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I love Food. Cooking it. Eating it. Experiencing it. As a result, that's what this blog has evolved into: A journal of my gastronomical journeys abroad, as well as my culinary creativity at home. I hope you enjoy what I have to say, and I'd love to hear your comments... Cheers!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Tastes Like Chicken

Found a fun recipe from Southern Living and made it for the family last night....

King Ranch Chicken Casserole
  1. Grease a 13x9 baking dish. Shred rotisserie chicken (I used one; possibly coulda benefited from more) and spread half in the dish.
  2. Meanwhile, sautee 2 tbsp. butter and a 10 oz. bag of frozen onions, celery and peppers, about 5 minutes (or until tender).
  3. Place in a bowl and stir in 2 cans of Cream of Chicken soup, and 2 cans of diced tomatoes, along with 1 tsp. of mexican chile spice.
  4. Layer in 1/2 the soup mixture on top of chicken, top with 1c shredded cheddar cheese, then 1 1/2 c roughly crumbled white corn tortilla chips (preferably lime-flavored, like Tostitos has -- my fave!).
  5. Repeat the layering once more: chicken, soup mixture, cheese, then crushed chips.
  6. Top with extra 1c of cheddar cheese, and bake at 400 degrees for approx. 25 minutes.

This is one of those dishes I'm hoping with build a bridge for my kids (my son, really) from the typical hot dogs and grilled cheese to a broader tasting profile. Specifically... I want them to eat what we eat for dinner!

Any ideas on how to accomplish that, please comment at your leisure!!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Best of the Best (of the Best) has begun...

In a recent post on this blog, I committed myself to preparing the dozen or so recipes I earmarked in a new cook book I received, the "Best of the Best Cook Book Recipes" from Food & Wine. Not exactly the Herculean -- or should I say, Julie Powell-ian task -- of working my way through Julia Child's seminal recipe tome (as depicted in "Juile & Julia"), but an undertaking nonetheless.
My first step in this abridged adventure was courtesy of Andrew Carmellini and Gwen Hyman's "Urban Italian." I picked a pasta dish thinking it would be a somewhat simple place to start. Rigatoni Pugliese. And while I was not entirely incorrect (the rigatoni part was a breeze!), the sauce was going to be maiden voyage for me into uncharted culinary waters: making a sauce from scratch.
This one turns out to be a sauce-within-a-sauce, because the it features Carmellini's Basic Tomato Sauce, which is the base for so many of his dishes, as it's main component.
So really, there are two recipes to share here. Let's start with the Basic Tomato Sauce:
  1. 2 1/2 (I used 3) 35 oz. cans of good quality Italian canned tomatoes (Andrew recommends San Marazano; I used Cento). Squeeze out the seeds and juice and discard. (* NOTE: this was tricky for me: I didn't know if I was losing too much of the good stuff inside, but Carmellini explains that it's crucial to get the sauce to the right consistency)
  2. Top tomatoes chunks with a generous amount of kosher or sea salt (about a heaping tsp) to draw out any excess moisture.
  3. Cook down the tomatoes over medium heat in a pan or pot with a wide surface area for about 30 minutes. Ladle out any excess water. Smash the tomatoes with a wooden spoon during cooking to smooth out.
  4. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, heat 1 1/4 c EVOO with a head of garlic (top cut off to expose the cloves), 1 tsp crushed red pepper, and 1 c washed basil leaves (stems on) over medium heat to a simmer. Remove and reserve as soon as you hear the basil start to "crackle."
  5. After the tomatoes have reduced by about 1/2, strain the flavored oil in and stir to combine. Cook for about another 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, and mix it up a bit at the end to help emulsify. (* NOTE: I never got mine to completely emulsify. It looked very oily to me, but don't worry: it still comes together in the end)

I prepped this in advance of the rest of the dish, because the rest is fairly quick and simple:

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
  2. Blanch 1 bunch of broccoli rabe (cleaned of outer leaves; stems trimmed) for about 90 seconds. Transfer to ice water bath.
  3. Bring water back to a boil. Cook 1 lb. Rigatoni until al dente.
  4. In a sautee pan, heat EVOO, broccoli rabe, 1/2 can of chick peas (save the liquid and other half!!), 1 clove of thin sliced garlic, and 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper. Season with salt and pepper. Sautee until all ingredients are well coated.
  5. Meanwhile, blend the liquid of the 15 oz. can of chick peas with remaining 1/2 can of chick peas, for about a minute, until it forms a smooth paste. Add to Basic Tomato Sauce and cook for about 15 minutes.
  6. Add sauce to drained rigatoni back in pasta pot and cook for about a minute.
  7. Remove from heat and stir in 2 tbsp butter, 2 tsp EVOO (* NOTE: I skipped this because the sauce had enough oil already), and 1/2 c grated pecorino cheese (*NOTE: I used parmigiana reggiano).
  8. Transfer to a large serving dish or plate. Top with another 1/2 c grated cheese and the broccoli rabe mixture. Serve immediately.

The reviews were spectacular. There really is no substitue for homemade sauce. This recipe allows for extra sauce, so you can either add it to the dish, or save it for another recipe. Well worth the effort and time.

Our only critique was the bitterness of the broccoli rabe. Not sure if it was operator error, but it just seemed to work against the rest of the flavors in the dish. I also skipped a main ingredient in the sauce: spicy Italian sausage. If you choose to use it, all you have to do is brown 1 lb. of sausage (out of its casing) in a pan, breaking it up into small pieces, and adding it to the sauce before combining with the pasta. I'm sure it will only enhance the intensity of the flavors, and give it even more of authentic Italian taste, but I had to cater to the crowd, so to speak!

One recipe down...how many more to go??... to be continued...

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Get Out Yer Calendars!

...so I'm emceeing the inaugural TASTE! Gourmet Food & Wine Expo next May (14-17), in Myrtle Beach, SC, and the good news keeps rolling in... Guy Fieri just signed on to appear! Love his shows on Food Network, especially "Diners, Drive-ins, & Dives." Guy joins Food Net's Aaron McCargo, and Top Chef fave Fabio Viviani on the ever-expanding roster of top-name chefs.
I'll keep posting updates as they come. Should be a fantastic weekend. Spread the word and make a vacation out of it!
Great weather, amazing golf courses, and a food and wine ;lover's paradise!

For more info: www.tasteshows.com

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Top Chef Double Vision

Well, well, well, looks like Jennifer finally has some competition. Michael I. would like you think it's him (is it just me, or does he wish his last name was Voltaggio, too?!?), but it's pretty clear it's in the form of the Volt Bros. Talk about 2 extremes...Michael with his bleached hair, tatts galore, cocksure/rock star vibe, and Bryan (love the spelling, bro, just like my boy!) with his conservative, reserved personality. Both are admirably dedicated and passionate forces to be reckoned with, regardless of their appearances, and I love how the producers make sure to iso the other brother when his sibling wins a challenge or reward...
Backtracking a bit, but Kevin may have won the Top Chef reward of a lifetime, getting to break bread with French living legends like Boulud, Keller, and Robuchon, but didn't it seem like he was stuck at the kids table at Thanksgiving? If he indeed said anything of substance, we certainly didn't get a whiff of it, aside from one meager comment. I suppose there wasn't enough oxygen in the room when you dine with the likes of those chefs in that stratosphere...
Loved seeing my friend and culinary cowboy Tim Love as the guest judge this week... so talented, and such a bright personality. Same way off the air as he is on it. My man needs his own show, and I only hope it's me who can someday deliver it to him...

Headed out West...

Wrapped up my west coast swing, and can't wait to get back to my wife, my kids, my bed! Some highlights:
Waiting to hear about a callback from Discovery Channel about a role in season 2 of "Pitchmen"...
Won $50 on NFL games week 1... That's a veritable windfall for me!!
Slight disappointment: no memorable meals to speak of...
Big, classic breakfast at Du-Pars in Studio City. Famous for their hot cakes and they lived up to their rep. They came with MELTED butter along with syrup... A simple, but much-appreciated touch. Thanks to my cousin Craig for introducing me to this mainstay...
Lunch at a West LA hot spot Il Moro with my frat brother Corey. He suggested I try the artichoke salad to start -- good call Ack! Shaved parmesan on top of wonderfully marinated chopped artichokes and greens. Delish!
Then I ordered the Parma pizza. Anything from the cured or smoked pig family is a big seller for me, so the Parma ham was the clincher. Only problem was, I thought it was an individual pie... All eyes on me when the waiter placed a FULL SIZE pizza in front of me. The pie almost dwarfed the table itself!! I showed uncommon restraint in not polishing off the whole damn thing, but believe me, I was tempted, appetite be damned! The ham was shaved thin and so fresh, the mozzarella the perfect gooey consistency, and the crust so thin that the edges cracked and crumbled if I handled it too brusquely... A tremendous meal with a hip, LA vibe... thanks, Corey.
Ended my food-related journey by checking off a big item on my "food bucket list" -- a double-double from the iconic LA fast food joint, In-n-Out Burger. Savored every big bite of this burger perfection, despite having to eat and drive.
But hey -- that's LA livin', right?

Friday, September 4, 2009

Testing out my first blog post via Blackberry...

Back in the 'burbs...

Up in the Philly 'burbs again, prepping to go on QVC with Samsung this Sunday, so that means lots of food-related exploring to do in the surrounding area. The good news for me is that I have friends who used to live and work in this neck of the woods, so I have no shortage of recommendations.
Last night, ate in downtown West Chester at Pietro's Prime (http://www.pietrosprime.com/), a nice-looking place with a fairly classic steakhouse vibe. Got my spot at the bar, situated perfectly within range of three TVs, so I could keep an eye on the US Open, the Eagles-Jets game, and the Phils-Giants game. Ryan, my bartender, suggested the bone-in pork chop, and I took him up on it. Started with a spinach salad that had a great ratio of egg and bacon (but a little too heavy on the red onion for my taste), then onto the main course. One thing I love about a good spinach salad is how the warm dressing makes all the components come together so beautifully. This one was simple, no-frills, and just the way I like it. A good starter...
I ordered the pork chop Oscar-style, with the Hollandaise on the side, because I really wanted to make sure I got the full flavor of the chop without any impedance of other ingredients. The plate came out looking super and the taste was the same. I ordered it medium rare, and it was cooked to perfection, with just the right amount of succulent fat on the edges and juiciness inside. There was a healthy amount of lump crab meat, and the asparagus was thick and colorful. The Hollandaise on the side was key, because all of the items on the plate deserved to be tasted and appreciated on their own. Of course, I loved the few forkfuls where I combined all the elements, too!
I threw caution to the wind and ordered a tiramisu and a cappuccino for dessert. Tiramisu is an all-time fave dessert for me, and I've had it served many different ways. Sad to say, this one was not up to snuff for me. It was a bit too much like a spongecake texture, and I prefer more cream and cinnamon and amaretto, giving it more of a 'drunken' sensation to the lady fingers. Still, the disappointing final course did not leave me regretting my choice. Pietro's would be a place I'd most certainly return...

This morning, I embarked on a pilgrimage, of sorts. My good friend, Curt, was adamant about me finding the DK Diner. Now, Curt is as passionate about food as I am, and the way he gushed about this place made it a mandatory stop on my journey. You know, this is what I love about the Northeast, be it Jersey, Pennsylvania, or New York: there is never a shortage of classic diners and family-owned pizza joints (more on that to come!) ...
DK is your prototypical truck-stop-style diner. Stainless steel outside and in; countertop spots are at a premium; specials hand-written overhead. Hasn't changed it's looked or it's menu since it opened in 1947. And despite the plethora of diners in the area, it still regards itself as "West Chester's only Diner" since that time.
I had very specific orders, which I had committed to memory, and was only too happy to oblige. Here's the lineup: creamed chipped beef, on top of crispy home fries, with a side of scrapple. I didn't even look at the menu until after I placed my order!
While it took waaay to long to get my meal, at least the coffee was appropriately diner-style satisfying to keep me at bay...
Let me tell you, Curt got it right, and I could tell from the first bite why, even after more than a decade away from DK, he recited the order as if he'd had it himself just yesterday morning. The chipped beef had a lot of flavor, and reminded of biscuits and gravy without the gravy; it seeped into the nooks and crannies of the crispy potatoes, which had the perfectly golden browned crackle of a crust on top. Add the salty, sausage-like flavor of the scrapple, and you've got yourself quite a trifecta of diner-iffic food, P-A stlye! The DK did not disappoint...

More to come...

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Random Thoughts From the Road

Just got back from a day in Miami, meeting with some electronics folks about some products I'll be representing for them on QVC, and, as it always seems to be the case these days, my adventures dovetail into multiple avenues of my life, both work and personal. To wit: while waiting for our meeting to commence, I suggest we grab a quick bite to eat, seeing as how it was lunch time and all. My colleagues take me to a lunch spot not 3 minutes from their offices in Doral. A nice, new place, with a fairly extensive menu, called Harvest Delight. The type of place that's part diner, part family restaurant. You could tell, despite the freshly painted walls and marble countertops, that there was some serious home cooking going on in the kitchen, and that this was indeed a family affair...
This Middle Eastern vibe I was catching reminded me that my wife's Uncle Hugh has cousins in this area, and these cousins own an eatery called Daily Bread. I asked my lunchmates if they were familiar with it, and in hopes of triggering a responses, I called Hughbie to find out the address. He told me that they had recently opened a third place... in Doral (you following me here?)... called... Harvest Delight...!!!!! I was sitting in the very place by sheer coincidence and proximity to the offices I was calling on!
Next thing I know, I'm bear-hugging Neva, Hugh's cousin from Saudi Arabia, who manages Harvest; she's bringing out plates of fresh hummus and warm, toasted pita, along with sensational, authentic chicken kebabs. After all... we're family! What a fortunate find! And delicious food, too. I had the prosciutto and mozzarella sandwich on a homemade baguette, drizzled with balsamic and olive oil, which also tasted freshly made. Filling, and fine...

With all the air travel I've been doing lately, I'm really getting some serious reading done, so, Oprah's Book List be damned, here's a few picks for you, not that you asked:
Just finished Outliers (Malcolm Gladwell). Another engrossing read, equally as intriguing as his first two, Tipping Point and Blink. Highly recommend it. Gladwell deconstructs certain stereotypes to make practical and logical sense of why people succeed, struggle, and survive they way they do, as outliers in their respective fields or family lines. Fascinating stuff...

Almost done with Randy Pausch's The Last Lecture. My god, what a gut-wrenching, heart-breaking, heart-warming, story of a man and his quest to solidify his legacy for his family and his students. He is no super hero, for sure, but he is a hero in so many ways. Inspirational, to say the least. You'll smile with tears staining your cheeks more than once...

About to embark on one I've been meaning to pick up for a while, that was recommended by my brother-in-law (and class A oenophile), Larry. The Billionaire's Vinegar is a non-fiction mystery about the world's most expensive wine, and the tales that surrounded it. Can't wait to pop the cork on that one...

Lots of reading to be done as I venture up to QVC land for Sunday shows all day. I no doubt will be reporting back on more food and dining adventures that await me in the Northeast...