Table settings

If there is anything that I love as much as good food, it’s a good table setting. Even before you start the dinner, seeing the table can get you in the mood and excite your appetite.

In my line of work, I don’t get to set up the table very often. Normally, I cook and package food for my clients, and they serve it later, in whatever setting they like.

This weekend I was lucky to have a chance to decorate the table twice.

Saturday was an all-girls birthday party, themed “50 Shades of Grey”.

The menu:
Young onion, bacon, and gruyere tart
Antipasto skewers

Butternut squash soup with orange and chai spices

Roasted beets with baby arugula, goat cheese, and walnuts; sherry vinaigrette

Halibut Meyer lemon butter
Roasted Brussels sprouts with orange
Baby root vegetables bagna cauda
Wild rice pilaf

Chocolate cake with salted caramel sauce

On Sunday I prepared a very similar menu for an early dinner in my sunny backyard with my dear friends I. and V. The table setting made it look and feel completely different.
I. follows a gluten- and dairy-free diet, so I couldn’t make my favorite savory tart. I could treat her to a cream of cauliflower soup, that doesn’t contain any cream but still has a creamy texture from the pureed cauliflower. However she brought a delicious pear tart for the dessert that she couldn’t eat herself. V. And I enjoyed it a lot!

Italian cold meat cuts

Cream of cauliflower soup

Baby arugula salad with roasted beets and walnuts

Halibut baked in parchment with baby root vegetables
Meyer lemon asparagus
Orange Brussels sprouts

Pear tart from Trader Joe’s

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:San Rafael, 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.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Mill Valley, CA

Menu for a special diet today

I’ve been too busy to write a full-size post recently, but here is a quick update.

Today’s client has a strict diet with multiple restrictions: no grains, poultry, milk products, legumes, shellfish, canned or fermented foods; some vegetables, herbs and spices (for example black or red pepper) are also excluded.

Here is her menu, simple and wholesome. All vegetables, local king salmon, eggs, and Full of Life Farm’s stew lamb coming from Mountain View Sunday farmers market, the rest from Whole Foods.

Beef and vegetable soup
Salmon with lemon-parsley gremolata
Sautéed new potatoes
Frittata with bacon and caramelized onion
Beef meatballs, tomato sauce
Braised cabbage
Pork stir-fry with kale, asparagus, and red onion
Lamb and eggplant stew

Roasted yams

Packaged as individual servings, to take to the office for lunch or to have for dinner.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Palo Alto, CA

Winter vegetarian menu

It’s a trend: more people are choosing plant-based diet. Recently, some of my meat eating clients were ordering more vegetarian dishes, a couple of mostly vegetarians switched to completely vegetarian diets, and I get requests for vegetarian, vegan, and raw food all the time. It’s easy to see why: California local seasonal produce is so fresh, tasty, beautiful, and inexpensive! And it’s good for you.

So I have put together a list of vegetarian dishes that I cooked recently. It reflects the winter market and cold weather requirements for hearty comfort food, with an accent on root vegetables, cabbages, sturdy greens, mushrooms, and grains.

As the spring vegetables begin to appear at the market, I will introduce more asparagus, fresh beans and peas, artichokes, spring onions and garlic, and exciting fresh green salads. And yes, this is the time of the year when I get so tired of winter squashes that I cannot wait to take them off the menu till next fall.

My Winter Vegetarian Menu
Vegan dishes are in green. Dishes in brown contain milk, cream, cheese, or eggs.

Sweet potato and parsnip soup
Cabbage and potato soup with caraway
Creamy cauliflower with greens
Butternut squash with chai spices
Leek and potato soup
Green peas and garlic soup
Lentils and spinach
Wild mushroom and barley
Winter minestrone

Cream of asparagus
Cream of broccoli with almonds
French onion soup

Farro with mushrooms, balsamic vinegar and thyme
Whole wheat pasta with mushrooms, arugula, and pine nuts
Caponata linguini
Quinoa pasta with marinara sauce
Spaghetti squash marinara
Quinoa cakes with garlic, lemon, and parsley
Vegetable Thai-style red curry
Black bean and pumpkin chili
Mediterranean chickpea stew
Vegetable paella
Kale, mushroom and tomato sauté
Acorn squash stuffed with quinoa and vegetables

Black bean and artichoke burritos
Forager’s mushroom tarts
Wild rice Forestier
Baked mashed potato casserole
Spanish-style potato and spinach tortilla
Broccolini and bell pepper frittata
Stuffed portabello mushrooms
Broccoli and mushroom mini-quiches
Buckwheat pancakes with dill sour cream
Eggplant Parmesan
Vegetable pot pies
Roast beets and arugula vinaigrette with walnuts and goat cheese
Russian potato salad

Roasted Brussels sprouts
Sautéed Brussels sprouts and mushrooms
Green beans with garlic and lemon
Brown rice and beans
Sautéed potatoes
Sautéed Tuscan black kale
Braised collards and turnip greens with garlic and white wine
Orange glazed carrots
Israeli couscous
Buckwheat kasha
Garlic and herbs smashed potatoes
Red beans and walnuts salad with cilantro
Marinated red onions
Spicy cabbage and carrot slaw
Roasted kabocha squash
Quinoa pilaf with zucchini and lemon
Roasted root vegetables (parsnips, turnips, rutabaga, watermelon radish, celery root, etc.)
Honey glazed turnips
Baked apples

Cauliflower gratin
Carrots and sweet potatoes puree
Saffron risotto

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:San Francisco Bay Area

What I love about being a personal chef #7: Recipe Development

It’s so easy to get into a routine and keep cooking the same dishes for yourself and your family over and over again. In my previous life as a corporate employee, I remember a whole summer when I ate salad nicoise almost every night, just because it’s good enough, and after a whole day at work it was hard to invent something new, just for myself.

It is different when someone asks you to come up with a new or modified recipe for a special diet or a particular taste. Then you have an excuse to turn your home cooking into a recipe development session, trying out various combinations and adjusting ingredients in order to make the new recipe work. This way you eat something new and exciting every day.

I’ve been developing and testing recipes for gluten-free and dairy-free dishes, low-calorie and even fat-free versions of classic dishes, filling and delicious vegetarian meals, making adjustments in traditional recipes for my client’s tastes or dietary requirements, like brown rice paella or chicken cacciatore made with ghee instead of oil and butter, mushroom and rice soup, not to mention low-calorie Mediterranean dishes made without onions and celery for my client who loves Mediterranean but hates onions and celery.

Whatever new seasonal ingredient is on the market, I get to play with it. Sunchokes, blood oranges, Thai snapper, persian cucumbers, fingerling potatoes, duck eggs, venison – I get to taste them all, and then I have a pleasure of introducing them to other peoples tables.

Organic menu for my San Rafael client

These clients are special: their diet is gluten-free, dairy-free, they have multiple food allergies and restrictions, and they prefer all-organic food. I put a lot of work into planning their menu to add variety within their strict dietary requirements. Fortunately, they are not vegetarians or raw eaters 🙂

This is an example of a three-entree personal chef menu that I have prepared for them:


Zucchini and daikon with basil and lemon vinaigrette (my and my clients’ absolute favorite!)


Chicken saltimbocca (with sage, prosciutto and mushrooms; no cheese)

Braised beef (Mediterranean herbs, garlic, onion, white wine)

Rosemary scallops


Rice pilaf with mushrooms

Brussels sprouts with gremolata

Orange-glazed carrots