Tuesday, June 15, 2010

3 Ingredient Fix

I guess I understand the concept behind that show "5 Ingredient Fix" on the Food Network. I just think it's misguided. Every time I watch it I think, man a 6th ingredient might make it taste a lot better.

And most times I find that I cook with minimal ingredients anyways, mostly out of necessity. Last summer while taking part in the One Local Summer Challenge, I realized that eating locally also forces you to cook minimally. You are dependent on what is available, but you are also able to center meals around a few ingredients because they taste so darn good. Eating this way is good for your wallet too. Every time I go to the farmer's market I come in under budget, no coupons or sales necessary. Try that at your local supermarket, especially if you buy organic.

Even with the availability of local produce, some nights it just seems harder than others to come up with a dinner plan without resorting to the convenience of takeout or a local restaurant. It has to be fast, cheap, healthy and satisfying. Then try throwing vegetarian, local and organic into the mix. Every time I pull off a dinner that meets all of the above requirements I amaze even myself. I can't imagine how those of you with crazy stressful jobs let alone families deal with it. I won't pretend to offer advice on that one. (Although I do have to say that I would imagine this meal is kid friendly.)


Fingerling or yukon gold potatoes (These are always available at my market but use what you have)
Fresh broccoli
Cheese (Any kind that melts)
Olive oil

Clean and slice the potatoes into thin rounds. Layer into the bottom of a shallow baking dish.

Break off a few broccoli florets. Cut them into fairly small chunks and layer on top of the potatoes.

Drizzle lightly with olive oil and season liberally wth salt and pepper. Add a few splashes of water which will ensure more even cooking. You can add a few red pepper flakes here if you like heat. Or consider using a pepperjack cheese.

Pop in a 350 degree oven uncovered, and check after about 30 minutes. Perfect time to see what's on tv and grab a cold beer.

You might have to give it a little stir if the pieces on top get too browned, but keep in mind that a little bit of brown on the broccoli is a good thing. If you've never had it roasted before it's glorious. Beats the heck out of mushy steamed broccoli any day. (As a side note, I've recently discovered that broccoli cooked on a grill plan is delicious as well.)

Grate, or thinly slice if you're as lazy as I am, your cheese. When your potatoes are tender, which like I said should take a half hour or so, remove and layer some cheese on top. Pop back in. If you're as impatient as I am, crank your oven, or toaster oven in my case, up a few degrees. You might be seeing a pattern in my cooking style here.

When the cheese is sufficiently melted, grab a fork.

I won't tell anyone if you don't even bother with a plate.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Butternut Squash Risotto

I know what you are thinking. Ok that's not entirely true. But you might be thinking "Butternut Squash? In June? From someone who advocates eating seasonally?"

You'll have to forgive my slight transgression when you hear why. It's been a struggle for me to wrap my head around the fact that I will be gone in a few days. My small studio apartment is my sanctuary and my kitchen is usually stocked with all manner of ingredients. Lately, I've had to keep reminding myself not to keep buying food. I can't buy a can of this or a jar of that knowing that I'll discover it in my pantry a few months later and use it to create something really special. I can't keep stocking up on cans of beans just because they are on sale.

Emptying out my freezer has been an amusing process. In it you'll find an odd assortment of leftover bits and pieces. Everything from tofu to a ham hock. They should make an episode of "Chopped" with what's in there. So anyways, one of my finds was a container of leftover ravioli filling that I made months ago.

So out of the freezer it came, as I racked my brain and my cupboards looking for a suitable partner. None of my regular starches seemed like a good match especially on a warm night, until I spied a forgotten box of risotto. And the stars aligned in the form of an open bottle of white wine. Open bottles of wine don't last very long around my house so it was a sign.


About a cup and a half of cooked butternut squash (assuming you are feeding 2 people with leftovers)
Handful blue cheese, to taste
Handful dried cranberries, to taste
Arborio rice (see package for measurements and servings sizes)
Healthy splash of white wine
1 small or medium onion, diced
A few cloves of minced garlic
Butter and olive oil
Optional vegetable stock
Optional fresh lemon

In a large sauce pan, heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add the diced onion and season liberally with salt and pepper. Satuee until the onion starts to get some color, but don't let it get too brown.

At this point you can prepare a sauce pan with some stock and heat over medium low heat. A full disclaimer that I used water and it turned out just fine. I used pretty strongly flavored ingredients in this one, but when I'm making something plainer I do use stock. Regardless, heat some liquid in a saucepan next to your risotto. It should simmer but not boil.

Add the garlic and uncooked rice and stir so that the rice starts to absorb some of the butter and oil. Stir constantly while it toasts slightly. After a few minutes and when you see the rice starting to get a little toasty, add the white wine. You want a good amount (I added about 2 cups) because this will add a lot of flavor. You could add some lemon juice right now also.

Stir the risotto until it absorbs all of the liquid. The usual risotto technique is to watch constantly, add a little warm liquid at a time, and wait until it absorbs all of it before adding some more. I turn the heat down to low, add about a cup of liquid at a time, stir well, put the lid on, and watch some tv. During the commercial break I'll check it again. I've never had any complaints about my risotto. There are so many commercials nowadays that you end up checking it pretty often this way.

When it had a good deal of liquid added to it but wasn't quite done, I dumped in my sqaush, blue cheese and cranberry mix and stirred well to incorporate. You might want to reseason at this point with salt and pepper.

Watch the magic happen... and enjoy.

PS: When I went back and read the ravioli recipe I had made a note about saving the filling to make risotto. The idea must have been tucked away in the back of my mind for a while. I wonder what else is lurking back there?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

You might not be so proud...

Or maybe some of you will be???

I recently posted about a Phillies game where I showed tremendous restraint. I somehow managed to avoid the temptations of hot dogs and cheesesteaks that are abundant at Citizen's Bank Park.

PETA ranks Citizen's Bank Park as the best ball park for vegetarian eats. Given that I only go once or twice a year, I tend to use games as an excuse to splurge. I feel like it's my right as an American to enjoy a hot dog at a ball game. And while I've heard great things about veggie dogs and veggie cheesesteaks there, they're not exactly handing them out at every concession stand.

It was sheer luck that I ended up getting that black bean burger at the last game because we ended up sitting right by the one stand that sells them. I choked it down (it was about as bad as you'd expect it to be) hoping to gain some good karma for a little while.

Any good karma that I earned was promptly spent at Friday night's game against the Padres. Maybe I'm just getting sad about leaving Philly, but I haven't wanted to waste my last few weeks here on terrible veggie burgers. My time is precious.

What better way to enjoy all that is Philly than with a sandwich worthy of an episode of Diners, Drive ins and Dives. I present to you the Schmitter.

Cheesesteak, fried onions, fried bologna, tomato, and special sauce.

And yes, it was worth it.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Ode to a Cucumber

You know what I think is just as cool
As an afternoon spent by the pool?
I’ll give you a hint, it’s long and green.
And at the farmer’s market it can be seen.

But only when the weather is nice and hot.
During the winter months, you’ll find it not.
So all winter long I wait and wait.
With nothing but potatoes to fill my plate.
I eagerly await the arrival of spring.
And of all the green things that it will bring.
Asparagus and strawberries are a hopeful sign.
Of a bountiful summer that soon will be mine.
At last the day is finally here!
When I first bite into a cold crunchy spear.
I sprinkle with salt, or just eat it plain.
Until a ripe summer tomato I can obtain.

Then panzanella always does the trick.
A dish I can prepare really quick.
And into tzatziki for a delicious dip.
Or maybe I'll make a summer sip?
It makes a great cocktail or so I’m told.
Gazpacho too, served nice and cold.
When August comes they’re everywhere.
From friends’ backyards to my CSA share.
At times it seems it’s more than I need.
Then I think about all the hungry mouths to feed.
But if I can’t use it, it’s not the end.
I’ve always wanted to try pickling our vegetable friend.
And a cold slice placed over the eyes
Is said to really revitalize.
So the next time you’re trying to beat the heat.
I know just what you need for a refreshing treat.

Wilma's Tasty Tortilla Chips

I hate waste. Which is tough when you love food as much as I do. I couldn't resist buying real tortillas recently for the Lost finale party. By real I mean not the kind from the grocery store but the made by hand variety from the mexican grocer at Reading Terminal.

Definitely worth it for the taste alone, but when they are dirt cheap you really can't go wrong.

Until you realize that you have about 30 leftover. And you are one little person who can only eat so many tacos.

If you are anything like me you are inspired to whip up a batch of homemade tortilla chips for your next office meeting and trust that somebody will bring some sort of dip if you ask nicely. See Betty's salsa below.


Fresh flour or corn tortillas
Vegetable oil

A cast iron dutch oven works perfectly for frying. Luckily, I have my trusty Lodge that I pull out for just such occasions. Heat some oil over medium high heat. You don't need a ton because tortilla chips are thin.

While the oil is heating, slice your tortillas into chip size wedges and line a plate with paper towels.

Test the oil by dropping a small piece of tortilla or bread in. When it sizzles immediately it's ready, but if it browns immediately it's too hot.

Drop them in a few at a time. You don't want any overlap.

Watch carefully and flip when you see brown around the edges. When they are lightly golden brown remove with a spider or even tongs will do. Be careful not to splash yourself, but shake gently to remove as much excess oil as possible.

Place on the paper towel lined plate and sprinkle lightly with salt. I'm sure you can play around with some spices here. Cumin, chili powder and lime come to mind, but maybe some cinnamon sugar??

Store in an airtight container until ready to eat.

For such a simple food, I was surprised at how taken aback people were that I actually made them. I guess it is relatively labor intensive for something that you can buy pretty inexpensively at the store, but it will impress the next time you entertain. And you won't have to tell anyone that it cost you next to nothing.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Betty's Desktop Salsa

Maybe you will be smart enough to prepare this ahead of time. I'm not sure most offices offices besides ours come equipped with knives sharp enough to cut a whole pineapple. Sometimes in my office, it's best not to ask questions.

And you should get a whole pineapple for this, none of that expensive pre-cut kind. Make sure it's ripe by smelling it. If you don't smell pineapple it's not ready.

The recipe is taken from Whole Foods.

Makes about 2 cups
The tropical flavors of pineapple and lime combine with red onion, cilantro and serrano pepper for a salsa that's great with grilled pork, skirt steak, shrimp or tofu. It's also delicious with tortilla chips or spooned over tacos. For the best flavor, make at least 30 minutes ahead of time to allow the flavors to mingle.

2 cups diced fresh pineapple
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
1 serrano pepper, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped
Juice and zest of 1 lime
1/8 teaspoon sea salt

Toss all ingredients together in a large bowl. Serve immediately or cover and chill until ready to use.

To really impress your co-workers, serve with the top.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Things I Will Miss

I will miss being able to share culinary adventures with my office mates. I will never forget last summer bringing in our haul from the CSA every other week and spreading it out on an office table. While cookies and candy are a regular occurence, we got quite a few stares with our giant heads of cabbage, bright red beets, and kabocha squashes. Nobody seemed to mind it though when we shared our giant watermelon one week. Note to all office managers: nothing will boost office morale like a giant ice cold watermelon in the middle of July.

And so it wasn't completely out of place that Betty and I found ourselves slicing into a whole pineapple, dicing onions and chili peppers, and tearing up cilantro at her desk last week. Ok, it was very out of place. Our office doesn't even have a break room. Also, we had to use a mystery plate we found as a cutting board and a scary knife that's been in our office since the dawn of time. I don't want to know how it got here.

When I decided to organize a potluck for a meeting, chips and dip might come to mind. Well you can imagine I wasn't gonna show up with a bag of tostito's and some french onion dip.

Instead I brought homemade tortilla chips and if you hadn't guessed from above Betty made fresh pineapple salsa. Oh and I almost forgot about my fresh brewed sweet tea with mint. I think I could have a new career as a caterer and considering how many catered events my office alone has it might not be a bad idea. Recipes to follow.

Monday Night Meal at Mémé

I know this is much delayed post so forgive me...

My birthday and mother's day fell pretty close to each other this year so what better way to celebrate than by going out to a restaurant that pays homage to my mom's side of the family tree? I give Fred 100% of the credit for picking the restaurant.

Mémé's at 22nd and Spruce is one of many places that I have wandered past many times, but never had occasion to eat at. It's a testament to the strength of the Philly dining scene that I have lived in the same neighborhood for 3 years and have yet to sample every restaurant within walking distance.

The name itself was enough to intrigue me. I have French Canadian roots on my mother's side (you'll have to ask her for all the details) but we affectionately call my grandmother on my mom's side Mémère. (She is incidentally, a great cook.) I was not surprised to learn, therefore, that the restaurant was named after the chef's Morrocan grandmother.

The French influence isn't terribly strong in the food, and the menu would be best described as American. They get my vote for using many local ingredients. They also have an extensive wine list.

The decor was elegant and surprisingly light and airy. Even though they drew a substantial crowd (and on a Monday night no less) the small space never felt cramped.

So on to the food. Like any special occasion (read: expensive) meal it was something of an event. Again my apologies for not writing sooner as my memory is not that great. I remember that you could choose a 3 course prix fixe meal from the menu. I believe it was $35. I don't, however, know how often they do it.

For a non dessert eater like myself, I am often wary of 3 course meals. Especially if I'm actually eating vegetarian, often I will spend less money picking from the menu. I debated for a while until I saw that one of the dessert choices was cheese. End of debate.

First courses: ravioli and scallops

A perfect and light way to start the meal. It tasted like spring.
A not so light appetizer, but an indulgent bite that will not soon be forgotton. It makes you immediately want to try and replicate it at home.

Second Courses: steelhead trout and porkchop

So here was my only gripe about an otherwise stellar restaurant. I inquired about the catch of the day and how it was prepared. The answer was Steelhead Mackeral and grilled. Not being a picky eater, I decided to try it. A little post meal research revealed that Steelhead is actually trout, but my biggest surprise came when the entire fish was presented head and all. It's time like these that I envy vegetarians. I've never seen a piece of tofu stare back at me with its cold, dead eyes. Ok, so my fault for not assuming that grilled meant whole. Again, not a problem. I just put some potatoes and onions over the eye and went about my business. Not having much experience with whole fish I found it hard to avoid every single bone. Especially when you are given almost no light. I'm all for mood lighting but not when there are potential choking hazards involved. Still, I did manage to eat every delicious bite.

According to Fred, his pork chop was divine. Not that I would know of course...
Third Courses: cheese and strawberry napoleon
I'm not sure you can really screw up cheese. Ok I take that back, you can screw it up by not giving me enough of it.

If you're into this sort of thing... You would enjoy it. It managed to be light and decadent at the same time. And of course incredibly fresh tasting.
Bottom Line: Add this to your special occasion repertoire.

Mémé Restaurant
2201 Spruce Street

Thursday, June 3, 2010


Having lived in various locations around Fitler Square for several years, I have wandered past Tastebuds Market many times. I've been curious and maybe poked my head in once or twice, but like nearby Bacchus I just assume it's a place for those who can afford expensive pre-cooked meals and who don't have the time or desire to cook for themselves. While I do splurge on food, it's usually on expensive ingredients I cook at home or on a nice restaurant meal. I guess the concept of paying $8.99 per pound for eggplant parm that you then eat at home is a bit strange to me.

But curiosity and a Groupon got the better of me and so it was that I ended up there recently sampling the aforementioned eggplant parm. I like the homey, friendly feel and the fact that everything looked really fresh and delicious. If I could afford it (which most people in this neighborhood can I'm sure) and I was pressed for time I could see the appeal. I will say the prices aren't completely outrageous and they offer catering and gift baskets that look reasonable.

I had high hopes for the beautiful looking eggplant parm. Let's just say that I'll stick with my homemade version from now on. Not that it was terrible, I just think the texture of eggplant parm is best straight out of the oven. The flavor was also more lasagna than eggplant. Not necessarily the worst thing, just not what I was looking for.

The Asian marinated vegetables, however, were delicious. Perfect texture and seasonings. They were a much better value, and I even had leftovers to mix with some tofu and rice the next day. I might actually consider them the next time I'm looking to treat myself. Of course we're also entering the high season for local and seasonal veggies so I might as well just try and replicate the Asian marinade myself. I know it included a lot of sesame oil.
So maybe this wasn't the most helpful of reviews. I'm still not entirely sure how I felt about the place either, other than to say it's not the kind of place I frequent.
Tastebuds Market and Catering
24th and Lombard Streets

It's All Coming to an End (Part 3)

Third Course: Coconut Shrimp

I had much more sucess, and experience making my next dish. The first time was an experiment that went very right. I would make it more often if not for the high price of shrimp and the fact that most shrimp is not sustainably harvested. When the occasion calls for it though, you have to live a little. And given the current state of affairs maybe we should all be stocking up on seafood while we still can.

Raw shrimp* (1/4 per person)
Coconut flakes
Eggs (2 is enough for 4 servings)
Canola oil

*Go to a reputable fish market (Reading Terminal is the best place in Philly) where you will likely find unpeeled and undeveined shrimp for a decent price. It's worth it to peel and devein them yourself, or enlist some helping hands to do it. Oh, and don't be tempted to get the cooked variety at the supermarket, they just won't do.

Once your shrimp are all cleaned up, set up your breading station. Eggs go in one bowl and the coconut and panko go in another. The coconut and panko should be equal parts, and if your coconut came in large flakes like mine did you may have to crush them slightly. They should be about the same size and texture of the panko. Season this lightly with salt.

Coat the shrimp first in egg, then in panko/coconut and lay out on a baking sheet lined with foil. It makes for easier cleanup.

Drizzle carefully and lightly with some canola oil.

Pop in a 350 degree oven. These cook quickly, about 12 minutes. As soon as the coating gets a little browned you should pull them.

Dipping sauces are in order. Please ask Betty for the recipe she used this time. I have experimented with the sweet/sour/spicy combo before with good results.

It's All Coming to an End (Part 2)

Second Course: Pineapple Fried RiceAnd frankly, no recipe available either. I blame it on the aforementioned tropical drinks and also on my poor planning, but don't trust me on this dish folks. I forgot to buy long grain rice so in the end had to use the sushi rice I had which would have been ok if not ideal. But... I also overcooked it. A quick google search will serve you better unless you are in the mood for some pineapple gruel. Maybe if you work in a nursing home? Or are recovering from jaw surgery?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

It's All Coming to an End (Part 1)

I've already started to say my goodbyes. To the people and places that have made my time in Philly so special, but more (ok maybe not more) importantly to the greatest television show of my generation.

Insert groan *here* because I'm talking about Lost. Well, I won't actually talk about it here, I'll leave that to the rest of the geeks out there on the internet. I will however, talk about the finale feast cooked up by the WVE crew.

The First Course: Teriyaki Fish Tacos With Chipotle Lime Slaw


Firm white fish fillets (1/4 lb per person)
Teriyaki sauce or marinade
Optional fresh chile peppers
Tortillas, both flour and corn
Head of green or napa cabbage (1/2 head will be more than enough for 4 people)
A large carrot or 2
Small jar of chipotle peppers in adobo
Fresh Limes

Make sure that your fish fillets are completely bone free. Place in a baking dish and cover with teriyaki. You don't want it swimming in it, just enough to coat. You can add slices of chili if you want, seeds and all. Cover and place in the fridge. This should marinate for at least an hour.

Meanwhile, cut your cabbage into large chunks and place in a large bowl. Cover with water and a large handful of salt. Swish around to make sure that the water gets into the crevices of the cabbage. This step is designed to clean any debri from the cabbage if it's straight from the farm and the salt acts to ensure maximum crunch in the final product. I learned this from making kimchi. The cabbage should sit in there for at least a half hour. Remove from the water and rinse under cold running water and dry thoroughly. Pat with a paper towel if need be.

Using your largest and sharpest knife, slice the cabbage into thin shreds. I kept mine somewhat wide, mostly out of laziness. I also like a nice bite of cabbage as opposed to the weird shred you sometimes see in prepared slaw. Place in your serving bowl.

Use a vegetable peeler to peel the outer layer of carrot and discard. The peeler will then come in handy to peel nice juliennes of carrot right on top of your cabbage.

Slice some scallion on top as well.

In a small bowl, start with a small scoop of mayo. It will probably take less than you think to coat your slaw and it's best to err on the side of caution rather than go overboard. Pour in some of the adobo sauce from the chipotles. This is potent so be careful. Take a few chipotles out and dice before adding to the mayo. Add a squeeze of fresh lime. Taste and adjust as needed. Add to the cabbage mixture and toss. Set aside in the fridge for a while so the flavors can marry.

Your fish should be marinated by this time so pop it in a 350 degree oven, uncovered. I left the teriyaki right in the baking dish because I hadn't added a ton to begin with. Remove any chilis you may have added.

The fish should take about 20 minutes to cook all the way through. It should be completely opaque and flake with a fork when you poke it.

Right before serving, heat up your tortillas breifly in the oven or in the microwave. I would recommend seeking out a Mexican grocer for dirt cheap but high quality tortillas. They can easily be found at Reading Terminal, which of course also happens to be the best place to buy the fish. Keep the tortillas covered so they stay warm. Prepare your table setting with the tortillas, lime wedges, and slaw.

Best consumed with a cold tropical beverage.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

So I Turned 25 Recently... (Part 2)

I pretty much did nothing but eat for 3 days straight which is exactly how I wanted to spend my birthday weekend. The Part 1 meal was my parents doing. You can see where I get my meat eating ways from. It's not often that I get homecooked (and not by me), fall off the bone tender ribs so no complaints here. My dad's ribs are about as good as it gets so I'm hoping he will share his method.

I did, however, want to have one meal that represented the way that I cook and took full of advantage of my parents grill. I came prepared with my own ingredients, all local and seasonal. My sous-chefs and I created a simple but delicious meal that satisfied both vegetarians and carnivores alike. We improvised, so sorry that there are no detailed recipes.

I started out with some local, organic ground beef. I was shocked at how expensive steak is. No worries, burgers are just fine by me. Especially on nice fresh, locally made ciabatta.

We raided my parent's fridge for marinade ingredients for some portabello mushroom caps. I'm pretty sure soy sauce and teriyaki sauce were involved.

A whole bunch of veggies went on the grill, all seasoned simply with olive oil, salt and pepper.

Maybe my favorite part of the meal was Betty's special blackberry reduction. I never would have thought to combine blackberries and balsamic vinegar and reduce it into a thick sauce. She better share the recipe before I leave! It elevated everything from the grilled chicken to the asparagus to new heights.

Here it is on the grill...

And on the table...

Thanks Betty and Fred for cooking and taking some great pics!