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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Pizza Ideas: Fig Jam & Goat Cheese and Fig Jam with Chicken & Fontina

About a year ago, I had the most amazing pizza at Dock Street Brewery in West Philadelphia.  It was fig jam, rosemary and I think, a combination of blue and fontina cheeses. I'm not sure if it was the company, the amazing beers, a day out of the house in the middle of winter where I had the chance to go biking, or the combined camaraderie of meeting new biking friends and sharing some good food and drink.  The memories of that day are tasty.  I came across one of the photos the other day and suddenly had such a "woolie" or yen for fig jam that I had to make a batch of my savory balsamic fig jam in just so I could make these pizzas.  I needed to find figs but fresh figs are not in season.  I had to settle for using dried figs but the recipe and technique are nearly the same as when I made the jam this past September.  Click here for the recipe.  Or you could go and buy a jar of fig jam from DiBruno's, Whole Foods, Williams-Sonoma, or other specialty store near you.  Naturally, I prefer to make my own.  As for the pizza dough, I've written several posts about my famous grilled pizzas.  You could click pizza on my tag cloud, which will take you to all of my pizza posts, recipes and ideas and photos.  Tonight's pizza idea are  simple.  I made two different pizzas, though all the ingredients would be great on one pizza.

Ingredient List:

  • 2 Medium Pizza Doughs - Grilled on both sides (or use pre-cooked pizza shells)
  • 3 to 4 ounces Goat Cheese
  • 1/2 Cup Fig Jam, feel free to use  more for each pizza
  • 1/2 Cup Grated Fontina Cheese
  • 1 Cup Shredded or Chopped Cooked Chicken
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • Olive oil - to spread on pizza dough


  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees
  2. Prepare a sheet tray - by sprinkling cornmeal or flour on the surface
  3. Lay your pre-cooked or pre-grilled pizza dough on the sheet tray
  4. Brush the dough with olive oil and season with a pinch of salt and several grinds of black pepper
  5. Spread the fig jam over the pizza dough - to cover the entire surface
  6. Top with crumbles of goat cheese on the one pizza
  7. Top the other pizza with the chopped or shredded chicken, then top with the grated fontina
  8. Bake each pizza until the cheese is melted, bubbling and beginning to brown slightly - about 10 minutes.
  9. Cool for 3 to 5 minutes before cutting.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Cooking Tips - Brown Basmati Rice Coconut Pilaf

I like rice, a lot.  I like most starchy carbohydrates and whole grains.  The problem with liking these side dishes is that they easily become my main dish, crowding out my vegetables and proteins on my lunch and dinner plates.  At least I'm eating whole grains.  Years ago, during one of my bi-polar mania catering days (long before I was officially a certified chef) I catered a block party for a friends college graduation.  It's a long story - where I was sort of roped into cooking food for over 50 people, with the help of Liz (who I had only been dating for about a month, maybe not even that long) and my best friend and catering buddy, Rachel.  I totally made up the recipes, with a little bit of inspiration from an issue of Martha Stewart Living.  The party was a success.  The food was memorably tasty and my days as a chef/caterer were on the upswing.  The cooking must have gone well too, as Liz and I are still together after 12 years and Rachel's still my best friend (though she lives too far away to be my catering companion).  One of the most memorable dishes we made was a Cuban Coconut Rice.  That original recipe was a white rice dish loaded with full-fat coconut milk, dried pineapple, adobo seasoning, lime juice and rum.  It wasn't healthy but it sure tasted good!  I never could quite duplicate the fabulousness of the original dish and I wouldn't want to today - it's too fattening and unhealthy.  I think that I succeeded in making a healthier version of coconut rice - using Brown Basmati Rice seasoned with curry for an Indian-inspired meal.  

I pared the rice pilaf with a version of curried cauliflower and chickpea with some spinach tossed in for colour and extra vegetable oomph - it's a dish that I made back in October.  Since we had company for dinner, I also served the rice, cauliflower/chickpeas with baked Tilapia with Dijon Mustard, herbs and sliced almond crust.  There were very little left-overs, it was all that good!

Brown Basmati Coconut Rice Pilaf Ingredients:

  • 1 Cup (uncooked) Brown Basmati Rice - rinsed and drained
  • 1 Tablespoon Oil (vegetable/canola/peanut or light olive oil)
  • 1 Small Onion - small dice (about 3/4 cup)
  • 4 Garlic Cloves - minced (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 2 Tablespoons Curry Powder
  • 1/2 Cup Light Coconut Milk
  • 2 1/4 Cups Water
  • 1 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1/4 Cup Toasted Pumpkin Seeds  or Pine Nuts (optional -  for garnish)


  1. Rinse the rice in a fine mesh strainer or sieve.  Shake off excess water and set aside.
  2. In a 3 or 4 quart sauce pan with a tight fitting lid, heat the oil over medium-high heat until the oil shimmers.  Add in the onion and garlic and saute for 5 to 6 minutes, or until the onions go from translucent to taking on a hint of golden colour.  
  3. Stir in the curry powder and the rice, stirring to coat the rice with the curry powder and to "bloom" the curry flavors - saute for 2 minutes.
  4. Next add in the coconut milk, water and salt.  Bring the mixture to a boil (it may boil almost immediately) and then lower the heat, bringing the mixture to a bare simmer.  Place the lid on the pot and cook for 25 to 30 minutes, or until all the liquid is nearly absorbed by the rice.  After 30 minutes, turn the heat off, keep the lid on the pot and let the rice sit for at least 10 minutes, or up to 20 minutes.  
  5. Before serving, fluff the rice with a fork and season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Garnish with toasted pumpkin seeds or pine nuts.
Notes - this recipe assumes that you are using a gas stove;  a sauce pot that has a heavy-bottom, and BROWN rice.  It has a hint of coconut flavor - gentle and not assertive and not very high in fat.  When cooking brown rice, the ratio of rice to water is about 1 cup rice to 2 3/4 liquid.  I'm curious if using coconut water may work instead of coconut milk.  If anyone dares to try it - let me know about your results.  Also, not all rice is the same.  Basmati is a long grain rice, fragrant and nutty.  Brown Jasmine rice would also work well.  

Friday, February 18, 2011

My wheels are spinning

There are a lot of big changes going on around this blog. The first big change is I've purchased my own domain name for The Bicycle Chef.  You may have been redirected to the blog and perhaps there was a message that came up with the new address.  The name, which is my brand identity, is staying the same.  I'm hoping that the blog will be easier to find and follow, as well as making the blog address a little less wieldy.  For here on The Bicycle Chef address is  Seems that a run-on-together thebicyclechef name has already been taken. 

Behind the Scenes:  I'm adding pages and making some behind the scenes changes.  In the works is a page dedicated to indexing all of my recipes I've posted.  I'm not sure how I'll be doing this huge project but I'm sure as I learn, make mistakes and figure out things along the way, the page will become an extremely useful tool for all of us.   I've already added a few pages, such as how it all begain, a how to  contact and follow me.  Check them out, the pages are over to the right of the blog posts.

Happenings & Ideas: I have many blog post ideas that I'm working on - contests and give-aways, interviews, art postings, guest bloggers.  I also hope to be a guest blogger at other sites. Would you like The Bicycle Chef to write a healthy recipe at your blog? Need triathon advice? Want to know where to bike in Philly?  Just ask me!  You can contact me at
Networking: The Bicycle Chef has joined a network of bloggers called The Blogstress Network.  The creators of the Blogstress Network want to connect our blogs, content and resources with  fabulous women bloggers in and around the Philadelphia and Tri-State area and branch out to the blogging world.  It's easy to join - head over to this page and FOLLOW The Blogstress Network, and while you are at it, FOLLOW The Bicycle Chef too!  You can also follow us on twitter - you can find me on Twitter via @neenyd.  The Blogstress Network is on Twitter via @blogstress.  We are also on Facebook. Click on these links to go to our Facebook pages and "Like" us  The Bicycle Chef  and The Blogstress Network  

We had our first coffee talk get-together this week, some of us meeting for the first time in the real world.  I met Doreen from Style Maniac; Denise from Fashion Plates and Dirty Dishes; Barbara from Zero to 60 and Beyond; Lee from Madness Mom and Me; and my good friend, LeAnne joined us, with great ideas from her blog, Tinsel and Tine.  We traded business/blog cards and we shared great ideas for new cards.  We shared a plethora of ideas and made some blogging, creative and artistic goals.  To say this gathering was an inspiration is an understatement.  I'm brimming with ideas, many of which I'm implementing right now; other ideas, as I wrote, are in the works.  

Comments & Feedback - I love comments so leave me some!  I want to hear from you, learn from you and know who you are.  If you have a blog, let me know, I'll read it, comment and even follow you!  We're a community so link together!  After each blog post, there's a small box where you can write a comment.  It can be as simple as "Nice Post/Photo/Recipe!" or even more in-depth.  I know the readers are out here - so come on out and say hello!  

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Cooking Tips: Roasted Vegetables with Toasted Almonds

According to every credible, worthwhile nutrition, dietary plan and FDA approved food pyramid chart,  we all need to add a minimum of 5 servings of fruit and vegetables to our diets while reducing fats, animal-based proteins (i.e. MEATS) and the intake simple processed carbohydrates.  The problem is so many of us are meat and potato freaks, dining on greasy, salty hamburgers and fries and washing it down with sugary sodas.  I have found that the key way  I lost the "bulk" of my weight through Weight Watchers was by increasing my vegetable intake, lowering my fats and carbs and trying to eat less dessert and sugar in general.  After 3 1/2 years, I've been very successful at keeping over 60 pounds off my frame.  Though I'm not as gung-ho about the Weight Watchers plan these days, most days I'm eat  80% healthy, sometimes reaching 90% healthy clean eating if it's a diligent day.  
If I eat simply and start the day off eating a fruit, protein and high fiber carbohydrate, I feel good all day. For me that means a typical breakfast of fresh or frozen fruit with non-fat Greek Style plain yogurt, topped with a low-sugar high fiber cereal (such as Kashi Hearts or All-Bran Flakes). One vegetable/fruit down and the other four aren't so hard to pack in. Heck some days I eat more than 5 servings.  

For those of you who need more encouragement to eat vegetables, knowing how to cook vegetables using the best cooking methods to make them taste good is a must.  Use Fresh (Not FROZEN) vegetables.  Cut into like-sized pieces. Utilize simple cooking methods.  Lightly steam or quickly blanch vegetables and toss with a little bit of quality olive oil (about a tablespoon for every four servings), a pinch of kosher salt and a generous dash of freshly ground black pepper.  Or you can roast vegetables - the more the merrier!  Our friend, Debbie George turned me onto this recipe idea over the Christmas holidays.  She brought a huge tray of roasted vegetables to our annual Christmas Eve Dinner: cauliflower, broccoli, brussel sprouts, onions, peppers, zucchini, squash, carrots, and some roughly chopped garlic, seasoned with olive oil. The vegetables were roasted at high heat on a flat surface, such as a half-sheet tray to allow the water to evaporate & give the veggies room; Set a conventional oven to cook between 375 to 425 Degrees Fahrenheit, stirring the vegetables often so they cook uniformly; cook until the veggies caramelize and take on a candy-like sweetness - go ahead, I dare you not to devour the entire tray of tasty goodness!  Easy enough, I've made vegetables like this often.  You need high heat and time.  But what I never though of was so simple that I slapped myself saying, "Why didn't I think of this before?"  Debbie added sliced almonds which adds protein to the side dish, making it a nearly complete vegetarian/vegan meal.  Add the sliced, slivered or chopped almonds, or you can use walnuts, filberts or cashews about 10 minutes before the veggies are  done. Or you can toast the nuts before hand and add them when the vegetables are done.  One other tip: use the stems of the broccoli. Peel away the tough fibrous outer layer, and slice the stem into 1/2 inch pieces.  The inner stem is sweet and crunchy, kind of like a water chestnut.  Waste not want not!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Oatmeal Bean Cookies with Pure Dark Chocolate Bark Bits

When it comes to food and cooking, there are a lot of things I love, but I especially love free, easy and tasty!  We've got the trifecta in this recipe post.  The FREE came gratis of Foodbuzz (my cool blog advertiser) and the scrumptious samples of Pure Dark Chocolates I recently received.  Foodbuzz sent a package of Pure Dark's Bark classic, as seen in the above photo and a package of Pure Dark 70% Chocolate Slab.  This is a high quality chocolate which needs no other enticement to eat other than to tear open the package and try to let your willpower last by not devouring the entire slab in one sitting.  EASY was the recipe - a riff on a low-fat high fiber good for you cookie recipe I received a few years ago from Susan Hill and embellished in my own Bicycle Chef way.  TASTY - Once again I had success with this simple fool-proof cookie recipe that adapts well and turns out delicious results.  

I wanted to make these cookies for a while now, and I thought what better way to use the chocolates than in a dessert?  Feel free to use whatever good quality chocolate or chocolate chips that you have.  The beauty of the recipe is that it's adapatable and good for you!   This version of the recipe is closer to the original unlike the Heart Healthy Oatmeal Cookies I made back in 2008 when I added pumpkin to it.  Note that the recipe works best if you don't over mix the dough and don't worry about how wet or dry it appears.  The dough batter should be stiff and thick.  Scoop out the cookies using an icecream scoop and keep the dough mounds high.  They will spread a bit during baking. 

Oatmeal Bean Cookies with Chocolate Bark Ingredients:

  • 1 Cup Mashed White Beans (use low-sodium) - drain and rinse beans then mash the beans
  • 1/4 Cup Unsweetened Applesauce (use an individual serving size containter)
  • 1/2 Cup Brown Sugar - packed
  • 2 Tablespoons Granulated Sugar
  • 1 Egg - lightly beatened
  • 1 Teaspoon Pure Vanilla Extract
  • 3 Cups Oats (Quick Cook but not Instant)
  • 1 Cup Whole Wheat Flour
  • 1 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
  • 1/2 Cup Chopped DARK or Bitter-Sweet Chocolate, Chocolate Chips or Chopped Chocolate Bark (or nuts, raisins, etc.) - optional
  1. Preheat oven to 350 Degrees.  Prepare a baking tray by either lining it with a silpat or parchment paper, or grease it (cooking or baker's spray is fine!)  Set aside.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, beat the mashed white beans, applesauce, brown sugar and granulated sugar until the sugars disolve.  Add in the egg and vanilla extract and beat the mixutre until it is smooth and creamy.
  3. In another mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients, oats, whole wheat flour, salt and baking soda, whisking to combine.  
  4. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the wet ingredients - the bean mixuture.  Gently fold in the wet into the dry, folding the mixture 3 to 4 times.  Add in the chopped chocolate or chocolate chips (if using) and continue to fold and mix the dough batter until it is fully incorporated. Do not over-mix or else the dough will be tough.   The mixture should be stiff and not runny.  
  5. Use an ice cream scoop with a spring release and drop each cookie onto the prepared baking sheet.  Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, rotating the pans half-way through the baking time.  If the cookies are too wet, bake an additional 2 minutes. 
  6. Cool for 5 minutes than transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.  The cookies will set and harden somewhat as they cool down.  Store in a tightly covered container for up to 3 days.  Cookies will freeze well for up to 2 months.  Makes approximately 1 dozen cookies.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Ghosts of the Past

You cannot escape your past nor should you try to run away from it; it will always catch up to you.  I don't hide from my past but as I grow older I find I am less interested in revisiting uncomfortable remembrances of days gone by.  Growing up as an abuse survivor, (physical, mental, emotional, sexual) I sometimes experience a post traumatic stress syndrome feeling that locks me in place with depression.  I don't often write about my past abuse, it's uncomfortable for me to talk about so openly in a public forum.  Some old friends have recently resurfaced leading me to reexamine old behaviours in order to better understand myself.  There's a certain amount of curiosity and trepidation brewing.  Have the ghosts of my past come back not to haunt me but to be released and set right?

Over the month I've had a few reconnection's with old friends and acquaintances I knew in my 20's.  Mostly this has been a great thing, as I wrote about in my post Serendipity.  Revisiting who I was and how parts of me came to be has been enlightening and uplifting.  It's also been embarrassing remembering how immature I was when I thought I was so worldly.  In writing to an old friend I remarked that I spent so much of my 20's worrying about what other people thought and that I spent my 30's worrying about what I thought.  It's the truth, but not the whole truth.  A more accurate statement is that from the years of 19 to 30, I worried about what people thought about me; if I could control what people thought of me; and that I so desperately wanted to be loved.  This is an earth shaking revelation about myself.  It's the simple, basic and the core essence of my "issues" as a young adult.  In my experiences as a child abuse survivor, I realize that I allowed myself to continue patterns of my abuse in the ways I choose to be treated or "loved."  I choose partners who were controlling - verbally and sometimes physically abusive.  There were many friendships or emotionally intense relationships where the abuse was obvious; at other times by these "relationships" were destructive because I became friends or partners with people who were just plain wrong for me.  I dated straight or "married" women; I was friends or dated people with whom I had little in common except for surface connections or for the attention paid to me.  I was like a dog doing tricks in order to get attention or my belly scratched. I dated women who were maddeningly unavailable to me, whether they were already involved, too young, too old or too straight.  YES! Lesbians do this too, straight women don't have the lock getting involved with bad boys.  It was a game I played repeatedly for years until one day I truly had a light go off inside of me and I stopped.  Well, I stopped my unhealthy behavior because I had invested a lot of money and years in therapy, so sooner or later I had to hear what the hell I was talking about in the 45 minute hour.  Therapy paid off.  I stopped allowing myself to accept less than I deserved.  When I shut the door to that bad past I opened up my life to allow in a better future.  Healthy people and goodness came into my life, more than I ever imagined was possible.  It sounds cliched but once I worked on myself, stopped worrying about what others thought, I was free to start being a whole person.  The money and time spent on getting here was worth it.  I often say I spent my college tuition on therapy.  

I can't say that the ghosts of my past don't send a chill down my back when they appear, but I do feel more in control of the emotional upheaval that starts swirling inside of me.  I don't have to necessarily revisit the past but I also realize I can't pretend it didn't exist.  I've made my peace with most of what I thought were the intense relationships that defined me.  I don't miss my younger years because I still feel youthful and not stupid! As a mid-forty-something my priorities are entirely different in this decade than they were in the past two; I have a child, a long-term relationship, obligations and a full life.  I'm not necessarily looking to revisit the past nor do I wish to discard all traces of it.  Sometimes you have to have a break from it and come back without the rose colored glasses to see the authenticity of friendships that have or should be renewed.  And sometimes there's no agenda to be revealed.  A memory can just be a memory, to be fondly reviewed and and then lovingly put away.