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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Riding through Camden along the boulevard of broken dreams

I've been riding my bike home from Philadelphia, over the Ben Franklin Bridge and through Camden, New Jersey for a few months now.  I haven't been riding this route every day, usually it's once or twice a week.  Generally, I ride to the Patco station, get on the train with my bike and get off at 8th and Market Streets and then ride up to 18th and Spruce.  When I have the time, I like to ride home, but it takes me about 44 minutes to do this ride, prohibiting me from biking this route more frequently.  I hope this changes as my job switches to what we call, "Summer-Hours" in the office; leaving earlier each day, taking advantage of the quieter days and slower pace in our office.

My rides through Camden are solitary affairs, the city is largely abandoned and full of decay.  Occasionally I'll take photos when I feel it's safe enough to stop and I know that there's enough day light to allow me the freedom to snap a few pictures or take a quick video.  I can see a few places of interest as I'm whizzed by on the Patco train, so I've been eager to explore these areas by bicycle to get a closer look.
A few of these places are being torn down and the construction site debris will be gone in a few more months.  I knew I needed to get a few of these images before the locations vanish and all that's left is a trash strewn lot full of weeds and blight.

This video montage is a small compilation of what I've been seeing as I commute my 6.5 miles home - the ride through Camden is about 3.5 of my miles, and it has provided me with the most striking images.  The scenery is so neglected that it breaks my heart.  Camden was once a vibrant industrial city.  Like so much in America, it is now broken beyond repair.  "Close enough to start a war..." as the words in the Adele song, Turning Tables, I've used to narrate the video.

Riding through Camden, New Jersey, is like taking a ride along the boulevard of broken dreams; you can see what hopes once prospered but it's difficult to imagine a successful future.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Tilapia with Chinese Mustard and Crushed Potato Chips

Tilapia is a very mild, easy to cook fish.  It's a fish you should incorporate into your weekly seafood rotation; it defrosts easily, it's very inexpensive, around a dollar or two per serving, and takes on any flavor you add to it much like tofu; more importantly, it cooks in minutes.  You can cook it in the toaster oven, microwave, foil or parchment packets, baked, roasted or pan sauteed.   Of the many ways I like to cook tilapia, my new favorite has to be this quick pull-together meal using odd bits of stuff from my pantry: crushed potato chips and Asian rice crackers along with packets of Chinese condiments - Chinese mustard, duck sauce and soy sauce.  Here's a way to make the most out of that growing pile of Chinese food take out condiments!

This recipe is more of a step by step how-to - here's what you need:
Tilapia with Chinese Mustard and Crushed Potato Chips Ingredients:

  • Tilapia - 6 ounces per person, or 2 small fillets (which would be the equivalent)
  • 1 Packet of Chinese Mustard
  • 1 Packet of Duck Sauce
  • 1 Packet of Soy Sauce
  • Sheet Tray lined with a Silpat, Parchment Paper or Aluminum Foil
  • 1/2 Cup Crushed Potato Chips (unflavored works best; baked or fried, your choice)
  • 2 Tablespoons Asian Rice Cracker Snacks (optional)
  • 1 Tablespoon chopped Parsley or Cilantro for Garnish - fresh or dried (optional, for colour)
  • Cooking spray
  1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Line a sheet or baking tray with a Silpat, Parchment Paper or Aluminum Foil, lightly spray it with the cooking spray, set aside.
  3. In a small bowl, mix together the Chinese Mustard, duck sauce and soy sauce, set aside.
  4. In a small snack or sandwich bag, crush the potato chips and rice crackers using a rolling pin, or soup can, or back of a wooden spoon.  Once the chips and/or crackers are crushed and crumbled into small crumbs, set aside.
  5. Lay the tilapia fillets onto the prepared sheet/baking tray and brush the mustard mixture over each tilapia fillet then generously sprinkle the crushed potato chips/rice crackers over the mustard-schmered fillets.  Top with a sprinkling of chopped parsley or cilantro.  Bake in the preheated oven for 7 minutes.
  6. Remove, serve hot immediately with a drizzle of soy sauce. 

Serve with a medley of roasted veggies, like squash, zucchini and asparagus!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Limoncello Sangria

When life gives you lemons...make limoncello, or so the saying has been altered to reflect!  In my case, when friends give you home-made limoncello, make cocktails!  A few years ago I made a big batch of Meyer lemon limoncello and then didn't know what to do with it until I discovered it would make a wonderful riff on an Italian Limoncello Mojito.  It was a great cocktail, a perfect summer drink that was a delightful cocktail for a party we had in our South Philly patio.

This year, on a Spring day that felt more like Mid-Summer Day, I hosted a birthday party for Liz's 40th Birthday, in our new and improved house with the huge back yard.  A bigger, fancier cocktail was needed.  However, I was stretched to the limit on time, ideas and patience.  A lot has changed in 3 years, with Nate now being 2 1/2 and a fully automated child on the GO!  The best I could summon for  drinks and libations were beer, wine and sodas.  But I had not one, but two home-made bottles of limoncello.  My friend and co-worker, Adam, gave us a bottle of his limoncello.  Our friends, Veronica dn Jason made several litres of limoncello and graciously shared one of their treats with us too.

One bottle was already opened but the other was a huge new bottle, begging to be consumed.  I had no mint on hand so the mojito was out, but I did have plenty of fruit and so a new party drink has been christened - the Limoncello Sangria.  Easy to make, easy to drink and just as fruity and sweet as traditional sangria.  It's important to use a combination of citrus fruits, oranges, lemons, and limes.  As for the other fruit, a combination of cherries or grapes, strawberries or other berries will work fine.  Peaches, nectarines or other stone fruits would work well too.  Basically use what's in season and what you have on hand.

Our house, aka The Top Gun Abode, has a new house specialty!  Give this one a try for your next event and you'll finally know what to do with that erstwhile bottle of limoncello you made or brought back from your last trip to Italy or Canals in New Jersey...

Limoncello Sangria Ingredients:

  • 2 Cups Limoncello (click here for a home-made recipe)
  • 1 Orange - juiced and reserve the spent rind
  • 2 Lemons - juiced and reserve the spent rind
  • 2 Limes - juiced and reserve the spent rind
  • 1/2 Cup Seedless Grapes (Red or Green - it doesn't matter) - cut in half
  • 5 or 6 Strawberries - hulled and cut into quarters
  • 1 Liter of Sparkling Water or Seltzer Water - chilled
  • Ice for serving
  • Sangria or Margarita Pitcher (a large 2 to 3 quart pitcher, with a big bottom)
  • Orange, Lemon and Lime slices for garnish (optional)


  1. Wash all the fruit and juice the orange, lemon and lime, reserving the rinds for use in the sangria pitcher.  A sangria or margarita pitcher is best, as they generally have a larger bottom that will a) hold the fruit and allow you to get a wooden spoon into it to muddle the fruit and b) will look decorative!  Pour the juices and the rinds into the pitcher.
  2. Add in the cut grapes and strawberries then muddle the fruit with the back of a wooden spoon until the fruit is a bit mashed.
  3. Pour in the 2 cups of limoncello, stirring to mix with the fruit and their juices.  Let this mixture macerate for 20 minutes or up to 2 hours, in the refrigerator.
  4. When ready to serve, pour in a bottle of chilled sparkling or seltzer water.
  5. Serve chilled, over ice in tall or wine glasses and garnish with slices of orange, lemon and lime.
  6. Makes 2 quarts.  

Friday, April 6, 2012

Risk it with a Brisket

There's been a lot of talk about brisket at my work place.  It's one of the traditional foods of a Passover Seder, and as I work for a synagogue, conversations regarding Passover foods is a common occurrence.  I haven't made a brisket since I worked at Whole Foods, back in 2002 so you can say I'm long over due for this meal.  My coworker, Tracy, asked everyone in my office for recipe ideas and I told her about mine.  Which got me to thinking a lot about brisket and got me very hungry for brisket.  I think ten years is a long enough time to wait for this meal!  

Don't let the cooking process, the cut of beef or the time of year deter you from making this.  Brisket is a year-round great dish.  You don't have to be Jewish, observing a Seder or deep in the winter comfort food mode to enjoy it.  Briskets are a cut of beef from the lower chest of the cow/steer.  They are generally very tasty but extremely tough cuts of meat.  Usually they are lean, especially if you get the "first cut brisket".  They need to be cooked low and slow, with lots of root vegetables, seasonings and a flavorful liquid.  I used the usual mixture of carrots, celery and onions.  A cup of a good red wine, a small can of Coke (Kosher Coke if you are keeping this kosher for Passover); tomato sauce, a mixture of herbs and seasonings and water.  It's one of those toss it all into the slow-cooker/Dutch oven meals that a non-cook can make.  The hardest thing about making this is pureeing half of the vegetables and juices to make a flour-free gravy.  

You can make this more elaborate and complicated, but really, why bother?  At Whole Foods, I would rub the briskets with a spice blend, then grill/sear the briskets before putting them into a huge roasting pan filled with pounds of coarsely chopped vegetables, wine and water.  That was about as complicated as I ever got.

The brisket I purchased was a kosher brisket from Trader Joe's.  Do not buy a corned beef brisket, that's a totally different thing.  You want an uncooked/uncured/un-seasoned brisket of beef.  I threw it into my ancient and trusty Le Creset Dutch Oven pot with the veggies and liquids and a Turkish Seasoning Blend I got from Penzey's Spice Shop.  It cooked at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for about 3 hours.  After a few hours it was done.  All I did next was let it cool and sit overnight in the refrigerator before slicing it, and pureeing half of the vegetables and au jus for a low-fat and pure vegetable "gravy".  

While my Jewish co-workers are enjoying their briskets over dairy-free mashed potatoes, I've been having mine served over egg noodles.  Just about any starchy side dish that can help soak up this amazing gravy would be delicious.  It's imperative that you let the meat sit and cool before slicing so that it stays intact and yields slices and not shreds.  You'll want to add a bit of fresh parsley to the final dish to add some colour to the gravy.  Other than that it's a very easy meal to make.  This recipe will serve 4 people.  For larger servings increase the ingredients by 1/4th for every 2 additional servings, adding a bit more liquids, seasonings and carrots, celery and onions for each extra pound of beef. 

This recipe works best in a Dutch Oven, slow roasted.  If you prefer to use a slow cooker/Crock Pot, then I recommend that you sear the meat to brown it, and saute the vegetables to develop flavor and colour.  Reduce the amount of water to 1/4 of a cup.  Cook on high for 3 hours or on low for up to 6 hours.

Brisket Ingredients:

  • 3 Pound Brisket - trimmed of fat and silver skin/membranes (VERY IMPORTANT - the silver skin does not melt, cook off or get tender!)
  • 4 Medium/Large Carrots - cut into large chunks
  • 3 Medium/Large Celery Ribs - cut into large chunks
  • 2 Large Onions - cut into 1/2 inch dice
  • 1/4 Cup Seasoning Mix - Oregano, Thyme, Cumin, Smoked Paprika, Garlic Powder, Parsley - or whatever smokey/spicy spice blend that you like.  Think in terms of Turkish/Mexican/Middle Eastern.
  • 1 Teaspoon Freshly Ground Black Pepper
  • 1/2 Cup Tomato Sauce (salt free)
  • 1 Cup Water
  • 1 Cup Dry Red Wine
  • 12 ounces/1 can Coke (NOT DIET!!!!); A good root beer or Dr. Pepper will work well too
  • 3 Bay Leaves
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
  • 2 Tablespoons Fresh Parsley - Chopped, for garnishing


  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Trim the brisket of any excess fat and of most, if not all, the silver skin/membrane.  Season the brisket generously with the spice blend, rubbing it all over the meat on all sides.  Set aside.
  3. Peel, clean and chop all the vegetables, cutting them into large chunks.  Put the chopped vegetables into the Dutch Oven; place the brisket on top of the vegetables, submerging it slightly under the chopped vegetables.
  4. Pour the wine, water, tomato sauce and Coke over the brisket and vegetables.
  5. Place the bay leaves and salt into the pot, cover with a lid and place the pot into the preheated oven.
  6. Cook for 2 hours, undisturbed; then reduce heat down to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and cook for another 45 minutes.  Remove the lid and cook another half hour.  
  7. After the brisket has cooked for a total of 3 hours and 15 minutes, remove the pot from the oven.  Remove the meat and separate from the vegetables and the juices that have accumulated.  Cool everything before covering and refrigerating overnight before slicing and serving.  If you don't have time to let the brisket cool and let sit over night, cool it for at least 1 hour to allow the meat to set before slicing.
  8. When you are ready to serve the brisket, carve the meat against the grain and slice in into no more than an 1/4 of an inch thick slices; ideally the slices should be 1/8th thick.  
  9. CAREFULLY Puree half of the vegetable and juice in either a blender, food processor or use an immersion blender to puree the mixture.  Keep some of the vegetables intact for serving.  Reheat the sliced brisket in the gravy with the remaining juices and vegetables.  Serve hot over smashed/mashed/roasted potatoes or over egg noodles.  Garnish with freshly chopped parsley.
  10. Will keep covered and refrigerated for up to 5 days.  The brisket and gravy will freeze well, and keep for up to 3 months.