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!