Crazed Chef Craves Squash (really!)

Things have been a little hectic here in the Meadballs kitchen. Big news is that I am finally certified. This seemed liked the hugest hurdle back in the spring. But when the day finally came on Friday, Aug. 4, it really was just he beginning. Because of three things:

  • Most of my pots and pans didn’t work with induction. So I had to buy new ones.
  • I have to wash dishes now. (Dishwasher not in the budget).
  • The ventilation project wasn’t totally finished.

The last is probably the biggest issue because it is August. And while it has been pretty chill so far, it isn’t all that cool in my basement digs with three fridges, two freezers, two ovens, and three induction cooktops going. Sometimes all at once. So the electrician returned to install a big fan, some vents in the ductwork and a cooler for the wine room. As a result, my shiny new kitchen is a mess of dust, dirt, power saws, and electrical things. It is loud and dirty. So I haven’t been in the kitchen much since I picked up my lovely certificate.

But, never fear, it should all be done by tomorrow morning and I’ll be cooking away. If you have signed up for my newsletter – there is a sign-up on this website – you will find the specials for next week. They will also be posted on the Meadballs Meals facebook page. Order by e-mailing, messaging me on Facebook, or by texting 814.470.8688. Orders need to be received by Sunday at noon for Monday delivery.

In the meantime, I’ve been in my home kitchen working with what to do with a truckload of yellow squash. I love this bread with blueberries. Don’t skip the glaze, it makes the cake and helps keep it fresh.

Print Recipe
Lemonade Blueberry Squash Bread
Course breakfast, dessert
Cuisine American
Course breakfast, dessert
Cuisine American
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease 2 regular loaf pans.
  2. Whisk together flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda in a large bowl.
  3. In another large or medium bowl, combine melted butter and sugar. Add lemon juice, lemon zest, and vanilla. Whisk in eggs.
  4. Add wet ingredients to dry. Mix thoroughly.
  5. Add squash and stir just to blend. Toss blueberries with the remaining flour. Add to mixture.
  6. Pour into prepared pans and bake at 325 degrees for 45 to 55 minutes.
  7. Allow the pan to cool; remove the bread and place top down on a serving plate.
  8. In the meantime, make the glaze by combining all the ingredients and mixing until smooth. Pour over top of bread.
  9. Serve.
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Laughter helps get a rise in the kitchen

A sense of humor is helpful in the kitchen and life, especially if you are going to take risks in both. I may not have it immediately in the moment – something I should consider working on – but generally within 24 hours I can find a laugh.

Often in January I like to tackle kitchen projects that just aren’t on the menu in July, like breads. In part because I love tearing off a hunk of warm bread to accompany a big bowl of soup in the winter. Slather it in butter or dunk it in olive oil – I don’t care. It’s just very comforting.

Of course, bread isn’t one of those devil-may-care projects. It requires yeast, a living organism, water, and flour. Salt is optional for some, I prefer it in mine. I like to feed my yeast with a little honey to give it a boost. All of this seems pretty simple, and if you bake bread for years it probably is, but if the proportions, temperature, or yeast is off – well, you’ve got a lump of baked paste.

I’ve made a few of those this week.

There are a few things that can go wrong with bread. One is temperature. Bread likes places where it is warmer than 70 degrees, which it typically isn’t in my house in January. When I make bread in late spring, summer, or early fall, this isn’t a problem. But in the dead of winter, I am usually stashing the bread next to the heat registers.

I should put it along a south-facing window, which is above a heat register, so that it gets the warmth of the sun. But that would require the sun to shine. Which it hasn’t done, except for a few hours here and there, since sometime in November.

But we are a people who adapt to our weather conditions. So the bread goes into the bathroom in center of the house. I have to warn visitors and my daughter not to kick the bowl on the floor over. Most people don’t expect to find a bowl of rising bread in the guest bath, I guess.

I baby my bread. I put warm, damp cloths on top to provide heat and moisture to those little yeasty guys doing the hard work.

Unfortunately, my little yeasty guys weren’t working. Perhaps they went to Mexico for the winter.

Or, I could have read the expiration date on my bag of yeast (yes, you read correctly; “bag” of yeast). And it would have told me that it was a year past its “best by” date. So I imagined my little yeasty bakers were using walkers by now. Or had retired permanently.

I’m a big fan of King Arthur Flour for recipes and ingredients. I went there to order more yeast, and a few other essentials, parchment paper and a kit to make a coconut cake. Everyone considers ingredients for coconut cake essential, right? The parchment paper and the yeast didn’t add up to qualify for free shipping (about $8), so I bought the $25 coconut cake kit to bring my order up to qualify.

I did not major in math.

And the shipment arrived – in two boxes. Which was fun. Except that both boxes contained the same order – so now I had lots of yeast, parchment and two kits to make a coconut cake. Only the kits didn’t include coconut. I really need to wear my glasses when I order stuff online.

So I called King Arthur to tell them about the double order. The first question she asked was whether I was charged twice, which I hadn’t. Then she told me FDA rules prevent returns of food stuff. So I could keep it. So now I have enough yeast to start my own bakery. And I can make 2 coconut cakes – only I have to go to the store to buy the coconut, butter, and powdered sugar to frost the coconut cakes.

I should have ordered the scone pan.

Anyway. I hope King Arthur is laughing about this.

On the subject of a free second order … I order my hair color from Madison Reed. Have for about a year as a blonde. Before that, for a year as a brunette. Loved the color. Had no problems with the color. It was easy. I could even make a coconut cake while coloring my hair.

But this last order – my platinum blonde (10 NA, for those in the color biz) turned beige on a Wednesday night. Or, as my daughter noted, my hair color matched my skin color.

I called, e-mailed, and online chatted Thursday morning. Of course, the kind colorist explained it was my fault. I had done something differently. Only I hadn’t. But they nicely offered to send me, overnight, a new kit. Please send them a photo with the lot numbers of the color and developer. I did. The new box arrived Friday.

I followed the directions. And my hair turned – beiger. Only I don’t think that is a real word. It was kind of khaki. And then I looked at the lot number. It was the same as the one on Wednesday.

I did not have a sense of humor about this. I kid no one about my preferred hair color. It is not natural. I like it that way. The platinum is sort of the white/silver I would like it to be, but it is not. Hence, the hair color – a 10.

I do not want to be an 8 or a 9. I want to be a 10. Maybe 11 even, if there is such a color. But a 10. And now I was maybe an 8.

So I called Ambridge Rose, where Jamie cuts my hair, and Char fit me in. I would like to say they got my hair color back. After 2 hours, Jamie was close. Whatever was in that Madison Reed batch would not come out. She bleached. She toned. She colored. But there remains some copper where there should be ash.

My hair needs a rest before it can be adjusted again.

Like making bread, I need to be patient. I need to accept that hair, life, dinner – doesn’t turn out exactly the way I want it every time.

And I need to remember to laugh a little more about it. So I imagine, my little old yeasty guys with their walkers hanging out waiting for their wife to get out of the salon with her white/coppery pink rinse.

And then I head back into the kitchen to master my bread recipe. Because tonight is a soup night.



Print Recipe
Garlic, Kale, Tomato Soup
Course soup
Cuisine American
Cook Time 30 minutes
Course soup
Cuisine American
Cook Time 30 minutes
  1. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Remove any extra outer papery layers from the head of garlic. Take a sharp knife and cut the top off to expose all of the inner cloves. Or you can cut the head in half. Remember this is a head, not a clove (1 piece). Place on a sheet of aluminum foil that is large enough to cover the garlic. Drizzle with about 1 teaspoon of the olive oil. Cover garlic up, like a packet. Place on a baking sheet or in a small pan. Bake in oven until soft, about 1 hour. Remove from oven. Open garlic packet and allow to cool.
  2. In the meantime, in a pot large enough to hold all the ingredients (4 quart) over medium to medium-high heat, add olive oil. Then add the chopped onion and saute until translucent, about 5 to 7 minutes.
  3. Add about 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and the chopped kale. Saute over medium to medium-high heat until the kale begins to caramelize, about 7 to 10 minutes.
  4. Squeeze in the roasted garlic. Stir. Add stock and tomatoes. Bring to a low simmer for about 5 minutes. Taste. Adjust seasonings. Keep on low heat until ready to serve. This soup will benefit from about 30 minutes to an hour to allow the garlic to permeate the soup.
  5. Serve with hunks of fresh bread and a salad.
Recipe Notes

Salt: The amount of salt you add to soup is going to depend on how salty your chicken or vegetable stock is and whether your tomatoes are salted. I like to buy a low-sodium stock, or make my own, and no-salt added diced tomatoes. That gives you total control over the final soup. I suggest tasting before adding salt.


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Love-Hate Relationship with Whole30 Diet

I’m just wrapping up the Whole30, a diet/elimination/paleo/lifestyle plan. I’d apparently been under a rock for the past couple of years and missed this one. Probably because I don’t do diet plans any more.  I’ve done them, namely Weight Watchers. But all that counting, etc., just taught me a lot of bad habits, like trying to eat food that isn’t food – bread made with wood pulp, cream cheese that could do double duty as spackling, and other products that aren’t really food.

But the Whole30 caught my eye because it eliminates foods that are troubling to your gut. You go clean for 30 days. Then you reintroduce foods – one category at a time – and see how you feel. You do eat real foods. You eat vegetables, fruits and lean protein. Fats include olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, and some canola oil. What you don’t eat are: soy, of any kind; dairy, of any kind and that includes cheese; grains, of any kind; sugar, of any kind, real or artificial; legumes (which include peanuts); or alcohol.

If you cheat, you start over at Day 1, which is a powerful incentive not to cheat. It’s like AA that way. You don’t get to pick up on Day 16 if you had a bad Day 15.

So why did I want to do this?

The main reason is I needed to slay the “Sugar Dragon.” I’d quit drinking alcohol nearly 6 years ago. Gradually sugar had been creeping into my diet as a substitution. My doctor had warned me. Alcohol is processed as sugar in the body (which is what leads to fatty liver disease). The alcohol cravings passed, but he said the sugar would be a hard one to defeat. And sugar substitutes (see below) aren’t the answer.

If you have food sensitivities, which I do, you can manage by feeling a little bit crappy all the time. I know, for example, dairy and soy are triggers for me. But I never knew just how much they contributed to my malaise until I spent a month without them. I will probably risk the issues with dairy here and there because I adore cheese and ice cream. But it eating it will have to be for something special. As for soy. I’m happy to eliminate it, minus the occasional dip for sushi. I think having both of these things out of my day-to-day diet has been very helpful.

I started the program at the beginning of August. I’m glad I did it when produce season is in high swing. Here are a few things you can expect:

  1. You are going to be gassy. Yep. Unless you are used to eating a lot of fruits, veggies, and meats, your digestive tract is going to take some time to adjust. Take walks. Alone. Or with a dog, who can take a lot of blame on this one.  And this means your pants are going to be tight for a bit as the bloat works itself out, literally. My favorite trick, roasting vegetables. It adds to their sweetness. Roast tomatoes and then puree for a delicious sauce with sausage.IMG_4402
  2. You are going to have to read labels. I was surprised at how much sugar is used in items that aren’t sweet, like Wegmans Italian sausage or Hellman’s mayonnaise or many hot sauces. The same goes for soybean oil (your plain vegetable oil is soybean oil). Farm stands and your butcher are your friends here. Urbaniak Bros. does not use sugar in its sausage, except for those labeled with maple and one smoked variety.
  3. Eating out is a nightmare due to the sugar and soy issue. This is when I had to start over. I realized after taking a bite of an absolutely delicious mussel dish that the sauce had sugar in it. Since I had to start over, I had dessert too. If you eat out, stick to grilled meats and roasted vegetables potatoes (ideally with canola or olive oil). Stay away from sautéed, which typically involves butter. Oil and vinegar are best bets for salad.
  4. You are going to be a bit cranky. Lots of people report feeling like a million bucks – Tiger Blood – at some point after 2 weeks. Can’t say that I experienced that. What I did experience was a steady level of energy throughout the day. I was no longer crashing at 3 p.m. after the first two weeks.
  5. Sugar substitutes seem to be as bad as sugar. I read numerous studies, independent of the Whole30 literature, about how sugar substitutes alter your gut health the same way as sugar, eliminating some healthy bacteria, which results in metabolic changes. The science is pretty clear on sucralose, saccharine and aspartame, but not so much about stevia.
  6. This isn’t about losing weight. Some people do. My pants fit better, probably because I haven’t had bread or any sweets for 30 days.IMG_4403
  7. Beverages. This has been a tough one. I usually start my day with a cuppa Joe with cream and sweetener, or my fave, Italian Sweet Cream (sugar free), which has so many bad ingredients I couldn’t even look at it.  Or a Diet Coke. Neither was going to work on this plan. So far my best cup of coffee has been a Starbuck’s Cold Brew with coconut milk. Starting my day off relying on an occasional Starbucks may have contributed to cranky. Water gets boring. So does sparking water. My fave concoction is V8 VFusion juice mixed with kombucha and La Croix sparking water. Not exactly something you can order out.
  8. On day 29 I found a chocolate and sea salt RX bar at Wegmans on Peach Street. The ingredient list is nuts, dates, cacao and egg whites. This was my first chocolate in 29 days. You are allowed cacao powder, but you must be a genius to make it taste like chocolate. I dropped it in the parking lot. And, yes, I applied the 5-second rule. I picked it up, dusted it off, and ate it. I was THAT DESPERATE. I am not proud. I would do it again in a heartbeat.
  9.  Halfway through, I bought bananas. I hate bananas except in banana bread. But some blogger told me to make a slit in the middle, stuff it with a tablespoon of almond butter, top it with some raisins and baked it for 15 minutes. I would like to say it tasted good. I did in a pinch.
  10. This is sort of like paleo, but you can’t eat paleo things like honey. Nor are you supposed to make things like pancakes and muffins by using coconut flour (allowed) because this is basically a cheater version of giving in. I liked this part of the diet because it had principles, unlike that nonfat cream cheese and “lite” bread that some diets encourage you to eat.

Since diet is 80 percent of what contributes to our body (the rest is exercise, rest, water, etc), I think this is a valuable exercise to go through and I will continue parts of it as I reintroduce foods back. Bread is going to return to being a rare item on my plate. I think I just eat it because it is on the table. I like the emphasis on three meals, which you will find very important because you return to being hungry. I realize I was snacking a lot during the day, which will stop.

Yours in veggie delight



No-Knead Sourdough

I love bread. Simply love bread. I learned to bake bread from a neighbor in Warren, Mrs. Levinson, who also taught piano. She tried teaching me piano. But soon discovered I had neither the hands nor the tempo for the piano. I did have bread hands, she told my mother.

Over the years, they’ve also become pasta hands, pizza hands, typing hands, and knead-a-friend’s-sore-back hands. Basically, bread hands. But among my favorite breads to bake are the kind that don’t require tedious kneading (or the help of a bread machine). These are earthy, crusty loaves with lovely big holes inside. These are the kinds where the crust sounds like it is cracking when you break off a piece.

Jim Lahey started the no-knead bread revolution in New York. The ingredients are simple: flour, water, yeast, salt, a very hot oven, and a good cast-iron pot (I like a 2.5- to 3-quart size), preferably with an enamel coating. And you need time. Most of the time is passive.

Because we live in Erie, I also like to use a heating pad when I’m making this bread during the colder months because I don’t keep my home heated to 72 degrees 24/7/365. More on this in a minute.

Wegmans offers a great bread selection, but there’s nothing like pulling  a loaf out of the oven and slathering it with butter or dipping it into a bold extra-virgin olive oil and seasoned salt mixture while it is still warm.

Not everyone likes sourdough, but the beauty of making your own is you can control the flavor. The starter and the proofing temperature and time will determine how deep the flavor becomes.

You can buy a starter, often from websites offering some form of pedigree, or you can create your own. I’ve killed more than one heritage starter due to neglect (I’m not very good at friendship bread either), so I like to start my own. It’s simple. I use a large old yogurt container (4 cups). For a starter you will need flour, filtered water and either unsweetened apple juice or unsweetened pineapple juice and time. You can follow the instructions from the New York Times here. One you get it going – it will take about a week – you can stash it in your refrigerator. A portion will need to be used (or discarded) once a week and then it needs to be replenished (fed) with more water and flour. If should smell like it is fermenting – yeasty and somewhat vinegary. If it gets a gray layer of liquid on top or doesn’t smell good, it’s time to start over.

Once you have a starter, the time investment is about 18 to 24 hours to make a loaf of bread. I will start mine in the evening, around 6 p.m., which means I can bake anytime the following afternoon or evening.

This doesn’t require any special flour. Buy unbleached all-purpose flour from a trusted source. You don’t need bread flour for this to work. Once you get the hang of it, you can try mixing in some whole wheat flour (start with 1/2 cup and work with it until you get a texture and flavor you like). You can brush it with garlic olive oil during the second phase of baking (once you remove the lid from the pot) or herbed oil. Now the bread becomes your own.

Now the part about the heating pad. Once you have your flour, water and starter mixed together, it will need to rise in a warm place. I cover my bowl with a damp tea towel (not one with the loops on it) and a plate. Then I put it in box on an open shelf in my kitchen and cover it with the heating pad set on low. The temperature needs to be about 70 degrees consistently. If you like more tang in your sourdough, you will want temperatures averaging 75 to 80 degrees (or warmer, but no higher than 85). Make sure the tea towel doesn’t dry out or a crust will form on the top of your dough (BAD), so check it every 4-8 hours.

About an hour before you are ready to bake, crank up the oven to 475 degrees with your pot in it. Have some cornmeal on hand to sprinkle into the bottom of the pot when you are ready to bake – this will help prevent sticking. Now you are ready to bake.

No-Knead Sourdough

3 ½ cups unbleached flour (or 3 cups unbleached white and 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¾ cup sourdough starter that has been fed
1 1/4 cups warm water
Coarse cornmeal (3 tablespoons, about)

Combine flour and salt in a bowl large enough to handle the dough doubling in size. In a small bowl, combine starter and warm water. Add to bowl with flour and mix until just combined. It will be shaggy. Cover with a damp tea towel and plastic wrap or a plate and set in warm place to rise, 12 to 24 hours.

Scoop dough out of bowl on a work surface covered with flour. Gently fold dough together to form a round loaf. Transfer the dough, seam side down, to a tea towel (no loops) that has been dusted with flour. Cover and let rise until doubled in size, about 2 hours.

Heat oven to 475 to 500 degrees with a covered cast-iron enameled pot (about 2.5 to 3 quarts) in it about 1 hour to 30 minutes before baking. When you are ready to bake, take the pot out of the oven and remove the lid. Sprinkle bottom of pot with cornmeal. Carefully lift the dough and gently deposit it (seam side up) into the bottom of the pot. Cover pot. Return it to the oven and bake for 25 to 30 minutes. (I like 25 in my oven). Remove the lid from the pot. You can brush it with olive oil and herbs at this point. Return it to baking for another 20 to 25 minutes. It will be brown and crusty.

Remove the bread from the oven. Allow to cool slightly and then, carefully, extract the loaf from the pan. It should have pulled away from the sides. A metal flexible spatula can help, along with an oven mitt.

Allow to cool for about 30 minutes before slicing.

Adapted from