it's okay to play with your food

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Hanging Out with Ruth Reichl

I have already expressed my fondness for Gourmet and the sadness brought on by its recent demise. So I was especially excited to attend First Person Art's First Taste Preview Dinner with Ruth Reichl at Supper this past Monday. And then First Person asked me to blog about it. Rather than re-recount the event, allow me to share what I wrote for First Person's blog. Visit the original post for some great pictures of Ruth at the event.

Ruth Reichl Quiz

Which of the following statements about Ruth Reichl’s early career as a food writer is false?

A) She published her first cookbook at age 21.
B) She wanted her first gig as a food critic so she could satisfy the fellow members of her commune with free food.
C) She crafted her early restaurant reviews as if they were plots out of film noir and sci-fi flicks.
D) All three statements are true.

The answer is D.

Reichl shared the tale of her unconventional start as a writer at last night’s First Taste Preview Dinner. A packed house at Supper listened as Reichl joked about her early days in Berkeley and her wobbly transition to the big leagues at the LA Times. Despite her eccentric beginnings, she ultimately crafted a career as one of the top food journalists in America without so much as a degree in writing or journalism. (She has a master’s degree in art history.)

Some of the most touching remarks of the evening came from Mitch Prensky, chef and owner of Supper. He admitted that his childhood was not a typical one. With parents in the food business, average family outings included trips to Zabar’s and Dean and Deluca. Prensky also acknowledged the influence that the California cuisine movement of the 70’s (and Reichl herself) had on his own cooking style. It was obvious that Reichl is a food hero to Prensky and he was clearly honored to be preparing a meal for her.

Of course, the Q & A visited upon the recent (and controversial) decision by Condé Nast to stop publishing Gourmet after 68 years in print. Reichl handled the questions with grace, though it was clear that she was saddened by the change.

The rest of the evening included a four-course meal prepared by Prensky and ended with a book signing. It was a lovely kick-off to the 8th Annual Festival of Memoir and Documentary Art, featuring the wit and humor of one of our top food writers and memoirists.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Unhappy Housewife

Normally, I'm quite satisfied in the domestic role, certainly as it pertains to the culinary arts. However, last weekend my friend Elizabeth Hershey, an immensely talented photographer, and I played around with the image of a less-than-content housewife. This resulted in cupcakes thrown on the floor, cleaver wielding and many sips of Jack Daniels.

She just posted some of the pictures to her blog but I wanted to post a few of them here.
(And a disclaimer, I didn't bake the cupcakes. They're courtesy of Acme.)

Friday, October 23, 2009

Sausage and Mushroom Soup

Last Friday was another dinner at Mike's. He took the lead with an entree of squid in red wine with lentils while Mary made dessert. The only appropriate addition in chilly, rainy weather of the sort we'd been having was to cook up a soup. And something in the mushroom barley family seemed perfect.

My "mind mouth" was working overtime on Friday. My mind mouth is what I call it when I'm putting together a recipe and mentally tasting things to see how they will work together. I looked through a bunch of recipes to get a general sense of how mushroom soups work: use dry and fresh mushrooms, carrots and celery are great
(leeks are a good addition too), wine and sherry are often incorporated in the broth. I decided to use three types of mushrooms, two fresh and 1 dry variety, add a beef sausage, and use a flavorful beer for the broth. No barley because I couldn't find any in the shops along the Italian Market area and didn't have the wherewithal to walk to the Acme in the rain.

And... it was pretty awesome.

But still no camera cord, so no pics. Pout.

UPDATE: Camera cord has been found, obvs...

Sausage and Mushroom Soup

1 oz. dried porcini mushrooms, soaked in boiling water for about 20 minutes
1 large onion, diced
1 lb. button mushrooms, thinly sliced
1/2 lb. shitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
Soy sauce, about two tbls. or to taste
A few tablespoons of water
3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
2 carrots, sliced in rounds
2 celery ribs, sliced
Sprigs of fresh thyme and chopped fresh sage (in about a 2:1 proportion)
1 lb. beef sausage
12-16 ounces beer (I used Yuengling's Black and Tan)
6 cups chicken broth
A lot of freshly ground pepper (Add salt depending on how salty the broth is. The boullion I used was super salty, so I didn't add any more)
Fresh parsley, chopped

In a pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Saute the onions for about 6 minutes or till golden. Add the mushrooms, soy sauce and some water. Cook down till all liquid is absorbed. Add more liquid if it's getting too dry before the mushrooms seemed thoroughly cooked.

In another pan, melt more butter over medium high heat. Add the garlic, carrots, celery and bit more water. After about 5 minutes, add the fresh herbs. Let cook together for about another 5 minutes or until veggies are tender.

Brown sausage in the soup pot. I had a 1 lb. rope so I browned it in longer sections, chopped them up smaller, browned them some more, then chopped them up one more time into thinnish slices. Remove the fat and deglaze the pot with about half a cup of beer. Combine the sausage, vegetables, more beer and broth. Bring to a boil and simmer for about half an hour, stirring occasionally.

Serve with a garnish of fresh parsley.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

On My Friends and Steve Poses

I just returned from another Author Event at the Free Library of Philadelphia, inspired to take up the keyboard and write. This time, rather than reeling from the ire of Mark Bittman, I am completely charmed by the idealism and good cooking karma of Steve Poses. Poses is famous in Philadelphia as the founder of the Frog and the Commissary, two restaurants at the forefront of the Philly restaurant emergence in the seventies. He later turned his attention to catering, opening the Frog Commissary. Now he has taken up a new cause, to actually increase home entertaining in the U.S. by 10%. How he will document this uptick, I do not know; but the enthusiasm with which he advocates for the surge is contagious.

Since the start of the recession, many magazines have become advocates for entertaining at home as a way to cut spending. For Poses, the issue is not one of economics but community building. He discusses the joys and breaks down the steps of home entertaining in his new book, At Home by Steve Poses and the companion website, At Home Online. Purchase of the book gets you a code that gives you exclusive access to the website. The website includes all of the recipes in the book (and then some) that are easily printable, plus other tips and tricks. A glance through the book quickened my salivary glands. (Kaffir lime-infused vodka? Yes please!)

The talk made me even more appreciative of my personal food community, my friends, with whom I eat and cook on a regular basis. I don't even think of these meals as "dinner parties," they comprise such a natural part of our social scene, but that is essentially what they are. Peppered throughout
kitchenplay are the names of my food partners in crime: Mike, Sarah, Daniel are but a few. Sometimes I'm cooking for them, them for me, or we're cooking together. It's a very simple, non-stressful part of our circle.

I realize that not everyone has a food community already, and I'm lucky that so many of my friends just love cooking, but I highly recommend building your own. It's as simple as hosting a potluck or staring a regular Sunday dinner routine. Poses is right; sharing a pot of homemade soup with friends is so much more satisfying than any meal in a restaurant.

That said, there's a "dinner party" tomorrow night and I'm thinking of making a mushroom barley soup to precede Mike's squid in red wine with lentils. I gotta start looking through recipes.

At Home with Steve Poses: A Caterer's Guide to Cooking and Entertaining is available only on his website.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Cake Time

This past week brought two occasions for cake baking, a fundraiser planning meeting and a long weekend with friends in Rhode Island. For the first cake, I stuck with a staple, a cake I've been making for years with great success: a chocolate-covered gingerbread cake. The second cake was brand new, a flourless chocolate cake with a cinnamon-ricotta dollop. I went for a flourless cake since our host for the weekend had recently gone gluten-free. Both cakes come from epicurious, with some additions/alterations by kitchenplay.

And sadly, I can't find my camera cord, hence no pictures right now. :(

Camera cord has finally been recovered! Pics below!

Chocolate-Covered Gingerbread Cake from Epicurious

from kp: I double the cake recipe and bake it in a bundt pan. Cooking time is
more like 45 minutes as a result. I keep the glaze recipe the same and drizzle it on the cake, rather than frost the whole thing.

  • 1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/3 cup mild-flavored (light) molasses
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon grated peeled fresh ginger
  • 1/2 cup whipping cream
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 8 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For cake:

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter 9-inch square metal baking pan. Line bottom with parchment paper. Butter parchment. Whisk first 6 ingredients in medium bowl to blend.

Mix warm water and baking soda in small bowl until baking soda dissolves. Using electric mixer, beat sugar, butter, molasses, eggs, and fresh ginger in large bowl until well blended. Add dry ingredients in 3 additions, alternating with water mixture in 2 additions, beating until just combined. Pour batter into prepared pan.

Bake cake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Cool on rack 20 minutes. Run knife around edge of cake to loosen. Invert cake onto rack; cool. Peel off parchment.

For glaze:
Bring first 3 ingredients to simmer in medium saucepan. Remove from heat. Add chocolate and vanilla; stir until smooth. Let stand until cool but still pourable, about 20 minutes.

Place cake on rack set atop baking sheet. Reserve 1/2 cup glaze. Pour remaining glaze over cake, spreading with spatula to coat top and sides. Chill cake and reserved glaze until reserved glaze is just firm enough to pipe, about 1 hour.

Transfer reserved glaze to pastry bag fitted with 1/4-inch plain tip. Pipe 5 diagonal lines atop cake, spacing evenly. Cluster crystallized ginger atop lines. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before serving.)

Flourless Chocolate Cake from Epicurious
from kp: I doubled this recipe and baked it in a 9-inch round pan. It didn't change the cooking time. I served it with a cinnamon-ricotta dollop (recipe below).

  • 4 ounces fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened)
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder plus additional for sprinkling
Preheat oven to 375°F and butter an 8-inch round baking pan. Line bottom with a round of wax paper and butter paper.

Chop chocolate into small pieces. In a double boiler or metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water melt chocolate with butter, stirring, until smooth. Remove top of double boiler or bowl from heat and whisk sugar into chocolate mixture. Add eggs and whisk well. Sift 1/2 cup cocoa powder over chocolate mixture and whisk until just combined. Pour batter into pan and bake in middle of oven 25 minutes, or until top has formed a thin crust. Cool cake in pan on a rack 5 minutes and invert onto a serving plate.

Dust cake with additional cocoa powder and serve with sorbet if desired. (Cake keeps, after being cooled completely, in an airtight container, 1 week.)

Cinnamon-Ricotta Cheese by kitchenplay

Ricotta cheese (about 1 cup)

Sugar (about 2 tbls)

Cinnamon (about 1 tbls)

Nutmeg (about 1 tsp)

Smidge of salt

Blend together all ingredients to taste with an electric mixer or by hand. Serve with flourless chocolate cake.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Love Cake

This is just too cute... from Britain's Rocky and Balls...

Monday, October 5, 2009

Ciao Gourmet

Sadly, Gourmet Magazine is being cut from the Conde Nast publication roster. And while the magazine had become very ad-heavy in recent years and was trying a little too hard to be cool and hip for the young foodie set, it is still my preferred food magazine. It's the one I grew up with. My father has been subscribing to Gourmet since the 70s and it was a staple in my home as a child. When I first started cooking (save an adventure with the recipes from my first issue of Seventeen), I always referred to Gourmet. I also recently argued with my father about holding on to his stash of old Gourmets, if only for my own personal magazine collection. I most certainly hope he heeded my advice.

This will make Ruth Reichl's appearance with First Person Arts even more interesting, I say!

Friday, October 2, 2009

First Person Arts (and Eats)

My latest gig is with the awesome organization First Person Arts. I'm coordinating volunteers for their Festival of Memoir and Documentary Art, taking place November 3 - 8. kitchenplay was one of the first things we talked about in my job interview, in part because food is a topic prominently showcased throughout the festival. A number of events focus on food and food writing, including a preview event with Gourmet editor, Ruth Reichl. How could I not share all of this with you?

First Taste Preview Dinner with Ruth Reichl
Monday, October 26

Supper Restaurant

Enjoy a four-course dinner from Supper chef Mitch Prensky and hear about Reichl's life with food from the woman herself.

Edible World: Foobooz Burger Cruise
Tuesday, November 3

Meet in the lobby of 1 S. Broad St

Foobooz editor Arthur Etchells leads a tour of burger eats around town.

America Eats
Wednesday, November 4

The Painted Bride

Food writer Pat Willard took up where a WPA-era writer left off: documenting the regional cuisines of the United States. Join her for a presentation of her findings over a buffet of traditional American eats.

The Girl from Foreign
Sunday, November 8
The Painted Bride

noon to 2pm

Sadia Shepard discusses her memoir, The Girl from Foreign, and presents a screening of her film, In Search of the Bene Israel, telling the tale of her personal journey through her Jewish Indian heritage. Her story is rounded out by Indian food from Ekta Indian Restaurant.

Ticket prices and more information can be found here. I'll be reminding you about these events closer to the actual dates too.

And if you're interested in volunteering with the Festival, write me at!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

summer into fall

Over these past couple months, the real world necessitated that kitchenplay take a back seat. Honestly, I didn't have much to write about anyway. Many meals were eaten in a hospital waiting room or out of a box or skipped entirely. But as the air in Philly has morphed from a muggy heat to a brisk cool, it's time to bring my attention back to food, the making and the sharing of it. After all, fall is my favorite season, with thoughts of apples and pears, cinnamon and ginger. It's time to turn on the oven again and start baking spice cakes and maple cream pies. Soups and stews are to be shared with friends on chilly Sunday evenings.

Yesterday, I was able to both savor the spoils of my summer garden at lunchtime while creating a very autumnal dessert in the evening. It was a perfect way to say adieu to one season and welcome in another.

I can't say my first garden was a rousing success, but I have been harvesting a few things over this past month. Homemade tomato sauce made use of my first eggplant. A tomato and green pepper found their way into a hoagie. And just yesterday I savored my first (and only) cucumber. Eaten with my sole ripe tomato, sea salt and freshly ground pepper, it made for an awesomely fresh and simple salad.

And then dinner approached and I needed to create a dessert to bring to Mike's. Wholly unprepared, I threw a few boxes of raisins, a bag of nuts, butter and some spices into a bag. At the last minute, I added my bottle of orange blossom water. I knew I wanted to build something around apples and picked up a couple pounds of green ones at the market on 16th and Washington. Apple cake was what I had in mind, but sadly, Mike lacked the ingredients that I was too disorganized to procure myself. But something else worked its way into my brain, something that was a perfect use of every ingredient I had in my bag: baked apples. It also turned out to be a great accompaniment to Mike's rustic dinner of chicken with vinegar and homemade pasta.

Baked Apples with Orange Blossom Water
by kitchenplay

One small bag of chopped nuts
3 small boxes of raisins
A generous splashing of orange blossom water
Cinnamon, freshly grated nutmeg, ginger
A lot of brown sugar
A smidge of salt
6 tart apples, cored
6 tablespoons of butter

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Soak nuts and raisins in orange blossom water for about 10-15 minutes with spices, brown sugar and salt. Put a tablespoon of butter in each apple. Mix in the nut and raisin mixture with the butter. Let the mixture overflow just a little bit from the top of each apple. Put apples in a baking dish and bake for 3o minutes. After 3o minutes, reduce heat to 200 degrees and cook for another 15 minutes. Serve with ice cream or, if you are so lucky, calvados laced frozen yogurt made by Mike.