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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Good King Wenceslas

I've always enjoyed the carol about Good King Wenceslas.  It's a nice tune with a good message.  My son has a collection of Christmas stories and the legend of GKW was one of them.

It's a powerful story--it should be something we aspire to all year, not just at the holidays.  In this country--even with the economic problems we've had recently, many of us live like kings compared to those who have no home, no job, no food. 

So I thought I'd pass on the legend of this king--maybe inspiring us to help those in need. 

King Wenceslas (we'll call him Wennie) ruled in Bohemia (part of present-day Czechoslovakia).  On St. Stephen's Day (the day after Christmas) in 928, he was holding his typical celebration--a feast for the lords and ladies of his kingdom.  The feast continued through the night.

At one point Wennie took a walk around and looked out the window at the snowy scene.  He reflected on how lucky he was to have food and warmth and wealth.  When suddenly, he noticed what he thought was some sort of animal digging in the snow for food.  Looking more carefully, he saw that it was a man gathering sticks.

He called his page, Darius, and asked him if he knew the man.  Darius told him of the hermit who wanders the forest for food.  He explained how the hermit lived quite a distance from the castle. 

Immediately the king called for meat, bread, wine and logs.  He wanted to help this poor soul.  And instead of having servants take it all out in the cold, he decided to let the servants continue to party and do it himself (with Darius close behind). 

By the time Wennie and Darry (as his friends called him) got to where they saw the hermit, he was no longer there.  The king decided to trudge on through the storm and find the poor man's dwelling.  Darius started falling behind and was close to collapse, but the king took him by the hand and encouraged him to continue.  He told Darry to walk in the king's footsteps to make the traveling easier on the tired page. 

All night they walked--the strong king in the lead, the page following loyally behind.  Finally, they found the hermit's cave.

The hermit was ashamed of his meager home, but the king assured him that there was no need to be ashamed.  The joy that the hermit got from the visit matched that of the king and page helping him.  They built a fire and enjoyed the meal together.  In the morning, the king brought the hermit (let's call him Larry) back to the palace where they continued their celebration. 

Let us, like Wennie, realize how lucky we are--and attempt to share that with others--now and all year.
Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the Feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about,
Deep and crisp and even;
Brightly shone the moon that night,
Though the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight,
Gathering winter fuel.

"Hither, page, and stand by me,
If though know'st it, telling,
Yonder peasant, who is he?
Where and what his dwelling?"
"Sire, he lives a good league hence,
Underneath the mountain.
Right against the forest fence,
By Saint Agnes' fountain."

"Bring me flesh and bring me wine,
Bring me pine logs hither;
Thou and I will see him dine,
When we bear them thither."
Page and monarch forth they went,
Forth they went together,
Through the rude wind's wild lament
And the bitter weather.

"Sire, the night is darker now,
And the wind blows stronger;
Fails my heart, I know not how,
I can go no longer."
"Mark my footsteps, my good page!
Tread thou in them boldly;
Thou shalt find the winter's rage
Freeze thy blood less coldly."

In his master's steps he trod,
Where the snow lay dinted;
Heat was in the very sod
Which the saint had printed.
Therefore, Christian men, be sure,
Wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor,
Shall yourselves find blessing.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Cheese Balls

Thanks a lot to everyone who stopped by my table on Friday night at Seylar Elementary's Tinsel Town.  I met a lot of nice people--many of whom enjoyed the two cheese balls that I made to taste.

OK, cheese balls can be a bit less than elegant.  They make you think of those port wine-flavored cheese balls, rolled in soggy nuts that your grandmother used to serve at her get-togethers. 

Well, the cheese balls I made, from Cook's Country magazine, are quite different.  They're flavorful, full of real cheese and other tasty ingredients.  Best of all, they're so simple to make, that they're perfect for any holiday gathering.

So as I promised my visitors on Friday night, here are the recipes.  Cook's Country has a number of variations, but these are the two that I made.  You really should try them!

Serves 15-20

You'll need 8 oz of block cheddar to yield 2 cups of shredded cheese.  I highly recommend you grate your own instead of using pre-shredded cheese.

2 cups shredded extra-sharp cheddar cheese
8 oz cream cheese, softened
2 Tbsp mayonnaise
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 tsp cayenne
1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted
  1. Process cheddar, cream cheese, mayo, Worcestershire, garlic and cayenne in food processor until smooth.
  2. Transfer cheese mixture to center of large sheet of plastic wrap and tightly wrap, shaping cheese into a rough ball.  (Holding the four corners of the plastic in one hand, twist the cheese with the other hand to seal the plastic and shape into a ball.  See photo.)  Refrigerate until firm, about 3 hrs (or up to 2 days).
  3. Once the cheese ball is firm, reshape as necessary to form a smooth ball.  Unwrap and roll in the almonds to coat.  Let sit at room temperature for 15 min.  Serve.


Prepare Classic Cheddar Cheese Ball, omitting Worcestershire and cayenne.  Add 3 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley, 3 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro or dill, 1 tsp lemon juice, 1/2 tsp onion powder and a pinch sugar to food processor in Stop 1.  Replace almonds with 6 slices of cooked an crumbled bacon in Step 3.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Sugar Plums

What are sugar plums?

Whatever they are, we know that they have a namesake fairy in The Nutcracker who pretty much runs the show.  And we know that visions of them dance in the heads of the sleeping kids in "A Visit from St. Nicholas" (also known as "'Twas the Night Before Christmas").  
There is some debate as to what sugar plums are--mostly because they can be a couple of things. 

The most common belief is that they are a confection made from dried fruit.  In days gone by, "plum" was a name used for a variety of dried fruits.  So these sweet treats were made from dried fruits (prunes, figs, apricots, dates, cherries).  The fruit was minced and mixed with honey and often some sort of nut (usually almonds).  Then spices were added--things like anise seed, fennel seed, caraway seed and cardamom.  They were formed into balls and rolled in sugar or coconut.  (You can get Alton Brown's recipe here.)

But historians think that the sugar plums in these Christmas stories weren't made from fruit at all.  From the 17th-19th centuries, they were a candy called a comfit, made in a very time-consuming fashion.  Samira Kawash writes in The Atlantic:
Confectionery historian Laura Mason calls comfit-making "one of the most difficult and tedious methods in craft confectionery, requiring specialized equipment, careful heat control, and experience." Depending on the size of the finished product, a batch could take several days to complete. Not just anybody could make these candies. Until the advent of machine innovations, comfits or sugar plums were a luxury good, most likely to be found in an aristocrat's pocket or between courses at a banquet.
They were called "sugar plums" becasue of the similarity in size and shape to the fruit.  But the word "plum" came to be used in a number of other ways.  Again, Kawash writes:
...[A]s sugar plum passed into general usage in the 1600s, it came to have its own associated meanings quite apart from fruit. If your mouth was full of sugar plums, it meant that you spoke sweet (but possibly deceitful) words. If you stuffed another's mouth with sugar plums, that meant a sop or bribe that would shut someone up. In the 18th century, plum was British slang for 100 pounds, or more generally, a big pile of money. And someone who was rich could also be called a plum. By the nineteenth century, plum has come to mean an especially desirable thing, a prize, a choice job or appointment. 
Sugar plums, therefore, meant all things sweet and good at the time that Clement Moore wrote his poem and Tchaikovsky composed his ballet.  Thus sugar plum visions and the Sugar Plum Fairy continue to dance in our heads--whether we understand it or not!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


It's the holidays.  And during this time of the year, many foods, both sweet and savory, include warm spices--things like clove, cinnamon and nutmeg. 

Nutmeg is the seed of a tropical tree that has been an important part of culinary and world history for hundreds of years.  (The spice, mace, by the way, is from the same tree.  It's the dried covering of the nutmeg seed.)

The spice trade, so important--especially to the Dutch--in the 1600's, was centered largely on nutmeg.  It was the spice of choice of the wealthy and was used in many different ways--as a cooking spice, for medicinal purposes and even as a hallucinogen. 

You may know the story of how Manhattan Island was traded to the English for nutmeg--in a way.  From an NPR article:
In the 1600s, "the Dutch and the British were kind of shadowing each other all over the globe," explains Cornell historian Eric Tagliacozzo. They were competing for territory and control of the spice trade. In 1667, after years of battling, they sat down to hash out a treaty.

"Both had something that the other wanted," explains [culinary historian Michael] Krondl. The British wanted to hold onto Manhattan, which they'd managed to gain control of a few years earlier. And the Dutch wanted the last nutmeg-producing island that the British controlled, as well as territory in South America that produced sugar.

While you wouldn't trade an island for nutmeg these days, it's still a fairly expensive spice. I recommend not using pre-ground nutmeg. It loses it's pungency and flavor very quickly. Buy whole nutmegs and grate them as needed. It's strong stuff, so don't overdo it. But you'll reap the benefits--both flavor-and health-wise.

Like most spices, there are a number of health benefits to having nutmeg be a part of your diet.  It is known to help reduce fatigue and stress.  It's a sedative and pain reliever (an important part of Chinese medicine).  Many use nutmeg to help digestion problems and it has antibacterial properties that can help eliminate bad breath.  It's known to help with liver and kidney health, skin care and as a sleep aid. 

So when you sprinkle a little bit of nutmeg on your egg nog this holiday, think about how you are continuing the great history of this little seed.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Thanksgiving 1.0

There is no holiday that has more of a connection to food than Thanksgiving.  And rightfully so.  The original Thanksgiving feast was a harvest festival.  Those who immigrated to the New World gave thanks for their crops and all the food that they had that would help them to survive the coming winter.

As you probably know, the original Thanksgiving was much different than what many of us now celebrate in this country.  First, the harvest festival was most likely held in October, not November, as it is now.  And it was probably a 3-day celebration filled with eating, games and overall fellowship.  I could go for that!

Today, when we picture our holiday table, we think of turkey, stuffing, sweet and mashed potatoes and a load of other yummy dishes.  Most of these things that we eat today, though, either weren't available in the 1620's or were too expensive to eat.  So it was those ingredients that were abundant in early Massachusetts that were on the table.

Since so many of the early settlers lived along the coastline, the menu of the first Thanksgiving would have been full of seafood.  Cod, eel, lobster, oysters and mussels would have been abundant.  The deep woods would have provided venison, duck and wild turkey.  Being a fall festival, the bulk of the food would have been fruits and vegetables that were either cultivated or available wild--things like corn (thanks to the Native Americans), parsnips, turnips, collard greens, spinach, pumpkin, squash, dried beans, dried blueberries, grapes and nuts.  Cranberries would have been used as ingredients in dishes to provide tartness, not as a cranberry sauce since sugar was too expensive for the colonists to afford.  (So there probably were no pies or cakes either.)

Some of our traditional dishes weren't served because the main ingredients wouldn't show up for many years.  White potatoes, for example, were virtually unknown to the English at that time.  Sweet potatoes were imported to England from Spain and only the very wealthy would afford them.

Even though our modern Thanksgiving menu might not resemble the original very much, the spirit of the celebration is very much the same--fellowship, thankfulness, family and friends.  So whatever ends up on your holiday table--enjoy!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Everybody Nose

Have you ever had the unfortunate situation where you are eating a wonderful meal while you have a cold?  Your nose is all stopped up and you can't taste anything.  It's such a bummer.

That's because our perception of flavor is a combination of taste and smell.  I've heard about this experiment, but haven't tried it until today.  Hold your nose while eating something.  I just tried it with a piece of black licorice.  With my nose held, I feel like I'm chewing on a piece of plastic.  Barely any taste at all.  But as soon as I let go of my nose, the unmistakable taste of the licorice flowed up through my senses.  Try it--use a jelly bean or Skittle or something like that.  Go ahead, I'll wait....

Pretty cool, huh?

It just goes to show you how important our noses are when we're eating or cooking or shopping.  Don't be afraid to smell thing in the grocery store.  (A ripe pineapple, for example, should smell like a pineapple!  If it doesn't, choose another.)  In the kitchen, if your nose tells you that something might be burning, check it--it probably is.

Here's an interesting article on the subject that I ran across.  It's by a professional chef and really gives you an idea of how your nose can help you when cooking. 

That's just my two scents. 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Holiday Help

We all know that the holidays can be a crazy time--especially if you're hosting a holiday meal.

So take a little bit of stress out of your holiday schedule and have Dinner's Done help you get a terrific meal on your holiday table--with your sanity intact!

I will make you delicious side dishes to go with your holiday meal. Most of them can be made ahead of time and frozen. Then you simply need to thaw and reheat them for your dinner, saving you loads of time and effort.

Just imagine how much more relaxed you'll be being able to serve dishes that you didn't have to plan, shop for or cook. (Hey, you can even tell your guests that you made them. Your secret is safe with me!)

For two side dishes (serving 10-12 each) and a homemade cranberry sauce, the cost is just $90 plus the cost of groceries. (Contact me for the price of adding additional dishes.)

So give yourself a holiday gift that you can really use! Holiday Help from Dinner's Done!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Tea Totaler

Unlike most people, I don't drink coffee.  Just don't like the taste.  Never did and never will.

Tea, on the other hand, is a different story.  While I sometimes drink hot tea on a cold night, my drink of choice most of the time is iced tea.  I make my own from all sorts of different kinds of teas: flavored and unflavored, green and black and white and herbal, you name it. 

Now I never add any sugar to my iced tea--the somewhat bitter taste is what I like about it.  And I don't add milk or cream to hot tea either.

Turns out that adding milk to your tea could prevent you from taking advantage of the many health benefits that tea offers.

Different teas provide different benefits, but it's been well known that tea is loaded with antioxidants and other compounds that may increase the energy and calories you burn; regulate your blood pressure; help to prevent cancer, heart disease and clogged arteries; lower cholesterol; and reduce your risk of stroke, lung problems and Alzheimer's and Parkinson's Diseases.  The list goes on and on.

There are some recent studies (click here for an NPR article on one of them) that show that milk proteins may bind with the flavonoids in tea and make it harder for your body to absorb the good stuff and give you the benefits that you're looking for from tea.

There are some experts, as is the case with most studies, who dispute these findings.  They say that the amount of milk that most people put in tea is minimal, so it probably isn't an issue.

Still, you may want to enjoy your tea milk-less just to be sure you get the full effect of the benefits of tea.  As for me, I'm just going to keep doing what I've been doing.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Food for Thought

These are tough days. 

Every time you turn on the TV, you're hearing some candidate rip their opponent.  Don't get me wrong, I'm into politics.  But I'm so ready for this to be over.  The venom and real hatred that's out there from some people is astounding.

Then, to top it off, Hurricane Sandy hits.  We made it through relatively unscathed at our place.  Out of power for about 24 hours, Comcast service out for several days, a few tree limbs down, a little bit of aluminum blown off the side of the house, 5 days off from school for Jake. 

But as you know, so many are going to be dealing with the consequences of the storm for a long, long time. 

In the midst of the political crap and while so many are living lives that have been turned upside-down (sometimes literally), it's amazing how many good things you can find if you just look.

Like the many friends and family who showed up with chain saws at my parents' place to help them cut up the 16 trees that came down there. 

Like the millions of people who have volunteered and donated money to the Red Cross to help others who are worse off.

Like seeing President Obama and NJ Governor Christie tossing aside partisan differences to work together to help and sympathize those in need. 

Like the convoy of about 10 utility trucks that I saw today from New Hampshire.  These trucks were loaded with workers who have been away from their families for this past week.

It's a good thing.  People really are generally good.  Sometimes it just takes some kind of trouble to be able to see it. 

So keep your eyes open.  Let me know if you've seen any good actions in your day-to-day activities.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Mushroom Capital

I knew, as many of you probably do, that Kennett Square, PA--that small town in Chester County--is truly the mushroom capital of the US (if not the world).  Farms there produce about 400 million pounds of mushrooms each year--that's over half of the mushrooms consumed in the US.  That's an amazing amount.

What I didn't know was how Kennett Square became the center of the mushroom universe.  An interesting NPR article gives more information, but here are some of the basics.

The story begins with Quakers.  According to the local story, in 1885, a couple of Quaker flower farmers in Chester County wanted to use up some ground under their flower greenhouses.  So they decided to try to raise mushrooms.  It worked.

White mushrooms ready for the picking.  (Photo courtesy of NPR.)
For this labor intensive work, they hired Italians who lived in the area, who eventually started their own farms.  By 1950, there were hundreds of mushroom farms in the area--many owned by Italian families. 

Raising mushrooms starts with the compost.  Most of the local farms use cocoa shells from Hershey, and corn cobs, hay, chicken manure and horse manure from area farms.  The spores are added to the compost in dark buildings, which creates fungus.  The farmers then lower the carbon dioxide level and temperature and add water.  This simulates winter coming on and the fungus then forces the mushrooms to grow.

Tending the mushroom growing barns, harvesting, etc are all done manually.  (Many of the workers are Mexicans who have worked these farms for generations.)  And timing is important.  According to the article, mushrooms can double in size in 24 hours, so when they're the right size, they have to be harvested. 

The mushroom business in Kennett Square continues to grow.  Unfortunately, that means that the big farms have gotten bigger and many of the smaller ones have folded.  With larger farms, it's harder to get enough of their needs met locally.  For example, compost ingredients have to be brought in from further away, which is more expensive.

Still, the farms that continue to thrive are a result of the hard work and ingenuity of the many who came before them.  And that's a pretty cool thing.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Philly's Pizza Museum

There's a Pez museum in Burlingame, CA.  Spam has it's own museum in Austin, MN.  The National Mustard Museum is in Middleton, WI.  There's even a museum of Burnt Food in Arlington, MA!

So how can it be that there has never been a museum dedicated to all things pizza? 

Well, wait no longer.  And we don't have to travel very far to visit!

Pizza Brain has opened in Philadelphia.  On the menu are great hand-made pizzas including the Jane (mozzarella, aged provolone, grana padano and fresh basil with hand-crushed tomato sauce), the Wendy Wedgeworth (mozzarella, sun-dried tomato, arugula, honey goat cheese with the tomato sauce), the Lucy Waggle (a white pizza with mozzarella, grana padano, pine nuts, fresh thyme, arugula, sweet dates, crisped prosciutto) and the Granny Divjack (another white pie with mozzarella, shaved almonds, caramelized onions, blue cheese and Granny Smith apple).

Not only can you get these tasty pies at Pizza Brain, but you can get a look at the only pizza museum in the world.  They are certified by the Guinness Book of World Records as holding the largest collection of pizza memorabilia and pizza-related items in the world. 

You'll find the Noid (remember him?), loads of pizza-related LPs, a Good Times Ken doll complete with a piece of pizza and a slice on his shirt, a dancing pizza-chef Elmo (Jake has one of those) and on and on.  There's even an ice cream place attached to Pizza Brain that offers pizza ice cream.

So if you love pizza--and all that pizza stands for--Pizza Brain is the place to go.  (October is National Pizza Month, by the way!)  Check out a CBS News report here (there are a lot of other links to press coverage on their website). 

Have you been to Pizza Brain?  Let me know how it was!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Beet It!

Beets.  It seems that people either love them or hate them.  Or they never have tried them. 

Now, I wouldn't say that I'm a huge beet fan.  I don't eat them all that much.  But maybe I should.

Beets are incredibly healthy.  They are known to fight heart disease, birth defects and cancer (especially colon cancer).  They are full of good things like fiber, folate, potassium, vitamin C and more.  Many consider the beets used in borcht to be a factor why so many of those century-old Russians live so long.

But the pigments that give beets their intense color (whether red or yellow are the real health stars.  These pigments, called betalains, are major antioxidants and anti-inflammatories.  Interestingly, only about 10-15% of people are "betalain responders"--meaning that only some of us have the capacity to absorb and metabolize these compounds enough to get the full benefit.  It's worth the try, though.

There are all sorts of ways to prepare beets.  You could go Dutchie and pickle them.  I love them that way.  Their flavor intensifies when they're roasted.  You can even eat them raw.  And don't forget the greens.  Beet greens are very flavorful and so easy to prepare--just prepare as you would chard or spinach.

Here's a recipe from the New York Times for a beet salad that uses both the beet and their greens.  However you try them, enjoy their sweet taste and the great health benefits that you get from these tasty veggies.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Fried Green Tomatoes

Alas, tomato season has come and gone once again.  A sure sign that summer has passed. 

But no need to despair just yet!  There's still a great way to enjoy those tomatoes on the vine that never got to ripen.  Don't throw out the green tomatoes--make the classic Southern dish, fried green tomatoes.

Perhaps you've had them before--or even tried to make them.  When made right, they're so tasty--tangy and crispy.  But when not made right, they can be mushy with the coating either soggy or falling off.

As usual, Cook's Country magazine has a recipe that allows you to make fried green tomatoes the way they should be made.  They come out so crispy, they're hard to resist.  In fact, I ate a bunch of them as I was frying up the rest of the batch.  Really addictive.
Give them a try and make use of those stragglers in your tomato patch.

FRIED GREEN TOMATOES (from Cook's Country)
Serves 4

1 1/2 lb green tomatoes (about 4-5), cored and sliced 1/4" thick
2/3 cup cornmeal
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
2/3 cup buttermilk
1 large egg
2 cups peanut or vegetable oil
  1. Place tomatoes on paper towel-lined rimmed baking sheet.  Cover with more paper towels, let sit for 20 min and pat dry.  Meanwhile, process 1/3 cup cornmeal in a blender or food processor until very finely ground, about 1 min.  Combine processed cornmeal, remaining 1/3 cup cornmeal, flour, salt, pepper and cayenne in a shallow dish.  Whisk buttermilk and egg together in a a second shallow dish.
  2. Working one at a time, dip tomato slices in buttermilk mixture, then dredge in cornmeal mixture, pressing firmly to adhere; transfer to clean baking sheet.
  3. Heat oil in 12" skillet over medium-high heat until 350 degrees.  Fry 4-5 slices until golden brown, 2-3 min per side.  Drain on wire rack set in baking sheet.  Bring oil back to 350 degrees and repeat with remaining slices.  Serve.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Unused Kitchen Gadgets

We've all been there. 

And you can't use your oven because...?

You're in a kitchen store or at a yard sale or surfing the web.  And there it is!  What a great idea!  It's on sale, too!  Yeah, that will save so much time.  It'll make my life so much easier.

Not sure what I'm talking about?  Check the back of your kitchen cabinets or in the basement.  You'll find that rotisserie or battery-operated pepper mill or sandwich press. 

They're the kinds of things that are given as gifts or just strike you as you're shopping.  At the moment, it seems like a great idea.  But really, do you really need one of those rubber garlic peelers? 

Some of these gadgets just seem useless.  A gadget specifically made to pull a pickle out of a jar.  Or an asparagus peeler. 

Some of them may be legitimate, but using them every 3-4 years doesn't really warrant buying them.  I mean, a pizza oven might be good if you're making a lot of pizzas, but can't you just use your regular oven?

Every now and then, you'll find a gadget that actually works.  My mom bought me one of those pineapple corer/peelers.  And it works!  (If you have a pineapple that isn't too big.)  But most often, these things just take up space and empty your wallet.

Asparagus peeler.  Hmm...
Alton Brown's mantra is not to buy anything that isn't a multi-tasker.  If it's used for just one thing, it's not worth buying.  He's probably right.

So what are some of these unused gadgets that are taking space in your kitchen?  Let me know.  I'm sure my readers would love to hear what you have.  Maybe you can sell something!

To read about professional foodies who are in the same boat, check out this article from the New York Times.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Whoa, Big Fella!

Well, whether you knew it or not, back in November, the US government lifted the ban on funding inspections for horse butchering.  What's that mean?  Basically it means that horse meat can be sold or served for human consumption in this country.

Now, before you go throwing up or chaining yourself to the gate of the nearest horse barn, don't worry.  Chances are you won't be seeing pony steak on your favorite restaurant's menu--at least not until there's a demand for it.

Chicago-area chefs were interviewed for an article in the Chicago Tribune about serving horse.  Most were open to the idea, but would refrain from putting it on a menu if they thought it would turn their patrons off. 

Still--as is the case with many kinds of food--the US is one of the few places in the world where eating horse meat is taboo.  In fact, according to the article, restaurants and supermarkets as close as Canada are selling it.

So what does horse taste like?  Some say it's a cross between beef and venison, with a slightly sweeter taste than either.  One chef in the Tribune article tried it when he was in Spain.
"I thought it was beef, with this wet hay flavor," he said. "If you walked into a meadow after it rained, that’s the only way I could describe the taste." 
Well, that doesn't whet my appetite.  But horse meat has more protein and less fat than lean beef.  So there are some health benefits. 

Would I try it?  Sure, why not?  I've tried alligator and ostrich and caribou.  Why not horse?  As long as the bridle's removed.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Green Tomatillo Salsa (Salsa Verde)

This recipe is from a Rick Bayless book that I have.  It's about as traditionally Mexican as you can get--and typically simple.  Just a few ingredients, but loaded with flavor.

Of course, the best way to eat it is to simply dip your tortilla chips in it and munch away.  But I put a bit on a grilled cheese sandwich and it was out of this world.  You could spread a little on some grilled fish or chicken as a condiment.  The choice is yours!

Grilled Tomatillo Salsa (Salsa Verde) from Mexico: One Plate at a Time by Rick Bayless
Makes about 1 cup

You can make this salsa either raw or roasted (I love the roasted).  At Blooming Glen Farm, I "roasted" the veggies on the grill.  You can remove the seeds from the chiles if you want a less-spicy salsa (but why would you?).

5-6 medium tomatillos, husked and rinsed
2 serranos or 1 jalapeno chile, stemmed
5-6 sprigs fresh cilantro (thick stems removed), roughly chopped
1/4 cup white onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup water
  • RAW VERSION: Roughly chop the tomatillos and chiles.  In a blender or food processor, combine tomatillos, chiles, cilantro and water.  Process to a coarse puree, then scrape into a serving dish.  Rinse the onion under cold water, then shake to remove excess moisture.  Stir into the salsa and season with salt, usually a generous 1/4 tsp.
  • ROASTED VERSION: Roast the tomatillos and chiles on a baking sheet 4 inches below a very hot broiler until darkly roasted, even blackened in spots, about 5 min.  Flip them over and roast the other side--4-5 min more until splotchy-black and blistered.  The chiles should be soft and cooked through.  Cool, then transfer everything to a blender, including the juices on the baking sheet.  Add the cilantro and water, blend to a coarse puree and scrape into a serving dish.  Rinse the onion under cold water, then shake to remove the excess moisture.  Stir into the salsa and season with salt, usually a generous 1/4 tsp.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Tomato, Peach and Mozzarella Salad

Like I wrote the other day when I posted the Watermelon Pico de Gallo, I consider watermelon, peaches and tomatoes the true tastes of summer.  (OK, you can throw in sweet corn if you want.)

Anyway, this great summer salad has two of those ingredients--along with some other tasty items.  Once again, it's simple and tasty!

Tomato, Peach and Mozzarella Salad (adapted from Hot and Sticky BBQ by Ted Reader)
Serves 6-8

You can cut the tomatoes and peaches however you want--slices, wedges, etc.  I find that dicing them makes it a little easier to eat.  Also, using different colored tomatoes makes for a very pretty dish.

6 tomatoes, diced
3 ripe peaches, diced
1 sweet onion, thinly sliced
3 green onions, thinly sliced
1 lb fresh mozzarella cheese, diced
1/4 cup fresh basil, thinly sliced
1/4 cup olive oil
3 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper

  1. Combine tomatoes, peaches, onion, green onion, cheese and basil.
  2. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  3. Toss gently to combine and serve immediately.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Moroccan Melon, Orange & Olive Salad

Melon, orange, black olves and mint? 

Yes, it sounds a little strange, but the results are a salad that's tasty, good for you and unique.  The saltiness of the olives match very well with the sweetness of the melon and acidity of the oranges. 

This recipe is really easy and tastes great on a warm summer day.  Enjoy!

Moroccan Melon, Orange & Olive Salad

You can use whichever melon you like, but using honeydew makes for a nicer color contrast.

1/2 a honeydew or cantaloupe, peeled and diced
4 oranges, supremed (see this video to show you how)
18 large black olives (I like kalamata), pitted and chopped
1 Tbsp fresh mint, minced
1/4 tsp cayenne
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 Tbsp olive or vegetable oil
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  1. Combine the melon, oranges and olives in a bowl.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk the remaining ingredients until combined.
  3. Add liquid mixture to the fruit and olives and gently mix.
  4. Chill for an hour before serving.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Watermelon Pico de Gallo

This is the best time of the year for watermelon.  Sweet and juicy--it's one of those things (along with tomatoes and peaches) that just says "SUMMER". 

For most folks (Jake, for example), just chomping down on a slice of watermelon is the best way to eat it.  But watermelon is actually a great ingredient to use in ways that you might not expect--like in this recipe, for example.

This is one of the recipes I made at Blooming Glen Farm last week.  It was a big hit with all who tasted it.  So here's the simple receipe. 

Watermelon Pico de Gallo
Serves 6

Serve as a salsa with tortilla chips.  It's also great as a condiment with grilled fish or meat.

2 medium tomatoes, diced
16 oz watermelon, diced slightly larger than the tomatoes
1 Tbsp red onion, finely diced
1 jalapeno, diced (remove seeds and veins, if a less-spicy dish is desired)
1 Tbsp cilantro, chopped
Juice of half a lime (or more, to taste)
Salt, to taste
  1. Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl, toss gently and chill for about an hour. Adjust seasoning, if necessary.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Julia's 100th

Today is Julia Child's 100th birthday.  To commemorate that, here's a piece I wrote in a newsletter from earlier in the year. 

This year marks the 100thanniversary of the birth of one of the most influential food personalities who ever lived—the one who really started what would eventually give rise to celebrity chefs, The Food Network and foodies everywhere.

Julia Child was born on August 15, 1912 and went on to live a life that in many ways, only she could have.

During World War II, she worked for the Office of Strategic Services (which would later become the CIA) and worked her way up to a position that put her in control of top secret and highly sensitive documents. She also was part of a team who invented a shark repellent that is still used today by the US Navy. It was while working with the OSS that she met Paul Child. They were married on September 1, 1946 in Lumberville, PA—here in Bucks County.

She attended the famed Le Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris where her love of French cooking took flight. Working with 2 friends, she wrote Mastering the Art of French Cooking specifically to introduce that cuisine to Americans. Published in 1961, it was critically acclaimed and became a best-seller. It also catapulted the energetic Child to national fame by leading her to television.

In 1963, Julia began an 11 year run as host of The French Chef, the first cooking show to gain popularity in this country. Her expertise, exuberance, humor, passion and that distinctive voice earned her a huge following as well as a Peabody Award and 3 Emmys. It also solidified her as an icon in pop culture.

She was the inspiration for the Muppets’ Swedish Chef and a character called “Julia Grownup” on the PBS kids' show, The Electric Company. Who can forget Dan Ackroyd’s hilarious send-up of Julia on Saturday Night Live? It’s said that Julia thought his bit was so funny, that she showed it at parties. In 2002, her kitchen was displayed as an exhibit in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington. That same year, she inspired a bored blogger to start the “Julie/Julia Project”, which led to the popular movie, Julie & Julia in 2009.

Her success, influence, 13 television programs and 18 books gained her many awards including the French Legion of Honor in 2000 for her services to French culinary arts and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2003.

So Happy 100thBirthday to Julia Child! Her spirit and love of food live on in foodies around the world. I’ll end with a quote from Julia that I just found that epitomizes her tell-it-like-it-is attitude:

“People who are not interested in food always seem rather dry and unloving and don’t have a real gusto for life.”

That certainly doesn’t describe her!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Too Many Lobsters?

Most of you know of my love of Maine.  And my love of fresh lobster when we travel there.  They're delicious, incredibly fresh and really reasonable.  In September, we often got them for $4.50-$4.75 per pound.  Even in June this year, usually when the prices are higher, we bought them for $6.50 per pound.

The great news for consumers in Maine is that the prices of lobsters continue to drop.  They're about 70% below the norm and at an almost 30-year low for this time of year.  Again, great for consumers.  But not so great for the lobstermen.  Unfortunately for us here in PA, the big lobster bargains are confined to the Maine area.  Shipping the soft-shelled lobsters plentiful this time of year keep the prices higher here.

The main reason for this drop in price is the great increase in the number of lobsters crawling on the ocean floor--more than lobstermen have seen in ages.  This is the result of a number of things, not the least of which is the change in climate--the unusually warm winters that we've had, which increase the water temperature, making it a better environment for lobsters to grow. 

Then there's the overfishing of cod and haddock in waters off the Maine coast.  These fish used to patrol these waters in the millions--often time eating young lobsters.  Now their numbers are depleted--lowering the number of the lobsters' natural predators.

It's gotten so bad that some groups of lobstermen have agreed to not going out to fish so the demand (and prices) will rise.  There are some reports that some have even issued threats to others who continue to fish.  Most lobstermen say that selling their catch for anything less than $4/pound means they're losing money. 

The problem even carries over international lines.  Many Maine fishermen send a large amount of their catch to processors in Canada.  With the drop in price, these processors are buying even more from Maine.  Of course, this is a problem for the Canadian lobstermen, who have blockaded the gates of some processors in an attempt to keep trucks carrying Maine lobsters to enter.  A Canadian court has granted a 10-day injunction keeping protesters from blocking the gates--at least temporarily. 

It sounds like quite a mess.

But some lobstermen are turning to other sea creatures to earn them income.  With the drop in lobster prices, some are hoping to start a trend toward scallops.  Scallops used to be plentiful in the Maine waters--and are making a comeback in deeper waters--but have been a bit fished out closer to shore.  So some fishermen are taking a shot at farming scallops. 

Scallops aren't like mussels, which can be "grown" on strings.  Scallops have to be raised in large cages so they don't swim away.  Before scallops can be farmed commercially, though, state and federal regulations have to be set and you know how that can go.  But hopefully, this will provide a viable alternative to lobstermen as they wait for the lobster catch to get back to normal.

Read more about the drop in lobster prices in this Wall Street Journal article.  Read about the Canada vs. Maine lobster wars in this article from NPR and about farming scallops in another NPR article.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Confetti Cabbage Salad with Spicy Peanut Dressing

One more recipe from the dishes I made at Blooming Glen Farm a couple of weeks ago.  This was probably the most popular of the dishes I made--and my favorite of the lot. 

If you're looking for a twist on the standard cole slaw, this is the recipe for you!  Enjoy!

Confetti Cabbage Salad with Spicy Peanut Dressing from America’s Test Kitchen
Serves 6

1 lb red or green cabbage (about ½ medium head), shredded (about 6 cups)
1 large carrot, peeled and shredded
2 Tbsp smooth peanut butter
2 Tbsp peanut oil
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp honey
2 med garlic cloves, minced or pressed (about 2 tsp)
1 ½ Tbsp fresh ginger, minced or grated
½ jalapeno, seeds and ribs removed
4 med radishes, halved lengthwise and sliced thin
4 scallions, sliced thin

1.      Toss cabbage and carrot with 1 tsp salt in a colander set over a medium bowl.  Let stand until the cabbage wilts, at least 1 hour or up to 4 hours.  Rinse the cabbage and carrot under cold running water (or in a large bowl of ice water if serving immediately).  Press, but do not squeeze, to drain; pat dry with paper towels.

2.      Process the peanut butter, oil, vinegar, soy sauce, honey, garlic, ginger and jalapeno in a food processor until smooth.  Combine the cabbage, carrots, radishes, scallions and dressing in a medium bowl; toss to coat.  Season with salt to taste.  Cover and refrigerate; serve chilled.  (Can be refrigerated for up to 2 days.)

Friday, July 20, 2012

Green Beans Amandine

String beans are one of the true flavors of summer (along with tomatoes, in my estimation).  Fresh picked beans just taste so, well, fresh. 

So when I cook them, I don't like to do too much to them--or cook them too long.  I want simple flavors that will bring out the great taste of the beans and cook them to "crisp-tender".

This recipe is simple and delicious and highlights the fresh flavor of the beans.  Make them tonight!  I mean it!

Green Beans Amandine from America’s Test Kitchen
Serves 8

1/3 cup sliced almonds
3 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 tsp lemon juice
2 lb green beans, trimmed

1.      Toast almonds in a large skillet over medium-low heat, stirring often, until just golden, about 6 min.  Add the butter and cook, stirring constantly, until the butter is golden brown and has a nutty aroma, about 3 min.  Transfer the almond mixture to a bowl and stir in the lemon juice.

2.      Add the beans, ½ cup water and ½ tsp salt to the now-empty skillet.  Cover and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the beans are nearly tender, 8-10 min.  Remove the lid and cook over medium-high heat until the liquid evaporates, 3-5 min.  Off the heat, add the reserved almond mixture to the skillet and toss to combine.  Season with salt to taste and serve.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Grilled New Potatoes and Onions

I admit that I'm not a huge potato fan.  I mean, they're fine--I eat them.  They're just not one of my favorites.

Now, when you can get fresh, small new potatoes--red- or otherwise skinned--that's a different story.  They're so creamy and buttery when they're young like that, you can't help by like them.

Here's an easy way to make some new potatoes while you have the grill heated up.  The recipe calls for parboiling them, but to speed things up a little bit, I've microwaved them (on high for 3 minutes and then 1 minute intervals after that until softened). 

Grilled New Potatoes and Onions adapted from Hot and Sticky BBQ by Ted Reader
Serves 6-8

1 lb new potatoes
1 lb sweet onions
3 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup olive oil
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped
1 tsp cracked black pepper
Salt to taste

1.      Boil potatoes in a large pot of salted water for 10-12 min or until just tender.  Drain, cool under cold water and pat dry.  Cut in half.

2.      Slice onions into ½” slices.

3.      Preheat grill to medium-high.

4.      In a large bowl, toss together, potato halves, onion slices, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, rosemary, pepper and salt.  Let sit for about 5 minutes.

5.      Grill potatoes and onions 10-12 minutes or until hot and slightly charred.

6.      Chop into bite-sized pieces and dress with marinade before serving.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Grilled Marinated Fennel

My son, Jake, loves fennel.  I can give him a bowl of thinly sliced fennel bulb and he'll eat it like popcorn.  It's good for you and versatile. 

But for some, it can be a little confusing how to use this licorice-flavored veggie.  I like it raw in a salad.  Or use it in any kind of saute to add a little unique flavor.  Roasting it brings out the sweetness and makes for a great side dish.

I really love it marinated and grilled like in the following recipe that I made at Blooming Glen Farm last week.  It's easy and is a great accompaniment to any kind of grilled meat, poultry or fish.  Give it a try!

Grilled Fennel from The Barbecue! Bible by Steven Raichlen
Serves 4

4 small or 2 large fennel bulbs (1 ½-2 lbs)
1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsp honey
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 small shallots, minced
3 Tbsp fresh tarragon or basil, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

1.      Cut the stalks and outside leaves off the fennel and reserve for another use.  Cut each bulb lengthwise into ½”-wide slices through the narrow side.

2.      Combine the oil, vinegar, honey, garlic, shallots and tarragon in a large nonreactive bowl and whisk to mix.  Add the fennel and toss to coat.  Cover and let marinate for 2 hours, not necessarily in the refrigerator.

3.      Preheat grill to high.

4.      When ready to cook, remove the fennel slices, arrange on the hot grate and grill, turning with tongs until just tender, 8-16 min in all, seasoning with salt and pepper.  Toss the grilled fennel with any remaining marinade and serve warm or at room temperature.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Pasta with Greens and Beans

Last week, I was fortunate to cook some dishes at Blooming Glen Farm using some of the great produce that they were offering in that week's share.  It's always fun doing these demos--cooking for folks who really enjoy good food, talking with people who appreciate the wonderful fresh local ingredients, giving them some ideas of how to use their goodies.

There were a lot of requests for recipes, so I thought I'd put them out over the next several days.

First a great way to use greens (I used chard, but it could be kale, collards, whatever).  This is a pasta dish that's really good for you and a complete meal in one dish.

Pasta with Beans and Greens from Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites

Serves 4-6
Want to make it a little bit less healthy, but even more tasty?  How about adding a little bit of cooked bacon and/or some grated Parmesan before serving?

1 cup onions, chopped
5-6 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
2 tsp olive oil
1 lb fresh greens, rinsed and chopped
3 cups cooked Roman, pinto, kidney or pink beans (or 2 15-oz cans, drained)
½ cup basil, finely chopped
1 lb short chunky pasta (ditalini, tubetti or orecchiette, for example)
Salt & pepper to taste
Juice of 1 lemon

1.      Bring a large covered pot of water to boil for cooking the pasta

2.      Meanwhile, in a large skillet or saucepan over low heat, sauté the onions and garlic in the olive oil until golden, about 10 min.  Add the greens and 1 cup of water.  Increase heat to medium, cover, and cook for 5 min.  Add the beans and basil and continue to cook for 5 min.  Using a potato masher, mash some of the beans in the pan; add more water if the sauce is too thick.

3.      Meanwhile, when the water comes to a boil, add the pasta, stir, and cover until water comes to a boil.  Stir the pasta and cook, uncovered, until al dente.  Drain the pasta and toss with the beans and greens.  Add salt and pepper to taste and squeeze on some of the lemon juice.  Serve immediately.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Fruit & Veggies

Yet another study shows that most Americans don't eat the amount of fruits and vegetables that we should.  Most people, according to the survey, eat less than half of what the recommendations are.  The typical person eats about 1 cup of vegetables a day and just under a half cup of fruits.  (I would have thought it was the other way around.)  This, by the way, includes not-as-healthy veggies like potatoes (not French fries). 

Young children and their parents seem to be getting the idea--their intake of fruits and veggies are climbing.  But teens and the elderly tend to eat less. 

This information comes from a USA Today article that does a good idea of explaining about how it's actually fairly easy to eat the recommended amount of these foods.  One suggestion is to fill at least half your plate with fruits and veggies. 

Also, one of the experts quoted in the article says:
[E]very little bit counts: raisins in cereal, frozen berries in smoothies, vegetables in soup, tomato sauce on spaghetti, beans in chili, veggies on sandwiches, 100% fruit juices.
In general, one cup of raw or cooked vegetables or vegetable juice, or two cups of raw leafy greens, counts as one cup from the vegetable group. One cup (or one piece) of fruit or 100% fruit juice, or half a cup of dried fruit, is considered one cup from the fruit group. So if you eat an apple or banana, that counts as one cup of fruit for the day; a medium side salad could equal about one cup of vegetables.

My suggestion: Join a CSA!  Since we've joined Blooming Glen Farm, we eat way more veggies than we ever have before.  And there's not much better than fresh produce grown within a mile of home.  Or go to farmers' markets and buy local fruits--it's almost peach time!

Oh, by the way.  If you read the article, scroll down to the comments.  Some are incredibly idiotic and entertaining.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Colonial Food

With Independence Day tomorrow, I thought it might be interesting to look at the food that sustained the Founding Fathers as they sweated it out in Independence Hall, creating our great nation.  As you would expect, meals in the 18th Century were quite different than we know them today.  There really was no "typical" Colonial Era meal--it depended on the person's wealth, what region they were living in, whether they were in an urban or rural area and what time of the year it happened to be.

Inside the steamy State House.
In general, our 3 square meals didn't exist in Colonial times.  Breakfast was eaten early if you were poor (usually after even earlier chores) and later if you were rich (after sleeping in).  On farms and frontier settlements, it usually consisted of cider or beer and some porridge that cooked all night.  In towns, a mug of cider or beer accompanied cornmeal mush with molasses (often followed by more cider or beer).  Southern poor would often eat cold turkey (washed down with--you guessed it--cider or beer).  In the Northeast, breads, cold meats and fruit pies were part of the menu.  Coastal areas would have lots of local fish, as you might expect.  Of course, in Colonial Bucks County, things like scrapple and fried sweetcakes were popular.

Colonial Americans didn't have a meal called "lunch".  Instead, "dinner" was served in the early afternoon and was the big, sustaining meal of the day.  Poor families often ate from "trenchers"--pieces of stale bread that were used as plates.  Stews, often of pork, corn and cabbage, would be ladled onto the trencher.  If the bread softened up enough, it would be eaten.  If not, it was given to the animals.  More affluent families would have menus made of meats, meat puddings and pies, fruits, pancakes and fritters, pickles and soups.  Desserts finished the meal--fruits, custards and tarts.

A meal at the time of day when we eat dinner was not always eaten.  "Supper" in Colonial times, was a brief meal--sometimes not long before bedtime, if at all--made up of leftovers or gruel (oats, cornmeal or other grains boiled with water).  Some sort of alcoholic beverage was almost always served.  In the South, egg dishes were popular and in New England, salt-roasted potatoes became a staple.

The still "genteel" City Tavern.
Although families did use big meals as part of celebrations as we do, they did not go out to eat for the fun of it.  Most taverns were not known for good food and most of the people who ate there were travelers who needed something to eat, some spirits to drink and some company.

Since many of the Continental Congress were far from home during their time in Philly, the tavern was home to these men while they served in Congress.  Luckily for them, Philadelphia was probably the most culinarily advanced city in the Colonies.  English, French and West Indian influences led to a variety of food choices.  Philadelphia pastries and other confections--including ice cream--were known to be the best in America.  Taverns thrived and markets were full of rare items brought in through the busiest port in the New World.

Philly's City Tavern, still serving Colonial fare today, was known as THE place to be for members of Congress.  In David McCullough's book, John Adams, he writes: "Adams, recording his first arrival in Philadelphia in August 1774, had written that 'dirty, dusty, and fatigued as we were, we could not resist the importunity to go to the [City] Tavern,' which, he decided, must be the most genteel place of its kind in all the colonies."  A few days later, Adams met George Washington while dining there.  Without good food and drink, who knows what would have happened all those years ago in the State House?  It's awfully hard to start a country on an empty stomach!

Have a fun and safe holiday!

Monday, July 2, 2012

You Made What?

Want an interesing and tasty dessert?  How about Avocado and Coconut Ice Cream?

I know is sounds weird.  And in some ways, it is a little weird.  But it's pretty darn yummy and is a great way to cool off on these oppressively hot days.

I saw Pati Jinich make it on her PBS show, Pati's Mexican Table.  (I posted a picture of a great flank steak sandwich from the same episode on Facebook a while back.)  It looked like something to try.

There's not much to it and that's what makes it so good.  The flavors of all the ingredients come through.  Keep in mind that it's not a very sweet dessert (I probably would have increased the amount of sugar slightly--as well as increase the amount of lime juice).  The consistency is really wonderful--extremely smooth and creamy. 

So give it a try!  Even if you aren't an avocado fan, you'll like it!

Avocado & Coconut Ice Cream (Helado de Aguacate y Coco) from Pati's Mexican Table
Serves 6

3 large ripe Hass avocados, about 2 lbs, halved, pitted, pulp scooped out (about 3 cups)
2 Tbsp fresh squeezed lime juice (or more to taste)
1 1/2 cups coconut milk
3/4 cups sugar (or more to taste)
  1. Cut the avocados in half, remove the pit and scoop out the pulp.  Cut the pulp into chunks and place in a blender or food processor.  Add coconut milk, sugar and lime juice.  Puree until smooth.
  2. Chill mixture in refrigerator for at least an hour.
  3. Process the puree in an ice cream maker, according to the manufacturer's instructions.  When finished, place in the freezer for a couple of hours to firm up.  If you don't have an ice cream maker, you can serve it as a cold mousse or just freeze it as is and serve it as ice cream, but it will be a little less creamy and smooth.
  4. Garnish with lightly toasted shredded coconut, almonds, pine nuts or pistachios.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Most Important Meal of the Day

I eat breakfast every day.  It might be a nice bowl of Kashi cereal (or Cocoa Pebbles), a bagel or even the occasional Pop-Tart.  But, I just can't get going in the morning without eating (not surprising for me, I guess).

From the results of a recent survey, however, I'm in the minority.  According to the study, 48% of Americans admit to not eating a daily breakfast--even though 61% say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. 

So how 'bout you?  Do you eat breakfast every day?  If so, what do you eat? 

Here are some of the other results of the survey, which was sponsored by Kraft in support of it's belVita breakfast foods, which supposedly are designed to give energy to all who eat it:

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Garlic Scape Pesto

Garlic scapes:

A: are the curly tops of garlic plants.
B: look like something from outer space.
C: are something that CSA members aren't sure how to use.
D: are very tasty.
E: all of the above.

The answer is, of course, E. 

The curvy tops of garlic plants, garlic scapes have a strong garlic flavor, but not as strong as a garlic clove.  They can be used in all sorts of applications--use them where you would normally use garlic or, as a change of pace, in place of scallions.

I've drizzled them with olive oil, salt and pepper and grilled them.  They soften--both in texture and in flavor--and are a nice addition to a grilled vegetable platter, a salad or even something like mashed potatoes (chopped finely).

Tonight, I made a simple and quick garlic scape pesto to serve on top of some grilled steak.  It would be good on any kind of grilled food--pork, chicken or fish (a stronger flavored fish that wouldn't get overpowered by the pesto's flavor).  It's a bit strong to eat by itself, but the steak balances out the flavor. 

Just cut up your garlic scapes (about a pound) in pieces about 3 inches long and process them in a food processor until they're pureed smooth.  Add 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese (I actually just threw broken up chunks in the food processor instead of grating) and 1/2 cup pine nuts.  Process until smooth.  Then slowly add 1/2-1 cup of extra-virgin olive oil as the food processor runs until it reaches the consistency that you like.  Add salt and pepper to taste and that's it!

This recipe makes quite a bit of pesto (you don't need a lot for a lot of flavor).  Store it in an air-tight container in the fridge.  Or you can freeze it in ice cube trays to use later.  (Just be sure to use it within 3-4 months so the cheese and pine nuts don't go rancid.)  Simply pop out a cube or two, thaw it in the microwave or in the fridge and you've got a flavorful topping to add some zip to your favorite grilled food when you need it.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Waste Not

I often tell people that one of the benefits of using Dinner's Done Personal Chef Service is that I only buy the ingredients that I need for the dishes that I'm cooking for them.  There's no waste. 

We've all done it--bought something that we can picture on our dinner table later in the week, but we forget about it.  Later we find it in some sort of decomposed state and have to throw it out. 

According to a recent msnbc.com article, it's estimated by some that as much as 30-50% of the world's food goes uneaten.  In a world rampant with hunger, imagine the impact that this trashed food could have.

The average American throws away an estimated 33 pounds of food each month.  That's a lot of food. 

Some estimates say that about 23% of eggs are trashed.  Even more produce is tossed for a number of reasons.  Some are thrown away because of the above "Forgotten in the Fridge" scenario.  Many fruits and vegetables go unused because they aren't "pretty" enough for sale in markets.  (Another good reason to shop at local farmers' markets.)  And loads of food are scraped off of the plates of restaurant patrons into the garbage can.

We're all guilty of it, but there are ways to avoid wasting food.  Don't buy more than you will use.  If you're buying meats, buy in bulk and freeze portions of it.  Simply being creative with your meals will help you to use those things that may go to waste otherwise. 

How do you avoid wasting food?  Do you have any tips to share?

Monday, June 4, 2012

Kale Chips

I have been meaning to make kale chips for a long time, but never have done it.  This week, though, with kale in the share from Blooming Glen Farm, it was time to try it.  Of course, I sort of forgot about it until today and the kale was a little bit past it's prime.  No worries--they still made great chips.

Kale leaves torn from the stems.  Notice that
I used 2 different kinds of kale.
If you haven't done this yourself, it's worth it.  They're very tasty, healthy and it can't be any easier to make.  There are lots of versions of the recipe on the internet--all very similar.  The biggest difference seems to be the oven temperature.  Some are as low as 250 up to 375.  I chose to go with the higher temp (and shorter cooking time).

First, remove the leaves of the kale from the stem.  You can simply fold the leaf in half and tear the stem off.  Then tear the leaves into bite-sized pieces and wash and dry thoroughly (use a salad spinner if you have one).  The drier the kale is, the more it will crisp and not steam in the oven.

The seasoned and oiled kale ready to hit
the oven.
Put the leaves in a bowl and add whatever seasoning you'd like.  I just used kosher salt and a little garlic powder.  Grated Parmesan cheese would be great.  So would chili powder or lemon pepper or...you get the picture.  Use whatever you like.  Then drizzle some olive oil (I used about a tablespoon for this amount of kale) and toss.

Lay the kale out on sheet pans, trying to keep them in as much of a single layer as possible.  Place them in a preheated oven (again, I used 375 degrees) for about 15 minutes.  When done, they should be crispy and crunchy.  If they aren't after 15 minutes, bake longer until they are.  Just check every minute or two so they don't burn.

Kale chips fresh from the oven.
Let them cool and then store them in an airtight container until ready to use.  They really are good--like eating very thin potato chips.  What a great way to get kids to eat their greens (a good way for adults, too, for that matter)!

Got any favorite seasonings that you use on kale chips?  Let me know! 

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Escarole with Bacon and White Beans

So you have a big head of escarole from your CSA or farmers' market and you're not quite sure what to do with it?  Here's a very tasty side dish that I made last night.  It's simple, healthy and goes well with all sorts of main dishes (we had grilled steaks with it).

Escarole with Bacon and White Beans (from Cooking Light)
Serves 4.

2 bacon slices, chopped (or more if you want)
1 cup onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
6 cups escarole, chopped (equivalent to a 16 oz head)
1 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 (14 oz) can less-sodium chicken broth
1 (16 oz) can cannellini beans or other white beans, rinsed and drained
  1. Cook bacon in a large saucepan over medium heat until crisp.  Remove bacon from pan with a slotted spoon, reserving 2 tsp drippings in pan; set bacon aside. 
  2. Add onion to bacon fat in pan; cook 12 min or until golden brown, stirring occasionally. 
  3. Add garlic; cook 2 min, stirring frequently.
  4. Add escarole and cook 2 minutes or until wilted, stirring frequently.
  5. Add sugar, salt, pepper and broth.  Cook 15 min or until escarole is tender, stirring occasionally.
  6. Add beans; cook for 2 min or until heated through.
  7. Sprinkle with bacon and serve.