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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Odd and Sundry: Final Scenes of 2009

I love wrapping things up, finding the theme and closure to a year. This was a remarkable year in our lives and a decade of memorable events. I'll take the time to do my annual recap or look back at 2009 in another post, as I did last year. For tonight, I wanted to share a few wacky images I found in and around Rittenhouse Square, sight of many of my best photographs. Due to the fact that I work near the Square, I frequent it on a daily basis. Four square blocks that remain the same yet each day, week, month or season, I find something I've never before seen or something to delight my fancy. Today I found:

The Stickman/Robot Tile Skeleton along the 19th Street Side - between Walnut and Locust. He's everywhere and on the Square too.
A dead rat. The only kind of rat, aside from Ratatouille, that I like. The rat's mouth is oddly bright red with blood. My kind of macabre find.
A sweater knitted around a Plane Tree. The colours of the sweater were what originally drew me into the Square today, I could see them from a block away. As I walked into the Square, I noticed that this item was actually sewn and stitched up around the body of the tree. Not sure of the purpose but it does make me view the trees as figures. This long trunk reminds me of a giraffe's neck.
The Rittenhouse Square Hawk is back! Because I went to look at the sweater on the tree, I was also able to spot the hawk that's been hunting in the Square for the past few years. I assumed it was back, it returns each Fall and Winter almost on cue. With the trees bare of their leaves, it must be easier to spot the rats, fat pigeons and loony squirrels running from stash to stash.
From Facebook - a photo collage of my favorite random sampling of the 468 photos I posted onto my Facebook pages. From Triathlons, Cookbook Author Gigs to Snow and our Baby's Birth - this has been a fantastic year for Liz and I. Thanks for reading and following my antics in 2009. Here's to much kindness and love in 2010.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Mediteranean Cod in Tomato Sauce

From my recipe & Blog Archives - another one of my Temple Foods or "Clean Eating" Meals, as well as a re-posting of an old entry from my Yahoo! 360 Blog. This is another version of a poached fish in tomato sauce. There are a few more steps, but it uses whole fresh tomatoes. It may be possible to find good plum tomatoes this time of year but I do realize it's not quite the right season. Feel free to substitute a good quality can of whole tomatoes - San Marzano are the best. Here's the entry, from September 2007:

I was inspired to make a low fat healthy fish dish while watching an old episode of Martha. The tomato sauce original recipe had over 1/2 cup of olive oil in the salted cod & tomato sauce with the addition of another 1/4 cup of oil served over the finished dish. It looked fantastic, but it was so high in fat, even good for you omega 3 cholesterol lowering olive oil fat, that it had to be drastically reduced in calories. The recipe, while fairly easy, relied on too many cooking steps and methods to be realistic for a quick week night dinner by the home cook - even if the home cook is a pro! If the fat was being taken out of the dish, more flavor needed to be added in practical healthy ways. The answer was to add more vegetables while allowing the tomatoes to stand out. As I watched the tv segment, it dawned on me that the dish, hailing from Southern Italy (the Puligia Region) was similar to bouillabaisse or other tomato sauce and seafood dishes. The fish could be poached in the tomato sauce, adding depth of flavor and reducing the need to turn on the oven. What follows is a step by step photo recipe for my version of: Poached Medi Cod in Tomato SaucePick the best plum tomatoes you can find. About 2 pounds worth. Wash the tomatoes and cut off the tops; cut them into quarters and puree, skins, seeds and all.

Puree the tomatoes in batches, until they are thoroughly smooth.

The tomato puree will look so pink it will resemble watermelon puree. 2-3 pounds of tomatoes will yield 4 to 5 cups of puree.

Small dice all the vegetables and mince the garlic. In a saute pan over medium -high heat, sweat in 2 tablespoons of olive oil - 1 medium shallot or 1/4 cup of onion; 1 large celery stalk; 1 medium carrot; 1/2 small fennel bulb; 2 medium cloves of garlic. After the vegetables are softened, add in 2 Tablespoons dry Italian herbs and red pepper flakes or Picantisime Seasoning.

Add the pureed tomatoes to the sauteed vegetable medley and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes, skimming the foam off the top.

As the tomato puree simmers, it will thicken and deepen back to a familiar tomatoey color. After 30 minutes, add in 2 tablespoons capers. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. If necessary, adjust and add more Italian herbs and hot pepper flakes. Continue to simmer. Add 1 & 1/2 pounds of fresh cod cut into large chunks and poach the fish for 10 - 15 minutes before serving. Cod is cooked through when it turns opaque.

Serve with sauteed zucchini - such as patty pan squash or summer squash.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Tilapia with Chard, Diced Tomatoes and White Beans

Now is the time to start eating "clean" - don't wait until the New Year to diet or eat healthy, it's important to get back to lighter fare today. This way, if you over-indulge on New Years Eve and or New Year's Day, you can feel somewhat better about the choices you have made in the days leading up to the new year. I have been hitting the sugar and dessert buffet a bit too often around here, along with the bread bar and cheese trough. Since the baby was born 10 weeks ago, I haven't been to the gym often enough during any given week. While I'm probably making 80% healthy eating choices, I've been feeling logy and lethargic; it's a combination of lack of exercise and some small weight gain. I'm trying hard not to beat myself up, but it can be nearly impossible not to think I'm going back to my former fat self. But it is just as difficult to work, keep up with housework, shop, walk the dog and assist Liz with the baby care. There just doesn't seem to be much time in the day to fit in a gym workout. Either I wake up early to go to the gym which cuts my sleep down even more or I have to be a little more gentle with myself and my growing mid-section. What I can do stay eating light and healthy is to throw out the candy, cakes and cookies and start eating what I call my "Temple Foods" - life giving, power-foods that are low-fat and energizing. Salmon and other fish, beans, and a lot more vegetables. Here's a quick, one-pot easy fish dish that fits the plate perfectly: Tilapia with Chard, Diced Tomatoes and White Beans - Served over No-Yolk Noodles

Ingredients:
  • 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil or Basil Flavored Olive Oil
  • 4 Garlic Cloves - minced
  • 1 Large Bunch Swiss/Rainbow/or Red Chard - rinsed, stems removed & roughly chopped
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes
  • 1 Can (14 to 16 ounces) White Beans - drained & rinsed
  • 1 Can (14 to 16 ounces) Diced Tomatoes - plain & low-sodium or go crazy & try a flavor like Jalapeno or Basil & Garlic!
  • 1 Pound Tilapia Fillets (about 4-5 fillets)
  • Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper - to taste
Directions:
  1. Use a large non-stick saute pan or skillet with a tight fitting lid. Heat the two tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat until the oil begins to shimmer, about 1 minute. Stir in the minced garlic and saute 1 minute. Add in the chopped chard leaves, put the lid on the skillet and allow the chard to steam/saute until it wilts and collapses down onto itself. It may appear that the chard won't fit into the pan, but as it cooks down, it will fit. Cook for 2 minutes.
  2. Sprinkle in the red pepper flakes, stirring to mix into the chard. Pour in the white beans and the diced tomatoes with their juices. Season with a pinch of salt and a few dashes of ground black pepper.
  3. Lay the tilapia fillets on top of the chard/beans/tomato mixture. Season the fillets with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Place the lid on the pan and cook the fish for 5 minutes. Remove the lid and gently pierce the fish to see if it's cooked all the way through. The tilapia fillets should be opaque throughout. To assist in the cooking, spoon some of the sauce that is in the pan over the fillets.
  4. Serve immediately, over noodles or whole wheat pasta, with the chard, beans and tomatoes and a small drizzle of olive oil over the finished fish. Makes 4 Servings or 3 generous portions. Here's to your health!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Season's Greetings: Christmas Sights in Philadelphia

Santa as a Mummer or Two-Face from The Batman Movies

Reindeer Dog - poor old dog, but what a good sport!

City Snow in Rittenhouse Square

Servin' Up Some Snow for Christmas (a few days early!)

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Gingerbread House Decorating - Product Review

Well, I broke down and bought the Williams-Sonoma Christmas Gingerbread House Kit. No one twisted my arm to do so, I realized minutes after I bought the Halloween Kit that I'd be buying a Christmas Kit if one was available. My friend, Susan Hill, was surprised I'd buy a kit, but as I am lacking the baking gene, pre-made and pre-pared is my modus operandi for most baking, especially elaborate baking projects. As I said about the Halloween Gingerbread Haunted House, for $20, it's a no-brainer for someone like me. Easy to assemble, comes with a stand/tray and candy? Heck yeah I'm gonna be swayed.

The Holiday House was far easier to assemble. It did help that I learned a thing or two from having put together the Haunted House. I had fun working with it; the candy was decorative and colorful; the building tray makes holding the house together a breeze - felt like an Amish house building project - one two three and the walls were up! I thought the Haunted House kit was a bit cooler, as I love Halloween and all things kooky and black and orange! The only thing I added to the Christmas House was more candy and sprinkles. But that's my personal touch.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Cooking for a Good Cause

We have a massive snow storm in Philadelphia today - the first major snow of the season. We have been covered with at least a foot of snow over the past 15 hours and it doesn't show signs of stopping, but we've got some corn for popping...Today is definitely a day to stay indoors, snuggle on the couch and drink hot cocoa. I'm doing some of that, but drinking lots of coffee instead and enjoying the time at home with our 2 month old son. He doesn't know it, but he's celebrating his first Christmas and his first snow! In addition to enjoying the snow day, I'm cooking for for a men's shelter. I wanted to take this opportunity to promote this worthwhile cause and remind people that it is so important to do whatever you can to help the shelters and food banks. Liz and I have some personal charities of choice that tend to be related to food or children's causes. We like to support Philabundance, Trinity Memorial Church's Winter Shelter, or Manna Philadelphia. As I love to cook and am used to preparing food in massive quantities thanks to my catering and prepared foods background, it's easy enough for me to make a big pot of chili, several trays of baked ziti or a Sunday supper of salad, roasted chicken and potatoes with glazed carrots and dessert. For $50 to $60, you can make a nutritious meal with meat that can feed 20 to 25 people. For $40 you can make several days worth of vegetarian entrees - soup, pasta or chili with sides too.

I know that a lot of charities are in great need this year and you are probably inundated with requests. I'm asking my friends and followers out here to please give what you can. $5 makes a difference. I've linked the three charities I support, if you want to check out their sites. Maybe you could plan on making some vegetable soup - triple it and give the extra's to a local shelter or senior citizen's center. Got that free turkey from the grocery? Philabundance will gladly take it. Manna always needs helpers to deliver meals to the needy and sick. Remember, the need exists beyond the Holiday Season. January and February can be the coldest and most needy months. Thanks and Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Christmas Scenes of South Philadelphia

There are some spectacular Christmas displays in my neighborhood, and then there are just plain crazy Christmas window shows. For the past few years, I've been taking photos of the brightest, most outlandish, sweetest, and tackiest holiday displays as I find them. A friend mentioned to me that the people in her area of 1200 Wolf/Jackson Streets are, as a group, keeping PECO in the high profit margin this season. You can see the lights and hear the music from several blocks away. Sometimes those streets and houses are just too obvious. Plenty of people have spotted these homes, no need to further document them for posterity. Instead, I'm opting to showcase a few of the unsung, subtle, or just plain odd holiday displays of 2009. The above photo was found on 11th Street between Federal and Ellsworth. It's a pink flocked tree from the 1960's, decorated with satin Christmas balls. In front is a hairdresser's mannequin head, and the curtains, pure vintage 1960's fabric. Fabulous!
Here we have the gang from Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer. Rudy, Burl Ives the Snowman, Rudolph's girlfriend, Clarice, and a few Misfit Toys from the Isle of Misfit Toys. Who wants a polka-dotted elephant or a Jack-in-the-Box that whines? Apparently, the owner's of this house. Seems they spent a lot of money at CVS purchasing the limited edition stuffed characters.
This family really loves their classic Christmas cartoon characters. The Grinch, another misfit toy - this time the cowboy who rides an ostrich, and a random penguin.
Rounding out the Holiday Gang, Yukon Cornelius and Herbie "I want to be a Dentist", and Snowman in clothes. I thought snow people didn't need clothes, just corncob pipes and button noses...I actually love this window. It's so sweet and clearly thought out - they added faux snow and lights along with snowflake stickers. Now that's love of the holiday. For more interesting photos that I've taken, check out my Flickr sight here at this link. I'll be posting more over the next week too. BTW, the masthead scrapbook page contains a few of my favorite Christmas sightings from the past few years. The Leg Lamp, is my all time favorite. This is in my immediate neighborhood, at 9th & Moore Street.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Chocolate & Bread Parfait Pudding

A few weeks ago, Lidia Bastianich, Italian Chef, PBS Television Star, Restaurateur and all around authority on authentic Italian Cuisine, came to my Philadelphia Williams-Sonoma store at The Bellevue in Center City. I had the opportunity to work the event, as it was on a Tuesday and I currently have Tuesdays off for "maternity/parental" leave. As the former resident chef at the store, occasionally I get the chance to work and cook for the chef author events when I am available.
Being a celebrity chef 'ho, I didn't want to miss meeting Lidia and adding to my collection another autographed cookbook. Mrs. Bastianich's publicity folks asked that the store make two of her current recipes from the latest cookbook - Lidia Cooks From The Heart of Italy. Resident Chef Margaret made Lidia's Sausages in the skillet with grapes; I was asked to make her Chocolate Bread Parfait - a cross between a summer bread pudding and tiramisu.
We had a lovely turn-out for the event; Lidia Bastianich has a devoted following. She is in person just as you see her on television - direct, authoritative without seeming cold and mean, and regal. There wasn't the same electricity and excitement in the store as when Martha Stewart was there, nor was there the same giddiness in the air at meeting the sexy-rock-star-Top Chef, Tom Colliccio. Ah, well, you can't always have those mega watt shining moments. We made beautiful food, enjoyed several hours with customers and a celebrity chef. It was a good day with a good recipe, which I've made slightly easier for all.

Spoiler Alert: Recipes LIE. I've known this for years, I've heard chef's say this, I've read it, and recently I heard a chef on Jim Coleman's WHYY's Radio Show, A Chef's Table, say that even the best cookbook recipes lie. What this means is the recipes don't always work at home. Commercial ovens are different, hotter and more exact than our home ovens. Quantities are exact but most cooks ad-lib it with ingredient amounts. Upon reading Lidia's recipe as it was written, I found it complicated and inexact. Primarily my issue was with how the chocolate is melted. To this end, I deconstructed the recipe and used ingredients that I knew would work well. I used the Williams-Sonoma Hot Chocolate Mix; it's shavings of high quality Guittard pure milk chocolate, which melt quickly. I switched out brewed espresso for instant; for the demonstration, I used a combination of Metropolitan's Brioche and Country White Breads. However, I learned that this recipe really works better with the Country White Bread - it holds up better and soaks up the chocolate without falling apart. As for working with melted chocolate, one needs to realize that melted chocolate can easily seize when combined with other liquids. I opted to melt the chocolate with a bit of heavy cream, adding in some fat to help the chocolate melt and blend easily with the espresso and rum. By the way, this is not one of my healthy, lighter, Weight Watcher's Recipes. I wouldn't have made it on my own, but...It is the holiday season. Enjoy!

Chocolate Bread Parfait Pudding - adapted from Lidia Bastianich's Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy: page 221; an Umbrian dessert recipe.
  • 1 Cup Williams-Sonoma Pure Milk Hot Chocolate Mix or 8 ounces of Bitter/Semi-Sweet Chocolate chopped Or Good Quality Bitter/Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
  • 1 Pint (2 Cups) of Heavy Cream - Divided
  • 8 Slices Country Style White Bread - crusts removed
  • 1/2 Cup Freshly Brewed Espresso or an equal quantity of prepared Instant Espresso made according to package directions
  • 2 Tablespoons Dark or Golden Rum, or Khaluhah (or 1 Tablespoon of quality Rum Extract)
  • 3 Tablespoons Sugar - divided
  • 1/2 Cup Sliced Almonds - toasted (you can "toast" them in the microwave for 1 minute, stir and heat again for 33 seconds)
Directions:
  1. Use a chilled metal or glass bowl and chilled beaters to whip 1 & 1/2 Cups of the heavy cream with a tablespoon of sugar, until stiff peaks form. Set aside in the refrigerator until ready to use. Cream can be whipped up to a day ahead.
  2. In a large heat safe/microwave safe bowl, pour in 1/2 cup of heavy cream and add in the 1 cup of hot chocolate or shaved chocolate. Microwave on high for 2 minutes. Stir and heat again for another 2 minutes or until the chocolate is thoroughly melted. Set aside.
  3. Remove the crusts from the bread and lay the bread slices onto a sheet tray. Set aside.
  4. Prepare the espresso and pour it into a mixing jar or bowl. Stir in the Rum or Khalulah and the 2 tablespoons of sugar; stir until the sugar dissolves. Carefully pour the espresso/rum mixture into the melted chocolate, stirring and blending the chocolate with the espresso mixture, until it is smooth and pourable.
  5. Pour some of the chocolate mixture over the bread slices. Flip the bread over and pour more of the chocolate mixture over the other side. Reserve some (about 1/4 cup) of the chocolate mixture to drizzle over the top of the finished parfait.)
  6. To assemble the mixture, break or cut the chocolate soaked bread slices and layer half of them into the bottom of parfait glasses or into a trifle bowl.
  7. Next, add a layer of whipped cream on top of the chocolate bread slices. Sprinkle some sliced almonds on top of the whipped cream. Drizzle some of the reserved chocolate over this layer. Repeat with the next layer of bread, whipped cream and almonds. Drizzle the remaining chocolate sauce over the top layer of whipped cream and almonds.
  8. Serves 4 to 6. Recipe is best when assembled and served immediately, though it will hold for several hours, refrigerated.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

One Pot Cooking: Coca-Cola Braised Beef Short Ribs

For this month's one-pot cooking - set it and forget it meal, I present to you:

Beef Short Ribs Braised in Coca Cola. That's right, a can of Coke!

Brought to you by the letters A & P! (The beef ribs were on sale at SuperFresh aka A&P Supermarket)


Coca-Cola Braised Beef Short Ribs Ingredients:

  • 3-4 Pounds Beef Short Ribs
  • 1- 12 ounce Can Coke (NOT DIET! Dr. Pepper or a good Rootbeer will work well too)
  • 1/2 Cup Worchestchire Sauce
  • 1/2 Cup Water
  • 2 Tablespoons Williams-Sonoma Hickory Smoked Seasoning Rub (or Thyme, Smoked Paprika, Oregano, Black Pepper, Cumin, Cayenne & Sugar)
  • Freshly Ground Pepper - to taste
  • 3 Medium Carrots - Large Dice
  • 1 Large Onion - Large Dice
  • 2 Celery Ribs Celery - Large Dice
  • 4 Garlic Cloves - Roughly Chopped
  • Equipment:
  • Dutch Oven

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees
  2. Place half of the diced/chopped vegetables in the bottom of a Dutch Oven. Next, place the ribs on top of the vegetables. Put the remaining vegetables on top of the beef ribs.
  3. Pour the can of Coke over into the pot, along with the Worchestchire Sauce, water and seasonings.
  4. Put a tight fitting lid on the Dutch Oven and place in the preheated 425 degree oven. Roast, covered at 425 for 1 hour. Reduce heat to 375 and continue to roast for an additional 1 to 2 hours. If the liquid in the pot reduces too quickly, lower heat to 350 and add in another 1/2 cup of water. If after 2 hours, the liquid in the pot has not reduced enough and actually appears to have increased (due to the vegetables releasing their juices and the ribs’ fat melting), remove the lid and continue to roast until the liquid has reduced by about half its volume.
  5. Short ribs are done when the meat is tender and falling off the bones.
  6. Serve hot over mashed or smashed potatoes.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Sautéed Squash with Red Bell Pepper and Chickpeas

Wanted to share a side dish vegetable medley that I've been making from time to time. Once again, Fried Mom-Brain has prevailed. I'm sure I meant to post this before, but never seemed to have gotten around to taking photos or writing the recipe. Without further ado, here's a little something to do with squash, zucchini and bell peppers. The addition of chick peas or ceci beans adds a nice shot of protein to the dish. It's perfect over or along with pasta like rotelli or egg/eggless noodles.

Sautéed Squash with Red Bell Pepper and Chickpeas

  • 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
  • 1 Medium Red Bell Pepper - cut into 1/4 thick by 1 inch long dice/slices
  • 3 Garlic Cloves - minced
  • 2 Medium Zucchini - cut into 1/4 inch thick half moon slices
  • 1 Medium Yellow Squash - cut into 1/4 inch thick half moon slices
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Dried Thyme
  • 1 Tablespoon Dried Parsley
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Dried Dill
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Dried Oregano
  • 1- 14 to 16 ounce Can Chick Peas - drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 Cup Dry White Wine (Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc)
  • Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper - to taste

Directions:

  1. Heat the 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat, until the oil shimmers.
  2. Saute the red bell peppers until they become tender and slightly caramelized - about 8 minutes.
  3. Add in the garlic and the zucchini and squash and saute the vegetables until the squash are tender, about 5 minutes.
  4. Add in the dried seasonings and saute to bloom the herbs’ flavors.
  5. Toss in the chick peas and pour in the wine. Lower heat and reduce the wine down by half its volume. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  6. Serve as a side dish or over wide egg noodles or rottini pasta.
  7. If serving over pasta or noodles, a sprinkling of grated cheese is perfect!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Cranberry Walnut Cornbread Stuffing

It would have been more timely had I posted this recipe, oh, say prior to Thanksgiving. Blame it on "Mom-Brain" 'cause like some turkeys over the holiday, I'm fried! Can't seem to remember a thing these days. Did I feed the baby at 11:30, and then again at 12:30 or 1 am? Did he eat 2 our 3 ounces? Where did I leave that messy diaper? Really? It's time for the dog's walk again? I don't have much short or long-term memory right now. I do remember to eat though, probably too much (but that's another story). I continue to cook - the moms' gotta eat. We never go without a good home-cooked meal. I did not make a big Thanksgiving dinner this year though; this was only the second Thanksgiving in over 20 years that I did not cook! Instead, we went to Liz's mom's house in Staten Island for dinner this year. The Nibblet celebrated his first Thanksgiving and had his first long car ride. We had a delightful day and it was a treat to go to someone else's house for dinner. My only complaint, no left-overs! Those are the best part of Thanksgiving dinner for me. I love the sides, the stuffing, all that turkey. I usually cook enough to feed 10 and to last for a week, even though most years it's just Liz and I (and now the baby, but he's on an all liquid diet still.)

Couldn't let the weekend pass by without making a modified version of Thanskgiving Dinner - roast chicken with pan roasted potatoes and vegetables. Cranberry and Apple Sauces; String Beans; Store-bought Apple Pie for dessert. Next time, pumpkin pie for sure. And this quick and easy dressing/stuffing - Cranberry Walnut Cornbread. Better than Stove-Top and you will know exactly what's in it and how much salt it contains. It's the kind of stuffing recipe that you will want to make at other times of the year. It holds up, it freezes well, and heats up great in either the microwave, toaster oven or in a skillet.

Cranberry Walnut Cornbread Stuffing Ingredients:


  • 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil or Butter
  • 1 Medium Onion - small dice
  • 1 Medium Carrot - small dice
  • 1 Celery Stalk - small dice
  • 2 Garlic Cloves - minced
  • 1/4 Cup Dry White Wine (Chardonnay, Pinot Gris or Sauvigon Blanc)
  • 1 Tablespoon Poultry Seasoning or Combination of Dried Thyme, Parsley, Dill, Oregano, Marjoram, Sage & Black Pepper
  • 1/4 Cup Dried Cranberries
  • 1/4 Cup Walnuts - chopped
  • 1/2 Package Dried Cornbread Cubes (about 4 cups loosely packed)
  • Freshly Ground Black Pepper - to taste
  • Pinch of Salt
  • 2 Cups Chicken or Vegetable Stock - Hot

Directions:


  1. Preheat oven to 350 Degrees.
  2. Heat the 1 tablespoon of olive oil or butter in a large saute pan over medium-high heat, until the oil shimmers or the butter begins to turn light brown.
  3. Add in the diced onion, carrot, celery and garlic. Sweat the vegetables until the onions turn translucent and the carrots become knife tender. Continue to saute the vegetables until they take on a golden colour - about 8 to 10 minutes total.
  4. Pour in the 1/4 cup of white wine and cook to reduce down to a tablespoon.
  5. Add in the poultry seasoning and saute for 30 seconds. Remove from heat.
  6. Put the sautéed vegetables into a large mixing bowl. Add in the cornbread cubes and stir to combine. Season to taste with freshly ground black pepper and a pinch of salt.
  7. Pour the hot stock, 1/2 cup at a time over the bread and vegetable mixture, gently tossing to combine. If the bread seems too dry, add in more stock. Don't add too much stock - or else the mixture will be too wet and will turn mushy.
  8. Put the stuffing mix into a greased 9 x 9 baking or 9 inch round cake pan and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, or until the top of the stuffing is golden brown and crisped.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Days of Wine and Braised Lamb Shanks

One Pot Slow Cooking Alert! Here's another set it and forget it recipe for ya, yins, youse guys. I am all about tossing a few ingredients and some cheap ass cut of meat into a Dutch Oven pot, placing it into a hot oven and forgetting about it for oh, say 2 to 4 hours. No more searing and transferring hot stuff to a Crock Pot, dirtying up the stove, counter tops and endless pots, plates, tongs and such. Easy peasy cooking. Pinch me, I think I turned into Rachael Ray (YUCKO!) and may have my Martha Stewart card revoked!

Susan Hill brought me a lamb shank she found on manager's special at the grocery. After a few days of thinking about the best recipe for the shank, I realized I needed a bit more lamb. What should have been a cheap meal became a more expensive endeavor because I went to Whole Paycheck to buy more lamb to add to my one-pot dinner. Don't fall into this trap! Lamb shanks or shoulder are inexpensive at every other grocery or butcher. I just happened to be at Whole Foods so that's why I spent the big bucks. However, considering I spent an additional $18 for more lamb, I did feed three people hearty servings and we have at least 4 more meals left over. Cost per serving, around $2.5 per person. So, in a sense, this is an inexpensive meal to make. Think about what you would pay in a restaurant, my guess is the dish would be at least $18 to $22 per plate.

Taking stock of what I did have on hand, I used some Zatar Seasoning I had from Cost Plus World Market (though you could use curry powder), prunes (call them by their original name, not dried plums, don't be fooled!), apricots, onions, carrots, garlic, red wine and Worcestershire sauce , cinnamon sticks, clove and all spice. The overall dish has a vague Moroccan/Middle Eastern Flare. If you don't have Zatar, and really, who happens to have it except nut-case cooks like me? It's a combination of marjoram, oregano, sesame seeds, sumac, and thyme. A mild curry powder is nice. As for wine, a dry full-bodied red is best, don't buy a cheap cheap bottle, but at the same time, don't waste two cups of an expensive wine either. A $10 bottle of a Cabernet will be fine.

Wine Braised Lamb Shanks Ingredients:
  • 4 Lamb Shanks or a 3 to 4 pound Lamb Shoulder - excess fat and silver skin trimmed
  • 1 Large Onion - cut into 1/4 inch half moon slices
  • 2 - 3 Medium/Large Carrots - large dice
  • 4 Garlic Cloves - coarsely chopped
  • 8 Dried Apricots - cut into quarters
  • 8 Prunes - cut into quarters
  • 2 Cinnamon Sticks or 1 Tablespoon Ground Cinnamon
  • 6 Whole Cloves or 1/8 teaspoon Ground Clove
  • 4 All Spice Berries or 1/8 teaspoon Ground Allspice
  • 2 Tablespoons Zatar Seasoning or Curry Powder
  • 2 Cups Red Wine
  • 1 Cup Water
  • 1/2 CupWorcestershire Sauce
  • 1/2 Tablespoon Freshly Ground Black Pepper
Directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees
  2. Peel, wash and cut all the vegetables.
  3. Place some in the bottom of a Dutch Oven Pot or other heavy bottom pot. Place the lamb shanks on top of the vegetables, and add the remaining vegetables to the top of the lamb shanks.
  4. Place the dried fruit, seasoning of choice on top of the lamb and vegetables. Pour the wine, water,Worcestershire sauce. Season with freshly ground black pepper.
  5. Put a tight fitting lid on the pot and place the dutch oven in the oven and roast/braise for a minimum of 2 hours or up to 4 hours. The meat should fall off the bones and the liquid will have reduced by more than half. Serve hot over couscous. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Friday, November 20, 2009

City Biking

There has been a lot of news over the past few weeks here in Philadelphia, regarding bicycling, bicycle accidents, bicycle regulation, rules of the road and enforcement. Until now, I've resisted writing about my thoughts on these topics for a variety of reasons: I wanted to be better informed on the issues and I need to be level-headed in my response; I needed to see what the position of the Bicycle Coalition of Philadelphia is regarding these weighty issues. The problems are manifold. There was a recent and extremely unfortunate accident involving a cyclist and a pedestrian, resulting in the death of the pedestrian. Let me be clear, I am in no way condoning the unknown cyclist's behavior and I am in no way blaming the pedestrian for this travesty. The pedestrian was run over, knocked out and left hurt on a city side walk near 16th and Locust Street; the pedestrian, Andre Steed, later died from the injuries he sustained. The cyclist fled the scene and has yet to be apprehended. This is the kind of horrendous news that makes me so angry that I could scream. It's a sad, senseless loss of a vibrant life and it makes the tenuous relationship of cyclists and the rest of the world at best, tense. We need to enforce bicycle laws, get cyclists, myself included, to stay off the sidewalks, bike the correct way on the streets and learn to stop at lights and signs. It will be a huge learning curve for everyone but I believe it can be done, if the right steps are taken to educate, enforce and encourage cyclists, drivers and pedestrians about the rules and rights of the road.
In light of these hot topic issues, I do feel the need to chime in on a few things that Philadelphia City Council is proposing. Specifically, Councilman Frank DiCiccio, has put forth a bill to make it mandatory for all bikes to be registered and licensed. I think this is a ridiculous bill that will be impossible to enforce and regulate and will severely hurt cycling in Philadelphia. It smacks of making a quick buck off the backs of some cyclists while others will either be turned off of biking or disregard the proposed rule altogether. Yeah, I'll pony up the twenty bucks per bike if the bill passes, the money for me is not the issue, it's the principal of the bill that pisses me off. How will the registration work? Will all bike shops and mega-stores be required to have the license at the point of sale? Will we cyclists have to pass through some arbitrary check point to prove we are registered? Somehow I don't see the hundreds of young, poor, non-driving immigrants I see biking everyday in my neighborhood to their jobs a) understanding the bill and b) complying with the rule enough without fearing for their own personal legal status. My partner, Liz, said that bikes are vehicles and like all vehicles, should be registered. True, but we aren't required to have insurance. When there is a never-ending scourge of bicycle thefts that never gets deterred, when we have fewer and fewer places to lock our bikes, and when motorists on cellphones run cyclists off the road, yell, honk or completely disregard our street rights, I find it reprehensible to create a bill that in effect, punishes the majority of law-abiding cyclists in Philadelphia. You want to know what bicycle bill should be discussed in City Council - making it mandatory that ALL CYCLISTS wear bike helmets. Take that $20 bucks and spend it on a helmet. We need safer streets, more poles and bike racks, better signage and less cars in Center City, not ineffective measures to discourage bikers from being green, clean and law-abiding citizens.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Food Finds: Taco Flavored Kisses


I've read that Hershey's had plans to develop 100 flavors of their iconic and tasty Kisses for the anniversary of the chocolate bud. Of the 100 flavors proposed, Taco Flavored Kisses is not one of them, but there are about 3o or more that hit the shelves over the past 2 years. Some have been duds (like Cherry Cordial) and others have been instant favorites, making seasonal cameo appearances. In the past month, I counted at least 14 flavors at Target : Regular, Chocolate with Almonds, Chocolate Mint, Truffle Mint, Special Dark, Chocolate Melt-away, Irish Creme, Cherry Cordial, Hugs, Caramel Swirl, Peanut Butter Chocolate and my top 3 favorites: Candy Corn, Pumpkin Spice and Peppermint Candy Cane. I am hooked. Addicted enough to these three flavors to a) stock up for the rest of the year and b) go online and start bartering and Ebaying for the Fall Seasonal flavors that seem to have disappeared from the store shelves. Their limited edition status has reached its expiration date, sending me into serious "Jonesing" mode.

I have loved Hershey's Kisses since I was a wee lass. My Babcia (Polish for grandmother) always had bowls of them around the house for all the grandchildren. We would use the Kisses, along with other candy like M&M's and candy fruit slices on our Candy Land game board, making the game a 3-dimensional and user-friendly hoopla! When you landed in the gumdrop forest, you actually got a gumdrop, or Kiss or some other sweet treat. On Christmas mornings when we lived in Aldan, Delaware County, the fire company had a Santa Claus come around to the neighborhood. He would deliver little "story books" filled with Hershey's Kisses to kids. Over the course of Christmas morning and through the day, I would sneak and eat practically the whole box of Kisses; hiding the wrappers inside my games and toys, my futile attempt at concealing the fact that I had eaten candy in the morning. Which is funny given the fact that back in those days of the sugary 1970's, breakfast cereals were just a marketing ploy to give kids mainlined sugar and candy in a "Wholesome Complete Breakfast" . Remember those photos on the cereal box with showing the bowl of cereal, whole milk, toast with real butter and the prerequisite glass of orange juice? What a crock. They should have had a photo of a kid with a crazed/dazed sugar high look on his face instead, that is if you could get the kid to sit still long enough for the photo shoot.
Nowadays, I try to limit my candy and dessert intake. I am fully aware of the powerful and negative affects that sugar has on my system. During my first year of Weight Watchers, I ate very little sugar. Aside from the obvious weight loss, the other thing I noticed was how "clear" and clean I felt, especially in my sinuses. Two plus years later, and I'm back on sugar, not a lot, but enough to see and feel a difference in my moods and body chemistry. Loving these new Hershey Kisses flavors isn't helping - but they are so good. Two of the flavors I love are white chocolate with additional flavorings. The Peppermint Candy Cane is white chocolate swirled with red mint strips and flecked with bits of candy cane. Buttery, light peppermint and with a hint of crunch. The candy corn looks like the candy corn colors and the taste is oddly hard to describe. A bit like syrupy candy corn, a bit like white chocolate and mostly just sweet - like candy corn. The pumpkin spice flavor is actually two flavors and textures. The outer shell is most likely white chocolate flavored with nutmeg and cinnamon. The inside of the Kiss is filled with a soft white creamy center. Yummo!

Sorry my friends at Mars - while I still love M&M's and the new high-end chocolates of Pure Dark- my first candy love will always be the Kiss.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Cherry Wheat Beer Glazed Short Ribs

Tonight's dinner was a family affair. I called Liz from the office and asked her to literally toss together our one-pot pork meal 2-6-Quick so that when I got home, I could have dinner working allowing me a chance to go to the gym. Meals, gym and personal time have all taken on new complicated dimensions for us since the arrival of The Nibblet. I've been trying to do my major cooking on Sundays, but haven't had any blog-worthy examples to share. Sure, I'm using my Xpress Redi Set Go cooker. Today we had Egg-Beater Ham and light cheese omelets and Pillsbury Grand Mini-biscuits. We're finding our routine, and getting the baby on his eating schedule too. We are eager to take any chance we have to sleep or get back to areas of our lives that don't need to radically change - like cooking and eating. The baby is doing well, the mom's are coming along, and sleep, well, like I often say, I suppose I can sleep when I'm dead...

This recipe has few ingredients and even fewer steps. I find it works better in a "Dutch-oven" pot rather than a slow-cooker. By cooking this in the oven, the beer reduces down and creates a sweet and sticky glaze on the short or country style short ribs. A slow-cooker or Crock-Pot won't yeild the glaze. The slow-cooker holds the moisture in and creates even more. You need the evaporation that happens in the oven. Beer substitues other than the Sam Adams Cherry Wheat are, Oatmeal Stouts; Coffee Stouts; Porters; Guineess; Pumpkin Ales. I'd look for hearty, heavy-bodied beers, preferably with a hint of sweetness to them. Use at least 3 pounds of short-ribs or country style spare pork ribs. Trim away excess fat, but do leave some on the ribs; it melts away and helps create the final sauce. Cooking time is largely unattended in a 350 to 375 degree oven. An oven-safe pot, such as a cast-iron Dutch Oven will work best. We're looking for long slow cooking. Total cooking time, 3 to 4 hours for best results.

Cherry Wheat Beer Glazed Short Ribs Ingredients:
  • 3 Pounds Pork Ribs: Country Style or Short-Ribs
  • 1 12 ounce Bottle Sam Adams Cherry Wheat Beer
  • 1 Medium Onion - peeled and cut into large half-moon slices (about 1/2 inch thick)
  • 1 Large Carrot - peeled and large dice
  • 4 Garlic Cloves - roughly chopped
  • 2 Tablespoons Penzey's Barbecue 3000 Seasoning or a Mixture of Smoked Paprika, Ground Onion Powder, Ground Garlic Powder, Salt, Ground Black Pepper, Cinamon, Nutmeg and Sugar
  • 1/4 Cup Worchestirshire Sauce
Directions:
  1. Preheat Oven to 350 Degrees
  2. Use a heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch Oven and place all the ingredients into the pot. Stir to combine and submerge the pork ribs.
  3. Cover with a lid and place in oven.
  4. Roast, covered for 2 hours. Check the ribs after two hours and toss gently to redistribute the ribs. Cook, covered for another hour or up to 2 hours more.
  5. Ribs are done when they are falling off of the bone and the beer has reduced down to a few tablespoons. The pork should be sticky and glazed, the onions and carrot will have cooked down as well and appear to be "candied" or caramelized.
  6. Serve hot over mashed potatoes.
  7. Makes 4 servings.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Found Objects & Photos: Welfare Cheater Acuser

Sign posted on the front door of a house along South 11th Street:

"Dear 'Welfare-Cheater' Acuser, You have the wrong house. My wife and I are both hard-working young people who do not receive any money, or food, or anything else from the government. Stop leaving notes in our door. Thank you."

One of the better signs I've found around town. I would have loved to have seen and read the notes that were left at the house for the supposed welfare-cheaters. This sign should be partnered with the "Pooper-Law" sign I found on South 9th Street in my neighborhood. People in South Philly know how to say it like it is!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Haunted Halloween Gingerbread House

This was one of those, "I have to have it" items; a fully baked complete Halloween Gingerbread Haunted House kit from Williams-Sonoma. No infomercial was necessary to convince me that this was a cooking toy ready made for my child-like, Halloween-loving and cooking experiment tendencies. For under $20, it's one of those things you don't have to love love love in order to justify purchasing. I have a lot of those justifications that fall within my under $20 rule. If you like it and it's $5, $10 or $20 bucks, you can buy it. Small wonder that my house looks like a thrift shop!
The gingerbread house came with black and orange icing, to use as the "glue" and decorating adhesive. It also came with candy corn, pumpkin gumballs, orange sprinkles, candy bats in orange and black, two ghosts and a gingerbread headstone. A few of the items were damaged in transit but fortunately, I had some Halloween cake decorations from last year to use as additional embellishments, plus we had loads of candy pumpkins and candy corn to add to the house. Putting these houses together is not that easy, though the kit is nearly full proof, but not fool-proof. I do not have the gift of icing piping. It took three days to put the house together mostly because it takes several hours for the icing to harden and dry. With the damp and humid weather of late, the icing didn't set as quickly as it should. Also I do not have a steady and patient hand. Covering up my errors and mishaps with candy decorations hid a lot of the bad. I will not win any Food Network Gingerbread Challenges nor will I be asked to join the team of Charm City Cakes any time soon. It was a lot of fun to put together and I will definately buy one again next year, at full price too if I'm not working at the store next year. I'm hoping that they may have a Christmas version too. I learned a few lessons in what not to do and what I can do better next time. Note to self - cut a smaller hole in the icing bag and get some spray icing in a can for better piping.
Some good or not so good lighting, as the case may be, can also add to the illusion of a cute Halloween Gingerbread Haunted House. Let's just say I put this together in time for a) Halloween. It's now proudly on display in my front window, the main attraction of my South Philly Halloween Window; b) I made it so that I can show it off to the Nibblet for his (hopefully) Halloween trip home from the hospital. While I am busy going back and forth to the hospital several times each day, as I stated in my previous post, cooking and to an extent, playing with food is relaxing to me. So is decorating my window for the holidays. Hey, it keeps me in sync with my routines. Now I just have to get back to the gym and on the bike. Of course, the Nibblet will have the ultimate say in how and when that happens.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Stuffed Pancakes ala Xpress Redi Set GO!

One would wonder how I've found the time to cook now that we have a baby. Given that he's still in the hospital, there are a few spare hours when I'm not doing errands, driving back and forth to the hospital, or trying to clean and organize the house - the nursery, the "office/guest room" and the rest of our humble abode. Cooking is my relaxation. Besides, we need to keep the healthier foods on hand. It's becoming way too easy to grab a meal or pizza out or on the go. I've not been able to get to the gym for two weeks, and eating well has been somewhat challenging. The first 5 days from the day Liz went into the hospital until she came home, I don't think I ate more than one proper meal during that whole time. Weight gain concerns aside, I am finding my biggest challenges to be making time for housework, cooking, and getting into a routine. Cooking at least allows me to feel like I have some small amount of control over my life right now.

My present for attaining my driver's license and for the baby's entree into our world (aside from the Nibblet himself!) was the Xpress Redi Set Go cook unit. Granted, I can and do purchase a lot of cookware from Williams-Sonoma, but there is something so soothing and addictive for me when I watch cooking Infomercials. I have watched for hours, the infomercial for the Magic Bullet. Even though I have a blender, a huge Cuisinart food processor, a mini-food processor, and a combo blender/food processor - I'm covered on my blending, whizzing, whirring and pureeing areas of the kitchen. However, I covet the Magic Bullet! The other infomercial that has hooked me is for the Xpress Redi Set Go! The thing about these infomercials is that they are so perfectly scripted, with a cast of hilarious characters and such easy to make food from your own ingredients, that you can't help but get convinced that you not only want these cooking machines, you entire culinary life depends on your having these items NOW! With the Magic Bullet, the dish that convinces me I need it is - Alfredo Sauce. I don't even eat that stuff any more. With the Redi Set Go, it's a combination of Instant Easy Pizza, Stuffed Chicken Breast made from scratch and the piece de resistance - cooking those Pillsbury Cinnamon Rolls - one or two at at time as opposed to turning on the oven and cooking the whole batch. Cinnamon buns whenever you want, without wasting oven heating time! Please baby please, I gotta have it! So, Liz ordered it for me and today it arrived. I wasted no time and made stuffed pancakes, which I will now share. Aside from my love of the cookbook, Deceptively Delicious, I do believe that I will be blogging recipes and meals made with my new favorite cook tool. So far, I made breakfast and dinner using the Redi Set Go unit. Tomorrow I may make all three meals in it!

Caramelized Apples and Banana Walnut Chocolate Chip
Stuffed Pancakes Ingredients:
(makes 4 large stuffed pancakes)
  • 1 Cup Whole Wheat Flour
  • 1/2 Cup All Purpose Flour
  • 1/4 Cup Quick Cooking Oats
  • 1 Tablespoon Baking Powder
  • Pinch of Salt
  • 1 Teaspoon of Sugar
  • 1 Teaspoon Cinnamon
  • 2 Large Eggs, or 1/2 Cup Egg Substitute - lightly beaten
  • 1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
  • 1 1/2 Cups Milk (I used skim, but any kind will do)
  • Butter, Oil or Cooking Spray for the Xpress Redi Set Go
For Stuffed Ingredients:
  • 1 of Each - Peeled and thinly sliced apples and bananas
  • 1 Tablespoon Butter or Margarine - divided
  • 2 Tablespoons Sugar - divided
  • 2 Tablespoons Chopped Walnuts - divided
  • 2 Tablespoons Chocolate Chips - divided
Directions:
  1. If you have the Magic Bullet, whiz all the ingredients together in that, otherwise follow on:
  2. Whisk the dry ingredients, flours though Cinnamon, together in a large mixing bowl.
  3. In another bowl, beat the eggs, vanilla extract and the milk to incorporate. Pour the liquid mixture over the dry ingredients and stir to combine thoroughly, but do not over mix. There should be some small lumps. Set mixture aside and allow to sit for at least 10 to 20 minutes so the flours have time to absorb into the liquid. This allows the flavors to meld together and in general, makes a more tender pancake.
  4. Brush or spray oil or butter into the large well plate of the Xpress Redi Set Go cooker. Turn on the machine and allow it to heat up. When it's ready, melt some butter into the cooking plate sprinkle some sugar over the melted butter and arrange 5 or 6 apple slices over the sugar. Close unit and cook for 2 minutes to caramelize the apples.
  5. When the apples are cooked, pour the pancake batter over the caramelized apples. Close the unit and cook the pancake for 5 minutes or until the top portion is no longer wet.
  6. Carefully remove the pancake with the plastic spatula. Serve hot with butter, syrup, peanut butter, powdered sugar or whatever topping you desire!
  7. Repeat steps with bananas, except pour the pancake batter over the bananas before they caramelize. Next, top with chopped walnuts and chocolate chips (if using) and push the walnuts and chips into the wet batter to submerge them. Close the unit and cook for 5 minutes or until the top of the pancake is no longer wet.