Thursday, September 10, 2015

Planes, Trains & Automobiles…..Leipzig or Bust!!

As I’m writing this, I am suffering through our 6th heat wave. Labor Day unofficially ended summer; however, it is still hanging on!  Hurry up and be over!  You know, there once was a time when I loved summer & mourned its end but those days are increasingly fading into the past.  Summer is certainly a whole lot different as a grownup compared to being a kid. Growing up in the 1970s & early 80s, I longed for endless summers. Every 2 years during summer vacation, I trekked with my mom to visit my grandparents in communist East Germany & various relatives and friends in the West. My first trip was in the summer of 1974, I was soon to be 6 years old and I was anxious.  I hadn’t seen my grandparents or been in Germany since I was 2 years old & upon arriving in Germany, I had absolutely no idea what anyone was saying.  The only German word I could think of was “Schweinhund” from the TV show Hogan’s Heroes.  I was homesick the first week but by the end of our visit, I didn’t want to leave and German was rolling off my tongue.  As much as I anticipated these trips, I know they were often stressful for my mom as she was the one who had to do all the planning, packing & repacking, etc. Flying the friendly skies back then, especially in the ‘70s, was a whole lot different than today.  We used to actually get “dressed up” to travel.  Looking back, I have to laugh at how my mom always requested non-smoking, yet we were always seated DIRECTLY BEHIND the last "smoking" aisle.  Like that was going to make a difference.  We always arrived in Frankfurt, dreading making our way down the escalator with what seemed like 100 pounds worth of luggage and then onto an express train that stopped for 2 minutes to allow passengers on (Hey, it’s Germany, Mach Schnell! or miss the train). Thankfully, there were always some kind souls on board who helped load us and our luggage onto the train, often accompanied with an “Ach du meine Güte” while rolling their eyes, after discovering the weight of our suitcases.  The train took us to the Frankfurt Main station where my beloved godmother Elsa & her sister Liesl would be waiting for us with a luggage cart & lots of goodies to take with us on our way to the East.  We would sit together in the café at the station having coffee and pastries while we waited for our train.  Then we bid a quick farewell, as we would return to stay with them in several weeks time.  We always had reserved seats in a cabin on the train. Riding the Bundesbahn was wonderful; the speed at which the train would travel as we passed through cities and whizzed by the beautiful countryside. Often I would open the windows and hang my head out trying to take it all in.  I was so excited and counted down the hours until we reached Leipzig!  The train made a prolonged stop at the East/West border where the Stasi and the border control officers with their perpetual looks of disdain would board and check passports, visas and luggage (looking for any Western goods).  My mom always gave a sigh of relief once the train started moving out as our suitcases were ALWAYS LOADED with contraband.  We would arrive at Leipzig Hauptbahnhof and there would be my Omi waiting for us; either with her friend, Doris, or her neighbors the Brodkorbs. If I close my eyes, I can still hear the sounds and see the images of that train station as if it were yesterday.  Alas, from the train we would either go by taxi or Wolfgang “Wolfie” Brodkorb’s car to Alte Strasse 19, my grandparents’ apartment and the home where my mom grew up.  I still see my Opi looking out the third story window, waiting for us and waving when he saw us coming. My grandparents always had a decorated handmade sign hanging on the apartment door: Herzlich Willkommen.  As soon as I stepped through the door, I could smell the schnitzel that Omi had already cooked for me.  I had happily arrived to my home away from home.  And I was hungry!

Our arrival to Alte Strasse 19, Summer of 1974. From left to right: Opi, Omi, me, my sister Yvonne

Frühstück mit Opi auf dem Balkon

Schnitzel doesn’t exactly come to mind as something you would cook during the summer; however, I love a good schnitzel.  Something that seems to be on trend, is placing the salad atop the cooked entrée.  Here, I’ve prepared a recipe that pairs a chicken schnitzel with a mixed greens salad & vinaigrette.  It’s a great way to lighten up what may seem to be a heavy dish and it utilizes the fresh produce of summer. Guten Appetit!!
Chicken Schnitzel with Mixed Greens Salad & Herb Vinaigrette:
Chicken Schnitzel
2 large  Boneless, skinless chicken breasts pounded to approx. ½ “ thickness
             2           Eggs, whisked
¾ c.      Flour (more if necessary)
1c.        Fresh bread crumbs (more if necessary)
3Tb.     Butter
3Tb.     Canola Oil
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large skillet, heat the butter & oil over medium high heat.  Take the chicken breasts and coat them in the following order: flour, egg, bread crumbs.  Place each chicken breast in the skillet & allow to brown, approx. 3-4 minutes.  Turn over and brown the other side for another 3-4 minutes.  Remove chicken breasts to either a small baking sheet or individual sizzle plates and cook in oven until fully cooked, approx. 5-7 minutes.  Chicken should be cooked to a temperature of 165 degrees. Remove from oven & tent with foil to keep warm.
Mixed Greens with Herb Vinaigrette
3Tb.       Red wine vinegar
1Tb.       Shallot, minced
1 clove  Garlic, minced
1Tb.       Dijon mustard
1Tb.       Parsley, finely chopped
1Tb.       Basil, finely chopped
1Tb.       Oregano, finely chopped
1/3 c.       Extra virgin olive oil
Fresh ground pepper
4c.          mixed greens/spring mix
5-6         multi-colored cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
Ricotta Salata Cheese
Whisk together the first 7 ingredients.  Slowly whisk in the olive oil until it emulsifies with the other ingredients.  Season to taste with salt & pepper.  This can easily be made in a mini food processor or in a salad dressing bottle with a lid.
Toss the dressing with the salad greens and tomatoes then place 2 cups of salad atop each schnitzel.  Grate some of the ricotta salata cheese atop the salad and serve.


Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Adieu, Chef

Well, we’re already 3 months into 2015.  By now, most resolutions have long been forgotten.  As for me, I stopped making resolutions a long time ago.  To me, resolutions seem rather pointless & cliché; however, that doesn’t mean that I don’t often take the time as a new year emerges to reflect on the past, on life and to make plans for the future.  I recalled an article that I read several months ago about the passing of Fritz Blank. Who was he you ask, he was the owner/chef of the long since shuttered French restaurant Deux Cheminées. At the time I was in culinary school, there were only a handful of restaurants in Philadelphia that I esteemed to work as an apprentice.  Deux Cheminées was one of them and I took on my second apprenticeship there in 1996 in what would end up being quite the experience and a very long summer.  The article led me to reflect on a career that I probably wouldn’t have dreamed of as a young girl. I had no designs to open a restaurant, but I knew I loved everything about food and that somehow it would all become clear.
It’s not a career that has been a constant as I spent over 10 years working in finance, or shall I say “dutifully working in a field in which I had a degree.” It was a career in which I always worked very hard but in the end it proved to be just a job & I think I feared that one day I would be found expired at the age of 60 face down on the keyboard. The only career I have ever truly enjoyed is in the culinary arts.   It’s truly a passion, career that I enjoy and there is something about giving your all and having a sense of happiness and fulfillment; however, my apprenticeship at Deux Cheminées made me question whether I had what it takes to make it in my newly chosen career.
Chef Fritz Blank was an interesting person, incredibly knowledgeable and willing to share that knowledge.  You just had to make sure you were attentive and listening even if at the moment you were not in the mood to hear an hour long lecture on corn.  He never struck me as the warm and fuzzy type but I half expected that as an apprentice, especially a female one.  I remember the mornings I headed off to the restaurant, I would pray to God to just get me through the day and keep me out of the cross-hairs of Chef.  Keeping out of his line of sight often meant me volunteering to do anything pastry-related. The kitchen was at basement level and there was no air conditioning and there were days it was hotter than hell.  I remember beads of sweat rolling off onto the asparagus I was grilling (it happens) & having to roll gougere in the walk-in refrigerator because the heat of the kitchen was melting them.  In the middle of summer I ended up with bronchitis because I was spending so much time in there.   Chef was a very particular man.  Before cooking, he was a microbiologist, which explained why we all did things the way he wanted them done.  As a group of chefs & waitstaff, we were not permitted to go into the walk-in refrigerators alone on hot days unless we went in as a group, collected all of our things, and then came out as a group.  It made for a lot of laughs but damn if that walk in never dropped below temp.  That was the whole point.  I used to walk around with a little blue spiral memo pad in my chef’s coat pocket.  Always making copious notes and writing down recipes.  I’m so happy that to this day, I still have that little notebook, the writing faded, food stains on torn pages.  One of the last things I can remember making was an Apple Bavarian Torte. It was during my final days of my apprenticeship. The torte was a recipe Chef wanted to try out. I felt like my whole learning at Deux Cheminées culminated in me making this dessert perfect.  Well, I don’t think Chef ever would have said it was perfect but he did like it and I believe he actually smiled.  It was a good day & I had survived.
I’m grateful to have learned from someone who had the desire to teach and share all what he knew.  It really has made a difference because so much of what I learned has helped me along the way. I want to share with you the recipe for the Apple Bavarian Torte.  I’ve been making it for almost 20 years and it is my “go to” dessert.  It’s a great recipe for fall & winter and in the summer I substitute peaches for the apples.  It’s not fancy by any means, but it is very versatile and can complement any meal.
Here is a link if you would like to read a short article on the restaurant & Chef Fritz Blank:
Equipment:  9” non-stick springform pan
1 ½ c.   unbleached flour
¾ c.      unsalted butter, chilled
½ c.      granulated sugar
¼ tsp    pure vanilla extract
3          Granny Smith Apples, peeled & sliced
½ tsp    cinnamon
¼ c.      granulated sugar
1 tsp     pure vanilla extract
16 oz.   cream cheese, softened @ room temperature
½ c.      granulated sugar
2           whole eggs
1 tsp     pure vanilla extract
 ¼ c.      chopped walnuts
Place the 1st four ingredients in a food processor.  Pulse until the ingredients are combined & forming a dough.  Take the dough & form it into a ball, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 15 minutes.  Roll out the dough on a floured board.  Place in the springform pan pushing the sides up the pan.  If there are tears in the dough, gently press on the dough to cover & repair.  Partially bake in a 450 degree oven for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and allow crust to cool in pan. **The dough has a tendency to slide down the sides so you may have to intermittently push the dough back up the sides while it is partially baking. 
Place sliced apples in a bowl and toss with the cinnamon, sugar & vanilla.  Set aside.
Next cream the cream cheese in a mixer.  Add the sugar & blend until combined.  Add eggs one at a time until combined then add the vanilla extract.  Pour the batter into the cooled crust.  Then layer the apples atop the batter in a circular pattern, slightly overlapping.  Sprinkle the walnuts on top.  Bake the torte in a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes.  Remove and cool to room temperature.  Keep refrigerated until ready to serve.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

It's Easy Being Green


The “Unofficial End of Summer” has passed.  While August in our part of the country seemed to be rather pleasant, summer was not about to wave the white flag in surrender.  Yes, those hazy, hot & humid days made a comeback this past Labor Day weekend & the A/C was on full blast.  In the wake of celebrating the end of summer with food but not wanting to slave over a kitchen stove all day, I turned my thoughts to pesto. Pesto is easy to make.  It doesn’t require any serious cooking and it’s a great way to experiment with different herbs, nuts & textures.  It’s also very versatile.  It’s a sauce, it’s a condiment, it’s a dip, or it can be whatever you want it to be.  

Most people are familiar with the traditional pesto made with basil but nowadays, pesto has given way to many creative combinations.  For those who have never made pesto, here are 2 very simple & easy recipes along with some ideas for its use.  The basil pesto will be perfect for anyone who is staring at their big, overgrown basil plant and thinking what to do with it all.  Mom?  I’m talking to you. J

Recipe #8: Basic Pesto

It's Easy Being Green

*Depending on what you plan to do with your pesto, you have to play around with the consistency.  The more oil you add, the looser the texture, so keep that in mind when planning on ways to use it.  This is what makes it so versatile.


2C.             fresh basil leaves (packed)**
1/4c           toasted pine nuts ***
1 cloves     garlic
~2/3 c.       extra virgin olive oil
Fresh ground pepper
 ½ c             freshly grated Parmesan cheese

**In a pot of salted water, blanch the basil leaves for approximately 45 seconds and then drain in a colander.  Allow to cool and squeeze by hand the excess water.  This process helps to retain the beautiful green color of pesto & allows it to retain that color for a few days after making it.  It’s a little trick I learned about recently.

 ***Rather than turn on a stove, I prefer to take a sauté pan, spray it with some cooking spray & then “toast” the nuts in the pan.  The only caveat, they will cook quicker than in an oven so you have to keep an eye on them but atleast you can swish the pan around and cook them evenly.

Process the basil, pine nuts, garlic & salt & pepper until finely chopped.  While processor is still running, add enough oil to form a paste that is smooth & consistent.  Transfer to a bowl and fold in the parmesan cheese.   Season to taste w. salt & ground black pepper.

Heirloom Zebra stripe tomatoes with Basil Pesto, fresh mozzarella & a drizzle of olive oil.

Recipe #9: Arugula pesto **From: Everyday Italian by Giada De Laurentiis


 2C.             fresh arugula leaves (packed)
1 cloves     garlic
½ c             extra virgin olive oil
½ c             freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Fresh ground pepper

In a food processor, pulse the arugula & garlic until finely chopped.  While the blender is running, gradually add the oil to form a smooth yet loose enough mixture.  Pour the mixture in a bowl and fold in the Parmesan cheese.  Season to taste with salt & freshly ground pepper.

Recipe Idea: Arugula pesto with Gemelli pasta, baby peas & grated sharp provolone

 This was really good!! 

Monday, April 29, 2013

Beans, Beans, They’re Good For Your Heart, The More You Eat….

Well, growing up as a little kid you may remember singing this little ditty and know how the rest of it goes.  In my never ending quest to try to eat healthy, I know that the consumption of legumes is a great source of satisfying protein.  Last weekend, there was a remnant of winter’s chill that settled over our area.  I remember almost being tempted to turn on the heater when the thermostat read 64 degrees but I held fast knowing that in about 3 months, I’m going to wish it was 64 degrees!  So with the house a little chilly, I decided a soup was in order.  I launched a raid on my pantry and discovered I have a ton of all kinds of canned beans.  So many cans in fact, I fear I may be on the brink of hoarding. To my delight, I had a couple cans of butter beans, my favorite, and lo and behold, there was a soup recipe on the label - which I tweaked a bit to my liking.  I also had a very large can of black beans.  I remembered it was one of those discounted, slightly dented deals they have on a shelf in the corner of the supermarket.   I recalled a Cuban Black Bean soup recipe from my culinary school days.

Out came the stockpots and by the end of the day, the house was about 5 degrees warmer and I had two delicious soups.  I had made enough soup for several batches and froze them in individual containers because on this rainy, dreary & chilly last Monday in April, guess what I’m having for lunch and probably dinner?

Butter Bean Soup

3Tb            olive oil
½ cup        small diced pancetta         
½ cup        small diced onion
½ cup        small diced carrot
½ cup        small diced celery**
1 ½ Tb      minced garlic
2 - 15.5oz cans of butter beans, undrained, preferably Goya
4 cups       chicken broth
1 tsp          chopped fresh rosemary
Kosher salt & fresh ground black pepper to taste

Grated Parmesan for garnish

** I like to also use the leaves of the celery as long as they are not bruised or brown
Heat olive oil in a large soup pot or Dutch oven.  Sauté pancetta for approx. 5 minutes being careful not to brown.  Always adjust heat so as to cook but not to brown any of the ingredients in this recipe. Add onion, carrot & celery and sauté until softened then add garlic.  Continue to sauté for approx. 2-3 minutes. Add the beans, chicken broth & rosemary.  Simmer uncovered until heated through.  Season with salt & pepper to taste.  Allow soup to cool.  Take ½ of soup and puree in a blender or food processor and return to the pot and thoroughly mix.  Upon serving, reheat soup and garnish individual bowls with grated parmesan.

Makes approximately 6-8 servings
Cuban Black Bean Soup
1 large        smoked ham hock
3 qt.           chicken broth
6 cloves     garlic peeled & crushed
4-5             dried chilies
½ tsp          fresh coriander

4Tb            olive oil
1 ¼ cup      small diced onion
1 ¼ cup      small diced green or yellow pepper ( I prefer yellow for a little vibrant color)
¾ cup         small diced carrot
1 - 15oz     can petite diced tomatoes, drained
1 - 16oz     can black beans, undrained, preferably Goya
½ tsp         fresh chopped oregano
¾ tsp         fresh chopped thyme
2                fresh bay leaves
Black pepper to taste

For Garnish:
¼ cup        dry sherry, ie. amontillado
Grated hardboiled egg, sour cream & chopped green onion

Place ham hock in a large stock pot or Dutch oven with the broth, garlic, chilies & coriander.  Simmer until liquid is reduced by half.  Allow to cool then remove ham hock from liquid.  Remove all non fatty meat from the bone and dice into small pieces.  Strain the remaining liquid.  Set aside both the meat & liquid separately.
Sauté onion, pepper, celery and carrot in olive oil until lightly browned.  Add tomatoes and cook until mixture is “dry” – meaning there is a scant amount of liquid.  Add the strained liquid from the cooked ham hock.  Add the beans, oregano, thyme and bay leaves. Simmer until cooked through, approx. 40 minutes.  Remove bay leaves. Take approx. 1/3rd of the mixture out of the pot and puree then add back into the soup.  Add the reserved meat from the ham hock.   Upon serving, reheat soup and pour in the dry sherry.  Garnish each individual bowl with the grated egg, sour cream & green onion.

Makes approximately 6-8 servings


A nice little entertaining twist to this soup: whether serving as an appetizer or entree - if you specifically purchase a bottle of amontillado sherry and use it in this recipe, don't hesitate to serve a glass of it along with the soup.  It would be perfect!

Friday, December 7, 2012

All Things Pumpkin

I don’t know if you noticed, but this seemed to be the “Year of the Pumpkin”.  I realized this on a trip to the grocery store back in October.  I was about to put a tub of pumpkin flavored cream cheese into my shopping cart when my friends with whom I was shopping intervened. That’s when I looked down in my cart and saw the pumpkin flavored coffee drinks, pumpkin spice cookie mix & a bag of pumpkin-filled raviolis.  A week later I was watching the news show “Nightline” which dedicated a segment to what seemed to be pumpkin flavored everything. Pumpkin marshmallows anyone?  Even Hershey’s Kisses® got on board by creating a seasonal pumpkin spice kiss.  Since I had a $1 off coupon for them, I thought I’d give them a try.  They were very orange & tasted as bad as they looked.  Given this year’s “pumpkin mania” I figured I should make something with pumpkin.  One afternoon, I was watching “The Chew” and Clinton Kelly concocted a pumpkin colada.  I thought this would be a good recipe to add to my holiday cocktail repertoire and if you’re like me, you may have several cans of pumpkin sitting on a shelf in the pantry. You know, for all the pumpkin pies you say you’re going to make but never do.  So this weekend while you’re trimming the Christmas tree and putting the final touches on your holiday decorations, dust off the blender and make a batch of these.  Just don’t climb any ladders. 

Clinton Kelly’s Pina Colada

This makes one serving so increase accordingly for additional servings.

1scoop     vanilla bean ice cream
2Tb          pumpkin pie filling
1oz          dark rum
8oz          milk

Canned whipped cream & nutmeg for garnish

Combine all ingredients in blender & pour into tall glasses.  Preferably a tulip shaped or hurricane style glass.  Top off with whipped cream & a sprinkle of nutmeg. 

Keep the blender out because you’ll probably be making a whole lot of these.

NOTE:  For a non-alcoholic treat, just leave out the rum.  But add a little more ice cream. J

Friday, September 21, 2012

Cool Cukes

Well, the final day of summer is fading into history. It was a particularly hard summer for farmers in the U.S.  – especially in the Midwest.  Here in the Mid-Atlantic we fared a bit better though if you talk to frequent farmer’s market folks – we all noticed that everything seemed to be a month early.  I don’t know about any of you but as we were heading into what seemed to be our 10th heat wave of the summer I could barely make eye contact with my oven.  We just tried to avoid each other altogether.  So when it came to fresh produce, everything was made pretty much “crudo” – raw!  I’ve developed a newfound love and respect for cucumbers more so than ever before.  This cucumber salad I made was perfect on those hot, humid days and I’m stretching it out into this cooler weather – cool cukes – because it makes such a great side dish to a sandwich or soup. Not to mention it’s a great way to use up any leftover cucumbers you may have from your garden or the farmer’s market.  And save those peels!! From me to my mom to my stylist Paula Jean, we know that nothing soothes eye puffiness from these seasonal allergies like a cool cucumber eye compress! 

Cucumber Salad with Feta & Dill Vinaigrette


1            medium cucumber, peeled & cut into 1/16” slices

3Tb        fresh lemon juice      
1Tb        finely chopped dill
1 ½ tsp  Dijon mustard
1 clove   garlic minced
½ cup   extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt & fresh ground black pepper to taste
¼ cup     crumbled feta cheese

Sprig of dill for garnish

 Whisk together the lemon juice, dill, mustard & garlic.  Slowly whisk in the olive oil until emulsified.  Season to taste with salt & pepper.  Place the cucumber slices in a large bowl and pour the vinaigrette over top.  Then add the feta cheese.  Gently stir the salad until all the ingredients are combined.  When ready to serve at the table, garnish with a sprig of fresh dill.

**This recipe will make about 4 side servings and can easily be doubled as shown in the picture.  To save time, the vinaigrette can also be made in a food processor which is easier when the amount is doubled.


Sunday, August 12, 2012

Happy As A Clam

So, back in June, I started the South Beach Plan. For the first 2 weeks, starches are not allowed. Anyone who knows me, knows that I could live off of French baguettes, cheese & butter for the rest of my life. Along with a side of bacon. I wasn’t sure how I was going to make it but I figured 2 weeks out of my life, I think I can forgo some starches. To my surprise, it was seemingly easy. Though I was looking forward to biting into something doughy once the two weeks were up. My creativity really kicked in for those 2 weeks. Being a lover of clams, I bought a 50 count bag of middlenecks. Prior to aforementioned diet plan, I would’ve been fine eating them with a big bowl of melted butter & some hot sauce but unfortunately, butter isn’t part of the plan, either. L I looked in the cabinets & the fridge and just started grabbing. I came up with this Mediterranean style clam dish and after I tried it….Needless to say, I was happy as a clam! JJ

BTW: I think this is a great dish to entertain friends with. It’s a tasty starter to any meal. I would serve it along with some nice grilled rustic bread rubbed with a little olive oil, garlic & sea salt.


50 count middleneck clams, cleaned of any sandy particles by soaking in cold water

1 ½ Tb   olive oil
½           Vidalia onion, small dice
1 ½ tsp   dried Italian seasoning          
1Tb        garlic paste **(see recipe below)
15oz       canned petite diced tomatoes with juice
1 cup      canned chickpeas, drained
Kosher salt & ground black pepper to taste
Garnish with fresh, chopped parsley

Steam clams & carefully remove from shells reserving any of the clam liquid remaining in the shells. Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan on medium-high heat. Add the onion and stir until soft & translucent being careful not to brown. Add in the Italian seasoning stirring until incorporated with the onions. Reduce temperature to a medium heat, then add the garlic paste being careful not to burn. Stir & cook for 1-2 minutes then add the tomatoes with their juice & the chickpeas. Cover and allow to cook for 5-7 minutes. Turn the heat to a medium-low and add the clams with their juice. Cook uncovered for another 3-5 minutes just to allow the flavors to come together and warm the clams. Season to taste with salt & pepper. Pour into a large serving bowl & garnish with the parsley.

**Garlic Paste:
This is a quickie that I usually make a week’s worth of so that I can plop it into any dish that I want to add garlic paste into. Not to mention it’s cheaper than buying the stuff in a tube. Be sure to cover it & place it in the refrigerator. It will last about a week.