Recipe: Pork Cutlets with Mediterranean Salsa

As a personal chef, I often find myself with some miscellaneous herbs and veggies on my hands toward the end of a busy week.   A couple of sprigs of parsley or basil, half a zucchini, maybe some spinach.  Two great go-to recipes to use them up are always salsa or an omelet/frittata.   I was already defrosting some pork tenderloin for dinner and just had a Mexican-themed dinner last night so I tried a different take on a salsa.  This would also be great with chicken breast if you’re not a pork fan.  I wished I’d taken a photo of it but we were hungry and devoured it immediately.  Definitely will be adding this to the dinner rotation!

Pork Cutlets with Mediterranean Salsa  (Serves 2)

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup chopped, fresh parsley
  • 1/4 cup chopped, fresh basil
  • 12 kalamata olives, diced
  • 4 artichoke hearts, diced
  • 2 T chopped red onion
  • 1 baby zucchini, finely chopped
  • 1 cup chopped grape tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup crumbled feta
  • Salt, pepper to taste
  • 12 ounces pork tenderloin, sliced and pounded into 1/4″ thick cutlets
  • Flour, for dredging pork
  • 1 T olive oil
  • Juice of half a lemon

Combine first eight ingredients (parsley through feta), season with salt and pepper and let sit at room temperature for about an hour.   Season the pork cutlets with salt & pepper and dredge in flour, shaking to remove the excess. Heat a large skillet of medium-high heat, add the olive oil and brown pork until cooked through, 2-3 minutes on each side.  Remove from the pan and turn off the heat under the skillet.  Add the salsa mixture and stir to deglaze the pan.  It doesn’t need to be cooked, just warmed through.  Spoon over cutlets, drizzle with lemon juice and serve.

I served this with basmati rice (for my husband, none for me and didn’t miss it) and steamed green beans.

January 9, 2014Permalink

Meatless Monday

After a holiday season of excess food and drink (although is there really a chance of there being *too much* food and drink?), we decided to try to eat clean for awhile to get back on track.  While my husband and I are admittedly carnivorous, we are open to the idea of a couple of vegetarian days every week.  I realized I technically blew it since I had to taste test the dishes I made for my personal chef client today, including a couple of Swedish meatballs (one to taste, a second to double-check that they were as yummy as I thought).  But I resumed the effort with dinner and made a dish that was both delicious and satisfying – important since the temperature was already in the single digits at sundown.

This is a take on a salad I make for another client from a Food & Wine recipe (Goat Cheese, Lentil and Potato Salad).   It’s a very simple dish and open to adaptation based on what you happen to have on hand.  Preheat the oven to 400F and gather whatever veggies you have on hand that can be roasted.  I used a sweet onion, baby carrots and some baby Yukon Gold potatoes.  Lots of other veggies would be good, too – cauliflower, asparagus, brussels sprouts.  Or root vegetables like beets, parsnips, turnips.  Anyway, I digress.  Cut the veggies into relatively uniform slices and place in a glass baking dish (I think the one I used was a Pyrex 11″ x 7″ one), drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Roast uncovered in the oven for 20-25 minutes or until the veggies are starting to brown and caramelize.  Remove from the oven and add 1 cup of lentils (I used French green lentils but other varieties are fine – you might need to adjust the cooking time) and 2 cups hot water.  Cover tightly with aluminum foil and pop it back in the oven for 45-60 minutes.  I checked mine at 45 and the lentils were soft without having lost their texture and I finished it uncovered for 5-10 more minutes.

I served it over a bed of sautéed baby kale and red onion, topped with some crumbled goat cheese (don’t skip this part and use a soft cheese since it adds a delicious creaminess to the dish), and drizzled it with some balsamic and a little olive oil.  We both thoroughly enjoyed it and I’m pretty sure it will come up on the weekly menu at least a couple of times a month.  It made 4 servings with the 1 cup of lentils so I’ll freeze the other half for another dinner in a week or two.  Leftovers would also make a great packed lunch!

Hope you’re enjoying your Monday!

January 6, 2014Permalink

Soup’s On!

With my Thursday client out of town, I was faced with a free day today.  So what’s a personal chef do with some unexpected time on her hands?  Cook at home, of course!  In the winter I try to keep an ample supply of soup on hand in the freezer for lunches and light dinners.  I noticed my stock pile was getting a little low so I pulled out the stock pots and got busy.

I’m admittedly a bit of soup nut.  I think there’s nothing more comforting on a cold day than a hot, steamy bowl of soup.  It’s also a great way to clean out the crisper drawer and use up any leftover veggies you have on hand.  Most soup recipes are easy to adapt to things that you have on hand and you can use your imagination to tailor it to your own tastes.

Today I started with making a beef stock and a chicken stock.  There are probably as many versions and opinions on how to best make a stock as there are cooks on the planet.  I keep it pretty simple – both have onion, carrots, and celery.  For the beef stock, I roast some bones in the oven for awhile ahead of time to use.  For the chicken, I used legs and thighs, pulled them out to remove the meat once it was cooked and then added the bones back in while the stock continued to simmer.  About half of each went into the fridge to package tomorrow for the freezer so I can use it for future soup making days.  I like to let it sit in the fridge overnight since it makes it easier to remove the fat that will have hardened on the top.  I ran the other half through my fat separator cup to get as much fat off as possible.

From the beef stock, I did a beef & barley soup with vegetables and a cream of mushroom with sherry and paprika.  The chicken stock was used for a chicken corn chowder and I couldn’t resist sampling a bowl.  It was delicious today so I know it’s going to be even tomorrow.

So the freezer is once again stocked up.  And I’m sure another free day will present itself soon for some more soup making – I’m thinking potato & leek, split pea, and maybe a little some chicken & dumplings (my all time favorite comfort food).  The possibilities are endless!

December 12, 2013Permalink

Friday Speed Challenge

I was procrastinating on leaving the house this morning since I didn’t really have a time crunch on completing today’s service.  I decided to have a second cup of coffee and was thinking about how when you work for yourself and by yourself, there’s really not much opportunity for competitiveness.  As the clock was nearing 9:30, I decided to give myself a challenge to end the week.  My mission — complete my service in 3 hours or less, door to door.  Maybe I’ve been watching too many episodes of Chopped and Top Chef lately.  In any event, I sat in the car until the clock clicked to 9:30 and then I was off and running.

First stop, grocery store.  And I have to say, I would kill it on Supermarket Sweep.  I can negotiate my way through that store with my eyes closed (or I could if they’d stop rearranging the produce section every week).  I group my shopping list by store area – produce, dairy, meat, frozen, and dry goods.  Now I was ahead of the game today because I was only making vegetarian dishes.  However, I shopped, did self-checkout (two transactions mind you, since I needed some pantry items for myself and the rest was billed to my client), packed my own bags, and was back in the car tearing out of the parking lot at 9:53.  Clock’s ticking – 2 hours, 37 minutes to go.

I had a 10 mile trip to my client’s building downtown.  I made the immaculate trip down McKnight Road and hit most of the green lights.  I pulled into my client’s building, parked and was let in upstairs by 10:14.  There were four dishes on the menu today — Eggplant Stir Fry, Spiced Red Lentils, Red Quinoa and Roasted Brussels Sprouts, and a French Lentil Salad with Potatoes.

I guess that second cup of coffee was pretty motivating.  I prepped, cooked, packed up food, wiped down counters, organized her fridge and wiped the shelves, washed dishes, repacked my bags and was ready to roll.  And it was still only 11:54.

I leisurely drove home and was pulling into the garage by 12:18.  No injuries, no speeding tickets. Mission accomplished.  I think I’ll have to up the ante next week since it certainly did make the day a little more interesting.

 

October 11, 2013Permalink

Good things come from small spaces

My kitchen is small.  It’s sort of embarrassing to admit as a personal chef – I guess sort of like a race car driver saying they drive a Smart car on their off time.  It’s not quite city-apartment-galley-kitchen small but given today’s standards, it’s pretty tight. I don’t have a giant center island, a 6-burner cooktop, double wall ovens or even a double sink.  But this has never really stopped me from getting the job done.  I like to think of it as cozy.  On the positive side, with little counter space there’s not much choice but to clean as I go so I don’t end up with mass quantities of dirty dishes at the end.  And I’m not a pantry food hoarder because frankly cabinet space is at a premium so I tend to use what I have and have what I use.  Considering how much food is wasted these days it makes me feel like I’m doing my part.

I was cooking for a client today who does have a city-aparment-galley-kitchen small space. I like to think that cooking in my own home for the past ten years has given me an edge and I can still crank out four entrees, sides, and sauces in less than three hours.  It’s also helpful that their collection of Le Creuset cookware far exceeds my wildest dreams.  My client also loves menu planning so it’s a nice break in the week to just show up with a couple of shopping bags and try out some new dishes.  She’s a big fan of Food & Wine magazine and NY Times recipes so there’s always a good opportunity to try something new and delicious.  Two of today’s are sure to become standby’s for me – Roasted Shrimp & Green Lentil Salad and a Grilled Vegetable Ratatouille with Goat Cheese.  I served them the ratatouille for lunch with some grilled crostini and I was ready to sit down at the table with them to enjoy it!

I’m not a saint – I definitely do like spreading out in some the larger spaces I’m lucky enough to get to use other days of the week.  But it’s still nice to come home and get cozy in my own little space and put together something tasty for dinner.  Don’t let a small kitchen stop you from putting together big flavors!

October 2, 2013Permalink

Spicy Comfort Food – Ancho Chicken & Jalapeño Mac & Cheese

Tonight’s dinner at home was a combination of two of my typical activities. The first is to replicate a dish I made for a client that looked so good I wanted to dig into it myself.  The second is that it’s garbage night so I usually go through the fridge to see what needs to be used up and what needs to go in the bin.  I hate wasting food so it ends up becoming something like “Chopped: Home Edition”.

The dish I wanted to replicate was the Ancho Chicken Thighs and Jalapeño Mac & Cheese that I made yesterday. My client’s kids love chicken and L.O.V.E anything with pasta or macaroni.  I’m sure this dinner will be a hit with them and I was ready to plate some up once I finished it.

I don’t have a recipe for it and I didn’t specifically measure anything but this isn’t something that’s too precise.  For the chicken, I started with a couple of dried ancho chilies, covered them with water in a small saucepan and simmered for 15 minutes or so until they were soft.  Drain them and get rid of the stems and seeds and put them in a blender.  I added a cup or so of chicken stock, a couple cloves of garlic, smoked paprika, salt/pepper to taste and a little tomato paste and blended it until smooth.  We like spicy food so I threw in a little cayenne also – ancho chilies are fairly mild.  I then trimmed the fat from some bone-in chicken thighs and browned them on both sides in a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat.  Once they were browned, I poured the sauce into the pan (around the chicken, not over it to try to keep the skin crispy) and placed it in a 375 degree oven until cooked through, probably about 15 minutes.  I finished them under the broiler to re-crisp the skin and served them with a little of the sauce from the pan on the plate.

For the mac & cheese, I sautéed a diced jalapeño and a chopped green onion in a little olive oil in a medium saucepan.  Once they were soft, I added some butter and melted it then some flour to make a roux.  I gradually added about 1.5-2 cups milk and then some cheeses that I had on hand and grated – today it was monterey jack, sharp cheddar, and a little swiss.  This is a great way to use up leftover bits and pieces of cheese.  For the pasta, I used actually a mix of some leftovers I had on hand – cook whatever you want according to the package directions and add it to the cheese sauce once it’s melted and thickened.  Stir well and place in an appropriately-sized baking pan for the amount you’re making, coated with cooking spray.  I then topped it with some panko bread crumbs and sprayed it with some olive oil from my mister and placed it in the oven with the chicken, for about 15 minutes also until it’s bubbly.  I also finished it under the broiler to crisp the bread crumbs.

These two dishes, together with a green salad with some lime vinaigrette made an AWESOME treat dinner on a Tuesday night.  And the best part is that there are leftovers for another dinner later this week.

And now it’s time to get ready for tomorrow – a weekly client service in the morning, a dinner for another client in the afternoon and a networking dinner in the evening.  I’m tired just thinking about it… Wonder if there’s any of that mac & cheese left in the kitchen?

September 24, 2013Permalink

Good Karma

IMG_0024

I had the opportunity to cater a luncheon today.  When I was asked, I hesitated for two reasons – first, catering is a little outside my regular ballpark of doing in-home meal services.  Second, it happened to fall on both a Sunday and my birthday.  But the couple hosting the event are lovely people and it was a Zen retreat and ceremony, so I readily agreed since I thought it would be a good experience.  It’s good karma, right?

The menu they selected included some of my long-time favorites and things that I enjoy making.  They requested a Greek pasta salad with feta, roasted red peppers, artichoke hearts and kalamata olives; lamb meatballs with a yogurt-cumin sauce; a layered Mediterranean salad with chive-cream cheese, fresh hummus, tomatoes, cucumber, and olives; and spanakopita with spinach, dill, ricotta and feta.  The event was held in their community clubhouse and it had a great kitchen fully-equipped with commercial range, oven and fridge.  Surprisingly, my timing on the dishes was spot-on and everything was set and ready on the table right as the ceremony was coming to a conclusion.

IMG_0019Cooking to me is meditative to begin with – I find organizing my ingredients, chopping herbs and veggies, and even washing dishes all to be very soothing for me.  Add in some Zen chants in the background and it becomes a true experience.  Seeing the guests enjoying the dishes is just an added bonus.  You can find additional photos of the dishes on my Facebook page.

I’ve done some small-scale dinners & parties for my regular personal chef clients in the past but I think I can call this one of my first official catering gigs.  I think it was successful and I really enjoyed doing it – looking forward to continuing to branch out in the future!

September 22, 2013Permalink

A Belated One Year Review

I officially started my personal chef business a little over a year ago and it’s been almost two years since I started seeking a major career change. While I was mowing the lawn a few weeks ago, I was reflecting back on the past year.  The first thing that struck me was that I was mowing the lawn at 3pm on a weekday – something that just wasn’t possible when I was tied to my office for 9+ hours a day.  It’s a nice change to be afforded some freedom with setting my own schedule.  I do have clients who request I arrive at specific times but generally I can choose what to do and when to do it.  My days are also much more active than they used to be.  I’m on the move all day, hitting up at least one or two grocery stores or fish markets each morning, bopping around someone’s kitchen that is invariably larger and better equipped than my own (how sad!), and then running errands on the way home before walking the dog, doing some things around the house and getting our own dinner ready.  We now eat out when we really want to and not just because there’s no time or energy to make dinner.  I think I can count on one hand the number of times we’ve picked up take-out in the last year.

I did a lot of work and planning on launching my business before I really talked to many people about it.  I attended small business workshops, took a 10-week class through the Center for Women’s Entrepreneurship at Chatham University, and worked with a wonderful career coach, Neal Griebling.  When I did start to tell people about it, I got a variety of responses.  In nearly all cases, I had to explain what a personal chef does which made me just a little nervous!  Would anyone really want to pay me to cook for them?  Despite all the planning, there were days in the first few months after I launched when I was convinced I made a desperate mistake.  I’d panic and start to see what jobs were posted in my previous field on Monster.com or Linked In. I had a few clients each week, some would drop off and new ones would come on board.  It took time but now I have four consistent weekly customers, several others that I work for every few weeks and have picked up some catering events.  And while some days are better than others, I can honestly say I love my job for probably the first time in my life.

So with nearly 150 services under my belt, I think I’d give the past year a big thumbs up and I’m looking forward to see what the next year brings!

September 17, 2013Permalink

Think you hate anchovies? Try this recipe!

For the record, I don’t hate anchovies – in fact, I really love them.  But I know that I’m probably a minority.  My personal chef client for today requested a recipe she came across in the NY Times for Pasta with Caramelized Cabbage, Anchovies and Bread Crumbs (copy included below).  It was nothing short of delicious.  I’m generally someone who leans toward simple, yet rich, flavors.  I don’t throw words like “umami” around too much but I have to in this case.  This dish was chock full of umami and it totally rocked.

 

Pasta With Caramelized Cabbage, Anchovies and Bread Crumbs
5 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 anchovy fillets
1/2 cup coarse bread crumbs
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh sage
1/4 teaspoon black pepper, plus more, to taste
Kosher salt, to taste
1 pound dry penne
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon red chile flakes
8 cups shredded cabbage
2/3 cup grated pecorino or Parmesan
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1. Mince one garlic clove. Melt the butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the anchovies and cook, mashing with a spatula, until they dissolve into the butter. Stir in the minced garlic and cook until fragrant. Stir in the bread crumbs and sage and cook until bread is golden brown, about 2 minutes. Season with black pepper.

2. Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to package instructions until barely al dente. Drain.

3. While the pasta cooks, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the remaining garlic and cook until golden brown. Add the chile and cook until fragrant. Stir in the cabbage and cook, stirring occasionally, until it begins to caramelize, about 10 minutes. Toss in the pasta and bread-crumb mixture and heat through, then quickly toss in the cheese and remove from heat. Season with salt and more pepper, if desired, and serve immediately.

Yield: 4 servings.

September 11, 2013Permalink

Recipe follower or freestyler?

I love recipe books –  and it’s painfully obvious since I have shelves full of them.  I think they’re great for inspiring new ideas, giving guidance on technique, or teaching you the basics on different types of cuisine.  However, I find that I rarely refer to them directly while cooking.  I think it’s fun to take a recipe and add my own twist to it, changing up the spices, adding extra vegetables, or switching up the proteins.  Maybe that’s why I don’t bake as much as I cook – baking requires pulling out the measuring cups and spoons, rather than eyeballing the ingredients.

I do use recipes though for planning menus for my personal chef clients.  When you’re cooking in someone else’s kitchen, forgetting a key ingredient can really throw a wrench in the works.  Having a recipe handy helps me make  thorough and complete shopping and packing lists and I never head out for service without them.

While I browse recipe books for fun, what I tend to refer to most is my digital library that I manage with an application called MacGourmet.  If you’re a Mac user, this can be great tool for you.  You can easily import recipes from many different standard websites and save them for later.  There are a couple of features that I really like.  You can edit the ingredients list so you can save your personal changes and preferences and also scale recipes for more or fewer servings.  Another feature is that you can add keywords and create smart lists to easily find a recipe later.  This helps me when I come across a recipe that I think would be great for one of my personal chef clients.  Each client has their own list that I can draw from when I’m writing menus for the week.  The general search capabilities are really good – you can search on name, ingredients, source, key words, and a number of other items.

When I’m really stuck for ideas, I head to the Dinner Tonight section on Martha Stewart’s website.  Love her or hate her, I’ve found her recipes are generally solid and frequently use ingredients that I have on hand.

So whether you’re someone who follows recipes to a tee or wing it, having a good supply of recipes on hand can help you get out of the same old dinner rut.  Just don’t be afraid to experiment and go with variations that you think will add some personal touches!

September 9, 2013Permalink