Nicole S.: Welcome to BFF with the Chef. I'm your host, Nicole Schwegman. Aloha, friends and foodies, and welcome back. Today I'm interviewing Sandy Axelrod, the chef behind The Traveling Locavores, a blog which chronicles her life, and the food she's cooked as an executive chef and caterer for more than 18 years. After receiving her grand diplome from the Cordon Bleu, Sandy spent 50 years working in the culinary field. Although she's retired from the professional kitchen, Sandy still spreads her love of all things culinary by teaching private cooking lessons and freelancing as a food writer. She's also the author of the cookbook Affairs to Remember, now currently available on her blog, and Amazon. Hey, Sandy. Welcome to the show.
Sandy Axelrod: Hi, Nicole.
Nicole S.: It's great to have you. I'm excited to talk to you, and we're just going to go ahead and dive right in. Is that all right?
Sandy Axelrod: It is.
Nicole S.: Awesome, so what's the last thing you've cooked for yourself?
Sandy Axelrod: Chicken and waffles.
Nicole S.: Chicken and waffles. Please go into that.
Sandy Axelrod: Yeah. Yeah. My son introduced me to a fabulous pancake waffle mix, available at Costco, and I've been experimenting, so I made waffles for dinner, the best waffles I've ever made in my life, probably ever eaten in my life. With the chicken, I used boneless, skinless, chicken breast, which is not the norm for chicken and waffles. You usually bone-in, but I take my chicken breasts, and I put them in a big Ziploc bag, and pound them thin so they'll cook quickly. Then I dip them into a mixture of buttermilk, and Dijon mustard, which makes a nice, thick coating for the crust to stick to, and that crust is a mixture of Italian breadcrumbs, Panko, corn starch, salt, pepper, and garlic powder, and then I pan fry the chicken, and it really just takes a couple of minutes on each side, but it gets really crispy, like glass shattering crispy because of the corn starch. I also made a hot garlic honey to go over it. I think that was, pardon me, but the icing on the cake. My husband was like, I can't finish the chicken, but I got to tell you, I'm finishing every morsel of this waffle and the money.
It was a keeper. It was the first time I had done that, and it will be added to my repertoire for sure.
Nicole S.: That sounds delicious. You mentioned this waffle mix. Can I ask what that waffle mix is?
Sandy Axelrod: Honestly, I think it's called Bear.
Nicole S.: Bear?
Sandy Axelrod: Bear. B-E-A-R, like a teddy bear. It's big, black, and kind of goldish box.
Nicole S.: What was so special about it?
Sandy Axelrod: I think it has buttermilk powder in the mix, so the flavor is really good, but it's whole grain.
Nicole S.: Oh, would you think it's a Kodiak? Are you talking about Kodiak cakes?
Sandy Axelrod: It is. That's it.
Nicole S.: Oh, my gosh.
Sandy Axelrod: I just remember the bear on the bottom of the box.
Nicole S.: Oh, my gosh. Okay. I ask that because I interviewed Coleen Cox from Mitten Dietitian, and she talked about Kodiak Cakes, and I love them now. I use them all the time, because it's os flavorful.
Sandy Axelrod: Oh, yeah. I must have walked past that box hundreds of times, and never even thought about trying it until my son, who is also a chef, my son said, "Oh, you got to try this, Mom." I made, there's also a muffin mix, a muffin recipe on the box, and I thought I would try that. You add like two bananas, really ripe bananas, half a cup of dark brown sugar, I think an egg, and chocolate chips, just for good measure, and ...
Nicole S.: Always.
Sandy Axelrod: They are outstanding.
Nicole S.: They sound delicious.
Sandy Axelrod: Yeah. Simple things like that.
Nicole S.: I've never had someone who's going to ... I'm going to spend a lot of time on this first question. I have to go back to the chicken. You said you used corn starch to make it just glass shattering crispy.
Sandy Axelrod: Yes.
Nicole S.: Is that a way to make your chicken really, if you're frying chicken, to make it really crispy, is add corn starch to your mixture?
Sandy Axelrod: Yes. I think any coating, any time you're making a coating that you want to fry, whether it's deep fried or pan fried, either way, it makes it really crunchy. It's that sound that you want to hear.
Nicole S.: Wow. Okay, so I just want to repeat. It was corn starch, Panko, and what was the other, and just regular bread ...
Sandy Axelrod: Italian breadcrumbs.
Nicole S.: Italian breadcrumbs, but you could do it with any type of ...
Sandy Axelrod: Oh, you could.
Nicole S.: ... Crumb, as [crosstalk 00:04:43] long as you have the cornstarch.
Sandy Axelrod: Yeah. Right.
Nicole S.: That is great. All right. I'm going to have to try that. I'm putting that in my repertoire now. Oh, my goodness. The meal sounds ridiculous. I'm coming over to your house.
Sandy Axelrod: [inaudible 00:04:56]
Nicole S.: I know, right? I'm like, let's go. Let's do it. All right. Tell us about a meal that brings you back to your childhood.
Sandy Axelrod: The one that I always remember is my mom would make a pork roast with green beans, and they ... I have to say, they were overcooked. I never liked green beans back then, because they were frozen green beans.
Nicole S.: Everybody-
Sandy Axelrod: I would heat it up, or ... Yeah, I wouldn't be able to do that now, and roasted sweet potatoes, and there was just something about the meal that everything went perfectly together, and I loved it. Now when I make it, now I make it now with pork tenderloin, and fresh green beans, of course, I just think of my mom, and dinners around the kitchen table growing up. It also happens to be our son's favorite meal, too, so it's kind of come full circle.
Nicole S.: That's really sweet. Aw. When you were talking about the frozen green beans, I was like ... The past 50 years since they invented freezing vegetables, who hasn't had those?
Sandy Axelrod: Oh, right.
Nicole S.: My mom lived and died by those, although she did make fresh ones, but she's busy. She's working, so, yeah.
Sandy Axelrod: They're the basis of the green bean casserole for Thanksgiving, after all.
Nicole S.: Yes, which is ... My husband loves a green bean casserole, so.
Sandy Axelrod: I don't think you can have Thanksgiving without it.
Nicole S.: No, you can't. I try to make one each year, especially with the crispy onions.
Sandy Axelrod: Uh-huh. Oh, I did my own. I did Emerill's, Emerill Lagasi's version of the green bean casserole one year, and it was ... You make your own cream of mushroom soup, and you make ... It was actually crispy shallots on the top. Oh, god, it was ...
Nicole S.: Oh, that sounds so good.
Sandy Axelrod: ... Beyond. Yeah.
Nicole S.: That sounds so good. Oh, my gosh. All right, and this is getting close to Thanksgiving, too, so.
Sandy Axelrod: That's right.
Nicole S.: Yeah. All right. Give us an ingredient you cannot live without.
Sandy Axelrod: Salt.
Nicole S.: Salt. Why?
Sandy Axelrod: Because salt brings out the flavor in everything. I think it makes even fruit taste more like itself.
Nicole S.: Really, so you salt your fruit?
Sandy Axelrod: I do.
Nicole S.: Okay, like for example, what? Give us an example.
Sandy Axelrod: It actually goes back to my mom, who I used to laugh at when she would put salt on cantaloupe or watermelon, and she said it made it sweeter. Of course as a kid, I didn't believe her, and since then, I'll make a fruit salad, and I'll put salt in it, and it's just like, oh, my god. All the flavors pop. It doesn't just work for savory. It works for sweet, too.
Nicole S.: Get out of here, so how much salt are we talking? Like a pinch, or?
Sandy Axelrod: A pinch.
Nicole S.: A pinch, so a pinch of salt in a fruit salad will make it taste fruitier.
Sandy Axelrod: Yes.
Nicole S.: Huh.
Sandy Axelrod: Yup.
Nicole S.: I'm going to try that.
Sandy Axelrod: It's just a savory salad, a tossed salad. I always will put some coarse salt and fresh ground pepper on it, and then of course there's going to be seasoning in the dressing as well, but that salt, sometimes you'll just get that little pop of that crystal of salt, because it's coarse ground, so you're going to feel it. It's just, everything tastes so good and fresh around it.
Nicole S.: You're right about that, so I can imagine that. I've not actually put salt on my fruit, but I have put salt in my salad. There was a chef that I was learning with as she was doing a pastry class, and she was actually teaching us gougeres, and she made a salad to go with the gougeres, just for the meal, while we're learning other stuff. I'm telling you, I took more from that salad, from her class, than I did from any other part of the pastry class. It changed my world with salads, and with vegetables. Just put a little salt in it, so now I have to try putting together a fruit salad with some salt in it. I bet you it's probably going to change my life. I bet it's going to change a lot of people's lives. Yeah, I love that. Thank you for ... What a great ...
Sandy Axelrod: Oh, you're very welcome.
Nicole S.: All right, so I want to get into talking about your career, and your life, and everything, but first, I have to ask you, I see a photo on your site with you and Bobby Flay.
Sandy Axelrod: Oh, my.
Nicole S.: How did you meet Bobby Flay? I am so insanely jealous.
Sandy Axelrod: Very first time, we didn't officially meet. We had dinner together at separate tables. There's a tiny little Italian restaurant in Atlantic City called Chef Vola, and it's been there forever. He had just opened Bobby Flay Steak at the Borgata in Atlantic City, so this was in 2006, and ...
Nicole S.: Pre-selfie, pre-taking a selfie.
Sandy Axelrod: Yes. Yes. He went there for dinner. It was the first time he had ever been there. We had been there many times, and my daughter-in-law grabbed my hand, across the table, and she said, "Mom, Bobby Flay is sitting at the next table," and of course, I freaked out, because I love him.
Nicole S.: Of course.
Sandy Axelrod: My husband calls me Sandy Flay. That's how much I love him.
Nicole S.: I'm not mad at that. Who doesn't love Bobby Flay?
Sandy Axelrod: Yeah, so then we met at a couple of book signings, and I've been in his company a few times, so.
Nicole S.: That is so awesome.
Sandy Axelrod: He's my guy.
Nicole S.: I know, and so watchable. So, so watchable.
Sandy Axelrod: Oh, yeah.
Nicole S.: Yes, and by the way ... [crosstalk 00:10:28] I saw it on your site, you have a recipe for yellow corn pancakes, with salmon and mango serrano crema. Those sound so good, and it seems like you adapted it from his cookbook?
Sandy Axelrod: Yes. I have all of his cookbooks, so.
Nicole S.: That sounds like a dream. I have to move a lot, so I don't carry as many. I try not to ...
Sandy Axelrod: Right.
Nicole S.: Yeah, I try not to carry around as much stuff, but what a dream, when I finally settle down.
Sandy Axelrod: I have a hint for you.
Nicole S.: Yeah?
Sandy Axelrod: Get books that get the Kindle versions.
Nicole S.: I tried to do that, and I just ... I like a real book in my hand.
Sandy Axelrod: I do, too. I always have, and I like just leafing through them. I read cookbooks like most people read novels.
Nicole S.: Yes. The same.
Sandy Axelrod: We're going to be traveling full-time in the near future, in an RV, and the only way I can have my cookbook collection is on Kindle, so I just download them to my iPad, and I've gotten used to now using it. Instead of printing a recipe that I want to read, that I want to use, I can just have my iPad standing there. It's just really been enlightening. Yeah.
Nicole S.: No, that's a good point. They've gotten better. I think I tried it first when it was just the actual Kindle, and I didn't like it very much, so I was like, never again, and I haven't tried, I haven't really tried since, but there are some amazing cookbooks out there. Every year I look at the list that comes out from Eater of cookbooks you should own, and I'm like, there goes ... There's my budget, because I want to own all of them, so ... I want to get more now into your career, because you have also ... You are a great chef within your own rite, and you have had such an incredible career. 50 years in the kitchen. Oh, my goodness. That's amazing. Can you take us back, going to La Cordon Bleu, what made you decide to go to culinary school, and where, which La Cordon Bleu, and how did you get started?
Sandy Axelrod: It was Cordon Bleu London. I actually always loved to cook from the time I was a little girl, probably six years old. I would cook with my mom, and in high school, I was having elegant dinner parties for my friends. Nobody did that back then. I never considered cooking professionally, just because it kind of was frowned upon at that, in the day, especially a woman. It was considered menial work. It wasn't a profession. Boy, has that changed, so I went to school in London because we spoke the same language. I went to Cordon Bleu London, really to learn how to entertain well, so that I knew the proper technique, and I could create my own recipes knowing the background. It was enlightening. It was wonderful. It was oh, early seventies, I guess, and never thought any more about being a professional chef. I did start a baking company from my home, and then we moved to Florida in 1982, and we started throwing huge parties, 150 people in our home was nothing for us.
Nicole S.: Wow.
Sandy Axelrod: I didn't know when he came-
Nicole S.: Were you just party people?
Sandy Axelrod: Yeah, party people. We are.
Nicole S.: I love that.
Sandy Axelrod: We had a boat named the Party Animal, actually.
Nicole S.: Yes. Oh, you guys would be fun to hang out with.
Sandy Axelrod: I like to think so, so after all these huge parties, a friend came to us at a New Year's Eve party, and she said, "I want you to cater our son's bar mitzvah." I said, "That's really sweet, Cheryl, but we're not in the catering business." She looked me straight in the eye, and she said, "You will be, and even if you're not, I still want you to cater his bar mitzvah," and that's how we got in the catering business. My dad said, "I'll back you. What do you need? How much money do you need? Do it," so my partner, my husband, was in the catering business in the front end of the house. He knew how to set up a room and run a banquet. For many years, he was doing that, even when he was in the Navy.
Nicole S.: Your dad says, "I'm gonna back you. I'm going to put you in the business. I'm going to back you. What do you need?" You get started. Catering is tough, so how were your first few years of doing this?
Sandy Axelrod: They were a struggle. Our community was ...
PART 1 OF 3 ENDS [00:15:04]
Nicole S.: ... years of doing this.
Sandy Axelrod: They were a struggle. Our community was very small, so most of our work was outside of Wellington. I would say maybe we had 10% of our work in Wellington, and the rest of it we were driving 45 minutes to get to a part. As time progressed, and our reputation got better and better, as you said, you're only as good as your last party, and that's the best advertisement you can have, and I treated every party as if it was my own party, and people appreciated that. The best notes I would get from people would be, I felt like a guest in my own home, and that was the reputation that we had, and we're very proud of it. By the time we closed, we were one of the largest caterers in South Florida.
Nicole S.: Oh, wow. So, because you grew it from such a small place to such a huge business, cooking for that many people, I mean, that's a skill set to know how to cook for that many people. You gotta keep the food hot. It's gotta come out at the right time. It's gotta all go together. I mean, people are just ... Someone who's microwaving mac and cheese at home, you wouldn't believe how picky they can be, I'm sure.
Sandy Axelrod: Yes.
Nicole S.: On pasta and chicken. But, people are tough on food, and catering is tough. So, I wanna talk about some of those tricks you used to cook for that many people. How did you know ... and I know you went to school to learn how to entertain, but what are some of the die hard things that you have to do as a caterer with regards to food, to cook for a lot of people.
Sandy Axelrod: Well, I think the way I avoided freaking out over it is if we had a party for 100 people, I would say to myself, "Alright, it's just ten parties for ten, and basically, that's what you're doing with the food. You're multiplying by the number of people coming. I mean, if a recipe is designed for eight people, and you wanna make if for 800, it's math. Some things don't equate. I mean, your seasoning, you're not gonna put 10 cups of garlic in something. We might sometimes. But, besides the math, it's knowing how much a person will eat. Normally, we would have, on a typical buffet, we might have three entrees, a chicken, a beef, a fish, or maybe a vegetarian instead. They're not gonna have a full portion of each thing on their plate. There's just so much food a person can eat.
So, you divide, let's say, if somebody's gonna eat eight ounces of an entrée, you divide that amongst the three entrees so that you're not wasting a ton of food, although, we always had food leftover, and the staff always appreciated that.
Nicole S.: So, I'll tell you, my first time I lived in D.C., I was a young new officer then, I signed up to be a cater waiter on the weekends, because I did it for the food. Okay. I'm gonna confess. I totally did it ... I didn't need the money. I mean, the money was a nice benefit, but I did it because I knew that if you're a catering waiter ... It's a tip out there for you young folks if you wanna eat good. If you're a catering waiter, you're eating whatever the client is eating, 'cause there's always leftover, and it's not done on purpose, it's just you're trying to make sure you have enough food. The worst thing, I think it is, is to run out of food. So, you always have to make sure you have enough.
Sandy Axelrod: Absolutely.
Nicole S.: And a little bit extra.
Sandy Axelrod: That is the worst thing.
Nicole S.: And then, at the end of the night when there's leftover entrees, I'm eating the entrees, and they're delicious. It's some of the best food I ever had. I loved catering in D.C. 'cause they really do not spare an expense in some of those parties, and so I was always excited for any leftovers I got.
Sandy Axelrod: Yeah, we sent many a goodie bag home with staff.
Nicole S.: Yeah, it was lovely. So, if a home cook out there, because we definitely wanna focus on that home cook out there who's listening to you going, "Oh, well I've got a party of 50 coming up." Talk to us about, how do you design a menu for a lot of people? What are you thinking about and what are some things that that home cook out there who's listening to us can think about when they're designing a menu for a party.
Sandy Axelrod: Actually, menu planning was one of my favorite parts of the catering business because I love to eat, and I love food. So, I would think about all the things that I would enjoy. I try to set a theme for a party when I entertain now, especially. Not a theme like a Halloween theme, but Spanish food, or Creole, or a French dinner, or Southern, that's my new favorite thing now. I'm really into Southern food. But, by decided what type of food you want to serve, it's much easier to build a menu around that. And then, I always take into consideration and ask my guests if they have any food allergies, or foods that they absolutely hate and would not eat, 'cause I don't want to include those and you want people to enjoy everything that your serving. You're never gonna please every single person, but if you have something there that they will like, it's a home run.
Nicole S.: So do you, when you're thinking about your menu, are you going through cookbooks? Are you doing research? Do you have these tried and true recipes? What are some ... So, for example, lets say we have a person out there, they're thinking about throwing a dinner party. Maybe they've got somebody who doesn't eat gluten. They've got somebody who is paleo. How do you plan around that?
Sandy Axelrod: It's not easy, but yes I do go through my cookbooks. I, probably, well between my Kindle and my actual books, I must have about 4,000 books at this point.
Nicole S.: Oh my God.
Sandy Axelrod: Yeah. And, I treasure them. Some of them are very old. I'll go to used bookstores and try to find obscure books. But, I enjoy that because I like doing the research. I like finding foods that sound interesting and unique. I'm actually one to experiment and make my guests guinea pigs. I probably shouldn't say this on the air, but a lot of times I offered things for catering that I had never made. But, I can read a recipe and know in my head what it's gonna taste like. And, I know if it's gonna be good or not, and you can always adjust if that actual recipe doesn't work. I mean, you can make it work if you have the skills to do that. Which, I did from going to school.
Nicole S.: Wow, that's a pretty good skill to have, to make something and know in your head, no I know what this is gonna taste like, and that just probably comes with experience.
Sandy Axelrod: It does. It comes with tasting ingredients, smelling ingredients, knowing the texture. I mean, if you know that, it's easy to actually develop a recipe because you know what seasonings will enhance the protein, for instance, or vegetable.
Nicole S.: So, do you taste a lot of your spices, a lot of your ingredients before you start cooking.
Sandy Axelrod: Always, I wanna know if it's a fresh tomato, how sweet it is, how juicy it is. If it's mealy, it's not going in my dish. You know, that sort of thing.
Nicole S.: I never thought about that, tasting your ingredients before you put them in there. I mean, I might take some almonds and pop them in my mouth as I'm about to cook, but the idea of tasting all of your spices and that should tell you what your meal is gonna taste like is kind of something ... I knew that, but hadn't thought about, hmm, that's probably how you'll know the recipe will taste.
Sandy Axelrod: Yes, 'cause from memory, you'll know what that spice tasted like.
Nicole S.: Okay. So, what's a die hard menu. Like a no kidding, this is a relatively new home cook that want to throw a dinner party for her friends, or his buddies. What's a die hard, an easy but no kidding, bullet proof menu that you could recommend, like a cuisine or something that you think is easy to get started with.
Sandy Axelrod: For me it would be a cuisine from New Orleans. Creole is just food that I love because it's a mixture of Spanish and French, and I think African. There's a little bit of everything in there, highly seasoned. Not necessarily hot. People think that cuisine is very spicy. It's relatively spicy, but not overbearing. I would suggest starting with three appetizers is what I usually do. I might do a hot appetizer, a simple one. I always like to make things that can be prepared in advance. A cheese board with some salami or prosciutto and fruit and crackers and a jam. And then, I would actually consider that two, because you've got the mean and you've the cheeses, and the condiments, and then a hot appetizer. So, you wanna keep it simple beforehand 'cause you don't want them to fill up.
Then, a salad I think is always nice. Most people that come to my home expect my Caesar salad just because they think my dressing is the best they've ever had, and I don't know if it's on my blog, but it is in my cookbook for sure.
Nicole S.: Alright. We're gonna get into that but next.
Sandy Axelrod: Yeah. Yeah. It's fool proof. And then, and entrée. For this last party, I actually did not make Caesar salad. I made more of a Creole style salad because it went with the theme, but I made gumbo because it's a one pot dinner. I did make rice on the side in a rice cooker, so no brainer. I put it on, turned it on and forgot about it and enjoyed my company. The gumbo I made the day before. Again, preparing ahead. All I had to do was reheat it the day of the party before we served it. And a good bread to sop up all the sauce.
The dessert to me is ... I don't care what you serve for dinner. It can be basic. It can be mediocre, but if you have a great dessert, that's what people will remember because it's the last thing they're going to eat. And for my last dinner party, I made my new favorite dessert. Normally I would have made was a grasshopper pie, and it starts with a dark chocolate cookie crumb crust, and then softened mint chocolate chip ice cream. And, on top of it is chocolate ganache. So, it's like-
Nicole S.: Oh, wow.
Sandy Axelrod: Oh, I'm sorry. I just lied to you. It's actually an Oreo cookie crust.
Nicole S.: We forgive you.
Sandy Axelrod: And in the middle ... you soften the ice cream, you break up more Oreos, like the rest of the package, and Andes thin mints-
Nicole S.: Wow.
Sandy Axelrod: Which you just unwrap and put in whole. You mix it all and you pour it into your crust in a spring form pan and then freeze it. That you really have to make a day or two before so it's frozen solid.
Nicole S.: Oh my God.
Sandy Axelrod: And then over it goes chocolate ganache.
Nicole S.: So, you're saying that you ... is the ice cream mixture melted or is it just soft, very soft.
Sandy Axelrod: It's softened so it becomes like a cake batter thickness.
Nicole S.: Okay. When you're mixing it, is it in a cold bowl so it doesn't get too soft or ...
Sandy Axelrod: Nah. I don't think [crosstalk 00:27:05]. Yeah it doesn't seem to matter whether it's kept really cold. It softens pretty quickly.
Nicole S.: And are you breaking-
Sandy Axelrod: Yeah, you break it up.
Nicole S.: And are you breaking up those Andes mints or are you just leaving them-
Sandy Axelrod: No. They go in whole. Just unwrap them.
Nicole S.: Wow. That sounds so good.
Sandy Axelrod: Oh, it's, yes. It's refreshing. It's always hot here in South Florida, so it's always good to have a cold dessert.
Nicole S.: Yes.
Sandy Axelrod: It's my new favorite.
Nicole S.: That sounds so good. And, you're right, you could serve slop before that, but as long as you serve the pie, people are gonna eat that and they're like, "This is a great meal."
Sandy Axelrod: I wouldn't but I could.
Nicole S.: Oh my goodness. I'm gonna probably have to ... Did you make that up?
Sandy Axelrod: No. I can't remember whether it was from Bon Appetit or Food & Wine, but yeah, it's pretty darn awesome.
Nicole S.: Wow. Okay. Well, if I can't find it, I'm going to, I'm gonna take it from here and we'll write down some of the instructions and I think ... It sounds pretty easy that people could figure it out, but that sounds delicious. I really want to eat that today.
Sandy Axelrod: Email me, I'll send you the recipe.
Nicole S.: Oh, absolutely. Well, I'd love to share it with our friends here on the blog, and the podcasts, so I'll definitely do that. I will definitely share it with them. That sounds so, so good. So, what are those meals, because you are a chef, and I'm always interested in what chefs are cooking for themselves. What are those meals that you cook over and over, your tried and true go to's in your house.
Sandy Axelrod: One of them is funny. I call it tuna pasta. It has fancier Italian name, of course. It really uses a can of tuna fish. But, you cook up celery and carrots, it's all chopped fine in the food processor, garlic, and shallots, and pine nuts, and a tin of drained anchovies all mashed in together and cooked off with some white wine. And then, add a can, I use tuna packed in water, just very plain, drain the tuna, flake it into the dish, lots of Parmesan cheese and pasta. Oh, I also add some hot pepper flakes and raisins.
Nicole S.: Wow.
Sandy Axelrod: Yeah. And, the first time I made it, I told my husband what I was making and he looked at me like I had two heads, and I said, "Alright, if you hate it, I will make you something else." And now ... In the weeks after I made it the first time, every single week he would say, "Would you make that tuna past for dinner please?"
Nicole S.: Isn't that funny how people hear the ingredients, so as soon as you said anchovies, I'm sure there's a thousand people that are like, "I'm out."
Sandy Axelrod: Yeah.
Nicole S.: No way.
Sandy Axelrod: I would say you don't have to add them, but it's not like you taste it, really. There's just something about ... I would tell people, alright you-
PART 2 OF 3 ENDS [00:30:04]
Sandy Axelrod: Really, there's just something about ... I would tell people, "All right. You could actually add some Worcestershire sauce instead." Because one time I didn't have anchovies, and I substituted with that, and it worked perfectly.
Nicole S.: See, everybody out there who's doing the gagging noises over achov'. First of all, I'm team 'chovy. Okay? I love anchovies. I think they add this wonderful umami flavor to food. A lot of times they're that flavor booster and you don't taste the anchovy, you're totally right. I knew exactly what you were saying.
But, there's some people who've had ... I know there's been some bad experiences out there with anchovies, particularly on pizza. I totally get it. Those are some poor anchovies that you were probably eating back in the '90s. If you were eating anchovies on your pizza in the '90s, and you were ordering it from Domino's, no offense Domino's, but it just probably wasn't the best anchovy. And I get it. That's too much 'chovy.
But putting anchovies in other things, you don't really taste them, and they add so much flavor to your food, so I'm team 'chovy. I'm right along with you.
Sandy Axelrod: Excellent.
Nicole S.: What is your favorite kitchen tool? The thing that you use the most when you're cooking?
Sandy Axelrod: My knife. My chef's knife.
Nicole S.: Yeah?
Sandy Axelrod: I think with a good knife and good knife skills you could prepare just about anything. You don't have to have a food processor, because you can chop things very finely. But you have to know how to hold it properly and how to use it. And keep your knife sharp. A sharp knife is far less dangerous than a dull one.
Nicole S.: No, that is important. That's something you learned in school, and you just took it with you?
Sandy Axelrod: Yep.
Nicole S.: Yeah. No, that's a great tip. Do you use this particular type of knife, or can any knife do? What's a good knife that you'd recommend?
Sandy Axelrod: Oh, well I have two, and they're probably both top-of-the-line, not for most people just because they're very expensive. One is a Shun Kaji, I think is the type, the model. It's a typical French-style chef's knife. The other one I have is more of a vegetable slicer, and chopper, and that one is Global. I love them both. It really depends on what I'm using them for.
Nicole S.: Yeah, I have a Ken Onion Shun.
Sandy Axelrod: Oh, okay.
Nicole S.: Yes. My husband bought that for me. He surprised me one day.
Sandy Axelrod: Yeah, nice.
Nicole S.: [inaudible 00:32:30] Yeah. I love it. It's like a Santoku, kind of, with a funky shape, but it's such a great chopper. I can grip it, because I have small hand.
Sandy Axelrod: Oh, me, too.
Nicole S.: I can [inaudible 00:32:41] up on it really nicely. I truly love that knife. I baby that knife. [inaudible 00:32:46] so expensive.
Sandy Axelrod: Yeah. Husbands can be really, really sweet. You said your husband surprised you.
Nicole S.: Yeah.
Sandy Axelrod: We just did a huge kitchen renovation a few years back, and I had always wanted one of those freestanding butcher blocks with the really, really, thick top, all wood. I had seen one on John Boos' website. I guess it was one of the Freudian slips. I left it up on the screen, not thinking anything about it. It was a fortune. Then I was just admiring the kitchen, and the doorbell rang, and I said to my husband, "What's that? Who's ringing our doorbell?" It was the delivery, and it was this enormous box that could not be just moved easily. He says, "Oh, wait a second. You think the kitchen's finished, but it's not," and he took a blade and opened up that box. It was that butcher block that I wanted so desperately.
Nicole S.: Oh, my God.
Sandy Axelrod: Yeah. So when you asked my favorite ... It's the knife, but it's that block to use the knife on.
Nicole S.: Oh, I bet you [crosstalk 00:33:58]
Sandy Axelrod: Yeah. Somehow or other that knife is going to come on the RV with us. Somehow. I don't ... That block has to come with us.
Nicole S.: Oh, my goodness. I mean, it's like ... You have to take three things with you. They're like, "You got to leave everything behind." You're like, "I need my knife and my block."
Sandy Axelrod: That's it. That's it.
Nicole S.: Hear you. I don't have a kitchen block like that. But I did finally invest in a nice, big, wooden cutting board, and I love it. I do everything on it. I mean, it's beautiful, and even though I ... People are like, "Do you chop on it?" I'm like, "I totally do." You just oil that baby up, and you treat it like a child. You just got to take care of it. I'm constantly putting oil on it or rubbing beeswax oil. There's this Boos board oil, it's like a cream, that I rub on it.
Sandy Axelrod: Yes.
Nicole S.: Yeah. I take care-
Sandy Axelrod: You can restore a really bad board with it, too.
Nicole S.: You can.
Sandy Axelrod: You sort of massage it in. It's amazing.
Nicole S.: You just keep using it. It keeps your board beautiful. I love it. All right. What is that one tip, that you can give to a home cook out there, that's been invaluable to you? Now I want to premise this by saying you've given so many great tips: salting and your fruit, pounding out your chicken breast, get a good knife. I mean, there's been too many to count. That grasshopper ... That pie, we're going to definitely do that. But if there's something else like that surefire tip, that you can give to that home cook, that's been invaluable to you throughout your years of cooking, what would that be?
Sandy Axelrod: Cooking with love. I mean, when you love who you're cooking for, it makes the job easy. It's not really a job, it's an act of love. And I would say season everything. Really, that's key. If you go to fine dining restaurants, normally, you will not see a salt and pepper shaker, because you're banking on the fact, or the chefs are, that they've seasoned everything properly. Shouldn't need any more seasoning. So if you take that into account, and as you're cooking, season every layer, you will have a great meal.
Nicole S.: That's great. What a great tip. That's a really good tip. You're right. I don't see, in the fine dining places I've been at, I've not seen that. It just didn't occur to me, "Oh, yeah, because they've already taken care of that for you." They're seasoning your food before they cook it and give it to you. Yeah. Okay. Where can people find you, Sandy?
Sandy Axelrod: Well, of course they can find me on my blog, TheTravelingLocavores.com. I'm on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter, all The Traveling Locavores. Oh, actually, I think Twitter is under just my name, which is, of course @SandyAxelrod. It's Sandy with a Y.
Nicole S.: Yeah. I'll make sure, Sandy with a Y, that we'll have links to all of your social media on the show notes. I can't thank you enough for being on the show today. It's been really fun.
Sandy Axelrod: Oh, it's been my pleasure. Thank you, Nicole.
Nicole S.: All right. You've just finished hearing me talk with Sandy Axelrod of The Traveling Locavores. That was such a fun chat. It probably went longer than a lot of my chats, because Sandy had such great information. I want to hit on a few things that we discussed.
The first was when Sandy talks about waffles back in the beginning, she talks about my favorite waffle mix, Kodiak Cakes. I think I've talked about Kodiak Cakes about a hundred times, but you guys, it's actually really good. While I haven't tried the other flavors that they offer, I've had friends who've tried it, and they also have told me that it's awesome. So check out this waffle mix. I'm not sponsored by them. They don't even know I exist, but it's really good. I love telling you about products that I use and that I think are worth your money.
Also, what about that tip about making a crust? Oh, my goodness. I just got air fryer, and so I am really excited to make pecan-crusted chicken fingers. You can bet that I'm going to use Sandy's tip to add corn starch to the mix. I will definitely post on Instagram, once I make them, what they look like.
Sandy's just so inspiring. The fact that she went to culinary school to learn how to entertain, that is something I used to dream about doing. I kind of did that. There's this school in Washington, D.C. called L'Academie de Cuisine. They used to offer an evening class for serious amateurs. You took the same classes as the professional students during the day. You just did it in a really condensed format. So maybe the first week you're going to learn all about soups, where it would take the professional class a week to do it. You would have to learn all of that in one night. It was tough. I was getting home around 1:00 AM. I'd get there by 6:00 after working full day, and then leave at 1:00 AM, but I loved it. I took that class, and it really changed how I cooked. I'm so glad I did it.
I'm not sure if they still offer that class, but here's what I do know. I've looked into other programs in other cities, and definitely, if you're in New York City, the International Culinary Center offers programs like that for serious amateurs, for sure. They even offer evening classes that ... Well, I'll tell you that the classes I've taken have really changed the way I think about food and how I cook. So if you're near a big city, or even if all you have is the community college that's offering a culinary program, you should go see what they have to offer if you're interested in that. More often than not, they do have some classes for serious amateurs. They might even make a small class if they find out there's enough interest. I find that chefs are always willing to teach, especially when people really want to learn. So I would recommend pursuing that.
I'm going to put the recipe for grasshopper pie, that Sandy talked about, in the show notes. So if you're looking for that or you want that, you can also reach out to me or her. We'll definitely give you the recipe. It's sounds like it would just stop the show at your dinner party. I'll also put links to her favorite knives to she uses. She said a Shun Kaji. I need to look that up. And a Global for chopping. I know Global. I'll also put a link up to my favorite knife, my Ken Onion Shun knife. It is by far ... If there was a fire, I would grab that knife, and then run out of the house, because that is one of my most prized possessions.
Finally, you know what? Think about joining the Facebook group. There are some extra things that I share in that group. For example, I put my chocolate chip cookie recipe in there. Let me tell you something. If you're single or you're trying to impress your significant other, there isn't a person on Earth that can resist a warm chocolate chip cookie. If someone tells me that they can, they're alien. There's someone screaming in their car right now going, "I hate chocolate." Chocolate chip cookies are magical. You should try one. So, yeah. That recipe is in there. It's my husband ... I only make it twice a year, because my husband will literally eat the entire pan of cookies if I'm not watching him. So I only make them twice a year, because they're that good, and he can't resist. So, yeah.
Finally, if you like this podcast, please consider giving me a review. Those review really help the show be found by other people who love food, and who love hearing other people talk about food, and who you think would be interested in the show. Your reviews help. I appreciate every single one. I read every single one. It really means a lot to me.
Until next week, this is BFF with the Chef wishing you a great week and hoping that you've been inspired to go and make something delicious. Goodbye.