Monday, October 5, 2015

Talking "cheffy"

Let's stop talking "cheffy."  Please. 

Not "brown off," just "brown."    

"Add," not "add in."  

"Reduce, not "reduce down."  

"Mix," not "emulsify." (Don't get me started on the poor understanding of this chemical term.  Trust me, you probably don't understand it.)

Anchovies disintegrate, not melt, in your skillet.   

Sugar dissolves, not melts, in water to make your simple syrup.  

And Lidia, we love you, but really, it's not "foil paper."

And while you're at it, stop stirring everything with tongs.  Use a spoon, ok?

Friday, September 11, 2015

Beany bisque

I have a bean conundrum.  There are dishes I like beans in; there are dishes I despise beans in.  I hate beans in chili.  I love beans simmered with olive oil and sage and dolloped on top of crostini.  I'm on the fence about pasta and beans.  I love pasta and ceci.

It's utterly irrational.

I came across this recipe watching Lidia Bastianich.  She made a very simple bean soup with almost nothing -- beans, tomatoes, some garlic, and water.  The true povera cucina.  Completely meatless.  Vegan, even.

I liked the idea she had about pureeing half the beans, but she left the rest whole.  I didn't like that.  See above.

So, I made the soup, pureed all the beans, but also jazzed it up a bit, adding onion in the initial saute, some tomato paste to amp up the tomato flavor, and then some additional seasonings later on.

The result was awesome.  The great flavor of the beans is there, but not the mouth feel of beans in the soup.  The texture of the soup was like a bisque -- a roux-thickened soup, typically made with shellfish -- and classically, with pulverized shellfish shells, like lobster or shrimp shells, which lend not only flavor, but color and texture, from the chitin and chitosan in the shells.  So I called it "beany bisque."

The pasta added at the end gives a nice texture and body to the soup, but you could easily leave it out if you wanted to.

In a 5-qt Dutch oven:

1/4 c olive oil
6 cloves garlic, smashed
1 onion, finely chopped

Saute garlic and onion in olive oil until softened.  Add 6 Tbp flour to make a roux.  Add about 1 qt water and cook several minutes to thicken.

Add 1 can crushed tomatoes (or whole tomatoes that have been crushed, or about 6 fresh tomatoes which have been cored, peeled, seeded, and chopped), and 1 Tbp tomato paste. 

Cook tomatoes about 15 minutes (less for the canned crushed tomatoes, more for the fresh tomatoes).  Puree the sauce with an immersion blender until smooth. 

At this point, you have a reasonably good tomato soup. 

Open a 15-oz can of cannellini beans.  Rinse.  Process in a blender with about a cup of water until it is a smooth puree.  Add to the tomatoes. 

Add about another 4 cups water.  Season well with salt and pepper.  A squirt of Worcestershire and a couple squirts of hot sauce add a nice touch, too.  A 1/2 tsp of thyme would add a nice flavor here, too, if you'd like to add some. 

Bring to a simmer and cook about 10 minutes.  Add 2 cups cooked pasta (like orzo or ditalini).  Heat through. 

Serve, passing cheese at the table. 

Thursday, January 29, 2015

A valentine to Reading Terminal Market

Bon Appetit magazine recognizes the jewel we have in Philadelphia.

Appreciating the treasures we have

A good appreciation of the Philadelphia food scene, from The Philadelphia Daily News.

Friday, January 9, 2015


Zeppole were a special Christmas treat that my Grandmother Catherine made. I started making them several years ago with her recipe, after she had stopped cooking and baking. They even passed her muster, so I guess I did all right.

5 c flour
1 t baking powder
2 c boiling water
2/3 c oil
1 t vanilla

Mound the flour in a deep mixing bowl. Add baking powder. Pour in the boiling water, the oil,
and the vanilla. Mix well. The dough will be sticky at first, but as it is mixed it will become less
so. Turn out onto a board and knead gently for a couple of minutes.

Cut the ball of dough into 8 parts. Roll each part into a long rope and cut the rope into 1-inch
lengths. Roll each bit further into a slim log, the size of your little finger and about 2 to 3 inches
long. Cross the ends into a little bow. Set aside.

Fry the bows in deep hot oil, until lightly brown. Do not overcook. Drain well on paper towels.
Transfer to a serving bowl. Warm some honey to thin it out (a microwave does this best) and
pour the honey generously over the zeppole. Sprinkle with granulated sugar.

A unique Christmas treat.

One-eighth of the dough.  

Dough rolled into a long rope, about the width of a finger.  

The rope, cut into small 'dumplings,' about a half-inch wide.

Each 'dumpling' is rolled out then twisted into a bow shape around the finger,
and pinched at the point of intersection.

Zeppole rolled out and ready to fry. 

Frying the zeppole in about an inch of oil, at moderate temperature. 

Fried zeppole drained on paper towels. 

Friday, December 26, 2014

Tipsy trifle

First, you need an excellent, preferably home-made sponge cake, though you could use a store-bought Sara Lee pound cake easily enough.  Slice the cake into 1/4-inch slices. 

Make a quickie berry jam:  
            2 lbs frozen strawberries
            1 lb frozen raspberries
            1/4 cup water
            1 cup sugar
            Pinch salt
            2 tsp unflavored gelatin, hydrated in 2 Tbp water. 

Bring to a simmer, and cook gently until thickened a bit.  Mash the berries to make more homogeneous if necessary.  Add gelatin.  Let cool.  

This will not set up like a “Jello” dessert, but the gelatin will give it a bit more body.  It will not be as sweet as a commercial jarred jam. 

Feel free to use any jarred jam you like, though I am particular to strawberry, raspberry, or apricot for trifles.  I would NOT use Concord grape jam. 

Make a recipe of pastry cream.  (There’s really no good substitute for this.  Cooked pudding comes close, but lacks the richness, as there are no eggs.)
            1 qt milk
8 egg yolks
1 1/4 cup sugar
4 Tbp flour
4 Tbp corn starch
2 tsp vanilla extract
Pinch salt
2 Tbp softened butter

Scald milk gently over moderate heat.  (You can also do this in the microwave.)  Set aside. 

Beat egg yolks with sugar until smooth.  Add flour and corn starch.  Beat until smooth.  Add about a 1/2 cup of the warm milk by dribbles into egg/sugar/flour mixture and beat well until the egg mixture has been warmed up a bit (this is called “tempering”), then pour the egg/milk mixture back into the remaining hot milk. 

Cook over moderate heat, stirring constantly, until thickened like pudding.   Remove from heat.  Add vanilla extract.  Beat in butter. 

Cover surface with plastic wrap so that a skin does not form.  Let cool completely before using. 

Assemble your trifle in a straight-sided trifle bowl.

Layer sliced cake in the bottom.  Generously dribble rum (or other alcohol like brandy).  Spread cake with jam.  Spread some of the pastry cream.  Repeat several times, finishing with pastry cream.  

Trifle being assembled.  

Decorate with whipped cream on top, if desired.