Recession Food: Emergency Recipes

So the economy is crashing and burning, and with oil pushing $150 a barrel, it’s unlikely that food prices will drop, or even plateau, anytime soon.  Most people are struggling to get by (link via What to Eat), and food banks are struggling to keep up with demand as hunger increases among the working poor.

As you might expect, the food media is following suit by publishing lots of money-saving tips.  We’re encouraged to pack our lunches, stop buying prepared foods, eat legumes instead of meat and use coupons wisely– good ideas all.  Our grandparents survived the Depression, and our generation has a lot to learn from them.

But what do you eat when you’re really, really broke?  When you’re down to the change in your couch cushions, what’s for dinner?  Is Taco Bell the only option?

Well, readers, my dear husband and I are card-carrying members of the Working Poor, and we faced this question very regularly in college and then during some lean years trying to survive in New York City.  Since Joe in particular is a master at making something from nothing, we’ve amassed some lovely food-emergency recipes to share with you.  Well… lovely might be pushing it, but they’ll get you through the day.   Here are our top five day-before-payday meals. 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 »

Steak Frites at Les Halles: The Cookbook vs. The Restaurant

Diana, Joe, me and Jamie at Les Halles

Regular readers of the Real Potato know that I’m a fan of chef/author/restauranteur/travel host Anthony Bourdain. I like his philosophy, I like his show, I like his writing. But until this month, I had yet to answer the most important question anyone can ask about a chef: How’s his food?

The short answer is: very, very good.

Joe and I had a lot of fun finding out for ourselves this January. Our method was to buy the Les Halles Cookbook and make a recipe, then head to New York to sample the real thing at Les Halles on Park Avenue South. All in the name of science, of course. The sacrifices I make for the sake of my readers! Hee.

We chose, for our romantic anniversary dinner, Filet of Beef, Sauce Porto with Roasted Shallots. Read the rest of this entry »

Five reasons you should be a Tony Bourdain fan.

nasty bits

So last Friday, I finally joined the 21st century and started using Google Reader. I added some Philly events blogs, and the first thing that popped up was an announcement that Anthony Bourdain would be speaking for free at the Vine St. library the following day. I’ve been a fan of Bourdain’s since his first book, Kitchen Confidential, and have since enjoyed both of his TV shows, A Cook’s Tour and, currently, No Reservations. So I changed my plans (thank you, Diana!), grabbed my copy of Bourdain’s new essay collection, The Nasty Bits, and joined an absurdly long line in the library basement to wait for a seat.

Bourdain didn’t disappoint– despite being exhausted from his book tour and ready to go home to his wife and baby in New York, he gave a heartfelt and witty talk urging his fans to get passports, see the world, and open their minds to new ideas, foods and cultures. He answered lots of questions from the audience, including mine, and then he stayed for at least an hour signing books. (I gave him a card for this blog, so Tony, if you actually read this, hi there!)

I’m not much for TV chefs (except for Alton Brown), but I think Bourdain is a talented, decent guy, and you should totally buy his books and watch his show. For the uninitiated, here’s why I’m a Bourdain fan:

1. He’s hilarious, and a talented writer.

On filming in Singapore:

I am barely able to speak. I can’t even drink my industrial-size Tsing Tao beer. My eyes swim around in my head like drugged minnows, and my stomach is in full warning mode, signaling “one more thing, Tony– and it’s curtains.” I know what the penalty is for publicly urinating in Singapore. What, I wonder, is the penalty for lurching into the street and spraying vomit into the gutter? Then collapsing into a gibbering, crying, spastically shaking heap? Read the rest of this entry »

Salmon with Dried Shiitakes in a Marsala Cream Sauce; Potato and Carrot Chips

This is a variation on a classic French dish made with Madeira wine and heavy cream that I found while thumbing through Larousse Gastronomique. I like Marsala wine a bit better and it is what I had on hand. For the dish you will need:

Two salmon filets



Olive Oil

1 tsp. of butter

4-5 dried shiitake mushrooms

1/2 cup of Marsala wine

1/4 cup heavy cream

Juice of one lemon

Parsley and/or chives for garnish

First, salt the salmon well and set aside. In a bowl, pour boiling water over the dried mushrooms and let them soak for at least half an hour. You can use fresh mushrooms of your choice here. I like to use dried now and again because they have an earthiness and depth of flavor not found in fresh mushrooms. They can overwhelm a dish if you’re not careful, but since I was dealing with a rich fish with sauce I felt they could really add something.

Remove the mushrooms from their bath and remove the stems. Slice the caps in about 1/4 inch slices. Heat some olive oil and the butter on medium high heat. Dredge the salmon in the flour, add it to the pan and reduce heat to medium. Add the mushrooms and sauté a few minutes on each side. You want a nice crust. Remove the salmon from the pan. Deglaze the pan with the wine. Be sure to scrape the pan to get all the flavor from the salmon. Reduce the wine by about half and add the heavy cream and lemon juice with the pan off of the heat. Whisk continuously to avoid separation and curdling. Add the salmon back to the pan and cover in the sauce. Plate with some green garnish (I used chopped flat-leat parsley) and potatoes on the side.

For the potatoes:

On a mandolin (or with a knife if you have way more patience than I do) slice a potato on the thinnest setting possible. You should be able to see through them. Chop a carrot finely and put a bit of carrot on a slice of potato. Take another slice of potato and sandwich in the carrot. Fry these in vegetable oil until crispy. Salt and serve on the side. The carrot here is more for visual accent. You can try this with just about anything (meat, shrimp, mushrooms etc.).

This dish is gluten-free other than the dredging flour. You could easily use gluten-free flour as a dredge.


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Five-Dollar Foie Gras

I’ve always thought of foie gras as a delicacy for the rich, something that was irrelevant to my struggling existence.  And I grew up despising all organ meats, so I never had much of an urge to try it.  That changed, though, when my stepmother Sheryl came to town and treated me to one of the most amazing meals of my life, at Morimoto in Philadelphia.  Chef Morimoto, whose Iron Chef exploits I’ve always admired, served a dish of Kobe beef and foie gras that blew me away.  It’s just… it’s the meatiest thing I’ve ever tasted, unbelievably rich and delicious.  I’ve had one or two opportunities to try it since, and it’s pretty damn amazing, though I’m a few lottery tickets away from ever buying it myself.

But foie gras, a French delicacy made from the liver of a fattened goose, has become a big issue on the Philadelphia food scene lately, as City Councilman Jack Kelly has introduced a bill that would ban the sale of foie gras within city limits.  Chicago has already passed a similar bill.  The question is whether the production of foie gras is too cruel to the geese whose livers are fattened to produce it.  David Snyder, better known as PhilaFoodie, visited a Hudson valley foie gras farm to observe its conditions, and came away convinced that the geese were not being treated cruelly; he published a (very persuasive, in my opinion) pro-foie gras article in Philadelphia Weekly.

Read the rest of this entry »

Poached Chilean Sea Bass Over Couscous with Mango Avocado Salsa; Steamed French Beans with Parmesan and Prosciutto; Chocolate Souffles

Sarah and I had guests Friday night, so I picked up some really beautiful Chilean sea bass steaks. First, I seared the bass in some olive oil for about a minute and a half on each side and removed it to a plate. I poured out the oil and put the pan back on the heat. I deglazed the pan with some chicken stock and stirred in a teaspoon of saffron. I added some sliced onion, rosemary and sage stalks and salt and pepper. I put the bass back in the pan, covered it and put it into a 400-degree oven for about 15 minutes.

I made some couscous with almonds and piled it in the center of the plate. I put a piece of bass on top of the couscous and topped it with the following salsa:

Two mangoes, chopped

Two shallots, sliced

One avocado, chopped

Fifteen red and yellow grape tomatoes, quartered

Juice of one lemon

Olive oil

Walnut oil

Balsamic vinegar

Handful of baby spinach in a chiffonade

Handful of cilantro, chopped finely

Four stalks of tarragon, coarsely chopped

Combine all ingredients and refrigerate an hour or so.

For presentation, I made some roasted cornmeal corn cakes, broke them in half and propped them into the salsa to give the dish height. I served a few corn cakes on the side as well.

I also steamed some French beans for ten minutes or so. I still wanted them crispy. I tossed them with salt, pepper, olive oil, lemon juice, pieces of parmegiano-reggiano and prosciutto. These were served on the side as well.

This recipe serves four, by the way.

For dessert, I made some Grand Marnier Chocolate Souffles. I can’t take credit for this recipe. This is from Emeril Lagasse of Food Network fame. The only variation that I made was that I topped it with some fresh whipped cream with Grand Marnier mixed in. A lot of people find Emeril to be a bit cheesy. I do as well, but when you cut through all of the fluff, he is a really great chef. I use his recipes a lot and and I am always very satisfied.

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