Although I have spent most of my life living in Pennsylvania and Maryland, neither of my parents grew up in the area. My mother is from the Carolinas (yes, both), and my father is from California. So even though I grew up near Philadelphia, I didn’t have a really good cheesesteak until I was in college – because Pat’s and Geno’s just weren’t part of our vernacular.

However, in place of much of the local Philly cuisine (don’t laugh, we have 3 Iron Chefs now!), we had southern inspired and west coast inspired foods that most of my friends would have scorned, because it wasn’t typical Mid-Atlantic cooking.

From my mother I learned about savory corn bread and pepper vinegar pulled pork; from my father I learned about eating squid and smoked oysters and artichokes. Usually we eat artichokes steamed, pulling off the petals and dipping them in hollandaise or mayo – however, when they aren’t in season, and you really need an artichoke fix, this dip is the way to go.

This is a heavily modified version of a recipe I was taught at a party once – and I continue to bring it to potlucks and parties on a regular basis (including to the Hip Girl’s Potluck 2 months ago, where I was told to post this recipe ASAP! So much for being timely). Enjoy!

Cheesy Artichoke Dip

This is the before shot, there is no after shot because it was completely consumed!

  • Ingredients:
    • 1/2 c olive oil based mayo
    • 1 c freshly grated Parmesan cheese
    • 1/2 c shredded fresh mozzarella
    • 1/2 c shredded Dutch Chevre (this is a semi-soft cheese, not the soft French kind)
    • 1 jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained and coarsely chopped
    • 1/4 c rehydrated or fresh chickpeas
    • crackers, chips, or veggies to dip

  • Methods:
    • 1. Put chickpeas into a food processor and pulse until very finely chopped. Preheat the oven to 350.
    • 2. In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients, mixing well. Transfer into an oven safe casserole dish with a lid, and smooth the mixture out so it is even.
    • 3. Wipe down the insides of the dish if you made a mess, the residue will burn during cooking.
    • 4. Place the dish on the middle rack and cook for 20-30 minutes, until the dip is melted and beginning to brown around the edges.
    • 5. Serve and enjoy!

  • Notes
    • You can use the spicy artichoke hearts, including the pepper, if you want a hotter dip.
    • I have successfully substituted smoked mozzarella and feta for the mozzarella and chevre – it was just as good. The main thing to remember when substituting cheese is that you want as much dry/hard cheese as softer cheese. Too much soft cheese makes the dip greasy.
    • Even if you hate chickpeas, do not skip them! The chickpea pulp soaks up any excess grease from the cheese, and gives the dip a better consistency. At that point the chickpeas are so cheesy, you actually won’t notice they are there.
    • Technically you can eat this while knitting – I brought it to a knitting group dinner, and we managed to eat it all without dropping a single stitch. Just be sure to keep napkins handy!

We had our first CSA pick-up today. Last summer we were too busy moving to invest in a share, but this year, since we’ve moved to farm country, I was determined to find a good CSA. We found it at Blooming Glen Farm. Just picking up my share was a hoot – everyone was so friendly. I will have to bring my camera next time so I can properly show you the glories of picking up your produce straight from the farm.

This week’s share included escarole, lettuce, kohlrabi, turnips, swiss chard, kale, spring onions, bok choi, strawberries, and some herbs and edible Johnny Jump Ups.

So dinner tonight was a mixed escarole and lettuce salad, with strawberries, pine nuts and feta cheese. I made a quick balsamic and olive oil dressing, and it was lovely.

Those strawberries have made my husband rethink his dislike of strawberries. They are that much more awesome than your typical grocery store berries. To the point where he asked me if I expected to have any strawberries left to make jams and things, as he stood eating a sizable portion of them. We both have been guiltily munching on them all evening, when we think the other won’t notice. We’ll see if we end up with any jam or sauce or strawberry mead this year. I’m guessing no.

I have been baking since I was very very young. My mother was fantastic at getting all of us into the kitchen to help with holiday baking or bread baking or other cooking in whatever capacity we could handle (she’s basically a superhero – remind me to tell you about the 12 hour epic road-trips with 3 kids). I even have photographic proof of my baking and mess-making prowess:

Even as a youngin’ I knew that yeast was an integral part of the bread baking process – my mother is also a biologist – and I even knew that yeast needed to be alive to work. Which is sort of strange to think about, now, as an adult. That I knew that, and some children don’t even know you can bake your own bread!

My understanding, however, has never been extremely sophisticated – bunch of ingredients + yeast + oven = delicious bread. In a lot of ways, baking and cooking are still ‘magic’ to me.

When I recently realized that bunch of other ingredients + yeast + bucket = something completely unlike bread – I was pretty much hooked. Yeast being the magical fungus that it is – it also helps make alcoholic beverages!

So now, in our basement, we have one of these:

and some of these:

The bottled is Chardonnay, our first attempt at home wine-making, and is about a month away from drinkability. The fermenter/bucket is the beginnings of mead. If you are unfamiliar with mead (like most people), it is essentially wine made from honey. It is impossible to find in a store (at least in Pennsylvania), and if you get a taste for it, you may need to begin making your own. The kicker is that it takes about a year of aging to be truly drinkable, but once it is, you will have trouble not drinking it all. We got a taste for mead while camping with someone who made his own – he had brought a few bottles, and we all got happily tipsy.

We have about 2 cases of the wine, and should end up with about 2 cases of the mead as well. And really, all we did was dump yeast in a bucket of grape juice or honeyed water…
I told you – yeast is basically magic.

So to say that my lunch and food-related whims are fickle is like saying that March weather in the northeast is mildly weird. I am notorious for loving my dinner and absolutely refusing to eat the leftovers for lunch the next day – something which usually pleases my husband because there is more for him. I cannot explain this other than to admit that when it comes to food I have two settings – quickly bored and completely obsessed. There is no real way to predict which I will be, it seems unrelated to food quality or content, and even favorite foods (I’m looking at you Broccoli Salad!) sometimes end up in the “I’m bored of eating this” category.

I am confessing all of this food-weirdness to you to set up yet another one of my food experiments. I recently came across this book – and was immediately intrigued by the idea of home-made bento boxes. Lots of different food items in small portions? Adorably packaged meals? An excuse to keep ginger in the house? Sign me up right now! Plus, the author, Makiko Itoh, includes many tips about preparing food ahead and freezing it – which goes hand in hand with my recent attempts to be less wasteful with food.

So far we have tried two of the meals – one with miso-tofu nuggets, and one with sweet and sour meatballs – and have been very pleased with the results. My husband may have even said “I want this for lunch every day!”

Some quick tips for anyone also intrigued by this book:

  • Get it! It is very well written and has lots of procedural tips for those of us who are not well versed in Japanese cooking techniques.
  • I am finding that it is taking me a lot of time to do. Some of this is because I am not yet up to the multi-tasking needed to get finished quickly, and some of this is because I don’t have a rice-cooker yet. However, we are getting about 4 lunches each time, so if you think of it as 2 days worth of cooking, it feels better.
  • When you pull a bento box out at work, be prepared for some jealous ribbing. I have been compared to Molly Ringwald in The Breakfast Club, and had incredulous looks shot my way when I admitted that I had not picked up take-out from anywhere.

In the end, while I may not try to create bento boxes every day, the really cool things about this experiment, so far, are that it has made me very aware of how much food is a lot of food – it is pretty amazing how little food is needed to make one feel full – and it makes us both feel a bit spoiled at lunchtime. Even though I’m making the food myself, it is a bit like opening a lunch that my mother packed for me – I know there is love in the food, instead of just lunchmeat. Which is either a really poignant observation, or the girliest thing I’ve ever said…

  About two years ago, K of Local Kitchen and I had a discussion about her extremely wonderful Sausage, Herb & Mozzarella bread. This was right around the time that my already convoluted career path took an abrupt turn towards me spending much more time at home doing schoolwork, so I had the time regularly to make more involved meals. During that discussion, at some point, I ventured that I thought that it might be equally as tasty stuffed with curry chicken, and with a more garlic naan sort of taste in the bread itself. In order to preserve this idea, K asked if I would please comment on her blog to that effect, so we would remember to try it later. And then we both promptly forgot didn’t do anything about this idea until now (I think anyway, she might have sneakily tried it first, but she didn’t tell me if she did!). And while it didn’t turn out quite the way I had envisioned, it was good enough that my husband is already planning to eat it for his next few lunches.

  The recipe which follows is really just another set of options for K’s recipe – I will detail how I changed things, but really, K writes recipes so well that I didn’t feel I could do the rest of it justice. Just take my stuff and add it to her recipe!

Curry Chicken and Goat Cheese Bread

  • Herb mixture ingredients:
    • 1 tsp oregano
    • 3 cloves garlic, minced
    • 2 tbl dried basil
    • 2 tsp ground coriander
    • 1 and 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • Curry chicken stuffing:
    • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
    • 3 shallots, chopped
    • 1/2 c sun dried tomatoes, chopped
    • 4 tbl Korma curry paste (found in the asian food section of the grocery)
    • 1/2 tsp cayenne
    • 3/4 c carrots, chopped
    • 1 lb. chicken tenders or breasts, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
    • 6 oz. plain soft goat cheese (I used Chavrie)
  • Methods:
    • 1. Substitute the herb mixture ingredients for the dried herbs in the first step of K’s recipe
    • 2. Sauté the chicken cubes in a large skillet with olive oil until mostly cooked through.
    • 3. Add garlic, shallots, tomatoes, curry paste, cayenne and carrots to the chicken, and cook for another 5-10 minutes, until the garlic and shallots are soft, and the carrots are just beginning to soften slightly, and the chicken cubes are cooked through. Let cool to room temperature and substitute in step 14 of K’s recipe
    • 4. Substitute dollops of goat cheese for mozzarella cubes across the filling in step 14
    • 5. Finish up the rest of the recipe, cut slices, eat and enjoy!
  • Notes:
    • I found that it didn’t end up tasting quite as much like garlic naan and curry chicken as I had expected, but it was really fantastic anyway. Using green curry or yellow curry paste might change that, actually, but korma was all we could find at our local store.
    • Resist the urge to cut out the cheese or the carrots – even though they were sort of last minute additions that I thought would end up really strange, they both added great flavor and texture. Even my husband, who hates goat cheese, loved the goat cheese in this recipe.
    • This version was not very spicy – adding more cayenne or other chili pepper product will give it more of a kick if you should so desire.

One of my husband’s and my unofficial resolutions (we’re not much for official New Year’s resolutions here), was to try to be better about food. We often eat out, which is expensive, and we throw out a good deal of food as well, which is also expensive. And given that one of our good friends is essentially the queen of not letting things go to waste, it makes me pretty ashamed that we don’t do such a hot job at our house. So our resolution was to spend less time and money buying everything we need for a set of recipes every week, but instead use what we have and see where the food took us, as we attempted to use up food we already had bought.

This improv style dinner menu has so far gone very well, although we really are only about two meals into it, due to weekends away and such. The first meal used up the heels of a loaf of italian bread, a package of chicken tenders, a jar of mustard, the last half of a package of plum tomatoes, the last half of a package of carrots, and about 2/3s of a jar of pasta sauce. We made this, with a side of roasted root veggies. According to my husband it was, and I quote, “mmmmmm, this is fantastic!” Now before you start thinking, hmm, that recipe has a can of crushed tomatoes and not fresh plum tomatoes and tomato sauce – it’s true, we took some liberties, but it was still really fantastic!

Up for tonight’s menu was some bratwurst which we had picked up on a whim. Tonight’s final tally was somewhat less impressive than the chicken parmesan, but I did finish a package of spelt pasta, use about half of the brats (the rest are frozen), and some of our vast supply of garlic.

Without further ado, I give you Brat Pasta (I think I need to work on my recipe names, maybe Brats from a Hat? hmm.):

Brat Pasta

  • Ingredients:
    • 2 bratwursts, sliced
    • 1 clove garlic, minced
    • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
    • 2 tbl extra virgin olive oil
    • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
    • 1/4 cup marsala wine
    • 1/2 tsp dried rosemary
    • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
    • 1/2 package spelt pasta (can be found in the organic section at the grocery)
    • 1 tsp salt
    • Shredded parmesan, asiago and/or romano cheeses for garnish

  • Methods (since everything is an experiment at our house):
    • 1. Put sliced brats, garlic, pepper and olive oil into a large skillet. Cook over medium-high heat until brat slices are browned, stirring regularly.
    • 2. Add balsalmic, marsala, and dried herbs, turn the heat down to medium or medium low (depending on how powerful your stove is), and continue to cook, stirring regularly, until the brat slices are cooked through.
    • 3. Reduce heat to low, and keep the sauce warm
    • 4. Cook pasta according to the package instructions, adding the salt to the water before putting in the pasta
    • 5. When the pasta is cooked, drain and add directly to the skillet with the brat mixture. Toss, serve, garnish and enjoy!

  • Notes
    • Makes enough for 2 for dinner, plus enough for one to have a side with lunch the next day
    • Would probably be just as yummy with some broccoli or something else plant-related added in, we just didn’t have much greenery in the fridge
    • I have made a similar recipe with chicken, it just ends up less savory

Pick yourself up off the floor, this is indeed a FOOD-RELATED POST!
Recently, one of my friends, who is much better at making up recipes than I am, served us a salad which consisted pretty much entirely of broccoli. It was fantastic, to the point where he sent us home with all of the leftovers because I couldn’t stop eating it. Now, I do love broccoli above all things (except crack cheese from Plum Plums, maybe), so you may believe that I overestimate how incredibly delicious a salad made of broccoli can be. You would be wrong – I pulled this one out for a dinner with my family a few weeks ago, and even my brother (an avowed anti-broccoli-ist) thought it was delicious. By the way, did I mention the bacon, and the yellow raisins, and the dressing made with drippings from the bacon? And the bacon?
While this is not a food I would necessarily suggest you make or eat while you are knitting, it certainly will fortify you to do a tremendous amount of knitting, broccoli being so good for you even when all bacony.
We served it with grilled steaks and these lovely little cheese things from Simply Recipes, and the entire meal got rave reviews (there were NO leftovers from this meal). I cannot say if this is anything like the original recipe our friend served us, I just asked what was in it, and tried to recreate it.

Broccoli Salad

  • Ingredients:
    • 2 broccoli heads
    • 8 strips of bacon
    • 1/4 c chopped yellow raisins
    • 3/4 c rice wine vinegar
    • 2 tbsp sugar
  • Methods:
    • 1. Begin by washing the broccoli and coarsely chopping your broccoli and raisins, tossing them together in a bowl.
    • Note that these pictures were taken while making a partial recipe.

      Picture included to show chop size.

    • 2. Begin cooking the bacon in a large skillet over medium heat. If you are making a big recipe, you will likely need to cook 2 batches in order to cook it all, which works fine, do not discard the drippings between batches!
    • The patented mashing technique for perfectly cooked bacon. It keeps it from burning in some spots and not cooking in others.

    • 3. Crumble the cooked bacon into the broccoli and raisins, and toss well to mix. I usually find that half of the bacon I cooked is enough, but that could be because my husband eats the rest when I’m not looking.
    • 4. Add the sugar and rice wine vinegar to the bacon drippings in the pan, and continue cooking while stirring to combine. This is a good way to get some of the bacon bits off the pan and into the dressing.
    • Deglazing the bacon pan, to make some yummy dressing.

    • 5. Pour the dressing over the salad while still hot, toss and serve. This will cook the outside of the broccoli a tiny bit, which adds good flavor to even the pieces that don’t have much dressing.

  • Notes:
    • Makes enough for 5 people, depending on their tastes – we only had about 3 little florets left after the meal.
    • You can substitute Splenda for the sugar, and it tastes fine.
    • If you are going to take pictures of your food, try to do it on a sunny day