Sunday, April 28, 2013

A Peek Behind The Kitchen Door

For the last two days, I've been working on recipe development, and this may either be the most boring blog post I'll ever write, or some foodies might find it interesting to see the level of geekery and engineering that goes on behind closed doors, even when I'm not a big mega conglomerate, purposely designing junk food to be additive.

Right now I have a great hot dip recipe. It's delicious. You'd absolutely love it and think you died and went to heaven on the very first bite. That's the problem.  You'd say it was absolutely amazing for 3-5 more mouthfuls of this dip, and wonder why nobody else is making it by the bucketful. But then, it loses its luster. As you go on, each bite would become less and less thrilling to the point of not wanting anymore, and later, getting turned-off. Now, any food will do that over time - if you ever truly want to stop a food craving, the best way to do it is to eat that food, and keep eating it, past the point of satiety. You can even learn to hate chocolate if you eat ONLY chocolate for a month.

The trick is to have that tipping point of satisfaction be as far away from the first bite as it's possible to make it. And when it comes to dip, the tipping point only being five bites away is not a GREAT dip. It's only an OK dip. Especially when the problem isn't the flavor, or the texture... it is the mouth-feel.

To be even more specific in my food geekery: the issue  is the viscosity of the cheese sauce - at first bite, right now, it's heaven. Creamy and rich and wrapping your tongue in intense flavor. But then, that "blanket" of cheesy goodness keeps sticking, and it is very annoying. At first you think, "OMG I could eat a bucket of this stuff"... only a few bites later, and you're done with it. Like, so 5 minutes ago.

There is a lot of science to formulating cheese sauces;  to make the sauce velvety and creamy and intense, but then, its happy little molecules need to GO AWAY and not clog up your taste buds. It must "release" from your tongue. That way a few seconds later, you're reaching for another scoop of dip. You're not scraping your tongue against your teeth trying to get the "plastic coating" sensation off of it. Think of a great bite of extra-cheese pizza, or the times when you picked a big glob of melted runny cheese off a hot pizza and just ate the cheese by itself: the cheese might completely fill your mouth, but once you've swallow it, your mouth never feels "sticky". A true classic cheese fondue is like that as well: you can eat a whole pot of it because the booze and the cornstarch breaks down the cheese protein strands enough to make it a gooey dip instead of a gluey dip.

And that will bring me to my recipe for today. No, it's not THE dip recipe - that one is only for the business, sorry  - but I do have a kickin' cheese fondue recipe that I've made many times, always with good results, that is helping inform my own tinkering with my new dip. This fondue recipe is adapted from the old Rombauer-Becker edition of The Joy Of Cooking. They make their fondue even boozier than I do, if you can imagine that. I leave out kirsch as an ingredient: it's a p.i.t.a. to find, and I like my fondue to be an orgy of Gruyere and wine.

Cheese Fondue
Serves "4" (we like it so much 2 of us can finish the pot ourselves)


1 lb. Gruyere cheese, shredded (always buy it in a block and hand shred it fresh right as you make this either on a box grater or food processor - much better result)
1 clove of garlic, peeled
2 cups + 2 Tbsp. dry white wine (if you wouldn't drink it, don't cook with it)
1 teaspoon cornstarch
Pinch of Nutmeg
2 Granny smith apples, sliced
1 Loaf of crusty bread, cut into 1" cubes

Rub the inside of a heavy bottomed saucepan with the garlic clove. Discard clove. Pour in the 2 cups of wine and heat on medium. Mix the cornstarch with the other 2 Tablespoons of the wine in a small bowl and set aside. When the wine is hot, (it will show tiny bubbles on it's surface, but not boil) use a wire whisk and stirring constantly, add the cheese into the hot wine gradually, about 1-2 ounces at a time, and let it melt. Once the cheese is all melted, do not allow to boil, but, still stirring, pour in the cornstarch mixture and stir very fast. The fondue will thicken, take it off the heat, and sprinkle it with the nutmeg.

When we eat this by ourselves, put the pot on a wooden cutting board and sit at our kitchen counter to eat it with fondue forks, right out of the pot. If we were serving guests, we'd transfer it to a fondue pot on medium-low.

Tip: to clean the cheese off the saucepan and whisk more easily (if you didn't lick it clean already!) Fill it up with water and reheat it on the stove instead of scrubbing it, and use the whisk again to work the edges clean, then pour it out and wash them both  as you normally do.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Potato Leek Soup

The picture doesn't do them justice... these leeks are so fresh they're practically talking smack to me! Though no "Yo Mama" jokes - since I'm their Mama. (That was terrible. Good thing I cook better than Tina Fey,  I'm never going to put her out of a job writing comedy.) This is about half of what we bought. I'm making two big batches of Potato Leek Soup. One for the TQS Parents Association's Special Friends Day luncheon tomorrow, and one just for my family, because they will stage a Kitchen coup d'etat if I dare feed others their favorite soup and neglect their own hungry mouths.

Look at them again, all trimmed up, after their 2nd washing: Aaaah, Food Pr()n! That's the money-shot, baby!

And again, finally a picture taken from INSIDE the Kitchen because it's breezy today and once they're chopped I didn't want a front lawn covered in Leek Confetti... which would totally happen to me. I am way too much of a klutz to go traipsing around tempting the gods to make my knee go just at that perfect leek-hurling moment.

You know why Potato Leek Soup is the most rocking soup for Springtime, ever? Because if it's freezing out (2 days ago, 34 degrees!) this soup warms your whole body, it's creamy warm potato goodness is a perfect backdrop for sprinkling on bacon or cheddar cheese or even a pat of herb butter. But, if you get a day where the temperature spikes up to the high 70's with 80% humidity (6 days ago!) a quick chill makes this lovely soup into an elegant, refreshing Vichyssoise, to be topped with fresh snipped chives, or caviar, or diced smoked salmon. Hot or cold, it works.

And the recipe is so easy to play with, it's impossible to mess up: you can double any ingredient to your own tastes and still have a delicious result at the end, it is entirely up to you if you like your soup lower calorie, or creamier, or thickened with more potatoes.

Which brings me to... the potatoes.

Oh, I guess you would probably like the RECIPE, too, one of these days, now that I've tortured you with all these photographs of ingredients,... sigh. Very well...

Potato Leek Soup
Makes 1 Large Pot - about 12 Servings

5-6 Medium Russet potatoes, peeled, halved
3-4 Medium Red potatoes, scrubbed, skin-on, diced 1/4 - 1/2” (any waxy potato will do – love Yukon Golds)
3 bunches of leeks, green ends cut off and discarded, roots trimmed, halved, washed, then sliced into half-moons through the fiber (like chopping celery). 
2 boxes (32 oz total) organic chicken stock
2 sticks butter
1 quart heavy cream
1 cup milk

Method for Crockpot
Put the potatoes, leeks, stock and butter into the crockpot and cook on low for 8+ hours, or High for 4+ hours, depending on your own crockpot’s “personality” – you just want the big potato halves to be cooked fully until soft, not so long as they start to dissolve.
About a half hour to an hour before serving, once the Russets are soft, use a slotted spoon and (in batches) transfer them into the blender, only fill it halfway with the potatoes (Because you are pureeing a hot item, always leave 1/2 of the carafe unfilled – hot liquid expands and can explode out causing burns.) Fill in a couple cups of the leek stock for liquid to get the mixture moving, and add some of the heavy cream and milk. Again… leave at least 1/2 of the carafe unfilled. You only want to puree maybe 3 seconds, as little as possible, or the starch in the potatoes will turn into glue. Dump the puree back in the pot and do the next batch – and for this, I just keep using the cream and the milk as the liquid. Leave the diced Red potatoes out of this – they are for people to enjoy as chunks in the soup.
 Once all the Russets are pureed, and back in the pot, give it a good stir, pour in any cream and milk you haven’t used, taste, then adjust the salt & pepper.

If you want to turn this into Vichyssoise, peel ALL the potatoes back in step 1, puree all the soup, then pass it through a mesh sieve, then quickly chill it in a metal bowl set over another metal bowl of ice, stirring constantly. Put in bowls and garnish with caviar, smoked salmon, prosciutto, or chopped fresh chives (or your own favorite fresh herb), or whipped herb cream. Hot or cold, this stays good in the fridge for a week, possibly 10 days, but it’s never lasted that long at our house. Enjoy!

Here are some of my tricks I do to make the soup better:
  • Start by pouring the stock in your pot, and then, as you peel and cut each of the Russet potatoes, drop them into the liquid. It will keep them from oxidizing (browning) as you work and make a more attractive soup later on. 
  • Never allow any potato eyes or black spots into anything you cook. Yuck.
  • Rinse the leeks in the colander again after they've been chopped, to make sure all of the sand is completely out. 
  • One single pound of leeks yields about 6 cups of chopped leeks, so if chopping up 3 bunches looks like leeks are taking over your kitchen, and you kinda have to stuff them into fitting the crockpot? You did it right. If you really can't fit them, save the extra, saute them gently in butter, and spread it over crusty bread. You're welcome.
  • Don't use the dark green part of the leeks, it turns the soup a dingy color
  • I was warned by 2 plumbers to always put the potato peelings and fibrous vegetable trim (like leek leaves) in the trash or compost, NOT down the Garbage Disposal. The soup tastes much better when you don't have a $150 plumber bill after making it. Needless to say, I actually listened after the second time I was told.
  • Don't add any Salt & Pepper until the very end, after you've added the heavy cream and pureed the potatoes - at different times of the year, the cream and potatoes are sweeter.
  • Yes, I really DO use that much butter and heavy cream. That's why it tastes so good. But you could, if you wanted to, use the Fat Free Half-n-Half instead. And cut it back to one stick of butter. But margarine or oil just won't cut it for this soup and still get as good results:

The Butter was nestled, all snug in its bed, while visions of Vichyssoise danced in my head.

Can I just make an observation of the difference between cooking and writing? - it takes WAY longer to write about making Potato Leek Soup than simply MAKING it. Granted, the CrockPot is likely to disagree with me, and give me dirty looks for saying that, since its been on duty for about 3 hours now. But really, it took only about 25 minutes to peel the potatoes, chop the leeks, wash everything, and clean up. The pureeing will take maybe 5 minutes. This is a soup that anyone can make, at any skill level, and get a great result.

So, that being said, I just took a whole day to write one blog post. Yikes! I may have to limit my Foodie Blogging to once a week.

That being said, here is the Beautiful Soup:

Beautiful Soup so rich and green,
Waiting in a hot tureen
Who for such dainties would not stoop?

Soup of the evening,
Beautiful Soup.
Soup of the evening,
Beautiful Soup.

Beautiful Soo-oup
Beautiful Soo-oup
Soup of the evening Beauuuuuuuuuuuutiful Soo-oup!
Beautiful Soup.

Beautiful Soup, Who cares for fish,
Game or any other dish?
Who would not give all else for two
Pennyworth only of Beautiful Soup?

Beautiful Soo-oup
Beautiful Soo-oup
Soup of the evening Beauuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuutiful Soo-oup!

Beauuuuuuuuuuutiful Soup..... Oops, sorry, got carried away.

Hehehe, and don't tell me that won't be stuck in your head every single time you make this soup. Forever. People all over the world will be singing Alice in Wonderland's Beautiful Soup, and the whole world will be a much happier place if they do!

Here is my Beautiful Potato Leek Soup, all dressed up and ready for dinner tonight. I'm afraid that the sun was already dipping behind the Oak tree, so the light was shaded through the leaves.

And here is my last picture, for the night, and for this post. The soup being quick-chilled:

Soup of the Evening.....Beautiful Soup!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Hello World! Have a Margarita!

Please, join me in a toast: to the first post of the Blog for Hot Mama Tarditi's Gourmet-To-Go-Go!

And let's make it a social! Here's my own recipe, modified over the years from my brother's and father's recipes:

Hot Mama's 3-2-1 Margarita Recipe
Makes 2 Servings

3 parts (6 oz.) Jose Cuervo Especial Gold Tequila
2 parts (4 oz.) Nellie & Joe's Famous Key Lime Juice
1 part (2 oz.) Triple Sec (I used Dekuyper because we had it )
1 Tbsp. Madhava Agave Nectar Amber (if you can find the Raw, use that!) (and swish the tablespoon in the pitcher to get the full amount into the mix - stuff's sticky!)
1/4 tsp. (leveled) Kosher Salt for the drink (+ extra  pile to rim the glasses in)
2 large scoops ice -  the cubes should take up the volume of the liquid, but still "swim" freely

Combine all of the measured ingredients above in a blender pitcher; also form a small pile of salt for rimming on a separate plate.
Blend on Ice Crush setting until fully smooth
Dip the rims of the glasses in the margaritas in the blender pitcher to wet them, then rim then in the extra salt.
Pour in the Margaritas & Enjoy!
Notes: The 3-2-1 ratio of Cuervo Gold to Nellie & Joe's Key Lime to Triple Sec makes an absolutely outstanding Margarita, no matter if you are using ounces or bathtubs to measure it out. Always excellent results. Add the sweetener and salt to taste, and the ice or water to your level of preferred alcohol strength. I use the Agave nectar because 1 - it's made from the same cactus that the Tequila comes from, and, 2- we always have it on hand in our house (my kid has ADHD, it has a "slow burn" compared with sugar)


I'm Liz, quite literally the head cook and bottle-washer around here: Chef, Owner & Mama of Hot Mama Tarditi's Gourmet-To-Go-Go (the Personal Chef & Catering company), and the person who will be writing these blog posts, at least until my beautiful daughter grows up, takes over the Family Business, and lets me retire in splendor to a beach where I will spend my golden years under the shady trees, creating new recipes for Rum and Tequila, and Talking Like A Pirate every Tharrghsday. But I digress...

I hope you like the 3-2-1 Margarita recipe. It really is my Personal Secret Recipe*, and it has spoiled me for all others, except maybe the ones from Tommy Bahama's in Naples, Florida. Maybe.

I hope the Blog Name made you smile the instant you read it, because it actually has a story of its own, and by way of telling you the story of Hot Mama Tarditi's Gourmet-To-Go-Go, I can introduce myself as well.

The first Personal Chef business I started, years ago, was in Seattle, Washington before my daughter was born. It was called Today's Gourmet, and I was even featured in a USA Today article about personal chefs at that time. However, there had been another, WAY-COOLER name that had popped up when I was brainstorming what to name my business: Hot Mama Tarditi's Gourmet-To-Go-Go. I loved it! It was so fun! Nobody would ever forget a business with a name like that! Yay!

My then-husband was horrified.

Oh well, he wasn't a bad guy; he just didn't share my delightful sense of whimsy. Nor my effervescent charm, and quirky sense of humor. Talk Like a Pirate Tharrghsdays did NOT happen in his well-ordered world. Ever. Poor fellow. I named my first business Today's Gourmet, and I was very happy with my clients, and busy, until...well... Life. Once we both realized it just couldn't work out, our baby girl and I took the first plane out, back to the glorious home of my birth, my beloved Philadelphia. Cultural Center of the Universe. Where wild Wawa's roam free, and spectacularly fresh sandwiches are our Inalienable Right at any hour of the clock. Land of cheese steaks, Taylor Pork Roll, Tastykakes, blue-claw crabs, Jersey tomatoes and corn, Pennsylvania Dutch scrapple and handmade sausages, fresh milk and dairy to make the angels weep. Where a thousand phenomenal Italian restaurants fight it out like culinary gladiators for the honor of your patronage, and you can get a soft pretzel The Way God Intended: doughy, wet, lightly smoked by the fumes of a Septa bus tailpipe, served in a brown paper bag by the unwashed hands of a guy standing by the side of the street, with mustard.

Did I mention my quirky sense of humor? Yeah.

So, flash-forward 10 or so years, and it turned out along the way that our darling daughter had some pretty unique and special issues, that needed both of us to step up and bring our A-games. Her Dad and I? Our relationship has never been better. Really. We rock as divorced co-parents in a way we never did as a married couple. But the road from there to here meant that I had quite a few years of struggle, trying to juggle being a mom of a kid with special needs, with a career that paid the bills. And then just for fun, The Great Recession hit us all.

And finding myself unemployed, in a tough job market, I struggled. Really. Until one day, I was reading the blog of another young single mom, with two little girls of her own, who was going through chemotherapy and was talking about how tired her treatments leave her, and her own mom had passed, and how much she needed a way to take care of her family over the ongoing weeks of her battle. Wow. Talk about a cosmic slap upside the head... there I was, thinking I had problems?!?!

She inspired me to try again, even though the thought absolutely terrified me.

So I prayed, really hard. The Big Prayer - a Novena. And I talked to my Wonderful Man (he's "new" you'll hear about him later!), and then I had a moment where I got this crazy name of "ManiFEASTation" in my head and I knew that was just such a terrible, terrible pun it was not what I was supposed to do... but I was supposed to cook for people who really needed me. People who were recovering from surgery or doing chemo or just had life situations where they needed good, nurturing food from someone who could think in flavor and modify any recipe to fit their needs. People who needed my creativity in coming up with the nutritional balance they needed, and menus that would help tempt them, and still feed their families. I had renewed my ServSafe certification in my former job, which I'll post about sometime later, I'm sure.

But I was still shaky, unsure if I should take the chance again, to stick my neck out and try to start my own business again - honestly, it had been a rocky 10 years. And then the most amazing thing happened, I posted on Facebook that I was praying for guidance, about making this decision, and so many people sent me positive energy and prayers, and in the comments one night, I joked about the name, and at least it wasn't "Hot Mama Tarditi's Gourmet To Go Go".

And everybody stopped. I got all kinds of messages, most everyone loved the name and asked WHY wasn't I using it?

And then I thought back... 10 years... wow, ...  that name I never used, still stuck with me.

And I still liked it. A LOT.

Hot Mama Tarditi's Gourmet-To-Go-Go.

It made me smile. It made me laugh. And it made me realize, I'd come full-circle. Back when I first thought of the name Hot Mama Tarditi's Gourmet-to-Go-Go, I wasn't ready to BE "Mama" yet. I was still a Noob, at so many, many things. I had a lot to learn, and a lot to live, and a lot to grok, and a road to travel.

Once Upon A Time, I graduated at the top of my class in 1999 from the AIS culinary program set up by French Master Chef Roland Henin, CMC, and I also had a BA from Villanova University. I am ServSafe certified, and can cook for people with sensitive or compromised immune systems, such as post-surgery, or in chemotherapy, young children or seniors, and I am able to customize all of the recipes I make, or create new ones, to provide the nutrition as well as the delicious flavors that are so important to lifting a person's energy and wellness. I make all of my menus with the whole person, and the whole family, in mind.

My new business name is Hot Mama Tarditi's Gourmet-To-Go-Go. I hope that name makes each one of my clients smile, and lifts their spirits before they even take their first bite. I want to enliven, uplift and nourish people's whole beings with my cooking, body, mind and spirit. I want to create beautiful food, to keep learning and creating new things, that make people happy - no matter if they are celebrating the great things that life brings, or are struggling through tough times. That's the story of Hot Mama's. That's the story of me.

Welcome, Friends!

(Now, let me get back in the Kitchen, where I belong....)

* For the business, we DO pick up from the PLCB State Stores for our clients, as an errand, for only a set, standard service charge for the stop made: clients get the original PLCB receipt for their purchase with no up-charge. We don't sell alcohol.