I was just reading an article about canned tuna! Don’t laugh, what else should I be doing on a Saturday morning? I read that according to Reddit, there has been a 30% increase in the mentions of tuna melts on since the pandemic began. Canned tuna references were up 60%! This is what people are doing during the pandemic. Eating tuna, buying tuna, and posting about tuna! It’s a weird new world we’re in, that’s for sure!

I remembered that not too long ago, I had made a tuna noodle casserole upon request for one of my personal chef clients in Willowbrook. She has a houseful of pre-teens, teens, and college students in her big family who are staying home during Covid-19. When I cooked for them last time, I made two giant pans of tuna noodle casserole. I didn’t take a picture of it, and it left my mind, because I kind of thought, “This is a dish nobody wants to really hear about! I’m a personal chef, certainly people aren’t looking to me for dishes like tuna noodle casserole!”  Well. It really was good. I searched and searched for the perfect recipe to adapt. All I knew is I didn’t want any processed gross ingredients in it like canned soup. And to me, for a tuna noodle casserole, you have to have potato chips on the top. What would be the point of eating a tuna noodle casserole without potato chip crumbs? Talk about the perfect comfort food! 

This article also mentioned a new cookbook, which I can’t wait to get. It’s called The Tinned Fish Cookbook: Easy-to-Make Meals from Ocean to Plate by Bart van Olphen. Something about this feels so right for this time we are living in. A lot of my client’s have texted me for ideas on what to make with pantry ingredients, and tuna is high on my list! As are sardines! (Granted, you have to like that kind of thing! Sardines are one of those love it or hate it foods; tuna is more desirable somehow.)

I loved the text message that my personal chef client in Willowbrook sent me the night I made tuna casserole! It validated my feelings about this retro comfort food dish! 

Here is the recipe:

 

TUNA NOODLE CASSEROLE

 

  • 8 ounces small pasta (shells, macaroni, farfalle, whatever you like)
  • 4 Tablespoons butter , divided
  • 1 c. chopped celery
  • 1/4 chopped onion
  • 3/4 cup frozen organic peas (or Trader Joe’s English Peas!)
  • 2 fresh garlic cloves, minced or grated on the microplane.
  • 4 T. flour (Wondra flour, preferably)
  • 1 can broth, low sodium preferably (chicken or vegetable broth)
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • pinch of sea salt
  • pinch of dried dill 
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh choped flatleaf parsley 
  • 1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese , divided
  • 5 ounces good canned Italian tuna packed in oil, drained well.

 Topping:

  • 1/2 cup crushed potato chips
  • 1 Tablespoon butter , melted

Instructions:

  • Cook the pasta until slightly under al-dente.( You want the pasta underdone, since you’re going to bake the casserole.)
  • Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a large skillet.  Add onion,celery,and garlic and saute for a few minutes.  Add the peas, and remove vegetables from pan and set aside.
  • Melt the remaining 3 tablespoons butter to the pan; add the Wondra and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds or so.  Slowly whisk in the chicken broth and milk, stirring constantly until smooth.  Let it simmer for a few minutes.
  • Stir constantly until thickened and bubbly, 2-3 minutes.  Reduce heat to low and add salt, dill, lemon juice, parsley, and 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese.  
  • Remove from heat and stir in the pasta, vegetables and tuna.  Pour mixture into a 9×13’’ or similar size baking dish.  Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese.
  • Mix the potato chips/butter together and sprinkle it over the casserole.
  • Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes

Enjoy! You may never again eat a casserole like this with abandon! Why shouldn’t you? It’s the perfect thing to eat during a pandemic! Comfort in the form of good canned tuna and egg noodles! And of course, potato chips! 

 

 

 

 

I do love Trader Joe’s. Going there used to be just another errand, although I always enjoyed it. Now it has become one of the few bright spots of this awful Coronavirus pandemic time. Every time I go, the workers could not be nicer or friendlier. It’s such a highlight. The grocery store workers really are heroes. On one of my last trips, I picked up the new Watermelon Fruit Spread. At first taste, I thought it might be a tad too sweet, but I decided to incorporate it into some recipes. As it happens, I was cooking as a personal chef for one of my seniors the next day. She is in her 80s, has a sweet tooth, and loves watermelon, so I knew these would be right up her alley. Watermelon Thumprint Cookies. I don’t think I’ve ever made thumbprint cookies unless it was at Christmastime, but hey, why not? They were delicious. Buttery and crisp, with the watermelon jam plopped in the middle. I took these to her, along with a bunch of meals. I also brought coffee cake, some groceries, some books for her to read, and we got to chat and catch up in the yard from many feet away! It was the best part of my week. Cooking for seniors is one of the things I love best about being a personal chef. They always make my day. (As an added bonus, she called me when I was on the way home to tell me she had already dug into the cookies and that she loved them!)

 

Here is the recipe:

 

 Watermelon Thumbprint Cookies
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), softened
2/3 cup sugar, (plus about 1/4 cup more for rolling the cookies in)
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup Trader Joe’s Watermelon Fruit Spread
Preheat oven to 350 degrees . Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together in a bowl.
In another bowl, beat the butter and the sugar with a hand-held mixer until fluffy. Beat in the egg and vanilla until just combined. Slowly beat in the dry ingredients in 2 additions. Don’t overmix.
Scoop the dough into 1-inch balls and roll in sugar. Place about 2-inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Press a thumbprint into the center of each ball, about 1/2-inch deep. Fill each indentation with about 3/4 teaspoon jam.
Bake cookies until the edges are golden, about 15 minutes. (Rotate pans halfway through.) 

 

One of the sides that I made for a Memorial Day weekend BBQ side was Trofie Caprese Salad. This family whom I work for as a personal chef in Wheaton, is all still staying at home and being safe. Their philosophy is to make their home a sanctuary, still celebrate and live well!  Fortunately for me, for them that does not mean spending hours in the kitchen. They thought they would do a casual family bbq this weekend, but they didn’t want the same old same old side dishes. But there was a caveat;  one of the kids loves pasta salads, but doesn’t like “weird” food! (If he had his way, he would eat noodles at every meal!)  I thought this caprese trofie pasta side dish fit the bill. It’s familiar, but a little different than usual.  Trofie pasta is one of my favorite shapes; it’s a short twisted pasta. Everyone has had pasta salads, some that are just godawful and oily from the grocery store. Those really leave a bad taste in your mouth, literally and figuratively. This trofie pasta makes this salad a little elevated and unexpected. It couldn’t have been easier to throw together. I boiled the trofie pasta in salted water (LOTS of sea salt. It should taste like the sea. This is your only chance to flavor the pasta so using plenty of sea salt in this step is crucial!) Drain, toss with extra virgin olive oil and a little sea salt. Throw in some grape or cherry  tomatoes and fresh mozzarella ciliegine. If you can find the little pearl fresh mozzarella balls, that’s even better.  Toss in some freshly torn basil at the end. This is great for lunch or as a side for a bbq. I made a giant batch, so they can pick on this in the refrigerator in the coming days! If your personal chef is going to make a pasta salad, it definitely needs to be a very good one! 

 

 

 

Mixed Berry Cobbler and Vanilla Bean Ice Cream! That’s what’s for dessert for Memorial Day weekend! As a personal chef, I am always trying to incorporate seasonal ingredients.  Especially now, during this pandemic, I feel it’s so important to recognize the changes in our seasons and produce, and to celebrate whenever and whatever we can!  Cherries are back in season! That was the highlight of my month! This weekend, I cooked for one of my longtime clients, a lovely couple who hired me as their personal chef in Riverside. I picked up some great ribeye steaks for him to grill, and I handled the sides. I made Elote Corn Salad, French Bread with Herbed Butter for him to grill, and a really delicious Mixed Berry Cobbler. I am a sucker for a cobbler, a buckle, a crisp, a dumpling, a slump… there are a million different ways to make a cooked fruit dessert with a baked topping. I have made some that are healthy and light, with tons of berries, very little sugar, and an oat topping. This one was more traditional, with a topping made of flour, butter, milk, sugar and baking powder. I brought some great vanilla bean ice cream for them to serve with it.  (I was tempted to put this in a foil baking pan, and leave it for him to grill. Grilled desserts are so fun and unexpected, but ultimately I decided he had enough to do! He loves to grill, but he likes to relax on his deck just as much, so I thought I’d better make the dessert and leave it for them to heat up at their convenience!)

I made an extra for the freezer, but I don’t think it’s going to make it that far! Summer is here. It hasn’t been canceled. Fruit desserts like cobblers, buckles and slumps will help us celebrate!

I have been a personal chef for a family in Oakbrook for several years. In the beginning of the pandemic a few weeks ago, they decided to take a break, and I was only cooking for my essential needs clients. (I was cooking for people with compromised immune systems, essential workers, people with serious illnesses, people on special medical diets, etc.) Recently, when I incorporated my no-contact service, she decided to resume! She said she had been cooking like crazy, which she enjoyed for the first few weeks, but was ready for some help! That’s why she hired a personal chef to begin with! And now she really needed the break! I love the way she thinks. She has gone above board to make her home a sanctuary, and a fun place for her kids during this “break”.  In the beginning, she called me for some advice on easy dinners that she could make, and it sounded like she was really having fun being in the kitchen for the first time in years.  Then she needed a break! She called because she and her kids were craving the pan-grilled filet mignon that I had made for them many times. She tried to make it, but it’s not turning out. (We are planning on a cooking day where I can show her how easy it is to pan-grill a steak! If worse comes to worse, we will do it over Zoom! )

As for procuring good meat, I have found that shopping at local meat markets is the way to go these days. Some grocery stores have limited the amount of meat each customer can buy. Luckily, I live right near Wheaton Meat Company which has locally sourced meat from local farms. Their quality cannot be beat. If I can’t make it to Wheaton Meat, then I am always happy with the meat at Pete’s Fresh Market. 

For my personal chef clients in Oakrbrook, I also made lots of fresh bright vegetables, and added a meatless meal as well! She and the kids are enjoying the occasional meatless meal, like Vegetarian Curry or Dal! I also made extra pan-grilled filet, and sliced it up so she could use it for a quick snack after her at-home workouts! This mom is juggling a lot, and having a personal chef when she needs one is helping her live her best life, as she likes to say!