Fermented Food and Drink

In anticipation of the opening of the 2017 Collingwood Farmer’s Market I would like to pass on my excitement about a new guest vendor; Inspired Brews.  Fermented foods like sourdough bread, sauerkraut, pickles, Korean kimchi and kombucha are the lasted craze for good gut health.  In my past life I have made my own sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles and a sourdough starter for bread, however this beverage eluded me.   Kombucha is a fermented beverage I had heard a great deal about especially from Al Roker on the Today Show.  He frequently touted the immense benefits of this fermented beverage as he sipped from a “to go cup!”  I was lucky enough to join David Hodges for a visit to local brick and mortar fermentary in Philadelphia called Inspired Brews.  Run by a small group of amazing women this company brews  small batch kombucha using local fresh ingredients.  I was delighted to sample Philly Strawberries and Cream and Philly Rose Pomegranate.   I was hooked after the very first sip!  Luckily my local Whole Foods in Cherry Hill carries Inspired Brews on tap, so I am able to enjoy this heathy drink as well as try different brews.  If you are a fan of the market as I am give Inspired brews a try!

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Inspired Brews, Historic Old City Philadelphia

Leftover Copycat 

Most of you had been to the Olive Garden at least once.  For a chain they do a decent job of Italian dishes with an American touch.  My Mom loved their lunch of soup, salad and breadsticks.  I have to admit that I love the Zuppa Toscana!  While browsing my email I noticed a copycat recipe for this soup.  After checking out the recipe I decided I could create my own lighter version with leftovers I had in the fridge.   The copycat version had bacon and cream which I decided to omit.  First I took a link of already cooked Italian sausage, some previously sautéd spinach and fresh mushrooms from the fridge.  With a small onion, a clove of garlic, olive oil, butter, and chicken stock I was ready to tackle my masterpiece.  Trying to reduce my intake of carbs and with only a small amount of sausage I was replacing the potatoe and increasing the meaty feel with the mushrooms.  So I began chopping, sautéing, and tasting resulting in an amazingly healthy version of  this Tuscan style soup.

1 large link of cooked Italian sausage chopped in small pieces (you could use fresh and brown it first in a large pot)

1 small onion diced

1 large clove of garlic diced

2 cups of cremini mushrooms cleaned and roughly chopped

2 cups of baby spinach or baby kale (I used leftover spinach that I had already cooked)

1-2 tablespoon of olive oil

1 tablespoon of soft butter

1 tablespoon of cornstarch

2 + cups of chicken broth

Heat a large pot and add olive oil. Begin by sautéing the sausage in the hot oil if yours is fresh; then remove from pan. If not start with the sliced mushrooms. Do not salt the mushrooms; cook about 11 minutes until nicely browned.  Add the onions and garlic cooking about 3 minutes then add the cooked sausage. While they are cooking together mix the soft butter and cornstarch to make a paste. Now add the chicken stock deglazing the pan and bring to a simmer. Mix in the butter paste and stir as the soup thickens. Add more stock if you need to thin the soup.  Taste for salt and pepper adding if necessary. Finally add the spinach and simmer until spinach is cooked!  Place a nice ladle full in a soup bowl then garnish with fresh grated Parmesan!  If you have had this soup at the Olive Garden you will be pleasantly surprised with this lighter version!

Chicken Stew Over Creamy Polenta

All winter I craved stew and yet I never made it, not one time!  So today while on my weekly trek to Whole Foods I bought a package of boneless skinless chicken breasts and decided to make a healthy chicken stew.  I remember my mother-in-law making Chicken Cacciatore or as she often called it Chicken Stew.  I have read several similar recipes, there are many versions on line and in Italian cookbooks.  In some recipes the chicken is in a brown gravy made with garlic, wine, and water.  Others like mine, the chicken is cooked in tomatoes with vegetables.  In most recipes the chicken breast are left whole; I followed Mom’s lead and cut the breast into chunks like you find beef for stew.  Mom would put this stew over rice or pasta however,  I had desire for polenta, creamy soft cheesy polenta!   So on this cool Spring day I made this delicious healthy dish and you can too!

Preheat oven to 275 degrees

3 boneless skin less chicken breast cut into chunks  (you can use thighs if you prefer)

1/4 cup almond flour mixed with 1 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper

8 ounces of cremini mushrooms sliced

1 medium onion chopped

2 cloves garlic of diced fine

1 medium zucchini cut into pieces

1 28 ounce can of plum tomatoes  (I like Cento San Marzano)

1 tablespoon tomato paste  (you can find it in a tube for easy use)

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon Italian seasoning

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper

2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup red wine

Place chicken chunks in a bowl;  add almond flour mix and coat the chicken pieces.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium heat in a dutch oven.  Add the mushrooms cover and cook about 10 minutes or until brown. Do not salt the mushrooms!!  Add the onions and garlic to the mushrooms and cook about 5 more minutes   Remove the vegetables from the pot.  Add  the other tablespoon of olive oil to the pot then add the chicken pieces and brown slightly.  Move the chicken to the sides and add the tomato paste to the hot pot and cook for 2 minutes. Return the mushrooms, onions, and garlic to the pot and deglaze the pan with 1/2 cup of red wine.  Cook about 3 minutes then add the tomatoes,  bay leaf, Italian seasoning and red pepper flakes.   Bring to a simmer, taste for salt and pepper.  Cover pot and place in the oven for about 1 hour. Add zucchini and stir.  Cook for another 1 1/2 hours.

About 30 minutes before the stew is done start the polenta.

1 cup Bob’s Red Mill polenta

3 1/2 cups chicken stock

1/4 teaspoon salt  (1/2 if you are not using cheese)

1/2 cup grated parma cheese  (you can omit if your not eating dairy)

1 tablespoon Kerrygold butter  (it is delicious grass fed butter)

In a medium size sauce pot bring the chicken stock to a boil.  Once the stock starts to boil slowly whisk in the polenta and reduce heat to low. Simmer the polenta for 20 minutes  stirring often as it  thickens.  Add the butter and whisk in; remove from heat and add cheese. Whisk again.

Cover the bottom of a shallow bowl with the creamy polenta. Top the polenta with the delicious chicken stew.  Pour a glass of red wine; grab a fork and dig in!

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 Hello Spring

I don’t know about the majority, some of you may have a love affair with snow, not me!  My mind has been frozen!   I am tired of being cold, trapped inside a puffy down coat reserved for those who live in Alaska.  So with thoughts of thawing ground, blooming Tulips and pollen I was inspired!   As I have mentioned, cooking shows are my soap operas of choice.  On an episode of Pizza Masters, a pesto sauce was made that made my mouth water.  Then  while reading an e-mail from Saveur Magazine a similar recipe was featured.  With thoughts of Spring dancing in my mind I was ready to create a dish to escort the change of season into my life.  Finding fresh basil in the grocery store, tomatoes on the vine, pine nuts, and with ingredients I have on hand;  garlic, extra virgin olive oil, parma cheese a dish of pasta with pesto was on the menu.  As I placed the ingredients in my mini food processor I was propelled to those lazy, hazy summer days, sitting by my daughters pool sipping some white sangria while grazing on fresh Jersey tomatoes sliced and topped with fresh mozzarella  sprinkled with sea salt, drizzled with EVOO, then decorated with fresh basil leaves.  YUM!  So here is a my version of this pesto that brings together those wonderful flavors of Summer which is now right around the corner.

In a small fry pan toast 1 tablespoon of pine nuts.  You can use walnuts however I suggest that you toast them also to bring out their flavor.

In the bowl of a food processor add the following ingredients.

1/2 cup of fresh basil leaves

1/2 cup of cherry tomatoes  (I found cherry tomatoes on the vine at Whole Foods)

1 tablespoon of pine nuts  (or walnuts)

1 large clove of garlic chopped roughly  (it will process better if chopped a bit)

1/2 cup of grated parma cheese

1/4 teaspoon red chile flakes  (optional)

2 anchovy filets  ( optional however I highly suggest you add them)

Pulse the food processor until just blended. Because of the juice from the tomatoes you only need about 3 tablespoons of EVOO.  Taste for salt and pepper.

Place in a glass jar and you are ready to use this delicious pesto with pasta, on fish or in a risotto.

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Spider Crab 

As a South Jersey girl Blue Crabs are a delicacy like none other!  The meat from blue crabs is sweet and delicate, perfect for crab cakes or just about anything that calls for crab. Snob that I am I will only purchase local crab meat for my recipes.  However  I am open to new ideas especially when food is involved.  So in Santa Barbara at Stearn’s Wharf, I was introduced to Spider Crab!  My sister and her husband  raved about this  tiny restaurant at the very end of the Wharf known as the Santa Barbara Shellfish Company!  The actual restaurant was filled with tanks of fresh shell fish; Spider Crab, Spiney Lobster, Rock Crab as well as Dungeness Crab.  Surrounding the open kitchen was a formica counter with wooden bar stools that also wrapped around along the windows that looked out on the bay.  Every stool was occupied by a patron happily devouring their shellfish of choice accompanied by onion rings that made me drool!  Outside attached to the restaurant were four small tables also filled with patrons.  On a post by the door hung a clip board to which we added our name and began our wait.  There was never a doubt that this would be a gastronomic event well worth the wait.  In years past my husband and I would meet my sister and her husband in Delaware.  The four of us would spend a long weekend eating dozens of blue crabs in various small towns along the Chesapeake.  They know Crab!! So we ordered a bottle of wine and began our wait which lasted about 45 minutes.  We were lucky and snagged a table outside. Our waiter explained a few specials and took our order. Cups of clam chowder, shrimp bisque along with onion rings and a 10 pound Spider Crab for us to devour.  In past trips to California I have had Dungeness crab which is good however nothing like Blue Crab.  Spider Crab on the other hand was delicious with huge legs and enormous body! A thick shell protects the sweet meat within. A true competitor to my Blue Crab!

Spider Crab Santa Barbara, CA

Bar-B-Que and Beer

As you know I love good food and awesome spirits.  While traveling through Southern California with my sister and her husband I recently enjoyed a delicious brisket and rib sandwich accompanied by a local beer. My first beer was Hangar 24, Betty IPA a deliciously smooth craft beer, brewed in Redlands, California.  Jeff at Zeke’s Smokehouse in Glendale, California then recommended the Hangar 24 Iconic IPA.  What a treat; a great beer with citrus notes, hoppy with a honey finish.  I’ve fallen in love with this craft brewer.  On another excursion to Rose City Pizza in Rosemead, California,  I enjoyed another Hangar 24 brew. Chocolate Bomber an American Style Porter, was a decant beer with hints of chocolate and vanilla, simply delicious.   I’m hoping on my return to New Jersey that I will be fortunate to find this craft brewer in my local liquor store! 


Hangar 24 Iconic IPA

Christmas Halibut 

Over the years our Feast of the Seven Fishes has evolved, transformed and developed into a variety of gourmet delicacies.  When I first met my husband it was a extravaganza of fried fish; flounder, shrimp, oysters, calamari, accompanied by baccala stew, clams casino and pasta with anchovy.  It later evolved into flounder stuffed with crab meat, shrimp and scallop scampi, along with the baccala stew, clams casino and pasta puttanesca.  We then changed the menu to mini crab cakes, clams casino, smoked salmon, flounder florentine,  shrimp and scallop scampi, baccala salad along with pasta ala oil and garlic.  This year we felt we were in a rut!  I know that my husband and mother-in-law were shaking their heavenly heads in dismay as we pondered our changes to this year’s menu.  We were inspired by a meal made by my older daughter a few weeks before, which included halibut, roasted tomatoes and broccoli rabe.  We were awed by the beauty of the dish and how festive it was.  We decided on spinach sautéd with garlic, red pepper flakes and olive oil.  Our fish was topped with a mixture of gluten free bread crumb, parsley, salt and pepper.  We drizzled the fish with a combination of olive oil, butter, lemon juice and lemon zest that we let sit for 24 hours so the flavors would marry together.  We roasted the fish with fresh grape tomatoes at 375 for 30 minutes.  Once the fish was cooked we plated it a on top of the spinach surrounded by the tomatoes.  I must say it was a Christmas masterpiece in taste and appearance!  This is definitely a new  awesome change to our Seven Fish Feast!  Mom and Joe would be very proud.

Buono Appetito!