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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

‘Tis the Season

'Tis the season to be grateful, or so I'm reminding myself on a daily basis. I have wanted to write about the ridiculousness of the holiday "gift" season; how the incessant emails and ads, radio spots and come-on pleas to shop, Shop, SHOP are curbing any desire I had to spend, Spend, SPEND. In years past, when I've had far less tuppance to spend, I would feel badly that I couldn't buy what I wanted or give the kind of gifts that I wanted to give. In the more flush years, I've over-spent, buying gifts and trinkets for people that frankly, I'm not sure anyone needed or wanted. Does anyone really remember the gifts they received last year or from 10 years ago? Do you even know where they are if indeed, you still have any of those things? Probably not. The American push to "help" the economy by shopping seems so out of line with values that we should be practicing. I know that spending money helps to keep the wheels of commerce moving, keeps shops open and people gainfully employed. However, it does seem as though "value" has become a thing of Christmas past. Inexpensive goods, non-stop discounts and cyber-Monday specials have cheapened our ideas of retail value. Its' also cheapened the true spirit of giving. It's easy to say we should be grateful for what we have, for the people in our lives, for the homes in which we live and the clothes on our backs. Many of us have more than we will ever truly need. It's far more difficult to put our gratitude into practice. Think about it for a minute and allow yourself to be grateful. Hard to do, isn't it?

Yesterday, I was out and about during my lunch break, running a few errands and taking photos along the way. I was in a good mood, having just found a cool new cache of street art. As I debated about price checking on a gift for a friend, I decided to head into the busy shopping area of Walnut Street. I crossed the street, in between stopped traffic and got hit by a car. Long story short, I couldn't quite scoot out of the car's way; I took a hit to the lower right calf, and was bumped up into the air and landed on my ass. It looked as though I did one of those classic slipped-on a-banana-peel-pratfalls. I was embarrassed and shaken up, bruised and sore, but over-all okay. Witnesses stepped forward and the police were called, but they never showed up. After about 15 or 20 minutes, the driver said he, "had to leave". I was too shook up to know what to do other than to take his basic info. I limped slowly back to my office and called it a day. I am very grateful that I wasn't seriously hurt and am eternally grateful that all that happened is that I am sore today. Having been in a few bicycle accidents, I know all too well how it feels to be hit by a car and have more serious injuries. After I picked myself up and settled down, my first thought was how much I hate the holidays, specifically the shopping and the rushing around. It's not the holidays I hate, it's the commercial guilt that pushes us to feel as though we are less than if we aren't buying and giving things to each other. I have no real injury. No "thing" was broken, not my camera or phone, or any other object I had with me. If ever doubted the presence of Guardian Angels, they just announced themselves to me. Either I have a minyan of angels who lifted me out of harm's way, or I truly am a cat with the proverbial nine lives. I may be working on life number 7 by now. For this I AM Grateful.
I could write several volumes about the bad holidays of my life, the years when my mother would go on one of her infamous tears and throw the Christmas tree or the presents out into the street, or refuse to put up any decorations at all. The times I was thrown out of the house or hit or just so verbally abused that I couldn't bear another moment at home. I spent most of my 17 years at home having to listen to her incessant whining about being alone. "Alone again, Naturally" was my mother's favorite refrain and theme song. No gift was enough, no meal was grand enough, no man was ever in her life long enough to make her happy. She found little on which to be grateful. Consequently, I grew up despising this time of year. Once I got away from the hell of my childhood, I carried this burden of holiday hatred for many years. The lean years brought me some gratitude's though. I had wonderful friends who took me into their homes and families and helped me to develop my own holiday traditions. Some of the best Christmas's of my past were the ones that weren't about the gifts; it was about the company, the meals and the fun things we did. Sitting around the dinner table wearing paper Christmas "cracker" crowns; watching one of the many versions of Charles Dickens Christmas Carol; eating at Hymies Deli for brunch, having Chinese food for dinner and taking a trip to the movies on Christmas day. Or my new tradition with Liz - our Christmas Eve marathon services at church, starting with the children's pageant; lasagna dinner with our "church family" then the 9 pm and 11 o'clock services. We make it home by 1 am, have a snack, open some gifts and start watching the 24 hour showings of A Christmas Story on TBS. Christmas day we usually spend at home, just the two of us, though now with Nate, I guess we'll have a bit more to add to our day of traditions.
I am grateful that my family's Christmas is not about the gifts or spending money (that a lot of us don't have) or fulfilling obligations that are burdens instead of joys. I am grateful that I have a loving extended family, a clear sense of self and purpose and I am grateful that I am alive. No email blast, circular special or Old Navy discount can give you this kind of peace of mind.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Food Finds: Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce

I know, a blog post about Worcestershire sauce is not really a hot happening topic nor is it an griping recipe tale and it's certainly not a new food find.  I haven't plumbed the depths of the culinary world to bring back some rare and exotic animal/vegetable/mineral or exlir that will change your life or turn your taste buds inside out.  Well maybe it will turn on your taste buds  and cause you such joy and delight that everyone at the dining table will look that much more attractive and your meals will be just a tad more delicious.  There are few condiments so perfect that any competition can barely reach the level of greatness that these products have achieved.  Heinz Ketchup,  Grey Poupon Dijon Mustard and Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce(s) are but a few that come to mind.  And in order of full disclosure here, yes, I did receive a few bottles of this magical food transforming sauce from Food Buzz, my blog advertiser, but I'd pay them or the Lea & Perrins folks to use this great product.  

When it comes to recipe uses, I prefer to keep it simple.  An add-in to meatloaf instead of salt; a few dashes in hamburger ground meat along with a few grinds of black pepper and a pinch of kosher salt and nothing else; or my two favorite ways - the Chicken Marinade over boneless chicken breasts baked in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes.  Serve over rice with a green vegetable on the side.  Or my other favorite chicken dish - Chicken That Tastes Like Steak: thin sliced chicken breasts, marinated in the Original Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce, along with freshly ground black pepper.  Pan sear the chicken in a stainless steel or cast iron skillet with some vegetable or canola oil.  Deglaze the pan with more Worcestershire sauce and saute some garlic and onions until the sauce reduces and the onions and garlic caramelizes.  It's a bit messy, so use a spatter shield if you have one, but the mess is worth it as the chicken will be really tasty. By the way, the sauce would also work great with tofu, prepared the same way or baked in the oven for 45 minutes until the tofu is firm and crispy.

Should any of my loyal readers care to share some recipes or recipe ideas with me, please post a comment on my blog.  I have extra sauces to share and would love to send a bottle your way.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Healthy & Tasty Pumpkin Pie

No secret that I LOVE PUMPKIN, so naturally, I ADORE Pumpkin Pie and all of it's fatty custard 500 plus calories slices.  I usually don't make a pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving, preferring instead to find a delicious pie from one of the many bakeries and purveyors around my neighborhood.  During the heady days of my fat past, I didn't think twice, but instead took two slices of pumpkin pie, not caring a whit about calories or fat grams.  And then a funny thing happened, I started to care and read ingredient and stat labels, only to discover that even a Philadelphia Thanksgiving staple, my beloved Taskykake Pumpkin Pie has 300 calories and over 10 grams of fat per pie!  Eekghads!  For the past several years I've been either going crustless; using phyllo dough without butter; making the custard with less sugar and fat free condensed milk; or just giving in to the goodness that is pumpkin pie.  Then I found a recipe that I knew would be a winner - full of fiber, low fat, low sugar, loaded with good for you antioxidants.  Hardly a thing to be tweaked in this recipe (but still I found a way to make it my own).  If you haven't bought a Mrs. Smiths or an Entennmen's or Marie Callander's pie yet, and you want to make one from scratch while still keeping your diet dignity, here's the pie recipe to serve with pride.  You can find the original recipe at this link here, or you can try my version, which is not quite as virtuous or bland.

Healthy & Tasty Pumpkin Pie Ingredients:
For Crust:

  • 1 Sleeve (about 22) Gingersnap cookies
  • 2 Tablespoons Toasted Pumpkin Seeds
  • 1 Tablespoon Pumpkin Pie Seasoning (or a combination of ground ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamon)
  • 1/4 Cup (or one individual container) of Unsweetened Applesauce
  • Cooking Spray
  • 9- inch Deep Dish Pie Pan

For Filling:

  • 1 (15 ounce) Can Pure Pumpkin Puree
  • 1 (12 ounce) Can Non-Fat Evaporated Milk
  • 1/4 Cup Pure Maple Syrup
  • 1 Tablespoon Pure Vanilla Extract
  • 2 Tablespoons Pumpkin Pie Seasoning
  • Pinch of Salt
  • 2 Large Eggs - lightly beaten


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Spray a 9-inch pie plate with cooking spray to thoroughly coat, set aside. 
  3. In the work bowl of a food processor, pulse the gingersnap cookies until they remember coarse meal or sand.  Add in the toasted pumpkin seeds and pumpkin pie seasoning and pulse 2 or 3 times to combine, then add in the applesauce and pulse 3 more times, or just until the cookie crumbs stick together.
  4. Press the cookie crumb mixture into the prepared pie plate and push up the sides of the plate.  Smooth out the bottom of the pie crust with the flat bottom of a metal one-cup measuring cup.  Bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until the crust is just set.  Remove from oven and cool slightly.
  5. Meanwhile, while the crust is setting up, make the pie filling.  In a large mixing bowl, combine the pumpkin puree, non-fat evaporated milk, maple syrup, vanilla extract, pumpkin pie seasoning and salt.  Whisk to thoroughly combine.  Taste and adjust seasonings, adding more vanilla extract, pumpkin pie seasoning or an extra tablespoon of maple syrup if desired.  
  6. Once the filling is seasoned to taste, whisk in the eggs, then pour the mixture into the pie shell, just until the filling comes to the top of the pie plate.  
  7. Place the pie plate onto a sheet pan and place it into the oven; bake for 30 minutes, then carefully rotate the pie and bake for an additional 15 to 25 minutes, or until the pumpkin filling (custard) has set.  A knife inserted into the middle of the pie should come out clean.  Cool on a rack for 30 minutes, then refrigerate until ready to serve.  Pie can be made up to 2 days in advance, and will hold for 5 days, covered and refrigerated. 
  8. If there is any extra filling that did not fit into the crust, pour it into an oven safe baking dish or ramekin and bake it off as a crustless pumpkin pie or pumpkin custard pudding; bake the extra filling for 10 to 15 minutes or until it's set.
  9. Serve with whipped cream, or as I like it, with my Apple Orange Ginger Cranberry Sauce. Makes 10 servings, with less than 200 calories per serving, and 4 grams of fat.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Poppy - A Veterans Day Tale about my Grandfather

This is one of my family stories about my grandfather, Pete "Poppy" Constantino, the only grandfather I  ever knew.  He was my mother's father, and he lived until I was 11 and 1/2 years old, passing on November 18, 1978.  Both my father, Paul and his father, Joseph, had died already; my grandfather Joe before I was born; my dad by the time I was 6 years old.  Poppy was the only male relative I had in my formative years that actually had a positive influence on my life.  His existence, love and care made all the difference to me in that short eleven year span of my life.   Unfortunately, I didn't get to spend enough time with him, not so much because he died when both he and I were young, but because my mother and he didn't get along, so she kept me from seeing him often enough.  

This photo is of Poppy and his second wife, Faye, my step-grandmother, at my christening.  I'm guessing this was about a month after I was born, in April of 1967.  I love the way my grandparents look so happy and dapper.  Poppy's suit is pure 1960's "Mad-Men"esque.  I bet that even though it was a dark suit, it had a sharkskin sheen to it.  I'm digging on the skinny tie and narrow lapels.  Faye's outfit would definitely be something I'd wear today, hounds tooth, basic black and a lot of fabulous pearls.  Poppy and Faye were married in 1954 or 55.  They met at a tailor's shop in a clothing manufacturing factory.  Faye was a seamstress and I think Poppy was a runner or helper.  The story I heard about how they met and courted is that they both took a shine to one another and Faye would bring him lunch, winning him over the proverbial way, winning his love by feeding him - peppers and egg sandwiches, chicken cutlets and eggplant parmigiana.  As Faye recently told me, she was already 35, old for those days, and her father was worried that she'd end up an old maid.  He had separated from my grandmother, Lucille, as she was still being called then.  My mother was about 4 or 5 when they met.  Depending on who's version of the story, Faye either stole Poppy from his marriage, or Poppy was saved from a horrible marriage with a she-devil.  I like the later story - it feels more true to me!

Poppy was a handsome, funny and debonair yet naive man.  Born in South Philly, he was one of about 12 or 13 kids, from a poor Italian-immigrant family.  He served in the Army during World War 2.  The stories I heard about his war years were that he went to Europe and served during some fierce battles, combating frost bite, fire and liberation of camps.  He got severe frost bite on his feet, which affected him during the last years of his life.  His face was burned at some point during the war and he was sent to a French Hospital for recovery.  Apparently the French doctor tried some experimental technique whereby he peeled the layers of skin that were burned off of Poppy's face each day, allowing new skin to regenerate and no scabs to form. Whatever this technique was, it worked.  My grandfather had gorgeous skin, with no scars, blemishes or wrinkles even up to his last dying days. 

As for his combat battle, I remember that Faye would say that he would tell tales about helping to bring people out of the camps - carrying people who were no more alive than skeletons.  The horrors he probably witnessed could mirror some of the tales in Band of Brothers.  Poppy brought home his Army footlocker.  As a teenager, when I discovered it, he had kept war mementos, German and Nazi propaganda, flags and arm bands; an old and unused German Diary; photos; and his medals, one of which was a Purple Heart.   Faye has always said that she thinks that his injuries and war wounds were directly attributable to his health problems throughout his life.  Though my grandfather suffered from Diabetes and had a heart condition, she's convinced that some of his health problems started during the war, though it could never be proven.
My grandfather was a dapper dresser, up until his last days.  He was buried in a suit, with his favorite polka dot tie and a pocket square.  His hair was combed in his best Tony Curtis pompadour with a comb was tucked into his pocket.  Poppy was never without a smile, a joke and a good story.  He also was forever trying to work out some con or scam, nothing too bad or mob-like, just some low-level South Philly hijinks.   Whenever anyone remembers Poppy, the first thing they say was what a great sense of humor he had, and that he was always getting taken when he was the one who was trying to do the taking!  Poor Faye, she was forever taking care of him, doting on him, cooking, cleaning and in general, just loving him.  I'm sure that the appeal of him when they first met was that he seemed worldly.  After she realized he wasn't, I bet he won her over with his good looks and charm.  She said they had a great time together, in spite of his illnesses, my crazy mother, her even crazier mother, (my maternal grandmother Lucille/Lucia) and the fact that they themselves could not have children together.  They dined out well, had many friends and family and they traveled extensively. There were trips to California, Florida, Las Vegas, and to the Jersey Shore.  When the casinos came to Atlantic City, Poppy's last summer was spent at Resorts Casino.  He loved to gamble.  I'm not sure if he was a good gambler, but I'm guessing he did okay at the tables, otherwise I don't think they would have gone back so often.  
Christmas, 1973.  I was in Catholic School, at St. Eugene's in Aldan, PA.  For the school pageant that year, we had a Christmas play where all the children in 1st grade were to play kids from different parts of the world.  I was a French girl.  I think we were to visit the Baby Jesus.  About this part I'm fuzzy, but what I do remember is that I wore Poppy's French Beret that he brought home from France.  After the play was over, Santa came and brought presents to all the kids and I was given this little doll.

During my three years attendance at St. Eugene's, Poppy would show up before or after school to either take me to school or bring me home.  I specifically remember during the Autumn time change, that Poppy  drove to my bus stop in the mornings on several occasions, to make sure I was getting to the bus stop safely since it was still dark out in the morning.  I must have been about 7 years old, fiercely independent, and I was adamant that he not show up to embarrass me.  Yikes! The only family member I had who even cared that I was safe, and I was chasing him away!  Ah, the idiocy of a seven-year old.

I'm guessing I'm about 7 or 8 in this photo.  Poppy is still chunky, he hadn't gotten that sick yet that he was thin and frail and his hair was still thick and dark.  He had by this point in life, had several heart attacks.  I remember finding bottles and small nitroglycerin tablets all around the house.  He might not have been able to run around with me, but he could take me for a drive, take me to a store, buy me a toy and in general just be a doting grandfather.  Check out this late 1960's "Parlor" furniture.  I'm surprised there weren't plastic slip covers on all the chairs and couches.  This set of furniture, a sofa, two side chairs, end tables, smokey mirrored coffee tables and the dancing lady with grapes lamps are classic Italian decor.  The large photo in the background behind the couch had working lights that made it a three-dimensional image, with water moving and beads of oil pouring down thin filaments.  High style in decor and fashions!
This last photo may have been taken during Poppy's last year of life.  This was the time when he and my mother were not on speaking terms at all.  He didn't agree with her on how she was living her life and she didn't want his interference or judgement.  Both were stubborn and both were wrong, though I think now as an adult, my mother was completely wrong.  She kept me from seeing my grandparents, being spiteful to them and me and doing no one any good.  At 11 years of age, I was even more independent and my own person.  We had moved to Southwest Philly, and lived about a mile or two near my grandparent's house.  In order to see Poppy and Faye, I would walk up to the Shop-n-Bag supermarket, call them from the pay phone; then they would drive over to pick me up and take me to their house.  We did this several times, and it mostly worked.  I got to spend some time with my grandparents and Poppy got a chance to dote on me, from at this point in his life, his hospital bed or wheel chair.  

During the last year of his life, he developed gangrene in his foot and leg and was confined to a wheelchair for his mobility.  He could not walk far without the aid of a helper and a cane and he couldn't take the stairs to get to his bedroom.  Faye took such great care of him all throughout their marriage but especially in those last years.  She bathed him, tended his wounds and took care of the foot problem as best as she could.  He was so sick and weak that final year but he still had his wits and his gambler's streak in him.  That final summer, Faye rented a small motel room in Atlantic City, in a spot that is now the Tropicana Casino.  She'd drive up to Philly once every few weeks so Poppy could go to the doctor's and then back down the shore they'd go.  He loved being on the boardwalk, seeing the ocean, taking in the sights and people and hitting the slots at Resorts.  

While my final memories of Poppy are sad, I am glad that I had this 11-going-on-40 attitude of independence.  Not only did I sneak out of the house to go visit my grandparents, but I also would sneak into his hospital room to see him during his dying days.  In 1978, children were not permitted to visit on certain floors in hospitals.  I would go up the stair case, and sneak onto the cardiac or intensive care units.  I saw my grandfather the day he had surgery to remove his bad leg, which was either days or hours before he died.  My final memory is of telling him I loved him.  I'm sure I was scared but  I knew enough to know this was an important thing to do, and I wanted to see him.  I have no regrets on my behavior, but I do regret that my mother's behavior was so selfish that she denied all of us a chance to be a family.  

Earlier today, on this Veteran's day, I heard bag pipes playing and saw military men and several old Veterans at a war memorial in my neighborhood.  They were honoring the fallen heroes of the neighborhood.  This wasn't the first time I've seen a Veteran's Day tribute, but this was the first time I actually thought about my grandfather and his war experiences, both in World War 2 and in his life.  May God bless you and keep you, and thank you for having served your country and for being my Poppy.  

Monday, November 8, 2010

Coffee Tawk - Food & Beverage Finds

One of the wonderful perks of having an advertising sponsor on my blog (aside from having some extra traffic and eyes stopping by to read my writings) is the occasional freebies I receive from Food Buzz.  I received three Four-Packs of Illy Iced Coffee Drinks - Cappuccino, Latte Macchiato and Caffe Espresso.   I've been meaning to write about these coffee drinks for over a month and what with getting so caught up with my pumpkin recipe postings and my hectic life in general, somehow I just never got around to drinking, recipe writing and blogging about the Illy Coffee.  I'm a fan of their coffees and espresso machines, so I was really excited about receiving the coffee drinks.  I hoped to create some recipes, such as using the Illy Caffe - Italian Espresso Style Coffee Drink in a cocktail.  I still could and so could you, here are a few recipe ideas:

Illy Caffe Espresso Martini:
Use one can to make ice cubes.  Chill a second can for several hours.  Pour the Caffe into a shaker with the espresso ice cubes, add two shots of a good quality vodka and a shot of Kahula or Tia Maria, Godiva or other Coffee/Mocha/Chocolate Flavored Liqueur; shake, strain into a martini glass and top with 3 chocolate covered espresso beans and voila! An Illy Caffe Cocktail.

Or there's the Illy Cappuccino Pumpkin Frapaccino:
Use one can to make ice cubes.  Freeze pumpkin puree in the compartments of an ice cube tray. Chill a two or three cans of Illy Cappuccino for several hours.   Add to a blender, 5 frozen cappuccino ice cubes, 3 frozen pumpkin puree ice cubes, a can of chilled Illy Cappuccino and a 1/4 cup scoop of vanilla ice cream.  Cover blender tightly and hold the lid down.  Blend until the mixture is frothy and thoroughly blended.  Pour into a tall glass, add an straw and top with a sprinkle of pumpkin pie spice.

Or - Use one of the Illy Coffee Drinks as the liquid in a chocolate cake or brownie recipe.  If making a cake or brownies from scratch, I'd cut the sugar back by 1/4 of a cup, but the liquid I would use ounce for ounce.

As for drinking the Illy coffee drinks straight up well chilled - in the summer, they'd be great. Perfect for me to take out for my early morning summer rides.  The would be especially convenient for those 6 am hot summer mornings when I didn't have time to make a cup of coffee or have enough time to drink a shot of hot coffee or espresso.  For my personal taste, these are on the sweet side. I tend to drink my coffee with no sugar and only heated skim milk (heating the milk brings out the natural lactose sugars.)  I gave up cream and sugar in my coffee several years ago, so these drinks remind me of days of old when I was a heavy on the creamer and add two heaping teaspoons of sugar in my coffee-drinker.  A friend used to say I was drinking hot coffee ice-cream!  Calorie wise, these drinks are within reason.  The espresso has only 50 calories and 10 grams of sugar for 6.8 ounces.  The Latte macchiato has 110 calories, a whopping 17 grams of sugar in 8.45 ounces.  The Cappuccino is 8.45 ounces and has 100 calories and 18 grams of sugar.  Way too much for me on a daily or regular basis.  As a once in while treat, not so bad.  Just look for me up on the ceiling or climbing the walls from the excess sugar and caffeine.  

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Penne with Pumpkin Ricotta Sauce

If you are going to add pumpkin to a recipe I think that it has to make sense, serve a purpose and work well with the entire dish.  As I've written over this past month, there are lots of ways to use pumpkin in cooking, many of which enhance baked goods, lower the fat, add fiber and vegetables and stretch ingredients.  I could also write recipes to toss in the old pumpkin just because you could; adding it to tomato sauce (check!); adding it to soups and stews (check, check) and adding it to your morning hot cereal (um, yep did that too).  I've been mulling a few ideas that I haven't gotten around to making, pumpkin biscotti; pumpkin vegan pudding, using tofu; pumpkin frappaccinos (I'm in the process of making that as I write this, waiting on the coffee mixture to freeze before blending).  Anyway, today's recipe is yet another variation on a theme of mine.  Partly inspired by a Martha Stewart idea, and very much a work in progress that I've been varying over the years.  It is a healthy version of Fettucine Alfredo, lightened up.  While I would have loved to eat a big heaping plate of Pumpkin and Alfredo sauce, but it's no longer a part of my diet, too much cream, fat, butter.  I might as well od on Lipitor before I finished the plate.  Consider this more of  HUNGRY GIRL DECEPTIVELY DELICIOUS recipe with no faux ingredients and somewhat child friendly, provided you don't have too picky of an eater.  Rigatoni pasta would work well too, and feel free to use part-skim ricotta cheese if you cannot find/or don't like non-fat ricotta cheese.

Penne with Pumpkin and Ricotta Sauce Ingredients:
  • 1 Pound Whole Wheat Penne
  • 1 Cup Frozen Peas 
  • 1 Cup Frozen Chopped Spinach - defrosted and drained of excess liquid
  • 1/4 Cup Olive Oil
  • 1 Small/Medium Onion - small dice (about 1/2 cup total)
  • 3 or 4 Garlic Cloves - minced
  • 3 Fresh Sage Leaves - chopped
  • 3  FreshThyme Sprigs - stems removed (or use 1 tablespoon dried thyme)
  • 1/2 Cup Dry White Wine (like a Chardonnay)
  • 1 Cup Non-Fat Ricotta
  • 1 Cup Pumpkin Puree
  • Dash Freshly Grated Nutmeg
  • Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper - to taste
  • 2 Tablespoons Fresh Goat Cheese - crumbled, for garnish
  1. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. When it reaches a boil, add in two tablespoons of salt before adding the pasta to the water. Cook the pasta until al dente, according to the package directions. One minute before the pasta is done, add in the frozen peas to defrost and cook through. 
  2. Before draining the pasta, reserve 2 cups of the pasta cooking water. Drain the pasta and peas and keep warm in the pasta pot; toss in the defrosted/drained chopped spinach.
  3. In large saute pan, heat the quarter cup of olive oil medium-high heat until the oil begins to shimmer.  Add in the onions and garlic and saute for 5 minutes or until the onions and garlic begin to to caramelize. Add in the Sage and Thyme and saute for 1 minute.
  4. Next, add the white wine to the saute pan, raise heat to high and reduce the wine down until only a few tablespoons remain, about 5 minutes.
  5. In a medium bowl, mix together the ricotta cheese and pumpkin puree. Season to taste with salt, freshly ground pepper and a few dashes of freshly grated nutmeg. Thin the mixture starting with 1/4 cup of the reserved pasta cooking water. If the ricotta and pumpkin mixture is too thick, thin it further with the addition of the pasta cooking water. Pour this mixture over the the pasta, peas and spinach, gently mixing to incorporate the ricotta mixture.
  6. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper. Serve with a garnish of crumbled goat cheese.  Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Pumpkin Cornbread Muffins

After that devastating Phillies loss of game six in the Pennant race last night, I think a bit of comfort food is in order.  Continuing on with my pumpkin recipes I'm sharing an oldie but a goodie, another terrific and unexpected use of pumpkin in baked goods.  I'm still working on some other pumpkin in savory food recipes but for tonight, enjoy this cornbread recipe and make a batch to have with my vegetarian pumpkin chili or to have with your morning pumpkin spice latte or coffee.  This recipe works well for a crowd - you can double, triple or quadruple it as needed.  I tripled the recipe and made 3 trays of mini muffins for Nate's birthday party last week, and had enough to make my Halloween shaped muffin cakes that were about the size of giant muffins.  Larger muffins take longer to bake so increase the baking time and keep your eye on the pans, rotating them every 15 minutes. 

Pumpkin Cornbread Ingredients:
  • 1 Large Egg
  • 1 Cup Milk (your choice on full, low or non-fat)
  • 1/2 Cup (1 Stick) Unsalted Butter - melted and cooled
  • 1 Cup Pure Pumpkin Puree
  • 1 & 1/4 Cups Yellow or White Cornmeal
  • 1 Cup All-Purpose or Whole Wheat Flour
  • 1/4 Cup Sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon Pumpkin Pie Spice
  • 1 Tablespoon Baking Powder
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Salt

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Grease, spray or line with cupcake liners a 12 portion regular sized muffin tin.  If using a baking pan, 8-inch square or 9-inch round, spray or grease it.  Set aside
  2. In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs with the milk, melted and cooled butter and the pumpkin puree. 
  3. In another bowl, sift together the cornmeal, flower, sugar, pumpkin pie spice, baking powder and salt.  
  4. Fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until the cornmeal mixture is just mixed through; the batter should be a bit lumpy.
  5. Pour the batter into the prepared muffin tins or pan.  For muffins, bake 15 minutes, rotate pan and bake for another 5 to 8 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the center of a cornbread muffin comes out clean with no wet batter clinging to it.  If baking in a pan, bake for 20 minutes, rotate pan and bake an additional 5 to 8 minutes, again until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean.
  6. Allow to cool in the pan for 5 minutes then turn out.  Cool enough to handle before cutting to prevent the  cornbread from falling apart.
  7. Makes 1 dozen muffins or 1 pan, serves up to 12.
  8. To reheat, cut the cornbread in half, butter each side and either toast in a skillet or in a toaster oven until crisped and browned - TASTY!  Extremely good with honey, or pumpkin maple syrup.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Curried Cauliflower w/ Cecci, and Tomato Pumpkin Sauce


The use of pumpkin is not limited to baked goods or breakfast meals.  I find the paring of vegetables, tomatoes and pumpkin to be a natural fit.  Sometime ago I made a Cauliflower, Chick Pea and Pumpkin Pesto dish that was extremely satisfying and vaguely Indian in flavor.  This time around I've made low-fat full-on Indian-inspired vegetarian/vegan side dish.  Pumpkin seeds add a bit of texture contrast to the dish.  You can substitute almonds or cashews, but using the pumpkin seeds keeps the "theme" alive.  To toast shelled pumpkin seeds - I use a microwave safe plate, microwaving them for 45 seconds to 1 minute, or just until they begin to smell nutty and fragrant.  To add in even more vegetables and make the dish even more interesting, you can also add in fresh or frozen spinach.  It may be easier to use frozen chopped spinach - add it in after the dish is almost done, and cook for an additional 10 minutes to thaw the spinach. Stir to incorporate and top with the pumpkin seeds or chopped toasted nuts.

Curried Cauliflower with Chick Peas, Tomato and Pumpkin Ingredients:
  • 1 Large Head Cauliflower - cut into small florets
  • 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil, Canola or Vegetable Oil
  • 1 Small Onion (about 1 cup) - small dice
  • 3 Garlic Cloves - minced (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 1 Can Chick Peas/Garbanzo/Ceci Beans (14-16 ounces) - drained and rinsed
  • 2 Heaping Tablespoons Curry Powder - or more to taste
  • 2 Cups Tomato Sauce (or a 14-16 ounce can)
  • 1 Cup Pumpkin Puree
  • Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper - to taste
  • 1 Cup Frozen Chopped Spinach - optional
  • 1/4 Cup Pumpkin Seeds - toasted, optional or use nuts of choice
  1. Cook or steam the cauliflower florets in a large saute pan with about 2/3 cup water, until the cauliflower is fork tender and the water has evaporated, about 15 minutes.  When the cauliflower is cooked through, turn the heat to medium and add the oil to the pan and saute the florets until they begin to take on some color, 5 minutes.  Alternatively, you can roast the cauliflower florets until they are caramelized - 45 to 60 minutes. Continue on with the recipe as directed.
  2. Add the diced onion and sauté for 5 minutes then add in the minced garlic to the pan and sauté  another minute.  Add in the curry powder and saute for 30 seconds, to bloom the curry powder flavor.
  3. In a bowl, whisk together the tomato sauce and the pumpkin puree, set aside.
  4. Add the chick peas to the saute pan and cook with the cauliflower florets until the chick peas are warmed through, about 2 minutes.
  5. Pour the tomato sauce mixture into the saute pan and stir to combine with the cauliflower and chick peas.  Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Heat the mixture just until it begins to bubble/boil, reduce and simmer for 10 minutes.  If using the chopped frozen spinach, add it in now and cook through to thaw and incorporate. When the spinach is cooked, remove from heat.  Top with the toasted pumpkin seeds and serve hot immediately.
  6. Serves 4-6 as a side dish.  Serve over couscous or brown rice.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Pumpkin Multigrain Hot Cereal

Here's an idea more than a recipe per se.  Of the many, MANY pumpkin uses and ideas that I have, the easiest one is to simply add it to a hot multi grain cereal.  It's Weight Watcher sanctioned and just a darn good use of that big ole can of Libby's.  You get a healthy extra high fiber dose of a vegetable in your morning hot bowl of wholesome goodness and even better, you get twice the amount of porridge; the pumpkin adds volume without fat or bad for you calories.  And that's no bowl of curds and whey!  If Miss Muffett were eating this for breakfast that bad morning spider would have never sat down beside her causes she'd have enough to share!  This one is also good for the kiddies - My little Nibblet will be enjoying this for his first birthday big boy brunch!

Hot Cereal Ingredients/Ideas
Use one dry cup of the following or your favorite hot cooked breakfast mush:

  • Slow Cooking Oats
  • Multi grain Cereal (such as Bob's Red Mill 7 Grain)
  • Quick Cooking Oats
  • Cream of Rice or Wheat
  • Wheatina
  • 1 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1/2 Tablespoon Pure Vanilla Extract
  • 1 Cup Pure Pumpkin Puree
  • 1 Tablespoon Cinnamon or Pumpkin Pie Spice Blend
  • 1 Tablespoon Butter or Light Butter (optional)
  • 1/2 Cup Milk - heated 
  • Maple Syrup or Sweetener of Choice - to taste


  1. Cook the hot cereal according to package directions, adding the teaspoon of salt and the vanilla extract to the cooking water, then add in the dry grains.  
  2. Once the cereal is cooked stir in the pumpkin puree, cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice and butter, folding to incorporate and combine.  
  3. Serve hot with heated milk and maple syrup.
  4. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Pumpkin Pancakes with Pumpkin Maple Syrup

And now for another installment of how to use pumpkin in every day cookery.  Pumpkin pancakes - homemade with real maple syrup and pumpkin puree.  It's a little bit of breakfast/brunch Autumnal Heaven topped off with what tastes like liquid pumpkin pie.  This is a must-make meal; easy, surprisingly light, healthy and oh, amazingly delicious.  The pancakes were made by using a squeeze bottle with a narrow tip opening.  I drew the outline of the pumpkin shape, stem and the body, then filled in the body using curved "stripes."  For jack o'lantern style, I drew the triangle eyes and nose and then the wavy mouth; next I drew the pumpkin outline around the face and filled in the body last.  No need to buy any pumpkin or Halloween shaped pancake molds. Save your money and spend it on a good quality real maple syrup.  This recipe makes a lot of pancakes - enough for 4 hungry people.  Feel free to cut it back by 1/3rd or by half.   This recipe is the lighter healthier version, I substituted whole wheat flour for most of the all-purpose; switched skim for the whole or 2% milk; took out the butter in the batter; the pumpkin adds a "secret" vegetable and additional fiber to the mix!

Pumpkin Pancake Ingredients:

  • 2 Cups Whole Wheat Flour
  • 1 Cup All-Purpose Flour
  • 2 Tablespoons Baking Powder
  • 1 Teaspoon Salt
  • 2 Tablespoons Pumpkin Pie Spice Mix or Cinnamon
  • 2 Tablespoons Sugar
  • 2 Eggs - Lightly beaten
  • 2 Teaspoons Pure Vanilla Extract
  • 2 Cups Milk (I used skim, but whole, 2% or 1% is fine too)
  • 1 Cup Pure Pumpkin Puree
  • Butter or Spray for griddle pan


  1. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together all the dry ingredients, flours through the sugar, set aside.
  2. In another mixing bowl, whisk  together the eggs, vanilla, milk and pumpkin puree until the mixture is thoroughly combined and smooth.  Pour the liquid mixture into the flour mixture and fold/whisk to combine, stirring until no large lumps appear.  There should be a few small lumps, so don't over whisk the mixture.  Set aside and allow to sit for 20 minutes or cover and refrigerate overnight.  If mixture appears to be too thick and won't pour off of a ladle or spoon easily, thin it with additional milk.
  3. Preheat griddle pan over medium heat; spray with cooking spray or coat with butter.  Test a bit of batter to see if the griddle is hot enough.  When griddle is hot, pour batter onto it and wait until bubbles appear all over the surface of the pancakes then flip the pancakes over to cook the other side.  If using a squeeze bottle, draw the desired shape and fill in the center of the pancake body last.   Continue cooking as directed, until all the pancake batter is used.
  4. Serve hot, immediately with syrup or topping of choice.  Batter will hold for 2 days in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator.  Cooked and covered pancakes will hold for up to 4 days in the refrigerator, or you can freeze them between layers of plastic wrap, parchment or waxed paper, placed into a freezer bag or food storage container.  To reheat, microwave pancakes in a single layer for 45 to 55 seconds.  For frozen pancakes, heat in a microwave for up to two minutes, in 30 second intervals.  Makes approximately 24 to 30 four to five inch sized pancakes.  
Pumpkin Maple Syrup Ingredients:
  • 1/2 Cup Pure Maple Syrup
  • 1 Teaspoon Pure Vanilla Extract
  • 1/2 Cup Pure Pumpkin Pure
  • 2 Tablespoons Light Butter or Margarine
  • 1 Tablespoon Pumpkin Pie Spice
  • Pinch of Salt

  1. Combine all the ingredients together into a heat-safe or microwave-safe bowl.  Whisk together until the ingredients are smooth.  Heat mixture for 2 minutes in a microwave or in a sauce pot just until just before the mixture comes to a boil.  Whisk again to combine.  Serve hot over pumpkin pancakes.  
  2. Makes 1 and 1/4 cup of sauce.  Will hold for 1 week in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator.  
  3. Heat before re-serving and to emulsify the butter and the pumpkin.   

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Chocolate Pumpkin Cupcakes with Pumpkin Cream cheese Frosting

Deceptively Delicious meets the Cake Doctor for an Autumnal Cupcake Extravaganza!  In other words, it's time for this week's pumpkin recipe, a real switcheroo to make a ho-hum box cake mix into a lip smacking, tasty healthier  treat (or at least a little bit less of a guilty pleasure.)  So easy even caveman could make this, provided that the cave man or woman has a working oven, kitchen tools and some rudimentary baking knowledge.  Faster than you can say YABBADABBADO you too can whip up these cupcakes and surprise your friends and family with a nearly fat-free dessert tonight.

Pumpkin Cup Cakes with Pumpkin Creamcheese Frosting Ingredients:

  • 1 Box Chocolate Cake Mix (preferably dark chocolate)
  • 1 Whole Egg & 2 Egg Whites - beaten
  • 1 Cup Pure Pumpkin Puree
  • 3/4 Cup Strong Brewed Coffee - cooled
  • 18 to 24 Cup cake liners
  • Cup Cake baking tray

For Frosting: 

  • 1/2 Package Low-fat Creamcheese - softened and brought to room temperature
  • 2 Tablespoons Pure Pumpkin Puree
  • 1 Tablespoon Butter - softened and brought to room temperature
  • 1 Cup Powdered (10x) Sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon Pumpkin Pie Spice
  • 1 Teaspoon Pure Vanilla Extract


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line cup cake tray with cupcake liners (batch will make about 18 cupcakes in total).
  2. Use a large mixing bowl and combine the chocolate cake mix with the eggs, pumpkin puree and brewed coffee (if the coffee is hot, allow it to cool before adding to the mix).  Whisk to combine and beat for 2 minutes either by hand or with a hand mixer on medium speed.  
  3. Use an ice cream scoop with a spring load mechanism to fill the cup cake liners with the batter; fill each cupcake tray 2/3rds full.  Place in oven and bake for 10 minutes then rotate the tray and bake for another 10 minutes.  Test the cupcakes with a skewer to see if they are done in the middle - no wet batter should stick to the skewer/tester only be a few moist crumbs should stick to it.
  4. Cool for 5 minutes in the cupcake tray before turning out to completely cool the cupcakes on a rack.  Add the remaining liners to the tray and fill with the remaining cake batter to bake off the rest of the batch.  
  5. While the cupcakes are baking and cooling, make the frosting by combing the softened creamcheese and butter until throughly blended.  Whisk in the pumpkin puree and the vanilla extract. 
  6. Next, fold in the pumpkin pie spice and the powdered sugar until the frosting is completely smooth and lump-free.  Chill the frosting to help it set up and become spreadable.
  7. Cupcakes can be frosted once they are completely cooled and the frosting has set up and thickened.  Makes at least 18 medium sized cupcakes. 

Friday, October 1, 2010

October is Pumpkin Month! Low-fat Pumpkin Bread Recipe

I'm starting off the month of October with a pumpkin recipe, one of my all-time favorite cooking ingredients.  I have been cooking extensively with pumpkin for several years. My hope is to revisit some older recipes and update them for healthier lighter eating as well as create several new recipes that highlight pumpkin as a main ingredient.  Occasionally I'll use pumpkin as a "toss-in" ingredient that can be included or not - such as when I add pumpkin to a pot of tomato sauce.  It can stretch a pot of sauce and adds body, texture and fiber, but little to no discernible taste.  As for today's recipe, it's a re-worked variation of my favorite go to banana bread recipe.   With a little tweaking, I've turned out a new muffin/loaf recipe into a super high fiber, low fat and extremely tasty any time treat.

Low-Fat Pumpkin Bread Ingredients:

  • 1 Cup Whole Wheat Flour
  • 1/2 Cup All-Purpose Flour
  • 1/2 Cup Wheat Germ, Flax Seed Flour or Finely Crushed Bran-flake Style Cereal
  • 1/2 Cup Quick Cook Oatmeal Flakes
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Baking Powder
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1 Tablespoon Pumpkin Pie Spice (or combination of Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Ginger & Allspice)
  • 1/2 Cup Packed Light or Dark Brown Sugar
  • 1/4 Cup Non-Fat Greek Style Plain Yogurt, or Regular Non-Fat Plain Yogurt, or Low-Fat Sour Cream
  • 1/4 Cup Unsweetened Applesauce (or use one small individually sized container)
  • 2 Large Eggs or 1 Whole Egg and 1 Egg White (it depends on what you want- or of course, you could use egg substitute liquid)
  • 1 Can Plain Pure Pumpkin Puree (about 14 to 16 ounces)
  • 1 Tablespoon Vanilla Extract
  • Optional add-ins: Walnuts or Pecans, Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips, Peanut butter Chips
  1. Preheat oven to 350 Degrees. Use a 1 pound loaf pan or 3 small mini-loaf pans; butter/spray/grease the pan and coat thoroughly with flour, shaking out excess.  Set aside. 
  2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients: flours, wheat germ, oatmeal, baking soda, baking powder, salt and pumpkin pie seasoning. Set aside.
  3. In another large mixing bowl, combine the brown sugar and the yogurt and applesauce and whisk to "cream" the sugar - incorporating the yogurt and applesauce with the sugar to dissolve the sugar. Mix in the eggs, pumpkin puree and vanilla. Stir to combine thoroughly.
  4. Gently fold the flour mixture into the wet ingredients and stir to combine. If the mixture appears too wet and loose, feel free to add in more oatmeal, wheatgerm or flax seed flour - by the quarter cup. The batter will be wet, not stiff but should not be too loose or liquidy.
  5. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan(s) and place it onto a baking/sheet tray. If adding in nuts and chips, scatter over the top of the batter and gently push down into the batter, submerging part-way. Bake for 15 minutes then rotate pan and continue to bake for 20 to 30 minutes more, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean, 35 to 45 minutes total baking time (depending on the oven).
  6. Cool the pumpkin loaf in the loaf pan for 10 minutes before removing; Turn out and cool the loaf on a wire rack completely before serving.  If baking as muffins, makes 1 dozen standard size muffins, reduce baking time to 15 to 20 minutes.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Rainbow Connection

Photo - Denine (me!) aka "Sous-Chef"; 
"A Boy Named Sue" Aaron and the Original Sue - Sue S. or Sue the Lawyer.

My morning biking buddies, aka the Sue Crew and I are are winding down our cycling season.  The mornings are much darker and cooler at 6:15/6:30 and it is getting harder to rouse ourselves out of our beds to get out on the road for our rides.  We're trying to make it a full six month season - April to the end of September, but we've already lost one of our "Sue's" - Sue K.  She's the first to succumb to the call of the gym opting to sleep in and work out indoors.  Oh well, I can't say that I blame her a bit.  Sue S., aka "Sue the Lawyer", "Sue" Ellen,  and "A Boy Named Sue" Aaron and I all went out on Friday morning and were sure that it was going to be a terrible ride.  Our path was blocked by the trash train on the tracks; "Sue" Ellen wasn't sure where we would be since we were late and couldn't cross the train tracks to get onto the bike path.  She took off ahead of us and we couldn't catch up to her five minute lead and her long, grande cavallo legs.  As we headed up Kelly Drive, we witnessed a terrible car accident, which brought out an ambulance, cop car and two fire trucks.  The old original Catholic girl in me came out and caused me to bless myself as we rode by this scene of uncertain calamity.  Once we were down onto Martin Luther King Drive aka West River Drive, the vistas became a bit more serene.  We caught up with Ellen, or rather she was riding back up the drive and we finally crossed paths.  The path was less crowded and as I always remark, the West Side of the river drive is bumpier but more civilized path because there are far fewer runners, skipping women, bikers, power walkers or roller blading fools dressed head to toe in coordinating yet garish sports gear.

Photo - "Sue" Ellen and "A Boy Named Sue" Aaron

As we neared the waterfalls in front of Boat House Row, we were rewarded with a beautiful rainbow behind us.  Perfect for a photo opportunity.  I had my camera with me as I was hoping I could get the crew to all wear the same bicycle jersey that we all have, (a dreadful but extremely comfortable Michelobe Ultra Beer Jersey that Sue S. got from her brother, Bart, and his LiveStrong fundraiser prizes.)  I wanted to take a group photo of all of us in our matching jerseys.  Only Aaron and I complied, though Ellen doesn't have this jersey, yet.  I'm not a fan of this piss-water beer. It's a terrible beer to advertise but the shirt is very soft and comfortable and from a distance the colours and design is sort of attractive.  I like the royal blue and the long "V" design element on the back - it's a slimming effect, or so I've been told.
Photo - Ellen, Aaron and Sue S., Rainbow courtesy of the Heavens.

While we did not find our pot 'o gold at the end of the rainbow even with Ellen wearing a  shamrock tee shirt, our luck did change on this portion of our ride, mostly it just was a nice ride with friends, nearing the end of our daily morning cycling season. 

Friday, September 3, 2010

Balsamic, Fig and Onion "Jam"

When you live in what was once a predominantly Italian/Italian-American neighborhood, you are bound to find a few fig trees, tomato plants and grape vines growing in the backyards or small plots of gardening space.  I understand this need to have a bit of land to call your own.  After my first trip to Italy, I also understood the Italian need to cultivate  a bit of the old country in the new land.  I saw fig trees and fennel growing wild all over the mountain hill town where I stayed.  The small hill towns might not have had prime gardening land, they were more conducive to olive trees and vineyards.  The land was full of rocky soil and had hot days and cooler nights, prime grape vine growing conditions.
My "Poppy" grandfather's desire to grow a fig tree and tend it lovingly was keenly felt when I saw how many fig trees were all over Spoleto, growing wild or in tended gardens.

Back home in Philadelphia, I'm more aware of where there are fig trees and get astonished when I see fig trees that are as large as old oak trees.  My neighbor, Tony, has a large fig growing in his 16 x 12 concrete patio.  Its trunk is as thick as a line-backer's thigh and it's grown as high as our 2nd story window.  Each fall he prunes it; placing the clipped branches out in the trash.  They make me wish I had a fireplace so I could gather the branches to burn the fragrant kindling during the winter.

Tony (who passed away in December of 2010) picks bushels and a few pecks of figs each season and turns them into jelly or eats them straight off the tree.  We were talking about his canning, wine making, and curing of meats, when he told me about his fig jam.  I asked him if he had any extra figs and that I'd be happy to take a few off his hands.  An hour later his wife, Mary, came over with a platter of figs, still warm from the sun, having just been plucked off the tree.  Since I was heading out for a the weekend, I knew I couldn't use them right away, so I cleaned and froze the figs.  About a week later, I decide to make a balsamic and fig jam, more of a sweet and savory concoction than a traditional jam.  All the better to go on a grilled pork loin, with chicken, or even better, on a good crusty whole wheat baguette with a schmear of gorgonzola dolce cheese.  The "jam" or chutney, turned out really well.   Can't wait to get my hands on more local homegrown figs.  The urban city farm is alive and well in all kinds of places in South Philly.

Balsamic, Fig and Onion "Jam" Ingredients:
  • 1 Tablespoon Light Olive Oil, Vegetable or Canola Oil
  • 1 Medium Sweet Onion - Vidalla or White (about 1 to 1 1/2 cups) - finely minced
  • 2 Garlic Cloves (about a tablespoon)- minced
  • 1/2 Cup Light Brown Sugar
  • 12 Fresh Figs - washed and stems removed - cut into quarters
  • 1 Cup Balsamic Vinegar (use a good quality, real balsamic)
  • 1 Teaspoon Kosher or Sea Salt
  1. Use a 3 or 4 quart sauce pot.  Heat the tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat until the oil begins to shimmer.  Saute the minced onions until they begin caramelize and turn light golden brown - about 10 minutes.  Add in the minced garlic and saute for two minutes.  Add in the brown sugar, stirring to incorporate and melt the sugar, about 2 minutes.  
  2. Next, add in the figs, the cup of balsamic vinegar and the salt. Bring the mixture to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer.  Cook, over lowest heat until the vinegar is reduced by at least half of it's volume, the figs break down and the mixture thickens; simmer for about 45 minutes to an hour.  Stir occasionally to keep the mixture from burning on the bottom.  
  3. When the jam is thick enough for a spoon to stand up in it and is no longer watery, ladle it into a hot, clean glass jar and allow to cool before refrigerating.  If canning, use sterilized jars and lids and seal with a new lid; process in a water bath for 15 to 20 minutes, cool and make sure the lid sealed and "popped" shut.  Jam lasts in the refrigerator for up to two weeks; canned jars will hold for one year, unopened. 

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Birds, Bees, Honey & Eggs - An Urban Farm Tale

I have a friend who lives between South Philadelphia and Center City - South of South Street but North of Washington Avenue - the affordable and not over-crowded area of Center City South.  Mr. Bale has a cute townhouse, built in a newly gentrified neighborhood.  He has all the great amenities of city life, close to the bars and restaurants, walkable to his business and artistic pursuits yet far enough away to not  hear all of the hustle and bustle of a densely populated metropolis.  Adding to the charm of his city dwelling is an extended private yard which allows Bale to cultivate a sizable city garden.  He has a Victory Garden that rivals the Whitehouse's; corn, squash, tomatoes, greens, lettuces, herbs and  gorgeous flowers.  Along with a green thumb calling card,  Mr. Bale is also a gentleman urban farmer to  a brood of chickens and hive of bees.  All of which is mere steps away from one of the USA's longest continuous thoroughfares in a major city.

At first, Farmer Bale planted his garden and populated it with a beehive and a quartet of chickens, aptly named after the Golden Girls - Blanch, Rose, Sophia and Dorothy.  These weren't ordinary, run of the roost chickens, they were exotics, some that look like Carol Channing with a  crazy feathered hat; chickens with diminutive statures; rare one in twenty million genetic oddities.  It wasn't long before it was discovered that his "Dorothy" was a rooster, fitting actually.  Off with her/his self, banished to a larger farm where Master Dorothy could roam and cluck and crow to his heart's content.  Soon after Farmer Bale added a few more chickens to his brood and lo and behold the eggs started rolling into the coops.  And then the offers of fresh eggs started to be posted on his Faccia Libre page, enticing his friends and colleagues with the promise of truly local, organic, straight from the hen's pen to your plate, pot or pan.  Mmm. Pretty enough to be in Martha Stewart magazine, Easter eggshells in varying hues and patterns.  Delicious and gorgeous all at once.  Seems that at the urban farm stand, the chicken truly came first then the eggs, then the friends came a begging for the eggs and the honey.

Well, once a chicken fetish begins it isn't long after that you start to desire more unique species of the flightless bird. Ruffled and Frizzled Plumes.  Or this chicken little, as seen above, one of only twenty known in the United States, a rare genetic mutation chicken, with all white feathers and a small stature.

My favorite chicken is a wee chicken, known as a dwarf, big as a minute or about the size of an underfed a guinea pig.  Poor little thing went missing for a few days, and everyone in the house thought a feral neighborhood cat got a hold of her and had roast chicken for its midnight smackerel.  Not so, it seems she somehow got out of the yard and went wandering in the grass outside of her safe haven.  There she was, walking along the sidewalk lawn.  A housemate of Gentleman Farmer Bale noticed her looking up at him while he was walking home.  Pigeons, squirrels, the occasional rat, maybe you see these urban critters on your daily stroll in the city, but a miniature dwarf chicken in the grass along the street - only on the side streets of a Miami barrio.

Of the many other chickens of City Center South Philadelphia, there is also this large fowl, with one white claw nail on each foot.  Scaly chicken feet are not the most appetizing sight but then again, not many people are indulging chickens for a mani/pedicure.

Where there is a garden, you will have bees. Farmer Bale is actively keeping bees, in a large hive box.  He's reaped honey from his hives, about 45 pounds so far this summer.  It's not quite single sourced honey but it is definitely unique; a real sweet taste of Philadelphia.  Of course there is a great bee story.  Early in the summer the bees were hyper active.  Mr. Bale said he was stung a few times and only later realized why the colony was so active.  The bees were getting ready to swarm. The next day they migrated a few blocks away to a small, newly landscaped area and formed a new hive on a small shrub.  It took some coxing to get the bees back into their appropriate hive but the job was done.  I saw photos of Farmer B in a safety suit, working the smoker, sweeping the frisky yet now docile pollinators back into their proper home.  Bees will be bees, except when the Queen demands a new locale.

I get such a kick out of visiting the Urban Farm and helping in some small way, support my friend's endeavors.  The best thing, aside from the freshness and taste is knowing exactly from where your eggs and honey originated and that you are helping to keep the art of farming alive and well in the most unlikely places.