Pennsylvania passion fruit

Whenever possible, I like to visit with the local “old timers” who have been farming and gardening here for years–in some cases, for a lifetime. I always learn something new from them. Sometimes we learn from each other.

As some of the formerly “exotic” fruits and plants become more commonly available, it’s amazing how often someone tells me, “You know, we always had those around when I was growing up, but didn’t know we could eat them.”

For example, this happened with paw paws. “I remember the stink of those trees,” or “We never ate those–the fruit would just fall, get mashed all over the ground, and be crawling with bugs.” (Hipsters everywhere would be crying about this lost foraging opportunity!)

And more recently, the same thing happened with passion fruit. Yes! Passion fruit!

I was getting a few of these fruits ready for breakfast the other day, and my buddy Chuck watched me with a frown. “You can eat those?” he asked. Yes! Passion fruit, I said. He had heard of passion fruit, but didn’t know what they looked like.

And then he tells me that he has a bunch of those all over the ground every year after the vines die down. Vines? What vines?! This guy doesn’t make stuff up, but I was still incredulous. Was he pulling my leg? I couldn’t believe that passion fruit would grow outside of a greenhouse this far north. 

Long story short, he was right! It turns out that passion fruit vines were already there on the farm when he bought it thirty years ago. You can’t mistake these vines and flowers for anything else. We still don’t know how they got there. But now I know that they can survive the harsh Pennsylvania winters. (And I try not to think about all the passion fruit Chuck has been throwing on the compost pile for thirty years.)

This spring I bought and planted a couple of vines, and started a few others from seed. You never know what you’ll get when you start from seed–if the fruit was a hybrid, it can resemble either parent. The vines won’t fruit this year, in any case.  They may not even flower this year as they take root and establish themselves. But I can’t wait until next year!

passion fruit flower opening on the vine in the early morning

This is a flower on a local vine, just starting to open in the early morning.

Bumblebee on a passion fruit flower on a vine growing in western Pennsylvania

Here is one local guy who seems to appreciate this tropical vine!

pumpkin soufflé in a springform pan


Since the autumn, I’ve had three big pumpkins decorating the bench in my foyer. I grew them in my garden last summer from seeds that Jo LaRocca collected on one of her food and gardening adventure trips to Mexico. Today I decided to cut one open to make pumpkin soufflé.

I was inspired partly by these springtime snow flurries, but also because I wanted to keep experimenting with bienmesabe as a crust. Recently I tried bienmesabe in a nontraditional way as a bottom layer for flan. The texture combination of creamy dessert with a crust element was reminiscent of cheesecake, but the flavors of flan custard, caramel sauce, and the almond of the bienmesabe gave it an unexpected twist which made it memorable.

The pumpkin rind was incredibly hard. I started out with a serrated knife, but switched to a pruning saw to get the job done. Once opened, the rind revealed bright orange flesh which I roasted, pureed, and used for a soufflé.


First I tried a serrated knife to cut the tough rind. Yeah, that’s not going to work.


You can see the bright orange inside of this pumpkin, and on the cutting board you can see a little “sawdust” from the rind!


Halved and roasted, this pumpkin made the kitchen smell amazing.

The finished pumpkin soufflé

The finished pumpkin soufflé

(If you like my springform pan–and if you live in the Pittsburgh area–you might be able get one for yourself at the USA Pan semi-annual factory sale. No guarantees–you never know what will be on offer–but it’s a fun time. The sale is coming up on Saturday, April 16: 8:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. 33 McGovern Blvd., Crescent PA 15046.)

March Dinner with Daniel


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We had a wonderful time at last night’s Dinner with Daniel, a benefit for backers of the Glassblock. Here are a few photos of the evening. Buen provecho!


Flan with bienmesabe crust and cardamom whipped cream

Flan with bienmesabe crust and cardamom buttermilk whipped cream

This probably won’t surprise anyone, but let me come out and say it. I don’t agree with all the gluten free propaganda out there. If you have a condition, then yes, by all means avoid it, but if not, then I don’t want to hear it!

That said, my first reaction when targeting gluten free desserts is not to rework recipes to eliminate the gluten, but to look at recipes that are already gluten free and use them as a starting point. There are many of these recipes throughout the Mediterranean and Middle East.

Bienmesabe canario is one of these great recipes. Its a traditional dessert of Las Palmas in the Canary Islands. This dessert dates back to the 15th century and it has similarities with an Andalucía dessert of the Malaga region and other middle eastern desserts.

This dessert is made with almonds, eggs, sugar and lemon zest. A very simple confection that is sure to transport you to any of the almond growing regions of the Mediterranean.

Bienmesabe canario has been my inspiration for a gluten free “crust” for this flan dessert–the best “cheese-less” cheese cake you’ll ever have.

rosquillas de San Froilán


rosquillas frying in olive oil

These rosquillas are fried in healthy olive oil. You won’t find a “dónut” that’s better for you.

Rosquillas de San Froilán. Sort of like a cake donut, but a thousand times better. They are eaten in the Spanish region of León on the October 5 feast of San Frolián.

Who was San Froilán? Honestly, I don’t know. I’ll have to look it up. How long have rosquillas been associated with his feast day? Oh, just a couple of decades.

I surprised you, didn’t I? You expected them to be an ancient recipe. Well, the recipe was almost lost to history, it’s true, but these rosquillas are a recent invention with an interesting story.

In Spain, there are master pastry chefs, artisanal pastry chefs who specialize in traditional, regional pastries, who are as well versed in the history of pastry in a particular region as they are in the art and craft of pastry making. During his mandatory military service, one of these master pastry chefs from León was serving in Asturias, where he hung around and swapped a few techniques with a German master pastry chef who happened to be working there.

When he finished his service, the visiting chef worked in Germany for a while, and then came home to León. He tried selling rosquillas in León, but they didn’t catch on. He stopped making them. He liked the recipe though, so he included it in the textbook he wrote for his culinary school for pastry chefs.

A couple decades go by, and an Asturian master pastry chef comes to León and opens a line of fine pastry shops selling Asturian-style pastries (“Confitería Asturias“). Chefs at this level are always keeping up to date on each others’ work, so one day he’s looking through the recipes in the other chef’s textbook and discovers rosquillas. He adds them to the menu, and boom, they’re a hit. San Froilán is suddenly everybody’s favorite holiday.

This magical collaboration among German and Spanish chefs would have vanished altogether, if not for the good chef’s penchant for constant tinkering–and good record keeping, too!

Be careful: it will ruin regular donuts for you forever. Good food is like that.

rosquillas de San Froilán

Rosquillas de San Froilán

a few photos from the coffee dinner


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Some say that this coffee drink dates back to when Spain occupied Cuba. Soldiers would drink coffee and rum to give them courage–coraje in Spanish, which later transformed into the current name of the drink: “carajillo.”

There are many variations of this drink. For January’s supper club, the carajillo I’ll be making will have Licor 43, Bella Aurora coffee, whipped coconut cream and citrus chocolate.

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Menu for the Jan 23 coffee flavored Dinner with Daniel

Matt Gebis has chosen a few select coffees for the upcoming Dinner with Daniel. I have designed the courses around each coffee’s unique character. You will be amazed to be introduced to a whole new range of flavors in this familiar daily beverage:

  • Coffee BBQ Pork Ribs – Miju Sali Coffee, Ethiopia
  • Pan-seared Emerald Valley Ricotta Chiesi with Cocoa and Coffee – Las Capucas Coffee, Honduras
  • Sea bass with Marcona Almond Crusted Prawns in Coffee and Coriander Sauce – Unafe Co-op Coffee, Peru
  • Brussels Sprouts with Onion and Coffee Jam – Finca de las Delicias Coffee, Mexico
  • Bella Aurora Coffee Roasted Carrots and Beets – Bella Aurora Coffee, Nicaragua
  • White Truffle Panna Cotta with La Dorita Dulce de Leche Liqueur and Coffee – Unafe Co-op Coffee, Peru
  • Carajillo – Bella Aurora Coffee, Nicaragua

Emerald Valley is a local farm in Scenery Hill, producing artisanal cheeses.

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a homestyle Spanish meal at the December Dinner with Daniel


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January 23 Dinner with Daniel: coffee flavor

Matt Gebis drinking an espresso

Matt Gebis, coffee maven and owner of Espresso a Mano, drinking his favorite coffee preparation (an espresso shot)

Coffee has always been a cherished part of my life. Even before I could drink it, the comforting smell of coffee and the sound of it percolating in the moka pot was a call to start the day and meet the rest of my family at the table. I am pretty open about my coffee obsession. Who else do you know who has a grove of coffee trees in his house?

My friend Matt Gebis may have me beat. He has converted his obsession with coffee into a career. In 2009, he opened the Lawrenceville coffee spot Espresso a Mano, a mecca for coffee lovers that’s still making headlines. He has been at the forefront of coffee culture in Pittsburgh for many years.
Matt will provide some of his favorite coffees to be featured in January’s Dinner with Daniel. Come to get a new perspective on coffee and let the coffee aroma call you to the table!
Here I am with Matt in Espresso a Mano in 2009

Here I am with Matt in Espresso a Mano in 2009