How to Plate Like a Personal Chef

Plate at Home Like a Personal Chef

When it comes to any dining experience, we feast with our eyes before even picking up a fork. There’s nothing better than when the server sets down a perfectly plated dish and getting that “wow” effect right before you dig in. While you may not have honed your own technique with foams or sauce drizzles, there are a few things you can do to dress up your mealtimes at home. This is especially fun for our personal chef clients in Austin that get our prepared meal delivery services. We take a lot of care in curating your weekly menus, and while we carefully “plate” them in your containers, just a little thought and effort goes a long way into creating that restaurant-style experience in your home. Practicing your plating skills regularly also makes for an impressive presentation when you have dinner guests.

Here are a few simple tips and tricks we use that you can play around with at home!

Use White Plates

Have you ever noticed that most restaurants serve their food on white plates? Using white plates is one of the oldest chef tricks in the book. Everything from colorful vegetables to a perfectly seared piece of meat really pops on a bright white background.

Noodles plated by personal chef

Embrace Negative Space

Your entrée needs a little bit of breathing room. People often tend to grab a plate and fill it up, particularly when eating at home. “Negative space” is the artistic term for the blank space around the subject. Think about the plate as your canvas and the different food components as your paint. Does the dish just beg to be centered, or a little bit askew? Consider how the blank part of the plate plays into the whole presentation.

Utilize Height

Layering and stacking ingredients can add another element of interest to your dish. Consider putting that purée under your protein, or stacking and leaning the ingredients against each other. Sauces can also be used as a base layer of color instead of being drizzled on top.

Stacked pork loin plated by a personal chef

Thoughtfully Garnish

A garnish always helps a dish pop, particularly if your main entrée is a bit monotoned and/or brown (like meat). Always garnish. However, garnish thoughtfully. Less is more. It’s also worth a mention to consider your dish and complementary flavors when garnishing. Don’t just throw some red pepper on there for a color pop unless it will actually lend itself to the flavor of the dish.

We think meal times are special. Gathering around the table (be it breakfast, lunch, or dinner) is a time to connect, reflect and take a breather from our busy day-to-day. Whether you’re experimenting as your own chef at home or taking advantage of our prepared meal delivery services, putting a little time and care into your weekly meal routine makes every meal a special occasion.

To learn more about our personal chef delivery services, fill out our contact form and we’ll be in touch shortly!

Setting the Mood with Romantic Foods

Want to elevate your Valentine’s Day dinner with romantic foods?

It’s true, food can actually look, smell, and taste romantic. Whether you’re cooking your love a 5-course meal or thinking of preparing some nighttime nosh, there are several foods and recipes that can stimulate your love senses while impressing your sweetie. So, light the candles, put on some soft tunes, and serve-up a scrumptious dish.  These top romantic foods are sure to win the heart of someone special.

Chocolate: You guessed it, chocolate is usually the king of courtship, making it a must-have with your romantic meal. Chocolate is sensual, from its taste to its aroma, and it is versatile. From molten chocolate cake to strawberries dipped in chocolate to cocoa rubbed baby back ribs you can’t go wrong with chocolate.

Seafood: Oysters have been considered a natural aphrodisiac for centuries. Probably because they are one of the best sources of romance-boosting zinc. In addition, oily fish– like wild salmon and herring– contain omega-3 fatty acids, linked to spark romance. If you’re a lover of seafood dishes, here are my top three recommendations not to be missed for a truly romantic meal that will sure to impress.

Savory Cheeses: Sharing a fondue pot is a fun and romantic experience. Fondue is such an easy entree to prepare, as long as you keep stirring! Also, you and your sweetie can choose from different dippers—like exotic cheeses or dark chocolates. Did you know there’s a long-standing tradition that states anyone who loses a dipper in the fondue pot has to kiss his or her sweetie?

Chili Peppers: Consider turning up the heat with chilis.  This invigorating spice has an exotic reputation and a bright red color, which could be why it’s considered a symbol of love. Scientist say that chili peppers stimulate endorphins (the brain’s feel good chemicals). For some added spice, chop-up some chili peppers and toss them into stir-fries, soups or stews.

Fresh Citrus: Any member of this tropical fruit family is super-rich in antioxidants, vitamin C, and folic acid — all of which are essential to health—and romance. Enjoy a romantic salad that incorporates citrus, like pink grapefruit or mandarin oranges, or use a dressing made with lemon, lime or even kumquats.  Check out our Citrus 101 article for Austin Artisan chef tips.

 Avocados:  It could be the smooth texture, or the rich flavor of the fruit that gave avocadoes its aphrodisiac reputation as far back as the Aztecs.  They’re loaded with minerals, monounsaturated fats (the good kind that protect the heart and lower cholesterol), and vitamin B6—all of which help improve your energy. They are versatile and add tons of flavor and texture to any dish.

Wine: Wine is so romantic because it gives couples an excuse to set aside time for each other. Wine can enhance a romantic meal and sometimes, it doesn’t particularly matter what varietal you choose, just as long as it is one you both enjoy. Want to learn even more about this wonderful elixir? Check out our 5 fun facts about wine

At the Austin Artisan, we believe that food is an experience, it can set the tone, create the mood, and evoke an emotion. We are passionate about crafting customized menus, sourcing fresh and seasonal ingredients, and executing with meticulous detail to offer each client a truly unforgettable experience. Sounds good? Let’s get started!

 

 

How to Plan a Multi-Course Meal

You’ve just enjoyed a multi-course meal at your favorite restaurant and now you want to prepare one at home. I’m not surprised; everyone loves a coursed meal. Thomas Keller, famed restaurateur and owner of The French Laundry, explains that flavors are heightened during the first few bites of a dish. Eventually “flavor saturation and palate fatigue set in,” which is known as “the law of diminishing returns.” Because of this, he feels that the concept of coursing is to leave your diners wanting one more bite—in other words, stopping before their taste buds get bored.

Coursed meals also enable your guests to enjoy a variety of smaller plates. The menus are diverse and the dishes build upon each other. The chef is given the time and freedom to create a story through food.

But don’t let all of this intimidate you. I’ve been catering for several years so I’ve developed a step-by-step process that helps me create from a place of peace—not panic. With the right guidance (ahem!), I’m confident that you can showcase your cooking skills and curate a coursed meal that will earn you some serious bragging rights.

 How to Plan a Multi-Course Meal

 1. Decide on the number of courses

The number of courses you wish to serve is completely up to you. But note that the courses will not only dictate the number of entrees but also the total time spent enjoying the meal. For example, a 3-course meal can take an hour to serve and eat, while a 5-course meal can take 2 or more hours. If you don’t want to be serving all night, then perhaps you should start with a more modest number, like 3.

2. Select a format

If you serve a 3-course menu, a typical format includes a
Salad
Entrée
Dessert

If you opt for a 5-course menu, the format might include a
Soup
Salad
Fish or Poultry Course
Beef, Lamb, or Pork Course
Dessert

This is your dinner party so you select any cadence that feels most appetizing to you.

3. Choose a theme

You don’t have to go with a theme, but it’s suggested. A theme can help you keep the menu focused and it adds an element of fun. The theme can be centered on a vibrant color, cooking method, culture or country, or single ingredient.

4. Curate the menu

Once you’ve decided on the number of courses, the format, and the theme, you’re ready to plan the menu. First, list out all of the courses you want to serve. Next to each, jot down some ideas. It’s helpful to consider what’s in season, what you can source locally, and what you feel comfortable preparing. While my supper club has ended, you can check out this blog post to see my menu.

5. Have fun

I know it’s cliché, but think about the reason you’re throwing a party or planning a meal. It’s enjoyable and a great way to share your culinary skills with friends and family. So have fun and remember, it’s just food. Cook (and serve) as you wish!

Knife Skills Spotlight: The One Cut Every Cook Should Know

Knife skills are one of the most essential topics chefs learn in culinary school—and for good reason. Cutting vegetables, fruit and meat properly and in uniform pieces doesn’t only provide visual appeal. It ensures even cooking when all the pieces of food are the same size, and it evenly distributes flavor and texture throughout.

One of the most commonly used cuts is the dice. And if you’re going to learn just one knife skill for cooking at home, dicing should be it! Let’s break down the different types of dice and how to use them.

The 3 Types of Dice

There are three types of dice: small, medium and large. These are different from a rough chop, which is more of a casual cut. Rough chop suggests that each piece should be “roughly” the same size, whereas as dicing is more precise.

Small dice are often used for onions, when you want the flavors to meld into the dish, as opposed to yielding large chunks. Soup is a prime example. The onion should seamlessly fold into the broth, so it doesn’t overpower it. A medium or large dice would work best for roasting vegetables, as the pieces often shrink in the oven. Roasting small diced vegetables puts them at risk for burning.

How to Dice: A Step-By-Step Guide

We recommend using something easy to practice dicing, such as a potato. Save the softer produce like tomatoes for later. Also, be sure to keep the final size in mind from the start (steps 2 and 3). You can review measurements below.

  1. Cut the vegetable into a rectangular shape. If this is too time consuming, go ahead and skip to step 2.
  2. Cut the vegetable into slices.
  3. Cut each slice into sticks.
  4. Cut each stick into cubes, according to dice size:
    • Small: cut cubes approximately ¼ inch thick
    • Medium: cut cubes approximately ½ inch thick
    • Large: cut cubes approximately ¾ inch thick

Tip: A small ruler is a great kitchen tool to have on hand as you’re learning. Once you have it down, you’ll be able to eyeball it.

Here’s a good, quick video guide for cutting medium dice. You can use this for all cuts by tweaking the measurements accordingly.

As with all knife skills, dicing becomes easier and faster with time and practice. Mastering the dice technique will allow you to cook more aesthetically-pleasing food that’s uniformly cooked all the way through.

While you’re perfecting your knife skills, why not take a cooking class to learn even more and enjoy the experience with friends? The Austin Artisan offers interactive cooking classes for all levels. Check out our options here.

Chef Hacks for Hosting the Ultimate Thanksgiving Dinner

Do I brine my turkey? And what does that even mean? What’s the best way to cook my bird? And how will I get it all done in time?

Thanksgiving is almost here and, if you’re hosting, you might be feeling the pressure. There are many moving parts involved in getting your meal on the table—and making it impressive to boot. If you’re in the process of planning your feast, take a deep breath, because you came to the right place. The Austin Artisan team has put together a list of our best Chef Hacks to help you execute your holiday dinner like a pro!

4 Thanksgiving Tips, Tricks & Hacks

1. Break It Down

Many people cook a whole bird on Thanksgiving. But it’s a little known fact that turkey doesn’t always cook evenly. The breast usually cooks faster than the legs, so it’s susceptible to drying out. Therefore, we suggest cooking the individual parts of the turkey, so you can remove each piece accordingly.

2. Brine First

Before you cook your turkey pieces, brine them first. Brine is a solution made with salt, sugar and water (recipe coming next week). The salt water helps moisten the bird to yield tender meat. The sugar will caramelize the skin, creating that sought-after golden color. You can also season the brine to add lots of robust flavor.

3. Stuff Separately

If you’re cooking your turkey in parts, you might be wondering where you put the stuffing. However, stuffing prepared in the cavity of the bird can actually pose a health hazard. In order to get the stuffing to a safe temperature, you often have to overcook the turkey. Instead, make your stuffing separately and save yourself the time and hassle.

4. Prep In Advance

To avoid last-minute delays, get some prep work done in advance. The day or two before, you can: chop potatoes for your mash, steam green beans and prepare the cream sauce for your casserole (see our Checklist for more details). You’ll feel so much better on the big day if you can easily reheat sides rather than making everything from scratch at the same time.

Cyber Monday Special: Looking for the ultimate gift for a loved one—or yourself? Check our blog on Monday, November 28th for our Personal Chef Cyber Monday Special. Don’t just make resolutions; stick to them with seasonal, customized food for the whole family!

Grab A Front Row Seat

Have you ever watched a show on the Cooking Channel and wished you had a front row seat? How amazing would it be to see professional chefs chop, sauté and create a masterpiece right before your eyes? Better yet, how satisfying would it be if you could smell and taste each handcrafted offering?

The Austin Artisans are making this dream a reality. New to our culinary services, Private Cooking Demonstrations offer you an opportunity to get up-close and personal with our master chefs. You get to watch them prepare a tailor-made menu, and sample each exquisitely executed dish. Along the way our chef will share tips, tricks and techniques, as well as our best-kept secrets. And yes, we encourage you to try them at home!

Private Cooking Demonstrations are perfect for:

  • Corporate clients
  • Team building
  • Holiday parties
  • Employee appreciation

They’re also great for foodie friends looking to satiate their craving for new culinary adventures. Or, Austin visitors interested in tasting some of the best local cuisine.

We pride ourselves on providing you and your guests with an unforgettable experience. Not only are we brimming with personality, but our ambiance is impeccable. We cook in a state-of-the-art facility, featuring modern appliances and equipment. (Don’t blame us if you decide to remodel your own kitchen!)

The bites? Well, we know a thing or two about fine dining. We source high-quality ingredients with sustainability top of mind. Focusing on local, seasonal and fresh fare, we’ll excite your palate from beginning to end.

Want in? We’re filling up fast! With the holidays right around the corner, we encourage you to contact us ASAP to book your Private Cooking Demonstration . Then, let us take care of the rest. It’s the most delicious—and stress-free—way to celebrate a year’s worth of hard work. Come on, you deserve this!

Mindy’s Berry Crumb Bars

Hi, y’all! Mindy from Mindy’s Bakeshop here to share a little oven love with you.

The dog days of summer are officially here! This means more pool time, more picnics, and all the fresh berries your heart desires. It also means avoiding hot kitchens like the plague, which doesn’t always set well with my sweet tooth or my friends who have come to expect a steady stream of baked goods. So what’s a baker to do when she needs a fabulous dessert but doesn’t want to spend the day sweatin’ to the oldies in triple temps? Berry crumble bars, obvi!

This sweet and simple dessert comes together in less than 15 minutes and comes out of the oven in 45, gorgeous and bubbly and buttery and perfect. What more could you ask for?! Bonus: you can put that excess summer fruit piling up in your fridge to good use! Because if you’re anything like me, you can’t resist walking past those summer berries at the market without loading up on at least twice as much as you can possibly eat. This recipe works with most any fruit (hello pear bars in the fall) but is particularly compatible with berries. Use just one or mix them up for a fun twist – the possibilities are as endless as Texas summers. Lord have mercy.

Make these babies for your next gathering! Sit around the porch and let the wave of applause from your friends and family wash over you. You should definitely make them do the dishes since you “slaved away in a hot kitchen all day just for them” (wink wink). Don’t worry, your secret’s safe with me.

xoxo,

Mindy

IMG_3880

Ingredients

1 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup cold unsalted butter (2 sticks or 8 ounces)
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon salt
Zest and juice of one lemon

4 cups fresh blueberries (if using frozen make sure to defrost and drain well)
2/3 cup granulated sugar
4 teaspoons cornstarch

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Spray and line a 9″ x 13″ pan  (a 9 x 9 square will also work) with parchment paper so that you have some overhang on each of the long sides. Spray parchment as well.

In a medium bowl, stir together 1 cup sugar, 3 cups flour, and baking powder. Mix in salt and lemon zest. Use a fork or pastry cutter to cut in butter until pea-sized. Add in egg and mix well with fork – dough will be crumbly. Pat half of dough into the prepared pan evenly.

In another bowl, stir together the sugar, cornstarch and lemon juice. Gently mix in the blueberries. Sprinkle the mixture evenly over the crust.

Crumble remaining dough over the berry layer.

Bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes, or until top is slightly browned and golden. Cool completely before gently lifting bars out of pan using parchment overhang and cutting into squares.

Yield: ~15-20 depending on how big or small you cut them.

Store at room temp or in the fridge for up to a week. (I love them either way but cold is really a treat!)

Shrimp: Everything You Need to Know

In case you missed our previous post, we’re in the height of Seafood Month! Which means we’re dedicating 3 weeks to the best fish in the sea. Today is our second installment, and I’m sharing everything you need to know about shrimp.

Why shrimp? I mean, who doesn’t love it? It’s easy to find, easy to cook and can be enjoyed in so many ways. Think shrimp cocktail, grilled shrimp, shrimp scampi, shrimp kabobs, shrimp creole… Bubba Gump would be proud!

How to Pick the Best-Quality Shrimp

  1. Go Wild: Wild-caught seafood is always best. If it’s not available, look for sustainable labels. Ethical shrimp is not only better for the environment, but it tastes better, too. The Monterey Bay Seafood Watch offers more information on making choices to promote a healthy ocean.
  2. Size Matters: Shrimp is usually sold by the pound and is measured by how many shrimp can fit into that pound. U15 means that the pound will contain 15 or less (so they’re large), while U51 means the pound will contain 51 or more (so they’re small). Check out this size chart for details.
  3. Keep it Fresh: Shrimp shouldn’t have an unpleasant odor. Nope, seafood should always smell like the sea (for obvious reasons). You should also avoid or toss shrimp that’s slimy, limp or contains black spots.

What else do you need to know? Well, the recipe you select should indicate whether or not you’ll need a certain variety or size, or if the shrimp should remain in the shell or not. So let’s talk recipes. Here are a few we’ve bookmarked for your summer seafood adventures…

Artisan-Approved Recipes

Grilled Shrimp with Garlic: Skip the stove and head outdoors with this Spanish-inspired grilled shrimp dish from Bobby Flay.

Buttered Prawns with Tomato, Olives and Arak: From Ottolenghi: The Cookbook, this unique recipe adds intrigue with arak—a Middle Eastern liquor that’s similar to Pernod.

Shrimp Scampi: A light, elegant dish from Tyler Florence, featuring shrimp cooked with white wine and butter and tossed with linguini. It’s the perfect pasta.

Shrimp Creole: From the famed New Orleans Chef Emeril Lagasse, this classic preparation may not be the healthiest, but it sure does pack a lot of intensity.

Which recipe do you plan to try this week? Let us know in the comments below or snap a pic and tag us. Then, check back next week as Seafood Month continues. It’s #betterthansharkweek!

Summer Cherries: That’s My Jam!

Cherries… they’re everywhere right now! Whether you’re at the farmers market, grocery store or fruit stand, you can’t seem to shop anywhere without running into these tasty gems. And I’m okay with that, because I love fresh cherries. Tart and sweet with a burst of juiciness, they’re the quintessential summer fruit.

 

Cherries are incredibly versatile, so you can get creative with your bounty.

 

  • Pop them into your mouth for an anytime snack (I like to wash them and put them in a big bowl to have throughout the day.)
  • Bake up an all-American fruit pie (A fun idea for the 4th of July!)
  • Prepare a sauce to accompany game meat
  • Or try our simple Cherry Jam recipe

 

Our Artisan-crafted jam knows just how to sweeten up a summer morning. You can slather it on toast, make almond butter and jam sandwiches or swirl it into your oatmeal. It’s also the perfect accompaniment to an elegant cheese board and elevates a baked-brie appetizer (check out our Wedge of Brie w/ Cherry Preserves recipe at theaustinartisan.com/game-day-hors-doeuvres).

 

Since this recipe is for refrigerator jam, you don’t have to go through the hot-canning process. Instead, you cook down the cherries, and then store the jam in your fridge. It’s an easy and delicious way to enjoy the fruits of your labor!

 

Cherry Jam

All It Takes

3 lbs. or 4 cups fresh, whole cherries (sour or sweet)

¼ cup lemon juice

1 envelope powdered pectin

4.5 cups granulated sugar if using sour cherries or 2.5 cups if using sweet cherries

 

Let’s Get Cooking

  1. Wash, pit and finely chop all the cherries. Place in a large, heavy-bottomed pot.
  2. Add the lemon juice and pectin and bring to a boil, stirring constantly.
  3. Add the sugar and return to a boil. Boil for 2 minutes, continuing to stir constantly, until the jam reaches a thick consistency. If foam has developed, skim off as much as you can.
  4. Let cool and enjoy.

Important Chef Note: Please be sure that you consume the jam in less than 2 weeks. The jam will be exposed to air and will spoil faster than canned preserves.