Giving Thanks…

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As the staff at Just Add Cooking, we’re pretty lucky to work in a place where we get to eat delicious food on a regular basis, help to design recipes that land on the tables of so many families around Massachusetts, and work with some of the region’s best farmers, fishermen and artisans. So we wanted to spend a moment this week giving thanks. Here’s what our team is thankful for when it comes to food this holiday season, and a few of their foodie faves!

Katie, Customer Success Manager
Favorite Thanksgiving Dish: Pie
Favorite Leftover: Cold pie!

“I’m grateful that my work helps support an industry that places value on the integrity of the food we feed ourselves and our families. By fostering the local food economy, we are able to push back on a system that prioritizes profits over human and animal wellbeing.”

Dan, Head of Recipe Development & Meal Planning
Favorite Thanksgiving Dish: Cranberry sauce
Favorite Leftover: A turkey sandwich with stuffing, mayo and cranberry sauce. And maybe some gravy. And some mashed potatoes too.

“New England has a great mix of the land and the sea. The seafood we get here is some of the best of the world and being able to pair that with high-quality local produce is a dream come true for home cooks.”

Kevin, Director of Operations
Favorite Thanksgiving Dish: Potatoes
Favorite Leftover: Potatoes

“I am thankful for the ability to eat food that is produced and grown in a sustainably conscientious way, and for the reduced food miles that eating locally allows for.”

Fredrik, CFO

“As we are going to have lobster on Thanksgiving, I am thankful to be able to eat lobster that is fresh from New England water.”

Jan, Co-Founder & CEO
Favorite Thanksgiving Dish: Turkey
Favorite Leftover: Pecan pie

“I am thankful for the amazing quality and freshness of local food and most important that together we’re building a local, sustainable food system for the future.”

Katerina, Chief Marketing Officer
Favorite Thanksgiving Dish: This will actually be my first Thanksgiving in the U.S. so I am looking forward to exploring this holiday. 

“Since I am from Sweden fresh fish is very important to me. I am thankful to get my fish from Red’s Best, one of our local vendors at Just Add Cooking, and I love the fact that I know who caught my fish and that it is so fresh.”

Rachel, Marketing/Development Intern
Favorite Thanksgiving Dish: Stuffing
Favorite Leftover: Cold pie for breakfast

“I am thankful to have the opportunity to support local farmers and producers who work hard to feed us food whose origin we know. To me, there is nothing like biting into a fresh apple that was picked the same day and hasn’t traveled across the country. Especially since I eat at least one apple every day.”

Amanda, Chief Gastronomic Officer
Favorite Thanksgiving Dish: A hybrid of Korean and American cuisine: Kimchi, Bacon and Mushroom Stuffing
Favorite Leftover: Pie, cold and right out of the tin

“I am thankful that I live in a community where there are so many people who take pride in what they do when it comes to growing and producing food. I am fortunate that I get to benefit from their hard work and support them by eating their food.”

Caroline, Product Development Intern
Favorite Thanksgiving Dish: Stuffing
Favorite Leftover: Sandwiches made with leftover dinner rolls, mayo, turkey, cranberry sauce, and kale salad.

“I am thankful for the New England food economy and the opportunity to eat locally because it is an environmentally conscientious choice I can make daily and one that supports local jobs in the agricultural sector.”

Six Essential Kitchen Tools

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We’re big believers in the idea that you don’t need a lot of fancy equipment or a big kitchen to make a great dinner. In fact, the idea of a meal kit using locally sourced ingredients like ours does is just the opposite: we love working with what we have to create delicious, flavorful dinners quickly and easily. Part of being successful in the kitchen is having what you need right at your fingertips.

To that end, Just Add Cooking’s Chief Gastronomic Officer Amanda Mayo has put together her top six essential cooking tools, which are especially perfect if you’re cooking in a small space and storage is at a premium. Overall, these tools won’t break the bank and you’ll find them being used on a variety of recipes–breakfast, lunch and dinner!

1. A Heat-Resistant Rubber Spatula
A great spatula isn’t just for mixing cake batter. It’s also a perfect way to gently stir sauces, scramble eggs or melt chocolate on your stovetop. Make sure it’s heat resistant, and a rubber spatula can stand in for a flat spatula or wooden spoon to mix, toss or stir anything on the stovetop or in the oven, encouraging things not to stick to the bottom of the pan.

2.Tongs
A great set of tongs goes from stove to table. They’re a perfect way to take control of your proteins while cooking for a quick flip or stir, and to toss salad or serve at the dinner table. Consider them an extension of your fingers – and a great way to protect your hands from burns or your meat from burning!

3. Microplane
Small but mighty, a microplane is a kitchen star for its multi-use capabilities. You can use it to zest a lemon or grate everything from cheese to garlic to ginger. Pro tip: use it to grate whole spices like cinnamon for a fresh and flavorful kick.

4. Half Sheet Pan
Roasting is the perfect set-it-and-forget-it dinner, and the half sheet pan is your roasting champ. You can cook anything on this baby, from veggies to proteins. After dinner, use it to bake cookies. Or spread dough over it for a delicious square pizza.

5. 4-qt Pot
A 4-qt pot is just large enough to handle a wide variety of tasks, from cooking grains to stirring up sauces. No need to stuff your cabinets full of pots and pans – just be sure you have a few good ones in a variety of sizes to get the job done.

6. Cast Iron Skillet
The cast iron skillet is perhaps the home chef’s best secret for making incredible meals. It’s heavy and requires a bit of love, but a cast iron skillet is absolutely worth getting into your kitchen. It’s oven-safe, which means you can transfer it directly from the stovetop to the oven. The big benefit of a cast iron pan is that it gets–and stays–extremely hot, so it’s great for cooking meats and proteins when you want a good sear.

A More Eco-Friendly Meal Kit

National Meal Kit Vs. Just Add Cooking Comparison

 

 

Meal kits bring incredible convenience to your dinner table, eliminating the need for meal planning or grocery shopping by shipping ingredients straight to your door. But as with many things, convenience often comes with a price. One of the largest complaints that we hear from customers who have used national meal kits in the past is that the packaging is wasteful, with more than 10 lbs of insulation and ice packs to ship food across the country for up to a day and a half.

That’s why we’re different. As a local meal kit, Just Add Cooking is able to create a more sustainable and eco-friendly meal kit that brings all of the convenience of recipes and ingredients delivered without the wasteful packaging. We’re always looking to improve upon that promise. That’s why we’re excited to announce: We have eliminated gel packs and foil cooling bags from our packaging.

Our packaging was already sparse, recyclable and compostable, thanks to the fact we ship ingredients less than 45 miles and they’re in transit for 4 hours or fewer. But by replacing our gel packs with frozen water bottles (which customers can then drink and recycle) and our cooling bags with a 100% recyclable box liner, we’re taking further steps towards sustainability.

Combine this with the fact we ship local ingredients and rack up fewer food miles than any other New England meal kit and you’ve got convenience you can feel good about. In line with our ethics, we’ve chosen givn water as our water bottles. They supply a day of clean drinking water for each bottle sold, so our customers are contributing to this important cause with each box purchased.

Curious about the impact of this switch? We’ve broken down a few of the numbers.

  • Over the next year, our switch to water bottles will save 50,000 pounds of frozen gel packs from going out into the world–that’s more than the weight of a Greyhound bus. (If we shipped with as many gel packs as national meal kits do to begin with, that number would be 300,000 pounds–the weight of two space shuttles.)
  • We’ve eliminated foil bags–saving enough of them to cover a football field each year.
  • Just Add Cooking customers will donate 70,000 days of clean drinking water through givn water this year. That’s enough to provide water to 200 people for a whole year.

We continue to innovate to be the most sustainable, eco-friendly meal kit on the market. Keep an eye on this space for our next steps and initiatives. Plus, get $10 off your first order to see the Just Add Cooking difference for yourself. Click here for details.

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An interview with Just Add Cooking founder Jan Leife

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We’re celebrating the fifth anniversary of Just Add Cooking all week long! Over the past five years, we’ve been proud to deliver Boston’s only local meal kit and support local farmers, fishermen and artisans by delivering their ingredients to our customers. Today, we’re going back to where it all started with an interview with founder, Jan Leife.

And don’t forget to take a moment to celebrate with us in our social media contest. Simply post to our Facebook page or tag us @addcooking on Twitter or Instagram with #justaddcooking5 to be entered to win a free week of meals. We’ll be picking one winner on Friday, November 3. Leave us a review, photo or tell us why you love Just Add Cooking!

Why did you start JAC?

Back in Stockholm my family used a Swedish “matkasse” for many years and we found the service was fantastic. We saved time, had a healthy and delicious dinner every day of the week, got variety, and improved cooking skills (both me and my sons). When moving to Boston with my wife in 2012 I thought it would be a good idea to start a similar service.

What was the experience like setting up this service in the city of Boston?

It was easy and inexpensive to set up the company in Boston and there was a great enthusiasm from those around me about what I was doing. The entrepreneurial culture is amazing here and everyone thought it was fantastic that I started a company and they wanted to help. As an example, one of my neighbors started to work with me and help me out a lot.

What is special/different about JAC?

We’re the only full-service, local meal kit company in New England. We think of ourselves as a farm-to-home service. There are many benefits of being local when working with food. Fresher ingredients, fewer food miles, less packaging material, and supporting the local community. The fish is fresher than what you get in the store and we use two frozen water bottles instead of 10-15 lbs of gel packs when we package our boxes.

What are you most proud of regarding JAC?

With our “Local Scalable Business Model” we’re building a true sustainable food system for the future. We’ve started a movement that will change the way people eat locally produced food. We’re not just putting lipstick on a pig.

Tell me more about this “Local Scalable Business Model”

This is what is really unique about JAC. We are not just another meal kit company doing the same thing as everyone else, we have a completely different model for doing this kind of service. Because we are local, we cut down significantly on food miles and are conscientious about our packaging materials. Our food is being packed and shipped on the same day within the Boston area, it is not being frozen and traveling across the country. I think that a sustainable business model, an eco-friendly business model, will be necessary in the future and we have already rooted this in the core values of JAC.

Tell us about the evolution of the meal kit industry

It started in Sweden 10 years ago and is still growing there. It has grown from a 0 to a $5 billion industry here in the USA and is expected to reach $36 billion by 2025. Meal kits are expanding all over the globe, and are here to stay, definitely.

What is it like to be an entrepreneur in the city of Boston?

Exciting! Boston has a great culture for entrepreneurs with all accelerators, startup communities, and investors. We have received great support and encouragement from our partners because they believe in our business. An extra treat is that I can bike to every meeting.

Speaking of biking to work, how important is it to you to follow through on the sustainable practices you preach in your business also in your everyday life?

I think it is very important to follow through on the sustainable practices that we preach as a company. Composting and recycling are things that I do every day.

What would you say about the work environment at JAC? How do you create a positive work environment for your team?

I truly believe in teamwork and a flat organization. Information is essential, all employees should know what’s going on in the company and know how they contribute to the overall goals. I want to delegate and not hang over people’s heads. I believe that my staff will do their best to achieve the goals for the best of the company. I am there to be a supportive guide. I think as a leader it’s important to ask your employees: how do you want to solve this problem? I respect their knowledge and I want to hear what they think.

We also implement the Swedish concept “fika” — informal meetings over coffee accompanied by pastries. We enjoy eating together and trying new things. There is frequently test cooking happening and people will often bring in different foods for everyone to try.

What are some of the differences in the work culture in Sweden versus the U.S.?

There are many differences, the single one that is most obvious in day-to-day work is that Swedes will answer you more directly. Americans are excellent at marketing themselves and their ideas but tend to talk excessively while Swedes are really focused when they execute and spend less time selling or talking. This is not a question about ranking because there are different approaches in both places but if a Swede is in a room of Americans and a questions is asked, you can probably expect ten sentences from the American and one from the Swede [laughs].

Do you have a favorite recipe from JAC?

There are many delicious recipes, if I need to pick one it would be really hard, maybe the Irish Smoked Haddock Chowder or the Asparagus Risotto or the Poblano Pork and Dumpling Stew or Seafood Paella or…

What is your favorite thing about utilizing local Boston produce?

I love the fish and seafood we have here in New England. Lobster should be every man’s right ;-)

Fall Comfort Food – Chicken Marsala with Polenta

After some prolonged summer weather, fall has reached New England! As the season turns, we’re reviving this space to share more behind-the-scenes glances at Just Add Cooking and our mission to create a sustainable, convenient and eco-friendly way for Boston area families to eat locally. We’ve been hard at work creating new recipes, bringing in even more New England ingredients and updating our packaging, and we’ll be sharing much of it here soon!

Today, we want to kick off fall with one of our new recipes. It’s a twist on a classic, comfort food favorite: Chicken Marsala. Instead of pasta, we’re pairing this dish with polenta. (In our case, locally grown and processed at Four Star Farms in Northfield, MA. We’re sharing the recipe today – enjoy!

Chicken Marsala with Polenta

Chicken Marsala is a classic dish that can be traced back to Sicily, which is where the iconic Marsala wine is produced. This recipe blends the northern and southern regions of Italy by using corn polenta, a northern staple, as the base for this southern Italian dish.

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Serves 4
30 Minutes
689 Calories

Ingredients:

1 1/4 lb chicken breast
1 1/2 cup polenta
8 oz crimini mushrooms
1/2 cup flour/gluten free flour
4 tbsp olive oil
4 tbsp butter
1/2 cup marsala wine
1 sm bunch fresh parsley
salt and pepper

Cooking Instructions:

1. Get Started
Bring 6 cups of water with 1/2 tsp salt to a boil in a small saucepan. Once boiling, add the polenta in a slow steady stream, whisking constantly. Whisk the the polenta for 2 minutes straight (it will be worth it!) Then reduce the heat to a low simmer and cook for 25 minutes stirring occasionally. Add a little water if the polenta gets too thick.

2. Prepare the Mushrooms
Use a damp towel to wipe any dirt or grit off the mushrooms. Cut the mushrooms into quarters and set aside for later.

3. Pound the Chicken
Place the chicken breasts between 2 sheets of plastic wrap or in a large plastic bag. Using a heavy skillet or rolling pin flatten the chicken breasts to a 1/4-1/2 inch thickness. Spread 1/2 cup flour into an even layer on a plate or in a shallow bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Dredge the flattened chicken in the flour until fully coated.

4. Cook the Chicken
Heat 4 tbsp olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Knock any excess flour off of the chicken breasts and add to the pan. Cook for 2-3 minutes per side until browned and cooked through. Move to a plate and cover with foil to keep warm. You may need to complete this step in batches.

5. Make the Marsala Sauce
Return the skillet to medium heat and melt 2 tbsp butter. Add the mushrooms and cook for 2-3 minutes until browned. Add the marsala wine and cook for another 2 minutes until slightly reduced. Season to taste with salt and pepper, then add the remaining butter and gently simmer for another 2 minutes as the sauce thickens.

6. Plate the Dish
Finely chop the parsley. Add 1/2 the parsley to the marsala sauce and stir to incorporate. Adjust the polenta seasoning to taste, then divide between 4 plates. Add the chicken on top of the polenta and spoon the marsala and mushroom sauce on top. Garnish with the remaining parsley. Enjoy!

Think this looks delicious? Get recipes and all the New England ingredients you need to enjoy them delivered right to your door each week. Visit www.justaddcooking.com for more information.

Chef Jody Adams Cooking Tips PLUS Bonus Recipe!

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Chef Jody Adams

This week, we are honored and excited to welcome legendary Boston chef Jody Adams to Just Add Cooking for a series of celebrity chef recipes that will be released in upcoming boxes. First up: the James Beard Award-winner and chef at the helm of TRADE, Porto and Saloniki here in Boston is giving us the recipe for her Roasted Chicken with Muhammara, a hot pepper dip originally from Syria, out in this week’s box!

We checked in with Chef Jody Adams to get her inside tips for making this dish as tasty as possible. Here’s what she had to say: “Seasoning the chicken with salt and pepper overnight allows the seasonings to penetrate the bird. When cooking, I put a little water in the roasted pan so the sugar in the pomegranate molasses doesn’t burn.”

jody adams roasted chicken with muhammara

Keep an eye out for future recipes from Jody Adams in September boxes, and we’ll be partnering with other fantastic Boston chefs throughout the fall, so stay tuned! In the meantime, if you’re itching to get cooking like a world-class chef at home, check out this BONUS recipe from Jody Adams, Spaghetti with Maine Crab Meat, Toasted Breadcrumbs and Garlic. A perfect end-of-summer meal!

Spaghetti with Maine Crab Meat, Toasted Breadcrumbs and Garlic

From In The Hands of a Chef

Makes 4 entrée servings

The Ingredients

Kosher salt
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1½ cups coarse slightly dry breadcrumbs
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 pint cherry tomatoes, cut in half
¼ teaspoon hot red pepper flakes, plus more to taste
1 pound high-quality dried spaghetti
1 pound Maine crab meat (fresh, or frozen and thawed—it’s broken up in the coarse of the recipe so either will do), picked through to remove any shell
½ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

The Recipe

1. Put a large pot of salted water on to boil.

2. Heat ¼ cup olive oil in a medium sauté pan over medium heat. Add the breadcrumbs, stirring until they’re toasted and golden brown. Remove from the pan and set aside.

3. Wipe out the pan with a paper towel and add the remaining oil to the pan. Add the garlic. Cook the garlic over medium heat until golden. Add the tomatoes and ¼ teaspoon hot red pepper flakes (more if you prefer), season with salt and cook until the tomatoes are tender but not falling apart, about 3 minutes. Set aside until the pasta is cooked.

4. Add the pasta to the boiling water, stirring so the individual strands remain separate. If the pot isn’t large enough for all of the spaghetti to lie flat, either break the strands in half or hold one end of the pasta bundle while the other end softens in the boiling water. As soon as the end softens release the pasta into the water. Cover, if necessary, to bring the water back to a boil Wait 1 minute, then stir again. Check periodically to make sure the strands aren’t sticking together. Cook until the spaghetti is tender, but still offers a little bit of resistance as you bite into it. Begin checking for doneness after 8 minutes. Before removing the pasta, take a measuring cup and scoop out ¼ cup pasta water. Set it aside for use with the sauce. While the pasta is cooking warm a large bowl.

5. Pour the pasta into a colander. While it’s draining, return the tomatoes to high heat. Add the crabmeat and parsley and heat through. Empty the spaghetti into the warm bowl. Pour the tomatoes and crab over it and toss well. If the sauce is too thick to coat the spaghetti, add the pasta water to thin it, then toss again. Toss with the breadcrumbs and serve.

5 Questions with Our Guest Chef Jeremy Sewall

Chef Jeremy Sewall Lo Resolution

Chef Jeremy Sewall is an acclaimed Boston chef, restaurateur and seafood authority. Chef Sewall is the author of the James Beard nominated cookbook “The New England Kitchen: Fresh Take on Seasonal Recipes” and the chef/owner of Lineage in Brookline, MA, Island Creek Oyster Bar in Boston and its sister restaurant Row 34.

Chef Sewall has contributed three delicious recipes for upcoming Just Add Cooking boxes. Before you cook, get inspired with some tips from Chef Sewall himself.

Your career, while global, has focused on fresh, local, farm-to-table food. What inspired this focus?

Food rarely benefits from travel. I have a romantic idea of food in my head; about only cooking and eating fresh caught fish and freshly picked produce. That is what inspires me in both my cooking and how I design a menu. I try to keep my focus on utilizing what is local and freshest to me. 

bacon_wrapped_monkfish_with_sunchokesYour recipes, both in your restaurants and cookbook, utilize a lot of local fish that some of us may not normally think to cook with. Two great examples are the monkfish and mackerel featured in your Just Add Cooking recipes. What local seafood do you think New Englanders often overlook, and what are your tips for cooking confidently with them?

I think most New Englanders focus on the old standbys, cod, haddock, lobster and familiar species like those. New England waters have so much more to offer like monkfish, mackerel, bluefish, hake, redfish and countless shellfish. Don’t be afraid to try new things, the confidence comes with repetition of cooking these over and over.

We’re headed into the warm weather in Boston and many of us will be seeing produce we’re unfamiliar with at the farmer’s market. What’s one “can’t miss” under-appreciated local item, and what’s your favorite way to prepare it? 

There is not only one thing that you can’t miss. There are so many things that everyone should try. I think some of the different greens and root crops get passed over some times. I always encourage people to buy one thing weekly that they have never tried before and this will give them new favorites that they will look forward to. When preparing new things I start with simple recipes, make sure you are really highlighting the ingredient. 

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What’s your personal favorite dish, whether in the cookbook, your restaurants or simply something you cook for your family at home?

I don’t have one favorite recipe or dish. If I am cooking in the restaurants it is different then cooking at home. Cooking at home for my family, is always fun because it can be communal and simple. It’s as much about the time together as it is the food in front of us. Cooking in the restaurants I am inspired by the season, what’s new and what’s next.

Our customers are not professional chefs. What’s your best advice to someone who’s feeling a little intimidated cooking the recipes of an award-winning chef?

Don’t be intimidated, it’s just food. Enjoy the process as much as the result.

Want to give Chef Sewall’s recipes a try? They are available for delivery starting Sunday, April 24th, so order now to choose them for your box!

Defining “Free Range” and “Cage Free” Eggs

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Pick up any carton of eggs and you’re likely to see a plethora of ‘buzz’ words on them, all designed to catch your attention and entice you to buy them. Words like ‘cage free’ and ‘free range’ and ‘vegetarian diet’ and even ‘omega 3’ all swim in front of your eyes. What do they all mean? Is one better than the other? Are they gimmicks or do they have validity?

Cage free means that the chickens were not kept in cases or cages. Usually, however, they are still confined in a building in very close quarters with very little room to move and little or no access to outdoors. When we think ‘cage free’ often we picture happy chickens roaming around the barnyard.

When we think ‘free range’, we might imagine chickens roaming the countryside. In fact, free range is not quite as free as one would like to think. The term ‘free range’ means that the chickens were allowed access to the outside. It does not specify for how long or what the quality of the ‘outside access’ is. It could literally mean that a door at the end of the building which houses the chickens is left open which, technically, could provide ‘outside access’.

Vegetarian diet and grain fed are relatively the same term. Vegetarian diet sounds great and healthy even. Fresh vegetables and fruits galore. It’s terrific, with one, tiny little caveat. Chickens are carnivores. They like to eat insects. Have you ever watched a chicken roam around on a farm? Or perhaps in your neighbor’s back yard? They hunt and peck and scratch. They are looking for juicy little morsels of buggy goodness. A chicken raised on a vegetarian diet is likely being fed industrialized grain (with a high probability of said feed being GMO) and never allowed outside.

Omega 3 eggs come from hens whose diet includes flax seed or fish oil. While omega 3 fatty acids can play an important role in a healthy diet, they can be easily found in their natural sources (flax seeds, fatty fish, walnuts) and it is not necessary to consume ‘omega 3 eggs’. Also, as with the vegetarian diet fed chickens, it is highly likely that they are never allowed outside and are kept in cramped quarters.

Pasture raised means that the chickens are raised outside, in a pasture. In their natural habitat, if you will. They have free access to roam at will, consume all of the lovely insects they would like and have access to shelter (usually a barn or hen house). Some pasture raised hens are fed a supplemental grain diet as well.

Some of the USDA regulations seem to be loosely interpreted by the egg industry as a marketing ploy in an effort to entice consumers to purchase their product (eggs). Cage free and free range sound great until you read the USDA guidelines and realize that it doesn’t quiet mean what the advertising implies it is. So which is best? Well, it is a matter of what is important to you. If you are like me, you would like to know that your chickens were treated with care, allowed free access to a barnyard filled with delicious insects and gorged themselves silly on them.

 

Oh give me a home, where the chickens do roam….

 

 

 

 

Tips for Ingredient Substitutes and Swaps

24933729 ingredients to make a coleslaw salad

It’s a common dilemma: you’re halfway through a recipe when you realize you don’t have one of the ingredients on hand. Or, an allergy or dietary preference prohibits you from using it. Can this recipe be saved?

It sure can! Recipes are great guidelines. They offer an overall picture of what the finished dish will look and taste like. While they provide a certain structure, they can also be played with, modified, tweaked or customized to fit your own personal tastes and dietary habits. Nothing is gospel or written in stone. The world of baking is more precise and certain ingredient combinations produce chemical reactions necessary for the particular application, but in general, you can play with your food.

Making substitutions involves a certain amount of creativity and experimentation and that, at least for me, is where the fun is. I can already hear some of you saying “Maybe for you it’s fun. I just want to know what I can do when I am making pancakes on Sunday morning and the recipe calls for buttermilk and I don’t have any!” Turns out, there are a few things you can do. Let’s take a look:

Substitutions for Buttermilk, Sour Cream or Yogurt: These items are all interchangeable. They have the same basic sour or acidic properties and will produce similar results. You can substitute measure for measure sour cream and yogurt for each other. For instance, if you are making a dip or are adding it to a cake recipe, either will work. If a recipe calls for buttermilk and you have sour cream or yogurt you can use either, thinned with a bit of milk or water. You can also use plain milk with 1 Tbsp (for every 8oz) of lemon juice or vinegar added to it.

Substitutions for Natural Sweeteners vs. Refined Sugars or Sweeteners: honey, maple syrup, maple sugar and date sugar are great alternatives to refined white sugar. An easy rule of thumb when using natural sweeteners as replacements is to reduce the quantity by one quarter to one third. For instance, if a recipe calls for one cup of sugar, you can replace it with 2/3 – ¾ cup of natural sweetener. Because natural sweeteners are less processed, their flavor is more pronounced, therefore less is required.

Liquids: this can be a much more subjective category and has a few different sub-texts. Let’s start with alcohol (wine, for instance). In most dishes, wine or beer or liquor is used to enhance the flavor. The alcohol is generally cooked off, intensifying the flavors and reducing the liquid. In most cases another liquid such as stock or water can be substituted. Some of the exceptions are dishes that include alcohol as a main component such as Boeuf Bourguignon, a traditional French beef stew incorporating Burgundy wine or Bananas Foster or Flambe in which rum or brandy is added to the bananas and the dish is lit on fire to cook off the alcohol (and produce quite a tableside show!).

Water and stock can be used or substituted interchangeably. If you are making a soup and have no stock in your pantry or freezer, you can easily use water instead with attention paid to the required adjustments in seasonings.

Substitutions for Dairy items (milk, cream, or half and half): Can be replaced with non-dairy liquids (rice, almond, coconut or soy milk) in most cases, however the results will vary. This is more of a ‘grey’ or ‘experimentation’ area for most folks. The flavors, textures and structures of sauces, soups and baked goods will vary slightly. Whole milk can be replaced with lower-fat milk versions with slight differences in taste and texture. The same can be said for half and half (which is a combination of whole milk and heavy cream in equal quantities – thus ‘half and half’).

Heavy cream is an entity of its own. Its high fat content make it a luxurious, creamy addition to sauces, soups, baked goods and other dishes. Heavy cream will hold over high heat (boiling, for instance) without curdling, whereas milk has a much lower scalding or curdling point. Half and half and whole milk can be used in place of heavy cream in many instances (soups, sauces, baked goods). When making custard or ice cream, it is the higher fat content of the heavy cream that produces the unctuous texture and structure of the dish, therefore substitutions are discouraged.

Substitutions for Eggs: in baked goods, there are several different ways to make substitutions for eggs. One way is to use 1 tbsp of ground flax seed plus 3 tbsp of water (mix together until gelatinous) for every 1 egg. Other alternatives are half of a ripe banana or ¼ cup of applesauce for an egg. The eggs provide structure, fat and leavening and while the substitutions may not replicate the qualities of the egg exactly, they will produce good results and definitely do in a pinch.

There are myriad other items that are replaceable or can be omitted entirely in dishes. If you are making a stir-fry, for instance, that calls for mushrooms and you do not care for them, they are easily substituted with a vegetable you do like. Again, the exception would be a dish that uses the ingredient as a main component, such as a mushroom soup or stuffed mushrooms. At that point, better to move on to a different recipe. It really is all up to you.

- Chef Holly Pierce

How to Choose the Right Chef’s Knife

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Using the right knives is essential to success in the kitchen. Whether you’ve just invested in a set of knives or are looking for advice on the right things to add to your collection as you start cooking more, we’ve got you covered. The first part of our Knife Skills series will focus on how to choose the right chef’s knife: what to look for when purchasing a good-quality knife, the price range and how to care for your knives.

A good chef’s knife is an investment. It is the one ‘go-to’ tool in your kitchen that can perform a myriad of tasks and, if treated correctly, will last a lifetime. I’ve had some of my knives for over 20 years and they are still going strong. This in, in part, because of the initial financial investment I made in them and also because of the way I care for them.

Step 1: Test the Knives

When purchasing a knife, be it a chef’s knife or other type, it is a good idea to go to a store where you can test out the knives – physically hold them and see how they feel in your hand. Some knives are heavier than others and have different handle configurations. Some handles are made of wood, others of plastic, and some are metal. When you are using your knife, you want it to feel comfortable, like it is an extension of your arm.

What to Look For

Weight: You will notice, when you actually hold the different knives that there is a marked difference in the feel and the weight of them. German made knives tend to be heavier, and the blades thicker while Japanese knives are lighter and the blades are thinner. Ceramic blade knives are very light as are some of the less expensive (read: less well-made) knives.

Knives that are forged of high carbon or high carbon stainless steel are the choice of many professionals and home cooks alike. The have many pluses, including their quality and durability, their ability to keep an edge and ease in sharpening and a few drawbacks, the most notable being the price.

Sturdiness: When you hold the knife, you want it to feel solid, and when you engage the blade, it should remain strong and firm. If it wobbles or bends at all, set it down and move to then next one.

The exception to this is if you are purchasing a fillet, slicing or boning knife. We’ll talk about those in the next post. As you hold the chef’s knife, notice the blade. It should be smooth and sharp, with a definable edge to it. If it has serrations on it, again, set it down and move along.

Blade Extension: Look at the blade as it meets the handle. A good knife’s blade will extend all the way through the handle. This helps to balance the knife and reinforces the blade.

You will notice some knives that have handles that are simply attached to the blades. These are generally less expensive than full-tang knives making them a budget-friendly option. They are also lighter and made of stamped stainless steel. Their main drawbacks are that they are not as strong as high carbon forged knives and they are difficult to sharpen. They range in price from $30 to $100.

Ceramic blade knives are also very light and have super-sharp blades. They are budget friendly also. Their main drawback is that the blades can chip very easily and some are less durable. They range from about $20 to $70.

Step 2: Set a Budget

A good chef’s knife, one that will last you for years and years with proper care, will cost anywhere between $75 and $300. I advocate for one closer to the $75-$150 range. Some of the better known manufacturers are Wusthof, Henckels, Victronix, Miyabi, Global and Shun.

$150 for one knife may seem like (or be!) a lot of dough to lay out. Again, if you think of it as an investment, it may ease the initial wallet shock. Many of the better made knives come with lifetime warranties as well. Good to know when you’re considering which knives to buy.

Step 3: Set up a Care Routine

To ensure that your knife will last you a lifetime, proper care is in order. If I can impress one thing upon you it is to never, EVER put your knives in the dishwasher. EVER. Hand wash them with hot, soapy water (no steel wool!) and dry them. Store them either in a knife block, in a knife sheath or on a magnetized bar. This is to protect the blades and also for safety.

Next post we’ll learn about the different knife types and their applications and I’ll offer suggestions as to which knives will provide a good, solid foundation for all of your kitchen adventures. Until then, happy chopping!

- Chef Holly Pierce