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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Asparagus Bruschetta - aka Asparagus Toast

Asparagus Toast or Bruschetta - the new big foodie thing!
Mark my words as I'm making a prediction here - Asparagus Toast will be the next big foodie thing.  I saw this on a menu of a local coffee shop and knew I had to make a version of my own.  With a few tweaks and all locally bought New Jersey items, this is a totally South Jersey fresh meal. Except for one item, everything was purchased from the Collingswood Farmers' Market.  Asparagus from Viereck Farms; hot house Jersey grown tomato from Springdale Farms; fresh bread from Wild Flour Bakery; Home-made Ricotta cheese from Hillacres Pride; basil from my garden; Eureka Lemon-infused olive oil from our very own olive oil and balsamic vinegar store, Blue Moon.  It doesn't' get any better or more local than this.

This isn't so much a recipe as it is an assembly of sorts.  The only cooking that needs to be done is roasting or grilling the asparagus, and grilling or toasting the bread.  Then you layer the items together, top it with basil, drizzle with olive oil and season with flaky or coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper.  It will make a wonderful Memorial Day horsd'oeuvres, or as part of a meal with a great big hearty salad.  That's actually how I enjoyed this - I was too tired to cook so I made it for dinner with a salad.  
As easy to make as the photos show and it's all locally sourced and purchased!

Asparagus Bruschetta/Toast Ingredients:

  • 1 Loaf French or Crusty Bread - cut into 4-inch long slices, and cut in half
  • 1 Bunch Asparagus - cleaned and woody stem ends removed - look for thicker spears
  • 1/4 - 1/2 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil or Lemon -infused Olive Oil (best quality oil)
  • 4 ounces Home-Made Ricotta
  • 2 Jersey or Plum Tomatoes - cut into slices
  • 1/2 Bunch Basil - washed and leaves kept whole
  • Coarse Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper - to season
  1. Preheat a grill or grill pan or preheat oven to 450 degrees.
  2. Cut the loaf of bread into 4-5 inch pieces and cut the pieces in half. 
  3. Clean the asparagus and cut or snap away the wood stem ends.  Drizzle 1 tablespoon olive oil over the asparagus and grill or roast until the asparagus spears are bright green and are knife tender.  Set aside to cool.
  4. Drizzle olive oil over each bread slice then grill or toast the bread until the slices are golden brown or a bit charred.
  5. Slice the tomatoes into 1/4 inch thick rounds.
  6. Assemble the bruschetta: Spread a layer of ricotta cheese onto the grilled bread, then lay asparagus piece onto the bread. If the spears are too long, cut them to fit onto the bread so they don't hang over.  If the spears are too thick, cut in half lengthwise. 
  7. Top the asparagus with a slice of tomato and then garnish with several basil leaves.  Drizzle with the lemon-infused olive oil (if using) or extra virgin olive oil.  Season with coarse salt and fresh cracked black pepper.  If you can use it, a flaky sea salt or salt that you grind is best - the taste makes a world of difference verses using ordinary table salt, kosher salt or plain sea salt. 
Edit Note: I attempted to upload a video that I made of all the photos taken for this post, but for whatever weird reason, I cannot get the video to upload to view.  Head on over to my facebook page, to see it! It's clever and has a fun song to go with the images. 

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Strawberries with Oranges and Grand Marnier

Strawberries with oranges served with heavy and sour cream biscuits
New Jersey's strawberry season is fleeting and ephemeral.  Buy them while you can, because with the wacky weather lately, no rain, too much rain, sudden heat, we may not have them around much longer from our "local" farms.  A good strawberry should be deep red in colour, plump, sweet smelling and maybe a bit misshapen - don't be fooled by the Plasticine floor show model strawberries trucked in from some far flung place by Driscolls.  A truly fresh local strawberry, picked the day before market day (or even better still, the same day) should awaken your senses when you pop in your mouth and burst with lusty juiciness.

Heavy cream and sour cream short-bread biscuits
Usually I want to do nothing more with fresh strawberries than eat them plain, or sprinkle a bit of sugar over them.  If I'm feeling extravagant, I may splurge and drizzle a GOOD AGED balsamic vinegar over great strawberries.  Once, when I was still teaching at Williams-Sonoma, we used an extremely expensive balsamic that had been opened.  We called it our Million Dollar Dessert.  Somewhere in my photo archives, I have a picture of my co-worker slurping up the macerated strawberry and balsamic juices, tipping the large mixing bowl back into her mouth.  But I digress.

After reading through the newest issue of Milk Street Magazine by Christopher Kimball, I found two recipe ideas for strawberries and biscuits.  I'll link the biscuit recipe because I didn't tweak it to make it my own - it's perfect the way it is, a cross between a biscuit and a scone.
The recipe used the usual butter, flour, sugar, salt, and baking powders/sodas, but it also used heavy whipping cream with sour cream whipped and then folded into the flour mixture. The whipped heavy and sour cream made the biscuits light, tender and airy.

Lucious, bursting with juice strawberries
The strawberry recipe they used in this issue had lime in it, and that just didn't sound appealing to me. I opted for oranges and because I had a small bottle in the house, Grand Marnier (nice to have a collection of "airplane" bottles of booze around, perfect for when you only need a few tablespoons of the expensive spirits) which I sprinkled about a tablespoon or more over the strawberries to amp up the orange essence.  My friend, Cyndi, said that eating the strawberries was like having a party in her mouth, it made her happy!

I made the biscuits on Sunday, Mother's Day, for a luncheon we were going to spend with friends. The strawberries were from ATBuzby Farms, picked up in the downpour at the farmers' market on Saturday.  The farmer told me that he was lucky to have them because they picked them on Friday.  Had he waited to do it any later, he would have been rained out. A farmer's season can be fickle, especially when it comes to strawberries.  While I was making the biscuits, I macerated the strawberries with sugar, the zest and juice of 4 navel oranges and a tablespoon or so of Grand Marnier.
A new twist on biscuits and strawberry short-cake
  • 1 Quart Strawberries - rinsed, then hulled and cut into half or slices
  • 1/4 Cup White Sugar
  • 2-Tablespoons Grand Marnier (buy a small, "airplane" bottle, as it is very expensive)
  • Pinch Salt
  • 1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
  • 3-4 Navel Oranges - washed, zested then supremed and juiced
  1. Rinse the strawberries and lightly shake off the excess water.  Hull the strawberries, removing the green tops and slice them into half or thirds, depending on how big the strawberries are.  Put the sliced strawberries into a large bowl, then sprinkle over the sugar, salt and vanilla extract.
  2. Wash the oranges off and dry them. Working over a bowl, zest the oranges and sprinkle the orange zest over the strawberries, folding the strawberries lightly to incorporate all the ingredients.  
  3. Work on a cutting board and take the zested oranges, and begin cutting away the outer flesh, exposing the orange flesh inside, leaving no white pith on the oranges. Working over a bowl, use a paring knife and follow along the membranes segments of the orange, cutting the orange segments out and leaving the membranes behind.  It's like cutting pages out of a book.  Squeeze the juice out of the segmented remains and if there is any orange flesh remaining in the cut away outer peel, squeeze the juice from them.  
  4. Pour the orange segments and accumulated juices over the strawberries, stir to incorporate, then tightly cover the bowl and set aside for one hour or up to 6 hours.  The mixture does not need to be refrigerated if you are using it the same day.  You want the strawberries at room temperature so they begin to release their juices and not have cold refrigerated air stunt their flavors.
  5. If using over short-bread biscuits or whatever cake or biscuits you are serving, spoon some of the strawberry mixture onto a serving platter or in an individual plate.  Cut the biscuit open and place the biscuit bottom on top of the strawberries, spooning more strawberries over the biscuit, then spooning more strawberries and juice on top of the biscuit.  Add a generous dollop of freshly whipped cream.  Serve immediately.  
  6. Makes enough for 8 servings.  Strawberries will hold for up to 2-days, covered and refrigerated if not using the same day
If I'm remembering correctly the biscuit recipe is as follows:
  1. Preheat an oven to 475 degrees. 
  2. Ingredients ares: 2 cups flour, 1 tablespoon sugar, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1/2 stick chilled unsalted butter cut into pieces.  
  3. Whisk the dry ingredients together, then cut in the butter pieces to make a coarse meal of the flour.  
  4. In a mixing bowl, whip together 1 cup heavy whipping cream and 1/2 cup sour cream, to form soft peaks.  The fold the whipped cream into the flour mixture, forming a dough. 
  5. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surfaced, and gently knead the mixture to bring the dough together. 
  6. Form into a round flat mass, cut into half then cut each half into four pieces, flattening the pieces down to less than in inch high.  
  7. Place onto a lined baking sheet, spacing the biscuits about an inch or more apart.  Place into the pre-heated oven and immediately reduce the heat down to 425 degrees. 
  8. Bake for 15 minutes or until the biscuits are light golden brown, turning the pan half-way in the oven, about half-way through the baking time.  
  9. Biscuits are best when served the same day, moments after they come out of the oven, but they will hold for a day or two, reheated when ready to serve.  As they are so tender, they may break apart when handling, so be gentle with them.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Asparagus, Spinach, Soba Noodles and a fried egg!
Asparagus and Farmers' Market season is here in Collingswood.  Taking some inspiration from my first shopping trip on opening day of our Market's 18th season, I bought my first farm-fresh asparagus from my buddy, Gus, of Viereck Farms, spinach from another vendor, and fresh eggs from Far Wind Farms.  Looking to find a new way to enjoy asparagus, I found a recipe from Milk Street magazine, so I'm "borrowing" a recipe they had posted in a winter issue. I've changed it a bit here and there to make in my own and to use what I already had on hand.

Herewith is a one-pot dish of soba noodles cooked with asparagus and spinach, served with a lightly fried egg and dressed with a soy and tahini sauce.  Very easy to whip together and adapt as you need.  The egg adds creaminess to the dish, and a bit of protein - don't dismiss it, it's truly delicious.  You can also add in other veggies, cooking them before hand, or using them raw,  I'm a big fan of tossing in shredded carrots or broccoli into the cooking water as the noodles cook.  

Asparagus, Spinach and Soba Noodles with Fried Egg Ingredients - Serves 4

Sauce Ingredients:
  • 1/4 Cup Soy Sauce or Tamari Sauce (low sodium preferably)
  • 2 Tablespoons Ke Cap Sweet Soy Sauce or Black strap Molasses
  • 1/4 Cup Rice Vinegar
  • 1 Tablespoon Sesame Oil
  • 1-2 Dashes Siracha or Chili Sauce
  • 1-2 Dashes Freshly Ground Black Pepper
  • 1/4 Cup Tahini or Peanut Butter or Nut Butter of choice


Rice Vinegar, Sweet Soy Sauce,
Tamari, Tahini and Sesame Oil
  1. In a large microwave safe bowl or jar, whisk all ingredients, soy sauce through hot sauce together.  Heat for 1 minute in a microwave and whisk in the tahini or nut butter to emulsify.  If the sauce starts to clump or break, heat it again briefly and whisk again to blend thoroughly.  
  2. Season with fresh ground pepper and more hot sauce to taste.  
  3. Set aside, or if using later, place in a clean jar and refrigerate up to 2 weeks.  Shake or whisk before using.

Asparagus, Spinach, Soba Noodle Ingredients:
2 Sleeves Soba Noodles, Asparagus tips set aside;
boil noodles and asparagus together; add spinach to stock pot
  • Stock Pot of Water
  • 2 Tablespoons Kosher Salt
  • 2 Sleeves of Soba Noodles ( about 1/4 pound)
  • 1 Bunch Fresh Asparagus - cleaned, woody stem ends snapped off; tips cut off and set aside, stems cut in half length-wise and cut into small bite-sized pieces
  • 1 or 2 Bunches Fresh Spinach - thoroughly cleaned and stemmed
  • Soy Sauce and Tahini Mix (see above recipe)
  • 2 Tablespoons Sesame Seeds - to garnish (optional)
  • Freshly Ground Black Pepper - to taste
  • 4 Fried Eggs - lightly fried until just set; one per serving/per person

Noodles back to pot over the spinach, it will cook the spinach;
mix in the soy tahini sauce into the noodles; top with fried egg
  1. Bring a large pot of water to boil, add salt to the pot once the water boils.  While the water is coming to a boil, clean and cut the asparagus, snapping off the woody stem ends of the asparagus.  The asparagus end should snap off easily at the point where the tough and tender ends meet.  Cut the asparagus tips off and set aside.  Take the stems and cut them in half length-wise, then cut into bite-sized pieces, about 1 1/2 inches long.  Thoroughly wash and dry the spinach, being sure to remove all traces of sand and dirt.  I recommend using a salad spinner and changing the water at least three times.  Set the cleaned spinach aside.
  2. When the water comes to boil, add in the two tablespoons of kosher salt - the water will boil harder and faster now. Then add in the soba noodles and the asparagus stem pieces.  Stir and bring the cooking water back to a full boil. Cook the noodles until they are tender, according to package directions, about 5 minutes.  Right before draining the noodles, add in the asparagus tips. Drain everything into a large colander and reserve 1 cup of the cooking water.  Don't shake out the water from the noodles and asparagus - you want some to cling to the noodles.
  3. Using the same stock pot from which you drained the noodles, add in the cleaned spinach and then add back the cooked soba noodles and asparagus.  Toss to combine and wilt/cook the spinach.
  4. Add in half of the soy sauce-tahini mixture and toss to combine again.  If the mixture is too thick, use some of the reserved cooking water to thin the sauce and to help further cook the spinach.
  5. In a small fry pan, fry up each egg, until the yolks are just set.  You can fry the eggs in sesame oil to keep with the flavor profile.
  6. To serve, place some of the noodles and vegetables into a shallow bowl and top each with a fried egg.  Garnish with sesame seeds and a few grinds of freshly ground black pepper. Season to taste with additional soy-tahini sauce.  Break the egg yolk and mix into the noodle and veggie mix, creating an additional sauce to coat the noodles.
  7. Serves 4 and will keep 2-3 days refrigerated.  Can be served hot, warm or cold.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Baked Oatmeal Muffins with Banana, Chocolate Chips and Pumpkin

I’m always looking for easy and satisfying things to have on hand for breakfast.  I discovered baked oatmeal as an alternative to hot-cooked oatmeal or to my favorite, “Over-Night Oats”.  Having moved to a nearly-dairy free and low-fat, low-sugar diet, baked oatmeal has become a new favorite breakfast staple for me.  I can bake a batch of these and then freeze them, allowing me to grab a baked oatmeal muffin each morning to have as part of my morning meal.  I love the multitude of ways I can vary the flavors of this recipe and adapt it to a variety of dietary needs. 

When using oats, I opt for quick-cook or regular rolled oats, not instant oats, which tend to go gummy when liquid is added.  Look for gluten-free oats if possible, especially if you have gluten intolerance. 

The baked oatmeal can be flavored and varied according to your tastes.  Instead of nuts, use seeds like pumpkin.  You can omit the pumpkin puree (which adds a lot of moisture) and instead, increase the mashed bananas to 2 or three bananas.  Fold in frozen blueberries or other frozen fruit; or a mixture of dried fruit such as craisins, chopped apricots, and raisins.  This recipe can be made dairy-free, gluten-free, and even vegan, buy varying the ingredients.  Alternatively you can use egg substitute like Egg-Beaters or flax eggs.  Milk substitutes, like almond milk works very well.   If you like your baked oatmeal sweeter, you can increase the sugar to ½ cup or use a combination of sugar and maple syrup, or honey or agave nectar. 

Baked Oatmeal with Bananas, Chocolate Chips and Pumpkin Ingredients:
  •         2 Eggs – lightly beaten
  •     1 Cup Milk (Almond/Soy/Rice/Regular – your choice)
  •     1/3 Cup Plus 2 Tablespoons Granulated Sugar or ¼ Cup Packed Light Brown Sugar
  •          1 Cup Pure Pumpkin Puree
  •         1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
  •         1 Tablespoon Vegetable/Canola or Melted & Cooled Coconut Oil or Melted & Cooled Unsalted Butter
  •         1 Medium-Large Banana – Mashed (about ½ Cup total)
  •         2 ½ Cups Rolled Oats
  •         ¼ Cup Flax Seeds (optional)
  •         2 Tablespoons Ground Cinnamon or Pumpkin Pie Seasoning
  •         1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
  •         1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
  •         ¼ Teaspoon Kosher Salt or Sea Salt
  •         ½ Cup Chopped or Sliced Nuts such as Almonds, Pecans or Walnuts
  •         ½ Cup Semi-Sweet or Bittersweet Chocolate Chips or Chopped Chocolate

  1. Preheat Oven to 375 Degrees and set a rack in the middle of the oven.
  2. Grease/spray a large 12 muffin tin and set aside.  If using muffin cups, line the tin. Or, grease an 8x8 baking pan.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, beat together the eggs and milk and 1/3 cup of sugar (or ¼ cup of brown sugar) until pale and frothy, and then beat in the pumpkin puree, vanilla extract, and oil.  Whisk until thoroughly combined.  Lastly, fold in the mashed bananas.  Set aside.
  4. In another large mixing bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients – Rolled oats, flax seeds (if using), cinnamon, baking powder and baking sodas, and salt. Then stir in the sliced/chopped nuts and chocolate chips.
  5. Carefully pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and fold to combine – do not over mix.
  6. Using a spring-loaded ice-cream scooper – dollop out the batter into the prepared muffin tins, filling each muffin tin ¾ full – not quite to the top of the tin, to allow for rising.  Or, pour the batter into a prepared 8x8 baking pan. Sprinkle the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar over all the batter/muffins.
  7. Bake the muffins for 30 minutes, on a rack set in the middle of the oven.  Rotate the muffin pan half-way through the baking time.  After 30 minutes, test to see if they baked oatmeal is set – by inserting a skewer into the oatmeal to see if it comes out clean.  Baked oatmeal “muffins” should be golden brown and the center should spring back when touched.  If not baked enough, bake for another 5-8 minutes.
  8. If using the 8x8 baking pan, bake for 40-45 minutes, rotating the pan once.  Oatmeal is done when the top is golden brown and the batter no longer jiggles when the pan is shaken.
  9. Turn the baked oatmeal muffins out onto a rack to cool.  Once cooled, store in a covered container and refrigerate.  Eat within 4 days.  Baked oatmeal can be wrapped and frozen for up to 3 months.  If baking in an 8x8 pan, cool in the pan before serving.
  10. Serving Suggestions: Serve hot or cold, with maple syrup drizzled over or a dollop of yogurt, or with fresh fruit and berries.  These are great to eat out of hand as your breakfast-on-the-go!

Sunday, March 12, 2017

My stint as a Florida Keys Cook Off contestant or Why I'll never be a Top Chef

On Monday, March 6th, I had the opportunity to go back to my culinary alma mater, The Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College.  The reason being, a cook off contest to help promote the Florida Keys and Key West.  Area Food Influences and Bartenders were invited to join in on the promotional launch of The Florida Keys and Key West.  In the local Philadelphia area, our major train station, 30th Street Station, has been transformed into a laid back, beach chair and umbrella, clear water paradise.  Ads on our local online news source have been featuring gorgeous photos of the clean beaches of the keys.  The cook-off contest was sponsored by the Florida Keys Tourism Board and promoted locally by Kory Aversa of Aversa PR and Events (he's the force of nature behind the PR of Diner en Blanc Philadelphia!)  If you saw or read the hashtag, #FLKeysCookOff, it was our personal promo "code" to use on social media. 
Smoked Salmon Cones - little tasty rich bites

Creamy Cool Soup Shots with a Cilantro Habanero Kick and Coconut Rock Shrimp

Fine Palate Restaurant's Dragon Fruit Cocktail

Grouper Tacos!


Mini Cubano Sandwiches

Punch with Spicy Salty Rimmed Glasses and Edible Flowers
The timing  of the event worked out perfectly for me - schedules at home synced up so that I could attend the event and that Liz, free in the evening, could come to support me.  The event featured foods of Key West - think conch fritters, coconut soups, Cubano sandwiches and all thing Key Lime Pie.  The pie, actually was the hook for me - I thought the contest was all about baking a key lime pie.  Little did I realize we had to bake a Key Lime Pie AND cook a seafood dish.  For drinks, there were 4-5 bartenders, from several fine watering holes and dining establishments were invited to make a signature Key West flair cocktail.  I was pleased to see friends from Fine Palate restaurant at 15th and Locust in the contest - with their sexy spice Dragon Fruit cocktail.

I will admit, that I entered into the event just for the fun of it and to see who I could see; to mingle, network, to have a bit of a lark.  I figured that while I'm not the best baker, I'm a darn good cook, so I might as well give it my best shot and have a good time.  Operative words here, best shot and HAVE A GOOD TIME.  I need to repeat that more often to myself.  Have. A. Good. Time.  I take things too seriously.  I arrived, with my culinary kit in hand, Bicycle-Chef gear tucked into my bag, and wearing my brand new, "Official" chef's jacket.  I was the only person in the contest wearing a chef's jacket, everyone else dressed casually.  All night long, I was mistaken for someone who either worked at The Restaurant School, or who was currently attending the school.  Oh well, I guess I both stood out and blended in.  Strike 1.
A Room full of Food Influences - and competition!
The very cute and talented, Chef Robert Stoky.
Top Gear for TheBicycle-Chef
Oye Vey it was a Pie Disaster
If only I had left the bottle of Tequila on the plate...
What is this thing? Cheesecake? Cake Wreck? Pie Disaster?

Yellow Tail Snapper with Margarita Salsa 3-Ways
24 contestants, ranging from  local radio personalities, Philly Gay Calendar coordinators, my good friend, LeAnne Lindsay of, local bloggers and foodies, and other food influences were treated to hors d'oeuvres and sweets.  We met with the judges and FL Keys Tourism President and big wigs.  We were treated to a quick culinary demo by Chef Robert "Bobby" Stoky, and then we were let loose into our kitchens to bake a Key Lime Pie.  All ingredients were readied for us, along with kitchen gadgets.  I didn't need to bring a blessed tool, save for my lime zester.  Strike 2.    Strikes 3, 4, 5, and 6 came next.

Baking Science is real folks.  Food chemistry matters.  I baked a trial run "Key Lime" Pie the night before, and while I did not have Key Limes or juice, the pie was good.  For the contest, we could bring a "secret" ingredient to make our pie stand out.  I debated plenty on what to bring.  If I was making my own crust, I would have done pretzels in the crust.  The crusts were pre-made.  I was prepared for everything.  Like I said before, I take things too seriously.  I should have listened to my first thought - pretzels.  So I also brought almonds and a toffee, almond, pretzel candy I made (which I nixed but shared around the office the next day).  For the filing, I debated on using a splash of fresh lemon juice to brighten the citrus tang.  I also brought Tequila, to help booze up the pie and make it more like a Margarita.  I over-thought the baking part.  During the contest, I went for the Tequila and mixed up the order of adding citrus to the sweetened condensed milk.  There is a reason for why you put ingredients together in a certain order, especially in baking.  Chemistry!

Were were given 50 minutes to bake our pies.  I was the only person who took ALL 50 Minutes!  I added way too much lime juice and Tequila to the condensed milk and I add my eggs into the mix after, not before.  A Key Lime pie is so simple to make, typically 3 ingredients - a can of sweetened condensed milk, 3 or 4 egg yolks and the juice of Key Limes, maybe the Zest too.  Pour into a graham cracker crust, bake for 20 minutes. Chill.  Done.  Bing. Bang. Boom.  I was all Boom and then BUST.  I don't think I've ever had a bigger baking disaster, not since I made some Coffee/Mocha Mousse for a Valentines's Day Dinner that turned into a sickly sweet mortar that we couldn't get out of our fancy glasses or swallow down without gagging.  But I digress.
What is this thing, called Key Lime Pie?
Because I reversed the order of eggs to condensed milk, and had too much liquid, my pie wouldn't bake, and when it did bake and started to set, it rose too high, like a soufflé.  I took it out of the oven at the 49.5 minute mark, and refrigerated it immediately.  It rose and collapsed into a crazy, craggy mess.  My finished pie had the texture of cheesecake.  Don't ask me how.  It was no silky custard that's for sure.  Strike 3.  But I wasn't out yet.

Over-all winner of the FL Key's contest went to Colleen Kennedy, blogger from Soufflé Bombay.  After the event, I realized I knew who she was, so I wrote to congratulate her. She's a wonderful blogger, with insightful posts and beautiful photographs.  Plus, she's a local gal who's really making it in the world of blogging and twitter events.

I knew for certain that any thoughts I had to win the contest and win a trip to Key West were dashed.  Oh well, there was always the cooking portion to conquer!  I figured, I still had this thing.  I got this, I thought.  I got this. HA! Strikes 4 and 5 here.

Turning Salsa into Sauce
The cooking portion was to make a Yellow Tail Snapper, either using one of the recipes provided, or to make our own, signature, Key West-inspired dish.  Always one to want to be different, I decided to do what I do best, just cook and work with the ideas that work for me.  The makings of a tropical salsa were on hand - I embellished with more Tequila, using the onions, jalapeños, peppers, tomatoes, mangoes, limes, oranges, garlic and bananas on hand.  Slamming Margarita Tropical salsa whipped together.  Cut the fish into two pieces. Filleted them open, stuffed some of the salsa into the fish. rolled them up, pinned them together with toothpicks that I brought (always prepared!), and let the fish marinate with the salsa for a bit. Then I saluted the fish roulades that I made, to brown them on the outside and finished them in the oven.  I took the rest of the salsa and divided into two portions.  One I cooked down into a sauce, the other I left as a tropical salsa fresca.

My finished fish featured Margarita Salsa 3-Ways: Cooked, Sauted and Fresh.  My fish was amazing! I got this! I got this!  Until I didn't have it.  The fish looked beautiful.  It as fresh, perfectly cooked and had true magazine photo spread appeal.  The judges seemed to like it.  The flavors were nuanced, I had that whole, layers of flavor thing going that I love to do.  I was hopeful, even a bit gleeful that I might just maybe win for best fish dish.  Doh!  Strike 6.

The very fun, engaging and charismatic fellas, Steve McCann and Chris Balbi of PhillyGayCalendar, won for best fish dish.  I think they used (and maybe bribed the judges?!!) the bottle of Kahlua they brought.  However they cooked their fish, according to Hugh E. Dillon of Philly ChitChat, their dish had a secret kick of ginger.  I'll give them props - they were a fun duo.

In the end, I had a great time, I saw a few friends, realized I knew a bunch more people, who I had wished I had the chance to talk with at the party, and I went home feeling really good about my cooking ability.  We also went home with a great swag bag filled with some fantastic goodies, in a  beautiful Lands-End Style tote bag.  It was fun.  I learned things.  It was a good night out.  It's not always about winning, it is about how you play the game, bake the pie, and cook the fish!

There's a cool video on YouTube that captured the event as it happened. I'm in it, barely, just look for the dork in the chef's jacket that's not an employee or student at The Restaurant School! Lol.  Here's the link!

Friday, January 27, 2017

Vegetarian Red Beans and Rice - three ways to cook

UPDATED: January 27, 2017, with details on slow cooker & INSTAPOT methods.  This recipe has been tried and tested and it works so well that it deserves yet another go around.  The true secret is to saute your vegetables to bring out the most flavor and to soak the beans, soak them overnight.

Laissez les bon temps rouler!  In honor of Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday or Fat Tuesday - I made a pot of vegetarian red beans and rice.  This dish is definitely in the category of one pot meals made in the style of the Big Easy's cheap-n-easy.  It includes a mess of the Cajun Holy Trinity with a smattering of carrots, a whole lotta Tabasco or Hot Sauce of Choice, a chipotle pepper and some nice old red kidney beans.  Let it cook down in and after a few hours you got yourself a big ole pot of spicy goodness.  As much as I like my meats, sausages and other porky treats - this loose interpretation of red beans and rice was made out of necessity so I could have a vegetarian meal option to take to my kosher workplace.  If you use enough vegetables, a good chipotle pepper and let the beans cook long enough, you will not miss the meat.  Besides, you could have something on the side if you need or crave that extra protein.  

The main thing is letting the beans cook down long enough that the begin to fall apart. If the beans you have are old and they just never get to that mushy stage, feel free to smash them a bit with the back of a spoon or an old fashioned potato masher.  The main thing is that the beans just cook and cook and cook and make their own "bean gravy", absorbing all the spice and smokey heat of the chipotle pepper.  Season with salt AFTER the beans are cooked down not before. 

 Remember to taste before you season, as the dish cooks, cools and sits, its flavors will develop even further.  I made this dish on Saturday and ate it on Sunday.  It was when I reheated it that I seasoned it with salt and additional Tabasco Sauce.  As for using okra - I know I'm mixing my meals here, making my red beans and rice morph into some sort of mumbo gumbo. I like okra and I wanted something else in the dish. Skip it if you don't like, don't have or can't find okra.  By the way, frozen okra is far easier to find in most grocery stores and works great. You can also stir in frozen collard greens towards the end of the cooking time too. 

For the Instpot Method,  I found that upon the 2017 cooking, in my instapot, adding in the frozen okra and collard greens after it cooked for 15 minutes and the pressure came down, I only had to cook it for another 5 minutes for the okra and greens to cook into the mixture.  I would say the total cooking time was around 1 hour 15 minutes - allowing for the sauteing, pressure to build up and come down and some rest time.

Vegetarian Red Beans and Rice Ingredients:

  • 2 Tablespoons Vegetable Oil
  • Large Onion - small dice
  • 2 Celery Stalks - small dice
  • 1 Red and 1 Green Bell Pepper - small dice
  • 2 Medium Carrots - peeled & small dice
  • 5-6 Garlic Cloves - minced
  • 2 Cups Red Beans - picked over, rinsed and if time permits, soaked for 4 hours to overnight
  • 2 Bay Leaves
  • 1 Whole Dry Chipotle Pepper
  • 4 Cups Water - or 3 Cups Cold Water
  • 1 Bottle of Hop-style IPA Beer, like Hop Devil IPA (optional but it tastes so much better w/the beer!)
  • 1/2 Tablespoon Freshly Ground Black Pepper
  • Tabasco or Hot Sauce of Choice - to taste
  • 2 Cups Frozen Okra - Optional
  • 2 Cups Frozen Collard Greens - Optional
  • Kosher or Sea Salt - to taste
  • 2 Cups Cooked Rice for Serving - White Long Grain is Traditional or use Brown Rice or a more nutritious option
Directions - Stove Top Method.  For Slow Cooker & Instapot, see below:
  1. Pick over the red beans and discard any pebbles, stones or beans that are split or misshapen.  If time permits, soak the beans in cold water for two hours or overnight.  Drain and rinse the beans and set aside.  
  2. In a large stock pot or heavy bottomed pot, such as a Dutch Oven, heat the vegetable oil over medium high heat until the oil begins to shimmer.  Add in the onions, celery, bell peppers and carrots; sweat the vegetables for 10 minutes, or until the vegetables begin to take on a bit of color (but don't let them burn or caramelize).  Next, add in the minced garlic and saute for 2 minutes.  
  3. Add in the soaked red beans, the bay leaves and the chipotle pepper.  Pour in 4 cups of cold water, or enough water and the bottle of beer to cover the beans and vegetables by 1 to 2 inches.  Bring the mixture to a boil and then reduce heat down to lowest setting.  
  4. Keep the pot at a gentle low simmer for as long as it takes for the beans to cook down and become tender - so tender they begin to fall apart.  This may take 2 to 3 hours.  Keep an eye on the pot, adding more water as needed.
  5. As the beans cook down, the mixture in the pot will go from recognizable pieces of vegetables in a watery broth to looking like a pot of dark brown mush.  When this happens, taste the beans, seasoning with the black pepper, hot sauce and salt.  Add in the okra and collard greens (if using it) about 15-30 minutes before the mixture is finished (towards the end of the cooking time, when the mixture is all cooked down. Cool the mixture and refrigerate.
  6. At serving, season to taste with salt, pepper and hot sauce.  Serve hot over rice.  Makes 6-8 servings. Recipe can easily be doubled to serve a larger crowd.  

Red Beans and Rice, in a Jar!
Instapot method - with chunkier cut veggies,
okra, and collard greens.  One of my best batches yet!

Instapot Method:  

  1. Saute all the aromatics in the pot set to saute, for 30 minutes.  Mostly because I was doing other things.  
  2. Saute long to really develop the vegetables flavors, and again, to cook them down.  I had filled the pot with onions, celery, peppers, carrots, and garlic, and when I was done the saute, it had cooked down by more than half of the volume, plus all the liquid they gave off evaporated!  
  3. Next added in the beans, beer, water, bayleaf, seasonings, etc.  
  4. Set the time to bean mode, cooked for 15 minutes.  Let the pressure come down naturally, for 15 minutes, then carefully released the steam; open lid, add in frozen okra (and this time I also added in a generous handful of frozen collard greens for more veggie oomph!. 
  5. Reseal, and set the time on manual for 5 minutes to cook further. Let pressure come down again, 10-15 minutes, then open the pot. Stir, mash the beans if needed, slighlty.  Season to taste with salt and hot sauce.  
  6. Remove chipotle pepper and bay leaves.  Serve over rice.  Or chill in a shallow pan before refrigerating.  The red beans will taste better the next day once they had a chance to sit and allow the flavors to marry.
  7. Total cooking time was about 1 hour and 15 minutes! Tasted like my 10 hour method, if not better!

Friday, January 13, 2017

Polish Foods - Crushiki and Stuffed Cabbages

Krushki or Crushiki - no matter how you spell it or what your background is,
 a fried dough product with powdered sugar is Delicious!

Just realized that I never posted the Polish Foods Recipes from when I did Living Well with Pat Nogar's show in December.  Lord Have Mercy!  I don't know where the past 2 months have gone, but I can say, we've been busy with holidays, parties, events, and work work work.  Herewith are the recipes I made/shared on television.  I really must thank my good friend, Lynnette Nagle for her family recipes.  Without her, I would not have had anything to make, share or talk about.  She saved me and gave me something that I never got from my own family - treasured recipes that make memories.

Crushiki Ingredients:
  • 3 Cups Unbleached White All-Purpose Flour (if you want, you could use a half and half combo of AP and Whole Wheat flours, just to feel a tad bit less guilty!)
  • 6 Egg yolks
  • 1 tablespoon and 1 teaspoon of White Rum (or a light Whiskey)
  • 1 Cup Sour Cream - feel free to use low-fat Sour Cream, but not Fat-Free
  • Canola or Vegetable oil - for frying
  1. Preheat vegetable or canola oil in a stock pot - heat to 350 degrees.
  2. Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl until dough forms, similar to pie dough. Do not over-mix.  Form the dough into a ball, then wrap in plastic wrap and let rest and chill for ½ hour.
  3. While oil is pre-heating, roll out the a quarter piece of the dough on a lightly floured surface.  Roll the dough out very thin - then cut it into narrow strips using a pizza wheel cutter if you have one.  For authentic Crushiki, tie each ribbon of dough into a loose knot
  4. Fry the dough in the oil until golden brown, about 1 minute. Do not add too many pieces of dough to the oil or else the temperature will drop too drastically, causing the dough to absorb too much oil.  Remove the ribbons and place onto a sheet tray lined with paper towels to absorb any excess oil.  Continue frying the dough in batches until it is all rolled out and fried.
  5. Dust generously with powdered sugar and enjoy!  Will keep for up to 3 days, covered in a large container or in a large plain paper bag.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

I am the proud recipient of a new "InstaPot" - the multipurpose 7-in-1 cooker that is a Slow Cooker, Pressure Cooker, saute, rice cooker, braise, and lord only knows what else it can do, smart-brained electronic. I've made a few things in it since it came into our house at Christmas. Steel Cut Oats; Mulit-grain brown rice; Pork loin with apples, onions, sauerkraut and black-eyed peas (for the New Year). and, a little bragging here - a batch of Vegan Black-bean Soup, It was a success, after a bit of tweaking. The soup definitely has gotten better as its "aged" the past two days.

The only issues I had w/making this batch of soup were - it was too watery, as I used too much water in the batch. That was cleared up by draining the excess liquid the next day after the soup settled and before I pureed some of the beans to thicken the soup.
My other concern or note is that the beans taste a bit chewy, in that i feel like we are chewing on the black-bean skins in a way that I've never noticed before when I made this soup in a regular pot on the stove. I soaked the beans for about a day - not a full 24 hours. The chewiness factor is minor, just something different about the soup.

The recipe was one I usually use -w/the addition of using a jar of one of my canned salsas for a flavor boost and "short cut". I also used a food processor to dice/mince my vegetables as a short cut method. The veggies were very finely minced - which is fine as you want them to be more of a puree than a stew-like soup. After the soup is done, I usually mash or puree some of it anyway, so that it's thickened and more uniform in texture.

  • 1 Lb Dried Black beans - soaked
  • 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
  • 1 large onion - finely diced
  • 2 large carrots - finely diced
  • 3 large celery stalks - finely diced
  • 3 Bell peppers - red/green - finely diced
  • 4 large garlic cloves - finely diced
  • Bunch of cilantro - finely chopped
  • 1/4 Cup Seasonings that included: Ground Cumin, Dried Ground Chipotle Peppers, Ancho Chili Powder, Black Pepper, Oregano, Thyme and a Dash of Salt (or use the best Mexican Spice Blend or Chile blend that you have, preferably w/out salt, so you can control the sodium content)
  • Zest and Juice of 1 Lime
  • 5 Cups Cold Water (when adding water, DO NOT GO ABOVE THE MAX Liquid line on the pot's insert)
  • 1 - 8 ounce Jar Salsa of Choice (I had a jar of my Garden Veggie Salsa from this past summer)

  1. Soak Black Beans & rinse, set aside.
  2. Heat the instapot by using the saute mode. Heat the olive oil then saute the aromatics (onions-garlic:in the InstaPot until any water they give off evaporates & the veggies take on some colour - about 10 minutes.
  3. Next, saute the dried seasonings to bloom their flavor, stirring to incorporate - 1 minute.
  4. Add in the black beans, cilantro, water, lime juice & zest, and jar of salsa.
  5. Bean or Manual Mode- 15 minutes. Natural Pressure Release for 15-20 minutes, then carefuly vent the valve before opening the lid. Once the lid is off, carefully mash or puree or use an immersion blender to puree some of the soup so that it thickens. Taste and adjust seasons with salt, hot sauce, ground pepper and/or a dash of olive oil.
  6. Soup will improve in flavor after a day. Makes about 8-10 cups.

If the soup is too watery, strain off some of the water, after letting the soup sit and the vegetables settle to the bottom of the container. If the soup is too thick, thin w/a bit of water.