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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!

Monday, August 8, 2016

Tipsy Coffee Cakelettes

On my previous post, I talked about making a bourbon infused peach coffee cake, using a box cake mix.  Oh the horrors! Using a box mix? Well, yes, a box mix.  I like mixes.  I like the convenience and knowing that the cake will turn out fine every time.  I like knowing you can alter ingredients, making a cake with only one ingredient, or lowering the fat content.  Box mixes give me a lot of baking freedom in that the leg work has been done for me.  Now not all mixes are created equal nor are they priced accordingly. Fancier mixes from gourmet shops will set you back at least $15.  I'm not sure a $15 box of Sprinkles Cup Cake mixes, Stonewall Kitchens', or even my favorite, Williams-Sonoma, have ingredients that are any better than the good ole supermarket standbys - Duncan, Betty and the Doughboy.  An upscale mix from Wegmans Supermarket might set you back $5 - which isn't a lot of money when you think about the per-price cost of a piece of cake or cupcake.

My new favorite choice for an economical commercial box mix is this new line by Pillsbury.  Let me be clear, I have not received anything in exchange for my opinion.  I really like this new line because it has very few ingredients, no additives, no artificial coloring's, no unpronounceable words.  I wish all mixes were made this way.  It reminds me of Heinz's Simply Heinz Ketchup - why not make all ketchup with just the needed ingredients? Why do we need to have high fructose corn syrup?  Why the colourings?   I don't mind paying an extra dollar for products that taste and are better for you.  The Pillsbury Purely Simple mix has been used twice now with fantastic results.  The first time I used the white cake mix I just added vanilla bean paste and followed the instructions.  The cake turned out beautifully.

For my coffee cakes, I embellished the mix and doubled the batch.  Herewith is my recipe for one batch. Double it if you need.  I baked them in 3x5 mini loaf pans, and with the double batch, I yielded 12 mini loaves.  One times the recipe should yield 6 mini loaves

The peaches I used had been soaking in a jar of bourbon that I was turning into Peach Bourbon.  Those need to soak at least 1 week.  Mine soaked for about 3 months - but truly, a week's infusion is fine.  Once I strained the peaches from the bourbon, I saved them in a zip-lock baggie and put them into the freezer.  Because the peaches had been in alcohol, they never truly froze, but became semi-slushy.  I kept them in the freezer for almost a year!  At the time of usage, I chopped up the peaches and used the liquid that was in the bag to drizzle over the cakes before baking. That liquid was full of peach and bourbon flavors - too good to go to waste, hence the moniker, Tipsy Cakelettes.  A sort of riff on the infamous famous Lynchburg Cake and Candy Company's Jack Daniels' Tipsy Cakes out of Kentucky.

Tipsy Coffee Cakeletts Ingredients:

  • 3 Tablespoons All-Purpose Unbleached Flour
  • 2 Ripe Peaches - pitted and small dice
  • 3 Bourbon-Soaked Peaches - small dice (To make bourbon soaked peaches, place peach slices into a clean glass jar and cover with bourbon of choice, it can be an inexpensive brand.  Seal jar and place in a cool dark place for at least a week or up to 1 month.  Strain out the peaches, and use these for tipsy cakeletts and use the reserved peach infused bourbon for a Peach Old Fashioned.) - Reserve any liquid that the peaches give off for drizzling over cake batter.
  • 1 Box Pillsbury Purely Simple White Cake Mix
  • 1 Stick Unsalted Butter - softened
  • 3 Large Eggs - lightly beaten
  • 3/4  Cup Milk - Whole, Low-Fat or Non-Fat it's your choice
  • 1/2 Cup Plain Non-Fat Greet Yogurt (or other plain yogurt, but the Greek-style is best)
  • 1 Teaspoon Pure Vanilla Extract or Vanilla Bean Paste
  • 2 Tablespoons Bourbon or Reserved Peach Bourbon Liquid - for drizzling (optional)

Streusel Topping:

  • 1 Cup All-Purpose Unbleached Flour
  • 3/4 Cup Packed Light Brown Sugar 
  • 1 Cup Quick Cook Oats
  • 1 Stick Unsalted Butter - cold and cut into small pieces
  • Pinch Salt
  • 1 Tablespoon Ground Cinnamon


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Prepare your cake pans - spraying/buttering them and flouring them.  Set aside
  3. Make Streusel topping first - in a large bowl, combine flour, brown sugar, oatmeal, butter cubes, pinch of salt and cinnamon and combine with your hands or with a pastry cutter, to create the streusel topping.  Cut the ingredients together to create a "sandy-textured coarse meal".  The topping should be slightly chunky or the size of peas.  You can make this in a food processor, pulsing the mixture a few times to combine.  The final texture needs to be coarse and wet-sand like.  Set aside and refrigerate until ready to use.  You can make this ahead of time and the mixture can be frozen for up to 2 months.
  4. In a small mixing bowl, add the diced fresh peaches and the diced bourbon soaked peaches and toss the three tablespoons of flour over them, tossing to combine.  If the peaches are supper juice/wet, use another tablespoon of flour on them.  Set aside.
  5. In a large mixing bowl, combine the Pillsbury cake mix with the soften butter and beat on low in either a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment or with a hand-mixer on low speed - for two minutes.  
  6. Add in the beaten eggs, milk, yogurt, and vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste.  Mix the batter on medium speed for four minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl to make sure the batter is thoroughly mixed.  
  7. After the batter is mixed gently fold in the peaches until they are combined with the cake batter.
  8. Pour the batter into prepared pans - Six 3x5' loaf pans or One 9 inch loaf pan.  Scatter the streusel topping over the cake batter.  If using, pour the two tablespoons of bourbon or peach bourbon liquid over the streusel topped cake batter, the place loaves/loaf pan onto a sheet tray and place in the pre-heated oven.
  9. Bake in the middle rack in the oven for 30-40 minutes, rotating the pans after 20 minutes, and check to see if the cakes are done after 30 minutes but inserting a long thin knife or skewer into the center of the cakes.  When a knife or skewer come out clean, the cakes are done.  It won't be enough to tell the cakes are done merely by looking - the cakes may look golden brown and the streusel topping will be brown and crunchy but the cakes need to be cooked all the way through to the center.
  10. Allow cake/cakes to cool on a rack in the pan/pans, then turn the cakes out and allow to cool completely before cutting or storing - about an hour.  
  11. Cakes will keep three to five days wrapped and refrigerated or can be frozen for up to three months if tightly wrapped and placed into a freezer bag.
  12. Yeilds One 9-inch loaf or Six 3/x mini loaves.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

South Jersey Foodswappers Peach Festival and Food Swap

It's peach season in New Jersey (and PA, DE and in the USA).  I love peaches but until now, the only peach foods I tend to cook have been pies, cobblers, crisps, brown Betty's and my infamous Fire Roasted Peach Salsa and Peach Infused Bourbon. Thanks to the inspiration of my friends at the South Jersey Foodswappers, I've made a slew of peach foods, with more ideas simmering on my back burner...I'll be putting up more peaches into bourbon to infuse; saving those peaches for use in a tipsy coffee cake; cooking another batch of peach and tomato chutney, and if I have the time, peach preserves.

Lest I have too many containers of the same peach foodstuffs, I had the opportunity to trade with my friends for their peachy keen goodies.  This past Saturday, July 30th, South Jersey Foodswappers held their food swap in Hammonton, NJ, in conjunction with the town's 4th Annual Peach Festival.  No better time to have a peach-food-theme than when peaches are at their peak.  I brought three peach foods, the aforementioned Peach Chutney, Fire Roasted Peach Salsa, and a Tipsy Coffee Cake.

Tipsy coffee cakeletts enhanced with bourbon peaches and streusel topping
Tipsy Coffee Cake was baked from a mix which I then doctored.  It was a wonderful box white cake mix enhanced with bourbon infused peaches, fresh peaches, vanilla bean paste, milk, butter, yogurt, and a streusel topping made with flour, butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, and oatmeal. The peach bourbon liquid was drizzled over the cake batter before the cakeletts went into the oven to bake.

Believe it or not, the box mix is a new line of Pillsbury cakes mixes - Purely Simple.  Pure ingredients, no artificial flavors or dyes.  The cakes come out tasting home-made, which they are, especially if you have doctored the cake mix.  I've always been a fan of box mixes because you can alter them and make them your own.  This line is inexpensive as far as "fancy" mixes go. Whereas I never liked their mixes and frosting, I'm now a fan of Pillsbury's Purely Simple line of goods. Honestly, they are truly good mixes and easier to make than home-made in a pinch.  Look out Duncan and Betty - The Dough Boy is making his moves on me.

My little supervisor
On this hot and humid Saturday, we packed up my car and drove down to the Blueberry Capital of the World for our peach food swap.  Nate and the Mrs. joined me making this a real family affair. Nate helped set up my table - over seeing my samples and roaming around to check out the other tables.  He and Liz both reported back to me on the items they most wanted.  Not everything was made with peaches, allowing for a larger variety of products to trade. We snagged some excellent Basil Hummus and Chocolate Fudge from my friend, Winnie.  She in turn hotfooted it over to me first to grab one of my Tipsy Coffee Cakes!

Farmer Nate
 The heat proved to be too much for all of us so the swap was set up and over within an hour.  I don't think we have ever swapped so quickly.  It was fine with Nate and Liz.  They had time to sample from the foodswap "buffet" of goods and check out the Hammonton Peach Festival highlights - peach toss, sit on a tractor, guess the candy count (which, I just learned, the kid won - guessing 119 pieces of peach candy in jar - coming 1 away from the actual number of 120!)

Because the swap was over so quickly, I barely had time to truly take in all of the things on offer.  Winnie had hummus, cake, and fudge. My friend Amy had Bellini Dessert topping, peach preserves, cake, and face toner among other things.  Organizer, Lauren, had eggs from her chickens, peach mustard, and peach filled baked goods.  There was granola and peach and blueberry crisp from Gina.  Newcomers Elizabeth and her husband had scrubs, eggs, perfumes, natural cleaning products, and Peach Jalapeno Jam (perfectly served on a turkey meatball for sampling).

Connie had eggs, peach and raspberry pan dowdy's, peach and mango sangria.  Karin came in from Philadelphia, bringing drunken cherries and peach rhubarb butter.
Jo Ann brought zucchini relish and probably other items but I was too hot and over-whelmed to remember all of her other goodies.  Mary Faith, baked Peaches and Cream muffins.  I'm sure I missed some items and people - please accept my apologies for not mentioning you!
There is something so exciting about unpacking your food swap "winnings" when you come home after a swap.  Into the freezer when a bunch of cakes and muffins to savor for later.  We devoured the peach and blueberry crisp.  Nate and Liz are enjoying the fudge.  The basil hummus became a part of our evening's antipasti platter.  Lauren's eggs, so orange and fresh, were our Sunday lunch.  I have preserves for future tastings.  The Peach Jalapeno Jam will become part of a sauce for grilled pork chops I'm making tonight. Pork chops, I will add, that are from my friend, Bailey and Thomas' farm, Ardelia Farm and Co. in Vermont.  I truly know where my food comes from!

Swapping with this group of friends is one of the highlights of my swapping world.  I am so fortunate to know this crowd.  The South Jersey Swappers are a genuine group of fun-loving, interesting people who want to build a community of like-minded people who enjoy sharing their foods and home-made creations.  Living, eating and cooking my meals, knowing where my food comes from is the best feeling.  Eat Local, support small farms!

Monday, August 1, 2016

Too Hot to Cook: Tomato Crudo

UPDATED: August 2016!

August and finally it's too hot to cook! Normally I wouldn't be so over-joyed about this but since we had an extremely mild, wet, bordering on cool summer in Philadelphia, I'm kind of happy about this change of weather. Collingswood Farmers' Markets and many CSA farm shares have again provided us with a bounty of tomatoes. I have canned over 16 jars, of varying sizes and flavors of salsa. I think that between the stash I've put up and the fact that it is too hot to stand over the canning bath of hot steaming water, it's now time to start thinking outside the stock pot. Before I could stomach eating a raw tomato, I would have NEVER wanted to make this dish. Now I can't believe I never made it before this past week! As much as I love a cooked, saute, stewed or sundried tomato, I could never appreciate or eat one raw. The texture just didn't appeal to me. Funny what a bit of acid, hot weather and need to eat my daily fruit and vegetables will do to change my eating habits.

This is an almost no-cook, prep it and forget it recipe. You can choose to blanch the garlic, once again, to tame that raw bite. You will have onion breath however, it's the price to pay for this easy dish. Swish around some Scope or Listerine before you go to bed. The tomato cruda should be served over hot pasta - as the just cooked pasta will help to finish "cooking" the sauce and if you add it, melt the cheese. Think of this crudo as an Italian or Mediterranean style salsa. Embellish it with capers and/or olives. You can add Feta or Fresh Mozzarella Cheese. Top with a good Italian Tuna packed in olive oil, or grilled chicken or shrimp for a punch of protein. I served it over Trader Joe's organic, sprouted wheat pappardelle pasta - which by the way, is outrageously good and cheap!
To keep this gluten free, you can also use vegetable noodles - raw, blanched or sauted.

Tomato Cruda Ingredients:
  • 3 Large Roma, Beefsteak or Jersey Tomatoes - seeded and cut into small dice
  • 1/2 Pint Cherry or Grape Tomatoes - cut in half
  • 1/2 Medium White Onion - small dice
  • 3 Garlic Cloves - blanched and minced
  • 1 Bunch Fresh Basil Leaves - torn or cut into ribbons (chiffonade) - reserve a few leaves for garnishing
  • Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper - to taste
  • 2 Tablespoons Good Quality Balsamic Vinegar
  • 2 Tablespoons Good Quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1/2 Pound Dry Pasta of Choice - wide noodles work best or you can use Zoodles - partially cooked/sauted, or raw vegetable noodles. 
  • 1/2 Cup Feta or Fresh Mozzarella Cheese - cut into small cubes (optional, though it's delicious

  1. Prepare the tomatoes; wash, seed and cut into small dice or slice the cherry or grape tomatoes in half. Put into a non-reactive mixing bowl (stainless steel, glass or plastic). Set aside.
  2. Dice the onion and add to the tomatoes.
  3. Blanch the garlic for 2 minutes in boiling water. Cool and then mince or smash and add to the tomato/onion mixture.
  4. Add in the chiffonade of basil, reserving several whole leaves for garnishing
  5. Season the tomato mixture generously with salt, freshly ground black pepper, the balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Stir to combine and cover with plastic wrap. Set aside, at room temperature for at least one hour up to 8 hours, stirring occasionally.
  6. When ready to serve, cook pasta according to package directions in a large pot of rapidly boiling generously salted water. Cook pasta until it its al dente. Drain, but do not rinse the pasta. Immediately spoon 1/2 of the tomato cruda over the hot pasta and toss in the Feta or Mozzarella cheese (if using). Serve immediately with additional cruda spooned over the top of each pasta serving; top with protein of choice if desired.
  7. If using Zoodles or other Vegetable Noodles, you can saute them lightly; blanch them for 30 seconds in hot boiling water, or use them raw with the crudo sauce.  I like to do a mixture of zoodles and pasta, letting the zoodles "cook" by adding them to the strainer/colonder then draining the pasta over the zoodles.  It takes care of the cooking and you can use less pasta and amp up the vegetable quota!