Thursday, December 13, 2012

Celebrating Through Loss - Making Some Changes

As some of you are aware our family lost its Matriarch this past September.  This was a woman who's life was rich, full, interesting and active until her last day.  She was the dynamo at the center of our family and she is, and always will be, missed.  The first Holiday Season without a loved one is always difficult; we are blessed with a large, functional family of people who, while they all don't live close by, love each other and enjoy each other's company.  Who could ask for more?  Not I.

So, as my better half and I contemplated this Holiday Season we found ourselves re-examining the "holidays as usual" program we've been adhering to for the past 15 plus years.  Somehow, it felt that this year we needed a change - not a return, maybe a new way to celebrate.

Every year for many years, we have been holding an Open House on Christmas Eve.  Christmas Day was Family, but Christmas Eve was our "event". We'd send out a huge email, tell folks that they needn't RSVP, and that they were welcome to bring a friend, come and stay, or just drop by for a nog and to hang a decoration on our tree.  Neither one of us could envision THAT Christmas Eve for ourselves this year.  The more we talked, the more we realized that what we were trying to clarify in our minds was that we wanted Comfort.  We wanted warmth and pretty and a bit of sparkle and love.  We wanted familiar and predictable and laughter and good food and candle and fire light. We didn't want the doorbell ringing every few minutes.  We wanted to sit back, relax and soak it all in. So - what would that look like?

It didn't take long for both of us to come to a very similar conclusion:  let's investigate if some of our nearest and dearest, instead of dropping by our Open House, would be up for an evening long sit down dinner, with holiday songs playing in the background, a big sparkling tree, a long warm, groaning table and  some well, what else can you call it, "hanging out together".

We decided we needed and wanted that big hug that comes from being in the company of close friends and loved ones while having a few cocktails, eating  fabulous food, and sharing hours of conversation and laughter.

Bless them, a number of folks said yes!  The leaves will be added to the table and it will be placed in front of the fireplace (an outcome of raising two puppies at the same time leaves us with a relatively empty living room as two of our chairs spend the holidays at the upholsterers!).  We intend to look for the biggest tree we can find and we have dug out a lot of decorations and dishes and other chotchkes that we haven't used for a long time.  Somehow, seeing them is making us love them all over again.  For some reason, we've also become more obsessed than usual with natural decorations, dried  reeds, wood, handmade things, etc. It just all seems to be falling together along those lines.

For me, the lesson is to realize that loss is loss and the emotions around loss don't make a quick exit.  That said, it isn't necessary to be maudlin; to soldier through regardless.  It is necessary to be good to yourself and say, "What do I want?".  That's OK.

We can't wait for Christmas Eve!  I promise that I will share the Christmas Eve menu post event.  Some things are surprises, after all!

Enjoy the process, the preparations and the celebrations!

By the way, here's a little chart that I came across recently that I think is useful.  Lots of these spices are in heavy rotation at this time of year!  Good and good for you!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Philly Foodist's Happy Holiday List

'Tis the time!  So many holidays are upon us.  Hanukkah starts this Saturday! And then we are into Christmas and Kwanzaa. How do you prepare?  Do you come out of the Holiday Season exhausted or refreshed and filled with wonderful memories?  Or, more commonly I suspect, with a mixture of both?

It seems to me that most of us who take holiday preparations seriously face a lot of challenges in coming out of all of this with mostly lovely memories.  I know there are lots of folks out there who just have to "show up" and celebrate.  I sometimes look at them piling into their cars to go to so and so's house with their wine or cookies in hand and think, "That must be nice; nothing to do!"  However, for the rest of us, there's planning, cooking, baking, cleaning, decorating, inviting, and - oh, remembering to fit in that very important haircut!  How do we handle it all with a smile and a firm grip on what the season should be all about?  How do we have FUN!?!

For me, I try to remember to follow a few "rules" :

1.  After awhile you just have to accept that the fact that you are attending to every detail, agonizing over every gift, and planning every meal down to the salt and pepper cellars because you like doing all that crazy stuff! Give into your obsessive side and enjoy fussing over detail and - this is important - don't let people tell you that you shouldn't be fussing!

2.  Remember that folks are coming to your home to see you and celebrate with you - and yes, because by now they probably know the food will be good! They will enjoy themselves if you are enjoying yourself, so whatever you do, aim for being a relaxed and happy host.

3.  For many of us, there's a blessing in, "having what we need". Think about what material, store bought things those close to you really need.  Especially the adults. There are probably a few things here and there but keep in mind the fun of presenting handcrafted gifts, or small purchased gifts that are unique and really speak to the likes and interests of the recipient.  Try to be sure to give yourself the time to Shop Small - you will find more of those unique items in independently owned small shops and artisans' galleries and the like. As for handcrafted or homemade items, the important thing to remember is if you make gifts, deal in gifts items that involve a process that you enjoy and have a knack for doing.  For example, I wouldn't try to knit scarves for people - that would be a disaster because I don't enjoy and am not good at knitting. And although I love to cook, I'm not one to enjoy spending a day turning out tons of cookies.  That said, whipping up a batch of mixed berry cordials in pretty recycled bottles or making homemade vanilla extract or red onion jam is pure delight for me.  I love the process and the outcomes.

4,  Making lists are a vital part of the process; you'll feel more in control because you aren't trusting everything to memory.  I like to make separate lists for gifts, decorating, cooking, homemade gifts, etc.  Yes, I have a lot of lists - but they are short and I can see at a glance what's necessary within different preparation activities.  Find a very secure spot for your lists; there's nothing worse than spending a great deal of your precious time making lists and then losing them!  Trust me on that one!

5.  Keep in mind that your home doesn't have to look like the decorated house in the shelter magazine.  Your home should be a place where those dearly beloved holiday objects that have been in your family for years and years will make an appearance for a couple of weeks. They will dress up your homestead and make you happy every time you see them.

6.  Do something that's purely charitable at this time of year.  Serve lunch at a food program; go to a Toys for Tots event with new toys; support a family that wouldn't have Christmas by donating gifts or money through a local agency; donate something; volunteer.  Figure out what works for you, but don't pass up the opportunity.  It will effect your "seasonal spirit"in a real way.

Oh, . . . . and if you can, play Holiday music while you do your preparations.  Let all of those silly holiday shows that are on TV every year at this time serve as background too - Charlie Brown or The Grinch anyone?  Believe it or not, the shows and the music will help to keep you "in the spirit".  If we lose the spirit of the season to stress and exhaustion, we've lost our ability to enjoy what should be a magical, happy time of the year.


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Vintage Recipe for Left Over Turkey

The World's Cutest and Smartest Goats:  Poppy & Willow
I can only hope that all of you had as wonderful a Thanksgiving as we did!  Spending time with our dear friends at their beautiful Farm and B n B in the Lehigh Valley ( is definitely the best anecdote for whatever may ail us or have us stressed out. Cooking a huge feast together, walking in the woods, watching the chickens and the goats frolic, and sleeping in total silence (well, except for the roosters!) is pure bliss.  And, with every visit to the farm, I learn a little bit more.  We are always so grateful and I always return tinkering with ideas for applying what I learn in the country to our urban homestead.

This year we had a beautiful organic, heirloom turkey from the Koch's  Family which we purchased through Fair Food Farmstand in the Reading Terminal Market. Our Turkey weighed in at 22 pounds!  We had a fabulous dinner with all of the fixins, including some "traditional" dishes that my better half and I have foisted upon our friends over the years. Of course, our Friday after Thanksgiving dinner consisted of turkey sandwiches piled high. As you may have guessed, each of our freezers currently has a good deal of sliced turkey, stuffing, and fabulous turkey stock waiting for our "next round" of turkey cravings.

Along with Turkey Noodle Soup, the one recipe that I will be doing and soon - possibly this weekend - is Turkey Tetrazzini.  The recipe I have been using for years is originally from the Betty Crocker Cookbook (1969 edition), given to me by my Grandmother when I moved out on my own.  I still refer to this great old cookbook for a number of old standards, along with this recipe.

Recipe:  Turkey Tetrazzini


1/4 cup butter - original calls for butter OR margarine!  It's old I told you!
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 cup turkey stock
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons sherry - although not specified in the recipe, dry sherry works best
7 ounces cooked spaghetti
2 cups cubed turkey
3 - 4 ounces of sliced "button"mushrooms - the original calls for 1- 3 oz can of sliced mushrooms but I just can't!
1/2 cup of grated Parmesan cheese


Heat oven to 350 degrees
Melt butter in a large sauce pan over low heat; blend in the flour, pepper and salt.
Cook over low heat, stirring until the mixture is smooth and bubbly (it's a roux basically)
Remove the sauce pan from the heat; Stir in the turkey stock and the heavy cream.
Heat the mixture to boiling, stirring constantly - Boil and stir for one minute
Stir in the sherry, spaghetti, turkey and mushrooms

Pour the mixture into an ungreased 2 quart casserole.
Sprinkle the cheese all over the top.
Bake uncovered for 30 minutes or until bubbly.
If you wish to brown the top, place it briefly under the broiler.

Makes 6 servings

There is absolutely no need to change anything - well maybe the mushrooms, but you can still used canned if you want to be a purist!  I have doubled this recipe many times; it's a crowd pleaser!


Saturday, November 24, 2012

Shop Small Saturday - The Start of Something Big!

This is the day, folks!  Today we can all start to show big box stores, chains, and "outlets" and the like that we appreciate and would rather support our friends and neighbors and their businesses and their products!  It starts today with Shop Small Saturday - but let's make it a growing trend and an option for shopping all of the year 'round. The advantages are big!  You will support people in your own area/neighborhood to sustain and grow their businesses; you will have access to quality goods and services;  you will  be spending your money on more items produced in the U.S.; and you will be sending a clear message to chains and big box stores that their foreign made, cheap products and, in some cases, that their practices towards their workers are not acceptable. As Granny used to say, "Don't be one of those who knows the price of  everything and the value of nothing".  Consider whether you really are "getting a deal" - in the long and the short run. We all win when our small, locally owned businesses win!  Happy Shopping! Thank You!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Imperative for Local - Let's Start Now!


This will be a topic we will return to a lot over the upcoming holidays.  Of course, for me, this is a pledge that drives many of our buying decisions all year around.  But, let's face it,  the holidays are a good place to start.  Going forward, I propose that we share good local purveyors and store owners - let's educate each other as to how we can shop locally! Who's your favorite?  Also, we will talk about considerations for  "Shopping Small" in an upcoming Blog.  But for now, let's talk Turkey!

If you are The Cook for Thanksgiving Dinner, please check out turkeys that are raised by local farmers and are cage and hormone free.  Try buying a fresh turkey - once you go there, you can't go back!!! They are wonderful! You do have to order them and if you are going that route, you should do so very soon.

But along with the Turkey, think about your small local vendors and Farmers Markets as a source of veggies, fruits, pies and other items you will need.  If your Thanksgiving Dinner involves family and friends bringing dishes, gently suggest where they might shop for what they need.  Also, consider the small housewares' store owner for decorative items and linens for your table.  Find a local florist for flowers. And, if you are really dedicated, there are always local wines!

Remember, the definition of "small businesses" are NOT business with net incomes of over six million dollars annually - as we have unfortunately been hearing recently.  Small business are just that:  bricks and mortar, family owned, local businesses, who are not clearing millions a year!

Let's start the season off right. By supporting those who are making a living in our own neighborhoods!

Some of Our Local Favorites for Thanksgiving Shopping & Preparation (here in Philadelphia Obviously; Your Challenge is to Identify Places in Your Area).

Reading Terminal Market
Fair Food Farmstand
Head House Farmers Market
Downtown Cheese in the Reading Terminal Market
Otolith Seafood
Ippolitos Seafood
Green Aisle Grocery
Metropolitan Bakery
Olde City Coffee

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Homemade To Go Breakfast: Easy, Versatile Muffins

As promised, here's the recipe for Basic Breakfast Muffins.  The basic and the variations all go very well with coffee - and as I have learned, they don't make a bad late night snack either!

As I am want to do, these muffins are more indicative of a technique - you can vary the recipe depending on your cravings, likes, and what's in the larder, freezer or refrigerator.

Recipe:  Basic Breakfast Muffins
(Makes 1 dozen muffins)
#1 - 2 cups of flour
#2 - 1 Tablespoon of baking powder
#3 - 1/4 cup of sugar (with some fruit muffins, you can skip the sugar; more about that later)
#4 - 3/4 teaspoon of salt
#5 - 2 eggs
#6 - 1 cup of milk OR 1 cup of buttermilk (if you are making your own butter, you know that you always have great buttermilk in the 'fridge; there's nothing better for baking)
#7 - 1/2 cup of canola oil
#8 - 1 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla extract (the good stuff; avoid the imitation; make your own if you can!)

           Technique for Basic Muffins
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees
Coat a 12 muffin tin with canola oil; coat well - especially if you are using sugar! You can also use muffin tin liners - but they are just more trash!

Combine ingredients #1 - #4 in a medium sized bowl.

Beat ingredients #5 - #8 in a large bowl for 1 minute on medium speed

Add the dry mixture into the large bowl with the wet mixture

Beat - but not too long - you just don't want to see any streaks of flour; you want it all incorporated

Spoon or pour the batter into the coated muffin tins
Bake for 18 - 20 minutes OR until the the tops of the muffins spring back when pressed lightly

Transfer the muffins to a rack to cool

The basic muffin is delicious and takes to butter and/or jam beautifully.  But so far we have tried some variations that are also delicious.

Some Potential Variations

The first addition we tried was a cup of finely diced apple and 1 teaspoon of cinnamon into the batter.

For the second batch we blended a cup of local blueberries (from our freezer, defrosted and drained) into the batter. I left out the sugar from these but I did sprinkle the tops of the hot muffins with a bit of regular sugar.  That seemed to be just right.

For another recent  batch, I found that we had some Pear Jam.  It was very basic, no sugar added to the jam. We had made it from some pears that were getting soft, but were very sweet.  I blended the jam into the batter, but here I left out the sugar from the basic recipe. I did sprinkle some confectioners' sugar on the finished muffins.

Pear Jam Muffins with a sprinkle of Confectioners' Sugar

All of the above variations are delicious, moist and hold up well for the week.  It's important to note that for all of the variations I used the basic recipe.  But as I am a huge fan of Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins, I wanted to try a version of that as well.

For Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins, leave the pure vanilla out and substitute 1 1/2 teaspoons of fresh lemon juice - I really don't like lemon extract!) - along with 2 Tablespoons of poppy seeds.  These were wonderful - and again - so easy!

The batter is so easy and so versatile that you can truly just use your imagination.  I am considering chocolate chips as well as oatmeal raisin right now!


Today's Food Rule:  "Spend as much time enjoying the meal as it took to prepare it."

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

"Food Rules" Redux; New Cookbook; A Fall Recipe

Just for the thought provoking fun of it, I decided it would be useful to occasionally post a Food Rule from Michael Pollan's amazing little book, "Food Rules". I refer to it constantly; love it for its facts, its honesty and its sense of humor.  Lately, I have heard some friends talking about doing this or that fad diet or something called a Fall Cleansing, which is a scary thought all by itself for someone like me.  What troubles me is that people put themselves and their bodies through a lot - without noticeable positive outcomes.

So today's Food Rule:  Avoid food products with the wordoid, "lite" or the terms "low fat" or "nonfat" in their names.   We are far better off eating real food in moderation than binge - eating so called lite food products packed with sugar, salt, and other chemicals.

Finally after days and days of chilly, gray, and wet, today the Sun made an appearance and it seems we all immediately feel a bit better. Look at it this way, those days of gloomy weather helped locally grown - perhaps even your - radishes, arugula, and lettuces get well established.  They like that weather!

I continue to be amazed at the fact that I daily harvest a few sungold tomatoes, a pepper or two and a continuing supply of herbs for cooking.  But the supply is most definitely waning.  Today I finally pulled what I am pretty sure is going to be the last of the beautiful heirloom, "Chocolate Pepper"  from Seed Savers.  A delicious pepper - and a beautiful one.  I believe that I am trying to put off some of the garden prep jobs I should be doing in anticipation of colder weather.  A beautiful, sunny afternoon like today, after a few days of rain, is not helping my procrastination. How is your garden doing?  How are you prepping for the coming cold weather?

At Headhouse Farmers Market recently, we were pleased to meet April White, author of "Philadelphia Chef's Table:  Extraordinary Recipes from The City of Brotherly Love".  This is a great book - an especially great gift idea.  All of the photographs in the book are by Jason Varney - an extraordinary photographer.  Pick up the book and you'll see what I mean.  The book is well done, user friendly, and the side stories are just great.  Highly recommended.

Now is a great time to get pasture raised, hormone and chemical free Lamb from our local ranchers and farmers.  At Fair Food Farmstand last week, we got a lamb shoulder from Sweet Stem Farm (a favorite of ours, a great family owned farm with amazing products).  This is a reasonably priced cut of meat and when cooked correctly is delicious. The following is more technique than recipe.  We did some mashed potatoes and carrots and sauteed greens with it this past Sunday.  It was the perfect thing for a rainy, chilly Fall day.

Recipe:  Slow Roasted Lamb Shoulder

Turn your oven up very high - 450 or so.

Rub a 4-5 pound lamb shoulder all over with good extra virgin olive oil; generously salt and pepper the meat.

Lay the shoulder into a high sided roaster on top of several sprigs of fresh rosemary and 3 - 4 large cloves of garlic, unpeeled.

On top of the meat, place more fresh rosemary sprigs and another 3 - 4 large cloves of garlic unpeeled.

Cover the roaster tightly with foil.

Put the roaster into the oven; immediately turn your oven temperature down to 325 degrees.  Leave the lamb alone.  Enjoy the aroma that will fill your home in a few hours.

If it's bone in, leave it in the low oven for about 4 hours.  If it is boneless, 3 hours should do it.

It's done when the meat is just falling apart when touched with a fork.

Let the meat rest on a cutting board, covered with foil and a clean towel over the foil.

Drain off most of the fat from the roaster, place the roaster over medium flame on your stove top and make a roux with a tablespoon of flour and the remaining fat; scrape up the bits and pieces in the bottom of the pan;  stir in 2 cups of hot stock (we used beef, but you can use chicken or veg stock); add two tablespoons of red wine vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer and let the gravy thicken.  Pour the gravy into a gravy boat and serve at the table with the lamb.

It's unbelievably delicious and any left overs will be great with pita bread and Greek yogurt and shredded lettuce for an incredible Gyro sandwich OR heat the meat and gravy together and pour over cheesy polenta OR make a Shepard's pie OR just make hot lamb shoulder sandwiches.  It's all good.


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Joys of Fall Planting

It's time for Fall Crops!  I have been very clear of my love of hot weather, summer sun, the ability to float in water for hours on end . . . yes, I know I have.  But I must say that the Fall crops really make me happy. They are more resilient; I don't worry them so.  And I love Arugula and Radishes and Leaf Lettuces and Beets and Broccoli   All of which are planted in our garden.  And our Swiss Chard and Kale and Mustard Greens have made a lovely comeback from the hottest of the summer. The peppers are still going strong and I am still harvesting sungold tomatoes every morning, but in place of some the other warm weather crops who's time has come and gone, we have planted both plants and seeds of all of our favorites.  Now - all that we need is some Fall weather and some luck with my chicken wire "covers" over and around our planters.  Our squirrels think we are a shopping destination, so provided we slow down our "sharing" with them, we should be harvesting some really wonderful things from very soon until November.
Black Seeded Simpson and Red Leaf Lettuces (planted in a number of places)
Baby Arugula - 2 Kinds - Just getting started

French Breakfast and Philadelphia White Radishes (one of two big pots)

These Fall crops are so versatile.  Don't feel limited by "old" approaches. As a kid, I hated beets, for example, because, they, along with lots of other veggies, were cooked into a mushy, flavorless consistency.  Roasted Beets and fresh mild goat cheese is always amazing, but raw beets, shaved nearly see through thin, are delicious over hot greens or cold salad greens.   A pasta with broccoli, beets, and great grated cheese will surprise you. Arugula, just harvested, sprinkled with great extra virgin olive oil, a splash of good vinegar and salt and pepper makes an amazing partner to a simple baked potato. And radishes with some fabulous butter, sea salt, great bread and a couple of hunks of cheese is so much more than a snack. Actually, every thing I have mentioned is great raw as well as cooked. All are very healthy as well as being delicious when harvested for immediate use.

Cold crops are definitely worth extending the growing season for; I hope you consider making them part of your edible garden!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Growing & Cooking with Sprouts; Heavenly Soup from Leftover Collard Greens

Hello All!  It's good to be back.  As promised, today I wanted to start a conversation of what I know so far about a really delicious, healthy and easy food source that is going to be my new learning experience for Fall:  growing and cooking with fresh sprouts.

At the PA Horticultural Society's Fall Garden Festival a week ago, we met a man who was selling seeds & beans to sprout. We struck up a conversation with him, saw the wide variety of sprouts that are out there, learned the many ways that they can be used, and got started on sprouting our own the next day.

First of all, "sprouts" are not just the thin, squiggly entities with a brown tiny bean on the end that most of us are familiar with - there are, in fact, tons of varieties.  We started with a pretty traditional mix of Broccoli, Radish, Red Clover, & Alfalfa seeds (Spring Salad Sprouts), along with a less well known and much larger mix of Garbanzo Beans, Marrowfat Peas, and Lentils Beans (Crunchy Bean Mix).  The process is pretty simple and rarely varies, except for the time it takes the sprouts to be ready. You place a couple of tablespoons of seeds or beans in a 1/2 quart glass jar (canning jar), you top the jar with cheese cloth secured with a rubber band.  Then add cool water and soak the beans for 2 - 3 hours - some, like the Garbanzo mixture, require longer soaking - usually 4 - 8 hours.  In my case, I fell asleep and forgot about the two jars so they soaked overnight and seemed to be none the worse for the longer time!  Pour off the soaking water, keeping the cheese cloth in place, and shake to get as much moisture as possible out of the jar and off of the beans.  Invert the jar and prop at an angle in a bowl; twice a day refill the jar with cool water, swirl, and drain - and again, give it a good shake -  excess moisture during growing will kill off sprouts.  I used an early morning and last thing at night schedule. At day three, this is what we had:

Crunchy Bean Mix on the left; Spring Salad on the right
Today - day four - I took the cheese cloth off of the Spring Salad mix, put the lid on it and refrigerated it.  The jar is packed.  I am giving the Crunchy Bean Mix another day in "growing" mode.  I used a nice layer of the Spring Mix for a sandwich of Cashew Butter (from Green Aisle Grocery) on multi-grain bread.  It was an amazing, delicious, satisfying combination.  I have found a number of recipes for the Crunchy Beans too.  They make a great appetizer and snack, especially when you add a tiny bit of oil and your own favorite seasonings - sea salt, good pepper, oregano, basil, and thyme, with a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese makes a crunch mix that will stand alone or go with cocktails.  You get the idea - a mix of whatever flavorings are in your pantry and fit your mood will work. There are entrees and soups and breads using various types of sprouts that I will be trying out as I learn more and get my technique perfected.

Sprouts can be refrigerated for up to 2 weeks in a sealed container in the refrigerator.

My source for all things Sprouts right now is:   If you are interested, it's a great place to start. There's lots of useful information, recipes, and a wide variety of sprouts that you can purchase.  I will be searching out more sites and information, of course, and I'll keep you up to date on what I learn.

Sprouts of all sorts are incredibly useful to the human immune system - they detoxify and rejuvenate.  And they are delicious and very, very versatile.  Perfect!

A Simple Recipe for Leftover Collard Greens

As some of you know from my Facebook page, I made a big pot of collard greens the other night.  I do a very southern traditional recipe.  Ham hock, smoked turkey wing, chunks of smoked bacon, onions, some chili peppers, salt and pepper and the cleaned greens.  I cook the meats in the water with the onions for about an hour before I add the greens - this contributes to the development of fantastic "pot likker" - the nectar of the gods broth that develops after the greens have cooked for hours.

So, I was wondering what to do with the left over collards - obviously, we love them and are very happy to just heat them up and pour them over rice, but I wanted something different.

I found a recipe that merely requires pouring a can of tomatoes, their juices, some more sliced garlic, some drained canned white beans - and frankly, whatever else you want, into a pot of the collards and let it slow simmer.  Top it with some homemade croutons and freshly ground black pepper.  That pot likker makes a damn fine soup - the flavor, the richness and the aromas are amazing.  I can't really compare it to anything - if you get a chance, do not hesitate to do this with your left over collards!

Hope your Fall plantings are doing well!
Keep in touch.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

My Wish for All of You: Il Dolce Far Niente

It's hard to believe it's August already!  I feel myself wanting to hold on to every minute of Summer - as I usually do at this time of year.  This is the "lazy" month of Summer - or it should be!  I still hold with the French and Italians who pretty much close down for August - their countries that is!  How perfect! It is time, my friends, for "il dolce far niente" - "the sweetness of doing nothing". Yes, we soon will be in the thick of cooling weather, longer work days, canning, freezing, tending our gardens, and otherwise getting ready for  Fall.  And, for sure, this Fall will be a challenging one!  But for now, be sure to wallow in the wonder of this season - and these days of this season.  Bite into a tomato right off of the vine; eat a raw cob of corn; slurp really good Italian Water Ice; play games - Board games even; eat lots of ice cream; sit outside way too long in the evening and watch fireflies; listen to baseball on the radio; wander around every Farmers Market you can find; stay in the water until you turn into a prune; read "junk"; walk on the beach with a dog; and wallow in the wonder of really cooling summer rainstorms and summer breezes after really hot August days.

That's all!  No food news. No rants. No recipes. Just my sincere wish for you. Despite what they may have told you, it is sweet to do nothing - even if just for a little while!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

A Seasonal No Bake Tart

The last thing I want to do during these very hot days is fire up the oven.  Our temperamental Viking (don't get me started!) takes forever to come to temperature and sometimes when it does our exhaust fan decides to take a break!  Instant first floor heating - very effective.

So when I come up with anything wonderful that can be done on the stove top, outside on the grill or, best of all, with no heat at all, I am all over it!

This combines a couple of my favorite things:  fresh berries, my own mixed berry jam, and marscapone cheese.  The only waiting period you need is for it to set up nicely in your refrigerator.  It's a gem.  Easy and a great sweet treat in the heat.

Recipe:  Berry, Marscapone Tart - again, we're looking at a very versatile recipe; with the marscapone mixture you can try all sorts of combinations - like shaved chocolate on top, Nutella in the middle.  But for now, I'm going with Berries.  The recipe takes about 15 minutes, not counting the time in the refrigerator.

Left over Angel Food cake - or just angel food cake if you don't have any left over! (The PA Dutch folks in the Reading Terminal Market make a great cake and it's reasonably priced); Your favorite berry jam; some fresh berries; 1 cup of Marscapone cheese; 1 cup of heavy cream; 3 tablespoons of sugar; a teaspoon of good vanilla extract; and a tart pan.  I use a long narrow tart pan - it's about 13 inches long and about 4 1/2 inches wide.  This pan makes just enough for our household, but if you want to make a bigger tart, I would double the ingredients.

Take slices of the angel food cake and line the bottom of the - ungreased - tart pan.  Push the pieces down, you really want them to start to sort of meld together to create a bottom "crust".

Spread your favorite berry jam over the angel food in the tart pan - be generous! This is a layer of berry flavor.

Beat the Marscapone cheese, the heavy cream, the sugar, and the vanilla until it's the consistency of heavy whipped cream - you'll see when it's all incorporated and dense and delicious. I use a hand mixer.

Spread the cheese and cream mixture over the jam layer; again, be generous, you'll have plenty for a nice high layer of fluff.

Dot the top with some of your favorite fresh berries.

Put the whole thing in the refrigerator for at least an hour to firm up.

The result is a very light, fruity, creamy delicious treat!  Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Smothered Okra - a little Louisiana in Philly!

Okra - you get a bit of a look from most folks here in the North when you talk about okra.  Some folks are familiar with it, pickled and spicy and floating in a martini (frankly this was my biggest use 'cause a friend of ours used to send them);  there's fried okra - a walk along snack at fairs and the like; and we know very often it's in gumbo - but it is usually cooked down and used as a thickener.  The most common criticism is that okra is "slimy" - and if it's used in certain ways, it is.

We decided to try making "Smothered Okra".  It's a Louisiana favorite and we've had it there as a side dish. Our decision came about as we studied some gorgeous, purple, young okra at the Fair Food Farmstand.  The following illustrates our first attempt at making smothered okra - it was very, very delicious.  We had it with a bit of left over sable fish, but you can add shrimp (most popular version in LA) or chicken or some spicy sausage or all of those for an okra gumbo.  Okra is full of things that are good for you; it's delicious when handled correctly; and it's easy to grow in the city.  In fact Burpee offers a "compact" okra plant that can be grown in a container.  Okra will definitely be growing in our garden next year - and yes, I'll be pickling some for those martinis!

*Recipe:  Smothered Okra - the making of this dish, like so many old time dishes, is really more of a technique than a recipe.  You can play around with the ingredients, but I do suggest trying this basic recipe the first time - the aroma and the flavors will hook you on Okra!  Do note that frying okra and using a bit of vinegar combats sliminess and gives the okra a great mouth feel in the finished dish.  Also, this is NOT the time to pull out your favorite cast iron pan - cast iron turns okra black!

Ingredients:  (we made this recipe for 2; it is common in Louisiana to make huge batches of this and freeze it in small batches - that's definitely going to be next for us, while we can get great local okra).

1 tablespoon of canola oil; 1 pound fresh okra, cut into rings, toss the end pieces/stems; 1 teaspoon of white vinegar; 2 tablespoons of bacon fat; 2 tablespoons of flour; 1/4 of an onion, chopped; 1 small stalk of celery, chopped; 1 clove of garlic, chopped; 1 small bell pepper, chopped; 1 bay leaf; 1 teaspoon fresh thyme; 1 lg heirloom tomato, chopped (for bigger batches, you can use canned tomatoes or more fresh ones; we also threw in some of our sun gold tomatoes and some of our sweet pea currant tomatoes - it really depends on how "tomatoey" you want it); a dash of hot sauce; two dashes of Worcestershire sauce; and a 1/4 cup of tomato juice or, in our case, of Clamato.

Heat the oil in a saute pan.  Fry the okra rings over medium heat.  Add the vinegar as the okra fries - the vinegar eliminates the "sliminess" factor.  When the rings are browned, put them aside in a bowl.

Make a roux in the saute pan with the bacon fat and the flour - you want to cook the roux, stirring constantly, until the mixture is approaching dark brown.

Add the onion to the roux and saute until the onions are soft, slightly browned.

Then, add the celery, garlic, bell pepper, bay leaf and thyme - mix well.

Add the okra and the tomatoes.  Add the tomato juice or clamato, the hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce and salt and pepper.  Cover the pan and simmer the mixture for 20 - 25 minutes; if it appears to be getting dry, just add a bit of water.

Serve over hot white rice.  Enjoy!

*Recipe adapted from The Crescent City Farmers Market Cookbook, Poppy Tooker, ed.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

A Delicious Tomato Salad; A Delicious Gazpacho! Same Tomatoes!

The picture just shows some goodies from the Farmers' Market, some citrus (important during summer cocktail season!) and some dried Hydrangea from our garden plants - I just like the way they look.  Dig those Heirloom Tomatoes - I hope to have some Brandywine Pinks in September, but these Heirloom babies are gorgeous, aren't they?

Without a doubt, we are lucky to live in a region with access to the best tomatoes in the country. South Jersey, Lancaster County, Northampton County, some areas of Delaware, and of course, our own urban farmers here in Philadelphia all grow amazing, delicious and very varied types of tomatoes.  The bins are beginning to fill up at all of our Farmers Markets and at Fair Foods Farmstand. I don't know about you, but it is so hard to resist these gorgeous orbs of juicy flavor.  In other words, I over buy!  Now, come September, we will be over in South Jersey buying our flats of Plum Tomatoes, which we will "put up" (can) for fabulous sauces all winter long.  And we'll freeze our own Sun Golds and other tomatoes from our garden, smashed in freezer bags - another great sauce base. But right now, as they sit there in front of us, and while it's a bit hot for big pots of marinara sauce, what do we do?

Here are two of my all time favorite summer tomato based recipes.  The first is courtesy of Jamie Oliver - it's in his great book about growing and cooking your own, "Jamie at Home".  The second is one I have been working on, using the left overs from Jamie's recipe.  I think you will find them both easy and delicious and a great way to satisfy your tomato cravings.

The Mothership Tomato Salad
Ingredients:  1 - 2 pounds of tomatoes, different shapes, sizes, and colors if you can; sea salt; freshly group black pepper; a tablespoon or more of dried oregano; red wine vinegar; extra virgin olive oil; 1 clove of garlic, peeled and grated; 1 fresh red chili, deseeded and chopped.

Slice, chop, halve your tomatoes.  How you cut them will depend on what types you are using but varying style, color and size just makes the recipe all that much better. Put the cut tomato pieces in a colander - I put the colander over a bowl because I love tomato water - salt the tomatoes, toss them once and salt them again.  They won't be overly salty, the salt will actually draw out the excess moisture.  Let them drain for about 15 - 30 minutes (I have let them drain for up to an hour with no problem).  
Put the tomato pieces in a bowl and sprinkle the dried oregano over top.
Make a dressing of one part vinegar to three parts of extra virgin olive oil, the grated garlic, and the chopped chili.
Drizzle the dressing over the tomatoes - use enough dressing to fully cover all of the tomatoes.
This salad is amazing and is even better with grilled bread and some fresh made mozzarella.

Note: now what pretty much always happens when I make the above salad is that there is some left over; I usually refrigerate it - even though I never actually refrigerate tomatoes, with this salad, I like to keep the whole mixture cold.  You don't have to refrigerate it if you are going to use it in a day or two.  The following is what I have discovered using left over "mothership tomato salad".

Easy Mothership Gazpacho
Ingredients:  Left over mothership tomato salad; red wine vinegar; a cucumber; extra virgin olive oil; Worcestershire sauce; hot sauce; and croutons and optional diced celery and cucumber. 

Peel the cucumber, chop it and add it to the left over tomato salad.  Add a bit more vinegar - you can add more at the end too, so go light the first time.  Pour the mixture into a blender or a food processor.  Add a few drops of hot sauce - really to taste. Add a few drops of Worcestershire sauce - again to taste.  Add some extra virgin olive oil to give the mix a bit more of a liquid nature.  Not too much to begin with, you can always add more later if it is not thin enough. Process the mixture until it is liquid.  I process it until smooth (it will be pink) - you can add diced celery and/or more cucumber diced, along with your croutons, to each serving.  Adjust seasonings to your taste.  Chill. To each serving, you can add a dollop of sour cream or creme fraiche along with the diced veggies, hot sauce and croutons. 

This is the easiest gazpacho you will ever make and you will not lose any of the fabulous tomatoes you enjoyed as a salad!

Try it.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Guilty Food Pleasures - Confessions of a Foodie

Over the weekend I was exchanging some of my favorite "bad" foods with a good friend.  His suggestion was that, as a self professed, very vocal Foodie, I should "come out" and tell people what guilty pleasures I engage in from time to time.  His point?  People think those of us who are obsessed with fresh, local, humanely raised, non-processed foods need to let the rest of the world know that there are some less than perfect, less than fresh, highly processed, food products we find comforting and good and that we eat once in awhile.  In other words, "get off your high horse".  So, OK, I am sharing here in the hopes that some of you will share your favorite bad for you/processed foods, too.  This could be interesting so don't hold back - let's hear from you too!

I have to start with probably the most offensive product and my all time favorite:  Stove Top Stuffing.  Yes, as much as I adore my own, and others, home made stuffing, I likewise adore Stove Top.  I will sit down to a plate of it - with nothing else.  The "by serving" container they came out with a few years ago is perfect for me too.  I can get a "fix" - in a small amount.

But wait, there's more:

Kraft Mac 'n Cheese (the original box) - which I don't eat so much anymore - it was an addiction I developed way back during the college/poor years.  I still look at their commercials with lust.

Lipton Dry Chicken Noodle Soup Mix - a bowl of this "soup" is a real comfort to me, especially when accompanied by Matzoh crackers with a bit of butter.  Lots of pepper in the soup.  Recently they came out with a "double noodles" version - heaven!

American Cheese (preferably Land 'o Lakes) - always in our 'fridge.  Cheese sandwiches, grilled cheese sandwiches, on 'burgers, and "straight up" with French's bright yellow mustard spread on each slice.  Frankly that last treatment is the one I eat the most.

Campbell's Cream of Tomato Soup (made with milk of course) - I sometimes throw a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce in a bowl of this, again, with lots of pepper.

Iceberg Lettuce/Russian Dressing/Bacos - It's the green with no food value - maybe that's why I love it so.  Tear up the iced cold lettuce, make a dressing of ketchup, mayo, and relish, glop it on the lettuce, sprinkle with Bacos and enjoy!  I tend to get heavy with the fresh ground pepper here too. What's with the pepper theme!?!

Bugles - How can you not love those crispy little snacks?  In my opinion, they go with everything or nothing at all.

OK, so these are my main offenders, I think. I was a serious junk food addict for years, even though I was buying fresh, local, well raised food products, I found a way to sneak in lots of the bad stuff.  I have gotten that under control for the most part.  The above represents most of what has remained - as an occasional Guilty Pleasure.

What are yours????

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

More Scenes from an Urban Garden; A Summer Pasta

Absolutely no argument with this!
I love that sign.  It was found by the folks at the Food Trust - apparently posted originally by the Maine Organic Growers Association.  Anyhow and whoever, it's very accurate.  I realized this morning, drinking my tea and doing my usual "inspection" walk around the garden, that this is what I truly miss in the winter months - and I miss it a lot.  I feel like I start the day without those calming, pretty moments, and it doesn't get me started at all in the right way, I have to admit.
That said, we ain't too Zen in our approach now are we?  Even during this accelerated growing season, we gardeners & mini-farmers still get impatient!  I can't tell you how many times I've been inspecting everything for just a sign of a squash or a cucumber or an eggplant or pepper.  And just how long are those tomatoes going to stay green!?!
Well, it seems like the ship is coming in!  In the past few days - and in some cases I swear overnight - there are tiny cukes and very cute little zucchini; we already harvested a few of the Fairy Tale eggplants and the Long Purple plants have little eggplants starting.  We have a wide array of peppers this year - some from plants and some from seeds and they are all displaying peppers - in the case of the Seed Savers Chocolate Beauty and Ancho Gigantea, we have some really big peppers and lots of starts.  And at last those green tomatoes are turning orange (Sun Golds) and various colors (Sweet Pea Currants).  The Brandywine Pink, an heirloom full sized tomato is a much slower grower, so we are being patient with those plants. The potato pots are looking good, too.  The herbs have been very very prolific.  I have cut and dried herbs now twice before the 4th of July.  It seems we will definitely be stocked in dried and frozen herbs over the winter!
The plant above, while not edible, deserves a special shout out.  This is our "Hibby".  The first time we went to Key West on vacation, we returned in love with the tropical hibiscus;  they grow everywhere in a gorgeous array of colors.  We especially loved the daily hibiscus flowers left on our pillows when we returned to our room at the end of the day.  So we decided to add a tropical hibiscus to our garden.  The key word here is "tropical".  This tree winters by a southern window in my office on the 3rd floor of our house - quite the job each year:  up in the Fall, back down as soon as the Spring warms up enough.  She is 13 years old this summer.  She is just starting to bloom but we will have these blooms all summer - and hibiscus flowers only last for a day - whether you put them in water or not.  So you can let them die on the tree, or snip them and lay them on the table, or in the house, or - maybe - on someone's pillow.  Lovely.  
Some other pics of what's happening in our urban garden, followed by a delicious recipe for those cherry tomatoes.

Recipe:  Spaghetti Con Pomodorini e Pecorini

1 pound of spaghetti; salt to taste; 4 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil; 3 garlic cloves, crushed; 25 or so cherry tomatoes, halved; a bunch of fresh basil; freshly grated pecorino cheese

Put the pasta in boiling salted water, stir it
While pasta is cooking, heat up olive oil in a chef's pan and saute the garlic until golden
Add the cherry tomatoes and cook until the tomatoes become soft, season them with a bit of salt (not too much pecorino is a salty cheese)
Right before the pasta is al dente - about two minutes before suggested cooking time, drain the pasta, keep a cup and a half of the pasta cooking water.
Add the spaghetti and pasta water to the chef's pan stir the pasta, the pasta water and the tomatoes and oil together - the water will "lengthen" the sauce - cook speak for making the sauce a bit more saucier, thicker if you will.

Turn off the heat!  Leave the pan where it is.

Add torn basil leaves and mix again for just a minute so that the basil gets incorporated
Mix a generous handful of grated pecorino over the pan, mix the pasta again.
Drizzle with more extra virgin olive oil
Transfer to a serving bowl, top with more grated pecorino, and a few basil leaves and serve immediately.

Simple and so delicious.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Happy, Hot 4th of July! Boozy Water Ice Redux

Well, Friends, we are for sure in the thick of summer and July has so far not disappointed!  And for all of the friends who have asked if we are still living the "non-AC" life.  Why, yes, we are!  Actually, we're pretty well adjusted by now.  The house is full of high power fans, the windows are shaded, and we spend most of our time out in the garden/backyard.  Being the end of the row on a street of a row homes is a BIG help!  We have a nice, steady breeze all day and windows on all three floors on the side of our house.  Our spool/splash pool/spa is certainly another big help.  We always take a dip right before bed; relaxing and nice and cooling.  That said, yes, we sweat a lot and take a lot of cool showers when we're working on projects around the house.  We try to avoid turning the oven on. We, for sure, eat a lot cooler and lighter and sweeter.  The central AC compressor on the side of the house is home to two huge barrels of Swedish Peanut fingerling potato plants, so it's not like we're not using it!!! It's funny but we find that we freeze our butts off in stores and at sites where we are working. It seems to us now that - not only are places air conditioned - they are freezing!!! All in all, we're feeling pretty good and enjoying the heat!  But, thanks for asking if we are still acting crazy!!  We appreciate it.

Lots of us will be grilling over this upcoming long holiday weekend (at least I hope it's a long one for a lot of you).  Don't forget to pick up that Chimney Starter for your briquettes - and avoid that stinky gross lighter fluid at all costs.  And, whenever you can get it, buy Hardwood Lump Charcoal.  It burns clean and very hot; it also burns very fast, so you need to be paying attention to your fire. Once you get hooked on it, it will be your fuel of choice.

I hope all of your city gardens are flourishing and that you are enjoying those regular two a day waterings!

Here's a recipe for a very summery cocktail that I believe is worth re-posting given this heat.

John's Lemon Water Ice Vodka/Blueberry Slushies

Get a quart of the best lemon water ice you can find (in Philly, that's John's where the President stopped last year; if you can't get to the Italian Market, Rita's will suffice as a substitute)

Put some fresh, local blueberries in the bottom of a tall glass; muddle the berries a bit so some are smashed, some remain whole

Fill the glass 3/4's full of the water ice

Depending on the size of the glass, pour anywhere from 2 to 4 ounces of plain vodka over the water ice

You can stir it ever so gently with an iced tea spoon if you wish.

Sit in the breeze, sip and enjoy!
Have a glorious 4th of July!  Enjoy Fireworks, Cook - Outs and Summer! And one more thing . . .

Happy First Birthday Josh Baskin!  Our Yankee Doodle Boy!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Scenes from an Urban Garden

Sitting in the garden doing some work the past few days, I am struck by the incredible peacefulness I feel being here.  The only sounds are birds, our fountain, the "spool" as it cycles, the occasion flight going into the airport which is fifteen minutes away, and basically that's it.  Unless I put some music on the outside speakers, the silence is amazing during the day - right here in the heart of the city.  People have a lot of preconceived notions about living in a city.  One of those notions - and far from a misconception - is that cities are noisy.  They are right, they are.  I'm sure people staying at our home - especially when the windows are open - hear all sorts of sounds they're not used to; I don't think we even "hear" the sounds anymore.  They are the background of our lives and our sleeping.  Frankly, I love to visit the country, but the first night, I am usually waking up a lot - can't get used to all that quiet! So, today, I am thinking on the fact that we all need quiet places - and that I am among the very luckiest of folks to have this one, and to be able to enjoy it as much as I do.  And now, some scenes from the Il Moya Garden as it grows.

Foodie Tip:
There's still time to play around with Asparagus, but that time is running short.  We just found a new method that we can't stop eating:  Fried Asparagus!  No batter, just salt and pepper and into hot oil.  They fry up like artichokes and are delicious!  You can do your favorite dipping sauce or eat them "as is".  Amazing.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Bliss of Asparagus and Strawberries

This picture pretty much says it all, doesn't it?  I mean, if you arrive home with these two bunches of delectable beauty and you ain't happy - you ain't capable of happy!  We've been on the usual asparagus binge now for a few weeks. We've thrown 'em in a little salted water for just a minute, dropped on a few pats of butter and feasted; we've made a few asparagus, cheese custard tarts; we've thrown some on the grill for just a minute and bathed them in extra virgin olive oil and a drop or two of balsamico - you get the idea.  We've also been slightly blanching and freezing a few bags too.  I found that, depending on which local farmer I purchased the asparagus from, the bottom of the stalks would be really thick, so instead of tossing these, I collected them and started a freezer bag of them - I am thinking asparagus stock!

And oh, those strawberries!  They are a bit early here this year.  And they have been fabulous, and juicy, and just sweet enough.  They also seem to be in great volume at our Farmers Markets - well I say, keep 'em coming growers, just as long as you can!  We have made a number of batches of rhubarb and strawberry compote.  It's simple, freezes well, and is heavenly by itself, over ice cream, or over shortcake - which I have always found to be an excellent excuse for home made whipped cream - as in, "well, we have shortcake!".  Letting hulled chopped strawberries sit overnight in sugar and balsamic vinegar is an experience everyone needs to have.  I have converted many.  Trust me, it's absolutely heavenly.  A whole new flavor sensation.  I made a Digestivo with strawberries about a week ago.  This is easy with almost any berries and vodka (there's a recipe on the Blog from last year for a mixed berry version). This time I used only strawberries crushed up a bit, a couple of tablespoons of sugar, and two cups of "white whiskey" - the newest craze - which I find to be a little grappa like in taste. I stored it in the refrigerator in a jar for a week, shaking it when I saw it and thought of it. I strained into a container and kept it cold. It worked beautifully on it's own in a little glass as an after dinner drink and we also tried it with a shot of Cointreau and a splash of seltzer - a lovely Appertivo, it really got those taste buds going. Of course, I had to make some strawberry ice cream - my neighbor, friend and fellow ice cream lover said it was my best ice cream ever!  I'm just sayin' . . .it's product!   Lastly, I have to include one of my favorite ways to eat these gorgeous berries:  whole, dipped ever so slightly in a tiny bit of superfine sugar, popped in the mouth and washed down with a swallow of a nice Prosecco.  This Italian bubbly is not as sweet as many champagnes and is a perfect compliment to the berries as well as being reasonably priced and widely available.

Needless to say, we only eat asparagus and strawberries that are grown in our growing region - so we only have one time of year to enjoy them fresh and this is that time.  The asparagus and strawberries we freeze will get all sorts of use over the winter months.  There is truly nothing like opening a bag of really fresh frozen local berries - that you froze when they were perfect - in the dead of winter and making yourself a pie or some shortcakes or just spreading them on toast.  It's affirming and uplifting. I am also already thinking that the asparagus stock will be a nice base for a creamy soup with asparagus and maybe mushrooms and garlic croutons when the weather starts to chill.

But right now!  Right now is pure Bliss!!

What have you been doing with the early bounty of the growing season?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Plantings are In! Amazing Poached Scrambled Eggs

A Salad From "Out Back"
It's an exciting time of year for all gardeners - especially those of us who like to think of ourselves as urban farmers!  This is actually my first year methodically researching, planning, and planting a LOT of edibles.  It has been a lot of work and a good deal of research and bugging friends with endless questions and agonizing over making selections. As of this week, almost all of the planting in our plots and planters has been completed.  We will be spreading some of our fabulous, rich mulch around (the first use of the output of our composter!) in a few days.  Now it is time to hope that the weather, the soil, potential hazards (bugs, etc.), and a ton of other variables cooperate and those little seedlings and heads of green popping up through the dirt will become wonderful things. This years plantings include:  multiple varieties of tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini,  two kinds of eggplants, too many kinds of peppers to list - hot and sweet, little and big - kale, Swiss chard, mustard greens, and potatoes. We have been feasting on spinach, arugula, early potatoes, and assorted lettuces for awhile now.  Our herb garden is chock full of onion and garlic chives and multiple basil plants, marjoram, French sorrel, common sorrel, thyme, sage, a couple kinds of oregano, par-cel, and flat leaf Italian parsley.  Whew! Looking at all of that is giving me just a tad of anxiety, I must admit.  It is my intention to keep a running dialogue going here as to how this is all going in our little city garden.  And of course, as things get more identifiable, I hope to be posting some good pictures.  Lastly, I will keep sharing seasonal recipes, and other amazing new find recipes that I have to share.  This following recipe is just amazing, not necessarily seasonal.

Recipe:  Daniel Patterson's Poached Scrambled Eggs

This recipe?  It's a game changer - at least for me it is.  We love eggs.  We are lucky to have a number of sources for fresh, local eggs from pasture raised chickens.  We easily go though a dozen eggs a week, so a new recipe or a new method for much loved preparations always gets my eye.  This recipe is amazing!  If you love scrambled eggs, you will be blown over!  I have made these scrambled eggs three times so far in the week that I have known about the technique.  It's a very forgiving technique, so don't get hung up, you can do it! The fluffiest scrambled eggs you will ever have!  Really!

Serves 2

4 large eggs
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (optional)
Sea Salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Use FRESH eggs.  If your eggs are old - if they came from the supermarket and their age is suspect, the creator of this technique recommends cracking each egg into a medium mesh sieve to let the thin white drain away.  Fresh eggs don't need this step; I haven't used it.

Beat your eggs vigorously with a fork or whisk for 20 seconds.

Set a medium sauce pan filled nearly to the top with water over medium heat.  Put a strainer in the sink.  When the water is at a low boil, add a few large pinches of salt, then stir the water in a clockwise direction to create a whirlpool.  Pour your beaten eggs into the moving whirlpool.  Cover the pot and count to 20.

Turn off the heat and uncover the pot.  The eggs should be floating on the surface of the water in ribbons. While holding back the eggs with a spoon pour off most of the water over the strainer. Gently slide the the eggs into the strainer and press them lightly to expel any excess liquid.  Tilt your strainer from side to side to release any trapped water.  You can put the eggs on a paper towel if you really want to insure all liquid is gone.  I haven't done that - the strainer and tilting it seems to be enough.

Scoop the eggs into serving bowls and drizzle each with the extra virgin olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper.  I have been adding chopped chives - because I have them, and I love the flavor they add.

The possibilities are endless - the flavor and consistency of the eggs is absolutely delicious and wonderful, and once you do it, you have the technique and you'll get more efficient with it.

Try it!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Talking Eggs and the wonder of Ramps!

There is much in the news over the past few days concerning horrific conditions discovered at an egg factory here in Pennsylvania.  Kreider Farms in Manheim was cited by the Humane Society for deplorable conditions.  They of course deny it.  Their statements have run all of the way from "that's the old factory" to "people don't understand egg production on this scale - what they are seeing isn't unusual or cruel".  Really?  Without going into detail, when you see the report and some of the pictures, you know that you would never, ever want to support a business like Kreider.

So, again, we are talking about eggs and egg "production".  We constantly get queries as to where to get good eggs - eggs that are fresh, disease free, and not produced by abused tortured chickens.  Many folks are especially stumped because most of the area Farmers Markets are not back yet.  So, while they buy eggs from farmers during the Spring and Summer, they don't know where to get them the rest of the year.  In my opinion, the supermarket is never a consideration.  Even "good" factory eggs are old, mostly from chickens treated with something or another, and they lack color and flavor.  That said, we are lucky in our region because, even in the absence of Farmers Markets, there are plenty of sources of fresh, non chemically treated eggs produced by pasture raised chickens.  Fair Food Farmstand in the Reading Terminal Market is for the most part, our source.  Clark Park and Rittenhouse Square Farmers Markets operate year 'round and are another source.  Green Aisle Grocery on Passyunk brings in farm eggs regularly.  And there's the Ardmore Farmers Market, and the Mt. Airy Co-op - both are also good sources of fresh eggs and local products. 

The point is, you will need to do a little "work" to see what vendor will be the best for you.  Take a drive, look for small Farmstands - do some testing.  If you have been using factory produced eggs, you will experience immediate differences:  those gorgeous orange yolks, the lucious thick whites (great in making omelets fluffy), and the wonderful flavor will hook you.  Once you've left factory eggs behind, you just can't go back!


"Tis the season for wonderful "here today and gone tomorrow" Spring treats.  Last post was Fiddlehead Ferns.  Here is a simple recipe for another wonderful Spring offering.

Ramps sauteed in Butter

Clean ramps the same way you would green or spring onions.  Cut off the root ends and soak in ice cold water to remove excess dirt.  With these two bunches I first cut off the white part, tossed those pieces in melted butter and cooked them for about 3 - 4 minutes. Then I added the green part of the ramps - chopped in half only.  I added a bit more butter and some sea salt and freshly ground pepper.  When the whole mix is soft and the aroma is filling the whole kitchen, remove them from the heat.  From there it's up to you.  You can eat them as is.  You can make a brushetta by topping a piece of toasted bread with the mixture. I chopped up these ramps and added them to caci y pepi - pasta tossed with butter, cheese and pepper.  The flavor was amazing!  If you want to try ramps, get to the market now!  They aren't around very long at all.  I am going to try growing them from plants I got from a local farmer.  It will take awhile though - definitely until next Spring.  So, meanwhile, I am going to hunt down some more!!  Enjoy.

Ramps Sauteed in Butter with Salt and Pepper

Ramps fresh from the Farmers Market

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Consider: "The Ten Dollar Solution"; Recipe: Fiddleheads

The Farmers Markets will all be open soon - both here in Philly and around the Region. The products carried by Fair Food Farms will also be changing weekly at a much faster pace than over the winter months.  Many of us will be growing lots of fresh vegetables, fruits and herbs, as well. It's all good. 

I love our local markets and cannot imagine life without them, but I also enjoy a bit of a road trip once in awhile to stroll around other markets, to stop at roadside stands, to meet other farmers and purveyors, and see what's selling.  I hear that some people look at houses!! Odd!

As we look forward to the Markets all returning, consider this, please.

If every household in Pennsylvania spent $10 a week on locally/regionally produced food, $48 million dollars would stay in the local economy each week.  Spending your money on locally grown and produced food sustains the community, provides us with a better quality of food (fresher, tastier, safer) and thus provides better nutrition, preserves family farms and the businesses of small producers, generates jobs, and beautifies the urban and rural landscape.  Ten dollars a week!

I can't imagine that this isn't the case for other regions as well, although, as I like to remind folks - we live in an incredibly rich region of farms, independent producers, and markets.  We're very lucky, but we have to sustain those farms and producers and markets.

Remember:  A typical supermarket carrot travels over 1800 miles to reach your plate and the "average" supermarket egg (not discussing all of the other things wrong with it) is at least 45 days old when you buy it. 

Check out: for more information.

Enjoy these glorious days.


Garlicky Fiddlehead Ferns

1/4 to 1/2 pound of fiddle heads does very well for two people

Fresh garlic, peeled and minced (3 cloves)

Good extra virgin olive oil (2 or more tablespoons)

Butter, unsalted (2 tablespoons)

The Herb of your choice - we like dried Thyme, or fresh Parsley - really whatever is on hand (2 - 3 tablespoons)

Dried red pepper flakes, Sea Salt, and Freshly Ground Pepper


Clean the fiddleheads well, remove any fuzz found in the curl of the fiddlehead (just run your finger thru the curl and then give them a rinse)

Dry the fiddleheads very well; we use our salad spinner.  You could use a produce bag and just swing it around - however you approach it,  you want to get them nice and dry

In a skillet heat the extra virgin olive oil AND the butter until hot

Add the fiddleheads and the garlic to the oil and butter mixture, cooking over medium heat, stirring occasionally until the fiddleheads get a bit of crispiness to them - tasting them helps the judgement process

Add the herb you have selected, sea salt and freshly ground pepper and if you want a bit of a kick, add a small scattering of dried red pepper flakes and give it one more good stir

Serve Hot.  They make a great side dish and they are wonderful on brushetta.  They literally taste of Spring!

Enjoy!  They aren't around very long!

Fiddleheads before cooking

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Happy Spring! The Growing Season is Here!

Hello All and Happy Spring!

What passed for Winter was pretty surprising wasn't it?  I guess we're all happy that - after things started poking up and sprouting blooms - we didn't get hit by some late year snow.  It was indeed the strangest winter I can remember, but certainly easy on those energy bills!

The last few weeks have been a whirlwind here at Il Moya.  Measuring for a new, gigantic (for us) standing planter -  our third; ordering seeds & transplants; trips to the garden centers for soil, etc. and clearing all of those Christmas tree boughs that we spread throughout the garden have kept us pretty busy. 

There is a lot of start up - as you Gardeners know - to prepping for planting and growing.  This year, for the first time, we went with more seeds than transplants for edibles and herbs.  Because of that, our kitchen has become a "nursery" of sorts - seed trays are spread out all over - catching precious light from our southern facing window.  Two of our tomato seedlings  - Brandywine Pink (an Heirloom) and Sweet Current (teeny, tiny cherry tomates) - are "up" and thriving in their trays.  We have assorted sweet and hot peppers in, jalepenos, and Black Beauty eggplant as well.

Outside, the French Breakfast radishes, Arugula, Kale, Simpson "Envy" Lettuce, and Mustard Green seedlings have all appeared - we've already had to thin the radishes.  The Sorrel is just starting to emerge as of this morning. Yesterday we planted a few spinach plants - we saw them at the garden center and they looked so healthy, we couldn't resist.  We have a lot more in the way of seed planting to do as the weather warms, but this first round of "colder" crops is something we always enjoy. We both love leafy greens.  Not to mention that sitting outside with a cocktail on a Spring evening, picking mature Arugula leaves and wrapping them around little slivers of smoked salmon is an absolutely decadent and delicious way to kick off the season!

Recipe:  Spring Pasta


1 pound of "little" pasta - any small, compact pasta that you have on hand

2 - 3 fresh lemons

A stick of butter

Fresh Italian (Flat Leaf) Parsley

Heavy Cream  (1/4 cup or more)

A hunk of Parmesan Cheese & Salt & Pepper to taste

Dried Pepper Flakes

Boil your pasta in heavily salted water (always, always close to 'sea water') to just al dente - a few minutes short of the package instructions

While the pasta is cooking, in a saute pan, melt the butter, add the zest of one lemon, add the juice of all of the lemons - you want about a heavy 1/2 cup of fresh lemon juice all told (do not use "bottled" lemon juice - don't bother).  Add some freshly group black pepper and bring the mixture to a low simmer.

Drain your pasta (save about a cup of the pasta water in case you want to thin your sauce)

Put your pasta in the saute pan and cook the pasta for a minute or two in the sauce.

Add about 1/4 cup of heavy cream - or less if you want a very light sauce, more for a richer sauce. Stir to incorporate the sauce, cream and pasta.  Add more freshly ground black pepper to taste - lots of pepper really picks this up!

Off the heat, garnish with some fresh chopped parsley and some grated cheese.  Serve immediately with the pepper flakes on the side.

Happy Spring!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

What are your favorite kitchen tools? What couldn't you live without?

The Saveur 100 for this year (January 2012) lists the "antique juice press" (p.18) as their 12th favorite thing.  We were sort of thrilled because, although we have a large collection of retro kitchen tools (veg - o - matic, ice crushers, etc.) our Juice King IS our go to juicer.  People assume that being the crazed cooks that we are - and we are, we are aware of that - that we had some sort of big juicer. 

Frankly, over the years - and it did take some time - we learned that, indeed, less is more.  We have slowly been getting rid of all sorts of nifty gadgets and machines which have ended up stored in our basement.  Let's face it, a pannini maker takes up a lot of space (which in city kitchens most of us don't have) and a cast iron pan with a stone mortar sitting in it will flatten any sandwich on earth! Frying? Certainly a Dutch Oven, a thermometer, a "spider" to lift things out of oil and you're set as far as frying goes.  Life without a good, industrial grade Kitchen Aid Mixer would be tragic and I am blessed to have one - and the ice cream maker attachment and the sausage maker attachment, and a pasta maker attachment - you get the picture. These attachments are all small and easily stored (the ice cream maker lives in the freezer).  And they make great gift ideas for folks who buy you gifts!

And, of course, as we all should know, if you are going to spend some money on something - let it be knives.  Please, let it be knives!  Having cooked in other people's kitchens a lot over the years, I am now convinced that this is the big missing piece for many home cooks.  There's only one kitchen in which we find sharpened knives - along with lots of other good stuff  and really enjoy cooking away from home (you know who you are, Larken Springs Farm!).  Also, one 12 inch non - stick pan is probably enough.  Cast iron is a necessity.  A good chef's pan is very utilitarian.  A roaster is necessary if you do Thanksgiving or roasts at any time of year. A pasta pot is great to have.  A well aged wok is a thing of beauty.  We're partial to All -Clad - it's great, durable and made in Pennsylvania.  All of these contribute to the texture and flavor of what is cooked in them and are irreplaceable for some foods/dishes. You know what you use, what kinds of food you prepare and how much room you actually have, so start from there.

What I am saying is, if you are frustrated with your overflowing kitchen cabinets  - and again, most of us whose kitchens are in the city are constantly fighting that battle - give some thought to what you really need, what kinds of food you cook,  what can serve "double duty", and what you really use - and be honest, what is totally unnecessary and spends its life in a storage closet.

What kitchen tools could you NOT live without?  What are you contemplating for the Spring tag sale?  What tools have you learned multiple uses for?  Example here:  we have a wonderful cast iron mussel pot - we love mussles and make them a lot and the pot is fun and so great to bring right to the table loaded with steamed mussles and their liquer in which to dip crusty bread.  That said, I have also learned that the same pot - with no impact on its mussel steaming capacity - makes a great loaf of "no knead" bread.  Yipee two uses!

I'd love to hear from you.  We can definitely learn from each other.

Here she is - she's a work horse, she's ancient  - and she's very, very efficient!