Tuesday, January 29, 2008


This weekend, I returned to my quest for a food repertoire. I also indulged one of my (many) other great loves: leftovers. I find leftovers incredibly useful. I most often cook with the expectation that I will have at least one lunch left over at the end of it. With my new busier schedule as I pick up shifts at the Café, I’ve found that weekends are a great time for cooking up a mess, throwing it into the fridge, and eating it for the next couple of days.

Sunday afternoon, after a delightful brunch of yogurt parfaits and ginger pancakes made by the lovely Miss C. (of Not Quite Vegan fame), found me chopping broccoli and draining chick peas in my kitchen. I had a little over an hour until I needed to run off to the Café for my evening shift. I had returned to my scant cookbook collection, looking for something that was interesting yet simple, healthy and flavorful. I thought that this recipe for lemony broccoli and chickpea rigatoni would fit the bill quite nicely. I found it in the Food and Wine Annual Cook Book: An Entire Year of Recipes 2007. I think I found this on sale at a Barnes and Noble one day and bought it on impulse. The book is pretty, but most of the recipes are pretty impractical. I’m sure I’ll give it some more chances at some point, but I’ll probably not return to it any time soon.

This dish, crated by Manhattan chef Marc Meyer, is indeed simple and flavorful. There’s quite a lot of olive oil—the chickpeas are soaked in olive oil and lemon, while the broccoli is also sautéed in more oil. But the end product was quite nice. The rigatoni provided a lovely little hide-out for lemon-laden chick peas. I’m not very fond of chick peas, but I think I like them in this dish. The real winner, however, is the broccoli. First blanched and then lightly sautéed to tenderness and peak sweetness, the florets soaked in both the lemon and the olive oil, so each bite is full and delicious. The broccoli approaches sublime heights of broccoli-lemon-oily goodness when sprinkled with parmesan cheese. The dish has reheated rather well, so I think it is a good lunch choice.

On other food fronts, I am simultaneously reading The United States of Arugula (by David Kamp) and Marcella Hazan’s Classic Italian Cooking. My biggest problem is which to read at any given time. I suspect that this blog will be Italian-cuisine heavy for a little while….

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Salad days are here again

It has been a busy time, here in Philadelphia. Amidst sautéing peppers and onions, boiling Brussels sprouts, and braising kale (so good!), I started a new job. I should say, an additional job. In addition to my boring office job, I have embarked on a part-time job in the Café, near the university I work at.

This isn’t just any café, like Starbucks or even Bucks County Coffee (a local chain here in PA). There are, at the moment, only 2 locations, both located in the University City area of West Philly or in Center City (a third is slated to open in June). It centers around Italian-style sandwiches and made-to-order salads. There’s also an espresso bar, to fuel the caffeine addiction of the student body. The owner is a local man, and he’s super nice and committed to producing a good product for his customers. And get this: the Café uses all natural and organic products, including free range chicken, organic dressings, and locally produced cheeses. Even the chips and snack foods they sell are natural. This Café is pretty serious about patronizing independent businesses. Be still, my beating heart.

I’ve only worked a couple of shifts—but the other employees are friendly, the restaurant busy, and the tasks generally pretty easy. I have years of food service experience behind me and it actually feels good to get back to it. Tying my hair up in a bandana, throwing on an apron, dashing to and fro with precariously balanced containers in my hands. You’ll most likely find me behind the counter throwing sandwiches on to the grill to heat them up (and burning my fingers as well) or making salads as huge waves of people roll in from the semi-Arctic January air.

Here’s how we make salads: people pick up a container of either romaine or spring mix from the shelves and a little slip of paper. They then circle the ingredients they want, the type of dressing, and whether they want it tossed or chopped and for here or to go. We have your normal salad fixings—carrots, tomatoes, sunflower seeds, cheddar cheese. And we also have really exciting ingredients: ricotta salata, Portobello mushrooms, balsamic chicken, chick peas, lentils, capers, mango, dried pineapple, soy nuts, beets, radishes, and pepperocinis. That’s not all. The salad dressings are absolutely divine—a universal favorite is the rosemary balsamic vinaigrette, but the thai sesame lime and the soy ginger are quite popular as well. I can’t help but critique people’s choices in salad fixings—it really is great fun. There’s the guys who want both kinds of chicken and cheddar cheese with romaine, and the girls who want spring mix, chick peas, and lentils with no dressing at all. Then there’s everything in the middle. The combinations that people come up with! Whew—it is almost exhausting to think about.

The thing I just cannot wrap my around is chopped salads. A light chop, sure, I get that. But some of these people (girls—mostly young, college aged women, to be honest) want these things chopped within an inch of their salad-y lives. Suddenly, what was looking like a very pleasant salad with fresh mozzarella and chicken has been turned into a strange looking mass of tiny pieces of unidentifiable food. My coworkers said it’s a pretty major fad in the salad world. I don’t think I understand it. Any insights, my loyal readers?

Friday, January 4, 2008


So, the winter holidays have come and gone in a flurry of vacation, fun, and even a little snow. Oh, and food. A lot of food.

I ate ham and biscuits, corn soufflé, and fried chicken at a Winter Solstice bonfire. Those were washed down by gin and tonics that were a tad too cold for the evening. I ate homemade pesto, organic cheese, kale, and other delightful foods at my dad’s house—all the foods that remind me of my childhood and adolescence. Then there was my mother’s potato latkes a couple of weeks too late for Chanukah. And on Christmas day, there were pancakes with dried beef gravy, sauerkraut with pork, stewed tomatoes, mashed potatoes, and ferociously spiked eggnog.

And that’s not all! There was also chicken and white bean chili on Boxing Day and milk shakes on New Year’s Eve. And lasagana, peppermint stick ice cream, and homemade hard cider in Connecticut. Oh, and could I forget the cheddar cheese and apples, and the creamy-smooth gruyere and crackers?

All in all, good eating.

I came home to Philadelphia after ten days away and was genuinely at a loss for a little while. What did I want to eat? What did I want to cook?

The answer: Brussels sprouts. I’m obsessed with Brussels sprouts. Last night I washed a handful of them and sliced them while sweet onions sweated over low heat until they were translucent. Then I added the sprouts with a splash of water and let them cook until they were tender and so incredibly sweet. Then I served them up with a side of spaghetti (liberally tossed with herbs de Provence), sprinkled with fontina, asiago, and parmesan cheese. So delicious.

The key to good Brussels sprouts is to not overcook them. Overcooking not only causes bland and mushy sprouts, but also deprives them of their not inconsiderable nutrients. I liked my dish from last night mostly because it was a nice—but beautifully simple—variation on normal steamed Brussels sprouts. I think the recipe could be tweaked by using shallots, for a more delicate onion taste, or a splash of white wine instead of water.