7 06 2011

I hear the other prisoners loved her corned beef recipe...

I picked up Martha Stewart’s ‘Cooking School: Lessons and Recipes for the Home Cook’ at Ross for $9.99, copyrighted in ’08, the book is a dense 500 pages. That’s 2 cents a page; this will be my cheapest education to date. I have a new goal within food, cooking, health and eating enjoyment for 2011, back to basics. I critique food when I eat out, but what do I really know about classic cooking? Not much. I’ve never cooked a roast, prepared a stock, cooked a whole fish or rolled sushi. I have made plenty of other things from scratch, like bread and pasta, but my  basic cooking skills have a long way to go and I was reminded of this yet again this morning. I was dicing an apple and sliced the tip of my pinky finger off. It’s still bleeding.

Important skills, like simple, handy and safe knife skills are taken for granted, especially by the home chef. Martha opens the book with explaining that to refine your cooking skills and repertoire it’s paramount to understand cooking basics like knife skills and have a properly stocked kitchen. This isn’t to say that you need every kitchen gadget known to man, but quite the opposite. A few well-purposed and multiple use items can save you time and money in your cooking endeavours. The book is laid out like a textbook, with the basic and introductory information in the beginning (knife skills, necessary kitchen pans and cooking gear, herb essentials, etc.) to the implementation of those skills and practices in key recipes. Items like how to make a basic chicken vegetable soup in the basic stockpot (that every chef should have) using basic herbs like sage and rosemary.

As I venture into this behemoth cooking goldmine we’ll learn together as I experiment sauteing, braising, how to cook dried beans, make fresh pasta, how to coddle eggs, make dashi, souffle, custard, granitas…and on and on. This leads me to my first lesson of how to hold a chef’s knife and the proper way to chop vegetables. Two pieces of information that I could have benefited from this morning before turning my oatmeal routine into a bloody mess.

-Hold the handle near the blade, grasping the blade between your thumb and forefinger (called choking).

-With your other hand, secure the food to be cut, curling your fingers under so they’re safely out of the way.

–This will feel awkward at first, but just as it was awkward to type on your smartphone soon after you bought it, you’ll adjust quickly. Muscle memory is a magnificent thing. Begin to cut with fluid motions, moving the curled hand back with each chop to expose a portion of the food to be cut.

Safe chopping everyone! And stay tuned for basic cooking school within the next two weeks…


The coolest food project ever to exist in Philadelphia, coming soon

27 01 2011

A shared kitchen/food storage/restaurant space, The Center for Culinary Enterprises is coming to a vacant supermarket in West Philly. This is the perfect space for new food entreprenuers as well as small culinary businesses that require commercial kitchen space.

“The CCE will transform a long-vacant West Philadelphia grocery store building into a state-of-the-art 13,000+ square-foot complex, offering an array of resources and programming for emerging food entrepreneurs. Multiple components create a comprehensive vision: three shared-use commercial kitchens, a training restaurant for community youth, two retail spaces for local businesses, a multi-media learning center called the eKitchen, and a nearby urban farm. It will be a sustainable facility, LEED certified, growing much of its produce from community-based urban agriculture.” The building will be green and the bidding process has begun for contractors.

Read all the details about this innovative project here http://philafood.net/wp/the-vision/the-vision/

Quick Bite: Affordable and Comforting Vietnamese Soup

21 12 2010

When the weather outside is frightful…I want soup!

Pho 38, on Route 38 that is, in Jersey in the Asian-inspired strip center (west of the Cherry Hill Mall) is one of those random spots that I’ve been meaning to check out for a long time. It’s random because Route 38 isn’t normally where I head when I’m looking to eat out. I knew I found the right pho when I walked in and was the only caucasian inside. Hooray to being a minority at a poplar ethnic eatery!

The soup is the real show stopper; large enough for two people (though please get your hands off mine and order your own) and perfect for a cold day. It was hard to decide on one option, there are a half-dozen that I would liked to try. The tofu, pork, shrimp and watercress soup from the “thin soup” section made the final cut. The menu is huge. There are multiple categories of pho (categorized by type of meat or vegetarian) and other various soups and entrees. The watercress was abundant and offered a mild crunch to the contrast of salty and spiced ground pork, the tofu was also aplenty and as most pho, the vegetable-based broth was very mild. Many types of pho are served with peppers, bean sprouts, basil and lime that you add to the soup as you wish. Pho broth is the blank slate of soup. You can add various hot sauces and condiments to it (offered at every table) to make the flavors as intense as you’d like. Skip the vegetable summer rolls appetizer, mine were light on the veggies and tofu and heavy on the rice noodles, so they were bland. Pho 38 is definitely a solid bet for lunch or dinner. If you want to eat inexpensively and/or healthy, both are possible here.

There’s also a large Asian Supermarket in the same strip center which I didn’t make it to. If anyone has been there, please let me know about the selection in a comment. Thanks!

Pho 38: 5201 Route 38 #102, Merchantville, NJ 08109 (856) 910-8090


Chifa Hosts Another Tasty Beer Dinner on Nov. 18

10 11 2010

This time around the brewery featured is Iron Hill and Garces is sure to create 4 deliciously inventive Peruvian/Cantonese courses to pair with tasty the brews from Iron Hill. These dinners are always a treat and fill up fast so reserve your seat today at: 215-925-5555. 4 courses with 4 beers for $65.

Chifa: 707 Chestnut St.

Women Against Abuse’s 3rd Annual “Dish it Up!” Fundraiser

9 11 2010

The Moore College of Art and Design was abuzz in a sea of purple on Thursday night to support victims of domestic abuse. Moore hosted Women Against Abuse’s (WAA) 3rd Annual “Dish it Up!” fundraiser benefiting the non-profit anti-domestic violence advocacy group located in Philadelphia. Purple, being the official color of the anti-domestic violence movement, was the celebratory shade of the evening, uniting guests and cuisine alike. Many attendees wore purple hats, shirts, dresses or accessories. There was even a purple carpet for guests to strut the catwalk, complete with a photographer. Local female chefs competed in the Purple Dish Award, each creating a dish with a purple component for guests to enjoy. Food judges walked the tables early and often with a scorecard rating each delectable bite. NBC’s Bill Henley was the night’s energetic MC and Justin Pizzi provided live coverage from the purple carpet.

The dishes were as creative as they were diverse. Featuring popular local chefs:

          Valerie Safran and Marcie Turney from Lolita, Bindi, Barbuzzo

          Michele Iovino, Angela Iovino and Rosalba Morici from Girasole

          Franca DiRenzo and Francesca Kauffman from Tre Scalini

          Heather Annechiarico from Hawthorne’s Café

          Effie Bouikidis from Effie’s Greek Restaurant

          Moon Krapugthong from Mango Moon and Chabaa Thai

          Lynn Rinaldi from Paradiso

          Susan Schlisman from Devil’s Alley/Smokin’ Betty’s

          Delilah Winder from Delilah’s Southern Cuisine

Many of the dishes were winners in my book. Paradiso’s pan seared crab cake with beet fennel slaw and roasted beet vinaigrette was lovingly plated with fresh flavors. The winning dish of the evening, Barbuzzo’s sheep’s milk ravioli with roasted beets and Meyer lemon was indicative of Turney and Safran’s talent and propensity to source local and seasonal flavors. Girasole’s octopus Carpaccio with lemon notes, citrus-infused oil, and sweet red pepper was an inventive use of the purple squid. Hawthorne’s bird nest ahi tuna involved a lot of prep and followed through with a ton of flavor. The bird’s nest consisted of a deep fried nest of noodles with ahi tuna and a peppadew cabbage slaw perched inside. The flavors were varied, complex and crisp.

As for the cupcakes, Cupcakes Gourmet out of Malvern and Wayne, receive my seal of approval; their lavender vanilla cupcake smelled as good as it tasted. Homemade Goodies by Roz Bratt also stood out. It’s hard to believe Bratt’s baked goods are kosher; her red velvet option was simply divine.

After attendees’ appetites were satisfied, WAA presented a video on one of their many success stories, Sheila. She grew up with a father addicted to crack cocaine who would beat her mother. In her teens, Sheila left home and thereafter started dating a man who she thought was responsible and trustworthy. As time passed in their relationship he grew possessive, trying to control what she wore and which friends she could spend time with. One day a fight erupted from Sheila protesting his unjust demands and he beat her, breaking her arm and giving her a concussion. She went to WAA from a recommendation of a nurse when she was receiving treatment for her wounds. WAA was the turning point in her life. Sheila spoke with conviction and pride about WAA, its services and the employees who encouraged her to take classes. Sheila’s speech was inspiring, “They made me feel like it wasn’t my fault.” Sheila now considers herself a victor and not a victim. She’s making a better life for her and her son because of WAA and the good work they do every day with little fanfare and recognition.

Duane Morris was recognized and awarded for their services and commitment to WAA. Duane Morris has been a fervent supporter of WAA’s mission providing pro bono legal assistance, facility usage for training and meetings, financial and in-kind non-financial contributions and community service hours. Duane Morris LLP is a full-service law firm with more than 700 attorneys in 24 offices in the United States and internationally, offering innovative solutions to the legal and business challenges presented by today’s evolving global markets.

Women Against Abuse Inc. is one of the largest domestic violence programs in the country, serving more than 10,000 individuals each year through emergency housing, legal services, hotline counseling, education and advocacy. WAA operates the only comprehensive program in Philadelphia whose sole purpose is to assist victims of domestic violence and their children.

WAA recognizes that times are tough financially for many of us. Here are some stats to show that even a small donation goes a long way:

          $11.50 provides security for one day for one family in the shelter

          $33 provides one hour of counseling

          $62 provides the court advocacy to help one family stay in their home safely

          $66 provides after-school care, childcare, testing and resources for one child for one month

          $2 provides three meals a day for one person

Donate here: https://npo.networkforgood.org/Donate/Donate.aspx?npoSubscriptionId=1003033&code=Donate%20Now

For more information on WAA visit: http://www.womenagainstabuse.org

Two Featured Dinners in October

19 10 2010

Fork (306 Market) and Chifa (707 Chestnut) are both hosting excellent special event dinners this month that caught my eye. Chifa’s is a Weyerbacher Beer Dinner on Thursday, October 28th. They’ve been doing beer dinners once a month or so, for a few months, and they are very popular. The evening will begin with a ceviche paired with an IPA; pumpkin, duck, braised short ribs and ginger ice cream will pleasantly follow. Four beers paired with four courses for $65. Call for reservations 215-925-5555.

Fork takes a completely different direction to celebrate fall flavors, a Sicilian Wine Dinner on the 24th, featuring Fabrizia Lanza, who teaches at the world-renowned Anna Tasca Lanza Cooking School, which was founded by her mother. The menu will feature four courses of Sicilian cooking with wine pairings, from her Regaleali winery for $85. Call 215-625-9425 to reserve.

Sourdough Bread and Crab Louis at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Fran

13 10 2010

My sister was married this past weekend in Gualala, Ca. It’s about 2.5 hours north of San Fran which makes for a beautiful winding drive along the coast. Our first night we stayed in San Francisco where I enjoyed a delicious lunch of a huge crab louis salad and “Boston” clam chowder, as opposed to New England. I don’t think there’s any difference, the name simply references the city and not the entire region. I was wary about eating along Fisherman’s Wharf, knowing that the places there are mostly tourist jaunts, but we were starving and the crab and shrimp cocktail dishes in the to-go refrigerators outside each restaurant looked so good, we couldn’t pass them up.

The aggressive, yet friendly host at Sabella & La Torre’s corralled our party of 7 weary, yet excited travelers in. The Anchor Steam on draft was cold and fresh. The waiter was extremely attentive, friendly and helpful, “Is the crab on the salad all fresh?” “Yes, absolutely.” “Is it good?” “It’s delicious!” To start, the Boston Clam Chowder was very thick and full of clam and potato, but not much else. It needed lots of pepper, but other than that, my chowder craving for the San Fran trip was certainly met. The sourdough bread was warm and crispy on the outside and soft and light on the inside with that delicate sour tang. The calamari was deep-fried to a beautiful golden brown, with just the right amount of crunch. The calamari was large, fresh, and had a pleasing chew without being cumbersome.

My Crab Louis Salad was a crab salad to end all crab salads. It was a monster. It had to have a pound of crab meat loaded atop romaine with tomatoes. It was served simply with a lemon, cocktail sauce and Russian dressing-certainly not my favorite. With crab this fresh the dressing was unnecessary. This crab would have died in vain had I slathered Russian dressing all over it. I preferred tasting the delicious soft crab with a squeeze of lemon and a little cocktail sauce. At around 20 bucks two people could have easily shared one salad and definitely been full after soup and some bread. I definitely recommend Sabella & La Torre’s at Fisherman’s Wharf when you’re looking for fresh fish. Stay away from the fish and chips, apparently the halibut that they fry is the only frozen fish on the menu.

When you’re done at Fisherman’s Wharf head over to Pier 39 towards the west side in the back to see the sea lions sunning on the docks.