Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Butternut Squash Risotto

Cleaning out the camera and found a few pictures that made me think of Autumn cooking.

The risotto is pretty standard prep...Elizabeth used some fried sage leaves, toasted pumpkin seeds, pureed steamed squash and sautéed squash cubes to give this some personality.

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Sunday, October 25, 2009

KooZeeDoo - Portuguese in NoLibs

On on of those evenings of torrential rain, we met up with another couple at KooZeeDoo, the newly opened Portuguese BYOB in the Northern Liberties where Copper used to be.

Watching the pouring rain from dining room - exposed brick wall, dotted with little candle-filled alcoves, cork-topped tables and warm, earthy tones - we were all settled in for a hearty meal, which seemed to be KooZeeDoo's specialty. The lighting was great for ambiance, not so good for cameras (sorry about the blurriness on a few of these).

The main dishes here are served family style in different varieties of crockery. One of the favorites of the table was the Duck Rice. A baked rice with duck breast atop, the rice was studded with little bits of duck meat as well.

I did't get a chance to take a picture of the shrimp turnovers, but they reminded me of an empanada filled with a bechamel sauce.

The Rabbit Stew was tender and delicious - the rabbit leg and loin were standing in a dark brown broth of stewed vegetables and pork lardons. We fished around the pot for those little bacon-like croutons, scooping out dollops of the rich stew.

A more traditional pork and shellfish combo, the Pork, Clams and Crispy Potatoes came out of the kitchen piping hot. The little crisped potato cubes soaked up the clam flavors nicely, while the pork chunks were slow-cooked and very tender.

For dessert they offer a dish called Chocolate Salami - the waiter's explanation was quick to follow that this was not chocolate covered charcuterie but rather a log of different types of chocolate shaped and cut to resemble a slice of salami. Accompanied by a chocolate coated fig and a chocolate cream canelle, this was a perfect partner to a cup of coffee.

Although the family-style delivery of the dishes was the exact opposite of the tapas & little-plates theme, the overall impression was that the Portuguese dishes at KooZeeDoo are a great addition to the rustic Spanish-Mediterranean flavors that usually dominate that style of dining.

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Friday, October 23, 2009

Takeout at Stella? Not Stella...

I've been spotting those little take-out boxes in people's hands emerging from Stella, the new Starr thin-crust pizza place across from the Headhouse Shambles on 2nd. In the mood for some pizza one night, we decided to give it the premium-topping menu a try.

The toppings on these were great...the arugula and prosciutto was particularly tasty, with a little peppery crunch pairing up with the flavorful ham. The classic Marghereta was OK...the sauce, while tangy, lacked a depth of flavor but the cheese was rich and gooey.

The only complaint I'd have has more to do with the fact that the crispiness of the crust just doesn't survive the walk home, and this was kind of a bummer because it defeated the purpose of take-out as the crust crispiness as what makes these pies exemplary.

To be fair, I don't think there are any thin-crusts that can survive a 5 to 10 minute trip without losing some of their edge, but I was hoping that there may have been something a little different about this crust after all of the attention that was given its conception by the foodie-press.

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Monday, October 12, 2009

Little Fish Sunday Night Prix Fixe

Touted as one of the better deals in Philly's BYOB scene, we packed up a bottle of Pinot Gris and headed down to the 'original' Little Fish in Queen Village for their $35 $28 Sunday Night Prix Fixe. We had 8PM reservations and the way they work the Sunday night dinner is to keep all the diners outside until 8 sharp, at which point they open the doors to the tiny establishment and begin the service.

Tacked to the wall is the menu for the evening...a five course set meal featuring what we hoped would be some excellent seafood.

Starter was a salad of bitter endive and green apple...a crispy, crunchy, tart & bitter way to open up the palette for the lighter style of fish to come.

Second course was the raw tuna served on a block of Himalayan pink salt, accompanied by a diced beet salad. We found that rubbing the slivers of fatty tuna against the salt block released a subtle saltiness that suggested the briny waters that these fish were pulled from. Unfortunately, my sense of taste just isn't refined enough sometimes to pick up on the show of flavors that raw fish is meant to provide the diner...so I'll take Elizabeth's word for it.

Next up was a portion of sustainable Scottish salmon cooked with a tri-layer effect that left the skin-side a crispy sear, while creating a strata of cooked and rare flesh. Every forkful was like a combination of three fish all at once...cripsy skin, flaky meat and a succulent rare edge...the consistency was incredible and it had me rethinking the way I will be cooking fish next time. The mussel & farro salad on the side was an earthy contrast to the fish.

The final savory course was hands down our favorite...a Vietnamese-Style Escolar. Resting in a light stock tinged with fishstock and showered with crisp, fresh veg & cilantro, the flaky Escolar had picked up the Southeast-Asian flavors, yet retained some crunch on the outside. It looked like it had been pan-fried briefly, creating a slight crust that sealed in the flavor of the fish while soaking up the character of the stock.

Only after the fact did we find out about the unfortunate side-effects that can befall some diners who over-indulge in Escolar...mercifully, Little Fish kept the portion sizes small enough where this wouldn't be an issue, although I was a little concerned for the staff, who were sharing a uber-generous portion of the Escolar amongst themselves as service wound down.

Dessert was a bit of pumpkin mousse & a little slab of chocolate ganache that was drizzled in a berry sauce. While it was a pleasant finish, I would've gladly thrown caution to the wind and wolfed down on another chunk of Escolar.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Sunday Evening in Glenside & Mt. Airy

Clearing out the memory stick on the camera I forgot to post about an outing we had into the 'burbs to grab a beer & a bite before the David Sedaris show at the Keswick.

If you're not familiar with Sedaris, he's a regular guest on public radio's This American Life and his books are a mix of snarky romps from his diary and quirky recollections from his childhood...Check out Holidays on Ice for a sneak peek at what life is like working as one of Santa's elves at Macy's in New York.

He's got a famous funny sister, Amy, who did a hillarious satirical cookbook ala Martha Stewart syndrome titled I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence

Back to the topic.

Before the show, we stopped for dinner at the Earth + Bread Brewery in Mt. Airy. We had visited before on a mid-day Saturday before they were offering lunches and while the beer was decent ( I want to say that I had a beer made with gruet which was not half-bad) we missed out on the main attraction, the thin-crust 'pizza'.

I enjoyed a light Berliner Weisse, while Elizabeth chose an Italian red - it's not just beer...they have decent by the glass selections of wine too...several affordable reds...Italian, Spanish & some New World from S. America.

Here's a shot of the upstairs, which I didn't realize existed - not only do they have plenty of overflow seating in the light-filled and airy second floor, but there's a second bar as well. The restaurant hosted a smattering of young families enjoying a Sunday night meal.

While these may resemble pizza, they're careful to point out that these are flatbreads...to me, the thin crust and crispy dough was so close to the latest wave of thin-crust pizza offerings around Philly that it was really splitting hairs.

Here's a shot of the special that night , a blend of arugula pesto, fresh tomatoes (last of the season) and shitake mushrooms...a great veg option and the mushroom flavors really stood out.

Check out the menu here.

This is the sausage pizza w/mushrooms & mozz. The interesting element of this pizza was that the sauce was not a red sauce but rather a pesto made from banana peppers...much tangier and acidic than tomato sauce with a spicy kick in each bite. After the third slice it was a little overwhelming but shared, the pepper pesto makes for a wonderfully weird alternative to red sauce.

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Thursday, October 8, 2009

Pantry Cannoli in a Pinch

The sudden need for a cannoli sprung up but we weren't exactly prepared to cook up the shells.

Elizabeth rolled up two tubes of heavy duty foil, then sprayed it with oil.

Next, she wrapped the foil rolls with a sheet of spring roll wrapper, kind of like a wonton wrapper but thinner and more pliable. To give it some sweetness, Elizabeth made a small batch of cinnamon sugar, which was sprinkled over a sheet of the wrapper...she then laid a second sheet over it, sealing in the spicy sugar between the layers of crispy wrapper.

The wrapperss went into a 375 degree oven until slightly golden brown, then we uncoiled the foil slowly to reveal just the shells.

Next, Elizabeth mixed some powdered sugar into fresh ricotta from Claudio's, which was piped into the shells. Finished with a dusting of powdered sugar and some dark chocolate 'snow', grated off a fine mesh microplane, and you've got a much lighter version of cannoli straight from the pantry.

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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Stuffed Delicata Squash Rings & Crispy Baked Cauliflower

Incorporated some autumn farmer's market fare into the kitchen this week. Rather than go the 'hollowed-out squash boat' route, we sliced the Delicata into rings and scooped out the seeds from the center. These squash 'timbales' were then brushed with olive oil on the cut sides and roasted in a 375 oven until a knife could easily prick the flesh, about 20-25 minutes.

These squash timbales were then stuffed with a seasoned rice (onion & celery sauteed in chicken stock and added to steamed rice) and toasted pumpkins seeds.

Along with the squash, we sliced up some of Tom Cultons' multi-colored cauliflower to roast on a seperate pan along with teh squash. The secret to getting crunchy cauliflower is to cut the florets with as large a flat surface as you can create, oil the cut side and place on the pan cut-side down.

The pumpkin seed rice stuffed squash went great with those crispy purple cauliflower florets. We served them up alongside a boneless/skinless chicken thigh, slathered with an herbed white-wine pan-sauce.

Restaurant Redux - Crunchy Shrimp & Avocado Salad Stack

Here we have a take on one of the dishes we enjoyed during our trip to Maine this summer - a stack of avocado & shrimp, served on a bed of seaweed salad and crispy puffed rice paper wrappers.

This is a lousy picture, but you can get the gist of the seafood & avocado stack. We decided to forgo the Marie Rose dressing that accompanied the original from The Burning Tree and downgrade from lobster to shrimp.

We don't have a clue when it comes to making seaweed salad, so we picked this up at the sushi place Gaja Gaja on South...tasted great - perfect balance of crunch and chew with sesame oil throughout

Avocados getting sliced for the stack.

This was the 'fun' element...if you drop pieces of the rice paper into hot oil, they will puff up like vermicelli or a pork skin, creating a light and crispy cracker.

Tthe shrimp in Maine seemed to be smaller in general, so we bought something in the 30-40 range; butter poached and peeled, they were OK, but looking back we probably should have chopped them a bit, mixed in some diced avocado and placed them on the crisps to marry the flavors a little tighter.

Restaurant Redux - Crispy Kale & Clams

Here's the original dish I enjoyed during our trip to Maine - what I remember most was how the tasty bitterness of the kale and played into the buttery bitterness of the pine nuts and the clam broth. The crispy leaves soaked up the broth, making for a rich & deep flavor.

I like the presentation as well...it conjured up an image of the seafloor with the clams resting gently on a bed of seaweed in one of the tidal pools along the rocky coastlines we had walked across.

Pan-roasting the pine nuts here...these will burn in a instant if you're not careful.

We took the stalk off the kale leaves and washed them thoroughly. With a rough chop, the leaves were dressed with a little oilive oil, sea salt & pepper before being laid out on a baking sheet. They went into a 350 degree oven for 15-20 minutes, turning them over halfway through and making sure they didn't burn.

We picked up some little neck clams...the cherrystones were just humongous, so we opted for the small shells. Here they are resting in a bowl of ice cold water in the hopes of cleaning out any sand that may be inside the shells still.

Elizbeth brought home the New Portuguese Table last week and in a nod to the classic pork-shellfish combo of that cuisine, we braised and seared a link of Linguiça, a milder seasoned sausage with paprika and having a slight sweetness hinted in the spices.

The clams were steamed, then added to the bowl with the sausage, pine nuts and goat cheese crumbles. I strained the broth that the calms had cooked in to remove any sand or shell bits, adding a little butter and salt for taste.

Finally we poured the broth over the mix, liberally sprinkled with the oven-crisped kale leaves, and dug in. A few of the clams still had a bit of sand in the shell, which was a bummer, but the overall effect was close to the original, with the kale, pine nuts and broth combing forces to create that bitter, nutty & buttery flavor.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Burning Tree Restaurant - Otter Creek Maine

Located just outside Bar Harbor, the Burning Tree restaurant was located in what used to be a residential house and was surrounded by greenhouses and raised flower beds...a promise of locally grown produce to appear on the menu.

The friends we were visiting suggested we get two orders of these seafood fritters - golf-ball sized deep crispy fried nuggets of a scallop mousse studded with shrimp

The Kale & Clams starter suggested the natural surrounding of the seafloor that these clams could be found in - the kale was oven-crisped and resting above a shallow broth of clam liquor, pine nuts and goat cheese.

Elizabeth's Avocado & Lobster Stack (camera setting blurred this accidentally) was resting on a rice-paper crisp , deep fried puffed spring roll wrappers, and lightly dressed with a Marie Rose-style sauce.

The Bouillabaisse was a saffron-infused mix of shellfish & chunks of monkfish.

The Burning Tree building was surrounded by raised flower beds overflowing with late summer blooms. Several of the edible blooms appeared on our dining plates - orange nasturtium & cumin carrots were the side dish that evening.