Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Eating by Reading - Cookbook Obsession!

I am a cookbook nut. I have at least a hundred even after weeding some out for our Mother of All Yard Sales last year and it was like ripping pieces of my heart out to negotiate bargains with folks with books I poured over for hours reading.

The next week I was doing the yard sale circuit and picking new used cookbooks up to load on the empty spots on my shelves after reading them.

That’s what I do, you know. I read them. Over and over and over again. I don’t necessarily follow the recipes. I often gain much inspiration, but I enjoy the hints and find out ingredients I may not have the courage to try without doing some research first and this is my first form of action: reading a cookbook from cover to cover. Really. Recipe by recipe, I devour them.

Seems I get this obsession from my grandmother. She was the ultimate cookbook crazed person in my life and really made a hobby of buying many of hers from food labels. She didn’t live with us in a traditional manner, although she had a room of her own at our house. Grandmom lived in the homes of the women for whom she was a live-in caretaker. She came home on Wednesdays and Sundays until she had to retire and move in with us full time.

It was on those Wednesdays and Sundays my family would have to be sure not to place a box of cereal on the table that had an offer for some sort of magical recipe booklet on how to use OatieO’s or something. Campbell’s Soup, a biggie! They continually offered versions of their soup recipe books for $1.95 and 47 labels from cream of chicken, celery or tomato soups.

Since my Grandmom was a baker, she particularly liked the Clabber Girl booklets and Betty Crocker brand tomes. However, that wouldn’t stop her from filling out those tiny order forms for say, Ocean Spray Cranberry cookbooks and purchase seven of them to give away as gifts.

Many of my cookbooks have come from her and she’d put an inscription inside with my whole name, the date and a little kind note.

I have an old Betty Crocker book Grandmom gave me that I simply can’t part with. The spine has deteriorated so badly that all you see is the binding and it has stains and much wear on the hard cover. I used it for making Christmas cookies for many, many years and while I was not a vegetarian, it has a fabulous recipe for Hungarian Goulash that I loved. It is my standby every fall when it’s time to make applesauce cake. It is a single bowl recipe that never fails me and stands up to my limited baking knowledge.
I have an old promotional cookbook she saved from the movie, Gone With the Wind. A piece of cinematic history and the recipes are wonderful!

Today I tend to peruse yard sales and thrift stores for cookbooks and tend to be attracted to those that have some history associated with them or discuss food history or the use of fresh from the garden ingredients – vegetarian, you know – however, the cookbooks don’t have to have all meat free recipes. A true challenge is making the meat recipes vegetarian, but that’s for another blog.

For a few places to check for cookbooks, try these sites:

http://www.jessicasbiscuit.com/ This is for both classic and modern/contemporary cookbooks, and food writing. Thousands and thousands of books here with ethnic, regional and classic books for every cook. Discounts are often deep and one of my first places to go when in search of a particular volume. It is also known as http://www.ecookbooks.com/

For a great site with decent inventory, check out http://www.oldcookbooks.com/. Some are discounted, but most are for collectors looking for that special book.

On the website http://www.vintagecookbook.com/ there is a nice variety, but I enjoy this site especially for the Links section that has a section called Cookbooks as History.

Tomato Tidbit

Just heard this on NPR the other day and Diane Roberts is worth a listen, even though you can read the text. I couldn't have said it better!


And check this out...must have missed it last year! I'll be buying this on Jessica's Biscuit!


Monday, July 27, 2009


Did you know July is National Ice Cream Month? What a great month for ice cream! Come to think of it, isn’t any month great for ice cream? In fact, any time of day or night is right for ice cream.

My goal here is to hopefully encourage you to get your fair share of the frozen cream stuff and make these last four and a half days of July, all they were meant to be with a frozen treat!

I am a lover of premium ice cream and not that soft-serve stuff, but in a pinch, I’ll settle the craving with a small vanilla cone.

My first nine years of life were spent living in a development in Hatboro, PA, where all the cute Cape Cod style homes looked like carbon copies of one another. This was a neighborhood full of kids all summer long and the tinkling bells of the Ice Cream Man’s truck was a sound we looked forward to every afternoon. I’m sure you can take a walk down memory lane and recall this if you lived in a suburban sub-division, like I did.

For blocks you could hear his bell ring and the closer he came to our neighborhood, the more panic stricken we became. Seeing that white truck turn the corner, kids all over the neighborhood were jumping out of trees, abandoning games of hide and seek and jumping out of the trendy, Sears above ground swimming pools, leaving streams of water splashing and wet footprints trailing along the sidewalks heading home to mothers being begged for that quarter to buy and ice cream cone or fudgikcle on a stick.

With a cool treat on a hot summer afternoon, neighborhood kids took a break on the curb and were able to relax, regroup and get charged up with just enough sugar and chocolate to keep us running till dinner time.

Just up the street from the local drive-in where they serve the frozen custard and malteds, opened a small batch ice creamery and store. The place is called OWOWCOW…I thought it was an odd name till I said it a few times and found it rolls off the tongue.

Located at the intersection of Routes 412 and 563 where that new traffic light was installed, it sits next to the new hunting and fishing store. A small brick building with a large storefront window.
We stopped by after dinner the other night and OH WOW!!! Brightly lit and colorful, it conveys a playfulness that is associated with kids and ice cream. This place is awesome! They have some interesting flavors such as Tiramisu, Banana, Mango, several varieties of vanilla, Mocha, Pistachio and an almond variety I can’t recall the name.

This ice cream is made in small batches and is of incredible quality. The two scoops I had were Espresso Bean and Tiramisu in a waffle cone. With teensy bites of bean in the Espresso and a smooth, velvety texture on the tongue from the Tiramisu, it was like being in heaven for the 20 minutes or so it took to gobble it down.

If you are in the area, I highly recommend you stop by and have a taste for yourself!

Right now they have an incomplete website, but you can sign up for an update when they finally get it together. Perhaps you’ll hear the bells and find the calling to have a few more scoops this week!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

More Summer Produce

Greetings from Produce Central. My house is just filled with great goodies all season. Although I'm not a huge fan of summer because I don't enjoy the heat and humidity that comes with it, I do like the food the weather brings.

If you religiously listen to National Public Radio like we do, you may have been hearing a series called Farm Fresh Foods. They are almost through with it, but I wanted to share it with you in case you've missed it during your morning frenzy!


Happy reading and eating!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Summer Recipes: Cold Cucumber Soup w/Dill & Mint and Tomato, Mozzarella and Basil Salad

Suddenly there were cucumbers everywhere! One little plant survived that late May frost and let me tell you, it is growing and producing fruit faster than most of us can eat. Wishing the stringbeans were doing the same thing, but alas...it's the gamble of the gardener.

So, here's what I did over the weekend. You know that lightbulb that comes over your head and you suddenly feel smart? Yeah, that hardly happens to me, too! Anyway, I thought of a nice cold soup for dinner and with all the cukes I had, it was a simple idea that took little time or ingredients. And was nearly fat-free at that!

Cold Cucumber Soup with Dill & Mint
3-4 Cucumbers, peeled and seeded and cut into chunks
2 cups plain, fat-free yogurt
1/2 to 1 cup fat-free milk
1-2 cloves of garlic
1/4 cup each, fresh dill and fresh mint leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
Add cucumbers, garlic and herbs to a food processor and puree.
Pour mixture into a bowl and allow to sit at least one hour...longer if you are busy.
Before serving add yogurt, milk and salt and pepper and whisk well to mix.
To serve, place into bowls and add a tablespoon of crumbled feta to the top.
Serves 4
Remember those tomatoes I spoke about from the farmers' market that cost $5 a pound? Well, I had to do something simple with them so as not to hide flavor. I had purchased a red heirloom called a Paul Robeson and a green called Aunt Ruby - I think. I'm all about tomatoes, especially the heirlooms! With some fresh basil in pots in the back yard and some mozzarella in the refrigerator, here's what I did. Hope you enjoy!
Tomato, Mozzarella and Basil Salad
Slice one large tomato into four slices and place on platter
Add one basil leave to the top of tomato
Top with a thick slice of mozzarella cheese
Place a basil leaf on top of cheese
Slice a smaller tomato and size it to fit on top of the last basil leaf
Drizzle over olive oil and sprinkle some coarse salt on top and serve.
Serves 4 as an appetizer or 2 as a salad.

Keeping Cool In the Kitchen?

Ok, I have to say I love Mark Bittman's column, The Minimalist, in the NYTimes and read it every week. He takes a few simple ingredients and creates some delicious meals. Here is one of his classic 101 columns that he tends to do each season which included:

101 Simple Meals
101 Picnic Dishes to make in 20 minutes or less
101 Quick Meals

This time is about Salads:

This ought to help you use what's in your garden or what you pick up at the farm market!


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Eeenie Meenie Miney Mo…To Which Market Will I Go?

Farmers’ Markets have sprung up all over my local area and I have to say, I’m in heaven! There is nothing better than fresh, local food from area farmers you get to know. All three I frequent seem to have a very similar theme whereas they have a musician playing music, some sort of demo taking place and of course the food.

The first market I started frequenting was the Saucon Valley Farmers’ Market in Hellertown. This one takes place on Sunday mornings and has grown tremendously. They started out at a local bank where the parking lot was broken up by the bank in the center. It was disconcerting for shoppers and vendors I’m sure found it difficult. They have moved to a park on Water Street where the vendors are all in two long rows across from one another. It has survived the move to have a packed parking lot each week.

This market is friendly and offers a great place for those with dogs to take them for a Sunday morning walk as long as you follow rules. The honey vendor is a great stop. Right now they are carrying Trauger’s corn and with the honeybee situation, he’s a lucky guy to still have hives producing.

The next is the one in my own community, the Springtown Farmers’ Market held each Wednesday at the Springtown Fire Company parking lot. It is perfect to have a mid-week market, so I don’t purchase too much that I waste the fresh stuff I bought on Sunday. This year’s market – its second - seems to have both grown and stabilized from its paltry few and inconsistent vendors and parking is so much easier.

Vendors here at Springtown’s market include some making take away food, bakeries, handmade soaps, fresh produce and cheese with some free range eggs, chicken and beef farmers. Highly recommended is Tabora Farms with their great take away yummies!

A new market this year in my area is the Linden Hill Farmers’ Market held at a local landscape designer’s property each Friday afternoon. The landscaper purchased a property on Route 611 just south of Route 412 in Ottsville and has transformed a rundown, ramshackle old farm into what is now a charming stretch of property where gardens abound.

This is an amazing market both in what they sell and their prices. Not for the faint of heart or pocketbook, that’s for sure. Top notch all the way and had I not been so desperate for the taste of summer tomatoes, I’d have never spent five dollars a pound the other day for just over 16 ounces of beautiful heirlooms. I justify it by recalling my past job of working on an organic farm. I know its hard, back breaking work and for those folks working fields instead of greenhouses, it’s all dependent upon Mother Nature. Yeah, five dollars is a lot, but not when you think about how labor intensive it is.

Many vendors here come from the central Bucks County area and some have some very interesting items, such as the dried vegetable chips. Green and red pepper chips that come in sweet and hot are a great buy to have with some dip at a gathering. Peaches from several farms including Solebury Orchards were being sold this past Friday with samples from each variety and farm given out.

Here is a listing of the three markets above and hope you’ll find yourself a frequenting them all over the rest of the harvest season!




Chilean Pastel Maize/Corn Pie

This recipe idea comes from my friend Vicky Santebanez who hails from Chile! A translation specialist, Vicky and I met in a writing class in Doylestown about four years ago and became quick friends. Moving out to Colorado about two years ago with her family, we've kept in touch and although she tells me I ought to learn Spanish, I've yet to do so! This was the best I could come up with!

She says this is a traditional dish from her country, so I asked if I could share with you. I'm a vegetarian and may use a product called Quorn which is a product made of mycoprotien, aka - mushrooms, but you'd never know it.

Chilean Corn Pie ------->>>check the photo!

1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts
5 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon paprika
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 cup butter
6 large ears fresh corn, husked or highquality frozen
1/2 to 1 cup milk
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
8 fresh basil leaves, chopped
4 hardboiled eggs, peeled, sliced
1 cup pitted black brinecured olives (such as Alfonso or Kalamata)
1 cup raisins
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
Poach chicken in broth until cooked through. Cool in broth. Shred chicken. Save broth for another use. Set aside.
Heat oil in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and stir until golden brown. Add paprika, cumin and oregano and stir until fragrant. Add shredded chicken and stir well. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Using grater, grate corn from cob (WilliamsSonoma sells a special gadget for grating corn right into a bowl). If using canned or frozen corn, pulse in food processor until coarsely pureed. Melt butter in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add corn, sugar and salt. Gradually stir in enough milk and cook until mixture is slightly thick. Stir in basil.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Spoon chicken mixture into 2quart baking dish. Arrange hardboiled eggs, olives and raisins over. Pour corn mixture over, smoothing top to cover filling completely. Sprinkle powdered sugar over top. Bake until crust is golden brown and firm to touch, about 40 minutes. Serve hot.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Garden of Poison?

My brother-in-law put in raised garden beds last year at the property our families share. Since I wound up diagnosed with fibromyalgia about 12 years ago, it has been extremely difficult to garden and I’ve pretty much done my gardens in, getting rid of the plants and turning them back to lawn and haven’t done much in the way of vegetable gardening in years. Just too difficult and painful, but boy, do I miss it!

So, I was excited this year to try my hand at it again and conferred with the family what they wanted and just went out and purchased the plants and seeds, planting beets and lettuce, tomatoes and Swiss chard – which I’m not too crazy about, but the potbelly pigs enjoy it.

My lettuce has bolted, but up until last week we’ve been cutting the wonderful garden greens for salads and I just read this interesting passage in the NYTimes blog called the Starter Garden, by Michael Tortorello this week that provoked some thoughts.


I’m always careful about what I eat and if I’m in doubt, I throw it out!

More on my veggie gardening later.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Summer Corn

July 15, 2009

Ahhhh, summertime…and the living is……delicious!

I love summer food. Nothing like from the garden or farmers’ market fresh, is there? Right now I’m awaiting the first summer tomatoes and bowing to the tomato gods in the great blue sky for a good harvest and I think they are listening by the looks of our garden this year! However, corn is here and so far, it’s simply fabulous!

Corn on the cob was a great thing in the summer when I was growing up. My father, a tree surgeon by trade and a farmer wannabe was the biggest fan of fresh corn on the cob I’ve ever known.

There was a farm stand near us on County Line Road in Hatboro when I was growing up. I believe it was called Sylvestry’s. Anyone ever hear of it? Long before all that development encroached upon the area, it was located along the roadway not far from the Thriftway shopping center. Sitting on the opposite side of the road from the grocery store, it sat in a gravel parking lot with several large farm fields behind the ramshackle store.

The place was a simple wooden structure, large by farm stand standards, that had side panels that lifted off from halfway up the structure to the roof. Whitewashed with a black shingled roof, there was a line of tables all around the perimeter and a maze of freestanding tables in the middle with the cash register and counter in the center.

Visiting the place, you could feel a breeze blow through the open walls and smell the fragrance of fresh peaches waft through the air. Fresh cut gladioulis sat in tall, narrow buckets with their colorful petals fully open from the bottom to the barely exposed color of the top blossoms on the tall stalks.

My mother used to make weekly trips to purchase melons, tomatoes and nectarines, Italian plums and fresh picked green beans, passing up the tired produce at the Thriftway.

But, it was my father who bought the fresh corn. As a tree surgeon, he was a traveling guy and would make a quick stop at Sylvestry’s on his way home from one of his jobs. A friendly guy; my dad was good friends with Mr. Sylvestry and they somehow worked it out that he could go out into the field and pick the corn himself.

He’d bring a baker’s dozen home, warm from the field. Remember how they used to give baker’s dozens back then? A total of 13 in a sack, instead of the usual 12 for things like donuts, bagels and even corn.

To my dad, there was nothing quite like corn picked just moments before cooking. According to his taste buds, it was so much better than if it were picked fresh that very morning and you know what? He’s right.

My mother would cook up a huge pot of corn and whatever else she was making seemed secondary to this fresh, delicious pleasure my dad brought home. He could and often would eat all but the single ears of corn we’d eat in one sitting. With four of us and a baker’s dozen, that left him with ten ears of corn and you never saw a happier man!

LOCAL TIP: Trauger’s Farm Market is a local gem here in the eastern portion of Upper Bucks County. The family has been farming the land between the Delaware Canal and the Delaware River for decades. When I moved here 17 years ago this month, they had a little stand at their farm that was about the size of a postage stamp and closed for the season sometime in the fall. Today, they are open six days a week, year round and offer all sorts of produce, but I love them for the corn they sell each summer, and the melons, oh and the tomatoes! Check them out at: http://www.traugers.com/

COOKING TIP: Typically I boil corn if I just can’t wait to eat it or time is of the essence. But, my favorite cooking method is to roast it on the grill.

Have you ever roasted corn? It is the easiest and tastiest technique. I remove the husks and silk and roll in foil. Soak in cold water, foil and all for about 30 minutes. Place on the grill for about 10-15 minutes over a medium-high heat, turning about every 5 minutes.

The corn will be hot and hold in the foil for about 15-20 minutes while you cook something else to go with it for dinner. I’m not sure why you would, but for some people corn on the cob just isn’t a full meal.

Remove the foil and the corn ought to have some patches of brown (my all time favorite) that gives a nutty, roasted flavor. For some, flavored butter, a squirt of lime or umeboshi paste (Japanese Plum paste) - http://www.edenfoods.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=110180 - are fun, but for me slather some butter over the cob, add some salt and pepper, you have good summer eatin’.

Guess I’ll have to stop by the farmers’ market tonight on the way home!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

This is my first entry into this blog MorselsandMore and I wanted to name it something catchy and different, but something to do with food…not as easy as one might think.

The definition of morsels according to The Free Dictionary (freedictionary.com) is
1. A small piece of food.
2. A tasty delicacy; a tidbit.
3. A small amount; a piece: a morsel of gossip.
4. One that is delightful and extremely pleasing.

Wow! That’s a lot to live up to, don’t you think?

I’m putting myself in the position of supplying you with something food oriented that’s tasty (maybe a recipe or review of a good ingredient or restaurant or website), yet it’s a small amount, - I take that as entries being short and concise, but that’s where the more comes in with the MorselsandMore name! And it all has to be wonderful and super enjoyable.

Ok, I’ll be working my magic here to include all those things. Maybe not all in one entry, but I think I can manage to pique your interest with some of my musings.

I’ll be including my own experiences and with the help of others, recipes, product info and reviews as a home cook, not a professional chef and photos by my partner Joanne Graziano. All photos on this blog will be hers unless otherwise stated and are under copyright.

Cooking and food has been a passion of mine for years. I grew up with an Italian mother who wasn’t enthusiastic about cooking, but what she made was fabulous. Her mother, my maternal grandmother, was the oldest of nine and was born in 1903, so she learned how to cook and bake for a large family and enjoyed it immensely. I, on the other hand didn’t show any interest in cooking until I moved out of the house at 17 and then became a professional cook around 22 years old.

By professional, I mean I learned on the job, not through classes at a college and by cook, I mean, I worked up through the ranks of doing lots of prep work – slicing, dicing, breading, cutting, mixing, piping for a few years before I could move to the stove, grill, fryer or flattop and really cook something.

In the first few years I cooked in professional establishments, I had worked in diners, four-star hotels and pizza joints.

Then, I moved onto nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Now, this is where the real cooking begins. No, don’t snicker. If you can make a person with swallowing difficulties enjoy their chopped or pureed food at each meal, you’ve got a gift. It ain’t easy, let me tell you. I have fed five-star generals, Catholic nuns and monsignors and little blue-haired ladies. You gotta watch those with the blue hair. They let you know what they like and what they don’t, believe me!

By the time I had left cooking as a burned out (think crispy bacon!) cook, I had been managing kitchens for several years and the fun of creative, delicious food construction had moved to someone under me. I was the bean counter, making sure we weren’t going over budget and everyone was washing their hands and holding educational inservices for staff. It was boring.

Best thing about getting out of the cooking biz? Wanting to cook at home again! So, here I am, nearly a decade out of the commercial kitchen and wanting to share the things I’ve learned since I was 22 and started cooking.

So, stay tuned and take a culinary journey with me, won’t you?