Chef's Table - behind the closed door wine & dine

So you hired a Personal chef to prepare your dinner party. Now what?

Most people don’t know what to expect and how they should prepare the kitchen. Unfortunately, some don’t want to lose their cool so they don’t ask either. When I first started my Personal chef business and came to prepare my first dinner parties at my client’s homes, I quickly understood that what seems logical to me, may not even cross some people’s mind. Especially, when the person I planned the party with, doesn’t cook him or herself.

 

The whole reason to hire the personal chef is to enjoy a stress-free evening. And that’s my goal as well. Or, to impress your mother in law, whatever works. That means that I’ll also need certain help from you in order to prepare an unforgettable meal for you and your friends or family.

I put together the following list of things that may seem obvious but … let’s just say that  I learned my lesson over the years.

We booked the date, already discussed the dietary needs, personal preferences, agreed on an exciting menu and the day of the party is approaching.  This is what happens on the day of your party:

» I’ll shop for the freshest ingredients that I need to prepare all the dishes for you

» I’ll bring everything to your house on the day of your party, and start cooking

» I’ll plate and present the dishes as we previously agreed

» I’ll serve at the table or prepare a buffet based on our agreement

» I’ll pack possible leftovers to your tape-ware and stock it in the fridge

» I’ll clean up the kitchen, pack my stuff and leave you to enjoy the rest of the party

 

Let’s make your dinner party a success and joy for everybody:

 

Show me around

When I come to prepare your party or special dinner, most likely I’m coming to your house for the first time. I’ll appreciate if you can spend few minutes upon my arrival to show me around the kitchen, where do you plan to present appetizers and where the main course will be served.

 

Make a virtual inventory

Do you have enough plates, silverware, and glasses for each of the guests? Don’t forget that we’ll serve multiple courses and we might not have time to wash the plates in between. Unless you have plenty of your grandma’s beautiful china pieces you want to show off – you might want to consider renting plates and silverware, or for less formal setting, even getting some nice looking disposable dishes. Let me know if I can help.

Give me a space

I’ll need as much counter space available, as possible. I’ll bring a lot of stuff with me, plus I’ll need a space to start plating the dishes before we bring them to the table. Please, remove all gadgets that aren’t necessary for the evening, from the kitchen counter.

 

What are we serving it on?

Not everybody has serving platters or bowls that are suitable for a larger party. I can use your serving platters and trays if you have them. If not, I’ll bring my own. Just let me know ahead of time.

 

Keep the food cool

I’ll need some space in the refrigerator to keep dishes cold before cooking or serving them, and then for leftovers. If you have an additional fridge in the garage, please use it for emptying some stuff from the kitchen fridge. It’s much easier for me to use the kitchen fridge than running from kitchen to garage fridge in the middle of cooking multiple dishes for the party.

 

Sorry, the kitchen is now mine!

From the moment I “move in” with my stuff, the kitchen will be mainly off-limits for anybody else. You may understand it but trust me, there is always Aunt Annie who “just sneaks in to reheat a dinner in the microwave for her picky child” 🙂 or other guests coming with food and trying to stick it in the fridge you just emptied for me. It may happen at the worse possible time when I need to take out hot pots from the oven or in the middle of plating. Of course, we’ll try to accommodate, but it’s better you gently direct your guests to stay out of the kitchen. Small children especially! They don’t understand the danger.

 

Set up your bar for a success

Arrange things you’re going to need ahead of time so you don’t need the kitchen yourself – it helps to set up drink station away from the kitchen, set up the flowers for the table, prepare wine glasses, drinking glasses, napkins, any other glasses you may need, wine bottle openers, beer openers ahead of time, scissors, slices of limes or lemons, and have it all ready on the bar. Keep an extra roll of paper towel handy. A bag of ice in the cooler is a plus.

 

Dogs, parrots or monkeys are out of jungle

Although I’m a big dog’s lover, it’s not wise and safe to have pets running around when a professional preparation is going on in the kitchen. I once had a situation when hostess’s Chihuahua jumped on the couch and started helping herself to an array of Filet Mignon appetizers on the side table. Before we noticed, half of our work was ruined and wasted. Chihuahua was so pissed we found out, that she came around and peed in the middle of the kitchen right when we served the dinner. OK, maybe Chihuahua isn’t my most favorite kind of the dog after all.

 

Designate a space for gifts and “stuff”

Your guests – I might need your help there. We all love to gather around the kitchen and chat about food, but it’s not such a good idea when a chef is trying to prepare several dishes at the same time, and need a space and concentration. Kindly point your guests where they can leave gifts, purses, bottles they brought, jackets, keys, cell phones and other items they love to place right on the kitchen counter. I need that counter for serving the food or for my prep. If you devote a place where they can leave their stuff, it helps big time!

 

The practical matters

Please, have the dishwasher and garbage empty so we can use it. Show me where an extra garbage bags are so I don’t have to bother you with questions during the party. Usually, we can find “all the usual suspects” in the kitchen somewhere but it saves time.

 

I want you to spend a beautiful, relaxed evening. Let’s put your legs up without any worries, fill your evening with laughter, good time – and, of course, a delicious, Instagram-ready food!

I hope this helps to make you feel more comfortable as well. There is never shame in asking questions – let’s discuss everything twice rather than having to improvise because we didn’t think of something important.

Loaded Recipe Series, Poultry, Veggies based & Vegetarian

THE.BEST.Cauliflower.side.dish. EVER

For some reason, cauliflower wasn’t always a superstar. Yet one of the most favorite vegetables for me. We grew cauliflower in our family garden, and I loved it prepared many different ways. It surprised me how many people had reservation about this beautiful “white flower” and had no idea how to make it tasty.

 

 

Long before Atkins or Paleo was hot, I enjoyed cauliflower based dishes as a replacement for the meat. Fried, sauteed with sausage, onion, and eggs,  as cauliflower fritters or as my multiple veggie mixes. Later, when everybody started going avocado about the low carb diets, cauliflower was suddenly IN. Cauliflower fried rice, mashed cauliflower “potatoes”, cauliflower steak,  cauliflower dough for low carb pizza – and I must admit, these were exciting new ideas for me too. Cauliflower is delicious and super rich in nutrient on top of that. What’s not to love?

This recipe is one of the most fun, fast, easy and super tasty way to prepare a side dish with cauliflower. It screams SUPERFOOD!!!! Cooking for cancer patients, I have developed several recipes that are loaded with all the anti-cancer properties, boosting immunity and of course, tasting good. Here is one of them:

 

 

Turmeric Roasted Cauliflower with Zucchini

 

 

Turmeric Roasted Cauliflower with Zucchini

Ingredients:

  • 1 large head cauliflower
  • 2 medium green zucchini
  • 1/2 cup olive oil or coconut oil
  • 1 tablespoon ground turmeric
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon curry
  • 1 teaspoon of whole cumin (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • As much finely chopped or grated ginger root as you like
  • sea salt and freshly grated pepper to taste
  • a handful of cilantro, parsley or sliced scallions for garnish

Directions:
Preheat oven to 400°F.

In a large deep bowl whisk together oil with all the seasoning. Cut cauliflower into similar size pieces and thoroughly rinse in the colander (not too small). Let it air dry, while you wash and cut zucchini into thick chunks (zucchini cooks much faster). Don’t know about you, but I don’t care for mushy.

Add both vegetables into the seasoning mixture and shake the bowl until everything is perfectly combined and every piece is coated with seasoning. It’s easy to see because turmeric and curry made everything bright yellow.

Spread vegetables on a large baking sheet. Make sure all the veggies are in one layer. Spoon the rest of the seasoned oil on the vegetables if there is anything left in the bowl.

Bake in the oven until tender, about 15-20 minutes. Time vary based on your oven and the size of the pieces you cut, so check after 15 minutes. Carefully poke a small knife into the thickest part of the cauliflower to check for doneness.

When ready, garnish with your chosen herbs and enjoy!

 

Turmeric Roasted Cauliflower and Zucchini

I wanted to take a different picture of the full dish of this beauty, but it disappeared as soon as I took it out of the oven. I guess I’m not the only one who loves it!

Did you try this recipe? Do you have a different recipe you want to share? Let me know in comments!

 

Wine pairing:

I have opened my 2016 Muga Rose for this dish. It’s a rich, crisp and nicely dry rose that goes smoothly with the components of our dinner. Any other unoaked white would be a good match – try a Gruner Veltliner, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc or unoaked Chardonnay.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chef's Table - behind the closed door wine & dine

Chef’s Table – behind the closed door wine and dine

If you’re in Florida – either full time or visiting, please pay attention!   LAST. MINUTE. STUFF.

Ever dream of escaping reality? If only for few hours?  To forget about the annoying boss, the omnipresent politics, family’s disputes, or anything else that bothers you at the moment?  To escape the stress, sit down with bunch of complete strangers, share gourmet food and wine, fascinating stories, exchanging ideas or experiences from different parts of the Earth, and not having a care in the world?

Me too!

Years back, when I used to sell wine for living, I earned a trip to Spain hosted by wineries whose wines we’re selling. Among the best in Spain. It was just 5 of us whose sales results earned us that privilege (me being the only woman). Not a tourist trip in any stretch of imagination, we didn’t do a lot of sightseeing.

Instead, we’re invited to wineries we already loved, often to their private dinner table and shared their wine and absolutely stunning food they prepared for us at their homes.  We toured vineyards, touched the soil the vine grew in, and saw firsthand how the wine, we already admired, was made. They treated us like celebrities.

Few winemakers invited us to some best restaurants in the area (like a Michelin star restaurant in La Mancha, a fantastic steak house in Madrid, or unforgettable del Asador Alameda in Rioja). The last one, owned by a chef couple, Esther and Tomas was a specially fun.

Tomas personally cooked a custom menu for us, then sat down with us to enjoy it and the entire evening a cigarette never left his lips. (OK, so he took it out for this picture). It literally hung off his lip until the end of dessert, when they brought cigars. Yes, I had one too, funny you should ask!

Yet some of the most beautiful memories that don’t fade away are those moments spent at the winemakers’ homes. Sitting around a long table, sharing local, sustainable and unforgettable courses, prepared by winemaker’s wife and few helpers. They knew which food complimented their wines the best. It was a long wine tasting complimented with multiple courses.

We tasted food some of us never had before, eager to try everything, lost in conversations about wine, food and life, despite the fact that most of us didn’t speak Spanish and the winemaker didn’t speak English. With the help of translators, we all had unforgettable evening, made new friends and didn’t feel like leaving even after several hours (I’m sure their politeness stopped them from kicking us out sooner).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I think about this often. We formed life friendships at that table. We felt like a family with people we never met before. That’s what wine does to you (kidding).  I can’t go back to Spain anytime soon but I can re-create that feeling at my own table. I’m a chef, with serious addiction for delicious food and wine (I’m spoiled so it got to be good!!!).  At my home, we have the privilege of natural ambiance of tropical paradise we now live in (Florida) and multiple wine coolers filled with delicious supply.

All I need is bunch of complete strangers that have the same desire in common. Escaping the reality (at least for one evening) and getting lost in conversations with people you just met, from different background, heck even from different part of the world. Like those popular secret suppers behind the closed door in Buenos Aires, or in Asia (or >shhhhh< some I know off are in New York).

 

Would you like to be invited to the very first intimate Chef Vera’s Secret Home Dining Table in South Florida?

 

Because it’s in a private home, there are few rules you should know about if you want to apply for invitation:

  1. Are you adventurous and open to try different things? Please don’t apply if you’re dieting or only eat chicken. Use your judgment – if you’re complete vegan it’s probably not for you. If you worry about not liking something, rest assured that there will be array of alternatives offered. Don’t worry – nothing out of comfort zone (no liver, monkey’s brain or anybody’s testicles) OMG did she just say that aloud?
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  2. Are you easy to be around, and friendly to engage in conversation with other people? You’ll be exposed to diverse group of different backgrounds, age, sexes and experiences. Couples and/or singles. Small group – 8 people total.
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  3. Like in the old days, we ban politic or religious discussion. Our goal is to enjoy well-deserved fun evening, not make someone feel awkward, unwelcome or offended. You can get enough of it daily on FB !!
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    You don’t have to be a wine drinker, but it’s preferred. I want to compose it as a wine dinner but rest your kidneys; other alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverages are available. Not that we discriminate abstainers or something….
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  4. You’ll receive lots of info ahead of time, but I’ll announce the detailed menu of the evening when you arrive.
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  5. We’ll share the food family style, just like at someone’s home, around one big table.
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  6. If you have allergies, special dietary requirements, we can address that during our introduction communication. I’ll do my best to accommodate special requests regarding your dietary needs but I’ll have limited ability if it affects the menu in major way. It would be nearly impossible to accommodate dietary requests that were not expressed ahead of time.
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  7. Everything I prepare will be organic where possible, and sustainable always.
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  8. Count on the evening taking longer than “usual dinner” at the restaurant, min. 3-4 hours.
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  9. Each dinner will start at 7:00 PM and we ask you to arrive half an hour earlier if possible, so you can get to know people who’ll dine alongside you.
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  10. For a security reasons we’ll want to get to know you better to consider your application so if that’s something you’re not comfortable with, please do not apply.
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  11. The hosting house is small in size and nothing fancy but full of heart, charisma, ambiance and character. I’ll do everything in my power to prepare an unforgettable wine & dine experience and fun company. As far as the total experience, that will depend on everyone sitting at the chef’s table.
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  12. Unlike at your mommy’s house, we’ll not ask you to help with the dishes.
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  13. You might want to consider Uber or nearby hotel.

If you want to be part of the very first Chef Vera’s Table – a behind the closed door wine dinner, you can also contact me directly at: dine@verashomekitchen.com. Please include subject line: I want to be notified about your next Chef’s Table!’

There are just 6 seats open at the intimate chef’s table and it’ll be gone fast! First dinner coming up this Friday!

When you send your inquiry, please let me know a little about you (your social media link), which day would you like to attend, and I’ll send you all the details about the evening, and some questions to answer so we can consider the invite. Sorry, if it sounds little bit like TSA but I’m sure you understand we’re inviting strangers to our home and want to make sure that the group of guest will be a good match to enjoy each other’s company. And, to make sure that we address any possible allergies or potential dietary issues ahead of time.

I am sooooo excited to make this happen!

Intrigued?

Reviews

Sun Basket experiment – meal no. 3

review-of-sun-basket-picture

If you just came across my blog now, this is a fourth article to my experiment: Chef’s review of Sun Basket home meals services. You can catch up here ….

 

So, final meal of the week. Wow, somehow we managed to leave the best for last – so far my absolute favorite!

The third meal from our Sun Basket was

Braised chicken with carrots, potatoes and thyme

Even the recipe card admits that it’s almost impossible to develop deep flavors to the sauce when you cook the meal for 20 minutes instead of braising it for hours, like you would normally do this type of dish. However this one hit the golden spot and was absolutely amazing!
cr186

The prep:  *****

Super easy, everything pre-cut.  For some reason I proceeded immediately to peel the potatoes (although I normally wouldn’t) and THEN noticed they were left with skin on in the picture. Well, my bet. Chicken was pre-cut so the prep was easy-peasy. If I was prepping, I would maybe leave a bigger chunks of chicken, as there is enough time to cook it through.

Braised chicken

Cooking time: ****

The total cooking time was slightly longer,  it took me about 45 minute (and I’m a fast chopper) but the result was so worth it! I used red wine where wine was suggested in the recipe (or vermouth or water).

 

Taste: *****

As promised, the dish came out like it was braising for hours to develop the flavors! I didn’t adjust anything in seasoning, just followed recipe to the letter. So far our absolute favorite.

Portion size: *****

Again, portions were way too large for two of us, so we had one more left over for next day (we didn’t mind at all).

Braised chicken

 

Overal:  ***** 5 stars out of 5

Five stars without exception. I’ll definitely use this recipe for my own clients. I ‘m always short on time, and this recipe gives me an amazing opportunity to cook something that tastes like it was braised for hours. Great job Sun Basket!

So, those were our first week dishes. Looking back at this first week of experiment, I must say that the service is amazing. All three meals were easy to prepare, tasted fine (OK, I adjusted 2 of them to my own liking, but my taste is totally subjective). The convenience of the Sun Basket service is priceless.

Having ingredients on hand when I need them, not having to think about “what are we going to eat again” after all day cooking for clients, or wondering if I have everything I need.  Having variety of different dishes available really works for me. What I also enjoy is the fact that the program is 3 meals for 2 people a week. Which gives everybody plenty of chance to come up with their own favorite dishes for the rest of the week days.

Would I recommend this to you? Yeah, absolutely! How about you – did you ever try similar service, or this one? What was your experience? How does it compare with Sun Basket? Please share with us in the comments!

P.S.  Catch up on how it all started?  My Sun basket experience

Want to see previous 2 meals reviewed?

Meal No. 1 – Chickpea and quinoa curry with toasted naan  REVIEW

Meal No. 2 – Steak and Eggs with Tomato Cauliflower Rice REVIEW

 

 

 

Reviews

Sun Basket experiment – meal no. 2

review-of-sun-basket-picture

 

OK, I’m back with a review of our second meal purchased and cooked from Sun Basket delivery service. I must say it’s quite exciting – testing new recipes, and having all of the ingredients on hand as I need them.

For our second meal we picked Steak and Eggs with Tomato Cauliflower Rice.

I was looking forward to this one because I only make cauliflower “rice” as “fried rice” with Asian flavors. This was a new and interesting twist.

Ingredients for meal No. 2

Surprise:  two steaks were so uneven in thickness when I removed it from the packaging that it could result in overcooked half and under cooked second half for an inexperienced cook. Knowing better, I’ve gently flattened the thicker end of both steaks so they cook evenly. Also, I’ve done some addition trimming. I don’t particularly care for the silver membrane on my steak. Here is the meat as it arrived:

 

Steak

scallion oil

The scallion oil was such a lovely surprise. Small amount of maple syrup didn’t give it sweetness but it interestingly elevated the flavor of onions in hot oil. I’m so stealing this for use in other recipes!

 

The prep:  ****

Described well on the recipe card. It took me little longer as I added the additional trimming of meat (perfectionist me). I started with scallion oil and proceeded to tomato-cauliflower rice while heating cast iron pan for steaks.

 

Total cooking time:  ****

I must say this took me longer than proclaimed 20-30 minutes. Not that I minded. But I’m a chef and can prep and cook fast,so I would guess that inexperienced cook may need more time for this one.  From the moment I took the ingredients from the bag and snapped a photo, to the meal on the plates it was almost 45 minutes.

Steak with eggs and cauliflower rice

Taste:   ****

As I learned with the first meal I suspect that my taste buds are just more demanding. Totally subjective. I used my own steak seasoning instead of just salt and pepper (which is optional for anybody) and prepared tomato-cauliflower rice following the recipe exactly. The result taste of the rice didn’t satisfy me. I could hardly taste that wonderful smoke paprika flavor in the dish. So I added a small teaspoon of Spanish spicy smoked paprika and, to balance the flavors and heat, added about half a table spoon of organic sweet ketchup. The final flavor was so much better!

The combination with the steak was spot on, and the fried egg on top reminded me of my home country, where they always serve steak with an egg. Running yolk over the delicious cauliflower rice, in combination with the scallion oil was absolutely scrumptious.

Steak and eggs with cauliflower rice

Portion size: *****

Again, more than generous for two people. We would probably split one steak for both of us, normally. Well, don’t you guess it, we ate the whole thing!

Overal: ***** 4.5 out of 5 stars (just because the seasoning of the cauliflower was kind of bland, again. It was easily fixable though and I’ll definitely make it again. The idea behind this dish and the unexpected combination was spot on!!!

P.S. By the way, did you notice how I didn’t bother making both fried eggs “picture ready”? LOL

P.S.S. Catch up on how it all started?  My Sun basket experience

See more meals reviewed:

Meal No. 1 – Chickpea and quinoa curry with toasted naan  REVIEW

Meal No. 3  – Braised chicken with carrots, potatoes and thyme REVIEW