Memorial Day: Starting our Summer by Honoring the Memory of Those Who Gave All.

It’s Memorial Day!
Everyone knows that today is the “unofficial” start to the summer season. The mercury is climbing. Pools are open. The beach is packed. Cookouts are in full swing. And summer vacation is just a whisper away. We will most definitely be bringing you a taste of summer fun this week with our summer kick off. First though, we want to pause for a moment and remind everyone that today is about much more than barbecues and beach balls.

Memorial Day is recognized as a United States federal holiday for the purpose of remembering the people who have died while serving in the country’s armed forces. The holiday is observed every year on the last Monday of May. While it is perfect timing for a gateway to summer, and what better way to remember those we’ve lost than with a celebration? It is also a solemn day. It’s a day for reflection. It’s a day for memories. It’s a day to honor and give thanks. So while you’re flipping burgers on the grill, or flipping over to get an even tan, take a few precious moments to pause, reflect and remember that today there are mothers remembering sons and daughters, brothers remembering brothers, wives remembering husbands, children remembering parents, and all of us remembering that the sacrifices that these unspeakably brave men and women have made, make it possible for you to sip that next beer, toss that next frisbee, swim that next lap…
So let us raise our glasses to the memory of the men and women of the United States armed forces. And take a moment to read our Veterans Memorial Wall (originally posted here), really read it… repeat the names, look at the dates, take note of the ages, the ways in which they were lost. I promise you that if you do that, that next sip of beer will taste smoother, the next bite of that hot dog will taste better, and your freedom, your sweet, sweet freedom will seem more valuable than ever.

To those who sent in the names of their lost love ones: we are profoundly sorry for the loss that you have had to endure. We thank you for sharing your heroes with us.
Happy Memorial Day! Summer… here we come!

wallofhonor

click on the image to view full size memorial.

Christina Verrelli Takes Home Cooking From the Kitchen to the Pillsbury Bake-off to Prime Time on Food Network.

On our final day of culinary week we interviewed Christina Verrelli. Christina is a local home chef, mother, and blogger, who took her home cooking skills all the way to fame, fortune, and the Food Network, with a little million dollar stop at the Martha Stewart Show along the way.

WHERE ARE YOU FROM?
I was born in Cleveland, Ohio. My whole family on both sides is from Cincinatti. I’m the last of six children. My family moved around a lot. My father worked for General Electric so we moved around. Before I was even a year old, we moved to Audobon, PA and I’ve lived here my whole life.

HOW OLD WERE YOU WHEN YOU FIRST STARTED COOKING?
My mom has told me that I was about 7 or 8 years old.

WHO TAUGHT YOU TO COOK?
I guess my mom was probably the biggest influence, and my two older sisters as well.

A LOT OF KIDS HELP OUT IN THE KITCHEN WITH THEIR PARENTS BUT DON’T REALLY TAKE THAT TO THE NEXT LEVEL. WHEN DID YOU REALIZE THAT YOU WERE ACTUALLY REALLY GOOD AT COOKING?
I don’t know. I always liked cooking. People tell you that you’re good at it, but I guess I didn’t really believe them until I started winning contests. I guess I thought that if people like it and it’s good enough to win contests, then maybe I can actually cook. I mean, I always liked my food, and my family liked it, but I guess winning contests validated it.

DID YOU EVER THINK THAT IT WOULD TURN INTO WHAT HAS BASICALLY AMOUNTED TO A CAREER IN FOOD?
No, I never thought that. I was just doing what I loved to do. I was feeding my family. We all need to put food on the table and that’s just what I was doing.

SO, YOU WON THE PILLSBURY BAKE-OFF!?
Yes.

HOW DOES SOMEONE EVEN ENTER INTO SOMETHING LIKE THAT?
Well, I think it is the biggest contest of its kind in the country. It’s been around since, I think, 1949. It’s older than the Super Bowl. I had heard about it. My mother had one of those Pillsbury Bake Off cookbooks. I remember making a cake from one of the cookbooks. But it wasn’t until, I guess, 2010 when I saw an advertisement in a magazine while I was sitting and waiting for my daughter’s dance class to finish that I thought about it. It was when the recession was going on and I figured, hey I’ve got nothing else going on, I have nothing to lose. So, I went online and you have to read all the rules and agree to use certain ingredients. Then you just play around with their food and come up with a recipe and submit it online.

ANY IDEA HOW MANY PEOPLE ENTER?
I know they always say it’s tens of thousands or something like that. I did read somewhere that it’s closer to like a quarter of a million recipes that get entered.

WOW! SO WHAT DID YOU MAKE?
For that one I made some breakfast items actually. I made three different items and served them to my family with a score sheet. We were just kind of joking around with it. I didn’t think anything would actually happen with it. The recipe we all liked the best was this savory and sweet breakfast slider that I made. It was breakfast sausage mixed with spinach and made into a patty. Then we put strawberry butter with strawberry jam on it and served them on little mini biscuits. Sliders were all the rage then. So, I made it in with that, as one of the 100 finalists. I got the call months and months later. I had forgotten about it actually. Deep down I didn’t really think that would be the million dollar winner, but I was just thrilled to go. They fly you to wherever they’re holding it that year. It was Orlando that year. I had a great time, made a lot of friends, we did T.V. and radio interviews. It was exciting. Then I decided I really wanted to go back again and try in 2012 when they were having their next bake-off. So, I took what I had learned from my first experience and really tried to make it in. I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it in. I thought maybe I was just a one hit wonder, you know? But I worked really hard on my recipe for the 2012 contest!

AND YOU SAID THE PRIZE FOR FIRST PLACE WAS A MILLION DOLLARS!?
It is. I know, it’s unbelievable!

christinav2HOW DID YOU FEEL WHEN THEY TOLD YOU THAT YOU HAD WON?
Oh my gosh! It was so surreal. It was just unbelievable. I was standing onstage at the Martha Stewart show. Which was just surreal in and of itself. Confetti started flying and I started crying. I was in disbelief. It was pretty amazing!

YOU HAD MENTIONED YOUR GIRLS. YOU HAVE TWO CHILDREN?
I do. I have two girls. They’re 10 and 12.

WHAT’S THEIR FAVORITE THING FOR YOU TO COOK FOR THEM?
I would say [my 12-year-old] likes just about anything. She’s a big fan of cheeseburgers. And my [younger one] likes pasta. She’ll take any kind of noodle, anytime.

DO YOU DO ANYTHING SPECIAL TO IT?
Honestly she just likes it with butter and a little salt. She’ll allow tomato sauce, but it has to be smooth. If it’s chunky she’s picking things out.

christinav4 christinav3

SO YOU WERE THE RUNNER UP ON THE FOOD NETWORK SHOW ‘AMERICA’S BEST COOKS‘. HOW DID YOU GET ON THE SHOW?
I actually was contacted through Facebook by one of their casting agents. I had been contacted by other shows and you go through this long process of forms and videos and it never really amounted to anything, so I wasn’t really thinking anything would come of it. But, it kept progressing to the next step, until they had me come to New York for an on-camera interview. There were a lot of challenges in traveling to New York with your dish and all of your stuff, and keeping it hot, and all of this on the train to New York City. I felt like maybe they were preparing us for the unpredictability of what was going to happen on camera.

HOW WAS IT WHEN YOU FOUND OUT YOU HAD MADE IT TO THE SHOW?
I was scared to death. I was going to have to go to New York City and leave my family, and we didn’t even know for how long exactly. Could have been a couple of days, or a couple of weeks… It was right before the holidays too. And they don’t really tell you a whole lot about it ahead of time, maybe so there’s more real reaction to things on camera.

AND YOU WERE PAIRED WITH CHEF ALEX GUARNASCHELLI. WHAT WAS IT LIKE WORKING WITH HER?
She was my mentor. We were the east coast team. She was just amazing. She is so strong. She’s really competitive but she is really, really caring too. She’s so down to earth. Everyone, the camera guys, the sound guys, they would all say how much they liked her. She spends time with everyone. She’s not full of herself at all. She doesn’t act like she thinks she is some big A list star.

YOU SEEMED VERY CALM AND FOCUSED. YOU WENT VERY FAR IN THE COMPETITION (RUNNER UP). WHAT WAS IT LIKE COMPETING WEEK TO WEEK?
I was just so grateful to be there. It was a neat cast of people. I was worried that I’d be up against these big nasty competitive personalities and it wasn’t like that at all. We all just wanted to stay another day so we could meet somebody new. We didn’t want the experience to end. For me at least, it wasn’t even as much about the prize as the experience.

AND WHAT WAS THE PRIZE?
It was fifty thousand dollars.

I THINK I NEED TO BECOME A BETTER CHEF.
There are so many contests out there. There’s actually a website called Cooking Contest Central. There’s this whole little microcosm of people who just do all these different cooking contests.

DO YOU HAVE ANY ASPIRATIONS FOR A SHOW OF YOUR OWN?
Oh, I don’t know. I feel like there are so many people who want to do that. I don’t know if I have the special sauce for that. But I certainly love creating recipes and sharing them with people. I teach some cooking classes here and there. I have learned though never to shy away from any challenges. I won’t walk away from whatever life throws at me.

YOU HAVE A WEBSITE CORRECT?
I do. It’s www.epicuricloud.com

YOU HAVE A RECIPE YOU’RE GOING TO SHARE WITH US TOO?
I do. I’m going to share my Irish Coffee Brownies.
christinav5
(You can find Christina’s recipe for Irish Coffee Brownies here.)

A Would-be Cupcake Queen Slows Down to Spend More Time Being a Mom.

cupcakesWHAT DO YOU DO FOR A LIVING?
I work in human resources.

AND YOU LIKE TO COOK?
I’d say it’s a hobby or an interest of mine, yes.

WHEN DID YOU START COOKING?
I’ve been around the kitchen my whole life with my grandmother. When I was a kid I used to watch cooking shows instead of Saturday morning cartoons.

WAS IT YOUR GRANDMOTHER WHO TAUGHT YOU TO COOK?
Yes, my grandmother. she used to say “I’m not always going to be around; someone in this family needs to learn this stuff”

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE THING THAT SHE WOULD MAKE?
Pizelles

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE THING THAT YOU MAKE?
In general I usually revert to Italian food, but I like trying new recipes and techniques pretty often. I enjoy going to a restaurant and eating and then trying to recreate it at home.

cupcakes2maureencupcakes3WHAT’S SOMETHING YOU’RE ALWAYS ASKED TO MAKE?
From my husband: baked ziti or taco dip (he’s not a fancy guy). From everyone else: cupcakes (or more specifically, my frosting). I bake!

SPEAKING OF BAKING, YOUR CUPCAKES ARE SOMETHING OF A LEGEND, DO FAMILY AND FRIENDS ALWAYS ASK YOU TO BAKE FOR BIRTHDAY PARTIES AND SUCH?
I used to be the baker, but my oven is older than dirt so I don’t do it as much as I’d like

DO YOU HAVE A WEBSITE OR BLOG OR ANYTHING FOR YOUR BAKED GOODS?
I used to but not anymore! Too time consuming. The toddler life doesn’t lend well to that.
(Maureen used to have a blog called The Devil Wears Pastry and a page called Cupcakes by Maureen!)

maureen2DO YOU HAVE ANY ASPIRATIONS FOR A FULL TIME CAREER CHANGE INTO SOMETHING HANDS ON IN THE CULINARY ARENA SOMEDAY?
I used to, but I don’t want the hours. I work in staffing in the food business, so hiring chefs is good enough for me!

WHAT ABOUT A COMPETITION SHOW? LIKE CUPCAKE WARS OR CHOPPED OR SOMETHING LIKE THAT?
Nothing on Food Network. I used to love Food Network, but now it’s too gimmicky and not as challenging. I don’t want to watch someone open a bunch of cans and call it dinner; I can do that myself.

WHAT ABOUT A COMPETITION THAT’S NOT ON TV LIKE , THE PILLSBURY BAKEOFF OR SOMETHING LIKE THAT?
Possibly, but again time is never on my side!

maureen1YOU COMPILED ALL OF YOUR GRANDMOM’S OLD RECIPES AND HAD IT MADE INTO A COOKBOOK. WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO DO THAT?
I thought it would be nice for us to have one place to be our go-to for Grandma’s best recipes. We don’t have a lot of them, might as well keep them together.

SO ARE YOU GOING TO SHARE ANY OF THE HER SECRETS WITH US? TELL US WHAT’S IN THOSE PIZELLES THAT MAKES THEM SO SPECIAL?
If I told you, I’d have to kill you! They’re just between me and her. Who says I didn’t leave out an ingredient or two? (Sorry, ma!)

GRANDMOM’S PIZELLE RECIPE:
(Makes about 100 cookies and you need a pizelle iron to make them the correct way)
12 eggs beaten
3 cups of white sugar
6 sticks of butter or margarine
6 cups of flour
4 Tsp of baking powder
2 Tsp of vanilla extract
1 small bottle of anise extract.
(If you wish to use anisette liqueur, substitute 1-2 tbsps of liquor for every tsp of anise extract)

Mix the ingredients in above order, eggs first until fluffy. Sugar and margarine. Add flour and baking powder in slowly. Vanilla and anise last. Use iron to form and bake the cookies. Don’t burn them!

O’Boy Organic: Helping Families Get a Healthy Organic Start.

TrinaO'BoyleGrowing up in Michigan, this blogger and business owner traded in a childhood of comfort food classics to build a business and lifestyle brand based on light, healthy, organic fare for the whole family.

WHAT IS IT THAT YOU DO FOR A LIVING?
I provide cooking classes for parents and children. I’m a jack of all trades really. I do the classes, and I offer a personal baby chef service as well.

WHAT EXACTLY IS A BABY CHEF SERVICE?
If you are a parent who wants to feed your baby the best homemade food possible but might not have the time to do it yourself, you can hire me and I do it for you. Everything made is organic, in season, and prepared just for that particular client.

AND WHAT IS THE NAME OF YOUR BUSINESS?
O’Boy Organic.

CAN YOU TELL ME A LITTLE ABOUT YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH ORGANIC FOOD?
I’ve been into healthy food and healthy eating since I was about 18. I started out just not eating red meat. Then we moved from Michigan to South Florida. Living in Michigan we didn’t have the means, or just didn’t really know about eating healthier. We never really had a meal that didn’t have some kind of meat protein. But then when I moved, I wound up living with a girl who was vegetarian, and she showed me different recipes and ways to eat better, and I stopped eating meat altogether when I was 25. I always liked knowing where my food came from. I liked reading books about food and where it came from, and about our food system, and the treatment of animals and things like that.

SO AS A KID GROWING UP IN MICHIGAN WHAT WAS YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH FOOD LIKE? WHAT MEMORIES DO YOU HAVE OF FOOD AS A KID?
I grew up in a house where my mom cooked basically every meal during the week. We would have themes. A pasta night, a casserole night, taco night, you know, nothing fancy. We never had anything out of the ordinary really, always a meat, a starch, a vegetable, that type of meal. My dad’s mom, my grandmom, was Polish and we would go to her house and she would always have like a 7 course meal waiting for you every time you went over. We laugh about it now, but we used to say, if you weren’t stuffed and drunk by the time you left there, there was a problem. She’d stuff us with food, and you’d leave with food. My dad learned from his mother and he’d make us some of our more interesting meals on the weekends. He’d experiment and play around with food a little more. I think that’s where I learned how to cook. I think that’s where my love of food began, helping my grandmom, being in the kitchen making stuff like peirogies, and then helping my dad in the kitchen.

SO WAS THERE SOMETHING IN PARTICULAR THAT HAPPENED FOR YOU TO MAKE THAT SWITCH FROM THOSE RICH COMFORT FOODS, THOSE POLISH STAPLES, TO THE LIGHTER, MORE NATURAL ORGANIC FARE THAT YOU COOK WITH TODAY?
In high school there was movie that we watched, a documentary, it was about the food system, about how animals were treated. Something about it just spoke to me and I thought, “how could this be happening?” And I found myself thinking that I couldn’t be a part of that. And I started reading more about those things. Then after high school I really started to educate myself and that’s really where my journey began- into eating healthier and learning where my food comes from.

YOU’RE MARRIED WITH 2 CHILDREN, CORRECT?
Yes. Two children. Two boys. Ages 9 and 7. They were both born on the same day, that’s a little fun fact.

SO I GUESS THE KIDS ARE ACCUSTOMED TO EATING THIS WAY. I ASSUME THEY WERE BROUGHT UP WITH A HEALTHY ORGANIC COOKING AND EATING LIFESTYLE?
They have. It was nice because when I met my husband, he was eating poultry, but he was already not eating red meat and he was into eating healthier food and was experimenting with a different type of eating lifestyle. So he was very supportive when I’d make something like lentil loaf instead of meat loaf. And so it was just a kind of natural progression for me. Obviously I feel like if I am eating healthy as an adult, then we want our kids to be eating healthy too. From the beginning I knew I wanted my babies to have good organic food. Someone had given me a care package and it had organic baby food in it. Back then the only organic baby food was the jars of Earth’s Best. So we gave it a try. When he started eating it, of course I wanted to taste it, to try what he was eating. So, I think it was bananas he had, and I tried it and it didn’t even really taste like a banana. It didn’t look like what a nice ripe banana would look like if it was mashed. I tried something else, peas I think, and it just didn’t taste like fresh food. So I decided I was just going to make my own food. I went to the bookstore and did a bunch of research on it. I found this amazing book called ‘The Super Baby Food Book’, and it really became my bible. I loved it. I was teaching full-time then, so on a Saturday or Sunday I would spend a couple of hours getting organic food and making it. I’d go the farmer’s market or Whole Foods. Back then most conventional markets didn’t really have organics, so you really needed to go to a specialty store or farmers market to get your fruits and vegetables. But I’d go and get it and spend a couple of hours in the kitchen, I’d make it and freeze it little cubes, and it was really perfect.

SO HOW DID YOU GET THE IDEA TO TURN THAT INTO A BUSINESS?
Well, after moving to the Philadelphia area, I stopped teaching and I was a stay at home mom with my two boys. For about a year and a half, I was just raising them. I wasn’t really doing anything else outside the home. A friend of mine was working for an organic food company in New York City, doing grassroots marketing in the Philly area. She didn’t want to do it anymore and she thought I’d be perfect for it. So, I started working for them. I was doing basic promotions and sales, and as that job progressed I started doing cooking classes for them, developing recipes and eventually online marketing for that company. Throughout that time my skill set became more of a marketer than a teacher. But I still had that teaching background, that background in education. My husband and a friend of ours kind of pushed me into it. They told me I was doing all these great things for this one company and maybe I should really start doing it for myself. So that’s where the idea of going into business for myself came from, and the idea for O’Boy Organic.

WHAT TYPE OF SERVICES DOES O’ BOY ORGANIC PROVIDE AND IF SOMEONE WERE INTERESTED IN YOUR SERVICES WHAT WOULD BE THE BEST WAY TO GET IN TOUCH WITH YOU FOR THAT?
Well I have a website, http://www.oboyorganic.com, and all of my contact information is there. I’m on social media. All of my social media is on there. Basically, if you are on our website you can click through and see what we do. It’s really easy, very self-explanatory. It gives a description of each of the services that I provide. From kid’s cooking classes, parties for kids, parent classes, personal baby chef services, they can get in touch with me by phone or email with any questions and I can further explain the services, and we can find out how I can help them.

WHERE ARE YOU BASED OUT OF?
Drexel Hill, PA. Which is right outside of Philadelphia.

YOUR KIDS ARE 7 AND 9. IS THERE A ZERO TOLERANCE POLICY ON JUNK FOOD IN YOUR HOUSE?
No, there isn’t. I mean it’s very rare. If we’re going to have junk food (except now because my husband just bought 5 boxes of Girl Scout cookies) it doesn’t happen very often, and it’s always in moderation. If they want cookies or they’re looking for something sweet, I’ll make it myself for the most part.

SO DO YOUR KIDS EVER COME HOME AND SAY STUFF LIKE, “JOHNNY HAD DORITOS TODAY, WHY CANT I HAVE DORITOS?”
Absolutely. They say that a lot. It happens. Usually it’s with my oldest, who has said something just like that (with Doritos) actually. I said to him, “look I have something that is a better alternative and it tastes juts like Doritos, so we’ll buy it and you can try it.” He tried it and said, “you know you’re right Mom, this does taste like Doritos.” So, I just let him know that it can taste good but it does’t have all of the junk in it. My oldest now asks a lot of questions and he’ll ask me, “well, what is the junk that you don’t want me to have?” And I’ll go over it with him, over the artificial colors, and the preservatives, and what’s in it and I’ll explain to him why I don’t want them to have it. I’ll take him with me to the grocery store and let him make choices, I’ll let him pick things that he wants, but things that I approve of. We read labels, he knows what to look for. Cereal for example, I’ll tell them they can pick out their own cereal, but it can only have so many grams of sugar. So they’ll look at the boxes and see what they have to choose from and come up with something. They’re really good with it. But they’ve grown up with it. It’s not like something I am suddenly changing on them. They’ve had it like this since day one. But, they do get treats. On Sunday, my older son was my assistant for a cooking class and we were driving past a Rita’s (Water Ice) and he asked if we could get one. So, I told him if it was still open when we were done, we’d go and get one as a treat for him being my assistant. And we did, and it was open. We both got a Rita’s and it was a nice little date for us. It was special. I mean he doesn’t get that all the time, but I’m not one to say no all the time either.

DO YOU THINK THERE’S A BACKLASH TO THAT? DO YOU THINK WHEN THEY ARE OLD ENOUGH TO REALLY MAKE THEIR OWN CHOICES THEY’RE JUST GONNA GO JUNK FOOD CRAZY? OR DO YOU THINK THAT YOU’VE IMPARTED ENOUGH KNOWLEDGE TO THEM THAT THEY WILL MAKE AN INFORMED DECISION BASED ON WHAT YOU’VE TAUGHT THEM ABOUT FOOD?
I hope so. I think when they’re not with mom and dad, they’re always going to try to do stuff that they know mom and dad might not approve of. They just had a Valentine’s Day party at school and my one son ate a lot of junk food. He came home and said, “my stomach hurts.” He felt really sick for a long time. Suddenly he was very aware of why he was feeling like that. I told him it was okay once in a while, but understand that if you eat too much of it, this is what it is going to do to your body. I think too as they get older and the more they learn and understand, they will be more likely to be healthy eaters and want those healthier foods.

I FEEL LIKE I HAVE TO ASK YOU, GIVEN WHAT YOU DO AND ALL OF THIS TALK ABOUT HEALTHY FOOD, WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON GMO’S AND THE LABELING OF GMO’S? (GMO stands for genetically modified organism. It is any organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques. GMOs are the source of genetically modified foods and are also widely used in scientific research and to produce goods other than food.)
I KNOW IT IS A VERY CONTROVERSIAL ISSUE RIGHT NOW.
I feel like we have a right to know what’s in our food. I feel like it’s my job, if someone doesn’t know, to educate them about it. That’s one reason I started the O’Boy Organic blog. I feel like if I can have a voice, and share information than I can educate others about it. Education is so important. If you don’t know about it, about what it does, and what’s in our food system, you can’t do anything about it. It’s astonishing what we put into our bodies. Some companies, General Mills for example, will make different foods for different companies and they’ll leave out certain ingredients. But they don’t do that for the United States. In other countries it’s labeled when it has GMO ingredients, but in this country we don’t do that (label). I think it’s a power issue, a political issue, a money issue. A lot of people make a lot of money from those things. Thanks to this grassroots movement over the last few years, we’re just starting to hear more about it and you’re seeing more about it. Then also people are buying more organic foods now. They’re not going to McDonald’s, and to other fast food places as much. Profits are being lost by those places because people want to know what’s in their food and they want what is best for their family.

SO WHAT DO YOU SAY TO ALL OF THE PEOPLE WHO SAY THEY’D LIKE TO MAKE THESE CHANGES BUT FEEL THEY CAN’T BECAUSE IT’S TOO EXPENSIVE?
I tell them that if they do certain things, they can definitely afford it. We’re a family of 4 and I’d say 95% of our food is organic and our weekly budget is $150.00. We pretty much stay within that budget. It’s mainly because of menu planning. So I give people suggestions like that. We use real food. We avoid pre-packaged food. It’s more expensive because you’re paying for the convenience. I tell them to use what you have first. Use what is in your house to plan your menus and you’ll save money that way. Now, most conventional grocery stores (mine is Giant), all have their own brand of organics and it’s cheaper. You can go to places like Costco to get your meats in bulk. You need to look at what you’re buying and how you’re feeding your family on a weekly basis. It can be done.

DO YOU HAVE A RECIPE THAT YOU’D LIKE TO SHARE WITH OUR READERS? MAYBE SOMETHING TRADITIONAL THAT YOU’VE BEEN ABLE TO PUT A HEALTHY SPIN ON?
Here’s a link to an easy printable recipe for a healthy rice krispie treat makeover: Rice Krispie Treats You can see more about what Trina does and the services her company offers at www.oboyorganic.com

Food That Rocks: A Love of Food Turns Into a Career Feeding Some of Your Favorite Recording Artists

 

imageWe’re talking about food and cooking and you have a great love of cooking. When did you first start loving it?
I have always loved food. I never grew up being taught how to cook. One of my earliest jobs was at a hoagie spot. So having the opportunity to be creative in what I made for myself is probably when I found out I could make what I enjoy the most.

Do you cook for a living?
Yes, I have gotten back into the food business after a long hiatus. I currently do some work with a catering company whose largest customer is a local concert promoter. We cook for many tours that come through our city.

That must be fun! What does that entail?
Well we feed the people traveling with the artists. We also feed local crews that do not travel with the tour. We are responsible for having breakfast up and ready to go when the first trucks start to pull into the venue. We provide a dining room with a buffet line. Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner is provided for all that are associated with the tour. We are responsible for filling all the requests that are listed in the typical tour rider. Our head chef sends a menu to the tour several days prior to a show to be reviewed. They will approve the menu and provide us with special dietary needs of any tour personnel. My primary role, as one of the chefs, is to cook all the items for the buffet lines. We also provide meals for the artists as well. It is rare for the artists to eat in the dining room with all the rest of the background musicians/dancers and other tour personnel. Most commonly we are instructed to provide a special meal at a specific time. Our Dressing room coordinator is most commonly the person that speaks directly with the tour manager and assistants to have all the small details worked out. As the catering company we’re generally first in and last out. Our job is not finished until the last bus and truck is loaded and on to the next stop. The job is fun. But it is also very, very long day. There is one aspect that is a constant and that is you can always expect something to change during the course of the day. As much as you try to set a plan in action, you know that a curveball of some kind is on the horizon. That’s part of what makes the job so fun at times but equally as stressful at other times. There is nothing like a day winding down and knowing that it has been a success. That feeling at the end of the night as I catch a song or two on the way out and I see nothing but smiles on all the faces. The crowd into the show. The bands performing. That guy who was super nice at the carving station who turns out to be the drummer or the sax player or something like that. Those times are some of the best times. And the long hours and travel could not happen without the loving support of my wife.

imageDo you get to get creative when cooking for artists or the people associated with the tour, that you’re feeding? Do you have to follow specific recipes?
Cooking by nature, in my mind, is creative. When given enough time, we certainly let the creativity fly. Most artists want basic food more often than not. The most common dish we are asked to make is plain old grilled chicken. I can’t say I blame them. They are under tremendous pressure to put on a top-notch performance.
As for recipes, once the head chef makes up the menu and it is approved by the tour, we go about putting those dishes together. The dishes don’t have to be the exact, same from night to night as most restaurants. We have a dish to make and our goal is to make everyone that we make that night look and taste great.

Beings that you work with feeding people, do you enjoy cooking when you’re not working?
I enjoy cooking. There are nights that I don’t enjoy cooking, and on those nights we order pizza or cheesesteaks or some of the typical things we all order when we don’t feel like cooking. What I enjoy is going into a Farmers Market and letting the ingredients call out to me. Most times I am making dinner at home, I end up doing it on the fly. I rarely go food shopping, planning meals out way in advance. If I get a craving for something I would rather fulfill that craving then say, put it on the shopping list for next week or whatever.

Is there favorite thing you like to make?
I really enjoy grilling. When we are cooking for the tours that come through, there are times I could be grilling for hours upon hours. What I really enjoy is the pace we work. Our day is a series of deadlines on show days.
I can remember a day, during one of the larger festivals we do, where we planned on serving 165 for lunch, 30 mins in, we were told that the number was incorrect. 250 was now our new total for lunch. When it was all said and done we ended up serving 341. The team was rushing like mad to procure ingredients to make it happen. So we made it through the lunch rush that was literally several hours long. We look up at the clock and lo and behold its 3:45, dinner is due up at 5. We look at each other and realize we have nothing to show for dinner. Those type of deadlines are part of what makes this kind of work so exhilarating for me. So going back to the recipe question. Auto pilot takes over. We get tons of compliments from the tours that come through. They say we have some of the best catering around. I cannot compare what we do with the other catering companies, but I know we put a herculean effort together to put together a product to be proud of.
But at home I enjoy making lasagna and I make a mean banana bread (recipe for banana bread shared below).

Banana bread recipe:
Be sure to use very ripe bananas in this recipe even black bananas are fine. The more ripe the bananas are the sweeter the bread will be.
I will usually use a loaf pan that is 8.5 x 4.5″

Ingredients:
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon of baking soda1/2 teaspoon of salt
6 large very ripe bananas (peeled)
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 large eggs
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup walnuts toasted and chopped coarse. (pecans work well too)
2 teaspoons granulated sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Spray pan with vegetable oil spray. Whisk flour baking soda and salt together in a large bowl.

2. Place five bananas in separate bowl, cover tightly, and microwave until bananas are soft and have released liquid, about five minutes. Transfer bananas to a fine mesh strainer over a bowl and allow to drain, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes. (you should have 1/2 to 3/4 cup liquid).

3. Transfer liquid to medium sauce pan and cook over medium high heat until reduced to 1/4 cup, about five minutes. Remove pan from heat, stir reduced liquid into bananas, and mash with potato masher into mostly smooth. Whisk in butter, eggs, brown sugar, and vanilla.

4. Pour banana mixture into dry ingredients and stir until just combined, with some streaks of flour remaining. Gently fold in walnuts, if using. Scrape the batter into prepared pan. Slice remaining banana diagonally into 1/4 inch thick slices.  Shingle banana slices on top of loaf in two rows, leaving 1-1/2 inch wide space down center to ensure and even rise. Sprinkle granulated sugar evenly over loaf.

5. Bake until toothpick inserted in center of loaf comes out clean, 55-75 minutes. Let loaf cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto wire rack and let cool for one hour before serving.
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From Dreams of Flying to Dreams of Frying: How This Chef Gave up His Pilot Dreams for a Culinary Reality.

imageWhat do you do?
I’m the Executive Chef at Crestview Center in Langhorne, PA. It is a nursing home.

How long have you been a chef? Have you always wanted to be in the culinary arts?
I’ve been cooking professionally for 5 years. I did wanna cook, but I actually wanted to be a pilot.

What stopped you from being a pilot? And how did you decide that cooking was going to be your profession?
Well, I have fun memories of cooking with my mom or just watching her and I know she enjoyed it. I lost my mom when I was 10 and I felt that I had to fend on my own, which was 100% true. No one but myself cooked the meals. Afterwards, when I grew older, it felt like a chore and I felt cross having to cook all the time. I got introduced to aviation from my brother and I loved the science behind flight and the power plants of planes (engines).
As time was progressing, I felt throwing bags into airplanes (I worked at Southwest Airlines as a baggage handler for three years, I think) was a dead-end. I began to get introduced to finer dining (thanks to my wife). Her and I ate at some nice places and it was my meal at Amanda’s, in the city, where I felt that this was my calling.

What steps did take to become a chef?
Well, in ’09 I started going to JNA Culinary Institute in South Philly. I attended class in the A.M. while working 3rd shift at SWA. I took a 9 month program. Although the school was not a high-end institution, I made the best of it. I put in my 2 week notice before finding a cooking job. All my coworkers said NOT to leave cause SWA was a good job. I ended up at the airport Marriott where I was on the cold side of the line, meaning desserts and salads and various cold appetizers.

Is that considered a starting point for a Chef?
Yes, prep cooking your items for your line so it can run smoothly. It also taught me speed and timing along with basic principles.

So how long were you there before moving on?
9 months working at the Marriott, I would go back and forth from cold side to hot appetizers. From there, after I got married, I transferred to the Ritz Carlton. Marriott owns them so it was an easy transition. At the Ritz, I learned about fine dining, cooking and precise knife skills and appreciation of high-end ingredients and plating.

It sounds like there’s a lot of things you pick up along the way. Do you feel like you’ve learned everything you need to know to guide someone new to the field?
It’s never-ending learning, but I feel like I can help someone in an institutional setting like a hospital or nursing home.

What is your favorite thing about what you do?
Honestly, I love cooking and making things from scratch. So I get satisfied when something turns out as planned.

Where would you love to cook?
Vetri….Noma …French Laundry…. Jean George….Botega…Flour and Water.

What advice would you give to someone studying the culinary arts?
Don’t be too arrogant or cocky or a know it all. Chefs tend to like people who take notes, write shit down and complete tasks. Be open to techniques.

Lastly, in the beginning you spoke about learning how to cook from your mother before sadly losing her at such a young age. Are there any special family recipes that were passed down?
No not really. I loved her pancakes and boxed Mac and cheese.

Do you have a favorite recipe that you can share with our readers?
Homemade pasta:
Ingredients:
2 cups of “00” flour (Zero zero flour comes from Italy is has a lower protein than a.p. flour I think)
2 eggs
6 yolk
1 tbs of olive oil
Directions:
Put flour on a cutting board, make a well
Add your eggs. (It helps if they are a bit beaten)
Add oil and some salt and stir in flour from the sides, so a sticky dough forms. Keep it going until all flour is incorporated and homogeneous.
Let rest in fridge for hour.
Cut in to 4’s and roll out.

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Food Memories and Recipes from Readers Kick off a Week of Culinary Delights.

cheeseWe’re enjoying our blog party hangover and settling in to our new home. And this week we’re talking to people about food. We’ve had a few people mention that they’d like to know more about people’s thoughts on food; what they like, and what they’d like to share. People have such a strong connection to food. Food brings back memories. It stirs emotions. It brings people together. So, ask and you shall receive.
Before we dive right in to a collection of great interviews with chefs, novice home cooks, food bloggers, food lovers, and even a Food Network reality show star, we took to the “streets” once again to find out more about what food means to people. We asked if people had a favorite food memory or a family recipe they’d like to share. Here are some of the responses:

“When I was a kid between the ages of 7 & 13, I lived with my grandparents and almost every Sunday the whole family (aunts, uncles, cousins etc.) would come over for dinner. We were three tables long.   Yes, we had a kids table and that is where I sat until I got older. My grandmother wasn’t the best cook, putting it nicely. My mom used to make peanut butter pork chops. They were incredible. We all loved it but she lost the recipe. I know it may sound disgusting, but they were really good. I make a “Chinese version” of peanut butter pork chops, that I made up, it’s good. My wife likes them.”

hamMy food memory is Christmas dinner. My mom makes meat pie: pork, beef and potatoes in a pie crust. It takes a lot of work so she only makes it once a year. My great-grandmother, grandmother, mother have all made it. My mom thinks it might be Pennsylvania Dutch. It makes a lot because it feeds ten people and then we all get some to take home. Yum. In fact we still have some frozen that will only be enough for two of us so I am trying to figure out when to have it.
It is 5 or 6 pounds of pork and beef.
Boil the meat and then cut it up. Just a touch of salt and pepper. About 20 pounds of Potatoes, diced but not cooked fully because they will cook some more. Then you put everything in the pie dough and bake it for at least an hour until the pie crust is golden brown.This makes about two 9 x 12 pans and about 5 or 6-8 or 9 inch square pan.”

“1-800-pizza-hut”

“Sauerbraten, red cabbage and potato dumplings. My mom’s family… no one makes it better.”

“I always think of my Grandmom when I try to think of food memories. It seemed like she was always in the kitchen, morning, noon and night. It’s funny because she cooked so many different things, and I can only really remember one, crepes. I’ve tried to replicate the recipe a million times and I just can’t get it right, not like she made them anyway.”

cupcakes“My fondest food memories are when my kids were little and they’d help me “cook”. I’d let one tear up the lettuce for the salad and wash vegetables. I’d have one be my assistant putting stuff into bowls and mixing. It got a little messy sometimes and I feel and because I would get a little frustrated, but it’s such a happy memory. Those times go by so fast. My kids are grown now and they have their own kids to help them in the kitchen.”

“My sister and I always had a dessert competition. Whenever we’d have any kind of family thing, we’d both bring a dessert. We were secretly in competition to see whose dessert got more compliments. But when I had kids, it got harder and harder for me to compete. Making a beautiful and mouth-watering dessert with twin toddlers attached to your leg isn’t so easy. So I had to come up with something easy and awesome. This pie was SO delicious that my sister actually brings it everywhere now and we’ve put the competition aside. It is so easy too. You have to try it.”
Peanut Butter Pie Recipe
Beat 8 0z of softened cream cheese with 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter in a bowl until blended. Add 1 cup of cold milk and one box of dry instant chocolate pudding mix. Beat for about 2 min. Whisk in 1 cup of whipped topping; spoon into a ready-made crust (I use an Oreo crust, my sister uses traditional Graham cracker). Refrigerate.
Microwave 1 cup of whipped topping and 3 oz of baker’s semi sweet chocolate in microwaveable bowl on high for 1-2 min. or until chocolate is completely melted and mixture is well blended. Let it cool.
Spread chocolate mixture over pudding layer in crust. Microwave 2 tbsp of peanut butter in small microwaveable bowl for about 30 sec. and stir. Drizzle over pie. Refrigerate for about 3-4 hours or until firm all the way through.

“I can’t think of one certain memory, but I always know when I sit down to a meal with friends, it’s going to be a memorable time.”

“The time my Nana came to dinner and she sat in a huge bowl of potatoes! My Gram was cooking and there were bowls, dishes, plates, everywhere. She had to put the bowl of mashed potatoes down for  second to heat up the butter. She was literally out of space on the counter AND the table. So for a moment, she set the bowl down on the chair. My Nana had horrible vision. She wandered in to see how it was going in the kitchen and when she decided to take a seat… well… we did NOT have mashed potatoes that year!”

“Making holiday treats with my kids for all the family holidays, parties, BBQs, etc.”

Do you have a fun food memory, a sweet story, or a recipe to share? That’s what the comments section is for. Tell your tale! And join us tomorrow and all week as we dig in to food week.