Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Un-Savory Rhubarb

So, after trying Claire's cake last week, I was pleasantly surprised by rhubarb.   Consequently, I was inspired to experiment with this newly discovered spring ingredient.  I was determined to find a use for rhubarb that did not involve baking it in a cake, pie or cobbler, or stewing it into a compote.  The crunchy snap intrigued me and I wanted to showcase it.   After searching high and low for a recipe featuring raw rhubarb, I came up with nothing.  Undeterred, I opted to create my own.  Perhaps I ought to have considered that there was a  reason that the thousands of professional and amateur cooks in the world have not published a recipe using raw rhubarb, but that did not occur to me in my quest.    I decided on a spring relish using raw rhubarb, onion, strawberries, and lime planning to top my grilled salmon with it that night.
Mise en place
Initially I thought to grate the rhubarb, but it resulted in a mushy mess that resembled runny applesauce, so I switched gears and chopped it with a knife.  I then added strawberry, onion, lime juice, salt and sugar.   The end result was  edible--but only just.  The rhubarb did have a pleasant crunch, but bitterness was the overarching flavor.  When all was said and done, the mixture looked absolutely gorgeous (I chucked in some fresh parsley in the end to add color) but tasted like a blend of things that did not really compliment each other.  I like contrasting flavors--mango chutney, fruit salsas, chocolate covered pretzels, salted caramel--but the truth is that this rhubarb relish would have been better without the rhubarb.

It was worth trying, but I won't rush back into raw rhubarb.  Chances are, if you can't find any recipe at all for something in this day and age, there's a good reason.  But this goes to show you that even experienced cooks with proven track records occasionally hit on a clunker....despite how pretty the dish looks.....
Looks can be deceiving!

In searching for interesting recipes that create that sweet and savory flavor marriage (along the lines of my rhubarb relish attempt), I happened upon these--which are tried and true in terms of fruit mixed with other ingredients:

Mango Chutney (thank you seasaltwithfood.com)
Fruit Salsas  (thank you greatsalsa.com)

Combos like these are great on fish, pork and chicken, and with grilling season upon us, I'll be rustling up versions of these more proven recipes in the coming weeks.    Farewell raw rhubarb.  I'll stick with you in desserts.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

No Cook Memorial Day Weekend

If cooking isn't in your bag of tricks this weekend, there are lots of ways to eat well without slaving over a hot stove (or grill.)   Bring your empty shopping bags to Reading Terminal Market and fill them to the brim with fresh seasonal  fruit and salad greens from the merchants or specialty stores, or better still, buy ready made food from the multi-talented chefs working at the Market.
Try Down Home Diner's Take out Salads--Grilled veggie and blackened chicken, roasted sweet potato, or tuna with tomatoes.

Diener's Barbecue Selections

Perfect picnic, By George

Or buy some pre-cooked items from your fave merchants--maybe a few racks of ribs and slather them with this elixir.  Your tastebuds (and your guests)  will sing and they'll never know that it's not home cooking...

Down Home Barbecue Sauce--good on everything!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Memorial Day Kicks Off Summer, Let's Eat!

Stone Harbor, NJ at sunset
As Memorial Day Weekend approaches, we eagerly anticipate this unofficial start to summer.  This means lighter, casual food, lots of grilling, and generally less time in the steamy kitchen.  We asked some of our Phavorite Phoodies what their "go-to" menu is for a Mem. Day picnic or get together.  Here's their Pheedback:

Fran:  "Simple, simple, simple.  Boneless chicken breasts, marinated, grilled, served with a salad and corn if it's good, or another simple side like potato or pasta salad if it's not."

Matt:  "Burgers, high-end, store bought potato chips and cole slaw from the deli."

Farah:  "Chicken Kebobs--I marinate the chicken pieces overnight in yogurt and an Indian spice blend, then skewer and grill them.  They can be served plain, with a variety of chutneys, or with chopped cucumbers and tomatoes wrapped in naan."

Anonymous:  "Reservations.  But don't use my name on your foodie blog, too shameful."  [No sweat, Anon; check our next post for take out options that are sure to please.]

Claire:  "Pulled Pork.  It can be cooked ahead so there's nothing to do but reheat on the day when your guests arrive.  It can also be cooked overnight, which means you avoid having the oven on and heating your house up during the day.   Pulled pork is also inexpensive; you don't have to purchase the top cut of meat because the slow cooking process tenderizes it no matter what.  We  had a huge party at the beach on the very last day of the Summer--50+ people--and this fed everyone hassle-free.  We even invited the lifeguards who had done such a great job over the Summer.  People brought their own contributions...sides, rolls, and chips...and we had a great no-fuss feast."

When summer weekends arrive, I am generally manning the mess hall for a  large crowd (like 20) at the beach.   This means I aim for high volume, low cost, and crowd pleasing menus that appeal to three generations.  Slam dunk:  Flank Steak, Caesar Salad, and Grilled Bread.

For the bread:  cut a baguette or other crusty loaf lengthwise.  Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Grill face down til toasted and starting to char.  Serve plain, or slather with herb pesto, olive tapenade, or sun dried tomato puree.  (I know, I know, the bread is a bit redundant with the croutons, so if this bothers you, opt for an interesting rice dish or macaroni salad, or ditch the Caesar and go with an arugula salad--but if you are feeding kids, Caesar is a safer bet.)    I am one of those people who can never get enough bread and I can assure you, people are scraping the crumbs off the serving tray when I offer this up.  When corn comes in, swap the bread for fresh corn on the cob.

For dessert:  ice cream bars.  My latest greatest discovery:  Caramel Pretzel Klondike Bars.  These little beauties are the next best thing to Bassett's WHYY Experience Ice Cream Flavor--vanilla butterscotch ice cream dotted with chocolate covered pretzels (pause for rapturous reflection, ahhh). Klondike's version boasts caramel ice cream encased in chocolate flecked with crumbled pretzels.  That salty/sweet/crunchy combo makes me feel that all is right with the world.  While Bassett's is a transcendent experience, for a crowd I prefer bars for simplicity's sake--no scoops, spoons, or bowls.  Just unwrap and enjoy.

Have a safe and delicious holiday weekend!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Rhubarb Coffee Cake - A Surprise Hit

Rhubarb and friends at Iovine's

When we went to buy rhubarb from the Market, we were surprised to see it piled up alongside the parsnips and artichokes, rather than nestling with the fruits.  Turns out that rhubarb is properly speaking a veggie, not a fruit, and is related to buckwheat. 

As fruits (or rather vegetables) go, rhubarb is moderately priced and a little goes a long way.  It has an intense, exceptionally tart flavor, which some love and many don't.  (When I mentioned that I was making a rhubarb dessert to friends, with one exception, the universal response was a wrinkling of the nose).  This reaction is difficult for me to fathom as in the U.K., rhubarb and custard is a staple dessert on the school menu in Winter; rhubarb swirled in a cream/mascarpone fool is a Summer favorite and rhubarb and strawberry pie needs no explanation or apology - it's simply delicious all year round!

If you're not familiar with rhubarb then it's easy to make mistakes when cooking with it.  Two golden rules to remember:

1.  Load the fruit up with sugar or honey when cooking - you can't overestimate the amount of sugar you need to use to cut down the rhubarb's natural acidity (which probably goes to explain why rhubarb leaves have anti-bacterial properties...thanks to Lifestyle Lounge: Health and Fitness for this piece of trivia.)

2.  Don't overcook rhubarb or it will turn into a watery slimy mush.  In most baked recipes, there's no need to precook the rhubarb - chop the rhubarb into small bite-sized pieces and the rhubarb cooks into the cake/pie.  This way it retains its shape and a slightly crunchy texture.

Chunks of glorious, fragrant pink rhubarb

I found this wonderful recipe on an intriguing website, called The Rhubarb Compendium.  It was great to find a kindred spirit who is as excited about this fruit/vegetable as I am.  Check out this site for pages and pages of glorious and fun recipes. 
Rhubarb Bundt Cake by Claire

Moist Rhubarb Coffeecake


2 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar, plus 2 tablespoons
1 egg
1 cup plain low fat yogurt
1/2 cup applesauce
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups uncooked rhubarb, coarsely chopped

Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a large bowl. In a separate bowl, mix the egg and sugar then add the yogurt, applesauce, and vanilla. Stir into the flour mixture until blended, then add the chopped rhubarb and mix well. Turn into a 9-inch square pan that is greased or sprayed with non-stick spray. Sprinkle top with remaining sugar. Bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes until the cake tests done in the center.

Mascarpone Cream:

1 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup mascarpone cheese
1/4 cup sugar (to taste)
1 tsp vanilla

Whip all ingredients on high until mixture thickens and holds shape.  Keri uses this cream all the time on cakes, pies, tarts, fresh fruit.  It transforms a dessert, making anything and everything palatable.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Spring in to Rhubarb

Will this be me after trying rhubarb?

I eat most things, organ meats and mushrooms excluded.  And rhubarb isn't on the 'do not eat' list exactly, but it is certainly not something I seek out.  I've never bought the stuff, and have unpleasant memories of a childhood episode in which my mother, an otherwise prize winning pie baker, concocted a strawberry rhubarb pie from some stalks growing wild in a field.  This was the one bad pie on her otherwise impeccable record, which continues to this day.  The strawberry rhubarb pie was puckeringly bitter.  Whether the recipe was flawed, she was distracted when she measured the sugar, or the wild rhubarb was more bitter than the varietal called for in the recipe is unclear.    But the memory of that acrid, mushy 'dessert' remains with me and as a result, I have more or less avoided rhubarb for decades.
Rhubarb from Iovine's--ready for me to take the plunge!

But everyone deserves a second chance, even vegetables.  And the recent Inquirer feature on this harbinger of spring prompted me to reconsider my position on the stuff.  As a devotee of local produce whenever possible, I realized that rhubarb is one of the few items available these days that fit this bill.

Turns out, Claire is a big fan.  She found this rhubarb chutney at Reading Terminal Market which she served with roasted pork.  She also assembled a gorgeous cheese plate with a scoop of the chutney  on the side.

Food and Wine's May issue proffered rhubarb-cheese strudel as an elegant way to showcase this quintessentially spring ingredient.

And our friend Chef Jack McDavid suggest the following rhubarb-centric dessert:  Grill rhubarb til it's just al dente and cut it into bite sized pieces.  Set grilled rhubarb aside and make vanilla syrup--a basic simple syrup made with a cup of sugar, a cup of water, and a whole vanilla bean scraped into a saucepan.  Cook the syrup slowly until the sugar is completely dissolved and the mixture has thickened into a syrup.  Remove the solid bits of vanilla, place the grilled rhubarb in the syrup, and leave it there to soak for a bit.  To serve, pour the rhubarb mixture over vanilla ice cream, flan, or custard.  It makes a beautiful presentation with a dramatic pink color, and is a unique but simple dessert.
So, I seem to be surrounded by ideas for using the spring stalk in a number of ways.  I'm going to give it a try.  Stay tuned for *feed*back.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Mudbugs for Dinner?

Crawfish, also known as "Crayfish", or by the fond (but seriously unappetizing) nickname "Mudbugs" are beginning to crop up on menus everywhere.  These lobster-like crustaceans are found in brackish water and streams where they bury deep into the mud, especially in the colder weather.  Think twice before trying to eat them immediately after catching them as they'll likely have a pretty muddy taste -- reflecting their natural habitat.  So says Bill Beck, chef and owner of Beck's Cajun Cafe at Reading Terminal Market: "It takes about two week's of them living in clean water for that taste to go," he explains.

Bill uses crawfish in his New Orleans inspired menu at the Market, preferring to import them directly from the South.  If you're interested in cooking with these beasties, then he suggests buying medium to large crawfish.  "In terms of the meat to shell ratio and the increasing toughness of the meat, you're better off avoiding the extra large ones".

One of the hot favorites at Beck's Cajun Cafe at the moment is Bill's Shrimp Crawfish Jambalaya. 
In Bill's version he adds potatoes, andouille sausage, corn and lastly the shrimp and crawfish.  "It's all in the timing," Bill advises, "timing is everything, you need to stagger cook everything -- starting with the potatoes."

We wouldn't expect Bill to divulge his recipe in full, so we found this one for you, Sausage and Shrimp Jambalaya  on http://www.foodista.com/, which comes close to the mark.  Frozen crawfish tails are readily available from the seafood merchants at the market. 

Mudbugs come as cooked and flavored tails, or as tail meat.  "Best to buy frozen now, as they don't travel well;  they have no longevity out of the water", says Bill.

Everything - including this Louisiana etouffee - is always served with a smile at Beck's.  Whilst there this month, we got to sample the banana bread pudding with whiskey sauce, a soon-to-be released creole mayonnaise and snapper soup. 

Laissez les bons temps roulez!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Celebrate Burger Month!

May is national burger month, and I do love a good burger.

I must admit, my husband, who has become quite the cook, made some righteous burgers last week.  He used 85% lean ground beef, which he seasoned liberally with salt, pepper and Worcestershire Sauce.  He packed the burgers loosely, using about 6 oz meat for each, and grilled them for about 4 minutes per side on a high flame.  If I hadn't married him already, I'd have done it on the spot.

As the mercury rises and grilling season moves into full swing,  it seemed an opportune time to check in on one of our favorite chefs for some hints on what makes a tasty burger.  Not that I feel improvement is necessary on hubby's work (I'm referring to the burgers, people) but it never hurts to get some professional advice.

Jack McDavid of the Down Home Diner is never shy about sharing his opinions, and he was happy to give us his take on burgers.

"You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. The key to a great burger is great meat. We use 80% lean 20% fat freshly ground shoulder Pennsylvania beef from Halteman's right here in the Market. For a great hamburger, you need an open flame. This sears the outside and allows the fat to escape and caramelize on the meat, which adds a touch of sweetness. You also need a pinch of salt and some seasoning--most folks oversalt the meat in an attempt to add flavor. Meat lacks flavor if it is not top quality."  So we've come full circle.  The key to a good burger is good meat.

For turkey burgers, Jack suggests a different technique.  "Use a griddle.  You don't need an open flame, because you don't need to render fat in a turkey burger; they're low in fat and you'll dry them out.  You add some seasoning, and cook them slowly to preserve the moisture."   Full disclosure:  I am not a fan of turkey burgers, so I'll take Jack's word for it, but am unlikely to follow his advice.  When it comes to burgers, I'm a traditionalist.

Down Home Diner's Big Cheese Burger
We certainly enjoyed the Down Home Diner's burgers.  I took the traditional route with the Big Cheese, and Claire opted for the barbecue burger with bacon and fried onions.  I retained my membership in the clean plate club, C. left the bread and fries behind.  (I like her anyway, though.)  Other favorite burgers around town?   500 degrees for a quick and casual experience,  Butcher and Singer for a fancy lunch, and Good Dog Bar for something in between.

What's your favorite Philly burger joint?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Sunshine Tomatoes

Did you ever catch that movie Fried Green Tomatoes? It's a favorite of mine.  While living in the U.K., it was my introduction to the South, and to the concept of eating unripe tomatoes.  At the time, I loved the movie, especially the part when Kathy Bates wreaks her revenge in the car park.  Having watched the movie, I decided that I just had to visit the South at some point -- but I certainly wasn't wowed by the idea of consuming a hard green tomato.

Until I tried them in New Orleans last month that is.  And then I understood their magic.

Two weeks ago I came across some gi-normous green tomatoes at the Market and decided to give it a go.

I guessed it would be simple, but had no idea just how easy it was and - compared to my traumatic experience when faced with a sinkful of collard greens to feed ten for dinner - I think the tomatoes were way more impressive.  (In terms of the "effort in" and "praise earned" from dinner guests ratio, which is my modus operandi)

This recipe is simple but spectacular, honest

1 cup of buttermilk
2-3 heaped tablespoons of flour
seasoning (salt and pepper, maybe a sprinkling of Paprika...I added Beck's Cajun Devil Dust to spice it up and give it some zing, you may have other favorite spices in your pantry.)
As many tomatoes as you can handle; simply increase the proportions of buttermilk and flour in relation to the quantity of tomatoes you plan to consume)
Oil for frying - I like to use a combination of olive oil and butter

Slice tomatoes, not too thinly.  Lay on flat surface and sprinkle with salt (much like preparing eggplant prior to frying the goal is to draw water out of this veggie).  Leave to sit for 5 minutes.  Combine flour and seasonings in a bowl.  Pour buttermilk in a bowl.  Dip tomatoes first in buttermilk, next toss buttermilk covered tomatoes in the flour mix and coat thoroughly.  Heat oil in frypan, fry for as long as it takes - basically until the hard green tomatoes soften in the pan and the flour/buttermilk turns into a crispy crumb coating for the tomatoes. 

I served the tomatoes with roasted salmon and a salad.  I also used my leftovers for breakfast the next day.

Sooooo easy.

The Beck's Devil Dust gave the crust of the tomatoes a rich bright color

Friday, May 13, 2011

A Tall Tale: Mile-High Chocolate Cake

Yep, my cake turned out looking just like this!

As Keri will tell you, I am a reluctant baker; baking doesn't suit my personality in the slightest.  I like to innovate, switch out ingredients, and I rarely - if ever - follow a recipe in chronological order, which is disastrous when it comes to baking.  By comparison, Keri is one of the world's most accomplished bakers and is reknowned for her brownies, caramel sauce, pound cake...the list goes on.

To challenge myself, I opted to provide the dessert for our Kentucky Derby Dinner and followed a recipe from the January 2008 issue of the late, lamented Gourmet Magazine.  Keri had saved this particular issue which featured Southern food, and its wrinkled, spattered pages reveal just how much use it has gotten over the years.  Leafing through, I settled on a luxurious chocolate cake called a "Mile-High Cake".  I liked the sound of this one.

Scanning the list of ingredients, I noted that the recipe called for 'cake flour'.  Not being a baker, this was the first time that I'd come across this ingredient, so I jumped online to research a little deeper.  Cake flour has a higher protein content than standard all-purpose flour and is much more finely milled.  It has the airiness akin to cornstarch.    First stop then, Reading Terminal Market, to grab supplies. 

Whilst I was at the Market, I was lucky enough to secure an interview with Elizabeth, the owner of Flying Monkey Patisserie, who shed some light on the dos and don'ts of baking.  Her cupcakes are DIVINE...if you haven't tried them already. 

Photo credit: Mike Persico
 According to Elizabeth, a key rule to remember when baking is to take both the eggs and butter out of the fridge a good 10-15 minutes before you need them.  In order for the eggs and butter to emulsify properly with the flour and other dried ingredients, it's imperative that they are at room temperature when added. 

Elizabeth also explained the differences between cake flour and all purpose flour.  The choice of flour vastly influences the texture of the final cake.  If you want a light and airy cake, then use cake flour; for a denser, more substantial cake, you need all-purpose flour.
I went in search of cake flour and I have to confess this is the first time that I couldn't find an ingredient in the Market. I stumped the lady working in Jonathan Best, but she promised to add cake flour to her next order of dried goods!  I did manage to secure a box of cake flour elsewhere...

This recipe is pretty complicated, but worth the investment.  The cake uses sour cream and many ounces of rich dark cooking chocolate to give the cake its moistness.  The cake lived up to its name.  Once complete it comprised four storeys of layers, a mixture of chocolate icing and chocolate sponge.  Now I know why it is called a "Mile-High" Chocolate Cake.  An identical recipe is published on epicurious.com.see Mile-High Cake  Thanks.  That's saved me a lot of typing.

One word of advice...

Do check your pantry before embarking on a recipe involving baking.  Another character flaw of mine is that I don't always read ahead when following recipes.  Hence I found myself in a pickle...

The bain marie is on the stove, the chocolate has melted perfectly.  All I need to do is add 1 cup of granulated sugar and we're off.  The problem is I don't use sugar.  I keep packets of sugar for guests, but because  I don't bake, I don't tend to keep a box in the house.  My neighbor is out at work, can't borrow from her, so what to do?  (Meanwhile my chocolate is over-heating on the stovetop.)  In desperation, I turn to my packets of guest sugar and at great speed start tearing up half teaspoon sachets.  I think that one sachet = half a teaspoon; I'm guessing I tore up at least 50 or so sachets to get my cup of sugar...Mission accomplished, lesson learned.  Repeat after me:  "I will set up my mise in place, I will set up my mise en place, I will set up my mise en place....."

My mile high mountain of sugar packets....

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Southern Sides: Braised Collard Greens and Creamed Corn

Smoked turkey hock, a bunch of collard greens and Beck's Cajun spice

Despite the fact that Reading Terminal Market is firmly affixed above the Mason Dixon Line, it offers a respectable array of southern food and ingredients.  We are, of course, delighted to report this, given the fact that we recently hosted a Kentucky Derby Party as part of a charity fundraiser for a local school - none of us backed the winning horse, unfortunately...

Collard greens grace many a southern dinner table and are readily available from a number of the merchants at the Market.  What we needed, however, was a fail-safe recipe for how to cook them.  We scouted around for inspiration at the Market, settling upon the Down Home Diner, which carries them all year round on its menu.  As a Brit, I'd not eaten collard greens until about a month ago...and had no idea how to cook them. I tried them at the Diner and managed to grab its chef and owner, Jack McDavid, for tips on how to prepare this Southern staple.  

Jack grew up on a farm in Virginia, where he learned a healthy respect for fresh produce.  He  continues to advocate for the farm to table movement and wow his customers with authentic, fresh food from, as he calls it, "The Best Market in the World."  Jack was kind enough to share his collard green recipe with us, and it was truly a revelation.  He uses no water

Prepping the greens was a labor of love...one large bunch wilts down to a small pile of cooked collards.  For our dinner party of ten, I prepped five whole bunches of greens, which equated to an entire sinkful. 
That's right, all you folks who have been boiling greens for years, (my fellow hostess for the Kentucky Derby Dinner included) apparently it's just not necessary, as Jack counsels:  "The vegetables contain mostly water, so as they cook down, they bring out their own liquid and that enhances the flavor."  We discovered that this is absolutely right!

To make Collard Greens Jack's Way:

2 bunches rinsed collard greens, center ribs removed
1 smoked turkey neck/hock or leg
2 cloves garlic
2 Tbsp oil
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 Tbsp cider vinegar
1 Tbsp honey

In large stock pot,  heat oil, and add smoked turkey and any seasonings (I love onions, so I also included a large Spanish onion, which I finely chopped and threw in with the garlic cloves; I also like a bit of spice so added a little of the Beck's Devil Dust seasoning to Jack's recipe).  Saute briefly, 5 mins or so to release flavors.  Add greens, and turn with tongs to distribute flavorings.  Cover, lower heat, and braise for a minimum of 20-30 minutes, turning frequently with tongs so greens do not stick to pan.  When greens are completely cooked and wilted, add remaining ingredients to season.  Pull bits of smoked turkey from the bone and add them to the greens if desired. 

A number of the merchants at the Market stock smoked turkey.  We bought ours from Giunta's

Another insider tip Jack shared with us..."The greens are good today, but even better tomorrow."  If you let the greens sit in the fridge for a day or two then the flavors intensify and blend beautifully with the greens - you can then reheat them either on the stove or in the microwave.
Keri has also used this 'no-water' technique successfully with kale, and substituted ginger/garlic/soy for the turkey neck to accompany Asian dishes with beautiful results.  Never again shall we adulterate any of our greens with unnecessary water... 
Rice and corn:  southern staples.
Married to a Southerner, Keri is well versed in Southern cuisine, she takes over here:

Corn is another staple of southern cooking, used in virtually every form:  ground corn meal for bread; hominy for grits; fresh off the cob as a favorite summer vegetable; and the list goes on.  With that in mind, we couldn't very well host a Kentucky Derby Party without showcasing corn in a supporting role.  Hence our visit to Pennsylvania General Store for their super sweet Copes Dried Corn, which we used to make creamed corn with rice for our southern dinner.   

To make this carb-alicious dish, simply follow the directions on the package for the creamed corn, and separately, make an equivalent amount of long grain white rice.  When both components are done, mix them, add some salt and pepper, and voila:  carb heaven!

And this is just the side dishes.  Wait 'til you see the mile-high dessert!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Philly Food Lovers' Pulled Pork

Animal Kingdom, the winner of the Kentucky Derby may have been a long shot at 30-1, but this dish is a sure bet.  Pulled pork is the perfect dish for a crowd.  It is shockingly easy to prepare, can be done ahead, and is quite versatile.  This version has a southern bbq slant, since it was the centerpiece for our Derby Day Party Menu, but you can use the same cooking technique for a variety of flavors.  Go Mexican with salt, cumin, chili pepper,  lime juice and beer and serve the pulled pork on tortillas.  Douse it with garlic, salt, pepper and white wine for an Italian version and serve on chunky rolls with broccoli rabe and sharp provolone.    But whatever your preference, this foolproof method will produce tender, delicious meat every time.

Pulled Pork for 10

6 lbs boneless pork loin (or 9 lbs bone-in roast)
3 Tbsp Rub-a-dub-dub, or your favorite barbecue spice blend
1 Tbsp liquid smoke
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup beer (any variety)
1/4 cup barbecue sauce

1 large, oven-proof, covered roasting pan

Heat oven to 225.  Place pork in large roasting pan and drizzle pork with liquid smoke and vinegar, then rub with spice blend to coat.   Drizzle bbq sauce over top, and pour beer into bottom of pan.  Cover pork and place in oven for 8 hours.  Turn and baste once or twice during cooking.  (Cooking can be done overnight).  When pork is done, it will fall apart easily when a fork is inserted into it.  To "pull" the pork, take two forks and gently tear the meat apart.  Serve on rolls with your favorite barbecue sauce.  We recommend Down Home Barbecue Sauce, available at the Down Home Diner in Reading Terminal Market

For our Kentucky Derby Party, we plated the pork and served it with braised collard greens and Creamed Copes Corn with Rice.  Copes corn, a dried super-sweet corn, is available at the PA General Store in Reading Terminal Market, (see recipe in upcoming post).  Our party was on the formal side, so we served everything for knife and fork consumption.  But for a casual party, we recommend serving the pork on rolls with a side of potato salad or cole slaw.   In parts of North Carolina, the slaw goes right on the sandwich--and it's delicious.   Potato chips are also a traditional accompaniment in some areas; I recall a long ago visit to a friend's home in rural Tennessee when her Mama, who we all called "Miss Bonnie" served us pulled pork.  I started to eat my sandwich and she stopped me, horrified.  "Honey," she said, "we don't eat barbecue without chips down here!" and she dumped a generous pile of Ruffles on my plate.  Life was good.

Friday, May 6, 2011

You say Frittata..I say Fancy Omelet!

My father on retiring, decided to fulfill his dreams and bought a small farm in the English countryside, down on the South Coast of England, in a market town named Chichester.  For some reason, he always wanted to be a turkey farmer (why?) but settled instead for raising chickens, a rare-breed goat called Geraldine, two fancy-schmancy pigs, the size of a kitchen table each (no joking), the occasional goose, which would invariably wind up on someone's Christmas table, and a greenhouse full of sweet-tasting fresh produce. 

At its peak, my father's farm had 60 or so egg-laying free range chickens - so eggs were always in plentiful supply.   And these ones were special.  The chickens were fed raw spinach leaves (a great source of iron) which turned the egg yolks a bright sunshine yellow.  They taste different...they just do.

At the Market, we're lucky enough to be able to enjoy organic and free range or barnyard eggs from a number of Merchants.  Fair Food Farmstand is a good first stop, selling over-sized goose eggs (I fried one for breakfast and it filled the omelet pan completely!) and teeny tiny exotic quail eggs - best hard-boiled and served as appetizers with celery salt and (if you want to push the boat out) caviar.

Goose eggs have a stickier texture than chicken eggs and a deeper more intense flavor...

Quails eggs by comparison are delicate and sooo pretty to look at!

Unlike Keri, who likes her eggs best in desserts and baked goods generally, I'm a big fan of eggs; eggs are a cheap, wholesome source of protein, are easy to cook with, and you can dress them up for special events.  Queen of the Kitchen, Nigella Lawson suggests a number of frittata recipes in her cookbooks.  My favorite recipe is for a pea and potato recipe from Forever Summer

A frittata is really just a hoity-toity omelet in disguise..they are most similar to a Spanish omelet - the principal for cooking both is the same.  You cook them in a heavy bottomed pan which can be used both on the stove and in the oven.  The idea is that you cook all the ingredients (meats, cheese or vegetables) thoroughly, whisk the eggs, add the eggs to the savory ingredients already in the pan, add your seasoning (herbs/spices), cook for a few minutes and then throw the pan into the oven and bake the frittata until it is cooked through.  The whole affair takes less than an hour.  And the best thing about this dish is that you can serve it hot for breakfast or brunch or cold for lunch with a salad and crusty bread.

I like to mix it up a bit and chop and change the ingredients. 

Tomorrow night's supper, which will please both adults and teenagers alike -- pea, red onion and chorizo frittata!  Photos to follow!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Down Home Diner, Breakfast at its Finest

With our current focus on that consummate breakfast food, i.e. eggs, it became increasingly clear that  and we were long overdue for a visit to the Down Home Diner in the Reading Terminal Market.  The DHD is a veritable breakfast haven and practically a Philadelphia institution.

Imagine our delight when we glimpsed Jack McDavid himself stationed behind the griddle.  Jack is a legend.  He was a major pioneer of the Farm to Table movement.  He continues to talk the talk and walk the walk, sourcing all of his ingredients from, in his own words, "The Best Market in the World".  His dedication to high quality, authentic home cooking seeps from every seam of his well worn denim overalls, and his trademark "Save the Farm" hat broadcasts his devotion to the real stuff.

But let's call a biscuit a biscuit.  Anyone can jump into a pair of overalls and don a cap for a worthy cause.  We wanted to know if the DHD was still the real thing.  We were delighted to learn that it is.
Fresh, hot biscuits, right from the oven to join your eggs for a down home breakfast.

The breakfast is unrivaled here in Philly--or possibly anywhere. The menu offers sufficient variety to please all palates:  omelets and eggs in every imaginable form; corned beef hash;  creamed chipped beef on toast; breakfast burritos;

Breakfast Burrito in the works.
four different types of pancakes (corn-blueberry, buckwheat, buttermilk, and a seasonal selection)--and this barely scratches the surface. 
Buckwheat pancakes with strawberry salsa.
For smaller appetites, DHD offers an oatmeal "buffet" (you select from a variety of health-a-licious toppings); locally made yogurt and granola, and grilled grapefruits.

While we are serious cooks who heartily encourage our friends and readers to stand firmly at the stove, we recognize that even the most culinarily devoted of us need a break sometimes.  When that happens, we recommend the DHD as the next best (or, dare we suggest, the best) best thing.

Post brought to you by Down Home Diner

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Souffle for Supper

I am  a fan of the savory souffle, although I make them very rarely due to the precise timing they require and the dire consequences if there is a delay in serving them.  Case in point:   One evening long ago, I was preparing a souffle for my newly wedded husband.  He called me from work, and said he would be leaving shortly and promised to be home in 30 minutes.  Perfect timing to cook the souffle, so I proceeded accordingly.  I whipped, folded, grated, and baked as the recipe required, and was ready to pull my masterpiece out of the oven just as hubby should have been walking through the door.  Well, the appointed hour came and went, my souffle became a sou-flop, and we ended up eating a very flat eggy mess later that evening.  An important client had phoned as my man tried to exit stage right and he couldn't get a message to me in time.  (Though I am reluctant to date myself, let's just say this was before the days of email, texts and cell phones, so he really couldn't have avoided the debacle.)

Should you have a more predictable schedule or refrain from cooking until the eaters are all under one roof, I heartily recommend this

Parmesan Polenta Souffle:

1 Tbsp butter
1 1/3 cups parmesan cheese
1 Tbsp olive oil
4 Tbsp cornmeal
4 egg yolks
salt/pepper to taste
5 egg whites

Heat oven to 425.

1.  Butter a 6 qt souffle dish and dust w/ 2 Tbsp cheese
2.  Bring 1 2/3 cups water to boil w/ olive oil  and sprinkle in corn meal in a slow steady stream stirring constantly.  Cook polenta on medium high for 10 minutes until mixture is thickened.  Remove from heat.
3.  Beat in egg yolks, and all but 1 Tbsp cheese.  Season w/ salt/pepper and set aside.
4.  Beat egg whites with pinch of salt on high until they hold peaks, are stiff but still creamy.  Gradually blend the egg whites w/ polenta mixture, folding gently.
5.  Spoon mixture into prepared pan, smooth top and sprinkle w/ remaining cheese.
6.  Bake 25-30 mins til souffle is puffed, brown and firm. Serve immediately.

I love this dish with a tomato salad like this tricolore from By George in Reading Terminal Market:

or baby arugula in a  balsamic vinaigrette:

Never one to shy away from bread, I heartily recommend a baguette or ciabatta to accompany this simple supper (or brunch if you are a bruncher, though I am not.)

Just make sure that your guests are in shouting distance when the souffle exits the oven.  My sou-flop was many years ago, but I am still scarred by the incident.

And speaking of eggs, we found this clip of screaming eggs rather amusing...kind of how I felt when my souffle collapsed. Enjoy!