Blogs > Cooking from Scratch

Chef Stacy believes that cooking from scratch and using the best ingredients are the secrets to preparing delicious and memorable meals. She has created dozens of classes for the home chef and teaches students how to master culinary techniques and recipes in just one session. Read on to see what she's dishing up for The Oakland Press today....

Thursday, June 30, 2011

The High Price of Cheap Food & The Big Box Response

For several years, I was a vegetarian, and one of those years, I was vegan. Being vegetarian, especially a vegan vegetarian is a serious commitment, when following the lifestyle in a healthy way (getting enough protein, etc.) As a chef, it isn't only taste that concerns me, but the origin of the foods I eat. Now, I'm a vegetarian who fell off the wagon, so to speak, although, I'm not enjoying meat with wild abandon.

My years spent as a vegetarian were also spent educating myself on the black abyss known as Agribusiness. Voraciously reading journals, articles, books as well as viewing documentaries such as Food Inc., helped me to understand the origin of much of the food we eat in America.

Agribusiness is a complex issue, fraught with contention and mis-information. I'm a blogger and editorial writer, not an author of books, so I'll try to be succinct with this post. Did you know that 5 agribusiness conglomerates control the majority of the foods we eat in this country? That's, right - 5! From fresh food to processed food, most of whatever ends up on your table has been shepherded there by companies like ConAgra and their ilk are literally planting the seeds and watching them grow, with the help of lobbyists and lawmakers.

What I learned as I transitioned back to carnivore, after munching on greenery and lentils is that I wanted to be in touch with the story of the food I was putting in my body for my health, but also for the well-being of the animals that would pay the ultimate price for my indulgence.

Chefs love food, it's sort of a pre-requisite, so the idea of singling certain food groups out of our diets can be counter-intuitive. Of course, taste is high on our priority list, so eating food we enjoy is also something not to be discounted. As I began to eat meat, I made the decision that I would do so only consciously, which meant that I would not knowingly and thoughtlessly buy meat from companies that do not practice safe or humane handling and processing, I would not eat meat that I knew had been cooked thoughtlessly and without care, and I would not knowingly contribute to the neglect or mistreatment of livestock by purchasing dairy products (milk, cheese, eggs) from companies who did not ensure the welfare of their animals.

I subscribe to newsletters and participate in forums via advocacy groups like Slow Food and Food Inc. Today I learned that Costco is sourcing pork from a company in Iowa who is being investigated for brutal livestock handling practices, see the link here:,8599,2080546,00.html

Kroger, Safeway, and another retailer are conducting investigations and Kroger has gone so far as to suspend purchases from Iowa Select until their investigation has concluded. I was discouraged to read that Costco is investigating, but will continue to do business with Iowa Select because "cutting off business with one particular farm in such a large industry would be ineffective."

I was appalled and horrified to learn that a chain as large as Costco, with the power of millions of members standing behind them, do not think that pulling the plug on Iowa Select would be an "effective way" to address the horrific practices perpetrated by factory farms.
I called Costco Customer Service to ask what their response is to the Time article and the representative then read (dispassionately) a statement issued by Costco's PR department, indicating that Costco was, in fact, still purchasing pork from Iowa Select.

I always feel like I'm about to jump out of my skin when someone says, "but I'm only one person, what difference could I make?" I want to shout at them, "A BIG FREAKING DIFFERENCE"!!! If everyone subscribed to that defeated manner of thinking, nothing would ever change. As the saying goes, "out of many, there is one". No cause is too big or issue impossible if all of the "ones" would make their convictions known. Think of all of the huge social issues and laws that were affected because a collection of "one" came together to influence change - slavery, the civil rights movement, sufferige, even freedom and independence from oppressive government. We will celebrate the 4th of July Monday because individual men and women knew that there was a better way to live.

Before you discount my argument as melodramatic or an overstatement, consider what we have at stake. Without higher standards in the processing of our food, with lobbyists making our choices for us, our bodies and overall health are subject to the special interests of very ignorant people. Those lobbying lawmakers are not doctors, nurses, scientists, or dietitians. Those who make the decisions about what we eat are woefully ignorant on the subject. They must think that because they EAT food, it makes them an EXPERT on food and nutrition, as well as ecology and animal welfare.

The great news is that people are waking up and making better choices, in spite of the garbage (literally and figuratively) being shoved down their throats by people who are the least qualified to dictate what we should and should not be eating. Farmer's Markets are booming, local food companies are gaining traction, publications like Edible Wow are being shared with enthusiasm.

From a PR perspective, Costco really blew it on this one. Who would have thought Kroger would have outsmarted the soccer-mom friendly superstore, Costco? Instead of setting a trend and taking a stand (even if it were all a carefully calculated PR move), Costco could have shown that Big Box could Think Big, and have a Big Heart. Unfortunately for them, Big Box made a Big Mistake.

Call Costco (800-774-2678) and tell them that their unwillingness to take a stand on behalf of their members is shameful. Even better, write a letter. Better than that - send this and the Time Magazine article to as many people you know, because out of many, there is one.

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Monday, June 27, 2011

My Big Fat Greek Breakfast

One of my favorite things to eat for breakfast is a bowl of fresh berries, a quarter cup of all natural granola, and Greek-style yogurt. Not only is this a healthy and delicious way for me to start the day, but it's incredibly satisfying because the combination of protein, carbohydrate, and fiber helps to keep me full for several hours.

Many people wonder about the differences between Greek-style yogurt, and the old standby. Most obviously, Greek yogurt is thicker than it's more pedestrian counterpart, but thickness isn't the only important difference. Greek yogurt is also higher in protein, an important macro-nutrient. Another benefit to eating Greek-style yogurt is that it is packed with live and active cultures, as well as probiotics, which promote healthy digestion.

There are two brands of Greek-style yogurt that I like to buy, Fage and Chobani. I like the Fage 0% for using in some savory recipes because of the luxurious texture it lends to my recipes, but without the additional fat. For breakfast, I like Chobani Strawberry. I only use a quarter cup, since it is really filling when paired with fruit and granola.

Both of these brands are all natural, both are available in Plain 0%, and both are delicious. If you are concerned about the sugar content in sweetened yogurt, you can use Plain 0% and add just a small drizzle of natural, local honey, and pure vanilla extract.

I hope you will start enjoying this nutritious and delicious ingredient in your recipes and in your breakfast bowl each morning.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Simple Summer Meal

Many of us are back to work today, with lots of things to do. During the summer, I try to make meals as simple as possible, without skimping on flavor. One of my favorite meals is a refreshing Baja-style fish taco, complete with slaw and chipotle mayo.

I would love to take credit for this recipe, but it was shared with me by my good friend and colleague, MG. Like any other recipe, remember that the recipe is just a guideline, and you can make some adjustments depending on what suits your tastes.

The recipe calls for halibut, but any other firm, meaty fish will work. Also, if you prefer, you could substitute shrimp. Enjoy!

Baja Style Fish Tacos
½ c. vegetable oil
3 Tb. lime juice
5 tsp. chili powder
1 ½ tsp. cumin
1 ½ tsp. ground coriander
1 ½ tsp. minced garlic

2# Halibut or other “meaty” fish, sliced into 2” thick strips
8 each flour tortillas (8”)

Mix all of the ingredients for the marinade together. Cover the fish with marinade and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Grill.

Southwestern Slaw
2 c. fine shredded cabbage
2 tsp. lime juice
2 tsp. honey
2 Tb. minced red onion
2 tsp. minced jalapeno
2 tsp. chopped cilantro

Combine all the ingredients. Allow the mixture to sit at least 30 minutes before serving.

Chipotle Lime Mayo
4 cloves garlic, minced
½ c. mayonnaise
1 Tb. lime juice, fresh
½ chipotle chili in adobo sauce, minced.

Combine all ingredients. Season to taste.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Summer Fruit Tart

Today's weather is a little chilly, compared to the steamy days we've seen in the last week. Days like today make me want to bake, rather than grill. With the weekend right around the corner, it's the perfect day to make a fresh fruit tart. One of my favorite summer desserts, a fresh fruit tart is easy to make, but you need to be organized.

Start with your favorite tart pastry. I prefer a sweet pastry crust for this recipe, rather than a traditional pie crust. Another variation is a shortbread cookie crust. Depending on how confident you are in your pastry skills, and how much time you have on hand, you'll select the type of crust that's right for you.

Today's weather is actually perfect for making pastry, since it's cool outside, but for the sake of time and to give confidence to those who are terrified at the thought of making a pate sucree, our recipe will use a shortbread cookie crust.

This tart is filled with a decadent vanilla bean pastry cream. To make the pastry cream, you will need to measure everything very carefully, and have all of the necessary equipment close by (whisk, small and medium sized bowls, a sieve, etc.).

The type of fruit you use is completely up to you. My favorite fruits to use on this impressive tart are blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries.

Pastry Cream
3 ½ qt. milk, whole

1 ½ # granulated sugar
3 each vanilla bean, split
½ oz. sea salt
4 oz. Butter
1 oz. gelatin

1c. egg yolks
6 oz. Cornstarch
2c. half & half

Rub the split bean with the sugar. Save the bean for vanilla sugar, do not add it to the pastry cream.

Combine the eggs with the half and half, and cornstarch. Set aside.

In a large saucepan, bring sugar, milk, salt, gelatin and butter to a boil.
Temper in the egg mixture. If the mixture doesn't thicken immediately, you may have to continue to cook this again over low to medium heat, whisking constantly until it is the consistency of pudding. Strain if necessary.

Sprinkle with sugar and cover immediately with plastic wrap
Chill until completely cold. While the cream is cooling, prepare the crust and slice the fruit.

To prepare the crust, take two boxes of Walker shortbread and crush them into crumbs with a food processor. Dump the crumbs into the bottom of a tart pan and press them firmly down and up the sides. Bake the crust at 350 until golden brown. Watch it carefully, so as not to burn it. Shortbread is high in sugar and fat and is prone to burning, if it is not watched carefully. Remove the crust from the oven and set aside.

Cool the crust completely. Once cooled, fill with the chilled pastry cream and arrange the fresh fruit on top. Serve cold.

Interested in making one of these at Mirepoix? Check out our Pies & Tarts class this Saturday! Call today to reserve your place at 248.543.4390.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Slow Eating in a Fast Paced, Plugged-In World

I'm fortunate enough to be able to work from home. Because of the many advances in technology, I'm fortunate that I can do my job from almost anywhere in the world. I recently made the transition from employee to entrepreneur, leaving Mirepoix as its Director to instead be its creative consultant, a move that has worked out well for both me and my client.

In the last month, I've had the opportunity to work within the confines of a schedule that actually makes sense. In addition to my schedule being more convenient, it has also afforded me the opportunity to do much more research and development of recipes, food trends, and other ways to experience food.

The biggest change I've noticed is that I no longer eat lunch or dinner at my desk. Now, when it's time to enjoy a meal, I actually sit and enjoy it, instead of hovering over my keyboard, checking my texts, flipping back and forth between email and my three Facebook pages. Also, this is the first time in fifteen years that I can share a meal regularly with other people, rather than quickly eating my meal, isolated in my office.

This new experience is a revelation to me! As ridiculous as that may sound, and I know it's ridiculous, it's been incredible. As a working chef, there are not many opportunities to sit and enjoy a meal because of the hectic pace of the restaurant. Also, working with food all of the time has a way of depressing your appetite until you realize that it's been about 16 hours since your last "meal".

With the frantic pace of our careers now, chefs are not alone in this scenario - many people now, more than ever, are pressed for time, starved for a meaningful meal with friends or family, and eating less nutritious foods while sitting behind the wheel or hunched over their desks. If you find yourself in this rut, try to carve out at least 15 minutes, once a week, to enjoy a meal instead of rushing through it (15 minutes is still very quick!), and see for yourself what a difference it makes. If time allows, increase the time and frequency. You will be amazed at how your senses will come alive, and how incredible it can be to eat something as simple as a bowl of yogurt and fruit can be completely restorative.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Steamy Weather Calls for a Summer Fruit Salsa

This week's warm weather streak has lots of us in Metro Detroit reaching for cold drinks, longing for the a/c, and experiencing a slight reduction in appetite. In the spirit of seasonal cooking and dining, I'm excited about sharing a fresh fruit salsa with you. A simple fruit salsa is an excellent accompaniment to grilled shrimp, scallops or chicken. Since fruit can vary in ripeness, use your palate, not the recipe to ensure the blending of perfect flavors. Adjust this recipe (as with all recipes) to taste.

Tropical Fruit Salsa
1 pineapple, cored and diced medium
1 red bell pepper, seeded and minced
1 small shallot, diced small
1 -2 jalapenos, minced (seed them if you prefer less "heat")
1 mango, diced medium
1 avocado, diced small
cilantro, minced, to taste
zest of 1 lime
lime juice to taste
salt & freshly ground pepper

Mix all of the ingredients together and adjust the seasonings. Enjoy cold or at room temperature.