Monday, October 25, 2010

Marc Vetri beats an Iron Chef! Smoky Chowder recipe. Summer weather in Fall!

Hi Philly Foodies!

Sorry for the time away; back from the road now and looking forward to some extended time off the road.  Fall in Philadelphia - a great time for Philly Foodies!

First of all, a great big congratulations to Marc Vetri, authentic Philadelphian and chef owner of Vetri, Osteria and Amis, for his impressive victory over Michael Symon on Iron Chefs!  If you have ever dined at Vetri and you see the show, you will note that Marc really went to his "authentic" Italian roots.  We wanted to climb through the screen - the dishes he produced were amazing.  Congrats too to his team:  Jeff Michaud and Brad Spence - you did Philly proud, Gentlemen!

Are you getting a bit worried about this strange and unusual Fall/Spring weather we are experiencing?  It's hard to get excited about Apple Cider and "Brown" cocktails.  In the garden, things are sort of "returning" in a weird way - Basil, Oregano, and our Savory.  Yet I am not sure that this is going to be the best for the Fall lettuces and arugula we recentlyplanted.  Also, even though the weather is warm, our cherry peppers, while large, are not turning red.  What are other city gardeners experiencing?  I always figure too that 65 in the areas outside of Philly is at least 70 in a city neighborhood, so while the leaves in the suburbs are changing we're having a protracted Indian Summer.

And speaking of "street food" - in its worse form - may I make a special request that people be a little more aware of what they are doing with their left overs when they are dining on the street.  Anyone who walks a dog in the city will know immediately what I am talking about. Half eaten sandwiches, slices of pizza, french fries (tons of french fries) and all manner of stryofoam containers, paper plates and cups, smeared with all sorts of former food "smears".  Now I have a couple of theories about the sources of these messes, mostly revolving around the fact that I believe this happens most often from people either in or about to get into their cars.  Which means I am damn sure it's not my neighbors, and I am beginning to wonder if it is always city dwellers at all.  I recall when we lived in Old City watching folks leaving the clubs (and the city) get in their car - parked in front of my building - and, believe it or not - empty their ashtrays and all of the trash in their cars onto my sidewalk/gutter!!  Apparently, their belief was that in "the city" you can just dump trash all over the place.  I am wondering if the same mind set is just tossing all of this food refuse on our streets.  City dwellers or visitors, let's all please be a bit more conscious of each other and our environment.

OK, a great recipe that we made this weekend.  From Food and Wine (November 2010):

Smoked Whitefish Chowder

Makes 8 servings - (we cut it in half and it made a lovely 4 servings)

1 1/2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup milk
Salt and fresh ground pepper
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 celery ribs,  finely chopped
1 leek, white and green parts, thinkly sliced
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme
1 cup dry white wine
3 1/2 cups organic, low salt chicken stock (recommended - low salt gives you more seasoning leeway)
1 10 oz package of frozen corn kernels, thawed
One 2 pound smoked whitefish (AKA Sable), skin and bones discarded, coarsely flaked (around 3 cups)
2 tablespoons chopped dill
2 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley
Tabasco Sauce/or your favorite hot sauce

In a medium sauce pan, cover the potato chunks with the cream and the milk.  Season lightly with salt and pepper and bring to a boil.  Partially cover and simmer until tender about 15 minutes.
In a large soup pot melt the butter in the oil; add onion, celery, leek and thyme - cook over moderate heat until softened, about 4 -5 minutes; add the white wine and boil until the liquid is nearly evaporated, about 5 minutes.  And the chicken stock, season with salt very lightly.
Using a slotted spoon, transfer 1/2 of the potatoes to a bowl.  Set aside.

Using a hand held mixer, a blender, or ideally a hand held emersion blender beat the rest of the milk, cream and potato mixture until smooth.
Add the potato chunks, the corn, and the potato/cream/milk puree to the soup pot, heat through - about 5 minutes.

Stir in the whitefish, add the dill and parsley and season with the Tabasco.  Serve Hot.

The Main House and Kitchen Garden at Bartram Gardens

If you get a chance, especially as the weather holds, but most probably in the Spring, do take the tour of historic Bartram's Gardens and Bartram's Home.  Just amazing.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Discount "Food" Store Opens; Political Commercials attack common sense; and a great recipe!

First some musings on things that have gotten my attention - since they have something to do with Food, of course!  And then a recipe for something yummy that I think is "on the Horizon".  Also a Fall Veggie tip that we learned about this weekend at the Head House Farmers Market.  More Fall recipes coming later this week.

To begin:   I am assuming that many of us have heard the sad news about the opening of "Bottom Dollar Foods" in King of Prussia.  This relatively new chain is reflective of what is causing so many of the tragic problems that result from lives spent subsisting on subpar food like substances (thank you Michael Pollen!). The worst "foods" are the cheapest, and if shoppers don't want to go with name brands - they can buy even cheaper versions (the Bottom Dollar label).  So, think enormous snack food and soda aisles, and even larger than enormous frozen food cases! Also - when our own does commercials yet is supposed to be a news station, Channel 6, did a flattering piece for the opening of this chain, they showed "produce rooms" - full of out of season/out of this area, produce in crates. 

Now, we do know that "cheaper" is very often not "better" - especially when it comes to what you put into your body - we do that, don't we?  But the lure of cheap - and "convenient" food (although I don't get what's so convenient) - and kids who demand junk food as a main course - will certainly drive many shoppers to this chain.  And, as a society, we will end up - at some point - paying for it!  There is a reason for the epidemic of Diabetes in the United States!  I am just going to keep saying it - it's not a coincidence!

And to those readers who would use that old chestnut argument,  that, "poor people" can't afford fresh, local food - trust me, as someone who shops almost exclusively at Farmers Markets and Fair Food Farms Market in the Reading Terminal - folks who are experiencing financial challenges in this economy seem to be represented quite well at these markets.  They are using their Access Cards as well as making use of the SNAP program - through the Farmers' Trust by the way.  Also, the growth of Farmers Markets in every section of this city is indicative of the success of these supports. 

Again - we realize that "poor" doesn't mean "stupid" - - although frankly, I am beginning to think that "lazy" may indeed mean "stupid"!

Please keep an eye on Bottom Dollar Foods - with any luck they will stay in King of Prussia or they will close and leave quickly!

One more note:  That commercial? You know the one with the woman pushing her shopping cart down the junk food aisle of her favorite stupermarket, ranting about "taxes on soda, juice, and even flavored waters", while all the time the camera is focused on the huge plastic bottle of generic soda in her hand?  She assures us that she can make the decisions for what her family eats and that she doesn't need the "government to interfere".  Really?  No, Really?  Don't you just want to go through the screen and slap her silly?  The cart is full of junk!  The message is clear:  Americans are going to stuff themselves and their kids with junk, frozen food - like substances, chemically altered stuff,  and as much high fructose corn syrup as is possible, damn it, 'cause that's their right as Americans!!!

Again - we'll pay - eventually.

Recipe Corner:

I am going out on a limb here and predicting that Nut Butters are going to be one of the next big things that foodies will enjoy playing around with in their home kitchens.  They are healthy, delicious and extremely verstatile.  Here's an easy recipe for Almond Nut butter from Fine Cooking magazine (Oct/Nov 2010).  From personal experience so far, it's great on Oatmeal, as a topping on sauteed green beans, on a cracker, and most importantly dolloped over ice cream!

Roasted Almond Butter

Yields about 1 cup

2 cups toasted/roasted almonds (I used whole)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/2 to 4 tablespoons Canola, vegetable or other neutral oil ( I used Canola and used all 4 Tblspoons)
1 teaspoon Honey

Put the nuts in a high quality blender or a very good food processor (I went with our Blender - it'sold but it's the high performance Waring -  just remember that bringing nuts to a smooth consistency require some real blade strength)

Pulse until roughly chopped; add the salt and then puree the nuts until the nuts are smooth - all the while adding the oil through the pour spout - but be careful, too much oil will make your blend a soupy mess - just keep adding a bit at a time until the mixture is the consistency you want, smooth, buttery but now puddles of oil.

Add the honey and pulse a few times more to mix.

Transfer the mixture to a sterilized jar - you can store it in a cool, dry place for up to 2 months, BUT you can store it in your refrigerator for up to 6 months.

Just remember it's in there!

Lastly, check out Ti Tsao - basically an Asian version of baby spinach - we got this beautiful bunch at Head House on Sunday and sizzled it up quickly in a hot saute pan with some garlic, pepper flakes, good olive oil and salt and pepper - it's also delicious raw.  Check it out.

Baby Spinach - Asian Style - Delicious!

What are you cooking as we get into the real Fall season?

Friday, October 1, 2010

Weather; Composting; A Fabulous Fall Soup Recipe; and A Foodie Event!

The rain and the winds seem to be moving out of the area as I write this - but what a couple of days we had!  While no one would doubt that we needed the rain, no one would have asked for THAT much.  Plus the rains pretty much played havoc with anything left on plants, trees and vines.

This morning, I was greeted by what looked like a carpet of concord grapes in our garden.  A shame and a big loss for the various birds we share our grapevine with each year.  The post storm work was mostly about dumping water, sweeping, and restoring our environment out there.  I am hoping that we will still have plenty of hours spent enjoying the garden, even though I can feel the air changing around me.

The storm was a good reminder that leaves - which can be great in your compost or just tossed in your garden - can be very damaging if they pile up in your downspouts and drains.  We emptied out our French drains of a lot of material - just in time for the rain to arrive.  I am also reminded of the age of some of the enormous trees on our block - when the ground becomes hypersaturated, there is a greater chance for these wonderful old residents of the neighborhood to literally lift up out of the ground and end up on cars and houses.

Speaking of compost, it is a good time to take a look at what you are getting.  This is our first year with a full blown Composter in our side alley - we have been faithful to it and it looks like our efforts have been rewarded, at least a bit, for our first year effort.  We see beautiful black rich matter at the bottom of the composter - how wonderful!  As cooks who mainly use fresh, natural products, we have never been short of "stuff" for the composter and it is yielding some gorgeous results.  I can't encourage city gardeners and urban mini-farmers enough:  it IS worth it; it is not much work and the results will be very useful to the health of your growing space, now matter how small/no matter how large.

Our Urban Composter

Just a reminder:  it is time to get those seed garlic bulbs in, along with any lettuces, arugula, and spinach that you hope to be able to harvest into late Fall. I got a feeling the cooler weather is here to stay!

We had some success this year growing Black Kale - a fabulous italian green - which, after we harvested a good deal of it in early summer, kept right on growing right through the hottest days.  We have been so anxious to make this week's recipe using this fabulous - and good for you - kale.  It also provides us with another use for our Swiss Chard - which also did very well this year.

Black Kale

(means "reboiled")

This is really the most authentic of all of the Tuscan soups.  It is very popular in Florence and we had wonderful steaming bowls of it on a rainy day in a lovely wine bar in Voltera, a beautiful hill town in Tuscany.  It is reflective of the Italian belief that "nothing should be thrown away" - this dish is a wonderful use for stale bread!

Serves 6 - 8

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
2 minced garlic cloves
2 medium onion, diced fine
2 celery stalks, diced
4 carrots, roughly chopped
3 large ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 bunch of Swiss Chard washed, trimmed and chopped
1 bunch of Black Kale washed, trimmed and chopped
1/2 head of Savoy cabbage, shredded
2 potatoes, peeled and diced
2 cups cooked white beans - with their liquid
Salt and pepper; a pinch or two of red chile flakes
1 loaf of stale Tuscan bread or other sturdy country white bread - sliced thickly
Additional EVOO for drizzling over the soup

Heat the EVOO; add the garlic, onions, celery and carrots.  Cook until the onions become translucent.
Add the chopped tomatoes - cook another 5 minutes
Add the remaining vegetables, including the beans and their liquid, add salt and pepper to taste, and a pinch of red pepper flakes
Add enough water to just cover all; bring to a boil
Reduce the heat, cover the pot and simmer the soup for about 2 hours - until the veg is very tender and the broth is rich and flavorful

NOW - this is the "Ribollita" part - you can eat the soup as it is - it is a fantastic minestrone OR you can "Reboil" it (the meaning of ribollita) with the bread.

To reboil the soup:  layer bread in another pot, alternate with full ladels of soup
Bring the soup to a boil slowly; remember to cook carefully so that the bottom doesn't burn. 
Stir frequently to mix the bread evenly throughout the soup. 

The soup is done when the bread dissolves completely and is absorbed into the liquid. 
Ladle into individual bowls and drizzle with EVOO
Ribollita goes very nicely with a rich Italian red wine!

Foodie Event next Week! 

The first Night Market will be held Thursday October 7th from 6 pm to 10 pm at East Passyunk and Tasker.
Exotic Eats, Live Music and Fun Drinks.

Come support this wonderful neighborhood event!!!  Let's make Night Market a regular event!