About Me

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I have recently developed this huge passion for cooking, even though I've been cooking since i was 15 and have been a chef for the last 10 years. I think I am addicted to it. Or am I addicted to eating my cooking? Either way, I want to share my experiences with whom ever is interested. That is why I started this blog. Currently I am self employed as a private/personal chef and a stay at home dad. I am very thankful to have ended my restaurant career not so long ago! It's a hard life, especially when your trying to raise a family! I live in Naples, Florida where I met my beautiful wife while working at a yacht club about 3 years ago. We now have a little 6 month old daughter and life as we know it has changed forever ( for the better)! There is something going on in the food world that is very exciting! People are starting to open their eyes a little. We're going back in time, back to the farm, back to the dinner table. Something that has to be done in my opinion. I spent a lot of time at the dinner table as a child and thought is was very beneficial in how I ended up. The thing I like best about being a chef is that I will never learn it all. Ever!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Mise en Place

I finally got over my writer's block!  Whew!  It was rough and now I'm starting fresh.  This goes out to all you rookie cooks!  
The very first term you learn at a good culinary school is "Mise en Place".  It's French for, "everything in its place".  Why am I telling you this?  Well, some of you may already know and practice this and that is great!  But I'm trying to motivate all you non-cooks out there that have an excuse not to cook.  I honestly think that most people don't cook at home because they make a huge mess.  And I think they make a huge mess because they start a recipe without their mise en place.  There are two types of mise en place that you should have before you start cooking anything.  The first is called "mental mise en place".  You have to prepare your mind before you prepare any ingredients.  Here is what I do before I enter the kitchen.  I read the recipe.  I read the recipe again and then I read it a third time.  I ask myself, Does this make sense?  I question every step because sometimes a recipe's steps are out of order.  I close my eyes and imagine myself cooking the recipe.  I imagine heating a pan.  Then I picture myself adding the oil to the pan and watching it shimmer and smoke a little bit.  Go through the steps in your head.  
For you home cooks that haven't read a thousand recipes this is key.  Sometimes a recipe might tell you to add something without telling you that you needed to chop it first.  I've seen a lot of recipes telling me to add an ingredient that wasn't even listed.  So forget about starting a recipe without reading it several times beforehand. 
The other type of mise en place is the physical mise en place.  Your chopped garlic, your sliced red peppers, your peeled and seeded tomatoes, etc.  Anything that you can do before you turn the stove on will hopefully prevent your kitchen from looking like a bomb went off afterwards.   Even getting your utensils together.  Heck, sometimes I go as far as knowing where my utensils are going to be on my prep station.  
Another thing I highly recommend is cleaning as you go.  I'm constantly wiping up the counters and stove while I'm cooking.  Your always going to have time during cooking to wash a dish here and wash a spatula there and so forth.  
So quit making excuses and go find a recipe that interests you.  Gather your thoughts, gather the ingredients, gather the equipment and let's get Cookin'!  

p.s. make sure your knives are SHARP!  I will talk about that in my next post.

Until then, check out these cute little silicone pinch bowls for your mise en place:
Chef Don


Monday, April 26, 2010

What's a Rutabaga?

This is a Rutabaga.  It's a cruciferous root vegetable that is thought to be a cross between a cabbage and a turnip.  While being very affordable (.89 cents a pound) it is also quite nutritious and delicious.  It might be considered a winter vegetable but they are available year round in most super markets.  Not many people know about this vegetable.  It can be a little starchy and has a bitter undertone.  Personally I like to prepare them like I would prepare mashed potatoes except I add some agave nectar to bring out the natural sweetness.  You might be wondering what cruciferous means.  It means that it contains anti-oxidants that may help reduce some forms of cancer.  Other vegetable that are high in fiber, vitamins and minerals are: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, chard, kale, mustard greens and turnips.
You can also slice the rutabaga really thin and drizzle them with olive oil and bake them at 350 for about 20-30 minutes for a nice rutabaga chip.  Some people might dice them, toss them with garlic, herbs and olive oil and roast them in a 400 degree oven for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.  Roasting them makes them much sweeter.  So next time your feeling a little adventurous in the kitchen pick up a few of these and experiment.

Chef Don      

Friday, April 16, 2010

Milk Chocolate Brownies Recipe at Epicurious.com

Milk Chocolate Brownies Recipe
at Epicurious.com

Hello All,

I'm cooking for 2 families today and I'm wondering what to make for dessert. I look in my freezer and staring back at me are two little bunny rabbits. Cute little eyes and ears and weighing in at about 3 ounces a piece. I'm talking about chocolate bunny rabbits, silly. You know, the ones you get from the Easter bunny. Needless to say, they are currently in the melted form and getting ready to become brownies. I wanted to share this recipe from Epicurious. It is so easy and it hardly creates any extra work in the form of clean up. So, if your wondering what to do with those milk chocolate easter bunnies, tell the kids they hopped away and turn them into brownies!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

How a Dinner is Thrown Together

     Hello all!  Sorry it's been a while since my last post.  I've been busy helping raise a 6 month old baby girl and last week I had three sisters visiting from Asheville, NC.  
     In the past several weeks, my lovely wife Adriane has been making our daughter Macy fresh, organic purees of baby food.  Yesterday we went to Whole Foods and purchased a butternut squash, some ground turkey and a bag of beautiful petite Fuji apples.  Adriane decided to roast the squash by cutting it in halve length wise and removing the seeds.  Then she rubbed the inside liberally with virgin olive oil, seasoned it with kosher salt and very little fresh ground pepper.  On a baking pan she put the squash, cut side down, after she put a bay leaf and a thyme sprig in the cavity where the seeds were.  The squash was roasted at 375 degrees for approximately 45 minutes, depending on the size of the squash.  If you put a little water in the pan while roasting it shouldn't burn.  The flesh should be very soft.
     While the squash was roasting, Adriane sautéed some of the ground turkey with a peeled, seeded and chopped apple until the apple was soft and the turkey cooked through.  In our brand new Kitchen Aid Blender (which we absolutely love) she blended the turkey, apple and roasted squash together until velvety smooth.  Two thumbs up were given by Macy Rose.
     After all was said and done, we had about 1/2 a pound of ground turkey and half a roasted butternut squash left over.  Time to make some yum yums for mommy and daddy.  Mommy made some turkey burgers with just the ground turkey meat and seasoning from a package of ranch dressing (a little MSG goes a long way).  With the left over 1/2 of a roasted squash, I reheated it in the microwave then put the squash in the food processor and added about 2 tablespoons of softened butter, 1 tablespoon of maples syrup, a grind or two of fresh cinnamon, a dash of ground nutmeg, salt and fresh pepper and pureed it until it was velvety smooth.  So we had the turkey burgers and the butternut squash puree ready to go, but we felt we needed something else to go with it.  Digging through one of the produce drawers in the refrigerator, I found a package of mushrooms (shiitake, portobello, cremini).  Perfect!  I'll make a mushroom ragout in the same saute pan I fry the turkey burgers in.  After cleaning the mushrooms thoroughly, I heated a sauté pan over medium high heat for a minute, then I added a splash or two of olive oil and swirled it around.  After it started to shimmer and smoke a little bit I added the turkey burgers, which Adriane pattied out pretty thin so they would cook fast.  After about 2 minutes on the first side, I flipped the burgers and cooked it for another 2 minutes until it was nice and golden brown on both sides.  I took the burgers out of the sauté pan and set them aside in a warm place.  The bottom of the sauté pan had this wonderful brown caramelization in it with a little bit of fat that I had to utilize.  With the pan over medium heat I added the mushrooms, about 2 cups.  The mushrooms were tossed around in the pan until they started to release their water, about 2 minutes.  Then I added 1 tablespoon of chopped garlic to the pan and cooked for 1 minutes.  After the garlic browned a touch I added 1 cup  chicken stock, 1/4 cup of red wine and 3 thyme sprigs and reduced everything down until the mushrooms were just a little saucy.  I took the pan off the heat and added 1 tablespoon of butter and swirled it around in the pan, then seasoned the mushroom ragout with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper and removed the thyme sprigs.
     It's funny because after typing this all out it sounds like it took forever to cook but really this all happened in about 30 minutes, with the squash already being cooked of course.  In the end, Macy Rose gets to enjoy the turkey apple squash puree for several days, and my wife and I got to enjoy a wonderful plate of food with hardly any effort at all.  It was literally "thrown" together!  Check it out:

If you are still reading this post then I've got your attention.  Please comment on your thoughts.  I would love to hear from you!

Cook and Be Well!

Chef Don Paleno


Thursday, March 18, 2010

I Finally Got My Corned Beef

Well, it only took 10 days but I finally made my own corned beef!  My grandmother would be proud.  Actually I only brined my brisket for 7 days because I had to order the salt cure mixture from  Morton's Salt website.  The shipping cost more than the product but I was desperate.  The recipe from Alton Brown called for saltpeter which I could not find.  For the spices, I just used a small container of pickling spices from McCormick.  The end product was very satisfying, although I think next time I will use less of the Morton's TenderQuick and a little less spices.  I used two cups of the TenderQuick with 4 quarts of water. The meat itself could not have turned out more tender especially since I sliced it thin, against the grain.  The brine was a little strong tasting but with a few Guinness Stout pints all was well!  I cannot wait to make a Rueben sandwich out of this wonderful corned beef.  I would highly recommend brining your own brisket next St. Patrick's Day or whenever you feel like it.  Thanks for reading and remember:  Eat Well, Drink Well, Be Well! 

Chef Don Paleno 

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Spanish Meatballs with Romesco

Last night I did a cooking class for a bunch of Mommas.  Mommas being woman with children.  I've been doing this class/cooking club for the past 6 months and every month has a theme.  This month we decided to do Sangria and Tapas.  Spanish in nature, Tapas are basically appetizer size portions of all types of food.  As for Sangria, it is an alcoholic beverage made from wine, fruit and many other different ingredients.  Here is a basic recipe for Sangria:

·         1 Bottle of red wine (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Rioja reds, Zinfandel, Shiraz)
·         1 Lemon cut into wedges
·         1 Orange cut into wedges
·         2 Tbsp sugar
·         1 Shot brandy
·         2 Cups ginger ale or club soda
Pour wine in the pitcher and squeeze the juice wedges from the lemon and orange into the wine. Toss in the fruit wedges (leaving out seeds if possible) and add sugar and brandy. Chill overnight. Add ginger ale or club soda just before serving.
If you'd like to serve right away, use chilled red wine and serve over lots of ice.
Addition ideas: sliced strawberries, peaches, handful of fresh blueberries, raspberries, kiwi, a shot or two of gin, brandy or rum, a cup of ginger ale, citrus soda pop or lime juice.
With the Sangria I cooked a Tortilla Espanola (potato omelet) with Sofrito (Spanish tomato sauce), a Orange and Red Onion Salad and Spanish Meatballs with Romesco.  The meatballs were sensational especially with the Romesco sauce.  Romesco is a traditional sauce from the Catalonia region in Spain.  It's very easy to make and can accompany many foods.  The meatballs had a unique flavor probably because of the unique ingredients of pine nuts and cinnamon.  
I would highly recommend having a Sangria and Tapas party at your house.  Invite some friends over, enjoy some wonderful food, drink and good times!  
Here's the recipe for the Meatballs and Romesco.  
  Spanish Meatballs With Romesco Sauce 
1¼ hours | 45 min prep
For the meatballs
·         1 lb ground pork
·         1 cup fresh breadcrumb
·         eggs, beaten
·         3 tablespoons Italian parsley, chopped
·         garlic cloves, finely chopped
·         1/4 cup pine nuts
·         1/2 teaspoon salt
·         1/2 teaspoon black pepper
·         1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
·         1-2 tablespoon olive oil
For the sauce
·         1 tablespoon olive oil
·         1 slice white bread (large)
·         1/2 cup whole almond, toasted
·         1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
·         garlic clove, chopped
·         1/2 cup jarred spanish pimiento, drained
·         1/2 lb tomato, peeled, seeded, and chopped
·         1/4 teaspoon paprika
·         1/4 teaspoon salt
·         1/2 teaspoon black pepper
·         1/4 cup red wine vinegar
·         1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  1. For the meatballs:.
  2. In a bowl, combine pork, bread crumbs, eggs, parsley, garlic, pine nuts, salt, pepper and cinnamon. Form into 1-inch balls.
  3. In a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Working in batches to avoid crowding, saute the meatballs until well-browned and cooked through, about five minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain.
  4. For the sauce:.
  5. Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Fry the slice of bread on both sides until golden (about 1 minute).
  6. In a food processor, finely chop the bread, almonds, pepper flakes and garlic. Add the pimientos, tomatoes, paprika, salt and pepper. Process to a smooth paste. Add the vinegar and process to combine. With the machine running, gradually add the oil in a thin stream to emulsify the sauce.
  7. Transfer meatballs to a serving plate and serve with Romesco sauce.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Ratatouille Revealed

Not only is it fun to say but it's also fun to make and if you haven't seen the movie yet, it's a must see.  The best part about making Ratatouille is that you don't have to be exact.  It's more or less a rustic vegetable stew and you can use it many different ways.  It can be served hot or cold or at room temperature.  It can be served next to an omelet at breakfast or under a piece of fish during lunch.  And if you really wanna jazz up your guests, serve it next to braised beef short ribs with some buttery mashed potatoes and top it off with some cornmeal fried onions.  I always start this stew the same way.  I start by heating a large sauce pot over medium high heat, then I add olive oil and butter, the best of both worlds.  The next thing I add to the pot is sliced garlic and shallots.  I cook them in the butter and oil gently until they both melt and become translucent and very fragrant.  There are a few vegetables that I consider standard and those are eggplant, zucchini, peppers, onions, and  tomatoes, but the last time I made it I added radish, celery and spinach.  I dice all the vegetable so that they are the same size, about a 1/4 inch.  I add them to the pot all at the same time with a little kosher salt, fresh cracked black pepper, and a shot of Tabasco and stir gently with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula.  Then I add some tomato paste.  You can leave this out but I like the depth and richness it adds.  I cook this mixture, uncovered, over medium heat until the vegetables become somewhat al dente, about 45 minutes.  If you like your vegetables less crunchy, by all means continue to cook the vegetables until they are done the way you like them.  You can turn this into a soup or a sauce by adding vegetable stock or chicken stock.  You can also puree it for a velvety texture.  The most important part of making this phenomenal is the addition of fresh herbs.  I like to use fresh thyme, basil, a little bit of rosemary and parsley.  It is important to add these at the very end when you take it off the heat.  If your using dried herbs you can add those in the beginning.  To finish this dish, sprinkle with sea salt and extra virgin olive oil.  If you like spicy foods, add a few splashes of your favorite hot sauce.  Remember, there are no rules in cooking.  Everybody's tastes differ.  If your the type of person that must follow a recipe, go to the library and check out The New Professional Chef's recipe.

To your health,

Chef Don Paleno