Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Using what works

My current clients all have different needs, but their desires are all the same:

They want more time for themselves.
They want to eat better; sick of over-processed foods and the sodium and calories they sneak in.
They want to lose weight. (Don't we all?)

For a few of them, Type II Diabetes is an issue. Blood pressure medications, blood sugar medications, weight management supplements ... the list goes on and on. My job is to make their lives easier and healthier. There is joy in eating, even when your dietitian says you can't eat fried foods anymore. Even when your fat intake has been reduced to 1 Tbs per day, collectively.

I get excited when I have a client with a strict diet regimen to follow. I throw conventional recipes out the window (most of the time) and custom design meals that work for their bodies. It's the most creative I can be sometimes. I like the challenge of removing soy, gluten, allergens from diets. Whole foods are my medium, fantastic meals are my art. It thrills me every day.

But creating custom meals isn't exactly what everyone needs from me. Lots of folks have time to cook at home and don't require a personal chef to take over meal preparation. They could, however, use some pointers on what to keep in their house to make sure they do not resort to take-out nightmares or reaching for processed foods that make dinner easy on your time, but murder on your organs and mind. I'm victim to it, too. This weekend my husband and I caved to cravings for chicken fingers and fries. The sodium bloat and awful moods that followed weren't worth the trip to the restaurant to pick them up. It was a nice reminder as to why we avoid foods like that. If I had just bothered to dig through the pantry, I could have made a meal that clued in to all of those alarms sounding off in my brain.

The pantry, that protected and exalted shrine of chefs and home-cooks everywhere, is the perfect place to start.

So ... what's in your pantry? Mine looks a lot like this:

Jasmine, Basmati and Brown rice in large bags.
Black, Kidney, Canellini beans (canned). Multiple bags of dried beans and lentils.
2 gallon tin of olive oil
1 gallon jug of vegetable oil
Case of diced tomatoes
Case of canned corn
Multiple 14 to 20 oz cans of tomatoes in various states
Quinoa, couscous, orzo, wild rice in large bags.
25 lbs of flour
10 lbs of sugar
Light and dark brown sugar in large bags
Kalamata and black olives, sundried tomatoes, capers, roasted red peppers, artichoke hearts in jars.
Nutella. At least two jars at all times.
Large peanut butter jars, at least two.
Chicken and beef stock in cans.
2 lbs corn meal
Baking essentials: vegetable shortening, baking powder/soda, etc. all in large quantities
Various pastas in large quantities.
Onions. Potatoes. Squash. All kinds.

There's more than that, but this is a rough count of the things I keep on hand at all times. My sister jokes that if the zombie apocalypse comes we can all just hang out at the house for weeks on end without trouble.

She's partially right- I do keep a lot of various foods on hand, both for me and my clients. Not all of it fits in our kitchen. Mark and I bought shelving to keep the rest in my office- the room attached to our bedroom. I felt like a weirdo for doing that until I started reading more food blogs. Guess I'm not the only one!  What is wonderful about that is I can make countless meals out of that pantry without ever opening my refrigerator. I had to pull that off last night. Mark had poker earlier than usual and I had yet to get out and go grocery shopping. What to do? Pulled together some olive oil and garlic, diced tomatoes, capers, olives, sundried tomatoes, roasted red peppers and simmered it all together. I added cooked pasta and bang! Easy healthy dinner!

I added feta to it because I could, but it wasn't necessary.

A well stocked pantry gives you no excuse for unhealthy shortcuts. There is too much potential within arms reach.

This is what I can offer a home cook ... insight into their pantry and ways to use all the elements to make every night fool proof.

Another thing I'm bringing to the table: herbs. T'is the season to be planting- well, almost. Sometimes all a meal needs to really shine is the addition of fresh herbs at the end.

One can save a lot of money on these things if those herbs are growing right outside their kitchen window. Herbs are fun to grow because they require little maintenance. Just some water, sunlight, maybe pinching the ends of the basil so they don't go to bolt.

Starting a kitchen herb garden is easy for me to accomplish. I've done it dozens of times with great success. For a small fee, wouldn't you love to step outside and add your own flourish to your meals? Plus, herb gardens are lovely and smell amazing. Now that's the kind of place I like to read a book or sip a cup of coffee. Sounds delightful, doesn't it?

In other news, I'm finally working on setting up my web site: www.foreverfeasting.com. Soon you should be able to have one spot to find all of my pricing (without endless searching), special offers, how to purchase gift certificates, sample menus, links to my blog, the whole bit!

All in good time. I'm so excited to have it done.

I'm so excited that you showed up to read this, too. Thank you for giving me some of your time.

May your week feel like a feast for your belly and your soul. xo

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Faking it.

Chances are if you're too busy to make dinner for yourself when you get home, you're probably too busy to make a decent lunch to bring to work.

Let's face it, eating well isn't easy for a lot of us. As my client Debbie explained, "it's any port in the storm" when you're spreading yourself thin among myriad projects.

That's when my services can come in handy. You know good food. You know how to keep yourself fed. However, there is no shame in asking for some assistance. It's the only way I've ever gotten anywhere in my life- by asking for help when I need it. Providing lunches to clients is something I do on a regular basis. I'm already in their kitchen, why can't I help with that, too? Even just offering an extra serving or two of dinner to eat later the next day can make all the difference to someone who's trying to eat better when they're out of the house.

Okay, enough of the soap box- let's talk grub!

Even personal chefs run short on time for their own meals. Here's a fun way I got out of it once:

What in the world is this? It's called a cheat!

I'm calling it Lemon Cheat Cake. Mark and I had dinner plans with my in-laws a few weeks ago. Amid my busy schedule I had to find time to make dessert to bring with us. Something that went with lobster rolls and a strawberry and spinach salad.

My mother-in-law, Diane, is a huge fan of lemon (as am I)- so I knew I had to start there ... Hmmm. Lemon and blueberries?

I wanted to make panna cotta, but there wasn't time. I had only an hour to make it once I had ingredients in hand. 

Behold, the results.

I knew a good place to start was the bakery in my local grocery store. Turns out they had lemon pound cake on sale. That was a good start. So, we work with that. I've always loved mascarpone cheese, so I figured I would mix some lemon zest into that along with some confectioners sugar to create a "cream cheese frosting" kind of deal.

I cut the cake slices with a biscuit cutter and they fit perfectly into these ramekins I had at home. I put a shmear of cheese at the bottom of each, then a layer of pound cake, then cheese, then cake, until the pots were full. I finished with a layer of the cheese and added some garnish.

But I wasn't done there. You can't just eat something that rich without some flavors to cut it.

I bought some blueberries, blackberries and Moscato. I did some partial mashing of the berries in a half cup of the wine, then added sugar, half a vanilla bean, and some lemon juice. I let all of it macerate up until spooning it onto our cakes.

Let me tell ya', the result was so awesome! And with very little effort on my part. A sweet riff on bread, cheese and wine. What's not to like??

So, feel free to put this to use in your own kitchen. Individual desserts seem so fancy- and they help with portion control. Why not make your guests feel super special with fewer steps that normal? You'll all end up happy. 

I wish you spring flavors and meals that end in smiles! xo