Today’s menu, vegetarian

Root vegetable soup with spinach and dill

Bulgur with radishes, spinach, and pine nuts
Roasted carrots

Steamed broccoli with chickpeas and mushrooms
Cucumber salad with yogurt dressing

Quinoa-stuffed peppers
Roasted Brussels sprouts

Braised collards and radish greens with garlic and white wine
Green beans with lemon and garlic

Bulgur with radishes, spinach, and pine nuts, a Whole Foods recipe, is my current favorite vegetarian dish. The interplay of textures and the harmony of the flavors make it perfect, served hot or at room temperature.

Radishes spell early spring, and right now they are the best: juicy, crunchy, spicy-sweet, and inexpensive. Besides the favorite bulgur dish, I added a few carrots to the roasting Brussels sprouts (winter meets spring), and used the greens for the braised greens dish. The client requested collards and turnip greens; but wherever I went, turnips were sold already trimmed, but the radishes were proudly displaying rich fresh green tails, so I made the substitute.

In making this menu I used my client’s Blendtec blender. In the blender competition between VitaMix and Blendtec, I clearly prefer VitaMix – after all, I own one! But Blendtec comes close second. It wet-chops vegetables for the mirepoix just a bit slower than my VitaMix, and mixes the salad dressing just great.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Palo Alto, CA

Using kitchen technology, today’s menu

My Burlingame clients love a good kitchen gadget even more then I, and I get to play with their gadgets on a regular basis.

Besides the Tec super grill that I use in summer to prepare whole menus, they have a bread machine and a VitaMix blender. And of course they have a microwave oven, that most people use just to reheat food, but in fact it’s an excellent tool for steaming small amounts of vegetables too.

Today’s menu was prepared with extensive use of their kitchen technology.

The menu:

Borscht; whole wheat piroshki with mushrooms

Garlic shrimps
Quinoa pasta with chicken, mushrooms, and vegetables
Pork tenderloin roast
Beef stir-fry with spring vegetables

Roasted beets
Sautéed greens
Broccoli salad with cranberries and hazelnuts
Brown rice with garlic and herbs

Borscht is a delicious, but very labor-intensive soup, and using VitaMix to prep the ingredients cuts the manual work by 50 %.

The bread machine kneads and raises the whole-wheat dough for the piroshkis, while the blender chops the mushrooms, garlic, and onions for the filling.

I blanch broccoli, green beans, asparagus, and other green vegetables in the microwave to make them soft without losing their vibrant green color before adding them to the stir-fry, pasta sauce, etc.

Recipes to follow.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Burlingame, CA

Today’s menu

Since I got my own VitaMix blender, I’ve been playing with it every spare minute, learning new techniques.

Today’s clients have a VitaMix blender too, so a big part of their menu was made in the blender:
Cream of asparagus
Cabbage and carrot slaw
Salmon with gremolata
Chicken roasted with olives, sweet onions, and lemon
Beef pot roast
Meatballs, sage and onion gravy

Roasted asparagus
Smashed potatoes with garlic and herbs
Buckwheat pancakes

Cabbage with bacon and caraway

Zucchini puree for the baby

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Burlingame, CA

Old cast iron pots restoration project

I got these old, dirty and rusty cast iron pots in a second-hand store for a few dollars each. From a brief inspection and an Internet research, it appears that the small one used to be a Cape Cod fire starter (they would fill it with lamp oil, soak a lava rock with an iron handle in it overnight, then light it and put it in the fireplace to ignite the firewood), and the large one was a cooking pot used over an open fire (the outside was covered with sooth), both about 100 years old.

I loved the shapes of the pots, and I wanted to use them in my kitchen. How do I clean them?
A wire sponge and Barkeeper’s Friend didn’t achieve anything.
Medium-grade steel wool showed me that there may be some metal underneath the dirt and rust, and if I keep rubbing, in the next 500 hours or so I will see more of it.
A drill with a wire brush attachment blew a lot of rust iron dust in my face and cleaned some parts of the pots almost OK, but it couldn’t reach inside the pots.

Finally, I took my pots to the local Porsche repair shop to be sandblasted. It took them a week, and they charged me as for Porsche repair, but the result was perfect, clean cast iron, stripped bare, beautiful dull-grey gun-metal color, and ready to start rusting again any moment now.

Now, I had to act fast. I took my pots home and started the seasoning process righ away.

A layer of rendered bacon fat, brush inside and out, wipe, into 400 degree oven. Lots of smoke. Let cool.

A layer of olive oil, brush inside and out, wipe, into 400 degree oven. Lots of smoke. Let cool.

Repeat three times.

The pots are gradually developing a shiny non-stick coat of polymerized fat, turning from dull grey to reddish-brown to black.

Now the 100 years old pots are ready to cook again. I already used the small one to cook white beans with bacon and chorizo on my gas grill, and made a mutton stew with onions, carrots, and rice, and a borsch, in the larger one, on the stove. Waiting for the weather to put them on the open fire. Or should I give up on the weather and use them in the fireplace?

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:San Rafael, CA

What I love about being a personal chef #10: I get to play with client’s kitchen gadgets

This is my Santa Clara client’s brand new Panasonic electric meat grinder/sausage stuffer that I took out of the box today, and used to grind beef round for traditional Russian beef patties, cotleti. Works like magic, and so easy to use (after spending hours with my temperamental manual grinder at home).
Russian beef patties - cotleti

Powerful VitaMix blenders, food processors, infrared grills – I get to use them all.

I cannot wait for the day when someone tells me “We bought this Bradley smoker two month ago, and we never use it. May be you can use it sometime, smoke salmon or something…”

iPad for personal chefs

I am one of the lucky few thousands (or is it millions?) who got an iPad for Christmas last year. Since then, I let it out of my hands only briefly, to charge overnight. The rest of the time, I’ve been using it to read old English mystery novels by the fireplace, browse the web on a sunny day in the park, get directions when lost, check the weather, play Edith Piaf songs for an old man I met on Tiburon boardwalk, play a game of Mahjong whenever I needed to concentrate, make friends with my friend’s new cat Loki on Facebook… The little pad has many uses.

Mostly, however, I’ve been using the pad for business, and my business is cooking for clients.

So here are the ways that I found how a personal chef can use this neat piece of technology:

  • Calendar – I’ve been using Google calendar to schedule my cook dates, networking events, and client interviews. When I started using iPad, I was delighted to discover that its calendar synchronizes with Google perfectly. The calendar application does not allow you to do very complex scheduling, like schedule a cook date every three weeks on a particular day – you have to use the browser interface for this – but for simple scheduling it’s perfect.
  • Contacts – I like to have clients address linked to the map to their place
  • Pages – create menus and invoices, and mail them in either Word or PDF format, or copy and paste into the email message itself
  • Tap Forms HD – the most useful application for a personal chef, or anyone who has to keep clients profiles!I used to interview my new clients about their food likes, dislikes, and allergies, armed with a six-page printed form and a pen, and hated every minute of it! A couple of times I forgot to print out the form before going to an interview, so I had to remember all the questions, write down their answers on a scrap of paper, then rush home to file them.After discovering Tap Forms, I spent a couple of hours configuring my questionnaire form, and now I interview them and tap their answers into my iPad, and I always have their information in my purse! And look cool in the process.

    Contact field links to the client’s contact info and the map. File attachment field allows to add external info, like the approved food list from the personal trainer of my bodybuilder client, or a favorite family recipe. The application is password protected, and allows export to Dropbox or other cloud for backup.

    I love this application, and highly recommend it to other personal chefs. I’ll be happy to share my food questionnaire form with anyone who wants to use it, as is or customized to their business needs.

  • Recipe databases:

    Whole Foods recipes application – I’m very satisfied both with the easy interface, and with the quality of recipes, well suited to our health-conscious clients, and easy to adapt to their individual requirements. Most recipes have nutritional information. I’ve been using it extensively to plan menus for my calorie count client.

    Epicurious – lots of recipes; unfortunately, many of them are too “all-American”, and not suitable for modern Californians. Anything containing “a can of cream-of-something soup”, vegetable shortening, or a bouillon cube is out, and that’s 50% of them

    AllRecipes and Food and Wine applications – both great for inspiration, too difficult to navigate for actual menu planning

    BigOven – I’m just starting with it. Looks promising

  • Grocery Gadget – I’ve been using the web interface on my iPad or PC to create shopping lists, and an iPhone application while shopping. Very convenient. The only complaint is that it has to connect to the Internet every time you turn the phone on, and in some grocery stores it takes forever.
    Go for the paid version. The free demo restricts the shopping list to 20 items, and allows you one list only; my lists usually run to 30 items or more, and, of course, there are 4-5 lists at a time
  • WordPress – the application used to create this post. Usable. Glitchy. Very restricted formatting capabilities, especially for the images. The visual editor doesn’t work. I am comfortable with editing HTML, most personal chefs are not. Let’s wait for the next version.Update: adding links is next to impossible. I’ll add them when I get to my PC. Upd. 4/4/2011: I’ve added links to applications. It’s so much easier with the WP web interface!
  • Update 4/4/2011: invoice2go – the free Lite version is sufficient for most personal chef’s purposes. Set up your company info and logo, add service options and rates in the product section, create and email invoices to clients in your iPad or iPhone contact list. It adds up the items automatically, and allows you to specify per cent discounts, subtract deposits, and calculate taxes, if any. For example, I can add “4×4 meal service, $325” from my list of products, select 15% discount (my “welcome” discount for new clients), manually add groceries, $154.97, enter $150 groceries deposit in the “Paid” column, and the app creates a PDF invoice with all the data and attaches it to an email message to the client. Works both on iPad and iPhone. Requires Internet connection.

Cooking in Burlingame



            Beets with white beans  


            Beet salad with grapefruit and romaine 


            Garlic and lemon shrimp 

            Bison meatballs with sage tomato sauce 

            Cuban style brisket (ropa vieja) 

            Lamb chops with goat cheese sauce 


            Sweet potato and carrot puree 

            Buckwheat kasha 

            Brussels sprouts with lemon and garlic 

            Prosciutto wrapped asparagus 

Bison meatballs

The majority of recipes in this service are adapted from Whole Foods website. I access them through their iPad application, and I am very happy with both the easy to use application and the variety of healthy recipes that are easy to fine-tune to particular clients requirements. The meatballs are made with packaged groung bison meat, seasoned with soy and worcestershire sauces, eggs and Panko breadcrumbs, browned in olive oil, then simmered in tomato sauce made with fresh sage, white wine, and red pepper flakes 

The kasha recipe is my own. I brought it with me from Russia many years ago, then adapted it to California ingredients. The secret here is to use buckwheat imported from Russia or Poland, that can be found in Eastern-European grocery stores – it is less processed that the supermarket brands, so the grains stay whole and hold their texture well during cooking. I saute thinly sliced onions and shitake mushrooms in half olive oil and half butter, add rinsed buckwheat and two cups of water for each cup of buckwheat, season with sea salt, bring to a boil, cover, and simmer over low heat until kasha is cooked, 20-25 minutes.

Cuban style brisket

Ropa vieja

The “Cuban” brisket recipe from Whole Foods doesn’t sound very authentic, but my clients love it anyway. It works even for the client who cannot stand onions and celery: there is enough flavor from the spices, raisins, and olives. The balance of sweet, salty, and spicy is perfect.