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Ask My Friend Maillard

On Potatoes

THE QUESTION: “My family loves potatoes, but I’m worried they aren’t nutritious enough. Also, to be honest, I’m tired of mashing them. What can I do?”

The Answer: In short, get the rest of your family to do the mashing. Beyond that leaving the skin on and finding preparations that can include other vegetables are the best way to go.


So let’s get the dull/technical stuff out of the way first. For most vegetables, proper storage (for potatoes: keeping them in a dry, dark, ventilated place), freshness (which the grocery store shopper has no control over) and then steaming (for most vegetables this cooking method retains the most nutrients) is the only way to guarantee that you are getting maximum nutrition. But frankly, even just writing that is boring and reminds me of the Kybecca frites I ate last night. With the skin on, in moderation, potatoes are actually a great source of fiber, vitamin C and B6, and the more colorful the potato the more phytonutrients it has.

In Peru, the actual and spiritual birthplace of the potato many centuries ago, you can find hundreds of varieties of potato. Some that look so different from our yukon gold and russet burbank, or even our purple fingerlings that unlabeled few of us could identify them as potatoes. When I was little my mom would make this soup that if I remember correctly she always made with at least 3 varieties of potato and chunks of corn on the cob (also a crop that originated in South America). Sometimes I wonder how she found so many different kinds in the 90’s when I’m passing that area of the produce section and only sometimes find more than 3 today. If you want to learn more about the history and importance of the potato, now the 5th most impportant/prevalent crop in the world, the Smithsonian has you covered.
 

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Monocultures, i.e. growing only one crop/variety, is why the Irish (and other) potato famine(s) happened and why even finding that purple fingerling is a triumph. For too long Europeans and Americans stifled the genetic diversity of so many plants and then modified them for disease resistance, regardless of flavor and texture. Today there are scientists at large research universities around the country, and world, trying to fix that problem, with potatoes as well apples, tomatoes, beans etc. 

But in the meantime we just have to be more creative with the varieties we have and use their comforting, starchy and often buttered facade to introduce picky eaters to other vegetables and/or cuisines...

 

The epitome of all potato dishes to me is patatas bravas. A tapas classic. Red potatoes are chopped, baked/pan fried with goose fat, then dipped in aioli by the eater. However, I’m in the minority of people who actually have goose fat on hand and even that fact doesn’t mean I can make the glorious plate that a good tapas restaurant serves. I don’t remember WHICH was the first play my parents took me to at the Shakespeare Theater in DC but I certainly remember my frist taste of patatas bravas at Jaleo before the show. Afterwards I kind of lost my taste for mashed potatoes.

The best way to approximate this at home is to par-boil whole baby red potatoes for about 20 minutes, let them cool, cut them into quarters toss in the fat of your choice, sprinkle with salt and then roast at a high temperature (400-425) until they are brown and crispy. Aioli isn’t strictly necessary (unless you are feeding MY family), instead stir some finely grated/pureed garlic and LOTS of chopped fresh herbs (any/all) into plain greek yogurt for a healthier creamy accompaniment.

There are three easy ways to use potatoes to include other veggies: 

  1. Mash other things in with the potatoes. Cauliflower and parsnip will both make the mash sweeter and are white so the color isn’t ruined.
  2. Make a casserole with stewed meat/veggies topped by a layer of mashed potatoes. Moussaka is a great greek example of this. Stew eggplant and lamb (beef is good too) together, top that with a layer of smooth, whipped potatoes then bake.
  3. One of my favorite warm weather sides is german potato salad, chilled and vinegary with little bits of bacon. To add some extra veggie power I love to add some roasted brussels sprouts into the mix. Bonus points for trying this grilled potato salad from serious eats.

 

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Lastly, if you find yourself with a little extra time, try the super-fun hasselbacked potato; I learned this technique from an issue of Bon Appetit magazine a couple years ago.The logic is to slice vertically through 3/4ths of a potato to create more surface area. When introduced to high heat this excess surface creates more crisping, like a chip or fry, but still keeps the potato -with the skin and therefore most of it’s nutrition- intact. In essence, this is just a cooler-looking version of a roasted potato, especially if you prefer to use baby or fingerlings like me. But if you do use a large white potato, you can thinly slice other vegetables (or pesto and cheese like my photo below) and put them inside the fanned slices. A mandolin is helpful for uniformity but a certain amount of unevenness is also endearing.
 

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Guilt, Anxiety and the Kitchen

It's been a while since I've posted. Apologies, but I wanted to really make sure I was happy with the phrasing of this post in various moods. Instead of a reader question I guess you could call this entry a PSA, or an op-ed maybe. I’m going to try to talk through an unspoken question, well really it’s a dialogue, that everyone has with themselves.

Sadly, that intro is less confusing than what’s been on my mind lately. I was inspired to do this post be some things I’d heard/read recently, illustrated best by the two items below. Don't worry if you've never read Michael Pollan or something from the Epicurious website, the end of the post will still be relateable (I hope).

1) While promoting the Netflix-ification of his latest book, Cooked, Michael Pollan took some time say that we need to relax when we’re making food decisions. Because absolutism when it comes to food sourcing, diet, GMO’s etc. leads to too much anxiety in our society. This is all from an interview on the podcast The Sporkful. He also talks about how he feels when someone recognizes him buying food at the gas station or in the sugary cereal aisle. As well as being one of THE public face for a movement that others are so militant about but he recognizes is fluid and flexible. Definitely worth a listen if you've got 21 minutes.

2)For the month of January the/an editor at Epicurious set himself a challenge to cook 90 meals that month. Not to be healthier or control his sugar intake, simply to see if he could and attempt to increase his technique/flavor versatility in the kitchen. There were exceptions and he tried to make it as interesting and easy for himself as he could. What he did not expect was the social media reactions that using leftovers, or soft boiling an egg wasn’t cooking and that he was somehow cheating. And he actually accepted their condemnation at first feeling as if he had already failed in the first week of his project.

 

These are two people who are influential in the cooking world, and even if they weren’t influential or well know they have chosen to write about food as their career. And even THEY feel guilty in the kitchen and self conscious in the grocery store at times. I find this a sad state of affairs. This guilt, anxiety and the prevalence of social consciousness issues regarding food make it difficult to acctually talk about food. And it doesn’t help that Instagram and food-centric television shows make us feel that we aren’t really cooking when we feed our families quickly and/or simply.

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I was in DC for a day last week; I used several pieces of disposable packaging included at least 3 water bottles. I hate when I have to do this but sometimes it is too impractical not to, so I try not to let it make me feel guilty. Luckily I found my own little water bottle equivalent of carbon offsets. At the building museum gift shop they were selling serving spoons made from post consumer food grade plastic. There are other social and environmental issues related to food that I care deeply about. I try to support these with my wallet when I can and my voice when appropriate. But I also have clients with different priorities when it comes to food. And when I'm shopping for them I have to make the purchases reflect those priorities. So having chosen to try to make a living in the food realm, I guess I have an easier time recognizing the futility of allowing things like mistakes, having limited time available for cooking, or the plethora of choices a shopper must make at grocery store to weigh on your mental health. 

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To do my part to ease the pain, anxiety and guilt the rest of this post will be affirmations for those of us who live real life and those of you with busy lives. It will be okay...

 

  • It is okay to buy the pre-cut veggies if it helps you to cook at home. Feeding yourself and others with the intent of love and nourishment IS cooking. You are a superhero.

 

  • It is okay if your food does not look like food on TV. Glam squads spend hours doing weird stuff to those plates to make them look that way in close-ups. Also, they are generally being prepared by professional cooks who want “effortlessly attractive plates” to be part of their brand so they can make more money, but it is not worth the effort in real life.

 

  • It is okay if you fail trying something new. So long as some part of it is edible, serve it and make up a new name for it. It is probably not even your fault, but simply a recipe that was too vague, has a mistake or has made an unreasonable assumption about the equipment or time the home cook has available.

 

  • It is okay to repurpose leftovers. Look back at my “leftover magic” post and you make leftovers better than the first night in minimal time.

 

  • It is okay if you don’t have the time to go to the farmer’s market every week. You can also support local farmers by choosing a restaurant that has relationships with local producers.

 

  • It is okay if you do not have the budget to buy organic or humane options at the grocery store every visit. In other words don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Do what you can, when you can. Perhaps make one day a month your own little “farm dinner” and splurge on those humane eggs, organic veggies, and insanely good butcher shop bacon for a great brunch frittata.

 

  • It is okay to eat what is available in a social situation when you have no control over the food options. It is more productive to eat and converse about the challenges of a sustainable earth than to create negativity and friction by pointedly abstaining.

 

  • It is okay to disagree. (Related: it is okay to eat meat in front of a vegetarian/vegan, do not feel guilty.) Everyone has their own preferences, knowledge base, causes, and nutritional needs. That does not make any one of us better or worse than any other.

 

 

Happy eating to you all. I'll be back in the next couple of weeks with fun potato recipies in honor of St. Patrick's day as well as a piece on cooking with kids.

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Valentine's Dinner at home

THE QUESTION: "My significant other and I agreed to have a quiet night in, NOT an expensive night out for Valentine’s Day. I’m responsible for the planning and cooking of food, which I was excited about at first, but now the day is approaching fast and I’m suffering from food block (if that’s a thing). Can you help brainstorm cooking a romantic dinner at home? I’m confident-ish in the kitchen, meaning I have successfully followed complicated recipes in the past, but am still nervous about anything coming out correctly until the first bite has been taken.”

 

The Answer: I think my meta advice would be to take a deep breath and focus on ingredients you are familiar with. The act of cooking with love is all that is needed to show emotion through food. But I do have some ideas, and things to think about to help spark your imagination for a great meal.

 

Personally I think key to elevating your dinner from everyday to romantic is accounting for all of the senses. Before going any further I must make very clear that for the love of all things edible, DO NOT use scented candles. In fact go ahead and completely forget I even mentioned them, that is how far away they should be from your dinner.

So what do I mean by accounting for all the senses you ask? Let me illustrate the concept with chicken skin. The aroma of a roasting bird is one of the most comforting smells imaginable. The burnished golds and browns on the skin of a well roasted chicken are like abstract art. And if you can tell that it is puffed, oh so slightly away from the meat underneath, you can anticipate the flood of juices and fat the first bite will bring. And even if you insist on being more civilized than I prefer and utilize knife and fork, you will hear a tender cracking, giving you an imagined sense of feel.

It is not easy to start your planning thinking about the senses. But as you go forward with your planning try to remember to take into account the colors, sounds, smells and textures involved as well as the interplay between them for a great experiential meal.

 

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image credit: http://www.thedomesticgeek.com

Going beyond the senses, consider the season. Winter produce often has a saturated red or orange color and sweet taste that goes along with Valentine's Day thematically: carrots, sweet potatoes, beets, blood oranges, etc. There is a popular, highly pin-able, idea that floats around the internet this time of the year (and apple harvest season): apple roses. Place slices of apple inside a strip of puff pastry, roll it up and bake in a muffin tin, then voila: individual roses of apple pie. I would suggest using this technique with one of the richly colored seasonal root vegetables sliced similarly to the apples and serving it with whipped goat cheese. A perfect, and perfectly cute appetizer.

And then of course, there are the innumerable aphrodisiacs. Mostly, I’d say don’t bother trying to plan around them since pretty much every food item has been considered amorous/potent at one point in time or another. Listen to this podcast on the history and science of aphrodisiacs to learn all about it (not safe for work). If you and your partner like a good tongue-in-cheek reference with your food, you’ll get a ton of ideas. Also, thanks to the bounty of the Chesapeake Bay, oysters are always a local and seasonal option.

 

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image credits: http://www.eatingitalyfoodtours.com and http://www.tripadvisor.com/

 

If none of these paths have inspired you, then go all out with a romantic idyll. Imagine what the perfect trip would be for the two of you and recreate a meal that could occur in that location. If you imagine a trip to rolling vineyards in Italy, then you need a great bottle of Nebbiolo to drink with polenta and a rich lamb ragu, then something with lots of hazelnuts for dessert. If you see a sleepy beach-side town in Mexico then you need to be sipping a smoky mezcal margarita with broiled fish and tamales. If the location doesn't matter as long as you’re together, then put together a B&B-esque breakfast-for-dinner spread: fried chicken and waffles with spicy honey, chocolate dipped fruit and mimosas sounds pretty good to me.

 

Hope these ideas have cured your food block (which is totally a thing), and given everyone some great ideas. Remember, February 14th is not the only day of the year a loveingly home-cooked meal is appreciated. 
 

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Super Bowl Eats: Chili, Flatbread, Hike

THE QUESTION: “I’m hosting a largish Super Bowl party. Among the guests will be at least one vegan and a family that “avoids gluten” in addition to the various other tastes and dislikes. How can I feed everyone?”

The Answer: Focus on a food or theme that can be a make-your-own assembly line for your guests. No matter how much of the game you want to watch, the least frustrating way to feed a large crowd is to focus your attentions on one really flavorful foundation; one that meets all diets and that you can make the day (or several days) before the event. Then all you need to do is shop for accoutrement. This way there's one thing that you worked hard on, that everyone can eat and you don’t have to worry about time management on the day of. 

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Sweet and Smoky Vegan Chili 

For either of the following foundation options, or a way to organize any other theme you come up with, the idea is to create an assembly line in your kitchen/dinning room (wherever you have more counter/table space). Make sure the foundation item is easily accessible and label everything well if there are serious dietary restrictions or food allergies. The number of toppings/add-ins is totally up to you since you know your guests better than I do, but be sure to hit plenty of traditional “gameday” flavors for a Super Bowl party: cheesey, fried, spice, salty etc.

 

Option 1: If you want to watch all of the games (or commercials) yourself you need a foundation that can be kept warm. To keep it safe for a large crowd a crock pot is your best bet. I think the solution I came up with this past weekend to cater a seminar for my mom’s work will help. There will be 15-20 people, some vegetarians and a few who keep kosher. It will be held in D.C., in a small space with only a microwave and crock pot to warm the food once it gets there. 

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So, my answer for both you and myself was assemble your own chili. The chili, or any foundation, itself should be vegan for you because you have a vegan guest, for me because if there was dairy involved in the base the guests who keep kosher wouldn’t be able to add meat. But you can have plenty of meaty add-on options available for those who "need man food". I made my chili with a homemade pepper paste, sweet potato, cranberry beans, pecans and pureed tomatoes, you can get the recipe by clicking here.  Making your own paste to use as a base will be the piece de resistance of your party (unless you have very serious rooting interests) as it allows you to create a unique flavor that your guests will marvel at. Plus a blender does all of the hard work for you (pictured above).

In addition to this foundation the optional toppings I chose were shredded chicken, pickled jalapenos, sour cream, toasted pumpkin seeds, and tortilla chips. As a food professional I baked, pickled and toasted myself (and had a fun photo op with my pickles, below), but you could just as easily shred a rotisserie chicken or two from the grocery store and buy your own selection of toppings. Or cook some ground beef. Or slow cook some pork shoulder.

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I think the chili solution works well for a Super Bowl party because the best optional toppings for chili are all “game day” staples. Add pork rinds, queso dip, and diced avocado to your selection of optional toppings to be the winner of all football food ever. OR, you could even invite your guests to bring along their favorite add-in/on for chili.

 


Option 2: If you’d rather host than watch, there’s make-your-own solutions that will keep you in the kitchen. My choice would be flatbreads/pizzas. Mostly because I love making dough (and by far prefer soccer to football), but many of the pre-made doughs and crusts are pretty good, even the gluten free cracker/flatbread ones so get a selection for all of your guest's needs. In this option your foundation will be one or two great pizza sauces. The process will be to have anyone who is in the kitchen design toppings for a flatbread, and make a new one about every half hour. This will result in two party wins: those who are less interested in the game will be amused watching your assembly line pizza shop, those who don’t want to think about food can just grab whatever is hot or smells good. Tip: the oven will have to be at a very high temp (like 500) for best results, so keep an eye on any children and crack a window if you have a sensitive smoke detector. 

For a great, savory-yet-vegan tomato sauce my secret is nutritional yeast. The glutamates of the yeast will amp up those in the tomatoes and aromatics already in the sauce. Fresh herbs also help although that’s harder/more expensive this time of the year. This way your vegan guests will get a semblance of cheesy goodness, plus all of the other red sauce pizzas will taste supercharged. Just grab some nutritional yeast at the store and add around ¼-½ cup of it near the end of cooking to your favorite tomato sauce recipe (be sure to use vegetable, olive or safflower oil, NOT butter).

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A white sauce isn’t really necessary, but I love a good buffalo chicken flatbread with Alfredo sauce (pictured above) so I thought I’d mention it. For a great white sauce my secret is steeping smashed garlic in the milk before turning it into a sauce. To do this slowly heat the milk with 5-10 cloves of smashed garlic until just before boiling, then remove from the heat, cover, and let sit for an hour.

As for optional flatbread toppings: Any vegetable that can be sliced thin is amazing. Cauliflower goes well with all traditional pizza toppings. Be sure to pre-cook any sausages or ground meats. Have LOTS of low moisture mozzarella around (kids and beer drinkers alike will use more than you think). Slice any fatty meats like bacon or pepperoni into small pieces to cook quick enough in a home oven.

 

Option Z:  If you want to cook more than just one foundation piece, look up traditional tapas recipes or figure out how many things you can make on a kebab (including smores maybe?). Try as many as you think you can acomplish in the time you have to cook and pass platters around like a fancy party hostess! Your guests will appreciate one bite and/or finger foods plus you can show off. Or get inspired by this party sub smackdown from the Washington Post. Be sure to have at least two options for any dietary concerns you already know about but for the rest, go wild and make whatever YOU want to eat.

The happier you are with any food you're cooking, the better it is going to taste for your diners. Personally, I'm going to be trying out these buffalo style potato skins but with cauliflower bits instead of chicken and then stuff something with shredded pork sholder. May the best team, or best flavors, win! 

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More about Me

THE QUESTION: “Can you tell us more about yourself?”

The Answer: Well, you asked for it. And, a quick warning, I can only write as I would talk, and I feel super awkward when talking about myself. So please keep in mind that I could do with a linguistic glam squad when you read this...

This request comes from the masterminds behind Fredericksburg Parent & Family, who wanted to know more about why I cook, to better put my answers for readers in context. So this memoir-esque post will be some background on me, specifically why I don’t use recipes, then a description of my thought process through making dinner for my family one day last week.

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On the left: My youngest brother's baptism, just after we adopted him at age two. He's now 16.
On the right: Our most recent family portrait, from about 8 years ago.

I grew up on a college campus. Several different ones to be sure, but there was always one nearby. This is because I was born my mom’s first year of grad school, after which she became an economics professor. She even met my stepdad on another college campus, at a seminar in Munich when I was 8. That summer I learned about soft pretzels, nutella, hazelnuts in general, and that yogurt didn’t have to taste like candy. At the time I apparently didn’t eat much else besides cantaloupe and tortellini alfredo, but I’ve been slowly traveling and eating my way through the world ever since.

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On the left: My Girl Scout Troop in India, we left the day after I graduated from Jayem.
On the right: My drawing/art history class at Hadrian's Villa. That's my second favorite place in Italy, after the Pantheon

The important part of telling you this about my early life rests in the fact that professors publish papers. There are lots of sayings and theories about publishing I have heard from Mom and Brad; but there's only one that has had an impact on my own life and business.

For the inquiring/academic mind it can be hard to stop reading what others have written. But when my mom is talking about her PhD students she is always saying they need to be more interested in what they have to say than what others have to say, that that’s a key to writing well. I think this is true for all of the creative professions, including mine.

I have always been technique and process minded. I was in the marching band 8-12th grade at Jayem (James Monroe High School) and my Bachelor's degree is in visual arts from a tiny liberal arts school in VT. My first love in cooking was making sauces. With a roux, cornstarch, or a blender you can turn anything into a sauce. At a certain point I realized I was cooking the same way I would draw or make music, by instinct, with learned techniques. I had become more interested in what I might cook with the ingredients at hand than I was in any recipe.

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My college graduation June 2011. On the right I'm with my Dad and his parents.

I still use recipes of course and can appreciate when one is well-written or makes a technique clear for casual/home cooks. And as with any profession it is important to keep in touch with trends and what others are doing. My main beef with recipes is that they rarely tell you the “why” of a given step and so many home cooks don’t realize what parts of a recipe or technique are integral and which they can improvise given their current pantry/time situation, which is one reason why so few people have confidence in their own cooking instincts and abilities. I wanted to write a food advice blog to help counteract some of that.

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Some artwork from college. On the left is a collage about balance and constraint (plus cookies!).
On the right: my wall from the senior work gallery show. The drawing, a soundscape & toy were all made utilizing the same technique/process. 

And so that’s me, and a little bit about why I’m here on FredParent. Hopefully someday I’ll be able to make each of you feel comfortable and confident enough with an ingredient or technique that you’ll be able to read a component in some unrelated recipe and think, “oh that sounds interesting, but I think I’ll use that idea in my own way”.

 

To put that in context and add some more fun pictures I’m also going to run through my thought process improvising dinner the other day and I’ll mark (in bold) the techniques/proocess/food science that if you were reading a recipe for this meal you might wonder “but why?” and therefore might skip to the detriment of the final product.

Dinner always starts at the store. First, you have to have a wide range of staples in the house in order to be able to improvise. These are going to vary with preferences from kitchen to kitchen but you have to have ample base staples (rice, noodles etc) and flavor staples (onion, soy sauce, vinegars etc,). Second, you have to go to the store often to be able to see when there is something fabulous, fresh and preferably local that would be a great focal point for a meal. In this case I saw a beautiful looking piece of local flank steak at the butcher shop downtown and bought it immediately with no plan in mind.

I think probably the two biggest things that make me capable of improvising a steak dinner are: I know what to look for in the meat case as well as what makes a flank steak “beautiful” & I know the components of a good marinade. Now, I don’t always marinate flank steak, but this was a dinner I was making for my whole family and my mom requested a wine marinade. Wine is a perfect base for marinades because many flavor compounds are only fat or alcohol soluble, without one or both the flavorings in your marinade won’t adhere to whatever you are marinating, and wine has the added advantage over oil because it is also acidic. So I put the steak in a ziplock bag (pictured below, left) shook in a little salt, found some tomato paste and Worcestershire sauce in the fridge grated in a couple cloves of garlic and a knob of ginger and then poured in about a third of a bottle of a bright, fruity wine.

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8 hours later I pulled the steak out of the bag and dried it as much as I could because if there is residual moisture you will end up steaming instead of searing the meat, and that goes for all meat and most fruits/veggies you may want to roast. Then I spread it flat on a sheet pan and broiled it (too cold outside for grilling) The broiler had been pre heating for 20 minutes, which I know from experience is about how long my oven needs to get to 525 degrees. I cooked the flank 3 minutes per side, about 4 inches from the flame. After testing the doneness I could feel that it wasn’t quite done and so moved the rack a little farther away and cooked for an additional 2 minutes per side. While the broiler was preheating I hydrated some fine ground bulgur and stirred in dried cherries and almond slivers. For veg I slow roasted carrots earlier in the afternoon. And voila! Dinner (pictured above, right).

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About Joanna

blogger joanna2


I am a young entrepreneur who loves to solve problems; from the daily crossword to a client's cooking conundrum. Passion for soccer, architecture, travel, and experimenting with cooking techniques (mostly) define my life. My company, My Friend Maillard, is a personal chef service designed to help clients who don't have the time or inclination to cook at home. I approached Fredericksburg Parent to host this blog so I could also help local families find answers for their seemingly intractable food and cooking related problems.

Did your teenager just decide to go vegan? Do you want to know why your cakes always collapse in the center? Do you want to know how to get chicken skin really crispy? Just Ask My Friend Maillard. Make your queries as specific or as weird as you like and submit them anytime through Twitter, on Facebook, or via email to myfriendmaillard (at) gmail.com. Can't wait to hear from you!

Pouches' Community Corner

Adoptive parents in Fredericksburg now have a new partner on their journey to a healthy family. In 2016, Children’s Home Society was awarded a $125,000 grant from the Virginia Department of Social Services to extend their Richmond area post-adoptive services to the Fredericksburg area.

ChildrensHomeSociety

Now CHS is looking to find adoptive families in the area who need support before they hit a crisis point. “It doesn’t matter which agency they adopted from, or when that happened,” said Buckheit. “We want to offer a lifetime of support to adoptive families in the Fredericksburg area, especially those who haven’t been aware of our services in the past.”

Read more...