Pic-a-nic in the Park

Sarah and I have been planning on taking a nice afternoon and going on a picnic in Penn Treaty Park. [where:19125] We had discussed just bringing sandwiches (boring) or a roast chicken (time consuming and heavy). Sarah had the idea to do bruschetta because we have all of these awesome heirloom tomatoes from Greensgrow Farm in our neighborhood.

So, I seeded and chopped about six tomatoes of varying sizes (about four cups’ worth), tossed in three finely chopped cloves of garlic, the juice of one lemon, a quarter cup of good extra virgin olive oil, a splash of rice wine vinegar, some fresh basil and thyme from the herb garden, a handful or two of shredded mozzarella, and salt and pepper to taste. This went into the fridge while I grilled some olive oil-rubbed bread. I used some Italian baguette-sized bread cut on the bias to maximize surface area. The bread went on a cooling rack so they would stay nice and firm.

We packed up the bread and the bruschetta topping along with some fruit and cheese that we also bought at Greeensgrow and headed to the park on a beautiful late afternoon on Labor Day.

The complexity of the flavors in the heirloom tomatoes was a wonderful change from the standard red tomato. It had tart green finger tomatoes, semi-sweet reds and this awesomely sweet yellow tomato (it made Sarah and me remember that tomatoes are fruits). The bruschetta was visually appealing as well. The varying colors combined with the cheese and herbs excited the eyes as well as the taste buds.  I wish we had a camera so I could show you the beautiful colors.

We decided that this would be our picnic staple from now on.

This is, of course, vegetarian and it could be gluten free eaten with some GF bread. Also, I know you are saying, “This sounds yummy, but heirlooms are so pricey!” One, I would say that it is worth it for a time-to-time treat. And two, if you live in Philly, get yourself over to Greensgrow Farm on Cumberland Street in Fishtown/Port Richmond. They are only $1.75 per pound there, as opposed to the normal four to five dollars a pound most places that you go. We are won to the place and we plan to buy a share or half share next year so we can have their great produce all of the time.

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Spinach Salad with Feta and Pine Nuts

It’s true, I admit it: I’m obsessed with spinach salads. I can’t get enough. I’m forever thinking of delicious things to do to a bowl of baby spinach. I realize this obsession is a little strange, but since most of my food obsessions tend to involve things like duck fat or pork belly or ghee, a spinach obsession is probably a healthy thing!

I whipped this little salad up last night to accompany the tasty Whole Foods mushroom ravioli Joe was making. I just grabbed some things we had in the house, but it turned out to be marvelously tasty. It was so good I had another one later, while watching Jericho (excellent show, by the way), and packed one for lunch today. It’s that good. And it’s very simple to whip up.

Spinach Salad with Feta and Pine Nuts

Large handful of baby spinach, rinsed

Handful of pine nuts

A few tablespoons of crumbled feta cheese

Extra virgin olive oil (the best you can get)

Lemon juice

Pieces of leftover roast chicken (optional– use whatever you’ve got lying around)

Put the pine nuts in a dry pan and toast over medium heat until they are dark golden brown, but not burnt. They’ll be crunchy and release their oil, which is full of flavor. Crumble the feta over the spinach. Add the pine nuts, chicken, and olive oil and toss. Give it a few squirts of lemon juice and dig in. Repeat.

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Restaurant Week: Xochitl

For Restaurant Week, Sarah and I finally made it to Xochitl (pronounced So-cheet). Xochitl is an upscale Aztec Mexican on 2nd St. across from Headhouse Square in Old City. We had planned to go to this restaurant for some time and at $35 for a four-course meal this seemed like the perfect time. We were not disappointed.

The atmosphere is relaxing if a little cramped. We had a margarita and a beer at the bar while we waited for our table to free up. I could see coming to the bar for a few drinks and their freshly made guacamole. They have numerous types of tequila to sample as well as a good beer and wine list.

The prix fixe menu was divided into four courses: a soup, an appetizer, the main course and dessert. So let’s take each course one by one. Read the rest of this entry »

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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Beneluxx Tasting Room: School is IN!

Beneluxx is an unabashedly educational bar, devoted to teaching its customers/students to appreciate fine beer, wine, cheese and chocolate. These are the four food groups as far as Joe and I are concerned, so we were excited when we sought out this recently opened below-ground bar on a rainy Friday night. Mind you, this doesn’t take away from the fun.

The offerings fall into those four categories, plus a page of small dishes such as fondue, crepes, salads and pizzas. The menu gives detailed descriptions of all of its offerings and suggests some pairings (wine/cheese, beer/cheese, wine/chocolate, etc.). Better yet, it offers tasting sizes of its offerings, which encourages customers to try new beers, wines and cheeses, compare their flavors, and experiment with their own pairings. (And the tasting sizes come in beakers! Cute.) If you’ve always wondered why people make such a big deal about wine and cheese, this is a great place to start.

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Pennsylvania Omelettes with Fingerling Potatoes

I was going to call this a California omelette, since it’s all about the flavors of avocado and tomato, but then Joe pointed out that the tomatoes, cheese, eggs, potatoes and onions were all locally raised in Pennsylvania.  (The avocadoes are from Mexico, by way of Trader Joe’s, and they were mostly overripe.)  So Pennsylvania omelettes it is.

This is a great dish for a lazy Saturday brunch.  Really, this is how Saturdays should be spent.  The way I see, it, our foremothers and fathers in the union movement of the 1930s fought and sometimes died to win us the weekend, and we ought to enjoy it fully.  (Ditto for lunch breaks.)

By the way, don’t skimp on the tomatoes here, because the whole dish depends on their quality.  If you use fresh, ripe, organic tomatoes that are in season, you will not regret it.  Good cheese is also crucial here.  We used some amazingly sharp, funky Colby from the Headhouse Market.

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