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Thursday, December 1, 2016

Live with Chef Denine and Living Well with Pat Nogar!

The tv spot on which I was a guest chef, Living Well with Pat Nogar, is now on the air as well as on the Lower Merion Township's website and cable access channels.  Here's the show!  I'll do a separate post of my recipes and photos.  I'm so excited to share this segment - Here is the link. If it can be embedded here on the blog, I'll be make the update.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Thanksgiving Leftovers Ideas

As we are embarking on the National days of Feasting, I thought I'd link to a few of my past recipes that incorporate the ingredients from our Thanksgiving table.  A few years back I was on Talk Philly Live with Ukee Washington.  The guest chef segment on which I was featured showcased new recipes to make utilizing Thanksgiving left-overs. I did a curried turkey salad recipe with cranberries; cranberry maple syrup and sweet potato breakfast pancakes; turkey and pumpkin enchiladas.  I'm linking the previous posts here, and including the three recipes featured on Talk Philly Live.  Think of this as my newly created "left-over" blog post recipe!

Below are the recipes featured on the show, and here are the links to previous posts that feature cranberries in my Thanksgiving recipes, or cranberries in spirits for holiday gift giving.

Chicken and Pumpkin Enchiladas - which can be made with turkey.  Here's the original post with luscious photos!

Apple Cranberry and Cinnamon Sauce with Pumpkin Pancakes (this is another version of cranberry sauce that I make annually)

Curried Turkey Salad - lightened and low fat - this was featured on Talk Philly Live

Cranberry Walnut and Cornbread Stuffing  - a new twist on stuffing or dressing

Apple Cranberry Ginger and Orange Compote - better than cranberry sauce or jelly, and good enough to eat all year 'round.  I just canned over a dozen jars of this last night, using New Jersey Cranberries and local Gold Rush Apples from William Schober and Sons Farms.

Christmas Cheer Cranberry Infused Vodka.  Now's the time to put up a bottle or more of vodka with cranberries in time for holiday gifting.

And now for the recipes as they appeared on the tv spot:

Sweet Potato Pancake Ingredients with Cranberry Maple Syrup:
• 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
• 1 Tablespoon Sugar • 2 Eggs - Lightly beaten
• 2 Teaspoons Pure Vanilla Extract
• 2 Cups Milk (skim or low-fat )
• 1 Cup Mashed Roasted Sweet Potatoes or Candied Sweet Potatoes - drained of syrup and mashed
 • Butter or Cooking 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 mashed sweet potatoes until the mixture is thoroughly combined and smooth. Fold the flour mixture into the liquid mixture and gently 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 10-15 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, ¼ cup at a time.
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. Continue cooking as directed, until all the pancake batter is used.
4. Serve hot, immediately with cranberry maple 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 2 dozen, four or five-inch sized pancakes.

Cranberry and Maple Syrup Ingredients:
• 1/2 Cup Pure Maple Syrup
• 1 Teaspoon Pure Vanilla Extract
 • 1/2 Cup Cranberry Sauce – Jellied or Whole Berry
• 2 Tablespoons Butter, or Light Butter or Margarine
• Pinch of Salt

1. Combine all the ingredients together into a heat-safe or microwave-safe bowl. Whisk together until the ingredients are smooth or thoroughly combined. 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 pancakes or waffles.
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.

Turkey Enchilada Ingredients
• 1 16-ounce can of Plain Tomato Sauce (preferably no-salt)
• 1 Cup Pure Pumpkin Puree
• 1/4 Cup Mexican Spice Blend, Chili Powder Blend or Taco Seasoning
• 1/2 Cup Pumpkin Ale or other Seasonal Beer Ale/Lager (optional) or 1/4 Cup Water
• Pinch of Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper
 • 2-3 Cups Roasted Turkey - pulled apart/shredded
• 1 Package of Corn Tortillas (10 to a pack)
• 1& 1/2 Cups Shredded Mexican/Jack/Cheddar Cheese Blend

 Equipment needed: 
• Baking Casserole Dish - 9 x 13

1. Preheat oven to 375° Degrees Fahrenheit.
2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the tomato sauce, pumpkin puree, Mexican/Taco seasoning, Pumpkin Ale (if using) or water. Whisk to combine thoroughly. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed, adding more seasoning as desired. If mixture is too thick, thin it a bit w/beer or water, though using a good Pumpkin or October Fest Ale/Lager rocks!
3. Shred the turkey using 2 forks and remove the bones and skin. Set aside.
4. Spoon 1 cup of the enchilada sauce into the bottom of the casserole dish, spreading it out evenly; set aside.
5. Fill each corn tortilla with some of the shredded turkey and a bit of the shredded cheese, using 1/2 cup of the cheese. Roll the tortillas up and place, seam side down in the baking dish. Alternately, you can fill each corn tortilla and place them, bottom side down in the baking dish, like a row of tacos. Use all ten tortillas and lay them all into the baking dish.
6. Pour the remaining enchilada sauce over the prepared tortillas and then top the enchiladas with the remaining shredded cheese.
7. Bake in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling and the cheese is thoroughly melted. Cool slightly before serving.
8. Serves 5 (2 enchiladas per person). Left-overs will hold for up to 3 days refrigerated in a tightly covered container. Will reheat best in the oven. Serve with reheated green beans sprinkled with Mexican or Taco Seasoning and Sautéed Bell Peppers and Onions to round out the meal.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Living Well with Pat Nogar and The Bicycle-Chef!

Here's a very small sneak preview of a television cooking show segment on which I was so honored to be involved this past Monday, November 14th. I was one of three guest chef/event planners, on Patricia Nogar's program, Living Well with Pat Nogar.  The show will air in December, on the Township of Lower Merion's cable access channel as well as on their website.  It will also be available on Patricia Nogar's​ YouTube Channel - Living Well with Pat Nogar​.

The table set up for a shot featuring, Pat, and the three guest chefs

Camera man and producer, Mark

Pat Nogar, setting up the background with Holiday decor

Josh and Pat, trying to hang up a holiday wreath

Chef Denine - The Bicycle-Chef, in the kitchen before our shoot.
The theme of the show was holiday foods and memories.  Pat asked me to share a stuffed cabbage recipe, aka galumpki's, a Polish Family Favorite.  She also ask me to have on hand Crushiki, fried ribbons of dough covered in a blizzard of powdered sugar.  Both recipes, which I will be posting soon, were given to me by my good friend who is like family, Lynnette Nagel. I didn't get my Polish Babci's recipes even though I do have fond memories of eating her food in my childhood.  Lynnette is much more connected to her heritage than I am, so I turned to her for assistance.  I remember going to Lynnette's house one time and she pulled out all the stops for us - and galumpkis were a highlight of her weekend's menus for my family.  Having her share with me her mother and grandmother's cherished family recipes was incredibly generous.  It's all about creating new food memories and keeping traditions alive.
The cabbages we stuffed on the tv shoot - looking prettier and brighter under the house lights!

Pat Nogar - doing a live feed on facebook, showing off my final version of the galumpkis
More will be posted about this event - along with the recipes and some other photos.  I had a fantastic time being a part of this show and really enjoyed meeting the folks who create the tv magic.  Thank you Pat!

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Collingswood Fall Festival and Chili Contest with a recipe!

I think I may just become a "professional eater".  Seems that I'm well on my way to this new position, having now been a judge at four tasting contests in Collinsgwood this season.  Three at the Collingswood Farmers' Market: Salsa, Peach and Apple Pie contests, and the Chili Contest at the Fall Festival in Knight Park.  The Fall Festival is an event sponsored by the Collingswood Borough Elementary, Middle and High School PTA's.  Held in our large park, called Knight Park, schools gather together to showcase their PTA and to raise money for them.  There is food for sale, games and entertainment for kids and adults and it's a way to come together outside as a community.

 My friend, Kate Thomas-Arter, asked me to step in and be a judge for the Borough's annual Chili contest at the Fall Festival this past weekend,  Rather than be a contestant and try to figure out when I was going to have time to make a crock pot full of chili, I jumped at the chance to be a taster instead of a contributor.  I knew this contest would be a good one and it wouldn't make me have a sugar melt-down like I experienced from the last two pie contests.  If one paces oneself, sampling chili might not be such a bad way to spend a lunch hour.

Our picture perfect autumn afternoon was an idyllic day, crisp air, beautiful light, several hundred people from the community enjoying music and hay rides.  I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn't watching some Hallmark Television program, that what I was experiencing was truly real.  The video posted above was a quick scene I shot and tweaked in the editing to cut out a few seconds of blank movement.  The performer's song and the moment were so in sync with each other that it would have been a waste to not capture the moment.  If only I hadn't been quite so shakey with my hand-held movements.  No matter, the feelings are visible.
The Chili Contest consisted of 11 entries, 10 of which were there at the beginning, with the 11th entry arriving a few minutes after the five judges started to taste all the chili.  I'm not positive all the judges got to sample chili number 11, so I should say that there were only 10 that were part of the official tally.  Of the 10, only two were vegetarian.  There were four that had cuts of beef, one with ground turkey, one white chili (vegan), and one true Texas Chili - no beans, no tomato, just beef and chili powder and spices. Most of the chili's entered into the contest had a kick - people didn't shy away from the spices! I tasted one that reminded me of a Cincinnati style chili - slightly sweet, finely ground beef, with a hint of cinnamon.  Most chilis were dark, with nuanced flavors.  One or two had hints of bread/yeast/beer, and there were two that were more soup-like than chili-like.  Two were more stew-like than chili, hearty and filled with chunks of meat and vegetables. There was truly a chili style for everyone.

The judges handed in their votes quickly, except for me.  I was too busy taking notes, sniffing ingredients and savoring bites.  I ate slowly and I took small samples.  The votes were counted in private so I don't know if we had a tie in any category.  Unlike the Farmers' Market contests, there weren't various categories to judge.  This was a straightforward affair, 1st, 2nd and 3rd place.

1st Place was awarded to - Chili #4, Jill Tribulas.  This was a deep red colour, nice bite, great mouth-feel and spice. I noted that it was an Autumn Pleaser.  It was in my top 3 picks.
2nd Place was awarded to - Chili #6, Greg Dollak.  Greg was a Peach Pie contestant, making a good pie and now a great chili.  His entry was stew-like, with cuts of tender meat, peppers and a lot of spice.  I listed that I liked it very much.

3rd Place was awarded to - Chili #5, Denise Gregorio.  Denise, is the mother of one of my son's classmates, so we know her and the family well.  I made sure I didn't know who made the chilis before I tasted them, so that I wouldn't be biased.  I'm glad I was sure to be a "blind-taster", Denise's chili, along with a few others were cooked by friends.  Denise's chili had a bite that lingered on the tongue, giving it a kick that kept on kicking!  Thick, ground meat and lots of beans, this too was another chili that I noted i my top five favorites.
As for my other favorites, Chili #1, took my vote for #1. This turned out to be made by our friend, Kate, who asked me to be a judge.  As I mentioned, I didn't know who made which batch.  I really loved Kate's chili, so much so that I wanted to get some to take home.  There was none left at the end of the festival.  After our tasting contest, all the chili was then offered for sale to festival-goers.  Kate texted me later to say she couldn't give me any, it sold out!   She made several batches in order to test out her recipe.  It may be a long while before she makes another batch again.  You and I will have to be content with her recipe instead, which she graciously shared with me.  This dark red, cocoa-infused chili was tinged with tomatoes, cumin, and filled with tender stew beef. It packed a spicy punch too.

Kate Thomas-Arter's Chili Recipe:
  • 2 lbs. Stew beef - cut into small cubes
  • 1 large onion - small dice
  • 1 green bell pepper - small dice
  • 1 red bell pepper - small dice
  • 2 Tbsp Chili powder (McCormick Hot Mexican-Style)
  • 2 tsp Ground Cumin
  • 1/2 tsp Cayenne Pepper
  • 1/2 tsp Garlic Powder
  • 2 tsp Salt
  • Pinch Freshly Ground Black Pepper
  • 1 Can (14-16 ounces) Kidney Beans - mostly drained
  • 1 Can (14-16 ounces) Black Beans - drained and rinsed
  • 1 Can Mexican-Style Rotel Tomatoes (about 15 ounces)
  • 1 Large Can (29oz.) Tomato Sauce
  • 1/4 Cup Frank's Red Hot Sauce
  • 1 Square Ghiradelli 72% Cacao (must be dark chocolate, at least 72% dark)
  1. Sauté onion and peppers in oil, set aside. 
  2. Salt and pepper beef, and sear beef in batches in small amount of vegetable oil. Cut into small pieces, deglaze pan. 
  3. Add meat (and its juices) and vegetables back in and add seasonings. 
  4. Add all other ingredients. 
  5. After coming to a boil, simmer for 2 hours, best the next day.
Per Kate's notes to me, she told me, 
"I needed to add a little more chili powder and garlic powder, and I also did a cornstarch slurry, because it was a little too liquidy."
A cornstarch slurry is a teaspoon of cornstarch added to a quarter cup of cold water and stirred. You then pour a bit of the slurry into the chili and stir. As the chili heats up, the cornstarch acts as a thickener. Only use a bit at a time, otherwise you may end up with something too thick or like paste!

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

A whole lotta apple...pies

Winner of the Best Overall and best tasting pie, Charles DiFranco,
and pies 1 through 15 (not necessarily all of them in order!
Over three weeks ago, on Saturday, October 8th, the 17th annual Collingswood Farmers' Market Apple Pie Contest was held.  With over 20 entries, closing in on 24 at last count, there was a pie for every possible taste and type.  We had classic pies, mixed fruit pies, cream style pies, crumbles, buckles, crumb-topped and caramel. There were humble pies and decorative pies. There was a pie mask for the Day of the Dead.  We had floral, pumpkin, tree of life, lattice and crumb, stars and stripes all the way to a cylindrical rosette apple pie.  The sampling was exhaustive and waist-expanding.  It took me a full day to recover from all the tasting.  I'd like to say it took me these past three weeks to regain my composure in order to write my recap, but alas, it was my usual preoccupation with our voting and my typical procrastination.  Pity.  This was the pie contest for the ages and it deserves to be scooped up and served to you a la mode...
Pies 16 to 24 - again not an inclusive order but close enough.
When you have over 20 pies in the contest (I'm still not sure how many we had - but let's say there were definitely 24), it's hard to make decisions.  There were five us us officially judging - Mr. Schrober from Schober Farms; Eric Robinson from Frugal Resale; Robb Burrough, taster extraordinaire; Alan Fishman (Longtime friend of the Farmers' Market), and moi. We had some assistance from others as well - my son Nate joined me after his soccer practice and couldn't wait to dive into the pies.  Between this contest and the peach contest back in August, Nate has found a love of pie and of being on stage.  I wonder where he gets that from?  So back to eating.  Our first task was to judge the pies on best presentation.  As so many were artistically created, even this category was tricky.  

Best Presentation:
1st Place - #21 - the pie with the apple tree, baked by Melanie Whitley
2nd Place - #25 - the pie with a leaf motif crust, hearts, clovers, and a pumpkin, baked by Emily Thompson.  She's a long-time pie contestant and winner!
3rd Place - #18 another tree-topped pie, this time as a sort of lattice work tree, baked by June Walker.

In my notes, I see that I agreed with the votes on pie #18, June Walker's.  I also enjoyed the look of pie #7, just for the shear fun of it.  It was a pie with a Day of the Dead Mask theme - colorful and original. I was a fan of pie #22, a pie with leaves in concentric circles, centered with a maple leaf and burnished with a maple glaze.  Pie #21 also took my fancy.  The skill it took to create the tree and the leaves on the top crust was an impressive amount of work.
Here's what the pies look like once the eating and judging began
Then we cut into the pies and forked in.  It was time for the tasting.  We delved into the classic apple pie category.  About half the entries were considered classic apple pies.  All apples, double crust or crumb topping, or in some cases, both a top crust and a streusel topping.  I wish I had doubled up on my sugar meds!  

Classic Apple Pie Winners:
1st Place - #19, baked by Charles DiFranco - his pie hit all the right notes, flaky, sweet tender crust.  Good choice of apple - not tart, not mushy.  They held up well.  When the pie was cut, it didn't weep, the pie juices had set.
2nd Place - #3 , baked by Dina DiRenzo - a pie topped with stars for the top crust.  Another well-set pie that utilized good apples and just enough cinnamon to set it apart form its competition.  
3rd Place - #10, baked by Connie Felton.  Turns out Connie is a friend of mine, but since I didn't see what pie she baked, it was a very impartial voting.  A true "blind-bake, blind-taste" test for me.  Connie's Classic arrived almost moments before we started judging.  Her rustic deep dish pie with its star shaped slits cut out on the top crust to allowed steam to escape and be an artistic embellishment.  

We had a few tie-breakers to make, as we were dead-locked for 2nd place and 3rd place.  After another round of tasting, we had our winners.  The pies I wrote about in my notebook were #19, for its good balance but I would have loved it if it had been warm.  #15 - it was pretty.  #10 (one of our winners!), my notes say "Whoa!"  and again about pie #19 - it was sweet with a hint of cardamon. 
Our winners and participants 
Pies with cheese crusts, berries, nuts, caramel, creamcheese, cranberries, or all the above, were in the Anything goes category.  It was getting harder to make choices.  After so many bites, your palate gets weary.  It was time to go back to the basics.  Look, smell, appearance of the filling, the way the apples feel on the fork and then your tongue.  Tasting all the pies truly utilizes all of your senses.

Anything Goes Winners:
1st Place - #20, baked by Linda Sauerwein.  Her lattice and crumb top pie also included caramel. It was, according to Linda, a recipe she found on the King Arthur website.  It had been a blue ribbon winner, and it truly was.  Under Linda's capable hands, she brought to Collingswood a New England-style apple pie special.
2nd Place - #23, baked by Jennifer Jupiter.  We had a 4 way tie for 2nd place between pies 21, 22, 23 and 24.  After a lot of debate, Jennifer's pie, another lattice and crumb topper, was deemed the clear winner.  This was a difficult tie breaker, it took a few tries to get to our clear choice.  Ms. Jupiter's Jumping Jupiter Cosmic Pie was outta of this world!
3rd Place - #21 and 22 - another tie!  These were baked by Melanie Whitney and Chya Stonehill.  Melanie's pie, #21caught my eye and vote several times, as I really enjoyed her handicraft with her leaf motif and the caramelized burnish.  Chya's pie, #22, the other tree topped crust, also made my list of favs.
The Lucky Judges - Mr. Schober from Schober Farms, Eric, Robb, John, and Denine
After all of our indulging, we then decided upon which pie we most wanted to take home.  By this time, I was full and couldn't think about eating another bite.  Our votes were tallied a bit quicker this time.  The grand prize winner turned out to be our Classic Apple Pie winner, Charles DiFranco  

Our Grand Prize Winning Pie - Nearly Perfect and oh so homey
Take Me Home Winners:
1st Place - #19, baked by Charles DiFranco.  Our Classic Pie winner.  This was his first year entering, and his homey, warm, sweet pie was just the right fall treat.
2nd Place - #25, baked by Emily Thompson.  Again, another win here, taking home both the anything goes category and the take me home prize.  Her ultimate caramel apple pie, with it's beautiful leaves, cut outs and perfect inside was the pie you just wanted to photograph again and again.  Emily is another long-time contestant, who truly knows her way around the kitchen stove.  She and her mother enter pies each season and take home prizes frequently.  Her pie had notes of caramel and vanilla.  I wrote that "She's just too darn good!" 

Now that it's been almost 4 weeks, I can say I'm ready for a piece of apple pie again.  As it is my all-time favorite this was a contest that I enjoyed with all my being.  Congratulations to all the winners and to all of our entrants.  It's a brave thing to do to enter a pie, to put yourself out there and display your handiwork.  It was appreciated and we all enjoyed each and every entry.  Everyone who entered brought something delightful to the contest.  Brava!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Spaghetti Squash with Tomato, Pumpkin & Vegetable Sauce

Spaghetti squash with Pumpkin Tomato Vegetable Sauce
UPDATED:  SEPTEMBER 21, 2016 - As timely today as when I first discovered how wonderful a spaghetti squash could be.  Now that they are in season and are a great price - typically, $2-$3 for a decent sized squash, go ahead and buy one to try.  Look for a squash that's about the size of NERF Football, or small football.  It should feel heavy for its size and be blemish free.

One of my favorite produce vendors, Viereck Farms, will be having all sorts of winter squash at their stand at the Collingswood Farmers' Market.  I noticed that he had spaghetti squash along with acorn and butternuts.  These hold well in your refrigerator for several weeks, so if you buy one and can't decide what to do with these hearty fall and winter vegetables, you can store it in the bottom of your refrigerator.

At a Weight Watchers which I used to attend, our Leader, Pat, brought up the topic of healthy food choices. She had a slew of products and items to share with the group, one of which was her favorite, pumpkin puree. She mentioned that she adds it to her oatmeal, which adds fiber, flavor and a vegetable to her morning meal. AHA! I thought, a chance to discuss some recipe ideas. I mentioned a few to the group, telling them I mixed pumpkin, tomato sauce and taco seasonings together for a Mexican Enchilada Sauce; added pumpkin to vegetarian chili; I added pumpkin to a pork stew and pumpkin stew; and lastly, to tomato sauce, or "gravy" over whole wheat pasta.

Inspiration had hit me and the need to write a recipe was in the making. I've made this dish several times in the Fall, one time adding the last bit of pumpkin from a left-over can. Here I've recreated it again, with photos and a conscious effort to make it a heart and weight watchers healthy recipe. I love how the tomato sauce is packed with vegetables, adding in at least 2 servings of the daily requirement. Plus, depending on how finely they are grated, the carrots and squash seem to blend into the sauce. The carrots add a bit of sweetness and the zucchini a bit of texture. Ever since I came home from Italy the summer of 2007, I've been finding ways to make tomato sauces simpler and more fresh tasting - this is definitely one worth trying.

If you have your one tomatoes that you have put up or have frozen, by all means, use them! This would also be great with a batch of fresh tomatoes that you can crush or puree at use - I'd suggest cooking them down for a bit longer then this recipe calls for doing.

Spaghetti Squash with Pumpkin, Vegetable Tomato Sauce Ingredients:
  • 1 Small/Medium Spaghetti Squash (about a pound 1/2) - cut in half, seeds removed
  • 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
  • 1 Medium Onion - Small Dice
  • 2 Garlic Cloves - finely minced
  • 2 Medium Carrots - Grated
  • 1 Medium Zucchini - Grated
  • 1 Medium Yellow Squash - Grated
  • 2 Tablespoons Italian Seasoning
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Hot Red Pepper Flakes - or more or less to taste
  • 1 Large Can (about 20 ounce) Crushed Italian Tomatoes
  • 1 Cup Pure Pumpkin Puree
  • Salt and Pepper - to taste

  1. To cook the Spaghetti Squash - Cut spaghetti squash in half, and remove seeds.
  2. Place the squash, cut side down in a microwave safe bowl with about an inch or two of water in the bottom of the bowl.
  3. Microwave the squash for two- 10 minute intervals; after 20 minutes, carefully pierce the squash with a knife to see if it is tender throughout. If it is still unyielding, microwave for another 5-8 minutes.
  4. Cover the squash in the bowl with plastic wrap to finish steaming and to cool.
  5. When the squash is cool enough to handle, remove from the bowl, discard the steaming water; use a fork to scrap out the squash membranes into spaghetti like strands.
  6. Discard the outer peel of the squash and set the spaghetti squash strands aside, covered to keep warm.
  7. To make the Tomato Sauce - Wash and prepare the other vegetables as directed. In a stock or 4 quart pot, heat the 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium high heat until it shimmers. Add in the diced onions and minced garlic and saute until translucent - about 2 minutes.
  8. Add in the grated carrots and saute another 2 minutes.
  9. Add in the grated zucchini and yellow squash and saute for an additional 2-3 minutes.
  10. Add the Italian seasonings and hot pepper flakes and saute to bring out the herbs flavors.
  11. Add in the tomato sauce and the pumpkin puree. If the mixture appears to be too thick, add 1 cup cold water to the mixture, stirring to combine all the ingredients. Bring the mixture to a low boil, then simmer for 20-30 minutes. Taste, adding salt and pepper and adjust seasonings as needed.  If it needs more flavor, I like to add in a dash of a good balsamic vinegar to amp up the flavors, as opposed to adding more salt, oil or other fats.
  12. Serve hot over spaghetti squash or you can use a cooked, whole wheat pasta
This post was originally published on January 9, 2008.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

What to do with Kale & Basil (and other abundant herbs!)

Now is the time to start stocking up on your herbs and using them in creative ways. I've been experimenting with pesto recipes lately.  My basic recipe usually omits the cheese and garlic, making a "base" of pesto to which you can add cheese and garlic later, or not at all.  I've made pesto with other a mix of herbs such as mint, parsley, cilantro, dill, chives, tarragon, or whatever is growing in my herb boxes. Mint and basil and parsley are my stand-by herbs, because they are available in abundance and they play well together.  Swapping out the nuts is another favorite thing to do - you don't always have to use pine nuts; walnuts, almonds, cashews, and pistachios work beautifully as well, so long as you toast the nuts before adding to the pesto.  The other thing I like to do is either blanch or roast the garlic that I'm using, to tame it's sharp, bitter edge.

By adding in kale or spinach, you are boosting the nutritional qualities and adding a much needed chlorophyll component to keeping your pesto bright green.  It's also a fantastic way to stretch you pesto without adding fat calories.  Plus, when you're stuck with a bunch of kale from your CSA or latest farmers' market purchase, it's a nice way to use that kale in a healthy and useful way.

To make the fully-finished batch of pesto vegan, I simply omitted the cheese and instead used a generous helping of mustard powder as the binding agent.  Herbs, spinach or kale, olive oil, roasted or blanched garlic, a nut of choice, salt and pepper and a dash of red or white wine vinegar makes a most inviting pesto that will keep you and many meals happy for weeks or even months to come.  I store my pesto in small jars/containers, often freezing them so that I have them on hand for months to come.

As for other ways to use the herbs that are flourishing in your's and the farmers' market gardens, making a batch of basil or other herb oils is key; freezing and drying herbs is also an option.  For fragrant but delicate herbs like basil and mint, fill small zip-lock sandwich sized bags with cleaned and dried herbs; press out most of the air that you can, and freeze flat in your freezer.  You can break off pieces of the frozen basil or mint as you need it for your cooking dishes.  The herbs will look dark and muddy but their fragrant "oomph" will be there for you as soon as the herbs hit the warmer air or saute pan.  Drying these two herbs will only diminish and ruin them.  They just are not the same and are not worth keeping as dried herbs in your pantry.

Herbs that do best as dried are oregano - and according to my favorite blogger and Instagramer - PhillyFoodist, oregano only comes to life once it's dried.  Take bunches of the herb, tie or bind it by the stems and hang upside down somewhere dark and cool for a few days, or alternatively, dry the oregano in your oven, on a sheet pan, while the oven is off, overnight.

Rosemary, tarragon, dill and chives can be dried or frozen - they all work well either way.  Cilantro and Parsley I prefer to be fresh but freshly dried is infinitely better than almost any store brand.  How I handle my parsely is to clean it, dry it in a clean tea towel, then roughly chop it.  I then put the chopped parsley onto a sheet pan or dish and allow it to dry out overnight.  It retains a fresh bright green hue and it's snap too.  It works well as a dash of "confetti' over a finished dish or in a pasta at serving.

Here's my new version of vegan Kale and Herb Pesto.  For my other many pesto recipes, here are some links to check out:  Kale, Basil and Herb - Traditional Pesto.  Spinach and Basil Pesto (the spinach keeps the pest bright green, stretches it and ads loads of nutrition!).  A whole wheat pasta and vegetable medley with pesto (recipe meal ideas here!)

Vegan Kale Basil Parsley and Mint Pesto Ingredients:  Updated from a June 23, 2014 Post
  • 2-3 Cups (loosely packed; about 1 small/medium bunch) Fresh Kale Leaves - cleaned, de-stemmed of woody/tough center rib
  • 1 Bunch Basil (about 1 cup loosely packed)- cleaned and leaves removed from stems
  • 1/2 Cup Parsley - cleaned and stems removed
  • 1/4 to 1/2 Cup Fresh Mint Leaves - cleaned and leaves removed from stems
  • 1/4 cup to 1/2 Cup of other Herbs of choice, such as Tarragon, Dill and Chives (optional)
  • 4 Garlic Cloves - peeled & blanched or roasted
  • 1/2 to 3/4 Cup Olive Oil - or more as needed
  • 1/4 Cup Toasted Walnuts, or Almonds. or Pine nuts, or Cashews or Pistachios
  • Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper - to taste
  • 1/4 Cup Dry Ground Mustard Powder - such as Colemans.  Use a mild mustard, not a spicy one
  • 1 Tablespoon White or Red Wine Vinegar

Equipment Needed:
  • Food Processor or Blender
  • Rubber Spatula
  • small sauce pot and sieve or fine mesh strainer
1. Clean the kale, basil, parsley and mint and other herbs you are using.  Set aside.

2. Bring a large pot of  water to a rolling boil.  Add in a tablespoon of salt.  Next, add in the de-stemmed kale leaves and cook for 5 minutes.  Add in the garlic after 5 minutes and cook for 1 minute more.

3.  Put the basil leaves, parsley and mint into a colander and then drain the blanched kale leaves and garlic in that same colander, pouring the hot  water over the herb leaves.  Drain, and then immediately run cold water over everything to stop the cooking process.  Squeeze the kale and herbs dry, wringing out as much water as possible.

4. Add the blanched kale, garlic and herbs, (basil and parsley, etc),  into the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment or into a large/heavy duty 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.  

5. Scrap down the sides of the work bowl or blender and add in the toasted and cooled nuts , then season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Pulse a few more times to grind the nuts.  Lastly, add in the dry mustard powder and the vinegar and pulse a few more times.  Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.
6. Store the pesto tightly covered and refrigerated.  Pesto without the cheese added to it can be frozen for up to 3 months.  This pesto will keep, refrigerated, for up to 2 weeks.  Adding the kale to it will help maintain its intense green colour. Makes 2 cups of pesto or more, depending on how generous you are with your handfuls and bunches!

Add more of each, kale, basil, parsley, mint, 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!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Bourbon Summer Orange Kiss

I'm always trying to dream up new cocktails, it's my thing.  Went to Pizzeria Vetri on Chancellor Street in Center City Philadelphia a few weeks back, and we were there in time to take advantage of Center City Sips Happy Hour specials - $5 cocktails, $5 apps, and $3 beers.  Their summer cocktail, a combination of whiskey, lemonade and rosemary simple syrup was refreshing and not too sweet. Went down smooth. I made myself have only one, but my friends enjoyed several more.  Inspired by this combination, I sought to make something similar at home but I discovered I had no lemons.  We did have limes, clementines and several lovely bottles of flavored syrups and shrubs.  I grabbed the lavender syrup and whipped up this sweet bourbon kiss. 

You can use oranges instead of clementines, but I do suggest you use either a lavender simple syrup or something that's infused with citrus, lavender, rosemary, or mint.  A lighter bourbon will work with this drink, something mild, light and smooth.  Basil Hayden was a Christmas gift and I love it straight up.  It also makes a nice light cocktail.  Orange bitters round out the flavor components, perfuming the entire drink.

Summer Orange Kiss Ingredients:
  • Ice - For cocktail shaker and for rocks glass
  • 2 Dashes Orange Bitters
  • 1 Clementine - Juice of half  (about 1 tablespoon orange juice); Peel off a section of zest for garnish; use the reserved half of clementine and slice off a piece (about 1-inch worth) to muddle in cocktail shaker
  • 1 Small Lime - cut in half and juice,(about 1 tablespoon lime juice), reserve other half for another use 
  • 1 Jigger of Bourbon - 1.5 - 2 ounces approximately
  • 1 Tablespoon Lavender Infused Simple Syrup **

  1. Add a slice of clementine to a cocktail shaker and add in 2 dashes of orange bitters.  Muddle the orange segment to release its juices and essence.
  2. Add ice to the cocktail shaker and the juice of half of a Clementine, juice of half of a lime, a jigger of light bourbon and a tablespoon of lavender syrup. Close shaker and shake vigorously.  
  3. Strain and serve the drink in a rocks glass filled with 2 ice cubes or preferably a large round or square ice cube.  Garnish with the zest of the clementine.
  4. Makes one drink!

** To make your own simple syrup, it is truly simple to do.  
  • Take 1 cup of white, granulated sugar and 1 cup of fresh water.  Add them to a small sauce pan and over medium heat, heat the mixture until the sugar dissolves into the water and the water turns clear and syrupy - about 5-6 minutes.  
  • To infuse the syrup with a flavor, add in cleaned pieces of: sprigs of rosemary, or a handful of mint leaves lightly crushed, or a few springs/stalks of clean lavender.  Allow the herb of choice to steep in the syrup for 15-20 minutes over low, barely simmering heat, do not boil or allow the mixture to reduce down.  
  • Let the syrup cool then then remove the herbs and discard them. Strain the syrup through a fine mesh strainer to remove any particles and decant into a clean glass jar or bottle.  Cover and refrigerate. 
  • The syrup will keep for at least a month in the refrigerator.  
  • To keep it longer, add in several drops or a teaspoon of a neutral spirit such as vodka, to keep any bacteria from forming.  Discard if the syrup looks cloudy, moldy or funky!
  • Syrup can be used to flavor iced tea or iced coffees.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Peach Pie Contest at the C'Wood Farmers' Market

The 14th Annual Peach Pie Contest was held on Saturday, August 6, 2016. There were 11 pies entered and five hungry judges set forth to taste and taste and taste each and every entry until we were all about to pass out from the sugar high!  In past contests there have been upwards of 20 pies entered.  I love pie, but eating more than 12 sample tastes would really set me over the edge.

Best over-all Peach Pie winner, Jane Walker
The pie categories were:  Best Presentation; Classic; Anything Goes; Best over-all Pie aka, The Pie You Most Want to Take Home!  We had cross-over winners in each category.  We had family entries.  We had returning bakers.  We had Dads and kids who baked.  And we had bakers with so much talent that their pies deserved to be on magazine covers.
Life's a Peach submitted by Natasha Zirbel
I brought along my son and helper, Nate, who couldn't wait to be a part of the tasting crew.
Tally Taker, Erin, from Collingswood Board Co. gave Nate a job, to keep him occupied and focused. Nate was on trash duty, collecting the judges used spoons and plates.  A 6 1/2 year old can only taste so many pies before he gets bored.   My helper gave his opinion on which pies he thought tasted best allowing me to narrow down the choices.  At times we were in complete agreement and then our taste buds disagreed.  A bit of opposition is a good thing in making tasting judgments.

As far as our discernment on the best looking presentation, Nate was in complete agreement with the five judges, Peach Pie entry No. 9, " Life's a Peach", which was decorated with peach slices in concentric circles to create a floral pattern, was the clear winner.  It was technically perfect, pretty and colourful.  I especially loved the decorations around the spring-form pan - using decorative papers and mini flags to spell out Life's a Peach.  Pie no. 9 was one of the more original pies.  A no-bake pie, it had a pretzel toffee crumb crust, a tangy peach, cinnamon and sour-cream/whipped cream filling that was crowned with peach slices.

Other intricately designed pies such as entry no. 11 - with a beautiful star-pointed flower and leaf and flower embellished nutty crumb crust, and pie no. 6, was a lattice, braided lattice and flower on flower crust took my breath away.  The hard work that went into these pies was impressive.  Tasting these pies was also a treat.  I ate many helpings of each, enjoying the fillings were were near perfect as were the tender sweet crusts.  The crusts alone could stand out as gorgeous dessert offerings.

I was sorry to have over-looked pie 6 for presentation, I was so focused on the Life's a Peach pie.  Any omissions were soon corrected because that pie baker nearly swept the contest!  Returning contributor, Jane Walker, won handily in the Classic category as well as for over-all presentation.  Her daughter, Emily Thompson's, Anything Goes Pie No. 11 took first place.

One of my favorite pies, an Anything Goes entry, No. 8, was a amalgamation of cobbler and pie, filled with blueberries, raspberries and peaches.  The crumb topping and soft crust enveloped the filling in a way that made this my favorite new comfort-food dessert.  The pie was still warm, because contestant, Cherry Pope, rushed her pie to the table moments before we started the judging!  I think the warm pie was a clincher for me.  I also loved pie no. 7 - a near classic entry embellished with blueberries in its center and along its edge. Had pie no. 7  not been topped with blueberries, it would have been a sublime entry for the classic category.

Dylan, Greg and Julia, with their caramel and crumb topped peach pie

Nate's favorite pie was in the Classic category, entered by Greg Dollak *** along with his son, Dylan and daughter, Julia.  They are a family we often see at the Farmers' Market.  Nice to see familiar faces of families that enjoy cooking together. According to Greg, this is their 3rd year entering the Peach Pie Contest.  20014, 20015 and noe 2016, which was a charm to us!  Greg's pie, a classic entry was a crumb-topped pie, enhanced with caramel generously drizzled over the entire pie.  I'm sure Nate enjoyed it because it was pure sweet decadence.

As we greedily indulged in the pie devouring tasting, I was struck by how often a look of a pie can belie its true nature.  Not all pies tasted equal in looks vs flavors and some of the modest-looking comfort-food pies turned out to be fan favorites.  Some pies suffered from being a tad runny inside, juices not quite holding together.  A few pies had a nutmeg bite that hit your tongue on the first taste.  Salt, usually a necessary ingredient to balance the sweet and tart was at times too apparent.  All the pies, from the gorgeous to the humble were good and I'd have been pleased to take any one of them home with me.

From buttery, warm, comfort-food like, to close to perfect, all of the the returning and first time contestants truly know how to bake, decorate, and present blue-ribbon winning pies.

Meredith , Greg, Jane, and Greg's kids, Julia and Dylan - all winners!

The winners in each category were as follows:

Best Presentation:
1st Place:   No. 9 - Natasha Zirbel
2nd Place - A Tie!:  Jane Walker and Emily Thompson - mother and daughter team

Classic Peach Pie:
1st Place: Jane Walker
2nd Place: Meredith Linneth
3rd Place: Greg Dollak

Anything Goes:
1st Place:  Emily Thompson
2nd Place: Cherry Pope
3rd Place:  Charles Rockland

Over-All Winner aka The Pie You Want to Take Home:
Grand Prize Winner: Jane Walker

***Corrections made to clear up misspellings and incorrect names!