If you have ever thought about trying something new, now is the time to try these foods! Tasting them at the peak of their season means maximum flavor. Not sure how to prepare them? That’s why you called us! 😉
What do you listen to while you are cooking? Heavy metal, soft rock, Boss Nova radio on Pandora? Maybe you don’t listen to music at all or, you prefer talk-radio or the news. We asked our chefs, and most of them said Pandora or podcasts. Here are some of their favorite foodie and food-adjacent podcasts. Share with us your favorites!
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.
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.
You’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. There’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.
Salt, Cotija Cheese
Lime, Hot Sauce, Pineapple
Avocado, Cheese, Crema,
Pineapple, Piloncillo, Honey
Soy Sauce, Fish Sauce, Miso
Yuzu, Rice Wine Vinegar, Lime
Coconut Milk, Silken Tofu, Sesame Oil
Mirin, Mango, Papaya
Parmesan, Anchovy, Prosciutto
Tomatoes, Balsamic, Lemon
Olive Oil, Cheese, Egg Yolk
Red Wine Vinegar, Lemon
Port Wine, Orange
Salt Cod, Iberico Ham, Manchego Cheese
Olive Oil, Almonds
-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.
Artichokes 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.
First: You gotta buy the artichokes. Look for ones that are heavy for their size with tight, green leaves. Some brown spots are ok.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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”.
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!
Seeing the foods thru the trees- Foraging for your dinner
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.
We all have it. That one book sitting on the counter. Bent spine, dogeared, bookmarked and stained. It’s the go-to. The favorite. Maybe it’s a collection of family heirlooms, a digital wallet stored on your iPad, a wedding present from your dear Aunt Sally, or a corner bookstore find. A good cookbook can help plan that Thanksgiving feast for 20 or Tuesday night’s meatloaf supper.
For our chefs, they are a source of inspiration, and a education. Just like a any other professional, chefs need to keep up with current trends, and brush up on techniques learned early in our careers. It’s more than a hobby- it’s a lifestyle.
We get asked all the time, “What book should I have in my kitchen?”. So we wanted to put together for you a list of our chefs’ favorites. Some are more reference books than recipe books. But we still think they are great, even for the most novice of cooks. Check out our list below and comment on your favorites. Follow us on Instagram for the latest updates from Friend That Cooks!