Woodberry Kitchen

If you ever find yourself in Baltimore, I have two words for you: Woodberry Kitchen.  I recently visited a few dear friends in Charm City and since they had just moved in, I decided to research some brunch spots so we could enjoy a meal in between arranging furniture and hanging curtains.  The restaurant is set in a beautifully renovated mill building on the edge of Druid Hill Park in the northern part of the city.  It is the quintessential urban oasis; you feel as though you are tucked in the woods, far from the noise, traffic and crowds.  This restaurant gets an A++ in cuisine, cocktails, atmosphere and service.  In fact, it is so good that our server quit his job at UPenn to move to Baltimore and work at this restaurant.  His enthusiasm was infectious as told us how everything was farm to table and I swear I saw a twinkle in his eye as he let us know that if you can’t find it in the State of Maryland, you will not find it on the menu.  They do so much in house: sausage, breads and pastries, pickles and liquor infusions. He sent us out complimentary piping hot donuts covered with sugar and topped with plump, fresh blackberries.  My friend’s Market Berry Caipirinha was incredible and the Farmer’s Daughter (which I ordered) had perfect proportions of fresh cucumber juice, fresh watermelon juice and organic cucumber vodka.  I ordered the Biscuits and Sausage Gravy, as suggested by our waiter and it did not disappoint.  The sausage was infused with fresh sage and tasted so incredibly rich and the biscuit was the best I have ever had.  The portion was so big that I barely got through half of it, and I certainly was happy to have the rest for lunch the next day.  The Heirloom Tomato Benedict  melts in your mouth.   And for dessert? Complementary homemade ice cream flavored with local peaches and rhubarb.   I wish I had pictures to share, but I unfortunately did not have a camera and cell phone pictures would not do it justice.  You will just have to go experience this place for yourself!  I know I can’t wait to go back for dinner.  Oh- and if you are looking for a place to live in Baltimore- check out the Assembly Apartments, directly across from the restaurant.  I have no idea what they are like and this is by no means an official endorsement- but the outdoor pool and hammock lounge set in the ruins of an old mill building definitely made me wonder if perhaps Philly isn’t the only city for me…

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Another Recipe from 101 Cookbooks – Harissa Spaghetti

Oh, Kale.  A vegetable I couldn’t pick out of a line up just a few years ago – now I can’t seem to get enough of it.  Heidi Swanson’s Harrissa Spaghettini was one of the first recipes I attempted when I  joined my CSA.  I had never eaten kale, never heard of harissa, but the combination of spicy chili mixed with garlic, fresh kale, lemon zest, pine nuts and salty oil-cured olives (my favorite kind) on top of a bed of whole wheat pasta sounded so incredible to me.  I thought it would be impossible to track down harissa, but as it turned out, a Middle Eastern market just a few blocks from my apartment carries several canned varieties. I’ve made this numerous times with whole wheat pasta, but when my most recent head of kale came in, I decided to try it with a pound of quinoa pasta I had on hand.  The results were outstanding and this remains one of my favorite dishes.  If it looks a little kale-heavy, trust me, it is.  I love the stuff but you can add as little or as much as you like.  Follow Heidi’s recipe and enjoy.  This tastes just a good cold as it does fresh out of the pot so make some extra for lunch tomorrow!

Asparagus Pasta Salad with Lemon and Cilantro

My first farm share delivery two years ago put me in a mild state of shock.  What on earth was I going to do with all of those vegetables?  I scoured the internet for veggie-heavy recipes and came across what has since become one of my favorite food blogs, Heidi Swanson’s 101 Cookbooks.  She lives and blogs in San Francisco and is known for cooking with local, fresh ingredients.  Her recipes are simple and she uses flavor combinations that I would never think of, plus you can search her blog for recipes based on ingredients which I think is incredible convenient.  When I found myself with an overabundance of kale, she was there for me.  When I was sick of guacamole she helped me out with a few excellent alternative uses for avocados.  And when I had more tomatoes than I could ever know what to do with at the end of the summer, I turned to her blog to find ways that I had never seen tomatoes used before.  Her baked good recipes aren’t too shabby either.  Flourless cookies, brownies made with black beans, vegan chocolate mousse… Plus her photography is absolutely beautiful.  Oh, to be a guest in her kitchen!  When I recently had a refrigerator full of fresh asparagus spears I turned to her blog yet again.  Her Orzo Super Salad recipe served as my inspiration for this dish.  It was one of those week nights where I wanted to chill in my backyard and enjoy one of the first warm days of the year, rather than brave the masses at the grocery store.  I used what I had in the kitchen and the results were a very happy surprise.

Ingredients:

1 box Penne Pasta

1 lb fresh Asparagus Spears, cut into 1 inch pieces

1/4c Toasted Almond slices

Juice of 1/2 Lemon

Zest of 1 Lemon

1/4c chopped Fresh Cilantro

1/2c Feta Cheese

Freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano

Salt and Pepper

Enough Olive Oil to lightly coat the pasta

To make this pasta salad, simply toss the chopped asparagus spears in with the boiling pasta during the last two minutes of cooking.  Then toss the seasonings with the freshly cooked pasta and asparagus and enjoy!  I served this with a slice of toasted multi-grain baguette.

Gnocchi Con Amore

My love affair with gnocchi started with a visit to Cucina Forte, a quiet byob in Philadelphia’s Queen Village neighborhood.  My mother, my sister and I had just returned from a day in New York and, each of us maddeningly hungry, decided to try this restaurant on a whim.  Everything that came to our table was exquisitely fresh (try the saltimbocca!  You can actually hear the chef in the kitchen pounding the chicken from the dining room) but the gnocchi was clearly the star of the table.  To bite into a gnocchi at this place is to know what it feels like to bite into a cloud.  They are so light, so delicate and so fresh that I realized I must not have known what great gnocchi was before eating them.  In fact, these morsels are so wonderful that I decided to attempt to make them at home.  At Cucina Forte, the gnocchi are served two ways: with marinara sauce and with a gorgonzola cream sauce.  Each sauce is wonderful in its own way and I decided we needed to have both. 

I had a lot of gnocchi anxiety.  Do a quick internet search for gnocchi recipes and you will find many, many conflicting opinions.  Some chefs call for boiling the potatoes, others say bake.  Some say add egg, some egg whites, some scoff at the idea of adding any egg at all.  This can be quite intimidating for a kitchen novice who has no idea what gnocchi dough is even supposed to look like (that would be me!)  Lucky for me, I have a great friend who has cooked in professional kitchens who has made gnocchi before.  His name is Eric and he always cuts the onions when we cook together — like I said, he’s a great friend!

We ended up with five pounds of potatoes, baked for about an hour at 425.  We mashed the potatoes and added 2.5 cups of flour and two eggs.  We grated fresh nutmeg, salt and pepper into the dough and I kneaded it by hand.  It looked something like this.

This dinner party came together to celebrate my dear friend Jenny’s visit to Philadelphia from San Francisco.  We were having seven people over for dinner so I had a lot of gnocchi to form.

I tried to put the cute fork indentations into them but it just wasn’t working.  We decided they looked just as nice shaped like that.  While I formed the gnocchi, Eric made the sauces.  The gorgonzola cream sauce consisted of heavy cream, gorgonzola cheese, Parmigiano-Reggiano, freshly ground nutmeg, garlic, and salt and pepper.  The marinara included sauteed onions and garlic, chopped plum tomatoes, canned tomato puree, bay leaves, oregano, olive oil, salt and pepper and fresh basil.  He blended it a bit with an emersion blender to keep it delicate enough for the gnocchi.  While he whipped the sauces up, I finished these:

We then added about ten gnocchi to a pot of boiling salted water.  When they floated to the surface, we cooked them for an additional 1 to 2 minutes.  The results were wonderful!  Each guest had a least two plates.  The sauces complemented each other perfectly.

Jenny was excited to prepare a salad recipe she had picked up from a friend in San Francisco which they call Egyptian Salad.  It was a refreshing mixture of tomatoes, cucumbers, baby spinach, and avocado dressed with white wine vinegar, olive oil, cayenne pepper and fresh cilantro.  I will definitely be making that again. 

The gnocchi making process was a bit stressful, a bit long and a bit tiring, but the results were absolutely worth it.   Now that I am no longer a novice, I look forward to experimenting with different recipes in the near future.

Rosemary Apple Chicken with Creamy Parmesan Polenta and Winter Greens

Long time no post, eh?  Many things have happened over the past few months, including a move, out-of-town    visitors and the holidays.  Let’s try this again, shall we?  Since my last post I have done quite a bit of cooking, entertaining and  consuming but sadly, no picture-taking.  In the past two months I have mastered a Jamie Oliver beef stew recipe, Moroccan spiced roasted  chicken and new (lighter handed) cocktail mixing.  Unfortunately, all I have to show you is this dinky photo of a  meal made many, many meals ago.  I really don’t even remember the specifics of how I did it.  My sister made the chicken,  consisting of chicken breast and sliced apples, coated with fresh rosemary, grapeseed oil and salt and pepper, baked  off in the oven.  Simple and delicious.  My contribution was the polenta, made freshly after discovering Mark  Bittman’s New York Times blog.  I remember using whole milk, freshly grated parmesan cheese, salt, pepper and  cornmeal.  I topped it with kale sautéed with onions and garlic, which complemented the creamy, savory polenta  very nicely.  In recent history, cooking has become a creative outlet that I was not expecting.  I resolve to post my triumphs here more regularly.  Here’s to resolutions made hastily before the calendar flips to February!

Saturday Afternoon Sweet Potato Chips

This recipe is borrowed from one of my favorite brunch restaurants in the whole world, The Friendly Toast in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.  They serve up piping hot, oniony home fries with some of the best egg scrambles I’ve ever had, all with tattooed, surly service in a warehouse space doused with kitsch overload (we’re talking mechanical leopards, garage sale oil paintings and metallic vinyl tables and chairs).  The absolute standout of their offerings, however, is their Orleans Fries.  I would (and have) considered a weekend trip up to Portsmouth just for these fries.  As that’s not exactly the most practical of plans, I make them on occasion at home and everyone who has tasted them agrees: the combination is a little wacky but they are ooh so very good.  I was lucky enough to receive some organic gold sweet potatoes in my farm share this week:

Sweet Potatoes

Fresh Sweet Potatoes from Lancaster Farm Fresh

Ingredients: 

sweet potatoes 

olive oil

sour cream

brown sugar

Tobasco 

Saturday Afternoon Sweet Potato Chips

Saturday Afternoon Sweet Potato Chips

Preheat oven to 415 degrees.  Wash sweet potatoes thoroughly, scrubbing when necessary. Trim bad spots with a knife.  I like to leave the skin on, but feel free to remove it with a vegetable peeler.  Cut sweet potatoes into very thin, chip-like slices.  It’s my thought that one person can eat 3/4 to 1 large potato’s worth of chips, so buy potatoes accordingly.  Coat a baking sheet in olive oil (I use a spray). Arrange the potato slices in a single layer on the tray and coat them with another light layer of oil.  This will help them get crispy but saves the calories, effort and clean-up of deep frying, which is how The Friendly Toast does it.  Bake the chips in the oven for about 30 minutes, flipping them after  20 minutes.  When they have browned, toss them on a plate or in a bowl with a teaspoon or so of brown sugar.  The hot potatoes will melt the brown sugar into gooey goodness.  Add a few dashes of Tobasco sauce and keep it near by if you want more heat.  Serve with a dollop of sour cream and enjoy.  The combination of sweet, spicy and cool creaminess is unique, delicious and easy to make at home.  I suggest you try the originals at The Friendly Toast if you ever find yourself in Portsmouth- it’s an experience not to be missed!

Fancy Fig Ham & Cheese

Ham and cheese… a good old American stand-by kind of a sandwich.  Throw a few slices of ham, a bit of cheddar between some plain old sliced bread, perhaps a dab of spicy mustard and you’re set.  I used to bring one in a brown paper bag for lunch in grade school several days a week. While out to eat last week, a friend of mine ordered a more elegant version of a ham and cheese sandwich with the delicate and delicious flavors of triple cream brie and fig jam.  We liked it so much we decided to recreate it ourselves.   

Behold the Fancy Fig Ham & Cheese:  

Fancy Fig Ham & Cheese

   1/3 whole wheat baguette

  2 slices prosciutto di parma

  2 slices tavern ham

  3 slices triple cream brie cheese

  1 handful fresh baby arugula

  2 tsp. fig spread

Preheat oven to 375.  Assemble the sandwich using all of the ingredients minus the arugula.  Toast it in the oven until just warmed (you don’t want it to get too hot — it will wilt the arugula).  It should take about 5-7 minutes.  Put it on a plate and top with arugula.  The result is delicious.  Thin slices of apple would also work if you don’t have fig jam on hand.  Enjoy!