Monthly Archives: March 2013

Flavorful Meatloaf with Curried Gravy, Creamy Mash & Peas AND A Word About Washing-Up! (serves 6-8)

This is one of those dinners I make every once in a while when I am begged. And the reason that it requires begging is simple: too many pots and pans!!! It is most certainly worth it when it is all over, however I have no plans to make this dish for at least another six months, or perhaps not until it is someone’s dying wish.

Flavorful Meatloaf with Curried Gravy, Mash & Peas

Flavorful Meatloaf with Curried Gravy, Mash & Peas

So how many pans are we talking about here: well there is a pan to saute the vegetables, a large baking tray to cook the meatloaf, a pot for boiled and mashed potatoes, a pan for gravy and a saucepan for the peas. Oh, and I forgot, the large mixing bowl for the raw ground meat and seasonings.

When I make a dinner like this I always think about my mother who cooked dinners like this every night (actually not meatloaf in Ireland but you know what I mean). She had a pot for veggies, a pan or pot for meat, a pot of potatoes (always!) and a pan for sauce. How she didn’t go insane with all of those pots to shuffle around on the stove is beyond me, and then the pile of washing-up?  The washing-up became my and my sister’s headache when we were old enough to reach the basin of water!



Maybe that’s why I shy away from “meat and potato” dinners. It reminds me of the unending piles of dish, pots, pans, knives, forks and cups for tea afterwards. This was of course all done without a dishwasher, sure it’s no wonder I openly declare love for my dishwasher every single day.

I can’t believe I am giving a recipe for something delectable while also complaining about how laborious it is to prepare. But it feels refreshing to be totally blunt and to let you know what you are getting yourself into by choosing to cook this on perhaps a busy week night when you can barely stand. In other words, leave this dinner for a day when nothing would suit you better than to hide away in the kitchen for a bit by yourself and you feel the need to fuss over pots and pans.

Cook in oven for 1 hour

Meatloaf wrapped in bacon (another version)

It is also important to tell you that even if you have a dishwasher make sure to rinse anything that has been in contact with those starchy mashed potatoes, or you will get a crust on every glass that is washed along with it!

On the very bright side, it is a delicious meal and if you make two loaves as I did, the leftovers are an absolute treasure the next day or the day after, to be fried, a filling for sandwiches, or even warmed, sliced and wrapped in romaine leaves for lunch.

My hat is off to anyone who tackles dinners like this on a regular basis, and that there are enthusiastic helpers when it comes to the washing-up!


For the meatloaf:

3lbs ground meat (you can use just beef or a combination of beef with lamb and/or pork)

2 eggs

3 slices white bread (really crappy or stale bread is fine)

3/4 cup milk (any %)

2 tbs olive oil

1 medium onion, diced

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

10 small/medium crimini mushrooms, diced (also called Baby Bella, but white button mushrooms would be fine too)

2 celery ribs including leaves, diced

1/2 cup chopped black olives (I used flavor-packed Kalamata olives)

2 tsp finely chopped rosemary leaves

2 tsp mild/medium curry powder (optional)

1 tsp sea-salt

several grinds black pepper

For the Curry Gravy:

3 tbs unsalted butter

3 tbs all-purpose flour

1 tbs mild curry powder (use something you love)

3 cups chicken stock OR 1 good quality bouillon cube & water

sea-salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

For the Mash:

6 med/lrg potatoes, peeled and cut into 8 pieces each  (whatever you have)

2 tbs unsalted butter

3/4 cup milk (anything will do except skim)

1 tsp sea-salt

several grinds black pepper.

For the Peas:

1/2 lb baby peas

knob of butter

salt & Pepper


1 – Put saute pan on medium heat and add the oil. When it has warmed for a minute add the onions, garlic, celery and mushrooms to the pan and cook for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Take off heat and set aside.

Saute veggies for meatloaf

Saute veggies for meatloaf

2 – In the meantime break the slices of bread into a small bowl and add the milk. Crack the eggs into a large mixing bowl, then add the ground meat, followed by the rosemary, curry powder, salt, pepper, chopped olives and the soaked milky bread (squeeze out the excess milk with your hands before adding bread to the meat)

add ingredietns to ground meat

Add ingredients to ground meat

3 – When the veggies are cooked and have cooled down a bit, add to the meat also. Mix everything together until very well mixed (I use my hands).

form into loaves

Form into loaves

4 – Divide the mixture into two and put on a greased baking tray. Form into “loaves” and bake in the preheated oven for about 50 minutes to 1 hour.



5 – Take out and cover loosely with foil and let rest for about 10 to 15 minutes before thickly slicing.

In the meantime, make the gravy and put the potatoes on to boil.

For the potatoes:

1 – Peel and cut the potatoes and place in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Place lid on pot and boil until soft. Check, and when a knife goes through the center of the potato easily, they are done.

cream potatoes

Cream potatoes

2 – Drain the water and add the rest of the mash ingredients and mash with a potato masher until well mixed and have a creamy consistency. Taste for further seasoning and adjust to your taste. Cover loosely with a cloth and set aside on stove-top.

For the gravy:

1 – Put saucepan on low/ medium heat and add the butter. When it melts add the curry powder and mix. Add the flour and mix until you have a smooth paste (use a manual whisk for the job).

Melt butter, add curry powder

Melt butter, add curry powder

2 – Add 1 cup of the stock and mix until smooth. Add the rest of the liquid and turn the heat up to medium and cook until sauce is simmering, whisking pretty constantly. Cook for about 4 minutes while it is simmering, then turn off heat. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper if necessary.

add liquid

Add liquid

*If using a bouillon cube (like I did!), add it at the same time as the curry powder and then continue with the recipe using water*

Cook peas last:

While chicken is resting, boil peas.

Cook peas in a little boiling water until cooked (about 3 minutes). Drain and season with a little pepper and a knob of butter.



To serve: Add mash to each plate, along with slices of meatloaf, peas and plenty of gravy!

Pesto with Walnuts with Chicken & Spaghetti And The Beauty of Pesto (serves 6)

When I was making pesto last night and putting the basil leaves into my food processor, I started to think about the fact that I was excited about leaves, an ingredient if you didn’t know about and asked what was for dinner, and were told it would be “something with a bunch of mashed leaves in it!”, it wouldn’t make you run to the table with a knife and fork in each hand in anticipation.

Pesto with Chicken and spaghetti

One thing to serve with pesto

In fact, if you have never eaten pesto, or seen pesto (don’t laugh – I never ate or knew what “pesto” was growing up in Ireland) it might even look a little hmmm…how shall I put this delicately, a little like pukey green sludge! I know that I am not exaggerating when I say that not everyone has heard of pesto because when I was in the supermarket (in the United States) yesterday combing the vegetable section for pine nuts before finally asking the guy piling the oranges in a giant pyramid where it could be located, he said, ‘What are pine nuts?”

Thyme & Basil freshly snipped from my garden

Thyme & Basil where the key green last night

When I finally discovered pesto, I couldn’t get enough of the stuff and the color that looked like greeny mush to me one day transformed to the color of liquid glistening emeralds the next! It is Italian (of course) and the word comes from the Italian to pound (broadly speaking) which makes perfect sense, as the leaves are indeed pounded to crush them which releases their gorgeous taste. It is hard to believe that a small little basil leaf can pack such a flavorful punch.

Bowl of Lemon Basil - complete heaven.

Bowl of Pesto  – complete heaven

Anyway – back to the pine nuts which are traditionally used in the pesto. They were eventually located by a manager and as I thanked her and threw them into my basket I noticed that this tiny plastic container of pine cost $9 – that was more than the chicken! Wait a minute! I just couldn’t fork over the money for them. All I could think of was how I could possibly feed 6 people a dinner for the same price. It was extravagant enough for me to be buying basil that is out of season here (I grow as much of it as I can in the summer) and so I put the pine nuts back ( a little embarrassing after all the hoopla about finding them, but how and ever) and opted to use the walnuts that I knew were sitting in my fridge (and cost half the price for twice as much).

My Lemon Basil!

The walnuts worked absolutely great and I would bet even the pesto purists of the world would not know the difference. The pine nuts are oily, so are the walnuts, so they did the same job.

Sweetness (Had to add some fresh basil pesto to guild the lily!)

Pesto on a sandwich

Pesto is great on almost anything, from this pasta dish, to sandwiches, to plain old pesto on toast. Try it on most any food within reason and it is delicious. I made my daughter a pesto frittata for breakfast this morning and it was heaven.

Bravo Pesto!


*This is a Blood Type A Friendly Recipe. If you are very strict do not use black pepper. The cheese is not so bad but do not use if you want to be ultra-pure*

For the chicken:

2 tbs olive oil

4 good-sized chicken breasts

sea-salt & freshly ground black pepper

2 or 3 springs fresh thyme (optional)

For the Pesto:

5 cups packed basil leaves

3/4 cup broken walnuts (or 1/2 cup pine nuts)

3 cloves garlic (2 if they are big)

1/3 extra-virgin olive oil, (more if needed)

sea-salt to taste

1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (optional) 

*I use Parmigiano cheese if I have it but if I don’t, this pesto is super fine without. Also one of my kids is not fond of the taste so I leave it out and just have cheese on the table to add later*

And to complete this dish:

1 lb spaghetti (I use Barilla brand)


1 – Season chicken with salt and pepper. Put saute pan on high heat and when it is hot add the oil. Wait until it is hot and then place the chicken breast in a single layer in the pan. Sear on that side until brown.

Chicken for Calzones

Sauté Chicken (it will accumulate it’s own juices)

2 – Turn chicken over and continue to sear on high heat for about 1 minutes. Turn heat down to low and add the thyme (if using), and cover with a lid. Cook gently for  between 12-15 minutes. Check to make sure they are cooked, then turn heat off and leave to rest for about 10 minutes with lid on. Remove chicken and slice and return to pan.

Make Pesto:

Place he basil in a food processor and add the rest of the ingredients on top (except the salt). Blend until smooth. Taste for addition of salt and add a little at a time until you are satisfied. Scrape into a bowl and set aside.

walnut pesto

walnut pesto

*At this point the pesto can be used for any dish (not just for this one!)*

The tid-bit that saved us

 Pesto on toast is  great breakfast or snack!

Continue with the dish:

Put water on for spaghetti and cook according to instructions.

cook spaghetti..

cook spaghetti..

While spaghetti is cooking, take the chicken from the pan (keep the pan and broth) and slice. cover with foil to keep warm.

When spaghetti is cooked, scoop out about 1/3 cup of pasta cooking water, then drain the pasta. Do not rinse pasta but transfer directly into the pan with the chicken broth. Mix up a little and then add 1/2 of the pesto to the pan and mix gently until incorporated. If the pasta seems thick, loosen up with a little pasta water until you are happy with the consistency. Taste and add salt to your liking (or not).

One thing to serve with pesto

One thing to serve with pesto

Divide pasta between warm plates and add some slices of chicken and another  dollop of pesto and serve.

Glorious Honey Sticks!

I can’t believe I want to write about these little novelty straws full of honey – but I simply have to!

I first spotted these vials of sweet yellow honey sticking upright in jars at my local Health food shop. You know how shops put sweets at the checkout luring you to buy something while you wait your turn? Apparently this marketing strategy has not been lost on the lady who also advises me on which tincture of  this or that I should buy for my immune system or which probiotic is essential for my general well-being.

Even in this little shop there can sometimes be a wait while people get engrossed in pumping anyone who will listen to them about their ailments and what can be done about them! This results in my kids, who are invariably by my side, having time to get fixated on something and then start begging for it (in the nicest possible begging voice I might add).

I give in when I’m in the mood and it is the Honey Stick that wins out over all else every time. I never saw the appeal or the harm in indulging them so I have been buying them the various varieties on offer at the counter for a number of years now.


This company not only sell pure clover honey sticks but also lemon honey sticks, agave nectar sticks, cinnamon honey stick, even chai honey sticks!

A couple of weeks ago however I found a whole box of them, tucked away on a shelf I don’t usually have the patience to throughly investigate. I was actually looking for a jar of local honey for my new-found passion for chamomile tea when I spotted them.

They were lined in a neat row in a box and it surprised me. I don’t know why since the owner has probably been breaking up boxes and selling them individually for years! I felt like I had found a treasure and I couldn’t wait to show them to my kids. It is a silly thing really, but I never felt right about buying a whole bunch of them up at the counter, whereas buying a box of them seemed sensible.


20 honey sticks for $4.95 (dessert for 3 weeks!)

I have to say that I am now in love with honey sticks. They are great to take the edge off a sweet tooth moment, and I pack them as “dessert” in the school lunch boxes. It is a very small treat ( not more than a baby teaspoonful and 15 calories) but my sweet innocent children think I am giving them special treatment.

I asked them why they liked honey from a plastic straw so much and the answer is simple if you are a child, “they are sweet and gooey and are fun to eat” There you have it, although I’ve now began to pop one or two in my bag, and anywhere I have chamomile tea and there is only sugar on offer, that little honey stick comes in handy! Yes I know I am sounding like some nerdy lady who carries absolutely every emergency in her bag but I swear I am not. I wish I were as there is no moment more triumphant than pulling something out of your purse when someone is in dire need. Have you every wanted a band-aid, a pencil (not a pen!), a cough drop or even a Q-tip and wished that nerdy woman was around to give it to you?


The box is also sweet

Now at least I have honey sticks – how many of you can say that!

Light Chicken Ragu with Shells (serves 6) And a Word on Economy!

Here is a great pasta dish that feeds a crowd without spending a ton of money! Even if you are very well off and budgeting for food is not high on your list, I think there is always room for economy. When it comes to food, I am mindful of every scrap I decide to put into my shopping basket. Someone, somewhere in the world is hungry so buying food is a privilege that shouldn’t be taken lightly by anyone, regardless of their income.

Chicken Ragu with Shells

Light Chicken Ragu with Shells

With a little bit of though, the most lowly ingredients can be made to taste delicious, and this recipe is a prime example of Deliciousness and Economy.

When I sit around with my family over dinner we sometimes play the game of “how much did this dinner cost?” I really think it is important for my kids to have an understanding of how money plays a part in their lives but that it is certainly not the thing that defines their ultimate happiness. And this is not a big philosophical commentary on how money can’t buy you love etc etc. It is a very practical matter to me when it comes to equating quality food with money: I just don’t. 

My CSA Crop share this week!

Fresh Veggies from a local Farmer

My two children love that something can be made from so little and it excites them to think that as a very general rule, most people can afford to choose something good to eat over something mediocre.  How many times have we gone to restaurants and my kids leave saying that they could have had something better at home and not wasted money. To me, buying a nice bottle of wine and eating at home is far more satisfying than eating out.

That’s not to say that when the opportunity arises to eat some place fantastic that we don’t jump at the chance. What I am trying to say is that there is a difference between eating crap (whether bought ready-made crap, or from a crappy restaurant) or making it a rule to eat at home prepared with decent ingredients and eating out when you have chosen some place wonderful (this could be a crab shack on a beach or a fancy place in a city somewhere).

lots of peppers from my garden & from next door!

lots of peppers from my garden & from next door!

There are so many places to find good ingredients for very little. Besides shopping for bargains in the supermarket, there are all sorts of people in the summer and autumn selling produce from their own gardens: vegetables, fresh eggs, even meat. I have the puny-est garden myself but I grow as much as I can in the summer (especially herbs) to add to my meals. I’m not even that good at it but I get no end of pleasure out of whatever appears, however sad it may look!

The savior of last night's dinner (oregano & parsley)

Oregano from my garden (and a modest bit of parsley)

So maybe you might consider cooking a couple of times this week and be smug over how good it tastes and how much you saved!

This dinner cost (not including the fuel cost)

Meat – $4.99

Veggies – (garlic, carrot, onion., spinach – $2.25

Pasta – $0.99

Tomato puree  – $0.75

Broth (I used a bouillon cube & Water) $0.50

Milk – $0.44

Total $9.92 (that’s $1.65 per person)

Rosemary bush in the back garden

My mother’s rosemary Bush in Ireland


You will need:

3 tbs extra-virgin olive oil

1lb Chicken sausage, removed from casing (I found a sausage seasoned with apple and onion, but there are lots of other ones out there, like a take on an Italian sausage or one with garlic & herbs)

1 med/lrg sweet onion

3 cloves garlic

1/2 cup chopped carrots

1/2 cup chopped celery, including leaves

1 tbs mixed chopped fresh herbs (use whatever you have on hand)

OR 1 tsp dried herbs (again whatever you have on hand)

1/2 tsp chili flakes (optional)

1/2 tsp sea-salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 cup tomato puree

1 1/2 cups chicken broth

5 cups chopped spinach or baby spinach leaves

1lb medium pasta shells (I use Barilla brand)


1 – Put big saute pan or saucepan on medium heat and add the oil. Add the onions, garlic, and celery and saute for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Turn heat up slightly and add the sausage and as it cook, break it up into smaller pieces with your wooden spoon. Cook for about 10 minutes.

Cook veggies, add meat

Cook veggies, add meat

2 – Add the tomato puree, broth, herbs, pepper flakes, salt, pepper, and carrots to the pot and bring everything to a simmer. Cover with lid and simmer for about 25 minutes (the sauce should always have a slight bubble to it while it is cooking). Stir occasionally.

*In the meantime put water on for pasta and cook according to instructions. time the shells to be ready at the same time the sauce is cooked. Scoop out about a 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water before draining and do not rinse shells in cold water.

add liquids

Add liquids

3 – Add the spinach and cover with lid. Cook for another 3 minutes. Turn off heat and stir sauce. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.

Cook sauce, then add spinach

Cook sauce, then add spinach

4 – When pasta is ready pour the drained pasta directly into the cooked sauce, adding the pasta water if you want a looser consistency.



Divide between 6 warmed plates or bowls and pass some Parmigiano Reggiano to anyone who wants it!

Baked Chicken & Spinach Rigatoni – Really Great Dish! (Serves 6)

This was a great weekend dinner. I prepped it earlier in the day and then was free right up to dinner time to enjoy my busy weekend.

Baked Chicken & Spinach Rigatoni

Baked Chicken & Spinach Rigatoni

This dish  had everything needed in one big baked dish: protein, carbs, and greens. I made the bechamel-style sauce lighter by using more broth than milk and it really helped to eliminate that heavy feeling you have after eating a big bowl of pasta.

Think about making this next weekend!


You will need:

4 tbs unsalted butter

2 tbs extra virgin olive oil

3 chicken fillet (4 if small), cut into small bite-sized pieces

10 oz mushrooms, sliced (about 3 cups sliced) – any mushroom: white, crimini, button

10 oz spinach, chopped

sea-salt & freshly ground black pepper (to season chicken)

3 tbs all-purpose flour

1 cup milk

2 cups chicken broth (or 2 cups water & 1 good quality bouillon cube)

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper flakes (chili flakes)

1 lb rigatoni pasta (I use Barilla brand)

1 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (or another strong hard cheese of your choice: cheddar, Pecorino Romano)


Preheat oven 350*

Put the pasta water with plenty of salt and cook rigatoni according to instructions and rinse with cold water in colander. Set aside until ready to assemble dish.

1 – Season chicken with sea-salt and freshly ground black pepper. Put large saute pan on medium/high heat and add 1 tbs of butter and 1 tbs olive oil. Saute the chicken pieces in batches until cooked. As you cook sprinkle a little of the chili flakes over the chicken. Do not crowd the pan or the chicken will just get steamed and watery. Chicken batches will take about 5 to 6 minutes each.  You will need to add more butter and oil as you go (only use 2 tablespoons of butter for this stage). Transfer to a plate as you go and cover with another plate or shallow bowl.

saute chicken

saute chicken

2 – Turn heat down to medium and add the rest of butter (2 tbs). Add the mushrooms and saute until nice and soft and starting to brown (about 10 minutes). Add  chopped spinach and cover pan with lid for 1 minutes. Take lid off and stir. Turn off heat.

saute mushrooms, add spinach

saute mushrooms, add spinach

3 – Add the flour and mix well. Cook for about 1 minute before adding the milk and the broth 1 cup at a time, mixing well in between each cupful. The sauce will begin to thicken. Stir and continue to cook for about 4 or 5 minutes while sauce simmers and thickens. Turn off heat and stir in any remaining pepper flakes. Taste sauce for the addition of salt and pepper.

make sauce

make sauce

Assemble dish: Spread 1/4 cup of the sauce in the bottom of a buttered casserole (lasagna dish). Add 1/2 of the rigatoni.

Assemble ingredients

Assemble ingredients

Add all of the chicken in an even layer followed by the mushroom and spinach mixture. Top with 1/2 of the remaining sauce.

sauce, pasta, chicken, veggies, sauce, pasta, sauce

sauce, pasta, chicken, veggies, sauce, pasta, sauce

Cover veggie and chicken layer with the rest of the pasta followed by the remaining sauce. Sprinkle with the grated cheese.



Bake in preheated oven for about 35 minutes, covering 1/2 way through if top is browned.



Let dish sit for about 5 minutes before serving. Serve with more grated cheese if you like.

The Ides Of March, The Wall of Secrets – And, Soup Of The Gods

Statue of Julius caesar outside the Roman Forum in Rome

Statue of Julius Caesar outside the Roman Forum in Rome

This day last year in Cortona, Italy, my friend Andrea  the papermaking professor extraordinaire for the Spring Semester convinced our friend Mario to don an olive wreath to play the part of Julius Caesar for her Ides of March Tribute. He agreed of course, lest he wanted the wrath of this infamous day brought down upon his very own head (sometimes it is best to do what Andrea says!)

Road above the UGA art school in Cortona

Cortona on a misty morning last Spring

But, in fairness to Andrea, she knew that Mario would enjoy the bit of drama attached to a period in history (in a city he loved, Roma), to be something he would not say no to, and so he put up with her turning his sweater into a makeshift cloak and thrusting a wand of sorts into his hand in preparation for the grand finale of her Ides of March project.

Findng hiding places

Wall of Secrets

Andrea had her students make little paper books to be used for the writing of secrets. And in the early afternoon anyone who wanted to, was invited to gather at the big old stone wall outside of the paper studio to write a “secret” and hide it in the crevices of the rocks.

Little books ready for secrets

Little books ready for secrets

Faced with this tiny blank sheet of paper was a little intimidating. Do I write an actual secret, something I have never dared to utter to anyone, or just write something clever or silly?

My book

My book

As everyone finished their notes they gave them up to the cracks in the high wall and waited until the wall was full of secrets before being allowed the delectable task of finding all of the little pieces of paper, reading the contents and putting them back for the next reader to find.

Hiding the paper

Hiding the paper

It was a little surprising to find that most people did reveal a part of themselves that remained hidden until the opportunity to tell something in anonymity presented itself by way of a small piece of paper and a wall full of fissures.

Finding and reading

Finding and Reading

Things like: “I am the only one not having fun”, “I want to build a place for children to play”, “I am going to break-up with my boyfriend when I get home”, “He has a beautiful body”, “When I am dead my dearest, sing no sad songs for me”

Part of something hidden

Part of something hidden

It felt like Andrea took everyone to confession and we were now being absolved of our sins, forgiven by strangers. The pieces of paper remained there until ravaged by weather and time. If anyone is reading this in Cortona, perhaps they could walk out to the wall by the paper studio and see if anything is left of our moment last year – Let me know!

The Resting place of Julius Caesar

The Resting place of Julius Caesar at the Roman Forum (it is quite something that this great Roman General’s grave is still being remembered with fresh flowers over 2,000 years later)

In the middle of all of this the large window to the left of the wall swung open and there Mario appeared in all of his get-up waving his starry wand and began a passionate speech to the little crowd of us who had gathered around the window in anticipation. This was no soothsayer warning to “Beware the Ides of March”. This was Caesar himself come back from the grave threatening revenge upon his murderers and damnation to everyone else! Trust Mario to use this moment to give a voice to the mightily fallen Caesar. It was a refreshing change from the usual ravings of the beggar warning of impending danger.


Architectural Fragment at the Roman Forum, Rome

On to the food bit of my story: I made a soup last night and was thinking of warming the cold in our souls and bones when I came up with this restorative concoction. It was an evening when the wind whistling around the house and threatened to find its way in under the doors and through the windows. I had to make something searingly hot both in temperature and flavor. When I asked my son what should I call my soup after we had all eaten, he said “Soup of the Gods”. I think it fits quite nicely with the rest of my story.

Godly Soup

Godly Soup


*This is also a Blood Type A diet Recipe – omit the hot sauce if you are very strict, but all other ingredients are either beneficial or neutral*

Soup of the Gods Recipe

You will need:

2 tbs olive oil

1 1/2 lbs chicken breast fillets, thinly sliced

1 sweet onion, quartered and thinly sliced,

3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

2 baby bok choy plants, roughly chopped

1 1/2 cup thinly sliced carrots (grated or shredded)

1 cup baby Bella mushrooms, thinly sliced

1 tbs good quality curry powder (I used a special mix from Kalustyan’s, a great specialty food shop in Manhattan. So, seek out the best you can find!)

2 tsp dried herbs (such as oregano, crushed fennel, sage, thyme)

1/3 cup dried mushrooms (optional, but adds nice depth)

1/2 tsp sea-salt (more to taste)

1 good quality vegetable or chicken bouillon cube (I use Rapunzel brand. They make the best stock cube in my book)

12 cups water

3 cups cooked basmati rice (if leftover, take it out of fridge when you begin and add to the soup cold. If cooking from scratch, cook the rice at the beginning of prep)

Condiments & Garnish: thinly sliced fresh lime & Sriracha sauce


1 – Prep all ingredients before you begin cooking. Put dried mushrooms in cup of hot water until ready to use.

Cook onions, add mushrooms

Cook onions, add mushrooms

2 – Put good-sized soup pot or big saucepan on medium heat and add 2 tbs of olive oil. When it has warmed up, add the garlic and onions and cook for about 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and continue to cook for another 5 minutes or so.

add seasonings

Add seasonings

3 – Add the curry powder and dried herbs stir into the veggies. Next, crumble in the stock cube and ½ teaspoon sea-salt.

Add liquid

Add liquid

5 – Add the water and turn heat up and bring pot to a boil.

add rest of veggies

Add rest of veggies

6 – Next add the bok choy, carrots and dried mushrooms (if using), and stir.

add chicken

Add chicken

7 – Add the chicken and bring the liquid back to a boil. When it boils, turn the pot down to low. Cover with a lid and simmer gently for about 15 minutes or until chicken is tender. Turn heat off and add the cooked rice. Cover and let pot sit for about 10 minutes before serving. Make sure you taste and season further with salt and/or pepper if you think it needs it.

add rice and let it sit

Add rice and let it sit

Serve with a slice of lime and some sriracha. Of course this is fine alone or with a different condiment of your choice.

ready to eat

Ready to eat

A Visit To Renninger’s Flea Market In Pennsylvania & Short Ribs Braised in Smokey Sauce with Fennel (serves 6)

I went to an oddly curious and interesting place this past Saturday Morning: A Flea Market/Farmer’s Market in Berks county, Pennsylvania Called Renninger’s Antique and Farmer’s Market. It has been around since 1955 and by the looks of things, hasn’t changed much since.

Unctous Short Ribs

Unctuous Short Ribs from Meat purchased at Dietrich’s Country Meat’s at Renninger’s

This Market is in Mennonite country in Pennsylvania where black covered buggies drawn by horses carrying women in bonnets and flowery dresses and men in black hats and suspenders are a common sight.

Renniger's Market

Renninger’s Market: a strange Farmer’s and Antique Market

What’s a Mennonite? – In brief, the Mennonites are a branch of the Christian church, which sprung from the 16th century Protestant Reformation. Their name is taken from Menno Simons, a Dutch convert priest who was at the forefront of the movement in Holland. A Swiss German branch came to North America  (settling first in Pennsylvania) in the 18th century. Although they speak english they mainly communicate in a low german dialect called Pennsylvania Dutch. 

Hex Sign

Hex Sign on the front of the barn at Renninger’s Market (Pennsylvania Dutch Folk Art which began to appear on barns in the mid 19th century – they can be seen as purely decorative or as having a sort of Talisman against bad luck, invoking good health and prosperity.

The Mennonite Christian philosophy is one of pacifism and living simply, but they also believe in embracing the broader community choosing to be part of the larger non-Mennonite population. The Farmer’s market in Renniger’s is filled with food stalls selling everything from Femur Bones to donuts, and a good portion of the food vendors are Mennonites.

A long glass cabinet full of pennsylvania meats

A long glass cabinet full of Pennsylvania meats

Renniger’s began as a Farmer’s market in the 1950’s but in the mid ’70’s the market extended into a place where antique dealers could have permanent spots inside the big L-shaped building, and weather permitting, dealers could set up outside the building to sell their wares on rented tables or from the back of their vans as the case may be. There is a huge Antique Market known as The Extravaganza three times a year and it is a great place to find anything from a modern era chair to a stuffed grizzly bear (in other words, from the cool to the shall we say, less-cool).

Outside Flea Market at Renniger's

Outside Flea Market at Renninger’s

When you walk into the market, the first thing you pass is a busy barber shop beside a guy selling tomb stones (really). Then there is a stall with fresh bread, beside a vendor selling mountains of sweets and candies. Opposite is Dietrich’s Country Meats and this is where I purchased the short ribs for our delicious dinner last night.

Dietrich's Country Meats

Dietrich’s Country Meats (The register is like a giant cash box that never closes, the help preferring to add up money on the paper your meat is being wrapped in).

Dietrich’s have been butchers for 3 generations and their display case was filled with things from mouth-watering cuts of meat like steak and thick-cut pork chops to other items that might be hard to stomach first thing in the morning: stacks of femur bones, pig’s tongue, kidneys, brains, tripe, gizzards, pig snouts and containers of smoked pigs ears.

Cow's Tongue

Cow’s Tongue

They have a shop a few miles away and boost a  “Selection of Freshly Cut Beef, Pork & Lamb Slaughtered right on the Premises!” This was definitely a “nose to Tail” operation and where Dean, one of the grandchildren was more than happy to give me a sample of cooked cow’s tongue (tasted like really strong roast beef), and instruct me on how to cook a raw tongue dish (very important to boil the tongue first and pull off the lining before carrying on – gulp!).

My package from dietrich's Meats

My package from Dietrich’s Meats

I bought a selection of meat which was handed to me in a neatly wrapped bundle and moved on to see what else was of interest. I bought a few vegetables and then made my way down an aisle where a hotchpotch of booth sellers peddled fabrics, tools, old collectible toys, vintage clothing, dusty taxidermy animals, antique furniture, and a hoard of other items, all of it looking like a dizzying pile of confusion in my mind by the time I got to the door that led to the outside stalls.

An Aisle at renniger's Market

An Aisle at Renninger’s Market

It was the same scene outside only bigger! I did manage to find a funny little cookbook printed by a corner grocery store called an A & P from the early 20th century. Since places like this compel you to but something I decided this was the memento to take home to remember my morning here at Renninger’s Antique’s and Farmer’s market this past Saturday.

Cookbook from turn of 20th century with great illustrations (Now sitting atop my piles of cookbooks in the Crappy Kitchen)

Cookbook from turn of 20th century with great illustrations (Now sitting atop my piles of cookbooks in the Crappy Kitchen).

The short ribs were a big hit, and now the only thing left to tackle is the pork tongue I bought in a moment of bravery.

Gee - and he looks like such a harmless old man

Gee – and he looks like such a harmless old man?


Short Ribs Braised in smokey Sauce with Fennel (serves 6)

You will need:

Short Ribs

Short Ribs

3 lbs beef short-ribs cut into 4 to 5″ pieces

4 tbs vegetable or olive oil

sea-salt & freshly ground black pepper (for seasoning meat and to taste)

1 sweet onion, large dice or sliced

1 large fennel bulb, sliced (Bulb only)

4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

1 1/2 cups baby carrots, left whole

2 sprigs rosemary cut in half

1/2 tbs smoked paprika

1 tsp cayenne pepper flakes (chili flakes)

2 tbs all-purpose flour

1 cup tomato puree

1 cup red wine

3 cups chicken or veggie stock (or 3 cups water with 1 good quality veggie or chicken bouillon cube)


Preheat oven 375*

1 – Season meat generously with sea-salt and pepper. Put large saute pan on high heat and add 2 tbs of oil. When it is hot, add a single layer of ribs to pan and sear until browned on both sides. Transfer to a heavy casserole pot or dutch oven (large enough to hold entire dish).

sear ribs

sear ribs

2 – Pour off grease and add a little olive oil to pan (about 1 tbs) and turn heat down to medium. Add the onions, garlic, rosemary and fennel and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.


 Saute onions, garlic, fennel and rosemary

3 – Add the carrots and continue to cook for another 2 or so minutes.

Add carrots

Add carrots

4 – Add the spices and stir (also add the bouillon cube if using instead of broth). Next add the flour and stir until everything is coated.

Add spices and flour

Add spices and flour

5 – Add the tomatoes puree and wine and stir. The mixture will thicken. Cook for about 2 minutes.

Add liquids

Add liquids

5 – Add the remaining liquid and turn the heat up. Let it come to a boil (stirring every now and then). turn off heat and pour over the ribs in the casserole. Cover with lid and place in the oven for 2 hours. Remove and check by inserting a knife into the ribs. If it goes through very easily, it is done. If not, return to oven checking every 10 minutes. Let pot sit for 10 minutes when you remove from oven.

Cook for 2 hours

Cook for 2 hours

Serve with anything you like: rice, boiled potatoes, greens, bread, sautéed greens or have on its own.

I served the short ribs with sauteed spinach adn basmati rice

I served the short ribs with sautéed spinach and basmati rice (fabulous bowl by my friends Mike and Naomi of Bandana Pottery)