An Opportunity to Give Back to First Responders

Penfield Ambulance will be opening up their base from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday and providing food and drink for first responders, honor guard and military attending calling hours and the funeral in Webster. They will be accepting food donations Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. -- no monetary donations will be handled. Penfield Base is located at 1585 Jackson Rd, Penfield, NY, 14626.

Any food/beverage item will be appreciated. All donations will be accepted and distributed to various locations hosting out of town responders.

I think this is a great way to show our support for these people who do so much for our community.

Volunteer Opportunities at Receptions for Fire Fighters

So four firefighters get up in the middle of the night before Christmas Eve to battle a fire in the next town over from me. A psycho opens fire. Two firefighters dead, two wounded. And then the fire fighters can't fight the fire until they know it's safe, so seven houses burn to the ground.

Since I heard the news, I have wanted to “do something” and I know that others feel the same way. My usual impulse in sorrowful times is to feed people, and I found an opportunity to do so.

The Hampton Inn at 878 Hard Road in Webster will be hosting a number of receptions for visitors in town as well as any family members that may want to gather. They will be held 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m. to noon Saturday; 10 a.m. to noon Sunday; and 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Monday. These dates and times came from a great Facebook Page called Prayer and Support for Webster Firefighters, and I also called the hotel to confirm. The hotel welcomes volunteers to help serve, as well as donations of food or beverages. The phone number to call to volunteer and/or donate is (585) 671-2050.

A tasteful gift idea

Tasteful Additions in Pittsford
Every year I try to find something thoughtful and a little different for hostess gifts, teacher gifts, or small gifts for friends. Some years I’ve made gifts from the kitchen. Other years it’s been a favorite new CD.

This year’s gift: nice balsamic vinegars, olive oils and salts, which I purchased at Tasteful Additions in Pittsford.

Tasteful Additions sells small size bottles of their vinegars and oils; that size does not appear on their website. A pair can be combined into a nice gift box. I think it’s nice that the recipients won’t have large bottles of an unusual ingredient to use up, but can have fun experimenting with them. Thus far, they’ve been very well received.

I like that these gifts can support everyone’s New Year’s resolution to eat healthier. The olive oils are heart healthy and add flavor to even ordinary dishes. The balsamic vinegars add zip to veggies and fruits.

Diplay at Tasteful Additions
A selfish reason for shopping for these gifts: it’s fun! You can taste all of the products. Tasteful Additions has cubes for dipping into the oils, vinegars and salts. The staff will even give suggestions for what flavors work well together. I was surprised at how much thicker the balsamic vinegars are than their grocery store counterparts, and even bought a bottle of white balsamic vinegar for myself.

Another place with a similar approach is F. Oliver’s. I visited their Park Avenue location earlier this year, and purchased their Tuscan Blend olive oil. I love it -- it has added a great herbal note to ordinary weekday dishes as well as for dipping bread. It is almost gone.

It’s hard to know what gifts people will appreciate, so I fall back on the adage of giving gifts you’d like to receive yourself. These definitely fit the bill.

(This also appeared in my blog for the Flavors of Rochester website.)

Flaky Nut and Honey Rugelach

Do you ever get into those baking streaks where you make something over and over again until you get the perfect recipe? My friend, Marie, made a pie every single day for I don't know how long until she got her crust just right. My friend, Anna, always has a "best of" cookie baking project going on. My latest obsession is Rugelach.

Rugelach are crescent-shaped pastries that are Jewish in origin. They have a tender cream cheese dough, and are filled with a variety of yummy things, and shaped into crescents. Usually, they are little cookies, but I've local coffee shops serve great big croissant-size versions of rugelach.

My favorite local rugelach are served at the Finger Lakes Coffee Roasters store in Pittsford Plaza (shown above). The pastry is rolled super thin and filled with a cinnamon and nut filling. The rugelach are tender and nutty and cinnamony and not super sweet.

During last year's Christmas cookie baking, I made a few different rugelach -- all cookie sized -- in an effort to make something like the Finger Lakes Coffee Roasters version. I didn't succeed in replicating it, but I ended up with something I like almost as well. Instead of having a tender cream cheese dough, it was flaky like a croissant. I'll keep trying to replicate the Finger Lakes Coffee version, but in the meantime, this version is also excellent.

Nut and Honey Rugelach
Recipe by Emma Christensen, originally published in The Chicago Tribune. For additional filling ideas, go to her original post.

Prep: 45 minutes
Chill: 2 hours, 20 minutes
Bake: 20 minutes
Makes: about 64 cookies

Note: This recipe can be halved or doubled as needed. The rugelach can be stored in an airtight container for three days or frozen for up to three months.

2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 package (8 ounces) cold cream cheese, cubed
2 sticks (1 cup) cold unsalted butter, cubed
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg yolk
1 batch filling, see recipes below
Confectioners' sugar

1. Combine the flour and salt in a food processor; scatter cream cheese and butter over the flour. Pulse 10 to 12 times until coarse crumbs form.

2. Whisk together the vanilla and yolk in a bowl; pour over the butter-flour mixture. Pulse continuously until the dough starts to clump together and form large curdlike pieces. Turn the dough out onto the counter; gather the pieces into a ball. Divide into four portions; flatten each into 1-inch thick disks. Refrigerate at least 2 hours or up to 3 days.

3. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Sprinkle the counter and rolling pin with powdered sugar. Take one disk of dough from the refrigerator; let it warm on the counter, 1-2 minutes. Roll the dough from the center out into a circle about 1/8-inch thick. Don't worry if a few cracks form near the edges. Use more powdered sugar as needed to prevent sticking.

4. Spread the filling evenly over the surface of the dough. Slice the dough into 16 wedges, like a pizza, using a pizza cutter or sharp knife. Roll up each wedge, beginning at the wide outer edge and moving inward. Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Make sure the tip is tucked underneath.

5. Refrigerate cookies on the baking sheet, 20 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare remaining batches. Bake until the cookies are golden-brown, 20-25 minutes. Cool on the sheet, 5 minutes; transfer to a wire rack.

Nut filling: In a food processor, grind 1 cup walnuts and 1 cup pecans until they break into tiny crumbs, 30 to 40 pulses. (Be careful of over-processing and making nut-butter.) Combine the ground nuts in a bowl with 1/2 stick (1/4 cup) melted butter, 1/4 cup honey, 1/4 cup granulated sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla.

- I did not receive any free product or compensation from any of the businesses mentioned in this post.
- A version of this post appears in my blog on the Flavors of Rochester website.

Ho Ho Sheet Cake Recipe

My sweets-loving son and I are in agreement: the only Hostess product that's a significant loss is the Ho-Ho (followed by the cupcake).

If you are bemoaning the loss of that tasty treat, here's a recipe to satisfy your craving. My friend, Marie, has made it a few time and they taste just like the real thing -- and you don't even have to roll them up like a jelly roll.

Ho Ho Sheet Cake
Adapted from "Home Sweet Habitat"

For cake:
1 (2-layer) package chocolate cake mix, plus ingredients needed to make cake (or your favorite from-scratch chocolate cake recipe)

For fluffy white topping:
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1/2 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
3 Tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For chocolate topping:
2/3 cup milk
1/2 cup butter or margarine
3/4 cup baking cocoa
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup confectioner's sugar
2 1/2 Tablespoons hot water

Prepare cake mix using package directions. Spoon batter into greased and floured 12x18-inch (jelly roll) baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in to the center comes out clean. Let stand until cool.

Make the fluffy white topping: combine the butter, shortening, sugar, flour and vanilla in a mixer bowl; mix well. Add milk gradually, beating for 10-15 minutes (yes, 10-15 minutes) or until fluffy. Spread over baked layer. Chill for 4 hours or longer.

Make the chocolate topping: combine the butter and baking cocoa in saucepan. Cook until smooth, stirring constantly. Cool slightly. Stir in vanilla, confectioner's sugar and hot water, beating until smooth. Spread over chilled layers. Chill for 30 minutes or longer. Cut into bars.

This post also appears in my blog for Flavors of Rochester.

Lettuce wraps from Thanksgiving leftovers

I have to be honest – my favorite recipe for Thanksgiving leftovers is simple. Put slices of cold sliced turkey on good bread. Add lettuce and mayo and eat.

But if you wind up with a lot of leftovers, here’s an easy, different way to use up the leftover turkey and cranberry sauce. (It is shown here with ground turkey but diced would work as well.)

Asian-Style Cranberry Turkey Lettuce Wraps
Adapted from recipes by Shannon Kohn and Priscilla Yee
1 cup whole berry cranberry sauce
3 Tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper sauce (such as Frank’s)
1 large garlic clove, minced
1/8 teaspoon dried ginger
About 3/4 pound cooked turkey, diced
Salt and pepper to taste
3/4 cup packaged matchstick carrots
3 Tablespoons green onion, thinly sliced
½ cup chopped salted peanuts, optional
Chopped fresh basil, optional
8-12 large lettuce leaves (such as iceberg or Bibb)

In large, non-stick skillet, combine the first six ingredients; whisk well to combine.

Add the diced turkey. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 3-5 minutes until sauce is slightly reduced and coats turkey. Taste the mixture; add salt, pepper, additional cayenne pepper sauce and/or additional soy sauce if needed.

Add carrots and green onion; toss to combine. Remove from heat.

To serve: Place 2-3 lettuce leaves onto each serving plate. Divide turkey mixture among the leaves. Top with peanuts and/or basil if desired. Wrap lettuce around filling to eat. Makes 4 servings.

Note: this post also appears in my Flavors of Rochester blog.

Taking Refuge at The Original Steve's Diner

Reese's Pieces Pancakes
You wake up with no power and two hungry teenage boys home from school. What’s a mom to do? This mom took them out to breakfast. We love going to breakfast while we’re on vacation but it’s a rare treat while we’re at home.

We headed to The Original Steve’s Diner, which is tucked in a strip mall on Penfield Road in Penfield. We had attempted dining there twice before, but the first time it was closed. On the second try, a line stretched out the door, and we didn’t have time to wait. This time we walked in and sat right down – our timing was lucky because a line formed shortly after we arrived. It appeared that other families had the same idea.

It’s a small place – it seats about 50 – and the décor was nondescript. But the service was prompt and friendly in spite of the rush.

I had wondered about the “original” in the name of the diner. It turns out there are a lot of original choices on the menu. Son #1 chose Reese’s Pieces pancakes from the long list of pancake creations. They were thick and bigger than his plate. (My advice: order one pancake unless you have a mammoth appetite.) The menu also featured a list of interesting plays on eggs Benedict.

Veggie Omelet
Son #2 and I both ordered unoriginal omelets, both of which hit the spot. I prefer home fries with more brown crispy surfaces, but they were well prepared.

The Original Steve’s Diner was a comfortable refuge from Sandy’s aftermath. We’ll be back – even if it means waiting in line.

(This post also appears in my blog on the Flavors of Rochester website.)

 The Original Steve's Diner on Urbanspoon

Jack-o-lantern pumpkin seed tips (and recipe)

I’ve worked for a pumpkin farm (Wickham Farms) for 10 years, and in that time I’ve cooked a lot of pumpkin seeds. The bad news: no matter how you cook them, Jack-o-Lantern seeds will be chewy and fibrous. Pie pumpkins and – even better – Delicata squash -- have seeds that aren’t quite as chewy. But if you want to roast your jack-o-lantern seeds next week, here are tips and a recipe to make the process easy and tasty.  

Tip 1: Water makes it easier to separate the seeds from the pulp. The orange goo that comes out of the pumpkin with the seeds needs to be removed before baking the seeds. The easiest way to do it: put your scooped-out pumpkin mess in a big bowl of water. The seeds will float, and you can skim them off with a slotted spoon or small sieve/ Some seeds will remain stuck to the pulp, but they come off more easily in the water.  

Tip 2: Drying the seeds on a paper towel is not a good idea. I’ve seen a tip that calls for spreading the seeds out on a paper towel and letting them dry overnight. When I tried this, the seeds stuck to the paper towels. I spent a few minutes trying to pick bits of paper towels off the seeds, then wound up tossing that bunch of seeds in the trash. Bad idea.  

Tip 3: Boiling/soaking the seeds: not sure. I've seen recipes that call for boiling seeds in salty water. I tried it twice and I’m not sure it makes a difference. I've also heard of soaking the seeds overnight in various solutions ranging from salty water to liquor. I haven’t tried those techniques yet but they are worth exploring.

Tip 4: Low and slow is the way to go. When I’ve tried high temperatures (like 400 degrees), the pumpkin seeds wound up tasting like burnt toast, even when they weren’t burnt. Cooking them in a 275 degree oven for a longer period of time results in better tasting seeds.

Here’s my latest working recipe for pumpkin seeds from Jack-o-Lanterns:

Cajun Jack-O-Lantern Pumpkin Seeds
1 cup seeds from 1 -2 large Jack-O-Lantern Pumpkins
¼ cup of salt (if you boil the seeds)
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons Cajun seasoning

Preheat oven to 200°F.

Cut open your pumpkins and scoop out the insides. Put the whole mess in a large bowl of water. Skim the seeds floating in the water with a small sieve or slotted spoon. Separate the rest of the seeds from the stringy orange stuff. Discard the orange stuff.

(Optional – not sure if needed:) In a saucepan, add the seeds to 4 cups of water. Add ¼ cup of salt. Bring to a boil. Let simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and drain.

Spray a couple of baking sheets with cooking spray, and spread the seeds on the pans. Bake at 200 degrees for about an hour, until dry.

 In a small bowl, mix together 1 tablespoon canola oil, 2 teaspoons Worcestershire and 2 teaspoons Cajun seasoning. Pour over seeds and stir to combine.

Bake at 275 for another hour.

Note: this post also appears on my blog for the Flavors of Rochester website.

Anniversary Cake

I was in a predicament, one that wasn’t uncommon for me.

I had come up with a great idea, but set my plans in motion too late.

My in-laws were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary and planned a small gathering of immediate family to celebrate it. I wanted to surprise them with a cake -- something pretty and tiered and wedding-ish.

I went into my local bakery on a Friday -- the celebration was on Saturday -- and was told that I didn't give them enough turn-around time to make such a cake.


My only hope: Wegmans. I went to the bakery at the Penfield Wegmans and started telling the girl behind the counter my situation.

"Do you need an anniversary cake?" she interrupted (the bakery was busy).

"Yes, but it's my in-law's 50th, so I wanted something nicer than a sheet cake," I stammered.

"We can do a tiered ultimate," she said. I told her that the group was just nine people, and she said that she could do a small one for $17. She could have it ready by the next day, so I went with it.

She asked me their names and marked the sheet with "Happy 50th Anniversary Rosie and John.” I couldn't imagine how all of that would look on a tiered cake, but went with that, too.

I left the store with low expectations, kicking myself for not ordering the cake sooner.

I picked up the cake the next day, and was utterly amazed at my $17 cake. It was adorned with roses and rosebuds like a miniature wedding cake. The words were not written on the cake, but on a white chocolate heart set in the top like wedding cake topper.

My in-laws were delighted with their cake, and even better, it was delicious. It was moist and not sicky sweet like most grocery store vanilla cakes. It was heavy on the icing, but that's what happens when you add on all those flowers.

Whew! I love it when a plan -- even a last-minute one -- comes together.

This post also appears on my blog for Flavors of Rochester.

SOS for Yummy Turnip Recipes

Why can't I make a turnip (left) taste as good as a beet (right)?
At Wickham Farms, where I work, I regularly talk to our CSA members to get feedback about their experience with the program. A comment I hear often is that members enjoy getting lots of different veggies, because it has expanded their culinary repertoires.

That has been my experience with CSA programs as well -- because of my CSA memberships, I’ve come to enjoy beets, leeks, kale, various winter squash and Daikon radishes, which I hadn't cooked in the past. (In the past, I belonged to the Porter Farms CSA.)

The trick, of course, is knowing how to cook these items, and it’s part of my job to help our CSA members in this area. Each week, I cook a recipe that incorporates our CSA veggies for sampling. I favor recipes that are uncomplicated and incorporate unusual items. This week, for example, the recipe was a cole slaw that included Daikon radishes and kohlrabi.

I have just one Achilles heel in this position -- turnips. I just haven’t found that special recipe that’s made me say “yum.” Last week, I tried this recipe for roasted root vegetables with an apple cider glaze. I used beets and turnips, and the beets turned out great, but the turnips just didn’t do it for me.

I thought I’d turn to my friends in cyberspace for help. Do you have any tips for cooking turnips? What’s your favorite turnip recipe?

This also was published in my blog on Flavors of Rochester.

Leaf & Bean is more than tea & coffee.

Although its name emphasizes beverages, Leaf & Bean Coffee Co. also serves some good eats.

My friend and I recently paid a visit to the Chili establishment, and we were lucky enough to hit it on a day when seafood bisque was the soup of the day. The flavorful bisque was just the right consistency – not too thick – and had plenty of nice chunks of seafood. I also enjoyed the chicken salad, which had the tasty additions of cranberries and walnuts.

It’s nearly impossible to pass up the beautiful array of baked goods – cookies, cupcakes, cakes, pastries and more – without succumbing to sweet temptation. We decided on a couple of cupcakes. My friend enjoyed her Oreo cupcake. I asked a staff member if the carrot cake contained raisins, because I don’t care for raisins in baked goods. She said no, but I had a hunch that she didn’t know. Grrr… I was right. After I picked out the raisins, the cake was moist and delicious, and the cream cheese frosting was the perfect balance between sweet and tangy.

I was told the baked goods are not made in-house, but are baked by a local bakery. They are definitely a cut above those served at most coffee shop chains.

Leaf & Bean is tucked into a strip mall in Chili, but would fit right into the Park Avenue strip. The décor is eclectic, the seating comfortable and the music retro 90s (at least it was when I was there). It's an enjoyable place for a meal or even a cup of Joe.

Note: this post also appears in my blog on the Flavors of Rochester website. Leaf & Bean Coffee on Urbanspoon

A Favorite Food Destination - Cleveland

My family recently spent some time in one of our favorite cities to visit -- Cleveland. Yes, Cleveland! The city has much to offer people who enjoy food. Here are a few of our recommendations.

Market House at the West Side Market
The West Side Market has an open-air building with vendors selling reasonably priced produce, but the highlight is the market’s grand indoor market house. A yellow brick building built in 1912, it is home to more than 100 diverse vendors. Go hungry! For breakfast, I chose a freshly made crepe with Nutella and bananas; my husband found a pastry called a snugal; and a son picked a cannoli. We wised up this time and took a cooler so that we could bring back some unusual meat items – homemade buffalo chicken sausage, fresh Polish sausage (my husband’s favorite) and lamb gyro meat. I also made a stop at Urban Herbs, which sells hard-to-find spices and grains.

Across the street from the market, the Penzey’s Spices store is a fun place to shop. Their products are displayed in jars so you can give everything a whiff. We went home with cinnamon and extra-hot red pepper flakes in bulk bags, which provide a significant savings over buying spices at the grocery store. We also succumbed to the lure of mint hot chocolate mix.

Lola Bistro is located on East 4th Street,
a brick paved street lined with restaurants.
Michael Symon, best known as an Iron Chef on the Food Network, owns several restaurants in Cleveland. My older son and I are fans of his flagship restaurant -- Lola Bistro. The portions are smallish and the prices are high, but meals we’ve had there are among the best we’ve eaten. Next time we go, I’ll try to reserve a seat at the chef’s table, where you can watch the kitchen in action. I’d also like to try one of Symon’s less pricey restaurants, Lolita in particular.

Cleveland is less than a five-hour drive away – our family highly recommends the city for both food and fun!

Can your tomatoes safely -- take a class.

One of the most memorable pieces I’ve read in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle was about a woman who had contracted botulism. The upshot of the article was that the woman was fully awake and aware, but she was unable to move or communicate. The scene I remember most: a nurse thought that the patient was a country music fan, and played it nonstop. The trouble was, the patient didn’t care for country music, and had no way of telling her nurse. I could imagine myself in that scenario, only it would be one of my sons playing me his Weird Al Yankovic recordings to cheer me up — a horrific scenario!

The woman contracted botulism from fish, but another way you can contact botulism is from food that hasn’t been canned properly. That’s why a few years ago, I took a tomato canning class with Judy Price, who is the New York State Home Canning Expert for the Cornell Cooperative Extension. I recently spoke to her for an article on tomatoes that will run in an upcoming Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.

“Botulism in tomatoes is extremely rare,” Judy said,“but I worry about people using Aunt Nellie’s recipes or Great Grandma’s recipes. Our tomatoes today aren’t the tomatoes they had.”

She added that people tend to want to add peppers, onions and other vegetables that reduces the acidity of what’s in the can, which increases the risk of bacteria.

Judy is teaching a class on canning tomatoes tomorrow and I highly recommend it. The deadline for registering was yesterday but I’m told they still have room, and will accept registrations today. In addition, Wegmans is having one-hour tomato classes at their cooking school in their Pittsford store. I have taken a knife skills class at their cooking school and learned a lot; I’m thinking about going to the Wegmans canning class to brush up on what Judy taught me.

Here’s information for the canning classes:

Judy Price’s Hands-On Canning Workshop For Beginners

Saturday July 28, 10am – 1pm at Artisan Church 1235 Clinton Ave. South, Rochester, NY 14620

Judy Price, Cornell Cooperative Extension Food Preservation Expert, will teach you how to can tomatoes in a boiling water canner. You will learn to make (and take home) 1 pint of shelf stable canned tomatoes so that you become comfortable with hot water bath canning. You will also take home an information packet with instructions and recipes that will allow you to make other tomato products (BBQ, chili Sauce, crushed tomatoes and more). Workshop Fee: $33.00

Register Here:
Registration Deadline was July 26 — they have said they will accept registrations today.

Wegmans Canning 101: Preserving the Season’s Best–Tomatoes

Chef Mark will be demonstrating the basics of canning, showing you how to create lots of great canned items with tomatoes, and sharing samples.

Thursday, August 16 from 6:00 – 7:00 PM
Tuesday, August 28 from 6:00 – 7:00 PM

Wegmans Menu Cooking School at Pittsford — Upstairs in the Menu Development Kitchen, 3195 Monroe Avenue, Rochester, NY 14618. Call for reservations at (585) 249-0278. The cost is $5.

Note: this piece also ran in my blog on the Flavors of Rochester website.

Inspiration for a Grilling Experiment

Grilled Caesar Salad at Joey's Pasta House
If it were up to my husband, the only thing that would be cooked on our grill would be meat. Vegetables might be allowed if they were skewered on a kabob, but that’s about his limit. Whenever I mosey out to the grill with something that he thinks doesn’t belong there, I can see his eyes start to roll to the back of his head.

I’ll admit he has his reasons. There was the appetizer that was grilled on a cedar plank, which was engulfed in flames when he went to take it off the grill. (It made for an amusing start to a dinner party, though, and it was so delicious that we were practically licking the blackened board.) And my attempts at grilling pizza have been less than successful — the most recent attempt resulted in a scorched outer layer and gooey uncooked dough inside. (The magazine articles make it sound so easy.)

A recent dinner at Joey’s Pasta House in Penfield might send me back out to the grill for another one of my experiments. I ordered the grilled shrimp Caesar salad, in which the shrimp, romaine lettuce and bread all took a trip to the grill. The char of the grill added an appealing change of pace to a salad I’ve had many times. I have a favorite recipe for chicken Caesar salad (from the Cooks Illustrated book, The Best Light Recipe.) It doesn’t seem hard to switch to shrimp and throw some romaine wedges on the grill. I can hear my husband groaning already.

Note: This also appears on my blog on the Flavors of Rochester website.

An Excellent Choice at Max of Eastman Place

When my parents took me to restaurants when I was young, my Mom always advised me to order something I wouldn’t ordinarily get at home. I follow that approach to this day. I often opt for seafood, because some of my family has hang-ups about seafood and I rarely cook it.

I was especially happy with my choice when I ordered the evening’s fish special at Max of Eastman Place during a recent night out. Sea bass was served with seasonal vegetables and fregula, all in a light sauce that had a hint of curry. The fish had a gorgeous golden brown sear; its crispy exterior gave way to the firm but flaky interior. The tender, colorful veggies and a subtly flavored sauce complemented the fish beautifully. Fregula, little balls of pasta cooked to al dente, added a nice chewy texture to the dish. It was something I never could have prepared, and I was thankful that Mom’s dining philosophy had stuck with me all these years.

I’ve noticed that many people seem to stick with familiar dishes when they dine at restaurants. What is your preference? Tried and true or something new?

Note: this post also appears in my blog for

Two Stellar Sandwiches

The Thing at Java's Cafe
I usually don’t get all that excited about sandwiches. Maybe it’s the memories of lukewarm bologna sandwiches in childhood lunchboxes that linger. But recently, two stellar sandwiches have me singing their praises.

The Thing at Java’s Café: The sandwich selection at Java’s Cafe on Gibbs Street changes frequently, but they usually seem to have The Thing (or its cousin, Not the Thing). The Thing comes with a whole lot of veggies — avocado, tomato, bell pepper, cucumber and greens – all on grainy bread. Pepper Jack cheese, tomato garlic pesto and a side of a tangy mustard vinaigrette conspire to turn all that virtuousness into a tasty treat. Java’s starts serving sandwiches at 11 on the dot – I’ve tried getting one at 10:50, and have been politely turned away. They are sold until they are gone, so if you have a favorite, it’s best to get there before the lunch rush.

Three Forks Turkey at Great Harvest
Three Forks Turkey at Great Harvest Bread Co.: Roasted turkey breast, cheddar cheese, lettuce and tomato don’t immediately sound out of the ordinary. A dilly herb mayo adds a little something, for sure. But what makes it really special is having it on the Great Harvest cranberry orange bread, which adds sweetness and a touch of tang. Plus, it tastes a bit like Thanksgiving dinner. Alas, they only serve cranberry orange bread on Wednesdays, so it takes some planning to get the perfect version of this sandwich.

What are your favorite sandwiches in Rochester?

 (This is also running in my blog on ROC Food.)

How to use up leftover salt potatoes

Do you have leftover salt potatoes hanging around the fridge after your Memorial Day picnic? (If you don't know what salt potatoes are, then you must not live in Rochester. They are essentially new potatoes that are boiled in salty water. Here, you can purchase the potatoes packaged along with the salt so you don't even have to measure.)

My first attempts (left) resulted in flat potatoes without a
rough top. I found that scoring them with a biscuit cutter
(see potatoes to the right) gave me a nice rough top.
Here’s a way to use them without feeling like you’re eating the same thing twice. Just put your spuds on a sheet pan and press down on them with a potato masher a couple of times until they are somewhat flattened and the skins are split -- the rougher the top, the better.You may need to score the skins with a knife or biscuit cutter to get them to split properly.

Then brush them with olive oil and sprinkle with coarse salt and pepper. Pop them in a 450-degree oven for 20 minutes or so, and you’ve got yourself a delicious, rustic looking, side dish.

I recently paid a visit to F. Olivers on Park Avenue, so I had some of their Tuscan Garden olive oil on hand. It took my taters over the top by adding a lovely rosemary flavor. I also used some fancy pants red sea salt (it was a gift), but Kosher salt would work just as well.

They were crunchy on the bottoms and sides and soft on the insides. I topped mine with sour cream. My husband ate his plain. My son dipped his in ketchup. All of us enjoyed our potatoes, and none of us felt like we were eating leftovers.

Crash Hot Salt Potatoes

Adapted from this recipe on the Pioneer Woman website

Leftover salt potatoes (any amount)
Olive oil (F. Olivers Tuscan Garden olive oil is especially good, but any will do)
Coarse sea salt or Kosher salt, to taste (don’t skimp)
Black pepper
Spices or fresh herbs, if desired
Sour cream (optional)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Drizzle a sturdy cookie sheet with olive oil. Place the potatoes on the sheet, leaving plenty of room between them. (I got about 17 on one large cookie sheet.)

With a potato masher, gently press down each potato until the skin splits and it mashes down about halfway. Rotate the potato masher 90 degrees and mash again. If you don’t have a potato masher or yours is a waffle weave pattern, score the skin once or twice with a knife or biscuit cutter, than flatten with your potato masher or the back of a glass.

Brush the tops of each potato generously with olive oil. Sprinkle with plenty of coarse salt and pepper. If you want to sprinkle on some spices or herbs, this would be the time to do it.

Bake in a 450 degree oven for 20-25 minutes until nice and brown.

If desired, serve with sour cream.

Note: This post is adapted from my blog on the Flavors of Rochester website.

Custard at Pittsford Farms Dairy

I must have passed the Pittsford Farms Dairy hundreds of times over the years, and never stopped in. I’m not sure why – I've heard raves about the nonfat milk that tastes like it’s full of fat. And I had enjoyed a superlative cup of hot chocolate Java’s Cafe on Gibbs Street, and learned that it was steamed chocolate milk from the dairy.

Last week, my son and I were in the neighborhood and saw a sign for “ice cream parlor open,” so we finally visited.

What a quaint place! I loved the old-fashioned red building that housed the ice cream shop, complete with chandeliers made from milk bottles. I was told that all of the ice cream is made fresh at the dairy, which was impressive. The line was fairly long but moved along quickly. As we waited, we eyed a tempting assortment of pastries, but we used our will power to resist purchasing some.

My son was happy with his mint milk shake. The texture of my twist frozen custard reminded me more of meringue than a dense, creamy frozen custard. The vanilla side wasn’t sweet enough for me and the chocolate side didn’t have a real chocolate punch (which is surprising, given their outstanding chocolate milk).

I enjoyed my visit to Pittsford Farms Dairy, but the next time I’m in the neighborhood for ice cream, I’ll opt for of their hand-dipped flavors. Does anyone have a favorite to suggest?

The Chocolate Babka Incident

No, there's not snow on the ground in
Rochester. It just took me awhile to get
around to writing my story.
I was at Baker Street Bakery on Park Avenue buying a virtuous loaf of 100% whole wheat bread, when a worker plopped something in the half-price basket on the counter in front of me.

I knew it right away, though I had never eaten one. It was a large loaf topped with a thick layer of chocolate icing. It had to be a chocolate babka.

I have wondered about chocolate babka since an episode of the Seinfeld TV show repeated “babka” about 100 times. It first aired – can you believe it? – 18 years ago. (The relevant snip of the show is here.) Maybe it was the repetitive use of “babka,” but it stuck in my head as something I wanted to try.

I had thought about baking one myself. Martha Stewart’s recipe looks good,  but it seems like a lot of work. A cooking contest buddy, inspired by the same Seinfeld episode, based a Pillsbury Bakeoff finalist recipe on a chocolate babka. It looks yummy and easy, but I wanted the real deal.

My 17-year-old son recently discovered Seinfeld – in fact, he does a spot-on Seinfeld imitation – so I thought he’d get a kick out of having a chocolate babka. And I had always wanted to try one. Plus it was half price. So I grabbed it.

Baker Street Bakery's Chocolate Babka
As I was driving home, Seinfeld’s voice started running through my head. Or maybe it was my son imitating Seinfeld.

"Why would you buy that babka?

There must be a million calories in that babka!
A babka is not part of a healthy diet!

A babka isn't an everyday snack; a babka is  for a special occasion!

What kind of Mom brings home a babka for no reason?

What were you thinking, buying that babka?"

My son loved the babka. We all did. What’s not to like? A lightly sweet, slightly chewy bread, it had tunnels of chocolate filling and was topped with a thick layer of chocolate icing.

I’ll surely buy one again, but to avoid those voices in my head, I’ll save it for a special occasion.

Note: this column also appears in today's blog for the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle's Flavors of Rochester website.

Outdoor Dining in Rochester -- What's Your Favorite Spot?

I am working on a piece on outdoor dining for the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. I'm excited to be writing this because I love dining outdoors in the summer. I know I haven't hit them all, so I could use some suggestions. What's your favorite spot to dine outside in the Rochester area and Finger Lakes?

Bonding with Sons on Sunday Night Dinners

A version of this post appeared in my blog on the Democrat and Chronicle's Flavors of Rochester website on April 24, 2012.

I so enjoyed seeing Jersey Boys at the Auditorium when it came through Rochester last month. This is the second year that I’ve been a subscriber to the Broadway series, and I cherish the nights I take one of my teenage sons to dinner and a show.

My season tickets are on Sundays when ticket prices are reasonable and show times are earlier, so we’re home at a reasonable hour for school and work. The challenge, though, is that many restaurants are closed.

The original Sticky Lips BBQ, about five miles away from the Auditorium, is super casual with a fun Fifties-era vibe. Obviously it’s known for BBQ but our favorite item (so far) is their crunchy and slightly sweet mayo-based coleslaw (we love a good slaw).

Liberty Pizza at The Gate House
California Rollin’ Sushi Bar in the Village Gate serves a variety of inventive sushi rolls, but our favorite menu item is the addictive crawdad bowl appetizer. The crawdads are fried with a delicate, crispy exterior, coated in a sweet-spicy sauce, and served over rice. Sometimes we skip the sushi altogether and order crawdads and a salad. When we splurge on dessert, we share Dolly Ann spring rolls — walnuts, coconut and chocolate, rolled up in a spring roll wrapper, then deep fried into melty goodness.

The Gate House, also in the Village Gate, has a more upscale environment than the other two spots, but the menu is accessible to the hankerings of teenage boys, with plenty of pizzas and burgers. My son didn’t enjoy their take on Rochester’s “plate,” but everything else we’ve had there has been delicious.

We’re always looking for new places to dine on our mother/son Sundays. Do you have any favorites for Sunday night meals near the Auditorium?

Is it CSA Time Yet?

A seedling growing at Wickham Farms.
I think it's broccoli.

I feel like a kid waiting for Christmas. I am so impatient for CSA harvest time to arrive! It’s been way too long since I’ve had fresh locally grown veggies.

I work at Wickham Farms in Penfield, where I’m also a member if its community-supported agriculture program (CSA).  I can head out to the field and see that peas and lettuce are sprouting. Swiss chard, broccoli and cauliflower seedlings are growing. Other goodies are in the ground, and we’re waiting for them to sprout. I want to cheer them on. Grow, plants, grow!

For those who are considering joining a CSA, I thought I’d share a few observations.

Splitting shares: Although it’s the first year for the CSA at Wickham Farms, for several years, I split a share of the CSA from Porter Farms. Splitting a share worked out great – we simply divided our bag of produce in half each week. This is a good option for people who won’t consume the amount of veggies in a weekly CSA share. Farmers are usually OK with people splitting a share as long as there’s just one name on the membership.

Another seedling. Pretty sure this is
cabbage. As you can tell, I'm the writer/
photographer, not the farmer.
Cost comparison: People sometimes want to calculate whether veggies are cheaper through a CSA. It’s difficult to compute, but my hunch is that there’s probably not a major cost difference one way or another. The reason to belong to a CSA is to eat fresh local produce and support local farmers. If there’s a cost savings, it probably comes from eating out less often because there are vegetables at home waiting to be used.

New favorites: Belonging to a CSA made me a better cook, because I learned to cook veggies that were new to me. I became a fan of leeks and beets, neither of which I had cooked before. (In fact, my 17-year-old son pesters me to make leek confit, a recipe I tried during my past CSA.) When people sign up for the Wickham Farms CSA, we ask them their favorite veggies, just to be sure we haven’t missed anything on our planting list. A common response is, “just surprise us – we want to try new things.” I’m looking forward to trying tatsoi and celeriac – two items on our planting list – this coming season.

Anyone else looking forward to CSA time?

 This also appears in my Democrat and Chronicle Flavors of Rochester blog, published today.

Spotted: Giant Rugelach

A version of this was originally published in my blog for the Flavors of Rochester website on April 30, 2012.
The Rugelach at Finger Lakes Coffee Roasters
At the Finger Lakes Coffee Roasters in Pittsford Plaza, I spotted a promising croissant-like baked good on display in a large glass jar. When I looked closer, I could tell they weren’t croissants. Hmmm…

“Are those rugelach?” I asked the girl behind the corner. (There was not a sign on the jar.)

Yes, she replied.

“Wow, I don’t see those very often. Do you sell a lot of them?”

“Not as many as we should,” she said, “considering how they are filled with so much nutty, cinnamony goodness. I don’t think people know what they are.”

So please allow me to spread the word. Rugelach are Yiddish crescent-shaped cream cheese pastries, rolled up with a variety of yummy fillings. They are traditionally served as little thumb-sized cookies, so these bigger-than-a-hand pastries are like rugelach on steroids.

I’ve found them at two coffee shops thus far. My favorite is the one at the Finger Lakes Coffee Roasters mentioned above. Their pastry is rolled super thin, making it especially tender, and filled with a cinnamon and nut filling.

The Rugelach at Java's Cafe
I’ve also enjoyed the large rugelach at Java’s Cafe on Gibbs Street. Their pastry is thicker and filled with nuts, chocolate chips and apricot. (If you go there on a cold day, be sure to order some of their delicious hot chocolate, too.)

The one issue with ordering rugelach is pronouncing it. For awhile I was saying it like “arugula” without the first “a.” Then I looked it up and discovered it should be a short u, like rug-ah-lah. I think the authentic pronunciation may also have a back-of-the throat h-ish sound at the end but I always feel weird trying it, so I leave it out.

But don’t let my lack of a definitive pronunciation stop you from trying them. After all, Americans have been butchering “croissant” and “gyro” for years.

I've baked a few batches of rugelach to try to duplicate the Finger Lakes Coffee Roasters version and haven't nailed it, although the results were delicious. I'll publish a definitive recipe once I've worked it out.

Chili from Leftover Taco Meat

On Sunday nights, I have practice with Acoustic Rooster, and my husband and sons are on their own for dinner. They have deemed it taco night -- and when they make tacos, there are no veggies and no fish. For them, tacos are comprised of shells (hard or soft), taco meat (ground beef with packet taco seasoning), cheese and taco sauce. That's it.

On most nights there's leftover meat, but not enough for a second meal of tacos (and when you're already having tacos once a week, do you really want them again?). Seeing that leftover meat go to waste makes me nuts so now I make the leftovers into chili. I've never measured the amount of meat I put in it from week to week but it always seems to turn out OK. Now, my husband has decided he likes the chili at least as much as the tacos, so he's threatening to make even MORE taco meat! I can't win!

Basic Chili from Leftover Taco Meat
(Makes two good-size bowls of chili)

1 cup (or so) leftover taco meat.
8-ounce can tomato sauce
15-ounce can petite diced tomatoes, undrained
2 teaspoons chili powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin powder
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon salt
A few twists of freshly ground black pepper
SPinch of sugar
Optional (my husband doesn't eat them): 15-ounce can kidney beans (with liquid)
Optional: cayenne pepper, if you like it hot. Add 1/4 teaspoon at a time until the spice is to your liking.
Garnishes: grated cheese, sour cream, etc.

In a large saucepan, combine the all ingredients, and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat. Taste and adjust seasonings until they are to your liking. Cook, stirring every few minutes, for a half hour or more. I keep it partly covered while it simmers.

If you like it really hot, use hot petite diced tomatoes with chiles, such as the various ones from Redpack. You can also vary the flavor by using petite diced tomatoes with sweet peppers or other variations.

Mandarin Pancakes for Moo Shu Pork: Step-by-Step Stand Mixer Directions

Happy Chinese New Year!

I love Chinese food, but truth be told, I just don't have a lot of good luck cooking it. My latest Chinese cooking adventure was Moo Shu Pork, which is probably my favorite dish to eat out. I used this recipe from Cooking Light with mixed results.

Napa Cabbage
I had trouble figuring out the directions for the filling. First, it called for 10 dried shiitake mushrooms. My bag of dried mushrooms was comprised of small shards. Ten of those made no sense, so I used about 1/4 cup. It also called for equal parts Napa cabbage leaves and Napa cabbage stalks. Look at the Napa cabbage to the right. is the thicker part of the leaves considered stalk? It's not apparent, so I ended up just cutting up the leaves. Finally, the sauce in the mixture never thickened -- I wonder if there was enough cornstarch. All in all, the recipe had potential but needed a lot of tinkering, so I won't print it here.

The mandarin pancakes, though, turned out great. I used my stand mixer to make it easier. Here's how I made them.

 I added boiling water to flour in the bowl of the stand mixer.

 I kneaded with dough hook until a soft dough formed.

 I kneaded by hand until the dough was smooth.

 When I weighed the dough, it weighed 1 pound. That made it easy to figure out how to divide it into 16 pieces.

 To divide into 16 equal balls, I just weighed them.

 Sixteen1-ounce balls of dough. 

I rolled into 6-inch circles on a floured surface. They weren't perfect circles.

 I brushed 8 pancakes with sesame oil.

I topped each of those with another pancake.

 I cooked one sandwich at a time in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. It took about one minute on each side to cook them.
They were slightly puffed when they were done. I used them the way you'd use flour tortillas in Mexican cooking.

Here's the recipe for the pancakes.

MANDARIN PANCAKES - Stand Mixer Version
Adapted from this Cooking Light recipe

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup boiling water
1 1/2 tablespoons dark sesame oil

Lightly spoon the flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour and water in the bowl of a stand mixer. Stir, using the dough hook, until a soft dough forms. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead until smooth and elastic (about 3 minutes). Divide the dough into 16 equal portions. (I found the dough weighed exactly one pound, and weighed out 16 one-ounce balls). Roll each dough portion into a 6-inch circle on a lightly floured surface. Brush 8 pancakes evenly with oil. Top each with one of the remaining pancakes, gently pressing together.

Heat a medium nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Place 1 pancake stack in pan, and cook 1 minute on each side or until slightly puffed. Remove from pan, and cool. Peel pancakes apart.

Fill with your favorite Moo Shu filling. I don't have a reliable favorite to share just yet.

If you are on Weight Watchers, the pancakes are two Points Plus each.