A personal chef’s tips and tricks for perfect thanksgiving mashed potatoes!

 

As a personal chef, I think I must have made classic mashed potatoes literally thousands of times!  Seeing that Thanksgiving is right around the corner, I thought it would be an ideal time to share my mashed potato secrets!

First and foremost, is the potato itself! To my way of thinking, it must be a russet potato. Another name for russet is baking potato; sometimes called Idaho potatoes. While it may be true that you can use another potato, such as Yukon Gold,  none have the right texture that the baking potato has. That is to say, a floury, light fluffy texture. Balanced against more waxy varieties, such as Yukon golds, or red skinned potatoes, I will opt for the russet every time!

Now that you have the right kind of potatoes, the next step cooking them.  Most importantly, cook them in liberally salted water, after you have peeled and diced them. As long as we’re on the subject of salt, I should mention that salt is one of the most important elements of great mashed potatoes. While it may be true that most blogs and the Food Network would have you beleive that kosher salt is the way to go, I opt for sea salt. The reason for this, is I like the subtle flavor of sea salt; compared to table salt, which has a harsh chemical taste. To that end, I’m not a big fan of pinching my fingers into an open container of salt either. 

So, after you have cooked the potatoes in the simmering salted water, until just fork tender. What this means is, simply pierce them with a fork and see if the tines easily go through. You don’t want them waterlogged and falling apart, so test earlier than you think you need to. 

The next step is to drain them very thouroughly. I like to put them back in the stockpot over a low flame for a few seconds, shaking the pot, so some of the water evaporates from the potatoes.

Now that your potatoes are cooked, it’s time to mash them.  To my mind, this is the most important step; you need a ricer! Nothing will give you the smooth fluffy texture that a ricer will give. For example, if you use a hand mixer, or god forbid  a food processor, your potatoes will be gluey. These are the tips that I love to share from all of my years as a personal chef! 

Have lots of room temperature unsalted butter on hand, as well as room temperature cream cheese. Put some whole milk (and cream if you like) into the stockpot (it’s not necessary to dirty another pot!) and warm it.  

After you have riced the potatoes, put in much more butter than a reasonable person would use. This is Thanksgiving, it’s no time to skimp or watch calories, if you ask me. 

For example, for 5 pounds of potatoes, I would use two sticks of butter, minimum. Also a block of cream cheese, and only enough warm milk/cream to make it the right texture. My advice is to take it easy and go slow while you are stirring the milk in; it can go from perfect to too runny in no time flat! Sprinkle more sea salt than you are accostomed to using, too! Potatoes need a lot more salt than other foods do.

So there you have it. To summarize: russett potatoes. Cook them in salted water. Drain thoroughly. Rice them. Add tons of unsalted butter, cream cheese and warm milk or cream and plenty of sea salt! These are the perfect Thanksgiving Mashed Potatoes! If I keep giving tips like this, you won’t even need a personal chef! 

 

 

 

From time to time, as a personal chef, I love to leave little surprises for my clients. For example, if they are salad eaters, and not on a restricted diet, I love to leave a bag of homemade croutons. Once ina while, it’s nice to have a buttery, crunchy sourdough crouton to bite into! Being that most of the plate is greens and fresh vegetables, I say why not! 

Being that so few people eat croutons, much less homemade ones, this somehow seems like a special treat! To be sure, the quality of the ingredients matter! (In truth, it always does, doesn’t it?) In this case, I use good bread, unsalted good quality butter. (For example, Kerrygold or Trader Joe’s unsalted butter are both good choices!)  Lastly, the seasoning matters! Here, I used Penzey’s Sandwich Sprinkle; if you’re not familiar with Penzey’s spices, check them out! They have fantastic spices that will up your cooking prowess. I love using their blends; Northwoods seasoning, Fox Point, Bavarian to name a few!

Below is the “recipe”. It is meant to be adapted to your taste. The only caution I would add, is to not be afraid to se this much butter. Good croutons are made with lots of butter, that’s just the way it is.  So long as you’re not eating a diet of mostly croutons, this personal chef says you are going to be just fine with this amount of butter on occasion! 

 

Homemade Croutons

1 loaf of good bread (Sourdough, french, Italian, Ciabatta; whatever you like is fine.)

1 stick of unsalted butter

3 Tablespoons (at least) of extra virgin oilve oil

All purpose seasoning (any is fine; I like to use Penzey’s Sandwich Sprinkle. If yours doesn’t have salt, don’t forget to add sea salt.)

A few smashed garlic cloves

Fresh finely chopped parsley

 

  1. Cut the bread in large bite sized pieces. Toast them in a 325 degree oven until completely dry, and starting to get a little brown around the edges.
  2. Heat he butter and olive oil in a pan, on low heat. When hot, add the bread cubes and season with Penzey’s Sandwich Sprinkle or all purpose seasoning and sea salt. Toss around gently every few minutes, so all sides are coated.
  3. After 10 minutes or so, add the smashed garlic. Continue to cook until the cubes become golden. Add more olive oil if necessary. Add the fresh parsley toward the end, and toss gently.

That’s all there is to it! They will keep for several days. If you like, you can re-crisp them up in a low oven. 

 

 

 

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I work as a personal chef in Naperville, and one of my clients just accepted a job that takes her out of town frequently. Of course, she is thrilled, but wants her family to eat well while she’s away on business trips. Naturally, that’s where I come in! 

We decided to kick things off by doing a few meal prep Sundays together.  Being that she had some family favorite recipes, it was my job to go shopping for the ingredients. After that, I  spent the day cooking some of these favorite tried-and true recipes!  (Of course, we maintained social distance, and the kitchen was well ventilated; we were both wearing masks as well!)  As a result, I was able to make several dinners with side dishes for her family to pop in the oven and heat very easily. 

Needless to say, her family will miss her when she is traveling, but the house will smell great in the evenings, and they will all get to eat homemade meals. This is such a relief to her and gives her a peace of mind to know everyone is eating good healthy food in her absence!  

Let me give you an example of what I am making each week for this family:

This Week’s Menu

  • Individual Turkey Meatloaf with Smashed Redskin Potatoes and Haricots Vert.
  • Pan Grilled Skirt Steak with Bacon Chimichurri, Roasted Butternut Squash and Roasted Broccolini.
  • Vegetable Curry with Chickpeas, Spinach, Sweet Potatoes and Cauliflower
  • Mixed Greens Salad with Red Wine Vinaigrette
  • Oat and Date Bars 
  • Brownies! Lots of Brownies! 

 

I also decided that as an unexpected treat, I would make a big batch of snack mix, since the kids were having friends over! I made Chex Mix and Puppy Chow, and put them in individual containers. That way,  all of the kids could share snacks, while staying safe in the backyard.

It is my mission to make this mom’s life easier while she transitions into this new job and hectic busy life! It is my job as her personal chef to help her do just that! 

 

 

 

Working as a personal chef in Glen Ellyn for a lovely senior lady is always a highlight of my week.  To be sure, she has a sweet tooth! In light of that, I always make her extra treats like breakfast breads, baked goods, and desserts!

Whenever I am cooking for seniors, I try to allow extra time so that we can have time to visit and catch up. Now that our world has changed, that means in the yard from several feet away, while both wearing masks! 

While it may be true that we have to stay a few feet apart, we can still chat at length! She keeps me updated on her family, her interests, and her friends. I always enjoy our time together. I think she enjoys our visits as much as she enjoys the food! She has lots of homemade food to choose from in her refrigerator, as well as brownies and some mini muffins.  I know she loves pineapple, so I made her some pineapple bread, which turned out great! Very moist; the almond extract really was key here!

Sooner or later we will be able to talk inside and get caught up! Until then, I am going to thoroughly enjoy my time with her, and I think she does as well! Without a doubt, having a personal chef is more about the food, to her, and I couldnt’ agree more!

 

Pineapple Bread

Makes 2 loaves, or 5 mini loaves

 

½ cup unsalted butter, softened

1 cup sugar

2 eggs, room temperature

¼ t. Almond extract

2 cups all purpose flour

1 t. Baking powder

3/4 t. Salt

½ cup chopped walnuts 

1 cup canned crushed pineapple (drained)

 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Mix butter and sugar until creamy, about 1 minute. Add eggs one at a time. Add almond extract.

In a separate bowl, mix flour, baking powder and salt. Next, add to the butter mixture. Add walnuts. Add crushed pineapple. Put into loaf pans that have been oiled/floured. Bake for approx. 45 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the middle comes out clean.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have been working as a personal chef in Winnetka, for a lovely woman who has been following the Whole30 program for several years. When she is “on a round” as they say, she needs lots of portions of quick-to-heat, easy meals to make it easy for her to stay on the program. To be sure, this soup fits the bill!

This soup is bright and flavorful; with lemongrass, ginger, garlic and chiles, how could it not be? In addition, the sweetness of the pineapple balances the heat of the chiles. 

Of course, you can adapt this soup to your liking. For example, galangal would work beautifully in place of the ginger. In fact, galangal would provide more of a strong punch, if ginger doesn’t ring your bells. It would also be delicious with other fresh toppings. In fact, chopped tomatoes, jalapenos would be nice; and a combination of mint, basil and cilantro!

The recipe is below; I hope you enjoy it as this personal chef enjoys making it! In addition, I have lots of other soup ideas here:    Menus  many of them can be adapted to make them Whole30 friendly! 

 

 

Whole30 Tom Yum Soup

Serves 4

2 lbs. medium raw shrimp, peeled and deveined

2 T. coconut oil

4 stalks lemongrass (smashed and chopped finely)

1 T. minced garlic

1 T. minced fresh ginger

2 Thai chiles, sliced 

2 sliced bell peppers

6 c. water (or make a quick shrimp stock with the shrimp shells)

1 lime (zest and juice)

8 oz sliced mixed mushrooms

2 c. chopped fresh pineapple

2 t. fish sauce

1 T coconut aminos

Garnis: Fresh cilantro, lime wedges.

 

  1. Heat the coconut oil, and saute the lemongrass, garlic, ginger and chopped chiles for a couple of minutes, until fragrant. Add the mushrooms and bell peppers and saute another minute.
  2. Add the water or broth, pineapple, fish sauce and coconut aminos. Simmer 15 minutes.
  3. Add the shrimp and simmer until they turn pink. (It will only take a couple of minutes.)
  4. Serve, topped with chopped fresh cilantro and lime wedges.

 

 

 

The perfect meatloaf recipe; does that exist? Meatloaf lovers always seem to have strong opinions about what makes a great meatloaf.  So, I’m going to share the best meatloaf I have ever had;  that probably sounds like bragging, but it’s true!  I’ll toot my own horn here!

As much as I love this meatloaf, I don’t get to make it as often as I like. The reason for that, is most of my personal chef clients are not terribly interested in comfort food; they hired a personal chef to make interesting, flavorful foods of all different varieties. Meatloaf is not usually up their alley!

However, when I am cooking for one of my senior clients, it seems more often than not, they want familiar classic dishes they have had all their lives. (That’s a pretty broad generalization; but it’s true 9 times out of 10!)

Undeniably, one of the highlights of my 16 year career is cooking for seniors. Because of this, over the years, I have often though of specializing in being a personal chef for seniors and retirees. 

Although most of my business for my in-home cooking service are busy professionals and families, over the years, I have been so lucky to be able to cook for many seniors as well!

Cooking for seniors is such a rewarding experience for me.  For instance, they sit in the kitchen with me, or nearby, as I cook. We visit and talk about food, family, and their history. It’s so interesting to get to know them, and it has been an honor to become friends with many of them.

These days, during the pandemic, I make time for us to see each other and catch up on their decks or in their yards from several feet away.

In my experience, I have found that seniors usually like a phone call before their cooking day; not an email!  Consequently, I always allow plenty of time, especially now, during Covid-19, for us to chat and catch up on the phone. Because of this, and many other reasons, this aspect of cooking for the older generation may not be for everyone. I really enjoy it; I make time for them and I slow down to listen to them.

Whenever one of my senior clients off to share their old recipes with me, that they made for their kids years ago, it’s such an honor. Undeniably, one of the best compliments I’ve ever received was when the grown daughter of one of my clients said that the meatloaf recipe she shared with me tasted just like it did when her mom made it 50 years ago!

Here’s an example: a client’s grown son told me that my cooking service has allowed his mom to remain in her home and stay independent. He doesn’t worry about her trying to cook her meals. Quite often, she asks me to make a big dish, a big lasagna or chicken pot pie, and she has her 3 grown grandchildren over for dinner.

Having a personal chef turns out to be a time-saver for the children of seniors, and I really strive to improve their quality of life in any way that I can.

The point is, my cooking days with that I have with seniors are always the best part of my week!

Indeed, this is my all time favorite meatloaf recipe.  (Despite it being much different than the one my client shared with me years ago. For example, hers included Wheaties, and green pepper. She is gone now, but I still think of her when I make meatloaf.)

Here is how to make it:

 

Classic Meatloaf Recipe

Mirepoix (onion, celery, carrot) (available at Trader Joe’s, and other grocers; or chop your own)

Chopped Green Pepper

Butter

Sea Salt

Tomato Paste

Fish Sauce

Ground Beef/Veal/Pork. (local meat markets probably have a “meatloaf mix” with this blend.)

Fresh Breadcrumbs, crusts removed

Whole Milk

Eggs

Organic Ketchup (Trader Joe’s ketchup is very good. Don’t use anything with artificial sweeteners, or HFCS.)

Then, saute the mirepoix and green pepper  (I usually hate green pepper, but here it works), in BUTTER, with sea salt, until very soft, maybe 10 minutes. Then add TOMATO PASTE, let that cook 5 minutes or so, until the raw tomato taste is gone. The next step is: I add just a little FISH SAUCE. (If that sounds weird to you, you’re not alone! But fish sauce is a great way to add umami!)  Anyway, I let that cool. Add fresh breadcrumbs, which I have soaked in milk, just enough to moisten the breadcrumbs. Next is the  BEEF/PORK/VEAL.

After that, add the eggs, mix it all up, form into a loaf and top generously with ketchup.  Bake until an internal thermometer reads 165 degrees. 

 

I am an absolute sucker for cobblers!  For that matter, any baked fruit dessert with dough, especially in the summertime. For example: not only cobblers, but buckles, slumps, crisps, dumplings, betties, crumbles, clafoutis… they all ring my bells! I will tell you one of my favorite ways to make them: grill them!

It’s so much fun during a barbecue, to have the dessert all ready to bake, in a foil disposable pan, and put it right on the grill to cook while you eat dinner! The aroma of fruit and batter baking on the grill is something everyone should experience! 

I work as a personal chef in Wilmette for a very busy family. These days, they are all at home, and the dad has really been fine-honing his grilling techniques. He bought a Big Green Egg smoker, and is really making some great meat dishes with it! I’ve been filling in with the side dishes, desserts, garlic breads, elote corn on the cob; all kinds of vibrant fun salads to compliment his wonderful smoked ribs, brisket, pork shoulder, etc.!

It makes my job as a personal chef even more fun, to be able to help him with his efforts! The mom was sick of cooking, and he’s having a blast. He has no desire to make the whole meal, however! That’s where I come in! It’s a perfect arrangement and everybody in the family is happy! Here is my blueberry cobbler recipe. I adapted it from a recipe I found on epicurious 20 years ago. The astounding amount of butter is what makes it crispy around the edges, and decadent. If you’re looking for healthy light cobbler, there are millions of recipes out there. This is different; it’s an occasional indulgence that you shouldn’t deny yourself! Everybody loves this. Enjoy!

 

 

Blueberry Cobbler 

 

(adapted from an epicurious recipe)

 

Serves 8

12 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 cups flour

4 teaspoons baking powder

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1 1/2 cup sugar

 1 and 1/3 cup whole milk

4 cups blueberries (2 11 oz. containers)

    1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
    2. In a 13×9  baking dish melt butter. In a bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, salt, nutmeg and sugar until combined. Add milk and whisk batter until it is just combined. Pour batter into melted butter; do not stir it! Pour the blueerries into center of batter; do not stir. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until cake portion is golden and berries are bubbly.
    3. Serve warm with good vanilla ice cream. (The best vanilla ice creams in my opinion are Graeters, Talenti, Trader Joe’s and Kirkland. Whipped cream would also be great!)

 

Skinny Mashed Sweet Potatoes

These are one of my favorite potato dishes to make. Originally, I made them because I was looking for an easy side dish for all of my personal chefclients who follow the Whole30 eating program. 

I love that Whole30 is not a low-carb “diet”. (It’s really not a diet at all, but that’s another subject I’ll leave to the Whole30 experts to explain!) While rice and grains are not considered Whole30 compliant, potatoes are! And sweet potatoes are loaded with nutrients. They are one of the best sources of Vitamin A. They also have vitamin B5, riboflavin, niacin, thiamin, and carotenoids from their naturally orange hue! 

The “recipe” for this sweet potato side dish couldn’t be easier. It’s not even a recipe; it’s a simple method! All you do is roast the whole sweet potatoes in a 400 degree oven until they are fork tender, and very soft. (A note about that: will ooze! So make sure you put them on a sheet of foil, and poke holes in the skin or they will explode in your oven!)

Remove them with tongs from the oven.  You can squeeze the potato flesh right out of the skins. (I usually use a ricer to get them nice and smooth. Honestly, it’s probably just as easy to mash them by hand, because they are so soft when they come out of the oven anyway!) 

Add a can of organic coconut milk; as much as you like until the potatoes are the texture that you prefer. I don’t mix the solid coconut milk with the water from the can; I just use the solid. (Drink the rest! It’s good for you!) Sprinkle a little sea salt in, and mix it all together! That’s it! I usually make a big batch of these to add to breakfast during the week. They are handy to have on hand for people who are not on Whole30, but enjoy a healthy snack before hitting the gym. A hard boiled egg and a few bites of these skinny mashed sweet potatoes, and you’ll be ready to workout! 

As a personal chef, I need a lot of super easy recipes in my arsenal, and this one definitely fits the bill! 

 

 

Wow, was this good! I recently made a really great recipe from Melissa Clark on the NYT website. I always have luck with her recipes; there isn’t a dud among them. Her original recipe was called Sesame Chicken with Dates and Cashews. It has all of my favorite elements: spicy, sweet, cruncy, savory, fresh. I decided to try to adapt it for some of my Whole30 personal chef clients. It worked out beautifully. I made just a few changes;  I replaced the sesame oil, substituted the soy sauce and wine, for example. The changes made this recipe Whole30 friendly, but the flavor profile is very true to the original!

As a personal chef who has many Whole30, Paleo and Keto clients, I am always looking for recipes that I can adapt to make their meals as flavorful as possible, with lots of variety.

This one is going in my permanent file!

The recipe is below; 

 

Chicken with Dates and Cashews

(Whole30 Compliant. Adapted from a Melissa Clark NYT recipe)

Serves 4

  • 3 T. avocado oil
  • 2 T. freshly grated ginger
  • 3 T. freshly minced garlic
  • 1 bunch chopped scallions (white and pale green parts)
  • 1/2 t. red pepper flakes
  • 2 lbs. boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into 2 inch pieces. (Breasts are fine too, but thighs are better.)
  • 1/2 c. unsalted cashews, toasted
  • 1/4 c. apple cider vinegar (or balsamic vinegar)
  • 6 T. coconut aminos
  • 2 t.  Whole30 compliant hot sauce (optional)
  • 6 pitted dates, thinly sliced
  • 2 c. chopped fresh basil/mint/cilantro. (Or any combination of those)
  • A splash of rice vinegar

Variation: For a creamy version, add a little almond butter (or cashew butter) and coconut milk.

 

  1. Season the chicken with salt; saute it in the oil. When the chicken is cooked on the outside, add teh ginger, scallions and red pepper flakes. Saute 2 minutes. Add the garlic and saute another minute.
  2.  Add the apple cider vinegar or balsamic vinegar, coconut aminos and dates. Simmer for 5 minutes or so, until the chicken is cooked through.
  3. Add a little splash of rice vinegar and the fresh herbs and serve!

 

 

 

 

 

I have been a personal chef in River Forest for a lovely woman whom I have been cooking for for many years. She has been bravely battling cancer, and is undergoing chemo treatments. She barely has any appetite, and sometimes can only certain things sound even a little bit appealing to her. Recently, she told me she had a craving for Chicken Pot Pie. I was so happy to hear that she had a taste for something, and I I knew I could  happily make her a great chicken pot pie.

 

My version is one that I adapted from Ina Garten’s recipe, which is a pretty standard version of this classic dish:  I roast chicken breasts (with skin and bone; that gives it the best flavor). I like to buy my chicken from a good meat market; the market I shop at gets their chicken from local farms, and is so much better than most grocery stores chicken. If I do buy it from the grocery store, I’ll get a good organic brand. (Have you ever seen those giant boneless skinless chicken breasts that are the size of dinner plates? That’s not what you want! Get some good chicken, it makes a huge difference!)  I cut the chicken into 1 inch pieces. I saute some chopped onions in butter, and add some chopped carrots. Sprinkle some flour over that, add some chicken stock (or good-quality boxed chicken broth) Add peas, a little fresh thyme, and put it in a buttered baking dish, topped with pie crust. Make some slits in the crust so that the steam can escape; brush it with an egg wash and bake it an hour or so until the crust is golden. This is real comfort food!

 

I made an extra pot pie, just in case. That way, she’ll have one for this week, and one for the freezer! I also stocked her refrigerator with some bites of healthy snacks, in case she’s in the mood: fresh fruit with vanilla yogurt dip, crudites with hummus, as well as some nuts and cheese to snack on, for when she’s not in the mood for a full meal. One of the things I am grateful for as a personal chef, is not only to be doing what I love, but to be able to help people with their meals during difficult times.