Sunday, September 30, 2007

Eating My Way Through Philadelphia Part 2

The last morning of our trip was spent at the 9th St. Italian Market. To me this is what a farmer's market is all about. There are tons of stands selling all kinds of fresh produce and fish. I could spend a whole day at the market just browsing in some of the stores like the Spice Corner, Claudio's (more on them in another blog) and Dangelo Bros.
It was such a beautiful day so we decided to have breakfast outside at Anthony's Italian Coffee House. We enjoyed an espresso and a sfogiatella as we watched the market come alive with shoppers. Only in Philadelphia can a piece of board be laid on the street turning it into an outside dining area.
I headed to Chinatown next for a quick lunch at the Imperial Inn. Philadelphia's Chinatown is a compact neighborhood of restaurants, shops and homes. With ducks hanging in shop windows and street signs written in Chinese you can't help but feel removed from the city when you're there.
My culinary tour of Philadelphia would not be complete without pizza. La Rosa in South Philly was my next stop. There's nothing fancy about the shop, they don't even have seating, but in my opinion they make the best pizza in the area. It's not thin crust but not really Sicilian either. It's a mixture of the two cooked in long square trays. I know there are others that might not agree but my vote will always be for La Rosa.
Our final stop before heading to the airport was to Federal Pretzel Baking Company. One thing very unique to Philly is the soft pretzel and although there are several places that try to imitate none are quite as good as the one's from Federal Pretzel. We went with the intention of buying a few for the trip home but once inside the smell over took us and we ended up buying 30 to share with our Phoenix friends.
5 hours later and 10 pounds heavier we landed in Phoenix.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Eating My Way Through Philadelphia Part 1

Just back from Philadelphia where a short visit with family and friends turned into a culinary adventure. Philadelphia, known to most as the City of Brotherly Love, is known to me as a mecca of good food.
The first stop on my culinary feast was to Anna's food cart on the SW corner of 18th and Chestnut. I had read so much about Anna's breakfast sandwiches prior to leaving for my trip that I insisted my husband and I give them a try. We shared the bacon, egg and cheese with ketchup (yes, we put ketchup on our eggs, like most people we know from Philly). The sandwich was delicious and lived up to it's reputation. Our next food adventure was a get together at a friend's house. We ordered stromboli's from Pizza Shack. (which we all agreed were not as good as Cacia's). I had been craving stromboli's for months and hadn't been able to find them in Phoenix. So this was a real treat for me. For those of you that don't know a stromboli is pizza dough rolled jelly roll style and filled with a combination of meats and cheese. My two favorites are the pepperoni and cheese and the cheese steak.
The owner of Demarco's Italian Specialties, who happens to be a good friend of ours, brought over a tray of Italian delicacies from his store. There was some hot fried peppers, some provolone cheese, pepperoni, salami, grilled vegetables and some broccoli rabe.
We ended our first day of feasting with sticky buns from Frangelli's and cupcakes from Termini's. My favorite are the sticky buns and in my opinion Frangelli's does them the best.
Stay tuned for Part 2.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Nectarine and Mascarpone Tart in a Gingersnap Crust

One of my favorite tart recipes is for a nectarine and mascarpone tart in a gingersnap crust adapted from epicurious.com. It's really easy to make and the results are so delicious. Ingredients Crust 25 gingersnap cookies, coarsely broken 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted

Filling 1 8-ounce container mascarpone cheese 6 ounces cream cheese, room temperature 1/4 cup sour cream 1/4 cup sugar 1 tablespoon grated lemon peel 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract Topping 4 to 5 small nectarines, halved, pitted, cut into thin slices 1/4 cup peach jam, warmed

Preparation For crust: Preheat oven to 350°F. Finely grind gingersnaps in processor. Add butter and blend until crumbs are evenly moistened. Press mixture over bottom and up sides of 9-inch-diameter tart pan with removable bottom. Bake crust until color darkens, pressing sides with back of spoon if beginning to slide, about 8 minutes. Cool completely.

For filling: Beat first ingredients in medium bowl until smooth. Spread filling in prepared crust. Cover loosely and refrigerate at least 2 hours and up to 1 day.

For topping: Overlap nectarine slices atop filling in concentric circles. Brush with jam. Serve, or refrigerate up to 6 hours.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Once You've Had A Cuban Sandwich You'll Crave Them Forever

I had my first Cuban sandwich several years ago at Porto's Bakery in Glendale California. Since then I've been trying to recreate this sandwich at home. There are so many recipes out there and they all seem to do it just a little different. I got the following recipe from ICuban and added a few personal touches to make what I think is a really good Cuban sandwich. Ingredients
Substitute French bread
1 pound sweet ham sliced (Use a good quality ham.)
1 pound roasted Cuban pork sliced (see the following recipe)
1/2 pound Swiss cheese, sliced (Use a mild Swiss -- we like Baby Swiss -- it has only a few holes.)
Sliced dill pickles
Mayonnaise (NEVER)
To make four generous sandwiches:
Make each sandwich with the ingredients in this order: pickles, roasted pork, ham, and cheese. Be generous!

Place the sandwich on a lightly greased sandwich press. (You really want to smash the sandwich, compressing the bread to about 1/3 its original size!) Grill the sandwiches for two to three minutes on each side, until the cheese is melted and the bread is golden. Slice the sandwich in half diagonally and serve.

Roast Pork for Cuban Sandwiches 1 lb. boneless center pork loin roast 3 cloves garlic 1 tsp. salt 1 tablespoon dried oregano 1 cup sour orange juice (If you can't get sour oranges in your area, try 2 parts orange to one part lemon and 1 part lime) 1/2 cup olive oil Preparation Mash the garlic and salt together with a mortar and pestle. Add dried oregano and the sour orange to the mash and mix thoroughly. Heat oil in small sauce pan, add the mash to the oil and whisk. Pierce pork roast as many times as you can with a sharp knife or fork. Pour garlic mixture (save a little for roasting) over pork, cover and let sit in refrigerator for two to three hours. Using a suitable roasting pan or rack, sprinkle remaining marinade over pork and cook uncovered at 325°F. Roast until completely cooked (160°F), about 20 minutes per pound. Baste occasionally. Bring pan juices to a boil and simmer until the juice is reduced by half. Sprinkle juice onto the pork when you put it in the sandwich.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

When is Even Just a Little Bit of BBQ Too Much:

When your husband owns his own BBQ business. My friend Joanne's husband, Chris, has been cooking BBQ out of their home, in Phoenix, for the past 10 years. Chris and his father decided it was time to bring back the family business so a few months ago they opened Town Talk II. (Chris's grandfather owned the original Town Talk)
When Joanne invited me to the restaurant for lunch last week I was surprised that she ordered the only non-BBQ item on the menu: chicken fingers. But she explained that when you live with it 24 hours a day "you just want something different." I ordered the BBQ chicken sandwich and was not disappointed. One of the things that set this sandwich apart from others I've had was the bun. It wasn't your typical soft mushy bun; it had some texture to it. It didn't get soggy from the BBQ sauce which has always been a pet peeve of mine.
I think Chris and his dad have a good thing going with Town Talk II. They really know their BBQ. Who knows maybe some day they'll add some spaghetti to the menu for Joanne. Town Talk II BBQ 602-234-4745 3509 N 19th Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85015

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Presto Pasta Night

I've been wanting to contribute to Presto Pasta Night for awhile now but just haven't been able to find the right recipe. I stumbled upon this one in Lidia's Italian American Kitchen Cookbook and thought I'd give it a try. We also had a friend from Minnesota visiting who would have killed me if I didn't make him pasta. Braised Pork Ribs with Rigatoni Ingredients 1 whole rack of pork spare ribs; cut into single ribs 1/4 cup olive oil 1 large yellow onion, sliced 8 garlic cloves, peeled 6 pickled cherry peppers, stemmed, seeded and quartered 2 35 ounce cans of Italian plum tomatoes 2 bay leaves 6 springs of fresh thyme 2-3 cups of hot water as needed 1 pound rigatoni 2/3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano Directions Season ribs with salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy braising pan over medium heat. Add as many of the ribs as will fit without touching. Cook, turning occasionally, until browned on all sides, about 10 minutes. Remove ribs and drain on paper towels. Repeat with remaining ribs. Pour off all but about 4 tbs of fat from the pan. Add the onions, garlic and cherry peppers and cook, stirring, until the onions are wilted and caramelized, about 4 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, bay leaves and thyme. Bring to a boil, scraping the pan to loosen the brown bits stuck to the bottom. Tuck the spare ribs into the tomato sauce, season lightly with salt and pepper, and bring to a boil. Adjust the heat to simmering and cook, turning the ribs in the sauce occasionally, until the ribs are fork tender, about 2 hours. Ladle some hot water into the pot from time to time as necessary to keep the ribs covered with liquid. When the ribs are almost tender, bring 6 quarts of salted water to a boil and stir in the rigatoni. Cook the pasta until done, about 10 minutes. Drain the pasta and return to the pot. Spoon in enough of the sauce to coat the pasta generously. Remove from the heat and stir in 2/3 cup grated cheese. Transfer the pasta to a warm platter and top with the spare ribs. Serve immediately.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

So I Eat a lot of Italian Food...

What's wrong with that? I'm Italian after all. People are always giving me a lot of crap about what I eat. "Why do you eat so much Italian food," they say. Well it's my culture and I love it so why not. I'm sure the majority of Mexicans eat Mexican food all the time...and why shouldn't they? Food is a huge part of one's identity. I think a lot of people are removed from their heritage and don't understand the passion that one can have for traditional food. I'm a third generation Italian and was brought up eating Italian food all the time. This is comfort food for me. I'm not saying that I don't like any other kind of food...if you know me you know there's not much I don't like. All I'm saying is that because of my heritage I'm more passionate about Italian food than any other.
I think that what people don't understand is that Italian food is so much more than what you see on the menu at such places like the Olive Garden. It is lighter, more healthy and can be quite elegant. Meals consist of lots of fresh vegetables and herbs, along with meats, fish and cheese. It's not just pasta smothered in sauce. The food is cooked with olive oil and not typically deep fried. Dinners are meant to be eaten in multiple courses containing very small portions. These are the things I enjoy about Italian food. So my response to everyone that asks why I eat so much Italian: because it's who I am and what I enjoy!

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Downtown Phoenix Public Market...or is it?

Maybe I'm jaded having lived in Philadelphia for over 30 years where there are two markets: the Philadelphia 9th St. Italian Market and the Reading Terminal Market. I've also had the opportunity to visit markets in other big cities like Pike's Place Market in Seattle. These are what I think of when you say "Farmer's Market." They are full of vendors selling fresh produce, meats, cheeses and even seafood. In my opinion the Downtown Phoenix Public Market doesn't even come close to offering the things you'd expect to find at a farmer's market. On the Saturday that I visited the Phoenix market it looked to me like there were about 40 or so vendors with only a handful that sold fresh produce. The vendors that did have vegetables had a very limited selection. Mostly peppers, okra and some tomatoes. There was only one vendor that had a few other items like lettuce, carrots, and some fruits. Forget the meats, and cheeses no-one was selling them. I understand that it's an outdoor market and that it can be over 100 on any given day but that's not an excuse for the lack of produce. As for seafood there was a vendor selling cans of tuna. Although it might be delicious it's not what I would expect at a farmer's market. To the market's credit there was a nice selection of fresh breads, pastas and dates. I did see some homemade pita chips and BBQ sauce. The rest of the market was pretty much taken up with vendors selling plants and crafts. Maybe it's not the season or maybe I'm expecting to much but the lack of fresh fruit and vegetables at what is suppose to be a farmer's market was very discouraging to me. Will I go again...probably at some point to see if things are any different but I won't be rushing back any time soon.