A Visit to San Tropez
Last night old friends took me out for a surprise dinner! The surprise was that I had never heard of the restaurant we were visiting. The food is excellent and they have been in the same location for 25 years -- how did I miss this!?
San Tropez is in the Design Center on Market Street, tucked up in a corner of the 4th floor. When you come out of the elevators you see a low bar and a couple of tables arranged like an outside cafe, and just behind, the entrance to a place that transports you to another city, another time. With windows on two sides you get a sweeping view of the Schuykill River and its arched bridges, which, lit up at night, are reminiscent of Paris and the river Seine. With the city lights reflecting on the water, it as easy to believe I was far away in France for the evening.
The restaurant is casual French... country French. The menu was varied and seasonal. The waitress brought us a basket of warm rolls, crusty and golden. There was a small bowl of bright green olive oil infused with basil, and a small silver spoon for drizzling. Yum. We started with a bowl of plump mussels in a white wine sauce, classic mushroom soup and a roasted beet salad. All were deemed wonderful. I can tell you that my soup was rich and earthy with a touch of sweetness, just as I had hoped. For entrees, my friends ordered Filet Mignon with a gorgonzola sauce and Salmon encrusted with a scallop mousse -- both done to perfection. I wanted to try a benchmark dish... Cassoulet -- French comfort food. Cassoulet is a stewof beans, pork, sausage and duck (and so much more!) cooked long and slow until it is a flavorful melange. It si winter food - hearty and substantial. I felt I was up to it.
We had chosen a lovely red wine - Les Eydins - whoich was soft and full-bodied... perfect with the rich cassoulet. Good conversation is the spice of a good evening. My friends Rik and Margie are well-read, well traveled and well-adjusted. We talked about travel, our favorite places and how good food makes a trip.
On that note it was time to order dessert. San Tropez is known for its profiteroles - small puffs of pastry filled with ice cream and drizzled with chocolate. Rik had San Tropez cake (a dense chocolate cake) and Margie indulged in a crepe that enveloped nutella and caramelized bananas. Oh my. Oh my. They were good!
At the end of our meal chef and owner Patrice Rames dropped by to say hello and thank us for coming by. He was charming and funny... a final treat for our perfect evening. I highly recommend Bistro San Tropez as a quick, satisfying getaway from our blustery Philadelphia winter!
Bistro St. Tropez is located on the 4th floor of the Market Place Design Center Building at 2400 Market Street. (Across from the PECO Building and 1 Block East of the 30th Street Station.
Yesterday, Jim and I decided to have movie day (not to be confused with movie night). Our plans were set for 2pm to 8pm. My mother has been dying to see the Karate Kid, so that was the movie for the day.
Okay, the biggest thing had been decided -- the movie. Now, on to the most important thing for me -- the food.
What could I make that everyone would enjoy and not have me slaving in the kitchen the whole day and night before?
Of course, I had a million ideas, but I got it together and kept it simple: Grilled cheese for the kids, and for the adults, lemon wings. Jim requested black eyed peas, so the adults got a taste of that as well. Yesterday was actually only my third time making black eyed peas. I don’t like them, but Jim does so I decided I would try it.
The first time I did them with diced chicken thigh and chopped garlic. I tried it on my own and it didn’t work out so good, so I called my mother. My family loves beans and I knew that my brothers are at my mother’s anytime she says she’s making beans. Mom also makes homemade biscuits to go along with the beans.
My Mom boils the bean in a little garlic powder and hot water for 2 hours. No meat. She used to use smoked turkey, but decided she didn’t need it. So I go back to the drawing board and try again. This time Jim thought it was ok, but needed more flavor; he told me that his mom always used meat. So another call to my mother and back to the drawing board yet again.
Her instructions were to use smoked turkey. At the market, I saw smoked turkey wings, so that’s what I went with. I simmered the wings in water until tender. Then I removed the meat from the pot and set the turkey broth in the freezer to chill a bit so I could skim off some of the fat. I removed the skin from the wing and forked the meat apart. Next, I brought the turkey broth back up to boil, added the beans, the meat, and a little garlic powder and simmered the pot, covered, for two hours, stirring a few times. I did have to add more water around the one hour mark. About 20 minutes before the dish was done, I removed the lid so some of the broth would reduce and the beans would thicken a bit more.
Once done I stirred in some butter and served the beans with a choice of brown or white rice. Jim likes his topped with diced tomatoes. Everyone thought they were great for someone who never makes beans. Jim, having been here each time for each try, thought maybe it had too much flavor this time. My mother didn’t have any but agreed that could be possible. She thought I should have cooked the beans in the wing broth, but not add the meat until they were done.
I’m thinking, at this point, this is way too much work for beans. (To be continued…)
Back to the rest of movie day!
Our granddaughter got dropped off, and my brother came over with my mother and my sister’s twins. My other brother came with his two grandsons, two of my girlfriends came with their children and Tinamarie (my sister) showed up after work.
It was a beautiful day. The kids played in the leaves out back, painted, drew all over the driveway, and learned to use a pogo stick while enjoying grilled cheese and hot chocolate. The adults sat around the kitchen table with much conversation, lemon wings, and of course, grilled cheese.
While everyone watched the movie with buttered popcorn, I made chocolate cookies to have with ice cream later for dessert.
Let me tell you how much food you need for 8 adults and 7 kids:
2 lbs cheese
2 loaves of bread
Large family pack of wings
Gallon of milk
1 box of hot chocolate packs
1 lb beans
8 cups of rice
All the cookies
And ½ gallon of vanilla, chocolate and strawberry ice cream
All that food was well worth the money for a perfect family and friends gathering.
It has become very important to Jim and I to take the time, spread the joy and make days like yesterday happen!
And, of course, everyone was still here at 8pm and way beyond. A perfect day (and evening) for all!
Our Moonlight Dinner Dance is this coming weekend! We're making our lists and putting together the gameplan. We'll have live music and a selection of delectible foods. Cross your fingers that the refrigerators all get through the week!
Endless Summer Dinner
Whew! We did it. Dinner for 40 at The Porch Club in Riverton. Large events come with their own challenges around logistics and those last minute "gotcha" surprises. And there are always surprises; those last minute changes to plan that cannot be planned for. Donna and I had two big ones - and we survived!
Our menu was planned such that much of the work could be prepped and spread out prior to the day of the dinner; foods that could be made ahead, or assembled at the final moment. The day of the dinner would be focused on set up and last minute dish primping. Then, life struck.
First, Donna's refrigerator died earlier in our work week. When she wanted to be cookign and prepping, she was struggling to get this major appliance fixed. So, none of her prep cooking could be done ahead of time. Next, our help for the day -- the man who was going to help us with set up and greeting the guests -- got sick and could not be there. My head exploded.
But, true to form, it worked out. We opened the doors a few minutes late but the fresh peach lemonade cocktail was ready to go. Our friend Evelyn leant a hand to keep things moving. VIP goody bags, full of cooking-related treats and a bottle of Prosecco, were given to our guests who bought tickets to both events. Donna was cool and collected, as always, which got me over the stress hump. I did a cooking demo on sweet spiced nuts... easy peasy appetizer treats... and once that was done, I was good to go.
At the end of the evening, when all the guests had taken their treats home, my good friend Bill stayed behind and helped Donna and I with clean up. He was a godsend, as we had about as much energy left as damp dishrags.
Eating outside under an awning on a sunny afternoon is one of life's sweetest pleasures. Doubly so if the food and the company are good. My mother and I spent Sunday afternoon in piazza at Bar Ferdinand sipping sangria, savoring small plates and soaking up the sun.
My mom was born in Philadelphia and never tires of revisiting neighborhoods and trying new restaurants. I've been talking about this area of NoLib between Girard and Poplar for awhile. I am a fan of open public spaces for wandering, noshing and people watching and the pedestrian walkways adjacent to the piazza are teeming with local folks, dogs and sights to delight the eye.
And then there is Bar Ferdinand. This tapas restaurant is a feast for the eyes and for the stomach. Tapas as a cuisine calls for groups of friends, conversation and pitchers of sagria. The small plates are meant for sharing. The sangria enlivens the banter and spurs more ordering of patatas bravas and bite-sized croquettes.
Inside the restaurant's mosaic murals, wide archways and rich colors evoke Spain. The use of metals, wood and tile feel rustic and relaxing. This is a place to meet your peeps and while away an evening... or, as my mom and I did, a Sunday afternoon outside under yellow awnings, trading plates and washing everything down with white sangria.
The highlights of the meal were: a fried Manchego cheese topped with apple foam and a little quince sauce, and (as a dessert) thick triangles of cider-soaked brioche, freidn and served with cinnamon ice cream. The brioche toast was light and airy with a slightly sweet crunch and the homemade cinnamon ice cream was a nice counterpoint. The white sangria was laden with melon, oranges and lemons, just perfect for the hot, sunny day.
With a farmer's market in full swing over in the piazza, we could watch the passing parade of Sunday strollers, dogs, babies and body art for hours, drifting in and out of conversation and enjoying a truly satisfying meal.
Big thumbs up. I can hardly wait to go back in the evneing for red sangria and spicy conversation.
February Boy’s Night In
Every one is tired of the snow; by Saturday Jim and his brother Darrah were no different. The sun was shining and the snow made everything seem so bright, the guys decided to get together for lunch. They threw ideas back and forth -- where to go, what to eat, do we want/need cocktails? They asked me, but still couldn’t decide. Finally, they decided to decide when Jim picked up Darrah. Procrastination at its best. I got a call a few hours later that they were in town and thinking of going over to the Reading Terminal for crab meat. Would I mind making crab cakes? Of course I wouldn’t mind, not thinking whether I had all that is needed to make crab cakes. When I hung up, I double-checked and was good, just short of parsley. I figured, as long as I had mayo and Dijon mustard, I was good. They arrived with a container of beautiful lump crabmeat and a bag of six super jumbo shrimp. No one had mentioned shrimp earlier. There were no veggies, no potatoes, no pasta, just crabmeat and shrimp. I admit I had to step back for a minute to decide which direction I was going in with the shrimp curveball. I used what I had for the crab cakes: 1 container of lump crabmeat Mayo Dijon Mustard Cracked black pepper Worcestershire Plain breadcrumbs I’m not the greatest with keeping track of measurements, but you can really do this by sight. Put crabmeat in bowl Add some mayo to bind but not be too wet. (Less is better. You can always add, but never takeaway.) Add just a small amount of dijon mustard, maybe a teaspoon. A nice sprinkle of cracked black pepper A couple of dashes of worcestershire A palm full of breadcrumbs If I had it, I would have added about a tablespoon of chopped parsley.
Taste and adjust as needed. Trust yourself, you know what it should taste like. I can’t eat shellfish, so Darrah volunteered to be the taster and after a couple tastes, gave the thumbs up to move forward.
I made four really nice sized crab cakes, coated them in bread crumbs and fried. As I mentioned in my Christmas entry, I like to keep roasted garlic olive oil in the fridge. I took some of the garlic out of the oil, smashed it a bit and put it under the skin of the shrimp. I rubbed the shrimp in the garlic oil, salt, peppered and added them to a pan that had been heated with more of the garlic oil. I waited for them to turn pink, turned them over, shook the pan several time, turned down the flame to less than medium heat, added some white wine, put a lid on and moved to veggies. Lucky for the guys, I had some carrots and broccoli in the fridge. I steamed the carrots until almost done (fork tender with a bit of force), added the broccoli, salt, pepper and some of the garlic oil. This was tossed in a large saute pan until most of the liquid was absorbed, then I turned the flamed to low and put the lid on.
By the time the veggies were done (I’d say at least 15 - 20 minutes) the shrimp was done as well (shrimp would not normally take that long but they were really large shrimp). I served everything ion n white serving pieces. It looked just gorgeous and the smells were unbelievably. I cannot eat shellfish anymore, but I remember the days of when I could. Mmmmmmm.
The brothers were happy and full! Of course I didn’t forget about myself. After Jim left to take his borther home, I enjoyed a porterhouse steak and a glass of rose champagne. (Yes, just steak). Jim arrived back home and we chatted the night away over vodka gimlets.
It’s Valentine’s Day weekend and my friend Nereda asked me to pick up some long-stemmed strawberries, which she wanted to dip in chocolate. This sounded good, so I went to Whole Foods for the strawberries. They were $ 12.99, a little pricey I thought, and I was sure she would feel the same. I started to pass on the strawberries, but Valentine’s Day got the best of me. I thought a better thing to do would be to share. Since we were sharing and I had some bittersweet chocolate from another dessert in the pantry, I decided to do the dipping.
You will need a double boiler. If you don’t have one, a pan large enough to fit a bowl to sit over the boiling water will do. You do not want your chocolate to burn, so the bowl should not sit in the water.
Wash strawberries and place on towel to dry. This is very important. Berries must be completely dry for the chocolate to stick well. Dry by hand if needed.
Bring a pan of water to boil, then reduce heat to simmer.
Place heat proof bowl on top of the pan being sure the bottom does not touch the water. Add your chocolate pieces. (Pieces and smaller chucks will melt faster and more uniformly than bars.) Let chocolate melt, stirring occasionally.
When melted completely, remove bowl of chocolate from the heat and let it cool to 100 degrees (use a candy thermometer) or when barely warm to the touch. Chocolate should be warm – not too hot so the berry starts to cook. Not so cool that the chocolate gets gloppy.
Check berries for dryness. Line a flat tray with waxed or parchment paper.When chocolate is cooled, set up an assembly line.
Holding stem firmly, dip berry in chocolate so a bit of the red at the top of the berry still shows. (ed. People eat with their eyes first.)
Let excess drop off back into the bowl.
Lay berry on tray
Repeat until you have filled your tray(s)
Let dipped berries cool completely
If you like, sprinkle the dipped berries with chopped nuts, coconut shreds, sprinkles--anything you would like—while they are still warm. Myself, I am purist and I like my strawberries dipped in good dark chocolate and nothing else.
I will be serving my chocalate-covered strawberries my husband for dessert on Valentine’s Day. Our menu:
Filet Mignon with a Cabernet Sauvignon and Shallot Reduction
Roasted Garlic & Olive Oil Red-Skinned Yukon Gold Mashed Potatoes
Hand-Dipped Dark Chocoalte Covered Strawberries
What's For Lunch
I’m home today taking care of some very stressful business and needed something comforting and really delicious for lunch. I had some veal cutlet in the fridge, for me it gets no more delicious than that.
I seasoned some plain bread crumbs with salt, pepper, garlic powder and parm cheese, then dipped the cutlets in eggs and coated them with the bread crumb mixture. I shouldn’t have... but I did... I sauteed them in a skillet with olive oil some butter. Julia Child would have been proud.
After lightly browning the cutlets, I savored them with a glass of rose’….a couple of glasses. Back to work I go feeling less stressed and content.
Never underestimate the power of food.
Last night I had an impromptu dinner with Donna, Tinamarie and Nereda. We had tried to get together earlier in the week but life happened and we rescheduled. Then Donna told me not to bring anything - they had a small army's worth of food - that I should just relax and enjoy. Don't ask me twice.
I barely had my coat off when a glass of wine was poured and offered. We sat around the kitchen island catching up on the latest, dishing on the juicy tidbits and laughing up a storm. The kids were amusing themselves in the livingroom, and the menfolk were watching football. We had time and space to ourselves to talk about food and foodie ideas.
Our feast for the night included such highlights as a succulent roast chicken, crispy fried chicken, and the famous Russell Family Macarorni and Cheese. Our plates were a warm and golden... Tina did not want me to take a picture because she didn't think the plate looked balanced (after all, no greens) but sometimes what you really want is the warmth of comfort food. And there is nothing more comforting than a warm plate and good friends.
Surviving the Holidays
I had a great idea for this Christmas season. I was going to keep a calendar, just like at the beginning of each Martha Stewart magazine. It would be called "24 Days Before Christmas." Some things on the calendar would be daily “to dos” and I would follow up and post what I had accomplished daily. If Martha can do it, I can do it.
What I didn’t think about was that Martha’s got staff – with a capital “S.”
Let me just mention that in the midst of this great idea my house was torn apart. There had been a roof leak and everything (it seemed) was under construction” I had no living room, the bathroom was a disaster and the kitchen needed a paint job.
Let me go further back and give a little history of what Christmas means to me, a direct consequence of my childhood. I come from a large family. As a child, if our house needed to be painted and my parents could not fit that in, they would paint the woodwork. Something was always done to make the house feel fresh, clean and special. “Holiday Different.”
Christmas was not like any other holiday. With a large family there was not always a lot to go around. But every Christmas we got new sheets, new slippers, new pajamas, a bowl of fresh fruits and nuts to munch on all day and a Thanksgiving-like feast. Something to make us feel “holiday different.” I’m still that little girl, trying to make Christmas special, but with a full time job and a business. I still have to get things done in accordance with my childhood traditions, but with a twist. Advanced, strategic planning (so I like to think).
Okay - back to the calendar. I worked backwards from key events. I decided when the construction workers need to be finished by (luckily, the boss is my brother Joe so I have some control) and when I needed to have the menu planned, gifts decided upon and shopping done. Great - I was on a roll!
I wasn’t able to post daily, life was too busy, but I was able to write things up a few times a week… for about 2 weeks. Sad but true. Real life intruded upon my time. End result: We had a wonderful Christmas despite the calendar. Dinner went as planned, gifts were made, rooms got put back together and all the important stuff got done. All was well.
With extended family and friends, getting a family together can be a logistical challenge at the holidays. This year, my family decided to have three smaller Christmas gatherings rather than one large gathering. That can pose different challenges but, with planning, it can be relatively painless. I planned a “Make-in-Advance” Supper Menu so I could cook once for two dinner gatherings! Here are my menus:
Christmas Day Brunch & Jim’s Birthday Celebration
Rib Eye Steaks
Pancakes with Warm Syrup
Scrambled Cheesy Eggs
Turkey Canadian Bacon
Roasted Potato Wedges
Strawberry Shortcake from DiBruno’s
A p p e t i z e r
Roasted Tomato Soup with Mini Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
(Soup made in advance and frozen)
D i n n e r
Chicken Pot Pie served in Puff Pastry Cups
(made in advance and frozen)
BBQ Turkey Wings
Brussels Sprouts, Roasted Shallots and Garlic
Sweet Potatoes (made by Tinamarie)
D e s s e r t
Chocolate Pieces with Rice Krispies (made day before)
Lemon Cookies with dried cranberries (made day before)
Pound Cake with Lemon Curd (made ahead and frozen)
Mini Chocolate-coated Waffle Ice Cream Sandwiches
(waffles made in advance and frozen,
dipped in chocolate and assembled that morning)
The menu was the same as Saturday, except for a change in appetizer.
Short Ribs with Garlic Toast Strips
(short ribs made the day before)
A couple of years ago, my family decided not to the major gift exchange. How much stuff does one person need? So my little gift to everyone is a take home bag of homemade goodies.
This year the take home gift bags were full of:
- Apple Butter (Made 2 weeks ahead)
- Potato Soup (Made in advance and frozen)
- Mini Pound Cake (Already in the freezer from another event)
- Roasted Garlic in Olive Oil (Made day before)
- And an assortment of whatever chocolate and cookies are left over
With a little planning and by working ahead whenever possible, so daily calendar or not, I survived without being exhausted.
How great life must be with staff?
Happy New Year,