Catering by Linda

Archive for the ‘tips’ Category

Layering Depth of Flavor

Friday, January 19th, 2018

Layers of frozen beef broth are at the ready!

Layers of frozen beef broth are at the ready!

You may have heard the term “one note” on your favorite cooking show. The term refers to foods that have one flavor that masks all the other flavors in that dish. Building a “well-rounded” dish that contains equal and various flavors is an art! Recently, a friend and I went to Flora, in West Hartford’s Center (, for drinks, and I ordered their smoothie called “Pineapple.” It was purported to contain pineapple, cream of coconut, banana, lime, and mint, so when the drink came, I took multiple sips and tried to identify each ingredient, even though it was blended with the others. I felt like I was a judge on “Master Chef” and it made me think about the fabulous Thai Chicken & Rice Noodle soup I am making for my annual soup swap as it builds on flavors, too: ginger, curry, coconut, brown sugar, turmeric, lime. All contributing to an amazing broth in its own subtle way, none overpowering another. Layering those flavor profiles causes a depth and complexity of flavor that keeps a foodie coming back for more, and is the reason behind my dedication to the idea of saving beef pan drippings for use in soups and stews. When I roast a tenderloin, for instance, the drippings aren’t needed for gravy, so I cool the drippings– full of the herbs and seasonings I used in the rub– and pour them into a dedicated Tupperware container I keep in the freezer, and anytime I make a beef soup or beef stew, I have a “mountain” of layered drippings, ready to lend nuances of rosemary, garlic, and thyme to whatever I am making. Last week when I made beef and barley soup during the snowstorm, I just popped these babies, frozen, right in the crockpot!

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Monkey See, Monkey Do

Friday, February 5th, 2016


IMG_0368So it’s not like I didn’t know how to make Paella; in fact, I have made it many times before, but seeing it made with great authenticity and with the freshest of ingredients excited me all over again. The staff at the Cancun resort gave a lesson as they cooked, announcing to the onlookers the many additions: chicken, andouille sausage, jumbo shrimp, calamari, mussels, rice, tomato, onion, celery, spices, chicken broth. The execution was exciting to watch and heavenly to smell, and the sheer volume (large enough to feed all the people by the pool) was impressive. When at last the paella was cooked, the chefs handed out generous platefuls to the resort guests, many of whom had never tasted paella before.

When I returned home, I had the great pleasure of cooking for 14 girlfriends as we retreated to one friend’s beautiful home in Woods Hole. Because some of my friends are pescetarians and others are allergic to shellfish, I made 2 paellas: one seafood and one chicken and sausage. Lacking a large grill like the one they had in Cancun, I started the paellas on the stovetop and finished them in the oven. I used Emeril’s Paella recipe as a springboard, but honestly, one could make paella any which way and it would come out delicious.

Making paella for my friends this past weekend reminded me of all the other times I have made it, and caused me to question why I don’t make it more often. What other recipes have loyally served as “go to” dishes, only to be set aside and now forgotten? These are the recipes that don’t lay flat in their folders and books because they are stained and wrinkled with ingredient spills and dog-earred from overuse. These are the “oldies, but goodies” and the “Oh! I used to make something just like this!” These are the dishes that we first made when we learned to cook, the ones our kids loved when they were little, and the ones we practically memorized a couple years ago because we made them so often. I encourage you to shuffle past the top recipes in your pile, down to the ones you made last year and the year before. It’s time to let them shine once again!


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2016: A Year to Try Something New!

Thursday, December 31st, 2015

Come every new year, we are encouraged to better ourselves physically, mentally, and emotionally. We are surrounded by “Top 10” tips for everything from getting in shape and being mindful to saving energy and starting a new hobby. Just thinking about adding a host of new activities and tasks to my already-overflowing “to do” list is so overwhelming that it makes me want to crawl back in bed for the day (or week) come January 1st. However, in an effort to welcome some self-improvement– even at the ripe old age of 50– I do stretch myself occasionally, and most definitely can be taught “new tricks.”
So seeing an opportunity to try something new in the kitchen, and recognizing that I might have a couple hours to put together a show-stopper of a dessert for an after-Christmas family gathering, I decided to try my hand at a croquembouche. Alli quickly deemed it a “croak”embouche, because she said it would be “so good, it’ll make us croak,” but in all seriousness, croquembouche is translated as “crunch in the mouth.” The idea is simple: mini cream puffs are held in tower form by caramel. The effect is awesome: light puffs, creamy centers, and hard and crackly exteriors. I made the cream puffs and custard the day ahead and stored them on the counter and in the fridge, respectively. The caramel had to be made last-minute and is used to assemble the filled puffs in a cone formation. When the caramel hardens, it holds the form and provides that “crunch” that gives the croquembouche its name.
When my siblings and their families arrived, I was still piecing it all together so they got a chance to see how it was made. Donna helped dip the puffs in the sauce and ate some of the threads of caramel that dangled until I told her that they could be left on for “character.” We both burned ourselves on the caramel just once, which was good Karma according to the directions which said that the caramel burns were “battle wounds” and were “indicative of a croquembouche made by loving hands.”
When it came time to eat it, we all pulled a few puffs off with our hands, and happily licked our sticky fingers. It was addictive– one of those desserts you leave out on the table so that guests can grab another piece as they walk past the dining room table.
I am already looking forward to making it again for a special occasion and am glad that I took the chance to learn how to make quite a few new things in 2015. Tonight, as we ring in the new year, I am making churros for the first time. I think this “trying something new in the kitchen” is a habit that is here to stay.
Looking forward to hearing what new things you might be trying out in the kitchen! Feel free to share!

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Food in the Public Eye

Saturday, January 3rd, 2015

photo 2 With the continued growth and popularity of social media, there seem to be more recipes and food-related articles making their way across my computer screen. Seemingly, all foodies have blogs, all ingredients come with recipe suggestions, and all good restaurant recipes are vulnerable to scrutiny and replication. I am certainly not complaining; just this past week, I referenced Copykat’s “Panera’s Broccoli and Cheddar Soup” and made Macaroni Grill’s Scallopini di Pollo for dinner. My business, like any other, is always evolving in order to keep up with these current demands, trends, and cravings. Interestingly enough, for the first time in 9 years as a caterer, I had a customer ask me to make recipes she had found on Pinterest. I searched her name on Pinterest, followed her, accessed her “Christmas Party ideas” folder, and dutifully printed out the recipes. At first, I was hesitant about making recipes that I hadn’t made before and was curious as to why she didn’t choose from my “tried and true” (and delicious) menu. In the end, however, I appreciated the challenge, welcomed the change, and pleased my customer with the items she had chosen based on the Pinterest photos.
Yet another recipe that crossed my desk this season was the chocolate molten lava cake, pictured in this post. My neighbor raved about it on Facebook, and quite honestly, I had forgotten how much I loved it. I decided to make it for family for Christmas, and it came out exceedingly well (I omitted the orange liqueur, and used Callebaut chocolate). It was an easy make-ahead, looked beautiful on the plate, and everyone swooned over it. I am including the recipe link here so that it makes its way across your computer screen, too. Pin it or print it. Either way, it’s a keeper.

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Comfort Food

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014

Asiago Potatoes, good for what ails ya.

Asiago Potatoes, good for what ails ya.

Perhaps it’s the cold nights, the fact that we just lit the season’s first fire in our wood stove, or my craving for grilled cheese and tomato soup… SOMETHING is causing me to think about comfort food. I just created November’s menu, and it reflects my thoughts with its slow-roasted ribs, mashed potatoes, bisque, and pumpkin bars. Last night, I made soup and grilled cheese for my family, and as I layered 4 cheeses between the Artisan bread slices, I wondered aloud as to what makes comfort food. “Something smooth, like soup,” Natalie answered. “Or dumplings,” she added. I questioned her choice. “Well, they are comfort food to ME,” she smiled.
And that’s just it. Comfort food is personal. We may agree as to which foods make the cut (home-made, warm-from-the-oven chocolate chip cookies, anyone?) and when those foods are best enjoyed (snow days, cool nights, sick days), but what I consider comfort food may not be comforting to someone else. I asked Jack what he considered comfort food. “Tortellini, mac and cheese, basically anything carb-laden,” he rattled off without a second thought. His idea of comfort food is a potential heart attack and another inch to my waistline, I laughed to myself.
When I first met Bill, he watched as I made cookies for a friend whose grandmother had just passed. The idea of baking to bring comfort to someone was so completely foreign to Bill, that he asked me if I thought the cookies would bring our friend’s grandmother back to life. I explained my actions by telling him that it was just who I was. This is what I did for friends who were sad. I framed it within a “take it or leave it because I am not changing” ultimatum, and am glad that he learned to value the gesture and has grown to see the light. And years later, it is good to know that we raised kids who also see the value of comfort foods, too, because Linguine Alfredo and Pork Dumplings deserve their time in the spotlight, too.

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