How to Keep Your Kitchen Organized Like a Private Chef

Nothing brings me more joy than a clean, organized kitchen. Not everyone has the time to do a thorough, top-to-bottom sweep each week but there are a few tricks I’ve picked up that make it much easier. That being said, there’s no substitute for a full kitchen overhaul — it’s the difference between a quick sponge here and there and a hardy scrub each week. If you can do a fridge and pantry deep clean once a month, you’ll fall in love with cooking in it!

A happy kitchen = happy chef.

Pantry envy from Food52

As a “home cook” turned private chef, I treat every kitchen as my own. I’ll admit, it’s not easy keeping up with seven (!) kitchens each week, including my own. That’s a lot of kitchen to cover in one week so maintenance has become second nature for me.

Here’s how it works: First thing you do is open up all the drawers and cabinets. You take a detailed inventory and toss the dusty stuff (i.e. those random gift basket jars of artisanal jam and bulky boxes of pasta with only a few noodles left). It’s best to start with a clean slate so taking everything out and scrubbing the shelves is ideal. Restock as you see fit, keeping in mind the things you use on a regular basis and the things you use less frequently, organizing your go-tos on the bottom shelf and your once-in-a-whiles up top.

For the pantry: Consolidate your nuts and grains. If you’re really looking for a makeover you might consider bulk containers, these range from reusable quart containers to streamlined rectangle ones with airtight lids and classic mason jars. I treat each shelf like a puzzle, optimizing every inch, without too much overlap (or clutter). Baskets are great to combine small items like baking necessities and sprinkle varieties.

A note about salt: If you’re like me, you keep your salt next to the stove for easy access when you’re cooking. Use a bowl you can fit a whole five-finger pinch.

Next is the fridge binge: This is the most fluctuating space in your kitchen so it’s understandable if it’s little harder to keep organized. Here are few helpful hints:

Laura taught me a useful trick for crisper drawers that make weekly clean-outs a breeze. Lining the bottom of your fridge drawers with paper towel not only collects little broccoli bits, it also extends the life of your veggies! I replace them every two weeks.

My favorite soup hack: store leftover soup in your a pot for easy reheating directly on the stovetop.

Food52 has an article about how to keep produce fresh that I consult all the time. Since we use so many herbs in our cooking, my favorite trick is keeping herbs in a jar of water like cut flowers. This works especially well with herbs that still have roots, like most cilantro you buy at the store.

I also invested in vejibags. I love them! It keeps hardy veggies like radish, carrots and celery fresh for weeks! They’re perfect for the veggies lingering in your fridge like leftover celery or ones you’re saving for later. All you have to do is give them a good rinse, wet the bags and ring them out until they’re just damp then put whatever you want inside. They claim to work with leafy greens too, although I haven’t had much luck.

However, there’s a great trick for kale fanatics. Simply, wash your kale in a salad spinner as you normally would, dry thoroughly and wipe out the excess water on the inside of the bowl, then store it in your fridge as is, and voilà, you’ve got kale on hand for a whole week!

Food waste: If your neighborhood has compost pick-up, use it! It has transformed the way I cook and how I feel about tossing the stuff I don’t use from the fridge. Maybe it’s the environmentalist in me talking, or the OCD but it feels so good. I read in the Alice Water’s memoir that when she was a kid her parents recycled and composted so much that they only took the trash out once a week. What a dream!

Other useful links:

The Proper Way to Use the Crisper Drawer in Your Refrigerator

Refrigerator Deep-Cleaning 101

Yours truly,

Charlotte

Need a kitchen cleanse? Contact us today for private chef services!

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How To Make Homemade Sushi

One of my favorite things about cooking is playing with my food. Composing a salad, the perfect toast or (in this case) sushi, allows me to have fun each step of the way!  For some, making your own sushi can sound daunting, but it’s actually simple. You don’t even need a sushi mat to make it (although it helps).

In this recipe, I made a vegan sweet potato and avocado sushi roll. Sushi is versatile, so play up your favorite flavor combinations! For the gals at What We Eat, we constantly make many variations of a carrot and avocado salad. So, in light of that inspiration, here is what we came up with! 

What you’ll need:

A clean dish towel

Plastic wrap

A bowl of cold water (to help the rice not stick to your hands)

Sushi mat 

Ingredients

Nori sheets

2 cups sushi rice, cooked and cooled with a splash of seasoned rice vinegar 

Julienned Vegetables of choice (I did sweet potato, cucumber, daikon, avocado, cilantro)

Method:

  1. Place a big square of plastic wrap on top of a sushi mat and place on top of a dish towel. (The towel is there to help with the mess). Place a single piece of nori on top of the plastic.

2. With wet hands, place a decent size scoop of the rice onto the nori and press down until even thickness throughout. The water will help the sushi rice to not stick to your hands. Life hack!

3. Add vegetables of choice in a straight line about ⅓ of the way in. Sprinkle with a bit of salt and top with cilantro.

4. Now the fun part! Using the sushi mat and plastic as a guide, tightly roll the sushi. Make sure the pressure is even when you roll to help prevent lumps. (Note: Chef hands in dire need of a paraffin treatment!!)

5. Allow to sit for 10 minutes rolled in the plastic before cutting.

6. Slice sushi into 8 pieces and enjoy dipped in your favorite sauce.

With Love,

Rian

 

 

Lacinato Kale, Roasted Wild Mushroom and Avocado Salad

After a week eating my way through Italy, then an indulgent Thanksgiving holiday with family in New England, I was ready to be return to my own kitchen in Brooklyn on Sunday.

It’s funny that the same reason I crave vacation, namely to bust out of my well-worn routines, is the same reason I can’t wait to get home.

Because I cook for a living, being fed by others for a sustained period is heaven. No menu planning. No grocery shopping. No cooking. No dishes. Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do but we all need a break.

Before I leave, I obsessively peruse the internet, reach out to friends and read through favorite travel guides to discover the best of what’s to eat wherever I go. Then, with every delicious bite at every carefully selected restaurant, it’s like I’m consuming a little bit of that chef’s culinary point of view.

But there comes a time when I am ready to eat my food again. To return to the meal routines that work for me. Namely, meals that revolve around vegetables.

The very first thing I made when I got home was this massaged lacinato kale, roasted wild mushroom and avocado salad. It touches on all of the elements of a crave-worthy vegetable dish: ingredients that are seasonal, both raw and cooked, and vibrantly colorful, and that provide contrasting textures, a little indulgence and a few surprises.

Both kale and mushrooms are at their peak during fall and winter. In fact, kale gets better as the weather gets colder. For this salad, I roast the mushrooms to concentrate flavor, essentially transforming them into little crunchy umami bombs. I top the salad with deep red, slow-roasted cherry tomatoes for color. (I added them after taking the salad shots this time because they were still hot from the oven and I was too hungry to wait…typical.) The additions of avocado, toasted walnuts and shaved parmesan lend both contrasting texture and enough indulgence to keep me coming back for more. And finally, I finish the dish with lemon zest, thinly sliced scallions and a tiny bit of fresh mint and basil for a touch of freshness to balance the earthy mushrooms.

I’ve made this kale salad about a gazillion times since I first threw it together on a whim and realized I was onto something. While I see the kale, mushrooms and avocado as mandatory, all other ingredients are flex. Don’t have time to slow-roast tomatoes? Leave them out! Prefer shallots to scallions? Swap’em! #Putaneggonit and/or serve it over a cooked grain like farro to make it more of a complete meal. You get the picture.

Lacinato Kale, Roasted Wild Mushroom and Avocado Salad

Ingredients

  • 1.5-2 lbs mixed mushrooms (oyster, king oyster, hen of the woods and maitake are great wild varietals but the more widely available shitake is equally delicious – this will seem like a lot but they shrink up when roasted)
  • Pinch red pepper flakes
  • Few shakes of granulated garlic (1/2-1 tsp)
  • 2 bunches lacinato kale, washed, de-stemmed and torn into bite size pieces
  • 1 ripe avocado, sliced
  • 1 cup slow-roasted tomatoes (optional)
  • ½-1 cup toasted and chopped walnuts (hazelnuts are equally delicious)
  • ½-1 cup shaved parmesan (use a vegetable peeler)
  • 4 scallions, thinly sliced
  • Small handful of fresh torn basil
  • Small handful of fresh torn mint
  • Zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 garlic cloves, lightly crushed
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper

Method

Roast the mushrooms:

  • Preheat oven to 425.
  • Prep mushrooms and break them into bite-size pieces. For shitake, this means removing their stems and tearing them into halves or fourths. For king oyster, this means slicing off a tiny bit of the root end and thinly slicing them lengthwise. Prep varies by varietal so purchase shrooms you’re comfortable with or Google proper prep technique.
  • Place shrooms on a sheet pan (lined with parchment for easy clean-up) and drizzle generously with olive oil, then season to taste with salt and pepper, a few shakes of granulated garlic and a pinch of red pepper flakes.
  • Roast in the center of the oven for 25-35 minutes, turning the mushrooms halfway through, until they shrink down by nearly half and are very crisp around their edges. Cool on sheet tray.

Make the vinaigrette:

  • Zest lemon and reserve for salad. Juice zested lemon into small bowl, add in a large pinch of salt, then drizzle in an equal amount of olive oil by volume or a little more. Add in the two crushed garlic cloves and allow to steep while finishing the rest of the salad.

Assemble the salad

  • Combine the prepped kale (watch Char’s video tutorial!), cooled mushrooms, sliced avo, slow-roasted tomatoes (if using), toasted walnuts, shaved parm, sliced scallions, torn basil and mint and lemon zest in a large salad bowl. Remove garlic cloves from vinaigrette and drizzle over vegetables. Using clean hands or salad tongs, gently toss salad until every nook and cranny of every vegetable is dressed.
  • Enjoy!

Serves 4 hungry peeps.

How to Bake Your Way to Gut Health

It’s difficult to ensure we’re taking proper care of our gut health. We’re continuously exposed to processed foods, prescription medication and environmental toxins, while dealing with stress in almost every facet of our lives. However, many of us are becoming aware of the concept of food as medicine. I’ve been fascinated with this philosophy long before I ever decided to become a professional chef thanks to a chronic gastrointestinal disorder. No matter what ailment we’re plagued with, the strength of our immune system is inextricably tied to the health of our gut.  

I attended the Natural Gourmet Institute (NGI) prior to working in a professional restaurant kitchen and joining the What We Eat team. The curriculum is centered around whole foods nutrition and largely attracts those most interested in vegan and vegetarian cuisine, and while I’m neither of the above, I definitely try to eat a plant forward diet.

At NGI, I was introduced to the work of Chef Peter Berley, the former executive chef of Angelica Kitchen and an award winning cookbook author. As a personal chef and culinary educator, Berley offers intensive cooking classes at his home in South Jamesport, Long Island, teaching bread baking, wild fermentation and general cooking classes through the lens of local sustainable food systems.

While I’ve pondered buying Sandor Katz’s “The Art of Fermentation” to get a crash course in this preservation technique, I figured Berley’s course would be the best way to get hands on experience. During his two day course, each of us baked a loaf of sourdough bread, created our own sourdough starter, and pickled sauerkraut and kimchee.

Since baking sourdough is a lengthy process, a successful loaf depends on how well you control temperature, time and the health of your starter. A sourdough starter can last indefinitely if you religiously feed it. A good way to tell if your starter needs some love is if it starts to form a crust on the top layer. As acid weakens gluten, insufficient feeding will make the starter more acidic, making it harder for the bread to rise.

You will also want to pay close attention to the shape and texture of your dough during the first (bulk fermentation) and final rise, in order to avoid under or over-proofing. The first rise determines the strength and shape of your bread, while the final rise is your last opportunity before baking to judge the state of your yeast. You can make this call by employing the poking test to observe the dough’s resistance and elasticity. A few pokes will suffice to get the verdict. The indent will spring back quickly if the dough is under-proofed, but will stay put if it’s over-proofed. What does perfect fermentation look like then? An ident that springs back half way through.

Ready to introduce beneficial gut bacteria through delicious bread? Check out Berley’s recipe below!

French Country Bread (Basic Sourdough)

Recipe by Peter Berley

For the Leaven

1 heaped tablespoon mature sourdough starter (20-30 grams) (If you don’t already have one, check out this link on how to create one!)

100 grams Water (80 degrees),

50 grams whole wheat bread flour

50 grams white bread flour

The night before you plan to make the dough, place 1-2 tablespoon of the matured starter in a bowl. Feed with 100 grams flour blend and the 100 grams water. Cover with a kitchen towel. Let rest for 10-12 hours. To test leaven’s readiness, drop a spoonful into a bowl of room-temperature water. If it sinks, it is not ready and needs more time to ferment and ripen.

Make the Dough:

Water (80 degrees), 700 grams plus 50 grams

Leaven, 200 grams

White bread flour, 700 grams

Whole-wheat flour, 300 grams

Salt, 20 grams

1. Mix dough: Pour 700 grams water into a large mixing bowl. Add the leaven. Stir to disperse. Add flours and mix dough with your hands until no bits of dry flour remain.

2. Autolyse: Rest for 35 minutes.

3. Add salt and remaining 50 grams warm water and mix well.

4. Begin Bulk Fermentation: Transfer to a medium plastic container or a glass bowl. Cover with kitchen towel. Let rest for 30 minutes. The dough will now begin its first rise (bulk fermentation). The rise is temperature sensitive; as a rule, warmer dough ferments faster. Maintain the dough at 78 degrees to 82 degrees.

5. Turning the Dough: Fold the dough in the container. Repeating every 30 minutes for 2 1/2 hours. ( 5 folds) To do a fold use a moist hand to grab the underside of the dough, stretch it out, and fold it back over itself. Rotate container one-quarter turn, and repeat. Do this 2 or 3 times for each fold. After the 3 hours, the dough should feel aerated and softer, and you will see a 20 to 30 percent increase in volume. If not, continue bulk fermentation for 30 minutes to 1 hour more.

6. The Pre-shape: Pull dough out of container using a dough spatula. Transfer to a floured surface. Lightly dust dough with flour, and cut into 2 pieces using dough scraper. Work each piece into a round using scraper Tension will build as the dough slightly anchors to the surface as you rotate it. By the end, the dough should have a taut, smooth surface.

7. The Bench Rest: Dust tops of rounds with flour, cover with a kitchen towel, and let rest on the work surface for 20 to 30 minutes.

8. The Final Shaping : Line 2 medium baskets or bowls with clean kitchen towels; generously dust with flour. Flip each piece of dough over and perform 4 stretch and folds. Flip dough over again and round. Using the dough scraper, transfer each round to a basket, smooth side down, with seam centered and facing up.

9. Final Proof: Let the dough rest at room temperature (75 degrees to 80 degrees), covered with towels for 3 to 4 hours before baking. (OR REFRIGERATE THE DOUGH FOR 8-12 HOURS AND BAKE STRAIGHT FROM THE REFRIGERATOR)

10. Bake the Bread: Twenty minutes before you are ready to bake the bread, preheat oven to 500 degrees, with rack in lowest position, and warm a 9 1/2-inch round or an 11-inch oval Dutch oven (or a heavy ovenproof pot with a tight-fitting lid).

11. Turn out 1 round onto a piece of parchment paper and score top using a razor blade or a sharp knife. Place the dough into the heated pot and cover with lid. Return to oven, and reduce oven temperature to 450 degrees. Bake for 20 minutes.

12. Carefully remove lid. Bake until crust is deep golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes more. The internal temperature should be 210 degrees.  Cool for 1 hour before slicing

How to maintain your Sourdough Starter

With each feeding, remove 50 grams or starter, discard remainder of starter or use to make pancakes, soup, or porridge.

Feed the starter with 100 grams flour and 100 grams warm water.

Mix until mixture is the consistency of a thick, lump-free batter.

Refrigerate and refresh 1x per week.

On Elevating a Dish

ingredients for this recipe

I think it is safe to assume that everyone has at least one guilty pleasure food that comes from a can or box. When I grew up, many families used to fully subsist on toaster strudels and kraft mac and cheese in favor of time and Convenience. For me, it was Spaghettio’s and hamburger helper. Once of my clients has mentioned that his Mom had a “special occasion” chili casserole that that used Velveeta as a base and Fritos as a topping. When you think about it, these processed foods are pretty awful, and now I can’t believe that I ate so much instant Ramen as a growing child in need of nutrients. Unfortunately, even with this retrospective knowledge, I still can’t help but crave some of my childhood favorites every now and then.

This past weekend proves case and point. After a long day catering a very fun and intimate dinner party, Rian and I craved some easy comfort. Seeking the only open grocery store at midnight, we loaded up on Annie’s mac and cheese, Chicken flavored Ramen, and Cinnamon toast crunch. While the cereal definitely lived up to its expectations, we were saddened to find that the mac and cheese tasted like cardboard and the ramen tasted like flavored salt. Now that we know better as experienced food snobs, we could recognize how inferior these powdered, dehydrated and condensed versions of food really are in comparison to the real deal.

This was a moment when I realized how being a chef has changed my life and habits. Without even talking about it, Rian and I set about doing whatever we could to improve upon the flavor of each dish and cajole them into giving us the flavor experience we remembered from childhood. The mac and cheese received grated gruyere, chili flakes and garlic while the ramen transformed into a mediocre resemblance of pho with cilantro, mint, basil, scallions and lime juice.

cheese before baking

If only there were a way that we could still enjoy our childhood favorite foods but in a less guilty manner. I finally realized that we can take our favorite aspects of each meal we used to love and then transform them into a more wholesome version. One might sacrifice some extra time but benefit from better ingredients, flavor, texture and nutrition. For example, why not transform the above mentioned chili casserole by using fresh grated fontina and cheddar cheeses, a combination of home cooked beans, and a homemade charred corn crumble topping.

Green Beans with cream and spices

On the topic of casseroles, I find myself to be somewhat of an expert. Hailing from Minnesota, we masters of the slow cooker and “hot dish” meals. My absolute favorite was the classic green bean casserole, which included Campbell’s condensed mushroom soup and a can of crispy fried onions. In light of the coming holidays and my recent revelations, I have decided to experiment with my theory on elevating a classic by creating a What We Eat version of my favorite casserole using only fresh ingredients.

Green Bean and mushroom casserole

 

GREEN BEAN AND MUSHROOM CASSEROLE

Ingredients
2 lbs green beans, trimmed
8 ounces mixed mushrooms of choice
6 shallots (canola oil to pan-fry)
5 cloves garlic
1 onion
2 cups chicken stock
1 cup heavy cream

¼ cup grated parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons flour

2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon smoked paprika

½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

pepper to taste

Method:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Thinly shave the onion and and garlic. Caramelize the onion in a well oiled skillet. When the onion has achieved some color, add the mushrooms and cook until they have reduced and become slightly caramelized. Add the garlic and stir until aromatic. Add the flour, smoked paprika, cayenne pepper and nutmeg and stir until aromatic.

Slowly pour the chicken stock and heavy cream into the skillet while stirring to combine. Toss the green beans into the skillet and stir all ingredients until just mixed. Top with an even layer of grated parmesan and bake uncovered for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, pour a one-inch layer of canola oil into another skillet and heat on high heat. Shave the shallots very thinly. Working in small batches, fry the shallots until crisp and lightly browned. Transfer to a paper towel lined plate to dry. Season with salt.

When the Casserole is bubbling and cooked through, remove from oven to let sit for ten minutes. Top with Crispy shallots to serve.

 

Serves 6