Thursday, April 29, 2010

Beets are Back

I'm not sure if they ever actually go away because it always seems to be beet season. They are are a constant presence at the farmer's market and in CSA shares everywhere. While I love their beautiful color and sweet flavor, I had an unfortunate incident with a roasted beet last year. I'll spare you the details.

Long story short, it's going to take me a long time to trust beets again. Ironically, I'll eat the canned variety or the ones you find at salad bars but the thought of a fresh beet frightens me. When I spied a jar of pickled beets at my farmer's market I decided that it would be the perfect way to enjoy the flavor of fresh local beets without the panic attack. I was not disappointed. The beets were delicious and sweet without being overpowering. There was just a hint of tang, but mostly fresh beet taste. Fred and I have been eating the leftovers right out of the jar. This salad made good use of some local arugula as well.

Ingredients

Arugula, washed and with any long stems removed
Pickled beets, sliced
Handful feta cheese
Handful walnuts, toasted and chopped
Olive oil and balsamic vinegar to dress the salad

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Tom's Tasty Tacos


I'm sure that all of you Philly foodies and local eaters have eaten at Honest Tom's Taco Stand a million times, but I don't make the trek up to West Philly too often, and when I do the 20 minute wait for a taco is enough to deter me. There are few foods that are worthy of waiting in line for in my opinion, especially street food. Street food by nature should be convenient and quick.

Well it's always been on my to do list, and lately I've had the motivation to start crossing things off that list. Lured by the big annual flea market, the Saturday farmer's market, and of course Tom's famous tacos, Betty, Fred and I found ourselves up at Clark's Park this past Saturday.
They have one item on the menu. The nice thing about that is that you know it must be good. Their breakfast taco features eggs, potatoes, cheese, salsa and guac for a measly $2.50. Which is why it's worth the wait, and most people order 3 at a time.

Betty was the only one brave enough to endure the throngs of other fellow taco lovers all eager to hear their name called. She was generous enough to give us a bite and I was reminded of the soup nazi episode where Jerry says "you can't eat this soup standing up, your knees buckle."

What I wouldn't give for a few of these bad boys right now. Wonder if they deliver.

Honest Tom's Taco Truck
Saturday mornings at Clark's Park (42nd and Chester)
See http://foobooz.com/tag/honest-toms-taco-shop/ for information on other locations and times

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Finding My Inner Lady Baker

Unlike Holly Flax from The Office I'm pretty sure I have not baked on a professional level.

If you've ever tasted my baking you would understand why. Once I tried to make cookies in a toaster oven - and not my industrial size all purpose convection toaster oven that I own now. When I realized how little dough my puny store bought mix of cookie dough made I then decided it was a good idea to throw in some peanut butter for good measure. Make that soynut butter. That's all I had. Then I figured I'd better throw some extra flour in there to make it the right texture. And some more baking soda to make up for the extra flour. You get the picture.

I hope that I never have children who demand fresh chocolate chip cookies hot out of the oven because they will be sorely disappointed. I'm hoping that my chicken pot pie will be enough to make up for my lack of baking skills.

In an ideal world, however, I would have the time and the equipment to turn out freshly baked loaves of bread. We had a bread machine growing up and it was one of the most under rated pieces of kitchen equipment we owned. Long story short, I've been forever searching for a bread recipe that is manageable. Anything requiring use of a stand mixer is out as are most yeast breads. By chance, I stumbled across a blog that featured a lovely "Black Pepper Rosemary Soda Bread." I'd always thought that irish soda breads might be the answer to my baking woes, and all I needed was an inspired recipe to get me started.

Ingredients
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 cup oats
1 tbsp fresh chopped rosemary
1 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup butter
1 3/4 cups buttermilk


Preheat oven to 375 degrees.


Combine dry ingredients in a bowl and whisk together.


In a large saucepan melt butter on medium heat until it's browned.


Stir into the dry mixture along with the buttermilk.


Turn out onto a well floured surface. Divide dough in half and shape into round loaves.

Bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

The texture was a little dry. I would describe this as a giant but delicious scone. I'll maybe experiment with some other soda bread recipes until I find one that's a little less dense. I'm also imagining all sorts of add ins like olives or sun dried tomatoes.

Recipe adapted from Epicurious

Friday, April 9, 2010

What You're Really Up to at Work...

To my fellow 9 to 5'ers,

If you find yourself staring at a computer screen all day at a less than engaging job, wondering how to pass the time until happy hour starts, I feel your pain. You might be surprised to know that I love my job. I really do. But for a few weeks (ok months) of the year I find myself twiddling my thumbs given the cyclical and often unpredictable nature of my job. Hence the inspiration to start this blog. When I am not busy writing on the blog or planning my dinner menu I spend most of my day reading about what other, more experienced bloggers are up to. I am constantly hungry.

I figured you may not have taken the time to look at all of the links I've put up and I am periodically updating my list when I find a new website I like. I'd like to highlight some that I find particularly entertaining and enlightening.

I spend countless hours on Serious Eats. I don't know what I did before I discovered it. It was just nominated for a James Beard Award for Best Food Blog. There are new entries posted so often that I can keep refreshing the page to keep myself occupied. I've tried several recipes but more often than not find informative food related articles and news. What I also love is the active "Talk" section in which members ask questions and comment on everything food related. As with any open forum you get some oddballs but for the most part contributors are remarkably well informed and diverse.

Next on my list of favorite websites is 101 Cookbooks by Heidi Swanson. This one's also an award winner with legions of enthusiastic followers. It features all vegetarian recipes with plenty of commentary thrown in. Heidi is highly regarded in the food community and has written several cookbooks. Next time I have some money to burn or there's a gift getting opportunity her books are at the top of my list. She's the best for stunning photography as well. I've used her for inspiration, but to be honest I've found that she's repetitive. She's very health concious so I feel like she tends to do variations on the same theme. Still, I check in every day to see what she's up to.

I am a loyal follower of several other Philly based vegetarian food bloggers (and I mean actual vegetarian). I have gotten several great recommendations for veg friendly restaurants, and in fact most of the restaurants I've featured I've found on these blogs. I've found out about local food news as well. My favorites are: Living on the Vedge, Veggicurious, Straight from the Farm, Messy and Picky, and Mac and Cheese. A while ago I randomly met Messy (or maybe it was Picky) at Reading Terminal.

Another local site I've discovered is Table Matters. It's a well put together site full of local events, restaurant reviews, and social commentary. While it's fairly similar to some other local food sites like City Paper's Meal Ticket, I think Table Matters is a bit more sophisicated than most. I think it could quickly become one of my new favorites.

I've included links to some informative sites highlighting local food sources. If you don't know anything about the Food Trust or the Fair Food Farmstand you should browse through their websites to learn more about local farmer's markets, projects and events. You can sign up for email newsletters as well.

A few others I keep on the list for sentimental reasons or because they are entertaining. If you share my views on Paula Deen and Sandra Lee, you'll get a kick out of Food Network Humor.

Through these different sites I've been introduced to a lot of other sites. You notice the same blogs being mentioned repeatedly and some have huge cult followings. The Pioneer Woman is a favorite of many. She has a really beautiful sight, but it's definitely not vegetarian. Same goes for The Kitchn. Lots of people mention Bitten, probably because Mark Bittman is such an authority on food, but I don't think this is really geared towards the home cook with limited resources. Here's a pretty comprehensive list of other reader favorites.

I'm always looking for something new to read, but I seem to be loyal to the relatively small list on my blog. They are reliable and I owe them a debt of gratitude. Without them I'm not sure how I would keep myself occupied until 5 each day.

How do you pass the time at work?

Fabulous Farm Fresh Frittata

After a cold winter filled with more pizza deliveries and chinese takeout than I'd care to admit, the season for eating locally can't come soon enough. I know in the middle of the summer I'll be overdosing on vegetables and lamenting about having to eat zucchini at every meal, so I'll enjoy the arrival of springtime veggies while it lasts. I participated in an "Eat Local" challenge last summer and my CSA share and local farmer's market provided more than enough inspiration to create many entirely local meals. I've already switched into that mode now that there's more variety at the market and that my job is such that I have more free time.

Eggs, potatoes, and cheese are local staples for any time of the year, but you can liven them up with seasonal ingredients. Leeks are a new favorite of mine, but asparagus, mushrooms, peppers, spinach... etc would all be great additions.

Ingredients


6-8 eggs depending on the size of your baking dish
Pint of potatoes - yukon gold or fingerling
1 medium yellow onion
1/2 cup - cup of shredded cheese, any variety but I used farmer's
1 leek, washed and sliced
Olive oil

If you don't know how to wash leeks, there are good instructions here.

Slice your potatoes as thin as possible and dice your onion pretty finely. In a rectangular baking dish, layer the sliced leeks, followed by the potatoes and onions. It's important that the leeks are on the bottom so that they don't burn. Drizzle lightly with olive oil and season liberally with salt and pepper. I actually added a few splashes of water to ensure that nothing burned. Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes or until the potatoes are soft. The thinner they are sliced, the less time they will take to cook.

Take out and place on a cooling rack. While it is cooling, beat your eggs in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper, then add your shredded cheese along with a splash of water.

Once the potato leek mixture is room temperature, pour the egg mixture into the baking dish. It should cover the potatoes and leeks, but keep in mind that this mixture will rise in the oven so it doesn't have to come to the top of the baking dish.

Cover loosely with foil and place back in the 350 degree oven. Bake for about 10 minutes, then uncover and bake for another 5 to let the top get slightly brown and bubbly. Watch carefully, because you want to make the sure the eggs are fully set but not overcooked at which point they will become tough.

Let cool and enjoy! It's great for brunch, or even lunch or dinner with a green salad.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Betty's Birthday Blowout

Betty is officially 27. I won't wax poetic too much about birthday's but of course it was reason to celebrate. The nice weather after weeks of blizzard like conditions was the icing on the birthday cake, so we took advantage of it and decided to treat Betty to dinner at one of Philadelphia's most highly sought after restuaruants, Waterworks.

The Schuylkill and Boathouse Row could not offer a better backdrop, and it's been written about as a destination for travelling foodies since its opening. Sweeping and impressive from the outside, it's easy to see why it is an attractive location. Many are the times I have wandered past on a jog down to Kelly Drive, imagining the glamorous and of course fabulously wealthy diners inside.

Well let's just say that a deal presented itself and I jumped on it, knowing that this might be my only opportunity to eat dinner at such a distinguished establishment. I made sure that my top hat was back from the cleaners and fetched my jewels from the vault.

From a place that has a water menu - I kid you not they have a $50 bottle of water - my fellow diners and I went in with fairly high expectations. Here is how the night progressed.

As a former waitress and of course restaurant enthusiast I always pay attention to the service. Luckily, I was not disappointed. Some practices I found quite amusing if not entirely necessary. Example? I can place my own napkin in my lap thank you very much.

We decided it would be best to buy wine by the bottle instead of the glass. Usually a wise decision unless the least expensive bottle is just shy of $40 and there is a 12% alcohol tax. Suprised? Not really. I came prepared to handle a few outrageous charges.

Next came our choice of 4 courses from the prix fixe menu. Make that 2 choices, as 2 of the courses were pre chosen for us. Actually, make that very little choice for an appetizer and an entree. Ok, maybe can't fault them for lack of choice if what's on the menu is fabulous. You be the judge.


Course One: Choice of Soup or Salad

My salad was the best part of the meal, but let's be honest. It's just a salad.


The soup was tasty, leaving us optimistic about the subsequent courses.


Course Two: Sorbet

I bet money that they ran out to the nearest supermarket, bought the cheapest raspberry sorbet they could find, and gave everyone exactly one spoonful in order to make it last as long as possible



Course 3: Choice of AIRLINE chicken, Mushroom risotto, or salmon

You heard me right, airline chicken. Most likely Southwest by the looks of it. All jokes aside, the entrees I think were good except for my risotto that upon closer inspection was doused with far more than its fair share of olive oil.



Course 4: A duo of mint creme brulee and chocalate cake

I would like to know if Waterwork's has a pastry chef. If the answer is yes, I would like to know if he or she is a reject from The Next Foodnetwork Star. The fact that anybody made these desserts, (hopefully) tasted them and decided that they were worthy of human consumption is probably the same person who thinks that Paula Deen and Sandra Lee are actually chefs. I know people are cooking on a budget now, but using toothpaste as a substitute for mint in a creme brulee is going a little too far. Judging from the mint creme brulee I'm guessing that's what happened. Maybe when they went to pick up the sorbet there was a sale on aquafresh so they decided to stock up. And they found some day old Duncan Hines chocolate cake on sale too so why not throw that in and call it a day. So I admittedly don't like dessert but I was the only one who could even stomach more than one bite of it.


Thankfully the birthday cake was fine and there was plenty to share. And that's what it's all about in the end. Sharing a memorable meal with friends to celebrate a special occasion. Perhaps Betty can share her thoughts on the night as well.