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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Anniversary Dinner

Thanksgiving was Mary Beth and my 16th wedding anniversary.  So we technically had 2 anniversary dinners.  But as if we didn't have enough to eat that day, we went out to the Washington House on Friday night. 

The Washington House has never been a place where we've had a meal that really bowled us over, but you can always be sure that you're going to get a very well prepared and tasty meal there.  And the interesting menu changes a lot, so you know that the ingredients they use are pretty fresh.

In case you were wondering, here's what we got to eat:

MB got Crab & Corn Chowder as an appetizer, Seared Scallops with Butternut Cream and Wild Rice and Spinach.  For dessert, it was a Peanut Butter and Chocolate Mousse Pie.  I started with a very tasty Thai Curry Beef Eggroll and got the Bay Scallop and Shrimp Risotto with Shiitake Mushrooms and Asparagus as my entree.  My dessert was a New Orleans-Style Bread Pudding. 

Everything was cooked very well--the seafood was tender and moist, the eggrolls were very crispy without being greasy, the risotto was creamy and al dente.  Overall, another very enjoyable evening of overeating!

Monday, November 29, 2010

PA's Rich Food History

Here in Bucks County, we're blessed with many wonderful culinary options--fresh produce, PA Dutch food, wines, Philly soft pretzels and cheese steaks, locally made delicacies.  The list goes on and on.  In fact, our whole state is full of food traditions and history.

William Woys Weaver, noted expert on Pennsylvania Dutch Cooking, is in the process of creating the Keystone Center for the Study of Regional Foods and Food Tourism.  He has broken our state up into 5 culinary regions: Philadelphia Region (includes parts of South Jersey), Pennsylvania Dutch Region (the largest region), Northern Tier Region (influenced by New York and New England), Allegheny Mountain and Southwest Appalachian Region (including Pittsburgh) and Northwest Lakeshore Region (influenced by the wine made there).  The map below (courtesy of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) shows how these regions are laid out.

According to a Post-Gazette article, PA has the most culinary regions of any state--mainly because of it's status as the "Keystone State".  From early in our country's history, PA has been physically and politically in the center--a mid-point from the South to the North--both influencing and being influenced by those cultures around it.  That, says Weaver, is what makes PA's culinary diversity so wide. 

Anyone who has traveled around the state knows that this is true.  Italian food in Philly, Polish food in the Northeast and Pittsburgh, PA Dutch food in the center of the state, etc.  For food lovers, PA seems to be the place to be!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


Well, I'm trying to mentally prepare myself for our usual Thanksgiving Day Eat-Fest--2 full Thanksgiving Day dinners in a span of about 6 hours.  As I always say, it's all in the pacing.

Whatever you're doing tomorrow--eating with family, out at a restaurant or someplace else--take time to think about the meal.  Give thanks to those who prepared the food.  Be thankful for the farmers who worked so hard to get much of that food on your table.  Be thankful for the animals that gave their lives so you could enjoy a delicious dinner.  And be thankful that you are fortunate enough to be able to eat until you can't anymore. 

To all of you who have supported me by reading my blog and told others about it, I thank you.  And I wish you all a fun-filled, safe and delicious Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Stuff It

OK.  I have a confession to make.  I periodically buy frozen White Castle hamburgers.  They're nutritionally horrible, expensive (I only buy with a coupon), but God, they're tasty.  They're tiny, so you have to eat a bunch to make it worth-while and, because they're heated in the microwave, you have to eat them fast or the buns start to get hard.  I think there's some conspiracy between the White Castle company and cardiologists.

Google "White Castle Hamburger" and you'll see all sorts of ways to eat these things--deep-fried, a "casserole" with WCH's, Hormel chili, Velveeta and Tater Tots (pardon me while I fetch my Tums), and more.

Now to top it off, inside the box there is a little insert that asks the question, "What does a true CRAVER eat on the HOLIDAY?"  (As a side note, they end this sentence with a ".", not a "?", which drives me NUTS!!!  It's a question, people!)  Anyway, the answer to the question is: White Castle Turkey Stuffing!

Now, really, how strange and delicious must this be?  So here's the recipe:


10 White Castle hamburgers, no pickles
1 1/2 cups celery, diced
1 1/4 tsp ground thyme
1 1/4 tsp fresh sage
3/4 tsp coarse ground black pepper
1/4 cup chicken broth

In a large mixing bowl, tear the burgers into pieces and add diced celery and seasonings.  Toss and add chicken broth.  Stuff cavity of turkey just before roasting.  Recipe makes about 9 cups (enough for a 10-12 pound turkey).  Note: Allow 1 hamburger for each pound of turkey, which is the equivalent of 3/4 cup of stuffing per pound.

Please, someone make this and tell me if it's any good.  I has to be, right?

Friday, November 19, 2010

Getting Dressed for Thankgiving

According to the poll on the right side of this page, 25% of you think that stuffing is the best part of Thanksgiving dinner.  Of course, only 4 of you have voted (come on, people!), but still, a lot of folks like stuffing more than anything.  It's Mary Beth's favorite--"Just one more little taste" is her most common line on Tgiving Day. 

Photo courtesy of gourmetsleuth.com.

I like stuffing, too.  Here's my problem, though.  Despite being very tasty, it's always the same--every year.  There are loads of interesting and delicious recipes for stuffing (or dressing, as some call it).  I guess I'll just have to try them at non-holiday times.

But in case you're not caught in that situation, here's a recipe for a Wild Rice Dressing from Cook's Country magazine (yes, them again).  I'll have to try it sometime, but if you do, let me know what you think!

Serves 10-12
Depending on the brand, wild rice absorbs varying quantities of liquid.  If you have less than 1 1/2 cups of leftover cooking liquid, make up the difference with additional low-sodium chicken broth.

2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 cups water
1 bay leaf
2 cups wild rice
10 slices hearty white sandwich bread, torn into pieces
8 Tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 onions, chopped fine
3 celery ribs, chopped fine
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 tsp dried sage
1 1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 large eggs
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
  1. COOK RICE:  Bring broth, water, and bay leaf to boil in medium saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add rice, reduce heat to low, and simmer, covered, until rice is tender, 35-45 minutes.  Strain contents of pan through fine-mesh strainer into large liquid measuring cup.  Transfer rice to medium bowl; discard bay leaf.  Reserve 1 1/2 cups cooking liquid.
  2. TOAST BREAD:  Adjust oven racks to upper-middle and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 325 degrees.  Pulse half of the bread in food processor until pea-size pieces remain and transfer to rimmed baking sheet.  Repeat with remaining bread and another rimm3ed baking sheet.  Bake bread crumbs until golden, about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally and switching and rotating baking sheets halfway through baking.  Cool completely, about 10 minutes.
  3. SAUTE AROMATICS:  Melt 4 Tbsp butter in large skillet over medium heat.  Cook onions and celery until golden, 8-10 minutes.  Add garlic, sage, and thyme and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Stir in reserved cooking liquid, remove from heat, and cool 5 minutes.
  4. ASSEMBLE AND BAKE:  Whisk cream, eggs, salt, and pepper in large bowl.  Slowly whisk in warm broth mixture.  Stir in rice and toasted bread  crumbs and transfer to 13x9" baking dish.  Melt remaining butter in now-empty skillet and drizzle evenly over dressing.  Cover dish with aluminum foil and bake on lower-middle rack until set, 45-55 minutes.  Remove foil and let cool 15 minutes.  Serve.
You can save some time on Thanksgiving Day by making this dish ahead of time.  Before baking, the assembled dressing can be refrigerated in the baking dish, covered for 1 day.  To finish, melt remaining butter, drizzle over dressing, and proceed with recipe, adding 20 minutes to the baking time.

Here are a couple variations to jazz the dish up even more:

Prepare Wild Rice Dressing, adding 1 1/2 cups chopped dried apricots, cranberries, or cherries and 1 1/2 cups chopped toasted pecans with the bread crumbs in Step 4.

Prepare Wild Rice Dressing, replacing onions and celery with 4 leeks (white and light green parts only), halved lengthwise and sliced thin, and 10 oz cremini mushrooms, sliced thin.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Healthy Herbs and Spices

Tonight I'm part of a healthy eating program at Jake's school, so I've been thinking "healthy" as I've been getting ready for that. 

I just was reading a story from CBS News about nutritionist, author and TV chef Elie Krieger.  She was talking about how it's not only the foods that we eat that can have health benefits, but the herbs and spices that we use to prepare those foods that can make them even more healthy for us.  You can read the story for more details, but here are a few things that she highlighted.
  • Rosemary: Either fresh or dried, rosemary is teeming with antioxidants that can help to prevent cancer and keep cholesterol numbers down.
  • Cinnamon: This is one of the most health beneficial spices of all.  It has the highest antioxidant amounts of any spice.  It's been known to lower blood glucose in diabetics.  Cinnamon also contains manganese, iron and calcium, as well as being known to help alleviate nausea and stomach ulcers.
  • Thyme: This herb contains some antibacterial properties as well as being a good source of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Omega 3 fatty acids among other things.
  • Curry Powder: As you probably know, curry powder is a mixture of different spices.  It differs from region to region and sometimes family to family.  But one of the spices that all curry powder contains is turmeric and that's what makes it healthy (and gives it that distinctive color).  Turmeric has been used to treat arthritis and rheumatism.  Studies also show that it can help to prevent heart problems, cancer and Alzheimer's Disease.  In fact, Alzheimer's is 4 times less prevalent in India (where curry powder is eaten in huge amounts) than in the US.
  • Ginger: Ginger has been used for centuries as an anti-inflamatory and to treat circulation problems and stomach ailments.
So spice up your meals and reap the healthy benefits from all those great flavors!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Mmmm...Garlic Bread!

I just read a sort article from The Wall Street Journal about a "comeback" for garlic bread in restaurants.  I love good garlic bread, but so many times, it's just soggy and either has too much strong garlic on it or has that semi-medicinal garlic powder taste. 

But as usual, the folks at Cook's Illustrated & Cook's Country have created a technique that results in crispy bread with just enough garlic flavor.  Here is is:

CRISPY GARLIC BREAD from Cook's Country magazine
Makes 12 slices
Start with a soft Italian bread, not a rustic, crusty loaf.  Use a rasp grater or the small holes of a box grater to grate the garlic.

12 Tbsp (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
4 garlic cloves, grated (see note) or minced
1/4 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
12 (1") slices Italian bread (see note)
  1. MAKE PASTE: Adjust oven rack to middle position, place rimmed baking sheet on rack, and heat oven to 425 degrees.  Using fork, beat butter, garlic, sugar, salt and pepper in small bowl until combined.  Spread butter mixture evenly over both sides of bread.
  2. TOAST BREAD: Arrange buttered bread on heated baking sheet and bak3e until golden brown on first side, 8-10 minutes.  Flip and bake until golden brown on second side, about 5 minutes.  Serve.
They give some tasty options as well:

CHEESY CHIPOTLE:  Add 2 tsp minced chipotle chiles in adobo to the butter mixture in step1.  Sprinkle bread with 1 1/2 cups shredded pepper Jack cheese in the last minute of baking.

SPICY PESTO:  add 3 Tbsp basil pesto and 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper to butter mixture in step 1.

OLIVE AND THYME:  Add 2 Tbsp black olive tapenade and 2 tsp minced fresh thyme to butter mixture in step 1.

CHEDDAR-CHIVE:  Add 2 Tbsp minced fresh chives to butter mixture in step 1.  Sprinkle bread with 1 1/2 cups shredded extra-sharp cheddar cheese in the last minute of baking.

Friday, November 12, 2010

FRESH Revisited

In case you missed it when we had our screening back in June, there will be a screening of Fresh: The Movie on Tuesday, Dec. 7 at the Health & Wellness Center by Doylestown Hospital on Rt. 611 in Warrington.

The program begins at 6:30 with the screening of the movie followed by a panel discussion.  But come early to taste some samples that I'll be making using local ingredients (Southwestern Butternut Squash Soup and Honeyed Apple Slaw).  You'll also be able to talk to and get information from the other panelists from Tussock Sedge Farm, Just One Seed organic farm, The Bucks County Foodshed Alliance and the nutritionists of Healthy Directions (from the Health & Wellness Center).  The Coffee Scoop from Pipersville will also be offering tastings.

If you haven't seen the film and are interested in supporting local farms and businesses, don't miss it!  You'll leave energized about changing the food culture in our country.

Registration is required and they're almost filled up, so don't wait.  Call 215-345-2121 and come out for a fun, informative and inspirational evening!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Are You Eating Your Fruits & Veggies?

We're supposed to eat 2 servings of fruit and 3 servings of vegetables to maintain a healthy diet.  Are you doing that?  Chances are, you're not.  And neither are most of the people you know.

According to a study noted in an NPR story, only 32.5% of adults are achieving that level of fruit intake and just 26.3% are eating that amount of veggies.  Yikes.

As you know, a diet with plenty of fruits and veggies helps to combat obesity, heart disease, stroke and maybe cancer.  Let's try to do better, huh?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Let's Get Ready to Gobble!

Thanksgiving is coming up on us pretty quickly.  In just over 2 weeks, we'll be searching out our stretchy pants and getting ready to stuff ourselves with our favorite holiday fare.  (Choose your favorite in the poll to the right.)  And I'd be remiss in telling you that Mary Beth & my wedding anniversary falls on the Turkey Day this year.  She's survived 16 years with this turkey!

If you are like 97% of Americans, you will be eating turkey this Thanksgiving. Although more people are eating turkey at non-holiday times (consumption has increased 116% and production is up 300% since 1970), most Americans see turkey as a holiday dish. Too bad, though.  Turkeys are very low fat and very high in protein (more than chicken or beef). The average gobbler eaten at Thanksgiving is 15 pounds (much less than the largest turkey on record—86 pounds!). Oh, and studies show that there’s way too little tryptophan in turkey to cause drowsiness.  All the wine and food you stuff in your stomach pulls blood away from the brain to aid in digestion and prevents you from seeing the 2nd half of that football game or helping with the dishes. You’ll have to find another excuse.

Ben Franklin famously nominated the wild turkey as our nation’s symbol (rather than the bald eagle). He saw that these relatives to the pheasant were hearty, tough and plentiful—just like the early Americans. Wild turkeys can fly up to 55 miles per hour for short distances and can run up to 20 mph. They were nearly wiped out in the U.S. in the early 1900’s, but now thrive in every state except Alaska.  (Most of them seem to live at Peace Valley Park!)

Many of us use frozen turkeys and most of them are fine.  However, there are plenty of places locally to get delicious fresh birds.  Check out this Bucks County Taste post for more information where to get them.  Just remember that they're in demand, so don't wait to long to reserve yours.

There are literally thousands of ways to roast a turkey. There are recipes with different kinds of rubs and brines. Some use low heat, some high.  Some roast breast up, some breast down. Here’s my favorite way to roast a turkey—on the grill. It turns out juicy and delicious—and cooks very quickly. It’s from America’s Test Kitchen. The recipe is for a charcoal grill (with directions for gas grilling at the end of each step.)

  1. Dissolve 2 cups kosher or 1 cup table salt in 2 gallons of water in a large stockpot or clean bucket. Add a 12-14 pound turkey, giblets & tail removed, rinsed thoroughly and wings tucked under. Refrigerate or put in a very cool spot (32-40 degrees), 12 hours or overnight. (I have used a cooler and added ice packs to keep cold.)
  2. Toward the end of the brining time, cover six 3-inch wood chunks with water in a bowl; soak for 1 hour, then drain and set aside. (For gas: soak 3 cups of wood chips for about 30 minutes, drain and place in smoker box of gas grill or make a foil pan to hold the chips.)
  3. Keep bottom vents on grill completely open. Start charcoal. (For gas: place tray of chips on burner and preheat to high for about 20 minutes or until chips are smoking heavily.)
  4. Spray a V-rack with nonstick cooking spray. (Before I had a rack, I made a big foil ring to hold the bird.) Remove turkey from brine and rinse inside and out with cool running water to remove any salt. Pat dry with paper towels; brush both sides with 2 tablespoons melted butter. Set turkey, breast-side down, in V-rack.
  5. Arrange coals into one side of grill, piling them up 2-3 briquettes high.  Place 3 wood chunks on top of charcoal. Put grate in place and put V-rack on with turkey over cool side of the grill. Open lid vents halfway and cover, turning lid so vents are opposite wood chunks to draw smoke through grill.  Grill-roast for 1 hour. (For gas: Turn off one burner—not the one with the wood chips—and put turkey over that burner.)
  6. Remove lid from grill. Using thick potholders, move V-rack (with turkey) to rimmed baking sheet or roasting pan. Remove grate and put 12 new briquettes and the last 3 wood chunks on top (For gas: add more chips, if necessary); replace grate. Using wads of paper towels, flip turkey breast-side up in rack. Return to cool side of grill so that leg & wing that were facing the heat are now facing away. Cover and grill-roast for 45 minutes.
  7. Using thick potholders, turn V-rack with turkey so the leg & wing facing heat is now facing away.  Using an instant-read thermometer, check temperature in each thigh.  The target temp is 175-180. If it’s close, cover and check the temp again in about 15 minutes.  If it’s below 145, cover and check in a half-hour.
  8. Remove turkey from grill, cover loosely with foil, and let rest 20-30 minutes. Carve and serve.
Really, this sounds more difficult than it really is. You will LOVE the smoky, moist meat that results from this process. Save the giblets and find a good giblet gravy recipe to go with your bird. You’ll be thankful you tried it!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Waste Not...

I have to pass along a link to a must-read article from the New York Times.  It's titled "From Farm to Fridge to Garbage Can" and it's about how much of the food we buy goes to waste. 

You can read the article, but just a few statistics that are amazing and alarming:
  • It's estimated that about 25% of the food produced in this country goes to waste--in the field, in transport, in the grocery store or at home.
  • A recent study shows that about 40% of this waste takes place at home.
  • In another study, 93% of the respondents said that they bought food that they never use.
  • If a family of four wastes 25% of the food they buy each week (at a cost of about $175), it means that they throw away over $40 worth of food each week.  That comes to about $2275 per year.  That's a lot of money.
  • Food waste makes up an estimated 19% of landfills in this country.  The food then rots, creating methane (a greenhouse gas) and hurts the environment.
As I jump on my soap box, I have to say that this is ridiculous!  Think of the amount of energy and time it takes to raise this food.  Think of the people all around the world who are dying of hunger.  We complain about the cost of food and then literally throw away a quarter of it.

How can we change our course?  The article mentions a lot of good ideas.  Here are some that they mention and some of my own:
  • Freeze meats that you aren't going to eat in a few days.
  • Don't be afraid of brown spots or blemishes on fruits and vegetables.  Most of them can be easily cut off, leaving the rest fine to eat.
  • Make soup--find a good basic recipe and use those carrots, onions, celery and whatever else is just past its prime.  They'll give whatever flavor they have left instead of being thrown away.
  • Plan your meals--buy just what you need to make those meals for the week.  Don't feel like you have to fill your fridge or buy something just because it's on sale.
  • Buy local.  Foods that are fresher, last longer.
  • Compost.  For those things that do get thrown away, at least use it to help your garden grow and renew the environment.
  • At the risk of tooting my own horn, get a personal chef to make your meals.  I buy just what is needed to make the meals I've planned.  I use fresh ingredients immediately after I buy them.  Very little wasted food = very little wasted money. 
This is a very serious problem, but one that we can all help to alleviate if we just use our heads.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Eating with Our Eyes

Most everyone knows the adage that we don't only eat with our mouths, but also with our eyes.  How a dish looks on the plate is important to a diner--along with the smell, it gets your taste buds ready for what's to come.

Photo by Lou Manna from
The Wall Street Journal
This is of the ultimate importance to food stylists--those folks who take take pictures or video of food for advertising, TV shows or magazines.  You may have heard of some of the old tricks to make food look perfect.  Hair spray to give luster to grapes.  Fake ice cream (made from shortening) that won't melt and can be molded into the perfect scoop.  But it seems that the trend of artisan foods, farmers' markets and the like have changed the way food stylists want to make food look.

"Messy" food is the way to go these days--a picture of a dish with chopped herbs still on the cutting board, ice cream dripping down the glass dish, veggies in a random fashion.  An interesting article from The Wall Street Journal tells more about how the way food looks helps it to sell. 

Photo by Lou Manna from
The Wall Street Journal
I'd have to agree--a picture of perfect food is simply unbelievable.  Food just doesn't look like that and thus, isn't appetizing.  But a nice glob of cheese dripping down the side of a burger?  Now, that's appetizing. 

As a comparison, look at the 2 tart pictures.  The one above was taken in the '80s.  It looks down on the perfect tart, showing the decoration.  In contrast, the photo at the right is a more recent shot.  It's taken from a lower angle, showing off the texture of the tart.  The powdered sugar gives motion and "messiness" as the sugar lands on the table as well as the tart. 

Will food styling change again in a decade or so?  Probably.  But for my taste, photos of "real" and "messy" food will make my mouth water much more than fake ice cream or hairsprayed fruit.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Holiday Help

As the holidays roll around once again, time becomes more and more valuable.  That's why I am introducing my Holiday Help service. 

With this service, I can help you save time and effort when planning and preparing your holiday meals.  I'll make some side dishes for you (as many as 5 of them) saving you loads of time and giving you peace of mind while getting your dinner ready.  Depending on the dish, I can make them well in advance and freeze them.  Then all you'll have to do is thaw and heat it up. 

You can read more about this service, including the costs, on my website.  Read about it and then give me a call or shoot me an email and we'll talk about what you need and how I can help out!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


Today's Election Day and I hope you're planning to vote (maybe you already did).  I hate the thought that so many people complain about politics, but so few actually fulfill their responsibility to vote.  I have my thoughts about the candidates and I am going to make my feelings known by casting my vote. 

There was a good opinion piece by Randy Helm, president of Muhlenberg College (my alma mater, for what it's worth) in today's Morning Call.  He usually writes interesting and thoughtful pieces and this one is no exception.  He puts out a way to vote for those of us who are inundated with negative ads, etc.  It's worth the few minutes to read it. 

Monday, November 1, 2010

Halloween Review

Jake had a long, hard night defending Gotham from villains (he fell asleep in the Batmobile on the way home), but he was rewarded handsomely for it.  An unofficial tally of candy shows that KitKats and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups were the most popular items given.  I'll have to root through his bags to get a more scientific result.

I hope you had a good time!  Now on to Thanksgiving!