of time, and lack of patience, brought on by lack of sleep, left my kitchen in a state of disarray. It was technically clean. Scrupuously so. But when you get hit on the head with falling items everytime you open a cupboard, and you don’t have anymore canvas bags because you couldn’t fully unpack the groceries from the prior trip, it’s time to regroup.

I have a decent sized kitchen by New York City standards, and I have extra storage for serving pieces and sets of dishes. I even have an extra refrigerator, which is a godsend during busy times. Yet, my kitchen itself lacks a real pantry. With the need to always have stocked quantities of flours, sugars, nuts, dried fruit and assorted forms of chocolate, being organized so I can actually find what I need is a must.  Once I started buying flour and sugar in 50 pound bags, I knew it was time to retool my kitchen storage.

Canisters:

Canisters from Bed Bath and Beyond

Canisters from Bed Bath and Beyond

I was still using the set of terracotta cannisters that I got as a wedding gift. They were not only too small, but they weren’t airtight. Flour and sugar was constantly spilled on my shelves, and grimy fingerprints were visable, even if they were properly wiped down each night for hygiene purposes.

The fix: Large stainless steel canisters with latched lids now hold all-purpose flour, sugar and brown sugar. I will be returning to the store to get medium sized ones for wheat flour, and confectioner’s sugar. They sanitize easily, seal tightly, and are big enough that I am not lugging a huge bag around to refill them every hour. I can also get a large measuring cup into the canister to make scooping and measuring a breeze.

Wire bins:

Wire bins from Bed Bath and Beyond

Wire bins from Bed Bath and Beyond

I buy dried fruit and nuts in quantity, but often in small bags from Trader Joe’s. Those bags were all over the place, no matter how hard I tried to keep them organized.

The fix: Simple and inexpensive wire bins are the perfect size to hold all those bags, as well as boxes, and bags of chocolate. I can just reach in, or pull the whole bin out to find what I need. A piece of parchment as a liner allowed me to coral a selection of small items used for decoration, such as food coloring, sprinkles and candy melts.

Glass jars:

Glass jars for everything!

Glass jars for everything!

Open bags and oversized boxes can spill, or take up valuable space.

The fix: Pouring things into appropriately sized glass jars allow me to store things like spice blends, chocolate shavings and small, usable amounts of various salts and specialty sugars. They are reusable, free of BPAs, and easy to clean. The fact that they are transparent, makes it easy to see what is inside.

Labels:

Not my kitchen! But a girl can dream, right?

Not my kitchen! But a girl can dream, right?

Is it seasalt, or kosher salt? What percentage of cacao is that chocolate? Marking the jars and canisters makes it easy to tell.

The fix: While you could get nice labels to put on things, I have found that the chef’s trick of using tape works fine for me. Often, restaurants label foods in the refrigerator with blue tape to not only mark what is inside, but to note the date it was prepped to ensure freshness. I like plain old masking tape and a sharpie to mark my containers. It peels off easily, and provides a broad surface to write on.

My kitchen won’t be winning any design awards, and nobody will be saving photos of my cupboards on Pinterest. But they are now very organized and servicable, and got that way with a very meager investment.

Not my kitchen either. This person doesn't really cook. I'm sure of it!

Not my kitchen either. This person doesn’t really cook. I’m sure of it! But their pantry does look nice!

Now, if I can just keep it this way, I’ll be in good shape~

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Kitchen Tips Tuesday: Eggplant Gender

January 10, 2017

Two Eggplants in Round Bowl, High Angle View

Today’s tip comes from a client of mine who shared a tidbit learned when he studied at the CIA.

( The CIA he is referring to is the Culinary School of America, where he studied to be a chef, not a spy, he quickly pointed out.)

It seems there are both male and female eggplants, and the taste is different among the two genders. Who knew?!

via Plant-based Paradise

via Plant-based Paradise

The female eggplant has a long brownish slit-like indentation at the bottom. The male’s marking is more round. The male eggplant has less seeds and tends to be less bitter, making it a better choice for cooking, especially for dishes that are not heavily sauced.

Thanks for the tip, Bob!

photos: Glasshouse Images

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Kitchen Tips Thursday: Dried Fruit

December 8, 2016

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What exactly is Kitchen Tips Thursday, you may be asking? It’s when I am too busy to get the post up in time to call it Kitchen Tips Tuesday! Better late than never, right?
Today’s tip is about using dried fruit in baking. Before you stop reading, this isn’t just about fruit cake. In fact, I have never made a fruit cake, nor have I even considered it. I do however make delicious scones, and oatmeal walnut cookies, both of which use dried fruit in different ways.

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For the scones, the dried fruit (usually cranberries, but sometimes raisins, currents, dried cherries, dried blueberries or combination there of) are tossed in flour before being mixed into the dough. This is to keep them separated, and prevent them from getting sticky. This technique is often used in muffins when the fruit is fresh, as in the case of blueberry muffins, for example, to allow the fruit to disperse within the batter, rather than drop down to the bottom. Both of these items have heartier dough, and allow the fruit to become imbedded into the scone or muffin, thus protecting it from the heat of the oven.

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The opposite is the case for the cookies. My recipe calls for the dried fruit ( they use the classic raisins, but I make mine with cranberries) to be soaked in lightly beaten eggs and vanilla for an hour before getting added to the dry ingredients. This makes them plumper and prevents them from sucking the life out of the delicate cookie dough during baking. A very dry raisin will try to seek hydration from the moisture in the cookie, and it can also end up almost petrified after baking dries it out further. This method takes a bit longer ( get it started and go do something else for an hour) but it is well worth it for the end result.

Happy holiday baking!!!

photos: Glasshouse Images

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How To Host A Successful Thanksgiving

November 21, 2016
The Jones Family

The Jones Family

When one of my favorite websites, The Kitchn, invited me to participate in their Thanksgiving video series, I jumped at the opportunity. But the real magic happened when my family wandered in, and reluctantly joined in on the fun.

While the content is as promised, what puts a smile on my face is seeing my family together as we really are; raw, authentic and very happy. In a time when many are feeling isolated, disenfranchised and afraid, looking at my multi-cultural and multi-racial family, gives me great joy, and for that I am thankful. This Thanksgiving, do not let fear or hatred cloud your thoughts. Family isn’t just about gene pools; it’s about love. I hope you can feel ours in this video.

This is us…

http://www.thekitchn.com/videos/p8Kj7Vly

Tips For Cooking the Best Thanksgiving

*Sorry, I can’t get the video to embed. Please click on the link to view.

Thank you Rebecca and team at The Kitchn + Apartment Therapy for letting us be part of your series.

Holy @#$%!!! Thanksgiving Is Next Week!

November 17, 2016

So here I am, the master of Thanksgiving organization, coming to the realization that I am a little behind the proverbial eight ball. If you are in that boat with me, no worries, there is still plenty of time to catch up.

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This kind of looks like me, but it’s not.

This week’s challenge, is to make grocery lists, and then break them down by perishable and non- perishable. Non- perishable items, (defined as those with a long shelf life that won’t go bad, such as flour, canned or packaged goods etc.) should be purchased as soon as possible, to get that chore out of the way. Don’t assume you have flour, or baking powder, just because you always do. Check and make sure you have more than enough. This is not the time for quick jaunts to the supermarket in the midst of cooking. Check, right down to the salt and pepper. You will thank me for this later.

If you are at all like me, break those lists down by store. I go to a variety of different places to get what I need. You may be able to do one stop shopping and skip this step. If so, lucky you! I am legit envious. If you have a car, I’m positively green with envy!

1635400409_compOrder your turkey. If you have never had a fresh turkey, please give one a try. It costs more, but the flavor and juiciness is beyond comparison to a frozen bird. And they aren’t factory farmed, injected with hormones, and fed GMO grains. It simply tastes better, is better for you and in some strange way, better for the turkey. I am in New York and use DiPaula Turkey Farms, who have pickup locations at various Farmer’s Markets around the city. I go to Union Square.  Local butcher shops usually have them as well but they all require pre-ordering.

Did you get your dishes and linens organized last week? I didn’t either. If not, do it this week. We have a large group and actually had to purchase another folding table to accommodate them. But I haven’ t checked for napkins and chairs yet. Don’t wait.

Are your linens clean and ironed? Turn on the TV or Netflix, pull out that ironing board and do it now. Trust me, you don’t want to do it Thursday. Even better, get someone else to do it now. ( If you live in my house, you know who you are!)

 

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Now for the fun part; the cooking!
I rarely freeze food, but a few things actually benefit from their stay in cold storage. Make them this weekend, and they will be your best friends, ready and waiting when you need them, and don’t have time to make them. These items include pie and tart crusts, which I roll and freeze well wrapped in the pans I plan to bake them in. For my pie toppers, I cut the strips, braids and shapes ( leaves and flowers) in advance and freeze them on a baking tray. Once this stuff is frozen, you can stack them, making room for other items. You can and should, bake these while frozen. It cuts down substantially on crust shrinkage and adds little or no extra baking time.

Biscuits also freeze well unbaked, and are great to make in advnce. Freeze them on a cookie sheet, and then toss them into a freezer bag until needed. These also go into the oven frozen.

This is the one I'm serving. I added a few homemade croutons. Cube the bread and freeze it now!

This is the one I’m serving. I added a few homemade croutons. Cube the bread and freeze it now!

If you make soups, they also freeze well.  If you are planning a cream soup, leave the dairy out until the last minute. Freeze the non- dairy soup, thaw it in the refrigerator, and then once it is heated prior to serving, mix in the cream. I do a butternut squash and pumpkin soup without cream, and then add a dollop of creme fraiche to each serving, It’s an elegant touch, and allows you to really taste the seasonal flavors and not cream. It’s less rich before a heavy meal.

Think about decor. Will you be doing flowers, candles or some elaborate thing with pinecones and gourds? Figure it out now. Buy the candles, bleach the pinecones and decide where the flowers are coming from, and what you will put them in. If you are making placecards, you can do them now. I actually print out menus every year. ( I know,  it’s a bit much, but it’s only once a year so why not?) Don’t feel pressured by Pinterest. It’s ok to order flowers, or grab them while you’re in Trader Joe’s. If your is anything like mine, you will be standing in a check out line that snakes to the front of the store, allowing you to pick them up while you’re standing there anyways.

I am off to take my own advice, and get this underway, before the pie orders come in and I’m overwhelmed again.

Next up: Cooking and setting up for the big meal. Get your pre-work done, and get some rest while you can.

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