food preparation

  • “Take Care“

    All indus­tries have jobs that require train­ing. Food, and pro­duce specif­i­cally, are no dif­fer­ent. What sets us apart is the care and han­dling required of fresh food prod­ucts.

    Indi­vid­u­als who are new to the pro­duce learn­ing curve are promptly informed that they are not han­dling a can of veg­eta­bles on a gro­cery store shelf.

    What­ever the role played along the sup­ply chain, human hands are involved. Plant­ing, har­vest­ing, pack­ing, ship­ping, and prepa­ra­tion call for a deep under­stand­ing of tak­ing the best care, at all times, of the fruits and veg­eta­bles.

    Fac­tors like proper stor­age tem­per­a­ture and cold chain are fun­da­men­tal not only for prod­uct longevity, but also for how it may end up tast­ing on the plate.

    There is a sub­stan­tial dif­fer­ence for retail clerks between “throw­ing freight” and care­ful han­dling. Proper receiv­ing, put-​away and hand-​stacking can pre­vent dam­age (crack­ing, bruis­ing and smash­ing) to fresh goods.

    Some items are hardier than oth­ers. Pota­toes, onions and car­rots quickly come to mind. Still, giv­ing them a soft touch rather than a rough tum­ble will pre­serve their integrity.

    Bell pep­pers may appear to be sturdy. Slam­ming their car­tons down on a rack or shelf will crack their ten­der walls and loosen their mem­branes. Treat them as frag­ile cargo, along with most other unsus­pect­ing fresh ingre­di­ents.

    Pota­toes, toma­toes, avo­ca­dos, pears, whole mel­ons, and other fruits and veg­eta­bles are often stored at room tem­per­a­ture to main­tain qual­ity. Some items in this group like the room tem­per­a­tures for quicker ripen­ing purposes.
  • A Few Good Eggs

    Kids of all ages have per­fected the art and tra­di­tion of egg dying for Easter.

    From waxy pen­cils to small tablets of color, not much has changed in the dec­o­ra­tion process. Or has it?

    The kitchen pantry is a stu­dio of nat­ural ingre­di­ents and inter­est­ing col­ors wait­ing to be used. Com­mon food items, and food waste in some cases, will trans­form an ordi­nary hard boiled egg into a beau­ti­ful show­piece.

    Nat­ural dying ele­ments have long been used in fab­rics and paper. Porous eggshells invite color no mat­ter the source.

    Red cab­bage and beets, brown, red or yel­low onion skins con­tribute to an array of egg color pos­si­bil­i­ties. So will cof­fee, tea, and dried spices.
  • Apples & Oranges

    Good news for fruit lovers after the Thanks­giv­ing feast. Apples and cit­rus fruits begin to dom­i­nate pro­duce stands and farmer’s mar­kets.

    No need for unwar­ranted com­par­isons. Both fruit fam­i­lies con­tribute to bev­er­ages, snacks or meals this time of year.

    Ver­sa­tile and dis­tinc­tive, each cat­e­gory seems to have end­less pos­si­bil­i­ties as new vari­eties become avail­able through­out the sea­son.

    Ambrosia, Hon­ey­crisp, Opal or Sweet Tango apples remind us that there is a favored choice for every taste pro­file. Sweet and crisp, choose the one that fits out of hand or bak­ing needs.

    Tiny Lady apples and other minia­ture vari­eties range from bril­liant red to golden yel­low with red blush. They run from sweet to tart in taste and are good for hand-​eating or cook­ing. They make for par­tic­u­larly good gar­nishes and fresh décor ingre­di­ents dur­ing win­ter months and upcom­ing hol­i­day celebrations.
  • Birth­day Wishes

    It’s not that we hate cake. Most of us have enjoyed a deca­dent slice of choco­late, coconut or red vel­vet cel­e­bra­tory cake before.

    It tasted great as we toasted the bride and groom, grad­u­ate, retiree or anniver­sary couple.

    Birth­day cakes are a bit dif­fer­ent and very per­sonal. Young ones get tur­tles, trains and car­toon char­ac­ter cakes molded and dec­o­rated to their surprise.

    Teens fre­quently bake their own or one for their friend. They choose ice cream cakes, fun­fetti or Oreo cookie cake. Cup­cakes included for teens and sweet­ness is off the charts.

    Adults get the wide open cake range from car­rot with cream cheese frost­ing to molten choco­late lava and every­thing in-​between.

    Birth­day choices run the spec­trum with­out any guilt over bak­ery pur­chased cakes. Bundts and spe­cialty types go over the top on stun­ning designs. Where to place the can­dles might prob­lem­atic between the swirls, curls, rib­bons and fresh flower petals.

  • Cab­bage Head

    Cab­bages belong to the Bras­sica fam­ily of cole crops and are closely related to broc­coli, cau­li­flower and Brus­sels sprouts.

    This cru­cif­er­ous veg­etable is widely used around the world in prepa­ra­tions from raw to cooked, shred­ded to leafy rolls.

    While we most likely think of a com­mon cab­bage head as that large, green can­non­ball type, there are other vari­eties that make spe­cific appli­ca­tions and recipes stand out.

    Red Cab­bage – Sim­i­lar to green cab­bage, this has dark reddish-​purple leaves. The fla­vor is a lit­tle deeper and earth­ier. Pick heads that are tight and heavy for their size. It adds great color to slaws and cold sal­ads.

    Napa Cab­bage – Also called Chi­nese cab­bage, this oblong-​shaped cab­bage has wide, thick, crisp stems and frilly yellow-​green leaves. The fla­vor is sweeter and milder com­pared to heartier green cab­bage. Its soft tex­ture works great as a fill­ing for dumplings or as a del­i­cate fresh salad com­po­nent.

    Savoy Cab­bage – This attrac­tive cab­bage is round in shape but the leaves are deep green and crin­kled. The fla­vor is mild and earthy. The leaves are ten­der even when eaten raw. Heads should be com­pact and tight and will yield to light pres­sure due to the crin­kled leaves. Soups, sal­ads and stir fry dishes are all good savoy cab­bage methods.
  • Cinco de “Stay at Home“

    Amer­i­cans love to cel­e­brate with food. While it may be still be risky to come together in num­bers, we can use hol­i­day meals to lift our spir­its.

    Cinco de mayo bashes dur­ing lock­down orders is unique. Restau­rant and bar fes­tiv­i­ties have always given the per­fect excuse to rally around the gua­camole, chips and mar­gar­i­tas.

    Place hold­ers for social gath­er­ings have been shared pho­tos of spec­tac­u­lar food prepa­ra­tions. Warmer weather means a greater selec­tion of Cal­i­for­nia grown pro­duce to uti­lize in solo meals.

    Spring tran­si­tion is com­plete for the grow­ing sea­son return­ing to the Sali­nas Val­ley. Salad ingre­di­ents, fresh veg­eta­bles and straw­ber­ries are back on home turf.

    With­out the full return of the restau­rant dining-​in expe­ri­ence, retail, take out and meal deliv­ery options are keep­ing us fed.

    Salad is stay­ing on the menu. Romaine, spinach, endive and other ten­der greens sup­port every iter­a­tion of spring salad com­bi­na­tions. The base can be sin­gu­lar or blended leafy com­po­nents. We are for­tu­nate to have so many locally grown options.
  • Culi­nary Heroes

    Chan­nel surf­ing through the tele­vi­sion cook­ing shows usu­ally yields at least one good prac­ti­cal tip.

    If its not about learn­ing some­thing new, then it def­i­nitely serves up a friendly reminder.

    The use of fresh culi­nary herbs is one such recent prompt. Any recipe really comes alive with the power of fresh herbs.

    How­ever sub­tle or heavy-​handed in use, herbs have the magic to trans­form any appe­tizer, entrée or dessert. Con­sider their astound­ing sen­sory appeal. Visual, taste and smell. Inhale.

    Coin­ci­dence to the tele­vi­sion watch­ing week­end was atten­dance at a din­ner party of a really fan­tas­tic home cook. Full dis­clo­sure, she is an indus­try pro­fes­sional who knows her way around good food, excep­tional restau­rants and many signed cook books.

  • Deja Food

    Thanks­giv­ing left­overs are a bet for at least one good sand­wich or warm plate of com­fort post hol­i­day feast.

    If soups, sal­ads and sides don’t lend a cer­tain kitchen inspi­ra­tion to the day after foods, rethink the approach.

    A few sim­ple fresh ingre­di­ents will ignite a spark to the dol­drums of those glass dishes stacked in the fridge.

    Intro­duce gin­ger root, cilantro, edamame and shi­take mush­rooms for a boost of fla­vor to any bowl of Asian noo­dles or rice dish. Spice it up with chili pep­per paste (kochu­jang) or chili pep­per flakes (kochukaru).

    Fresh herbs like basil, mint and Ital­ian pars­ley boost taste buds with a dif­fer­ent take to cold sal­ads. Tar­ragon or baby dill move things in an alto­gether new direc­tion.

    Peas, arti­choke hearts and fen­nel bulbs and fronds add more than just bright green­ery. Allow the dis­tinc­tive tex­tures and extra­or­di­nary fla­vors to sur­prise the palette. It’s not grandma’s turkey salad if wal­nuts, apple chunks and curry pow­der get folded in to the mix.

  • Eat My Words

    Restau­rants are tun­ing up menus to reflect stream­lined offer­ings and their need to do more with less. Smart oper­a­tors are not hav­ing to com­pro­mise on qual­ity food that tastes great over bet­ter effi­cien­cies.

    Now, more than ever, we eat first with our eyes. This includes scan­ning menus online or using QR codes on smart­phones.

    Good com­mu­ni­ca­tion is key for every suc­cess­ful busi­ness. Menu writ­ing is a com­mu­ni­ca­tions art­form and tal­ent nec­es­sary for food­ser­vice providers. Chalk­boards, ink on paper or vir­tual links help sell what’s for break­fast, lunch and din­ner.

    Words mat­ter and how they are used on a menu can entice orders and impact rev­enue. The power of per­sua­sion when it comes to food descrip­tions makes or breaks ini­tial per­cep­tions.

    Set­ting appetite expec­ta­tions is only a word or phrase away. Loaded cau­li­flower casse­role tells the diner to expect a hot, cheesy, gooey and indul­gent dish.

    Descrip­tions regard­ing culi­nary prepa­ra­tions pique inter­est. Roasted, grilled, poached, fried, toasted, whipped or stuffed tell much about what will be deliv­ered on the plate.

    Sea­son­ings and fla­vors get prime text space. Smoky, savory, fiery, nutty, tart, pep­pery, cit­rusy, zesty, and but­tery get the mouth and brain work­ing together for the selec­tion. Food and mood are strongly teth­ered together. What food crav­ing needs to be con­quered today?
  • Fat Tues­day

    Car­ni­val sea­son always cul­mi­nates on Fat Tues­day, the day before Ash Wednes­day, the first day of Lent.

    Peo­ple lucky enough to visit New Orleans the week lead­ing up to Mardi Gras will enjoy a feast of foods and sig­na­ture bev­er­ages.

    Influ­ence comes largely from Cre­ole and Cajun cuisines. Clas­sic crowd pleasers include gumbo, jam­bal­aya and étouf­fée.

    Loca­tion aside, plan a cel­e­bra­tion dur­ing the days of Car­ni­val. High­light slow cooked, fla­vor rich meals that can feed a large table.

    Build­ing depth in dishes is easy when it comes to mas­ter­ing the all pow­er­ful Miropoix. Three veg­etable basics — car­rots, cel­ery and onions com­prise this start to many fine dishes.
  • Gimme Five

    Some­times the health­i­est and tasti­est dishes are the sim­plest. Keep­ing meals sim­ple is ideal as these last hot days of sum­mer roll into fall.

    Using only a hand­ful of ingre­di­ents, like five or less, makes sense for reluc­tant kitchen cooks.

    September’s mash up of sea­sonal pro­duce is truly a schiz­o­phrenic best of both worlds.

    On the one hand, some of the prized toma­toes of the sea­son are just com­ing to mar­ket. Fresh herbs, peaches, zuc­chini, sweet and hot pep­pers, egg­plants and corn beg for the spot­light.

    The other hand is deal­ing out new crop apples, pears, quince, figs, nuts and grapes. Hard squash, new pota­toes and onions, kale and beets paint a new plate palette.

    Uncom­pli­cated and straight­for­ward, sal­ads, entrees and sides are assem­bled in short order with just a few sim­patico ingre­di­ents. Pantry sta­ples such as olive oil, salt and pep­per are exempt from the tally as those are always at hand.

    Mid-​week time man­age­ment for hur­ried din­ners and hun­gry mouths let pro­duce shine bright. Zuc­chini rib­bons, nec­tarine and beet salad or lemon-​garlic spinach spruce up the plate. Given avail­abil­ity of pre-​cut veg­gies and fruits, the pain of slic­ing and chop­ping can be elim­i­nated.

    A recent Cap­rese salad served on the week­end took advan­tage of already sliced moz­zarella cheese. How easy is that for a sexy quick starter? Fresh basil leaves, gar­den toma­toes and the per­fect thick­ness of soft moz­zarella. Bellissima!
  • Greens & Beans

    Few hum­ble ingre­di­ents pro­vide such com­fort and sus­te­nance as greens and beans.

    By beans, we nat­u­rally mean legumes– that class of veg­eta­bles that include lentils, peas and beans of all types.

    Can­nellini, Ital­ian, chick peas (gar­banzo), black, white, navy, north­ern, lima, fava, Adzuki and but­ter top the list of pow­er­house beans.

    Legumes are typ­i­cally low in fat, con­tain­ing no cho­les­terol, and are high in folate, potas­sium, iron and mag­ne­sium. A good source of pro­tein, legumes can be a healthy alter­na­tive to meat.

    Due to their blend of fiber, pro­tein and nutri­ents, legumes aid in blood sugar reg­u­la­tion more than almost any other food group, a key qual­ity for dia­bet­ics and those con­cerned with main­tain­ing sta­ble insulin response.
  • Hand Pies

    Every­one loves pie, right? No argu­ment there. The only thing that might come close to sur­pass­ing pie is to have an indi­vid­ual hand pie all to one’s self.

    We’re not talk­ing about those gar­den vari­ety, store bought, waxed paper wrapped, card­board crust, sug­ary coated, fake fill­ing small pies. Nope.

    Instead, the bar is set high for ten­der, flaky pie crusts, ready for portable, lovely cre­ations burst­ing with local ingre­di­ents.

    Crisp, cool evenings war­rant get­ting back into the kitchen with the folks we love to hang out with. Hand pies are the stuff that mem­o­ries are made of when we include friends, fam­ily mem­bers and even cowork­ers if one is so inclined.

    It really doesn’t mat­ter if scratch bak­ing skills are not per­fected. There are plenty of “secret recipes and tips” avail­able to make the process less daunting.
  • It’s a Rind

    The word “water­melon” con­jures up images of free-​spirted sum­mer­time fun. Fam­ily gath­er­ings, care-​free beach days, back­yard bar­be­cues, and out­door camp­ing events keep water­melon on the top of the sum­mer gro­cery list.

    Over thirty states in the U.S. grow water­melon for the sum­mer sea­son. When domes­tic har­vests end, we move back to imported mel­ons from Mex­ico and Guatemala. This means there is a year-​round sup­ply of this fam­ily favorite.

    Most peo­ple eat the red flesh of water­melon down to the rind. Once fin­ished, they toss out the rest of the water­melon. Gar­den­ers know to put the rinds in the com­post heap. Back­yard chicken farm­ers give their hens a tasty rind treat.

    Those two good uses for the rind are not the only ben­e­fits of using the entire water­melon. The flesh, juice and rind are one hun­dred per­cent edi­ble.

    A few sug­ges­tions for putting the rind to good use make water­melon a zero waste food.

    Make Pick­les. Water­melon rind is pretty sim­i­lar to a cucum­ber. A quick boil and cool down of the cut up rinds allow them to absorb what­ever pick­ing spices and vine­gar pre­ferred. Sweet, sour, spicy or some­thing in between give water­melon pick­les a full range of options.
  • Kid Friendly

    “Back to school”. Three words that push fam­i­lies into tem­po­rary mad­ness.

    New back­pack, book and sup­ply pur­chases tax fam­ily bud­gets. Clothes shop­ping adds another bur­den on already stressed out par­ents.

    The last demand for launch­ing kids back to school might be the sin­gle most sig­nif­i­cant one in terms of A+ per­for­mance.

    Appeal­ing break­fast and lunch meals are impor­tant for get­ting stu­dents on track to a good year of learn­ing. How we approach these meals has a broad range of tac­tics.

    Past gen­er­a­tions of school kids (ages 612) ate what was put in front of them. The “take it or leave it” mes­sage was enforced to the baby boomers.

    Today’s young peo­ple are far more exposed to a vari­ety of foods with vary­ing degrees of nutri­tional value. Many life-​long food habits are formed dur­ing these crit­i­cal years.
  • Kit or Miss

    Nearly six years ago, meal kits com­pa­nies took the food scene by storm in the United States.

    They looked to be the major dis­rup­tors in how peo­ple choose to pro­cure, pre­pare and eat food.

    As Amer­i­can food cul­ture evolves, what we eat, when we eat and how we eat are all open to per­sonal inter­pre­ta­tion.

    The crowded space of meal kit com­pa­nies is fac­ing fierce com­pe­ti­tion as meal sub­scribers are select­ing from vast options for con­ve­nience, value and vari­ety.

    Gro­cery indus­try “brick and mor­tar” spend­ing rep­re­sents about $650 bil­lion, with a “B”, dol­lars in the U.S. The expe­ri­ence of daily pro­vi­sions can be frus­trat­ing at best with lots of energy devoted to meal plan­ning, gro­cery shop­ping and finally preparation.
  • Late Bloomers

    Sum­mer is fad­ing fast. Vaca­tion days in the rear view mir­ror bring a dif­fer­ent focus with some new rou­tines shap­ing our plates. Before com­pletely let­ting go of sum­mer, how about tak­ing one last bite?

    The best of late har­vest sum­mer fruits and veg­eta­bles are ready for the final soirée. Act quickly, as the win­dow is clos­ing on the late bloomers.

    That glo­ri­ous camp includes heir­loom toma­toes, egg­plants (in all shapes, sizes and color), sum­mer and early fall squashes (zuc­chini, eight ball, spaghetti and but­ter­nut), and even some squash blos­soms still on the stem.

    Last of sum­mer basil makes for pesto for pasta, pizza or bruschetta. Use the toma­toes for tomato and herb salad or Cap­rese with a bal­samic driz­zle. Both are fresh, light and the per­fect com­pli­ment to any Sep­tem­ber din­ner party.

    Off the vine pep­per choices, make us dream of sump­tu­ous stuffed bells, chile rel­lenos and roasted Ana­heim, poblano, Hatch and jalapeños. South of the bor­der delec­tables go far beyond salsa. Pep­per pop­pers keep things lively for al fresco appetizers.
  • Lighten Up!

    Zuc­chini and other sum­mer squash vari­eties seem to be every­where. What are we wait­ing for such a squash sur­plus at our fin­ger­tips?

    If pasta noo­dles are on the table at least once a week, this is the best sea­son to go for a light­ened up ver­sion with noo­dles cen­ter­plate.

    Alfredo, mari­nara and pesto clas­sics make for irre­sistible sauces on top of squash noo­dles.

    Grain free squash cut in either wide rib­bons or curly or flat thin noo­dles beckon to kitchen enthu­si­asts to explore all options. A sim­ple dressed up top­per of mint, basil, gar­lic and lemon juice keeps life sim­ple.

    Asian noo­dle bowls are a world apart from Italy. Pad Thai, lo mein, stir fries and broth­ier dishes meant to be slurped give way to robust flavors.
  • Marme­lada

    Food his­to­ri­ans credit Por­tugese cooks for the tasty spread we’ve come to know as mar­malade.

    Orig­i­nally made of quince (marmelo is the fruit’s Por­tugese name), the sweet/​tart gel like paste is used in desserts, breads and cakes.

    Quince are a rel­a­tively unusual fruit in that they are rarely, if ever, eaten raw. Mak­ing them into a jelly/​preserve/​compote allows them to be savored well past their sea­son.

    In Brazil, most marme­los are boiled, sweet­ened and then reduced to a thick jelly-​like paste called marme­lada.

    Quince are very tart and tan­nic, mak­ing them almost impos­si­ble to eat in their nat­ural state. Dur­ing cook­ing, their tan­nins mel­low and change color, giv­ing cooked quince a lovely pink-​to-​reddish hue.
  • Pan­de­mo­nium

    The chaos and may­hem of gro­cery shop­ping a year ago seems like a wild faded dream. Dur­ing lock­downs and stay-​at-​home orders, we found ways to com­pen­sate for long lines and hoard­ing.

    As life begins to unfold post-​pandemic, new habits have emerged that retail­ers and food ser­vice providers have made invest­ments.

    We may all be count­ing on new ways to feed our­selves. Online order­ing and home deliv­ery have taken the sting out of food pan­de­mo­nium. We’ve learned new cop­ing skills.

    Meals can be either ready-​to-​eat or those ready to pre­pare. The pan­demic accel­er­ated ghost kitchens (also known as dark or cloud kitchens) and the wide­spread adop­tion of food deliv­ery by at least three to five years.

    No doubt, food deliv­ery had the lime­light 2020. As con­sumers adopted new habits, the gig econ­omy surged in that arena. Grub Hub, Uber Eats and Door­Dash were on Smart phone “Favorites”.

    The trend and adop­tion of dig­i­tal tech­nolo­gies and e-​commerce was greatly advanced by per­sonal health safety con­cerns as much as con­ve­nience. Com­fort lev­els now push con­sumers to pur­chase prod­ucts online with con­fi­dence.

    Already on the rise in recent years, par­tic­i­pa­tion in online gro­cery shop­ping sky­rock­eted in 2020.