Thursday, April 30, 2009

Living Gluten Free

Several of my clients are gluten intolerant, and I get a lot of calls from people newly diagnosed who are looking for some guidance regarding their new diets.

One of my favorite sources for delicious recipes is Karina's Kitchen - Recipes from a Gluten-Free Goddess. Karina posted this excellent list this morning, a Gluten-Free Cheat Sheet, The Guide to Going Gluten-Free.

Please remember to check all labels and to not cross contaminate your cooking equipment. Mustard Seed Market, Giant Eagle and Acme now put special shelf tags next to GF items. Mustard Seed also has a list/booklet available in the customer service area and they offer guided store tours specifically for GF shopping; check their website for schedules.

Gluten free diets are often recommended for Multiple Sclerosis patients, and for autistic children. Be sure to check with your health care team for recommendations.

There are more gluten-free items available than just a few years ago, including pasta, bread, and pizza dough.

Private cooking classes incorporating recipes for your new diet are available from Dine-In Diva Personal Chef Service in Akron, and can be tailored specifically to your tastes as well as your sensitivities.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Earth Day Event at Bella Toccare Spa

To celebrate Earth Day, my former boss and friend, Jeanne McCarthy-Caparso, now owner of the beautiful Bella Toccare de Spa and Salon in Brecksville, asked if I would provide some appetizers for a fund-raiser event to benefit the Ohio River Foundation.

When I think spring, I think fresh and green, and nothing says fresh and green like peas and mint. At first I was thinking about doing pea soup shots, but inspiration struck the day before the event and I created this crostini:

Fresh Pea and Mint Crostini - Dine-In Diva Personal Chef Service

1 cup fresh peas, shelled (or sub frozen, thawed)
2 T. fresh mint, roughly chopped
1 T. fresh lemon juice
2 T. blanched, raw almonds
2 T. grated Parmesano-Reggiano Cheese (use the good stuff)
1 t. freshly grated lemon zest
3-6 T. extra virgin olive oil
1 c. fresh ricotta cheese
1 baguette
couple of tablespoons of olive oil
Fresh mint and lemon zest, for garnish

Combine peas, mint, lemon juice and zest, almonds, a 2 T evoo in food processor. Process until combined and chopped. Stream in a little more oil if it’s too thick.

Thinly slice the baguette, brush with olive oil and toast in preheated 375 oven 6-10 minutes or ‘til toasted.

Spread a little ricotta on the toasts, and top with the pea pesto. Garnish with chopped fresh mint and lemon zest, if desired.

For something a little sweet, I made brownie bites and topped them with a little Strawberry Hot Pepper Jelly, a strawberry half, then brushed with more jelly. A little bite of sweet heat. I also made grape skewers with Limoncello Vanilla Syrup.

To carry the spring theme, I made this goat cheese pesto spread and surrounded it with a "nest" of fresh thyme sprigs. This would look extra cute if some if some of the cheese mixture was reserved prior to mixing in the pesto, then rolled into egg shapes to place on top.

Dig in to get started on food garden

I talked with Mary Beth Breckenridge from The Akron Beacon Journal for about an hour last week about starting your first vegetable garden.

Due to the unseasonably warm (and dry) weather, mine is already plowed to turn under last year's straw compost. Although it's a little late, I am going to put in some peas and spinach. Lettuce is already started but probably couldn't catch it's breath in nearly 90 degree heat; it much prefers cooler spring weather.

Dig in to get started on food garden

Begin with small, sunny space, well-fed soil

By Mary Beth Breckenridge
Beacon Journal staff writer

Want to know more about vegetable gardening? In Wednesday's Food section we'll tell you how to choose what to grow; and in next Saturday's Your Home, we'll provide tips on planting and maintaining your garden.

If you have a few square feet of land or even just a patch of sunshine, you have the makings for a food garden.

It doesn't have to take up the back 40. And it doesn't have to be a huge undertaking.

Granted, the idea of growing food can seem daunting, especially if you grew up thinking basil comes from a jar and lima beans from a can. And yes, it takes work. But we'll help you get started.

Today we'll guide you through choosing a spot, creating a place to plant and getting your soil in shape.

Let's get growing.

Start small

It's easy to get carried away when the weather warms, but rein in the desire to turn over half your yard to a kitchen garden. Otherwise, you could quickly find yourself overwhelmed, said Tamara Mitchell, a personal chef from West Akron who also provides gardening coaching under the name Green Thumb Diva (

''It's easier to start small and have success than go too crazy,'' she said.

A small raised bed — say, 4 feet long on each side — might suffice for a first garden. Or you might tuck a few food plants among your existing flowers or shrubs, or maybe start with a container or two on a sunny patio.

Once you've learned how much garden you can reasonably handle, you can expand next year, she said.

Location, location

Where you situate your garden will have a big bearing on its success. You need a site that drains well and gets at minimum six hours of full sun a day, said Denise Ellsworth, a horticultural educator with the Ohio State University Extension in Summit County.

Remember that the trees are still bare, she said. A spot that's sunny this time of year might not be in July, when the leaves are out.

In fact, it's a good idea to observe your yard over a few days before selecting your site, said Geri Unger, director of education at Cleveland Botanical Garden and the person who oversees its Green Corps youth gardening program. Notice the path of the sun, so you can avoid shadows during part of the day and plant taller things where they won't shade shorter plants.

Make sure a water source is nearby. That could be a rain barrel or a garden hose, but Ellsworth noted that if you have a water softener, you'll need to bypass it when you water your garden. Otherwise the salts used to soften the water will build up in the soil, she said.

Make a place to plant

Forget double digging. There are easier ways to create a garden.

Probably the simplest method is lasagna gardening, a no-dig approach named for its layered materials. Ideally you'd have started your lasagna garden in the fall to give all the materials time to break down and turn into rich soil, but it's possible to use the method even now.

Start by covering the area with a layer of newspaper five to 10 sheets thick or a single layer of corrugated cardboard, overlapping the edges. Wet the cardboard or paper well, and then cover it with alternating layers of compost and topsoil until the garden is at least 12 inches deep. Expect some settling over time as the layers break down.

Then just plant. If necessary, you can cut through the paper or cardboard and dig planting holes into the sod below.

By the way, if you wait till fall to start your lasagna garden, you can skip adding topsoil and use just layers of organic material — ground leaves, grass clippings and the like. Nature will work them into the soil below by the time next planting season comes.

The raised-bed approach

Another way to create a garden is to build a raised bed. That involves building a sturdy frame on top of the ground out of wood, concrete blocks or another material, and then filling the frame with soil and compost.

If you wish, cover the sod first with wet newspaper or cardboard as you would with a lasagna garden. Regardless, Ellsworth said the soil will smother the sod, and by the time your plants' roots grow long enough to reach that deep, nature will have broken up the layer enough for them to penetrate.

The bed can be as long as you like, but limit its width so you can reach everything easily without stepping into the garden and compacting the soil. Assuming most people can reach about 2 feet, a bed should be no wider than 4 feet, or 2 feet if one side of the bed is along a fence of wall.

A raised bed can be any depth, but Ellsworth recommended at least 6 inches. Keep in mind, however, that you'll need a source of topsoil to fill your bed, which probably means you'll have to buy it. That can get expensive, particularly for a deep bed, she said.

Dig if you must

Of course, you can also create a garden the old-fashioned way, by digging. That can be laborious, so it helps to rent or borrow a rotary tiller to break up the soil.

Remove the sod first and add it to a compost pile, or just till it into the soil, Ellsworth said. If you're digging the garden by hand, she said, turn over the sod and just leave it awhile till the grass dies. As it breaks down, the sod will add nutrients to the soil.

Past practice involved tilling the soil every year to break it up, but research has shown that overworking soil harms its structure. That's especially true when the soil is wet, as it usually is in spring.

Instead, Ellsworth recommended top-dressing with compost to make the soil rich and crumbly enough to plant without tilling. Once you get your garden established, you can do that each fall so the compost has time to work into the soil by spring.

Test your soil

Soil health is critical to gardening success, so Unger recommended having your soil tested to find out what's in it and what it needs.

Testing soil involves taking samples and sending them to a laboratory for analysis. She recommends the soil tests offered by the University of Massachusetts ( or 413-545-2311). A standard soil test costs $9; a test that also analyzes the amount of organic matter in your soil costs $13.

Home test kits are available from garden centers, but Unger said their results aren't always accurate.

When you know what your soil needs, you can add the specific fertilizers or other amendments that are recommended and avoid adding unneeded nutrients.

Add compost

One of the best things you can feed your soil is compost. Besides adding nutrients, it improves soil structure — especially important with the clay soil that's common in our area.

You can mix several inches of compost into the soil, or just spread it on top and let nature do the work. Over time, earthworms and microorganisms will incorporate the compost into the soil.

Unless you've started a compost pile already, you'll probably have to buy it in bulk or in bags. Ellsworth likes using composted cow manure; it doesn't contain weed seeds, because cows digest them, she explained. Horses, on the other hand, don't digest the seeds, so she said it's best to avoid horse manure unless it's been aged for eight to 10 years.

Take a look back

It's also wise to consider whether anything you used on your yard last fall could have a residual effect on your garden plants, Ellsworth said. Some herbicides can stay in the soil and thwart plant growth.

She suggested checking the packages, if you still have them, or calling your lawn-care company to ask what chemicals were used on your lawn and request the EPA registration number for each product. Then call the National Pesticide Information Center at 800-858-7378 to ask whether residue should be a problem. That will depend not just on the product, but the rate at which it was applied, the formulation used, the type of soil you have and the amount of organic matter in your soil, Ellsworth said.

Mary Beth Breckenridge can be reached at 330-996-3756 or

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

New Patio Daddy-O

Well I don't always get a project moving as quickly in practice as in my mind. About a year ago I decided it was time to lose the ugly, cloudy plate glass window and regular door to my patio and replace it with a nice patio door. I settled on the door, the order went in, and then a terrible motorcycle accident put my guy in the hospital in a bad way.

Somehow the door order didn't process, but I decided to wait and see how he recovered. In the meantime, I pulled up all of the old brick and laid paths around the garden with them.

The new pavers were my favorite kind, the free kind. My dad has been in the brick and block trucking business for over 40 years and is set to retire. The local company that makes the brick and block got bought out by a multi-national company and has decided to close the plant. Although he's been grumbling and threatening to sell all the trucks for years, now that it's reality, it's bittersweet.

He's had some leftover pallets that I have been meaning to go pick-up for the last couple of years. It's now or never. So on Friday, I made four trips and divided the 6,240 pounds of bricks up and brought them home.

The old glass and door went out and the new door was framed and put in place in one day. Because having a big hole in the side of the house is just asking for trouble. And judging from the trashing my backyard is taking by grub hunting raccoons, plugging that hole pronto was a good plan indeed.

For some freak global warming reason, the last three days the weather has been insanely hot for April; high 80's. I resisted turning on the air until I spent a sleepless night that ended on the couch drenched in sweat. Yesterday I cranked that baby and slept like a log.

I started the day by borrowing my dad's pick-up. The large, loud diesel one. That masked the sound of me backing over one of my landscape lights. I whacked the mirror on my mailbox, too. That I definitely heard, and followed up with an expletive.

I picked up 1 ton of crushed limestone and we hauled it around and spread it in the patio space. Back for load two, and picked up a rental tamper. My patio helper Andy, got everything spread and leveled, while dad Bruce finished putting the siding around the door.

Then in many, many trips from the driveway to the patio, I hauled the pavers back to be laid. There were four different sizes in the pallet with more of the largest. We picked a pattern and starting laying. Did pretty well, but were a few short of one size towards the end, so some needed cut.

I went back for sand, but didn't get enough. So we spread what I had, ran the tamper, and I went back and got more sand so we could finish this morning before the rental was due for return.

Bruce also dug the posts for the pergola that is going to rest on the brick wall and go over the patio.

Tomorrow I am going to get more crushed limestone and sandstone pavers to make a path in the side yard from the kitchen door to the patio. I lost the back interior access in the kitchen remodel, but the pass through will come in handy.

Here's a before shot;

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Lunch at Nate's Deli - I Love Fattoush!

My girlfriend Debbie and I headed to the West Side Market last Friday. We decided to have lunch first at Nate's Deli. From the market parking lot, you can enter Nate's through the back door and go through the kitchen to the dining room. We selected one of the tables that is literally in the front windows overlooking the street.

I was craving Fattoush, the delicious salad with lots of parsley, pita chips, and a tangy lemon dressing. It also features sumac, a little used spice; we picked some at the Mediterranean deli to make some fattoush at home.

We also ordered their delicious, creamy hommus, tabbouleh, and were also served soft pitas, onions, pickled turnips and pepperoni.


It had been awhile since I eaten there so I forgot that the waitress doesn't bring your check. Each table has holder with your table number. You go to the register, give your number and get the total. All that food - $17!

Debbie snapped this shot inside the market of these two poor star shaped ballons that were resting on the ceiling after probably being accidentally released by some poor, crying child.

Reminded me of some birthday helium balloons I lost to the sky when I was around six. My mom tried to console me telling me that the astronauts would catch them - this was around the time of the first moon walk.

It was also funny that the ladies from The Cheese Shop recognized Debbie from my blog.

Here's a Fattoush recipe from the

Fattoush Salad


• 2 cups romaine lettuce, torn
• 2 tomatoes
• 2 small cucumbers, peeled
• 1 green pepper
• 3 green onions, minced
• 15 mint leaves chopped, or:1 tbsp dried mint
• 1/4 cup chopped parsley
• 2 tbsp chopped purslane or chickweed (optional)
1 to 2 cups pita bread, torn into pieces
• Classic Lemon Vinaigrette: (see below)


1. Cut the vegetables into bite sizes.

If no dry bread is on hand split loaves of Arab bread by separating the top and bottom of the “pocket”, and crisp in a microwave or regular oven. (You may place the pieces of bread in a plastic bag, sprinkle with drops of olive oil, and shake well before baking.)

Prepare the dressing and toss all ingredients in a salad bowl.
Add 1-2 tablespoons hamod er rummaan pomegranate syrup to the dressing.

Classic Lemon Vinaigrette

• 1/4 cup lemon juice
• 1/4 cup olive oil
• salt
• 1 to 2 tbsp sumac
• pinch Aleppo pepper

Combine all ingredients in a jar with a tight-fitting lid, cover, and shake to blend.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Please Adopt Love Muffin

Ahh, Spring. Daffodils, tulips, and kittens. This one showed up a few days ago. Smallish, maybe 4 pounds or so, and stripey with Maine Coon good looks.

Vocal and friendly, oh my, she just wants to talk to you and curl up in your lap. And she can't stay here. I already have enough indoor cats to merit the crazy cat lady action figure as a gift.

And I've been sucked into to paying to neuter, get him shots, and feed the neighborhood cat, Cootie. Who is none too pleased by the way by the newest moocher of cat food.

I went out for dinner last night and when I returned, Love Muffin was waiting in the driveway. She slept on my porch and was waiting, with a glaring Cootie a few feet away, for breakfast and attention.

Please don't let your cats roam the neighborhood. This one clearly has lived with someone, and I really hope she hasn't been dumped. C'mon take her home and let the love fest begin.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Fine Cooking Cook the Issue Challenge - Runner-up Prize

Yesterday in the mail I received my runner-up prize for participating in the Fine Cooking Cook the Issue Challenge, a copy of their Make It Tonight magazine.

On this rainy, gray day, I've decided to park myself in the recliner and go through magazines all day and work on building a new spring and summer menu.

There are some delicious sounding recipes in the magazine I'd like to try: Roasted Chicken Thighs, Baby Potatoes & Tomatoes with Olives and Mint, Lemony Chicken Noodle Soup with Ginger, Chile & Cilantro, Spiced Lentil Soup with Herbed Yogurt and Pork Scallopine with Proscuitto, Sage & Caramelized Lemon. Yummm! Stay tuned.

Participating in the challenge was fun. It provided a focus on new recipes to try, which helps filter out the 'creative monkey's (to quote Top Chef's Karla) that sometimes overwhelm me with all of the recipes and flavor combos I want to try, to the point of shutdown, plus it was fun to see other's posts and opinions of the recipes.

It also helped me work on my photography and recognize how difficult it is to get a good shot and still have a warm dinner.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Men's Night Out Cooking Class

Dine-In Diva's kitchen has officially been broken in for cooking classes.

My first class, Men's Night Out - Side Dishes, featured four men eager to learn something to serve in addition to their grilled meats.

Here they are enjoying the fruits of their labors.

I set up stations for each dish and we worked our way through them. We made grilled corn in the husk and topped it with a smoked paprika butter, a squeeze of fresh lime and a shaving of Manchego cheese.

Going with the 'everything is better with bacon' theory, we also did a coleslaw with a warm bacon dressing. So, warning to the wives: they know how to operate a food processor now, don't let them kid you. We also pan-fried some red skin potato wedges in pancetta fat, then finished with garlic and fresh rosemary.

We also made Fine Cooking's Roasted Green Beans with Garlic, Lemon and Pine Nuts, a recipe I truly adore.

I marinated a nice flank steak in some Moroccan spices which they grilled, then I showed them the proper way to carve the flank steak.

I also showed them some basic knife skills, how to chiffonade with fresh basil, how to peel and chop a shallot and how to deglaze a pan to get the good bits of flavor out and on the plate.

I'm waiting on a report back when they decide to surprise their wives with their new cooking knowledge.