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Cooking For the World’s Greatest Mom — Lancaster Online

By JEFF THAL, Talking Fresh

 I am married to the World’s Greatest Mom. I know this because she has a coffee mug that says so. Her daughters continue to reaffirm this fact every year at Mother’s Day by presenting her with more awards that proclaim her World’s Greatest Mom.

Therefore, it must be so.

I know that most of you think that you are somehow related to the real World’s Greatest Mom, and I expect that your mom has the hardware to prove it, too.

Today is Mother’s Day. It is, in my opinion, one of the two most important nonreligious holidays of the year (the other being Thanksgiving). This is a day we take time out from our otherwise hectic schedules to recognize the most important person in our lives — the person who is expected (fairly or not) to keep the house clean and laundry done, buy the food and clothing, make sure there are tissues and toilet paper in all the right places, know which school days are early dismissal and in-service, and generally hold things together — and to do it all with good humor and a smile.


Personally, I don’t think one day is enough. To borrow a marketing phrase, Mom does more before 9 a.m. than most people do all day. She deserves, every single day, the attention we bestow on her on Mother’s Day. In my experience, all she does is taken for granted almost as much as eating or breathing. This shouldn’t be; we should all be giving Mom special treatment every day, because that’s what she gives us.

That said, we are taking care on Mother’s Day to do something special for her, something we don’t do every day. Chocolate? Nice, but gone in 24 hours. Flowers? Sure, but they last a few days, then die. Our girls are working on a special homemade gift, one that Mom is sure to love. Homemade is so much better than something purchased from a shelf loaded with dozens of “that special gift” Mom will cherish for a day or two. And I’m cooking (of course!), something from the garden, but altered slightly to be healthy, to fit our current lifestyle of lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure, lower calorie.

I’m making a frittata, and the surprising ingredient, one that I found growing in our garden when we moved here nine years ago, is asparagus. Last year I gave you a yummy Asian-inspired asparagus soup, and now I present an equally delicious asparagus frittata. You can serve this for breakfast — it’s quick, easy and beautifully presentable, and it’s nutritious as can be — or you can serve it as a complete dinner. We call it “breakfast for dinner,” which we do every couple of weeks. Serve it with smashed, roasted, salt-and-vinegar red potatoes, the recipe for which I will place on my blog,, along with another frittata recipe that’s worth a look.

And do it for Mom.


1 cup water

2/3 pound fresh asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces

1 medium onion, chopped

2 teaspoons olive oil

2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

1 1/2 cups egg substitute

5 tablespoons shredded Parmesan cheese, divided

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/5 teaspoon pepper

1/4 cup shredded reduced-fat cheddar cheese

In a small saucepan, bring water to a boil. Add asparagus, cover and boil for 3 minutes. Drain and immediately place asparagus in ice water; drain and pat dry. In a 10-inch ovenproof skillet, sauté onion in oil until tender. Add parsley and asparagus; toss to coat.

In a small bowl, combine the egg substitute, 3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper. Pour over the asparagus mixture; cover and cook over medium heat for 8-10 minutes or until eggs are nearly set. Sprinkle with remaining Parmesan. Place uncovered skillet in the broiler, 6 inches from the heat, for 2 minutes or until eggs are set. Sprinkle with cheddar cheese. Cut into quarters. Serve immediately.

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Asparagus and Ham Frittata

Here’s an alternative recipe with ham and a slightly smoky flavor.  The recipe calls for ham, but we use turkey ham, a lttle leaner and healthier.


  • 6 eggs, beaten
  • 1-ounce Parmesan, grated
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 teaspoon butter
  • 1/2 cup chopped roasted asparagus
  • 1/2 cup chopped country ham
  • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley leaves


Preheat oven to broil setting.

In medium size bowl, using a fork, blend together eggs, Parmesan, pepper, and salt. Heat 12-inch non-stick, oven safe saute pan over medium high heat. Add butter to pan and melt. Add asparagus and ham to pan and saute for 2 to 3 minutes. Pour egg mixture into pan and stir with rubber spatula. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes or until the egg mixture has set on the bottom and begins to set up on top. Sprinkle with parsley.

Place pan into oven and broil for 3 to 4 minutes, until lightly browned and fluffy. Remove from pan and cut into 6 servings. Serve immediately.

This one comes courtesy of Alton Brown at the food network.

Homemade Lime Valley Mill Lamb Ravioli

The incredible Allyson Brian of the Lime Valley Mill shared this recipe with me, and it’s a drop-dead winner.  Allyson and her henchmen (henchpersons?) appear yearly at the Landis Valley Herb & Garden Faire, and this year (2012) is no exception.  Thanks, Allyson, and Mangia!

Lamb rav   Lam rav 2

Ingredients – 

The Pasta:

220 grams all-purpose white or whole-wheat flour (1 3/4 cups)

2 Lime Valley Mill eggs

4 tablespoons melted butter

The Filling:

3/4lb Lime Valley Mill Lamb (Chops, Steaks, Ground, Leftover Roast Meat, etc)

1/3-1/2lb Lime Valley Mill Cooking Greens (Kale, Swiss Chard, Collards, Spinach, Mustard Greens or any combination of)

2 Tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1/2 Cup Chicken Stock

1 Teaspoon Lime Valley Mill Rosemary

2 Cloves Lime Valley Mill Garlic

Salt & Pepper to taste



On a clean countertop, create a mound with the flour, hollowing out the center. Crack the eggs into the mound’s center and then work together with your hands. Knead for about 10 minutes or until the pasta dough is thoroughly mixed and a uniform yellowish color. Add a small drop of water (a little goes a long way) if the dough becomes too dry. If too sticky, add a sprinkle of flour and work some more. Dough should have a small bounce-back elastic effect when you press it down flat. Put dough, covered, into the refrigerator for 10 minutes.

In a large pan, add olive oil on medium heat. Add garlic and lamb and lightly brown without thoroughly cooking the meat. Add cooking greens and let wilt. Reduce heat to low, and add chicken stock, rosemary and salt to taste. Let simmer for about 5 minutes or until meat is medium (pink), then turn off the heat. Add all of the contents (saving some juice to serve later) into a blender or food processor and mince the filling until it is fine enough to shape into patties in your hand.

When ready, remove dough from refrigerator and roll the dough in portions until the pasta is thin enough for you to just be able to see your hand through, about 1/8-inch thick.  If you’re using a pasta making machine, roll thedough down to 2-thickness. Generally, you should start at 7-thickness and work your way down in 1-thickness increments. Cut the dough into 2 1/2 inch squares or circles.

Place a spoonful of filling in the center of half the pasta pieces. Brush the edges with melted butter and place the remaining squares on top. Seal the edges by pressing them with a fork. If they are not sealed well, the filling will escape when they are cooked.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the ravioli a few at a time, make sure not to crowd the pot. Cook for 3-5 mins, until the ravioli floats and changes to a whiter color. Drain. Serve with butter, the leftover juices from the filling cooking and freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Or, deglaze the pan you used for the filling with a few tablespoons of chicken stock, then add 2 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, stir until combined, then add 1 1/2 cups more stock, and simmer until the sauce thickens.  Serve with this white sauce and freshly grated Parmesan.

South Beach’s Joe’s Stone Crab Creamed Spinach

At the center of South Beach is the world-famous Joe’s Stone Crab restaurant, one of America’s finest eateries.  If you’ve never had stone crabs, this is the restaurant you  need to get to before you die.  There is no finer restaurant meal in the universe.  And while stone crabs are the featured centerpiece, no meal at Joe’s is complete without the cottage fries and the creamed spinach.  There is no other way to order there.  If you only get there once in your life, your meal of stone crabs, cottage fries, and creamed spinach will be the restaurant highlight of your life.

While you cannot get the stone crabs easily (you can order them from Joe’s to be shipped, and they are fabulous, you can make their creamed spinach at home, and rather simply.  Here’s the recipe, and if you don’t like this one, you don’t like food.


Joe’s Stone Crab Creamed Spinach


3 tablespoons salted butter

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

¾ cup half-and-half

2        ½-pound bags baby spinach, washed, rinsed, and chopped

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper



  1. Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat.  Add garlic and saute’ for 30 seconds.  Whisk in flour and heat for about 1 minute.  Whisk in half-and-half.
  2. Squeeze the spinach as dry as possible and add to the saucepan.  Add the salt, nutmeg, and black pepper and simmer for 20 minutes on medium-low heat.

Saffron Risotto Milanese

SAFFRON RISOTTO:Saffron risotto

8 cups chicken broth
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups Arborio rice
3 pinches saffron threads
3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, grated
Salt and pepper, to taste

In a saucepan, bring chicken broth to a simmer. Keep warm over low heat.

In a large saute pan, melt butter over medium heat. Add oil and rice and cook for 2 minutes, stirring to coat each grain. When rice begins to make a crackling sound, add saffron threads. Add 1 cup of the warm chicken broth and cook, stirring, until the rice has absorbed the liquid. Add the remaining broth, 1 cup at a time. Continue to stir, allowing the rice to absorb each addition of broth before adding more. Test the rice for doneness, it should be al dente but creamy. Remove risotto from heat, add grated cheese, salt and pepper. Serve at once with Osso Buco Milanese.

General Tso’s Chicken–Weight-Watcher’s Style




I’ve always judged a Chinese restaurant by   two things:  its Hot-Sour soup and its General Tso Chicken.  These are, to me to two critical dishes a restaurant has to get right–to my taste buds–to get me to come back.  Tough standards, but it’s my money after all, and if I don’t like those two dishes, I won’t go back.  Replicating these dishes at home are extremely difficult, but not impossible.  Replicating either one for a family on Weight Watchers is nigh on impossible.  However, I stumbled on this recipe on one of the Weight-Watchers sites, and tried it tonight for the women.  Success!  My calculator (okay, okay, it’s hers) tells me that the way I am making this dish, it clocks in at a fabulous 6 points on the Points-plus scale they use there.  I’ve made some alterations to the recipe to lower the point value, and the dish is perfectly acceptable to me for a short-notice meal made from on-hand ingredients.  It’s not an authentic recipe that would please General Tso, but my family gobbled it all up, and I will make it

again.  Only a half hour start to finish, and pretty darn good.  Try this at home.

If you want to make it just a bit more authentic and a point or two higher in WW value, , use boneless, skinless chicken thighs instead of breasts, and regular brown sugar instead of Splenda brand.   Otherwise, its a pretty good home-made chinese supper.


3/4 cup  chicken broth
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour

1 1/2 Tbsp Splenda brown sugar

2 Tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
2 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
1/2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp peanut oil
3 medium scallions, including white parts, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2-3 red chili peppers or 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 pound boneless, skinkess chicken breasts cut into bite-sized pieces

2 cups broccoli florets

1 cup cooked white rice rice


  • In a medium bowl, whisk together broth, flour, sugar, soy sauce, vinegar and ginger; set aside.
  • Heat oil in a wok or large skillet over high heat. Add chili peppers or red pepper flakes and stir fry them until they turn black but not burned, 30 – 45 seconds.  Add scallions and garlic; cook, stirring frequently, about a minute. Add chicken; sauté until browned all over, about 5 minutes.
  • Remove the chicken to a bowl.  Add 1/4 cup water and the broccoli florets to the wok, cover and steam three minutes.   Place the chicken back in the wok.
  • Reduce the heat to medium high, add the reserved sauce to the wok and cook until sauce thickens and chicken is cooked through, about 3 minutes.
  • Serve chicken, broccoli, and sauce over rice. Yields about 1 cup chicken with sauce and 1/4 cup rice per serving.

Northern Italian Osso Bucco–Minus the Veal

By JEFF THAL, Talking Fresh


I have an all-time favorite Italian-style casserole dish, osso bucco. For me, this is comfort food. It is a rich, flavorful dish made with meaty veal shanks and traditional aromatics, and punched up with a wonderful chopped herb condiment called gremolata, made up of parsley, garlic and lemon zest.

I first became familiar with osso bucco when one of my uncles, a gourmet cook and world traveler, introduced it to our family’s gourmet shop in Miami Beach. He had spent years perfecting his version of the dish in my mother’s kitchen, as he was at heart a confirmed bachelor who loved to cook but needed an audience.

Once he got the recipe to his liking, he brought it to the store, where it fast became one of our most asked-for dishes and recipes.

Osso bucco is a traditional dish that has its origin in the farming regions around Milan, the largest city in the northern part of Italy, within 200 miles of the Swiss border. It is Italy’s second largest city — its secular, industrial and financial center — and one of the world centers for the fashion industry. Many of the dishes of the northern regions of Italy are made without tomatoes, and osso bucco is no exception. Traditional osso bucco is a saucy dish that derives its foundation of flavors from red wine and traditional veal stock instead of the more familiar red-sauce dishes of the south.

American palates have become accustomed to tomato-based Italian food, and so the version of osso bucco that has become most familiar to us includes meaty Italian plum tomatoes in the sauce.

Because red meat isn’t part of my family’s diet, I have found an alternate version of this dish that is fully acceptable to my taste buds, and is otherwise reasonably true to the modern tomato-based version of the dish. It’s made with chicken thighs instead of veal shanks. Additionally, it’s made in a slow cooker, so making the dish requires a minimal effort — chopping vegetables and browning the meat for a few minutes — but is otherwise a simple assembly and is a rich and hearty meal that will win raves in your house.


2 (14 1/2 ounce) cans diced tomatoes

1/2 cup chicken stock

2 small carrots, cut into 1/4-inch slices

3 celery stalks, finely chopped

1 medium onion, finely chopped

6 sprigs plus 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

4 garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

8 chicken thighs

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

Place the chicken thighs in a hot pan with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and brown on both sides.

Combine the tomatoes, broth, wine, carrot, onion, celery, parsley sprigs (reserve the chopped parsley), half the garlic, salt and pepper in the crock of a slow cooker; nestle the browned chicken in the vegetables. Cover and cook on low setting until the chicken is cooked through and the vegetables are soft, about 4 hours. With a slotted spoon, transfer the chicken to a platter, the vegetables to a bowl, and discard the parsley sprigs.

Mix together the chopped parsley, the remaining garlic, and the lemon zest. Stir half this gremolata into the vegetables. Serve the chicken and vegetables sprinkled with the remaining parsley-lemon-garlic mixture.

Serve the dish immediately with hot couscous or orzo. Traditionally the dish is accompanied by a side of risotto alla milanese, garlic and Parmesan-cheese-flavored polenta, or mashed potatoes. I’ve posted a recipe for the risotto on my blog. In addition, I have posted a recipe for a more traditional version of osso bucco, very much like the one perfected by my uncle Sidney so many years ago.

Email Jeff Thal at or visit his blog,

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Two Fabulous Blueberry Salads

Blueberry salad

If blueberries aren’t the best tasting of the early-summer fruits, I don’t know what is.  Much has been written about the “superfruit” qualities of blueberries.  They are an excellent source of vitamin C, dietary fiber, and antioxidants, all at a mere 80 calories per cup.  What other superfood can give you so much return for so few calories and at the same time taste so sweet?

And while blueberries are out of season right now, we bought them in the summer and froze them.  Lots of them.  Three flats this summer.  And now, in October, we’re still enjoying fresh summer blueberries.

Next summer, try them yourself.  To preserve blueberries for eating throughout the long winter months, freeze and store them immediately after purchase.  Simply wash the blueberries well and dry them thoroughly, lay them out on trays between layers of clean dish towels, and freeze.  Later, bag them up in quart-size freezer bags and store them on the bottom shelf of your freezer.  The reward for the modest effort expended is unimaginable, especially when you realize that you can dump a load of fresh blueberries on your morning cereal or in your pancakes when there is still snow on the ground.  Or, just eat ’em straight out of the bag, little sweet frozen treats exploding with flavor and nutrition.

Here, fresh for good summer eating all year, are two fabulous cold blueberry salads, one from the August, 2003 issue of Cooking Light.  The other is one we’ve been playing with for years.  You can poach or grill your chicken–either way is fine–and both are filling and satisfying dishes that will surprise your family or guests with an unexpected sweet and savory–and extremely healthy–treat.

Chicken, Endive, and Blueberry Salad with Toasted Pecans


4 cups sliced Belgian endive (about 2 large heads), or, if you prefer a milder green, Bibb lettuce

2 cups mesclun (gourmet salad greens)

1 ½ cups boneless chicken breast, poached or grilled, chopped to 1-inch cubes

1 ½ cup fresh blueberries

¼ cup chopped red onion

2 ½ tablespoons apple cider vinegar

2 ½ tablespoons honey

¾ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon black pepper

½ cup (2 ounces) crumbled goat or feta cheese

2 tablespoons chopped pecans, toasted

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil



Combine first five ingredients in a large bowl.  In a separate bowl, combine vinegar, honey, salt, and pepper, whisk until combined. Add to salad and toss to coat.

Sprinkle salad with cheese and pecans.  Drizzle olive oil over the salad and toss lightly before serving.



2 cups boneless, skinless chicken breast, poached or grilled, chopped to 1-inch cubes
8 ounces whole-wheat pasta – fusilli, radiatore, gemelli or rotini. Or use protein-plus .
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
1/3 cup reduced-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
3 tablespoons lime juice
1 cup fresh blueberries
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon freshly grated lime zest
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Precook the chicken and chill, prepare the pasta according to the package directions, and then rinse with cold water.

For the dressing, place the oil and shallot in a small skillet and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened and just beginning to brown, 2 to 5 minutes. Add broth, feta and lime juice and cook, stirring occasionally, until the feta begins to melt, 1 to 2 minutes.

Add the chicken to the bowl with the pasta. Add the dressing, blueberries, thyme, lime zest and salt and toss until combined.

Grilled Chicken Souvlaki with Tzatziki

The foundation of a great kitchen is the tools and supplies on hand. This includes knives, pots and pans, and condiments–salt, pepper, garlic, ginger, ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise–the basic ingredients you use regularly.

This includes, of course, herbs and spices.

What I’m about here is herbs—the ones you use all the time, and don’t even think about until a recipe calls for a teaspoonful.  You reach for the little bottle by the stove and—oops!—there’s not enough for the recipe.

My solution?  Grow your own. Many of you already do, and if so, you know that there’s not much better than an omelet Souvlaki tight
with a few snips of fresh chives to complete the dish.  Homemade marinara with fresh parsley and basil?  A snap, and so much better than store-bought.

Growing your own herbs is easy, cheap, and rewarding—in the sense of pride you feel from adding homegrown ingredients to your food, and for the compliments you’ll get from guests who don’t know why that simple red sauce tastes better than theirs.

People have all kinds of ways to grow their herbs.  Pots on a windowsill and sections of vegetable gardens are common.  We grow ours in large pots outside our kitchen door.  A little water every day or two in the summer—not too much, herbs like to be a bit on the dry side—and a little planning, and you won’t be buying expensive bottles of herbs at the grocery store any more.

Grow any herbs you like; most will flourish here. The trick to successful herb gardening is to harvest often.  Cut plants back when they outgrow the perimeter of the pot.  Cut large bunches, tie with string and hang in a warm, dry, dark place—I dry them in my garage—and forget them for three or four weeks.  When they are dry and crumbly to the touch, break them up in a large bowl, remove and discard the stems, and place them in the little bottles you saved when you ran out.

And here’s an added bonus:  most herbs overwinter nicely in a garage. Simply put the pots on a shelf in a cold (but not freezing) garage, near a window if you have one, give them a little water every couple of weeks, and in the spring, after the freeze is gone, trim them back to about six inches, and most will come back, probably stronger.


So what can you do with these fabulous herbs?  How about a festival of Greek summer treats?


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 or

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:


Greek Tzatziki


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).  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.

Goat Lips! (You’ve GOT to Read This!!!)

Goat lips
I’m in Pensacola, Florida, this week, teaching courses for my friend’s training business.  I’ve never been here before, but I’ve got to say, there are some of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen.

Now…about Goat Lips.

I was pointed towards a place to eat lunch between classes to a place called The Goat Lips Deli & Dinner House.  When I drove up, I was a bit reticent.  It looks like a place you wouldn’t want to go for a meal.  I drove by it once, not even noticing it.  And when I did, I thought, “Where the heck have these otherwise reasonable people sent me?”

A true dive, and a not very attractive one at that.

But I decided to try it, as it was convenient to my workplace, and it did come with a recommendation.  So in I walked.

And there, behind the counter was Larry.  Larry Cowan.  Hair just a bit too long, middle-aged guy with a smile on his face and a gleam in his eye, and pointing towards a menu that contained such interesting things as a twenty-dollar muffuletta, (or a ten-buck half), Caribbean Jerk Chicken I was warned would make my forehead sweat, a classic gyro, a blackened fish sandwich, and a host of normal lunch fare.

So, forewarned, I tried the Jerk Chicken sandwich

Folks, this beast is all you could ever want in a lunch sandwich.  Enough jerk seasoning and crushed red peppers to last a lifetime.  Smoked ham and cheese, fresh red onion, lettuc,e and tomato, and a thrilling spicy mayo–this is all a sandwich should be.

And the sweet tea, a southern specialty, was a homerun.

Larry let me know that there were some wonderful things coming up at suppertime, and I will certainly need to try them as well.

And a for atmosphere?  The dining room–he called it the Sports Bar, and there are the requisite big screens playing ESPN, has more autographed 8×10 photos than I have ever seen in one place before–featuring everyone from Emmitt Smith to Dave Schultz to Johnny Miller to Willie Nelson to xxxxxx to, well, you get the idea.  Just about anyone you can think of, collected over what appears to be more than thirty years.

And Larry himself is just the right guy to herd over this little place.  A former advertising executive who decided to chuck it and follow his passion.  And the food, lorded over by Marsha Surprenant, a tiny and feisty white-haired lady (who floated me my meal when I discovered that I had forgotten my  wallet-I paid her back the next day), is about as good as it gets.

Here’s a link to the Goat Lips:

I know Pensacola is a bit off the beaten track, but if you get here, Goat lips is an absolute must!

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