Food, Winter

Local Lasagna 

March 11, 2016

Pan of lasagna.

Sometimes it isn’t easy to eat local, especially in the winter, but I like a good challenge.

This last weekend I challenged myself to make a lasagna all from local ingredients. Raiding my pantry and freezer, I used the tomatoes I canned in August, and onions and peppers frozen from summer to make the sauce. I used milk from a local dairy, Merrymead Farm, to make the ricotta. The noodles were made with my whole-wheat flour from Castle Valley Mill and locally sourced eggs. I admit I could have made the mozzarella from the same local dairy, but time was not on my side this weekend. The mozzarella as well as the Parmesan was made in a local Italian market. I also had some local spinach in my freezer so I threw that in too. Here’s how I put it all together:

The sauce:


  • ½ large onion, diced
  • 1 bell pepper (any color) chopped
  • ¼ cup red wine (make sure you use something you will drink)
  • 2 quarts canned tomatoes
  • ¼ cup parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • dried oregano to taste


  • sauté onions and peppers with salt until soft
  • add wine and cook down for about 5 minutes
  • add tomatoes and combine (at this point you decide how chunky you like your sauce, I whiz it up in a blender. You could use an immersion blender or leave it as is)
  • add cheese and oregano and season with salt and pepper
  • simmer for an hour or two until you get the consistency you want

Making past with the stand mixer.Noodles:

The noodles were a recipe from Marc Vetri’s book Mastering Pasta. His recipe calls for 4 cups flour, 4 eggs, 1 tablespoon olive and 1 ½ teaspoons water. Bring the dough together either by hand or in a mixer, wrap it in plastic and chill it for at least an hour or up to 3 days. I used my Kitchen Aide pasta attachment to roll this out then cut it to fit my pan. Rolling out whole wheat dough can be a challenge, be patient.


(Do this the day before you plan on assembling your lasagna)
My ricotta recipe was adapted from a recipe in Cathy Barrow’s book, Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Kitchen.

  • 1 gallon whole milk
  • ½ cup lemon juice

Cheese in a bowl.Method

  • Heat milk and lemon juice to 190 degrees (until bubbles start to form around the edge.
  • Remove from heat, cover and let sit 10 minutes
  • With a slotted spoon remove curds from the whey
  • Add an egg and some parmesan cheese before assembling

It doesn’t seem like a lot, but save the whey and let it sit, covered, at room temperature overnight. The following day heat this liquid up to 190 degrees and you will have more ricotta and clear whey; this can be used for smoothies, breads or any other baked good in place of water.
I assembled my lasagna in a metal 8×8 pan, but you can use what you have.

Start with a layer of sauce and then noodles. Put on some ricotta and mozzarella, some more sauce and, if you are using it, sautéed spinach. Keep layering until you fill your pan and finish with mozzarella and Parmesan. Bake in a 350 degree oven covered for 45 minutes. Uncover and bake an additional 15-20 minutes. Let it rest about 15 minutes before you cut it.

This was a project and it did take commitment, but the lasagna was really good and I believe it was worth it.

Culture, Food, Winter

Pennsylvania Dutch Pot Pie

March 3, 2016

Pennsylvania Dutch Pot Pie.

Winter brings with it thoughts of soups, stews and things bubbling on the stove all afternoon. I like to raid the pantry and freezer this time of year because it’s too cold to go shopping and it can be nice to have a shot of summer on a cold day. Canned tomatoes can go into chili and frozen vegetables can make all kinds of casseroles or stews. One of Dan’s favorite dishes growing up was his Pennsylvania Dutch grandmother’s Chicken pot pie.

Pennsylvania Dutch Pot Pie is not what most people think of when they think of pot pie. This pie is not encased in a pastry crust; it’s more stew like, and instead of the crust on top it has noodles throughout. You can put any vegetables you like in your pot pie, Dan likes potatoes, carrots and peas. Potatoes and carrots can sometimes be found locally this time of year as storage crops. Peas are something that can be easily frozen in the spring when they are abundant. You can trade them out for whatever you have in your freezer, green beans and corn would also be good. Instead of a pie plate this dish is made in pot. Choose one big enough to hold all of your stock and vegetables.

I started by roasting a whole chicken so I could have dark and white meat. You can use whatever you like.

This is what else you will need:

  • 2 quarts good chicken stock (it’s best if you make it yourself)
  • 4-6 potatoes cut into 1 ½ to 2 inch chunks
  • 4-6 carrots cut into 1 ½ to inch chunks
  • whatever other vegetable you have on hand
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 tablespoons heavy cream
  • cornstarch or flour for thickening (instructions at the end of recipe)

For the noodles:

  • 2 ½ cups all purpose flour plus some for dusting
  • ¾ stick room temperature butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper

To make the noodles:

  • mix together with your hands the butter, flour and egg
  • slowly add the milk and mix until it comes together
  • roll out the dough to about ¼ inch and cut into squares

To put it together:

  • Add your potatoes and carrots to your stock and bring to a boil
  • Add your noodles a few at time, stirring gently to keep them from sticking
  • Lower to a simmer and cook for 40-45 minutes until everything is tender
  • If you are adding frozen vegetables do it now and cook for a few minutes more
  • Add your cream

Adding the noodles will help to thicken your sauce, but you may want it a little thicker. There are a couple of ways to achieve this. You could use a slurry, which is equal parts cornstarch and cold water mixed together or you could make a roux which is equal parts flour and softened butter stirred together. I used 2 tablespoons of butter and 2 tablespoons of flour. Whisk this in to your sauce and cook for a few minutes. When it is at the thickness you desire, ladle it up and enjoy this very hearty meal.

Food, Recipes, Winter

Castle Valley Mill Redux

February 26, 2016

Cornbread in a cast iron skillet.

Since visiting Castle Valley Mill I have been having fun finding new ways to use their wonderful products. In the past baking had been intimidating for me, but a few classes at Drexel, especially the one I am taking now with Marc Vetri and his baker Claire Kopp McWilliams, have brought me around. I now enjoy the whole process of baking a loaf of bread or a batch of rolls. Kneading it until it is just right and watching it rise is fascinating. Since I have been using the flour from Castle Valley I have developed a new respect for the different textures and flavors that whole grain products bring to the bread.

Rolls in a basket.The flours that I bought were rye, whole wheat and a strain of corn they call Bloody Butcher. This flour is ground from a strain of corn that is red, and it gives the cornbread a tinge of color. Castle Valley has quite a few recipes on their website to help you get started using their product. I made their cornbread, two different ones, and they were both delicious. I enjoyed the one that uses dried rosemary just a bit more and I can envision swapping out the rosemary for thyme or sage depending on what I am eating it with.

I also made a rye bread from a recipe on David Lebovitz’s website. It is hearty and chewy with great rye flavor. No, it doesn’t taste like caraway, which is what most people think of when they think of rye bread. It’s fine to want that flavor — for example, these rolls from Martha Stewart are delicious — but I also think it’s important to appreciate the rye for what it is on its own.

I think my next venture with this flour will be pasta. I just ordered Mastering Pasta by Chef Vetri and then the fun will begin.

Culture, Food

Castle Valley Mill

February 18, 2016

exterior of Castle Valley Mill.

For most of us who ascribe the term locavore to our lifestyles, we usually only mean it to a certain degree. Sure, we might only buy local meat and produce, eat our asparagus and strawberries when they are in season, and employ strategies for preserving food such as freezing and canning. But what about common household items such coffee, sugar, and exotic spices? We are usually willing to grant ourselves special dispensations when it comes to these necessities. I am firmly in this camp, but last week I took flour off of the list of special allowances. From now on I will only buy my flour locally. Why? The usual reasons — I want to know where my food is coming from and I want to support local businesses. But also because it tastes great, it has better texture, and the variety of options is so much wider than what I can find in my supermarket and food co-op. It all began with a fieldtrip to Castle Valley Mill in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, a requirement of one of my Drexel University courses.

The course was called Wheat Lab and was taught by renowned Philadelphia chef Marc Vetri and baker Claire McWilliams. It covered the history of the history of wheat, how to use it culinary, and how commercially milled wheat differs from the fresh product. The fieldtrip was intended to demonstrate the latter.

millerThe man in the photo is Mark Fischer. Mark is the owner of Castle Valley Mill. The mill has been here since 1730 using water from the Neshaminy Creek to power it. The mill grinds grains the way it was done for hundreds of years before the Industrial Revolution. The property was in poor condition when Mark’s grandfather, Henry, acquired it in 1947. He restored the building and collected much of the milling machinery that they use today. Mark has continued to restore the machinery that his grandfather acquired and also hopes to get back to using the power of water to run his operation.

The flours that you get from this mill are nothing like you get in the supermarket. They are fresh and flavorful and all whole grain. Mark gets his grain from local farmers everything from wheat to rye to spelt. I drove up a second time to buy some more (They also ship; just contact them.) Supporting businesses like this and local farmers is an important way to keep a piece of history alive.

Next week I will share some the goodies I make with this wonderful product.

Food, Winter

Smoked Turkey

February 9, 2016

Smoke Turkey.

Eating locally doesn’t mean that all I eat are vegetables. Vegetables are a large part of our diet, but the carnivore in us does come out now and then. When we do buy meat we look for local, humanely raised animals. When we visited the Chestnut Hill Farmer’s Market a couple of weeks ago we came across some folks from Canter Hill Farm. This farm is located in Malvern, PA and they have everything from chickens to lamb. Their animals are pasture raised with no chemicals. At Canter Hill they raise what are called heritage breeds. Unlike modern industrial farming that breed animals for traits like bigger breasted chickens or pigs that bulk up faster so they can get to market sooner, heritage breeds are the breeds that were raised by generations of farmers long before modern agriculture. You do pay more for animals that are raised this way, which is why we don’t eat that much meat, but it’s definitely worth it.

We purchased a turkey breast with plans on smoking it in the new electric smoker that Dan got me for Christmas. It came out delicious. Here’s how we did it:

Everything we read said that brining is the way to go. The brine recipe and the recipe for the rub that goes on prior to smoking is adapted from a book called Real BBQ: The Ultimate Step-By-Step Smoker Cookbook by Will Budiaman.

Ingredients for the brine

  • ¼ cup yellow mustard seeds
  • 2 tablespoons coriander seeds
  • 2 tablespoons white peppercorns (I used black)
  • 2 cups orange juice
  • 2 cups water
  • ¼ cup kosher salt


  • In a dry saucepan toast the seeds until fragrant, 1-2 minutes
  • Bring the juice, water and salt to a boil to dissolve salt
  • Cool to room temperature and then refrigerate to chill

We brined it overnight in a Ziploc bag, but any container will work, just make sure the turkey is submerged.

After it comes out of the brine pat it dry and put on the dry rub. The rub has 1 teaspoon each of toasted and then crushed peppercorns, coriander seeds and mustard seeds, 2 teaspoons toasted and crushed cumin seeds, 1 tablespoon kosher salt, 1 tablespoon sweet paprika, 1 tablespoon ancho chili, 1 teaspoon cinnamon and 2 teaspoons sugar.

Let this sit on the meat for an hour or two and then smoke at 225 F for 4-5 hours until the internal temp is 155 F. Let it rest for at least 20 minutes and then dig in.

Food, Recipes, Winter

Brussels Sprout Salad

February 4, 2016

Brussel Sprouts Salad

When you are at the farmer’s market and you see local brussel sprouts, buy them! I know, you think you don’t like brussels sprouts. Your mother cooked them to death and they are mushy and they smell bad. I used to think so too. That’s the reason I didn’t eat them until much later into adulthood. Then I discovered if you roast them in a hot oven with just some olive oil, salt and pepper (and yes bacon does make everything better) they are delicious and no funky smell.

If you are still not sure then I have a recipe that will change your mind, and ease you into the delicious world of sprouts. This recipe is a take on a salad that I had at Iron Hill Brewery shortly after Thanksgiving. My son, who was a brussels sprout hater, works there and was raving about it. I traded out some ingredients and tweeked it a bit to my tastes and believe me it will make you a brussel sprout lover. The Iron Hill recipe called for dried cranberries, but I like the fresh pop of the pomegranate seeds.

Here is what you will need

  • 2 pints of brussels sprouts
  • 6 green onions
  • 5 ounces of marcona almonds (you could use regular almonds, but marconas are so good)
  • 4 ounces of pomegranate seeds (yes, not local, I know, but sometimes you have to be a little flexible)

For the dressing: (this dressing will make more than you need for the salad, but it keeps and is just as good on a green salad.)

  • 5 ounces shallot
  • .5 ounces minced garlic
  • 1 ounce Dijon mustard
  • 3 ounces sugar
  • 4 ounces red vinegar
  • 3 ounces balsamic vinegar
  • ¾ teaspoon salt and pepper mix
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 1 cup canola oil

Method for the dressing

  • In a blender puree shallots, garlic, mustard, sugar and vinegars until fully blended.
  • Transfer to a stainless steel mixing bowl. Slowly whisk in oil until blended.

For the salad

  • In a food processor, fitted with the thin slicing blade, slice your brussel sprouts
  • Slice your green onions thinly
  • Add the rest of the ingredients and add dressing to your taste

If this doesn’t make you a brussel sprout lover, I don’t know what will.

If you are already a sprout lover, what is your favorite way to eat them?

Culture, Food, Winter


January 25, 2016


Every New Year’s Day the aroma of Pork and Sauerkraut wafts through our house. Pork and Sauerkraut is a longstanding German tradition — people around the table wish each other as much goodness and money as there are strands of cabbage in the sauerkraut — and my husband Dan, who was raised Pennsylvania Dutch, carries on that tradition.

We start in late fall, my favorite time of year. Nice nip in the air, still finding some tomatoes and late summer goodies, but also starting to get greens, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage. Most of the cabbage we can get goes to sauerkraut.

Making sauerkraut is a pretty simple procedure, largely slicing and pounding. We usually start with 5 pounds or so of cabbage. You can slice the cabbage into ribbons with a sharp knife, or use a mandolin or food processor. I prefer the knife because I like the rustic texture of the less than perfect slices. Once the cabbage is sliced, mix it with Kosher salt at a ratio of three tablespoons per 5 pounds of cabbage. Allow the cabbage to rest for a while after adding the salt so that the salt can draw out some of the water.

Next, you move the salted cabbage to a large container. We use earthenware crocks which you can easily purchase online, but you could also use a mason jar or other large container. On occasion, Dan has even used the plastic buckets he used for fermenting beer. (Note: if you use a plastic bucket, make sure it is food grade) Add a bit of the cabbage at a time, in layers. You will need to pound the cabbage as you go to release the liquid. On the farm where Dan grew up, they had a special pounding stick. Dan uses his fist, but a potato masher would also do nicely. The idea is to release enough moisture to cover the cabbage. Once the container is full, you will need a weight of some sort to ensure the cabbage stays submerged under the liquid. Our crocks come with a disk-shaped stone, but a dinner plate weighed down by a clean brick or stone would also work.

Put a lid on you container and wait about six weeks. You can taste it along the way, if you like, or if you are like Dan, just forget about it and let it do its thing. Don’t worry if you see a little funky stuff on top; just skim it off and keep fermenting. In Six weeks: sauerkraut!

Now that your sauerkraut is ready, how do you eat it? Here is Dan’s New Years Day recipe.

Dan’s New Years Day Pork and Sauerkraut

We do this in a crockpot, or slow cooker, set at 12 hours so that the liquid from the sauerkraut has plenty of time to braise the pork


  • 1 pound of fatty pork ribs (if you can’t find ribs, some fatty chops will do)
  • 2 quarts of your sauerkraut
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • ½ of a large onion
  • 1 medium apple
  • 1 tablespoon of either caraway or fennel seeds (your choice)


  • Brown your pork 2-3 minutes each side
  • Dump 1 quart of your kraut in the slow cooker
  • Top with ½ of your onion, brown sugar,apple and seeds
  • Do the same with the other quart
  • Put you cooker on low for 10-12 hours and let it go

You can make a fine dish out of it as is. Dan always serves it on top of mashed potatoes.


When it comes to fermenting food, we are big fans of Sandor Katz. His book, The Art of Fermentation is a tremendous resource. Here’s a short you-tube video of his that serves as a good overview of fermentation basics.

Beer, Drink, Spring

Stoudts Gold

April 23, 2015


Yellow predominates at this time of year. Our backyard is studded with islands of vigorous daffodils, while up and down Johnson Street the forsythia are shaking their blossoms out into the warming air. The male goldfinches are doing their darndest to compete, hanging off the feeders like clusters of fussy lemons. Time to clear the dead stalks out of the flower beds, and to lug in heavy bags of mulch and dirt. Time to pull the cover off the grill and fire up the charcoal. Every season deserves its own beer, and I have a perfect one in mind. Munich Helles is delicate and nuanced like the time of year, and with its alcohol by volume coming in at around 5 percent,  you’ll still be able to man the wheelbarrow.  Stoudts Gold out of Lancaster county is a stellar example of the style.

Stoudts Gold

If you don’t pour this beer into a glass, you’re missing out on a great part of the pleasure — its visual presentation. A body of burnished gold with a large ivory head of tiny bubbles that graciously hangs around  after pouring. Fine columns of golden bubbles traverse the middle of the glass from bottom to top. Although we don’t usually talk about aural appeal when evaluating beer, lean in close and you will hear a pleasant snap, crackle and pop of healthy carbonation. You can serve this beer in a regular old pint glass, but use a fluted pilsner if you have one. The stunning visual presentation will remind you of a beautiful spring flower.

Munich Helles is largely about subtlety and balance,  and this is certainly true when it comes to its aroma and flavor. This beer doesn’t get up in your face. But take a moment to appreciate the aroma and you will get a sure whiff of warm bread from the malt followed by a hint of floral hops. Take a sip and you will discover the bread again, with the slightest suggestion of sweet corn, typical of the style. The finish is balanced, but leaning toward dry.

Stoudts Gold pairs well with lighter foods that we associate with warmer weather such as hummus and fish, and as you might expect, German sausages. I particularly like it next to hotdogs, the natural breadiness of the malt playing nicely with the roll. (Pair your ketchup or barbecue drenched hamburger with an American Pale Ale or an IPA, whose bigger malt and hop profiles can better handle the more assertive flavor.)

About Munich Helles

The first Helles beer was brewed by the Spaten brewery in Munich in 1894, and was intended as an answer to the worldwide growing popularity of Pilsners. Helles means pale, and this distinction helped differentiate the new lager from the darker ales popular at the time. Its success was almost immediate, and it is still one of the most popular beers in Germany and Bavaria. You can think of a Helles as a more malt forward, less hop assertive version of a Pilsner. Because of that, the style makes a terrific gateway beer for your friends who want to test the waters of craft beer, but who are still wary of strong and exotic flavors. On the other hand, the balanced and nuanced profile of a proper Helles will please the sensibilities of even the most seasoned of beer geeks.

Beer, Food, Winter

Iron Hill Wee Heavy

February 17, 2015

A glass and bottle of Iron Hill Wee-Heavy.
February. At the beginning of the month that infernal rodent out in the western part of the state predicted, as he almost always does, that we’d be enduring another six weeks of winter. Since then we’ve had to suffer though more snow, a bout or two of freezing rain, and soul killing record low temperatures. The weather folk are spreading no hope for the latter part of the month. The fat rat was correct in his prognostications.

However, we need not despair entirely. Life provides its small compensations. Lately, mine have come in the form of winter beers, characterized by their big flavors and warming higher alcohol content. Demanding to be sipped slowly and savored, preferably in good company, they are the perfect antidote for all that ails us this time of year. Today I am thinking of a favorite example: Scottish Wee Heavy. Lucky for me, I don’t have to go far to find a local representation of the style. Chestnut Hill’s Iron Hill Brewery makes one that suits me just fine.

Iron Hill’s Wee Heavy

This fellow looks great in the glass! — a big creamy off white head sitting atop a body of dark copper. Although traditionally served in a thistle glass, a tulip or goblet will work just fine. The immediate impression in both aroma and flavor is malt writ large. The lush caramel sweetness announces itself long before your nose gets to the glass. Let the glass warm a bit and you will be rewarded with a hint of smoke in the background. In recent years, some craft brewers have been adding a bit of peated malt to their Wee Heavies. I personally like this trend. The style, with its reliance on malt can verge on cloying. The peat counters the big sweetness with a subtle smokey bitterness. In fact, at 35 I.B.U.s, Iron Hill’s version is at the high end of the bitterness range for the style, but it most certainly is not hoppy. If you are among the hops-adverse, this is a great beer for you to try.

Iron Hill’s Wee Heavy comes in at 8.3% alcohol by volume, so you will want to put away the heavy machinery before indulging. But that’s what Wee Heavies are for — sipping slowly on a cold winter’s night when the groundhog has given no good news.

About Wee Heavies

Most beer styles, if you follow them back far enough, were determined by the resources available in their region of origin. This is certainly true of Wee Heavy (also know as Scotch Ale). Scotland is a great place for growing barley; hops, not so much. That’s why Scottish beer styles are characterized by strong malt flavors and very little to no hop bitterness. The colder climate also means that they ferment at lower temperatures, so the fruit esters associated with English styles are restrained.

Wee Heavies are malt-forward in flavor — big sweetness usually accompanied by a strong suggestion of caramel. Though not necessary to the style, a background hint of smoke from peated malt often provides a balance to the sweetness. They are usually fairly high in alcohol, ranging up as far as 10% a.b.v. Because of their prominent sweetness, Wee Heavies pair well with desserts, particularly those with caramel or toffee components. I imagine it would also be terrific next to a dish of French vanilla ice cream.

Beer, Food, Summer

Hangin’ with Burrata

August 3, 2014

Burrata with cherry tomatoes and bread. The two fat white dudes with the teal-colored neckties are burrata, and you definitely want to party with them this summer. Burrata is a soft sack of mozzarella cheese filled with cream, commonly served with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of herbs or kosher salt and cracked pepper. Not the most assertive cheese flavor-wise, but this fella plays so well with others that you want to have him around for your summer entertaining. And if you live in northwestern Philadelphia, you can do so and still buy local. These two guys began life at Claudio’s Specialty Foods, and we purchased them at Weaversway Co-op, where they were July’s “cheese of the month.”

Think contrast with burrata — not just in flavor, but in color and texture as well. Serve burrata with a plate of cherry tomatoes and watch the reds and oranges of the tomatoes pop against the white backdrop of the cheese. Spread it on a piece of crusty french bread and you’ll appreciate its smooth creaminess. Now pop a tomato into your mouth and bite down on the cheese coated bread. The juicy sweetness of the tomatoes, the chewiness of the bread, and the creamy richness of the burrata bringing it all together — this is what summers are made for!

But wait! There must be a beverage. Being a good student of the Garrett Oliver school of beer and food pairing, I believe that beer is the best libation to match with cheese. The natural carbonation of the beer provides a great contrast to the heavy creaminess of the cheese, and also serves to cleanse the palate. Since burrata is a mild flavored cheese, the lighter beers that we typically drink during the hotter months make a terrific accompaniment. I had my burrata with a glass of homebrewed Hefeweizen, a traditional German wheat beer. The slight tanginess of the wheat harmonized perfectly with the slight tang in the mozzarella, while the fruitiness of the yeast played against the pleasant blandess of the cheese.

What other local brews would go well with burrata? The next time I have it, I am going to try something a bit hoppy, but not extravagantly so. Victory Brewing’s Prima Pils, or Philadelphia Pale Ale from Yards are good candidates. I’ll let you know.