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Ask My Friend Maillard

a colorful follow-up

THE QUESTION: “I was intrigued by your “Dark Days” post but… could you expand on the color section?”

This is a follow-up question to my Dark Days Light Meals post from last month, which reminds me to remind all you readers that you can submit any question at any time via Twitter, Facebook, or email.


THE ANSWER: My pleasure! There are lots of ways to think about adding color which will add joy AND nutrients to any meal. Bonus: colorful meals are the most fun to take pictures of so I have concrete examples with colorful photos.



Starting with the basics of healthy colors, focus on having whole grains and herbs on hand in your pantry and fridge. In the picture above I prepared wheat berries in the style of risotto with green apples, lots of dill, and crispy pancetta. If I have just made risotto it would have been a stolidly white dish, instead it was brown and pink and two kinds of green. The wheat berries are the same size and shape as arborio rice but the former has more protein and since it is relatively unprocessed, it has more of other nutrients too. Risotto always starts by sauteeing shallots, which I did, but I also added some green apples to the mix (at the beginning and halfway through for some texture variation). While the flesh of the apples is largely sugar and water, there are vitamins and fiber in the skin. Then at the end, instead of stirring in some parmesan (nothing inherently wrong with that of course) I stirred in a bunch of dill and a bit of pancetta.

The pancetta was just for a well-rounded and satisfying flavor, but herbs are so much more. They brighten what you’re eating for both tongue and eye and also have high concentrations of vitamins, especially C. But more importantly, herbs contain anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds called polyphenols. This makes herbs great to have on hand and add them to anything/everything, especially in the winter. For more on herb basics, check out this article from the Washington Post. I want to stress again, there’s no such thing as a dish that you can’t add herbs to.



This second dish is a Pork Chop Salad I made for some clients in early December which embodies the concept of vibrant and textural garnishes. It includes baby spinach, seared pork chop pieces, roasted cabbage, toasted pistachios and pomegranate pips. Of course it isn’t too hard to make a salad look virtuous, but starting with two different colors of veggie gives you a colorful base, meaning variation in vitamins, minerals etc. Then on top of that are two types of lean protein, the pork chop and the nuts.And last but not least the nutritional and antioxidant powerhouse of pomegranate pips (which you can now buy pre-extracted from the membranes of the pomegranate itself in little plastic cups!). The combination of the pistachios and pomegranate give a rich juicy and tangy garnish, that as you eat it acts as a dressing, replacing any need for a high-calorie salad dressing with tons of high fructose corn-syrup. Pro Tip: to get this almost fluorescent color of pistachio: buy them raw, shell them, roll them around inside a dish towel on the counter to remove any additional papery bits, then toast them until bright in a dry frying pan over medium heat.



And finally, there’s added color that is just for the enjoyment of the cook. Above I’m assembling layers of sweet potatoes and radishes for a gratin. After adding a bechamel sauce and baking, the dish became a muted, light orange color but I had so much fun making patterns and shapes with the bright pink and orange colors during assembly. Something as simple as this can make the act of cooking more fun,leading to more cooking at home. Plus, this colorful variation on potatoes au gratin adds beta-carotene and several kinds of B-vitamins in addition to the potassium and other things in white potatoes. Which leads me to a final point; even something as villified as the white potato has viatmins and minerals in it; the healthful-ness of most food depends on how processed it is.

The objective of adding colors is that this is an easy way to add variety to your diet. And as the saying goes: variety is the spice of life. 


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resolve differently in 2016

No question this week, just some real talk to start the year. I propose we all resolve to re-think the entire new year’s resolution thing. 

The most common resolutions are health and food related. Along the lines of “eat less sugar” or “exercise more” plus there's always the multitude of “new year's diets”. These kinds of resolutions take a negative view of food and health that propagates the myth that if food is delicious then by definition it must be unhealthy. We are at the point when “big diet” admits that dieting doesn't work for 95% of people and Carrie Fisher has to defend her body on Twitter simply because she is no longer 19. Fad diets and restrictive New Year’s Resolutions are clearly not working for us as individuals or as a society.

So this year I implore the whole FredParent community to create goals for yourselves and your family instead of resolutions. Goals of enjoyment and celebration instead of resolutions of deprivation. Goals made with an eye towards a more healthful 2016, framing them positively to make them easier to achieve.


Starting just baby steps away from resolutions, let's say you set a goal to limit the amount of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in your life. This isn't a negative goal like "no more baked goods" or "no sugar", just a concious effort to avoid a highly processed sweetener that we know is bad for our bodies and for the earth. To reach this goal, enlist your whole family. Teach your kids how to read food labels, specifically to always look at the ingredient list first. Or simply find a time to grocery shop when you will have time to reject any item where HFCS is first on the ingredient list.

An important thing to remember is to frame any goal in positive terms. And remind yourself to look on the bright side. For the example above don’t despair if you can’t find a salad dressing without HFCS, instead celebrate that there is Ketchup available made with real sugar and spend 5 minutes making vinaigrette for the week when you get home. 


Your goal could be hyper-specific instead of aspirational (mine is both as you’ll see below). For example, pick one Saturday a month when you will always go to the farmer’s market. Yes, even when it’s raining. Especially when it's raining; the farmers will still be there and will have more time to talk to you about their products since there will be fewer customers. They probably have favorite recipies or preparations they'd love to tell you about.

OR choose a dollar amount that fits your budget to spend on new-to-you food each week/month. $5 a week on a vegetable, fruit or grain you’ve never tasted before will make dinner that night a fun experiment. Everyone loves roasted celeriac with cheese melted on top; unfortunately most people have never tried it.

OR on the 15th of every month spend $25 to try a new cooking/baking technique, idea, cuisinne, etc. Even something as easy as trying a new restaurant instead of going back to the same one or two again and again can be healthful since you will be more mindful of what you are eating and all of the options available.

The advantage to being hyper-specific is that you can put the whole year's worth of reminders to achieve your goal on whatever calander/agenda you use all at once, like right now. Scheduling your goals makes them so much easier to achieve.


Since there are few things more important than leading by example here's my goal for 2016: get more nutrients out of the things I’m already eating/ make them easier to digest. I’m not going to stop eating carbonara for breakfast when I’m especially hungry, but I will make an effort to have sprouted lentils and high protein noodles around to make that carbonara a more healthful and energizing way to start my day.


My goal was inspired both by a Christmas present and the January 2016 issue of Bon Appetit. What the magazine had been calling “the Food Lover’s Cleanse” for the past few years has spun-off into a book so they changed the magazine feature's name to “the new healthy”. Sprouted red lentils is a "building block" they espouse always having on hand. I’d never given sprouting much thought because it seemed like a vestige of 70’s & 80’s health food stores which I imagine as having very nutritious but not flavorful offerings. After some internet investigation I learned that the sprouting/germination process increases nutrient levels while getting rid of the things that make beans and pulses hard to digest. Plus all of the energy used to do those two things means that sprouted things also have fewer calories. Crazy. I've already started some chickpeas and lentils sprouting (pictured above).

I’ve known about the powers of fermentation and "good" bacteria for awhile and already make various kinds of refrigerator pickles with excess produce. But this year I was gifted a heavy-duty glass jar with an airlock lid and ceramic weight. Full on fermentation here I come! I started with green beans in a garlic-peppper flake brine (pictured below). As you can see, I haven't quite figured our the weight that is supposed to hold the veggies down in the brine. Perhaps I cut the beans too small, but I'm sure it will still taste good and I'll cut the cabbage for sauerkraut next month with that hypothesis in mind. Percieved fails are actually just lessons for next time.


So to reach my goal of more nutrients and better digestion I will ferment something new and interesting each month, and aim to have something sprouting or sprouted as often as possible. I think I will be able to achieve this goal and it is because the time frames are set. Fermenting once a month I have already added to the calender on my phone. And since I already have a bread starter I have to take care of every few days, adding sprouting to my daily routine shouldn't be too much trouble. And since my goal is about the DOING I can achieve it with a variety of ingredients and creativity.

Hello 2016!

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Dark Days Light Meals

The QUESTION: “Please help! The winter solstice makes me want to crawl into bed and eat mac n' cheese straight from the pot […] How can I cook healthier or at least with more variety in the dark winter months?”


The Answer: The winter solstice (and surrounding months) can be a drag on any activity. But in the kitchen, especially for people who have busy schedules and/or don’t LIKE to be in the kitchen, it often means falling into a carb-heavy-comfort-food rut. The best way to a varied, healthy diet (anytime of year) is a bit of a platitude: make it fun until it becomes habit. But don’t worry, keep reading, I have four specific things for you to focus on in the kitchen to spite the dark (and platitudes).




From a personal and clinical perspective, creativity and energy are both reduced without enough UV light to make our brain chemistry happy. I have a portable UV light that is great when I’m traveling around the holidays but even better on dark days when I’m in the kitchen for 6+ hours; I just tuck it into a corner and let my eyes absorb the goodness. I’m using it right now typing this blog post at the kitchen counter on a very dreary Thursday.

While YOU may not want or need a UV light, you can make an effort to do the repetitive work in the kitchen during daylight hours. The prep-work will be easier and faster when there is sunlight and it will be easier to eat healthier if the veggies are as convenient as that box of noodles. Your best prep-work time will entirely depend on your work schedule. You could try in the morning before work or perhaps do a bunch of prep work on your day off. You can store lots of cleaned and cut veggies in plastic bags for a week or two (depending on the hardiness of the veg in question) in the fridge to grab as needed.



This may be full-on sappy but, the more your loved ones are in the kitchen, the more you will love the kitchen. Get together and make your own pizzas instead of ordering delivery. Or if your family has a sweet tooth, use baking to lure them into the kitchen. Instead of buying cookies and sweets from the store bake a batch (the dough could still be store-bought if needed) every time you all get together to cook something healthy.

That sentiment of getting through it together goes for eating even more than cooking. Start a rotating potluck group among friends/colleagues. The support and accountability of others can work wonders to break a rut. If you have competitive friends even better (unless they are the tear you down sabotage-y kind of competitive). Everyone trying to one-up each other on nutrition could make all of you more healthy.



Pervasive marketing to children has made the tip to “eat the rainbow” counterproductive. But different foods are different colors because they have different nutrients, vitamins, etc. The wider variety of color in your diet the more complete your nutrition will be. But DON'T let white food fool you; cauliflower and turnips are amazingly nutritious despite their bland appearance.  Similar to the competitive potluck, challenge your spouse, kids and/or friends to see if they can come up with meals that have at least 5 different colors. 



Related to color, one of the best things about winter is that it is citrus season. Let the smell, tang, color and vitamin C in grapefruits and oranges invigorate and inspire you. Blood Orange dressing on a salad with grains at lunch will feel virtuous while being so delicious. And baked chicken with clementines is a great savory and sweet dinner everyone will enjoy. Snack on candied grapefruit peel with nuts or granola any time of day. If you ask me, citrus is Nature’s holiday gift to the world.

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how to bake to impress

THE QUESTION: My girlfriend’s family is really into holiday cookies. Any tips on how to impress them via baking?


The key to great holiday cookies (and all baking, really) is to give yourself enough time. And, ideally, to truly enjoy the process. I have no tips from personal baking experience on the topic of holiday cookies; growing up in the midwest all of ours came from Germanic traditions. This means they were crisp and mostly sickly sweet. Two things I dislike in cookies.

However, I do have some ideas on how to design a theme for your tray that will impress. I’ve interspersed some of the most exciting cookie recipes I’ve seen in recent food publications for some extra help (disclaimer: I have not actually tried these recipes but they look solid). If you need any additional inspiration, I highly recommend binge watching the season of the Great British Baking Show that is currently on Netflix.


Theme Idea 1: Celebratory cookies of the world. 

I would say this theme will be best if you are a confident baker, because cookies and candies from around the world will require many different techniques. I would start with linzer cookies, because they are familiar, extremely pretty, and one of the claimants to “oldest cookie in the world”. (All of the cookies that claim to be the oldest in the world would also be a fun theme). Then some Mexican chili-spiked hot chocolate cookies, Chinese Moon Cakes with a lotus seed paste filling if you can find the paste, and Besan Burfi a fudgy Indian candy, often made during Diwali.  Put together this selection and you will forever be known as the worldly baker!


Theme Idea 2: Make basic cookies and candies look fancy by creating uniform, bite-sized versions. 

If you’re an experienced baker or have lots of time to experiment, the ideal would be to make a traditional variety of holiday sweets: a spice cookie (like gingerbread), a caramel, a fudge or toffee, and a fruit cake. Then elevate the appearance by cutting everything into 1/2inch cubes. Bonus points if you also try a mini peppermint stick whoopie pie. If you're less experienced, make some easy cookie bar recipes with different flavors, they will be easier to slice into tiny uniform bites.


Theme Idea 3: The too beautiful to eat tray.

If you're better with a pen or brush than the oven, make a basic sugar cookie dough. Then, instead of the kid-centric Santas, stars, and trees decorate geometric shapes with restrained, Modernist flair. Spend some time in the baking aisle of your favorite arts & crafts store to get design ideas for your cookies. If the icings and sprinkles don’t speak to you, look up some Rothko, Josef Albers, or other paintings for inspiration.


Something like Bon Appetit’s ombre cookies would also work well. As would decorating sugar cookies or shortbread with candied fruits, nuts, or hearty herbs. Citrus, specifically citrus peel, is great candied. Pictured above, I’ve candied slices of clementines and ginger to go atop gingerbread for my little brother’s teacher gifts using this method I got from Bon Appetit last year (they are a great holiday entertaining resource). And I’m seriously thinking about candying some rosemary soon.


Theme Idea 4 (what I would actually do): GO SAVORY!!! 

Make a tray of several savory choux pastries to give everyone’s palates a break from the sweet stuff. They’re usually called gougeres when they're savory, although some argue that gougeres are specifically cheese choux puffs. The best part about this idea is that choux pastry is still mostly butter and egg so they won’t be too different from most of the cookies that everyone else will be making. Pictured below, I made some guacamole flavored bites recently, creamy with a hit of pickled jalapeños, so addictive, I think I was using this recipie from The Splendid Table as a guideline. If the stovetop bit scares you there were some German cheese cookies in the Washington Post Food Section this week.



Other notes:

  • The most impressive holiday cookie I’ve ever seen is Divinity. Pictured below is my Grandma Marilyn's recipe. She makes these perfect teardrop shaped sugar clouds that mesmerized me when I had more of a sweet tooth. However, it is a difficult thing to make in Virginia, only attempt if the humidity is below 50% and optimally as close to zero as possible.



  • The full “holiday cookie round-up” from the Washington Post is here and there are some pretty interesting things in there. Particularly the basil sandwich shortbread. .


  • When you’ve finished your bake-to-impress tray share it on social media as part of the "bake it forward" campaign with the Food Network and No Kid Hungry to help feed those in need.



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Food-Centric Gift Guide

This post has tons of answers for unspoken questions: a food-centric gift guide. And in honor of Small Business Saturday (this coming weekend, November 28th). The categories are in a bit of a jumble, but I think you’ll still be able to find something great!


  • Starting, as one always should at the holidays, with friends and parties: what should you give to the host with the most? Wine or chocolates are always appreciated of course but, especially if it is unwrapped, your host may feel pressure to open it at the party. Instead give them something that is just for them the next morning: coffee! If you attend lots of holiday parties you could buy a 1 pound bag of coffee beans (preferably from a local roaster) and transfer them into smaller, decorative paper bags, and if you’re a baker yourself add some coffee cake in those mini paper loaf pans that are everywhere this time of year. If you know your host doesn’t make coffee at home go the gift card route to their favorite cafe. If they don’t do coffee at all, try loose leaf tea or gourment hot cocoa.


Ideas Under $20 / Secret Santa / Stocking Stuffer:

  • A six pack of pocket sized Tabasco sauce shakers for the friend/colleague who always says “this could be spicier” $5.75 
  • For the local-food lover: a reusable tote bag to do their farmer’s market and butcher shop groceries with; you can definitely find some branded “Made in Virginia” and if any readers know of a place in town that makes them specifically Fredericksburg-related, please let us know in the comments section. LOCAL You could even make your own, or find a willing artist at Libertytown to help. Just make sure the bag IS large enough to hold groceries.
  • Chocolate is always a good go-to. Find an interesting new flavor or curate a themed collection, for extra flair include a quote or poem related to that theme/flavor in the wrapping. LOCAL: Checkout Sweets on Caroline, a new confectionary shop downtown.


For the rest of your list:

  • Sometimes, you just don’t have that much time available to shop and browse for the perfect gifts so if you only have an hour or two to buy everyone’s presents then you will want to point your URL box towards mouth. Mouth is an aptly named superstore that sources anything and everything associated with food and drink. Find indie ingredients, snacks, drinks, tools, books and pre-made theme gift boxes to gift to that someone who’s always looking for the next cool vinegar, salt, or technique (i.e. they had a spirilizer two years ago). Or, if everyone on your list just enjoys getting food try FoodyDirect, you can even find goodies from nearby Red Truck Bakery there.


  • For those on your list who like to cook, please, please please, unless there is one they have specifically asked for, do not get them a random tool. Unneeded tools just take up valuable real estate in the kitchen. Instead, find them interesting ingredients. Specifically sourced salts or a fancy vinegar are more likely to be cherished than the decorative knife or whisk. LOCAL: Taste downtown has a great selection of olive oils and vinegars. Or try spices. The Spice House has been a Chicago institution for years and their gift boxes keep getting better and more interesting. LOCAL! Stop into PA Dutch Spice and Tea downtown to pick up sachets of spices.


  • For those on your list who like to bake throw out my “no tools” rule above. Baking tools are different, mostly because for many baking tasks you need SOMETHING whereas cooking can be done largely with one spatula, one pan and one good knife.Traditional tools for a bread baker include a lame or couche for beautiful baguettes. A lame (pronounced lahm) creates the slices which vent and decorate baguettes and other french-style loaves of bread. A couche, also called baker’s linen, is for rising shaped baguettes and aides the creation of the perfect crust. Know someone who’s more into baking treats and/or sweets? Try a cookie press, this one by Kuhn Rikon includes decorating tips as well. For a cheaper AND more personalized alternative, this Etsy store makes custom cookie cutters at a great price. 


  • For those on your list who love food but hate to cook/bake, there are subscription services for everything from coffee or tea to popcorn, bacon, cheeses, mustards, wine etc. to send your favorite food lover a little something throughout the year (most also offer a single box option). Interesting boxes on the cheaper side include Japanese Candies, Natural & Organic snacks or spend more on monthly condiments, chef designed global food boxes,


  • LOCAL! Most of the restaurants downtown do gift certificates, or you could craft your own certificate for “Brunch at the Restaurant of your Choice”


  • For those on your list who want to learn how/cook more DIY kits are a great choice. Like this make your own hot sauce or mustard kit (I got a DIY mozzarella kit a couple years ago and LOVED it). Cooking lessons are great too. LOCAL: There are always some going on at The Kitchen at Wittingham downtown. And I do cooking lessons (and other gift certificates) as well! You can gift someone a lesson on how to bake bread, how to cook their favorite dish, or how to turn anything into a pasta sauce, the only limit is imagination!


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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) Can't wait to hear from you!

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Established in 2006 in memory of Laila Rose Engh, The Laila Rose Foundation partners with Living Hope Adoptions to provide financial assistance to families adopting foreign born children with medical needs. Laila Rose, the namesake of the charity, and her mother, Lisa, lost their lives tragically in an automobile accident in 2005.