It’s that time of year when most folks decide that they need to clean up their diets and reset their health goals. Most of you have already shifted your diets to less meat and dairy, no gluten, less salt and sugar, more vegetables and a focus on adding more protein. There is an avalanche of so many new products, but I really like below items……
Cassava Pasta – So many benefits with this pasta. It’s free from glutens, grains, the top 8 allergens, legumes, gum and lectin. With an earthy flavor and fantastic texture this truly is the closet to the real thing.
Chick Pea Flour Tortillas – Enjoy Taco Tuesday or Meatless Monday with these tasty tortillas. Roast off some cumin dusted sweet potatoes, add some smoky black beans, top with cheese or crema, avocado and fresh cilantro and you have the perfect dinner.
Vegan Cheese – This has probably been the hardest category for me to endorse as I have not been a fan! But after years of trying so many types and brands, these cheeses taste like the real deal and are delicious.
Bone Broth – Although this category isn’t new, I don’t think it’s really caught on! Besides being high in protein and its many benefits from aiding in digestion to protecting bones and joints, it’s great for cooking. I use it in soups, sauces, flavoring rice and pasta.
As your Chef, my #1 priority is to use the finest ingredients I can find to craft your meals. A true pantry staple that is woven into so many of my recipes are San Marzano Tomatoes! One of the most distinctive traits is the rich sweet taste that other canned tomatoes don’t have! Many canned brands are full of seeds and have a tinny flavor, and the only way to balance that out is to add sugar. Check out this link for more information.
Many of you have asked for my Marinara Sauce Recipe, and after many hours of testing, I settled on Rao’s Marinara Recipe. Here is a little bit of info about Rao’s. Chefs Tip: Too busy to make your own Rao’s? It’s now sold in grocery stores, and bonus, it is always voted best jarred marinara!
Rao’s Marinara Sauce
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons minced onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 28 ounce cans imported Italian San Marzano crushed tomatoes or whole tomatoes
6 leaves fresh basil, torn into small pieces
Pinch of dried oregano
Salt and ground black pepper
Make the sauce: Heat the oil and butter in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Sauté onion with salt until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and sauté just until softened. Add tomatoes and their juices and bring to a boil. Add the basil, oregano and reduce heat to low and simmer until sauce is slightly thickened, about 45 minutes. If adding Meatballs place in sauce to simmer.
I’m constantly on the hunt for new products, tools and trends and wanted to share my latest finds with you, so check them out…
Furikake Rice Seasoning – from Japan, Furikake is frequently used to top rice, fish, and vegetables. It’s also used in making Onigiri or nori-wrapped rice balls. The condiment can also be used to add umami flavor and crunchy texture to just about any savory dish or snack, from eggs and avocado toast to poke bowls and salads.
Lemon infused olive oil – Just a few lovely drops to finish a soup, or toss with salad greens, mixed with herbs for a great marinade and my favorite sautéed spinach.
Calabria Chili Paste is something all cooks should have in the kitchen. Add as much or as little as you like to give layers of savory flavor to pasta sauces, eggs, sandwich spreads, vegetables and meats. I blended it into a meatloaf mix and wow it really punched up the flavor.
Pickling – this fun process is the hottest trend going and summer is the perfect time of year to get started. Whether it is a quick pickle or the stove top version, you can create any texture or flavor profile you want. It’s really the new “condiment of choice” to top your favorite salad, taco or sandwich and it makes a great marinade for meats. I like to change up the flavors by adding a Mexican twist using fresh cilantro, jalapeños, coriander and cumin. If you are looking for a quick and easy way to pick your favorite vegetables, here is a great method.
Julienne Peeler – For me, plating your food is what I enjoy most and I really challenge myself to make each and every dish pretty. Years ago I found the most amazing tool… a julienne peeler in Little Italy, Philadelphia. There are so many different types out there, but none that have the precision and technique to make radishes, carrots, zucchini, potatoes and squash look so beautiful and give that wow factor to your dish.
Pre- Cut Parchment Paper – For anyone who has struggled with the painful process of cutting parchment paper, then trying to lay it flat onto a baking sheet and then finding ultimately it is the wrong size, you will go nuts for this product. It is the best!
Ricer – You’ll never use a food processor again after using this ricer to make your mash potatoes. Also check out this link for other creative ways to use it- 4 Ways to Use a Ricer.
One of the many benefits of having your very own personal chef is knowing that I not only try to create a balanced dish but take great care into buying quality ingredients. With that said, keeping up on what is happening with the food supply chain and food sourcing can be overwhelming. The information runs the gamut – genetically modified foods, organics, grass fed meats, sustainability, farm raised versus wild caught seafood, etc.
One subject that I rarely see any information about is grating your own cheese versus buying pre-packaged shredded cheese! Most people don’t know that pre-shredded cheese is coated with starches to keep the cheese from clumping. Although these starches aren’t harmful, eliminating any foods with additives is important when trying to maintain a clean diet. Having worked in commercial kitchens, that was all that was used due to the volume. Once I got out on my own and started testing recipes where I was grating my own cheese, I never went back to the packaged versions. However, the one exception I do make is Pecorino Romano and the brand I use doesn’t use any fillers. So, if you are going to use pre-shredded just check out the ingredients.
For most vegetarians, mushrooms are a staple. Not only do they mimic the texture of meat, but they contain so many health benefits.
In addition to their health benefits they are amazingly versatile and insanely flavorful! As you likely know, fresh mushrooms have a rich, umami flavor on their own but punched up with aromatics and a de-glaze of spirits they become wonderfully savory and complex. They make a great side dish or the perfect addition to soups, pizza, stews, eggs and now so many folks are making burgers. But if you’re anything like me, you’ll want to eat them straight out of the skillet.
Once you assemble your ingredients for the recipe of your choice, you’re ready to cook! Here are my best tips for sautéed mushroom success:
Don’t wash them, wipe them! Generally, when I cook with fresh produce, I wash it under cold running water before I use it. But not mushrooms! They soak up moisture like a sponge, so if you wash them, they become waterlogged. This means that they won’t brown as they cook. When it comes to sautéed mushrooms, browning = flavor. So, to help the mushrooms brown, wipe them clean with a damp paper towel.
Don’t move the mushrooms for the first 2-3 minutes of cooking. Start with a pat of butter. Add the mushrooms to the hot pan being careful not to over crowd. Don’t move them for a couple of minutes. This way, they’ll get a nice golden brown sear, which will add rich flavor to the final dish
And after that, stir only occasionally. Sautéed mushrooms are best when their edges are nicely browned, which results from consistent contact with the hot pan. If you stir too much, they’ll soften before they have a chance to take on color. De-glaze once golden brown and allow the moisture to absorb then hit them with some fresh herbs off the fire. Use as a side or add to your chosen recipe.
With a little planning, this might be your best holiday yet!
Tip #1: For a successful celebration “Keep it Simple.” Here is a formula that works for appetizers: 2-2-2. I recommend six items: two store bought, two semi-homemade and two homemade. That lets you take time to focus on your signature items while keeping the other prep easy. Next you want to make sure you have something for everyone in the mix. These days that can be challenging. So many people are gluten-free, vegan or aren’t eating dairy, so make sure you have that information when crafting the menu. In a perfect world, offer vegetarian, seafood and meat options so it feels like a meal. People want the tapas experience, so the basic crudité, meat and cheese board doesn’t cut it anymore. If possible add one surprise item from the oven served mid party that can easily be added to the table or enlist a friend to pass around, so fun……
Tip #2: Focus on the Platters, Flowers and Decorations to add the “Wow” factor! Select nice napkins, small paper plates and plastic cups rather than creating extra work that comes with lots of dishes. They are perfectly fine for these holiday gatherings. You can then use your energy to put together festive platters, seasonal floral arrangements and decorations to create a lovely setting.
Tip #3: A Simple Self-Serve Bar Provide a selection of beverages that includes sparkling water, craft beer, red and white wine and maybe a signature cocktail like an Aperol Spritz.
Tip #4: Bites per Person People always ask me this and it’s the larger groups that can be challenging. The rule of thumb is 4-6 bites if a meal is being served and 10-12 bites without a meal for 2 hours. Having gourmet nuts, chips and olives and maybe a dip like pimento cheese with crackers staged in several areas will also help to fill people up!
Tip #5: Desert This is the time of year when people splurge! Either make your favorite holiday desert or this is where fruit and cheese really work well. A beautiful platter of warm brie drizzled with honey and sprinkled with pomegranates surrounded by dried and fresh fruit and artisan chocolates. It’s just enough to finish off the evening!
Tip #6: Cooks Tip: No need to feel overwhelmed this holiday season if you don’t feel like cooking. One positive from the Pandemic we now know is anything we need is just a click away. My favorite go to is Williams Sonoma. They have so many choices and excellent qualityhors doeuvres. You can also look to your local grocery store like Fresh Market or Ingles. They can make stunning holiday platters with just a few days notice.
Maybe you are not interested in doing anything but hosting. Beau & Ashley Menetre at The Nest Catering and Events are wizards at throwing amazing parties. The Nest Catering & Events – 404-319-1052