Monday, July 28, 2008

Healthy Squash-Zucchini Mini Cassaroles

Buried under by summer squash? Here's Elizabeth's signature side-dish that's healthy and fun because it's tiny (personal sized) and works great as a side.

For 2 people you'll need:

1 Medium-sized Squash & 1 Medium-sized Zucchini; cut into quarter-inch slices
1 small onion diced (about 1/3 cup)
1 cup Panko (Japanese breadcrumb); divided into 3/4 cup and 1/4 cup.
1/3 cup greek-style plain yogurt
2 - 3 tablespoons Italian breadcrumbs
2 tblsp olive oil
1 tblsp butter
salt & pepper to taste
Two small (6oz?) ramekins

Preheat oven to 350.

Melt butter then mix in with 3/4 cup Panko; make sure they're evenly coated and set aside.

Add olive oil to heated pan and sautee onion. Once onions become translucent and soften, add zucchini & squash. Add salt and pepper to layer flavor. Sautee over medium heat until squash mixture is soft and a golden brown color has formed over the onion & squash mixture (10 minutes). Remove from heat and place in a large mixing bowl.

Immediately add your yogurt and stir to coat. Add the remaining 1/4 cup of Panko to the mix and stir. Depending on how wet your mix is, add 2 to 3 tablespoons of the Italian breadcrumbs to form a stuffing-like mixture. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Spray your ramekins with olive oil. Now, divide the mixture into two ramekins and top with the 3/4 cup buttered Panko. Lightly coat with olive oil spray and place in the oven. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes or until squash mixture bubbles through the golden topping.

You can place the ramekins under a broiler to get them toasty topped as well. Serve with your favorite protein. Here we've pan-seared some lamb chops (on sale 6.99 lbs at Super Fresh) and placed some olive-oil fried sage leaves.

C & E

Healthy Squash-Zucchini Mini Cassaroles

Duck Spring Rolls

Inspired by the Bahn Mi sandwiches we had Saturday and driven by my obsession to cook Duck, we decided to make a Vietnamese Duck Spring Roll.

I seared a duck breast we bought at the farmer's market in a sizzling pan, fat-side down first to render out all that good fat. Then I turned the breast over to brown on the flesh side, while an oven heated to 375. Once I'd seared off the breast, it went into the over for about 10 minutes.

While I was playing with my duck, Elizabeth was showing her knife skills off and was chopping veg up for the rolls. Tiny carrot and cucumber matchsticks, hand-torn cilantro and some bean-thread noodles cooked and cooled.

I sliced the duck breast into thin strips, taking a few strips of that good fat & skin and re-frying it crispy-crunchy good. Next it's time to play with the food. We soaked the spring roll wrappers in lukewarm water till they were pliable, then laid an equal mix of carrot, cucumber, cilantro, bean-thread noodle and duck into each wrapper. Roll them up like a cigar, cut in half and arrange on a plate.
To accompany the spring rolls, we took soem of the Blueberry-Chipotle salsa we bought at the market and Vietnamized it...a drop of toasted sesame oil, dash of Soy Sauce, drip of Fish Sauce, squirt of Sriracha hot sauce and you had a sweet summer berry sauce perfect for duck.

C & E

Antique & Farmer's Market Weekend

Saturday was wonderfully sunny, so we decided to go for a walk around town to hit three or four markets. I was looking for some used ties (my collection is getting stale) and Elizabeth was on the hunt for Bakelite...apparently she's developed a habit thanks to a gifted bracelet from her friend.

First, we dropped by Headhouse Row to breeze by the open air vendor stalls. One stand had a cool array of jewelry made from recycled typewriter keys.

Check out these cufflinks! If only I had more French cuff shirts.

I like the rings too, but it's a little to punk-rock for for a librarian..or a typist.

I found a few other interesting places. One is called the Philadelphia AIDS Thrift and it' spretty much a hodge podge of everythign you could imagine...clothes (picked up a pair of designer ties for $5)...glassware (got a Warstiener gold-rimmed pilsner glass for $3)...and every other peice fo junk imaginable.

We ended up at a re-converted Jewish synagogue and inside vendors had set up little stalls. One place had a literal box full of Bakelite. The lady that ran the place was very knowledgeable and has been collecting Bakelite since shewas a kid. She asked Elizabeth how long she had been a Bakelite addict! Elizabeth ended up getting an orange-white mix bangle and I bought a pair of Bakelite dice for $8.

Another place was playing old swing music and had display cases spilling over with toys, pin-up girls and 40's memorabilia. Check out the Star Wars spread here.

Here's a funny salt & pepper shaker Elizabeth spotted. Apparently this gal's seen better days, as she seems to have shaken loose her pepper pot.

All that shopping got us hungry, so we dropped into a little Vietnamese sandwich shop. The store was the size of a large bathroom and a little old lady was behind a massive cooler cranking out Bahn Mi. Imagine a Spring Roll on a hoagie bun and you've got a Bahn Mi...fresh from bean-thread noodles, crunchy with veg (carrot, cilantro, lettuce) and savory with a shredded pork or sliced meat filling...and only $3!

Later on we went down to the Italian Market and picked up a fresh Pineapple for $3...I was on the hunt for Duck, but didn't find anything read to go that night that looked decent.

Sunday was the farmer's market at Headhouse Row, where we picked up all this fresh local grow product; Duck Breast, French Bread, Jersey Tomatoes, Blueberry-Chipotle Salsa, Goat Cheese, Peaches, Cilantro, Tomatillos and a bunch of other veggies.
Here's my favorite thing we found at the market...a huge bunch of's like having a blast of sunshine with your breakfast every day.

C & E

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Supersize my Scallop (summer shellfish linguine)

Remember us mentioning that we bought some nice scallops from the Reading Terminal Market Monday? Here's the result...Elizabeth seared up this scallop to perfection, resting atop a bed of summer shellfish linguine.

Take a look at this scallop! They were going for $14.99 per lbs. at John Yi's Fish Market at RTM. Four sold for about $7 or $8...the cost of a cheap steak.

To go along with the scallops, we went to Whole Foods Market today and picked up a half-dozen clams for about $2.50 and a half pound of mussels for $ cost on seafood is under $13 and it's good quality. Once you scrub the shellfish, soak it in some ice-water to help release any last grit.

To make the base of the summer pasta sauce, dice up red-onion, garlic, a large tomato and the outer edge of a small way to get the zucchini edge is to chop in half and scoop out the middle with a spoon.

Start a pot of water boiling...add enough salt so that it tastes like seawater. Garlic and onion go into a hot pan with a little bit of olive oil. Once the oil has picked up the garlic flavor and BEFORE the aromatics begin to brown, add 2 tblspoons of butter, reduce to medium heat and let the onion soften and starte to caramelize.

Next start your pasta, add the tomato and zucchini and let everything start to come together. After about 5 minutes, add a handful of chopped fresh basil, oregano and parsley, throw in a half-cup of white wine and the shellfish into the saucepan, then put on a lid and let it steam.

Now you're going to want to get those scallops in a greased pan and searing on med-high heat; I used a little bit of bacon fat mixed with olive oil to get some flavor. Elizabeth minded the scallops and put a perfect caramel sear on the sweet meaty discs.

By the time the scallops were cooked through, the lid came off the saucepan, the pasta gets ladled out of the pot and directly into the saucepan with the shellfish. Finally, we plated up the dish...noodles and sauce studded with shellfish and sprinkled with parmesan cheese. Then, resting atop the pile, a near filet mignon sized set of twin seared scallops.

C & E

Sopes at Home

One of our new favorite restaurants is a traditional Mexican place on Headhouse Row called Xochitl Check out the menu...this isn't El Burrito stuff...this is derived from authentic ingredients.

We tried their Sopes trio and needed to re-create this at home; basically they're little masa pancakes shallow-fried in oil and topped with a dairy cream and a savory. Xochitl has duck and goat cheese sopes. Tonight, we opted to use some leftover salmon-zucchini cakes and yogurt for our sopes, topped with a sprig of bacon lardon.

Ok, bacon first. Using my hunk-o-salted pork-belly, I chopped up some lardons and cooked them off in the pan to render some grease. Pull those little guys out and reserve...resisting the urge to snack on them.

Next, we bought some Masa from Whole Foods...a fine-milled corn meal you can find in the latino area of the market. Mixing roughly equal parts with water and a pinch of salt. It makes a sandy paste, which you then roll and form into balls.

Smash the balls flat into little discs, then throw in the pan of bacon grease.

Cook equally on each sides, browning the sopes. I've added the salmon-zucchini topping here to reheat and crispify.

Remove from heat when GBD (golden brown delicious) and then smear some yogurt, crumble the salmon-zucchini cake mixture atop, place a sprig of fried bacon and voila!

The next version we're going to make this weekend? What else, Duck Confit and Goat-cheese....because imitation is the sincerest form of flattery (thanks Xochitl!).

C & E

Monday, July 21, 2008

Calamari Success with Rice Flour

OK, the photo's a little blurry...but I was rushing to put down the camera and pick up my fork!

Imagine popcorn shrimp coated with KFC extra crispy topping. I used soda water to soak the squid tentacles, stirring it about with my hand to whip up a froth and plump up the squid.

A small pot of oil was going at 350, I placed a handful of squid into a large plastic container filled with rice flour, shook it about to completely coat the squid. Then, into the oil bath for 30 seconds back out and salted. The trick is to move quickly between the water, rice flour and oil and not give the rice flour a chance to clump up. Use a spider or wire mesh wok strainer to move your product safely.

Served with lemon garnish, some diced pickled peppers and some awesome marina sauce we made last week and froze it was a wonderful mix of crunchy goodness and bright acids.

C & E

Sunday, July 20, 2008

How to get crispy hashbrowns at home

Watching an episode of Jacques Pepin reminded me of the importance of technique, so I wanted to post one for hashbrowns. Before I figured out a better way to cook hashbrowns, my potato hash would turn out gray and gluey.

Step #1 Shred your potatoes (russets) directly into a large bowl of ice-water. Make sure it's a big bowl or pot and that there's plenty of water, as this is going to pull all the gluey starch off your hash.

Step #2 Drain your hash and then in small handfuls squeeze all the water this twice to make sure every every bit if water is out of the hash. I know it's an extra step, but that's the trick...super-dry hash.

Step #3 Get your pan of hot oil going, maybe three or four tablespoons, then sprinkle your hash in clumps...this lets the hash settle in and prevents it from become a compact hunk

Once your hash is golden brown and delicious, flip it and repeat of the other may have to drizzle some more oil if the pan is empty. Then quality hash from home

C & E

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Walk to the store for what else...cheese & sausage!

OK, here's some pictures of some of the sights we see along the way to one of the four grocery stores we've been frequenting.

Here's an example of some of the window boxes that proliferate on the row houses...we like the tumbling effect of the bright green leaves against the red door.

This is another sight you'll see walking the streets of Society Hill...gated church yards dating back from the 19th century. This one is particularly striking, as the garden has the 9 foot tall statues of some early church leaders I'm guessing.

Crossing Lombard St., you approach South St...think Virginia Beach boardwalk meets Granby Street. It kind of reminds me of a mall without walls.

Tonight we went to Chef's Market to pick up some good melting cheese like an Aged Provolone and some sweet Italian sausage...the menu is a broccoli rabe and sweet Italian risotto served with a zucchini & sausage tuille.

Before we got started, we needed to finish up some mozzarella and fresh tomato we had laying around the fridge. Elizabeth's knife skills are on display here...taking inspiration from our little walk down South St., she gave this salad a Philly twist...check out the picture!

Let's see...94 degrees's time to stand over a steaming pan for half an hour stirring risotto right? While Elizabeth went to work on her signature risotto, I started working on the zucchini & sausage vision that came to me last night when looking into the veg crisper of our fridge.

I used a mandolin slicer with a julienne attachment to make teeny matchsticks of one large zucchini. While I did this, I had a skillet of sweet & hot sausage browning in a pan over medium.

I salted the zucchini hash with about a half teaspoon of salt, then I went to work squeezing the moisture out of the hash. Going one handful at a time, I squeezed as much liquid as I could out of the zucchini hash.

With the hash dried out, I shredded some aged provolone over the hash, then doled in out in six equal piles on a baking sheet. I pressed the "tuille" down ( this is quickly turning into a minicakes) then topped it with some crumbled sausage, which I'd pulled off the heat and allowed to drain on a paper towel. Next into the oven 350 degrees for about 15 minutes.

Peeking in I noticed the cakes just weren't forming up as I'd hoped. I upped the temp. to 400 to try and crisp it up some. It didn't help, so I pulled it out of the oven and threw it in a skillet to crisp up the base.

The final result was so-so...good for a substitute hash-brown using zucchini instead of potato. It just didn't have the crispiness that I'd imagined like a parmesan tuille would be. Next time I think I'll not only mix in the cheese with the hash, but also lay down a base of cheese on the baking mat and then spread less hash atop that...maybe eight cakes instead of six.

Of course, Elizabeth's hard labor paid off...sweating over the stove for nearly 45 minutes, she added the sweet sausage and steamed broccoli rabe to her risotto; it was creamy & flavorful...the rabe giving a bitter hint and the sausage providing a meaty bite to the creamy rice grains.

Served with an affordable Cote D' Rhone we were loving it. Normally Thursday is Taco Night, but I'm thinking Risotto 'Rhursday (said in Scooby Doo voice) may be in order.

C & E

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

okra okra everywhere

The farmer's markets around here seem to have everything going on except for one thing...OKRA. Elizabeth brought up a whole mess of okra from her parent's veg patch and we decided to cook up some fried okra and gumbo.

Super Fresh on 5th and Spruce had a sale on some massive 16/25 shrimp. We shelled it and boiled it to make a stock. While Elizabeth chopped the celery, onion and garlic for some aromatics to sautee, I cooked up the sausage, reserving the grease for her to sautee. I made a simple roux, which I then blended with the seafood stock. We threw in the stock with the sautee and added a bunch of chili and cayenne. Throw in a can of crushed tomatoes and close the lid. 10 minutes later, toss in the shrimp and okra to simmer for another 15 minutes while the flavors marry.

(One note...Throwdown with Bobby Flay was on the TV tonight and the Gumbo queen of New 'Awlins said you should ALWAYS sautee the okra before adding it to the gumbo)

Elizabeth started chopping her okra. She has a special technique; don't cut pinwheels, but simply chop the top off and leave it whole. Dip in milk then salted flour and you're ready to fry.

With the rice-maker bubbling away in the corner and the okra frying away happily in the pan, we were all set for our okra dinner.

I can't wait to take some of these leftovers into work tomorrow for my co-workers to drool over; I don't think okra and gumbo are everyday foods in Philadelphia.

C & E

Monday, July 14, 2008

Italian Night

Elizabeth's parents send up a care-package full of fresh veg...okra, tomatoes, squash, zucchini blossoms and eggplant. We started off by stuffing the blossoms with goat cheese and pan-frying them in olive oil.

Tonight, we went down to Chef's Market and bought some fresh mozzarella and Cento canned tomatoes. Passing by the deli, I couldn't resist picking up some sopressata.

For starters, we had a fresh caprese salad of mozzarella, basil from the plants Elizabeth's parents sent us and fresh, juicy tomatoes...accompanied by some thin-sliced sopressata.

Her parents had both regular and blanc eggplant; we thin sliced the blanc, which was milder than regular eggplant, and fried it in some olive oil...the result was halfway between a potato chip and an eggplant sautee...very delicious.

We finished up the starters and then got down to the business of creating some eggplant parmesan. The Cento tomatoes were some what seasoned in the can already and needed only a dash of salt, oregano, fennel seed and red pepper. Elizabeth baked the oil & bread crumb-coated eggplant slices at 350 for 15 minutes, turning once, until al-dente, then she stacked and layered with her savory red sauce. She sprinkled little bits of fresh mozarella in with a shred of good quality parmesan...20 minutes later at 350 we were ready to dig in. it was so good I forgot to take a BEFORE's the AFTER with the dent I put into it.

C & E