Tastes of the Net

The BBC has an impressive, festive canape collection.

Mark Bittman pan sears monkfish (video).

McDuff had another great meal at Talula's Table, featuring a porcini and taleggio raviolo that I've been thinking about all day.

Shola agrees with me that olive oil is great in mashed potatoes. I also didn't know they had a fancy French name. The addition of goat cheese is also fantastic.


Naked Wings

Hi! I know it's been a long time since I've seen you all here, and there's a long list of reasons I haven't been here. Namely, a fire (not kitchen related) and a car accident. One thing after another, but we're all safe and still breathing.

What has prompted me to blog tonight isn't food. Although, I did make some kick ass fried chicken for dinner - my best batch yet. Once again, I'm here to talk about football. Bill Belichick specifically. I'm here watching a game that is being broadcast to more people than the Superbowl will be. It could be a monumental game for the Patriots this evening. Not only could they complete their first undefeated season ever, Tom Brady and Randy Moss also stand to make history with new records. Yet again Bill Belichick is standing on the sidelines in a cut-off sweatshirt. I'm pretty sure his team could make him some custom short sleeve sweatshirts. I bet he could even order the sleeves to be elbow length as he seems to prefer. Instead, it looks like he chopped off the sleeves with a scissor moments before the game. I certainly understand the desire to be comfortable at all times. However, why not show some pride for what you and your team have accomplished?

The NFL is very sensitive about it's image and the image the players portray. Please, please take a look at the coaches. Blah.

On a side note: here's a link to an article about the new coffee bar I'm managing. I'll get to train as a barista in a Starbucks in a few weeks. I'll write all about it!


(Non) Green Eggs and Ham

Deviled eggs came into my life only a few years ago. They weren't exactly a Brooklyn staple. Maybe I had them twice when I was growing up. After moving to PA, they showed up at many family functions, and social gatherings. They even appear on tables when they don't go with the other foods. Over the summer I attended a party where grilled meats and vegetables were served. There were deviled eggs on the table. I prefer them as an hors d'oeuvre or with other finger foods. I never thought I would aspire to own an egg plate. Now that I do, I couldn't wait for a reason to make some deviled eggs. The weekly Sunday football buffet would do just fine. The secret to a delicate, light filling? Grating the yolks through a microplane and going easy on the mayo. I am not a purist so I like other things in my eggs. Truffle, shrimp with pepper relish, curry, and ham with horseradish make appearances.

Grated yolks. This yellow snow IS safe to eat.

Ham snow. Can't wait for that conversation at the office... "What did you do last night?" "I grated ham finely with a microplane!"

The finished product with some ill cut ham for garnish. Had I thought about it beforehand, I would have cut all the ham in the shape of diamonds, like the one on the left, middle row.

I have perfected my hard boiled egg technique thanks to Sara Moulton. Place eggs in cold water with lots of salt. Slowly bring to a boil. The moment it begins to boil, turn off the heat. Cover. Let stand 7 minutes. Cool under running water, peel immediately. This yields tender whites, perfectly cooked yolks and not a spec of green sulfur ring around the yolk.

Born in the U.S. of A.

"Too few people understand a really good sandwich." - James Beard

The Cheesesteak BLT Club @ Vesuvio's

The bread was a cross between focaccia and a Kaiser roll. Grilled filet with caramelized onions, provolone, bacon, lettuce, tomato and sriracha mayo. Incredible. Deserving of it's title, "Best Sandwich in America" bestowed by the Today show. Served in a small, unassuming bar attached to a restaurant. Salty, sweet, spicy, beefy, crispy, cheesey. The recipe for the perfect husband and sandwich.

Vesuvio 736 S 8th StPhiladelphia, PA (215) 922-8380


Fond of Ficoco

It was so good my sister in law Kari emailed me about it. When she's this excited about something I know it's good. During my next Whole Foods jaunt I had to buy Ficoco. I had a suspicion and I was correct, it's from Dalmatian, the makers of the dried fig spread I love with cheese, also available with orange. Made in Croatia, it's yummy figs with pure cocoa.

So, what can you do with it? Eat it on gelato. Sandwich macaroons. Dip madelines in it. Add it to a muffin as a surprise center. Layer a cake with it. Stuff French toast. Make thumbprint cookies. Swirl it in ice cream while still churning. Add a dollop to spicy mole for duck. The list goes on, but the bottle doesn't, so stock up!

Ficoco on silver dollar pancakes. Great for eating with your hands on the sun porch with coffee.


Shola. Snack Bar. Solid.

It was one of my most eagerly anticipated meals of this year. It lived up to my expectations. I did not take photos. When dining in a group amongst Phil A. Dining, whose photos make those in Art Culinaire look like stick figures, you don't haul out your 4 year old outdated digital camera. You also don't steal someone else's pictures, so here is his photo recap of the dinner. I recommend opening it in another window so you can reference back and forth.

I started with a wanamaker cocktail. Snack Bar is known for it's inventive drink list so despite the fact I knew I had a tasting menu with wines on the way, I had to start big. Bourbon, cider, the butterscotch was understated but overall a great drink. The amarena cherry garnish tasted a bit past it's prime though.

First course: carrot ginger soup with coconut froth and peanut praline. Very enjoyable. Praline was a great foil to perfectly smooth soup. Served pretty hot in a pretty shot glass. I wasn't thrilled with the pairing, a champagne cocktail with basil seeds. Basil seeds? The thought progression... "Basil leaves don't have seeds. Oh, seeds that you would start a plant from!" While they had a slight basil flavor the passion fruit seed texture of goop around the seed coupled with their deer tick size meant they were stuck in your teeth for a good 20 minutes. Food 1 pairings 0.

Second course: Scallop 'choucroute' of fennel and apple with yuzu miso glaze. The scallop was cooked perfectly and the yuzu miso the perfect compliment. I did have a bit of sea grit on the scallop, but my favorite Bartendrix mentioned it might be some mystery seasoning, so Shola gets a mulligan for that one. Katie is much more familiar with his food than I. The La Cala Vermentino with it was pleasant and crisp, terrific with the apple and fennel. A healthy pour for a tasting menu. Food 2 pairings 1.

Third course: Skate wing torchon, nicoise flavors. Interesting and unusual, yet I don't need cornichon puree in my life. Red pepper vanilla gelee was quite inventive. Fried capers always please. And nasturtium leaves were a nice touch. Points for preparing skate in an unusual way and shape, but not one for the scoreboard. The viognier was wonderful with the gelee. Food 2 pairings 2.

Fourth course: kobe beef culotte, oxtail gyoza, parsnips and chanterelles. Wow. Yum. Not much to say. I'm glad philadining confirmed this was prepared sous vide, as I was hoping to encounter some on this night. It is a signature technique of Shola's. I was a bit confused by the wording, "culotte" as in split skirt. The cut of beef wasn't a skirt steak. Maybe a short cut? I'm all for creative wording but this one was lost on me. Oxtail is the new short rib. Bargain cut gaining notoriety with chefs. With good reason. Part of eating out is having something you wouldn't make at home. Who braises something for many hours anymore (besides me)? Spoiled me wanted to gild the lily and beg for white truffle on this dish. Great Valley Zinfandel was a great pairing. Stood up to the kobe without overpowering. Food 3 pairings 3.

Fifth course: epoisses with fennel mostarda, shitake soil and pumpernickel crisp. One of the best of the evening, requiring minimal preparation. The cheese was perfectly room temperature and perfectly ripe. It's pungency paired with shitake earthiness had me moaning for quite a bit. The Coteaux du Layon had just the right amount of sweetness to balance the funk. I hope Katie or David McDuff can shed some light on the varietal and other info of the tasty beverage. Food 4 pairings 4.

Sixth course: apple in forms, black sesame struesel, white chocolate. More moaning. Lovely. Crisp. Fresh. Cool. I could go on and on. The green apple granita was more similar in texture to a sorbet, but that's nitpicking. The white chocolate sabayon was velvety on the tongue. Black sesame for a touch of savoriness and compressed apple with chartreuse was a fun addition. I hear Quentin Tarantino in Death Proof, "Chartreuse, the liquor so good they named a color after it." This was the only dish I saw Shola eating himself in the dining room. The pairing however, did not fare so well. Acrid. Deplorable. Yuck. Warm sake with lemongrass and some other flavor I forgot while trying to suppress the memory of this. Suggested fix: chilled sake with elderflower. Food 5 pairings 4.

Seventh course: caju lime marshmallow and fried chocolate. Where was my graham cracker? Wonderful creation. I should have assumed there'd be a geyser of chocolate when I bit into it, but after a long day I wasn't paying attention and my shirt got a big taste! Caju lime marshmallow with a spicy peanut butter would make a killer nouveau fluffer nutter.

My first Shola dinner. My first time out with my dining crowd in a long time. First time meeting many eGullet regulars. A terrific night. Special thanks to I Call the Duck for coordinating a reservation for 11 in a small space.


Birth Day Week Month

I like my birthday. A lot. My husband says that will end next year when I meet the numbers "3"&"0" but for now I get to plan plan plan some tasty happenings. The festivities begin tomorrow night when I'll attend a guest chef dinner at Snack Bar featuring Shola of Studiokitchen. I've admired Shola's food for a long time. While I've discussed products and food with him, this will be the first time I've eaten his food and I've been anticipating this since I made the reservation a month ago. This is a birthday present to myself. Since I've used the gourmet meal budget on the Shola dinner, for Saturday night, the actual day I arrived on this Earth I'll keep it simple. It's a toss up between eating some cheese steaks at Jim's on South Street, a place Paul and I went often long ago, or trying the sandwich at Vesuvio's, the cheese steak BLT (I will hold the T) recently named best sandwich in the country by the Today show. Afterwards we'll listen to some jazz at Chris's Jazz Cafe and maybe we'll hop over for some gelato at Capogiro afterwards. Listening to live music at a small club and sharing a nibble or a cocktail is what you evolve to when you outgrow your club phase. There really is nothing like live music.

Some past birthdays:

When I turned 21 we went to brunch at Aquagrill when I lived in NY. I had a crab and asparagus omelet and saw Danny DeVito and Rhea Pearlman at the table next to us. I giggled that his feet didn't touch the floor when he sat. After I got us lost on the subway after a few mimosas, we ended up seeing the butterfly exhibit at the Museum of Natural History. It was a great day. That same birthday I discovered ganache, chocolately love. The pastry chef at Picholine, Deborah Racicot, made a two tier chocolate cake with candied oranges and ganache.

My Sweet 16 was very small scale. While most other girls at school had elaborate parties at a catering hall I had a 7 ft hero sandwich in my living room. I tried not have a party at all, but Mom wouldn't let me, she was very excited. She saved up every penny she had for that party. She even made the requisite for Brooklyn chocolate lollipop favors in a mold that had a heart with a big 16 in the middle. I bought the cake. I paid $1 per strawberry to have them dipped in chocolate and placed all around the outside. When I picked the cake up, the bakery forgot to dip the strawberries. To fix it they dipped the berries that already had apricot glaze on them in chocolate. Because of this the chocolate never hardened and I was angry. I still have ill feelings toward Savarese Bakery in Brooklyn on New Utrecht Avenue. One of the presents I received at that party was a tray of chocolate covered strawberries so I guess I made it well known how much I loved them.

I'm not sure how I want to welcome 30 next year. The most decadent meal of my life? Brunch at Lacroix? Maybe I'll head out to brunch in NYC to see if Danny DeVito has gotten any taller.


Peasant Food - Chilaquiles

A few weeks ago I was being bombarded by Bayless. Late one night battling insomnia I caught an old episode of "In the Kitchen with Julia" where Julia Child bought in other well respected chefs to make their signature dishes. Rick Bayless, credited with bringing real Mexican food to mainstream America made black beans, and black bean chilaquiles (chee-la-keel-ees. The next day I clicked on the interesting show "A Chef's Story" where the founder of the French Culinary Institute interviews chefs to discover how they got into the biz, and what drives them to continue their work. Bayless again. He spoke of how he travels to Mexico every year with staff members of his successful restaurants in Chicago to inspire everyone and remind them what their food is about.

That same day I was in possession of lots of leftover cooked chicken that needed using. It was too hot outside to make soup, and too hot for the chicken and dumplings I've been planning for months, ditto chicken pot pie - one of my favorite leftover iterations. A search for cooked chicken on Epicurious for inspiration yielded chilaquiles. I decided fate was telling me to make it. My stomach told me to make it with ingredients I knew I liked.

Rick Bayless took some of his cooked black beans pureed them, and poured them over just fried corn tortillas and baked it in the oven. I'm sure this was wonderful, but I wasn't about to begin cooking black beans from scratch, nor was I going to fry tortillas. Epicurious directed using store bought chips and green jarred salsa. I am picky about green salsa and don't often like it. I picked up a jar of roasted guajillo chile salsa with some chipotle in it, added a can of black beans and used my favorite store bought tortilla chips, Tostito's Restaurant Gold Chips. These are as close to the real thing you're going to come across in a supermarket. I sauteed some onion and a jalapeno in a soup pot. I added the salsa and chicken stock, boiled, reduced to a simmer and added the chicken and black beans. When they were heated through I added the whole bag of coarsely crushed chips. Let it heat through and soften the chips. I spooned it into bowls with shredded jack and a dollop of sour cream, the consistency of very thick stew. Thoroughly well received. Note I didn't add salt anywhere, the chips and chicken stock had plenty. Add more hot sauce if you like. Super great. Thinking back, I saw Rachel Ray (make a dish that had no EVOO!) make what she called green chicken chili, that was similar to the Epicurious original recipe.

Rick Bayless explained this is often a dish made to use up stale tortillas or when money was tight. Wikipedia says it's common for hangovers and for breakfast with an egg on top. True peasant food. Yumm. As water fills the basement on this very rainy day, I might finally get to making the chicken and dumplings.


Got Sushi?

Tonight we enjoyed a night on the town to celebrate my first check from my great new job. What better way to celebrate than to spend some of it? It's been awhile since we had a nice date night aside from our anniversary. Time to enjoy some of the best sushi in the 5 county area at Bluefin. The sushi chefs wear sleek black shirts with a mod fish with the phrase "Got Sushi?" below. I always forget it's BYO and forget to bring my favorite sake. Here's a brief recount of dinner complete with bad pictures from my Blackberry.

Wasabi shu mai. Well seasoned pork with wasabi rice dough. The wasabi is almost too much to handle, but these are exciting. 4 to a serving, I remembered the picture when there was one left.

Sushi sampler. Note the minimal amount of rice around the spicy tuna roll. The fish is the star and the rice is only a supporting role. The eel is plump and warm, more akin to a small mackerel than wimpy eel found in other places. I had 3 assorted rolls whose pictures couldn't be saved. Fresh king crab with asparagus and seaweed, and more eel atop spicy hamachi.

Hamachi Kame. Yellowfin tuna CHEEKS. These were truly the highlight of the evening. The crisped outside with rich flesh due to the presence of some bone similar in flavor to salmon but more cucumber-y. The skin was flaky and tender. I could have eaten only this and been happy.

Everyone gets some melon, a piece of tempura banana drizzled with honey, and an orange at the end of the meal. The tempura banana is divine. Why do Asian restaurants have the sweetest, juiciest oranges?

With the return of DINK status I hope to dine out more often and report back here. Do not miss Bluefin. Make a reservation or wait a long time for a table! 1017 Germantown Pike -Plymouth Meeting, PA 19462 Phone: (610) 277-3917.


Chiles Rellenos - Stuffed Peppers - A Mini Pictoral

I'm becoming a bigger fan of football. Not only because my husband has encyclopedic knowledge of every aspect of the game and history of the players, and not only because we have a better TV than most bars on the east coast (thanks to my in-laws!) but because it gives me a bar food audience. With loads of space and a service span of 3 hours of gametime, I can rock. Since I am an Eagles fan by marriage, last week I must say the food was better than the football. My stuffed peppers evolve beyond ground beef, rice and tomato. The way I learned from my Mexican brigade is the roast, stuff, and fry method. I was hoping for Poblano peppers but none were available so I opted for large jalapenos and made a twist on the commercial popper.

Hooray for gas powered cooking! This allows me to roast peppers on the burner. It's my preferred method because it removes the skin without cooking the flesh to mush, a hazard when roasting in the oven. Alternately it can be done under a broiler. After roasting all over, place in an airtight container so they continue to steam a bit. This will make the skin peel right off.

After steaming and cooling they are ready for peeling. I refrain from using water to assist getting the skins off, you wash away some flavor and as these are going to be fried it's best to keep them as dry as possible. After peeling I made an "L" shaped incision on the side, allowing me to remove some of seeds and stem root inside to make room for the filling. I made a rice mixture with chorizo and onion, and put a thick strip of mozzarella in each one so they'd be gooey.

Best beer batter recipe: 1 part dark beer to 1 part seasoned AP flour. Mix, and chill. Batter must be fried very cold to get crunchy, tempura like results. Slightly advanced fry technique - after dipping in the batter, dip 1/2 into hot oil and hold it there. Carefully. Once the batter puffs (about 5 seconds) it's OK to release. If you drop it in without holding, it will sink to the bottom and stick. If it sticks when you release it from the bottom it will most likely tear spilling out the contents. This is something I knew when I cooked professionally on a regular basis and quickly recalled after messing up my first one. Oops! Served over leftover filling minus mozz.

Jalapenos vary wildly in heat factor. Some are as mild as green bell peppers. These were as if they had an affair with a habanero on the vine. Roasting with seeds in also intensifies the heat. Despite having removed most of the seeds while stuffing, eating only 2 left me in a lot of pain. Not as much pain as Paul was in watching his Birds get stuffed and fried themselves.


The Man Who Knows How to Cook Everything

Note: Most of the links in this post are to The New York Times which requires you to log in.
He's A.K.A. The Minimalist with good reason. Mark Bittman is the no fuss master presenting recipes that cooks with minimal skill level can make easily. His "No Knead Bread" technique from Sullivan St. Bakery sparked an Internet buzz still ongoing. Is it really possible to have awesome bread without giving your biceps a workout? Yes. He proved with Mario Batali that risotto doesn't need the ground and pound of a Jiu Jitsu master to be creamy and elegant. Mark Bittman takes the drama out of cooking and infuses it with honest, straightforward flavors. He guides with technique that can be applied all over my kitchen.

Last week we had 3 nights of Bittman food. I used his method for grilling chicken wings and applied it to some thighs which are my favorite. Previously I had parboiled chicken parts before grilling, like I do for ribs. This left them well seasoned but Bittman's chicken cooked over indirect heat and then crisped over a higher flame was, well, more chicken-y. If you put raw chicken over high flame the outside burns and the inside remains raw. His video for twice cooked Chinese pork left me drooling. I braised the pork while the chicken was grilling and served it the next day. I served it along side a stir fry of rice noodles and bok choy with black bean sauce. Exciting. Night #3, a few days later I sliced the remainder of the pork and served it atop homemade fried rice, a new staple for me. I'll use the pork braising liquid in a dish of Lion's Head Meatballs next week. More on that later.

Check out Bittman every Wednesday in The Times, and be sure to catch his video that usually accompanies his article.


A Renaissance

About 6 months ago I gave up gourmet cooking at home. It wasn't because I wanted to. I was defeated by my tiny apartment kitchen and taking on the project of our house that consumed so much time. Well, Gourmet-me is back and I couldn't be happier.

I present whole wheat butter nut squash ravioli with beef demi glace, walnut pesto, gorgonzola and brussel sprout leaves. This would be a menu item at my non existent northern Italian Trattoria.

Surprisingly, it would fall under the "semi homemade" guise. The ravioli were courtesy of Severino Pasta of NJ (the best fresh pasta company in the Northeast, even beating out the Brooklyn institutions of pasta I was raised on) and demi glace from Williams Sonoma. I made the walnut pesto - toasted walnuts chopped the food processor with loads of parmiggiano reggiano, olive oil and black pepper. I've also used this pesto on steamed broccoli. I blanched the brussel spout leaves in the pasta water, they added great texture and a fresh flavor to the whole dish.

Notice the ravioli weren't tossed with the demi glace. It would look terrible and demi is strong, so I spooned it over once the ravioli were in the bowl. Same with walnut pesto. Given the hearty flavors of the dish I poured a 2004 Louis M. Martini Cabernet from the Sonoma Valley. This is my favorite wine served at Ruth's Chris and I finally added it to my home wine rotation. Terrific together.

Another note about Severino Pasta. A few years ago I made my favorite birthday dinner ever using their butternut squash tortelloni. I made a sauce this time of Italian Panna (very heavy cream) Gorgonzola melted into the cream, and balsamic vinegar drizzled over at the last moment. I wonder about the owner, if you make wonderful pasta all day long, can you stand to eat it for dinner?

I look forward to getting back in the swing of sharing my degustations with you!


Perfect Summer Send Off

I've been celebrating the end of summer with great sales on seafood at the store. Last weekend we hosted our first dinner guests, my Father in law and one of four brothers in law. Not wanting to make Italian food knowing that's what they'd expect, I tried out a new crab cake recipe from Cook's Illustrated. It was a success! Served with pan roasted carrots, creamy basil sauce and a green salad with balsamic roasted mushrooms and onions.

A few days ago I settled on an entire eat-with-your-hands menu of jumbo wild gulf shrimp (poached in old bay broth and served in shell), king crab legs (poached in broth after shrimp were removed) with homemade cocktail sauce and corn on the cob. Served with Victory Brewing Co's Prima Pils, it was a match made in heaven. Shrimp cooking is a very delicate thing. While boiling for 3 minutes yields edible results, a slow poach brings about tender, wonderful results.

To begin, make a court bouillon (quick stock) by sauteing onions, garlic, carrots and celery in some olive oil. Don't dice them nicely, just rough chop. Add a bay leaf, black peppercorns, a cut lemon and some herb stems like parsley. Depending on mood I might add crushed red pepper, coriander, ginger, lemongrass or kefir lime. Add a flavor conductor, like white wine, beer, or store bought broth. Allow the alcohol to cook off, and top off with any additional liquid you may need, usually water will be fine. Bring to a simmer. After the flavors have had a few minutes to marry, turn the heat off. Add shrimp. Cover. Poach about 5 minutes for very large shrimp. Remove and lay on a pan in a single layer so they don't continue cooking too much. Chill and peel for shrimp cocktail or serve immediately for a feast. A casual dish like this really impresses guests and is almost no work. Save this valuable cooking liquid for making paella, bouillabase, or some Italian fra diavolo.

Give the utensils a rest and celebrate the bounty of the sea!

The Rain Delay is Over

I can't believe it's been more than 3 weeks since my last post. My sincerest apologies to my swarms of readers. What have I been up to you ask? My captive husband was best man at his brother's wedding in Minneapolis. With that union one of my favorite men married one of my favorite friends. A match made in heaven, a real star couple. Look for a full report on the state of the food in Minneapolis here soon.

We've also been moving. Into our first house. Check out my other rarely updated blog to see some photos of that project. I made my first meal there the other night. What a treat. I feel like an abused child that has been chained to a radiator (and Justin Timberlake wasn't my man like in Black Snake Moan) who has just been let free. The kitchen in our apartment of many years used to be a closet. Need I say more? It's 8 feet long and 3 feet wide. The refrigerator resides in the living room it's so small. Tiny, old electric stove. No room for flipping flapjacks or pizza dough. The trade off was worth it - endure that kitchen to live with my man. Food is my career, that's how much my man means to me. Now... I get the great husband in a kick ass kitchen. A gas stove with high power burners and slow simmer options. A warming drawer. 3 racks in the oven instead of one and now my half sheet pans will fit in them for baking. A dishwasher. A huge sink and oodles of counter space. All in sparkly stainless steel. Wow golly gosh I wanted to cry. When I was plating salads I was flustered for a moment because I was about to plate one and deliver it and repeat which is what I had to do before when serving guests. Now I put all the plates on the counter at once! Imagine the possibilities!

My first meal was quick because we were moving boxes and furniture. I bought some good quality ravioli, ditto vodka sauce, crab meat and some basil pesto. I simmered the sauce, added the crab and some pasta water - plated and drizzled some pesto over. Terrific! Not gourmet but classy. Tonight we drank dark and stormys on the sun porch relaxing after a long day. Bourbon with spicy ginger beer - yumm. Living in a normal size house, yeah - I'll take it.


Just Gimme the Meat and only the meat

It was a lesson learned with pork last year. Read all the labels on meat, all the time. I brought home some tenderloins and they wouldn't sear. Liquid seeped out. The meat stayed moist, but not as tasty as browning would have lent. Looked at the package "this product contains up to 15% solution". Blah. The solution is for moisture retention. Forget proper cooking which would yield moist results. A few weeks ago my local grocery store, I almost purchased their store brand chicken breasts as they were only $3.49/LB. A quick glance at the label told me - more solution. I'd rather pay $5.99 for chicken in it's natural form than less for chicken and solution.

I discovered the same with turkey while researching carb count. Why would turkey be high in carbs? It is a Superfood, after all. The cutlets were dipped in a solution containing sugar to retain moisture. Now I buy only turkey "London broil" cut. A boneless, skinless section of breast meat. Great for pan roasts. I made the mistake this week and purchased Shady Brook Farm ground turkey for turkey tacos. The solution had been added, despite not mentioning it on the label, and browning took an awful long time. The pan wasn't overcrowded, this was seepage of goop from the meat.

The search for real meat continues.


Berry in Blue

This morning's thought progression regarding breakfast:

"I feel like eating grits.

I have a load of fresh blueberries in the fridge.

Would blueberry grits be good?

I don't think so, but blueberry corn muffins would be!"

And so, my blueberry corn muffins were born. I based my ingredients on this recipe from Epicurious, doubling the recipe and reducing the sugar, and substituting some sour cream for milk to retain moisture and because I like sour cream. The only thing better on these than sweet butter is a drizzle of maple syrup.


My Favorite Deli (in PA)

Michael's Deli in King of Prussia, PA. Part diner, part beer garden, part Jewish Deli. To the left is "Michael's Platter". I regret I didn't have the captive husband rotate the plate to show the mounds of meat in the front, but it's piled with pastrami, corned beef, cooked salami, cheese, coleslaw AND potato salad, and sandwich toppings. It's served with a mound of whatever bread you like to build your own sandwiches. And it's only $10.

It's the only place within a 15 mile radius that I can get hand sliced lox to order when the craving strikes. They serve breakfast all day, and have over 100 types of bottle beer for sale. Great pickles, authentic knish, and tomato pie by the slice. Don't forget Jewish Apple cake. When my mother in law is on baking strike, I eat theirs.

I don't regret to report that the waiter slash magician I wrote about here is no longer employed there.

Favorite Delis (not in PA)
  • Brooklyn (Jewish) Empress Deli (gasp) no real website. Crunchy beef hot dogs and crispy Coney Island Knishes. Triple decker sandwiches and chocolate egg creams.
  • Brooklyn (Italian) Star Cheese Salumeria - 20th Ave. Googling shows it may have closed. I didn't appreciate hand made mozzarella and the best mortadella when I was 6 years old. An Asian family bought it and kept it Italian, making mozzarella everyday and even wearing the old Italian lady housecoats as uniforms. This is where my semolina knot roll came from for my elementary school sandwiches.
  • Washington D.C. (Arlington, Italian) The Italian Store This place reminds me of Brooklyn, and South Philly. They also have a nice selction of wines. Waiting for made to order sanwiches and pizza is controlled chaos, and worth the wait.


Get Fuzzy by Darby Conley

My favorite comic strip, with food as it's subject. Joy!

Harry Potter and the Treacle Tart

I must interrupt our regular programming to bring you the latest on the Boy Who Lived. I resisted the urge to yap about the iPhone, but this can't wait. The New York Times has already reviewed the book that's supposed to be under wraps. It reveals that no less than 6 characters die. But whom? Below, my predictions.

The Harry Potter Death Pool

Severus Snape - Harry may ache to do this himself.
Lucius Malfoy - I hope.
Arthur Weasley - Some of the good people have to die too. If it might not be the main characters themselves, strike for loved ones.
Neville Longbottom

Should Voldemort count if I believe he will be reduced again to whatever he was before he came back the first time?

We now return to your scheduled program already in progress.

Edit: After Googling Lucius for spelling purposes, I read the Wikipedia entry on him which was updated this morning.

"Malfoy himself, still imprisoned, is not harmed; his family, however, are less fortunate. Voldemort recruits Malfoy's son Draco with orders to murder Dumbledore, threatening to kill the boy and his mother, Narcissa, if he does not.

Does this reminder mean Voldemort kept his word and Draco and Mommy are gone?


Dinner Tonight

Grilled pork chops with garlic cilantro sauce and warm black bean salad.

I am a magazine junkie. I subscribe to no less than 4 food publications. Well, 3. One was a gift from my future sister in law, although it was a subscription extension. Bon Appetit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Saveur. There are also newsletters and quarterly journals from Slow Food, and my complimentary professional subscription to Food Arts (best covers ever). Possibly because I taste each recipe in my head, reading just one can take more than an hour. I am not disciplined enough to read them on a regular basis, so they build up in the mail pile that I move from the coffee table, to the desk, to the floor, under the futon and back. Nor can I part with them. Someday I may need it. You never know. So this morning while actually organizing the tower into spiffy red magazine holders from IKEA, one of them fell down and landed on a page with Cuban pork chops with cilantro vinaigrette. Eureka! Quick, flavorful, and would go nicely with the Friday margarita I was planning for the captive husband.

I recalled Daisy Martinez's method for mojo (I think) where she put raw garlic and onion in a blender with some vinegar. She heated oil and added it to the blender. This both enhances and tames the garlic kick. A quick Google revealed she doesn't publish many of her recipes online in an attempt to get you to buy her book. How I forget no everyone has money rolling in everytime someone says, "Bam!" on any continent like Emeril. So, I improvised. I only wanted enough sauce for this meal so I chopped 4 big cloves of garlic and put them in my mortar. I smashed with a little salt and heated some canola oil until quite hot but not smoking. When I added the hot oil to the mortar the smell was divine. The texture was similar to babaghanouj. Yes, I'm assuming you know what babghanouj is. Google it. I took a shortcut with the cilantro. I found the flavor tubes of herbs in the produce section and promptly returned the very sandy bunch of fresh cilantro. Plus, for the amount I use, I'd end up throwing the rest of that bunch away in a week. Squeezed some into the mortar, added a splash of vinegar and some more salt - complete! Exceptional! Potent, but manageable as long as both members of the couple are eating garlic, they cancel each other out.

After seasoning some pork loin chops I let them hang out in the grill pan while I cut the kernels from an ear of corn and put them to saute. Added some diced red onion and drained and rinsed canned black beans. After seasoning, the juice of a lime bought it all to life. I could have added some diced avocado but the captive husband isn't a fan. I eat avocados in secret. In the plating, I wish I'd put the sauce in a little puddle between the chops. Since it's thick it ended up looking like cat vomit in the photo. Sorry!

Overall, it was ready in a half hour and accompanied the margaritas nicely.


What is under that kilt?

Luckily the label isn't representative of the quality of the beer. I picked this up on Thursday to go with "Corned beef specials" I made using the leftover coleslaw that went with the ribs. Terrific! Scotch Ale is roasty and deep unlike it's pale couterpart. A great compliment to the pumpernickel rye swirl bread used for the sandwiches. From Syracuse, NY Middle Ages Brewing Co has an impressive lineup, with witty names. Wailing Wench, ImPaled Ale. I'd be interested in trying their other Scotch Ales, there are 2, in comparison to the kilt tilter. Maybe it's named as such for the high alcohol content, 9%, which is up there for beer.


Sippin' the Night Away

What better way to celebrate our independence from the British and our dependence on illegal immigrant labor than with a margarita? The sky is cloudy and damp so I've made a big pitcher and got out the ice crusher for a night of fun. Baby back ribs are roasting in the oven and the cole slaw is curing while I rim glasses with a 50/50 mix of kosher salt and sugar.

My favorite margarita recipe. I made use of my spiffy Rosle muddler to mash a lime with sugar before I added the rest of the fresh lime juice. The captive husband has been craving these for awhile. A few weeks ago we gathered the required bushel of limes and then discovered we couldn't find our Triple Sec. A week passed, limes soured (imagine that) and still no Triple Sec. Then I finally bought a bottle and we were out of limes. Today all the forces came together!


Success! Pollo al Mattone

I finally got around to making chicken under a brick, a dish described in one of my first posts. It was as good as I hoped it would be. I did hit some snags along the way. I used a regular Perdue fryer chicken but it happened to be larger than the average chicken. It wasn't a roaster, but larger than it should've been, taking longer to cook. I put one brick over the breast, one brick over the legs/thighs. After being in the oven about 10 minutes I removed the brick from the dark meat to give it a head start cooking, and 25 minutes later removed the brick from the breast. The key is to turn the chicken over before it starts releasing tasty pan juices which will soften the skin. I did encounter a bit of this. I roasted fennel with olive oil in the oven on high heat while I butchered the breastbones out of the chicken. While the chicken was resting before carving I put the fennel back in the oven to warm while I made buerre rouge, a French red wine pan sauce with oodles of butter.

To make buerre rouge, I softened 2 sliced shallots in the large saute pan I used to roast the chicken - allowing some chicken fat to act as a flavor amp. When soft, I added 1 cup of a red wine I wasn't fond of drinking which happened to be the most recent beaujolais nouveau. Why do I get on the bandwagon every year when this is released? I liked it once long ago when it tasted like Snapple fruit punch and buy it every year since despite it being horrid. Back to sauce making... I bring to a boil while scraping the tasty roasty bits off the bottom (called deglazing) and add a bay leaf and a sprig of thyme. I dice 1/2 stick cold butter. When the wine is almost entirely reduced, I take the pan off the heat, remove herbs and swirl in the cold butter, making an emulsion. If you do this on the heat the butter will simply melt and you won't have a sauce with the mouthfeel of silk. A sprinkle of black pepper (there's a good amount of salt already in the pan from the chicken) and a minute on a low flame to heat up. Plate the chicken and drizzle sauce. The photo above is sans sauce so I could sauce and serve immediately. The poor captive husband is often left waiting and salivating while I delay dinner for poor photography to present here.

Chicken under a brick - make it this week! Some nice accompaniments could also be: sauteed brussels sprouts with walnuts, gnocchi with brown butter (forgo red wine sauce), grilled asparagus, or smashed yukon gold potatoes with goat cheese and olive oil.

What am I?

It's blurry, I know. I was too excited to eat and not taking the proper care with my ancient camera. So, a puzzle for Lavender Sky readers. What is this divine foodstuff?
Hint: It is a traditional southern accompanitment to BBQ that has been breaded and deep fried upon it's entry into heaven. It's gooey and wonderful.


Love Is... Sharing Your Cheese

Thanks for your patience as I reformat the blog... always want to keep it fresh and inviting.

Yesterday was starting off as an average Saturday morning. I was way hungover from drinks at a local dive that proved very entertaining. The sun was glaring at me as if it were God's flashlight on high beams. Then brunch at our favorite diner left me falling in love with my husband all over again.

I ordered an Angus cheeseburger with 2 eggs over easy on top. A new brunch special. I assumed I was getting a burger on a bun with fixins, like a normal cheeseburger only with the addition of eggs. I received a burger patty with eggs on top, home fries and toast - so it looked like the standard breakfast platter with a burger standing in for sausage or the like - and NO cheese. I wasn't angry, I love this diner and my life can go on without cheese. Then, without any hesitation my husband took half the cheese off his Big Joe's Country Scramble (description to come) and put it on top of my eggs. I was so moved I almost cried into my coffee. It was one of those moments where anything you were thinking of or were distracted by leaves your being and you focus only on this event. This wasn't about men always prepared to give up half their stuff. This was my man wanting to give me anything I desire. Yummy. What a loving gesture. I propped the burger and eggs and cheese onto the toast and proceeded to devour it.

Big Joe's Country Scramble is serious breakfast. One biscuit, split open. Topped with scrambled egg, topped with sausage gravy, topped with cheese. Home fries on the side. Divine. Libby makes a respectable sausage gravy in a can on the aisle with salted brown rain water they call gravy in a jar.

Two breakfast posts in a row, I know. More on other food in the day shortly.


Egg sistential

I love poached eggs. My dismay at a restaurant for serving coddled eggs advertised as poached is on record. A tender white and hot oozy yolk - yumm. I had simultaneous cravings for poached eggs, salmon and hollandaise sauce - time to make salmon eggs Benedict, sans English muffin for lower carb count.

Armed with Scottish smoked salmon from Trader Joe's and leftover wild Copper River salmon from dinner last night, I began the hollandaise. Clarified a stick of butter in the microwave, whisked 2 yolks with lemon juice & zest, salt and a tablespoon of water over a double boiler. Drizzled in the butter while whisking and 3 minutes later it's ready! I poached the eggs in the water under the bowl, about 4 minutes for the perfect egg. I laid a bed of smoked salmon, arranged the egg on top, doused in hollandaise and leftover salmon. A wonderful way to start the weekend!


Dining in the Sky

My Mother, June Diane Alois, died June 19, 2006.

As this sad anniversary approaches, I reminisce about her food and how it influenced my life. There are two main points on the subject; I began cooking when she worked full time and went to college at night and I wanted her to come home to a hot meal. The second is that I was interested in cooking because her repertioire left me thinking food could be better. Despite this, her food and her love gave me a career.

She was great at making My-T-Fine chocolate pudding. Whether in a graham cracker shell for a pie or just in a ceramic bowl, pudding was serious business. When I was cranky (often) she made me pudding in a cloud - a cool whip lined bowl with pudding in the center.

She was a master at making chicken cutlet parm with pasta in only half an hour. Put water on to boil - fry cutlets - assemble parm - drop pasta into water - put chicken in oven - serve. The original 30 minute maven.

She made me breakfast everyday before school whether I wanted it or not. It was never too complicated, usually an english muffin or a Lender's bagel, and I never appreciated it at the time. When I was very little she used to make me scrambled eggs and when I tired of eating them I shoved them in the couch. No kidding. Gross, I know.

She made great coffee despite never drinking it. She made it every morning for Mary and I before going off to Seth Low junior high and on weekends.

In elementary school when I came home for lunch everyday, she would go to the Italian grocery to get a fresh semolina knot roll for my sandwich, usually bologna and american cheese. I ate this same bologna and cheese with a granola bar and capri sun juice pouch through junior high.

On the first day I met the Captive Husband, it happened to be Sunday so she made her meatballs and gravy. That night we shared the first of many wonderful meals together and it began with her cooking.

She cooked beef until it resembled the gray of cement. When we lived in Arizona far away from any Italian food she attempted to make pizza with only the Kraft green cylinder can cheese. I never had pizza before and thought I never wanted it again.

She loved zucchini bread and spinach pie. She bought one or the other to all events that required her to contribute food.

I loved listening to her tell stories of her grandmother, Grace Parente, cooking. Rice balls coated in corn flakes and homemade pasta laid on the bed to dry. On Sundays when she was a little girl she would walk to Coney Island with my uncle and great grandfather to get Italian bread. My uncle always ate the end on the way home.

She gave me my KitchenAid stand mixer as an early Christmas present so that I could make oodles of Christmas cookies. The food processor was a gift when I began culinary school. She could barely put gas in her car but she gave me lots of appliances.

She was also the first to clean behind me in the kitchen. No small task, especially then. I am much better at cleaning as I go now. I'm still bad at it, so imagine what it was like in 1996.

I would give anything for a bologna sandwich right about now. I hope there's zucchini bread in heaven.


Brew Cause

Craft beer + Charity = A great Sunday. Last Sunday we ventured to Yards Brewing Co. in northeast Philadelphia for a Slow Food fundraiser. Slow Food is a worldwide non-profit group dedicated to keeping small farmers and producers viable and working hard to advance sustainable agriculture and recreating the kitchen and table as a place of community. It was founded by Carlo Petrini who was disgusted by the proliferation of McDonald's in Italy. The local chapter is very active and had a hand in saving Cape May Salt oysters from extinction. Local chapters are all over the nation. They hold many events each month that are fulfilling for the gullet and soul. Join today - memberships are tax deducible and a great way to network and socialize.
Yards Brewing Co. is the only craft beer currently bottled within the Philadelphia city limits. While the beers are special, they also give back to the community. They strive hard to lift Kensington, a seemingly dilapidated neighborhood. Long ago there were more than 50 breweries in the city limits.
The event featured whole roast pig, a passion here in Philadelphia. Joined by potato salad, greens, cornbread apple dressing, roasted veggies and unfortunately forgettable cole slaw. An apple raisin crisp topped things off with lots of flowing Yards beer.
The whole pig. I named it Wilbur although it was female.

Plate o' pork

Beer is born in these tanks

A lot of my favorite beer ingredient


Between the Buns

Today's blog is inspired by Frank Bruni and his Diner's Journal. Burgers. They are this season's grilled chicken caesar, must be on every menu. I get angry when a good restaurant doesn't offer a burger at least on their bar menu. Sullivan's, the smaller very upscale steakhouse chain does offer a great one on their bar menu. I have been lobbying Ruth's Chris to add one to no avail. We were successful in getting Victory beer in there.

But given my desire for their omnipresence, are they simply an adult version of chicken fingers? Picky eater can't be adventurous, have a burger. While I'd argue my consumption is more on a connoisseur basis - for many they are not.

Last night we dined at a family restaurant that offers burgers, ribs, chicken fingers and more sophisticated entrees like crab pasta and salmon Oscar. They even had combo platters to pair ribs and chicken fingers. Their chicken fingers were done nicely, with a crisp batter as opposed to bland breading - but they are still chicken fingers. The burgers there are also of good quality, any time you get to select a temperature (mid rare for me) is a good sign and when they back it up by cooking it to the specified temperature I'm even more impressed.

There are message boards devoted to the topic of burgers. What are the best toppings? Best way to cook them? I submit that the notion is similar to that of pizza. Many children will eat any pizza. Many adults seek out the artisanal, brick oven pizza while some are content with Domino's. Lets hope those unadventurous bland burger people stay in the bad chain places.

Notes on a Burger

Now to the nitty gritty. My "Burger Bible" of sorts complete with commandments.

While I applaud attempted innovations at using various meats, a burger should be beef exclusively. Ground turkey and tuna patties can turn into an enjoyable sandwich, but it's not a burger.

Alternate toppings are a nice touch as long as they don't overpower the intended flavor of the burger: nicely browned beef. Pineapple and teriyaki are nice sweet options - blue cheese and caramelized onions are my favorite. Lettuce and tomatoes should not be added when you have alternate toppings like these.

The size of the burger should be equal to the circumference of the bun, and about 1/2 inch thick. Trying to pack 3/4 LB of beef onto one bun is just uncalled for.

1. Thou shalt use well marbled high fat content beef.

2. Thou shalt season highly.

3. Thou shan't press the burger with the spatula at any point during cooking.

4. Flip only once.

5. Do not overcook! (an unforgivable curse - oops wrong religion!)

6. Let the burger rest before placing it on a bun to avoid SoggyBunBottom, a condition with many known side effects.

7. If applying cheese do so on the heat source. Cold cheese on a hot burger is just silly.


Egg in the Basket Pictoral

My previous post inspired this morning's breakfast: eggs in the basket. Below I offer a pictoral for your viewing pleasure.
The bread already griddled on one side. I melt butter in the center and twirl the bread around.
Once the second side is toasted, crack the eggs in the center. Cook slowly. Break the yolk if you like.
Gently turn over when the egg is set.

Ready to serve, sprinkled with coarse grey salt for crunch.

Of course there's more info on Wikipedia - these were made in Moonstruck too!


Food On Screen - An Occasional Column

Food on film always fascinates me. Is the dish a favorite of the writer/producer/director? Does it have other significance to the surroundings? Historical reference to the subject? The most recent episode of the Sopranos made me put this entry that I've been pondering for some time to the web. Lincoln Log Sandwiches? Carmella made hot dogs split open with cream cheese on bread. I do like hot dogs and cheese but the prospect of cream cheese seemed revolting. I have started a topic to query this creation on eGullet.

Some movies are notoriously gourmet. Big Night and the famous Timballo. Like Water for Chocolate. Chocolat. Eat Drink Man Woman. Some are more subtle. After watching V for Vendetta, the captive husband was memorizing his new favorite instance of alluring alliteration and I was rushing off to make 'eggies in a basket'. A piece of griddled buttered toast with a hole in the center with an egg cracked and fried in the bread. Quite memorable. Took a few tries to get right. Don't add the egg until very near the end of browning so the toast is perfectly crisp and you can then pick it up and eat it with your hands. I use a large biscuit cutter to make the hole. I must also include the famous Pretty Woman scene with escargot, "Happens all the time."

I plan this to be a recurring subject on Lavender Sky, what film food stands out for you?


Eating Live - Tossed Edition

Thanks to the connectivity of my new Dell XPS laptop I am now free to report on the goings on of my gullet regularly, and from anywhere.

Just getting to brunch at 3:30 PM. An artfully self prepared container from Genuardi's salad bar. 3 sections consisting of romaine, spinach and field greens topped with olives, hard boiled eggs and chick peas (ceci for our European friends). Some shaved "parmesan" an blue cheese dressing and I was happy. Section 2 - slices of broccoli and cheese stromboli. Yes, I had to give my salad a side dish. Section 3- cantaloupe, honeydew and strawberries dressed with poppy seed dressing. A sweet and light finish to a nice lunch.

I make it into the car, place the bag with salad on the front seat just a tad off kilter and WHAM! The top popped off the container and the salad exploded in the bag. Luckily since it was all in the bag I was able to salvage it. There's no consoling the taste buds once you've had strawberries mixed with green olives. Chickpeas and poppy seeds probably weren't meant to get married either. Could be worse, I could be riding with a salad grenade as my navigator.


Dining Delay

I haven't felt like talking about food too much lately. See my other blog to find out why. Interesting of note is the dynamic of food in one's life. It is usually the center of my attention. Elaborate masterpieces. When it isn't, I find new ways to deliver tasty and healthy to my dinner table.

Rotisserie Chicken Haiku
Always ready now
The perfect dinner for 2
Salad on the side

In an effort to avoid processed fast food, I turn to supermarket rotisserie chicken about once a week. Just a few dollars more than a raw chicken buys juicy, seasoned, crispy skinned chicken to carve and serve. This week I also grabbed a pack of fresh whole wheat asparagus ravioli that I boiled while I carved the chicken and tossed the ravioli with balsamic vinaigrette served atop mixed greens. Dinner served 12 minutes after I walk in the door. No exaggeration.

Today I take a day off from contractor management to make Toll House chocolate chip cookies to surprise the captive husband. They will follow my circa 1985 dinner of pork chops and apple sauce. Comfort food on demand.


Breakfast of Champions

Lemon Souffle pancakes from James Macnair's book Breakfast. Super crispy bacon and a goodly bit of butter. I make a small panacke for the top of the stack to eat before I douse in syrup.


Fast Whole Foods

I seem to be most creative at lunch. Yesterday, in an effort not to cook a quick pasta I opened a can of Italian olive oil packed tuna. I drained about half the oil out, and put on a platter. I opened a can of chick peas, rinsed them, and put a handful next to the tuna. I grabbed the jar of hot giardinera - Italian spicy pickled vegetables, and put some carrots cauliflower and red pepper strips next to the beans. A big hunk of feta cheese crumbled on the beans, some anchovies smashed with lemon juice olive oil and black pepper and drizzled over the tuna... a Mediterranean masterpiece in 4 minutes time. Mmm Mmm good.


Springtime Macheroni e Formaggi

I relished another tasty lunch today. Mac n cheese that had a layover in Rome. I bought some of the first asparagus stalks of the season, with no specific intention for them. I had some leftover annelini, small pasta rings that are great in soup. I cooked the pasta, throwing in the asparagus tips and a bit more salt when there was 1 minute left to cook. This technique is also handy for making pasta with broccoli or peas. After draining most of the water off, I returned it to the pan and added ricotta cheese along with some parmiggiano and black pepper. The ricotta married the bit of pasta water to become a subtle sauce. After plating, I shaved some pecorino on top and drizzled with white truffle oil. White truffles aren't a springtime delight. Fresh white truffles are in season in the fall/winter. But hey - allow me this slip. I was so thrilled that I took time to be grateful that I could make a meal like this in the middle of the day on a Tuesday.

I enjoyed it so much I managed to save a bit for Captive Husband in case he needed a snack when he got home from his long day at work. It just so happened he worked through lunch yet again and was delighted for the tasty respite.

I used up all my culinary prowess for the day on this meal, dinner was high quality Chinese takeout. I have a weakness for dumplings.


Clams with Chorizo Almejas con Chorizo

Our wonderfully exciting Friday night meal.

60 Miles for 50 Clams

Back to the intended topic of this blog, the yearnings of my gullet. Last Saturday I improvised a dish of pan roasted cod and little neck clams with chorizo and white wine. The roasted cod was passable. I envisioned buying the thick cod center loins I used in restaurant cooking but only small tail portions were available for retail. It flaked and got lost in the haunting melange of clams and chorizo. Since then, I've thought of the dish everyday - wanting more. I rarely want to eat the same thing over and over. When I first moved in with my now Captive Husband, I prided myself on not preparing the same meal twice in 3 months. Here it is less than a week later and I'm making the dish again, sans cod.

Last week I purchased the fish at Whole Foods. I knew they would have cod and that it would be perfectly fresh. The clams were good, and even better that the cashier didn't scan the bag right and they weren't on my receipt. I would have bought it up had I looked at the receipt before I got all the way home. But today, I had to go to THE place to get clams, Hatfield Seafood in Delaware. Not Delaware county PA, Delaware the state. 60 miles round trip from my home in the 'burbs. In doing so I saved some $$ because Whole Foods has the unseen 'Gourmet Tax' added into it's prices. At Hatfield Seafood the only ambiance is a huge lobster tank and a smell that will stay with the building forever. The offerings were expansive, crayfish, all kinds of shell fish, shad roe, shark, monk fish and bacon wrapped everything. All restaurant ready picture perfect. I also picked up 2 stuffed crabs, a nice appetizer before we dig into the clams.
First I saute some spicy cured Spanish chorizo in a good amount of olive oil so it permeates all ingredients. Then I add to the chorizo a large diced onion to sweat and a goodly amount of garlic. Clams love garlic so when you think you have enough, add a few more cloves. Add a fresh bay leaf and salt and pepper. Yes, clams are salty, but if the other ingredients aren't seasoned the clams will taste bland and not clammy. Half a bottle of dry white wine - I happened to have around some of West Point Military Academy's finest 2005 vintage from my Sister in law the alumnus. Bring to a simmer and let the alcohol cook off. Last week I used a splash of clam juice, which isn't highly regarded for it's flavor, but I wasn't sure if the clams would yield enough liquid to form a broth. They did so this week I'll leave it out. Add some parsley stems to flavor the broth as well. Add clams. Cover tightly. When they are wide open, portion into large bowls. Sprinkle chopped parsley (for flavor here not just eye appeal) and a squeeze of lime juice for freshness and to compliment the spicy chorizo. Sit back and wait for the moans of "yummy" to begin. I will do my best to capture a photo to follow up with you, but that means delaying my dinner which could be problematic.


PETA to "Have it Their Way"

My apologies for two political food posts in a row, but someone must be on the frontline. I admire fast food giants as the streamliners of labor and cost effective change in the workplace. Ray Kroc, founder of McDonald's invented fast food and franchising. The Holy Trinity of burger joints - McDonald's (not McDowell's) Burger King and Wendy's are also home to my least healthy guilty pleasure foods. My guilty progressive dinner consists of a BK double whopper with cheese no tomato, Mickey D's fries when they swam in beef fat and a Wendy's chocolate frosty.

Now Burger King says it will buy a whopping 2% of it's eggs from cage free chickens and source frolicing pork. Two percent of Burger King's eggs amounts to a whole bunch, and the pork is in the form of ham, bacon and sausage mostly for breakfast sandwiches. A good move to go after the same PC diner who ate at Spago last night. Yet, aren't those diners who are so concerned with humane treatment of animals also those who don't frequent these places? BK saught PETA's approval before making this announcement to ensure they all but got the PETA SEAL (ha ha) of approval. As tasty as BK is, it is McDonald's that sets the retail prices of eggs in this country. McDonald's purchases eggs as a commodity, and any unforseen costs in production end up on our supermarket shelves. Why does the McGriddle have to be so divine? Moves like this are certain to bring about change in the way chickens are raised.

I must comment on the difference of the terms "free range" and "cage free". By law, free range allows the chickens to be in cages as long as a door to the outside is open. There's a slight possibility the chicken may get to run. Most reputable companies do allow their chickens the kind of free range we romanticize about - running along a hill pecking at the sun. Cage free is gourmet free range. No cages allowed on premise, guaranteed free range. A food spin zone similar to the Bourbon term small batch. No restrictions to the actual size of the batch, 100 barrels or 1,000. Single batch is the new vogue.

Coming soon: single origin chocolate frosties and heirloom potato fries. Lola rosa lettuce to replace iceberg shreds, and organic onion rings. Artisanal paper wrappers and lattes made to order. I'd settle for a malt vinegar option for fries, little packets of vinegar instead of treacly kethcup.


Puck the Foie Gras

Wolfgang Puck will no longer serve foie gras. He's also revised his protein offerings based on how animals are treated before they make it to his table. While I don't agree with his move, I applaud taking a stance with a culinary empire as big as his. I'd rather see chefs make personal decisions as opposed to the government stepping in and telling me what I can and can't eat. This has been done in Chicago, California, and soon New York.

Puck and other high profile chefs have been under pressure for years to stop serving foie. I don't see his decision as bowing under pressure to these groups because they have been active for so long. I see it as a headline grabber to attract more customers for whom dinner is a political statement rather than a meal. He's popularized California Cuisine, and is now popularizing the earth friendly mentality born there. I wish the San Andreas fault would really show us what it's capable of!

This article in the Boston Globe quotes Puck as saying happy animals yield tasty food. Didn't I hear that in a cheese campaign? A baby cow that's been running around will not taste like veal but rather bland beef. The Japanese and their love for tuna have proved that seafood that has been put under stress does suffer in quality. If everyone flushed their prozac, would that help? You can have animals running around cage free in masses. If they're eating grass that has had acid rain fall on it, and breathe carbon monoxide, and will still receive lots of antibiotics - it doesn't matter if it had the pleasure of frolicing or not. It costs a lot more to have cousin Billy Bob chase down a chicken to sell than pluck one from to coop, and you can bet that cost will be added on to your dinner at Spago.

The Night of Many Feasts and a Magician

Many think long and hard about what to have for dinner. Last night our dilemma was which of many planned feasts to choose. I had planned a meal of pan roasted cod, clams and chorizo in a saffron broth. Captive husband was thoughtful enough to think I might not want to cook on a Friday night (often correct) and went out of his way on the journey home from work to secure some of the best BBQ in Philly from Tommy Gunn's. I would link to their website but it keeps crashing Internet Explorer. After securing the treasure, pal Steve calls to invite us to join him and his wife at their new favorite Asian spot, Wild Rice. We now had 3 meal options, all delightful. We chose to go to Wild Rice because we love to get together with Steve and Cyndie. Our choice wasn't even based on food!

Wild Rice has Chinese, Japanese, and Thai food. We started with an app of pork potstickers, wonderfully crisp on one side and steamed on the other. We then had a sushi deluxe plate and individual rolls eel and tempura shrimp. Steve and Cyndie had cooked items - Kung Pao tofu and a teriyaki dish. Wild Rice has a great cocktail menu so I ordered a Mango Long Island Iced Tea aka Bankok Tea and the guys had Thai Iced Tea. This might be the only place in King of Prussia to get the ubiquitous chewy bubble tea. Something I still haven't tried. The sushi was prepared well and service was attentive. When the meal was over we weren't done yapping so we went around the corner to Michael's, a terrific Jewish Deli with a few hundred beer options by the bottle. Cue the magician.

After choosing our brews, of which I opted for a Framboise Lambic, a perfect after dinner Belgian, we got a booth. Since we are there about twice a month we recognized our waiter as a new guy. No problem. He delivered chilled beer glasses and one had a large crack in the rim so I asked for another. It would be my luck to lose a lip on a chipped glass so I had to remedy the situation. We open our beers and I forgot small Lambics come with a cap and a cork so I had to ask for a corkscrew. I couldn't get any part of this visit to go smoothly. He was easy going and made light of the situation. We order dessert, Jewish apple cake with ice cream. The waiter didn't question what Jewish apple cake was, a baked item that this deli is known for, so we had no reason to think we would get anything else. Two slices of apple pie a la mode arrive. Thanks to Little Miss Sunshine we've all been schooled what a la mode means. We were tired of feeling like nuisances and having a good time anyway so we didn't send it back. We were looking forward to it because Steve and Cyndie never had Jewish apple cake. Instead we got Jewish apple pie. We did have to wait longer than normal for the check to arrive, but we were treated to a card trick on the way out by the new waiter. It was some funny comic relief but if I were his boss I wouldn't appreciate it. What an interesting night. The weekend is only beginning!


Food TV and How it Influences a Chef

Before culinary school, I learned my cooking techniques by watching PBS every Sunday afternoon. There was Yan Can Cook, The Ragin' Cajun who "gua-ron-teed" his food was tasty and New Jewish Cuisine. On the extra special days there was an episode of Lidia's Italian Table and it made me wish she was my own Grandmother. The Food Network existed, but wasn't offered on Brooklyn cablevision. This lineup enriched the meals I made for my hard working single Mother and ensured I wasn't clueless on day 1 of learning to cook professionally. At that time I was still in the stage of "make everything exactly as seen on TV".
Two years of culinary school left me qualified to make salads in Manhattan's premier restaurants. I ached to handle the "real food" and experience the adrenaline of the cooking line. In the time I was Queen of Salads I watched, worked hard, and learned even more from what was going on around me. How to adapt a menu item when the main ingredient isn't delivered. How to evolve menu offerings in tune with the season outside the door that I was too busy working hard to notice had changed. Listening for the sound of food that was cooked perfectly over the screaming of new orders entered by waiters. Learning how to prepare fine ingredients was worth making almost no money. After a long time and serving the sweat off my forehead that dripped into vinaigrette (common in every restaurant) I made it to the line. I was elated. I endured splashing grease, burning pan handles, and even accidentally tossed a completed hot plate at the sous chef's groin. Yes, this recipe led to quick burnout.
After being in the food business without cooking in a restaurant everyday, my outlook on food has changed. Now, food is just that. Breakfast/lunch/dinner - not a dish that evokes the second coming of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, a restaurant critic in disguise. No reason to have an anxiety attack over chicken breasts.
Everyone who knows me knows I am a harsh critic of television chefs of today. Now I get the Food Network and it's often on as background noise. With my training I am free to expand upon their dishes and make them great. Most food presented is dumbed down for the (below) average home cook. It is a learning experience to see what's important to the main meal makers of today. It seems no one wants to make a meal that takes longer than 30 minutes. Sandra Lee has a whole book about 20 minute meals and Robin Miller even has a 10 minute meal section. According to Chefography, Sandra Lee has sold more than 1 million cookbooks. No longer having to adhere to a printed menu, I ponder what to make for dinner. Robin Miller provided the flavor profiles and a difficulty rating easy recipe. I made it professional and tasty. Her recipe for a Thai chicken dinner salad featured a vinaigrette of peanut butter, fish sauce, a lot of sesame oil, chicken stock and lime juice. Not bad but it looked like thinned out peanut butter. What's interesting about that on a pile of lettuce? The vinaigrette I created after watching that episode included ginger, garlic, rice wine vinegar, sriracha chili sauce, natural peanut butter, lime juice, sesame oil and canola oil. I tried to adhere to the Asian credo of the 'hot-sour-salty-sweet' aspect of a successful dish. Poured over marinated stir fried beef, sugar snap peas, bean sprouts and lettuce, dusted with cashews, my palate was thrilled. The real kind of thrilled, not the fake yumm-yumm the presenters make when tasting their dishes at the end of the show. I never thought I'd have Robin Miller to thank for a dinner idea. More on this topic in the future.