I love cherry tomatoes, and cherry tomato plants. They are so easy to grow. They cost about $2 for a seedling and when they grow and really get going, they will produce quarts and quarts of the most delicious cherry tomatoes you’ll ever eat. The ones you can buy at the grocery, even the really fancy, expensive stores, are probably picked green and either left to ripen in the box or gassed with CO2 to make them turn red, so they LOOK delicious, but they have a taste that is similar to eating a magazine photograph of a tomato. If you have never eaten a cherry tomato right off of the plant, you have never really tasted a cherry tomato. There is no comparison and afterward, you will never be satisfied with store-bought cherry tomatoes again. I harvest a pint to a quart of cherry tomatoes, both red and yellow, almost every day, and I’d say at least a cup of them never make it into the house. I would encourage you to plant your own cherry tomato plant next spring (it’s too late in the season now). Or become very good friends with someone who grows them, and you’ll probably be gifted with some. I give them away by the pint, because even though I love them, and eat them like candy, there are only so many I can eat in a day and I will eventually become tired of them, at which point, I pass them around to all my loved ones. Mmmm, I think it’s time to go harvest…
I gave a cooking lesson to a young client last week. She wanted to learn how to make bread, so I found a great first-loaf recipe for basic white bread.
We bloomed the yeast, scalded some milk, added some flour and she got to work stirring. We did it the old-fashioned way, with a wooden spoon. She’s a small one, so I’m sure she had a little arm soreness the next day, because mixing bread dough with a wooden spoon is a really great upper-body workout. And kneading was fun for all who gave it a try. We had to wait patiently for the bread to rise. We had to wait patiently for it to rise again after a punch down. We had to wait patiently for the bread to bake, smelling the smell and not ripping open the oven door and devouring it like rabid wolves. And we had to wait patiently while the bread cooled, because if you try to and cut hot bread, it turns into quite a mess. But all of the patient waiting paid off! There is almost nothing in this world better than freshly made, warm-from-the-oven bread, especially if you made it yourself. Success!
I got a request for chocolate soufflé for a dinner party. I had never made one, and so after blithely agreeing to it for my client, I asked around to my culinary pals for advice and tips. Everyone told me it wasn’t a good idea, that they are difficult and capricious creatures, given to failure for the slightest reason, or for no reason at all. Needless to say, I was not filled with confidence. I looked for a recipe on my regular go-to site, epicurious.com. (This site has given me the best recipes over the years. I always go there first.) I found a recipe that looked promising, and relatively simple to make. I gave it a go, and it came out perfect! Imagine my delight, when looking through the oven window, I watched it rise, slowly but steadily up, up until it was as tall out of the dish as it was in. It was like magic! When I ate that trial, it was light and airy and chocolaty! So good! When I made it, for the client’s dinner party, it came out perfectly again. So thankful that it’s not as difficult as I was lead to believe. Or maybe I’m just that awesome. ☺ Who knows…
I started making jams and jellies a couple of years ago, but just a few and sporadically. I began experimenting in earnest last fall. My modus operandi for recipes is to find one that’s really good, then try and plug every other thing I can think of into it and see what happens. I have a super great recipe for Apricot/Habanero Jelly. So far I have extrapolated that recipe into Plum/Jalapeño, Blueberry/Serrano and most recently, with great flavor success, Cranberry/Habanero. I have also done this with an Orange Marmalade recipe, and have produced Lemon Marmalade, Lime Marmalades and Grapefruit Marmalade, all magnificent.
During the winter, when I was happily experimenting with different fruits and hot peppers, my jelly would come out great, just the right firmness every time. As the weather began to warm, though, I started having trouble with setting up. At first, I didn’t test it for doneness, because I had grown confident that all my jellies were perfection, so who needed to test? Well, the first one that didn’t set I had to un-jar, reheat, add pectin and re-can. After that debacle, I started testing for set-up. But, as the weather continued to warmed and the humidity rose, even adding pectin and testing didn’t ensure a set jelly. My last batch of the warm season, the Cranberry/Habanero took 4X the normal amount of pectin and it’s STILL too loose. So, I’ve given up for now, and will resume this aspect of my journey when the chill returns to the air and the firm returns to my jam.
I love being outside, especially in the evening, before it gets too hot, so I thought I would fired up the grill. It was perfect out, not too hot, not too humid, a light breeze and a concert serenade by a trio of fly-by starlings, a couple of tree frogs and a firefly or two. When I say fire up the grill, I mean with real wood. No charcoal for me, thank you very much. I love the smell and pop of real logs, catching fire and burning down to glowing embers. Dinner was whole flounder, with swiss chard, kale, asparagus, herbs and an onion, immediately harvested from my garden. I layered the veggies and fish in the grill basket, and when the fire was a perfect bed of glowing embers, I put the fish on, skin side down first. It cooked with the lid on for 15 minutes, then a quick turn and another 10 minutes. Perfection! It was really hard not to eat it through the grill lid, because it smelled so good. When I was finally able to start eating, it wasn’t long before it was gone. Best dinner, maybe ever!
Over the last 6 months or so, I have been enamored with fennel. I’ve sautéed it, I’ve candied it, I’ve made it into jam, I have pie plans for it over the holidays and this spring, for the first time, I planted it. I went to North Haven Gardens and bought two 4-inch pots of fennel, one a sweet fennel with the signature bright green fringe and a second variety with dark purply-brown fringe. Not knowing anything about this strange vegetable, I planted the whole pot together and waited to see what would happen. It grew fast and strong. Soon, I was able to see where the bulbs were developing, but I noticed that there was going to be a problem… they were very close together and would quickly become unbearably crowded. When all else fails, read the directions. I googled and got a great video for how to plant fennel. It turns out that you have to separate those lovely seedling that come in the one pot. It had been a month since I planted them all together, but I went ahead and dug them up, separated them and replanted. You might note that fennel bulbs are $3-$4 each at the grocer, and I paid $1.49 each for my two seedling pots at the nursery. Out of those two pots, I got 17 separate plants! If they all live, that’s up to $68 worth for fennel for a $3 investment! How’s that for an astonishing ROI? I’m thinking about becoming a fennel farmer…
As a personal chef, my friends have expectations when attending a party at my house. And as a good host, I try to deliver.
I had friends over on Sunday, Cinco de Mayo, for a party in my back garden, to enjoy the 70º weather, the sunshine, the bounty of my vegetable boxes and each other. One of the friends, Amanda, had given me a croquet set for my birthday and I thought this would be a fantastic time to break it in. Since I don’t have a grassy yard big enough for croquet, we walked down to the greenbelt at the end of my block and set up the game. It was hilarious fun. And I learned that some of my friends have nasty competitive streaks that I hadn’t seen before. There was much trash talking and heckling and lots of laughing.
After the game was won, we walked back for some adult refreshments and a little talking and some bocce ball. I do have a perfect spot in the yard for that. And I fired up the wood grill.
My idea for dinner was a build-your-own grilled pizza. I had made a batch of fermented dough, on Friday. By Sunday, it was perfect. I cut up all the ingredients I could think of, sweet peppers, hot peppers, salami, mozzarella, mushrooms, red onions, and more cheeses. Then I demonstrated, by making the first one, how to make the pizza on the grill.
Wait until the fire burns out and there are just coals. Take your dough, rolled out into rounds or ovals, oil one side and stretch it a little more with your fingers. Lay it oil side down directly on the grill over the coals. Watch it and see when it starts to bubble and stiffen. Then turn it over. Now here comes the exciting part. You have to dress it fast, while it’s on the grill. Spread sauce, lay out your toppings, cover with cheese and put the grill lid on, in a minute or two. Let it cook for a few minutes, until the cheese is melted and toppings are warmed, but don’t let the bottom burn. It’s such a yummy, wood-smoky pizza. I had them team up into pairs and each team planned and made their own pizza to eat. Everyone had such fun racing to get theirs topped. And the afore-mentioned competitors even competed in whose pizza was better. It was great fun, with more laughing, some squealing, and even a little more trash talk. That may have been my best party ever.
Do you have a full-time career? Does your spouse have a full-time career? Do you have children? Do your children have soccer games and ballet recitals? Do you have charity event commitments? Errands to run? Friends who want to see you? Family who need your time? Books you want to read? Movies you want to see?
Do you want to eat healthy and fresh? Do want to feed your loved ones food that tastes good and is good for them? Are you tired of grab-and-go or eating out all the time?
If you answered yes to many of these, you need a personal chef. I take care of the menu planning, the shopping, the cooking and the clean-up. You only have to sit down with your family and eat dinner. You can even eat together, because it’s ready when you are.