My love of baking started with chocolate chip cookies.
In these chocolate chip cookies butter is replaced FULLY by tahini, which gives these cookies a slightly nutty and delicious change that the original chocolate chip cookie was needing all these years. I found a version of this recipe on Food52 a few years ago and was intrigued ever since. I tweaked it a little bit and never turned back.
My favorite tahini brand is Soom Tahini, based in Philadelphia. It is a woman owned company and has some of the best tahini I have ever had. If you can get your hands on a jar I highly recommend supporting this company and enjoying their creamy product in these cookies (and on its own!)
Drying herbs is a simple way to preserve your favorite fresh herbs all winter long. I recently dried copious amounts of rosemary, sage, mint, oregano, and thyme. Once completely dry, these herbs will last for a few years. I mostly use these herbs for cooking, but mint can be use to make your own tea too. Drying your own herbs is an easy way to preserve your herbs at the end of the season, and aid in your cooking all winter (year) long.
The oldest technique to drying herbs is taking a small bunch, tying it with a string, and hanging it upside down for 1-3 weeks until the herbs have lost all moisture. I hung mine under the stairs/on a shelf and they were all dry about 2 weeks later.
How to dry your own herbs:
Once you are home, wash the herbs and dry them throughly with towels.
Take twine, and a nickel sized bunch of the herb and tie them together at the top.
Leave extra string so you can then tie the herb bundle on a shelf or any spot where it can hang freely.
Allow the herbs to dry for 1-3 weeks until fully dry.
Remove the herbs from the stems and store whole or crushed in a jar with a lid or a bag.
My favorite flours and cornmeals are sourced from Castle Valley Mill. This mill is based in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and began milling grain on the land in 1730. I order their flour in bulk so I can use it for all my cooking needs. My favorite of their flours is the bolted hard whole wheat.
During the colder seasons, I crave my favorite cornbread recipe to bake and share with family and friends. This cornbread has sweet potato in it to add moisture, along with other simple ingredients you are sure to already have on hand. I usually use leftover sweet potato or squash from a prior meal for this recipe. My cornbread is best when I use Castle Vally Mill cornmeal and flour! Hopefully you find as much joy and cosiness making this cornbread as I do.
Mix the cornmeal, flour, baking soda, salt, and sugar together. Set aside.
Blend the apple cider vinegar, milk, maple syrup, sweet potato, and oil together.
Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients, and add the wet mixture. Mix until just combined. If the dough looks too dry, add a tablespoon more milk at a time until all the flour has combined and the dough looks moist.
Pour the batter into either a 9-10 inch cast iron skillet or a 9×9 square baking pan.
Bake for 35-45 minutes, or until the top is lightly golden and a toothpick inserted into the cornbread comes out clean.
This recipe is extremely forgiving to those who bake it. Enjoy!
Matriark Foods: Woman Owned, Upcycled, Vegetable Broth Company
About four months ago I was involved in a case study about Matriark Foods with Drexel University and the Philadelphia Department of Public Health. It was there that I met Anna Hammond via Zoom and learned about her business, Matriark Foods. They have been working towards scaling access to healthy food for the benefit of people and the environment for almost three years. Their primary product is an upcycled vegetable broth concentrate that is dense in flavor, low in sodium, and made from vegetable remnants. By working with farmers and food service providers, their broth makes use of the 40% of the vegetables that would otherwise go to waste.
Q: So how did you become aware and interested in food waste?
A: I built a healthy eating program for youths and families living in public housing in New York City, in all five boroughs and an educational program at a farm Upstate…I was working with youths and families who had an enormous desire to eat healthy food, but had no access because of food deserts… the beginning of Matriark was developing a business that could utilize large scale amounts of surplus which then became also additionally, upstream waste streams into healthy, affordable products. Affordable is key for lots of people.
Q: What are obstacles that come with working with food waste? And what obstacles have you faced specifically?
A: What obstacles have we not? Supply chain, paperwork, sourcing, getting things from one place to another intact storage against production, failures of the production facility, getting product to market distribution. And literally every challenge that there is practically in creating a product or getting something to market, including the volatility of the product itself… we’ve met those challenges and scaled those walls. I think that why we’ve been able to be successful is that there is a zeitgeist right now around the urgency to do something about the environment. And food waste is one of the most kind of accessible, or seemingly accessible, ways to do that.
Q: What are your goals for Matriark in the future? And what do you think you can accomplish?
A: Our vision is to become a multi-channel business that really works on these three, in these three ways. To upcycle as much vegetable waste as we can, and create a variety of types of affordable, healthy food to large numbers of people.
Q: What do you think an individual person or consumer could do to actually create an impact in their own food waste?
A: Well, one of the largest contributors to food waste is home waste. So being much more careful about planning your meals ahead, to reduce food waste, but also to think about what you’re buying….people need to understand that the littlest action that they take cumulatively will have a very big effect, you know, either through the cumulative effect of the action, or because their action inspires someone else, also to act. On that note, I say, everyone should vote.
Cranberry sauce from the can has always been an obligatory purchase on my family’s Thanksgiving table. My odd uncle would be the only one out of dozens of guests to dig his knife in it, because quite frankly, it is gross. Because of this, I was made to believe that I did not like cranberries. The jiggling cylinder of overly sweet mixture cranberry juice and high fructose corn syrup is always thrown away at the end of the night, yet reappears each year without fail.
My opinion of cranberry sauce changed the day I decided to make my own. Finally, the cranberry sauce was a star on the table, and none of it ended up in the trash. My recipe is non-traditional in that it contains more than just cranberries and sugar. I decided to cut the tartness of the cranberries by adding apples and honey. I then toss in some warming spices, orange zest, and ginger for good measure. My mom visited a cranberry bog last year, and we are still using the stash of cranberries she brought back from Pine Barren Native Fruits.
Curious if I was alone in my feelings toward cranberry sauce, I sent out a google survey, and received 71 of responses regarding other’s opinions on cranberry sauce. My survey asked the respondents if they like canned, homemade, both, or neither. It then asked for reasoning towards their choice.
From my survey, the highest percentage of people liked homemade cranberry sauce. Seven percent of all who responded (5 out of 71 people) preferred canned. I received comments such as “I love fresh, homemade cranberry sauce with orange in it. We also buy a can of cranberry sauce, and it goes to waste!” and “I don’t care for the sweet gelatinous canned stuff from my childhood in the 1970s, when there was no other option served. The variations for homemade cranberry sauce can be interesting too.” What I found most interesting, was those that chose that they like both the canned and homemade sauce, further stated, “Homemade is what I really like, but grew up with the canned stuff so it’s “traditional” and “Nostalgia for the canned and fresh for creativity and flavor”. 71.2% (52 out of 71 people) responded they like homemade, or both homemade and canned cranberry sauce. But, many of the people who responded they like both homemade and canned addressed their reasoning for liking both is the nostalgic feeling canned sauce brings. With these responses, I am concluding that the majority of people prefer homemade, but agree that the canned cranberry sauce is ‘nostalgic’, so they feel like they need it on the table too. Let’s start making homemade cranberry sauce ‘nostalgic’!
My favorite technique for cooking sweet potatoes is slow roasting. My recipe for this you can find here. Once you cook the sweet potatoes, you can utilize the following recipe for my sweet potato casserole.
Add the sweet potato flesh, spices, and milk to a blender and blend until very creamy
Spread the creamy sweet potatoes in a casserole dish.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a medium sized pan, over medium heat, add the olive oil, maples syrup and pecans. Cook over medium heat for 10-12 minutes until the maple crystalizes around pecans. Stir frequently. The maple will become sticky right before it crystalizes around the pecans.
Spread the pecans over the creamy sweet potatoes and bake the casserole for 30 minutes until warmed through.
Late Saturday morning, I hopped on my bike and made my way to Clark Park Farmers Market with friends to buy our weekly vegetables and fruits from the farmers and artisanal food suppliers. This wonderful aspect of the West Philadelphia community was started in 1998 and operates year-round. Unlike most farmers markets in Philadelphia that close in November for the season, Clark Park Farmers Market always seems to be open and ready to serve its community jam, cheese, vegetables, fruits, flowers, wine, bread, and more. It has built a trust and community within itself that can be seen any time you visit on Saturday.
Before we entered the market itself we navigated our way through a crowd. Philadelphia was alive with excitement after the projection of Pennsylvania’s electoral votes resulted in a definitive victory for Joe Biden. Outside of the entrance to Clark Park farmers market, there was a dance party and cacophony of honking cars shouting for joy. Children were running around and banging pots and pans with wooden spoons like it was the New Year. The people of West Philadelphia were dancing, laughing, and feeling a weight lift from their shoulders due to the defeat of Donald Trump for President. I felt proud to be a part of the Philadelphian community at this moment.
As I looked around I spotted faces I knew (under masks) from the climbing gym I am a member of and the bakery called Lost Bread, that I interned at. I always seem to run into people I know at Clark Park. We entered the market and I made my way directly to the sweet potatoes. The wonderful multi-colored fingerling sweet potatoes at Livengood Family Farm’s stand are delicate and delicious. Cooking sweet potatoes at a low heat, and for a long time, creates a caramelized, unparalleled sweetness in the flesh and skin. Preparing them in this way will insure you never want to throw away your potato skins again and save you time in the kitchen. The different colored sweet potatoes have different tastes/textures too, so make sure to get a deep purple, white, and bright orange colored ones to try. (see recipe for slow roasted sweet potatoes below)
For Thanksgiving this year, my plan is to have such an array of sweet potatoes in addition to a pasture raised turkey from Livengood Family Farm at Clark Park Farmers market. Sourcing food from farmers you know means you can have more control in how the meat you are buying is treated and raised. Buying from local businesses, especially during this pandemic, supports your own neighbors and community’s economy. I am excited for the turkey, and the turkey broth that I will make after the turkey is carved!
After picking up a bundle of sweet potatoes, I stopped at Hand of the Earth Orchard next which has beautiful apples, including my favorite variety called Jonagold. Jonagold is a cross between the crisp Golden Delicious and the blush-crimson Jonathan. But, at Hand of the Earth Orchard, I ask for their seconds. The seconds are apples that have a bruise or blemish which makes them unsellable to the farmer at a normal price. The seconds are usually half-price and perfect for making applesauce, or eating if you find ones with small, almost unnoticeable differences.
After, I made my way to other farm stands selling butternut squash, spaghetti squash, kabocha squash, cabbages, and brussels sprouts on the stalk. The brussels sprouts on the stalk are fun to snip off and roast or roast on the stalk! The leaves are also delicious on the top and taste similar to collards. My friends and I got a good laugh from trying to find the best way to carry our Brussels sprouts for the remainder of our trip (see below).
Another great vendor at Clark Park Market is Ploughman Cider, which sells wonderful hard ciders. They are located in Aspers, Pa., and attend the market on the second Saturday of the month only. Although they weren’t at the most recent market, their ciders are delicious and worth a trip for when they are there.
Other great fall products that we picked up were baked goods and apple cider. I love to heat up my cider with whole cinnamon sticks, cloves, and allspice. Most farms use their second quality apples to make their cider, which takes a product that could easily be wasted to create a delicious drink.
When you get the chance, research farmers markets near you and support the farmers and artisans that surround your neighborhood. If you are in Philadelphia, Clark Park Market is one of my favorite markets around!
Do you ever buy a head of cabbage to make a specific dish and end up using less than half of the head? Instead of throwing out the remainder of the cabbage, you can easily make sauerkraut! All you need is cabbage, salt, and a jar with a lid.
My interest in fermented cabbage started through the dishes of my grandma’s Slovakian and Germanic-rooted cooking. During my recent conversation with her, she reminded me of the stuffed cabbage filled with meat, and covered in a tomato sauerkraut sauce that I devoured as a child. Bratwurst and pierogies with sauerkraut were dishes that are anchored in childhood. As my grandmother explained to me how her grandmother also made sauerkraut for her when she was growing up, I recalled how regularly I had eaten this tangy, crunchy ferment. It was the cheapest, most logical option for their family. I am excited to bring back happy memories through fermenting my own sauerkraut like my grandma used to do for me.
Recently, fermentation has grown in popularity due to the health benefits it provides. Making your own fermented products means you can have a constant supply to fulfill all your sour needs. Fermented products provide great health benefits such as prebiotics and bioactive compounds due to the activity of enzymes and microorganisms. But that isn’t the only reason to ferment food. Highly perishable foods, such as fruit and vegetables can utilize fermentation as a technique to extend shelf-life. Because of the salty environment that sauerkraut is in, it can last about 4-6 months in a fridge. Let’s get started on making our own!
Grab the biggest bowl you own and get ready.
Flip your cabbage over and cut out the core. Take off a few of the outer leaves. Save the core and the outer leaves- they will be important later.
Cut the cabbage in half.
Chop the cabbage as thin as possible. The sharper your knife, the easier it will be to do this.
Once all the cabbage is chopped, add it all to a bowl and sprinkle the salt on top. For every pound of cabbage, you should use 1.5-2 teaspoons of salt. Make sure the salt you are using is not iodized. Iodized salt can inhibit yeasts and bacteria in fermentation. Sea salt is my favorite to use for all fermentation and pickling projects.
Start massaging the cabbage! You are trying to break down the cell walls of the cabbage. Once you can squeeze water out of the cabbage similar to the picture shown above, your cabbage is ready for canning. Note that the cabbage will reduce to about ⅓ of the volume you start with from massaging.
Press the cabbage into a clean glass jar with a sealable lid. Allow liquid to cover the cabbage. Take one of the outer leaves you saved and fold it to fit in the jar (it doesn’t have to be perfect). Press the cabbage leaf down so the salty liquid covers everything. Seal the jar with the lid and allow the sauerkraut to ferment for about 1-2 weeks.
My jar-method sauerkraut, ready to ferment! Unscrew the lid of the sauerkraut daily to release any pressure build up from the gas produced during fermentation. After a week, taste the sauerkraut, and keep fermenting until you have reached your desired taste.
*for every pound of cabbage, use 1.5-2 teaspoons of salt*
Cut core out of the cabbage and strip the outer leaves off of the cabbage. Save both for later.
Cut all the remaining cabbage as thin as possible and place in a large bowl.
Add the salt to the cabbage and massage the cabbage for 10-15 minutes until you are able to squeeze water easily from the cabbage, and liquid has pooled at the bottom of the bowl.
Pack the cabbage in clean jars as tight has possible, leaving 2 inches of space between the cabbage and the top of the jar.
Add any extra liquid to the jar.
Take the extra outer leaves of the cabbage or core and use as a weight to hold the sauerkraut down, so it doesn’t float in the jar. If using the leaves, fold them into a square about the size of the opening of the jar and press down as tightly as possible, liquid will cover it.
Here are two of the finished sauerkraut flavors I made. On the left is a beet, ginger, apple, red, and green cabbage sauerkraut mixture. On the right is a simple green cabbage sauerkraut.
Things you can do with sauerkraut include: eating it as a side with a meal, pairing it with eggs, adding it to soup, blending it into a salad dressing, and adding to sandwiches, burgers, or wraps. There are many more possibilities than this, so explore what your kraut can do!