Thursday, August 27, 2009

Guest Blogger Betty Presents:

Single Serving: Solo Suppers (Betty's Book Review)

Hello Food Fans!

My involvement in the blog has been anything but consistent this summer. I think calling it sparse is being too nice. But in any event, I am back and I thought my return post would complement Wilma's recent love of all things single by reviewing a cookbook for solo chefs.

As you may know from reading older posts, Wilma and I visited Portland, Oregon where we ate some of the best meals of our lives. Therefore, it is no surprise that while in Portland I purchased one of my favorite cook books from the world famous Powell Books. If you are not familiar with Powell, let me tell you that it is one of the coolest bookstores I have ever visited. The store encompasses an entire city block. Powell prides itself on being an independent bookstore with millions of new and used books at competitive prices. Despite its size, it was fairly easy to navigate the book categories. It was my mistake I ended up by the cookbooks. I was actually trying to find Wilma and the Great Gazoo at our meeting place when I took a wrong turn by the children’s books. And to my benefit, I found a great book by Joyce Goldstein called Solo Suppers.

Wilma is right! Singles are an overlooked market. Singles are one of the fastest growing segments, according to Joyce, representing about twenty seven percent of the U.S. population. As most of you know, cookbook recipes are designed to feed four to six servings. What about the single servings? Well here is a book that shows you how to cook, shop, and reinvent meals to eliminate throwing out food. All of her recipes begin with a personal connection to dish and a lot of them share a way to transform the dish or make substitution according to pantry. This book provides tips and advice along with over a hundred recipes that making cooking for yourself simple and inexpensive.

One of my favorite dishes is the “Spaghetti alla Carbonara,” on page 72. It could not be easier to make. All you need is pasta, an egg, parmesan cheese, pancetta or regular bacon, and your basic salt, pepper, butter, and olive oil. Now I know what you may be thinking - sounds like a heart attack – and I would not recommend that this be a staple in your diet. However, it is a great comfort food that you can make without going out to the grocery store and little prep/cooking time. What attract me to this dish, besides it’s delicious picture on the cover, was the personal connect Joyce shares in the beginning of the recipe about her first time eating spaghetti alla carbonara in Rome. That image surrounded me as I was making the dish.

So check out Solo Suppers. I hope you enjoy it like I have. Also, if you know of any other cookbook, websites, articles, etc. related to the solo chef, please feel free to leave a comment below.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Unsung Heroes

The folks over at Serious Eats posed the following challenge: highlight ingredients that usually don't get much respect in the kitchen. I just posted about my pantry staples and have been giving a lot of thought to what you can do with very little. Being on a budget means finding creative uses for inexpensive ingredients is a necessity. I recently found myself in a bind with little time to spare and was saved by my favorite underappreciated item: a humble can of beans.

When beans are on sale I have a field day, buying them in every variety and storing them away like a squirrel. Kidney beans, black beans, and cannellini beans can turn into hearty and satisfying meals for practically nothing. Besides the usual applications like chili or rice and beans, I'd like to highlight their power to stretch pricier ingredients without sacrificing flavor. I'd been dying to roast up an eggplant for some baba ghanouj, the delicious Middle Eastern eggplant dip with lemon, garlic and tahini. When dinner for one became dinner with Fred's friends, the Hatrocks, I realized that my small eggplant might not be enough to feed 4. Enter the hero of the hour, a can of cannellini beans. It also had the added value of replacing the pricey tahini in the original recipe by providing the same flavor and texture. The result is somewhat hummus-like but definitely retains the rich roasted eggplant flavor.


1 small or medium eggplant
1 can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
A few cloves of garlic
Juice of 1 lemon
Splash of olive oil
Optional: paprika

Cut the top off the eggplant and wrap the whole thing in foil. Roast at 350 degrees until it's nice and soft all the way through. This might take up to an hour. Meanwhile wrap a few garlic cloves in foil and pop in alongside the eggplant for about 10 minutes until slightly soft. When the eggplant is done and cooled enough to handle, throw everything in a food processer or blender with some salt and pepper. I like it a little chunky, but it's up to you. I also like all of the eggplant skin but somepeople might not. I toasted up some pita bread which is a million times cheaper than buying pita chips at the store. I also sliced up a pepper from my CSA to serve alongside.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Single Serving: A Pantry for One

Here is my list of things that you should always have on hand. They are all multi purpose, inexpensive, and will help you make meals without having to go to the store.

The very basics
Salt and pepper- duh, but go for sea salt and peppercorns in a grinder
Vinegars-balsamic and rice wine
Olive oil
Veg. oil
Garlic powder
Red pepper flakes or cayenne powder
Dried herbs- rosemary and basil to start with
Other spices you like- ginger, paprika, cinnamon etc.
Honey- unless you bake, you can use honey to sweeten everything
Soy sauce or tamari

In your cupboard
Pasta- this should also include some ethnic varieties like soba or rice noodles
Rice- buy in bulk for pennies at an Asian grocery store
Cous cous
Beans- kidney, black and cannellini
Canned tomatoes
Jarred olives
Cornmeal and/or panko

In your freezer
Gnocchi- for when you don't want pasta
Wonton Wrappers
Frozen veggies- more important in the winter
Nuts- unless you're eating them right away, store in the freezer. Peanuts and pine nuts are staples
Tofu- prep first by squeezing the liquid out

In your fridge
Condiments- a good mustard is a must have

Then fill in with fresh and seasonal ingredients. I'm lucky enough to have farmer's markets I visit every Wednesday and Saturday in addition to my CSA pickups every other Monday. This summer I've realized that my fridge is always brimming with fresh produce, sometimes more than I can eat. I think my pantry items and strategies will change significantly when it gets colder and fresh ingredients are harder to come by. I guess this is why so many people are canning and freezing fruits and vegetables. Anyways, having a well stocked cupboard will make cooking a lot easier. Even if you have to visit several different stores, shop around until you know where to get your pantry items in bulk for cheap.

Are there any items I missed that you always keep on hand?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Birthday Surprise Dinner Course #3

I very rarely make dessert, but bread pudding is about as easy as it gets. The orange is a fresh and unexpected twist.

1 baguette- I used walnut and raisin
1 orange, juice and zest
1 cup of heavy cream or whole milk plus more as needed
2-3 eggs

Drizzle of honey
Cinnamon, optional
Bar of dark chocolate
Fresh fruit for garnish

In a bowl, blend the milk and eggs. Add the juice of 1 orange along with some of the zest and a drizzle of honey. If using a plain baguette, add more honey and maybe some cinnamon. Let this mixture sit in the fridge for an hour or so.

Slice or tear the baguette into bite size chunks and place in a baking dish. I made individual bread puddings in two small dishes. Pour the custard over the bread and mix to combine. All the bread should soak up some of the custard, if not add some more milk. If you like it really custardy go for three eggs and also let it sit for a while, but I like mine drier and even a little crispy on the top.

Bake uncovered in a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes until it's steamy. Take it out, and grate some dark chocolate over the top. Even breaking the bar up into chunks is fine. Put back in the oven for another 5 minutes until the chocolate melts. Serve with fresh fruit on the side. (I heated up the leftovers the next day and topped with ice cream which is great but maybe too rich after a heavy meal.)

Birthday Surprise Dinner Course #2

Duck is another one of Fred's favorite foods. This one was definitely an experiment and one I was sure would be a disaster. Happily, I was wrong. It was so tender and juicy that I forgot about how cute ducks are. Best of all, it was incredibly easy.

2 duck breasts
2 oranges
1 shallot
1 tbsp grated ginger
Splash soy sauce
Red pepper flakes
Handful small potatoes
Dried rosemary
Green beans
Squeeze of lemon

Early in the day, start marinating the duck breast. Mix together the juice of 2 oranges, 1 minced shallot, the grated ginger, soy sauce, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes in a bowl. Trim the excess fat from the duck. A layer of fat is fine on one side of the breast, but trim any that's hanging over the sides. Pour the breasts into a large ziplock bag with the marinade and place in a bowl in the fridge. Should marinate for 3-4 hours.

Slice the potatoes into rounds and place in a baking dish. Drizzle with some olive oil, rosemary, salt, pepper and chopped garlic.

Take the duck out of the marinade and place skin side up in a baking dish. Pop in a 325 degree oven, uncovered. This should take about 40 minutes total, and don't worry if it sizzles and pops while cooking. After about 15 minutes put your potatoes in as well so that they are both done at the same time. The duck is done when it's nicely golden brown on the top and firm when you poke it, and the potatoes should be fork tender.

While they are in the oven, steam your green beans. When done to your liking squirt some lemon juice over and season with lots of salt and pepper. To serve, slice the duck breasts and fan on the plate. Note that some people like it a little pink, in which case check around the half hour mark.

Birthday Surprise Dinner Course #1

Fred adores lobster. (Who doesn't?) I don't eat lobster much in Philly and have never prepared it myself. Undeterred by the price Betty paid at Whole Foods, I trekked down to Reading Terminal. I don't go there often enough. Where else in the middle of the city will you find a petting zoo on a random Saturday afteroon?

I was on a mission to find 2 decently priced lobster tails and 2 duck breasts. Now I won't tell you what I paid per pound becuase it might shock you non city dwellers, but Reading Terminal is probably the best place to buy meat and seafood besides the Italian Market. I think I got a bargain when considering what you'd pay in a restaurant. The rest of the meal I got for pennies anyways either from the farmer's market or for free from friend's with gardens. So here is the recipe:

2 lobster tails (1/4 lb per person is substantial enough)
1 bag local greens (any kind, mine was a mix with edible flowers)
Handful tomatoes, any kind
2 ears corn
1 shallot
Cornmeal or panko
Vegetable and olive oil
1 lemon
Balsamic vinegar

Early in the day you can oven roast the tomatoes and corn. Slice the tomatoes into 1/2 inch slices and lay on a foil lined baking sheet. Bake at 200 degrees for a couple of hours. I did this to intensify their flavor and sweetness. Summer is the only time you will get great tomatoes so this is something different you can do with them. They will take a couple hours to shrivel up and lose some of their moisture. You can leave them a little moist or dry them all the way like a sun dried tomato. At some point while they are baking throw in the corn (cut off the cob, and wrapped in some foil). This should only take about a half hour to soften and brown around the edges every so slightly.

Meanwhile throw your lobster tails in a steamer over low heat and don't touch. Check after about 20 minutes to see if they are firm and the shells are bright red. Pull out and let cool.

Slice the shallots into little rings, like you would for onion rings. Toss in a bowl with flour and cornmeal or panko. Pan fry in some vegetable oil until crispy and brown. Salt immediately.

Assemble the greens, corn, tomatoes and shallots. Drizzle lightly with olive oil and serve lemon wedges and the lobster tail on the side. I squeezed the lemon over everything to make a sort of dressing, but some might prefer balsamic vinegar.

Gifts For the Gourmand in Your Life

Holidays, birthdays and other gift giving occasions are times to celebrate. But for the budget concious, these can be a reminder of the materialism and excess involved with finding the perfect and often pricey gift.

Why not show someone you care by whipping up a homemade meal? It's far less expensive then going out, won't be tossed aside unused because the recipient doesn't want or need it, and people appreciate the time and effort, not just the price tag. It is a far more genuine way to celebrate with someone. I remember once when I was young spending all day making a white chocolate raspberry cheesecake for my Mom's birthday. Even though it didn't turn out perfectly, I thought it was more memorable and thoughtful than going to the store and buying something. You get bonus points for remembering a person's favorite food, or something that they love but never make for themselves.

Here are a 2 menus that I've cooked for special occasions. They are specifically budget friendly and easy to prepare. I don't have pictures for the first menu but would be happy to share the recipes. The second one I cooked recently so will definitely share pictures with the recipes. It was also made almost entirely with local ingredients. (The lobster tail and duck breast were bought at Reading Terminal - I forgot to ask whether they were local or not.)

Romantic Valentine's Day Dinner

Ceviche with corn and avocado
Vegetable lasagna
Salad with apple, goat cheese and almonds
Molten chocolate lava cake (admittedly from Trader Joes)

Birthday Surprise Dinner

Salad of wild greens with oven dried tomatoes, roasted corn, crispy fried shallot rings and a steamed lobster tail
Roasted duck breast served with herb roasted potatoes and green beans
Orange bread pudding with dark chocolate and fresh blackberries

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Single Serving: Tomatoes are Your Friend

To all my budget concious chefs, single or not:

Do me a favor and never buy prepared pasta sauce. Please. The cheap stuff tastes like ketchup and the expensive stuff is, well just that. It might be tempting but tomato sauce is the easiest thing you will ever make in your life, and you can throw it in your freezer for a rainy day. I was thinking about more recipes I make during a relaxing evening in, and there is something magical and Italian Grandmotheresque about a simmering pot of tomato sauce. Anytime you see large cans of plain crushed tomatoes on sale grab as many as you can. You can go plain with this or add vegetables, but my favorite is puttanesca style with kalamata olives and capers.

1 can plain crushed tomatoes
Handful kalamata olives
Handful capers
1 medium onion
Olive oil
Optional: splash of red wine, fresh basil, red pepper flakes

Sautee the onion in olive oil over medium heat with plenty of salt and pepper. Once the onions are slightly caremelized add some minced garlic and red pepper flakes if desired and sweat for a minute. Add the tomatoes, juice and all and turn down the heat to med/low. While it is coming to a simmer, chop the olives into small pieces and add along with the capers. At this point you can add some wine, and if using fresh herbs add right before serving. The sauce can simmer for a while, usually about a half hour while you sit and watch some tv. Cool leftovers and pop in your freezer.

*Note: Canned tomatoes are cheap and readily available year round but during the summer if you have fresh tomatoes, chop them and throw them in.

*Another note: I like things spicy but occasionally get a little overzealous with the spice. If this ever happens to you, add a few drizzles of honey. Some people do this anyways to bring out the sweetness of the tomatoes.

More From the Funny Vegetable Department

See Sam's post for further explanation as to why this is funny.

No Caption Necessary


The Sidecar officially gets my vote for the best bar food and happy hour in Philly. I think we sat and ate/drank for almost 4 hours which is no easy feat. The beer list is not your usual suspects and it's all cheap, in the $3-$5 range. Their happy hour food specials are nothing to sneeze at either. Forget Center City Sips, I'm coming here for half price chili and carnitas.

When I tasted the chili I believe my exact words were "Why doesn't my chili taste like this?" I thought I made a decent chili but now I'm ashamed of it. I know eating meat is wrong, but it tastes so right.

After the chili I had to stop rationalizing my carnivorous tendencies. Meat is delicious and when it's $2 a carnita you must eat it. It's that simple.
Mussels cooked in beer and a smoky tomato sauce with grilled bread = I couldn't be more full but I have to eat every last bite. If I don't, I'll regret it.
Fred's friends, the Hatrocks, came so between all of us we got to sample even more like the fish and chips. I wish I could have tried everything on their menu.
I'm not sure how after 4 hours of eating and drinking we managed to fit this chocolate souffle in but maybe we got a second wind.

Clearly I am a fan, and I will say they are vegetarian friendly. I like when restaurants indicate veg items on their menus, but at a place this good I say go ahead and indulge in some meaty goodness and try and make up for it later.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Quiche Almost Like Mom Used to Make

Quiche is high on the list of my favorite comfort foods that my mom makes. I hope she shares the recipe, but I decided to improvise when faced with another week of kale from my CSA. I always pick up eggs at the farmer's market and this week had bought a beautiful mix of wild mushrooms. It all got mixed up with some cheese to make a simple weeknight dinner. I think I strayed from my mom's recipe by using less eggs and more vegetable filling.


1 store bought pie crust, frozen
4 eggs
Splash of whole milk or cream
1/2 cup sliced or shredded cheese
1 bunch kale, cleaned and chopped
1 pint mushrooms
1 small onion

Start by sauteeing the mushrooms, onions and garlic in some butter or olive oil until soft and caramelized. Season liberally. Add the kale and cook down until tender. Let cool to room temperature.

Meanwhile, beat the eggs in a bowl with a splash of milk and mix in the cheese. Add the cooled vegetables to the frozen pie crust and pour the egg mixture over. Cover the edges of the crust with aluminum foil to prevent burning and bake in a 350 degree oven until set and the top is slightly browned. Remove the foil for the last 5 minutes to finish baking the crust.

I made a variation with zucchini and the possibilities are endless. Just be careful with vegetables that have a lot of moisture like fresh tomatoes. I used swiss I think because my mom always did but a sharp cheddar, pepperjack or even goat cheese would be nice. I might also just bake this without a crust to make a frittata.

Fabulous Fennel

Fennel is one of those things that I'm sure I've eaten in life, but I couldn't tell you when. I've certainly never cooked it at home which is why I love my CSA. I don't think I would voluntarily see some fennel at the store and think "hmm, maybe I'll roast it up with lemon and parmesan cheese for dinner." When I ended up with some beautiful bulbs from my CSA that's exactly what I did. If you are like me and you tend to steer clear of its intense anise flavor, just trust me on this recipe. They are very fragrant, but the anise flavor is more mellow and cut by the lemon and cheese. This surprised me by turning into a simple, elegant, and summery side dish.


1 bulb fennel, with the fronds
1 lemon
generous handful freshly grated parmesan cheese
olive oil

Slice the tops off of the fennel and slice the bulb in half. Sprinkle generously with lemon juice and drizzle with a little olive oil. Season liberally with salt and pepper then top with parmesan cheese. Sprinkle the fronds over top and pop in a 350 degree oven until the cheese is bubbly and the fennel is fork tender. I think it took about a half hour. The result is crunchy, cheesy and lemony with a distinct but not overwhelming flavor.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Sampling Some Summer Sips

It actually feels like summer now. The hot sticky weather just begs for the perfect summer hangout to sit and have a beer. My requirements are: a good selection of reasonably priced beer, light summery snack food to munch on, and an open and airy bar or dining area. Here are some places I've been recently:

Ladder 15, 1528 Sansom St.

Several local vegetarian blogs have reviewed them which piqued my interest. Other reviews weren't so favorable but I decided to give it a shot. Betty and I went for an after work drink and found it to fit the bill for a great place to hang out. It was definitely roomy which I enjoy, and I would suggest it for a larger group. The happy hour special was $4 for all draft beers. Not great, but good if you are a beer snob and drink the higher end stuff. We ordered truffle fries to share. They were perfect as a snack, and if I go back for dinner I might try their vegetarian blt. Other veg offerings include potato pierogi, grilled cheese, and roasted beets.

Pub and Kitchen, 1946 Lombard St.

I used to love Chaucers, and this place took over the space about a year ago. It is definitely open and airy with lots of outdoor seating, but somehow it still felt cozy. I was digging the vibe. The prices, not so much. (We went on a Saturday afternoon so I don't know if they have a happy hour.) We ordered a $3 bruschetta which turned out to be 2 small slices of baguette with sweet tomato goo. I ordered truffle fries (again) which were tasty and a more substantial portion.

Tangiers, 1801 Lombard St.

Tangiers is one of my favorite bars. Their $3 mystery beers (served in a paper bag) are one of the city's best drink specials and the food is always good. It is definitely a laid back kind of place and you will always see people just lounging at their outside tables. I ordered a shrimp poboy and Fred got a burger. They do have veg options like a very respectable black bean burger.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Can I Still Pronounce it Lobstah?

I'm not sure if it was a good idea to eat lobster here in Philly after my recent lobster pig out in New England. That didn't stop me when my favorite restaruant, Bridget Foys, announced they were having lobster week. With time running out on lobster week I convinced the gang to make the trek down to 2nd and south to see if it's possible to get good decently priced lobster in Philly.

My lobster salad was nice and summery with couscous and vegetables underneath a nicely dressed bed of greens. The lobster wasn't as buttery and juicy as I had in Boston, but I figured as much.

Fred's lobster sliders may as well have been crabcakes. They were tasty but not over the top decadent as he had expected.

Betty's lobster mac and cheese got my vote for best meal of the night. It was perfectly rich and creamy with chunks of lobster.

Barney opted not to go with lobster and instead got chicken. I don't remember what was in it, but it was apparently delicious.

Likewise for our other friend's grilled chicken salad. It wasn't as good as my lobster salad but it was filled with nuts, fruit and goat cheese.

So it was about what I expected. Even with the promotional prices it was still a splurge, so for now I'll stick with the things that Philly does best.

All this being said, I do love Bridget Foy's for brunch. They are one of the few spots that has plenty of outdoor seating yet never seems to be too crowded on the weekends.

Single Serving: Food as Therapy

I recently read this convo on Serious Eats about how people like to spend a night in making time consuming or labor intensive recipes as a way to relax and unwind. Most of my meals aren't labor intensive, but if I do have time I will occasionally use it laboring over something that I can make a lot of and put in my freezer for a rainy day- a great "Single Serving" tip. It can be almost theraputic with you're favorite tv show on or some music. Many people mention a glass of wine, but I'm not so sure about that. I don't think me, alcohol and knives are a good combination.

I had bought some wonton wrappers on a whim at the grocery store. I'd always been curious and threw them in my freezer where they sat for some time while I pondered their many uses. With some extra tofu on hand I set out to make vegetable dumplings. I ended up with a ton of filling and a surprising number of wonton wrappers to fill so I spent the better part of the evening making them.

Tofu- extra firm and pressed to remove the liquid
Soy sauce
Sesame oil and vegetable oil
Wonton wrappers, thawed

Slice your tofu and all your vegetables into very small pieces. You want everything chopped up pretty fine. Sautee them in vegetable oil and add a splash of sesame oil and soy sauce. Season with pepper but go easy on the salt because soy sauce has plenty. After the vegetables have started to soften add the ginger and garlic. Let simmer on low heat for about 5 minutes which will allow most of the liquid to evaporate.

Once it's dry it's just a matter of filling the wonton wrappers. It will take some practice to figure out the right amount in each dumpling. Have a small bowl of water to moisten the edges when you seal them. I sealed them corner to corner to make triangles, but there are variations. Keep what you want to eat immediately aside, but layer the rest in a freezable container for later.

You can steam them in a bamboo steamer which I intend to try, but I pan fried them and dipped them in hoisin sauce. Not bad for my first attempt.

Single Serving: Panzanella

This is definitely in my top 5 favorite go to recipes and it's a "Single Serving" tip. Bread is cheap and has lots of applications but it is also highly perishable. I know that artisan loaf or french baguette looks beautiful at the farmer's market but when you get it home, there are only so many sandwiches and pieces of toast one person can eat before it starts to dry out. This could be scaled down for one serving, but I usually find I have a lot of bread to work with. Bring some to work to share (along with some breath mints) and it's perfect to take to a summer party because it's fresh, light, and uses seasonal ingredients.

Stale bread- thick cut loaf or baguette
Red onion
Parmesan cheese (optional)
Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar

Slice or tear bread into bite size chunks. If the bread is still soft I like to toast the bread cubes. It's better to start out with dry bread because it will soak up liquid from the vegetables.

Slice the cucumbers, red onions, and tomatoes. Normally I try not to use too much liquid from tomatoes but in this case you want all of it. Add the vegetables to the bread. Add a drizzle of olive oil, vinegar, and plenty of salt and pepper.

Grate in some garlic, some chopped, fresh basil and cheese if desired. Ideally let this sit for at least an hour before eating so the flavors can marry. If you have it sitting around for a little and it gets too soggy, you can stick the whole thing under a broiler for a few minutes until the bread toasts up. I enjoy leftovers for breakfast the next day.

Cabbage Conundrum Part 3

With mixed feelings about my racial identity and desperate for new cabbage recipes, I finally decided to do it. I made my own kimchi. The fiery hot, ubiquitous but shrouded in mystery, korean version of saurkraut. If nothing else I have something interesting to write about.

After reading many recipes I realized it's not that hard. I had images of secret ingredients guarded by Tibetan monks or having to store it in a cave for forty days and forty nights while it magically turned into kimchi. Well the secret is out. Wash cabbage. Pour some chili paste on it. Store in jar until ready to eat.

Here is a pretty standard recipe that I used. The hardest part was chopping and soaking the cabbage in salt water, probably because I didn't have a big enough container so my tiny kitchen was filled with various size vessels overflowing with salt water and cabbage. It only added to the feeling that this was a giant science experiment bound to go wrong. What I didn't understand was how something could be pickled without the use of vinegar or acid. Well it took about a week to find out that yes, it tasted like cabbage doused in hot chili paste. I should note that I used sambal, which probably isn't traditional but it did the trick.

It wasn't bad. Soaking it in salt water does keep the cabbage somewhat crunchy which I like, and the addition of ginger and honey gives it nice flavor. Mine probably could have used less sambal and more ginger and honey. As expected I ended up with a giant jar of kimchi. Sorry to all my co-workers who I unloaded on - with full warning that this stuff could probably strip paint off your car or clear your sinuses up in a pinch. If no one eats it I won't be offended.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Single Serving: Sharing the Wealth

The best tip I can give you when cooking for one I borrowed from Mr. Rogers: share. Find friends, neighbors, co-workers, or family members who like homecooked food as much as you do. Trust me that no one will turn down food. Now I know it may not seem like a budget friendly tip but it it will pay off if you keep at it. Here are the benefits:

1. You can buy ingredients in more economical sizes.
2. You reduce waste.
3. People will return the favor. If not, well then find some new friends. I'm lucky enough to have Betty and Sam who love to eat and share as much as I do, but I've even received cucumbers and tomatoes from a co-worker's garden.
4. Everyone loves to talk about food! You can use it as a way to strengthen friendships or build better relationships at work or in your neighborhood.
5. Before you even go shopping, see if someone can split ingredients with you. If you are not confident in your cooking skills or are dealing with a picky eater this is very helpful. It is especially useful for highly perishable ingredients like herbs.

If you really want to score some bonus points, do what I did and join a CSA. Betty, Sam and I split a half share of produce for the season. We each paid $125 up front and now get bi-weekly deliveries of fresh, local, organic produce for almost 5 months. It works out to about $5 a week, and it has been one of the most fun and rewarding things I've done this summer.

Less is... Less

I love miniature things. It's not just a matter of neccessity given my lack of space, I just think little things are awesome. You know - Polly Pockets, the mini stapler and roll of tape that Betty got me, mini post-its, my mini food processer...

Which is why Pearl River Mart in New York City is the best store ever. Period. I had an afternoon to kill in New York recently and spent the entire time there contemplating what I could carry back to Philly in my purse. I should have brought a suitcase.

If I had a larger apartment I would furnish it entirely with stuff from Pearl River. I used every ounce of self control to only buy a few practical things for my kitchen, but I couldn't help myself when I saw these:

I thought maybe Sam could use the bamboo steamer the next time he's hungry for one dumpling, and Betty can grate some tiny cheese.

I've ordered from their website before and noticed that they now have a bridal registry. So instead of that nice set of crystal how about a "hand embroidered tiger hat" or a "coconut er hu"? Who am I kidding that's totally what I would register for...

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Meat... You're right in liking it.

Thank you to the folks over at Serious Eats for providing constant food entertainment. This gem I found the other day was made for Worst Vegetarian Ever:

"Vintage Meat" Pictures from Flickr.

I think I just found my Valentine's Day cards for next year and plenty of good ideas. How about a sandwich with meat instead of bread. Brilliant!

And just a suggestion. While "Vintage Meat" has a certain je ne sais quoi, I think "Vintage Pictures of Meat" would be more accurate.

If Drug Dealers Became Botanists

I must say I've learned a lot about the different varieties of vegetables this summer. From "Burgundy Beans" to "Detroit Red Beets" my CSA shares have inspired me to do some research into common and not-so-common produce and their uses. My conclusion: either farmers have a weird sense of humor or they are buying their seeds in an alley behind the 7-11.

Check out Plant World Seeds for proof and tell me these are not some shady vegetables. Here are my favorites:

Black From Tula
Cosmonaut Volkov
Gold Dust
Mexico Midget
Super Snow White
Tommy Toe
White Wonder
German Giant
Minnesota Midget
Golden Tepee
Painted Lady
Super Aqualdulce
King of Mammoth
Early Summer Crookneck
Yugoslavian Finger Fruit

I'm thinking these could be good band names too.

Single Serving: Short on Space

I love my apartment. I really do, but in terms of amenities and space it is one step up from a dorm room. The "kitchen" area has the bare essentials: fridge, sink and stove. No counters even. The following tips have transformed it into something resembling a kitchen.

1. Hang a multi-tiered shower caddy on the wall near the sink. This can be your spice rack, hold your sponge (where the soap would be) and you can hang potholders or utensils from the hooks.

2. Invest in a large, high quality toaster oven. Put it on your Christmas or Birthday wish list if you can't afford it but it's an absolute must. It may sound counterintuitive to buy a big one but here's my reasoning: You'd buy a toaster anyways right? So why not buy one that does double duty? You can use your oven to store pots, pans and dishes. It's much more energy efficient, and conventional ovens can heat up a small apartment pretty quickly. You will be surprised at what you can cook, roast and bake in a toaster oven. Trust me on this one.

3. If you don't have counter space get a small desk. Check out craigslist for super cheap ones. In a pinch, save the desk chair and use the desk as your kitchen table. If there is room underneath the desk, it is a perfect place for recycling or even your trash can.

4. If you don't have good lighting, put a lamp in your kitchen. Even one of those clip on desk lamps will do.

5. Make it pretty. Arrange bottles and nice glasses so they can double as decoration. Buy some pretty and nice smelling soap. Get a small plotted plant or some herbs. Hang a photo or even cut out pictures of food on the wall.

6. Buy things with multiple uses like a wok and a loaf pan. Don't let Paula Deen or the Neeleys make you feel bad for not having a deep fryer. (Although they do make mini deep fryers now.) Asian supermarkets are honestly great places for buying basic kitchen gear on a budget. Also stock up on some great ingredients while you're there.

The bottom line is strip it down to the bare essentials and make it inviting.

Wilma Presents: Single Serving


It's been a blast being on the road and eating out with friends and family. Now that it's back to the grindstone I've returned with lots of tips and recipes, great seasonal ingredients and time on my hands. This blog is a work in progress, and I am learning every day from my fellow bloggers about how to be informative, inviting, and most of all entertaining. I welcome all feedback!

One thing that has struck me recently in the food world- Many food shows, books, magazines and websites cater to very specific markets. Which is fine. If I'm a working mom, yeah maybe I'd appreciate Melissa D'Arabian trying to convince me I can feed a family of four for $10. Or if I'm an alcoholic with no tastebuds or sense of morality Sandra Lee can teach me a few things. But I am none of those things. I live and cook by myself in a tiny studio apartment. I am mostly vegetarian and care about eating locally and seasonally. I am definitely on a budget. I know I'm not the only one, but where is the help for me?

Cooking for one on a budget is a challenge, but I have not resigned myself to prepackaged frozen meals and takeout. I don't always succeed, but more often than not I end up with satisfying, healthy and interesting meals. And so I present to you a new "column" entitled: Single Serving. I'll share with you how I turned my non-existent kitchen into my food haven with very little money. Stay tuned.


Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Introducing the Gruesomes!

You know you're getting older when you're friends start getting married. At least that's how I felt when my friends Weirdly and Creepella got married. It was my first bridesmaid experience, and I just have to thank Creepella for being such an awesome bride to be! I had a blast, from the dinosaur themed wedding shower to the fruit roll ups with their faces on it. I thought I would highlight their choice of footwear. Classy! (And practical.)

Seeing as this is a food blog I know everyone wants to know about the food. In a word, fabulous! Knowlton Mansion was a beautiful setting and the food was delicious! They even brought us drinks and hors d'oeuvres while we took pictures outside. There was so much food I can't remember it all- grilled cheese and tomato soup, fondue, mashed potatoes, two kinds of pasta, focaccia, not to mention the carving station. I may or may not have sampled the roast beef and turkey, but I'm happy to report there were many vegetarian options and not just the obligatory salad. The desserts were equally impressive, and I sampled more than a few.

Creepella, I know you like to cook. Anytime you want to do a guest blog and maybe share some recipes or tips let me know! I'm thinking we could call it "Grab Some Grub With the Gruesomes."

Do Crabs Bark?

On our way out of town I wanted to experience every last bite of fresh New England seafood while I still could. Goodbye lobster rolls, fried clams and chowder. I love lots of things about the Philadelphia food scene, but seafood isn't one of them.

We'd been to many of my go-to places so we decided to try The Barking Crab. Well, I should say we settled on it because it was conveniently located and we were pressed for time. They get an A+ for ambiance. Lots of outdoor seating, right on the water, live music, a beautiful raw bar...

The food wasn't bad, in fact the oyster poboy I had was fantastic. I can't say I've eaten a lot of oyster poboys but I thought the oysters were perfectly meaty and crunchy with a nice spicy sauce.

Fred's lobster roll, however, just wasn't worth the hefty price tag. It was delicious but you could have gotten one just as good for much cheaper. Lesson learned. I should have taken him to nearby La Forge, but I'm glad I tried something new.

So farewell New England. I've eaten my weight in seafood, but it was worth every bite.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Why is it Called Beantown?

My East Coast Adventure included a day in Boston to visit a friend from college. After sampling a little bit of everything here's the verdict.

Faneuil Hall is a local landmark, filled with street performers and tons of food. Reading Terminal is better.
Philly: 1
Boston: 0

Couldn't come all the way here without going to Cheers. And yes we went to the "real" one. Cheers is one of the best shows of all time so...
Philly: 1
Boston: 1

This is apparently the oldest bar in America. Oh yeah, well we have the oldest paper mill in North America so take that!
Philly: 2
Boston: 1

This was the highlight of the day -A whole lobster, fries and coleslaw for around $10. Ok, I have to concede, this meal would cost me an arm and a leg here in Philly.
Philly: 2
Boston: 2

If this is what Boston calls a "farmer's market" then Philly wins hands down. This was really just some cheap and smelly produce from Mexico.
Boston: 2

Wow I just realized I watch way too many "reality" food tv competitions. Stupid Bobby Flay.

"New" Port?

As mentioned before I got to stay with my Grandparents (on my Dad's side) who live in this fantastic old house right in the middle of Newport. I was happy to show Fred my favorite childhood hangouts, but I realized that everything feels different now that I'm older. I guess that's what happens. Even though the places remain the same you see them in a different light. My grandpa was nice enough to give us the scenic tour and there was so much I didn't know or didn't remember.

Here are some more highlights from the trip:

Second Beach -My favorite beach, or maybe just the one I always went to growing up. It's great if you don't mind cold water and a little seaweed.

The International Tennis Hall of Fame is in Newport, but I'd never been inside. It's one of the few grass courts still in use today and in true Wilma style we ended up with 2 tickets to a tournament.

My grandparents treated Fred and me to dinner at the Atlantic Beach Club, a place that I go to every single time I'm here to get my fill of great seafood and local favorites. It's good to know that some things never change.