01/23/14

Q&A: How to cook perfect meatballs

Perfect meatballs

Hautemealz friend Diana, asks: “What’s the best way to cook raw, ground beef meatballs so they don’t dry out?”

——-

Diana, here’s how I do it:

Make your meatballs an even 2 inches round, or so. Use very chilled meat and form them quickly, handling as little as possible. If you can stand it, dip your hands in ice water between meatballs. The idea is that you don’t want to “melt” the the fat in the meatball, which leads to a drier, tougher, finished product.

Also, for a moister (and more flavorful) meatball, I would recommend a 50/50 blend of ground beef (80/20 fat), and ground pork.

…and for pity’s sake, NO breadcrumbs or eggs…if you want meatloaf, just make meatloaf! Meatballs are something different.

Pan sear the meatballs on high heat in veggie oil + butter, in a large pan (don’t crowd the meatballs) until evenly browned. Drain off the excess fat and add  enough beef broth to come about 1/2 way up the meatballs, cover and simmer 5 minutes, shake the pan, cook 3 more minutes.

Remove from heat and allow to rest, lid askew, about 5 minutes.

Alternately, after the meatballs have been browned, you can finish them in the microwave. Drain the meatballs, transfer to microwave-safe bowl and add enough beef broth to come about 1/2 way up the meatballs, cover bowl with saran wrap and nuke 3 minutes, shake the bowl, nuke 2 more minutes and allow to rest, still covered, about 5 minutes.

Enjoy!

Chef Perry
hautemealz.com

01/21/14

Perfectly Peelable Eggs

We’ve all been there, all you want are some pristine hard-boiled eggs to serve whole, as a garnish, or for deviled eggs…and of course, the shells are sticking, making the job of peeling take forever, and leaving you with eggs as scarred and pitting at the surface of the moon.

Erg!

Here are three beauty tips to get perfectly peelable eggs, every time!

LET THEM BREATH

Counter

The problem: When eggs are fresh, there is a membrane that adheres the whites to the interior of the shell. Typically a little air absorption  takes care of this, but often eggs are sprayed with a food grade oil to block air absorption, so they’ll stay fresh longer. This can keep that membrane from releasing, and make it nearly impossible to cleanly shell a hard-boiled egg.

What to do: Several hours before you plan to boil the eggs (or the night before), give them a gentle scrub under hot running water to remove any oil coating. Dry the eggs and allow them to sit on the counter until ready to cook. A few hours should be sufficient to let them absorb enough air.

If your eggs are farm fresh, and you know they haven’t been sprayed, they probably just need a little more time to “breath” before you cook them.


LET THEM CHILL

Chliing Eggs

The problem: A long, slow cool down period, after boiling, can also cause the white and shells to stick together.

What to do: As soon as you remove your eggs from the simmering water, crack them gently, in 3-4 spots around the egg (make sure to hold them with a towel so you don’t burn yourself), and then plunge them in an ice bath to cool.

Cracking the eggs allows the cold water to get between the egg and shell more quickly, and the cold water causes the egg to contract, separating it from the inner wall of the shell.  As soon as the eggs feel chilled through, and no longer warm in your hand when removed from the water, peel them immediately.

GIVE ‘EM A SHOWER

1

The problem: Even using the steps above, peeling an egg can be a long and tedious process.

What to do: Get a little hydro-help!

First: roll the egg gently, but firmly, under your palm, on the counter (I like to lay down a towel first), until the shell is evenly cracked into small pieces, all the way around.  Don’t bear down too hard, or you’ll end up with a road-kill egg!

(By the way, if you’re enjoying this article, you may want to subscribe to our free newsletter; we’ll send seven amazing dinner recipes and a shopping list to your inbox each week. Plus, you’ll be helping us teach nutrition, shopping, and hands-on cooking classes to at-risk teens!)

Second: hold the egg under cold running water in the sink, and gently begin to work away the shell. The cold of the water should help the egg continue to contract, while the water pressure should force itself between the white and the shell. When done right, the shell will virtually peel itself away from the egg.

Extra tip: You know that unappetizing grey ring that sometime occurs between the yolk and white of a hard-boiled egg? That’s a chemical reaction to being cooked at too high of heat. To resolve this, allow your water to come to just a slow simmer (the surface is disturbed, but not boiling), add your eggs, and let the water come back to just a simmer. This is plenty of heat to hard boil your eggs, but not enough to discolor them.

Enjoy those eggs!

Chef Perry

PS – If you’re looking for something to do with those perfectly peeled eggs, here’s my mama’s amazing deviled eggs recipe…they’re the best!

 

01/16/14

What is a “home cook”…?

home cook

Honestly, I don’t much care for the term “home cook”.

(Which may seem strange for someone who does meal planning for a living…but I’ll explain…)

Despite it being descriptively accurate, ie: “a person who cooks in their home”, what should be a badge of honor has become a caste term to designate someone who is “lower” or less skilled that the professional chef. The glitz and glitter of the recent explosion of food television’s popularity has, for many, created a level of misunderstanding and misinterpretation as to what “cooking” really is, and that is having a dangerously undermining effect of home cooking in our society.

But, for lack of a better title (and because I despise the phrase “amateur cook”), I’ll use the term home cook, and do what little I can to elevate it back towards the status it deserves.

2048nigellarachIt’s no secret that many home cooks have skills and experience that matches and even exceeds that of their professional counterparts. In fact, many of the “celebrity chefs” that are well known and beloved in our new food culture,  were never really “chefs” at all. Rachael Ray and Nigella Lawson are two of the biggest names in the culinary world, but neither are professionally trained chefs.

Self-trained and having never worked in a commercial chef position, they are just two examples of skilled and famous “home cooks” who have hit it big.

Oh, add to that list Julia Child, of course. (Julia did attend Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, but except for her own cooking shows, never cooked in a professional setting.)

Some would say that the title of “chef” has to do with education, which is a ridiculous argument, as culinary schools have only been around for a couple of hundred years (remember, there wasn’t much in the way of a “restaurant industry” before the French revolution of 1789) and teach and revere the methods developed by chefs who never attended any form of culinary school…or in some cases, any school at all, lol.

Many of our modern chefs never received any formal cooking education either, including Paula Deen, Gordon Ramsey, Rachel Ray, Charlie Trotter, Thomas Keller (!), Ina Garten, Jamie Oliver, Ferran Adria, Alice Waters, Wolfgang Puck, and the list goes on.

AICAIEphotoshootNow, let me be clear here…if your goal is to work as a professional chef, in a commercial kitchen, and you haven’t grown up in kitchens or worked your way up from dishwasher (which is the true “classical training” everyone likes to yap about these days) then culinary school is a wise, likely necessary option for you.

You will learn skills and techniques in speed, multitasking, bulk cooking, food purchasing, business skills, and planning that are absolutely essential for running a restaurant kitchen…but are almost completely disconnected from, and unnecessary to, the home cook.

Again…one is not better than the other, it’s a completely different set of requirements, at the heart of which are some common skills. You can be a great cook without being a chef, just as you can be a chef without being a great cook (and we’ve all ordered THAT dinner…)

The point is that if you take away all that “other stuff”, then YOU have, or can develop, all of the same cooking skills in your home kitchen, to cook great food, and you can do it as good as anyone I’ve mentioned here. If fact, without the pressure of high volume cooking, the drive for turn-over, the constraints of menu, the need to multitask, and the need to cook at a profit…you should be able to cook BETTER food than a chef in a commercial kitchen!

One of the best arguments we have for the legitimacy of the home cook comes, ironically, from the same cable networks that seek to elevate the term “chef” to a level of celebrity.

If you’ve ever watched a food-centric show that involves travel outside of the United States, you know what I’m talking about. Every time a chef or “host” visits a home and is offered a meal, it is invariably the best meal of the trip, regardless of how many world famous chefs or restaurants they’ve visited. Hosts ask chefs where they learned to cook, and the answer is almost always in their mother’s, or grandmother’s kitchen.

Even that age-old kitchen game “If you have 24 hours to live, what would your last meal be” is answered with simple yet beloved dishes from the childhood home kitchen, and not some fancy Michelin star restaurant’s tasting menu (a fact that is usually pointed out in no uncertain terms by the show’s host.)

So, what then makes a “home cook?”

The home kitchen is the primal hearth from which all cooking was born, it is where most of us first watched, and touched, and tasted, and smelled the delicious alchemy of earth and water and fire and flesh, and it deserves a higher honor in our society than to have become the repository of canned “food”, frozen “meals”, and boxes of fill-in-the-blank-Helper.

Processed-Food-500x375If we are to reverse the current trend of disdainful disregard, we must first agree that the definition is NOT anyone who cooks at home. My four-year-old daughter could pour boiling water into a cup of noodles, or spread peanut butter on bread, if we agree that this makes her a “home cook”, then we are as responsible for that disdain, as anyone.

Just as a “home mechanic” can have as good, or even greater skills than a professional mechanic, they still both must know how to take an engine apart, put it back together, and have it run, to be considered a mechanic…a home cook must know how to cook. Not thaw and nuke, not dump and stir…but COOK.

If we do not hold the term to a certain standard, then we are part of the problem.

Here is one of the best descriptions I’ve found for what, beyond financial compensation, makes a chef…and I would say the same goes for what I consider a home cook…

“A chef has to be responsible for the soul of the food. A chef should have a deep understanding of how to cook many types of food, what flavors go together, how to handle kitchen equipment (knife skills, etc.,), and so on. A chef should not require the directions part of a recipe, and usually shouldn’t require the amounts in a recipe, either.”

In other words, it’s all about the food, knowing what to do with it, and having a passion for making it great…just like the home cook.

Your thoughts?

-Chef Perry

01/9/14

Shrimp Pico Salad & Baby Food Jars

Yesterday, I asked our Facebook Fans the following question:

JUST FOR FUN…

Why did I buy 24 jars of green baby food for tonight’s Diabetic Friendly Meal Planning class?

I’m going to reserve one copy of my upcoming book, “Just Cook”, for the first person who posts the correct answer!

Babyfood

Some of my favorite answers:

  • “How bad those vegetable can taste if not seasoned correctly.” – Jill
  • “Showing how unhealthy something that is SUPPOSE to be healthy can be?” – Vicki
  • “To show hidden ingredients and prove your point about “healthy living from the start” – Danielle
  • “Visual contrast for what people perceive as their diabetic diet vs. what it can/should be? Or, you are just sadistic…” – Tina

And my personal favorite:

  • “You are going to re create the scene from the Exorcist using baby food instead of split pea soup.” – Karen

Unfortunately, none of these answers were correct.

The RIGHT Answer:

I didn’t feed this goop to my daughter when she was a baby, and I certainly wouldn’t feed it to potential hautemealz customers! LOL

When I went to the store, the clear plastic “cocktail” glasses I wanted to serve this samples of this dish in were $5.99 for a pack of 8. I just couldn’t force myself to pay $18 for 24 disposable cups.

Especially not when these glass jars of baby-food were discounted to thirty-five cents a bottle…and a week past their expiration, btw!

shrimp pico

A quick rinse in some boiling water to remove the labels, a trip through the dish washer, and I had 24 our the prettiest (and reusable) little appetizer cups you ever saw, for less that 1/2 the price of those plastic cups!

So, unfortunately, no one won the contest. but no worries, I’ll do a few more contests before the book releases.

-Chef Perry
hautemealz.com

PS – Yes, feel free to hate me for the “green” misdirection…I just couldn’t help myself! :)

PPS – If you have any leftovers, it makes an AMAZING omelet the next morning!

SHRIMP & PEPPER PICO SALAD
Serves 2 (or 8 appetizer portions)

1/2 lb salad shrimp
1 cup Fresh Pepper Pico de Gallo (recipe below)
2 Tbsp. Mexican “Crema” or regular sour cream

Gently rinse the shrimp in cold water to remove excess sodium.

Divide the Pico de Gallo between bowls, and top with shrimp.

Chill or serve immediately

By the way, if you’re enjoying this recipe, please subscribe to our free meal planning newsletter; we’ll send seven amazing dinner recipes and a shopping list to your inbox each week, no charge!

Plus, you’ll be helping us feed the hungry, and teach nutrition, shopping, and hands-on cooking classes to at-risk and foster kids!

Chef Perry’s Fresh Pepper Pico

Some folks aren’t fans of the heat, like I am…so I developed this recipe to allow me to minimize the fire by cutting out the jalapeno and some of the white onion (yes, some folks find white onion to be “too hot”) but still retain the contrasting crunch of those crisp, raw veggies with the fresh tomatoes. (And it’s purty, too!)

This attempt got major kudos from the “Mild not Wild” portion of the family.

5 fresh Roma tomatoes, chilled and diced
1/2 large white onion, diced
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1 large orange bell pepper, diced
2 Tbs fresh squeezed lime juice
2 Tbs fresh minced garlic
Salt & pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients and refrigerate at least 1 hour before serving.

01/6/14

Three Cheese Italian Style Meatballs

eOur friends at Johnsonville sent us some complimentary products for review awhile back, and one of those products was the Three Cheese Italian Style Meatballs.

(We also reviewed their Mild Italian Sausage Slices, check out the review and our recipe for Italian Sausage Potato Soup)

I will admit some skepticism, as someone who has suffered through more than his share of Big Box Store mystery-meat meatball dishes out of crock-pots and potlick casserole pans.  You know what I’m talking about…that “fake beef” flavor (1 part Worcester, 1 part beef bullion, 2 parts plastic-wrap)  In fact, I had decided that if I didn’t like them, I just wouldn’t post, as I don’t do negative reviews.

Once again, I was very pleasantly surprised. I’m telling, straight up…these meatballs taste like meatballs.

Really good meatballs!

Are they better than my Nona Perkins’ meatballs? Not a chance, but when I don’t have 14 hours to prepare Grandma’s recipe…I’d be happy to serve these.

As important as the favor, the consistency is right…it FEELS like meatball. None of that over-processed “soft-meat” mushiness, These feel like finely ground beef, firm and solid without being dry or mealy.

Pasta sauce with meatballs is a no-brainer, but I can’t wait to try these with my Meatball Pho, and Philly Cheesesteak Sandwiches, as well!

However, for this test, I decided to earn a few brownie points and make one of my wife’s favorites, Sloppy Joes…

(One thing I really like about this recipe is that it’s less “sloppy” than the  traditional ground-meat Joes. If you’re in a big hurry, a canned “Thick & Chunky” sloppy joe sauce will work…but it’s not going to be as good as this!)

Oh, and my wife said these were the best sloppy joes she’s ever had. So there!

a

The Amazing Sloppy John(sonville)
1/2 bag of Johnsonville Three Cheese Italian Style Meatballs, thawed
4 soft pub rolls, split
4 tsp. butter, softened
1 cup shredded mozzerella cheese

For the sauce:
2 tsp. Better Than Bullion Beef Base
1/2 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 diced green bell pepper
3 cups hot water, divided
3/4 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
dash of Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon  each salt and ground black pepper

Slice meatballs into thirds, and brown in a pan with a little oil, until edges are crisp. Set aside.

f

Place 1 cup of the hot water, beef base and onions into a large skillet and put over medium heat. Cook stirring until the onions begin to brown and the broth is reduced by half.

(By the way, if you’re enjoying this article, you may want to subscribe to our free newsletter; we’ll send seven amazing dinner recipes and a shopping list to your inbox each week. Plus, you’ll be helping us teach nutrition, shopping, and hands-on cooking classes to at-risk teens!)

Add the garlic and green pepper; cook stirring for 2 minutes. Add 1 cup of water. Bring to a simmer, scraping the bottom of the pan with a spatula to dissolve any browned bits.

c

Stir in the ketchup, brown sugar, mustard, Worcestershire, salt, pepper, and last cup of water. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 30-45 minutes, or until most of the liquid has been evaporated. Add the sliced meatballs, stir, top with cheese, and let rest 10 minutes (off heat) until thick, rich and tender.

While the meat and sauce are resting, butter the split pub rolls, and brown lightly in a hot, dry pan.

b

Assemble sandwiches and served with crispy fries and bread & butter pickle chips (optional)

Note: Double the sauce recipe (it freezes great) and make this dish in a flash, next time!

Enjoy!

-Chef Perry

01/1/14

hautemealz 2.0…check it out!

hmz2point0

Dear hautemealz.com subscriber:

Well, this is it…today is the launch of Hautemealz 2.0, and we’re giving you more options than ever before!

Parchment Tilapia3 Weekly Meal Plans
As you can see below, instead of just having one meal-plan, focusing on one featured protein each week, starting this week we’re giving you three plans, each highlighting a different protein, in all three serving sizes!

This gives you the freedom to choose what your family prefers this week, expands your ability to shop sales and discounts, and gives us the opportunity to create and test new menus that might be enticing to smaller groups of our customers, without alienating the rest.

ChickenTypically, you’re going to have at least one chicken or ground-beef menu each week, as many of our subscribers have let us know that those are their favorite ingredients, but don’t be surprised if you see the occasional seafood, or lamb, or even all-vegetarian meal plan, now and then.

Remember, if those plans don’t appeal to you, you’ll always have two other, more traditional, options to choose from.

Easy to Choose Categories
As you can see here, not only will you receive three separate meal plans each week, but you have the option to download any of them in two, four, and six servings. Example:

BeefLighter Side Ground Beef Meal Plan/2 Serving
Lighter Side Ground Beef Meal Plan/4 Serving
Lighter Side Ground Beef Meal Plan/6 Serving

ChickenLighter Side Chicken Breast Meal Plan/2 Serving
Lighter Side Chicken Breast Meal Plan/4 Serving
Lighter Side Chicken Breast Meal Plan/6 Serving

PorkLighter Side Boneless Pork Meal Plan/2 Serving
Lighter Side Boneless Pork Meal Plan/4 Serving
Lighter Side Boneless Pork Meal Plan/6 Serving

If this were your actual weekly meal plan email, each blue title would be an underlined link which would, when clicked, open that specific plan. This way you can browse each of the plans to choose which one looks best to you, without cluttering up your inbox with nine individual attachments!

Of course, if you have any questions about the new menu model, as always, we’re here to answer any of your questions, any time.

Weekly Newsletter & Blog Highlights

In addition to the new plans, we will also be reinstating the monthly hautemealz.com eNewsletter, with exciting new recipes, Q&A, highlights from our most popular blog and Facebook posts from the previous month, and step-by-step instructional videos,  like this one…

This Month’s Video

photo16 (526x800) - CopyOutreach Highlights
Thanks to our loyal subscribers, hautemealz.com served over 1000 meals to hungry children and families in 2013, and our goal for this year is significantly higher! We’ll keep you in the loop with event and program highlights, as well as interviews with program leaders and the folks we’re serving. Be sure to check out our Outreach page to read more about the amazing organizations we’re working with!

“But,” you ask, “how much more are all of these ‘extras’ going to cost me?” 

The answer – not one penny!

We are expanding all of these features in our 2.0 launch at no additional cost to our subscribers…still just $5.00 a month, and the eNewsletter will continue to be a free service regardless of membership!

You can look forward to many more new and exciting options like sign-up incentives, personalized meal plans, expanded menu categories, and lots more great food, as we continue to roll out Hautemealz 2.0 in 2014!

Until then — thank you for being awesome, and we hope you have a delicious new year!

Perry, Chris, & Terry
Your Chefs at hautemealz.com

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