Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Oregon Express....A Neighborhood Gem

South Philadelphia is best known for being the area where cheese steaks originated. What most people don't know is that nestled within the old brick facades are many hidden dining gems.

Take for example Oregon Express...unless you are from the surrounding neighborhood you would probably not even notice this small store front.  And what a pity that is as they serve some yummy food; their specialty being breakfast.

There is nothing fancy about Oregon Express. Space is limited and most of their business is takeout. But for those that want to sit back and enjoy the rotating clientele there are 4 indoor tables and 2 out.

The food is all made to order in the tiny kitchen off to the side and you can expect it to be good. Sandwiches come in two sizes and are very inexpensive.  Coffee is fixed for you per your request and amazingly it comes out great every time. 

When I'm in the city you can pretty much guarantee I will have a least one breakfast at Oregon Express. My favorite sandwich (shown above) Eggs, Cheese & Scrapple.  Yes, I'm a scrapple lover...but that's for another post.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Stuffed Zucchini & The Hazan Family Cookbook

Have you heard about the new Hazan Family Cookbook written by Giuliano Hazan (yes he is the son of Marcella Hazan). Rescued from a 56 year old notebook, this cookbook contains 85 family recipes influenced by both the Italian & Middle Eastern sides of the family.

What I like most about the book is that the recipes are accompanied by full page color photos and interesting tidbits about the history of each dish.

This cookbook contains simple, easy to make, everyday good food.  Both novice and experienced cooks alike can appreciate the recipes and techniques found within.  You'll find everything from Stuffed Zucchini (see recipe below) to Fresh Mint Chip Ice Cream to Pasta with Peppers and Pancetta.  The recipes are truly a remembrance of  Giuliano's growing up around the table.

Stuffed Zuchini
(courtesy of Giuliano Hazan, Hazan family favorites)

3 lbs zucchini1/2 lb ground beef
3/4 cup Arborio rice
1/8 tsp fresh grated nutmeg
black pepper
1 1/2 cups canned whole tomatoes
1 garlic clove
2 Tbs olive oil

Cut of the ends of the zucchini, then cut each in half crosswise.  Use an apple corer or dinner knife to scoop out the inside of each zucchini, leaving a tube shape with a 1/4 inch wall.  Save the pulp for another meal.

Put the ground meat and rice in a mixing bowl.  Add the grated nutmeg and season with salt and pepper. Mix well with your hands, then fill the hollowed-out zucchini with the mixture.  Only fill up to about 1/4 inch from the ends to allow space for the rice to expand as it cooks.

Coarsely chop the tomatoes.

Peel and finely chop the garlic and put it with the olive oil in a shallow braising pan or a skillet deep enough to accommodate the zucchini.  Place the skillet over medium-high heat.  When the garlic begins to sizzle, add the tomatoes and season lightly with salt.

Once the tomatoes are bubbling add the stuffed zucchini and lower the heat to medium. Cook until very tender, 45-50 minutes.  If there's still liquid in the pan when they are done, raise the heat and cook uncovered until the sauce reduces.  Serve hot or at room temperature.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Italian Salsa...A Healthy Option For All Your Outdoor Events

Do you find it hard to make good food choices at events like BBQ's or picnics? I know I do.  The food options are so limited. Main dishes are not too bad…most events will have chicken or some sort of lean meat to eat.  And if not there’s always the option to eat just  ½ of  a burger or skip the bun if you're watching your carbs.  It’s really the sides and apps that are the hardest for me.  Most are laden with mayonnaise and tons of salt; two things I'd just rather not indulge in that often.

So most of the time when I'm invited to such an event I'll offer to bring something.  My go to dish for BBQ's is what I call Italian Salsa.  It's perfect as a side dish to most grilled foods and great as an appetizer with some grilled pita bread.  I know I can fill up on this salsa and not have to worry about eating unhealthy.

The next time you're invited to an outdoor event bring along a nice bowl of Italian Salsa and enjoy the party!

Italian Salsa
4 plum tomatoes, diced
3 large green olives, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 Tbsp fresh basil, chopped
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 tsp salt
fresh ground pepper

Stir everything together in a bowl...let chill until ready to serve.

Monday, May 14, 2012

A Peek Inside....

Ever wonder what the inside of a food lover's suitcase looks like when she comes back from her favorite food city?

Yes, that's cheese...pounds and pounds of it from Claudio's Cheese Shop in Philadelphia.  There were some pastries too from Termini's but I couldn't keep the family away long enough to get a photo.

And let's not forget the Philly soft pretzels...

 Trust me they are much better than the ones you get at the mall.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Philly Will Always Be Home

By the time you read this post I will be on an airplane flying back home…That’s right I’m heading to Philadelphia for a nice long weekend. Yes, I know it’s been 10 years since I left but I will always consider Philly my home. I grew up there, still have lots of friends and family there and loads of good memories. I relate to the city in a way that I will never relate to any other . You can live anywhere but having that “connection” to a certain place is unique.

Philly as seen from the rooftop
What makes it special for me is the fact that I can go back anytime and always be welcomed with open arms. Within hours of landing I will be sitting around a kitchen table with some of my closest friends and it will be like I never left. It doesn't matter that we haven't seen or talked to each other in almost a year....We'll just pick up right where we left off. Knowing all of the right questions to ask and things to say.

There will be food...lots of food. Our favorite desserts from the local bakery and coffee; there's always coffee. We'll stay up until the wee hours of the night just chatting....about everything and nothing.
Us Circa 2000

Its not rocket science that brings us together rather just the comfortable feeling of being able to say what's on our minds; knowing we won't be judged. This will go on until one of us, usually me, starts to nod off at the table. But even still our conversations won't end there we'll meander to the door and linger on the porch just trying to stretch out the night and our time together for as long as we can.

We'll continue this the next night and the next and every night until its time to leave home again. Because to me Philly is still my home. I'll make my way back to Phoenix and I'll have tons of food stories to share...but my heart will always be in Philadelphia.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Artisana Nut Butter Power Balls

Nut butters seem to be all the rage these days. With so many different flavors available how could you not love them. I'll admit I'm hooked. I eat some sort of raw nut butter just about every day. It's a great healthy option; either spread on crackers or mixed into smoothies.

As part of Virtual Potluck I was given the opportunity to try Artisana Nut Butters. What makes Artisana Butters stand out from the rest? Well they use 100% certified organic nuts hand crafted in small batches with no added ingredients. Their butters have a smooth almost velvety taste and are amazingly delicious.

I'll be honest I've been grinding my own nuts into butter for some time now but with Artisana's wide variety of flavors I no longer need to do that. They offer Walnut Butter, Pecan Butter, Cashew Butter, Macadamia/Cashew, Cacao Bliss, and Coconut Butter.

Now that nut butters have become mainstream I really wanted to find a unique way to use them in a recipe.  I wanted to focus on turning them into an easy to reach for snack. Let's face it....we don't often have a jar of nut butter and something to spread it on just laying around.  That's when I came up with making a sort of "power" ball.  Incorporating the butters into a on the go snack.

Mixing the nut butter of your choice with other healthy ingredients like oatmeal, honey, and dried fruit and molding into bite sized balls you can have a great portable healthy snack option.

Want a chance to win some Artisana Nut Butter of your choice.  Leave a comment on this post by midnight 5/6/2012 and you will be entered to win an 8oz jar of your favorite flavor. For extra chances to win be sure to visit the roundup of VP posts.

Nut Butter Power Balls

2 1/2 cups rolled oats
1/3 cup dried cranberries, or cherries chopped
pinch salt
1/2 cup raw nut butter of your choice
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup flax seeds (optional)
2 Tbsp honey

In a food processor, pulse 1/2 cup of the oats until powdery.  Transfer to a dish.  In the same processor bowl pulse the remaining oats until finely chopped.  Mix in the rest of your ingredients until combined.  Form dough into balls and roll in the ground oats to coat. Store in the refrigerator for at least one hour.