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.

Almost Flourless Individual Chocolate Cakes!
This is one of my favorite desserts to make! As a personal chef, I cook for all ages and dietary restrictions; I cook for busy families, seniors, people with illnesses; I also have a nice roster of people who have me come occasionally and make a special luncheon for a small group. This cake fits a lot of occasions! 

 

This recipe was adapted from one by Nigella Lawson.  Since I happent to be a personal chef, and can never leave well enough alone, II have adapted it over the years! The original called for superfine sugar, which I never have on hand. And I know I can make my own, by putting regular sugar into the food processor and processing it until it’s superfine; but really, that defeats the purpose of this recipe for me. I like it because it’s a super fast throw-together! So I made the change to regular sugar, and it’s just fine.

When my son was young, we had a busy household full of neighborhood kids more often than not. I used to double the recipe, and make these cakes in muffin tins. They can be stored  in the freezer in Ziploc bags. I always had these chocolate cakes on hand! No wonder kids came over all the time!

 The recipe is simple enough to throw together for kids,  but it also makes a lovely impromptu dessert. These chocolate cakes can be elegant enough for a dinner party, if that is more your speed.  If I am going the elegant dinner party route, I like to make them ahead of time (even a day ahead is fine!). If you put them in individual buttered ramekins, they can stay covered in your refrigerator until you are ready to bake them.

No matter what, they are best warm. You slightly underbake them, so the center is a nice molten oozy chocolate! If you have kept them frozen, let them defrost for a while, and then you can even heat them gently in the microwave in a pinch.
When I make these for a nice lunch or dinner party, I love to pair them with fresh raspberries and fresh whipped cream . Vanilla bean ice cream would also do the trick nicely, if you don’t have time to make your own whipped cream.

They are a cinch to make; you probably have the ingredients on hand!  They have a short ingredient list: butter, chocolate, eggs, sugar, a tiny bit of flour. The recipe is below; give it a try! If you’re like me, it won’t be long until you can make these without having to look up the recipe. You won’t have to tell anyone it came from a personal chef!

 

 

 

Almost Flourless Individual Chocolate Cakes

1 stick plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate

2 eggs, room temperature

3/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 pinch of salt

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Special equipment: 4 (2/3 to 1-cup each) ramekins (If you don’t have ramekins, muffin tins wil work, but butter them liberally so the cakes won’t stick!)

 

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Butter the ramekins with 1 T butter.

2. Melt the 1 stick butter and chocolate in the microwave on 30% power, stirring every minute or so until it’s melted. (If you’d rather, you can melt it in a heatproof bowl in a big pot of simmering water.) Let it cook 5 minutes or so.

3. In a large mixing bowl, using a hand whisk, mix the eggs with the sugar. Add the chocolate/butter mixture, vanilla and salt. Mix until combined. Add the flour; do not overmix.  Divide the mixture between the 4 buttered ramekins.

4. Bake for about 13-15 minutes. (The outsides should be firming up, but the insides should still be nice and gooey.)  Use tongs to place the ramekins on a plate and serve! 

 

Chocolate Chip Cookies

 

I am going to tell you the secret to why my chocolate chip cookies are so good. They really are; not to brag, but it’s true! As a personal chef, I am always trying to come up with kind of surprising desserts or entrees. Sometimes when I suggest Chocolate Chip Cookies, the reaction I get is kind of… lukewarm. Everyone has had them a million times. Shouldn’t a personal chef come up with something a little more creative than that?  Well. Just wait and see what you think.

 

Even moms that hate to cook have made chocolate chips cookies. I have probably made them a thousand times. Having made these changes over the years,  I am now satisfied that these are the best chocolate chip cookies. One of the busy moms that I work as a personal chef in Chicago for, asked me to make this dough, and she keeps small batches of it in the freezer so she can thaw it and have fresh cookies whenever she feels like baking them!

 

The  original Tollhouse recipe is what I started with, but I have made a few minor changes, which I’ll get to. First a word about the ingredients:  I always use King Arthur Flour. (It was very hard to come by in these past few months, but I have had luck finding the 10 pound bag at Costco.) The butter I use is always unsalted; my favorite butters for baking are Trader Joe’s or Kirkland. (Organic butter doesn’t work as well.) My ratio of dark brown sugar to white sugar is higher than the original recipe.

 

For the chocolate, instead of regular chocolate chips, I like to use Trader Joe’s chocolate chunks. They are semi-sweet and I just like the big hunks of chocolate throughout the cookie. Another key: I also triple the vanilla; I like Costco’s Kirkland Vanilla. (Or Penzey’s Double Strength Vanilla when I have it, really takes it over the top!)  Vanilla prices have been sky-high the past few years, but there is no getting around it. You can’t use imitation vanilla or try to substitute. There is no substitute for vanilla.

 

Another inngredient that I love to add, which was not in the original Tollhouse recipe: toffee bits. About a half bag seems to be the right amount; they add a nice crispy crunch!

 

Here is the most important tip which is something I learned about 15 years ago: Make the dough three days ahead of time! The ingredients in the cookie batter meld together in a cohesive way, and almost become caramelized. I confess, many times, I have left the dough in the refrigerator just on the edge of too long! Every day it gets better and better, but don’t push your luck. About 5 days is the maximum. If you aren’t going to bake them by that time, just put the dough in the freezer in an airtight container (a Ziploc freezer bag will work fine). Try it, you’ll never want to make cookies the regular way again! 

 

Chocolate Chip Toffee Cookies

  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (King Arthur preferably)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 bag Trader Joe’s Chocolate Chunks
  • approx. 1 cup toffee bits

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  2. Combine flour, baking soda, and salt in small bowl. Beat butter, granulated sugar, dark brown sugar in large mixing bowl until creamy.  Add vanilla, and eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in chocolate chunks and toffee bits. Drop by rounded tablespoon onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper.
  3. Bake for 9 to 11 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.

 

 

Sushi Roll Salad!  That’s what I have planned for this Furikake seasoning from Trader Joes! This nori blend is nori seaweed, black and white sesame seeds, salt, and kelp powder. It’s a pretty traditional recipe for furikake, but there is no added MSG. (Every time Trader Joe’s has a new product, I find a reason to build a recipe around it!)  I think it will be the perfect thing to use in a California Roll Salad. This sushi roll salad will be simple to make: white short grain rice; (some grocery stores carry sushi rice), rice vinegar, a little wasabi paste, some pink pickled ginger, toasted sesame seeds, and avocado.

Since I live in the midwest, good fresh crab is not exactly readily available, but in the past I have made do with good quality crabmeat, which it turns out, is very good! Costco carries a brand called Phillips, which is about $25.00 a pound. (You want lump crab meat for this recipe, not the less expensive claw meat.) And we are most definitely not talking about the canned crab meat that’s available in the tuna aisle. I don’t have any idea what that is for, and I don’t want to find out! If you would rather use shrimp in this recipe, that would work perfectly too!

The flavors of this refreshing summery salad are like a California roll, but in a bowl! This will be a fun light lunch for two  girlfriends who haven’t seen each other in months and are planning a lunch on the patio together. It’s been a long shelter-in-place, with everyone cooped up at home. These two are going to be practicing social distancing; they will be outside and wine will be involved! 

One of the ladies is a longtime client of mine, who I have worked as a personal chef in Burr Ridge for many years. She loves having friends over, and they are all very health-conscious. They work out, they like a light lunch after exercising or tennis. They do love to indulge in a little wine, and needless to say, chocolate for dessert! I have a feeling they will be on the patio long after this personal chef packs up and heads home! It’s been a long few weeks of staying at home! I’ll leave the chocolate mousse in the refrigator for them! They will be talking for a long, long time!

  

 

Pan Grilled Steaks! This is something that every good home cook should know how to do. These days, with the meat shortage during Covid-19, it is more important than ever to buy your meat from a responsible meat perveryor. As a personal chef, I am often asked for at-home cooking tips, which I love to share. These days, with so many people turning to meatless meals, when they do eat beef, they want a really good cut of the highest quality.

When you are going to make a steak, the best advice I can give is to start with really good meat. (If you’re lucky enough to have a wonderful meat market in your neighborhood like I do, buy your meat there instead of at the grocery store!) These were really good prime filet mignon steaks from Wheaton Meat Company, which is in my neighborhood. As a personal chef, I usually hit 2-3 stores on my way to cooking in my client’s homes. It is worth the extra stop to get the meat from a good meat market. See if there is a good neighborhood butcher near you. It makes a huge difference!)

I just learned that one of the big-box store actually puts their prime meat through a “blade tenderizing” process.  Good meat markets do not treat their prime beef that way!

Ok, onto the how-tos for cooking a steak at home: the first thing I do is let the steaks come to room temperature for 20 minutes or so. Season them liberally with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, and rub them with a little extra virgin olive oil. Heat up the grill pan. When it is hot, add a neutral oil with a high smokepoint  (I use grapeseed oil)  to the pan and spread it around with a paper towels that you are holding with a pair of tongs. Put the steaks in the pan and leave them alone! Don’t start moving them around. That is a rookie mistake; people get nervous when cooking a steak at home, and start lifting it up. looking at the underside, fiddling around with it! Just leave it for 2 minutes and let the grillpan do it’s work!

After 2 minutes, rotate the steaks 90°. After two more minutes flip them over and repeat. If you don’t already own a meat thermometer, get one! You’re shooting for 120 degrees for rare. Don’t forget, the temperature will continue to rise a little, up to 5 degrees or so, after you remove them from a pan. (If you are serving them as a dinner party entree, and you have someone in your crowd who does not like rare meat, have your oven pre-heated, so that you can put theirs in the oven for a few minutes while you are plating the others. There’s one in every crowd. Don’t try to change their mind, just give them their almost well-done steak!) 

One more thing: don’t forget to let them rest a few minutes before serving. That’s it! It takes a little practice, but your confidence grows every time you do it!

Of course, not everyone wants to learn how to make a pan-grilled steak! They hire a personal chef to do it for them, luckily for me! I have a client who originally called me to ask about an in-home cooking service, because he was on a high-protein diet and needed LOTS of steak, cooked, sliced, and ready to eat on the run! I stacked up pyrex dishes full of sliced filet, which is what he ate during his weight training that he was tackling! We have a one-on-one cooking lesson coming up, where I plan to show him how to grill a steak on his new charcoal grill! 

Pan Grilled Steak and Charcoal Grilled Steak: two different ways to cook a good steak and both are delicious! 

  

 

Umami! It is known as “the fifth taste” in addition to salt, bitter, sweet and sour. There is no direct translation of this Japanese word; the  closest translation of the word umami, is “mmm”, or savory taste. Some foods that contain natural umami are parmesan cheese, cooked tomatoes, beef, anchovies and mushrooms.

As a personal chef, one of the best compliments I have ever received is “why does your food taste so good?” One of the “secrets” I try to share with my clients who want to become better home cooks, is that I try to  look for a spot in my cooking to add a little bit of umami. I have found a good cooking shortcut with one of my favorite Trader Joe’s products: Multi-Purpose Umami Seasnoning Blend. It is a mixture of kosher salt, dried onions, ground mustard seed, porcini mushroom powder, white button mushroom powder, crushed red pepper, black pepper and thyme.

I have used this Trader Joe’s product on roasted vegetables, in tomato sauces, and meat dishes, as a steak rub. It’s very similar to another product that is from a well-known Paleo brand. As it happens, I was cooking for one of my personal chef clients in Palos Hills who follows the Paleo diet. I loved it roasted asparagus with pine nuts. I also added to a Bolognese sauce, which added a lovely depth of flavor!

Adding Umami is a great trick for making your food more savory and delicious. Often I will add a parmesan rind to soup; I will cook tomato paste before I add the rest of the ingredients in a sauce; I will use fish sauce in an unexpected way that is detectable in the final dish. Understanding umami is an important step in becoming a really good home cook! I love sharing my cooking tips with people, and this is an easy one. Building a good spice collection is an important element of good home cooking!

 

 

 

 

Double Cut Panko Crusted Lamb Chops was a perfect easy Sunday dinner! Making this easy elegant entree reminded me: I have an upcoming one-on-one cooking lesson soon with one of my longtime personal chef clients. I have been cooking for her family for several years. Now that her children are older, she has more time to enjoy cooking again, and wanted some tried and true recipes in her repertoire. She asked me to help her learn how to cook some easy impressive dishes for when she and her husband have small dinner parties. I thought this dish would be perfect;  it really is is a no-recipe throw together. I know that as much as she wants to cook for herself and her family, as well as when she entertains, the last thing she wants to do is spend all day in the kitchen. (For some people, like me, that sounds like bliss. She wants to just incorporate cooking into her life, not have it take over!) For this easy impressive rack of lamb, the first thing I do, is season it with sea salt. Then I smear the lamb with a mixture of dijon mustard and a little chutney (or preserves of anykind. A tiny bit of maple syrup also works; anything that’s sticky and sweet will work just fine.) Mix some panko crumbs with fresh herbs like rosemary and/or thyme. a little freshly minced garlic, a pinch of sea salt, and enough olive oil to barely moisten it. Then pat the crumbs on the rack of lamb. That’s it! Put it in a 400 degree oven for 20 minutes or so, until it registers 120 degrees (for rare). A meat thermometer is a must here! (As a personal chef when my clients express an interest in learning how to cook, I always check to see if they have a good knife and a meat thermometer!). After you pull it out of the oven ,let it rest a few minutes, then cut in between the ribs. To me, something about double cut lamb chops always looks more elegant and festive than a single one! For side dishes, I am thinking simple roasted baby carrots with almond and chives, roasted fingerling potatoes with fresh parsley, maybe a nice mixed greens salad with goat cheese, pine nuts and a classic vinaigrette.  That is a perfect easy dinner! No recipes required. 
I think there’s nothing wrong with serving really good ice cream for dessert if you really don’t want to go to a lot of trouble. But I think I am going to suggest one of my go-to dinner party desserts: chocolate mousse. That is a great dessert recipe to have up your sleeve, especially if you entertain a lot. As a personal chef, who has cooked for dinner parties, that is one dessert I have made countless times. Everybody loves it. The rest of the dinner is so simple and easy, so why not! What’s nice about the mousse is, you can make it early in the day, or even the day before, so you’re nice and relaxed when your guests arrive! Easy elegant entertaining can be easy to pull off when you use no-recipe-required dishes, along with a great decadent dessert.