Friday, June 24, 2016


Corn and summer go hand in hand. To me, the sensation of the crisp popping of fresh, sweet corn and the butter melting on the shiny kernels sends me back to the dining room table of my childhood with the back door open as the day's heat gives way to the cool breezes of twilight. Fresh corn is the signal to me that summer is here. As soon as I see it in the store, I start eating corn like its my job and I don't stop until it disappears. I have been known to eat corn for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

My mother taught me how to test corn for freshness before you buy it. Peel back a little bit of the husk and poke a kernel with your fingernail. If it pops easily and a little juice comes out, the corn is fresh. If you exert a little pressure and your fingernail doesn't pierce the kernel, the corn is probably a few days old and it will be starchy and bland. Don't waste your money or time on old corn. It is always a disappointment.

There are many ways to prepare fresh corn, but perhaps the best way to enjoy it is boiled right off the cob. Shuck your corn, clean off the silk and boil it covered in plain water.  It is done when you lift the lid and can smell it, which should happen after 10 to 15 minutes of boiling. I also love grilled corn and I have a foolproof method. Some grilled corn recipes recommend soaking the entire ear of corn and grilling it in the husk, but I have never been successful with that technique.
The husks always burn and I find the whole thing to be messy and inconvenient. I shuck my corn and wrap it in buttered aluminum foil before placing it on the grill.  I move it on and off the fire to make sure it gets a little char but doesn't burn.

Of course, there are hundreds of great corn recipes out there and you can do whatever strikes your fancy. I tried something recently that I thought was worth repeating. I cut the kernels off three ears of fresh corn and scraped the cobs to get all the corn milk and goodness out. In a small cast iron pan over medium heat, I melted a tablespoon of butter and sauteed two sliced green onions and a small clove of minced garlic until the garlic just started to brown. I dumped the corn into the pan and added a little salt and pepper and another tablespoon of butter. I let the corn saute over medium low heat for about 10 minutes, just until the liquid began to evaporate, then I added a small splash of half and half. I cooked it for a few minutes more just to incorporate the half and half and added a couple of chopped fresh basil leaves at the end. I served it with a lovely piece of perfectly cooked arctic char and sauteed swiss chard. It was absolutely mouth watering. The corn took on a pronounced sweetness as it cooked, but the garlic and green onions kept it savory and the basil gave it a wonderful pop of flavor. I will most certainly make this dish again and I hope you'll give it a try.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Gaby et Jules

Tucked in the heart of the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Squirrel Hill, an authentic French patisserie is making visually stunning, exquisitely prepared, jaw-dropping pastries and macarons.  Its called Gaby et Jules and it is the stage upon which master pastry chef David Piquard performs his pastry magic. David inherited a passion for pastry from his grandfather Jules, whose lifelong dream of opening his own patisserie in France never materialized. David came to Pittsburgh to be the head pastry chef at the popular French bistro Paris 66. It didn't take long for owners Fred and Lori Rongier to see that David's formidable talent needed a showcase of its own. Turns out that Fred's grandfather Gabriel had the same unrealized dream as Jules Piquard.  They named the new patisserie "Gaby et Jules" after their grandfathers.

Walking into Gaby et Jules is like walking into a small corner of Europe. They are known for their macarons, the delicate egg white based cookie filled with buttercream, and this bakery boasts a macaron rainbow of exciting colors and flavors. With flavors like Earl Grey, rose, lavender and white chocolate basil, you'll never get bored sampling these delicate little treats. But even more impressive is the eye-popping display of French pastries you see when you walk through the door. I have stood there many times mesmerized by their beauty and unable to decide what I want to take home. Is it going to be a fruit tartelette, topped with perfectly arranged raspberries? Is it going to be the millefeuille layered with puff pastry and vanilla custard?  Its almost impossible to decide.

Last time I was there, my husband Jason and I stood there staring at the pastry case in awe until we finally decided on Le Royal Chocolat and a banana caramel creation.  We brought our treats home and after dinner, I decided to cut into the shiny chocolate dessert.  It was dark and mysterious with a layer of soft chocolate sponge cake and a rich chocolate mousse, covered in a dark chocolate glaze, which was so unbelievably dark it was almost black. The top of this amazing pastry was flecked with a little piece of gold leaf.
I ate half of it in tiny bites and savored each precious nibble. I went back the next evening for the rest. My husband chose the banana caramel pastry. It also had a thin layer of fluffy cake on the bottom with a rich caramel and banana mousse inside and it was bathed in caramel glaze. I had a small bite, but Jason took care of that pastry just fine without me.

I look forward to my next visit to Gaby et Jules. In fact, maybe I'll make a stop on the way home from work today.  Maybe I'll pop in at lunch. Oh, what the hell, I'm going there right now.  Gotta run!

Monday, June 20, 2016

10 Parsley Recipes

Every summer I plant an herb garden, usually in small pots that sit right outside my kitchen door.  I typically grow basil, thyme, dill, chives, oregano and parsley. This year I ended up with two pots of parsley and they have really taken off. I have found myself with more parsley than I know what to do with. In an effort to maximize this year's crop, I offer the following 10 recipes for parsley.

1. Tabbouleh salad - This traditional Lebanese dish is made with bulgur, cucumbers, tomatoes, green onions and lots of fresh herbs with parsley playing a starring role. Bulgur is dried cracked wheat made from the groats of any number of different wheat species. It is a whole grain, which means it is full of fiber and very good for you. It has a nutty, earthy flavor which is excellent when combined with fresh herbs, veggies and lemon vinaigrette. Most packages of bulgur will have a recipe for tabbouleh salad, but in case you can't fine one, here is a simple preparation. Put one cup of dry bulgar and one teaspoon of salt in a bowl and pour over one cup of boiling water. Cover it with plastic wrap and let it sit at room temperature for at least half an hour until all the water is absorbed. Mix together 1/4 cup of lemon juice and 1/4 cup of good olive oil. While the bulgur is still warm, pour the dressing over it and mix it in, Cover it and put it in the fridge for a couple of hours. The dressing will soak into the bulgur and make it delicious.
tabbouleh salad
When the bulgur is chilled and the dressing is absorbed, add the rest of the ingredients: 1 cup of chopped parsley, one cup of chopped mint, one cucumber (peeled, seeded and cut into small pieces), two medium tomatoes (poke some of the seeds out so your salad isn't too watery and cut them into small pieces), two or three chopped green onions and salt and pepper to taste. Mix everything together and put it back in the fridge for an hour.

2. Chimichurri sauce - This thick, green sauce is an Argentinian invention designed to go with grilled meat. The main ingredient is parsley and it is enhanced by red wine vinegar, garlic, red pepper flakes, shallot and olive oil. You can also add fresh oregano or cilantro if you desire, but its fine with just parsley. Basically, a cup of finely chopped parsley is moistened with 1/3 cup of oil, 1/4 cup of vinegar and seasoned with a minced clove of garlic, a small chopped shallot, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. You can even puree it in the food processor of you want a smooth sauce. I like mine chunky. Its best after it sits in the fridge for a couple of days, which allows the garlic to mellow and the flavors to come together. It can be used as a marinade or just spooned over grilled beef, chicken, pork or lamb. It is also delicious served over grilled mushrooms and veggies.

3. Herb cream cheese - This is one of my favorite things to have in the fridge. Its good on crackers, toast and bagels. In the food processor, mix a block of cream cheese and a small log of goat cheese with your favorite chopped herbs, a little lemon zest, a drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper. Parsley is perfect in here, as are thyme and chives.

homemade matzo balls
4. Matzo balls - To me, matzo balls just don't taste right without fresh parsley in them. I also like fresh dill, but dill takes a back seat to parsley in a matzo ball. I also use giant handfuls of parsley when I make chicken soup. Homemade chicken broth is not a necessity if you're craving matzo balls. Canned chicken broth will do in a pinch. Follow the directions on the package of matzo meal or matzo ball mix and add about half a cup of chopped parsley. When you make matzo balls, make sure you beat the eggs very well before you add the matzo meal and boil them covered in salted water. Once they are boiled you can add them to your soup. Trust me, your balls will be fluffy and perfect if you follow these tips.

5. Herb rice - Lemon and parsley go very well together and when they team up with rice, you have a versatile and yummy side dish. Put a cup of raw rice in a pot over medium heat and add a tablespoon of butter. Stir it together and toast the rice in the melted butter. Add a teaspoon of salt, 1/4 cup of lemon juice, 3/4 cup of chicken broth, a handful of finely chopped parsley and cook covered over low heat until the water is absorbed and the rice is tender. I like to turn off the heat and let the rice sit covered for about 10 minutes before I serve. Fluff your rice with a fork.

6. Herb salad - We eat a lot of salads in the summer and they can get kind of boring.  Adding fresh parsley leaves to a salad really brightens it up. In this application, do not chop your parsley. Pinch the leaves from the stems and drop them right into your salad. Its a lovely surprise when you get that herbaceous flavor from a well placed parsley leaf.

7.  Shrimp and parsley - Parsley goes particularly well with seafood and shellfish. For a pound of shrimp, you'll need about half a cup of parsley. In a medium skillet, melt two tablespoons of butter and a splash of olive oil over medium high heat. When the butter is sizzling, throw in one minced garlic clove. When the garlic is just starting to turn brown, toss in your cleaned shrimp and saute them just until they are no longer translucent. Shrimp can overcook very easily so keep an eye on them and take them off the heat as soon as they look done. Then stir in the chopped parsley and squeeze in a little lemon juice. This is a great little appetizer with a glass of white wine.

ravioli with parsley pesto
8.  Pesto - Yes, traditional pesto is made with basil, pine nuts, olive oil, garlic and grated Parmesan cheese, but you might not realize that you can substitute any herb or nut that you like. Find your favorite pesto recipe and follow it just for the proportions, but try using parsley instead of basil and try using walnuts instead of pine nuts.

9. Stuffing - What is a holiday turkey dinner without stuffing?  In my opinion, its not a holiday dinner unless there is a bowl of stuffing on the table. My mother preferred bread stuffing and we always had a stash of end pieces and stale bread in the freezer waiting for her next holiday meal. This is another recipe that just doesn't taste right to me without parsley.  I can't share a recipe with you because I make stuffing using my senses, not measuring cups, but here is the basic rundown. Saute chopped onion, garlic and celery with a little paprika in a large skillet over medium heat until they are soft. Don't throw out the celery leaves, they are excellent in this recipe. Take your stale bread and pour just enough broth over it to moisten, but not to make it mushy. Add the moistened bread to the pan and saute it with the vegetables. Add a generous amount of chopped parsley. You can either stuff this inside the turkey or roast it in a pan in the oven until it is golden brown on top. Make sure you have plenty of gravy because this bread stuffing is best when its anointed with gravy.

10. Roast chicken - Want to add amazing flavor to a plain roast chicken? Stick a couple whole garlic cloves and a handful of fresh parsley inside the cavity before you roast it.  The parsley will break down in the oven and flavor the chicken from the inside.

Parsley is a pretty ubiquitous herb and there are hundreds of things you can do with it.  These are just a few ideas on how you can make it shine.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Banana Blueberry Muffins

The blueberries are just incredible this year....plump, sweet, plentiful and inexpensive. I've been buying pint after pint of New Jersey blueberries and have yet to be disappointed. We had a couple of bananas that were turning brown on the counter and my husband suggested I make some muffins before they went bad. Just so happened I had two pints of blueberries in the fridge too. In my book, homemade blueberry muffins can't be beat. I committed myself to taking care of the over-ripe bananas and blueberries with a single recipe.


1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
3 ripe bananas, mashed
3/4 cup sugar
1 large egg
1/3 cup melted butter
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 cup blueberries (or more, if you so desire)

Muffins are quite simple to make, but there is a secret to getting the perfect fluffy and tender texture. You must not under any circumstances over-mix this batter. Let me repeat that so it really sinks in. DON'T OVER-MIX THE BATTER. If you over-mix the batter, your muffins will be dense and rubbery. For the love of all things delicious, don't over-mix the batter. Don't do it. Just don't. The batter will look lumpy, but resist the urge to keep mixing.

Preheat your oven to 350 and put those fancy little paper liners in your muffin tin. You can do this without the paper liners, but they make muffin removal and clean-up so much easier. I like to spray my paper liners with a little cooking spray, just to make sure the paper releases from the muffin.

Mix the dry ingredients first. It is not necessary to sift them together unless you feel like it. Add the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon to a small bowl and mix them up a little bit with a fork or a whisk. In a larger bowl, mash the bananas up until you can't see any big lumps.  Add the egg and whisk it into the bananas until it is well incorporated.  Add the melted butter, sugar and vanilla and mix well.  Then fold in the dry ingredients. AND DON'T OVER-MIX!!! Don't let your O.C.D. get the better of you - don't listen to that nagging little voice in the back of your head telling you to mix until its smooth. The batter will be lumpy and that's just fine. Stir in the blueberries and spoon the batter into the cups so it comes almost to the top. I like my muffins to rise up in the oven and have a nice healthy dome on top. To achieve that goal, you have to fill the muffin cups up to the rim of your muffin tin. Bake them for about 30 minutes, rotating the pan once in the oven. Use the toothpick test to make sure they are done before you take them out.

Now, when I made this recipe, I was a little distracted. As soon as I placed the pan in the oven, I licked a small blob of batter off my finger and realized that I'd forgotten to add the sugar. DUH! I quickly snatched the pan out of the oven (it had only been in there for about 30 seconds) and did my best to remedy the situation. I sprinkled about half a teaspoon of sugar on the top of each muffin and mixed it into the batter with the tip of a paring knife. Despite this somewhat major oversight, the muffins turned out just fine. The bananas were sweet, the blueberries were sweet and the small amount of sugar seemed to be just enough. I don't recommend making the same mistake, but I do recommend making a batch of your own banana blueberry muffins. It's what's for breakfast.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Skate Wing

I was recently wandering through my favorite Pittsburgh grocery store McGinnis Sisters and I stopped by their fish counter to see what looked fresh.  McGinnis Sisters is a family run local business and my love for this store comes from their philosophy toward local, regional and specialty products.  A lot of their meat and produce is locally sourced.  Their turkey and chicken come from Pennsylvania Amish farms. Their apples, peaches and tomatoes come from Chambersburg, PA. They carry locally raised eggs and locally made butter and cheeses. Their bakery is sublime and their deli products and prepared foods are all excellent. Plus, they stock things that are hard to find on any grocery store shelf.  When I need special ingredients like Dutch process cocoa, San Marzano canned tomatoes or the best Dijon mustard, I know I will find it at McGinnis Sisters. 

The fish case is typically stocked with standard fare like Atlantic salmon, tilapia and haddock fillets, but periodically I find something unique and different.  Apparently that was my lucky day!  What I saw in the fish case was something I’d never cooked before – skate wings.  I’ve eaten skate a number of times at restaurants and I have always loved it.  Skate is a small ray, like a stingray or manta ray.  Skates and rays are members of the shark family and their pectoral fins look exactly like bird wings. Skate wings have a mild flavor but their texture is quite meaty with an interesting corrugated flesh.  They cook quickly and kind of fall apart when overcooked.  I thought I’d give them a try.

My husband was intrigued when I showed him what I’d bought.  I wanted to get a little bit of a crust on the outside and still make sure I didn’t overcook the fish.  I also wanted to serve this delicate fish with a traditional lemon butter pan sauce with a few capers thrown in for a briny punch.  I put a large skillet over medium high heat and dried off surface of the fish.  I put a little salt and pepper on the outside and dusted the fillets very lightly with flour.  The flour allows for a little caramelization on the outside and acts as a thickening agent for the sauce. 
When the pan was hot, I dropped in a nub of butter and before it was completed melted I gently placed the fish fillets in the pan.  They cooked very quickly, about 2 minutes on each side, and I used my biggest spatula to flip the fillets so they didn’t fall apart.  I could tell the fish was done by poking at the flaky layers and looking inside. There were no visible translucent parts of the fish and it was beginning to come apart on its own.  Once the fish was cooked, I removed it from the pan, turned off the heat and made the sauce.  Into the warm pan I added the juice from a large lemon and about a tablespoon of capers and swirled it around to pick up any fond left from the fish.  Then I whisked in about two tablespoons of butter until the sauce just came together.  I drizzled the sauce over the fish making sure we each got some capers.  We were so pleased with the flavor of this skate wing!  It was mild and meaty with a really lovely texture.  I don’t see skate wing in the store very often, but when I do, I buy it.  I hope you’ll give it a try.  

Monday, June 13, 2016


During a recent business trip, I was reading an article in the in-flight magazine about food trends, specifically ancient grains. Just as heirloom varieties of produce and meats have experienced a rebirth, there is a growing interest in ancient grains such as quinoa and spelt, grains that were consumed centuries ago in ancient civilizations. Unlike corn, rice and wheat, which have all been bred selectively over thousands of years, the ancient grains remain unchanged from the way they were cultivated in the days of yore. And some are still staples in far flung parts of the world.
A few days later, my husband and I were wandering around the grocery store when he spotted a bag of farro on the shelf. Farro is an Italian grain grown in Tuscany that is said to have fed the Roman legion while they were on campaigns. Its a wheat berry, the whole grain of a certain variety of wheat that is native to that region. We stood there looking at the bag and discussing what we'd do with the stuff. And mostly out of curiosity, it landed in the shopping cart.
I had a couple of tomatoes sitting on the counter that were starting to get wrinkled and a pound of shrimp in the freezer. This was my starting point for a dish that featured farro. Jason read the directions for cooking this grain, which recommended boiling it in salted water and adding it to the sauce once it was tender. He got the farro on the stove while I started working on the sauce. I cleaned the shrimp and set the shells aside. My prep began with a classic mirepoix of celery, carrots and onions, all diced finely. I just happened to have a few garlic scapes in the fridge, so I diced one up and added it to the mix. I sautéd the shrimp shells until they turned bright red, resulting in a thin layer of fond on the bottom of the pan. Next I sautéd the shrimp very quickly, just to partially cook them and again, add flavor to the pan. Next came the mirepoix, which I cooked until it was lightly browned. While the mirepoix was cooking, I diced up the wrinkled tomatoes and they went into the pan next. I let everything cook together for about 5 minutes to let the tomatoes break down a bit.  , Finally, I added about a cup and a half of chicken stock to deglaze and create an abundant sauce. White wine would have worked just as well, but chicken stock was what I had on hand. I let that reduce just a bit, boiling vigorously, before I drained the farro and added it to the sauce. It had been simmering gently for about 30 minutes and the berries had popped open, but it still had a wonderful toothsome texture and a nutty flavor.
Finally, I turned off the heat and added the partially cooked shrimp to the pan, pushing them down into the sauce to let the heat finish cooking them. I dotted the top of the dish with a few small chunks of butter and covered it with a healthy handful of freshly chopped basil. We sat across the table from each other admiring the beautiful dish of saucy farro and shrimp before us. With great anticipation, we tucked in. It was completely delicious, the al dente farro had an earthy flavor and it had started absorbing the sauce. I flashed on a mental image of ancient Rome with members of the senate sitting down to big bowls of farro, fresh vegetables and jugs of wine. I am now officially a farro fan.  

Friday, June 10, 2016


One of my favorite things to make for breakfast on a weekend morning is a big pile of crepes. Crepes are a French invention but can be found all over the world.  A crepe is a super-thin pancake that can be sweet or savory and is filled with all kinds of delicious things. Sweet crepes can be filled with fruit, jam, Nutella, Greek yogurt, whipped cream, even ice cream as a dessert. Savory crepes are served with sautéd ham, mushrooms, onions, cheese, scrambled eggs or seafood. You can put anything you like inside a crepe. They're also wonderful simply folded or rolled up and topped with honey, maple syrup or cinnamon sugar. If you substitute buckwheat flour for all purpose white flour, your crepes will be gluten free! 
Believe it or not, they're relatively easy to make. You just need the right equipment and a little technique. The most necessary piece of equipment is small non-stick skillet. You could spend a lot of money on a crepe pan specifically made for this task, but a regular old 6 or 8 inch non-stick skillet will work just fine. Don't be a snob about the skillet and think you can use stainless steel or cast iron. Unless you have a non-stick surface, your crepes will stick no matter how much butter or cooking spray you use. Trust me on this one - non-stick is the only way to go.  A small wooden or plastic spatula is also necessary to free the crepes from the pan and flip them.
The recipe for the batter varies based on how you plan to serve your crepes. If you desire savory crepes, leave out the sugar. If you'd like a little spice, add a dash of cayenne pepper. For sweet crepes, you can add vanilla and I also like to grate a little lemon or orange zest into the batter.
3 large eggs
2 cups of whole milk
1 cup of all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon of white sugar
a pinch of salt
2 tablespoons of melted butter
The batter can be made in a blender or you can use a hand mixer or a whisk. Beat the eggs and milk together until they're well blended, then sift in the flour, sugar and salt. The batter should be pretty thin but have some body, similar to the consistency of heavy cream. It’s also good to let the batter rest for at least an hour in the fridge before you start making crepes.  In fact, the batter will keep just fine in the fridge for a couple of days. The melted butter is the last thing that goes in before you start making crepes. When you're ready to start making the crepes, put your skillet on the stove over medium heat and drop the butter in the pan. If your pan gets too hot, the crepes will burn. Its important to maintain an even medium heat so your crepes cook evenly. As soon as the butter melts, pour it into the batter and mix it in. The butter that's left in the pan will create the perfect non-stick surface to start making crepes. This is where technique comes into play.
Keep in mind that the first crepe or two will come out funky. These are your test crepes and until the pan is the perfect temperature, your crepes may be uneven. When the remaining butter in the pan begins to bubble slightly, pour a little batter into the pan and tilt the pan around so that the batter covers the entire surface of the pan in a thin layer. The batter begins to set up quickly when it hits the hot pan, so you have to act fast. If you don't have enough batter to cover the surface of the pan, dribble a little bit of batter over the exposed surface. Set the pan back on the stove until you see the edges of the crepe begin to curl and brown slightly. Using the edge of your spatula, gently lift the crepe up and flip it over in the pan. The crepe should be lightly golden brown and resemble the surface of the moon.

Cook the crepe briefly on the other side until it browns slightly, and then turn the crepe out onto a plate. It should not be necessary to butter the pan between each crepe, but every third or fourth crepe, slip a small knob of butter into the pan. If you have too much butter in the pan, you can pour the excess back into the batter. Because they are buttery, you can stack the crepes up as you go and they shouldn't stick together.

I like my crepes with fresh fruit and a little maple syrup. If you want to get fancy, melt a couple tablespoons of butter in the pan, then put in a couple tablespoons of honey and a dash of cinnamon and let them all melt together for a couple of minutes. Drizzle this cinnamon honey butter over the warm crepes and enjoy. This recipe makes a lot of crepes, at least two dozen, but they freeze very well. Wrap whatever you don't eat in plastic wrap and put it in a freezer bag and they'll keep in the freezer for several months. This is a great recipe to impress your house guests. Make these crepes and they'll talk about it like you're a five star chef for years to come. Give them a try; it’s a lot easier than you think.