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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!