Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Farewell, Soup Month

Copes Corn and Shrimp Chowder on January 31, a fitting adieu to National Soup Month.  As promised in a previous post, I made this and am reporting the results.  It was goooooood.

It is essential to use Cope's Sweet Corn--this dried corn is thought to be a Native American product, originally developed so corn could be stored throughout the year.  Cope's Corn is also popular in Pennsylvania Dutch cooking.  Pop into Pennsylvania General Store in Reading Terminal to stock up.  You'll be hooked; the creamed corn and corn casseroles that feature this ingredient are heavenly.  But I digress.  Back to the chowder.

I am not as notorious as Claire about tinkering with recipes, especially virgin ones, but in this case,  I did some tweaking.  The original version as suggested by Gourmet is here.  My slightly altered (mushroom-free, unpureed, simpler) version is below.  You be the judge.

Cope's Corn and Shrimp Chowder

1/2 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup choped parsley
1 7 oz package Cope's corn
3 TBSP butter
1 cup heavy cream
6 cups chicken stock
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
3/4 lb medium shrimp, tails removed, shelled, deveined and cut in 1/2
Sriracha or your favorite hot sauce

Saute onion and parsley in butter til softened.  Add corn, cream, stock, and seasonings.  Bring to boil, then immediately lower and simmer for 45 minutes til corn is completely soft.   Add shrimp and simmer til just cooked through about 8 minutes.    Douse with a few drops of Sriracha if desired.

This was a huge hit; I think it would be epic with crab as well.  Think I'll try that next time!  But I'm not waiting til next January.

Monday, January 30, 2012

My Malaysian Lunch Adventure

She did not wear this to lunch, but she still looked lovely in her Philly attire.
I was invited to lunch with my dear friend Farah.  She hails from Singapore, is a legendary cook and hostess, and had a hankering for a taste of home.  Banana Leaf Malaysian Cuisine at 1009 Arch St. was our destination.

The atmosphere was pleasant; lots of bamboo-esque wood,  pastel colors, and a clean, uncluttered feel.  Upon arrival,  I put myself in the hands of my friend, and she proceeded to order typical Malaysian/Singaporean dishes.  "This takes me back to childhood," she said, "We had a canteen at school that sold this type of street food and I ate these dishes for lunch every day."

We started with a Rojak, which is a cold salad of fruits and vegetables.  When Farah ordered it, the server, who obviously knew her stuff, questioned the decision.  Farah assured her that she was from Singapore, was familiar with the dish and repeated the order.  The server then looked at me.  "She wants that?  You sure?".  I thanked the server for looking out for me but insisted that I wanted to try everything the way the chef prepares it.  She politely suggested that we have the sauce on the side.  I politely insisted that I would be fine with the dish as it comes.  When the server left, I asked Farah to dish on the dish.    "It has a rather pungent sauce, sort of sweet and sour fish sauce, and I just love it" she said.    I do a lot of Asian cooking and my kitchen is equipped with fish sauce, oyster sauce, and other authentic regional ingredients, so we were confident that I would be fine with this dish.   We were wrong.  Oh, so very wrong.  Farah tucked in happily, relishing the salad of her childhood.  I gulped down a heavily sauced cucumber whole with tea and passed her the plate.

Rojak--not for everyone.
Which brings me back to restaurant rule #1:  Listen to your server.  They do, after all, know the food (and their customers) rather well.  

All I can say is that like Gefilte fish, marmite, and tripe, none of which appear in my culinary ethnicity, rojak is something that you have to grow up eating to enjoy.  Or perhaps it is an acquired taste.  I can confidently say that I will never acquire it, but different strokes for different folks.

I fessed up immediately to the wise waitress.  As she passed by, I said, "You were right.  I don't like it.  I should have listened to you."  She chuckled good naturedly and brought our remaining two dishes, which were much more to my liking.

The Sarong Barong was a "bowl" made of fried taro, which was filled with lightly sauced, stir fried pieces of chicken, corn, snow peas, mushrooms and cashews.  It is important to appreciate the true divinity of this taro bowl.  Picture deep fried mashed potatoes and you are in the neighborhood.

And finally, the Singaporean Rice Noodles...now, I've never met a noodle I didn't like and these did not disappoint.   Tossed with shrimp, egg, bean sprouts and Chinese cabbage, these lovely strands were downright addictive.

So, in the immortal words of Meat Loaf...."Two out of three ain't bad."  I would return to banana leaf in a heartbeat.  The service was great (if only I'd allowed myself to truly benefit from how great), the price was right, the food was delicious, and the place immaculate.

Thank you Farah, for a lovely lunchtime adventure.  For our next girls' day out I'll have to come up with something equally regional and evocative of my heritage--Irish, German, Czech, and Dutch.  Oh, dear.  Not the most thrilling cuisines in all the world.  I may have to lay claim to a culinary ethnicity that is not technically in my blood to feed you properly.  Suggestions welcome!

Friday, January 27, 2012

THE Best Clam Chowder

Are you a fan of the red or white variety of chowder?

My family is split in two.  My son loves the creamy version, my husband will only eat the red chowder.  To me, the red chowder is reminiscent of pasta sauce;  It doesn't exactly light my fire, but then I'm not a huge fan of soups.  Not until, that is, I made a cream clam chowder from scratch this week.  I'm a convert now!  I made vats of the stuff and gave away tubs of chowder to numerous neighbors and the plaudits started flowing in.

So here's the recipe for the best clam chowder.  And I swear I didn't make up the name of the recipe.  It is actually listed under this moniker. 

The recipe well deserves it! 

Note that all ingredients are readily available at Reading Terminal Market.  The fish merchants offer fresh clams pretty much all year round.  If you prefer working with the tinned variety, stop in at Jonathan Best.

You start with the "holy trinity" of soups - onion, celery, carrot finely chopped


  • 3 (6.5ounce) cans minced clams
  • 1 cup minced onion
  • 1 cup diced celery
  • 2 cups cubed potatoes
  • 1 cup diced carrots
  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 quart half-and-half cream
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • ground black pepper to taste

For full instructions, click here.  (Thanks to http://www.allrecipes.com/ for providing this recipe.)

A few footnotes from the kitchen. 

Chowder bubbling away on the stove top - that seafood smell permeates the house!
  1. I added 1/2 tsp of chopped garlic cos I just love the combination of garlic and cream. 
  2. I also have to confess that I used additional half and half because I like a thick, thick soup. 
  3. One note of caution, don't add the minced clams until you are ready to serve.  They'll taste like shoe leather if you overcook them.  (This probably explains why not all commercial clam chowders are that good.  Once they've been reheated a few times then the clams turn stringy and chewy.)

However we can recommend the cream chowder at the Reading Terminal Market.  If you're in the mood, but have no time to cook this recipe, then stop off at Pearl's Oyster Bar for a cup or bowl. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Soups of the South

Seeking soups of the south gave me a chance to tap two of my favorite cooking men:  my husband Matt, who hails from Arkansas; and Chef Bill Beck, who was raised in New York, but food-wise he's all New Orleans.

Matt's latest specialty is black-eyed pea soup.  He starts with a meaty ham hock, chops a large onion, a few stalks of celery and carrots, 3 or 4 crushed garlic cloves, a teaspoon of chili powder and salt, and tosses the lot into a big pot with a pound of rinsed black eyed peas.  Or navy beans.  Or whatever beans you have on hand.  He covers the mess with water and simmers for about 3 hours.  Then he pulls the ham off the bone into bite sized bits, tosses it back into the soup, and is ready to enjoy.  [Alternatively, skip the ham hock, buy a 1 lb picnic ham,  cut it into cubes, and add them to the pot--saves the work of picking the bones.]
He recently visited his elderly parents for a few days on the Chilly New England Coast, and while there filled their freezer with a vats of homemade soup--chicken, simmering in the picture above, and black eyed pea.  Clearly he's a keeper.

And no discussion of southern soups would be complete without a mention of Gumbo.  Strictly speaking, Cajun is different from southern, but geographically it's nearby, and since Chef Bill Beck of Beck's Cajun Cafe is a rising star on the Philly Food Scene he warrants some airtime.

Chef Bill Beck with a vat of gumbo.
Chef Beck will be competing in the Reading Terminal Cook-off on February 25 at the Valentine to the Market Gala, but he was kind enough to take some time out of his busy schedule to chat soups with us.  "Gumbo is the quintessential Cajun dish.  The key is a good roux.  You really have to brown the butter and flour mixture thoroughly, constantly stirring for a good while to avoid burning.  The roux forms the base flavor as well as the thickener for the gumbo. "  In addition to gumbo, Bill was kind enough to share his famous oyster stew.  This recipe is a New Orleans version of a dish that is commonly served in coastal areas all over the US.  Bill's rendition would typically be served as a first course for a holiday dinner in New Orleans. 

And finally, we're dying to try this Cope's Corn and Shrimp Chowder, which appeared in the late, lamented Gourmet Magazine's "What is Southern?" issue from January 2008--the only one I saved from my vast subscription.  The chowder is definitely on our agenda soon.  We'll be sure to report the results.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Glorious Soups!

January is National Soup Month

I loathe thin soups. 

Can't understand for the life of me why people would eat a consomme for example..? 

Why not just drink the stuff, rather than keep licking your lips as it dribbles down off the spoon?  Now, chunky soups are a different matter.  Anything reminiscent of a thick stew does the trick for me.

I've always wondered what's the difference between a stew and a soup? 

At what point does a soup metamorphosize into a stew?

As January is National Soup Month, Keri and I thought it appropriate to pay tribute to a number of our favorite soups, sharing both the recipes we like to make at home and those we consume at Reading Terminal Market.

Kicking off with Keri's contribution... 

Keri's chicken noodle soup is the stuff of legends.  Her chicken soup has alleged medicinal powers and is especially efficacious in exorcising coughs and colds -- her husband calls it "the golden elixir of health."  I think that she's probably a white witch.  That would explain both the healing powers of her soup and why her cakes rise higher than anyone else's... 

For other suggestions about how to knock a nasty cold on the head, see another of Philly Food Lovers' posts:  T'is the Season...  for a hot ginger recipe that our Indian friends Farah and Pia both swear by.

Last year we featured an historic soup which elicited a number of reactions - good and bad - at the Forgotten Food Festival in Reading Terminal Market. 

Pepperpot Soup is often refered to as "the soup that won the Revolutionary War." 

But according to one of our readers, this claim is "bogus".  He posted his version of the 'truth':  "Of course, the whole Valley Forge story, while entertaining, is entirely bogus. Pepperpot came to Philly by way of the West Indies long before that cold winter in 1777-8. The earliest recipes call for turtle instead of tripe. In any case, it's still delicious!"

Thanks for setting the record straight, Sir. 

We also chased the Market's own Jack McDavid to get our hands on his version of Pumpkin Soup, which was featured on FOX Philly.  His soup included a most unusual mystery ingredient.  You'll have to read the post to find out what this was ;)

The things you do for live TV
...Jack McDavid of the Down Home Diner cuts up a pumpkin outside FOX Philly's HQ
Over the next week, Keri and I will be researching soups from both North and South of the Mason Dixie Line.  One of the things I love about writing a blog is that it forces me to step outside my comfort zone and try new recipes that wouldn't normally be on my radar. 

I'm sure it's dead easy but my task this week is to rustle up a clam chowder.  I'm going to make the cream version because it's my son's favorite.  My husband on the other hand prefers the lighter tomato-based version. 

So which one do you prefer?

Friday, January 20, 2012

Pudding for Dessert

Pudding in the US is the quintessential nursery treat--this simple milk-based dessert, rarely deviating from chocolate, vanilla or butterscotch flavors epitomizes comfort food.   In the UK, however, a pudding is a hearty and hale dessert usually served warm with lashings of milky hot custard.  Think Bread-and-Butter Pudding, Queen of Puddings, Treacle Sponge Pudding and believe it or not a traditional pudding called Spotted Dick (don't ask...).  But being the American half of Philly Food Lovers, I'm here to talk about the stateside version.

Let's start by bashing the notion that puddings are a lesser form of dessert.  Sneer all you want, but have you eaten a real homemade version lately?  I make butterscotch pudding often--sometimes for a casual family night, served in our kitchen cereal bowls with no fanfare.  Other times, it tops off formal dinner--served in parfait glasses with a dollop of fresh whipped cream and a silver spoon it screams elegance.  

But maybe you still think pudding simply isn't your type of dessert.  I'm not giving up.  Consider this spectacular  lemon pudding souffle.  Through the whipping of egg whites, the alchemy of baking and the gentle caress of a water bath, this recipe turns out a half chiffon, half lemon pudding that is the perfect end to any meal.

 The only downside is that it must be made in single batch sizes because of the water bath and heat distribution, so it really only serves 4.  For a larger crowd you'd have to make several.   I have yet to try it with other flavors, but I am confident that it would be glorious with vanilla, chocolate, orange, lime, or ginger.  Stay tuned....

And finally, I offer you another variation on this theme: apple rice pudding.   I conjured this up as a way to use leftover Basmati rice:

1 cup heavy cream
1  apple, peeled and grated
4 TBSP sugar
1 tsp vanilla
a sprinkle of cinnamon
3 cups cooked rice
Whip cream, and blend with all remaining ingredients.  Serve  chilled.

Still not sold on pudding?  Wait til our chocolate feature, coming next month.   Our chocolate pudding will change your opinion, if not your life.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Sweet and Savory Bread Puddings

Butternut Squash Pudding
It's difficult writing about food as Keri and I do, because we're always staring at beautiful glossy photos of food, which kind of makes you hungry a lot of the time.  Especially if you are researching our current foodie topic - comfort food.  Ahhhhh. 

Under the aegis of comfort food, we decided we just had to write about bread pudding, which is one of my all time favorite desserts. I confess; I'm a carboholic. This is my type of food...

What I didn't properly appreciate is that there are just as many savory versions of this pudding as there are sweet versions.

Inspired by my online trawl, I rustled up this Butternut Squash and Parmasan Bread Pudding.  Now this is lush.  Double cream, eggs, parmasan and sweet butternut squash define this special occasion dish.  But will the rest of the family like it?  Don't know yet -- but I will let you know.  One of the best things about bread pudding is that you can leave it at various stages of done-ness. 
  • You can soak the ingredients overnight,
  • or even leave for an extra day until you are ready to bake it,
  • alternatively bake it, stick it in the fridge and reheat it when you are ready to use it. 
  • It also freezes well if you need to keep the baked pudding for longer. 
Another recipe which I like the sound of (as I still have plenty of baked ham hanging around in my freezer) is this Savory Bread Pudding with Ham, courtesy of The Food Network.  This is on my "to make" list.

Most people when they think of bread pudding quite rightly think of the sweet version.  We've pumped Bill Beck, owner and chef at Beck's Cajun Cafe, for the recipe for his best-selling bread pudding.  While pumpkin or apple pie might be the quintessential Thanksgiving dessert on East Coast Thanksgiving tables, in Beck’s Cajun CafĂ©’s food hub of New Orleans, you’d just as likely see bread pudding. Beck’s owner Bill Beck does not dare to show up at his wife’s family’s Thanksgiving gathering without several trays of this pudding, which features the fall-favorite apple-caramel flavors. 

To see what all the fuss is about, drop into Reading Terminal Market and try some of his bread pudding with his trademark whisky sauce.  Or if you're so inclined, make it yourself....

Beck's Bread Pudding

10 eggs

3 1/4 cups light brown sugar 

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon allspice

Pinch of nutmeg

3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 quarts heavy cream
1 pint whole milk
2 tablespoons water
1 large skin-on apple, cut into 1/8-inch slices

2 tablespoons butter

                                                    1/4 cup raisins 

                                                    8 cups, day-old or stale bread cubes (1x1 inch),  crusts removed            

Butter a 9 by 12 baking dish. Preheat the oven to 275 degrees F. Add eggs to a mixing bowl and mix to combine yolks and whites. Add 2 3/4 cups of the light brown sugar and the rest of ingredients down through the whole milk and mix well. Taste the custard to see if you like the way it tastes (If not, add more cinnamon and/or nutmeg).
Place a one-quart saucepot on the stove with the water and the reserved 1/2 cup of light brown sugar on a medium flame and stir. When the mixture starts to simmer, stir continuously for one minute to reduce and marry the sugar and water fully. Turn off the heat, remove from the stove and gently stir in the butter. Set aside.
Pour all the warm faux caramel sauce evenly over all the apple slices (reheat it if it’s not hot enough to pour easily or if too much is stuck to the bottom of the pot). Scatter the bread cubes evenly over the sauce; then do the same with the custard and the raisins. Push the cubed bread into the custard mix; do this two more times over the next 20 minutes so the bread has evenly absorbed the custard.
Place on center rack of the oven for two hours or until the inside is moist but the top is light brown and crispy. Serve warm with ice cream, macerated fruit or whiskey sauce (as is the custom at Beck’s).
Serves 8 to 10.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Sunday Dinner: Korean Pork Bo Ssam

My resolution to encourage my husband's commandeering of the kitchen every Sunday continues with glorious results.  He found a recipe for  Korean Pork Bo Ssam in the New York Times last week and he was determined to make it.   The lacquered coating on the fork-tender fall-apart pork was transformational, and the lettuce wraps gave the meal a lighter note, though the fare was plenty hearty on this chilly evening.

The homemade kimchi was a terrific accompaniment--he substituted red cabbage for the more traditional napa, which was a colorful alternative and quite tasty.

My contribution?  Garlic braised pea shoots, procured from the "Oriental Supermarket" (the owners are obviously not concerned with political correctness.)  We had a fascinating trip there to source ingredients, more on that in a future post.  Perhaps not ideal to visit for the first time on a Sunday afternoon the week before Chinese New Year, but we certainly stocked up.

Meantime, we'll be enjoying the leftover Bo Ssam.  Anyone hungry?

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Pulled Pork Asian Style

Pulled pork is a standard dish in our household - regardless of the weather. 

We serve it in the Summer on a hoagie roll as it's great for parties on the beach; we serve it in the Winter during the football season when there's a crowd.

We tried a new recipe, Asian-style Pulled Pork, recently and it was a hit. 

This recipe is infused with Asian spices, leaning heavily on Chinese Five Spice Powder which gives off a heavenly aroma whilst cooking.  (I adore Five Spice Powder so I actually doubled the quantity of this ingredient, which is a bit naughty for not following the recipe).

I was in the mood to experiment and switched my normal BBQ sauce for a Raspberry Barbecue Sauce from one of the Pennsylvania Dutch merchants in Reading Terminal Market.   Hot, sweet and spicy, this jar of sauce was gone in less than a week.  Must head back for more...

My husband had requested a turkey chili for his friend's tailgate.  It was a home game, the Eagles versus the Jets.  Bored of chili, I found this recipe online and thought I'd surprise the menfolks. (Actually they were more surprised when the Eagles won, based on the team's crushingly bad 2011 performance.) 

After the victorious tailgate, my husband confided that they'd shared their pulled pork with Jets fans who were drawn to the smell of the pulled pork warming on a portable stove in the Eagles car park.

I dashed over to the Market and nabbed a pork butt from Giunta's
We managed to get two meals out of this pork butt.

I served the remaining pulled pork with with black beans and rice on a later date and pepped up some coleslaw with Beck's Cajun Cafe's cheerful Creole Mayonnaise, which has a dusky spiciness to it. 

The mayo is difficult to describe because it's not like any other mayo, but it is well worth trying.  See http://www.beckscajuncafe.com/ if you'd like to give it a whirl yourself.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Cheap and Cheerful: Beef Pot Roast

A lovely slab of beef from Reading Terminal Market
Beef can be expensive.  And most of us are counting the pennies this month.

One of the most cost effective ways to buy beef is as a joint for a pot roast (or Yankee Pot Roast as it's sometimes known).

For a pot roast, you can use a cheaper cut of beef than normal - a chuck steak is great - throw some colorful root vegetables, onions and potatoes into your crockpot, add some flavorsome liquid, braise this concoction for several hours and you're away. 

The end result?  

Through the braising process the beef becomes tender, juicy and practically falls apart as you devour it...And no-one is the wiser that you used a moderately priced cut of meat for your roast!

We like this pot roast recipe from The Food Network:

Cooking in a crockpot is particularly healthy because you slow cook the vegetables and release all their goodness into the gravy.  We like The Food Network's recipe because they suggest blending the cooked vegetables directly into the gravy after they are cooked through, which is useful if you have children with an aversion to vegetables.

A perfect accompaniment to a pot roast is Rick Nichols' Brussels Sprouts- a version of a recipe borrowed from celeb chef Mark Vetri.  We bumped into Rick recently at Reading Terminal Market as he was buying his brussels from hs favorite Pennsylvania Dutch merchant.  Here's his spin on a classic Vetri dish: Charred Brussels

One last suggestion:  Befriend your butcher.  At the Reading Terminal Market there are both generalist and specialist butchers (like Giunta's or Godshall's Poultry) and they know what they're talking about. 

Don't be shy about asking for cheap and cheerful cuts of meat.   If you're lucky not only will they share their professional wisdom with you...but they may also give you one of their own family recipes!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Meat Loaf Hints from Reading Terminal Market's Jack McDavid

Meat loaf and mashed potatoes, the ultimate comfort meal

Meat loaf is the quintessential comfort meal and that's where our menu falls today.  We caught up with Down Home Diner Chef Jack McDavid, whose meatloaf is justifiably famous, for some tips and tricks on how to master this uber-American staple.  "Aw, y'all want me to talk meat loaf?  Every momma makes meat loaf and I don't want to step on any toes."  We insisted.  He complied.  "Ok, the biggest trick is to work the meat.  I mean really work it, like you're kneadin' dough.  I'd use a dough hook if you have one.  This allows the fat and meat to bind together and emulsify, so the meat loaf sticks together."

Jack has never steered us wrong, so we used his technique with our own meatloaf recipe. 

Meat Loaf
Heat oven to 375

In large mixing bowl, thoroughly blend:
2 lbs 85% lean ground beef (do not use leaner than 85%; it will be dry and flavorless.)
3/4 cup flavored bread crumbs
2 eggs
3 TBSP Worcestershire Sauce

In Skillet, saute over medium heat about 8 minutes til cooked:
1 TBSP oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
3/4 cup chopped carrots
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper

Add veggies to meat mixture, and blend again.  Place mixture in baking dish and form into loaf.  Top with ketchup or barbecue sauce, and bake at 375 for 75 minutes. 

The leftovers have already been claimed!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Il Pittore, Grazie

Il Pittore was a delightful choice for our final restaurant review meal of 2011.  Its exposed brick walls and beams, sizable skylight and wide planked wooden floors give the place a clean, modern air of rustic elegance.  The food echoes this trend.

We received a friendly greeting from our server, with whom we generated a cheerful rapport throughout the evening, ultimately trading trivia questions--he was a Physics guru owing to the fact that his dad taught the subject for years and he had an impressive knowledge of force, motion, and the conservation of angular momentum.

We started with a tryptic of crudos--which our waiter wryly clarified was served raw.  The tuna jalapeno was the highlight of the trio. 

Tuna Crudo

We are big fans of octopus and rarely resist it on a menu (save those fried teething rings that pass for bar food, which we strenuously avoid).  Il Pittore's version did not disappoint.
Braised Octopus with pickled peppers, potatoes and arugula
And we also tried the foie gras, which was excellent, uniquely paired with savory jams and crackers.
Foie Gras with savory pizzelles and lambrusco jellies

We split two pastas as an intermezzo--the duck agnolotti (pictured below) and the corzetti ("pasta coins") with braised goat, mint and chili oil Loved 'em both.
Duck-filled Agnolotti with juniper berries and duck proscuitto

We went 3 for 4 on our mains. While this would be a stunning stat for, say, Ryan Howard, we expect 4/4 at a restaurant of this quality, and if we can be a bit indelicate, price. The swordfish with chick peas and pearl onions in a smoked tomato broth was a treat. The braised veal cheeks (chosen by 2 of our group), were a special that evening. The veal was epic; melt-in-your-mouth tender, flavorful, and utterly transcendent. The one dark mark on the evening was the dourade, which our server described as a mild, flaky Mediterranean white fish similar to halibut. Alas, this description was inaccurate. The dourade was more similar to mackerel in flavor--which is a far oilier and strongly flavored fish than I would have ordered.  I consoled myself by tasting everyone else's main courses, and the waiter was supremely apologetic when I gave him my honest reaction. 

We enjoyed the brussels sprouts side,

Brussels Sprouts with pine nuts and burrata.

and always suckers for a cheese course, we didn't even try to resist the selection of Italian gems offered here....

We showed remarkable restraint on desserts, only sampling 3.   The creme brulee napoleon with pistachio tulles combined 'a few of our favorite things'--well, it was something of a holiday celebratory dinner, after all, even if we were working.  The gingerbread pear crisp was sufficiently sweet and gooey so that I did not have to deem it "breakfast", which is an insult I often hurl at desserts that pair fruit and crust but don't top off the meal with enough decadence. 
Pear Crumble

And the chocolate bomboloni, bittersweet chocolate fritters stuffed with nutella and served with vanilla sauce, well, what's not to like?

Applause to the rapidly expanding Starr Restaurant Organization for creating another jewel in the crown. We have to admit, though, that Il Pittore is an occasion restaurant, not a place you'd pop into after a movie for a quick bite. With starters in the $10-$17 range and main courses around $28, this is a special night out. The good news is that you won't be disappointed. The contemporary elegance of the food and the decor make a visit to Il Pittore most memorable.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Philly Food Lovers' New Year's Resolutions

New Year's Resolutions are the order of the day.  While we recognize that a huge number of resolutions are broken, we're giving it a try.  In an effort to keep our culinary edges sharp we each made 5 resolutions that we hope to keep.  And we'll be honest--if we crash and burn we'll fess up!

Claire resolves to:

1. Throw the Midas Feast dinner party that we've been talking about for the last 6 months.  The goat's leg is still languishing in the freezer!

2. Put the iPhone down when eating; stop taking photos of everyone else's food...

3. Explore a new cuisine - I tried out cuisines that were definitely foreign to my experience - Southern (Collard Greens for example) and Mexican (I've become a Chipotles in Adobo addict - how did I live without these little firebrands in my life?).  Want to get under the skin of American cooking? Well,  I'm going to work my way through Jamie Oliver's tour of America cookbook.  (The chocolate bread pudding with a chocolate beer sauce was a culinary highlight in 2011)

4. Make Indian food from scratch - having invested in a coffee grinder for grinding up spices I'm going to grab my friend, Farah Kapoor and go to her fave Indian grocery store at 42nd and Walnut.  I hope to learn how to make food like Farah's!

5. Go on a food tour with Fairfood Farmstand.  Missed their snout to tail Pigfest, which toured farms and wound up with a four course pork banquet at one of the farms with which they partner.  I won't make the same mistake again.

Keri resolves to:

1.  Expand my fish repertoire.  I tend to limit myself to clam sauce, sauteed shrimp, or roasted salmon (unless my dear fisherman of a neighbor gives me so-fresh-it's-still-almost-swimming striped bass, thank you GL).  With the amazing selection available in most seafood markets, I need to widen my scope.
A welcome gift--freshest striper from my now favorite neighbor.

 2.  Master meatballs.  Seriously.  I cook a lot of Italian food, but the perfect meatball continues to elude me.  My daughter, a budding food critic herself, is not one to sugar coat her reactions.  Upon biting into one of my carefully crafted orbs, she invariably says, "Mom, you seriously need to go to Fran's and take a lesson from her."  (Fran is Francesca Palladinetti, my dear friend who grew up in South Philly and learned meatball making at her Nonna's knee.)

3.  Explore different grains such as quinoa, barley, and lesser-known types of rice.   Never fear, I'm not going vegetarian on you, just recognizing that the occasional "Meatless Monday" is a healthy, cost-effective, eco-friendly option and variety makes for more interesting meals.

4.  Cook with my kids.  The mad dash to get dinner on the table and eaten before dance class or after sports is for the birds.  It also happens to be reality for a busy, active family.  But when the opportunity exists, I would like to involve my kids more in the planning, procuring, and preparing process.

5.  Continue to encourage my husband to claim the kitchen on Sundays.  An amazing development occurred over the last year in my house.  My husband, who was competent enough in the kitchen to avoid starvation, but not particularly interested in cooking, has taken over Sunday dinners.  He plans, shops for and cooks the entire meal, sometimes asking me to pitch in with a side or veg, but in general, it's all him.  Being a guy, he tends to gravitate toward meaty stews, robust roasts, and hearty, manly fare, but, particularly at this time of year, that's perfect.   And, yes, he even cleans up afterward.

What are YOUR 2012 resolutions?

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Cameo Cake

White chocolate buttermilk cake with white chocolate cream cheese frosting is a classic; my husband requests it every year for his birthday, doubtless a nod to his southern roots.  So once a year I make it.  A loyal reader and FB friend requested the recipe, and as my copy is written on well-used recipe cards handwritten my my college roommate (who was born and raised in Tennessee) it was easier to blogpost it, so here it is:

Cameo Cake

1 1/2 cups butter
3/4 cups water
4 oz white chocolate, either chips or a bar chopped
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
3 1/2 cups flour
2 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking soda

Heat oven to 350.  Grease and flour 3 round 9 inch cake pans.
In medium saucepan combine water and butter; bring to boil, stirring occasionally til butter is melted.  Remove from heat, add white chocolate, stir til melted.  Stir in buttermilk, eggs, and vanilla; set aside.  In large mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, and baking soda.  Gradually blend in butter mixture.  when fully mixed, pour batter into the prepared pans.  Bake approx 25 mins til done; use toothpick test.  Cool in pans, then frost with white chocolate cream cheese frosting.

White Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting

4 oz white chocolate (chips or chopped bar)

12 oz cream cheese, softened

1/3 cup butter, softened
6 1/2 cups powdered sugar
2 tsp vanilla

Melt white chocolate in microwave; use 30% power for 3 minutes.  Stir til smooth and allow to cool for 10 minutes  Meanwhile, blend cream cheese and butter on medium speed til creamy, then gradually add white chocolate til blended.  Add sugar and vanilla, blending til smooth.

2011 Highlights

It wouldn't be right to dwell on the negative...so after--er--showcasing some of our culinary missteps in our last post, we wanted to recall some of 2011's high points...such as:

New discovery on how to make french fries--place sliced potatoes in oil before heating it.   Then heat over med-high heat and cook, covered about 30-40 mins til browned and crispy.  Drain on paper towels, salt generously, keel over from sheer rapture.

Devil Dust--this handy and versatile spice blend from Beck's Cajun Cafe is good on everything--shrimp, salmon, chicken, burgers, broccoli, potatoes, yams, steak....we haven't tried it in coffee or on vanilla ice cream yet, but nearly everything else!

Raspberry Linzer Tart  this was delicious, beautiful, a real show stopper, and best of all, not terribly difficult.  I avoid rolling dough like the plague, and it was not required for this recipe except for the decorative star cookies on top.    I brought this to two parties whose hosts asked me to make dessert and both times it was a huge hit.

Jambalaya:  I've always been a fan of paella, but am leaning more towards Jambalaya these days.  The smoked andouille sausage just tips the decision in favor of the Cajun rice melange...Additionally, andouille has now become a fridge staple and is regularly used to up the ante in lasagne, omlets, pizzas - you name it!  What a find.

Baby Pea Shoots:  these elusive green buds showed up for 2 glorious out-of-season weeks at my local Sunday farmers' market--in October.  I reveled in them, devouring them raw like a panda does bamboo for lunch and dinner until they were gone, counting the minutes til Sunday would roll around again and I could get my next fix.  I learned that farmer was growing them in flats in his greenhouse sort of experimentally and very temporarily.  Alas, they are no longer available, so like genuine strawberries, ramps, and real spring asparagus, these lovelies are gone for the time being, and boy do I miss them.

We look forward to another year of culinary discoveries and excitement.  We still expect to fall flat on our foodie faces now and then, but that's all part of the adventure...