Category Archives: Personal Chef

Decisions, Decisions!

I’m working on March’s menus for Delivered Dish of the Week and having a hard time choosing only eight dishes! I guess I’ll move some into April, then.

My process is the same as how you might plan meals at home.

First, I look at what bulk items I have in stock and want to use up: garbanzo beans, fava beans, oat groats & barley, brown rice, quinoa, tofu and TVP; left-over beets, frozen organic green beans and butternut squash. I note that I haven’t featured collards or carrots in a while.

Second, I come up with a list of dishes that include those. Here I take care to choose a wide variety of flavors, balance the carbs between whole grains, beans and root veg, and balance cold dishes with hotThirdI make sure vegetables are in all dishes. Some dishes are heavy on protein (beans), some are heavy on carbs, and some are mostly vegetable (therefore, paleo-friendly). 

Must-buy "Mediterranean Fresh" by Joyce Goldstein

Must-buy “Mediterranean Fresh” by Joyce Goldstein

Right now I find scads of inspiration from the drool-worthy and incredibly useful cookbook Mediterranean Fresh: A Compendium of One-Plate Salad Meals and Mix-and-Match Dressings, by Joyce Goldstein. I want to eat every single thing in it!  In fact, the mix-and-match method is exactly how I cook and eat. And, I adore her repertoire of Italian, Spanish, Tunisian, Moroccan, Turkish and French dishes. They are intense and authentic. Her Moroccan Chermoula Dressing has become a staple, and is reprinted on my Recipe page.

My cooking lesson students learn this mix-and-match method hands-on. For instance, with just brown rice, a pantry of spices & herbs, plus a few vegetables and/or beans, you could make a different hearty rice dish every night of the week (and still not have exhausted the possibilities).  See Nov 2012 post “Spice is the Variety of Life” for details.

How else would I be able to come up with 24 different vegan dishes for a 3-month seasonal menu?

OK, so back to March menu options list. It includes some of my tried-and-true, and recipes from Goldstein.

Blanched Carrot & Kale Salad in Orange Ginger Vinaigrette. Vegan, gluten-free, soy-free.

Blanched Carrot & Kale Salad in Orange Ginger Vinaigrette (my recipe). Vegan, gluten-free, soy-free.

  • Garbanzo, Peppers & Capers salad w/ spicy Harissa dressing  GF, V
  • Fava bean Zahlouk Salad (cauliflower, chermoula, moroccan olives) — a rice version was FAB. GF, V
  • Potato, Cauliflower & Artichoke Salad w/ Harissa dressing  P, GF, V
  • Potato & Green Bean Salad w/ Lemony Horseradish Vinaigrette  P, GF, V
  • Curried Barley/Oat Groat & Veg Salad w/ craisins (very popular)  V
  • Quinoa, Carrot & Kale Salad w/ Citrus Ginger dressing (see Recipe pageGF, V
  • Hearty Kale Salad (avocados + Tahini dressing) — Superfood Kitchen by Julie Morris  P, GF, V
  • Jambalaya w/ spiced TVP, Garbanzo and peppers  GF, V
  • Butternut Fava Bean Thai Curry  GF, V  
  • West African Mafe Stew w/ beans, turnip greens (tomato & peanut butter sauce)   P,GF, V

    Chicken Mafe Stew w/ Spinach. Sub beans for meat.

    Chicken & Sweet Potato Mafe Stew w/ Spinach. Sub beans for meat.

  • Braised Collards w/ Raisins & Butternut Squash  P,GF, V
  • Beets w/ either Harissa or Tarator dressing (tahini + nuts)   P, GF, V
  • Cauliflower Squash Red Lentil Soup — thanks Denise!   P, GF, V
  • Green Parsnip Soup  — b/c I love it   P, GF, V 

    And then there’s the Paleo list featuring animal protein: 

  • Corned Beef and Roasted Cabbage P, GF, V
  • Cauliflower, Collards & Bacon (pasture-fed)  P, GF, V
  • Sweet Potato Frittata  P, GF, V
  • Salad Nicoise w/ tuna mayo dressing P, GF, V   (first ate ‘tonnato” sauce on cold beef in Florence, sigh….)


P = Paleo-friendly, ie no grains or beans
GF = Gluten-free
V = Vegan

See what I mean?!  Decisions, decisions….!

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Jump Off the [Carb] Cliff

We have met the enemy. And it is us. Whether that’s the reality-TV spectacle of Congress playing chicken on the “cliff” of another financial crisis, or our modern interpretation of “Holiday” which means indulgently surrounding ourselves with cheap carbs & sugar for an entire 6 weeks instead of say, an indulgent 3 days — it is still, and always, Us. Sigh.

MC Escher's lithograph "House of Stairs" (from Wikipedia.com)

MC Escher’s lithograph “House of Stairs” (from Wikipedia.com)

And so January rolls around, somehow always a little sooner than expected, like recycling day. Apparently the fiscal cliff will come around again in a couple months as well. It’s like we live inside an Escher print.

Coulda, woulda, shoulda. We could have averted this course. We could have sliced up our credit cards. We could have not based a fat silo of the financial banking industry on easy paper profits as well as not creating actual, punitive deterrents. I could have graciously refused that box of lovely home-made Xmas cookies, or better yet, divvied it up and given it away. I could have walked away from the sale aisle and not ended up with bags of cheap and cheaply made stocking stuffer doo-dads, which I rationalized since they were ‘gifts’.

[Yes, I am confounding these rather different things, because I personally experience them similarly, as a form of psycho-emotional (spending/ buying/ eating) and physical (sugar & carbs) addiction.]

But wait! We still can!  Let’s just jump off the cliff of addictive consumption and start over. The Carbohydrate Cliff, the Consumption Cliff, the Fiscal Cliff, you pick. 

Jumping not your thing? Use scaffolds, which works better for some. (I like scaffolds. They are a good way to reach the ground without hurting oneself as much.)

Portabello, Lentils & Spinach. GF, DF, no grain, good carbs.

Portabello, Lentils & Spinach. GF, DF, no grain, good carbs. Dish of the Week for Jan 28th.

Focusing on the Carbohydrate Cliff, this means reducing and avoiding processed carbs & refined sugars. As my coaching/catering/ delivery clients know, I’ve been touting the path of Low & Good Carbs since I started this venture and have wholly based my menus on whole unprocessed grains, beans and veggies. Hence, I never offer any kind of pasta. And, as I meet more people interested in the Paleo diet and learn about it myself, I will be including more non-grain options.

Now to the plug. “How shall I start, Tracy?”, you are asking. Well, you can make things easier on yourself and start ordering Delivered Dish of the Week!  Healthful, slow-food vegan dishes at your doorstep!  Order online at this website.

You can also sign up for one of my hands-on, super-fun Cooking Classes. I’m teaching a Soup class on Jan 10th at Harvest Moon Co-op, classes at Valley Natural Foods in Feb & March, and, I’ll be launching classes at GIA Kitchen (dates TBA). You’ll get practice, recipes and tips galore, plus food to take home. See “Nourishing Soups” post for the link to register.

Like One Dish at A Time on Facebook!

Like One Dish at A Time on Facebook!

In the meantime, I invite you to subscribe to this blog and follow my “One Dish” Facebook postings for a steady flow of inspiration and tips.

Best wishes for 2013!

Equipment Envy

Paella for a crowd is made easy by renting a pan with its own gas burner & stand from Kitchen Window.

Paella for a crowd is made easy by renting a pan with its own gas burner & stand from Kitchen Window.

Did you know you can rent a proper extra-large Paella pan with its own gas range & stand from Kitchen Window in Minneapolis!  Is that cool, or what?! This pan is the size of a large garbage can lid and, in fact, is the smaller of two available for rent.

The pan is a dream — a huge, flat, shallow surface with a powerful double-ring gas burner and three-legged stand. Just think of all the greens I could saute in that thing.

A crowd-pleasing Gluten-Free entree that you can customize for vegans and carnivores alike.

Paella is a crowd-pleasing Gluten-Free entree that you can customize for vegans and carnivores alike.

I had the opportunity to play with it at a recent holiday party at which I helped. Spanish paella was the featured dish; the recipe was from The Barefoot Contessa and included beef, chicken, chorizo, mussels, shrimp and calamari. It turned out great.

Please note that paella is a gluten-free, dairy-free crowd-pleaser that can be easily customized for vegans and pescatarians too. It’s not difficult to make but is time-consuming in that you have to tend it, like risotto.

Which is exactly why the host hired me, freeing him to tend to his guests instead. This party was an instance of my “partial catering service”, which can include anything from providing food to just helping in the kitchen. I cooked the paella, made one of my chopped salads, finished other courses the host had begun, served guests and, most importantly, did all the dishes.

In conclusion, I would certainly recommend renting this pan for your next large party, with or without me in tow.

Back to paella. It’s one of dozens of satisfying gluten-free, dairy-free rice dishes that you can easily whip up with whatever is in your kitchen, just by varying the spices. I’d add beans, TVP or tempeh for a nourishing one-pot vegetarian meal. Crisp cubes of pan-fried tofu would be nice. Last month, Jamaican Jerk Rice & Beans was featured for Delivered Dish of the Week; for New Year’s Day it’s Hoppin’ John; and next month I’ll serve up Indonesian Nasi Goreng.

See previous post “Spice is the Variety of Life” for more on rice dishes from around the world.

Cooking Coach Case Study

from left: White Beans w/ Zucchini, Sun-dried Tomatoes, Grape Tomatoes & Olives; Sauteed Red Cabbage w/ Craisins & Fennel Seed; Zucchini Salad w/ Lemon Parsley Vinaigrette.


Case Study A:  I’ve been cooking for client Michele for several months. She has several parameters:
It’s a big challenge to shop & cook.  She lives by herself. She eats vegan only, cannot tolerate gluten, and avoids processed sugar, making it hard to eat out. She needs more protein in her diet.  

She’s on a weekly schedule for my Delivered Dish of the Week and on occasion I also deliver additional dishes and organic foods. Fortunately for her, about 75% of DDoW dishes are gluten-free, and each week always features a protein-rich bean dish.

Since I’m taking vacation, I am stocking up her refrigerator & freezer. At left are 3 dishes I dropped off today, freshly made, all vegan, gluten-free and low-fat. In addition, she got a quart of frozen quinoa pilaf and several packets of Simple Organics brand seasonings that she can add to canned beans, such as Jambalaya, Red Beans & Rice, and Black Bean Salsa.

Adopting a vegan diet means one has to be be consistent about adequate sources of protein. An adult doesn’t need a lot — only 46 gms protein daily for women — but vegans & even vegetarians often don’t hit that mark. They tend to eat more carbs than necessary. Prepared vegetarian food such as from restaurants and deli counters are mostly carbs, so they’re no help. A Subway veggie sandwich? Cheese pizza? Puh-lease.  You’d be better off with a peanut-butter sandwich, or in Michele’s case, a bag of nuts.

In order to get enough protein, Michele has to make sure she’s eating complementary proteins. This means legumes + a starch, or veggies + a starch. She doesn’t even have to eat these in the same meal, but just over the course of one day. All starch or even all veggies do not deliver the right chemical combo. This is why my 2 weekly dishes always comprise these combinations. See Delivered Dish of the Week Menu Archive page for a million examples.

Fresh edamame (soy beans) have a firm texture and nutty taste.

So besides beans & more beans, I am also introducing Michele to soy products, which are  packed with protein. Edamame are fresh soy beans that many people like steamed in the pod as snacks. You can also buy them shelled in the frozen vegetable aisle of some grocery stores. They’re a lot like fresh green lima beans and have a great firm texture. I like to use them in both salads and sautés.

Next, I’ll teach her to prepare tempeh, an excellent, hearty soy product that’s much like veggie burger in texture. She can easily pan-fry or bake these slices with some sauce. Gado-Gado Tempeh (Indonesian peanut sauce) would be a snap to make and exotic, too.

Tales of Catering: Practicing Equanimity

S**t happens. I’ve learned to wing it, especially when catering on-site. Equipment breaks down, ingredients aren’t available, or the client’s facility is compromised. Last MayDay (2011), HOBT theater lobby’s fuse kept tripping, so the stews in the electric roasters weren’t heating up, and my brilliant idea of baking tater tots in a portable convection oven was turning into an epic fail. And, the lobby sink’s faucet was kaput.

Fortunately, 2 able volunteers and a couple industrial-sized extension cords later, hot tater tots and stews were served and it all worked out. We washed the pots in the upstairs small sink and a utility sink (and then I re-washed and sanitized later).

I learned my lesson. This year, for HOBT’s Post- MayDay Feast, I simplified the equipment and the process. No baking. No deep-frying over the propane burner. No electric percolators for tea (besides, it wasn’t cold & rainy). Belatedly, as in two days before, I  remembered the fuse problem, so I switched a hot African Mafe stew for a room-temp Garbanzo Bean & Cuke salad.

And s**t still happened. For instance, I was all excited about serving Apple & Spinach Detox Juice w/ appetizers, but on Saturday my blender broke. Of course. OK, so plain apple juice then.

[Warning, Whine Alert:  while cleaning my fairly new blender, I over-twisted the plastic part that connects the glass pitcher to the blade mechanism in the stand and it cracked. Contents of blender leaks out in a flood. For this I have to order a new expensive pitcher?!]

I had brought my food processor to the theatre to shred the beets & carrots for the slaw, as well as make the balsamic vinaigrette and whip up the vegan pudding. However, of the hundred items I did bring, I forgot to pack the little tube that attaches the shred blade to the processor. OK, so my volunteer sous chefs hand-chopped the veggies instead. Fine.

Fortunately, these were very minor setbacks. But, they still serve as good opportunities to practice resourcefulness, flexibility and equanimity. Really, you have no choice. Here’s a better story of disaster narrowly averted:

A dear friend/fellow caterer and I help each other with gigs that require teams. Last summer he masterminded a lovely dinner for 30 in a beautiful modern Mtka home. He had prepped a few things and we were to cook most of the meal in their kitchen. We were all set to bake the entree of marinated chicken breast stuffed with sun-dried tomatoes & goat cheese, when we discovered that their oven was too narrow for the large aluminum foil pans. The home had been completely re-done but, the old wall oven had not been replaced. The clients had only one small lasagna pan, and we had 40 chicken breasts!

Attacking the problem on two fronts, one host went out to buy foil pans, while the other ran to the next-door neighbor, whom she knew had a huge restaurant-style gas oven. Her neighbor came to our rescue and not only allowed us to bake 4 pans of chicken in her oven, but also watched them for us. Meanwhile, using the smaller foil pans just purchased, we carried on roasting brussel sprouts and stuffed mushrooms and making sauces, etc.

Dinner was a smashing success. Giving thanks to the neighbor and the Fates, we treated ourselves to a glass of wine and started washing up. And then I inadvertently broke the sink’s faucet!  Pull, push, swivel, it’s confusing. (Moen! I KNOW!! They don’t make ’em like they used to.)  So, I used the little sprayer, a big tub, and we also used the downstairs bar sink.

Deep Breaths. Humor. Resourcefulness. Equanimity. More Humor. A little wine and chocolate helped too.

More April Menus

Here are the menus for next 2 weeks’ Delivered Dish of the Week.
April 15 – 21

1) Gingery Lentil & Carrot Stew. Vegan and gluten-free. A vegetarian staple, to which I will add “ajwain”, an interesting Indian spice that smells like thyme. See previous blog posting “Trying New Spices”.
2) Cumin-scented Kasha Pilaf with Cabbage & Spiced Walnuts.  Vegan and gluten-free. Kasha aka Buckwheat Groats, the whole grain of buckwheat, is NOT related to wheat. It’s an earthy nutty grain with a texture similar to soft brown rice. I discovered it is excellent in a highly spiced Indian-style pilaf with cayenne-dusted walnuts. One particular client who has gluten and other intolerance loves this dish and orders 3 quarts at a time! 

1) Kamut & Veggie Salad in Orange Mint Vinaigrette. Vegan; does contain small amount of gluten. Kamut, like spelt, is an ancient, un-hybridized grain related to wheat. Like spelt, it contains less gluten than wheat. Kamut is wonderfully chewy and therefore terrific in salads. 
2) Simple White Bean Soup with Tarragon. Vegan and Gluten-free. A soupy stew or a thick soup, take your pick. Either way, it will be very comforting, and flavored with the classic mire poix of slow-simmered carrots, celery & onions. I’ll add garnish bags of arugula!  It will thicken as it sits, so you may want to add a little water when you reheat. 

Coming Soon: Garbanzo Bean & Kale Salad in Tahini Dressing; Split Pea Spinach & Fennel Soup; Chicken & Parsnips; something spicy for Cinco de Mayo.  See all past menus on Dish Archive page!

Tools Make the Man (Person)

My cooking lessons ALWAYS start with an evaluation of knives and knife skills. As they say, tools make the man. Many, many people sadly do not have the right kind of knives and/or do not sharpen them at all. Once a year does not count.

I cannot stand using bad knives. My friends and clients know this is a huge pet peeve of mine. I have brought my diamond-edge honer across country on visits to friends’ homes! Yes, I am that obsessed.

The analogy I use is that you would not keep riding a bicycle with flat tires. Why? Because it’s awkward, physically difficult, very inefficient and bad for the bike. So you regularly check them and pump air into them when needed. Otherwise, you will stop riding that bike. Another analogy: you would not use a flat-head screwdriver on a screw shaped for a Phillips screwdriver. Why? Because it’s physically difficult and inefficient. You will give up.

Similarly, it is inefficient, physically awkward and possibly dangerous to use knives that are either not suitable to the task at hand and/or not sharp. You will not enjoy cutting with them. You will avoid it. Guess what — “real” food needs to be cut up. Good knives makes cooking real food much more pleasurable and efficient.

My favorite Asian Chef's Knife, only $5 at Shuang Hur Grocery! Keeps very sharp.

Some people go to Trader Joe’s and buy pre-diced veggies– fine if that is what works for you. However, you should still equip yourself with a few good tools: 2 good knives, a large poly cutting board and a two-slot sharpener. Not the tubular coarse-ridged sharpener that comes with knife sets. Those are not fine-edged enough. And I am not suggesting you spend lots of money. In fact I prefer chef’s knives from restaurant supply stores ($20 for 10″ knife and it’s dishwasher-friendly).

My own favorite knife is a wide 10″ chef’s knife from Shuang Hur Asian Grocery* that costs only $5.00. It sharpens like a dream, and is very light in your hand. I can bang it up and not feel bad. I use it to peel, chop, dice, mince, slice and cleave large hunks of hard root vegetables  and meat. See the butternut squash in photo? I push down once w/ two hands and it’s cut in half. A poly cutting board, as large as can fit on your counter, costs $15-20. A 2-slot sharpener is about $20. A diamond-edged honer from IKEA is $15. So for less than $100, you have tools that will last years and years. 

* Shuang Hur has two stores: one at University & Dale in St Paul, and one at Nicollet Ave & 27th, in Mpls. There is also a smaller version of this knife that is super sharp, but its smaller size means it’s not as all-purpose.