French Onion Soup — The Weekender

by in Recipes, April 13th, 2012

french onion soup
During the final years of their lives, my grandparents stopped cooking at home. They’d do little things, like make coffee and toast in the morning and heat up a can of soup for lunch. But dinner was always eaten at Little Pete’s, the restaurant across the street from their apartment building.

Each day at around 5:00 or 5:30, they’d don coats (no matter what the weather) and make their way over. The wait staff took great care of them, reserving my grandma’s preferred booth and depositing a glass of iced tea in front of her the moment she sat down.

When we’d go to visit them, these trips to Little’s Pete’s took on even more importance, because it was an opportunity for them to show my mom, sister and me off to the unofficial members of their de facto nightly dining club.

Over the years, I logged a lot of hours at Little Pete’s. My regular order was a cup of French onion soup and a Greek salad with extra olives. Truly, though, the salad was simply there so that I could justify eating a bowl of tangy broth, onions and bubbling-hot cheese.

The tenth anniversary of my grandmother’s death recently passed, so it just seemed right to make something in her honor. Though I ordered it more often than she did, I chose Ina Garten’s recipe for long-cooked French Onion Soup as a way of remembering all those meals. I took my time slicing onions and cooking them until golden. I think it may have been my most favorite Weekender yet.

Before you start slicing onions, read these tips

Chicken Liver Mousse — The Weekender

by in Holidays, Recipes, April 6th, 2012

chicken liver mousseMy Aunt Doris made canapés the way other women garden or take tennis lessons. She was always on the hunt for a new recipe or a source for discounted Pepperidge Farms thin-sliced white bread, and was never happier than when she had eight or 10 dozen hors d’oeuvres wrapped in aluminum foil and tucked into her basement chest freezer.

She often spent Saturday afternoons practicing a recipe, lining up assembly stations all across the kitchen counters, leaving no square inch unutilized. When my mom and her cousins were young, they were often used as foot soldiers in these battles of woman versus cornichon, pimento and caper.

Aunt Doris would lay out large rounds of rye at the kitchen table, almost as if she was setting up a meal with edible plates. Each child was given a pastry bag that Aunt Doris filled with whipped and flavored cream cheese or chicken liver pâté. They would take their positions standing behind a slice of bread and with militaristic precision, would pipe a circle of cream cheese or pâté onto the bread, using the outer crust as a guide.

Before you start cooking your liver, read these tips:

Easter Egg “Hunt” Cake — The Weekender

by in Holidays, Recipes, March 30th, 2012

easter egg hunt cake
When I was growing up, my parents really enjoyed making a big deal out of Easter. Being that they were Jewish (Mom) and Unitarian (Dad), they weren’t really interested in sharing the religious part of it, but they loved building up the mythology of the Easter Bunny and the arrival of spring. What can I say? We were a secular household that loved a reason to celebrate.

Because of this, preparations for Easter typically began weeks before the actual day. It usually started with an increase in scrambled-egg consumption as my dad began blowing eggs empty to keep the shells for decorating. Soon after, my mom would fill the Easter baskets with fresh potting soil and plant real grass in them (she was too much of a hippie to use plastic “grass”). Then, notes from the Easter Bunny would appear and my parents would claim early-morning sightings.

There would be a Saturday dedicated to coloring eggs (often with natural dyes) and an afternoon devoted to baking sugar cookies cut into the shapes of bunnies, eggs and baskets.

Finally, Easter arrived. My sister and I would wake early in order to begin the hunt for our baskets. There would be a note on the dining room table with the first hint and the race would be on. One memorable year my parents even managed to imprint fake bunny footprints all over the yard.

Before you mix your egg wash, read these tips

Moroccan Chicken With Shredded Cabbage and Tahini Sauce on Pita — The Weekender

by in Recipes, March 23rd, 2012

moroccan chicken with shredded cabbage
One of the things I love about living in Philadelphia is the fact that the city has a deep well of secrets. No matter how many years I log in the City of Brotherly Love, I find that there’s always something new to discover.

In the neighborhood just north of South Street, there’s a Moroccan restaurant that you’ll never find on your own. Hidden behind an unmarked door, you walk off a residential street and into a world of lush fabrics, pillowed benches and low tables set with brass trays.

I’ve eaten there a few times since a friend first helped me find that hidden door. I love every part of the experience, from the ritual of washing hands to the fact that the meal moves slowly. However, most of all, I love a chicken dish they serve. Baked in phyllo dough, it’s highly spiced with ginger and cinnamon. The outside is dusted with sugar, so that you get sweet, savory and spicy all in a single bite.

Though it’s been years since I’ve had that chicken, I still crave it. However, a meal that lasts 2 1/2 hours doesn’t fit into my schedule as easily as it once did. I’m in that stage of life where most of my friends have small children, and though I love dining with my husband, you really need a group to make the most of a meal like this one.

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Polenta Vegetable “Lasagna” — The Weekender

by in Recipes, March 16th, 2012

polenta vegetable lasagna
Until just a few years ago, I thought that all polenta came precooked and wrapped firmly in plastic. When I was in college, my roommates and I would occasionally buy it packaged that way. Once we sawed through the wrapper, we’d cut it into thick rounds and cook those slices in butter until they were crisp and warmed through. Topped with some jarred marinara sauce, we thought it was QUITE the sophisticated meal.

There is nothing wrong with that kind of polenta, but once you taste the freshly cooked kind, all creamy and enriched with Parmesan cheese and a dab of butter, well, there’s no going back. It’s one of my pantry staples, because it can help unify a few leftover odds and ends into a really good meal. My favorite thing to do is top polenta with some pan-wilted spinach and a couple poached eggs. It’s an almost-instant dinner.

I’ve also found that polenta dishes are excellent to share with new parents. They reheat well, last for days in the fridge and are edible comfort for the sleep-deprived.

Get the recipe

Tri-Berry Oven Pancakes — The Weekender

by in Entertaining, Recipes, March 9th, 2012

tri-berry oven pancakes
When I was seven years old, my grandmother gave me a cookbook written for kids. It was something she’d picked up at a museum gift shop and knew I’d love. My mom was not so pleased when it arrived, as she was never a huge fan of cooking with kids. In her mind, meal prep was strictly about efficiency. Adding my sister or me to the mix instantly made things drastically less efficient. Still, once in a while, she’d give in to my pleas and help me make something from the book.

When I turned eight, something happened that opened up my ability to bond with this cookbook of mine. Both my parents started working on Saturday mornings and we had a babysitter watch us until they came home. This babysitter was the teen-age daughter of friends and she was all of 13 (it was the mid-’80s, that’s how it worked back then). She was happy to let me cook, as it kept me busy and she got to help eat whatever I made.

Before you preheat your oven, read these tips

Chiles Rellenos — The Weekender

by in View All Posts, March 2nd, 2012

chiles rellenos
During my childhood years in Southern California, Mexican food was something we ate only at restaurants. Sure, we’d occasionally have burrito night at home, but there was nothing authentic or traditional about those overstuffed and rolled tortillas.

It wasn’t until I moved to Philadelphia and became friends with a woman who had lived in Mexico until the age of 14 that I discovered how truly approachable this cuisine was. Thanks to Angie, I learned to make authentic tamales and carne asada. She even shared her grandmother’s recipe for mole with me.

In recent days, it’s been harder to find a chance to get into the kitchen with Angie. She has twin toddlers and so keeping them out of trouble is her primary focus. Still, I want to keep nurturing my still-nascent Mexican cookery skills, so last weekend I went in search of a new recipe to try.

What I found was Melissa d’Arabian’s version of Chiles Rellenos. Though labor intensive, this dish was a huge winner in terms of flavor. It was just the thing for a lazy Sunday meal and The Weekender.

Before you start broiling your peppers, read these tips »

Citrus Crostada — The Weekender

by in Recipes, February 24th, 2012

citrus crostada
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned that unless you live on the same block or work in nearby offices, it becomes harder and harder to ensure that you’re seeing friends on a regular basis. Add babies to the mix (as many of my generation have been doing lately) and it becomes even more challenging.

To combat this, I help organize a monthly potluck for some of my favorite folks, to ensure that we see each other with some regularity. Each month, we gather around one of our dining tables with dishes in hand and spend a few hours eating, drinking and catching up.

Because I’ve known this collection of couples for nearly a decade, they’ve eaten all my standby recipes, sometimes many times over. I regularly feel like I have to step up my contributions to our community table to keep things from getting boring.

For this month’s gathering, I went in search of a recipe that would feature the oranges, lemons and grapefruit currently in season. What I found was Giada’s Citrus Crostada. It’s a shortbread tart crust, filled with slightly sweetened mascarpone and topped with a homemade citrus jam. It was a hit with my friends and is perfect for The Weekender.

Before you start cooking your jam, here are a few tips »

Focaccia — The Weekender

by in Recipes, February 17th, 2012

focaccia bread
I spent the first 25 years of my life entirely afraid of yeast. I wasn’t fearful of bread, mind you. It was scared of yeast as an ingredient. I heard it was very easy to kill and I lived in terror that if I took even the smallest misstep with a recipe, I’d ruin the whole thing and wind up with a bowl of flaccid pancake batter in place of a batch of bread dough.

And so I stayed away. I learned to make quick breads, scones and biscuits, and kept my distance from yeast. That is, until the no-knead bread craze swept the scene about six years ago. It was such a novel and approachable concept that I tried it. I ended up with a beautiful loaf of bread and was entirely infatuated with the process. It opened me up to yeast and we’ve been friends ever since.

These days, I bake some form of bread at least once every other week and have become so smitten that I even have a sourdough starter that I carefully tend to. Still, yeast is my first bread baking love and there’s nothing like it for a reliably light loaf for sandwiches and toast.

The most recent yeasty recipe I took for a spin was the Focaccia recipe from Anne Burrell. It’s a blessedly simple version, with just six ingredients (and that includes the water). For those of you who still harbor a bit of yeast anxiety, it’s just the thing to help you over that hump. And on a Sunday afternoon, there’s nothing nicer than having a bit of warm, tender bread to dip into a bowl of soup. Just the thing for The Weekender.

Before you start kneading, here are a few things you should know.

Short Rib Lasagna Rolls — The Weekender

by in Holidays, Recipes, February 10th, 2012

short rib lasagna rolls
When I was in college, I had a friend who insisted on wearing all black on Valentine’s Day. It was her way of protesting the hubbub and commercialization of the holiday. Though I could see her point, I didn’t follow suit. I remained utterly charmed by a day devoted to love.

However, as I’ve gotten older, I have become a little disgusted with how much money people think it takes to do Valentine’s Day right. If you believe the marketing, you need a second job to make your sweetie feel loved. Restaurants take particular advantage of our expectations and raise their prices for the day. A meal that would regularly cost $50 doubles to $100. Wine and cocktail prices ratchet up precipitously, as well.

Here’s my suggestion. Instead of blowing through wads of cash on a meal out, treat your honey to a special-occasion, home-cooked meal. You’ll spend a fraction of the cash you would on a fancy-pants dinner and with just a few carefully placed candles, you won’t lose even an ounce of the romance.

A recipe that works really well for a cozy dinner for two is Giada’s Short Rib Lasagna Rolls. It can be made over the weekend (this is The Weekender, after all) and stashed in the fridge for February 14. All you have to do when you get home from work is pop it into the oven, make a salad and pour glasses of something bubbly.

Before you start braising, read these tips »