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.

Apr 22, 2014

One Wedding Dress. Two Great Looks.


Wedding season is coming. You're the bride, or you know a bride. The dress is important. The dress is expensive. The bride wants to feel special and most importantly, she wants to feel like herself. We suggest you take a basic, inexpensive dress with good bones and make it your own, because what makes a wedding beautiful is the love, not the money.



THE BASICS
Start with a very basic dress. Here's one I bought for $99 from a large bridal dress store during their annual sale.
The more simple the dress, the easier it is to accessorize to fit your wedding, whatever the season.

This is a strapless satin A-line dress with simple beaded embellishments around the top, waist and hemline.



SPRING GIBSON GIRL
For a spring wedding, when the weather can be unpredictable, it's good to have a light lace sweater or shawl to warm your shoulders. This one was under $20.

I've wrapped a 3-yard piece of very pale pink Swiss Dot organza around the dress like an overskirt.

The top edge is folded under so it makes a pretty-looking high waist.

For the waistband, I'm using a black sheer ribbon because black and pink contrast wonderfully. It's best to use a ribbon that's 2-3 inches wide.

How we did it:
Wrap the ribbon around the waist snugly but not tight. Secure belt in place with a safety pin, and any trim excess.

Pull up the top part of the organza so that it's even, then pull up the ends in the back so that you have enough to tie together and wrap under the belt. It looks like a fluffy bow bustle.

This is the part that just pulls the entire look together: A big silk or real flower. You could use white, ivory pale pink or even black. I've taken some extra black ribbon and made a flat flower shape out of it then attached it to the back of the flower...pinning them both to the side of the belt.

I finish with a big pink pearl necklace that features an antique silver flower.

This whole look says fun, light-hearted elegance!



SUMMER FLOWER CHILD

For a summer wedding, let's keep our shoulders bare. Having an outdoor wedding? I'll show you how to accessorize a simple straw hat to complete your look.

How we did it:
Simply take 5 yards of beautiful fabric ribbon...whatever you love and will match your décor. Choose a ribbon between 2-3 inches wide.

To prevent slipping, use a little fabric glue (or a needle and thread) to tack ribbon in place around the top.

Tie in a big bow in the back and trim the ends.

Order a wreath from your florist to fit around the brim of your hat. Go heavier on the greenery and lighter on the flowers. Choose flowers that go with your bouquet and the color of your ribbon for a very simple yet pulled-together look.
Finish with a simple pearl necklace.  

Check out Do It For Less! Weddings for all your nuptial needs.


Apr 11, 2014

Spring is for Slowcookers



We recently received the Healthy Slow Cooker by Judith Finlayson. I love my slow cooker but often find myself in a rut with it. I make pot roast and beef stew and that's pretty much it.

After perusing the myriad of scrumptious and wholesome offerings, I was blown away by the newness of the recipes. Judith has gone beyond the chili and stewed chicken slow cooker staples and breaks new ground with dishes including Black Sticky Rice Congee with Coconut and Mushroom and Chickpea Stew with Roasted Red Pepper Coulis (both of which I will be making asap).

Because I had just received a farmers market box full to bursting with rainbow chard, I settled on the Leafy Greens Soup below. I can't stop eating it. I do highly recommend using homemade stock or broth to make it extra special. I added a bit of freshly grated Parmesan cheese and enjoyed it with a hunk of homemade white bread and butter. Swoon.






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Leafy Greens Soup


This delicious country-style soup is French in origin and based on the classic combination of leeks and potatoes, with the addition of healthful leafy greens. Sorrel, which has an intriguing but bitter taste, adds delightful depth to the flavor (see page 105). Sorrel is available from specialty greengrocers or at farmers’ markets during the summer, but if you’re unsuccessful in locating it, arugula or parsley also work well in this recipe.



    Large (approx. 5 quart) slow cooker

    Food processor or blender

1 tbsp    butter or olive oil    15 mL

1 tbsp    olive oil    15 mL

6    small leeks, white and light green     6
    parts only, cleaned and thinly sliced

4    cloves garlic, minced    4

1 tsp    sea salt    5 mL

1 tsp    dried tarragon    5 mL

12 tsp    cracked black peppercorns    2 mL

6 cups    vegetable or chicken stock     1.5 L

3    medium potatoes, peeled and     3
    cut into 12-inch (1 cm) cubes

4 cups    packed torn Swiss chard leaves (about 1 bunch)     1 L

1 cup    packed torn sorrel, arugula or parsley leaves    250 mL

    Heavy or whipping (35%) cream or
    non-dairy alternative, optional

1.    In a large skillet over medium heat, melt butter and olive oil. Add leeks and cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, salt, tarragon and peppercorns and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add stock and bring to a boil.

2.    Transfer to slow cooker stoneware. Stir in potatoes. Cover and cook on Low for 6 to 8 hours or on High for 3 to 4 hours, until potatoes are tender. Add Swiss chard and sorrel, in batches, stirring after each to submerge the leaves in the liquid. Cover and cook on High for 20 minutes, until greens are tender.

3.    Working in batches, purée soup in a food processor or blender. (You can also do this in the stoneware using an immersion blender.) Spoon into individual serving bowls and drizzle with cream, if using.

Tips

If you are halving this recipe, be sure to use a small (2 to 312 quart) slow cooker.

Makes 8 servings

Can Be Halved



Courtesy of The Healthy Slow Cooker, Second Edition by Judith Finlayson © 2014 www.robertrose.ca Reprinted with publisher permission.

Apr 8, 2014

Food is a business. If you don’t make money, it’s a hobby.



Reinvention: The Art Of Graceful Adaptation.

Denise had a lovely interview with fellow IACP member, Deborah Schapiro. Click here to check out Deborah's conversations with Dorie Greenspan, Andy Schloss and Aida Mollenkamp.


Denise Vivaldo has been in the business of food for almost thirty years. As a caterer to the stars, a sought-after food stylist, cookbook author, culinary instructor, chef, and entrepreneur, Denise never wanted to be famous but always wanted to work with food. “It’s all hard work. If fame is your motivation, you’ll be disappointed. You have to love the food!”

Denise always wanted to be her own boss. “Some people need security more than I do,” she explains. She credits her success to having the discipline to “throw the deadweight out of the lifeboat, resolve the issue, and move on,” which has allowed her take on challenges that others may find overwhelming.

To succeed in this business for the long term regardless of your job, Denise stresses, “You have to know how to sell and know how to close to keep your business alive.” She also emphasizes the importance of persistence, explaining that calling once doesn’t register interest. “You need to call me a dozen times!” That determination applies equally to Denise herself, who has failed “a million times.”

To keep things on track, she works from a five- and ten-year plan, acknowledging that what she enjoys today may not serve her in five years. She’s learned to embrace opportunity in transition—at one point, selling her catering business to her employees when she wanted to focus on food styling. Now, as the head of the Denise Vivaldo Group, she is delegating some of the business’s daily management in preparation for her next adventure.

Always eager to add to her list of accomplishments, Denise is exploring a new genre, creating a script for a TV sitcom. In addition, she has a new book deal (her ninth) and continues to consult, teach, and style for her expanding client list. After thirty years of loving the food, Denise continues to stay relevant by never staying still.

So what have I learned? Regardless of where you are in your career—the naïve beginning, on the optimistic ascension, or at the hard-earned place at the top—your willingness to say yes, be in business, and fail a million times will provide you with a career that’s a simmer, not a burn.