Chef Paul's Blog

As chefs, we all have that one side dish or menu item that we love, but it may not always move as quickly as the prep you've done for it can stand. There are times when something only comes in bulk packaging and we simply don't need all that product. The price is right but what's the real benefit if you throw half of it away before you move through it.

Furmano’s recently launched a full line of beans in smaller cans, which I’m really excited about! Now, a #10 Can (approximately 70+ ounces of drained beans) becomes a more bearable 9 - 10 ounces of beans in a 15.5 oz. can. Instead of trying to move through it all, you get 2 - 3 servings of that item out of a single can. This leaves the excess 60 ounces of beans setting safely in your dry storage room, not going bad and not taking up refrigeration.

As your menu items start to gain momentum with your customers, you can comfortably transition back to the Furmano's #10 can without any loss of the quality we provide in every can of beans we produce, no matter how it’s packaged.

Find out more about our new line of beans in 15.5 oz. cans and let me know what you think! Also, check out my recipe for Chili Lime White Kidney Beans and use my recipe calculator. This is a great tool that lets you choose your servings and quickly calculates the ingredients you’ll need.

Happy Cooking!

What does "clean label foods" mean to you? It seems like a simple question to answer. You, most likely, have a clear idea of what that means. I know I do. The problem is that everyone's idea is little different, and no one will go so far as to "define" the term (just like the concept of All-Natural... great marketing tool, but the meaning is sometimes unclear).

One of my favorite definitions of clean label and all natural foods is the "Grandma's Cupboard" theory of food labeling. It states that if you wouldn't find it in Grandmas Cupboard, you don't put it in the food. I love the simplicity of the concept. Looking down at an ingredient label and recognizing every item as food is a very comforting feeling.

What gets us in trouble, though, is when we make broad stroke judgements about anything. We lose important details along the way. Just because its "clean", doesn't meant it "good" in the same way that just because it tastes good, doesn't mean it’s good for you. It's often hard to see beyond the marketing which is based on flawed science to the truth in the food.

We've all grown up with some true held beliefs ingrained in us by our parents or government agencies (schools, news reports). We've seen the fad diets come and go. Eggs are good. Eggs are bad. Eggs are good again. We have been seeing study after study debunking some of our favorite old axioms (sodium's link to hypertension….not as much as we thought, Saturated Fats link to heart disease….wrong again, Consumed Cholesterol’s effect on body cholesterol levels…..I'm starting to feel distrustful). Because of this, I withhold some of my judgment on the newest scourges of the food world. Science takes a long time and is easily manipulated to say what people want it to say.

I can't say for sure that certain chemicals are bad for us. I don't think anybody really can either. I know that I don't like the taste of sodium benzoate (a relatively common preservative), so I don't eat foods that have that. I don't like artificial sweeteners, so give me sugar or (dun…dun…dun…) corn syrup. My body likes those. Cultures have preserved food with vinegars, fermentations, and curing since the beginning of time. Human kind seems to have existed quite fine when foods were given something to keep them fresher. Maybe some of these chemicals aren't bad for us either.

What we can do is offer products as fresh and homemade as possible to our clientele.  Give a balanced meal with plenty of fresh produce.  Keep the food as "real" as possible and limit those "ingredients" whose functionality is based on making some manufacturer more money (if it stays fresher longer they don't have to make it as often and if they can use that gum to tie up a little more water they can make it cheaper). The elimination of them is really tough to do in this day and age and can be quite cost prohibitive.

A solid fresh protein, be it animal or vegetable, paired with fresh produce, herbs, and spices is the epitome of clean label by my book. Keep striving for that in your cooking and buying and you'll keep your customers happy. So while red wine and dark chocolate aren't the health foods they once reported (my disappointment is as great as yours)….they're still tasty and worth the enjoyment.

As a kid, I remember the constant battle with my parents on eating my vegetables.  I think we all went through those phases of our lives where we just couldn’t (wouldn’t) eat something that was placed in front of us at the dinner table.  For most of us, veggies were our “El Guapo” (blatant Three Amigos reference).  We stuck to our guns against parents, doctors, and teachers all harping on how important eating our vegetables was, and how we would never grow up big and strong without them.

But we did grow up.  Maybe a little worse for the wear because we didn't eat our vegetables, but we made it to adulthood all the same… only to find out they were all so right about vegetables. If only we realized what beautiful conduit for flavors they were. If only we understood how texturally satisfying they can be. So many dinners ruined by the constant complaining.

Luckily, we eventually begin to appreciate the subtle nuances of vegetables. The industry is trending towards more vegetable-centric dishes.  In the three largest markets of our country (New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago) we are seeing high end restaurants place veg-centric dishes on their menus. These dishes are not necessarily vegetarian or vegan but the star ingredient is a properly prepared vegetable being allowed to shine in its natural greatness.  Places like Gjelina in Venice, CA (Chef Travis Lett) and Chalk Point Kitchen in New York, NY (Chef Joe Isidori) are dedicating whole portions of their menus to these types of dishes.

The trend towards farm to table food has helped the vegetable boon as well.  With more and more chefs using fresh and in season vegetables, we are getting vegetables at the peak of their flavor, allowing chefs the perfect back drop to accentuate the natural sweet and/or savory aspects of many vegetables.  In essence, we are now getting our vegetables at their best so we can show them at their best.

On July 4th a couple of years ago, we had an impromptu neighborhood picnic. I was already smoking a pork shoulder that day for dinner, so obviously I brought that along. As an add-in to my family’s contribution to the picnic, I made some cabbage steaks by simply rubbing some thick slices of cabbage with garlic and sprinkling them with some salt, pepper, and olive oil. Then I roasted them for 35 minutes in the oven. The cabbage steaks were the hit of the meal.

The next year I made my Cauliflower White Bean Meuniere (recipe below-picture above). Again, we amazed with a vegetable. Who’d have thought the bane of my childhood eating existence would become the dishes that I’m now remembered for.  It certainly is amazing how we’ve grown.

Enjoy the recipe and start making our vegetable friends your star.

Roasted Cauliflower & Cannellini Bean Meuniere

 

We all get stuck with copious amounts of leftovers of our delicious Thanksgiving feasts. It may be your meal with your family or the feast you provided to your customers, but the uncertainty of what and how much people will consume during the holiday leaves our refrigerators packed full of leftovers. Moving through that product isn’t very easy, as people tend to shy away from those same foods they’ve gorged themselves on for the holiday. Here are a couple of ideas to help you move through some of the extra deliciousness:

Black Bean Turkey Chili

This is a great way to use up some of that leftover turkey and transition the bird into a different flavor profile.

2 Tablespoon Olive Oil
4 Cup Drained and Rinsed Furmanos Black Beans
2 teaspoon Onion Powder
2 teaspoon Garlic Powder
1 teaspoon Dry Oregano
2 teaspoon Chili Powder
2 teaspoon Ground Cumin
2 Tablespoon Furmanos Tomato Paste
1 Cup Spicy (or Mild if you prefer) Prepared Salsa
2 Cup Furmano’s Diced Tomatoes
1 bottle 12 oz. Seasonal Winter Ale
2 cup Turkey Broth (or Gravy... or even left over gravy)
2 Cup Leftover Thanksgiving Turkey, chopped

Preparation 
Sauté Black Beans in the Olive Oil for 3 minutes. Add Onion Powder, Garlic Powder, Oregano, Chili Powder, and Cumin. Sauté for 2 more minutes and add Tomato Paste. Mix until well incorporated. Add Salsa and sauté for 2 minutes, then add remaining ingredients and heat to 165 degrees.

 

Thanksgiving Shepard’s Pie

All the extras from your Thanksgiving meal plus ground beef, frozen peas, frozen corn, and goat’s cheese.

Ingredients for meat layer:

1 teaspoon Olive Oil
1 pound Ground Beef
1 pound Leftover Thanksgiving Ham, diced
2 teaspoon Onion Powder
2 teaspoon Garlic Powder
½ teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
½ Cup Furmano’s Chunky Crushed Tomatoes
½ cup Ham Gravy (thickened ham cooking liquid) or leftover Turkey Gravy
1 cup Frozen Peas
1 cup Frozen Corn
As Needed Leftover Thanksgiving Stuffing
As Needed Leftover Mashed Potatoes
As Needed Crumbled Goat Cheese

Preparation 
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Slice Stuffing into ½” thick slices, and roast for 10 minutes to crisp the edges.  Slice enough stuffing to coat the bottom of the vessel you are cooking your shepherd’s pie. In a pan over medium high heat, add Olive Oil. Next add Ground Beef and Brown.  Before Beef is completely cooked, add Ham, Onion Powder, Garlic Powder, and Crushed Red Pepper Flakes.  Cook for 3 minutes. Add Gravy, Chunky Crushed Tomatoes, Peas, and Corn.  Mix to incorporate. Layer bottom of cooking vessel with Stuffing slices.  Top with Ground Beef Mixture then crumble Goat Cheese over top.  Finally top all with the Mashed Potatoes. Place in oven and roast until potatoes begin to brown and dish reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees or for approximatley 30 minutes.

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It's a funny business we do here at Furmano's. We spend most of the year canning dry beans. In fact, initially we began canning dry beans to fill down time in production during different periods of the year. Now, those beans are the largest piece of our business.

This time of the year is special though, and has always been our bread and butter: Fresh Pack Season. This is when we are pulling crops from the fields and canning them for winter usage. We can a variety of vegetable products but specifically this time of year, we have just finished harvesting snap beans and packing bean salads.

Snap bean packing season is always an adventure. Check out these trucks full of green and wax beans!

That's an amazing amount of beans we bring into the plant on a single trailer and what's even more incredible is how quickly we're able to blow through one of those trailers. We have to use a pitchfork to move all those beans onto a conveyor just to get them out of there!

Something Furmano's is especially proud of is that our bean salad is made from fresh beans. It's pretty standard in our industry to make 3 and 4 bean salad using IQF green and wax beans, which can ultimately affect the texture of the finished product. Our bean salad is always made from fresh harvested beans and the difference is quite noticeable. There's a real nice "snap" to our snap beans.

The beans run through 4 different picking sections to make sure get all the "goodies" out of the beans. Mostly those "goodies" are things like stem, leaves, and stones. From time to time, we may also find cute little friends like snakes, mice and frogs. They are always an adventure, especially when the people working the picking tables get surprised by them but we do a really good job of finding our friends and finding them new homes in the fields away from the plant.

After going through all those picking and cleaning stations, the green and wax beans get mixed with dark red kidney beans (and chick peas in the case of 4 beans salad), which we cook from a dry state, and diced red peppers, and are dumped into a gigantic filling bowl.

That fills 24 cans at a time with a 60% to 40% blend of snap beans. Then it goes into a separate filler that adds the brine, which is a unique and tasty sweet and sour vinaigrette, used to acidify the beans to make them shelf stable (lowering the pH below 4.2) before hermitically sealing the can to keep out the bad "bugs". On of the biggest adjustment for me, when I came to Furmano's, coming out of the fresh food and restaurant industry, was understanding these concepts of sterility.

We go to great lengths to make sure all the "hitchhikers" are out of our of our beans. It's just one of those challenges you have to account for when dealing with agriculture. If you grow it outside, you have to respect that the outsides doesn't know where your fields starts and their homes end. It really drives home the "farm to table" philosophy that is guiding so many of our purchasing decisions these days. Seeing first-hand the care that goes into the harvesting of our vegetables has given me great "roots" (pun completely intended) in how the world exists around our lives and our industries.

So here's to another successful Fresh Pack Season. It's sure to be filled with more excitement!

If you are anything like me when putting together a dish, you have a pretty keen idea as to how it looks on the plate. We're always told that the customer eats with their eyes first, so presentation is at the forefront when pulling flavors together. We want to see colors dancing across the canvas that is our plate. We want our message to draw in the customer. I love to look at other peoples plates when they come out of the kitchen while I'm perusing my menu. Seeing the plate of a menu item I was considering can make my decision easy, one way or the other.

So, when we take a few days to do some photography of my recipes, it's an exciting experience for me. Usually Furmano's uses these pictures on various point-of-sale materials, our website, media advertising, or whatever but the truth is, I just like seeing someone "foo foo" up my recipes and make them enticing. Recently we did a photo shoot to get ready to roll out our newest product (spoiler alert), Seasoned Pinto Beans (Borracho Style). Here are some shots and thoughts from the day.

Here's the preliminary shot for product label. Its difficult trying to represent a product as the customer would expect to see it, and still highlight what makes the product itself special. Once the beans and peppers were properly placed, we needed to place the sauce to give the beans their appropriate sheen and show how the sauce is full of flavors (cilantro and chipotle). Here's a shot you'll see superimposed on our cans in the very near future.

That was our simplest shot of the day. It's very straight forward without a whole lot of need for propping or lighting adjustments. We also wanted to have the option to feature the product as it will most likely be used... a side dish. A shot like this takes a little more time and energy to put together. It's not as simple as whipping up a dish and plating it. A lot of time and energy goes into deciding what plate to use and accompaniment to feature with your dish. Much like the shot above, this shot is made to really feature the beans at their best, just done a bit more artistically. Here's a pic before the lighting and angle were adjusted:

and here is after:

You can see the effort it takes to really make the beans the "Star" of the dish. The other elements of the dish are more subdued in the background, but still bright enough to make it way more inviting than the lone plate shot from before. I felt it was importat to show the veratility of the Seasoned Pinto Beans and include a shot using them another way, not simply as a side. For this we put together a popular composed dish, the burrito bowl. I've seen this very concept take off with Chipotle and expand on menus across genres. I also like that it helps me parade out one of my favorite recipes, Barbacoa (shameless plug: http://www.furmanos.com/recipe/barbacoa My neighbors were happier than ever that I made it for the photo shoot and served the extra at our 4th of July picnic.)

Here's the intricate placing of the beans on the bowl... yes, we use tweezers, and no they haven't been used for their "intended" purpose.

Here's a shot on the computer screen... (I can't imagine doing this before digital photography!)

And now we build up the rest.

Notice the beans spilling to the front at 5 o'clock... that was actually a 10 minute discussion that lead to that decisions. And we build...

And then it's about the details...

And finally it's perfect!

It's funny; when you make it in the kitchen it looks beautiful in that instance, then it goes out to be enjoyed, never to be as beautiful again. In the studio, it gets immortalized forever, and requires hours of primping. It just goes to show you that everything can deal with a little extra TLC when it's time to shine... even beans!

It’s a question I hear pretty often when I roll out one of my more “unique” recipes.  There’s a small piece of me that loves seeing people’s faces register disgust to amazement (OK… it’s WAY more than a small piece of me. I enjoy it more than I should).  For those unaccustomed, I’m not talking about odd cuisines or things only Andrew Zimmern and Anthony Bourdain would try (I love those guys, but I just couldn’t).  I’m talking about how I work beans into one of the more unlikely parts of a meal: dessert.

When I began working at Furmano’s, our esteemed Board of Directors (in case any of them read this) thought it would be a good idea to have the new chef make them lunch when they met bi-monthly. My only instruction was that I was supposed to use Furmano’s products in the meal.  Those instructions were followed with the tongue-in-cheek comment, “We’ll see how you do with dessert.”  I took that as a personal challenge and every two months for 7 ½ years I’ve supplied them with a bean and/or tomato in their dessert dish.  I post a lot of them in my recipe section on our website if you’re ever feeling brave.

Black Bean Chocolate Mousse Recipe

But how do we get to that point?  When formulating any new recipe, how do we decide what direction we want to go?  During my restaurant days, I was tasked with coming up with specials every night and variant special menus for certain nights of the week.  I’d peruse recipe books and magazines for ideas, but often I didn’t have time or resources to make exactly the recipe I loved.  That’s where I found my muse.

In those books (and now the internet) were more than recipes.  There were concepts and techniques that could be used in different circumstances.  I started wandering through walk-ins, freezers, and store rooms, constructing recipes in my head.  Pulling from what was around me and on hand, I found my secret to recipes….the information in my head.  Now don’t get me wrong, I had A LOT of failures.  Experimenting needs to be seen as just that, a practice.  Sometimes you strike gold on the first or second attempt, but there are plenty of times where you have to decide if the idea really has merit or not. 

I think it is very interesting to push ingredients past where your expectations want you to place them.  Not every idea is a good one, but every idea is worth the mental experiment to see if it’s worth pursuing.  We can easily get stuck in our trainings, but remember that someone had to eat that curdled milk in the leather canteen (made from a cow’s stomach) to find out that cheese is freaking amazing!

“It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them.  They went out and happened to things” –Leonardo Da Vinci

 Mustard Bean Stuffed Pretzel Bread Recipe

Why do you buy local products? There are a lot of great reasons for buying locally, ranging from community support to global responsibility. Our world has expanded to an on-demand, instant gratification land of experiences. Every decision made is made with the inclination toward making "me" feel better. Buying local has evolved from what makes "me" happy to making the world better. A noble change in attitude to be sure, but I still feel we miss the point. If we take all the grand, world-saving ideas out of the equation, we're still left with a pretty fantastic reason to buy locally produced foods... flavor (and isn't that what it's all about anyway?).

I was amazed at how food, pulled right from the ground, tasted when I started my own small garden 5 years ago. I was going to do it right! I sprouted my seeds in the small indoor greenhouse box and transplanted my sprouts right into the soil. It was going to be amazing... until the weeds started to grow (a never ending battle, by the way). Then, I learned about overcrowding... the hard way. Plants that were growing great suddenly started to lose momentum because they were now overshadowed by the plants next to them! (You'd think I would have asked someone before starting this endeavor, but apparently, I'm quite stubborn.)

My experience with flavor though, came because of these hardships. My beautiful row of carrots had stopped growing. I was left with one measly plant. "He" held strong, but I saw the signs that he too was soon to wilt away from the onslaught of neighboring plants. Reluctantly, I pulled this sad little carrot from the ground trying to salvage at least one from my diminutive crop. It didn't measure more than 12 cm. I took this tiny trophy to my wife (for whom the carrots were for to begin with) and proudly presented to her the bounty which I provided with my own two hands. After the giggles subsided, we washed off the dirt and did the only thing we could with such a humble plant... ate it raw.

To say I was amazed at the difference between the carrots I'd spent a lifetime despising and this poor paltry specimen is an understatement. I'd eaten garden carrots before and always preferred them to the store-bought but never before had the difference been so affecting. There was a sweetness and fullness of flavor. There was an unmatched crispness. I knew then that I needed as much fresh produce as possible from gardens and farmers markets.

While it is almost impossible for a restaurant to be 100% local (I need my coffee... it doesn't grow around here), restaurants are capable of finding items to feature that are locally sourced. We can dance around the effect it has on local economies and environmental impact, and while these are positive aspects, the real star is flavor. Freshly grown produce, locally made cheeses, locally raised livestock, and more all have an inherent beauty to their flavor. They didn't spend weeks stored in a silo or travel hundreds of miles in the back of a truck. They came from the world you live in every day, breathing the same air as you, experiencing the same rain, and basking in the same sunshine. The life of your community waltzes across the palate with every bite. We got into this business because of flavor, let's try and keep it as true as possible.

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Chef Paul, a Certified Research Chef, is a 2002 graduate of Yorktowne Business Institute School of Culinary Arts in York, Pennsylvania. There he was class valedictorian and received the Chef Michael Hostetter Memorial Award for Culinary Excellence. He is a member of the Research Chefs Association and the Refrigerated Foods Association and has over 15 years of experience.

Working in restaurants since the age of 16, Paul has spent most of his life working with food; a love he developed in family style restaurants, honed in school, and practiced in fine dining establishments. Never one to be defining himself with a particular cuisine, Paul explores the world's palate with excitement. "The world is full of people who have made incredible foods with what is in their backyard and we now have access to all those wonderful flavors and combinations," he says. That love and excitement for flavor he now brings to Furmano Foods.

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