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Monday, April 29, 2013

Cooking for a Cause and a Spinach Basil Pesto Recipe

I had the opportunity to do a cooking event at my church out in Wallingford, PA.  It was Friday night, April 19th.  The church does a monthly event for kids and their parents, ice cream socials, cooking classes, art projects.  This month's event was a garden and cooking event.  We had the kids and their parents plant tomato plants and flowers.  Everyone got to take their plants home for their gardens.  I was asked to cook a dinner and dessert using seasonal vegetables.  I cooked a meal, gave a little talk about what's in season and how to use the vegetables and then we ate dinner and had dessert.  

Naturally, I cooked enough food to feed, oh, I don't know, about 40 people! I think we had 15 people, maybe 20 at most.  There were left overs for days on end.  Now, in my defense, I do cook a lot and often make way more than any event needs, but...I was told to expect at least 35 people.  I shopped, prepped, cooked and schlepped food for two days! Ugh! It was for a good cause. And the folks in attendance did enjoy what I made.  And even though I missed Liz's opera opening night of Magic Flute (my first opening night in 9 years that I've missed), I was doing God's work.  

On the menu was a vegetable pasta salad with homemade spinach and basil pesto; fresh salad with sunflower seeds, craisins and cheese; rolls and butter; and for dessert, strawberry rhubarb crisp.  I used as many in-season vegetables as I could, utilizing what's fresh, local and available now.  While I tend to cook as light and fresh as possible for my eating, I realized that I was feeding people I didn't know - going too light and fresh might not taste as good to other people as it does to me.  Therefore, I worked within different but still healthy parameters.  

My tips for making pasta salad healthier are: Swap out white pasta for whole wheat, high fiber or pasta with a serving of vegetables in it; Use light cheese instead of full-fat.  Add in more veggies, but cook them - roast, sauté, grill or steam them to bring out their natural sugars and sweetness; when making pesto - add in spinach to stretch it, make it greener, amp up the vegetable quota; skip nuts; blanch or roast the garlic to tame it; use less cheese, or add it as you need it, instead of when you're making the pesto.  The pesto will keep longer and stay fresher.

For my pasta salad - I grilled the asparagus, sautéed the peppers, and steamed the green beans.  Everything tasted a bit sweeter. The pasta salad worked great cold and could be heated up as well.  I used a combination of whole wheat pasta and vegetable pastas.  
I'm posting my recipe for Spinach Pesto.  It's fairly similar to my basil oil - though I don't separate the oil from the herbs, nor do I use as much basil and oil, but the idea is similar - just oil & the leaves - leaving out the unnecessary stuff until you really need it.

The strawberry rhubarb crisp recipe can be found here (take out the All-Bran Flakes and add in an extra 1/2 cup of oatmeal)...

Spinach Basil and Parsley Pesto:
  • 2 Bunches Basil (about a cup loosely packed)- cleaned, dried and leaves removed from stems
  • 3 Cups (loosely packed) Fresh Spinach Leaves - cleaned, dried and any woody stems removed
  • 1/2 Cup Parsley - cleaned, dried and stems removed
  • 2 - 3 Garlic Cloves - blanched in hot water to tame it
  • 1/2 to 3/4 Cup Olive Oil
  • Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper - to taste
  • 1/2 Cup Grated Cheese - such as Parmesan, Locatelli or Pecorino Romano

Equipment Needed:
  • Food Processor or Blender
  • Rubber Spatula
  • small sauce pot and sieve or fine mesh strainer
  1. Clean the spinach, basil and parsley. Set aside
  2. Blanch the garlic in hot boiling water, boiling the garlic for 2 to 3 minutes. Run under cold water to cool before adding to the pesto ingredients.
  3. Add the spinach, basil and parsley, and blanched and cooled garlic into the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment or into a blender.  Pulse a few times to get the leaves to start forming a paste. Keep the the lid on the blender or food processor and the machine running, drizzle in the olive oil in a slow stream through the pin-hole or removable lid of the blender or food processor.  The mixture should form a paste.  If need be, turn off the machine, and scrape down the sides of the work bowl. Replace lid and turn the machine back on and continue adding in the oil.  The mixture should be thick, not runny, but should also be a bit loose.  
  4. Scrap out the pesto into a bowl, then season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  5. When ready to use, stir in the finely grated cheese.  Adding it as you need it will help the pesto keep fresh longer.  Store the pesto tightly covered and refrigerated.  
  6. Pesto without the cheese added to it can be frozen for up to 3 months.  This pesto will keep, refrigerated, for up to 1 week.  Adding the spinach to it will help maintain its intense green colour. Makes 1 cup.  Add more of each, spinach, basil, parsley, oil, as needed.  My recipes, as usual, are a casual affair.  I usually toss in ingredients until I think they are where I want them to be!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Findings: Clover Market

Nate and I took a wander out to Ardmore, PA, a few weekends ago.  I had learned of a flea market/vintage/Etsy/Craft Fair event that happens once a month April-May-June and then again in the Fall, called, Clover Market.  It was such an amazing find - about one hundred vendors selling everything from vintage antiques to up-cycled and recycled crafts and furniture.   There were people selling hand-made clothes, printed cards and posters, jewelry and baby items.  Tin roof tiles, vintage buckets, bottles, baskets and bicycles.  We spent a few hours walking around, checking out the sights and perusing the stalls.

Nate and I had the day to spend on our own, Liz was working all day at her various jobs, so I figured the drive out to the suburbs of Philadelphia might be a good way to spend the morning for us.  Nate was such a good boy in his stroller, being patient and not begging to get out to run around.  He didn't grab at items and he ate snacks and lunch without much prompting.  He was even helpful in selecting a gift for Liz's birthday - we found an old stained glass window pane for our house, along with an old square tin bunt pan with 3 vintage square citron glass bottles.  Clover Market bills itself as Lucky Finds for the Home.  I'll say!

The next Clover Market will be on May 19th - Make your plans now to go there.  It's worth the trip.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Findings: Recipes and Cards

These findings are over a year old - I've had this post in my "draft" post folder for almost a year now, waiting to find the right moment to post it.  I thought I'd make the recipe for the Chicken in Peanut Sauce and the blog about it.  Never happened.  I make a great peanut sauce and I just never seem to get around to blogging about my recipe.  Or I have and it's in my archives.  I'll put this one out there to you and hope that others will try this found recipe and let me know how it works.  Or perhaps you'll share one of your own peanut chicken recipes, or share some tips on where you find your favorite version at your local Asian restaurant.

I liked finding this card, as I love to collect recipes, old cook books, lists, notes and other ephemera related to food and drink.  I suspect the writer of this recipe wasn't the average Good House Keeping or Women's Home Daily Magazine reader - Coriander and Turmeric are more "exotic" spices/ingredients. Coriander is also known as Cilantro, though if the cilantro flowers and tuns to seed, the seeds are then the coriander.  Turmeric is the golden yellow color found in curries.  It has a bitter, sour, harsh flavor, though used in small quantities can lend a beautiful saffron-like colour to rice and recipes. My best guess on the origins of this recipe is that it came from a more up-scale magazine like Real Simple or Food and Wine.  Or from the Food Network.  Our world is a small global village these days. 

This card was found Mother's Day weekend, 2012.  The child that created it probably lost it on his way home from school.  It's a sweet card, meant to be folded and opened as a story card.  I think it spoke to me, now that I'm a parent and because the child wanted his mom to know that he enjoys going out to eat at a Chinese Restaurant!  Ties into my Peanut Chicken Recipe card that I found.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Oatmeal Banana Cookies

Liz found a recipe for these very easy and very good for you oatmeal cookies.  I have no idea where it originated, it's probably making the rounds on the internet/Facebook/Pinterest.  We going to lay claim to this version.  Liz made them with our son, Nate. The only credit I can take is for the photos!  These are less than 10 ingredients, you can probably make them with less, but they are easy and all that's required is to stir everything together, scoop and bake.  Next time we make them we'll probably make them as bar cookies, cutting them into squares or "granola bar-size" after they cool.

Oatmeal and Banana Cookie Ingredients:

  • 3 Very Ripe Bananas - mashed
  • 1/3 Cup Unsweetened Applesauce (or use an individual container size, approximately 1/4 cup)
  • 2 Cups Rolled Oats - Quick Cook is fine but not Instant Oats
  • 1/4 Cup Milk - we used skim milk
  • 1/2 Cup Craisins or Raisins
  • 1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
  • 1 teaspoon Cinnamon
  • 1/2 Cup Nuts - Chopped (we used cashews, but almonds, walnuts or pecans would be awesome!)


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Prepare a sheet tray or cookie sheet - line with parchment, foil or a Silpat. Set aside until ready to use.
  2. In a mixing bowl, mash the bananas. 
  3. Add in the oats, milk, craisins/raisins, vanilla extract, cinnamon and nuts.  Stir the ingredients together.
  4. Use a cookie scoop and scoop out the mixture and place onto the prepared baking sheet.
  5. Bake in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes until the cookies set and the oats begin to take on a hint of golden brown.
  6. Cool before serving.  Refirgerate and store in a tightly covered container.  Makes 1 dozen to 15 cookies, depending on size of cookie scoop. 

Friday, April 12, 2013

Philly Food Swappers at The Reading Terminal Market

Philly Food Swappers Event at Reading Terminal Market - The Set Up!
Bottom row- Besties, Pam & Sam as they readied for thier close-up!
The Philly Food Swappers group, a local off-shoot of a food-swapping mania sweeping the country, held one of their events this week at the Reading Terminal Market.  I read online on about their last event along with food blogger,'s account of her first food swap and knew immediately that I wanted to be a part of this event.  I signed up on Facebook and started following Philly Food Swappers posts.  When the registration opened for the April food swap I quickly signed up and got a coveted spot at this very popular event.  For those of you unfamiliar as to what a food swap is, PFS describes it as this on their facebook page:

 A food swapping community in the Philadelphia area.
Bringing the foodie community together and increasing self sufficiency.
Do you love food? Do you make food? Do you want to get new tasty things? Do you live in the Philadelphia area?

Food swaps are popping up all over the world and now Philly has one! Join our community to make and exchange homemade or homegrown food items (preserved fruits and veggies, pickles, jams, jellies, salsas, vinegars, cheeses, breads, cookies, cakes, honey, granola, homegrown herbs and vegetables, backyard eggs, soups, get the picture). 

My sneak peek photo montage of my salsa canning in action!

The final product, a dozen canned jars of Fire Roasted Mango Salsa
What to make? What to bring? Will they like my stuff? Should I bring a lot of different food items or should I just make one foodstuff? So many questions.  I worried about this for a month! And when it came time to actually get to making my decision, I was stumped.  I had about 5 jars of canned salsa from the summer. 3 or 4 jars of my balsamic and onion fig jam. 2 small jars of the roasted caramel applesauce.  Not enough of any one product to swap and share and most were already 6 months old.  I decided to stick to what I do best and make a salsa.  Which took me on an hour long drive to find Produce Junction, then to another store to buy cilantro, scallions and canning jars.  Nearly $50 into the project, along with 6 hours of prep time, I was ready for my first food swap with 12 pint jars of Fire-Roasted Mango Salsa. I armed myself with my recipe newsletters, salsa samples, chips, business cards and an assortment of other props.  Thank goodness I had a rolling cart/dolly to load up so I could carry all of my equipment!

Many varied and beautiful foods at the swap - pesto, extracts, macaroons.
The event was scheduled to start at 7 pm.  I arrived at 6:30 and when I got to the Reading Terminal Market, there were already more than 30 swappers there, setting out their good.  The Market was buzzing with anticipation and excitement.  I was glad I arrived early as the spot I got was in a "prime location". I was also set up with some lovely people with amazing products - Raw Lime Cream Parfaits and Granola from Nancy; Year-long fermented and home-made Chick Pea Miso, Fresh Eggs, and pickled radishes by Wyck Farms in Germantown.  I worried that I had too many props for my table and that my salsa wouldn't go over very well.  Silly me!
More beautiful foods - there were home-made Pop Tarts and breads, pickles and dips.
After I set up my table, I began to wander about, sampling and talking to the other swappers.  I met an eclectic and welcoming bunch of people.  Stand outs of the friendly folks I met were Carly, who had an orange marmalade jam made with brown sugar - a taste revelation.  The brown sugar cut through the bitterness of the orange peel and turned the jam into a sweet and caramelized treat. I met besties - Pam and Sam.  Pam had these amazing caramelized balsamic pearl onions and Sam had chive pesto, along with a gorgeous bunch of chives about to blossom.  They were good sports about letting me take their photos and were both very encouraging about how the swap works and my offerings. Nancy - the lady with whom I shared table space was most informative and helpful. Plus her Raw Lime Cream Parfait was to die for!  There was also Sara May, of The Cozy Herbivore.  She was the sweetest, most endearing person I met the whole night.  And everyone I met was absolutely lovely so that's saying something.  We talked at length about kids, partners and making big life changes.  We barely talked about our foodstuffs and I barely got to ask her what she does outside of the food swapping world.  Little did I know that Ms. Sara is even more talented and famous than I could have guessed.  She works at Franklin Fountain in Olde City and is responsible for creating new fountain drinks, potions and concoctions.  It's funny to me to talk to people and have no idea who they are or what they do and connect over our shared love of creating new foodstuffs. 
Food Offerings over-view and my haul at the bottom right!
After an hour or so of mingling and sampling, the next wave of fun begins - the swap.  Now, during the first hour's meet, great and tasting, you are to write down on a swappers food card that you are interested in swapping what you have with them for their item.  I made the rounds three or four times checking out items I wanted and trying hard to not look at my card out of fear that no one wanted my salsa.  There were infused Vodkas, Limoncello's and other boozy treats; Jerky, cakes, cupcakes, cookies and krauts. The variety of home-made goods was astounding. Salad in a jar, soups, eggs! I talked with more swappers, circled back to talk to my friend, Natanya (and to sample her unforgettable and velvety smooth lemon curd in the most beautiful William-Somoma jars I've ever seen!) My list of desired items was growing long and I needed to keep it to about a dozen items, to fairly trade for my dozen jars of Fire-Roasted Mango Salsa.  

My anxiety was completely unnecessary - my dance card was full! The sign-up sheet for my salsa was filled with people clamoring to trade!  At first I took whatever came my way, even if I didn't want the items (all were fabulous by the way). As the trading went along, I realized I had a choice in saying no if I really didn't want an item.  As I got down to my last 4 jars of salsa and reached into my reserves of the other salsas I brought (this summer's Fire-Roasted Peach and my Tomatillo salsa) I got a bit more discerning.  While I missed out on some great items (that awesome Chive Pesto of Sam's) and the Orange Marmalade with Brown Sugar swapper didn't quite like the kick in my salsa, the food items exchanged were varied and tasty.  

The haul I took home was (list somewhat incomplete due to memory loss!) - Nancy's Raw Lime Cream Parfait (eaten within an hour of getting home!); Tomato Salt; Natanya's Velvety Lemon Curd; Vegan Squash Soup; Vegan Black Bean  Brownie Bites; The Chick Pea Miso; Sara's Mango Pineapple Ketchup (she traded me what was left of her sample, hers swapped out very quickly); A most unusual and fabulous Strawberry Jam with Black Pepper (another taste revelation!); Hot Pepper Jam (so good and I usually don't enjoy pepper jams); A bag of Strawberry Plant Roots to plant; 2 quick breads (which I have stashed in the freezer for another time); and the Balsamic Caramelized Pearl Onions. The last and best trade I made of the night was for this red pepper pesto hummus that is so delicious that you could drink the entire container and want more. 

The event was the Philly Food Swappers largest event held to date - over 70 participants.  It was fun, exciting but never manic or over-whelming.  The hour to mingle and sample was a great idea, it gave people a chance to really talk and learn about each other.  The swap went so quickly but was  well-run and never felt crazy or frenetic.  I cannot wait to attend another and I'm even thinking (and actively planning) to do a similar but scaled down event in Collingswood where the moms and families I know could trade not only foodstuffs but home-made lotions, potions and other body-type products.  If I am fortunate enough to get in the next registration, I am going to bring a wider but contained variety of items that I make best - maybe my sweet & spicy mixed nuts; seasoning blends; my roasted apple sauce.  Farmers Market weekends are approaching - time to start planning and canning!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Easter Dinner 2013

A bit late on the update here - I just get either too busy, too over-whelmed with ideas and photos, or I just don't feel like doing any blogging.  The ideas are there but the desire isn't.  I bought a cool app for my laptop, to make photo collages.  It's a big help for me to utilize my photos in a more concise manner. A photo collage like this one can take care of multiple uploads and make for a pretty photo essay.

We had a house full of people for Easter dinner this year.  Liz's mom; our friend Roberta and her 1 year old girl; our good friends from church, the Meloy's, Mike, Lise, and one of their three daughters, Meghan. Friends and opera associates, Rob, Christine and their 2 year old daughter, Sophia (one of Nate's special girlfriends!) It was a lively bunch and the food, as usual was delicious.  We shared dinner and drink responsibilities. Christine brought home-made Boursin spread onto baguette slices and topped with thinly sliced cucumbers. Lise made an amazing "Pascal Lamb", succulent with fat and tinged with rosemary, garlic and onions.  I made a poached salmon, served cold, with cucumber yogurt sauce.  A simple cheese sampler of goat cheeses - chevere, drunken goat and an aged Humbolt Fog.  Roasted asparagus - tis the season after all!  Sautéed snap peas with peppers.  Olives, and a huge salad, served in an old HUGE wooden bowl that I got from my friend Sue Saidel's family.  A bowl big enough in which to bathe a small child!  Dessert was strawberry rhubarb and apple pies from Springdale Farms, Easter candies and chocolate chip with orange essence cookies that Lise baked.

We ate, drank, laughed and had a lovely time together.  The kids played and we reminisced about holidays we've spent together in the past.  It's a lot of work, even when you share the cooking.  But it's worth it.  To make happy memories takes work and love, and I have more than enough to spare and share!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Play Ball 2013!

The Phillies Home Opener was this past Friday, April 5th.  I've spent most of the past 20 years, give or take a year here or there, attending the Opening Day game.  The weather is usually cold; so cold we've had to wear layer upon layer of clothes and coats, scarves, gloves, and bring blankets.  I can remember maybe 3 years, this one included, when the weather was nice enough to only wear a sweatshirt.  I can only remember 3 or 4 home-openers where the Phillies actually won the first home game of the season. This year, like so many others, they lost, disappointing the throngs of Phans and stamping out the fire of our enthusiasm.
Baseball, a six month sport, starts in out in Spring, with the promise of a new season. It heats up in summer, filling our long idyllic days with with stats and purpose.  Come fall, as the days begin to chill and wane, the season winds down.  If we are lucky, as we were in 2007, 2008 (WORLD SERIES WIN!), 2009 and part of 2010, we get an Indian Baseball Summer, taking us to the end of October with the post-season play.
I don't feel particularly jazzed about this year's Phillies' Line-up.  The core players (Howard, Utley, Rollins and Chooch) are old and broken. The bullpen seems as shaky and weak as ever.  The starting pitching, well, outside of Lee and Hamels, isn't as strong as it should and could be.  Roy Halladay seems like an enigma - we aren't sure that he's all there and in good shape. Something's not being said about him and his arm.  Kendrick, well, I'm not sure he's even worthy of being even a 5th starter.  But what do I know?  I regurgitate what I hear on sports radio, WIP and Sports Talk, and what Rabbi Stone and Liz tell me.  I do know that I can sense that the Phans aren't as into the team as we've been in years past.  How many more times does Rollins need to swing out at the 1st pitch? Howard, stepping up to bat, with no emotions and just gets "caught looking" at strikes like he did in those final playoffs game of 2009 and 2010?
Unlike the Yankees, which spends and gets the best players, decade after decade, and then produces hits, saves and WINS, the Phillies don't ever seem to be in the top tier league of really wanting and making the serious commitments to being a world class team.  Management didn't do enough to get enough good players on the team or in the pipeline down in the minors in in farm system to shore up our future.
We didn't buy our season 17 game pack this year. We didn't even commit to a 6-pack.  We were able to buy the opening day seats this year, because I suspect, that the Phillies aren't selling any games all that well.  I got a "come-on" at work as a group sales person from the past year.  Opening day seats were available without having to buy anything else.  Just 2 tickets, fairly good seats.  I hope the glory days of our team aren't behind us, leaving Phans with the long dry stretch of disappointing seasons, as we experienced from 1993 to 2007.  I hate to be proven wrong, but in this case, I'd be happy to have The Phillies do an I told YOU SO, as opposed to me saying, I TOLD YOU SO that the Phillies aren't all that.  We've got 156 games left out of the 162 season games.  There's a lot more happy days ahead.