03
May
10

Lovely Old Thyme

During the summer in the Chestnut Hill neighborhood of Philadelphia, there are several options for good produce. The top two options are the Chestnut Hill Farmers’ Market and the Chestnut Hill Growers’ Market. The farmers’ market is open year-round and I do enjoy stopping there on occasion for fresh meats, fish and similar wares. I enjoy the prepared food from several merchants, in particular the Mexican food stand.

Relatively newer to Chestnut Hill is the Growers’ Market, which brings relatively local farmers into the city to sell their products. It is a small market, but what they may lack in quantity, they definitely make up for in quality. By shopping here, you are getting good, local produce and the quality of the meats are far superior as most of the animals are grass-fed and produce healthier products. You can read more facts about grass-fed meat products at Eat Wild.

So yesterday was the opening day for the Chestnut Hill Growers’ Market and I made a quick stop to see what was new.

At the first stand they had vegetable plants available for folks that may want to grow their own tomatoes or other vegetables. Being an apartment dweller, I can’t take advantage of those, but I did pick up a pretty thyme plant that I can put on my kitchen counter to catch some rays.

Another stop I made was to the Breakaway Farms, offering grass fed meat products. I picked up a package of their pork bacon. Higher priced than your grocery store fare, yes, but the quality is phenomenal and well worth it. It had a nice amount of fat and a good, meaty texture.

I used some bacon in my linguine yesterday, but I used several slices this morning to go along with my scrambled eggs. The breakfast was fabulous, as after frying my bacon, I used the rendered fat to cook my scrambled eggs, making for a wonderfully delicious breakfast of bacon and eggs that was full of flavor.

At another one of the produce stands, I picked up green garlic, which is basically immature garlic and have a more mild flavor than full grown garlic. They look like scallions, but obviously have a different flavor.

There is also a goat milk and cheese stand that sells unique products. I tried samples and intend to purchase next time. One of my favorite stands in this market is the guy that sells the most beautiful tomatoes you’ll ever see.

My first visit to the Growers Market was finished and I intended to make my favorite summer salad tonight as a work lunch for the week.

This evening I went to put together my very Italian seeming summer tomato salad. First it was the tomatoes.

I chopped, chopped, chopped. These tomatoes are so super sweet and are perfect just on their own in a salad such as this. I mixed the chopped green garlic into the tomatoes, along with some fresh basil that I picked up in Reading Terminal Friday. I tossed in a bunch of olive oil, of course and these days I always chop in some anchovies.

Finally, I put in some chopped chunks of mozzarella cheese. I went with a regular grocery store brand this time. Occasionally I go with fresh mozzarella.

And not until I serve it do I toss in chunks of Italian bread. I intended to go to a good bakery today, but didn’t get a chance and just went with Italian bread from Acme.

To finish it all up, I toss all my ingredients with a tiny sprinkle of kosher salt and put in the fridge to let the tomatoes and mozzarella absorb all that flavor overnight.

So if you are nearby, the Chestnut Hill Growers’ Market is certainly worth a stop. Even if you aren’t, it’s worth a visit. While you’re here for that, check out Penzey’s or other good places in the Chestnut Hill area.

02
May
10

With true elegance and bacon

I made a relatively easy simple dinner this evening with leftovers for a few nights. It was a recipe for Fettucine with peas, asparagus and pancetta from this month’s Bon Appetit magazine. Instead of using pancetta, though, I got some fresh bacon from the Chestnut Hill Growers Market (which started up again for the season this weekend, a slightly more detailed blog to follow tomorrow about it). The quality of bacon was fabulous and worked just as well as pancetta would have.

So I got all my vegetables yesterday from Iovine’s, but asparagus isn’t too abundant yet so sadly its quality wasn’t as good as I would usually like. I followed the recipe to the T. The only addition I made was adding some red pepper flakes when I brought it to the table.

It was a nice, seemingly fancy Saturday night meal and the San Pelligrino I had with it made it feel fancier. Now I’m settling in for the evening with a new limited edition Haagen-Dazs flavor, Midnight Cookies & Cream. So heavenly.

01
May
10

With a Cajun flair

Last night I finally had time to make myself a nice dinner after what felt like forever. In the afternoon I started getting an inkling for seafood, mostly for the crab/shrimp variety. Though after thinking about what I wanted to throw together for a delicious, easy dinner, I decided I wanted some kind of white fish. When I got to the fish counter at John Yi in Reading Terminal, I decided on catfish to make, what else, but Cajun catfish. And since I still had that craving for some type of shellfish, I grabbed half a pound of shrimp. At home I had potatoes that I planned to roast with spices and I figured I should get some type of fruit & vegetable. Since I was in a rush to get to the train, I went to the smaller produce market, OK Lee and got a bag of fresh spinach and a whole pineapple for $1 (yes, $1, and it was in great shape too).

So home I went. First I needed to put my potatoes in to roast since they were going to take awhile. After chopping them into decent sized pieces, I tossed them with olive oil and my own spice mix that included chili powder, coarse salt, fresh ground pepper, sweet paprika, and adobo. I roasted them for 30 minutes in a 450 degree oven to get them crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside.

Next I needed to work some magic with the shrimp. With them, I just wanted them as a snack type thing alongside my fish. Nothing really as a main feature. So after peeling them, I tossed them with a little olive oil and a nice dousing of Penzey’s Cajun seasoning and into my frying pan they went to get cooked through till they were no longer pink. After they were finished, I drained them on a plate with a paper towel to absorb excess oil.

For the catfish, I had several options. Last night after rinsing & drying the catfish fillet, I put some oil on the fish and coated in a flour/Cajun seasoning mixture. I still had some oil in my pan from the shrimp, but I added a little extra before throwing my fish in. As the fish fried, I broke it into smaller pieces.

Meanwhile, I didn’t do much interesting with the spinach. As I have said, I am a nerd that actually loves spinach. I simply boiled it in water and had it with a little salt. My pineapple had been cut up earlier with what I consider one of my cooler gadgets, my pineapple slicer. Not to sound like an ad, but if you love pineapples like I do, but hate cutting them, one of these is a godsend:

So a great, big dinner was served. Tonight when I made my other catfish fillet, I did it in a much more Southern style by soaking it in milk before dipping it in a mixture of cornmeal and Cajun seasoning and frying it till it got black and crispy. But, last night was the great, big dinner.


and with the pineapple:

25
Apr
10

A little taste of heaven

I had a really rough week at work and wasn’t really interested in doing any kind of baking or cooking today. Instead, though, I thought that, like usual, the process of baking might relax me and the resulting product would be nice for what will probably be another rough week.

I decided that if I did any baking, it would be something really easy and low-key. Something basic like chocolate chip cookies. Briefly I was going to try plain ol’ chocolate cookies with white chocolate chips and trying to spice them up, literally, with some chili powder. Though after a quick poke around my Martha Stewart Cookie cookbook, I decided to use up these white chocolate chips I have to make double chocolate chunk cookies. Luckily I had all the required ingredients in the house. Martha Stewart’s cookie recipes always vary from the overly complex to the simple. Luckily these were just your basic drop cookies, and the chunks comprised of walnuts, coconut and the white chocolate chips. The only way I strayed from Martha’s recipe for these was by adding a hearty sprinkle of cinnamon as I always like a spike of that with my chocolate.

So they’re nice, yummy and full of good stuff and I will most definitely be making these again.

To make this post slightly more interesting, this was when Monica became known as the Candy Lady in her building and people said her candy was a little taste of heaven.

19
Apr
10

Wait, I wasn’t supposed to put beef in the trifle!


Before going into my post, this whole storyline is from one of my favorite Friends episodes and I was glad I was able to sneak it into my blog. Everything about it, hilarious. Especially the fact that Joey was glad to eat the trifle that no one else finished.

Anyway, so after frosting my cupcakes for the BBQ yesterday, I had a few sad, frosting-less cupcakes. Some friends suggested maybe a trifle and this was pretty convenient, considering I had a package of blackberries I didn’t know what to do with. Of course since I only had 4 cupcakes, it wasn’t going to be a big trifle and I didn’t really look at recipes until I’d been to the grocery store today. So my trifle ended up being a “what do I have in my pantry” type of deal and “who cares if it’s a proper trifle” type thing.

I broke my leftover cupcakes into a small bowl and soaked them in some amaretto for about a half hour. Meanwhile, I rinsed my blackberries in a colander. The one ingredient I did get in the grocery store was some heavy cream to make real whipped cream. So whip the cream I did and sweetened it with some vanilla sugar and a drop of vanilla extract. Real whipped cream is like heaven compared to the stuff from the can or Cool Whip.

19
Apr
10

Thrilla Vanilla

Besides the Israeli couscous salad, I made some vanilla cupcakes for my friend’s BBQ. I was originally going to make very chocolate cupcakes, but I was in Starbucks Thursday where they have their delicious vanilla cupcakes. So, Starbucks inspired me to switch from chocolate to vanilla. To make them tastier than plain vanilla, I thought I would kick it up several notches.

The cake recipe I went with came from Mark Bittman’s How To Cook Everything. I always love yellow cake, so I took his cue. To me, though, the cake came out a little drier than I would have liked (though some of my friends that enjoyed my cupcakes may disagree). I did add extras to make it strongly vanilla. I used my favorite vanilla sugar from Penzey’s, half a vanilla bean, also from Penzey’s as well as the vanilla extract.

As for the frosting, since I still had cream cheese in the fridge, I *was* going to make a cream cheese based frosting, but I thought for this type of cupcake, a buttercream would be better. I got my base recipe also from Mark Bittman, but gave it a huge punch of vanilla with vanilla sugar and the other half of my vanilla bean. Frosting was so tasty that I wanted to keep some just to have, but I needed to give my cupcakes some love. To frost the cupcakes, I took my first attempt at using a pastry bag. They looked kinda pretty, but I will definitely need to practice with the bag. I got frosting all over my hands and had a hard time getting the control I wanted. Nevertheless, the cupcakes were great, if I may say so and I was glad to move a bunch yesterday.

18
Apr
10

You’re such a couch couscous!

I was planning to have a picnic with friends on Saturday, but because of some rainy, cloudy weather, I postponed it till a later date. By that time, though, I had already collected the fresh ingredients to make an interesting Israeli couscous salad I saw featured in the current Vegetarian Times in an article about the Horizons Vegan Cafe in Philadelphia. Luckily I was also planning to go to a BBQ at a friend’s house Saturday night, so I did have somewhere to bring my fares.

I selected the recipe because it featured a variety of delightful vegetables along with saffron, which I always welcome the opportunity to use. One of my favorite ingredients, which I don’t get to use often enough, was a gorgeous bulb of fennel.

For pretty much all my veggies for this salad, I ended up gathering them from Whole Foods. Though never my first choice, I always prefer their produce to produce from the regular supermarket. The fennel was perfect and since I was only using the bulb for my salad, I got to snack on the stalks. For those not familiar with fennel, it has a licorice-y flavor and occasionally growing up, and I think it is done in many Italian homes as I have heard about it here and there, we would just have pieces of fresh fennel on the table as an appetizer or with a rich dinner as something refreshing. So using it in a recipe gives me the opportunity to snack on fresh fennel, which always makes me happy.
Besides the fennel, the recipe called for leeks, which were surprisingly not-too-sandy from Whole Foods. Leeks, as is well known, are usually sandy vegetables and require lots of washing to get rid of all that grit. Also to the mix was some arugula, garlic, frozen peas and plum tomatoes.
So as I waited for my Israeli couscous to boil up, I stirred my veggies in a olive oil coated pan. After draining my Israeli couscous, I added it in with the vegetables, some crumbles of saffron, sea salt, freshly ground pepper and some vegetable broth. I let the mix marry for several minutes and absorb all the flavors. To finish off the dish, I added in some kalamata olives, which gave the salad a briney, delicate kick. It’s a nice, warm salad, though I find it’s delicious at room temperature as well.




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