Home-Cooked Meals

A visitng chef cooks for a real family, and they love it.

Abry not only made great cookies,
but he also cracked some pretty good jokes. And Maisie and Loddie are a tough audience.

home-cooked meals

A BUSY DALLAS FAMILY TRIES A PROFESSIONAL CHEF SERVICE AND KISSES TAKEOUT GOODBYE.

 

Like most working mothers, it’s easier for me to handle a full-blown professional crisis than to get a decent dinner on the table. (Why is that?) Fortunately, Dallas is a great takeout city. Unfortunately, I have abused it. I got the wake-up call the other night when I cooked dinner for the family and the children were so lavish with their praise that I couldn’t tell whether they were being sarcastic or they meant it. Other warning signs: burgeoning friendships with the people who take call-in orders at Mi Cocina, New York Sub, Bubba’s, California Pizza Kitchen, and Sushi House. Yes. Si. Oui. It’s me.

Thus I started asking other working moms for their advice on non-takeout options, while vowing to spend more time in the kitchen. After making a couple of calls, I got in touch with a Dallas-based company called Traveling Chefs. Traveling Chefs sends real live professional chefs into the home to prepare almost anything you might like for dinner. Not just for dinner that night, but, if you like, dinners for the whole week. Remember those Better Homes & Gardens articles from the ’80s about cooking for the week on Sunday afternoon (always with the children cheerfully helping—ha-ha)? Traveling Chefs is a similar strategy, but they cook and clean up and it’s any day of the week. You get your choice of home-cooked meals. You amortize that fancy oven. You get in-house food smells, at least the day (or days) the chef is cooking in the kitchen. I figured it was worth a try.

I’ll slip you the punch line right now: Traveling Chefs was wonderful. But for really takeout-dependent families there are a few obstacles to deal with in converting to home-cooked food. First, inadvertently, members of takeout-dependent families are trained to expect individual orders. In our family of six, I face a variety of food demands, which can range from edamame to cheese fries. With Traveling Chefs, the idea was that we would all eat one meal. Together. No substitutions. So finding food that we would all eat and enjoy was my first challenge.

After studying a menu with more than 300 items—including every side dish and entree imaginable—I settled on chicken pot pie, Pollo di Parma, lemon and garlic roasted pork, and Rice Crispy chicken breasts. Heavy, obviously, on the chicken. I also decided to check out some of the side dishes, settling on a winter oranges, pumpkin-squash soup, spaghetti squash with rosemary, and stir-fry greens. Thinking it might be nice to smell cookies baking in my oven—and to offer the kids a homemade after-school snack—I also ordered pistachio cranberry cookies.

Once an order is placed, Traveling Chefs dispatches a chef to do all of the food shopping. Then the chef comes to your house and cooks the meals, using your cookware and condiments. This, for me, was a matter of concern: the chef would see the burned remains of Tater Tots on the bottom of my oven. He would use my pitifully dull knives. Shake his head in confusion at the six bottles of ballpark mustard we for some reason have on our refrigerator door.

But all of that self-consciousness disappeared when young Abry Crosby knocked at my back door in his chef whites, carrying two bags of fresh food on a Tuesday afternoon. Because, of course, Abry could have cared less about the state of my kitchen. He had brought his own knives. He was ready to cook his brains out for my family.

When the kids came home, the house smelled like cookies—just like in the movies. Having shown Abry “where everything is” (oven, dull knives, mustard collection), I returned to work while he cut vegetables into uniform, beautiful shapes for the chicken pot pie. My daughters were captivated: this was better than the floor show at Benihana Grill. After a while, they went their own ways and Abry just did his thing.

When I came home from work, beautiful, egg-glazed, homemade chicken pot pies were sitting on my counter. Cookies were neatly stored between layers of wax paper in a plastic container. In the refrigerator, I found the rest of my order neatly packaged and labeled, with heating instructions.

The bottom line? I could get used to this. For the rest of the week, we ate Abry’s food in different combinations. The food was four-star and all the more miraculous because it came out of our kitchen. Not everyone liked every dish, but that was to be expected. I made side dishes to accompany the entrees Abry prepared and received lavish praise. I haven’t talked to my friends at Mi Cocina lately, and I’m sure the lady at the McDonalds’ drive-thru thinks I’m out of town or something. Yes. Si. Oui. I could get used to this.

 

We asked Traveling Chefs to share some of the delicious recipes they’re
making this winter in homes all over Dallas. Bon appetit!

Winter Oranges in Honey Syrup

(serves 4)

 

 6 California navel oranges
 2  teaspoons corn starch
 2  cups fresh orange juice
 1/2  cup honey
 1/4  teaspoon cinnamon
 1/4  teaspoon finely grated orange zest
 1 tablespoon Grand Marnier Liqueur
  (optional but recommended)*

 

Mix the 2 teaspoons of cornstarch with 1/4 cup of the orange juice, being sure to get out any lumps. Set it aside.

 

Combine the remaining 1 3/4  cups of the orange juice, honey, cinnamon, orange zest, and optional Grand Marnier in a small pot, whisking over a moderate flame until it is just simmering. Whisk in the cornstarch/orange juice mixture, simmering and stirring frequently for about 2 minutes, until it has thickened slightly. Remove the syrup from the heat and let it cool completely.

 

Peel the oranges, slicing them into half-wheels. (If you use a sharp slicer knife, you’ll make the oranges look neat and shiny.) Arrange the orange slices in individual holiday bowls or in a medium salad bowl and pour the cold syrup on top. Refrigerate the oranges. Eat cold or cool, with frozen yogurt or a cookie.

 

*If Grand Marnier is unavailable, you can substitute a tablespoon of brandy or 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract.

 

 

 

 Spinach-Cranberry Salad with Raspberry Vinaigrette
(serves 4)

 

 1  10-ounce package of fresh spinach,
  washed and stemmed
 3 green onions, sliced
 1/2  cup broken walnuts (optional)
 1/3  cup dried cranberries
 1/4  cup sunflower seeds

 

Raspberry Vinaigrette:
(makes  1 cup)

 1  10-ounce package of frozen
  raspberries, thawed (or fresh)
 1/4 cup sugar
 2  teaspoons corn starch
 1/2  cup cranberry/raspberry juice
  cocktail
 1/4  cup red wine vinegar
 1/4  teaspoon celery seed
 1/4  teaspoon ground cinnamon
 1/8  teaspoon cloves

 

Process the raspberries until smooth, then strain. In saucepan, add all remaining ingredients to raspberries and cook over a medium heat until thick. Let cool. To serve, drizzle vinaigrette over assembled salad. The dressing can be kept in the refrigerator for one week.

 

 

Sweet Potato Soup
(serves 4 to 5)

 

  Pam
 1/2  medium onion, minced
 1 carrot, diced
 1 small pumpkin or winter squash
  (about 1 1/2 pounds), peeled and cut
  into chunks
 2 or 3 sweet potatoes (about 2 pounds),
  peeled and cut into
  chunks
 1 teaspoon thyme
 2 cups water
 2 cans chicken stock, defatted
 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
 1 tablespoon honey (or more, to taste)
 1/4  teaspoon caraway seeds
 1 cup skim milk
 2 or 3 medium basil leaves, roughly
  chopped
  salt and pepper to taste

 

Place a large pot over a moderate flame. Spray it with Pam and add the onions and carrot, cooking gently for 3 to 5 minutes. Add the pumpkin and sweet potato chunks along with the thyme, water, stock, cinnamon, honey, and caraway. Simmer over medium heat for about 30 minutes until the vegetables are quite soft. Add the skim milk and fresh basil, simmering for another 2 minutes. Purée the soup mixture in a blender or food processor until it is smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper, adding some additional water if it is too thick.

 

Reheat gently until it is hot, garnishing with a sprig of parsley or basil.
Note: If pumpkins are not readily available, use any other type of winter squash of your choice.

 

 

Pistachio Cranberry Cookies
(1 dozen large or 2 dozen small cookies)

 1  cup unsalted butter, softened
 1  cup granulated sugar
 1 large egg, beaten
 2 cups all-purpose flour
 1 teaspoon baking soda
 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
 1/2  cup chopped pistachios
 1/2  cup dried cranberries

 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Prepare baking sheets with parchment. Cream butter and sugar. Beat in egg until smooth. Sift together flour, baking soda and cream of tartar; blend into cream mixture.

 

Add pistachios and cranberries; mix well. Shape dough into small balls, arrange on cookie sheets, and flatten. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes.

 

 

Chicken Pot Pie
(4 pies)

 4  chicken breast halves, skinless and
  boneless
  salt and pepper
  oil or Pam
 1/2  cup onion, diced
 1/2  cup celery, diced
 2 medium carrots, diced
 1 package (10 oz.) mushrooms, cut
  into quarters
 1 large potato (red or golden), diced
 1 can chicken stock, defatted
 1 can vegetable stock
 1 1/2  teaspoons oil or butter
 3 tablespoons flour
 1 package (5 oz.) frozen corn
 1/2  teaspoon thyme
 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
 1/2  cup (or so) frozen peas
 1 package pie dough (store-bought),
  pre-rolled
 2 egg whites, beaten with 1 table-    spoon water
 4 small baking dishes or 1 large
  baking dish

 

Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper and sauté them in a non-stick pan with Pam or a teaspoon of olive oil until they are golden brown but still pink in the center. Remove and set aside. When they have cooled a bit, cut them into 1-inch chunks.
Heat the same pan over a moderate flame and add a bit of oil, sauté/sweat the onion, celery, carrots, mushrooms, and potatoes for 5 to 8 minutes. Set aside.

 

Place the vegetable and chicken stock in a pan and bring to the simmering point.

 

In a large saucepan, heat the butter until melted. Then add the flour. Cook the roux over a medium heat until it has slightly browned. Add the vegetable and chicken stock all at once, stirring with a whisk, making sure there are no lumps. Reduce the flame and let the veloute cook for a few minutes. Add the thyme and parsley. Mix in the chicken and partially cooked vegetables, simmering in the veloute until the vegetables are done. Remove from heat and season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the parsley and peas. If the mixture seems too thick, add water or milk to thin.

 

Divide the mixture between the four bowls or pour it into one large baking dish.

 

Cut circles of pie dough (it might be necessary to roll it out a bit more) large enough to fit over the four bowls, or one large piece for a single pot pie. Egg-wash one side of the dough, placing this wet side down on top of the individual bowls, making sure there is a good seal at the edges. Cut a few holes in the center to allow steam to escape. Egg-wash the top if you wish, making the designs on the dough with a fork.

 

Place the covered bowls on a baking sheet and refrigerate.

 

Bake the pies in a preheated 400 degree oven uncovered for 30 to 45 minutes for small pies, 60 minutes for a large pie. The tops should be golden brown and the interior bubbly.

 

Let the pies stand 10 minutes before serving.

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