Happy New Year 2016!

Happy New Year from Caliblini Personal Chef Service!

The last dinner party of 2015 was:

Roasted garlic and herb focaccia

Cream of mushroom soup
Fennel and orange salad with walnuts

Chicken roasted with garlic and thyme
Roasted Brussels sprouts with pomegranate
Smashed red potatoes

Fruit and berry crumble

Now working on menus for 2016!

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Menu today

Vegetable soup with meatballs
 Sautéed halibut, salsa verde
  Spaghetti squash
 Duck legs roasted with pears and sweet onions
  Potatoes gratin
 Pork roast with herb mustard crust
  Braised cabbage

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Vegetarian dinner party tonight

Because it’s spring, I used lots of fresh herbs and edible flowers from the garden to garnish the dishes. I was also fortunate to find ramps and fresh porcini mushrooms at Sigona’s Farmers Market, and got Italian heritage polenta from the Front Porch Farm, they really made my appetizer shine.


Polenta crostini with wild mushroom ragout

Green pea and spring garlic soup
Butternut squash and goat cheese ravioli, lemon cream sauce

Ice cream with hot chocolate sauce and port-soaked fig

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Location:Los Altos, CA

Garden herbs: Bay

Bay is one of the easiest herbs to grow in California. It’s a perennial shrub that does very well in any kind of soil, doesn’t require a lot of water or fertilizer. All it needs is sunshine.

For all your soups and stews, this is the savory herb that adds complexity and brings it all together.

There are two kinds of bay: the Mediterranean (noble) laurel, and California bay. Both trees grow everywhere in the Northern California. The Mediterranean laurel, most often used in cooking, has slightly pointed rounded leaves, peppercorn-size berries, and strong but delicate smell. The California Bay, often found growing wild in parks, has elongated leaves, walnut-size berries, and very strong, sweet and pungent, up-in-your-face smell. It can be used in soup and stews as well, but be careful to remove it after 10-15 minutes, or you’ll end up with a laurel soup, it’s this strong!

Chicken stock

Homemade chicken stock makes the house smell good, and it cannot be replaced with store-bought chicken broth in the recipes for clear soups, or, in fact, anything, soups, stews, sauces, whatever.

The best chicken to use for a flavorful, clear, inexpensive homemade chicken stock is a mature hen (“stewing chicken”) that Asian grocery stores sell for next to nothing. Some farmers markets have whole chickens with head and feet on – these are even better. The goal is to get a lot of connective tissue that adds body to the stock. As an alternative, use chicken backs that are left over from the whole chickens that you cut up for roasting or frying, or buy at Whole Foods real cheap; or even leftover roast chickens, supplemented with chicken feet and necks, sold separately.

For the aromatic vegetables, use fresh clean trimmings from the vegetables that you used for other dishes – cut carrots for a salad, put the carrot cores in the stock; braise fennel and leeks, use the green parts in the stock; use the large outer cloves of garlic for a sauce, save the inner cloves, unpeeled, for the stock; etc.

Makes about 4 quarts

1 whole chicken, preferably with head and feet, large chunks of fat removed, liver and gizzards removed, cut up
3 chicken backs, plus any chicken necks and feet you can get
2 roast chicken carcasses and bones, plus some necks and feet
Cold water to cover
1 large onion, peeled, halved
2 ribs celery, cut into large chunks, or trimmings from a bunch of celery
2 carrots, cut into large chunks, or equal amount of leftoverp carrot cores and trimmings, chopped
1 small whole fennel, or equal amount of fennel tops, chopped
2 medium leeks, or green tops from 4 leeks, chopped
1 bunch of parsley stems, or one whole parsley plant
3 sprigs thyme
15 whole black peppercorns
2 bay leaves

Put chicken in a large stockpot, cover with cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low. Skim all the foam that floats to the top, discard. Add onion, celery, carrots, fennel, leeks, parsley, thyme, peppercorns, and bay leaves. Adjust the heat to maintain a low simmer (a bubble breaks the surface every second). Simmer for 4 hours. Laddle the stock through a sieve into a clean pot; discard the solids. Refrigerate the stock for 5 days, or freeze in an air-tight container for up to 4 months.

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Late Fall menu today

I only realized how much the short days and foggy mornings of November affect me when I saw a line of gratin dishes forming on the counter, waiting for their time in the oven. Almost everything is au gratin today! Well, another influence on this menu was the client’s kids, who love everything with cheese on it, and always beg for more cheese. They are probably affected by the season too.

The roasted vegetables soup is based on homemade chicken stock that I prepare with the carcass, the wings, and the legs of an organic chicken (the breasts go into Dijon chicken), and the trimmings of the vegetables that go into the other dishes, flavored with bay leaf, thyme, parsley, black peppercorns, clove, and konbu seaweed. While the stock is simmering, I roast chopped carrot, celery, onion, garlic, turnips, parsnips, and butternut squash with olive oil and sea salt in a 400 degree oven until soft and caramelized. I then strain the stock, discard the stock vegetables, take chicken meat off the bones and chop it, add the roasted vegetables, chicken meat, and broken up spaghetti (or other pasta shapes) back to the stock, cook until the pasta is done (7-10 minutes). Adjust the salt.


Chicken soup with roasted vegetables and pasta

Shrimp and pasta casserole
Creamed Swiss chard

Black bean and butternut squash enchiladas
Wild and brown rice

Dijon chicken
Potatoes and fennel gratin

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Location:San Francisco, CA

Summer menu today

I met my client’s father when he was visiting from Europe almost a year ago. He loves soups, and when he learned that I am from Russia, he said I should make a borscht. I promised.

When I put borscht on the menu this week, I didn’t know that the client’s parents are coming to visit again. But here they are, and the borscht, Moscow style, is on the menu. I hope the old man enjoys it as much as I enjoyed making it.

Bacon-wrapped sea scallops
Creamed spinach

Heirloom tomato tart
Greek salad

Pork and vegetables stir-fry
Wild rice with mushrooms

Beef ragu
Fetucchine with garlic and herbs

I am very happy with this ragu: the quality of the stock that you use to deglaze the pan matters as much as the quality of the meat. Since I was making a rich beef stock for my borscht right here on the next burner, this ragu, made with grass-fed ground beef and bits and pieces of USDA Prime steak, also got fresh homemade beef stock. Other ingredients: olive oil, onion, garlic, carrot, celery, white wine, tomato paste, strained tomatoes, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, thyme, sea salt, fresh ground black pepper.

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Location:Palo Alto, CA

Colorful spring menu today

From my previous post it may look like my vegetable garden is losing it’s struggle with the local wild life. It is not so. I’m learning to garden in these difficult conditions, and I had some successes. The key is to protect the plants they favor, to plant what the beasts don’t like, or to grow whatever grows faster than they eat it. Most culinary herbs (basil, red sorrel, and dill are the exceptions) don’t seem to interest them. This year, my fava beans are my pride and joy. Fast growing, beautiful plants bear tons of tasty beans, and the only one who is interested is the gopher – and he cannot take them all. Well, he got a couple of plants, but I still have the rest!

Now they are at the peak of their short season, and they go happily into a ragout of fava beans, green beans, and English peas, seasoned with sautéed red onion, garlic, white wine, and good olive oil.

This week I also started cooking with fresh tomatoes again. They are not at their best yet, but after roasting the flavor gets more concentrated, and they make a good roasted tomato soup.

On the menu today:

Roasted tomato soup with pasta

Mushroom, ricotta, and spring onion tartlets
Tangy macaroni salad

Zucchini and carrot “spaghetti” primavera

Duck legs roasted with sweet onions, lemon, and olives
Herbed new potatoes

Lamb chops, chimichurri sauce
Fresh peas and beans ragout

Emerald-green goodness of fava beans and English peas bring the spring to the table.

This isn’t your orthodox spaghetti primavera. The “noodles” are cut out of Nantes carrots and zucchini with a julienne peeler, then steamed briefly and topped with a spring vegetables medley. I first developed this technique for a client who cannot eat any grains – I wanted to make a pasta for her. Then I realized that anyone who wants a vegan dish would probably enjoy it.

Today’s client, a mother of two, gets a little bunch of edible chive flowers for the Mother’s Day on her lamb chops.

Wild mushrooms sautéed with thyme and garlic, and thinly sliced spring onions, top these classic puff pastry ricotta tartlets.

What I bought as packaged “duck legs” in a Chinese grocery store turned out to be whole duck leg quarters! Good. More duck. First, cooked in a skillet, skin side down, to render the fat and to crisp the skin; then, slow-roasted in the oven on top of sweet onion slices, with lemon, rosemary, thyme, and white wine. Garnished with olives.
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Location:Cupertino, CA

Winter menu for today

Our winter is mild, there is no snow, the mimosa is blooming, and we get a couple of hours of short sleeves almost every day. But by the dinner time it’s usually cold and dark. Dark, cold, and windy. Cold.

So here is a comforting winter menu that I cooked today. It’s full of hearty meats, mushrooms, citrus fruits that are natural antidepressants and are in season right now, and it even includes my Grandma’s meat pies, directly from Russia, recipe follows.

The menu:
Roasted vegetables soup

Salmon with lemon and parsley gremolata
Fennel gratin

Farfalle with creamy chicken and mushroom sauce

Roasted pork loin with honey and orange glaze
Braised red cabbage

Meat pies
Spinach salad with walnuts, orange, and goat cheese

The meat pies are based on my grandmother’s recipe for Tartar belyashi, or peremyachi, with a few changes made to accommodate modern Californian ingredients. They are a perfect accompaniment to any winter soup.

Meat pies
Makes 12

For the dough:
4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 packets active dry yeast
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 egg
1-1/2 cup of warm water, or enough to form a soft, pliable dough

For the filling:
1 lb ground grass-fed beef
12 oz ground lamb
2 medium onions, minced
1 small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, minced
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce, or to taste
Sea salt, fresh ground black pepper to taste

For cooking: 1/2 cup grape seed oil, or other high temperature, neutral-tasting oil

In a large bowl, combine flour, yeast, sugar, salt, egg. Add water, a little at a time, and mix with your hands to make a soft dough, about the texture of pizza dough. Knead for 5 minutes. Form the dough into a neat ball, put in the bowl, cover with a napkin, and set in a warm place to rise. After about 1 hour the dough should double in size. Pinch it back and fold 2-3 times. Let rise and double in size again.

Combine ground beef, ground lamb, onions, parsley, and Worcestershire sauce. Season with salt and pepper. Fry a bite-size piece of the filling and taste for seasoning. Adjust the seasoning. Divide the filling into 12 more or less equal portions.

Remove the dough onto a surface dusted with flour. Cut the dough into 12 equal portions; roll each portion into a ball. Roll out each ball into a 6-inch disc. Place a portion of the filling in the middle of a disk, gather the sides and pinch them together to enclose the filling, leaving a small opening in the middle. Flatten the pie with your palm into 1-inch thick disk. Repeat with remaining dough and filling. Let the pies rest 20-25 minutes.

Divide the oil between two large frying pans. Heat the pans over medium heat. Place the pies, open side down, into the pans. Cook until well browned. Turn over, baste with hot oil from the pans, cook until golden on the other side and cooked through, 10-12 minutes. Remove the pies to a paper towel covered plate. Let rest for 10 minutes before serving.

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Location:Palo Alto, CA

Menu today

OK, done with my sales pitch, now back to the kitchen. Today’s menu (without pricing; the pricing was, in fact, very similar to that in the previous post)

Cream of cauliflower soup

Cod with caper-tomato topping
Brown rice with vegetables

Dijon chicken
Quinoa with orange

Swiss chard beef rolls
Parsnip and carrot puree

Beef and beer stew
Garlic green beans

The cauliflower soup is a miracle: it actually tastes creamy, without any cream added. The pureed cauliflower does the trick. As a result the soup is rich, smooth, and very low in calories. If made without butter, it is also suitable for dairy-free diets, and still tastes great. It is also one of the simplest soups to make.

Cream of Cauliflower Soup
Makes a lot

1 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp butter (optional)
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
1 small parsnip, peeled and chopped
Sea salt
2 medium heads white cauliflower, leaves discarded, stems chopped, crowns separated into florets

Heat oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add onions, cook until soft and begin to turn golden. Add butter, if using. Add parsnip, cook until it begins to soften, 5-6 minutes.

Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil in a 6-quart soup pot. Add salt to taste. Add onions, parsnip, cauliflower, bring back to boil, reduce heat to low, to maintain slow simmer. Cook until cauliflower is very soft, 25-30 minutes. Puree in blender, leaving some chunks of cauliflower for texture, if desired. Adjust seasoning and serve.

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Location:Palo Alto, CA

Menu for a low-carbohydrate diet today

My client S. has found out that restricting carbohydrates helps her to achieve her weight loss goals without giving up the satisfaction from meals. S. is a good cook herself, and had been cooking most of the dishes for her new low-carb, high-protein diet.

She is not very comfortable, however, with preparing red meats and seafood. To break the monotony of roasted chicken breasts and fried salmon fillets, S. asked me to cook a package of meals that she could keep in the freezer, in individual serving containers, and reheat whenever she is pressed for time, or feels like eating something different.

Here is what I cooked for her today. The chicken soup has onions, celery, and just one little carrot, finely sliced and sautéed in butter, and fresh green beans, red and yellow peppers, leeks, tomatoes, and black Tuscan kale.

Chimichurri, a bright fresh Argentinian sauce, made of parsley and oregano with garlic, dried red chilies, red wine vinegar, and olive oil, is as good with lamb as it is with grilled beef (or almost anything grilled), is totally addictive, and doesn’t add much carbs, calories, or weight to the dish – just a lot of flavor.

Menu November, 7

Chicken and vegetables soup
Shrimp stir-fry with peppers, spring onions, and bok choi

Leeks, spinach, and bacon frittata
Braised leeks
Delicata squash stuffed with beef and vegetables
Roasted Brussels sprouts
Lamb chops, chimichurri sauce

Kale with garlic and white wine

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Location:Mill Valley, CA