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Chef’s Spotlight: Krystal Vazquez

Chef’s Spotlight: Chef Krystal Vazquez

This month’s chef’s spotlight is dedicated to Krystal Vazquez.  She is a personal chef and Friend in Kansas City.

In her own words.
Krystal Vazquez
Krystal Vazquez

If there is any universal language (apart from Math, ha) it is food. We all speak it. Food is memory, comfort, caring. Not just the thing that fuels us, but something that brings us together for all manner of celebration. The joy you can bring someone simply by fixing them a scratch-made meal is remarkable. Being a born people pleaser, I knew that in cooking I would find the perfect conduit to spread this joy to others.

Growing up I wasn’t much the Saturday morning cartoon type of kid – I would rather be watching Justin Wilson on PBS. We all remember him, that Cajun chef with his jolly catchphrase “I Guar-on-tee!”. Watching Mr. Wilson was like spending time with a beloved grandparent. I loved his gentle style of storytelling and learning about the food that moved him. With his help, I was about 10 years old when I decided that being a Chef is what I wanted to do with my life.

In high school I took every culinary, nutrition and home economics course offered. I was president of the FCCLA and traveled state wide to participate in cooking competitions. It was at this time I discovered Johnson & Wales University, alma mater of the likes of Emeril Lagasse and Tyler Florence. In 2004 I graduated Summa Cum Laude with my Associates in Culinary Arts from the Norfolk, VA campus. Several years later after marrying my high school sweetheart and starting my family, I graduated again from Johnson & Wales with my Bachelor’s in Food-Service Operations and Culinary Management.

My career has been spread across prestigious country clubs (The Country Club of Virginia and Pinehurst to name a few). I have been a sous chef in private catering establishments and at upscale senior living communities, which have given me experience not only in event work and fine dining but also therapeutic diets. Joining Friend that Cooks over a year ago has by far been the most gratifying career move I’ve made to date. I’m able to continue my dreams of sharing joy while being able to spend more time with my family. The best of both worlds!

In my free time I also spend time with my goofy bulldogs, I enjoy painting and interior decorating. I’m also fond of the music scene in Kansas City and am always game for a live show. Having the Royals and the Chiefs in the same town is fantastic and I love going to games when I get the chance.

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More Than Salt: The Elements of Cooking

Seasoning Doesn’t Just Mean Salt & Pepper

saltYou’ve meticulously studied the recipe. You’ve gone to specialty grocery stores and purchased every single obscure ingredient. You followed the directions exactly. You seasoned with salt and pepper, plated the exotic meal beautifully, put it on the table, and it tastes. . . ok.

To me, the most important skill a cook can master, in regards to savory cooking, is the ability to taste what you’ve made and then know what you can do to elevate it to perfection. No matter how closely you follow a recipe, there will always be variables in your kitchen and ingredients that differ from those of the author of the recipe. A skillful chef or even a good home cook knows how to combat these differences and fix a meal that needs just that little extra. Most recipes encourage you to season with salt and pepper. I would argue that seasoning with acid, sweetness, and fat are just as important. limesThere’s a reason restaurants often garnish fish with citrus wedges to squeeze or top a steak with a pat of garlic-herb butter.

I think the easiest way to practice the skill of tasting and adding salt, acid, sugar, or fat to perfection is to make a simple vinaigrette. This is the simplest balance of the four components. Whisk up your favorite vinaigrette recipe and then taste it. Does it taste bland? It probably needs more vinegar or salt. Is it too sour? Some added oil (fat) or honey should temper the acidity. Is it too salty? You can dilute the salinity by adding volume to the vinaigrette with vinegar and oil. Does it taste right, but somehow doesn’t feel rounded out? A dab of honey should round out any rough edges. Mastering this process to find the perfect balance is the key. Once you have this skill, you can easily apply it to almost any situation where dinner just seems to need a little pop.

Almost every ethnic cuisine incorporates ingredients that fill the need for each of these elements. Many ingredients bring multiple elements to the dish. The table below lists some basics, but the possibilities and combinations are endless once you become familiar with new ingredients and recognize which of these elements they add to your food.

Cuisine

Salt

Acid

Fat

Sweet

Mexican Salt, Cotija Cheese Lime, Hot Sauce, Pineapple Avocado, Cheese, Crema,

Corn Oil

Pineapple, Piloncillo, Honey
Asian Soy Sauce, Fish Sauce, Miso Yuzu, Rice Wine Vinegar, Lime Coconut Milk, Silken Tofu, Sesame Oil Mirin, Mango, Papaya
Italian Parmesan, Anchovy, Prosciutto Tomatoes, Balsamic, Lemon Olive Oil, Cheese, Egg Yolk Marsala Wine
French Sea Salt Red Wine Vinegar, Lemon Cream, Butter Port Wine, Orange
Spanish Salt Cod, Iberico Ham, Manchego Cheese Sherry Vinegar Olive Oil, Almonds Honey, Sugar
Southern US Bacon Hot Sauce Butter, Cream Molasses, Sorghum

-Mark Maybon has been a personal chef and Friend for three and a half years.  He serves our Kansas City, St. Louis, Wichita and Twin City markets.

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Artichokes: Worth It!

Cleaning Artichokes For Stuffing and Steaming

ArtichokesArtichokes are one of the more underutilized vegetables in the produce isle. They for sure do not scream “Eat me!  I’m delicious!” with all of those thorns, tough, bitter, outer armor and hairy insides.  But once you get down to the sweet delicious meat, we promise the effort will be worth it!  Sure, you can buy a can of artichoke hearts for $4 a can.  And that’s all fine and well for a seafood pasta or pizza topping.  But nothing says summer like a stuffed artichoke and a cold can of beer (or a glass of rose, we’re not judging.)

Getting them ready, though, that takes some finesse.  So, we broke it down for you in the handy step-by-step guide.  The stuffing?  That’s all you!  Use whatever you want.  But for the best combos, we recommend a little cheese, breadcrumbs and herbs.  Crab, shrimp or even white beans would also taste delicious.

How To

First:  You gotta buy the artichokes.  Look for ones that are heavy for their size with tight, green leaves.  Some brown spots are ok.

artichoke globes with tight leaves
Select globes that are heavy with tight leaves.

Second: This is where the prep starts.  Remember the 80/20 rule?  This is definitely a situation where being prepared pays off in the end.

You will need: a large cutting board, kitchen sheers or scissors, a sturdy and SHARP chef’s knife, a large soup spoon, a large bowl for scraps, a parchment lined sheet pan (or a steamer basket on the stove top) and your stuffing.

Third: Tear off the bottom leaves from the stem of the artichokes.  Next, using your sheers, cut just the tip off the leaves working in a circular pattern all the way around the artichoke, removing the thorns.  It works well to hold the artichoke over the scrap bowl, so the leaves fall right in.  Makes for easier clean-up.  Then, turn the artichoke on it’s side and using your chef’s knife, slice off the top third of the choke, exposing the purple flower center.  You can also remove the stem now.  The leaves are tough, so be careful and use your knife in a sawing-like motion to make the cut.  Don’t try to push straight down…that won’t do anything except bruise the leaves and hurt your shoulder!

Flower and choke center
Remove the top third to expose the flower and choke center.

Fourth: Take out the choke.  The purple center is actually the flower of the plant.  If left alone, the artichokes would bloom and drop its seeds.  Underneath the soft purple leaves is the center, or the choke.  It is full of fine, hair-like seed pods that float in the air after the plant blooms.  They are not very tasty and do not have a good mouth-feel, so they gotta go.  Plus, we need to make room for the stuffing!  The easiest way is to use the side of a large soup spoon.  Work the edge of the spoon under the little hairs and scrape them out, exposing the edible choke, aka “meat”, underneath.  Again, work over a scrap bowl for easier clean-up.

Fifth: Stuff it, bake it and eat it!  Or don’t stuff it.  Either way, it’s delicious!  They can be baked on a sheet pan in a 375 degree oven for about 15 minutes, or steamed on the stovetop.  Use the tip of a paring knife thru the stem end to check for doneness.  When it inserts easily, they are cooked thru.  To eat, pull off a leaf and scrape it against your teeth to remove the meat.  Don’t eat the green leaf.  No amount of cheese could ever make those tasty!  (If you are not stuffing them, dip the choke end of the leaf in clarified butter for extra deliciousness.)  When the leaves have all been picked, the tasty sweet choke heart is left behind and up for grabs!

 

You can keep the choke centers and use them for other recipes or eat them plain.  To clean the artichoke all the way down to the choke center, have a bowl of acidulated water off to the side and then follow steps one thru three above, but keep the stem attached as there is good meat inside.  Remove the outer leaves using a chef’s knife, working in a circular pattern around the artichoke.

artichoke outer leaves
Remove the tough outer leaves to expose the tender choke heart.

Leave the hairy choke attached while you do this to keep the center from oxidizing.  Once the outer leaves have been removed, rub the choke center with ½ a lemon to stop the oxidation process.

rub lemon on artichoke
Rub with lemon to prevent oxidation.

Next, follow step four to remove the hairy choke and drop immediately into the acidulated water while you work on the others.  Work quickly as they will brown quickly from the air.  The now clean artichoke hearts can be steamed, fried, roasted, sautéed or grilled and used in hundreds of different recipes! Click the link below to get some recipe ideas from delish.com!

https://www.delish.com/cooking/g950/artichoke-recipes/

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My Whole 30 Experience

We have a dear friend who does Whole30 every January. She stays committed and has pretty decent success. This January, she roped her husband into doing it with her and he lost twenty pounds. They posted on Facebook about his success and immediately, MY husband said, “let’s do it.”

As the words left his lips, my head spun, quite possibly, ten times around my neck. I said, “Are you sure? There are a lot of foods you LOVE that you can’t have. We won’t be able to drink.”

I repeated the statements above probably twenty more times trying to convince him this was a bad idea. I became a little savvy and even delayed the start by saying to my husband, “Your birthday is in a couple weeks and birthday cake is NOT on Whole30…at all, are you sure you want to do it?” He’s wise to my games and said we would begin the week after his birthday…cue sad heartbreaking music and imaginary tears rolling down my face.

As we prepared to begin, all I could think was what a crock this diet is because we already eat relatively healthy and balanced. So I bought the cookbook. I wanted to stay committed and ensure we were following the rules, so what better way to follow the rules than to have them laid out for you in recipes and measurements. BAD IDEA FOR SOMEONE WHO COOKS PROFESSIONALLY!

I meal prepped all of our breakfasts, lunches and dinners for the first week thinking this will be great. There aren’t any excuses of why this can’t work, except the 16 boxes of assorted Girl Scout Cookies taunting me because they are unopened.

We had success in the first week, kind of. We were mildly hungry throughout the first day but were able to add fruit and Lara Bars to help stave off the symptoms of being hangry. Day two was problematic. The hunger pangs were like none I’ve ever had. I was weak and a little disoriented. Not a fun time by anyone. Day three, I hit a wall. I woke up nauseous…my body was in full detox. I couldn’t eat or focus. I was irritable and I just wanted it to end. For me, that was the day the severity of the rules ceased to exist. I almost fell asleep/passed out at the wheel of my car and rear ended someone.

I changed the plan because that isn’t a way to live. I added an english muffin for breakfast and it made all the difference in the world. I also found my self disregarding the cookbook. The food I made the first week was good, but it wasn’t great. I cook for a living, I love eating great food. There was an Ahh Haa moment when I said to myself, “Girl, you are a chef, make it taste good.” I’d been so intent on following the rules, my professional rules went out the window.

I found everything in the book to be under seasoned and bland. I first thought it was my taste buds changing, but as the diet went on and I used my professional know how combined with the book for ideas, Whole30 became far more manageable.

We have decided to use Whole30 as a guide for lunches dinners Monday-Friday, but if we want a glass of wine, we are having it. If we want a couple (not an entire sleeve) of thin mints, we are going to have them. As with any diet, MODERATION IS KEY!

In conclusion, here is a list of super positive things I took away from the diet because we did lose weight and feel better.

1. READ YOUR LABELS (these days, everything has sugar in it)
2. When reading recipes, season until you think it tastes good
4. If I never eat another Lara Bar, it will be too soon
5. Balance is key, meaning: one glass of wine rather than the bottle
6. LIVE YOUR LIFE
7. If you can’t make it taste good, hire someone who can

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Empty Tomb Rolls

Just for Fun! “Empty Tomb” Rolls

Looking for a fun and easy recipe to bake with the kids this Easter weekend?  Check out these “Empty Tomb” rolls.  You can’t go wrong with marshmallows, butter and cinnamon and sugar!  Just be sure to seal them tight so the gooey goodness doesn’t escape from the “tomb”.

https://www.the-girl-who-ate-everything.com/empty-tomb-rolls/

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Chef’s Spotlight: Chef Jacob Gordon Wright

Meet our March Chef’s Spotlight: Chef Jacob Gordon Wright!

Chef Jacob prepping for a weekly meal prep client.

Chef Jacob Gordon Wright was born and raised in the rural town of Lawson, Missouri, forty miles north of Downtown Kansas City.  In high school, his focus was chemistry and playing tuba with no set career goals.  After high school, he was introduced to the culinary program at Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, KS.  Since day one, he fell in love with the culinary arts and soon realized his passion for preparing really great food.

Jacob has always felt strongly that he wanted to experience everything the hospitality industry has to offer.  He has worked in many different types of food service operations, from hospitals and hotels to catering and country clubs, absorbing all he can at every location.  In fall of 2013, Jacob earned his chef certification through the American Culinary Federation, and two Associate Degrees in Hospitality Management and Culinary Arts with an emphasis in dietary management.

Creating food is his art, but Jacob wanted to do more for others too.  Teaching soon became his next goal.  Just over one year ago, Jacob joined the Friend That Cooks family of personal chefs.  It has been an incredible stepping stone for him to move from behind the line in restaurants to helping families improve their quality of life and educate them on basic nutrition that the general public lacks.  At the end of the day, Jacob does not cook only to fill stomachs and nourish minds; he cooks to bring happiness into everyone’s life.  Being able to connect with his clients and their families, and to see first-hand how the food he prepares directly improves their lives, is such an important part to loving what he does.

When he is not cooking, Jacob enjoys spending his free time with family and friends, wood working and being outdoors.  He especially likes foraging and camping in the spring.  In the winter months, when he is stuck indoors, he likes playing video games and experimenting with new recipes.

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Passover Cookies

Passover Cookies to enjoy all year!

Kosher for Passover, and gluten-free, these cookies work all year round!  Start early, or the day before, because this dough needs some time to chill. Check out the recipe for these delicious almond cookies from Epicurious below!

https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/almond-cookies-with-cardamom-orange-zest-and-pistachios

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Foraging for Food

Seeing the foods thru the trees- Foraging for your dinner

fiddlehead-ferns-

It’s that time of year.  The warmer days and cooler nights make great weather for camping and hiking.  Next time you head out into the woods, take a look at the ground near the base of trees.  You can often find highly coveted wild foods to forage right there on the forest floor.  Morel mushrooms, ramps, fiddleheads all start to pop-up in early spring, and you don’t have to be an expert to know what to look for.  Foraging can even be a great activity for the kids, and an entertaining way to teach them about nature.  Even if youdon’t find something, it will still be a fun adventure.  Check out this YouTube video for some tips on what to look for when you are out in the woods.

morel mushrooms

rhubarb

 

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Countdown to Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Eve: What you should be prepping 1 day out 

 

turkey

We are one day away from the big Turkey day! Do you have everything ready to go? Are you frantically running around wondering what needs to be done today? Here’s a few things you should be prepping one day out from Thanksgiving!

-Today is the day to start making any sides that will reheat well, like casseroles.

-Start chopping and prepping for garnishes, toppings, salad greens and stuffing ingredients.

-If your stuffing recipe calls for stale bread, cut the bread now and set the cubes on a baking sheet to dry out.

-You can also bake your pies, so they have time to cool overnight before serving.

-Finish all your baking and store it in the fridge or on the counter over night

-Set the table

-Complete light housecleaning

What other tips and tricks do you use to prep the day before thanksgiving?

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Get Ready for Cooking Season

Cooking Season is right around the corner, folks!  None of us are ready.

Every year, we see it on the calendar.  And as if we are daring ourselves to see how long we can procrastinate, the week before Thanksgiving always ends up a flurry of planning, cleaning, shopping and cooking, and it all goes downhill from there.

This year, let’s do something different!  Let’s all start planning a little earlier.  Of course, I am the one that ends up cooking the majority of the T-Day meal in my family.  I’m ok with that.  I like it.  But it never fails that I get down to the day before, make my list, and decide I need a new insert-favorite-kitchen-gadget-here and I either can’t find it, or it’s too late to order it.

There are a lot of kitchen gadgets on the market that can help you do a lot of really fun things.  But there is also some ridiculous stuff out there too that ends up cluttering your cabinets and drawers more than it is helpful.  Each dish will require different equipment to get it ready.  But there are some universal basics that all chefs swear by, and we want to share them with you.

Sheet Pans:  aka, rimmed baking sheet

What these are good for: EVERYTHING! Not just for baking, the multi-purpose bad boys will become your new favorite.  Ever wonder how to make your baked fries crispier?  Sheet pans.  Want to bake 10 chicken breasts at the same time?  Sheet pans.  Want to bake thin layers of cake for a dozen tiered cake extravaganza?  Sheet pans.  Don’t worry about if they are non-stick (though I rarely recommend non-stick anything), shiny or dark metal, or if they have handles or not.  You can usually buy the aluminum ones in a three-pack at your local big-box store on the cheap.  Or you can busy super fancy ones at the restaurant supply store or online.  Line them with parchment paper or aluminum foil when you are using them (unless you are baking cookies, then don’t use anything!) to keep them clean and shiny forever.

 

Cutting Boards:

The bigger the better. If it came as a free gift with purchase of tequila, leave it in your bar cabinet.  At least 18” x 12”, minimum!

You need more than one, because sometimes you are prepping meat at the same time as veggies and you don’t want to cross-contaminate.  Two or three is recommended.

Wood or plastic, those are your only two options.  Glass is not a cutting board.  It’s a trivet.  And so is that extra piece of granite your countertop guy gave you.

Sometime that little divot that goes all the way around the edge to catch juices is handy.  But you should let your meat rest long enough that you don’t need that.  Just sayin’.

 

Mixing Bowls: To put your prep in

Cooking is 80% prep work.  So, you need something to put your prep into before it gets cooked.  A 5-piece nesting set is a great space saver.  You want a really big bowl, like 5qt or larger, a couple of medium sized ones, and a smaller one or two.  Or something like that.  Digging around the Tupperware cabinet is never fun, and generally what you find there is not very helpful.

 

Knives: The most important tool!

It’s self-explanatory, but your hands and a good knife set are the two most important tools in any kitchen.  You don’t have to have the most expensive set either.  But if you are using your grandmother’s hand-me-downs, that haven’t been sharpened since 1952, it’s probably time for an upgrade.  There are 3 knives you should always have on hand: a large chef’s knife, a small paring knife, and a serrated long blade for slicing bread, tomatoes, etc.  Also, you need a honing steel.  These come in a variety of shapes, sizes and materials, but you should learn how to use it properly, and use it every time.  If you take good care of your knifes, they will take good care of you.  As in, not cut you.  And who knows, you may even be able to pass them down to your grandchildren.  Just kidding…don’t do that!

If you really want to get serious about it, there are about a hundred different decisions to make before purchasing which knife is best for you.  Do you want German made, or Japanese?  Carbon or stainless steel?  Full tang or partial?  Handle material?  Handle fasteners?  And on it goes… The point is, find a cutlery store near you and go talk to a pro.  A really good knife will last a lifetime.  And if you like it, you are more likely to use it.

Next to not putting them in the dishwasher, sharpening is the number one most important way to take good care of your knife.  Not honing…that’s different.  I mean really sharpen the blade.  At least once a year if you don’t use them often.  Up to once every few months if you are a pro.  You can take them somewhere to have them professionally sharpened, or you can buy a stone and do it yourself.  But now is the time of year to do it!  Most places charge a minimal fee per knife, so there is no reason not to do it.  Most cuts happen because the blade is too dull, and you must compensate by using more force to push the knife thru the food.  Also, most Thanksgiving Day ER visits are from self-inflicted knife injuries.

 

Plastic To-Go Containers: think deli-counter macaroni salad.

One of the restaurants I worked in early in my career used these for all of their prep.  We had several different sizes.  And at the end of the night, we put all of our station prep into the appropriate size to store overnight.  They are stackable, disposable, dishwasher safe, and great for prepping several days ahead.