Staying Healthy in a Post Covid World

“Quarantine 15” doesn’t just rhyme; as we all obeyed our shelter-in-place orders for the better part of 2 months many people have emerged with slightly tighter pants. It’s not that surprising; the uncertain times have been perpetually unsettling at best, leading to a lot of anxiety and stress. When we’re stressed, we reach for comfort foods. High-fat, high-sugar (or starch) foods give us a jolt of energy and have a bit of a tranquilizing effect that can alleviate some of that anxiety, albeit only temporarily. Add to that the complete disruption of our routines, which for many also meant a disruption in our exercise routines. Gyms, parks, even some state and national parks remained closed months.

So here we are. As communities open up we emerge like plump little butterflies. Except we don’t want to be plump. Most of us just want to get back to where we were when this whole thing started. Here are our tips for staying healthy in body, mind and community.

Ditch the Comfort Foods

We think it goes without saying to do your best to bring your daily eating routine back to where it was before COVID-19. This means eliminating junk food, sugar and practicing a little more moderation with those simple starches, like white rice and pasta. At least to the effect you were already doing so pre-pandemic.

Move More

Returning to your prior exercise regimen may not be possible depending on the availability of open gyms, operating sports teams/centers, or your level of comfort in going to them or participating in team sports. However, exercise not only helps you maintain a healthy weight, but it can also help alleviate some of that anxiety that had you stress eating in the first place. The strategy here is routine. If you can’t participate in your old one, build a new one.

Maintain Healthy Sleep Hygiene

Let’s face it – we know you’re not out partying these days. Now is a great time to focus on sleep hygiene. Adequate sleep is important for both physical and mental health as well as for maintaining a healthy immune system. Key takeaways are to establish a bedtime routine, keep it consistent and avoid drinking too much alcohol, particularly right before bed (Yes, we know. The struggle is real but you will sleep so much better.)

Buy Local

No, locally produced food doesn’t have fewer calories necessarily than something commercially produced. The point here is to embrace the community around you. Support your local businesses, artisans and suppliers. Not only will you be helping your local economy, but you’ll also likely build some new relationships. Community is important, especially right now.

Let Us Help You

Do you know what makes healthy-eating easy as pie? Personal chef services. We create a custom menu just for you and deliver healthy, chef-prepared meals every week. Our prepared meal delivery comes with all kinds of perks like no contact delivery, limited grocery store outings (we provide all shopping and can even supplement our clients with grocery staples), and a custom menu. We also utilize as many local vendors as possible so you know you’re supporting the central Texas community. If you’re ready for custom, chef-prepared meals to help you kick start or continue your health journey, fill out our food profile to get started!

Everyone reacts differently to stressful situations. For more information on coping during the COVID-19 pandemic, the CDC also has valuable recommendations.

Eat What’s In Season!

In spite of some remaining chilly Texas weather forecasts, spring is just around the corner, and with it comes a whole new selection of colorful, in-season fruits and vegetables. Asparagus, avocado, greens of all kinds, red radishes and strawberries, purple carrots and tri-color beets will soon add a rainbow of color to the produce section of your favorite market.

But wait – hasn’t a lot of this stuff been in grocery stores for months?

Just because many of these fruits and veggies are available year ‘round, doesn’t mean they’re in season, which is when they’re most plentiful, most cost effective, and at peak texture and flavor.

Produce grown out of season, generally relies on the assistance of “modern agricultural practices” like pesticides, waxes and preservatives to not only allow them to grow in their off season, but maintain a fresh in-season appearance. For obvious reasons, these techniques don’t always line up with our efforts to eat clean.

Research shows that the nutritional content of a food can vary depending on the season in which it is grown and actually decrease the longer it sits after harvest. Long transport times across the country (or further) from in season locations to local markets can mean your healthy food choices may not be as nutrient dense as you think.

Seasonal fruits and vegetables, especially when grown close to home, retain more of their nutrients and antioxidants making them the naturally healthier choice.

At Austin Artisan we believe that eating with nature’s cycles is not only healthier, better for the environment and more supportive of our local farmers, it allows us to offer our clients seasonal variety in their meals.

We pride ourselves on preparing and delivering healthy meals comprised of the freshest in-season produce available from local vendors who practice sustainable farming. In fact we strive to ensure our foods come from within 150 miles of Austin to bring you nutrient-dense produce harvested at the peak of freshness. We shop from many of the same Hill Country growers and farmers that supply our wonderful ATX farmers markets with sustainably grown fruits and vegetables and humanely raised meat options and dairy products.

If you would like to serve healthy meals made from locally grown, in season produce, but don’t have the time to shop, chop and cook, let Austin Artisan take the hassle out of weekday meal prep. Our delivery service can help you eat better, and save money and time. Contact us to get started.

The Austin Artisan for Meal Delivery

Why Our Personal Chef Meal Service is Better

Getting meals on the table that are both delicious and nutritious can be a weekday hassle, especially when you’re short on time or tired of cooking the same ole’ thing.

That’s why meal delivery services have seen such a rise in popularity in recent years.

In Austin, we’re fortunate to have many meal delivery options, from nationally franchised companies that will drop your favorite take out on your doorstep to meal kit services that provide attractively boxed ingredients along with detailed preparation instructions. These options are definitely convenient, and usually way healthier than drive-through  window meals. The problem is, these meals and meal kits tend to be a little “cookie cutter,” and lack the personalization and attention to detail they’d have if you had the time (or maybe the skill) to plan and cook innovative meals yourself.

That’s why Austin Artisan’s personal chef-style meal delivery service is so unique. Not only are we dedicated to making your meals as fresh as possible from locally sourced, seasonal ingredients, we personalize each meal to your flavor and dietary preferences.

Sure, we could have a standard meal plan like other companies and
modify it to be vegan, paleo or without coconut, mushrooms or other ingredients you don’t like, but we prefer to create individualized meals with what you do want to see on your plate, instead of cutting out what you don’t.

This not only ensures the integrity of the recipes, but that we can accommodate all diets, allergies, likes and dislikes — even for the most particular eaters.

The Artisans cook your meals in our certified commercial kitchen and deliver delicious “reheat and eat” foods right to your refrigerator. There’s no shopping, chopping or cooking at all, and clean up is minimal! It really couldn’t be easier. Or more delicious.

Seriously. You’ll look so forward to dinner.

We pride ourselves on our ability to provide healthy meals to hungry Austinites, but we realize that dietary needs and preferences change. If you want to try Keto, discover you have a food sensitivity or other health concern, or your kid no longer likes “red stuff,” we can accommodate you.

No matter how many menu options a meal delivery service claims to offer, nothing beats the versatility or individualization of a personal chef’s menu.

Contact us to complete your flavor profile and get started with Austin Artisan’s personal chef meal service. It’ll take the hassle of dinner prep off the table.

 Simple Eating Habits for A Healthier 2019!

Eating Healthy All Year Long

There is something particularly magical about a new year.  It’s time for clean slate and a fresh start.  Each year millions of Americans make big, lofty New Year’s resolutions to lose weight and live a healthier lifestyle. You may even already consider yourself health conscious, but many of us struggle to keep these resolutions up through the year. I get calls all the time from busy professionals and working parents who simply try to do it all but settle for less due to their hectic lifestyle.

But, what if I told you eating healthy could not only be fun, but also delicious and even time saving? Now I have your attention!

Instead of resolutions, make accessible, realistic goals that lead to long term lifestyle changes. When we create healthy meal delivery options for our clients, we carefully design each dish to be healthy, visually stunning, full of flavor and rich in nutrients.  To get started on the right track, try implementing these simple changes in your daily life to make 2018 your healthiest year yet:

  • Make veggies your main dish. A healthier diet starts with fresh produce–yes, even in winter. Fruits and vegetables deliver vitamins, minerals, and plant nutrients. Plus, they are full of protein, so you can get the sense of feeling “full” without the calories.
  • Make a grocery list: When it comes to making healthy eating choices, setting yourself up for success starts at the grocery store. Having a week’s worth of meal plans allows you to hand-pick healthy ingredients; rather than meal prep in a rush. A good piece of advice is to avoid going to the grocery store hungry to prevent impulse-buying junk food or food you don’t need.
  • Serve yourself on smaller plates: Research shows that most people eat about 90 percent of the food in front of them regardless of plate size. Transitioning from a 9-inch dinner plate to an 8-inch dinner plate can make a sizeable difference in how many calories you consume.
  • Cut out sugar-sweetened beverages: Sugary drinks have been linked to an increased risk of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. For so many, sugar-sweetened beverages occupy about 500 calories a day, which is calorie equivalent to a complete healthy meal.
  • Eat Out Less: Sure, it’s a treat to go out for dinner. However, the average American eats out four times each week, which can add up to 8 pounds of extra weight gain per year. Restaurants add more salt, fats and other rich ingredients than the food you eat when prepared at home. The truth is, many of us pack on the pounds, because we rely on fast food, packaged meals and takeout to provide our primary sustenance. Unfortunately, you’re going to find that these options are full of empty calories, unsavory ingredients and larger portions.
  • Finally, get a meal delivery service—it can be a game changer. A weekly meal plan and delivery service can help you eat better, save money, and time during the week. This type of resolution is positive, and doesn’t involve dieting. Austin Artisan Chef provides a customized approach to your food. Our Personal Chef clients enjoy the time savings and convenience our services offer, and the added benefit of ever-changing menus tailored to their family’s individual wants and needs. Contact us today to discuss how we can match our meal delivery services with your needs and healthy goals.

Fresh Family Meals Straight from Your Spring Garden

Springtime is finally here, and I couldn’t be more excited! Not only are the days longer and warmer, but early spring is a perfect time to kick-start your garden to create fresh and healthy meals for your family. Food-wise, I must say, that few things bring as much joy than serving a meal straight from my garden.

Easy gardening does exist. With some basic knowledge, enthusiasm, and commitment, a plot of land can be transformed into a beautiful garden—and  A rewarding hobby. Here’s a list of my top picks of what to plant in springtime that are easy to grow and maintain.

Arugula
A peppery addition to any plate, arugula grows quickly — in a few week’s time. Arugula doesn’t love hot weather and gets quite bitter if grown when it’s steaming hot outside. Plant arugula as danger of frost is over, and begin to sow once a week or every two weeks to keep a constant supply.

Tomatoes
There’s nothing like a freshly picked, ripe tomato from your garden. Gardeners can grow a variety of small- and large-fruited tomatoes. They do require large, sturdy cages and fruit over a long period of time. Enjoy your fresh tomatoes in salads, on sandwiches and sliced or cooked and added to countless fresh meals for your family.

Cucumbers
Enjoyed fresh in a salad or preserved as pickles, cucumbers mature quickly and are best suited to larger gardens. They can also be grown in small areas if the plants are caged or trellised.

Eggplant
Glossy, purple skin is the hallmark of this crop. The incredibly versatile eggplant works in everything from Italian to Asian recipes. Try growing eggplants in raised beds, which heat up quickly in spring. Plants given plenty of room are healthier and more productive,

Peppers
Peppers are a warm-season crop that will grow in most Texas areas. Peppers are good raw or cooked. Eat them as a snack, use them to decorate food, or add them to salads and casseroles.

Strawberries
While strawberries can be grown for several years, they perform best when grown as an annual plant. Spring-bearing varieties are the best adapted for most regions of Texas. Ever-bearing strawberry varieties do not fruit well under hot summer conditions.

And don’t forget to plant fresh herbs!  Herbs are what makes a dish sing. Top an ordinary steak with Basil-Mint Chimichurri and you’ve turned a weekend BBQ into a 5-star experience. Check out my list of top herbs to plant in your garden this spring:

Basil
Cilantro
Mexican Mint
Oregano
Rosemary
Sage
Thyme

Crafting fresh meals for your family is our passion. Imagine coming home after a busy day with fresh-prepared meals for you and your family! At Austin Artisan, we cook your meals in our certified commercial kitchen and deliver your food right to your refrigerator. That’s about as convenient as it gets. You don’t have to stop by our kitchen after work or remember to place your order. Once you’ve filled out a Food Questionnaire and set up your delivery, you can leave the rest to us and enjoy fresh, local, seasonal produced!

Eat in Season this Spring

Spring 2018 officially kicks off on Tuesday, March 20th, and I couldn’t be more excited! In addition to more daylight and sunshine, I’m eagerly awaiting a new crop of produce. March signifies a transition from dense root vegetables to light, vibrant ones.

Following the seasons has such a positive impact on our health, our environment and our plates. As we progressively move toward warmer days, our fruit and vegetable bounties will adjust to provide us with the nutrients and flavors we crave this time of year. As a chef, I base my menus around these natural cycles. Here are just a few reasons why you should, too!

4 Reasons to Eat in Season:

  1. Better tasting: Local, season produce is fresh produce. It hasn’t traveled on planes or across oceans. It hasn’t been stored in a freezer and it’s not artificially grown. Seasonal produce is naturally harvested and picked at just the right time, producing exquisite flavors. Asparagus, for example, is available mostly year-round. But try it in spring, and you’ll discover an entirely different texture and taste.
  2. Easy to source: If I were to base a winter menu around rhubarb, I might have a difficult time finding enough (or any at all). When you plan menus that are seasonal, you’ll almost never have trouble sourcing ingredients. Seasonal produce is what’s most abundant in a given time of year. It’s also what will yield the best results.
  3. Less costly: Supply and demand affect cost, right? So let’s say, you’re looking for sorrel in the fall. If you find it, you may discover that it’s way more expensive than sorrel in the spring. Why? Because it’s a rarity in fall. When food is plentiful, it’s typically available at a lesser cost.
    Bonus Tip: Check out CSAs and farmers’ markets for the best deals on fresh, sustainable foods.
  4. Improved nutrition: Mother Nature is a smart cookie. She knows that in the winter we need warming, dense foods to protect us from the cold. In spring and summer, we require lighter fruits and vegetables to keep us active, cool and hydrated. If we continually eat in season, our bodies will get the nutrients we need all year long.

If you’re excited about enjoying the season’s best this spring, check out this short list of some of my favorite produce coming in March, April and May.

Chef Michael’s Spring Produce Guide:

Asparagus (+ White Asparagus)
Fava Beans
Spinach
Ramps
Rhubarb
Peas
Sorrel
Fiddlehead Ferns
Artichokes
Morel Mushrooms

Not sure how to use sorrel or need a great rhubarb pie recipe? Contact us! Our Artisans are always happy to help you whip up something delicious!

How to Preserve Your Hatch Green Chiles

There are a ton of vegetables in-season right now: eggplant, green beans, okra… but our favorite by far is Hatch green chiles. Named for the region of New Mexico that they’re grown in, these peppers lend their signature heat-meets-sweet flavor to summertime meals.

 

Here at The Austin Artisan, we love using Hatch chiles in all kinds of dishes. Have you tried them in your grilled cheese? Incorporated them into lasagna? Or grilled up some spicy burgers? There are so many options, it feels wrong to only enjoy them for a few months every year.

 

If you love kicking up your dishes, or just want to have the option of enjoying good-quality ingredients all year round, then you should be preserving your Hatch chiles.

 

Heres how:

 

  1. Order a case of Hatch chiles—most grocery stores will take your order. Alternatively, look to warehouse stores, like Costco or Sam’s Club.
  2. Heat up the grill. In small batches, roast the chiles until the skin starts to blister and char. Charring is GOOD!
  3. Immediately upon removal from the grill, place the charred chiles in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let sit for 20-30 minutes.
  4. Transfer the cooled batch into half-gallon freezer bags. (If you have a vacuum sealer, even better! It’s a favorite gadget of mine. )
  5. Freeze in small batches. (Use your judgment and freeze in amounts you would use in a meal. You don’t want to freeze a large block; because once you defrost the chiles you have a limited amount of time to use them.)
  6. When you’re ready to get cooking, place the frozen bag in a bowl in the sink. Run COLD water over the chiles until they are thawed. This should take about 30 minutes, depending on size of batch.
  7. Once completely thawed, peel the charred skin and remove the seeds. Toss or compost.

 

What is left will surely make any dish a knockout!
Some ideas:

  • Super Bowl chili with Hatch chiles
  • Thanksgiving stuffing with Hatch chiles
  • Anytime scrambled eggs with a little Hatch chile heat

 

Your turn: Let us know your favorite way to incorporate them into your meals, or better yet, tag us in a picture on Facebook! We’re waiting to hear from you…

Fall Meal Planning: It’s Time!

I think most people can relate when I say that routine can sometimes go out the window during summer. With vacations, summer camps, and friends visiting, our normal schedules get thrown way off, and we don’t always know who we’ll be cooking for each week. Sometimes dinner is a well-planned BBQ, and sometimes it’s a bowl ice cream. But with fall quickly approaching, it’s time to get back into the swing of things and start meal planning again.

If you’re the type of person that often buys too much food because you don’t know what you’ll need that week, meal planning can really cut down on the food waste. It also allows you to buy more fresh ingredients, because you know they’ll be used right away. And it greatly cuts down on the stress of having to decide what to make at the last minute.

Below, I’ve outlined some simple strategies that will help you get ahead of fall meal planning. That way, when the school buses roll in and work heats up, you won’t break a sweat!

Who’s coming to dinner?

The first step is to take a look at your week and decide how many people you’ll be cooking for each night, and then how much time you’ll have to cook. Having a selection of recipes on hand (in a tangible or digital folder) really helps, because you’ll need a variety of meals that don’t take much time but can serve the whole family. Other nights, you’ll be able to take more time and cook more elaborate dishes. It’s all about knowing which meals will work for each night based on your schedule.

What’s in your kitchen?

Take stock of your refrigerator and pantry before you write a grocery list. Try to utilize the seasonings and ingredients you already have. It’s okay to swap out Italian seasoning for oregano or cilantro for parsley. If you have leftovers in the freezer, break them out so you’ll have at least one night off!

What’s in season?

When choosing meals, try to incorporate in-season produce, like squash, pumpkin and apples. It’s the perfect time of year to enjoy a ton of fresh fruits and vegetables, so you can get creative. Check out this great site for what’s abundant each month.

Too busy?

Meal planning can seem a bit overwhelming, especially when you’re just starting a new routine or having a hard time getting back into it. That’s why we offer Personal Chef services—to eliminate the stress of planning and make it easier for you to have fresh, healthy meals on the table every night. Visit our Personal Chef page  for more information and to get started!

Seafood Stew: We Saved the Best for Last

We’re wrapping up Seafood Month and ending with the mother of all recipes: Seafood Stew. In culinary terms, this can be easily defined as a fresh fish and shellfish dish cooked in a flavored broth. Instead of featuring just one variety, a stew utilizes a combination of seafood to create a dynamic and robust meal. Traditionally, the stew is comprised of the “catch of the day.”

Depending on where you live the catch may vary a bit. Inland you might not find as much variety as you would in coastal regions, like San Francisco and New England. But that’s the fun part. You can use what is most fresh and abundant in your area. I always recommend speaking with a knowledgeable fishmonger to help you out.

While the seafood takes center stage, the broth and style also make this meal really standout. Cioppino, which was said to have been made popular by Italian immigrants in San Francisco, is a preparation typically made with a tomato-and-wine-based broth. Of course, you can probably find recipes that are just made with tomatoes and stock, but we recommend this Cioppino from Epicurious (enhanced with dry red wine)  Please note, the accompanying focaccia or sourdough bread is non-negotiable!

Another delicious option is Bouillabaisse—a French preparation, starring seafood, vegetables and Provencal spices, served with rouille or rich sauce. The history is actually pretty cool: “Bouillabaisse was originally a stew made by Marseille fishermen using the bony rockfish which they were unable to sell to restaurants or markets.”  In other words, it was (and is) a great way to utilize the less popular fish and turn it into something outrageous. (And you know how much we appreciate sustainable solutions!) Another hit from Epicurious, be sure to put this Bouillabaisse recipe on this week’s menu.

We hope you enjoyed Seafood Month as much as we did. If you missed our previous posts, be sure to check out our Mussel and Shrimp  blogs to learn all of our top Chef Secrets. Then, give these summer Seafood dishes a try and let us know what you think in the comments below!

Why I Keep An Herb Garden

I wouldn’t say I have the greenest thumb, but I do enjoy spending a weekend in my garden. It’s not only a great excuse to get into the sunshine, but it’s also a means of inspiration. When I tend to my herbs, my mind reels with possibilities.

Herbs are what make a dish sing. Top an ordinary steak with Basil-Mint Chimichurri and you’ve turned a weekend BBQ into a 5-star experience. Or, blend basil and mint with extra virgin olive oil and cheese to create a fresh pesto for baked fish. You can even make summer teas and cocktails with rosemary and lavender. I don’t know about you, but my mouth is watering just thinking about it!

Of course, you can always buy fresh herbs at the grocery store for your weekly meals, but that can get expensive. The main reason I keep my own garden is the savings. Instead of shopping for herbs that come by the bunch, you can simply go to your yard and snip what you need. It’s like getting your ingredients for free! Plus, you minimize waste, because you’re able to control the quantity.

It may seem intimidating if you’ve never tended to garden before, but don’t be afraid to give it a try. Pick up a book or spend some time on Google, and then go for it. If you don’t have a yard or the interest in a full garden, buy a few potted plants (which usually come with instructions) and try your hand at indoor horticulture.

As for me, I look forward to spending more spring/summer days planting, growing and creating new herb-inspired recipes. Keep checking the blog for fresh-food ideas, and share your garden adventures/pics in the comments below or on Facebook.