Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Where did December go?

Hello everyone, I hope you all had a great holiday season and are well into 2011. I for one am looking forward to the New Year and expect some good cooking and eating ahead. One of my goals to start the new year (on a personal basis) is to get into more healthy cooking and eating. I have a few prospective clients asking about this so what better way to get the message across then by doing it myself. Healthy cooking can be tasty cooking! We all know its hard to maintain a healthy lifestyle during these cold, dark winter months but one way is to eat better since outdoor activities are somewhat limited. I am not saying we should all stay inside (my dog Sammy and I still take 2 mile hikes 3-4 times a week).

But it is helpful to reduce calorie intake to offset not only the holiday gain but also the reduced calorie burn. Since we have another No'easter heading this way for the third snow storm in three weeks, I have made a lot of soup lately. Of course soup can be a meal in itself and with a couple slices of crusty bread, you can be quite satisfied. Perhaps I will talk about hearty meal soups in another blog but today I want to talk about a delicious vegetable (vegetarian) soup that is better for you then a cup of hot tea or coffee and will certainly warm you up on a cold winter day.

As with all soups, you can tailor it to your own liking, for example I tend to use a lot more cayenne pepper then the recipe calls for. You may also add any vegetables you have in the fridge that may be a little "less" then fresh.

The prep time on this is 10-15 minutes and if you use a food processor then it can be prepped in 5 minutes! I personally prefer to the old knife and cutting board on this one since there is not a lot of chopping and it is easier to clean up. I also do not add salt to my soup and find it flavorful enough as is. The best part of this soup beside the taste is that it is less then 60 calories per serving and is low sodium and low fat. You can either make it on the stove top or in a slow cooker. I prefer the slow cooker since you can make it in the evening and its done before you go to bed. Since it is so cold lately I put my batch on the back porch overnight but remember the FOOD DANGER ZONE and be sure that you do not leave it on the counter overnight. Hope you enjoy! As always, appreciate any comments you'd like to add and please visit and sign up for our newsletter.

Chef Rob's Winter Warmer Vegetable Soup

12 baby carrots rough chopped
1 large onion Diced
3 med stalks celery rough chopped
10 oz pre-washed baby spinach
3 cloves garlic (put through press or minced)
32 oz container low sodium vegetable broth
28 oz can crushed tomatoes
1 T Basil
1 t Oregano
1 t Sage
1 t Thyme
2 Bay leaves
1/4 t Cayenne Pepper

Place all ingredients in slow cooker on high and cook for three hours.
If you prefer stove top then place all ingredients in soup pot and bring to boil , reduce to simmer and cook for an additional 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

makes 8 servings

Monday, November 29, 2010

Quinoa the new "Super Grain"

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving. Its hard to believe that December is here, the first decade of the millennium is almost over. The weather in the northeast has been wonderful and when winter finally hits, its nice to know that November has been kind to us. November was also busy for Park Hill Chefs and its new endeavor Park Hill Pups (homemade birthday cakes for the four legged family member, but that's a story for another day.)

One of the things that I did in November was teach a couple of cooking classes which included menu planning and healthier cooking ideas. I wanted to show a technique of de-boning and brining chicken breast and then stuffing it. With Thanksgiving around the corner I did not want to make a typical stuffing so on the recommendation of a colleague, I looked into a healthier alternative and used "Quinoa" (pronounced “keen-wa”), thanks Chef Lester!

While most people think of quinoa as a grain, it is actually a seed originating in Peru and grown in South and Central America. Its use can be traced back to 3000 b.c. It was one of the three staple foods, along with corn and potatoes, of the Inca civilization. Some of the crop is now also grown in the US and Canada. Quinoa has a high protein value; complete with all eight of the essential amino acids required by humans. It is a excellent meat substitute for those following a vegetarian or vegan diet. It is also an above average source of vitamins and minerals. Quinoa is gluten free and is also a good source of fiber. It is a very versatile and can be used in dishes ranging from breakfast, to soups, entrees and even desserts.

Now I had used quinoa before but mostly as a side and I found it to be a little bit on the bland side. I underestimated the versatility of it uses and was very pleased when I tested the recipe I put together for the stuffing. It has a unique crunchiness similar to a wild rice but with about a third of the cooking time. You can also find it in many stores and it is no longer relegated to the health food store. Be sure to read the directions on the package as most brands need to be rinsed off before using to remove the bitter tasting dust that covers the seeds. There are three basic types of quinoa. The basic one is cream colored and is the most common one. There is also a red quinoa which has a slightly more bitter taste and is a bit crunchier. The black quinoa has a more earthy taste. I suggest trying all three to find the one that best suits your taste.

For the stuffing recipe I have used both red and cream quinoa and prefer the red type. This dish can also be served as a standalone entree or as a side.

Quinoa Stuffing

2 Cups Quinoa
1 Large onion Diced
2 Stalks Celery Diced
2 Carrot Sticks Diced
4 Cups water (for added flavor use Chicken Stock or Vegatable Broth)
2-4 Tbs. Butter
½ Cup Chopped Walnuts
½ Cup Dried Cranberries
2 tsp Poultry Seasoning
S&P tt

Sauté Onions, add carrots and celery
Add Poultry Seasoning
Turn off heat

In separate pan bring stock or water to boil
Add Quinoa to liquid, return to boil.
Simmer 15 minutes until moisture is absorbed. Add mirepoix, (onion/celery/carrot mixture) walnuts and cranberries stir and remove from heat.

Serves 4-6

Chef Rob

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Frost on the Pumpkin, time for soup.

  • I woke up this morning to a thick fog enveloping the neighborhood. This was partially due to the lurking rain storms in the area and the cold front that had moved in. The cold front also brought a bit of frost as a reminder that we are half way through October and fall is here. The frost was also on the pumpkins and this too served as a reminder. This is the perfect time to start cooking and eating this versatile vegetable.

    As a little background on the pumpkin it should be noted that the pumpkin originated in the Americas and is now grown on all continents except Antarctica. It is a member of the squash family and the word originated from the Greek word for large melon, Pepõn. The was changed over the years via French, Old English and finally to the American English word “Pumpkin”. It was originally a staple food of Native Americans and its seeds were carried back to Europe by the early explorers. Its is said the Columbus also used the seeds as food for the pigs on return trips to Europe. The early American settlers learned early to depend on the pumpkin and used it for everything from desserts to beer.

    Nowadays, if you ask someone what could you make with pumpkin, the most common answer would be pie. Who doesn’t like a nice piece of pumpkin pie with whipped cream, especially around the fall and winter holidays? While this may be true; and for those keeping score, it is one of my favorite pies, there are so many other culinary uses of this arguably most famous member of the squash family.

Some items I have made over the years using Pumpkin are Bread and muffins, Pancakes, Cookies, Chili and my current favorite Soup! My wife has told me that currently Pumpkin Soup is also very trendy in Germany. (she just returned from a trip, so this is the latest news). That being said, I thought I’d share a simple and quick recipe that utilizes the spicy and pungent tastes of fresh ginger, curry and cayenne pepper offset by the natural sweetness of the pumpkin. The recipe below has some baseline amounts of spices to start with, as always taste before serving and adjust accordingly.

The particular recipe that I have uses pumpkin, curry and ginger. It is really quite simple and quick to make. If you are using fresh pumpkin you will need to boil or roast it first. It will also need to be pureed in a food processor or blender beforehand.

  • 16 ounces canned pumpkin (or 2 cups cooked pureed Pumpkin)
  • 2 1/2 cups chicken stock (for vegetarian version use vegetable stock)
  • 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder
  • Pinch Salt to taste
  • Pinch Cayenne Pepper


  • Teaspoon Pumpkin Seeds, Roasted (you may substitute sliced almond as well, toss them quickly in a dry high heat sauté pan to bring out best flavor)

  • Dollop of Sour Cream (Optional)

1. Combine pumpkin, stock, ginger, and curry powder in a saucepan. Bring to a boil.
Immediately Reduce heat and simmer 3 -5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and cayenne.

(The cayenne really adds a nice flavor but careful on how much you use, it will sneak up on you!)

2. Place soup in bowls, and garnish with sour cream and pumpkin seeds (or almonds.)

This is great as an opening course for dinner 4 servings. Or you can serve it with some whole grain rolls or bread and make it a dinner for two.

Enjoy the soup and the season!

Monday, September 20, 2010


Today is the start of Oktoberfest! This will be the 200th year it is celebrated!

What exactly is Oktoberfest? To begin with, THE original, authentic Oktoberfest it is a 16 day celebration in Munich, Germany that occurs mostly in September and usually ends on the first Sunday in October. The initial purpose was to celebrate the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig (who later became King Ludwig I) of Bavaria and actually did occur in October. The celebration was later moved to mid September in order to take advantage of the usually nicer weather in Germany at that time of the year and perhaps more importantly because most people are no longer farmers who need the valuable September weeks for harvesting their goods.

While many of us relate large quantities of beer with Oktoberfest, there are also many types of food associated with the festival. I admit I am a little biased to the culinary aspect for two main reasons. The first and obvious reason; I am a chef by profession and always enjoy trying new foods and then recreating the experience in the kitchen. The less obvious reason is that my wife, Margit grew up in Bavaria and always enjoys the tastes of home when I cook something from her childhood.

There are many types of food available in the vast beer halls of Munich during Oktoberfest. Choices range from Hendl (Chicken), Schweinsbraten (Roast Pork), Schweinshaxen (Pork Knuckle), Steckerlfisch (grilled fish, often mackarels on a stick), Würste (Sausages) to Sauerkraut, Blaukraut (Red Cabbage), Rettich (white radish), Knödeln (either Bread or Potato Dumpling) and Weisswurst (White sausage, usually eaten in the morning to cure “einen Kater” or hangover).

Besides the sausages, there is one staple food that stands out above the rest and that is the Bavarian Brezen or Pretzel. If you have never had the pleasure of eating a true Bavarian Pretzel, it is difficult to appreciate the differences between what is sold here in the States as a Pretzel and what is served in Bavaria. I suppose you may compare it with the difference between a bagel bought on the Lower East Side on Manhattan to a Bagel purchased at a supermarket

It was this Pretzel that I had searched for and attempted to recreate in the kitchen over the years with some decent facsimiles but all were lacking in the hard crunchy crust and soft inside associated with a true Brezen. My search was finally complete upon a trip to Germany last year with Margit. We had the opportunity to visit with Margit’s father and his wife Ursula. Ursula is about 90 years old and is sharp as a tack, we started talking about cooking and Pretzels and she gave me her recipe. I was excited to try it and couldn’t wait to get into the kitchen.

However, after my return home; my mood was dampened when I discovered that one of the key steps in preparing the pretzel prior to baking was dipping it in Lye. Yes, lye similar to what is in drain cleaner. Upon research I found that food grade lye is FDA approved and readily available over the Internet. Yes, I was able to continue my quest! If you are apprehensive about using lye in cooking (it is also used to make items such as hominy and the aforementioned bagel) you can substitute a baking soda bath prior to baking. The Brezen will not be quite the same, but almost. The recipe includes both options.

While these Brezen are delicious by the themselves or with some sweet mustard, to truly recreate the Oktoberfest Bier Garten experience try serving it with the traditional Bavarian cheese spread “Obatzda”.
This dish is not for those counting calories or are on a low fat diet as the two main ingredients are cheese and butter. It is however a delicious accompaniment to Bier and Brezen. There as as many versions of Obatzder in Bavaria as there are for chili in Texas. They all contain the same basic ingredients but with different variations. Some also include beer as an essential ingredient. I am partial to my wife’s family recipe and have included it as well.

The Bavarians have the word “Gemütlichkeit” that literally translates to coziness. However that is doing the word an injustice. The word has a much more abstract meaning. It actually is meant to convey a feeling of friendship, family and belonging. This is the feeling that one should have during Oktoberfest. So if you are enjoying a late summer day with friends and are having some Bier, Brezen and Obatzder then "Ein Prosit der Gemütlichkeit" or “a toast to good cheer”


23 oz Bread Flour
4 oz Warm Milk approximately 110 deg
4 oz Warm Water approximately 110 deg
3 oz Unsalted Butter (Room Temperature)
1 pack Instant Yeast
1 Tbs Salt

Coarse (Kosher) Salt for sprinkling

Mix Yeast and Water
Add Butter, Salt and Milk to Flour
Add Water Mixture to Flour
Mix Flour mixture either by hand or in a stand mixture with dough hook until dough is formed. Approximately 10 minutes in mixer or until dough is elastic to touch.
Let dough stand for about one hour or until doubled.
Degas (punch down) Dough and cut into 12 pieces for large pretzels or 18 pieces for smaller Pretzels.

Roll out individual pieces into strands and twist to form pretzels.
Dip Pretzels into either Lye or Baking Soda Dip
Sprinkle with coarse salt

Place on greased baking sheet and bake for 20 -25 minutes at 375 deg until brown

For Lye Dip

1 oz Food Grade Lye
1 qt Water

Caution: If using Lye, you should wear goggles and gloves. Wash all surfaces after use and rinse any skin area that comes in contact with solution. Be sure to add the lye to the water as adding the water to the lye may cause a chemical reaction. DO NOT BOIL WATER

Drop two pretzels at a time in dip and remove with tongs. Avoid touching lye solution with hands,

Baking Soda Dip

½ cup Baking Soda
2 Qts Water

Boil Water and Baking Soda, Drop 2 pretzels at a time into water mixture and remove with slotted spoon. Place on paper towels to drain


14 Oz Ripe Camembert cheese (45-60%) Room temperature
3 Tbs Heavy Cream
2 oz unsalted butter Room temperature
1 med onion finely chopped
1-2 tsp sweet paprika
salt tt
pepper tt

Chopped Chives for garnish

Cut Camembert cheese into small cubes
Cut Butter into cubes
Mix Butter and Cheese together. Using a fork, be sure to break larger pieces down until all is blended
Fold in Onions, mix well
Mix in paprika
Add Salt and Pepper to taste

Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes up to overnight. Garnish with chopped chives and pretzel sticks. Serve with Bavarian Pretzels or rye bread

Note You may substitute Brie for the Camembert or add 2-3 Tbs of beer for additional flavor

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Salmonella and the Egg Lady

The recent outbreak of salmonella in the egg industry has caused me to reflect on cage-free vs. caged chicken eggs. For years I never gave it a thought and almost always bought “regular” eggs at the supermarket. After all, they are about half the price of cage-free eggs and they are after all just eggs right? Well after I met my wife Margit, she convinced me there was indeed a difference and that the battery caged hens were grossly mistreated and we should support the farmers that were more humane and sold "happy eggs". At first I went along because we were dating and I wanted to make brownie points, but after awhile I read up on caged hens on was appalled on how the hens were treated and the filth that surrounded the egg industry. While it is not my attempt to convince my readers to switch over to cage-free, I do suggest that you read some articles about the egg industry such as Humane Society Facts

As far as the Salmonella outbreak, it was traced back to two huge chicken farms that share the same facility. The Salmonella had origins in piles of feces and cross contamination from rodents causing the chickens to become infected, which in turn was passed to the eggs during formation. The contamination entered the eggs and went out to the end consumer.

Would cage-free eggs have prevented this outbreak?
Yes and no. The definition of cage-free is vague and does not necessarily imply free range eggs. In fact there is currently no legal definition of Cage Free or Free Range Eggs. The fact is that both types are much better then the battery caged egg system where a hen has about 57 square inches of living space, less then the size then a standard piece of paper. This lack of definition still allows vast quantities of hens to be housed together under the same conditions exist that may cause an outbreak.

Free-range however, means inherently smaller farms as well as less chance of mass contamination. I suggest that you go for free-range eggs, organic if you can. That is of course if you do not have a local Egg Lady

The Egg Lady
I first me the Egg Lady last year while I was attending the Maynard Farmer’s Market, She was selling farm fresh eggs for $3.00 a dozen and I thought it would be a great opportunity to enjoy local food at a reasonable price. Well, I was quite disappointed to find out that she was out of eggs. She did say that I could stop by her house later that afternoon since her “girls” would have some ready later that day.

She gave me her card and was glad to see that she lived less then a mile from me. (for those who are not familiar with Maynard MOST things are less then a mile from me). I did buy a dozen eggs later that afternoon and cooked eggs the next morning for breakfast and yes, there was a significant difference in color, taste and overall enjoyment of simple eggs over easy.

We have been back many time since, I have even had to wait sometimes for the Egg Lady or her husband (the Egg Man?) to go out to the roost and gather some eggs. It is a little disconcerting to have eggs that are still warm handed over to you, but that is indeed Mother Nature at her most natural state.

I do admit that there are still times when I do buy caged white eggs; for instance: Easter Egg coloring, processed egg beaters or pasteurized liquid eggs for large volume cooking. However, for normal day to day family eating, I will continue to go to the Egg Lady and when she finally retires I will try to find her predecessor and if I move to the city? Well free range organic eggs it will be.

Hope you enjoy the fall season that is around the corner. I am looking forward to the variety of interesting fruits and vegetables that will be available for cooking and eating.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Duke of Mirepoix

Hello Fellow Foodies,

Well the last time we talked, I mentioned intrigue, food origins and French Royalty. What I did not mention was Carrots. Onions and Celery. Now what do all these items have in common? Ok, time’s up. I am talking of course about mirepoix.

Some of you may already know that mirepoix is a blend of aromatic vegetables that is the basis of many sauces and most stocks. To be precise it is a combination of 50% onions, 25% carrots and 25% celery, usually sautéed in butter but sometimes just added to stocks to bring out flavor. The onions provide a savory base, the carrots provide a sweetness and the celery brings it all together with its earthy background. The combination of these aromatics help enhance the simple goodness of many meat and vegetables.

You may now be thinking what the heck does this have to do with intrigue and French Royalty? Okay, the food origins may be a little obvious by now so we will leave that alone. The connection to royalty is that the person credited with documenting this blissful blend was the chef de cuisine for the Duke of Mirepoix in 18th century France. Although, contrary to popular belief, the French did not invent gourmet dining, they are generally credited to be the driving culture behind the documentation of fine dining and cooking. The Chef of Mirepoix was therefore the first person to document this use and expounded on its versatility.

The intrigue? Well according to According to Pierre Larousse (quoted in the Oxford Companion to Food), the Duke of Mirepoix was "an incompetent and mediocre individual. who owed his vast fortune to the affection Louis XV felt toward his wife and who had but one claim to fame: he gave his name to a sauce

One can only wonder what a demi-glace, or beef stock would taste like if Louis XV instead was attracted to the wife of the “Earl of Sandwich”, imagine a sauce where the main ingredients were bread and meat?

So the next time you taste an onion, carrot or celery, savor the individual taste of what it is. Perhaps even try all three at one time and appreciate “melange” for what it is, and then thank Charles-Pierre-Gaston François de Lévis, duc de Lévis-Mirepoix aka the Duke of Mirepoix. Or better yet, thank his wife and his cook.

Enjoy the remaining days of summer and have a great week.

If you enjoy reading my blog, please leave a comment on Blogger or better yet, sent it to one or two friends.


Chef Rob

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Crepes "s'il vous plait,"

The other day I was working a brunch where we had a crepe station set up. While I was standing behind the burner in the 90 deg heat and humidity, I was day dreaming about crepes and when I ate them on streets of Paris. The last one I had there was when I went with my kids to Europe for my 40th birthday, the kids had nutella and chocolate crepes, and I had a more adult blend. I know I had a Grand Marnier crepe and maybe also a Jack Daniels crepe. You have to love the Parisians! These were served from a sidewalk vendor, no Sabrett’s and Knishes here.

My reverie and daydreams were broken when a guest asked me; what's the difference between a crepe and a blintz? I had to think for a second and then answered that the main difference is that a blintz is filled with a cheese filling and rolled before serving.

I guess the answer was sufficient since the guest just moved down the line and continued to fill his crepes; one with the savory vegetable blend with Mornay sauce and the second filled with a fresh fruit compote topped with raspberry coulis and fresh whipped cream.

As he glided down the line, I started to think about other breakfast items similar to crepes. The obvious first thought was pancakes, while they are much thicker then crepes they are very similar with many of the same ingredients.

I then thought of tortillas and the how they are also a staple breakfast item in many cultures. The best huevos rancheros I ever had was not in Mexico but in a little dive in Los Angeles. The tortillas were cooked on a cast iron frying pan older then the gray haired Grandmother cooking them, and the salsa was spicy and hot but not over powering.

In many cultures, pancakes are not always for breakfast. How does Chinese pancakes with green onions sound? Or maybe pancakes with crispy Peking duck? Germans also have pancakes for dinner, they are not served with maple syrup but with filling ranging from jams and jellies to sprouts.

That being said, that the next time you have a meal that is not part of your normal routine, even if its something as simple as crepes, let you mind drift and take a trip around the world. Who knows where you may end up?