December 22, 2010

Cooking Fail

So, I like to think I am a pretty good cook.  I can't make red wine foam or a mise en bouche of sweet corn chowder with thyme bubbles, or even a simple apple gelée with black olive powder (yes, these are all things I ate just last week at Marigold Kitchen.  I will write about it later).  But I can make a damn good loaf of bread, pot of chili or chocolate cake.  However, sometimes I absolutely BOTCH whatever I am making and last night was one of those occurrences.  So I thought to myself, what other dishes have I completely ruined?
This picture will make sense in a bit...

1.  Salmon Cakes
I still say that these weren't that bad, but other reliable sources would adamantly argue otherwise.  When Evan and I had just started dating, I decided to try something new! and experiment! and not follow any recipes or even look into any sort of directions! An attempt at the salmon version of crab cakes, one of my favorite things in the world to eat, I ended up making strange pinkish crunchyish mushyish patties that made my entire apartment smell like an outdoor fish market in the summer.  Poor Evan, in what I believe to be early relationship lies to avoid confrontation, forced a smile on his face and said things like "they're not that bad" and "I can really taste the salmon" but I think he only took one bite.  If you were to ask him now, he would truthfully tell you they were disgusting. They all got thrown in the trash- outside.

2. Key Lime Pie
Ok.  Let me start by saying I make an awesome Key Lime Pie, and make one for almost every holiday at the request of my family members.  And it's always perfect and beautiful and brings happiness to all who taste it.  Except for two Thanksgivings ago, when I again decided not to use the recipe (I should probably learn my lesson by now...) because "I've made this pie like a THOUSAND times mom, I don't NEED the recipe! I am a master pastry chef!"  I used three times the amount of lime juice that was needed.  Now, this might not sound like a lot, until I tell you that was nearly the entire bottle of juice concentrate.  And it is SOUR.  I'm not a scientist, but I know that chemistry things happen, and don't happen, when measurements are off.  And clearly something was off because as I was mixing the ingredients I was thinking hmm this is really runny.  This is really odd looking.  So, what did I do? I added more sugar.  And then another egg.  And suddenly I was out of control and started throwing whatever I could find into that pie.  Typically, it bakes for a short while to set, but I had that pie in the oven for like, 2 hours and it just remained a runny liquid mess in the (now soggy) shell.  A guest we had staying for the holiday with us, bless his heart and soul, tasted it and his face twisted and contorted in a way that only happens when ingesting pure lime juice.  He looked at me and said through pursed lips "mmmm".  What a liar!  I am a prideful person and so I looked at him and was like "oh, I love sour! I have a refined palate and intense flavors are so good and I bet it would taste great on ice cream" and then I tasted it and began cursing myself for not following the recipe.  It went in the trash.

3.  Savory Bread Pudding
So, this brings us to the coup d'etat.  Last night, I wanted to clear out the fridge, which means the ingredients I used were not exactly... fresh.  I wanted to make dinner for me and my roommate, and she had two full loaves of old bread.  I was inspired by this recipe from the NYT about what to do with stale bread which I have made and loved in the past, but decided to take a few artistic liberties this time.  I added spinach, I added an entire can of crushed tomatoes, I used extra eggs, I used the gross old white bread.  But I was feeling pretty good about it!  Amos Lee blasting in the background, I was sautéing the spinach with garlic and some (wrinkly old) tomatoes, toasting the bread in the oven to give it more "texture", and so on and so on.  For about an hour we waited while this seemingly tasty dish cooked away, but it wasn't really looking any different.  Finally I had had enough! and pulled it out of the oven only to discover the top and bottom were burnt, but the middle was still oh-so-mushy since the egg was still RAW.  We scraped, cut, peeled and sorted out the "edible" bits  and sloppily plopped a serving in each of our bowls.  Even topped with loads of Parmesan cheese we barely made it past the first bite.  Spongy, squishy, crunchy, doughy... we sent that thing straight down the disposal and ordered sushi.

December 20, 2010

Philly Brunches

If you haven't figured it out yet, I love food.  And lucky for me, Philadelphia has an endless supply of really great restaurants just waiting for me to discover.  The hardest thing about being a starving broke graduate student is that I can't eat at every restaurant I want, though I suppose in the long run it is a good lesson in self control...

While I love going out for dinner, I have to admit I have a weakness for brunch.  Who came up with this brilliant idea? I have barely scratched the surface of Philadelphia's brunch scene, but I figured I'd share the few I've been to, as well as one I am planning to go to.  Suggestions of where to go? Let me know!

1. Rx- 45th and Spruce
Location, location, location!  Rx is 2 blocks from my apartment, and so, jumps automatically to the top of my list.  They recently changed ownership, which was disappointing, because they removed the antique apothecary cabinets to make space for like, 2 more tables.  Now the walls are kind of BORING, but whatever Rx, I'll work on forgiving you.  They've also taken those awesome metal coffee mugs out of rotation (temporarily, I've been told) which somehow made their coffee just so much better.  Ok, I realize it sounds like I don't like the place, but I really do.  The brioche french toast with berry compote is super yummy, and the huevos rancheros are always a big hit.

2. Fitzwater Cafe- 728 South 7th Street
Some girlfriends and I happened on this cafe accidentally, and I have been back 3 times since.  The menu is simple and the space is small (though they do have parking spots!) but they have banana Nutella french toast.  Common. It's the perfect pre-fabric row shopping cafe.  (Don't know what fabric row is? Ask me. I love it.)  I've had toast and eggs and been extremely pleased, and I've also had french toast with fresh berries, which were wonderful. 

3.  Sabrina's Cafe-  910 Christian Street OR 1802 Callowhill Street
Ok, the wait is horrendous.  BUT OH SO WORTH IT!  Both locations are fantastic. That is all.

4.  Honey's Sit 'N Eat Restaurant- 800 North 4th Street
I've only been to Honey's once, and it was super super good.  However, it is in the Northern Liberties which I typically try to avoid seeing as I am not an extreme hipster and get tired of seeing guys wearing skinny jeans and glasses without lenses.  Quite honestly I lose my appetite when I can count the change in a guy's pocket.  However, if for some reason you find yourself in Hipsterville, the food at Honey's was great, and the portions were huge.  I had the whole wheat pancakes which are made with granola and berries (can you tell I like berries in my bready breakfast foods?) and I loved it.

5. Crêperie Beau Monde- 6th and Bainbridge
I have not been to Beau Monde for brunch, I ADMIT IT, so why is it on my brunch list? Because I bet it would be a great brunch place, ok? I've been here a few times for dinner or dessert and as snotty as this will sound, their crêpes are as good as ones I've had in France.  Don't believe me?  Maybe if I list some of their options you will: Bacon, mushrooms and French blue cheese with poached eggs (in a crêpe), Smoked salmon, artichoke hearts and Bernaise sauce (in a CREPE), Scrambled eggs, blueberries and maple syrup (IN A CREPE?!). So yeah, you get the idea. 

December 15, 2010

9500 Liberty

I am very blessed to have friends that at interested, informed and passionate about a broad range of issues, and who are eager to be educated and be socially aware members of society.  I'm lucky because they inspire me, encourage me to look into topics I normally wouldn't and sometimes, like on Monday, give me tickets to wonderful events!

We went to see a screening of the documentary "9500 Liberty" at WHYY and while I could go on and on about it, I'll resist so the film can speak for itself.   It documented a community in Virginia which passed a law allowing police to use "probable cause" to question residents, aka the prominent Latino population, about their citizenship (sound familiar, Arizona?).  The law (and the racial undertones) ended up hurting the community in a multitude of ways.  It was interesting to see the people in that community become so blinded by fear (of change, of difference, of Salsa music) that they lost sight of reality. Even more, it was strange to think about how it is a situation that could unfold in any community in the US.  Anyways, the moral of the story is you should see the film.  It will be showing on WHYY on January 13th!

ps. I tried to change the screen shot of the video because I think it looks kind of creepy with that guy's face, but could not, so I apologize for the unflattering picture staring at you while you read this post. 

December 13, 2010

pumpkin muffins

Sunday evenings are when I typically tap into my domestic goddess side and find myself cleaning, painting my nails, sewing, and of course, baking.  Last night was no different, and as I looked in the fridge for food that needed to be used up, I discovered pumpkin puree, eggs, and oddly, leftover steel cut oatmeal from the morning that I just couldn't get myself to throw out.  So, I read a few recipes (hello Smitten Kitchen! My favorite recipe site!), then didn't really follow any of them, and made some very yummy pumpkin muffins! I'm a big fan of throwing in all that extra stuff you need to use up, or things to make it feel a little healthier, hence the flax, wheat germ and oats. If you don't add all of these extra dry ingredients, omit some of the pumpkin so they don't turn out mushy or overly moist.

Somewhat healthy pumpkin muffins

 Preheat oven to 350, put paper liners in your muffin tin

I forgot to take a picture, so I drew you one instead!
1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 cup wheat germ
1/2 cup already cooked steel cut oats 
A handful of ground flax seed
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/4 cup pumpkin puree
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs

1 teaspoonish all spice
1 teaspoonish nutmeg
1/2 teaspoonsh ginger 
1 teaspoonish cinnamon, I probably added way more than that
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
Wisk together the pumpkin, eggs, sugar, spices, oil and baking soda until smooth.  Add the flour, wheat germ, oats, flax and baking powder until just mixed. Spoon into the tins, and fill each one up about 2/3 full.  Sprinkle the tops with cinnamon sugar and bake about 25 minutes, until a tester comes out clean.  Let cool for about 5 minutes in the pan and then move to a cooling rack. 

December 8, 2010

The Great Impasta

About 5 years ago, during a family vacation to Maine, we happened upon a great little Italian restaurant named The Great Impasta.  Our time there included two memorable things; 1. my dad forgetting the word for lasagna (yes, it was really funny, and I guess you had to be there) and 2. I had my first taste of Pasta Foriana.  I remember tasting it and thinking simultaneously "this is one of the best things I've ever eaten" and "I could make it better."  Apparently a dish that originated outside of Naples, Foriana is a Lenten meal, and is made with anchovies.  Although I do love anchovies, I didn't have any around last night when making this dish.  My other changes were using basil pesto, instead of parsley, adding cranberries, corn, lemon and red pepper flakes.  Plus lots of extra garlic and fresh Parmesan cheese, obviously.  As with all things I cook, the measurements are relative.  If you really love cranberries, add extra.  If you hate cheese (I don't actually think this is possible), then don't put as much. 

The Great Impasta Foriana 

Fresh pesto (I used one full bunch of fresh basil, 1 clove of garlic, olive oil.  Made about 1/3 cup)
2ish tbls of olive oil
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
1/2 cup toasted, cut up walnuts
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup green raisins
1/4 cup sweet white corn
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
Parmesan cheese, lots
red pepper flakes
A squeeze of fresh lemon juice
s&p to taste
pasta, cooked al dente- I used whole wheat Serpentini Rigate, but would probably use a ribbon noodle next time, like spaghetti

Start cooking your pasta in salted water.

In a large skillet, on low heat, toast the pine nuts and chopped walnuts for about a minute, until you can smell them.  Add the olive oil and the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds.   Add the cranberries, raisins, pesto and add a ladle's worth of pasta water (with all it's magical thickening ability) to the pan.  Keep the heat low, and just let it sizzle away.  The berries and raisins will start to plump up- add more pasta water if needed.  You don't want it to turn soupy, but it shouldn't be dry in the pan.  When your pasta is about done cooking, add the corn to the skillet, as well as red pepper flakes, salt and pepper and lemon juice.  Rinse and drain the pasta, and pour the mixture over the hot noodles and toss.  Top with Parmesan cheese!

December 6, 2010


Holy crap, I was born in the 1900's.

A picture of my sister and me in the 1900's
I had this realization last week while sitting in class listening to a presentation.  "Here I have data from the mid 1900's to 2005.  And now, let's look specifically at 1985." Shit. I was born in 1985.  Nineteen hundred and eighty five! My future children will look at me wide eyed when they find out and say "you are OLD. You were born LAST MILLENNIUM!" Has anyone else had this thought? It's like thinking about people born in the 1800's! I'm having a strange sort of existential crisis over this.  Everything about me now feels outdated and old fashioned.  I now picture myself running alongside Dr. Quinn and Sully (yeah, remember them?) which is maybe a stretch since I think they were set in the late 1800's. But whatever, you're missing the point. Back in the 1900's when I was a kid, I thought in the 2000's I would be flying around on a hovercraft or eating all my meals in pill form.  Probably while wearing a white space suit.  And I thought this whole futuristic lifestyle would set in around, oh I don't know, 2001! I don't even have a chip in my head that plays the radio into my brain yet.  So now, not only do I feel like an antique, I feel cheated by the world for not producing the technological advancements that I had expected by the time I turned 25. 

December 2, 2010

for me, thank you

If anyone (wink wink Evan) is looking for the perfect gift to give me for Christmas, here it is.  It's a beautiful painting by Holly Farrell and it's only $3600.  Thanks in advance, it is kind of you to buy me something so nice!

December 1, 2010

RIP Crock Pot

Last night I discovered that the lid to my beloved crock pot had broken.  It's ugly and old, brown and mustard yellow, but I loved that thing.  My mom gave it to me, after using it for years and years.  You see, it was given to her when she got married, in 1979.  It even had an insert so you could make crock pot bread! My mom used to make a loaf for my dad when he went on camping trips.  I grew up peeking through the glass lid to her unbelievably good corn bread stuffing at Thanksgiving.  And it has served me well the years that I used it.  Yesterday, I had planned on making a slow cook chili, but obviously had to change it to a not so slow cooked, on the stove rendition.  If you're using a crock pot, you can basically throw all the ingredients in and leave it.  Every time I make this chili it's a little different, but it is definitely my favorite! Feel free to change amounts/add things/omit things.  You really can't go wrong with this one. It would be delicious with left over turkey, or chicken!

Non Crock Pot White Bean Chili

Olive oil
Garlic! as much as you want.  I used 3 cloves
1 large onion, chopped
2 green peppers, chopped
White beans: I used 1 can of Cannellni, 1 can of Great Northern, 1 can of Navy and a cup of dried lentils
1 bag of sweet white corn
4 cups Veggie broth (I use Rapunzel Vegan Bouillon Cubes and water)
Cumin, to taste
Cayenne pepper, if you wish
S&P, to taste
Fresh Cilantro

In the large pot, sauté (side note, did you know sauté is French for "jump"? Make those veggies jump in the pan!) on medium heat the onions and add the green peppers with the Olive Oil until they start to soften.  Don't overdo it or your peppers will get mushy by the end.  When they are about ready, add the garlic, either chopped or squished through a garlic press.  You never want to add the garlic at the beginning, since it burns easily.  It only needs about 30 seconds in the pan.
Rinse the beans and add to the pot along with broth, add extra water if needed to cover the ingredients.  Lower the temperature to low, and cover the pot.  Be careful not to let the soup get to a rolling boil or you will risk breaking the bean skins and that can create a slimy texture.  Near the end, add the spices, salt and pepper (there is a lot of information out there about when to add salt and or acids to beans.  I'm privy to waiting until the end to add spices for canned beans.  Dry beans are a whole different beast) and the corn.  Let simmer for a few minutes longer.  Dish out, and top with, what else, fresh cilantro!