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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The Art of Movement: The Museum Workout

February 1, 2017
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image by Mallory Lynn

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City is hosting a series of morning workouts, which take place in the expansive space of one of the most famous galleries in the world.

Concieved of and choreographed by contemporary dancers Monica Bill Barnes and Company, and narrated by artist Maira Kalman, the multi-disciplanary workout takes place in the early morning hours before the museum opens to the public.

image via Bloomberg

image via Bloomberg

The nearly two mile course flows through the various galleries led by Monica Bill Barnes and her dance partner, Anne Bass, both wearing sneakers and sequined dresses. Through constant movement, including classic moves such as squats,dance moves and light stretching, the participants are able to experience a unique mind- body connection.

Ms. Kalman selects the artwork to be viewed, and produces a soundtrack of Disco and Motown hits, interspersed with her recorded dialogue to guide the group the space.

The experience runs through February 12, and tickets start at $35.

Thursday to Sunday, weekly; 8:30 am, The Met Fifth Avenue:
Jan 19, 20, 21, 22 & Jan 26, 27, 28, 29
Feb 2, 3, 4, 5 & Feb 9, 10, 11, 12

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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Showing Their Stripes

January 30, 2017

The stars showed their stripes on the red carpet at last night’s SAG awards, brightening a landscape that featured more black gowns than ever before.

Michelle Dockery wore a striped Elie Saab gown with a thigh high slit and black piping.

The 23rd Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards - Arrivals

Michelle Williams opted for sequined stripes, by Louis Vuitton.

23rd Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards - Arrivals

Yara Shahidi’s stripes were a mix of sheer and opaque with a hint of sparkle.The rainbow of color was grounded by black from designer, Naaem Kahn.

The 23rd Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards - Red Carpet

Mayim Bialik took a more modest approach, with her striped taffetta gown that had a high neckline and short sleeves.

23rd Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards - Arrivals

Photos via Style Caster

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Quiet Amidst The Storm

January 25, 2017

 

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It is no secret that we are living in challenging times. Whether you are in support of our current administration or not, it’s pretty rough out there. My social media feed has been filled with articles containing facts, opinions, and “alternate facts” since the Presidential race got underway last year. Every post is met with a long thread that evolves from agreement, to hideous accusations from “friends” and total strangers alike. And you know what? It’s debilitating.

We, as a country are so divided that we can no longer carry on a conversation, without it exploding into accusations and vitroil. I as an individual, am done. I haven’t changed my views, I haven’t crawled under a rock shielding myself from news stories, and burning issues. I have however, decided that I am going to refrain from commenting on things more controversial than eating pickles with peanut butter. (Verdict: GROSS!)

Everyday, I find myself respectfully defending my views only to be attacked. Yesterday, I found myself in a nearly 1000 comment thread about the inaugural cake. Let that sink in a moment, before I tell you that it got pretty ugly. In a time that the world is in turmoil, people took time to argue over a cake. A CAKE! I fell down that rabbit hole, and came back a little bruised from the journey.

And not commenting isn’t making it that much better. The things I take issue with continue to be there. The things others take issue with are blamed on us “liberals” and “special snowflakes.” Each individual action, is now attributed to an entire group of people, who didn’t do it, and don’t condone it, yet whatever political affiliation that the guilty party belongs to, now owns their misdeed. The constant verbal attacks over absolutely everything are becoming overwhelming. The name calling, the assumptions regarding one’s intelligence, and the outright bullying of those with different views has got to stop. And until it does, I’m not going to play.

Sometimes I am so riled up, I feel like I can’t breathe. Sometimes I am so shut down, that I just want to pull the covers over my head and hide. This can’t be healthy, for me or for anyone.  So I am taking a little break, and sticking to discussing issues that are far more benign than those with a political bent. Which apparently means pickles over cake, unless the President or his family hates pickles, in which case, it’s all fair game.

In a year that has divided us so, I look at the beacon of light that is before me. Last Saturday, millions of people came together to protest, and bring to the forefront issues that are meaningful to them, that our current administration doesn’t agree with. While the public shouldn’t need to protest to have our leaders represent their points of view, perhaps, in some really twisted way, all of this discord is in fact, bringing us together. We can only hope.

In the meantime….Indigo 0ut.

Photo: Glasshouse Images

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Marching Orders

January 18, 2017

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“We stand together in solidarity with our partners and children for the protection of our rights, our safety, our health, and our families – recognizing that our vibrant and diverse communities are the strength of our country.”- Women’s March on Washington

Women’s marches are scheduled to take place across the country this Saturday, in support of human rights. While the main march is taking place in Washington D.C. other marches will take place in New York and Los Angeles, as well as over 300 other locations around the country. And yes, men are also welcome.

If you would like to find a march near you, visit the official website and look for sister marches.

If you choose to attend the D.C. event, there will be some restrictions due to security concerns.

Here are a few tips and things you  should know if you are attending one of the marches.

Security will be extremely high. There are many common items that are banned, including aerosols, balloons, coolers, including glass, thermal or metal containers, selfie sticks, packages of any kinds, and bicycles and strollers.

Signs must be made of cardboard, posterboard or cloth only, and measure less than 3 feet wide, and 20 feet long.

Backpacks are allowed, but must not exceed 18″x 13″x 7″.  Other bags, such as a cross body pouch, must not exceed 8″x6″x4″ in size.

The weather is supposed to be mild, but at this time of year, can be unpredictable. It is best to wear light layers that can be added or removed as the day goes on.  Sunglasses, hats, and gloves are recommended.

It may be winter, but sunscreen is a must when spending the day outside, regardless of the season.

Amenities may be sketchy so be prepared with non-perishable snacks in clear zip-lock bags, and  (it pains me to say this), water that has been purchased in plastic bottles. Due to the ban on containers, your metal or glass water bottle may be confiscated. Restrooms may also be hard to come by, and the liklihood of having to use a filthy porta potty is pretty high. Dress for ease of use, with nothing hard to get in and out of, or anything that might touch the floor, such as overalls, jumpsuits or super wide leg pants.

Carry hand sanitizer and antiseptic wipes, as well as tissues. You will need them!

Comfortable footwear is a given, but making sure your shoes or boots and socks don’t rub weh your feet swell is important. A coating of  Vaseline or Aquafor on your feet will help prevent blisters, and leave them suprisingly soft.

Be sure that your money, credit cards, transportation tickets and most importantly identification are safely stowed and close to your body. Placing them in a plastic bag inside a small crossbody pouch will keep them both safe and dry, in the event of rain.

Make sure your phone is fully charged, and bring a backup charger with you, if possible. If you are not using your phone, putting it on airplane mode will save battery.

Pre-purchase a local Metrocard, if applicable, so that you can easily get on public transportation.

Google has posted a map of spots where you can warm up, meet up and use the restrooms here.

Not into crowds, but want to show support? The 1@1 equality action initiative asks that at 1:00p.m. in Washington D.C,( regardless of your time zone), people stop whatever they are doing and stand for one minute of silent solidarity.

1@1 is a small, symbolic act in support of the American ideal of one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. It is one powerful minute to connect, reflect and recommit to making that American ideal a reality.

The only way to make our country great, is to be an active participant in the decisions that shape our lives. Whether is is women’s rights, or healthcare reform, let your voice be heard by those that initiate real change. The future is in our hands.

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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