I have tried to find a use for things I would normally throw away. Being a chef in Atlanta, I do that with just about every piece of food I make. I can’t throw away food in the kitchen; I have to find a way to use it in my dishes. One of the things I reuse in the garden is coffee grounds. I use it in my garden because it’s easy to do! It also helps amend the soil and make it a little more acidic even though most of the acid as been removed by the brewing process.
All you have to do is go to your local Starbucks coffee shop and ask if they will give you some used coffee grind. They will happily give you pounds of used coffee grinds free. At some locations in the spring, they will have the bags of used coffee neatly packaged in bins for customers to use at no cost.
Recently I planted five new hydrangea and I used the 8 oz of used coffee grinds I had saved over the last couple of days. Some of the flowers are a light pink but I think it would be pretty of have the flowers bloom in the color blue. If the soil is acidic it will turn the blooms on the flower blue. It was easy enough to apply. I just sprinkled some of the coffee at the stem of the plant. I also put a tablespoon or too around the soil of other flowers in the garden as well.
A month ago, I decided to build some growing boxes in my back yard. The growing boxes will look like very large shoe boxes. At my farm I have over 35 boxes. Most of the are rectangular but I have built some square ones as well. I got the idea for building the boxes from a special on HGTV. Inspiration and good ideas can come from anywhere.
I have about 1/3 an acre in the back of the house and I needed to think through what I was going to grow and how I was going to lay out the boxes. Lay out is important since I don’t want to have to move them once they are into their place just because they are not visually appealing and the boxes will most likely stay in their places for the next 8-10 years before they start to disintegrate and rot.
My first step was to decide what size boxes would work best for the limited space outside. I thought that several boxes measuring 3′ x 5′ , 4′ x 6′, and some 3′ x 8′ would be varied enough to give visual interested as well as allow me to grow various foods.
Once I decided on the sizes of the boxes, it was pretty easy to execute the project. It took about one hour to build the boxes and about 3 hours prepare the boxes and plant my vegetables.
I to my local Lowes Home improvement store and picked up untreated wood. I would normally use treated wood if I were building something else outside it lasts for a long time, but I did not want the chemicals in the pressured treated lumber to possibly meandering its way into the vegetables.
If you go to Lowes to buy your wood, as long as the wood is not pressure treated, they will pre-cut the wood for you as long as it’s just a straight line. All you have to do is provide the measurements and they will cut it on their machine. I learned my lesson five years ago when I built my first boxes at my farm. I did not know that they can cut wood for you and I had to hand saw over 25 pieces of wood which took a very long time to get everything cut. Needles to say the project took longer to finish.
I also picked up weed killer, 30 bags of dirt, 10 bags of compost and some landscaping screen. I built the boxes using a drill and some screws.
I normally germinate my own seeds to grow during the summer from last years harvest but this year I was not able to germinate my own seedlings. I purchased all my vegetables from the local growers in Atlanta.
It took about an hour and a half to build the boxes and about 4 hours to prepare the boxes and plant all the vegetables. I decided to grow some tomatoes and zucchini since they are simple and easy to grow. I also will be able to can the tomatoes and pickle the zucchini to be used in martinis or to flavor other dishes. Now I get to sit back and watch everything grow!
Nothing else says summer has arrived like grilling outside! Whether you grill by gas, fire or wood there is nothing like a gooey cheese burger that’s being finished off on the grill. Another aspect I like about grilling is that you don’t heat up your house or dirty pans in your kitchen. Since I live in Atlanta and the weather here is wonderful, I grill all year-long. Grilling’s a great way to cook but there are some tips that will help even the most experienced grill master. As a chef, I receive lots of questions on grilling especially when it gets near the summer and I am happy to share my secrets with you.
1. Keep your grilled grates oiled and clean.
One of the most common mistakes that people who own grills make is that they do not keep their grill grates cleaned and oiled. After you finish grilling close the lid for 10 minutes then scrub the grates clean with your grill brush. Then once the grates are clean allow the grill to cool and then oil the grates with a clean rag.
2. Leave an unheated space on your grill. When you are grilling it’s easy to burn your food on the grill when it becomes too hot. Solve this problem by leaving an unheated area on your gas grill. If you are using wood or charcoal, leave an area in the grill that does not have wood or charcoal under it. If you have an item that is cooking too quickly then place it in the unheated area.
3. Keep a water bottle near your grill.
Cooking Italian sausage or Bratwurst can cause flare ups because of their high fat content and burn your meat burn the other foods that are on the grill. Have a water bottle filled with water and solve that problem with a couple of sprays of water if the flames misbehave. Other things that you might want to have is a box of baking soda if you need to put out a fire that is out of control. Its inexpensive and is better than using a fire extinguisher.
4. Have a long-handled spatula and tongs.
Don’t use a fork to flip burgers and other food on the grill. Forks help create a path for juices to leave. Use a long-handled tong so that you won’t burn your hands while you are flipping or turning items. Also have a long-handled spatula so that you can flip those burgers easily. Remember to flip burgers only once and don’t press on them.
5. Sauce at the end. I enjoy all types of sauces on grilled food but remember to sauce your items in the last ten minutes of the cooking process. Sauces usually have a lot of sugar and if left too long on the grill will burn. Your main goal in saucing is that you want the sugars in the sauce to caramelize and add moistness to your meat.
When you are getting ready to grill, pull your food out of the refrigerator and allow it to rest at room temperature for 10-15 minutes. This helps avoid over cooking the outside of your meat before the inside of the food cooks. Similarly, after you pull your meat off the grill allow it to rest for 10 minutes so that their internal juices calm down.
7. Marinate your meat.
Make your own or use a store-bought bottle. Marinading your meat enhances the flavor of your meat. There is another reason you should consider marinading is that it helps stop carcinogens like HCA’s up to 90%, which may occur when meats are grilled.
8. Use a thermometer.
Using a thermometer is the best way to check and ensure meat is cooked correctly. I have friends who think that they can judge the “doneness” of meat, but there is only one way to do it correctly. Get a thermometer and keep it in a closed container near your grill.
- 1 pint fresh ripe strawberries cut in half and stems removed.
- 1/4 cup of honey
- 3/4 butter milk
- 1/4 heavy cream
Evenly divide the strawberries in four bowls. Take the honey and pour over each of the bowls and then pour the milks evenly into the bowls.
One of the things I enjoy in my monthly routine is making trips to the local second-hand stores in Atlanta or Indiana. I go there to find anything that I might be able to use for dinner parties such as vases, candle holders, plates cups, glasses and serving dishes. I look for anything that I think will be a great addition to my arsenal of objects and vessels that I use to entertain friends.
I know that the words, “second-hand store” or “thrift store” conjure up negative images for some people. The thought of buying a plate off of a dusty shelf, or a martini glass that you are looking to buy has some type of food debris on it can put some people off. The fact is a good scrubbing with hot sudsy water, some bleach will clear all of that up.
I usually go to the second-hand store with an idea of what I want to get. I may have a small dinner party planned where I need to find something interesting to hold my coveted shrimp and grits. Most of the time, I usually find other items that I would like to add to my entertainment arsenal.
I found these 6 small bowls all for $2.00. I serve small salads in them or soup or I use them to hold condiments like pickles, mustard or sea salt without any regard to their original purpose . I don’t care if it was used for a specific function, I use it for what I need at the moment. That is the key in entertaining with things that you already have.
As a private chef, I cherish serving my food on special vessels and the fact the people comment on how beautiful it is, confirms to me that it is not always necessary to pay $120 for a large serving platter when you can get one that is prettier for about $8. For me, it is a way of recycling and re-purposing things that would have other wise been thrown out.
Keep in mind that i t does not matter if glasses match or plates match. From a design perspective it is better to have a table with beautiful dishes that do not match and have continuity but not exactness. The key is to try to keep things similar in size or similar colors.
There are some tips to keep in mind when you finally decide to make the trip to a thrift store.
1- Things at a thrift store will not be organized the way they would be at a department store. So you may need to look around and “find” what you are wanting to buy for your table.
2-Things at a second-hand store are most likely used. A good washing with hot water and bleach will make that vantage glass sparkle as if it were new.
3- Try to remember that the most interesting object on a table is something that has been re-purposed. An old water pitcher can be used for pouring lemonade or it can hold some freshly cut flowers from your garden.
4- Most vintage martini, wine or cocktail glasses can be picked up for about $5 and they are relatively small. Use these vessels to control the portions of the amount of liquor you consume.
5- Try going to a second-hand store that gives their proceeds to a charity. You will be helping out your community.
6- When you buy from a thrift store, you are helping the environment because you are recycling some items that would normally be thrown away.
7- When you buy plates or glasses don’t feel as if they all need to match exactly. Sometimes small plates that are similar in size are great serve dessert. If they break or chip all you didn’t spend $50 on the plates but a couple of bucks.
8- Don’t feel compelled to get an exact set of 8 or 6 of a particular glasses. It’s ok to find 5 or 7 and then try to find the same glasses on another visit.
Going to a thrift store is not for everyone and you do have to have an “eye” for finding things that will look good holding your food and things that you can use to grace your table.
When I travel away from Atlanta, I usually take my I phone and my Cannon Rebel. When I see something interesting, whether it be food related or not, I use my I Phone to document what I see. Other times, I will pull out my Cannon camera and snap the scene to my memory card. I use the Cannon for pictures that I truly want to keep long-term.
Where do I received inspiration for a dish or a theme when I am cooking? My answer is simple. I find inspiration almost anywhere from a cloudy day to a leaf falling to the earth. It is always there you just have to stop and look for it. I do not always need to be inspired directly from another food related item to create something new in the kitchen. I can be inspired in the kitchen with a simple thing like hearing the giggle of little kids.
As a chef, I think its one thing that keeps me on my game and always expanding my mind and ability to view things in new and interesting ways. That is what I was reminded of on my recent trip to San Paulo.
Who says you can not find inspiration in a sunset or a wonderful spring aroma brought to you by the wind? Or while you are watching the waves break on the shore, or in the flicker of wood burning in the fire place. I have learned that you can find inspiration in the most unlikely of places. As I looked at all the graffiti pictures I took in San Paulo, I realized that they are actually very beautiful. I found myself sort of looking at something that most people would cringe at and appreciating it for more than what you can perceive of it at a quick glance.
I thought about how can I look at a an ingredient that I would normally cringe looking at and appreciate it for more than it is at a quick glance? A tomato perhaps? A potato? Maybe an onions? Taking pictures of the graffiti started me thinking and connecting the things around me to the kitchen.
Being a chef is hard work especially when you are trying to look at the same ingredients from different angles? Looking at a boring pitted potato is not that interesting until you begin to look at it from a different perspective. Some people these pictures graffiti but regardless of how you refer to it, you can’t deny that these images have something to say and evoke a response from us. At first I was appalled but then I realized that there was something there in the midst of the hustle and bustle. I was learning to look beyond what I have already defined. For example: Graffiti is ugly and dirty now became graffiti is an expression and creation of someone else; when I looked into the camera lens the graffiti became like art. How can I apply that realization to my on kitchen?
I viewed the graffiti on the walls of buildings almost as paintings, like those that you would find in an art gallery. I hope you enjoy these pictures I took of the graffiti art. Some of the pictures below are of scenes in San Paulo that I thought were gorgeous so I included them as well even though they do not contain graffiti.