Blog

United Tastes of America: Regional BBQ Sauces in the USA

image03

Photo via Flickr member galant

Introduction:

What does the term “barbeque sauce” mean to you?

Growing up in suburban New Jersey, “barbeque sauce” most readily meant the brick-colored sauce in a ketchup-like bottle that would be slathered on meat before it was put on the grill. But I’ve grown up and seen a bit of the world since, and I’ve learned that to reduce barbeque sauce, a shelf-stable substance, would be a travesty. Barbeque is more a lifestyle than a food, especially in the American south, and the sauce is its crowning glory.

But as to what barbeque sauce actually is, well, that depends on where you are. Here’s a guide to some of the key regional barbeque sauces in the USA.

Continue reading

Posted in Chef Works Blog | Leave a comment

The Benefits of Slow Cooking

 

Slow Cooking 2.0-01 (1)

Embed This Image On Your Site (copy code below):

Posted in Chef Works Blog | Leave a comment

10 Vital Food Safety Tips

image05

Photo via Flickr member usdagov

Food safety isn’t the most glamorous part of cooking. No, the glamour is reserved for the stuff that looks good on social media: glistening cuts of perfectly cooked meat, gooey cheese on pizzas, and cakes just out of the oven. But food safety is not only of equal, but greater importance than the finished product, because proper food safety could not only guarantee a delicious meal, but it could save your life.

Ultimately, much of food safety boils down to common sense and keeping your work surface clean. However, the nuts and the bolts can be a bit trickier, such as attaining internal temperatures in meat, and the proper methods and materials for cleaning, cutting, and cooling.

Bookmark these ten vital food safety tips for reference, because they’ll help keep your kitchen healthier and happier for life.

Continue reading

Posted in Chef Works Blog | Leave a comment

License to Kale: 10 Kale Recipes That Actually Taste Good

image11

Photo via Flickr member licensetoveg

Fun fact: 20% of all dogs named “Kale” reside in Seattle. I used to live in Seattle, but I didn’t have a dog named Kale, and I certainly didn’t eat the stuff, figuring it was a food for aging hippies or strict vegans.

But I have come to see the light. It was in an unexpected way: a side dish of sauteed kale, garlic, and onions which was served alongside an unctuous portion of pork belly. While the pork belly was the star, the kale stole the show: slightly bitter but “clean” tasting, it was the perfect foil and pairing to the rich meat. I wanted more. Since then, I have tried to make up for all of those kale-less years. A most versatile vegetable, it can be cooked in a number of different and delicious ways. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that it’s also bursting with nutrition.

What is kale?

Kale (also known in some circles as borecole) is a leafy vegetable featuring either green or purple leaves. While that might sound rather lettuce-like, it’s different in that the central leaves do not join at a “head”. Its closest relative is wild cabbage, though it’s also part of the same family as broccoli, cauliflower, collard greens, and brussels sprouts.

While kale might be fairly new to you, it’s far from a recent phenomenon. Kale was common in European kitchens dating as far back as the Middle ages. It was only in the 19th century that it was introduced to North America.

While kale enjoyed some interest during the rationing days of World War II, it was in more recent years that it’s become known as an iconic symbol of whole and healthy living.

In part, this is because of kale’s myriad of health benefits. While one cup of raw kale contains only 33 calories, it carries a nutritional wallop: it’s high in protein, fiber, calcium, vitamins A, C, and K, and folate (a B vitamin which is important for brain development). It’s also high in lutein, which is said protect against macular degeneration and cataracts.

Types of kale

When you go to the grocery store, you may find that there are different types of kale. Here are some common varieties:

image00

Photo via Flickr member Bobbi Bowers

Curly kale: Arguably the most recognizable type of kale, it is characterized by its tight, ruffly leaves and thick, fibrous stalks which can be either green or purple.

image04

Photo via Flickr member Meal Makeover Moms

Lacinato kale: Also known as “dinosaur” kale, this variety is characterized by dark green leaves with a wrinkled yet firm texture. The leaves are tall, narrow, and quite sturdy–they will remain firm even when cooked. It is slightly less astringent than curly kale.

First Root Farm CSA Fourth Pickup #6

Photo via Flickr member sackton

Red Russian Kale: This reddish-purple stemmed variety of kale has flat, green leaves which somewhat resemble large arugula leaves. While it is one of the sweetest types of kale, its stalks are not ideal for consumption, as they are very fibrous. They should be cut off before cooking.

Recipes

Now that we’ve satisfied your curiosity about kale, let’s set to satisfying your appetite. These ten mouthwatering dishes prove how versatile kale can be in your cooking, and how delicious it can be to eat healthy.

image10

Photo via Flickr member vegan feast

Kale and baked blue potatoes with chili miso sauce: If you have doubts about the deliciousness of vegan food, here’s proof that its worth your time. Baked blue potatoes and kale smothered with a delicious homemade chili miso sauce are hearty enough to make a meal.

image07

Photo via Flickr member teedle

Garlic beans with kale and quinoa: A delicious dinner is just minutes away, with this recipe, which features beans sauteed in a mixture of garlic and onion, then served with steamed kale and quinoa. In addition to being high in nutrition, it’s also naturally gluten-free and vegan.

image03

Photo via Flickr member Mallory Dash

Kale quinoa pilaf: Rice pilaf? Yawn. This version is made with gluten-free quinoa and kale, seasoned with bright lemon, rich pine nuts, tangy and creamy goat cheese, for a vibrant and flavorful light meal.

image01

Photo via Flickr member dollen

Kale tacos: A firm type of kale, such as Lacinato (“dinosaur”) kale, can be used instead of corn or wheat taco shells. Simply load in your usual taco fillings and enjoy a healthy and lower-carb version of the classic Mexican comfort food.

image08

Photo via Flickr member rgourley

Green spinach and kale smoothie: You’ll think twice about hitting the snooze button if this green smoothie is on the menu for breakfast. This nutrient-dense drink is made with spinach, kale, banana, and almond butter for a creamy, lightly sweet, and fully flavored beverage.

image02

Photo via Flickr member Simple Provisions

Kale and pomegranate salad: Have you ever gotten excited about a salad? This beautiful salad boasts a symphony of flavors, including peppery kale, mint and parsley, seasoned with olive oil and honey, sprinkled with nuts and dried cranberries, and as the piece de resistance, it’s finished with a generous smattering of pomegranate arils. It’s a decidedly sexy sweet-and-savory salad.

image09

Photo via Flickr member Laurel F.

Toasted kale chips: It doesn’t get much more simple than oven-baked kale chips. All you have to do to make this happen? Tear kale leaves to chip-sized portions, toss with olive oil, salt, and whatever other seasonings you like, and bake in the oven until crispy.

image05

Photo via Flickr member veggiefrog

Mushrooms, millet, and kale: Millet isn’t just bird food anymore! It’s a delicious component of this veggie-stir fry, which features shiitake mushrooms and kale sauteed with soy sauce, vinegar, and spices.

image06

Photo via Flickr member David Berkowitz

Kale pizza: This is more of a concept than a specific recipe, but what happens when you toss kale on pizza? You get a nutty, peppery contrast to the rich cheese. Try tossing small pieces of kale on your favorite homemade pizza–the results are bound to be beautiful and delicious.

image06

Photo via Flickr member Gloria Cabada-Leman

Wilted kale salad with deep-fried garlic and lemon: Kale is cooked with sauteed onions to lightly “wilt”, making it less airy and an ideal base for this dish of fried garlic cloves. Garnished with fresh tomato and cucumber, it’s a fairly virtuous but filling veggie-filled dish.

Kale is far from a one-trick pony in the culinary world, and can be eaten from breakfast till night in a variety of ways.

Why not add some kale to your diet and discover how nutritious really can be delicious?

Posted in Chef Works Blog | Leave a comment

Restaurant Insurance Basics

You may have life insurance. You may have car insurance. You may have home insurance. Even so, we can guarantee that you will be brushing up on your insurance knowledge when you open a restaurant. It may not be quite as fun as say, planning your menu, but it is certainly important. And now that you are a real live grown-up with your own restaurant, you have to do some grown-up things (darn).

Although some insurances seem obvious there are others that may be more subtle. And understanding where your money could go will better help you to manage your budget. Getting all the insurance at once may not be the wisest way to stretch your business dollar. However, who said getting none of the insurance was any better?

We will break it down for you, one insurance at a time so it feels less daunting. It is your restaurant and it is your protection, so decide accordingly:

image01

Flickr Image, https://flic.kr/p/yBEJw

Property Insurance - So what do you need to know? Well, first of all this is important in case mother nature decides to make a joke of your restaurant. And as much as you may be able to control certain things in your life, mother nature is certainly not one of them. Note that leaks are not often covered through insurance, so be vigilant with leaks as they appear. What is more important to you than the content of your restaurant? Maybe your family, but we assume it is pretty high up there.

image04

Flickr Image, https://flic.kr/p/jtP7tW

General Liability - Who doesn’t like an umbrella policy? Well, those who have no idea what it means, for one. Business is risky and general liability insurance is an insurance that recognizes that. It may protect you, your employees, and your business from claims involving bodily injury. Policies may shield you from out-of-court settlements, litigation and judgments, but for the love of Pete, read the fine print.

image06

Flickr Image, https://flic.kr/p/diHaea

Liquor Liability - You sell liquor and it is probably one of the more profitable selling points of your business. However, if someone goes to your restaurant and becomes grossly intoxicated and injures themselves (or another), you may be liable. This type of insurance protects you from the liability claim that may result from someone being drunk and causing injury or property damage. It may cover altercations in your establishment (read: a bar brawl) and the damages that may occur with intoxication. Make sure your employees are covered if your employees drink on the job. Let’s admit it, none of us are our most responsible selves after we down a couple of cold ones. It is a hot debate: do you need to take responsibility for someone else’s lack of responsibility? You decide, just as you decide that those polka dot socks are a good fashion decision.

image03

Flickr Image, https://flic.kr/p/iGhoBv

Auto Insurance - You may think that you have it all together, but you can’t control the car that belongs to your restaurant (nor can you control the employee that drives that car). There are different classes of business auto insurance, but commercial insurance may be what you need if your vehicle is primarily used for delivery.

If you have a car that transports goods or people, this is important. If you deliver some food that makes a customer ill, auto insurance will often cover the damages. Unfortunately, chef and baker insurance policies may be in the high to middle range when it comes to rates. Partially this is because it is rare to find a restaurant with a standard 9 to 5 and accident rates are higher in the evening. Isn’t piece of mind worth it?

image07

Flickr Image, https://flic.kr/p/qQFJ7

Workers Comp - We mostly hear the negative side of this phrase, but we also need to understand: what the heck is it? Well, it helps to protect your workers (and yes, this includes you) from a work-related injury or an occupational disease. The work within a restaurant is extremely time-sensitive, leading to an increased probability of split second accidents. This type of insurance can cover everything that could happen in the presence of sharp knives and slick floors. Accidents can happen, even to the most seasoned professionals.

image00

Flickr Image, https://flic.kr/p/iPBTdY

Unemployment Insurance - This is for your employees when they no longer work for you and will keep them supported. It is the ex-employee “I respect you” insurance. There are other eligibility requirements but if your employee is unemployed by no fault of their own, they will have a cushion in the interim before they find a boss a fraction as good as you were.

The rate will be influenced by the amount of prior claims for unemployment insurance that have been filed against your restaurant. In some states, even business owners can apply for unemployment insurance, so you may be saving your own back in the end.

image05

Flickr Image, https://flic.kr/p/oWTTGc

Life Insurance - Not that we don’t anticipate that you (and your restaurant) won’t have the longest of lives. However, just in case that is not the case, let’s get things in order. You certainly don’t want to saddle your family with bills they are unable to pay. It can also provide income for your family members if they choose to continue in your footsteps. Agents may suggest whole life insurance (which is more expensive) but do ask about term life insurance which will save you some money.

image08

Flickr Image, https://flic.kr/p/aSDdHK

Loss of Income Insurance - Sounds a lot like unemployment insurance, but you would be wrong, our friends. Loss of income insurance is insurance that covers the loss of income after a disaster. Why, pray tell, is a disaster? A flood is a good example. However, in order to claim your covered losses, you must be a champ when it comes to records, profit and loss statements, and tax forms.

IMG_7859

Flickr Image, https://flic.kr/p/7ebqCe

Fire Insurance - This isn’t as unnecessary as you may think. Insurance industry statistics estimate that 1 in 100 restaurants suffer a fire in any given year. There are the obvious cooking accidents, but heating problems might also be an issue. Cooking with fire may be the most important factor in the success of your business, but it could also be a double edged sword. Protection is a way of acknowledging this.

There are a lot of needs for a restaurant that you may not have been aware of until you found yourself as a bona fide owner. A phenomenal chef and loyal customers are essential to the success of your restaurant, but insurance keeps you from risking everything. It is the difference between of peace of mind and barely peaceful.

Your turn: What is the type of insurance for your restaurant that made you breathe a sigh of relief more than any other?

Posted in Chef Works Blog | Leave a comment

How to Make the Best Chicken Parmesan

I grew up in the South, and something that was always at my churches dinner parties was chicken parmesan. Several women had to help with that dish, because everyone wanted some.

My grandmother was one of those women and we were spoiled with the best chicken Parmesan long after we switched churches. It is a perfect dish for a sunday night meal with the family. We like to serve it over some fresh pasta, and have either breadsticks or garlic bread on the side.

Between the cheese, chicken, and tomato sauce, the flavor is perfectly balanced.

For this recipe, you have to marinate the chicken in buttermilk and spices. This results in tender, moist, and flavorful chicken. So the extra steps and time are definitely worth it!

For the sauce, you can either make it homemade, or purchase your favorite spaghetti sauce from the grocery store. If you do make it at home, I recommend trying to keep it simple, instead of adding lots of meat or vegetables to it.

I do however highly suggest getting a block of Parmesan, and avoiding the powdered, or pre-shredded versions.

Also, when choosing your chicken breasts try to find the freshest packages to ensure quality of flavor.

image04

This recipe makes the best chicken Parmesan, and it is very simple to make!

image13

Start with 3 chicken breast halves, 1 ¾ cup of milk, salt, pepper, and garlic powder.

image08

Slice the chicken in half horizontally, resulting in 6 thinner chicken breast pieces. Individually, place the halves in a ziplock bag and pound with a meat pounder.

The bottom of a skillet or mug will work as well.

image00

In a large bowl, toss together 1 ½ cups of the buttermilk, the chicken, and the spices.

You are then going to put the contents of the bowl into a ziplock bag. Place the bag into a bowl (just to be sure it won’t spill everywhere), and refrigerate for 4 hours (or overnight).

image09

Meanwhile, dry the bread by dividing into 1 or 2 inch slices and leaving on the counter. If you are pressed for time you could also bake the bread slices at 200 degrees F flipping every 10 minutes until its dry. You are not going for toast, so don’t let it go too long.

When the time is up, break the bread into chunks. In a food processor, combine the bread chunks, Parmesan cheese, and a few pinches of pepper.

image07

Pulse it until it is very fine. There should no longer be Parmesan chunks in the mix.

image05

Get three wide and shallow bowls or pie plates. In the first one, put your flour minus one tablespoon. In the second plate, whisk together the two eggs, the remaining tablespoon of flour, and two tablespoons of buttermilk. Dump the breadcrumb mixture into the third plate, drizzle the remaining buttermilk over it, and work it in with your fingertips.

image10

Taking one piece at a time, coat the chicken in flour by flipping and pressing into the flour. Shake off the excess and transfer it to the egg mixture plate flipping to coat. Let it drip for a moment before transferring it over to the breadcrumb plate.

You want a nice thick layer of breadcrumbs. So once the chicken is on the plate, flip it and press it into the breadcrumbs so a layer adheres to it. Flip it back over to the first side and press it again to coat that side too.

Put the chicken on a clean plate, and repeat this process with the remaining chicken.

image02

Pre-heat your oven to 425°F.

In a medium sized sauce pan, begin heating the tomato sauce on low heat.

Heat about a half of an inch of oil in a frying pan, until it reads 375°F on an instant read thermometer. In batches of one or two, carefully lower the chicken into the hot oil. Fry on each side for about two minutes, OR until golden brown and crispy on the outside.

you need to judge when it’s ready to come out.

Transfer the cooked chicken to a paper towel lined baking dish (or a large plate).

image01

Scoop about a third of the sauce onto the bottom of an oven safe serving dish (or a regular casserole pan).

image03

Shingle the chicken in the pan over the sauce.

image06

Cover with more sauce, and top with the fresh mozzarella cheese and freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

image12

Bake for 20 minutes, and let rest for 3 minutes before serving. Top with extra cheese if desired.

image11

The Best Chicken Parmesan

Ingredients:

  • 3 boneless skinless chicken breast halves
  • 1 ¾ cup of buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • ½ loaf crusty Italian bread
  • 5 oz. Parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 eggs
  • oil for frying
  • 4 cups of your favorite spaghetti sauce
  • 10 oz. fresh mozzarella, cut into ½ inch cubes
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, minced

Special Equipment:

  • instant read thermometer

Directions:

Using a sharp knife, cut the chicken breasts in half horizontally. Individually, place the halves in a ziplock bag and pound with a meat pounder (the bottom of a skillet or mug will work as well). In a large bowl, toss together the chicken, salt, pepper, garlic powder, and 1 ½ cups of the buttermilk. Transfer to a gallon sized ziplock bag. Place the ziplock bag into a large bowl and refrigerate for 4 hours, or overnight. While the chicken is marinating, dry the bread by slicing into 1-2 inch slices and leaving on the counter.

When the time is up, break the bread into chunks. In a food processor, combine the bread chunks, Parmesan cheese, and a few pinches of pepper. Pulse until fine (this can take up to a minute on high speed).

Transfer the bread crumbs to a large shallow bowl, or pie plate. Drizzle 2 tablespoons of the remaining buttermilk over the breadcrumbs, and work it in with your fingertips until it is equally moist all around. Place the flour in a second pie plate. In a third pie plate, whisk together the eggs, 1 tablespoon of flour from the flour plate, and the remaining two tablespoons of buttermilk.

Take one of the chicken breast halves and put it on the flour plate. Turn to coat completely and shake off any excess. Add to the egg mixture, turn to coat, and let excess drip off. Add to the breadcrumbs plate, flip and press to make sure a thick layer is coating it. Flip it back over to the first side, and make sure that side is coated well too. Transfer the chicken to a clean plate, and continue the same process with the remaining chicken breast halves.

Pre-heat your oven to 425°F. In a medium sized sauce pan, begin heating the tomato sauce on low heat.

Heat about a half of an inch of oil in a frying pan, until it reads 375°F on an instant read thermometer. In batches of one or two, lower the chicken into the oil. Fry on each side for about two minutes, or until golden brown and crispy on the outside. Transfer the cooked chicken to a paper towel lined baking dish (or a large plate).

Spoon about ⅓ of the sauce onto the bottom of a casserole pan or large oven-safe serving dish. Shingle the chicken on top of sauce. Top with more sauce, forming a line down the center. Combine mozzarella and remaining 1 ounce of Parmesan cheese in a large bowl and toss to coat. Lay cheese mixture over chicken in a straight line down the center.

Transfer to the oven and cook until cheese is melted and bubbly, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and immediately grate fresh Parmesan on top. Allow to rest for 3 minutes, top with chopped herbs, and serve immediately.

Recipe notes:

  • When the chicken is left to marinate for at least four hours, you get the best results. However, the time can be cut down to as little as one hour.

Who will you enjoy the best chicken Parmesan ever with?

Posted in Chef Works Blog | Leave a comment

Chocoholics Anonymous: 5 Irresistible Fudge Brownie Recipes

image01

Photo via Flickr member saaleha

When it comes to brownies, just about everyone will agree that they are great. But few people will agree on what makes them great. There are endless preferences which play into people’s definition of a great brownie: is it cakey, chewy, or fudgy? With nuts or without? Is icing or glaze OK, or is that an affront to the brownie purist?

Far be it for me to define which type of brownie is the best, because it really boils down to personal preference. But if you are asking, then I’ll tell you: my personal favorite is the fudgy variety. You know, the kind of dense, fudge-like brownie that is slightly gooey and has a tendency to stick to your teeth it’s so thick.

In this post, we’ll delve into the science of all three types of brownies: fudgy, chewy, and cakey. But then we’ll primarily focus on the fudge-like and to a certain degree, chewy varieties of brownies. Then we will give you some beautiful examples and recipes so that you can recreate the magic at home.

A brief education on the primary types of brownies

image05

Photo via Flickr member malikaladik

So….what makes a brownie “fudgy” versus “cakey” or “chewy”? The secret lies not in the ingredients, but in the proportions and technique.

Here’s a basic rundown of the three primary types of brownies in descending order of density: fudgy, chewy, and cakey. Much has been written about the differentiation between these types; the below is both anecdotal and informed by this article on the subject.

Fudgy brownie

The fudgy brownie is very dense. It’s the type of brownie that really doesn’t need icing or glaze, because it’s so rich: it’s almost like eating a piece of fudge, and it is so thick it might stick to your teeth a little bit. Typically, a high amount of eggs (or egg yolks only), a small amount of flour, minimal mixing of said flour, and erring on slight under-baking, will help make a brownie attain fudgy perfection.

Chewy brownie

The chewy brownie is moist, but has a little more chew resistance than the fudgy brownie. It’s also a little lighter, literally: a similarly sized portion would carry less heft in your hand. According to this article, a bit more flour and the use of whole eggs (usually not just egg yolks) are responsible for this structure.

Cakey brownie

It’s typically more dense than a chocolate layer cake, but it has more characteristics of a cake than a piece of fudge. A cakey brownie will often start in the same method as baking a cake: creaming the butter and sugar, which aerates the entire mixture. This type of brownie is the most likely to have an icing or glaze, which will not only make the brownie more moist, but can extend its shelf life.

Under-baking

Most recipes will sternly tell you to not overbake. But why? And more importantly, how? How do you know when brownies are just right?

In truth, it’s better to slightly under-bake than over-bake brownies. Unlike a cake, you don’t want a tester to come out completely clean with brownies. You want it to still have a few crumbs, like it’s almost-done cake. Remove from the oven at this point, and the residual heat should set your brownies up just right.

Recipes

I don’t know about you, but all of this brownie discussion has certainly put me in the mood for something chocolatey, dense, and fudgy. These recipes mostly reside in the fudgy and chewy camp of brownies, and are guaranteed to deliver absolute brownie bliss to a variety of palates.

image00

Photo via CakeSpy

The BAKED brownie: Oprah’s favorite! – If Oprah Winfrey endorses a brownie, you know it’s got to be good. This recipe, which comes by way of Baked, a bakery in Brooklyn, is so popular that it could be considered a new classic. It yields a dense, fudge-like brownie that really needs no additional icing or glaze; it’s perfect on its own.

image03

Photo via CakeSpy

Katharine Hepburn brownies: an enduring classic – Yes, these brownies come by way of a famous actress. According to her, the most important three governing rules of life were as follows: first, never quit; second, be yourself; third, don’t put too much flour in your brownies. Technically these cross the border between fudgy and chewy, but they are 100% unforgettable, just like the actress from which the recipe was shared with the world.

image02

Photo via Flickr member jamieanne

Perfect fudgy brownies with a crispy top – These brownies get their unique texture owing to an unusual ingredient: sunflower oil. The interior of these brownies is perfect, with a fudgy texture, but the top has a nice crunch. The key to attaining that perfect texture? Do not overbake, or you’ll lose the gooey nature that makes them so great.

image04

Photo via Flickr member joyosity

Fudgy saucepan brownies – Perfectly fudgy brownies don’t require fancy equipment, as proven by this recipe, in which all of the ingredients are combined in a saucepan. Minimal mixing of the flour, and the addition of three eggs, give them a rich, full texture and flavor; but it’s the addition of sea salt that puts them over the top, taking them from dessert to full out craveable foodstuff.

image06

Photo via CakeSpy

Blondie-topped brownies – Fudgy brownies? Decadent blondies? Why decide, when you can have both at once? This recipe starts with a base of brownie batter which is partially baked, and then layered with buttery blondie batter on top. Baked together, the resulting bars are mini masterpieces, with a buttery brown sugar flavor that perfectly complements the rich chocolate base.

In closing, I can concede that there’s not just one brownie ideal. Some people prefer lighter brownies and like to get creative with glazes or icings. Others like brownies that rival a brick in weight and hope for a punch of chocolate flavor. But no matter which way the brownie crumbles, there’s something enjoyable for everyone in these fudge brownie recipes.

What kind of brownies do you love best: fudgy, chewy, or cakey?

Posted in Chef Works Blog | Leave a comment

Sourcing Organic Ingredients

Sustainability is becoming more and more important in the restaurant world. People want to know more and more about the origin of their food and to keep them in your restaurant and out of their own kitchen, you have to have some transparency. Even Chipotle restaurant is trying to use organic ingredients whenever possible.

To get on the organic train, you need to have a good source that will keep you stocked without eating too much of your restaurant budget. It is a fine art, and we have broken the art of sourcing into six major points:

image04

Flickr Image, https://flic.kr/p/dkHDiH

Know the organic standards – In order to get the United States of Agricultural seal of approval, organic farms must follow a host of rules. Some of these are that they preserve biodiversity and natural resources, do not use genetically modified ingredients (GMOs), and support animal health and welfare.

Of course, there are farmers that provide a sham organic label that haven’t been officially certified, making it difficult to determine whether organics that are labelled are actually real. Luckily, there are organizations that are designed to cut through the muck, such as the Cornucopia Institute. Cornucopia has created “organic brand scorecards” to highlight the brands that truly deliver on what they promise. USDA is battling the farms that are making claims without any backup, but until then it is necessary to be an informed consumer (and restaurant).

image00

Flickr Image, https://flic.kr/p/qsgSjw

Get the list. As the term organic can mean partially organic or wholly organic, we need to find people we can trust. Enter the National Organic Program. They oversee the USDA certifying agents and verify that a farmer or producer has upheld the standards.

It is worth checking on a regular basis, as the list will inform you if your producer is still in the certified category or if they have been suspended or revoked from organic standards. If you are passionate about making sure that your patrons are provided with honest to goodness organic fare, this is the list you need to check twice.

image01

Flickr Image, https://flic.kr/p/bVsnSX

CCOF Organic Directory Online. With the rise of informed food citizens comes businesses dedicated to keeping those citizens informed. Enter the California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF). This was one of the first organic certification agencies, and they are more than passionate about making sure that people who respect their food get the best products possible.

Annually, they compile the CCOF Organic Directory and Resource Guide. It is a list of clients, products and services related to the organic movement, making it easier for you to find a supplier without having to question their roots. The CCOF website is a great place to turn while you determine how organic food will fit into your restaurant. The website outlines details such as how you can handle your organic produce and what it can and can’t mingle with to be considered wholly organic.

image05

Flickr Image, https://flic.kr/p/ecsWsa

Organic Trade Association. We know it seems like we are giving you a lot of paperwork, but all we want is for you to have the resources. The Organic Trade Association protects organic trade to benefit “the environment, farmers, the public and the economy.” Besides having a platform for organic agriculture and trade, they also have an organic version of the Yellow Pages. Remember when we had giant telephone books rather than pre-programmed phones? We digress.

The Organic Pages could be seen as your Google search engine for good, clean, organic information. It can help you to find the farmers and suppliers that are best suited to the needs of your restaurant. It can even filter that information per location, making sure that you aren’t wasting any of your time to get delicious and ethical food into your customers’ mouths.

image02

Flickr Image, https://flic.kr/p/h8dJZ9

Buy local. The National Restaurant Association found that local sourcing figured in four of the top ten hot trends of 2014. More and more restaurants are expanding their local sourcing efforts and proudly stating their initiatives. Take Panera Bread, whose 2013 campaign “Live consciously, eat deliciously” cost $70 million as a way to confront decreasing revenue.

You don’t need to have the wallet of a major food chain, however, to make a difference and hop on the local food train (can we hear a choo-choo?). LocalHarvest has the mission of connecting people on the hunt for local food with the farmers that produce it. The customer demand is big and can’t be ignored. Jered Couch, owner of The Dish in Boise says, “This is such a big trend today. And you have to market in a way that meets what people need.” It does not mean that everything will be organic, but it will be local if found through LocalHarvest. Just give the search engine your zip code and it will give you a list of nearby farms, CSAs and products.

When fruits and vegetables are picked before their peak ripeness, which also means that they are not at their nutritional peak. Only a few days after harvest, vegetables begin to lose their nutritive properties. A Harvard study discovered that the vitamin C content of many vegetables is optimal when it is picked ripe from the plant.

image03

Flickr Image, https://flic.kr/p/dQApf5

Organic certification agency. If you decide to weigh heavily on the use of organics for your restaurant menu, you may consider becoming certified yourself. According to the National Organic Program, you don’t need to, but you can opt to become voluntarily certified organic. You can also use your local organic certification agency to help to locate reputable organic suppliers.

Pure Food & Wine is a very successful organic restaurant in New York City. Former pastry chef Jana Keith Jennings believes that the key to overcoming the demands of an uneven organics market is by sticking with the people that you trust: “Everybody wants to work together but it’s frustrating when you can’t compete in the market. We generally try and stay committed to the farmers we’ve been with for years. And they stay committed with us. Sometimes they are more lenient in letting us stretch the bill out a little longer.”

Although running an organic restaurant may be more expensive in the beginning, a recent survey indicated that consumers are willing to pay more for organic and local food.

Hopefully this article has equipped you with the organic know-how to get the best suppliers possible. Are you committed to organic integrity?

Posted in Chef Works Blog | Leave a comment

10 Things You Need to Know to Make Better Pork Chops

image03

Photo via Flickr member johnnystiletto

I’ll just come out and say it: I grew up in a bland pork chop zone. My mother has many talents, but making perfect pork chops was not one of them: her creations tended toward dry, stringy, and flavorless. But I don’t think it’s her fault: it’s more a result of traditional pork chop lore which, as it turns out, can be quite off the mark and outdated.

The fact is this: pork chops have potential for greatness. At their best, pork chops can be a thing of beauty: juicy, flavorful, meaty comfort food. Unfortunately, all too often they are not prepared well, and when served they are underwhelming in a variety of ways: stringy, dry, bland, flavorless.

Happily, it’s not hard to make pork chops that will make you want to sing for your supper. Here are 10 easy (really!) tips to ensure delicious pork chop success.

  1. Not all pork is created equal. Before you can make awesome pork chops, you are going to need awesome pork. And no, cheap pork chops of iffy lineage are not the stuff we’re talking about here. We’re talking about pork from a trusted, ideally local, source, or well established “heritage” brands, which care for their pigs well before they become pork. If the meat is from a reputable source, the pigs were probably better fed and better cared for, and this will reflect in the flavor of the finished dish.

If you cannot or choose not to seek out local meat, America’s Test Kitchen offers a simple tip for shopping: simply choose the pinkest pork chops from the grocery case. They’re likely to be more flavorful.

  1. Let your pork breathe. Some recipes, mostly from cookbooks with technicolor photos, will urge you to transfer the chops right from the fridge to the frying surface. However, this can result in faulty cooking: by the time the interior reaches a “safe” temperature, the exterior has likely become too crispy. By letting the pork chops sit at room temperature for 20-30 minutes at cool room temperature before cooking, you’ll ensure even and proper cooking which doesn’t sacrifice texture or moisture.

image01

Photo via Flickr member stuart_spivak

  1. No bones about it, bone-in is the way to go. Let me make a case for cooking your chops with the bone in. The bone in pork chops is fairly clean and easy to remove at the table while maintaining good manners. And what you get in return far outweighs the annoyance of some extra cutting: the bone imparts a ton of added flavor to the finished chops. As a bonus, the bones also help the cooking process: slow down the cooking process, which can be a good thing: it gives you a little extra leeway with your cooking time, and keeps the chops from drying out, and at the same time, adds a little moisture to the chops, which helps them from drying out.
  1. Not all fat is created equal. What fat should you use to cook your pork chops? Well, that depends on what you’re looking for. And remember to monitor the temperature while you cook: different fats will have different smoke points.
  • Butter will yield a decadent result, full of rich flavor. If you add salted butter, though, keep in mind that your chops may need less salt added when you season the meat.
  • Olive oil imparts a great flavor, but it will slightly dull during cooking, so don’t use your most expensive stuff here. Instead go for a middle of the road olive oil, then finish with a drizzle of the good stuff.
  • Vegetable oil may be tempting, since it can take a lot of heat, but it won’t impart much flavor on your finished chops.
  • Lard is an option, too, if you want to go down that road. It’s flavorful, it works in sweet harmony with the chops, and it’s downright, deliciously naughty.

image04

Photo via Flickr member pengrin

  1. Spice is nice. My mom made pork chops with a pinch of salt and not much else, and bless her heart, but they were just about the blandest pork chops I’ve ever tasted. Salt, pepper, and season your chops more than you think you should: some of it will burn off in the cooking process, but what is absorbed will impart a beautiful flavor. Keep spices, salt, and pepper on hand, and don’t be offended if anyone wants more of anything.
  1. Not so hot, please. Personally, I love the satisfaction of putting meat on a hot pan and hearing it sizzle. But time has taught me that while it’s awesome to put the meat on a very hot pan to get an initial sear, to fully cook the meat on the inside without letting that sear turn to char, you need to turn down the heat. Today, I like to start out very hot, and after a few seconds reduce the heat to medium, to ensure even cooking
  1. Monitor your meat’s temperature. You’ve cooked your chops to 145 degrees F (The USDA suggests that pork chops be heated or safe eating). But after five minutes, your chops have dried out and register 155 degrees. What happened? Even after you remove your pork chop from the heat, it will continue cooking on the inside. So if you want your chops to finish at 145 degrees F, remove them from heat after they reach around 140–they’ll heat up more in the residual heat.

image00

Photo via Flickr member lamerie

  1. Leave a little junk in the trunk. If you want to remove the fat from your pork chops, do yourself a favor and wait until AFTER it has cooked. That fat imparts a ton of flavor on the finished dish, and it also protects the tender portions of the meat from becoming too tough. So go ahead, leave a little junk on the trunk–you can always slice it off once served.

image02

Photo via Flickr member stuart_spivak

  1. Use multiple heat sources to cook your pork chops. I don’t know about you, but I can get paranoid about overcooking pork chops and sometimes underdo it. Happily, I have a trick up my sleeve to ensure cooking success: I sear the chops in the pan, then finish them in the oven. This is incredibly easy if you are cooking in a cast iron pan which can easily transfer from stovetop to oven.

Curious about oven-finished pork chops? In a nutshell, here’s how to do it: preheat the oven to 400 degrees before you start cooking. Sear your chops in the pan. Then transfer to the preheated oven and roast until it reaches an internal temperature of 140 degrees F or so.

  1. Let the meat rest. I know, I know: you’re hungry. Still, by giving the meat a resting period between cooking and serving, you’ll reap many benefits. For one, the temperature can even out. But texture is another thing entirely: by letting your meat sit for a few minutes, all of the juices contained therein will have a chance to “seal” inside. If you slice right away, all of that moisture could seep out. And nobody wants dry chops!

See? Far from fussy, these “rules” really amount to simple common sense. You want to cook your pork chops evenly, completely, and with the best flavor, and these simple tips will definitely take you in the right direction.

What is your favorite way to make pork chops?

Posted in Chef Works Blog | Leave a comment

Before You Open A Restaurant

If you have the dream of opening a restaurant, you may feel that nothing can hold you back. Even those staggering statistics that are not in your favor. The whole “60% will close in the first three years of business” thing. (Oh, that.)

Beth Casey, restaurant owner and manager says that you have to qualify for the following before you open a restaurant:

  1. Crazy
  2. Passionate about the business
  3. Have investors
  4. Get ready to rock and roll
  5. You live the job
  6. You live the job
  7. You live the job

We will go into further detail on each of these points. Rather than getting discouraged, get prepared. Armed with the tools and information for success, you can be in the 35%. Heck, you can be in the 1%!

Before you open your restaurant, here are some things to consider:

image02

Flickr Image, https://flic.kr/p/7yGLbd

Knowing Your Responsibilities – As nice as it would be, restauranting is not all food and games. We certainly don’t want to shut down that dreamy look in your eyes, but we also want to get practical. Food Woolfe, which gives an inside peek at the hospital and service industry advises: “It takes a very special person—the kind of person who loves the rollercoaster rush of not knowing what’s going to happen next, enjoys making very little money, loves people, is calm under pressure, thrives in chaos, thinks a twelve-hour workday six days a week is reasonable, and feels more comfortable taking care of others than themselves—to survive the life of a restaurant owner.” If your dreamy look has not clouded over, then read on.

image03

Flickr Image, https://flic.kr/p/iwqMgS

Deciding on A Concept – This is a little different from a theme party and it will definitely determine how you move forward. You have to consider who your customers will be. According to Agile Solutions, the age and income level of your preferred customers will point you in the right direction for your concept.

Allfoodbusiness.com goes one step further, encouraging you to know the main product line of your menu. This can help to determine the decor, or at least help you figure out your concept, which broadly fit into the following categories: Quick service, mid scale, upscale.

image08

Flickr Image, https://flic.kr/p/2koJJD

Choosing A Location – We chose the Seinfeld diner as our photo not only because of the TV fame but also the location: 2880 Broadway. It’s all about location, location, location. This could potentially be the most important detail of your start-up.

Entrepreneur.com suggests that you look over details such as demographics and neighborhood traffic. Getting away from competition is actually not advised: “Quite simply, the best place to be is as close to your biggest competitor as you can be,” says Greg Kahn, founder and CEO of Kahn Research Group in Huntersville, North Carolina, and a behavioral research veteran who’s done location research for Arby’s and Subway and other major and minor players.

You can take advantage of your competition’s marketing and foot traffic and turn it to your benefit. Sneaky, but everyone does it.

image05

Flickr Image, https://flic.kr/p/bnZLkt

The Business Plan – No one likes writing a business plan, but it is part of the journey. It also doesn’t have to fall directly on your shoulders – there are plenty of online resources (many of them free) that might help you get through the nitty gritty.

The purpose of a business plan is to help you understand the details. Don’t just read it over once. Business coach Darren L. Johnson suggests reading “over your existing business plan like you read the menu at your favorite restaurant.” Easy enough when your business is food.

image06

Flickr Image, https://flic.kr/p/58cFd2

The Paperwork – Arriving at the bank, you have to have more than that business plan in hand. Personal income taxes, tax returns and anything else that can put you in good standing may help you to secure a loan. Only 40% of startup restaurants manage to get a loan, according to Businessweek. Most are backed by personal guarantees and personal property, such as equity in a home. Plan B: call Mom.

image00

Flickr Image, https://flic.kr/p/drBtS8

What’s In A Name?- As you can see by the above example, not every restaurant name is appealing. It deserves thought and care. A unique spelling could be a drawback if people can’t easily Google it. Rebecca Hardy of The Guardian writes that “a restaurant’s success can hinge on the right words.” In the same article, Mark McCafferty at Captivate Hospitality says that a good name “stands the test of time and works in different locations.”

So what exactly is this perfect name? Think about drawing your customers in through their senses. Neuromarketer Roger Dooley says that sensory memorable names may be successful because we are so sensory deprived.

image04

Flickr Image, https://flic.kr/p/nTR7ya

Writing Your Menu – We are approaching the details you probably like best: the food. If you have a dish that is not easily understood or translatable, you might want to get wordy, like Andy Ricker at Pok Pok in NYC (unless you know what Pik Kai Op Krob Khing Lae Si Ew Kap Sauce Phrik is). High minded restaurants often get minimal with their language. Your concept will help to steer you in the right direction.

image09

Flickr Image, https://flic.kr/p/mTHndg

Hiring Your People – The staff you hire is supremely important, not only for the success of your restaurant but also for your own daily enjoyment. Bench Marque, a hospitality and event recruitment publication, weighed the pros of attitude versus skills. They came to the conclusion that if it must be a choice, attitude is the most important factor because “It is relatively easy to train staff in new skills, but it’s incredibly difficult to alter someone’s personality.”

image01

Flickr Image, https://flic.kr/p/7xSwkE

Buying Your Supplies – Equipping your kitchen will likely be your biggest cost when opening your restaurant. You can buy used or new restaurant equipment and there are pros and cons to both. If you do decide to choose used, bizenergy.ca suggests finding out how hard the equipment has been working, if the equipment is energy efficient, and what it looks like and if it can be repaired quickly and easily: “Since 30% of restaurants fail within their first year, and an additional 30% will fail within two years, gently-used equipment is often easy to find.” Gulp.

image07

Flickr Image, https://flic.kr/p/2jx3vF

Taking A Deep Breath – The American Institute of Stress recommends deep breathing as a natural way to elicit the body’s natural relaxation response. And to remind yourself that you can do this. You’ve got this.

Now the real work begins. Are you ready?

Posted in Chef Works Blog | Leave a comment