Thursday, September 20, 2012

Well cultured

Do you know what this is? There's kielbasa in the background, but in the foreground? It may look strange (even disgusting to some), but my friends that gravy smeared pile of fries isn't some stoned college kid's answer to the late-night-snack question. 

It's poutine (pronounced "puts-in" where I come from). This French Canadian delicacy is an amalgam of  French fries, turkey gravy, cheese curds, and sometimes pieces of turkey, though turkey a poutine does not make.

It wasn't until my early twenties that I started to realized that New England, specifically the Northern portions of New Hampshire where my family hails from, actually can claim regional and culturally based cuisine. Like living down the street from the Eiffel Tower ... it is easy to take for granted what is right in front of you. For a long time I took for granted that I had a food culture at all.

That was a perfect segue into what I really wanted to talk about in this post. Not heart attack inducing entrees, but food cultures. 

Now, food culture can be an incredibly broad term. Americans have a food culture that is different from Thailand, France, Spain, Morocco, etc. However, the concept can be used with even more precision. Tennessee's food culture is a far cry from New Hampshire's. And even further, Berlin and Concord can feel alien when examined on a food culture basis. Get into people's homes- eat dinner with them- and you find that the gap gets wider still. Each of us is born into a food culture that shapes not only the food on our future plates, but the significance that food holds in our lives.

It's kind of a big deal.

So ... my food culture. Well, you could probably assume from the beginning of this post that I am French Canadian. My folks were born in Berlin, NH and as with lots of families that originated in and around the Great North Woods, hunting and fishing and all around foraging hold a place at our table. My mother always had a garden when I was little and was adamant that my sisters and I learn to feed ourselves and to feed others. There was always more than enough food on the table and the processed stuff rarely found its way into our cupboards. Food wasn't just for fuel, it was for celebrating; a way to show someone you love them.

With this set of rules there are also recipes woven in to the fabric of who I am today. My mom's Bouliabaisse,  Roasted Beet and Potato Salad, Summer Fresh Caprese, Feel Better Chicken Soup, Morning Hash made with the previous night's leftovers, the perfect egg sandwich, the list goes on and on.

My husband's family has added to this familial food culture of mine. Everyone brings something to the table- a meal is meant to be shared and enjoyed together. Grammy's handwritten recipe books are treasured and serve as a road map to a family history's worth of meals. Christmas Cookies, Sugar Pie, Grammy's famous German Chocolate Cake, Baked Haddock, Jello Salad (which my husband and brother-in-law affectionately call "Booger Salad", since it is made with lime flavored jello).

There's a lot of joy in these memories and flavors, but food cultures can create problems for us as well. Unhealthy relationships with food, fostered by personal experiences or the rules we were raised with, can create battles with weight and nutritional deficiencies. Over-eating, under-eating, limited diets, food allergy battles; these can all be side effects of the very same things that bring so much joy to our lives.

I am learning that becoming deeply in touch with my personal food culture allows me to maintain the good points and hopefully move on from the bad ones. It is a constant work in progress.

I think I will give you some homework. Think about your own personal food culture. What value did your parents put on food. What foods were off limits? What foods were celebrated? How have your family's attitudes about food bled into your adult life? Have they affected you positively or negatively?

If anything, this is a great examination into who we are as family members and as individuals. If anything, we gain more insight into who we are ... and that's never a bad thing. 

I would love to hear from you about your favorite aspects of your personal "food culture". Is there a recipe you can't live without? A "food rule" that has helped shape who you are? I would love to learn more.

In the mean time, feast with your family. You'll never regret it. xo

Friday, September 14, 2012

Stuffed to the gills ...

I posted a photo recently of some stuffed eggplant I made. The recipe came out of necessity. Mark harvested all of our large fruit when night temperatures were predicted to dip into the 40s. There are still new eggplants growing and I'm sure I'll be making another batch of this stuff by the end of the month.

Sorry for the photo quality. I just really wanted to eat the damn thing.

Okay. To start:

Boil a big ol' pot full of water, lightly salted. Puncture your eggplants of choice all over with a fork, then dunk them into the pot, allowing them to cook until softened fully. Keep in mind, the eggplants won't want to cooperate and you may have to keep turning them. It's okay, this is good for them- they just don't know it. Allow them to cool before you man-handle them.

In the mean time, boil up a cup of Basmati rice, following package directions. It should only take about 15 minutes. To the rice add the following, in no particular order, using a very large bowl. This makes a lot of stuffing:

1 cup Italian bread crumbs (these are optional, my gluten-free friends, or you can make your own bread crumbs out of a gluten free loaf, well toasted and pulsed in the food processor).
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan Cheese
1 diced heirloom tomato (that's just what I had on hand, you can use any tomato you want)
2 Tbs chopped basil
2 Tbs chopped parsley
1/4 cup fat free sour cream
1 half onion, diced
3 or 4 garlic cloves, pressed or run over a microplane
S&P to taste (you won't need much salt, with all that cheese and such)

When the eggplants are cool enough to touch, cut them down the middle the long way (keep their green hats on, it helps the small end stay whole) and scoop out the innards with a grapefruit spoon, or score with a sharp knife and then scoop. You can use your hands. That method is what I fall back on most of the time.

When you've gutted the shells, careful not to bust the eggplant skin, dice the eggplant guts and add it to the rice mixture.

Now, stuff that eggplant. I mean, really heap it in there. When all the skins are full, place them in a baking dish with a bunch of tomato sauce in it. I topped each stuffed eggplant with a slice of mozzarella for effect. Bake those suckers at 400 until the sauce underneath them starts to bubble and the cheese on top starts to brown. That's the kind of timing I use when I cook- by sight. Don't be afraid to open the oven door. This isn't  a souffle we're making.

Serve each of the eggies with a bunch of sauce and watch them disappear. These were a huge hit at the table and are a creative way to use up all those purple monsters lurking in your garden. 

Good luck using up your produce, everyone. It's no easy task. When in doubt, spread the love around then tear up your plants and start a winter crop! Our garlic goes in the ground next month. More on that soon.

In the mean time, eat up and pull out those sweaters. Winter, she's a'comin' for us. xo

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A movable feast.

Let's talk about feeding people.

In Hillsborough County, 9% of residents don't know where their next meal is coming from. In Coos County, that number jumps to 12%.

My profession allows me to create menus and healthy meals for my clients. It is exciting and creative and fulfilling. I love what I do. But as I'm doing this job I can't help but think of those that don't have the luxury of planned, healthy meals.

September is Hunger Awareness Month and the New Hampshire Food Bank has been promoting the effort. It is through the Food Bank that I get the opportunity to participate in Cooking Matters, a division of Share Our Strength. I am a culinary volunteer for classes that teach children, adults and families how to cook healthier meals, shop smarter, and enjoy meal time with their families. It is incredibly rewarding and the Cooking Matters staff is full of gifted and passionate people. I am honored to be in their company. I like the "teach a man to fish" concept of providing aid. It is one thing to give someone a meal, but teach them the independence of cooking for themselves and you can change their life completely. It is a skill I took for granted- an education I was blessed with at a young age. I am thrilled to pay it forward.

This is a strange time for the Food Bank. People are sending their kids back to school, taking a break after summer vacations and preparing for the holiday season. The need for food/monetary donations is up, but the influx of any donations is down. We're all just preoccupied. Please consider making a donation to the food bank or simply spreading the word about hunger in our country. We hear of famine across the globe, but it lives in our own back yard.

It doesn't need to.

In other news, I was thrilled to get a call from the Concord Monitor the other night. I had sent out press releases to local media outlets in an effort to extend my reach in the Greater Concord area. I was delighted to get a text message the following afternoon while I was in the middle of a cook date.

"Great write up in the paper!"

I had forgotten all about it. Talk about a fast turn around. I was thrilled when I saw the headline:

Fairy godmother is her business model

I had never thought of it that way, but was I ever thrilled at the comparison! It wasn't long, but I was pleased with the whole article. Some great friends of mine shared it across social media. Here's hoping people read it and get a better understanding of what I do for a living. I get a lot of confused glances when I tell people I'm a "personal chef." They're not sure what to do with a title like that.

I am also expecting a piece in the Hippo Press soon. Back in a past life of mine I was a writer there, so it felt strange to be sending them a press release (and I told them so in my e-mail!). Regardless of that, their food writer Luke Steere gave me a call and we had a long chat about my business and what I love to do- feed people. That piece will have a photo with it, which should be helpful down the road. I know the Hippo has a ton of readers, I hope they are interested in what I do! I am so anxious for the next issue. I will let you know when it hits news stands.

As with most of my posts, I like to end with a good recipe or two. So, why break tradition?? Our family runs around a bit crazy in the mornings and the earliest of us need a fast way to get breakfast in. The answer was a combined effort between myself and my sister Melissa:

Egg Cups.

Lightly grease a muffin tin and add to the cups any vegetables you desire. These had a bunch of Swiss Chard and Shallots in them. Leave enough room to crack one egg into each cup on top of the veggies. Sprinkle with cheese and bake at 350 for 10 to 15 minutes, maybe 20, minding the doneness of the yolk. I like a runny yolk, so I went with a few less minutes and finished with a quick blast under the broiler. Garnish with Sriracha. Because it belongs at breakfast. Even on cereal.

Besides that, we've been inundated with peaches at our house. My favorite start in the morning is plain yogurt with sliced peach, crushed walnuts and a bit of honey. It's an energy boost! Our favorite peach dessert this year has become a welcomed favorite by many of my clients- several request it over and over again. I can't take credit for it. The folks at Bon Appetit Magazine gave me this gem- and when I say it is incredibly easy, I mean it. God bless and easy dessert that even a cook (not a baker) can master pretty quickly.

Nevermind the "Blueberry" in the title, this recipe will work with any fruit you throw at it. I like mixing peach and blueberry when the season is at a crossroads.

Blueberry Drop Biscuit Cobbler (copied and pasted for your convenience)


  • 1 1/2 cups plus 3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons plus 1 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2" pieces
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 Tbsp. crème fraîche or sour cream
  • 6 cups fresh blueberries (about 2 lb.)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest


  • Preheat oven to 375°. Whisk 1 1/2 cups flour, 3 Tbsp. sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Add butter; using your fingertips, incorporate until only pea-size lumps remain. Gently mix in crème fraîche. Knead in bowl until a biscuit-like dough forms, 5–7 turns (overmixing will make dough tough).
  • Combine remaining 1 cup sugar, remaining 3 Tbsp. flour, berries, juice, and zest in a large bowl. Toss to coat. Pour into an 8x8x2" glass baking dish or divide among six 6-oz. ramekins. Tear biscuit topping into quarter-size crumbles; scatter over berries.
  • Bake cobbler until juices are thick and bubbling and topping is cooked through and deep golden brown, 20–25 minutes for ramekins or 45–50 minutes for baking dish. Let cool for at least 1 hour.

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That about covers it for now. What a great summer I was blessed with. I hope you feel the same about yours. Now, it's time to toast to changing leaves, heartier fare, and layered clothing.

This New Hampshire native wishes you all the best that Autumn has to offer. xo