Substitutions in a Pinch: Simple Baking Swaps

 

Chef Vicky Bhogal is known for her quirks: whenever she goes to dinner, she takes her own ground masala or flavored oil. Most of her dishes were inspired by her family, who valued instinct over measuring, and memory over written recipes.

As unconventional as this may sound for a professional, Ms. Bhogal believes fervently in a skill, above all, that helps chefs succeed: improvisation. It’s something many chefs, especially personal and private chefs, may tout in theory, but one she practices daily:

“A real [chef] is someone who will be able to cook something with any ingredients. Endlessly adaptable.”

Being adaptable no doubt is a skill that’s essential to any chef’s success. Whether it is the wrong product received, unexpected expiration dates, kitchen errors or sheer forgetfulness, all chefs run out of ingredients from time to time.

But using the wrong substitutes, or trying to do too much can also be disastrous. Whether a chef is purposefully using substitutions for nutritional concerns for a client, or doing so out of sheer need, it’s essential to understand what works, and what doesn’t. Here’s a look at the most common go-to’s when you’re in a pinch.

Three Types of Substitutions

According to food blogger Mark Vogel, substitutions for recipes fall under three broad categories: substitutions that will not change the texture, flavor, or overall appeal of the recipe in a noticeable way; ones that will “augment” flavors, and ones that will simply not work.

The problem is: how do you know which is which?

Rudimentary ingredient substitution involves things that are very similar in both flavor and function: an example Vogel gives is olive oil vs canola oil in a savory dish. While the flavor is slightly different, it is a very muted difference, and the substitution serves the same purpose and will likely be close to non-detectable (olive oil in a dessert, of course, is a different matter).

In the second instance, Vogel explains, the flavor profile is altered, though not in a way that changes the overall vision or integrity of a dish. Swapping one white fish for another, one nut butter for another, or one root vegetable for another are all examples. That is, the substitution is within the same family of ingredients, but with a slightly different flavor. Here, we notice the difference, but it has the same purpose.

The devastating substitutions occur when the purpose of the original ingredient is compromised. For instance, especially in baked goods, subbing out eggs with something that will not help the dough rise, or taking out the fat from a recipe without substituting something to retain moisture and texture. If you’re shopping out of a completely different family, especially in sensitive desserts, you run a high risk of a disaster. These types of substitutions are where you need to adhere to either the normal ingredients, or follow accepted substitutions that have been tried and tested for years (decades).

Baking 101: Substitutes that Actually Work

Even though baking is a very delicate art, there are effective substiutions. Here are a few of the most common ones:

 

Baking Soda vs Baking Powder: While both act as leaveners, there is a difference: baking soda is three to four times as strong as powder, and acts as a base, while baking powder is a mixture of baking soda, cornstarch, and cream of tartar.

 

Use: ¼ tsp baking soda for every tsp of baking powder. Baking soda will make for a slightly more bitter taste, so adding a touch of citrus or extra sweetener is advised for cookies or cake. Taste test, and know that bigger amount exchanged, the more you may have to keep this in mind.

Eggs: Replacing eggs can be tricky, but doable. Like baking powder and baking soda, eggs are acting as leavening agents but also add moisture.

Use for every one egg:  (not advised for recipes with over three eggs): ¼ cup applesauce + ½ tsp baking powder or 1Tble ground flaxseeds+ 3 Tble water, dissolved   or   ¼ cup pureed silken tofu   (Safest Bet: Egg Replacers, which can be purchased in stores).

Buttermilk: No, you can’t just use milk. Buttermilk adds flavor, makes gluten more pliable, and affects texture and moisture. Luckily, this swap is very simple.

Use: 1 Tble White Vinegar or 1 Tble freshly squeezed lemon juice, or  + 15/16 of milk . Let stand for five minutes.

Baker’s Chocolate: Out of baker’s chocolate or semi sweet morsels? Need cocoa baking powder? Look at this link for many different tried and true substitutions

Heavy Cream: If you’re looking to keep the same fat content, swapping is simple. Melt ⅓ cup of butter and combine with ¾ cup cold milk.

 

For chefs looking for baking and basic swaps, there are endless options. See this link for an extensive list, and check again soon when we dive into swaps for healthier cooking.

Plating Presentation Basic Principles : More Important Now than Ever

Customers have flocked to fine dining establishments for refined flavors and beautiful presentation for as long as the food industry has been prominent. Most people expect that, with a higher priced dish, will come not only more complex flavors and higher quality ingredients, but also a more thoughtfully plated meal.

But perhaps customers have not been aware of their desire for a both tasty and beautiful meal nearly as much as they are now. In an interview with MilkBar Digital, a digital and social media agency based in Melbourne, Chef Ryan Lording, known for his ability to work with edible flowers, explains how the food industry has changed dramatically in recent years.

Much of his success, he says, he owes to social media platforms such as Twitter and Instagram, where he posts stunning photography of his own dishes. “By presenting your food with a bit of love, you have already given your customer positive vibes”, he says, even while emphasizing that quality taste must follow.

Because of social media, food presentation is essential, but also a way to express one’s vision for both their food and themselves as a chef. And the marketing opportunities through social media and enormous and expanding. According to the Pew Research Center, seven in ten Americans use some social media platform, a trend that has increased sixty-four percentage points in twelve years. And while it’s true still that young adults and adolescents are the largest users of social media, other age groups, especially middle age Americans, are catching up.

Social media platforms such as Instagram and Facebook, which allow users to upload photos, or even independent blogs, are all excellent ways to attract and connect with clients and market a personal or private chef’s services.

In part one of this three part series, we’ll start with the basic principle of presentation: something that is important both on an off social media. Before any chef considers dipping into social media, he or she needs to be able to prepare photo-worthy dishes. Here’s why and how:

Why Presentation Matters

Even without the presence of social media and the pressure to look professional, presentation of food affects the way we experience it. In essence, how a dish looks sets up our expectations and may prime us to experience flavors more deeply or differently. All of our senses help us experience eating, and sight is the essential primer, along with touch and smell.

Presentation also is a presentation of style and character. Think about fashion and clothing choice: the way one dresses is at least somewhat in respect to culture, preference, and occasion. In the same way, the way food is presented on a plate says not only something about the dish itself, but also the chef who prepared it.

Finally, the way food is plated shows the degree of care and professionalism. A dish plated with care shows that the chef cares about his or her work, and puts a combination of hard work, skill, and passion into producing it.

Basic Principles of Presentation

While each dish has signature presentation methods, as do a variety of cuisines, combines with personal chef preferences, it’s first important to understand a few basic principles of design and why they are important.

  • Color: Like anything else visual, color plays a role in food plating and presentation.

Plate Color: The importance here is to understand how plate color can either complement, contrast, or fight against the natural hues in the food plated. For green foods(lettuce, etc), select warm plate colors, like yellow, and avoid red, because, as a complementary color, the contrast will overwhelm and take the focus away from the dish. For neutral shade foods, such as chicken or alfredo, aim for black or brown plates, which will accentuate the earthy undertones and be enough of a contrast to make the meal pop. Avoid using a plate that matches the shade of the dish, and white also would be a dull choice. For tips on red and orange foods and how to plate, scroll down to the bottom of Huffington Post’s Guide. The principles are the same: a little contrast to accentuate, but not so much it distracts.

Accompaniments: Garnishes and sauces can either elevate or detract from the overall presentation. Concerning color, use bold and fresh colors, such as citrus slices, etc, that follow the same principles alongside the plate’s color and contrasting with the main dish. Opposites on the color wheel are not recommended.

Garnishes: Sauces, fresh herbs, and citrus slices all add texture to a dish and also an elegant grace note.

Fruits and Vegetables: Cut citrus slices in V’s or spirals, or thin slices and nestle against meat or fish. On a salad plate, make a fan or a full flower, like this apple flower fan.

Herb Garnishes: Sprinkle over top a heavy dish (pasta, etc), or add fresh sprigs alongside lighter fare. Finely dice over starches like potatoes or even combine with butter for an elegant condiment. Consider flavor and smell, too. Oregano, sage, basil, mint leaves, cilantro, dill, and chives are all excellent choices. Try to go with fresh if possible.

Edible Flowers: In general, you want your garnishes to be practical too: that is, edible. Edible flowers are a surprising touch that can transform a dessert, especially cakes, but even in salads. Just be sure to use as a few grace notes, and not to overdo it.

Sauces: The possibilities are endless. Sauces can be drizzled lightly, set underneath a platter meal, or be elaborate in design, especially for dessert sauces. See instructions for the most common designs, including hearts, Napoleon spirals, and chains here. Simple is best: even with an more elaborate design, stick with smaller patterns and make sure they are an elegant touch; you don’t want to drown your dish in the pattern.

A Last Note On Arrangement:

While color and garnishes are very important when it comes to basic presentation, both fall flat if the overall arrangement of the plating is not considered. Strike balance with proportions: the main element of your dish should also be centered on the plate, and the largest. You should establish a central point of focus (for example, a fillet) and work to complement and enhance that. Stick with one or two garnishes and a few colors if you’re not used to focusing on presentation.

 

Pressure of the Profession: Shedding Light on Mental Health and the Food Industry

Chefs looking to expand their careers seek resources on any number of topics, from cooking techniques to financial and business matters to the latest food trends. Personal and private chefs establish their clientele, work to market themselves, and create unique and personalized menus for their clients.

And while any number of concerns may come up, too few stop to consider one thing that may greatly impact not only their careers, but also their personal lives.

Mental health.

While most chefs are incredibly innovative, passionate, and driven, it is these positive traits, coupled with uncertainty, that tests emotional well-being. In 2003, the famed French Chef Bernard Loiseau committed suicide after his restaurant was demoted from three stars. Shocking as this tragedy was, it was a very small sample of chefs, both well and unknown, facing deep depression and sometimes seeing no way out.

The Center for Disease Control ranked the food industry as having one of the highest rates of suicides per occupation in the United States. The trend is not limited by nation, either. In Canada, concerns about mental health in the food industry led to a survey. The survey revealed that up to eighty percent of chefs or cooks reported experiencing anxiety, panic, or depression that affected their daily lives. Both statistic sets suggest that mental health issues may be more prominent in those that work in the food industry than in other industries.

The Harsh Reality of Being a Chef

Monica Dimas is known in Seattle and beyond for her signature fried chicken and Mexican sandwiches. Last year, she was named Thrillist’s Chef of the Year. But for all her acclaim, she has not been without moments she doubted what she was doing.

In an interview with Cosmopolitan, she opened up the hardships of being a chef, things she did not fully realize before she went into the profession. In the interview, she named long hours, endless training, and changing career goals. But she also mentioned less discussed topics, hitting hard on how much the profession could impact someone’s personal life:

“You’re expected to work sick and you’re not really expected to take time off. Only if you’re really sick, like you have the flu or something…” she said, adding that despite her love for preparing meals, “[m]ost people won’t appreciate how much goes into their meal besides cooking it.” While she conceded she loved what she is doing, she also opened up the conversation to the sometimes hard and volatile work environment being a chef really is.

High standards, little assistance, fast pace, and sometimes little appreciation all make for difficult work. In addition, chefs are often asked to set aside their own needs for others. And with any somewhat creative profession, many chefs may feel their dishes are not as good as others in the profession, leading to crippling perfectionism and self doubt.

Joel Rubuchon, a Master Chef, shocked many when he retired at the age of 51:

“He was, I thought, the best chef in France. I was not alone. He had the top, three-star rating from Michelin, the only chef ever to win one, two and three stars in three consecutive years…..” David Shaw, staffwriter for the LA Times, wrote at the time.

“I was working 20 hours a day,” [Rubuchon] told Shaw, saying he “just didn’t think [he] could maintain the same level of three-star quality, with all that pressure, every day”.

While Mr. Rubuchon did end up returning, he changed the type of cuisine he served, to more every day rather than gourmet food, and lowered prices as well. It’s not clear whether or not he had planned, initially, to return at all.

Personal and Private Chefs have an Advantage

While all chefs face these issues, evidence suggests that personal and private chefs may have several things working in their favor. Personal and private chefs select clients and in general have more flexible schedules than chefs who must daily operate within a restaurant’s hours, as well as possibly manage other employee’s schedules.

Cochrane Researchers, based in the UK, found that individuals who set their own schedules or had more flexible schedules reaped a number of health benefits. Blood pressure, quality of sleep, and overall mental health were among the recorded advantages.

Working within hours that fit your personal life, as well as your habits (a morning vs night person for instance) makes for a healthier environment. In addition, working for your clients and not under or with others may, for some individuals, lead to a sense of empowerment and control.

What can be Done?

Even with these advantages, personal and private chefs need to tend to their well being as much as anyone else. Here are some tips with coping and reducing the stress and pressure of the profession:

Practice and Polish: While you certainly don’t want to obsess, taking classes every once in awhile and revisiting skills may help you feel more confident. Just make sure it doesn’t impede on your personal time too much or become competitive in nature.

 

Remember Why: It sounds simple, but reminding yourself of your passion and the initial reason why you went into the profession is important. Try making a list and revisiting it when you feel discouraged. Also keeping a notebook of positive experiences and achievements can be a way to reconnect with better times, and hope for future rewarding challenges.

Keep Track: Keeping schedules, food orders, and other needs are all keys to success. Organize everything in your phone, calendar, or whatever works for you. Set a schedule when you check on menu planning, shopping, etc and try to keep it.

 

Take a Vacation: Everyone needs time off, no matter what they love doing. When you feel yourself getting worn or stressed in a way that is affecting you on a daily basis, plan ahead for even just one day off, if more isn’t doable. One day may be all you need to recharge

 

Seek Help:

 

 

Pie, Lightened Up! Tips to Make a Flavor Filled and Healthier Classic

Dawn Viola’s career revolves around an American classic: pie. As a chef, food writer, and marketing manager for Walt Disney, that pie has become so defining is almost as curious as her varied portfolio.

Winning the Crisco National Pie Competition helped promote her recipes and writing, which have been featured in publications such as The Knot, one of the most popular wedding magazines, and The Wall Street Journal, among others.

Ms. Viola opted to make an Apple Pie, but it was her attention to technique and detail that made it so signature. She devoted most of her time to the crust, using local European style butter, in lieu of shortening, and adding apple cider vinegar to “shorten the gluten strands” and achieve a flaky crust. For the filling, Ms. Viola added fresh and powdered vanilla beans, and broiled the apples to enhance their flavor.

More than anything, though, Ms. Viola learned that the emblematic Apple Pie is not nearly as simple as it seems. She spent an entire year struggling to get the same texture of an all butter crust as one that uses shortening, and toyed with different ways to play of the apple’s natural sweetness.

The Art of Pie-Making : An American Tradition

The tradition of pies in the United States dates back to the founding of the colonies, a tradition brought over from Great Britain, though it took some time before meat pies began to be replaced by fruit pies similar to what we consume today.

Regional differences were evident and reflective of the produce in different settlements. Pumpkin pies became popular in the North, while New England captilaized on its production of berries, especially the iconic Maine blueberry. The Midwest and Southern states introduced custard based pies, such as Chess Pie and Mississippi Mud Pie.

It was not until the 1980’s, however, that pies truly reached the popularity, or approached, what we see today. Pie is considered a celebration of culture, and with Fourth of July around the corner, they are increasing, this moment, in demand.

Buying, not Making Pies

Like Ms. Viola, the chef, however, many find that making pies are challenging, and take a good deal of investment. And it seems that a large portion of Americans, despite their taste for pie, do not even attempt to learn how to make them.

According to The Official Pie Council (the existence of which betrays just how central the dessert is in our nation), over $700 million dollars in pies are sold annually in grocery stores alone, a figure that has likely since increased. This does not include restaurants, catering, or private or personal chef sales.

Essentially, most Americans seem to rely on others to make pies for them. But store bought pies are often lacking in flavor, with pre-made crusts, and gelatinous filling that favors corn syrup over fresh cane sugar and spices.

Personal chefs, in particular, have much to gain by sharpening their skills and offering pies on their menu offerings. But in order to compete with restaurants, chefs need to do one of two things: offer a signature flavor, or present healthier pies that are both tasty and more nutritious.

For now, we’ll focus on ways to lighten up pies, while still retaining the integrity of an American Classic.

Lighten Up!

No one eats pie for health, per say. But there are many Americans who want to have their pie and eat it too, so to speak. For Americans who have certain nutritional concerns or simply want to lighten up their beloved treat, there are many options chefs can use and still retain flavor.

The Crust: Pie crust is made of four essential components: fat (either lard or butter), flour, water and salt. These are essential, and a crust without one of these will be tasteless, formless, or not exist at all.

Change or Lower Fat: Swap out butter or lard for canola oil. Make sure you understand proportions (see here), and steer away from olive oil, which will have a strong taste. You can lower fat content by opting for a topless pie or subbing Greek yogurt for some of the butter.

-Add fiber: If you’re looking to add fiber, opt for white whole wheat instead of whole wheat, since it’s lighter in both taste and presentation. You can also sub out half of the white flour with half whole wheat, or proportions according to taste. Alternatively, make a special, nut based crust, which relies more on heart healthy nuts and less on refined flour.

The Filling: The filling is as important as the crust (more or less, depending on who you ask), but there’s a lot of room for improvisation. In fact, it may be easier to play with the filling with healthy swaps than the crust.

SugarSwaps: Consider swapping white sugar with lower glycemic sweeteners, such as agave or maple syrup. For diabetics, low-calorie sweeteners are an option, though understand that you will need to use far less. One of the best options is Stevia, which is considered natural, and will complement the natural sweetness of the fruit.

-Other Tips: Spices, such as cinnamon and nutmeg, as well as citrus, like lemon, can be used to bring out the natural sweetness of the fruit. Select ripe fruit as well, and consider cutting back on the sugar being called for. Still, always taste test and perfect. Try to use local and in season produce whenever possible.

Preparation: Instead of buttering pans, who can also spray them with cooking spray. The get a golden hue on your crust, make sure there is some fat content, but you don’t need to brush with butter. After coming out of the oven, a very light sprinkle of sugar will add to the overall sweetness and presentation without adding a lot of calories.

Serve with modest portions of light whipped cream or low-fat frozen yogurt to cut back on fat further.

A Note of Caution:

Don’t try to do it all at once, and test before offering to clients. Does your client want lower fat? Work on the crust. Lower sugar? Focus on tweaking the filling. Making a whole wheat, low fat  crust pie with Stevia may be as bad as it sounds. Focus on one single change and make sure the supplement with rich spices and quality ingredients that will be sure to make your pie shine.

 

 

Cooking and Teaching : Personal Chefs share their Passion

America’s Test Kitchen aired on PBS sixteen years ago and is still widely watched, with over two million viewers tuning in for weekly episodes. According to a feature published in NPR, the TV show’s “mission” is to “make recipes that work”.

The concept behind the show is relatively as straightforward: creating some of the most popular American dishes and “deconstructing them” for “fool proof cooking at home” for every day families, according to the show’s website.

The show’s popularity expresses and interest and a desire for consumers to replicate professional dishes, but in ways that feel approachable. While a growing number of Americans turn to meals services or personal chefs for hot meals, there are also signs they are still interested, at least some, in cooking too.

For special occasions, like Thanksgiving, cooking at home is still the preferred way for ninety-eight percent of Americans, according to a 2016 survey by ReporterLink . It seems that there is a curious phenomenon: while as little as under sixty percent of families cook meals on a regular basis, it seems they are also still dedicated to preserving some semblance of tradition.

Even as Americans try to retain family recipes, the gap between desire and knowledge is incredible. A Market Watch Survey revealed that almost a third of Americans feel they don’t really know how to cook, and it’s likely only gotten worse since.

Personal and Private Chefs: The Perfect Educators

It might seem as if the desire to cook family meals would be a time for personal and private chefs to take a step away from their client’s kitchen. After all, most families really do have at least some desire to participate in a cooking tradition, by offering dishes they have made, themselves.

In fact, the weeks and days proceding family get together are the perfect time for personal and private chefs to offer help.

Teaching customers how to cook opens personal and private chefs to new clients, establishes their expertise, and sets them apart from competitors: all while passing along a passion for cooking. Instead of losing clients, like one might assume, chefs may retain clients who seek to continue learning skills for special occasions, and new ones who want to learn how to cook, but in the comfort of their own home.

 

The Art of Teaching: Getting Started

Preparing meals is one thing; teaching how to cook is an entirely other. But even chefs who have never had experience instructing others before can learn and enrich their careers.

Chron, a Houston-based news outlet,  suggests that anyone with passion and skill can teach others, but doing so requires establishing a set plan and focus beforehand:

Establish a niche: What kind of cooking are your clients most interested or drawn to? Even more importantly, what skills do you feel you most excel in? Leaning towards strengths and passions can lead chefs to narrowing the focus on the lessons they will offer. The best idea is to select a theme, set of skills, or occasion. Too general of cooking lessons, and you’ll seem to not be truly focused and serious about your vision. Too narrow (ex: creating homemade egg rolls), and you may not appeal to many clients. It’s best to offer a variety based on some sort of theme or connecting idea.

 

Spend your time as a student: In order to be an effective teacher, you have to see things from a student’s perspective. Spending time taking some cooking classes will help you see methods of instruction, what is more helpful and less helpful, and how instructors construct their lessons.

 

Check any additional legal requirements: Make sure proper procedures and any additional licenses are issued before beginning. Different requirements will vary.

 

Plan, Prepare, and be open to feedback: This should go without saying. Not only do you need to prepare the way you would for weekly menus, but you also need to have test runs on lessons, or risk coming off unprofessional. Above all, be open to feedback and allow clients to respond at the end, and during lessons, what is most helpful for them and less helpful.

 

 

Use Aids in (and out) of  the Cooking “Classroom”

Everyone learns differently, but anyone chef interested in offering private lessons should consider using a variety of methods to teach. Most experts recommend using not only live demonstrations, but also visual and multimedia aids, such as pre-recorded videos, sound clips, pamphlets, and instruction cards. These will help not only during the lesson, but also as a take- away so clients can practice on their own.

Also consider giving out a general tips and fact sheet, related to whatever topic you are teaching. If your lesson requires special chef cuts, for example, providing a print out and instructions of that skill will help both during and after the lesson. Always offer additional material, or even links to online resources.

Final Considerations

Is offering cooking lessons right for your business? It depends. Do you have the passion to teach others? Do have the time to commit to both extra hours for lessons and preparing for lessons? Do you think it could be a meaningful way to develop your career, or expand your clientele?

Offering cooking lessons is not a decision that should be made lightly, and takes a good deal of time and investment. Only chefs truly interested in teaching others should consider it. Doing it merely to expand one’s outreach will likely not prove fruitful, because the best teachers are the ones who love what they are doing.

Competitive Personal Chefs -Edging Out Meal Delivery Services

For Megan Willet, purchasing Blue Apron, one of the leading meal-delivery services, seemed to fit her hectic lifestyle. Many consumers like Ms. Willet flock to meal delivery services in the hopes of relatively healthy, affordable, and convenient meals. To be sure, there are some modest truth to these hopes. But for customers like Willet, these benefits are ultimately overshadowed by hidden downsides.

“My least favorite part…was the cleanup”, she told Business Insider. She recalled recipe cards with vague and complicated instructions that required countless different dishes and bowls, and an emphasis on visual aids that could prove daunting for non-chefs. Annoying, too, were the special bowls and utensils most services require customers to buy.

There are signs that, despite the continuing popularity of such services, (Blue Apron is worth an estimated $2 billion) consumers are slowly turning to another resource for healthy and convenient meals: personal chefs.

 

In an Evolving Market, Personal Chefs have a Competitive Edge

In an article published by USA Today, Nina Rizzo of the Asbury Park N.J. Press argued that personal chefs, once considered only for the famous and wealthy, were increasingly entering middle class homes.

Personal chefs, she added, offer “an attainable service”, with dining options ranging from those seeking to “eat healthier”, to those desiring “comfort food”.  It also offers more customized and personalized attention with those with specific lifestyle, dietary, and planning concerns.

But as much as consumer awareness and demand for personal chefs is growing, so too are the number of chefs trading restaurant based professions for more flexible schedules.

“Local chefs are getting more personal, spreading passion,” a report by Washington’s Top News reads. “[Sixteen years ago]...Entrepreneur Magazine designated the personal chef industry as “one of the 12 fastest-growing businesses in the country,” and that growth has not slowed down…according to the American Personal and Private Chef Association.”

It seems incredible that the personal chef industry is competitive with the lure of meal kits, but when you consider the services these chefs provide, it’s easier to understand why.

Personal Chefs: Offering Services Consumers Want

For Americans with hectic lifestyles and for whom eating out has become both expensive or otherwise incompatible with their dietary needs, personal chef services offer personalized attention and service you can’t get from packaged meals.

While meal services do their best to customize to different preferences, they simply cannot offer the personalized and flexible attention an in-home chef can.

Such meal services also generally cater towards everyday meals, and may even require clients to do a degree of cooking and cleaning themselves. Personal chefs, on the other hand, clean, cook, and offer services that go above and beyond putting a meal on the table. Some of these services are what make them have the competitive edge over meal delivery services. Someone beginning as a personal chef, too, should consider offering these services as a way to market and further their clientele:

Grocery Shopping: Personal chef services often include, or offer, personalized grocery shopping. Not only do they shop for ingredients integral to the meals they will but prepare, but they also may offer to shop for weekly groceries, on days they do not prepare meals, or for other purposes. A personal chef, who works for many clients at a time, juggles client’s schedules to not only cook, but also shop for groceries based on a customized meal plan. Clients usually set the deposit, or spending level, and the chef will shop with respect to menu, budget, and preferences. This saves clients time and ensures the items purchased would be the same ones they themselves would buy, were they to shop themselves.

 

Dietary Concerns: It’s true that mail order meals do cater to dietary concerns,most commonly vegetarian and vegan preferences, and a handful for gluten-free orders. Still, personal chefs do not use blanket approaches; that is, personal chefs develop a relationship with clients and can understand and allow for preferences, outside of broad categories. Plans can be offered for those with diabetes, celiac’s, lactose intolerance, and almost anything in between. In addition, meals are prepared in front of clients, in the home, so customers don’t need to worry about checking labels or following up with customer service.

Special Events: Instead of buffet style eating, customers can also opt for more personalized bite-sized food, and customize as they would any other meal for dietary preferences and concerns.You can order catering from a local restaurant, but personal chefs services allow customers to order with someone they know and trust.

Diet Plans:For individuals or families who want to improve their eating habits but have tighter budgets, personal chefs who specialize in healthy meal preparation and personalized meal planning might be the way to go. According to Health Magazine

While mail order meals may be appealing to some, for many, personal chefs and the attention and expertise they bring holds the competitive edge.

 

 

 

Bread Perfect: Guide to Baking the Perfect Loaf for Your Clients

For Chef Bryan Mascatello, the decision to start baking his own bread came down to a matter of finances: buying wholesale bread can be expensive.

For other chefs who are not primarily bakers but have started making their own bread, it’s a matter of both integrity and taste. Even though the idea of baking bread in house for restaurants is not new, more and more private and personal chefs are starting to dip into the practice. Private Chefs of the acclaimed Martha’s Vineyard, for instance, offer homemade pita bread with customized menus; Liz Fabel, a traveling personal chef, has taken to teaching others the art of baking.

And taste, pride, and trying to save some money are not the only factors. Homemade bread also boasts numerous health benefits over packaged loaves from stores or wholesale suppliers. Without preservatives, hydrogenated fats, and far lower sodium, homemade bread is a way to create healthier meals. Personally baking bread also allows for customization.

But there is reason most personal and private chefs may have some trepidation: baking bread is truly a skill which takes practice, patience, and a good deal of planning. In addition, personal and private chefs are largely do not have have the resources of a restaurant, such as multiple employees and baking supplies, that make baking bread more conducive.

But by beginning with focusing on basic techniques, ingredients, and all purpose breads, chefs can dip into the baking practice and see if it could fit into their schedule and needs.

 

The Essential Ingredients

Bread is fairly simple, if you don’t consider all of its variations. Essentially, all bread contains four essential ingredients: flour, yeast, salt, and water. Of course, there are numerous variations, as well as different additional ingredients, but understanding and selecting the best quality of these four essential ingredients is crucial to a successful loaf of bread.

 

 

-All-Purpose Flour, the most common, is best for lighter and “airier” breads, such as baguettes, french bread, and white sandwich bread.

-Whole Wheat Flour, which contains more vitamins and fiber, will result in denser bread, so it’s best for all purpose, savory breads and not as ideal for delicate baked goods.

-White Whole Wheat is made from the whole grain, as is whole wheat, and contains the same fiber content, but is lighter in texture and flavor, and acts more like white than whole wheat in recipes.

-Rye Flour: A distinct and rich flavor, rye results in darker loaves than whole wheat, and also denser, since the flour absorbs more water. Rye flour is behind rye and pumpernickel breads, and also is known as an excellent sourdough starter.

Spelt Flour: Dense loaves that are earthy or nutty in flavor, it’s considered an ancient grain, and since it does not contain wheat, is suitable for the wheat-intolerant, though it does contain gluten. Spelt also contains numerous vitamins and minerals. It’s best for general all purpose loaves.

-Alternatives: Numerous gluten free flours are available for those with celiac’s. See this previous post on gluten-free cooking. Cooking with gluten free flours should be considered separately from these tips, because it requires different techniques.

Water: Self Explanatory. Any will do, but most recipes will call for warm water to properly react with the yeast. The more exact about the temperature, the better the results, as yeast reacts differently at different temperatures. See this guide for what temperature you should be aiming for.

 

Yeast: There are four common variations of yeast sold through most supermarkets. Active Dry Yeast has been proofed so it can be added to dry ingredients without an additional process. Instant Yeast also does not require additional proofing, as is slightly different in flavor than active dry yeast. The suggestion is to try one of the two varieties and see which is to the chef’s -preference. Rapid Rise Yeast should be reserved for one rise recipes, such as sweet quick breads and is not advised for general bread loaves. Finally, Fresh Yeast, which comes refrigerated in a “clay like form”, is richer in flavor than the rest but does take a bit more work. When using, double the amount, dissolve in liquid, and keep for only one week unused in a refrigerator.

Salt: Salt isn’t just a matter of preference; it brings out flavors in the flour and other ingredients, tightens protein strands, and helps maintain moisture. Using too little salt will reduce all these benefits. The UK’s standard is around one gram of salt per 100 grams of flour.

 

The Baking Process

Selecting ingredients, then mixing dry with dry and wet with wet, shouldn’t be cumbersome. The guesswork and mistakes come in when it comes time to bake the bread, and how. Here are a few frequently asked questions:

 

  • When is it ready to be baked? To know if the yeast has properly proofed, make a note of the size of the dough mixture before letting it sit. When it’s risen, it should have doubled in size. Some bread requires kneading in between, and a second or even third rise, so make sure you’re referring to a recipe as a guide.  Also check by pressing firmly on the dough. If it sinks, there may be air bubbles present. Knead again, tightly, and let rise until it doubles.

 

 

 

 

Beer Cuisine The New Frontier on Cooking with Alcohol

As a young boy, Sean Paxton was fascinated by the elements of cooking: how simple ingredients like flour and sugar and eggs could create desserts. By age ten, he started getting cooking pots and pans for Christmas.

Paxton’s career has been unorthodox to say the least: he opened his own catering business at the age of eighteen, served as a beverage director at Cabana Hotel (California), and even took a break with a stint in the biotech industry.

But what has truly transformed his career is his ability to combine his other love-beer and home brewing–with his culinary skills. For the past ten years, he has been the owner of his own website, where he promotes his beer-inspired cooking and upcoming events: traveling to host special dinners and overseeing the three breweries he helped establish.

Beer is undoubtedly one of the most  popular beverages sold in the United States: in 2015, adults of legal drinking age drank an average of 27.5 gallons per person in a single year. But beer is rarely associated with cooking at all, let alone personal and private chefs who take pride in their preparation methods.

But Alison Botelor, food consultant and author, argues that “[b]eer is as versatile, if not more versatile, than wine,” and should be used in cooking just as much or more. Like wine, beer has numerous  uses for both elevating and serving as a base for recipes, from appetizers to meat dishes to even desserts.

The key is to understand how and when to use beer, and to be open to trying something that may at times feel less than traditional. By embracing beer and the new flavors it can bring to a dish, chefs can prepare meals clients will love and remember for a long time to come.

Selecting the Right Beer

Conneusiurs of craft understand that beer is much more than an alchololic beverage; braided with the right flavors, brewing techniques and touches, it is an experience. Yet for those less passionate about beer, understanding the various options can be a true obstacle to incorporating beer in cooking.

All beers are contain four basic ingredients: water, malted barley, yeast, and hops. While there are many variations, the simplest way to understand beer is to see it as falling under one of two categories, either ales or lagers.

Ales vs Lagers:

Ales tend to be more bitter in taste and are darker in color, with an emphasis on heavier proportions of hops and malt. Examples include Indian Pale Ale, Porter, and Stout.

Lagers are lighter, more subtle in flavor, and sometimes have a slightly fruity taste. Pilsner, American light beers, and Bock are all in this category.

Flavor Profile Pairings:

As with any cooking, experimenting and taste testing is key, but generally, you want the beer to complement, rather than overpower, the flavors in the dish. Mandy Major, founder of the online culinary magazine Taste, and frequent food writer for Woman’s Day, suggests the following pairings:

Frying:Beer is ideal for frying, so long as you stick with a lighter brew. Major suggests using beer the way you would normally use seltzer in batter.

Main Course:Wheat beers and lambics for chicken and seafood dishes; Ale, Porter, and Stout for pork, and stronger red meats, such as lamb and beef (bison would pair great here as well). For stews, she suggests something with a robust flavor, with a Guinness. This is a good idea so the flavor doesn’t get lost in the other components, such as heavy meat and root vegetables.

Dessert:You don’t want to mask the delicate flavors or add too much bitterness, so go with Major’s suggestion by sticking with lighter brews, leaning more towards algers, which will provide that fruity component. Specifically, she mentions specialties such as raspberry lambic for sorbets, and imperial stout for coffee or chocolate flavor profiles.

 

Methods for Success

Of course, even the perfect flavor pairing doesn’t ensure success. Like with any cooking, cooking with beer requires a level of understanding and technique:

Experiment, but Understand Your Limits: Cooking with beer will in general reduce the overall liquid in the dish, since it evaporates as you cook. As such, The Spruce cautions against experimenting too much in liquid sensitive recipes, such as gravies, or sauces. Getting the proportions right is key. In baked goods, the balance is even more delicate: since beer acts as a leavening agent, adding too much or too little could cause the batter to cave or explode in the oven. Try to find a recipe to get a sense of proportions, like this recipe for beer bread, and use that as a starting point to experiment with your own flavors.

  • Use Beer to Balance Flavor and Fat: Beer should add to the flavor in a dish, but it should not overpower it. Instead, think of beer as a way to bring out flavors already present in the dish, rather than fighting them. In the same vein, beer is a great counterpart to heavy sauces or dishes, especially ones that incorporate butter and cream.

 

 

Most of all, have fun and be open to possibilities.

Making Your Brand: A Chef’s Guide to Publishing

When most personal and private chefs begin, they plan to create menus, make connections with suppliers, and to market a certain type of brand of cooking. What most don’t consider is becoming an author.

For some time, it looked like cookbooks were going out of vogue in the United States. In 2010, Lorena Jones, Vice President of an imprint publisher, saw the inundations of I-pads, not the mention the already present online community of blogs, and predicted the downfall of the cookbook industry. Rux Martin, editorial director of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, held a similar gloomy prediction.

For the year or two after, hard copy book book sales did decline. But curiously, that trend has been reversed. Sales (and of print books in general) rose for the third consecutive year in 2016, this time by over three percent compared to 2015. Publisher’s Weekly also reported that the greatest increase in sales was in nonfiction, a lucrative market that includes cookbooks.

“The physical cookbook is flourishing”, according to Margy Rouchlin of the Los Angeles Times, attributing the surprising comeback to an essential demand for something people can use in the kitchen, rather than scrolling through apps or blogs. At the end of the day, she concludes, consumers and chefs both want what they have always wanted: recipes that feel personal, and tell a story through photography and personal twists. And it seems, despite the thriving market of E Books, the demand is still high, and rising for traditional cookbooks that can be flipped through, earmarked, and scribbled on.

What Chefs should Consider Publishing a Cook Book?

While many bestselling cookbooks come from celebrity chefs, it is by no means restricted to TV stars like Alton Brown or Bobby Flay. In fact, cookbooks are an excellent way to build a unique name, reach more clientele, and garner prestige.

Essentially, cookbooks act as a portfolio, where chefs showcase their skills and their unique spin. Personal and private chefs have every right, and should consider writing a cookbook, but it is essential that these chefs are truly passionate about what they do, and that passion shows through in their work.

It is also essential chefs understand the realities of publishing, the different options, and costs and benefits of attempting publication, on top of already packed schedules. In weighing these factors, personal and private chefs can decide whether putting together a cookbook is right for them and their career goals.

The Basic Publishing Models

As any author will tell you, the publication world is anything but simple. It also varies greatly in options depending on your goals, connections, and what type of book you hope to publish.

Cookbooks fall under the very broad umbrella of nonfiction books, which consistently boasts the highest in the publishing industry. Of course, nonfiction is a very broad category, covering everything from memoirs to historical accounts to humor. Cookbooks were not noted in the report by GBO New York as dramatically increasing or decreasing, suggesting they may be slightly up in sales, but modestly.

There are essentially four basic routes to publication:

Big Publisher, May Require Representation: Big Publishing Houses, such as Random House, most often only accept acquisitions if you have found an agent to represent your work. While cookbooks are a hard sell if you are not very well known, it is not impossible, and the key is to have an unique angle.

Pros: Professional Marketing, Wide Distribution (generally speaking)

Cons: Finding an “in” with both an agent and a big publisher is a challenging and arduous process. At a big house, you also will likely not get as much personalized attention

Small Presses: Small presses are often non profit, although not all are. While not a lot of small presses represent cookbooks, it is not unheard of.

Pros: Personalized Attention, Some Marketing Help, Depending; Can skip Agent Process

Cons:  May be difficult to find one to pitch to, less money to invest in for marketing, cover design, etc, and generally much more limited distribution

Self Publishing: Self Publishing is exactly how it sounds, or at least close to it. A service is used, either to be published as an E-Book or a hardcopy. There is not “acceptance” process; instead, you pay to have your book published, and you market it on your own.

Pros: Guaranteed to get your book published, Can be very fast

Cons: No Marketing help or financial help; distribution, marketing, etc is up to you and how well the book sells. It can be very costly: thousands of dollars, or at least several hundred, for printed books. There are some success stories, but it is hard if you do not have connections or some way to market the book. Most authors who self publish are now trending towards E Books since it’s far less expensive, or even free (depending).

 

Trends and the Market for Cook Books:

To decide whether or not publication is right for a chef at all, chefs need to be aware of the current markets and trends for the cookbook publishing industry.

  1. Consumer Habits: According to a survey of 800,000 books sold, about a third are purchased on impulse or a whim, meaning presence and design is especially important. The same survey also revealed that the most popular types of cookbooks were in the categories of kitchen gardening, home entertainment, preserving, and urban farming. The most popular cuisine-themed books were American, Italian, Desserts, Seafood, and Tex Mex/Southwestern, in that order.
  2. Trends: While all books more or less are greatly helped or harmed by cover design, recent trends suggest that the visual and storytelling components of cookbooks are becoming increasingly important. In order to stand out in a saturated market, cookbooks are becoming more and more dependent on professional design and stunning food photography, but also an overall vision. Consumers want not just recipes, but recipes that tell us something about that chef. Books are also trending towards including sections about the chef themself, where he or she explain her passion, her life story, and we see how this collection is emblematic of them.

Final Considerations

Not all chefs should endeavor to write and market a cookbook. Cookbooks take time, passion, dedication, vision, and a lot of patience. On the other hand, publishing could be a way for a personal or private chef to attract more clients and establish him or herself as a serious professional. The general recommendation, however, is that chefs should be working in the industry for a while before they attempt to publish, and they should also be fully informed about the various publication routes. Finally, any author should never publish with a publisher etc that makes him or her pay, unless he or she is self publishing and fully understands the costs involved. If you are a chef interested even mildly in possibly publishing someday, check out the links below for some beginning guides.

Ideas for Writing

Self Publishing FAQ for Chefs

Publishing Process

Finding a Traditional Publisher

Rhubarb, Not Just for Pie: Seasonal Produce Series

When Myra Carlow married, she loved her husband dearly and hated rhubarb nearly as much. In an interview with Greenfield Recorder, the home cook recalled seeing rhubarb in almost everything, from side dishes to more unconventional features, like rhubarb and asparagus pie.

Today, she has a garden overflowing with rhubarb and delights in making rhubarb pies, rhubarb sauce, and even rhubarb upside down cake. It seems her husband has converted her taste buds.

Rhubarb, it seems, doesn’t always give off the best first impression. A rather odd and bitter vegetable, its slender and pinkish-red stem at once distinguishes itself from other produce and also does not quite catch many people’s eye. While grocery stores do stock it, consumption has declined almost ninety percent since its peak in popularity, during the World War II era.

Yet despite its nearly anonymous presence today, rhubarb is easy to grow, and a pleasant accompaniment to dishes both savory and sweet. While its most common manifestation is nestled with strawberries in pie, there are endless possibilities.

Nicole Spiridakas, a writer for Kitchen Window, was also late to come to love rhubarb, but discovered its bitter and inflexible first impression did not do it justice. Tempered with the proper ingredients, she argued, this vegetable could be a key component to many dishes.

It’s also a way for personal and private chefs to add unexpected flair, while rhubarb is most abundant. Since it’s in season, it is also cheaper and fresher in quality, a perfect time for chefs to try to push past first impressions and elevate the once popular vegetable back onto elegant company worthy dishes.

Getting to Know Rhubarb

Rhubarb’s peak season is from spring to early summer. It is known for its hardy, “celery-like” stems, which are green when growing and turn a pinkish red when ripe. While the stalks can be consumed raw, this is not advisable, as its bitter taste is not considered pleasing. As a rule, chefs will want to cook ripe stems with some form of sweetener, regardless of the dish.

Cooking rhubarb will release its classic tangy and slightly sweet flavor, which has been compared to the flavor profile of Granny Smith apples. Sugar or some form of sweetener, paired with salt, brings out the complex flavors and cuts down on its initial bitterness.

Preparation though, is very important: the leaves of rhubarb are toxic, and should be discarded.

Preparation Tips

Ripe rhubarb is a red; rhubarb that still has green tips is not ready to serve, or at least be informed that it will be excessively bitter. Once the leaves are discarded, the following steps should be taken to ensure top quality, for any recipe or use:

  1. Wash stems and trim off the ends

  2. Cut rhubarb into even pieces. This will allow for even cooking and flavor

  3. Make sure that some sweetener will be present in its preparation. Cane sugar is typical, but sugar from other fruits or juices, and alternatives, such as agave, maple syrup, and honey may be used. Also make sure your preparation includes some sort of salt.

  4. You’ll know the rhubarb is cooked when the texture becomes soft, and strings just start to appear. Be careful not to overcook so it becomes too mushy, except for in pies.

Added Health Benefits, and Cautions

Rhubarb, like most colorful produce, boasts a number of health benefits. It has been known to help with a number of mild health complaints, especially digestive issues such as heartburn, constipation and diarrhea. It has even been used to help support regular bowel movements.

Nutritionally, it is excellent as well. A single serving provides forty-five percent of the recommended daily intake of Vitamin K, and is also rich in Vitamins A, C, B, riboflavin, folate, maganese, iron, and phosphorous. Together, these vitamins and minerals support the immune system and protect against certain lung and mouth cancers.

Rhubarb stems are not appropriate for everyone’s diet. Chefs should not use them in meals for clients who are pregnant, or with clients who suffer from arthritis. Rhubarb’s effect on the digestive tract, as well the presence of oxalates are not suitable for these individuals.

Going Beyond Pie: Recipes for Inspiration

Although rhubarb is popularly paired with strawberries, especially in pie, there are countless ways to prepare it. Rhubarb works beautifully when paired with other fruit in baked goods, such as cobblers, tortes and even coffee cakes. A sweet dish with a savory touch can be found in a sweet casserole, like this recipe for rhubarb casserole.

On the more savory side, rhubarb can be married with root or starchy vegetables, such as glazed carrots, gratins, and even with meats. See these recipes for renditions including such curry, salad, and other dishes.