Growing your own edible garden

Growing up we were lucky to have a Mom passionate about growing food.

I didn't appreciate then the tender asparagus shoots each spring coaxed from the hard earth or the lovely ruby red raspberries prized from brambly bush.

While my friends ate slippery. soft canned vegetables, I ate a wide variety of fresh garden treats - Swiss chard, sugar snap peas, asparagus, buttercrunch lettuce and delicate squash blossoms.

I didn't know then the tasty fried squash blooms were an Italian delicacy known as Fiori di Zucca. I probably wouldn't have eaten it!

Even if you haven't much space, you can tend your own edible garden. Mine is not much more than some pots planted with herbs - basil, rosemary and thyme along with mesclun.  Soon I'll add beefsteak tomatoes, Italian green beans, garlic and zucchini.

The edible garden is more relevant than ever. Use your imagination and be inspired by your kitchen.

Bread baking: how to make whole wheat bread

Four beautifully browned loaves

Fresh baked bread is tradition in most of the world's cultures. Busy cooks often rely on store-baked goods to fill the gap, but if one is willing to make the effort, home baked is best.

Preparing the dough

When I was growing up, we rarely had a loaf of bread from the grocery store. Forget Wonder Bread! As a teenager, my Mom taught me to bake yeast breads and it's a skill I am really grateful to have acquired.

Baking bread is not the daunting project many novice cooks expect. Baking successfully does require time, attention to detail, and patience.

This recipe is a favorite from a Better Homes & Gardens cookbook published in 1963 (probably long out of print) which my Mom still uses and I hope to inherit. Today we baked four loaves of whole wheat bread, filling the house with wonderful aromas.

Dough ready for shaping

Whole Wheat Bread

Makes 2 loaves


1 package active dry yeast or 1 cake compressed yeast

1/4 cup water

2 1/2 cups hot water

1/2 cup brown sugar

3 teaspoons salt

1 stick butter

3 cups stirred whole wheat flower

5 cups sifted all purpose white flour


Soften active dry yeast in 1/4 cup warm water (110 degrees F) or compressed yeast in 1/4 cup lukewarm water (85 degrees F). Use a cooking thermometer to ensure proper temperature.

Combine in a separate large mixing bowl hot water, sugar, salt and shortening. Allow to cool to lukewarm.

Shaping and rolling the loaves

Stir in the whole wheat flour and one cup of the white flour and beat well. Stir in the softened yeast, then add enough of the remaining flour to make a moderately stiff dough. 

Turn out on a lightly floured surface; knead until smooth and satiny (10-12 minutes).

Shape dough into a ball, then place in a lightly buttered bowl - turning once to coat the surface. Cover and allow to rise in a warm place until double in size (about 1 1/2 hours).

After the dough has risen, punch down. Then cut into two equal portions, shaping each into a smooth ball.  Cover and let rest 10 minutes.

Browning up the loaves

To shape into loaves, roll out each portion of dough into a rectangle to smooth out air bubbles. Then roll each piece of dough up, pinching slightly while rolling up the loaf.  Pinch the ends under, then place loaves into greased 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 x 2 1/2-inch loaf pans. Allow to rise for 1 1/4 hours until loaves have doubled.

Bake in a moderate oven (375 degrees F) about 45 minutes, covering with tin foil the last 20 minutes.

Saturday night eat-in: Pernil asado or roast pork with spicy saffron rice

Comfort food for the homesick NYer

Since we've moved to North Carolina, I've been craving Latin food.

There's a large Hispanic community here, but (despite the welcome sight of a Taco Truck) I've yet to find cocina casero like you find on every street corner in NYC.

When you're handed a big bag of lemons, you start making lemonade. 

So, this week's recipe for Saturday night eat-in is a quick and dirty version of pernil asado. Click here to see video instructions for another version.

Pair this meal with a youthful and fresh Portuguese Vinho Verde.

Leftovers can be used to make super delicious Cubanos, meaty and magnificent heroes made with roast pork, ham, swiss cheese and dill pickles on Cuban rolls.

Mighty good eating, I say.




Yummy pork deliciousness

* 2 teaspoons ground cumin

 * 4 cloves garlic, chopped

* 1 teaspoon salt

* 1 teaspoon dried oregano

* 1/2 cup orange juice

* 1/2 cup dry sherry

* whole fresh lime, juiced

* zest of  fresh lime

* 1 tbs cilantro, chopped

4 pounds pork shoulder, trimmed and tied


Mix all marinade ingredients in a glass or non-reactive metal mixing  bowl. Place the pork in a large resealable plastic bag and then pour citrus marinade over meat, and seal.

Refrigerate for 12 to 24 hours, turning the bag over occasionally to thoroughly marinate the pork roast.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C). Transfer pork and marinade to a roasting pan, and place in the oven.  Roast uncovered for half an hour, then cover and continue to oast for about an hour and 45 minutes, basting with pan juices occasionally, or until an instant read thermometer inserted in the center reads 145 degrees F (63 degrees C).

Add small amounts of water to the pan if it dries out.

Roast uncovered to crisp the pork roast, then transfer the pork to a carving board, cover loosely with foil, and let rest for 15 minutes before carving.

For quick and easy sides, serve with Mahatma spicy saffron rice and seasoned pinto beans.

Serves 8-10.

Angel hair pasta with shrimp and capers


I adore quick and easy meals.

Pasta is my go-to ingredient when I want something tasty and fast for dinner. I love pasta so much I think I must be an honorary Italian!

Angel hair pasta with shrimp and capers is a favorite in our house. It's delicious, nutritious and made in minutes.

The following recipe is so simple and so good.


1/2 of a box uncooked angel hair pasta

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 pound large raw shrimp, peeled and deveined

2 tablespoons capers, drained

4 cloves garlic, chopped

d 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1 can (28 ounces) Italian-style diced tomatoes, undrained

1/2 cup dry white wine

1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper


Cook pasta according to package directions; drain and return to pan. 

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add shrimp; cook 3 to 5 minutes, until cooked through - a translucent pink. Remove shrimp from skillet to avoid overcooking and set aside.

Add garlic and crushed red pepper flakes; cook until garlic is tender, about 1 minute, stirring constantly. (Do not let garlic burn.)

Stir tomatoes, wine, capers and basil into skillet. Continue cooking until liquid is reduced by half, about 5 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add shrimp and sauce to pasta and toss to coat well. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese or Grana Padano and additional chopped basil, if desired.

Season with salt and pepper as desired.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

The CIA instructs: Zucchini Pancakes with Tzatziki Sauce

Looking for different ways to utilize all those wonderful garden cucumbers and zucchinis this summer?

The chefs at The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) have a delicious suggestion: crispy zucchini pancakes with a yogurt and cucumber sauce that the Greeks refer to as tzatziki sauce. Throughout the Eastern Mediterranean, tzatziki is considered both as a salad as well as a sauce.

'Red Cook' teaches Chinese kitchen secrets at ICE

Kian shops the markets

I am a huge fan of the Red Cook. You should be too.

He cooks beautifully and does an equally amazing job of chronicling his time in the kitchen.

If you've ever wanted to learn the art of Chinese cooking (and I'm sure there isn't any one who doesn't love Chinese food), then take one of Chef KianLam Kho's cooking classes at the Institute of Culinary Education this month.

Learn all about the Chinese kitchen, the culture, and artistry of Chinese meals and snacks.  Each of the two four-hour courses covers a different delicacy from a full and festive dinner to the ubiquitous dumpling.

Best of all, unlike math class, you get to eat your homework.

Cool Spring days are perfect for soups


While some may argue that soup as a meal is best served during the colder months, I find soups to be a food for all seasons.

My favorite season for soups is winter, but spring is ideal for soup too. And this spring, with its wet and chilly days, has provided plenty of inspiration. 

On weekends, I like to make stock so that I can quickly and easily prepare different soups during the week - from broccoli to roasted corn to pumpkin.

This week I made both cream of broccoli soup and cream of roasted corn soup using pre-prepared stock. You can use a good store-bought stock if you're pressed for time, but nothing is quite as flavorful or satisfying as a homemade chicken, beef or vegetable stock.

Cream of Broccoli Soup

3 cups of warm chicken stock

1 large head of broccoli, steamed until tender

1/4 stick of butter

1/2 cup half and half 

salt and pepper to taste


In a large blender, puree broccoli with chicken stock until smooth. Then add butter, pulsing until thoroughly blended. Blend in the half and half, then serve warm, reheating as necessary. 

Or, if desired, chill and serve.

Serves 4.

Secrets of the French kitchen with Chef Jean-Stephane Poinard

Behind the scenes at Bistro de Leon

The French have a reputation for creating gastronomic delights from the simplest ingredients.  

Think pot au feu, a hearty beef stew whose literal name means pot on fire, or cassoulet, a slow-cooked white bean stew with various meat from sausage to duck or mutton.  

The traditional French kitchen always has been stocked with the freshest ingredients, locally grown and produced.  But, while most of us associate a typical French kitchen with savory and sweet delicacies, we usually don't recognize it for the place of economy and thrift that it is.

Generally, we think of luxury and expensive ingredients when we think of French cuisine. However, eating well shouldn't be a luxury and the French kitchen is the perfect place to learn this lesson.

In a recent conversation with Bistro de Leon restaurateur Jean-Stephane Poinard, the Paul Bocuse-mentored chef generously shared secrets of his kitchen - many learned in the kitchens of his Maman and Grand-mère, masters of French comfort food or la cuisine de nos mères.  

Chef Poinard is a native of Lyon and a member of the elite Les Toques Blanches Lyonnaise.  He currently is collaborating on a book about absinthe (including 18 of his recipes).

The French are reknowned for their inventive cuisine and for very little waste in the kitchen. What are some smart ways for home cooks to make the most of their food budget?

People used to cook whatever they wanted.  They didn't worry much about its cost, where it came from or how it made them feel.  Now people are beginning to realize that if they eat crappy food, they feel bad. They are interested in the long term plan.

Feeding yourself is a pleasure. We can do small things that make food more flavorful and more interesting and we can save too.

A baguette, if it is made with good quality flour and yeast, you have to see all the little bubbles inside like Swiss cheese, can be frozen if you are not using it all right away.  Save half in the freezer and reheat it in the oven at 350º.

You recommend re-purposing day-old baguettes as well.

Don't throw away dry bread. There are many ways you can use bread.  A plain salad is not very fun - even for kids.  Make little croutons, add egg, a little lardon (thick bits of slab bacon).  It's a little appetizer with lots of tasty treats.

You can dry the bread all the way through and process in the food processor to make bread crumbs.  Mashed potatoes with cheese and bread crumbs make a nice gratin.

French toast is a good way to use the baguette.  When the bread soaks in the milk and egg, it's very rich, very filling.  

Just with the baguette, we can do a lot of stuff.  Goat cheese melted on a crispy baguette makes a nice appetizer or crouton for a salad.

There are so many ways we can economize and make healthy flavorful foods, reducing waste.
Chicken stock is very flavorful when its made from the carcass of a roasted chicken. Don't throw out the bones. Why buy chicken stock when you can make your own? It's very cheap.

Add the carcass, garlic, celery, onions, thyme and carrots to water in a stockpot. Boil for 15-20 minutes, then strain through cheesecloth.   Believe me, it will be delicious.

You can make a Bouillon aux petites pâtes to give people when they are sick and the kids like it.  You add alphabet pasta or little stars to the chicken stock to make it even healthier.

Freeze the stock as well or reduce it a lot to make a glaze or base to flavor a lot of dishes.

We all would love to eat fantastic flavorful meals every evening, but the reality is that busy days and long commutes can cut into our time for cooking. 

Cooking a big meal on Sunday, you have many ways to use the leftovers during the week.  This saves time and money by using seasonal ingredients.

What is your favorite, quick meal that is simple to prepare, nourishing and fabulous? 

Pot au Feu is a wonderful Sunday dinner.  It's flavorful and healthy.  Leeks, chard and celery are all very juicy vegetables. You make a little extra and you can make many nice meals during the week.  

You can take the leeks and use a vinaigrette.  Leeks are a great detox. The celery cleanses your liver. 

You can make a Pistou or Pesto soup with the leftover vegetables and meat. Pistou is so easy to make and very inexpensive.

What are some inexpensive cuts of meat that can be prepared elegantly and simply?

London Broil is the cheapest cut of meat. It's pretty tough, but we cook it in the pressure cooker to make it very tender with stock, potatoes, turnips and carrots. 

You can use the leftover meat for stuffed tomatoes or to make a dish like Shepherd's pie.  You grind the meat to stuff the tomatoes, to use in a gratin with mashed potatoes.  It's very nice.

Do you have a favorite recipe you would share? 

Pistou. Compare the price in the store. Basil in season costs nothing.  You make 4-5 times more for the same cost and you can store extra in the freezer.  

  • 2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
  • 3-4 cloves garlic
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts 
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup good olive oil 
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 fresh ground black pepper 
  Process until smooth in a food processor or blender.  Seal with a thin layer of olive oil.

Can you recommend some value wines and some menu items that pair well with them? 

Don't buy wine according to the label.  You pay for the label.  Sometimes you get a very nice tasting wine for a very good value.  In Lyon many people go to the domaine to buy the wine the winemakers declassify.  They can't sell more than a certain number of AOC or appellation d'origine contrôlée bottles so they sell it as vins de pays or table wine.  You get the same wine at a much lower price.

What are some wines you recommend?

I love Cote du Rhone.  You can buy a Ville Fleurie for $6-7 a bottle.  Another is the southwestern French Rosé, Costières de Nîmes. Viognier - this wine is amazing.  It's very tasty, very floral. 

Don't be afraid of the box. If you find a good value, you can buy three liters for about $19.  Black Box is nice, the sauvignon blanc and the Merlot, a little more forte or strong.

People are focused on the label. It's not the label. It's what's inside the bottle. You serve it in the carafe. People love the carafe and it's good for the wine. It's oxygenated.

What are some exciting food combinations that home cooks can use to liven up their meals?

Strawberries, basil and balsamic vinegar make a nice salad.  An avocado mousse with shrimp and cumin mayonnaise.

How to prepare fresh pasta dough & a traditional dish

Even if you don't have an old gray-haired Nonna to teach you her secrets, you can learn to make your own homemade pasta. Chef Matteo Carboni of Academia Barilla steps in to show you how. 

Here Chef Carboni demonstrates traditional pasta tools. You can use that pasta machine that's been gathering dust on the shelf since you got it last Christmas or you can buy a pasta machinel here. You can find an authentic pasta ghitarra at Creative Cooks.


Finally, we have a traditional pasta with Fava or broad bean sauce using tomato, rosemary and garlic. Simple and delicious.

If Pete were a pizza, he'd be this one

I love the kid's book by William Steig, Pete's a Pizza

The story goes like this: a grumpy kid gets made into a pizza by his clever Dad. Charming! 

If Pete were a pizza, he'd be this one. Just the sound of this music makes me happy. Forget about how happy the boy and I were tucking into this roasted corn, shiitake mushroom & roasted pepper pizza last night.

I love the simplicity of picking up a bag of dough-ready-to-go at Trader Joe's (and you can't beat the price at $.99). We usually grab a couple of bags - one for now and one for later which gets tossed in the freezer. 

On nights I'm pressed for time, I can whip one of these gorgeous gourmet & homemade pizzas in minutes, and serve it with a simple green salad. 

There are no dishes to speak of and a slice or two left over for lunch the next day. The result is a smiling, happy Mom on pizza night.