inspirational

San Juan Islands: Food for the Soul // REI Adventures & Tastemade // ( captions & subtitles) from KGB Productions on Vimeo.

I was watching the Today Show while getting dressed this morning and caught this piece on this woman who chucked a Wall Street career to essentially dig in the dirt. Her name is Audra Lawlor.  She lives on Orcas Island in the San Juan Islands of Washington State.

Every morning now I hear the beep-beep-beep of construction equipment as yet more developments are given birth to in Chester County. I found this woman’s story inspirational because this is about people saving the land, growing on their land, and getting their hands dirty from digging in the dirt.

We need more of that here. CLICK HERE TO SEE HARRY SMITH INTERVIEW AUDRA LAWLOR ON TODAY. This is inspirational.

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Read more about Audra and her company in Saveur (excerpt below):

Saveur TRAVEL
This Orcas Island Jam Company Transforms Local Plums into Vibrant Seasonal Preserves
Girl Meets Dirt is on a mission to save the island’s legacy fruit trees and jar their bounty

By Beth Graham
June 12, 2019

If you’re driving the winding roads of Orcas Island in late summer, you can smell the ripening fruit all around. On one such morning last year, I stopped the car at my destination and met Audra Lawlor, owner of Girl Meets Dirt, who was surveying one orchard’s recent Italian plum harvest in tall rubber boots and a denim shirt. As we walked among the rows of trees with their full canopies spilling over onto the trail, Audra picked up a fallen plum from the ground and turned it over in her hand between us. “Before I got here, most of the fruit from these trees would have rotted on the ground,” she says. Lawlor and her team of five mighty women at Girl Meets Dirt harvested more than 2,500 pounds of Italian plums alone last season.

Some people leave their corporate jobs to rescue animals. Audra left Wall Street to rescue pink pearl apples and Orcas pears. Today, many of the island’s residents see her as the steward of the legacy fruit trees on the island, a 57-square-mile piece of the San Juan Islands, an archipelago that lies in the waters between Seattle and Vancouver, just barely on the U.S. side of the border….By the end of the 19th century, many inhabitants had made their way over to work the plum orchards and operate the prune dryers (barnlike structures where the fruit was set to shrivel up), and the economy was surging. The success allowed the building of docks for steamships, as well as a boon for jobs sorting, grading, and packing fruit for transport. It also led to an island that became far more orchard than anything else. The country lane that runs through the center of Orcas Island’s main village is still named Prune Alley.

Many of the legacy fruit trees—entire orchards of them—fell into disrepair during a period of economic downturn around 1915. It was in part due to the rise of railroads, improved irrigation, and heavy planting in nearby eastern Washington, which became a fierce competitor. Islanders began to ignore the fallen fruit, and tree limbs weakened with overgrowth. Thousands of trees were left to die, and the plum industry collapsed. It wasn’t until decades later, when the island began attracting new residents—those who sought out the area for its bucolic landscape—that the trees gained new stewards. Today, Lawlor and her company are working with fellow islanders to revive and utilize those trees that remain.

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rainy day chili cooking

Chili …it’s an American tradition. I’ve had some really great chili in my days and some really bad chili.

This past weekend I had some good and bad chili, sadly. The reason some of the chili wasn’t good is quite simply the chefs did not pay attention to the flavor profiles. Too salty, overly sweet, ingredients that just didn’t work. You can get creative with your chili but you have to stick to the more traditional flavors or it’s really not chili is it? Sorry not sorry but stuff that tastes sweet like sloppy joes isn’t chili in my opinion.

Kielbasa (for example) is a smoked sausage that has the wrong flavor profile for chili. And yes, I am saying that knowing that there are kielbasa chili recipes all over the Internet. Kielbasa was in a chili I tasted this weekend. I threw it out.

If you’re going to use sausage, you need to stick to the right flavor profiles. In my humble opinion that’s a Mexican chorizo. Spanish chorizo is smoked and I think the fresh Mexican version just works better in chili….but I take it out of the sausage casing.

You can also get away with Italian sausage sweet or hot – but you should buy the kind that comes out of the casing in a “brick”. And if you do that I recommend mixing it with ground beef or ground pork.

I make my chili with ground beef and ground pork for the most part. I will also make a ground turkey chili.

The best chili I’ve ever had in my entire life used to be made by one of my childhood friend’s mothers. She was born in West Texas, and her chili hands-down is still the best I’ve ever had in my entire life, and I don’t know anyone that has ever replicated her recipe exactly. I don’t know anyone that actually got it out of her which is a bummer because I keep trying to replicate it decades later.

I don’t really have a recipe for chili per se, it’s more like how I want to make it. Today I’m making it with ground beef.

I also have leftover hatch green chilies from the garden and some jalapeños which have gotten diced up with an impulse buy at Aldi – A bag of mini rainbow peppers which are sweet and a pain in the neck to seed and clean but they look pretty in the pot.

Image result for goya frijoles rojos pequeñosRight now sweating down in the pot are a couple of yellow onions chopped, the jalapeño peppers, the chili peppers, the sweet peppers, three cloves of garlic minced, and something I like adding to it which is lime zest and the juice of two limes. It keeps the vegetables moist while they’re sweating down but not soggy and it adds a flavor profile that I’m fond of. The only seasoning in the pot right now is salt.

When the vegetables are starting to soften and the onion is getting slightly translucent I will add a 2 pound package of ground beef. I like buying high-quality ground beef and you do need a little fat to make a good chili so I think this is 93% lean.

La Costena Chipotle Peppers In Adobo Sauce, 7 Oz

After the meat is cooked I will start to add my other ingredients: three cans of beans drained except for the one can of Goya Frijoles Rojos Pequeños. I discovered these by accident and they are kidney beans and a little sauce of olive oil tomato and garlic. I will also add a small can of diced tomatoes with green chiles (10 oz) , a can of tomato purée (28 oz) and part of a small can of chipotle peppers in Adobo minced up. The beans I’m using today or dark red kidney beans and pinto beans.

After everything starts to cook I add my chili powder, cumin and a little of a seasoning I’ve discovered called Tajin. (Around here you can find Tajin at Aldi.)

Next I will add fresh herbs. Today it’s oregano, basil, and cilantro.

Tajin Classic Seasoning with LimeThen I let everything simmer and cook down. As the chili is cooling I taste it to see if it has the right amount of salt. Sometimes I also at this point add a little sweet paprika or fresh ground pepper.

I allow my chili to cool and I put it in the refrigerator for a couple of days before eating it. Sometimes I serve it fresh when I make it but with chili I like to let the flavors meld. The only problem with doing it this way is I may have to adjust the spiciness of the chili because when things get cold they get less spicy I’ve discovered,

I like to serve my chili with either a shredded Mexican cheese blend (no additional spices, just cheese) or crumbled queso fresco. You can find me and more of my cooking on the closed Facebook group called Chester County Ramblings Home Cooking Group.

don’t gild the chili lily

Loved the West Chester Chili Cook Off. I won tickets from County Lines Magazine.

It was a beautiful day and it was a very pleasant crowd. Lots of kids with really amazing face painting from the kids’ activity corner….and although everywhere it said “no pets” there were….pets. Not that I minded because as a dog lover I saw some really beautiful and happy pooches.

About four of the chilis were outstanding, but a lot of the others just weren’t. Some for example, were just sweet. As in sweeter than a sloppy Joe sweet. And one chili would have been amazing if they left out the chocolate.

I cast my votes for three chilis I really liked. I don’t know who won. But as someone who cooks and who has been guilty of adding one ingredient too many to a recipe, I think with chili while you can get creative, you have to stay traditional.

Another ingredient too many in one chili today was kielbasa. The nicest people made it, but I had to throw it out – kielbasa is just the wrong flavor profile.

This was my first time attending this event and I will attend again! A super nice day!

pickling and canning and preserving or…what to do with green tomatoes.

I realized the other day that I had a lot of green tomatoes. My inner gardener knows they aren’t going to ripen in time. So this morning I harvested them.

I washed all of the green tomatoes and also harvested what was left of my chili peppers.

I then sorted them by size.

Meanwhile, I sterilized my canning jars.

Then I prepared the brine for the pickled tomatoes.

The brine wasn’t particularly complicated. It was pickling salt, pickling spices, extra mustard seed, a little bit of sugar, white vinegar, and water. I brought it up and left it on a low simmer.

Meanwhile I put a little bunch of fresh dill, a garlic clove, and some onion pieces in the base of each jar. To that I added the smaller tomatoes and the cherry tomatoes. And every jar also got a few chunks of cut up chili peppers.

The smaller tomatoes I either halved or quartered depending on the size, and the cherry tomatoes each got pierced from end to end like they were going to go on a skewer so the pickling brine is absorbed into them.

I ladled hot brine on top of each jar of green tomatoes. On top of that I laid another sprig of fresh dill and one more clove of garlic.

I then put the lids on the jars and placed them in a hot water bath for 14 minutes. The pickled tomatoes are now cooling on a table. When they are completely cool I will tighten down the lids and store them where I store other preserves in the basement.

Next comes the green tomato chutney. The brine pickling liquid that I use for this is comprised of a couple of cups of malt vinegar, pickling salt (but not much like a teaspoon and a half), 1 cup of sugar, cinnamon, a few tablespoons of diced crystallized ginger, nutmeg, a couple of tablespoons of mustard seed, a tablespoon of pickling spice, and allspice. To make it slightly different I also grated the rind of two limes I had and also added their juice.

I put that on low so the sugar dissolved add to that I added probably about 5 pounds of chopped green tomatoes, the remaining few chili peppers chopped up, five chopped fresh plums I had leftover, three chopped apples, one diced onion, I also added a little chopped fresh fennel I found had sprouted up in the garden because the chutney recipe calls for fennel seeds and I didn’t have any. Also, I added a little over a cup of golden yellow raisins as well. If I had had the green raisins I use with curry I would have added those as well.

I cooked the chutney down for about an hour maybe a little more, and then sterilized some more jars. I filled the chutney jars gave them their hot water bath and now they are cooling on the counter.

I still have green tomatoes left over unbelievably! I am guessing fried green tomatoes are in my future at some point.

I will note that I use the pickling salt for both the pickled tomatoes and the chutney because it keeps things from getting cloudy.

Happy Friday!

happiness is a meat order from your family’s butcher

Cappuccio’s on 9th Street in Philadelphia. That is the Italian Market to the rest of you.

This was the Saturday morning destination at least twice a month when I was growing up, even when we moved to the Main Line.

And yes, my family has been going here since before my grandfather Bill Zambelli put the abattoirs in this butcher shop.

Cappuccio’s was opened in 1920. Here is their story from their website:

Domenico Cappuccio was born on his family’s farm in Messina, Sicily during the late 1800’s. After his father passed away when he was in 2nd grade, Domenico was forced to leave school to help work the family farm. In 1910, as the rumblings of World War I began in Italy, Domenico decided it would be wise to join his brother in America. However, he was still drafted and this time would be asked to fight for the Americans.

Following his service, Domenico was offered a path to citizenship if he could find an American sponsor. After working several jobs in Southern New Jersey, Domenico ended up in Philadelphia’s Italian Market where he met a man who offered to provide him with sponsorship. This man, Charles Guinta, not only sponsored Domenico but gave him a job in his butcher shop and a place to stay above.

While working at the butcher shop, Domenico met his future wife, worked a fresh produce stand also in the Italian Market. After several years, Mr. Guinta felt that Domenico was ready to go out on his own and suggested he start his own shop down the street. After getting married, he took Guinta’s advice and opened up Cappuccio’s Meats at its current location. The couple would have three children, one of whom, Antoinette Cappuccio, would go onto run the shop with her husband Harry Crimi.

After Domenico retired, Harry and Antoinette Crimi took over Cappuccio’s Meats and continue to run the business today using the family’s traditional values with their son Dominic Crimi.

Now the funny thing about World War I bringing Domenico Cappuccio to the United States is it also played a role in my paternal grandfather’s life.

When my grandfather was a little boy, his mother who had emigrated to the USA as a young woman, took a ship back to Italy so her family still in Italy could meet her son. The problem was, World War I broke out when they were there and they had to stay with family in a little village until the was was over and Trans-Atlantic ship travel resumed.

My grandfather, a little, little boy, was called l’Americano by the villagers during that time. He went on to build a boiler company and factory. During World War II the company had to change it’s name to seem more American- people being suspicious of people born in other countries is sadly nothing new in this country. Both of my grandfathers (my maternal grandfather was Irish) were discriminated against.

But I digress.

Cappuccio’s is a familiar and well-loved place for me. Going there and to the Italian market with my father on weekends was sort of magical.

The ding of the bell on the door and you walk in and there was sawdust on the floor and sometimes sides of meat hanging from a hook in the window. I would sit on a barrel next to one of the front windows and watch everyone get waited on. The counters were wide and clean, knives in holders in between the counter sections.

Sometimes old Domenico would talk to me half in Italian and half in English. He had glasses with big black rims and a very sweet smile. Sometimes his daughter Antoinette who married Harry Crimi (who was close to my father’s age) would let me come back behind the sales floor.

My father and Harry would patter back and forth in English and Italian about whatever daddy was buying. I loved going there. I would watch as Harry would sharpen a knife to cut whatever we were buying. And then each item would get wrapped in butcher paper, marked, and placed in paper sacks, or a box depending on the size of the order.

As I grew up, I watched Harry’s son Domenick , who is about my age and whom I know as an adult, come up in the business. Now he runs the store!

A few weeks ago I got to thinking about the Italian sausage we used to buy there. My great aunts, grandparents, and my parents all made sauce (or gravy) with it. It is the best sausage you have ever tasted made the old school way with fennel.

I also started thinking about the other cuts of pork, beef, and lamb we used to get from Cappuccio’s. So I contacted Domenick and asked him if I could get an order – but it would have to be shipped or delivery because 9th Street is just a wee bit out of the way living in Chester County.

So Domenick said for me if I was willing to pay a delivery fee, he’d deliver.

My order got delivered a little while ago. All neatly and perfectly wrapped in brown butcher paper and bags with wire-tied tags with my name on it. Just like when I was a kid!

It sounds silly to some I am sure but this? This makes me happy. A piece of 9th Street in my freezer. And Domenick even bought me a bag of lamb neck bones- the best secret ingredient of any Sunday Pasta Sauce!

I mean no disrespect to my lovely local butcher, Worrell’s, but Cappuccio’s and me? We’ve got history! So I am going to be splitting my love going forward.

Cappuccio’s is an amazing old school artisanal butcher shop. They have been doing it the same way since 1920. Give them a try, and if you live closer to them then I do, go visit!

Cappuccio’s updates their Facebook page often. Seriously? Visit them, try their meats. You’ll be glad you did 😊

We had fresh grilled sausage for dinner. It was just as awesome as I remember it.

sweet potato gnocchi with a sage corn pancetta cream sauce

I’m going to admit this pasta dish rocks. I’m also going to admit I didn’t use anyone’s recipe it came together as I started to plan it.

I have written down both the recipe for the sauce and the pasta as best I can. I hope it comes together for you like it did for me.

I think the sauce is amazing and could easily be translated to a fettuccine or something.

The Creamy Pancetta Sage Sauce

  • • 4 ounces diced pancetta (Wegmans sells it)
  • • 4 tablespoons butter
  • • 2 small vidalia onions chopped
  • • 1 small red hot pepper diced (no seeds!)
  • • 2 ears of cooked corn off the cob
  • • 2 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
  • • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • • 1 pint light cream (2 cups)
  • • 2 tablespoons Wondra flour (super fine for sauces)
  • • 2/3 cup fine grated Parmesan
  • Melt the butter. Add the onion and the red pepper and some salt to taste. Add the corn. Chop fine the fresh sage and add that. Cook until the onion starts to get translucent.

    This should all be low to the bare minimum of medium heat. You don’t want anything to burn.

    Add the flour. Stir briskly in the pan so nothing sticks and the flour is absorbed.

    Add the wine. Stir briskly. Let that cook for a minute or two and add the light cream.

    Allow the sauce to come together and stir constantly until an even warm temperature. You want it to come to almost a boil but not a boil because you don’t want to scald the cream.

    Add the Parmesan cheese gradually till all incorporate it and let it cook on low a little while longer. Let it cook down, and it will cook down some and thicken a bit. It doesn’t get stand your spoon upright thick, but it thickens in consistency.

    Gnocchi

    The gnocchi are an approximation. I make my pasta by feel.

    • 1 1/2 cups of leftover mashed sweet potatoes.
    • 2 cups of semolina flour
    • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan
    • 1 egg
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
    • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
    • A few dashes of extra-virgin olive oil

    Combine everything in a bowl and bring your dough together. After everything is evenly mixed place a damp cloth over the bowl that your dough is in and let it rest for an hour.

    Roll out between your hands thin “snakes” of dough and with a sharp knife cut even sized bite-size pieces.

    Your pasta should be laid out on a baking sheet covered with a silicone baking pad. You should have enough for two layers of bite-size pieces and the layers should be separated with parchment paper and covered with parchment paper and a linen towel and put in your refrigerator until you are ready to cook your pasta.

    Fresh gnocchi only take a few scant minutes to cook in boiling water. They will rise to the surface as they cook.

    As you remove your gnocchi add a little bit of sauce in between and then finish with sauce on top.

    Mangia!

    summer chili

    Yesterday since it was rainy, I decided to make chili. I was thinking about this chili that someone who was the father of a girl I knew growing up made.  It had corn in it.  I remember having it on a rainy August night in Avalon when I was in about 6th grade. These people used to rent this house that looked like a red Victorian farmhouse. It had a big, dark kitchen with a rickety wooden table.

    So yesterday I decided to make my own summer chili.  The ingredients:

    1 pound ground pork

    1 pound ground lean turkey

    4 chili peppers all chopped up (my were Hatch red and green that I grew myself)

    2 red bell peppers chopped up

    2 jalapeño peppers chopped up

    2 red onions chopped up

    1 small bag frozen corn (plain, no “sauce”) or fresh kernels off of 4 ears of fresh corn.

    1 lime zested and juice of same zested lime

    A good handful of cilantro chopped

    A handful of basil and oregano chopped

    4 garlic clothes minced

    2 large  carrots grated,

    1 28 ounce can of tomato purée

    1 28 ounce can of strained crushed  tomatoes,

    3 15 ounce cans of white beans – Cannellini ,Navy, Great Northern. ( I used 1 can of each type)

    1 15 ounce can red beans (Kidney or even Pinto)

    And lots of chili powder and salt and pepper to taste.

    First I sautéed the garlic and onion a few minutes in olive oil.  Then I added the peppers (all of them) and cooked everything down a few minutes more.  Then I added the carrots, ground pork, ground turkey and some salt.  As the pork and turkey started to look cooked through  I added the beans, and cooked that all together for a few minutes, then added the chili powder (I have no idea how much I added, I kept dumping).  After that I added the tomatoes, the zested lime and juice of one lemon followed by the fresh herbs and the last ingredient: the small bag of frozen corn.

    I then bought my pot to a simmer and it just simmered low and slow for probably a couple of hours.  I stirred every half hour or so, and remarkably nothing stuck to the bottom of the pan.

    I can tell you that my husband and son ate SO much of the chili that there was only two 1 quart bags for freezing and 1 quart container left over. I made this chili in my 8 quart Great Jones “Big Deal” pot, and it was 2/3 full as you can see from photo at bottom. As a related aside, I absolutely LOVE this pot and highly recommend the Great Jones company.

    Thanks for stopping by!