Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Swim Into Spring with Fish Tacos

Catherine kisses the bass goodbye....
In our determined quest to embrace lighter meals with the eagerly anticipated arrival of spring,  we cast our lines out to our friend Catherine--she of the famed ginger snaps.    Catherine proffered her Fish Taco recipe, which has been a hit at her table, even with her rather particular two year old.

One good thing about this dish is that adults will enjoy it with the simple addition of spicy salsa and other accoutrements, and if kids are reluctant to try the taco arrangement, they can try the stripped down version. 

The plain fried fish pieces bear a striking resemblance to  fish sticks and chicken fingers, which are, for many youngsters, safer culinary terrain. 

...and has him for dinner.

Fish Tacos
1/2 head of cabbage, thinly sliced
1/4 cup chopped red onion
4 tilapia fillets, or other firm white fish
1 cup bread crumbs
1/4 tsp. chili powder, or to taste
2 large eggs, beaten
Canola oil for frying
1 package small flour or blue corn tortillas
Salsa (see recipe) - I just use diced tomatoes but don't skip the taco sauce!! It's good!
Fish Taco Sauce (see recipe)

Combine cabbage and onion; set aside.

Cut fish into 1 inch strips, 4 to 5 inches long.  Mix bread crumbs and chili powder in a shallow dish.  Place beaten egg in a separate dish.  Dip fish strips in egg, then dredge in bread crumbs.  Heat canola oil in a large skillet.  Fry fish in hot oil for 3 minutes on each side until crispy brown; drain.

Warm tortillas in damp paper towel in a microwave for 1 minute. To assemble, place fish on a tortilla. Top with cabbage mixture and sauce and salsa. Serves 4

1 cup seeded and chopped tomato
1/4 tsp. hot pepper sauce, or to taste
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Combine and serve.

Fish Taco Sauce
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup mayonnaise
juice of 1/2 lime

Combine all ingredients.   Serve fish taco sauce at room temp.  

Now on a scale of 1 to 10 -- how easy was that?  If you're feeling more creative, then why not try out shrimp or crab tacos, some pan-fried skate wing or perhaps even some blowfish kebobs?  The world's your oyster....especially at Reading Terminal Market.
Just a small sample of the seafood selection the Market has to offer.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Salad for Carnivores

NY Strip (top) and Sirloin, both recommended by butcher Nick Ochs for searing, slicing and serving atop salads
Perhaps "Steak Salad" sounds like a contradiction in terms.  Steak, obviously, appeals to the carnivores among us, robust and hardy eaters who seek the rich and satisfying experience of tucking into a slab of animal protein.  Devout carnivores often refer to salad as "rabbit food."    We get that.  We certainly have our carnivorous tendencies.  During the winter, however, when meat is often accompanied by rich gravies, mashed potatoes, or sauced noodles, we found that there was a consequence to such heady indulgence.  Bulky winter sweaters and jackets hide a multitude of dietary sins, and it has become apparent that we must now repent.

But repentance need not be wholly unpleasant, as you've seen by recent posts on spring salads.  The key for us is to go heavy on the fresh produce, and top it with a flavorful serving of lean, well seasoned meat or fish.  We forgo the carbs when possible, but nothing in the extreme.

Speaking of avoiding dietetic extremism, we loved the Inquirer article on the growing trend toward  "Flexitarianism."   These are people who eat vegetarian sometimes, meat sometimes, and generally well all the time.  Betting that these Flexies spend a lot of time at the Reading Terminal Market! 
Speaking of, the Market provides everything you need for this carnivorous salad; hit the butchers and the produce merchants for ingredients. 
And now,  back to the steak.....

We had a chat with butcher Nick Ochs about what steak he would recommend to sear and slice for the top of a steak salad.  He recommended a NY Strip for its excellent flavor and texture, and also suggested sirloin as a slightly less expensive option.  Nick advised us to look for 'marbling', that is, the thin ribbons of fat that run through the meat; these melt when the meat cooks, enhancing flavor and maintaining moisture.  He also advised us to salt the steak after cooking, because salt draws the juices out, and dries the meat before it cooks.  He said to watch for excessive gristle, i.e. the thick lines of fat found through and around the meat, and also directed us to cut the meat across the grain for maximum tenderness. 

So, to make a fabulously simple steak salad for 2....

1 NY Strip, approx 12 oz.
cracked black pepper
garlic powder
salt to taste (after cooking)
Baby arugula patiently awaiting dressing and steak

6 cups baby arugula or mixed greens
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 garlic powder
freshly ground pepper to taste

Rub steak with pepper and garlic powder, and let it come to room temperature before cooking.  Heat broiler, grill, or skillet, and sear steak, 3 minutes per side for medium rare.  Remove steak from heat, salt to taste, and tent with foil for about 10 minutes.  While the steak sits, assemble the salad.  This can be done right in the salad bowl; no need for blenders or cruets with this concoction.  Simply dump the leaves into the bowl, sprinkle the dressing ingredients atop and toss thoroughly.  Slice the steak as Nick directs above, and lay it atop the salad.  Bon appetit.

Note:  The Ginger Flank Steak we shared during our ginger phase last fall would also work well atop a salad, especially if you drizzle it with Ginger Miso Dressing. 

And with all this talk of spring, we couldn't resist posting a related clip from The Producers.......Mel Brooks again, I know, but he cracks me up.  Enjoy.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

A Seriously Surprising "Pizza"

Basil Butterflies optional!
Society Hill neighbor, Alex, offered up this exotic Zucchini "Pizza."  Alex, who is a mother of three young children, is passionate about good food and likes to entice her children to enjoy veggies when she can.  This creative recipe was originally from the Moosewood Cookbook - a vegetarian bible from the 1960s and one of the first of its kind to introduce the American public to exotica such as hummus and tabbouleh.  (The books are still going strong; Amazon offers about15 different Moosewood Restaurant cookbooks...)

Alex explains: "I switched it up a bit. I actually would not call this pizza - but rather a pizza frittata or a zucchini 'pasta'. I made this a few days ago and the comments at the dinner table ranged from Chloe who said "it's so cheesy, the sauce is awesome and the crust is perfect"; Charlie said "can I have some more..?" and Liam's contribution which was simply "-licious" ( Liam-ese for delicious). My recipe is as follows:"

3.5 c coarsely-grated zucchini (about 2 large)
3 eggs, beaten
1/3 cup flour
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup grated mozzarella
1 T fresh basil, minced or 1/2 t dried
salt and pepper
1/2 box strained POMI tomatoes
2 cloves garlic

optional toppings -  let the kids customize their own!
roasted red peppers

Preheat the oven to 350. Grate the zucchini, salt them lightly, let them sit, then strain out excess moisture. Don't skimp on this step as soggy crust is the result! Combine all the ingredients through the Parmesan cheese, and spread mixture onto oiled 9 x 13 pan. Bake 20-25 minutes (until the surface is dry and firm). Then brush the top with oil and broil it, under moderate heat for 5 minutes.

While cooking - drizzle olive oil into pan and heat. When heated add chopped garlic then the strained tomatoes. Season as desired with salt and pepper or the herbs of your choice. Top 'crust' with tomato sauce and the toppings of your choice, then put the pan back in the 350 oven for another 25 minutes. 

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Caesar Salad, Fit for an Emperor

As we're talking spring and salads, I figured I ought to share my go-to.  Caesar is my standby salad for a crowd.  Everyone loves it, the ingredient list is simple and generally on hand in my kitchen,  and it pairs well with a wide variety of main courses.

The history of this salad is nearly as contentious as its namesake.  (But you don't get to rule the Roman Empire by agreeing with people.)  Some food historians credit Cesare Cardini, a restaurateur in Tijuana, Mexico for concocting the salad during a busy weekend in 1924 when supplies ran low.  He mixed it tableside to add to the flair (and distract the customers from the fact that the salad contained few ingredients and the regular menu was largely unavailable.)  Others claim that Cardini's business partner, Paul Maggiora invented the concoction for a group of US servicemen in 1927 and called it "aviator salad" after the first tasters.  Still others set the origins of Caesar Salad in Chicago.  They claim that in 1903 Giacomo Junia, the owner of a small Italian pizza and pasta restaurant mixed up the salad and named it after Julius Caesar, whom he considered to be 'the greatest Italian of all time.'    Thank you History of Food for this info.

Regardless of who invented it, I say, "Grazie'.  Here's my version, with a nod to Giacomo, Paul, and Caesare.
Crispy Romaine from Iovines at the Market

Philly Food Lovers Caesar Salad
Serves 6

1 large head Romaine Lettuce

For dressing:
1/4 c fresh squeezed lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 Tbsp mustard
1 Tbsp worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
1/2 cup olive oil
fresh ground pepper to taste (I use a lot)
Rinse, dry, and tear romaine lettuce.
mix all ingredients and shake well.

For croutons:
2 cups cubed italian or french bread
2 Tbsp olive oil
salt/pepper/garlic powder or your favorite seasoned salt blend
Toss bread with olive oil and sprinkle lightly with seasonings.  Spread on rimmed cookie sheet and bake at 425 til they are toasted--stir occasionally as necessary so they cook evenly and don't burn.  Do these ahead so they are completely cool.

1 hunk parmesan cheese- thinly slice rectangles of parmesan cheese (use cheese slicer or vegetable peeler); figure 2 slices per serving.

Toss lettuce with croutons, top with dressing and toss again.  Top with sliced cheese and serve.

Speaking of Caesar, here's an irreverent view, courtesy of Mel Brooks, of Caesar's palace....

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Ducks Win for Once!

Why do ducks get such bad press?

Think of a "sitting duck"..a witless loser standing in the line of fire...or "out for a duck"...a quaint expression in the English game of Cricket for yet another loser who gets bowled out without scoring a single wicket..or even Daffy Duck who is invariably cast as a bad-tempered sore loser.

Instead of compounding this negativity, we come to praise this tasty bird.

Ducks are fantastic -- nutritionally speaking. If you discard the uber greasy skin and thick layer of fat, the duck meat itself is comparable to both chicken and turkey in terms of its nutritional composition and to our mind it is waaay tastier.  Peking duck is an exception, but that's special occasion food (being deep fried); it's just too much of a temptation to discard the crispy skin 'cos it's the best part of this particular duckfest!

The following recipe is almost is a duck salad, after all.

2  6oz duck breasts

(For the marinade)
2  tbsp soy sauce
1  tbsp chilli garlic sauce
1  tsp toasted sesame oil
1  tsp honey
1 heaped tsp Chinese Five Spice Powder
1  tsp toasted sesame seeds

Whisk all the above ingredients together and then marinade duck breasts for 10-12 hours or better still overnight.

The Supporting Cast for the Duck - Asian Salad
Salad Ingredients:
Plated up salad greens, preferably including Asian greens such as bok choy, scallions, peppery daikon or regular radish...also tomatoes look pretty and we like to throw in crunchy nuts such as pistachios or pecans.

How to Cook the Duck:
If you're feeling virtuous you can discard the skin and fat - this makes the dish a much healthier option. On a 6oz breast, for example, the skin and fat probably accounts for about 2oz of the total weight of the breast. If you want to be naughty and indulgent, cut off the skin and fat and then fry this fat to render it down and obtain duck fat in which to lightly sear your duck breast. It does taste better... (otherwise use far healthier olive oil or wok oil.)

This is a quick and easy meal to rustle up.

Sear duck in skillet in rendered fat or wok oil 3-4 minutes.  Flip, then sear the other side for 3-4 minutes.  It's important not to overcook duck..the breast itself continues cooking once you remove from the heat so err on the side of caution.  We like our duck pink; others preferred it cooked through.  So you decide. 

Once meat has cooled slightly, slice thinly and lay atop of the plated salad.  Scatter over a few more toasted sesame seeds and add a dressing of your choice.  For dressing, we recommend this wonderful recipe from our friend Jessie Burns for Ginger Miso dressing, a Philly Food Lovers staple these days.  If you don't feel like making a marries well with most soft fruit flavors, so look out for ready made berry-based dressings, or balsamic vinaigrette with a tinge of sweetness.

Dish serves two as a main

Fancy Duck Salad: If you want to dress this up and perhaps serve as a starter at a dinner party then you can do some impressive tricks with egg noodles. To explain...make up packet of egg noodles according to instructions. Once cooked, remove from heat and run them under cold running water to stop then overcooking. Drain well. Heat 1 tbsp wok oil in frypan until smoking will need about 1 inch of oil in total. Carefully drop noodles into frypan. (It's best to use chopsticks to do this.)  The general idea is to create a flat nest of noodles on which to cradle your salad and duck. As the noodles fry they stick together and look like a piece of artwork!   Drain these noodles on a kitchen towel and leave to cool. When cold, the noodles can be used as a plate almost on which you stack up salad greens and display your dazzling duck.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Spring Comes Early to the Market...

Spring Daffodils Blaze Forth at the 2011 Flower Show

Step into Spring enjoying the new produce that is beginning to appear on the shelves at the Reading Terminal Market.

Animated by the inspirational Philadelphia Flower Show, we scouted around for all things green (and purple and red!), and interviewed the new chef at Molly Malloys the soon-to-be-unveiled new gastro-pub at the Market to get his spin on Spring food trends.

A universal comment from a number of chefs and produce merchants we spoke to,is that one of the best things about Spring is the welcome appearance of local Jersey and PA-grown produce.  This is good news for all because it means cheaper veggies!

One of the items missing from menus for many a Winter month is the eggplant.  According to Chef Bobby Fisher at Molly Malloy's: "Eggplant is just too expensive right now.  It's flown in from Mexico and it's been a bad growing season.  We can't wait for the Jersey eggplants to come in."  Not only is the eggplant a good looking veggie, it is also extremely versatile and grounds many a dish, including Moussaka and Vegetarian Lasagne (if you're trying to avoid carbs, then you can slice the eggplant thicker than usual, layer these slices between the Bechamel and other veggies and replace the lasagne pasta sheets altogether.)  It works, honest.

This artful array of purple and green (check out those two-tone string beans!) was snapped at Iovines -- the bounty of their produce is a sight for sore eyes during these long, cold months. 

For those in the know, Iovines produce will shortly be appearing on the menu at a brand new gastro-pub which will open at the Market, as a replacement to The Beer Garden.  More details to follow in a later post...

Needless to say, we nabbed the new chef who is designing an artisanal menu based on the Farm to Table concept, working directly with local meat producers and farmers to source local organic ingredients for the pub.  The full scoop will be shared in a later post, but for now, suffice to say, the pub will feature local craft beers, including Keri's favorite (Victory Golden Monkey) and will of course sell Guinness and other specialty Irish brews.

Over the next two weeks, we'll be focusing on veggies, salads and new produce at the Market.  Look out for recipes for Claire's Duck Salad, Fish Salad, advice on how to choose the best cuts of beef for beef salad, Keri's Caesar Salad , and a startingly novel recipe for Zucchini Pizza (we are always on the look out for ways to entice kiddiewinkles to eat more greens!)

Munch on...

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Saint Jack McDavid?

Jack McDavid, in a rare still moment, enjoying a Coke at his Down Home Diner
With all this talk of the March saints (Patrick and Joseph), and our theme of charity, we got to thinking about some folks in our midst who do an awful lot to help their fellow man. As our focus is food, we naturally gravitated toward people who operate in this arena.   And the name that kept coming up was none other than Down Home Diner's award-winning chef Jack McDavid.   

A small sample of the  barbecue awards (including many charity cook-offs)
won by Jack over the years
Not satisfied with merely producing award-winning food, Jack has always felt the desire to give back.   "I grew up on a dirt farm in back-country Virginia and we didn't have much.  But we were always taught to give what we could to help others."

Jack clearly learned this lesson well.

He launched a massive fundraising dinner for "Meals-on-Wheels" delivery program to bring healthy, wholesome food to shut-ins.  He also was instrumental in launching the Manna Thanksgiving Pie In The Sky program in 1996, which raises funds for people who are homebound due to critical illness.  With the help of  Jack and many others, Pie in the Sky has become an annual fundraiser, raising over $226,000 in 2010 alone.

For the last 20 years, Jack has also been a central figure in the "Party with a Purpose".  This  annual benefit is held in conjunction with the Super Bowl and brings celebrity chefs together to raise money for various hunger relief organizations.    This year they raised over $1 million. Whether Jack danced with Fergie at halftime remains a mystery.

Jack continues to support AIDS-related causes as well, in honor of a former waiter and manager who died of the disease.  He is an active participant in Chef-AID, an annual dinner which supports AIDS research and provides assistance to those afflicted with the illness.

In 2011, Jack will continue focusing on these and other charities, including:  fire prevention; breast cancer; youth programs and hunger relief.

Ok, so maybe he's not a saint, but he's surely an example for us all to follow in terms of generosity, charity, and helping others.

 Post brought to you by Down Home Diner.

Friday, March 18, 2011

A Saintly Pastry...

Christ with St Joseph in his workshop by Sir John Everett Millais
St Joseph earned his position as a Saint in the Catholic Church because he was chosen to be the foster-father of Jesus and husband to the Blessed Virgin Mary.  He was first celebrated by the Copts, the ancient church of the East which was founded in Egypt, way back in the 4th Century, but gained in popularity over successive centuries.  The Carmelite Order of Nuns, for example, chose him as their patron during the c17th, and during the c19th he become one of the most popular Saints, especially amongst the working classes, because he was a lowly but just and hard-working carpenter.  His official Saints Day now falls on March 19th -- today!

Italians mark his feast day with a rather special pastry from Sicily, known as a St Joseph's cake, but more often referred to as Zeppoles.  These cakes are a cross between a cream puff and donut and are utterly delicious.  Termini Bros at the Reading Terminal Market has them on sale for most of the month of March.  If you're feeling adventurous and fancy making your own, we found this recipe for Zeppoles online. (Thanks to

To round out an Italian feast honoring St. Joseph--or just because--hit By George in the Market.  They offer a staggering array of prepared Italian dishes and fresh pasta cut to order.

Happy St. Joseph's Day!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Happy St. Patrick's Day

Philadelphia's Irish Memorial, located at Front & Chestnut Sts.

St. Patrick's Day is celebrated on March 17 around the world in honor of Ireland's patron saint.     March 17 marks the day that St. Patrick died, which is not terribly festive, but the paperwork dating back to a then-obsure British baby boy born in 387 C.E. is not particularly reliable.  If they'd known he would grow up to be a prominent Irish bishop and achieve canonization, doubtless they would have kept better records.  In Ireland, the day is a both a solemn one, commemorated as a holy day of obligation as well as a festive celebration.  Outside of Ireland, people generally dispense with the obligation part.

Philly may not dye its river green like Chicago,

but it certainly has plenty of St. Patrick's Day spirit.  Irish pubs abound in this town, the Parade is always a good time, and the Hibernian spirit is alive and well here in the City of Brotherly Love.

True confession:  I was nearly arrested last St. Patrick's Day last year on my way to a family party--I was carrying a beer as I walked to my friend's house a couple of blocks away.  An officer of the law stopped me, and informed me that I was not permitted to walk around with an open container.  I looked skeptical, and more importantly, did not want to surrender my Victory Golden Monkey Ale. I said, "Nonsense, I am a Mother on my way to a family party in my neighborhood."   He said, (quite politely, I must admit) "Ma'am, you are going to have to get rid of the bottle or I am going to have to cite you for violating the law."  I said, "But they aren't going to have beer this good at the party!".  He said, "Well, you can drink it all now, I guess."   He really was an incredibly decent chap.  I took a couple of healthy swigs and reluctantly deposited the bottle in the trash.  My husband pretended not to know me and my kids gawked.

But good beer aside, we Philly Food Lovers are not terribly interested in the parades or pub crawls. Rather, our focus is on the food.

Having grown up in an Irish-American household, corned beef on St. Patrick's Day was an absolute, and it continues to grace my table every year.   I'll be picking up the fixings for this annual feast at Reading Terminal Market.  If only Molly Malloy's were opened this week, I could start my own little celebration while provisioning.  (More to come on this gastro pub, which will be opening soon in Reading Terminal Market's Beer Garden, a welcome addition indeed.)

The food that we've discovered which seems to be truly unique to Philly and its observance of St. Patrick's Day is the Irish Potato (the candy, not the tuber).  These oh-so-sweet coconut infused confections are relatively easy to make, recipe here.  But if you prefer to leave it to the pros, head to the PA General Store.  They keep Irish Potatoes in stock year round.

Irish or not, we wish you a Happy St. Patrick's Day--and advise you to keep the open containers off the streets!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Charity Begins at Home

The Market is a vital source of fresh produce for city-dwellers

Everyone knows the old adage "Charity begins at home."  It's quoted frequently enough!  But what's this got to do with Food, you might ask? 

Well, in the aftermath of the feasting and plenty of Mardi Gras comes Lent, the Christian period of self-examination and the doing of good deeds.   So it seems fitting at this time to be talking about Charity.  Feeding the hungry, is, after all, one of the corporal works of mercy prescribed by the Church.  In this week's blog posts, therefore we are running with charity as our foodie theme and focusing on the March Saints: Joseph and Patrick. 

Other faiths, of course, embrace traditions of charity.  There is an ancient Jewish tradition outlined in The Torah recommending that the corners of fields remain unharvested so that "Gleaners" (i.e. the needy) could gather the leftovers after hours.   Islam enumerates charity as the Third Pillar of Faith (there are five in all).    It is considered compulsory for financially stable Muslims to help the needy with generous monetary support.  Holi is the beginning of spring for Hindus, which marks a time of charity and celebration, and during the Hindu New Year (Bikrami Samvat) which kicks in on the 4th of April, the devout give thanks for their blessings and give charity and help to the less fortunate.  (Thanks to Farah for this background info!)

Speaking of charity, the recent Valentine to the Market Gala springs to mind. You may well be wondering what is going to happen to the money raised at the enormously successful benefit.  Find entertaining, beautifully written pieces in both The Inquirer and uwishunu, which detail the Market's plans, literally explaining how the money will be spent on upgrading the bathrooms and delivery areas.   These may be essential, but they are hardly glamorous; the more exciting news is that the Market will be expanding, increasing the number of merchants, and building a new test kitchen center stage at the Market.

In terms of helping those less fortunate,  Reading Terminal Market is the largest redeemer of food stamps for low-income households in PA.  Considering that fact,  it is of particular importance that the Market be preserved to ensure access to healthy, fresh food for all members of our community. 

We were thrilled that the Market decided to spend money upgrading its space and facilities in order to enhance the shopping experience for all of its visitors.  Of course, we thought it was pretty darn near perfect before, so the upgrades are simply the icing on the cake!

Plans are already afoot for the 2012 Gala.  Follow for the latest scoop

Friday, March 11, 2011

Amanda's Mississipi Cornbread

Elvis came to Jackson, MI to perform at a fundraiser to help tornado victims in the area.  Our Southern neighbor Amanda was lucky enough to see him at this concert, one of his last ever live performances.  She remembers it vividly, and she gets the photo credit, too, taken by her 7 -year old self with her Kodak Instamatic and carefully lifted from her childhood scrapbook for our use.  Thanks, Amanda!


The name is evocative of fragrance, sounds and textures; sweet Magnolias, sticky Pecan Pie, cornbread and biscuits baking.  It also brings to mind that distinctive drawl, y'all, and traditions of southern hospitality.  It's the birthplace of many a famous writer -- Tennessee Williams and William Faulkner come straight to mind.  And of course it's the birthplace of the late, great King of Rock 'n' Roll, Elvis.

We persuaded one Southern Belle from Jackson, Mississippi,  now a Philadelphia transplant, to share her foodie recollections about life in the South.  We asked our neighbor, Amanda, about the truth behind a few Southern cliches:
  • that everything is fried (it's true she confesses, her fave fried dish is a fried dill pickle);
  • that Southern Ladies favor BIG HAIR.  (Also true, they are prone to over-zealous use of the curlers, but with good reason..the humidity wreaks havoc on the tresses);
  • and, that food is central to all large, noisy Southern family gatherings, (Amanda's mama was one of ten children - six girls and four boys so her Grandma's kitchen was always filled with busy bee Aunts!)

Sweetcorn in every shape and form was always on the menu.  It popped up for breakfast (cornbread cut into cubes and boiled up with milk to an oatmeal like consistency, was her Dad's ritual); creamed sweetcorn was a staple side for dinner (roasted or boiled, scraped off the husk then boiled up with oodles of cream, butter and salt and pepper) and then there's the ubiquitous cornbread -- we're all familiar with cornbread, only difference with true cornbread is that in the South, cornbread is made in a skillet. 

According to Amanda: "The secret's in the skillet.  Every house in the South owns at least one heavy cast iron skillet.  The trick I remember was heating the oil in the skillet, in the oven, while mixing the ingredients. Then when you poured in the batter you kind of had a fried crust already."

So here's the recipe to make Buttermilk cornbread Southern-style...

No  skillet on hand? 
Run to the Down Home Diner, Beck's Cajun Cafe or Delilah's
at the Reading Terminal Market for your fix instead!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Bountiful Breakfasts at the Market

"Breakfast like a King; Lunch like a Prince and Dine like a Pauper," runs the oft quoted wisdom about how to stay fit 'n' healthy, with the idea being that you front-load your day and eat progressively smaller meals then onwards.  We're all in favor of that -- especially if it means we can enjoy breakfast at that food mecca, the Reading Terminal Market.  The Market is a destination both for locals and for anyone visiting Philly because so many cuisines and cultures are represented under its hallowed roof.  And breakfast is no exception. With so many breakfast options, it can sometimes be difficult to choose.  We recently came across another blog featuring top ten places to breakfast in Philly, and were shocked to see that our favorite place to have breakfast was conspicuously absent. 

Truthfully, the Market isn't really one place.  In terms of breakfast, well, I guess the Market warrants its own top ten list.  Here are our ten fave spots to "Breakfast like a King"...
Down Home Diner's Spinach Omelet, turkey bacon, pigs in blankets, and grilled tomatoes. 
1.  Down Home Diner--Jack McDavid has a gift for getting his patrons' day off to a great start. This feast--spinach and cheddar omelet, grilled tomato, sauteed greens, ham, bacon and--wait for it--DHD's own version of pigs in blankets (turkey sausage wrapped in buckwheat pancakes) makes me happy all day.
2. Barb and Suzy's Kitchen--the Famous Smucker's Breakfast Sandwiches will keep you going all morning.
Smucker's Breakfast of Champions

3.  Beck's Cajun Cafe--If you can't make it to Cafe Du Monde in the French Quarter, try the beignets at Beck's.  If you close your eyes while taking your first bite, you really will feel like you've been transported to N'Awlins.  Seriously.  If you're seeking something heartier, Beck's Bourbon St. Breakfast will fill you up:  Red beans and rice topped with a fried egg.
Beck's Beignets

4.  Le Bus.  When a grab-and-go muffin or scone is the order of the day,
Le Bus will provide.
LeBus Muffins and Rolls

Metropolitan Croissants

5.  Metropolitan Bakery.  See #4.  Different selection, equally delicious.

6.  Profi's Creperie.  I have thus far sampled the Nutella/ strawberry/blackberry/banana filled crepe, and the egg/cheese/ham filled crepe.  Not at one sitting.   Both were divine. Looking forward to trying their vast assortment of other combos.  

Merci, Profi!

8.  Dutch Eating Place--From open 'til close there is a line here--starting with the epic breakfasts, and finishing with the famous apple dumplings--which, on particularly bad days may serve as breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner.  Don't forget the cream!

9 & 10.  Once you're done, stop by Tootsie's for a healthy lunch-to-go, Old City Coffee for a quick coffee, or one of the fresh produce merchants to grab some fresh fruit for a mid-morning snack!
Pancakes bursting with blueberries, or it too early to sample an Apple Dumpling...?

Monday, March 7, 2011

Beck's Cajun Cafe Says, "Happy Mardi Gras!"

Beck's King Cake--Where's the Baby?
Mardi Gras is the festive season celebrated in New Orleans that  marks the end of Christmas and runs through the start of Lent.  From January 6 (Epiphany) through Fat Tuesday (the day before Ash Wednesday, March 8 this year) New Orleans is bursting with parades, feasts, parties, jazz music and loads of fun.  In anticipation of the fasting and deprivation of the Lenten season, Mardi Gras offers revelers the chance to feast and indulge.  (Candidly, though, I have spent time in New Orleans outside of Mardi Gras and I have yet to see Lenten fasting and deprivation.  Definitely my kind of place.)

One particularly unique Mardi Gras tradition is the King Cake.   The ring-shaped cakes, which are comprised of a yeast dough filled with cinnamon, cream cheese, nuts or fruit, are generally braided, decorated with the traditional Mardi  Gras colors of purple, gold and green, and always contain a tiny plastic baby.  The baby symbolizes the Christ child; when the cake is served, whomever gets the piece containing the baby is guaranteed good luck for the next year, and is obliged to host the next king cake party.  Becks Cajun Cafe will be offering authentic King Cakes from now through Mardi Gras.  While you're there, don't miss their other Cajun delights:

Beck's Shrimp Creole

"Cajunista" with a menu favorite

I highly recommend a visit to New Orleans.  But if the plan does not fit into your immediate future, Beck's can certainly transport you there culinarily.  Laissez les bons temps roulez!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Top Tips for Handling 'Gators

One of the delights we tasted at this year's Valentine to the Market Gala fundraiser at the Reading Terminal Market was Beck's 'Gator Gumbo.  Now everyone knows that a gumbo is a tradition of the New Orleans -- a spicy chicken or fish soup, transformed into a dense stew by the addition of a starchy thickening agent such as okra or rice. What you might not know, however, is that you can also make a gumbo using Alligator meat - unfortunately there isn't much demand for 'gator in Philly - yet! - so you can't currently buy this at any of the butchers at the Market...

Bill Beck flies in Andouille sausage, Crawfish and Alligator fresh from N'awlins for Beck's Cajun Cafe, his restaurant in the Reading Terminal Market.  In the run up to Mardi Gras he orders provisions sooper-dooper early because there's always a run on these traditional foodstuffs.  His alligator is farm-raised with the choicest cut harvested from the area between the hind quarter down to the tail.  Beck prefers to use alligator in sausage form, because it is already tenderized, and good to go for their DE-licious 'Gator Gumbo. 

For those who have not yet savored alligator, Bill describes 'gator  as having "the flavor profile of Italian sausage, but with a depth and sweetness that's unique.."  (You sure you're not talking about fine wine now..?)  In addition to his 'Gator Gumbo, Beck's also serves 'Gator Sausage on a Stick.  Bill confides that one of his fave recipes is a scallopini of alligator, flash-fried.

Bill shares his views on the choicest cuts...
Future plans include a 'Gator Cheesesteak.  Hmm.  Like the sound of that. Now that really would put Philly on the map.   We wonder what Ben Franklin would say to that?

He might well approve of the following excerpt from How to Wrestle Alligators: The Art of Manliness.  This useful article tells you everything you need to know to capture - and thus secure - your alligator steak.

"Step One: Getting on the Alligator’s Back

Possibly the most dangerous part of wrestling an alligator is getting on its back. Never attempt to jump an alligator from the side or from the front. Doing so is the easiest way to get bit. You want to approach the alligator from behind. If possible, have someone distract the animal so it doesn’t turn to keep an eye on you. However, if that’s not possible, take off your shirt and use it as a blindfold (or use a towel). Throw your shirt on the top of the gator’s head, making sure to cover its eyes. Without sight, the alligator is much slower to react."

Ok.  Perhaps it's safer to just settle for the Gumbo at the Market :)

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Southern vs Cajun, Yes, There Is a Difference

Since teaming up with a Brit on this food blogging adventure, I am occasionally called upon to serve as translator.  For example, Claire refers to the state store as the 'off license'.  An eggplant to me is an aubergine to her.  My 'to-MAY-to' is her 'to-MAH-to'.  Today while talking about Mardi Gras, we charted new terrain:  the difference between 'southern' and 'cajun'.  To the uninitiated, i.e. those living above the Mason Dixon line, this distinction may not be apparent.  Louisiana is in The South, right?  Well, yes and no.

To understand this fully, we need to go back to the 1700s (briefly, I promise.).  When the Brits won the French and Indian War way back in 1763, they took Canada from the French.  The folks living in the former French colonies (Nova Scotia and the other Canadian Maritime Provinces), known as "Acadians," fled their new regime for Frencher pastures, i.e. Louisiana.  Over time, the name 'Acadian' devolved, through the local patois and linguistic blends into the term 'Cajun'.

So that explains the name.  As to the food (you knew we'd get there eventually), most of the American South was colonized by British Protestants whose traditions and cuisines grew from their English roots.  (Thankfully, they have evolved over time into something more palatable--sorry, Claire.)  These recipes differed widely from those of the French Catholics who migrated to Louisiana.  They took culinary traditions from their native France, and, upon arriving in Louisiana, integrated ingredients and techniques from the various peoples that passed through New Orleans:  Spanish; Italian; Caribbean and African to name a few.

The good new for us is that both of these cuisines, in their best selves, are alive, well, and delicious at Reading Terminal Market.  For traditional southern food--fried chicken, ribs, biscuits, collard greens and real home cooking, there's no place like the Down Home Diner.  I had breakfast there this morning and it was the high point of my day.  For authentic Cajun dishes--red beans and rice, jambalaya, etouffe, gumbo and po'boys you can't beat Beck's Cajun Cafe.  The Muffaletta I took home for lunch today rivaled anything I've ever eaten in the Crescent City.  (Yes, there is a significant occupational hazard to this job.  Five pounds and counting.)

I never thought I would see the day where I'd quote Hannah Montana, but in this case, she was right.  In terms of Cajun and Southern, We Have The Best of Both Worlds.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

What a Party!

Philly Chit Chat did a great job capturing the evening.  A good time was had by all.

Stay tuned for next year's Valentine to the Market date--trust us, you won't want to miss it.

And here are your Philly Food Lovers hard at work.....