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 »

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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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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

Flour

Salt

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.

Enjoy!

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Orange Roughy in a Spicy Almond-Pecan Sauce

This is a cookbook recipe that ended up morphing into a very different dish!  We started out making “Fish in an Almond-Walnut Sauce” from The Complete Book of Mexican Cooking by Elizabeth Lambert Ortiz.  I chose this recipe because we have lots of fish and also some fresh tomatillos we needed to use, and the recipe called for both.  However, as we started to make it, it became clear that we didn’t have the exact ingredients we thought we had.  So we got creative with substitutions and made what turned out to be a really tasty and healthy dish.  (Also dairy-free and gluten-free.) Here are the ingredients we actually used:

Orange Roughy in a Spicy Almond-Pecan Sauce

2 orange roughy fillets

1 onion, chopped

1 cup white wine

about 8 fresh tomatillos

1 clove garlic, chopped

1 cup blanched almonds

1  cup pecans

1 tbsp sesame seeds

1 green chilli, chopped

1 chipotle pepper (canned), chopped

Salt and pepper

Olive oil

First, prepare the tomatillos (you can skip this step if you used canned): Heat olive oil in a pan. Put in quartered tomatillos. Add salt and the diced green chilli. Saute for a minute and reduce heat to med-low. Add a couple tablespoons of water. Cook on med-low for about a half hour.

Once they are cooked, strain them to separate the liquid from the fruit.  Heat the liquid in the pan with a cup of wine, the onion and garlic, and the salt and pepper.  Simmer for 15 minutes, then add the fish and cook until flaky.  Remove the fish to a covered serving dish.

Pour the liquid from the pan into a food processor and add all remaining ingredients (except the fish).  Blend until you have a smooth sauce.  Pour over the fish and serve.

It has a nutty, smoky taste that went really well with the orange roughy, and a little kick of heat at the end.   Serve this with some sort of bread so you can sop up the sauce.  Also, if you buy canned tomatillos, it doesn’t take long at all.  I’ll definitely make this again.  (Next time I might even buy the right ingredients so I can make the official recipe!)

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Shrimp and Tofu Stir Fry

shrimp and tofu stir fry

This is a light and delicious version of the stir-fry mixture we did for Pan-Fried Noodles with Chicken, using shrimp and tofu.  My husband Joe and I were in the mood for a quick and healthy dinner.  We didn’t have any fresh noodles, so we just served this over rice.  (The sauce and marinade are the concoction of Eileen Yin-Fei Lo.)

Shrimp and Tofu Stir Fry

About an inch of ginger, peeled and chopped

2 cloves chopped garlic

handful of julienned snow peas

handful of julienned carrots

1 block firm tofu, cubed

1 lb or so of peeled and deveined raw shrimp

Soy sauce

Vegetable oil

For the sauce:

1 cup chicken stock

1 pinch each of cornstarch, ground pepper, sugar

1 dash each rice wine, dark soy sauce, sesame oil

For the marinade:

Mix dashes of sesame oil, rice wine, white rice vinegar and soy sauce with pinches of cornstarch, salt and sugar.

Marinate the shrimp and the tofu in the above marinade for at least an hour.

Get some vegetable oil very hot in a wok.  Throw in the ginger and garlic and give them about 20 seconds.  Add the shrimp and cook, stirring, until they start to become pink and opaque (not more than two minutes).  Add the tofu and vegetables, stirring constantly.  When everything is cooked, but still crispy, pour in the sauce and let everything cook until it thickens.  Serve over rice.

You can be creative with the veggies on this– mushrooms would be great in it.  Julienned zucchini, eggplant– you could really experiment with whatever you happen to have.  Other than the sodium content, it’s a healthy dish.  Leave out the shrimp (maybe add mushrooms instead) and it’s vegetarian as well.

By the way, if you’re gluten free, you can use tamari instead of soy sauce to make this a delicious gluten-free Chinese meal.  Not all varieties of tamari are brewed without wheat, but San-J brand makes a wheat-free tamari that’s a perfectly tasty alternative.  Most Whole Foods and Asian supermarkets carry it.

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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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Pan-Fried Noodles with Chicken (Gai See Chau Mien)

Stir Fry

This weekend I took my new Chinese cookbook, The Chinese Kitchen by Eileen Yin-Fei Lo, for a test drive.  So far, so good.

When Joe and I were first dating back in Pittsburgh, he was a vegetarian.  (I’m a bad influence on vegetarians, what can I say?)  Back then stir-fries were a cheap, quick staple.  We hadn’t made one in ages, although we’ve lugged our Circulon wok from Pittsburgh to New York to Philly.  So we were excited to break it out for the real thing.

I did some grocery shopping before we started this dish– I got really produce-happy at the Reading Terminal Market, and then I went to Chung Kee Asian Supermarket in Chinatown to stock some staples of the Chinese pantry: cooking wine, white rice vinegar, oyster sauce, chili oil, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, and of course, Pocky.  (Which is Japanese, but… Pocky!)  We picked up some pork buns, lugged everything home, and got started on a light, healthy meal.

This dish is popular in Shanghai and Hong Kong, according to Lo.  I find that a lot of my favorite dishes are Hong Kong-ese, which makes sense when you remember that Hong Kong, like New York, Beirut and Mumbai, is one of the world’s great cultural crossroads.  Throw lots of people from many different cultures and foodways together in one place, and amazing new innovations are pretty much guaranteed to happen in the kitchen.

This particular dish has two components: a bird’s nest of crunchy pan-fried noodles, and a topping of stir-fried julienned vegetables, chicken and brown sauce.  I picked up some fresh noodles at the Asian supermarket.  The main prep work for this dish involves the noodles: you have to boil them very quickly, then let them drain for about two hours until they’re totally dried out.  You also have to marinate the chicken for about half an hour, in a mixture of sugar, salt, pepper, cornstarch, sesame oil, rice vinegar, cooking wine, and soy sauce.  While that’s happening, you can julienne your water chestnuts, fresh snow pea pods, and bamboo shoots (although you can also buy those pre-julienned).  

All of the cooking happens in about five minutes, and it’s really fast, so your mise en place is important here.  Everything has to be ready to go.  Your garlic and ginger had better be minced, your veggies better be julienned, your sauce better be mixed and ready to go.  I did mine right in the measuring cup– 1 cup of chicken stock plus shots of oyster sauce, cooking wine, vinegar, sugar, salt, cornstarch, sesame oil, pepper, and my new favorite condiment, dark mushroom-flavored soy sauce.  I bought Pearl River Bridge brand for about $1.75, and it’s amazing– dark and thick, more like balsamic vinegar than any soy sauce we’re used to in the US.  It actually coats the back of a spoon.  And the flavor is dark and intense– oh, this is definitely going to be a staple. 

Now here’s the tricky part: the noodles and the wok need to be going at pretty much the same time.  We used teamwork: Joe did the noodles and I was on the wok.  The noodles are easy enough: heat oil in the cast iron pan (the recipe calls for peanut, but we used safflower, which has a similar smoke point) until it starts to smoke, then put the big nest of noodles in and fry for about two minutes on each side, moving the pan around so it browns evenly.   In the wok, heat oil until smoking.  Then add ginger, then garlic, then the chicken.  Give that a couple of minutes, then add the veggies.  When they soften, pour in your sauce and toss the whole thing around for a while until the sauce thickens up. 

Put the noodles on a serving plate, and pour the entire chicken-veggie mixture over it so that the sauce seeps down into the noodles.  Slice the whole thing like a pie and eat with chopsticks.  We served it with a cold Hedonism Red Ale from Legacy Brewing Co.

We were really happy with this dish.  It’s light and flavorful, and it’s got a few different textures going on: crunchy noodles on the outside, softer noodles inside, crunchy veggies, juicy chicken.  The fresh snow peas really make the dish.  This wasn’t very difficult, and it would be easy enough to make the noodles and chop the veggies a night ahead of time.  I’m pretty psyched about having rocked my first Chinese dish!

Next up: Siu mai (pork and shrimp basket dumplings)!

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