Flan with bienmesabe crust and cardamom and buttermilk whipped cream

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.

July garden update

beets from my backyard garden
Tiny garden--big crop!
It’s just a small backyard garden, but at times it produces so much that it’s hard to keep up with it! Especially since I don’t have much free time to spend gardening.

We are into July and I have been keeping track of everything that we have harvested from our little garden, as promised.

The beginning of the growing season seemed slower than usual. And some plants had a harder time than others. My pepper plants are even now not doing as well as usual, but on the other hand the collard greens had a great start. But for the most part we are getting lots of tasty veggies.

We also have enjoyed a good amount of salad greens, asparagus, radishes, rhubarb, rappini, beets and beet greens, and blueberries. This week we started getting carrots, zucchini, patty pans and a few green beans. Fresh mint, basil, cilantro, oregano, marjoram, chives, bay leaf and “baby” leeks, as well as nasturtiums and pansies, have also been adding lots of flavor and color to our meals. Tomatoes have yet a few weeks, but are looking good. And the cucumber and butternut squash vines are taking over!

Amazes me to see all this produce come out of our little garden every year. I can’t wait for the first tomatoes.

putting the garden to bed

herbs and scallions
Herbs and scallions gathered from the garden in October. They are on my cutting board, about to become a part of Sunday's roasted chicken dinner.

Anybody who knows me knows how much I love to garden. If I ever win the lottery, I’ll be building a big, beautiful greenhouse, but until then my gardening is a very seasonal thing. Like most gardeners at this time of year, I am putting my garden to bed–clearing out the plants that have reached the end of the growing season, putting down a layer of horse manure (many thanks to Chuck, my coworker who keeps horses!), and so on. Getting ready for winter.

But just because it’s October and we’ve had our first frost, that doesn’t mean that the harvest is finished. I am still picking lots of fresh food for our table. This weekend we’ve eaten soup from fresh greens. I picked scallions and herbs for roasted chicken. And we’re still getting good lettuce for salad.

In the summer you get a lot of produce from the garden, but you work a lot for it, too–watering, weeding, and fighting pests. The fall is much less labor intensive. When you get meals from the garden at this time of year, you almost feel like you’re getting away with something!

I actually wish I had planted more root vegetables to extend the fall harvest. I planted a few beets, but I’m not sure if they’ll be ready to eat before wintertime.

Below are a few photos of the produce from my garden in the past couple of weeks. Is anybody else still harvesting? What are your favorite fall crops?

Buen provecho!

Fall tomatoes
Not all the tomatoes ripened before the frost, but you can still make good use of them in relish, soup base, or even fried green tomatoes.
fall greens from the garden
These are collard greens. I like to plant them in the garden every year. This is probably the most I've ever planted, and they have been a great addition to our meals this year.

turnip revelation

Tokyo turnips served with fish
Tokyo turnips served with fish for our family dinner

Yes, yes–more about my garden.

I am really enjoying my garden this year. So far it has been great and not a lot of damage from the usual visitors.

This season I’ve tried something new. Ok, maybe not so new–turnips are turnips, right? But these are Tokyo turnips.

I’ve always liked turnip greens, but truth be told, I don’t care much for the root. These Tokyo turnips are a bit different from the turnips I’m used to. The flavor is sweeter with a hint of cauliflower. Now, this revives my interest in turnips.

Roasting turnips is one of my favorite methods of cooking them. It enhances the sweet flavor. They were a great addition to tonight’s dinner alongside this fish with mango salsa.

Try some Tokyo turnips and tell me what you think.

Buen Provecho!


picking Tokyo turnips
Picking Tokyo turnips from my garden. (I'm not wearing fishnet stockings; that's a net to keep the birds out. Really!)

good food is good baby food

pancetta wrapped chicken breasts for dinner
Pancetta wrapped chicken breasts. It can be tricky to cut thin slices of pancetta suitable for wrapping the meat. I would love to have a slicer for this. My wife doesn't understand why we need a slicer. I asked her to cut the pancetta for this recipe. Now we will see who wants the slicer.

Almost every week, we have chicken for dinner at least once. It is an easy choice for weeknight meals because it cooks up fast.

Last week I got a little fancy: I pounded the chicken breasts flat, stuffed them with goat cheese and fresh herbs from the garden, wrapped them in pancetta from Parma Sausage in the Strip, and cooked them up on the stovetop. It was good. My only complaint is that the pancetta is a little too salty. It has a great flavor overall, but next time I use it I might soak it first.

Anyway, you might ask me what the babies ate for dinner that night. They ate the same thing, of course! No chicken nuggets here. Some people are surprised that our daughters eat grownup food, dishes with flavor and texture. Is it because we don’t offer them “kid food” like chicken nuggets, or simply their natural tendency? I don’t know the answer. I just enjoy sitting down to a meal with my family at the end of the day, sharing the same food together. It is very important to me.

Recently we finished reading Pamela Druckerman‘s “Bringing Up Bébé,” a book that talks about different approaches to parenting in America and France. Everybody is reading this book. Among other things, it talks about picky eating. Americans might tend to see it as the child’s individuality, just personal choice. French parents would think the child is missing an important experience by not learning to appreciate that food. French parents would probably think chicken nuggets are child abuse! I am not sure what the author would think of Spanish culture, but I remember having meals with multiple courses and eating the same foods as adults.

My friends Rob and Sarah told me that their first son ate everything from goose liver to artichokes–before kindergarden. Once he was in kindergarden, he only wanted pizza and nuggets. Peer pressure!


goat-cheese stuffed chicken breast wrapped in pancetta
Goat-cheese stuffed chicken breast wrapped in pancetta. On the left, the "grownup" preparation, and on the right, the "baby food" preparation!

Would you drink raw, unpasteurized milk? We do.

Bedtime milk
We go through a lot of milk at our house. (Babies are staying incognito!)

Of course I have always been interested in food, and as a chef it is a professional necessity to recognize and use quality ingredients. But becoming a parent gives you a whole new level of interest in food quality, especially nutritional value.

My girls have been eating “big kid” food for a long time, but each of them still drinks at least a pint of milk per day, so the quality of the milk they drink is very important. After a lot of research and discussion, we decided to feed them organic raw milk–milk that has not been pasteurized. Maybe you’re wondering–is this safe? I could say a lot about this, but the short answer is yes. We get our milk from Your Family Cow, a certified organic farm in Chambersburg, PA that’s run by Dawn and Edwin Shank. We trust the Shank family to keep our family safe and healthy.

We pick up our milk once every two weeks at one of Your Family Cow’s drop off points. We could also pick it up at the East End Food Co-Op if we wanted. This week, we heard that 3 new stores will be carrying Your Family Cow’s raw cow’s milk along with cheese, butter, cream, eggs, honey, and so on. This is good news. If you are interested in raw milk, one of these new retailers might make it easier for you to try it and see what you think:

Nature’s Pickins
464 Connellsville Street, Uniontown, PA 15401

Nature’s Way Market
796 Highland Ave. Greensburg, PA 15601

Eichner’s Farm Market
285 Richard Road, Wexford, PA 15090

Congratulations to the Shanks on expanding their network of partners in organic food.

Buen provecho!

when should you spend more for organic?

When you’re shopping for fruits and vegetables, it’s not always easy to convince yourself to spend an extra $2 a pound for organic produce. Sometimes you wonder whether it’s worth it. A good way to make that decision is to spend the extra money for organic produce for the types of produce that tend to have a higher concentration of toxins (pesticides). I can easily remember that you should always buy organic apples and strawberries, but it’s hard to keep track of the rest. It’s nice to see that Food News has produced a downloadable wallet guide for produce showing the 12 most contaminated (“the dirty dozen”) and 12 least contaminated items. Here are the lists:

12 Most Contaminated 12 Least Contaminated
* Peaches
* Apples
* Sweet Bell Peppers
* Celery
* Nectarines
* Strawberries
* Cherries
* Pears
* Grapes (Imported)
* Spinach
* Lettuce
* Potatoes
* Onions
* Avocado
* Sweet Corn (Frozen)
* Pineapples
* Mango
* Asparagus
* Sweet Peas (Frozen)
* Kiwi Fruit
* Bananas
* Cabbage
* Broccoli
* Papaya