Watch – Imagine – Create – Eat!

Tune in this Wednesday at 10 pm EST to find out whether Del’s in Bloomfield survives the makeover they received last fall.  Read more about it by clicking here to access the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article by Gretchen McKay.


Bobby Flay, Michael Symon, Alex Guarneschelli, and Anne Burrell compete to prepare the tastiest dish made from ingredients destined for the garbage.

US consumer at fault for food waste?

The program is shocking in many ways, particularly when Anne goes dumpster diving in Manhattan with a “pro” who searches thru restaurant and grocery store trash to find most of his food. He finds gorgeous fresh tomatoes, kale, avocados, bagels, and prepared quinoa salad still sealed and pulled one day before the label’s expiration date.

The chefs visit farms and glean fruit and veggies rejected only for their less than perfect appearance.  They incorporate squash blossoms, pork, chicken, fish, corn, tomatoes, basil, peaches and more into their dishes.  Even the flour was unsellable but was used to create fresh ravioli.

The only thing I didn’t buy about this show was the farmers who allow the public to pick right from the field — a public that they did not supervise nor give instructions to because they left massive quantities of unusable produce on the ground that could not be sold because of bruising due to picky pickers who didn’t like a little blemish on the skin or slightly wilted outer leaves on their heads of cabbage.  One farmer reported an annual rate of 40% unusable produce!  I don’t know a farmer who could survive in business with 40% wasted product.  I grew up on a large farm where we raised cattle, fruit, grain and onions.   If there was waste, it was on the kids’ plates from picky eating habits.

Then there was the organic farmer who could not sell his whole chickens when they had a broken bone due to processing!  Oh come on!  Anne Burrell carried away something like three coolers full of freshly butchered chickens with broken wings or legs.   This farmer never heard of selling the birds by the part?!

But the point was well made that we waste way too much food before it ever gets to our plates… and the viewer is left to deduce that we probably throw away enough food each year to feed every starving person on this planet.  Apparently this wastefulness is the fault of the American consumer, who will not buy a blemished or slightly-past-it’s-prime product.  And we wonder why our food is so expensive!

(Note to Food Network:  Do you share in the blame just a teency bit here by the content of your programs?  You can talk the talk, but can you walk the walk?)

There is at least one farm stand near my home where I can get “seconds” — and that doesn’t mean an extra helping on my dinner plate.  Seconds are the products that literally came in second — not good enough to command the highest prices.  What you get when you ask for seconds is an extra helping of change in your wallet, and the food will taste just as good.

It could be worth a try to find a farm near you that will let you glean their fields or orchards once they have picked the best for the farm store.  It will be interesting to see if these still exist, and, if so, whether gleaning can be revived.  The food you find left behind will probably still be fresher than most of what you buy in your supermarket.

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So I was preparing my hate e-mail to The Food Network for moving Alton Brown’s Good Eats to DAYTIME the other day.   I haven’t seen an episode in months, and I needed my Alton fix.

Every now and then I check TFN to see if they are still running endless marathons of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.  Sadly, they are.  It seems like this is the only show they have confidence in as they have been running it daily and for months in prime time.   Also on weekends.  In fact just about every time I turned on the channel I saw Guy Fieri’s mug at yet another restaurant exclaiming that some food was “rock star.”  Ya seen one DDD, ya seen ’em all in my opinion.

It was clear to me, when I started this post and saw it had been nearly eight months between “food network inspirations” that I was in desperate need of a food show that would take away my writer’s block.   In a last ditch effort to find that show, I turned to The Cooking Channel and OMG!!!  A commercial aired within a few seconds announcing that Alton’s Good Eats was moving to TCC!  AND, IN PRIME TIME!  And not only THAT — EVERY BLESSED WEEKNIGHT at 8 pm Eastern!  Thank you, Thank you, Thank you! (shamelessly kissing the TV screen).

Since both networks are owned by the same company, I plan to compose my “what were you THINKING” email to TFN, and my “You people are super geniuses — but what took you so long” email to TCC.

Friday was the four-episode premier on TCC and I learned the secret of “eggs over easy” and of scrambling without overcooking.  It turns out eggs don’t like salt while cooking, it makes them turn rubbery.  And if the scrambled eggs look done in the pan they will be over-done on the plate.

I also learned that coffee beans should not be kept in the freezer because the condensation causes them to lose their flavor; and that a decent kuppajoe requires 2 and a half tablespoons of coffee per cup!

My only problem now is whether to watch Big Bang Theory on Thursdays, or just catch it on the internet a couple days later.  Because they’re still not giving us full episodes of Good Eats online.  So I think I know my answer.  Five nights of Good Eats!!!   Oh heavenly days!  Er…nights.

Potato-Wrapped Asparagus

Sometimes when you come in at the middle of a show, you miss a few details.

I watched part of an episode of “Cook Like an Iron Chef” on The Cooking Channel last week.  The secret ingredient that day was potato.  I watched in amazement at what seemed like such a simple idea and looked so elegant as Iron Chef Michael Symon prepared “Potato Wrapped Pacific Cod” that I thought I could easily reproduce that at home.

What you see here is my failed attempt at such a simple idea. 

Because I didn’t read the recipe online first.  I swear there is a misprint there.  According to the show’s site, he “blanched” the potato slices in hot duck fat.  That is not what I saw.   I saw him blanching the potato slices in boiling water.  I think.  Remember I said I came to the show late?  He was just finishing up that part when I walked in to the room.

If you’ve watched Michael Symon much, you know he LUVS duck fat. He loves LARD too!  I do not cook with duck fat.  I have never eaten nor cooked duck.  What I was really interested in was that wrapping-things-with-potato-slices technique.

It is asparagus season, once again (YAY, SPRING is almost here!).   Instead of fish, I decided to make potato-wrapped grilled asparagus spears.

I will need a few more tries to perfect the art of cooking the potatoes JUST enough to wrap around asparagus or anything else.   I did recall him saying only about a minute in the hot water (duck fat?) — enough to get the starches activated so they will stick to each other.  But my potatoes still seemed stiff.  Maybe they were too thick, but I did my best to make them thin enough to see through.  So back in the pot of water, but now they were “cooked” not blanched.  Now they fall apart instead of wrap. 

I also forgot the part where he wrapped the whole thing up with plastic – uh, wrap – then refrigerated them until the starch set up a bit so they stick to themselves.

Plan B.  Rather than punt and make scalloped potatoes, which I did contemplate briefly, I decided I could layer the potatoes like slices of bread under and on top of the asparagus!   I pan-seared the asparagus in olive oil, salt and fresh garlic with a dash of fresh lemon juice (it’s some insane windchill temp tonight and I am not dedicated enough to go outside to grill!).    On a baking sheet covered with parchment paper I laid out two slices of potatoes head-to-head (the “long way”) and placed a bundle of 4 grilled spears on top.  Next I added a few shavings of parmesan and Asiago cheese, then covered them up with more potato slices.

Not technically a “wrap.”  More like a “layer.”  Call it what you will, but you will call it tasty.

Before putting them in the 400 degree oven I brushed on a bit of olive oil.  They took at least 15 minutes to begin to brown around the edges.   Chef Symon browned his in the duck fat. 

When I plated them, they looked a little lonely.  A quick look in the fridge confirmed my memory of some shaved ham that was still prior to its pull date.  The ham became the bed for the potato-wrapped asparagus. 

Still not enough color. Presto!  I mean, pesto!  Impulse buy at Trader Joe’s to the rescue.  Spoon on a little pesto, some more cheese shavings, and then a few pine nuts.  Looks good now!  Except still not right for its closeup.   Adding sliced pears on a bed of lettuce, drizzled in honey and sprinkled with fresh ground nutmeg.  Maybe it should have been orange slices. More color needed. Aha! Cherries.

I plan to comment on the dish when I remember my sign-in name there and ask about the whole duck fat vs water blanching controversy.  But I do believe I will try this again, maybe this summer when its safe to go outside to grill again!

Reubenesque Muffuletta makes great Tailgate dish

Our office was among the many holding tailgate parties today in Steeler Nation, the Friday before Super Bowl XLV.  Having watched many Food Network chefs construct the hearty Muffuletta, I thought I’d give it a try for the party.  I refer you to Emeril’s version, just for a point of reference.  This recipe is my own take with some Pittsburgh accents.  Everyone wanted the recipe!  (But if you’re in Pittsburgh try the Zuppaletta at Zuppa’s Deli in Wexford — delish!)

This recipe is not exact — its up to you how much you want to pile on!  It took me about half an hour to prepare, not counting the time in the oven.

Start with bread that will have a great “crunch” and won’t get soggy.  I bought one loaf of Ciabatta pre-sliced and since I was cooking at work I toasted the slices in the toaster oven in our staff kitchen.   I arranged the toasted slices in an aluminum disposable pan the size of a lasagna pan.  Then I drizzled some Sito’s Mediterranean dressing on them (local folks, see my previous review of this product.)  Use your own favorite olive oil based dressing.

Now you want to slather a generous layer of mayo and mustard on the bread.  Since I don’t care too much for mustard, I mixed a cup of mayo with a teaspoon of honey mustard.  Helman’s Mayo (sold as Best Foods brand in the western USA) is, in my opinion, the standard.   I  wanted to control it myself instead of buying a whole bottle of dressing that was too strong.  

Now begin to layer on the goodies.  Any deli meats and cheeses you want.  I only used thin sliced dry salami and provolone cheese, one layer.  Now drizzle on some more Sito’s Mediterranean (you really must get this stuff — it might be in Whole Foods now — has a slightly lemony flavor and bits of olives). 

So let’s recap so far:  toasted bread,olive oil dressing, honey mustard mayo, salami, provolone, more dressing. 

Now, you could spend more money and buy a black olive tapenade, but just finely chop a can of pitted olives yourself and sprinkle them all over everything.  Top THAT with a good quality sauerkraut that has been well-drained so it won’t make the sandwich soggy.  The kraut is the secret ingredient that is not traditional in a Muffuletta.

Before you cover everything up with the top layer of toasted bread, you must spread more honey mustard mayo on each slice, place them mayo side down on the kraut, then drizzle one more time with olive oil dressing (or just plain extra virgin olive oil).

Put the pan in a preheated oven (425 degrees) and try not to keep peeking to see if the cheese has melted yet!   At least 15 minutes.  

Slice into bite size pieces (about 2 inches each) and serve. 

Next time I will buy an un-sliced  Ciabatta or Panini loaf and cut it lengthwise into four long loaf size slices, toast them, and build two pans full to cut to any size.  This is a gooey, oily and decadent delicious treat!  Even yummy just warmed over the next day!

Nigella Lawson has a new Food Network show "Nigella's Kitchen"

Photo courtesy The Food
Nigella’s Ginger Glazed Ham

She of the zaftig figure, scoop necklines, slightly tilted head and twinkling eyes makes cooking look sexy as well as easy.   We  Food Network Star wannabes do not enjoy a staff of sus chefs and a production team to set the lighting and camera angles and stock the kitchen!   But we can try to cook like Nigella, if we cannot look like Nigella.

After watching Nigella make Ginger Glazed Ham I wanted to try it but my family members are not huge ham consumers.  Serving ham or some form of pork is the New Year’s Day tradition in Pittsburgh.  I thought I’d make it for the extended family but then our hostess already had the Honeybaked ordered for Christmas so it would be too soon to do a ham again.   I went ahead anyway, realizing we could have “sammiches” with the left overs if it went well.  

 I bought the smallest ham in the market, a 2 liter bottle of Schweppes Ginger Ale and an oven baking bag big enough for a turkey.  Nigella does not mention the oven bag but I thought it would help since I don’t have a dutch oven and my crock pot is too small.  I placed the ham in the bag supported in a roasting pan, then poured the ginger ale inside, secured the bag with the twisty tie, and poked a few small holes in the top of the bag.

For the glaze I did not stray from her recipe much.  I had no English mustard nor ginger preserves which would likely be hard to find in The States.   I did have candied ginger so I made a fake preserve.  I put chunks of the candied ginger in the food processor with some honey and 7-Up (for lack of more ginger ale), then pulsed them together until the ginger was in preserve-size chunks and a thick sauce had formed.  I ground my own cloves too!   Spicy brown mustard had to substitute for the English variety.  I put it all into the mixture in the food processor with the brown sugar and let it co-mingle in a covered plastic container until the ham was done.

Nigella’s ham was only lightly cured, so to boil it in ginger ale for 4 1/2 hours made sense.  Our ham was edible just as it came from the store, but I boiled it in the bag anyway for four hours – only a half hour less than the recipe calls for.  It was pulling away from the bone by then and it smelled fantastic after the first hour in the oven.   Nigella boils hers on the stove top, but I used the oven from the get go, set to 400 degrees.  The last hour I turned the ham around in the bag so it would all have a chance to sit in the ginger ale.

I removed the ham to a plate for glazing.  Before returning it to the roasting pan I removed the cooking bag with the juices.   I was going to think of a way to use the liquid in another dish, but ended up throwing it out.  Now I know I could have made bean soup!

I would have provided a picture with this post but the end of the story isn’t pretty.  That is to say, the ham was great after the boiling, but I had an errand to do so I left instructions with my husband about what to do when the oven timer went off…

He did what I asked.  He turned it off, then turned off the oven. I forgot to say take out the ham.

So when I returned it was rather blackened – not truly burnt but not dark brown like Nigella’s.  And it had dried out a bit.  We will know better next time.  BUT, my husband said it was delicious (just the outer skin was dry).  And we’re enjoying our ham sammies for lunch!

Apricot and Cardamom Scones

Melt in your mouth scones

You know the old M&Ms ditty “they melt in your mouth, not in your hands!”?

Well, these scones actually do melt in your hands.  Crumble actually.  I am a huge Alton Brown fan, and these are very tastey scones, but they literally fell apart when I picked them up.  I found that the “day old” version was just right though. 

So the next time I made them I omitted the three tablespoons of shortening.  They were still very light, but held together much better!    Alton’s recipe on Food Network dot com linked above suggested cranberries or currants for flavor.  I chose dried apricots and freshly ground cardamom.  Instead of making them round, I used a star cookie cutter.  The next time I made them using dried cherries and almond flavoring and cut into mini squares.  I think the triangular version makes them seem a cut above a biscuit, so I’m going back to that tradition.  I’m thinking blueberry next time.

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