THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
November 3, 2020, 2:45PM.
During the pandemic, many home cooks are missing the ritual of going out to eat on a regular basis. At the same time, we also yearn for a home-cooked meal provided with love by a family member, just like mom used to make.
A warming soup, some meatballs and gravy and mounds of creamy mashed potatoes are not fancy restaurant fare. They can provide comfort and ballast during uncertain times, such as the one we’re living through now.
As veterans of the food service industry, the owners of Jessie & Laurent of San Rafael have been coming to the rescue of busy families looking for kitchen help during the pandemic. Fitting in somewhere between a restaurant’s curbside pick-up and a meal kit, the home meal delivery service offers a wide range of cozy entrees like Spaghetti Pie and Beef Bourguignon, made in small batches that can be customized for special diets in many cases.
“Our meals are designed to be cooled and reheated, and there’s a lot less waste,“ said Jessie & Laurent Managing Partner Rick Graves, who purchased the 39-year-old business in 2019 with a few partners. “Everything we send out either goes into the recycling or the compost, except for the ice packs and the bags, and you can give those back and we clean and use them again.“
The meal delivery service offers an a la carte menu, except on holidays like Thanksgiving, and delivers ready-to-heat-and-eat meals all over the Bay Area, from Santa Rosa and Petaluma to the East Bay and Los Altos.
Due to increased demand during the pandemic, Graves hired Chef Tom McGuigan in August as Jessie & Laurent’s first culinary director. The longtime chef, who has cooked all over the world, has been streamlining operations while expanding the a la carte menu from its original focus on classic French cuisine to encompass more world flavors.
“My goal is to bring a little more broader flavor profiles to the table,” said McGuigan, who most recently ran the commissary operation for Bi-Rite Markets in San Francisco. “We have a sophisticated dining public in the Bay Area.”
With more moms and dads working at home now while trying to manage their kids’ education and extracurricular activities, the meal delivery service has been striving to get “bigger, better, faster, easier” while remaining true to its roots, the chef said.
“We’re very service-oriented,” McGuigan said. “We really try to cater to everybody, including people who are completely vegan, and we’re trying to create dishes that are appealing to everyone and that can be modified.”
Jessie & Laurent was founded in 1981 by a French-American couple, Jessie and Laurent Boucher, who met in France and returned to California to turn their passion for food and cooking into a family business.
“Jessie started out as a personal chef and had the business for 38 years. Then they retired,” Graves said. “It was about serving and bringing people together around the table.”
Along with more adventurous dishes from Southeast Asia and elsewhere, McGuigan has started to add health-conscious items like grain bowls and vegetarian fare along with brunch dishes such as frittatas. A kids’ offering is in the works to complement the wide variety of soups, salads, sauces, sides and entrees already on the mix-and-match menu.
“You can order grilled chicken a la carte,” Graves said. “Then add rice to it or put it on a salad.”
A native of San Francisco who has cooked in a Michelin-starred restaurant in Paris, McGuigan enjoys taking the comfort foods everyone is craving right now and bringing them to the next level.
His popular entree of Slow-Braised Beef Short Ribs, served with Heavenly Whipped Mashed Potatoes and Carrots Sautéed with Fresh Marjoram, flies out the door whenever he puts it on the menu.
“We can’t make enough of those,“ he said of the beef ribs. “They are a winter comfort food, and it’s going to keep you warm and happy, with the mashed potatoes. … It’s like mom used to make.”
As a starter for an autumn-winter menu, McGuigan suggested a simple White Bean Soup with Garlic that he makes with his flavorful vegetable stock.
“I put all the vegetables in it and ginger and lemongrass and coriander and fennel and bay leaf, so it has a really round flavor,” he said.
Another easy but satisfying starter for the cool season is his Winter Chicory Salad with Parmesan and Walnuts, which marries bitter and sweet flavors with the deep umami taste of the Parmesan.
“It seems so simple, but it is one of my favorite salads in the whole world,” he said. “I make a really nice lemon vinaigrette and use a little bit of agave syrup and whole grain mustard. When you toss all that flavor together, it’s awesome.”
Jessie & Laurent does not bake its own sweets but sources treats from high-quality bakeries like Upper Crust Bakery in San Rafael, which provides the pot pie shells, and Sweet Things in Tiburon, known for giving its own twist to American-style pastries and desserts.
The meal delivery company has about 24,000 clients in its databases, Graves said. About 5% of its sales come through its gifting program, which includes e-cards and community fund contributions.
The meals come with reheating instructions and information about whether the dish is freezable. “One of our clients orders 12 large Spaghetti Pies and freezes them every time they are offered on the menu,” Graves said.
Through its new ownership team, Jessie & Laurent has remained a family business, with two of the partners married to each other and many family members working together in the kitchen and elsewhere. Some employees, such as the driver for Santa Rosa deliveries, have been with the company since the beginning.
“We’ve been fortunate to be able to help our own community and create jobs during the pandemic,” Graves said. “When COVID hit, we did a No Kid Hungry benefit and fed first responders.”
For more information on menus and ordering options, go to jessieetlaurent.com
This vegetarian soup gets its richness and flavor from homemade vegetable stock, vegetables and spices.
White Bean and Garlic Soup
Makes 4 servings
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
4 carrots, diced
4 celery stalks, diced
2 large leeks, white part only, cleaned and diced
5 cloves garlic, diced
1 tablespoon thyme, chopped
1 teaspoons marjoram, chopped
1 bay leaf
1 15.5-ounce can white beans, drained
1 14-ounce can diced Italian tomatoes
5 cups vegetable stock, preferably homemade
3 cups Roma tomatoes, diced
1 tablespoon Italian parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon basil, chiffonaded
Roast diced onions with salt, pepper and 1 tablespoon olive oil at 400 degrees for 8 minutes, until browned on the edges. Reserve.
Sauté onion, carrots, celery and leeks in 1 tablespoon olive oil until soft and tender. Add garlic, thyme and marjoram and cook for 5 minutes. Add bay leaf, half the white beans, diced tomatoes and 3 cups of vegetable stock and cook over medium heat. Puree the other half of the white beans in the remainder of the vegetable stock and add to the pot. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer for 15 minutes. Take off the heat and stir in basil and parsley.
These ribs need to be marinated the night before you braise them.
Slow-Braised Beef Short Ribs
4 pounds boneless beef short ribs, cut into 2-inch widths
2 cups red wine
1 tablespoon rosemary, chopped
1 tablespoon salt
½ tablespoon black pepper
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, sliced
4 garlic cloves
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup beef stock
1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons Italian parsley, chopped
Marinate short ribs overnight in 1 ½ cups wine combined with rosemary, reserving ½ cup of red wine for cooking.
Remove the next day, pat dry and season with salt and pepper.
Heat a Dutch oven or other heavy pot, brown the short ribs on all sides over high heat and remove when brown. Add olive oil and sauté the onion over medium heat until caramelized. Add garlic and cook 4 minutes more, stirring occasionally. Add the cinnamon, stir, then deglaze with ½ cup red wine and cook until almost dry. Add tomatoes and beef stock, bring to a boil and add beef ribs.
Cover tightly and place in the oven at 325 degrees until tender, about 2 ½ hours. Remove from oven, shred the meat and keep it warm.
Degrease the sauce by pouring the pan juices into a measuring cup, then letting them rest for 5 minutes, after which the fat will be concentrated on top and you can pour it off.
Fold in fresh parsley, then pour sauce over the meat.
The natural sugars in the carrots come to the surface when they are caramelized, providing a rich, deep flavor that matches the richness of the ribs.
Sautéed Carrots with Lemon and Marjoram
Makes 4 servings
8 large rainbow carrots, cut diagonally in ½-inch slices
1 large garlic clove, minced
4 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh marjoram, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Sauté the carrots in frying pan with 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat until they start to brown. Add garlic, sugar, ¼ teaspoon salt and black pepper and stir. Add 1 tablespoon water. Cover for 5 minutes, remove cover and continue to cook until carrots are tender and beginning to brown.
Once the carrots are tender and water is evaporated, remove from the heat and finish with remaining olive oil, lemon juice, marjoram and salt, if needed.
These mashed potatoes get added flavor from half and half, butter, buttermilk and cream cheese.
Heavenly Whipped Potatoes
4 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and quartered
3 cloves garlic
1 cup half and half
½ cup butter (1 stick) unsalted
½ cup buttermilk
¼ cup soft cream cheese
2 tablespoons Kosher salt
1 tablespoon black pepper
Put potatoes in a pot and cover with water. Put over a high flame, add 1 tablespoon salt and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until potatoes are tender. Drain and let steam for 5 minutes in the pan.
While potatoes are steaming, heat the half and half, butter and buttermilk. Place the cooked potatoes in a bowl and whisk in the cream mixture. Once the mixture is smooth, whip in the cream cheese, salt and pepper.
This salad, with its bitter greens and citrusy vinaigrette, cuts through the richness of the rest of the meal.
Winter Chicory Salad with Parmesan and Walnuts
2 heads escarole lettuce
1 head radicchio lettuce
4 heads endive spears
1 large head frisée lettuce
1 teaspoon kosher salt
6 ounces lemon vinaigrette (recipe below)
4 ounces walnut halves and pieces
2 ounces shaved Parmesan cheese
Wash and dry all the lettuce, cut into 1-inch wide pieces and mix well together.
Place in a large bowl and season with salt, then toss with ½ cup lemon vinaigrette, adding more to taste if desired.
Place in a serving bowl and top with shredded cheese and walnuts.
Makes 3 ½ cups
1 cup lemon juice
¼ cup champagne vinegar
2 tablespoons agave syrup or honey
1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard
2 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon pepper
2 cups olive oil½ cup extra virgin olive oil
Mince shallots finely and add to a bowl with lemon juice, champagne vinegar, agave syrup or honey, whole-grain mustard, salt and pepper. Whisk and let stand for 10 minutes. Combine the two olive oils and slowly drizzle into the shallot mixture while whisking. Adjust seasoning and refrigerate. The extra vinaigrette will store in the fridge for several weeks.
Staff Writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 707-521-5287 or email@example.com. On Twitter @dianepete56