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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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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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Seder Eggs – Beitza

Get Roasted.  But it’s not what you think.

seder plate

During Pesach/Passover many Jewish people use hard-boiled eggs as part of the celebration.  However, Jews from the Sephardi/Mizrachi tradition use oven-roasted or braised eggs.  Beitza.  This can be tricky because eggs will explode if they are just put into the oven and roasted at high temperatures. So, here are some traditional methods for roasting an egg:

  • The traditional method from Jews who lived in Transylvania/Turkey and the Balkan countries (Bulgaria/Romania, Croatia/Serbia, Macedonia, etc.) is to rub the egg with oil, and partially submerge it into the braising liquid with the meat and vegetables being prepared in the oven for the Seder meal.
  • The Mizrachi tradition (from Iran/Persia, Iraq/Syria, etc.) is to rub oil on the egg and wrap strips of meat around it, or stuff the eggs into the cavity of a hen or create a pocket in the meat to put the egg so the meat is holding/covering it. This acts as an insulation and causes the eggs to heat slower and cook evenly, so there’s less chance that the egg will explode
  • Another interesting method is the Yemenite-Jewish tradition of soft-boiling the egg for two to four minutes in coffee, and then placing the egg into or under the roasting meat in the oven. Whichever way you try, roasting an egg makes it really flavorful because the juices, broth, the flavors from spices, and the meat permeate the egg while roasting to create a wonderful treat!

At the conclusion of the Seder, it is customary to wish everyone Shalom/Peace and a return to the homeland by saying “Next year in Jerusalem!

-Written by Rabbi Yehonatan Levy (Chef Jonathon Levy)

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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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New Year, New Diet.

The Facts About Top Diet Trends

diet plan

Anyone on a new diet this year, err lifestyle plan?  New Year’s resolutions are all about losing weight, getting healthy and making changes.  There is certainly no shortage of diet trends out there but picking the right one for you can be tricky.  Not everyone has the same goals, or the same budget.  So, I thought I’d help you narrow down the choices based on facts.  Here are the top diet trends, a list of some important info, and a link where you can find more information.  (*Disclaimer: this list is in no way comprehensive or meant to cure or treat any disease or illness.  You should consult your doctor before beginning any new diet plan.  Also, I do have my degree in dietetics and have studied food, nutrition and culinary arts for the entirety of my adult life.  But I’m not a doctor.  The statements below are a collaboration of my opinion (the list itself) and researched facts (specifics pertaining to each diet plan).)  There are a zillion diets out there.  If the one you are interested in is not on this list, email me and I can help!

 

Paleo:  www.thepaleodiet.com

The basic premise is to eat like a caveman.  There are some conflicting ideas about whether the intention is to eat only foods found in the paleolithic era.  But since woolly mammoths and cave lions are now extinct, we have to be a little flexible.  While finding food is a smidge easier, i.e less hunting and gathering, more loading up the cart at Whole Foods- the idea is that the foods should be about the same; whole, nutrient dense, not-processed foods.

 

 

Foods Allowed:

  • Grass Fed meats, Eggs, Fish and Seafood, Vegetables, Fruits, Nuts Seeds, Healthy Fats and Oils (olive, walnut, coconut, flaxseed, grapeseed, and of course avocado). Organic, non-GMO as much as possible.

Foods to Avoid:

  • Grains, Preservatives, Dairy (though some raw dairy is sometimes allowed), Refined Sugar, Refined Vegetable Oils, and even a few surprising foods like Legumes, Beans and Potatoes.

The various foods allowed and not allowed are not just based on what was available when our stone-age ancestors walked the Earth, but also about potential health benefits and harmful properties inherit therein.

 

Whole 30: whole30.com

You can do anything for 30 days.  And 30 days is just enough time to cut out the junk, let your body heal, establish healthier habits with food and get to a better you.

Foods Allowed:

  • Moderate amounts of meat, seafood, eggs. Lots of vegetables.  A few fruits.  And plenty of natural fats.  The idea is to consume whole, natural foods that are not processed, as minimally processed as possible, or to be able to read and understand every ingredient on a food label.

Foods to Avoid:

No Alcohol

  • Added Sugar- of any kind. So, no honey, agave, date syrup, coconut sugar, stevia or maple syrup.  Basically, if it makes the food sweeter, it’s a no-go.  I see you sneaky fruit juice!
  • Alcohol, even for cooking.
  • All grains.  Glutenous or Gluten Free.  Period.
  • No one really knows what legumes are (just kidding, we do!), but things like beans, lentils, soy and peanuts qualify.
  • Eggs of all forms-raw, pasteurized, fermented, frozen or soured.  If it comes out an animals mammary glands, it’s dairy.  And just to be clear, eggs are not dairy…they are just usually found in the diary section of the grocery store because that’s where the refrigerators are.
  • Some popular preservatives like Carrageenan, MSG and Sulfites.
  • And they also discourage the creation of “junk like foods” made from approved foods. Trying to make a chicken breast and broccoli brownie just misses the point altogether of avoiding junk food, doesn’t it?

Weight Watchers: www.weightwatchers.com

This oldie, but goodie, just got a face lift!  Their new Freestyle program offers greater flexibility with food choices, but still keep the accountability and tracking features that have scientifically proven to contribute to overall weight loss success.

Foods Allowed:  

  • All of them! Each food is assigned a point value, and based on your goals and current stats, you are assigned a certain number of points each day.  Spend, or rather eat, the points as you like, but track it all for greater success.

Foods to Avoid:

  • The usual- highly processed foods, added sugar and unhealthy fats.

 

Mediterranean Diet:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/mediterranean-diet/art-20047801

mediterranean dietAnother classic, this diet has been on the top 5 list for decades.  Developed after the eating habits of Mediterranean countries like Greece, Spain and Italy, it mingles moderation and foods proven to help reduce risks for chronic and acute illness.

Major Points:

  • Eat primarily plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts.
  • Replace butter and other saturated or trans-fats with heart-healthy fats like olive oil.
  • Limit red meat to a few times a month.
  • Eat fish and chicken several times a week.
  • Enjoy red wine in moderation (optional).
  • Get plenty of rest and enjoy meals with friends and family.

 

Ketogenic (aka Keto) Diet: https://ketodash.com/ketogenic-diet

First, it is important to note that ketosis is not the same as ketoacidosis.  They are related, but the latter is very dangerous and can lead to serious complications.  Ketosis is the precursor to ketoacidosis, and while it is technically considered an adaptive nutritional state, it does have some important medical benefits.  The diet first started as a treatment method for epileptic patients to reduce seizures in the brain.  Previous therapies included outright starvation, which produced the same result.  However, the body suffered greatly as there was no nutrition to support the rest of the body.  What is now called “fed starvation”, the body gets the nutrition it needs thru the high fat, moderate protein, very low carb diet, and the brain gets the relief it needs thru the production of ketones.

Keto Diet

So what if you don’t have epilepsy?  Here’s where the science happens.  I’ll try to keep it simple.  Basically, the human body “prefers” glucose as a fuel source.  Think sugar and carbohydrates.  That’s why when you are hungry, I mean really really hungry, you unconsciously go for the sugary snacks and drinks.  They work fast because it is an efficient fuel source.  But what would happen if fat was the primary source of fuel for the body, and carbohydrates the last?  Well, that’s the Keto diet!  In a nut shell, the body doesn’t use fat directly as a fuel source, but instead has to convert it to glucose for use.  In that process, ketones are produced, and the body uses them for energy.

So how does someone lose weight eating mostly fat, if they already have excess fat?  Great question!  The answer, it takes some time.  Being in ketosis doesn’t happen overnight.  It can take anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 months, depending on activity level and other factors.  But once you reach that stage, your body has basically converted its primary fuel source from carbohydrates to fat.  And just like ALL FOOD you consume, taking in too much will lead to the excess being stored as fat- so you have to find the ratios that work best for your body and your activity level.

Foods Allowed:

  • Fat, like olives, avocados, bacon, fatty meats, butter, full fat cheese and other dairy, nuts. About 70% of your total calories for the day should come from fat. (As good an excuse to by the Wagyu beef as any!)
  • Moderate amounts of protein like red meat, chicken, eggs, fish and seafood. About 25% of your total calories should come from protein.  (This can be tricky to calculate since most protein is not just straight protein, but also contains some fat.)
  • Net Carbohydrates. Net, meaning total carbs minus the dietary fiber.  You can find it on a food label.  But remember, vegetables are technically carbs, albeit high fiber carbs.  But only about 5% of your total calories should come from carbohydrate food sources.

Tracking is key until you find a rhythm.  I suggest the My Fitness pal app, #notsponsored, because it does all the work and math for you.  Also, it is really easy to select foods from a list or add your own with the barcode scanner feature.

Foods to Avoid:

  • There isn’t a specific list of foods to avoid. Although high sugar foods like sweets, sodas, candies, etc. should just generally be avoided.  Also, high glycemic index foods like potatoes, pasta, rice, etc. are going to be hard to factor in because of their high net carb value.  That 5% will go fast!
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Chef’s Spotlight: Chef Jonelle Luchsinger

This month’s Chef’s Spotlight: Meet Chef Jonelle!

Chef Jonelle Luchsinger
Chef Jonelle Luchsinger

Raised in Anchorage, Alaska and Upstate NY, Chef Jonelle began her informal culinary training at a 100-year-old restaurant on one of The Finger Lakes. She quickly fell in love with cooking and decided to continue her education at Johnson & Wales University.  She graduated in 2007 with an associate’s degree.

Eager to practice her skills and further her education through experience, she worked for a variety of restaurants ranging in Middle Eastern, Modern American and Italian cuisines. She took pride in starting from the bottom, working her way up each station, absorbing everything she could along the way.

An opening in the in-house bakery of Rosalies Cucina, where she worked on the line, led to a full-time head baker position and a new love for bread and pastries. She would later go on to work under Maurizio Negrini, of Izzio’s, learning the art of Artisan Italian Bread.

Restaurant and bakery industries can be rough. They generally require working long hours on your feet during nights, weekends and holidays. In return, the pay is low, the benefits are few and the turnover is high causing for stressful working conditions. Even in the best managed restaurants, it’s hard to find a work/life balance while working opposite schedules as the rest of society. The high demands paired with few rewards of the industry can quickly turn the passion you once had into resentment.

Five years after switching gears to Quality Assurance and Food Safety Roles, she found herself once again on her feet, in her kitchen most nights and weekends. This time cooking not only because she wanted to, but because she had to.  An artist needs a creative outlet and a chef needs to cook!

Chef Jonelle is currently one year into her dream job at Friend that Cooks!  She is able to spend her days cooking; doing what she loves all while having endless creative freedom, a desirable schedule, a great management team supporting her, and amazing clients to cook for! Chef Jonelle currently lives in a north suburb of Denver.  She likes to grow her own vegetables and is planning her wedding that will take place later this year.