Author Archive for: ‘dsimmons’

Apples in the fall season

September 19, 2012
Denise Simmons, Corporate Chef

It seems every year about this time I feel compelled to write about how much I enjoy the fall.  It brings to mind comfort for me-warm sweaters, beautiful colors, piles of leaves, warm apples cider, and a little chill in the air, tinged with the scent of wood smoke.

One of my favorite foods of the season is apples. So versatile, so many varieties, eaten anytime of the day.  I’m partial to the crisp, tart varieties, old fashioned ones like the Macintosh and newer varieties like the (relatively) recently released Zestar. 

The Zestar is an apple that was created at the University of Minnesota in 1999. It’s an early season apple that is also cold hearty.  The flavor is amazing-just the right combination of sweet & tart.  Texture is just as I like it-nice & crisp, without being too hard, like a Granny Smith.

From the experts:
The Zestar! apple helps fill a gap. Most early season apples are mealy, which is why you should be making applesauce in August and waiting until later in September to start your pies.The Zestar! is a crunchy apple that is available early in the season. It also has a long shelf life, unlike it’s early season counterparts. You can store them in the fridge for up to a couple months. One negative of the Zestar! is that it tends to bruise rather easily, so one must be careful when harvesting and handling. A bruised apple will not have that long shelf live. I think this easy bruising is why I am not seeing this apple regularly sitting next to the Galas and Fujis at the local mega mart.


Trash Talk – Bottled water vs. tap water

September 10, 2012
Becky Tweedy, Assistant to the President

Bottled Water vs. Tap Water by the numbers

2,000 - On average, bottled water consumes around 2,000 times more energy than tap
1 to 3 - 1 liter of bottled water requires 3 liters of water to produce…
10,000 - Bottled water costs 10,000 times more than tap water in the US, more by volume than gasoline or soda.
30,000,000 - bottles per day end up in landfills or the ocean. Only 5% of plastic water bottles are recycled in the US.
Tap water is tested more often and held to higher safety standards than bottled water in the US.

Think about it!  Turn on the tap!

Source: Mother Earth News magazine

Lightening up lasagna

September 5, 2012
Denise Simmons, Corporate Chef

My parents are very typical of their age group when it comes to food, in that they’re all about the meat & potatoes. They also know what they like, and don’t like for anyone to mess with it.  I cook dinner for them just about every Sunday, and tend to menu ‘comfort’, staying away from too many experiments. Except for vegetables-but that’s another story for another day!

So when dad requested lasagna a couple weeks ago, it was with some trepidation that I took upon the task of lightening up the recipe I’ve used for many years. It’s full of fat, with ground beef, Italian sausage (the pork kind) and full fat cheeses. It’s delicious, don’t get me wrong, but a single serving is enough fat & calories for a week!

Breaking it down:

The Sauce: the healthiest part of the dish! I’ll admit to cheating when it comes to sauce. Barilla brand marinara & arrabbiata sauces, mixed together in equal portions, along with lots of onion & garlic sautéed in evoo, is the perfect sauce for any Italian dish! 
The Noodles: Dad request came about not long after I found a cool lasagna recipe that uses raw zucchini planks in place of the noodles. 

The Meat: I figured the ground beef was extraneous, so just deleted it. I figured a turkey or chicken based sausage would help get the calorie & fat content down a good bit over the pork sausage. I did add a little bit of fennel to the sauce while simmering it. It gave it that sweetness typical of traditional Italian sausage.

The Cheese: Skim version for the ricotta, a no-brainer. I also deleted the egg I’d always added to the ricotta to help bind it. The skim seemed pretty dense, so I didn’t think we’d  miss the egg. I splurged a bit on the shredded cheese. I got a ‘pizza blend’ with mozzarella, provolone, Parmesan & Romano. I checked the nutritional info, and it had the same amount of fat & calories as the skim mozzarella, so thought the blend would add a nice depth of flavor vs the plain mozz.

Now to put it all together and see how it turns out….

I decided I wouldn’t mention any of these changes to my folks until after they’d tried the lasagna, afraid it would bias their opinion. I let them get about half way through their dinner before asking how they liked it.  Both said it was delicious, although dad did stop with his fork halfway to his mouth when I mentioned that I’d “lightened it up a good bit”. He asked me how I’d done so-probably afraid I’d tell him I’d added tofu & weeds to it.

They seemed OK with the changes, in fact, hadn’t even noticed there was any difference from the original version. I knew they were being honest when dad asked for another slab... and said ‘yes’ immediately after I asked if they wanted the leftovers once I’d packaged & frozen them.

I thought it turned out pretty good too. I’ll absolutely keep the lightened up version as my lasagna recipe of choice. The only thing I’d do differently is roast or sear the squash first. Adding that little extra layer of flavor, and keeping the moisture down will make it so close to the original, I dare anyone to tell the difference!

Trash Talk – What is a watershed?

August 22, 2012
Becky Tweedy, Assistant to the President

What is a Watershed?
An area of land where all of the water that is under it or drains off of it goes into the same place; or

"that area of land … within which all living things are inextricably linked by their common water course and where, as humans settled, simple logic demanded that they become part of a community."
-John Wesley Powell, scientist, geographer

Watersheds come in all shapes and sizes. They cross county, state, and national boundaries. In the continental US, there are 2,110 watersheds.
Learn more about watersheds. Help keep your watershed clean today!

Do you really encourage innovation & creativity?

August 21, 2012
Denise Simmons, Corporate Chef

I was all set to write an article about lightening up lasagna, but came across this piece on leadership & innovation and decided to repost it instead. My next post will be about lasagna...
I love the quote from  CEO Garry Ridge: “At WD-40 Company, we don’t make mistakes. We have learning moments. We give people permission to have a conversation about things that go wrong.”

He describes this process as the company's ongoing success, pointing out negative and positive outcomes to make sure the company is always innovating and improving.  

Read full article on here

Infused summer cocktails

August 8, 2012
Denise Simmons, Corporate Chef

Enjoying the summer tomato bounty, with a little kick…
I read two articles today about tomatoes.  One from a produce company talking about how bountiful and wonderful the crop of tomatoes is this year.  Apparently hot, dry weather is perfect for quickly producing sweet, juicy tomatoes.  Since we’re having a bumper crop, I thought I’d share a recipe from the second article.  I don’t drink alcohol, but it sounds incredible!  Let me know if you try it!
For several years, the Bernards Inn has maintained a large garden at a private residence not far from the Bernardsville restaurant, but recently executive chef Corey Heyer starting brainstorming ways to incorporate his bounty into the bar program. The result is a liquid version of the classic caprese salad: He infuses a bottle of vodka with fresh basil for several days, then mixes the vodka with just-juiced tomatoes and serves it with a skewered mozzarella ball, cherry tomato and sprig of basil, the rim coated with a balsamic vinegar reduction and salt and freshly cracked pepper.
Excerpt from The spirited gardener: Summer cocktails infused with fresh herbs, produce
By Vicki Hyman/The Star-Ledger
Photo source Summer cocktails infused with fresh herbs, produce - article



Culinary externship

July 25, 2012
Denise Simmons, Corporate Chef

I came across this blog post from a culinary student while doing menu research on the net.  I love her style-I LOL'd more than once.  I found it interesting on a couple other fronts as well-the requirements for a suitable externship location have changed dramatically in the *gulp* 25 years since I went to CIA.  I think this is a good thing, and will help students understand more of where the culinary profession is going & growing in the coming years.

I found her final notes quite interesting too.  One of the requirements CIA did have when I went is that we had to have at least one year practical experience in a commercial kitchen before we could even apply to attend the school.  It's so important, particularly in this day of TV Chefs, for kids to understand the industry, and what they're getting themselves into BEFORE dropping $80k on an education. 

Externship Interview
Come October, I will begin my six month externship. This is what we've been working towards. This is the part that counts. This is how they make or break a culinary student.

Our externship must be in a scratch kitchen (i.e. no frozen french fries) where the chef works on site. We need to work a minimum of 30 hours per week which is a frivolous requirement considering the average extern clocks 90 hours per week, usually at minimum wage. We are fed all of this information from the school's Director of Marketing and Placement, a kind looking woman who is pushing seventy.

"There are two rules to your externship. Do not quit. Do not get fired." Okay, I thought, I can do that.

The search begins by securing a stage (pronounced: stah-je). A stage, for a culinary student, is a working (without pay) interview. A stage, however, can also be a "guest appearance" or "meeting of the minds" for industry veterans. Wolfgang Puck, for example, has staged at the French Laundry with Thomas Keller.

One of my stages (I did five total) was at a fancy-schmancy, award-winning joint, run by a European, James Beard award recipient. I arrived with sharp knives and a pressed, clean jacket in tow. The Golden Girl insisted on sharp, pressed and clean. She shared a story about one of her students who staged at a place in San Francisco.

He arrived at a fancy-schmany, award-winning joint, run by a tough chef and was asked to form a line with six other extern hopefuls, all of them from the CIA (the Culinary Institute of America, a generally esteemed culinary school). The chef walked down the line and immediately dismissed two students who had spots on their jackets. The chef then instructed the remaining candidates to unsheathe their chef knives. He quickly dismissed all but one student, the Golden Girl's boy, since he had the sharpest knife.

I walked into the kitchen and counted nine men and zero women. Interesting, right? My first task was to peel the skin off of very tiny chanterelle mushrooms. It was tedious, but not terrible. I then chopped chives for about an hour. The chef had still not arrived by the time I finished. The chef walked into the kitchen, introduced himself to me and then one by one checked in with each of his peons to see how dinner preparations were coming along.

I didn't do anymore prep work after the chives, but stood and watched the dinner service. These guys moved at a dizzying pace with remarkable precision. Their memory is equally astonishing. "Ordering four rib eye, one medium, two medium rare, one ruined (well done), two salmon, two halibut, three squab, one pork belly and one duck egg," the chef motored. Ten seconds later he'd shout out another set. And thirty seconds later, another. I was overwhelmed.

In the end, he offered me a job, which was exciting. I'm thinking about accepting it. My hesitation is that I'm simply not certain I'm cut out for this. I only worked 5 hours, one third of a normal shift, didn't do any real work, and left with an aching back, neck and pair of feet. I left happy and excited, however, which hopefully counts for something. Its difficult to accept, but this externship could quite possibly be the beginning of the end.



Trash Talk – Buy the goods, not the garbage

July 16, 2012
Becky Tweedy, Assistant to the President

Packaging makes up at least 20% of what goes in our landfills. Help reduce this extra trash:

  • Buy the largest size you can, or buy in bulk when possible
  • Choose items with minimal packaging, or with packaging that is easy to recycle or reuse
  • Avoid individually wrapped items
  • Bring your own reusable bag

Do something to help the Earth today!


Are you more likely to eat "exotic" foods or stick to the basics

July 10, 2012
Denise Simmons, Corporate Chef

I have owned up before to the fact that I’m not the world’s most adventurous person when it comes to eating certain things. I have a decidedly weak stomach, and can’t even watch the shows on TV where the host eats brains, still beating hearts, and the thought of eating something like that... just grosses me out! In fact, I’d probably even have a hard time trying goat. I know, other chef’s are probably booing me right now... I know I should have an open mind & be willing to try just about anything.

So I hear about this new restaurant in Richmond that’s getting great reviews. The chef is a CIA grad, so I automatically like him. The place is touted for its ‘upscale, adventurous’ dishes. I’m intrigued... especially since it’s so close & I often travel to Richmond, so I have a chance of checking it out.

I take a look at the menu. It’s nice-adventurous for those who dig that, but still has enough mainstream selections to appeal to those of us who aren’t quite so willing to try innards & stuff. Below is a few of the selections I would consider ordering if I make it the restaurant:

  • Cannellini white bean hummus over bruschetta and house made cucumber yogurt.
  • Gazpacho: fresh seasonal vegetables in a rich and spicy tomato base
  • Marinated olives (seasonal selection)
  • Pommes frites with pork dust, sea salt and garlic aioli and catsup.
  • Arugula tossed with lemon segments, shaved pecorino Romano, and hydroponic tomatoes with cracked black pepper and virgin olive oil.
  • House made ricotta with local honey and Elderflower drizzle.

I get to the dessert section. The Chocolate Godiva Pate sounds divine! Then comes this one... Chocolate and Beef Blood Swirl Gelato. OMG... am I alone in thinking that sounds revolting? Yeeashh!

I’ll probably still give the restaurant a shot, but you can bet serious money that I won’t be trying the beef blood gelato!

Trash Talk – Recycle rainwater

June 11, 2012
Becky Tweedy, Assistant to the President

Recycle Rainwater
Not only good for the environment, it can also be fun!

  • Use to water plants & shrubs
  • Garden plants thrive because rainwater is free of treatment chemicals
  • Direct your downspout to a storage device (see instructions / video / link)
  • Get really serious and supplement household needs (see additional link!)

Do something to help the Earth today!



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