The Great Watermelon Challenge

So, I was in Trader Joe’s grocery shopping and I saw that they had these small watermelons for sale. I know that Sarah isn’t a big fan but even if she didn’t eat any I could probably eat one of these small ones. So, I bought it and put it in the fridge. When Sarah came home and saw the watermelon she challenged me.  “Make me like watermelon!  That is your mission!” she said.

OK. So now it was on. I had to come up with something. One night when Sarah said she wanted something light I went to work. I made soy and honey marinated chicken breast salad with red onions and watermelon. And for dessert, I made a watermelon granita with Limoncello on the side.

For the salad I made a raspberry vinaigrette in which to marinate the onions. For the vinaigrette:

1/2 cup raspberries (fresh or frozen)

1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

1 tbsp rice wine vinegar

Olive oil

Juice of one lime

Salt and pepper

Combine all ingredients except olive oil in a blender or food processor. Gradually add the olive oil until it comes together to the desired consistency.

Slice one red onion into rings, place in a bowl and pour the vinaigrette over the onions. Allow to marinate for an hour or longer.

For the chicken marinade:

1/4 cup of canola oil

Juice of one lime

2 tbsp dark soy sauce

2 tbsp regular soy sauce

2 tbsp honey

1 inch of ginger root sliced

Salt and pepper

Stir ingredients together and add chicken breasts. Coat and marinate for an hour or so.

Shake the chicken of excess marinade and cook on the stove top on medium high heat. Cook 2-3 minutes on each side until the sugars in the marinade begin to brown. Transfer to a baking dish and finish in a 350 degree oven for 10-15 minutes. Remove from oven, cool for five minutes and slice into strips on the bias.

Construct the salad by laying down a bed of arugula. Top with the marinated onions, cubes of watermelon, the chicken and some of the vinaigrette.

For the granita, add 3-4 cups of watermelon, juice of one lime and some pomegranate syrup to a blender. Blend until smooth and slowly add in 1/3 cup of simple syrup (1/3 cup of sugar dissolved in 1/3 of boiling water and cooled for at least 10 minutes). Strain through a strainer pressing the solids through. Pour into a baking dish and put in the freezer for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Every half hour scrape and stir the granita until fully frozen. Serve in martini glasses with Limoncello served on the side in vodka or shot glasses.

Sarah was happy with the dishes. I was happy because I can add watermelon to a growing list of foods that Sarah will eat because of me.

Both dishes are gluten and dairy free.

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Dandeen’s Cookie Recipes: Sauerkraut-Raisin Drops (really) and Snickerdoodles

My great-grandmother Dandeen would have been 101 this Christmas.

Her friends and family called her Dandeen, but her name was Retaw Snyder McCoy, and she passed away last spring at the age of 99. She grew up in western Pennsylvania, as did her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, but moved away when I was little– first to Florida to soak up the sun, then, widowed and no longer able to see, to Vallejo, CA to live with family. I used to love visiting her in Largo as a child. We didn’t do much, just talked– she’d let my hair out of its tight ponytail and brush it, and we’d eat cookies, play Uno and talk. She never made me eat anything I didn’t like, and she had the greatest stories, about the massive snowstorms they used to get when she was young, or the trouble my grandpa got into as a kid.

It’s been more than a year since she died, but this Christmas, she was everywhere. I kept running across little pieces of Dandeen‘s life in unexpected places– a photo here, a crocheted afghan there. She kept popping up in conversations. And then I starting going through my mom’s recipe box.

The recipe box is much older than I am (I’m 27), and it’s filled with recipes handwritten on stationery from long-gone local print shops, yellowed newspaper clippings and typewritten index cards. I found a letter from Dandeen and Pap-Pap (that’s my great-grandfather) to my mom asking how baby Sarah was doing, and I also found this recipe. A note in Dandeen‘s handwriting reads:

These are for Dusty’s sweet tooth.

Both real good.

I don’t frost the cookies.

(Dusty is my dad– this was before my parents divorced.)

I wasn’t brave enough to make this, because I hate sauerkraut with the deepest of passions. Even more than I hate pickles. Yes, I realize that rinsing the sauerkraut will drain it of its flavor, leaving it to act as a moisturizing agent– like cake recipes that use yogurt or applesauce, for example. I still can’t get close enough to a bowl of sauerkraut without gagging to make this recipe. Sorry. But I have to say I’m curious– so if any of you dear, brave readers want to know more about Pittsburgh’s German culinary heritage, please, make these and let me know how it turns out! Click through for two recipes. Read the rest of this entry »

Philly Bargain: The Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College

This past Saturday Sarah and I went to the Restaurant School for dinner. She had a tough week and needed to be treated. We had often thought about checking this place out, with its $21 three-course prix fixe for the European Courtyard French Menu. For those who don’t know, the Restaurant School is a culinary institute between 42nd and 43rd on Walnut St. in West Philly [where: 19104]. In addition to the school itself, it has two restaurants, a bakery and a market with sandwiches. The restaurants and the stores are run by the students under supervision from instructors. There are some rough edges, but overall we had a good time and a good meal. Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

Irish Cream

For about 15 years now, it has been a tradition of mine to make homemade Irish Cream for family and friends. An old friend gave me the recipe, which I’ve tweaked here and there over the years. It doesn’t have the shelf life of commercial Irish Creams like Bailey’s. It should last a couple of weeks if you manage not to drink it over that period of time. In my humble opinion, the homemade variety is creamier and more flavorful.

One thing. Yes, this is made with raw eggs. I know some people are a bit squeamish about that but if you use fresh eggs it should be fine. Plus, the whiskey acts as a preservative. But if you must leave the eggs out, add a bit more heavy cream and blend a little longer.

Here are the ingredients:

2 eggs

1 cup heavy cream

1 cup Irish Whiskey

1 can of sweetened condensed milk

1 tbsp instant coffee (one of its few uses) You could let a couple tablespoons of dark roast coffee steep in a couple tablespoons of water overnight. Strain out the grounds and use the liquid. For me, since it is not a central flavor, the instant coffee works fine.

1 tbsp chocolate syrup

1 tbsp vanilla extract

1 tbsp almond extract

Just add all ingredients into a blender and blend at high speed for 30-45 seconds. You can serve right away but it will taste even better then next day.

I like it over ice or as a creamer in coffee. Enjoy!

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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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Pound Cake with Lemon Curd

pound cake

Oh, pound cake, you buttery temptress.  So satisfying, yet so versatile.  You’re dessert, breakfast, a coffee break snack.  You’re so easy to make, yet so often you’re served dry and crumbly.  Can I do you justice? 

The good news is that Mollie Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook, that venerable friend of vegetarians, has a beautiful pound cake recipe.  And my favorite cooking guru Alton Brown has a wonderful recipe for lemon curd that goes with it beautifully.  Lemon curd, if you’re not familiar with it, is a tart, lemony custard that has many, many applications, my favorite of which is as a topping for pound cake. 

Read the rest of this entry »