Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Art of Leisurely Dining and A Grumpy Old Man

I was practically raised around the kitchen table. Meals at our house growing up were never the “grab and go” sort of thing; they were always more of an event. The entire family would gather around the table and sit there for what felt like forever. In the mornings it was where you planned out your day and in the evenings it was where you caught up with each other. Eating and talking for hours: this is the way I grew up...

It’s only natural that as an adult I still find myself lingering over food; whether it be at home or in a restaurant. Meals are not only a source of fuel but also an excuse to socialize.

Which leads me to a funny story.

On a recent trip back home to Philadelphia my husband and I were lingering over a late lunch at Mr. Joe’s Café. We had enjoyed some delicious handmade spinach gnocchi soup, a rather large antipasto salad and some fresh pastries from Termini Brothers Bakery; located across the street.

Let me explain Mr. Joe’s Café is a small coffee shop owned by Vince Termini. Vince built the cafe on the site of the original Termini Brothers Bakery; which was started back in 1921 by his father. The menu is small but has everything from soup, salad, sandwiches, pastas and meats. Dessert and wine are included with every order; but if you choose to, and of course I did, you are welcome to purchase your own dessert from the bakery across the street. It's a very nice setup…but I’m digressing.

Back to our lunch. We had finished eating and were enjoying each other’s company waiting for our check to arrive. From the other side of the small room a man approached our table and immediately started harassing us. He told us that it should have been very obvious that he was waiting for a table. And that it was very rude of us to not have vacated ours. How dare us continue to linger.

My husband and I looked at each other kind of shocked; both of us thinking "do you know this guy?" Trying not to make more of a scene we let him know that not only do we have every right to the table but that we hadn't even gotten our check yet.
At this point "grumpy old man" stomped off like a wounded child but not before lashing out with one last accusation…"Yes… you did get your check." Hubby and I burst out in laughter.  It was obvious to us that this man had no idea how to enjoy a meal and was probably looking for a quick "grab and go" meal. 

I'm so glad I was raised to appreciate the art of  leisurely dining. 

***Please note this scene should have no reflection on Mr. Joe's Cafe. This place is wonderful and the perfect spot to enjoy a late lunch or early dinner. (they close at 5pm)****

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Ode To the Corner Store & Orecchiette with Fresh Fava Beans, Ricotta & Mint

Growing up I loved the idea of having a  “corner store.”  The merchant greeted you by name and inquired about your family. You knew the store inside and out and never had to wander around aimlessly looking for simple items.

You were considered a regular…with a regular order…filled sometimes before you even arrived.  And this was ok because there wasn’t much reason to deviate. It seemed liked things were much simpler, not as many choices, and that wasn’t such a bad thing.  

The “corner store” was the news center of the neighborhood.  Anything you wanted to know about your neighbors you were able to find out at the “corner store”.  Most importantly you could find out what they were buying.   Commonly referred to as “Keeping Up with the Joneses”

The “corner store” was lost to me when I moved away from home; and I’ll admit...I miss the concept. 
Over the past 9 years Nicolli’s Italian Grocery has sowly transformed into our very own “corner store” bringing back that neighborhood feel.

We’re regulars; with a regular order. Joe & Peppy greet us by name; ask about our family; and know our standard order. Over the years they've introduced us to some wonderful new products that we've come to rely on, and have worked hard to keep our favorite items stocked.

On one of our recent visits Peppy offered us some fresh fava beans and I used them to make Orecchiette with Fresh fava Beans, Ricotta & Mint.  I love the creamy freshness of the ricotta and mint mixture in this dish.

So if you find yourself in the Phoenix area missing that neighborhood feel of a "corner store" check out Nicolli's.  After a few visits I'm certain you will become regulars too.

Orecchiette with Fresh Fava Beans, Ricotta & Mint

2 pounds unshelled fava beans
1 pound uncooked orecchiette pasta
1 tablesoon olive oil
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup ricotta cheese
1/2 cup (2 ounces) grated fresh Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh mint
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Mint sprigs

Remove beans from pods.  Cook beans in boiling water for 1 minute. Remove beans with a slotted spoon. Plunge beans into ice water; drain. Remove tough outer skins from beans; discard skins. Set beans aside.

Cook pasta according to the package directions. Drain pasta, reserving 1 cup pasta water. Place pasta in a large bowl.
Combine the 1 cup reserved pasta water, ricotta cheese, olive oil, Parmesan cheese, chopped mint, and pepper. Add beans and cheese mixture to pasta mixture; toss to combine. Garnish with mint sprigs, if desired.

****I'm submitting this to Presto Pasta Nights being held this week by Jacqueline of  Tinned Tomatoes.****

Friday, May 6, 2011

Chocolate Cinnamon Espresso Bars

Hubby was craving something sweet the other night. Even though I had made Nutella Brownie Bites and homemade vanilla ice cream earlier in the week he asked if I could "whip up something quick."

Talk about pressure...the thought process alone would render whatever I finally decided to make no longer quick. Then I remembered the Chocolate Cinnamon Squares in Dorie Greenspan's book Baking From My Home to Yours.  These delicious little squares come together so quick you don't even need to turn on your mixer.

Since I have never been one to follow directions I decided to change the recipe up a bit giving it my own little twist.  I omitted the chocolate frosting, because these bars really don't need it.  And I added a shot of espresso turning them into what I now call:

Chocolate Cinnamon Espresso Bars
(adapted from Dorie Greenspan)

1 1/4 cups + 2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp + 2 tsp cinnamon
1 shot espresso
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup milk
2 large eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla
10 tbsp butter, melted and cooled
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips semi-sweet

Preheat oven to 350F. Butter an 8-inch square cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.
In a small bowl, combine 2 tbsp sugar, and 2 tsp cinnamon. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, the remaining cinnamon and salt.

In a medium bowl, whisk together milk, eggs, vanilla, espresso and butter. Pour into the flour mixture and stir until just combined.

Pour half of the batter into the prepare pan, spreading it evenly over the bottom. Evenly sprinkle on sugar/espresso mixture and mini chocolate chips, then top with the remaining batter, spreading it evenly.

Bake for 35-40 minutes at 350F, just until a toothpick comes out clean. Let the cake cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and remove the parchment.