Monday, July 30, 2012

Tiramisu - the sexiest dessert ever!

Food at the shore just has to be e-a-s-y

I just love it when you buy a product and they run a recipe on the package itself.  It makes it so much easier to shop; scan the ingredients and grab everything you need all at the same time.

I've had packets of lady fingers in my pantry for ages, and now, having made this sexy dessert for two weekends running, just when I need to lay my hands on a box and transcribe a great recipe for Tiramisu, of course, I can't find one!

A mercy dash to the local mini market in Stone Harbor failed to turn up any packets of lady fingers either.  So I'm settling for a recipe I've used previously from the Food Network:  Giada di Laurentiis's Tiramisu.

To me, Tiramisu, is the ultimate dessert; starring chocolate, coffee and mascarpone, it's like glorified baby food, spoon after delicious spoon after spoon.

Add another - adult - dimension to your tiramisu by adding amaretto or another of your favorite liquors to the espresso soaking mixture.

Team tiramisu with seasonal soft fruit Jersey strawberries, Jersey peaches or apricots and you've got the perfect Summer dessert...

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Philly's Food Truck Scene

 Gone are the days of a questionable hot dog from a questionable cart.  These days, food trucks offer serious, high quality fare crafted by legitimate chefs.  They are peppering neighborhoods all around town.   Put simply, I'm hooked.

With the Vendy Awards coming up Saturday, July 28, we thought we'd highlight some of our favorite food trucks.  The Vendy Awards honor the thriving food truck scene in town, and recognize the talented sidewalk chefs that are creating this exciting culinary trend. 

Spot Gourmet Burgers, Steaks and Pork can usually be found at 33rd and Arch, on Drexel's campus.  The burgers are made from top quality sirloin that the owners grind daily.  They have a great assortment of interesting sauces and combos, and their simple approach to fresh, straightforward food totally works.

Buttercream Philly is a cupcake lover's heaven.  Owner Kate Carrera punted lawyering for baking in 2009 and she never looked back.  I'm delighted with her career change.  I sampled a lovely sextet of her creations; one was better than the next:  vanilla/vanilla; vanilla/ganache; vanilla/nutella; cookies and cream; chocolate/ganache; lemon/strawberry.  Good thing I only bought six.

SugarPhilly also aims squarely at the sweet tooth.  Their theory is that people want high quality, sophisticated, elegant desserts without the three-course commitment or cost of a full restaurant meal.  And they deliver.  Their macarons, which come in a variety of flavors, are transformational.  Their creme brulee is fantastic--if you have a hankering arrive early, the creme brulee can sell out.

Where do we go next?

Monday, July 23, 2012

Vanilla Pudding, Rapture in a Bowl

No cook desserts?  Bon Appetit has a spread on this topic in the current issue.

We've been ruminating on sweets that don't require a long spell in a hot oven, hence the focus on cupcakes a few weeks back.  On the same topic, We keep coming back to puddings.  This vanilla version is a corker--served plain, topped with seasonal fresh fruit,  a drizzle of caramel or a swirl of melted chocolate, we're sure you're gonna loooove it.

Vanilla Heaven (serves 4-6)

3/4 cup sugar
3 TBSP corn starch
3 cups half and half (or 1 1/2 cups milk and 1 1/2 cups heavy cream)
2 eggs
1 TBSP vanilla
1 TBSP butter

In medium saucepan, mix sugar and cornstarch.  Add half and half and mix, heating over med til mixture begins to thicken.

In separate bowl, beat eggs.  Pour half of the hot pudding mixture into bowl, whisking constantly.

Then return egg mixture to pan, heat over med-low and cook another minute or two til thickened.  Remove from heat and add vanilla and butter.  Stir to blend.  Serve warm, or place in bowl, put plastic wrap or wax paper onto surface of pudding and chill.

And we couldn't really offer you vanilla pudding without our favorite chocolate counterpart.  We love making these both, and filling a bowl with half of each--kind of the yin and yang of dessert.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Penne Restaurant, Great Italian in West Philly

We had the good fortune to be invited to a birthday celebration at Penne last night.   We were greeted by friendly bartender who poured us aperitifs before we proceeded to our table.  We downed them,  then encountered a pleasant hostess, who seated us at a booth, and finally, our server, who was affable without being intrusive--which can be a tough balance to strike. 

One minor side note on seating:  in the future, I will request a table.   The booth's seat was uncharacteristically low and table  high, which made me feel like I needed a telephone booth to sit on, despite my respectable 5'7" stature.  But onto the food....

We started with a bowl of fried calamari.  Normally I detest this dish for its resemblance to greasy, fried teething rings.  In fact, I never eat it, but my husband, who loves it, seized the opportunity to order it for the table.  But this version was a revelation. The calamari was tender on the inside, crispy on the outside, and not at all greasy.  The sauce, a spicy tomato caper dip was a welcome departure from the typical tomato sauce that usually accompanies this dish.  I still only ate about 3 bites, but I enjoyed them.

 My husband handled the wine order, and he did an excellent job.  The birthday girl was Luisa, and husband found her namesake Pinot Grigio on the list.  Fortunately, it was the perfect pairing on a scorching summer evening for our pasta dinners.

My first course was a soup from the specials menu: sweet corn broth with tiny roasted garlic and scallion gnocchi. It was fantastic; the broth was light, but had an intense and deep flavor of sweet summer corn, and the gnocchi had a delightful crispness to them.  A really unique and seasonal dish!

Penne is known for their homemade fresh pastas.  Our table sampled a good assortment, one better than the next:

Birthday girl Luisa had the ravioli filled with zucchini, goat cheese, and potato, topped with herb pesto and pine nuts, which she thoroughly enjoyed.   I've mentioned before that potatoes, pretty much in any form, are a serious temptation to me, and their use here was unexpected and delicious.

I had the linguine with clams.  This was a bit of a departure for me, because linguine with white clam sauce is a signature dish of mine so I normally wouldn't order it in a restaurant.  But this version had some alternative ingredients that intrigued me--red pepper linguine and  bacon.  I'm happy to report that it was terrific.  The clams were tiny and toothsome, the linguine was perfectly al dente--not always easy to execute with fresh pasta, and the bacon was a great crispy-salty foil to the clams and noodles.  I don't think I'll mess with my version of the dish, but never say never.

My husband had the tagliatelle puttanesca with swordfish.  The briny capers were an excellent accompaniment to the steaky, mild fish, and the pasta was, again, perfectly cooked.

For dessert, we sampled the chocolate amaretto cannoli and the blueberries with lemon-thyme  mascarpone.  They did not disappoint!

If you hurry, you can still catch the special menu deals available through  University City Dining Days, going on now through July 26.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Bon Appetit's Slow Roasted Salmon

Before serving, I glazed the salmon with chili lime butter

We're at the Jersey there's no excuse not to be serving fish two to three times a week (as we are supposed to do to keep our brood healthy).

Salmon is far and away one of the most palatable fish especially for small children, because it doesn't have any bones, and from a parental perspective it's great because it is packed full of Omega-3 fatty acids.

The wild caught variety is higher in Omega-3 than its farmed cousins:

You can tell the difference because the flesh looks denser and it is a much richer redder color (farmed salmon is a lighter pink color).

I've been hanging on to this recipe in Bon Appetit and have since cooked this same dish twice.  The slow roasting technique almost poaches the salmon, so there's no fear of the fish drying up.

I served this salmon with a number of salads and my much lauded apple pistachio coleslaw.

I make this side even healthier by replacing half of the mayonnaise with 0% greek yoghurt.  It tastes just as good but reduces the calories and the fat content significantly.

Apple Pistachio Coleslaw:

1 bag of prepared coleslaw or broccoli slaw mix
1 apple diced (dunk these in a bowl of water laced with the juice of 1/2 lime and then drain before you add into the coleslaw; this step will prevent the apple from discoloring
3 heaped tbsps light mayonnaise
3 heaped tbsps of 0% greek yoghurt
2 teaspoons of white wine or rice vinegar to thin the mayo and add sharpness to the coleslaw (if you prefer a less tangy coleslaw, then omit the vinegar)
pepper and salt to taste
1/2 cup of smushed up pistachio nuts to sprinkle on the top of your coleslaw

Healthy and amazingly tasty!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Meatballs Mastered, Finally!

Since I've been on the topic of my culinary New Year's Resolutions, I was reminded that one of them was to master meatballs.

For some reason, the ability to craft these delectable orbs has eluded me for decades.  Mine were either too mushy, too dry, lacking flavor, falling apart, overly seasoned--I simply never struck the correct balance.   It was just last week that I managed an affirmatively good version, earning even the approval of my very discriminating  daughter.    My son, on the other hand, never met a hunk of ground beef he didn't like, so my trials and errors never went to waste. 

I recalled the seemingly unorthodox but very sound meatloaf advice from Down Home Diner's Chef Jack McDavid--to  use a dough hook for thorough distribution and emulsification of the fat and flavors.  Figuring the principle was the same with meatballs, I used his method.    And it worked!

Here's what I did.....

For the meatballs:
This made about 2 dozen.

2 1/2 lbs 85% lean ground beef
1/3 cup chopped garlic (I used the jarred stuff and it worked beautifully--use less if fresh)
2 cups Italian style seasoned bread crumbs
1 1/2 cups Parmesan cheese
2 eggs
1/4 cup beef broth or water
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper

Blend all ingredients thoroughly, using dough hook  if possible.  With wet hands, form the mixture into firmly packed balls approx 1 1/2 inches in diameter and drop them into simmering marinara sauce.  Cook on low heat for about 2 hours, stirring occasionally.  Serve over pasta, on sandwiches, or solo.  (These also freeze really well.)

Ok, next resolution.....It's only July.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

How To Make Quinoa Tabbouleh

Quinoa--cucumbers--tomatoes--red onions--mint--parsley--a few other basic ingredients, and voila, healthy, deliciousness in a bowl. 

The hostess made this for book group last week and it was a huge hit.  Remember my new year's resolution about eating a variety of grains?  Well, I haven't exactly adhered to it.  Ok, if I'm to be completely honest, I've been a dismal failure.  But this dish reminded me of my intention, so I am trying again.  With summer's arrival, cool, light, grain-based salads make a wonderful healthy meal--or a well-chosen, all-purpose side for a barbecue.

Here's my best guess at the quinoa tabbouleh recipe:

1 cup quinoa
1 large cucumber, seeded, peeled, and chopped
1 pint cherry tomatoes (or 1 large tomato, or 3 plums), chopped
1/2 red onion, chopped
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp each salt and pepper (to taste)

Cook quinoa according to package directions.  (Do not over cook or it will be mushy).  Cool quinoa and mix with remaining ingredients.  Mix, and allow to set for at least 1 hr to blend flavors.  

Quinoa seems to be the new 'it' food--it kinds of eats like a carb but contains substantial amounts of protein.  Works for me.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Feasting on the Hill - an interview with Mike Harris

Mike Harris, New Director of the South Street Headhouse District Spills the Beans...

Mike Harris, who was recently appointed Executive Director of the South Street Headhouse District (SSHD), is a man with a past – and most of it’s local to Center City.  

Once upon a time, he lived in the apartment above neighborhood watering hole, The Artful Dodger  Mike even proposed to his wife, Melanie, over a romantic dinner in Society Hill’s own Bistro Romano.  

Now Mike and his family, which includes two young children, live in Queen Village.  Today, if he’s not at the District’s office (perched atop the Shambles at 2nd and Pine) then he can probably be spotted in his “front office”, Bodhi Coffee, talking up South Street over a double espresso.

Originally a transplant from Chicago, Mike is best known in Philadelphia for his work at UPenn, as well as Rowan University in South Jersey where he was Vice President of Operations and Facilities. 

As SSHD’s new Director, his mission is to revitalize South Street and its environs.  How, you might ask, is this relevant to a blog about food? 

Well, actually, the pretext of talking to Mike about his “fave” dining spots and local hangouts was our Trojan horse to secure an interview. 

What we really want to know is how Mike plans to entice new boutiques, restaurants, bars (ah, there’s the link!) and businesses to South Street.

“My first priority is to build relationships with neighbors, restaurant owners, retailers and the economic development and tourism communities,” explains this energetic man. 

“We’ll then assess the retail and business service needs of the community and ask how we can work together to reinvent our neighborhood as a vibrant, dynamic destination. 

"We need to harness the energy that’s already here-and then attract new retailers who will create an even better South Street," comments Mike Harris.   "When I look out my window, I want to see diverse crowds of locals, families and tourists-- people from places as varied as the burbs or Rittenhouse Square."  

"I  want this area to be a well-populated destination – a place where there is always something interesting to do,” says Mike Harris, SSHD's Executive Director. 

Mike continues to explain how he hopes to effect change in the area: “ The environment is really important.  I’d like to see additional beautification of the area.  We’ll create greater street life and promote events and spaces that are welcoming to children and families, as well as appealing to the night time crowd.  This can be done.  Look at East Passayunk or Chicago's  Old Town Area , which I know well."

Steering the conversation back to food, I asked Mike how he unwinds on a Friday night-what’s his “go-to” dining spot? 

Alas, Mike is actually too politically astute to be drawn into this potential minefield and instead said,” “The best thing about the South Street District is its wealth of restaurants. You can just about get anything you want depending on your mood. My wife is a vegetarian so this diversity is important to us!”

When asked to share a favorite recipe, SSHD’s new Director informed us that he makes a mean meatloaf-- “I’m actually the chef of the house."  

One of the things I like to cook is a turkey meatloaf recipe from the cookbook Fit for Life by Marilyn Diamond.” This recipe is also featured on the website - it must be good!

We're fans of meatloaf too.  
Meatloaf minis..doused in ketchup

For an alternative way of serving meatloaf that's particularly appealing to children, see our blog about these meatloaf minis.  

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Grilling on the Fourth of July

Fourth of July Food is pretty much all about the grill.

Salmon filets marinaded in Go-Chu-Jang (aka Korean Sweet Spicy Sauce) and a burger for my finicky son.

Or perhaps steaks...Seasoned and rubbed with your favorite spice blend.  We're fans of Beck's Devil Dust, but Montreal Steak Seasoning is flavorful and interesting, too.

Grilled Flank Steak is also great, economical option for a crowd.

How about kebabs?  These chicken kebabs with a side of grilled broccoli are always a hit.

Can't go wrong with marinated chicken--this tasty version was soaked in garlic, Worcestershire, salt, pepper and oil overnight.

At the shore?  Try this grilled whole fish recipe!

And let's not forget the quintessentially American burger!

Last year, we had local chefs share their Independence Day Menu plans.  Bet you'll find some great ideas there.
What are you grilling this Fourth of July?

Monday, July 2, 2012

How to Make Quinoa With Caramelized Tomatoes and Onions

We mentioned Quinoa as the new  "It" food in a previous post.  I've now begun a slight love affair with the stuff.

It served as a perfect side to the aforementioned grilled scallop dinner, but quinoa solo is kind of bland, so it needs some gussying up.  Here's what I did:

Leftover roasted cherry tomatoes(procedure follows) and caramelized onions sounded like a good complement to the neutral quinoa,  so I sliced up an onion, sauteed it slowly with some olive oil, salt and pepper.  When the quinoa was cooked, I mixed up the lot.  It still needed a bit of something, so I added 1/4 cup of feta cheese.  And if I'd had oil-cured kalamata olives, they would have been the perfect foil.  Next time.

Even my daughter, who avoids tomatoes unless they are pureed in a marinara sauce, liked the dish.  My son, who lives on burgers, (to my chagrin) ran the other way.

For the tomatoes:

Rinse a quart or so of cherry tomatoes--or cut plum tomatoes in half and use those.  Place them in a baking dish, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle w/ s&p and roast in a 350 oven for about an hour.  These are wonderful with grilled meat or fish, tossed on pasta, smeared on sandwiches, or, as I discovered, stirred into quinoa.

For the quinoa:

Soak 1 cup quinoa in cool water for a few minutes, and rinse thoroughly.  Place in saucepan with 1 1/2 cups water, 1/2 tsp salt, and bring to boil.  Cover, lower heat, and simmer 15 minutes.  Water should be absorbed; if not, taste for doneness and if done, drain.  It behaves more or less like rice.

Mix the caramelized onions, roasted tomatoes, salt and pepper, feta cheese, and olives if you have 'em.  Bet this would be great with chopped fresh parsley, too.

Have you done anything interesting with quinoa lately?