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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Gone Fishin'

How often do you eat fish?  I was surprised to read that according to a 2008 report, 45% of Americans say they eat fish once a week (I would imagine that includes eating frozen fish sticks and the like).  Still, that's much higher than I would think.  Only 22%, however, said that they eat fish two times per week.  Why is eating fish so foreign to Americans?

A USA Today article says that the USDA recommends that we eat 8 ounces of seafood each week.  That's 2 servings.  On average, we eat about 3 1/2 ounces per week.  Increasing that amount is not only a delicious way to eat, but can help to make us much healthier.

There may be no better food to contribute to our health than seafood.  In Japan, the Mediterranean and other places that fish is a staple, there are much lower instances of cancer, heart disease and obesity.  Seafood is a low-fat food and what fat is there, is "good fat".

Fatty fish like salmon, tuna and other cold-water, deep-sea fish are very high in Omega-3 fatty acids.  You've heard of them, I'm sure.  But what are the benefits of these compounds?  They can protect against cancer.  They can lessen the symptoms of arthritis.  They can help to lower blood pressure.  They can reduce the risk of stroke and heart disease.  They protect your immune system and can lower your cholesterol.  In unborn children, they assist in neural and eye development.  In people who do not respond to depression medication, Omega-3's can ease the signs of depression.  They can even slow mental decline and reduce development of Alzheimer's Disease by strengthening nerve function.  Do you need any more convincing?

The Omega 3's aren't the only good stuff in fish.  Some fish/shellfish are very high in antioxidant E (as well as Vitamins E, C, D & A), which boosts the immune system and reduces buildup of plaque in the arteries.  Vitamins in some shellfish aid in red blood cells and muscle formation and can help with healthy skin and good eyesight.  Fish oil in children helps to ease asthma symptoms by controlling allergens in the body.  And some say that fatty fish is the best natural source of Vitamin D. 

OK.  So now you've decided to try to eat more fish.  But you're still not sure how to buy quality seafood.  Be sure to read Monday's blog to find out some tips for buying and storing fresh fish.

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Monday, March 28, 2011

A Couple of Things

I made a really tasty pizza last night.  First I roasted a bunch of veggies (zucchini, red onion, bell pepper, mushrooms, garlic).  Just toss them with olive oil, salt & pepper.  Then spread them on a baking sheet and roast at 500 degrees for about 15 minutes or until softened.  Stir them once or twice during that time.

Then I topped a pizza crust with MB's homemade pesto (frozen from last summer's basil), some pinenuts, the veggies, some chopped up smoked sausage (from Blooming Glen Pork), some shredded cheddar and a bunch of globs of ricotta cheese.  Very tasty.

It got me thinking how I really love interesting toppings on pizza.  One of my favorites to buy is the white pizza with chicken, roasted peppers and hot peppers from Luberto's in Dublin.  I often ask them to add prosciutto.  Yum!

So what are your favorite toppings?  Vote for the topping you love the most in the poll to the right.  If you choose "other" write a comment to let me know what the "other" is!  I'll let you know the final tally when the poll closes on April 14.

Now there's a way for you to follow my blog via email.  All you have to do is subscribe by typing in your email address at the right.  Then you'll get an email everytime I add something to my blog.  How convenient is that!?  

Friday, March 25, 2011

Soup it Up

There are some foods that are often easier to throw together than to follow a recipe to make.  We always have some sort of pizza crust on hand for when we want a very quick meal--throw whatever you have in the fridge on the crust, stick it in the oven and 9 minutes later, you have pizza.  OK, it's a little more involved than that, but not much.

Another food that can be done at the last minute is soup.  The problem is that there's a little more to a good soup than to throw stuff in some water and boil.  You have to have some guidance.  Once you have that guidance, things are very easy.

So thank you to food guru Mark Bittman for giving us this guidance in an article in The New York Times.  In it, spells out how to make 4 different kinds of vegetable soup with little special preparation, little time and using ingredients that most will have on hand.
Mark Bittmans' Creamy Soups (courtesy nytimes.com)

His 4 groups of veggie soups are: Creamy--pureed with some sort of dairy; Brothy--veg broth with quick-cooking ingredients added; Earthy--with beans added; and Hearty--veggies sauteed first to give a deeper flavor.

He gives 3 examples of each type of soup and you'll see how easy it is to use the same technicques for each kind and just switch the ingredients to create a completely new soup.  He promises that after working through these soups, you'll never need a veggie soup recipe again. 

So get going!  Soup it up!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Down to Earth

You've heard me talk about Ryman Maxwell and his Down to Earth Cafe in Perkasie.  He was one of our Fresh panelists for last summer's screening and has a great place to get local and organic food in a comfortable and relaxed atmosphere.  (Here's my Bucks County Taste article from last January about the cafe.)

The cafe was recently featured in a "Let's Do Lunch" with Aditi Roy of Channel 10 news.  If you missed it, here's the link to the segment.  What a great way for one of our locals to get some air time!

The Down to Earth Cafe is located in the Glenwood Shopping Center, 1141 N 5th St., Perkasie, PA, 18944.  You can call them at 215-258-CAFE.  Stop in sometime for some great eats.

Congrats, Ryman!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Take a Dip

As a kid (a younger kid, I should say), Jake would always ask for "dip" with his pancakes or waffles.  "Dip" to him, was maple syrup.  Real maple syrup. 

There are some who are just fine with "pancake syrup"--the corn syrup-based, maple-flavored stuff (Log Cabin, Mrs. Butterworth's and the rest).  Maybe I'm a syrup snob, but we can't be without our real stuff.  When we travel to Maine each year, we pick up a big jug of it (much cheaper up there) and keep it in the freezer to use as needed. 

About 80% of the maple syrup sold in the US is produced in Canada.  Vermont produces the most US-made syrup (as you might expect) followed by New York and Maine.  What you might not expect is that Pennsylvania ranks 8th in US maple syrup production.

Sap lines running from tree to tree at Shelburne Farm in VT.

Warmer days come earlier here than in New England, so production starts earlier in PA.  A week or so ago, Peace Valley Park had Maple Sugar Day where they talked about the historical significance of maple syrup as well as the processing.  They toured you through the woods and showed how the trees were tapped.

While PA syrup is only a fraction of what is produced in Vermont, it's still a long, time-intensive labor of love for those who do it.  And when the sap starts to flow, it's time to celebrate.  Read more about Northwestern PA's maple syrup and get some maple-infused recipes in an article from The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Dip anyone?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Sweet Potatoes, cont.

Well, I made the Irish Potato Candy.  Did you try?  In case you didn't, but might try it, here are a couple of things I found as I made them.  (See my post with the recipe, if you haven't already.)

The recipe says it makes 60 candies, but mine only made about 40.  I think some of my potatoes are pretty big, though.  After you add the confectioners' sugar, it takes a while to beat to a smooth consistency--it seems like it will never get there, but it does.  Just use a high speed on your mixer.  And it's definitely worth adding 1/2 a tablespoon of cocoa to the cinnamon.  It adds a really good flavor.

I'll tell you one thing.  They're tasty.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Herb Primer

I love fresh herbs.  They add so much to a dish--a freshness that dried herbs just can't match.  Of course, this time of year, you have to buy them in a store--and pay a fortune in the process.  That's why these days, I try to stick with the few herbs we have inside that have survived from the summer.  One little parsley plant--looking like it is about to take it's last breath--and yummy tarragon. 

But soon enough, the weather will be getting warmer and the rosemary will be green again, the thyme will come alive with its wonderful fragrance, the sage will show its fuzzy leaves, the parsley will start to peek through the dirt and the basil will be standing high--ready to be used in pretty much everything we cook during the summer. 

Preparing for then, I found an article in The Shreveport Times that works as sort of an herb primer.   It's a little bit basic, but gives a description of many common herbs and some of the foods that benefit from the herb's flavor.  Keep it in mind--we'll be using homegrown fresh herbs before we know it!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Sweet Potatoes

With St. Patrick's Day coming up, I've been thinking about these yummy candies that you probably have had--Irish Potato Candy.

It seems like many folks have their own recipe for these sweet little treats--none of which, by the way, include potato.  They're called Potato Candy because they look like potatoes.

Here's a recipe that I found that got good reviews.  It's pretty easy.  I haven't tried it yet, but I plan to.  Let me know if you do--and how you like it.  Or if you have other recipes.

Irish Potato Candy (makes about 60 servings)

1/4 cup butter, softened
4 oz cream cheese, softened
2 1/2 cups flaked coconut
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 cups confectioners' sugar
Ground cinnamon for coating
  1. In a medium bowl, beat the butter and cream cheese together until smooth.  Add vanilla and sugar; beat until smooth.  Using your hands if necessary, mix in the coconut.  Roll into balls or potato shapes, and roll in cinnamon.  Place onto a cookie sheet and chill to set.  If desired, roll in cinnamon again for a darker color.  (Some comments said that the cinnamon might be a little too strong as written, so they put a half tablespoon of cocoa for every tablespoon of cinnamon.)

Thursday, March 10, 2011

You're a What?

Although the personal chef industry is growning, there are a lot of people who don't understand what it is I do.  Many think I'm a caterer or cook meals to order for wealthy people.  Neither are the case.

To put it very basically, I cook everyday dinners for people who don't like to cook, can't cook or just don't have the time to cook.  I do a detailed survey with the client to find out what they like, don't like, can or can't eat, etc.  Then from that information, I come up with a menu for the client to approve. 
Food from a personal chef service cooling
before packaging.

Once approved, we schedule a cook day.  It's on this day that I go out and do all the shopping, haul all of my equipment to the client's home, cook up all the food, package it for the fridge or freezer, label everything with reheating instructions, clean up.  I leave the client's fridge and freezer full of delicious, custom-made dinners that they can enjoy with very little effort on their part.  I leave the kichen sparkling clean and smelling yummy.   

 This isn't just for the very wealthy.  If a family of 4 went to Olive Garden 5 times, they would pay virtually the same as they would pay me to make them 5 meals.  That doesn't include drinks, desserts, appetizers, waiting for a table, noisy dining areas, traffic and all the other things that often come with eating out.  Plus, you get to eat your tasty dinner in your sweats if you want!

I just came across a good article about some personal chefs in Connecticut (in The Stamford Times).   It features 2 chefs.  The first one sounds a little bit more like me than the second--he made a career change to become a PC.  Don't forget to check out my website (at the top of this page) and let me know if you have any questions!

I hope this helps to take some of the mystery out of what a personal chef does and lets you see how I could take some of the stress out of your dinner time!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


I see a lot of incredibly stupid things on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.  Most of them political.  But last night, Stewart introduced a product that boggled my mind.

It's Del Monte's Single Serve Banana.  There are some in the picture.  Yup.  It's a banana in a plastic pouch.  To paraphrase Stewart--and to express what I was thinking--What purpose does the plastic do that the banana peel doesn't already serve? 

No offense to anyone who may have already bought one of these--or may in the future--but who is going to fork over what I assume will be more money to buy this?  As Stewart said, it's for "those who love bananas, but hate their biodegradability." 

We can only sit back and see what shows up next in our grocery store.  For a good laugh, watch a video of Jon Stewart and this great new product.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Case of the Disappearing Spoon

I don't use spoons that much.  Pretty much every night, Mary Beth sets the table with fork, knife and spoon--no matter what's for dinner.  Usually, I will only use the fork...and maybe the knife.  The spoon usually just sits there waiting to go back in the silverware drawer.

Except for the spoon at her place.  Somehow, it seems that she uses the spoon at almost every meal.  She says it's so she can scrape up the last little bit of food on the plate.  I'll take that as a complement to my cooking.

I just ran across an entertaining and informative article from the Denver Post about, of all things, spoons.  I know, only I would read an article about spoons.  But you should read it, too.  It's funny and teaches a lot about the history of this utensil.

The main reason for writing the article is that the author, Tucker Shaw, has noticed that many restaurants in Denver are not giving spoons to guests unless they are requested (or if you order a meal that requires one).  He goes on to praise the longevity and smooth curves of the spoon:
It is a graceful shape, intimate and welcoming. Romantic even. Composer Jerome Kern in 1905 wrote "How'd You Like to Spoon With Me?" without causing scandal. Ponder the outcome if he'd written an ode to forks.
He goes on to explain how spoons are ancient--they've been used much, much longer than forks, which only were available to the middle class during the Renaissance in Europe.  Heck, some cultures don't even use forks--think about the Asians using chopsticks instead.

So tell me...are you a spoon person?  Have you run across restaurants that you frequent not setting the table with spoons?  And if there are none, do you ask the waiter to fork over a spoon?  (Sorry, that was bad.) 

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


Pretty much all of us know what a Whoopie Pie is--a yummy, cream-filled chocolate cake sandwich.  Anyone who has traveled a little bit West to Amish country has at least seen them being sold--if not tasted them. 

Years ago, when we first started going to Maine each year, we were very surprised to see Whoopie Pies being sold in Maine.  And they were everywhere--just like they are in Amish country.  We couldn't figure out the connection.

Now, apparently, there are battle lines being drawn between those PA Whoopie supporters and those in Maine.  It seems to have started when the ME legislature decided to pass a bill naming the Whoopie Pie the official state "treat".  (Blueberry pie seems to me to be a better pick, but hey, I'm no politician!)

A "Save Our Whoopie" rally was held in Lancaster County to show all those Mainers that the Whoopie started here in PA.  Most articles you read say that it's a light-hearted conflict, but you have to wonder if people aren't taking it a little bit too seriously on both ends. 

The "battle" has even caught the eye of The Wall Street Journal--in an article called "Bakin' Whoopie".  You can read the Mainer's point of view in an article from the Bangor Daily News.

Sad as this sounds, Mary Beth and I have actually discussed this issue.  Personally, I think that there must be some connection between the two places that lay claim to these treats.  Despite some very slight differences in recipes, they're basically the same in both places and are called the same thing in both places.  Sounds to me that somewhere along the line, someone moved from PA to ME (or maybe the other way around, but I doubt it) and took her Whoopie Pie recipe with her.  The rest is history. 

I guess it doesn't really matter.  Living near Amish country and traveling to Maine each year, I can get my fill of Whoopie Pies throughout the year.