Sunday, April 29, 2012

Farmicia, Philadelphia

When we went down to Philly for the Farm and Food Fest earlier this month, I had no intention of doing a restaurant review as well, but when we decided to have dinner at Farmicia, I changed my tune. Jeff, Andrea and I had a delicious meal with beautiful, fresh food. I even found something to fit my dietary restrictions.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Jeff and I gave up meat for Lent again this year. Eating vegetarian for forty days is no problem for me any more. In fact, the majority of meals we've cooked since then have been meatless as well. I could go a long time without running out of delicious vegetarian meals to try. Unfortunately, it tends to be a problem when we travel. Nice restaurants tend to have fairly limited vegetarian options. Generally there is only one, and it relies heavily on mushrooms or eggplant - two things I don't like. One of the reasons we chose to eat at Farmicia over some of Old City's other impressive dining options, was that it had a more extensive vegetarian menu. For once, I had options, which was lovely. And we were not disappointed in any of our choices.

Once we had ordered, we were quickly served from a selection of breads from Philly's Metropolitan Bakery (from which I had purchased a multigrain loaf earlier at the convention center). The sourdough was perfect - crispy crust, tangy interior with just the right amount of salt. It came with some lovely herbed butter at the perfect spreading temperature. Good quality bread is the best way to start any meal, in my opinion.

Jeff ordered light - just an appetizer and a salad - since he had sampled a lot of cheese earlier at the Farm and Food Fest. His appetizer was a jumbo lump crab cake with green goddess sauce, baby greens and fried potato sticks. Now, I am not normally a fish person, but I think I'm developing a taste for crab. I tried a bit of the crab cake and thought it was amazing. It had large, soft chunks of quality crab meat with little filler. The herby dressing complemented the crab beautifully and the potato sticks were a great topper - in fact, they may have been the most flavorful fried potatoes I've ever tasted. I could have eaten a plate of those alone. And I definitely regretted not ordering my own!

For his entree, Jeff ordered a salad of crab meat and Asian pear with greens, almonds, lemon-mint dressing and creamed avocado. The crab meat was just as high-quality and tasty as in the crab cake appetizer. The avocado cream managed to be creamy without the oiliness often associated with that fruit. The combination of the texture and sweetness of the Asian pear, the crunchiness of the almonds, the soft salty crab meat and the sharp and acidic dressing was surprisingly good. In retrospect, I almost can't believe that these things would go together at all, but Jeff definitely enjoyed it at the time, so they must have!

After carefully considering the vegetarian options, I decided on the mega dose of vegetables and grains - the vegan version. When I asked the server what that consisted of, she listed several hot and cold vegetable salads. There were two things I really didn't like (namely mushrooms), but she assured me that this was a flexible dish and the kitchen would sub out anything I didn't want. When that pile of veggies was finally placed in front of me, I knew I'd made the right decision. Clockwise from the top, I had: a selection of veggies, potatoes and tofu sauteed in olive oil; rice pilaf with hominy; white beans; a garden salad; vegetable crudite; and a cold lentil salad. I thought the garden salad was a bit overdressed and some of the sauteed veggies (particularly the broccoli) had too much salt, but other than that it was awesome. After a day of picking at things I shouldn't have eaten (namely cheese and gelato), I was thrilled to have such a nice selection of protein-, vitamin- and fiber-filled dishes in front of me. I particularly loved the sauteed veggies, which were perfectly crisp-tender, and the lentil salad, which had a nice acidic dressing (if I remember correctly). It was a lot of food, but a lot of beautiful and healthy food. I was munching my veggies well after my companions had finished their entrees, but I was doing so very happily. I can't wait to go back and try the dish again. Now why can't every restaurant be so veg-friendly?

For dessert (yes, I managed to have room for dessert), Jeff and I shared an apple and dried cranberry crumble with vanilla ice cream. The crumbs were fantastic - warm and gooey like an under-baked cookie. The apple slices were soft but still firm and deliciously sweet. The cranberries added a nice tang, and the cold creaminess of the ice cream was the perfect complement. It was brought to the table at the perfect time - the crumble was hot and gooey but the ice cream was spoonable but not yet melty (even after posing for pictures). It was the perfect birthday treat (at least, that was how I justified the saturated fat splurge!). At the end of the day, you know we were satisfied customers because all our plates were licked clean. Farmicia will definitely be seeing us again.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Hearty Chili with Sausage and Beans

I know what you're thinking: Chili? Seriously? It's spring - enough with the heavy winter meals. 

I get it. I do feel self-conscious posting a hearty wintery recipe when all my fellow bloggers seem to be touting strawberries and asparagus. But seriously, guys - strawberry season hasn't started around here. It might be warm outside (most of the time), but it's still pretty early in the season. Asparagus only started showing up at my local farmers market a few days ago. And, to be honest, I had planned to tell you about the nice little pasta dish I made last night with asparagus, shallots and ramps (yes, ramps!), but every one of my pictures turned out blurry (my pictures seem to deteriorate somehow between the camera screen and the photo editor - perfectly good images suddenly look hideous). So chili is what you get.

There's nothing wrong with chili in the springtime, though. Spring evenings can be quite cool - it's just as nice to be able to snuggle down on the couch with a bowl of steaming chili on a spring evening as a winter one. And I'm really wishing I had some leftovers today to stave off the chill of the cold, steady rain outside.

I like making chilis because you can't mess them up. Everything goes in one pot and, usually, the longer they simmer, the better they taste. I also like the variety of serving options. They can be eaten straight from the bowl, with chips or over rice. They invite lots of tasty toppings, too. This time I went light and topped mine with some sliced green onions and a big dollop of Greek yogurt, but you could go with sour cream, any kind of cheese, and even bacon. It's a total crowd-pleaser!

Hearty Chili with Sausage and Beans
Adapted from The Locavore's Kitchen.

2 tbsp olive oil
2 large shallots, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
5 tbsp chili powder, divided
1 lb Italian sausage, casings removed

1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper, to taste
salt and pepper to taste
1 28 oz can chopped tomatoes, with juices (if using home canned tomatoes, a quart will do)
1 c local beer (we used Yards' Philadelphia Pale Ale)
2 c kidney beans, cooked (or two 15 oz cans)
2 tbsp cornmeal (which serves as a thickener)
1 tbsp honey

Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the shallots and saute 3-4 minutes until softened. Add the garlic and stir until fragrant. Add 3 tbsp chili powder and stir for an additional minute. Transfer the onion mixture to a separate bowl. Use a paper towel to (carefully!) wipe the excess spices off the bottom of the pot (otherwise they will quickly burn).

Increase the heat to medium-high and add the sausage. Cook for five minutes, stirring often to brown the meat on all sides. Return the onion mixture to the pot and stir everything together.

Add the remaining spices (the cumin, oregano, garlic powder, cayenne pepper, salt, black pepper and 2 tbsp chili powder) and stir well. Then add the tomatoes and beer. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and let simmer 20 minutes.

Add the cornmeal and honey and stir to thicken the mixture. Add the beans and cook another 10 minutes. Taste and add additional seasonings, if required.

Serve with chips and a dollop of Greek yogurt and some green onions (or whatever else you dream up!).

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


Today is a day of great productivity. I wrote about a thousand words of my current dissertation chapter, which had been stalled for a few weeks and now I'm writing a long overdue blog post. Let's hope I can keep this up in the future!

I have been sorely remiss in posting lately. I know this. I've been incredibly busy. And the post I've had in the works since the beginning of the month requires Jeff's input. Getting the two of us in a room together and unoccupied has been a mighty feat. You'll hear about another delicious dinner in Philly soon, I hope. Until then, I have some soup to tide you over.

I put it on this minestrone on the menu for earlier this week because I have a large pile of green beans in my freezer that needs to be used up. Freezing green beans sounded like a great plan last summer, but they're really only good for soup. The texture is soggy and unappealing for other sorts of dishes. For soup, though, they're perfect. I just didn't make enough of these soups this winter to use them up! (You may notice that the soup bowl pictured above is chock full of string beans - I overloaded this recipe with them in an effort to use my stash up. Don't worry - the amount included in the recipe below is more reasonable.)

It's really a shame I haven't been making more soups, because this minestrone is delicious. The addition of wine, honey and red wine vinegar to the broth adds fantastic depth. Beans and pasta make it hearty. The other vegetables are super-healthy. Add a salad and it's the perfect light dinner for a spring evening (just not the 85 degree evening on which I served it - next week I will look at the weather before I plan my menu!).

Adapted from the Rolling Prairie Cookbook.

2 tbsp olive oil
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 large onion, chopped
2-3 carrots, chopped
4 celery stalks, chopped
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
2 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp salt
4 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 tbsp honey
5 c vegetable stock
1 c red wine
1 1/2 c diced tomatoes
1 1/2 c chopped green beans
2 c cooked kidney beans
4 oz small cooked pasta (we used whole wheat shells)

Heat olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add garlic, onion, carrots, celery and herbs. Cook 3-4 minutes, stirring frequently.

Add pepper, salt, vinegar, honey, stock, wine, tomatoes, and green beans. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer about 30 minutes, until vegetables are tender.

Add beans and cooked pasta and heat through. Enjoy with crusty bread and a salad!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

1st Annual Philly Farm and Food Fest

Last weekend Jeff, his sister Andrea and I drove down to Philly for the first annual Farm and Food Fest. I had high hopes for this event and I was not disappointed. Food artisans and farmers from the greater Philadelphia area were present in droves, promoting their products.

I had wondered, since it is so early in the spring, how much in the way of fresh produce could be available. It turns out, a fair bit. Besides their own herbal teas and potted ramps, this vendor (possibly Happy Cat Farm) had wild foraged mustard greens on offer.

One of the booths I was most excited about was Urban Apiaries, a Philadelphia honey company. I love that each jar is marked with the zip code where it was collected. Different zip codes mean different flavors, as the bees have different varieties of flowers to collect their pollen from. Local and delicious! I passed on the honey, since I just bought a big jar from Pineland Farms at my own farmers market, but I've been regretting it ever since. The next time I go down to Philly, I'll be sure to buy a few jars.

There were tons of cheese vendors there (not a great thing for me, since I'm watching my saturated fat intake). Jeff and Andrea certainly partook of a wide variety. I tried a few, but I'm not really a cheese person anyway (not being allowed to eat it isn't a huge problem). I was happy, though, that we got to say hi to our friends from Cherry Grove Farm (I'll be out there tomorrow to buy some eggs and check up on the adorable calves!).

I was thrilled to see multiple vendors with their own milled grains. While I know of one local farm (the Hopewell Living History Farm) that offers its own whole wheat flour, I buy most of mine from the supermarket. I was really excited to speak with a woman from Daisy Flour, which offers a variety of organic products, sourced as locally as possible (some, like the spelt, from within Pennsylvania). They weren't selling any at their booth and I didn't get to the stand in Reading Terminal Market before it closed, but they'll be on my list the next time I'm in town. What I did pick up was some buckwheat flour from Yeehaw Farm. Pancakes will be made some day soon!

One of the most interesting companies was Frecon Farms, which had a line of hard ciders (which people were, of course, lined up three and four deep at to taste). Jeff and Andrea seemed to like them, although Jeff said that it was a dangerous product, since they didn't taste nearly as strong as they were - 7.5% ABV! It's astounding to think that our colonial ancestors drank the stuff all day long.

I came home with a great haul: some delicious black bean and sweet potato soup from Good Spoon, multigrain bread from the Metropolitan Bakery, scrumptious maple almond granola from Amaranth Gluten Free Bakery, creamy and spicy black bean hummus from FreshaPeel Hummus, and a few other things I already can't remember. We also got multiple samples of delicious gelato from Capogiro (best gelato ever, in my opinion). It was a good day. I'm already looking forward to making it back next year!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Reflections on my 30 by 30 Project

Well, it's my birthday! I'm officially 30 years old, and my 30 by 30 list has come to a successful end.

For those who don't remember, last year I proposed this project as a way to cast aside my picky eating and cultivate a more adult palate. I would try thirty new foods before my thirtieth birthday. In some ways, it was harder than I had expected. While I still label myself a picky eater, I had begun expanding my horizons before this list, so I had to search more diligently than I'd expected to find foods that were completely new to me. And sometimes (as with the kohlrabi, which, upon tasting it, I realized I'd had as a child), I got it wrong. But a review of the list shows how far I've come in becoming a more adventurous eater.

Out of my thirty new foods, I liked twenty, tolerated seven and disliked three. Some of the things I liked, including all the greens, have become staples in my kitchen. A few items moved from tolerate to like over the course of the project. I know I wasn't very keen on chard the first time I had it, but it grew on me quite quickly, until now it is something I am really excited about (I jumped for joy when it appeared at the farmers market last weekend). Sometimes it just takes time. I imagine more of those acceptable items will become enjoyable as I slip them into my kitchen repertoire.

I've also learned how much the preparation of the food makes a difference. While those beech mushrooms I had last week were a punishment to eat, I enjoyed the flavor they lent to my fried rice. I wasn't thrilled with the flavor of harissa, but plan on experimenting with the rest of my jar to see what it might pair better with. I still need to figure out how to get rid of my stash of frozen poblanos in a less than palate-searing way.

Besides these foods that were totally new to me, there have also been a number of old enemies that have become friends. I have always hated raw tomatoes, but I've come to enjoy them almost any other way (as long as the squishiness factor has been reduced). I have stopped worrying about picking mushrooms out of my food (to a certain extent) - while I don't want a big chewy one, I can handle, and even enjoy, them thin or finely chopped. I used to hate the flavor of zucchini, but now I'll eat it any way. I've become friends with beans of all varieties and preparations.

So my little self-improvement project has expanded my horizons far beyond what I had expected. While I don't have to like everything, I will no longer be afraid to try anything. And I will be a much happier foodie for it.