Monday, October 29, 2012

How to Make Pizza

Homemade pizza; it's easier than you think!

As usual, when the husband travels, kids put in orders for creative meals.  Dad was in San Diego all last week, and pizza was requested.  Given how rarely teens willingly spend time with parents, I was more than willing to bash together some dough and procure a variety of toppings for a homemade pizza night.

This recipe makes enough dough for 2 full-sized pies.  In our case, we made 4 half-sized pies to allow greater topping variety.

2 pkgs pizza yeast (regular yeast can be substituted)
2 cups warm water
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp salt
5 cups flour
2 Tbps olive oil
2 Tbsp corn meal for coating pans (optional)

Pour dough into large mixing bowl.  Add water, sugar and salt.  Let yeast begin to bubble and stir.  Using dough hook attachment, add flour gradually until dough holds together.  Cover with kitchen towel for at least 30 minutes, or up to several hours.   Punch the dough down (my daughter looved this part!) and you're ready to go.

Heat oven to 500.

Grab a hunk of dough, and begin stretching it out.  My kids had a ball here:

I baked our pies on pizza stones coated with a dusting of corn meal, but you can also use oiled baking sheets.

Stretch dough to a thin roundish shape (or oval, square, amoebic, trapezoidal....up to you.)  Top as desired.  We enjoyed the following combos:
pesto with fresh mozzarella
marinara, grated mozzarella and pepperoni

marinara and mozzarella; marinara, olives, feta,  onions, and mozzarella.

When topped as desired, bake in lowest rack of oven for about 10 minutes.  Watch it carefully--it's done when edges are brown and crisp, cheese is completely melted and when you scrape the underside of the pie with a spatula it feels solid, not sticky and doughy.
 Ok, so it's a bit more work than dialing for delivery, but it really is a lot better.  Claire, who normally eschews pizza, enjoyed the leftovers during a phillyfoodlovers working lunch the following day. 

Assuming you have power, homemade pizza may be a good way to get through Hurricane Sandy. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Apple Almond Crisp Pie

Fall is synonymous with apples in all their glory.  A friend went apple picking with her family and deposited a hundred weight of oversized apples on my stoop this weekend, so I decided to get busy and bake.

First apple almond crisp (which is similar to an apple crumb or crumble, as we'd say in the U.K.).  There's not much difference between the various recipes.

On examination, the apple crisp tends to have a coarser texture than a crumble because it often includes oats and nuts -- so the end result is chewier and crunchier. which I prefer.

In the version I used, I started with a basic apple crumble mixture from, but instead of using 100% flour, I substituted 50% of the recommended quantity with a mixture of almond meal and also quaker oats.  (This idea of adding finely ground almond flour, or meal, came from some foodie friends on Facebook. Thanks again for the tip.)

If you are partial to fruit crumb pies, then it's worth trying Jack McDavid's Blueberry Peach pie - an absolute winner!

In the meantime, this is how I got on.


And after....

...only there wasn't much after.

The crumble disappeared in a flash!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Scallops with Brussel Sprouts and Bacon

With the weather turning, our thoughts invariably stray to warm, comforting foods that are both tasty and hearty.

Brussel sprouts hits the sweet spot for me.

They are the quintessential Fall food, and to my mind are associated with all the best family-centered Holidays of the year, notably Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Having bought a couple of pounds of new season brussels sprouts, and grabbed some bacon and onion with which to stir fry my sprouts, I had a brain wave.  I had some teeny scallops lurking in the freezer, perhaps I could flash fry the scallops and serve them on a bed of sprouts?

This isn't as crazy as it seems...This weekend's WSJ featured a seared swordfish steak with brussels, and scallops are more often than not served wrapped in a cloak of bacon.  So, I gave it go.

I followed the recipe we've published on multiple occasions, because it's just so darned good.  (Rick Nichols' interpretation of Marc Vetri's sprouts) and added bacon and extra sliced onion.

My fast food staple - seasoned butters
Then I flash fried the scallops in chili lime butter (ready made from Wholefoods) - a staple in my freezer.

The result was inspirational!

Heartily recommended.

Have you devised an innovative food pairing which to your surprise actually worked out well?

Do share.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

How to Make Biscuits (After 20 years of trying)

Biscuits were a seemingly simple food that I never managed to make well.   Having married a southerner, this was particularly problematic.  He was raised on light, fluffy, perfect biscuits and my hockey pucks were a source of dread to us both.   In his defense, he, too, tried to duplicate the heavenly orbs of his youth without success, so he sympathized with me and recognized that biscuits were complicated.

This problem came to a bit of a head recently; husband invited a group of colleagues for a real southern meal (he's frying chicken--stay tuned for future post on that).  To round out the meal with full authenticity, biscuits were required.   We considered ordering a tray from Jack McDavid of the Down Home Diner (whose biscuits are stellar),  but it just felt wrong.  I agreed to make that our plan B, but was determined to produce a bona fide biscuit in a dry-run batch the week before the party.

I searched several of my go-to sources for this type of cooking and found solid advice from Lauren Chattman's Mom's Big Book of Baking and Betty Crocker's Cookbook.

I learned the following strategies:

1.  Use 1/2 cake flour and 1/2 all-purpose flour for lighter biscuits.
2.  Use buttermilk instead of milk for best flavor.
3.  For Drop Biscuits (I abhor rolling dough) increase the buttermilk or milk in recipe by 25%.
4.  Cut butter into dry ingredients quickly, either with a mixer, pastry cutter, or 2 knives--do not over work.  Dough should be crumbly chunks about the size of lentils, not a smooth gooey mass.
5.  When adding milk, stir in by hand.  After mixing, dough will have a more formed texture but will still be lumpy and a bit crumbly.
6.  Bake biscuits when butter is still in small, cold bits; this produces air pockets and makes for lightness and fluffiness.

I integrated several different recipes, followed that six pack of tips and came up with the following formula--which, I am delighted to say, was a success!

Finally Successful Drop Biscuits

6 TBS chilled butter cut in pieces
1 c all purpose flour
1 c cake flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 cup buttermilk

Heat oven to 425.  Line cookie sheet w/ parchment.  Mix everything but buttermilk til small crumbs form.  Mix in buttermilk with spoon.  Drop by large spoonfuls on cookie sheet; each biscuit should contain about 1/3 cup dough.   Bake about 18 minutes til they are just beginning to brown.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Real Simple's Slow Cooker Black Bean and Zucchini Chili

I'm in chili testing mode.  (The Eagles' football season is upon us and my turkey chili is always much in demand for tailgates.)

Real Simple is one of my go-to magazines for recipes.  It's neat because it provides time-saving shortcuts.  The recipe normally tells you to double up the ingredients and then spins you five other uses for the leftovers: That's my kind of pragmatic cooking.

This slow cooked chili is a great recipe. 

It's different from your run-of-the-mill chili.  The zucchinis make all the difference -- adding a bit of crunch to the texture of this chili.  I also used ground turkey rather than beef, which makes it even healthier.

Real Simple's Slow Cooker Black Bean and Zucchini Chili

Serves 8



  1. In a 4- to 6-quart slow cooker, combine the beef, tomatoes, beans, zucchini, onions, tomato paste, garlic, chili powder, oregano, 1½ teaspoons salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper.
  2. Cover and cook until the vegetables are tender and the meat is cooked through, on low for 7 to 8 hours or on high for 4 to 5 hours (this will shorten total recipe time).
  3. Reserve half the chili for tomorrow. Serve the remaining chili with the sour cream, avocado, and cilantro.
  4. Reheat and serve: Reheat the chili in a large saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, for 10 to 15 minutes.

Better still, see their suggestions for what to do with any you have left 4 Ways to Transform Your Leftovers.

Inspired by this feature, we:
  • stuffed the chili in tortillas, 
  • chopped up fresh tomatoes, garlic and cilantro, 
  • threw this on the top of the stuffed tortillas together with a very generous sprinkling of Mexican cheeses and 
  • added a healthy dash of Beck's Devil Dust powder, and voila, another tasty meal for the freezer.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Fall Veggies at the Farmers' Market

This selection of gourds and squash put me in the mood to decorate for fall.....

Sunday isn't Sunday without a trip to the Headhouse Square Farmers' Market and the Sunday Times Crossword Puzzle, in that order. Sunday's Market visit turned out to be more promising than the puzzle; I usually manage to finish the crossword, but last week I only mastered about 60%.  Wonder if there are any fall veggies that boost brain power?

No matter, these eye-popping veggies gave me a profound appreciation for autumn's harvest....

Thinking of roasting and stuffing these squash--maybe with chili?

Had a grand old time discovering the jelly melon:

When eaten before they fully ripen, jelly melons are close to a cucumber.  After ripening, they resemble kiwi.  We bought two, one to eat immediately and the other to ripen.  We found them to  contain an abundance of seeds; conclusion:  we'd prefer cuc's and kiwis.

 These wax beans were just gorgeous--sauteed with garlic and cashews, they even pleased my carnivorous kids.

Thought the mini gherkins were intriguing--allegedly a tiny cucumber--but at $9.00 for the pint-sized box, we gave them a pass.


Savoy Cabbages were lovely and robust; we'll slice them, and saute with olive oil, salt and pepper til they almost caramelize.  They also make a gorgeous slaw, chopped raw and tossed  with lime juice, sour cream, cilantro and sliced onions.

What's your favorite fall vegetable?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Indian Spiced Vegetables, Sabzi Masala

Masala Beans

Our friend Farah, she of the famous Masala Kale, which has garnered over 500 page views on this blog, is at it again.

"With so many of my friends and family eating vegetarian, I am motivated to make vegetable dishes that are interesting and delicious," says friend, neighbor, and locally renown cook Farah Kapoor.  She adds, "Even among non-vegetarians, there is a lot of interest in local produce.  I saw some fresh okra and some lovely long beans at the Farmers' Market last week and was inspired to create a Masala Sabzi,  (spicy vegetable) recipe." 

Both the beans and the okra were transformed into something wonderful.  This is not to say that fresh off the farm they aren't already pretty wonderful, but Farah's version makes them spectacular.

She starts with fresh okra, purchased from our favorite Sunday Farmers' Market.

Masala Okra

1 medium white onion finely diced
1 tomato
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 Clive of garlic finely chopped.
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 pound okra or long beans or green beans or haricot verts. Slice into rounds.
2 tbsp canola or olive oil
1/2 tsp red CHILLI powder (optional)
1/2 tsp garam masala (optional)


1. Start by heating the oil in a skillet.
2. Add the onions and garlic and sautee for 2 minutes.
3. Next add the cumin seeds, coriander powder and the dry spices and saute until fragrant. This might take a minute or two.
4. Add the diced tomato and let it all come together for another couple of minutes. Add salt to taste.
5. Finally add the okra or green beans to the masala paste. Cook for a few minutes until vegetables are tender.
6. Garnish your vegetables with a handful of chopped cilantro.


Saturday, October 6, 2012

Bistro Romano's Limoncello Tiramisu

If you like the Limoncello Liquor, you'll love this Tiramasu which is simultaneously tart and creamy
This year marks the 25th Anniversary for local neighborhood restaurant Bistro Romano.  The restaurant, which is situated in a gorgeous converted 18th century granary at 120 Lombard Street, features exposed brick walls, timber beams and an impressive wine cellar (The restaurant recently won an award for excellence from Wine Spectator magazine -- so we know that their wine collection is first-rate!).  
Last month, Keri and I sat down to chat with proprietor Michael Granato and sample his regional Italian-inspired cuisine.  We also asked Michael to share one of his family recipes in time for the holiday season.
Twenty five years ago Michael was a CPA working for Price Waterhouse, but he knew this wasn’t the life for him. “I thought to myself, I have to find something I enjoy more.  I love food, good wine and entertaining.  

"In a conversation with a bartender one evening, I learned about a dormant building which was up to sale.  I bought that building and Bistro Romano was born.”  

As Michael explains, the restaurant draws inspiration from all regions of Italy:  “All four grandparents were Italian.  One was from Sicily, the three others came from Naples and every year I travel back to Italy to stay fresh and research new ideas for our menu.   
"This year I traveled with my wife Joette (who is also my business partner and chairs the Board of the South Street Headhouse District) to Villa d’Este, Lago di Como. I worked alongside a chef who was supervising 25-30 other chefs in a major restaurant.  From that trip, I came back with new recipe ideas for stuffed pastas and also a Limoncello Tiramasu, which is now on our menu.”
Table-side Caesar Salad was a treat
The night we visited Bistro Romano, fellow food lover Keri and I dined on veal saltimbocca and a table-side tossed Caesar Salad – remember those?  - and of course we just had to try the home made, stuffed pastas, which were g-o-o-d.

(We chowed down on a trio of ravioli comprising sausage, parmesan and broccoli rabe; mushroom and pancetta in a butter and sage sauce;  and then a lobster and ricotta ravioli in a sherry cream sauce.  The sausage pasta was our favorite – but only by a slight margin!)

Our Trio of Stuffed Pasta
All produce is sourced locally wherever possible from PA and from Jersey and this shows through in the menu.  

The restaurant is extremely popular with regulars many of whom travel in from New Jersey to attend the Wine Tastings, Mystery Murder Dinners or the piano nights put on by Bistro Romano.  

For a full listing of events, see

Bistro Romano Limoncello Tiramisu
(Serves 12)


12 Lemons
3 table poons Powdered Sugar
2 lbs. Mascarpone Cheese
2 cups Heavy Cream
1 cup Limoncello Liquor
2 bags Savoiardi (Ladyfingers)


  1. Prepare Mascarpone
  2. In a large bowl combine Mascarpone cheese and heavy cream.
  3. Add in half of the Lemoncello, 1 tablespoon sugar and the juice of five lemons. Mix thoroughly and set aside.
  4. Prepare Limoncello Syrup
  5. Under low heat mix the juice of 7 lemons, powdered sugar and the remainder of the lemon cello.
  6. After sugar dissolves and mixture is warm remove from heat
  7. Assemble Tiramisu
  8. Dip ladyfingers into limoncello syrup
  9. Layer soaked ladyfingers into the bottom of pan. Approx 10”x 12”.
  10. Spread the Mascarpone cheese mixture over the ladyfingers.
  11. Repeat with a second layer of soaked ladyfingers and cheese mixture.
  12. Repeat with a third layer of soaked ladyfingers and the cheese mixture.

Refrigerate for 4 hours and it's ready to serve!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Feel Good Chocolate: John & Kira Create Urban Gardens for Schools

What a discovery: Feel Good Chocolate!

John & Kira’s handmade chocolates are a regular fixture at our local Headhouse Farmers’ Market on a Sunday.  

We can never decide which flavor of ladybug chocolates to buy; should we go for the raspberry, or the chocolate mint? 

The company has now made the choice even more complicated – with the addition of the Urban Garden Chocolate Bars which come in two flavors: chili pepper and almonds or tangy orange and rosemary.  

We adored the orange and rosemary bar and were delighted to learn that both these sweet treats are made from ingredients grown in Philadelphia school gardens by the children themselves.  

According to John, the company’s goal is to educate local children about the pleasures of growing your own food:  “Some of these children have never seen a chili pepper growing or seen a rosemary bush.  We want them to enjoy gardening and understand where their food comes from.”  

Now you can feel good about eating that last square of chocolate...  

And have you heard about the Chocolate Garden which John & Kira has sponsored at Temple University.  We are just DYING to visit.  As their website explains Temple's Village of Arts & Humanities or VAH: "..has been growing herbs for John & Kira's Chocolates since 2009.  This year, 2012, the Village and John & Kira's are launching the Chocolate Garden consisting of a teaching-tasting pavilion and herb beds dedicated to growing various plants that John & Kira's will use for chocolate products and experiments."

How neat is that?

For further information about school gardens in Philadelphia, see

Monday, October 1, 2012

How to Make Pound Cake: My Go-To Basic

Pound Cake:  Simple, Delicious, Crowd-Pleasing, Versatile.

I was staggered to see that in all the posts we've written and all recipes we've shared, I had not written about my pound cake.   I make these all the time--for snacking, for dessert, as a housewarming treat for new neighbors, to bring to meetings and school events, for shivas and bereavements, as hostess gifts, just because.

I have one friend who was practically wishing someone would die in order to receive a cake.  I assured her that becoming the local Grim Reaper was not necessary and I now keep her well supplied with loaves. This week my husband is traveling to VT with his parents to take them on a fall foliage tour, and I'm sending one of these loaves of golden deliciousness with him.

And as it happens, this recipe makes two loaves, so we'll have one for dessert tonight with honeycrisp apples and some homemade caramel sauce, and I'll send the other up north for my in-laws.

I was pretty sure I knew the origin of the name "pound cake", but I double checked to be sure:  the original pound cake recipes, which are found in cookbooks dating back to 18th Century America and England,  called for a pound of each ingredient:  butter, flour, sugar and eggs.   (Thank you,  That would make a mighty large cake, so today's version may have tweaked the proportions a bit.  But the results are still dense, moist, buttery and wonderful.

Let me first say that many pound cake recipes will insist that you have to sift flour with other dry ingredients, add different things in stages, eggs one at a time, blah, blah, blah.  The beauty of this recipe is that I throw everything in the bowl at once, turn on the mixer, and it's done in a flash.   I will offer one tip on the toss and mix method--this can sometimes result in things slopping out of the bowl onto countertops, floors and blouses.  Ick.  I cover the bowl with a large, clean dishtowel, pull it around the beater, and hold both ends firmly in one hand and the bottom of the towel around the bottom of the bowl on the opposite side.  This way, when things splash around in the process of being blended, they hit the towel and return to the bowl, instead of showering me and my kitchen with flour and egg.

Simply Fantastic Poundcake

2 1/2 sticks butter, softened if possible, if not, zap for 20-30 seconds in microwave
2 3/4 cups sugar
3 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
5 eggs
2 tsp vanilla (or more if you like a strong vanilla flavor)
1 cup milk or buttermilk

1.  Heat oven to 350.  Grease and flour 2 loaf pans.
2.  Dump all ingredients in large bowl and mix, starting on low speed and increasing to high as mixture blends. 
3.  Divide batter into pans and bake 55 mins (or more) til cakes are golden brown and toothpick comes out clean.
4.  Cool, remove from pan, and serve or save.  This cake is great as a snack with a cup of tea, for dessert topped with ice cream, melted chocolate or fresh berries, brushed with butter and grilled, then topped with fresh fruit and cream, or cut in cubes and served with fondue.  The possibilities are endless.    Can also be frozen for future use.