Tuesday, April 28, 2009

No TWD today, but . . .

Sorry Folks, no Chocolate Cream Tart today (oh, how I want a choloclate cream tart) Dorie and her friends (not to mention my pans) are packed, but will hopfeully see the light of day in their new home by next week!

While you are here though, all you bakers, please check out my Blogiversary Bake Sale, raising money for the World Food Program!  Hope you will patarticipate!  (you can even use a Dorie recipe!)

For more chocolate cream tarts, check out the TWD bakers here.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Daring Bakers: Cheesecake

The April 2009 Daring Bakers challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge.

I love cheesecake- when it's done right.  I really do.  There is something sensuous and comforting about the  rich, cooling creaminess that other desserts just don't do.  When it's done badly, that's another story.  When done badly- runny, dry, overly sweet, or grainy, there is no saving it with toppings or sauce.  I also find cheesecake to be super easy to make and improvise with once you master a few key concepts: use a good amount of cream cheese, bake the crust, use a water bath, and always let it cool in the oven.  

Regular readers may know that I'm trying to cook on the lighter side of things these days.  My go-to cheesecake recipe  (which is amazing, if I do say so myself) is not light.  by any means. Let's be honest, most cheesecakes aren't, but I did my best to lighten this up without compromising texture and flavor. I for one think fat free cream cheese comes from the devil, so I kept it to a minimum in this adaptation.  While you could tell the difference between a full fat cheesecake in a side by side comparison, when this stands alone you won't feel cheated. 
Since I made this for Easter, I thought I should dress it up a bit with a mirror top.  It helped boost the mango flavor, too.

Mango-lime ginger cheesecake: (low fat)
adapted from Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake

2 cups / 180 g graham cracker or gingersnap crumbs
1/2 stick butter, melted
2 tbsp. / 24 g sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract

3 sticks of cream cheese, 8 oz each (total of 24 oz) room temperature ( I used 2 bricks of low-fat, 1 on fat free)
1 cup / 210 g sugar
3/4 c egg substitute
1 cup / 8 oz fat free evaporated milk
juice of one lime

one small mango, pureed

2 tbs of ginger

1 tbsp. vanilla extract (or the innards of a vanilla bean)

For the mirror top:

1 1/2 c mango juice

1 tbs powdered gelatin

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (Gas Mark 4 = 180C = Moderate heat). Begin to boil a large pot of water for the water bath.

2. Mix together the crust ingredients and press into your preferred pan. You can press the crust just into the bottom, or up the sides of the pan too - baker's choice. Set crust aside. ( recommend baking this at 350 for 10 minutes or so- I did not do this on the cheesecake we had at easter, I think it needs to be prebaked as to not be gummy)

3. Combine cream cheese and sugar in the bowl of a stand-mixer (or in a large bowl if using a hand-mixer) and cream together until smooth. Add egg substitute , 1/4 c at a time at a time, fully incorporating each before adding the next. Make sure to scrape down the bowl in between each addition. Add milk, vanilla, lime juice, mango puree and ginger and blend until smooth and creamy.

4. Pour batter into prepared crust and tap the pan on the counter a few times to bring all air bubbles to the surface. Place pan into a larger pan and pour boiling water into the larger pan until halfway up the side of the cheesecake pan. If cheesecake pan is not airtight, cover bottom securely with foil before adding water.

5. Bake 45 to 55 minutes, until it is almost done - this can be hard to judge, but you're looking for the cake to hold together, but still have a lot of jiggle to it in the center. You don't want it to be completely firm at this stage. Close the oven door, turn the heat off, and let rest in the cooling oven for one hour. This lets the cake finish cooking and cool down gently enough so that it won't crack on the top. After one hour, remove cheesecake from oven and lift carefully out of water bath. Let it finish cooling on the counter, and then cover and put in the fridge to chill. Once fully chilled, it is ready to serve.

While cheesecake is chilling, heat mango juice in a small pan. Mix in a small bowl with gelatin. Place bowl over an ice bath to cool until gelatin is a bit thicker and syrupy. Pour 1/16 inch of the juice mixture over the top of the cheesecake and chill to set.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

My Kitchen, My World- Turkey

I've been dying for My Kitchen, My World to "travel" to Turkey, and finally, we are!  Paul and I made a delicious dinner of Mucver, or Zucchini Fritters, served with yogurt dipping sauce and a tomato herb salad.  These fritters were wonderful; moist and substantial from the zucchini, fragrant from the parsley, dill, mint and scallions, and rich from the feta cheese.  (Don't tell- I used fat free feta, and couldn't tell the difference.)  This is traditionally an appetizer, but bolstered by a salad it can be a meal by itself.  This recipe makes lots- serve them for a crowd.

Mucver- Turkish Zucchini Fritters

from www.yemek-tarifi.info

1 lb. small zucchini (courgettes), coarsely grated.
1 cup all purpose flour
Sea salt.
Freshly ground black pepper (Malabar Black Peppercorns are recommended)
1/2 lb. equal parts of crumbled feta and grated casseri cheeses
Oil for frying
6 scallions, minced
1/2 cup chopped fresh dill
1/4 cup fresh chopped mint
1/4 cup fresh Italian (flat leaf) parsley
3 eggs, lightly beaten

Place the grated zucchini in a colander, salt lightly and mix well. Let stand for 30 minutes to draw out the excess liquid. Using paper towels, squeeze the zucchini dry and place in a bowl. Add the cheese mixture, eggs, scallions, dill, mint, parsley, flour and salt and pepper to taste. Stir mixture until you have a thick batter.

In a deep fryer, over medium-high heat, pour the oil to a depth of 1/4 inch (approx. 7 mm). When the oil is hot, use a serving spoon to drop spoonfuls of the batter in the oil, being careful not to crowd the pan. Fry, turning over once, until brown on both sides, 2 - 3 minutes per side. With a slotted spoon transfer the fritters to paper towels to drain. Keep warm until all the fritters are cooked.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Bake Sale: Strawberry Bars

I made these completely on a whim after seeing a gorgeous picture in Better Homes and Gardens. The berries just say "it's almost summer!" (which I am so ready for) and the idea of a PBJ cake has always appealed to me.    Of course, I did what I could to lighten up the recipe to make it more waistline-friendly. 

Even though this is clearly a cake, the fresh fruit makes it passable as a very indulgent breakfast treat- at least that is how I served it- at the end of a very long, knock-down-drag-out week.

These strawberry bars are my first contribution to my Blogiversary Bake Sale, raising money for the World Food Program.  If you want to "buy" a slice, visit the Bake Sale page on Firstgiving to make a donation.

Strawberry Bars
adapted from Better Homes and Gardens, May 2009

makes 24 servings

3/4 c butter, softened
3/4 c reduced fat peanut butter
1 c packed brown sugar
1/4 c splenda blend for baking (use 1/2 c sugar if you are averse to Splenda)
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 c fat free egg substitute (or 2 eggs)
2 1/4 c all purpose flour
1/2 c strawberry jam
4 c sliced strawberries

1. Heat oven to 350.  Line a 13x9 pan with tin foil, extending foil beyond edges.

2. with a hand mixer (or in a stand mixer) cream butter and peanut butter. add sugars, salt and baking powder, beat until combined. beat in vanilla and egg substitute.  Beat in flour until just combined.  

3. spread in pan and bake 25 minutes until a tester comes out clean. cool completely.

4.  just before serving, spread top of cake with jam and top with berries.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

CEiMB: Balsamic Chicken with Baby Spinach and Couscous.

In an effort to keep my meals healthy and my blog active, I've joined the group Craving Ellie in My Belly.  We cook every week from Ellie Krieger's book, The Food You Crave.  Friends of mine have this book and I've been very tempted by what I've seen, so I decided to take the plunge and buy it (as if is a torturous process for me to buy a new cookbook).

Ellie writes about needing a quick healthy meal, since she gets cranky when she is hungry.  Hello?  Have you met me?  I am the CRANKIEST when I am hungry, tired, or hot.  Tuesday night, after working two jobs, I had the potential to become super cranky and unpleasant if not fed soon.  Did I mention also I am moving next week and the house is full of boxes, bubble wrap, and procrastination?

I had some leftover roasted chicken, so I repurposed it for use in this recipe.  I went to find my tomatoes and realized that they were gone or had been packed already, so I had to use tomato paste to my advantage.  This wasn't exactly what I am sure Ellie had in mind, but it was tasty.  In fact, the tomato paste caramelized a bit and melded with the vinegar to make an almost barbecue like sauce.   It made me very happy, and with less then 400 calories and 5 grams of fat a serving, not a huge dent in the diet!

Ellie reports this meal is an excellent source of all kinds of good stuff:  stuff you've heard of like protein, fiber, magnesium, niacin, vitamins A, B6, and C.  It's also full of some good stuff you  may not have heard of, like Pantothenic Acid, which helps break your food down and convert it into energy, and Selenium, which works with antioxidants to help prevent serious disease. 

Balsamic Chicken with Baby Spinach and Couscous
from Ellie Krieger, The Food You Crave

1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 (8-ounce) boneless, skinless chicken breasts, halved
8 ounces baby spinach
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup low-sodium canned chopped tomatoes with juice
2 cups whole wheat couscous, cooked


Heat a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and heat. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the chicken and cook about 4 minutes per side, or until cooked through and juices run clear. Remove the chicken and set aside. To the same pan, add the spinach and cook just until wilted, about 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside. Lower the heat to medium and add the balsamic vinegar and chicken broth to the pan and stir, scraping the bottom of the pan to remove any browned bits. Add the tomatoes, bring to a simmer and cook 3 to 5 minutes.
 Place the couscous in a serving bowl. Top with the spinach, chicken and balsamic-tomato sauce.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Blogiversary Bake Sale!

May 22 is my Blogiversary- I'll Eat You is turning one!

This past year we have expanded our culinary horizons, improved our knife skills, and eaten in some delicious places. We've also met some really cool people from near and far in the world of food and food blogging.  So yay for blogging!

I've also seen some great examples of bloggers who have reached beyond the world of food to really make a difference in the lives of others- BloggerAid, Operation Baking GALS, to name a couple. 

For my blogiversary, I'm hosting a virtual bake sale.  Let's share our favorite desserts and hopefully raise some money for charity along the way. I chose The World Food Program, which runs international anti-hunger campaigns.  

Here's how it works: submit a recipe for your favorite bake sale item.  It can be anything, really, since you don't have to worry about the practicalities of transporting it and making the portions small.  Creme Brulee?  Croquembouche?  Go for it. It doesn't have to be original, just pick something yummy you might want to dedicate to this event.

Post about your recipe and this event on your blog and link to this post.  Link also to this event's page on Firstgiving. (www.firstgiving.org/illeatyou) Ask  your readers (or family, friends, co-workers, dogwalker)  to donate, and mention your blog or recipe in the comments.  Whoever raises the most money by May 22, my blogiversary, wins a prize package!  (you CAN vote for yourself!)

Then, email your name, your blog name and url, the title of  your recipe and a permalink to your post (with 250x250 jpeg, if you want) to illeatyoublog@gmail.com

Let's see what we can do together!

A big thanks to Val and Giz at BloggerAid and Jenn from The Leftover Queen for helping me get the word out!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

TWD: Four Star Chocolate Bread Pudding

I've missed the last two weeks of TWD. I'll be honest. I'll Eat You is on a diet. Actually, only Lauren. In a cruel twist of fate, Paul weighs about 5 pounds soaking wet, so he is on the "eat more plan." In a desire to not give up everything I love (which includes both the baking and the eating of the scrumpious fancies) you will see "lightened up" versions of Dorie's desserts now, where possible. Since we don't post the recipe, I will be indicating some swaps that can help reduce the fat and calories.

In this recipe, I swapped out eggs in favor of egg substitute, used lowfat milk, and substituted fat free evaporated milk for the cream. I'm sure it would have been far richer and luxurious in the full fat version, but it was still everything a bread pudding should be- tender and moist and decadent tasting- a real treat. I made a half recipe and split that into 12 muffin tins, so everything was pre-portioned, which helps when you are trying not to eat the whole panful.

As a rule, I love bread pudding, and this was no exception. This was my first time making chocolate bread pudding, and let me tell you, it's worth chopping up a few ounces of chocolate to make this dessert feel extra-decadent. I used dried cherries instead of the called for raisins- they would be even better soaked in some liquor for a few minutes before adding.

This month's recipe was chosen by Lauren of Upper East Side Chronicle. Check out her blog for the recipe, or page 410 of Baking, From My Home to Yours, by Dorie Greenspan. Check out the rest of the TWD bakers here.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Kitchen Cure: Week One

I've decided to participate in the 6 week Kitchen Cure going on over at The Kichn.  First assignment?  Clean out/organize your fridge and freezer and pantry.  Great idea.  Have I done it?  Not yet- but I will.  In 9 glorious days, we're moving from our lovely but small home with tiny kitchen to our new gigundo home with it's amazing kitchen!!  

We'll be going from this, serviceable but at times inconvenient single door, top freezer that never closes brute:

To this large, french door, bottom freezer lovely!!

I can't be more excited about our new fridge, not to mention all the extra cabinets and counter space.  My Kitchen Aid will have a permanent home on our countertop!

Of course, it's not the kitchen that makes the chef but the chef that makes the kitchen.  We've done fabulous and delicious things in our current space.  But the idea of more space keeps the projects spinning in my head!   I will proudly display my newly organized newly purchased kitchen in a couple of weeks.  Until then, happy Kitchen Curing!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Review: Viet French Café

Tucked next to the Oregon Diner in one of those Asian supermarket complexes that dot the South Philly landscape these days, it's the Viet French Café. With a few dozen varieties of bánh mì, or "Vietnamese hoagies", on the menu, you're sure to find something you like, so long as you like sandwiches served on a baguette with cilantro, jalapeño and shredded carrot and daikon.

Well, you may find something you like. A bit of confusion when L ordered a "tofu" sandwich meant that what she got was a baguette filled with what we suspect was actually the "vegetarian steamed ham", slices of an off-puttingly cylindrical plug of black pepper-flecked texturized vegetable protein.

But let's chalk that up to faulty ordering. Everyone knows a real bánh mì has pork in it. And the "#1" with grilled/barbecued pork strips was pretty good. The pork was well cooked, tender, and sufficiently porky, and offset nicely by the sweet pickled vegetables, spicy jalapeño, creamy mayonnaise and, um, cliantro-y cilantro.

It's this interplay of ingredients that makes the classic bánh mì so good, but the baguette is the stage upon which this drama of flavors unfolds. If you buy this metaphor, then VFC's baguette ain't no Carnegie Hall. Though it is nice and crisp on the outside, it's almost a little too light and airy and lacks substance.

But wait – three bucks? Buy five, get one free? The cheapskate in me can't help but cheer for that. Still, though it's good enough if you're in the area, I don't think the place is worth a special trip. I'm sure there are of plenty of places around Ninth Street where you can get something tastier and just as cheap, and even get real tofu in your sandwich if you absolutely insist.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

An Appreciation: The Jambon-beurre

Franco-American relations have always been a funny thing. One minute they're helping us whoop the Brits in the Revolutionary War, and the next thing you know we're serving "Freedom Fries" in our Senate cafeteria. Politics aside, though, doesn't a little part of everyone secretly want to be French? Oh, to have universal health care, three-week vacations, and the very real possibility of locking your boss in his office if things get rough at work.

Daydream all you want – it ain't gonna happen here. The only way we can indulge our clandestine Gallic fantasies is by eating the food. And I can think of no simpler or finer way to do this than with the "ham-butter" sandwich: the jambon-beurre.

Baguette. Butter. Ham. Done, that's it. Wait. Why are we putting butter on a sandwich? Don't think about it. It's perfect the way it is.

Indeed, my first encounter with the French national sandwich was in De Gaulle airport in Paris (from a place called Paul; perhaps the sandwich gods were trying to tell me something?). The fresh, crisp baguette, creamy butter and salty ham was a match made in heaven. A combination powerful enough to repel the imperialist American hamburger from the shores of L'Hexagone (amusing Google translation here).

The best part is, as long as you can get your hands on some semi-decent bread, you can recreate it here. In a strange way, putting these three ingredients together almost guarantees a good time, even if everything's not top-notch.

If you haven't had one, try it. Even if it means funny looks at the deli, it will be worth it.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Review: Beau Monde

Beau Monde has been at the corner of Sixth and Bainbridge Streets for so long now, it has become an institution. This review was prompted by a recent visit, which was just one of the dozens we've taken to this creperie over the years.

And not too much has changed since the first time we were there – the crêpes, still light, vaguely crisp around the edges, made-to-order and filled with an array of savory items; the waiters, as skinny and tattooed as ever; the surroundings, still all pressed-tin and rustic: the cream for your coffee is still poured from the mouth of a porcelain cow. The beauty of the menu is twofold: one, the same items work anywhere on the spectrum from breakfast to dinner. Two, since each filling or condiment has a "base" and "as an addition" price, amateur mathematicians can spend hours trying to figure out a way to "game the system" (i.e., if I order a ham crêpe with leeks, will it cost less than a leek crêpe with ham? Sadly, we have yet to find a hole in the Breton algebra that governs the prices on the menu).

I put away the sliderule and ordered a crêpe filled with shrimp and andouille. Per usual, everything was "just right". The crêpes themselves are consistently delightful, and French though I may not be, there is no doubt in my mind that they earn the little hat on their "ê"s. The filling featured properly cooked shrimp, a nice creamy sauce, slight spiciness from the sausage. Nothing that will put you over the moon, but not much to find fault with.

Well, one thing, maybe. Delicious though they may be, the crêpes may leave you a little hungry for more. By the time you build up a decent combination of fillings, you're heading into the $15 range, but when you walk out, you may find a spare rumble or two left in your stomach. I suppose it would be thoroughly déclassé (not to mention expensive) to order a stack of two or three crêpes. You could always get a salad to start off with, or save room for dessert.

Which brings me to the taste I had of the honey and lemon crêpe my sister ordered. Absolutely delicious. The crêpe itself, made with wheat flour (unlike the buckwheat savory models), was the perfect medium for the soothing honey and lemon on top. Next time I'm not skipping dessert.

My only other minor quibble is the lack of wines by the glass – only two whites and two reds, if I recall correctly. It was a shame to enjoy such a fine crêpe with a relatively tasteless (though ample) glass of beaujolais just because I didn't have any better choices.

Despite the pitfalls, I heartily endorse Beau Monde as a part of your regular restaurant rotation. I can think of few finer places to enjoy scallops for breakfast or eggs for dinner.

Beau Monde on Urbanspoon

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Syrna Paskha- Ukrainian Easter Cheesecake or "Flower Pot Cheesecake"

Every Easter since I can remember, my Aunt Olha has made this dessert, which she learned from her mother.  I remember her always showing up at whoever's home we were eating at that year with a flowerpot in her hand.  As a child, I always thought it was kind of strange, but as I got older I realized that this delicious dessert would be brought forth from inside the pot.  

The flowerpot is integral to the success of this no-bake dish, as the terracotta absorbs moisture from the ingredients through a layer of cheesecloth.  After sitting overnight, the flowerpot is upended onto a plate, the cheesecloth unwrapped, and the eating can begin!

The recipe is simple: hard boiled egg yolks and basket (or farmers) cheese, is pushed through a sieve to break up, then mixed with butter and sugar. Raisins, orange zest, and vanilla are added for flavor.  

Behold my step-by step tutorial of how to unwrap:

Once out of the fridge unwrap the top of the cheesecloth

Turn over flowerpot onto a plate

remove the flowerpot

remove the cheesecloth and eat!

Syrna Paskha (Ukrainian Easter Cheesecake)
courtesy my Aunt Olha.


5 hard boiled egg yolks
1 lb farmer or basket cheese
1.5 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1 c sugar
3 tbs white raisins
3 tbs orange zest
.5 tsp vanilla
.5 tsp liqueur, if desired

Press egg yolks and cheese through a large, ordinary metal strainer into a bowl.  Add butter and sugar and blend with a mixer until smooth and fluffy. Add raisins, zest, vanilla, and liquer, if using and blend.  Do not overbeat.  Line an earthenware flowerpot with a piece of cheesecloth and spoon the mixture into the pot, wrap cheesecloth over top of mixture to cover.  Place pot on a saucer (add a can on top to weigh it down if you like).  Place in refrigerator overnight.  Moisture may drain out through the hole in the bottom of the flower pot (so saucer is important is you don't want a messy fridge).  The next day, the cheesecake will come out easily by lifting the cheesecloth or upending on a plate.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

My Kitchen, My World- Guatemala

This week's My Kitchen, My World takes us back to Latin America to visit Guatemala.  Paul and I chose Flank Steak Churrasco, a marinated grilled steak, served with a beans (black is recommended, but we used red beans because that's what we had), onion, and chicken broth. This made a quick weeknight supper that introduced us to some new combinations of flavors, like soy and Worcestershire sauce. It is recommended to serve the steak with rice, tomato salsa, guacamole and beans. I didn't have time to put them all together, but I think they would be amazing served with this simple, flavorful steak.

Flank Steak Currasco

2 pounds Flank Steak cut in thin slices across (Latin market will do this for you) Try to get meat that does not have to much fat on it, if it does, just trim it before preparing it.
1 large slice onion
½ cup of Yellow Mustard, (Heinz is fine)
½ cup Worcestershire sauce
1-tablespoon garlic powder
1-tablespoon onion powder
¼ cup of Soy sauce
¼ cup of Paprika
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1-tablespoon Black ground pepper
Salt to taste (Consider the soy sauce since it has salt on it)


Flank Steak Churrasco (Guatemalan Style)
Preparation time: 2 minutes. Cooking time 5 - 10 minutes
Combine all ingredients and let it marinate for about 30 minutes. Cook the meat after finalizing the rice, beans and salsa, since the meat is cut in thin slices the meat should take about 5 minutes on each side to cook, careful not to burn the meat, baste the meat with the marinade, and the onions, while cooking, if you cover the grill the meat will cook faster.

Guatemalan Style Black Beans

1 lb dried black beans
6-8 cups water (or enough to cover beans)
1 large onion
5 garlic cloves, whole
4 tablespoons chicken consomme (or bullion)
2 teaspoons salt

Soak beans over night.
When ready place all ingredients in either a slow cooker, pressure cooker or stock pot on the stove and let simmer all day on low. Usually around 6 hours.
Serve with sour cream, sweet plantains, tortillas or fresh bread.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Review: South Philly Tap Room

At long last, we made it to the South Philly Tap Room last night. Located minutes from my parents' house but in a somewhat sketchier neighborhood, it is nonetheless very pleasant inside, aside from an overly-loud jukebox.

Befitting its name, there's a very fine assortment of beers on tap, and a cooler full of interesting bottles if none of the keg selections interest you. A good deal of the beers were of the high-octane, 6+% ABV variety, though they had the good sense to serve these in 8 oz. glasses rather than pints. I went for a tamer Sly Fox Rauchbier, which had a pleasantly smokey taste and was very light on the fizz.

Now, the previous chef at SPTR was famous (infamous?) for serving a variety of semi-exotic game meats and house-cured charcuterie. According to a third-hand rumor, he was let go after wanting to serve lion. Alas, if you'll excuse the pun, the current menu is much tamer, and Simba and his friends are nowhere to be found. Instead, we both went for beef dishes – L got the burger and I got the "steak Alejandro".

By L's account, the burger was quite good. The thick steak fries served alongside it were deliciously crispy and steaming hot inside. My steak, on the other hand, was something of a disappointment. It was what appeared to be two boneless sirloin medallions, ordered medium rare but arriving damn-near cooked through. Though they had some color on them, their flavor was somewhat unpleasantly watery and diffuse. It came with a spoonful of fiery-hot habanero chile sauce and a quite rustic hash (for lack of a better term) composed of cherry tomatoes, onions and watercress. I think the concept was solid, but the dish could have benefitted from better execution.

Though my choice to order the steak dish haunted me with regret for the rest of the evening, there were lots of other alluring options on the menu, and I would definitely give SPTR the benefit of the doubt for a return visit. Until further review, I'm going to slot it under Royal Tavern in the South Philly gastro-pub pantheon, though it does win out over the Royal for a more open, bright dining atmosphere and a wider selection of brews. Stay tuned.

South Philadelphia Taproom on Urbanspoon

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Ultimate Smackdown Cake!

What a nightmare.  This cake is going to haunt me in my dreams.  It involved some creativity, some near-tears, and a last minute revelation to save the day.  

As followers of this blog may remember, I work with children.  Every so often a child completes our program and "graduates."  We make a big deal of this, and throw a party.  The graduate also gets to choose what kind of treat they want.  One wanted chocolate chip cookies. Easy peasy.  Our last graduate wanted a yellow cake with a car on it.  No biggie. Our current graduate wanted a wrestling cake.  As in, a cake shaped like a wrestling ring.  With wrestlers on it. 

Remember, I am not a professionally trained pastry chef.  Or cake decorator.  My idea of creative is colored icing. 

My first attempt at red sides to this cake was so laughable yet distressing I didn't think I could bring it in.  A last minute save came in the form of wrapping the leftover twizzlers (the ropes) around the sides.  This brought a nice bright red and saved the day.  Thanks to Paul for the WWE logo in the middle.

All I can say is, never again.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


After my recent success with Papa al Pomodoro, I was set to try another italian peasant soup.  Ribollita is another common dish in Tuscany, especially during cooler months. This soup is chock full of vegetables and has great staying power thanks to the beans and bread. I used kale, but for real authenticity, get your hands on some cavolo nero (black cabbage). 

My Favourite Ribollita 
Jamie Oliver

• 310g zolfini or cannellini beans, fresh, or dried and soaked overnight (I used cannellini beans)
• 1 bay leaf
• 1 tomato, squashed
• 1 small potato, peeled
• 2 small red onions, peeled
• 2 carrots, peeled
• 3 sticks of celery, trimmed
• 3 cloves of garlic, peeled
• olive oil
• a pinch of ground fennel seeds
• a pinch of dried red chilli
• 1 x 400g tin of good-quality plum tomatoes
• 310g cavolo nero, leaves and stalks finely sliced (I used half napa cabbage and half spinach)
• 2 large handfuls of good-quality stale bread, torn into chunks
• sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
• the best extra virgin olive oil you can find

Add your fresh or dried and soaked beans to a pan of water with the bay leaf, tomato and potato – this will help to flavour the beans and soften their skins. Cook until tender – taste one to check they’re nice and soft. Dried beans can take up to an hour, but check fresh ones after 25 minutes. Drain (reserving about half a glass of the cooking water), and discard the bay leaf, tomato and potato.
Finely chop your onions, carrots, celery and garlic. Heat a saucepan with a splash of olive oil and add the vegetables to the pan with the ground fennel seeds and chilli. Sweat very slowly on a low heat with the lid just ajar for around 15 to 20 minutes until soft, but not brown. Add the tomatoes and bring to a gentle simmer for a few minutes.
Add the cooked and drained beans with a little of the water they were cooked in, and bring back to the boil. Stir in the sliced cavolo (it will look like loads, but don’t worry as it will cook down), then moisten the bread with a little of the cooking water and stir it in too. The soup should be thick but not dry, so add a little more cooking water if you need to loosen it. Continue cooking for about 30 minutes – you want to achieve a silky, thick soup.
Season the ribollita with salt and pepper and stir in 4 good glugs of good-quality Tuscan extra virgin olive oil before serving to give it a glossy velvety texture.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Review: The Tortilla Press (Collingswood, NJ)

O, Collingswood, the town that is fighting hard to redeem South Jersey cuisine from its pizza-and-Wawa reputation. Though I haven't spent too much time in the town, word from some friends and family and dining a few times at Nunzio gave me hope that culinary hope sprang on Collings Avenue. Finding ourselves in the area on a Sunday afternoon, when the Pop Shop had an hour wait to be seated for (what I contend to be) unremarkable food, we opted for a 10-minute wait at the Tortilla Press down the street.

A look at the menu, and glances at the uncomfortable amount of prefab shredded cheese on our fellow diners' tables, dispelled any illusions that we were in for Mexican that was in any way authentic. So now that we knew we were dealing with "Mexican" food, we set our sights lower and hoped for the best.

On our table was a little placard, with a photo of the chef and a quote that stated, unequivocally, his belief in preparing fresh-squeezed orange juice. "If you're not going to do it yourself, you might as well not do it all," or something of that nature. Sure enough, when he wasn't pacing up and down the joint, the chef was standing by the Zumex orange juicer in the other room, fiddling with it, making adjustments, no doubt calibrating the machine to the height of its citrus juice-liberating abilities. Maybe he should have spent more time in the kitchen.

Because while what we had wasn't bad, it was certainly nothing to write home about. My crab and avocado quesadilla was OK; though the avocado was ripe, the crab had something of a fishy taste, the tortilla was not really toasted enough, and the melted prefab shredded cheese bound the whole affair together rather ungloriously. And for a place called the Tortilla Press, the tortillas did not appear to be made in-house (though I welcome clarification on this subject). What was that about doing things yourself? Especially when you named your restaurant after the implement that is supposed to make the items that form the base of the majority of your menu?

Tortilla Press on Urbanspoon
L's chicken wrap was encased in a spinach tortilla-wrap that was with complete certainty not made on any tortilla presses within a 5-mile radius. Nothing exceptional about what was inside it. The pork posole soup was tasty and the pork was in nice big tender chunks. However, I am under the impression that the star of a posole is hominy.  Mine had none.  Not even regular corn
Service was adequate, except for a mix-up about who exactly our waitress was when we first sat down and my lack of a napkin and utensils until I asked for some.

To sum things up in a very superficially clever way, this "Mexican" outpost is not going to have me making a run for the PA-NJ border again anytime soon. Though it was preferable to Cherry Hill Mall food-court dining or a grilled cheese sandwich that would be 90 minutes in the making, this Faux-Mex was as unsatisfying as it was uninspired. +0 points for New Jersey dining.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

R2R: Steak Diane Flambé

On March 5, I went to the Recieps to Rival forum, eager for the reveal of this month's recipe. I read: Steak Diane. It has a distinct throwback 50's housewife feel. It uses "now we know they are bad for you" ingredients, namely beef and cream. So far, I'm not digging it. Then I read: Flambé. I get to set it on fire? Now we're talking.  

Set it on fire I did (well, Paul helped.)  You can see it flaming.   Can you tell it makes me happy?

The whole dish made me happy, actually.  The sauce of mushrooms, butter, shallots, and cream was rich and a bit lavish, made even more so by the flaming brandy.  We were a bit troubled as to what was the right cut of meat to use.  We used sirloin strip, but this would be even more luxurious with some filet mignon.   I served it, as you can see, with broccoli and mashed potatoes.  Definitely serve mashed potatoes. 

Steak Diane Flambé
recipe by
Frank Bordoni from Great Food Live


For the steaks
4x85g beef medallions
1 tsp Dijon mustard
freshly ground salt and pepper

For the sauce
1 tsp Butter, clarified
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
2 tbsp Shallots, finely chopped
50g button mushrooms, finely sliced
1 tbsp lemon juice
125ml double cream
1 tbsp Chives, snipped
50ml Brandy

Method 1. Rub the medallions of beef with the mustard, season with salt and pepper and set aside.
2. Heat a large frying pan over a medium heat and when hot, add the clarified butter and Worcestershire sauce.
3. Add the shallots and mushrooms, and push to the centre of the pan. Arrange the medallions around the edge. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring and tossing the mushroom mixture as you go. If you prefer your steak well done, give it an extra minute or 2.
4. Add the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper.
5. Turn the steaks over and pour in the cream and chives. Tilt the pan slightly (away from you) and pour in the brandy at the far end. Now turn up the heat to high so that the brandy ignites. Swirl the sauce around in the pan and turn off the heat.
6. Put the medallions on 4 plates, pour over the sauce and serve.