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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Biking & Fundraising

The past weekend, June 19 to 21, was filled with fund raising and biking extravaganzas. I'm riding in the Lance Armstrong - LiveSTRONG Challenge cancer ride, on August 23rd. It's a good organization that raises funds and awareness for a variety of cancer fighting causes - not just Tour Du France 7 Time Winners who have battled testicular cancer, multiple girlfriends and wives and various doping alegations... My friends, Cheryl & Mingo, have party/group they call, Fish on Friday, where they host a cocktail hour party at local bar venues to raise money for various charities. It's a reason to hang out at a bar, have a great time, and donate money for a worthwhile cause. Long story short, they agreed to host a fund raising party for my LiveSTRONG ride at a bar in South Philly called, Pat Bombino's. We basically had the bar to ourselves and invited guests. Cheryl and Mingo are the most fun-time people I know; full of energy, fun and spirit. We had a decent turn-out and raised over $250 among our 20 or 25 friends that came out on Friday night, primarily by selling chances to win tickets for donated prizes. From the files of it doesn't hurt to ask, I was able to get 2 pounds of coffee from La Colombe; Hair Care products from Plume Salon; a 2-month membership to Fitness Works Gym at 7th & Reed; LiveSTRONG Yellow Braclets, Bike Jersey's & power bars from Sue S.'s brother and Team Margaritaville or Bust; City Food Tour Tickets; and as a grand prize - a Margaritaville Frozen Concoction Maker from my boss at Williams-Sonoma. While the combined prizes were worth more than we raised, the party was great fun and we raised good will and awareness.

Sunday - June 21st was the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia's Annual Freedom Valley Ride. The weather - well as anyone in the Northeast Region knows, was over-cast, rainy and fairly miserable. The start of the ride, for about the first 25 miles was in a constant and annoying misty rain. Not ideal riding conditions for narrow roads that have big climbs and steep descents. Wet roads and spray on your tires is a lethal combination for biking. We, Sue S. and her friend Susan B. (surprise - another biking gal named Sue!) made the best of the day - with the ride improving once we got to Valley Forge Park. The ride home was infinitely better - along the Valley Forge and Conshohocken trails - nice and flat, allowing me to keep up a pace of between 16 miles to 18 miles an hour.
Pedi-Cab Bikes at the start of the 2009 Freedom Valley Ride

View of the Continental and General Washington Archway in Valley Forge Park


Scenic Over-look of the Valley in Valley Forge Park.
Such verdant and bright greens - and not just from my bicycle gear!

Two Sue's and a D9! Susan B, Sue S. & me, fit biker chicks on the road.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Food Finds: Garlic Scapes

We purchased a farm share this summer in a local CSA. Our crops started coming in the first week of June, as we missed the earlier start in May. Not much of a difference in the months - what with all of the rain, cool weather and decidedly Seattle Spring-like atmosphere. The farm shares thus far have been lettuces, cool crop greens and a few root vegetables such as turnips and some beets. One of the more interesting vegetables received in the past three weeks were garlic scapes. The scapes are the shoot that comes up out of the ground as the garlic bulb grows, matures and turns into the multi-cloved bulb we know and love. Eventually the green shoot will turn white and hard, almost woody. However before this process happens, you can enjoy the scapes as you would scallions or chives albiet with a far greater impact and taste kick. As I am fond of saying when I'm teaching a cooking class or on a culinary food tour - nature's giving us a 2-for-1 gift. Eventually we can enjoy the punch of aromatic garlic but first we can partake in the pugnacious scape.

Scapes can be used in a variety of ways much like garlic or onions; sauted, frizzle fried, chopped and use raw (ouch! & whew!) or as I discovered, turned into either a pesto or garlic scape oil for later use. I've sauted the scapes in the past instead of using garlic and have had success. This time however, I wanted the scapes to last a bit longer so I pureed them in some good extra virgin olive oil along with 2 or 3 extra garlic clovers for good measure. You don't need to use the best olive oil, extra virgin or olive oil at all - but it's what I had on hand (having purchased a good deal on a case of imported Italian Olive Oil direct from the manufacturer.) Light olive oil, canola oil or grape seed oil would all work well, allowing the garlic scapes' flavor to dominate. The recipe, as it were, is more of a how-to, not really an ingredient and direction list. There are three ingredients, one piece of equipment and one step to process. To turn the scape oil into a pesto, add some grated parmesan cheese, salt, pepper and either pine nuts, walnuts, or almonds.

Garlic Scape Oil Ingredients:
  • 1 Bunch Garlic Scapes - washed and cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 Cup (or up to 2 cups) of Olive oil (or neutral oil of choice; canola, light olive or grape seed oil)
  • 3 Garlic Cloves
Equipment:
  • Blender or Food Processor

Directions:
  1. Wash scapes and cut into 1 inch pieces, discarding the tip and bulb that has formed. Dry and add to the blender jar or food processor bowl.
  2. Pulse a few times. With the blender or processor on, drizzle in the oil until a uniform light green puree is achieved - about 2 minutes. If you want a thicker scape oil, use up to 1 cup of oil. For a thinner oil, use up to 2 cups of oil.
  3. Pour the oil with the solids into a clean glass jar with a tight fitting lid - such as a clean Mason/Bell jelly jar. Allow the oil and solids to settle and the flavors to marry. You can strain off the solids through a fine mesh strainer, using the garlic oil as you would any flavored oil - for cooking or salad dressings. The solids can be used like minced garlic in a saute.
  4. The oil and solids, either together or separated can also be frozen in small batches and tossed into soups, gravies or tomato sauce too. Frozen, it will hold for up to 3-4 months.
  5. Refrigerate the oil and use within 2 weeks.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Top Chef & A Recipe for Pasta Salad w/ Green Olive Tapenade

Tom Colicchio, famous judge and chef from Bravo TV's Top Chef, and the famous foodie of Craftwich, CraftBar and 'wichcraft came to WILLIAMS-SONOMA today for a book signing. I took the day off from the synagogue office job to work at the store and participate in the day's events. The event was not nearly as mobbed at the Martha Stewart event we hosted in October 2008, but our over-all day was a wild success. You could feel the buzz of electricity and anticipation in the air when you came into our store. The staff was hyped up and the customers (whew! customers, finally!) enjoyed our demonstrations, tastings and Chef Colicchio very much. I've been a fan of Mr. Colicchio's for years now - reading about him in the New York Times, following his restaurants and food creation progress avidly. I have to confess though, I don't watch Top Chef - as with several other food reality programs, I can't stand these shows. The reality isn't reality and what does ring true is so over-blown that it gives me agita. Occasionally these shows hit a nerve, reminding me of all the awful times in the professional kitchen business. The bottom line about why I dislike Reality Television Food Programs - they all glamorize life in the kitchen and frankly, it's not pretty in real life. It's a back-breaking and stressful profession in which to carve out a career. That's why I prefer to teach, do cooking demonstrations, take people on food tours with City Food Tours and write my recipes here.

For today's event, I was asked to make something for our customers to eat. We were already featuring Tom Colicchio's panini from his new cookbook, using his 'wichcraft condiment, Caramelized Balsamic Onions on focaccia bread with Robiola Cheese. There were also crostini with his 'wichcraft tomato relish, and the Calphalon Rep was cooking chicken on the new grill pan with the Williams-Sonoma Chili Lime Rub. We had a Mango Margarita Cake and Mango Margarita Sodas. All that was left for me to make was something simple that incorporated the third 'wichcraft condiment - Green Olive Tapenade. Thinking outside of the jar, I decided to use the tapenade in a pasta salad; keeping it as simple as possible with few ingredients. I wanted the tapenade to be the main flavor of the pasta salad - but still have some fresh vegetables for taste, texture and colour. I was asked by our store managers to use some of the imported pastas we carry, to showcase our other products. The results were spectacular! I used two types of fancy shaped pastas, the green olive tapenade and I added shredded zucchini, cherry tomatoes, lemon zest and juice, olive oil, parsley, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Minimal cooking, minimal prep and lots of bright fresh flavor. After Chef Colicchio finished signing books, he graciously posed for photos and chatted with the staff of our store. I missed getting into the group photo, so I asked if I could get a photo with him. We had a few minutes to chat and I told him how much I liked using his new food products and that the tapenade works well in a variety of ways. Unlike when I stammered and fawned all over the place at the Martha Stewart event, this time, having the chance to talk with a celebrity chef felt relaxed and natural. Mr. Colicchio - you truly are a Top Chef. Bravo!

Pasta Salad with 'wichcraft Green Olive Tapenade Ingredients:






  • 1 Pound Shaped Pasta, such as Raditore - cooked according to package directions
  • 2 Medium/Large Zucchini - coarsely shredded
  • 1 Pint Cherry Tomatoes - cut in half lengthwise
  • 1 Bunch Parsley - rough chop (about 1 cup loosely packed)
  • Zest and Juice from 2 Lemons
  • 1/4 Cup Olive Oil
  • 1 Jar 'wichcraft Green Olive Tapenade
  • Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper - to taste

Directions:

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling, rapid boil. Add in two tablespoons of kosher salt and then add in the dried pasta. Cook the pasta until al dente - or according to package directions. Drain, rinse and cool the pasta and set aside. Drizzle with a little bit of olive oil to keep it from sticking.
  2. Shred the zucchini either using the coarsest side of a box grater, or in a food processor fitted with the shredding/julienne blade. Add the shredded zucchini to the pasta.
  3. Cut the cherry tomatoes in half lenghtwise and add them to the pasta.
  4. Roughly chop the parsley and add it to the pasta/vegetable mixture.
  5. Add the entire jar of 'wichcraft Green Olive Tapenade to the pasta salad.
  6. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the lemon zest, lemon juice, 1/4 teaspoon of salt and several grinds of black pepper. As you are whisking, slowly drizzle in the olive oil in a slow steady stream. Taste and adjust seasonings. This dressing should be tart but not to acidic. Pour the dressing over the pasta salad and gently toss to combine and incorporate all the ingredients. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding more salt and pepper as needed, and/or additional lemon juice. Chill the pasta salad before serving. Makes 8-10 servings.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Udon Noodles Primavera with Tomato Vinaigrette

Here's a fusion cuisine that you won't often see on a menu - Nipponese meets Italian Cuisine. I wanted to make a udon noodle salad to take to work and found myself inspired to make an Italian primavera salad instead. Really, the idea was born out of wanting not to waste the bit of basil oil/pesto I made in my blender that I was too lazy to scrap out to get every last drop. This is what comes from cooking in batches, I was prepping veggies, making basil oil and cooking the udon noodles pretty much at the same time when all the different meals melded together into one dish. Waste not want not. With the basil oil sludge remaining in the blender, I thought to make a vinaigrette. I didn't want to use more oil in the vinaigrette but I needed to make enough to dress the salad. Upon opening the cabinets to see what I had on had, I discovered a can of no-salt diced tomatoes. I used the juice and half of the dice tomatoes, Dijon mustard, balsamic vinegar, the basil oil that was left in the blender - about 2 tablespoons, salt, pepper, and dried Italian Herbs and a pinch of sugar to make the dressing. Voila! What was going to be Asian turned out to be Italian. Marco Polo - thanks for bringing the noodles to the Mediterranean, without you, I'm nothing! While you can use any pasta noodle for this dish, surprisingly, the udon noodles worked great. They are more tender than regular spaghetti, giving the pasta salad an almost homemade pasta taste. Feel free to substitute fettuccine, linguine or some other long pasta noodle of choice. Basil Oil does not have to be used - but since that's what I was making, I used it. Whiz in a few fresh basil leaves and some good olive oil into the vinaigrette. Eventually, I'll post photos and a how-to for making basil oil this summer. It's so easy!

Udon Primavera Pasta with Tomato Vinaigrette Ingredients:
For Salad -
  • 1 Package Uncooked Udon Noodles - cooked according to package directions, drained, rinsed & cooled
  • 1 Bunch of Asparagus - woody stems cut off, and pieces cut into 1/4 inch lengths
  • 2 Medium Carrots - Coarsely Grated
  • 2 Celery Stalks - small dice
  • 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
  • 2 Medium Zucchini - small dice
  • 1 Medium White or Yellow Onion - small dice
  • 4 Garlic Cloves - minced
  • Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper - to taste

For Vinaigrette:
  • 1 - 14-16 ounce can no-salt Diced Tomatoes
  • 1 Tablespoon Dijon Mustard
  • 1/3 Cup Balsamic Vinegar
  • 2 Tablespoons Dried Italian Seasonings (or a combination of Thyme, Parsley, Oregano or Marjoram, Basil & Pinch of Rosemary)
  • 1 Bunch Fresh Basil Leaves
  • 2 Tablespoons to 1/4 Cup Olive Oil
  • 1 Teaspoon Kosher Salt
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Freshly Ground Black Pepper
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Sugar
Directions:
  1. Bring a large pot of water to a rapid boil. When water reaches the boil, add in a tablespoon of kosher salt. Cook udon noodles according to package directions - about 10 minutes. About 1 minute before the noodles are done, add in the asparagus pieces to blanch Drain, rinse and cool the noodles/asparagus. Toss noodles with a little olive oil to keep them from sticking and set aside.
  2. Grate the carrots and dice the celery and add them to the udon noodle/asparagus mixture.
  3. In a saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat until the oil shimmers. Saute the onions and garlic until the onions turn translucent, about 2-3 minutes. Add in the diced zucchini and saute another 3-4 minutes, or just until the zucchini is knife tender. Season lightly with a pinch of kosher salt and a dash of freshly ground black pepper. Set the sauted vegetables aside to cool.
  4. While the sauted veggies are cooling, make the vinaigrette.
  5. In a blender or food processor, combine the juice from the diced tomatoes, half of the diced tomatoes (reserving the rest for the pasta salad), Dijon mustard, balsamic vinegar, Italian seasonings and basil leaves. Puree on high speed until all ingredients are incorporated - about 45 seconds. While the blender or food processor is on, slowly drizzle in the olive oil to emulsify. Season to taste with kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper and pinch of salt. Adjust seasonings accordingly. If the vinaigrette is too acidic, whiz in more a bit more olive oil, another pinch of sugar and a few more of the diced tomatoes.
  6. Add the reserved diced tomatoes, along with the cooled sauted vegetable mixture to the udon noodles. Toss gently to combine. Pour the tomato vinaigrette over the noodle/vegetable mixture and again, toss gently to combine. Makes 8 servings. Can be eaten at room temperature or well-chilled.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Sites to check out: Inhabitat.com

I may try to begin a new posting habit - sharing sites and stuff that I think needs to be looked at in further detail. I get a lot of emails, I'm just a gal that can't say no to sharing my email address. Because of this, I get deluged with stuff all day long. My Blackberry dings its little chi gong sound oh, about every 10 minutes or so. Pavlovian that I am, I continually check it just in case it's a message from Liz or someone else. Occasionally, I find a real gem. Today's daily email from Inhabitat.com, a website that features the best of environmentally sound ideas, creations, buildings and recycled stuff, sent along today's post that featured chairs made from discarded junk. You have to see this chair made out of a bicycle banana seat, a "sissy-bar" or chopper bar-back, pedals, a tire and other assorted metal parts.

Given my penchant for all things bike related, I found this especially relevant to my interests. The website is also cool, and I love the daily posts. Today's not only included chairs made from discarded shutters, giant electric cable spools and other assorted detritus. The Sissy Bar Chair might not be comfortable or practical, but it does have a certain cycle flair. Love to have it in my collection! Other interesting posts of the day included the news of New York City's newest park - a re-claimed tract of land that was an abandoned train track above the city. The good greening of our cities continues for the greater good of urban dwellers. Now if only we could do something like this in Philadelphia with our "El"...

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Breakfast CousCous

I'm finally getting around to a recipe post that I've been wanting to write for over a year! I first saw this at a coffee house in Tucson Arizona, in April 2008, when I was out visiting my best friend, Rachel. Then I learned about using couscous as a breakfast cereal from Mark Bittman's book, Food Matters. During the interval of a year and a few months, I've continued to make couscous as I usually do, and occasionally, I've made it specifically for breakfast - omitting the savory spices, herbs and olive oil. I think I've even taken photos to use on the blog, but never got around to posting the recipe. Better late than never! Here's the thing though - the recipe can be whatever you want it to be. Readers of my posts know should know this by now, I present an idea, adapted from someone else's ideas and you can mush it around some more and make it your own. Nothing is as it has to be - just use what you have and adapt from there. Most of the time no two of my meals ever turn out the same; I like to mix it up.

If you can find wholewheat couscous, use that - it's better for you since it's more of a whole unprocessed grain. You definitely want to use the regular couscous and not Israeli Couscous, the regular cooks faster. This dish reminds me of pastina, the Italian cereal for babies and children (and me, who still behaves like a child.) Pastina is a tiny grain that cooks quickly and is sort of star shaped. It's slightly denser than couscous which is more of a milled roughly formed semolina pasta whereas pastina is uniformly shaped and extruded. Buy unflavored couscous, in bulk from places like Whole Foods - it's far cheaper than the stuff in the box which will cost you more than 3x's the price for a cup. I find this recipe to be handy to make in advance, much like oatmeal, but tastier. Great pre-morning ride meal, or post recovery ride meal. Good carbs, some sugar, protein and good but low-fat (depending on what you add though.) When I've made this for a dinner side dish, I make it almost the same way, but I season it with salt and pepper, chopped fresh parsley and use olive oil as my fat. Naturally, I skip the sweetener and milk, though who knows, it might be good!

Breakfast Couscous Ingredients:
  • 1 Cup Regular Couscous - uncooked
  • 1 1/2 Cups to 2 Cups Boiling Water
  • Pinch of Salt
  • 1/4 Cup Dried Cranberries (or dried fruit of choice such as raisins or blueberries)
  • 1/4 Cup Dried Apricots - cut into small dice (or other dried fruit such as pineapple, mango or apples)
  • 1/4 Cup Toasted Pumpkin Seeds (or sesame seeds)
  • 1/4 Cup Toasted Unsalted Almonds - chopped (or cashews, pecans or walnuts)
  • Zest, Juice and Segments of 1 Orange
  • 1 Banana - optional for serving
  • Honey, Syrup, Sugar - optional for serving
  • 1/4 Cup Warmed Skim Milk for serving
Directions:
  1. Place uncooked couscous in a large heat-safe bowl. Add in a pinch of salt, the dried cranberries and diced dried apricots. Stir to combine and set aside.
  2. Bring 2 cups of water to a rapid boil. Pour 1 & 1/2 cups of hot boiling water over the couscous and dried fruit mixture and cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap or with a tight fitting lid. Set aside and allow the couscous to absorb the hot water. If the couscous is too dry and isn't hydrated enough, use the remaining hot water and pour it over the mixture. Once the couscous has absorbed all the water, fluff with a fork and gently stir to incorporate the now re-hydrated fruit.
  3. Add in the nuts and seeds, the orange zest, juice and segments. Fluff to combine.
  4. To serve as a breakfast cereal, the couscous should be hot. Add to it a 1/4 cup of hot skim milk for each portion and pour over the couscous. I added a sliced banana to my cereal and a bit of sugar just to sweeten it a bit, though with the fruit and orange, it may not be necessary.
  5. Makes 4 portions.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Big Bike Race Day: Phila International Pro Cycling Championship













Spent a good part of today at the Philadelphia International Pro Cycling Championship. What a glorious day! Over the span of 5 hours, I watched the race from different parts of the City. It was a way to watch the race that was completely unplanned and full of adventure. At 10 am I saw one of the first returning laps from the climb up "Wall" return to the Parkway near Logan Circle. Around 1 pm, after taking a leisurely ride through Fairmount Park, into Roxborough and into Germantown and Mount Airy, I saw the riders summit the Levering Street "Wall" and begin their coast back down through Mannyunk. During the next hour as I rode home, trying to find my way away from the crowds and blocked streets, I again saw the bike racers coming down Ridge Avenue onto the Ridge Avenue Spur and past the Main Street thoroughfare. Between 1:30 and 2:30, one last stop took us to Lemon Hill, just in time to see the one of final pro-cyclists' laps up Lemon Hill. It was exhilarating to be out with so many cyclists, spectators and pro-racers on a perfect spring day. I saw parts of Philadelphia I've never been to before. Rode with my friend Susan Hill and got a chance to catch up before she heads out on her summer vacation. Felt the pro cyclists whoosh past me as they raced past us on unobstructed streets. Worked on my biking, supported my sport and was a part of the biggest day in bicycling events. It was a very good day.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

10 Year Anniversary

This is our 10 year anniversary week. Several people we know have asked, the anniversary of what? It's hard to quantify and since the government and churches have conspired to keep us from making our "Union official", Liz and I have chosen to commemorate our first date and the start of sharing our lives together. Along the way, we also share in the celebration of our deep friendship with several close friends who have been such a significant part of the past ten years; Donald, Steven, Jen Check, Ryan, and Roger and Astrid.


There are, of course, dozens of other friends who have been instrumental in our lives, bringing joy and song to our world. Several live far away and could not join us for our gathering. Our dear friends, Levi and Rachel come to mind, having been with us from our first heady days of young love.



In so many ways it feels like yesterday that we met, went for beers and french fries at Potcheen on Locust Street, and then another date to Marathon on the Square, and then a third date to a Mexican Restaurant followed by a walk through Washington Square and ice cream at More than Just Ice Cream. The past ten years have been about more than good meals out - there's been travel, laughs, fantastic parties (so many!), barbecues on the patio, movies, books, and most importantly, a love that grows stronger every day.


Moving into the next decade of our lives, we are happy to also share the news that the we shall become three. Baby Braden-Gorniak is due in mid to late November. Talk about growing our love! Good news seems to abound in our family, Liz's brother and his wife are also in a family way, and happily, are due at about the same time as us. The world expands and wraps its arms around us all.



We are a lucky pair, fortunate to have amazing friends around us, good people who care for and support us. To all of you I say, Thank you,Tanit Auguri, Anniersario Felice!