Monday, June 29, 2009

Waste Not - Want Not ... "Of The Month"

My husband and I had one heck of a bad meal in Paris. I know. I couldn't believe it either. But that's what happens when you ignore the cardinal tourist rule when dining out internationally.... we ate at a restaurant with both French AND English versions of the menu. We only had ourselves to blame. But my husband caused a big 'ol American-style scene and we generously paid for our wine and left. Normally we would just move on to the next watering hole and try again, but since everyone in Paris eats at an ungodly late hour we were not only hungry but tired. We walked back towards our hotel with disappointment in every step until what to our wondering eyes should appear, but the most quaint and delightful looking creperie you've ever seen. It was the only place open at that late of an hour and it was hopping. You watched this crepe master (honestly, he could go pro) create whatever crepe your little mind could conjure up. I suppose I was feeling like drowning out the disappointing dinner and had a Grand Marnier soaked crepe and the hubby had a Nutella and banana one. We sat there on the street eating our perfect crepes and drinking the house wine as happy as could be. And you know what. I'm glad that we had that crappy meal hours earlier. If it wasn't for that failed attempt at dinner we would have never had such a perfect end to our evening. All that being said, as I was finishing my crepe. Happy. Full. And feeling like I wouldn't want to be anywhere else in the world at that moment I glanced over and saw an older gentleman reading a newspaper...drinking some wine...and eating the most delightful looking ham, egg and cheese crepe I had ever seen. You know that feeling you get when someone else at your table orders the perfect meal and even though your meal looks good, great even, you can't help but wonder what pleasures that other meal could have brought to your mouth-hole? Yah. That's what I felt staring at that bad-ass ham, egg and cheese crepe. Would you like to make some bad-ass crepes of your own? They're easier than you could imagine and the base for this month's waste not - want not recipe: (Fill in the blank meat)___, mushroom and Swiss crepes.

(Fill in the blank meat)___, mushroom and Swiss crepes are an awesome use of leftover meat AND veggies. The mushroom and Swiss is just where we begin. I also added some asparagus that had seen better days. Mix this all together, wrap in a crepe, cover all of this in a bechamel sauce and you've got a leftover meal fit for a king. P.S. I had leftover crepes and in true waste not want not spirit I threw them in the fridge and made chocolate, strawberry crepes out of them the next night for desert. You're drooling aren't you? It's ok. I won't tell.


2 large eggs
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup water
1 cup flour
3 tbs. melted butter

Toss all of the ingredients in a blender. Pulse until blended and smooth (shouldn't take more than 60 seconds or so). Take blender pitcher and place in the refrigerator for one hour to let bubbles settle. When your filling is done and you are keeping it warm (filling recipe below) heat a skillet/frying pan to medium/medium low heat. Add enough butter to just moisten the bottom of the pan, then pour in enough crepe batter to just coat the bottom of the pan. Let sit approx. 30 seconds then flip and cook for another 10 or 15 seconds on the other side. Try a few practice crepes to get the pan temperature right and the timing down. You don't want the crepes to be too golden brown. Just barely golden. And the flip will take some practice. I use a big spatula and gently flip it....gently. When each one is done stack it on top of the last one with a layer of aluminum foil between them. Keep warm in the oven until ready to fill.

Filling: **when deciding how much filling to make think that you're going to want no more than 1/4 cup of filling in each crepe...since you're using leftover meat and perhaps some almost dead veggies, you probably won't have exact measurements of your best to eyeball it**

Meat - whatever you have left over and however much you have. You can bolster it up with veggies or cheese. This isn't really a recipe. It's more of an idea. I used leftover duck in mine because that is what I had. It was good. It was really good.

Veg - once again. Use whatever you have (that you think might taste good). I almost always put sauteed mushrooms and onions in mine. This time I also added some asparagus (chopped into small, coin-like rounds). I also served asparagus on the side with some of my beshamel sauce but the hubby said it was asparagus overload. I agree but I didn't want to waste it.

Cheese - Swiss! I'm sure you could put your choice of cheese in this puppy, but what goes better than mushrooms, onions and Swiss? Nothing I can think of! Grate whatever cheese you're using.

Other - Garlic(1 clove). Olive Oil. Salt. Pepper. If you're using spinach as your veg I would add some crushed red pepper.

Here's how I made my filling::::
I sauteed the onions, asparagus, garlic and mushrooms in some olive oil until tender. Then I added the leftover meat (which I had shredded) at the last minute to just heat through. I seasoned with salt and pepper to taste then I took it off the heat and stirred in some shredded Swiss cheese, still stirring until just melted. Then take your crepes out of the oven and carefully roll some filling inside of each crepe. Don't roll it like a burrito (you tuck the ends in when rolling a burrito...don't with these...just roll them like a cigar). If you like make a simple bechamel sauce (recipe below) and drizzle it over top. Serve with some steamed veg if you like. I steamed the rest of my almost dead asparagus and topped it with the bechamel because asparagus goes well with sauces...don't put bechamel on something like carrots...perhaps you could put it on wilted spinach...oh! you could certainly put it on steamed broccoli!

Bechamel sauce:

2 1/2 tbs. butter
2 tbs. flour
2 cups milk
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. nutmeg

In a medium saucepan, heat the butter over medium-low heat until melted. Add the flour and stir until smooth. Over medium heat, cook until the mixture turns a light, golden sandy color, about 6 to 7 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat the milk in a separate pan (or in the microwave) until warm. Add the milk to the butter mixture 1 cup at a time, whisking continuously until very smooth. Bring to a simmer. Cook 10 minutes, stirring constantly, then remove from heat. Season with salt and nutmeg.
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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Rome if you want to...and of course you should

My husband and I have lived in two rather historic places together. Our first house was in the countryside on the outskirts of Richmond. You know… the capital of the confederacy. Our particular location was a Civil War buff's dream. We lived smack dab in the middle of dozens of Civil War battlefields. When people found out where we lived they often asked if they could dust off their metal detectors and do some relic hunting on our land (this request always made me smile). This area was also plantation country (picture left) AND a few miles from historic Williamsburg and Jamestown. You couldn't throw a stone around our house without hitting something dubbed "historic". So siree bob. Now we live in Old City Philadelphia… the birthplace of our nation. We live three blocks from the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. Two blocks from where Benjamin Franklin is buried. One block from where he used to live and 1/2 block from Elfreth's alley, which is the oldest residential street in the USA. Our building was probably built in the mid 1800’s and our neighborhood is packed with history, cobblestones...and tourists most days. Unfortunately this no longer impresses me. No. I don’t take it for granted. I’ve just been to Rome, and it’s simply ruined local historic sites for me…but in a good way of course :) So last week when I saw Angels And Demons (set in Rome) with my Dad on Father's Day, and could hardly enjoy the movie without feeling the need to lean over and whisper to my husband, "we've BEEN there!...and there!...oohh, and remember going there!", I decided it was time for me to write about our Rome experience.

We arrived in Rome via an overnight train from Munich. What an experience it and of itself! The hubby and I shared a bottle or two of wine sitting Indian style in our bed in hopes that it would knock us out. It didn’t, but that was ok. The rocking of the train. The smell of the mountainous countryside. The eerie feeling you got when the train pulled into a train station in the middle of nowhere (Switzerland? Italy? Who knew at that point.) in the middle of the pitch black night. It was wonderful. So when we pulled into the Termini train station and looked out the window at more graffiti and filth than we had seen in weeks we were a bit let down. This place was dirty. Actually, most of Rome outside the very old and extremely historic center was pretty dirty. My husband put it best when he said, "Well, they did have two and a half thousand years to make it this way. Not too shabby if you ask me.". And he's right. When a city is that old and has been inhabited with that many people for so long (I think I read 3 million people...all living in pretty tight quarters) it's bound to be a bit funky.

We stayed on the outskirts of Rome at the Sheraton Roma. Good hotel. Nothing magnificent. We found out that most of the hotels (affordable hotels) are on the outskirts of Rome and they all have free shuttles that drop you off steps away from the Forum. The shuttles run like clockwork (amazing for ANYTHING in Italy to run like clockwork). It was great to be able to explore all day and then mosey over to the bus pick up spot (in front of a great pizza night we waited for the next bus because we just had to have pizza there). I know you're probably thinking that if you spend the money to go all the way to Rome you want to sleep in the middle of it all. But I have to say, the price difference is massive and we had no problem commuting into the city. I highly recommend this option.

Where do I begin!? We walked until we could walk no more when we were in Rome (my old boss said that when he was there last he walked his pinkie toenail right off his foot...then he showed us all...charming...thanks Doc). If we were more daring (and I'm talking borderline insane kind of daring) we would have rented scooters. Scooters were EVERYWHERE (picture, right, of me making vroom-vroom noises in front of a classic). But, the drivers were insane! I have never seen people zip around a jam packed city in such a reckless fashion...and wearing such nice clothes in the process (they honestly do dress well in Rome...much to my disappointment...I'm a jeans and t-shirt girl normally...I must have looked like a hot mess to them). But walking is probably the way to go if you can handle it. It lets you take it all in. And it gives you the ability to literally run into the most amazing things along the way. One night we were drunk off a few litres of delicious house wine and decided to try to find our way back to the bus stop without using the map. We had been in town for a few days at this point and along with the liquid courage we had coursing through our veins, this was a recipe for over confidence. Long story not so short we got lost. We were just wandering through this dark alley when all of the sudden we heard a roaring crowd of people. When we emerged from the alley we realized we had just accidentally found Trevi Fountain (picture left). It's arguably the most famous fountain in Rome. If we hadn't been walking aimlessly around the city we would have missed it. And boy-o-boy was it breathtaking at night. I have chills right now remembering it.

Of course you won't spend all of your time wandering aimlessly (just most of it). You'll need a plan. Here are my top 5 must see sights (and yes...they're predictable):

1.) The Forum - This is where ancient Roman civilization developed. It's my favorite place in Rome. I feel like a kid in a bed sheet fort here. You walk through and pretend that all of the structures are still standing, and if you have a good enough imagination, it will transport you. I know it sounds silly, but I could have strolled through the forum, pretending I was in ancient Rome, all day long. It's filled with a old arches, temples, basilicas, residences. It's almost surreal. I can't believe that so many of these structures are still standing. Look at this (picture left). It's the Temple of Saturn. It was built as a monument to the agricultural deity Saturn in 501 BC. 501 BC!!!! I just can't describe to you how cool that is.

2.) Castel Sant'Angelo - This place is what a castle should be, in my mind anyway. I know, Ireland has those beautiful, grand old castles, and Germany has castle after castle lining the riverbanks of the Rhine (and all of them look straight out of a Disney movie), but this one is creepy and cool all together. I think that's why I loved it so much. It was originally built as a mausoleum for a Roman emperor (don't remember which one) and his family. Then it was turned into a fortress and a castle by some popes in 139-ish AD. They also used it as a prison. I think it looks most like a prison to me. The views from the top are amazing. The statue at the top (picture right) looks like it could kick your ass. The inside is dark and ominous. You fear that if left alone you would surely lose your way down the many narrow, winding pathways. It would be the perfect place to have a Halloween party. I just love it.

3.) Vatican City - I'm not a religious person by any means, but I find Vatican City to be fascinating on a bunch of different levels. Did you know that this place isn't part of Italy? It is a sovereign city-state, landlocked inside Rome. It's actually the smallest country in the world with a population of about 900. There is a white line at the edge of St. Peter's Square that divides it from Italy (I'm standing there giving you the "V" for Vatican picture right). Yup. Crazy right! You know what else is crazy? These outfits (picture left). They're the Swiss Guard and they were originally Swiss mercenaries brought in to protect Vatican City. Still, to this day, the recruits must be single, roman catholic, Swiss males. They must also be between 19 and 30 years of age and must be at least 5.7 feet tall (and look good in a Speedo). I have no idea what is up with those outfits. Ironically they're the ones that stop you at the gate if you're dressed inappropriately. I read before we went to Rome that you should pretty much always wear pants and if you have a tank top on, bring a small sweater to cover yourself when you want to go into churches and such. I got the "no bare shoulders, lady" speech from these guys when I tried to sneak in without my sweater on. The rest of it was so-so for me. It's a gaudy, over the top place. The tomb where the Popes are buried was pretty interesting and I was a little taken back by the solemn respect that filled that underground room. Don't even try to see the Sistine Chapel unless you have 2 - 3 hours allotted to stand in line. The line to get in went clear around the back of St. Peter's Basilica and showed no sign of ending. We skipped it and got gelato.

4.) The Pantheon - Pantheon, from the Greek for "every god". I love this place because it was originally built in 27 BC as a temple to all of the gods of ancient Rome. I like that idea. Unfortunately it too was taken over by the Catholic church later on. But I tried to go in there in the spirit of ancient Rome and imagined what it would be like to enter such a grand structure so long ago. The oculus (aka...hole in the ceiling) adds the most amazing light and feel to the structure, and I could only imagine looking up through this sky light in 27 BC and feeling as if the gods were watching me through it. I've never been in anything like this place. I liked it a lot. Picture right of me in front of the's like Where's Waldo right?!

5.) The Colosseum - I will start by saying it is estimated that over 500,000 people and over 1 million animals died in this place from when it was built in 70 AD to when it stopped hosting the ancient games. Talk about a blood bath. How can people get pissed off about violent video games when civilization has seen the likes of the Colosseum games. Some emperor wanted to entertain the entire population of Rome and decided the best way to do it was to build this amazing structure, fill it with sword wielding people and lions, and let them kind of work it out themselves. I don't want to bore you will all of the different types of "games" they organized but at one point they flooded the entire lower level and had a nautical battle. Talk about a water cooler conversation, "Hey Augustus, did you attend the games this weekend?", "Yah, after I threw up from seeing that lion eat that gladiator, and then that lion get beheaded, I called it quits and headed home." Personally, I would have just liked to see the lions roll over and perhaps jump through a hula-hoop.

EAT: No, this isn't the title for the next section. It's an order. Eat. Eat a lot. Drink wine with every meal because hey, you can. Snack all day long (it's a good idea to grab a bit to eat in between your mammoth lunch and your mammoth dinner because the restaurants don't open for dinner until 7:30 at the earliest). Snacking is also a great way to experience the tastes of the city. Grab a piece of pizza. Go to a cheese shop and just ask to try one type of cheese and before you know it the cheesemonger will have given you a veritable culinary tour of Italy (oh, and you can bring cured meats back to the states if you have them vacuum seal it). Taste grappa, then never taste it again because it's gross. And eat gelato. Eat lots of gelato. Stop and grab a beer every once in a while and watch the world go by. And skip breakfast. Honestly. You don't need it and what you get leaves something to be desired. Sleep in a bit. Grab a cup of coffee. Then head in the direction of where you plan on eating lunch. I think we planned just about every day around where we wanted to grab lunch. Go here...please go here: Enoteca Corsi (picture below). This place serves a traditional Italian lunch which pretty much consists of copious amounts of bread, pasta, wine, a small amount of protein and a side of some greens. It's a local favorite and a true off the beaten path destination if you ask me. Do you see the local guy behind me in this picture that looks all sorts of pissed off that we're taking pictures of ourselves eating? Yup. Local hole in the wall for ya. I think you had two options for each course and that is all you needed. If they're only making two of everything, fresh, every day, it's bound to be amazing. I don't remember my whole meal but I do remember what I'm eating in this picture. It's called Pasta Amatriciana. It's basically pasta (mine was pene) in a sauce of fresh tomatoes, herbs, cheese and bacon. It was absolutely amazing. I also read that it's a rather popular Roman pasta dish...I can see why. This is really the only restaurant I would say you simply MUST visit. I think half the fun of traveling is finding your own favorites. But take my advice and try really hard to eat at places that have the menus written out daily...perhaps on a chalk board or even just on the window. If there is a small menu, and a small restaurant packed with people it's almost always a good sign. We ate at a place like this one day and it was owned and run by a husband and wife who were simultaneously cooking our food AND waiting on us. It was just the two of them and the service was slow, but I had the ablsolute best pasta fagioli ever.

GET OUT OF THE CITY: We took a day trip to Anzio, a costal town, accesable via a quick train ride. We just had to swim in the Mediteranian and get of of the city for a day. If you go to Rome I highly recomend this day trip. Look at this town. It's perfect. The beach was empty since we arrived at the very end of the tourist season and the people that were there were all locals. The water was so different than I'm used to. It was thick. I know, bad description, but it was thick and extra salty. I'm sure there's a reason for this but I'm not an oceanographer. I'm just the girl who had the time of her life drinking Peroni on the beach at Anzio with her husband. We were so happy to be out of the hustle and bustle of the city that we completely forgot to follow the "lunch time" "dinner time" rules and missed eating a big seafood feast because we were too busy sunbathing and went looking for food during the almost 5 hours that the sit-down restaurants are closed during the day. Instead we grabbed some AWESOME crispy crust, flatbread like pizza (not pizza even, square, crustless pieces of tomato topped dough) and ate it on a clif overlooking the ocean. Then we finished our meal by stuffing canolis down our throats. Could a more enjoyable day have been had? I honestly don't think so.

EXPECT: Expect a bustling, and yes, dirty, city with poor public transportation. Expect most everyone to speak some amount of English but grazie (thank you) goes a long way. Expect to walk a lot but also expect that walk to be filled with exciting surprises. Expect to run into a lot of not-so-nice locals. I was shocked that people thought Parisians were snotty and rude and that Romans were kind and gregarious. I found the complete opposite to be true. Expect to eat a BIG meal for lunch and not to eat a true "sit-down" meal again until well after 7pm. Also expect those meals to be sparce on meat. Not everyone eats 20 oz slabs of meat at one sitting like Americans do. I don't think I ate more than a few oz of meat each day, but trust me, what you do eat will be delightful. If you're looking for some protein grab a link of cured meat to snack on. It sure hit the spot for us. Expect the longest line at the Leonardo da Vinci (still frequently known by its old name, Fiumicino) airport, you have ever seen. As much as I loved the history of Rome I did not, for one second, miss the slow, almost lazy pace that the Romans excersise. Look at this picture (right). I was told that this airport ALWAYS looks this way. Although we didn't want our trip to end...we did want to get the hell out of that airport.

But when all is said and done... amidst the good and the bad that Rome has to offer... expect to leave Rome feeling as though you have been given a wonderful glimpse into the past, and a new outlook on civilization as we know it.
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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Hi All! Do Me A Favor And Vote For Me If You Like The Blog...Or Even If You Don't :)

Hi All! Do Me A Favor And Vote For Me If You Like The Blog...Or Even If You Don't :) Just Scroll To The Bottom Of The Banner At Your Right And Click The FoodBuzz "Vote For Me" Link. Easy As Pie! And Thanks To You All For Visiting. Come Again!
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Monday, June 22, 2009

Low Country Boil for the Big Guy

Another Father's Day has come and gone, and lucky me, the only thing my Dad ever wants is for someone to go on a bike ride with him and for everyone to sit around the table and have a family dinner together. Easy right? Yes, however, I never know what to cook for him! Do I make something so gourmet that it requires precision timing, perfect execution and also requires me to spend most of his Father's Day in the kitchen, pretty much ignoring him? Or do I try to make something that isn't quite as wow-worthy, but allows us to shoot-the-shit and enjoy a few beers together? When put that way it's a no-brainer right? Cold beer and shooting-the-shit trumps cloth napkins and pinkies in the air any day of the week. So this year I think I found the perfect compromise. I made a good 'ol fashioned, summertime favorite... a low-country seafood boil.
Pic: Dad and his kids...son-in-law and grand-doggie included!

I think my husband and I, and my parents, and most people now that I think about it, relate food that they love with times, places and events in their lives. My parents honeymooned in Canada, via a good 'ol fashioned road trip. While driving through the Gaspe Peninsula in the middle-of-nowhere Quebec ('s like the edge of the world...but beautiful of course) they stopped at this restaurant called Mona's. My father had the bouillabaisse and has never been the same since. Any time he sees a fish stew of any shape or form on a menu he orders it. So while I was walking through the Reading Terminal Market, perusing the beautiful seafood, I thought of his love for bouillabaisse. Yes, I probably should have made a traditional, tomato based fish stew for him, but instead, taking inspiration from the fact that Father's Day was also the first day of summer and the longest day of the year, I opted to make a low-country style seafood boil...and he couldn't have been happier with it.

It wasn't exactly the kind of meal you eat with a knife and fork. It's messy (in fact, my mom gave us each cute little washcloths so we could clean up our grubby fingers and faces mid-meal...genius!...and come on...only a mother would think of that right?), it lacks any beauty of presentation and you have to work at's the perfect meal for dad...any dad. I mean, honestly, what guy doesn't like cold beer, pick and peel shrimp, corn on the cob, spicy sausage and slurping crab bits out of the shell? That sure sounds like heaven to me.

So make this before summer passes you by. If you eat it indoors, you might want to take my mother's advice and hand out washcloths. If you eat it outside, you might want to wear your bathing suit and just pass around the hose around.

Low Country Boil:

4 ears of corn on the cobb
12 - 15 red, new-potatoes
1 large onion cut in large chunks
approx. 1/4 cup of old bay seasoning
2 - 3 links of a spicy sausage cut in large pieces (I used Andouille)
3 dozen cherrystone clams
1 1/2 pounds of jumbo shrimp(raw, shell on, heads on if you're lucky enough to find them!)
1 - 1 1/2 pounds of snow crab claw broken pieces(these are so much cheaper than the jumbo, whole claws and there is still plenty of meat in can use whole Maryland blue crabs if you feel like putting in the work to crack them open)
Bring a large pot (make sure the pot is large enough to fit all ingredients comfortably) of water to a simmer. Add the old bay, the onion, the sausage and the potatoes. Cook for 10 mins. Next add the corn. Cook for 15 more mins. Finally, add the seafood and cook until clams open and the shrimp just turns pink (about 3 mins). Remove from the heat...discard most of the cooking liquid...dump contents onto large serving platter...dig in with both hands.
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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Drink of the Month

Do you have an alcoholic beverage secret? For instance…are you one of those people who considers themselves to be a beer connoisseur because you like people to think that you have a wonderful taste for exciting things, but the only beer you really enjoy is an ice cold PBR (I love PBR by the way)? Or do you visit a fine restaurant and peruse the wine list meticulously and with discerning taste, all the while knowing you’re just going to choose the cheapest bottle on the menu like you always do and try to act like it’s a “fantastic wine for the price” because deep down inside you really don't think any wine should cost more than $20? Or perhaps you’re that manly-man who always drinks bourbon neat when you’re out with the guys, but as soon as you get home you’re mixing up pina-coladas, pouring them into your brand new pineapple shaped glasses and topping them off with the all important tiny umbrella. I know who you are ;) It’s ok to be yourself when you’re enjoying a refreshing alcoholic beverage. There is no need to hide behind society’s norms and social stereotypes. My very manly husband always seems to accidentally order the one drink on the menu that comes in a tall, dainty martini glass and is adorned with fruit and edible flowers. Meanwhile I inevitably order the cocktail that comes in a rocks glass and looks and smells like lighter fluid. And I’m always so proud of him when he doesn’t even bat an eyelash or suggest that we “trade” drinks because his looks so good that I simply must try it. It is funny though, this happens just about EVERY time we decide to order some new and exciting cocktail that we’ve never heard of. Look at this monstrosity of a cocktail he ordered just last week at Vietnam restaurant in Philly’s China Town. It’s called a Flaming Volcano. I honestly don’t know what is worse? This flaming punch bowl overflowing with cocktail umbrellas and maraschino cherries…or a pink cocktail in a martini glass. However, I do know this. That flaming monstrosity packed quite a mighty punch (I'm talking some buzz here stumble 10 blocks home even though we shared the drink between the TWO of us, buzz), as do many pretty or “girly” drinks. So I challenge you manly-men to mix up this cosmopolitan and enjoy it without shame! It’s refreshing, not too sweet, flavorful AND it packs a nice punch. If you like, go ahead and put it in a rocks glass and call it a metropolitan.

Cosmopolitan(or as my grandmother calls it...The Pink Drink):
Ingredient List -

Vodka (Honestly...any kind will don't need to go out there and spring for Grey Goose though...I promise you won't be able to tell the difference once you mix it with cranberry juice, triple sec and lime juice...please don't be that person that says, "I only drink Kettle One" and I say, "Oh, you're a dry vodka-tini girl like me?! I love a good chilled Kettle One, straight up with some olives.", to which she replies, "Oh no. I can't drink it straight. I always mix it with Pucker Apple Schnapps and sugar.", to which I reply, "I can no longer be your friend". Good vodka or gin or bourbon should be thought of as the snobs of the liquor cabinet and you should only ever mix them with ice, olives, vermouth or perhaps bitters. Mixing good vodka with that store bought TGI Friday's Mudslide Mix makes me want to cry).

Triple Sec (This is another place that you can cut corners...have you ever looked at the price of Cointreau?!?! Ridiculous I tells ya. Buy De know...the folks that make all of those crazy schnapps like Root Beer and's dirt cheap and when mixed in something as low brow as a Cosmo it's just fine) **disclaimer - next month I'm going to write a recipe for one damn good margarita - it's ingredients are freshly squeezed lime juice, tequila and triple sec...I will be talking about the wonders that Cointreau does for this just doesn't make sense to use it when you're mixing something with Ocean Spray cranberry cocktail**

Cranberry Juice (This is the part of this drink that makes it my go-to cocktail when we have surprise guests. I pretty much always keep cranberry juice and some limes in the fridge and so should you. You'll thank me next time you have some unexpected guest stop by and you can shake up some "pink drinks". They're happy, you're happy and the best part is that you can hide all of your good liquor and use up the bottom shelf stuff...and they'll never know the difference)

Sweetened Lime Juice (My Mother swears by Rose's sweetened lime juice, but once again, when making this drink I use whatever bottle of cheap-o, no-name, sweetened lime juice I can find...I think the last bottle I bought wasn't even printed in English. If you're out, mix fresh lime juice with some simple syrup**equal parts sugar and water, heated until dissolved then cool**. It's just as good if not better)
**You may notice that this cosmo is a bit lighter in color than the ones your used to. I have a heavy hand when pouring the vodka. If it's too strong for you just cut back on the vodka and add a bit more cranberry. But try to keep the other ingredients in the same ratio if you can**
-Put ice in shaker - pour in 1 part vodka, 1 part cranberry, 1/2 part triple sec and 1/2 part sweetened lime juice - shake over ice - pour, straight up in some cocktail glasses - enjoy

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Friday, June 12, 2009

Hail to the Chifa

My husband and I are in the process of trying to learn Mandarin, in preparation for a big trip to China(I'm so excited!). So far it's proven to be a slow and somewhat painful process. Think... trying to teach monkeys long division. That's what it feels like to me. I mean. Learning French wasn't so bad. When you're actually in France and want to eat something like a souffle all you have to do is order a....ta-da....souffle. I mean, even Clark W. Griswold in the National Lampoon classic(btw...I find it funny that National Lampoon movies fall into the "classics" category in my mind...the hubby thinks I have the worst taste in movies EVER) European Vacation got that down. Remember the part on the plane when he asked his wife for a French word to put into his new handy dandy pocket translator and she said, "souffle" and he said, "souffle means...souffle. It's got to mean something else...". But no, it doesn't. And thank god for that because it made our trip to France delightful and easy. I even had an hour long conversation in horribly broken French with a bartender and we kind of sort of understood each other. One of the high points of my traveling career I tells ya! But back to the language at hand. So far I can only properly pronounce and identify one word...Chi Fan...and I have to say...if I could visit China armed with a single word vocabulary this would be the word...because it means "eat meal"(I think...remember...this monkey is still learning).

So a few days ago when my husband took me to this wonderful new Peruvian restaurant in Philly called Chifa, for my birthday, I became happy and intrigued all at the same time. The restaurant specialized in a particular type of Peruvian food that is influenced by Chinese immigrants that settled in Peru. The name of the cuisine(and any restaurant that serves said cuisine), Chifa, may have come(some say) from the only Mandarin word I know, chi fan. I felt like I was playing six degrees of separation...the global edition. Long story not so short....I was proud to make that correlation and even more proud that after a few days I still recognized most likely the most important Mandarin word I'll learn...chi fan!!

So what, you ask, is Chifa cuisine like? I'm glad you asked. I'd love to tell you:

This restaurant served small plates. When I looked into traditional Chifa cuisine I didn't see anything about it typically being served as "small plates", but tapas in one form or another seems to be quite popular these days AND the chef/owner of Chifa also owns a place called Amada which is a traditional-ish Spanish Tapas restaurant in Old City Philly so I guess he figured he could use the same dishes and silverware at his new establishment ;) And please don't get me wrong. Good food is good food whether you're eating a few small bites of it or whether you're eating it out of a feeding trough. I just have a love-hate relationship with the small plates. I LOVE the ability to try many different dishes without feeling like I need to be taken out of the establishment in a wheelbarrow. I HATE the inevitable sticker shock that occurs when the bill is brought out. $10 plates add up to $100 very quickly. So when we sat down at Chifa and noticed it was small plates we went right ahead and signed up for the $55/person 9 course tasting menu. Better we know how much it's going to cost up front so we can enjoy the many little plates and avoid the buyer's remorse when the check comes. Although $55/person sounds like a pretty penny I have to say I'm glad we did it. The food came out in a perfect, steady flow. We had the ability to taste MANY different menu items. And it was delicious, interesting cuisine that left me with a full belly... very UNcommon when walking out of a tapas joint.

Our meal went as follows:

Bread: The most AMAZING, tiny, Manchego packed rolls I've ever sunk my teeth into. Not really bread. Not really fried cheese. More like nutty-string-cheese-bread. It came with a sweet and spicy spread...Siracha and guava is my best guess.

Dish 1.) Bluefin Tuna ceviche: Ceviche, so I read, is EVERYWHERE in Peru. Chifa offered quite an extensive list of ceviche so I was happy that we were able to taste two different types that night. The tuna was less like ceviche and more like sashimi but it was perfect. It sat on a bed of sweet coconut sauce and was accompanied by pickled fresno(a type of chili pepper) and kecap manis(a sweet, syrupy soy sauce).

Dish 2.) Ecuadorian ceviche: This, so I also read, is a very traditional and oh-so popular type of civiche in Peru. It was shrimp in a sort of gazpacho-like sauce. It was quite a hearty ceviche but the freshness of the tomatoes added a certain lightness to the dish. The hubby didn't like it quite as much as I did...but then again I eat salsa out of the jar with a this was right up my alley.

Dish 3.) House green salad: Nothing special here. Leafy greens with a chile vinaigrette. Good but I wouldn't have paid for it if it didn't come with the tasting menu.

Dish 4.) Conchitas(picture): I'm not sure if this is actually the name of the dish or where it comes from. I googled it and found it to be a seaside town in Peru. As I sit back and think about the dish itself I can definitely see sitting at an outdoor restaurant on the Peruvian coast, eating this dish. It was chopped scallops in a truffle-parmesan cream, topped with caviar. The truffle-parmesan cream was amazing and the caviar added the right amount of briny flavor. The taste was fantastic...I just wish they left the scallops whole. The best thing, to me, about scallops is that "like-butter" consistency they have when they're just warmed through. The fact that they diced the scallops made me a little sad, but after licking the cream and caviar out of the scallop shell I eventually forgot all about it ;)
Dish 5.) Pork Belly Buns(picture): This is one of those menu items that not only speaks to me, but downright calls out my name. Pork...Belly...Buns! Uhhhh. They were delicious!! Pork belly with a hoisin glaze on steamed buns. Served with a Fresh and crunchy pickled salad of daikon and carrot. If I ever go back I will probably just order 3 plates of these.

Dish 6.) BBQ Ribs: They too came with daikon and were topped with a sweet & sour glaze. They were great but not one of the most memorable items we sampled.

Dish 7.) Chaufa: This, so I am told, is probably one of the most traditional items on the menu. I wouldn't have ordered it if it wasn't on the tasting menu and I wouldn't order it if I went back, BUT, when I got home and read up on Chifa cuisine I found that this rice dish is one of those universal dishes in Peru, so I'm glad I got to taste it. Everyone eats it...young, old, rich, poor. This one consisted of stir fried rice, chorizo, mango, edamame and it was topped with a perfectly cooked(whole!) scallop. It was yummy and filling. Quite flavorful with it's tangy sauce and interesting mix of flavors and textures. I can see this dish being dressed up or down and being suited to every kind of taste. It was ok, but think of a make your own sundae bar...with fried rice.

Dish 8.) Aji Mushrooms(picture..crappy..I'm was SO yummy that I dug into it before I could snap a lovely picture). If you had a menu of 40 plus small plates to choose from would you ever think of ordering mushrooms? No. I didn't think so. And neither did I. But when this pot of wild mushrooms, tofu and potatoes came out, topped with a flaky pastry crust and then drizzled with the MOST delightful aji(hot pepper) cream sauce on the planet, I was a believer. By this time my belly was showing signs of fatigue but I pressed on and ate the majority of this dish myself. If you go here you must try it. It was creamy, earthy, spicy and crispy all in one bite.

Dish 9.) Rack of Lamb: Have you ever eaten a piece of perfectly cooked red meat? You know, the kind that is so tender, so juicy, so buttery that it gives you chills(not actual chills...if you get them after eating a piece of meat you might want to head to the doctor)? I'm not sure if it was because it's spring and we got a perfect piece of spring lamb. I'm not sure if the Peruvians know something about cooking red meat that we don't. But honestly, I don't care. This piece of lamb was perfect. The sauce that came with it was good. The quinoa(a grain) that came with it was bad. But neither of these things mattered. The lamb probably would have melted on my tongue if I had given it enough time to do so...but that wasn't happening ;)

In Philly? Going to Philly? I think you should try this place out. It was a wonderful birthday dinner(thanks Nick) and I think it would make for a great date night as well. Plan wisely before you go. If you're looking for a cheap night with a few drinks you might want to grab a hot dog off a street vendor on your way. If you're looking for the Peruvian experience you might want to skip lunch. Oh, and one more thing. We didn't even attempt the dessert menu but they DID bring us a little sweet treat with the check....a rice crispy treat stamped with a picture of a dragon. Me likey :)

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Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Why Aren't The French Fat?

Why aren't the French fat? I know. You've heard this before. But it honestly does puzzle me. Some say they're svelte because they eat in moderation. That's all well and good, but eating duck cooked in duck fat on a regular basis, even in moderation, seems to me like it would get you on the cover of the latest tabloid magazine with the caption, "Fork-lift breaks while attempting to remove world's heaviest man from his house." "Man says...I won't leave without my baked brie"

However, when it comes to French food...what isn't there to love? I have a passion for the stuff. I could eat stinky, ooey, gooey, looks like it should be in a baby's diaper and not on a cracker cheese until I became the fork-lift guy. I would bathe in a Cotes du Rhone Syrah(you know, those wild and crazy Japanese have wine baths...but that's another story). And if I possessed just an ounce less willpower I would eat duck(perhaps cooked in duck fat) on a VERY regular basis. The French have, in my mind, created some of the world's greatest foods. And contrary to what some people think, the beauty of French cuisine is in the simplicity of the ingredients. Don't get me wrong, the technique is borderline impossible in some cases, but in general, lots of French cuisine is very accessible to anyone who cares to approach it. And I...well, I came right out and proposed to it on the first date...and we've lived happily ever after ;)

A great example of approachable French cuisine can be found in a brasserie. Whether you're sitting outside a brasserie on the Rue Cler in Paris...waiting for your steak tartar...sipping a glass of house wine and watching the local Parisians walk by (this was probably one of the best hours of my left and right...we had our first meal in Paris here at Cafe Du Marche...we just stumbled upon it because it was close to our hotel and once seated realized that everyone there was either a local or had Rick Steves' guide book on their table...I found this article when we got back: ... I love Rick Steves' and I loved Cafe Du Marche) ... Or sitting in Les Halles on Park Avenue in New York... Or sitting in your own little homemade brasserie(that doubles as your kitchen).

Just last weekend the hubby and I took a day trip to NY City. We skipped breakfast in anticipation of a big 'ol lunch and when we stumbled upon Brasserie Les Halles on Park Ave.(probably most well known as being the place that launched Anthony Bourdain's career) we were delighted.
In true brasserie form the menu listed an array of classic French dishes: Boudin aux Pommes(blood sausage and apples) - Les Rillettes du Boucher(shredded pork confit) - Steak au poivre & frites(peppercorn covered steak w/fries) - Cassoulet(no translation for that's a cassoulet) - Moules Frites(mussels and fries) - the list goes on and on...
The hubby had the Steak au poivre and I.......I had the Confit de Canard......and then I made a simplified version last night for dinner and YOU can too! Honestly. It's easy as pie...and tastier in my opinion. This is the type of dish I was talking about earlier. The French classic(with a bit of a twist) that is approachable and delectable.

Now. Confit de Canard...Duck pretty damn tough to make on your own. It is basically salt cured duck leg that is then poached in it's own fat. It's delicious and amazing and a work of art. This is where I try to re-create the dish in my own way and make it approachable....and I have to pat myself on the back and say I did a damn good job. The duck confit I had at Les Halles(pic left) was moist, tender, fall off the bone delicious, but it had simple flavors. The most prominent flavors were garlic, salt and pepper. Yup. Like I said. Simple ingredients. They presented the leg on a piece of rustic bread rubbed with garlic and served it with a side of truffled potatoes and a frisee salad. I was out of truffles at home(I mean come on...who keeps truffles lying around) so I made my own salad and potato side dish(potatoes fried in rendered duck fat and crispy skin topped salad). Then for the duck I simply seasoned it, crisped the skin and put in in the oven to roast. I think that although it wasn't a perfect re-creation of the Les Halles meal I kept true to the idea of using as much of the duck as possible and keeping the flavors traditional. Give this a try. It may sound difficult but I PROMISE can do it.

Crispy Duck Leg - Fries - Craklin' Canard Salad - Fresh English peas


1 fresh duck leg per person - skin ON - trim any skin that is not attached to meat
Olive oil

Preheat oven to 325. in an oven proof skillet heat enough olive oil to just coat the bottom of the pan on medium high heat. Pat the duck leg dry then sprinkle it with a light dusting of salt(kosher if you've got it), black pepper, thyme and rosemary. Now lay the duck skin side down in the pan. It will sizzle. It will pop. Leave the legs alone for about 5 - 7 mins or until the skin is a deep golden brown. Once you achieve golden brown-ness flip the legs over and immediately transfer to the oven. Roast in the oven for approx 45 mins to an hour. I love my duck breasts cooked medium with some pink still in the meat but I like my legs cooked through. The bone and the skin will retain the moisture and you won't have dry duck legs...I promise. When they're almost done check the skin. If it isn't quite as crispy as you'd like it place the legs under the broiler for a few mins. Watch them carefully! They should crisp in just a few mins. Once the skin is crisp(don't let it burn) take the duck legs out and let them sit for a few mins before serving. Serve over a toasted piece of french bread that has been rubbed with a garlic clove. The bread will soak up the duck juices and become the greatest crouton you've ever tasted!

Duck fat fried potatoes:

Trimmed fat and skin from duck legs
Potatoes - thinly sliced or cut into "shoestring" sized fries - any kind of potato will do

When you're starting the duck legs start this too. Take the trimmed duck fat and place in a small pot over medium heat. You're going to render the fat. Basically this will work itself out. Just keep an eye on the heat to be sure the fat isn't burning. You just want to "melt" the fat off the skin. It will take about a half hour. Once the skin and fatty bits begin to crisp remove them from the pot and keep the duck fat warm until you're ready to fry your potatoes. When you've got about 15 mins left before serving heat the oil on medium-high heat. I didn't have a candy thermometer to use so I just dropped a few trial pieces of potato in to test it. You want the potato to float to the top quickly once dropped in and not burn immediately. Fry the potatoes in small batches until golden brown. Then remove, place on a paper towel lined plate and sprinkle with salt immediately.


Almost every dish you get at a brasserie comes with a green salad on the side. I just took fresh mixed greens and topped them with any salad dressing you have OR you can make this one. Then I crumbled the crispy duck skin over the salad like bacon bits.....ducky bits!

Dressing: Take 1 tbs. of mayo and whisk into it 1/2 tbs. olive oil, 1 tsp. lemon juice, 1/2 tsp worcheshire, 1 tsp white wine vinegar, 1/2 tsp brown mustard, salt & pepper(to taste)

Fresh English Peas:

You don't even really need these peas. The salad and the potatoes makes this a pretty traditional brasserie meal. I just had them in the fridge so I used them. They complimented the meal well so if you would like to make them here's the non-recipe(it's as easy as boiling water).

1 cup fresh peas
enough water to cover the peas
1 tbs. butter

Boil the peas until tender (fresh peas are a lot different than your frozen variety...they require a decent amount of cooking and will still be a bit al-dente) about 10 mins. Drain peas and toss with butter, salt and pepper to taste. That's it! If you like you can sprinkle some fresh mint over the top if you have it.

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