Spinach Salad with Warm Bacon Dressing

This is a classic American salad and a real favorite of mine. We took the classic Fannie Farmer cookbook recipe (reprinted in Saveur here) and updated it a little. This is an easy, delicious gluten-free meal.

Spinach Salad with Warm Bacon Dressing

(serves 2)

2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

2 tsp. sugar

2 tbsp. plain yogurt

1 tsp. rice wine vinegar

7 tbsp. fresh lemon juice

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

6 strips bacon (thick slices are best)

1 bag of baby spinach, stemmed, washed, and dried

6–8 medium white mushrooms, sliced, with stems cut off

1 medium shallot, peeled and thinly sliced

2⁄3 cup vegetable oil

2 poached eggs*

1/4 cup banana chips

1. Combine garlic, sugar, yogurt, vinegar, lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste in a small bowl and let rest for 30 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, separate strips of bacon, then lay the bacon in a large skillet in a single layer. Cook over medium heat, turning occasionally, until browned and crisp, 10–15 minutes. Transfer bacon to paper towels to let drain. Pour off all but 2 tbsp. of the bacon grease and set skillet aside.

3. Put spinach, mushrooms, and shallots into a large salad bowl and set aside. Return skillet with rendered bacon grease to medium heat. Stir in oil and lemon–garlic mixture and heat until hot. Pour hot dressing over spinach salad and toss well. Coarsely crumble as much of the cooked bacon as you like and add it to the salad, saving any remaining bacon for another use. Top with banana chips and poached eggs.

*Poaching eggs is tricky. You should get the hang of it after a few tries, but if you really get discouraged, you can always go the classic route and chop up a few hard-boiled eggs. I recommend doing everything Alton Brown says, especially the bit about using fresh eggs. The texture, firmness and taste of farmer’s market eggs really can’t be beat.

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Six Month Anniversary Dinner: Fall Spiced Pork Chops with Spinach and Apple; Stuffed Heirloom Tomatoes

Sarah and I celebrated our six-month anniversary of marriage with a nice dinner and some wonderful home-brewed beer made by Sarah’s best friend Kara, which we aged for six months.

I was inspired by Ida Mae’s Bruncherie to do a fall pork chop dish. Theirs is applewood smoked but I do not have a smoker, so I had to improvise a bit. Earlier in the day we went to the Headhouse Market and bought two thick grass fed pork chops, some apples, heirloom tomatoes, some raw milk Parmesan cheese and some spinach.

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Bar Ferdinand: Tops in Tapas

Sarah and I love tapas. Eating samples from multiple plates is our favorite way to eat. You can relax, take your time and enjoy the food, what you’re drinking and good conversation. A number of months ago we tried Bar Ferdinand in Northern Liberties. It was great and it had just opened recently. We went back a week ago and had an equally great, if not better experience.

First off, Bar Ferdinand is open late. They serve dinner until midnight and the bar is open until 2AM. What’s more, they have a late-night happy hour between 9PM and 11PM. Normally, this means $3 sangrias and $4 draught beers. The beer selection is very good, featuring Belgians and microbrews. The wine list is extensive with a nice amount of selections by the glass. One of the things we miss about New York is the ability to get good meals late in the evening. Bar Ferdinand satisfies this need for us.

On to the food.

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Ida Mae’s Bruncherie: Not just for brunch anymore.

Ida Mae's

I’ve been a fan of Ida Mae’s since it opened: before, even, since we live around the corner and waited impatiently for a year or so before it finally opened. We saw the deliveries from Greensgrow, our neighborhood farm, and we watched the space transform. We attended the opening day reception, and watched our Fishtown neighbors pile in to add their good wishes to the chorus. I’m not unbiased here. I really want Ida Mae’s to succeed.

So you can imagine our trepidation the first time we stopped in for breakfast, and again last night when we first tried the new dinner service: what if it sucks? What if it doesn’t live up to our high hopes?

I’m happy to report that Ida Mae’s does indeed fulfill our hopes for it. If you’re not from the neighborhood, it’s worth the trip to Fishtown, especially for dinner.

The space is cheerful and clean, with high tables, a long breakfast counter, and a backroom cozily decorated with stained glass and a fireplace. Coffee mugs feature Ida Mae’s logo, a shamrock, and some seriously good coffee.

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Restaurant Week at Django

It’s Restaurant Week in Philadelphia, and Joe invited me out to dinner for a Date Night (which is something we old married folks like to do every so often). Django has a great reputation as one of the best BYOBs in the city– and in Philly, the BYOB capital of the east coast, that’s saying something. They’re part of the Buy Fresh, Buy Local alliance as well, so we headed to 4th and South, bottle of cabernet sauvignon in hand, to give them a try.

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Mofongo!

I was excited about this dish.  It’s a Puerto Rican side dish of African origin, basically a cake of fried plantains, chicharrones and garlic all mashed together and smothered in delicious tomato sauce.  When we lived in Ridgewood, Queens, we had a couple of Puerto Rican and Dominican places down the block that served wonderful, wonderful versions of this.  (If you’re in the area, try Jorge’s on Seneca Ave., right under the Seneca M stop.  It’s the one with the purple neon lights in the windows.)  You can also get it with chicken, or with whole garlicky shrimp on the side.  They’re all delicious, and in our neighborhood the going rate for a cake of mofongo bigger than the two of us could finish was about $3.50.  Did I mention it’s gluten free?  I must have eaten this stuff three times a week when I first went on the gluten-free diet.   We often had it on the side with some pollo a la plancha and rice and beans, but just as often we’d eat it on our own.  Filling! Cheap! Gluten-free!

Mofongo is probably the dish Joe and I have missed the most since moving to Philly.  We tried a $15 version at Mixto but were unimpressed, so we decided to make our own.  I looked up a couple of recipes but didn’t find anything quite like I remembered, so we decided to pretty much wing it.

Mofongo:

3 green plantains, sliced diagonally

6 cloves garlic

1/2 cup crumbled chicharrones, fried fatback or bacon, cooked

Olive oil and salt to taste

Fry the plantain slices until they soften.  Crush garlic and grind in mortar and pestle with olive oil and salt.  Add all ingredients to food processor and pulse in short bursts until the plantains are in small pieces.  (Do not puree.  If it’s a paste, you’ve gone too far.)  Pack tightly into a bowl or small ramekins to shape.  Warm in oven on low heat until ready to serve.

Sauce:

3 cloves of garlic

2 Cups of chopped cherry tomatoes (I used green, yellow and red)

One medium onion chopped

Two chilli peppers or japalenos roasted, peeled, seeded and finely chopped. 

One cup of chicken stock

Four scallions chopped

Salt and Pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in a high-sided pan or pot on medium high heat. Add onion, saute for a couple of minutes. Add garlic and saute until soft but not brown. Add tomatoes and stir. Cook for a couple of minutes and add the scallions and chillies. Reduce heat to medium and cook for 10 minutes. Add chicken stock. Increase heat to high. When it begins to bubble, reduce heat to medium low and simmer for another ten minutes. Use a stick blender or pour liquid into a blender. Blend until you have a thick but soupy consistency. Put back on stove on low heat and add salt and pepper to taste. At this point you could add a bit more stock if is is too thick. You want it to be easily pourable yet it should adhere to the mofongo.  Also, you can cut down on the chillies if you don’t want it blazing hot.

Our execution:

We bought three green plantains, but our first surprise was that two of them ripened really quickly.  OK, so we’d be unorthodox and mix green (savory) and yellow (sweet) plantains in our mofongo.  So far, so good.  Joe pounded some chicken cutlets flat, rubbed them with adobo seasoning and threw them on the grill.  He fried up some bacon and some fatback (since we can no longer just go to the corner butcher for a cone of hot chicharrones), and threw together a tomato sauce.

Meanwhile, I sliced the plantains and fried them until they got soft and a little bit brown.  Then I attempted to mash them with a masher, but they just got stuck in the grooves of the masher, so I threw them in the Cuisinart with the pork.  I muddled some garlic, olive oil and salt with the mortar and pestle and threw that in as well.  A few pulses later, it looked like mofongo.  It smelled like mofongo.  And it tasted like mofongo.  Score!

Since we didn’t really have a good mold for a big mofongo cake, I pressed the mixture into ramekins to make little single-serving cakes.  We served them piled with Joe’s improvised tomato sauce and some chopped fresh scallions, and the chicken, for a bright and colorful meal.  (Sadly, my camera ran out of batteries!) The sauce was much, much spicier than the thin, savory sauce we loved in Ridgewood, and the plantains were sweeter.  It wasn’t exactly like the Ridgewood version, but it was damn tasty.

And then I had a nasty allergic reaction, the details of which I’ll spare you.  I have a long history of negative and scary interactions between my immune system and my gut and have been diagnosed with all sorts of things (see the FAQ for a Cliffs Notes version), and this was the first bad experience I’ve had since my recent stay in the hospital.  I made it through half a serving of mofongo and then was pretty much destroyed for the night.  I’m not sure which ingredient declared war on my body, but I’ll definitely be discussing this at my next doctor’s appointment.

But!  The good news: if you’re not a freak like me, this dish is quite tasty, and much easier to make than I expected it to be. 

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Carolina Fried Corn Cakes

This is a classic recipe from the Horne side of the family in Backswamp, North Carolina.  These corn cakes were always my absolute favorite growing up.  Grammy made them all the time, and when her sister, Aunt Reba, would visit I’d always beg her to make them– she’s the one who taught Grammy.  They’re really simple and cheap– this is what gastronomes call ‘peasant food’.  If corn and pigs are what you have, this is a lot cheaper and easier than baking bread!  They go with just about anything– and, added bonus, they’re gluten free and dairy free!

Ingredients:

Water

1 cup or so cornmeal (regular or roasted.  Grammy brings ‘real cornmeal’ back with her every time she and Grandpa visit the kinfolk in NC.)

You can increase/decrease the amount of cornmeal depending on how much you want.  Slowly add water, stirring, until you have a thin, soupy batter.   If you think it’s too thin, it’s probably just right. 

Heat oil in a pan.  (Bacon fat in there wouldn’t hurt the flavor, either, especially if you’re having these with breakfast.  I’m pretty sure that when Grammy was a kid these were cooked in lard.)  The cast iron pan is good for this.  When it’s nice and hot, spoon batter into the pan.  One spoonful should give you a nice little 3-inch cake– you don’t want to go too big.  The batter will spread out and the oil will bubble up through it, creating a very thin, lacy pancake.  You can probably fit three in the pan at a time.  Cook until golden brown.  Keep an eye on these, since they cook very quickly.  What you’re after here is a thin, delicate pancake that’s crispy and brown on the edges and spongy and golden in the middle.  (If you use roasted cornmeal, it will be darker in color.)  When crispy, lift out with a slotted spatula and move to a plate with a folded paper towel on it, to soak up the oil.  Sprinkle kosher salt over them immediately– it will be soaked up quickly.

In my family we traditionally eat these as a side dish with dinner, along with meat and a vegetable.  They’re also really good in the morning with eggs and bacon (and if you want to be unorthodox, some chipotle sauce, for which I will give you the recipe sometime this weekend).  They’re easy and quick and quite adaptable, so you can get creative and serve them however you want– with beans and rice, with ceviche, as tostadas…. the possibilities are endless.

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