Saturday, September 01, 2012

Slow Saturday at the market

Saturday has become my grocery shopping day. Thankfully, over time I have figured out how to shop once a week for my husband and I to eat breakfast and dinner at home 6 days a week. When we were first married, I found myself either buying too little or too much food. Now, I go to the grocery store once a week for our eggs, sweet and salty treats and meats. Then, I take my weekly stroll to our neighborhood farmers' market, where I have been buying all of our produce this summer.

This past Saturday, I had a clear schedule and plenty of time to really relish in everything I found at the market. Usually, I map out my shopping list based on what I want to make for the week. This week, I decided to go to market and be inspired. I'd plan out the menu afterwards.

I found an heirloom watermelon, tender little green grapes, brand new honeycrisp and golden delicious apples, and firm little egg-shaped black plums for our fruit this week.

When I shop for vegetables, no matter the season, I always look for the greens first. Huge leaves of curly kale and Swiss chard were bursting out of the baskets and coolers at the market on Saturday. The kale will pair beautifully with creamy baby white lima beans I have in the fridge. It's still hovering around 90 degrees in Philadelphia these days, but this won't stop me from heating up my kitchen to sauté the kale with tiny yellow onions I found at the market too. I'll puree the white beans and mix in the chopped up sauteed kale for a nice spread on crunchy bread or crackers.

A group of a teenagers was new to my neighborhood market this weekend, selling items they grew in their high school gardens. How refreshing it was to have a conversation with the young woman in their group who is from urban Philadelphia, about the spicy bite of their fresh arugula. While I perused their tomatoes and habanero peppers, we talked about how tough it is to keep up with fast growing okra pods that have to be harvested on an almost daily basis. It was great!

Once I gathered my greens, mini onions, potatoes, sweet and hot peppers, and a cucumber the size of a small baseball bat, I made my way home to put everything away and map out my menu for the week. Since I had time after my visit to the market, I took a few pictures of the way that I store my produce. My kitchen has been very warm this summer and the little fruit flies have worked my nerves, so I haven't left as many items out at room temp as I would have liked to. But, as you'll see below, I keep the tomatoes out because I really don't like the way they become mealy when they are refrigerated. Thankfully, the little flies that love to hang out near my fruit and tomatoes, stay clear of onions and potatoes.

As you see in the photos below, after I wash all of my greens and herbs, I wrap them in cloth napkins and pop them in large containers to keep them from getting too moist and too dry. This works for keeping the grapes in great shape too. I decided to pop the peppers in the fridge this week to save myself some counter space and, hopefully, minimize the fly invasion.
Sealed plastic container for grapes

Peppers and eggplant in their towel

Tomato and plum bowl at room temp.

Onion and potato basket

Spin and storing the sage
Sealed container for sage leaves

Arugula after washing and spinning

Clean arugula and a bit of sage

Sealed container for arugula

Similar setup for washed kale leaves

Swiss chard leaves. These are spun and stored like the kale.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Breakfast radishes, tomatoes and more

The selection of seasonal produce during the summer gets better and better every week. This week, I was back at the Francisville Farmer's Market to check out the goods. With the temperature in Philadelphia hovering around 99 degrees all week, I had a feeling I'd find hefty green zucchini batons. Maybe even a few of those lovely white tipped breakfast radishes would still be around at Bob and Jill Goulet's stand. Does anyone know how breakfast radishes got their name? These crunchy mildly spicy radishes are delicious, but their flavor would be a bit much first thing in the morning.

This week, I'll have a few guests over for one of my new favorite mezze treats: Topless Chipotle Goat Cheese Sliders. Thinly sliced zucchini and curly breakfast radish ribbons add the perfect final touch! They make them look so darn irresistible.

The variety just kept on going at the market. Looking at the range of colorful produce available at every stand, it was tough to stick to my list. Around this time of year, before it gets consistently hot, I expect to see spinach, kale, tomatoes and zucchini squash. But the bounty just went on and on. Garlic scapes, perfect little fresh white onions and scallions were a surprise I didn't expect to see. I had planned to make potatoes gratin but when I saw the garlic scapes and scallions, my mind immediately envisioned a Spanish tortilla de patata with finely chopped garlic scapes and scallions. Yum!

Then there was the fruit! Black raspberries, apricots, sugar plums, purple plums, yellow plums, peaches. Since it has been very warm all spring, it seems like the trees are giving fruit much earlier this year.

This week's menu at the house will include:

  • Sage Potato Gratin and Mixed Greens Salad
  • Watermelon Slushie
  • Peachy Green Smoothie

Lunch on the go

  • Roasted Red Pepper Hummus, Cucumber and Spinach Sliders
  • Sundried Tomato and Watermelon Chunky Gazpacho and Tortilla Chips

  • Tortilla de Patata with Garlic Scapes and Scallions
  • Topless Chipotle Goat Cheese Sliders: Baby Red Beet, Zucchini and Breakfast Radish
Special Afternoon Refresher
  • Black Raspberry, Apricot and Honey Spritzer

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Food Trucks: A fun low-cost entryway to the food business

For people who love food and are looking to enter the food industry without starting out with a tremendous debt might consider a specialized food truck.

Food trucks are becoming more and more exciting every day. For those of us who had ice cream trucks in our neighborhoods growing up, seeing a food truck sparks a fond memory of an exciting summer time treat.

Food trucks have gone from delivering icy treats to dishing out wood-fired pizza. Who knew?! I love innovation. This weekend, I was surprised by the delicious Margarita pizza made by Pitruco, a Philadelphia food truck with a wood-burning oven attached to its rear. The crust was nice and chewy with a smoky flavor from the oven.

The great taste and chew of the pizza was like icing on the cake. Before I had even taken one bite of my pizza, I was already pleased with my experience from watching the dough bubble in the hot wood-burning oven.

It's on my list to look into the cost of a wood-burning oven on a food truck. I would imagine that buying such a special oven for a food truck may be costly but I doubt that the expense compares to the heavy debt that usually comes with having a brick and mortar restaurant.

Delicious Pitruco Margarita Pizza!

Pizza Oven in the Rear

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Honey Bees

What's your favorite type of honey? Growing up, I had no clue that honey came in different colors and consistencies. I just remember getting the honey in the bear-shaped plastic bottle from the grocery store.

Being in Philadelphia for the past four years has opened up my eyes to ever changing varieties and flavors of honey. Just last year, a couple of local companies began selling the golden nectar by the zip code so customers could taste honey made in the hives of the buzzing bees on their neighbors rooftops. Cool, right?

The sweet taste of honey and the important role of honey bees in the ecosystem has sparked the literary creativity of Philadelphia urban beekeeper, Anaiis Salles. Salles' new book, The Day the Honey Bees Disappeared, is a lovely story of young Berta, who learns a valuable lesson in her grandfather's California almond fields about the part honey bees play in maintaining balance in nature. Berta learns a sad but empowering lesson on why we must keep honey bees safe from harmful pesticides.

Here's to keeping our food free of pesticide poison and our bees busy producing their healthy healing nectar! Honey and buttermilk biscuits anyone?

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Who grows your food? Do you ever think about who the people might be who plant and pick your tomatoes and carrots? For the past five years, I have spent a lot of time praising the local farmer for growing all of the marvelous foods that I love to eat and cook. Shame on me.

Farmers are very important, of course. But how about the farm workers who plant seeds, pick weeds, thin seedlings and harvest the crops? Several new films revealing the harsh realities of modern day farm labor have come out this year and are on the way to be released.

Check out the preview of Food Chain. Looks fascinating. One guy talks about twenty-first century agricultural slavery in the USA. It sounds harsh but not hard to imagine.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Friends with Books

Having friends who are authors is a new experience for me. It’s really exciting and fills me with a great sense of pride and gratitude. One of my mentors, Chef Mona Talbott, just released a new book called Zuppe. The book houses a collection of some of the most loved soup recipes from her kitchen at the American Academy in Rome.

What a delight it was to attend Mona’s New York City book release! Browsing through the pages filled with enticing colorful photographs of soups for every season, I felt a mix of pride to have cooked with Mona at the Academy and renewed excitement to run into the kitchen and make soup.

Soups and cookies are the topics of the two books that Mona released over the past two years. Zuppe, the book of fabulous soups, is set to release on April 3rd. Biscotti, the book of delightful cookie recipes, came out last year and was co-authored by my other dear friend, Mirella Misenti. Looking through the pages of the biscotti book, and seeing photographs of the familiar hands of my dear Mirella, I was so proud. I even want to go out and buy some essential baking tools that are missing from my home kitchen.

There are no coincidences in life. This concept becomes clearer to me everyday. It’s amazing how I became connected with Mona and Mirella, who share a love for soup and cookies when those are my favorite things to eat and cook too. Talk about the law of attraction!

I acknowledged my love for soup years ago when I met two ladies from North Carolina on a bus. We introduced ourselves and the moment I told them I was a new restaurant line cook, they asked me what was my favorite thing to make. Without hesitation or thought, I replied, “soup”.

My love for cooking at that time was so broad, I had never really thought about what I enjoyed making and eating the most. After I blurted out “soups”, I instantly saw images of the tortilla soup in golden chicken broth that I always loved to make with my mom. The puree of asparagus that I smoothed out with rich coconut milk at my home in Washington, DC was once such a hit that my friends were ready to write me a check to open up a restaurant. I guess when you really love what you are doing, it shows. And that excites people.

I like to bake cookies but I like to eat them even more. These days, when I shop for our weekly groceries, I always pick up one or two varieties of cookies. Of all of the amazing pastries, pies, cakes and frozen desserts that are out there, my favorite sweet treat is a simple chewy oatmeal raisin cookie.

Both Mona and Mirella’s books exude their sophistication and passion for sublimely simple delicious food. I am grateful to have shared the same air with these ladies and to have picked fresh herbs and rolled biscottini dough by their sides.

Brava regazze!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The benefits of using recipes

Writing my first book, La Nena's Kitchen, has been such an eye-opening experience. Thanks to the gracious time and attention of my first readers and recipe testers, I have become a faster cook in my home kitchen. In writing a book to help other people transition to cooking with plenty of fruits and vegetables, I have become a new chef in the kitchen- one that uses recipes and gets in and out in less than an hour. Who would have ever thought I would make the same thing twice and be out of the kitchen in less than half a day?

From my experience working in restaurant kitchens where we crafted new menus almost daily, I learned to use recipes as guidelines to be followed loosely. At home, I usually float along the same wave of intuition and concoct impromptu meals made with tidbits of this and that. It wasn't until I wrote the first draft of La Nena's Kitchen that I was reminded that putting a few recipes into regular rotation at home could be useful.

In the first draft of the book, I encouraged the reader to explore many different recipes and to be adventurous. Then, one of my first readers sent me feedback reminding me how useful it is to follow and repeat recipes. When you put regular recipes into your home cooking rotation you become more comfortable with them, prepare them faster over time and can often shop for the ingredients quickly and sometimes without a list.

Following recipes has helped me shop more easily. Thanks to my ever-so-tech-savvy mother, I was introduced to an app called Shop and Cook that stores my recipes and drafts quick shopping lists when I need them. What a treat! The app is now available on the IPhone. Maybe next year Mathilde, the designer, will make it friendly for us DROID folks.

Here's to following recipes, especially those that work!