Tag Archives: personal chef

Come join the fun!

You may have noticed my lack of posting this summer and it’s all because I’ve been working hard on building a new website that I hope will serve as a useful resource for people interested in cooking. It’s all about making cooking accessible to cooks of all skill levels. I’ll share tips, tools and techniques in 150-word posts daily, as well as videos and lots of other fun things I’ll be adding in the coming weeks.

I hope you’ll join the party at www.cookingclarified.com!


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Holiday How To — Your Guide to Cooking, Entertaining & Giving for the Season

Welcome to day one of  Holiday How-To!

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

Give Gifts That Matter

Giving may be the best gift of all this holiday season, when so many are facing tough financial times. While it’s easy to get wrapped up in the holiday spending frenzy, a practical, thoughtful and useful gift may be just the thing for a friend, family member or stranger in need. Here are four ideas to help you give a gift that matters.

1. Raindrops on Roses – Fill a basket with several of your giftee’s favorite nonperishable foods or products. Think snacks, beauty products, even essentials like cereal, ground coffee or shower gel.

2. Gift Card Blanche – Pick up gift cards for your local grocery store or even a gas station close to your friend or family member’s home. Visa or American Express gift cards are also great choices because they can be spent anywhere.

3. Luxury – Treat a deserving friend to a night out or a fun experience they may have had to curtail due to money troubles. Buy a gift card for use at their favorite restaurant, a movie theater or even a gift certificate for a massage, mani-pedi or other special treatment they may not be able to afford right now. An afternoon or evening of fun and relaxation can do wonders to lift spirits.

4. Party with Purpose – Ask guests at your holiday soiree to bring canned goods or other nonperishable food items. Your local food bank or homeless shelter will gladly accept your donation. Be sure to call ahead first to let them know about your plans.


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Yellow Watermelon

Yellow WatermelonI love a good surprise and I got one recently in the produce section – yellow watermelon. The bright yellow flesh caught my eye and into my reusable canvas grocery sack it went. The second surprise came later when I tasted my discovery. It tasted exactly the same as its red-fleshed cousin!

Yellow watermelons are one of more than 1,200 types of watermelon grown in 96 countries. They’re available year round, thanks to Mexican imports, but melons from California and Arizona are in season from May to October. The yellow flesh is due to the absence of the antioxidant lycopene, which gives tomatoes and other watermelons their red color.

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Five Random Kitchen Gadgets I Love

Mango Corer1. Mango Corer – This nifty gadget perfectly removes the fuzzy mango core EVERY TIME, making it a breeze to toss a handful of sliced or diced mango into a salad or anything else you want to make extra delicious.


Egg Slicer

2. Egg Slicer – Yes, I can slice hard-cooked eggs with a knife, but an egg slicer ensures each slice maintains its shape and that the yolk stays nicely in place.



3. Mezzaluna – Italian for half moon, the mezzaluna is made up of either a single or double curved blade with a handle at each end. Hold onto the handles and rock the blade back and forth in a rocking motion to chop herbs or small foods like garlic.

Potato Masher


4. Potato Masher – I don’t make mashed potatoes very often, but when I do, my potato masher helps me put the ‘mashed’ in mashed potato pretty quickly.

Citrus Reamer5. Citrus Reamer – Citrus reamers or juicers make quick work of getting the most juice out of your citrus fruits and they’re cheap to boot!

What gadgets are in your kitchen?


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Shrimp Salad in Tomato Cups

Shrimp Salad in Tomato CupsIn my ongoing quest to somehow turn every dish into an hors d’oeuvre – can’t explain it. Everything just seems to taste better bite-sized – I set out to reconstruct my mother’s decades old Seven Layer Salad recipe in miniature.


The Salad, as it’s known in my house, is a multilayered concoction made up of chopped fresh spinach, diced onions and celery, thawed frozen peas, sliced mushrooms, sliced hard-cooked eggs, bacon, shredded cheddar, Miracle Whip and shrimp, clearly not the seven layers the name suggests. Once layered in a large serving bowl, the salad’s refrigerated overnight and magically the seemingly unrelated flavors meld together, creating a tasty salad perfect for any potluck occasion where retro foods made with Miracle Whip are appreciated. (What else do people do with Miracle Whip?)

For my Honey-I-Shrunk-The-Salad version, I eliminated a few of the ingredients (spinach, peas, mushrooms and eggs) and serve the shrimp salad in cherry tomatoes. Yes, cherry tomatoes (not to be confused with the smaller grape tomatoes) are small and it does take a few minutes to hollow them out, but they’re the perfect bite-sized vessel and once hollowed, filled and garnished they look smashing on a serving platter. For a larger, appetizer-sized portion, halved Roma tomatoes would work well.

 Shrimp Salad in Tomato Cups

1 tablespoon butter

¾ pound shrimp, peeled and deveined

45 cherry tomatoes

¼ cup Miracle Whip or mayonnaise

2 tablespoons finely chopped onion

2 tablespoons finely chopped celery

3 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled

¼ cup finely grated cheddar cheese

¼ teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper

fresh parsley leaves, for garnish

In a medium sauté pan over medium high heat, melt butter. Add shrimp and cook, stirring occasionally, until shrimp are bright pink and cooked through, about 3-5 minutes. Remove shrimp from pan and set aside to cool.

Using a sharp knife, cut 1/8-inch off the bottom of each tomato and use a small spoon or melon baller to remove the seeds. Arrange tomatoes on platter. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper. Set aside.

Place shrimp on cutting board and chop finely. In a medium bowl, combine shrimp, miracle whip or mayonnaise, onion, celery, bacon, cheese, salt and pepper.

Spoon shrimp mixture into tomato cups. Top each tomato with one parsley leaf and serve.

Makes about 45 tomato cups.

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Cooking Oils

Choosing the right cooking oil is an important step.Canola oil? Olive Oil? Vegetable oil? Extra Virgin? If you don’t know what to look for, the cooking oil aisle in your grocery store can be overwhelming. Choosing the right oil is an important step in cooking and armed with a little information you’ll make the best choice for the task at hand.


There are two key things to consider when selecting an oil – flavor and smoke point. Some cooking oils have more flavor than others so if you’re looking to use the oil to add flavor to your dish, choose a darker, more flavorful oil. Lighter and usually less expensive oils are best when you’re only using the oil to lubricate a pan or dish.


Smoke point is the temperature or point at which oil, when heated, literally starts to smoke. If you’re looking for an oil to sauté or deep-fry with, make sure it’s a refined or processed oil with a high smoke point. These oils are usually light in color and less expensive than their purer, more flavorful counterparts.


Vegetable Oil is usually a mixture of oils extracted from plants with the use of chemicals. It’s heavily refined, which means most of the impurities are removed in processing. The result, an oil that’s light in color, light on flavor but with a high smoke point.


Canola Oil is produced from rapeseeds, a plant that’s actually part of the mustard family. Like vegetable oil it’s neutral in color and flavor and has a high smoke point. Canola oil is made up of healthier monounsaturated fats, making it what many believe to be a healthier alternative to vegetable oil.


Olive Oil is, as its name implies, extracted from olives, and much like wine its flavor and color can vary depending on the soil and climate the olives are grown in. Color and smoke point also vary depending on the amount of acidity found in the oil.


Extra Virgin Olive Oil is the oil that results from the first cold-pressing of the olives. It’s darker in color and because it’s minimally processed, has a low acidity. Along with its full flavor and deeper color (it’s usually bright or dark green), extra virgin olive oil has a very low smoke point and a high price point. Keep a bottle of extra virgin olive oil on hand for creating flavorful vinaigrettes, drizzling and dipping.


Virgin Olive Oil results from the first cold-pressing of the olives, but has a slightly higher acidity level.  Its color and flavor are midway between the bold extra virgin olive oil and lighter pure olive oil.


Pure Olive Oil is made from the pulp that remains after the first pressing of the olives. It’s refined with heat and chemicals, which produces an oil that’s extremely light in flavor and color. It’s also less expensive and has a high smoke point, making it the best olive oil for cooking.


Peanut Oil is marked by its mild flavor and light color. It’s an excellent choice for deep frying or any cooking method requiring a high cooking temperature.


Specialty Oils include nut oils, like Hazelnut and Walnut oils, and oils infused with flavors from other foods, like herbs and spices. They’re typically used to add flavor to foods like vinaigrettes, marinades and sauces and can even be used as a finishing condiment or for dipping.


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The Art of the Dredge


Chicken breasts dredged in seasoned flourDredge…Dredging…Sounds a little ominous, but when you see the term ‘dredge’ in a recipe, don’t fear. It simply refers to the process of lightly coating food, usually with flour, breadcrumbs or some other such coating, before frying or sautéing to help brown the food.


Dredging one side of the chicken breastOnce coated, give the food a little shake to remove any excessPut the flour, breadcrumbs, cornmeal or whatever coating you’re working with on a plate or dish with shallow sides. Place the food item in the dish, pressing it gently so that the flour adheres. Flip the food over and repeat the process on the other side. Once both sides are coated, give the food a little shake so that any excess coating will fall off.



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