Love Your Leftovers (and your garden): Veggie & Chicken Topped Zucchini Pancakes

What’s for dinner?

I’ll bet this question is uttered in every household in the world at least once a week, if not more often. And if you answer this question, I’ll bet what happens to me also happens to you – you get in a rut. We all get in ruts from time to time, whether it’s with the food we eat or in some other area of life.

For Jeff and I, the dinner rut has been quesadillas for quite some time. If we can’t decide what to make for dinner, we fall back on quesadillas. We scrounge through the fridge and fill them with whatever we find. The beautiful thing about quesadillas is that they are soooooooo incredibly flexible. They can be filled with any kind of meat (or none), any kind of veggies (or none), beans, sauces, cheeses, etc.

In keeping with our rut, Jeff suggested chicken quesadillas for dinner on Thursday night. And I agreed…..that is until I looked in the fridge.

But I am getting ahead of myself. I began my dinner preparations in the garden. I picked a zucchini, an eggplant, some Hungarian peppers and some cherry tomatoes. These things would make a great veggie filling for the quesadillas. I also had two ears of cooked corn on the cob left over in the fridge, which I knew I would add to the veggie filling.

One the way from vine to table (800x530)

After I came inside, I washed the produce I had picked and set it all on one of the dining room chairs to photograph. I know that stopping to take pics during a recipe is not “normal” for everyone, but in our house nearly all food prep stops multiple times for photo ops. So anyway, I photographed the produce and turned my back for just a second to put the lens cap on my camera and make sure it was securely stored out of harms way. MISTAKE. When I turned back around, the cherry tomatoes and one of the Hungarian peppers were missing from the chair and there was dog “schlark” (drool) all over the chair. Kissy, who has been known to eat tomatoes right off the vine, decided she needed a snack. Ugh…….

from Vine to Plate (800x530)So I must admit, I was too lazy to pick more tomatoes so I scrapped them from the recipe. But I was not too lazy to re-wash the produce!

Sauteed Veggies and Chicken (800x530)

Back on track, I began sauteing the veggies and cutting the chicken to add to the saute. I also grated three kinds of cheese – Monterey Jack, Cheddar and Parm – for the quesadillas. Finally I reached into the fridge for the tortillas and a container of leftovers caught my eye. Hmmmmmm ……. interesting ….. zucchini pancakes – my mind started spinning.

For something different, I decided to reheat the pancakes and top them with the veggie and chicken saute and some grated cheese. As I was building my pancake stacks, I realized they might need a little zing, so I pulled out some BBQ sauce from The Shed which is now available at Karn’s (a local grocery store).  The discovery that Shed Sauce is available locally has my Facebook newsfeed atwitter (haha).

Reheating Zucchini Pancakes (800x530)

Reheated Pancakes Topped with Veggies Chix and Cheese (800x790)

with a splash of BBQ and a slice of tomato (800x530)

Many folks from our church – Daybreak Church in Mechanicsburg – have had the opportunity to eat at The Shed while on missions trips to Biloxi and because they loved the sauce so much have been ordering it online. So now that it’s available in a local grocery store, all those Shed lovers are really excited – Jeff included. As an aside, food network is launching a new show about The Shed on August 4th (tomorrow).

Anyway…..I topped my pancake stacks with a drizzle of “shed sauce” and out of the corner of my eye I spied a full-sized tomato on the counter. I thinly sliced it, added it as the final layer of my stacks and seasoned the tomato slices with salt and pepper.

I slid the stacks into a 350 degree F oven, set the timer for 10 minutes and sat down with a book.  After 10 minutes I checked the stacks and decided they needed a little time under the broiler.  I turned on the broiler, set the timer for 3 minutes and waited.

Well, I’m sure you know what I’m going to write and what Jeff said in reaction to dinner……..mmm mmm mmm!

Veggie & Chicken Topped Zucchini Pancakes (800x530)

 

Close Up LYL (800x530)

Don’t dread your leftovers…….love ’em!

Love Your Leftovers: Savory Veggie Waffles

Those of you who have been reading for a while know that I often go on a bender, cleaning out my fridge and making dinner from the dribs and drabs in small containers.  It’s both a culinary challenge and a great way to avoid wasting food and money!

Last night Jeff gave my dad a ride to pick up his car.  Finally – and just in the nick of time – the air conditioning is fixed!  Woooohooooo!  While they went to pick up the car, my mom and I turned leftovers into a delicious meal.  Savory veggie waffles and a refreshing summer salad.

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Love Your Leftovers

I LOVE LEFTOVERS!  I know there are people out there that subscribe to the “I don’t eat leftovers” way of thinking, but I am not one of them.  I don’t even pretend to understand people who don’t like leftovers! I believe that most foods get better when they have time for the flavors to meld; therefore I think leftovers are often better than the original meal.  Combine my love of leftovers with my love of COLD leftovers and my distaste for sweet breakfast, and you’ll often find me eating last night’s food for breakfast – straight from the container.

Love Your Leftovers 2

I also enjoy the challenge of what I call “kitchen sink cooking.”  You’ve been there – it’s when you clean out your fridge…you know, the multitude of little containers of items from previous meals or items that didn’t get used…and make a meal from what’s there.  Last night was one of my “kitchen sink” nights.  The results were soooo good that I couldn’t resist letting you in on my “recipe.”

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Food Journal

I realized today that even though I’ve only been Blogging about food since September of last year; I’ve been Jlogging about food for a lot longer!

Front Cover w FlowersI’ve spent the majority of the day committing to paper recipes for a class I am teaching in a few weeks; and, as often happens when I am thinking about things I’ve made in the past, I pulled out my food journal.  It will come as no surprise to those of you who have read past posts that I got sidetracked!  My self-diagnosed ADD kicked in AGAIN and with a smile on my face I traveled down memory lane.

My food journal is a beautiful brown-leather covered volume that I swore I would keep in pristine condition – I vowed to only write in it in my best handwriting.  Ahhh, the best laid plans…… A few of the pages began neatly – with legible printing; but over time they have become splattered and spilled upon and you can see some days where my passion for what I was recording overtook my desire to write neatly!  That’s how passion goes….

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A Crackerjack Event

Last week was so much fun….I spent the majority of it preparing for a party I catered for our friends Lowell and Nancy on Saturday evening. They were welcoming some friends from our church into their neighborhood.  Lowell and Nancy are such gracious hosts and some of the most generous people I have ever met – they’re quite inspiring.  So it was my pleasure to cater the party.

We met a few weeks ago to talk about the menu, decor, buffet placement, etc. I then worked out a menu, which Nancy and I tweaked along the way, and last Tuesday I did all the grocery shopping I could do in advance.  On Wednesday food prep began and by Saturday afternoon, Jeff was helping me unload the car at Lowell and Nancy’s beautiful home.  Their house overlooks a lake, which made working in their kitchen a pleasure. The view from the window over the sink is spectacular!

Between 2:30 and 4:00 I got the bar, the dessert table and the appetizer buffet set and then at 4:00 I began putting the finishing touches on the food.

Nancy and Lowell chose a nautical theme and I had great fun coming up with ideas for the bar and buffets. Jeff agreed to tend bar, so I wanted him to have a nice space to work.  I created the bar using a 4 foot table; two vases with sand, rope and shells; a piece of reclaimed wood; and some other decorations including a string of battery-operated lights.  Everyone at the party commented on the bar.

The Bar Continue reading

Busy Day and Great News

I am catering a party for some friends on Saturday night and have been working on shopping, food prep, tablescape (you know how this word makes me nervous), etc.  And I’ve had some great help!

I finished all the grocery shopping I could do in advance on Tuesday.  And if you’ve been reading you know I set up a schedule for myself working backwards from Saturday.  I am happy to say we (my mom and I – she is fantastic help with catering jobs) are ahead of schedule – but I try not to jinx myself with that kind of thinking!

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Di Bruno Brothers in Camp Hill

I am so happy I could turn cartwheels!  Today is a day for celebration if you are a foodie in Central PA!  I was in the Camp Hill location of Giant today and I witnessed for myself what I had heard to be true – Di Bruno Brothers, the best cheese shop and specialty foods market I have ever shopped (and which I have previously posted about), is opening a location inside the Camp Hill Giant.  And that’s not all….

As I was doing my shopping, I looked toward the back to see two guys setting up the new Di Bruno Brothers section and I saw a familiar face.  Jeff and I go to Philly a good bit and nearly every time we do we visit the Di Brunos location in the Italian Market.  We always hope to be waited on by Hunter. Although all the staff are knowledgable and friendly, Hunter is our favorite.  Over the years he has steered us to try many wonderful offerings.

I got to chatting with Hunter and his co-worker, Scott, and found out that Hunter will be working in the Camp Hill location four days a week.  Trust me, this is big news.  If you want to talk to someone who knows cheese, Hunter is your man.

The grand opening is on Thursday….guess where I will be!

Topic Melange

The last 48 hours feel like a whirlwind…..so I am glad to be sitting down for a minute to write about them!

I spent the evening on Wednesday at the Kitchen Shoppe helping at a hands-on class. And I sure had a great time!  The class, Holiday Pierogies, was composed of 23 students who had various levels of experience making pierogi.  It was so much fun to see groups of friends, grandmother & granddaughter, father & son, etc. working together to make a traditional food. Tracee, the instructor, did a fantastic job of keeping everyone on track and making sure everyone had success.  Not only was it a fun experience for the students; but the bonus for me was that I had a ball as well!

I returned home on Wednesday evening to find a brown box on my front porch – not an unusual sight at this time of year since we do much of our Christmas shopping online.  However, I hadn’t ordered anything that was scheduled to arrive on Wednesday; so the mischievous part of me was anxious to get to the box before Jeff….I know, I probably shouldn’t admit that in writing, but it’s true!  I brought the box inside and it was addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Jeffery Groff….hmmmm…..curiouser and curiouser.  Jeff and I opened the box together and found a beautiful gift tower from Harry & David, but no gift card.  Interesting.  I called Harry & David and they told me who sent it – so now I can set about writing my thank you note.  But let me tell you about this gift – it includes six of Harry & David’s famous pears – including a single one wrapped in gold foil (a H&D tradition); a bag of Milk Chocolate Moose Munch Snack (a decadent mix of chocolate covered and caramel popcorn); a bag of mixed nuts; a box of beautiful chocolates with yummy fillings including milk chocolate, coffee, cherry, dark chocolate, raspberry (my favorite) and almond; and a bag of H&D chocolate cherries.  What a terrific gift for a foodie!!!!

That brings me to yesterday.  I had an extravagantly long lunch with my friend Holly.  She and I haven’t had a chance to spend much time together lately; so it was great to have a few hours (OK, maybe more) to catch up. We met at Sophia’s on Market (you know it’s one of my fav’s), where I ordered the Marinated Roast Beef Sandwich.  Their menu has several sandwiches that I love; but I was definitely in the mood for the one I ordered and I was not disappointed.  I always order the potato salad as a side, although for my taste there is never enough salt on it.  Fortunately, a salt shaker on the table fixes it up and I always enjoy it!!!  Sophia’s has such a warm and inviting atmosphere for spending time with a friend.  It’s cozy, decorated in a funky way with local art on the walls, and the conversation is lively, but not too loud.

After lunch I did some Christmas shopping and got the supplies for a Christmas project on which I am working.  Traffic was heavier than usual, but not the frustrating mess it can be near the holidays.  I hope to have my shopping done before the roads get too crowded!  When I got home I put in a little work on my Christmas project and then worked at my consulting job for several hours.  By the time I got around to eating dinner it was 9:30 – so I had a nice little cheese plate with red grapes. Mmm mmm mmm.

EARLY this morning my brain was spinning out of control – this often happens when I work later in the day, which I did last night.  So I got up and made myself a cup of homemade Chai.  If you’re not familiar with Chai it is a wonderfully soothing, warm spiced tea and milk drink that originated in India.  It was the perfect beverage for some time in God’s Word.  Both the drink and the message from the Bible wrapped around me like a well-worn blanket, soothed my mind and soul, and brought me to a place where I could sink back into bed for another two hours of sleep.

The ingredients I use in the chai I make include: water, milk (whole milk is best but I didn’t have any in the fridge), honey, vanilla paste, loose Darjeeling tea, and a mix of spices.  The photo at right shows the tea and spices, including from front to back: fennel seed, nutmeg, cardamom, black peppercorns, tea, ground ginger (I would have used fresh if I had any), a cinnamon stick and star anise. The spices are steeped in the water for several minutes.  Then the milk, honey, vanilla paste, and tea are added and the whole thing is steeped for about 3 more minutes. After it has steeped to the desired taste, it is strained and then I froth it a bit with a whisk and serve it in a pretty mug. Mmm mmm mmm.

As I said, the Chai and God’s message for me helped me quiet my mind so that I could get a few more hours of sleep.  When I woke up, I made a delicious fritatta with onion, red pepper, a mix of ground beef and ground turkey, cheddar, and parsley.  I made enough for me to have for breakfast and for Jeff to have for dinner.  You see, I will be back at the Kitchen Shoppe tonight by the time he gets home from work and I want him to have a warm dinner on a dreary, rainy day!

 

A Healthier Comfort Food

The lunch I made today was so good that I just had to tell you about it.  I woke up too late for breakfast (darn), so I didn’t get to have my oatmeal (I have been on a kick lately).  So I thought to myself, “Oatmeal?  I could do oatmeal for lunch, but I don’t want anything sweet.”  That was like a challenge to myself….which I think I overcame quite nicely!

So I ended up making pizza style oatmeal – a great way to satisfy a pizza craving without having the crust.  I also added a few healthy things that you can easily “hide” in oatmeal!

I made a regular serving of oatmeal and added:

  • 1 tsp. ground flax-seed (a good source of Omega-3’s, fiber, and it helps lower cholesterol (particularly the LDL (the bad cholesterol) among other things))
  • 1 tsp. chia seeds (high in protein, fiber, magnesium, calcium, and Omega-3’s)
  • A healthy grind of black pepper
  • A handful of grated cheddar and parmesan cheeses
  • An ounce-ish of ham (that I diced) – I didn’t have pepperoni, which would have been my first choice
  • 1 Tbsp chopped sundried tomatoes
  • A sprinkle of pepitas
  • A sprinkle of chopped fresh parsley

It was DELICIOUS, warm and satisfying!!!  It really did taste like pizza…..AND it kept me full until about 5:00 p.m.  Who could ask for anything more?

Marketing

I had a whirlwind of a day today, but it sure was fun!  I met my mom and dad at their house at 9:00 this morning and we didn’t stop moving until we got back to their house at 4:30 pm.  We covered a lot of ground, saw a lot of yummy food, and scoped out a new place to visit when we have more time.

Our day started in Hershey with my mom having a bone density scan…from there we began our adventure to the Lancaster County Farmers Market, which incidentally is not in Lancaster County – go figure.  It’s actually in Delaware County on the Main Line in Wayne, PA.  Normally it’s pretty easy to get there, but we were in technology hell today….the ATM machine at the Turnpike rest area at which we stopped was having a meltdown and both my GPS and my parent’s GPS were persnickety as well!!!  But after RECALCULATING several times and using common sense (uncommon, I know) we finally made it.

Although it’s not a big market, there are some very nice stands to capture your attention and tempt your taste buds.  My first stop was at Sugartown Smoked Specialties. The smoked trout spread looked delicious, but I was there for advice and information.  On Sunday I’ll be experimenting with smoking clams (which I have never done) and wanted an expert opinion.  The gentleman at Sugartown pointed me in the right direction. THANKS!

The next stand we stopped at was Semaan’s Homemade Specialties to ogle the olives, which is completely strange since I don’t like the way they taste.  I like olive oil and I love the look of olives – they LOOK like something I would love.  And I’ve certainly given them a fair shake…..I try them at least once a year to make sure my taste for them hasn’t changed, but so far….nothing.  But I still think they’re beautiful – particularly these that were marinating with all kinds of herbs and spices!

From there I gawked at the fresh seafood and pre-made foods at Mainline Marketplace. Of everything we saw all day, I rated the jumbo lump crab meat at this stand the most beautiful!!!  I could imagine using this amazing lump crab meat in Jeff’s crab cake recipe OR it would make a fabulous addition to a creamy crab soup OR it would make a delicious lemony cold crab salad…….the possibilities are endless.  I did not buy any because we didn’t have a cooler AND because what you don’t see in this photo is the price behind the garnish – $29.99/lb. A little too rich for my blood today!!!!

The salmon also looked amazing, but again no cooler….. I recently found a recipe for a honey spiced salmon sandwich in which this salmon would be great.  Next time, when the cooler is in the trunk, I’ll be buying some seafood….maybe I can start keeping my spare change in a jar so I can get some crab!!!!

The Ultimate Bake Shop had some gorgeous desserts and baked goods.  Although expensive, the biscotti that looked terrific – packed with delicious ingredients.  The cakes were all beautifully decorated and the descriptions of them sounded tempting.  I do wonder when I see such pristine looking desserts, if they will taste as good as they look.  Perhaps next time I will be “in the market” for desserts and I’ll let you know if the desserts live up to their looks!

We saw some fine-looking produce – in fact, I took pictures of some beets, carrots and cauliflower that I am happy to share.  And I couldn’t resist buying some fresh figs. Just this morning I saw an idea for a flavorful, but health-conscious dessert – fresh figs dipped in dark chocolate.  So how fitting that I be tempted by fresh figs at the market.

After buying the figs, we wandered around a little more, pointing out a few goodies here and there, including some pretty tea towels at The Cottage at The Market and some tasty looking Asian food at Foo To Go.  In fact, the food looked so good at Foo that my mom bought a container of curried rice and one of cold sesame noodles.

After one final trip around the Lancaster County Farmers Market to make sure there wasn’t anything else we needed/wanted, we hopped back into the car and headed to Ardmore.  Our plan was to make stops at the Ardmore Farmers Market at Suburban Square and Trader Joe’s; however we were running short on time so we had to make a decision – farmers market or Trader Joe’s.  Although they are right next to one another, our schedule only allowed for one.

We chose the farmers market, and I am so glad we did. First thing in the door we were greeted by the sight of the most beautiful coral/orange roses at Inspired Blooms.  After taking a few photos, my mom called me over to Ardmore Seafood to look at some of the most amazing colossal shrimp – they were so large I swear I thought to be safe I should address them as “Mr. Shrimp.”  From there we spied the small eggplant for which my mom was on the lookout all day.

And then……Di Bruno Bros. in search of Montgomery’s Farmhouse Cheddar from England.  SUCCESS!  The cost of a pound of this cheese makes the price of the crab meat look like lunch money; but every bite is worth it!  It is described as “a sublime balance between sharp and fruity” and the description couldn’t be more accurate.  I’ve also heard it billed as “quite possibly the best cheddar in the world” and again, I can’t argue. A bit of the Montgomery’s Farmhouse Cheddar and some Clandestin made it into my shopping bag.  The Clandestin is an aged sheep’s milk and cow’s milk cheese from Canada.  It is a soft cheese, like a Brie and is absolutely delicious.  And in addition to the cheeses,  I also had some lively conversation with the “cheese guy.” He was talking with another customer about Grana Padano cheese, which he referred to as “the son of Parmigiano Reggiano.” I asked him why you’d want the “son of” when you have access to the real deal – it was a serious question, I was truly not being a smartalec.    He replied with something to the effect of “Grana Padano is still Ivy League, but it’s Brown, not Harvard” (which may have offended his other customer) and he and I were off to the races on good cheeses vs. lesser cheeses.  I enjoyed the conversation almost as much as the cheese.  I am looking forward to a nice glass of wine, a crusty piece of bread and some bits of the cheeses I purchased today.

After Di Bruno Bros. there was time enough for a very quick spin around the rest of the market – only enough to see what other vendors are there so that when we return we know what we want to see.  Just before getting into the car, I got myself a Kale Shake.  I know, it doesn’t sound great; but I truly believe veggie juices get a bad wrap.  Besides, it wasn’t all veggie juice – it also had lots of whole fruits whizzed up in it.  The kale shake did not disappoint.  It was the color of the inside of a kiwi fruit and tasted like freshness in a cup.

Back in the car, we wound our way through the Main Line back to the Turnpike and headed for home.  We each had a little something to nibble on since we didn’t get a chance to eat lunch.  My dad had a piece of pizza from Pallante’s Pasta Company, my mom had her selections from Foo To Go and I had my kale shake and a little treat my mom surprised me with – an arancini (the literal translation is little orange, the food translation is a risotto and mozzerella ball with onion and flecks of basil – in other words, mmm mmm mmm) from Di Bruno Bros.

All in all, we had a successful trip.  We made a few purchases, sampled a few really good foods and found a future destination for a day of foodie fun!!!

Happy Birthday, Robbin!

Last night Jeff and I were so fortunate to celebrate our friend Robbin’s birthday with her and her husband, Matt.  We went on an adventure to the Cameron/Masland Mansion at Kings Gap for the Friends of Kings Gap Music on the Mountain – Evening of Jazz.

Perhaps you’ve been to Kings Gap State Park.  For me it was the first trip, but definitely not the last.  I cannot wait to go back for a hike, to view their gardens (which are maintained by Friends of Kings Gap Volunteers and Penn State Master Gardeners in Cumberland County) and/or for a tour of the parts of the mansion we didn’t see this time.

We made our trip in the dark and didn’t get to experience the full beauty of all the park has to offer – Kings Gap State Park boasts a panoramic view of the Cumberland Valley, has 16 hiking trails, many environmental programs, and encompasses over 2,500 acres of forest on South Mountain.  But the drive up to the mansion was incredible.  The four of us agreed that it would be a great setting for a spooky Halloween ride!  The long, winding road to the top of the mountain is thickly wooded and as you drive the dark road you expect to see all kinds of glowing eyes staring at you!

We made it to the top of the mountain unscathed and ready for some great music.  We were warmly greeted and acclimated to the rooms we’d be enjoying for the evening.  There was a bar with several wine and soft drink offerings and a buffet of both savory and sweet offerings. We each ordered a glass of wine and we found a table with a nice view of the “stage” for the evening and easy access to the refreshments.

The music was played by the Steve Rudolph Trio.  If you’ve spent any time at the Hilton in Harrisburg  you may recognize the name.  Steve Rudolph presented live jazz at the Hilton from 1990 through 2012.  Unfortunately, since the hotel was recently sold, it looks like that great tradition will not continue.  The trio was exceptional, playing some ballads and some livelier numbers – most with an introduction from Steve.  I left wondering if all bass players have to make faces in order to play well!!!!

The buffet included many cheeses, fruit, vegetables, some savory appetizers (one of which was cabbage strudel, which was a nostalgic treat for me – my grandmother used to make cabbage strudel a few times a year and when she did it was a big deal), several dessert offerings, and hot beverages.

 

Jeff and I always enjoy spending time with Matt and Robbin – whether it’s at a church event, a baseball game, or an event like last evening in great company in a beautiful setting with terrific music, good food and a glass of wine.  We are honored to have been invited to celebrate with them and are glad to have learned about a great state park to which we will surely return for hiking, kayaking, to explore the gardens and to attend future events.  Perhaps the next trip will be in just a few weeks.

The Friends of Kings Gap offers two dates for Holiday Open House where you can listen to seasonal music, enjoy light refreshments, and take a self-guided tour of the stone “villa” known as the Cameron/Masland Mansion.  The dates are December 2, 2012 and December 9, 2012. So if you’re looking for a new way to begin the holiday season, I’d recommend a trip to the mansion at Kings Gap State Park.

Happy Birthday, Robbin – I think we received the gift!

Leftovers

Unlike many people, I like leftovers – especially when the meal the night before was wonderful. I know this is going to sound strange, but my favorite meal of the year is Christmas morning – leftovers from Christmas Eve dinner!  But when I have a day where time won’t allow me to cook, I RRREEEAAALLLLLLYYY appreciate leftovers.

Today is one of those days.  Not only was the day busy, but I’ll be at my Bible study this evening so dinner is either leftovers, fast food, or something way too late in the day.  And today is one of those lucky days where the leftovers are from a wonderful meal – stuffed shells.

Jeff and I worked together to make them and they turned out great.  The filling included: ricotta cheese, spinach from our garden, parmesan cheese, mozzarella cheese, salt, pepper, nutmeg, fresh parsley, and some sauteed onion, garlic, and red pepper flakes.

When we make a dish that requires tomato sauce, I am so glad that Jeff roasts and cans tomatoes when they are plentiful in the garden!  We sauteed onions, carrots, green peppers, zucchini, garlic and red pepper flakes until they were soft, added some tomato paste, and cooked it until it had a chance to caramelize.  We then whizzed it up in the food processor (allowing it to remain a bit chunky) and added it to a jar of Jeff’s roasted summer tomatoes.  Finally we added some fresh oregano and parsley and the juice and zest of one lemon and allowed it to cook until all the flavors melded together. Mmm mmm mmm!

While the sauce cooked, we cooked the pasta and filled a pastry bag with the filling.  Although you can fill the shells using a spoon, I find using a pastry bag to be more efficient and less messy. I put a layer of sauce on the bottom of the baking dish and filled the shells, nestling them tightly in the dish.  When all the shells were filled, I topped them with sauce and then some parmesan and mozzarella.

 

The finished product was a warm, gooey, delicious pasta treat with a summer-fresh tomato sauce.  It was great the first night and I’m sure it will be even better tonight!!!!

Pizza: Conventional and Unconventional

I LOVE PIZZA!  And I don’t really trust people who don’t like pizza – I mean, what’s not to like?  Bread, tomatoes, cheese….mmmmmmm! I know there are people who can’t eat pizza for health reasons and they are exempt from my mistrust – mainly because if they could eat it, they would.

I like pizza shop pizza (particularly JoJo’s Pizza and Al’s of Hampden (they also offer a great selection of craft beers)) and frozen pizza – SOME frozen pizza; but I especially love pizza we make at home.  I usually call it “Jeff’s pizza,” but the truth is we collaborate.  The dough is all him!  Over many years he has finessed a recipe he received from a good friend of ours – I didn’t even ask him if I could share it because I’m fairly certain the answer would be “no.”

The toppings are where the collaboration happens.  Typically the ingredients we have in the house dictate the kind of pizza we end up making.  We’ve made conventional pizza with just sauce, mozzarella and traditional toppings; and we’ve made many unconventional pizzas – including some ideas we’ve gotten from recipe books and some made from our creative energies, such as:

  • Coney Island – chili instead of sauce, cheddar cheese and sliced hot dogs topped after cooking with yellow mustard and chopped onions
  • White pizza – sometimes with ricotta and sometimes without it, some creamy and others on the drier side
  • Chopped salad topped pizza (without sauce)
  • White sauce, asparagus, pancetta and fried egg
  • Caramelized onion with all kinds of different cheeses and chopped nuts
  • Etc.

Last night we went conventional and unconventional. We made a pepperoni pizza and a caramelized onion and goat cheese pizza.  The following is a photographic walk through the process:

Pizza dough just after being punched down.  Look at the air bubbles.  The dough may look like it’s too wet, but it is actually just right!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shaping the Pizza. We don’t worry if the pizzas don’t come out perfectly round.  They taste great no matter the shape!

 

Topping the Caramelized Onion & Goat Cheese Pizza.  The toppings included a brush of olive oil and a sprinkling of salt and pepper on the dough, a tiny bit of mozzarella cheese to help the ingredients stick to the pizza, caramelized onions, chopped prosciutto, goat cheese and a tiny bit of mozzarella on the top to hold everything together!  Jeff wanted a few pepperoncini rings and I didn’t so we put them on half!

Topping the Pepperoni Pizza.  The toppings included Don Pepino Pizza Sauce (a good choice if you don’t have the time to make your own), pepperoni (as you can see Jeff had a serious hankerin’ for pepperoni), mozzarella, and dried oregano.

The Finished Products!

Not all our creations are delicious – sometimes we flop; but we always have fun when we make pizza.  It’s a chance to create together and to enjoy our labor of love.  One day we’ll have a brick oven for our pizza and will be able to make more than one at a time – that will make it easier when we make pizza for company.

My remaining pizza challenge is to recreate a white pizza my grandmother used to make.  It was an incredibly tasty dough topped very simply with olive oil, cracked black pepper and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.  The pizza was not thin crust, but it was not as thick as a Sicilian style.  I have my mom on the lookout for the recipe……once I master it, I’ll definitely let you know!

In the meantime, let me know your favorite pizza toppings!  I always love to hear what other people like to eat.

Suppli and Salad

Yesterday was a dreary day, but it gave me a chance to snuggle up with a soft blanket and some favorite cookbooks.  I was looking for inspiration for dinner and feeding my soul at the same time.

I decided I would make Suppli (cheese-stuffed rice croquettes) last night, but God and Kissy had other plans.  We had to take our girl to the emergency vet, where she stayed overnight.  That meant little sleep for us as we waited for updates on her condition.  Apparently, she ate well on vacation too – unfortunately it was from the trash.  She ate some corn cobs, which then got “stuck” in her system.

After talking to the ER vet, we resigned ourselves to the fact that Kissy would either have emergency surgery last night or, best case scenario, they’d be able to stabilize her over night and our regular vet would do the surgery today.  Again, God had other plans.  Many friends prayed for our little Kissy and this morning after we transported her from the emergency vet to our regular vet, we found that our regular vet thought a conservative approach was best.

You see, Kissy’s had a difficult life medically speaking.  We rescued her a little over a year ago and prior to us getting her she had several surgeries – for eye issues, thyroid problems, broken legs, etc.  Because of all these things and because the fluids the ER vet administered over night perked Kissy up, our vet decided surgery would only be a last resort.

They continued to administer fluids, gave Kissy some pain meds and watched her closely today with periodic x-rays to see if/how the corn cobs were “progressing” through her system.  Although Kissy isn’t out of the woods yet, she is at home tonight – with many meds.  We will watch her closely over night and will begin feeding her small meals in the morning and pray she continues to improve.

I know, you’re waiting for me to connect this to comfort food.  Never fear…..After very little sleep last night, much praying (and a little worrying) both last night and today, and an early start this morning to get Kissy from one vet to the other; Jeff and I needed some comfort food.  My mind immediately goes to mac and cheese when I think comfort food, but I thought I’d make the suppli that were on my mind yesterday.  And I’m glad I did.

I adapted a recipe from the food of italy: a journey for food lovers. Making suppli requires first making risotto, which is a mesmerizing process.  The ingredients are quite simple:

Suppli Ingredients 1

3 Tbsp butter
1 small onion, diced
2 cups Arborio rice
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
6 cups chicken stock (not pictured), heated in a separate saucepan

AND

Suppli Ingredients 2

2 eggs, beaten
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
15 mini mozzarella balls (approximately 6 oz. of cheese)
1 1/4 cup seasoned breadcrumbs, with 2 Tbsp ground flax seed mixed in
15 small basil leaves

To make the risotto:

  1. Melt butter in a large heavy saucepan.
  2. Add onions and saute 4 – 5 minutes, until translucent.
  3. Add rice and toast for 1 – 2 minutes, stirring constantly.
  4. Add a ladleful of the hot stock and stir constantly until all the stock is absorbed by the rice.  Repeat until all the stock is added and risotto is creamy.  The entire process should take approximately 220 – 30 minutes.
  5. Remove from heat and stir in the parmesan cheese, parsley and eggs – be careful to add the eggs slowly and stir vigorously to avoid scrambling the eggs.
  6. Spread on a half sheet pan and cool completely.

To make the suppli:

  1. Heat enough canola oil in a heavy saucepan to cover the suppli when frying.  Heat oil to approximately 180 degrees F.
  2. Divide the risotto into 15 portions.  With damp hands, take one portion and form it into a ball in your hand.
  3. Make a hole in the ball with your index finger and insert a basil leaf and a mozzarella ball.  Cover the hole with rice so that you end up with an oval with the cheese in the middle.
  4. Roll the suppli in breadcrumbs and place on a platter.  Repeat to form all suppli before frying.
  5. Lower a few suppli gently into the hot oil and cook for approximately four minutes – turning to brown evenly – until golden brown.
  6. Remove from oil and drain on paper towels.
  7. Serve hot.

I made a salad to go with the suppli.  I started with a nice spring mix and added grape tomatoes and peppers from the garden, a little feta cheese and a few toasted pepitas. I made a quick vinaigrette, dressed the salad and dinner was ready.

Suppli & Salad

The salad was crisp and refreshing and the suppli were warm and crunchy with creamy, oozy mozzarella seeping out of the center.  Mmm mmm mmmm! Now we’ve got our fingers and paws crossed that Kissy’s breakfast tomorrow morning is as comforting to her as tonight’s dinner was to us!

Rules are Meant to Be Broken

There was so much activity in our vacation kitchen that my smile was an accessory to EVERY outfit I wore!  But two things in particular stand out to me as outside the norm.

The first is that I got to cook with my dad.  Not since (1) the days of scrambled egg hoagies when I was young and my mom worked in the evenings or (2) the days of ordering so much pizza from Pizza Village in Bethlehem, PA when I was a teen and my sister was away at college and my mom worked evenings that the Italian guys knew us by phone number have my dad and I spent time in the kitchen together “creating” (or phoning in) a dinner.  But my mom was under the weather on this trip and my dad and I were determined to still serve her fabulous grilled clam pasta; so we set to work shoulder to shoulder under my mom’s direction!

Together we chopped and grated and zested and sautéed and grilled the necessary ingredients to end up with a fabulous, if a bit too spicy but just sassy enough, pasta!

First we cooked the bacon to crispy perfection and removed it from the pan to get crisp on paper towels.  We poured off all but a bit of the bacon grease.  In the remaining bacon grease we sautéed red onion until it was beautifully translucent and the bottom of the pan was a gorgeous chestnut brown.

Then we deglazed the pan with about a cup of Pinot Grigio and let it cook until most of the wine evaporated.  We added the juice of two lemons and let that cook a bit longer.  We added olive oil and chopped garlic, a few too many hot pepper flakes, the zest of two lemons, some cracked black pepper and one or two ladles of the salted water in which the pasta was cooking.  We let that get nice and mellow and put the cleaned, fresh clams on the grill.

 

 

 

 

The clams cooked until they had absorbed the taste of the fire and smoke.  When they opened we put them in a large foil pan and tossed them with the pasta, crisp bacon, oil mixture, zest of two lemons, and some chopped fresh parsley.  The whole, delicious dish was served with grilled Italian bread, some fresh made seasoned bread crumbs for sprinkling over the pasta, and a bit of parmesan cheese.

Which brings me to the second thing that struck me as outside the norm in our vacation kitchen.  Fish with cheese!  Horror of horrors!  Sins against food and man!

I have watched enough episodes of Chopped on the Food Network to hear Scott Conant say at least a gazillion times that it’s just not done.  You don’t serve fish with cheese. It’s not the Italian way.

Well I stick out my tongue and give the raspberries to that sentiment!

As far as I am concerned, if we (cooks everywhere – whether home cooks or Michelin starred chefs) hadn’t pushed the proverbial envelope in the kitchen and broken a few rules along the way, we would still be eating exactly what our ancestors ate thousands of years ago exactly how they ate it!  AND there would be no cooking shows like Chopped on television – Chopped, which judges food based upon CREATIVITY, taste and presentation – not on tradition and rules.  How can we be creative if we do what we’ve always done?  In fact, isn’t the definition of insanity “doing what you’ve always done and expecting a different result?”

Sorry for the rant, but I REALLY had to get that out of my system!

This turned out to be a great meal because I got to cook with my dad, I got to eat the freshest clams I’ve eaten in I don’t know how long, and I got to break a few rules.  So I say eat what tastes good, cook with the people you love, and be innovative in the kitchen.  After all, as Thomas Edison once said, “There are no rules here — we are trying to accomplish something!”

No “Gradzilla” Moments

I had the pleasure of catering a party for my friends’ daugher who recently graduated from nursing school.  The experience was great from start to finish.  I realize this is a rarity, but there were no “gradzilla” moments, no last minute menu changes, no hard to find ingredients, no delays or snags of any kind.  I am still thanking God for this amazing grace!

The process started with the invitations.  The grad had a favorite color scheme and wanted something unique.  Unable to find just the right thing, I decided to make a sample invite and see if she liked it – and boy did she – so I went quickly into production mode and got them out on time!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The menu was set and I began work, with the help of a very experienced and dedicated sous chef, my mom!  I couldn’t have done it without her help – she kept the sink free of dishes and reminded me to take an occasional break!

We worked for the entire week before the party making what we could ahead of time and constantly reworking the timeline to ensure that everything went off without a hitch the day of the party.  The party was on a Saturday; so I created a daily calendar (beginning the Monday before) of all the tasks that had to be accomplished – not just making food, but ensuring we had selected the proper serving platters, purchasing flowers/herbs for the buffet, making the iced teas, ironing tablecloths (a quick rant – please, please iron the tablecloth and napkins if you are using linens – don’t set a table that looks like someone slept on it overnight!!!), etc.

The day of the party we had a few last-minute details to attend to in the morning.  We had a hearty breakfast and then went to set up.  Below are a few photos of the buffet and a list of what was on the menu  – those of you with a keen eye will notice that the menu item cards on the buffet match the invitations.  Please visit my Photo Gallery for all the beautiful photos of the event, which were taken by the grad, Brianna Wilbur.  In addition to being a new nurse, Bri is also a wonderfully talented photographer.  Please visit her blog to see more of her work.

Southern Sweet Tea & Herbal Iced Tea

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crudite Platter (Served with Caramelied Onion Dip)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Almond Joy Cupcakes

 

 

 

 

 

 

The full menu included:

  • Southern Sweet Tea & Herbal Iced Tea
  • Crudite Platter w/ Caramelized Onion Dip
  • Marinated Cheese w/ Crackers
  • Spinach Balls
  • Meatball Duo – Chicken Wing Meatballs & Spicy Sesame Meatballs
  • Sundried Tomato & Smoked Cheddar in Phyllo
  • Artichoke, Bacon & Goat Cheese Tart
  • Fruit Skewers w/ Brown Sugar Sour Cream Dip
  • Amond Joy Cupcakes & Pumpkin Cupcakes w/ Cinnamon Icing

What a pleasure it was for me to cater this party.  It allowed me to share my love of cooking and entertaining with others and to spend time – lots of time – in the kitchen with my mom. What could be better than that?

Turn the Beet Around

I think Gloria Estefan would forgive me for the word play on her song title – especially if she tasted the pickled spiced beets from The Village Whiskey – Iron Chef Jose Garces’ Philadelphia restaurant.

The Village Whiskey beets are what inspired my purchase of 10 pounds of red beets at the Lancaster Central Market on Friday. Philadelphia is a little far to drive for an appetizer, so I have to learn to make them on my own.  I hope Jose Garces will forgive my twist on his recipe.

The Village Whiskey makes their pickled spiced beets with baby red and golden beets, but I made mine with oven-roasted, full-grown red beets since I am still waiting for a late planting of beets in my garden to yield results.  Sadly, the rabbits had their way with the beets Jeff planted in the spring.

I roasted my 10 pounds of beets after washing them and wrapping them in foil.  They cooked in a 350 degree oven for approximately 90 minutes (they were big beets).  I let them cool, peeled them and cut them into bite-sized pieces.  While I was peeling and cutting the beets, a pickling solution was simmering on the stove.  Now I don’t know what The Village Whiskey puts in their recipe – that is for them to share or not; but I put some allspice, cinnamon, mustard seeds, thinly sliced onion, thyme, bay leaves, orange zest and orange juice along with some water and different types of vinegars.

After the beets were prepped, I poured the pickling liquid over them and now they are just swimming in the liquid getting happy, subtly spiced, and “pickley.”  Tomorrow I will can them so that I can enjoy them for months to come.  When I serve them, I will likely want the toasted baguette and whipped ricotta that is served at the restaurant with all their pickle selections.

Whether or not you want to try to make pickled, spiced beets on your own; I would HIGHLY recommend a trip to The Village Whiskey if you are in Philadelphia.  The restaurant is small and they do not take reservations, so Jeff and I try to arrive between lunch and dinner.  Not only are the beets amazing, so are the pickled herb cherry tomatoes and the french fries cooked in duck fat – especially when they are topped with delectable short ribs and cheddar cheese.  And if you are keeping up with the latest burger fad, do yourself a favor and do not pass up the Village Burger.  It is served on a buttery, light and flaky sesame bun with lettuce, tomato and house-made thousand island dressing.  I add the caramelized onions and one of the terrific cheese selections.  This is the kind of burger you wake up hungry for!

The Village Whiskey
118 South 20th Street
Philadelphia, PA  19103

Smoke from a Distant Fire!

No this is not a review of 70’s music – it’s a recap of a great meal….So I got an email this morning from my husband, Jeff.  Attached were some pictures from his iPhone of a fantastic meal we ate this past Sunday with friends and I just had to share them.

Some cooking, eating and entertaining is planned in advance and some is spur of the moment.  And although I am not a good spur of the moment entertainer, I appreciate those who are and love the serendipitous feeling of being included in such events.  We got a call on Sunday from our friends Jeff and Holly F. saying “Jenny and Tom (Holly’s sister and brother-in-law) are here.  We have a brisket in the smoker and the kids are all playing, do you want to join us for dinner?”

Well, these are some amazing people – the kind whose company you just don’t pass up, and did someone say “brisket” and “smoker” in the same sentence?  Of course we went.  The only question was what to bring to contribute to the meal.

I remembered a recipe I had recently found for Roasted Tomato Caprese Salad from Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa.  This being the end of summer, which means our garden is littered with tomatoes, made the decision a no brainer.  Jeff and I worked together on the recipe and during the process of slow roasting the tomatoes our house smelled incredible.  I really wish there was such a thing as “smellavision” because it was an aroma that real foodies would love to share.

As I’m reliving the night in my brain, I am asking myself, “What are the things that made it such a memorable meal?”  The answers include:

  • Amazing friends who share your love of truly good food
  • Spontaneity
  • Good beer and wine
  • A lot of laughs
  • A lively atmosphere
  • Incredible food – smoked brisket, roasted tomato Caprese salad, and oil/salt rubbed roasted potatoes

The brisket was divine……it had been prepared with a simple rub of olive oil, salt and pepper and smoked for several hours.  The resulting smoke ring was a sight to behold.  Thanks, Tom! Please remember the photos were taken with my husband’s iPhone, not in a studio!

The Caprese salad was delicious – a keeper of a recipe as far as I am concerned.  The only change I made was rather than putting whole basil leaves in the salad, I made a fresh pesto for the side – you have to think creatively when kids are involved.  And in my honest opinion, pesto flavors a Caprese salad better than individual leaves of basil.  You can schmear it around and get the basil flavor throughout the salad rather than in isolated pieces.

We dug into the meal and I noticed there was not much talking going on – always a sign of good food.  The conversation we were having was mostly about how good everything was.  We hit a point near the end of the meal when there was only one slice of tomato and one piece of mozzerella left on the platter and just a few slices of brisket remained.  You know that stage, where everyone wants to take the last serving, but doesn’t want to look like a pig. In some company this would have been awkward, but not with these friends – one of us proudly took the last of the Caprese salad while another took a slice of brisket and dragged it through the “dressing’ that remained on the Caprese platter – a brilliant idea.  The next thing we knew, we were all picking up one last slice of brisket with our fingers and following suit!  Mmm mmm mmm.

The meal proved that not all cooking, eating and entertaining has to be stuffy.  Sometimes a last minute invitation and eating with your fingers is the finest dining around!!!