Cooking Your Way Through Grief

As many of you know my father passed away this past May.  He fought an extremely hard battle with cancer and it eventually got the better of him.  The last several months have been a struggle emotionally for myself as well as my family and more specifically my mother.   She has been the staunch Irishman that many of us see only in the movies or hear about.  She has hid her grief and gone stoically about her days.  Attending mass daily, visiting with friends, volunteering to help those in need, watching the grandchildren and eagerly sharing posts she reads about on her Facebook feed.   I often wondered what her escape was to reflect, mourn or have a moment of solace, until it dawned on me one day as I walked out of the house with a pound of pecan bars and a Corningware dish filled with soup.  My mother was COOKING to take her mind off of losing my dad.
Soups, desserts, meatballs and sauce, roasting chickens and anything filled with butter my mother has been dispensing from the house.  Friends and family alike have benefited from my mom’s daily ritual of baking or cooking.  “Stop over for lunch, swing in for leftovers, I made a pot of sauce for you and Mark, I have hot biscuits for John, tomato basil soup for Father David.  Take this home with you…..please don’t waste.  Butter is on sale at Price chopper, chicken is on sale at Hannaford.”  It’s my mom’s way of grieving that assimilates in to her everyday life.  I don’t think my mother actually realized it either until one day last week when she had dropped off the umpteenth batch of soup for Father David at St. Mary’s Church.  He said – “ Steph you are cooking your way through grief.”  I thought…What a perfect title for a book Father,  so I jumped on a blog post to get the thought process moving.  I believe we all grieve in different ways.  Some cry, some pray, some sleep, some go about their day as usual, some get angry.  Some cook.
As a chef, I find great comfort and satisfaction in cooking on a day-to-day basis.  It soothes my soul, nourishes my loved ones and brings friends and family together.  As of late, I have found it has other proponents for people such as my mother’s journey.  It heals her pain.
Thank-you mom for your delicious cooking and for making sure that we as a family, community and circle of friends are nourished.   Our belts are a notch looser and our pants a bit tighter!!!

Brussel Sprouts Revamped…….

After much feedback from a recent Facebook post I am going to give you the low down on brussel sprouts.  Yuck…many of you may say.  But if you cook them properly they are oh so yummy.  Brussel Sprouts are essentially mini cabbages packed with vitamin C and vitamin K.  They can be prepared in many different ways from boiling to steaming, sauteeing to roasting and one super delicious method I have used is to actually deep fry the leaves.  You can now throw the packed with vitamins component out the window!

The method I am going to tell you about today is one that a non-brussel sprout lovin individual may actually end up liking.  Shred um up and roast them at a high heat!!

For the preparation, I usually wash them really well in a colander.  On a cutting board cut the stems off.  At this point you will notice that a few of the first layers of leaves may fall off.  That is okay.  At times they are discolored or may contain hidden bugs, dirt etc.  Discard those.  At this point you can do one of 2 things with these little babies – you can hand dice/shred them with a sharp chef’s knife; very similar to shredding a head of ice-berg lettuce OR you can dust off your Cusinart Food Processor with the slicing disc attachment and plug it in for use.  I am almost sure that that particular attachment came with the food processor and is shoved in the back of your cabinet somewhere.   Don’t be scared, pull it out.  Along with the shredded disc attachment too.  After watching my mom and dad painstakingly grate carrots on a box grater for years for our delectable family carrot cake recipe; I dusted off Steph’s food processor one day and showed her how to use the shredding attachment for ease in shredding the 3-4 cups of carrots for the cake.  Cue in the Hallejulah Choir!  My mom was ecstatic!  No more bloody knuckles.

Back to the sprouts……Insert the slicing disc attachment on the food processor and shredd up those little bundles of joy.  The 20 shredded sprouts should just about fill the container of the food processor.  In a large bowl, take 1/2 cup light olive oil, 1 tbsp finely chopped fresh garlic, 1/4 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper and mix throughly. Dump the shredded brussel sprouts in the bowl and toss well with the olive oil and garlic until they are all coated.  Spread the sprouts in a thin layer on a cookie sheet and bake in  a pre-heated 425 degree oven for 15 minutes.  Do not touch the sprouts until the 15 minutes is up.  The heat from the pan will caramelize (brings their natural sugars out) them and they will turn a nice dark brown roasted color.  Take a spatula and mix well on the pan and put back in the oven for 5 more mintues.   Remove from the oven and serve immediately.  It is hard to “hold” sprouts for a later time because they begin to turn a pale brown color and do not look appealing, so serve right away.  A nice addition at the last 5 minutes of cooking which adds nice red color around the holidays is a handful of chopped dried cranberries!  The butteriness of the sprouts and the tart flavor of the cranberries is really nice together.

Happy cooking of the sprouts and I hope I have some new likers for this cruciferous cabbage.


15-20 Brussel Sprouts
1/2 cup light olive oil
1 tbsp finely chopped garlic (my hidden treasure is the fresh garlic tubes that you can get in the fresh produce section – green top)
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper

1. Shred brussel sprouts with slicer attachment.
2. In a large bowl combine above ingredients and mix well.
3. Add shredded sprouts and mix well.
4. Spread on a cookie sheet in a thin layer.
5. Roast at 425 degrees for 15 minutes.
6. Take a spatula and mix around on cookie sheet and put back in the oven for 5 more minutes.
7. Remove from oven and serve immediately.

Beef Barley………Barely Boots!

So I think I can say it is officially soup season.  After this week’s morning frost on the old pumpkin and the occassional sleet storms….winter is well on it’s way to hittng the Great Northeast! I have transitioned from flip flops to Sperrys and threw on a pair of sneakers and sweat socks the other morning for the kids soccer game.  Can’t quite bring myself to put boots on yet.  As much as I love those stylish treasures, it’s a long winter for the wear!

Enough with my obsession with shoes and onward to the recipe.  I am pulling out one of my Gourmeli favs from the recipe vault to share with you.  Makes for a hearty meal if served with a big loaf of Italian bread and a fresh green salad.  The leftovers heat well in the microwave for lunch the next day.

Beef Barley Soup

1 cup diced carrots
1 cup diced celery
1/2 cup diced white onion
1 tbsp chopped fresh garlic
2 tbsp olive oil
2 cups beef (see note)
4 cups beef stock (box)
2 cups water
1 bay leaf
3 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp Italian Seasoning
1 1/2 cups pearl barely (uncooked) (see note)
2 tsp Kosher Salt
1tsp fresh ground pepper
1tsp garlic powder

1. I a large stock pot or cast iron soup pot (my fav) turn to medium high heat and add olive oil, carrots, celery, white onion, fresh garlic and sautee for 5-10 minutes or until onions begin to sweat.
2. Add beef and sautee for another 5-10 minutes until raw meat is browned or cooked leftover meat is heated through.  Either piece of meat will yield the same end result!
3. Add beef stock, water and bay leaf and let simmer for 10 minutes until it comes to a rolling boil.
4.  Add the tomato paste and Italian Seasoning and combine until the tomato paste is dissolved and incorporated into the broth.
5.  Add the pear barley while stock is boiling and cover.  Lower stove temp to medium and let simmer for 20 minutes.  The barely will cook in the soup and add a nice texture and thickeness to it.
6. Remove cover and add salt, pepper and garlic powder.
7. Cover and simmer for 10 more minutes or until barely is cooked through.  If you have never cooked barley it should have a soft, puffy look compared to before it was cooked and should almost triple in size.  Should not have any “bite” to it.

*NOTE: There are a couple types of beef you can use for this soup.  You can use a leftover cooked meat from a meal you had the night before ie: sirloin steak, roast beef, tenderloin.  If already cooked remove from fridge and chop in to bite size pieces that are easy to eat in the soup.  If you do not have a leftover meat to use I suggest using a sirloin steak from the market.  On a cutting board designated for cutting raw meat – chop the meat in to small bit size pieces that are easy to eat in the soup.  Brown the meat with the veggies for best results.
*NOTE 2 – Pearl barely can be found in the dried bean section of the market.  Usually with the bagged lentils, split peas and other type dried beans.

Overall cooking time to prepare 45 minutes to an hour
Yields: 6 cups of soup

Chilled Summer Gazpacho

3/4 cup diced red onion
2 tbsp chopped fresh garlic
2 cups diced cherry tomatoes
2 small zuchinni (not peeled) diced (2 cups)
2 seedless cucumbers (not peeled) diced (3 cups)
1 cup diced celery
2 tbsp sherry vinegar
3/4 cup light olive oil
6 cups vegetable juice
2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp kosher salt
1 tbsp fresh ground pepper
dash of Franks Red Hot Sauce
1 cup sour cream

1. Gather all veggies and dice according to ingredients list.
2. In a small bowl put 1/4 cup of the onion, 1 tblsp of chopped garlic, 1/4 cup of cherry tomatoes, 1/4 cup of cukes and mix well. ( this will be the topping for the soup).
3. In a large deep stock pot or deep bowl put remaining veggies along with vinegar, olive oil, 4 cups of vegetable juice, sugar, salt, pepper and red hot.  Take an immersion blender and blend well until all veggies are blended together but a slight texture remains to be seen. It does not have to be smooth.  I used a stock pot because the immersion blender fits in it well.  This soup is not heated.  Served chilled.
4.  If you do not have an immersion blender (Target $19.99) take a food processor or a powerful upright blender to blend together the soup.
5.  When done with the blending add the rest of the tomato juice (2 cups) and mix with a wire wisk until all combined.
6.  Place soup in a bowl and chill for at least  2 hours.
7. Ladle soup in a bowl and top with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkle of the topping listed above.
8. I served mine with a garlic pepper crouton wedge that I lightly baked with olive oil.

Note: the colder the soup the better!!!

Eat Your Veggies…

I absolutely love the abundance of fresh produce, wild berries and homegrown garden veggies this time of year.  I can never have enough squash or tomatoes in my kitchen because with all of the varieties out there, the dishes to prepare are endless.

I have to admit I am not much of a green thumb.  On one occasion or two I have tried to grow a few herbs or tomatoes to no avail.  I leave it to my Pop, our friend Tae and my Uncle Ralph.  Pop is now 94 so his gardening days have slowed down a bit.  He has an occasional raspberry bush or flowering gladiola that may linger, but back in the day, Pop had the most amazing and plentiful raspberry bushes and tomatoes that were to die for.  He would make delicious homemade raspberry jelly and it was a treat every year to get a few jars to stock in the pantry.  I may have one still lingering in the back of the pantry if I look hard enough.   Tae’s garden produces a plethora of fresh lettuce, beets, zucchini, tomatoes you name it.  Uncle Ralph has a keen eye for potatoes, beets and fresh garlic.  Many a summer I have taken an entire bulb of Ralph’s fresh garlic sliced the top off, drizzled with fresh olive oil, salt and pepper, wrapped it in foil and baked it at 375 degrees for 45 minutes.  The aroma of garlic fills the house while it is baking and to open that pouch of foil and see the finely roasted garlic makes me want to sit down with a loaf of fresh Italian bread and just smear it all over it!!!  A nice glass of Malbec and some sharp provolone and you have a grand slam.

Knowing I am not much of a green thumb, Mother Nature has blessed our yard with an abundance of blackberry bushes along the perimeter of our house.  This year, the kids and I suited up in long pants, sneakers, and hats (we live in Upstate NY so the ticks are abundant around our yard, not to mention poison ivy) grabbed a few bowls and headed out to pick the berries.  On our first picking we got about 3 cups of those beauties!!  The kids were so excited.  It brought back memories of when I was young and we would go across the street to the Servidone’s property and we would pick them all throughout the wooded brush.  We would eat them before we even got them back in the house to wash.  This year I washed them all really well and contemplated what to do with them.  I wanted to follow in Pops footsteps so I made some homemade blackberry jelly.  I was pleasantly surprised that the 3 cups of berries yielded a large Mason jar of jelly.  It was my maiden voyage making blackberry jelly and I was quite impressed with the final product  The end result was a lightly sweetened, seedless blackberry jelly.  I kept some of the juice and also made a blackberry vinaigrette dressing that I used for one of my catering jobs I had had that week. One sweet and one savory and both equally delicious!

I hope you too are enjoying the wonders of summer here in Upstate New York.  Happy Summer Cooking.  I have included below my recipe for Blackberry Jelly.

Gourmeli’s Homemade Blackberry Jelly

2 1/2 cups fresh blackberries
3/4 cup sugar
3 tblsp pectin (I found mine in Target in the Mason Jar section)

  1. In a heavy bottom saucepan heat the berries on medium heat until they begin to break down and juice starts to erupt from them.  About 20 minutes.
  2. Remove from pan and strain in a fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth.  Using the back of a wooden spoon push as much juice as you can out of the berries in to a bowl. This will omit the seeds for seedless jelly and just the juice will remain to prep for the pectin part.
  3. Put the juice back in the pan and add the sugar.  Bring to a boil over medium high heat to let the sugar dissolve.  A foam will develop on the top that you may want to remove with a spoon.
  4.  Once the sugar has dissolved add 2 tblsp of the pectin and bring to a boil for about 5 minutes stirring occasionally.  Mix well and remove from heat.
  5. Add the remaining pectin and stir until dissolved. Let sit for 5 minutes before pouring in to jars.
  6. Prep mason jars according to package directions and pour jelly in to the jars.  1 large or 2 small.
  7. At this point you can put in the hot bath per instructions to preserve it.  I did not however.  We ate it so fast there was no time for it to go bad.

Note:  I am a novice “canner” and I came up with this recipe all on my own.  I am sure there are veteran “canners” out there that have different techniques.  This worked well and I am sticking to it!!!   Good luck.