Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Some of My Favorite Local Products

Local Wonderful Things
As 2014 prepares to make its exit, I wanted to highlight local folks who are producing some wonderful new products.  When you get a chance to catch your breath - and maybe shop for your own goodies? - check out these wonderful new additions to our world of great food.

Parable Flavors - These folks are shaking up the dried herb mixture world, and I couldn't be happier   With each herb mix from these folks you get a story pertaining to the mix (Parable?  Get it?) and a recipe. The dried mixes are amazing combinations using some familiar ingredients like, cilantro, oregano, parsley, and also some rather new to most of us, like French Breakfast Radish Powder.  They admit sourcing from wherever they can procure the very best, but they make these wonderful mixes right here in Philadelphia on E. Cumberland Street.  I recently mixed some "Franglais" with Sour Cream and some chopped onion and let it sit in my refrigerator overnight.  With some really good local potato chips, I had fantastic Onion Dip - no cardboard soup mix needed.  I know for sure that Parable Flavors are available at Fair Food Farmstand.  Keep an eye out for them in other stores as well.

Food and Ferments - If you read anything about food trends, you know that fermentation is back - and in a big way.  Fermentation is a centuries old technique and it is good for you!  And tasty! And nobody does it better than Food and Ferments.  I start every day with a shot or two of their Beet Kvass.  I am not a juicer by any  means.  I like my Kale cooked or crisped, but definitely not in a shake with fruit! But this Beet Kvass?  I have to have it.  It is both delicious and healthy.  The sauerkrauts and kimchi handcrafted in Philadelphia by Food and Ferments is delicious and the culinary possibilities are endless.  They also produce Kombucha and seasonal vegetable pickles.  You will find their products at Fair Food Farmstand and a number of local Farmers' Markets.  I sincerely hope to see them regularly at my Market, Head House, next season.

Love Bar - Chocolate.  Chocolate sauces.  Chocolate Bars.  Local, artisanal chocolate. Love Bar Chocolate is the only "bean to bar" producer in the city.  I am particularly addicted to the sauces.  Over ice cream, pound cake or right from the jar for a quick chocolate hit, they do not ever disappoint.  Love Bar products are available at Capogiro Gelato, Shane's Candies, and Head House Farmers Market (in season).

PB & Jams - You like Peanut Butter?  Have you gotten tired, as I have, looking for "pure" peanut butter?  Look no more.  These folks are sourcing as much as they can locally - of course, the Philly region is not known for nuts (hold that thought!) - and their nut butters are amazing.  I love the "classic" peanut butter but the "Hot or Not" was a revelation.  The sweet and spicy blend is fantastic used in all of the usual ways, and I also like to dollop it over hot Asian noodles, toss, add some chopped scallions and you have an easy and totally delicious dish.  PB & Jams is available at Farmers Markets, and speciality stores in our area.  When you find it, stock up.  See?  Just writing this, I find that I need to go spread some "Hot or Not" on a nice piece of celery!

Spruce Hill Preserves - I think I actually walked past a selection of Spruce Hill products awhile back.  I shall never do that again!  These are preserves kicked up way past a notch!  These jams and preserves are made with local and seasonal ingredients. All of Spruce Hill's products are so much better than anything you could buy commercially - you won't go back. My favorite right now is the Maple Bourbon Smoked Apple Butter.  You read that right:  maple, bourbon, smoked.  It is wonderful in a number of uses, even though I find myself having a spoonful or two all by itself on a regular basis.  Try this particular preserve basted on a roasting chicken for the last five minutes it's in the oven.  You can thank me later.   Spruce Hill Preserves are at Metropolitan Bakery locations and other speciality stores.  Check out their website at:  www.sprucehillpreserves.com.

Tea Blends at Green Aisle Groceries (Passyunk and Grays Ferry) - The brothers who own Green Aisle - Adam and Andrew Erace - continue to develop products with the Green Aisle label.  They have yet to falter.  The brothers new tea blends are composed of very creative combinations.  The pictured blend - "Moyamensing Grasshopper" - is made from organic mate', cocoa, mint, carob and vanilla.  Delicious tea and packaging that appeals to our home neighborhood pride.  These two stores are special.  Yes, they are "grocery" stores, but they are aimed at those of us who "want to know where our food comes from".  I love to shop at Green Aisle. You will too.

Wyndridge Farm Soda - If you have been following me over the past few years, you know that I have gradually removed almost all processed foods, Kraft products, and a host of other "bad" stuff from my diet.  I waited a long time to part ways with my two a day Pepsi (regular) habit, but it's been out of my life for some time now.  Once in awhile, I'll treat myself to an Italian soda and I am always on the look out for local sodas.  I am also a Cream Soda addict.  Nothing goes with a good sandwich like a delicious cream soda, in my opinion.  How wonderful that we now have Wyndridge Farm Soda.  The contents are simple:  real vanilla beans, cane sugar, and filtered water.  Just about perfect. Produced in York, PA and available at Fair Foods Farmstand.

Local Honey - I picked up the Honey pictured at Green Aisle Grocery on Passyunk.  We are very lucky to have a number of folks tending hives - sometimes on the roofs of restaurants and private homes - and producing  real, pure honey.  There's also a big health benefit to anyone with allergies to eating honey that was produced in your geographic area.  The honey helps build resistance to the allergens. And we need those bees too!  It's a win/win delicious situation.

This Blog will continue to highlight our local riches in 2015.  Let me know of your favorites in the area.  Let's support close to home first!  And, of course, "Know where your food comes from".

Monday, December 1, 2014

Recipe: "Stuffing" Soup Dumplings

Turkey Soup with Stuffing Dumplings

Let's talk about that most challenging of Thanksgiving leftovers:  Stuffing.  For some of you I understand that this is known as, "dressing".  In our home it's known as stuffing and a great deal of it is stuffed inside the turkey and cooked there.  It's Heaven. We love and always over do the stuffing.  We stuff the bird and we fill a couple of casserole dishes with the overflow.  How do we make this magical concoction?  Well, it's bread - torn into pieces and "staled" overnight; onions and celery sautéed in an obscene amount of butter; and thyme, salt and a huge amount of freshly ground pepper - all mixed together.  That's it.  The stuffing that cooks inside the turkey is transcendent.  The casserole  pan stuffing is also highly amazing especially with turkey gravy and/or stewed tomatoes (see last post) dolloped on it.

Please know that, of all of your Thanksgiving leftovers, stuffing freezes the best.  Small bags - especially if you can vacuum pack them - will hold up very well, and can be pulled out to recreate the dinner with the turkey I am hoping that you also have frozen.

But, you must - and I am not kidding here at all - you must save some of the leftover stuffing and make soup dumplings.

Now - if you think of yourself as a cook, and you hate waste, I am guessing that you have used all of the appropriate bones, etc. to create a nice big pot of Turkey Stock.  Excellent!  By the way if you haven't done it yet, try roasting or smoking the bones before you make the stock. Amazing flavor.

So, you have your stock - which also freezes well by the way - and you will be making some of your favorite turkey soup recipe. Go for it!  Just skip the noodles or rice and go with the stuffing dumplings instead.  You will thank me.

Recipe:  Turkey Stuffing Soup Dumplings

Note: If you can, hold off on adding the turkey meat until after the stuffing dumplings are floating.


2 cups of leftover stuffing
2 large eggs
6 tablespoons of all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste


In a bowl, whisk the eggs, flour, salt and pepper together until smooth
Add the stuffing and mix well until everything is well blended
Cover the bowl and reserve

Bring your soup to a simmer

As your soup is coming to a simmer, wet your hands and make small sized balls (about a tablespoon of the mixture,  maybe a bit smaller than a meatball) from the stuffing/egg mixture. Place the stuffing dumplings on a tray or pan until you make dumplings out of all of the mixture.

NOTE:  the moisture level of your stuffing will vary.  If the dumpling "dough"  is too soft to roll add flour a teaspoon at a time until it is firm enough to hold its shape.

Drop the dumplings into the simmering soup.  Cook until the dumplings float, about 3 - 4 minutes.  When the dumplings float,  add the turkey meat and taste to adjust seasonings.  You may want a bit more salt and pepper.

OK - Now - Stop what you are doing.  Ladle the soup and dumplings into a warm bowl, sit down, eat and make happy sounds!  Enjoy.

Please share this recipe.  I think folks end up tossing perfectly fine stuffing!  Thanks.

That is a fabulous, light and delicious soup dumpling!

With thanks to the Food Network and to the Beekman Boys who discovered this before I did!

Friday, November 28, 2014

Holiday Gift Tip: Four Great New Cookbooks

If you have cooks and food lovers in your life - or if you just want to treat yourself - read on!

I have recently become the grateful recipient of these four new publications and each one of them would make a wonderful gift.  All four would make an exceptionally wonderful gift!

All of these publications are much more than "cookbooks" - each one provides a very good read as well!

New Cookbooks that I am currently loving
 Eat:  The Little Book of Fast Food by Nigel Slater (Ten Speed Press, Berkeley)

Anything by Slater is an an enjoyable and educational read.  This is a wonderful collection of recipes for the home, with an emphasis on using what's on hand and what's in season.  Slater's genius is the manner in which he creates new combinations and still produces recipes that are ultimately do-able for the home cook, even the beginning cook.  If you love to cook, you will use this book - a lot.
Highlight Recipe for me so far:  "Root Vegetable Tangle"

One Good Dish by David Tanis (Artisan)

By now, most of us in the food loving world know that Tanis worked for years at Chez Panisse with Alice Waters and has authored two other books:  "A Platter of Figs" and "Heart of the Artichoke". That first book made devoted followers out of many of us.  Tanis also writes a weekly column for the New York Times called "City Kitchen".  He is a master of combining incredible flavor with amazing simplicity.  Here's another cookbook that I predict will get  a lot of use.  The beginning cook will learn a great deal about the ways in which very basic techniques can yield delicious dishes and the more experienced cook will have a number of "A-Ha" moments. 
Highlight Recipe for me so far:  "Save Your Life Garlic Soup". 

Prune by Gabrielle Hamilton (Random House)

If you have had the opportunity to read Hamilton's memoir, "Blood, Bones, and Butter", you know that that Chef Hamilton can write.   This newest offering from her is actually a very different kind of cookbook, ranging from highly technical recipes to incredibly easy preparation (i.e. Radishes, butter, and sea salt).  Prune, her restaurant and the topic of the book, is not dedicated to one particular type of cuisine - this for me,  makes the book even more interesting.  It has a very different layout from most cookbooks, with notes from Hamilton scribbled on the sides of pages, and with a whole section devoted to "family dinner" - the meal shared by the restaurant staff before service. As Julia Moskin points out in a New York Times review of the book (November 5, 2014), and I agree, it seems to be written with sous chefs in mind.  The recipes in Prune are not for the beginning cook, but for anyone who developed a moderate level of skill and confidence in the kitchen, it can be a private tutorial in the creation of some really good food.
Highlight Recipe for me so far:  "Cod in Saffron Broth with Leeks, Potatoes, and Savoy Cabbage"

America Farm to Table by Mario Batali with Jim Webster (Grand Central Life & Style)

It just so happens that we haven't learned or heard all that we need to know about the concept of Farm to Table!  In this, his 11th cookbook, Mario Batali takes us on a wonderful tour of farms, farmers, and producers, and introduces us to lots of wonderful recipes using their products.  A beginning cook could do well with this book - the only real challenge is recognizing that the farms and producers are all over the country.  So,  for example, an East Coast cook would have to understand that an Asparagus recipe from Southern California would need to wait until late Spring in order to be true to the message of the book.  The book is laid out and photographed beautifully and it is fun to read the side stories of growers and producers. 
Highlight Recipe for me so far:  "Apple Salad with Salami and Wine Marinated Mushrooms"

***Please Note:  if you are planning to purchase any or all of these great new books, consider your local, independent bookstore as your source.  Even if they do not have the book in stock, in most cases, they will be able to get it for you in the same amount of time it will take for it to be shipped to you. Thank You!***

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Consider a Bit of Indulgence: Thanksgiving 2014

Pretty Farmers' Market Fall Fruit

Thanksgiving is always one of our favorite days of the year.  I would like it to be so for other folks, too. This little missive offers my thoughts and plans for holding onto Thanksgiving as a time to relax and gear up for the busy days to come.  Of course, it's all about the food. And, it's a four day weekend. And - here's the important part I ask you to please consider -  there are lots of times for relaxing.  Now, understand, we are not Black Friday shoppers.  We're all about shopping at small local business and buying gifts from local artisans whenever possible.  We start our shopping the week after the Thanksgiving holiday.  We don't decorate for Christmas on Thanksgiving weekend either.  The point is this is a good time to relax a bit!

Generally, we are away at our friends' farm for a few days of the holiday - and usually when we return we are inclined to hold off on decorating, doing a tree, and definitely shopping.  Both of us grew up decorating the tree on Christmas Eve and it is still what we prefer, although generally now we start a day or two before the 'Eve.

As it turns out, this year we are not traveling, but we are nursing one of our dogs after major spinal surgery.  As we took stock of the situation, and our limitations regarding not leaving the pup home too long by himself, and who among family and friends were doing what, we decided to go ahead and have some fun with the situation. We're pretty good at that.  Frankly, 2014 taught us nothing if not how to roll with the punches!

So, to put it bluntly, we are going to be a bit selfish. And, if you at all can, please consider doing it too! We are planning a treat filled long relaxing weekend here at our urban homestead.  We're starting out on this path with our Thanksgiving dinner for two (I know.  It's not very often we get to do this either, but since it fell in our lap, why not?).  We have a fresh Heirloom Turkey on order from a local farmer.  And I ordered a smaller organic turkey that I will be smoking on Friday (sliced smoked turkey in the freezer? Why yes, thank you).  We've ordered Cape May salt oysters and a small tin of caviar for appetizers.  From there, we go totally traditional.  We'll do the simple stuffing we both grew up with - made by our grandmothers -  bread, butter, celery, onion, tons of sage and thyme, and lots of ground black pepper and cooked inside the bird.  Crudite' tray?  Of course! Green bean casserole?  Absolutely.  Except it will be made with green beans we grew ourselves and fresh local mushrooms.  Yes, we are making cranberry relish from fresh cranberries, but we also have a can of jellied cranberry for sandwiches - as it just has to be.  Stewed tomatoes, pan gravy, buttermilk mashed potatoes and cole slaw rounds out the menu items for Thursday.   And of course, some amazing sweet potato pie with whipped cream for dessert.

After a very busy, hard working year during which we dealt with a number of unexpected challenges, we've decided it's time for us to engage in a little indulgence.  It's time to sit back and enjoy foods familiar to us all of our lives.  It's also time  - and this will be a challenge - for us to "go off of the grid" for a few days, too.  I shall report on how well that went, I promise!

Please understand that I offer all of this because I know that, for many folks, Thanksgiving is the first of many stressful, busy, demanding days that go on until January 1st.  I sincerely hope that you consider letting go of some of that and slow it down -  if just for this glorious weekend.  I understand the issues of shopping for kids and having to host family and all that goes with that.  But that said, we all need to be better at saying, "No", and taking a little time to enjoy home, hearth and the power of a rested us.  The holidays will be so much more enjoyable, and so much more relaxing,  if the "makers" in the family aren't exhausted and burnt out by the time it arrives.

And, for sure, whatever you do, and however you celebrate this wonderful holiday, don't forget to do something to share your blessings with those that are still waiting for their blessings.  I promise you, knowing that you were able to do something for others will make your holiday even more enjoyable.

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

NOTE:  A suggestion, not a recipe.  My late father in law insisted on stewed tomatoes at every Thanksgiving dinner.  We make them ourselves.  They are totally easy to make.  Now the point of having stewed tomatoes -  I understand, not a "usual" dish on the Thanksgiving table -  is to make Irish Pizza, which is that wonderful basic turkey stuffing, topped with stewed tomatoes.  Think I'm crazy?  Try it!  You will thank me.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Recipe: Deep Fried Brussels Sprouts with Caesar Dressing

This is one of the best ways I have found to use brussels sprouts - which are very popular in our home - it is both delicious and addictive.  And really, except for the usual clean up post deep frying, it is relatively easy - and did I mention delicious and addictive!?

Recipe:  Deep Fried Brussels Sprouts with Caesar Dressing

This could feed 4 as a side dish.  That said, two of us ate more than half of it as a side with some pasts.


For the Brussels Sprouts

One pound of medium brussels sprouts, halved

Three cups of regular olive oil, or whatever oil you like to use for frying.  I used a 1/2 and 1/2 mixture of regular olive oil and canola oil.

A heavy pot, like a Dutch Oven; a deep fryer; or a fry pot with a basket.

For the Caesar Dressing

NOTE:  This is the basic caesar dressing used in our home.  Whatever your favorite recipe is, use it.
I do, however,  recommend a caesar dressing.  The combination of the the tartness and saltiness of the dressing on the fried sprouts is amazing.

One "Coddled" egg - put an egg into boiling water and remove it immediately after one minute.  Let the egg cool
1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
One clove of garlic, minced
Three to six anchovy filets, minced - the amount depends on how much you like anchovies; I used three
One half of a fresh lemon
1/4 cup of freshly grated parmesan cheese
One dash of Worchestershire sauce
Freshly ground black pepper

Technique for the Dressing

In a mason jar with a lid, shake together the extra virgin olive oil, the chopped anchovies, and the minced garlic.  Shake it very well.
Break the coddled egg into the jar and squeeze the lemon over the egg.  Shake very well - until the mixture is emulsified.
Add the parmesan, worchestershire sauce, and pepper and shake a bit more.

ADDITIONS:  based on some of the recipes that I read, I added one tablespoon of good red wine vinegar and one teaspoon of chopped, rinsed capers to the dressing.

Technique for the Brussels Sprouts

Get the oil very hot; I like to test it with a leaf to see if it will sizzle.
Add some of the halved brussels sprouts - do NOT overcrowd the pot.  Continue to watch the frying sprouts.  When they are browned and seem to be floating on the top of the oil, remove them with a strainer and put them onto paper towels or brown paper to drain.
Start the next batch.  When the fried brussels sprouts are drained sufficiently, put them into a bowl.
Continue this process until all of the brussels sprouts are fried and drained and in the bowl.

Give the dressing another good shake and pour over the brussels sprouts.  Toss well to dress all of the sprouts.

These can be served hot or at room temperature.  They are also wonderful late at night when eaten cold by the light of the refrigerator!  Enjoy.

Brussels Sprouts Heaven1

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Storing Kitchen Staples: Part Two

The last time I blogged about the topic of maintaining  a well stocked pantry,  it was in reference to oils, vinegars, and other liquids.  This time let's take a look at some of the other items that we all store for long term periods.

Sugar:  store granulated sugar in an airtight container.  Basically it is long lasting, but you want to avoid moisture from compromising it and/or critters from taking up residence in it.

Honey and Molasses:  both should be kept in your pantry and not in your refrigerator.  They, too, are long lasting.

In contrast, maple syrup (and I refer here to real maple syrup, not the "Aunt" or other high fructose corn syrup blends masquerading as maple syrup!) can be stored in the pantry - until it is opened.  Then it's time to move it into the refrigerator  Real maple syrup has no preservatives and can begin to grow molds and bacteria after opening.   Note:  If for some reason your honey has been stored in the refrigerator and has started to crystalize, open the jar and put it in a pan filled with a inch or two of water and heat it for a bit.

Brown Sugar:  the biggest issue we all run into with this is that it hardens into big clumps - no matter how it is stored.  A long term way to avoid clumping can be provided by a product called a "Brown Sugar Bear", a small terra cotta bear which is dampened and then added to the bag of brown sugar. I store brown sugar in a relatively air tight container and I still find myself using a baggie and a meat tenderizer when I go to use some of it.  An option that I have been enjoying for the past few years is to substitute commercial brown sugar with  "sugar in the raw" when I can.  It is basically a light brown sugar known as Turbinado sugar.  It does not clump.

Baking Powder and Baking Soda:  These have a shelf life of about six months and should be kept away from moisture.  Do keep an eye on their dates because your baking recipes will be disappointing if your powder or soda have lost effectiveness.

Yeast (dry):  the best bet for storing yeast, whether active or instant, is the freezer.

Flour:  figure on a year of shelf life for all - purpose flour.  I pour this flour into a glass jar with a tight cap and keep it in the pantry.  Whole wheat flour will be fine for about a year, BUT,  it should be kept in the freezer.  Most experts say that cornmeal should also be stored in the freezer, but since I tend to use it pretty regularly, I find that it's fine when I store it in the refrigerator.  "De-bag" (is that a word?) both whole wheat and cornmeal into good, zip lock bags prior to storing.

Bay Leaves, Nuts and Seeds:  all will keep much better and longer if stored in the freezer.  In particular, pine nuts - which are usually pretty expensive - go bad very quickly if not stored in the freezer. Again, store each in a good zip lock freezer bag.

Butter and Eggs.  These are two items, although certainly not "long term" in the way the other items are,  that can invoke a lot of discussion and debate among food folks.  Eggs:  In places other than the U.S.,  eggs are generally not refrigerated.  One of the reasons is that they tend to be fresher than the eggs many Americans buy in chain supermarkets.  The eggs they sell may already be up to two months old by the end of the "sell by" date.  If the supermarket is your only access to eggs, three to five weeks in the refrigerator tops would be the best storage practice.  I buy our eggs from local farmers.  Especially in the colder months, I like to store them on the counter top in a ceramic "egg crate".  I use eggs a great deal, but you have to decide on your own usage patterns and store your eggs accordingly.  Butter is a very absorbent item.  It can quickly pick up flavors and odors from other items in the refrigerator.  I have been making my own butter about every other week for a few years.  I store "rounds" of this butter in the freezer.  I also purchase local farm butter and cut it into "stick" equivalents - this makes this butter easier to measure to use for baking and recipes. With that said, I love to keep at least one "Butter Keeper" on the countertop.  These are great inventions - they are French, I believe - they keep your butter fresh and you always have softened butter at hand.  I especially appreciate that with my morning toast and jam!  You pack your butter into a cup on one piece of the keeper and invert it into a bit of water in the other piece.

With a little bit of attention to detail and an awareness of the dates of purchase of pantry items a successful pantry can easily be maintained.  And a well maintained pantry will definitely make life easier, especially when putting together week night meals.  It is worth a bit of tending from time to time.  You will be glad you did!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Storing Kitchen Staples, Part One

A Reminder From 1917

All of us who like to cook have cabinets and drawers and other spots chock full of spices, oils, vinegars and the like.  These pantry items - or kitchen staples - are so important to our culinary creations, so we should try to keep them as fresh as we possibly can.  The great thing about these staples is that they are there when you need them; the challenging thing about them is that you rarely buy one of them and then use it all up for one meal.

Heat and light are great things.  They are also great destroyers of kitchen staples.

In the next few posts, I will share what sorts of storage - as well as how to test for freshness - works best for a number of categories of kitchen staples.  

Let's start with oils, vinegars, soy sauces, and vanilla.

You know how on the cooking shows, the cooks have all of their oils and vinegars displayed beautifully on a lovely - usually stainless steel shelf above their six burner, turbo stove top?  Yeah - don't do that!  You'll be killing off those items faster than you can say, "Bam!".  

Here are some basic rules of thumb about these particular staples and the best ways to preserve them.

1.  Olive Oil - Once it is opened the common rule is to consider it at top form for about three months.  Always keep olive in a dark pantry closet or cabinet.  Unopened and stored correctly olive oil will maintain it's goodeness for up to a year.  To test olive oil for freshness, heat a teaspoon or so in a skillet.  If you detect a rancid odor, toss it, it's done.  Lastly, resist the large, usually well decorated cans of olive oil unless you really use a lot of olive oil.  The short shelf life makes the lower price not worth it in the end.

2.  Vinegar - this is one staple that has a very long shelf life.  The high percentage of acetic acid in most vinegars will prevent any harmful bacteria from taking up residence. It is a good idea to also store vinegar in a cabinet, away from direct heat.  If you have sediment beginning to build up in vinegar, just strain it out. It will be fine with or without the sediment. 

3.  Other Oils - Canola, Corn, Grapeseed, Peanut, and Vegetable oils can be stored in your pantry.  Sesame and Walnut oils must be stored in your refrigerator.

4.  Soy Sauce - if it is pasturized soy sauce, you can store it in your pantry closet.  If it is unpasturized, keep it in the refrigerator. 

5.  Vanilla - this flavoring has a very long shelf life.  If you make it yourself, and I highly recommend that you do, just remember to remove the vanilla bean when it has "cured" and has full vanilla flavor.  The beans, if left in the liquid, sometimes break down a bit.  Whether home or commercially made, vanilla should always be tightly capped and stored away from light and heat.

Next Time:  Flours and Dry Herbs

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Fall: A Time of Preparation and a Garden's Bounty Recipe

"I'm so glad that I live in a world where there are Octobers"  L. M. Montgomery

Are you?

I fight the end of summer.  I rail against the shorter days and the loss of light.  I shiver just thinking about dog walks on ice covered sidewalks.  Another year of shoveling snow?  How much I wonder.  As I do that, more and more as the days move on, I find myself putting the big fans we use all over the house away.  I realize that I'm cleaning our little fireplace and ordering more fireplace gel.  Earlier this week, I pulled out a few sweatshirts and put sox on for the first time in months.

And, then there's the garden. If you are grower, you know how hectic and sometimes worrisome this time of year can be.  I start obsessively checking the overnight temperatures - I still have tropicals and succulents outside.  I force myself to start pulling out the plants that are done - the peppers, most of the tomatoes, the eggplants and some of the herbs.  I start realizing that waiting until the end of the work day to start fiddling in the garden won't work any more - it gets too dark!  

And there's lots of chopping and cleaning and putting away into the shed.  Our bird feeders going back up.  The outdoor kitchen is putting on its winter covers. And the furniture will eventually - not yet!! - get stacked and covered.

Meanwhile the colors all around us are gradually going to reds and golds and browns.  I guess I agree.  I don't think I would be happy in a never changing 80 degrees and sunny.  Without Fall and Winter, I would seriously undervalue the miracle of Spring.  I shall enjoy the passing of the seasons.

Recipe:  Garden's Bounty Savory Bread Pudding

At this time of year, many of us have already done our canning and freezing and yet we are still harvesting from our garden beds.  This recipe makes great use of those stubborn vegetables and herbs that hang in there and keep growing well into the Fall.  I didn't have any zucchini but you can use practically any combination of fresh veggies in this dish.  It can definitely be classified as comfort food, too.


About 8 ounces of hearty bread, ideally a day or so old, chopped into cubes
A mix of fresh vegetables:  cherry tomatoes, cut in half; a couple small tomatoes chopped; a small eggplant with the skin on chopped; a sweet pepper, chopped; one or two garlic cloves, minced; a small onion - I used a red onion - chopped; and, if you want a bit of heat, a small jalapeño, diced.
1/4 cup olive oil
One cup of Basil, packed
Seven eggs
One cup of whole milk
One and one half cups of grated parmesan cheese
One Tablespoon of butter
Salt and pepper


Preheat the oven to  375 degrees
Use the butter to grease a large, shallow baking dish
Pour the bread cubes into the baking dish and spread them out
In a skillet, heat the olive oil and saute the onions and garlic for about 1 - 2 minutes, until they soften
To the skillet add the chopped eggplant and cook for about 2 minutes 
Then add the chopped red pepper and the jalapeño and stir and cook for about 2 minutes
Lastly, add all of the tomatoes, again stir well, and cook for about a minute

While the above ingredients are cooking, whisk the eggs and the milk together with the salt and pepper 
Sprinkle the grated parmesan over the bread cubes
Pour the contents of the skillet over the bread cubes and cheese
Stir well to combine everything

Pour the egg and milk mixture over the dish, stir gently to moisten everything and evenly distribute the egg mixture.

Put the baking dish into the oven and bake, uncovered, for about 40 - 45 minutes.

Remove and check that the custard is set - put a toothpick into the center - it should come out clean

Let the dish set for about 10 minutes prior to cutting into squares for service.


      Savory Bread Pudding

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Making "Recipes" Your Own; Skillet Roasted Chicken

In my home, we don't always use recipes to prepare meals.  As we eat a sit down dinner together almost every evening, much of our creativity results from what is in the pantry, freezer, and refrigerator.  And always with an eye to what the weekly menu we have written out dictates.  Often, although we are not necessarily looking for a specific recipe, we almost always stand in front of our huge cook book collection, pull out a few books, and put some ideas together from what we read.

As I have mentioned before here, I am a big fan of weekly menu planning.  It just makes sense before you head to your Farmers' Markets to have an idea of what you want to cook over the coming days. Make an ingredient list, add your weekly staples like eggs, cream, milk, butter. etc. and you are ready to shop and to cook!  For sure, I am absolutely influenced by what I see at the Markets, as well.  If I am surprised by something, and excited to use it, I will make some adjustments.  The point is to enjoy the process and here at Il Moya we both like to improvise, reinvent, and sometimes actually invent - for us, that's the fun of being in the kitchen.

In my opinion, the secret to becoming a better than average cook is learning to adapt recipes and techniques.  Trusting your own instincts and tastes, so to speak. "Tweaking" ingredients and cooking methods with your own touches based on what you have on hand is a great way to continue to learn.  Admittedly sometimes you will learn that a recipe was better left alone, but I am betting that, for the most part, you will be very happy with your own variations on existing themes.

The following recipe is basically a technique - one that I have learned has been used by the French forever.  It involves roasting a chicken on thick slices of bread, ideally in a big cast iron skillet.  Like the Italians, the French people adore good bread and it is a central part of their diet (another reason that I love them both so!).  Both cultures traditionally abhor wasting food.  So finding something delicious to do with day old bread results in many recipes from both cuisines.  

This technique appears in published recipes from the late Judy Rogers of Zuni Cafe to Ina Garten (the Barefoot Contessa) to Jamie Oliver, Martha Stewart, Melissa Clark and a host of other cooks and food writers.

The basic recipe merely serves the roast chicken with the toasts, which are loaded with the chicken juices, and whatever fat and flavors have been used.  Some cooks roast the chicken whole, others cut the chicken into the major pieces prior to cooking. There are versions that marinate the chicken over night.  The types of herbs and fats used vary widely.  And a very popular version now produces a Chicken Caesar Salad from the technique.

We picked up a 4 pound chicken at our local Farmer's Market recently and adapted Ina Garten's latest version of this technique.  She goes the salad route, but she does it with Arugula - which we happen to be growing like mad - and does an overnight marinade as well.  We tweaked the herbs and fat used a bit, again based on what we had on hand and the flavors we most enjoy.

I hope you'll try it - and play with it - and make a version of your own!  Enjoy!

Skillet Chicken with Croutons (adapted from Ina Garten)

Ingredients for the roasted chicken

1 whole chicken, approximately 4 pounds (hopefully pasture raised!)
4 sprigs of fresh rosemary
2  large garlic cloves, smashed flat and torn into 4 pieces
4 tablespooons of cold butter
1 large lemon, cut into quarters
2 teaspoons finely ground sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 - 6 thick slices of a good country style bread (slices should be abuot 3/4 inch thick)
Good extra virgin olive oil

Ingredients for the Arugula Salad

1/4 cup of white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon of finely minced garlic
Salt and Pepper
1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil - as good as you can get
1/2 cup of thinly sliced scallions (white and green parts)
6 cups fresh arugula - lightly packed, about 6 - 8 ounces


Place the whole chicken in a baking dish, breast side up.
Loosen the skin on the breasts and thighs and legs and slide pieces of the smashed garlic and sprigs of the fresh rosemary under the skin, along with the butter.
NOTE:  all you are doing here  is dividing up the fat and herbs and flavoring among the breasts and legs.  Be gentle so as not to tear the skin.
Put the 4 quarters of the lemon inside the chicken cavity.
Sprinkle the salt and pepper all over the chicken
Wrap the entire dish tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24 - 48 hours.

Preheat your oven to 500 degrees.
Lightly oil a large cast iron skillet.
Place the bread slices all over the bottom of the skillet.
Uncover the chicken, brush it all over with the extra virgin olive oil and place the chicken - breast side up - on top of the bread slices.
Roast the chicken in the 500 degree oven for 30 minutes.

Remove the chicken.  Turn the chicken over - breast side down - onto the bread slices.  
NOTE:  at this point you can flip the bread slices over; this will give you crisper bread slices.
Put the chicken back in the oven and roast for an additional 15 minutes - until the juices between the leg and the thigh run clear.

Take the chicken out of the oven and wrap the entire chicken and skillet in aluminum foil and "rest" the chicken for 30 minutes.

While the chicken is resting, spread the Arugula on a serving platter.
In a glass jar with a lid, mix the vinegar, mustard, garlic, and one teaspoon of salt and a few grinds of black pepper.

Add the olive oil to the jar, put the lid on the jar and shake it very, very well, then stir in the scallion pieces.

Put the chicken on a cutting board and carve to your liking.
Cut the bread slices into large squares - basically large croutons.
Dress the Arugula lightly with the vinegar and oil mixture, put the chicken pieces on top of the Arugula and spread the bread croutons around the perimeter of the serving platter.

Pour any remaining juices in the cast iron skillet over the entire dish.  Serve with the rest of the vinger and oil dressing and enjoy.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Hoagie Salad - With Real Hoagies!

    The Il Moya Hoagie Salad

This is another one of those delicious and easy dishes that I came upon somewhat accidently.  In our home, good Italian Hoagies are easily accessible - living on the border of true South Philly - but they are still a treat. We usually each get a large hoagie when we do so treat ourselves.  We always order them with hot peppers and with the authentic olive oil and oregano dressing.

This mighty meal of a sandwich comes standard with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, hot peppers, a mix of chesses, and a mix of italian meats.  Generally you have some flexibility in the meat and cheese mixes, so we go with our favorites.  And it is, of course, not a true hoagie unless it's on a beautiful, seeded roll made preferably in South Philly.

To round out the meal, I always need potato chips and a good artisanal soda - Hanks or Boylans - no pepsi or coke, and Cream Soda in my opinion is the best match.  

It is a feast.  We almost never finish both sandwiches.

So - we wrap our leftovers tightly and well and put them in the 'fridge for later snacking. One day, before unwrapping and eating our left overs, I decided to try something different.

Now, to be sure, if you google, "Hoagie Salad", you will find tons of recipes.  Our Hoagie Salad is "different" because we make it from left over hoagies.  You can follow one of the recipes on the internet which will have you start from scratch and shop and attempt to produce a salad that "tastes like a hoagie", OR you can have a lovely and nutritious "Hoagie Night" at your home and save all of the leftovers halves and quarters, wrap them well, and store them in your refrigerator for at least 24 hours and have yourself a real hoagie salad.  Honestly this salad is so good - and such a crowd pleaser - that I have been known to buy great hoagies, let them rest in the refrigerator over night, and then, make the salad from them.


Note:  How much you need of additional ingredients really depends on how much chopped, left over hoagies you have.  It's totally a "by eye" and "by taste" thing.  Quanto Basto - as the Italians say.  "As much as you want".

Unwrap your left over hoagies and chop each hoagie into bite sized pieces.  The whole thing, don't remove anything, just start chopping through the bread.  Put the chopped hoagie pieces into a bowl.  Chop up some iceberg lettuce (don't tell me that it has no food value! I love it and it is perfect here).  Add it to the bowl.  I like to add a little more extra virgin olive oil, a couple of glugs of red wine vinegar, a little shake of good dry oregano, and a bit of salt and pepper.  You can also add a bit of good mayonnaise if you wish. Toss and you have a basic Hoagie Salad.

However. . . 

There is great space for creativity here!  Start with the basic salad above, but before tossing it, add whatever you have on hand that you think would be good in the mix.  For example, in tomato season, I always add some more chopped tomatoes - drain them a bit if you can; chop up some cucumber and add that; and if you have them, chopped marinated artichoke hearts make a nice addition.   Black or green - or both - olives are great too.  Make sure they are pitted.

What not to add . . .

If you are starting with great hoagies, I would not add cheeses or meats.  That's the great thing about this salad, you have the most important contents already.  

Now.  Toss and enjoy.  I guarantee you will not have left overs!  This salad keeps well for up to a day in the 'fridge.


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

I'm Holding onto Summer! And a Delicious Ricotta Tart Recipe.

Who can really believe that this weekend marks the end of Summer 2014?  Not me.  I am not letting go.  I'm not in school!  Labor Day means nothing to me. Spring and Summer are my favorite times of the year.  I adore the renewal of Spring, the growing of Summer, the Sun, the Heat, the Water, being Outdoors.  Oh, how it did it fly so fast yet again?

As a child - pretty much spending all of my summers at the shore - I remember those last days at the beach, not wanting to come out of the warm wonderful ocean, not wanting my sandy, wet, ice cream man ("Fudgie Wudgie") happiness to end.  Dad would always say, "It will be here next year".  And gloriously it was!

I'm writing this sitting in my garden which is lush to exploding.  There are tons of tomatoes - small and big - that have yet to take on color.  My eggplants are still coming in, as are my cucumbers.  I'm picking figs every day and more are starting up.  The okra is still coming in. The basil and the oregano and the thyme are huge.  The zinnias continue to flower.  Yet another dahlia is about to open.  The daylilies look marvelous.  How can you tell me that summer is over!?!?  No!  It just cannot be!

In truth I have, as a good grower, recently put in some Kale and Mustard and Salad Greens, Arugula and Spinach.  The Swiss Chard and Black Kale are thriving and probably will through Fall.  I have replanted those delicious French Breakfast Radishes.  I know that I need to get the garlic planted.   I'm resigned to the fact that as soon as next week we will have one of our marathon, "Canning Days" when we spend the entire day putting up tomatoes for red gravy, tomato puree & juice, jams, pickles, salsas, and relishes. We feel good as we fill our larder; our freezer is pretty much stocked to the top already.  We will congratulate ourselves on our readiness for the onslaught of colder weather and heavier meals. 

I know what the calendar is telling me.  I know what my brain is telling me.  And yet, what my heart is saying is what I want to hear.  'It's not over. There's so much more summer to go".  Oh, if only.

One Half of the Tart - Shared the other with my Neighbor!

Recipe:  Ricotta Cheese Tart with Nutella "Frosting"


One sheet of puff pastry

12+ ounces of fresh ricotta

1 cup of heavy cream

1 tablespoon of good vanilla extract

1/2 cup of sugar

Two large eggs

Approximately 4 - 5 ounces of Nutella - if you keep your Nutella in the refrigerator, take it out at least an hour before you make this recipe!  Nutella does not need to be refrigerated, FYI.

NOTE:  If you have Figs, they make a great and tasty garnish!  If not, no worries. 


Defrost the puff pastry according to package instructions

While the puff pastry is defrosting:

Whip together the ricotta, heavy cream, vanilla extract, sugar and eggs until the mixture is nice and fluffy

Keep the mixture cold until ready for use

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees

Roll out the puff pastry into a rectangle  that will fit into a long tart pan (shape as shown in photo)

NOTE:  you will have "extra pastry dough" - you can build a thicker bottom crust or do strips of pasty across the top of the tart.  I went with a thick bottom crust.  Play with it.  It's easy and you can't particularly kill it!

Butter your tart pan - make sure you do the sides of the tart pan as well.  You want to avoid having your pastry stick to the sides!

After you get your pastry into the tart pan - bottom and sides - "dock" the pastry by using a fork to put a few holes in it randomly.

Put the tart pan and pastry dough into the 350 degree oven for about 5 - 7 minutes.

It will get slightly brown and puff up a bit (it's puff pastry!); just use the docking fork to knock it down.

Take the tart pan out of the oven, let it sit for a minute or two and then fill it with the whipped cheese mixture.  Be sure to spread the mixture out well over all of the tart surface, using a rubber spatula.

Bake the tart at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes.  You want a bit of blond/light brown color on the cheese.

When you are happy with the tart, remove it from the oven and let it cool for at least 15 minutes.

When it cools, "frost" it with the nutella.  Spread it around liberally.  Top with sliced figs if you have them.  

Let the whole thing set up in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or so.  

it's a very rich tart.  Small slices are really satisfying.  


Friday, July 11, 2014

Gardening & Urban Farming Changed My Life


           A Recent Harvest from our Garden


There are a lot of reasons for taking up this way of life, hobby, or some might say, obsession called Urban Farming.  One thing that most of us probably don't think of as we get started are the ways in which becoming a dedicated grower, in an urban setting, will be life changing.

A true farmer of any type knows that the work of growing has to be built into the rhythms of one's life. At its best and most rewarding, it is not something that is secondary to daily life. Growing, especially growing food, really brings a sense of peace, but only when the work, the cycles, and the challenges of the effort are naturally blended into everyday life.

For some of us, the building of an urban farm has been life changing. I found that the more I read and researched; the more classes I took; and the more I picked the brains of accomplished growers, the more I realized that there were other aspects of the way that we were living that didn't fit if I was really taking this seriously.  I am a city dweller.  I will always be a city dweller.  I love to visit rural areas.  But my heart and my lifestyle - what I am at my roots - will always be about living in the city. That said, I don't believe that the quality of life that comes with living a sustainable, environmentally conscious life - and yes, getting your hands in the dirt - has to be reserved for non-city folks.  The changes that took place just seemed to naturally occur over time, and so far, they have all seemed to make very good sense.

For example, when I started getting serious about growing some of our food, it did not take long before I started composting. The garbage disposal in our kitchen was permanently turned off.  I am now looking into installing a rain barrel to collect all of that good water that comes off of our roof during even a minor rain.  When we finally completed installing the growing areas for food, herbs, cutting and perennial gardens, and put some comfortable seating and a string of lights in the garden, we started spending more time outside in the warm - and even the hot - weather.  I began to see how much better I  - and my bones  - felt not spending most of my life in air conditioning. Combining that positive payoff with our (quite) diminished energy bills and our lessened guilt at the use of scarce resources, we decided we would no longer use the central air conditioning (and haven't for three years now).  The unit sits on the side of our house, with some good strong slats of wood on it, it makes the perfect potting table!

With more reading and learning and listening, I realized how our lives were often driven by managing our stuff.  A lot of that stuff were things that we didn't use or need.  We are still in the long process of de-cluttering.  As we grow in this simplification effort, we are trying hard to hold to the rule of, "If something comes in, something goes out".  Like so many households, at this point, we are stepping back and analyzing what we really need to live comfortably, sustainably and consciously.  We have also tried to embrace the practices of locavore living. We eat mostly local, seasonal, and humanely raised, chemical-free food. We try to shop locally for almost everything, not just food.  For example, my long held practice of buying books online has changed to buying and ordering books through our local, independently owned bookstore.  Our efforts are not always 100% perfect but we're doing pretty well. Yes, the extra virgin olive oil came from a co-op in Italy, but the eggs and the flour used to make the pasta came from producers less than 100 miles from our home in Philadelphia!

So, as I learned and began to see my spouse and I as more than just "city dwellers" or "homeowners", these new directions pointed us - happily - in the direction of Urban Homesteading.  An urban homestead is defined, at least partially, as follows:

1.  A homestead produces at least some of the food consumed by the house;

2.  A homestead seeks to engage daily in resource reduction and the use of alternative energy sources;

3.  The principles of "Repair, Repurpose, and Recycle" are central to the homesteader's daily life;

4.  Neighborhood is very important to homesteading and to living sustainably. Sharing tools, labor, and working together to better the immediate neighborhood are a serious value of the homesteading effort and should be a serious consideration for all urban dwellers;and,

5.  Homesteaders devote considerable time to food preservation such as canning, drying, and freezing.  Others learn related skills such as fermenting and cheese making.  In our area, a number of "food swapping" events occur on a regular basis. 

In some ways, urban homesteading is about taking a step backward, trying to live a more simple, purposeful life, a life in which we learn to do more for ourselves; become more self sufficient, and become more of an active member of our community.  I believe strongly that it is a healthier lifestyle as well.  There is a lot more to know - and we are definitely still learning - about urban homesteading and living sustainably.  Like growing food and gardening, it is an ongoing learning process. And, like those processes, applying the principles of urban homesteading feeds the soul, because it helps us to be active participants in some important aspects of our daily lives. 

Taking part in serious urban growing changed my daily life and the way I view the place I hold in my immediate world.  I am a grateful recipient of these changes, and I can't wait to see what new lessons and experiences are right around the corner!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Beating the Heat: No Cook Cucumber Soup

These last few days - yet another "heat wave" - are a challenge to our eating habits.  We need to and should lighten up our intake.   Our systems are craving cold - but still we want delicious and satisfying.  And, if you are anything like me, if it involves firing up the oven, forget about it!

We grow cucumbers every year and we love them.  At some point we start harvesting earlier and start putting up our pickles, but at this time of year, we love to use the bigger cucumbers in recipes.  Here's a delicious, satisfying, and "no - cook" soup.  Do give it 24 hours in your 'fridge to really get a bang from the melding of all of the delicious flavors.

    This becomes . . . .


Recipe:  No Cook Cucumber Yogurt Soup


About two pounds of cucumbers, halved, seeded and chopped (the skins have flavor and nutrients, leave them on).

One and one half cups of good whole milk yogurt (preferably greek yogurt)
note: Use full fat yogurt.  Remember when you use low fat or no fat, you are adding sugar to the recipe.

Three Tablespoons of fresh lemon juice
One chopped shallot
One garlic clove

1/3 cup loosely packed fresh dill
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley - italian flat leaf is best - if it's fresh, the stems will add great flavor

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and white pepper

For service:  More extra virgin olive oil and thinly sliced radishes or red onion.


Put all of the ingredients in a blender and blend until really smooth

Add salt and white pepper to taste - you can use freshly ground black pepper if you don't have white.

Cover and put the blend in the refrigerator for 8 hours minimum and preferably overnight

For Service

Check seasonings and add a swirl of extra virgin olive oil, some finely sliced radishes or finely sliced red onion to each bowl.


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Old Man and The Dill

    Lots 'O Dill

Our neighbor across the street shows up around this time every year with tons of Dill.  His Dad (The Old Man) maintained a pretty nice vegetable garden in the lot behind their house for nearly 50 years, and the Dill always comes back in droves.   For awhile after the Old Man's passing, other things came back too.  The Son would bring us enormous zucchini - we all know that they are pretty useless, but I never had the heart to tell him that he may want to look for them a tad earlier.  And, for awhile, he'd bring us a few cucumbers or a volunteer tomato.  The Son is not interested in gardening and actually shows disdain for it.  I think because his Dad devoted so much spare time to it, but that's just my hunch.

The Old Man has been gone for nearly 10 years now. We still miss him sitting out on his stoop, telling us all sorts of tales of the "old neighborhood" and neighbors long gone. I have stored away every story I can. I treasure those kinds of chats with the folks who were here in those old South Philly days.

And so, the Dill delivery every year continues. However, this year - for the first time ever - the son pulled the Dill out by the roots!  I usually get a big bunch of cut branches, which make no mistake, I am thrilled to get.  We have used the Old Man's Dill in our pickles for years.  But for some reason, when I went to the door this year, there he was with huge stalks of Dill with big fat root systems intact. 

His usual question:  "Can you use this?".  My usual answer:  "You bet!". 

I sat outside this morning, cleaning the branches of the dill.  Some I will freeze, some I will dry - as usual.  I kept coming back to three good sized stalks with really nice, well established root systems, and I kept talking myself out of planting one more thing, of setting up one more garden "experiment" to fret over.  Too late.  The Old Man won.  So here are the three stalks which I have trimmed and planted.  I have also for the first time decided to harvest some seeds.

    The Dill Experiment

Maybe he's been sending me messages all of these years.  Or maybe there is just something inherently wonderful about growing dill from his long ago loved plants here, across the street, in our garden.  Maybe someone else will do the same in the years to come.  Who knows?  Everything happens for a reason, right?  

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Best Asparagus Cheese Tart Ever

Ok, I've been bombed with requests for the recipe for the Asparagus Tart.  Thanks All!   This is one of those recipes that seems relatively complicated and gets easier over repeated making.  And you will be making it a lot if you love asparagus.  There are rarely leftovers, even for two the tart only lasts about two days in our house.  It is also a great breakfast dish!  If you have questions, please ask.  As I said, the more you make it, the easier it will be to make it.  A good thing!  So, here it is.

Recipe:  Asparagus and Gruyere Tart

Note:  The work in this recipe is with the pastry dough.  Of course that is what makes it so delicious!

"Black Pepper and Sour Cream Pastry Dough"

Ingredients for a 13 inch tart shell

2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper - or more, if you like a peppery dough.  I use at least a teaspoon.
3/4 teaspoon of sugar
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) of cold, unsalted butter, cut into bits
1/3 cup of cold shortening
3 tablespoons of sour cream
3 tablespoons of ice water

Technique for making the tart shell

Blend together the flour, salt, pepper. sugar, butter and shortening with your fingertips or a pastry blender until most of the mixture resembles coarse meal with the remainder in small (roughly pea sized) lumps.

Stir together the sour cream and the ice water, then stir the mixture into the dough until it is incorporated.

Gather the dough into a ball.

Lightly flour your board and flatten the dough ball into a 6 inch square.  Then roll the dough out into a roughly 18 by 6 inch rectangle and fold the dough into thirds - this is like the way you would fold a letter to put it into an envelope (when we used to write letters, that is).

Turn the dough so an open ended side is nearest you, then roll the dough out again into an 18 by 6 inch rectangle.  Fold into thirds again.

**Remember to keep dusting your board with flour.  This is a rich dough.**

Repeat rolling and folding one more time - for a total of three times; wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill for at least an hour.  We have chilled it overnight and it's fine.

Roll out the chilled dough onto a floured surface into a 15 1/2 inch round.  Transfer the dough to your tart pan (or pizza pan, I use a large tart pan).

Trim the edge enough to make it even all around and then pinch to form a 1/2 inch high, double thick side.  Prick the bottom of the shell all over with a fork (called "docking") and chill again until firm - at least 30 minutes.  

Note:  the leftover dough from the edges can be rolled out and cut into small squares, sprinkled with some salt and more pepper if you want (I do!).  Bake until they are slightly crispy and then take them out and let them sit for a few minutes.  They are wonderful, tasty crackers!  I am thinking about just making the dough soon so that I can make a big batch of crackers.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees

Take your chilled dough out of the refrigerator and line the shell with foil.
Fill the foil lined shell with pie weights or beans or rice or whatever you use.  Don't forget the foil!  I did that once - it's not pretty picking all of those beans out of that semi - cooked dough!

Bake the shell until the sides are firm, about 20 minutes. 
Remove the foil and the weights and bake about 10 minutes more, until you get a golden color.
Remove the shell from the oven and let it cool.  

While the shell is cooling, you can prepare the filling.

Ingredients for Tart Filling

3 pounds of asparagus trimmed to about 5 1/2 inches and peeled
1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt, plus additional for sprinkling
1 cup of heavy cream
2 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 - 1 1/2 cups of finely grated Gruyere (depends on how cheesy you like it; we like it cheesy!)

Technique for making the filling

I put the asparagus in a large flat pan of salted, boiling water for just about 30 seconds  - until you see a nice green color.  

As soon as you have the color you want, get them IMMEDIATELY into another pan of ice water.

Drain the asparagus well and pat dry.

Whisk together the cream, eggs, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and the nutmeg.
Season the mixture with freshly ground black pepper

Note:  If you use a Tart pan, I suggest that you put the pan on a cookie sheet.  Tart pans have removable bottoms and sometimes you get some seepage of the filling before it starts cooking and coming together.

Pour the custart mixture evenly into the tart shell.
Sprinkle the custard with two thirds of the grated cheese, then arrange the asparagus spears in the custart, tips out like the spokes of a wheel.
Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top.

Bake until the custard is set - about 20 minutes.
When the custard is set, Broil the tart about 2 - 3 inches from the heat until golden.  About 1 - 2 minutes.


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Peg Bigley's Amazing Marinated Turkey Breast

Two Boneless Turkey Breasts 

I got so many requests for the recipe when I posted this gorgeous shot, so here it is!  This is a great buffet, summer holiday or winter holiday menu item!  It is served cold, it's delicious and juicy and the sauce is so good you want to eat it by itself!  

Ingedients (for one Turkey Breast)

One 3 1/2 to 4 pound boneless turkey breast (you may have to order this from your favorite poultry farmer).  If you are cooking for a crowd and use two breasts, simply double the ingredients.

For the Marinade

1/2 cup of dry white wine
1/4 cup of soy sauce
1/4 cup of sesame oil
3 tablespoons of lemon juice - fresh please
1 teaspoon of dried thyme

For the Sauce

2 1/2 cups of goodmayonnaise
5 tablespoons lime juice - fresh please
2 1/2 tablespoons seeded, chopped jalepeno 
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
3 - 4 cloves of minced garlic
2 1/2 teaspoons of dijon mustard
3 cups of fresh corriander (cilantro) chopped fin


Mix the marinade contents together and put the marinade and the breast into a large ziplock bag.  Marinate overnight.

Remove the breast from the bag, dispose of the marinade and put the turkey into a large roasting pan
Put the turkey under the broiler until the top is nice and brown - stay with it!

After browning the breast, bake it at 350 degrees for about 50 - 60 minutes

While the breast is in the oven. make the sauce by mixing together all of the sauce ingredients.  

When the turkey is done, refrigerate it and serve it cold.

Note:  You can either slice the turkey or for a buffet and ease of eating, you can cut it into chunks and have toothpicks at the ready. Have plenty of the dipping sauce out - it is always a big hit!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Learning at The Philly Farm and Food Fest 2014

What a wonderful experience the Fest continues to be!  This year, the Fest's third year, was the largest.  More exhibitors and lots more attendees.  Walking around the huge halls, sampling all sorts of delicious tid bits, and of course buying some of the same, was pure joy.

In addition, there were those great, spontaneous conversations with other attendees. Frequently, as I stood on line waiting for a sample, someone next to me, who already had theirs would more often than not turn to me and whoever else was nearby and comment on what they had just popped into their mouth.  And not just, "yum" or "good" or "I don't like that" but rather a layered comment offering comparisons to similar foods or what they would use it for and make with it.  You get the idea.  The Fest fills an enormous convention space with people who love to eat, who care about what they eat as well as how their food is raised/grown/made, who want to get to know the folks who produce what they eat, and are, in addition, always looking to learn more.

We were lucky to be able to get seats at the "Shellfish Salon".  Of course, my first thought was, "Oh, an oyster tasting.  What could be better?".  And yes, there was a tasting, but there was also a lot of great information that the presenters at the Salon shared with us.   Cape May Salts (oysters) have always been much loved in my home.   They are grown in the waters off of Cape May.  And they were harvested out of existence in the late 20th century.  Thanks to the efforts of a coalition of scientists and folks in the fishing and seafood business, they were brought back.  They are delicious, briny oysters - and they are local!  We had the opportunity to slurp a number of Cape May Salts, and other types of oysters from this area, and ask questions, meet the farmers, and hear lot of interesting facts. 

Fun Facts re: Oysters and Clams

"Farming" shell fish is the way to go.  The French have been doing this for generations.  Oysters and clams fit the growing and harvesting techniques central to aqua-farming so well because the way they eat is actually a filtering process.  The oysters eat, the water gets cleaned, and we consumers get delicious shellfish.  It is a wonderful win/win process.

The waterways of the Delaware Bay and off of Cape May are now rated Class A.  This means they are pristine.  These waterways have come back better than ever.  A fabulous thing to hear.

Merroir - a French term and my favorite new word. Recall that the word Terroir refers to the unique flavors and qualities that a growing region imparts on the grapes, and thus the wine, from the area.  It's also a term used by coffee growers and chocolatiers.  The marine environment, the Merroir, likewise affects the flavor of oysters and clams in much the same way.  All of the oysters that grow along our area of the East Coast are the same species of oyster.  The different conditions that they grow in are what contributes to their different textures and tastes.  Their merroir. 

And one, immensly disturbing fact:  over 90% of the seafood consumed in the U.S. annually is imported!  We have wonderful waters around us; we have some delicious shellfish and fish; and yet, rather than pay for this high quality and healthy food, Americans eat seafood from all over the world and not the U.S.!  This applies to the individual consumer and to the restaurant business and retail seafood businesses as well.  I like to say, "Know where your food comes from". In the case of seafood and fish, it is immensly important to do so. And if you live in the Philadelphia Tri-State area, check out, not only the oysters, scallops and clams, but the wonderful fish that run in our waters:  Bluefish, Fluke, Haddock, Butterfish. Weakies,  . . . it is really a very long list!

Other great finds at the Fest included Beet Kavas.  I had a tasting shot, iced cold, and was immediatley hooked.  It's briny with a back taste of delicious beets.  It is very good for you, apparently, which is great because I find myself pouring myself cold shots throughout the day!  Fermentation is a process that I am hoping to learn more about in the coming year.  Many fremented items have significant health benefits, and are delicious.

Pictured above with the Kvass are the oils of Susquehanna Mills Company in Montoursville, PA.  They produce all organic, non-GMO Canola and Sunflower Seed oils.  The oils are delicious, local and processed naturally, and again, no GMOs.  As I make my own mayonaisse, and use canola oil a great deal, I was thrilled to meet these folks and purchase the oils.  We are hoping that their oils will be available soon in our local retailers. 

And, of course there were lots of producers whom we have come to know at the Fest - with products that are must haves for us.  For example, Obis Black Garlic - if you try it, you will be changed forever (if you are a garlic lover of course).  Beechwood Orchards who provide us with wonderful apples, pears, apple and pear ciders and the like through our Fair Food Farmstand.  Also in attendance was Birchrun Hills Cheeses and proprietor Sue who we have come to know well and who produces some of our favorite delicious Pennsylvania cheeses.  The Caputos from out near Harrisburg PA were handing out samples of their wonderful Mozzarella and Ricotta. The Caputos sell frozen curds so that you can make your own mozzarella at home!  We attended one class - and a fabulous producers' dinner - with them, and are still learning, but we are getting better!

I could go on, and I just may in subsequent posts, but as must be obvious, not only was the Fest great and entertaining and informative, but so are the Food Times we find ourselves living in right now.  What a joy to have all of these wonderful things happening in the food world - and how lucky are we to be living in such abundance.  Get to know the folks who farm, produce, raise and/or make your foods.  You'll be glad you did!

Happy Passover.  Happy Easter.  Happy Spring.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Winter's Toll: What We Lost

As we have been cleaning up the gardens and the planting and growing areas over the past week or so, the first things we had to deal with were the fatalities from the unusually brutal winter.  As locals know, the past few winters in the Philadelphia area have been very mild.  This one just past, along with nearly six feet of snow, presented us with temperatures that dropped and stayed down.  Most morning walks with the dogs were completed in single digit temperatures. Along with ourselves, our garden took a beating, that's for sure.

For me, the most painful aspect of that "beating" is the age and longevity of those plantings that are no longer part of our garden.

Our nearly 20 year old Delaware White Azalea is gone.  Also our big Rosemary plant - we called her, "Rose, Senior" based on the 20 some years she was with us - is gone.  A tall, potted evergreen that came to us a number of years ago as a tiny Christmas plant did not make it. The big sage plant that was already in the ground when we bought the house over 18 years ago and was moved to our then new Herb Garden was merely a clump of dead wood when the snow finally melted away.  

It's not all doom and gloom of course.  Our bulbs are happily pushing through. Our garlic chives - toughest plants ever - are back and growing like mad already. Every morning there are more seedlings poking through all over the place. The sorrel making a comeback and the cole crops and early things that we planted in the cold frame are doing fine.

What I think speaks to the soul of us who "play in the dirt" is how attached to those lost plants it seems that I was.  This is reflected most clearly by the fact that I've yet to remove any of those that didn't make it through the Winter of 2014.  I know I have to - they're dead, I need the pots or planting areas, and they look pretty bad, being dead and all. And yet I continue to find reasons to do other things and leave the dearly departed where they, well, departed.

I'll deal with them, just not yet.  I need a little bit more time.

Quick Recipe Tip

Parsnip Chips

These are delicious by themselves and wonderful with hummus and other dips.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Wash, peel, and slice a parsnip into thin - very thin if you like - slices.  In a bowl, mix together grapeseed or any other neutral oil, some granulated garlic, a bit of smoked hot paprika and kosher salt. Toss the slices in this mixture until well coated and spread them out on a cookie sheet in a single layer.  

Keep an eye on them.  They should be crispy after 8 - 10 minutes.  

When you take them out of the oven, let them sit for a minute of two before serving. 

Good and good for you!  Enjoy.