Gift Ideas for Home Chefs

Every year it’s always a question of what to get loved ones for the holidays. With so many foodies stepping up their kitchen game, there are endless options of kitchen tools for easy food wins with new food creations. Below are my top three recommendations for kitchen must haved.

  1. Quality Knives are are must. Every home chef needs a set of good knives. The quality of the knives impacts not just the neatness of the cut or dice, but also the speed of food prep. After years of changing out knives every couple of years, I was thrilled to discover the Cutco brand of knives. While the expense is certainly on the front end, these knives come with a forever guarantee. I personally started with the 3-piece sheath set at about $300 and it is a set that can always be added to. With the holidays, there are bound to be sales for this great gift for home chefs.
  2. A Garlic Press is a kitchen must have. As a deep lover of garlic, I use at least a head of garlic per dish and sometimes the effort of peeling and chopping garlic leaves my nails smelling like garlic the next day. The Chic Chic press I received was hands down one of the best gifts I’ve ever gotten. This is great for small amounts for dressings or marinades, or large amounts for roasts or rubs. At less than $20 for a good press, this is an easy win for a gift for a favorite home chef.
  3. An oil mister is an undervalued kitchen gem. With the new interest in air fryers and other healthy eating appliances, an oil mister is a great way to make proteins crispy, add minimal oil to a salad or grease a pan for morning egg scrambles. My Misto oil mister has served me very well. I’ve been able to use it for both avocado and olive oil which has been great for mixing things up.

These are three gems that I use daily in most cases. If you would like to gift my top three kitchen gems, check out Cutco’s website for their specials on knives. The other two can be found through Amazon or specialty shops such as Williams and Sonoma.

A Little Greek

Having variety when doing meal prep is a must. It gets boring eating the same things cooked the same ways and one easy way to add variety is to add herbs and create flavorful sauces to complement the protein of choice. This week I decided on crispy baked rosemary and thyme chicken with millet salad and a tasty tzatziki sauce. Check out the recipe below and share your thoughts.

Ingredients:

6 large drumsticks

1/2 cup sliced cherry tomatoes

2 tbsp. chopped mediterrean olives

1 tbsp of olive oil or cooking spray

4 tbsp chopped dried rosemary

1 tbsp onion powder

1 tbsp garlic powder

Salt and pepper to taste

1/2 cup dried millet

1 tbsp fresh thyme (reserve for millet)

1 clove of garlic minced or pressed (for millet)

1 cup of liquid (water and chicken broth)

1/2 cup cherry tomatoes

1/8 cup feta cheese

2 tbsp fresh basil

Tzatziki Ingredients:

1/2 cup Greek yogurt

1/2 juiced lemon

2 tbsp mint 

1/2 cup diced cucumber

1 clove of fresh garlic minced or pressed

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a pan with foil. 
  2. Chop dried rosemary. Rinse chicken and add to lined pan. Drizzle oil on the chicken and rub evenly on chicken. Sprinkle seasoning in an even coating, including the rosemary and place in oven. Set timer for 35 minutes.
  3. Wait 10 minutes before starting the millet. Add millet and liquid to a medium pot with thyme, garlic and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and then top and reduce heat to low for 15 minutes.  
  4. While millet and chicken cooks, dice cucumber and set aside. Add yogurt to a medium bowl, add minced or pressed garlic, squeeze in fresh lemon juice, chop mint and add to the bowl. Mix well. Add salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate until ready to use.
  5. Strain any remaining liquid from millet. Add to a bowl. Slice cherry tomatoes into quarters and chop olives and add to the bowl. Rip in basil and add in feta cheese. Mix well. 
  6. Plate and enjoy.

A Variety Of Salmon

Salmon is one of my absolute favorite things to eat and I can literally eat it multiple ways in the same week. When looking for options, here are a few of my go-tos.

Salad: searing salmon with some fresh herbs and fresh lemon juice is a great way to pack in the flavor and keep it simple. In addition to a variety of greens, I like to things like avocado, walnuts and chopped apples to round out the nutrition. 

Basil Pesto: Pesto makes everything wonderful and is especially tasty with Salmon. With a few simple ingredients: basil, garlic, pine nuts and olive oil, this is a quick sauce to make that holds up well throughout the week. I find that I like it with and without Parmesan, especially when watching the added fats in a dish. You can always experiment with other nuts you have on hand if you’re not a fan of pine nuts.

Simply Seasoned with a whole grain: A little pressed garlic and fresh squeezed lemon juice is a simple accompaniment to salmon. I also love to use fresh thyme and lemon and served over warm quinoa or a bulgur pilaf.

What’s your favorite way to prepare salmon? Let me know your thoughts on my favorites.

Revive Your Salad Game

Spice up your salad game with new flavors to keep things interesting. People often lament eating salads; however it’s important to keep them flavorful and filling. I like to change up both the proteins and the assortment of veggies. Check out two ideas below.


Chicken Fajita Salad: All of the accompaniments of chicken fajitas make a wonderful salad with a few handfuls of mixed greens. I caramelized onion with yellow, red and green bell peppers with mushrooms and sautéed some spicy chicken to go on top a bed of mixed greens, sliced and seasoned avocado and some sliced jalapeño peppers. This can be an intentional dish, or a way to repurpose leftovers from a taco night.


BBQ pork salad: Flavorful pork can definitely make the slide of vegetables go down easier. For this salad I used mixed greens, tomatoes, cucumber and some assorted olives I had on hand. You could always swap the olives for picked jalapeños if you typically eat those with the pulled pork. I topped the salad with some microgeens I have been growing for some added nutrients and flavor. Keep the dressing simple with a lime and garlic dressing or balsamic vinegar just on the greens. There’s plenty of fat on the salad already with the olives, avocado and pork so adding more in the dressing is not needed. Once again this salad is a great way to use leftover bbq, roasted pork or chicken to mix up meals or get in more vegetables. 

Helping Hands

Tasty and healthy meal assistance

A little help from the store can go a long way to making quick work of dinner. I’m a big fan of portioned proteins for easy freezer storage and easier use for making the right number of portions at a given time. This shrimp and kale dish was elevated with a simple sauce using onion, garlic, a little stock and a roasted eggplant and tomato spread from Trader Joe’s. The spread while low in calories, was packed with flavor that easily added to this quick dish. This took 10 minutes to make and additionally, I made enough to freeze. You can always double this portion for a family of 4 or to have additional portions to freeze for easy meals during a busy week. Check out the recipe below.

Ingredients:

1/2 lb of shrimp

2 cups fresh kale

1/2 cup of fresh mushrooms sliced

1/2 cup of onion

1/4 cup of chicken or seafood stock

1/4 cup of eggplant spread

1/2 tbsp avocado oil (or olive)

1/2 teaspoon cayenne

1 tbsp onion powder

1 tbsp garlic powder

Salt and pepper to taste

Pinch of water


Directions:

  1. Rinse and kale and add to a skillet with a pinch of water over medium heat. Add onion and stir.
  2. Slice mushrooms while kale cooks and add mushrooms to the pan. Season and reserve a little of the powders for the shrimp. Cook for 3-5 mins.
  3. Add the eggplant spread and stir in. Add stock to deglaze the pan. Cook for 2 minutes and add to a plate.
  4. Add oil and let it warm. Add shrimp and seasoning and cook for 2.5 minutes before flipping and cooking for the same time.
  5. Top greens mixture and enjoy.

Charcuterie Nights

Adult Lunchables

Sometimes a grown up lunchable in the form of a charcuterie board makes a quick dinner and is fun to entertain with. I like to add an assortment of salami, garlic stuffed olives, caper berries, fresh fruit (blueberries, cherries, strawberries ) and of course cheese. For small groups my go to options are an herbed goat cheese that I top with a drizzle of honey, some smoked Gouda and a smoked or peppered cheddar.


But if its an individual party, adding some greens or salad is an easy addition to balance out the richness. It’s as simple as finding a mix of meats and cheeses that appeal to your tastes. I personally like the Columbus brand variety of salami and the Brooklyn Cured brands, but I’m always on the hunt for new tasty additions. Additionally, I like to add surprises to the board such as coffee dark chocolate or chocolate covered almonds. What’s your favorite mix? Please leave a post to reply.

Sip and Breathe

Simple Syrup

With Labor Day fast approaching, it’s a great time to start planning the drink menu. This is the perfect time to kick back with a small group of family and friends and take a moment to relax. Why not do it in style? I’ve been experimenting with homemade simple syrups after my friend Carolyn showed me just how easy it is. Check out this recipe for my lavender mint simple syrup to make a simply superb French 75. During my time in Rochester NY, I fell in love with a local lilac gin by Black Button Distillery, but this cocktail can be made with any favored infused gin or vodka. I recommend making the simple syrup ahead of time over the weekend or the day before, just to save yourself some time. Any left over syrup can be used for cold or hot tea!


Simple Syrup Ingredients:

1 /2 cup dried organic lavender

2 sprigs of fresh or dried mint

2 cups of distilled water

1.5 cups of raw sugar

3 clean food pouches or a glass jar.

Directions:

  1. Bring water to a boil. Add measured lavender and mint to a bowl.
  2. When water boils, cover lavender and mint and cover bowl with a plate or lid.
  3. Let lavender water steep for at least a hour but no more than 2 hours.
  4. Strain water into a measuring cup and add water and sugar into a medium pan and bring to a boil.
  5. Reduce to medium low heat and cook for 5 minutes.
  6. Remove from heat and let cool for 30 minutes.
  7. Add to food pouches or glass jar with an airtight lid. Store in a cool, dry place or refrigerate.

The drink below serves 1. Just multiply each ingredient for the number of drinks prepared. 🙂 If you are making more than two drinks, I’d recommend buying cold pressed lemon juice or your preferred product to save on the manual labor.


French 75 Ingredients:

1.5 oz infused gin

1 oz cold pressed or fresh squeezed lemon juice

1/2 oz of simple syrup (double if you like sweeter drinks)

3 oz of champagne

Directions:

  1. Add gin to a glass, add simple sugar and mix with a spoon
  2. Add lemon juice and top with champagne
  3. Optional: zest a lemon for garnish 
  4. Enjoy

Planning for Meal Prep

Meal prep made easy

Its that time a year where meal prep is critical, or as the kids say, clutch! I am a big fan of giving myself variety through meal prep and dinner bowls are not only cost effective, but offer variety. At a lofty $3.50 per serving, these beans, greens and grains bowls are tasty and cost effective. I made enough for the week, to share and to freeze. The trick is to break it into the basics.


Grains: I like to explore new seeds and grains and for these bowls I used a quinoa, bulgur wheat mixture for some varied nutrients. This served as the base for the bowls and a side for a couple of other meals.


Greens: As a Southerner, I love a good pot of greens. I made huge pot mixing kale, turnips, collards and mustards with a bunch of garlic and onion. It should be cooked until tender which is usually 20-30 minutes with the pre-chopped bags I used.


Proteins: Stewed black beans with fire roasted tomatoes are a great addition for vegetarian bowls or chicken fajita bowls (adding optional avocado). I also baked fish and sautéed two chicken breast for varied bowl options. 


Tip: Cut onion ahead of time and freeze it. I dice, slice and finely chop onion and store it in small freezer bags to have on hand. I do the same with bell pepper! This made it easy to caramelize onions and peppers for the chicken fajita bowl option.


Cooking:

  1. Start with the greens. With 1 1/2 diced onion and a head or two of minced garlic, add it to a large pot with a cup of water. Rinse a large bag of greens and add to the pot. Preheat the oven for the fish.
  2. While that cooks, start the grains, following the cooking instructions on the bag or your usual method if using a favorite. I used half stock, half water for some extra flavor and a few cloves of minced garlic.
  3. Stir greens and season well with salt, pepper, onion and garlic powders and cayenne. Start stewed tomatoes on stove top and cook down for a few minutes before adding a cup of water and a can of beans. Season well. 
  4. Bake fish of choice with some fresh thyme and lemon and a drizzle of avocado or olive oil. While that bakes, season a sear the chicken breasts (or thighs).
  5. Optional: use pan from chicken to caramelize onions and peppers for the chicken fajita bowls.
  6. Remove fish from oven and turn off stove tops. Let food begin to cool before adding to storage containers.
  7. Freeze or share additional portions.

Steak Stir Fry with Homegrown Mushrooms

It has been a while since I’ve posted; I promise I am still cooking! I am also still growing things. In addition to my kombucha developments (I’m partial to lavender mint), I decided to try my hand at growing mushrooms indoors with a Back  To Roots organic mushroom growing kit. I was thrilled at my proficiency and decided to use it in a quick stir fry. 

Why mushrooms? Oyster mushrooms are a great immune boost, loaded with antioxidants and other nutrients. Additionally it has anti bacterial properties in the body. 

Check out this quick dish below and as always, let me know your thoughts. 

1 medium onion 

1 small bok choy or 2 cups of raw spinach

2 cups of sweet peppers

1 cup of mushrooms of choice

1 inch (1tbsp) fresh grated ginger

1 lb steak tips

1/2 tbsp cumin

1/2 tbsp coriander

1 tbsp red pepper flakes

1 cup of cooked rice

 1 tbsp avocado oil

1/4 cup of water

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Cook rice using preferred method.
  2. Heat oil in a large pan over medium heat. Open and rinse steak; season with salt and pepper lightly. 
  3. Add steak and cook for 5 minutes. Rinse and slice peppers, rinse and quarter bok choy and slice mushrooms while steak cooks. 
  4. Remove steak and put on a plate. Add veggies, seasoning and water and grate in ginger. Cook for 5 minutes. 
  5. Add in steak and stir before turning off heat.
  6. Add to rice and enjoy!

Still Inspired…

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As part of my unplugging and unwinding, I still love to be inspired to create a flavorful, comforting meal. I will say I’ve been enjoying this new wave of home cooking and family gatherings. It’s refreshing to see what more home time produces in the kitchen! I had a craving for some seafood and wanted to use some of the fresh herbs that I’ve been growing which resulted in this dish. This is definitely one I will make again. Now I will say, brown rice seems to take forever and 5 years to make so you can always opt for a low-sodium microwavable option. I’ve actually seen some cool varieties that include quinoa or wild and brown rice mixes. If you go that route this becomes a 10-12 minute dish. Happy cooking and as always, let me know your thoughts!

 

Spicy Seared Scallops and Shrimp w/ Herbed Butter Brown Rice

Seafood Ingredients:

½ lb fresh scallops

½ lb white shrimp

½ tbsp onion powder

½ tbsp garlic powder

½ tbsp red pepper flakes

Juice of half a lemon

1 tbsp avocado oil

½ tbsp butter (optional)

 

Rice Ingredients:

½ cup brown rice

¼ cup chopped herbs (basil, parsley, thyme, mint)

1 cup chicken stock

½ cup water

½ tbsp turmeric

1 tbsp shaved or minced garlic

1 tbsp of butter

Salt and pepper to taste

 

Green beans:

1 bag of frozen green beans

1 tbsp olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

 

Directions:

  1. Add rice and minced garlic to a small pot and toast it for 1 to 2 minutes over medium high heat. Add liquid and turmeric and bring to a boil before reducing to simmer. Top and cook for 45 minutes.
  2. With 20 minutes left on the rice, bring a medium pot of water with green beans to boil. When it starts to boil, strain it immediately then add to a bowl with salt, pepper and oil and set it aside. The residual heat will continue to cook the green beans.
  3. In a medium pan, add oil and butter. While it heats, season scallops and shrimp, then add to the skillet. Cook on each side for 2-3 minutes then remove from the heat. Squeeze half of lemon, seeded side up over seafood to deglaze the pan.
  4. Rinse and chop fresh herbs. Once rice is done, add it to a bowl, add fresh herbs, butter and salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Plate and top with microgreens (optional). Enjoy!