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Friday, April 29, 2011

Springtime Spears

Ahh, springtime.  Just about time for some fresh spring veggies to start showing up.  One of my favorites is asparagus.  There's nothing like fresh local asparagus--it's nothing like the stuff available in the grocery store through the winter months.

Check out my post on Bucks County Taste for some asparagus tips (no pun intended) and recipes.  While you're there, check out BCT's calendar to find out about all the great food events that are taking place this coming weekend in our area. 

My May newsletter comes out on Monday--some great grilling tips and recipes are included.  If you don't get my newsletter, send me an email and I'll put you on my list!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Clear the Sinuses

For many Jews, horseradish is a traditional part of the Passover meal.  Of course, horseradish goes great with a lot of meals--fish, roast beef, cured meats, sausage.  Pretty much anything that could use the sinus-clearing taste of this herb.

Yes, horseradish is an herb.  In fact, the International Herb Association (no, I didn't know there was such a group either) named it 2011 Herb of the Year (no, I didn't know there was such an honor either).  Horseradish is actually related to cabbage and radishes, all of which are in the mustard family.

Horseradish can be a bit of a task to grow.  Often they are left in the ground for more than one season so they grow bigger.  And you must remove all the roots and rootlets from the plant or the next year, it will choke out anything else you have growing in the vicinity.  Some even suggest growing it in a trash can.

Grating fresh horseradish can be a tear-inducing affair.  The roots are very hard, so they must be grated by hand or in a food processor.  And the potent aroma can stick around a house for a long time.  That's why back in the mid-19th century, H.J. Heinz decided to start selling pre-grated horseradish--the housewives who were doing this job by hand were more than happy to pay for someone else to do it. 

Of course, we don't need Heinz in these parts because we have Kelchner's.  Right here in Dublin, PA, Kelchner's grates and produces horseradish for sale--and it's good stuff.  Can't get much fresher than something packaged down the road.  They offer Grated Horseradish, Horseradish Sauce, Cocktail Sauce, Tartar Sauce, Horseradish Mustard and Horseradish with Beets.  Check out their website for more info about their products. 

Read more about horseradish and get some good horseradish recipes in an article from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Ramping it Up

Ramps growing in the wild.
It's the time of the year for things to start ramping up from the Deep South to Canada.  We're right in the middle of the brief time that ramps, or wild leeks, are available in forests all along the East Coast.

Ramps grow in bunches in the wild.  They look much like scallions except that they have flat, green leaves that sometimes turn a deep purple or burgundy closer to the bulb.  Like a scallion, both the bulb and the leaves are edible.

Ramps have been popular throughout the East Coast as long as people have been picking them.  Many people think that these potent wild veggies taste like a strong onion and smell like strong garlic.  (The leaves are milder tasting than the bulbs.)

They're great in soups, salads, casseroles--pretty much any application that calls for scallions or leeks.  Just clean them, trim the roots off of the bulb and they're ready to use.  They are only available a short time, but they can be frozen to be used at a later time.

These wild leeks are so popular in certain parts of the country that ramp festivals are in full swing this time of year.  Here's an article from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette telling about the Mason-Dixon Ramp Festival in Western PA that was held this past weekend. 

So the next time you're out in the woods, look to the ground.  You might just find your dinner!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Easter Recipes

If you got my April newsletter, you read about some of the food traditions that Easter brings us--lamb, ham, eggs, Hot Cross Buns, etc.  (If you don't get my newsletter, what's the problem?  Send me your email address and I'll add you to my list!)

As promised in the newsletter, here are some recipes that you can try for your Easter dinner.  There's 2 interesting glazes for your ham and a recipe for Hot Cross Buns.  Enjoy!

ORANGE, CINNAMON & STAR ANISE GLAZE from Cook's Illustrated

INGREDIENTS
1 cup juice plus 1 tablespoon grated zest from 2 large oranges
2 cups packed dark or light brown sugar
4 pods star anise
1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick

SPICY PINEAPPLE-GINGER GLAZE from Cook's Illustrated

INGREDIENTS
1 cup pineapple juice
2 cups packed dark or light brown sugar
1 (1-inch) piece fresh ginger, grated (about 1 tablespoon)
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes

For both glazes:
Bring ingredients to a boil in a small nonreactive saucepan over high heat; reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until syrupy and reduced to about 1 1/3 cups, 5-7 minutes.  (Glaze will thicken as it cools between bastings; cook over medium heat about 1 minute, stirring once or twice before serving.)  Baste ham every 45 minutes and serve remaining glaze as a sauce, if desired.


HOT CROSS BUNS

INGREDIENTS
For the buns:
1/3 cup sugar
1 package dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
3/4 cup warm whole milk (100-110 degrees)
4 cups all-purpose flour, divided
6 tablespoons butter, melted
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 large eggs
1/2 cup golden raisins

For the glaze:
1 cup powdered sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons whole milk
  • Dissolve sugar and yeast in warm milk in a large bowl; let stand 5 minutes.  Add 3 3/4 cups flour, butter, and next 3 ingredients (through eggs) to milk mixture, stirring until a soft dough forms.
  • Turn dough out on a lightly floured surface.  Knead in raisins and continue kneading until smooth and elastic (about 6 minutes); add enough of the remaining flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, to prevent dough from sticking to hands.
  • Place dough in a large bowl coated with cooking spray, turning to coat top.  Cover and let rise in an 85 degree place, free from drafts, 45 minutes or until doubled in size.  Punch dough down; cover and let rest for 5 minutes.
  • Divide dough into 20 equal portions; roll each into a ball.  Place balls in a 9" square baking pan coated with cooking spray.  Cover and let rise 45 minutes or until doubled in size.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Uncover and bake for 20 minutes or until golden.  Cool in pan 5 minutes on a wire rack and then remove from pan.
  • For the glaze, combine the powdered sugar and cinnamon with whisk, then stir in the milk.  Spoon a cross on top of each warm roll.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Health Fair

I forgot to mention in my earlier post that I'll be cooking and handing out samples at a health fair presented by Aramark and the Central Bucks School District tomorrow, April 14.

It will be held at the Central Bucks South High School, 1100 Folly Rd, Warrington, PA, 18976 from 5PM-8PM.

Check out a bunch of stuff to help you have a healthier life--healthy cooking, fitness, wellness, nutrition, fitness demonstrations, skin screenings and much more.

Hope to see you there!

Pricey Eats

If you've been to the grocery store anytime in the last, oh, 2 years, you know that prices of many foods are going up and up.  Here are some tips for making the most of your money when it comes to feeding your family.
  • Use coupons.  Yes, clipping coupons can be a little time-consuming, but it saves money.  Many stores will double your coupons and save even more money for you.  I don't know if it's coincidence or not, but we find that many times, the items we have coupons for are also on sale.  Ka-ching!
  • Use a store's savings card.  Many stores have cards for frequent customers that save a lot of money.
  • Buy store brand items vs. big-name brands.  This isn't always the best thing to do, but think about what the item is and how it'll be used.  For example, I think that a store brand can of corn is probably inferior to a brand name.  So if I'm going to use it as a side dish, I'll probably buy the brand name.  But if I'm going to be putting the corn in a soup or stew or something like that, the store brand will be just fine.  And costs quite a bit less.
  • Buy locally.  Veggies and fruits are costly partly because of the costs of shipping.  If you buy from local farms, you'll not only get fresher and more healthy, you'll be helping our local economy.
  • Buy what you need.  Americans waste a huge amount of food each year.  You know you do it.  You see some snow peas on sale and you think, "Hmm.  Maybe I'll make a stir-fry this week."  Then the peas get buried at the bottom of your crisper until you find them--dried up and unusable--a couple of weeks later.  So not only do you not get your stir-fry, but you are throwing money away.  That's one of the "hidden" benefits to a personal chef service.  I buy only what I need to make the dishes you want, so there's no waste of food or money.
  • Eat more veggies.  Meats are the most costly of the foods we buy.  So cut back on the meats and come up with vegetable-based dishes.  It gives you a chance to eat healthier and to try out some different cuisines and spices that you might not otherwise.
  • Spend your money on good stuff.  In an article from the Burlington (VT) Free Press, experts and chefs make the suggestion that you buy higher quality items (meats, for example)--spending more on 1 or 2 items--but eat less of it during the week.  (There are some other good tips in that article, too.)
  • Grow a garden.  It takes work, but growing your own fresh veggies is not only rewarding and delicious, but can save you loads of money. 
Everything seems to be more expensive these days.  Feeding your family is no place to skimp, but there are ways to make your bucks go further.  If you'd like to talk more about how my services can help you from wasting food that you thought you'd make, give me a call or an email!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Where's it From?


It's always good to know where your food comes from, isn't it?  If you buy locally, you can usually tell what farm your veggies came from, where the chickens were raises, where the bread was made.  But for foods that aren't local, it's a little more problematic.

If you go to a restaurant, you often don't know where they got the food they're serving you.  An exception is if you buy a lobster that was caught in Canada.

These were caught in Maine.

There's a new program among Canadian lobstermen that allows consumers to track the lobster they buy back to the fisherman who caught it.  The lobsters get their claws banded like usual, but these bands have plastic tags on it with a number specific to that lobsterman.  When you buy the critter, you can plug the number in on www.thisfish.info and find out about the fisherman, where it was caught and any other information that the fisherman wants to make available.  You can even contact them if you want. 

From the look of the website, it's just a pilot program right now.  But it looks like you can track your salmon, halibut and rockfish as well as lobster.  I don't know if it's really a necessity, but it's kind of cool, don't you think?  You can find out more by reading the article from Canada.com. 

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

CSAs

Just a quick link to a Bucks County Taste post telling how there are a number of local CSA farms (community supported agriculture) that are still have shares available.  If you want to assure yourself of having wonderful, fresh veggies (and more) throughout the spring, summer and fall, a CSA is the way to go.  Check them out!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

More Fish

So I've written about the health benefits of seafood.  And I've given you some tips about choosing the best seafood.  So now I'll finish up this seafood theme with some easy and delicious recipes that you can make.  Seafood is not hard to cook--and it's incredibly quick to make.  You only have to be a bit attentive so you don't overcook.

Mark Bittman's Broiled Fish Recipes
courtesty of The New York Times
First, I go back to Mark Bittman, food guru and New York Times food writer.  You may remember a post that I wrote using his universal vegetable soup recipes.  In the same way, Bittman has simplified the cooking of white fish (cod, catfish, halibut, flounder, etc, etc).  He groups his recipes in 4 categories: broiled, sauteed, roasted and poached.  He creates the recipes so the ingredients--including the type of fish and the seasonings--are interchangeable.  Click here for the article.

Since Bittman tackled white fish, I'll give you 2 recipes for some other kinds of seafood.

PAN-SEARED SCALLOPS (serves 4) from America's Test Kitchen
Sea scallops can vary dramatically in size.  A dinner portion, therefore, can range from 4-6 scallops per person.  To ensure that the scallops cook at the same rate, be sure to buy scallops of similar size.  Note that scallops have a small, rough-textured, crescent-shaped muscle that toughens once cooked.  It's easy to remove--simply peel it from the side of each scallop before cooking.

INGREDIENTS
Photo courtesty of America's Test Kitchen
1 1/2 pound large sea scallops (16-24), tendons removed (see note above)
Table salt and ground black pepper
1/4 cup vegetable oil
  1. Place the scallops on a dish towel-lined plate or baking sheet and season with salt and pepper.  Lay a single layer of paper towels over the scallops; set aside.
  2. Add 2 tablespoons of the oil to a 12" skillet and heat over high heat until just smoking.  Meanwhile, press the paper towel flush to the scallops to dry.  Add half of the scallops to the skillet, dry side facing down, and cook until evenly golden, 1-2 minutes.  Using tongs, transfer the scallops, browned side facing up, to a large plate; set aside.  Wipe out the skillet using a wad of paper towels.  Repeat with the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil and the remaining scallops.  Once the first side is golden, turn the heat to medium, turn the scallops over with tongs, and return the first batch of scallops to the pan, golden side facing up.  Cook until the sides of all the scallops have firmed up and all but the middle third of each scallop is opaque, 30-60 seconds longer.  Serve with your choice of sauce of vinaigrette.

PAN-SEARED SESAME-CRUSTED TUNA STEAKS (serves 4) from America's Test Kitchen
Prepare the sauce before cooking the fish (recipe follows).  Cooking times in this recipe are for tuna steaks cooked to rare and medium-rare.  If you prefer medium, observe the timing for medium-rare, then tent the tuna loosely with foil for 5 minutes before slicing.  If you prefer tuna cooked so rare that it is still cold in the center, try to purchase steaks that are 1 1/2" thick and cook them according to the timing for rare.  Bear in mind that the cooking times are estimates; check for doneness by nicking the fish with a paring knife.  to cook only 2 steaks, use half as many sesame seeds, reduce the amount of oil to 2 teaspoons both on the fish and in the pan, use a 10" nonstick skillet and follow the same cooking times.

INGREDIENTS
3/4 cup sesame seeds
4 (8 ounce) tuna steak, about 1" thick (see note above)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Table salt and ground black pepper
1 recipe Ginger-Soy Sauce with Scallions (see recipe below)
  1. Spread the seeds in a shallow baking dish or pie plate.  Pat the tuna steaks dry with a paper towel; use 1 tablespoon of the oil to rub both sides of the steaks, then sprinkle them with salt and pepper.  Press both sides of each steak in the sesame seeds to coat.
  2. Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil in a 12" nonstick skillet over high heat until just beginning to smoke and swirl to coat the pan.  Add the steaks and cook 30 seconds without moving them.  Reduce the heat to medium-high and continue to cook until the seeds are golden brown, about 1 1/2 minutes.  Using tongs, flip the tuna carefully and cook, without moving them, until golden brown on the second side and the centers register 110 degrees for rare (about 1 1/2 minutes) or 120 degrees for medium-rare (about 3 minutes).  Serve with sauce.

GINGER-SOY SAUCE WITH SCALLIONS (makes about 1 cup)

INGREDIENTS
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup water
1 medium scallion, sliced thin
2 1/2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons minced or grated fresh ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  1. Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl, stirring to dissolve sugar.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Gone Fishin' (cont.)

Last week I wrote a bit about the great health benefits of eating fish and other seafood (click here if you didn't read it).  A lot of people, however are intimidated by buying fresh fish.  Follow these tips (many of them common sense) and you'll be just fine.

First, you want to find a reputable dealer.  There are a number of good seafood dealers in our area (Bucks County Seafood in Dublin, Heller's Seafood in Warrington, Captain Bob's in Quakertown just to name a few).  When you step foot in any seafood place you want to use your senses.  Ask yourself:  Does it smell fishy in here?  Does it look clean?  If it does smell fishy or look dirty, head to another market.  Choose a dealer that's busy.  High volume = fresher fish.  Ask the clerk about the freshness of the seafood, like when it was caught.  Ask to see the FDA tag for shellfish that shows when the shellfish was harvested and processed.  Fish markets like informed customers and should be willing to tell you these things.  Also, be sure to bring a cooler with ice packs to transport your seafood home.

Fish should be displayed on a thick bed of fresh ice or well refrigerated.  It should never be sitting in water.  The fish should smell fresh, like the sea--not fishy.  Ask to smell the fish if you want to.  Whole fish should have clear eyes, bright red gills and the flesh should be firm and shiny and should bounce back when pressed lightly (ask the merchant to do this for you).  Fillets should be firm, shiny and bounce back like a whole fish.  There should be no signs of drying, discoloration or mushiness.  Frozen fish fillets are sometimes a good alternative to fresh--especially flounder, sole and some thicker cuts like halibut, snapper, tilapia and salmon.  These are OK if you cook them a little more than medium-rare (frozen fillets can be a little stringy otherwise).  Tuna and swordfish aren't great frozen unless they're flash frozen on the boat.  Never buy frozen fish if the packaging is damaged or there are signs of frost or ice crystals.

Clams, oysters and mussels should never be chosen if they have broken or cracked shells--they must be alive.  If they're open, tap them a few times with another one and they should close.  If not, it's probably not alive.

Crabs and lobsters are also sold alive--and they should be acting that way.  They should have lots of leg movement.  Frozen or pasteurized is a good alternative if you don't want to deal with a live animal.

Always ask if scallops are "dry-packed".  This means that they're not soaked in salt water to keep plump.  If they aren't dry-packed, you probably want to pass on them.  You'll be paying for more water and less taste.  If they're sitting in a milky liquid, they aren't dry-packed.

Shrimp, like fish, should be fresh smelling and feel firm.  Unless you live near where shrimp are caught, any shrimp in a fish market will have been frozen already.  So what you think of as fresh shrimp were thawed already--you just don't know when.  So it's actually best to buy frozen shrimp (unless the merchant assures you that they were thawed recently).  You want to buy unpeeled shrimp for better taste and texture.  The ingredient list on a bag of frozen shrimp should be "shrimp" only--no additives or salt.  Wild shrimp are your best bet for taste, although farmed aren't bad.  Shrimp are sized by the number of shrimp per pound--16-20, 24-30, etc.  The higher the number, the smaller the shrimp.

Frozen is your best bet for squid and octopus as well, but if you can get fresh, use the fish rules (fresh smelling, clear eyes, etc).

Fish stored at 32 degrees lasts twice as long as fish stored at 40 (the typical fridge temperature).  When you store fresh fish, put it in a zip-top bag and keep it on ice (or cover with freezer packs) in the back of your fridge and use it within 2-3 days.  If you go beyond that, wrap it tightly in foil and plastic and freeze until you're ready to use it.

Ideally, frozen fish should be thawed in the fridge overnight.  Remove it from the package, put it on a rimmed plate (to catch any water) and cover it with plastic.  If you need to thaw it faster, thaw it in cold running water in the original package.

I hope this gives you a little bit of insight of what to look for when shopping for fresh seafood.  Check back later in the week for some easy recipes that you can make with your newly bought seafood.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Happy Opening Day!

Well, technically, baseball's Opening Day was yesterday.  But it doesn't really mean much around here until the Phillies open.  And that's today at 1:05 (weather permitting--at least it's stopped snowing here). 

Jake is home and we're going to hang together and watch the game.  He's decided that since "Phillies" starts with a "P", we have snacks that start with "P".  So we're having popcorn, pickles, pretzels, potato chips.  He wanted pea, pork and pears, but we don't have any right now (today is shopping day). 

Here's a good Opening Day joke sent by my sister:
A Phillies fan, Mets fan and Yankees fan were at the top of a mountain together.  They were arguing about who was the best fan.  The Yankees fan insisted he was the most loyal and to prove it, he yelled, "This is for the Yankees!" and jumped off the mountain.  Not to be outdone, the Phillies fan yelled, "This is for the Phillies!" and he pushed the Mets fan off the mountain.
And here's Jake's annual Opening Day message:
video
GO PHILLIES!