Friday, May 18, 2018

Philly Foodist Favorites - Some New Discoveries; Some Old Stand Bys

Hello Everyone!  Happy Spring!
What a wonderful time of year for Real Food folks, Growers, and all who treasure what's in season!
Admittedly, this Blog has been awfully long in coming and my apologies for that.  All I can say is that sometimes the universe seems to want to keep challenging us at every turn and we’ve had about three weeks of that experience. And, to be clear, not all of the events and challenges were negative and some were professional and some were personal. The problem was that they were just way too numerous; life was way too "busy" there for awhile. 
But as can be expected, thank goodness, things have settled back into what passes for us as "normal".  

I've developed a habit of always maintaining a running list of new local discoveries that I have made, or of products or producers that I have been using that I really want you all to know about because they are excellent, a good resource, and are owned by good people.

So, as of late Spring 2018, here are some of my recent favorites:

Riverwards Produce  - (1906 East Norris St.  Philadelphia PA 19125) - Many of us were surprised, and frankly, worried when we learned that our source of local, seasonal  food, Fair Food Farmstand (FFF), was closing.  We got started immediately putting together a list of the products that we use regularly that we couldn’t get anywhere but FFF and started contacting some of our local independents to see if we could source from those products from them. In the meantime, we began communicating with Vincent Finazzo, the Founder and Owner of Riverwards Produce and we are very happy to say to former Fair Food Farmstand shoppers, you have a wonderful new place to shop.  Riverwards offers a variety of groceries, a wide array of fresh/organic of local produce, Primal Supply eggs, meats and poultry, Otolith Seafood, vegetarian products, a good local cheese collection, and packaged foods and breads.  The Staff persons are great and helpful and the store is wonderfully laid out, including an entire wall of dry goods (nuts, cereals, flours, etc.) that allows you to serve yourself into containers that you bring from home. 
NOTE:  Green Aisle Grocery (1618 Passyunk Avenue and 2241 Grays Ferry Avenue) is also a good resource for local, seasonal items that you may not be able to find elsewhere.   The Green Aisle stores are smaller but manage to carry an impressive array of products and the service is always excellent. 

Good Salt - Recently, I had the opportunity to have some discussions with good home cooks about salt.  I was surprised to learn that some folks were still using what is commonly known as “table salt” for everything.  I really want to encourage all who take their cooking seriously to use at least two types of salt:  Kosher Salt for cooking and Sea Salt for finishing dishes. I also want to encourage that everyone get rid of the blue container with the cute kid on the front.  It’s full of additives, including iodine, and it is not helping out flavor enhancement with your dishes - you will never see the blue container in a serious kitchen.  We put Maldon Sea Salt (widely available and very good) on the dining table and we use Diamond Kosher Salt for cooking.  A caution:  You will see Morton’s Kosher Salt - nope, you don’t want that.  You want Diamond.  And go ahead and experiment with different types of salts - Himalayan PInk salt, Black salt, and Smoked salt - all can bring interesting flavor to dishes.  Get yourself a small amount of these salts and try them out. But always have that Diamond Kosher and the good Sea Salt at hand. 

Morganics Family Farm Oats ( - This is a family owned farm who by its own definition is, “taking part in the revitalization of the local grainshed”. We get their incredible Oats at Head House Farmers Market and wow are they delicious!  I made their oatmeal during the winter months and now am starting to make a Summer Oats recipe as listed on their website.  Visit them at Head House Market or go to their website.  If you use oats, if you enjoy good oats, you will notice the difference!

Sweet Nina’s (Reading Terminal Market) When you want to treat yourself - and I mean really treat yourself - stop at Sweet Nina’s Day Cart.  Start with the original Vanilla Banana Pudding and work your way through the flavors.  The folks at the stand will be happy to let you taste. I know at the end of doing each shopping trip, I will be taking myself over the Sweet Nina’s for my luscious reward.  You will too.

AP24 Whitening Toothpaste from Nu Skin (Contact Corinne Zoscak at; 484-319-3255)  - Toothpaste is not the type of product that I am usually talking about here, but I just have to let folks know about AP24.  I drink a lot of tea.  A lot of tea.  Recently, I noticed that it was affecting the finish on my teeth.  I tried some other “whitening” pastes and was not happy at all with the results.  Then a friend, Corinne Zoscak, turned me on to AP24.  It works! It tastes great and it has no peroxides or harsh chemicals. If you been disappointed by whitening tooth pastes, please contact Corinne and give AP24 a try.  I am betting that you will be really pleased with the results, and it will become, as it has for me, your everyday toothpaste. 

Our Farmers Markets - Now is the Time! The best season for fresh, local food has begun!  If you live in the tri-state area and you are buying produce and other food products from the supermarket, Stop! Find out the schedules for Farmers Markets in your area, get yourself some good shopping bags, and head to the markets!  This is our time to support independently owned family farms and farmers, and to eat wonderful fresh food.  If you follow my posts you know that I am constantly urging everyone to be aware of the factory food business’ war on independent farms and small producers. We support them by purchasing their products! The Farmers Markets are our best, most reliable and trustworthy source of Real Food, Clean Food, and Humanely Raised, and Seasonal Food.  See you at the Farmers Markets!



Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Letting Go of Plastic. Early Spring Treats.

Can't argue with any of that

Hello Everyone!
It has been a hectic few weeks getting ready for the growing season, dealing with the unpredictable weather, and trying out new recipes as the Spring’s bounty starts to appear. 

I have been posting a lot on my Facebook Philly Foodist page and on Instagram during these busy weeks, and in response to one post I got some interesting feedback from a friend who follows the FB page.  So, in the past few weeks, I have been doing an “audit” of sorts of our use of plastic bags (which is what started the conversation), and other disposables - from paper straws to paper towels and beyond. I am pretty happy with many of the things we’ve been doing over the years.  I still have some quandaries and some searches to conduct. But my hope is that all of us start to think seriously about what we are using on a regular basis that is adding to the horrific trash and waste problem we have in the United States.  And you know, as  urban homesteaders, we try in every way to live the re-purpose, re-use, and re-cycle lifestyle.

First, the good things I found from our home audit:
We both bring lunch from home.  We both have cloth lunch bags, travel steel flatware, travel coffee cups, and cotton “lunch” napkins.  We also drink cold drinks from Mason jars with sipping lids.  We take salads, soups and anything else that will work in large Mason jars. We then use small glass containers for everything else.  We use stainless steel straws and we never, ever use paper plates or paper napkins. We do not buy bottled water in plastic bottles.  We filter tap water and keep large containers of that on the counter top all of the time.
We have a houseful of shopping bags, which has spilled over into our car as well so we are never in need of plastic bags. Well, except for one thing but we’ll talk about that later. 
We’ve recently started using Swedish Dish Cloths for kitchen clean up like countertops and stove tops.  This eliminates the use of paper towels for those jobs.  I am obsessed with the stove top and I generally spray it with my home made vinegar, water and lemon juice cleaning mixture daily. These cloths are sturdy, washable and come in five different colors so you can assign a color to a specific job.
And, lastly, back to those Mason Jars.  We store just about everything we can in them.  We have bins available in our stores for things like popcorn, lentils, nuts and the like.  Mason Jars are perfect for storing those items.  And a good idea is to take a few jars to the store and fill them directly. Soups, sauces, left overs of all kinds can be stored in the ‘fridge in Mason Jars.  They are the ultimate re-use item.

Now, the things that I am wrestling with still:
As I have talked about in numerous posts and blogs, we have a huge, box freezer in our basement.  We are dedicated proponents of “putting food by”.  Canning, pickling, and freezing are a big part of our year.  When we cook and make four meals instead of two, we freeze the rest for a second dinner.  For example, our Easter Ham left overs, plus the ham bone, will be used for all sorts of meals over the coming weeks.  The conversation with my Friend started with the picture of all of that ham in numerous zip lock freezer bags that I posted on my Philly Foodist Facebook page. She posted that I should not encourage the use of all of that plastic, and I totally get what she is saying. She is right. We realize the damage plastic bags do and so we have been “recycling” our zip lock bags for a number of years. We can’t always re-use some bags of course, but we always try.  The challenge that I am facing with the freezer bags is finding a suitable replacement.  I can’t freeze a whole fish, or a whole chicken or roast in paper or a glass container.  I am wondering what will work as well as large freezer bags for meals like macaroni and cheese, chili, and the like. One option that I am exploring for the proteins is the butcher paper used when a whole animal is broken down and cuts are individually wrapped.  I am also looking at my Mason Jars to serve yet another use!  As I experiment, I will let you know how successful I have been in getting zip lock bags out of my life. 

Our other plastic bag challenge is - no other way to say it - “poop” bags!  We are currently using bags that are “earth rated” but I am still doing research on what that actually means. If I don’t like what I learn, I’ll have to start exploring because with four dogs, we need something!
Lastly, as trained cooks, we have always played fast and loose with the “papers”, aluminum foil, wax paper and cling wrap. I definitely am working on ways to change that. Believe it or not, it is a big challenge because we are a “cook from scratch” household and old habits die hard.

So much of this is behavioral change, breaking old habits, and exploring how things can be accomplished with an eye towards the environment and our responsibilities to it. I will continue to bring up issues, products that I have found and are trying out, and any and all related issues.  And remember, the more we share information, the better our changes will be.  And, when you can, do try to do an “audit” in your home.  Right now I am concentrating on the kitchen,and cooking and storing food, but obviously we need to examine other house systems and improve our practices in those as well. The important thing is - start somewhere!

In a very short time I have fallen in love with these!

Lunch Time Supplies

Spring Treats  (Get out and get these while they are still around!)

Ramps - These beauties appear and are gone in a flash.  One of the best ways to eat ramps is with eggs.  What a breakfast sandwich Eggs, Ramps, and a bit of hot sauce makes! The white ends of the ramp are also delicious pickled.  A pesto of ramps is amazing. 
Morels - One of the most delicious mushrooms on earth and they are foraged right here in Pennsylvania!  Basically, all they really need is butter, sea salt, fresh ground pepper, maybe some thyme or other herb if you like, and a quick sauté over toast. Morels pair beautifully with a wide array of meats and fish. You can also make an amazing mushroom soup from morels.
Fiddleheads - Another “here today and gone tomorrow” delicious wild green.  Fiddleheads must be cooked and just require a light cleaning to remove the brown paper like covering.  Steaming Fiddleheads before using them in a recipe or a sauté really brings out their flavor. I just recently did a dish of sautéed fiddleheads and morels and put them over some egg noodles.  That worked!
Asparagus - The Queen of all Spring vegetables in my opinion.  It, too, has a short season and it must be sourced locally.  The flavor of local asparagus is so far superior to stuff that’s traveled that you might as well not bother. The very thin asparagus are good, but don’t limit yourself to just the thin spears. The thicker stalks are loaded with flavor.  Don’t chop asparagus spears.  Just bend them and where they break is where they break.  Save and use what you break off for vegetable stock. And always remember that you can buy up local asparagus, blanch it slightly and freeze it. All winter you can make soups, quiches and sauces with it. We use fresh asparagus at this time of year as much as we can.  Asparagus/Gruyere tarts, steamed with hard boiled eggs sprinkled over them, blackened a bit on the grill, and lightly steamed with butter and fresh lemon juice are some of our favorites. 
Shad - In the area in which we live, the Shad runs and it is imperative to get it as soon as possible - before it too is gone. The Roe of the Shad is also highly prized and is delicious.  And guess what serves as one of the best accompaniments for Shad?  Asparagus. That’s a dinner that is the essence of early Spring.
Spring Lamb - During this season it is traditional to have lamb.  Find yourself a good, local source of humanely raised, clean lamb and welcome the spring and coming summer the way it is done in so many cultures. For a crowd coming to the table, get a shoulder or a roast.  In our house we love Loin Chops.  Marinade them in good olive oil, salt and pepper, thyme and some red pepper flakes and cook them over the coals for a nice medium rare finish.  

The Queen
This is such a wonderful time of year to love to shop the markets, cook and eat.  And don't forget the joys of greeting all of your farmers and producers at your local Farmers Markets.  Even if the markets are open year around, some folks aren't there during the dead of winter, so now is the time to welcome them back!  They are a treasure and if you have them in your life and can get local, well raised and grown fresh food, you know exactly what I mean.

A big shout out to my Friend of The Philly Foodist, Gwendolyn Carry, for starting the Plastics discussion.  I hope it leads to more thinking and sharing about many Earth friendly options.  Thanks Gwendolyn!

Next Time:  "Things that I am Loving Now"


Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Recipes! Tastes of Three Regions.

I do hope everyone is hanging in there, anxiously awaiting Spring.  We seem to have gotten through whatever Winter wanted to toss at us in 2018, but even as I say that, I’m moved to knock on wood. The beginning of Daylight Savings Time makes many of us feel better, but I know just as many folks hate it. Dark mornings are difficult to adjust to, that’s for sure.
OK - today, it's nothing but Recipes - or Receipts as my Gran would say.  In my opinion, we just need to turn off for a bit and maybe commence with some soothing, life affirming activities like:  spring cleaning, cooking,  getting the garden ready and reading anything but a news publication - cooking and home decor magazines are my choices.

Below are three long time, long loved recipes from three different areas - the American South, Italy, and Southern New Jersey corn country.  All are easy, weeknight do-able, and all three are flexible for left overs.  

Pimento Cheese
Recipe:  Pimento Cheese (adapted from the Lee Brothers)
A simple, delicious mix of cheese and peppers that can be put out as a dip or a spread, melted in an omelet, or as a fantastic sandwich.  I use my food processor  to make my pimento cheese and it is done in under ten minutes.

8 ounces of good, sharp cheddar cheese, cut into chunks
!/4 cup - around 2-3 ounces - of softened cream cheese (if you can find an alternative to Kraft’s “Philadelphia” brand, by all means use that). 
1/2 cup of jarred pimento peppers, well drained. You can also use jarred roasted red peppers.  I prefer the pimentos - the taste is different, and it is traditional, I but have used a mix a number of times.  Rough chop the peppers.
3 tablespoons of good mayonnaise.  If you are making this in the South, only Duke’s mayonnaise will do.  I like to make my own mayonnaise and avoid the cruelty of the mass produced stuff.
A scant 1/4 cup of chopped scallion - greens only
1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes.  Some folks use a few shots of hot sauce.  I believe that it should have some kick to it, but I don’t want it to be overwhelmingly hot.
Variations to the mix:  chopped onions, Worcestershire sauce and dried mustard. You can always start a debate with Pimento Cheese lovers as to the “best” blend.

Grate the cheese on the regular blade in the food processor until you have a nice medium fine grate.
Tear the cream cheese into 3 - 4 pieces.
Add the cream cheese and pulse until it is blended into the cheddar.
Add the pimento and pulse - you will now begin to develop that lovely color.
Add the mayonnaise, pepper flakes and a pinch of salt and a pinch of freshly ground black pepper and pulse until blended.
Add the chopped scallion greens and do just a few pulses to incorporate.
When the ingredients are well blended, taste to correct seasonings and that is it!
I like to store pimento cheese in small mason jars that we can just pull out of the refrigerator, open and dip celery or crackers right into.  It will keep in the refrigerator for a least a week but you won’t have it that long.

Pork Shanks
Recipe:  Pork Osso Buco in Bianco (adapted from Marcella Hazan)
Osso Buco is usually made with veal shanks.  We decided to take this recipe (which in Hazan’s recipe uses veal) and substitute pork shanks.  As you will see, it is a very basic recipe.  Much more so than the traditional osso buco in red sauce.  It is also incredibly delicious.

Ingredients (for two with leftovers)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons of butter
4 1/1/2 inch thick pork shanks
Flour, spread on a plate
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 cups of Pork Stock (the original recipe uses water, but since we have homemade pork stock, we used it)
2 tablespoons of lemon peel (avoid the white pith)
5 tablespoons of chopped parsley

Use a Dutch oven or a large sauté pan - there is a lot of liquid added to this dish.
Put the oil and the butter in the pan and turn the heat to medium high. 
When the butter stops foaming, dip the shanks in the flour - shake off excess - and put them into the pan (the pan should be large enough so that they are not touching).
Brown the meat deeply on both sides.
Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper on both sides. 
Add the wine to the pan.
Adjust the heat to cook at a slow simmer and put a lid halfway on the pan.
After 10 minutes or so, check the liquid volume - it should be getting low - if it is add 1/3 cup of the stock or water.
Check the pan from time to time, add 1/3 cup of liquid as you go.  You should have to add liquid.  You want a delicious liquid in the pan when the shanks are done.
The shanks should be fork tender - the meat literally comes off the bone with a fork - after 1 - 11/2 hours for 4 shanks.
When the shanks are done, remove them to a warm plate using a slotted spoon.
Add the lemon peel and parsley to the pan and stir for 1 minute. Loosen the brown bits (fond) from the bottom and sides of the pan with a wooden spoon.
NOTE:  If you have marrow inside the shank bones, and you are not planning to spread it on bread and devour it like I do, now is a good time to knock it out into the pan and stir it into the sauce.
Return the shanks to the pan, turn them over a few times in the sauce, and serve immediately.
Creamy polenta, garlic mashed potatoes and noodles are all a great compliment to the osso buco.  Spoon some of that rich gravy over all and dig in. Enjoy!

Canned Corn and Canned Mixed Peppers
Recipe:  Canned Corn Salad (adapted from numerous old recipes)
I love New Jersey Corn.  When we learned to pressure can, it was the first thing I wanted to can. When it is in season, I am ready to eat it on the cob on a daily basis.  So, our larder has lots of jars of canned fresh corn, but you can use good local canned commercial corn for this recipe. Frozen corn - whether commercial or home frozen just does not work as well.  This is a delicious dish to use anywhere that you would serve a cold salad.  It may be your new potato salad!

Two cups of canned corn
Half of a large red onion, diced
Half of a cup of mixed, diced peppers - whatever you like.  I do not go for heat with this recipe, but if you want to, introduce a jalapeño to the mix.  If you only have one type of pepper, just use one.  I don’t recommend using green bell peppers as they tend to overtake the corn’s flavor.
1/4 cup of good mayonnaise 
Salt and Pepper

Drain the corn, rinse it and drain it again - you want it as dry as possible.
Mix the corn, onion and peppers together.
Stir in the mayonnaise - incorporate it well into the mix.
Add salt and pepper to taste.
Refrigerate for a few hours or for maximum flavor - overnight.

Now - Get Cooking!


Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Simplify Your Kitchen and Make it Work for You!

Over the years, as a Short Order Cook, A Caterer, and now an Everyday Cook working in a compact kitchen, I have picked up a few tips and ideas as to how to really enjoy your time in the kitchen. In my opinion, that starts with having what you need and using what you have, as well as knowing where everything is - especially when you need it now!

So here are lots of things to think about and evaluate.  None of us is going to do everything, and I am pretty sure that my kitchen will never, ever make it to a magazine!  As you can see by the pictures at the end here, I do use some of the counter top for those things that I use the most.  The issue for all of us who do a lot of cooking is:  does it work for me?  

Start with the Dishes and Appliances! 
*Stop storing too many of anything!  Mugs, Flatware, Dinner Plates.
*Please don’t buy Non-Stick Cookware - you are throwing your money  away on a product that can become toxic.  You do not need it to cook.
*Avoid “One Use” glassware - if you must have separate Rocks, Wine, Sherry, etc.  glasses, limit yourself to 8 maximum.  If you are hosting more folks than that, you probably will use something more standardized and easier to wash and store.
*Get rid of unused Cookware - be honest with yourself.  Ask yourself the last time that you actually used something. Items in this category often are what I call, "what's hot" items.  I know the One Pot will change humanity forever but how many will be taking up space in cabinets untouched in a year?  Items like Ice cream makers, mussel pots, slow cookers, etc. also fall into this category.
*Evaluate how many spatulas, whisks, etc. that you need to have.  And remember, it is essential that you buy good products to begin with so you aren’t replacing cheap, subpar equipment regularly.  

*Get rid of the pop up toaster - unless you are turning out tons of toast a day.  There are a number of small, easily storable products that you can use to toast bread*** - OR - you can use your oven! Retake the counter space! Also, mice regularly go into toasters over night to get at crumbs, and sometimes they leave something behind. Just something to think about. 
*If you are still using a Microwave Oven, my first question is, “What are you eating?” Because if you are popping boxes from your freezer or cabinet into a microwave, or if you are eating microwave popcorn, you are indeed living dangerously! 
Keep a small lidded pot on your stove - use it to melt butter. Buy an electric hot pot for boiling water. Move the microwave out! You'll find something to do with all of that space!
*A Bread Maker?  Really?  Why? This is one of those fad things that has always baffled me.
If you make rice regularly, then by all means keep your rice cooker.  We were gifted with a very high end Japanese rice cooker years ago.  I love it.  For rice, for oatmeal - it has a number of functions.  That said, if it went belly up I know that I would not replace it, given its size and expense.  I’d go back to a pot, lid and clean towel, I’m sure. 
*A panini maker is totally unnecessary. Put your sandwich in a pan and put a heavier pan on top of it.  
*Control the Tupperware volume - storage is good, but too many storage items are an avalanche waiting to happen!

Organize.  Declutter. Plan Ahead
*Do not buy large jars of spices; spices lose their “spice” relatively quickly
*On TV cooking shows, you see olive and other oils beautifully displayed right over the stove - generally on a lovely stainless steel shelf under the exhaust fan.  Unless you go through your oils at a really brisk pace, this is a really bad idea.  The heat and smoke will kill those oils quickly. Almost all oils should be stored in a cool, dark cabinet.  If you must keep your olive oil out on a counter, it should be stored in dark containers to keep out the light.
*Have a designated space for everything - in the middle of cooking, you want to know exactly where to go for what you need.
*Group similar items together - Have your go-to things all in one place.
*When you cook, take the time to "mis en place" - get out and measure all of your ingredients ahead of time. 
*Get rid of the Knife Block - they are pretty much germ colonies and a drawer with wide spaces and dividers works much better for you and your knives.

It all comes down to what works for you, and when things aren’t working, you know it. Most of us have more than we need, want, or use in our kitchens.  But maybe some of those things would be used happily by others. So, it is not always about throwing away - it is about giving away, donating, and re-homing. 
Start with looking at one cabinet or a few drawers and see what you really use and need. Be tough about it. Let us know how you made out - we are all learning from each other.

Our Beloved Collection of Artisanal Wooden Utensils is always at the ready

Salts, Peppers, Butter, and Utensils - all at a quick grab

***We use a tool called a "Tostapane" - we fell in love with them in Italy.  Placed over a burner they heat up and you toast on the hot metal.  They are flat and hang to store.  Also, if you are a fan of cast iron, the flat crepe like pan can be heated up in a few minutes and toasts beautifully. We make our home made pizzas on it too.