Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Roasted Pumpkin Cream Pie

It's Fall and all is well, now comes the question, Sweet Potato or Pumpkin Pie?  The polls seem to always lean towards the sweet potato, leaving poor pumpkins to sit idly by, watching the party from the sidelines.... Not anymore!
This recipe quickly became popular with my family.  As picky as some children are, even my nephew Braelyn and daughter Genesis loved it! I am particularly proud of my 'baby' too. For a while, I considered saving this recipe for my private archives and for special family affairs, but I finally figured a recipe like this should be enjoyed by all.  The pumpkin for this recipe was hand picked by me and roasted off in a 400* convection oven.  The recipe from there on, is relatively easy and  makes two deep dish, 9 inch pies.

 I created this recipe with more than just a dollop of cream on top, as I felt like the best part of a pumpkin pie was a bit the whipped cream mixed with the bite of pie. At least until now!
The cream of this pie is a combination of flavors, warm, tangy, not too sweet and harmonious with the spices of the pie.   I actually came up with the topping for another recipe of mine, and loved it so much, I wanted to find other places that it would work well.  I hope your family enjoys this recipe as much as mine does.   I feel good about the prospect of someone outside of my normal circle of friends and family appreciating something that I created and quite literally, tasting my passion for cooking, on a plate!   Get ready to change your whole opinion about Pumpkin Pie!!  Fresh Pumpkin is cut into equal parts, drizzled with a little light tasting oil, and sprinkled with a scant amount of kosher salt.  Roast uncovered in a 400* oven until soft, about 40 minutes (and up to 1 hour in a regular oven, depending on size of sliced pumpkin portions.)
 Allow pumpkin to cool slightly.   Cut or peel rind away from pumpkin meat and the roasted pumpkin is ready to use.
2 c. roasted pumpkin
1- 12oz. can evaporated milk
2/3 c. lightly packed, light brown sugar
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1 tbsp. ground spice blend*
3 large eggs
1 tsp. Madagascar Bourbon vanilla bean paste or pure vanilla extract
2 - 9 inch deep dish pie crusts

To Make your own Spice Blend:
1 1/2 tsp. Roasted Cinnamon Spice
 1/2 tsp. Freshly crushed Cardamom, pods removed and seeds ground in mortar and pestle
 1/2 tsp. Freshly grated Nutmeg
 1/4 tsp. ground Ginger
  1/4 tsp. freshly ground Allspice
Mix spices together in a small bowl or in the mortar, pour contents into pumpkin blend.

Preheat oven to 350*F.
Place all of ingredients into bowl and blend until smooth, about 2 minutes.
*You may use an emersion blender to cream the roast pumpkin before adding into recipe.
Pour equal amounts into pie crusts.
Bake on baking sheet for about 40 minutes, or until toothpick inserted, comes out clean.
If the edges of the pies brown too quickly, cover with foil for the remaining baking time.
Remove from oven to cool for 1 hour before placing in the refrigerator to cool an additional 1/2 hour.
Meanwhile, prepare the topping.
Cream Topping:
8 oz. whipped topping
8 oz. sour cream
1c. confectioner's sugar
pinch of kosher salt
Zest and juice of one lemon
Freshly grated Nutmeg
In a medium bowl, combine the sour cream, confectioner's sugar and salt.
Once blended, add whipped cream.
Zest the lemon atop whipped cream.
Grate a scant amount of nutmeg atop also.
In a FOLDING fashion, combine the sour cream mixture with the whipped cream mixture.
Taste For Balance.
Place in refrigerator while pies cook and cool.
After pies have cooled for at least 1 hour and a half, divide the Cream topping and spread evenly atop pies.
Add toothpicks if desired to keep plastic wrap from sticking to top.
Chill for at least another 1 1/2 to 2 hours for best slicing results.
Makes 2- 9 inch pies.
*If you are unable to freshly grind above spices, store bought Pumpkin Pie Spice will substitute.
 Also, plain canned pumpkin can be substituted for fresh roasted.
***Lighten the recipe by using one or more of the following; fat free evaporated milk, light sour cream and egg substitute!!

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Thai Style Chicken and Penne with Broccoli

This recipe is an original and family favorite.  I came up with the initial recipe several years ago, but I have made some minor adjustments, though still retaining it's allure and harmony with the palate.  I enjoy the simplicity of the dish, along with the complex flavor profile that is presented, when combining items from one or more cuisines to make one mellifluous meal.
 I used a Thai ingredient call to complement an Italian pasta, any will do, Penne and Penne Rigate are two of my favorites for this.  Fettuccine also works well.  After the initial prep and marination time, this will come together quickly.  It even tastes amazing at room temperature.  I prefer to grill the chicken over hot coals, but it is not necessary.
A grill pan serves well for depth in flavor and for aesthetics.  This is soon to be one of your family's favorite dishes too!  The ingredient call sounds scary if unfamiliar with Thai cooking, but please trust, the proof is in the final product. This photo is my recipe served family or buffet style, but feel free to mix the chicken in with the pasta and broccoli for no-fuss serving, or arrange the chicken sliced atop or whole pieces along side the pasta/broccoli for even more exciting plating adventures!


1 1/2 lbs. chicken cutlets or breasts cut into 1/4 inch slices
1 lb. fresh broccoli florets
1 can unsweetened coconut milk
1/3 c. green onions, thinly sliced, divided
4 tbsp. fish sauce, divided
4 tbsp. unsalted butter
4 cloves garlic, pressed or finely minced, divided
3 tbsp. fresh cilantro leaves, rough chopped, divided plus more for garnish
2 limes
2 tbsp. Sambal Oelek
1 tbsp. lemongrass paste* if you cannot find, get a whole piece or use fresh  juice of half lemon and zest
1 Thai chile, if desired for extra spiciness(optional)
olive oil for drizzling
For Chicken:
Place in a resealable bag, 2 tbsp. fish sauce, juice of 1 lime,1 tbsp. cilantro leaves, half of garlic and a heavy drizzle of olive oil.
Shake bag around to blend.
Add chicken.
Press out excess air and marinate for 15 minutes to 1 hour.
Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package instructions in salted water, stopping a little short of al dente, adding the broccoli during the last two minutes of about 7 minutes.
Drain and rinse the pasta and broccoli briefly in cool water to slow the cooking process.  Set aside.
Grill or sear the chicken until no longer pink, set aside to rest several minutes before slicing.
Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, over medium heat, melt butter along with a small drizzle of olive oil.
Add remaining garlic, 1/2 green onions, and sambal oelek.
Cook for several minutes until fragrant, stirring often.
Add coconut milk, lemongrass paste, juice of second lime and fish sauce.
Optional:  (Here is where you add the Thai chile, split in half and diced, seeds removed for less spicy.)
Turn to medium high and bring up to a boil.
Check seasonings, adjust according to taste.
Reduce to heat to medium and add pasta broccoli blend.
Add remaining cilantro and green onions.  Fold pasta/broccoli blend into coconut milk until heated through and the liquid is absorbed.
Ways to Serve:
1.  Fold in the chicken to serve as an all-in-one meal or family style.
2.Leave the chicken cutlets whole and serve along side pasta.
3. Slice the chicken and serve atop the pasta/broccoli blend.
Garnish with cilantro leaves, sliced green onion tops and lime wedges, if desired.
Serves 6 to 8.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Pawpaw Beignets with Cinnamon Sugar and Blue Agave

  It's Pawpaw or Asimina Triloba season and the race is on.  This fragrant and unique tropic style fruit is the largest fruit native to the Americas.  It's growth spans mainly along the Eastern United States and even up into parts of Canada. The harvesting period for pawpaws ranges from late August to Early October, depending on your region.  This sumptuous gem is a combination of flavors, akin to a banana, a melon and muted tones of pineapple. Pawpaws have many colloquial  references, including Indian banana, poor man's banana, Kentucky banana, custard apple and banango.  A friend of mine noted that the smell of a more firm pawpaw is very much like the smell of a cut pumpkin, and I agree.   The fully ripe pawpaw bursts with tropical fruit scents, like mango and pineapple, and wonderful citrusy notes as an afterthought.  The best tasting pawpaw is one that is admittedly not the most appealing to the eye.  I have tried this fruit in many stages, and the ugly state wins by a landslide.
Pawpaws have a very volatile shelf life, about 2 days once fully ripened. However, you may place them in the fridge to retard that process and keep them for about two weeks.  One thing I did notice was that the ones kept in the fridge for such a duration looked fine, but seemed a bit dry and not as fragrant as the one left to age naturally on  the countertop.  The pulp of the pawpaw however, may be frozen and used at your convenience, which is an awesome plus.  The process is a somewhat arduous task; peeling, removing the seeds and accumulating pulp, but well worth it.
Pawpaws have a system of seeds that run though the middle. They resemble kidney beans, and are about the same size as well.  The seeds are toxic to humans, so discard accordingly.  After the work, alas comes the play, which leads us to my take on the French Beignet, featuring pawpaws.  I made a 'master batch' of spiced pulp and used a portion to make these beignets, but you may use the pulp as is.
Dry Ingredients:
1 c. AP flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 c. pawpaw puree
3 eggs
2 tsp. sugar
1 tsp.vanilla extract
Oil for frying
Cinnamon Sugar and Agave Nectar for garnish.
Heat about two inches of vegetable or canola oil until appr. 350 degrees.
Meanwhile prepare the batter.
Combine dry ingredients.
In a small sauce-pot or pan, heat puree and sugar to boiling over medium high heat.
Remove from heat and add dry ingredients.
Beat in eggs, one at a time and stir with wooden spoon until thick and batter pulls away from sides of pot.
Stir in vanilla.
Drop in oil using a tablespoon and without crowding, fry until golden, about 2 1/2 minutes.
Drain on paper towels and toss with cinnamon sugar while hot.
Drizzle with agave and serve immediately.

Spasagna, Two Comforts in One

 Spaghetti and Lasagna are two of America's favorite recipes to create at home and order out.  What do you get when you combine the two? This wonderful and family friendly recipe I created called Spasagna.  This is simply your favorite recipe for spaghetti, layered with mozzarella like lasagna and finished with a garlicky and cheesy topping consisting of store bought garlic bread pulverized into tiny pieces, tossed with shredded Parmesan and mozzarella cheeses, fresh parsley and olive oil, smothering the whole shebang and baked.  This topping rocks and helps to lend to a one dish meal, cutting the carbs by using the garlic bread as a garnish of sorts as opposed to a side item.
Everything in this recipe is essentially cooked already, so it is basically heating the Spasagna through to melt the wonderful sheet of mozzarella in the center.  I discovered this sheet of  fresh mozzarella put out by BelGioioso, that unrolls as would a sheet of paper.  It is fun and easy to use, the price around 6 dollars per 8 oz, I however caught mine on sale.   If you cannot find this in the deli section of your grocer, simply get the ball of mozzarella or burrata and slice thinly and layer accordingly.
1 1/4 lb. cooked ground beef, drained of excess fat
1 lb. spaghetti cooked just under al dente, about 6 minutes
2-23 oz. jars of your favorite spaghetti sauce or homemade,  preferably one chunky, one regular, reserving 2/3 cup for the top.
1 to 3 cloves garlic, finely minced or pressed
2/3 c. sweated onion, small diced
1 palmful fresh mixed herbs like parsley, oregano, sage, thyme and marjoram
1 8 oz. roll of fresh mozzarella
sugar to taste, optional
For Topping:
1/2 lb. day old garlic bread, pulsed in processor into smaller, uniform pieces
1/2 c. fresh parsley, rough chopped
1/2 c. shredded Parmesan cheese
1/4 c. shredded mozzarella cheese
olive oil for drizzling
Preheat to 375*F.
Combine the spaghetti ingredients down to the palmful of of herbs, sugar to taste if desired.
Drizzle baking dish with olive oil or spray with cooking spray and place half of the spaghetti  mixture in dish.
Unroll the mozzarella cheese and place it on top of the spaghetti.
Add Remaining spaghetti.
Spread  reserved sauce over spaghetti.
Top with parsley garlic bread-bread crumbs and cheese mixture.
Cover tightly with foil and bake for about 35 minute,or until dish is hot throughout and bubbly.
Remove foil and bake for another 5 to 7 minutes, or until lightly browned.
Let dish rest for several minutes before serving.
Serves Plenty!!! (8 to 10 as a main dish)

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Tapping into Ancient Roots...Preservation of Fish/ Whole Fish-Bone Broth

Last summer, I could proudly say that I had consumed more fish during those several months, than I had for the whole year; perhaps as much as two.  I have a family of  recreational fishermen, including a brother in law, whose proclamation is that of an  "Angler".  He is quite efficient I might add, an avid hunter as well, who affords me the wonderful wild game by seasons from squirrels to wild turkeys to venison, plus volumes of striped bass and catfish with heads the size of small children, yeah he's good.
Another brother in law favors striped bass, wall eyed bass and perch.  On any given day off during the summer, he would set out mid morning or evening to bring  back the catch of the day.
During last summer, my sister Gayle and I would clean anywhere from 25 to 50 fish collectively, maybe two or three times throughout the weekend; scaling, butterflying and soaking, frying some fresh and bagging and freezing piles for later.
I like to consider days like that live labs of sorts, helping me hone my skills and efficiency, making me a stronger chef .
I try my hand at fishing, licensed and all , but I haven't reeled any in yet!  I even accompanied the guys on some of the bait runs. We meet up with another avid fisherman, usually late night or early morning because of how the dams and bait run, who travels extensively for the ritual of catching the infamous 'shiner' or"'LY's" which are a small and plentiful bait fish, found also in schools and near rocks at the dams and lakes.  Larger fish called shad are also a part of the haul, but aren't as sought after as the smaller previously mentioned bait, but finds itself in the throw nets.
When meeting with the bait-man, he pulls out a large cooler.  Upon opening the lid, he reveals hundreds of these small and fresh beauties, glistening with ice, lustrous, all their tiny eyes are clear and they smell fresh, not fishy!
I was stoked and reminded of the photos of fishermen from other countries and their baskets or small boats of fresh fish, on their way to market, home or both.  I was reminded of the sardine and other fishes feasted upon regularly in Italy and the Mediterranean, or packed in salt and dried along the African Coasts.  I wanted to see if they were as palatable as the similar ones I'd seen.  I wanted to see why we weren't eating those too!  The fishermen chuckled when I said, I want some to take back home to the lab,  that being my kitchen. I was inspired instantly and set to work.
The above photos illustrate what I did with the larger shad, about 4 or 5 inches long.
 I scaled and gutted them all, rinsed and sprinkled them with kosher salt.
I placed them in a 200 degree convection oven for around 6 hours, until they were completely dry.
I let the fish cool out in the open for about 1 hour.
I then broke the fish up into manageable pieces and used my mortar and pestle to turn the whole fish into a powder.
 I mixed the powder with a mug of hot water and drank it.  I also added it to my Ramen bowls.
  I finally had a lasting fish stock on hand, and it's shelf life was extended considerably! I keep the fish whole in a zip lock type bag, and pulverize when I need them.  I dried these fish last summer and they are still wonderfully intact and I get to drink  a whole fish anytime and reap the benefits of the whole thing, wasting none and loving the copious amounts of goodness it is for my mind, body and soul.  Oh, the fishermen were amazed at what I came up with, they added some credits to my resourcefulness, and were reminded of yet another reason I was good to have around!

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Turnips Gratin a la Jarlsberg

There once was a turnip in a garden.  The owner of the garden watched the turnip, that was planted last season, grow... long after the harvest of the others like it.  The turnip grew and grew as the summer turned to fall, then winter.  The owner would peer out into the now barren garden space and see the bright green tops beaming valiantly above the cold and lonely ground.  The owner watched the snow fall and cover the turnip. The owner watched the rays from the sun shine and melt the snow away.  The owner thought about pulling it up and mashing it with potatoes.  The owner thought about this for months. 
 One day the owner did indeed pull up the turnip and headed inside to make good on the thoughts the turnip had evoked. The turnip was huge by any standard, but slightly disfigured on one side.  The injury had probably happened when the turnip was just a 'pup', marring it and affecting it's normal growth.  The turnip healed it's wounds inflicted by the garden tool used to work the soil, but also gained an appearance much like that of a cave filled with stalactites and stalagmites.  By a supermarket standard this turnip was not a winner.  The turnip was not acceptable.   Something in the owner made her keep going past the back stairs of her home and down the lane to her sister, who once made an amazing soup from turnips and leeks.   The owner decided that this was a job for a person who liked challenges. 
You probably guessed it already, I'm the neighbor and here is what I did with this turnip.
This was a large turnip so, I had to peel and slice first before parboiling for 15 minutes in salted water with a splash of organic vinegar and a bay leaf.  After par boiling the turnips, I shocked them in cold water, then medium diced the turnips.  The regular supermarket turnips will most likely only be a fraction of this size, (this one being about the size of a grapefruit) so these extensive steps may not be necessary.

6 cups diced and par-cooked turnips, about 5 minutes
1/3 c. thinly sliced onion
1/8 tsp. turmeric
1 tbsp. or less olive oil 
1/2 c. shredded Jarlsberg cheese
Chives for garnish
2 tbsp. cooked crumbled bacon for garnish, optional 
Turn on broiler.
Heat oil and butter on medium high heat and add turnips, onions and turmeric.
Continue to cook, stirring and tossing constantly until the turnips show signs of browning on most sides, about 5 minutes.
Remove from heat and spread into oven safe dish.  Garnish with bacon.
Sprinkle cheese evenly over top, then chives and place under broiler until slightly browned, about 2 minutes.
Serve immediately.
Makes 6 servings.

For more wonderful turnip recipes, search "turnips" on this site!