Tuesday, November 22, 2011

It's the Eatin' and Relaxin' Holiday! And a Homemade Cheese Recipe.

OK - yes if you are the cook - and you are on your own - this can be a stressful time.  Hopefully many of us have the opportunity to cook with friends or family - sharing the worry and the glory.  This IS  the greatest of major holidays.  Think about it:  you don't have to produce gifts, we don't have to listen to "thanksgiving songs" for months; there are parades on TV; "marathons" of many fav shows are all over the TV as well; the aroma of the roasting turkey fills the house (and is there a better aroma?); and the next day, well come on, the next day there are Thanksgiving Leftovers!!! There is nothing more to say.  Leftovers of turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, gravy, potatoes, cole slaw, not to mention great pies and desserts. . . Oh, I have to stop! I have two days to go!

The meal itself contributes vastly to the relaxing nature of the day.  After all of that heavy, high carb, high fat food, what else are you gonna do?  And, folks, that's OK - stop listening to the wackos on local news telling you to "drink lots of water" before Thanksgiving dinner!!!  Don't come to my table, after all of the work I've put into it, loaded up with water!  It's OK to indulge once in awhile; it's OK to enjoy and feast and hang out at the table and then pick at the leftovers in the 'fridge a few hours later.  Life is nothing without the occasional splurge - so dig in - and ignore those who are constantly talking about what they shouldn't eat and how they have eaten too much, etc.  Let's face it, they need professional help anyway! 

We will be feasting with our dear friends at their gorgeous farm in the beautiful Lehigh Valley.  Happily, we are all serious cooks; so there's lots of division of labor.  And, for the most part, we are traditionalists when it comes to Thanksgiving.  I will provide a full report next week, but there are some special treats planned too, along with the traditional fare.  And some delicious cocktails and wines as well.  And, of course, we will be joined in feasting by four dogs - so, we will be out in the crisp air, walking the furry family members on a regular basis.  Wow! Exercise!

I hope that none of you will find yourselves standing in lines at midnight waiting to get into big box and chain stores - send them a message they need to hear.  And remember the 3/50 rule.  Shop at your local, independently owned businesses if you shop on Black Friday or at any time during the holiday shopping season.  Support family owned businesses - you'll find more original, higher quality gifts, too.

I wish for all of you a warm, filling, fun and relaxing Thanksgiving. Look around the table and reflect on how wonderfully lucky you really are and wallow in that for awhile. And enjoy those leftovers!!!


Here's a quick, delicious recipe that is very useful if you find yourself with milk and cream left over.  Homemade Ricotta is a bit like Farmers Cheese or Queso Fresca.  After all of the heavy food, it makes a nice foil for snacking or melting over pasta or for a morning treat, drizzle some honey over it with a few shakes of cinammon.  Delicious with a cup of hot steaming coffee.

Note:  this recipe makes about one cup; to make two cups just double the ingredients.

Ingredients:  1 quart of whole milk (I use raw milk); 1/2 cup heavy cream (organic is best); 1/4 teaspoon salt; and 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (must be fresh, no bottled stuff!)

Line a large sieve with a layer of cheesecloth; place it over a large bowl.

Slowly bring milk, cream, and salt to a rolling boil in heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching.  When you get to the boil, add the lemon juice, then reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring constantly, until the mixture curdles - this can take anywhere from 2 - 5 minutes.

Pour the mixture into the lined sieve and let it drain for at least 1 hour.  After discarding the liquid, chill the ricotta, covered; It will keep in the refrigerator for 2 - 3 days.


Monday, November 7, 2011

Lots of Food News & A Couple of Great, Simple Recipes

As the Fall unfolds, we get busier with thoughts and plans for Holidays - I was surprised by the arrival of Halloween, but that jump started my planning thoughts.  We had a great neighborhood Halloween, by the way.  On our block we have started to build a tradition of the folks on the block sitting outside of their homes with a table of treats for our local trick or treaters.  It's nice because, not only do we get to hand out candy, but we get to catch up with each other, have a glass of wine, and socialize a bit.  I look at it as another perk of city living - another chance to keep a tradition going, and another opportunity to hang out with the folks who live around you!

Lots to talk about!

Food News:

Early Puberty and Hormone Dosed Meat:  There have been some rather disturbing issues in the national press lately.  One in particular:  a recent edition of Time magazine did a lengthly piece on the extremely early onset of puberty in American girls - often as young as 8 or 9 years of age!  It is believed by researchers in this area that the growth hormones that commercial, factory produced meats are loaded with is contributing to this! How scary is that? And of course, if kids are eating so called hamburgers from McDonald's and other fast food spots, they are eating beef that is massively loaded with hormones, chemicals and who knows what else! An important issue for folks to learn more about; there are implications, not only for emotional well being, but also for health in adulthood.

The McRib Sandwich:  Speaking of McDonalds' horrors:  The "McRib" is back on the market for a bit - it's apparently a tradition at this time of year.  The Grist posted in late October  about the content of the so called "rib" sandwich:  to start with the bun contains azodicarbonamide - used mostly in the manufacture of foamed plastics - i.e. gym mats and the soles of shoes.  It's banned in Europe and Australia as a food additive. In total, there are over 70 - 70!!! - ingredients in a McRib sandwich!  There listed on any number of websites - just google McRib recipe.  There are also a number of You Tube entries describing the content.  Also, the pork in the McRib - there is some pork  included - is sourced from Smithfield Farms - the Humane Society of the U.S. has been suing them for years now for the horrific treatment of animals on the "farm" - really a factory.  It broke my heart to see Paula Dean shilling for them - I like Paula and I appreciate the path she has traveled to become a TV Food Network star, but come on Paula, do you really need the money that much?  Learn more about the McRib.

Choosing that Thanksgiving Turkey:  So, it's that time of year again, and I have to reiterate my usual warnings about the awful product that the stupermarkets push upon consumers at this time of year:  The Butterball Turkey.  These are factory tortured turkeys, locked into cages they can't move in and loaded up with hormones and chemicals for months before slaughter - the goal is that big breast, that in this country we have been brainwashed to believe we want most of all.  These birds can't even walk for the most part - they are that top heavy. So, along with the artificial hormones and chemicals being shot into them, we also have the birds themselves producing way too much endocrines and other related hormones - out of fear and the fact that they are being tortured.  You are going to EAT this - all of it!  I know they are cheap - they produce millions of them for this time of year. I know that your stupermarket gives them away if you spend to a certain level.  I know times are tough and money is tight - mine is too.  However, if you enjoy turkey for the Thanksgiving holiday, consider spending a little bit more on the turkey, maybe cut out some things that don't get eaten anyway, and buy yourself a Free Range turkey.  The free range will not cost you that much more - although you won't get it for free; Heirlooms are a bit higher, but they will also be free range. Both free range and Heirloom turkeys are delicious, taste like real turkey, have a natural proportion of white and dark meat - once you try either type you will be hooked and you will be doing yourself a really big favor.  Please consider making the change - better for you and it sends a message that Americans are getting smarter as regards what we eat.  A good source for free range and Heirloom turkeys are Fair Food Farmstand in the Reading Terminal Market.  Get your order in, though, there is not an "unlimited" supply.

What's at the Markets?:  It's November.  Before we know it, many of our neighborhood Farmers' Markets will be closing up shop until the early Spring.  Now is the time to consider freezing some of the great products at the Markets.  Butternut Squash Soup is a great example of a simple, delicious soup that freezes well - use sturdy "freezer" storage bags and find a spot in the freezer where the bags can stand straight up until the soup is frozen.  Potatoes, Onions, Beets, Carrots, Hardy Greens - all are available from all over the world at the stupermarket, but buying them now from local producers will get you veggies that have real flavor and nutritional value.  Try finding a cool spot in your basement or a protected area in your yard or on your back deck and consider storing root vegetables.  Apples and Pears do quite well if stored well in the refrigerator or you can peel and slice and freeze them.  There will be some markets with products from local farms through most of the winter, but it does not hurt to stock up on your own.  Our local cheesemakers are starting to wind down too.  I am willing to buy Vermont Cheddar - not local, but worth it if I can't get any locally and I definitely find myself on Passyunk Avenue at Mr. Mancuso's shop much more during the winter months.  Mr. Mancuso makes fresh Mozzarella and fresh Ricotta every morning.  I barely get home with it!  Warm, creamy, a hint of salt - it's Heavenly and great for just eating with good bread and olive oil or for recipes.  And thank goodness, remember we can always get farm fresh eggs from free range chickens from a number of sources!  No need to be eating 2 month old eggs even if they do have a nifty little red stamp on them!! Spend some time in the next few weeks getting out to your local Farmers Markets and stock up! And if you're in the Lehigh Valley, check out the Farmstand at Larken Spring Farms (www.larkenspringsfarm.com).  There you will find delicious fresh eggs and all sorts of wonderful products (jams, jellies, pickles, granola, and more) to keep you happy over the long winter!

New Cookbook We are Loving:  We were very lucky to be invited to a book signing event at Amis for Marc Vetri's new cookbook, "Rustic Italian Food".  Looks like Marc has another hit on his hands!  The book is a compilation of very accessible "how to's" of Italian Country cooking from pastas to sauces to meats to breads.  Also, it's beautifully photographed and written.  It's published by Ten Speed Press.  Check it out at your locally owned bookstore - it will make a great Holiday gift for the cooks in your life - AND it's local!!!

Upcoming Events:  Next Saturday at the Reading Terminal Market is the "Forgotten Foods Festival" - a celebration of some of the local foods that many of us remember, but for some reason haven't enjoyed in a while - or a long while. Remember Wilbur Buds?  Pepper Pot Soup? Fried Oysters and Chicken Salad?  Cape May Salts (oysters)?.  Actually the latter, we are thrilled to say, are back and are available through Ippolitos Seafood - we usually order ahead.  These are incredibly delicious oysters, famous in this area, that were over-harvested and totally depleted. Try some.  Also, on Saturday, at the event, tastings of many of these Forgotten Foods  will be available for $2.00 - $5.00 each.  So, you can do your food shopping AND have a great lunch.  Check it out.

Recipe 1:  An Old Standard Cocktail.  The other night we were debating on the evening's cocktail and came upon this recipe for a Whiskey Sour.  It's a very good recipe - whiskey sours can be awful; this recipe produced a delicious cocktail, perfect with a bit of cheese, and great for this time of year.

           Whiskey Sour
Ingredients for one cocktail:  1 1/2 ounces of bourbon (or scotch, or Irish Whiskey); 4 ounces of Sour Mix (see below), Crushed ice, 1 maraschino cherry

Combine the whiskey and the sour mix in a large old fashioned glass with ice.  Stir, garnish with cherry, enjoy.

          Sour Mix
1 ounce of lemon juice; 1 ounce sugar (super fine is great if you have it - it's just sugar whirred in your food processor, so don't buy it!); and 2 ounce of water. 

Combine the lemon juice and sugar in a measuring cup - stir a few times well; then add the water and stir some more until the sugar dissolves.

Now - again - the above is for one cocktail - remember Whiskey Sours are tall, substantial drinks.  So to make cocktails for two, just double everything, including the Sour Mix.

Recipe 2:  No Bake Whipped Sweet Marscopone Tart .  This could not be easier and it is delicious.  I like to keep pre-made pie crusts in the freezer for my particularly lazy days, but you could make your own and of course that would be wonderful.  You can use any shape tart pan you like:  small round or rectangle (my choice, see picture below).

Ingredients for the tart:  1 cup good Marscapone Cheese; 3 tablespoons sugar (again, superfine if you have it); 1 cup of heavy cream; some good vanilla in liquid form (not the bad extract - you can make your own by placing some split vanilla beans in a decent vodka, corking it, and letting it sit for a few weeks in a cool, dark place);  a jam or jelly and/or some shaved chocolate, whatever you'd like to top the tart with and a pastry crust to fit your pan of choice.

Grease the tart pan you are using with a bit of butter.

Roll out the pastry crust and put it into the tart pan and trim the edges; "blind bake" (bake it without anything in it) the crust at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes - just until it's a light brown, but you do want it cooked, because that's all the cooking that you will do.

Whip the marscapone, the sugar, the cup of heavy cream and the vanilla together - I DID use the Kitchen Aid here with the whisk attachment - whip until you have a nice fluffy, incorporated creamy mixture.

Let the crust cool - you don't want it hot when you put the filling into it.

Pour the creamy marscapone mixture into the tart.  Spread it around so it's even to the top of the pan and covers all of the pastry crust.

NOW - the next steps are up to you and what you have on hand.  I used a raspberry jam that I had made that was in the 'fridge; another time I used shaved dark chocolate and sprinkled some berries around on top.  The one in the picture below is the raspberry jam topping.

After you decide on a topping put the tart in the 'fridge for a couple of hours so that it sets up.


In closing, another rule from  Food Rules by Michael Pollen"Spend as much time enjoying the meal as it took to prepare it".  Take the time to sit down, have a glass of wine, review the day, and really enjoy the food.  Try it.

Keep in Touch and Keep it Local, Seasonal and Kind to the Environment!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Today it's Just for a Laugh! Add Your Funny Food Law!

Goodies from the Tuesday Passyunk Farmers' Market
Happy Thursday!

I couldn't resist sharing this from James Norton, posted on CHOW:

Oughta Be a Law:  10 Crimes Against Food
U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy from Vermont is planning to introduce legislation that would make it a federal crime to mislabel products as containing maple syrup.  Great  idea - it's a regional product with a rich heritage and it deserves protection.  James came up with 10 more things that should be "protected" by federal law.

Bratwurst  - Ever had a phoned - in Brat?  (hello, Hillshire Farm???).  A snappy exterior and an interior spiced with conviction are musts. 

Bagels - Gotta be denser than Wonder Bread; gotta have an actual skin.  There goes 90 percent of the bagels from flyover country, but tough turkey.  You can relabel them as flotation devices.

Cappuccino - If it's cherry flavored, it isn't cappuccino. 

Craft Beer - Should involve some actual craft at some point; a vortex bottle neck and/or team of Clydesdales and/or color changing cold mountains do NOT qualify.

Gourmet Cupcakes - If you are going to charge more than $4, it better kill. Some sort of extensive licensing program or electroshock based system of retraining should be instituted.

Margaritas - Not blended with ice into a slushie for adults, not choked with artificial sour mix.  Rather, made, well, from tequila and a bit of citrus and lime juice.

Chocolate Chip Cookies - If it makes you sad, instead of happy, it is not really a chocolate chip cookie.  Bad cookies, the kind served at fast food joints must be labeled, "chocolate shame cookies".

Cherry Pie - If the filling's been poured from a five gallon bucket, the pie must be either relabeled as "Artificially Flavored Corn Syrup Pie" or destroyed.

Calzones - Should not be miserably heavy; should be deliciously heavy.  Anyone on the East Coast can nail down the terms on this.

Martinis - Gin and vermouth - some actual measures of vermouth, not just "waving" the bottle at the shaker.  Vodka is an acceptable substitute for the gin, but only barely. Nothing else can be called a martini, or include the suffix, " - tini".  Chocolate syrup laced Chocotini?  That's not a martini - that's five years of medium security prison in Idaho.

Of course, we've already come up with a number of "laws" to add to this list! 

1.  Heavily fine fake restaurants that sell themselves as "authentic" ethnic food, but actually are just re-heating frozen, highly salted, americanized stuff at high prices. Includes, Olive Garden and P.J. Chang's - both would be hysterically funny if people didn't actually believe that they were eating Italian or Asian!!

2.  Forbid the use of terms made up by chain restaurants - i.e. "Cuccina Casuale".  Listen to the pronunciation next time the commercial is on TV.

3.  Stop calling Deep Dish Pizza, Pizza - it's a nice casserole;  but it's not pizza, sorry, it's not.  A Sicilian would kill you for calling it pizza.  That would be an appropriate fine.

What are some of the "laws" you would enact?

Keep in Touch and Keep it Local, Seasonal, and Kind to the Environment!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Home made Digestivo! Great Books! One Pan Chocolate Cake!

Berry Digestivo


After a great meal there is really nothing like a nice, tasty digestivo - you know a bit of strong but tasty alcohol that helps all that great food to break down and digest - or else at least makes us feel like it's helping!  This is a simple after dinner drink that you can keep in your 'fridge for some time.  It's delicious - it actually gets better with age.  It's from David Tannis book, "Heart of the Artichoke and Other Kitchen Journeys".  Just put a cup of berries that you like (they can be frozen if you froze them fresh but you'll need to let them defrost and do a first strain) in a bowl, sprinkle the berries with 2 tablespoons sugar and crush the berries with your hands. I used raspberries and blueberries.  Add 2 cups of vodka or grappa.  I used vodka so far but making this with grappa would make a lovely gift.  Cover the bowl and refrigerate it for a few hours, or in my case, a couple of days. I strained the mixture into a cute bottle, found a cork and it lives on the top shelf of our 'fridge.  We are going to need more soon.  Tannis does not strain out the berries; my thought was that it would last longer - so I did a longer steeping time.  It's pretty AND delicious!


Michael Pollan's useful, funny, and sometimes profound little book, Food Rules: An Eater's Manual (2009) is coming out this month in a second edition with illustrations by Maira Kalman.  The new edition will include lots of new "rules" from Slow Food members.  I am going to be sharing some of the original 64 rules on Facebook for the rest of the month in honor of the new release. My favorite rule from the original - no big surprise probably - is Rule 19:  If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don't.

Marc Vetri, owner of Vetri, Osteria, and Amis) and one of the best chef in Philadelphia in my opinion,  has a new cookbook coming out at the end of October.  The book is called Rustic Italian Food.  Marc has long dazzled those of us who adore authentic Italian food.  He is a serious student and now a teacher of the italian food that Italians love to cook and eat.  There is a nice piece about Marc, the new book, and some great pasta recipes in the November 2011 Food and Wine.


This cake, from Corbin Evans of New Orleans (formerly of Philadelphia) is the easiest, most moist and yummy chocolate cake and it takes just a few minutes to make and you dirty one pan - the pan the cake bakes in - seriously, how great is that?

Three Hole Cake


1 1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder  (the best you can find)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup vegetable oil (I use Canola oil)
1 cup of water
Confectioners' sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Grease & flour a 9 inch square baking pan
Combine the flour, baking soda, sugar, cocoa and salt right in the baking pan
Stir the mixture gently
Make 3 holes in the dry mixture
Pour the vinegar in one hole; pour the vanilla in another hole; and pour the oil in the 3rd hole.
Pour the water all over the top of the mixture
Stir, gently, for about 1 minute and 1/2  - some lumps are OK

Bake for 30 minutes - let cool for a bit and sprinkle with confectioners sugar if desired.

Easy as can be and delicious - especially when topped with a good vanilla ice cream.  It really is all about the cocoa powder.


Keep in Touch and Keep it Local, Seasonal, and Kind to the Environment!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Stretch your organic shopping dollar! Home made cleaning solution. Make some herbed salt!

Fall is definitely upon us now - it seemed to take it's time, didn't it? 

Thanks to all who got back to me with ideas, suggestions, and tips for the Blog.  Your time and input was deeply appreciated.

Food News

Walking around at one of our great Farmers' Market the other day, I was asked about going "all organic" - an expensive practice for many of us.  So I did some research.  I was trying to find out what products we should seek out with the organic label and what products we should be looking for that are considered "clean' - the least contaminated.

The Environmental Working Group has put together two lists:  the 12 most pesticide laden conventionally grown fruits and veggies AND  a list of the 15 products that are lowest in pesticide residue.  So, as they say, be guided as you shop.  By the way, these guidelines pertain most strongly to any of the products listed that are sold in supermarkets, or any place the food industry is the main supplier of stock.

Dirty Dozen (buy these products "organic"):  apples; celery; strawberries; peaches; spinach; imported nectarines; imported grapes; sweet bell peppers; potatoes; domestic blueberries; lettuce; and kale and collard greens.

Note:  if you are buying any of the above products from a local farmer or purveyor, you may be getting "organic" - but you may not be.  That said, not "organic" does NOT necessarily mean "dirty".  Get to know the folks you are buying your food from!  It's always a good idea to ask.

Clean 15 (not contaminated):   onions; sweet corn; pineapples; avocado; asparagus; sweet peas; mangoes; eggplant; domestic cantaloupe; kiwifruit; cabbage; watermelon; sweet potatoes; grapefruit; and mushrooms.

Again, it takes a little effort and it may require asking some questions, but it will be worth it!

Making Your Own

Household cleaning products have come a long way - the choices seem endless!  Some of us have been trying to buy products for cleaning our homes that fit into our green sensibilities.  For example, I am totally in love with my Method Cucumber scented All Purpose Cleaner.  But the stuff is expensive!  I recently came across a "recipe" for an all purpose cleaner, which we made and used and it works!!  It's especially effective on glass table tops, counters and windows. In our home, our glass storm door is permanently tatooed with wet nose marks, so we were going through the Windex pretty regularly.

Homemade All Purpose Cleaner (David Quilty, New York Times, October 13th)

Fill a spray bottle two thirds full of water and one third full of white distilled vinegar.  You can cut the aroma of the vinegar (which we love by the way) by adding a few drops of an essential oil to the mixture.  The vinegar aroma dissipates pretty quickly following use.  This cleaner costs about $4.00 a gallon - or about 25 cents for a bottle of cleaner. Commercial cleaners average $3.00 to $5.00 a bottle.  You can't beat that for saving!  Try it! I think you will like it!


Many of us have lots of herbs that we are currently drying and freezing and our rosemary, thyme and related plants are really at their peak.  Why not make some Herbed Salts?  They will make a great addition to your Fall and Holiday cooking.  Here's one that we made recently:

Spicy Herb Salt

You'll need:
2 cups of herbs - we used 1 1/2 cups of rosemary leaves and 1/2 cup of thyme leaves
2 thinly sliced garlic cloves
1/2 cup of good, coarse sea salt
1 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes

In your food processor or blender pulse the herbs with the garlic until well chopped.  Add the 1/2 cup of salt and pulse some more. Add the red pepper flakes and pulse to blend again.

Spread the mixture out on a large baking sheet and let it stand, stir it once in awhile, for about two days - until it is really nice and dry.  Transfer the mixture to a jar with a nice tight lid.

The options are up to you and depend on what you will enjoy and use.  The important part of the process is to fully dry the mixture.  When it is stored in a tightly lidded jar it MUST be dry or you will lose it to mold really quickly.

Herb Salt also makes a very nice Host gift.

Keep in Touch and Keep it Local, Seasonal, and Kind to the Environment!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The New PhillyFoodist!

Franklin Square Fountain
Hello Everyone! Welcome to the new Philly  Foodist!

Yes, I have been away for what seems like forever, but I have been making really good use of the time!  I have been working towards making some significant changes to the accessibility of the blog for everyone,  as well as introducing a wide range of regularly occuring topics, ideas, recipes, and reviews.  My goal is for this blog to be a great resource for all of us. I really want this to be a give and take vehicle for the many fascinating and real life issues, and topics and challenges that have been brought up to me over these past months of learning and asking.  The important thing is that this blog be interactive - we have so much to learn from each other and we can have some fun doing it!

The Floating Content of the Philly Foodist:  No - not everything will appear in every post!  However the content of the blog will focus on the following content.  From time to time, whole posts will concentrate on one topic - it just depends on what folks bring to me, what I am seeing "out there", and what seems worthwhile. 

Food News/Opinions - What's interesting?  What's being debated?  What's being recalled?

What's at the Markets? - What should we be looking for if we want to eat seasonally?  What are those items that make a short appearance and we're sorry when we miss them?  What does "local" actually mean?  How do we balance between local and "not too far away"?

Weekend Shopping and Cooking for the Week - So many folks I talked to as I gathered information were torn by wanting to eat better, more natural, non-processed food; many wanted to stop their "pick it up or call it in" eating habits,  but many were stymied as they tried to figure out how to cook fresh and seasonal on a regular basis at home.  We'll discuss planning a week - or a half week - menu; we'll talk about "Playing with your left overs" - it's fun, really!  We'll talk about freezing lunches ahead of time.  We'll hopefully  provide some useful techniques that I have been using for a number of years.

Events - What's happening on the city Foodie and Green scene?  What's opening?  What's closing?  What's changing?  What events are being held in the upcoming weekend/week? 

"Making your Own" - A recent article in the NY Times magazine special "food" issue stated that we buy so many condiments that are better - taste wise and health wise - and less expensive,  when we make them ourselves.  Can we do it?  How do we maintain them?  What makes sense?

Recipe Exchange - For me this has the possibility to be the most fun - and the most useful for all of us.  I'll post my favorites; but to make it work, we'll need yours too!

Garden and Green Tips - So many of us are gettting into gardening - big plot, small plot, pots only, community gardens, etc.  What works best?  Can we grow edibles in pots?  Where are the good staff and good deals re: planning and purchasing for our gardens?  And, how can we live more "green" in our urban settings?  How can we better manage our energy use?  Can a composter work for a city dweller?  Are recycling points for real?  These and loads of other topics will be included in our gardening and green tips sections.

Do it Yourself Tips - I will promise to include the best DIY tips and projects that I come across and I hope that you will share yours!

Book, Blog and Site Reviews - There are so many great resources out there in the electronic and the print media; I will share the ones I believe are worth checking out AND those that seem to be missing the point and/or providing less than optimal information.  And we will always have a Cookbook to talk about - I have a serious cookbook habit!!

Occasional Topics - these will be "once in awhile" postings that are designed to get you contributing to the blog.  Asking you for your favorites, for example,  or asking what three things would be your "Desert Island Foods", that sort of thing.

City Stories - Once in awhile I won't be able to resist throwing in a local slant that highlights why living in Philadelphia is a pleasure for anyone who wants to live in our real, diverse, food friendly, liveable urban setting.

I am looking foreward to hearing from you!  It's good to be back and to be able to start applying all of the great input and information that I have been gathering.  Let me know what you think. Join me!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

It's Time to Start Freezing! The AC Ban Continues! Kholrabi Chips!

I know that many folks just don't have the time - or frankly the inclination - for canning or "putting up" as it used to be called.

But just remember, there's another, easier alternative and now is the time to get started!  The strawberries, sour cherries, cherries and blueberrries are gradually showing up at our Farmers' Markets.  Just imagine opening up a bag of lucious strawberries in December or February!  Or making Blueberry Pancakes with local, delicious, fresh tasting berries during a snow storm! You want to don't you?

It's not at all difficult.  You need some good quality quart sized freezer bags, a sharp knife, a couple of bowls, the berries, and just a little bit of time.

For Strawberries, all that you have to do is hull your strawberries (cut off the green top where it was attached to the vine), slice the strawberries either in half or in quarters - I don't like to do thin slices for freezing.  Fill your quart sized freezer bags (not storage, actual freezer bags - they protect much more effectively) with your cleaned and cut strawberry pieces, write the contents and the date on the bag and freeze.  They will defrost quickly when you remove them from the freezer and they will have a bit more liquid to them from the freezing process.  We have used them for pancakes, cakes, syrups, all sorts of recipes and for cocktails.  They are delicious and in the middle of winter an unspeakable treat! 

We do pretty much the same thing with Blueberries, Cherries, and Sour Cherries.  When Peaches are in we do can some in their own juices, but we also freeze wedges of Peaches.  These are wonderful for cocktails and sauces.  Seared duck breast with a reduced peach sauce is a favorite cold weather recipe for us.

The Berries are at the Markets now.  Don't hesitate.  Stock up!  The ones you freeze will be far and away superior in every way to any you buy from agri-business in a stupermarket freeezer section!

And speaking of Freezing, I have had queries from some of you inquiring as to whether we are "still" holding off on using our central air conditioning.  The short answer - "Yes we are!".  We keep the blinds down half way and the windows open all over the house during the day and use fans on all of our three floors - our basement, even though it's "finished" is always cool; one of the joys of a very old house!  One of the keys is that we spend lots of time outside in our garden - what we call our "outside living room" - this is such an important factor in keeping cool.  As a kid, I remember everyone on our block sitting out front on their open porches or just their stoops on summer evenings - they were cooling themselves down from the day.  If you can, dine in the garden or outside (lite, cold foods are in, of course), catch the evening breeze, do a little splashing if you can or even just spritz a bit with the hose - these will all serve to lower your body temperature as the sun goes down.  For sure, good fans are a must to successfully staying comfortable, so there is an investment to be made there, but it is far and away much cheaper - in both money, wear and tear on your body, and cost to the environment - than running air conditioners.  And, you will feel much better - really!  Sweating - as much as many of us hate the very idea of it - is good for us.  My much better half spends the day in office AC and she can't wait to get out of it at the end of the day- so while it is an adjustment, it has proven to be a real permanent change for us. To be honest, we lived in AC from late Spring to Fall every year for years - now we walk in somewhere and look at each other and know we are both thinking, "it's cold in here"!  If your health isn't affected by learning to adjust to heat during the day, it's worth a shot! 

Prepping Fresh Local Strawberries for the Freezer

This is so simple and actually a healthy alternative to traditional chips.  When it's not too hot to fire up your oven for a few minutes, these are a wonderful and different snack!


Kohlrabi Chips

We have used both the green and the purple Kohlrabi - it's in the Farmers Markets now.

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees
Use a Mandoline or the thin slicer wheel on your food processor or a very, very sharp knife if your knife skills are very, very good,  and slice the "ball" part of the Kohlrabi into the thinnest chip like slices possible.

Spread them out on parchment paper on a cookie sheet; put them in the oven and stay right there!  Depending on their size and thickness, they will cook up quickly. 
You will end up doing multiple trays - unless you have a really big oven.

Pull the chips out when the chip edges are crinkled and brown; sprinkle with sea salt; let them rest a bit  and toss them into a basket. As you make these more you will come up with other flavorings - like curry powder, sweet pimienton, etc.

They are delicious by themselves, with cheese, with dips - in any way you would use chips.


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Easy Spring Recipes using Local Ingredients!

I hope that everyone is dealing succesfully with the recent heat wave; rumor has it we will be more "seasonal" weather wise soon.  It is the first test for us of our "Avoid the Air Conditioner" personal crusade.  Last year, we ran our central air conditioning three times - twice for house guests who were used to living in it and another time for someone who was doing work in the house. This year, so far so good - it was just such a jolt to land right in the soup so early! But I can only assume that we are getting a chance to adjust earlier than usual, so hopefully that will be a good thing.  I hope to talk more about our approaches to staying cool in a rowhouse in Philly in upcoming posts.

Speaking of staying cool, growing up in Philly and spending summers as a kid at the Jersey Shore (and lots of years as an adult too!), I became quite familiar and quite a fan of our seafood.  It's where I learned to clean whole fish, surf fish, and shuck clams and oysters.  Conditions are wonderful along the South Jersey waterways - I have to say, I love the beach and I love the ocean but I love an ocean that I can actually jump into and spend some time in riding waves and pretending to be a kid.  I never understood those beaches where the water is too cold to swim in for almost all of the season.  Give me my Jersey beaches and ocean anytime!   At any rate, Little neck clams, Cape May Salt oysters (aren't we glad to have them back?), Blue Fish, Weakies, Flounder and Fluke - all were and are favorites of mine.  However, I didn't know much about fresh water fish - especially relatively local fresh water fish.  I have always loved the Shad that runs once a year in the region, usually at about the same time as the first asparagus, but other than that, my list of favorite fresh water fish was short. On a camping trip way up in rural Pennsylvania many years ago, we caught trout and cooked them on our campfire - yes, it really was "all that"!!  I remember to this day how absoutely amazing those fish were.

So, I was very excited when we were at Ippolito's Fish Market (you see their wholesale trucks, Samuel and Sons, all over Philly - they are our favorite place for the freshest fish and seafood) Saturday of Memorial Day weekend to see Pocono Mountain Trout  on the ice - just a quick look and smell told us how amazingly fresh they were so we grabbed three and bought them whole (we did have them gutted).  We used the following recipe - the trout were so fresh and delicious and is a real find in our region.  Now, of course, I want to find out what else they are catching in the Poconos!!  You can also do this recipe with small Blue Fish, which are hard to find - you usually see the big blues - but Ippolitos does have them from time to time.

Pocono Mountain Trout - in Cast Iron - on the Grill

3 whole trout are good for two people - they are not large fish
To begin, start your hardwood charcoal in your chimney, dump the glowing coals into your cooker and put the grill grate in place; put a large, cast iron skillet on the grate over the hottest coals and leave it there.  Don't put oil in the skillet; put it on the grill grate dry.

Fish Prep:  When you have a whole fish gutted, it is split down the middle but otherwise fully intact so, open the fish up and lay in herb branches of your choice - we used our rosemary, oregano, and chives; we also put in some cloves of garlic and seasoned with bourbon smoked pepper - no salt yet

Pour a couple of glugs of extra virgin olive oil over the inside of the fish

Tie the fish as shown in the picture below and pour some of the oil over the outside of the fish

When your cast iron skillet is literally smoking, salt the outside of each of the fish (we used bourbon smoked sea salt) lay the fish into the hot pan and leave it alone for seven minutes.

When you are able to, flip the fish; if you can't flip it and it seems to be "sticking" leave it alone, it is not ready yet.

When all of the fish are flipped to the other side, set your timer for another seven minutes

Note:  you may be asking, why not just put the fish on the grill?  You could, but you would not get the crispy, amazing outer finish on the skin of the fish that you get using the cast iron. That crispy skin protects the flesh of the fish and keeps it tender and delicious.

Remove the fish to a serving tray - remove the twine from each fish; you might want to do just a slight drizzle of extra virgin olive oil over the fish but that is really it; it needs very little of anything; it is perfect.

We just brought the serving tray to our garden table, sat down, poured some wine and ate the fish right from the tray - mostly with our fingers. 

It is delicious.

Pocono Mountain Trout - ready for the fire!
And now, Cocktail Time!

Strawberry Summer Sizzler

Do try to make this while strawberries are in season!

Put 2 cups of sugar (superfine if you have it) and 1 cup of water in sauce pan
Add about 12 - 15 sliced strawberries - depends on size

Stir and simmer the mixture until the liquid is deep red and the strawberries have all broken down

Strain the mixture into a jar or something with a lid that you can keep the syrup in in the 'fridge

When the syrup is cooled:

In a rocks glass, add about 1 tablespoon of the syrup, 2 ounces of vodka, and top it off with Seltzer water and ice cubes; give it a little stir.

Note: the strawberry syrup will last in your refrigerator for a couple of week in a lidded jar

Refreshing, delicious and all grown up!!

Get 'em while you can!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Reason for the Seasons: Eat Fresh & Local and Toss the Fiber Drinks!

Strawberries:  In Seaason Locally Now!

As you shop for goodies for the long holiday weekend, please remember our Farmers' Markets, Farmers' Stands and, for you local folks,  Fair Food Farms in the Reading Terminal Market.  These are all places where you can find fresh, non-chemically altered, humanely raised food for your cookouts and celebrations.  You will also be able to buy seasonal food from these producers and vendors.  Why do I harp on this seasonal thing so much?  Well, folks, there a tons of reasons to eat food that is "in season"!

Let's think about it.  In order for produce to be shipped thousands of miles to a stupermarket - so you can buy it out of season - it is picked before it's ripe and then sprayed with chemicals to preserve it, and then sometimes sprayed again with chemicals to speed up the maturation process after it lands where it is going. Yum!  Consider also that agri-business is committed to food that looks "perfect" (they have to make up for all those chemicals somehow) so we have been conditioned to believe that anything that looks real is bad.  This lead to tremendous waste!  Listen to folks looking at tomatoes at the Markets - eventually you will hear someone say, "This is not round!  Look it has a mark on it!".  Gently educate if you can stand it. Please!

See the strawberries in the picture above?  See the little one we removed from the box?  Not perfect.  In fact, very weirdly shaped.  It would never make it to that stand of "perfect" strawberries in the stupermarket.  But it was delicious!  Nature doesn't screw up that way - we do when we waste food!

Just two more points worth considering:  First, if you can, why wouldn't you support your local producers instead of paying for products grown or "developed" far, far away?  Eat from where you live. Nothing is better for "outgrowing" allergies!  Find out what's available in your area and use it.  We live in a rich, rich area - Lancaster Farmers, Mid State ranchers, cheese makers, local honey producers, free range chickens, fabulous farm fresh eggs, and of course Jersey Tomatoes, Corn and Blueberries - just to name a few items among the bounty we have literally outside our doors.

Secondly, there's the health issue.  If you are going to eat something, isn't it worth a few more dollars not to put something into your body that's covered with chemicals and hormones and/or that has led a  tortured life?  And, for our purposes here, I am not even going to get into a discussion of "shelf stable" dinners in boxes, frozen "foods" that are really a lab in a bag, etc. And remember, our support of local producers gives them the ability to provide fresh food to people in lower income areas as well.

Eat fresh, local, seasonal, and humanely raised and you can get rid of that disgusting powder stuff so many people I know drink in their orange juice each morning!  You can stop eating that faux yogurt a la Jamie Lee Curtis (why doesn't she return to the movies?) - probiotics EXIST in real food!!!  Fiber EXISTS in real food!  As do vitamins and nutrients.

The elephant in the room here, for many folks, and many folks I know for sure, is that when you buy fresh you have to cook!  In the coming weeks I hope that we can start having a conversation about effective ways to shop and cook fresh and local even when our schedules are tight - and who's schedule isn't?

For now, just remember:  there's a reason for the seasons!    Have a Happy Memorial Day weekend and for goodness sake, cook something!!!

Artichokes and Baby Eggplants!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Feeling So Lucky to Live in this Food Heaven and Some Easy Recipes

Head House Famers Market Goodies!
The Markets

We woke up to a gray, slightly rainy - again -  morning on Sunday and we weren't "feeling it" for walking up to the Market.  We'd picked up some staples at Fair Food Farms in the Reading Terminal on Saturday and frankly the weather was making us lazy.  But the puppy loves the Market - and of course so do we - so we got our bags, made a short list of what we "needed" and headed out to Head House Farmers' Market.

Fifteen minutes later our spirits were soaring! Nearly everyone, vendor wise, is now back at their stands.  As soon as we strolled up to say hello at Youngs Flowers we saw gorgeous Peonies - ice cream for mosquitos as my better half's Mom says - we do love Peonies!  Gotta get some of them on the way out we said. And, we did!  Thanks Youngs! The Youngs also carry a wide array of herb and tomato plants at this time of year; we are planted to the hilt, but we noticed many shoppers stocking up on herb plants.  Wonderful.

We did our usual stroll all the way through the stalls, looking before we started shopping/supposedly making a plan.  By the time we got to the end of the Head House, we had some meals planned and our mood had totally changed!  Oh how happy we were!  Under that one gorgeous old roof we were able to purchase food that we would never be able to get in a stupermarket - from the folks who produce them - what could be better?

Our bounty included: White Turnips - you can eat them raw like radishes or thin slice and quickly sautee them; Tasoi - a spinach like, but firmer green, really delicious; Purple Radishes - fat tangy radishes with the best radish greens we'd seen in a long time; Asparagus (of course it's still in season!); Spring Garlic; Rhubarb and Strawberries; a couple of early Tomatoes; and of course a stop at Birchrun Hills Farm for Red Cat and Fat Cat cheeses (we are addicted); Chicken from Mountain View Poultry; and lastly a real surprise: Spotted Alaskan Prawns from Otolith Sustainable Seafood.  This last was a purchase we hadn't planned on at all - total impulse.  Excellent impulse.  These are amazing shrimp, flash frozen and vacuum sealed on the boat and fairly and humanely harvested.  With these shrimp we may be able to sway those who think gigantic boxes of chemically treated frozen shrimp from big box stores is such a "great deal" - if they can taste at all!! We sauteed them in butter and garlic, butterflied them with the shells on - they were delicious and the difference in the flavor is well, scary - in an oh so good way.

We lugged everything home and made our weekly stash of butter (and so had a yield of buttermilk for biscuits) and started planning our approach to these fabulous products. We came up with at least 4 fabulous dinners and some goodies for quick weekday breakfasts.  For example, we made stewed Rhubarb and Strawberries and Buttermilk biscuits.  With good strong coffee on a weekday morning, you are good to go with that delicious combo!

It was hours before we noticed that it was still gray and damp and threatening rain!!!

A Few of the Recipes

Our newest, best cocktail hour appetizer, which we shared with the Birchrun Hills and Talulah's Table folks on Sunday (just in case you see it on the menu at Talulah's Garden!):

Red Cat Poppers
Bring a round of Birchrun's Red Cat Cheese to room temperature
Slice a couple of fat strawberries as thin as you can
Get out your best Balsamic Vinegar

Put a slice of strawberry on a piece of the cheese (you may need a spoon if the cheese is getting runny and fabulous)
Put just a few drops of Balsamico on top of the strawberry slice
Pop into your mouth
Remember who told you!!  You're welcome!

Red Cat Poppers Ingredients

Buttered Eggs
This recipe comes to us from the Canal House Cookbook, Volume 6 (www.thecanalhouse.com)

Cut hard boiled eggs in half;  arrange them on a plate
Sprinkle good extra virgin olive oil on top of each 1/2
"Butter" the top of each 1/2 with good mayonnaise - not Miracle Whip, please . . .
Salt and Pepper each 1/2 - we used sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Sprinkle finely chopped herbs over each 1/2 - we used a combo of our chives and our par-cel (a celery and parsley combo plant) but you can sprinkle whatever you want to add flavor
You're done and they are delicious!

Warm Fresh Greens Salad
Remember those beautiful radish greens I mentioned above?   And those white turnips?  They star here:

Take a bunch of greens - in our case, the Radish Greens
Clean the greens, remove the stems, chop coarsely, rinse again
Let the greens drain
Saute a bit of Spring Garlic and if you like a some finely chopped jalepeno in olive oil
Slice a couple White Turnips on a mandoline if you have one - if you don't just get the slices as thin as you can
Thinly slice a half of a red onion
When the Spring Garlic and Jalepeno are softened add the red onions, and the white turnip slices to the pan - saute for about 5 minutes or less - just softened
Add the radish greens, toss thoroughly with the rest of the ingredients, and let the greens warm
Add salt and pepper to taste
Drizzle with your favorite vinigarette - we used a basic dijon vinigarette
Serve warm

It is possible to shop only once or twice a week and eat delicious, nutritious and seasonal food at home.  It just takes a bit of planning - and sometimes the planning takes place AFTER the shopping!  Enjoy!

Monday, May 9, 2011

A Farmers Market Gift Idea

Asparagus, Rhubarb and Spring Onions make a beautiful arrangement

If you know a Foodie - or just a fan of fresh food, consider this type of "bouquet" to mark their  celebratory day!

This was for Mother's Day and came from the Headhouse Farmers Market a la Tom Coulton Produce; everything had been picked the morning it was presented.  You can't beat that for freshness.

The little vase is a selection from our garden - a mix of blooms, sage flowers, and some rosemary and lavender snips.

It was very well received!!

Enjoy this wonderful weather and get out there and plant something!!

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Farmers Markets are Back! Garden Notes and A Delicious Frittata Recipe

Headhouse Farmers Market 2011
Happy Days are definitely here again as the Headhouse Farmers Market opened for the season on Sunday May 1st.  The above shows the gorgeous asparagus, rhubarb, and spring onions already available from one of the vendors.  We arrived almost right at opening at 10:00 AM and the Market was already crowded.  Not every vendor is set up yet, but more were present on an opening day than we had ever seen - and of course, there are no tomatoes or corn or peaches right now - but you can keep us going for quite awhile on that asparagus!!

The speciality stand offerings have also developed quite a bit in recent years.  Talula's Table and Garces Trading Co offered cheese spreads, smoked fish and meat - all sorts of lovey little treats - great appetizers or just delicious little finger food possibilities.  John and Kira's were there with their fabulous, locally made chocolates - and they aren't there in the really hot weather, so now is the time!  Otolith - a purveyor of line caught, wild fish and seafood was there and we have a lovely piece of wild Alaskan King Salmon in our freezer!  And of course, one of our favorite local cheese makers, Birchrun Hills was there and we snagged this delicious Blue - one of their best cheeses in my opinion. 
A Much Beloved, Local Blue

A number of other Markets will be opening around the city in the coming weeks - Philadelphia is very, very lucky to have such a network of Farmers Markets - providing fresh, seasonal and local foods to so many of our neighborhoods.  But they need our support to continue, so before you run in and purchase that 1,000 mile asparagus in the stupermarket, stop and find a place where you can purchase it from a local purveyor - the taste alone is worth it!!  It's also wonderful to be able to shop a few times during the week (there's always a market somewhere).  The food is fresher, it's fun and you avoid having to stuff a whole lot of products into your 'fridge from one huge shopping trip!

The Garden
We are very happy with the progress of our "mini - farm" and the rest of the garden so far this season.  The local rainfall and temperatures seem  to be working well for the growth cycle - fingers crossed.  We already have some peppers forming, our fava beans are getting tall and nice and stocky and I am pretty sure that we'll be eating some white radishes this weekend.  Our lettuces - all in pots by the way - have been delicious and a few days after we harvest some, we have lots of new growth.  That will end with the warmer weather of course, but right now, it is such a joy to go out the back door and "snip a salad" - well worth the work!  One suggestion:  if you haven't tried "Par-Cel"- and you enjoy flat italian parsely and love the flavor of celery (both are real big around our house) - you must get your hands on this herb.  We are growing it in 3 different places and using it in all sorts of ways.  The flavors of both italian parsely and celery come through in each little leaf - amazing and very versatile. Something different - introduced to us last year by our friends - (and the source of our wonderful farm fresh eggs) -  at Larken Springs Farm (www.larkenspringsfarm.com). The Larken Spring guys found Par - Cel plants at one of their local Farmers Markets; I ordered our plants on line.

On the flowering end, what we are really enjoying currently are our Gerber Daisies - We have little pots all over the house of cut flowers from these gems.  They are quite prolific, a bit finicky (they don't like it too hot and they definitely don't like to get too dry), but the more you cut, the more they grow at this time of year.  Having your own cut flowers around the house can't be beat.  I bought our Gerber plants at Lowe's - they are good hardy plants.

A Recipe
Right now, as mentioned, it's lettuces, arugula, parsely, you know, lots of leafy greens, that are ready for eating in our garden.  Sometimes we cut too much and as homegrown lettuces don't last as long after they are harvested as those that have been sprayed with every chemical under the sun, we always try to come up with ways to use our greens up - even when they seem to be getting a bit wilty in our 'fridge.  This is a Frittata we put together last week from left over salad greens and just about everything else left over in our 'fridge that seemed like it would contribute.  Don't be shy about making Frittatas - they can be eaten warm or at room temperature, they travel well (good for lunches), and with a Bloody Mary they are perfect for Brunch and are delicious!

Il Moya Left Over Greens Frittata

This recipe is really open to your creativity and what you want to put in it - and what's in the 'fridge.
We used:

About 1 1/2 cups mixed greens - Mesculun, Simpson Lettuce, Arugula, some Par-Cel, Sorrel, and a tiny bit of Tarragon - tossed together and cleaned

6 large farm fresh eggs (they ARE the dish, so go for the gold!)

Sun Dried Tomatoes in olive oil - I had about 8 small ones on hand

We had some left over fiddle head ferns - so in they went too

1 small jalepeno pepper and a couple of spring onions

Extra virgin olive oil, salt, freshly ground pepper and freshly grated parmesan cheese

Chop the greens, the spring onions, fiddleheads, the sun dried tomatoes and as much of the small jalepeno as you'd like - toss that all together

Whip together the eggs, some salt and pepper and a little bit of milk or cream - just adds a touch of extra richness

Put a little of the olive oil and a pat or two of butter into a large non-stick skillet

Melt the butter and get the oil hot - toss the chopped mixture in for just a few seconds to warm the mixture; stir it around and spread it out over the pan surface

Pour over the seasoned egg and milk/cream mixture and swirl the pan so that the egg mixture covers to the edges of the pan

Cook over a medium fire until it just starts to set up and seems a bit firm in the middle and still a little bit loose around the edges; push the mixture away from the sides of the pan a bit with a spatula and go all the way around the edges with a tiny drizzle of the olive oil

Sprinkle the grated parmesan all over the top of the frittata

Put it under a broiler - no more than 6 inches from the fire - keep a close eye on it!  You only need a few seconds before it will start to be bubbly and brown on top.

Remove the pan from under the broiler - let it sit for a minute or two and then slide the frittata out onto a large plate or cutting board - that oil you drizzled around the edges will help with this

Cut it into wedges - serve warm or at room temperature
Wrap leftovers up in wax paper and store in 'fridge

Enjoy!!  That Bloody Mary would be the perfect accompaniement!!

Il Moya Left Over Greens Frittata
Enjoy this wonderful, re-energizing time of year.  Support the Markets, grow some of your own goodies, and share your adventures in local and seasonal cooking and eating!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


A Queen Village Tree in all of its Glory!
Oh, how happy are we folks?  Is there a more thrilling time of year for urban gardeners, mini-farmers, cooks, and Farmers' Markets fans?  Look at those bulbs, those trees, those early flowers and those perennials - not to mention the herbs that return!  I know I am biased, but Spring is such a wonderful thing in an Urban setting. The city is tough in the winter and  it really brings our souls back to life when the blooming starts, doesn't it?  Also good to see folks in my neighborhood out on their stoops and working in the back gardens and talking seeds and plantings.  It just feels like life returning.

So, we do have our trusty sage, oregano and chives returning; along with catnip and mint.  Someday I will figure out how they survive under tarps in our side alley during the winter!  In a completely unexpected turn, our Fordhook Swiss Chard from last year is returning in the standing planter!  On a whim a number of weeks ago, I threw some commercial jalepeno seeds into a saucer to dry, planted them in some seed starter and guess who has little jalepeno pepper plants - with 3 or more leaves at this point?  Now, THAT amazed me.

The 2011 Urban Garden:  The plan - over the past few years -  for our urban piece of paradise, has been to learn what works/what does not  in our yard and gardens and gradually develop more edible plantings and planting "systems".  We have landed on the use of "standing" planters - ours come from Gardeners' Supply Company but they are available at many garden centers and especially online.  I used one planter last year - on wheels - and had very good luck with it.  To be honest I also enjoyed working with a planter that is large and deep with a planting area that is at my waist.  We can do our bending exercises later! So, this year we are planning on using three of these standing planters - a few large lightweight pots are still around  for Potatoes, and Mint and, of course, cutting flowers.  And my built in Herbal Garden remains and will be very full this year.  But if it's an edible product, it is will be growing in the planter stands lined up against the side of our house.  We get amazing sun on the side of the house for long periods of the day - the wonder of being the "end of the row"; this also provides us with a growing area that is NOT in the middle of our garden and dining and sitting area. One "twist" we are going to try this season is growing Sun Gold tomatoes in amongst our 4 O'Clocks.  We read some really good information about mixing edible plants and flowering plants in the garden so we'll see. I will be reporting regularly with photos of how this all goes as the season progresses. 

OK - 2011 Edible Plantings in the Urban Mini Farm:  what's in right now:  lettuces, mesculun mix, arugula, white radishes, 5 types of heirloom peppers - sweets, hots, and longs; Potatoes; Rainbow Swiss Chard; Fordhook Swiss Chard (returning plants); Spring Garlic; Puntarella - another returnee from last year; and White (another heirloom) Cucumbers.  Herbs in right now are returning Oregano, returning Sage, returning regular Chives and Garlic Chives, Mint, Par-Cel (more about this little gem in another post, but if you see it, buy it and plant it!),  French Sorrel and Italian Parsely.  To go in a bit later, the Sun Gold tomatoes - these are my "candy" when I am gardening; I can't stop myself from picking them and popping them in my mouth as I work - heavenly and warm; two types of Eggplant - the miniature. "Fairy Tale" type and regular full size eggplant.  Herbs to go in soon really are just some assorted varieties of Basil and a couple of Thyme plants.  The Nasturium seeds are already planted and hang in a window box over one of the planters - the little Nasturium flowers are peppery and delicious. I also have a big pot of variegated Marigolds - sown as seeds -  nearby - I will probably split this up around the growing edibles.  Say what you want about Marigolds, but they keep the cats away and other critters away!  Speaking of, the catnip - returning from last year is doing quite well.  We have to keep it in a pot hanging out of reach of our two cats - they don't know when to stop with fresh catnip!

And just a quick note:  we have stopped taking up a lot of space with full sized tomatoes!  You have probably noticed that we have at our finger tips some of the best tomatoes in the country!  I can't wait until our Farmers' Market vendors start laying out the Heirlooms and the Jersey Toms, so frankly, I see no reason for me to try to replicate - I already now I can't - their art.  I"ll take the space for something else.

Next Post:  Flowering Plants, Perennials (what's doing well/what's not) and New Additions to the Cutting Gardens

Food News:  I am loving Mark Bittman's columns for the New York Times and his articles in the New York Times Magazine on Sundays.  Good recipes in the latter and good, reasonable approaches to the "big" questions facing us as a culture around Food.  Mark "gets it" without being so strident as to turn off potential readers (I have to learn that from him!).  If you haven't see any of his writing, check out back issues of the New York Times.  I am also already missing Rick Nichols in the Inquirer.  I really appreciate Craig LaBan and consider him a really good critic; I just so enjoyed the twist Rick Nichols would take on a story - a foodie story.  He is missed.

An early Spring Recipe:   So, the asparagus has made its first appearances and we could not be happier.  We eat it in every possible way we can because we believe the local asparagus is the only asparagus worth eating and when it's gone, it's gone!  I came upon this sauce in the new Canal House Cooking, Volume No 6 (http://www.thecanalhouse.com/).  We just tried it and it was an orgy of asparagus!

Asparagus with Blender Lemon Butter Sauce

The Asparagus treatment:  we generally rinse off any sand, break off the woody ends, and quickly - very quickly - blanch the asparagus in boiling salted water and dump them in ice water to stop the cooking.  We like our asparagus crunchy!  We then melted a bit of butter and a few drops of good extra virgin olive oil in a cast iron pan, got the pan really hot, and dumped the asparagus in for some quick "finishing".  You are looking for a little brown/black on spots of the asparagus - but it's quick if your pan is hot enough!  So don't leave the pan!

The Sauce:  Put 4 Large egg yolks, 1/4 cup of fresh lemon juice, a big pinch of salt and pepper into the jar of an electric blender.  Cover and blend for one minute.  With the motor still running, add 8 tablespoons of warm melted butter in a slow, steady stream - you want it to emulsify. Makes 1 Cup.

Adjust the seasonings and serve with the asparagus.  Absolutely proof that Spring is here and that the goddesses love us and want us to be happy.  Enjoy!

So, . . . what are YOU planting?  Please, let's share this adventure of "growing our own" in the City!!

Happy Spring!

Monday, February 21, 2011

What about all of those Food Terms? And - A Great Recipe for Meatless Mondays

First of all, I apologize for the gap in postings, but we have a new member of our family - a 10 week old Dachshund named "Harold".  Harold has been the focus of almost all of our energies for the past two weeks.  He is getting into a schedule now and he is a joy - more about the wonder our furry friends bring to our lives at another time - anyhow, life is slowly getting back into a somewhat more predictable reality.

During late night/early morning walks and playtime with Harold, I have been doing a lot of Food Reading.  It seems that over the past couple of months, every major publication has felt the need to run some articles, and often publish cover stories, about topics that those of us who consider ourselves Foodies care deeply about.  These issues have run the gamut of favorite Foodie topics including,   Sustainability/Seasonal; Vegan/Flexitarian; Organic; Free Range; Humanely Raised; Urban Farming/Victory Gardens (redux);  Government Subsidized "Food"; and my recent favorite:  "Emotionally Sterile" Food (that which has been totally factory manufactured thus, untouched by human hands).

It's scary to see so much out there in everything from Newsweek to the New York Times to CNN - scary to me because, in my opinion, when the mainstream media gets its talons into something, and edits it for what they believe to be the American attention span,  it gets dummied down so much that meaning - and potential usefulness - are lost.  A prime example of this is the word "Organic".  Now, when a farmer I meet tells me that his tomatoes are organic and explains to me what he had to do to maintain his products without spraying chemicals all over them, I tend to believe that he is selling me "Organic" tomatoes.  I have also learned enough over recent years to know how real, not chemically soaked tomatoes, should look. However, when Wal-Mart says it's now selling "Organic" produce - and I go check it out, and the cucumbers are waxed within an inch of their lives, and nothing looks organically raised,  I am dubious.

Whole Foods has recently announced that they will "color code" their meat and chicken products based on how the animal was raised.  Huh? Right - and that will be an accurate reading of Free Range vs. Tortured now, won't it?  Be suspect of this use of language, not practices; advertising not substance, designed to dupe us into thinking we are shopping and eating better.

Another recent example of "Big Stories" in the media was the run of pieces demonizing - again - Salt!  "Salt is bad".  "Recent reports indicate that Americans are eating too much salt".  "Eliminate salt from your diet".  OH COME ON!!!!  The problem is that Americans have guzzled the Kool Aid and literally exist on processed, factory produced food and fast food at nearly every meal!! That stuff is loaded with Salt!  Is that news?That's what the fast food chains use to get people hooked - salt.  So, does this mean that Salt is the enemy?  Does it actually mean that Salt is "bad for you"?   Or . . . , hang in there now, does it actually mean that Americans eat way too much processed and fast food and it's killing them?!?  So far, I can say that in all of the junk writing I pored through when the "Salt Scare" became a big story, I saw nothing by way of discussion of this very obvious fact.  Protecting advertisers, I can only assume.

I don't think of myself as seeing a conspiracy around every corner, but I am so aware - even in folks close to me - confusion and misunderstanding around these all important issues.  When that continues to happen, most of us have a tendency to throw our hands up in the air and give up.  Somehow, I am wondering if that's the goal of all of this mis - use of terms and mis - information. 

Continue to ask - ask for more than the surface information, ask for sources and practices.  Demand to know more.  And be suspect of any "all of nothing" fix touted in the media.  And without a doubt, stay away from processed, factory produced and fast food as the mainstay of your diet.  Yes, we are all time challenged; learn how to use some of your precious time being selective about what you eat!

And the good news is that soon we'll be planting and tending and anxiously waiting for our own urban produce to provide us with some really healthy eating!  I can't get enough of the seed catalogs and so far I have done a ton of garden layout grids - very sustaining in this cold weather!

If you are observing "Meatless Mondays" - and I hope you are for so many reasons - here's a real winner of a dish.  I LOVE Meatloaf.  I love it at the first meal, I love sandwiches from it, I just love it.  This recipe satisfies even my meatloaf loving soul!  Enjoy!

Lentil Cheese Loaf

3/4 chopped onion
3/4 chopped celery
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon minced garlic
3 cups well drained, cooked lentils (Brown lentils contribute to that "meatloaf look")
8 oz coarsely shredded sharp cheddar cheese (this is not the time for the microplane/rasp; use a box grater)
1 cup fresh bread crumbs (avoid breadcrumbs in cardboard boxes!  Make your own and it is not necessary to use stale bread - stale bread makes stale bread crumbs)
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon Worchestershire Sauce
3/4 teaspoon crumbled dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt
Dash of Hot Pepper Sauce
Bottled Chili Sauce for Serving

Cook onion and celery in the vegetable oil in a heavy sauce pan - medium heat - about 4 - 5 minutes
Stir in garlic; cook 1 minute longer
Mix remaining ingredients -  except for Chili Sauce - until well blended

Add onion mixture and mix well

Pack into a well buttered 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 inch glass loaf pan

Bake in a preheated 325 oven for 50 minutes or until the loaf is firm to the touch.

Cool - in the pan - for about 10 minutes
Run the tip of a knife around the edges of the loaf and unmold onto a serving dish

Cut in slices and serve with chili sauce

You can serve this with the fixin's you would use with "meat" meat loaf; it is delicious!  Enjoy!

Monday, January 31, 2011

"Everything" Storm coming! Be Prepared for Ice!

The Maple outside of our house
There's nothing more important today than making sure that we all have at least the basic things that will keep us safe, warm and functioning with the coming storm.

It seems to me that Philadephians are getting hardened to snow storms - but, and this is a big but, Ice is a whole different experience, and it has the potential to do some serious damage.

Please be sure that you have working flashlights, a battery driven radio of some kind (there's probably an old Boom Box in a closet somewhere!), and some candles and matches and magic matches at the ready.  Also, consider what systems in your household would be affected by any power loss.  For example, in our home, we know that we will be able to manually light our burners to cook, but our oven definitely won't work because it's an electrical ignition that starts it, even though it's gas.  What kind of heat do you have?  If your heater is driven by a fan, you will lose heat.  And of course, if you have electric heat, you will also lose heat.  If you have a working fireplace, now is the time to be sure that you have, not only wood or duraflames or whatever, but also kindling to get fires started.  And be sure that your flue is clean and open!
Many of us have "put up" food products - and for many of us a good deal of that putting up is freezing.  Freezers will mainly be OK for a couple of days if they are well packed and if they are not opened.  The same is true of the refrigerator of course.  We are considering a big cooler out on the deck filled with water, juices, and some foodstuffs, just in case.  That way we will have access to some refrigerated items without having to open the 'fridge.
Take notice of the power and cable lines around your house - we live in the city, they are everywhere - know where the ones around your house are.  Ice has major impact on power lines; we lose power when they come down, but falling down doesn't necessarily mean that they have lost power.
If you share your life with dogs, and the world becomes encased in ice, you do have a challenge when your buddy has to go out.  Keep sand, and/or dog friendly ice melt near the front door and sprinkle it liberally to at least get out the door with the dog.  You know, during these times, it is how well you trained your dog that will come back to bite you.  We tried through another ice storm to get our dogs to go to the bathroom out in our back yard.  Of course, using our beloved back yard as a doggie bathroom is usually a big no-no.  And it remained that way in the ice!!  And so we slid! 
If you feed the birds in your area, now would be a good time to get some extra seed out there so that they can feast a bit.  They have a very hard time when everything is frozen over.

Lastly, one of the great things about living in the city is having neighbors close by.  Neighbors who we know and talk to!  Keep your eye on the others on your block or neighborhood - especially older folks and those who live alone.  It is a good time to reinforce the city practice of looking out for each other!

Expect limitations.  Understand that some things will be canceled and delayed - and that's fine and they should be.  Be safe!