So this post isn’t about food that I prepared for a client or for myself but food that was prepared for my husband and I while in Mexico celebrating our anniversary.  During our trip we both decided that there are a few types of travelers and this case those who enjoy the resorts and the resort activities – which don’t get me wrong the resort is great in that everything is pretty much done for you and the beach is accessible and the lawn chairs are always around and you can have a cocktail anytime you want and someone will make it for you.  Great stuff for relaxation.  The food on the other hand is nothing to write home (or write a blog about).  On to the next type of traveler – those who like to scout out smaller quaint hotels with a lot going on in charm department and with that goes finding great local restaurants.   My husband and I are not into the organized games and activities the resort has to offer – we tend to explore where we are – learn the history and experience the food.    On this trip to Cancun (talk about touristy!) we explored downtown central Cancun and of course you can’t help but be sucked into a flea market.   We purchased some good tequila and talked to a few locals about a recommendation for a good Mexican restaurant.  GOOD Mexican food.  Address in hand from the tequila guy we headed out to locate the restaurant during the day and then knowing our way we would head out to celebrate our anniversary with a great dinner.  After getting lost several times and stumbling upon a very quaint and beautiful hotel that we swore we return and stay at – we found it – La Parilla.  We had a margarita, talked with the server about the menu and the restaurant and made our reservations.  Pleased with our new find we headed back to our hotel and laid in the sun until it was time to leave for our dinner reservation.  A torrential rain storm hit the same time we headed to the bus stop to pick up our bus into town – the long walk through from the bus stop to the restaurant was not a pleasant one in sandals and cute dress I bought for the evening but we made it!  To our surprise the server remembered our conversation that it was our anniversary and had a special table waiting – all set with a bottle of champagne!  The service at La Parilla was outstanding to say the least!  It was clear that the restaurant is a favorite with locals and those lucky tourists who stumble upon it or receive a recommendation from the tequila guy at the flea market.   We had an appetizer of stuffed jalapenos – which are nothing like the stuffed jalapenos that would be found at home.  The peppers were spicy and fresh and cheese was creamy and decadent.  For an entrée – I had Tequila Shrimp Flambe – 7 large shrimp sautéed in tequila and white wine with a little cream and served with a rice pilaf and carrots and chayote that were sautéed with shallots.  The dish was prepared at our table and the shrimp were cooked perfectly – the vegetables were very savory and tequila sauce was delicious!  My husband had beef fajitas (which of course he can get anywhere!!!) but the beef was tender and the tortillas were fresh and homemade.  During our appetizers the Mariachi band played a song for us and that was fun.  After our dinner the server surprised us again with a small cake with a candle – the cake was served on a plate and it was decorated with hearts and happy anniversary written with frosting gel.  The Mariachi band returned and played a song  – still not sure what song they played but it brought tears to my eyes and being with my husband on such a great occasion and having a wonderful meal with staff that was so attentive was amazing.

Tequila Shrimp Flambe

Tequila Shrimp

Mariachi Band

Love the spelling of "aniversary"!

One of my favorite “gigs” as a personal chef is cooking for a wine club.  The wine club is organized by a local wine shop proprietor and members pay a nominal fee to belong and they are invited to special wine events throughout the year.  The club does about six of these dinners a year and I LOVE cooking for their events.  It is a time to really have fun with food, pair it to some good wines and watch everyone have a great time.  Since I consider the group to be a bunch of foodies, it is perfect for being creative with the menu and this is one dinner that I have total liberty with the menu!!!  When creating the menu I kept in mind the various taste nuances of Syrah and Shiraz – plum, pepper, berry and hints of chocolate and chile.  I have even tasted Lavender in a syrah, and chose the blackberry and lavender for the tenderloin sauce.

Espresso and Chocolate Braised Short Ribs over Blue Cheese Polenta with an Orange Gremolata and drizzle of chipotle honey

The menu looked like this….

Australian Shiraz/Syrah

Plum and Australian Spice Roasted Salmon served over a bed of Argula tossed with Lemon Myrtle Dressing w/smoked black pepper

Chili/Argentina Shiraz/Syrah

Cocoa and Ancho Chile Rubbed Pork Tenderloin with Lavender infused Blackberry Sauce served with Yellow Rice

Napa Valley/South African Shiraz/Syrah

Espresso and Chocolate Braised Short Ribs with Orange Gremolata and Chipotle Honey drizzle served over Blue Cheese Polenta

Dessert – everyone picked their favorite wine and we paired with homemade chocolate truffles (Chile infused and Espresso) and two blue cheeses

The group ate and talked and sampled the wines, took notes and stayed around the table until well after 11:00 pm…the event was awesome and I can’t wait until the next one!!!

Plum and Australian Spice Roasted Salmon on Arugula w/Lemon Myrtle Dressing

Cocoa & Ancho Chile Rubbed Pork Tenderloin w/Lavender Infused Blackberry Sauce

Beef Stew and Biscuits

Today’s challenge was a little more than trying to use the items in my pantry and freezer.  Dinner needed to be ready to go early in the morning as I was having some minor surgery.  Being under the influence of pain killers in the kitchen holding a knife wouldn’t have been a good combination.  Come to think of it – maybe blogging and under the influence isn’t the best either…we shall see!  Tonight’s dinner was perfect  – Crock-pot Beef Stew – it was cold and damp so hearty and warm was a welcomed dish,  preparing it early in the morning was perfect for my need to have dinner ready with fuss and I was able use many items from refrigerator and freezer stash.  Stew is perfect

for all types of leftovers – beef stew, lamb stew or chicken stew.  I was able to use – frozen beef stock, about  two cups of tomato purée I had leftover from a large can I only used a

little from about a month ago, tomato paste, bacon pieces, stew beef cubes, frozen peas and carrots.  The refrigerator and pantry are now down some red wine, a few carrots, onions, potatoes and sad to say the last of CSA turnips😦 ….a little tapioca and there you have it….beef stew.  I splurged and made some flaky biscuits.  Plenty leftover for lunches tomorrow!  Make stew…anyone can do it!!!

Frozen beef broth, bacon bits and beef cubes!

Thai Style Chicken Thighs was my Cook With What I Had Dinner tonight -with and my freezer is down is down by one and half packages of chicken thighs and the refrigerator veggie bin is minus some vegetables.   Before I headed out the door to my hot yoga class I marinated the chicken breasts in 3 Tbsp of fish sauce, 1 Tbsp of chili powder,  couple cloves of garlic minced and some chopped cilantro leftover from the weekend and a little frozen chopped basil from  the freezer (about 2 tsp.).  After marinating for a couple hours the chicken thighs were sauted in a little vegetable oil about 6-8 minutes.  My vegetable bin was full of remnants of vegetables – half a red pepper from today’s client, a half bag of scallions from the weekend, a yellow squash and some fresh ginger.   The pantry – spaghetti and some Trader Joe’s Thai Chili Lime Cashews.  The cooked pasta was sauted with veggies, garlic, ginger a little soy sauce, Thai garlic chili paste a couple tablespoons from the bottom of a hoisin sauce jar and some red pepper flakes for more heat.  The chicken thighs were topped off with a little chopped mint and cilantro and pasta topped with a few extra scallions and a small handful of chopped Thai Chili Cashews a little fresh lime (that’s from a gin and tonic!!!)…it was delicious!!!

My pantry

A fellow personal chef  – Tami Mitchell of Dine-in-Diva Personal Chef Service in Akron Ohio came up with the idea for the Cook Whatcha Got Challenge.  I don’t know Tami personally but some of my other personal chef friends do and I felt an immediate kinship to this fellow personal chef when she called herself a “food pack-rat”.  Oh how I can relate to that trait,   I can’t pass by an interesting ingredient without buying it thinking – I would love to make something with that.  So, Tami I don’t know you but I feel a connection and I LOVE the challenge.

The Challenge is to use what you have in your pantry or freezer for one week with only one trip to the grocery store for produce and dairy.  This time of year I welcome a challenge like this.  For as long as I can remember January has been a time of the year that I work to throw out the old, unused, broken whatever and to avoid bringing in anything new – I don’t want any more STUFF!  I keep trying to get rid of STUFF but it seems to just be replaced with other stuff.  What does that statement have to do with the Cook Whatcha Got Challenge? – quite a bit actually.  My freezer and pantry by this time of the year are stocked with leftovers from holiday baking and cooking.  My freezer is a storage chest for remnants of partially used items – bacon fat, duck fat, a tablespoon of tomato paste, bags of chicken and beef stock and snack bags holding the last few blueberries or raspberries from some recipe.  At at the time it seemed like a good idea not to waste the leftovers.  Needless to say, the majority of these items are not labeled.  I always assume that I will remember what it is and no one in my house even attempts to try to figure it out – they just take out the ice and waffles and if one of the mystery bags happens to fall out in the process they shove it back into its resting place.  So, cooking with what I have will help me “work through” my freezer and pantry and not waste what I have and satisfy my need to purge the excess….before my next trip to the wholesale club where they will have the absolute best deal on chicken or ?????

Paella ready to take ot the dinner table

Paella ready to take ot the dinner table

One of my favorite summer (any time really) dishes to make is Paella. Throughout the year I prepare many “Paella Parties”. A Paella Party is a wonderful dinner party food as it served family style in the middle of the table and the presentation is always spectacular. A couple years ago my husband bought me a large paella pan and the burner to go with it so I am able to serve up to 20 people from the one pan (now that’s a husband who REALLY understands his wife’s business!). Along with the paella I may make an appetizer or salad and dessert and if my client would like – some delicious sangria. This particular party I made a fresh green salad, paella with little necks, shrimp, chicken, chorizo and scallops. The Sangria was a white sangria with a cinnamon and lemon simple syrup and spicy red sangria – all with fruit “marinated” in some brandy. A delicious time was had by all!

Beautiful view of Wickford harbor in Wickford, RI

As a personal chef I will cook for a client’s small dinner party 20 to 40 people. I have had the opportunity through out the years I have been a personal chef to have some amazing clients that I love working with. The advantage to them when they hire a personal chef is the personal attention they get. I ask clients to tell me about their favorite foods and tastes, learn more about the occasion and who their guests are and what type of evening they want to have. Some events are formal and others more casual and the more I ask the easier it is to create a menu that they and their guests will really like. Beautiful and tasty food is my goal and when I was ready to serve one of the guests (who happens to be a very creative jewelry designer) complimented me on how beautiful all of the food was she later came back around and said that the food was not just beautiful but delicious. That was the best compliment! Here are some photos from the party – the scenery was even more beautiful than the food – not too shabby working conditions if I have to say so myself. Notice the infinity pool – as my server and I were moving around the guests passing appetizers with came a little too close to falling into this pool…would have been cool (it was a very hot night) but not so cooool.

Mini crab cakes

Mini crab cakes with cilantro lime aioli

Another appetizer - mushroom puff pastries

Another appetizer - mushroom puff pastries

Salad with baby greens, sugar snap peas, fresh blueberries, dried cranberries, goat cheese and toasted almonds with a sherry vinaigrette

Salad with baby greens, sugar snap peas, fresh blueberries, dried cranberries, goat cheese and toasted almonds with a sherry vinaigrette

Poached salmon with herb vinaigrette

Poached salmon with herb vinaigrette