Category Archives: Preparation Tips

You say “to-MAY-to”, I say “to-MAH-to”…

You say “to-MAY-to”, I say “to-MAH-to”…

Tomato season is here, which means an abundance of well-priced options at the market through the summer and early fall.  By storing your tomatoes on the kitchen counter and not in the refrigerator, tomatoes will ripen naturally and maintain their texture, flavor and nutritional value.

My tomato shopping guide, below:

  • Cherry.  Typically the smallest – perfect for snacking, stuffing, of adding to salads and pastas.   Red is most common, but you may find yellow, green and black varieties, too.
  • Grape.  Great for snacking, salads and garnishes.  With a low water content, they store well.
  • Compari.  A round, firm, deep-red tomato – smaller than cherry tomatoes but bigger than an average tomato on the vine.  Great for snacking, salads, sandwiches, on pizza, in salsa or roasted.  A good Compari tomato will be sweet, juicy, tender, and deep red.
  • Beefsteak.  A large, base-ball sized tomato that is warm, fragrant and juicy.  They are easy to slice, so one tomato can go a long way – making them perfect for sandwiches or hamburgers.
  • Roma.  Also commonly referred to as plum tomatoes or paste tomatoes, they are often used for canning because of their firm texture, slender shape and low water and seed content.  They are well-suited for salsas and tomato-based sauces.
  • Kumato.  Brownish-red, with a complex, sweet-tart flavor and strong “tomato” smell.  Delicious and beautiful in a Caprese salad or bruschetta.
  • Heirloom.  Heirloom tomatoes have become increasingly popular over the years, with over 100 varieties.  An heirloom is considered to be a variety whose seeds are passed down through several generations, and can be found in a variety of colors, shapes, flavors and sizes.  Look for plump fruit without bruises or decay.  Heirlooms are also more susceptible to cracking, but as long as you can’t see the flesh of the tomato, it won’t affect taste or safety.
David’s Tips for a Creative and Stress-Fress Summer Party

David’s Tips for a Creative and Stress-Fress Summer Party

My goal as a caterer is for my clients to feel like guests at their own party.  However, you don’t need to hire a professional to throw a great party without undue stress or weeks of preparation.  My top 5 tips for a party that your guests will never forget:

  • Plan your menu around what’s in-season, for best-pricing and freshness.  Buffets (versus plated or tray-passed service) are typically the easiest option – just remember to offer “buffet-friendly” menu items that don’t don’t over-cook or dry-out easily (i.e., if served warm in a chafing dish), or that need a lot of maintenance or re-freshing (i.e., complex hors d’oeuvres).   Bone-in/skin-on chicken thighs are a perfect entree option as they maintain moisture far better than a boneless chicken breast, for example.  Tri-Tip is also an excellent buffet entree choice.
  • “Theme” parties are extra-festive and fun (i.e., Beach BBQ, Southern BBQ, Hawaiian Luau, Mexican Fiesta, etc), and can be weaved through the menu, cocktails, decor, music and attire.   Pair it with something completely unexpected, like a Piñata containing plastic leis for a Hawaiian theme.
  • Embrace foods that you can prepare in advance and that serve well at room temperature, or taste better a day or two after they are prepared.
  • If you want to keep it really casual and simple, and don’t have enough tables or chairs, you can spread quilts on the ground and let everyone gather picnic-style.  Rentals can also be surprisingly inexpensive, and you can save $40-$75 on delivery fees (depending on your delivery distance) by transporting the items yourself.
  • Serve a refreshing, specialty cocktail.  If watermelon is in abundance, try a Watermelon & Mint Cooler (recipe below):

Watermelon & Mint Cooler (make by the pitcher for ease) Ingredients:  12 cups seedless watermelon cubes; 1/2 cup fresh lime juice; 1/2 cup lightly packed fresh mint leaves; 2/3 cup cachaca, rum or vodka (optional).  Directions: In a blender, working in batches, puree the watermelon, lime juice and mint leaves until smooth.  Transfer the mixture to 2 large pitchers.  Cover and refrigerate until ready for use.  Divide the liquor, if using, between the pitchers.  Top with ice and enjoy.

Cheers!

David

“Eat Down” the Freezer/Pantry with Nana’s Vegetable Soup!

“Eat Down” the Freezer/Pantry with Nana’s Vegetable Soup!

With many fruits and vegetables out of season in the cold winter months, preparing varied and delicious meals can be more challenging than usual.  One creative (and very easy) solution is to pull out the crock pot and look no further than what is already stocked in your kitchen pantry and freezer.  There is no real “recipe” required to create this hearty meal, although I have listed the items that my family typically likes included, and provided a few tips, below.  Serve with a warm loaf of crusty bread and enjoy!

“Nana’s Vegetable Soup”

Chicken or Vegetable Broth (16+ oz), Frozen Veggies (peas, carrots, corn, green beans, etc), Beans (any kind), crushed or diced Tomatoes (2-3 cans), Diced Potatoes, Noodles (optional), and/or Ground Beef/Turkey or Chicken (optional).  Stove Top: bring to a boil and then turn down to low/medium for 2-3 hours.  Crock Pot: turn on High, will be ready in about 3 hours.  Add Salt & Pepper to taste.

 

‘Tis Apple Season

‘Tis Apple Season

There are over 7,500 varieties of apples!  While you can always find an apple in modern-day supermarkets (especially well-known varieties like Granny Smith, Red Delicious, Golden Delicious and Gala), not all apples will appear in the stores at the same times.  Some varieties only appear for a short time, and some only at a local orchard or farmer’s market. October is generally the peak of the season, and the best time for baking.  Empire, Granny Smith and Honey Smith all ripen from mid-to-late October, and are the “best of the best” for baking a pie or making an Apple Crisp.  However, if you don’t have those, no worries, any apple will do.  One of my favorite recipes (also very easy), below…serve warm with Vanilla Ice Cream.

Ingredients:

6 apples – peeled, cored and sliced; 1/2 cup melted butter; 1 cup all-purpose flour; 1 cup white sugar; 1 cup quick-cooking oats; 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon, divided; 1/4 cup butter, cut into pieces.

Directions:

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees Farenheit. Place apples in a 9″ x 13″ baking dish. In a bowl, mix melted butter, flour, sugar, oats and 1 tablespoon cinnamon to form a crumbly mixture. Sprinkle over apples. Dot with remaining 1/4 cup butter, and sprinkle with remaining one tablespoon cinnamon.  Bake 50 minutes in the pre-heated oven, until lightly brown and apples are tender.

 

Freezing Lime Juice for Fabulous Margaritas

Freezing Lime Juice for Fabulous Margaritas

If you ever find yourself with an abundance of extra limes, one unique solution is to squeeze them, freeze them into ice trays, and use as needed for refreshing summer drinks. Here’s a simple Margarita recipe that’s always a crowd-pleaser:

Ingredients: 3 oz. Tequila, 2 oz. Lime Juice (or 2 Lime Juice Ice Cubes), 1 oz. Agave Nectar or Simple Syrup, 1 tsp. Orange Liqueur (Triple Sec), 1 Tbl. Salt for the glass rim (if desired).

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add Tequila, Lime Juice, Agave Nectar and Orange Liqueur. Cover and shake until mixed and chilled, about 30 seconds. (In general, the drink is ready by the time the shaker mists up.) Rim the glass with a lime slice and dip into Salt. Pour from the shaker into the glass, garnish with Frozen Lime Cubes. (For Cadillac Margaritas, add Grand Marnier as a floater).

Cheers and Enjoy!  David

Big Savings with “Loss Leaders”

Big Savings with “Loss Leaders”

Many of my clients and friends often ask questions like “where do I find the best food at the best prices?”, and “how do I shop the most efficiently?” My answer is to look for whatever is fresh and in season, and to plan your meals accordingly (eat like you would on a farm).  The lowest priced items in a grocery store are typically food that is fresh and in season, of which there is an abundance.  (This primarily applies to fruit, vegetables and wild-caught fish).  The highest-priced items are often not in season or at their peak freshness, and are harder to find – hence the hefty price tag.  This is counter-intuitive to most people, who think the most expensive items must be the best.  To attract customers, most grocery stores use the aggressive sales strategy of “Loss Leaders” – products sold at or below cost on the assumption that once you are in the store, you will be stimulated to buy full-priced items as well.   If you shop with the intention of “cherry-picking” the freshest/in-season items, you will not only be eating well, but you will be saving a lot of money.

Cheers!  David

Oh, the Sweetness of Sweet Corn Season!

Oh, the Sweetness of Sweet Corn Season!

Fresh sweet corn is now in season – yum! I found the best deals at Vons / Pavilions “Real Big Deals” (4 for $1 Club Price, or 25 cents each). Both specials start tomorrow and run for one week (Wednesday, May 13th – Tuesday, May 19th).

http://www.vons.com/ShopStores/Weekly-Specials.page

My mom’s corn salad recipe still sets the bar for all others to beat – it’s also great as a dip, with tortilla chips:

“Big Helen’s Grilled Corn Salad”

  • 4 ears of grilled corn (cut the corn from the cob with a knife)
  • dice one fresh tomato (preferably a heirloom variety, but any will do)
  • dice one red onion
  • dice one bunch of cilantro
  • finely dice one jalapeno (for extra-spicy)
  • add one can of drained black beans
  • squeeze one fresh lime

Add all the ingredients into a bowl and gently toss. Add salt and pepper to taste. This is one of those recipes that tastes even better the longer it marinates.

Enjoy!
David