It's a new month so you know what that means-another round of FRESH picks by yours truly, Chef Aaron!
Fall is officially here...the temperature has finally dropped, which puts me in the mood to first do like the animals do and start stocking up for the icy & snowy months ahead. I've already started loading up my deep freezer with all kinds of meats and vegetables. When buying meats, I like to go to BJ's Wholesale Club (you can usually find me at the Moorestown, NJ location, with my cart stacked high LOL). Their meat section always has a high-quality and fresh selection to choose from. When it comes to storing meat in the deep (or even regular) freezer, here are a few tips/suggestions to follow:
1. Have plenty of freezer bags handy-they help protect from freezer burn.
2. Pack your portions right: packing meat away in your freezer in reasonable portions will help prevent you from preparing more than you need for each meal. In other words, don't fill the whole bag full of meat if you're not going to eat the whole bag when you cook it-break it down into smaller portions. That way you won't feel obligated to eat everything you cook, which will help you keep off those unneccesary winter hibernation pounds that are hard to shake come spring time. You feel me?
3. Wrap what you're storing in plastic, (I like to use the press & seal kind) then in foil, and then place it in the freezer bag.
4.The top causes of freezer burn are your freezer being turned up too high and improper storage, so make sure to keep your freezer dial between 1&2; store it like I described above, and you've got up to 6mos worth of meat without having to worry about it spoiling.
5. Label & date each bag...again meat you store should be good for six months from the date it goes in.
I don't just load my freezer full of meat, I like to stock up on vegetables as well. My suggestions are to buy large quantities of green veggies such as broccoli, broccoli rabe, string beans, kale & collard greens. They are a great source of calcium and can hold up very well for at least 3-4 months in the freezer. A few tips/suggestions to ensure they last:
1. Store in freezer bags
2. Blanch veggies in very hot water for 2-3 minutes in very small batches
3. Shock in cold water immediately after blanching
4.Drain completely & dry
5. Bag, label, and store
And just like that, you've got vegetables on hand to last you through the cold months,and the stress of having to buy fresh vegetables that will go bad in a few days is gone. Just ensure you take them out in plenty of time before your meal so they can thaw; add my signature blend (yes, a total shameless plug-get yours today!), some olive oil to saute with and you've got yourself a slammin' side dish! Yes, it's that easy, trust me.
Fall is the perfect time to get in the kitchen and make delicious, warm stews, soups and desserts. I like to support local farmers, so I enjoy going out to places like Johnson's Corner Farm in Medford, NJ, to get fresh goods. This time of the year, they have apple & pumpkin picking hayrides, which are perfect for kids. My kids love them and love using what we've picked to create something tasty to eat later.
Speaking of kids, parents: if you have a CiCi's Pizza near you, I seriously suggest taking them there for pizza night. I went to the one in Cherry Hill, NJ, (on Haddonfield Rd.), and for $4.99 all you can eat pizza, it's cheap, fun & pretty darn good. Your kids will love you for it, and so will your wallet LOL!
Since the fall is usually about storing and putting away things such as extra food and even clothes from the summer, I've found The Container Store to be one of my favorite hangouts. They have cool gadgets that help you in the kitchen and some other neat things, so don't be surprised if you're at the one across from the Cherry Hill mall in South Jersey and spot me browsing through their selection or talking up the staff, trying to get an employee discount! All jokes aside, their associates are friendly and super cool-if you go to the Cherry Hill store, ask for Jen-she rocks!
Speaking of people and products that rock, take a moment and check out a few that definetely get the "Big Daddy" stamp of approval. The first is The Coffee Toffee Company, owned and operated by mother & daughter team, Jessica & Renna. I happened to meet Jessica's fiance Ty while I was staying at the Park Meridian in NYC a couple of weeks ago (I was there shooting a special for Food Network with a few of your other FN favorites), and as we were talking he mentioned his fiance's company and asked if I would be open to trying some. I always enjoy trying out different products that people make and sell themselves, so I said sure and WOW-this toffee has some amazing flavor to it! On their website they talk about how they started Coffee Toffee and how they enjoy cooking together as a family, which as you know, is what I'm all about-putting the love you have for your loved ones into the meals you prepare for them, sharing the love in what you do is always important,and that makes their product even more worth trying out, so check out their site, and if coffee & toffee are your sweets of choice, give them a try. Another person who I met recently who I think rocks is my man Dan Jacobs from DJA Associates . I met him a last month while doing a satellite media tour for Share Our Strength's Great American Dine Out-if you need a videographer, photographer or someone to rock satellite broadcasting for your organization, he's the man to go to! He's just a really cool dude who made it easy to knock out the media tour...Lastly, when I'm on the road I always like to have a good book to read so when I take a break from writing recipes, answering emails, and preparing for appearances or demos, I can relax. I just finished reading "Too True for Lies: A Child's Story," by Stephen D. Matthews, a story that talks about a young boy struggling to deal with the hand he's been dealt in life, as well as issues like abandonment and isolation among others. it's a great read, I highly recommend picking up a copy and adding it to your library. It definetely struck a chord with me because I grew up with friends who were just like him and I see young men like him now everyday, especially in my hometown of Camden; I'm a father to one. When I was on the "Next Food Network Star", I mentioned that I was doing the show not just for my love of creating great food, but to also show my son who was struggling at the time that you can come from a harsh environment and still make something positive happen in your life, and I want to continue to work hard so that I can show other young men the same. (I've started a charitable foundation called Play to Win or PTW and I hope to help young men in these situations, but I'll talk about it in another blog in a couple of weeks. If you'd like more info, drop me an email in my inbox at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Fall also means it's all about cracking open a cold one and enjoying gameday. Football dominates the TV, but I'm also following baseball as well-especially since the Phillies are killing it like usual. When I first started writing this on Friday, I had the Eagles picked to beat the Redskins and my boy McNabb, BUT we all know that didn't happen; I'm still picking them to win the NFC east with Vick on board and we might even make it to the Super Bowl this year. In college football, I'm going to go ahead and go with Alabama to take the title. Of course I'm picking the Phillies to win the World Series this year-did you see Roy Halladay throw a no hitter and make history tonight? Like I said, we're going all the way and bringing it home! Speaking of things to watch on television, have you seen "Minute to Win It?" I know some people hate it, but I actually think it's super cool to watch...and I'm a Netflix fan, so I'm always checking out food-related movies, even if they don't get the best reviews. If you're looking for something food-related to watch, check out 'The Slammin Salmon." Yeah, it's somewhat corny, but it's kinda funny-I liked it.It's definetely not for kids, and have a few drinks before you check it out if that will help you laugh through the corniness LOL.
Last but not least, in the music department, I've got Kem's new album, "Intimacy"-(Loving "Why Would You Stay") and Usher's new one, "Raymond v Raymond" in rotation on the iPod this week along with some ol'school R&B.
That wraps up this month's picks, I hope you have enjoyed reading it, and if you try out a product or tip I mentioned, don't be shy, shoot me an email, or stop by my Facebook page and let me know! If you have a product you'd like to get the "Big Daddy" stamp of approval, email me as well!
Until next month, enjoy the cooler weather and the joy a new season brings,