Category Archives: Herb Garden
Just the mention of this tender, aromatic dish sends Italian-food lovers into spasms of joy, and often, jags of wonderful (or dreadful, I’m afraid) childhood memories. If your Grandma made this dish, you either loved it or hated it, but there’s no getting around the fact that most adults can’t get enough of this one. Having grown up in a (mostly) kosher home–some of you know about the time Dad came home, a smoked ham in one hand and a box of gifts from his favorite customers in Chester, PA in the other, and demanded the end to this craziness (his words), and kosher in our house was no more–there was no eggplant Parmesan in our house. Mom occasionally made spaghetti sauce, but it was about as far from authentic Italian red gravy as salt-water taffy.
I learned my sauce-making skills from the skilled chefs at the Epicure Market in South Beach, and refined them to a honed edge at the feet of an employer named Bud Bruno (the finest Italian chef I ever met) in his little kitchen in Ardmore, Pennsylvania. What I learned from Bud was the magic of fresh ingredients, really good olive oil, and little else–an authentic red sauce was at the same time simple and complex, with flavors that were meant to go together. And this one is light as a feather. Not much oil, no battering and frying of the eggplant, and you can eat as much as you want–it won’t weigh you down.
This recipe doesn’t, however rely on one of those long-simmered, tradition-babied, fussed-over red sauces, but rather all the elements of a perfect red sauce, blended together with love but not with much time or effort. Just toss the ingredients together in a bowl and let ’em marry in the bowl for a while. Then go.
Here’s the recipe, and be gentle. Don’t over think this one. It can’t really be much simpler.
EASY ON THE BELT LINE EGGPLANT PARMESAN
1 tablespoon good extra-virgin olive oil
6 cloves garlic
1/2 large sweet onion, chopped
2 cups fresh, coarsely chopped plum tomatoes (San Marzano, if you can find them) with their juice
2 tablespoons dry red table wine
2 tablespoons dark balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Olive oil spray
2 egg whites
2 1/2 lbs eggplant, peeled and cut crosswise into 1/2″-thick slices
1/2 cup plain dried bread crumbs or 1 cup Panko
1 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese (about 4 oz)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
About three hours before serving, sauté the onions and garlic with the good olive oil until tender and transparent, 8-10 minutes at medium heat. In a medium bowl, stir together tomatoes and their juice, basil, parsley, wine, vinegar, salt, pepper, garlic, and onions (from here on I’ll call this the sauce). Cover with plastic wrap and set aside.
An hour later, preheat the oven to 400°F. Line two or three baking sheets with foil. Spray the foil with olive-oil cooking spray.
In a shallow dish, beat the egg whites and 2 tbsp of water until foamy, and prepare another shallow dish with Panko. Dip eggplant into the egg whites, then into the bread crumbs, pressing crumbs into the eggplant.
Place the eggplant slices on the prepared baking sheets and spray oil lightly over the slices. Bake 30 minutes, turning over after 20 minutes, until golden brown and cooked through.
Spoon 4 tbsp of sauce into bottom of 9″ square glass baking dish that has been sprayed with olive oil. Place half the eggplant over the sauce; spoon half of remaining sauce over the eggplant; and sprinkle half of mozzarella on top. Repeat with remaining eggplant, sauce, and mozzarella.
Sprinkle Parmesan on top and bake for 20-30 minutes, or until eggplant is piping hot, the sauce is bubbly, and the cheese has to lightly brown.
This dish will serve 4 generously, and leave you with a couple of pieces leftover for lunches the next day.
I didn’t know what to make for supper, and I had only a half hour before it had to be ready. Life on the run, you know. I work, E works, L is at the theater all day, M is either swimming, hockeying, iPhoning, entertaining, being entertained—it’s all just overwhelming, and making dinner becomes a chore.
But you know that.
You deal with the same issues, or similar ones, just the names and the names of the activities are different.
And we just can’t bring ourselves to open a box or a can or face another plate of ho-hum chicken breasts. Sure we like to cook ahead, and we have on several occasions, most recently a couple of Sundays ago, when we whipped up bowls full of chicken Marsala, baked ziti, salmon cakes, a couple of meat loafs, and E’s most popular white-bean and turkey-sausage stew.
It’s 4:45, all the make-ahead packages are frozen solid, there’s one chicken breast in the fridge (left over from another recipe), and the pressure is on.
What’s in the cupboard?
What I found was a box of Trader Joe’s Israeli couscous, a carton of plain yogurt and lots of produce in the fridge, and the clock is ticking. I’m feeling a little bit like Ted Allen is hiding around the corner.
I’m likely to fail. Chopped.
I looked for and found a recipe for a cold couscous salad that looked promising, but it surely needed a jolt of pizzazz, and then I found a small container of grilled chicken souvlaki I made a while back—that will defrost in a hurry. I can pull this off?
The feature for me will be the couscous salad, because I can spice it up and make it sing. So here’s what I made:
Israeli Couscous Salad with Cucumber, Lemon and Cilantro
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 ½ cups Israeli Couscous
1 ½ cups boiling water
1 large cucumber, peeled and seeded
¼ cup fresh cilantro, chopped coarsely
2 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
1 medium lemon
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon white Balsamic or cider vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
½ teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
12 grape tomatoes, halved
1. Preheat a saucepan over medium heat with 1 teaspoon olive oil; when the oil is hot add the couscous and toast, stirring constantly, until it is lightly browned, 5-7 minutes. Carefully add the boiling water, reduce the heat to low, cover and steam for 12 minutes, or until the water is completely absorbed. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.
2. Cut the seeded cucumber into quarters and then into ½-inch slices; place in a large bowl. Add the cilantro and parsley. With a fine-hole grater, zest the lemon peel into the cucumber. Set aside.
3. Squeeze the juice from the lemon into a small bowl, add the vinegar, olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper. Whisk to combine the dressing and add it to the cucumber. Toss to coat well.
4. Add the cooled couscous, the feta, and the tomatoes, and toss gently to combine the ingredients. Adjust the salt and pepper to taste, and serve immediately or chill until ready to eat.
You can substitute mint, all parsley, or all cilantro to the salad as you wish.
Serve with chicken or lamb souvlaki. Here’s the recipe for that: Feel free to substitute lamb for the chicken, and try the tzatziki, too. It’s the bomb!
Souvlaki (Lamb or Chicken)
½ cup olive oil
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped rosemary
1 tablespoon chopped thyme
1 tablespoon chopped oregano
2 lemons, juiced
2 pounds lamb shoulder meat, trimmed of most (but not all) the fat, cut into 1-inch cubes
4 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts (similarly prepared)
Place all the ingredients in a zipper-close food-storage bag, mix well, and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours, and preferably overnight. Place the meat on soaked wood or steel skewers, and grill over direct heat, turning several times, until done, 15-20 minutes.
Serve over rice or couscous, and with this fabulous yogurt dipping sauce:
32 ounces plain yogurt or 16 ounces plain Greek yogurt
1 large peeled, seeded and shredded English cucumber (or two regular ones)
5-8 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced (you decide how many)
3 tablespoons white vinegar
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon kosher salt
Place the plain yogurt in cheese cloth over a large bowl and strain in the refrigerator overnight (not necessary if you use Greek yogurt, but use half the amount of yogurt). Mix the cucumber and garlic with the salt and drain over a bowl for a half hour (this will remove moisture from the cucumber). Blend all the ingredients well in a large bowl.
Serve with the grilled souvlaki and a Greek salad.
I recently finished reading a wonderful book, one I recommend for anyone and everyone who cooks, thinks they can cook, wants to cook, wants to learn how to cook, or just enjoys eating. As far as I can tell, that includes most everyone–certainly most everyone who reads my columns or my blogs. The book is titled Provence, 1970: M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, and The Reinvention of American Taste, and it catalogs that summer, when the named principals and others of the gourmet industry glitterati of the time all found themselves in the Provence region of France at the same time. The book is abstracted from the daily journal of Ms. Fisher, one of the most most respected food writers in the world at the moment. It describes literally the moment when gourmet American cuisine stood up and broke free of the traditions and disciplines of classical French cooking and took its place as a separate and exciting style of cooking and life.
I’m not particularly a huge fan of traditional French cooking; I find it fussy and regimented, and I prefer to experiment with ingredients that I like–to mix and match flavors to see what the outcome might be. I’m not always successful, but I pride myself on technique and on my ability to repeat a recipe exactly time and time again if I find one I like. I’m also adept at duplicating a recipe I’ve tasted elsewhere and identify the flavors within. That’s not a skill I was able to hone; it is a particular and peculiar talent I was born with, so all the credit for this ability rests with my mother, who patiently explained every thing she was doing in the kitchen as she proceeded through a recipe. I then learned the rest of my cooking from my mentor, Martin Bettonio, executive chef at my family’s Epicure Gourmet Market in Miami Beach, after a stellar career as the executive chef at The Fontainbleau hotel, also in Miami Beach.
That said, following a reading of Provence, 1970, and at the request of my beloved life partner, Ellen, I decided to make a supper dish on a Sunday evening that reflected the influences of French cooking on American cuisine and took advantage of my strengths as a cook.
And thus was born my most recent personal dish creation, the butterflied grilled chicken with lemon and rosemary. It is a model of simplicity, using only a few carefully selected ingredients. It takes advantage of the wonderful bounty of local products–the chicken is fresh from a local farm courtesy of Stoltzfus Poultry at Central Market, fresh rosemary from our very own garden, and an amazing rosemary-infused extra-virgin olive oil obtained from my new friends at Seasons Lancaster on the first block of West King Street, a wonderful new source of olive oils, balsamic vinegars, chutneys, and other condiments most interesting.
But this recipe starts with the chicken. Fresh and not so large as the hormone-laden grocery-store poultry, just over four pounds and beautifully pale–no evidence of marigold petals in Stoltzfus chickens. First I butterfly the chicken, which is my preferred way to cook a chicken on a grill; it makes for more even cooking and a greatly reduced cooking time. To butterfly a chicken, take a sturdy chef’s knife in one hand and the chicken in the other. Stand the bird up straight, resting on its wings and neck cavity. Place the tip of the knife firmly on the chicken just aside the tail piece (an Irish friend of mine used to call this “the Pope’s nose). Holding the chicken firmly upright, quickly run the knife down alongside the backbone, all the way to the cutting board. Turn the chicken and repeat on the other side of the backbone. Tear the whole backbone away from the chicken and set it aside. Lay the chicken on the cutting board, breast side down, and run the tip of the knife the length of the breastbone and the breast cartilage to sever the skin layer. Pick the chicken up and quickly and firmly fold it like a book bringing the outsides of the breast together, inside out, breaking the rib bones away from the breast bone. Then firmly pull the breastbone away from the chicken–both the bone and cartilage pieces. Salt and pepper the inside, flip the chicken to breast side up and lay it on the cutting board. Cut away the wing tips and set them aside with the backbone. Your chicken is now ready.
Butterflied Grilled Chicken with Lemon and Rosemary
1 whole chicken, 4 to 4.5 pounds, butterflied
1 whole lemon, sliced very thin
1 whole shallot, minced fine
2 whole sprigs fresh rosemary
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Koshersalt and pepper to taste
Place the minced shallot in the olive oil in a small bowl and allow to sit while doing the rest of the preparation.
Butterfly the chicken as described above. Preheat the outdoor grill of your choice to 350 degrees F., so that the chicken can be placed on the grates away from direct flame.
Run hands and/or fingers between the chicken meat and the skin, including the thigh and leg, if possible, to separate the skin from the meat. Rub minced shallot and olive oil over the whole chicken under the skin. Then place three slices of lemon and a whole sprig of rosemary under the skin on each side of the breast. Rub the remaining olive oil over the chicken skin and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.
Place the chicken, breast side down, on the grill away from the flame, and close the top. Grill 14-16 minutes, depending on the size of the chicken, flip and grill 15 minutes more. The chicken is done when the juices from the thigh run clear when pierced with a knife. Remove the chicken from the grill, cover loosely with foil and allow to rest for 10-15 minutes.
Garnish with a lemon slice and a sprig of rosemary.
And what, pray tell, do you think Cheffzilla might be doing on Christmas this year? Really adventurous, I might say, but mighty tasty, too. Allow me to elaborate:
I adapted the recipe from one featured on his “Good Eats” show a couple of years ago by Alton Brown, that wacky TV chef at the Food Network. It looks really good to me, so I thought I might try it. I’m a big fan of panzanella, and this recipe demonstrated to me that it’s not just a summer salad. Beautiful root (and winter squash–Alton used shredded Brussels sprouts in his recipe instead, but no one here likes them!) vegetables, a fine sourdough bread, and some fresh herbs from my garden (yes, it is still producing!) make for a really fine-looking and grand Christmas dinner, a wide stray from the usual rib roast and Yorkshire pudding from years past. Here’s what’s for dinner tonight.
Great any night.
1 1/2 teaspoons rubbed sage
1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 1/4 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon whole allspice berries
1 13 to 14 pound whole turkey, neck and giblets removed and reserved for Giblet Stock
1 1/2 pounds parsnips, peeled and cubed into 1/2-inch pieces
1 1/2 pounds rutabaga, peeled and cubed into 1/2-inch pieces
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 pound red onion, diced into 1/2-inch pieces
8 ounces butternut squash, diced into 1/2-inch pieces
1 quart container fresh Brussels sprouts
8 ounces hearty sourdough or multi-grain bread, cut into 1/2-inch cubes and staled
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup fresh thyme leaves, finely minced
Freshly ground black pepper
For the turkey: Four days before service, place the salt, sage, thyme, black peppercorns, and allspice into a spice grinder and pulse until the peppercorns and allspice are coarsely ground, 5 to 6 pulses. Set aside.
Set the turkey, breast-side down, on a large cutting board with the tail closest to you. Use an electric knife or heavy-duty kitchen shears to cut up one side of the backbone. Turn the bird around and cut back down the other side of the spine. Reserve the backbone for Giblet Stock. Discard any fat pockets or excess skin found inside the turkey. Turn the turkey breast-side up and use the heel of your hands to press down on both breasts, until you hear a cracking sound and the bird has flattened slightly.
Rub the seasoned salt on both sides of the turkey. Place the turkey on a parchment paper lined half sheet pan, breast-side up with legs running with the long side of the pan. Store, uncovered, in the refrigerator for 4 days.
Remove the turkey from the refrigerator and leave at room temperature for 1 hour.
For the panzanella: Place the parsnips and rutabaga in a large bowl, toss lightly to coat with the oil, and set aside.
Place one rack in the middle of the oven and a second one far enough below so the roasting pan will fit. Heat the oven to 425 degrees F.
Place the turkey directly on the middle rack of the oven with the legs perpendicular to the metal bars of the rack. Place the roasting pan with the parsnips and rutabaga on the rack below the turkey and roast both for 30 minutes.
Reduce the heat to 350 degrees F. Add the red onion to the roasting vegetables and stir to combine. Continue to roast both the vegetables and the turkey until a probe thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast registers 155 degrees F, an additional 40 to 50 minutes.
Remove the turkey from the oven onto a cooling rack set inside a half sheet pan and rest for 30 minutes.
Add the butternut squash, bread cubes and garlic to the roasting vegetables, stir to combine and roast for an additional 15 minutes. Remove the vegetables from the oven and immediately transfer to a serving bowl. Pour the apple cider vinegar in the warm roasting pan, stir and scrape off any browned bits from the pan. Pour the vinegar mixture over the salad, add the thyme and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper as desired. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Carve the turkey and serve with the panzanella.
Barley and Portabella Pilaf
1/2 cup fresh sliced Portabella mushrooms
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 cup pearled barley
2-1/2 cups turkey (or vegetable) stock
2 tablespoons green onions (scallions)
1/4 tsp crushed dried rosemary
2 tablespoons grated fresh Parmesan cheese
Heat olive oil in a saucepan; add mushrooms and saute’ until limp. Add barley, stock, green onion, and rosemary. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook 45 minutes, or until the barley is tender and the liquid is completely absorbed. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese over pilaf and toss to mix well. Garnish with a little more Parmesan and some fresh-chopped green onions.
We’re serving this with fresh green beans sauteed in butter with sesame seeds and cranberry-orange relish.
This is going to be a short note about canning and tomato sauce.
I know…I know…there are a billion places on the web where you can get canning advice, and there are even more tomato-sauce recipes, likely you make your grandmother’s recipe (or your mother’s recipe, or a neighbor’s recipe, or Alton Brown’s recipe or…or…or…
I’m going to add one more voice to the Greek Chorus, and while these are probably the most overused food-column subjects on the planet, I humbly suggest you actually try this one, because it is so bloody simple and so bloody tasty that I may actually influence you to give up your day-long adventure in kitchen drudgery, which most tomato sauces tend to be–no self-respecting grandmother I know would ever subscribe or give props to a sauce that doesn’t simmer all day, and which likely takes even longer to clean up. Besides, the longer you simmer, the more sugar you’ll have to add, because long simmering makes tomatoes bitter, not better (notice there’s no sugar in my recipe? Just a little in the ketchup to offset the vinegar a bit. Is there sugar in your recipe?).
No sir or ma’am, I don’t roll in that direction. If you’ve read this space before, you know that perhaps only second to fresh and local, I am all about quick and simple. I have teen-age daughters. I don’t have time to spend all day in the kitchen. And don’t bother removing the skins and seeds from the tomatoes unless you have all the time in the world. I don’t. There is grass to mow, shopping to get done, laundry to do, trash to take out, swimming (or, currently, field hockey) practices to drive to, dance classes (soooooo many dance classes)…so who has time to give an entire day to a tomato sauce?
Not me. And in this recipe it really doesn’t make that much of a difference. And the seeds will signal to your guests that it really is garden-fresh sauce.
So here, I’m going to give you a simple variation on the marinara sauce with which I am most familiar–the one from South Beach.
It’s spicy (but not too spicy), sweet (but not too sweet), garlicky (but not too…oh, hell, yes it is…), and made with a surprise: white wine instead of red. Heresy? Sure. But just wait till you taste.
And then, I’m going to suggest that you can the sauce, so that you’ll have plenty of fresh-ingredient sauce all winter. I just know that by now, you have too many tomatoes in your garden, and people are leaving more and more every day on the break-room table, right? So you look right past them, thinking, “Oh, God, not MORE tomatoes!!!”
I say, TAKE ‘EM! Make sauce. Keep making it until your fingers ache. This is such a simple recipe you’ll make it over and over and over. The hardest part s chopping the herbs–there are lots and lots. But give this a try. Then can as much as you can. If you don’t have canning supplies, spend thirty bucks on a cheap canning set: a large pot, a set of canning tools (look ’em up on Google or at the website of one of the big boxes. A dozen pint jars cost about eight bucks, quart jars about ten. Compare this to the cost of one quart of decent sauce at the store. You’ll be converted, because it’s so simple, and it is so much better.
Here’s the scoop:
CHEFFZILLA’S MARINARA SAUCE
Fresh tomatoes; it takes about 2 1/2 pounds of tomatoes per pint (5 pounds per quart) of finished jars. This recipe is for six pints. 15 pounds of tomatoes; I like San Marzanos, but use any kind, just make sure they’re ripe.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large sweet onion, diced fine
1/2 to 1 cup minced garlic. I know it’s a lot. But trust me here. It makes a difference. You can actually use garlic from a bottle sold in the grocery store’s produce section. I didn’t, because I had lots of garlic laying around from Caitlin and EmmaKate’s CSA at Blue Rock Farm
1 cup good quality dry white wine (don’t use cooking wine or cheap table wine–buy decent wines to cook with
1/2 cup each fresh parsley and basil leaves plus a few whole branches of basil
1/4 cup each fresh oregano and thyme
6 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 cup ketchup
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1. Wash the jars and lids in the dishwasher with just a little bit of soap; or hand wash. Set the jars in the canning pot and fill with water until there is about 1 inch of water above the tops of the jars.
2. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees; wash the tomatoes, cut them in half (quarters if they are large), lay them out on a baking sheet or two, lay the basil branches over the tomatoes, spray with a bit of olive oil spray, and roast for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool to “handling” temperature.
3. Chop all the herbs together into a large pile until they are all mixed up and finely chopped.
4. In a large heavy enamel or stainless-steel pot, heat the olive oil until it shimmers, turn down the heat to medium, and add the onions, stirring occasionally until they soften and turn translucent, about 15 minutes. Turn the heat up to medium-high, add the minced garlic and stir constantly for 60 seconds. NO MORE! Add the wine to the onions and garlic, stir to mix well, then add the herbs and stir again until fully mixed. Turn the stove down to medium-low and allow the wine, herbs, and aromatics to simmer until the wine is reduced by two thirds.
5. While the wine is reducing, place the tomatoes, in batches, in a food processor and pulse four or five times, until the tomatoes are chopped fine, but not so they are completely pureed. When the wine is fully reduced, add the tomatoes to the pot, add the ketchup and vinegar, stir well, and reduce the pot to low-medium, bring to a simmer, and reduce the heat further, until the pot is just bubbling lightly. Stir every fifteen or twenty minutes and cook for two hours.
6. A half hour before the sauce is finished, bring the pot and jars to a boil. When the water is boiling hard, set the timer for 10 minutes. At the end of this time, turn off the heat but do not remove the jars. Add the lids and discs to the pot.
7. When the sauce is done, remove the jars, one at a time (do not touch the inside or the screw threads of the jars), pour out the water, and fill with sauce to within 1/4 inch of the top. Be sure to leave 1/4 inch at the top of the jar. Remove a lid from the water, screw it on tight, and place the jar back in the water; repeat with the remaining jars, removing enough water from the pot to ensure that the pot doesn’t spill over (If you have any sauce remaining, use it right away, even if you must simply dip good bread into the sauce and finish it yourself). Be sure there is at least an inch (two inches is better, three is even better) of water above the top of the jars.
8. Bring the pot back to a boil and set the kitchen timer for 35 minutes for pints or 40 minutes for quarts (add five additional minutes for each 1000 feet above sea level your kitchen is). When the timer beeps, remove the jars from the water and set on a towel to cool, keeping them separated enough that they don’t prevent each other from cooling. Allow to cool completely, to room temperature, listening all the while for the lids to pop as they cool. All the lids should pop inward and they should be snug. If a lid doesn’t pop, place it back in boiling water for an additional 35 minutes and repeat the process. If it doesn’t pop again, use the sauce immediately.
These jars should keep in a cool, dry place for a year or more, but the sauce is so good, they won’t last that long. Trust me.
And one more thing:
Talking Fresh has taken a left turn. I hope you will stay with me, because I find this new phase of the column liberating.
A bit of history:
Talking Fresh came about as the result of a conversation I had at church one Sunday morning with Jen Kopf, one of the editors at the erstwhile “Lifestyle” section of the Lancaster Sunday News. I admire Jen and her remarkable writing, her sense of the history and culture of Lancaster, and her obvious love for Lancaster. I asked her why the paper didn’t have a restaurant critic, and if they would be interested in entertaining the idea. I pointed her toward my blog so that she could get a sense of my writing, my style, my sensibility, and my slight leaning toward anarchy (I should point out that before I gave her the URL, I had to clean it up a bit—I’d been blogging for a couple of years at that point, and I tend to write in frenetic bursts, thinking that everything I write is just what everyone else wants to read—my bad!).
A few weeks later Jen got back to me with several reasons why the paper didn’t think a restaurant critic was on their radar, and admittedly, the reasons were sound. But she liked what she read on the blog—she actually used the word “interesting.” I was ecstatic. But not yet a published writer here in Lancaster.
A couple months later I got an email from another editor at Lifestyle, Lynn Schmidt Miller, who suggested that they might be interested in running a semi-weekly column if I could present it just as I present entries in the blog.
“Why sure I can,” I responded. Ulp. Suddenly I’m a food writer in Lancaster, with you all and the rest of the county as my readers, and I owe a column every other week.
No matter what.
Of stuff I made myself.
But I took up the challenge, went in to the offices of the paper on King Street, got a photo taken of my former fat self, balloon chin and all, and suddenly I’m a columnist in Lancaster.
In the same newspaper as Gil Smart and Louis Butcher and Larry Alexander and Jeff Hawkes and Tom Murse and all the other fabulous writers we are blessed with in this town.
For me, because Lynn asked me to write the column just as I had been writing my blog, I took that to mean that I was wanted as much for my writing as for my recipes. The truth is, I always considered the blog—and now the column—as an outlet for my writing, and the recipes were simply the device to get people to read the entries. To this day, I don’t know, and don’t really care, whether they were more interested in the writing or the recipes.
Being on a word count made it all the more challenging, but for me it was always about the essay up front. My wife always reminded me that the column had to be about something.
“What’s it about?” she always asked.
When space was tight and the columns got edited, it was always the writing that got snipped, which made me feel a little sad. But I understood—still do—the demands of space in the paper, and half a recipe is worthless.
Which brings me back full circle to this column, which is that I now feel liberated, because the restriction of word counts is off, and now my only task is to be interesting and produce wonderful food and recipes. If I bore you half way down the column, that’s on me.
But I’ll continue to write the column, and continue to love doing it, and hope you continue to read it and to share it with your friends—Facebook and otherwise—so that maybe I can gather some steam for the column and gain some readership.
As I’m writing this, I munching on one of my all-time summer favorites, a Mexican Bean salad Ellen conjured up from her little tin recipe box about which I’ve written more than once. This salad is a killer. It’s cool and spicy and flavorful and filling and simple and festive and…for now I’ve run out of adjectives, but suffice it to say make it, and it will become one of your go-to summer dishes. Lots of ingredients, but lots of flavor. It’ll win raves!
Mexican Bean Salad
1 15-oz can black beans
1 15-oz can red kidney beans
1 15-oz can cannellini (white) beans
1 green bell pepper, cored, seeded, ribs removed, and diced
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, ribs removed, and diced
1 yellow bell pepper, cored, seeded, ribs removed, and diced
1 medium spicy yellow banana pepper, cored, seeded, ribs removed, and diced
2 ears of corn, lightly steamed, cut from the cob
1 10-oz package frozen corn, defrosted
1 red onion, diced
2-3 scallions, white and light green parts only, 1/2-inch chop
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
1 tablespoons white sugar
2 cloves finely minced garlic cloves
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
½ tablespoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 dash (or more—wayyyyy more) red pepper (read: Tabasco) sauce
1 teaspoon chili powder
In a large bowl, combine beans, peppers, corn, and red onion.
In a small food chopper, add all remaining ingredients and pulse until they are well mixed. Pour dressing over salad fixin’s and toss well to coat. Chill thoroughly and serve cold.
Okay, so the Sunday News won’t be carrying my column anymore, but that doesn’t mean you can’t access my kitchen. I plan to continue writing Talking Fresh, and hope all of you Facebook friends will Like Jeff’s Kitchen here, and share my posts with your friends, and encourage them to like my page as well. It takes a village, and all those six degrees and such can turn this into a movement, if you’re willing.
That said, I’m also going to put up a post on opposite Sundays featuring what I get in my CSA bag from Caitlin and EmmaKate at Blue Rock farm. Today I got lettuce, mustard and beet greens, beets, fresh dill, a perfect head of garlic, one yellow squash, snow peas and mixed (pole or bush?) beans, and chard.
Here’s what I’ll be making for supper tonight, all the fresh ingredients coming from the young women’s wonderful little farm in Willow Street, PA.
Thanks indeed to Martha Stewart for the inspiration for this recipe. I’ve altered it a bit from her original to make it my own, and to feature the fine ladies of Blue Rock Farm. By the way, it is wonderful cold, and reheats beautifully.
Please enjoy responsibly.
French Lentil and Swiss Chard Risotto
1 bay leaf
6 sprigs fresh thyme plus 2 teaspoons leaves
1/3 cup French green lentils
1 bunch Swiss chard
1 cup finely chopped onion and the onion greens
4 cups low-sodium chicken stock
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 ½ teaspoons minced garlic
1 ¼ cups Arborio rice
½ cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup freshly ground white pepper
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup freshly shredded chard or beet greens, for garnish
1. In a medium saucepan, combine 6 cups water, bay leaf, and thyme sprigs and bring to a boil. Simmer for 5 minutes; add lentils, reduce heat to low and simmer until tender, about 20 minutes. Drain lentils and set aside; discard the rest.
2. Wash chard and remove stalks; slice leaves into very thin 2-inch strips, and dice the smaller stems into ¼-inch dice. Discard the larger stems. Sauté with a bit of olive oil in a large skillet, tossing constantly over high heat until just wilted; set aside in a colander.
3. Finely chop the onions and slice the greens into ½-inch rings.
4. Bring the stock to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and keep at a bare simmer.
5. Heat olive oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Add onion, onion greens, and garlic and cook, stirring frequently until soft but not browned, about 6 minutes. Add rice and thyme leaves and continue stirring until the edges of the rice become translucent, 3-4 minutes. Add the wine, stirring constantly, until nearly all the wine is absorbed.
6. Raise the heat to medium-high, add the salt and pepper and ½ cup stock and cook, stirring constantly until nearly all the stock is absorbed. Repeat this process, adding ½ cup stock at a time, until the rice is creamy but still a little firm, 15-20 minutes.
7. Remove the pot from the heat, and stir in the lentils, chard, and Parmesan. Season to taste with salt and pepper, plate and serve immediately garnished with the shredded greens.
This week I met my farmers, and I walked the ground where my spring, summer, and autumn vegetables will grow. We joined a CSA this week, so we will be receiving regular bags full of produce—from mustard greens to watermelons to butternut squash and virtually everything in between—from a tiny but growing farm in Willow Street called Blue Rock Farm. And the farmers, Caitlin Brady and EmmaKate Martin are not what you’d expect.
Caitlin Brady, 22, is the creative force behind the Blue Rock Farm. She was raised in Missouri on a 2000-acre farm that grew corn, soybeans, sorghum, and tobacco, using large machinery and production-farm techniques that are common to business farms all over the country (not that there is anything wrong with that). She’s been to five different colleges (currently Millersville University as a foreign-language major—Spanish, French, and Italian), she’s lived in several countries; and in big cities (Chicago) and small farming communities like Lancaster.
Caitlin started Blue Rock a couple of years ago and sold her products at several of the local farm markets—this year she will have a stand at the Eastern Market on East King Street on Saturdays.
EmmaKate grew up on the land she and Caitlin are currently farming. In fact, the land has been in her family for 6 generations. She graduated from Penn Manor High School and is now working the same land her father and her grandfather did, and further and further back. EmmaKate is also passionate about the land we all live on, and works with a volunteer organization that holds concerns for the environment as acts of faith.
In a conversation with her spry 94-year-old grandfather, Park Mellinger, the other day, he told me how pleased he was that she and Caitlin were doing this kind of work. He told me that the plot they were currently working in was plowed under for planting for the first time since 1899—it’s been backyard to the farm house for generations.
Blue Rock farm is totally organic; the fertilizer is compost and the water is rain water collected in large containers all over the property and fed into the gardens through drip hoses. Caitlin and EmmaKate are making a serious go of this small family farm, currently having 15 half- and 6 whole shares in their CSA, which will deliver food weekly to three Lancaster County locations. A limited number of shares are still available.
The New York City chef Dan Barber, a loud and passionate advocate for small, local, organic farms—he runs one himself in upstate New York that produces for his restaurant—encourages consumers to “get to know your farmer and your fishmonger,” so that you will know exactly where your food comes from and on what it’s been raised.
I have gotten to know my farmers and I, for one, couldn’t be happier. I know that my family will be eating some of the best, healthiest food available in Lancaster County, a place where there is more healthy food (and some pretty unhealthy stuff, too) than almost anywhere else in the nation.
Blue Rock Farm. Check it out!
We made this recipe for a catered supper that we offered up at the Manheim Township Public Library silent auction. The winner got a dinner for ten catered by us here at Jeff’s Kitchen. The invaluable cheffing was provided by Ellen, Jen, and Morgan, along with Cheffzilla, who watched over the event while the real MVPs did all the work. Here is the main course, presented with pride:
2 pounds wild salmon fillets
2 teaspoons kosher salt
6 teaspoons wasabi powder
1 up sour cream
Preheat the oven to 30 degrees. Sprinkle a large roasting pan with olive oil. Lay the salmon fillets in the pan with the skin side down. Spray the top side of the salmon with olive oil and season with salt. Roast until just cooked through, 20-30 minutes, depending on the thickness of the salmon.
Dissolve the wasabi powder in 8 teaspoons water. Whisk into the sour cream and season to taste with salt. Add more wasabi if desired for flavor.
Serve the salmon topped with wasabi sauce and garnished with chopped chives.
For anyone watching their weight, Thanksgiving has become a day filled with potential pitfalls and dietary disappointments. The original Pilgrim celebration of gratitude for having enough food to survive the coming winter has evolved into an all-day, all-you-can-eat extravaganza. Many families spend the day parked on their couches, watching parades followed by football, snacking whether they are hungry or not, before sitting down to an enormous meal.
Contrary to popular opinion, it is possible to prepare and serve a light, healthy Thanksgiving dinner without depriving your guests of their traditional favorites or letting them go hungry. By making a few simple changes to your menu, it is easy to make a meal you and your guests will enjoy and remember, without the morning-after regret that too often accompanies this special day
Suggestion One: Cut the fat.
The centerpiece of Thanksgiving dinner is almost certainly the turkey, which is an easy place to cut fat without cutting flavor. Unless you are entertaining a dozen or more people, a turkey breast may be a better choice than a whole turkey. White meat is far leaner than dark meat, and turkey cooked on a grill (breast or whole bird) will release much of its internal fat during the cooking process. Brining a turkey can compensate for any moisture lost through decreasing the fat. This recipe is for a 12-15 pound turkey. If you have a larger turkey, double the brine recipe.
1 gallons water
1 ½ cups apple cider
¾ cup kosher salt
1 cups brown sugar
2-3 bay leaves
2 branches fresh rosemary, stripped from the branch
5-10 whole pepper corns
2-3 cloves fresh garlic
Peel of 1 navel orange, coarsely chopped
The day before cooking, bring one-half gallon of water and all other ingredients to a brisk boil; immediately turn off the heat, cover and allow the brine to cool to room temperature. Half way through the cooling process, add the remaining half-gallon of cold water.
When the brine is completely cooled, place the turkey, breast side down, in a brining bag, a food-grade bucket or large soup pot. Pour the brine over the turkey and refrigerate covered for 8-16 hours, turning the turkey over two-thirds of the way through. Leaving the turkey in the brine for more than 16 hours may leave the turkey mushy when finished.
Before cooking, remove the turkey from the brine and pat dry.
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons finely ground white pepper
2 tablespoons granulated garlic
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon Bell’s poultry seasoning
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
Olive oil in a spray can
Start with a dry rub. Wash the turkey and pat dry. Rub the turkey inside and out with this rub or any favorite combination of spices. Spray the turkey with the olive oil, then place it, unstuffed, on the grill with the coals or burners not directly underneath. Include a pan to catch the drippings. Cook the turkey until the legs can be jiggled loosely from the thighs, (180°F on a thermometer inserted into the thigh) or in the case of a breast, until a meat thermometer inserted deep into the meat (but not touching the bone) reads 180° F. Remove the turkey from the grill, cover with foil, and allow to rest 15 minutes before carving.
Suggestion Two: Slow down and enjoy the company.
Many families load the Thanksgiving table with multiple options for entrees and side dishes. Dinner begins with the circulation of bowls and platters around the table, allowing each guest to take their portion before passing it on. By the time everyone is served, the food is cold and everyone is tired of waiting to eat.
By serving Thanksgiving dinner in courses, it is easy to fill up on low-calorie, vegetable-based dishes before confronting the tempting entrees and side dishes. An added benefit will be the wonderful conversations your family and guests will have in between each course.
Start with a soup course (a corn soup is perfect for Thanksgiving), serving it in cups or small bowls. Then serve an autumn salad, made with butternut squash, cranberries, pumpkin seeds and fresh greens, with a tangy-creamy dressing.
Try these recipes, which use traditional ingredients that were used in the 1600s.
Curried Corn Soup
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup finely chopped green bell pepper
½ cup finely chopped red bell pepper
¼ cup minced shallots
2 teaspoons curry powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
3 cups fresh corn or one 16-ounce bag frozen corn, thawed
1 cup vegetable stock
½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
3 cups soy milk, 2% milk or evaporated skim milk, divided
½ cup shredded reduced fat cheese, divided (optional)
Heat the oil in a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the bell peppers, stirring occasionally, until soft. Add the shallots and stir 2 minutes. Add the curry powder and salt, and stir to combine. Stir in the corn, stock, and pepper; bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium, cover and cook ½ hour.
Transfer 2 cups of soup to a blender, add 1 cup milk, and process until smooth. Return the blended corn soup to the soup pot, add the remaining milk, and stir gently until the soup is hot.
Serve immediately, garnished with the optional cheese and some chopped chives or parsley.
Adapted from soyfoodcouncil.com
Roasted Squash Salad with Tahini Dressing
1 medium butternut squash
Olive oil spray in a can
½ teaspoon paprika
4 tablespoons pumpkin seeds
¼ cup dried cranberries
8 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
2 cups spring mix
2 tablespoons plain Greek yogurt
1 ½ tablespoons tahini
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 small garlic clove, finely minced
½ cup boiling vegetable stock
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Peel the squash, halve, remove the seeds, and cut into 1-inch cubes. Lightly spray a roasting pan with olive oil, spread the squash on the pan, sprinkle with paprika, salt, and pepper, and spray with oil. Roast 35 minutes, stirring halfway through, until the squash is tender. Put the pumpkin seeds on baking sheet and bake for the last five minutes of the cooking time.
While the squash is roasting, make the dressing: whisk together the yogurt, tahini, lemon juice, and garlic. Slowly stir in 1-2 tablespoons stock, until the dressing reaches the consistency of buttermilk.
Plate the salad greens, top with the squash, pumpkin seeds, cranberries, feta cheese, and parsley, and sprinkle the dressing on top. Season with salt and pepper and serve immediately.
Adapted from redonline.co.uk
Suggestion Three: Limit options and focus on vegetables.
In order to make your dinner lighter and healthier, consider limiting the number of options you present your guests, featuring one or two interesting new recipes in which vegetables play the starring role rather than laying out the full cast of customary starchy favorites. No one needs stuffing, mashed potatoes and sweet potato casserole, after all. New flavors may encourage new behaviors, as serving old favorites can entice your guests to heap too-large portions on their plates simply because they are accustomed to doing so.
Here is a vegetable dish that is out of the ordinary, yet made with many of the familiar ingredients of traditional Thanksgiving dinners. It is easy to make, beautiful to serve, nutritious, and much more interesting than the customary green-bean casserole with cream of mushroom soup and canned onion rings. And so much better tasting!
Polenta Dome with Roasted Autumn Vegetables
4 cups vegetable stock
1 ½ teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons olive oil
Olive oil spray in a can
2 cups diced onions
3 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
2 cups cornmeal
1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and shredded
1 tablespoon fresh sage, chopped (1 teaspoon dried)
2 teaspoon ground fennel seeds
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
In a covered pot, bring the stock and 1 teaspoon salt to a boil. Spray a medium-sized mixing bowl.
While the stock heats, heat olive oil in a heavy skillet on medium heat. Cook the onions, garlic, and remaining salt for about 25 minutes, until the onions are caramelized. Stir the squash, sage, fennel, and pepper into the sautéed onions and cook for 3-4 minutes. Remove from heat and cover.
When the stock boils, gradually pour in the cornmeal, stirring vigorously. Reduce the heat until the thickening cornmeal simmers gently. Cook, stirring frequently, until the polenta is thick (but still pourable), adding hot water as necessary, and tastes done. Fine cornmeal cooks in a few minutes; courser meal takes longer. The consistency is key.
When the polenta is done, stir in the sautéed vegetables and cheese. Pour into the oiled bowl and set aside to cool for at least 30 minutes, until set.
About a half hour before serving, turn the cooled polenta dome onto a baking pan or ovenproof platter sprayed with olive oil and bake for 30 minutes, until hot. Serve on a bed of steamed spinach or Swiss chard and surround with toasted autumn vegetables.
Roasted Autumn Vegetables
1/3 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons Balsamic vinegar
5 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1-2 teaspoons fresh rosemary or sage, chopped
2 medium onions, peeled, cut into 8 pieces
1 cup baby carrots
2 sweet potatoes or ½ seeded butternut squash, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 red and 1 yellow bell pepper, cut to 2-inch squares
2 cup tiny patty pan squash or 2 medium zucchini, 1-inch slices, halved
8 ounces fresh whole cremini, baby portabella or white mushrooms, halved
6 firm, fresh plum tomatoes, halved
Preheat the oven to 425°F.
In a bowl mix together the marinade. Toss the hard vegetables (onions, carrots and potatoes) in the marinade, and spread on a baking sheet. Roast for 20 minutes, turning once. Toss the remaining vegetables in the marinade. Lower the heat to 400°F, place on a second baking sheet and roast another 20 minutes, turning once, and turning the hard vegetables again. Serve on a large platter around the polenta dome. Watch carefully that the vegetables don’t burn.
Adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Celebrates
Suggestion Four: Change Your Thinking about Stuffing and Gravy
Probably the most troublesome parts of the Thanksgiving meal for people endeavoring to eat light and healthy are the stuffing and the gravy. The notion that stuffing and gravy are integral to the meal is deeply ingrained in our consciousness. A simple way to cut some of the fat from stuffing is to bake it outside of the turkey. Likewise, traditional gravy can be made without calorie-laden pan drippings. Even better, try a new approach to stuffing and gravy altogether, replacing bread cubes with high-fiber whole grains such as quinoa or barley and combining interesting new flavors into an almost fat-free gravy.
Wild Mushroom Barley Stuffing
2 tablespoons kosher salt, divided
1 ½ cups uncooked pearled barley
2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
1 medium onion, chopped
5 slices turkey bacon
2 small carrots, diced
1 pound fresh wild mushrooms, assorted varieties
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons fresh thyme, minced
2 tablespoons fresh sage, chopped
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 cups vegetable broth, heated to a simmer
1 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
Bring eight cups of water and 1 ½ teaspoons salt to a boil in a large saucepan; add barley. Cover, reduce the heat, and simmer until tender, about 30 minutes; drain.
Meanwhile, heat 1 teaspoon oil in a large pot over medium-high heat; add onion, bacon, and carrots. Cook, stirring often, until onion is lightly browned and almost tender, about five minutes. Add mushrooms and garlic; cook, stirring often, until the vegetables are tender, about five minutes more.
Stir in herbs, pepper, remaining salt and olive oil. Reduce heat to low, stir in broth and barley, toss to coat. Remove from heat, transfer to a serving bowl, and sprinkle with parsley.
Caramelized Onion Gravy
2 teaspoons olive oil
6 cups thinly sliced sweet or Spanish onions
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon dried thyme or ¾ teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
½ teaspoon fresh rosemary, minced
½ teaspoon dried marjoram
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
3 tablespoons dark soy sauce
2 cups vegetable broth
¼ cup dry sherry wine
2 tablespoons cornstarch
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Warm the oil in a large saucepan on medium-high heat. Add the onions and sauté for 2-3 minutes, until the onions are coated with oil. Add the paprika, salt, herbs, and nutmeg. Reduce the heat to medium and continue to cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes, until the onions are limp and very brown. You should have about a generous cup of caramelized and very sweet onions.
Add the soy sauce, 1 ¾ cups broth, and the wine to the onions; bring to a simmer. Dissolve the cornstarch in the remaining broth and mix into the gravy in a slow but steady stream. Stir constantly until the gravy is thickened.
From Moosewood Restaurant Celebrates
Suggestion Five: Serve smaller plates and individual portions
A cherished part of Thanksgiving for many is filling one’s plate with heaps of good food. Slow everyone down a bit by serving your meal on smaller salad plates rather than dinner plates. Your guests will retain the pleasure of combining delicious foods together without committing themselves to more than they can – or should—eat in one sitting. If, by some chance, they are still hungry after cleaning their plate, they are welcome to come back for more.
The same strategy works well with dessert. Instead of baking a pumpkin pie, bake the pumpkin custard (substituting egg whites and evaporated skim milk to lower the fat) in ramekins. Serve each guest their own portion with a ginger snap in a ramekin, saving them the fat and calories of the crust and the temptation to eat more dessert than they should.
The secret to losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight is to make a series of small changes and then be consistent in retaining those changes; but in the end, food and the experience of sharing a meal with loved ones should still be pleasurable. This Thanksgiving, try one or two of these tips to save yourself unnecessary fat and calories without losing any of the enjoyment of spending this special day with the people you love. Who knows? Maybe you will be creating new, healthier traditions for years to come.