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Soup Really Is Good Food!

Okay, so most of us grew up enjoying classic Campbell’s chicken noodle or tomato soup. It was the ultimate comfort food on a cold snowy day. As kids, we thought it was the best thing ever. But let’s be realistic, how many of us still enjoy it as adults? What once seemed great doesn’t seem so great anymore. The broth is high in sodium and the chicken and noodles are quite mushy and don’t have the appeal it once did. You may have even tried other newer, “premium” soups and have been left unimpressed. This often leads to the common perception that soup isn’t such a great meal. This is so far from the truth! Fine restaurants have always made excellent soup, generally as an appetizer, but occasionally as a main course. Locally, cream of crab soup has been a popular staple ever since crabs were harvested from the Chesapeake Bay.

Many Gourmet Your Way clients have been reticent to try our homemade soups because of their strong association with mediocre canned soup, and don’t realize soup can be so much more flavorful, exciting, and completely satisfying as a meal on its own. Many Gourmet Your Way clients have been “reawakened” to the wonders of soups, running the gamut from light and delicate to thick and hearty. There’s truly nothing like homemade soup, and Gourmet Your Way uses only fresh ingredients in the preparation of all our soups. We believe we can make a convert out of any customer - really! Here’s a recipe of one of my most popular soups. Enjoy!

White Bean Soup with Veal Meatballs

(serves 4)

1 cup white beans, dried
4 cups water
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 onion, medium, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 carrot, medium, chopped
1 stalk celery, diced
1/2 teaspoon thyme, dried
1/2 teaspoon basil, dried
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 ham hock, medium
2 cups chicken stock
1/2 green pepper, diced

Meatball Recipe

3/4 pound ground veal (or ground turkey)
1 green onion, medium, sliced
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup bread crumbs, soft
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup fresh parsley, minced

In medium saucepan, bring beans and water to a boil. Simmer 5 minutes then remove from heat, cover, and let soak 1 hour.

In butter, saute onions, 1 clove garlic, carrots, celery, thyme, and basil for 5 minutes over medium heat. Add to beans and add pepper, ham hock, and chicken stock. Simmer partially covered for 1-1/2 hours or until beans are tender.

While beans are cooking, make meatballs by combining ground veal, green onion, egg, bread crumbs, salt, and pepper. Shape into walnut-sized balls and add them later to the finished soup and cook for 5 minutes.

Remove ham hock. Take half of cooked bean mixture and puree with 1 clove garlic and parsley. Return to soup with meatballs and enjoy!

I find it interesting that so often, during my initial complimentary meeting, a new potential client does not like seafood – at all.  The world’s oceans cover 71% of the Earth’s surface and contain an incredible and diverse array of food sources that are plentiful, delicious and above all, nutritious.  Why all the dislike of the “fruits de mer” (fruits of the sea)?  To understand this phenomenon, I suppose I don’t have to look any further than my own childhood.  When I was young, seafood consisted of frozen flounder packaged in a rectangular box.  My mother tried her best, but it was always under seasoned and overcooked – not a good culinary experience.  I realized my mother, probably like many others, did not have access to good seafood and did not know how to cook it.  Even many restaurants do not know how to properly prepare seafood, thus exacerbating the issue. 
Fortunately, seafood is Gourmet Your Way’s specialty!  I have made many reluctant converts to the “fruits de mer”.  Here are a few tips to getting good quality seafood at your local supermarket.
(1) Try to buy fresh seafood.  Some of us are lucky enough to be able to walk to the pier and get the catch of the day right off the boat.  Most aren’t.  Look for seafood that is labeled “not previously frozen”.  This means it’s fresh.
(2) Make sure the seafood doesn’t stink or have an ammonia smell.  If it smells bad, it will taste bad.  The fish should not be slimy to the touch.
(3) Many people have a favorite fish that may not be available.  Find a good substitute.  I have to do this frequently when cooking for my clients.  Look for fish of a similar look and consistency. 
So, you bought your favorite seafood – fresh!  What now?  The most important thing in seafood preparation is to avoid OVERCOOKING it.  All the careful work you’ve done at the supermarket will be undone if the result is dry and rubbery.  This takes a bit of practice and trust in yourself.  Fish should be moist and flakey.  The level of seasoning is somewhat of a personal decision.  Heavier seafood like salmon can accommodate heavier spices.  A light, delicate fish like tilapia only needs a little bit of spice.  Remember that you want to taste the fish, so don’t overdo the seasoning.
Not sure how long you should cook a piece of fish?  Try the 10-minute rule of thumb.

(1) Measure the fish at its thickest point. If the fish is stuffed or rolled, measure it after stuffing or rolling.

(2) Cook fish about 10 minutes per inch, turning it halfway through the cooking time. For example, a 1-inch fish steak should be cooked 5 minutes on each side for a total of 10 minutes. Pieces less than 1/2 inch thick do not have to be turned over. Test for doneness. Flake with a fork. Fish should reach an internal temperature of 145 degrees.

(3) Add 5 minutes to the total cooking time for fish cooked in foil or in sauce.

(4) Double the cooking time for frozen fish that has not been defrosted. Use this rule as a general guideline since fillets often don’t have uniform thickness.

Of course, the convenient and easy way to get delicious, fresh seafood is to let Gourmet Your Way Personal Chef Service to do all the work for you.

Corned beef has been around for a long time (since the 17th century), but why is it called “corned beef”?  Well, it has nothing to do with corn at all.  In those days, corn simply meant a “small particle”.  So to “corn” beef was to pack it with a small particle, salt in this case. But why stop at salt when there are so many other things that can be added for taste?  Additional ingredients consist of sugar and spices, which can include mustard seeds, juniper berries, allspice berries, peppercorns, cinnamon, bay leaves, and ginger.  Yum!  With all those yummy ingredients, why does corned beef end up pink?  The distinctive pink color in commercial corned beef comes from the use of sodium nitrite. This is the same substance that's used for curing a variety of meats, including hot dogs, sausages, and bacon.

Looking to cook some corned beef? If you have the time, a good option is to make it completely from scratch with your own seasonings.  If you prefer to buy it pre-seasoned, organic is the best option as it doesn’t contain sodium nitrate, and the cows are not given antibiotics or hormones.  Note that organic corned beef will be labeled “uncured”.

There are two cuts of corned beef - “point cut” and “flat cut”.  A “point cut” comes to a point at one end.  It has a lot of fat running through it, so when you cook it, it comes out nice and juicy. This cut is harder to find in supermarkets as it isn’t as attractive as the “flat cut”. The “point cut” is a good choice if you plan on shredding the meat.  The “flat cut” is much leaner and has a layer of fat on the bottom that will keep the meat moist. This is the cut you will most often find in supermarkets, as it looks more appealing. If you are looking for brisket that will slice up nicely, this is your best bet.

So, which cut should you get?  It is really up to you, but I personally prefer the “flat cut” as the “point cut” is too fatty for my tastes.  In the “Good Eats” episode “Pickled Pink”, Alton Brown chose a flat cut to make his own corned beef.

Barb’s Holiday Corned Beef Recipe

3-4 lb. 1st cut corned beef-flat cut
¼ c honey
¼ c Dijon mustard
½ c brown sugar
salt and pepper
Rinse meat thoroughly and place in roasting pan, fat side down. In a separate bowl, mix together the honey and mustard. Pour the honey mixture over the beef, making sure to cover the entire piece. Rub the brown sugar over the honey mixture until completely covered.
Cover and bake in pre-heated 275’ oven for 6-7 hours. Remove from oven, slice and enjoy!

Tips for food and wine pairing from Gourmet Your Way.  I’ve read that wine can be considered a separate course in meal.  Not served sequentially like a traditional course, but simultaneously with food.  Think of it as two courses served together that complement each other.  The classical notion of pairing was that white wine should be served with fish and chicken, and red wine should be served with beef.  The idea was the color of the food should match the color of the wine.  While this approach to food and wine pairing isn’t necessarily wrong, it is very limiting and discounts the wonderful complexities of the many available varietals and blended wines.   In general, it is safe to pair lighter wines with lighter foods and heavier wines with heavier foods, but why always be traditional and safe?  There’s so much more that can be gained from stepping out of this paradigm.  Here are a few simple guidelines for pairing food with wine:

1. The wine you choose should be a good quality wine.  Don’t let a marginal wine diminish your experience.  

2. A good starting point is to pair delicate and bold flavors with corresponding wines, like

    - Shiraz (syrah) or cabernet sauvignon with steak
    - Muscadet with oysters
    - Pinot Grigio with fish

3. If the dish is served with a flavorful sauce, pair the wine to the sauce, like
    - Chardonnay with crab served with clarified butter
    - Sauvignon Blanc with lemon chicken
    - Chianti with pasta in marinara

4. If all else fails, high acidity wines tend to go with almost anything, like

    - Pinot Noir
    - Riesling
    - Drier sparkling wines

(Personally, I haven’t found a dish that didn’t pair well with Champagne.  And it’s not coincidental that Beaujolais is released at Thanksgiving since its lighter weight and higher acidity pair well with turkey and stuffing.)

5. Finally, the one rule that should rarely be broken - dessert wines should always be sweeter than the dessert.  If not, you will lose the taste of the wine.

We had a really fun time doing the 8 course wine pairing dinner at the Winery in Olney last night. Chocolate cake with apple liquer and chocolate ganache frosting was the favorite, by far. Thankfully, we didn't lose power until after it was all done, but wine in the dark was a blast, too! Big shout out and thanks to the Winery at Olney folks for allowing Gourmet Your Way to help with this event and for all the help you gave us serving and clearing-we couldn't have done it without you!

As those who live in the Washington, D.C., metro area know, driving longer distances can be quite a challenge.  This is especially true during the morning and evening rush hours which seem to last longer and longer.  Even during midday, driving the beltway presents a logistical challenge given frequent construction, occasional accidents, and predictable bottlenecks.  Because of this, each personal chef has to make the decision which areas he/she wants to serve.  It is often not an easy decision as one has to consider the trade-off between increased business opportunities versus travel time.  Some personal chefs prefer to stay local, while others will cover a wide service area.

At Gourmet Your Way, I chose to serve the greater Washington, D.C., metro area, which includes significant portions of Maryland and Northern Virginia.  This has been true since Gourmet Your Way started in 2001.  My goal is, and always has been, to provide delicious, personalized, nutritious, and healthful food to those individuals and families whose time constraints don’t allow them to cook well-balanced meals themselves.  Despite the logistical challenges of driving in the D.C. area, I am committed to working with my customers to develop a cooking schedule that is both convenient and flexible.  This is true for customers who are 5 minutes or 50 minutes from my location in Olney, MD.  Though I cover a large, please contact me to ensure Gourmet Your Way services your locality.  Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you are interested in using Gourmet Your Way for all your personal cheffing and catering needs.  All of my customers are important, and I look forward to serving you.

As a personal chef, I often get requests for specific diets and dietary restrictions.  So often there is a new diet trend designed to promote overall health and well-being (Mediterranean) as well as to address specific health issues (gluten free).  Of course, there are also the tried and true diets like Weight Watchers.  Some specific diets fade away and then make a big comeback, such as Atkins.  There are merits to all these diets, so one cannot simply dismiss them as a “fad”.  In fact, some have been proven to reduce cholesterol and hypertension, and increase longevity.  Selecting a diet for yourself is a very personal decision, and only you know what is best for you.  What is your goal?  Lose weight?  Avoid certain foods?  Reduce cholesterol and high blood pressure?  Limit your intake of carbohydrates?  Do you need to control your blood sugar?  With all these questions, it often helps to consult with your physician or even a registered dietician. Once you have decided which diet best suits you, you can opt to cook for yourself or use an experienced personal chef to conveniently do all the work for you.    

Over the years, Gourmet Your Way has helped many clients improve their health and even lose weight.  For example, one male client dropped his cholesterol 70 points after eating Weight Watchers meals prepared by Gourmet Your Way.  Also, two clients, a couple, both lost significant weight on Weight Watchers.  At Gourmet Your Way Personal Chef Service, I am familiar with most diets and can personalize them to your specific needs.  In fact, I have clients with every diet mentioned above.  If you have any questions about any specific diet, don’t hesitate to contact me.

Over my many years as a personal chef in the Washington, DC, area, I get many interesting requests for particular dishes.  Sometimes the client wants a common dish with a particular twist, or sometimes it’s a request for something I’ve never prepared.  Recently, I catered a party for 30 people in Ashburn, VA, and the client asked for chicken and waffles.  Chicken and waffles is a fairly “new” dish that’s becoming increasingly popular, and there are many different preparations.  In much of the nation, it’s a sweet dish traditionally served with maple syrup.  In Pennsylvania Dutch country, it’s a savory dish served with a white sauce.  As any good personal chef would do, I took to Facebook to ask my friends and family throughout the nation what they’ve experienced.  As one would expect, everyone had a slightly different take on how chicken and waffles should be prepared.  Maple syrup or savory white sauce or something else?  My friend Allyson suggested an excellent compromise - a sauce made with maple syrup, cream, and butter.  Brilliant!  During preparation, I tweaked the proportions of these three simple ingredients to get the perfect taste and consistency.  The dish turned out to be a big hit at the party, and I realized I had the perfect recipe for chicken and waffles.  This just proves once again that you never stop learning as a personal chef, and you’re always adding new dishes to your repertoire.  If anyone is interested in the complete recipe, which includes the preparation of the chicken, please contact me and I’ll send it to you.

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Why would I need to cook 5 pounds of bacon? Why, to make enough BLT dip to feed 100 people attending the graduation ceremony of two teams of the Hero Dogs! Congratulations to Frankie (Franklin Delano Roosevelt) and Rosie (Rosie the Riveter) for making the lives of two of our veterans so much easier. Please consider donating to such a worthy cause at

Hello to all my Google+ family, friends, and customers.  Welcome to my new page.  I'm still getting used to Google+ so please bare with me.  Let me know what you think, and what you would like to see here.  Awesome recipes?  Personal stories?  Free food?
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