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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Alexia Foods: Sweet Potato Puffs Frittata

I received an incentive coupon and a few nice kitchen goodies from FoodBuzz, my blog advertising sponsor, and Alexia Foods this month.  I've been enamored with Alexia Foods frozen sweet potato items, mostly with their sweet potato fries, puffs, waffle fries and shoe-string potatoes.  I love sweet potatoes.  They work well as sweet, savory and spicy foods for lunch, dinner and dessert.  They grill well, cook quickly, mash easily and best of all, sweet potatoes are good for you.  They are low fat, high fiber and high in beta carotene, vitamin's A, B6 and C, among many other vital mineral and vitamins you need every day.  They are almost a perfect food.  If you don't slather them with butter, salt and brown sugar or maple syrup, a sweet potato is a great side dish to eat for anyone watching their weight, especially if you eat the skin too (as an added source of fiber!)

I have lots of recipes on the blog using sweet potatoes, from my lightened, healthy and real food Sweet Potato Pie, along with grilled sweet potatoes served with roasted peppers, hummus and other grilled veggies in a sandwich.  Sweet potatoes are also one of the 5 ingredients in the Garden Vegetable Cakes that I learned to make at Jill's Vorspeise in the Reading Terminal.  Along with my all-time favorite vegetable ingredient, Sweet Potatoes are the star in my starch and vegetable culinary repertoire.  

Coming up with a different use for the Alexia Sweet Potato Puffs was tough, inasmuch as there are so many things you can do with these cute tasty morsels.  I thought about making them as part of a Mexican "nacho" style dish, with black beans, peppers, salsa and cooked ground turkey.  I wanted to have them along with hot dogs for a riff on tots and franks.  They would work well as the topping for another version of my Southwest Sheppard's Pie.  Instead of making mashed sweet potatoes, you could top the Sheppard's pie with crunch sweet potato puffs.  Yummy!

I decided to use them for breakfast/brunch, as the base for a frittata, or as a sweet potato crusted "quiche".   This was a quick easy mix up, and you could easily throw this together with whatever veggies you have already cooked or waiting in the crisper.  I used sauted onions, peppers and spinach, along with the cooked sweet potato puffs, and a couple of beaten eggs.  Here's the quick run-down:

16 Alexia Sweet Potato Puffs - heated in the oven until crisp
1 Tablespoon Olive or Vegetable Oil
1/2 EACH Red and Green Bell Pepper - small dice or julienne (about 1 cup total)
1 Small Onion - small dice or julienne (about 1 cup total)
1 Cup Chopped Frozen Spinach - thawed and drained of excess liquid
4 Eggs - or 2 whole eggs and 2 Egg Whites - beaten
Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper - to taste
1/2  Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cumin
1/2 Teaspoon Chili Powder

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Place the Alexia Sweet Potato Puffs onto a sheet tray lined with foil, parchment or a Silpat. Set aside until the oven reaches 400 degrees Fahrenheit,  then place the tray in the oven and cook the sweet potato puffs until they are crisped - 12 to 15 minutes.  Remove the puffs from the oven, set aside.  Reduce the oven heat to 375 degrees, but keep on, as you will be baking the frittata in it.

2. While the sweet potato puffs are cooking, heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a non-stick skillet over medium heat until the oil begins to shimmer.  Add in the sliced/diced onions and peppers and saute for the vegetables get soft, the onions turn translucent and they begin to take on a hint of colour, about 6 to 8 minutes.  If using the chopped frozen spinach, thaw it and drain the excess liquid, then add the spinach to the pan and saute with the peppers and onions for 2 minutes more.  Remove pan from heat, place the sauted vegetables into a bowl and set aside.

3. When the sweet potato puffs are cooked, smash them down slightly with the back of a spatula.  Then place the flattened puffs into the non-stick skillet (the same one you used to saute the veggies); top the sweet potatoes with the sauted onions, peppers and spinach.Season lightly with a pinch of salt and a grind or two of freshly ground black pepper.

4. Beat the eggs and season with a pinch of salt, a few grinds of pepper and the smoked paprika, cumin and chili powder.  Whisk well to incorporate then pour the egg mixture into the pan with the sweet potatoes and vegetables.

5. Place the pan into the oven and bake, at 375 degrees, for 20 minutes or until the eggs puff up, set and are no longer loose and runny in the center.

6. Remove the frittata from the pan by sliding a rubber or plastic spatula around and under the eggs to loosen it.  Plate, cut and serve hot, warm or cold! Makes 2 to 4 servings, depending on how hungry you are!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Over the River and the Bridge to NJ I Ride Home

Jersey Side towards Philly
Jersey Side of the Ben Franklin Bridge
It's been WAY too many months since I did any sort of bike riding.  No commuting to work these days via a bicycle, it's the PATCO High Speedline for me. I'm spending $2.60 a pop to get to work.  I hate it.  Well, I hate not riding and spending over $5 a day to commute, on top of the higher taxes I pay to the State of NJ and the City of Philadelphia Wage taxes.  Added to that is my lack of exercise.  After all these months of not riding and complaining I decided it was time to change my attitude.  It may be months before I buy a bike that's a junker that I feel comfortable leaving locked at the train station without fear of it being stolen, or upset if it were to be swiped.  I'm not sure I'll ever get a folding bike at a price I can afford so I'm making do with the bikes I have.  So far I've ridden home three times since we moved to New Jersey, twice in one week so far too!  I've taken the bikes on the train too and it seems to work out just fine. 

 It's only a 6.5 mile commute from my office in Center City to my house.  6 miles! I couldn't believe how short of a distance it is from Collingswood to Center City's Rittenhouse Square.  Riding over the Ben Franklin bridge is only a 1/2  mile up the bridge, 3/4 of a mile down.  Aside from the not so nice ride through Camden, most of the ride is pleasant.  It takes me about 45 minutes which I hope will become shorter once I get my legs and lungs back in shape. I save money, get some exercise and have a moment to clear my mind.  I've missed biking and it's showing on my body and soul. 
Camden and Pennsauken
Camden, Rutgers and Riverfront areas

I was reading a post on The Bike Rider's Blog, and she commutes from Queens to Manhattan, over the Queens Borough Bridge.  After reading her post and seeing that other cyclists are lamenting the high we get via riding, I thought I had to do something too.  

Pro-cyclist riding quickly over the bridge

The fat Bicycle-Chef's shadow.
Not surprisingly, by not riding 4 miles a day, 5 days a week, I've put on weight.  So with my pants not fitting, my body going to pot and my emotional state of body and soul suffering, any amount of biking had to be re-integrated into my commuting routine.   I also feel as though I'm missing out on photo opportunities.

Armed with my road bike and my camera, I'm discovering many new images along my route to and from our house.  I hope my body will get back to some pre-New Jersey weight too. 

To give you an idea of what I pass each day along my commute from 18th and Spruce (Rittenhouse Square) down to the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, here are the photographic "map" highlights of my ride:
Base of the Ben Franklin, the famous Lightening Bolt Sculpture

The Camden HOTEL PLAZA - now abandoned
Marque of THE HOTEL PLAZA.  A sad, deteriorated relic in downtown Camden

Towne-Park Motel Sign, sign exists but the motel is gone.  A parking lot is now at the location

Sears Roebuck and Co Retail Store, along Admiral Wilson Blvd. Wonder what the inside of the building looks like?
A "Park" along Admiral Wilson Blvd.  This used to be a drug, prostitute, and sleaze-bag motel strip

To the left of the "park" along Admiral Wilson Blvd

The FAMOUS PUB Restaurant. About 1 mile from my house

The PUB Restaurant - all meals include the famous Caesar Salad & Relish Bar!
 It's not the most scenic ride home, in fact, some of it is quite scary and dangerous.  I ride through down-town Camden, past Rutger's campus then I get onto a stretch of highway to ride on the sidewalk for a two miles until I reach route 30 East.  The hardest part of the ride is up and over the Ben Franklin Bridge.  It's not a ride I'd do when it's dark, so this will be a spring/summer trip during day light hours only. The traffic is too crazy and close to the part of the road/sidewalk where I have to ride for a mile or so on my journey.  All in all, it's a preferable route than riding through the heart of Camden along Haddon Avenue.  Not that I want to talk trash about the hardships of Camden, New Jersey, but it's not exactly a hospitable environment for anyone, let alone an odd-ball 45 year old white woman on a bike, loaded down with a backpack full of stuff.

I like that I can take my bike on the High Speedline, making my commute far easier and allowing me to have my wheels when I need them in the City.  I don't miss living in Philadelphia but I have missed my easy bike rides.  Taking my bike with me to work makes me feel connected to a part of who I am and keeps me sane. 

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Cooking School: Knife Skills for Bloggers and Friends

Use the celery fronds  - there's "gold" and flavor in them there greens!
A week or so ago I had the chance to pull out my big knives and teach a knife skills "class" for my blogger buddy, Barbara, from the blog, Zero To Sixty and Beyond.  She, her husband, Dave, their son, Jeff, and my good friend and fellow cycling pal, Aaron, gathered in Barbara and Dave's funky and cool Queen Village kitchen for a personal demonstration on the anatomy of knives, and learning how to slice and dice vegetables and not your fingers.  I used to teach this class once or twice a series when I taught cooking classes at Williams-Sonoma.  It was always a sell-out class and in-between teaching, whenever I was on the sales floor at the store, I'd hang out by the knife case to share my enthusiasm and knowledge with whomever would stop by the cutlery area.  Sometimes I'd even grab a display onion, potato or carrot just to show-off my mad skills and encourage even the most knife-shy novice the joys of finely cut carrots!  These are primal, primary and essential culinary skills that everyone should master, even those of you who only use a knife to open a frozen dinner!
Caution! Man wielding knife!
I started out by talking about knives, not in a gossipy, Mean-Girls sort of way, well, unless you count my trashing cheap knives.  I'm interested in showing people what kind of knives you should have in your kitchen - and there are basically three knives that you must have: a 7" to 9" Chef's Knife, with a good solid wooden handle, well-balanced and hand-forged. It should cost at least $50 but shouldn't exceed $100, unless you are going for a top of the line, like a Shun knife.  You should have a decent 10" serrated knife for cutting bread, tomatoes and citrus fruits.  And you need a decent paring knife, not too expensive, more or less in the $25 to $40 range, though a Kuhn Rikon paring knife, colour coordinated with a cover may cost all of $15.
"A Boy Named Sue" Aaron, cycled over carrying a knife in his pack for this class!
Cutco, Ikea, or those knives you get in a supermarket are crap and aren't worth wasting your money.  Plastic handles? NO THANK YOU! They usually are a sign that the knife blade isn't a full "tang", meaning that the entire length of the knife stops where the handle meets the metal.  A good knife should be one solid piece of steel, from tip to bottom, handle encased in a wooden or composite material, giving the knife a perfect balance for your hand. 

Never put your knife in the dishwasher, it ruins the handle and the blade.  The temperature variation is too much for the materials to withstand and the detergents deteriorate the metal and the handle over time.
We talked about knife sharpening and how to use a whet-stone, what, why and how to use a steel  - which does not sharpen your knife at all, but rather, puts the "edge" back to your knife in-between sharpenings.  A whet-stone is the best tool to use for sharpening a knife. Depending on how often you use your knife, you may only need to sharpen a good, quality knife every few months (unless you use your knives every day, especially if you are a pro-chef).  One should refrain from using an electric knife sharpener, mostly because it eats away at the knife very quickly, turning a chef's knife to a boning knife within a year if you sharpen your knife all the time.  
Onion Dicing - PERFECT! Holding the knife? Don't put your index finger along the knife spine!
After the anatomy lesson, we got to work cutting, peeling and chopping a variety of vegetables, staring off with onions, and moving to carrots, celery, peppers, zucchini and garlic.  I even threw in a quick demonstration of how to supreme citrus, to show how you get the citrus segments free of skin and pith.  The hands-on lessons are always more fun than the lecture, as you get to actually dive in and put to use the demonstration for yourself.  Some things are hard to remember, such as the best way to hold your knife; point your fingers like you're pretend shooting a gun, your thumb and your index finger pinch the knife where the handle meets the blade.  The three remaining fingers, middle, ring and pinky, wrap around the handle.  NEVER rest or  use your index finger along the top or spine of the knife.  It causes strain on your finger that runs along your wrist, plus you have less control of your knife. 
Sous Chef Dave
Dave, Barbara's personal Sous Chef, took to the lesson like a samurai to a sword.  He had natural talent and enthusiasm for the demonstration.  I think he enjoyed the event more than anyone, except for their dogs, Sydney and Buddy.  They enjoyed all the scraps that fell to the floor during the carrot cutting. 
MAIPE, a Malbec from Argentina
Boboli Pizzas - tres bien, muy bueno, abbodanza!
After the lesson concluded, we drank some delicious wine - a surprisingly good and rich tasting Malbec from Argentina, in a BOX! Looks like I'll be scouring the wine store for this full-bodied bargain.   Box wines have come a long way since their debut.  They keep well, making for a great choice to buy and drink a bit at a time.  A box is usually the equivalent of 4 bottles for the price of 1 or 2!  So, thanks to Barb and Dave, I got a wine tasting lesson and discovered a great new wine.  Barb also reminded me of the delights of semi-homemade pizzas and the great use of Boboli pizza crusts.  I'd forgotten about these little pizza-gems from the supermarket.  A few of those, some Trader Joe's fig jam and some goat cheese and you've got a gourmet to go pizza impressive enough to serve with a great box wine for a fun night with friends!

Should any of my local tri-state area readers (Philly, New Jersey, Delaware) be interested, I will travel to teach cooking lessons or knife skills lessons. Message me at denine (dot) thebicyclechef (at) gmail (dot) com  My rates are reasonable, my lessons and informative and more importantly, I'm very entertaining!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Food Finds: Cupcakes, Donuts and Fried Chicken

Finally had the chance to taste Federal Donuts donuts, coffee and fried chicken.  I went at an off-hour and discovered that is the key time to visit this hotter-than-a-batch-of-chicken-out-of-the-fryer establishment.  The birds and donuts are literally flying out of the store, from 7 am until they run out of food, which by their tweets and Facebook posts, happens every day well before their posted closing times.  The shop, located at 2nd and Manton Street, is located on the corner of a small side street between Federal and Wharton Streets, in the TWO-Street district, aka, Mummer's Row.  The hours seem to be typically 7 am to 5 pm daily.  The store's been open since October and the press on this place has been positive and plentiful months before its actual opening.  Even though I used to live within a mile of the store, I never had the chance to get there.  And when you constantly read that they are sold out within hours of opening, the desire to trek over there wanes quickly.  I wanted to wait until the hype died down.  Fat chance!  The hype is still strong but the store proprietors are more retail savvy; chicken and donut quantities are more plentiful throughout the day.  I'm not reading as many SOLD OUT Tweets every day; store hours appear to last until their closing time.

Nate and I had a day about town a few weeks ago, part of that day included our Flickr Photo walkabout, a visit to the Opera Company and then we picked up our car.  I had the car and the time I figured a side trip was worth taking to see if Federal Donuts was open. I was hopeful there would be some scrap of food left for sale!  After 1 pm on a Sunday was the perfect time.  Fancy donuts were gone for the day but fresh, hot cake donuts were made on the spot if I was willing to wait a few minutes, which we gladly did.  Fresh, hot fried chicken was also still available.  While I waited for the food to be cooked, I chased Nate around the small store.  He climbed onto the clever counter stools that fold/swing away under the counter. I attempted to drink one of the strongest cups of coffee I've had in years. I hadn't had a cup of coffee in two weeks having been sick and unable to enjoy my daily cup of Joe.  What a jolt to my system!  The coffee could put hair on your chest - it's super hot, super strong and super good.  

We waited to eat the donuts and chicken for a few hours, which was too bad for the quality of the food but nice that I waited for Liz to come home so she could enjoy my food finds.  The donuts were magnificent, even if they weren't enjoyed moments after they were made.  Light, airy, not greasy and packed with flavors like high quality Indian cinnamon, cardamon, Chinese 5 Spice, and lavender.  These are worth a long bike ride, a long car ride and getting up extra early to be first in line in the morning for the first batch.  These are Bicycle-Chef desired but not sanctioned.  I'd have to make 4 trips over the Ben Franklin Bridge just to work off one donut.  Consider these a once in a blue moon treat if you are watching your weight and you don't want to see it balloon up!  A cake donut costs $1.25, a bit more than those institutional Dunkin Donuts and Krispy Kremes but worth oh so much more!

As for the chicken, it was very good too, albeit small and expensive. Half a chicken runs $9 and the pieces are small but they are top quality.  You pay a bit more than say, at Popeyes or KFC but there isn't any comparison.  The chicken is flavorful and moist.  I got the Za'atar seasoning for my first try, forgoing the harissa and glazes for another time. I think it would have been better to eat fresh out of the fryer immediately after it was cooked.  By the time we ate it, 4 hours later, I had to reheat it. I haven't had fried chicken in at least 5 years and I never eat the skin, until now.  We ate every scrap and I would have eaten the chicken bones too if I thought I could digest them! Homemade gingery pickles and a cake donut come with each order. 

 I'm not sure how many miles I would need to do in order to earn and burn these calories.  Let's just say that while this chicken is indeed, finger lickin' good, the cluckiest best I've had in years, I won't be indulging in it more than once in a while (read maybe once or twice a year) for fear of looking like the female Emeril or Mario Batalli or a younger Paula Deen version of Bicycle-Chef!  Federal Donut's simple menu of Donuts, Chicken and Coffee is a big hit, living up to the gotta-have it/eat it hype. I'm sure this formula will be duplicated around town.  Until another venue or copy-cat comes along go and check out this place pronto!

Across the river and Ben Franklin Bridge, I discovered an excellent cup cake shop in my new home town of Collingswood, My Little KupKake, located at 685 Haddon Avenue, Collingswood, NJ  08108.  
Cup cakes are usually not my thing.  Candy, ice cream, donuts and  pie are my dessert weaknesses.  To me, cup cakes are over-blown bon bons; waxy, dry, over-priced disappointments.  When it comes to cupcakes, looks usually are deceiving.  Remember my post about Staten Island Cakes? Those looked great but tasted like a jar of Crisco dipped in sawdust crumbs.  My Little Kupkake remedies my aversion to the pretty petite treat.  These cakes are gorgeous and tasty, moist, and flavorful.  The cake has a tender crumb and best of all, the icing is real! You don't feel like you just ate a big scoop of butter-flavored Crisco.  They come in three sizes - baby bear, momma bear and big bear sizes!  There are scads of flavors that change every day and week. Best of all, the prices are GREAT, ranging from $1.25 to $3 for a large that's big enough to generously share. We've been to the shop a few times and haven't been disappointed. 

So far we've tried the carrot cake, with real creamcheese frosting; chocolate and vanilla which Nate loved; Dulce du Leche; peanut butter and jelly, which reminded me of what Tasty Kake's Jelly Krimpets used to taste like back in my childhood when they were still wrapped in wax paper and cost 20 cents a pack!  Liz had the Almond Joy KupKate, topped with a huge chunk of a real Almond Joy bar.  Our friend, Steven, has come over twice to have the Red Velvet Cake KupKake - he's hooked!   The flavors, prices and location are all tempting me to stop into this store every day on my way home from work. I'll be good and keep on walking or riding by but...if you want a cup cake that won't disappoint you or leave your wallet empty, My Little Kupkake is worth a visit in Collingswood.  These babies might only set you back a ride or two around the Cooper River to work off and earn!