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.

Simple Dal for Winter Nights

It’s February, and you just spent an hour driving home from work in a treacherous ice storm. You’re cold and tired, and there’s not much food in the house. What do you do?

Here’s what we did: ad libbed from an already-easy dal recipe. This requires a bit of time but very little effort, and the results are warming, comforting and satisfying (not to mention gluten-free and vegetarian). This is our version, but you can throw in some vegetables or whatever you’ve got around the house. This serves 2, with some leftovers.

Simple Dal

Throw into a pot:

1/2 lb lentils (use your favorite kind)

1 1/4 pint water

1 bay leaf

3 cloves garlic, broken up a bit but not chopped

about 1 tbsp chopped ginger

1 cinnamon stick

large pinch of turmeric

Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for about 35 minutes or until the lentils are tender. Then add:

Juice of 1 lemon

pinch of salt

pinch of pepper

pinch of cayenne

Simmer for 5 more minutes.

In a small pan, heat about 3 tbsp of ghee or vegetable oil. Add:

pinch of black cumin

pinch of regular cumin seeds

pinch of asafetida

Let it sizzle for a few seconds, then stir into the dal.

Serve with rice. That’s all there is to it. By the way, this process will leave your dal studded with tender, sweet pieces of garlic.

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Uova in Brodetto (Pasta with Eggs Poached in Red Sauce)

The other night I pulled this dish out of my memory bank for a quick and easy meal. It is inspired by a dish called Uova in Brodetto: Eggs in Tomato Sauce by Mario Batali. I got this recipe from watching one of his old cooking shows. This is a bit of a variation on that original recipe since I just prepare it from memory. Either way the credit here goes to Mario, not me. For the dish you need:

Pasta of your choice– I think a wider pasta like papardelle works best because it catches the sauce better than thinner pasta.

Tomato sauce– Use your homemade recipe or a good store-bought sauce. I’ve done both but most recently used Trader Joe’s organic marinara.

Four eggs

Good-quality parmesan

Boil pasta to your desired tooth. While the pasta is cooking, bring the sauce to a simmer in a high-sided pan. Crack the eggs into the sauce. Do this gently in order to maintain the shape of the eggs. You want to keep the eggs evenly separated from each other with at least a couple inches between them. Cover and check often. As the eggs begin to become cooked, you can spoon some sauce over them. Keep cooking with the lid on. You want the eggs to cook to the point where the whites are solid but you have a liquid yoke.

To serve, put pasta in a dish and spoon one to two eggs on the bed of pasta. Add as much sauce as desired. Serve with rustic or garlic bread.

As you eat, the yolk will break into the sauce, creating a creamy and flavorful treat.

This is vegetarian (if you eat eggs, of course) and easily made gluten free by using GF pasta.

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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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Giwa: Satisfying Korean Food for Winter Days

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When we lived in New York City, I went to school and worked at the City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate School and University Center, more commonly known as CUNY Grad. One of the nice things about working there, which offset the constant annoyance of tourists (the Grad Center is on the opposite corner of The Empire State Building), was that the area is filled with really good Korean restaurants. They vary in price from cheap to very expensive. Our favorite was Mandoo Bar, which served up wonderful dumplings and noodles. I hadn’t really had great Korean since we moved to Philly– until Giwa opened up down the street from where I work.

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Chana Masala with Bhaturas: Vegetarian Indian Goodness

My friend Diana is in town for a couple of days, and I promised her a vegetarian feast.  There’s nothing she loves more than Indian food, so I broke out my Madhur Jaffrey cookbook and made this chana masala for her and our friends Peter and Cat.  It turned out really well, and was less difficult than I expected.  It was spicy without being overpowering, and the lemon really gives it a fresh, tangy taste. 

(Incidentally, I realized about five minutes before my guests arrived that we were out of lemons– Joe used them all making lemon curd!  We only have small corner markets in my neighborhood, none of which carry produce, and I don’t have a car.  Fortunately, the neighborly folks at Ida Mae’s Bruncherie, reviewed here, spotted me a lemon!)

Chana masala, for those who haven’t tasted it, is a vegetarian dish of chickpeas simmered with onions, garlic, ginger, tomato puree and spices.  It’s topped with lemon juice, tomatoes and chopped onion and served with fried bread– in this case, bhaturas.  My friend LeftyProf gave me a real-deal recipe, from his best friend’s mom in Delhi, but when I raced home from work and started cooking, it emerged that we didn’t actually have all of the ingredients!  So I’m going to try that this weekend, and last night I made Madhur Jaffrey’s bhaturas instead.  Props to Peter for doing an excellent job deep frying these– I’m excited to have successfully produced another new (to me) Indian bread!  Read on for the recipes.

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Pappardelle with Fresh Vegetables and Chicken

Just a quick light dish that I whipped up last night. Sarah and I had both eaten late lunches  and weren’t particularly hungry. The base of the dish was some really good sprouted wheat pappardelle pasta from Trader Joe’s. I used an 8 oz. bag.

While this was boiling, I sauteed ripe Roma tomatoes (from the Headhouse Market) cut into quarters, some diced onion, two cloves of garlic, one diced small zucchini and salt and pepper. I threw in some diced chicken breast that I had browned earlier. To this I added extra virgin olive oil and some good balsamic vinegar. You don’t want to cook this for very long. If you do the tomatoes will get soft. Just heat the veggies and the chicken through and toss in the pasta. I use an old-fashioned technique here: instead of draining the pasta first, I just pick it up with tongs and add it directly to the saute pan. This allows a little pasta water (in all of its starchy goodness) to become part of the sauce. To the pasta, I added some fresh chopped basil and some grated Parmesan.

A quick note on the basil. This is some of the best basil that I have ever had. We bought it from our new friend Jennie at Weaver’s Way.  Unlike mega-mart basil, this has little bits and holes where insects and worms have taken small bites– in fact, an inchworm fell out of this bunch when I was washing it. My mother always used to say she didn’t trust produce that didn’t have some evidence of insect life. I didn’t understand that as a kid, but I do now. A healthy ecosystem includes insects and worms. Mass production uses pesticides that eliminate this insect life so you have prettier produce. But you also sacrifice some of the nutrients that provide healthfulness and flavor to the produce. We’ve bought this basil twice now and it has wowed us both times.

As for the pasta, it made for a quick and tasty meal.

This dish could be made gluten-free by just using some GF pasta. There are some very good ones out there right now. A dairy-free option here would just be eliminating the cheese. If you use good, flavorful veggies, it wouldn’t be necessary. A vegetarian option would be to substitute the chicken with some wild mushrooms. Shiitakes or Criminis would work well.

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