it's okay to play with your food

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Hannah's Pancakes and Tomatillo Eggs

My friend Jacob was in town for the weekend and crashed at my place on Saturday. We made an awesome dinner that night (roasted turnips, parsnips and carrots with spicy roast chicken) and then brunched the next day. I made pancakes with cinnamon apples and Jacob put together an onion and roasted tomatillo omelette. The tart tomatillos went really well with the sweet onions. The only thing I would have added would have been cheese. Maybe some Oaxaca?

Hannah's Pancakes
from Epicurious

2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups whole milk
4 large eggs, separated
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) or more unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons sugar
Additional melted butter
Pure maple syrup

Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt in large bowl to blend. Whisk milk and egg yolks in medium bowl to blend. Whisk milk mixture into dry ingredients. Add 2 tablespoons melted butter and whisk until batter is smooth.

Beat egg whites in another medium bowl until soft peaks form. Gradually add sugar, beating until stiff but not dry. Fold whites into batter in 2 additions. Heat nonstick griddle or large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Brush generously with additional melted butter. For each pancake, fill 1/4 cup measuring cup half full and drop batter onto griddle. Cook pancakes until bottoms are brown, about 3 minutes. Using spatula, turn pancakes over and cook until bottoms are brown and pancakes are cooked through, about 2 minutes. Transfer to plates. Serve warm with syrup.

Cinnamon Apples by kitchenplay

3 apples, diced
2 tbls. sugar
About 1 tbls. cinnamon
1 tsp. ground ginger
Some grated orange rind and a generous squeeze of fresh orange juice.

Cover apples with water in a medium saucepan. Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Let simmer on medium-low heat till most of the liquid is reduced and apples are soft.

Tomatillo and Onion Omelette
1 large onion, diced
3 tomatillos, dehusked and rinsed
6 eggs

Caramelize onions in butter with some sugar. Roast tomatillos*. Fold into an omelette, however you like to cook an omelette.

* Preheat broiler. Place tomatillos on a tray and heat in broiler till tender with some charred spots. Let cool and then dice.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Weekend in Review

Friday: Delicious dinner at Pumpkin... braised pork belly, lamb and olive oil cake with sheep's milk ice cream.

Saturday: Asian pear brioche from Fork etc. for breakfast and homemade roasted root vegetables and spicy roasted chicken for dinner (with Ghiradelli brownies for dessert).

Sunday: Homemade pancakes with sauteed apples and eggs with caramelized onions and roasted tomatillos for brunch. Triple Chocolate cupcakes for Daniel's birthday.

Recipes forthcoming...

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Compost Revolution

Today's NYT includes an article on urban composting, highlighting worm composting in particular. I considered worm composting, but was slightly overwhelmed by the idea of inviting 1,000 pets into my home. But a lot of people love the method, for both its ease and efficiency. The article brings up some good stats:

  • 13% of the nation's trash is from food waste

  • Recycling one ton of mixed paper is 4x more effective in reducing green house emissions than producing one ton of compost

  • BUT keeping food waste out of landfills specifically is 2x more beneficial in reducing methane gas production

As someone who cooks a lot, and primarily with fresh vegetables, I know that I'm making some sort of small impact by composting my food waste. It's also really fun, albeit in a super nerdy way. My housemates and I have shared some very cute, very silly compost-love moments.

Since we're still mid-winter, there hasn't been too much action going on in our bin. It is starting to get rather heavy. I did start prepping my planter this past weekend, and transferred some of that dirt into the bin, which I think is supposed to help expedite things.

Has anyone out there tried worm composting?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

NNA Fundraiser at Hardena

I don't know why I didn't think to publicize this on kitchenplay, but if it's good enough for Meal Ticket, it is certainly good enough for us!

The Newbold Neighbors Association (NNA) is hosting a fundraiser this Thursday, February 19th at Hardena (1754 Hicks St, the NW corner of Hicks and Moore). $10 gets you a mountain of great Indonesian food, with 40% of your contribution going back to the NNA. Things are starting up at 6pm and going till around 8.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Cupcakes and Obama

Two of my favorite things.

Persian Love Cake... the Results

My new nickname is Love Cake, primarily a result of the success of the Persian Love (cup)Cakes I made this weekend.

I will definitely make this again; I've never had a cake quite like it. Especially warm out of the oven, they were so light and airy. The orange blossom substitution went well. The only thing I would change is the distribution of the cardamom seeds. I'll grind them a bit with a mortar and pestle next time, so they are more evenly distributed among the cupcakes. And I didn't get around to candying the rose petals, but I really liked how the chopped pistachios looked on top. (Photos by Lizzie Rothwell)

cupcakes playing backgammon (photo at left)

Friday, February 13, 2009

My Valentine's Day Wish

The final part in the Valentine's Series


My Valentine's Day wish for all of you...

Updated 2/14
Now with audio

Happy Valentine's Day from kitchenplay (and R. Kelly)

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Oyster? I hardly know her!

Part 4 of 5 in the Valentine's Day Extravaganza


Last Sunday, I visited Coquette for Happy Hour with friends. My friend Mike and I shared a plate of (delicious) oysters, which naturally brought up the topic of aphrodisiacs. Is it the act of sucking that makes oysters sexy? What qualifies as an aphrodisiac? How exactly are they supposed to work?

The word comes from Greek, its root found in aphrodisiakos (sexual, gem with aphrodisiac properties), aphrodisia (heterosexual pleasures) and the name of the Goddess of Love and Beauty, Aphrodite. Miriam-Webster defines an aphrodisiac as:

1 : an agent (as a food or drug) that arouses or is held to arouse sexual desire
2 : something that excites

Ok, so how do oysters, one of the less sexy looking shellfish, arouse sexual desire or cause excitement? Personally, I think shrimp are super cute and Pacific lobsters dangerously sexy. What's so attractive about the bivalve mollusk?

A few different theories are out there. Some say it’s because of their resemblance to sexual organs, specifically testicles[1]. Wikipedia cites an article that credits the high Zinc content in oysters. Zinc raises sperm and testosterone production[2]. Or maybe it’s a result of rich amino acids that trigger an increase in sex hormones?[3]

But most people have come to the conclusion that the effect is more psychological than anything else. I wonder too if its association with fine dining is part of its sexual mystique. It’s one of those foods a woman juuuust might put out for.

And I mean no offense to my company last Sunday, I didn’t exactly get aroused after eating my six oysters.

While it may be harder to put our finger on which foods turn us on, I can definitely identify what food items turn me off. Specifically, this.

What foods get you all hot and heavy?


Travel Channel Featuring SPTR

From Drew Lazor at Meal Ticket...
"Samantha Brown, who hosts the Travel Channel show Passport to Great Weekends, is going on a pub crawl with the guys from Philly’s Beer of the Bike pedaling/drankin’ club next Thursday. South Philly Taproom GM Meredith Twist tells us that they’ll be filming some scenes next Thursday, Feb. 19, from around 2:30 to 5 in the afternoon. If you want in on the TV action, stop by! Right now we’re trying to figure out what other bars they’ll be hitting up on the crawl; more info soon."

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Persian Love Cake

Part 3 in the Valentine's Series


This Saturday I am attempting another grand cake making adventure. Though partly because of last year's debacle and partly because of my recent cupcake obsession, I plan on making them in cupcake form.

It's a Persian Love Cake. It combines saffron and cardamom and looks beautiful. (Photo by Mark Thomas for Bon Appetit)

The only thing is, it also includes rose water. I don't like rose water. My adult palate is starting to appreciate it, but too much of it in something and I become ill. As such, I'm going to take the suggestions of a few of the reviewers on Epicurious and substitute orange blossom water.

I'm posting the recipe now and I'll let you know how they turn out over the weekend. If anyone else is inspired to make it, let me know how it goes.

Persian Love Cake
from Epicurious

Candied rose petals
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • Petals from 2 organic roses
  • 1 cup cake flour
  • 14 tablespoons baker's sugar or superfine sugar, divided
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
  • 3 large eggs, separated
  • 6 tablespoons water
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
  • 1/4 teaspoon whole cardamom seeds (removed from about 5 green cardamom pods)
  • 2 1/2 cups chilled heavy whipping cream, divided
  • Pinch of saffron threads
  • 2/3 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon rose water
  • 2 tablespoons natural unsalted pistachios

For candied rose petals:
Whisk egg whites in small bowl until foamy. Using pastry brush, brush rose petals on both sides with egg whites; sprinkle on both sides with sugar. Dry on nonstick rack at least 6 hours or overnight.

For cake:
Preheat oven to 325°F. Butter two 8-inch-diameter cake pans with 1 1/2-inch-high sides. Line pan bottoms with parchment paper; butter parchment. Sift flour, 7 tablespoons baker's sugar, baking powder, and salt into large bowl. Whisk yolks and next 4 ingredients in small bowl until smooth. Add yolk mixture to dry ingredients; whisk until smooth. Beat egg whites in medium bowl until soft peaks form. Gradually add 7 tablespoons baker's sugar; beat until whites resemble thick marshmallow fluff. Fold whites into batter in 3 additions. Divide batter between prepared pans. Bake until cakes are golden and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Cool in pans on racks 15 minutes. Turn out onto racks, peel off parchment, and cool completely. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Wrap and store at room temperature.)

For frosting:
Combine 1/2 cup cream and saffron in small saucepan. Bring to simmer. Remove from heat; let steep 20 minutes. Chill until cold.

Beat remaining 2 cups cream, powdered sugar, and rose water in large bowl until soft peaks form; strain in saffron cream. Beat until peaks form.

Place 1 cake layer, flat side up, on platter. Spread 1 cup frosting over. Top with second cake layer, flat side down. Spread remaining frosting over top and sides of cake. Chill at least 1 hour and up to 6 hours. Garnish cake with rose petals and pistachios.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Mushroom Gruyere Crostini

My dad is a chef and a very good one at that. Back in the day, he worked for the restaurant atop the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel and the Philadelphia Inquirer featured him and his recipes on a couple occasions. Maybe one of these days I'll explore my Elektra-influenced interest in cooking and the need for my father's approval. Today isn't that day. Instead, I'll share an appetizer I made when he visited this past weekend.

And no, I didn't take a bite out of the crostini at left... at least, I don't think so.

Mushroom Gruyere Crostini

Slices of Italian bread, brushed with olive oil, salt and pepper (half a loaf)
1 shallot, diced very small
About 6 or 7 baby bella mushrooms, also diced very small
Soy sauce
Red wine (I had an open bottle of Port on hand, so I used that)
Gruyere, shredded

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake slices of bread till crusty and golden, about 10-15 minutes.

Saute shallots in warm butter (I like to heat up butter with a bit of olive oil so it doesn't scorch.). Add mushrooms and a tablespoonish of soy sauce. Let the mushroom soak up the soy sauce (about 2-3 minutes). Add a couple tablespoons of the red wine. Cook till majority of liquid is soaked up, about 5 minutes.

Spoon the mushrooms and shallots atop the crostini. Sprinkle with Gruyere.

I cooked up a similar combination tonight for dinner, but as scrambled eggs. I basically did everything the same, except I omitted the wine and added an egg.

The last time I cooked for my father, I made this.

Crush of the Month: Valentine's Edition

Part 2 in the Valentine's Week Series

A sense of humor. That's what many women identify as one of the most essential qualities in a potential mate. I happen to fall into that category as well. That said, Sarah Haskins... would you be my Valentine?!?

Sarah Haskins is a comedian who hosts "Target:Women" on the Current network. On a weekly basis she calls out the absurd, insulting and often wildly sexual ways women are portrayed in the media. A lot of this "analysis" surrounds the way food is marketed to women.

If advertisers are to be believed, women are all on diets, orgasm to chocolate and dance wildly while eating yogurt.

Maybe the media isn't so far off the mark. I do like to eat healthily, I adore chocolate and yogurt is one of my favorite foods. But it's never made me dance. Maybe I'm eating the wrong brand?

Sarah's most recent video is on women and chocolate, which seems appropriate in the midst of the chocolateequalsloveandhopefullysexlateron holiday season. Enjoy! And boys, take notes!

(I'm having trouble embedding the video, so here is the link to the Current site.)

Monday, February 9, 2009

Food Sex

Valentine's Day is coming up. Something that anyone in a relationship, trying to get out of a relationship or dying to be in a relationship, knows. It isn't one of my favorite holidays, but it certainly brings up some fun food conversation, so I'm thinking about devoting a post a day this week to the wonders of love, sex and food.


Food porn is a staple of the current food industry. It's hard to define, but you know it when you see it. Photos of silky soups adorned with crusty croutons and delicate shavings of Parmesan... chocolate cakes laden with pillows of butter cream frosting and slices of red, ripe strawberries, lightly dusted with powdered sugar... it's a photo wherein the combination of color, consistency and awesome lighting beckons you with the seductive whisper of, "Eat me."

But lately I've been thinking about good Food Sex. How certain foods combine with other foods to create a unique, sensual, blissful, delicious experience. Yes, chocolate is good on its own (very good) and peanut butter is good on its own, but the two together....? THAT is good Food Sex.

And it isn't limited to just couples, either. Food Sex can work in three-ways, foursomes, whatever tickles your fancy. And the food doesn't have to be sexy on its own either. As you'll see in my list below, I mention some very un-sexy foods.

So here are some of my favorite examples of good Food Sex... I encourage you to add to the list.

Peanut butter and chocolate
Ginger, coconut milk and lemongrass
Soy sauce and mushrooms!
Whiskey and black beans
Labne, sriracha and lahmajuns (Armenian pizzas)
Chicken fingers and ranch dressing with a bit of Frank's hot sauce
Salt and vinegar and fried potatoes (in chip or fry form)

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Envirocycle is Here!

The bin came yesterday...

No assembly required. So cute and it fits perfectly in the alley on the side of my house!

Here is the opening with the safety latch.

I filled it with all the stuff we've been collecting in our freezer. Plus I tore up some of the cardboard from the box it came in, moistened it, and added that too.

To be continued...

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Kale and Chickpeas

My house smells amazing right now. I'm cooking up lemongrass in sugar and water to make a lemongrass syrup. I'm not what I'll do with it exactly, maybe include it in brown rice pudding?

This has nothing to do with kale and/or chickpeas. I just wanted to tell you about it.

A couple nights ago I put together a meal that I knew would be super healthy. It was a bunch of stuff that I'm not really wild about on their own, but figured they would go together really well. Here is what I learned:

Mushrooms + Kale + Brown rice + Chickpeas = Amazing.

Kale and Chickpeas
dedicated to Mark Bittman

About 5oz. of baby bella mushrooms, sliced
About 1 tbls. soy sauce
2-3 cups broth
One bunch kale, chopped up
One can of chick peas, strained
Red pepper flakes, salt and pepper

Serve with brown rice (cooked according to package instructions).

Saute garlic in olive oil on low heat for about a minute. Raise heat to medium and add mushrooms with soy sauce and about 1 cup of broth. Saute for about 5 minutes. Add kale with another cup of broth. Saute for another 5 minutes. Bring heat to low and add chickpeas and more broth (if desired). Season with red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Let cook on low heat for about ten to fifteen minutes or as long as it takes to shovel the snow in front of your South Philly rowhome.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Bite Me, Bittman

So tonight was Mark Bittman's talk at the Philly Free Library. Bittman is known primarily for his work as The Minimalist in the New York Times and for his mammoth cookbook, How to Cook Everything. I had heard good things about his new book, Food Matters, and how it was a practical application of Michael Pollan's writing on food. In fact, buying his new book was one of the things on my 2009 Food-to-Do list.

I had set up an event for kitchenplay members on Facebook and ended up going with Daniel and Eleanor. The talk portion was great. He was funny, engaging, and committed to his topic. Basically, eat fewer animal products and processed food; eat more vegetables, fruit, legumes, nuts, and whole grains. I was feeling good about the whole endeavor and looking forward to coming home, sharing the Bittman gospel and my latest recipe for Kale and Chickpeas on kitchenplay.

Then the Q & A happened.

Something I've been thinking about lately is what needs to happen for healthy eating to become a part of the mainstream American diet. I get an adrenaline rush when I think about processed food plants going out of business... industrial slaughterhouses closing up shop... kids growing up on wholesome fruits and not Little Debbies. But then I start to think about the economic consequences of that... specifically, job loss. These plants employ millions of workers, workers with families, in towns that are often built around a particular factory or industry. They work these shitty jobs because that's what is available. And for some politicians, their primary responsibility is to keeping these people, their constituents, employed. These politicians are also the ones who could be making progressive policy decisions towards how farms and businesses get funded, people who could have a critical influence on how our nation thinks about food and its production.

In the 30 seconds I had to ask my question, I must not have presented myself well. I didn't preface it with, "I'm a huge fan, Mr. Bittman, but here is something else I've been wondering about..." And I didn't confirm my adherence to what he was saying.* And perhaps I didn't phrase my question as well as I could have. (Q & A's make me nervous!) Because somewhere between me opening my mouth and him opening his in response, I pissed him off- NOT my intention. I just wanted to know what he thinks will/should happen to the millions of workers in these unhealthy food industries if the "food revolution" -as he called it- succeeds.

He proceeded to call my concern irrelevant. He asked me if I wanted the troops back from Iraq. When I replied in the affirmative, he asked what should happen to the 100,000 jobs that would be lost as a result. His voice raised, he proceeded to decry the jobs and welfare of those people "poisoning" us by making food that is bad for us. He even suggested they should start looking for new jobs now. Right... cause there are sooooo many jobs out there currently.

I guess it's easy to be indifferent about people's livelihoods when you have a sweet deal at the New York Times.

It was a big question. I get that. I also get that I didn't explain it as thoroughly as I could have. I thought about not bringing it up at all. But I also saw an opportunity to get the opinion of a well-respected food writer, one who, however reluctantly, is a member of the "Food Movement," a movement that concerns itself with issues of economics and policy in the way we eat. What I learned from him tonight was... blue-collar people don't really matter. Eat your veggies.

If any of you were there at the talk, I would be interested in hearing your interpretation of events or opinion of the "exchange." Or, if anyone has any thoughts about my quandary, please share. I don't know what the answer is. I think it involves responsibility for others as well as ourselves, supply and demand, creating a new American food industry, politicians, lobbyists and maybe a really awesome mascot- not necessarily in that order.

And yes, it involves eating your veggies too.

* Though if you look at the recipes on kitchenplay, most of which I make up myself, the majority are built around fresh vegetables and legumes.

Mark Bittman at the Philly Free Library

FYI... Mark Bittman (The Minimalist) will be talking at the Central branch of the Free Library tonight, 7:30pm. Auditorium seats are sold-out but simulcast seats ($6) are still available.


My 2009 Food-to-do list included composting, something I always knew would be good to start practicing but I never really understood the how or the why, particularly in the city. It always seemed basic and yet super overwhelming at the same time. But my December trip to Hawaii (food adventures to follow, Chris, I promise!) inspired me to get over my malaise and make it happen. Particularly on the Big Island, where I spent a good 10 days, composting is super common. Well, it's only February and I'm actually getting close to checking it off my to-do list.

I started reading and asking around. I found a decent book on the topic, Composting, by Nicky Scott, which started to make certain things more clear, a few other things less clear. There are just a lot of options out there about which style of composting to take on, which type of bin you want... ehhhh.

I learned about an awesome group in Philly, Pedal Co-Op. They actually come to your house and pick up your compostables for you, in the event that you don't have the space or budget for a compost bin. I thought about doing it, but since I want to use the compost for my garden this summer, and I don't think you can get any compost back, I decided to keep doing it on my own.

And in the meantime, my housemates and I have been freezing our compostables: egg shells, coffee grounds (filters included), vegetable peelings, spoilt produce...

But I was still feeling overwhelmed by it all. Compost bins are large, and often unwieldy and expensive. I kinda just wanted someone to tell me which one to buy, make the decision for me. So I sought advice from the Clean and Green group in my neighborhood association. Andrew directed me to a really cool composting bin that seems perfect for city dwelling. It's the Envirocycle. It isn't huge, seems easy to turn, and critters can't get inside or icky smells outside.

And it arrives this week!

It retails at around $180, but I was able to find it for less on Amazon.

So I'll be posting more about this composting adventure, as well as my foray into gardening. I'm definitely starting to get the hang of this, so if you have any questions, ask away.

And advice is much appreciated, too!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Yellow Split Pea Stew

Last night's meal was a product of two things: salvaging leftover vegetables on the brink of going bad and my recent dive into the world of legumes. That's right, folks... recession cuisine has come to kitchenplay.

I've always loved black beans, lentils and chickpeas, but other than that, I haven't experimented with many others in the legume family. Last night, I stocked up: great northern beans, lentils, yellow split peas, chick peas...

I still had potatoes, carrots and onions from past culinary projects, so some sort of lentil stew started to form itself in my head. I recently came into a mother lode of za'atar, a Middle Eastern spice blend which I love, and wanted to incorporate some of that too. The yellow split peas were so pretty, I decided to work with those.

Yellow Split Pea Stew
Olive oil
1 Large Onion, diced
As Much As You Want Garlic, chopped up
3-5 carrots, cut in rounds
5ish potatoes, cubed
Spices (I used two tbls. za'atar*, 1 tbls. cumin and a generous dash of hot pepper flakes)
One bag of yellow split peas** (or lentils)
2-3 cups of broth
Tomato paste (about 2 tbls.)
Lemon juice (about one whole lemon)
Salt and pepper

Saute onion in olive oil. Add garlic, carrots, potatoes and spices with about half a cup of water. I sauteed these on their own for about 5 minutes before adding the other ingredients. Add the peas and broth (enough so that all ingredients are submerged). Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about an hour. Add the tomato paste and lemon juice while the stew simmers. Season with salt and pepper, more of any of the spices if desired. Add more water and/or broth if needed.

The result is a thick, reddish-brown stew with lots of spice, but not spicy. I had it for lunch today and the cumin flavor had mellowed out a lot since last night. I'm going to eat some this week and freeze the rest for later.

* You can get za'atar in Philly at Bitars, 10th and Federal Streets.
**I soaked the peas in really hot water for about an hour before cooking.