Monthly Archives: May 2010

Everybody wants to be cool…

…So says the annoyingly catchy jingle of Rita’s Water Ice. With their red and white awnings, cute cups and an ever-changing list of ices and creamy custards, who could resist? Apparently not this girl; I worked there one sweet summer when I turned 17. When I first landed the gig, I assumed that two weeks of slush-slinging and custard-twirling (and taste-testing!) would render me devoid of any sweet tooth at all. I’m more of a salty kind of girl to begin with. Oh, how the tables turned. I couldn’t get enough. In between customers, I’d make myself mini gelatis in tasting cups or sample new batches of ice the second they hit the freezers. Of course I had my favorites, and those usually involved the ices that boasted real fruit. What a novel idea–real fruit! And I know this to be true because I often chopped up the strawberries and bananas myself or scooped lemon or watermelon seeds out of the finished product. I loved the lemon, watermelon, banana and peach. I would eat chocolate in any form, so that was a winner, too. Vanilla was deceptively delicious and mango and raspberry were on my list even if I wasn’t smashing real fruit for their mix. When the Rita’s flavor master came out with cream ices, namely, mint chocolate chip and cookies and cream, I became addicted, now both a dealer and a user.

The work itself wasn’t bad once you got the hang of it. You wouldn’t think it, but mastering the signature Rita’s ice dome and swirled custard cones takes some practice. But once you learn these important life skills, you are set. I mean who knows when you will be eating at a hotel buffet with self-serve soft-serve and the whole dining room will need your assistance? (Yes, these things actually happen). There was never a dull moment, either, since you are reminded by alarm every 20 minutes to pump the ice tubs, a task vital to keeping an even, slushy consistency. As I quickly learned, if you can plunge a toilet, you can pump water ice. Ahh, those were the days.

I worked at Rita’s long before they had the brainy idea to remain open all year round which forced me to go cold turkey at the end of that summer. It kicked my habit pretty quickly at the time but every now and then I still get a craving for water ice. I could use one now, in fact, as I’m hanging out my window hoping to catch a rare breeze between buildings in this stifling heat. Rita’s franchises seem to be few and far between here in NYC. And I blame that all on the children! Yes, those pesky sugar mongers whose demands over the years have spawned cringe inducing flavors like birthday cake, Swedish Fish, and cotton candy. The horror. I say, cut the sugar, keep the fruit! Until Rita’s or some other brave soul ponies up some adult flavors in town, I guess I’ll have to make my own.

Enter, granita, the DIY of water ice. Granitas are really great, actually, and quite simple to make. It’s the time factor that usually keeps me away. You can’t just fling the mix in the freezer, parade around for a few hours and return to find the perfect water ice. Remember that whole plunging technique I told you about? The same idea applies here. Unless you want a solid block of ice or one of those store-bought ice-on-the top, syrup-on-the-bottom excuses for the real thing, you’re going to need to give it some attention. Three to four hours of attention to be exact. It might not be something you can have on hand all the time, but next time you have movie night or laundry day, make some granita and thank me later.

This recipe was based on one I found, again, in Food & Wine. However, I cut back on the sugar and added some mint to make it wonderfully refreshing. So steer clear of the sugar and peer pressure this summer and “Be cool, eat gra-ni-ta,” instead.

Watermelon Mint Granita

1 baby watermelon, cut from the rind and cubed
(this yields about 11/2-2 lbs of actual fruit)

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup water

juice and zest of 1 lime

1/4 cup chopped mint plus whole leaves for garnish

Combine water and sugar in a small saucepan over medium high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, to create simple syrup. Remove from heat and let cool. Add half of the watermelon cubes to a blender with cooled simple syrup, lime juice and zest and pulse until smooth. Add the remaining watermelon and mint and blend until smooth.

Place a sieve over a 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish. Pour the granita mixture through sieve, pushing down on the pulp with a spoon until all the watermelon passes through. Place dish in the freezer, stirring and scrapping mixture every 30 minutes until all the liquid has frozen and you end up with a nice slush. This will take about 3 hours and will keep for about 2 days, if it lasts that long.

Always blend with a fork before serving and garnish with mint leaves….

or add a little chilled vodka for a frozen martini on a hot summer night.

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From sauna to salad

We’ve been playing a little game in the apartment, something along the lines of ‘how long can we hold out on an air conditioner before we pass out from heat stroke.’ With the temperature rising to a scorching 91 degrees today, I think the apartment finally scored. I gulped ice water all day, dodged in and out of stores for that satiating albeit momentary blast of air conditioning. I ate a Luna bar for breakfast, utilized the microwave for lunch and schemed a way to make dinner without touching the stove.

Flipping through old issues of Food & Wine, I stumbled across a great salad recipe: crunchy, sweet, spicy and most importantly, cold. As an added plus, the recipe comes from a fitness retreat so it’s yummy and healthy! Thank you Escape to Shape. So I broke out a summer tank and flip flops and ventured off into the awaiting sauna to collect the ingredients.

This salad took all of about five minutes to put together. Chop, chop, a little squeeze of lime, dash some salt and pepper and you’re done. I did break down and use the stove for a hot minute (pun intended). I needed something to accompany the salad and since shrimp cook up pretty quickly, I deviated slightly from my no-stove plan for the day. I have to say, I think this will be a mainstay in my summer cooking repertoire. The prep and cook time is so minimal and the results were pretty fantastic for a healthy summer meal.

Green Mango Salad with Blackened Shrimp

For the salad:

2 large green (unripe) mangoes peeled and cut into 2 by 1/2 inch batons

1/2 large sweet onion, thinly sliced

1 jalapeño seeded and finely chopped

2 tbsp fresh lime juice

salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Toss mango, onion and jalapeño with lime juice, salt and pepper. Refrigerate for up to an hour to let flavors meld.

*Be sure to use unripe mangoes for the crunch and tang that makes this salad.

For the shrimp:

2 teaspoons ground paprika
2 teaspoons onion powder
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper, or to your taste
1 teaspoon dried oregano
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1 lb medium shrimp, shelled and deveined

olive oil

Heat a cast iron skillet or heavy bottomed frying pan on medium high heat. Mix all the spices together and add olive oil to form a paste. Toss the shrimp with this paste to coat. Place shrimp in pan and sear on the first side until they start turning opaque. Flip and let cook for another minute until fully cooked. Serve this over green mango salad or on their own as an appetizer.

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At least I’m not allergic to garlic

This weekend I concluded that I have a dreaded condition which has no cure.

No worries, it’s not a debilitating disease or anything; apparently, after 26 years on this earth, I’ve only just developed a mosquito allergy. You may be thinking that everyone has a mosquito allergy but that is only partly true. Most people do get red itchy bumps that are pure annoyance. Most people do not get dozens of hard swollen purple welts the size of golf balls with itching and redness that last for weeks…like this girl. This happened to me at the end of last summer which I took to be a one-off attack by some crazy beach bug. But it happened again this weekend and after reading up on it, I’ve decided I have Skeeter Syndrome. I am less than amused. My prescription strength hydro-cortisone cream and Benadryl gel caps can only do so much.

After doing some research, I learned that some homeopathic treatments for such a reaction include rubbing the affected area with one of the following: garlic, ice or the inside of a banana peel. As tempting as it may sound to end up smelling like the middle eastern food truck down the street from me, I took one sidelong glance at the bulbs of garlic sitting in my kitchen and decided that a better fate awaited them. So I tied a bag of frozen peas to my leg (it helped, at least for a little while) and went to work.

Garlic on its own is a powerful flavor. In the raw, it has that sharp spicy kick to it that can easily overwhelm your palette. Most recipes call for a quick saute to mellow out that flavor so that it doesn’t overshadow the of other ingredients. However, if you drizzle the whole bulb with some olive oil and roast it in the oven, what you get is almost a different ingredient, entirely. The cloves soften and brown until they are sweet and a bit caramel-y. Pull them out with a fork and you’ve got the perfect spread for toasted bread or a yummy addition to homemade mashed potatoes.

Since I had some chickpeas and fresh veggies on hand, I decided to make some hummus. The roasted garlic in this is fantastic, the smoked paprika lends a hint of warm spiciness and the lemon juice and zest brightens up the overall flavor. Once the summertime heat descends upon us, a light dinner of crudites and hummus hits the spot. I’ll be sure to enjoy mine with a side of bug spray.

Roasted Garlic Hummus

1 large (19 oz) can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed

*1 whole bulb of roasted garlic (about 8-12 cloves removed from skin)

1/4 teaspoon of smoked paprika

2 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp water

juice and zest from 1/2 lemon

salt and pepper to taste

Place the chickpeas and roasted garlic cloves in a food processor (or blender, if you don’t have one) and process until beans are roughly ground. Add water, lemon juice and zest, smoked paprika, and a pinch of salt and pepper. As the ingredients mix, stream in the olive oil and blend until the mixture reaches a smooth, creamy consistency. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper as needed. Once in the serving dish, drizzle with a bit of olive oil and dust with smoked paprika for garnish. Best served at room temperature with vegetables and toasted pita.

*Roasted Garlic

1 bulb garlic (or as many as you like)

olive oil

sea salt

aluminum foil

Preheat the oven to 400 ۫ To roast the garlic, cut the top from a bulb of garlic and remove any loose papery skin layers, leaving the bulb mostly intact. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with a pinch of sea salt. Wrap tightly in a square of aluminum. Make a few small slits in the aluminum; you want the garlic to roast, not steam. Roast in the oven for about an hour or until the garlic is soft and browned on top. You can do this with as many bulbs as you want but be sure to wrap each one in its own foil pouch. Once roasted, the cloves can be removed easily with a fork or by squeezing the bottom of the bulb.

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Birthday Girl Cookies

Yesterday was my birthday. And I had every intention of diligently baking myself some birthday cookies with my grandmother’s recipe to share with you. Really, I did. But then my boyfriend surprised me by taking me out for a wonderful birthday lunch (I had a scrumptious Asian noodle salad with avocado, mango, peanuts, charred steak, and lots of other spicy tangy goodness—Yum!) Then I got to chatting with my mom and aunts and had to run some errands and before I knew it, the day was gone and I had to make myself presentable for my birthday present—Pearl Jam concert at the Garden! A spectacular show, by the way.

But no worries, I am back with one of my promised recipes: Italian knot cookies. Some people think of them as celebration cookies, made especially for birthdays, weddings, anniversaries and such but to my family, they were the everyday cookie, just like chocolate chip cookies are to most American families. My Nana made them all the time for any occasion and kept her doctor, dentist and postman well stocked. Traditionally, many people coat them with a dollop of white icing and rainbow candy beads but Nana matched the icing with great care to dress swatches for weddings or to the perfect shade of someone’s favorite color. She was such a sweetheart—always adding that special touch.

I have never made these on my own, so bear with me on the instructions. My knowledge of making these comes only from memories of my grandmother in the kitchen kneading a scraggly mess of eggs and flour into a perfect shiny ball of sweet dough. On those days that I would sit and watch her, she would give me a lump of dough to play with and to sculpt into anything I could imagine which, take note, is quite a good way to keep children entertained. I would fashion little dough people and tiny bowls filled with tiny fruit and as I got older (and my hand-eye coordination improved), she taught me how to form the love knots to make these cookies, all the while telling me that one day, I would be “the baker,” a career aspiration that quickly caught on. Anytime someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would definitively respond, “the baker.” As the years passed, my aspirations changed many, many times and I often feel like I am still deciding what to be when I grow up (don’t hold your breath for that answer).

A few weeks ago, my sister, Bridget, asked me for a birthday wish list. I was looking over it this morning and thought I would share with you the first several items I wrote down:

pastry blender
pastry brush
french rolling pin
pastry wheel
yellow spatula/spoonulas
pie plate
charlotte molds
microplane rasp grater

Looking at that list now, it sounds more like a wedding registry than a birthday wish list! In the end, I did not choose to go to culinary school, but perhaps in some small way, I did become “the baker” after all. Nana would be proud.

A bit of a disclaimer on this recipe: for the most part, Nana never used recipes. The recipes were in her head, the measuring cups were her hands—a pinch of this, a palmful of that—and though I don’t expect my versions of her food to taste exactly like hers, I hope I come close. Before I give you the recipe I paired down, I must tell you that the original recipe she wrote in tiny scratchy handwriting, the one that took my mom 20 minutes and one helper to decipher, called for 12 cups of flour! The woman obviously didn’t know how to cook for anything less than an army.

My interpretation of Nana’s Italian Knot Cookies

3 c flour
½ c sugar
¼ tsp salt
2 heaping tsp baking powder
½ c (1 stick) unsalted butter
½ tsp vanilla
3 eggs
milk (She did not give a measurement but I used about 2 tbsp)

You could make these cookies using the tried and true creaming method. (Cream butter and sugar together, then add eggs and liquids and finally incorporate sifted dry ingredients.) However, I prefer to make them just like Nana. It’s a lot dirtier, but much more fun. No wonder I loved to cook with her!

Preheat oven to 350۫. Sift flour, sugar, salt and baking powder together onto a clean flat surface such as a large cutting board, making a large mound. Make like mashed potatoes and create a flour volcano. Crack eggs into the center and add vanilla.

Working from the inside out, start incorporating flour into the eggs. Next, knead the room temperature butter into the mixture to form dough. Put the ball of dough into a bowl, adding the milk. Mix this well with your hands until the milk is incorporated and the dough becomes slightly sticky. Chill the dough in the refrigerator for up to an hour; this makes it more manageable.

Once the dough is chilled, start pinching off small balls of dough about the size of a meatball, or 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Roll it out to form a rope about 6 inches long. Form the rope into a loose knot by wrapping the rope around your left thumb (vice versa for lefties like my Mom) and with your right hand, pushing the end of the dough into the hole you just created. Bake at 350۫ for 10 to 12 minutes or until cookies are golden.

Yields about 36 cookies. Cool cookies completely before adding the icing.

Icing

½ lb (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup confectioner’s suger
2 tbsp milk

Combine room temperature butter and confectioner’s sugar (in a mixer or with your hands—your choice!) Stir in milk. Add food coloring if you wish. I used yellow because it’s my favorite color and these are exactly what my Nana would have made for me, yesterday!

Take about a teaspoon of icing for each cookie, and using your (clean!) finger—it’s more fun, I promise—swirl the icing to coat the top of each. Immediately sprinkle candy beads or coconut (my personal favorite) or any other decorations before the icing dries.

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The sun will come out tomorrow

It was pouring down rain this morning…and it’s still raining now. I should have seen this coming the second I wrote the words “it was a lovely weekend” in my last post. I guess this is what I get for being braggy about the beautiful weather…that and some flat focaccia I made this afternoon.

The second I got up to see the rain pelting my window, I felt the need to bake something. Just like curling up with a warm blanket and a good book is a rainy day comfort, so is cranking up the oven and hanging out in the toasty kitchen, for me. I had a few stalks of rosemary sitting on the counter and a package of yeast that I just picked up in the hopes of making some good bread one of these days (perfect timing). But since my favorite homemade bread recipe, the dill bread my mom makes, would require me to break out the rain boots and schlep several blocks in this sopping mess to obtain some missing ingredients, I decided to stick with some quick, easy focaccia, which I happen to love plain with rosemary and sea salt.

I wanted an easy recipe, one that didn’t require any bread starter or overnight setting. After all, it might be a warm sunny day tomorrow and perhaps I won’t feel like wasting away in a hot kitchen, then. I wanted instant gratification, so I went with this recipe that only requires minimal amounts of rising time. I’m not really sure what went wrong, but I knew it immediately. I mixed the yeast, flour, water and salt together as indicated and it formed what looked like cake batter. Although the directions warned it was a sticky dough, I knew something was wrong when I turned it out onto my floured cutting board and the dough raced unnervingly close to the edges of the board, like water spewing from a burst dam.

I added extra flour as the in-case-you-screwed-up recipe notes indicated but to no avail. Without enough yeast to start a new batch, I bravely soldiered on and “kneaded” whatever the goop I had made would be called. However, after letting it rest for an entire hour, the dough had barely risen. With one last shred of hope, I dumped the mixture onto an oil and cornmeal coated baking pan, letting it rest for another 30 minutes.

While all this gloopy dough handling and resting was going on, there was a little dish of fresh chopped rosemary marinating in some olive oil in the refrigerator. Once the dough finished sitting quietly instead of rising, I attempted to dimple the top with my fingertips and brush on the herb oil. But this gloop continued its rebellious ways: it had not formed a nice neat dough ball, it trashed my counter-top, it refused to double in size as instructed and now instead of dimpling nicely, it decided to latch onto my fingers like Elmer’s glue.

That was the last straw. I dumped on the rosemary oil and sea salt, gave it a quick swipe and flung it in the oven to think long and hard about what it had done (or more importantly, didn’t do).

I envisioned the whole thing collapsing and shriveling up into a burnt little cracker and barely gave it a thought for the next twelve minutes. At that point, an intoxicating smell began wafting out of the kitchen and miraculously, something that slightly resembled focaccia was browning in my oven!

When I cut into it, it had a nice crumb full of air pockets and a crispy browned crust. It tasted pretty delicious, too. The bread did come out about 1/3 of the size I was hoping for and left a sticky mess all over my kitchen but that didn’t stop me from eating half of the pan for a late afternoon snack. In the end, not bad for a rainy Tuesday morning.

Perhaps you will have better luck than me. I would suggest cutting back on the water a bit:

Nigel Slater’s Focaccia

*I chose not to use Nigel’s garlic/parsley/thyme oil and olives, opting instead for rosemary which I let sit in some olive oil for a couple of hours. To me, rosemary and sea salt is the perfect classic flavor for focaccia but enjoy it however you like!

Makes one round bread about 24cm in diameter. I use an old metal tin, but a shallow baking tin of any shape will work. It will need to be about 5cm deep. The bread will keep for a few days in clingfilm or foil.

450g strong bread flour (This is about 2 cups)
1½ tsp salt
2 tsp fast-acting yeast (1 packet, 7g)
400ml (ish) warm water (1 3/4 c)
cornmeal
a good handful of green olives
3 tbsp olive oil
a clove of garlic
a small bunch of flat-leaved parsley (about 20g)
leaves from 4 sprigs thyme
sea salt flakes

You will need a baking tin about 30cm in diameter.

Put the flour and salt and yeast into a large bowl, mix well then pour in the water to make a sticky dough.

Flour the work surface generously, then turn out the dough and knead lightly. Knead in some of the flour from the work surface, adding a little more if the dough remains sticky. It should come away from the work surface cleanly, but should be a little more moist than the usual bread dough. Keep kneading until the dough no longer sticks to the board. Continue kneading in no particular fashion for a full 5 minutes then put the dough into a floured bowl and set aside, covered with clingfilm or a clean tea towel, until it has risen to double its size. This generally takes anything up to an hour depending on the warmth of your room.

Rub the bottom of the baking tin with a little oil. Scatter it with a thin layer of cornmeal – this will keep the base crisp and prevent it from sticking as it cooks. Set the oven at 220C/gas mark 7.

Remove the dough from its bowl (it will sink, but no matter), then push it into the baking tin. Cover as much of the bottom as you can, but don’t worry if it doesn’t quite cover it. Set aside, covered with clingfilm, for a further 30 minutes until well risen.

Remove the stones from the olives, roughly chop them, and mix with a tablespoon of the olive oil. Peel and finely chop the garlic, chop the parsley and thyme leaves and stir into the olives.

With a floured finger, push several holes deep into the dough, then spread the olive and herb mixture over the dough. Scatter liberally with salt flakes. Bake for 25-30 minutes till pale gold, crisp on top and springy within. Drizzle with a last tablespoon or two of olive oil then allow to settle.

While still warm, free the bread from the pan with a palette knife, then cut or tear into pieces.

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A promise of things to come

It was a lovely weekend here in NYC. The days were sunny and warm and breezy. I wandered around the Union Square greenmarket bringing home a charming orange dahlia to cheer up my previously bereft and lonely flower pot

and some long awaited starter plants for my herb garden, aka the planter in my window.

I ate some delicious spiced duck and chicken thai basil dumplings from Rickshaw Dumplings as fuel for a fireplace-painting project that I have yet to fall in love with. Maybe it just needs a couple of days…

Sunday afternoon and evening was spent lounging in Hudson River Park waiting for the sunset and munching on chocolate raspberry rugalach and B.L.A.Ts (A is for avocado, yum!) procured from my second home, the Chelsea Market. We waited and waited and waited for that golden globe to descend behind the Jersey skyline and suddenly a wonderful thing happened…the sun finally set at 8:05 pm! 8:05 pm! The days are getting longer, my friends. And with the promise of summer evident on the horizon, I can’t help feeling giddy school-girl excitement for sandy skin and salty lips, breezy boat rides and the smell of fresh cut grass. I can’t wait for blooming heirloom tomatoes, sweet summer corn and what I am hoping will be an abundant, lush garden of herbs on my windowsill.

So while my lovely weekend did not produce any food from my kitchen, that little herb garden of thyme, rosemary and basil (with parsley and mint to come) promises you tomato basil towers, rosemary focaccia, blackberry basil lemonade, herbed aiolis and salads and much, much more. Stay tuned for summer!

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10 Things I Miss about You, Philadelphia, Part II

Sabrina’s Cafe

Whenever anyone came to visit me in Philly, I always wanted to take them to brunch–breakfast and booze, a great combination! There are a number of fantastic brunch spots in the city, but my default was set to Sabrina’s Cafe. Sitting in one of two tiny dining rooms, you almost feel like you’re having breakfast at your mom’s house. It’s cozy and fun and it’s just my favorite place to go. Judging by the line that perpetually crowds the cafe’s sidewalk (even in the dead of winter), it seems the rest of Philadelphia agrees.

Sabrina’s does not cater to the calorie counter, as you can see for yourself by that behemoth plate of stuffed french toast above, or to the picky eater. The menu is an eclectic mix of ingredients, some of which I would have never thought to pair, but they certainly know what they’re doing! Every week they feature a new laundry list of specials which always includes jazzed up pancakes, stuffed french toast, and eggs benedict, among others. Each special is packed with so many yummy ingredients, you might feel like you’re reading a grocery list rather than a menu. To give you a taste, mother’s day brunch specials included: Pumpkin pancakes with Rum Raisin pound cake topping, roasted pecans, topped with peach-molasses syrup and apple-cinnamon butter and the mother of all sandwiches, braised sweet and spicy brisket smothered in mango-poblano pepper BBQ sauce with caramelized onions and roasted peppers on brioche, topped with creamy old fashioned coleslaw and fried pickles, served with roasted sweet potato salad with red onions, bell peppers, corn and carrots tossed in a mustard-mayo-red wine-garlic dressing. Phew, re-reading that, I’m out of breath! Hungry yet?

Nick’s Roast Beef

I would never have imagined that one of my most memorable dates would occur at a beef and beer whose motto is “we make sure our customers never get a bum steer.” But life is surprising like that. When my boyfriend and I were seeing each other for about a month or so, he randomly took me for a ride to see the area where he grew up. We drove past his old house, and he pointed out all the places where he used to hang out, one of them being Nick’s Roast Beef. We stopped in for dinner since he had grown up going to this place and had lots of memories with friends and family. I let him do the ordering and I will never forget what he asked for: a huge plate of chicken quesadillas, something called the “turn-up-the-heat” appetizer which includes every spicy app they make (hot wings, jalapeno poppers, buffalo shrimp, spicy fries, etc.), a basket of regular fries, roast beef sandwiches for each of us and a bottomless pitcher of birch beer. The sandwich alone was more than enough for dinner, piled high with shaved beef and sharp provolone with pickles, chips, hot peppers, horseradish and au jus on the side. Let me just say, there was an obscene amount of food on the table and I was more than a little bit embarrassed (I will quickly learn that this is normal for him and to this day, I don’t know where he puts it).

I would go back for that roast beef sandwich again and again but the best part of the night was the fact that he was sharing a little part of himself with me. It was fun to see him so excited while he reminisced about old times and to hear the childhood stories that suddenly flooded his memory. He had taken me to romantic little BYOs, and out for fancy cocktails, but sitting in that booth in our jeans and sneakers, with greasy fingers and piles of dirty napkins, I think I fell a little bit in love with him.

The Cheesesteak Feud

Philadelphia, City of Brotherly love? Not when it comes to their cheesesteaks! If you are not already aware of the ongoing epic cheesesteak battle in Philly, most notably between Pat’s and Geno’s, get up to speed with this funny little video.

If you made me choose between those two, I would have to say I like Geno’s better. And not because “it’s flashy and I like casinos” (as I have seriously been taunted by die-hard Pat’s patrons while I stood in Geno’s line). It’s because I like the sandwich better and the establishment is a hell of a lot cleaner. The honest truth is that in the grand scheme of things, I would not go to either place for the best cheesesteak in town. I get “wiz wit” at Geno’s, not because I particularly like fake orange-y cheese goo, but because getting any other cheese at either rival will result in a dry, tasteless sandwich. One of my favorite steaks is actually not even in Philadelphia, proper.

If you’re looking for the yummiest cheesesteak you’re better off looking elsewhere, but if you are interested in the comedy of it all, the non-stop rivalry and the ridiculousness that is Joey Vento, look no further than the crossroads at 9th and Passyunk.

1720 Lombard Street

Are you thinking this is some back alley hidden-gem of a restaurant? Well, not exactly; it’s my old apartment in Philly! It was a few blocks from Rittenhouse Park in a great little neighborhood on a tree-lined street with a beautiful view of the Philly skyline. It was quiet and clean and adorable. I loved it. There was one drawback: the kitchen was itsy-bitsy. For that reason, there was not as much cooking going on there as I would have liked, but that doesn’t mean it was devoid of great food. Between my roomie and me, I can’t remember a time when there wasn’t at least one neatly wrapped bundle of Di Bruno Brothers’ cheese in the refrigerator or fresh veggies in the bin. There was no shortage of fantastic food with the Italian market so close and wonderful restaurants on every corner.

I absolutely love my new apartment in NYC but I still think of that little apartment, sometimes. It reminds me of all of my favorite places there, the parks, the restaurants, my Philly friends, and of sitting in my room with a cup of tea or a glass of wine, the skyline of my first city glowing in the window.

Metropolitan Bakery

One of my very favorite things is a loaf of good bread. Add some cheese and a few olives and I have a meal I could eat for weeks on end. This bakery’s artisanal bread is out of this world. Like any good bakery, they also serve delicious sweets and confections like lemon tarts, chocolate pound cake and my very, very favorite, sour cherry chocolate chip cookies with sea salt.

The first time I had one, I was headed for a stroll in the park, thought better of going on an empty stomach, and stopped in at this conveniently located bakery. The cookie was over-sized, to say the least, and I figured I would save half for my boyfriend who I was meeting up with shortly. I barely walked 2 yards into the park before sitting myself down and devouring every last crumb. I immediately went back to buy another, ate half of that one, and pretended that I had only eaten half of a cookie when I triumphantly handed over the leftover goods to the boyfriend. Yes, they are that good. But technically these cookies should not be on a list of things I miss since thanks to Philadelphia Magazine (and the bakery for divulging the recipe!), I can make these cookies for myself! Thank you, thank you, thank you!! I know the last two posts may have been a bit of a tease for those of you not living in the Philly area, so let this be my peace offering.

Metropolitan Bakery’s Chocolate Chip and Dried Cherry Cookies with Sea Salt (pics to come soon! It’s Friday and I’m exhausted from my first week of blogging 😉 )

My note: If you skip out on the salt on top, you’re really missing out!

Ingredients:

1 c. rolled oats
3 c. all-purpose flour
1 ¾ tsp. baking powder
1 ½ tsp. baking soda
1 ¼ tsp. kosher salt
1 ½ c. unsalted butter
1 ¼ c. granulated sugar
1 ¾ c. light brown sugar
3 large eggs
1 ½ tsp. pure vanilla extract
3 ½ c. bittersweet chocolate chunks
1 ¼ c. dried tart cherries
4 ½ tsp. coarse sea salt

Using a food processor, grind oats into a fine oat flour. In a bowl, sift all-purpose flour with baking powder and baking soda. Add oat flour and kosher salt. Using an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars until light in color and texture, about 3 minutes. Add eggs 1 at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in vanilla. Add flour mixture and mix until just combined. Fold in chocolate and cherries. Using an ice-cream scoop, portion cookie dough into 18 balls. Place cookies on a parchment-lined tray. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Place cookies on an ungreased baking sheet 2 inches apart. Press slightly to flatten cookies and sprinkle each cookie with ¼ teaspoon sea salt. Bake until cookies are golden brown around the edges, 15 to 18 minutes. Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool. Makes 18 cookies.

Notes from Metro’s pastry chef:

– Use high-quality “pure” — not “imitation” — vanilla extract for this recipe. Save the vanilla beans for liquid-based recipes, like custards.

– Affordable, reliable kosher salt is a staple in the Metropolitan kitchen, but delicate, briny fleur de sel is best for finishing these cookies.

– Chilling the dough improves the texture (it lets the flour’s glutens relax, for a more tender cookie) and the flavor. After three days, though, the baking soda and baking powder lose some of their leavening power.

– Barrett’s advice: Don’t trust your mixer. After adding the chocolate and cherries, frisage the dough by scraping it onto a clean surface and folding gently with your hands to combine ingredients the mixer may have missed.

– No, the oats don’t make these cookies healthy — but they do give them a crisp texture and slight nuttiness.

– Look for bittersweet chocolate that’s 60 to 70 percent cacao. Barrett recommends Callebaut and Scharffen Berger brands.

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