Monthly Archives: May 2016

Skewering Around with the Grahams

Memorial Weekend—the unofficial start of summer—and after that long, cold Spring, we were ready to party al fresco! And of course, what’s a summer holiday without a BBQ? Warm weather, check. Great food, check. Fabulous wine, check. Good friends, priceless!

And so the celebration began when the Grahams arrived. Enter Paula, Mike, his daughter Kelsey, and her fiancé Zach. Paula has this gorgeous Mexican-themed silver platter (I want one) that she explained was a gift from Mike’s sister on their wedding day. Always a conversation piece, her tasty appetizer of cucumber slices topped with sun-dried tomatoes, goat cheese, chives and a drizzle of balsamic reduction, was even more stunning arranged on the decorative plate.

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Paula, Zach, Kelsey and Mike sip some wine while Russ mans the grill on the other side of the patio. The kebabs didn’t take long, so he didn’t miss much…

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Late last summer during a picnic at the Graham’s house, we lived vicariously while Kelsey and Zach regaled us with details about their 4-month trip around the world, August through December of 2014. Still intrigued, I asked what her favorite place was, and Kelsey responded “Can I pick three?” Enthusiastically and without hesitation, she named Vietnam because it was so breathtakingly beautiful and serene. The other two? South Africa and New Zealand, much for the same reasons… I guess anybody who still loves each other after four months of roughing it in some pretty remote locations, can weather being married… and so they got engaged last Fall and will tie the knot this September. Congrats!! 

But what’s cooking you ask? A Trio of Kebabs that are perfectly charred on the outside and tender within, with bold flavor and texture before and after the skewers hit the grill: Cumin-Chile Lamb Kebabs with Garlic Yogurt; Soy-Basted Chicken Kebabs with Sesame-Citrus Sprinkle; and Barbecue Pork with Blistered Chile–Pumpkin Seed Salsa.

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From left, grilled lamb, chicken and pork skewers.

Along with my infamous homemade guacamole, a loaded garden salad, and the Graham’s hors d’oeuvres, we also feasted on Cauliflower Rice Tabbouleh (pictured below)—a modern take on the classic Middle Eastern bulgur and herb salad. It swaps grains for cauliflower “rice,” making it nutritious, low-carb and gluten-free.

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In keeping with the low-carb and gluten-free theme, Russ made Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Fresh Blueberry Sauce for dessert. The buttermilk base is not sweet at all, but the blueberry sauce is where you can increase the sweetness to your heart’s delight.

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Mike gets chummy as Russ enjoys his Panna Cotta.

Let’s talk kebabs. For starters, make sure to get the right cut of meat for the job. The key to a knockout skewer? Being choosy at the butcher counter. The ideal cuts are often (counterintuitively) boneless braising cuts. Full-flavored, well-marbled, and appealingly affordable, they welcome high heat and won’t dry out the way leaner cuts tend to.

All three of the following fabulous recipes are from Chris Morroco of Bon Appetit. Each type is cooked over direct heat for about 4 minutes until browned and beginning to char in spots. Then they are moved to the cooler side of your grill and cooked to desired doneness, about another 4-5 minutes—leaving you plenty of time to party with your guests.

And remember, it’s never too late to add more flavor! Periodically brushing tangy bastes—or just some extra marinade—onto your meat while grilling adds layer upon layer of glazey deliciousness.

Of the three, the unanimous favorite was the chicken kebabs, perfectly charred and succulent. Soy glaze added saltiness along with a deep color to these skewers; and the sesame-citrus sprinkle lent an impressive textured finish.

Russ and I concur that the next time, and there will definitely be a next time, we’ll double the size of the lamb cubes from 1″ that the recipe calls for to 2″—because in the end, they were a little too well done for our liking, although the taste was spot-on. A perfect cube is not essential, but try to get the lamb into roughly the same size pieces so they cook at the same rate.

And the pork kebabs, using the “stack” method of skewering, benefited from the intriguing blistered chile-pumpkin seed salsa, a personal favorite of mine! You can always ask your butcher to slice the pork shoulder on the electric slicer for you, which will ensure even pieces and save you time—a tip I should have heeded.

Even though chef-author Chris suggests using metal, we opted to use wooden skewers instead, which we soaked in water overnight (although the tips still burned in the end.) They are smaller in stature, take up less grill space, and were perfect for individual portions. Having plenty of chicken and pork, we doubled the recipes, resulting in some leftovers, but not many.

Yes, we were a bit ambitious in preparing all three different kebabs requiring separate approaches in preparation, but you can narrow it down to just one type for starters. So what are you waiting for, skewer up!

Bon Appetit’s advice:

Square hunks of meat do not always a good skewer make. Different cuts need to be handled distinctly to reach their fullest meaty potential—which means you should be slicing them yourself and skewering them properly. It requires a smidge more thought, but the payoff is huge. Here are three favorite techniques:

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The Accordion
Short rib shines when sliced against the grain into ribbons and threaded over and under onto skewers, creating folds that trap marinade—the way to go for bacon, too.

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The Stack
Long strips of chicken thigh and pork shoulder can become unruly, so we pile them onto skewers in as compact a stack as possible, creating a uniform shape that cooks evenly.

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The Cube
Turns out lamb shoulder is best cubed, but how you thread makes the difference. Leaving room between each nugget allows heat to circulate, rendering the fat and browning all sides.

Cumin-Chile Lamb Kebabs with Garlic Yogurt

Ingredients

Garlic Yogurt

  • 1 garlic clove, grated
  • ½ teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper

Lamb and Assembly

  • 2 tablespoons cumin seeds
  • 1 tablespoon Sichuan peppercorns or 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 2 teaspoons caraway seeds
  • 2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • Vegetable oil (for grill)
  • pounds boneless lamb shoulder, cut into 1-inch pieces (we suggest 2″ cubes)
  • Kosher salt, freshly cracked pepper
  • Finely grated lemon zest (for serving)

Directions

Garlic Yogurt

  • Stir garlic, lemon zest, and lemon juice into yogurt in a small bowl to combine; season with salt and pepper.
  • Do Ahead: Yogurt can be made 3 days ahead. Cover and chill.

Lamb and Assembly

  1. Coarsely grind cumin seeds, peppercorns, caraway seeds, red pepper flakes, and sugar in spice mill or with mortar and pestle until only a few whole spices remain.
  2. Prepare a grill for medium-high, indirect heat (for a charcoal grill, bank coals on one side of grill; for a gas grill, leave one or two burners off). Oil grates.
  3. Thread lamb onto 6–8 skewers, leaving a small gap between each piece of meat. Season with salt, then sprinkle generously with spice blend, pressing it onto the meat with your hands to help it adhere if needed.
  4. Grill lamb over direct heat, turning every minute or so, until browned and beginning to char in spots, about 4 minutes. Move to cooler side of grill and continue to grill until lamb is cooked to desired doneness, about 4 minutes longer for medium-rare.
  5. Top garlic yogurt with cracked black pepper and a little lemon zest. Serve alongside lamb.

Do Ahead: Spice blend can be made 1 month ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.

Soy-Basted Chicken Kebabs with Sesame-Citrus Sprinkle

Ingredients

Sesame-Citrus Sprinkle

  • 2 tablespoons toasted white and/or black sesame seeds
  • 1 tablespoon thinly sliced chives
  • 1 teaspoon Aleppo-style pepper or other mild red pepper flakes
  • ½ teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • Kosher salt

Chicken and Assembly

  • cup (packed) light brown sugar
  • cup mirin (sweet Japanese rice wine)
  • cup soy sauce
  • ¼ cup unseasoned rice vinegar
  • pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs
  • Vegetable oil (for grill)
  • Kosher salt

Directions

Sesame-Citrus Sprinkle

Mix sesame seeds, chives, Aleppo-style pepper, and lemon zest in a small bowl to combine; season with salt.

Chicken and Assembly

  1. Combine brown sugar, mirin, soy sauce, and vinegar in a small saucepan. Transfer ¼ cup mixture to a large resealable plastic bag. Working one at a time, slice chicken thighs in half lengthwise. Add to bag with marinade and massage marinade into chicken. Chill at least 2 hours or up to 12 hours.
  2. Meanwhile, bring remaining marinade to a simmer over medium-high heat and cook until reduced by half and slightly thickened (just shy of syrupy), 8–10 minutes. Remove glaze from heat.
  3. Prepare a grill for medium-high, indirect heat (for a charcoal grill, bank coals on one side of grill; for a gas grill, leave one or two burners off). Oil grates.
  4. Thread chicken onto 6–8 skewers, folding and piling onto itself to form a compact shape. Season lightly with salt and grill over direct heat, turning every minute or so, until browned and beginning to char in spots, about 4 minutes.
  5. Move to cooler side of grill and continue to grill, basting lightly with glaze and turning every 30 seconds or so, until cooked through and coated with glaze, about 5 minutes longer. Serve chicken topped with sesame-citrus sprinkle.

Do Ahead: Glaze can be made 12 hours ahead. Let cool; cover and chill. Bring to room temperature before using.

Ingredients

Salsa

  • ¼ large white onion
  • 2 jalapeños
  • ¼ cup chopped cilantro
  • ¼ cup finely chopped unsalted, roasted pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • Kosher salt

Pork and Assembly

  • pounds boneless pork shoulder (Boston butt)
  • 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons mustard powder
  • 2 tablespoons paprika
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • Vegetable oil (for grill)
  • Kosher salt

Directions

Salsa

  1. Cook onion and jalapeños over a gas burner, turning often, until charred and beginning to soften, about 4 minutes (alternatively, cook in a hot dry medium skillet, preferably cast iron). Let cool.
  2. Finely chop onion.
  3. Remove seeds from chiles and finely chop. Toss onion, chiles, cilantro, pumpkin seeds, oil, and lime juice in a small bowl. Season with salt.

Do Ahead: Salsa can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.

Pork and Assembly

  1. Freeze pork until very firm around the edges, 20–30 minutes. Slice ¼” thick, then cut crosswise into 1½”–2″ strips if needed. Cover and chill until ready to grill.
  2. Mix brown sugar, mustard powder, paprika, garlic powder, black pepper, and cayenne in a small bowl to combine.
  3. Prepare a grill for medium-high, indirect heat (for a charcoal grill, bank coals on one side of grill; for a gas grill, leave one or two burners off). Oil grates.
  4. Thread pork onto 6–8 skewers, folding and piling onto itself to form a compact shape. Season with salt, then sprinkle generously with brown sugar mixture in several passes, allowing a few minutes between each for rub to adhere.
  5. Grill over direct heat, turning every minute or so, until browned and beginning to char in spots, about 4 minutes.
  6. Move to cooler side of grill and continue to grill until cooked through, about 5 minutes longer. Serve pork topped with salsa.

Do Ahead: Dry rub can be made 1 month ahead; store airtight at room temperature.

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The Hunt for Green Garlic

The hunt was on for green garlic. We earmarked three recipes for the upcoming week that called for the springtime delicacy. And a week prior, our Allium Invasion meal was supposed to include green garlic (blog posted April 7, 2016). When we couldn’t find it at any local grocery store, or Asian market, we thought for sure the Newtown Farmer’s Market would carry it this time of year. So one would think it would be easy to find in April, right? We figured wrong…

Green garlic is young garlic with tender leaves that is harvested early in the season before the bulb is fully formed. The easiest way to think about green garlic is that it’s baby garlic. It has a long green top that looks a bit like scallions, sometimes a tiny bulb at the end, and it may even be tinged with a bit of pink.

The immature garlic bulbs and edible green stalks have an amazing nutty-oniony flavor that is great fresh or cooked. The young, tender cloves don’t even need to be peeled before chopping. Green garlic is more mellow and less spicy in flavor then regular garlic, and can be used raw or cooked like scallions.

Serendipitously there was a produce stall in the farmer’s market that had some of the best and freshest vegetables we’ve seen. As soon as I spotted their leeks, I was smitten. The whites usually average six or so inches of the entire stalk, but these were nearly a foot and a half long—hardly any dark greens at all! So, even though we didn’t end up with the much-sought-after green garlic, we made quite a haul of fabulous produce for the week.

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Yes, we do get excited about leeks that have large areas of white and light green.

Don’t judge. Even without one of the main ingredients, we went ahead and made the recipe anyway: Smashed Twice-Cooked Potatoes with Leeks and Green Garlic. Instead of medium Yukon Golds, we opted for the baby-sized potato, although not too minute. And, you guessed it, we had to use regular garlic—though that didn’t seem to bother us one bit.

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You can steam and smash the potatoes in the morning if you’d like. The finished dish is great at room temp, and can also be reheated in hot oil again for another meal.

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 pounds medium Yukon Gold potatoes
  • 1/3 cup olive oil, plus more for serving
  • Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
  • 2 leeks, dark-green parts discarded, cut into 1″ pieces
  • 4 green garlic bulbs, white and pale-green parts only, or 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

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We used small Yukon potatoes as opposed to medium-sized.

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The directions indicate to cut the leeks into one-inch pieces. That seemed way too large so we made slices about 1/8-inch thick. 

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Once cooled, the potatoes are lightly smashed.

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Smashed potatoes are browned on both sides in oil in a hot skillet.

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I added the leeks and garlic as soon as I turned the potatoes instead of waiting.

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Lemon zest and juice are tossed well with the cooked potatoes and seasoned with salt and pepper.

Directions

  1. Steam potatoes in a steamer basket in a covered pot filled with 2″ water until tender, 15-20 minutes. Transfer potatoes to a plate; let cool. Press with your hand to flatten until skins split and some flesh is exposed (a few may fall apart).
  2. Heat half of 1/3 cup oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Add half of potatoes; season with salt and pepper. Cook, tossing occasionally, until potatoes start to brown, 8-10 minutes. Add half of leeks and garlic; cook, tossing, until potatoes are brown and crisp and leeks are golden and soft, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl. Repeat with remaining oil, potatoes, leeks, and garlic.
  3. Add lemon zest and juice to potatoes and toss well; season with salt and pepper. Serve drizzled with more oil.

Recipe from Bon Apétit by Alison Roman

Vecchia Osteria by Pasquale

Justa harda working man trying to live the American dream! So says Pasquale Palino, (formerly of LaStalla, one of our Newtown faves), executive chef at Vecchia Osteria. It’s a wonderful Italian, bring-your-own, local, family-owned gem, conveniently located in the heart of Newtown, Bucks County, PA. The menu is authentic Italian cuisine—each dish made with the freshest ingredients and cooked to order. Who can argue?

I believe it’s been around for several years now so it’s a small wonder that we never heard of it until very recently. During the warm weather, they have a huge outdoor seating area which we looked forward to enjoying with friends Rosanne and Gary on a recent Saturday night. However, Mother Nature, who has been cranky the entire month of May, was still not cooperating, so we were seated inside.

But before we hit the road, Rosanne and Gary stopped by our digs for cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. It was a brief visit due to a time mix-up but we did get to enjoy an antipasto platter that Rosanne cleverly assembled (in a purple ceramic oblong basket from Italy, no less.) And earlier in the day I spotted a goat cheese and yogurt dip recipe in my Rachel Ray magazine that would pair perfectly with some seasonal fresh radishes.

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Forward ho! Despite the nasty weather, it was packed when we got there, every seat was taken—a testament to Pasquale’s talents. If you plan on going, definitely call for reservations. Nearly every inch of wall—and ceiling—was covered with corks, framed photos, bunches of grapes, and light fixtures made of green wine bottles. And parts of the restaurant had copper tin ceilings for an old-world effect. The following images were taken from their website to give you a visual snapshot of the place without people.

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Bright yellow walls and most of the serving vessels were a similar sunny hue lending a summery atmosphere to an otherwise dismal day. Our attention turned to the V.O. menu which lists many traditional Italian appetizers, soups, salads, pasta and meat choices. Service is not slow, but in true Italian fashion, you don’t feel rushed either. We spent a nice leisurely evening enjoying our food and wine and never felt like they were trying to “turn our table.”

Now about that food…

Yes, we did imbibe in some appy’s at our house just a short while ago, but we had to sample some of theirs because, after all, I needed fodder for this blog! In that vain, the Zarrilli’s split a plate of Calamari with Red Sauce, and the Mr. and I enjoyed the Roasted Red Peppers & Mozzarella.

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Surprisingly we were all on the same page as far as entrée choices in that we each selected a veal dish (all veal entrees are served with the vegetable of the day).

Gary—Vitello alla Parmigiana, veal breaded and lightly pan fried, topped with fresh mozzarella and tomato sauce:
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Rosanne—Vitello Donatella, veal topped with roasted red peppers, crabmeat and fresh mozzarella in a white wine sauce:
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Russ and Lynn—Vitello ai Funghi, veal sautéed with wild mushrooms and sundried tomatoes in a marsala port wine sauce:
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Verily, if you choose to herein imbibe,
Ever must you follow the rules of Pasquale’s tribe,
Commandments, they are, to guide your culinary stay,
Consider them writ in stone, as they say!
Have no other chefs, Pasquale’s the one,
In here you must smile and have lots of fun,
Always leave, though, not linger, when you are done!

Our kitchen is popular, please patiently wait,
So keep your reservation, and don’t be late,
The fare is all original, Neapolitan style,
Everything’s freshly made, but that takes a while!
Red wine or white, please bring what will fit,
In here you can indulge, that’s why we’re a hit,
About overdrinking, FORGET ABOUT IT!

As we headed out the door for the car, the weather was even worse than when we came in! But we’ll be back, and hopefully dining al fresco!

Dine Seaside Tonight

Bright and full of flavor, Shrimp Scampi is quick enough for a weeknight meal, but it’s also sophisticated enough for a dinner party. So whether it’s just you or a gathering, serve it with pasta, rice, or crusty bread to sop up the yummy garlicky butter sauce.

This is one of the best scampi recipes we’ve ever had — most likely because of the shrimp stock. And the bonus is, since you only use a 1/4 cup of the stock, you have 2 cups leftover for another seafood meal or soup. Or, freeze some in 1/4 cup quantities so the next time you make this scampi, you won’t have to go through the entire process again!

For the shrimp, we had 1 1/4 pounds of shrimp with intact heads in the freezer. Which by the time we decapitated them, our volume was about one pound, as opposed to the 1 1/2 pounds the recipe calls for, making just enough to split between the two of us without any leftovers…. bummer.

Being aficionados of bold flavors, we doubled the amount of garlic and added a healthy 1/4 teaspoon of red pepper flakes. As a garnish, we reserved some of the chopped fresh parsley to add a pop of green sprinkled on the finished dish. Make sure to add a lemon wedge to each plate for a fresh squeeze of citrus as a final flavor enhancer.

A definite keeper!!

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Making the stock with veggies and shrimp shells. Note the black eyeballs of the crustacean heads.

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After removing shells and heads, the shrimp are patted dry and sprinkled with salt and pepper.

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After the stock is made, cook butter, parsley, garlic, and lemon zest for a few minutes.

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The shrimp are added briefly to the parsley-garlic sautée.

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As the heat is raised, other ingredients are incorporated before the shrimp are removed to finish the sauce.

Ingredients

  • 1-1/2 lb. extra jumbo shrimp (16 to 20 per lb.), peeled and deveined (shells reserved), tails left on, if you like
  • 1 medium carrot, chopped
  • 1 medium rib celery, chopped
  • 1 small yellow onion, halved
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 oz. (4 Tbs.) unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 3 large cloves garlic, minced (2 Tbs.)
  • 1 Tbs. finely grated lemon zest
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
  • Crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
  • Lemon wedges for serving

Directions

  1. In a 4-quart saucepan, combine the reserved shrimp shells, carrot, celery, onion, and bay leaf. Add 4 cups of water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook for 30 minutes.
  2. Strain the stock through a fine-mesh sieve and reserve 1/4 cup for the scampi. (Freeze the rest for other uses.)
  3. Pat the shrimp dry and season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 tsp. pepper. In a 12-inch heavy-duty skillet, melt 3 tablespoons of the butter over medium heat. Add the parsley, garlic, and lemon zest and cook, stirring occasionally, until the garlic is lightly golden, 1 to 2 minutes.
  4. Raise the heat to high, add the shrimp, and cook until they start to turn pink, about 1 minute. Add the wine and cook until reduced by half, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the reserved shrimp stock and simmer until the shrimp are just cooked through, 1 to 2 minutes.
  5. Add the lemon juice and crushed red pepper flakes, if using, and stir to coat.
  6. With a slotted spoon, transfer the shrimp to a serving plate. Whisk the remaining 1one tablespoon butter into the sauce. If the sauce seems thin, simmer it gently for a minute or two to thicken.
  7. Season to taste with salt and pepper, pour over the shrimp, and serve with the lemon wedges on the side.

NOTE: After the shrimp are cooked, remove them with a slotted spoon and swirl in the last tablespoon of butter; add the shrimp back to coat and serve.

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Whisk in the remaining tablespoon of butter and let thicken for a minute or two.

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by Melissa Pellegrino from Fine Cooking

Quackilicious!

How exciting, another new (somewhat local) BYOB with famed food critic Craig LaBan’s stamp of approval! As soon as we read the review on The Blue Duck we made reservations (highly recommended and easily accomplished online) for an upcoming Friday night with friends Barb and Brad.

But our plans came to a screeching halt because Mr. Hartman was stuck in a major traffic jam on his way home from work. When he finally did get home, he had no intention of getting back in a car and driving for any length of time, so we just went local in Langhorne.

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Two weeks later we attempted again, and made sure to make the reservations days in advance…

The Blue Duck is a bright little 40-seat restaurant set into an anonymous strip mall in Northeast Philly. The decor is pretty basic with white subway tile, a kitchen counter, and a long, wood community table up front beside the entrance. It succeeds with creative updates to such comfort food favorites as “Quack & Cheese,” burgers ground with pork roll, and more ambitious dishes that don’t necessarily all include duck. But throw your diet out the window because most offerings are not lo-cal. Treadmill here I come…

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It’s a BYOB, so a good craft beer or a hearty red wine are great choices to pair with the richness of it’s updated comfort food. Many intriguing specialties include chorizo mac; General Tso’s wings (and tacos); duck fries; cauliflower soup; deconstructed French onion soup; fried tri-color cauliflower; wild boar meatloaf; sweet potato gnocchi; scallops with barley salad; and Mason jar cheesecake. Or even something as refined as Moroccan-spiced cobia atop sunchoke risotto ringed by a light tomato broth. And how about Wild Boar Meatloaf wrapped in bacon?

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A partial look at the menu.

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Brad having a chuckle over something.

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Opened in the middle of a tiny strip mall in September, 2014, The Blue Duck is a locally-owned and locally-operated New American eatery in Northeast Philadelphia, where co-owners Joe Callahan, Kris Serviss and their staff prepare fresh ingredients daily to provide a unique and comforting dining experience to every person alive.

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An order of the infamous Blue Duck Fries.

Blue Duck Fries: A house favorite, they are hand-cut fries tossed in duck fat, smoked Gouda cheese sauce, shredded duck confit and scallions. We placed an order to share between the four of us, and while we wiped the plate clean, I was slightly disappointed that the fries were not more “crispy.”

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Their luscious Spring Onion Soup topped with grated cheddar.

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Microgreens top Russ’s Everything-Spiced Duck entree.

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Lynn’s Red Pepper Tagliatelle with asparagus and lump crab meat.

Russ started with a bowl of their Spring Onion Soup with cheddar cheese, brioche croutons (which he declined) and chili oil. For his entree, drum roll please, he chose the Eveything-Spiced Duck Breast, what a shocker! It came with roasted fingerling potatoes, brussels sprouts, and a whipped boursin cheese.

I had it all planned ahead of time to order the Pan-Seared Scallops, but at the last minute changed my mind and opted for the Red Pepper Tagliatelle with ramp pesto, asparagus and lump crab meat, loved it!

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Barb enjoyed her turkey patty burger with bacon and avocado.

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Close up of the House Grind Burger topped with your choice of cheese for Brad.

Our dining guests both ordered burgers. Barb selected the S.F.Y., a ground turkey patty with avocado, bacon, and cheddar on a brioche roll with habanero mayo. While hubby Brad, who adores burgers, (kid you not, he once said that if he ever had to choose a last meal, it would be a big, fat juicy burger) got the House Grind Burger made up of a homemade beef patty, lettuce, tomato, red onion and choice of cheese on a brioche roll slathered with a garlic mayo.

Does The Blue Duck still need to unruffle some feathers? Maybe a few. Glaring lights and a deafening noise level didn’t add any sophistication to our dining experience. Russ noted a few tables of all women and commented whenever that’s the case, loud raucous conversations are a by-product. Should I be offended? Probably, but it does seem to hold a kernel of truth… Once the crowd started thinning out, communication was much more pleasant.

Quack, quack, will we be back? Not sure this will be a must-do-again destination given the distance from our house, but I would recommend it if you’re going to be in the vicinity. The food is definitely top-notch!

The Blue Duck also offers brunch every Sunday from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m., highlighted by homemade Chicken & Waffles and their Duck Benedict.

Crispy Tofu with Sesame Asparagus

Great tofu is not an oxymoron. Simply put, it is tofu with a tender center surrounded by a well-seasoned, crisp crust and is one of the most satisfying bites of food which should be appreciated by all serious eaters, no matter your diet. But there’s a lot of bad tofu out there, and it’s easy to dislike when it’s soggy, mushy, or bland. Been there, done that…

The key to both crispness and browning is the removal of moisture, so the drier you get your tofu to begin with, the better the contrast will be between the crisp exterior and moist, tender interior.

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There’s all matter of ways to remove excess water from tofu. Some recipes recommend pressing your whole block of tofu to remove excess moisture before slicing. I’ve done this method often, and it works fine, but takes some time. Much easier is to slice the tofu, then lay the slices out flat on a cutting board or baking sheet lined with paper towels or a clean kitchen towel. More surface area = faster water removal = dinner on the table that much faster = happy family.

A coating of panko (Japanese breadcrumbs) is the secret to these ultracrisp tofu triangles. Hoisin sauce does double duty, adding flavor to the tofu’s coating and serving as a sweet-tangy dipping sauce.

Make sure that the pan is smoking hot before you add the asparagus, and then don’t touch it for at least a minute. You’ll get a great char on the asparagus and super flavor. One reviewer suggested that if you’re a total tofuphobe, this recipe would be fantastic on chicken tenders or long zucchini slices. Food for thought…

The dish goes well with a rice salad or an herb salad dressed with a simple Gingery Asian Vinaigrette.

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Ingredients

  • 1 14-oz. package extra-firm tofu, drained
  • 1/2 cup plus 3 Tbs. hoisin sauce
  • 4 Tbs. seasoned rice vinegar
  • 3/4 tsp. Asian chili garlic sauce
  • 2 large eggs
  • 4 tsp. Asian sesame oil
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 cups panko
  • 1/2 cup cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 Tbs. peanut oil
  • 1 lb. medium asparagus, trimmed
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tsp. toasted sesame seeds

Directions

  1. Slice the tofu in half crosswise. Slice each half once on the diagonal, lay cut side down, and cut each vertically into 3 slices, to make 12 triangles. Arrange the slices on double-thick layers of paper towels and press to remove as much moisture as possible. Repeat as necessary to dry the tofu well.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk 1/2 cup of the hoisin sauce, 3 Tbs. of the vinegar, and the chili-garlic sauce. Set aside.
  3. In a shallow dish, lightly beat the eggs with the remaining 3 Tbs. hoisin sauce and 1 Tbs. vinegar, 2 tsp. of the sesame oil, and 1/2 tsp. salt. Put the panko and cornstarch in separate shallow bowls. Lightly season the tofu on both sides with salt. Dredge each piece of tofu in the cornstarch, shaking off the excess, then in the egg mixture, and then in the panko, setting the triangles on a plate as you finish each one.
  4. Heat 1/4 cup of the peanut oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil begins to shimmer, add half of the tofu triangles and cook, turning once, until golden and crisp, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate, and season lightly with kosher salt. Repeat with the remaining tofu.
  5. Wipe out the skillet, add the remaining 1 Tbs. peanut oil and return to medium-high heat. When the oil begins to shimmer, add the asparagus, and cook, turning, until crisp-tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the remaining 2 tsp. sesame oil and toss well. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with the sesame seeds. Serve the tofu and asparagus with the dipping sauce on the side.

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Block of tofu is drained. 
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Slice the tofu in half horizontally, and then each piece in half again to make four slabs.

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Each plank is cut into triangles of approximate size.

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Triangular tofu slices are drained on paper towels several different times to extract the moisture.

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In a shallow dish, lightly beat the eggs with the remaining hoisin sauce, vinegar, and sesame oil.

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Whisking the ingredients to well combined.

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Dust each tofu triangle in cornstarch, then the egg mixture, followed by a coating of panko crumbs.

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The tofu is browned on both sides for a few minutes, and done in two batches.

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Once crisped, lay the tofu on several layers of paper towels and salt immediately.

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Wipe out the skillet before you cook the asparagus.

By Laraine Perri from Fine Cooking, from the Make It Tonight series.

Michelin-Caliber “elements”

As has been our tradition since we began dating, when our respective birthdays arrive, the honoree chooses the venue, the other pays the tab. And this year, Russ chose elements (lower case “e”), a Michelin-caliber experience, situated in a lovely, loft-like second-floor space, braced in wooden rafters and stone, above Mistral in Princeton. Philly food critic Craig LaBan gives it a rating of 3 Bells. What can I say, my guy has good taste…

Mid-May is often a difficult time of year to obtain reservations at high end restaurants due to all kinds of celebrations. We know first-hand because it is a yearly ordeal for Russ’s birthday. As luck would have it, we actually got a booking, albeit at 8:15, on a Saturday night in mid-May. And with just nine tables in the main dining room, it was even more surprising. The dining Gods were on our side.

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A waiter was kind enough to take our picture next to the open kitchen as we were leaving.

The elements team—executive chef and co-owner Scott Anderson, who according to LaBan “Anderson’s food can be as exceptionally delicious as it is quirky,” chef de cuisine Mike Ryan, and their team of visionaries in the kitchen—place a first-rate focus on fresh ingredients, many of which are sourced from local farmers and producers. They transform classic dishes into something altogether new utilizing innovative, modern techniques to draw out the purest flavors. Refreshingly, the seasonally driven menu changes daily and places a heightened focus on tasting menus. These descriptors reeled us in, hook, line and sinker!

In simple terms, a dinner at elements is this: Mannered. Urbane. Clever. Luxuriant. Restrained. Also, playful. Also, emotional.    — By Teresa Politano | For Inside Jersey

Elements, with its flexible approach allows diners to tackle anywhere from four courses on weeknights, five or more courses on weekends, and up to 20-plus for the $185 Grand Tasting. Holey-moley, one has to have a huuuugge appetite (not to mention wallet) for that! Since our reservations were on a Saturday, we were going to enjoy five courses…

Not finding any immediate street parking in downtown Princeton, there was a garage just a few short blocks away from our destination, so we took advantage and pulled in. Used to paying Philly prices, we were shocked to see the rate was only $5 for three hours. Even more shocked when we paid to drive out—a mere $1.75 total—the parking Gods seemed to be on our side too!

We initially entered into the bar Mistral on the first floor where a host immediately greeted us, and whisked upstairs via elevator to the modernly appointed elements on the second floor. Their attention to detail never wavered from the moment they pulled out my seat, to exchanging flatware between every course, to warm hand towels after the “amuse bouche” plates, and a final touch of warmed milk with your coffee.

After being seated by a window overlooking famed Witherspoon Street, we were presented with two dining options with separate menus (one had more courses, and of course cost more dinero), and a very large and thorough wine list from our friendly and knowledgable waiter, dressed in suit and spiffy bowtie. An inquiry was made regarding the wheat food allergy I noted in the online res, so when Russ told him he avoids gluten, they accommodated him with homemade gluten-free bread and substituted peas for the farro in the steak dish.

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Their homemade breads were unbelievable, enough that I finished the entire slice of the grain bread and a bit of the chewy, crusty loaf—and I don’t typically eat bread…

After selecting a Spanish red, Peña El Gato, from the Rioja region, one of the chefs appeared at our table with a bird’s nest in hand, filled with two beautiful quail eggs that were cured in wine lees and smoked to perfection with a delicate outer white and soft-boiled-like, creamy interior. I must confess, I’d never eaten a quail’s egg that I know of, but I was impressed.

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Two smoked quail eggs are presented table side in a gorgeous bird’s nest.

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We were told to pick up the eggs in hand and eat them that way.

Next up, while a stereo played Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” and other 70’s favorites, another chef delivered a little plate with two beautiful squares—but for the life of us we can’t remember what they were—other than very good. We think they were called Panisse…

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The second amuse bouche of the night that we think was called Panisse…

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Even the warm hand towels were presented on a beautiful ceramic plate.

Before the actual courses started to arrive, we received two warm hand towels on a beautiful artistic plate. In fact, each course was arranged on a different vessel that complimented the food. My coworker Francis informed me the day prior to our outing that elements crockery is made especially for the restaurant by John Shedd at his studio in nearby Rocky Hill—a place Francis’ wife Jane works. So of course I had to take a picture of the back of a signed plate…

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The orchestration of the cooking, plating and delivery is interesting to experience via the open kitchen. Each chef is responsible for one of the courses and when the time is appropriate, they not only bring it to your table, but explain in detail what everything is and how it was sourced and/or cooked. Our “five courses” are described in the menu below.

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The “live” scallop dish was topped with little white radish flowers.

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Japanese Kanpachi Tataki with rhubarb, green almond and spring garlic was similar to ahi tuna.

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Neither of us had ever tasted Barrelfish before, but it won’t be the last time either.

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The ribeye was sublime, and the maitake mushrooms were out of this world! Interestingly, there were no potatoes or yogurt included even though the menu said otherwise.

The dessert had a deceptively simple name, “White Chocolate” even though it was anything but simple. It featured an earl grey custard, with bits of citrus and a lemony soy milk ice cream with small planks of speckled white chocolate and topped with candied kumquat slices. Those of you that know me, know that I typically never eat dessert, but this is one time where I made an exception and ate about half before turning the remainder over to a very happy birthday boy.

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To me, bathrooms always say something about the soul of a place, and elements two spacious “WCs” were topnotch with rolled cloth hand towels, a modern wooden receptacle in which to discard the used towels, gorgeous tile work, mood lighting and modern vessel sinks.

While waiting for the check, the final food presentation was an individually wrapped, homemade bourbon chocolate topped with a dash of sea salt covering a minty, creamy white interior. Of course I had to take a taste, and again Russ was forced to finish it 😉

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‘In order to create a more intimate link between kitchen and diner, each course was presented and explained by a different member of the kitchen staff including the Executive Chef, Scott Anderson, and the outstanding Sous Chef, Mike Ryan, who created and served the amazing… Michelin 3-star dish… courses I’ll remember for the rest of my life.’   — DC Dining Review

This dining experience will surely be one that we also remember for a very long time… Hmmm, my birthday is coming up in a few months… If you’re looking for a venue to celebrate a special occasion, you might want to explore elements.

A Sauce for All Reasons

Crispy Pork Cutlets with Lemon-Caper Sauce was one of those fast Make-It-Tonite meals from Fine Cooking. A briny-peppery mayonnaise adds zing to these slightly spicy fried pork cutlets. And WOW were they tasty! The sauce would pair perfectly with fish or chicken cutlets too. I could even go so far as to envision it as a dip for pretzels and chips, or a crudité platter. Endless possibilities abound!

With Russ eliminating wheat from his diet, we dredged the pork in gluten-free flour and bread crumbs which gave a nice crunchy texture to the exterior of the chops. Rounding out our meal was a Spring salad of bibb lettuce, baby spinach, blanched fresh peas, radishes and cilantro tossed in a lemon vinaigrette.

TIP: Use salt when mashing garlic to a paste. Begin by finely chopping the garlic. Sprinkle the chopped garlic with a big pinch of kosher salt—the salt is an abrasive that speeds the mashing and is keeps the garlic from sticking to the knife. Mash the garlic with the side of the knife against the board. Repeat over and over until it becomes a fine paste.

Ingredients

  • 4-1/2-inch-thick boneless pork chops (about 1 lb.)
  • 1/4 tsp. chipotle powder or smoked hot paprika
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 lemon
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 Tbs. small capers, rinsed, drained, and coarsely chopped
  • 2 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 large clove garlic, mashed to a paste with a pinch of kosher salt
  • 3-1/2 oz. (3/4 cup) all-purpose flour
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1-1/2 cups panko
  • 6 Tbs. olive oil

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Pounding the pork chop with a meat mallet.

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A comparison in thickness before and after the meat was pounded.

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The spice mixture. We used pimenton picante instead of chipotle powder.

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The chops get happy for awhile with their spice mixture.

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The ingredients for the sauce are added to a small bowl.

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The appearance of the sauce after all ingredients are combined.

Directions

  1. Pound each chop between two pieces of plastic wrap with a meat mallet or the bottom of a heavy pan until 1/4 inch thick. Mix the chipotle powder with 1 tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp. pepper and sprinkle on the chops.
  2. Finely grate the zest of half the lemon and then juice that half. Cut the remaining half into wedges for serving.
  3. In a medium bowl, mix the mayonnaise with the lemon juice and zest, the capers, 1 tsp. of the thyme, the garlic, 1 tsp. pepper, and 1/4 tsp. salt.
  4. Put the flour, eggs, and panko in separate shallow bowls. Toss the panko with the remaining 1 tsp. thyme and 1/2 tsp. salt. Dredge each cutlet in the flour, shaking off any excess, then in the egg, and then in the panko to coat well. Transfer to a plate or platter.
  5. Heat 3 Tbs. of the oil in a 10- to 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering hot. Add 2 of the cutlets, reduce the heat to medium, and cook, flipping once, until browned on both sides and cooked through (cut into a thicker chop to check), about 4 minutes.
  6. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels. Wipe out the skillet and repeat with the remaining 3 Tbs. oil and cutlets. Serve with the sauce and lemon wedges.

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Three separate bowls contain the beaten eggs, flour and panko mixture.

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After lightly flouring each chop, the meat is given an egg bath.

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The final step for the pork before it goes in the pan is a coating in the panko mixture.

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The chops are browned two at a time for about 4 minutes.

by Tony Rosenfeld from Fine Cooking

Traditional Thai Dish Gets an American Make-Over

Pad See Ew—the traditional popular Thai dish of chewy, lightly charred rice noodles, with chicken, crisp broccoli, and moist egg is bound with a sweet and salty soy-based sauce. In this Americanized version Thai-Style Stir-Fried Noodles with Chicken and Broccolini, eliminating much of the stirring in the stir-fry helps achieve the all-important char that characterizes pad see ew. So contain yourself and let the food stay put, stirring each ingredient just once or twice during cooking.

The 3 components to this dish are the noodles, the sauce, and the ingredients to stir fry. Have all of them ready to toss into the wok as once you start cooking, it only takes a few minutes so you don’t want to be scrambling around the kitchen. A heads up, while the total cooking time is only around 20 minutes, it requires a good bit of prep. And you need to cook the dish in batches, combining all of the components right before serving.

The unique technique with Pad See Ew is the cooking of an egg in the wok. Bits of scrambled egg gets stuck to the other ingredients and the char it creates adds to the authentic flavor of this dish.

The flat pad thai–style rice noodles that are used in this recipe can be found in the Asian foods section of most supermarkets. If you can’t find broccolini, you can substitute an equal amount of conventional broccoli, but be sure to trim and peel the stalks before cutting. We doubled the amount of broccolini because 10 ounces only measured one small bunch in the supermarket and we wanted a larger vegetable quotient.

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Ingredients

CHILE VINEGAR

  • ⅓ cup white vinegar
  • serrano chile, stemmed and sliced into thin rings

STIR-FRY

  • (6-ounce) boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed and cut against grain into ¼-inch thick slices
  • teaspoon baking soda
  • ounces (¼-inch-wide) rice noodles
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • ¼ cup oyster sauce
  • tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
  • tablespoon white vinegar
  • teaspoon molasses
  • teaspoon fish sauce
  • garlic cloves, sliced thin
  • large eggs
  • 10 ounces broccolini, florets cut into 1-inch pieces, stalks cut on bias into ½-inch pieces (5 cups)

Directions

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  1. FOR THE CHILE VINEGAR: Combine vinegar and serrano in bowl. Let stand at room temperature for at least 15 minutes.
  2. FOR THE STIR-FRY: Combine chicken with 2 tablespoons water and baking soda in bowl. Let sit at room temperature for 15 minutes. Rinse chicken in cold water and drain well.
  3. Bring 6 cups water to boil. Place noodles in large bowl. Pour boiling water over noodles. Stir, then soak until noodles are almost tender, about 8 minutes, stirring once halfway through soak. Drain and rinse with cold water. Drain well and toss with 2 teaspoons oil.
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  4. Whisk oyster sauce, soy sauce, sugar, vinegar, molasses, and fish sauce together in bowl.
  5. Heat 2 teaspoons oil and garlic in 12-inch nonstick skillet over high heat, stirring occasionally, until garlic is deep golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Add chicken and 2 tablespoons sauce mixture, toss to coat, and spread chicken into even layer. Cook, without stirring, until chicken begins to brown, 1 to 1½ minutes.
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  6. Using tongs, flip chicken and cook, without stirring, until second side begins to brown, 1 to 1½ minutes. Push chicken to 1 side of skillet.
  7. Add 2 teaspoons oil to cleared side of skillet. Add eggs to clearing. Using rubber spatula, stir eggs gently and cook until set but still wet. Stir eggs into chicken and continue to cook, breaking up large pieces of egg, until eggs are fully cooked, 30 to 60 seconds. Transfer chicken mixture to bowl.
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  8. Heat 2 teaspoons oil in now-empty skillet until smoking. Add broccolini and 2 tablespoons sauce and toss to coat. Cover skillet and cook for 2 minutes, stirring once halfway through cooking.
  9. Remove lid and continue to cook until broccolini is crisp and very brown in spots, 2 to 3 minutes, stirring once halfway through cooking. Transfer broccolini to bowl with chicken mixture.
  10. Heat 2 teaspoons oil in now-empty skillet until smoking. Add half of noodles and 2 tablespoons sauce and toss to coat. Cook until noodles are starting to brown in spots, about 2 minutes, stirring halfway through cooking. Transfer noodles to bowl with chicken mixture.
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  11. Repeat with remaining 2 teaspoons oil, noodles, and sauce. When second batch of noodles is cooked, add contents of bowl back to skillet and toss to combine. Cook, without stirring, until everything is warmed through, 1 to 1½ minutes.
  12. Transfer to platter and serve immediately, passing chile vinegar separately.

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Recipe adapted from Cook’s Illustrated

Meatball and Artichoke Soup

In this unusual potage, little pork meatballs with a touch of cinnamon and pine nuts make an exceptionally tasty contribution to the soup from La Cocina De Mamá: The Great Home Cooking of Spain, a favorite cookbook by Penelope CasasBread is the thickening agent, as is so often the case with traditional Spanish soups, but which posed an issue for us since Russ has forgone wheat.

The fix? We would have used gluten-free bread, but we had none on hand. Instead, Russ stirred some of the broth with a heaping tablespoon of gluten-free flour and then mixed it back into the soup. Not ideal, but it was a satisfactory solution—no complaints on our end. The only other thing we’ll probably do different the next time around is double the amount of artichoke hearts.

It made for yummy lunches during the week.

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Ingredients

  • 4 cups plus 2 Tbsp. chicken broth, preferably homemade
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 Tbsp. minced fresh parsley
  • 2 Tbsp. finely chopped pine nuts
  • 1 lb. ground pork
  • 3 Tbsp. breadcrumbs
  • 4-6 artichoke hearts, fresh or frozen, quartered
  • 1 large egg, separated
  • Kosher or sea salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp. sweet paprika, preferably Spanish smoked
  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 slice bacon
  • 1 slice good quality sandwich bread, crusts removed

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The bread crumbs are soaked in chicken broth before adding the pork, pine nuts, bacon, parsley, cinnamon, garlic, and egg yolk.

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Little meatballs are shaped by hand and lined up on waxed paper.

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Whisk the egg white with a fork until foamy.

Directions

  1. In a medium bowl soak the bread crumbs in the 2 tablespoons chicken broth. Add the pork, pine nuts, bacon, parsley, cinnamon, garlic, egg yolk, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and the pepper to taste and mix well with your hands. Shape into meatballs not larger than 3/4 inch.
  2. In anther bowl, whisk the egg white with a fork until foamy. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a shallow casserole. Dip the meatballs in the egg white, then sauté in the hot oil until barely cooked through. Remove to a warm platter and wipe out the casserole.
  3. Heat the remaining tablespoon oil in the casserole and slowly sauté the onion until softened. Stir in the paprika, then add the 4 cups broth, the artichokes, and the meatballs. Simmer uncovered for 15 minutes.
  4. Break up the bread slice and combine in a small bowl with 4 tablespoons broth taken from the casserole. Whisk until smooth. Stir into the soup, taste for salt, and serve.

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What the Fook?

Ed Mortka, never having been to the Chinatown section of Philadelphia, suggested we meet there for dinner and drinks this past Saturday. To that end, Russ did a little research and output a list of about 30 possible eateries. I narrowed it down to nine restaurants, and we sent those choices to the Mortkas, with Karen selecting the winner, Lee How Fook. Now that’s what I call teamwork!

However, our rendezvous started an hour-and-a-half before reservations allowing us time to walk the ‘hood. Our first choice for drinks was the questionably named Hop Sing Laundromat, on Race Street described as a swanky speakeasy-style bar with meticulously made cocktails. Claiming to be one of Philly’s best, it also comes with a list of rules—such as no phones—long wait lines, and a provocative owner known to be polarizing. Hmmm, sounds intriguing…

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The difficult to find entrance to Hop Sing Laundromat.

First, you have to find the place. With Ed and Russ both using smart phones you’d think it would’ve been easy. But Hop Sing does not have a sign out front, nor anything else to indicate it’s whereabouts. One clue, we noticed four middle-aged couples standing outside a metal-caged door, when eventually a doorman popped his head out. Based on a cash-only policy and a passerby’s comments about knowing some secret code, plus a strict dress code: no sneakers, no shorts, no tank tops, we said “The Fook With This” and opted to patronize another establishment, which led us to Bar Ly.

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Both couples enjoying pre-dinner drinks at Bar Ly.

It’s Chinatown’s first craft beer bar, that boasts a high-quality lineup of 60 taps. They also serve cocktails and wine by the glass, so something for everyone. And if you’re so inclined, large TV screens line the walls airing every possible sport for your viewing pleasure. Luckily it wasn’t loud, and it was happy hour so we enjoyed catching up over low-priced drinks. A little over an hour later, it was time to walk the few short blocks to dinner.

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Located on North 11th Street in Philadelphia, Zagat-rated, BYOB Lee How Fook has been in business for over 30 years. Chef and founder Shing Chung immigrated from China bringing his cooking talents to Philadelphia’s Chinatown in the 1970’s; while his son-in-law Andrew has turned it into a modern day BYOB classic gem with an authentic take on Cantonese cuisine.

And that authentic menu is extensive, with all choices very reasonably priced. In fact, one site says the price averages $30 per couple (our tabs were just slightly higher than that.) Choices include chef’s specials, restorative soups, whole steamed fish, and excellent hot pots, among many other options. I got to tell ya, it was extremely hard to narrow down to only a few selections.

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We all loved the pan-seared pork dumplings.

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The mixture for the lettuce wraps was made up of chicken, scallions, bean sprouts and sauce.

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A bit of meat mixture in a lettuce leaf before it is wrapped.

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A small bowl of Crab and Asparagus Soup.

Deciding to start with some shared appetizers, we chose Pan-Seared Pork Dumplings, Lettuce Wraps, and Crab and Asparagus Soup for four. There was audible ooohing an aaahing as we savored every bite. One complaint though, they brought the entrees while we were still enjoying the starters, so we felt a bit rushed. Oddly, several groups walked in after us but were turned away—unusual as there seemed to be numerous open tables in the relatively small restaurant.

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Ed’s Fried Noodles with Mixed Seafood entree.

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A close-up of Russ’s Duck with Black Bean Sauce.

Back to those entrees. Russ surprised no one when he ordered Duck with Black Bean Sauce, which arrived laden with crisp-tender vegetables. Ed chose the Pan Fried Noodles with Mixed Seafood and bok choy, and absolutely loved it. (He was the only one lucky enough to have leftovers.)

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Scallops in Mandarin Sauce enjoyed by both Lynn and Karen.

Karen and I both opted for the Scallops with Mandarin Sauce—with Karen ordering less-spicy, and me, extra-spicy. However we were both disappointed that the dish didn’t come with any vegetables. In hind sight we should’ve ordered additional veggie sides from their long list which included green beans, eggplant, broccoli, bok choy, and snow peas to name a few. We’ll know better next time.

After dinner, the night was still young so off we went in search of a place for coffee and dessert. Just up the street on 11th, A La Mousse which specializes in cleverly created customized cakes, Italian pastries, cannolis, cream puffs, and eclairs, seemed to fit the bill. We walked in and snagged a picnic table just in time before the rush piled in causing a line out the door.

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A worker shows off a tray of gorgeous sandwich desserts.

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Karen and Russ ponder which desserts to order.

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Karen and Ed split a slice of Double Chocolate Mousse Cake.

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Russ enjoyed the artfully plated Tea-R-Misu dessert.

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Lynn’s Green Matcha Tea.

While still not too late, we decided to bid farewell after our leisurely dessert. But I know we’ll be back to Chinatown to check out a few more restaurants and perhaps even make it into Hop Sing Laundromat for those specialty cocktails—but I won’t be able to take any photos 😦

Strange Bedfellows

Thai meets Italian—“ThaiTalian?” Our first thoughts, what an odd combination—Rotini with Ground Pork and Spicy Peanut Sauce, with its bright, Asian-inspired flavors paired with Italian rotini pasta—but it’s a great choice for holding onto the sauce. And the flavors were amazingly great, much to our initial skepticism.

And because we love spicy, we intended to make a side of Spicy Roasted Broccoli and Snow Peas with a few fresh Thai bird chiles, sambal oelek, minced ginger, garlic and a bit ‘o honey. But when I opened the bag of broccoli florets (which we usually don’t buy bagged), they were in pretty bad shape so into to the compost bucket they went. Instead, Russ wok-fried the snow peas and Thai chiles with some minced garlic and ginger then added a tablespoon of Chili Bean Sauce at the end—an excellent accompaniment!

Because we only had about a tablespoon of crunchy peanut butter on hand, I improvised and made my own with enough smooth peanut butter and finely chopped peanuts to equal the requisite 1/2 cup. This way I even had some of the chopped peanuts leftover to use as a garnish along with chopped cilantro and scallion greens.

Not a pork eater? Try using ground turkey or chicken. To make it low-carb, swap spaghetti squash for the pasta.

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Ingredients

  • Kosher salt
  • 12 oz. rotini (we used gluten-free)
  • 1-1/2 Tbs. Asian sesame oil
  • 5 medium scallions, thinly sliced, whites and greens separated
  • 2 Tbs. minced fresh ginger
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 lb. ground pork
  • 3 Tbs. soy sauce
  • 2 Tbs. unseasoned rice vinegar
  • 1 Tbs. sambal oelek or other Asian chile paste; more to taste
  • 1 Tbs. granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup crunchy peanut butter, preferably natural
  • 2/3 cup lower-salt chicken broth
  • 1 medium lime, cut into 4 wedges
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro (optional)

Directions

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the rotini and cook according to package directions until al dente.
  2. Meanwhile, heat a 12-inch heavy-duty skillet over medium heat. Add the oil, then the scallion whites. Cook, stirring, until softened, about 1 minute. Add the ginger and garlic and cook, stirring for 30 seconds.
  3. Crumble in the pork and cook, stirring occasionally, until it loses its pink color, about 5 minutes. Stir in the soy sauce, vinegar, sambal oelek, and sugar and cook until bubbling. Add the peanut butter and stir until incorporated. Pour in the broth, stir well, and bring to a simmer. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water, drain the pasta, and return it to the pot. Stir in the pork mixture and scallion greens. Thin the sauce with the pasta water, if necessary. Divide among plates or bowls, squeeze a lime wedge over each serving, and top with cilantro, if using.

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First sauté the scallion whites, ginger and garlic before adding the meat.

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Browning the meat with the garlic, ginger and scallion whites.

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Adding the peanut butter to the meat mixture.

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What the final sauce looks like before adding the pasta. We didn’t feel the need to thin with pasta water.

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Stir-fried snow peas before the chili bean sauce was added.

by Bruce Weinstein, Mark Scarbrough from Fine Cooking

Cod Heaven is Here

Wow, this Cod with Pancetta, Artichokes and Olives had us feeling fine on Cloud Nine. It was really a flavorful and delicious recipe that came together quickly. Despite the ease of preparation—the fish, sauce, and side dish all cook in one skillet—this is a restaurant-worthy dinner. If desired, serve it with good crusty bread to mop up the sauce. For a more low-carb dinner, we just paired with a side salad.

Can’t emphasize how much we truly loved this Mediterranean-style dish… and talk about healthy! Plus, we definitely almost doubled the amount of olives and increased the marinated artichokes too.

My only complaint is with Step 4 “Add the wine and cook until the pan is almost dry, about 1 minute.” It was more like 4-5 minutes for most of the liquid to evaporate. Minor issue I know, but it’s good to know ahead of time.

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All of the ingredients are measured and prepped.

Ingredients

  • 4 6-oz. pieces fresh cod loin fillet
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 oz. pancetta, cut into 1/4-inch dice (about 1/4 cup)
  • 1 medium yellow onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
  • 1/8 to 1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 15-oz. can diced fire-roasted tomatoes in juice
  • 1 cup marinated artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
  • 1/2 cup large green olives, such as Castelvetrano, pitted and halved

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Once cooked, the pancetta is removed with a slotted spoon.

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The cod filets start browning in the oil after the pancetta is removed.

IMG_5154Remove the fish, then add the onion, thyme, and pepper flakes to the skillet.

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The onion is stirred until soft, about 4 minutes.

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After the wine is mostly evaporated, add the tomatoes and their juice, artichokes, and olives.

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Nestle the fish into the sauce, keeping the seared side exposed.

Directions

  1. Pat the cod dry and season with salt and pepper.
  2. Heat the oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta and cook, stirring, until crisp and golden, 2 to 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pancetta to a paper-towel-lined plate, leaving the fat behind in the pan.
  3. Add the fish to the skillet and cook until slightly golden, about 3 minutes. Flip and transfer to a plate, seared side up.
  4. Add the onion, thyme, and pepper flakes to the skillet; cook, stirring, until the onion is soft, about 4 minutes. Add the wine and cook until the pan is almost dry, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and their juice, artichokes, and olives. Simmer, stirring occasionally, to meld the flavors, about 2 minutes.
  5. Lower the heat to medium and nestle the fish into the sauce, keeping the seared side exposed. Cover and cook until the fish is opaque and just cooked through, about 3 minutes. Sprinkle with the pancetta, divide among rimmed plates or wide, shallow bowls, and serve.

OUR NOTE: If not using a non-stick skillet, double the amount of olive oil.

by Christine Burns Rudalevige from Fine Cooking

Five-Star Weeknight Chicken

This classic, comforting dish (who doesn’t love succulent roast chicken?) takes a bit longer that the usual 3o minutes, but it’s almost entirely hands-off. Now Baked Chicken with Herbs, Garlic and Shallots is sure to be a staple of our weeknight dinner repertoire.

It’s unbelievably easy, resulting in beautifully crisped flavorful chicken! And the aromas while cooking are to die for. You may want to, as we did, add additional garlic and shallots because once roasted they are heavenly. Don’t overcrowd the baking dish, use lots of kosher salt and you will be rewarded with crispy chicken and nicely roasted garlic cloves that can be slathered onto warm crusty bread. If you prefer soft, creamy garlic, make sure to tuck the cloves under the chicken parts.

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Vary the herbs as you like, but stick to the hardy ones—thyme, rosemary, sage, and oregano. They’ll roast without burning and have a stronger flavor. While the instructions don’t mention chopping the herbs, I did give them a rough chop because the narrow pointed rosemary leaves were quite large.

The recipe calls for a whole chicken, and that’s what we use because Russ likes to cut out the back and keep the neck—to add to our bag of chicken parts in the freezer—and save for making stock at a future date. Plus, he likes the dark meat, I, the white. You could save time by buying pre-cut chicken parts, just remember to reduce the roasting time by about 10 minutes.

The next time we make this, and I’m sure it will be soon, we will add a 1/2 cup chicken stock to mix with the pan juices, and then bring the liquid to a boil and reduce in a small pan to make jus.

Our side was a Warm Potato and Watercress Salad (recipe follows chicken recipe) that paired well with the chicken and can be roasted in the same oven. Once the potatoes are removed from the oven, simply toss them in the homemade vinaigrette, add the greens until a bit wilted, and divide directly onto the dinner plates, not need to dirty another bowl.

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Ingredients

  • 1 chicken (3-1/2 to 4 lb.), cut into quarters
  • 3 Tbs. unsalted butter
  • 6 medium shallots, cut in half and peeled
  • 8 large garlic cloves, peeled
  • Leaves stripped from 10 sprigs fresh thyme
  • Leaves stripped from 8 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 1-1/2 tsp. coarse salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

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The chicken pieces are rubbed in the butter, herbs and oil and well salted.

Directions

  1. Heat the oven to 425°F. Rinse the chicken and pat it dry with paper towels. Cut away any excess fat and tuck the wings behind each breast.
  2. Put the butter into a large, shallow baking pan (the 10-1/2×15-1/2-inch Pyrex pan is ideal for this). Put the pan into the oven while it’s heating. When the butter is melted (about 10 minutes), remove the pan and set it on a heatproof surface or on a couple of potholders.
  3. Add the shallots, garlic, thyme, and rosemary, and swirl the pan to coat the ingredients in the butter.
  4. Dredge the chicken, skin side down, in the butter and herb mixture, and arrange, skin side up, in the pan. Sprinkle the chicken generously with the salt and pepper. Bake until the chicken is browned and cooked through, 50 to 60 minutes. (Ours was done after 50 minutes.)
  5. Serve with the shallots and garlic along with a drizzle of the pan drippings.

by Abigail Johnson Dodge from Fine Cooking

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Just look at these gorgeous little purple potatoes getting happy in olive oil and salt.

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Olive oil, lemon juice, Dijon mustard, salt and pepper make up the ingredients for the vinaigrette.

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Whisk the dressing ingredients well before tossing with the roasted potatoes.

Warm Potato and Watercress Salad

Ingredients

  • 2 bunches stemmed watercress
  • 9 oz. fingerling potatoes, any color
  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Halve the fingerling potatoes and toss them with the olive oil and salt. Arrange on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast in the same oven as the chicken, putting them in the oven 20 minutes before the chicken is done. Turn the potatoes after 10 minutes and cook another 10 minutes (20 minutes total) until golden brown and tender.
  2. Meanwhile make a simple vinaigrette with the olive oil, lemon juice, mustard, salt and pepper; whisk well.
  3. When the potatoes are done, pour some of the dressing over them on the hot baking sheet and toss. Add stemmed watercress and toss until it starts to wilt. Season with salt and pepper and serve with additional dressing on the side if desired.