White Truffle Mac ‘n’ Cheese with Grilled Chicken

Dangerous!  This is a word that can accurately describe certain parts of Philadelphia.  More frequently than I care to read or hear in the newspaper or radio are episodes or sprees of crime happening in the City of Brotherly Love.  Where’s the love you may ask?  Apparently not in north or south Philly where, according to my very unscientific media-based observation, a huge portion of our city’s crime takes place.  One of the more recent and prominent episodes involved the “Kensington Strangler,” in which a 22 year-old man assaulted and strangled to death three women over a one month period.  While there should never be any “fame” in crime, Philadelphia does have its fair share of infamous criminals.  Many of these criminals, including “Slick Willie” Sutton and Al Capone, spent time in Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary, once the most famous and expensive prison in the world.  According to it’s website, Eastern State Penitentiary is “known for its grand architecture and strict discipline, this was the world’s first true ‘penitentiary,’ a prison designed to inspire penitence, or true regret, in the hearts of convicts.”  Eastern State Penitentiary is no longer a prison and is now a museum open everyday from 10am to 5pm.  It is an impressive place and is definitely worth checking out, especially around Halloween.

White Truffle Mac ‘n’ Cheese with Grilled Chicken (from L.A. Times)

Dangerous is not only a word that describes the past and present criminals of Philadelphia, but also this macaroni and cheese.  It will be known for its “grand architecture” (white truffle olive oil amongst other things) and it’s required self- “strict discipline” to avoid over consuming such a flavor- and calorie-rich dish.  It is possible that enjoying this dish will inspire “penitence” and “true regret” and create a yearning to immediately resume healthy eating and an exercise regime.  There are 2 types of cheese – Boursin Garlic and Herb Gournay cheese (oh so good!) and mozzarella , one quart of heavy cream, crispy pancetta and bread crumbs sauteed in pancetta fat.  I’m not recommending enjoying such a rich dish as a daily ritual, but it is worthwhile making this on a special occasion.  Trust me, it’s dangerously good!

I recommend adding some fresh mozzarella cheese to this prior to serving (not part of the original recipe) and serving it with some sort of fresh vegetable (see next post) and a great wine (perhaps a cabernet or a rioja or a zinfandel).


Roquefort Cheese-Stuffed Burgers with Caramelized Onions on a Toasted Brioche Bun
March 25, 2011, 9:54 am
Filed under: Dinner, Red Meat | Tags: , , , , , ,

At the beginning of 2010 I told myself that I was going to create the perfect burger.  After quite a few attempts throughout January and February I had had enough red meat to last me the remainder of the year.  My stomach, and I’m sure my cholesterol, were relieved.  Although I decided to put my goal on hold did not mean I could not test and find the best burgers of the chefs/restaurants of Philadelphia.  To date, the best burgers are found at Village Whiskey, Rouge, Good Dog, Butcher & Singer, Pub and Kitchen and 500 degrees.  The best by far is at Village Whiskey.  Their signature burger, the Whiskey King, is out of this world, but even their most basic burger is fantastic.  I find the Village Whiskey and Butcher & Singer burgers to be upscale-good, but for a more neighborhood-good burger I love the Good Dog Burger.  It’s a roquefort cheese-stuffed burger with lettuce and tomato served with sweet potato fries.  It is well prepared, unique and delicious.  The personality of the burger fits with the ambiance of the Good Dog Bar – chill, relaxed and comforting.

Roquefort Cheese-Stuffed Burgers with Caramelized Onions on a Toasted Brioche Bun (adapted from Good Dog Bar and Restaurant)

Since I find the Good Dog burger so enjoyable I wanted to re-create it myself.  It’s creation in my kitchen is based on my recollection of my Good Dog experience, the small details I noticed while enjoying burgers at other places and what I have read about burgers on various blogs.  The first thing that came to my attention was the composition of the burger.  It appears that restaurants never just buy ground beef, make burger patties and then throw them on the grill.  Their meat is a combination of several cuts of beef.  I used short rib, brisket and chuck (75/25 meat-to-fat blend).  I asked the butcher at the store to ground all of these and when I returned home I mixed them together.  The second thing I learned was to minimize the amount of time you handle your meat.  I made a fairly good sized ball of meat and stuffed some Roquefort cheese in the middle. Thirdly, make the burgers 3/4 inches thick.  Fourth, using your thumb make an indentation at the center of the burger.  Doing so prevents the burger from bulging at the center and reduces the temptation to press down on the burger and consequently push the moisture  out of the meat.  Fifth, if you are preparing many burgers sear each side of each burger and just before serving put the burgers over the grill and finish cooking.  Lastly, it seemed that most burgers in the city serve their burgers on toasted brioche buns.  I did the same.  I had some trouble finding a place to buy these, but fortunately I lucked out and found some at Le Pain Quotidien.  I think in the future I will make my own brioche buns as these were smaller than I preferred.  I served these with some sweet potato fries and some cold beers.  Delicious!

Seared Tuna Steaks with Citrusy Soy Sauce, Crisp Sushi-Rice Cakes and Asian Cucumber Salad
March 1, 2011, 10:33 am
Filed under: Dinner, Fish, Vegetable | Tags: , , , ,

I subscribe to several magazines – Time, Cooking Light, Food and Wine and Philadelphia Magazine.  The first three subscriptions (Time, Cooking Light and Food and Wine) are the result of my participation in my cousin Anna’s magazine drive.  Buying magazines through these drives is great.  Not only do you get great deals on magazine subscriptions, but you also support schools and, obviously most importantly, the prizes that the kids earn.  I will never forget the days of working towards those spy sunglasses, the “money machine,” and all you can eat Taco Bell!  Apparently prizes have improved slightly.  My cousin yearned to sell enough magazines to ride a limo to McDonald’s.  I’m sure to a 3rd grader life doesn’t get any better than this and I was more than happy to help her reach her goal.  This post is dedicated to Anna since the recipe came from one of the magazine’s which helped her reach her goal.

Seared Tuna with Citrusy Soy Sauce, Crisp Sushi-Rice Cakes and Asian Cucumber Salad (from Food and Wine Magazine)

This recipe was part of a section in Food and Wine Magazine highlighting the unofficial “edgy” category of wines.  Edgy wines are described in the article as “natural” and then some, with a slowly evolving taste.  They use natural ingredients with little or no chemicals.  The authors broke “edgy” wines into several categories, the “Traditionalists” (producers who have been making wine the same way for hundreds of years), the “Revivalists” (winemakers which have recently rediscovered ancient methods) and the “Experimentalists” (producers which combine ancient and avant-garde techniques).  This particular recipe fell under the latter category, the “Experimentalists,” which was described as having umami flavors (the infamous 5th taste, also known as savoriness) which the author thought went well with “rich, supple orange wines from California” which also share this taste.

This is a dish with bright colors and fresh flavors.  I thought the citrus flavors from the soy sauce definitely brought this dish into any sort of “Experimentalist” category.  The citrus helped balance any overwhelmingly salty tastes that most normally associate with soy sauce.  It was almost a refreshing renewal to a common Asian sauce.

The recipe was deceivingly easy and quick to prepare.  I prepared the cucumber salad first using a mandolin to cut the carrots, English cucumber (seedless cucumber) and scallions into thin slices.  I tossed them with the juice from one lime and set aside.  I next made the sushi-rice cakes next.  These were slightly challenging solely due to the stickiness of the sushi-rice.  The recipe says to cook each side for 4 minutes, but I might only do so for 3 minutes next time.  Just prior to serving I put these in the oven to warm.  Lastly, I made the tuna and citrusy soy sauce.  Pretty straightforward to make.  The aroma and flavors of the soy sauce were awesome!

Linguini With Roasted Beets, Fresh Tarragon and Caraway Seeds
February 21, 2011, 4:01 pm
Filed under: Dinner, Pasta | Tags: , , ,

This past week was Valentine’s Day and apparently, according to CNN Money, Philadelphia knows how to celebrate.  Their ranking is based upon the amount of money spent per transaction on Valentine’s Day.  In Philadelphia, individuals spend $134.93, earning 4th place on the list.  At the top was Phoenix at $160.41 followed by Houston ($149.78) and San Francisco ($149.19) and then Philadelphia.  New York City rounded out the top five at $130.30.  Supposedly, while Phoenix and Co spent the most, NYC is the sexiest based solely on lingerie sales while San Francisco and Boston tied based on the number of marriage proposals.  These are fun statistics, but I hope no one actually bases love/romance on money spent!  In keeping with this theme, there was a great article in the Miami University Student Newspaper about the culture of dating and how technology is changing the way we date.  Today’s post maintains the Valentine’s Day theme although really only through the association of the color red with the holiday, but gesture of preparing a meal, as well as the flavor of the dish, well exceeds the $135 you might spend elsewhere for Valentine’s Day.

Linguini with Roasted Beets, Fresh Tarragon and Caraway Seeds (from Food and Style)

I don’t necessarily find the color of this pasta appetizing, but then again, you should never judge a book by it’s cover.  Beets are a very under-appreciated vegetable.  The flavors of (cooked) beets are sweet.  I’ve primarily only had them pickled and accompanying several other items as an appetizer.  However, caramelized beets in the with of balsamic vinegar and caraway seeds are incredibly more delicious. The combination of the three presents the beets with a “deep, rich and earthy flavor.”  The blog which created this recipe, Food and Style, also suggested pairing it with a wine called “Le Cigare Volant” from Bonny Dune Vineyard.

As for my suggestions, make the beets a day or two ahead of time.  Otherwise, this is a very time consuming recipe.  Lastly, serve the dish with any red wine that you love, although the Le Cigare Volant was pretty good.  Enjoy and Happy Valentine’s Day!

Penne with Arrabiata Sauce
January 31, 2011, 9:11 pm
Filed under: Dinner, Pasta | Tags: , , , , ,


Judging from my lack of posts you might guess that I’ve been busy lately.   I swear the days are getting shorter and my schedule longer.  The longer I live in Philadelphia, the more I’ve become, well, “Philadelphian.”  Although I’m almost positive most cities have a similar characterization, and therefore making my argument moot, people in Philadelphia always seem to be in a huge rush.  Cars, buses, cabs and even pedestrians go zooming passed everyday.  Where are these people going?  Are they running late to their destination?  Super busy? Or, do they have the next great idea and are on their way to develop that idea (after all, Philly was recently named a hub for creative activity)? Who knows, but if you don’t keep up or get out of their way they’re going to let you know about it with honking horns and dirty looks. I, by no means, am a daily exception.  I think we all have our moments.  To combat my “moments” and avoid the daily rush I’ve tapped a very underutilized resource, namely, 5 to 7AM.  I use this time to exercise, usually to swim, bike or run, and to read email as well as the news.  The result is a very invigorating and productive morning, eager and able to tackle the next phases of my day. For those of you who say “no way!” to 5am, then organization and efficiency of the back end of the day is a must.  To help you out, I present this post, “Penne with Arrabiata Sauce” as a quick, easy and delicious dinner that you can fit into your daily rush.

Penne with Arrabiata Sauce (from my Mom)

This sauce has four user-friendly ingredients: tomatoes, olive oil, garlic and red pepper flakes.  I admit that I’ve never used fresh tomatoes in this recipe, but I’ll defend myself by saying that making this sauce is made on a “I’m-too-tired/busy-to-put-any-effort-into-my-cooking” kind of day and having a can of tomatoes stored away in my cupboard is easier than timing the use of fresh tomatoes.

The recipe: Warm a medium-sized pan over medium heat and add two tablespoons of olive oil.  While the olive oil warms, mince two cloves of garlic.  Add the garlic and let cook for one minute.  Add as much or as little red pepper flakes as you like.  My mom’s recipe calls for 1/2 teaspoon, but I typically add 1-2 teaspoons.  Cook until the garlic begins to brown.  Add the 15 ounce can of peeled, whole tomatoes as well as any liquid component that accompanies the tomatoes.  Stir the tomatoes in with the olive oil mixture.  Cut the tomatoes into thirds or quarters.  Add a few fresh basil leaves or a teaspoon of dried basil.  Allow the sauce to simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.   As the sauce simmers, the tomatoes will soften and they can be chopped into smaller pieces if desired.  Add 1 pound cooked penne to the sauce, stirring to incorporate the sauce amongst the noodles.  Add fresh mozzarella, serve and enjoy!


Protein-Rich Black Quinoa Salad
January 13, 2011, 4:55 pm
Filed under: Dinner, Salad, Side Dish, Vegetable | Tags: , , , , ,

Since this is the first true post in 2011 (I made the food from the last post on Dec 31st) I thought it was mandatory that it be a healthy dish.  And maybe rightfully so for Philadelphia if you believe Men’s Health Magazine.  According to Men’s Health, Philadelphia is near last in fitness and overall health categories.  I neither agree nor disagree with Men’s Health’s ranking of Philadelphia.  It’s hard to take a magazine seriously that also ranks the  drunkest cities in America!  However, at the same time there are many days where the lines at Wendy’s are more populated than the running trail or the gym.  To dissect Men’s Health’s results and understand it’s flaw, one has to understand the make-up of this city.  The majority of the city can be found outside the tall buildings of Center City in poor neighborhoods. Although not an excuse for poor overall city health, it does tend to skew the city’s image for someone outside Philadelphia.  We do not have an extensive subway system (not that we truly need one) and as a result, many people walk and bike to work. The city has even begun a bike-share program similar to  the car-share program, Zipcar.  After-work hours and weekends provide lots of activity such as running and biking, swimming and hiking in Fairmount Park, one of the largest urban parks in the country.  If you combine the physical activity aspect of our city with the availability of fresh and relatively low cost fruits and vegetables (Note: it was recently reported that Philadelphia’s food stamp program, SNAP, is used more in Reading Terminal Market, than in anywhere else in the city.  A diverse and healthy selection of foods can be found at Reading Market.), I think we have a city that is just as healthy as any other large city.

Protein-Rich Black Quinoa Salad (From 5 second rule)

Lately I’ve been doing quite a bit of exercising.  Not because I’m like the majority of people who stated that this is the year they get back to the gym, but because I’m getting back into shape in preparation for training for a triathlon.  In other words, I’m training to train for a triathlon.  As anyone who has ever trained for athletic endeavors such as a triathlon or a marathon knows, with increased exercise comes increased need for energy.  I eat and I eat often.  In order to ensure that my muscles do not counter-productively wither away I have to make sure I consume plenty of protein.  I could speak for a couple hours on protein (in graduate school I gave two, one-hour presentations on protein to an undergraduate class), but just know that protein is an important macronutrient for overall health and sports performance.  This salad is packed with protein, great for both athletes and overall healthy eating.

If you already checked out the link to the recipe you know that it calls for pomegranate molasses.  Don’t worry, it’s not difficult to make.  It merely involves 4 cups pomegranate juice, 1/2 cup sugar and 1 teaspoon lemon juice.  Combine the ingredients in a moderately sized pot over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved and mixture comes to a boil.  Reduce heat and allow it to reduce to 1 cup, about 70 minutes.  Transfer to a container, let cool for 30 minutes and then store in refrigerator for up to 6 months.

Using the pomegranate molasses, make the dressing for the salad.  Combine 2 teaspoons molasses, 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar and 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil.  Season with fresh ground pepper and salt.

Quinoa.  It’s name alone makes it intriguing.  Let’s be honest, there are a lot of words that sound nothing like how it is spelled.  Unless you live in Philly you probably still haven’t figured out how to pronounce “Schuylkill” as in the “Schuylkill River Trail” that I continually refer to when I reference my running.  To be honest, for the longest time I didn’t know how to pronounce “quinoa.”   I thought it was pronounced similar to one of my favorite vacation spots, “Kiawah.”  Nope.  Apparently it’s pronounced “/kin-wa/” or “/keen-wa/.”

Quinoa, a grain, is prepared like rice.  It must be rinsed and then is cooked in water until the quinoa is tender, absorbs a great majority of the water and lets out a white curlicue tendrils.  Remove any remaining water and let it cool to room temperature.

Dice the cucumber and avocado, collect 1 cup of fresh pomegranate seeds (~1 pomegranate) and rinse 15 oz of black beans.  Combine these ingredients with the cooled black quinoa.  Mix in the pomegranate molasses mixture and add additional salt to taste.  Serve and enjoy!

These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things
January 7, 2011, 3:49 pm
Filed under: Appetizer, Desserts, Dinner | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

2010 was a great year.  I accomplished a few of my goals, one being creating this blog, and was able to cook a lot more than I have in the past.  Overall, living in Philadelphia is awesome.  There is plenty to do, see, eat and drink.  God forbid you actually want to get out of the city for a bit, New York City and Washington, D.C. is just a 2+ hour Megabus/Boltbus ride away.  Like I always mention, Philly has awesome restaurants and food stores and markets.  In reflection of my 2010 eating experiences I thought I would make a few of my favorite things: Royal Palm Dates from Alma de Cuba, Crab Cakes from DiBruno Bros and Salted Caramel Budino from Barbuzzo.  They do not necessarily reflect my favorite restaurants in the city, but each represents  something I highly recommend if you happen to stumble upon them.

As for 2011, I plan to share more of the same as well as some of my food experiences outside of the kitchen as well as the people I share them with.   I will try my best to stay consistent with the blog postings (hopefully each Sunday).  Furthermore, I have big things planned for my blog which I hope to show you all in a couple months.  Happy 2011!

Royal Palm Dates (adapted from Alma de Cuba)

There was no actual recipe to follow for these, so I had to use my memory and a few pictures from the internet to create them.  From my internet search, it looks like these are a fairly common appetizer, although it didn’t look like too many used blue cheese and endive leaves as well.  The almond skins must be removed and can be easily done by blanching in boiling water.  Stuff 1-2 almonds in each pitted date, wrap in 1/3 slice of bacon, and bake in oven for 12-15 minutes at 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  In  a bowl, mix sliced almonds with thinly sliced red onion and blue cheese.  Place a heap of this mixture on each endive leaf, add the bacon-wrapped date, and top with a little melted blue cheese.  Yum!

Crab Cakes with Spicy Aioli Sauce (Adapted from DiBruno Bros)

DiBruno Brothers has some pretty rad pre-made food selections (in addition to their other store selections) for those days you really have no desire to cook.  Although its hard to go wrong, I recommend the crab cakes with aioli sauce.  They are unbelievable!  I made these for my parents on new year’s eve and my dad said they were as good as any he has ever had (That’s a compliment, right?).  As for the spicy aioli sauce, it was more or less my own recipe: 1 pint mayonnaise, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper, 1 small jar roasted red peppers (blended), and hot sauce, salt, pepper to taste.

Salted Caramel Budino (Recipe from Barbuzzo)

Welcome to the best dessert in the city.  This isn’t merely my opinion, but apparently the opinion of others.  Up to this point, if there was one thing you had to get/make in Philly/my blog, it would be this dessert.  It’s that unreal.  It’s easy to make and just as easy to order.