Category Archives: Blue Plate Special

Happy Father’s Day!

Here’s wishing the happiest of Father’s Days to all the great dads out there, especially to my fantastic husband! If you want to cook up a delicious dinner for your favorite Dad (we’re talking Grilled Rack of Lamb, Grilled Potato Skewers & Grilled Pineapple), check out my mouthwatering, dad-pleasing Father’s Day grilling menu.

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How Buying Organic Saved Me Money

Yes, that’s right. I saved money on my weekly grocery bill by buying organic produce.

I’ve been gradually making the shift to buying organic foods for my family and trying to balance that with my weekly food budget. I worried that spending more for organic produce would break the bank. I was wrong. (Please, nobody tell my husband.)

As I made my way through the aisles of Mom’s (My Organic Market) I carefully chose a selection of veggies and fruits, imagining as I chose how I’d prepare or serve them and for what meal. At the register, my total was about a third less than my regular produce bill.

I realized that because I was concerned about cost, I only selected foods I knew I would use. I didn’t just grab everything that looked good or struck my fancy. I bought what I had a plan for and in addition to saving a few bucks (and having the cute courtesy clerk carry my organic swag to my car), at the end of the week I didn’t have to endure the dump of shame – that dismal end of the week ritual where I throw away the produce that went bad before I figured out what to do with it.

While I aspire to be like my organized and industrious friends who enter the grocery store armed with a detailed shopping list generated by a weekly menu, I’m not there yet. Baby steps.

My little experiment did make me wonder how much I could save if I did sit down and create a serious weekly meal plan, but that’s a story for another day.

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Five More Kitchen Tools Every Cook Should Have

The long-awaited sequel to last summer’s list of five tools every kitchen should have (refresh your memory) is finally here. Now that you’ve undoubtedly rushed out to purchase all the things I recommended and now have a quality chef’s knife, cutting boards, pots and pans, tongs and assorted high heat spatulas, you’re ready to pick up five more kitchen basics that will help you out as you cook.

1. Measuring Cups & Spoons

As their name implies, measuring cups and spoons will help you measure out your liquid and dry ingredients. Measuring cups for liquids have a spout to make pouring easy. Measuring cups for dry ingredients come in sizes ranging from ¼ cup to 1 cup. Their tops are level so it’s easy to level off dry ingredients for accurate measurements. These are typically inexpensive so pick up several sets.

2. Mixing Bowls

Mixing bowls are great not just for mixing, but also for holding ingredients while you prep and for use as a garbage bowl while you cook. You can never have too many of these. Pick them up in different sizes and styles from plastic, to stainless steel or even ceramic or glass.

3. Sheet Trays

Sheet trays are not just for baking cookies. These rectangular pans have a raised edge on all four sides to keep ingredients in place. They can be used to roast vegetables, bake cakes or brownies and for baking cookies. Cookie sheets typically have a lip or raised edge on only one side to make it easy to slide your cookies from the sheet onto your cooling rack or platter.

4. Food Processor

While I’m not one to advocate using a food processor for simple tasks like chopping an onion, they do make quick work of things like chopping nuts, making bread crumbs and shredding or chopping vegetables in large quantities. Buy a food processor to fit your needs. Start small and work your way up to a larger, industrial version if you need it.

5. Mixer

Every kitchen needs a mixer. Whether it’s small and hand-held or a high-powered, countertop version, mixers come in handy for mixing batters, whipping cream and even getting rid of lumps in your mashed potatoes. If you don’t want to make a big financial commitment with a stand mixer, pick up a smaller, much less expensive hand-held mixer. If you find you’re using it frequently or that you’re tackling recipes that your handheld can’t handle, then you’ll know you’re ready for the heavier duty version.

Disclaimer

A well-stocked kitchen contains many more utensils than the ten listed here and in my previous post. This list is simply a springboard for beginning cooks who may not know where to start.

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Secrets of a Skinny Chef

Diet…lowfat…light – three words a French-trained chef doesn’t want to hear. I am no exception, until now. I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy of a fabulous new cookbook – Secrets of a Skinny Chef by Jennifer Iserloh, ace chef, recipe developer and generous colleague. The book is chock full of recipes Jennifer has developed to create a collection of tasty dishes that are light in fat and calories but loaded with flavor. Seriously.

I’ll admit I was nervous about my few days of eating Skinny until I tasted the Butternut Squash Soup with Coconut Milk. It was perfectly rich and creamy, as butternut squash soup should be, and the simple substitution of light coconut milk made it a healthier alternative to my heavy-cream laden version, without sacrificing any flavor. My finicky family devoured it.

Jennifer even takes on popular takeout items, eliminating the fat in Just Like Takeout Sweet & Sour Chicken, which is a perfect storm of protein, vegetables and grains. Perhaps my favorite thing about the book — besides the mouthwatering recipes – are the Skinny Secrets, tips on simple ways to incorporate healthier fare into your diet. (That’s diet meaning the foods you consume, not those futile exercises in deprivation that promise miraculous weight loss.)

Skinny Chef Jen has put together a primer on how to navigate cooking and eating in a healthier fashion with recipes and tips that are approachable, delicious and life-changing. The Skinny chef way of eating is based on making smarter food choices and enjoying the food you prepare without the guilt that often comes after a meal. And even though heavy cream and butter will always have a special place in my fridge, I’m thrilled to have found a new recipe repertoire that matches my full-fat faves in flavor.

Order Secrets of a Skinny Chef at http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1605295884?ie=UTF8&tag=skiche-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=1605295884

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How to Give the Gift of Great Taste to Kids

Holiday How To — Day 22 — Each day leading up to Christmas I’ll post a bit of holiday know-how that will help make your season a little easier.

Looking for a last minute gift for the kid-cook in your life? Tiana’s Cookbook: Recipes for Kids from Disney Press will give tiny chefs a taste of New Orelans. Inspired by The Princess and the Frog movie, the book is chock full of traditional Cajun cuisine – from Tiana’s Famous Beignets to Jammin’ Jambalaya and Yumbo Gumbo. All of the recipes are written for kids to make with lots of help from an adult, the perfect activity for a long, holiday vacation. You can find Tiana’s Cookbook at http://www.amazon.com/Princess-Frog-Tianas-Cookbook-Recipes/dp/1423125401/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1263489246&sr=8-1.

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Check Your EAT-iquette!As a personal chef, I’m fortunate to be treated to a new food adventure with every client or project. No two days are ever alike. Recently, I was hired by a company to manage a cooking demonstration at one of those ginormous retail stores where everything comes in bulk (because who doesn’t need 500 Tootsie Rolls, right?) making sure the store employees prepared the client’s product and distributed it to customers for sampling.

At the end of my long day, my feet were tired, my back sore and my Yes-We-Can-enthusiasm about the resurgence of American civility had morphed into an indignant Oh-No-You-Didn’t (neck roll and finger snap optional)!

Never in my professional life had I witnessed such bad behavior (and I think it’s worth noting that pre-chefdom, I worked for members of Congress, in a restaurant kitchen and for a boss who once threw a bag of coffee beans against the conference room wall in a fit of rage.) But that’s a story for another time.

What I learned that day is that my fellow Americans need a crash course in EAT-iquette – the proper way to eat and behave at a consumer cooking demonstration.

1. Respect the line. Don’t stroll past dozens of people in front of you with your hand out and then feign surprise that those same folks aren’t standing there for sport. Seriously.

2. It’s called a sample for a reason. Companies want to introduce you to their product, not buy you dinner. Revisiting for a second bite is flattering. Swinging back around for thirds, fourths or even fifths is just plain wrong. And yes, the people handing out the food recognize you even when you pretend every time is your first time.

3. Check your kids. Don’t send your little ones to grab a sample alone. The staff have no way of knowing if your child is allergic to wheat, peanuts or polysorbate-mono-blah-blah-blah and it’s never in good taste to let your kids run around willy nilly. You might not be bothered by Little Timmy kicking the shopping cart of the person in front of you or playing touch-every-piece-of-food-on-the-tray, but I can assure you other people are. Really.

4. You don’t have to buy to try. Don’t pretend to buy the product, dropping it excitedly into your cart only to abandon it in a nearby and usually inappropriate aisle. Hiding food in the sock bin is completely unacceptable.

5. Keep your hands to yourself. Never, under any circumstances, put your hand in a serving dish, no matter where you are. (I can’t believe I had to write that either.)Most samples are distributed in individual cups or plates. Wait for the staff to pass one to you or pick a pre-portioned sample from the serving tray (that would be the tray holding all the tiny plates or cups filled with food).

6. Tell your story walking. Once you have your sample in hand, step away from the table or counter to enjoy it. Under no uncertain terms should you stand and eat while leaning over the other samples or food on the table. I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that the rest of the General Public isn’t interested in eating a sample garnished with the crumbs that fall from your mouth. And whether you’re sampling or not, chewing with your mouth closed is a good thing.

7. Mind your manners. Last, but certainly not least, remember that the beings handing you the food are people. A simple please and thank you will go a long way.

So, next time you’re shopping and you see people handing out samples of food, resist the temptation to act like you were raised by wolves and mob the table while barking at the attendant to put more on your plate. Make America proud. Check your EAT-iquette.

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For Your Grilling Pleasure

An American ClassicYou’ll have to forgive me. I’ve been away for a few weeks enjoying a grown-ups-only vacation with my husband, teaching summer cooking camps for kids and teens at L’academie de Cuisine (www.lacademie.com), attending the wedding of great friends, treating my 5-year-old to a trip to Sesame Place (www.sesameplace.com) and visiting the historic (and fun) sites of Philadelphia.

That hasn’t left me much time to blog, but in honor of all the grilling I’m sure everyone’s enjoying this time of year, I thought I’d post a link to an article I wrote several years ago for the Food Network Summer Grilling Guide. It’s all about — you guessed it — the good old American hamburger and how it’s captured the country’s hearts and stomachs.

I’ll get back to a semi-regular posting schedule next week, but until then…enjoy!

http://www.greattastepcs.com/files/AmericanClassic.pdf

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