Nov 14, 2014

Thanksgiving In A Bucket.


   
"As a chef you don't like the word 'bucket' near your food, but after I looked at the article, I thought the portable part of it was brilliant," said Vivaldo. "The idea of someone who doesn't have a lot of dishes or china, doesn't know how to entertain."

Because the bucket is so portable, you can take it to friends, take it to work, maybe to the park, or put it together if you have a tiny little apartment.

Besides all that, cleaning up is a snap. Another bonus: you can do all the cooking the day before, or even buy all the prepared things you want to layer from markets or restaurants.

Keep in mind these things are cooked, here's the pecking order:

  1. Stuffing to start as it is nice and sturdy.


  2. Add sliced turkey topped with gravy as the liquid seeps down through turkey to stuffing.


  3. Top with barely cooked blanched green beans or veggie of choice.


  4. Spread on the mashed yams.


  5. Top the bucket off with cranberries or cranberry jelly.

Remember to press down each layer to make it nice and compact.

Reheating can be a challenge, so it's important your container is oven or microwave safe.

And then you're going to have to get past the fact that all your items will be touching.

"And then, getting it out -- It didn't look pretty one little bit," said Vivaldo after she tried cutting a slice.

So Vivaldo does a take on the bucket, a Thanksgiving torte or lasagna in a casserole dish that you can cut and serve evenly.

If the bucket is a bit too bizarre for the big meal, make it after. It is a fabulous way to tidy up your leftovers.

Nov 3, 2014

Spanking

I was spanked. Not a lot, but when I was, I usually deserved it. Not only was I a brat, I loved to lie as a kid. And I was good at it. 

Lucky for me, I was cute.  It was continually my saving grace. 

My first words were, “No, Daddy!” That didn’t work for my Dad.  My two older sisters were different than me. I don’t think they ever got the belt. One was stoic and never complained and took being the first born extremely seriously, and the other looked like my dad’s mother. She had a golden pass from discipline. She was a really nice kid. I can still hear my mother telling people, “My girls are all so different, but it’s not quiet, it’s like a circus.”   

As for me, it wasn’t my goal to be good. I think when you are born the last in line and vying for attention and jostling for position, you do what you have to. My vantage point as the baby was when I entered the big top, I saw all of the performances.  If I told a lie, big deal. 
 
What I wanted was to find my unique place in the troupe. And I have always been one for doing exactly what I want. My second grade teacher wrote on my report card, “Even with correction, Denise seems undeterred.” I’m guessing that I was not listening to what she said, and continued on in my own way. It was a progressive school. Discipline was very sedate. Today, a similar teacher might say, “Denise, use your words.” And for me, that would still be a no. No way, but good on you for asking with such zen dedication (told you I’m a brat).

At home, nothing was sedate.  Excited fighting Italians performed constantly. Swats, smacks, wooden spoons, ping-pong paddles, rulers, yardsticks; the instrument of discipline was whatever my parents could grab while trying to catch me. I wasn’t stupid enough to stand still. 

Yelling? Screaming? That was just the band warming up. All performers need an overture. When shit flies now on sets where I’m working, and later people apologize, seemingly horrified by their behavior, I can’t help but think that they have no idea where I come from. This calm exterior is part of my act.  Crazy is in my blood.     

As I got older the punishments changed. The days of, “You just wait until your father gets home.” turned into a quick a swift kick in the butt. My mother was tiny and she kicked like a mule. It was quite a surprise the first time. I was exiting the lion’s cage, turning on my heel, flipping my hair and when she got me, I was walking upstairs. That day I realized she didn’t want to wait for my father. She’d had enough. And I was humiliated that my tiny mama kicked the crap out of me.

We came to a truce after that. I was fifteen and I loved her. She worked so hard at being a good mom. And I knew she loved me more.     

My father, the ringleader, we still had work to do on our understanding. The usual teenage rules rode in on an elephant: You’re grounded, your car will be taken away, how would you like to spend the night in juvenile hall? The infamous juvenile hall….I’m not sure it really existed. I did know my canopy bed wouldn’t be there. I was well aware of the fine line between a princess and a delinquent.

I like nice sheets. Always have.

I learned the difference between discipline and torture when I was seventeen.
Such a clever, smart mouth I had.  My father had had enough that day. And I insulted him. I can’t tell you how and  looking back, I was wrong. Very wrong.

Every dinner in 1967, my father and I fought about Nixon, Vietnam, war in general, long hair, peaceful demonstrations and nuclear power. We liked to fight. We both wanted to win. And my mother would take her plate and would go into her bedroom screaming, ‘’Go ahead, kill each other!‘’  A supporting role, but none the less impressive. 

When I made a comment that was below the belt, my father, with his baseball mitt hands, slapped me across the face. My eyes stung. I saw stars. I was stunned and I felt ashamed. Because he was right. And I deserved it.

What broke the silence, the horror, the tension was my mother screaming, “Johnny, don’t hit her in the face…she’s cute!”  

Jul 7, 2014

Visualizing Your Career




I'm getting ready to speak at the United States Personal Chefs Association conference later this month, and wanted to share a few thoughts in case you won't be able to make it (and if you do, please come say hi!):

When I was a kid, I wanted to grow up to be a writer. My mother used to type my stories for me on her typewriter, and in 4th grade my story entitled "Growing Poppies" won second place in the first ever creative writing competition at The Bernard Hoffman elementary school in Terra Linda, California.

A different path found me, one that I was passionate about and felt called to: cooking. I don’t regret the choice as its brought me joy, prosperity and most importantly, great stories. I never stopped collecting them even though I dare not call myself a “writer.”
 
In 1993, I got a call to write a how-to book from Globe Pequot Press. They needed a catering expert and I filled that slot. I had never used a computer before so I wrote my first book and learned to use a PC at the same time. It could never have happened without the help of my lovely second husband. He told me I had to write this book because I had valuable advice to share. 

He kindly taught me to save my words. Get in, be clear, and get out. I experienced the flip side of the coin with the editor, who was mean. When I finally had pages to turn in to her, she'd tell me how awful they were. Not constructive, but anyone who knows me knows that above all else, I persevere. What I lack in intelligence, I make up for with stubbornness.  

I wrote my first book. I got the tiniest advance in the history of publishing, but I did it. With great pride, I now announce that the 7th edition of my catering book is due out this month, with added information, forms and menus. The life of my little catering book is alive and well. 

And guess what? I've sold over 100,000 copies and it has paid me (modest) royalties for twenty years. Most importantly, I receive emails every month from people who tell me that it changed their lives. A little book that helped them, inspired them, brought them income. I am humbled and grateful. 
 
So as you visualize your career, I invite you to feel more than you see. Do not get caught up in details and in thinking it has to look a certain way, because you may be standing in the way of your own greatness. My initial vision was about being creative and expressing who I am in a way others could enjoy. I’ve gotten that back tenfold and I know all of you can as well!

Jul 3, 2014

Avocado and Shrimp Tacos

 

The first cookbook I ever bought was "Easy Mexican Cooking." Don't know who published it but it was a pamphlet cookbook that was close to the checkout register in my dad's store. It cost ninety-nine cents.

I started working as a cashier in my dad's grocery store in June during the summer I was thirteen. I didn't want to, but it was either work there or go to summer school. Or the worst choice of all; helping my mother weed her huge garden and paint our house, in the hot sun, for weeks. I chose being a cashier, and the fourteen dollars a day my dad paid me would surely make me rich. (Just so you know, gas was twenty-five cents a gallon and part of the deal was my sister had to drive me to the store everyday. She had a car. It was her gas.) I would be so very rich by August.

Working eight hours a day and learning the produce prices, seeing what customers were buying, and learning to make change kept me busy the first week. As soon as I grew 
comfortable, I began to see food in a different light. Not only did it make me think about cooking, I wanted to try new things. I wanted to taste more. I wanted to learn about food.

The first thing I learned to cook out of my new cookbook was tacos. I bought ground beef, corn tortillas, cumin, cucumbers, lime, then I diced tomatoes and shredded cheese. I realize now the recipe was Americanized, but hey, I'm American and so were the people I cooked for, so we thought this was very exotic.

The first night I served tacos to my family, my mother was impressed. And she was extremely calm when I threw the hot oil filled fry pan into her sink and turned on the water. The new clock she bought totally hid the scorched wallpaper. Cooking is an adventure; I discovered that early.

Eventually, I added chopped avocados to my tacos. And if I can say anything with out reservation, it's that avocados are a perfect food. Eat 'em plain, mashed up, even make sorbet! It doesn't matter; they are delicious.
 
I thought for the Fourth of July this year, instead of heavy BBQ or burgers, I would go back to my roots and make tacos. I was inspired by the shrimp tacos I've eaten in Mexico. Soft corn tortillas or crispy, whatever you like best. It takes but minutes to fix.

If you want to know more about avocados and how they are grown, please enjoy my friend Chef Debbi's blog. In this particular post, Debbi discovers our mutual friend Mimi's avocado ranch. I am so rich this summer!

Avocado and Shrimp Tacos

Makes 12 Tacos

2 15-ounce cans of black beans
2 tablespoons crushed garlic
1 tablespoon ground cumin
12 corn taco shells

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 lbs. (16-20 per pound size) peeled and deveined shrimp
1 8-ounce clamshell of cherry or pear tomatoes
2 tablespoons of chopped cilantro, just leaves no stems

3 limes
2 ripe Hass avocados, cubed
1 tsp cayenne pepper  
Whole cilantro leaves for garnish


1.Open both cans of black beans, drain, mash and mix with garlic and cumin. Heat in a microwaveable bowl for 2-3 minutes. Swipe some beans inside of each taco shell.

2.In a large sauté pan, heat olive oil until it ripples, then add shrimp, cook two minutes. As they are turning pink, add the tomatoes, and continue cooking for 2-3 more minutes. Shrimp will be curled and pink and tomatoes will have blistered or popped. Sprinkle in the cilantro. Squeeze one whole lime onto shrimp mixture. Divide between taco shells

3. Take remaining limes, cayenne pepper and gently toss with avocado. Toss onto tacos.

4. Serve with extra cilantro and additional limes, if needed.

  
Excellent with cold beer, white wine, tequila, margaritas, Coke...oh never mind. Pick your own poison.

Jun 11, 2014

June Weddings & Peach Pie


My parents were married in June of 1941. My mother attended one year of college, and then worked at the phone company. My father worked in his father's butcher shop. Setting the date, they planned a small wedding at home.

The day before the wedding, the butcher shop delivered two prime ribs. That's right. Two. My grandmother had never ever cooked a prime rib. She had only eaten it in the fancy restaurants where she had been a waitress. They scared her. And two?! This sent the wedding household into a frenzy. Not only had my mother received a real diamond engagement ring, the prime ribs were delivered by the shop's Cadillac and the topper? The whisper of orchids. My father would bring an orchid corsage as a wedding bouquet. It was just too much. Her daughter was practically marrying a Rockefeller.

The bride and groom decided they did not want a wedding cake. The groom wanted a peach pie. Why an Italian boy wanted pie my mother never figured out. My grandmother, however, was ecstatic. She wasn't much of a cook, but she could bake. Her specialties were orange walnut cake and any fruit pie. She grew up on a farm. She knew her way around an orchard, and in her own words, "I make one hell of a peach pie."     
   
My parents were married for thirty-eight years, until the day my father died. And growing up with two sisters, as we approached engagement and marriage, mother's advice    
was always the same: "Girls, you want to marry a man who thinks you are worth two prime ribs, and will be happy with a good slice of pie." 



Here are six ideas for peach pie. We couldn't resist gilding the lily in the DVG test kitchen.
  
Wilton gave us this neat pie pan at Camp Blogaway and it made Cindie and I feel creative. Write us when you got pie. 

Fresh Peach Pie
Makes one 9-inch pie

Instead of a single large pie, try making this in a 6-count mini pie pan. You will need 2 packages of prepared pie dough for 6 mini pies.

Try one of our variations on this classic peach pie recipe by adding: 1) a cup of raspberries; 2) 1/4 cup chopped pistachios; or 3) 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated ginger. Or replace the top crust with an oat crumble or a sugared almond topping.

Serve with vanilla ice cream and summer has begun!

Ingredients:

3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
4 pounds ripe peaches, peeled, pitted and thinly sliced
1 (14-ounce) package prepared pie dough



Directions:
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Place sugar, lemon juice, nutmeg, and cornstarch in a large bowl, stirring to combine. Add peaches, tossing well to coat.
Lay a round of prepared dough into a 9-inch pie pan, pressing gently into the sides of pan and allowing edges to hang over rim.
Pour peaches and juice into pie pan. Lay remaining dough over the top and fold edges under bottom dough. Pinch edges to seal. Cut a few slits on top to vent steam.
Place pie on a baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes. Reduce temperature to 375°F, cover edges of pie with foil to keep the crust from burning, and bake for about 30 minutes longer, or until the crust is deep golden-brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. 



May 2, 2014

Why I Write.


When I was a kid, I wanted to grow up to be a writer. My mother used to type my stories for me on her typewriter, and in 4th grade my story entitled "Growing Poppies" won second place in the first ever creative writing competition at The Bernard Hoffman elementary school in Terra Linda, California.

Yep, I experienced the bright lights of fame early. In my twenties, I realized I would starve to death trying to be a writer. I realized that many people were more talented than me, and I stopped. And I missed it terribly.

In 1993, I got a call to write a how-to book from Globe Pequot Press. They needed a catering expert and I filled that slot. I had never used a computer before so I wrote my first book and learned to use a pc at the same time. It could never have happened without the help of my lovely second husband. He told me I had to write this book because I had valuable advice to share.

He kindly taught me to save my words. Get in, be clear, and get out. I experienced the flip side of the coin with the editor, who was mean. When I finally had pages to turn in to her, she'd tell me how awful they were. Not constructive, but anyone who knows me knows that above all else, I persevere. What I lack in intelligence, I make up for with stubbornness.  

I wrote my first book. I got the tiniest advance in the history of publishing, but I did it. With great pride, I now announce that the 7th edition of my catering book is due out July 1st, with added information, forms and menus. The life of my little catering book is alive and well.

 

And guess what? I've sold over 100,000 copies and it has paid me (modest) royalties for twenty years. Most importantly, I receive emails every month from people who tell me that is changed their lives. A little book that helped them, inspired them, brought them income. I am humbled and grateful.

In June, I am speaking at the Santa Barbara Food & Wine Weekend and at the Mid-Atlantic Food Writers Symposium. If you have the urge to write or need help getting started, come visit with me.