Saturday, February 11, 2012

Short & Sweet

There is only one brand of Greek yogurt I like, Fage.  I like to keep those individual cups on hand.  They are great for making a savory dips like mint and garlic or a sweet snack with honey and nuts.  The other night, too late to cook, I wanted something chocolaty and I wanted it right away.  That's how I came up with the best chocolate (not) pudding recipe ever!

Chocolate (not) Pudding
1/2 of an individual container of Fage 2%
1 tsp of Nutella
1 tsp of raspberry jam

Mix all ingredients together.  Enjoy &...

Ess Eppis!

Note: I have no connection to Fage, it is just honestly the ONLY yogurt I like. I also have no connection to Nutella, but seriously, who doesn't love Nutella!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Dirty Frank's Comfort Food Cook Off 2012 - FRITO PIE!!!!

There are few things I feel I can't live without.  I've always preferred living in my wee studio apartment over larger digs - a move that really saved my bacon when I was laid off.  I live by the philosophy that I rather have a little of something really good than a lot of something just so-so.  I happily live a car free life (with the occasional Zipcar reservation) & even prefer to travel (internationally) with little more than backpack, so when I say I have to have something I mean it!  I need Dirty Frank's.

Since moving to Philly over 10 years ago, I have not lived more than 3 blocks from, in my opinion, the best dive bar in Philadelphia - Dirty Frank's.  There was a very short period when I moved away for about a month and a half.  In that time the house I was living in flooded, my housemate went nuts, I skinned my knee, and a friend was diagnosed with cancer.  I am not saying living further than 3 blocks from Dirty Frank's causes cancer, but why take chances.  I quickly moved back to the neighborhood and normalcy returned... coincident?  Maybe, maybe not, but who am I to question it?

Frank's is not your typical dive bar.  They have an every changing art gallery on the wall showing and selling the works of local artists.  They have a bank of books patrons are free to enjoy.  And year round events for everyone.  One of the events is the annual Comfort Food Cook Off.  Although it is a competition, it feels more like an awesome pot luck.  The winner takes home the giant stainless steel spork & runner ups walk away with a choice bottle of wine.

A couple of years ago I entered a turkey pot pie that was enjoyed by many.  Last year I worked on a bacon mac & cheese, but got the flu right before the cook off.  I figured no one would want to eat food served by a girl with a runny noses and hacking cough, so I sat that one out.  That gave me a whole year to come up with a comfort food that would knock their socks off.  The answer... FRITO PIE!

For those not familiar with this delicacy, it is chili served in individual Frito corn chip bags.  It is the official food of summer camps & trailer parks across this great nation.  Many people at the event had never even heard of Frito Pie, but one taste got them hooked.  My chili was flavorful without being too spicy to appeal to the most people.  Everyone who tried it loved it & even wrote in as much on their ballots... and the presentation was also a big winner.  Unfortunately I didn't actually win in the end.  I think my chances were hurt that I ran out of chili pretty early, so I didn't get any votes in the latter half of the event.  It would have been nice to win, but it was still lots of fun and I got to enjoy lots of good food.  There were a couple mac & cheeses, shepard's pie (the big winner), amazing flourless chocolate cake & peanut butter ice cream, my fave, the homemade pierogies (they even made me up a little to-go pack of them!), and a bunch of other dishes.

Inspired by the crowd's reaction to it, I'm going to be re-entering my Frito Pie in the Annual Chili Cook Off on March 24th.  Because I am entering it an up-coming event, I am going to hold off on posting my chili recipe.  But don't let that stop you from making Frito Pies!

Frito Pie
1 pot of your favorite chili (my recipe to come)
as many individual Original Frito Corn Chip bags as you want/need
plastic spoons/sporks (optional)

Open a bag of Fritos.  Gently crush the chips in the bag (if you don't open the bag first it will pop and you'll have corn chips everywhere).  Spoon in some chili into the bag.  Mix the chili with the Fritos and...

Ess Eppis!

Friday, August 19, 2011

More Than Just Polenta & Shrimp

As the storm clouds rolled in, I knew I wanted shrimp for dinner, but wasn't sure exactly how.  I thought of couscous, rice, pasta... all favorites, but I wanted something different.  I remember the package of polenta in the cabinet.  It has sat there for awhile now.  I have never made polenta and always seemed to find away to push it back for more familiar fare.  Not tonight, it was coming out front & center!

I poked around the fridge for ideas.  I grabbed some grape tomatoes, sharp cheddar, scallions, & bacon.  I cleaned the shrimp & stashed the shells in the freezer for future stock.  To clean shrimp, I use a fork.  I run one of the tines up the back and pull it thru the shell.  Then the shell can be easily peeled off.  It should also open up the back to be able to pull the vein out.  If not, just use a paring knife to gently cut into the back to get the vein. I tossed the shrimp in a sprinkling of salt & a generous helping of Valle del Sol Chili Powder (I won a free bottle of Whole Foods 365 spice last month) and set aside.

I started heating up the liquid for polenta.  I was going with a 4:1 ratio (I have since learned that 4:1 makes a polenta that will firm up for slicing and 6:1 will make a looser spoonable polenta).  I started 2.5c water & .5c fat free evaporated milk over med heat.  I added 1c of polenta to 1c of water.  I added s&p to both sets of liquids.

The grape tomatoes went onto a parchment lined baking sheet & drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with salt & pepper.  They went into a 350F oven to roast.  Then I sliced up half a package of bacon and started that in another pan.  The liquid was boiling by then so I added the water/polenta mixture and kept stirring till it thickened.  I continued cooking it, stirring often, for about 10 minutes on low heat.  I turned off the heat & mixed in a few handfuls of shredded cheddar.  I covered as I finished the rest of the meal.

While the bacon was still cooking, I chopped up about the top 3 thirds of the a bunch of scallions & stirred those into the polenta.  When the bacon finished cooking (I like it super crispy), I just grabbed it with my tongs and popped it right into the pot with the polenta - a little bacon grease can't hurt - and stirred it in & covered the pot.

The easiest and quickest for last.  I heated up the pan with a little olive oil.  In went the shrimp for about 3-4 minutes.  I turned off the heat and let the shrimp finish cooking with the residual heat from the pan.  And by then, the tomatoes were perfectly wrinkles and slightly charred.

A ladle full of beautifully yellow polenta topped with some of the grape tomatoes & shrimp was a perfect combination.  The scallions gave a nice mild onion flavor that went nice with the cheddar.  Of course the bacon was a delicious addition.  The roasted tomatoes gave little bursts of sweetness that balanced the spice of the chili powder on the shrimp.

The rest of the polenta is sitting in a loaf pan in the fridge firming up for slicing tomorrow - griddle cakes topped with roasted veggies!

Ess Eppis!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Urban Gardening & Pizza Making

I have never had much of a green thumb.  I have even successfully killed Lucky Bamboo.  At the end of April I was at the PIFA Street Fair (Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts), a Parisian style street fair to wrap up the month long festival.  I have to say, it was great.  They really transformed several blocks of Broad Street into a beautiful, entertaining, and exciting festival that ended with an amazing musical/aerial/acrobatic performance high above the intersection of Broad & Spruce.  As soon as the show ended the huge crowd parted.  I took one more stroll up and down the Avenue of the Arts to savor one of the few times I have actual seen it earn that moniker.  I was checking out the plants as the vendors were packing up.  I asked the ladies packing up the flats of unsold herbs if there was any end of the night special.  I scored 5 plants - basil, lemon thyme, cilantro, rosemary, & chives - for $10!

And here they are today...

They have been thriving sitting in the window of my apartment, soaking of early morning and late day sun.  I attribute their success to the fact that they have almost become like pets to me.  I have named them, talk to them, and groom them.  Please meet, starting in the back row left to right, Tyne Daly the lemon thyme, Trevor the terrarium (not a herb, but a very successful & tall terrarium borne at one of the Art in the Age workshops), Clive the chive, Rose Mary the rosemary, Sully the cilantro, and Basil the basil (yes, pronounced differently).

They have been growing and providing lots of tasty herbs for my kitchen.  Sully is starting to go to seed & in the process producing pretty little white flowers.  Clive grows faster than I can even trim him - some days I swear he grows an inch or two over night.  Tyne is beautiful & fragrant and lemony enough to stand in for lemon zest in some recipes.  Rose Mary is keeps up a nice steady pace.  Basil looks a little thin here because he recently gave up enough basil to put the finishing touch to my pizza.

The other night I wanted pizza, my pizza, but I didn't have any dough.  Normally, the pizza dough I use is left to rise very slowly in the fridge over the course of at least 24-48 hours.  This gives me a very thin, crispy, and tender crust - exactly what I like.  So I did what everyone does in this situation, I took to Google.  I came across this recipe for pizza dough by Mark Bittman and figure - hell it's Mark Bittman's!  I used it as a jumping off point to create this very delicious dinner in only an hour and a half - start to tummy!

I didn't follow all the directions for Mr. Bittman's pizza.  First was simply a mistake, I only added one teaspoon of yeast but it didn't seem to adversely affect the results.  I added about a 1 1/4 cup of hot tap water - hot water because it would activate the yeast quicker.  I also added about a tablespoon or two of a Mediterranean spice mix I have into the flour.  I tossed all the dry ingredients into my food processor and gave them a whirl.  I slowly added the oil & water till it formed into a ball and turned it out onto a floured piece of parchment paper (simply to make clean up easy).  I kneaded it a bit and put it into a lightly oiled bowl, turning it to get the oil all over the surface, covered with plastic wrap and stuck it on top of the stove to rise.

While the dough was rising, I was preheating the oven to 350.  I rinsed off a pint of "cocktail" tomatoes (they were on sale & I had a coupon - grape, cherry, or any other smallish tomato will do), tossed them onto a parchment lined sheet pan, poked them all with a paring knife (so they don't explode), & drizzled with olive oil.  They sat in the oven about 30 minutes and were popped into the beaker that came with my immersion blender.  I gave them a quick 2 second zip with the blender and TA DA SAUCE!  Of course I added s&p.

Then I took a couple of balls of fresh mozzarella to drain off a bit and diced those up.  I don't grate mozzarella because half of it just smears on the grater, it melts easy enough it doesn't need to be grater thin, and good mozzarella will pull off in strips if you try to grate it.  Then Basil joined me in the kitchen to give up a nice handful of his leaves for my dinner.  I just rolled those up and gave it a quick chiffonade (fancy word for cut into ribbons).

By now the spice spike dough has risen for an hour.  I tossed the dough on to a unlined sheet pan & pressed it into the corners giving it a bit of a crust thicker than the bottom.  This was hands down the most easily manipulated pizza dough - usually I have to pull and coax it onto shape.  At this point I think the dough is suppose to rest and puff up a bit before topping & baking, but I was hungry and decided to skip that step.  I poured on the  roasted tomato sauce on and used the back of spoon to spread it around, sprinkled the basil (I wanted it against the sauce and not on to of the mozzarella to keep it from burning), & added topped it all with the diced mozzarella.  The whole thing went in a 350 oven.

Because it was fresh tomatoes lightly roasted & fresh mozzarella, there is a bit more liquid in these ingredients then their long cooked or grocery store counterparts.  I was keeping an eye on the pizza and noticed that it appeared very "wet" for the first 15 minutes.  After another 5 minutes any extra moisture was gone.  I personally prefer when the cheese is browned on top of my pizza so I put the broiler on for the last few minutes of baking.  The pizza came out easily and slid onto my bamboo cutting board to cool a bit... and shortly there after, it was in my tummy!!!!

Ess Eppis!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Eggplants & Red Peppers

Homemade red pepper pesto & baba ganoush
The CSA box has had some nice big eggplants and red peppers recently.  I am always trying to find simple solutions to make the produce last longer.  Lately that has involved roasting an turning them into dips like red pepper pesto & baba ganoush.

First I cut the red peppers in 3rds, removing all the seeds and ribs.  I put them skin side up on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and put them under the broiler.  I could hear the skin popping and sizzling as it blackened and blistered.  I turned the pan about half way thru (about the 5 minute mark - will differ with the oven) to be sure all the skins got blistered and blackened.  After removing the peppers from the oven, grab the edges of the parchment paper and toss the still hot peppers in a plastic bag & tie up the opening.

While the pepper are cooling enough to handle, turn the oven down to 350F & put fresh parchment paper on the baking sheet.  I poke 2 eggplants with a knife - 3-4 stabs - lay them on the sheet and into the oven they go for about an hour.

Once the red peppers have cooled enough to handle, the skins slip off without much effort.  Any stubborn bits come off when scraped with the back of my knife.  The soft flesh and any liquid from the bag go into the food processor work bowl.  Next a pinch of kosher salt, a couple turns of the pepper mill, and a splash of olive oil.  I let the food processor do its thing and pulverize everything.  I add a little more olive oil and a couple tablespoons of water to thin it to the consistency I want (it will thicken in the fridge).

I have to give my former upstairs neighbor, Harry, the credit for this recipe.  We would have Shabbat dinners together most Fridays when he lived here in Philly.  It was always super convenient being he was just upstairs and it was a great relaxing ritual for us to reset from the week.  I don't have Shabbat as often anymore with Harry since he and his ever expanding family moved to DC, but when I do make it there it is still a great time with him, his wife, & his two great kids.

I use this pesto on everything!  I spread it on fresh warm malawach.  I toss pasta in it.  I spread it on chicken and bake.  I put it on a sandwich.  It's delicious!  You can store it in a jar in the fridge or you can freeze it.  When I freeze it, I like to do it in an ice tray so I have a few tablespoons to use at a time without having to defrost the whole batch.

Back to the eggplants, once they cooled I scoop the flesh out and drop it in the cleaned food processor work bowl.  I added in a handful of rough chopped fresh flat leaf parsley, 2-3 cloves of chopped garlic, a generous drizzle of tehini, a squeeze if half a lime, a sprinkle of salt & pepper.  With the food processor running I drizzle in some olive oil to thin out the baba ganoush mixture.  I stop a couple time and taste it to make adjustments in seasoning.  Once it's smooth, it goes into the jar & into the fridge.

These are two of my favorite spreads for malawach and sometimes I just can't decide which one to have...

So I don't!
Ess Eppis!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Delicious Fast Easy Soup

Included in the CSA box this week were leeks & potatoes that just seemed to beg to become soup.  After checking out a couple recipes online, I check out what was already on hand in my kitchen and set to work.  I am sorry I forgot to take photos as I went along... and I ate all the soup really fast!

When I say this is easy... it is EASY!  Plus you'll be eating soup within the hour (including the time to prep the ingredients) - soup made from scratch.  I happen to have thyme, sorrel, & bay in the house.  I love the flavors of thyme & bay together (reminds me of France) & the French Sorrel was something new to me I got in this weeks CSA.  If these flavors don't appeal to you, experiment with others.

If you aren't familiar with leeks, they look like scallions on steroids.  They are the same family, but milder.  They also hold on to dirt like a bugger so you have to follow the instructions to clean them properly.  One bite down on a bit of grit can ruin the whole batch.

Olive oil
4 Leeks
2 lbs. potatoes
3-4 sprigs of fresh thyme - leaves removed & stems discarded
4-5 stems of French Sorrel (from the CSA swap box this week) - stems removed and rough chopped
6-7 cups water
2 bay leaves

To clean your leeks:
First peel off the outer layer by just pulling down from the top.  Cut off the tough tops (right below where the leaves start to fan out) and the roots at the end.  Cut the leek in half lengthwise and turn the flat side of each half down against the cutting board.  You can cut each half separately if you are more comfortable with that, but I place them next to each other and slice down both stalks together - about 1/4-1/2 inch pieces.  Toss all the sliced leek pieces into a large bowl.  Fill the bowl with cold water so the leeks float to the top with room for the dirt to fall to the bottom away from the leeks.  Separate the rings of the leeks so all the dirt falls to the bottom.  Carefully scoop the leeks out and on to a clean dish towel to drain and dry.

After the leeks are prepped, prep the potatoes.  Peel and dice the potatoes (1/4-1/2 inch).  I use my big dutch oven, but any large pot will work.  Heat up some olive oil in the bottom of your pot (just enough to coat).  Add in your leeks.  Keep heat around medium - you want the leeks to soften and wilt, but not brown.  Add a bit of kosher salt to help them wilt down.  It will seem like a lot a first but as the heat up and you stir it occasionally it will wilt down.  It will take about 10 minutes.  Then add the herbs (I had thyme & French Sorrel) and some fresh ground pepper.  Add in 6 cups of the water.

Add the potatoes & bay leaves.  Cover and simmer the pot for 30 minutes.  Take off the lid and turn off the heat.  I use an immersion blender (but I am sure a regular blender will work, just be careful and don't fill too much and cover the top with a towel before turning on) to puree the whole thing right in the pot.  Make sure you take the bay leaves out first.  If it's too thick for you (it is never too thick for me!), add a some more water, a little at a time till it is at the consistency you like.  Taste and adjust s&p if it needs it.

If you want some potato chunks in your soup, first only add 1.5 lbs of the potatoes and follow the instructions.  Once the soup is pureed, turn back on the heat and add the half pound of diced potatoes left and let simmer for 30 mins.  You'll have a nice creamy soup with little bites of potatoes.

Ess Eppis!