Thursday, September 29, 2011

Zucchini with Garlic and Mint

Today, I’m serving up one of the most surprising recipes from my trip to Rome:  Zucchini with garlic and mint.  My version is below, I went pretty heavy on the mint :)

I say surprising because mint is most often associated as a condiment for roast lamb (as in mint sauce), or an ingredient that lends a peppery flavor to cocktail such as a mojito. 

I wouldn’t have thought of using it to dress a vegetable dish, but it is truly transformational and I now understand why Romans love  to sprinkle it on so many dishes.  Try cooking zucchini this way and you’ll not be disappointed…

Virgin olive oil for frying
2 green zucchini
2 yellow zucchini
2 cloves of garlic
Fresh mint, finely chopped

  1. Chop zucchini into ¼ inch slices
  2. Pour a good glug of oil in a frypan; add zucchini and fry until they start to soften
  3. Finely mince garlic cloves and add to pan; keep frying zucchini until some of them turn golden brown (make sure that you turn the zucchini over or they can stick and burn as they caramelize.)
  4. Remove zucchini from pan and sprinkle with chopped mint.  Serve immediately. 

You can eat this dish either hot or cold.  If you want to serve this as antipasti, as a side-dish to accompany cold meats and cheese then refrigerate and hold off adding the mint until you’re ready to serve.  (It tends to turn black in the refrigerator.)

Next up, Veal Saltimbocca. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Italian Cucina

What’s the best thing about Rome

The Coliseum?

…Or the Sistine Chapel?

Well, both places are breathtaking, but they’re not half as memorable as the food.  I’ve always been a fan of the Italian cucina but sampling it in the nation’s capital, Rome, knocks spots off any Italian restaurant I’ve ever visited.

Meat stuffed pasta with a meat ragu
A splendid antipasti plate featuring those zucchini....and roasted peppers
Soup Verdura - a cacophony of color!

During our three day visit we managed to cram in both lunches and dinner, followed by the ubiquitous gelato pit-stop. 

Highlights of our culinary tour included:

* Antipasti
* Zucchini with garlic and mint (an interesting combination to which I am now addicted. See next post for the genuine Roman version)
* Veal Saltimbocca
* Polpetti – meatballs served with pine nuts
* Grilled fish
* Caprese salad made with freshest mozzarella imaginable...

I was delighted by the simplicity of this food; the Italian kitchen relies on stunning ingredients rather than fancy tricks in the presentation.  The food speaks for itself.

Now is the perfect time to attempt to reproduce these dishes; you can readily find top-notch late summer produce at Farmers Markets, roadside farm stalls and of course the produce merchants such as Iovine Bros at the Reading Terminal Market.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Five Minute Lunch Box Ideas

Strawberries stuffed with peanut butter or cream cheese; for a special treat, do the same with Nutella!

Forgotten to make the kids' lunches on a hurried school day morning? 

No bread in the house?  Or worst still, the bread is stale and you've run out of milk.  It's just one of those mornings.  Happened to me today, my son sadly shook his head and said "You're off your game, mom.  No milk..."

Either you can run into Starbucks and buy a ready made lunch on route to school, or try out some of these suggestions.  You'll be surprised what you can rustle up by ferreting around in your store cupboard and fridge.

* Carrots and celery sticks with a tupperware bowl full of cream cheese with a handful of raisins swooshed around in it,

* Crackers, pepperoni slices and cheese, quickly cubed on the fly!

* red and green grapes, black olives and cubes of cheese

* crunchy cos lettuce wraps - take a slice of luncheon meet, wrap it tightly in the lettuce and you've created a bread-free wrap

If you've got a little more time to spare then try out this concoction:  cream cheese or peanut butter-filled strawberries. 

For best results it's worth while investing in this fail-proof strawberry de-huller. 

It may look like a space shuttle from an Austin Powers movie, but it ain't.
Available in most cookstores, including Amy's Place in the Reading Terminal Market.  It turns hulling strawberries into an exact science...

Thursday, September 22, 2011

THE Best Lunch Box Snack - Moon Balls!

Moon Balls are the greatest! 

Any thoughts on why Moon Balls are so named?

I'm a recent convert, having tried them for the first time last week. 

These protein-packed snackerooneys are reminiscent of raw cookie dough.  Our friend Catherine, kindly bought over a few samples for my teens to try - they never made it that far. 

I demolished them in one sitting accompanied by a steaming mug of tea (I had just worked out and needed the protein transfusion...)

Little chefs in action...
Many hands make light work...particularly when it comes to preparing the school lunch box five days a week.  Try this recipe and you'll be confronted with the opposite problem; how to keep your childrens' hands out of the mixing bowl and thus ensure that some of these tasty treats actually make it into school the next day.

Moon Balls
2 cups natural peanut butter
1 1/3 cup honey
2 cups raisins
1 cup dry milk
1/2 cup soy protein powder
1/2 cup confectioners sugar
3 1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs

Mix all ingredients except 1/2 cup graham crumbs (we use our hands to mix).  Roll into bite-sized balls. Roll balls in extra graham crumbs. Chill.

"They aren't pretty but they are good!  And they freeze well," so says Catherine our friend who provided this recipe today.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Down Home Lunches Save the Day!

Looking for simple, healthy ways to fill your child's lunchbox?  Us too!  And with the typical morning mayhem of getting the family out the door, there often isn't time to lovingly prepare wholesome, balanced meals that travel well.  Not to mention the fact that I'm on crutches (fractured foot) so food prep, precariously balanced, is not what the doctor ordered.

Fear not, fair friends, Down Home Diner gallantly came to the Rescue!  I availed myself of  several of their takeout items last week, and so far, all have met with approval.  If you have any experience with teens and tweens you'll know that approval is doled out sparingly at best, so I considered this experiment a real success.  Some of the greatest hits from last week's lunchbox menu include:

DHD's Fried Chicken--we love it hot, but it's delicious cold, too!
Wraps and Sandwiches--with a selection to please even the choosiest of brownbaggers.  My kids are not great fans of sandwiches, but they ate these.

As the mercury drops, a hearty soup in a thermos is a great option, (though even on a warmish Wednesday my daughter enjoyed her black eyed pea with and a biscuit on the side.)

The salads also travel well--the Mediterranean was a hit, though my kids did pick out the cherry tomatoes....

Of course, we didn't forget fresh fruit from Reading Terminal Market's produce merchants or treats from the bakers.  I fear, with these sumptuous repasts, my kids will wish me an extended convalescence.

Do you have any trade secrets for lunchbox ooohs and ahhhs?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

What's for Lunch, Mom?

PB & J, the late, lamented lunchbox staple
Lunchbox debates can make or break your morning.  "What are you putting in my lunchbox?" is a familiar and frequent refrain around my house now that the  school year has mercifully begun.    You might think that as a food blogger I have a secret stash of lunchbox tricks that make my kids delighted to receive the lovingly prepared repasts that I carefully pack for them daily.  Would that it were so.  Sadly, neither of my offspring is inclined toward sandwiches, and that makes packing their lunches rather difficult.  As a result, I have been forced to become mighty creative   (and not always in a way that makes me proud.)  But when we started this blog we pledged that we would share our food adventures, warts and all (remember my rhubarb salsa debacle?).  Don't judge me too harshly; I often have to pack lunchboxes before I've finished my coffee, so leftover takeout can be a Godsend.

Some of my go-to items include:
  • Kebobs, wrapped in foil.  Great source of protein, and the novelty factor of eating meat off a skewer is kind of cool.
  • Thermos of leftovers (top hits include meatballs, chicken cutlets, mac and cheese, ravioli, pesto pasta, chicken curry, Chinese takeout).
  • Thermos of soup--my daughter went on a miso kick for awhile.
  • Container of tuna/chicken salad with crackers
  • Quesadilla wrapped in foil.  If you wrap it while it's hot, it should retain a bit of heat by lunchtime.
  • Pizza--yes, my kids do love cold pizza.  When we order, I always get an extra pie for lunchboxes.
  • Cheese and crackers
  • Container of Hummus with veggies and pita to dip.
What's in your lunchbox?

    Friday, September 16, 2011

    Guacamole & Salsas - Dress Your Grilled Meat for Dinner!

    Tomatoes on the vine - the fruit of summer gardening

    A terrible confession this, but I've always bought my guacamole, presuming that it was a messy old dish to prepare.  When one of our friends - a non-cook - served this up over the Summer at an impromptu garden party, I decided it must be a no-brainer. 

    Not only does the home-made version taste ten times better than the store bought version, have you also seen how cheap avocados are at Reading Terminal Market right now..?

    The recipe below was provided by Dana Hall, a friend who was a devout non-cook until recently, but is now a cookaholic! 

    Says Dana: "When we have an unexpected visitor, need a little protein, or are moving slowly (and thus lose the ability to cook for four days), we prep delicious guac in less than five minutes.  Adding onions isn't to everyone's taste, but it does add crunchiness and makes the guac a more substantial meal."

    Prep time is minimal, but the recommendation from the experts at the Food Network is to let the guac sit for about an hour to ensure that the flavors thoroughly infuse the dip.

    We also spotted a relevant hot tip on Iovine Bros. Facebook page

    Butch who is Iovine's front man - and fruit and veggie guru - regularly posts a tip of the day on Facebook and also on Iovine's YouTube channel. 

    He recommends keeping avocados, tomatoes and mangoes out of the fridge.  According to Butch, not only do you slow down the ripening process, you actually destroy their flavor once you refrigerate these three staples. 
    Dana goes one better - she picks her tomatoes straight off the vine: 
    "We have avocados of all ripeness in the fruit bin all summer and typically have red onions and lemon in the fridge leftover from dinner and cocktails :)

    "We walk out into the yard and pick our own home grown tomatoes!"

    One large or two small avocados - soft to touch
    1/4 small red onion, chopped finely
    1 small tomato diced
    1/4 lemon, juiced
    sea salt to taste

    Mush the avocado with your fingers or a spatula, throw in finely chopped onion and tomato.  Squeeze on juice. heavily pepper and sea salt the mixture. Serve on olive oil ciabatta or with pita chips. 

    Aside from guacamole, the other side dish which knocks spots off the store bought version is a good salsa.  The thing we like best about salsa is that aside from the citrus or vinegar or other acid ingredient, the onion and cilantro, you can pretty much mix and match any other ingredients in your salsa - depending on what's in season, or more to the point, what you have hanging around in your fridge. 

    It's a grab and go side that transforms a slab of grilled meat or a chop!

    A Philly girlfriend swears by this recipe from, which combines the sweetness of mango with sweet seasonal cherry tomatoes. Food Renegade is a great blog featuring healthy recipe ideas and devotes some space to the politics and philosophy behind Real Food, it's worth checking out.

    In previous posts, we have featured other salsa recipes.  One of our absolute faves is....

    Jack McDavid's Strawberry Habanero Salsa - he recommends serving this lovely concoction on a meaty white grilled fish, such as a halibut steak. 

    Wednesday, September 14, 2011

    Chocolate Bark, A Simple and Divine Gift

    Need a recipe for chocolate bark?
    Shambles Headhouse, ready to be feted.
    We did.  Having agreed to throw the patrons' party for the Soiree at the Shambles, Claire, ever the gracious host, decided to bestow gifts of appreciation on the attendees.   [As an aside, The Soiree is the party of the fall; over 25 local restaurants provide food and drink as guests graze the gourmet offerings and reconnect with friends and neighbors after the scattered summer.] But back to our party favor dilemma.....To the rescue: Philly Food Lovers' Chocolate Cherry Cashew Bark.  We churned out 50 cello bags of this delectable in (almost) nothing flat.  Here's how:
    Ingredients awaiting the alchemy that will spin them into edible gold!

     Cashew Cherry Chocolate Bark

    1 bag Ghirardelli double chocolate chips
    3/4 cup dried cherries
    3/4 cup unsalted (or lightly salted) cashews

    Microwave the chips in a glass bowl for 4 minutes on 50% power.  Stir til smooth.  Add cherries and nuts.   Stir again.

       Spread entire mess onto cookie sheet lined w/ baking parchment.  It should look like a large, bumpy, brown amoeba.

    Spread thinly over parchment; this maximizes your output.

    Refrigerate 30 minutes or more.  When hard enough to snap into bite-sized pieces, do so.  (Mess free tip:  use the parchment paper to hold and break the chocolate so you don't smudge your hands, leave fingerprints on the product, or worst of all, ruin your manicure.)
     Put pieces into cute little cello bags and tie with a ribbon.  This recipe makes about 1-1/4 lb bark-- enough to fill 12 small cello bags for party favors or 4 larger cello bags for a more substantial gift.  Be prepared for shock and awe.

    Monday, September 12, 2011

    Tzatziki Chicken by Moon Sirens

    Moon Sirens
    Our friend Moon Sirens, artist extraordinaire and Facebook Friend posted a picture of this dish on her wall last week.   It looked so good, we had to have the recipe, and Moon was good enough to share.   To view her other impressive creations--the non-edible variety--check out Moon's website, facebook page and etsy store.   To make her Tzatziki chicken which she reported to be flavorful and moist, and enjoyed by her entire family, read on.  Ever on the hunt for simple, healthy, crowd-pleasing dishes, we were delighted to receive this one.  Thanks, Moon!

    Venetia's Broiled Tzatziki Chicken
    12 skinless chicken drumsticks
    1 cup Tzatziki sauce (recipe below)
    1/4 cup parmesan cheese (optional)
    PAM or olive oil spray

    Tzatziki sauce (for best result let sit overnight)
    1 32 ounce container plain greek yogurt (or non-fat),  strained
    1/2 cucumber grated
    3 cloves garlic, pressed
    2 tablespoons vinegar
    2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
    2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill (optional)
    1 tablespoon salt
    1 tablespoon fresh ground black pepper

    In a bowl add all the ingredients and mix until everything is blended.
    Taste for the salt and pepper.  Place in the refrigerator for at least an hour
    to let the flavors set. Best if left in refrigerator overnight.

    Broiled chicken
    Spray your pan with olive oil. Remove the skin from your drumsticks
    and place in the pan and sprinkle them with salt and pepper.
    Using a spoon to place enough tzatziki to cover the meat and top with parmesan cheese.
    Broil on high for 15 min then rotate the chicken putting more tzatziki and parmensan
    each time. Continue to rotate the chicken every 10 min until juices run clear (approximately 45 min total).

    Although Moon did not mention it, we are positive that these drumsticks would be delicious left over.  With school starting back up and lunchbox contents becoming a daily dilemma, we offer this chicken up as a healthy, yummy alternative to sandwiches.  We'll plan to double this version so as to have extras for tomorrow's lunch.  Enjoy!

    Thursday, September 8, 2011

    Shrimp, Corn & Red Pepper Salad -

    This shrimp salad filling is reminiscent of a ceviche
    This shrimp, corn and red pepper salad was devoured by all at a beach gathering this Summer. It was pre-Irene and we were sitting watching the sun set, munching contentedly on croissants filled with this super sandwich filling. Life doesn’t get any better than this, we thought. Sundowners in hand, we’re surrounded by good food and good company. But that was then...

    Now we’re scurrying around Philly, grabbing school supplies and storming through Summer homework assignments.

    Welcome to our world of back-to-school madness!

    Recapture those receding Summer memories with this delightful and nutritious shrimp salad hoagie. For a posher picnic version, try croissants - as did our friend Catherine who dished up this recipe at the Jersey shore.

    We like this recipe so much that we started playing around with it a little.

    You can bump up the heat quota by adding a seasoned mayonnaise (we like Beck’s Creole Mayo), then assemble an array of salad greens on a plate and lay the shrimp mixture on the salad greens and voila, you have a light lunch. Alternatively, the shrimp works beautifully on a hot baked potato – there you have a quick and easy dinner.

    I’d not heard of canned shrimp before, but they are extremely reasonable. If you prefer to use fresh shrimp feel free to switch this ingredient out, but the canned shrimp are surprisingly good and have a softer texture than conventional frozen shrimp (and they take less time to prepare – no need to peel or chop!)

    Shrimp, Corn & Red Pepper Hoagies

    1 large ear of corn
    1 ½ cups cooked peeled tiny shrimp (you can buy in cans from most major grocery stores)
    1 cup diced red bell pepper
    2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
    2 tablespoons finely chopped green onion
    4 tablespoons fresh lime juice
    1 teaspoon grated lime peel
    ½ teaspoon hot pepper sauce
    2 tablespoons mayonnaise
    Salt and pepper to taste

    Spice it up with Creole Mayo
    (if you want a spicier version, try Beck’s Cajun CafĂ©’s new Creole Mayo in place of normal mayo - this is available from Beck's stand at Reading Terminal Market)

    Cook corn for 3-4 minutes. Drain. Cool and cut off kernels. Place corn kernels in a bowl and add tiny shrimp, diced bell pepper, finely chopped cilantro and green onion. Add your lime juice and lime peel and the hot pepper sauce, toss to blend and mix mayo. Taste and season with salt and pepper as required.

    Slice your hoagie across the middle and pull out some of the bread filling to make space for the sandwich. Divide shrimp salad amongst rolls and serve.

    The best thing about this recipe is that you can make the shrimp filling the day before you actually need it.

    When you’re scrabbling to get ready for a new school year, this recipe is an absolute lifeline!

    Tuesday, September 6, 2011

    Kebob Dinner

    We've been focusing on no cook dinners of late.  This one is primarily a grill fest, with a minimum of stovetop steaming.  With supplies from Reading Terminal Market, you'll have this cranked out in a snap.  Even on the busiest back to school September day, this dinner for 4 is manageable.  And if you plan ahead and double the chicken recipe, you've got chicken salad for tomorrow--which is a no cook feast for sure.

    Kebobs are fantastic.  Adults love their tenderness and flavor.  Kids love to gnaw the meat straight from the skewer--and assuming they are past the age where they will wield the skewer as a weapon or poke an eye out, the novelty factor can be an enticement for reluctant eaters.  Additionally, these are great to tote on a picnic or in a lunchbox if you need a portable repast.  And not that I want to cater to the carb nazis, but this meal does meet their abstemious needs, too, sans the grilled pita.

    Chicken Kebobs
    1 lb boneless chicken breasts. (not thin-cut)
    1 cup plain yogurt
    1 TBSP Indian spice blend--either curry powder, tandoori masala, or garam masala.
    1 TBSP garlic powder
    1 tsp salt

    Cut chicken into bite sized pieces.  Blend all remaining ingredients in a large ziploc bag or tupperware container.  Add chicken, mix to coat, and marinate in refrigerator overnight.

    About an hour before cooking, remove chicken from refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature.    Soak wooden skewers in water to prevent them from burning on grill, and skewer chicken pieces, leaving a bit of space between each piece to ensure even cooking.  Grill kebobs, turning frequently, about 10  minutes total.  Serve immediately, or not.  These are almost as good cold as they are hot off the grill.   Leftovers make great chicken salad.  (And, while we hate to face the end of summer, kids love these in school lunchboxes--simply wrap the kebob in foil and ensure a healthy, lean, protein-rich lunch for your young'un.)
    Grilled Broccoli

    1 head broccoli
    2 TBSP soy sauce or hoisin sauce
    2 TBSP oil
    1 tsp garlic powder

    Cut a head of broccoli into florets.  Mix remaining ingredients in large bowl.  Add broccoli and toss to coat.  Marinate broccoli 1 hour or more.  Dump the broccoli on a hot grill, pour remaining marinade over, and cook, turning frequently, about 7 minutes total. 

    Grilled Pita Bread
    1 loaf pita per person
    olive oil

    With a pastry brush, lightly coat bread with oil.  Place on hot grill for 30 seconds; turn to toast, and serve immediately.

    Chilled Carrot Salad

    1 lb carrots
    Juice of 2 limes
    1/4 cup chopped cilantro
    salt & pepper to taste

    Steam carrots til just softened, 3-5 minutes.  Drain and rinse with cold water.  Toss with remaining ingredients and chill.

    For Dessert?  Grilled Quesadillas, of course!

    Friday, September 2, 2011

    Say Adios to Summer With Cucumber Margaritas

    Cucumbers add a refreshing twist to an old favorite!

    Everybody loves a Margarita.   While we eschew frozen, strawberry, peach and other uber-fruity sweet adulterations of this classic cocktail, we found the addition of pureed cucumbers a welcome variation.  Make these and they'll be the star of your "farewell to summer" Labor Day party....

     Whether you can count the pureed cuc as part of your '5 a Day for better health' fruits and veggie intake, we'll plead the Fifth, but we can testify under oath that they are truly delicious.

    To make 4 cocktails, you will need:

    Juice from 4 limes--you should have about 2/3 cup
    A 4 inch piece of cucumber (or 1 kirby cuc), peeled and pureed.
    1/2 cup simple syrup (mix 1/2 cup sugar with 1/2 cup water, cook on stove til sugar dissolves)
    2/3 cup good quality tequila (priced about $38.00/bottle--I like Herradura)
    1 TBSP Cuantro or Triple Sec
    Coarse Salt

    Mix all ingredients except salt in pitcher.  Stir till blended.  Wet rims of glasses, and dip them in salt.  Fill glasses with ice and margaritas.  Cheers!