Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Strawberry, Cashew & Goat Cheese Pizza

Everywhere you look you see clamshells of strawberries popping up in the supermarkets. We were greeted with a wall of 2.99 per 2lb pack when we entered into Whole Foods. Without thinking, we grabbed a pack and rushed home to celebrate the first strawberries of the season.

Instead of the usual shortcake, we decide to try out a recipe we saw for Strawberry, Pistachio & Goat Cheese pizza. Hop over here if you want the details on this one.

The directions called for a pre-made pizza dough like you see in the refrigerated case, but I went ahead and kneaded up my own...I substituted about 1/4 of the all-purpose flour with whole wheat flour to give the dough a more refreshing, graham-crackery feeling that you might expect with a dessert-gone-savory pizza.

Bake off your dough in the oven following whatever directions you typically use, then, while it's still hot, dollop on your goat cheese...you could probably substitute a ricotta for a fresher flavor or light cream cheese here if you're watching your weight.

I brushed this dough in olive oil as well to really add some character and avoid dryness, like a white pizza.

Next, crush your nuts...we couldn't locate unsalted roasted pistachio so went with cashews.

Slice your strawberries up, mix in with your greens and drizzle with olive oil...maybe a splash of lemon juice.

Also, shave some Parmesan cheese into small strips.

You're ready to build your pizza!

The strawberry salad is sprinkled liberally about the pie...avoid adding too much to the center so you don't get a sloppy serving with topping strewn about. Here's the final result...a bit heftier than the dainty cousin pictured in the original recipe...I blame the abundance of berries on this overloading.

Next, finish with a few tosses of crushed cashews and the cheese shavings. The strawberries mimic the role of fresh-cut tomatoes while the salad, cheese and toppings complete the salad/pizza effect.

Next thoughts on modifying the toppings include adding oven-crisped prosciutto.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Blogger Birthday

Some random pics from a birthday party hosted by an acquaintance & fellow blogger Gaetano over at Philly Market Cafe.

If you're a regular reader of Philly Market Cafe, then you don't need an explanation...for the rest of us, these are canele, a delicious caramelized and custard-like treat that Gaetano is soon-to-be famous for...in fact, they may be coming to Headhouse Row Farmer's Market if the pastry gods are smiling on him.

For the full story on this bronzed baby, hop over to Gaetano's post.

Ready for the closeup...pork skin...crackly goodness.

While the suckling pig dominated the buffet table, the real star were the Shrimp Rolls...packed with basil and other greenery, here you can see some tasty shrimp tucked away...there was even a bracing bite of pepper hiding out among those leafy greens...a pleasant surprise. I think I stopped at five of these, but only because people were staring.

Here's a good cross section of the food that Gaetano and his 'little lady' (as he calls her) had prepared for their guests...homemade guac, tangy chicken wings, shrimp rolls, a massive canele and even some quails eggs thrown in for good measure.

Thanks again for having Elizabeth & I out to your party G!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Fava Bean Ravioli

After several abortive attempts to make ravioli by hand, we finally broke down and bought a press from Fante's in the Italian Market.

It took us a few moments to figure out how it worked, but the friendly matriarch that mills about the kitchen ware shop gave us a quick lesson on how you used the press, along with a tip to put egg-wash or water on the edges of the ravioli sheet just before you lay them together.

On our way through the market, we spotted some great looking Fava Beans; we picked up some fresh ricotta from Claudio's and then settled on Fava Bean & Ravioli.

Here we've shelled the beans, then boiled them for a few minutes and finally shocked them in cold water before removing them from the husk, revealing that emerald green beauty within.

Meanwhile, our ricotta filled ravioli were all pressed and prepped for the boiling pot of salted water.

Once the beans were shelled, we threw them in a pan with a little bit of olive oil and butter...we've also used pancetta or proscutti & minced shallots or just good old diced bacon and minced onion to go into the sauteed beans...it mostly depends on how much oomph you want to give those beans. I think the olive oil & butter kept it naked and simple so that the fava flavor could announce itself.

Plating was a breeze...ravioli, fava and some grated pecorino romano with a dusting of black pepper.

You could also serve this fava bean saute with gnocchi to get a similar effect without all the hardware.
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Lunch @ London Grill

Saturday was a real scorcher for April (90 degrees). We found ourselves up in Fairmount and in need of some lunch & refreshment. I saw London Grill and remembered somebody mentioning their burgers were notable so we decided to stop there.

Lots of outdoor seating there, which was completely packed. We took a table in the bar and put in our order all at once as the waitstaff seemed to be a bit cramped by the hordes of lunchers that the good weather brought out...seemed to be a common problem everywhere that weekend.

On tap were a few interesting options...we ordered a sampler of the Palm Ale, a dry cider which I was unfamiliar with and the Flying Fish Farmhouse Ale.

The burger was a massive hunk of meat...it had a good char-grill flavor. Topped with Boursin cheese and served simply on a English muffin, the flavors didnt' get lost in a cakey bun or muddled amongst the condiments.

The turkey sandwich Elizabeth ordered was like a little slice of Thanksgiving leftovers...a roasted slab of turkey breast served on toasted bun with lots of lettuce & tomato. Fries had all the telltale signs of handcut/homemade.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Marc Vetri's Porcini Crusted Halibut & Blackberry Sauce

I noticed a lone little baggie of dried porcini mushrooms sitting in the far back of the pantry last week and decided that today was the day that I'd do something other than re-hydrate and give to Elizabeth to add to one of her risottos. Actually she was working late that night and I don't have what it takes to make a risotto as good as hers

Grabbing my latest library loaned cookbook, Marc Vetri's Il Viaggio, I spotted a recipe that used porcinis and blueberries...so unusual sounding that I had to try it.

Porcini-Crusted Halibut & Blueberry Sauce (link to recipe)

Although this blueberry-'shroom combo may not be so odd after all...somebody I met at a party told me that they saw a mushroom & blueberry risotto on a local menu recently. We also sampled a blueberry & basil compound butter that was savory and delicious, another unexpected blueberry matchup that works.

Looking in the fridge, we spied our blueberry supply was gone...we used blackberries instead. I'm thinking the subtler blueberry would play even better with the porcini crust (which, by the way, is very delicate, so once you get the fish in the pan, be gentle!).

OK, I knew there was no way we were going to have time to really give it that fussy-clean look on a Wednesday night after we both got home from work late, but I still wanted to give the dish a partner to the dance that wasn't plain.

Here's a Yukon Gold I halved then punched out with a small biscuit cutter, slicing the cylinders & rings into coins. Put the potatoes in a thin layer of olive oil in a hot pan, let them begin to brown , then salt & pepper, flip, then throw in 1/2 cup of water to make an instant pillar of steam.

This may be common knowledge around the rest of the culinary world, but I just figured out that if you shut your lid on tight when you dump the water, the steam action will cook the potatoes through before they burn to a crisp. When you're about ready to pull the fish or whatever meat you've got on, pull the lid off the potatoes and let the steam cook off...you're left with seared potatoes that are cooked through.

We didn't have blueberries laying around for the sauce so we used blackberries and blood oranges...I think it ended up looking like a fish that wanted to be a bloody rare steak, but it tasted alot better than it looked. The oil & mushroom-dust crust were aromatic and deep, while the berry helped to brighten up and keep moist the meatier halibut...the white-fleshed fish soaked up the flavor beneath the browned crust.

We served this with a warm spinach salad & citrus-bacon vinaigrette; I bought some Pink Navel oranges from WFM that had the firmness of a grapefruit, which made for perfect supremes, but had the seedless & juicy character of the navel orange.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Beer Review - New Holland's Golden Cap Spelt Saison

I enjoyed New Holland's Ichabod Pumpkin Ale last Fall, so when I saw this 'Saison Ale' I threw it in my bag over at the Foodery.

Here's there infoblurb
Golden Cap Saison is a modern interpretation of a traditional farmhouse ale. A soft, pale beer, Golden Cap embodies the flavors and aromas of summer fields. Brewed with an ancestor of wheat called spelt, its straw-colored body, lively carbonation and a unique fermentation profile evoke fresh cut hay and cracked peppercorn.
It poured with little head and hardly any lacing, probably a symptom of the spelt's effect on the body.

However, the light-body helped the beer to stay effervescent...I watched little bubbles streaming up as I drained the glass down.

I found it spicy, like wit, but with saison's "barnyard" aftertaste...similar to epoisse cheese...perhaps this was the peppery/hay combination mentioned above.

All in all, I can't tell if the oddly carbonated but thin body worked against the spices; normally a wit has a creamier character imparted by the head and lees to balance out the spice...the lack of that creaminess was apparent.

What I really want to know if what's the deal with the Flying Monkey from the Wizard of Oz on the label.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Road Trip - Greenwood Chicken BBQ

The sign says it all. We find ourselves traveling back and forth between PA and VA quite a bit on Rt. 13 and we always wondered what the deal was with the BBQ place in Greenwood.

One Sunday we saw a great plume of smoke coming up from the firehouse/BBQ shed and the sign ahead announced CHICKEN IS READY. We nosed the Mustang over to the side and sauntered into the gravel-floored tractor shed.

There was an assembly line of volunteer firemen waiting for us and within seconds after handing over our cold cash ($5? I can't quite remember) we were greeted with a smoking hot half-chicken, pickles, rolls and bag of chips (sodas in the cooler are extra).

Normally my experience with BBQ chicken has been slathered on sweet sauce out of a squeeze bottle, so when I saw a spice-rubbed roaster without a hint of sauce I was happy.

Elizabeth proceeded to show me the proper way to tear into a grilled chicken (yeah, I was a bucket-chicken eater my whole life) that was dripping with moist juices but crispy all along the spiced skin.

Normally we stop for seafood on Rt. 13 in Virginia at the Metompkin Market or Machipungo Clam Shack, but we're adding this place to our approved Delaware roadside joints.

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Saturday, April 11, 2009

Marc Vetri's Ricotta Gnocchi & Crispy Artichoke

I've been working my way through the more interesting yet simple recipes in Marc Vetri's Il Viaggo and this seemed like one that was right up our alley.

Ricotta Gnocchi & Crispy Artichoke (follow for the detailed recipe)

Of course we use nothing but the creamiest stock ricotta around...at $4.00 #, Claudio's ricotta is a staple in our pantry.

1lb Ricotta Cheese
1/2 large egg
1/2 cup flour, all purpose (reserve 1 cup for dusting your board as you roll the dough out)
2tblsp kosher salt

Read the procedure here ....

The 'chokes were $1 ea. at the Italian Market. I cleaned them, then slivered into thin matchsticks so they would fry up similar to Durkee Onions

Here you see Elizabeth in action cutting the gnocchi 'snake' into the little pillows that are ricotta gnocchi. These little guys are much fluffier than potato gnocchi and you need to handle them gently as you roll, cut, boil until floating and then transfer to a warmed plate.

The finished result is a very clean presentation; Vetri simply has you transfer the gnocchi to a plate, sprinkle with Parmesan, drizzle with the oil the artichokes cooked in and then top with your crisped artichoke bits.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Review - Lunch at Ladder 15

Ladder 15, just down the block from Nodding Head Brewery, was a convenient stop for a weekday lunch last week. We were one of a half-dozen couples spread out across the cavernous restaurant; I could imagine late-night throngs packed around the bar-height tables, enjoying the fireplace and what looked like some kind of mezzanine.

The waitress was warm and prompt, letting us know they'd been open a few weeks and served meals small-plate style. The drinks list was decent, but the beers on tap weren't a draw...mostly off-the-beer-truck options like Hoegaarden, Guiness, etc...I choose the Hook & Ladder, an Irish ale brewed for the restaurant (had a burnished color and an aroma/flavor like the dark potato chip at the bottom of the bag..not bad, but deeper than expected). Elizabeth had a good smattering wines by the glass to choose from. There was also a list of dessert-themed cocktails..Root Beer Float, Thin Mint, Key Lime Pie & Water Ice to name a few.

The wide drink selection, compounded with the striking decor and variety of gastro-esque offerings, gave me impressions of a Starr-joint built for socializing, like Continental Midtown.

Here's a link to their menu.

The lunch menus were still at the printer, so we ordered off the dinner menu. Comfort was the word of the day...Roast Pork & Provolone Egg Rolls & the Mac & Cheese Croquettes.

The egg rolls were spicy and had plenty of flavor...we didn't need the au jus dipping sauce at all. A little light on the cheese-factor, but the egg rolls were satisfying.

The Mac & Cheese Croquettes were a bit disappointing; there's a restaurant we'd just dined at who served a Panko-Crusted Mac & Cheese Croquette that was out of this world. We were comparing it to Ladder 15's and theirs needed some re-working...they used orzo instead of a macaroni and the croquettes were dry and lacked any cheesy character...probably their diminutive size contributed to their dryness. The accompanying tomato sauce was decent but couldn't save the dry croqs.

The Shallot Haystack was described as a take on the Blooming Onion and while crispy, light & delicious, it left our breath in a serious state of shock...make sure you AND your date share this one or you may not be getting that goodnight kiss.

Although we'd only popped in to grab some refreshment & snacks after a day of running errands, the waitress brought out a plate of Watermelon Cotton Candy with the check. She mentioned that the owners throw all sorts of schnapps into the cotton candy machine to come up with crazy flavors.

There's something about cotton candy that makes you feel like a kid again and Ladder 15 seems to have tapped into the formula for having fun...one-of-a-kind interiors, a decent mix of drinks, small plates that, while hit or miss, make for some whimsical eats and friendly service.

Ladder 15 should definitely be on the list of pop-in places to hit in Center City, but not so much a full 'dinner' place...it might leave some thinking "Pricey Elf Food".

Just checked out Phoodie's excellent take on Ladder 15 as a turf war between duck & truffle-eaters and Coors drinkers. The scene of relative desolation of our midday visit probably obscured the fact that this place has great potential...potential to be a 'brohang' as opposed to a culinary showcase.

Whichever way it develops, I hope the food gets a little more practiced/tweaked and the beer taps stay balanced during the morphing and we'll see if it's worth fighting the reported crowd.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Calamari-esque Citrus Shrimp Salad

We had all the right ingredients for a light seafood citrus salad in the fridge...mixed greens, olive oil, real Florida Oranges (courtesy of my boss who brought back gifts from vacation) and a bottle of Pinot Grigio except one thing...no decent seafood.

We headed out to Whole Foods and found ourselves standing in front of the seafood display, pondering the next move. Normally we like to use a seared scallops or some flash-sauteed calamari tentacles, but WFM doesn't do fresh calamari w/ tentacles and the scallops were super-expensive.

Elizabeth had the idea to buy some less expensive wild-caught shrimp and try cutting them into thirds to mimic the curly legs of calamari. I saw something similar in Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's The River Cottage Meat Book where he sliced pork tenderloin medallions in such a way that they resembled calamari tentacles when pan-fried.

Here you see the three steps of how we turned the shrimp into calamari 'tentacles'.

I basically halved these 16-26 shrimp and then, if they were plump enough, cut each half into two 'legs'. Sometimes the shrimp were a little too small to cut four legs, so I'd split the larger of the two.

Next, we seared off the shrimp in an olive oil & garlic mix...as soon as the hot pan hit those little guys, they began to curl up nicely...Elizabeth had her 'calamari' all ready to go.

The salad was a simple arrangement of frise & arugula greens, supremed orange sections and a viniagrette made with the reserved orange juice, red wine vinegar, olive oil, black pepper, sea salt and some ground fennel & tarragon.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Mark Vetri's Rustic Chicken Liver Pate

I've been reading Marc Vetri's Il Viaggio di Vetri cookbook for the last few weeks and came upon a recipe that looked like a good party dish; we were planning on attending the latest Philly food bloggers potluck but I came down with a cold right around then, so this dish ended up being a practice attempt.

Here's a link to the recipe, Rustic Chicken Liver Pate on Crostini
. If you don't like chicken livers but want to try them to see what all the fuss is about, I'd reccommend this recipe...Vetri's got enough port, Cognac and panchetta and truffle oil in this to elevate the chicken liver to flavor heaven...ironically they named it 'd'Angelo or from the Angel (although he points out this is because of the restaurant's namesake where he had this dish).

The most time-consuming step was pushing the liver puree through a sieve to give it that smooth texture and catch any herb chunks or liver bits. Here you can see me using the backside of a large spoon to smear spoonfuls of pate through the mesh screen and into a bowl below.

If I had to do this over again I wouldn't have bothered with the puree and simple rough-chopped the liver mix and smeared it on the crostini before serving to give it more texture...then again, I like lumps in my mashed potatoes.

The end result was smooth and very earthy, but I couldn't appreciate the flavor combination fully due to the fact that my cold was making those powerful flavors very hard to distinguish.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Quick Bites - Crispy Herbed Goat Cheese Stacks

We had some spring roll pastry sheets laying around, so we used a pizza wheel to create 2 inch squares, then brushed them with olive oil and threw in a 450 degree oven.

While the sheets crisped up in the oven, we mixed in some Herbes de Provence with soft goat cheese.

When the sheets were brown, we pulled them and stacked up small dollops of goat cheese atop a cripsy square.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Pear & Rum Tatin - Gordon Ramsey's Sweeter Side

Viewers of BBC Channel 4 have a chance to get to know the lighter side of Chef Gordon Ramsey with his food 'video magazine' show The F Word. If you haven't seen it, I recommend you download a copy (bittorrent via Mininova)...it's got competitive cooking, slow-food perspectives and a slew of blitz-cooking demos from Ramsay.

Elizabeth spotted this awesome recipe for a spin on pear tatin...not only is it gorgeous, but it tastes as good as it looks. Link to recipe here...

What makes it clever is the way Ramsey disassembles the pear and then reassembles it with pastry dough & spices. Star Anise replaces the seeds, a vanilla bean moves in where the stem once was and puff pastry wraps around the peeled pear like a crispy flaky second skin.

Gordon demos this recipe in 1 minute flat...then you can follow along to see how well we copied him.

Here's Gordon doing his best impression of the Iron Chef Chairman

If Gordon went too fast for you, here's what you do.

Set one sheet of puff pastry out to thaw about an hour.

Preheat oven to 400.

Peel, then halve an Anjou pear and remove the stem and seeds. Here Elizabeth cores the sliced pear using a melon baller to create a nice clean cavity.

Then cut out a notch where the stem ran and replace it with half a vanilla bean. A star anise pod is popped into the hollowed out spot where the seeds once sat.

Next, place the pear face side down on the cutting board and lay the puff pastry sheet over it. Trace an outline around the pear with a knife, then fold the puff pastry around the edges...the pastry should be like a skin wrapped around the outside of the pear but leaving the cut-side face exposed to be carmelized.

Next, in a pan place equal amounts of butter & sugar stirred together to create a caramel in a pan. Watch it, this stuff goes from caramel to scorched garbage in 60 seconds flat.

Pull the pans off the heat and pour in a dash of dark rum...BE CAREFUL, it will splatter and hot sugar is very dangerous. Place your pear face side down in the caramel and then dust with powdered sugar.

Throw that pan in the oven for 10 minutes or until the pasty puffs...our pears sat in the fridge for a few hours, so we left them in the oven for about 15 minutes to achieve full puff.

Here's the final result...face down of course. Let it sit for a few minutes to cool, then carefully slide a knife under the pear and plate it face side up.

Serve it with a scoop of good vanilla ice cream and drizzle with caramel sauce from the pan. We're going to experiment with some smaller varieties of pears next to create mini-pear tatins so each person gets two-halves.