Monday, December 29, 2008

Daring Bakers: French Yule Log

This month's challenge is brought to us by the adventurous Hilda from Saffron and Blueberry and Marion from Il en Faut Peu Pour Etre Heureux. They have chosen a French Yule Log by Flore from Florilege Gourmand

When I saw this challenge, I nearly had a heart attack. What’s more, I knew we would be out of town for Christmas and new years, so I had no idea when I would make this or where I would serve it. I ended up tackling it right away and serving it for the Philly Food Blogger Potluck on December 5th.

My log had hazelnut dacqouise, dark chocolate ganache, hazelnut milk chocolate crisp, vanilla crème brulee, and hazelnut chocolate mousse with dark chocolate icing. Here's a picture of the finished log on my table. I will post a picture of the inside when I return from my holiday travels.

All in all, this is one of those very fancy shmancy desserts that is tasty, but just isn’t something you crave, like a piece of chocolate cake or an ice cream on a hot day.  But it was a great learning experience, so I must thank our hosts and the Daring Bakers for this chance to stretch my skills!

This is a looong recipe- but it really boils down to 6 simpler recipes

Element #1 Dacquoise Biscuit

Preparation time: 10 mn + 15 mn for baking

Equipment: 2 mixing bowls, hand or stand mixer with whisk attachment, spatula, baking pan such as a 10”x15” jelly-roll pan, parchment paper

Note: You can use the Dacquoise for the bottom of your Yule Log only, or as bottom and top layers, or if using a Yule log mold (half-pipe) to line your entire mold with the biscuit. Take care to spread the Dacquoise accordingly. Try to bake the Dacquoise the same day you assemble the log to keep it as moist as possible.

2.8 oz (3/4cup + 1Tbsp / 80g) hazelnut meal
1.75 oz (1/2 cup / 50g) confectioner’s sugar
2Tbsp (15g) all-purpose flour
3.5oz (100g / ~100ml) about 3 medium egg whites
1.75 oz (4 Tbsp / 50g) granulated sugar

1. Finely mix the hazelnut meal and the confectioner's sugar. (If you have a mixer, you can use it by pulsing the ingredients together for no longer than 30 seconds).
2. Sift the flour into the mix.
3. Beat the eggs whites, gradually adding the granulated sugar until stiff.
4. Pour the almond meal mixture into the egg whites and blend delicately with a spatula.
5. Grease a piece of parchment paper and line your baking pan with it.
6. Spread the batter on a piece of parchment paper to an area slightly larger than your desired shape (circle, long strip etc...) and to a height of 1/3 inches (8mm).
7. Bake at 350°F (180°C) for approximately 15 minutes (depends on your oven), until golden.
8. Let cool and cut to the desired shape.

Element #2 Dark Chocolate Mousse

Preparation time: 20mn

Equipment: stand or hand mixer with whisk attachment, thermometer, double boiler or equivalent, spatula

Note: You will see that a Pate a Bombe is mentioned in this recipe. A Pate a Bombe is a term used for egg yolks beaten with a sugar syrup, then aerated. It is the base used for many mousse and buttercream recipes. It makes mousses and buttercreams more stable, particularly if they are to be frozen, so that they do not melt as quickly or collapse under the weight of heavier items such as the crème brulee insert.

2.5 sheets gelatin or 5g / 1 + 1/4 tsp powdered gelatin
1.5 oz (3 Tbsp / 40g) granulated sugar
1 ½ tsp (10g) glucose or thick corn syrup
0.5 oz (15g) water
50g egg yolks (about 3 medium)
6.2 oz (175g) dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
1.5 cups (350g) heavy cream (35% fat content)

1. Soften the gelatin in cold water. (If using powdered gelatin, follow the directions on the package.)
2. Make a Pate a Bombe: Beat the egg yolks until very light in colour (approximately 5 minutes until almost white).
2a. Cook the sugar, glucose syrup and water on medium heat for approximately 3 minutes (if you have a candy thermometer, the mixture should reach 244°F (118°C). If you do not have a candy thermometer, test the sugar temperature by dipping the tip of a knife into the syrup then into a bowl of ice water, if it forms a soft ball in the water then you have reached the correct temperature.
2b. Add the sugar syrup to the beaten yolks carefully by pouring it into the mixture in a thin stream while continuing to beat the yolks. You can do this by hand but it’s easier to do this with an electric mixer.
2c. Continue beating until cool (approximately 5 minutes). The batter should become thick and foamy.
3. In a double boiler or equivalent, heat 2 tablespoons (30g) of cream to boiling. Add the chopped chocolate and stir until melted and smooth.
4. Whip the remainder of the cream until stiff.
5. Pour the melted chocolate over the softened gelatin, mixing well. Let the gelatin and chocolate cool slightly and then stir in ½ cup (100g) of WHIPPED cream to temper. Add the Pate a Bombe.
6. Add in the rest of the WHIPPED cream (220g) mixing gently with a spatula.

Element #3 Dark Chocolate Ganache Insert

Preparation time: 10mn

Equipment: pan, whisk. If you have plunging mixer (a vertical hand mixer used to make soups and other liquids), it comes in handy.

Note: Because the ganache hardens as it cools, you should make it right before you intend to use it to facilitate piping it onto the log during assembly. Please be careful when caramelizing the sugar and then adding the cream. It may splatter and boil.

1.75 oz (4 Tbsp / 50g) granulated sugar
4.5oz (2/3 cup – 1 Tbsp/ 135g) heavy cream (35% fat content)
5 oz (135g) dark chocolate, finely chopped
3Tbsp + 1/2tsp (45g) unsalted butter softened

1. Make a caramel: Using the dry method, melt the sugar by spreading it in an even layer in a small saucepan with high sides. Heat over medium-high heat, watching it carefully as the sugar begins to melt. Never stir the mixture. As the sugar starts to melt, swirl the pan occasionally to allow the sugar to melt evenly. Cook to dark amber color (for most of you that means darker than last month’s challenge).
2. While the sugar is melting, heat the cream until boiling. Pour cream into the caramel and stir thoroughly. Be very careful as it may splatter and boil.
3. Pour the hot caramel-milk mixture over the dark chocolate. Wait 30 seconds and stir until smooth.
4. Add the softened butter and whip hard and fast (if you have a plunging mixer use it). The chocolate should be smooth and shiny.

Element #4 Praline Feuillete (Crisp) Insert

Preparation time: 10 mn (+ optional 15mn if you make lace crepes)

Equipment: Small saucepan, baking sheet (if you make lace crepes).
Double boiler (or one small saucepan in another), wax paper, rolling pin (or I use an empty bottle of olive oil).

Note: Feuillete means layered (as in with leaves) so a Praline Feuillete is a Praline version of a delicate crisp. There are non-praline variations below. The crunch in this crisp comes from an ingredient which is called gavottes in French. Gavottes are lace-thin crepes. I used Special K, but you can also use rice crispies or other crunchy cereal to replicate the effect.

Ingredients for the Praline Feuillete:
3.5 oz (100g) milk chocolate
1 2/3 Tbsp (25g) butter
2 Tbsp (1 oz / 30g) praline
2.1oz (60g) lace crepes(gavottes) or rice krispies or corn flakes or Special K

1. Melt the chocolate and butter in a double boiler.
2. Add the praline and the coarsely crushed lace crepes. Mix quickly to thoroughly coat with the chocolate.
3. Spread between two sheets of wax paper to a size slightly larger than your desired shape. Refrigerate until hard.

Element #5 Vanilla Crème Brulée Insert

Preparation time: 15mn + 1h infusing + 1h baking

Equipment: Small saucepan, mixing bowl, baking mold, wax paper

Note: The vanilla crème brulée can be flavored differently by simply replacing the vanilla with something else e.g. cardamom, lavender, etc...

1/2 cup (115g) heavy cream (35% fat content)
½ cup (115g) whole milk
4 medium-sized (72g) egg yolks
0.75 oz (2 Tbsp / 25g) granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean

1. Heat the milk, cream, and scraped vanilla bean to just boiling. Remove from the stove and let the vanilla infuse for about 1 hour.
2. Whisk together the sugar and egg yolks (but do not beat until white).
3. Pour the vanilla-infused milk over the sugar/yolk mixture. Mix well.
4. Wipe with a very wet cloth and then cover your baking mold (whatever shape is going to fit on the inside of your Yule log/cake) with parchment paper. Pour the cream into the mold and bake at 210°F (100°C) for about 1 hour or until firm on the edges and slightly wobbly in the center.
5. Let cool and put in the freezer for at least 1 hour to firm up and facilitate the final assembly.

Element #6 Dark Chocolate Icing

Preparation time: 25 minutes (10mn if you don’t count softening the gelatin)

Equipment: Small bowl, small saucepan

Note: Because the icing gelifies quickly, you should make it at the last minute.
For other gelatin equivalencies or gelatin to agar-agar equivalencies, look at the notes for the mousse component.

4g / ½ Tbsp powdered gelatin or 2 sheets gelatin
¼ cup (60g) heavy cream (35 % fat content)
2.1 oz (5 Tbsp / 60g) granulated sugar
¼ cup (50g) water
1/3 cup (30g) unsweetened cocoa powder

1. Soften the gelatin in cold water for 15 minutes.
2. Boil the rest of the ingredients and cook an additional 3 minutes after boiling.
3. Add gelatin to the chocolate mixture. Mix well.
4. Let cool while checking the texture regularly. As soon as the mixture is smooth and coats a spoon well (it is starting to gelify), use immediately.

How To Assemble your French Yule Log

Depending on whether your mold is going to hold the assembly upside down until you unmold it or right side up, this order will be different.
You will want to tap your mold gently on the countertop after each time you pipe mousse in to get rid of any air bubbles.

1) Line your mold or pan, whatever its shape, with rhodoid (clear hard plastic, I usually use transparencies cut to the desired shape, it’s easier to find than cellulose acetate which is what rhodoid translates to in English) OR plastic film. Rhodoid will give you a smoother shape but you may have a hard time using it depending on the kind of mold you’re using.

You have two choices for Step 2, you can either have Dacquoise on the top and bottom of your log as in version A or you can have Dacquoise simply on the bottom of your log as in version B:

2A) Cut the Dacquoise into a shape fitting your mold and set it in there. If you are using an actual Yule mold which is in the shape of a half-pipe, you want the Dacquoise to cover the entire half-pipe portion of the mold.
3A) Pipe one third of the Mousse component on the Dacquoise.
4A) Take the Creme Brulee Insert out of the freezer at the last minute and set on top of the mousse. Press down gently to slightly ensconce it in the mousse.
5A) Pipe second third of the Mousse component around and on top of the Creme Brulee Insert.
6A) Cut the Praline/Crisp Insert to a size slightly smaller than your mold so that it can be surrounded by mousse. Lay it on top of the mousse you just piped into the mold.
7A) Pipe the last third of the Mousse component on top of the Praline Insert.
8A) Freeze for a few hours to set. Take out of the freezer.
9A) Pipe the Ganache Insert onto the frozen mousse leaving a slight eidge so that ganache doesn’t seep out when you set the Dacquoise on top.
10A) Close with the last strip of Dacquoise.
Freeze until the next day.


2B) Pipe one third of the Mousse component into the mold.
3B) Take the Creme Brulee Insert out of the freezer at the last minute and set on top of the mousse. Press down gently to slightly ensconce it in the mousse.
4B) Pipe second third of the Mousse component around and on top of the Creme Brulee Insert.
5B) Cut the Praline/Crisp Insert to a size slightly smaller than your mold so that it can be surrounded by mousse. Lay it on top of the mousse you just piped into the mold.
6B) Pipe the last third of the Mousse component on top of the Praline Insert.
7B) Freeze for a few hours to set. Take out of the freezer.
8B) Pipe the Ganache Insert onto the frozen mousse leaving a slight edge so that ganache doesn’t seep out when you set the Dacquoise on top.
9B) Close with the Dacquoise.
Freeze until the next day.

the assembly order is:
1) Mousse
2) Creme Brulee Insert
3) Mousse
4) Praline/Crisp Insert
5) Mousse
6) Ganache Insert
7) Dacquoise

Unmold the cake/log/whatever and set on a wire rack over a shallow pan.
Cover the cake with the icing.
Let set. Return to the freezer.
You may decorate your cake however you wish. The decorations can be set in the icing after it sets but before you return the cake to the freezer or you may attach them on top using extra ganache or leftover mousse, etc...
Transfer to the refrigerator no longer than ½ hour before serving as it may start to melt quickly depending on the elements you chose.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Thank You POM!

Last month, I entered my Pomegranate Panna Cotta recipe into a contest at the Foodie Blogroll. My entry was selected, and I am now the happy recipient of a case of pomegranates and a case of pomegranate juice courtesy of POM Wonderful products.

I haven't started working with them yet (enjoying the pomegranates as it), but my co-worker Abby wins the award for best idea- clusters of pomegranate seeds covered in dark chocolate!  yum!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas Cookies!

Every year, I bake and give away a crap-ton of cookies.  I always think I have baked too many, but predictably end up with just the right amount.  I won't post recipes here, since I bet you've all made most of your cookies already.

Here's what I made:

Pecan Tassies
Linzer Sables
Sugar Cookies
Seven Layer Cookies
Cranberry Noels
World Peace Cookies
Almond-Spice Cookies
Cranberry Pistachio Biscotti
Hazelnut Orange Shortbread
Mexican Wedding Cakes
Chocolate Espresso Snowcaps

I also made Aunt Bill's Brown Candy, which is like nut studded, praline fudge.  

several of these are old standbys, that I make year after year, but I am constantly trying to find new ones to add.  This year's standouts are the World Peace Cookies, chocolate wafers made with salt and studded with mini chocolate chips, and Seven Layer Cookies, which are layers of colored almond cake sandwiched with jam and chocolate.

What's your favorite christmas cookie??

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Adventure!

If you are reading this, it means I am in Spain.  P and I will be celebrating Christmas with  trip to Barcelona, Madrid, and Lisbon with our friends.  I am counting on lots of deliciousness to report back on upon my return.  

Have a wonderful holiday and see you in 2009!


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

TWD Round-Up: Buttery Jam Cookies, Linzer Cookies, Grandma's All-Purpose Sugar Cookies

Things have been a bit slow for me on the Tuesdays with Dorie front.  I decided to post my cookie adventures all at once.  No pudding or cheesecake for me this month, :(

First up, Linzer Sables, chosen by Noskos of Living the Life

I have always been intrigued by linzer cookies, so I was glad of the chance to make them.  I filled them with my American Spoon red raspberry jam, which is a beautiful deep color and tastes of fresh raspberries.  The dough was not as sandy as I expected it to be, and they benefitted from the quintessentially-linzer dusting of powdered sugar.  They did make a beautiful cookie though.  

Next, Grandma's All-Purpose Sugar Cookies, Chosen by Ulrike of Kuchenlatein

these are beautiful and crisp, deliciously buttery and an easy dough to work with.  I dipped mine in dark chocolate and added sprinkles.  This was a great choice, perfect for the season. 

Lastly, Buttery Jam Cookies chosen by Heather of Randomosity and the Girl

I made these with applesauce instead of eggs, and added my mom's homemade peach jam.  No pictures of these, although they weren't especially photogenic.   They were moist and tasty had a nice hint of cinnamon.  

head on over to the host's sites for the recipes, and the TWD blogroll to see what everyone else has created.
I can't wait to see what is in store for us in the new year!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Trip to the Philippines!

For our last trip before the holidays, the My Kitchen My World crew traveled to the Philippines.  With guidance from some of P's Filipino co-workers, we got some tried and true recipes for fresh lumpia and pork adobo which we cooked up for a quick dinner.

I loved the lumpia-  it was very different from the little fried rolls I am used to having- much fresher and brighter in taste.  The wraps were easy to make
 and the filling mixed up quickly.  I loved the added crunch that the lettuce in the wraps added.

The pork and chicken adobo was also very good- slightly acerbic due to the vinegar in the recipe, but the meat was surprisingly tender and flavorful.  Our dishes got the seal of aproval from Evelyn and Jim, who helped us select the menu.

Again, something I would never think of to make at home, but satisfying and easier then I would expect.  I love these little travels of ours that we take every week from our kitchen!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Review: The Oceanaire Seafood Room

There is nothing casual about the Oceanaire. Well, maybe the tins of Old Bay, bottles of Tabasco and cellophane-wrapped servings of oyster crackers on each table - but that's the contradiction of the upscale seafood house, where the $1200 suit meets food you can only reasonably eat with your hands. I donned my considerably cheaper suit, and we headed out to give it a go.

Our visit to the Oceanaire's Philadelphia outpost was precipitated by our receipt of a gift card from my parents for our first anniversary. Make no mistake about it: if you're dining here, you are most likely on a big date, a rich old coot of some kind, or using your corporate Amex. It's not so much because of the prices (though they're not exactly cheap), but the air of formality about the place. The maitre d' greets you by your full name and introduces himself with a handshake when you check in. Wearing dark clothing? Someone will swap your white napkin out for a black one so as not to risk any unwanted lint ending up on your clothes. Though it all sounds a little over the top, in fact, everyone we encountered was very nice and professional, and the service pulls off the feat of being formal without being stuffy. The only thing that is slightly odd is that the servers are dressed in what look like lab coats, with their IDs worn visibly on the outside. You almost wonder if they'll want to test your cholesterol before selling you the shrimp cocktail.

"Buy local" types beware: the Oceanaire has its seafood flown in daily from all over the place. But, right at the top of the menu, they tell you where it comes from, so if you want to keep it semi-local (or at least East Coast) then you have that option. Alternatively, you can order crab legs that were caught by the Time Bandit from cable TV's Deadliest Catch. Anyway, there's a wide variety of undersea creatures on the menu, with a particular emphasis on raw-bar items like oysters and clams. The menu changes daily, and we were told if we fancied something that wasn't on the menu, the chef would be happy to make it for us. In the middle of this explanation, a very nice amuse-bouche of trout tartare on a potato crisp arrived.

After that bite and much deliberation, we started out with the "petite shellfish platter", which arrives as a two-foot mound of crushed ice studded with oysters, clams, shrimp, mussels, crab legs and claws, and topped with half a steamed lobster. All of the shellfish was was impeccably fresh and really tasted better without any of the provided sauces (mignonette, soy, mustard aioli and cocktail sauce). The cooked items were good as well, though the shrimp were a little tough, perhaps owing to their jumbo size. The only hitch here was getting all of the ice out of the shells without spilling any of their liquors - though the presentation is impressive, serving the shellfish on top of the ice rather than jammed in it might help. That, and I simply don't have the skill or patience for extracting crabmeat from the shell, but I hold not the restaurant but Mother Nature accountable for that, for designing an creature that is so inconvenient to eat.

Next we split the BLT salad, which was a blend of crisp iceberg and romaine lettuces with tomato in a buttermilk dressing, topped with few slices of delectably porky bacon. Beware - this was truly a huge salad; even split into two portions, it was more than enough.

Prior to the arrival of our entrees, Drew, our eager server, offered L a bib in the form of a napkin alligator-clipped around her neck. Naturally, I did not let her decline, nor could I resist snapping a photo of the spectacle. Out of respect for my wife, I will not post it.

Bibbed and ready for action, L welcomed her bouillabaisse to the table. Prawns, scallops ("People actually go diving and get these by hand! What a cool job!", said Drew), mussels, clams, and a white fish of some kind, all served in a rich, if slightly salty, broth flavored by the aforementioned Deadliest Catch crabs. Delicious and satisfying.

I had a filet of Washington State trout, served crispy skin-side-up over large slices of potato with a butter and caper sauce. Everything on the plate was cooked perfectly, and the simplicity of the dish demonstrated admirable restraint. We also ordered one of the a-la carte sides, mixed roasted vegetables, which we ended up mostly taking home.

If you're in the mood for something more involved, there are crab-topped-this and cedar-planked-that things on the menu, and if you don't like fish at all and have been dragged there by a pescavore, well, you can either re-examine your relationship or order chicken or a steak.

Though we were pretty full at this point, we had a gift card to extinguish, so we decided to split the baked Alaska for dessert. This could not have made Drew happier, or my earlier use of the word "extinguish" any more relevant, because we were in for a tableside presentation in which a sauce boat full of rum is set aflame and theatrically poured over the Alaska's meringue to toast it. The dish mostly lived up to the spectacle, though the un-burned-off alcohol lent a not particularly welcome sting to the dessert.

To reiterate, service was great. There are many wines available by the glass, and you are offered a courtesy tasting pour before you commit to one to make sure you like it. This was great because the Pinot Grigio I ordered turned out to have a skunkier flavor than I would have liked, but quick-thinking Drew offered up a fine alternative (an Italian Sauvignon Blanc). And you do get a healthy pour of wine indeed.

So we walked out of the Oceanaire with some leftover bouillabaisse, a whole lot of roasted vegetables, and the feeling of having been pampered and entertained for several hours. The best part? It only cost us a $40 tip! But I can't help but wonder what my disposition would have been if we had to pay. I think it just underscores that eating at this restaurant is (rather by design, I would say) a "dining event". Perhaps an old-fashioned notion, but sometimes, a comforting one. As long as you've got the coin, they've got the clams.

Oceanaire on Urbanspoon

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Review: Izumi

Like the many arms of a hungry octopus, globalization has reached into every corner of our world - even East Passyunk Avenue, which for decades was known more for red-gravy Italian and the odd BYOB than for anything as "exotic" as Japanese food. But a smart newcomer has seized that global octopus and, ever so skillfully, sliced it, popped it on some rice, and created a memorable sushi dining experience. The place is called Izumi (which means "fountain", after the fountain in the triangular patch of pavement across the street, where such culinary luminaries such as Muggsy's Steaks and Iggy's once stood).

Izumi's interior is small but very nice, in that high-class yet serene sushi restaurant way. Our kimono-clad waitress was very attentive on our Sunday night visit, bringing out an ice bucket to keep our beers chilled and popping tops as necessary.

As for the food: Much has been made of Izumi's miso soup. It's more opaque than the average bowl and has a uniquely smokey aroma and flavor. Cubes of silky tofu and seaweed make it an overall satisfying experience.

The seaweed salad is not what you normally get at a Japanese restaurant: rather than the usual chewy thin bands of seaweed studded with sesame seeds, theirs is more of a composed salad of four types of seaweed that each have their own personality, presented with little more than a lemon wedge as seasoning. Subtle and delicate as it was, there's not a lot of flavor going on, and it was not a favorite at the table. Unless you're into seaweed, it's probably not worth the seven bucks.

Seaweed Salad

I was excited to see okinomiyaki on the menu. This Kansai-style "pancake" loosely translates to "whatever you want, grilled". At Izumi, though, there's no choice in the matter of toppings. The pancake was topped with a mayo-based sauce, another sweeter sauce, pickled ginger, and bonito shavings that eerily danced in the wind currents as we waited to eat it. As it was my first time having the dish, I'm not sure how it stands up, but it was decent, if a little mushy.

Vegetable tempura came with two dipping sauces and was crispy and not overly greasy. The sashimi sampler is complex, with each of five offerings complemented by sauce and garnish. The squid served atop a slice of lemon is particularly nice.

Izumi has a relatively small but impressive battery of special rolls. Tops among these was the Paradiso roll, which features lobster tempura and tobiko. There was maybe a little too much sauce on top for my taste, but still tasty overall. A simpler tuna roll felt a little bit lacking - one thing I didn't care for was the soft texture of the nori that it came wrapped in.

Sashimi Sampler

I would classify Izumi as a "welcome newcomer". Not only does it bring more dining diversity to its neighborhood, the food is genuinely good, too, and the BYO policy and reasonable prices keep the tab on the light side. Despite not living particularly close to it, I would happily go back, as I'm interested to try out some of the simpler sushi and sashimi offerings. Maybe I'll even try the tako next time.

Izumi on Urbanspoon

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Trip to France!

The My Kitchen, My World bloggers are traveling to France this week. Our culinary trip involved the classic bistro dish soupe à l’oignon gratineé, or French onion soup.  This was a perfect end to a day where the Philadelphia temperature dropped below freezing.

2 large yellow onions
1 shallot
1 tbs butter
Worcestershire sauce
Stock (beef, chicken, vegetable; we used turkey)
2 tbs chopped parsley
Gruyere cheese, shredded

Thinly slice onions and shallot on a mandoline. Melt butter in a saucepan. Add onions and shallot with a pinch of salt, and cook over low heat for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally so they don't burn. Once onions are caramelized, add a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce, a pinch of thyme (dried or fresh), a few grinds of pepper, and the stock. (Something I should have done but did not - before this step, deglaze pan with 1/2 cup of red wine. A shot of cognac would be nice here too - just watch for flames! Failing that, add 1 tsp apple cider vinegar with the stock.) Season to taste if stock is not salty enough. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer for 5-10 minutes.

Add parsley. Toast one thick slice of French or Italian bread per bowl and place one in bottom of each. Ladle soup on top and top with shredded cheese. Place under broiler for a few minutes until cheese bubbles and gets slightly browned.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Review: Ekta

I could eat Indian food every day, especially if it’s made by the chefs at Ekta. This Girard avenue spot run by a former chef at Tiffin makes quality food at great prices, and they deliver far and wide. 
P and I ordered delivery over the weekend, and were happy when the 1 and a half hour estimated wait took only 40 minutes. Our Samosa Chat, Saag Panner and Chicken Tikka Masala were accompanied by fluffly, buttery rice, raita, mint sauce and free Kheer for dessert.

The Samosa Chat is described as Samosa topped with chickpeas, tamarind, and yogurt. I’d never heard of this before but it sounded tasty. That’s what I put on my Samosas anyhow, so why not? When it arrived it looked like the Indian version of seven layer dip. It was also cold, so I assumed that was the temperature it sould be eaten at. It was mighty tasty (both cold and warmed up), with crispy bits of samosa slathered in the smoky tang of tamarind and the coolness of raita.

Saag Panneer is quickly becoming my gold standard dish by which all Indian restaurants are tested. Theirs in creamy and gingery, with bit of spice. Plenty of spinach and nice, tender-firm chunks of paneer.

Chicken Tikka Masala was also excellent. A slightly creamy, complexly spiced sauce with lots of tender chicken. In both entrees, Ekta was generous in the amount of protein added- sometimes there are only 4 or 5 chunks of chicken floating in all that (albeit delicious) sauce.

2 entrees and an appetizer (we had naan in the freezer) came to $23 dollars. Plenty of food for dinner and 2 lunches. Cheaper, in fact, then the bad Chinese we ordered last week, and miles tastier. The only complaint I have is that we’ve eaten it all.

Ekta on Urbanspoon

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Delicious Birthday Gift

Last week I celebrated my birthday with red velvet cupcakes, a sushi dinner, and a food blogger potluck.  Thanks to everyone who made my birthday extra-special- but two contributions are especially blog-worthy.

My sister-in-law got me the neatest cookbook collection from Octopus Pulishing Group.  It's called Sugar and Spice by Keda Black and contains 16 mini books, each one about one or two sweet and spicy ingredients.  It has books on old standbys like chocolates and fruits, and well as more unusual ones like flowers (violet, rose) and things like nougat.  It comes in this fun hatbox and just looks cool.  This makes a fun gift for friends who love to bake (or for yourself!)

P also made me a lovely birthday cake using Martha's recipe for yellow cake with chocolate frosting.  He decorated with a stencil he made himself.  He worked very hard on it, and it was not only delicious, it was cute too, so I must display his efforts here. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Review: The Pop Shop

The Pop Shop sits on Haddon Avenue, the main strip in Collingswood’s downtown. It’s a throwback diner/soda fountain decorated with bright modern colors.

The menu is huge: breakfast all day, build your own burgers, 20 types of grilled cheese, several varieties of fries. There are vegetarian and vegan options, so everyone can come hungry and leave happy.

For the kids (or the kid in you) you can get endless flavors of soda and amazing sounding milkshakes. All the ice cream concoctions sound great, in fact. I’d love to go back for dessert alone.

As I said, the menu is huge, which is a little overwhelming. I was pretty sure I wanted a grilled cheese, and even deciding which one was a challenge, mainly because they all looked so good.
My Edison,(grilled cheddar, smoked ham, and green apples on ciabatta) was tasty, although I would have liked more apples and loved a little honey mustard. P’s Ogden (classic American and tomato on white) was well made and tasty for the straightforward sandwich that it was. They use good quality, thick country white, making a substantial sandwich. P’s tomato soup was warm and creamy (yet not cream based). My hand cut fries were nice and crispy, and not too greasy. Service was friendly and efficient  

Pop Shop serves up solid, inventive diner food at an affordable price (less than $10 each). I wouldn’t make a special trip over the river (well, maybe to try the dessert), but it sure beats the food court at the mall.

Pop Shop on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Philly Blogger Potluck!

A big thanks to  Messy and Picky, who opened their home to host the Philly Area Food Blogger Potluck this past weekend. It was great to meet so many of the bloggers whose words I have been reading for months, and to taste their delicious creations. I’ve added a lot of my new friends to my Philly Reads section, so please visit their blogs and see what they are making and where they are eating! I will be blogging about the super secret dessert I brought later in the month, so stay tuned!

Check out fun photos from the evening on Messy and Picky's flickr stream!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Trip to Ethiopia!

Once again, Elra's list provided a great location for the My Kitchen, My World bloggers to travel to this week: Ethiopia.  I am a big fan of ethiopian food, but to be honest, I'd never thought to attempt it myself.  We have several good ethiopian places in town and a cheap, tasty fix can be found readily. 

There are two dishes I love to get when we go out for Ethiopian food, Yemisir Wat and Yemisir Alecha.  We decided to make a version of Yemisir Wat, a lentil dish spiced with a traditional Ethiopian spice blend, which traditionally includes chile peppers, ginger, cloves, coriander, allspice, rue berries, and ajwain. 
We made our wat the lazy way, in a crock pot.  The exact recipe is now lost to cyberland as the site,, is now unacessible (curses!).  In it we put lentils, tomato paste, onion, garlic, and spices, and added peas at the end.  When I can access it, I will update this to add the recipe.  Our wat came out tasty and, while not exactly what I would get at a restaurant, a very servicable attempt.  

We made quick injera to serve with our wat, as I can't imagine ethiopian food without the ever-present springy bread that is used as both a service and eating utensil.  While we did not use the traditional teff flour, the recipe below mimicked the soft, bouncy texture and slight sourness of the bread. (Bob's Red Mill does sell Teff flour at my local natural foods store, for those of you interested in sourcing it.) In my mind the injera made our meal go from an interestingly spiced lentil stew to a true world-at-home experience. 

 We served our wat on the injera, with more on the side.  We shared a communal plate, and yes, we ate with our hands.  

Quick Injera

This recipe approximates the true injera, which is made from a fermented sourdough batter. Most recipes don't call for the lemon juice, but I find it necessary to supply the essential sour flavor that real injera adds to a meal.

6-8 crepes
All-purpose flour -- 1 1/2 cups
Whole wheat flour --1/2 cup
Baking powder -- 1 tablespoon
Salt 1/2 teaspoon
Club soda -- 2 to 2 1/2 cups
Lemons, juice only -- 2 each

Preheat a large cast-iron skillet over a medium flame. Mix the flour, whole wheat flour, baking powder and salt together in a large bowl. Stir in the club soda and mix to a smooth batter. It should have the thin consistency of a pancake batter.
Wipe the skillet with a little oil using a paper towel. Ladle about 1/2 cup of the batter into the skillet and spread it with a spatula to make a large crepe. Let bake in the skillet until all the bubbles on top burst and begin to dry out, about 2-3 minutes.
Carefully turn the injera over and cook on second side another minute or two. Try not to brown it too much.
Remove the injera to a warm platter and repeat with the rest of the batter, wiping the skillet clean with an oiled paper towel each time.
After the batter is used up, brush each injera with the lemon juice. Serve immediately or hold covered in a warm oven.
You can substitute buckwheat flour for the whole wheat flour if you like. Or you can just use all white flour. If you can find teff flour at a health food store, by all means use it.


2 teaspoons cumin seeds whole
4 each cloves whole
3/4 teaspoon cardamom seeds
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns whole
1/4 teaspoon allspice whole
1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds whole
10 small dried red chiles
1/2 teaspoon ginger grated
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 tablespoons hungarian paprika
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon cloves ground
In a small frying pan, on a low heat, toast cumin, cloves, cardamom, peppercorns, allspice, fenugreek and corainder for about 2 minutes, stirring constantly.

Remove from heat and cool for 5 minutes.

Discard stems from chilies. In a spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle, finely grind together the toasted spices and chilies.

Mix in remaining ingredients. Store in refrigerator in a well sealed jar

Friday, December 5, 2008

Review: Tap Room on 19th

For as long as I've been walking back and forth between my parents' house and my grandmother's, there's been a bar on the corner of 19th & Ritner Streets in South Philly. Aside from Relli's Bakery on the other corner (good cakes, lousy pastry), it's never been a culinary destination. But some new owners have taken over the former dive and are trying to drag it into the Gastropub Century. Will they succeed?

They're off to a good start. The bar has been tastefully refurbished, and there are four high-top round tables for dining. It turned out to be a little awkward since there were six of us that night, but the second floor is currently being remodeled for restaurant seating. A fairly decent selection of beers on tap, though it would be nice to see a few more local brews occupying the Stella and Blue Moon taps. But, they were half-price since we were there for the 5-7 happy hour, so I won't complain.

We tried out the cheesesteak spring rolls for a starter, what is by now a pretty common item. They were done well, not too greasy and suitably beefy and cheesy. I had the fish and chips - nice crispy batter on the fish, and mutant-ly huge (though perfectly cooked) potato wedges and some nice coleslaw. L went for the burger, which was flavorful and cooked correctly, though a wider selection of toppings aside from American, Swiss, cheddar or provolone would be welcome. Fries were good and fresh, though a bit on the lighter side for my taste. My parents both got a slow-cooked brisket entree which looked delicious and was certainly generously portioned.

The menu is pretty huge, with 'small, medium and large' plates. Honestly I don't think it would be a bad idea to trim it down a little, but maybe they're at the stage where they're throwing things against the wall to see what sticks. The item everyone's talking about is the crab fries, which in this case are topped with real crab and not just Old Bay. They may be worth a shot on our next visit. The only thing really missing here (which is a little surprising in this day and age) are some decent vegetarian options, but that may come in time as well.

All in all, a pleasant surprise in the old neighborhood. If you are coming in from out of the area, you may consider SEPTA or parking a few blocks away unless you're comfortable with double- and triple-parking. Or if you're lucky enough to live nearby, just walk in. You've finally got a bar to be proud of in the neighborhood.

Tap Room on 19th on Urbanspoon

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Espresso Panna Cotta

If you like coffee ice cream, this dessert is for you.  Why?  It tastes like melted coffee ice cream. Hello, yummy.  This is your basic panna cotta with espresso powder added to give it that punch of flavor (and caffeine). I like it served like this in a martini glass, but it would also look lovely unmolded from a ramekin with a little chocolate syrup and shavings.

Espresso Panna Cotta
Adapted from

1/3 cup skim milk
1 (.25 ounce) envelope unflavored gelatin
2 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup white sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1-2 tsp instant espresso powder

Pour milk into a small bowl, and stir in the gelatin powder. Set aside.
In a saucepan, stir together the heavy cream and sugar, and set over medium heat. Bring to a full boil, watching carefully, as the cream will quickly rise to the top of the pan. Add espresso powder and stir. Pour the gelatin and milk into the cream, stirring until completely dissolved. Cook for one minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, stir in the vanilla and pour into six individual ramekin dishes.
Cool the ramekins uncovered at room temperature. When cool, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, but preferably overnight before serving.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Lemon Meringue Cake

The minute I saw this cake in the bakers case at Tartine Bakery, I knew I wanted to try it.  Alas, Tartine charges $60 for a cake, and since they are located in San Francisco, it's not exactly an easy trip for my next special occasion.  Luckily for me, my mom bought me the cookbook, and this recipe is first in the cakes section!  

I wanted to make this for my sister-in-law's birthday, but she declined (lame), so it appeared on our Thanksgiving table instead- and it looked magnificent, if I say so myself.

This in one of those looks-complicated-but-is actually-several-easy-recipies-together jobs.  Lemon genoise is soaked with lemon syrup and layered with lemon cream and caramel, then covered in italian meringue and beautifully blow-torched to toasty perfection.

Who doesn't love a recipe that calls for a blow torch??

I won't post the recipe since it isn't mine, but look for it in the Tartine Cookbook.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Review: Cochon

It's all in a name, and Cochon means "pig". What comes to mind: earthy, substantial, intelligent, playful, perhaps a bit raunchy, and perhaps unexpectedly, noble. I'd say these all apply to the restaurant as well.

Cochon is a relatively small BYO in the space at Passyunk & Catherine that used to house the stealth pastry shop called Sud. The interior is simple, with a pretty small open kitchen and just two waiters to handle the dozen or so tables. (It's also a bit dark this time of year, which explains the lack of pictures in this post.) This was our second visit, and we were part of a somewhat rowdy party of eight celebrating our friend J's 35th birthday.

The menu is just the right size: seven or eight appetizers and the same number of mains. In addition, they're now offering a four-course prix fixe menu that for our visit consisted of a squash soup, salad Lyonnaise, Kobe beef tips, and a chocolate orange torte. One of our companions went for that, but the rest of us took the a-la-carte route.

My appetizer was escargot, served out of the shell and matched with parsley butter, tomato, and addictively crispy pancetta. L went for the arugula salad which sported a fantastically orangey vinaigrette. Other highlights from around the table were the whole-grain mustard that accompanied the house-made pâté, and the fried chicken livers with a sweet raisin and balsamic glaze.

For her entree, L once again went for Cochon's signature dish, which is braised pork shoulder served with lentils and roasted brussels sprouts and topped with a poached egg. L will not permit me to omit her opinion that the first time she had this, it was "so good it made you close your eyes when you ate it". This time, it was very good, but from my taste it fell a little short of the way it was made on our last visit: the pork seemed just a little dry and not quite as fall-apart tender. My entree was the incredibly moist and tender pan-roasted chicken breast, served with mushrooms, green beans, potatoes Dauphinoise and a slightly salty jus. Birthday boy J went for the lamb shank, which he declared he would have picked up and gnawed on, were it socially acceptable.

The only misstep during the second course was H's gnocchi. Apparently they got lost in the shuffle of our large party's order, so they didn't show up until what seemed like ten minutes after the rest of us got our entrees. Unfortunately, they were not really worth the wait: kind of grainy in texture and in a pretty unremarkable sauce. The lesson here is to stick with what Cochon does best: rustic, succulent, simply but expertly prepared meats. Next time, though, I would like to see how they fare with seafood, as there was a nice-looking trout dish on the menu.

Aside from an espresso for me and the torte that came with friend R's prix fixe meal, we skipped dessert, as we had a pumpkin pie L and I made waiting for us. You're probably better off doing the same, as on our last visit they were nothing to write home about aside from a very nice creme brulee.

It may be going out on a limb to say this having not been to all of the options, but I think that for the money, Cochon might be the best bistro in town. It's certainly worth a try and a repeat visit. You might say it represents some terrific, radiant, humble thig-a-majig of a pig.

Cochon on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 1, 2008

R2R: Squash Soup with Vanilla Creme Fraiche

Recipes to Rival is back with a savory seasonal sensation- squash soup!

Our host, Meg from Joy Through Cooking, not only picked a recipe perfect for the ever-colder weather, it has a fun provenance too- this is the recipe from Top Chef Chicago where the cheftestants Spike and Andrew were asked to make a dish that embodied these words: yellow, vanilla, love. 

I do like squash soup, but the ones I am ususally drawn to involve at least a bit of cream.  But this soup, probably owing to the honey and miso in the base, was so delicious that I couldn't stop eating it!

The vanilla creme fraiche was , a lovely suprise that made this dish- it brought out the sweetness in from the honey and a beautiful, flowery flavor in the vegetables that was just addicting.  I think that was the love in the dish. 

Squash Soup with Vanilla Creme Fraiche

Please see the original inspiration:

Prep Time: one hour and 30 minutes
Serves: more than 8

3 sliced leek bottoms (rinsed)
4 carrots (peeled and sliced)
10 shallots (peeled and sliced)
1 clove garlic
1/2 lb butter
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup miso stir
Salt and pepper

5 acorn
5 butternut
Oil for rubbing
Salt and pepper

Vegetable Stock:
4 quarts water
2 white onions
4 carrots, peeled
2 leeks
6-8 button mushrooms
Bouquet garnish (parsley, bay leaves, peppercorns)

Vanilla Creme Fraiche:
Creme fraiche
2 vanilla beans

Additional Ingredients:
Salt to taste
Cayenne to taste

Sweat all of the vegetables with butter. Sweat down and deglaze with honey. Stir and add miso. Season with salt and pepper.

Cut squash in half, scoop out seeds and reserve one butternut head for garnish. Rub squash with oil and season with salt and pepper. Place one piece of sage under every piece of squash. Place squash face down on a sheet tray and roast at 350 degrees until done. Scoop flesh out and pass through a ricer.
Vegetable Stock:
In a pot, boil all ingredients together with the exception of the bouquet garnishes. (NOTE: allow to simmer for at least 1 hour)

Vanilla Creme Fraiche:
Whip creme fraiche and scrape vanilla beans and fold in.

Combine squash and vegetable stock to desired consistency. Add mirepoix and cook. Blend with a vita prep and strain through a chinois. Season with salt and cayenne.
To Plate:
Add 6 ounces of soup in bowl and spoon in creme fraiche. Garnish with bouquet garnishes.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

My Kitchen, My World- be thankful!

This week's assignment for My Kitchen, My World, was to travel back to the kitchens of our own family to celebrate Thanksgiving.  While I didn't make any of my traditional family recipes for our table this year (my mother in law makes an awesome thanksgiving dinner), I did prepare and entire thanksgiving dinner, with my co-workers, for the children in our program.   

The five therapists on my team assembled at my house to put together a sit down dinner from our own family traditions to share with the kids.  We had turkey and gravy, Ms. Ebony's macaroni and cheese, Ms. Diane's green bean casserole, my sweet potatoes, and stuffing made delicious by Ms. Abby.  I even taught Ms. Crystal how to make pumpkin pie (she also made a very popular salad). 

We sat down with them on the day before the holiday to (attempt) to reflect on the year in our program and what the kids appreciate. Our kids were thankful for their families, the food, and one of them was even thankful for his therapists.  Feeding 15 kids was very hectic, but it was a good meal.  Of course I forgot to take pictures of everything but the turkey, but here is my recipe for sweet potatoes, like my mom makes:

You need:
sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced
chunky apple sauce
dark brown sugar.

layer sweet potatoes in a casserole dish with applesauce and sprinkle liberally with brown sugar.  Bake in a hot oven until potatoes are done.

DO NOT: top with marshmallows and put in a broiler.  This will cause the marshmallows to set fire and flames to come out of your oven.  Then you will have to peel off a charred burned marshmallow crust.  Not that I have ever done this. 

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Daring Bakers: Caramel Cake

This delicious caramel cake graced the Thanksgiving table this year, thanks to the Daring Bakers! After 2 months of savory challenges, I was very happy to see something sweet.  
This Caramel Cake with Carmelized Butter Icing is the brainchild of Shuna Fish Lyndon of Eggbeater

This is a sweet, dense cake that really doesn't need the frosting, although the frosting is delicious, so I would go ahead and make it anyhow.  I decided to stray from the recipe a bit and add a layer of granny smith apples cooked down in some butter and a splash of the caramel syrup, just to mix things up.  

The caramel syrup is easy to make, but I would cut the recipe in half if you don't want leftovers.  Be sure to follow basic caramel safety rules when making it (long sleeves, cold water nearby)

This is a perfect tea cake or base to a coffee or crumb cake, in my opinion.  I liked it with the frosting, but I like it even better a couple days later, with the frosting scraped off with a cup of tea. 

Thanks to this month's hosts Dolores from Culinary Curiosity, Alex from Blondie and Brownie, Jenny of Foray into Food, and Natalie from Gluten a Go-Go

Find Shuna's recipe here on Bay Area Bites or below:

by Shuna Fish Lyndon

10 Tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/4 Cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 Cup Caramel Syrup (see recipe below)
2 each eggs, at room temperature
splash vanilla extract
2 Cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup milk, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 350F

Butter one tall (2 – 2.5 inch deep) 9-inch cake pan.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter until smooth. Add sugar and salt & cream until light and fluffy.

Slowly pour room temperature caramel syrup into bowl. Scrape down bowl and increase speed. Add eggs/vanilla extract a little at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down bowl again, beat mixture until light and uniform.

Sift flour and baking powder.

Turn mixer to lowest speed, and add one third of the dry ingredients. When incorporated, add half of the milk, a little at a time. Add another third of the dry ingredients, then the other half of the milk and finish with the dry ingredients. {This is called the dry, wet, dry, wet, dry method in cake making. It is often employed when there is a high proportion of liquid in the batter.}

Take off mixer and by hand, use a spatula to do a few last folds, making sure batter is uniform. Turn batter into prepared cake pan.

Place cake pan on cookie sheet or 1/2 sheet pan. Set first timer for 30 minutes, rotate pan and set timer for another 15-20 minutes. Your own oven will set the pace. Bake until sides pull away from the pan and skewer inserted in middle comes out clean. Cool cake completely before icing it.

Cake will keep for three days outside of the refrigerator.


2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1 cup water (for "stopping" the caramelization process)
In a small stainless steel saucepan, with tall sides, mix water and sugar until mixture feels like wet sand. Brush down any stray sugar crystals with wet pastry brush. Turn on heat to highest flame. Cook until smoking slightly: dark amber.

When color is achieved, very carefully pour in one cup of water. Caramel will jump and sputter about! It is very dangerous, so have long sleeves on and be prepared to step back.

Whisk over medium heat until it has reduced slightly and feels sticky between two fingers. {Obviously wait for it to cool on a spoon before touching it.}

Note: For safety reasons, have ready a bowl of ice water to plunge your hands into if any caramel should land on your skin.


12 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound confectioner’s sugar, sifted
4-6 tablespoons heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2-4 tablespoons caramel syrup
Kosher or sea salt to taste

Cook butter until brown. Pour through a fine meshed sieve into a heatproof bowl, set aside to cool.

Pour cooled brown butter into mixer bowl.

In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, add confectioner's sugar a little at a time. When mixture looks too chunky to take any more, add a bit of cream and or caramel syrup. Repeat until mixture looks smooth and all confectioner's sugar has been incorporated. Add salt to taste.

Note: Caramelized butter frosting will keep in fridge for up to a month.
To smooth out from cold, microwave a bit, then mix with paddle attachment until smooth and light

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Pomegranate Panna Cotta

Sorry folks, no TWD this week.  As much as I really wanted to make the Thanksgiving Twofer Pie (and I really did), my sister-in-law's nut allergies banned it from our holiday table, and we really don't need an extra pie this week.

Instead, I bring you pomegranate panna cotta, devised by yours truly for the POM Wonderful Pomegranate Recipe contest.  I heart pomegranates, so I was psyched to come up with something for this contest that I heard about through the foodie blogroll.

Pomegranate Panna Cotta

3 gelatin leaves
1 1/2 cups cream
1 cup pomegranate juice
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla extract

fresh pomegranate seeds for garnish (dark chocolate shavings would look great too!)

soak gelatin leaves in cold water and allow them to become squishy.

heat cream pomegranate juice, and sugar over medium heat until just under a boil.  remove from heat, stir in gelatin until dissolved.  stir in vanilla.

pour into ramekins or martini glasses.  place plastic wrap directly on surface and place in fridge to chill until set.  

serve straight from vessel or upend it on a plate and garnish with pomegranate seeds.  You may need to hold the ramekin in some hot water for a few seconds, or use a knife to loosen the panna cotta from the sides of the vessel.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Pumpkin Ravioli with Brown Butter and Sage

P and I threw these homemade ravioli together, believe it or not, on a weeknight for dinner.  Normally I would never attempt fresh pasta for a weeknight supper, let alone fresh stuffed pasta, but many hands make light work, and this was a savory, seasonal meal.  (it didn't hurt that the pumpkin had been roasted and pureed beforehand and was waiting in our freezer.)

Scoops came to the rescue once again!  We discovered that the cookie scoops I purchased in multiple sizes are the perfect way to neatly and evenly distribute your ravioli filling.  Yeah!!

Once briefly boiled, the ravioli were given a run through some brown butter and sage and sprinkled with roasted pumpkin seeds.  Super Yum.

Fresh Pasta
1 3/4 C. flour
2 eggs
Pinch of salt

Standard fresh pasta procedure: form flour (and salt) into a mound and make a crater in the middle. Add lightly beaten eggs and incorporate into flour with a fork. Once you've taken that as far as it can go, use your hands to incorporate, and knead dough for 10 minutes. If dough is overly dry and won't hang together, add water in small increments. Form into a ball and cover with a damp cloth for 15-20 minutes to rest.

Pumpkin-Ricotta Filling
About 1 1/2 C. pumpkin (roasted and pureed)
1/2 C. ricotta
1/4 C. parmesan, Romano, Locatelli, etc.
Black pepper to taste
4-6 fresh sage leaves, chiffonaded or minced
Few strips of lemon zest, minced

Mix it all together!

Roll out the pasta with a pasta machine with the final roll at the thinnest setting. Scoop filling onto half of sheet, brush sheet lightly with water and cover with other half of dough. Cut with a ravioli stamper, or cut and crimp with a fork.

Boil ravioli for 4-6 minutes or until pasta is al dente.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Trip to Iran!

The My Kitchen, My World bloggers traveled to Iran this week, thanks to inspiration from Elra at Elra's Cooking.  I was excited to work with middle eastern flavors again, and after some googling found a scrumptious sounding dish called Khoresht-e Fesenjan. After eating it, it reminds me of a dish called Chicken Pomegranate at La Mediteranee in San Francisco.

I was excited to work with pomegranate, and intrigues by the sauce that is made with reduced pomegranate juice and ground walnuts. The oils come out of the ground walnuts, and the sauce is nutty,sweet/tart, and simply delicious. This was one of those great dishes that I would never think to make on my own, but am so glad I used this opportunity to stretch my culinary horizons, so to speak.

Khoresht-e Fesenjan

4 Servings

1 kg chicken pieces
500 grams Ground walnuts
4 small onions
4 glasses Pomegranate juice (or 5 tablespoons of pomegranate paste)
2-3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup of cooking oil
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1/2 turmeric


Pour 5 glasses of hot water in a pan and bring to boil. Add salt, ground walnuts and pomegranate juice or paste. If pomegranate juice or paste is sour, add 2-3 tablespoons sugar to the khoresht.

Turn heat down and let boil slowly for about 45 minutes adding more hot water if needed.

Peel onions and slice thinly. Fry in oil until slightly golden.

Wash chicken pieces and fry in onions with 1/2 teaspoon turmeric until color changes. Add these to the Khoresht and let slowly cook for another 30 minutes.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Giant Chocolate Chip Cookie Cake!

Last week, we threw a graduation party for one of the boys in my program.  He's done very well and after a year in our therapeutic program, will be leaving us.  We celebrate completing the program with a party, and the child gets to decide what kind of treat they want.  This boy wanted to have chocolate chip cookies, and my kids get what they want for graduation. I took it upon myself to make him a GIANT cake shaped cookie.  I pressed normal cookie dough into a silicone pan and cooked it for about 20 minutes, till golden.  Turned out beautifully and tasted even better then the regular sized cookies- I may do this more often. (sorry to smudge out the name, but confidentiality, you know)

The boy for whom this was made was so excited when he saw it.  His jaw DROPPED when he saw the cookie and said "is this for me?  I'm going to cry."    I don't know if anyone had ever made him cookies before.  The rest of the kids in the program thought it was awesome too, and tasty.  Just call me Mrs. Fields. 

This cookie was made using the standard Toll House recipe.  Google it. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

TWD: Arborio Rice Pudding

um, this has been on the stove for several hours.  it is still soupy.  i don't like this recipe.  if you still want to try it, check out les gormandises d'Isa . (warning!  French! and delicious photos will tempt you and you may not be able to read the recipes!)

I really want to say thank you to isabelle, who chose this recipe, but I am a bit bitter about not having rice pudding right now.  perhaps I will be nicer tomorrow. 

Monday, November 17, 2008

Trip To Puerto Rico: Rice and Beans

This (well actually last) week, the bloggers of My Kitchen My World visited Puerto Rico.  Yes I know, not quite a country, but also only a US Territory, and in my mind (and I picked this week) deserved of separate culinary recognition.  
I've never been to Puerto Rico myself, but I knew exactly what I wanted to make: my stepmother's rice and beans.  She is from Puerto Rico and she is a mean cook.  This is my third attempt at her bean recipe and it tastes right, but it still doesn't have the awesome sauce that she gets in her beans - mine are too watery and require hours of cooking down on the stove to thicken them.  She knows exactly the right amount of water for her pressure cooker - I have to practice and find out that magic amount for mine. 

The best thing about the recipe (besides the fact that the beans are great for days) is the addition of squash at the end - it complements the beans fantastically and is a nice way to mix up the meal.

Priscilla's Puerto Rican Beans

This recipe can be used for pinto/pink, kidney, or white beans. Recipe is done with 4 quart pressure cooker. (Cooking without pressure cooker requires that the beans be soaked in water over night and then cooked over moderate heat for approximately 1.5-2 hours. Pressure cooker is better!)

1lb bag of dry beans
1 med onion, chopped finely
5-6 cloves garlic chopped or mashed on mortar
3Tbs olive oil
5-6 sliced pieces of salt pork, ¼ inch thick
1 chunky piece of pancetta or cooking ham (optional)
2 large cooking spoonfuls of tomato sauce
1/2 tps of saffron powder or strands
10 chunky pieces (1.5-2 inches) of banana squash or pumpkin
Fresh Herbs and Condiments (quantity at your liking depending how seasoned you like your beans):
1 green bell pepper, cut in pieces
2Tbs of Spanish Alcaparrado (buy Goya Manzanilla Olives, Pimentos & Capers)
7-10 cilantro leaves (cut off bottom stems)
3 Oregano stems, finely cut
2 Sage leaves, finely cut
(Add herbs that you prefer also)

Place beans in pressure cooker,disgarding any bad beans or stones. Wash beans in cool water, then fill pc to about 3/4 with water. Place pc over high heat and add onions, garlic and pancetta. In small pan, add olive oil. When olive oil is moderately hot, add salt pork and cook until pork is nicely browned. Add salt pork with oil into pc; pour little water over pan and add to pc.

Close pressure cooker tightly with lid. Put pc on high setting and cook at moderate to low heat. Cooking time is approximately 25 minutes for pink beans; 30 minutes for kidney beans; and 8 minutes for small white beans. (Depending on the pressure cooker you have, each has different settings. For beans you want to cook at maximum pressure. Once the pc is cooking, the heat should be lowered. Never cook beans at high heat.) After the cooking time, bring pc over to sink and, with lid closed, let cold water run on lid to gradually lower pressure and cool the pot. Open the pot and taste the beans; they should taste “al dente”, not too hard and not too soft. Disgard the pieces of salt pork and pancetta.

Place pc back on stove over moderate heat. Disgard any fat that will start to rise to the top (this is from the salt pork and pancetta). Add fresh herbs, alcaparrado, saffron, tomato sauce, and salt to taste. Cook for about 10 minutes so beans absorb the taste of the herbs. Afterwards, remove the cilantro leaves from the pot. Add the banana or pumkin pieces and cook until tender. (Squash will thicken the bean sauce.) Beans are ready; serve while hot….By the way, cooked beans are great the day or couple of days after…Just reheat over low heat and add a little water.

Note: If the beans are too hard, you probably didn’t give them enough heat, or the pressure setting was not high enough. In this case, close the lid, put pack on top of stove, and cook under high pressure for an additional ten minutes or so…If the beans are too soft, you probably cooked them over too high heat. In this case, throw the beans away and go out for dinner…no one likes mushy beans…

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Review: Tacconelli's Pizzeria

Despite being located in the somewhat unlikely neighborhood of Port Richmond, Tacconelli's Pizzeria has garnered a fair amount of local and national acclaim. Of course, like religion and politics, pizza is one of those topics you don't bring up in polite conversation for fear of someone getting stabbed, so it's all highly subjective, but there is definitely a critical "halo" around this place.

Part of this mystique is the "it's so popular, you have to call ahead to reserve your dough" meme, which inevitably comes up in reviews or conversation, and I guess this is no exception. Well, it's true - this is a neighborhood pizza joint where you need to make a reservation, and not just for a time, but for the number of pizzas you want. Word is that this is because there's a limited amount of space in the oven, and one man running the show in the kitchen, so things get done at the pace they get done and that's just the way it is.

So because of all the brick oven and human factors at play, making a reservation doesn't necessarily mean you'll be seated at that time. When our friend called on Friday, he was told to come "between 8 and 8:30". We were there at about five after eight, just kind of standing in front of the scarecrows and pumpkins in the window and taking in the scene. Aside from all the seasonal decor, it's about as bare bones as it gets in there, though maybe a little bigger than we expected: three main seating areas, jukebox, ice machine, paper plates and cups. Oh, and legions of unsupervised kids running around.

Eight-thirty came and went and we were still standing around. We were still waiting for the last two of our six-person party anyway, and like clockwork, as soon as they showed up at 8:45, we were seated in the side room right in front of the kitchen door. Ordinarily this would not be a prime seating location, but it let us look through the window to see the brick oven action, including what are possibly the world's longest pizza peels.

Once we finally sat down, our waitress was quite friendly and helpful. We knew we wanted to try the Margerita with fresh mozzarella, and a standard sauce-and-cheese pizza, but we were a little lost as to our third one. She suggested the white pizza with spinach and fresh tomato, so we went with that. If you're feeling more adventurous, they do offer the usual suite of toppings like pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, onions, etc. - but beware: there is a strict three-topping maximum here, and if you dare violate it, you will be in for a tongue-lashing from your waitress. I don't even want to think about what would happen if you asked for ham and pineapple, but whatever it is, you'd probably deserve it.

Anyway - finally - our pizza started to arrive. The first one out was the white with spinach and tomato.

As you may be able to tell, the crust is super-thin. However, it is incredibly sturdy and verges on cracker-like in texture. The toppings on this one were decent: lots of garlic, nice tomato, but the spinach had a little bit of an overcooked feeling to it. The overall effect was still very good though. We pretty much put away our slices within two minutes of getting them, which is not hard to do when the crust is so thin. (A good way to burn the roof of your mouth, though.)

Next up, the "regular":

As you can see, the pizza is not completely blanketed in cheese. The sauce was on the sweet side, very smooth with no real chunkiness. Still a most satisfying slice that was wolfed down just as quickly as the last.

Finally, the Margerita:

I think this had the same sweetish sauce as the regular, plus fresh basil and mozzarella. I don't know that the cheese was as flavorful as it's been on some other Marg(h)erita's I've had, but still a good eating slice of pizza.

Owing to the thinness of the crust and its overall deliciousness, I have no doubts that I could put away one of these pies single-handedly. But this leads me to a sort of contradictory feeling I have about this place. There is no denying that masterful pizza-making is going on here. In terms of the crust, I think they're close to technical perfection. I may not be a fan of the sweeter-style sauce, but I think it's evident that they're using good quality ingredients. Still, there's a side of me that would rather have something a little greasier, a little floppier, a little more eminently "craveable" than the pizza-as-high-art of Tacconelli's. Even pizza in Naples, where there are purity laws governing what you can and can't call "la vera pizza Napoletana", has this almost carnal quality that I feel was missing last night.

So is Tacconelli's the best pizza in the city? From a technical standpoint, and in my experience, I think it's up there with Osteria. (This was true price-wise as well, which came as a little bit of a surprise since there are no prices on Tacconelli's menu - though to be fair, their pizzas are a bit larger than Osteria's.) Without hesitation, I would recommend that anyone who cares about pizza try it at least once, because it is worth the dough-reserving, waiting-around, drunk-table-from-Jersey-behind-you-yelling hassle. Appreciate it for what it is. But you may find yourself still craving that vulgar, dripping, folded-over slice from the joint on the corner. Because just like life, pizza is sloppy sometimes. This is important.

Tacconelli's Pizza on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 14, 2008

Review: Maoz Falafel

Maoz makes my favorite falafel in the city, hands down.  It's a Dutch falafel chain that has been in Philadelphia for about 4 years.  Their first store, on South St was joined by a second on Walnut on in 2007.  

Maoz falafels are freshly fried and are crispy, well seasoned, and overall delicious.  Their tasty goodness is complemented by a wonderland of a salad bar where you can add your own veggies to your heart's delight including spicy carrots, cucumbers, olives, tabouleh, onions, and my favorite, fried cauliflower!!! Hummous, Feta, Eggplant, and Avocado are available for an additional fee.  

The falafels come in a regular size (5 balls) and junior (3 balls).  Get the junior- you have more room for veggies and return trips to the salad bar.  You may think the salad platter is the better deal, but you'd be wrong- no return trips on salad.  Here's another trick- while you falafel is frying, ask the dude behind the counter if you can start putting veggies in your pita- this way you can have ultimate distribution of veggies under the falafel as well as on top. Don't forget the tahini and garlic mayo!! Maoz also sells Belgian frites but I advise you skip them and fill up on falafel.

Full disclosure- I first discovered Maoz when visiting my pal Jenny in Amsterdam in 2002.  I declared we would have to eat there every day of my 3 week visit.  Jenny moved to Philadelphia in 2004, and her arrival was followed by the opening of Maoz's first US store!  Hooray!  I was more then thrilled.

Bottom line- go to Maoz.  I don't want to hear about the wonders of Bitars, Mama's, King of Falafel, etc until you have tried Maoz (unless we are talking about the Casablanca truck at Penn because they are a close second).  I am done.  Thank You. t

Maoz Falafel on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Diane's Chocolate Cheesecake

Another birthday at work this week and Diane, the newest member of our team, requested Chocolate Cheesecake.  I do love cheesecake, but I've never made a chocolate one.  In fact, I'd never had a chocolate one that I can remember.  The technique was very easy- my basic delicious, dense cheesecake recipe with melted chocolate and cocoa powder added.  

My secret to great cheesecake is to always, always bake in a water bath no matter what the recipe says to avoid grainyness,  and to let the cheesecake cool in the oven with the door ajar to avoid cracking.

This is very rich and very chocolate-y (which could be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your perspective).  All I know is I'm glad that Diane took the leftovers home with her and that I had a good workout at the gym to burn off my piece!

Dark Chocolate Cheesecake

 Adapted from Bon Appetit, October 2006

  1. Crust
  2. 9 oz chocolate teddy grahams or chocolate graham crackers
  3. 1 tablespoon sugar
  4. 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted
  5. Filling
  6. 10 oz dark chocolate, chopped
  7. 4 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, room temperature
  8. 1 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  9. 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  10. 4 large eggs


  1. preparation
  2. For crust:
  3. Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter 9-inch-diameter springform pan with 3-inch-high sides. Blend cookies in processor until finely ground; blend in sugar. Add melted butter and process until well blended. Press crumbs evenly onto bottom (not sides) of prepared pan. Bake just until set, about 5 minutes. Cool while preparing filling. Maintain oven temperature.
  4. For filling:
  5. Stir chopped chocolate in metal bowl set over saucepan of simmering water until melted and smooth. Remove bowl from over water; cool chocolate until lukewarm but still pourable. Blend cream cheese, sugar, and cocoa powder in processor until smooth. Blend in eggs 1 at a time. Mix in lukewarm chocolate. Pour filling over crust; smooth top. Bake until center is just set and just appears dry, about 1 hour. Cool 5 minutes. Run knife around sides of cake to loosen. Chill overnight.
  6. Release pan sides. Transfer cheesecake to platter. Top with chocolate curls. Let stand 2 hours at room temperature before serving.
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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Spaghetti Squash with Ricotta, Sage and Pine Nuts

P and I were debating dinner over IM when this recipe came over my RSS reader.  Argument solved.  This dish was comforting but still unusual.  The squash and ricotta themselves are good, but what makes the dish is the crispy sage, the rich toasty pine nuts, and the fragrant, sage-y oil you pour over everything and brings it all together.  so gooood.

Spaghetti Squash With Ricotta, Sage, and Pine Nuts
adapted from The Kitchn via Serious Eats


  1. 1 small spaghetti squash (about 2 pounds)
  2. 3/4 cup part skim ricotta
  3. 1 clove garlic, mashed
  4. Olive oil (about 1/2 to 1 full tablespoon)
  5. 6 to 8 fresh sage leaves
  6. Salt and pepper
  7. 1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted


  1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  2. Cut the squash in half, place cut side down on a baking dish, and bake until flesh is tender (easily pierced with a fork), about 60 to 75 minutes.
  3. Remove squash from oven and let cool for 5-10 minutes. Meanwhile, heat a little bit of oil in a small pan. Quickly fry sage leaves until crispy but not burnt. Remove sage leave, add pine nuts and roast until golden brown. Remove from oil. Crumble sage leaves into a large bowl and combine with ricotta and garlic. Set aside.
  4. Pull a fork through the flesh of squash to separate and remove the strands from the shell. Add to bowl with ricotta mixture.
  5. Combine squash and ricotta mixture and season to taste with salt and pepper.
  6. Sprinkle with pine nuts before serving.
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