Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

The doorbell's still ringing, but I've got the girls answering so I can quickly post the ghoulish snacks I made tonight. I got the idea from a Personal Chef friend of mine, Patti A., who made these cute tortilla cut-outs for a party. She dubbed the guacamole "Monster Brains" and the salsa, "Monster Guts." I didn't label mine, for fear of scaring the girls away. Good thing I took a picture while they were out trick-or-treating, because there's nothing left now. Boo!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

"Fit and Fresh"

I'm teaming up with a fantastic personal trainer to offer a "Fit and Fresh" package to people in our area. Except I wish we could come up with a nicer name. "Fit and Fresh" sounds like a bag of lettuce or something. Any ideas out there?

Here's the scoop: The client contacts us about the package (it's a great gift for a husband, wife, parent or boss-- hint, hint), we set up a date and time, and we both arrive: he to do the training, me to do the cooking. The price is $175 and includes everything - 1 hour of training, groceries, and a healthy, home-cooked meal that will serve 4-6 family members. The challenge for me was designing meals that I could prepare in 1 hour and stay within budget. But, I enjoy that sort of challenge. Here are a few of my ideas:

Turkey Chili
Whole Wheat Rolls
Mixed Greens with Low-Fat Creamy Herb Buttermilk Dressing

Chicken with Cranberry Sauce
Mashed White Beans
Autumn Salad with Maple Vinaigrette

Spicy Orange Beef Stir-Fry
Vegetable "Fried" Rice
Cucumber Salad

Greek Chicken with Orzo
Spinach Salad with Poppyseed Dressing

Crispy Baked Tilapia
Oven-Roasted Sweet Potato Fries
Baby Greens with Lemon Vinaigrette

Slow Cooked Black Beans with Brown Rice and Cheese
Wheat Tortillas
Fiesta Salad

Got comments? We'd love to hear 'em before we officially launch this idea.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Autumn Salad with Maple Dressing

We're big salad eaters in this house. Salads for dinner; salads for lunch; salads as side dishes. I haven't tried salad for breakfast...yet.

This salad is a seasonal favorite. We enjoy it as a side dish with a simply flavored dinner such as roast chicken or grilled pork tenderloin. Feel free to change up the ingredients to suit your tastes; pears are just as good as apples; pecans can sub for walnuts; add some blue cheese or chevre, if that's what you like.
Autumn Salad with Maple Dressing
(adapted from Bon Appetit)

Maple Dressing
¼ cup mayonnaise (light is fine)
¼ cup pure maple syrup
2 T. white vinegar
5 T. canola oil
Salt to taste

1 5- to 7-oz. bag of mixed baby greens
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and cut into matchstick-size strips
½ cup dried cranberries
½ cup chopped walnuts, toasted

Make the dressing by whisking the mayonnaise, maple syrup, vinegar in a bowl to blend. Gradually whisk in oil until mixture thickens slightly (This dressing is easy to make in a screw-top jar; just shake well to get the oil incorporated). Set aside. (Dressing can be made a couple of days ahead and refrigerated. Rewhisk —or shake—before using.)

Make the salad by tossing the greens, apples, cranberries and ¼ cup walnuts in a large bowl to combine. Toss with enough dressing to coat. Divide the salad equally among 6 plates. Sprinkle with remaining walnuts and serve.

Serves 6.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Chicken and White Bean Chili

This was a yummy dish on this cold evening. I actually whipped it up this morning, in between yoga class and a trip to IKEA. I heated the chili up on the stovetop tonight, and served it with cornbread and a salad. Clean plates all around.

Chicken and White Bean Chili

3 cups leftover roast chicken, white and dark meat, cooked
2 T. canola oil
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
1 can chopped green chiles (the little can)
1 can (14 oz. or so) white kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 can (14.5 oz.) petite diced tomatoes
1 can (14.5 oz.) low-sodium chicken stock - optional, I like a soupy consistency but you can leave this out for a thicker "chili"
1/2 cup frozen corn
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons chili seasoning from packet or your own mixture* (optional--see below)
garnishes: chopped fresh cilantro, shredded cheese, sour cream, chopped chives

Cut the cooked chicken up into bite size pieces. You can use leftover grilled chicken breasts, roasted chicken or even a rotisserie chicken. As long as it's cooked, it'll work. Set aside.

Heat oil in a heavy Dutch oven. Saute onion and bell pepper over medium heat until tender. Turn down heat if the vegetables are cooking too fast. Stir in all the rest of the ingredients (except chili seasoning and garnishes). Bring to a slow boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer for 20 - 30 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings, if desired. *This is where I decided the chili wasn't spicy enough and decided to add a couple of tablespoons of chili seasoning. If you add seasoning at this point, let simmer for at least 10 more minutes.

Serve topped with garnishes of your choice. Leftovers freeze well, and also make for a great lunch the next day.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Time to Put Thoughts into Action

I'm back home with a list a mile long of incredible ideas I got from the Symposium, as well as a few loads of dirty laundry. I've already started working on both.

Some of my immediate action items include:

* contacting graphic artist to help me design a logo and new business cards (I did my original ones on MS Word and they're OK but not professional-looking)
* sending quick emails to local papers with ideas for feature stories
* taking better pictures of my dishes, and posting those pictures on my website
* following up with the new gym about speaking there one afternoon
* submitting my URL to the major search engines
* adding keywords to my website for search engine optimization

My very first priority, though, is to go to the grocery store. The family has been living off fast food and Fritos since I left. I whipped up Whole Wheat Spaghetti and Meatballs last night, with a salad from what we had left in the fridge, and their gratitude reminded me of why I love to cook.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Charleston Report - Day 3

I call this picture, "MR and MU."

That would be Michael Ruhlman and Martha Ulfelder.

Yes, other things happened today. But I started with the best. We were fortunate to have writer, chef and cookbook author Michael Ruhlman at our Symposium as the keynote speaker today. I'm a big fan of his books, having read The Soul of a Chef and The Reach of a Chef. He spoke with us about his experiences, but got very passionate about the state of food today. He urged us to get back to a solar-based food system rather than the petroleum-based system we've come to rely upon, and he feels it's up to us to educate ourselves and as well as our customers. "Why are people so quick to accept mediocrity?" he asked.

Chef Theo of PCN asked Ruhlman, "What is the one food trend you'd like to see go away?" Ruhlman said, "Foam." If they'd asked me, I would have said, "100-calorie packs." But that's a whole 'nother post.

There were so many highlights of today (Roundtable with USPCA owner Gail Kenagy! Commercial Kitchen Operations! Working with a Dietician! Working with the Press! When PCs Hire Other PCs!), and I have lots of other mediocre BlackBerry pictures to post, including one from my dinner last night. However, duty calls. We're leaving for our last dinner out in Charleston any minute.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Charleston Report - Day 2

Oh my... there's so much to report and so little time. I do need to sleep, after all.

Today started bright and early (7 am) with continental breakfast, group introductions (some of the chefs had not come to Tuesday's optional sessions) and housekeeping details (sign ups for dinner out in Charleston, most importantly).

We then listened to Chef Mike Monahan of Chefs USA, who shared his motivational secrets to success. Next, Anne Willan of LaVarenne presented stories and recipes related to her "Country Cooking of France" book. She's led an incredibly rich life, and says she's been very lucky, landing prestigious jobs such as teaching the Mexican staff at the palace at Versaille how to cook French food; and answering letters and writing recipes for Gourmet magazine, before launching her cooking school in France.

We tasted some wonderful dishes from the cookbook, which Chef Willan, her assistant Christine and two of our PCN chefs (Connie and Jewels) prepared: Aunt Louie's Cheese Balls; Daube of Beef with Green and Black Olives; Gratin of Red Swiss Chard; Tomatoes Stuffed with Goat Cheese; and Flemish Spiced Cookies. (The photos above are of Chef Anne Willan and Chef Peg Nelson; and the Stuffed Tomato. I think you can figure out which is which.)

If you've never heard Chef Willan speak, she has what I guess I'd call a British accent and as well as lovely speaking voice. We couldn't help but laugh as she recalled the selection of foods at the local market, the Piggly Wiggly, which came out "Pigg-a-lee Wigg-a-lee" when she said it.

After our tasting, one chef commented, "Those cheese balls made me long for a glass of red wine." Another agreed, adding, "Me too. Then again, Grape Nuts make me long for a glass of red wine." A third chimed in with, "Waking up in the morning makes me long for a glass of red wine." So that's where we're at. And it wasn't even noon yet.

After lunch, Chef Adriana Mullen of PCN presented an informative class on Food Photography. Adriana has an abundance of talent in this area, and was generous in sharing her tips and techniques with us. I have some mediocre photos I took of her presentation, which I don't dare post. One thing to know: Adriana does not like napkins in her photography. She emphasized that point, so that's why you will NOT EVER see a napkin (or dish towel or place mat) in one of her pics. Take a look at some of her photos.

Next, Chef Cathy Garossino led a speed-session in knife skills, covering more ground in an hour than I would have thought humanly possible. I think everyone in the room learned at least one thing they hadn't known before.

Time to hit the beach? Nooooo. Next up was PCN Chef Theo Petron, who animatedly told us about his journey from a career in advertising to his latest venture, marketing himself as a celebrity chef. Keep your eyes open for Theo; he's coming soon to a network near you! He can currently be seen on "Cook What You Catch," a sports/cooking show that airs on the Fishing Network and various other markets, as well as here.

Finally, the wonderful Denise Vivaldo returned for a late-afternoon workshop called "Large Scale Catering and Wedding Workshop." As always, Denise entertained and informed us as she spoke about achieving success in this segment of the industry.

With our daily agenda over, the chefs were ready to kick back... but the bus was leaving in 40 minutes for our restaurant reservations in Charleston. TO BE CONTINUED!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Charleston Report - Day 1

I've got no shortage of material this week. I'm in gorgeous Charleston, SC, at the Personal Chefs' Network 2008 Symposium. I arrived on Tuesday evening, and after sharing a late-night meal with fellow chefs from across the US and Canada, we hit the ground running today with a fantastic presentation by Denise Vivaldo of Food Fanatics. Denise is not only an incredibly talented chef, author, food stylist and teacher, she is also a RIOT. I was sitting next to the videographer, who had to step away from the camera numerous times because he was laughing so hard at Denise's material, much of which includes some inside (very inside) stories about the famous people she's worked with over the years.

In the photo (taken with my BlackBerry; I forgot the camera.... grrr), Denise (in the blue apron) is preparing a "roast" chicken for it's close-up, showing us some of the secrets of food styling and photography. Chef Karla Billdt of Arizona is assisting. And who's that looking in from the doorway? Oh, it's Anne Willan, founder of the famous French cooking school, LaVarenne. She's in town to talk to us tomorrow, though she joined us today for an impromptu discussion of food magazine covers as well as gas station food in America vs. France. You had to be there!

Tonight we're having a clam bake poolside and receiving our Goodie Bags, which have detailed agendas for the next two days and some surprises. I'll report back again soon.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Homestyle Take-Out

I ended up making pizza on Friday night and General Tso's Chicken on Saturday. Why not just order out, you ask? I'll tell you why. It was healthy, easy, inexpensive, and guess what? They liked it! They really liked it!

DD had asked if we could go out to dinner on Friday. But in the interest of saving money (and because I knew everyone was kind of tired), I said, "Want to make pizza at home instead?" She was interested, so we made a very quick Whole Wheat Pizza Dough in the food processor (no kneading!) and we were halfway there. While she watched TV, I cooked some bacon (oven method... it's the BEST!) and emptied out the fridge in search of toppings. Wow. We had pizza sauce, barbecue sauce, lots of cheeses, cooked sliced chicken, roasted red peppers and turkey 'roni. I was too tired to caramelize some onions; maybe next time. After the dough rose, I divided it in half. One pizza for DD and I to split, another for the hubby (Teenage Son was not home).

Topping and baking was a snap, and we enjoyed really great pizza before 7 pm. DD pointed out it took 2 hours from start to finish, but an hour and 20 minutes was rising time, so I don't think that counts. As a testimonial to its' goodness, hubby ate the remaining slices for breakfast the next day. Mmmm.

Last night, I tried a recipe from this month's Everyday Food: "Lighter General Tso's Chicken." I modified the vegetables a bit to please the crowd. DD was my sous chef again, helping to stir up the chicken coating (cornstarch and egg whites) as well as the sauce, getting out ingredients, measuring and keeping me entertained with an endless stream of chatter.

Hubby was out, so it was just me and the kids eating. The verdict: Two of us liked the dinner; the third loved it. She's the one who likes bland food. I thought it was just OK. Next time, I will add something either salty, spicy or sweet to up the flavor a bit. But that won't stop me from eating the leftovers for lunch. Mmmm.

Editing on 2/20/09 to add, this was DELICOUS when I made it again last night. I really loved it this time, and so did all the kids who were here for dinner. YUM.

Lighter General Tso's Chicken
adapted from Everyday Food, Oct. 2008

1/4 cup cornstarch, divided
1 cup snow peas or sugar snap peas, washed, ends and strings removed
1 carrot, peeled and sliced
4 cloves garlic, sliced thin
2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 large egg whites
salt and pepper
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 1 inch pieces (or chicken tenderloins, cut into 1" pieces)
2 tablespoons canola oil

In a large bowl, stir together 1 T. cornstarch and 1/2 cup cold water until smooth. Add snow peas, carrot, garlic, ginger, sugar, soy sauce and red pepper flakes. Toss to combine and set aside.

In another bowl, whisk together egg whites and remaining 3 T. cornstarch. Add 1/4 t. salt and 1/4 t. pepper. Add sliced chicken; toss to coat.

Heat 1 T. oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Lift half of the chicken from the egg white mixture, shaking off excess. Add to skillet. Cook, turning occasionally, until golden, about 6 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Repeat with remaining oil and chicken, and set all chicken aside (reserve skillet).

Add snow pea mixture to skillet. Cover and cook until vegetables are tender and sauce has thickened, about 3 minutes. Add chicken and any juices back into skillet. Toss to coat and heat through. Serve over rice. Serves 4.