Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Wonders of the Pressure Cooker

I must admit that for years I was afraid of pressure cookers!  My mother used  hers religiously back when I was a kid, but I think the constant warnings to "stand back" and "do not touch" made me afraid to have one.  It also didn't help that it was constantly jiggled, hissed and let out steam in every direction.  After doing some online research it seems that I'm not the only one who had a pressure cooker phobia growing up.

All this changed about two years ago when I started my Personal Chef business.  I needed to speed up the cooking process on some of my favorite dishes.  I knew that a pressure cooker would be the solution so I had to take the plunge and purchase my first pressure cooker.    I will let Alton Brown do what he does best and explain the mechanics of pressure cookers and  the types available.

 Now, I honestly don't know what to do without my pressure cooker.  It's great for last minute food preparation and allows me to put a meal on our table in less than hour.  Cooking rice the traditional method takes about 20 minutes; however with a pressure cooker rice is ready in less than 7.  That's great news for impatient cooks like me!  I think every cook should learn how to use one as it's such a time saver. You can put any type of meat, including cheaper tough cuts in there and it will be cooked quickly and will be tender and flavorful.   The newer models are so safe, easy to use and you can pick up a good one for less than $60.

A few nights ago while shopping for groceries I found beef brisket on sale.  I thought of all the possibilities for the brisket, but settled on brisket sandwiches made with fresh Italian bread, topped with tomatoes and avocado and served with a light potato salad.  Normally, a beef brisket would take about 3-4 hours to prepare.  Using my pressure cooker, it only took about an hour.

Spicy Beef Brisket

Cook Time: 60 minutes


  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 serrano chili, seeded and minced (optional)
  • 1-1/2 Tbsp. brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. chili powder
  • 1 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp. cumin
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. pepper
  • 3 lbs. beef brisket, trimmed (you can ask your butcher to do this for you)
  • 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 cooking liquid (water, beer, wine, broth, tomato sauce - whatever you have on hand)
  • 1 Avocado
  • 1 Tomato


Combine garlic, chili, sugar, chili powder, vinegar, cumin, and salt in a large zip top bag. Rub this mixture over all sides of the beef brisket. Marinate for 30 minutes or over night. Heat oil in a pressure cooker over medium high heat. Cook meat uncovered 6-8 minutes, turning to brown both sides. Add cooking liquid, lifting the meat to let some of the liquid go underneath. Add onion wedges and the marinade, then cover pressure cooker and bring to high pressure. Cook for 1 hour at stabilized pressure. Release pressure and remove lid. Slice meat across the grain. Serve pan juices with meat. 8 servings 
While the brisket was cooking, I assembled a light potato salad.  I will post the recipe soon.
Of course you can serve the brisket with a simple salad, rice, baked potatoes, etc.  We chose to have sandwiches!  Because it was quick and easy.

For my sandwich, I dipped the bread in the pan juices, then added the brisket meat, tomato slices and avocados.  T chose to have his with some homemade BBQ sauce.  Either way...it was DELICIOUS.

Beef Brisket Sandwich

If you have any questions on how to use a pressure cooker please feel free to email me.  You can also visit our store to purchase your very own pressure cooker.  6-Quart is the standard.


Monday, September 27, 2010

Parmesan Zucchini Sticks

After an entire summer of fresh zucchini; I needed a new recipe that would entice T to have zucchini once more before the end of the season. I thought of making tempura veggies for dinner, but I really didn't want to clean up a huge mess. I looked through my cookbooks, Mastercook, but still no inspiration. Finally, while searching online I came across a recipe from Giada de Laurentiis I liked the idea of a simple coating -- but still I didn't want to fry and I didn't have any Panko.  I looked around my pantry and fridge and came up with the following side dish.

Parmesan Zucchini Sticks


3 medium zucchini, cut into 3-inch long by 1/2-inch wide strips
1 1/2 cups bread crumbs (you can use seasoned or season your plain bread crumbs with Italian Seasoning or you favorite seasoning combos)
2 egg whites (feel free to use 2 whole eggs - I had egg whites left from another recipe)
2 Tablespoons butter milk (optional)
1/2 cup flour
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp black pepper
1/4 cup Parmesan
Salt and Pepper to taste
Sheet Pan coated with cooking spray or olive oil


Preheat oven to 350.

In a shallow plate, combine flour, garlic powder, paprika, black pepper and salt/pepper. In another plate, beat the egg and buttermilk. Then finally combine your bread crumbs and 2 Tablespoons of the Parmesean Cheese.  

I used paper plates because I don't have a dish washer and I can just throw out the mess when I'm done.  Sometimes, you just have to keep things simple and clean.

Dip zucchini sticks into flour mixture, then egg mixture, then coat with crumb mixture.  Place on your sheet pan.  Continue until all the sticks have been coated.  This is also a great place to get the kids involved.   My greatest memories of my mom was helping her with kitchen projects - like dumpling cutting and fried chicken.  If you are worried that they will make a mess then spread newspaper under the plates and then you can just toss the entire mess in the trash when they are done.  Come on...let them help.

Spray the zucchini sticks with cooking spray or drizzle with 2 Tablespoons of olive oil (whatever you have on hand).  Bake for 15-20 minutes or until they are golden.  Sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan cheese.  Serve immediately.

Tip: Definitely wash your zucchini but don't peel because most of the nutrients are in the skin.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Easy Entertaining

Ever wanted to have the girls over for a light dinner and dessert and just don't know what to serve for dinner?  What do you do when one likes avocados and the other refuses to eat olives? Easy Solution:  serve a salad bar with varied toppings to please everyone. 

Last Saturday, I did just that by creating a Chef Salad bar.

I began the process by roasting three chicken breast (bone in) with some olive oil, thyme, salt and pepper.  While, the chicken was roasting, I chopped all my veggies, cooked turkey bacon in the microwave, and made a home made dressing.  I rounded out the salad with a couple of different cheeses: Feta, Gorgonzola and Sharp Cheddar.

Here are some topping ideas:

Greens - bib/boston lettuce, romaine, arugula, ice burg are a few of my favorites
Peppers - I sliced a few fresh banana peppers, but feel free to use bell peppers, hot peppers or pickled ones.
Onions - chives, shallots, spring onions, red or sweet
Shredded Carrots
Home made croutons or pita chips
Smoked Turkey
Grilled Shrimp
Dried Cranberries or Cherries
Mandarin Oranges
Cheese- Blue, Feta, Gorgonzola, Cheddar, Fresh Mozzarella - you get the picture

I placed a large platter next to my chopping board, and plopped the veggies on the platter as I finished chopping.  The cucumbers were peeled, seeded and diced. Shallots, banana peppers, tomatoes, chicken (was de-boned) and cubed. Lettuce was also cut into bite size pieces. Lastly, the avocados were sliced and drizzled with lime juice, salt and pepper.

T was excited to have a BLT salad with Cheddar cheese while I ate mine as a Chef Salad with all the toppings, plus Gorgonzola cheese.

I intended on making a balsamic vinaigrette, but I forgot to buy the balsamic vinegar.  I used what I had in the fridge to make a yummy salad dressing.

Here is my recipe for a Pomegranate Vinaigrette:


1/4 cup Pomegranate Juice (there are now blueberry and cherry blends)
1 tsp of coarse Dijon mustard
1/2 shallot grated on a micro-plane
2 tsp honey
3-4  tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Place all ingredient in a box and whisk thoroughly.   Serve dressing on the side so guest can choose how much or little to use.  ENJOY!!

and for dessert:
Pecan Pie
What's your favorite dessert?

Monday, September 6, 2010

Creme Brulee

In preparation for a 50th birthday dinner I have been testing Creme Brulee recipes.  I've made Creme Brulee before, but it's been so long that I figured it would be good to do a few test runs.  T was excited at the prospect of having to buy a torch to use-- power tools in the kitchen--that's HOT ;)

I have several recipes to test, orange flavored, chocolate, and traditional with vanilla bean - amongst others.  This weekend I decided to try the traditional version.  The most difficult part is to properly temper the eggs with the cream to prevent from scrambling the eggs.  Standing in my kitchen I thought of my teenage years when I decided to make Tapioca pudding and I made scrambled egg tapioca.  Not very good if you were wondering.  Luckily, that was many years ago and I've grown to be much more patient.

I did a bit of research to find a good torch.  I suggest going to a hardware store or even Home Depot to find an inexpensive torch.  Of course, you can always go to World Market to find one.  Or you can find one using our online store.

The basic recipe is simple.  Here is what you will need:


  • 1 quart heavy cream
  • 1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
  • 1 cup sugar, divided
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 2 quarts hot water

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Place the cream, vanilla bean and its pulp into a heavy saucepan set over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat, and allow to sit for 15 minutes. Remove the vanilla bean and reserve for another use.

In a medium bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup sugar and the egg yolks until well blended and it just starts to lighten in color.

Add the cream a little at a time, stirring continually. Pour the liquid into 6 (7 to 8-ounce) ramekins. Place the ramekins into a large cake pan or roasting pan. Pour enough hot water into the pan to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake just until the creme brulee is set, but still trembling in the center, approximately 40 to 45 minutes. Remove the ramekins from the roasting pan and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 3 days.

Find a large pan that will fit the ramekins.  I had to do a few test runs to find a pan large enough

Remove the creme brulee from the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes prior to browning the sugar on top. Divide the remaining 1/2 cup vanilla sugar equally among the 6 dishes and spread evenly on top. Using a torch, melt the sugar and form a crispy top. Allow the creme brulee to sit for at least 5 minutes before serving

The sugar is very easy to melt - I even let T give it a try

If you need some assistance find the tools or ingredients for this recipe, please see the store below:


Meatloaf and Roasted Potatoes

 Thursday September 2, 2010

Mmmm....comfort food.  

Meatloaf is a versatile recipe that can easily go from traditional to Italian with just a few different ingredients swaps.  I've even stuffed meatloaf with pesto and fresh Mozzarella then topped it with a fresh tomato sauce.  Another swap out can be to change the seasonings to include Garam Masala or Middle Eastern Baharat in place of the traditional Worcestershire sauce.    Meatloaf leftovers are most amazing when made into a sandwiches or even a pressed paninis.  

Everyone should know how to make a basic meatloaf. It's one of the great go to recipes for weeknight dinners or special occasions.  I make my meatloaf using the basic kitchen staples.  Also, sauteing veggies for meatloaf helps keeps in the moisture.  Here is my recipe:

Traditional Meatloaf

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 tsp thyme 
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tbsp. tomato paste
  • 1/3 cup canned chicken stock or broth
  • 2 1/2 pounds ground chuck (81 percent lean)
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs ( feel free to use seasoned or unseasoned breadcrumbs)
  • 2 extra-large eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup ketchup 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Heat olive oil in a saute pan. Add the onions, bell pepper, thyme, salt, and pepper and cook over medium-low heat, until the onions are translucent but not brown. Turn off heat and remove from heat.  Add the Worcestershire sauce, tomato paste, and chicken stock. Allow the mixture to cool slightly.

In a large bowl, combine the ground chuck, onion mixture, bread crumbs, and eggs, and mix (I like to use my hands to mix).  Shape the mixture into a rectangular loaf on a cookie sheet. Spread the ketchup evenly on top. Bake for 1 hour. 

(Cooks Tips :  I learned this originally from Martha Stewart, but was reminded of it on Food Network recently - A pan of hot water in the oven, under the meatloaf  will keep the top from cracking)

I served the meatloaf with roasted potatoes.  I count two small red potatoes per person - 4 per person for T.  I quarter them and then toss them with one tablespoon of olive oil, 1 tsp of thyme, 1 tsp of rosemary, 1 tsp dried parsley, and salt and pepper.  Toss to coat then roast at 400 for 15-20 minutes or until golden.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Sunshine Salsa and Hummus

 Over the summer I had the opportunity to participate in our local Farmers Market(s) to sell our line of Salsas and Hummus.  The experience was educational on so many levels - it still amazes me!!  During the first few weeks I learned several life lessons. Mostly, learned about kindness, being helpful/giving and lasting friendships.  Within days of working the market, my home was filled with fresh cut sunflowers, watermelons, breads, jelly and OKRA.  All this for simply working at the market -- other vendors would ask if we could barter products while the farmers gave away fruits and veggies just for keeping them company.  I'm grateful for this experience and I'm sad to be saying good bye to market season.  There are only a few weeks left to the Farmers Markets here in Georgia so go out and support your local vendors.  Not only will you buy an amazingly fresh products, but you will also help a vendor make their sales goals.

One products that we experimented with was Pita Chips.  The process was time consuming and the sales weren't great. 
Pita chips are a great way to use old or stale pita or flat breads.  One of the easiest way to jazz up party dips is by making your own warm and crunchy pita chips.

Here is an easy Pita Chip recipe:


6 pitas
3 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 Teaspoon Kosher Salt
Black Pepper (to taste)
1 Teaspoon dried oregano


Cut each pita in half and then into 8 wedges. Arrange the pita wedges on a large baking sheet. Pour the 3 tablespoons oil over the pitas. Toss and spread out the wedges evenly. Sprinkle with the oregano, salt, and pepper. Bake for 8 to 12 minutes, or until toasted and golden in color. 

Serve the pita toasts warm or at room temperature alongside your favorite Sunshine Salsa or Hummus :) 

To all of our friends at the Markets thank you.  We have learned more about life from than you can ever imagine.  I say it daily, but I love my community.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

We are trying something new! Meatless Wednesdays.

A few weeks ago I told T that many of my chef friends were adopting "Meatless Mondays".  The verdict was we would give it a try as long as it wasn't Tofu or Mondays.  Mondays are tough to get through as it is.

Today was week two of meatless Wednesdays.  Last week's meal was OK, but it still felt too heavy for vegetarian.  Since today was my day off, I started my morning laying in bed and reading cookbooks.  Yes!  I read cookbooks the way most people devour novels...it's a sickness really.  I flipped through my cookbook, Around the  World in 450 Recipes, and the Coconut Chapatis intrigued me.  This is an East African bread that is served as a snack or an accompaniment to a meal.    The best part, the ingredients are simple and I had all of them on hand.   Next, was trying to find an entree to go along with the Chapatis.  A few sections away was a recipe for Madras Sambal.  There are many variations of this popular dish but it is regularly cooked in one form or another in almost every south-Indian home.  The great news is, you can use any combination of vegetables that are in season.  I had potatoes in my pantry, and Mr. Wyndham just gave me a bag full of green beans and peppers.  So tonight's dinner will have an international theme and I don't have to leave the house to make it.

First, I started with the Chapatis since they had several steps.  Admittedly I don't like to bake, or prepare dough from scratch unless its a special occasion.  This recipe seemed simple enough for me, but I will say this is not a quick weeknight recipe.  So you may want to substitute store bought Naan or Chapatis.

Coconut Chapatis
Makes 10 pieces


4 Cups Flour (I used half wheat half white)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/4 cups coconut milk
vegetable oil, for shallow frying


1.  Place the flour and salt in a large bowl and gradually stir in the coconut milk to make a soft dough.  Bring together with your hands. 

2. Turn the dough out on to a floured work surface and knead with your hands to form a firm but pliable dough, adding more flour if the dough is on the sticky side.
4 Brush the rounds with oil, and twist into a ring, tucking the ends into the  middle.  Place on a floured board and set aside for 15 minutes. 

5. Roll out each of the dough rings to 8 inch rounds.  Brush a heavy non stick frying pan with oil and cook the chapatis for 3-4 minutes on each side until golden brown.  

The bread was a hit with T.  I think he ate two before dinner was even ready. 

*** COOKING TIP: Before starting the bread, I cooked the lentil.  Then I proceeded to the dough.  While the dough was resting; I peeled and quartered the potatoes and par boiled for 10 minutes. 

Madras Sambal
Serves 4
1 cup red lentils (toovar dhal)
2 1/2 cups water
1/2 tsp. turmeric
2 large potatoes, cubed
2 Tbsp oil
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
1/4 tsp fenugreek seeds
4 Curry Leaves
1 onion chopped
1 cup green beans, cut into 1 inch
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp Indian Chili Powder (or more if you want Heat)
1 Tbsp. lime juice
unsweetened coconut, toasted

1. Wash the lentils in several changes of water.  Place in a heavy-based saucepan with the water and the turmerice.  Bring to boil, cover and simmer for 30-35 minutes or until the lentils are soft.
2. Par-boil the potatoes in a large pan of boiling water for 10 minutes.  Drain and set aside.  **See cooking tip.
3.  Heat the oil in large frying pan and fry the mustard and fenugreek seeds and curry leaves for 2-3 minutes or until the seeds begin to splutter.  Add the sliced onion and the green beans and stir fry for 7-8 minutes.  Then add the par-boiled potatoes and cook for another 2-3 minutes.
4.  Stir in the Lentils with the salt, chili powder and lime juice and simmer for 2 more minutes.  Garnish with coconut and serve with freshly made chapatis or Basmati Rice.

If you need some assistance finding the spices above, please visit our store below.