My First Mushroom

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Someone asked me today what got me started in my business; where did this passion come from?  I had to sit back a minute and think about it.  After all, I've been doing it for such a long time that I feel it was always there, but there is always a beginning to every story, and this is mine.

Growing up, I couldn't really cook.  My parents were of the era where meat was cooked until it turned to shoe leather, vegetables came from a can, and the trend for convenience and budget meant potato spuds from a box.  I rarely liked what was put in front of me, with few exceptions.

Money was used to pay bills and not to go to college, so after I graduated high school, I went to an art school in Pittsburgh via student loans.  In order to pay for room and board, I stayed with a French family and watched their young daughter and helped with the cooking.  This was an introduction into another life I had never experienced.  I was 19 and tasted my very first mushroom!  Imagine a mushroom being the catalyst to buying my first cookbook.  I actually still have it in my collection so many years later, and I am sharing my first recipe ever made that I still make to this day.

I enjoyed following the recipes and even more so, I enjoyed the results.  Little by little, without realizing it, I was laying the foundation for what would become my passion.

And then life happened.  I got married, started a family, got a divorce, and had to get a job.  I went to work for a mortgage company and ended up settling in for sixteen years.  Cooking and baking were on the back burner.

Fast forward ten years.  I remarried, and my children were pretty much grown and doing their own thing.  I had more time but still didn't really think of food as my passion, as much as it was a necessity.  I enjoyed entertaining and creating little bites for my friends that would ooh and aah, but I believe I thought it was more about the entertaining.  Then one day, I was watching a show about making cupcakes.  It was a contest, it was fun, and I started thinking what flavor I would make; I then, of course, had to make them.   How hard could cupcakes be?  After all, I was pretty good with a recipe. With a huge amount of confidence, I made my special flavor, and when I pulled them out of the oven, I was aghast to see all I had made were hockey pucks.  What?  The second try resulted in the same disgusting manner.  The challenge was on, and I was going to win.

With determination and malice, I rose to the cause of defeating my nemesis.   I researched, I watched, I read, and I discovered what I was doing wrong. Finally after several attempts: voila!   I had created a light, fluffy, and moist cupcake.  I took them into work, and they were devoured.  So naturally, I had to make more.... and then I made even more.  It was almost like once I had succeeded, the underlying bug in my bed of creativity was awoken and all I wanted to do was cook or bake.

I was like a sponge.  I couldn't read enough food magazines, watch an overabundance of food shows, or practice on too many people.  I would take my samples into my work kitchen and watch everyone enjoy.  I was loving what I could accomplish.                                

Then the market dropped out, and within a short span, my father and my youngest brother died.  It was almost like I died.  The only thing that seemed to keep me going was stirring a bowl of chocolate or finding some new hors d'oeuvre to try.  I was losing my desire to go to work.  I didn't know what to do until a friend sat me down and said, "Do what you love."  But at my age, the fear of starting over was a little overwhelming.  It wasn't until I went to my last closing and noticed "the sign" on a cup of coffee; this little quote on the side of a cup was what made me decide to take the leap.  "Follow your passion and you will find your purpose."

Today, it's been three years to the month that I have been the owner of The Twisted-Fork, and I haven't looked back. It hasn't been without difficulty, but every day is a new day, and I love it. There are learning curves everywhere, and every day I move forward with new knowledge of something to continue making my food beautiful and tasty.  I know this is the right path for me because truly... "if you follow your passion, you will find your purpose."

 

 

A New Squash Appreciation

When I was a little girl and was given squash for dinner, I had a couple of different ideas on how to handle this undesirable vegetable.  None of them included eating it.  I either dropped it on the floor for the dog to eat, left it on my plate until it was much to cold to eat or my favorite was to mix it with cranberry sauce and pretend I was eating peanut butter and jelly.  I said it was my favorite idea, just not a good tasting one.

Over the years, I tried in vain to acquire a taste for it.  I would think I liked the way it was prepared but when I ate it or tried to make it myself it had that same appeal that it had when I was a child.  I felt I would never grow to like squash, in any form.

Lately, however, I have been venturing out and a desire for different types of squash is burning.  I have had it pan-fried in hash and roasted in soups.  When I was at the market the other day, I went totally out of the box and picked up a spaghetti squash.  I didn’t even know how I was going to prepare it, but I knew I was going to do something!

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Imagine the odds when a couple of days later I came across this recipe from Half Baked Harvest’s blog for Roasted Garlic Spaghetti Squash Lasagna Boats.  I immediately went out, bought my ingredients and prepared my version of her recipe.

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I was totally amazed!  This had everything I loved about lasagna but was made with squash.  Could it be?  Could I actually have found a squash that I really loved?  I think the answer was a big yes.  I can’t really call this a healthy meal because of the cheese in it, but I do have to say it’s slightly better than eating a dish of lasagna.  Squash versus pasta equals a healthy alternative, so we have a partial win with this one.

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To make this easier if you’re in a pinch you can always use your favorite jarred sauce and for the cheese sauce, just layer parmesan and mozzarella cheese as you would in the traditional recipe.  If you do have the time however, go all out and do it as the recipe states.  It is so worth it.

Take it from a former squash hater.  This is one recipe you’ll keep!

Crispy Chicken Thighs with Apple Cider Gravy

There are always those times when you want something easy but a bit more than a soup and sandwich.  Maybe it’s mid-week busy night or a Saturday evening with friends.  And of course it has to turn out right every time.

In conjunction with my last post this Crispy Chicken Thigh recipe from Bon Appétit goes very well with the Farro Risotto.  I have made this chicken several times and it comes out perfect every time.  If you aren’t confident in the kitchen you can still pull this off looking like a pro and the flavors will make everyone think you spent all day in the kitchen.

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The sauce is interchangeable.  If you don’t want it as sweet, use a tart apple and add more mustard.  It is really all about what you like.  Just have fun with it.  You can start with the basics of what I’ve given you and make it your own.  This is the reason I love cooking so much.

Have fun and invite friends over.  Let them think you worked all day.  Share what you love because this is what it is all about.

Crispy Chicken Thighs with Apple Cider Gravey

Course Entree
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 35 minutes
Total Time 55 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 cup apple cider
  • 6 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs about 2 1/4 pounds
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 2/3 cup apple jelly
  • 2 Tablespoons dijon mustard
  • 2 Tablespoons apple brandy
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated ginger

Instructions

  1. Heat apple cider over medium high heat and cook for approximately 20 minutes or until reduced by half and thickened. Set aside to cool.

  2. Preheat oven to 475 degrees F. Season chicken wit salt and pepper. Heat oil in a 12″ cast-iron or heavy nonstick skillet over high heat until hot but not smoking. Nestle chicken in skillet, skin side down, and cook 2 minutes. Reduce heat to medium high; continue cooking skin side down, occasionally rearranging chicken thighs and rotating pan to evenly distribute heat, until fat renders and skin is golden brown, about 12 minutes.

  3. Transfer skillet to oven and cook 13 minutes. Flip chicken; continue cooking until skin crisps and meat is cooked through, about 5 minutes longer. Transfer to a plate; let rest 5 minutes before serving.

  4. In the meantime, combine 2 Tablespoons of the apple cider (reserve remainder for another use), 2/3 cup apple jelly, Dijon mustard, apple brandy and grated ginger in a saucepot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low and let simmer for about 10-15 minutes.

  5. Pour over chicken and serve.

Buffalo Chicken Egg Rolls

Fall is my favorite time of year.  I love the leaves changing, the smell of fires in the air and the cool temperatures.  Every now and then, I will even watch a football game (go Pats!), but what I really love and it’s mostly the idea of, is a tailgate party.  How fun is that?  A group of people at the back-end of a car with good food, drinks and lots of laughs.

I need to digress here.  (Don’t worry, the two tales will eventually come together.)  There is a restaurant in upstate NY called The Boatyard.  A favorite of my dad’s and my brother’s, so we would go there at least once every time I was up there.  They are known for several dishes, but one of my personal favorites (and that of my entire family’s) are the Buffalo Chicken Egg Rolls.  Yes, I did ask for the recipe, but no…they apparently didn’t want to share.  It was okay, I thought I could figure this out on my own.

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This is where the two stories come together.  It was Sunday afternoon and we were watching a football game. I decided that we were going to have a tailgate party…in our home.  It was just a casual day to make fun finger foods and along with the hot wings I was making, I decided I was going to figure out what these egg rolls were all about.

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It did take several tries (so the first tailgating, although good, wasn’t exceptional), but I think once you make this you will find that this is well worth the time and trouble and calories.  People are correct when they say that anything fried is good.  I don’t eat fried food…but I definitely would eat these on occasion.  The nice thing about these are that you can make them ahead of time and freeze them.    So try these on your next tailgating party, or cocktail party, or just a party of two.  You will want these again and again….they are that good. They are spicy, crunchy and tasty.  All the things your taste buds will need from a tailgating party.

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Go Pats, happy tailgating and a very happy Fall season to all of you!

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Buffalo Chicken Egg Rolls

Course Appetizer
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 4 minutes
Total Time 34 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 Package egg roll wrappers
  • 3 cups finely diced chicken (you can poach breasts, use prepared rotisserie, leftovers, etc)
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1/4-1/2 cup buttermilk (depending on creaminess desired)
  • 8 ounce cream cheese (use whipped or soften the cheese beforehand for easier mixing)
  • 1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 Tablespoons hot sauce (more or less for your personal taste)
  • 2 Tablespoons minced shallots
  • 4 ounces blue cheese crumbled
  • salt and pepper to taste

BLUE CHEESE DIP

  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/8 cup honey
  • 2 Tablespoons chopped chives
  • 1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to season

Instructions

  1. Mix mayonnaise and sour cream together.

  2. Add buttermilk, cream cheese, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce and combine until well blended.

  3. Add shallots and blue cheese and combine.

  4. Season to taste and set aside.

  5. Place wrapper flat and place approximately 1 to 2 tablespoons of chicken mixture onto the middle of the wrapper. Roll according to package directions, seal with water and set aside.

  6. (at this point you may freeze if desired)

  7. Heat peanut oil in heavy duty pan until it reaches frying stage 350 degrees F to 400 degrees F

  8. Place rolled wrappers in hot oil for 4 to 5 minutes turning occasionally. Remove and drain on paper towels.

  9. Slice in half on the diagonal and serve immediately with blue cheese dip. (directions follow)

  10. BLUE CHEESE DIP

  11. Whisk together sour cream, mayonnaise, honey, lemon juice and chives. Fold in blue cheese crumbles. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

  12. Refrigerate before serving.

What’s in the Pantry?

Let’s face it.  There are always going to be those times where you just don’t feel you can find another minute to get things done.  For the last two weeks, it seems I did not have any time at all.  I had been overwhelmed with baking (cheesecakes for a friend), taking a continuing education course for my profession (it certainly would have helped if I had not waited until the last-minute), food judging for the area home shows and the list goes on and on.

The other night I came home and my husband asked me what was for dinner.  I just looked at him, probably like a deer in headlights.  I hadn’t even considered dinner and now it was already late.  I didn’t want to go back out to the grocery store, so we had to figure out something.  That’s when operation pantry surprise went into action.

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We have always kept something in the pantry we can work with.  You never know if there would be people collecting for a food drive or the electricity is going to go out.  I took a look in the pantry to see how my creative juices were going to flow.  I had soup, noodles, canned chicken and a jar of roasted vegetables.  The creativity started to flow.

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I was able to put together a meal that was easy, fairly quick and satisfying for the family.  The next time you don’t have time, but you have hungry eyes waiting for you to feed them, don’t order a pizza.  Look in your pantry and see what you can find.  I’ll bet it will be something good.

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Smokey Chicken Stuffed Shells

It seems like I’ve been out of commission for a little while, although it’s only been a week.  I have no excuse except the cool crisp air has made me want to go to bed earlier.  It’s darker in the morning when I wake up and darker in the evening so my evenings feel shorted.

What is great about this however, is I love the Fall!  I want to have a fire in the fireplace, wear sweaters and cook comfort food.  I’m seriously ready to wear jeans and boots but living in the south I feel ridiculous doing that now….especially when everyone else is still wearing shorts and flip-flops.

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The one thing I can do when it’s colder in the evening is make a satisfying dinner that makes the soul warm.  That usually involves some form of pasta because I am apparently a carb freak, but in trying to make it semi healthy, I have adapted this recipe so I don’t feel so guilty.

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Leaves are changing color, nights are cool and despite the fact that your neighbors are still wearing flip-flops, you can still enjoy the Fall with comfort.  That will include a satisfying dinner.

So turn up the air, put on a sweater and enjoy!

Smokey Chicken Stuffed Shells

Course Entree
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 1 hour

Ingredients

  • 4 links chicken sausage ( I use the garlic and roasted red pepper from Whole Foods)
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 1/4 cup loosely packed chopped basil
  • 1/2 cup chopped fire roasted tomatoes, drained
  • 1 12 ounce package jumbo pasta shells, cooked according to package directions
  • 1 pound whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1 large egg, slightly beaten
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 1 cloves garlic, minced
  • 12 ounces chopped roasted red pepper, drained
  • 4 ounces chopped fire roasted tomatoes, drained
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • juice of 1/2 lemon

Instructions

  1. Remove the chicken sausage from casings and cook over medium heat, breaking into small bite size pieces with the back of a wooden spoon. Add onion, garlic and paprika and cook for 2 more minutes. Add tomatoes and basil, mixing in well and set aside.

  2. Mix together ricotta cheese, parmesan cheese, beaten egg, Add chicken mixture and combine well.

  3. Stuff cooked shells with chicken and cheese mixture and place in a baking dish.

  4. Bring the oil to medium heat in a saucepot. Sweat the onions until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and sweat until fragrant, about one more minute. Stir in the peppers and tomatoes. Simmer for 5 minutes. Working in batches, process the sauce on high in a food processor until smooth. Return the sauce to the pot, reduce the heat to low and whisk in the cream. Remove the heat an stir in the lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper.

  5. Pour sauce over pasta shells and top with grated parmesan cheese. Bake at 350 degrees F for about 15 to 20 minutes or until bubbly and hot.

  6. Serve immediately.

Chicken Bang Bang

It all started with a little fillo cup appetizer filled with chicken, scallions and a kicking peanut sauce.  I’ve made these many times and from what I’ve heard,  always gotten great reviews.  I think it’s because the flavor combination is crunchy, creamy and spicy all in the same bite

The other day, my friend Karen and I were discussing lunch ideas for a couple of things she was working on and my little appetizer cup came up. She mentioned that it was too bad that it wasn’t a meal.

That made me think.

I thought it was a great idea.

It can now be considered an entrée.

And that is one reason I love cooking and you should not be afraid of it.  You can take an idea from one little thing and turn it into something that is completely different and yet, still so incredibly good.  All it takes is a thought, a conversation or a suggestion and you can run with it and make it your own. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t turn out well.  Make it again or change it.  It’s all about trying new things.

You could even change this recipe.  Try shrimp with it, thicker noodles, different vegetables or spices to increase the heat a little…whatever you like to make it your own.  Just don’t be afraid.

Send me pictures and let me know what you did.  I would love to see the ideas that you come up with!

Happy eating!

Chicken Bang Bang

Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Servings 4

Ingredients

  • 10 wonton wrappers, cut into 1/4 inch strips
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil plus 2 tablespoons
  • 8 Tablespoons smooth peanut butter
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 1/2 inch piece fresh ginger, grated (easier to do if frozen)
  • 4 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 Tablespoons dark soy sauce
  • 1/2 sirracha or tabasco (can add more for extra heat)
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and sliced very thin
  • 1 small bunch of baby bok choy, chopped
  • 1/2 package angel hair pasta or sesame noodles
  • 1/4 (or more) cup pasta water
  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 bunch scallions, finely sliced on a diagonal to make sharp spikes

Instructions

  1. heat vegetable oil in heavy duty pan over medium high heat. Fry wonton wrappers in hot oil until golden brown. Remove, season with salt and pepper and set aside.

  2. Combine peanut butter, garlic, ginger, lemon juice, soy sauce and sirracha and mix until you have a smooth sauce. Set aside.

  3. Cook pasta according to instructions and set aside.

  4. Heat oil in a saucepan. Add red peppers and bok choy and toss for 1-2 minutes until heated through but still tender crisp. Set aside.

  5. Pound or filet chicken breasts so that they are about 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch thick. Season chicken well with salt and pepper. In the same pan, cook chicken on medium high for 2-3 minutes on each side. Let rest for 10 minutes and slice.

  6. Add peanut mixture to pasta. Add chicken and then vegetables on top, add scallions and fried wonton strips.

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