french onion tart

A few years back Isabella and I were strolling through a neighborhood supermarket. Her eyes locked with a display of blueberries, and in her sweet little voice she asked if we could buy some.

It was January.

Close friends can already predict my answer. The rest of you might think me insane.

I told my then four year old daughter she couldn't have blueberries. I know, you're wondering why would anyone do such a thing.

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kale, white bean & ravioli soup

I’m a perfectionist, and while I know there’s really no such thing as perfect, it’s the drive that propels me forward each day. The problem is, I often feel like life is moving in slow motion, all the while my brain shuttling fast forward to the end game.

Sometimes I need to be reminded to stop and breath. I owe a big thanks to each and everyone of you for your emails, messages and comments. I’m eternally behind in email and if I didn’t actually tell you how much your words of support and cheers meant, then forgive me. Honestly, every word has reinvigorated my energy and made me ready to roll up my sleeves and forge ahead.

In addition to spending last week launching Simple Scratch Cooking and clearing the mental cobwebs, I also decided to take a break from eating meat. If you’ve been reading for a while, you know many of my recipes are meat-free anyway. Five years ago I stopped eating commercially produced meat and made the switch to locally sourced options from farmers using ethically sound ways to raise and process their flock. It has affected the way I allocate dollars when shopping. The bottomline is animal protein is costly, as it rightfully should be. Raising animals in harmony with the earth, and treating them respectfully during their life cyle is an expensive venture when done thoughtfully.

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instant turkey pot pie

Last night, after the final dishes were washed, the floors cleaned and leftovers stowed away, I settled in with the Sunday Times. Yes, I’m quite behind in reading, considering this was a Thursday evening and we’re talking about the past Sunday’s paper.

In the real estate section was an article about high-end assisted living communities for retirees. Watching your parents age is one of the toughest parts of growing up. It has weighed very heavily on the Mr., being an only-child, as to how we can help, considering his parents don’t have the means to spend thousands of dollars a month on a retirement community. We have our own financial future to ponder and college for two to plan for, as well.

This leaves the Mr. and I are at a crossroads. In their early 80s and hearing-impaired, they are legally deaf, we realized earlier this year that they are reaching a point at which they can’t live on their own much longer. Thankfully a caring neighbor set them up with a social worker, who in turn got them signed up for City Meals on Wheels. Cooking was always something done out of necessity, and the fact that my mother-in-law's arthritis now makes it difficult for her to even lift a pot, this has been a vital service. One puzzle piece in place.

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ricotta spaetzle

Growing up has its advantages. I can eat licorice whenever I want, and sip egg creams before bedtime should I choose. The downsides include nagging my seven-year old to do her homework. Another reality is that as your children take husbands and wives, their priorities change. Suddenly holidays become a jigsaw puzzle, and fitting the pieces together to make sure you see everyone you love feels like a feat of epic proportions.

For various reasons, some too complicated to go into here and now, my mom hasn’t been at our Thanksgiving table the last few years. Neither has my sister. On Thursday, we will finally be together again.

This year, my sister and I are hosting a joint Thanksgiving at my house. A first for us. She came late to the cooking game, and her mashed potatoes were an on-going joke for many years. I hear she’s a good cook now, but wouldn’t know because our relationship has been an on-again, off-again one for the better part of our lives.

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vegetable wontons

My obession for from-scratch cooking is sometimes my greatest obstacle. When I’m sick, prepared soups, even those from the little Italian shop near my house just won’t do. Aside from whatever vitamins, minerals and rest my body craves, I think it has also conditioned itself to need homecooking as much as it requires oxygen to survive.

Luckily, when I got hit with the never-ending cold three weeks ago, Jen had just posted her recipe for wonton soup. She doesn’t know it, but she loosened the chains a bit for me. In her post, she said she uses premade wonton wrappers (not to be confused with potstickers). Since we’re likeminded in the how, why and where regarding our food, I decided to take her cue.

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israeli couscous with squash, dried cherries & pistachios

Mommy guilt is a great motivator. Some spoil with truckloads of toys. For my girls it usually means a batch of cookies. Except children cannot live on chocolate chip cookies alone, even if they are the best in the world—Isabella’s words, and I kind of agree.

When I’m away traveling or have a crazy week of evening events, I leave the next best thing to a hug and kiss goodnight—some homecooked comfort to fill their bellies. Isabella’s new found love is Israeli couscous. The first time she had it was at our friends and it was lightly seasoned with cumin. I was pretty floored when she not only devoured it, but even asked for seconds. She’s a quirky kid when it comes to certain flavors.

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10 minute lentil soup + a pressure cooker how-to video

Cooking from scratch has become a non-negotiable part of my life. I sometimes wonder how fine the line is between loving what I do and being borderline OCD about it.

The truth, though, is that once I look at our table filled with a bounty made by my own two hands, a peacefulness washes over me. It is the same feeling I imagine a carpenter has after constructing a piece of furniture that will serve a purpose for years to come.

He whittles wood, and sands the rough splinters smooth.

I chop onions and provide my family with nourishing meals, hopefully setting the foundation for a lifetime of good eating habits.

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freezer preserved tomatoes: summer fest 2010

Many people asked if I would take a break from blogging or tweeting during my vacation. I promise I'm doing my best to relax and recharge. I did, however, do the same for you all as I do for the Mr. when I'm out of town. I left a few meals in the fridge to make sure you're well-fed while I'm gone.

By now you might have heard about my legendary my tomato jam. That recipe, as easy as it is, requires a time investment. The prep time is mere minutes, but patience is required as you sit back and apply a low and slow philosophy. The reward is a thick, jammy mixture of tomatoes and onions that tows the line between sweet and savory.

That bag of tomatoes you see above is the total opposite, and for good reason. If you're still nervous about canning or preserving, then this is a good "get your feet wet" approach. No special tools required. No jars to sterilze. While it won't last as long as a shelf-stable jar of jam, it will extend your tomato season by a month or two.

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grilled pizza

It's Friday, and that means pizza night here at The Perillo house. A few weeks ago I started experimenting again with the grill. My past attempts have ended in tears or doughs that are cooked through with a crisp bottom but rather unattractive pale white surface. So, when the weather creeped into the upper 80s a few weeks ago, I decided it was time to trade my own for the outdoors and give it a try again. Practice makes perfect, right?

This last time, the figurative lightbulb went off and I decided to treat my pizza more as a flatbread to prep the crust. After shaping the dough, I placed it on a preheated grill until it started to puff slightly and the bottom got some nice grill marks. I should've taken a picture to show you, but with a hot grill and two kids after a long week, let's just say it was better to limit my multitasking. Once that side was ready, I took the crust off the grill and that bottom now become the top—see those gorgeous grill marks in the picture of the finished pie?

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homemade pasta + 10-minute bolognese sauce

By now most of you know I’m a big supporter of local farmers’ markets. It’s where I do most of my shopping, including buying eggs, beef, chicken, pork and an assortment of in season fruit and vegetables. A couple of weeks ago, someone asked me on twitter how to know which produce was organic. It was a great question and one I hadn’t really considered myself until a year ago.

Before the tomato blight hit us in the northeast last year, it never occurred to me that those small family farms would use anything but organic farming methods, even if they can’t keep up with the paperwork or application fees required by the USDA to attain the official title of organic. Then I read an article about the blight. In it the owner of one of my favorite farm stands was quoted as saying he’d be using pesticides to treat his tomatoes.

I understand this from an economics point of view. Tomatoes are a huge crop for many of these local farms, and the prospect of losing an entire season of them could put some families in the poorhouse. Still, I couldn’t bring myself to buy one tomato from that stand last year. And gosh, I can tell you from seasons past, those tomatoes were so good.

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